Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 12

They walked around Alexandria’s main boulevard for a little under a mile, passing colorful awnings, open-air markets, and brown brick buildings redolent of coffee and exotic spice. The street opened into a square, a few palms at its center swaying in the sea breeze. People crowded around it, British and Egyptian alike. On the far side sat the church—the Church of the Blessed Virgin, Cannon recalled, a building unlike any of the cathedrals he knew of. The domes, simple half-circles, he might have called Greek or even Mohammedan, and the walls were unadorned, built of the same desert brick as everything else. The doors stood closed, but opened when Cannon pulled on them. In they went, finding a spare interior, dimly-lit by oil lamps and candles. A painted crucifix hung over the altar, and the chalice looked to be mere copper. As the doors swung closed, a priest appeared from further within, blinking at them.

Cannon cleared his throat. “Excuse us,” he said. “We’re here to see Michaelangelo Masaracchia?”

‘Ah,’ the priest mouthed, comprehension lighting up his careworn face. “You are expected.” He walked off.

Cannon looked to Joe, with a raised eyebrow, and Joe jerked his head after the priest. Cannon shrugged and followed him, to the apse and then up a narrow stairway to the left. It grew warmer as they climbed the flight, which doubled back upon itself, and Cannon wiped sweat out of his eyebrows. Before them was a hallway, doors on both sides, and the priest counted off on the right and knocked on the fifth. It opened a sliver.

“Questi sono gli uomini,” the priest said.

“Grazie,” said a voice behind the door. The priest went back toward the stairs, and door opened the rest of the way. “Come in, Captain Cannon.”

The room was small, but it didn’t have much to hold, either—a cot against the wall, beneath a small window cut into the stone, and opposite it a map of Egypt, clipped to a large easel.

Of all the cell’s contents, the one it looked least suited to hold was Michaelangelo Masaracchia. Whereas Cannon had a pilot’s build, trim and, as he would have put it, not overtall, Masaracchia more closely resembled a larger Joe Copeland. He towered over Cannon and Joe both, standing several inches taller than six feet, and he had the build of a full-back or a champion boxer, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested. His nose had the characteristic Roman hook, and his thin-lipped mouth, close-cropped hair, and imperious eyes completed the image. He was young, too, thought Cannon: not quite as young as most of Inconstant’s crew, but still a decade lighter on experience than Cannon or Joe.

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