Hakim Farid joined the boys long enough to say, "We've about decided the strange signals are not originating within the system. Now we're looking at the possibility that some local source is giving us interference. We thought we'd eliminated all outside noise, but perhaps something new came up after we finished checking."
Rick pointed to Cairo, visible through the control-room window. "There must be lots of stuff down there that puts out radio-frequency signals, even electric shavers and heating pads. How can you eliminate all of it?"
"We can't, in the sense of really cutting it out. But the antenna construction takes local interference into account. It's a tight beam design that should prevent overriding of the main signal by any random side effects. That's what Kerama and Winston are checking now. There's not a great deal for you to do until they're through. In a half hour we'll start to swing the antenna to see if we get an increase in the signal by a change in direction. Until then, why not take it easy?"
"We will." Rick took the opportunity to tell Farid of the incident at the museum that morning. He described briefly how they had been followed, then attacked on the museum path.
Farid frowned. "I'm sorry to hear it. Cairo is pretty law-abiding, compared to what it used to be. But we still have crime, just as you do in your big cities. You didn't lose your wallets or anything valuable?"
"Nothing. We think they were after the cat."
"They didn't get it?"
"No. I didn't have it on me."
"That was fortunate." Farid frowned. "But why would anyone want the cat?"
Rick did not have an answer for that, and said so. The scientist smiled. "A cat isn't exactly big game for thieves, is it? On the other hand, the museum itself was robbed several weeks ago in spite of the guards. Thieves got away with a necklace supposed to have belonged to Kefren, who built the middle pyramid over there."
"Was it valuable?" Scotty asked.
"More than valuable. It is irreplaceable. In terms of cash, however, the value is around a quarter of a million dollars."
Rick whistled. "No wonder the guards watched us this morning."
Dr. Kerama called, "Hakim, can you help with these tracings, please?"
Farid joined the other scientists, leaving the boys to their own devices. Rick hunted until he found a space under an amplifier that was big enough for the two extra kittens. The space was covered by an access door. The kittens would be safe there. It would be no real loss if they were stolen, anyway.
Later, the boys helped check circuits while the radio telescope swung through a variety of arcs, with Farid at the controls. The strange signal came while the telescope was pointing only in one direction.
Rick asked Winston, "Could it really be coming from a single source in outer space?"
Winston shrugged. "We've thought of that. If the source remained fixed, we'd accept it as the most logical explanation. But since Kerama and Farid first noticed the signal it has shifted its apparent location by many degrees. That's why we think it must have some local explanation."
Rick understood. The sources in space studied by the radio telescopes were fixed, in the same sense that the stars themselves were fixed. Of course everything in the galaxy—even in the universe—was in motion, but in spite of the enormous velocities, the change in location would not be particularly apparent in a short time, or even in a lifetime.
A short distance away was a wonderful example of this kind of motion. In the great pyramid of Khufu, Rick had read, a channel had been left so the light of the North Star could shine on the altar of Isis. The channel was still there. But in over three thousand years the slight, slow wobbling of the earth on its axis had caused a shift. What was then the North Star was now Thuban, in the constellation of Draco the Dragon. The present North Star, Polaris, which is not exactly at the celestial north pole, did not shine on the altar. Nor would the next star to become the northern marker—bright Vega. But if the pyramids were still standing after twenty-seven thousand years had passed, the cycle of movement would be complete, and Thuban would again shine through the channel to the altar of a forgotten Egyptian goddess.
It gave Rick a shiver to think about it. Even now, the pyramids were old enough to have seen a change of north stars. They looked good for another three thousand years or more. It would take a lot of time to erode away that much massive stone.
Then he stopped thinking about it, because the telescope was in motion again, and there was work to be done.
It was late night before the scientists were satisfied. The boys rode back with Hassan, very thoughtful about the day's events. Now they had both the little statue and the even greater mystery of the space signals to think about.
Clearly, the strange signal was not of local origin. The scientists rejected the idea that it came from trouble in the circuit. But it was no natural heavenly object. What was it?
Tomorrow, Winston had said, they would decide on the next step. Right now all hands were too tired to think clearly. The boys agreed that the statement applied to them.
"Shall we eat?" Rick asked as they approached the hotel.
"Let's have a sandwich sent up," Scotty suggested. "I don't feel like waiting in a dining room, even if one is open this late."
"Good idea." Rick leaned forward and told Hassan, "Just drop us off, then go on home and get some rest."
"Not tired," Hassan said cheerfully. "You work, I rest."
They certainly were not working Hassan very hard, Rick agreed. But he was pleasant to have around. They bade him good night in front of the hotel and went for their room key. The clerk handed Rick an envelope along with it. It was addressed to Mr. R. Brant, care of the hotel, and the return address was in Arabic.
Rick waited until they were in their room to open it. A quick glance showed that the room had not been searched, or if it had, with greater care than the last time. He ripped open the envelope and took out a sheet of paper, the letterhead printed in Arabic except for the name Fuad Moustafa.
"Fuad Moustafa," he said aloud. "Any relation to Ali, I wonder?"
"Read it," Scotty urged.
Rick did so. "'Dear Sir: You have brought to Cairo, I believe, a plastic replica of a cat, which was given to you by Mr. Bartouki for delivery to my brother, Ali. I deeply regret the inconvenience caused by your failure to find my brother in his shop. Only today did I learn that his chief clerk, an officious person, had attempted to take delivery of the cat by pretending to be my brother. The clerk shall be discharged for this offensive behavior.
"'Since my brother is absent from the city, on business to Beirut, which was the reason for his absence from the shop, I shall be delighted to serve in his stead. If you will call me, I shall come at your convenience. Or, if you will do me the honor of breaking bread at my home, I shall be at your service. Since my home is also my office, any time that is convenient for you will be my pleasure. Sincerely, Fuad Moustafa.'"
Rick jumped for the phone and called the desk, "See if Hassan is still around, please. Tell him to wait, if he is."
The clerk asked him to wait and Rick put his hand over the mouthpiece and turned to Scotty. "The first sensible suggestion we've had. Let's go call on Fuad Moustafa. If there are lights, we'll pay him a visit. If not, we'll come back. I'm anxious to get this settled."
"So am I," Scotty agreed, then added, "Only let's be sure this isn't a trap."
The clerk came back on the line. "Hassan is here. He will wait."
"Thank you. Now, can you tell me anything about a Mr. Fuad Moustafa? Do you know him?"
"Indeed, sir. He is a lawyer, from a well-known family. He has two brothers who are also well known. One is Ali, who has a shop in El Mouski, and the other is Kemel, who is a textile importer."
Rick thanked him and hung up. "It's our boy," he said. He repeated what the clerk had told him.
"Sounds like pay dirt," Scotty agreed. "Only we'll still be careful. Let's go."
Rick echoed him. "Let's go! If this is on the level, we can get the cat in the morning and deliver it." At last, the secret of the Egyptian cat might be unraveled!
The Uninvited Visitor
As the boys hurried through the lobby the night clerk came to meet them.
"I noticed that the name of Mr. Moustafa was on the message I gave you. If you intend to visit him, you will have no trouble. His house is also his office, and it is very well known. Just tell Hassan to take you to Abd El Aziz Street."
The boys thanked him, somewhat relieved that Fuad Moustafa apparently was so well known. Outside, Hassan was waiting. "Not so tired?" he greeted them.
"Not too tired for a short trip," Rick said. "Can you take us to Abd El Aziz Street?"
"Not far. Near El Mouski."
As Hassan drove off, at the usual high velocity, Rick asked, "Do you know Fuad Moustafa?"
"Hear name," Hassan said. "But not know. What number street he live?"
Rick took the letter from his pocket, switched on the dome light, and scanned it. There was no address given in English. He started to hand the letter to Hassan, then remembered the dragoman could not read. He puzzled over the Arabic in the letterhead, realizing the address must be given there. If he could identify the numbers ... there, he recognized one. Both boys had spent some time studying the telephone dial at the project, on which the numbers were in Arabic. It was easy to identify them, and Rick had spotted the five, a figure like a tiny heart, upside down.
"I think I have it," he said. "Let's see. Arabic reads from right to left, instead of the way we write. That makes this number ... hmmmm ... a heart, a dot, and two sevens backward with one squiggle in the upper line. The heart is a five, the dot a zero, and backward sevens with one squiggle are twos. So the number is 5022. Right?"
"That's the way I remember it," Scotty said. "So that's the number. Enshallah."
Hassan started laughing in the front seat. "Now you speak Arabic? You must say a'eraf shwayet 'arabi."
"What does that mean?" Scotty demanded.
"It mean 'I know some Arabic'"
The boys laughed with him. In a few moments Hassan swung the little car to the curb and pointed to the nearest building. "There 5022."
Rick started to get out, then he asked curiously, "How do you know, Hassan? I thought you couldn't read."
