Finally Hassan sat up. "Close now," he whispered.
Rick wondered briefly if they shouldn't put up a fight, but he knew it would be useless. Youssef had too many men.
The camels appeared like wraiths from behind the dune, and Rick blinked trying to see more clearly.
There were three, and only one of them carried a rider. He waited tensely for the rest of the band to appear.
The camels arrived and Rick whispered urgently, "The rest must be behind. Jump him and we'll grab the camels and make a run for it."
Hassan tensed. "Yes. Be ready."
The camel rider came close, and lifted a hand in greeting. "Assalamo alaikum. Fil khedma, ya sidi. Ana gay men sidi Moustafa."
Rick was tensed to spring, to haul the man from his saddle, when Hassan put a hand on his arm. "Wait. He say greeting, he is at your service, and he come from Mr. Moustafa!"
Rick watched in unbelieving amazement as the driver forced his groaning camel to kneel, then immediately commanded the other two to kneel also. When the camel's protests had ceased, Hassan spoke to him rapidly. The man answered at length.
"He was with Youssef," Hassan said. "But he is also in the pay of Kemel Moustafa. Last night he went to Moustafa and told him about us. Moustafa sent him to bring us back."
Rick hesitated. Could they trust this man? But it was a silly question, because he knew he had no choice. Anything was better than sitting in the desert and waiting.
"Ask if he has water, then we'll go with him."
The man did, a full water bag. They drank sparingly, knowing the danger of too much water after deprivation. Then the three mounted the camels. Rick held onto the horn in front of him as the mount lurched protestingly to its feet, then they were going across the sands to the east at what seemed incredible speed. Ahead of them, the first flush of real dawn was visible.
* * * * *
The sun was high before they came within sight of the first man-made objects in the desert. Rick saw pyramids, but not those of Giza. He called to Hassan, who was riding his swaying mount like a veteran.
"What pyramids are those, Hassan?"
"Sakkarah," the dragoman replied. "We come back long way around."
To the east, then the south, Rick thought. He was by no means sure of what would be waiting, but at least he knew where he was. Sakkarah, a "must" for tourists, Bartouki had said. Well, he was getting there, even though he had taken the hard way.
On the road near Sakkarah a car was waiting, and in it was Kemel Moustafa. The cameleer made the mounts kneel. Rick and Hassan got off, and the man with the camels hurried away without a word. The two walked up to the car.
"Thank you for rescuing us," Rick said politely.
Moustafa had not spoken. Now he tugged at his mustache and nodded. "Whether it was worth while remains to be seen. According to my man, Youssef did not get the cat. This is correct?"
"Yes. Did you see my friend last night?"
"I did. Precisely at seven. He informed me that you were missing. Then, sometime later, my man managed to leave Youssef's gang and report in. I at once made plans for your rescue. Now tell me. Where is the cat?"
Rick was very, very tired of the Egyptian cat. He thought grimly that when he returned home he and his sister would have a long talk about volunteering services for strangers.
"The cat is under the back cushion of Hassan's car," he said tiredly. "And the sooner you take it off my hands, the better."
"Hassan's car is at the hotel," Moustafa said. "Come. We will go there at once."
Rick and Hassan climbed into the car and Moustafa raced the motor. He meshed gears and spun his wheels as he got off to a fast start.
He's certainly in a hurry to get that cat, Rick thought. Well, he was the legitimate receiver. Only it was too bad to let the animal go without ever knowing what it contained.
No matter, Rick thought, as the desert road sped underneath. No matter now. In a few minutes it will be finished.
Ismail ben Adhem
Rick awoke with the setting sun in his eyes. He yawned luxuriously and turned over to look at the clock, then sat upright in bed at the sight of Scotty and a stranger.
The stranger was young, with a friendly smile. He was relaxed as he sat in a comfortable chair, but it was the same kind of relaxation one sees in a panther or another of the great cats. Rick knew, without even asking, that this lean, bronzed, good-looking Egyptian was a police officer and that he probably was a very good one. He looked like a hunter.
"Thought you were going to sleep till tomorrow," Scotty said. "Rick, this is Inspector Ismail ben Adhem of the Cairo Police."
The inspector held out a brown hand. Rick sensed the strength in it, although the handshake was normal. "I'm glad you're here," the boy said frankly. "Between Youssef and Kemel Moustafa, we're sort of in a jam."
The inspector smiled. "Well see if we can get you out of it. Suppose you call me Ben, just to make things easy. Now, Scotty has given me a detailed report of your activities up to the time you left the project yesterday. Suppose we pick up from there?"
"Okay. Can I order breakfast first?"
"Of course. Forgive my impatience. We can talk at leisure over coffee."
