Excerpt from THOUSAND DOLLAR PHARAOH
The Deception Series Book 2
by Sherry Morris
August 1945 in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Chloe forged onward and upward as fast as she could. When the main entrance of the tomb spit her into the black Egyptian night, she extinguished the flame. Climbing the steep steps, she gasped for breath before making a sharp right at the top. She huffed her way through the sand hurrying toward the thunder of approaching hooves. Chloe stifled a scream as a camel rounded the next corner in her path.
U.S. Secret Service Agent Orpha Livingston thumped the camel with a stick, forcing him to his knees. Chloe grimaced at the camel’s body odor as she handed the carpet bag to her partner and then hiked her gauze dress up, grabbed onto the saddle blanket and hoisted herself astride the beast. “Boy am I glad to see you, Orpha.”
“You too, clover-girl.”
As soon as Chloe was seated, she grabbed the bag and hugged it to her middle, smashing it between her and the driver. It screamed a meow as they stole away through the desert.
Orpha flinched and looked over her shoulder at the bag. “What have you got in there?”
“Later. Let’s get out of here!” Clasping the carpet bag between herself and the jockey, Chloe balanced by digging her fingers around the belt on Orpha’s dress. The woman’s slim waist didn’t leave much room for margin.
As the camel proceeded into the indigo night, Chloe’s heart pounded, nearly as much as her arm stung. Please let it just be a graze. I can’t get a bullet dug out now. No time. I should have departed yesterday. She tried to pacify and convince herself she could indeed still make it back to Washington in time. Well she’d just have to. There was no alternative.
In an effort to calm down, she breathed in deeply though her nose and held it as long as possible, then blew it out through her mouth. Inhaling so deeply of Orpha’s wig-top incense cone was nearly drugging. Orpha had gone a little overboard buying this black braided wig with an incense pot on top. Royal women wore these back in the days of real pharaohs. Orpha always had been a sucker for costumes.
Chloe’s nostrils separated out frankincense, eucalyptus and what was that other scent? Marijuana? That’s just about right. I’ll not only be late for my mission, I’ll be arrested and thrown in jail on drug charges. Still, perhaps the marijuana could ease my pain. Chloe lifted her nose and inhaled as closely to the cone as possible. Pressing against the jockey, she mashed the carpet bag between them, sending out a mew of protest from the Sand cat. “Sorry kitty.”
What am I going to do with this cat? I’ve always wanted a cat. A companion. Better than a dog. You don’t have to walk it.
Once they rounded a bend in the hot windy night, Chloe reached up with her left hand, mesmerized by the heady incense. In an attempt to crook the cone downward slightly for a greedy whiff, she inadvertently knocked it from her partner’s head. Chloe flailed as Orpha caught her with one hand and slowed the camel down.
“What the heck are you doing, Clover?” she demanded.
“That wig cost me my last six chocolate bars.” Orpha sounded hurt.
“I’ll buy you a hot fudge sundae when we get home. I’m so sorry. And I’ll pay for a shampoo and dryer set at Mabel’s.”
Holding firmly to her colleague’s saffron silk belt for the rest of the journey, Chloe’s mind returned to fantasizing about having a cat. Keeping a cat. This cat. An Egyptian cat. I’ll call her Cleo. For Cleopatra. Maybe Patra? Pat? Patty? Paddycake. . . She drew in a deep sigh. Good old Paddycake. Paddy Grogan, proprietor of Paddycake’s Bakery in Miami Beach. Her room upstairs. The chocolate frosted yeast raised doughnuts and his infamous cinnamon sugar wiggle worms were to die for… She shivered. Babies did die for. Hundred Dollar Bill poisoned them. She wept for her twins. They say grief gets easier with time, but she really couldn’t imagine a day would go by when she wouldn’t ache for her unfathomable loss.
Tears stung the kohl makeup into her eyes. She tightened her grip on Orpha’s belt and buried her head in the back of her dress, sobbing.
Orpha abruptly halted the camel. She twisted around to face Chloe. “What’s the matter, honey?” After prying her friend’s fingers out of her belt, Orpha dismounted. She reached for Chloe’s hand. “Come on down and talk to me.”
Chloe let herself fall into Orpha’s arms, depositing both them and the carpet bag onto the hard-trodden, gritty sand path.
Chloe screamed and grabbed her right arm. Orpha rolled over on top of her. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been shot. My babies are dead. I botched the mission. I’m no good at anything.”