"No can read words. Read numbers plenty good. Could not take people to places if could not read numbers."
That made sense, Rick thought.
Scotty let out a sudden exclamation. "Hey, this is a barbershop, and it's closed for the night."
Rick looked, then switched on the dome light. He compared the letterhead number and the number on the door. Clearly, it was 5022, unless they had mistaken threes for twos. The only difference between the two numbers was an extra squiggle in the upper line of the three. He checked the letter again. No, they were twos. He said so. "This is the number on the letter."
"You let me see, please?" Hassan asked.
The dragoman took the letter and examined it. He chuckled. "Samehni, ya sidi. That mean excuse, sir. Small mistake. You reading backward. Number is 2205."
"But how can that be?" Rick asked. "Arabic goes backward from English."
"Maybe so with words," Hassan said. "But numbers not so. This number is 2205. You want to go?"
Rick sighed. "I learn something new every day. Okay, Hassan. You're the dragoman."
The little car swung around and sped back the way they had come, into a better part of the city. In a short time Hassan slowed and began searching. At last he pulled to the curb, in front of a large house of Victorian design. "Here is 2205," he announced.
The boys got out and saw immediately that the house was in darkness. Not a light shone anywhere.
"No one home," Rick said, disappointed.
Scotty surveyed the dark structure. "Funny. A house this size must have servants. There should be a light somewhere. Maybe around back?"
"I doubt it, but we can take a look."
Hassan's voice stopped them. "Something wrong, I think."
"What do you mean?" Rick asked quickly.
Hassan gestured to where a small group of people had gathered on the other side of the street. "Why they stop? Not so strange for car come to house like this."
That was true, Rick thought. The people stood quietly, watching, and in a moment two others joined them. Their attitude was not simple curiosity.
"Can you ask them what's up?" Scotty asked.
"Will try." Hassan took a step toward the group and called cheerfully in Arabic. No one answered. He walked toward them, still talking cheerfully, and the little group melted instantly into ordinary people walking the street on their various errands by ones and twos.
Rick needed no interpreter for their actions. Rather than answer a courteous, cheerful question from Hassan they had hurried off, as though afraid of something. But what?
"Pretty strange, I think," Hassan said. "I just ask who can tell me where to find Fuad Moustafa, and they go."
Scotty had been staring at the house. He walked to the steps and stared into the darkness, then went up them onto the porch. In a moment he came down again.
"Something's very wrong," he said. "I thought I saw the gleam of metal, and I did. A brand-new padlock on the door! New hasp, too, put on in a way no house owner would ever do it. It's as though someone was closing a barn door and didn't care how it looked."
A chill went down Rick's spine. Instead of a solution, they had found a deeper mystery. He was sure of only one thing for the present. They should not wait at the house of Fuad Moustafa.
"Come on," he said. "Back to the hotel. If we can't have facts to feed on, we can at least have that sandwich."
But the sandwich was not to be had so easily. Back in their room, a call to the waiter brought the porter, who announced that all hotel facilities were closed and the waiters had gone home. He would be glad to go to a restaurant he knew of and get them sandwiches, but it would take a little time.
The boys ordered, then got undressed. Scotty went in to wash up while Rick wrote cards to the folks at home. A knock interrupted him. "Must be the porter," he called to Scotty, and went to open the door.
A stranger stood there, a big man in an immaculate gray linen suit. He wore thick eyeglasses with stainless-steel rims. On his curly hair was a tarboosh of red velvet. In his hand was a gleaming, snub-nosed hammerless revolver, pointed at Rick's midriff.
"I know it's late," the man said pleasantly, "but may I come in?"
He walked through the door, and Rick backed away to make room.
"Are you Fuad Moustafa?" he asked shakily.
The man smiled. "I have not that honor. You have never seen a Moustafa, or you would not ask. They are famous for the biggest noses and mustaches in the Republic. I could have lied, but it is my pride that I never lie. My identity is not important."
"What do you want?" Rick asked. He kept backing away, because he wanted desperately for the man to follow. That would give Scotty a chance to move in from behind.
"I think you know what I want. A small and unimportant piece of plastic, in the shape of a cat."
"Why is the cat so important?" Rick asked.
"It is not important. You may believe this. However, for reasons I shall not disclose, it has certain elements of value to a few people."
"Sentimental value?" Rick asked. He was stalling.
"It depends on what one is sentimental about. I have no sentimental attachment to this object. I merely want it. Now, my time is short. I was fortunate to find the porter gone, but he will doubtless return. The cat, my young friend, and quickly!"
Scotty moved from the bathroom on silent, bare feet, and even as his pal moved, Rick saw the object in his hand. It was a nail file.
Scotty stepped close and his hand moved. The stranger stiffened.
"That's a knife in your back," Scotty said. "Drop the gun."
The revolver muzzle never faltered. "An interesting stalemate," the man said calmly. "You can thrust, but no matter how fast you are, I can shoot. So, if I die, so does your friend. Now, since you created this situation, how are you going to get out of it? Or did I create it, through my careless eagerness? I was so pleased to find the hall empty that I forgot there were two of you."
"No matter," Scotty informed him. "We can stand like this until help comes."
"Then you expect someone. Make no mistake, I will not be taken. If necessary, I will end the stalemate with a shot and take my chances with the knife. It is even possible I will get both of you."
Rick was watching the man's face closely. He was not bluffing. There was no sign of sweat or nervousness. He knew the situation exactly, and was prepared to deal with it. The boy reached a decision.
"Drop it, Scotty," he commanded. "Pull back and come around so he can see you. I'm going to give him the cat."
"Don't!" Scotty exclaimed. "Don't, Rick!"
"I'm going to give him the cat," Rick repeated. "It isn't worth bloodshed. Now co-operate, will you?"
Scotty drew back and walked around so the stranger could see him. With a gesture of disgust he threw the nail file on one of the twin beds.
The stranger smiled his appreciation. "A very good try. It would have worked, no doubt, on a less experienced man. Now, Mr. Brant, where is the cat?"
"In my pocket, in the wardrobe."
The gun muzzle waved Scotty to the window at the far end of the room. "Out of reach, if you please. I will cover Mr. Brant just to be sure it is not a weapon that he has in his pocket."
Scotty obeyed, scowling. Rick led the way to the wardrobe. Moving slowly and carefully, he got the concrete kitten and held it up.
"Excellent. I see the hotel has provided you with a newspaper. Please use it to wrap the cat."
Rick did so, and handed it over.
"Thank you. I appreciate your co-operation, since I am a man who detests unnecessary violence. You have acted wisely." He backed to the door, opened it, and closed it behind him.
Rick's eyes met Scotty's across the room, and both grinned widely, but they said nothing in case the stranger had lingered outside the door. Not until a few moments had passed and Rick had checked the hallway did he speak.
"Well," he said happily, "one orphan kitten has found a happy home!"
The Great Pyramid
Parnell Winston faced the group of Egyptian scientists in the crowded radio-telescope control room. Rick and Scotty waited impatiently for the scientist to begin. They knew something important was coming up, from remarks dropped by Winston earlier, but they didn't know what.
"Gentlemen," Winston began, "I and my young associates came at Dr. Kerama's request because of the assumption that internal or local difficulties had caused the strange peaks in your Sanborn tracings of the first tryouts of the new system. The assumption was a natural and logical one. However, we have demonstrated that it isn't true. The system is working so perfectly that I must congratulate you. It is seldom that anything so complex functions as well in the early stages."
Winston paused thoughtfully. "Of course Dr. Kerama realized that it would be highly unusual to have internal circuit trouble cause such signals. But what we have left, after eliminating the possibilities of both internal and local interference, is something even more unusual. In fact, it is fantastic."
Rick moved forward a little. He didn't want to miss any of this, because he knew Winston, and he had never before seen the scientist so excited.
"What we have is a source of neutral hydrogen out in space, over five thousand light years away from earth. This source is moving at such incredible velocity that it is very close to the speed of light."
There was a stunned silence in the room. Rick considered the implications of Winston's statement. The scientist had spent hours with Kerama and Farid going over the Sanborn tracings, checking the location of the source as shown by the big telescope's position. The change in the source's position, from the time of first discovery to yesterday's checking of the system, had given enough data to calculate its velocity with reasonable accuracy.
The big unknown was the precise distance of the source. Readings from a single position could not give distance with high accuracy, so the scientists weren't sure of their figures—yet.
Winston asked, "Dr. Kerama, do you want to explain what we have decided?"
The Egyptian scientist nodded. "Thank you, Dr. Winston. And thank you on behalf of all of us for determining that our mystery does not come from the receiver system itself, or from nearby."
Kerama faced the group. "Last night I sent cables, giving detailed information on times, locations, and our computations to the radio-telescope stations at Manchester, England, and Green Bank and Goldstone in the United States. I also, at Dr. Winston's suggestion, sent similar information to the Mount Palomar Observatory.
