Roughly twenty minutes later, their impromptu rescue came to an end in the back alley of a flea market. With a nimble flourish, their driver sprang off the overgrown motorcycle and pulled off her helmet. Silky chocolate hair cascaded down to the small of her back in thick, luxurious waves. Bobby froze, momentarily mesmerized. Jinx leaped out of the rickshaw and backed away as though the vehicle were a tiger poised to strike.
“Calm yourself,” said their savior. “You’re safe now.”
“There is absolutely nothing safe about the way you drive,” said Jinx.
Bobby climbed out of the backseat and set a hand on Jinx’s shoulder, attempting to calm his cousin while he studied their driver. An Egyptian girl a few years older than him, she had all the curves of a grown woman. Pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way, she had high cheekbones and pouty lips that hadn’t been revealed when she’d lifted her visor back at the terminal.
Bobby shook his head, forcing himself to concentrate. “Why don’t you start at the beginning? How did you know we were at the airport?”
The girl shrugged. “When you two went missing, Chief’s men searched your parents’ house. They found the postcard and figured you must have come here. After that, it wasn’t hard to find the flight with two boys traveling alone.”
Jinx frowned at this explanation. “Who are you? You’re not one of Chief’s commandos, or we’d have seen you at the Eagle’s Nest.”
“My name’s Zaria. I do freelance.” She gave Jinx a sardonic smile. “You don’t honestly think that a guy with his own underground forest only has operatives in the States, do you?”
“We need to go back,” said Bobby, returning to the rickshaw. “That man in that limo is the one who brought me here, which means he took my parents. If I don’t meet him, there’s no telling what he will do to them.”
Zaria leaned up against the lime-green rickshaw and flashed a smile far different than the one she’d given Jinx; it was full of coy amusement and just a hint of sass. “Slow down there, sport,” she said. “The last thing you wanna do, if that guy has your parents, is put yourself into his hands.”
“You know that guy?” said Jinx.
Zaria’s smile disappeared in an instant, replaced by a dark scowl. “Everyone in Cairo knows Mu’at. The guy showed up a few months back and literally took over the city. All the drug dealers and gangs—none of them will mess with him. They say he’s insane. A crew went after him when he first arrived and simply disappeared. Twenty guys…completely gone without a trace. I hear all their wives and kids went missing too. Talk about ruthless. Trust me, if he has your parents, he has absolutely no intention of giving them back, regardless of whatever he says.”
Bobby dug his nails into the seat cushions. “But I need to rescue my parents!”
Jinx held up a hand, begging for patience. “What do you mean he’s insane?”
Zaria shrugged, casually studying her fingernails. “You know that eye patch? Well, rumor has it that the eye is still there. Supposedly he was a priest, or cleric, or something in his youth. They say he was gifted, blessed by visions sent by God. Then one day, while meditating, he gazed upon the true face of God.”
Zaria shrugged, as if that explained everything. Still in the backseat of the cab, Bobby released his grip on the seat cushion and leaned forward. Jinx returned to the rickshaw and perched one foot on the running board. “Go on.”
“What’s there to tell? To look upon the true face of God is to lose yourself to madness. Everyone knows that,” said Zaria. “Supposedly, Mu’at managed to tear his gaze away, but not before the image emblazed itself upon his retina. The rumor is that to look into the left eye of Mu’at is to see the madness imprinted there and to be driven insane, just like him.” Zaria winked at Bobby. “Best not to go looking for Mu’at. After all, I’d hate to see anything happen to such a cute face.”
Cheeks flushed with heat, Bobby turned toward Jinx. “Perhaps we can figure out where he’s taken my parents and rescue them.”
“Now you’re talking, champ,” said Zaria, putting her helmet back on. “So, you got any clues where to start? I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for hanging out in this alley all day.”
“Only one,” said Jinx, “the postcard that Mu’at left on the fridge.” Climbing back into the cab next to Bobby, Jinx pointed off into the distance. “Take us to the Great Sphinx.”
“Great,” said Zaria, firing up the engine to another billow of black smoke. “Just one problem, tourist boy,” she shouted, hooking a thumb off to the side. “Giza is that way.”
* * *
With heavy traffic, it took well over an hour to travel from Cairo to the Great Sphinx at the Giza Plateau, just west of the valley temple at Khafre. Pulling up amid the stone monuments and ubiquitous sand, they were quickly set upon by beggars, hawkers, and tour guides offering royal treatment at discount prices.
Zaria waved them all away, even brandishing the tire iron at an especially insistent beggar who kept “accidentally” stumbling into the boys while not so subtly rifling through their clothes. After retrieving Jinx’s compass and flashlight for the third time, Zaria finally gave the wily old coot a coin, along with a curse, and told him she’d split his skull if she ever saw him again.
Walking to the Sphinx, Bobby, Zaria, and Jinx encountered a motley collection of tourists posing for pictures and marveling at the ancient wonder. Joining the throng, the boys spent three hours walking around the colossal monument, studying it from every angle while Zaria lounged in the shade nearby.
Magnificent in its scope, the 241-foot-long monument was carved from the bedrock as a singular piece, rather than assembled from blocks like the surrounding pyramids. Nowadays, the base of the sixty-six-foot-tall monolith contained hundreds of limestone bricks from numerous renovations seeking to thwart erosion’s endless assault. As for the head of the monument, the right side proved far more interesting than the left, with the semblance of an earhole and a splash of red, suggesting that vibrant colors once covered the Sphinx’s nemes headdress. And then there was the infamous missing nose, broken off at the base as if struck by a mountainous hammer.