Rick placed the order, then launched into a recital of yesterday's events, including his night in the desert and rescue by Kemel Moustafa. He concluded, "We came back to the hotel. Hassan opened the car, and the cat was gone. Of course I had no idea what had happened to it. Moustafa turned black with rage. He said I had a clear choice of getting the cat back and turning it over to him, or having something unpleasant happen. He'll be back at seven. He wasn't joking."
"No," Ben agreed. "I know this man, and he does not joke. What then?"
"I sent Hassan home to get some rest, and I came up to the room and called the project. Scotty answered. He told me Felix was safe, so I knew he had the cat, and he told me the police had been called in. I just fell into bed and went to sleep. That's it."
"It's enough," the inspector said. "Of course neither of you had any way of knowing what was going on. You had merely undertaken to do a favor for an acquaintance. I just wish some kind wind had whispered to you the idea of reporting to us after that first day in El Mouski."
"I guess we were wrong," Rick admitted. "At first it didn't seem like a matter for the police. Later, we just didn't think of it."
"I understand. But it doesn't pay to be too independent in a strange land, I assure you. Ask Steve Ames."
The boys stared in amazement. Steve Ames was a close friend, and their contact in JANIG, one of the top American government security organizations.
"How do you know Steve?" Rick asked in astonishment.
"He and I went through the FBI Academy together. We keep in touch. Also, the International Police Organization, which is called Interpol, keeps us up to date on developments. I know that your scientific group works closely with Steve."
So Ismail ben Adhem was an FBI graduate! Rick looked at him with new respect. "I guess we should have reported to you," he said. "We just didn't know."
"No matter. It will all work out, anyway. In fact, your delay in contacting us may even make things simpler."
"How?" Scotty asked.
Ben shrugged. "We will see. This cat of yours has many interesting possibilities."
"Do you know why the cat is important?" Rick demanded.
"I have an idea. But please do not press me for details. It is better for everything to go on normally while I do a little useful work. So, I suggest you two continue on as before, with only one difference. You will use a different taxi to travel back and forth to Sahara Wells."
"But Hassan is our dragoman," Rick protested. "What's more, he's a friend. We can't switch now, after we engaged him for the duration of our stay."
Ben smiled warmly. "Your loyalty to Hassan does you credit. But don't worry. He will be taken care of. You and I will trade transportation. I will use Hassan, and you will use my taxi."
"I don't get it," Scotty said.
"It's simple. Both of you are able to testify to criminal actions on the part of Youssef. Also, if this works out as I hope, you will have testimony to give on the actions of Kemel Moustafa. Now, if you knew there was evidence against you, and you were completely ruthless, what would you do?"
"Remove the evidence," Rick said slowly. His eyes met Scotty's.
"Exactly. So, Hassan stays with me, and your taxi driver will be one of my best officers. He will stay with you at all times. While you are in the hotel, another of my men will be your hall porter."
"Do you really think we're in any danger?" Scotty asked.
"Don't ever doubt it, Scotty. Be on guard at all times."
"It's because the cat is very important," Rick stated. "And the cat is important because of something inside of it. You know what that something is."
"An excellent deduction," Ben agreed with a grin. "All but the last statement. I do not know what it is. I merely suspect. My evidence is circumstantial. I'll tell you this much, though. I know a great deal about certain interests of the Moustafa brothers, and I was informed by Interpol that there is an interesting gentleman of great wealth in San Francisco who talks too much."
Rick thought over the statement. It didn't help at all. He couldn't see what a talkative man in California had to do with the Egyptian cat. "That's not very informative," he objected.
Ben laughed. "I'm sure it isn't. But I'll make you a promise. Before you leave Egypt, we will perform a small operation on the cat and remove its appendix—or whatever else it may have inside."
"We'll hold you to that," Scotty told him.
Rick's breakfast arrived, and over cafe au lait and Egyptian rolls Ismail ben Adhem questioned Rick until he was sure he had extracted all the information the two boys had.
It suddenly occurred to Rick that he had asked no questions himself. "Where's the cat?" he demanded.
"At the project," Scotty replied. "I was going to turn it over to Ben, but he said to leave it there."
"It might be uncomfortable at the station," Ben added with a twinkle. "After all, it's a well-cared-for pet."
Rick grinned. "We've grown fond of it," he admitted. "Second question: can't you just pick up Youssef on a kidnapping charge?"
"We could, if we knew where to find him. But Youssef is a hard man to locate when he goes underground. We've been trying to get something on him for years, and we know him well. This time he's over-played his hand and we've got him. It's only a question of time."
"How about Moustafa?" Rick asked. "Is he guilty of anything?"
The police officer finished his coffee and rose. "Not yet," he said. "But he will be. Now, stay together at all times. Ride with the taxi driver who will be waiting for you in the hall. Otherwise, go about your business as usual, and have a good time."
Scotty saw him to the door, then turned to Rick. "Moustafa isn't guilty of anything yet, but he will be. That's interesting."
Rick thought so, too. "Isn't it pretty careless, leaving the cat at the project?"