"If the other radio telescopes are able to participate, it will serve to confirm or disprove our own information. If confirmed, we will then have a precise fix on the source that has caused us so much concern. We will also have the benefit of continuous consultation with our American and English colleagues. At the same time, the two-hundred-inch telescope at Palomar will attempt to see this strange object and to photograph it."
Rick knew of the huge American radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia, and the smaller one at Goldstone Lake, in California. Both had tracked space probes to incredible distances. The Manchester telescope, more generally known as Jodrell Bank, had also tracked probes. With a team like that working along with Sahara Wells, results ought to be coming fast.
Dr. Kerama continued. "We have been so concerned with what we thought was a problem that we have not accumulated all possible data on this hydrogen source. We will start at once to do this. The first step, of course, is to determine how long it is within view of our antenna, so that we may set up a schedule. The next is to obtain as much material as we can on the 21-centimeter wave length. After that we will shift to other wave lengths to see if the source is emitting. Dr. Farid will make assignments."
Farid stood up. "A radio-teletype circuit will be installed at once. Work is already in progress in the city, and we should have installation crews here within an hour or two. That will enable us to keep in touch with the other stations. For now, I would like Dr. Mandarawi and Dr. Azrar to establish the time when the source will be within our horizon, and set up the necessary data for the operator in charge of each shift. The rest of us will check out the circuit and establish calibration to be ready for recording this afternoon."
The scientist gestured to Rick and Scotty. "We know that the source will not come up over our horizon until about one o'clock. When it does, we would appreciate your help in making audio recordings. Until then, you're on your own."
"What'll we do?" Scotty asked.
Rick looked at his watch. It was shortly after nine. "Why not go over to see the pyramids? Then we can have lunch at the Mena House and come back in time to go to work."
"Good idea. Better tell Winston, though, in case something comes up."
Rick did so, and the boys went outside to where Hassan waited patiently. They told him their plans and got into the little car for the short drive to Giza.
"I got some of that, but not all," Scotty said. "Give me a brief rundown."
"Okay. I'm no expert, but I think I got the drift. To start with, the most common thing in space is hydrogen gas. It gives off energy that can be detected on the 21-centimeter wave length. This is important to the radio astronomers, because they can use their telescopes to figure out how hydrogen is distributed throughout the universe."
"I'm with you," Scotty said. "Now our boys have proved that the funny signals in the hydrogen impulse they've been getting originate in space, and hydrogen shouldn't act like that."
"That's it. Also, a hydrogen source in space ought to stay fixed. But this one is shooting off at high velocity. That would be strange enough, but it's also giving off signals that don't seem natural."
"So the scientists yell for help from their colleagues in America and England, and perhaps someone can figure out what's causing this strange behavior?"
"On the button, ol' buddy."
Scotty grinned. "It will probably turn out to be an Egyptian space cat mewing for milk from the Milky Way."
Rick patted the kitten in his pocket. He had replaced the one turned over to the intruder the night before. Now, as he told Scotty, only two orphan kittens needed homes. But placing the kittens didn't answer the questions that puzzled him. Why was the Egyptian cat important? And who were the people that wanted it?
There were things about the mystery that didn't add up. For instance, Fuad Moustafa had written a polite letter claiming the cat, but strictly impolite and violent efforts had been made to get it. And where were the brothers Moustafa?
Hassan drew to a stop before the great pyramid of Khufu. "We here. Want to go in?"
"In a while," Rick answered. "We'll take a look around outside, first."
The boys got out of the car and gazed upward at the incredible pile of masonry. The blocks were huge, weathered by centuries of wind and sand. Once the whole pyramid had been covered with a smooth facing of stone, but much of it had been destroyed by thieves trying to find the entrance to the Pharaoh's tomb.
Rick saw that the top of the lowermost course of blocks was covered with chips of the weathered stone. He picked up a couple and put them in his pocket. His rock collection at home could use a genuine piece of pyramid, and his sister Barby would like one for a paperweight.
"This could be climbed," Scotty said, gazing upward.
"Oh, yes," Hassan affirmed. "Some guides go up to top all the time. Can show you best way. You want to go?"
"Not now," Scotty said. "Let's look around first. But I'm going to climb this before we leave."
"And I'll be with you," Rick said.
They reached the corner of the pyramid and Rick sighted along the edge.
The thing that impressed him most was the size of the individual blocks. Photographs were usually taken at sufficient distance to show the entire pyramid. At that distance they looked pretty smooth. Close up, it was a tremendous jigsaw puzzle of blocks that weighed tons.
Rick had expected a considerable number of tourists and guides, but apparently it was too early. Down by the Sphinx he saw a few Arabs, but no foreigners were in sight. He was glad they could see at least a part of Giza before the crowd arrived. "Take us inside, Hassan," he requested.
"Can do. You follow."
Hassan led the way to the center of the side. High above their heads, he pointed to a hole. "Up there."
The three climbed through tumbled blocks to the opening and paused to look around. This was not the opening the Pharaoh had intended. It had been made by thieves, centuries ago. By boring downward at an angle, they had intercepted the inner passageways that led to the buried king and his treasure.
Electric lights were strung along the corridor at intervals, but the passage was far from bright. Hassan led the way, with Rick following and Scotty bringing up the rear.
Scotty's voice reverberated in the stone passageway. "I've been thinking that you ought to be just about overcome with happiness. Two mysteries on your hands, one detective type and one scientific type, and now you're walking into the middle of a few million tons of rock. How full can life get?"
Rick grinned. "And you're not happy at all. Just came along for the ride, I suppose?"
"Oh, I'm happy. But I'm a simple soul. One mystery at a time and plenty of chow is all I need."
They left the tunnel cut by the thieves and found themselves in a broad concourse with high ceiling and walls that still held the remnants of ancient decorations. Rick's vivid imagination could picture the scene as it must once have been, with torches lighting the route as the mighty Khufu was carried by richly clad slaves along this route to the inner crypt.
Hassan pointed to where a side passage led upward. "Room there. Queen buried, but nothing now. All gone. Thieves take."
This was the story of Egypt. Few tombs had been found intact. That was why finding Tut-Ankh-Amon had been of such importance. Most of the burial places of the Pharaohs had been found and looted many centuries ago. One such tomb would make a band of thieves and their descendants rich. But while the thieves had grown fat, history had suffered. Each rifled tomb meant quantities of historical materials lost forever.
Scotty held up a hand. "Someone coming."
"More tourist, maybe," Hassan offered.
Rick looked around. In the echoing chamber it was hard to tell the direction from which the footsteps were coming, and whether it was one person or many. Hassan was probably right, he thought. It was late enough in the day for tourists to be arriving.
And on the heels of the thought, Arabs erupted from the entrance through which they had come!
There was less than a second of doubt. The men were after them! Rick saw Scotty crouch as an Arab charged, saw the Arab go headlong through the air as Scotty caught him in a judo throw. Then Rick and Hassan were fighting for their lives!
An Arab rushed at Rick, arms widespread, and the boy stepped between the arms and threw a short punch that caught the attacker squarely on the nose. Blood spurted and he let out an anguished yell, then Rick put a foot in his stomach and heaved. The man flew backward, arms flailing, and landed on top of one who was grappling with Hassan. The guide took advantage of the break to grasp his second assailant around the middle and dump him. The guide kicked expertly and the Arab lay still.
Scotty was backing away from two of them when Rick charged to the rescue. He hit one from behind, his shoulder taking the man at the knees. The Arab slammed forward. Scotty jumped in and grabbed his second attacker by the burnoose, then fell backward with him and flipped. The Arab flew through the air like an ungainly bird and slammed into the farther wall.
Rick choked back a yell of despair as three more Arabs charged through the passageway. They were hopelessly outnumbered now. He saw Hassan with an Arab's throat between his hands, and he saw another attacker coming up on the guide from behind, a knife in his hand.
There wasn't time to reach Hassan. Rick had only one weapon. He plucked the concrete kitten from his pocket and threw, his whole body giving the flying statue speed and direction. It caught the knife wielder where his headdress met his ear. He dropped as though hit with an ax. The kitten fell to the stone floor and shattered.
Three Arabs hit Scotty at the same time. Rick dove headlong into the fray and got his hands around a stubble-covered face. He put a knee in the man's back and wrenched, but the Arab turned like a cat and reached for his throat.
A voice yelled in Arabic. Miraculously, the Arabs fell back. As Rick and Scotty got to their feet they saw the burnoosed figures raise hands high.
At the passage entrance was a man in Western dress, an Egyptian with a bristling mustache and a tremendous nose. He was obviously a person of authority, and the authority was made plain by the Luger automatic pistol he held in his hand.