“You’ve been shot? Where? Who shot you? Why didn’t you tell me?” She kissed her friend’s forehead. “Honey, I know it’s only been a few months since your miscarriage. But please believe me. The ache will get easier as time passes. You’ll always miss them, but you must go on with your life.”
No stars dared twinkle. No moon shone down. Only blackness. Evil foretold.
Orpha crawled toward the sound of the camel breathing and groped around inside her saddle bag. A beam of dim light returned to Chloe, in the form of an Army flashlight.
“Clover, you’re bleeding. Your arm. Where else were you shot? Who did it?” She yanked down the sleeve on Chloe’s dress, exposing her shoulder and upper arm to examine the wound. Orpha slipped her fingers underneath Chloe’s arm and twisted it around to get a good look.
Chloe shoved her away with a shriek of pain. “Don’t touch me!”
“There’s no exit wound. I’ve got to dig the bullet out.”
“No! Are you crazy? Absolutely not! You are no doctor!”
“Well at the very least I have to close the wound.” She returned to her saddle bag and fished out her Army Air Corps Nurse’s kitbag.
“Don’t even think about it. I’m fine.” Chloe snapped at her friend. The tears in her voice betrayed her brave words.
“You’re fine? Then why are you writhing around in the sand, blubbering, shrieking and generally making a mess of yourself?”
The cat emerged from the tattered bag and pounced on Chloe’s stomach. She paced up and down the length of her torso, licking her nose, turning to swish it with her tail and then kneading her paws into Chloe’s belly before curling into a ball. Chloe concentrated on the cat’s purring as Orpha positioned the flashlight beam, propping it on the carpet bag to illuminate the surgical field.
Chloe jerked upright and screamed from the sting of alcohol as Orpha sterilized the area.
“Sorry honey.” Orpha firmly shoved her patient back down.
“You are going to give me a bullet to bite on, right?”
“You don’t need a bullet, Clover. You already have one, remember? Now you’ll feel a little sting. . .and burn.”
A little sting and burn. . .more like blinding pain as Orpha injected the area with a local anesthetic.
“Again a little sting and burn.” She moved the syringe to an adjacent area.
“Could you have used a duller needle? Sheesh! What are you giving me? Procaine?” Chloe dipped her head to the left and tried to wipe her eyes and nose on her dress.
“I wish. Ran out of that the first week here.”
“Well what is it? Camel spit?”
Chloe tried to concentrate on the cat’s purring. She still hadn’t named her. Cleopatra and all its nicknames were unsuitable. Sphinx? Nah. Egypt? Phff. Valley? Valley of the Kings. Yeah right. Here kitty kitty. Here Valley of the Kings. Why did it have to be kings anyhow? Women were just as effective leaders. Queen. Queenie. Nefertiti. The wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Rumored to have assumed his role as Pharaoh upon her husband’s death. Husband. What a glorious word. Mike. Chloe smiled.
“Do you feel this, Clover?”
“Do you feel anything?” Orpha poked around the edges of the wound with a needle.
“No. What do you think of Nefertiti for a name?”
“You’re changing your name to Nefertiti?”
“No, naming the cat.”
“Who gave it to you?”
“Nobody. She just jumped right into my carpet bag.”
“Well you can’t keep her.”
“Why not?” Chloe asked defensively.
“She obviously belongs to somebody. Look how big she is, my gawd she’s well fed.”
“She’s mine now and you can’t take her away from me.”
“Easy now, Clover. You know I wouldn’t do that. I just don’t want you to be surprised if she runs home.
Chloe could feel tugging as her friend sutured the wound. “Are you doing layers?”
“I can’t. You won’t let me dig the bullet out.”
“You don’t know how to dig a bullet out.”
“I’ve watched plenty and assisted the Army docs.”
“Yes, but all you have experience in is closing.”
“What do you mean by not anymore?”
She handed Chloe the bullet.
“You promised you wouldn’t dig this out!”
Orpha tied off the last suture and clipped it. “It was right under the epidermis. Easy as pie with my little tweezers. I couldn’t leave it inside. The risk of anaerobic bacterial infection is too dangerous. No gangrene on my watch, Clover.”
Relieved, Chloe changed the subject. “Mike’s cute, don’t you think?”
“Sure,” Orpha agreed.
“You really didn’t get a chance to meet properly at our wedding. We’ll have you over for dinner. Lots.”
Orpha tied a bandage over the wound. “I didn’t know you could cook. What kind of food?”
