Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 20

Masaracchia drove a stake deep into the sand and tied the camels to it. Cannon eyed the descent. The face of the hill against which the temple stood bore tool marks. It had been chipped nearly smooth, uncommonly shoddy work for the Egyptians, but more than enough to make the sixty-degree slope a tricky proposition for all but the most skilled climbers. Burr could have done it, were she not carrying the firepower, but Cannon doubted he could and knew that none of the rest were up to it.

They would have to go around. It was about a half-mile’s walk over broken, rocky badland, a gentle curve and a moderate descent to follow the limb of the hill down to its base. Another half-mile over sand and rock took them back to the outer wall of the temple complex. The main building rose high above the ruined walls in all its ancient glory, the white of its pillars glowing in the shadow of the hill and the black of its granite structure swallowing the gaze as readily as it did the light. It had been painted, once, but none of the few patches of color which remained changed what the temple was: a cold, unchanging monument to a long-dead civilization.

“Nae a picture of welcome, is it?” Iseabail said.

Cannon shook his head. “Did your people find out anything else about this place?” he asked of Masaracchia.

“No, Captain Cannon.” Masaracchia tore his gaze away from the building. “It puts me off my ease.”

“It gives me the willies, too,” Cannon replied. “Keep your eyes open. You especially, Burr.”

“You got it.” Burr let the tommy gun hang on its sling and threw a jaunty salute.

They filed through a gap in the rubble of the outer wall and fanned out over the courtyard. Cannon leaned over a fragment of one of the obelisk, running a hand over it to brush away the dust. Inscribed hieroglyphs ran the whole of its length. Two more pieces of the same obelisk laid nearby. Someone, long in the past, had gone at all three pieces with a chisel, and in many places, the inscriptions were unreadable. With a grunt, Cannon turned one of the pieces over.

That was more promising. He pursed his lips and blew on the stone, and the sand skittered away to reveal a few sections were the glyphs ran uninterrupted.

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