Theodosia and the Last Pharoah (5 page)

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
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"How did he get in, do you think?"

Bing shrugged. "He'd just have to pay admission like everyone else."

When at last we reached Maspero's office, Bing rapped quickly on the door. "Come in," a muffled voice called out.

Bing opened the door and stepped aside so I could go in. "I'll go see if the guard had any luck," he whispered, then closed the door behind him.

"There you are, darling," Mother said. "Do come in and meet Mr. Borscht."

My head snapped up. Borscht? I thought she was to meet with Monsieur Maspero. "How do you do, sir," I said as I bobbed a small curtsy.

"Very pleased to meet you, young lady."

Mr. Borscht did not have a lick of hair on his head, and his shaved scalp gleamed faintly in the light coming from the window. It was an odd look, especially when coupled with the dark black mustache that covered the lower half of his face. Behind his gold-rimmed glasses, his eyes were an arctic blue.

"Come sit down, dear. We're almost done."

I wanted to ask Mother what had happened to Monsieur Maspero, but that seemed rude to do in front of Mr. Borscht. Hoping I didn't look too disheveled after my gallop through the museum, I took the seat next to her, my heart still beating rapidly. There was a small tray with empty plates. They'd had tea, I realized, then remembered I'd not gotten the refreshment Mr. Bing had promised me. Looking at the empty plates only made my stomach feel emptier, so I turned my attention to Mr. Borscht.

He was staring at me hungrily. Something about that gaze sent a chill of warning down my spine. Unsettled, I quickly cast my eyes downward.

His hands were encased in black gloves, and his right hand toyed with a letter opener while his other hand...

His other hand lay perfectly still. In fact, he held it at a rather odd angle, as if it was useless to him.

A leaden ball of dread began to form in my stomach. I could think of only one man I knew who was missing a hand—an injury I had caused, more or less. Fear mounting, I lifted my gaze back up to his face.

As our eyes met, he smiled. It was not a nice smile. In fact, it made my heart stutter in my chest.

This was not Mr. Borscht, whoever that might be. This was Count von Braggenschnott, one of the most powerful Serpents of Chaos I had ever met, sitting in front of me as pretty as you please.

And he had been chatting with my mother for nearly an hour.

I was afraid I might be sick.

Trying to be casual, I glanced over my shoulder toward the door, wondering where Bing had gotten to.

"Theodosia? Mr. Borscht is speaking to you." Mother's chiding voice poked through my rising panic.

"Forgive me." I slowly turned back around, my mind scrambling frantically. How could we make our escape? Dare I risk exposing him? Would Mother even believe me?

I doubted it. I gripped my reticule cords more firmly.

"I asked if you were enjoying your trip to Egypt?" von Braggenschnott repeated.

"Er, for the most part." I was embarrassed at the faint tremble in my voice. Refusing to be cowed, I straightened my shoulders and met his chilling blue stare. "I have found there are more vermin in the city than I care for, but other than that, I am finding it most educational." There, that would show him I wasn't afraid.

"Vermin?" Mother sounded puzzled. "Whatever are you talking about, dear? We've only been here a matter of hours, and I have seen nothing that remotely qualifies as vermin."

That is because grownups never see the really important stuff. They are too distracted by the ordinary and mundane.

Von Braggenschnott laughed, cutting off any answer I might have given. "Children. They have such flights of fancy, do they not?"

Mother rolled her eyes delicately. "Don't they, though?"

The humiliation of having Mother and the head of the Serpents of Chaos dismiss me as a mere child was as sharp and painful as a knife.

"And I shall not subject you to Theo's any longer," she continued. "You have been most kind, Mr. Borscht. My husband and I, and the museum, cannot thank you enough for your help."

"It has been my pleasure, madame." He rose and bowed from the waist, his eyes taking on an appreciative gleam as he looked at Mother. That's when I had my second shock of the day. He was sweet on Mother!

While they continued with a few last-minute niceties, I tried to come up with a plan for escape. Finally Mother bade him goodbye and turned toward the door. I held my breath and followed.

It was only a short distance, but it felt as if time held still while we crossed it. I kept waiting for von Braggenschnott to call us back or stop us, but he didn't and we reached the door without incident. Was he really going to let us walk out?

Just as Mother put her hand on the knob, he spoke. "And Madame Throckmorton?"

"Yes," she said, turning to look back at him.

"Congratulations on such an intriguing daughter. I hope her visit continues to be educational. I believe the more education children receive, the better."

Mother smiled, inclined her head, then opened the door and swept out. I followed in her wake, nearly tripping in my eagerness to escape that small office.

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Where to Now, Donkey Boy?

O
NCE THE DOOR CLOSED FIRMLY BEHIND US
, my heart slowed down from a flat-out race to a mere gallop.

Von Braggenschnott had let us go. He had let
me
go. Why?

There could be only one reason, really. He wanted something I had. Or he was hoping I'd lead him and his men to something they wanted.

All right, that was two reasons. My math skills aren't at their sharpest when I'm under duress.

Bing was waiting for us, calmly as you please, as if he hadn't been chasing assailants throughout the museum just moments before. I studied him, wondering if he had any idea who was in the office. "Mr. Bing?"

"Yes, Miss Theodosia?"

"Have you talked with Monsieur Maspero today?"

Mr. Bing frowned. "Not since this morning, when he sent me to fetch you two from the hotel." I could tell by the puzzled look on his face that he did not understand the reason for my question.

Either that or he was a very good actor. Mother, however, was giving me one of her looks, so I didn't dare risk any more questions. Even so, as we made our way to the exit, I studied Bing surreptitiously. No matter how I tilted my head and squinted at him, his thin, gangly form and scrubbed face did not look sinister in any way.

