“WHAT ARE YOU SMILING ABOUT, Jim?” asked Susan. My wife was standing in the doorway to my office. She’s tall and blond, like a femme fatale from a forties film noir—though a femme fatale from Wisconsin.
I had just hung up the phone—with Marty Du-gard, actually. “My gut feeling is getting stronger. Tut was murdered, Sue. I just have to figure out who killed the poor guy.”
“A hunch doesn’t mean very much if you can’t prove it,” she said. “Am I missing something?”
“Oh, I’ll prove it,” I said with a grin. “And thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Anytime,” she called over her shoulder. Femme fatale? Definitely.
Sue had a point though. How was I going to prove that Tut hadn’t died from wounds suffered in his chariot crash? That was the most widely accepted theory about his death.
My most popular fictional character, Dr. Alex Cross, lives by his hunches and instincts. Quite possibly that’s because I do as well. At that moment, I felt I was gathering evidence that Tut had been murdered and that I would soon know who was responsible for Tut’s death—perhaps someone you might not expect. That was what had me excited now.
I had been making notes on a new Cross manuscript before the call from Marty Dugard. The pages were stacked in a pile on my desk, next to pages from a dozen other projects I had in the works.
That’s pretty much the way of my workday: up at 5:00 a.m., write and edit, take a break—maybe golf, maybe a movie—then get back to it. Seven days a week. I have an ability, or a curse, to focus on several projects at once. But Tut was distracting me from all the other projects.
Ignoring the Cross manuscript, I reached for my list of pharaohs.
The New Kingdom, as the era spanning the Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties was known, had lasted a little more than five hundred years. There were thirty-two pharaohs during that time, but the ones I was interested in were Tut and the man who succeeded him. It seemed reasonable to presume that the person who had the most to gain by Tut’s death was the man ascending to the throne after him. Follow the money, follow the power.
I ran my finger down the list. Right then, a gust of wind blew in through the open window, scattering part of the Cross manuscript on the floor. I half wondered whether some ancient Egyptian god had been responsible for that. Or was it part of the pharaoh’s curse?
I read the succession of kings out loud. “Amenhotep II, Tuthmosis IV, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen…”
Then I stopped.
Not just the next name but the next two names held my attention. I had looked at this roster before, but only now was I beginning to realize what it could mean. These weren’t only names—they were pieces of a puzzle that hadn’t been solved for thousands of years.
Staring at them, I began to think that I wasn’t studying a random act of murder but a cold-blooded conspiracy. There was that gut instinct of mine again—the reason, I think, that Time magazine had once called me “The Man Who Can’t Miss.”
We’d see about that soon, wouldn’t we?