Author's notes: I'm back! Does anyone even remember this? I guess we'll see. Sorry for the monumental delay in getting the next chapter out. Needless to say, it's kind of a long story. ;)
8. Mal au tête
It was plainly a situation that demanded O'Connell's particular kind of help. Rick O'Connell was, often despite his better judgement, rather a heroic fellow when circumstances called for it. Jonathan, as loath as he was to admit it, was not the least bit heroically inclined. Sneaking, sidling, spying, wheedling... those things were his forte. That, and his head was confoundedly sore. He kept having dizzy spells, and he was devilishly sleepy. He was no doctor, of course, but even he could tell that the crown of his skull shouldn't have been quite so... pulpy.
He and O'Connell made a fine pair, he reflected ruefully, as he sat on the bed in his room, applying a spot of scotch to his scrapes—externally, rather than internally, for once. Infection being rampant in the Egyptian air, Jonathan had learned through years of experience that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure when it came to open cuts. He did this rather mechanically, simply because he didn't quite know what else to do. He'd peeked into the honeymoon suite and found it empty, but was still too much in shock from the beating he'd received to fully absorb the awful significance of the wanton destruction of his sister's things. Not to mention the small, empty, Evie-shaped furrow in the bedclothes. Perhaps she'd gone for a walk. There might have been some news of Rick. Just because she was gone, and the room was a shambles, didn't necessarily mean she'd been...
Drugged. The word flickered momentarily, a tiny spark in the murky recesses of Jonathan's dazed brain. It hovered there a moment, unmoored, and then gently settled into place. Of course. Jonathan had been carousing about Cairo with his brother-in-law enough times to know that the dirty great brute was quite capable of holding his liquour, and sensible enough to rid himself of it if he couldn't. O'Connell must have been heavily drugged when Jonathan had encountered him. That had been the reason for his strange placidity--not to mention his inability to walk a straight line from the loo to the bar. Follow that to its logical conclusion, and it was plain that Jonathan himself had been neatly (and, God help him, willingly!) dispatched so that whoever intended to have at the incapacitated O'Connell had a clear path to him.
Jonathan huffed, rather disgusted with the whole business. It just wasn't sporting to drug a fellow--even one as bellicose as his brother-in-law. As for Jonathan himself, he couldn't have helped the plot more if he had bashed O'Connell on the head and delivered him personally into the hands of his adversaries. Who those adversaries might be, he couldn't precisely say...
...but now they had Evie, too.
As much as it pained him to admit it, Jonathan knew that this was the most likely of all possible explanations for his sister's absence. There was some hope, at least; if they had searched the room, it meant they were seeking something, and presumably would not want to kill his sister or her pugilist husband until they had obtained that something. After all, you didn't usually drug a bloke, especially one as large and resilient as O'Connell, unless you intended to take him alive. And if there was some rotter out there who wanted both the O'Connells, alive, it was only a hop-skip-and-a-jump, so to speak, to Hamunaptra.
The myth of the City of the Dead wasn't exactly common knowledge, but there were a fair number of wasters about who had little better to do than to amass fairy stories about treasure. Jonathan ought to know; he had been one such waster himself. And he had to admit that there were moments when he'd had a hard time keeping his mouth shut about the expedition he and his sister had planned, moments when he might have dropped some rather heavy-handed hints in some rather unsavoury venues. It was possible that whoever had Evie intended to use her to get Rick and Jonathan to tell all they knew—which Jonathan would, willingly, if it meant saving his sister's life.
He would have to go back into the suite, he reflected, and look for clues. He was no stranger to poking around in his sister's suitcases by any means, especially when he was short of cash, but this was different. He tried to recall what he knew about detective stories (murder mysteries, he thought with a shudder) and what the proper procedures were for investigating a disappearance. It didn't even occur to him to involve the police, especially since he didn't know what Evie's captors were after. He wondered whether he should take a pencil and paper with him, to mark where things lay. If only he had a camera... If he could figure out what they had taken, if anything, it might help. He decided that he would also enquire at the front desk about the message Evie had mentioned—the one she thought had come from him. Someone had telephoned the hotel on the night the O'Connells arrived... perhaps to check whether they were there?
Evie had told him that the reason Rick was outside in the first place was that she had been startled by the appearance of a peeping Tom at the window... could it be that someone had been watching the O'Connells, waiting for the ideal time to strike, and that Rick's awful accident had played right into their hands?