"Seems so," Scotty agreed. "But I think Ben knows what he's doing."
"I guess you're right," Rick said soberly.
After more coffee and a shower, he felt like himself again. There was work to do at the project, so the two boys picked up the police driver, who was keeping an eye on their door, and rode to the project.
The scientists greeted Rick happily. "We were pretty worried for a while," Winston said, and the Egyptians echoed him.
"We don't usually treat tourists this way," Farid said jokingly, but behind the smile Rick sensed that the Egyptian scientist was embarrassed by what had happened to a guest.
"I got myself into it," Rick pointed out. "If we had gone to the police about the Egyptian cat that first day, there would have been no trouble."
Dr. Kerama put a hand on his shoulder. "It is very kind of you to try to save our feelings. But we were so involved in this fascinating problem that we simply didn't pay enough attention. Otherwise, we could have advised you to see the police."
"How is it going?" Rick asked.
"Very well," Farid said. "We're exchanging reports constantly with the other radio telescopes and it's clear that we have something extraordinary. We're trying to agree on the precise location of this space object. The next step will be to examine the signals more closely to see if a pattern can be found or if they're simply random."
"If you and Scotty feel up to it," Winston added, "we'd like you to duplicate the audio tapes for us. We want to send a set right away to Green Bank. They started audio recording, too, yesterday, but they don't have the hours when the object was in sight of our telescope but not theirs. They're duplicating the signals we didn't get after the object dropped below our horizon. That way we'll both have a complete record for analysis."
"What is the space object?" Rick asked.
Winston shook his head. "We don't know. It's too early even to speculate much. Can you make the duplicates?"
It was early evening. "We can get sandwiches at the Mena House and work until we're finished," Rick replied. "That will get us home before midnight. There can't be more than a few hours to record."
"Fine. You'll be alone, but since the inspector put a police guard on you, I'm sure it will be all right."
Farid had arranged the technical setup, using another unit borrowed from the government radio station for the purpose. All they would need to do was feed tape into the machines and watch the recording level.
One of the Egyptian technicians drove to the Mena House and brought back sandwiches and cokes. The scientists departed, to have a quick dinner and then resume work at a different location where a computer was available to do the complicated mathematics required for analysis of the data.
Rick and Scotty started work right away. The police driver sat in a chair and watched them. He spoke English, but wasn't much of a conversationalist. After a while the boys forgot he was there.
Listening to the space signal was strange. As the tape ran through, Rick was certain his ear detected a kind of pattern in the sounds. There was a continuous hiss; that was normal hydrogen on the 21-centimeter wave length. Then there were sharper hisses, as though some strange creature was trying to send a coded message through the noisy hydrogen background.
"It's a message of some kind," Rick stated. "I'll bet on it."
"Who sends messages from space?" Scotty asked with a grin. "Ghouls, ghosties, or long-legged beasties?"
"Don't laugh," Rick said impatiently. "Didn't you ever hear of Project Ozma?"
Scotty hadn't. "The wizard of Ozma?"
"The name comes from Princess Ozma of Oz, I guess, but it was the first project to use the Green Bank telescope to try to locate intelligent signals from space. Stuff exactly like this."
"Nope. On the level."
Scotty listened to the continuous signal, his face thoughtful. "Maybe there is intelligence behind it. And maybe not. I don't get much of a pattern out of the sounds."
"Maybe the seven-eyed men of the planet Glup don't have rhythm," Rick began. "Anyway ..."
He never finished the sentence. The control-room door slammed open. Arabs crashed through, bringing the police guard to his feet with a bound. He snatched a pistol from a shoulder holster and got off two shots before an answering shot caught him and spun him around with the impact. The police guard slid slowly to the floor!
The Fight at Sahara Wells
The pistol dropped from the police driver's nerveless hand and Scotty leaped. Rick dropped to the floor as his pal picked up the pistol and rolled, shooting as he turned. His second shot caught an Arab and slammed him back into the others who were trying to crowd in.
Rick looked frantically for a weapon. The only thing in sight was a heavy ceramic ash tray that the guard's fall had knocked to the floor. He grabbed it and threw, rising to one elbow. The ash tray caught an Arab in the throat. Someone shot, and chips flew from the cement floor next to Rick's head. He rolled away.
Scotty aimed with care, as coolly as though he stood on the range back home. He squeezed the trigger and was rewarded by a choked yell from beyond the doorway. He fired again, and a burnoosed figure grabbed the doorframe for support.
The Arabs beyond the doorway had dived for cover, leaving the doorframe clear except for the most recent victim of Scotty's shooting and the one Rick had hit. He was lying on the floor with both hands clutched to his throat, gagging and gasping for air.
A headdress was thrust around the frame and Scotty squeezed off a quick shot. The hammer clicked harmlessly. He was out of ammunition! He threw the pistol and the head vanished.