The Arabs crowded together, hands high. Then, at another sharply spoken Arabic phrase, they all lay face down on the floor, arms stretched out before them.
At that moment the newcomer's eyes caught sight of the broken kitten on the stone floor. He stiffened, and he took a step toward it. Then he reconsidered.
"Mr. Brant, or Mr. Scott," he commanded. "One of you only. Bring me the pieces of the cat!"
Third Brother Smiles
Rick was nearest to the broken kitten. He went over and picked up three large pieces. There were a few smaller ones, but he didn't think they would matter. He walked over and held the pieces out.
The man with the pistol took one and examined it. Rick noted that it was the biggest piece, actually over half the cat.
Suddenly the man smiled. It was a fine, happy smile that showed white teeth under his black mustache.
"A fine specimen," he said. "Where did you get it?"
"It just sort of came to us," Rick evaded.
"Indeed? A pity it was broken. Do you want the pieces?"
This surprised Rick. He stared into the smiling brown eyes. "No. Don't you?"
"I have a definite interest in cats, but not in this one. Come, shall we go to the outside? I think you have probably had enough of Khufu's tomb by this time, eh?"
The pistol motioned to the outstretched Arabs. "This carrion will not bother us. I told them the first man to step outside the pyramid before an hour has elapsed would be shot."
To Rick's astonishment the man tucked the pistol into a capacious jacket pocket, then turned and walked toward the outer entrance. Rick, Scotty, and Hassan followed.
In a few moments they stood blinking in the sunlight. Their rescuer gave them a polite bow. "You are probably wondering who I am, and how I appeared so opportunely, eh? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kemel Moustafa."
The brother of Ali and Fuad! Rick remembered the words of the hotel intruder who had taken the first kitten: The Moustafas were known for the largest mustaches and noses in the United Arab Republic. Well, the description fitted.
"I'm Rick Brant," he said. "This is Don Scott, and our guide, Hassan."
Kemel Moustafa shook hands all around. "I am thirsty," he announced. "We will exchange stories over coffee, eh? The Mena House is close by, and I have a car."
"So do we," Rick said. "We came in Hassan's car."
"Then let us drive down in our separate cars and meet there. We have much to talk over."
That was an understatement, Rick thought. He wondered as Hassan drove them to the hotel below the pyramids: had the business in the pyramid been staged so Kemel could come to the rescue? If not, that meant two different groups were interested in the cat.
The way Kemel Moustafa had looked at the broken kitten was revealing, too. One glance and he had rejected it. How had he known? He put the question aloud to Scotty.
"Maybe it didn't break like plastic," Scotty guessed. "Or, it's possible the original is unbreakable."
Rick didn't think either of those answers could be the right one. "Could there be something inside the cat? Kernel would have seen right away that the broken one was solid."
"There's a hunk of lead in the cat, according to Bartouki. But suppose you're right, and it isn't lead? What could be valuable enough to cause all these wild goings-on?"
"Diamonds. Rubies. Maybe a radium needle in a lead shield. The possibilities are endless."
"Uhuh. Only one thing bothers me a little. Why use a plastic cat as a container to smuggle things into Egypt? There must be better ways."
"This way hasn't been very successful," Rick agreed. "Anyway, here's the hotel. Let's ask Kemel Moustafa."
Over coffee, Rick asked the third Moustafa brother many questions, and received answers to most of them—although the answers were not always satisfactory.
Moustafa anticipated some of the questions. As the waiter brought coffee, he pulled out his wallet and showed the boys his identity card, driver's license, and business card. Clearly, he was Kemel Moustafa.
"I have been to Khartoum on business," he said. "Last night I returned to the city and found that a family emergency had taken both of my brothers out of town. Fuad left very suddenly, after he had written to you. I apologize on his behalf. However, he must be excused, since a call from Ali, in Beirut, sent him running to the airport to catch the next flight. He simply had no time even to call you. His secretary tried to call you today, without success."
"We wondered," Rick said.
"Of course. And you are also wondering how I came into the pyramid at just the right time. A fortunate accident. You see, I came to Sahara Wells hoping to see you, but you were sightseeing. Dr. Winston was kind enough to tell me where you were. I simply went hunting for you. A quick drive around the area told me you must be in one of the pyramids, and the biggest one seemed the most logical place to look for you."
Rick believed him. Moustafa wouldn't tell a tale that a moment's talk with Winston would disprove.
"Who was the man who pretended to be your brother Ali?" Scotty asked.
"His chief clerk. He is an arrogant type who often shows poor judgment. Instead of simply explaining to you that Ali was out of town, he apparently told you he was Ali. This was the case?"
Rick confirmed it.
"He will be discharged at once. I suspected it when I questioned him last night. He gave some lame excuse about your refusing to hand over the cat to anyone except my brother Ali. He told Fuad the same thing, according to his secretary."
"It wasn't such a lame excuse, Mr. Moustafa," Rick corrected. "Mr. Bartouki asked us to deliver the cat to Ali Moustafa. We have no instructions to deliver it to anyone else."
"I see. And I commend your discretion. But my brother Ali will not return for many weeks, and you will not want to take the cat back to America with you. So we will telephone Mohammed Bartouki, and you will hear directly from him that I am a suitable substitute for my brother."
Scotty asked bluntly, "Why is the cat so important?"
Moustafa spread his hands wide. "Why not? The creature will open a new industry in Cairo. It will employ a number of people. It will make a profit for the Moustafa-Bartouki enterprises. It will please the tourists. Obviously the cat is important."
Rick tossed in his loaded question. "How did you know the cat in the pyramid wasn't the cat we brought from America?"
Kernel Moustafa's thick eyebrows went up. "It was obvious, was it not? The broken cat was made of colored concrete. The cat Bartouki took such pains to develop was of a plastic that does not have the graininess of concrete. If you tell me the one in the pyramid was indeed the original, I will be very disappointed. Such a model would not be suitable."
"It wasn't," Rick said briefly.
"Ah. And where is the original?"
Rick's smile was every bit as warm and friendly as Kemel Moustafa's. "Perhaps the answer to that had better wait until we have talked to Bartouki."
The Egyptian's smile broadened. "Discretion in one so young," he proclaimed, "is a rare and precious thing." He put money on the table for their coffee and rose.
"You will excuse me? I have business in the city. But tonight at seven I will come to your hotel and we will phone our friend in New York. It will then be noon in New York, and we will find him reading the Koran at home. This is his custom. Until then, Assalamo alaikum, which is to say, 'Good day to you.'"
As the boys walked to where Hassan waited, Scotty grinned at Rick. "'Discretion in one so young,'" he quoted, "'is a rare and precious thing.' He should know you as I do. Discretion has nothing to do with it. You just don't want to part with that cat until you know everything there is to know about it."
Rick shrugged. "I haven't heard you volunteering to hand the poor creature over. Besides, our pal Kemel is not all that he seems."
"And how do you know?"
"Easy. Did he ask us who jumped us in the pyramid, or why? Did he explain why he carries a Luger? Nope, to both. He carries a Luger because there's danger in this business. And he knows why those Arabs jumped us. He may not know them by name, but he knows what they were after, and he knows why."
"Which is more than we know," Scotty concluded.
"For now," Rick agreed. "But we'll find out before we're through, one way or another!"
Third Brother Stops Smiling
Rick opened the door to a knock at precisely two minutes of seven, and admitted Kernel Moustafa. The Egyptian shook hands politely. "It takes some time to get a call through," he said, "so I placed our call an hour ago. The operator assured me it would go through precisely at seven."
Moustafa turned to Scotty and shook hands again. "According to my watch, we have only a few seconds to wait. Mr. Brant, you will answer the phone, if you please. Identify Bartouki to your own satisfaction, then ask him about Kemel Moustafa. Then turn the phone over to me, and I will talk with him. After that you take the phone back again, and he will give you final instructions. This is acceptable?"
"Absolutely," Rick said. He thought quickly. How could he establish Bartouki's identity for certain? Then, as the phone rang, he knew.
Rick answered. "Rick Brant speaking."
"On your call to New York. Mr. Bartouki is on the line. Go ahead, please."
Rick raised his voice instinctively. After all, New York was a long distance away! Then he realized that electronic facilities reduce the need for shouting, and lowered it again. "Mr. Bartouki? This is Rick Brant."
"Good morning, Rick. Ah, but this is evening in Cairo, is it not?"
Rick was sure he identified the little merchant's voice, but he went ahead anyway. "Mr. Bartouki, please forgive me, but I must establish your identity beyond any doubt. Can you tell me what color dress my sister Barbara wore at your reception, and the color of her hair and eyes?"
"Of course. Her dress was a very attractive blue wool with a red leather belt. She is very blond, with dark-blue eyes, and she is about my height."