But no; Rick's loss of memory had come as something of a blessing in disguise in that respect, Jonathan reasoned. After all, if Evie wasn't worth much to him, threatening her life wouldn't be enough to make him talk. That was something, at least. And it was probably why the bastards, whoever they were, had grabbed Rick—they may not be able to use Evie to make him talk, but torturing him would make her open up readily enough.
If all this were true, then why was Jonathan still free? Well, perhaps they thought he was dead. And perhaps they weren't so very far wrong, he thought, inspecting himself as best he could in a nearby mirror. His head was, literally and figuratively, a bloody mess. And it hurt like the very devil, to boot. He stood up, finding purchase against the wall. It was plain that, before anything was to be done about this, he would need a change of clothes, a spot of tea, several layers of bandages, a good dose of courage, and about a case of aspirin.
He wondered if Lord Peter Wimsey ever had days like this.
Rick wondered if there'd ever been a time when he didn't have days like this--waking on a cold floor, with a dry mouth and a pounding head. It had been happening way too often lately, that was for sure. He sat up, which was probably a bad idea, as the intensity and frequency of the pounding suddenly increased dramatically. He hadn't felt this whipped since his days in the Cairo prison, when Hamid, that big lout with the festering eye, had--
He'd never been in prison. Jail, sure, but never prison, and certainly never in Cairo.
He shook his head to clear it--an ultimately futile maneuver, as the room, which had been rickety to start with, began to spin around him. He groaned, and dropped back onto the floor. The cool tile felt good against his knotted back and aching head. If he'd never been in prison, how was he able to remember it so clearly? The sights, and sounds, and--worse still--the smells of that wretched place enveloped him suddenly, almost palpably. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine...
Well, I guess she's not a total loss.
Was he losing his mind? Or getting it back?
He opened one eye, slowly, tentatively. It was far too bright in the little room. His surroundings seemed vaguely familiar, but dammit, there wasn't a single thing around that didn't seem like he'd had contact with it at some point. His head was completely and utterly fucked—he couldn't tell anymore what was real. Strangely, the only part of the puzzle that seemed genuine was Evelyn, and hers was the most preposterous claim of all.
Finally, it came to him—he was in the bathroom of the honeymoon suite, where they had met. Well, not where they had first met, if her story was to be believed, but it was the only meeting he remembered. He grinned, despite himself, remembering how fetching she'd looked in that little slip. It had seemed like things were about to get really interesting for a second there, before he had to go opening his big mouth and ruining it. He noted, for future reference, that it is never a good idea to ask a lady to remind you what her name is once you've got her down to her underclothes. It doesn't matter what her name is. Just go with the flow.
Now, if only he could remember... well, anything, really, but in terms of immediacy, it would be nice to know exactly what he was doing here, yet again. He closed his eyes for a second, then, making a herculean effort, managed to heave himself to a sitting position, then wobbled to his feet. He had a few slurps of water from the faucet, which made him feel a bit better, even if it didn't solve the problem of what the hell he was supposed to do next. He could hear someone moving around in the next room—the little woman, he supposed, making a face in the mirror. It took him a second to realize that something wasn't quite right about his face, and another second to realize that the red smears weren't on his face, but on the mirror itself. The smears gradually resolved themselves into words, although he still didn't know what the hell they were supposed to mean...
"Who's in there?" called a voice from the outer room—a male voice.
"Depends," Rick shot back. "Who's out there?"
"I'm armed!" yelled the other guy.
"So am I," bluffed Rick, looking around for something he could use as a weapon. He grabbed the hairbrush, then tossed it aside—who could do serious damage with that?
There was a pause, and then: "Wait... O'Connell?"
"Who wants to know?" Rick demanded, still in pissing contest mode.
"Oh, for heaven's sake."
The bathroom door was yanked open to reveal Evelyn's weaselly brother, his head so swathed in bandages that he looked like a snowball on a stick. What was his name again? Rick racked his brain, trying to recall.
As if reading his mind, the other man prompted, "It's Jonathan. Evie's brother?"
"I know, I'm not an idiot," Rick growled.
Jonathan chose to take the high road. "What are you doing here?"
Rick lowered his guard. He had a feeling that he could trust this guy, although he couldn't say why. Maybe because, underneath the bandages, he looked the way Rick felt—like he'd been on the losing end of a struggle with the proverbial ton of bricks. "Damned if I know." He shrugged. "I was at a bar... an old buddy of mine turned up... I usually hold my drink a little better than this."