Both boys got to their feet and crouched to rush any newcomers. They whirled at the tinkle of broken glass behind them.
Youssef stood in the window, a Sten gun trained on them. Rick looked at the deadly little submachine gun and gulped. He remembered what Ben had said about removing the evidence.
The thief said, "Put both hands on top of your heads."
The boys did so, with no hesitation. In spite of Youssef's apparently casual manner, both knew he would not hesitate to shoot. He raised his voice and shouted in Arabic. The boys stiffened as footsteps sounded behind them and gun muzzles were thrust into their backs. Youssef vanished from the window and reappeared in a moment through the door.
"You're a difficult young man," he told Rick. "But the time for being difficult is over. I want the cat, now."
"I left it in Hassan's car," Rick said, with pretended hopelessness.
Youssef spoke in Arabic. The pressure of the gun muzzle left Rick's back. He felt a cord being slipped around his forehead, a cord with hard knots that fell across his temples.
"What you feel is a strangler's cord," the thief said grimly. "Don't be a fool. The cat means nothing to you; you were merely a messenger boy. Give me the cat and you will be left alone."
"Not until the evidence is destroyed," Rick thought. "Not until we're dead."
"It's in the car," he repeated.
Youssef lost his composure. He snapped an order in Arabic and the cord tightened. Rick gritted his teeth. Next to him, Scotty bent forward.
"Don't try it," the thief grated. "I only need one of you." His black eyes bored into Rick's. "One of my men watched you and Moustafa search Hassan's car this morning. The cat was not there. Where is it?"
Rick started to shout that he didn't know, when a burst of shooting accompanied by wild yells broke out outside. Youssef spoke quickly in Arabic, then turned to the boys. "Sit down in those chairs. Move, and you die. I will deal with you when I have found out what this is all about."
The shooting gained in volume and the yells increased. The boys took the seats and stared at the big Sudanese, who was covering them with the Sten gun. The strangler's cord was draped carelessly about his neck.
"That's a real gun fight outside," Scotty whispered.
Rick nodded. He could detect several guns of different calibers, and the chatter of Sten guns was distinctive. What was going on?
The shooting lessened, then stopped altogether. The shouting increased. The big Sudanese kept glancing over his shoulder at the doorway, as though fearful of what he might see, but he always glanced back too quickly for the boys to act.
"Watch it," Scotty said from the corner of his mouth. Rick casually got his feet under him and tensed.
Scotty's eyes opened wide and he choked, "Inspector!"
The Sudanese whirled, Sten gun ready, and the boys left their chairs in a bound. Rick dove for the thief's knees while Scotty smashed straight into him like a battering ram. The big man toppled over backward, his blazing Sten gun chipping plaster from the ceiling.
Rick let go of his grip on the knees and clawed for the man's throat. Scotty concentrated on the Sten gun, grabbing the hot barrel and bending backward.
The big Sudanese heaved, and Rick felt as though he was a terrier hanging to a wild bull. The man was incredibly strong. The boy grabbed his throat in one hand and fended off crushing blows with the other.
He was concentrating so hard on holding his grip that a newcomer who ran into the control room had to yell. "Get up, I said. All of you!" A heavy foot crashed down on the Sten gun and held it.
Rick looked up, dazed with effort, into the cold face of Kemel Moustafa. Third Brother had a Luger automatic, and he looked ready to use it.
The boys rolled away and got to their feet. The Sudanese got to his knees and started to get up. Moustafa struck with the Luger and the man collapsed.
The pistol muzzle pointed at Rick. "You double-crossed me," Moustafa grated. "You were supposed to give me the cat an hour ago at the hotel. Fortunately, I had one of my men follow Youssef, because I suspected he would find the cat sooner or later. Give it to me."
"Your men must have won the fight," Rick ventured.
"They did. Conversation will not help. I have thought about this, and I am certain Youssef did not get the cat. His presence here confirms it. Also, I believe that you thought it was in the car until we searched. If Youssef did not take it, your own friend did. You would not leave it in the hotel, so it must be here. Either you give it to me freely, or I will shoot you and take my chances on finding it."
"Make up your mind!" Moustafa snapped. The pistol steadied on a line with Rick's head.
"Give it to him," Scotty said. "He means it."
There were shots from outside again. Moustafa blazed, "Hurry! Youssef's men must be loose. I count three and shoot! One, two...."
"Hold it," Rick said hurriedly. "It's under the amplifier."
He walked to the amplifier and bent, fumbling with the door latch. If he could shield his motions, he could grab the cat, turn, and throw. He might be lucky ...
"Just hand him the cat," Scotty said quickly.
Rick seethed inside, but he knew Scotty was right. The Egyptian cat wasn't worth his life, no matter what it contained. He opened the door and took the cat out. Then he turned slowly and held it out to Moustafa.