Rick was satisfied. "Thank you, sir. The reason I had to be careful is this. We went to Ali Moustafa's shop, and a man who did not answer your description of Ali Moustafa pretended to be him. We refused to give up the cat. Then our room was searched. We received a letter from Fuad Moustafa, and when we went to his house it was padlocked. Last night a man came to our room with a pistol and demanded the cat. We gave him a copy we had made in concrete. I should add we also were attacked in front of the Egyptian Museum by men who searched us. That was why we made the copies in concrete. The real one is hidden. Then, this morning, we were attacked again, inside the pyramid. We were rescued by Kemel Moustafa. He is here with us now. If you approve, we will give him the cat. If not, tell us what to do with it."
Bartouki's voice sounded incredulous over the ocean miles. "This is incredible! I must know the meaning of this. May I speak to Kemel?"
Rick handed the phone to the third brother and listened. Kemel launched immediately into a rapid flow of Arabic.
Scotty interrupted, "Can you speak in English please?"
Kemel stopped abruptly. "Of course. Forgive me." He spoke into the phone. "Your young American friends want me to speak in English, Mohammed. They are cautious, and they have reason. I did not know of their room being searched, the man who came with a pistol, or the attack in front of the museum. I arrived this morning because I had gone to the radio telescope to look for them.... Yes ... yes, most certainly I will try to find out who has caused them such trouble. Ali and Fuad are in Beirut. It is because of our father. You know that he has been very ill? Yes, by all means send a cable. It will be appreciated. And now, if you will tell Mr. Brant ... yes ... ma'e salamet Ellah, Mohammed. Allah protect you."
Moustafa handed the phone to Rick. The boy said quickly, "Yes, sir?"
"My dear boy, I am very upset by this affair." Bartouki sounded agitated, even across the miles. "Kemel will try to find out what has been going on. Meanwhile, please give him the model. And accept my apologies for getting you into such a situation, and my thanks for your loyalty to our model cat. I hope to show my appreciation when you return, and I shall certainly want to hear all about this. But for now, trust Kemel. He is my friend and associate."
Rick promised to do so, said good-by, and hung up. He turned to Moustafa and Scotty. "Mr. Bartouki agrees. We turn the cat over."
Kemel stroked his mustache. "Yes. But first, I must know of these attacks. Can you describe the men who attacked you at the Egyptian Museum?"
Scotty could, and did. He gave complete details of dress and appearance.
The Egyptian shook his head. "I'm afraid the descriptions mean nothing. They did not harm you?"
"They could have," Rick stated. "But they only searched us. We didn't have the cat with us, and it took only seconds for them to find out."
Moustafa's brows creased. "I can make no sense of this. Why would anyone want the cat?"
Rick and Scotty laughed mirthlessly. "That's exactly the same question we asked ourselves a thousand times," Rick said.
"And you made copies of concrete? That was extremely clever of you. I believe you gave one to a man who showed up here?"
Rick described the encounter, and he gave a detailed description of the man. Before he was through, Moustafa was nodding his head.
"I recognize this man! From your description, it can only be one Youssef. He is a well-known thief, and the leader of a gang. My brother Fuad was once requested to defend him, and refused. Another lawyer with less scruples took the case and got him off."
"But why would a thief want the cat?" Scotty asked.
Moustafa shook his head. "I do not know. Unless he intends to sell the model to a manufacturer, or to produce cats for sale himself. Or, if he knows how much time, money, and planning we have invested in this cat, he may see it as a means of revenge on the Moustafas because Fuad would not take his case."
The answer was logical enough, but it didn't ring true to Rick. At least the revenge part didn't. What had Youssef said? "I have no sentimental attachment to this object. I merely want it." A motive of revenge would be emotional, even if not exactly sentimental.
"Why do you carry a pistol?" Rick asked suddenly.
It took Moustafa a moment to reply. "I have enemies," he explained. "I will not bore you with an explanation of why this is, but the reasons are not related to this cat."
"How did you know the cat in the pyramid was not the right one?" Scotty demanded.
Moustafa studied the boy for a long moment before he replied. He shrugged. "I have been a contractor. I know concrete. The cat you brought is of plastic, which does not break. Or, if it does, it breaks differently. From your questions, I see you still harbor suspicions. Was not Bartouki's word enough?"
"It was," Rick said. "Only we'd like to know about these attacks. Who were the men, and why did they want the cat?"
"Then my explanation does not seem sufficient. I am truly sorry, because we are in your debt. But I cannot tell you more, because I know no more. The only thing I can do is talk to some people I know who may have more clues to Youssef's behavior."
Moustafa's attitude changed subtly. "Now, where is the cat?"
Rick was suddenly glad he didn't have it at hand. "It's in the Egyptian Museum," he said.
Moustafa exploded. "What!"
"That's right," Scotty added coolly. "We saw the men trailing us, so Rick hid the cat in the museum. If he hadn't, the thieves would have it now."
Moustafa sank down into a chair, a hand to his forehead. "But this is terrible! We can never recover it! Surely by now the museum curator has it."
Rick shook his head. "I don't think so. And I'm sure we can recover it."
"But how? Guards swarm everywhere. They are alert, because there was a big robbery not long ago. Everyone is watched. Everyone! I don't understand even how you could hide it without being seen."
"We have our own methods," Rick assured him. "And we'll get the cat back. If you will come here tomorrow night it will be waiting for you."
Moustafa rose and walked to the door. He looked at the boys, and above the luxuriant mustache, dark eyes blazed at them. "It had better be," he said flatly. "If you are caught by the museum guards you had better say it was a joke. As Americans, you may be believed. Do not connect me, or my brothers, or Bartouki with this thing! But get that cat! I don't care how. But get it!"
He slammed the door behind him.
Rick looked at Scotty. "Get it, or else?"
"Or else," Scotty confirmed. "He didn't say it, but he meant it."
Rick put his thoughts into words. "No one gets that excited over a plastic model. The cat is important for some other reason. But what?"
"I'll ask a different question for a change. Who would you rather have on your trail, Moustafa or Youssef?"
Rick stared at his pal for a long moment while he digested the implications of the question. "I see what you mean," he said finally. "There are two groups after the cat. Right? I've wondered about that myself, since we were rescued by Kemel this morning. So we're caught between a pair of tough characters, like eggs in the jaws of a vise."
Scotty finished grimly, "And right now the jaws are closing. Fast."
A thought struck Rick and he grinned. "How about scrambled eggs for New Year's Eve dinner?"
"It's New Year's Eve."
Scotty reached in his pocket and found a pocket calendar. He consulted it. "Hey, you're not kidding!"
"Nope. So, as the year closes, where are we? Caught between Kemel and Youssef."
"Maybe next year will bring better things," Scotty said with a grin.
"Uhuh. But for whom?"
"That," Scotty said, "remains to be seen!"
The Space Mystery
There was an air of excitement at the project when the boys arrived there the following morning. Everyone was busy on equipment, or studying Sanborn tracings. Winston and Kerama were working a slide rule while Farid read figures.
The boys waited until Winston gave a number, which Kerama marked on the pad he carried. Then the scientist looked up and gave the boys a big grin.
"Happy New Year both of you! Interesting news this morning. Take a look at these."
They were teletype sheets. Rick saw that a machine was now in one corner of the control room, where technicians had finished installing it during the night.
He and Scotty read the messages. Translated from the cryptic notations and abbreviations used by the astronomers, it added up to confirmation of the Egyptian findings by both Jodrell Bank and Green Bank. Both reported that they had also located a source of apparently modulated hydrogen impulses. Both gave the same co-ordinates in space, in terms of ascension and declination, the way astronomers locate the position of heavenly bodies. Both stated that the finding was remarkable and requested all available data from Sahara Wells, and both announced their intention of concentrating on the object while it was in "view" of their radio telescopes.
Rick looked at Winston, his eyes shining. "Boy! We're on to something big. What's the next step?"
"Next is a precise fix and distance computations by all stations. At the same time, we want two kinds of recordings. We'll continue making Sanborn tapes, but we also want audio-tape recordings."
"You want to actually hear this thing?" Scotty asked. This was unusual, since the radio telescopes ordinarily recorded the incoming signals in trace form on Sanborn strips.
"We don't want to overlook any possibility," Dr. Kerama said. "This is without precedent, and we are not sure how to proceed. Dr. Farid has set up an amplifier on the output circuit, in parallel with the normal system, and he has brought in a pair of tape recorders we borrowed from the government radio station. It may be that listening to this signal will give us clues that our eyes miss when we examine the tracings."
Winston added, "That's your job. I intended to keep you here together, a half day at a time. But this is too important for such considerations, and we haven't a large enough Egyptian staff to handle everything. So I'd like to work you in shifts."
"That's okay," Rick assured him. "When do we start?"
"The object comes up on our horizon shortly after one. Suppose you start then. The first shift can work until five, and the second from five to eleven. One of the Egyptian technicians will take over then until we lose the source below the horizon again."