"I know," Jonathan replied. "I rather thought someone had slipped you something."
"You were there?" Why should he be surprised? His memory was like Swiss cheese these days. He just wished that one day he could wake up back at his flop in Cairo and have forgotten all of this.
Jonathan nodded. "But why would they bring you back here? Unless..."
"Unless they already had what they needed. Evie's been taken," he blurted, then looked pained, as though saying out loud had only just made it real. "I came back here earlier and she was gone. The room was a shambles—still is, actually."
Rick broke out in a cold sweat, then sternly reminded himself that there was no cause for it. For all he knew, this was phase two of the scam they were running. He really was losing his edge if he was going to let these two English shysters manipulate him with such obvious dramatics. "I guess that explains this," he said, carefully neutral, pointing to the writing on the bathroom mirror. He stepped aside to allow Jonathan a better look, then stood back as the smaller man retched into the sink. It was pretty obvious that he hadn't had much to eat in the past twenty-four hours: almost nothing came up, and after a few dry heaves, he stopped, swore, steadied himself, and asked, "What are we to do?"
Rick touched the surface of the mirror, his head spinning. He had no idea what any of this meant, or what his part ought to be in all of it. He didn't know who these people were, or what his relationship was to them, if any. He only knew that if this was for real... if someone really did hurt that girl, if she was completely innocent in all of this and someone had taken her to get to him... there would be hell to pay. "I guess we do what it says," he said, reading the inscription for about the tenth time:
wait for the call
or find out what it feels like
to lose a loved one forever
Evelyn had no idea how long she'd been there—she only knew that it felt like forever. Alone in the darkness, minutes bled into hours, and the hours seemed to stretch out before her in an endless parade. She drifted into an uneasy sleep occasionally, awakened by the tiniest of noises. There was something skittering around the corners of the room, but whether it was a rat or some form of insect, she couldn't quite determine. Truth be told, she didn't much care, considering the larger matters at hand. Namely, that she was about to be tortured and possibly killed because she would refuse to give up her secret.
When they had returned from Hamunaptra, she, Jonathan and Rick had held a solemn meeting, to discuss what they were to do if confronted by individuals determined to get at the truth of Hamunaptra. There were bound to be a few, Evelyn had reasoned, although Jonathan and Rick both felt she was overreacting. The three of them had absolutely no idea whether it was possible to raise Imhotep from his resting place a second time, and none of them had any interest in finding out. Evelyn had suggested a pact that none of them would reveal the location of the lost city, even if put in a situation that meant harm might come to one of the others.
The one who had objected to this plan of action the most was Rick. Evelyn had been certain that he would take her side—which, in retrospect, was an obvious mistake. He was still incapable of thinking clearly where Evelyn's safety was concerned; he kept expecting spirits and sprites to emerge from the woodwork and seize her away from him.
"The mummy's dead," he'd insisted. "Gold, jewels—that stuff's not worth our lives. Those desert guys—the Med-jai—it's their job to die protecting the city, not ours." He'd used the word 'our', but he was plainly speaking directly to Evie, who blushed hotly under the intensity of his gaze.
"Now that we know," she'd argued, "it's our secret as much as anyone's, and we ought to keep it safe." She couldn't help but feel a certain amount of obligation to Ardeth Bay and his people for their assistance, especially since he had been instrumental in her own rescue. "If it were up to me—"
"Except that it has been up to you so far, and all you've done is damn near get yourself killed!"
"Yes, that's right, all pile on Evelyn, shall we? I wasn't the only one who disregarded warnings, you know. The Americans—"
"May they rest in peace," Jonathan interjected hastily.
"If you hadn't been so stubborn—" insisted Rick.
Evelyn's blood was up now. "I, stubborn?"
A light snapped on, abruptly derailing Evelyn's train of thought. She jerked awake, only then realizing that she had been... asleep? But no, she distinctly felt as though she had just been speaking. Shouting, in point of fact. Her mouth was still open.
She noticed that she was in quite a different room than the one she remembered. It was small, clean, and brightly lit, although of course there were no windows. There were tools, medical instruments, and hypodermic needles laid out on a table just out of her reach. She was no longer gagged, and she seemed to have switched to a more comfortable chair, one that supported her feet but also kept her arms firmly pinned to her sides.
What on earth had she just been saying?
A man in a white coat stepped into view. It appeared that the doctor, the truth extraction specialist, had already begun his work. He turned around, and Evelyn gasped. She hadn't been quite certain what she expected, but it definitely wasn't this.