"You're being wise," Moustafa said. His eyes gleamed. He reached for the cat. Rick handed it to him.
"Drop!" a voice yelled. Rick and Scotty dove to the floor on the instant. Moustafa whirled, gun lifted to shoot, and saw no one.
"The building is surrounded by police officers," the voice said. "Just drop your gun." The voice came from outside the doorway, and it belonged to Ismail ben Adhem.
Moustafa yelled desperately, "Don't try anything, or I shoot the Americans!" He faced the empty doorway, ready.
Ben's voice said, "If you will turn slowly, you will see a shotgun barrel pointed at you through the window. If you turn rapidly, it fires. And, as you turn, another shotgun will come through the doorway to cover you. You're all done, Kemel. Better drop it. I want you alive."
Third Brother turned, slowly and carefully. Rick looked up and saw the shotgun barrel, as Ben had promised. He saw Ben step through the doorway, a riot gun in his hands.
Moustafa's Luger dropped to the floor.
The Cat's Secret
The tape machines ran unnoticed, except for an occasional glance from Rick and Scotty. All through the fight the signals had continued, with no one paying any attention. Rick hoped that if they came from intelligent beings, they were of a kind that didn't get involved in gang fights.
Next to him, bandages around one thigh, Youssef sat, his hands handcuffed together in his lap. Moustafa, unharmed but helpless, was handcuffed in another chair. From outside, the wail of ambulances announced that the wounded were being carried off, the police driver among them. He had been knocked out by a chest shot, but Ben assured the boys there were superb surgeons in Cairo who would take good care of him.
The inspector sat on a chair facing the others, the Egyptian cat in his hand.
"Now that things are quiet again," he said, "I think we might talk a little. I promised our two American guests that they would find out the secret of this little beast, and now is as good a time as any."
"I can get a saw to open it with," Rick offered eagerly.
Ben grinned. "Patience, Rick. First we must paint a background, so that we may see the whole picture. Where shall we begin? With Moustafa?"
Kemel Moustafa maintained a sullen silence.
"No co-operation? Then I shall begin. Boys, I regret to inform you that Mr. Kemel Moustafa is a member of a conspiracy to overthrow the United Arab Republic government."
Rick and Scotty turned to look at the mustached man. He sat impassively.
"His brothers also are in this conspiracy. He told you they were in Beirut, but he was not truthful. They are in jail, here in Cairo, awaiting trial. We picked up Ali the day before you arrived. We did not get Fuad until an hour before you visited him. The local people were nervous over the arrest. Many in that neighborhood support the Moustafas."
Kemel Moustafa spoke. "I'm not in it. You can't prove that I am."
Ben nodded. "Proof may be difficult. That is why you were allowed to remain at large while we collected your brothers. But, meanwhile, we have you on a charge of armed robbery, since you used a pistol to get the cat from our American friends a few minutes ago." He turned to the boys. "Talk of overthrowing a government probably sounds strange to you. It has been many years since the American government was in any danger of revolt."
"We don't understand some of the foreign revolutions," Rick agreed. "But I suppose when a group isn't satisfied, it's apt to plot a revolution if there seems to be a chance of success."
"That's right," Ben agreed. "Our country is much older than yours, historically, but actually it's much younger. The Republic is pretty new. Some of our dissatisfied citizens still think it's more efficient to make changes with bullets instead of ballots."
Scotty asked, "Why do they want to make changes? What kind of changes?"
The inspector grinned. "Many kinds. We have groups that think the monarchy ought to be restored. We have others who think our foreign policy is too neutral, or that it isn't neutral enough. And we also have people who don't like our currency controls because they prevent tremendous profits from speculation. There are other groups, too. All are minorities and the only way they can see to make rapid changes is to overthrow the government and set up their own."
"Then you have revolutionaries plotting all over the place!" Rick exclaimed.
"It's not quite that bad. Most groups have little support, and only one or two have any funds. It takes money for revolution, you know."
Rick could see that revolutions cost plenty, and he began to see the importance of the Egyptian cat. In the little plastic statue, in some form, were the finances of the revolt!
"The money for the Moustafa revolution was to come from America," Ben continued. "Bartouki needed a messenger, so he waited until one came along. That was you."
Rick protested, "But why should he trust his finances to a stranger? There must have been better ways of getting the money here!"
The officer shook his head. "It is not as easy as you think. We know who these revolutionaries are. We keep an eye on their comings and goings. They do not get past our borders without a thorough customs inspection. Now, ask yourself—who can get past customs with no difficulty? Officials of governments, scientific groups who come at our invitation, and tourists."
"Why didn't he use someone disguised as a tourist?" Scotty asked.
"That probably would have been his method, except that you stumbled into things and the chance was too good to miss. Also, you did not declare the cat on your customs statement. We would have been interested in an Egyptian cat coming the wrong way!"
"I didn't know I was supposed to declare it," Rick said. "It just never occurred to me."