Hakim Farid took the boys to the tape setup he had established and explained it to them. It was simple enough. The output signal from the receivers was fed into a regular tape-recording circuit. The tapes themselves were on huge reels good for about four hours of recording. It would only be necessary to watch the volume control and to see that all was running smoothly. Changing tapes was only a matter of slapping a new reel into place, dropping the tape into the recording head, and threading it into the empty reel.
"How will we work it?" Scotty asked, while they rechecked the setup and tried out the tape motors.
Rick frowned. "It kind of throws a monkey wrench into our plan, doesn't it?" He and Scotty had worked out a way to recover the Egyptian cat, again with Scotty distracting the guard.
"One of us will have to get it alone," Scotty said.
Rick watched the tape run through and searched his mind for a method. There was only one way he could think of that would get the guard out of the way. "Looks as if that third kitten is going to have a home," he said finally. "I'll wrap it in an old newspaper, then pretend to find it under something. I'll hand it to the guard. With luck, he'll get so excited he'll run for his boss, thinking someone has tried to steal a museum exhibit. Then I'll snaffle kitty off the shelf and hike out."
Scotty rubbed his chin. "Could work," he said finally. "Unless the guard insists that you go with him."
"No speak Arabic," Rick said. "I won't understand. Let's hope the guard speaks no English."
"Well, if anything goes wrong, Moustafa will just have to wait. So I'll take the first shift and you go get puss. That means I'll be waiting for ol' Kemel alone tonight at the hotel."
"Looks that way."
There seemed to be no solution except to turn the cat over. Bartouki had approved, and the cat was his. Much as the boys hated to let go of an unsolved mystery, there wasn't any other way.
Hassan drove Rick back into town, with the boy sitting in back. He would have preferred to be in the front seat with the dragoman, but the taxi meter took up too much room.
The guide parked directly in front of the museum and asked, "I go with you?"
"Not this time, Hassan. I won't be long." If Rick's trick was to work, no translator should be at hand.
He paid his piastres at the entrance and walked into the huge entrance hall, very conscious of the kitten in his pocket. It was wrapped in a week-old copy of a newspaper recovered from the debris around the new barracks.
When he reached the second floor he acted like a casual museum visitor, taking his time, and working from exhibit to exhibit. But his mind was not on the wonders of ancient Egypt. It wasn't much use to think about the cat, either. All the ground had been covered many times. Instead, he spent the time speculating on the meaning of the mysterious signal from space. Admittedly, he didn't have much knowledge of astrophysics or radio astronomy. But he had never heard of any natural phenomenon in space that emitted pulsed signals in random fashion. Some stars pulsed, like the Cepheid variables, but in an orderly way.
A half hour of speculation led him nowhere so far as the space mystery was concerned, but it did bring him slowly to the museum area that interested him. He nodded politely at the guard, and continued his examination of exhibits, moving finally into the little room where the cat was hidden. Soon he was close enough to see that the Egyptian cat and its antique friend were still in place. He continued on around the room until he came to a glassed-in case that held some rare alabaster figures. Directly before the glass case was a stone jar. It was big enough to hold the kitten.
Rick got ready. His coat was unbuttoned. He put a hand in the outside pocket, ready to swing the coat out so his other hand could remove the kitten from the inside game pocket with one swoop. He watched the guard, using the glass-case front as a mirror.
The guard bent his head to light a cigarette, and Rick moved. By the time the cigarette was going well, the kitten was in the jar and Rick was looking at the figures in the case again. He waited patiently, and tried identifying the figures so he would seem to be genuinely interested.
The figure with the stylized jackal head was Anubis, the god of death. The hawk-headed one must be Horus. The female figure would be Isis. The one with the solar disc over his head was probably Amon-Re. The rest he couldn't identify at all. He wondered if one of them was Bubaste, the cat goddess. It would be appropriate.
He drew back a little, first checking to see if the guard was watching, then he bent down and looked into the jar. He put a hand in and brought out the newspaper. He turned it over and hefted it. Then he started to unwrap it.
The guard was at his side in a flash, watching. The reddish form of the cat came into view and the guard snatched it from his hands. Rick turned to him with a look of bewilderment.
The guard unwrapped the kitten completely and held it up, then he turned swiftly and hurried out.
Rick was across the room in two bounds. He grabbed the Egyptian cat and tucked it into his inner pocket, then he closed his coat without buttoning it and hurried after the guard.
The guard hadn't gone far. Rick found him with another guard, gesticulating and waving the cat. Apparently the other guard was an officer, because he had tabs on his shoulder.
The guard with the cat saw Rick and beckoned to him. He walked over, trying to keep his expression interested but unconcerned.
The officer spoke English, but not well. "He say you get this?"
"I see in big jar. Vase. Stone. In newspaper. Someone leave?" Rick did his best to make his reply simple enough for understanding. He apparently succeeded.
"Think someone try steal. Bad."
"Very bad," Rick agreed, straight-faced. "Hope you find. Steal from museum no good."
"No good," the officer agreed.
"Good-by," Rick said. He held his breath waiting for the reaction.
Both guards gave him a half-salute, the courteous gesture he had seen often in Cairo. He bowed and walked toward the stairs.
Not until he was outside did he breathe freely. The cat was a comforting weight in his pocket as he got into Hassan's car. He wondered what the museum officials would think about the kitten. A moment's examination by one of the archaeologists would show that it was of concrete, and new concrete at that. Maybe it would just end up at the Lost and Found desk, if they had one.
"Let's go back to the project, Hassan," he directed. Scotty would want to know if he had been successful. Then he could go to the Mena House and have a late lunch while Scotty recorded signals.
If only he didn't have to give the Egyptian cat to Moustafa—until the mystery was solved. He grinned at his own thought. The cat was no good to him, was it? His only interest was solving the mystery. Why did so many people want it?
He forced himself to think logically. It was old ground, but he went over it again. The cat itself could have no real value. It was plastic, and plastic is cheap. On the other hand, it was valuable as a model, as Bartouki had explained, and Moustafa had confirmed again last night.
Rick wasn't satisfied. A professional thief like Youssef wouldn't be interested in a model. He would want only objects of high value.
There was only one possibility, which Rick and Scotty had considered before, that the cat contained something more than the piece of lead Bartouki had described. But there was no seam in the cat, no sign that it was anything but a solid casting. Still, Rick reasoned, if a piece of lead could be cast into it, so could something of greater value.
He had it! Somewhere in Cairo there must be a company that used X-ray or gamma-ray photography to check large castings. It was a very common method of industrial quality control. Farid or Kerama would know of one, and he could arrange to have the cat X-rayed! It could be done immediately.
Pleased with the idea, he paid attention to his surroundings for the first time since leaving the museum. Hassan was just rounding the corner by Sahara Wells, turning into the new spur that led to the project.
Ahead, across the road, was a caravan of camels. Rick watched, interested. There were a dozen camels, and Arabs in burnooses. Some of the camels seemed to be carrying loads. Like a movie, Rick thought.
Hassan slowed, tooting his horn. The group on the road paid no attention. They weren't going to get out of the way for any old gas burner, Rick thought. Not these traditional ships of the desert.
The car closed the gap, and one of the Arabs turned. Rick gasped. Under the desert headdress a pair of eyes were looking at the car through steel-rimmed glasses.
And Youssef wanted the cat!
The Broad Sahara
There was no way around the caravan without going into the desert, and the car was too close to turn around. They were trapped!
Rick hurriedly took the cat from his pocket and stuffed it down behind the cushion of the car, pushing until it was well hidden. He knew he would be searched; why else would Youssef come? He hoped a search was all there was to worry about.
Hassan leaned out of his window and shouted imprecations in Arabic, to which the Arabs paid no attention. They closed around the car, and Rick recognized two who had taken part in the attack at the museum—the Sudanese and the big Egyptian who had worn a tarboosh. He also recognized the one he had beaned with the kitten in the pyramid.
He was not among friends, he thought grimly.
Youssef opened the door. "Please get out," he requested. "It will be easier if you co-operate."
Rick looked at the odds and had to agree. He got out. Hassan was right behind him, still shouting in Arabic.
An Arab stepped up behind the guide and slugged him. Rick started to yell a protest, then a burnoose was tossed over his head and wrapped tightly around his chest, blocking out the light. He struggled, and was pushed to the ground. In a moment he was rolled over and knew they were wrapping him in a blanket or a rug.
He felt pressure as ropes bound him tight, then he was lifted and placed on something hard, stomach down, like a sack of meal on a chair. The chair lifted and rocked, and he heard loud groans, as though of a soul in mortal pain.
He was on one of the camels, and the beast was protesting!
Swaying motion began, and he knew his ungainly steed was underway.
