“Did anyone see you?” Amun Farouk asked his companion, opening up his gold etched case. He removed a slender brown cigarette and placed it into his mouth. For a few moments, he attempted to light the end but the sporadic breezes blew out the spark. Amun gave up and put the matches away. Instead, he watched ink black waves roll and crash against the hull of the ship. If he closed his eyes, the sounds could almost lure him to sleep. Irritation laced his nerves.
The young man beside him glanced around anxiously. He could not have been more than eighteen and fresh off some farm with his freckles and flaxen hair, or so Amun guessed, and yet the boy did not falter. Guessing someone’s physical age was not one of his strong points. “No one.” From the scant light of the gas lanterns hanging high on the masts, apprehension clouded the boy’s face. He rubbed his neck and scanned the length of the deck.
“Good. Now, I assume you asked me here for a very good reason?” Amun glowered. There were plenty of things he’d rather be doing, but if the reason was viable, well…that remained to be seen. His desert skin and facial hair cut harsh lines in the flickering shadows, half exposed.
“Got a telegram, thought it might be important to you.” Tentatively, he handed it over and Amun slipped it into his breast coat pocket. It disappeared beneath well-tailored folds of fabric.
“Important enough to find me in the dead of night?” Amun asked.
“It came from Egypt, Sir, and was marked urgent. You did say if any came through…”
“Yes, yes, so I did.” Amun rummaged through his wallet and handed the boy a five pound note. Still he remained. Instead of inquiring what more the sailor wanted, Amun brushed past him and welcomed the cool breeze as it pressed against his damp collar. How he hated Western clothes – especially the constricting pant legs and horrible leather shoes that made his toes feel smashed together like mice in a jar, and yet they were a necessity.
Amun tried to walk far enough to leave the boy behind. Intently, he followed Amun’s movements, not fast enough to catch up, but kept pace, each step made without hesitation. Normally, anyone threatened with disembowelment ran off and yet his night rendezvous pursued. A few drops of moisture hit Amun’s face and he quickened, cutting through the smoking parlor through the opposite side of the ship. Before the door closed, he grabbed an unopened bottle of bourbon. For a moment, as he leaned against the side of the boat, hoping the boy decided to give up the desperate pursuit. However, noise from inside the room confirmed their game of cat and mouse had commenced.
Was it youthful curiosity or on errand? The details did not matter, if a man was to die, details mattered little. On the tips of his toes, he moved stealthily onward, drawing his companion out. Each time, Amun kept himself in view. A part of him wanted to youth to give up and turn back; to change his course; yet the silhouette still followed. Up ahead, near the forward cabins, the path led into the galley and down through the lower cargo holds. A body found amidst the cargo could imply theft and no one would suspect foul play. A jolt might have thrown the boy off balance in his attempt to rob the crew of their valuables. So simple. Behind, the deckhand’s harsh breaths tore from his chest. He closed the gap as Amun waited in shadows.
The boy bent low, hands on his knees for support. He coughed and swore. From behind his white coat, he pulled a short, unadorned blade and clutched onto it like a man about to drown. Amun watched as the young man, not four feet away, seemed to contemplate his next step. His eyes scanned the path and then drifted down to his weapon. It would take so little effort for Amun to wrap his arm around his neck and twist. Anyone who hunted him paid for the folly. One cannot hunt the hunter.
“Why did you stop?” the boy whispered, not looking in his direction. “Getting tired?”
Every muscle contained by his skin stiffened and suddenly ached. Was the boy talking to him? Surely not.
“I know yer secret. I could be quiet…fer a price.”
Extortion. That bloody pig tried to maneuver within the confines of a spider’s web. Every instinct demanded he kill the cur outright. When Amun did not respond, the boy opened his clenched palm. Inside laid a battered pendant, inlaid with black and white rings that swirled towards the center. It almost looked like a compass. Leaning closer in, Amun saw a copper arrow fastened to the center, underneath the glass, point right towards him. The lad smiled but before he could move, Amun brought the bottle down on his head. If it had been empty, glass would have showered them both. Instead, the boy dropped. He waited for the sounds of a witness, of feet making a desperate flight. There was none. The next thing to do was inspect the pendant.
While the design was intricate and precise, Amun had no idea how a common thug possessed such a strange bit of technology. Inspecting it out in the open was foolish, so he scooped it off the deck where it landed and proceeded to douse the body in alcohol.
With that dealt with, Amun drug the body towards the captain’s cabin. He knocked on the door. A light burned inside and within no time, Captain Nobles arrived, disheveled and bleary eyed. The captain apologized for the uncouth manners of his staff, promised to reprimand the boy, and even offered to join Amun for drinks. He refused the kind offer and made his way back to the smoking parlor. At that time of night, not even the servants were awake to cater to his needs so he sat down in a leather armchair and finally lit his cigarette. Amun let his mind wander and exhaled, enjoying the warm sensation from the rolled Turkish tobacco.
Many questions haunted his thoughts. Who was the boy? More importantly, whom did the boy work for? Before tonight, he assumed the lad was some uneducated sailor, lured to the sea out of poverty. Amun’s own past was similar; it made perfect sense. Yet, he proved to be far more dangerous. Thankfully, the boy would be serving penance for the rest of the voyage for his lack in judgment if Captain Nobles had anything to do about it. Youth often makes foolish choices and Amun hoped the lad would learn from his. The employer of the young man would suffer a worse fate. Many faces materialized in Amun’s mind. Quite a few people out there would love his bloated corpse to float out to sea and disappear. Now, he had to figure out which one. The rich scent of tobacco soothed his nerves as he cleared his mind. That was not a topic he was ready to deal with at that moment. Instead, he propped up his feet and soaked in the atmosphere.
Upper crust society enveloped him. Dark, highly polished wood glimmered in the gas lamps secured to the walls, each molded to look like tiny cherubs. Leather armchairs and a couch surrounded the fire, which had gone out hours before, no doubt. Amun could have rung up a servant to light the grate, but he was more than capable of doing it himself. Boxes of cigars sat on every side table. Near the back of the room there was a full bar. In the deep crevasse of his memory, his mouth watered for something quite different. The soldier’s disease, he thought with ill humor. Never being a soldier, Amun did not have the excuse of pain to blame when his own body made the demands. He pushed the notion out of his mind.
Although the room was comfortable, nothing compared to the richly colored tapestries and finely woven rugs back at his home in Egypt. And the coffee. Amun closed his eyes, missing the thick liquid and earthy flavor — like nothing he could find anywhere else. Soon, he would be back in Egypt and away from the pretense.
Putting his feet up on the ottoman, he withdrew the telegram from his pocket and the pendant device. While the mechanical contraption drew his attention, Amun forced himself to focus on the telegram. The contents were brief: Identification on target affirmed. Move to intercept. A high ranking official he may be, Amun was still the son of a farmer and not averse to doing what had to be done. He pocketed the paper and eagerly gave his full attention to the device.
Dangling from a thick leather band, the ornament appeared to be a compass at first glance, encased in tarnished copper. A forgotten script, not seen in England since the reign of Constantine, embellished the smooth metal. It was a language unknown to Amun, although he knew someone whose memory stretched that far back. Inside the device, inlayed with what appeared to be ivory and onyx, the design swirled from the outer edge inwards to the compass’ center like a maelstrom. The craftsmanship was one he had not seen in far too many years to recollect. He turned the object in his hands and realized the thin metal needle remained stationary, pointing dead center at his chest. Curiosity bled into anxiety. This piece was not some decorative bobble but a tracker, meant to lead the wearer straight to him.
…a thud from behind caught his attention. Amun Farouk was not alone.