Ben glared. "Technically, you have broken our laws." He relented and grinned. "But if you will promise to import no more Egyptian cats...."
"I promise, swear, and affirm," Rick said hastily.
"Good. To continue. We took Ali Moustafa into custody, but not before a phone call reached him from New York. His chief clerk listened to this call and sold the information to Youssef. The clerk also agreed, for a share of the profits, to pretend to be Ali, and he enlisted the help of the other clerks. We know this from the clerk. He talked freely, in the hope of leniency."
Ben turned to Youssef. "Do you know what is in the cat?"
The thief shook his head. "Only that it is of great value. I bought the clerk's information and help because I knew it was the Moustafas who stole the necklace from the museum. I believe the necklace is in the cat."
Rick stared. The Kefren necklace, worth a quarter of a million! Great ghostly pyramids! This was big business!
"The necklace was smuggled out of the country," Ben agreed. "We are certain of that. But I do not believe it is in the cat."
"Open it," Rick begged.
The inspector held up his hand. "Presently. Aren't you enjoying the suspense?"
"It's killing us," Scotty wailed.
"Ah, the impatience of the young!" Ismail ben Adhem obviously was having a good time. "Well, the pieces are nearly tied up."
"Good," Rick applauded.
Ben chuckled. "On the same day that Kerama invited you to come, I had a call from the Interpol clearinghouse in Paris, a relay from the San Francisco police. A wealthy collector of early Egyptian objects in San Francisco had been bragging that he had just purchased a genuine necklace that had belonged to one of the early Pharaohs. We requested the Americans to investigate."
That explained the Californian who talked too much, Rick thought. He had known the purchase was illegal, but, like many collectors, could not resist letting a few friends in on his secret—and the secret had leaked to the police.
"This collector had paid for the necklace with a certified check, which was cashed by an American accomplice." Ben paused for effect. "The amount was two hundred thousand dollars cash."
He got his effect. All four of his listeners gasped in amazement.
"Even Moustafa didn't know the exact amount," Rick thought.
"The money was in thousand-dollar bills. I have the serial numbers."
Rick spoke up. "But, Ben, numbered bills are like a flag! No one can spend them without getting caught."
"That is true, Rick, when something illegal is involved. Had the collector kept his mouth shut, no one would have known any illegality was involved in the transaction."
"But you can't use American money in Cairo," Scotty objected. "It has to be changed."
"Right, Scotty. The problem was this: the revolutionaries could not convert their dollars to Egyptian pounds in America. It would have attracted too much attention, because only a few banks and finance houses can handle such amounts, and then only in co-operation with the government. Their best bet was to get the dollars into the Arab countries. We can watch international traffic, but local traffic among the Arab nations is hard to control. They would have sent the dollars to another country to be changed."
"An Arab country?" Rick asked.
"Probably. The borders between the Republic and its neighbors are desert, impossible to patrol. The dollars could have been sent, then gradually converted into Egyptian currency. Dollars sell readily in this part of the world, and sometimes not too many questions are asked."
"I get the picture," Rick stated. "The Moustafas stole the necklace, and smuggled it to America. Bartouki sold it to the collector, through an American helper. Then he had the money sealed in the cat. He handed it to me, because my sister gave him an opening and I fell into it. Meanwhile, you put Ali in jail, then Fuad. Youssef got into the act through the clerk. So then we had Kemel Moustafa and Youssef on our trail. Why didn't you put Kemel in jail, too? And how about Bartouki?"
"We had no evidence that would stand up in court against Kemel, although we were convinced he was in the act with his brothers. That's why I waited until he tried to take the cat by force."
Rick exploded, "You used us and the cat for bait!"
"It worked," Ben pointed out mildly. "We got both Youssef and Moustafa, although the trap was only for Kemel. And you were never in any real danger, except for a stray bullet. I've been in the unfinished barracks with my men since noontime. The senior scientists knew it. That's why they were willing to leave you alone. Two of my men mingled with Youssef's gang as soon as they arrived, and weren't detected. Any sign of real danger to you and they'd have bailed you out fast. But we were holding off, because I had a radio message that Kemel was on his way with a gang of his own."
"You certainly had things taped," Scotty said admiringly. "I guess we ought to be mad. But you'd have an equal right to get mad because we tried to go it alone."
"We'll call it square," Ben agreed. "About Bartouki. We needed the evidence of the cat, and a statement from you that he had handed it to you. That was the only sure way of tying him in. Tonight we'll send a message via Interpol to the New York police."
So far, everything had been circumstantial evidence. Rick wanted to see if their guesses were correct. "Open the cat," he begged.
"Get the saw," Ben said.
Rick jumped to his feet. There was a toolbox in the closet. He brought it to the inspector.
Ben handed the cat to him. "Saw away."
Scotty held the cat firmly on a chair while Rick wielded the saw. Plastic sawdust flew from under the blade.