"Theodosia?" Mother's voice was sharp. "Are you quite all right?"

I swiveled my eyes over to Mother, who stared at me with her hands on her hips. "Just working out a kink in my neck. From looking at the exhibits. Some of those statues are quite tall, you know."

Mother sighed, shook her head, and sent an apologetic smile in Bing's direction.

He smiled back. "If you're ready to return to the hotel, I'll take you now."

"Thank you. That would be lovely," Mother said.

As we stepped outside the museum, I tried to think of a way to alert Mr. Bing to von Braggenschnott's presence without alarming Mother. I was so distracted by the challenge that I didn't even notice the crowd until I bumped up against a woman swathed in black from head to toe. That's when I noticed that the demonstration seemed to have spread from the train station to the streets near the museum. Quillings's words echoed through my head.
Chaos causing riots in the streets.

Bing looked grimly at the mob. "Let's get you ladies home before it gets ugly," he said, leading us to where he had parked the carriage. It was nowhere to be seen.

"What happened to it?" I asked.

"No doubt all available carriages have been snatched up as people try to get away from the demonstration." He gave Mother an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Throckmorton. It looks as if we must stay here until the crowd disperses or hire donkeys." He grimaced at the second option, his glance flickering to the small crowd of donkey boys gathered at one end of the square.

"How long till the crowd disperses?" Mother asked, eyeing the safety of the museum. Little did she realize, the place held more danger than a mere mob.

Bing shrugged. "Hard to say. Last week there was a demonstration that lasted for two days with the participants camping in the streets."

"Well, we can't wait that long!" Mother exclaimed. "We've a train to catch in the morning. Plus, we are quite tired from our trip." She glanced uneasily at the crowd. "I suppose we shall have to use the donkeys."

"Why can't we simply walk?" I asked.

"No one walks in Cairo, darling. It just isn't done," Mother said. "Besides, the donkeys will help force a path."

"Very well." Bing gave a resigned nod and strode toward the asses. Not wanting to get separated, we followed close on his heels.

At our approach, the donkey boys converged around us like a cheerful swarm of buzzing hornets. In a loud jumble of Arabic and English, they vied for our business. In spite of the unholy racket they made, they were all smiling and seemed to be having a marvelous time of it.

Bing pointed at a small cluster. "You. There. We'll take you." The boys snapped to attention and four of them jostled forward. "We only need three," Bing said testily.

One of the boys, the smallest one, was pushed aside by the others. As he sent them a hot glare, I saw that he was misshapen, his back hunched up. How wretched! And how cruel of the others to exclude him like that. "Excuse me, Mr. Bing," I said, "but I'd like to ride that donkey." I pointed at the one next to the crippled boy.

Bing sighed in exasperation. "One donkey is not any different from the others, but very well. You heard the girl," he snapped at the boys. One of them sent a scathing glare in the smallest one's direction and shuffled back to wait with the others.

The crippled boy flashed me a grin of thanks and stepped forward to assist me up into the saddle. He had a bright, intelligent face and moved quickly in spite of his infirmity. By the time he had me settled on my donkey, Mother was delicately perched on hers and Bing ... well, the reason for Mr. Bing's distaste for riding was quite clear. His legs were so very long, and the animal's so very short, that his feet nearly dragged on the ground. He looked utterly ridiculous, and it was hard to keep from laughing. I did not, however, crack so much as a smile.

"Let's get going," he said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

My donkey boy lightly flicked his beast about the head with a small, thin whip. The donkey lurched forward, then settled into an ambling walk. The donkey boy turned back and smiled at me. "Miss is wanting to go faster? Gadji's donkey very most fast. Get effendi miss there double quick."

"No, thank you." I held on more tightly just in case he ignored me. "I don't want to risk losing the others."

Looking somewhat disappointed, he shrugged and turned his attention to navigating the busy streets. I risked a glance over my shoulder, not surprised to see Carruthers slinking along behind, trying to hide among the masses of people. I tried to catch Bing's eye, but he was too busy keeping his feet from dragging in the muck.

As we headed away from the museum, the crowd continued to grow, its ranks swelling as more and more people poured in from side alleys and streets. Their mood—not quite menacing, but certainly not friendly—was almost as palpable as the
heka
in the air around us. I steered my donkey closer to Mr. Bing. Besides, I needed to tell him of von Braggenschnott.

Pedestrians managed to fill in the space between us, and I wasn't able to get close enough to avoid being overheard by Mother.

As we turned down the next street, we came to a full stop. The entire thoroughfare was clogged with demonstrators. Mr. Bing gave an exclamation of frustration.

My donkey boy flicked his whip and called out instructions in Arabic, trying to get my donkey to back up, but there was no room. The sea of people had closed in behind us. We couldn't go forward; we couldn't go back.

"Now what?" I called out to Mr. Bing.

His response was lost over the noise of the crowd. Shouts went up as a procession made its way down the middle of the street, the sea of people parting just enough to make room. As the crowd surged back, it drove a wedge of people between me and Bing. I shouted at him for assistance, but he and Mother had been shoved back up against a shop and were stuck in place. The jostling and pushing continued until my donkey, the boy, and I were pushed into a side alley.

Uneasy now, I searched the faces for the man from the museum but saw no sign of him. It would be just like Chaos to engineer a near riot in order to work their own mischief.

Actually, all they needed to do was be in place to take advantage of such a thing, I realized.

There were fewer people in the alley. I could still see the street as the crowd streamed by, but there was no sign of Mother or Bing. The city, which only hours ago seemed charming and picturesque in its exoticness, now felt ominous and threatening. Not knowing what else to do, I looked down at the donkey boy. "Now what?" I asked.

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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