“Did you know that the proportions at the base are a perfect match to those of an actual lion?” said Jinx to Bobby as they stood there, gazing up at it. “The length of the haunches, paws, and tail are all perfect. However, the width is all wrong, and the height is too, for obvious reasons—since lions don’t actually have pharaoh heads. Still, the height of the torso is also wrong, something virtually unseen in other Egyptian depictions of the Sphinx. This incongruity has prompted many scholars to speculate that the existing statue may, in fact, have been carved out of the torso of an original structure that was much taller and properly proportioned. The theory is that the original head became too eroded, prompting the pharaoh Khafre to carve a new head from the body of the original, slimming down the prior body in the process.”
Bobby found this interesting, and told him so, but also remained focused on finding a connection with the postcard. Unfortunately, not even Jinx could think of a single reason anything in view might lead to Bobby’s parents.
Zaria stood up from her resting spot in the shade and strolled over to join them. “Maybe the Sphinx wasn’t intended to be quite so literal,” she said. “Maybe the goal was simply to draw you to Cairo. Ever think of that? The postcard might simply have been the most obvious landmark—like a photo of the Eiffel Tower to draw you to Paris or the Statue of Liberty to represent New York.”
Jinx shot her a dark stare. “If that’s the case, then we have nothing to go on, no way of finding Bobby’s parents since you pulled us away from meeting Mu’at at the airport.”
Bobby frowned at Jinx. “She did the right thing. Even before Zaria showed up, something didn’t feel right about getting in the car with that guy.”
Jinx dropped his head and said nothing.
“This, on the other hand, feels right,” said Bobby, staring up at the giant limestone sculpture. “This is where we’re supposed to be. We just have to figure out why.”
“Was there anything else in the photograph?” asked Zaria. “Any other clues? Another landmark perhaps?”
Bobby sat down in the sand, leaning against one of the concrete barricades. A security guard gave him a scowl before turning away. “I don’t really remember that well,” said Bobby. “I kinda tuned out after I realized my parents had been kidnapped.”
“I, on the other hand, have an eidetic memory,” said Jinx, tapping the side of his head with a broad grin. “I remember every detail of the postcard.”
“Great. So where was it taken from?” asked Zaria. “Maybe there’s a clue there.”
Bobby shot to his feet. “That’s it,” he said, rushing over and giving Zaria a big hug. “We need to find the place where the photo was taken.”
Disentangling herself from Bobby’s exuberant embrace, Zaria brushed at her dusty leathers. “Warn a girl next time, sport,” she said. “Not that I object, mind you…”
Bobby turned beet red. Jinx raised a hand to stifle a giggle. After an awkward pause, he turned east, pointing toward the ancient temple. “It was somewhere up there,” said Jinx. “I should be able to find the right spot based on the angle of the photo and the elements in the foreground.”
Zaria waved him on, and Jinx started up the slope, heading away from the Sphinx and toward the old temple. The three of them soon left behind the swarming masses of tourists with their broad-brimmed hats and telephoto cameras. The crowd thinned beyond the old Sphinx temple, but some people roamed the sandy corridors, snapping photos of slab archways and crumbling limestone pillars. At least the hawkers and beggars had vanished.
“The angle was from somewhere over here, with the ground just beyond the temple’s outer wall in the foreground,” said Jinx, stopping near the northeast corner of the ancient ruins.
“But we can’t see the Sphinx from inside here,” observed Zaria. “Which means the photo isn’t from inside the temple.”
“They may have been on a ladder,” said Jinx.
“Or standing atop the wall,” said Bobby, pointing to the thick archways fifteen feet overhead.
With no way to ascend the massive walls, they exited the temple and made their way around the perimeter. By the far corner, they found a crumbled block leaning up against the wall.
“I should climb up to see if the views match,” said Jinx.
“Too risky,” said Bobby, eyeing the smooth expanse of stone above the crumbled pillar. “You won’t be able to reach the top. Give me your camera. I’ll climb up, take a few photos; then you can look at them and compare.”
Zaria pretended to swoon, fanning herself with an open hand. “You’re so brave!”
Bobby blushed again and took the camera from Jinx. Tucking it into his pocket, he scrambled over the loose scree up onto the fallen pillar. From there, he stood on his tiptoes, extending his reach until he grasped the top of the wall. Pulling himself up, he crouched low to avoid being spotted by anyone on the other side. Removing the camera, he snapped a few pictures, using the zoom feature to capture the image at different depths. As he zoomed all the way out, a glint of light caught his eye.
Lowering the camera, Bobby peered off into the distance, where a black stretch limousine had just pulled into the monument’s sandy parking lot. “Um, guys, I think we have a problem,” said Bobby, lifting the camera up again and using the zoom for a closer look.
“Looks great from here,” said Zaria playfully, staring up at his rear.
“What is it?” said Jinx. “What’s the problem?”
Bobby explained what he was looking at as the Bentley came to a halt and the back door opened up. Zaria swore under her breath. “They must have guessed we’d come here to search for clues.”
Sure enough, Mu’at stepped out of the car, casting his one-eyed gaze around like a hawk searching for prey. A moment later, the giant chauffeur came around to join his master. Together, they began walking toward the Sphinx.
Bobby was just about to pocket the camera and climb down off the wall when two more figures climbed out of the limo.
Even from a distance, there could be no mistaking Simpkins’s skeletal figure and his obese partner, Hayward.