For a moment he seemed to see himself from a distance, wrapped like Cleopatra in a rug, tossed on a camel like a bag of old clothes, and carted unceremoniously away by a band of Arabs. The picture was so ridiculous that he had to grin, in spite of the discomfort and the foul air that reached him through the dirty burnoose.
Then realization hit him. Youssef was in charge, and Youssef was a tough professional thief who intended to get the cat. Where was the thief taking him?
Sudden fear ran through his thoughts.
The camel swayed and jogged along for what seemed hours to Rick. Now and then he could hear voices, but he made no sense out of the Arabic. The camels complained constantly, and he felt like moaning with them. His stomach hurt from the constant rubbing across the saddle and both legs were asleep from the tight wrapping. His head dangled down, and now and then his nose banged when the camel lurched. He couldn't remember ever having been so uncomfortable for so long.
It seemed forever before the camel stopped. Rick hung over the saddle unprotestingly. There was nothing he could do but wait. Finally the camel lurched forward and Rick thought he would be thrown off, then the animal leveled again. The camel had knelt, still complaining.
Hands pulled Rick from the saddle and he felt someone at work on his bonds while the hands held him upright. Suddenly the burnoose was whipped off, and the brilliant sunlight made his eyes water. He squinted against the glare.
An Arab finished unwrapping him and stood back. He would have fallen except for the hands that still held him from behind. He looked over his shoulder and the big Sudanese grinned at him. He didn't feel like grinning back.
When his eyes were adjusted to the sun, he looked around. There was desert in all directions, no sign of civilization anywhere. Immediately before him was an ancient stone structure, nearly buried by the sands.
Youssef walked around one of the camels carrying a desert water bag. The thief lifted it, and water poured into his mouth in a thin stream. Rick licked his lips. "I'd like some of that," he said.
Youssef recorked the bag. "Doubtless," he agreed. "Mr. Brant, I size you up as what you Americans term a stubborn case. However, I am prepared to drop this whole affair right now—if you will turn over the cat without further trouble."
"We gave you a cat," Rick reminded.
"Yes. But not the right one."
"How do you know it isn't the right one?" Rick demanded.
Youssef smiled. "Shall we say that I had a cat expert examine it? Let it go, Mr. Brant. We both know you still have the one I want."
"But why do you want it?" Rick asked. He couldn't help asking, even though this obviously was not the time for friendly banter.
"I want it. That is enough. Will you give it to me?"
"I can't," Rick explained. "It must be turned over to Moustafa." He didn't say which Moustafa.
The thief sighed. "Then I was right. You are stubborn. Well, stubbornness is like starch. It does not last. In this case, we will let the desert and thirst take the starch out of you. After a few days here you will beg me to take the cat. But it is all so foolish, and so unnecessary! Why not be reasonable?"
Rick looked around at the endless, shimmering dunes of the Sahara, and he wanted desperately to be reasonable. He couldn't. "Sorry," he said.
"Very well. On your head be it." Youssef called in Arabic and two men lifted down a huge bundle from one of the camels. They unwrapped it, and Hassan swayed and blinked in the glaring sun.
"You shall have company," Youssef stated. He gestured at the surrounding wastes. "We leave you to do what you wish. You might even try to walk to civilization. I will leave no guard. However, I do not recommend it, because when I return it might not be possible to find you in time if you should leave here. When I come back I will have writing materials and you will send a note to your friend Scott, telling him to give me the cat. When I have the cat, I will see that your friends are told how to find you."
The thief swung to a kneeling camel, and his men followed suit. A command and the camels rose, mouthing their complaints. Youssef waved, and the caravan raced away with long, smooth strides across the desert.
Rick turned to Hassan. "Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.
The dragoman put a hand to his head. "Hurts like fire, but I okay. You?"
"What we do now?"
Rick saw the camels disappear behind a dune, then emerge again. It was a pretty, romantic picture, but one he couldn't appreciate.
"We wait," he told Hassan. "We wait, and I guess we hope. There's nothing else we can do."
The Cat Comes Back
The hands of the control-room clock crept up to five. Scotty asked an Egyptian technician to watch the tapes for a moment, then went to the telephone and called the hotel.
It wasn't like Rick to be late. Scotty thought his pal might have decided to take a nap and had failed to wake up in time, but he had little faith in the idea. Rick wasn't a nap taker. More likely, something had happened at the museum.
The hotel desk rang the room without success, and to Scotty's question, the clerk answered that he had not seen Mr. Brant or Hassan since morning.
Scotty debated calling the museum, and decided against it. He went to Parnell Winston, who was supervising the transfer of information from the Sanborn tracings to graph paper.
"Rick hasn't shown," Scotty said bluntly. "I'm worried. He's never late."
Winston glanced up. "Could Hassan's car have broken down?"
"Could be, but I don't think so. Rick could have gotten a taxi anywhere on the route. Besides, he was going to the museum to get the Egyptian cat. Something might have happened."
The scientist knew the two boys from long association, and they had kept him informed of their various adventures. In spite of his preoccupation with the project he had been interested in their cat mystery and had been keeping an eye on them. Winston hadn't noticed that Rick was late, but he was worried too, now that it was called to his attention.
"Go find him, Scotty. Dr. Kerama's driver can take you. I'll have one of the others watch the tapes. But get back as soon as you can."
Scotty planned his search on the way into town. He had the car take him to the museum as soon as they arrived in Cairo. The museum was closed, but questioning of the guard disclosed that Rick had been there, and had "found" an unusual statue wrapped in newspaper and left in an urn. It was a new statue, the guard captain said, probably left by some visitor who had disobeyed the sign about taking packages into the museum.
So Rick had carried out the plan and had rescued the Egyptian cat. Now the museum had the kitten.
Scotty had the car take him to the hotel. There was no sign of either Rick or Hassan, and no one had seen either of them. Scotty questioned the clerk, the doorman, the hall porter, the room maid, and the dragomen who waited for business in the narrow street between the Semiramis and the Shepheard's hotels.
Finally, he found a dragoman who knew nothing of their whereabouts, but added, "Why you not wait in room? They not far. Hassan's car here."
"Where?" Scotty demanded quickly.
"Out back. In alley."
Scotty ran. The dragoman was right! Hassan's car was parked in the usual place. He looked around to see who might have been working in the area, someone who might know when the car had arrived.
A window in the hotel kitchen opened into the alley above the car and a cook was looking out. Scotty found the door and hurried into the hotel. He worked his way through rooms and corridors until he found the kitchen. He saw that the cook was a salad maker who apparently worked at a bench right next to the window, but to his questions the man shook his head. He spoke no English.
Additional searching produced the chief cook, whose English was good. He relayed Scotty's questions and the cook's answers.
"He say car come while he cleaning up after lunchtime. He see stranger driving. So he lean out and ask where is Hassan. Stranger say he is the cousin of Hassan and Hassan lend him car. That is all. Cousin lock up car and go away."
It was enough. But Scotty's elation over finding a clue was tempered by the realization that a stranger driving Hassan's car could mean that Rick and the dragoman were in real danger. He did not know whether or not Hassan had any cousins, but he was certain the guide would not have loaned the car while on a job.
Scotty ran into the alley and tried all the doors. If Rick had managed to leave a note or any clue in the car, Scotty wanted it. Locked doors weren't going to stop him!
He searched the alley until he found a piece of stiff wire. He bent one end into a hook. Then, with his jackknife, he pried one of the no-draft windows open just far enough to slip the wire in. He wedged the window with a piece of wood and began fishing.
It took long, patient minutes to hook a door handle, then more time to maneuver the wire into position. By the time he was ready for the last step, the cooks and some of the dragomen were watching. He paid no attention. Holding his breath, he exerted pressure on the wire. The inner handle turned, the latch clicked. The door was unlocked.
Scotty started in the front seat and went over the car methodically. He found nothing. Finally, only the cushions were left. He pulled the front one away and examined the debris that seems to collect under car seats. He put the cushion back and went to the rear one.
He lifted the seat out—and disclosed the Egyptian cat, in back of the cushion where Rick had stuffed it.
Scotty examined it, his heart racing. He hurriedly set things to rights in the car, closed the car door, and hurried into the hotel.
He knew Rick, and he knew his pal wouldn't have parted with the cat except for one reason: to protect it. That meant Rick had expected to be searched.
Scotty followed the thought forward, logically. Rick had hidden the cat, then he and Hassan had been taken from the car. A "cousin" had brought it back to the hotel. Why? Scotty didn't know the answer to that, unless Rick and Hassan had been taken in some location where an abandoned car would have attracted attention. That wouldn't be in the city, because who would pay any attention to a car parked and locked at the curb?
But if not in the city, where? Somewhere in the desert was Scotty's guess. The desert was on both sides of the river, both north and south of Cairo. He could assume that the two had headed for the project, or that they had gone north for some reason he couldn't imagine.
