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…
The stranger took a step closer to me. He had the breath of a dog that had been licking itself, and he scratched his jowls with a rolled-up art magazine.
“Eeww,” I mumbled, and backed away. If this rottweiler of a man was planning to set me up for a fall, I had to protect myself. “Looks like we’re alone,” I said. “But there are security cameras everywhere.”
“That’s why I don’t got the scroll with me.”
His accent was thick and Middle Eastern. “You’re Egyptian?” I asked him in Arabic.
He sneered and stuck to English. “I’m from nowhere. But my scroll is from Egypt. Gnostic. Third Century.”
“Impressive. It must be worth a small fortune.”
“About thirty thousand dollars.”
Ouch. That would be a big chunk out of my life savings, at least if I were planning on buying the smuggled antiquity, which I wasn’t. What I needed instead was to turn the game around and trap this unsavory underworld character.
“I take it you’re not alone in this little… public offering.”
“Doesn’t matter who I’m with!” he growled. “You deal with me. Now do you want to see the scroll or not?”
You need to be on a leash, I wanted to say. “I don’t think I should go anywhere with you. Besides, how do I know you really have the scroll? How can I be sure this isn’t a trick and…”
Suddenly the stranger unrolled his magazine and held it open for me. I gasped in horror. “You bastard!” I whispered.
A photograph was stuck inside the magazine and showed an unrolled ancient papyrus sheet covered with writing. Behind it was yesterday’s front page of the Chicago Tribune, and close to them both was a man’s hand – HIS hand – holding a burning match.
“It’s a very fragile scroll,” the stranger said with a sadistic chuckle.
I struggled to regain my cool. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for me to examine your scroll more carefully.”
“That’s more like it,” said the stranger.
He gestured toward the open doorway. As we moved out of the room and toward the museum’s grand staircase, I reached up my sleeve and found the handle of my stiletto. Maybe if I stabbed him as soon as we were outside and alone again… Maybe if I could force him to hand over that poor, endangered scroll I could get away and…
It was my friend Annie calling to me. She was leaving the gallery of Asian sculptures, and right behind her was the drop-dead gorgeous man I had mistaken for the contact. No, not behind her, with her. But his eyes were locked on me.
What was going on?