Rick felt the blade hit metal and stopped. "Hit something!" he said excitedly. "Metal, but soft. Like lead."
Scotty groaned. "Do you suppose Bartouki was telling the truth?"
"We'll soon know." Rick moved the saw blade to a different angle and began cutting around the cat, changing angles each time he hit the material on the inside. Before long, the Egyptian cat had a cut around its middle and Rick put the saw away. There were a hammer and screw driver in the toolbox. He inserted the tip of the screw driver into the saw cut and tapped the handle with the hammer.
The cat split open.
Scotty let out a yell of triumph. In the bottom half was a square of lead, and it was clearly a box, not a solid lump.
"Hurry!" Rick pleaded.
Scotty took the screw driver and pried. The lead box yielded reluctantly.
There wasn't a sound in the control room except for the impulses from the tape recorder, which ran on unnoticed.
Scotty pried gingerly, and the lead box came loose and dropped to the floor.
Rick scooped it up and turned it in his hands, looking for the opening. He found only a thin seam of solder around one flat side.
"Have to cut it open," Rick said. Using his jackknife, he scored the bead of solder. It cut easily. He scored it again, deeper, and felt the knife blade penetrate. He turned the box and did the same thing to both ends.
Face flushed with excitement, he took the screw driver, thrust it under the lid, and bent it upward.
The box opened.
It contained a solid wad of bills. Rick touched the top one, still a little unbelieving. The figure on it was 1000!
He turned the box over and tapped it. The bills dropped out. He didn't doubt there were two hundred of them.
Two hundred thousand dollars!
Rick looked at the expressions on the faces around him. Scotty was standing with openmouthed excitement. Youssef was leaning forward, feasting on the wealth with greedy eyes. Moustafa was slumped in resignation. And Ismail ben Adhem had the look of the cat that swallowed the cream.
"Now," Rick said triumphantly, "now we know why the cat was important!"
The Signal Vanishes
Rick studied the Sanborn tracing. He could see where the pulsed signals gradually disappeared into a much stronger, steady 21-centimeter signal.
"We lost it at 4:02 yesterday," Winston said. "It hasn't reappeared. Apparently the signal source moved into, or behind, a globular cluster."
Rick's brows knit. "That's more evidence that it was moving contrary to normal direction?"
"It is," Dr. Kerama agreed. "What's more, the calculated velocity was simply incredible. The only velocities we know of that approximate it are those of galaxies at the very limit of our instruments."
Rick said what was on his mind. "It was a spaceship. What else would travel across normal star directions giving out signals?"
He grinned sheepishly. It wasn't strictly proper to blurt out his own theories.
"The possibility has occurred to us," Kerama said slowly. "It is certainly the most appealing explanation, and it is natural that it should come to your mind, Rick. But it is not the only possible solution."
Winston agreed. "There are others that are difficult to explain, unless you have a good background in astrophysics, Rick."
Scotty said, "I'm sure you have lots of theories, but honestly—what do you really think?"
The scientist glanced at his Egyptian colleagues. Farid urged, "Tell him what we talked about last night. It may not be subject to any real proof, but I think the boys have a right to know what we've concluded."
"All right," Winston nodded. "To put it as briefly as possible, we agree that the most likely explanation is that we intercepted intelligent signals, sent out for some reason by some beings we can't even imagine. For one thing, the space object is so small that we can't even give it a dimension. Neither can the other telescopes. Mount Palomar can see nothing."
"A spaceship," Rick said soberly. The implications of it were tremendous!
"It's as good a name as any. And now, boys, let's start folding up our part of the operation. We have reservations on tomorrow's flight. That will put us into New York just about suppertime."
"We hate to leave," Scotty told the Egyptian scientists. "Unfortunately, thanks to that Egyptian cat, we didn't get to see much of Cairo."
"At least I saw a piece of the Sahara Desert," Rick said with a grin. "Anyway, let's move. I have some shopping to do for my folks, and for Jan Miller, and especially Barby."
"Going to take her a bouquet of Egyptian poison ivy?" Winston asked with a smile.
"Nope. I'm going to buy her some nice things, but I'm also going to take her the remains of the Egyptian cat. Just as a reminder."
He turned to glance around the control room before leaving. The plaster on the ceiling would need repairing where the Sten gun had chipped it down to the concrete roof slab, but there was little real damage to show the effect of last night's fight. Even the window broken by Youssef had been repaired.
How simple it all had been—once Ismail ben Adhem had taken over. Rick knew why he and Scotty had failed to solve the mystery. There was too much information they did not have, such as the disposal of the Kefren necklace and knowing that the Moustafas were the prime movers in a revolution.