He dropped the line of thought; it was getting nowhere. One thing was clear: whoever had taken Rick and Hassan hadn't suspected that Rick actually had the cat with him.
The cat had to be the reason. Someone who wanted it had decided on direct action. Scotty opened the door of the room he shared with Rick and looked about him unhappily, not really seeing anything. He knew Rick's captors would not have an easy time making his pal talk. And even when Rick did open up, he would spin some kind of yarn that would throw them off the trail. Scotty thought that Rick would not be in any great danger until he disclosed the cat's whereabouts. But he didn't like the idea of what Rick would have to go through before then.
The question was who had taken him?
There were two possibilities: Moustafa and Youssef. So far as Third Brother knew, the cat was to be delivered to him at the hotel that night. On the other hand, Youssef's men had searched them in front of the museum, and later Rick had handed Youssef a kitten. The thief must have found out that the kitten was a fake.
Scotty picked up the room telephone and called the project. In a moment he had Winston on the line. "Rick's gone," he said tersely. "Hassan, too. The car was brought to the hotel by a stranger. Rick left the cat in the car, behind the rear cushion. He wouldn't do that unless he knew he was going to be searched. My guess is that Youssef snatched them. I think it's time we got the police in on this!"
The Howling Jackals
Tourists travel thousands of miles to see the full moon rise over the Sahara Desert. It is a sight of lonely, majestic grandeur. The rolling contours of sand and rock assume weird, lovely patterns, and even the desert wind is hushed. It is at such times, men say, that the spirits of the ancient Egyptian gods, Amon-Re, Horus, Thoth, Isis, Osiris, Bubaste, and the others again walk on earth.
Rick Brant could appreciate the scene, but he was in no mood for it. He clutched his coat around him more tightly to keep out the penetrating desert chill. From behind a nearby dune he heard the rising, yapping howl of a jackal, one of earth's loneliest sounds.
Anubis, Egyptian god of death, had the head of a jackal, he recalled. He tried to wet his lips. He was terribly thirsty.
Hassan had been stretched out on the sand. He rose to a sitting position and gestured toward the dune that shielded the jackal from sight. "He noisy."
Rick nodded. "Do jackals always bark at night?"
"Always. It is their kismet."
Their fate, Rick thought. Born to bark at the empty desert. He wondered if the little doglike animals enjoyed it. "Do they always bark at nothing?"
"No. Sometimes they bark at people. Like now. He bark at us."
Rick grinned feebly. "He doesn't like us using his desert. Well, I'd be happy to give it back to him."
The dragoman nodded. "Also. You know, when our people want to say time go by ... how you say? ... life goes on and no man can stop time or make much change in things, they speak of the jackal."
Rick looked at the guide with interest. He had been glad all through the long hours of Hassan's presence. The Sudanese had turned out to be an entertaining and thought-provoking companion. "Is it a saying of some kind?" he asked.
Hassan nodded. "The little jackal barks—but the caravan passes."
Rick repeated the expression thoughtfully. It said a great deal. "I'll remember that, Hassan."
There was something he had wanted to ask. "May I ask a personal question?"
The guide spread his hands expressively. "You hired a dragoman, but he has become your friend. Ask what you will."
"Thank you, Hassan. Scotty and I think of you as a friend, too. I wanted to ask about your English. You've been speaking very good English to me all day, but until we were captured, you spoke sort of broken English."
Hassan chuckled softly. "It is part of show I put on. My clients talk too simple English to me most of the time. They don't expect me to know good English. So I do not speak as well as I can. Now, with you and Scotty, it is different. My broken English is habit, so I continue to speak it until today. But I knew it would be different with you when we had coffee together, and when we laughed together. That was when I knew I could leave my show clothes at home and dress in a suit."
Rick laughed with him. "So that's why you wore fancy stuff only that first day. But, Hassan, if you can't read or write, how did you learn such good English?"
"I am like a parrot," Hassan replied. "I hear, and I repeat. For four years I was houseboy to an American family, from USIS, what you call the United States Information Service."
"They taught you English?" Rick prompted.
"I knew some, but we helped each other. I teached them Arab talk, and they correct me when I speak American."
Hassan launched into a recital of his years with the Americans, who had been transferred to India, but still wrote to him now and then. Rick listened with only part of his mind. For the most, his thoughts went back over ground he had covered before, since Youssef had dumped the two of them next to an ancient crypt.
The big question was, of course, what would happen to them?
As though in answer, the little jackal appeared silhouetted on top of the dune. He lifted his head to the full moon, and his voice rose in a prolonged, yapping howl. Then, as suddenly, he was gone again.
Rick gave an involuntary shiver. By the time Youssef returned, he would be in bad shape from thirst. He wondered how long he could hold out, and in the same instant wondered why he should. There was some real value attached to the cat. It was not manufacturing rights or sales, and it was not revenge. He was sure of that.
Youssef had said that he had no sentimental attachment to the cat. He had also said he disliked unnecessary violence. Rick wondered what the thief considered "unnecessary."
What else could he recall of Youssef's talk? He had said that the cat was not important, that it had elements of value to some people, and that he never lied. If one took his words at face value and believed him, then the cat itself was not important. What did that leave? Rick could see only one thing: that it was important only because it contained something. Youssef's words simply reinforced the conclusion he and Scotty already had reached.
"Elements of value to a few people," Youssef had said. That might mean only a few people knew what the cat contained. If you didn't know, it was only a plastic cat. If you did know what it contained ... well, Youssef knew, and he wanted the cat badly enough to risk a kidnaping.
Rick wondered where the cat was now. He had no idea of what had happened to Hassan's car. If it was left on the road and not searched, Scotty or someone from the project would recognize it. Scotty would certainly search the car, and he would find kitty. It was what Rick would do, and he and Scotty thought alike on many things.
Hassan finished his recital of a trip to the Valley of the Kings with his American employers and Rick took advantage of the lull to borrow a match. He lighted it and looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight.
Had Scotty met Kemel Moustafa at seven? Rick thought he probably had, and wondered what Third Brother's reaction to his mysterious disappearance had been. If Scotty had the cat, had he delivered it? Rick thought not. Scotty would keep the cat, for bargaining purposes.
He found himself yawning. "Hassan, when do you think Youssef will come back?"
"If he wants us alive and able to talk, maybe day after tomorrow. If not—la samah Allah!—maybe longer."
"What's la samah Allah?" Rick stumbled over the pronunciation.
"God forbid," Hassan said grimly.
"Amen," Rick echoed.
He shifted position. "We'd better get some sleep. Should we go into the crypt or stay out here?"
The crypt was only a cubic chamber of rough stone, partly filled with drifting sand. Desert winds had been alternately covering and uncovering it for centuries.
"Stay out here until morning. Then we go in out of sun, like today. Youssef good to us. With no shelter from the sun, we would not last long."
"He's a fine fellow," Rick said without heat. "Good night, Hassan."
"Leltak s'aeeda, Rick. Good night to you."
The boy curled up in a ball, knees tucked into stomach, head resting on one arm. He covered up as much as possible with the short coat, squirmed until he had a depression for his hip in the sand, and closed his eyes.
On the nearby dune the little jackal peeked over the top at the two prone figures and sang his vast displeasure to the moon. From faraway a friend or relative joined in the serenade. It was the last thing Rick heard.
* * * * *
Hassan shook him. "Rick! Awaken, please! Camels coming."
Rick came back to reality from a dream of emptiness and loneliness in a darkened desert. The moon had set and false dawn was burning on the far horizon. He shook his head blearily. "What? Who's coming?"
"Not know. I woke and saw camels on the sky."
"In the east?"
"Yes. Against sky."
Rick shivered in the biting chill of early morning. He doubted that any legitimate travelers came this way. Youssef would not have left them near a caravan route. He could only guess that the thief himself was coming back, and he grew colder at the thought. Perhaps Youssef had decided not to wait to soften Rick up. On the other hand, there was a remote possibility he had the cat. If he was a thief with honor, he might simply be coming to take them back.
The idea seemed unlikely. Scotty wouldn't give up the cat, except in exchange for the two of them. If Youssef had found it himself, it was hours ago. He wouldn't have waited to search Hassan's car, if he had ever intended to search it.
An inner voice urged, "Tell him where the cat is. It's not your cat, and there's no reason to believe that Kemel Moustafa has any more right to what's inside of it than Youssef has."
But there was a deep streak of stubbornness in the Brants, which Rick had inherited. He knew he wouldn't give in until he absolutely had to. When that time came he would tell Youssef the truth, that he had hidden the cat in the Egyptian Museum. What he would not say was that the cat had been recovered and that he had left it in Hassan's car.
False dawn had faded. It was nearly black, except for myriad stars. Hassan lay with his ear to the ground. Rick held perfectly still and waited.