For the remainder of 2013, my posts will be from Layla Daltry’s perspective. She’s the hero of The Compass Master, a daring antiquities hunter, and while on the trail of a rare, precious artifact is living undercover in Denver as Helena Soister…
An unconscious man lay at my feet. The far-too-handsome stranger seemed far too pleased with this fact. And I was whipping a knife out from beneath my sleave.
“I figured you were a part of this rendezvous,” I said while pointing the blade at him.
“I am,” he said calmly. “Is he dead?”
“Relieved. I need to make him tell me where he’s hidden the scroll.”
“Then you’re not his partner.”
“He’s my target. I’m an investigator with the Egyptian Department of Antiquities.”
The stranger pulled out and held up an official-looking ID. It was in Arabic, which I could read, and the name beside his picture was Ahmed Salem. Damn, I thought—I never looked that good in photos.
I twisted the knife around as if anxious to use it. “When I was in high school I could make a fake ID better than that one.”
“No doubt. That was the convent school Kylemore Abby in Ireland, and the nuns were often frustrated by your bad girl proclivities, which for them didn’t mesh with your scholarly genius.”
“Mess?” Annie asked behind me.
“Mesh,” I emphasized. Good thing she no longer had the poisoned hatpin. I kept my gaze on the stranger. “So you know a few facts about my life—is that supposed to scare me?”
Amusement stole into his brown eyes. His hypnotizing, beautiful brown eyes.
“No, what should make you nervous is that we’re in a public park with people nearby, and at any moment our ugly little scene could be discovered. And in truth I know a great deal about you, Layla Daltry. You’re an antiquities hunter. You have important contacts within our department. You have been very thoroughly… investigated by us and by Egyptian intelligence.”
“Not thoroughly enough. Your officials have accused me of stealing a Gnostic scroll, circa Third Century, C.E., and smuggling it out of Egypt. To save myself I’ve had to chase down some dangerous leads while my professor friend here in Chicago arranged for the rendezvous with this guy.” With my foot, I poked at the rottweiler man. “And if he’s the one who has the scroll, then I’m assuming he’s the real thief.”
“His name is Hisham Helal, and my superiors will be most grateful to you for succeeding where they failed. You located him, drew him into a rendezvous, and…” He glanced down at the now-snoring man, “Disabled him. Very good, Miss Daltry, and shokron. But your services are no longer needed.”
At first his words confused me, but as pieces of a puzzle fell into place I felt blindsided.
“You set me up!” I whispered. My tightening throat was squeezing off my voice. “Your superiors set me up. You made me do your dirty work…”
TO BE CONTINUED…