“Country food. Southern cooking. Fried chicken, greens, butter beans, corn pone, mashed potatoes and gravy you’ll be talking about for weeks.”
“Count me in. But where are you living now? Where did you and Mike set up housekeeping?”
Good question. Make Believe Island was their little hideaway. Primitive and isolated. Oh wait. That was just a safe house on an assignment. Owned by Uncle Sam. Shoot. Somebody else is probably there now.
“Mike said he’d find us a real home while I’m gone. I’m sure it will be small and cozy and just big enough for the two of us.”
“You are so lucky to have a husband. Me, I’m destined to be an old maid. That’s why I have a career you know.”
“I learned early on what men want and I just don’t have a pretty face and big bazoomas.”
“Hush. Men don’t want that. Well, yes, they do, but not for a wife. Just the shallow men. The high-quality husbands want personality. Good clean girls they can trust and count on. Sweet girls with a capitol S.”
“Even if that is true, it’s obvious I’m glaringly lacking in the personality department. I’m boring as a boulder.”
“Orpha, stop that. You’re one of the funnest girls I know. Well just look at you. Who else would be skulking around in Egypt, in the black of night, galloping on a camel, sewing up a bullet hole in the middle of the sand? Gee, think of all the adventures you’ve had. You are a very sweet, kind woman too. Caring and you placed your country before your own happiness and safety.”
Orpha poured alcohol over the hypodermic and wiped it with gauze. “Sorry I don’t have any antibiotics for you. I’d slather some honey on it to try to ward off infection, but with those sutures, I’m afraid they’ll pull right out when you change the dressing. Keep it dry for forty-eight hours and then change the bandages after every bath.”
Honey. Hmm. . .maybe that was the substance sticking to the counterfeit thousands.
Orpha wiped down the forceps then packed the unused portion of gauze in her saddle bag. She kicked sand over the bloody swabs.
Chloe rose to her feet and snatched the flashlight. “I don’t know about leaving that stuff here.”
“I don’t see any medical waste receptacles on the date palms, Clover. What do you propose we do? I can’t risk taking them and getting caught.”
“Why not? You’re here as a nurse.”
Orpha snorted. “Yes. And they’d want to know just who I sewed up and why I was carrying the bloody mess with me.”
Chloe opened her carpet bag and awkwardly placed the cat inside with her left hand. It stepped inside willingly. She hoped she hadn’t been too rough with it.
Orpha said, “Here, give that to me.” She hooked the two leather handles around the rear saddle horn, draping the bag over the sitting camel’s rear end.
Feeling some euphoric properties of the anesthetic, Chloe giggled as she placed the back of her hand near the camel’s big nostrils. It sniffed and spit on her. How rude. She wiped the spit off onto the top of the animal’s bristly skull and then climbed aboard.
Orpha jockeyed herself into position and coaxed-commanded the camel to stand, by knocking its knees with a wooden stick. Holding tight to Orpha’s belt, feeling the saddle horn digging into her hind parts, Chloe clutched tight as the camel swayed up and down back and forth as it rose, holding on for dear life. The cat mewed. Chloe turned her head. “Ouch!” It’s okay kitty. Nefertiti. We’re safe. You’ll be fine, girl. . . Orpha what did you do to me? Sew my arm ligaments to my neck? It hurts like Hades to move. But I can’t feel my arm. And I do have a pretty good buzz going.”
“Sorry, Clover. You’ll have to take it easy for the next seven to ten days. Try not to use your right arm. Limit any reaching or yanking movements. Whatever you do, don’t try to pick up anything heavy with that arm.”
“No problem. I’ll be traveling anyhow. I’ll carry my bag with my left hand.”
The camel found its rough and jerky cadence as it lighted through the sand.
“I am so sorry I knocked your incense cone and wig off.”
“Yeah I’m sorry about that too. The marijuana might’ve eased your pain.”
Chloe gingerly shook her head, giggling. She marveled at the cultural differences. Here they were. Two young women out in the middle of the night alone and they had been inhaling an illegal drug. Illegal in their homeland. But it was perfectly acceptable in this context. Actually it was part of their cover.
Undercover agents for the United States Secret Service. On the trail of counterfeiters. A far cry from the life she’d led in Shrew, North Carolina.
The thunder of hoof beats approached from the north. Orpha fought to keep the camel under control as it stumbled into a crow-hop. Nefertiti meowed and Chloe screamed as she was thrown.