“Nathaniel Cannon,” said Masaracchia wonderingly. “Of the Famous Fighting Fifty-First—I volunteered in the Aviation Section during the war.” Nonplussed, Cannon exchanged a look with Joe, and Masaracchia hurriedly added, “Before I found my true calling.”
It did explain his nearly-flawless English. “That was a lifetime ago,” Cannon said.
“I remember reading about you and your squadron in the papers. I thought you were a different Captain Cannon—how did you come to air piracy?”
“That was a lifetime ago,” Cannon repeated.
For an awkward moment, Masaracchia stared and said nothing, waiting for the rest of the story. He caught himself and said, “I should not pry. You’ve come to do a job.”
“I’ve flown halfway around the world, escaped a British attack, then moseyed right on up to a real hornet’s nest to do it,” Cannon said. “If the British find out I’m here, brother monk, we’ll get to see how they like being kicked. Let’s hear the low-down.”
Masaracchia nodded. “Yes, of course. In short, we have found a man called Hassan al-Massri, who lives in the village of El Balyana, here.” The map showed the course of the Nile, from the delta all the way into the Sudan. Masaracchia tapped on a point where the river, whose upstream course ran first slightly west of south then just east of it, took an abrupt turn to nearly due east.
“Near Thebes?” said Cannon.
“In that area,” replied Masaracchia. “The place of our interest has been abandoned for centuries. It was known to the Old Egyptians as Abdju, the site of several temples to Osiris and Set.”
“Those two?” Cannon said, going over what he knew of Egyptian mythology in his head. “That must have been tense.”
Masaracchia lifted his shoulders. “We’ll likely never know. The center of Abdju is several miles south from our newly-rediscovered site, and several miles west of El Balyana, which lies on the west bank of the Nile. Mr. Massri lived there as a boy when van der Hoek passed through, and remembered that he set out into the desert. He was not willing to talk very much about where he thought van der Hoek and his men might have been going, but we were able to pry from him a story of a lost temple of Osiris, reclaimed by the desert sands, and several days of exploration served to find it.