Farid and Kerama had not been surprised. "There are some who do not like the controls on trade and exchange that our government had to impose," Farid explained. "Mostly, they are people who had things pretty much their own way before the Republic was formed. They used to get special treatment from government officials who were in their pay, and they grew rich. Now, that's impossible. So they plot revolution to bring the bad old days back again—bad old days for most Egyptians, that is. The Moustafas and Bartouki used to be pretty powerful. I suppose they wanted that power back."
Dr. Kerama added, "This is probably not the last try at revolution the police will have to stop. But our country grows more stable all the time, and the would-be revolutionaries grow older and perhaps wiser."
"Time goes on," Rick agreed. "Things change." He thought of Kemel Moustafa the revolutionary, the only one of the three brothers they had met—and he thought of Hassan's saying. He added, "The little jackal barks, but the caravan passes."
Hakim Farid laughed outright. "We'll make a good Egyptian of you yet, Rick."
* * * * *
The time along the Greenwich meridian, from which all world times are measured, was 9:30 P.M.
At Spindrift Island, it was 4:30 in the late afternoon. Barby Brant sat with her close friend, Jan Miller, before the roaring fire in the library.
"I'll bet Rick and Scotty are having a marvelous time," Barby said. There was no envy in the statement. She always protested volubly at being left behind, but that was more a matter of principle than anything else. Once the boys had gone, she always simmered down enough to be glad they could go, even if she could not.
Jan, a slim, attractive dark-haired girl, said, "I'll bet they're glad you suggested that Rick deliver the Egyptian cat, too. It was an introduction to a real merchant, right in the bazaar."
Barby smiled. "They probably made a lot of new friends from just that one thing!"
It was 5:30 in the afternoon on a tiny island off the coast of Venezuela. Two elderly men looked up from their inspection of a hot spring. The smaller of the two shrugged. He spoke in Spanish.
"I will keep watch. If new signs develop, I know where to go for help. It is the Spindrift Scientific Foundation. If anyone can help us, that group can. If they can't—well, we are doomed."
In Cairo, it was 11:30. Rick Brant hauled himself to the top of the great pyramid of Khufu. Scotty and Hassan joined him.
The view was magnificent. Cairo sparkled like a million jewels, and in places they could see the silver ribbon of the Nile. Rick turned and looked at the radio telescope at Sahara Wells, its great parabolic reflector gleaming in the brilliant moonlight.
He was content. As a last adventure, and with the permission of Winston, the three had decided to climb the pyramid by moonlight. Now the mysteries of the Egyptian cat and the strange signal from space were behind them. In eleven hours they would be air-borne, and tomorrow night they would sleep at home.
Hassan spoke. "I sorry to see you go. You come back, maybe?"
"Someday," Scotty said.
Rick added, "When we show my sister that picture of you with the fancy clothes and that scimitar you borrowed, we'll have to bring her to see you in person. She won't believe her eyes."
Hassan chuckled softly. "Tell her I will be her bodyguard, to protect her from Youssef, if he ever gets free from jail. I will even protect her from our so terrible Egyptian cats!"
The three sat down on the rough stone at the top of the pyramid. Once the great monument had risen to a sharply pointed capstone, but the blocks had been removed and only a tall wooden pole showed how high the pyramid had once reached.
Rick looked up at the stars and traced the outlines of the familiar constellations, Orion, the Twins, Taurus, the Big Dog, and the Little Dog.
Out there, far beyond those constellations, a spaceship had once passed, sending unknown signals to an unknown destination, eventually to be intercepted here, within sight of the pyramids.
"I wonder what it was," he mused aloud.
Scotty needed no explanation. "Does it matter, if it was some kind of intelligence?"
Rick shook his head. "Not really. It was nearly five thousand light years away, so it took five thousand years to reach us. So when the signals were first sent, this pyramid hadn't even been built. Egypt hadn't been united."
Scotty added, "And in the Upper Nile Kingdom, people were worshiping Bubaste...."
"... and Egyptian cats," Rick finished.
The boy glanced up at the stars again and saw the tight cluster of the Pleiades. Across the world, the constellation was just coming into view of anyone standing on top of the mountain known as El Viejo, the Old One.
The slow stirring in the earth deep under El Viejo would take a few months to grow, but already events taking form would plunge Rick, Scotty, and the Spindrift scientists into the midst of mob violence, armed revolt, and one of the most daring scientific feats of all time, a story to be told in the adventure of THE FLAMING MOUNTAIN.
The RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE Stories
BY JOHN BLAINE
THE ROCKET'S SHADOW THE LOST CITY SEA GOLD 100 FATHOMS UNDER THE WHISPERING BOX MYSTERY THE PHANTOM SHARK SMUGGLERS' REEF THE CAVES OF FEAR STAIRWAY TO DANGER THE GOLDEN SKULL THE WAILING OCTOPUS THE ELECTRONIC MIND READER THE SCARLET LAKE MYSTERY THE PIRATES OF SHAN THE BLUE GHOST MYSTERY THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY