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Title: The Egyptian Cat Mystery
Author: Goodwin, Harold L. (Harold Leland), 1914-1990
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Egyptian Cat Mystery" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                                 THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY

                           A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY

                                      BY JOHN BLAINE


GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1961
NEW YORK, N. Y.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Printed in the United States of America_

[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not discover a U.S.
copyright renewal.]



[Illustration: _The room had been searched inch by inch. Someone wanted
the cat!_]



Contents


I THE WINSTON PLAN

II THE EGYPTIAN CAT

III CAIRO

IV EL MOUSKI

V SAHARA WELLS

VI THE CAT HAS KITTENS

VII THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

VIII THE MIDNIGHT CALL

IX THE UNINVITED VISITOR

X THE GREAT PYRAMID

XI THIRD BROTHER SMILES

XII THIRD BROTHER STOPS SMILING

XIII THE SPACE MYSTERY

XIV THE BROAD SAHARA

XV THE CAT COMES BACK

XVI THE HOWLING JACKALS

XVII ISMAIL BEN ADHEM

XVIII THE FIGHT AT SAHARA WELLS

XIX THE CAT'S SECRET

XX THE SIGNAL VANISHES



List of Illustrations

_The room had been searched inch by inch. Someone wanted the cat!_

_A snub-nosed revolver was pointed at Rick's midriff_

_Hands pulled Rick from the saddle_



THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY



CHAPTER I

The Winston Plan


The date was December twenty-third. The time along the Greenwich
meridian, from which all world times are measured, was 8:15 P.M. At
widely scattered points around the globe, four voices were raised
simultaneously.

Even an experienced observer could not have found a connection between
the four voices and what they were saying, yet each voice started
actions that would soon be interwoven into a single pattern--a pattern
of danger, adventure, and mystery that would culminate in sudden
violence within sight of one of the seven wonders of the world.

In Chicago, it was 2:15 in the afternoon. At the edge of the city a man
spoke into the telephone in the office of a small plastics factory. "The
cat is ready," he said.

In Paris, a phone rang. The man who answered noted in the log that his
overseas call had gone through at exactly 9:15 p.m. He picked up the
phone and spoke crisply. "_Monsieur l'Inspecteur? ... _Bien._ This is
Interpol. We have a relay for you from the United States. Monsieur,
this will please you--and it most certainly will amaze you. Message
begins..."

In Cairo, the time was 10:15 P.M. A famous Egyptian astronomer walked
into his office and called to his associate. "Hakim! Good news. He can
come. Now we can find out what that accursed hydrogen-line impulse
means."

On Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey, it was 3:15 in the
afternoon. The island was quiet under a blanket of snow. The long, gray
laboratory buildings, where so many dramatic scientific developments had
taken place, were deserted. Only in the homes of the scientists was
there activity, and all of it was in preparation for Christmas.

In the big main house on the seaward side of the island, Dr. Hartson
Brant, director of the world-famous Spindrift Scientific Foundation,
walked to the foot of the stairs and called to his son.

"Rick, can you come to the library in five minutes? Bring Scotty with
you."

Rick Brant, a tall boy with light-brown hair and eyes, paused in his
gift wrapping long enough to call an affirmative to his father, then he
made sure Don Scott, whose room was next door, had heard the summons.

Scotty had. He came through the connecting door. "What's up?"

"Don't know. Maybe Dad has some Christmas chores for us to do."

Scotty, a big, husky boy with black hair and brown eyes, was an
ex-Marine who had originally joined the Spindrift group as a guard
during the adventure of _The Rocket's Shadow_. Since then, he and Rick
had become the closest of friends, and the Brants had accepted him as a
full-fledged member of the family.

"I'm willing, whatever it is," Scotty told Rick. "I'm so full of Yuletide
spirit I may bust a seam from sheer joy."

Rick grinned. He felt exactly the same way. He continued wrapping the
present for his sister Barbara, a pretty girl a year his junior. Barby
had a definite talent for sketching and painting and Rick had bought her
a complete artist's kit, hoping it would encourage her natural skill.

"She'll be tickled pink," Scotty remarked. "Come on. Let's go down."

"Go ahead. I'll be right with you." Rick finished taping on a spray of
evergreen, then he carefully put the present out of sight under his
workbench. Barby's lively curiosity was subdued at Christmas time, but
it was better not to take chances. He surveyed the bench to see if he
had left anything out. Usually it was cluttered with apparatus, tools,
and parts, because Rick was an inveterate experimenter, but it was clear
now, in preparation for the holiday.

He walked down the corridor to the stairs, smiling to himself. Christmas
at Spindrift was fun. The entire scientific staff and their families
joined in, first in cutting their own trees from the stand of spruce at
the back side of the island, then in decorating the big tree in the
Brant library. On Christmas Eve there was a Yule log to be brought in
and presents to be exchanged, although the Brants waited until morning
to open their gifts to each other.

Hartson Brant and Scotty were waiting in the library, standing before
the great fireplace in which logs crackled merrily. Seated in the
leather chair next to the Christmas tree was Parnell Winston, one of the
leading staff scientists.

Winston was a big man, with jet-black curly hair and great bushy
eyebrows that hid merry blue eyes. He was an expert in cybernetics, the
science of electronic computer design, and his contributions to the
theory of computer operations, and to advanced electronic control
systems, were known to scientists around the world. Winston had
originally joined the staff to supervise the design and construction of
a "thinking machine," the Tractosaur.

Hartson Brant, an older version of his son, greeted the boy. "Come in,
Rick. Parnell, the floor is yours."

Winston motioned the boys to chairs. "Sit down. I called this meeting to
make a proposal. But first, how are your bank balances? Fat or thin?"

Rick considered. Most of his income, including his small salary as a
laboratory assistant, went into his education fund. However, the salary
he had earned for working at the Nevada rocket base during _The Scarlet
Lake Mystery_ had been put into his "ready" fund. "I'm in good shape,"
he said, and Scotty echoed him.

"Fine. Now, the Egyptian Astronomical Society has just finished
constructing a new radio telescope. It's a first-rate instrument from
which we expect great things. Your father and I were in at its birth, so
to speak. We consulted on the initial designs during a meeting of the
International Astronomical Union."

Rick knew that was one of the many world-wide private scientific
organizations operating under the International Council of Scientific
Unions. He also knew of the growing importance of radio astronomy, but
he hadn't known the Egyptians were in on it.

"Apparently some unusual trouble developed during the tuning of the
instrument," Winston went on. "Earlier this afternoon I had a phone call
from Cairo, and a request to help our Egyptian colleagues iron out the
bugs. I accepted."

Rick sat upright in his chair. Winston going to Cairo? How did this
concern Scotty and him?

"My proposal is this," Winston concluded. "The Egyptians are short of
technicians and we may need help. I'll leave the day after Christmas,
returning within ten days. If you two can pay half your expenses, and
help me half the time, I'll take you with me."

Both boys jumped to their feet. Rick looked anxiously at his father.

Hartson Brant smiled. "According to Parnell's schedule, you'll be back
just in time for school at the end of the holidays. _If_ you want to go,
of course."

Rick let out a wild yell of exuberance that brought his sister Barby
running to the library. She looked at the group with wide eyes. "Rick!
Was that you?"

He grinned at her. "It wasn't a wounded buffalo, Sis. Guess what? We're
going to Egypt!"

Barby's pert face lengthened. "I don't suppose I can go, too?"

Parnell Winston walked over and ruffled her blond hair. "Not this time,
Barby. But I'll make you a promise. The next field expedition under my
supervision will include my wife, you, and Jan Miller."

The prospect of an expedition that included Jan, daughter of one of the
staff physicists and her dearest friend, cheered Barby at once.

"I don't suppose you could promise to leave Rick and Scotty at home?"
she asked.

"Can't promise." Winston chuckled. "We might need them to carry your
luggage. Girls can't travel without a dozen suitcases each, I'm told."

The scientist turned to the boys. "Start reading up on the country, and
I'll arrange for you to get some additional background by meeting some
Egyptians. It happens that an Egyptian physicist is arriving in New York
today for a lecture tour of American universities. There's a reception
for him tomorrow. We'll drive to New York. You can meet him and some of
his countrymen, and we'll go to the consulate to obtain visas. Are your
passports and health cards up to date?"

Fortunately, all was in order because the boys had spent a part of the
summer in the Sulu Sea region, where they had helped to locate and
rescue two staff scientists.

Barby asked wistfully, "Couldn't I meet some real Egyptians, too?"

As Scotty had once said, if Barby ever got wistful while fishing, the
fish would knock themselves out trying to climb into the boat to cheer
her up. Winston replied quickly, "No reason why not. I'll check with my
host, but I'm sure it's all right, so you can plan to come with us."

Rick's eyes met Scotty's. He shrugged. He was glad in one way that his
sister could go, because he always hated to have her unhappy about being
left behind. On the other hand, Barby was unpredictable. He couldn't be
sure of what she might do or say, but he could be certain her curiosity
and enthusiasm would stir up something.

If Rick had been enough of a prophet to see all the events his pretty
sister's helpfulness at the reception would get him into, he would have
handcuffed her to the Christmas tree before ever allowing her off
Spindrift Island.



CHAPTER II

The Egyptian Cat


The reception for Dr. Hayret Ahmed was at the home of an Egyptian
importer named Mohammed Bartouki. Barby, the boys, and Winston rang the
bell of a brownstone house on New York's Upper East Side promptly at
noon.

Winston had checked with his host by phone, and his request that he be
allowed to bring his young associates to meet Bartouki had been met with
enthusiastic pleasure. Mohammed Bartouki had assured the scientist that
he would look forward to meeting the young people of Dr. Hartson Brant's
household.

The door was opened by a figure right out of _The Arabian Nights_, or so
it seemed to the young people. The doorman was a huge Negro dressed in
flowing red trousers that tucked in at the ankles. His sandals turned up
in points at the front, Persian style. An embroidered vest set off a
loose white silk shirt, and on his head was a red fez, shaped like a
section of a cone, slightly less in diameter at the top than at the
bottom.

"Please come in," he requested. His voice was accented. Rick saw that he
had two horizontal hairline scars on each cheek.

The man took their coats, giving Barby a courtly bow. "Dr. Bartouki asks
if you will please join him in the salon. It is straight ahead."

As they walked down the carpeted hall Barby gave Winston a smile of
sheer delight. "He's right out of a movie," she whispered. "Even to the
fez and the scars on his cheeks."

Winston smiled back. "In Egypt a fez is called a _tarboosh_. The scars
mean he is a Sudanese, from the country south of Egypt. I agree he's a
very picturesque type. I suspect Bartouki dressed him up for effect.
It's a common practice."

"What's Bartouki a doctor of?" Rick asked.

"I don't know. Law or something similar, I imagine. He's not a scientist
or medical doctor."

Mohammed Bartouki himself came to meet them. He was a round little man,
scarcely taller than Barby, with twinkling eyes behind horn-rimmed
glasses. He was dressed in an ordinary business suit.

"My dear Dr. Winston, how nice of you to come. And these are your young
friends?"

Winston introduced the young people. Rick found his hand captured in a
warm, firm grip.

"Welcome, welcome," Bartouki said, beaming. "We will have an opportunity
to talk about your trip to my country as soon as these scientists turn
the conversation to some matter of science we do not understand." He
smiled at Winston. "You see, I know you professional people. The
nationality does not matter. Put two of you together and the
conversation at once turns to some development a poor merchant cannot
possibly comprehend. That is why I am glad you brought Miss Barbara, and
Rick and Scotty, as you called them, if I may be so familiar. At least I
can talk with them."

Rick could see that Barby was charmed by the little merchant, and he
could understand why. Bartouki radiated warmth and enthusiasm.

In a moment the four Spindrifters were being introduced to Dr. Hayret
Ahmed and a bewildering assortment of people. Evidently they were all
scientists of different nationalities, except for two officers of the
United Arab Republic consulate. Rick recognized a few of the names, and
found he knew one or two of the Americans.

True to Bartouki's prediction, the talk turned to scientific subjects
within minutes. Rick followed the conversation, which was about a new
development in the capture and study of free radicals, but only for a
few minutes. The scientists were over his head in short order.

Scotty chuckled. "I always thought a free radical was a political bomb
thrower out of jail."

"It's a highly energetic chemical particle," Rick said.

"That's nice," Barby said. "Only I'd rather talk with Dr. Bartouki than
discuss energetic chemicals."

The merchant arranged things very smoothly. He announced that he would
not dream of allowing protocol to interfere with such a fascinating
conversation, and put the scientists together at one end of the table.
The officers from the consulate, evidently in deference to the
distinguished Egyptian scientist, continued to listen closely to the
talk, even though Rick was sure they didn't understand a word.

The three young people found themselves free to talk with their host,
and the boys at once began firing questions.

Bartouki described Cairo and promised that he would present them with
guidebooks to be read on the way over. He told them about things to do
in the ancient city, and listed places that were "musts" for tourists.
They included the step pyramid at Sakkarah, the Egyptian Museum, the
mosque of Sultan Hassan, and the mosque and college of El Azhar, founded
in the ninth century.

"Of course you will see a great deal of the Sphinx and the pyramids at
Giza, since our new radio telescope is nearby. But most of all, you must
see El Mouski."

"What is that?" Rick asked.

"It is the Cairo bazaar. There are several sections, known as _sooks_.
They have names like Khan El Khalili, Ghooriyeh, Sagha, Sook El
Nahassin, and so on, but the principal one is Mouski."

"Spell it for me," Barby pleaded.

Bartouki smiled. "What you ask is difficult. We use a different
alphabet, so there is no exact equivalent, only what is called
transliteration, which uses phonetics. So the bazaar can be Mouski,
Muski, Mosky, Mouskey, or anything else that sounds the same. Even for
Giza, where the pyramids are, there are many spellings."

"I wish you'd tell my English teacher that." Barby sighed. "I think my
way of spelling is just as good as hers."

Bartouki and the boys laughed sympathetically. The little merchant said,
"Whatever the spelling, El Mouski will fascinate you. Many things are
made there especially for tourists. Some of the workmanship is
excellent, and the prices are very low."

"We haven't had much luck with bazaars that cater to tourists," Scotty
replied. "We prefer markets where local people buy, because the things
are more authentic."

Bartouki chuckled. "That is wise, in most countries. But consider. The
attraction for tourists are things that are clearly Egyptian in origin,
no? Such things vanished from all but our museums some years ago. You
could not buy a genuine Egyptian tapestry, or a stone carving from a
tomb. Such things are beyond price. They are national treasures. But you
can buy very attractive and authentic reproductions."

"The people of Cairo wouldn't want reproductions, would they?" Barby
asked. "So they have to be made just for tourists."

"And for export," Bartouki added. "I import them myself for a few
American shops. After lunch I will show you samples and you will see."

It seemed reasonable to Rick when he thought about it. Genuine Egyptian
things simply were not obtainable. "What else is made for tourists?" he
queried.

"Many things, of gold, silver, and ivory. There are bags of camel
leather that Miss Barbara would enjoy having. There are brass goods of
all kinds, and copperware with a partial tin coating called washed tin."

The conversation paused long enough for a few bites of lunch, then
Bartouki resumed. "We try to take good care of tourists in the United
Arab Republic, both in Egypt and in Syria. For example, we license our
guide-interpreters, who are called _dragomen_. There is also a special
police force with no job but aid to tourists. And we are always looking
for ways to improve our reproductions to make them more attractive and
authentic. I will show you a new design."

By the time luncheon had ended, the talk among the scientists had
progressed to the basic theory of what physicists call "the solid
state." Even Rick, with his rapidly growing background of scientific
knowledge, could understand only fragments of conversation.

"Let them talk over their coffee," Bartouki said. "They are enjoying it.
We will retire to my den and I will show you examples from El Mouski."

The samples were everything Bartouki had promised. There were wall
hangings, beautifully made of tiny pieces of colored cloth appliqued on
a natural-color fabric, bags and pouches of leather, leather hassocks,
ivory carvings of ancient Egyptian gods, inlaid boxes and chests, and
dozens of both useful and ornamental utensils of brass, copper, washed
tin, and ceramics. Barby went into raptures. At every new item she urged
Rick to bring her one just like it.

"I'll rent a jet just to carry my luggage," he said, grinning. "You've
already ordered a ton, and I get only sixty-six pounds."

Bartouki came to his rescue. "Let me show you a new tourist attraction.
It just arrived by messenger this morning."

He went to a cabinet, opened it, and produced a stone cat. It was about
ten inches high, in a sitting position with its tail curled around to
meet its feet. It was of sandy texture, reddish in color.

"Sandstone?" Rick guessed.

Bartouki smiled. "I hoped you would say that. Here. Examine it."

Rick took the cat. He liked it very much. The design was clean and
elegant, stylized after the Egyptian manner. But it wasn't sandstone. It
was heavy, but not heavy enough to be sandstone, and the sheen was not
that of a mineral. Whatever the material, it had been fashioned in one
piece, probably cast in a mold.

"I give up," he said. "What is it?"

"Plastic," Bartouki replied, obviously pleased. "It did not come from
Egypt. It was made right here in America. In Chicago, to be exact. It is
what you call a prototype."

"But it's Egyptian in design," Barby protested. She took the cat from
Rick and examined it.

"Yes, it is clearly an Egyptian cat. The design came from Egypt, but the
cat from America. I have been working on this for months with a plastics
company. Now I have the model, and the method. We will reproduce these
in quantity in Cairo."

"It's pretty heavy for plastic," Rick commented.

"True. We put a piece of lead in the middle of the casting. You see, it
looks like stone, and the buyer will expect it to be heavy. So, for
psychological reasons, we give it weight--only not so much that it
becomes a problem to carry."

"You certainly have it worked out," Scotty said admiringly. "But why a
cat? Why not a ... a camel?"

"We have camels of camel leather, brass, and wood. But we do not have a
good cat. You see, the cat is important in Egyptian history. There was
even a cat goddess of the Upper Nile Kingdom, called Bubaste. In the
ancient tombs there are sometimes mummies of cats. Some cat lovers think
our land first developed the domestic strain of cat. So we believe
tourist cat lovers should have an authentic reproduction of one. This
particular cat is a faithful copy of an antique, which I am fortunate to
own."

"What will you do with it now?" Barby asked.

"Send it to my associate in Cairo, as soon as possible. I would like to
airmail it right away, but you Americans overload the mails at
Christmas, so it would be safer to wait. Next week I hope to send it
with full instructions, hoping to get production started in time for the
big tourist season. I wish it could go sooner. It is needed."

Barby said impulsively, "Rick leaves the day after tomorrow. He could
take it for you. Couldn't you, Rick?"

There was no reason to refuse. It was certainly a worthy project, and
Bartouki had been generous in answering their questions.

"Be glad to," Rick said.

The merchant's eyes lighted. "It would not be an imposition?"

"Of course not. I can put it right in with my clothes. I have plenty of
room."

"Believe me, I will be in your debt. And so will my associate, Ali
Moustafa. You will like him. He is a great, jolly man, three times my
size. If he had a beard, he would resemble your Santa Claus. And he will
insist that you accept some token of his appreciation. I will send the
instructions separately, so you need not bother with the technical
reports."

"I couldn't accept a gift for such a little thing," Rick protested. He
looked at the cat, now in Scotty's hands. It was a handsome little
statue.

"Ali Moustafa is a hard man to refuse," Bartouki said. "You should not
deprive him of the pleasure of making a gift. But I will not press you.
It will be between you and him. You are quite sure it will be no
trouble?"

Rick's words would return to haunt him during the days ahead. He said
blithely, "No trouble at all."



CHAPTER III

Cairo


The jet descended smoothly over the desert on the approach to Cairo
International Airport. Rick leaned toward the window to watch for the
first sign of a runway. In the distance he could see the valley of the
Nile River, a great green swath which cut through the tan desert wastes.

"Excited?" Scotty asked.

Rick had to grin. "Excited? Why should I be excited? A trip to Egypt is
an everyday event for me. Stop asking silly questions and look at the
scenery."

"I would," Scotty told him, "only somebody's head is in the way. I won't
exactly say it's a fathead, but it's too thick to see through."

"Real subtle. I like the way you give delicate hints." Rick moved back
so Scotty could see, and watched as the great plane dropped toward the
desert, then touched down and sped along modern runways to the
administration building.

Two Egyptians were waiting as Winston and the boys walked down the
stairway, and the scientist at once hurried to greet them. Obviously the
three were old friends.

Winston introduced the two boys. The older of the two Egyptians was Dr.
Abdel Kerama. He was a tall, gray-haired man of distinguished
appearance. Rick thought that in traditional desert costume he would
look like the head sheik of all the desert tribes. The younger Egyptian
was Dr. Hakim Farid, a youthful, clean-cut man with an attractive smile.

Rick knew from Winston's advance briefing that these were the two
leading radio astronomers of the United Arab Republic, and that both had
international reputations in the field.

The Egyptian scientists made the boys feel at home right away. Dr.
Kerama took Scotty and Winston by the arms, and Dr. Farid fell in step
with Rick as the group walked toward the administration building.

"We're glad you could come," Farid said in excellent English. "We'll try
to make your visit interesting."

Rick thanked him. "I don't know whether we'll be of much use, but we're
willing to do anything we're told. All we ask is a little chance to see
your country."

"You'll have every chance," Dr. Farid told him. "Before there is any
work for you, Parnell will have to do a pretty thorough analysis of data
we've collected. It's a problem that has us ... what's the American
expression? Buffaloed?"

"That's it," Rick agreed. "What kind of problem is it?"

"It's what you might call very strange behavior on the part of a
hydrogen-line impulse we picked up while calibrating our receiver. Are
you familiar with radio astronomy?"

"Not very," Rick admitted. "I tried to read some of the current
literature when I found we were coming, but most of it is over my head."

"Then I won't bore you with a technical discussion. Briefly, the noise
emitted by hydrogen gas in space is very important to us in our analysis
of the nature and distribution of matter. This radio noise is, of
course, random. Usually when we are examining a hydrogen source we get
pretty continuous and regular signals. If we could hear it, there would
be a sort of hissing noise. Do you follow me?"

"So far."

"Good. Our problem is that we are picking up impulses. You might even
call them signals. They are on the frequency of neutral hydrogen, but
it's hard to believe they're natural in origin. We've about concluded
that somehow our amplifier system is modulating the incoming hydrogen
signal from the antenna. The trouble is, we can't locate the cause."

"Is that why you called Dr. Winston?" Rick asked.

"Yes. He has a reputation for finding bugs in electronic circuits. If he
can find this one, we'll be tempted to reward him with a pyramid or
something appropriate."

Rick saw the twinkle in Dr. Farid's eyes. "Better not make it a
pyramid," he said hastily. "His luggage is limited to sixty-six pounds.
They might not let him on the plane with it."

"A happy thought," Dr. Farid said seriously. "You have saved us from
possible embarrassment. It would be useless to give him a pyramid when
his weight limit is thirty kilos, as we call sixty-six pounds."

Rick chuckled. One reason he so enjoyed his association with scientists
was the dry sense of humor most of them seemed to share.

They reached the administration building and started through the
formalities of customs and immigration. The Americans had filled out
customs forms and currency declarations on the plane, and in only a
short time the formalities were over and their admission into the United
Arab Republic was official. The customs inspectors hadn't even asked
them to open their luggage.

The trip from the airport took over an hour. It led through Heliopolis,
City of the Sun, the first capital of a united Egypt. The land had been
governed for over a thousand years from Heliopolis. But that, as Dr.
Kerama explained, was over four thousand years ago.

Rick was awed. Coming from a new land where a hundred years seemed a
very long time, the antiquity of Egypt stirred his imagination. But
there was little that seemed ancient in modern Heliopolis. There were
attractive, modern apartment houses, new public buildings, and rows of
trees carefully trimmed into perfect green cylinders.

The entry into Cairo itself was through rows of tall wooden or brick
structures, along streets traveled by everything from the latest
European cars to plodding donkey carts. The people were dressed in a
variety of costumes, from suits and dresses that would have been
suitable in New York, to traditional Arab dress with flowing robes and
the cloth headdress that is held in place by a band or roll of fabric
around the head, just above the eyes.

The car passed the railroad station and the great statue of Rameses the
Second, Pharaoh of Egypt. The Nile came into view, and Farid pointed out
the row of hotels on the other side. The Shepheard's and the Nile Hilton
flanked the older, Victorian bulk of the Semiramis, where they would
stay. They sped across a bridge, entered a plaza full of honking horns
and speeding cars, then moved to the comparative quiet of a street along
the Nile embankment to the hotel.

Uniformed attendants came running for their bags. The group entered the
lobby, and Rick looked around with interest.

The Semiramis was big, with lofty ceilings and chandeliers. The walls
were decorated with scrolls and tapestries. The rugs had once been red.
There was a kind of eighteenth-century grandeur about it, even though it
had turned a little shabby over the years.

The formalities of registration were completed, then the Americans went
to the cashier and exchanged dollars for Egyptian pounds and coins in
units called piastres. They carefully put away their receipts for the
exchange, since currency control in the country was strict.

"Go ahead," Winston told the boys. "Farid and Kerama will come with me.
I want to start talking over this interesting problem of theirs, and I
imagine you want to rest."

Rick did not feel in the least like resting, but made no comment. He and
Scotty got into a tiny, ornate elevator cage with walls of gilded-iron
lattice. There wasn't room for the porters with their bags; they ran up
the stairs while the boys rode with the smiling elevator operator. It
wasn't a fast ride.

"Climbing rate, one hundred feet per minute," Scotty said. Rick grinned.

They were let off at the third floor, and weren't in the least surprised
to find the porters waiting for them. They followed the men into a room
that made them stop short with amazement.

The entrance to the hotel and the lobby had been big, but the room was
enormous, spacious, and very tastefully furnished, European style.

"As big as Grand Central Station!" Scotty exclaimed.

Rick echoed, "We'll rattle around in here like a pair of pebbles in a
fifty-gallon tank."

The bath was larger than most American hotel rooms, with a twenty-foot
ceiling, and the closet would easily have accommodated a king's
wardrobe. Rick thought that maybe it had, in times past.

He tipped the porters and closed the door behind them, then motioned to
Scotty. "Go on down to the other end of the room and shout. I want to
see if I can hear you."

Scotty started to oblige, grinning, then turned and called, "Come look
at this view!" He had discovered that the French doors at the front of
the room opened onto a tiny balcony that overlooked the Nile.

The great river was only the width of a narrow street away. Sailing
gracefully along with brown sail set was a Nile boat. The bridge they
had crossed was directly ahead of the boat, and Rick looked for the
drawspan through which it would pass. There was none!

"He'll crash right into the bridge!" Rick exclaimed. "Why doesn't he
correct his course?"

"Rudder stuck, maybe," Scotty offered. "But why doesn't he drop the sail
and try to lose headway?"

They watched helplessly as the boat, fully fifty feet in length, bore
down on the bridge. There were many people in sight, and a steady line
of cars crossing the bridge, but no one paid the slightest attention.

Scotty grabbed Rick's arm. He started to laugh. "Look at that mast!"

Fascinated, Rick watched as the huge mast dipped slowly backward,
triangular sail and all, until it lay nearly flat on the deck. The boat
slipped under the bridge with room to spare. On the other side, the mast
slowly went up to its normal rakish position again, the sail filled, and
wind and current bore the boat steadily down the Nile.

"Not exactly the way we'd do it," Rick said with a grin, "but pretty
effective." It was a reminder that they were in a new land, where
customs were strange to them.

"You learn something new every day," Scotty agreed. "Let's unpack, then
go visit the city."

"Better wait and see what Winston has in mind for us," Rick cautioned.
He began to stow his clothing in one of the big dressers. He lifted a
shirt, and stared down at the Egyptian cat nestling among his T shirts.
"Tell you what, if Winston doesn't need us, let's deliver the cat. We
can see some of the city coming and going."

When their clothes were stored, they washed away the grime of travel and
Rick called Winston's room.

Hakim Farid answered. "Don't think we've forgotten you," the young radio
astronomer said. "But Parnell and Kerama wasted no time in getting down
to business. I doubt that you could interrupt long enough to get a
sensible answer. Do you have any plans?"

"We have an errand at El Mouski," Rick replied. "Would it be all right
for us to go?"

"No reason why not. You'll need a car. I would offer you mine, except
that you have no local license. You could take a taxi, but a licensed
dragoman would be better. Suppose I suggest one with a car?"

Rick remembered that Bartouki had told them a dragoman was a
guide-interpreter. "That would be very good of you," he replied.

"All right. I will send one I know, or a friend of his if he is not
available. Wait in your room and he will come for you."

Rick thanked Farid and hung up. He reported the conversation to Scotty.

"First time I've ever had a guide in a city," Scotty said. "Makes me
feel important, like visiting royalty or something. Couldn't we just get
a map instead?"

"We'd still need a car. Might as well get one with a built-in talking
map. Besides, I like the idea. I want to be escorted like a visiting
prime minister."

There was a paper laundry bag in the closet. Rick used it to wrap the
cat against possible scratches. Scotty took the few moments to get some
cards written, to which he signed both their names.

There was a polite knock on the door, and Rick opened it. He gaped at
the sight of what was apparently their dragoman. He was a magnificent
figure in blue pantaloons and short red jacket. He had an engaging black
face marred by three straight hairline scars that ran in a diagonal
across his cheeks.

"Have honor to present me," the figure announced formally. "Name of
Hassan. To serve you."

"Come in, Hassan," Rick invited. "Are you the dragoman Dr. Farid sent?"

"Is same, _ya sidi_. To serve you."

Rick introduced himself and Scotty. He inspected the guide with
interest. Hassan was young, with a friendly white-toothed smile. The
scars identified him as Sudanese, but Rick didn't know enough about the
markings to tell what part of the Sudan he came from. A different part
from Bartouki's servant, though, because the scars were at a different
angle, and Hassan had three on each cheek.

Rick's quick imagination could picture the Sudanese in a different
setting, with scimitar in hand, guarding the palace of a legendary
sultan. It was hard to imagine him in the prosaic role of a guide. Rick
resolved to take a picture for Barby's benefit. A blackamoor warrior
right out of the tales of Scheherazade! That was how she would see it.

The boys shook hands with the dragoman, and Rick saw that he responded
to their obvious friendliness. The costume was an odd one, though. Rick
hadn't seen any like it on the street, and he wondered if Hassan wore it
for effect, since most of his customers probably were tourists. Later he
found that the guess was right.

"Where you like to go?" Hassan asked.

Scotty spoke up. "You know El Mouski?"

Hassan's face split in a wide grin. "Who does not?"

"That'll teach me to ask silly questions," Scotty said ruefully. "Like
asking a New Yorker if he ever heard of Central Park."

The boys walked downstairs with Hassan, since it was faster than taking
the elevator, and went to the alley behind the hotel where he had parked
his car.

The car was a small foreign sedan of a make neither boy had ever heard
of. Apparently Hassan also used it as a taxi, because the front
passenger seat was taken up mostly by a taxi meter.

Rick showed Hassan the address in his notebook. The guide shook his
head. "Please, you read."

Rick looked at him with astonishment. A guide who couldn't read? But
apparently it was so. "It is the store of Ali Moustafa," he explained.

Hassan shrugged. "I do not know it. But it can be found. _Enshallah._"

Although the boys did not recognize it then, the word was a common
expression meaning "If God wills it."

They would learn it, though, and with it other Arabic words, including
_zanb_, _dassissa_, and _khatar_--or, in English, crime, intrigue, and
danger!



CHAPTER IV

El Mouski


Hassan drove out of the hotel alley into a chaos of horns, pedestrians
who flirted with sudden death, wildly maneuvering cars, and donkey carts
that always seemed on the verge of being hit by an accelerating truck.
It was a normal day in Cairo traffic.

The boys watched with mixed fear and amazement--fear that Hassan would
hit someone and amazement that he didn't. Time after time he bore down
on a slow-moving Egyptian and Rick's heart leaped into his throat until
collision was averted by some miracle or other, usually a wild,
record-breaking leap by the pedestrian.

The trip from the airport had been along streets that formed a kind of
throughway, but in the city itself, the traffic was the kind that would
send an American traffic cop screaming for the riot squad. Here, no one
seemed to think anything of it.

The boys relaxed a little as it became clear that Hassan knew what he
was doing. His driving was perhaps a shade more careful than that of
most drivers. Once, as he sped down a crowded, narrow street at forty
miles an hour, horns blasted behind them.

Rick turned, but could see nothing wrong. He asked, "Why all the
honking, Hassan?"

"They want we go faster," the dragoman said.

Scotty laughed. "Might as well relax. This is the slow, sleepy pace of
the Middle East we used to read about."

Rick laughed with him. He had seen hectic traffic before, but nothing to
compare with Cairo. This wasn't traffic. It was some kind of wild
contest with no rules and only survival as the winner's prize. "Any
number can play," he muttered.

He tried to pay attention to signs, but they were in Arabic script. He
saw that modern Cairo was giving way to the older city. The buildings
were smaller, more closely spaced. Most were of wood, but a few were
obviously of ancient stone. In this part of the city, merchants
displayed their wares on the sidewalks in front of cubicle-sized stores.

Then, with a suddenness that threw them forward, Hassan pulled into a
parking place, jammed on the brakes, and killed the motor. "We walk
now," he told them. "Street too small for car."

Rick could see only narrow alleys. If they were the streets Hassan
meant, walking was the only possible means of transportation.

In the square where Hassan had halted were dozens of merchants, some
with their wares in carts, others carrying them on their backs. A rug
merchant approached and Hassan waved him off. "Come. El Mouski over
there." He pointed to a narrow alleyway.

[Illustration]

The boys followed, eyes taking in the sights, smells, and noises.
Merchants hawked their wares with raucous cries, charcoal braziers
smoked under assorted foodstuffs, and the air was redolent with the
odors of food, people, and the accumulated living of many centuries.

In the alley were shops, closely packed, some little more than a doorway
wide and others of quite respectable size. A few even had glass windows
with displays. There were textiles, foodstuffs, tinned copper, brass,
leather goods, inlaid work, rugs, shoes of strange designs, clothing,
and a variety of antiques.

Hassan stopped before a cubicle crowded with interesting brassware and
spoke in Arabic to a dark man with tiny spectacles. Rick thought he
heard the name of Ali Moustafa. He waited while the merchant replied at
length, with much waving of the hands as he outlined the path to the
establishment.

"I know now," Hassan informed them. "We go."

Rick and Scotty fell in step with the guide. In many places the alleys
were under roofs or wooden awnings. In other places the buildings were
so close together that the three walked in single file. Rick could see
that daylight seldom reached the bottom of El Mouski. He moved aside to
make room for a donkey which carried huge jars.

Merchants beckoned to the boys, promising low prices and goods of superb
quality, but Hassan waved them off. Occasionally a beggar approached,
but the boys were surprised by the small number of mendicants.

The path passed from alley to alley, past dozens of shops. Rick saw a
few tourists, but the tourist season was still weeks ahead and most of
the people were Egyptian.

A little Egyptian boy with a dirty face called, "Yonkees! 'Ello!" The
boys returned his cheerful grin.

"This is a good-natured crowd," Rick commented. Many of the dark,
Semitic faces greeted them with cordial smiles and a half-salute of
welcome.

"Friendly people," Scotty agreed. "How far, Hassan?"

"Two streets. Soon."

The dragoman turned a corner, led them straight ahead for a few hundred
steps, then turned a second corner. He pointed. Diagonally across the
alley was a large store with display windows. A sign over the door
carried the name ALI MOUSTAFA surrounded by Arabic script.

"We'll get rid of the cat, then do some shopping," Rick said. "I'm
anxious for a closer look at some of these shops. How about you?"

"Ali Moustafa's seems pretty good to me," Scotty replied. "Look at that
stuff." He pointed to leather goods displayed in one window. "It's
beautiful. Go on in and deliver kitty while I see what some of these
things are."

"I tell you," Hassan offered. "Then I help bargain so prices be low. No
bargain, prices too high."

Rick walked in through the open door, his eyes taking in the amazing
collection of stuff sold by Ali Moustafa. The store was a big one,
especially compared with most in the bazaar, and there were several
clerks. The walls were lined with shelves that held copperware,
brassware, silver, and inlaid boxes. He saw rolls of tapestries,
collections of brass camels and donkeys, and glassed-in cases of
jewelry. Crowding the floor space were huge vases of brass or pottery,
camel saddles, metal trays on low stands, and huge leather hassocks.

The clerks eyed him with interest, then all eyes focused on the package
under his arm. For a moment Rick felt a current of tension run through
the store, but he dismissed it as imagination. He walked toward the rear
counter, trying to identify Ali Moustafa, but none of the clerks fitted
the description Bartouki had given.

He addressed his question to the clerk behind the rearmost counter. "Is
Mr. Moustafa here?"

The clerk's dark eyes flickered, and his face became expressionless.
"Please to be seated. I will get him."

The clerk vanished through a curtained door at the rear of the store,
and Rick turned. He was sensitive to impressions, and he was again
conscious of the tension. As he turned he saw that all the clerks were
watching him, their faces impassive. His eyes went to the front of the
store. Scotty was with Hassan in the doorway, discussing some object in
the display window.

A voice spoke from behind him. "You wish to see me?"

Rick turned. The newcomer was a tall, well-built Egyptian with glossy
black hair and a military mustache. Unblinking black eyes met his gaze,
and there was no hint of welcome in them.

"Are you Ali Moustafa?" Rick asked.

The man bowed a quarter of an inch. "At your service," he said.

Rick didn't know what to say. Bartouki had described a huge, jolly fat
man, like Santa Claus without a beard. This man was big, but not huge,
not fat, and definitely not jolly.

For a moment Rick hesitated, then asked, "Is there another Ali Moustafa
in the bazaar?"

The black eyes locked with his. "There is no other. I am the only Ali
Moustafa. And you? If you are Mr. Brant from America, I have been
expecting you. Bartouki said you would deliver a package. Is it the one
under your arm perhaps?"

Rick didn't like this at all. Even if the description had been
exaggerated in some respects, this cold conversation was scarcely a
cordial welcome. Yet, the man knew about the cat, and about Bartouki.
Something was wrong. He wanted to deliver the cat as he had promised,
but he had no intention of turning it over to the wrong man.

"I have a package," he returned evenly. "I'm sorry it can't be delivered
now. The man who receives it will have to identify himself without
question as the proper Ali Moustafa."

The man shrugged. "You came to my shop. The sign tells you who I am.
There is no other Ali Moustafa. So, I will accept delivery of the cat,
if you please."

Rick shook his head. "Sorry."

The man spoke in Arabic and took a step forward. Sensing movement behind
him, Rick whirled.

The clerks were moving to block his way!

Rick reacted with lightning speed. He yelled, "Scotty!"

Scotty sensed the urgency of the call and jumped into the doorway.

Rick lifted the Egyptian cat and rifled a pass through the closing ranks
of clerks. Scotty snatched the cat out of the air. Rick followed through
with a battering charge that sent a clerk caroming into a stack of
copper jars. They went down with a clatter. Another clerk reached out
and Rick gave him a straight arm that cleared the way long enough for a
jump to the outside.

"Run!" he yelled.

Hassan had been standing with mouth open, astonished at the proceedings.
Now, as a clerk charged through the door, the dragoman flung himself
sideways in a beautiful body block that sent the clerk back into the
store with a crash. Then the three were rounding the corner at top
speed, pushing through the people in the street.

From behind them came a shouted command in Arabic. A figure in a long,
dirty robe stepped into Scotty's path and grabbed for the cat. The boy
tossed a lateral pass to Rick, who tucked the package under his arm.
Scotty's hand lashed out and his open palm caught the Arab under the
chin. The man lifted inches into the air and his head thudded audibly
against a brick wall. He lost all interest in the proceedings.

Hassan led the way like a charging lineman, with Rick in his wake.
Scotty fell back a few paces to prevent attack from behind. But in spite
of a few yells from the rear, no one else menaced them. The people of
the bazaar obviously were curious, but not involved.

Rick had a fleeting thought that a pair of obvious foreigners running at
top speed through a department store at home would arouse some
curiosity, too. He grinned, in spite of his bewilderment. Then they were
at the car. Hassan wheeled the little sedan around in almost its own
length and charged through the crowded streets like a miniature
juggernaut, heading back to the hotel.

       *       *       *       *       *

A short time later over _café au lait_, part coffee and part hot milk,
the boys and Hassan held a half-angry, half-amused post mortem. There
had been no opportunity in the car for real conversation because of the
sheer adventure of rocketing through impossible traffic at equally
impossible speed. Rick had reported briefly to Scotty, and that was all.

Scotty took a sip from his steaming cup and turned to Hassan. "You ever
play football?"

Hassan stumbled over the word. "Footsball? What are footsball?"

"Never mind." Scotty grinned. "The way you took that clerk out, I
thought you might have played blocking back for the Green Bay Packers."

The dragoman's bewilderment deepened. Rick came to his rescue. "Football
is an American game, Hassan. It is rough. The Green Bay Packers is the
name of a famous professional football team."

"One thing is for sure," Scotty offered. "The clerks didn't know
football. That flat pass you threw was good for plenty of yardage."

"It made a touchdown," Rick pointed out. He changed the subject. "Look,
what went on in that store, anyway? I don't know who the big man was,
but he wasn't Ali Moustafa. At least he didn't come close to Bartouki's
description."

"Why didn't you give him the cat, anyway?" Scotty asked with a grin.
"Afraid a brand-new mystery might end without you getting a piece of
it?"

Rick grinned back. "Not a bad idea, now that you mention it. I didn't
think of it at the time. The only thing I knew for sure was that I
wasn't going to hand over any helpless little pussycat to a guy with
eyes like that. He'd mistreat it."

"Uhuh. Only, now what do we do with the cat?"

"Give it to the right Ali Moustafa," Rick said. "There must be a right
one somewhere."

Scotty waved his arm in a gesture that took in all of Egypt, half of the
Sudan, and most of Libya. "Help yourself. I'll bet there are ten
thousand Ali Moustafas around. How do you find the right one?"

Rick didn't try to answer. Instead, he asked Hassan, "Could there be
another Ali Moustafa in El Mouski?"

The guide shook his head. "I ask my friend when we stop. He say there is
only one, and he tell me how we get there."

Rick's brows furrowed. "Then that must be the shop Bartouki meant. Only
where was big, fat, jolly Ali Moustafa? Or could I be wrong about the
description?"

Scotty was definite. "Not a chance. I remember the description the way
you do. Either Bartouki didn't know his own partner, or the man you saw
was not Ali Moustafa--unless he took off weight and shaved his beard.
And changed his disposition in the bargain."

"Which brings us back to the question before the house. What do we do
with the Egyptian cat?"

"Give it to Hassan," Scotty suggested with a smile.

The dragoman's pleasant black face assumed an air of great sadness.
"Cat's nice," he said. "But no can take. Too much cost for food."

Rick smiled at the joke, then suddenly he realized Hassan was not
joking. He was genuinely sad! He took the package from his lap and held
it up. "Hassan, what do you think is in here?"

The dragoman shrugged. "You say cat. I believe."

Scotty asked incredulously, "Didn't you think carrying a cat wrapped in
paper was pretty strange?"

Hassan smiled apologetically. "Americans many time do thing I not
understand."

Rick choked back laughter with a heroic effort and almost strangled.
Scotty found a handkerchief and blew his nose violently.

"Pretty strong coffee," Rick managed finally.

Scotty nodded, struggling to keep a straight face. Neither of them
wanted to risk hurting the guide's feelings.

"Hassan," Rick said at last, "even American science couldn't keep a
live, wide-awake cat quiet in a paper parcel. This cat is a model, a
statue. You see?"

For an instant Hassan stared, then he rocked back, his white teeth
flashed, and he shouted with laughter. The boys broke down, too, and in
a moment the entire patronage of the coffee shop was staring at the
three idiots who roared with unrestrained laughter in public. Such
behavior in Americans was to be deplored, perhaps, but understandable.
But a licensed dragoman ... incredible!

When they had quieted down, Rick summed it up. "Well, Hassan knows
what's in the package now, but that's the only new bit of information
any of us has. We still don't know exactly what happened in the bazaar,
or why. And we don't know what to do with the cat."

He felt the cat through the heavy paper, as though to reassure himself
it was there. Suddenly he didn't want to get rid of it quite so
urgently, and inwardly he laughed at himself. A mystery was one thing he
couldn't ignore.

"I hope I'm wrong," he concluded thoughtfully, "but I have a hunch this
little plastic feline is going to be more trouble than the liveliest
real cat you ever saw!"



CHAPTER V

Sahara Wells


Hassan arrived during breakfast on the following morning. His colorful
costume had given way to European clothes, except for a tarboosh. He
wore a topcoat.

At Rick's invitation he joined the boys on the balcony overlooking the
Nile, and accepted the offer of coffee. Rick went to the novel push-bell
system which had three buttons identified by pictures. One was a porter,
another the room maid, and the third a waiter. The little drawings were
for the benefit of strangers who knew neither Arabic nor English.

Rick rang for the waiter and ordered more coffee and a cup for the
dragoman.

Hassan shed his topcoat and grinned at the boys. "Cat catch mouse last
night?"

"No mouse," Scotty replied. "The cat just caught some sleep. And so did
we."

Hassan puzzled out the reply, then smiled his appreciation.

Rick thought that the cat hadn't even caught any interest--at least from
the scientists. At dinner he and Scotty had described the incident at El
Mouski to Winston and the Egyptian scientists. The scientists had only
one suggestion, to the effect that perhaps the boys' imaginations had
run away with them.

It was obvious that the scientists were far more interested in the
problem of the radio telescope than in listening to tales of wild
adventure in the bazaar, so the boys let the matter drop. They had
excused themselves immediately after dinner and turned in, tired from
the long plane trip and the day's excitement.

Rick had gone over the events at the bazaar a dozen times. He had
compared notes with Scotty on what Bartouki had told them. Clearly,
something was pretty strange about the whole affair. It was simply
inconceivable that Bartouki would have given an inaccurate description
of Ali Moustafa, so the man in the store had not been Bartouki's
partner. Yet, he had known about the cat, and had called Rick by name.
Who was he? And where was the real Ali Moustafa? There were no answers,
at least for the present. But Rick didn't intend to give up.

He motioned to Hassan's coat. "Is it cold out today?"

"Yes. Good you wear coats when we go out. Later it will be warm, then
cool again when sun goes."

The boys had decided to keep Hassan as a guide and driver during their
entire stay. The dragoman's services were not expensive, and besides,
both of them felt they had found a friend. The way Hassan had pitched in
at the bazaar, with no questions asked and their interests obviously at
heart, had been a fine example of professional loyalty coupled with a
quick mind and fast reflexes.

After breakfast the boys went to the wardrobe and took out the coats
they had brought. Rick's was brand new, a Christmas present from his
father. It was a short, hip-length woolen coat that could double as a
hunting jacket. In addition to the big outer pockets, it had inner game
pockets lined with a leatherlike plastic. It was warm, but light. He was
thoroughly pleased with it.

Scotty slipped into his own short coat, much like Rick's except for the
game pockets. Then the ex-Marine motioned to the Egyptian cat, unwrapped
and sitting in elegant repose on the writing desk. "What about Felix?"
he asked.

Rick went over and picked up the cat. "We'd better take it along, I
guess. It might get lonesome. Or we might run over Ali Moustafa on the
way to the project." He slid the cat into an inner pocket. It fit with
room to spare.

Scotty asked Hassan, with mock seriousness, "You know Sahara Wells?"

Hassan answered with equal seriousness. "Know Sahara Wells well."

The ride was an interesting one, up the Nile to a bridge different from
the one they had crossed en route from the airport, along roads with a
palm-shaded center strip, past mosques, stores, and airy, modern
apartment houses. There was less traffic than in downtown Cairo, and
Hassan went faster.

Scotty muttered, "Fewer close calls today."

Rick winced as the car almost scraped a woman with a basket of fruit
balanced on her head. "Fewer, but closer."

The costumes on the street were mixed. There were many people, including
women, in Western dress, but there were also many women in cloaks, and
men in the traditional Arab _bornoss_, the enveloping robe called a
burnoose in English. For the first time, the boys saw several men in
blue gowns, and Rick asked Hassan what they were.

"_Fellahin_," Hassan replied. "How you say? Farmers. From country. Man
tell me that is where your word 'fella' come from."

Rick looked with new interest. He had heard of the _fellahin_, the
farmer-peasants of Egypt. Many of them lived and worked as their
ancestors had centuries ago, plowing with wooden plows, living in
mud-and-wattle houses. They represented the past of Egypt, as
installations like the atomic energy plant at En-Shass, or Inchass as it
was sometimes called, represented the future.

There were soldiers along the route, too, dressed in British-style brown
uniforms. Some carried Sten guns, vicious little submachine guns
originally of English manufacture.

"Why the soldiers?" Scotty asked.

"Camp near," Hassan replied.

And then, abruptly, the boys lost interest in people, because looming
ahead, like something from a travel movie, was a pyramid!

Hassan rounded a corner and another pyramid came into view. They were
enormous, Rick thought. He hadn't expected anything so huge. "Are we at
Giza already?" he asked.

"This Giza," Hassan agreed. He pronounced it more like _Gize'h_.

"I always thought the pyramids were out in the desert," Scotty objected.

"Is true," Hassan said. "You will see."

They did, within minutes. The terrain changed from the green, fertile,
Nile Valley to the bleak Sahara as though cut by a giant knife. For the
first time, Rick understood the phrase "Egypt, gift of the Nile." Where
the yearly Nile overflow brought fertile silt and moisture, there was
lush green land. Where the overflow stopped, the desert began. No
intermediate ground lay between. Egypt consisted of the Nile Valley and
the desert, with nothing in between.

The road crossed the dividing line and they were in the Sahara Desert.
Hassan drove between houses of faded red clay and tan stucco, unlike the
modern apartments a few hundred yards back. It was as though they had
driven into a different country. Children, goats, chickens, and Arab
adults scattered before the car. It was a typical desert-country scene,
and right at the edge of modern Cairo!

Hassan turned a sharp corner and Giza lay before them, up a gradual,
rising slope.

In the immediate foreground was the Sphinx. Rick's first impression was
that it was disappointingly small, as the great pyramids behind it were
truly enormous. He could see all three Giza pyramids now.

Then he realized that his impressions had been gained entirely from
pictures--and to an extent, the pictures had been false. The Sphinx,
always shown in the foreground of pictures or taken from a low angle,
loomed large in the camera lenses, with the pyramids looking relatively
small in the distant background.

Human vision set the image straight, abruptly. The Sphinx was small, but
only in comparison to the pyramids. Actually, it was a monument of
heroic proportions.

"Please stop," Rick called, and Hassan did, with skidding wheels. The
boys got out and stood gazing, in mixed awe and delight. This was the
Egypt of antiquity, Rick thought. These were the monuments of a
civilization already ancient when the Old Testament was new, monuments
engineered with astounding precision when Rick's Anglo-Saxon forebears
were still building crude shelters of mud and reeds.

Scotty's nudge aroused Rick from his reverie, and he turned for a
close-up of his first live camel, not counting circuses or zoos. The
camel was such a vision of homely awkwardness that Rick had to laugh.

The cameleer led the beast to where a party of tourists, obviously
American, waited. The boys watched as the animal came to a halt. The
driver bowed to the party. Then, taking a thin stick, he tapped the
camel on bony knees that were wrapped in worn burlap. Instantly the
camel let out a heartrending groan. Its ungainly legs folded like a
poorly designed beach chair, and moaning in pure anguish, it knelt.

A lady tourist, giggling self-consciously, climbed up on the
blanket-covered saddle. The camel let out a louder groan, one filled
with such phony pain and despair that the boys burst out laughing. A tap
of the driver's stick and the camel lurched to its feet, hind legs first
like a cow. The lady tourist squealed mightily, the camel wailed in
protest, the other tourists cheered, and the boys doubled with laughter.

Rick asked, still chuckling, "Hassan, do camels always complain like
that?"

"Is true. They nasty and plenty noisy. They hate work. Driver makes them
carry tourists and they holler plenty."

The camel quieted down to a low-voiced grumble. He was letting the world
know that the arrangement was not pleasing and that he didn't intend to
suffer in silence. Cameras began to snap, recording for the folks back
home the undignified ride of the lady tourist on the ungainly camel
before the ancient, majestic pyramids and the changeless, unsmiling
Sphinx.

The three got back into the little car and Hassan took a road that
curved gradually around a hill, past a hotel that he identified as the
Mena House, and up to the largest pyramid, once the tomb of Khufu and
still the greatest monument in all the world.

On a line into the desert were the slightly smaller pyramids of Kefren
and Mankara. These, with the Sphinx, were among the Seven Wonders of the
Ancient World.

Later, Rick promised Scotty, they would explore Giza and its wonders
inch by inch. But now they were due at Sahara Wells. Hassan sped around
the Khufu pyramid and pointed. There, on the horizon, was a strange
contrast to the monuments of the Pharaohs. The steel-and-aluminum shape
of the great, steerable dish antenna, designed for modern astronomy, was
silhouetted against the sky.

Rick was excited. He enjoyed new sights and experiences more than most
people, and here, within sight of each other, were unique objects of
almost equal interest, but entirely different.

The way led past a single large building surrounded by shabby tents, and
a sign in English and Arabic that proclaimed that this was Sahara Wells.
Then the blacktop road curved out into the desert to the great radio
telescope.

Hassan drove into a parking lot before the main project building in the
shadow of the antenna and Dr. Hakim Farid came out to greet the boys.

"Welcome to Sahara Wells," he said cordially. "How do you like our
baby?"

Rick looked up at the huge dish. "It's a good mate for the pyramids," he
said.

"Pretty impressive," Scotty added.

"We hope its performance will be impressive, too, once we get this bug
ironed out. Come on in. Winston and Kerama are hard at work."

The boys followed him into the building, while Hassan squatted in the
sun next to his car. The door opened directly into the main control
room, a bewildering confusion of panels, instruments, and controls.
There were several scientists and technicians clustered around Winston
and Kerama. The group was studying Sanborn tracings, continuous graphs
showing the lines traced by the incoming signals.

Farid introduced the boys to the staff, then took them on a quick tour.
He showed them the controls for the great dish. They were fully
automatic. The operator needed only to set the co-ordinates for the part
of the sky to be examined, then clock mechanisms of remarkable precision
would keep the telescope on target until the target sank below the
horizon.

The boys examined banks of amplifiers that would turn faint signals into
usable ones. The latest techniques had been used to ensure maximum
performance.

Outside, Farid showed them the self-contained diesel-electric power
plant. They stood directly under the massive concrete mount for the
great dish and marveled at its size. The main bearings on which it moved
were bigger around than Scotty was tall, yet the whole affair was so
delicately balanced that a tiny electric motor could control it with
fantastic precision.

Still under construction were offices and barracks. The latter would
allow the scientists to stay there for days at a time when working on
particular projects. The offices were nearly done, and plasterers were
at work, but the forms for the barracks floor were just being completed.
The pouring of concrete would start on the following day.

Rick looked at the pyramids on the horizon and contrasted this scene of
construction with the one that had produced the great tombs. Then, it
was only men--thousands of them. Today, it was a handful of skilled
workers plus machinery.

"Now," Farid said, "let's get back to the control room. Kerama is going
to review the situation for the staff. Some of them are new on the job."

As Farid and the boys rejoined the others, Dr. Kerama was pointing to a
series of peaks on the Sanborn tracings. "You will note that these peaks
occur at intervals, with the spacing apparently random. The main
sequence of noise out of which the peaks rise is the 21-centimeter
hydrogen line. Notice also that the peaks have nearly identical
amplitudes. Obviously, the source is neutral hydrogen, which is to say
hydrogen in its normal form, not ionized as we find it in plasma in a
star's atmosphere. Our problem is simply to locate the source of the
peaks. Somewhere in the circuit there seems to be an effect that serves
to modulate the incoming signal. Our antenna will be useless unless we
eliminate this interference so that the signal can be pure once again."

Rick had seen Sanborn tracings before. The system was a standard method
of recording. His first experience with it had been in making permanent
records of telemetered signals from rockets.

A technician asked, "Sir, do these peaks occur no matter how the antenna
is pointing?"

Kerama shook his head. "No. If you will examine the peaks in terms of
time and the co-ordinates, you will see that they began at a particular
point during a sweep of the sky. Our first thought was that we had
picked up some source emitting pulsed signals, but the source is
apparently moving. This is why we concluded the difficulty was in our
system, since no sky source moves with such angular velocity."

The Egyptian scientist began giving assignments. Rick and Scotty were
given a test kit and put to work checking a part of the circuit one wire
at a time. It was slow, difficult work, requiring great care.

It was warm in the control room. Rick hung up his coat, pausing to touch
the Egyptian cat in his pocket. He hadn't thought of the little beast
for some time. What was he to do with it? From a simple delivery job, as
a favor to an acquaintance, the cat had become a problem. Rick couldn't
resist a mystery, but this one had him stopped cold for the time being.
He didn't know what to do next. The only solution that had occurred to
him was to send a cable to Bartouki, to ask for further instructions.

He shrugged and put the problem aside, and went back to helping Scotty.

It was late before Kerama called a halt. The boys rode back to the hotel
with Hassan, grateful for the relief of concentrating on thousands of
tiny wires. They told the dragoman to go on home, then went into the
dining room for dinner before retiring for the night. Winston, who never
seemed to tire when working, had stayed with Kerama and Farid to
continue discussions of possible sources of trouble.

After dinner Rick picked up their key at the hotel desk and they rode
the tiny elevator to their floor. They opened up and went in. Rick
locked the door while Scotty snapped on the lights.

Scotty let out a sudden yell! Rick whirled and gasped. The room was a
shambles. Every drawer was open and their contents were dumped out on
the floor. Their suitcases had been left open. The bed-clothes were in a
heap in the middle of the room, and the mattresses were on the floor.

Rick glanced at the key in his hand and realized that it was a very
ordinary type; master keys that would allow a thief access could be
bought in any hardware store. He followed Scotty to the closet and saw
that their clothes had been searched and dropped carelessly. Nothing was
left on the hangers.

The room had been searched inch by inch, and by someone in a hurry.

Rick's hand went to the Egyptian cat in his pocket.

"They wanted the cat," he said slowly. "I can't see that anything is
missing. But why is the cat so important?"

He drew it out of his pocket and stared at it. Then his eyes met
Scotty's. His pal shrugged. Neither of them had even the slightest clue.



CHAPTER VI

The Cat Has Kittens


The sun blazed down on Sahara Wells. In the distance the pyramids looked
hazy, and beyond them Cairo was a thin line of green and brown along the
Nile. It was fairly warm in the sun, but a cool wind blew across the
desert and coats were comfortable.

Rick and Scotty sat on a box under the antenna while Hassan squatted and
watched them. For the moment there was nothing for them to do. The
scientists were occupied with calculations, and neither boy could make a
contribution to high mathematics of the kind used in radio astronomy.

Rick was glad of the break. His mind hadn't been on the job, anyway--it
had been on the Egyptian cat. For perhaps the hundredth time he asked,
"Why is the cat valuable? Why would anyone want it enough to stage that
scene at El Mouski and then ransack our room?"

Scotty had no answers, but he had some questions of his own. "What I
want to know is, did the hall porter just happen to step out at the
right moment for the thief? Or is he in the act somehow?"

"It really doesn't make much difference," Rick pointed out. "He might
have been paid to take a walk, but that doesn't mean he knows anything."

"Okay. Try this one. Where is the real Ali Moustafa?"

"Good question. Now I'll ask one. What do we do next?"

"You could cable Bartouki, or even phone him," Scotty replied. "You said
you had thought about it."

Rick hesitated. He tried to put his reluctance into words. "I just don't
think getting in touch with Bartouki is the right thing to do. I don't
know why. Call it a hunch."

Scotty had a deep respect for Rick's hunches. They had a way of turning
out to be right. He remembered a description of a hunch Rick had once
used and repeated it. "A hunch is only a conscious conclusion based on
subconscious data you don't know you have. Isn't that about it?"

Rick looked at him. "What are you driving at?"

"What data are buried in your subconscious that make you distrust
Bartouki?"

"I didn't say I mistrusted him."

Scotty shrugged. "No, but you must, if you don't think it's right to
call him."

Rick had to admit Scotty was probably right. What basis did he have for
mistrusting the charming little Egyptian merchant? Certainly Bartouki
had been nice to them, so carrying the cat to Egypt had been only common
courtesy.

Experience had shown Rick that very often he could get ideas from
reviewing conversations. He walked away from Hassan and Scotty and
stared at the construction details of the antenna. But he wasn't really
looking. Instead, he was trying to recall the entire scene leading up to
his acceptance of the cat.

Bartouki had explained its importance. He had said it was needed. Now,
what had led Barby to offer Rick's services as a messenger? The merchant
had said that he was anxious to get it to Egypt, but that the Christmas
mails were crowded. The Christmas mails ... that didn't seem like much
of a reason for not sending it by air freight. Bartouki could have
delivered it personally to Idlewild Terminal, to avoid getting it mixed
up with the domestic mail....

"I've got it!" he yelled. He hurried over and stood in front of Scotty
and Hassan. "Listen, who sends mail at Christmas time?"

Scotty's brows wrinkled. "Everyone, I guess."

"Not everyone." Rick warmed to his idea. "There are plenty of people who
wait until the last few days before Christmas, but where are they? In
America! Anyone overseas who sends a package home tries to get it in the
mail early. Wouldn't you say so?"

"Maybe they should, but I suspect they don't. People are always waiting
until the last moment."

"But is the overseas airmail so crowded you wouldn't trust a parcel to
the regular mail system?"

Scotty shook his head. "I doubt it. What are you getting at?"

But Rick had an even better argument to bolster the case he was
developing. "Christmas mail is to and from Christians, isn't it? Sure!
Egypt is a Moslem country. Moslems don't send Christmas cards or
presents, and they don't get them, either. The Christians in Egypt are
Coptic--anyway, they don't celebrate Christmas the same way. So why
would the airmail to Egypt be jammed?"

Hassan spoke up. "It not so heavy. My brother is letter carrier, and he
no work very hard on _Nasrani_ holiday. Nasrani is what we call
Christian."

"I think you've got something," Scotty agreed. "Bartouki could have
mailed the cat, but for some reason he wanted a messenger ..."

"... and we walked right into it," Rick finished. "Chances are that's
why he showed us the cat in the first place."

"Barby had the bright idea," Scotty reminded. "Bartouki wasn't the one
who suggested it."

"He didn't have to," Rick pointed out. "If she hadn't, I'll bet he would
have led around to it some other way."

Scotty held up his hands in surrender. "I'll buy it. Bartouki needed a
messenger. Why?"

Rick sat down on the box again. Why, indeed? He knew now why he
distrusted Bartouki, but he had no idea of the merchant's reasons. He
glared at his pal. "Kill-joy. So we get back to the basic question. What
does kitty have that people want?"

He took the statue from his pocket and examined it closely, as he had
done several times before. The bright sunlight disclosed nothing but a
perfect bit of casting. He took out the pocket lens he carried for
examination of specimens that might be useful in his hobby of
microscopy, but magnification showed him nothing. It was a flawless job.

"I'm stumped," he admitted. "Come on. Let's stretch our legs before we
get called back in to go to work."

Scotty and Hassan joined him as he walked toward the barracks where
cement was being poured to form the floor. Scotty borrowed the cat for a
quick look, then handed it back. Rick stowed it in his pocket.

"Whatever kitty's got, it's pretty interesting to some people," Scotty
commented. "Otherwise, why go to all the trouble of trying to get it in
the bazaar, then taking the risk of searching our room?"

Rick said what had been on his mind. "I have another happy thought for
you. If they really want the cat, they'll try again."

"Whoever 'they' are," Scotty agreed. "Let me add a cheery note of my own
while we're at it. They won't have to get the best detectives in the
world to figure out that you've got the creature, either. If it isn't in
the hotel room, it's on you."

Rick mulled that one over as they watched the workmen smoothing the
poured concrete in the form. Would it be better if he disposed of the
cat? But how could he? He couldn't leave it at the project, even though
it was locked at night. The lock wouldn't stop professional thieves. He
couldn't give the cat to one of the scientists, because that would
expose them to the thieves, too. He could have it put in the hotel
vault, but what assurance had he that it would be safe there? It
occurred to him that he would have entrusted his valuables to the hotel
vault with no hesitation, but the cat was different, somehow. He just
didn't want it out of his hands until he knew more about it.

Hassan said idly, "Cement color like cat."

Rick's thoughts snapped back to the scene before him. The dragoman was
right. The concrete mix had been colored to imitate sandstone,
apparently a part of the plan to make the architecture as Egyptian as
possible. There was enough of the mix in the form to make a thousand
cats, and more was being mixed in a portable cement mixer.

The Great Idea took shape in his mind, and suddenly he laughed outright.
"Kittens!" he exclaimed. "Wouldn't that throw them for a loop? I mean,
if several Egyptian cats showed up."

Scotty laughed with him. "It definitely would. We'll show 'em that it
doesn't pay to confuse us. Only how do we do it?"

Rick pointed to the office building where the plasterers were still at
work. "Make a plaster cast, then use the concrete mix for the models.
How about it?"

"Could work," Scotty said quickly. "Come on."

They rummaged around through the construction debris and found a pair of
small wooden boxes that had held instruments. With Hassan as
interpreter, Rick talked to the construction foreman and a plasterer was
detailed to help. If the form could be prepared right away, the low
desert humidity would harden it enough to use by the time they were
through work.

The wooden boxes were filled with soft plaster while Rick coated the
Egyptian cat with oil used to lubricate the antenna bearings. The cat
was pushed into one box until only half of it showed. The plasterer
smoothed the surface around the cat.

A sheet of scrap metal was used as a lid for the second box of plaster.
Working quickly, the plasterer turned it upside down and held it in
position while Scotty slipped the metal out of the way. The plasterer
pushed it down on the cat, losing only a little plaster in the process.
The little statue was now firmly embedded in plaster.

By the time the boys were summoned to the control room again, the
plaster was firm enough so the plasterer could run a thin wire between
the two boxes to start the process of separation. When the plaster was a
little harder, he would use the wire and a long knife to separate the
two halves completely.

The boys went to work, checking various elements under Winston's
direction. They kept at it until late afternoon. The sun was slanting
down behind the pyramids when they were told to knock off for the day.

They hurried to the plaster mold at once. Hassan was already there,
waiting, with the plasterer. The Sudanese guide pointed to a batch of
concrete in a wooden tub. "We mix, more dry than for the floor, so
easier to make cats. Now we start?"

"Any time," Rick said. "Thanks, Hassan." The resourceful dragoman had
realized the concrete mix being used for the floor was too liquid for
easy handling and had prepared a drier batch.

The plasterer went to work at once. He worked rapidly but skillfully,
using the wire and knife to cut through the plaster until he reached the
cat. Rick worried that he might cut or scratch the original, but the
Egyptian was deft. In a few moments he lifted the upper box and the cat
came to light, still gleaming from its coating of oil. Rick lifted it
out of its plaster bed. The two boxes now contained perfect half
impressions.

The boys, Hassan, and the workman shook hands all around. It was a job
well done. The rest was easy. Rick oiled the form while the plasterer
put the new concrete mix through a screen to remove lumps, then the two
halves were filled slightly overfull and put together. Pressure was
applied simply by standing on the upper box.

The workman lifted the upper box off with great care, disclosing a
perfect half-cat in fresh concrete. The dry mixture kept its shape, but
made great care necessary. The Egyptian workman held out both hands and
Hassan turned the bottom box over. Working gently, the plasterer
released the casting from the mold. It dropped into his hands. The boys
watched eagerly as he used his knife to trim the flashing from the cat
replica, then he wet his fingers from a bucket and smoothed out a few
rough spots. The man grinned with pleasure, and the boys grinned back.

"Perfect," Scotty said.

Rick added, "If I didn't know its mother personally, I'd think this was
it."

The first kitten was put gently aside to dry while others were cast. The
next two castings broke, but three perfect kittens resulted from six
tries.

Rick was satisfied. "By tomorrow they'll be hard," he said with a grin.
"Then we'll work out a cat distribution program. I may go back to El
Mouski and hand one to the phony Ali Moustafa, just to see what
happens."

"Not while I'm healthy enough to stop you," Scotty said positively. Then
he grinned, too. "But there's nothing more fun than kittens, and we'll
have plenty of laughs with these. You wait and see!"



CHAPTER VII

The Egyptian Museum


Rick hung up the room phone and joined Scotty at the breakfast table.
The ex-Marine was munching on a Lebanese tangerine and watching the Nile
boats below.

"Farid says to take the morning off," Rick reported. "The scientists are
about convinced that the signal isn't internal receiver noise, but that
leaves them up a tree. If part of the circuit isn't causing the trouble,
what is?"

Scotty waved his hand at the scene across the Nile where a great
concrete tower rose into the sky. "It's this land. Look at it. There's a
tower for television. A couple of miles away are the pyramids. Down the
street is a new office building with aluminum walls, and it's right next
to a stone mosque that's nearly as old as the city. If you ask me, Horus
or Thoth or one of the old Egyptian gods is getting fed up and messing
with the signal just for the fun of it."

Rick knew exactly how Scotty felt. The remarkable blend of the very old
and the ultramodern was visible everywhere in Cairo. But somehow the two
did not conflict, probably because the Egyptians had been wise in their
choice of architecture.

"Maybe we'd better burn some incense and do a chant or two," Rick
suggested. "How's this? Oh, Osiris, son of Isis, please get the bugs out
of our antenna."

"That's no fit chant," Scotty objected. "A chant should rhyme, shouldn't
it?"

Rick searched his memory for incantations to Egyptian gods, but there
had been none in the books Bartouki had given them, although the gods
had been described. He improvised quickly. "Then how's this?"

He took a pinch of sugar from the bowl and sprinkled it on Scotty's head
as an offering to the gods, then bowed like a high priest and chanted:

    "_Anubis, Horus, Amon-Ré,
    Are you near or far away?
    If you're tuned in close at hand,
    Clean up the H-emission band._"

The piece of hard Egyptian bread thrown by Scotty caught him just behind
the ear. Rick picked it up and threw it back, grinning.

"The things I have to put up with," Scotty exclaimed hopelessly. "I'm
sorry I brought the whole thing up."

"It didn't help," Rick admitted. "But it gave me an idea. How about
going to the Egyptian Museum this morning?"

"With Hassan?"

"It's right across the park. Hassan can take the morning off and come
back after lunch to drive us to the project."

"I'm your boy," Scotty agreed. "If you keep your chants to yourself,
that is. Try one on those old statues at the museum and they'd fall on
you."

"Oh, I don't know," Rick said loftily. "Maybe those old Egyptians had a
better ear for poetry than you have."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Scotty returned. "If it sounds so terrible
to me, think what it would sound like to a poetry lover. Go on and make
your phone call."

Rick did. He asked the desk to relay a message to Hassan, then asked
about the weather. The clerk spent a minute apologizing profusely. It
was chilly, he admitted reluctantly. Very unusual for Egypt. Hadn't
happened since 1898. Most regrettable. And so on.

"He sounded like a Sunshine Tourist Service trouble shooter explaining
that the downpour was only a heavy mist," Rick said as he hung up. "The
weather is unusual, remarkable, etc. It's chilly."

Scotty finished his coffee. "Okay. Let's go. Got the kitty?"

Rick took the Egyptian cat from its nest under his mattress and put it
into the inner pocket of his coat. "Couldn't leave our pal, could we?
Bad man might get 'im."

"We can't let that happen until we find out why the animal is so
appealing," Scotty agreed.

"Spoken like a true Spindrifter. Do we walk, or take the elevator?
Walking's faster, but the elevator is more adventurous."

"Walk," Scotty said. "You need the exercise."

Outside, the air was pleasantly crisp, but the sun was shining. Rick
wondered if it ever rained in Cairo and made a mental note to look it
up. He had brought a guidebook with him, and the map showed them the
location of the museum.

They started off at a brisk pace, past the Nile Hilton Hotel, then
across the heavy traffic of the bridge circle to the open park before
the museum. As Rick turned to look at a statue he caught a glimpse of a
figure dodging behind some shrubbery. His pulse speeded.

"Could be that we have a buddy," he announced. "I saw someone dodge
behind a bush."

Scotty took a quick look without seeming to. "Someone there all right. A
pal of our little cat?"

"It's certainly no chum of ours, if it's anyone who's interested in us.
Let's hike and see how it goes."

They strolled idly past the museum, crossed the street, and walked up
Kasr El Nil past the Modern Art Museum and the Automobile Club. Scotty
took a pair of sunglasses from his pocket. They were of the silvered
one-way mirror type that cuts down light transmission much as a
neutral-density filter does for a camera.

Rick watched as he put them on, took them off again, and polished them
with a handkerchief, turning them from side to side as he watched for
spots.

"I knew those things looked like headlights," Rick gibed. "I didn't know
they could also serve as rearview mirrors."

"I may write an article on this for the Journal of the Optical Society,"
Scotty said. "Works fine. Our buddy is a Sudanese, from the looks of
him. Also, he has a comrade. A big, sloppy type in a black coat and a
tarboosh. I'd hate to tangle with either of them."

Rick thought of Scotty's comment that it wouldn't take much of a
detective to realize he had the cat on him.

Scotty added, "Some distance behind are two other types, in tarbooshes.
They're striding along at the same pace we are, and keeping their
distance. I'm flattered. Looks as if 'they' figured it would take four
to handle us."

"Maybe they sent one for us and three for the cat," Rick said hopefully.
"Cats are good scrappers. Any bright ideas, ol' chum?"

"Yep. Let's go to the museum. They can't touch us in a public place. Got
the map?"

They consulted it, letting the trailers see what was going on. The
street they were on formed one side of a triangle, with its apex at the
square in front of the museum. The next left turn, and another left a
block farther on, would bring them to the front of the museum through
Gami Sharkas and Shampelion streets.

Rick wondered if the latter was the Arab-English equivalent of the name
of the man who had translated the hieroglyphics on the famous Rosetta
stone and is considered the father of Egyptology. He knew from his study
of cryptography that the first man to read the strange Egyptian written
language was Jean François Champollion. Or maybe the map maker had made
a mistake by misspelling the name. He looked for a street sign in
English when they reached the street, but he saw none.

He had to grin to himself at the strange turns his mind sometimes took.
He should be concentrating on a plan of escape, not wondering about a
strange spelling of a Frenchman's name. "See anything?" he asked Scotty.

"They're still with us. All four."

"Probably the second pair is in case the first pair loses us," Rick
guessed. "Let's keep out of deserted alleys. They must be just waiting
for an opportunity to grab us."

"I hear you talking," Scotty agreed. "And I believe every Brantish word
of it."

They turned into the museum grounds, waving off guides who came running.
Normally, they might have hired a museum guide, but they were suspicious
now of all strangers.

Rick produced some piastres and paid their entrance fee. He noticed a
sign at the window that said all parcels must be checked. He was glad
kitty was hidden in his pocket.

Inside, they paused at the sudden spectacle of great stone figures and
huge stone sarcophagi. There was a great hall filled with giant statuary
straight ahead, and on each side, wide staircases led to the upper
floor.

"Topside," Scotty said. "Then we can look down and see if any familiar
faces come through the door."

They walked up the left-hand staircase, past rows of ancient wooden
mummy cases, and came to the upper landing. A few minutes were spent
inspecting the last resting place of a one-time Egyptian lord, with
frequent glances toward the entrance.

"They don't need to follow us in," Rick pointed out finally. "Sooner or
later we'll have to go out, and they'll be waiting."

"Sure. But it's wise to be careful. If one had followed us in here, we'd
have been forced to keep an eye on him. Me, I want to see this museum."

They wandered through the countless rooms of the upper floor, each
filled with antique treasures that were impossible to identify. There
were few cards of explanation. One room was crowded with alabaster
carvings, any one of which would have rated a whole room to itself in a
modern American museum. The great building was literally jammed with
rare objects, many of them thousands of years old. Uniformed guards were
posted at every corner, obviously to protect the myriad treasures.

"The police are keeping an eye on us," Rick muttered.

"What else are they here for?" Scotty commented. "Don't try to carry off
one of those ten-ton statues and they won't bother you."

Rick paused before a collection of brightly painted miniature clay
soldiers, created to serve as a phantom army for some forgotten
nobleman. "This stuff is priceless. I'll bet they really do need
guards."

As the boys walked into a small room containing shelves of assorted clay
and stone dishes and utensils, Scotty exclaimed, "Look, on the third
shelf!"

Rick searched until he saw what Scotty's quick eyes had spotted. It was
partly hidden behind a clay jug. An Egyptian cat!

Closer inspection showed that it was not the mate to the one he carried.
The museum cat was darker, obviously older. It was more stylized and
slightly larger. There was no identifying card.

The Egyptian cat returned his gaze with dark stone eyes. "Wonder if
they'd like to have you, too?" Rick said to himself. Four men wanted the
one in his pocket. He wished it was as safe as the antique before him.
Suddenly he let out a pleased chuckle. He had the solution.

"Are you lonely, little cat?" he asked. "Would you like company?"

Scotty got it instantly. He patted Rick on the shoulder. "That's the old
Brant brain, boy. I'll duck out and distract the guard."

Rick moved on, inspecting jugs until he saw Scotty engage the guard in
conversation. His pal gradually turned as he talked, until the guard's
back was toward Rick. It was the work of only a moment to slip the cat
from his pocket and push it out of sight behind the jug that partially
screened the museum cat.

He smiled to himself. From the looks of the museum, it was highly
unlikely that the cat ever would be noticed, even if it stood there
forever. If one of the Egyptologists ever did happen to see it, there
would be a new puzzle to solve. Which dynasty invented plastics?

[Illustration]

He walked to where Scotty was busy with the guard. The officer's
understanding of English was about zero, and Scotty's knowledge of
Arabic was slightly less, so they were getting nowhere.

When he saw Rick, Scotty stopped trying. He grinned and put out his
hand. The guard grinned back and clasped Scotty's hand, with obvious
relief that the struggle to communicate was over. He waved cordially as
the boys went on their way.

"It is a distinct privilege to make such an outstanding contribution to
Egyptian culture," Rick said. He was really relieved. Being unfamiliar
with Cairo, they were apt to walk into an unexpected situation that
might have resulted in loss of the cat. There would be no reason for
anyone to suspect the cat's hiding place now, because no one except
Scotty knew that he had carried it out of the hotel.

There was much to see, and the boys took their time, spending over an
hour in the section devoted to the relics of Tut-Ankh-Amon, the boy
Pharaoh who had died at about the age of eighteen. His tomb had been
found intact, one of the few that had escaped the desert thieves.
Priceless objects had been found, including the King's death mask of
painted gold. It was one of the most beautiful objects of art the boys
had ever seen.

Rick noted that at least one guard was always within easy reach of them,
and that several guards patrolled the area. The area itself could be
fenced off by steel grillwork. He agreed thoroughly with the
precautions. The sheer weight of gold would be worth a Pharaoh's ransom,
even if melted down. In their present form, Tut's treasures were beyond
price.

The pangs of hunger finally drove them from the fascinating place, and
both agreed to return with someone who could explain what they were
seeing. They emerged into the brilliant Egyptian sunlight and stood
blinking.

"We'd better head for the hotel on a beeline," Scotty suggested. "No
sense in taking a chance on getting roughed up for nothing."

"That's sense, ol' buddy. Let's go."

They walked down the steps and out a path to the street. An old man with
a pushcart was on the path, his cart laden with nuts of some kind. Rick
stepped behind Scotty to give the vendor room, but the old man turned
his cart suddenly and pushed it into them!

The cart upset and nuts cascaded underfoot. The boys struggled for
balance. "Watch it!" Scotty yelled.

Four men bore down on them at top speed, screaming imprecations in
Arabic. Rick saw the setup instantly. The four would simply be
retaliating for the treatment of an old man by two foreigners. He got to
his feet just as the four arrived, and saw that Scotty was crouched
beside him.

The Sudanese and the big man in the tarboosh dove for the boys like a
well-rehearsed wrestling team!



CHAPTER VIII

The Midnight Call


Rick and Scotty left the ground simultaneously in a dive for the legs
charging toward them. They connected, and the impact sent the attackers
to the ground. Rick recovered from the dive and tensed for a swing, but
he never made it. Arms locked around his chest, pinioning his own arms
to his side. He struggled violently, but the grip never yielded.

From the corner of his eye he saw Scotty get in one driving punch that
sent the Sudanese down to one knee, then Scotty was pinioned from
behind, too.

The big man and the Sudanese swung into action fast. Hands slapped
Rick's clothes in a fast but thorough search. Next to him Scotty was
getting the same treatment.

The big man spoke sharply in Arabic and both boys were suddenly hurled
sideways, landing together in a heap. They jumped to their feet and saw
only four retreating backs. Even the peddler had scuttled away, leaving
the spilled nuts on the ground. It was senseless to pursue the men. The
boys looked at each other grimly, then suddenly Scotty smiled.

"I don't know who they are," he stated, "but I'll tell you this. They're
real professionals. I haven't been taken like that in a long, long
time."

Rick had to agree. The two-team operation had been swift and efficient.
Neither boy had been hurt, or even roughed up particularly. That wasn't
the purpose. "So they won't get us in a public place, huh? Well, if
they'd wanted to do damage, they could have." He added, "And we couldn't
have done a thing. But all they wanted was the cat."

Scotty nodded agreement. He brushed dust off his trousers. "Might as
well go back to the hotel. I'm hungry. Anyway, they know now that you
don't have the cat on you--and that I don't, either. So what will they
think?"

"Either that it's at the hotel or the project, or that we've put it
somewhere for safekeeping. They searched the hotel room. Suppose they'll
try the project?"

"It's possible, I suppose. Anyway, if they want us they can get us.
Notice that no one saw the ruckus? The timing was perfect. A few feet
sooner and we'd have been within sight of the museum's ticket office. A
few feet later and we'd have been on the street. As it was, shrubs
shielded them. Pretty good operating, I'd say."

Rick thought so, too, and it worried him. "I have an unhappy idea
buzzing around. If I were the big boss, and really determined to get the
cat, I'd pick us up and make us talk."

"The language is a little mixed, but the thought is clear as air. We'd
better keep our guard up at all times."

"Meanwhile, what do we know about anything? Nothing. If only we knew why
the cat is valuable!"

"If it wasn't before, it is now," Scotty replied. "It's a genuine museum
piece. But if the cat is gone, we have three lovely kittens."

Rick chuckled. "What's the problem everyone has with kittens? It's
finding a home for them. I wish we'd had one of the kittens a few
minutes ago. There would have been one less homeless orphan."

"The kittens' turns will come. And it's our turn to eat. My stomach is
quivering in Morse code. 'Send food. Send food.'"

Rick pointed to the hotel, just ahead. "Okay, chow hound. Lunch ahead.
And lay off that hot-pepper stuff or that stomach of yours will be
sending distress signals."

"I hear you talking," Scotty said feelingly. One dish, served at dinner
the previous night, had required enough water to put out a three-alarm
fire before the burning sensation stopped.

Hassan was waiting after lunch. He drove the boys to the project, where
they looked into the control room long enough to let the scientists know
they had arrived, then went at once to look at the kittens. Three
identical statues, almost perfect replicas of the original, were sitting
in the sunshine.

"Except for being a little rougher, they're our own dear little
mysterious pet," Rick said. "Are they dry yet?"

Hassan passed the question on in Arabic to the workmen who had helped
make the kittens. He reported, "They okay. You can take now."

"Ask him if we can give him a present for helping us," Scotty requested.

Hassan did so, then shook his head. He grinned, his teeth white in his
pleasant black face. "He say making statues fun, not work. He help you
yesterday, so he not have to fix plaster. All even."

The boys laughed at the explanation and shook hands with the workman.

"Now," Scotty asked, "what do we do with the children?"

"One goes in my pocket," Rick replied. "I feel lost without a friendly
little feline weighing down one side of my coat. We can leave the others
here in a safe place, maybe inside one of the control cabinets."

"Good idea. Going to tell Winston and the others about this morning?"

"Sure. Only I don't think we'll mention where the mama cat is hiding
out. No use bogging them down with useless information. We'll tell
Winston."

Scotty quirked an eyebrow. "Not suspicious of the others?"

Rick wasn't, and said so flatly. "Only the more people who know
something, the more others are apt to find it out."

The scientists, however, were not even remotely interested. Their whole
attention was given to the problem of getting the big radio telescope
working.

Hakim Farid joined the boys long enough to say, "We've about decided the
strange signals are not originating within the system. Now we're looking
at the possibility that some local source is giving us interference. We
thought we'd eliminated all outside noise, but perhaps something new
came up after we finished checking."

Rick pointed to Cairo, visible through the control-room window. "There
must be lots of stuff down there that puts out radio-frequency signals,
even electric shavers and heating pads. How can you eliminate all of
it?"

"We can't, in the sense of really cutting it out. But the antenna
construction takes local interference into account. It's a tight beam
design that should prevent overriding of the main signal by any random
side effects. That's what Kerama and Winston are checking now. There's
not a great deal for you to do until they're through. In a half hour
we'll start to swing the antenna to see if we get an increase in the
signal by a change in direction. Until then, why not take it easy?"

"We will." Rick took the opportunity to tell Farid of the incident at
the museum that morning. He described briefly how they had been
followed, then attacked on the museum path.

Farid frowned. "I'm sorry to hear it. Cairo is pretty law-abiding,
compared to what it used to be. But we still have crime, just as you do
in your big cities. You didn't lose your wallets or anything valuable?"

"Nothing. We think they were after the cat."

"They didn't get it?"

"No. I didn't have it on me."

"That was fortunate." Farid frowned. "But why would anyone want the
cat?"

Rick did not have an answer for that, and said so. The scientist smiled.
"A cat isn't exactly big game for thieves, is it? On the other hand, the
museum itself was robbed several weeks ago in spite of the guards.
Thieves got away with a necklace supposed to have belonged to Kefren,
who built the middle pyramid over there."

"Was it valuable?" Scotty asked.

"More than valuable. It is irreplaceable. In terms of cash, however, the
value is around a quarter of a million dollars."

Rick whistled. "No wonder the guards watched us this morning."

Dr. Kerama called, "Hakim, can you help with these tracings, please?"

Farid joined the other scientists, leaving the boys to their own
devices. Rick hunted until he found a space under an amplifier that was
big enough for the two extra kittens. The space was covered by an access
door. The kittens would be safe there. It would be no real loss if they
were stolen, anyway.

Later, the boys helped check circuits while the radio telescope swung
through a variety of arcs, with Farid at the controls. The strange
signal came while the telescope was pointing only in one direction.

Rick asked Winston, "Could it really be coming from a single source in
outer space?"

Winston shrugged. "We've thought of that. If the source remained fixed,
we'd accept it as the most logical explanation. But since Kerama and
Farid first noticed the signal it has shifted its apparent location by
many degrees. That's why we think it must have some local explanation."

Rick understood. The sources in space studied by the radio telescopes
were fixed, in the same sense that the stars themselves were fixed. Of
course everything in the galaxy--even in the universe--was in motion,
but in spite of the enormous velocities, the change in location would
not be particularly apparent in a short time, or even in a lifetime.

A short distance away was a wonderful example of this kind of motion. In
the great pyramid of Khufu, Rick had read, a channel had been left so
the light of the North Star could shine on the altar of Isis. The
channel was still there. But in over three thousand years the slight,
slow wobbling of the earth on its axis had caused a shift. What was then
the North Star was now Thuban, in the constellation of Draco the Dragon.
The present North Star, Polaris, which is not exactly at the celestial
north pole, did not shine on the altar. Nor would the next star to
become the northern marker--bright Vega. But if the pyramids were still
standing after twenty-seven thousand years had passed, the cycle of
movement would be complete, and Thuban would again shine through the
channel to the altar of a forgotten Egyptian goddess.

It gave Rick a shiver to think about it. Even now, the pyramids were old
enough to have seen a change of north stars. They looked good for
another three thousand years or more. It would take a lot of time to
erode away that much massive stone.

Then he stopped thinking about it, because the telescope was in motion
again, and there was work to be done.

It was late night before the scientists were satisfied. The boys rode
back with Hassan, very thoughtful about the day's events. Now they had
both the little statue and the even greater mystery of the space signals
to think about.

Clearly, the strange signal was not of local origin. The scientists
rejected the idea that it came from trouble in the circuit. But it was
no natural heavenly object. What was it?

Tomorrow, Winston had said, they would decide on the next step. Right
now all hands were too tired to think clearly. The boys agreed that the
statement applied to them.

"Shall we eat?" Rick asked as they approached the hotel.

"Let's have a sandwich sent up," Scotty suggested. "I don't feel like
waiting in a dining room, even if one is open this late."

"Good idea." Rick leaned forward and told Hassan, "Just drop us off,
then go on home and get some rest."

"Not tired," Hassan said cheerfully. "You work, I rest."

They certainly were not working Hassan very hard, Rick agreed. But he
was pleasant to have around. They bade him good night in front of the
hotel and went for their room key. The clerk handed Rick an envelope
along with it. It was addressed to Mr. R. Brant, care of the hotel, and
the return address was in Arabic.

Rick waited until they were in their room to open it. A quick glance
showed that the room had not been searched, or if it had, with greater
care than the last time. He ripped open the envelope and took out a
sheet of paper, the letterhead printed in Arabic except for the name
Fuad Moustafa.

"Fuad Moustafa," he said aloud. "Any relation to Ali, I wonder?"

"Read it," Scotty urged.

Rick did so. "'Dear Sir: You have brought to Cairo, I believe, a plastic
replica of a cat, which was given to you by Mr. Bartouki for delivery to
my brother, Ali. I deeply regret the inconvenience caused by your
failure to find my brother in his shop. Only today did I learn that his
chief clerk, an officious person, had attempted to take delivery of the
cat by pretending to be my brother. The clerk shall be discharged for
this offensive behavior.

"'Since my brother is absent from the city, on business to Beirut, which
was the reason for his absence from the shop, I shall be delighted to
serve in his stead. If you will call me, I shall come at your
convenience. Or, if you will do me the honor of breaking bread at my
home, I shall be at your service. Since my home is also my office, any
time that is convenient for you will be my pleasure. Sincerely, Fuad
Moustafa.'"

Rick jumped for the phone and called the desk, "See if Hassan is still
around, please. Tell him to wait, if he is."

The clerk asked him to wait and Rick put his hand over the mouthpiece
and turned to Scotty. "The first sensible suggestion we've had. Let's go
call on Fuad Moustafa. If there are lights, we'll pay him a visit. If
not, we'll come back. I'm anxious to get this settled."

"So am I," Scotty agreed, then added, "Only let's be sure this isn't a
trap."

The clerk came back on the line. "Hassan is here. He will wait."

"Thank you. Now, can you tell me anything about a Mr. Fuad Moustafa? Do
you know him?"

"Indeed, sir. He is a lawyer, from a well-known family. He has two
brothers who are also well known. One is Ali, who has a shop in El
Mouski, and the other is Kemel, who is a textile importer."

Rick thanked him and hung up. "It's our boy," he said. He repeated what
the clerk had told him.

"Sounds like pay dirt," Scotty agreed. "Only we'll still be careful.
Let's go."

Rick echoed him. "Let's go! If this is on the level, we can get the cat
in the morning and deliver it." At last, the secret of the Egyptian cat
might be unraveled!



CHAPTER IX

The Uninvited Visitor


As the boys hurried through the lobby the night clerk came to meet them.

"I noticed that the name of Mr. Moustafa was on the message I gave you.
If you intend to visit him, you will have no trouble. His house is also
his office, and it is very well known. Just tell Hassan to take you to
Abd El Aziz Street."

The boys thanked him, somewhat relieved that Fuad Moustafa apparently
was so well known. Outside, Hassan was waiting. "Not so tired?" he
greeted them.

"Not too tired for a short trip," Rick said. "Can you take us to Abd El
Aziz Street?"

"Not far. Near El Mouski."

As Hassan drove off, at the usual high velocity, Rick asked, "Do you
know Fuad Moustafa?"

"Hear name," Hassan said. "But not know. What number street he live?"

Rick took the letter from his pocket, switched on the dome light, and
scanned it. There was no address given in English. He started to hand
the letter to Hassan, then remembered the dragoman could not read. He
puzzled over the Arabic in the letterhead, realizing the address must be
given there. If he could identify the numbers ... there, he recognized
one. Both boys had spent some time studying the telephone dial at the
project, on which the numbers were in Arabic. It was easy to identify
them, and Rick had spotted the five, a figure like a tiny heart, upside
down.

"I think I have it," he said. "Let's see. Arabic reads from right to
left, instead of the way we write. That makes this number ... hmmmm ...
a heart, a dot, and two sevens backward with one squiggle in the upper
line. The heart is a five, the dot a zero, and backward sevens with one
squiggle are twos. So the number is 5022. Right?"

"That's the way I remember it," Scotty said. "So that's the number.
_Enshallah._"

Hassan started laughing in the front seat. "Now you speak Arabic? You
must say _a'eraf shwayet 'arabi_."

"What does that mean?" Scotty demanded.

"It mean 'I know some Arabic'"

The boys laughed with him. In a few moments Hassan swung the little car
to the curb and pointed to the nearest building. "There 5022."

Rick started to get out, then he asked curiously, "How do you know,
Hassan? I thought you couldn't read."

"No can read words. Read numbers plenty good. Could not take people to
places if could not read numbers."

That made sense, Rick thought.

Scotty let out a sudden exclamation. "Hey, this is a barbershop, and
it's closed for the night."

Rick looked, then switched on the dome light. He compared the letterhead
number and the number on the door. Clearly, it was 5022, unless they had
mistaken threes for twos. The only difference between the two numbers
was an extra squiggle in the upper line of the three. He checked the
letter again. No, they were twos. He said so. "This is the number on the
letter."

"You let me see, please?" Hassan asked.

"Sure, Hassan."

The dragoman took the letter and examined it. He chuckled. "_Samehni, ya
sidi._ That mean excuse, sir. Small mistake. You reading backward.
Number is 2205."

"But how can that be?" Rick asked. "Arabic goes backward from English."

"Maybe so with words," Hassan said. "But numbers not so. This number is
2205. You want to go?"

Rick sighed. "I learn something new every day. Okay, Hassan. You're the
dragoman."

The little car swung around and sped back the way they had come, into a
better part of the city. In a short time Hassan slowed and began
searching. At last he pulled to the curb, in front of a large house of
Victorian design. "Here is 2205," he announced.

The boys got out and saw immediately that the house was in darkness. Not
a light shone anywhere.

"No one home," Rick said, disappointed.

Scotty surveyed the dark structure. "Funny. A house this size must have
servants. There should be a light somewhere. Maybe around back?"

"I doubt it, but we can take a look."

Hassan's voice stopped them. "Something wrong, I think."

"What do you mean?" Rick asked quickly.

Hassan gestured to where a small group of people had gathered on the
other side of the street. "Why they stop? Not so strange for car come to
house like this."

That was true, Rick thought. The people stood quietly, watching, and in
a moment two others joined them. Their attitude was not simple
curiosity.

"Can you ask them what's up?" Scotty asked.

"Will try." Hassan took a step toward the group and called cheerfully in
Arabic. No one answered. He walked toward them, still talking
cheerfully, and the little group melted instantly into ordinary people
walking the street on their various errands by ones and twos.

Rick needed no interpreter for their actions. Rather than answer a
courteous, cheerful question from Hassan they had hurried off, as though
afraid of something. But what?

"Pretty strange, I think," Hassan said. "I just ask who can tell me
where to find Fuad Moustafa, and they go."

Scotty had been staring at the house. He walked to the steps and stared
into the darkness, then went up them onto the porch. In a moment he came
down again.

"Something's very wrong," he said. "I thought I saw the gleam of metal,
and I did. A brand-new padlock on the door! New hasp, too, put on in a
way no house owner would ever do it. It's as though someone was closing
a barn door and didn't care how it looked."

A chill went down Rick's spine. Instead of a solution, they had found a
deeper mystery. He was sure of only one thing for the present. They
should not wait at the house of Fuad Moustafa.

"Come on," he said. "Back to the hotel. If we can't have facts to feed
on, we can at least have that sandwich."

But the sandwich was not to be had so easily. Back in their room, a call
to the waiter brought the porter, who announced that all hotel
facilities were closed and the waiters had gone home. He would be glad
to go to a restaurant he knew of and get them sandwiches, but it would
take a little time.

The boys ordered, then got undressed. Scotty went in to wash up while
Rick wrote cards to the folks at home. A knock interrupted him. "Must be
the porter," he called to Scotty, and went to open the door.

A stranger stood there, a big man in an immaculate gray linen suit. He
wore thick eyeglasses with stainless-steel rims. On his curly hair was a
tarboosh of red velvet. In his hand was a gleaming, snub-nosed
hammerless revolver, pointed at Rick's midriff.

[Illustration: _A snub-nosed revolver was pointed at Rick's midriff_]

"I know it's late," the man said pleasantly, "but may I come in?"

He walked through the door, and Rick backed away to make room.

"Are you Fuad Moustafa?" he asked shakily.

The man smiled. "I have not that honor. You have never seen a Moustafa,
or you would not ask. They are famous for the biggest noses and
mustaches in the Republic. I could have lied, but it is my pride that I
never lie. My identity is not important."

"What do you want?" Rick asked. He kept backing away, because he wanted
desperately for the man to follow. That would give Scotty a chance to
move in from behind.

"I think you know what I want. A small and unimportant piece of plastic,
in the shape of a cat."

"Why is the cat so important?" Rick asked.

"It is not important. You may believe this. However, for reasons I shall
not disclose, it has certain elements of value to a few people."

"Sentimental value?" Rick asked. He was stalling.

"It depends on what one is sentimental about. I have no sentimental
attachment to this object. I merely want it. Now, my time is short. I
was fortunate to find the porter gone, but he will doubtless return. The
cat, my young friend, and quickly!"

Scotty moved from the bathroom on silent, bare feet, and even as his pal
moved, Rick saw the object in his hand. It was a nail file.

Scotty stepped close and his hand moved. The stranger stiffened.

"That's a knife in your back," Scotty said. "Drop the gun."

The revolver muzzle never faltered. "An interesting stalemate," the man
said calmly. "You can thrust, but no matter how fast you are, I can
shoot. So, if I die, so does your friend. Now, since you created this
situation, how are you going to get out of it? Or did I create it,
through my careless eagerness? I was so pleased to find the hall empty
that I forgot there were two of you."

"No matter," Scotty informed him. "We can stand like this until help
comes."

"Then you expect someone. Make no mistake, I will not be taken. If
necessary, I will end the stalemate with a shot and take my chances with
the knife. It is even possible I will get both of you."

Rick was watching the man's face closely. He was not bluffing. There was
no sign of sweat or nervousness. He knew the situation exactly, and was
prepared to deal with it. The boy reached a decision.

"Drop it, Scotty," he commanded. "Pull back and come around so he can
see you. I'm going to give him the cat."

"Don't!" Scotty exclaimed. "Don't, Rick!"

"I'm going to give him the cat," Rick repeated. "It isn't worth
bloodshed. Now co-operate, will you?"

Scotty drew back and walked around so the stranger could see him. With a
gesture of disgust he threw the nail file on one of the twin beds.

The stranger smiled his appreciation. "A very good try. It would have
worked, no doubt, on a less experienced man. Now, Mr. Brant, where is
the cat?"

"In my pocket, in the wardrobe."

The gun muzzle waved Scotty to the window at the far end of the room.
"Out of reach, if you please. I will cover Mr. Brant just to be sure it
is not a weapon that he has in his pocket."

Scotty obeyed, scowling. Rick led the way to the wardrobe. Moving slowly
and carefully, he got the concrete kitten and held it up.

"Excellent. I see the hotel has provided you with a newspaper. Please
use it to wrap the cat."

Rick did so, and handed it over.

"Thank you. I appreciate your co-operation, since I am a man who detests
unnecessary violence. You have acted wisely." He backed to the door,
opened it, and closed it behind him.

Rick's eyes met Scotty's across the room, and both grinned widely, but
they said nothing in case the stranger had lingered outside the door.
Not until a few moments had passed and Rick had checked the hallway did
he speak.

"Well," he said happily, "one orphan kitten has found a happy home!"



CHAPTER X

The Great Pyramid


Parnell Winston faced the group of Egyptian scientists in the crowded
radio-telescope control room. Rick and Scotty waited impatiently for the
scientist to begin. They knew something important was coming up, from
remarks dropped by Winston earlier, but they didn't know what.

"Gentlemen," Winston began, "I and my young associates came at Dr.
Kerama's request because of the assumption that internal or local
difficulties had caused the strange peaks in your Sanborn tracings of
the first tryouts of the new system. The assumption was a natural and
logical one. However, we have demonstrated that it isn't true. The
system is working so perfectly that I must congratulate you. It is
seldom that anything so complex functions as well in the early stages."

Winston paused thoughtfully. "Of course Dr. Kerama realized that it
would be highly unusual to have internal circuit trouble cause such
signals. But what we have left, after eliminating the possibilities of
both internal and local interference, is something even more unusual. In
fact, it is fantastic."

Rick moved forward a little. He didn't want to miss any of this, because
he knew Winston, and he had never before seen the scientist so excited.

"What we have is a source of neutral hydrogen out in space, over five
thousand light years away from earth. This source is moving at such
incredible velocity that it is very close to the speed of light."

There was a stunned silence in the room. Rick considered the
implications of Winston's statement. The scientist had spent hours with
Kerama and Farid going over the Sanborn tracings, checking the location
of the source as shown by the big telescope's position. The change in
the source's position, from the time of first discovery to yesterday's
checking of the system, had given enough data to calculate its velocity
with reasonable accuracy.

The big unknown was the precise distance of the source. Readings from a
single position could not give distance with high accuracy, so the
scientists weren't sure of their figures--yet.

Winston asked, "Dr. Kerama, do you want to explain what we have
decided?"

The Egyptian scientist nodded. "Thank you, Dr. Winston. And thank you on
behalf of all of us for determining that our mystery does not come from
the receiver system itself, or from nearby."

Kerama faced the group. "Last night I sent cables, giving detailed
information on times, locations, and our computations to the
radio-telescope stations at Manchester, England, and Green Bank and
Goldstone in the United States. I also, at Dr. Winston's suggestion,
sent similar information to the Mount Palomar Observatory.

"If the other radio telescopes are able to participate, it will serve to
confirm or disprove our own information. If confirmed, we will then have
a precise fix on the source that has caused us so much concern. We will
also have the benefit of continuous consultation with our American and
English colleagues. At the same time, the two-hundred-inch telescope at
Palomar will attempt to see this strange object and to photograph it."

Rick knew of the huge American radio telescope at Green Bank, West
Virginia, and the smaller one at Goldstone Lake, in California. Both had
tracked space probes to incredible distances. The Manchester telescope,
more generally known as Jodrell Bank, had also tracked probes. With a
team like that working along with Sahara Wells, results ought to be
coming fast.

Dr. Kerama continued. "We have been so concerned with what we thought
was a problem that we have not accumulated all possible data on this
hydrogen source. We will start at once to do this. The first step, of
course, is to determine how long it is within view of our antenna, so
that we may set up a schedule. The next is to obtain as much material as
we can on the 21-centimeter wave length. After that we will shift to
other wave lengths to see if the source is emitting. Dr. Farid will make
assignments."

Farid stood up. "A radio-teletype circuit will be installed at once.
Work is already in progress in the city, and we should have installation
crews here within an hour or two. That will enable us to keep in touch
with the other stations. For now, I would like Dr. Mandarawi and Dr.
Azrar to establish the time when the source will be within our horizon,
and set up the necessary data for the operator in charge of each shift.
The rest of us will check out the circuit and establish calibration to
be ready for recording this afternoon."

The scientist gestured to Rick and Scotty. "We know that the source will
not come up over our horizon until about one o'clock. When it does, we
would appreciate your help in making audio recordings. Until then,
you're on your own."

"What'll we do?" Scotty asked.

Rick looked at his watch. It was shortly after nine. "Why not go over to
see the pyramids? Then we can have lunch at the Mena House and come back
in time to go to work."

"Good idea. Better tell Winston, though, in case something comes up."

Rick did so, and the boys went outside to where Hassan waited patiently.
They told him their plans and got into the little car for the short
drive to Giza.

"I got some of that, but not all," Scotty said. "Give me a brief
rundown."

"Okay. I'm no expert, but I think I got the drift. To start with, the
most common thing in space is hydrogen gas. It gives off energy that can
be detected on the 21-centimeter wave length. This is important to the
radio astronomers, because they can use their telescopes to figure out
how hydrogen is distributed throughout the universe."

"I'm with you," Scotty said. "Now our boys have proved that the funny
signals in the hydrogen impulse they've been getting originate in space,
and hydrogen shouldn't act like that."

"That's it. Also, a hydrogen source in space ought to stay fixed. But
this one is shooting off at high velocity. That would be strange enough,
but it's also giving off signals that don't seem natural."

"So the scientists yell for help from their colleagues in America and
England, and perhaps someone can figure out what's causing this strange
behavior?"

"On the button, ol' buddy."

Scotty grinned. "It will probably turn out to be an Egyptian space cat
mewing for milk from the Milky Way."

Rick patted the kitten in his pocket. He had replaced the one turned
over to the intruder the night before. Now, as he told Scotty, only two
orphan kittens needed homes. But placing the kittens didn't answer the
questions that puzzled him. Why was the Egyptian cat important? And who
were the people that wanted it?

There were things about the mystery that didn't add up. For instance,
Fuad Moustafa had written a polite letter claiming the cat, but strictly
impolite and violent efforts had been made to get it. And where were the
brothers Moustafa?

Hassan drew to a stop before the great pyramid of Khufu. "We here. Want
to go in?"

"In a while," Rick answered. "We'll take a look around outside, first."

The boys got out of the car and gazed upward at the incredible pile of
masonry. The blocks were huge, weathered by centuries of wind and sand.
Once the whole pyramid had been covered with a smooth facing of stone,
but much of it had been destroyed by thieves trying to find the entrance
to the Pharaoh's tomb.

Rick saw that the top of the lowermost course of blocks was covered with
chips of the weathered stone. He picked up a couple and put them in his
pocket. His rock collection at home could use a genuine piece of
pyramid, and his sister Barby would like one for a paperweight.

"This could be climbed," Scotty said, gazing upward.

"Oh, yes," Hassan affirmed. "Some guides go up to top all the time. Can
show you best way. You want to go?"

"Not now," Scotty said. "Let's look around first. But I'm going to climb
this before we leave."

"And I'll be with you," Rick said.

They reached the corner of the pyramid and Rick sighted along the edge.

The thing that impressed him most was the size of the individual blocks.
Photographs were usually taken at sufficient distance to show the entire
pyramid. At that distance they looked pretty smooth. Close up, it was a
tremendous jigsaw puzzle of blocks that weighed tons.

Rick had expected a considerable number of tourists and guides, but
apparently it was too early. Down by the Sphinx he saw a few Arabs, but
no foreigners were in sight. He was glad they could see at least a part
of Giza before the crowd arrived. "Take us inside, Hassan," he
requested.

"Can do. You follow."

Hassan led the way to the center of the side. High above their heads, he
pointed to a hole. "Up there."

The three climbed through tumbled blocks to the opening and paused to
look around. This was not the opening the Pharaoh had intended. It had
been made by thieves, centuries ago. By boring downward at an angle,
they had intercepted the inner passageways that led to the buried king
and his treasure.

Electric lights were strung along the corridor at intervals, but the
passage was far from bright. Hassan led the way, with Rick following and
Scotty bringing up the rear.

Scotty's voice reverberated in the stone passageway. "I've been thinking
that you ought to be just about overcome with happiness. Two mysteries
on your hands, one detective type and one scientific type, and now
you're walking into the middle of a few million tons of rock. How full
can life get?"

Rick grinned. "And you're not happy at all. Just came along for the
ride, I suppose?"

"Oh, I'm happy. But I'm a simple soul. One mystery at a time and plenty
of chow is all I need."

They left the tunnel cut by the thieves and found themselves in a broad
concourse with high ceiling and walls that still held the remnants of
ancient decorations. Rick's vivid imagination could picture the scene as
it must once have been, with torches lighting the route as the mighty
Khufu was carried by richly clad slaves along this route to the inner
crypt.

Hassan pointed to where a side passage led upward. "Room there. Queen
buried, but nothing now. All gone. Thieves take."

This was the story of Egypt. Few tombs had been found intact. That was
why finding Tut-Ankh-Amon had been of such importance. Most of the
burial places of the Pharaohs had been found and looted many centuries
ago. One such tomb would make a band of thieves and their descendants
rich. But while the thieves had grown fat, history had suffered. Each
rifled tomb meant quantities of historical materials lost forever.

Scotty held up a hand. "Someone coming."

"More tourist, maybe," Hassan offered.

Rick looked around. In the echoing chamber it was hard to tell the
direction from which the footsteps were coming, and whether it was one
person or many. Hassan was probably right, he thought. It was late
enough in the day for tourists to be arriving.

And on the heels of the thought, Arabs erupted from the entrance through
which they had come!

There was less than a second of doubt. The men were after them! Rick saw
Scotty crouch as an Arab charged, saw the Arab go headlong through the
air as Scotty caught him in a judo throw. Then Rick and Hassan were
fighting for their lives!

An Arab rushed at Rick, arms widespread, and the boy stepped between the
arms and threw a short punch that caught the attacker squarely on the
nose. Blood spurted and he let out an anguished yell, then Rick put a
foot in his stomach and heaved. The man flew backward, arms flailing,
and landed on top of one who was grappling with Hassan. The guide took
advantage of the break to grasp his second assailant around the middle
and dump him. The guide kicked expertly and the Arab lay still.

Scotty was backing away from two of them when Rick charged to the
rescue. He hit one from behind, his shoulder taking the man at the
knees. The Arab slammed forward. Scotty jumped in and grabbed his second
attacker by the burnoose, then fell backward with him and flipped. The
Arab flew through the air like an ungainly bird and slammed into the
farther wall.

Rick choked back a yell of despair as three more Arabs charged through
the passageway. They were hopelessly outnumbered now. He saw Hassan with
an Arab's throat between his hands, and he saw another attacker coming
up on the guide from behind, a knife in his hand.

There wasn't time to reach Hassan. Rick had only one weapon. He plucked
the concrete kitten from his pocket and threw, his whole body giving the
flying statue speed and direction. It caught the knife wielder where his
headdress met his ear. He dropped as though hit with an ax. The kitten
fell to the stone floor and shattered.

Three Arabs hit Scotty at the same time. Rick dove headlong into the
fray and got his hands around a stubble-covered face. He put a knee in
the man's back and wrenched, but the Arab turned like a cat and reached
for his throat.

A voice yelled in Arabic. Miraculously, the Arabs fell back. As Rick and
Scotty got to their feet they saw the burnoosed figures raise hands
high.

[Illustration]

At the passage entrance was a man in Western dress, an Egyptian with a
bristling mustache and a tremendous nose. He was obviously a person of
authority, and the authority was made plain by the Luger automatic
pistol he held in his hand.

The Arabs crowded together, hands high. Then, at another sharply spoken
Arabic phrase, they all lay face down on the floor, arms stretched out
before them.

At that moment the newcomer's eyes caught sight of the broken kitten on
the stone floor. He stiffened, and he took a step toward it. Then he
reconsidered.

"Mr. Brant, or Mr. Scott," he commanded. "One of you only. Bring me the
pieces of the cat!"



CHAPTER XI

Third Brother Smiles


Rick was nearest to the broken kitten. He went over and picked up three
large pieces. There were a few smaller ones, but he didn't think they
would matter. He walked over and held the pieces out.

The man with the pistol took one and examined it. Rick noted that it was
the biggest piece, actually over half the cat.

Suddenly the man smiled. It was a fine, happy smile that showed white
teeth under his black mustache.

"A fine specimen," he said. "Where did you get it?"

"It just sort of came to us," Rick evaded.

"Indeed? A pity it was broken. Do you want the pieces?"

This surprised Rick. He stared into the smiling brown eyes. "No. Don't
you?"

"I have a definite interest in cats, but not in this one. Come, shall we
go to the outside? I think you have probably had enough of Khufu's tomb
by this time, eh?"

The pistol motioned to the outstretched Arabs. "This carrion will not
bother us. I told them the first man to step outside the pyramid before
an hour has elapsed would be shot."

To Rick's astonishment the man tucked the pistol into a capacious jacket
pocket, then turned and walked toward the outer entrance. Rick, Scotty,
and Hassan followed.

In a few moments they stood blinking in the sunlight. Their rescuer gave
them a polite bow. "You are probably wondering who I am, and how I
appeared so opportunely, eh? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kemel
Moustafa."

The brother of Ali and Fuad! Rick remembered the words of the hotel
intruder who had taken the first kitten: The Moustafas were known for
the largest mustaches and noses in the United Arab Republic. Well, the
description fitted.

"I'm Rick Brant," he said. "This is Don Scott, and our guide, Hassan."

Kemel Moustafa shook hands all around. "I am thirsty," he announced. "We
will exchange stories over coffee, eh? The Mena House is close by, and I
have a car."

"So do we," Rick said. "We came in Hassan's car."

"Then let us drive down in our separate cars and meet there. We have
much to talk over."

That was an understatement, Rick thought. He wondered as Hassan drove
them to the hotel below the pyramids: had the business in the pyramid
been staged so Kemel could come to the rescue? If not, that meant two
different groups were interested in the cat.

The way Kemel Moustafa had looked at the broken kitten was revealing,
too. One glance and he had rejected it. How had he known? He put the
question aloud to Scotty.

"Maybe it didn't break like plastic," Scotty guessed. "Or, it's possible
the original is unbreakable."

Rick didn't think either of those answers could be the right one. "Could
there be something inside the cat? Kernel would have seen right away
that the broken one was solid."

"There's a hunk of lead in the cat, according to Bartouki. But suppose
you're right, and it isn't lead? What could be valuable enough to cause
all these wild goings-on?"

"Diamonds. Rubies. Maybe a radium needle in a lead shield. The
possibilities are endless."

"Uhuh. Only one thing bothers me a little. Why use a plastic cat as a
container to smuggle things into Egypt? There must be better ways."

"This way hasn't been very successful," Rick agreed. "Anyway, here's the
hotel. Let's ask Kemel Moustafa."

Over coffee, Rick asked the third Moustafa brother many questions, and
received answers to most of them--although the answers were not always
satisfactory.

Moustafa anticipated some of the questions. As the waiter brought
coffee, he pulled out his wallet and showed the boys his identity card,
driver's license, and business card. Clearly, he was Kemel Moustafa.

"I have been to Khartoum on business," he said. "Last night I returned
to the city and found that a family emergency had taken both of my
brothers out of town. Fuad left very suddenly, after he had written to
you. I apologize on his behalf. However, he must be excused, since a
call from Ali, in Beirut, sent him running to the airport to catch the
next flight. He simply had no time even to call you. His secretary tried
to call you today, without success."

"We wondered," Rick said.

"Of course. And you are also wondering how I came into the pyramid at
just the right time. A fortunate accident. You see, I came to Sahara
Wells hoping to see you, but you were sightseeing. Dr. Winston was kind
enough to tell me where you were. I simply went hunting for you. A quick
drive around the area told me you must be in one of the pyramids, and
the biggest one seemed the most logical place to look for you."

Rick believed him. Moustafa wouldn't tell a tale that a moment's talk
with Winston would disprove.

"Who was the man who pretended to be your brother Ali?" Scotty asked.

"His chief clerk. He is an arrogant type who often shows poor judgment.
Instead of simply explaining to you that Ali was out of town, he
apparently told you he was Ali. This was the case?"

Rick confirmed it.

"He will be discharged at once. I suspected it when I questioned him
last night. He gave some lame excuse about your refusing to hand over
the cat to anyone except my brother Ali. He told Fuad the same thing,
according to his secretary."

"It wasn't such a lame excuse, Mr. Moustafa," Rick corrected. "Mr.
Bartouki asked us to deliver the cat to Ali Moustafa. We have no
instructions to deliver it to anyone else."

"I see. And I commend your discretion. But my brother Ali will not
return for many weeks, and you will not want to take the cat back to
America with you. So we will telephone Mohammed Bartouki, and you will
hear directly from him that I am a suitable substitute for my brother."

Scotty asked bluntly, "Why is the cat so important?"

Moustafa spread his hands wide. "Why not? The creature will open a new
industry in Cairo. It will employ a number of people. It will make a
profit for the Moustafa-Bartouki enterprises. It will please the
tourists. Obviously the cat is important."

Rick tossed in his loaded question. "How did you know the cat in the
pyramid wasn't the cat we brought from America?"

Kernel Moustafa's thick eyebrows went up. "It was obvious, was it not?
The broken cat was made of colored concrete. The cat Bartouki took such
pains to develop was of a plastic that does not have the graininess of
concrete. If you tell me the one in the pyramid was indeed the original,
I will be very disappointed. Such a model would not be suitable."

"It wasn't," Rick said briefly.

"Ah. And where is the original?"

Rick's smile was every bit as warm and friendly as Kemel Moustafa's.
"Perhaps the answer to that had better wait until we have talked to
Bartouki."

The Egyptian's smile broadened. "Discretion in one so young," he
proclaimed, "is a rare and precious thing." He put money on the table
for their coffee and rose.

"You will excuse me? I have business in the city. But tonight at seven I
will come to your hotel and we will phone our friend in New York. It
will then be noon in New York, and we will find him reading the Koran at
home. This is his custom. Until then, _Assalamo alaikum_, which is to
say, 'Good day to you.'"

As the boys walked to where Hassan waited, Scotty grinned at Rick.
"'Discretion in one so young,'" he quoted, "'is a rare and precious
thing.' He should know you as I do. Discretion has nothing to do with
it. You just don't want to part with that cat until you know everything
there is to know about it."

Rick shrugged. "I haven't heard you volunteering to hand the poor
creature over. Besides, our pal Kemel is not all that he seems."

"And how do you know?"

"Easy. Did he ask us who jumped us in the pyramid, or why? Did he
explain why he carries a Luger? Nope, to both. He carries a Luger
because there's danger in this business. And he knows why those Arabs
jumped us. He may not know them by name, but he knows what they were
after, and he knows why."

"Which is more than we know," Scotty concluded.

"For now," Rick agreed. "But we'll find out before we're through, one
way or another!"



CHAPTER XII

Third Brother Stops Smiling


Rick opened the door to a knock at precisely two minutes of seven, and
admitted Kernel Moustafa. The Egyptian shook hands politely. "It takes
some time to get a call through," he said, "so I placed our call an hour
ago. The operator assured me it would go through precisely at seven."

Moustafa turned to Scotty and shook hands again. "According to my watch,
we have only a few seconds to wait. Mr. Brant, you will answer the
phone, if you please. Identify Bartouki to your own satisfaction, then
ask him about Kemel Moustafa. Then turn the phone over to me, and I will
talk with him. After that you take the phone back again, and he will
give you final instructions. This is acceptable?"

"Absolutely," Rick said. He thought quickly. How could he establish
Bartouki's identity for certain? Then, as the phone rang, he knew.

Rick answered. "Rick Brant speaking."

"On your call to New York. Mr. Bartouki is on the line. Go ahead,
please."

Rick raised his voice instinctively. After all, New York was a long
distance away! Then he realized that electronic facilities reduce the
need for shouting, and lowered it again. "Mr. Bartouki? This is Rick
Brant."

"Good morning, Rick. Ah, but this is evening in Cairo, is it not?"

Rick was sure he identified the little merchant's voice, but he went
ahead anyway. "Mr. Bartouki, please forgive me, but I must establish
your identity beyond any doubt. Can you tell me what color dress my
sister Barbara wore at your reception, and the color of her hair and
eyes?"

"Of course. Her dress was a very attractive blue wool with a red leather
belt. She is very blond, with dark-blue eyes, and she is about my
height."

Rick was satisfied. "Thank you, sir. The reason I had to be careful is
this. We went to Ali Moustafa's shop, and a man who did not answer your
description of Ali Moustafa pretended to be him. We refused to give up
the cat. Then our room was searched. We received a letter from Fuad
Moustafa, and when we went to his house it was padlocked. Last night a
man came to our room with a pistol and demanded the cat. We gave him a
copy we had made in concrete. I should add we also were attacked in
front of the Egyptian Museum by men who searched us. That was why we
made the copies in concrete. The real one is hidden. Then, this morning,
we were attacked again, inside the pyramid. We were rescued by Kemel
Moustafa. He is here with us now. If you approve, we will give him the
cat. If not, tell us what to do with it."

Bartouki's voice sounded incredulous over the ocean miles. "This is
incredible! I must know the meaning of this. May I speak to Kemel?"

Rick handed the phone to the third brother and listened. Kemel launched
immediately into a rapid flow of Arabic.

Scotty interrupted, "Can you speak in English please?"

Kemel stopped abruptly. "Of course. Forgive me." He spoke into the
phone. "Your young American friends want me to speak in English,
Mohammed. They are cautious, and they have reason. I did not know of
their room being searched, the man who came with a pistol, or the attack
in front of the museum. I arrived this morning because I had gone to the
radio telescope to look for them.... Yes ... yes, most certainly I will
try to find out who has caused them such trouble. Ali and Fuad are in
Beirut. It is because of our father. You know that he has been very ill?
Yes, by all means send a cable. It will be appreciated. And now, if you
will tell Mr. Brant ... yes ... _ma'e salamet Ellah_, Mohammed. Allah
protect you."

Moustafa handed the phone to Rick. The boy said quickly, "Yes, sir?"

"My dear boy, I am very upset by this affair." Bartouki sounded
agitated, even across the miles. "Kemel will try to find out what has
been going on. Meanwhile, please give him the model. And accept my
apologies for getting you into such a situation, and my thanks for your
loyalty to our model cat. I hope to show my appreciation when you
return, and I shall certainly want to hear all about this. But for now,
trust Kemel. He is my friend and associate."

Rick promised to do so, said good-by, and hung up. He turned to Moustafa
and Scotty. "Mr. Bartouki agrees. We turn the cat over."

Kemel stroked his mustache. "Yes. But first, I must know of these
attacks. Can you describe the men who attacked you at the Egyptian
Museum?"

Scotty could, and did. He gave complete details of dress and appearance.

The Egyptian shook his head. "I'm afraid the descriptions mean nothing.
They did not harm you?"

"They could have," Rick stated. "But they only searched us. We didn't
have the cat with us, and it took only seconds for them to find out."

Moustafa's brows creased. "I can make no sense of this. Why would anyone
want the cat?"

Rick and Scotty laughed mirthlessly. "That's exactly the same question
we asked ourselves a thousand times," Rick said.

"And you made copies of concrete? That was extremely clever of you. I
believe you gave one to a man who showed up here?"

Rick described the encounter, and he gave a detailed description of the
man. Before he was through, Moustafa was nodding his head.

"I recognize this man! From your description, it can only be one
Youssef. He is a well-known thief, and the leader of a gang. My brother
Fuad was once requested to defend him, and refused. Another lawyer with
less scruples took the case and got him off."

"But why would a thief want the cat?" Scotty asked.

Moustafa shook his head. "I do not know. Unless he intends to sell the
model to a manufacturer, or to produce cats for sale himself. Or, if he
knows how much time, money, and planning we have invested in this cat,
he may see it as a means of revenge on the Moustafas because Fuad would
not take his case."

The answer was logical enough, but it didn't ring true to Rick. At least
the revenge part didn't. What had Youssef said? "_I have no sentimental
attachment to this object. I merely want it._" A motive of revenge would
be emotional, even if not exactly sentimental.

"Why do you carry a pistol?" Rick asked suddenly.

It took Moustafa a moment to reply. "I have enemies," he explained. "I
will not bore you with an explanation of why this is, but the reasons
are not related to this cat."

"How did you know the cat in the pyramid was not the right one?" Scotty
demanded.

Moustafa studied the boy for a long moment before he replied. He
shrugged. "I have been a contractor. I know concrete. The cat you
brought is of plastic, which does not break. Or, if it does, it breaks
differently. From your questions, I see you still harbor suspicions. Was
not Bartouki's word enough?"

"It was," Rick said. "Only we'd like to know about these attacks. Who
were the men, and why did they want the cat?"

"Then my explanation does not seem sufficient. I am truly sorry, because
we are in your debt. But I cannot tell you more, because I know no more.
The only thing I can do is talk to some people I know who may have more
clues to Youssef's behavior."

Moustafa's attitude changed subtly. "Now, where is the cat?"

Rick was suddenly glad he didn't have it at hand. "It's in the Egyptian
Museum," he said.

Moustafa exploded. "What!"

"That's right," Scotty added coolly. "We saw the men trailing us, so
Rick hid the cat in the museum. If he hadn't, the thieves would have it
now."

Moustafa sank down into a chair, a hand to his forehead. "But this is
terrible! We can never recover it! Surely by now the museum curator has
it."

Rick shook his head. "I don't think so. And I'm sure we can recover it."

"But how? Guards swarm everywhere. They are alert, because there was a
big robbery not long ago. Everyone is watched. Everyone! I don't
understand even how you could hide it without being seen."

"We have our own methods," Rick assured him. "And we'll get the cat
back. If you will come here tomorrow night it will be waiting for you."

Moustafa rose and walked to the door. He looked at the boys, and above
the luxuriant mustache, dark eyes blazed at them. "It had better be," he
said flatly. "If you are caught by the museum guards you had better say
it was a joke. As Americans, you may be believed. Do not connect me, or
my brothers, or Bartouki with this thing! But get that cat! I don't care
how. But get it!"

He slammed the door behind him.

Rick looked at Scotty. "Get it, or else?"

"Or else," Scotty confirmed. "He didn't say it, but he meant it."

Rick put his thoughts into words. "No one gets that excited over a
plastic model. The cat is important for some other reason. But what?"

"I'll ask a different question for a change. Who would you rather have
on your trail, Moustafa or Youssef?"

Rick stared at his pal for a long moment while he digested the
implications of the question. "I see what you mean," he said finally.
"There are two groups after the cat. Right? I've wondered about that
myself, since we were rescued by Kemel this morning. So we're caught
between a pair of tough characters, like eggs in the jaws of a vise."

Scotty finished grimly, "And right now the jaws are closing. Fast."

A thought struck Rick and he grinned. "How about scrambled eggs for New
Year's Eve dinner?"

"What?"

"It's New Year's Eve."

Scotty reached in his pocket and found a pocket calendar. He consulted
it. "Hey, you're not kidding!"

"Nope. So, as the year closes, where are we? Caught between Kemel and
Youssef."

"Maybe next year will bring better things," Scotty said with a grin.

"Uhuh. But for whom?"

"That," Scotty said, "remains to be seen!"



CHAPTER XIII

The Space Mystery


There was an air of excitement at the project when the boys arrived
there the following morning. Everyone was busy on equipment, or studying
Sanborn tracings. Winston and Kerama were working a slide rule while
Farid read figures.

The boys waited until Winston gave a number, which Kerama marked on the
pad he carried. Then the scientist looked up and gave the boys a big
grin.

"Happy New Year both of you! Interesting news this morning. Take a look
at these."

They were teletype sheets. Rick saw that a machine was now in one corner
of the control room, where technicians had finished installing it during
the night.

He and Scotty read the messages. Translated from the cryptic notations
and abbreviations used by the astronomers, it added up to confirmation
of the Egyptian findings by both Jodrell Bank and Green Bank. Both
reported that they had also located a source of apparently modulated
hydrogen impulses. Both gave the same co-ordinates in space, in terms of
ascension and declination, the way astronomers locate the position of
heavenly bodies. Both stated that the finding was remarkable and
requested all available data from Sahara Wells, and both announced their
intention of concentrating on the object while it was in "view" of their
radio telescopes.

Rick looked at Winston, his eyes shining. "Boy! We're on to something
big. What's the next step?"

"Next is a precise fix and distance computations by all stations. At the
same time, we want two kinds of recordings. We'll continue making
Sanborn tapes, but we also want audio-tape recordings."

"You want to actually hear this thing?" Scotty asked. This was unusual,
since the radio telescopes ordinarily recorded the incoming signals in
trace form on Sanborn strips.

"We don't want to overlook any possibility," Dr. Kerama said. "This is
without precedent, and we are not sure how to proceed. Dr. Farid has set
up an amplifier on the output circuit, in parallel with the normal
system, and he has brought in a pair of tape recorders we borrowed from
the government radio station. It may be that listening to this signal
will give us clues that our eyes miss when we examine the tracings."

Winston added, "That's your job. I intended to keep you here together, a
half day at a time. But this is too important for such considerations,
and we haven't a large enough Egyptian staff to handle everything. So
I'd like to work you in shifts."

"That's okay," Rick assured him. "When do we start?"

"The object comes up on our horizon shortly after one. Suppose you start
then. The first shift can work until five, and the second from five to
eleven. One of the Egyptian technicians will take over then until we
lose the source below the horizon again."

Hakim Farid took the boys to the tape setup he had established and
explained it to them. It was simple enough. The output signal from the
receivers was fed into a regular tape-recording circuit. The tapes
themselves were on huge reels good for about four hours of recording. It
would only be necessary to watch the volume control and to see that all
was running smoothly. Changing tapes was only a matter of slapping a new
reel into place, dropping the tape into the recording head, and
threading it into the empty reel.

"How will we work it?" Scotty asked, while they rechecked the setup and
tried out the tape motors.

Rick frowned. "It kind of throws a monkey wrench into our plan, doesn't
it?" He and Scotty had worked out a way to recover the Egyptian cat,
again with Scotty distracting the guard.

"One of us will have to get it alone," Scotty said.

Rick watched the tape run through and searched his mind for a method.
There was only one way he could think of that would get the guard out of
the way. "Looks as if that third kitten is going to have a home," he
said finally. "I'll wrap it in an old newspaper, then pretend to find it
under something. I'll hand it to the guard. With luck, he'll get so
excited he'll run for his boss, thinking someone has tried to steal a
museum exhibit. Then I'll snaffle kitty off the shelf and hike out."

Scotty rubbed his chin. "Could work," he said finally. "Unless the guard
insists that you go with him."

"No speak Arabic," Rick said. "I won't understand. Let's hope the guard
speaks no English."

"Well, if anything goes wrong, Moustafa will just have to wait. So I'll
take the first shift and you go get puss. That means I'll be waiting for
ol' Kemel alone tonight at the hotel."

"Looks that way."

There seemed to be no solution except to turn the cat over. Bartouki had
approved, and the cat was his. Much as the boys hated to let go of an
unsolved mystery, there wasn't any other way.

Hassan drove Rick back into town, with the boy sitting in back. He would
have preferred to be in the front seat with the dragoman, but the taxi
meter took up too much room.

The guide parked directly in front of the museum and asked, "I go with
you?"

"Not this time, Hassan. I won't be long." If Rick's trick was to work,
no translator should be at hand.

He paid his piastres at the entrance and walked into the huge entrance
hall, very conscious of the kitten in his pocket. It was wrapped in a
week-old copy of a newspaper recovered from the debris around the new
barracks.

When he reached the second floor he acted like a casual museum visitor,
taking his time, and working from exhibit to exhibit. But his mind was
not on the wonders of ancient Egypt. It wasn't much use to think about
the cat, either. All the ground had been covered many times. Instead, he
spent the time speculating on the meaning of the mysterious signal from
space. Admittedly, he didn't have much knowledge of astrophysics or
radio astronomy. But he had never heard of any natural phenomenon in
space that emitted pulsed signals in random fashion. Some stars pulsed,
like the Cepheid variables, but in an orderly way.

A half hour of speculation led him nowhere so far as the space mystery
was concerned, but it did bring him slowly to the museum area that
interested him. He nodded politely at the guard, and continued his
examination of exhibits, moving finally into the little room where the
cat was hidden. Soon he was close enough to see that the Egyptian cat
and its antique friend were still in place. He continued on around the
room until he came to a glassed-in case that held some rare alabaster
figures. Directly before the glass case was a stone jar. It was big
enough to hold the kitten.

Rick got ready. His coat was unbuttoned. He put a hand in the outside
pocket, ready to swing the coat out so his other hand could remove the
kitten from the inside game pocket with one swoop. He watched the guard,
using the glass-case front as a mirror.

The guard bent his head to light a cigarette, and Rick moved. By the
time the cigarette was going well, the kitten was in the jar and Rick
was looking at the figures in the case again. He waited patiently, and
tried identifying the figures so he would seem to be genuinely
interested.

The figure with the stylized jackal head was Anubis, the god of death.
The hawk-headed one must be Horus. The female figure would be Isis. The
one with the solar disc over his head was probably Amon-Ré. The rest he
couldn't identify at all. He wondered if one of them was Bubaste, the
cat goddess. It would be appropriate.

He drew back a little, first checking to see if the guard was watching,
then he bent down and looked into the jar. He put a hand in and brought
out the newspaper. He turned it over and hefted it. Then he started to
unwrap it.

The guard was at his side in a flash, watching. The reddish form of the
cat came into view and the guard snatched it from his hands. Rick turned
to him with a look of bewilderment.

The guard unwrapped the kitten completely and held it up, then he turned
swiftly and hurried out.

Rick was across the room in two bounds. He grabbed the Egyptian cat and
tucked it into his inner pocket, then he closed his coat without
buttoning it and hurried after the guard.

The guard hadn't gone far. Rick found him with another guard,
gesticulating and waving the cat. Apparently the other guard was an
officer, because he had tabs on his shoulder.

The guard with the cat saw Rick and beckoned to him. He walked over,
trying to keep his expression interested but unconcerned.

The officer spoke English, but not well. "He say you get this?"

"I see in big jar. Vase. Stone. In newspaper. Someone leave?" Rick did
his best to make his reply simple enough for understanding. He
apparently succeeded.

"Think someone try steal. Bad."

"Very bad," Rick agreed, straight-faced. "Hope you find. Steal from
museum no good."

"No good," the officer agreed.

"Good-by," Rick said. He held his breath waiting for the reaction.

Both guards gave him a half-salute, the courteous gesture he had seen
often in Cairo. He bowed and walked toward the stairs.

Not until he was outside did he breathe freely. The cat was a comforting
weight in his pocket as he got into Hassan's car. He wondered what the
museum officials would think about the kitten. A moment's examination by
one of the archaeologists would show that it was of concrete, and new
concrete at that. Maybe it would just end up at the _Lost and Found_
desk, if they had one.

"Let's go back to the project, Hassan," he directed. Scotty would want
to know if he had been successful. Then he could go to the Mena House
and have a late lunch while Scotty recorded signals.

If only he didn't have to give the Egyptian cat to Moustafa--until the
mystery was solved. He grinned at his own thought. The cat was no good
to him, was it? His only interest was solving the mystery. Why did so
many people want it?

He forced himself to think logically. It was old ground, but he went
over it again. The cat itself could have no real value. It was plastic,
and plastic is cheap. On the other hand, it was valuable as a model, as
Bartouki had explained, and Moustafa had confirmed again last night.

Rick wasn't satisfied. A professional thief like Youssef wouldn't be
interested in a model. He would want only objects of high value.

There was only one possibility, which Rick and Scotty had considered
before, that the cat contained something more than the piece of lead
Bartouki had described. But there was no seam in the cat, no sign that
it was anything but a solid casting. Still, Rick reasoned, if a piece of
lead could be cast into it, so could something of greater value.

He had it! Somewhere in Cairo there must be a company that used X-ray or
gamma-ray photography to check large castings. It was a very common
method of industrial quality control. Farid or Kerama would know of one,
and he could arrange to have the cat X-rayed! It could be done
immediately.

Pleased with the idea, he paid attention to his surroundings for the
first time since leaving the museum. Hassan was just rounding the corner
by Sahara Wells, turning into the new spur that led to the project.

Ahead, across the road, was a caravan of camels. Rick watched,
interested. There were a dozen camels, and Arabs in burnooses. Some of
the camels seemed to be carrying loads. Like a movie, Rick thought.

Hassan slowed, tooting his horn. The group on the road paid no
attention. They weren't going to get out of the way for any old gas
burner, Rick thought. Not these traditional ships of the desert.

The car closed the gap, and one of the Arabs turned. Rick gasped. Under
the desert headdress a pair of eyes were looking at the car through
steel-rimmed glasses.

Youssef!

And Youssef wanted the cat!



CHAPTER XIV

The Broad Sahara


There was no way around the caravan without going into the desert, and
the car was too close to turn around. They were trapped!

Rick hurriedly took the cat from his pocket and stuffed it down behind
the cushion of the car, pushing until it was well hidden. He knew he
would be searched; why else would Youssef come? He hoped a search was
all there was to worry about.

Hassan leaned out of his window and shouted imprecations in Arabic, to
which the Arabs paid no attention. They closed around the car, and Rick
recognized two who had taken part in the attack at the museum--the
Sudanese and the big Egyptian who had worn a tarboosh. He also
recognized the one he had beaned with the kitten in the pyramid.

He was not among friends, he thought grimly.

Youssef opened the door. "Please get out," he requested. "It will be
easier if you co-operate."

Rick looked at the odds and had to agree. He got out. Hassan was right
behind him, still shouting in Arabic.

An Arab stepped up behind the guide and slugged him. Rick started to
yell a protest, then a burnoose was tossed over his head and wrapped
tightly around his chest, blocking out the light. He struggled, and was
pushed to the ground. In a moment he was rolled over and knew they were
wrapping him in a blanket or a rug.

He felt pressure as ropes bound him tight, then he was lifted and placed
on something hard, stomach down, like a sack of meal on a chair. The
chair lifted and rocked, and he heard loud groans, as though of a soul
in mortal pain.

He was on one of the camels, and the beast was protesting!

Swaying motion began, and he knew his ungainly steed was underway.

For a moment he seemed to see himself from a distance, wrapped like
Cleopatra in a rug, tossed on a camel like a bag of old clothes, and
carted unceremoniously away by a band of Arabs. The picture was so
ridiculous that he had to grin, in spite of the discomfort and the foul
air that reached him through the dirty burnoose.

Then realization hit him. Youssef was in charge, and Youssef was a tough
professional thief who intended to get the cat. Where was the thief
taking him?

Sudden fear ran through his thoughts.

The camel swayed and jogged along for what seemed hours to Rick. Now and
then he could hear voices, but he made no sense out of the Arabic. The
camels complained constantly, and he felt like moaning with them. His
stomach hurt from the constant rubbing across the saddle and both legs
were asleep from the tight wrapping. His head dangled down, and now and
then his nose banged when the camel lurched. He couldn't remember ever
having been so uncomfortable for so long.

It seemed forever before the camel stopped. Rick hung over the saddle
unprotestingly. There was nothing he could do but wait. Finally the
camel lurched forward and Rick thought he would be thrown off, then the
animal leveled again. The camel had knelt, still complaining.

Hands pulled Rick from the saddle and he felt someone at work on his
bonds while the hands held him upright. Suddenly the burnoose was
whipped off, and the brilliant sunlight made his eyes water. He squinted
against the glare.

[Illustration: _Hands pulled Rick from the saddle_]

An Arab finished unwrapping him and stood back. He would have fallen
except for the hands that still held him from behind. He looked over his
shoulder and the big Sudanese grinned at him. He didn't feel like
grinning back.

When his eyes were adjusted to the sun, he looked around. There was
desert in all directions, no sign of civilization anywhere. Immediately
before him was an ancient stone structure, nearly buried by the sands.

Youssef walked around one of the camels carrying a desert water bag. The
thief lifted it, and water poured into his mouth in a thin stream. Rick
licked his lips. "I'd like some of that," he said.

Youssef recorked the bag. "Doubtless," he agreed. "Mr. Brant, I size you
up as what you Americans term a stubborn case. However, I am prepared to
drop this whole affair right now--if you will turn over the cat without
further trouble."

"We gave you a cat," Rick reminded.

"Yes. But not the right one."

"How do you know it isn't the right one?" Rick demanded.

Youssef smiled. "Shall we say that I had a cat expert examine it? Let it
go, Mr. Brant. We both know you still have the one I want."

"But why do you want it?" Rick asked. He couldn't help asking, even
though this obviously was not the time for friendly banter.

"I want it. That is enough. Will you give it to me?"

"I can't," Rick explained. "It must be turned over to Moustafa." He
didn't say which Moustafa.

The thief sighed. "Then I was right. You are stubborn. Well,
stubbornness is like starch. It does not last. In this case, we will let
the desert and thirst take the starch out of you. After a few days here
you will beg me to take the cat. But it is all so foolish, and so
unnecessary! Why not be reasonable?"

Rick looked around at the endless, shimmering dunes of the Sahara, and
he wanted desperately to be reasonable. He couldn't. "Sorry," he said.

"Very well. On your head be it." Youssef called in Arabic and two men
lifted down a huge bundle from one of the camels. They unwrapped it, and
Hassan swayed and blinked in the glaring sun.

"You shall have company," Youssef stated. He gestured at the surrounding
wastes. "We leave you to do what you wish. You might even try to walk to
civilization. I will leave no guard. However, I do not recommend it,
because when I return it might not be possible to find you in time if
you should leave here. When I come back I will have writing materials
and you will send a note to your friend Scott, telling him to give me
the cat. When I have the cat, I will see that your friends are told how
to find you."

The thief swung to a kneeling camel, and his men followed suit. A
command and the camels rose, mouthing their complaints. Youssef waved,
and the caravan raced away with long, smooth strides across the desert.

Rick turned to Hassan. "Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.

The dragoman put a hand to his head. "Hurts like fire, but I okay. You?"

"I'm fine."

"What we do now?"

Rick saw the camels disappear behind a dune, then emerge again. It was a
pretty, romantic picture, but one he couldn't appreciate.

"We wait," he told Hassan. "We wait, and I guess we hope. There's
nothing else we can do."



CHAPTER XV

The Cat Comes Back


The hands of the control-room clock crept up to five. Scotty asked an
Egyptian technician to watch the tapes for a moment, then went to the
telephone and called the hotel.

It wasn't like Rick to be late. Scotty thought his pal might have
decided to take a nap and had failed to wake up in time, but he had
little faith in the idea. Rick wasn't a nap taker. More likely,
something had happened at the museum.

The hotel desk rang the room without success, and to Scotty's question,
the clerk answered that he had not seen Mr. Brant or Hassan since
morning.

Scotty debated calling the museum, and decided against it. He went to
Parnell Winston, who was supervising the transfer of information from
the Sanborn tracings to graph paper.

"Rick hasn't shown," Scotty said bluntly. "I'm worried. He's never
late."

Winston glanced up. "Could Hassan's car have broken down?"

"Could be, but I don't think so. Rick could have gotten a taxi anywhere
on the route. Besides, he was going to the museum to get the Egyptian
cat. Something might have happened."

The scientist knew the two boys from long association, and they had kept
him informed of their various adventures. In spite of his preoccupation
with the project he had been interested in their cat mystery and had
been keeping an eye on them. Winston hadn't noticed that Rick was late,
but he was worried too, now that it was called to his attention.

"Go find him, Scotty. Dr. Kerama's driver can take you. I'll have one of
the others watch the tapes. But get back as soon as you can."

Scotty planned his search on the way into town. He had the car take him
to the museum as soon as they arrived in Cairo. The museum was closed,
but questioning of the guard disclosed that Rick had been there, and had
"found" an unusual statue wrapped in newspaper and left in an urn. It
was a new statue, the guard captain said, probably left by some visitor
who had disobeyed the sign about taking packages into the museum.

So Rick had carried out the plan and had rescued the Egyptian cat. Now
the museum had the kitten.

Scotty had the car take him to the hotel. There was no sign of either
Rick or Hassan, and no one had seen either of them. Scotty questioned
the clerk, the doorman, the hall porter, the room maid, and the dragomen
who waited for business in the narrow street between the Semiramis and
the Shepheard's hotels.

Finally, he found a dragoman who knew nothing of their whereabouts, but
added, "Why you not wait in room? They not far. Hassan's car here."

"Where?" Scotty demanded quickly.

"Out back. In alley."

Scotty ran. The dragoman was right! Hassan's car was parked in the usual
place. He looked around to see who might have been working in the area,
someone who might know when the car had arrived.

A window in the hotel kitchen opened into the alley above the car and a
cook was looking out. Scotty found the door and hurried into the hotel.
He worked his way through rooms and corridors until he found the
kitchen. He saw that the cook was a salad maker who apparently worked at
a bench right next to the window, but to his questions the man shook his
head. He spoke no English.

Additional searching produced the chief cook, whose English was good. He
relayed Scotty's questions and the cook's answers.

"He say car come while he cleaning up after lunchtime. He see stranger
driving. So he lean out and ask where is Hassan. Stranger say he is the
cousin of Hassan and Hassan lend him car. That is all. Cousin lock up
car and go away."

It was enough. But Scotty's elation over finding a clue was tempered by
the realization that a stranger driving Hassan's car could mean that
Rick and the dragoman were in real danger. He did not know whether or
not Hassan had any cousins, but he was certain the guide would not have
loaned the car while on a job.

Scotty ran into the alley and tried all the doors. If Rick had managed
to leave a note or any clue in the car, Scotty wanted it. Locked doors
weren't going to stop him!

He searched the alley until he found a piece of stiff wire. He bent one
end into a hook. Then, with his jackknife, he pried one of the no-draft
windows open just far enough to slip the wire in. He wedged the window
with a piece of wood and began fishing.

It took long, patient minutes to hook a door handle, then more time to
maneuver the wire into position. By the time he was ready for the last
step, the cooks and some of the dragomen were watching. He paid no
attention. Holding his breath, he exerted pressure on the wire. The
inner handle turned, the latch clicked. The door was unlocked.

Scotty started in the front seat and went over the car methodically. He
found nothing. Finally, only the cushions were left. He pulled the front
one away and examined the debris that seems to collect under car seats.
He put the cushion back and went to the rear one.

He lifted the seat out--and disclosed the Egyptian cat, in back of the
cushion where Rick had stuffed it.

Scotty examined it, his heart racing. He hurriedly set things to rights
in the car, closed the car door, and hurried into the hotel.

He knew Rick, and he knew his pal wouldn't have parted with the cat
except for one reason: to protect it. That meant Rick had expected to be
searched.

Scotty followed the thought forward, logically. Rick had hidden the cat,
then he and Hassan had been taken from the car. A "cousin" had brought
it back to the hotel. Why? Scotty didn't know the answer to that, unless
Rick and Hassan had been taken in some location where an abandoned car
would have attracted attention. That wouldn't be in the city, because
who would pay any attention to a car parked and locked at the curb?

But if not in the city, where? Somewhere in the desert was Scotty's
guess. The desert was on both sides of the river, both north and south
of Cairo. He could assume that the two had headed for the project, or
that they had gone north for some reason he couldn't imagine.

He dropped the line of thought; it was getting nowhere. One thing was
clear: whoever had taken Rick and Hassan hadn't suspected that Rick
actually had the cat with him.

The cat had to be the reason. Someone who wanted it had decided on
direct action. Scotty opened the door of the room he shared with Rick
and looked about him unhappily, not really seeing anything. He knew
Rick's captors would not have an easy time making his pal talk. And even
when Rick did open up, he would spin some kind of yarn that would throw
them off the trail. Scotty thought that Rick would not be in any great
danger until he disclosed the cat's whereabouts. But he didn't like the
idea of what Rick would have to go through before then.

The question was who had taken him?

There were two possibilities: Moustafa and Youssef. So far as Third
Brother knew, the cat was to be delivered to him at the hotel that
night. On the other hand, Youssef's men had searched them in front of
the museum, and later Rick had handed Youssef a kitten. The thief must
have found out that the kitten was a fake.

Scotty picked up the room telephone and called the project. In a moment
he had Winston on the line. "Rick's gone," he said tersely. "Hassan,
too. The car was brought to the hotel by a stranger. Rick left the cat
in the car, behind the rear cushion. He wouldn't do that unless he knew
he was going to be searched. My guess is that Youssef snatched them. I
think it's time we got the police in on this!"



CHAPTER XVI

The Howling Jackals


Tourists travel thousands of miles to see the full moon rise over the
Sahara Desert. It is a sight of lonely, majestic grandeur. The rolling
contours of sand and rock assume weird, lovely patterns, and even the
desert wind is hushed. It is at such times, men say, that the spirits of
the ancient Egyptian gods, Amon-Ré, Horus, Thoth, Isis, Osiris, Bubaste,
and the others again walk on earth.

Rick Brant could appreciate the scene, but he was in no mood for it. He
clutched his coat around him more tightly to keep out the penetrating
desert chill. From behind a nearby dune he heard the rising, yapping
howl of a jackal, one of earth's loneliest sounds.

Anubis, Egyptian god of death, had the head of a jackal, he recalled. He
tried to wet his lips. He was terribly thirsty.

Hassan had been stretched out on the sand. He rose to a sitting position
and gestured toward the dune that shielded the jackal from sight. "He
noisy."

Rick nodded. "Do jackals always bark at night?"

"Always. It is their kismet."

Their fate, Rick thought. Born to bark at the empty desert. He wondered
if the little doglike animals enjoyed it. "Do they always bark at
nothing?"

"No. Sometimes they bark at people. Like now. He bark at us."

Rick grinned feebly. "He doesn't like us using his desert. Well, I'd be
happy to give it back to him."

The dragoman nodded. "Also. You know, when our people want to say time
go by ... how you say? ... life goes on and no man can stop time or make
much change in things, they speak of the jackal."

Rick looked at the guide with interest. He had been glad all through the
long hours of Hassan's presence. The Sudanese had turned out to be an
entertaining and thought-provoking companion. "Is it a saying of some
kind?" he asked.

Hassan nodded. "The little jackal barks--but the caravan passes."

Rick repeated the expression thoughtfully. It said a great deal. "I'll
remember that, Hassan."

There was something he had wanted to ask. "May I ask a personal
question?"

The guide spread his hands expressively. "You hired a dragoman, but he
has become your friend. Ask what you will."

"Thank you, Hassan. Scotty and I think of you as a friend, too. I wanted
to ask about your English. You've been speaking very good English to me
all day, but until we were captured, you spoke sort of broken English."

Hassan chuckled softly. "It is part of show I put on. My clients talk
too simple English to me most of the time. They don't expect me to know
good English. So I do not speak as well as I can. Now, with you and
Scotty, it is different. My broken English is habit, so I continue to
speak it until today. But I knew it would be different with you when we
had coffee together, and when we laughed together. That was when I knew
I could leave my show clothes at home and dress in a suit."

Rick laughed with him. "So that's why you wore fancy stuff only that
first day. But, Hassan, if you can't read or write, how did you learn
such good English?"

"I am like a parrot," Hassan replied. "I hear, and I repeat. For four
years I was houseboy to an American family, from USIS, what you call the
United States Information Service."

"They taught you English?" Rick prompted.

"I knew some, but we helped each other. I teached them Arab talk, and
they correct me when I speak American."

Hassan launched into a recital of his years with the Americans, who had
been transferred to India, but still wrote to him now and then. Rick
listened with only part of his mind. For the most, his thoughts went
back over ground he had covered before, since Youssef had dumped the two
of them next to an ancient crypt.

The big question was, of course, what would happen to them?

As though in answer, the little jackal appeared silhouetted on top of
the dune. He lifted his head to the full moon, and his voice rose in a
prolonged, yapping howl. Then, as suddenly, he was gone again.

Rick gave an involuntary shiver. By the time Youssef returned, he would
be in bad shape from thirst. He wondered how long he could hold out, and
in the same instant wondered why he should. There was some real value
attached to the cat. It was not manufacturing rights or sales, and it
was not revenge. He was sure of that.

Youssef had said that he had no sentimental attachment to the cat. He
had also said he disliked unnecessary violence. Rick wondered what the
thief considered "unnecessary."

What else could he recall of Youssef's talk? He had said that the cat
was not important, that it had elements of value to some people, and
that he never lied. If one took his words at face value and believed
him, then the cat itself was not important. What did that leave? Rick
could see only one thing: that it was important only because it
_contained_ something. Youssef's words simply reinforced the conclusion
he and Scotty already had reached.

"Elements of value to a few people," Youssef had said. That might mean
only a few people knew what the cat contained. If you didn't know, it
was only a plastic cat. If you did know what it contained ... well,
Youssef knew, and he wanted the cat badly enough to risk a kidnaping.

Rick wondered where the cat was now. He had no idea of what had happened
to Hassan's car. If it was left on the road and not searched, Scotty or
someone from the project would recognize it. Scotty would certainly
search the car, and he would find kitty. It was what Rick would do, and
he and Scotty thought alike on many things.

Hassan finished his recital of a trip to the Valley of the Kings with
his American employers and Rick took advantage of the lull to borrow a
match. He lighted it and looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight.

Had Scotty met Kemel Moustafa at seven? Rick thought he probably had,
and wondered what Third Brother's reaction to his mysterious
disappearance had been. If Scotty had the cat, had he delivered it? Rick
thought not. Scotty would keep the cat, for bargaining purposes.

He found himself yawning. "Hassan, when do you think Youssef will come
back?"

"If he wants us alive and able to talk, maybe day after tomorrow. If
not--_la samah Allah!_--maybe longer."

"What's _la samah Allah_?" Rick stumbled over the pronunciation.

"God forbid," Hassan said grimly.

"Amen," Rick echoed.

He shifted position. "We'd better get some sleep. Should we go into the
crypt or stay out here?"

The crypt was only a cubic chamber of rough stone, partly filled with
drifting sand. Desert winds had been alternately covering and uncovering
it for centuries.

"Stay out here until morning. Then we go in out of sun, like today.
Youssef good to us. With no shelter from the sun, we would not last
long."

"He's a fine fellow," Rick said without heat. "Good night, Hassan."

"_Leltak s'aeeda_, Rick. Good night to you."

The boy curled up in a ball, knees tucked into stomach, head resting on
one arm. He covered up as much as possible with the short coat, squirmed
until he had a depression for his hip in the sand, and closed his eyes.

On the nearby dune the little jackal peeked over the top at the two
prone figures and sang his vast displeasure to the moon. From faraway a
friend or relative joined in the serenade. It was the last thing Rick
heard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hassan shook him. "Rick! Awaken, please! Camels coming."

Rick came back to reality from a dream of emptiness and loneliness in a
darkened desert. The moon had set and false dawn was burning on the far
horizon. He shook his head blearily. "What? Who's coming?"

"Not know. I woke and saw camels on the sky."

"In the east?"

"Yes. Against sky."

Rick shivered in the biting chill of early morning. He doubted that any
legitimate travelers came this way. Youssef would not have left them
near a caravan route. He could only guess that the thief himself was
coming back, and he grew colder at the thought. Perhaps Youssef had
decided not to wait to soften Rick up. On the other hand, there was a
remote possibility he had the cat. If he was a thief with honor, he
might simply be coming to take them back.

The idea seemed unlikely. Scotty wouldn't give up the cat, except in
exchange for the two of them. If Youssef had found it himself, it was
hours ago. He wouldn't have waited to search Hassan's car, if he had
ever intended to search it.

An inner voice urged, "Tell him where the cat is. It's not your cat, and
there's no reason to believe that Kemel Moustafa has any more right to
what's inside of it than Youssef has."

But there was a deep streak of stubbornness in the Brants, which Rick
had inherited. He knew he wouldn't give in until he absolutely had to.
When that time came he would tell Youssef the truth, that he had hidden
the cat in the Egyptian Museum. What he would not say was that the cat
had been recovered and that he had left it in Hassan's car.

False dawn had faded. It was nearly black, except for myriad stars.
Hassan lay with his ear to the ground. Rick held perfectly still and
waited.

Finally Hassan sat up. "Close now," he whispered.

Rick wondered briefly if they shouldn't put up a fight, but he knew it
would be useless. Youssef had too many men.

The camels appeared like wraiths from behind the dune, and Rick blinked
trying to see more clearly.

There were three, and only one of them carried a rider. He waited
tensely for the rest of the band to appear.

The camels arrived and Rick whispered urgently, "The rest must be
behind. Jump him and we'll grab the camels and make a run for it."

Hassan tensed. "Yes. Be ready."

The camel rider came close, and lifted a hand in greeting. "_Assalamo
alaikum. Fil khedma, ya sidi. Ana gay men sidi Moustafa._"

Rick was tensed to spring, to haul the man from his saddle, when Hassan
put a hand on his arm. "Wait. He say greeting, he is at your service,
and he come from Mr. Moustafa!"

Rick watched in unbelieving amazement as the driver forced his groaning
camel to kneel, then immediately commanded the other two to kneel also.
When the camel's protests had ceased, Hassan spoke to him rapidly. The
man answered at length.

"He was with Youssef," Hassan said. "But he is also in the pay of Kemel
Moustafa. Last night he went to Moustafa and told him about us. Moustafa
sent him to bring us back."

Rick hesitated. Could they trust this man? But it was a silly question,
because he knew he had no choice. Anything was better than sitting in
the desert and waiting.

"Ask if he has water, then we'll go with him."

The man did, a full water bag. They drank sparingly, knowing the danger
of too much water after deprivation. Then the three mounted the camels.
Rick held onto the horn in front of him as the mount lurched
protestingly to its feet, then they were going across the sands to the
east at what seemed incredible speed. Ahead of them, the first flush of
real dawn was visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun was high before they came within sight of the first man-made
objects in the desert. Rick saw pyramids, but not those of Giza. He
called to Hassan, who was riding his swaying mount like a veteran.

"What pyramids are those, Hassan?"

"Sakkarah," the dragoman replied. "We come back long way around."

To the east, then the south, Rick thought. He was by no means sure of
what would be waiting, but at least he knew where he was. Sakkarah, a
"must" for tourists, Bartouki had said. Well, he was getting there, even
though he had taken the hard way.

On the road near Sakkarah a car was waiting, and in it was Kemel
Moustafa. The cameleer made the mounts kneel. Rick and Hassan got off,
and the man with the camels hurried away without a word. The two walked
up to the car.

"Thank you for rescuing us," Rick said politely.

Moustafa had not spoken. Now he tugged at his mustache and nodded.
"Whether it was worth while remains to be seen. According to my man,
Youssef did not get the cat. This is correct?"

"Yes. Did you see my friend last night?"

"I did. Precisely at seven. He informed me that you were missing. Then,
sometime later, my man managed to leave Youssef's gang and report in. I
at once made plans for your rescue. Now tell me. Where is the cat?"

Rick was very, very tired of the Egyptian cat. He thought grimly that
when he returned home he and his sister would have a long talk about
volunteering services for strangers.

"The cat is under the back cushion of Hassan's car," he said tiredly.
"And the sooner you take it off my hands, the better."

"Hassan's car is at the hotel," Moustafa said. "Come. We will go there
at once."

Rick and Hassan climbed into the car and Moustafa raced the motor. He
meshed gears and spun his wheels as he got off to a fast start.

He's certainly in a hurry to get that cat, Rick thought. Well, he was
the legitimate receiver. Only it was too bad to let the animal go
without ever knowing what it contained.

No matter, Rick thought, as the desert road sped underneath. No matter
now. In a few minutes it will be finished.



CHAPTER XVII

Ismail ben Adhem


Rick awoke with the setting sun in his eyes. He yawned luxuriously and
turned over to look at the clock, then sat upright in bed at the sight
of Scotty and a stranger.

The stranger was young, with a friendly smile. He was relaxed as he sat
in a comfortable chair, but it was the same kind of relaxation one sees
in a panther or another of the great cats. Rick knew, without even
asking, that this lean, bronzed, good-looking Egyptian was a police
officer and that he probably was a very good one. He _looked_ like a
hunter.

"Thought you were going to sleep till tomorrow," Scotty said. "Rick,
this is Inspector Ismail ben Adhem of the Cairo Police."

The inspector held out a brown hand. Rick sensed the strength in it,
although the handshake was normal. "I'm glad you're here," the boy said
frankly. "Between Youssef and Kemel Moustafa, we're sort of in a jam."

The inspector smiled. "Well see if we can get you out of it. Suppose you
call me Ben, just to make things easy. Now, Scotty has given me a
detailed report of your activities up to the time you left the project
yesterday. Suppose we pick up from there?"

"Okay. Can I order breakfast first?"

"Of course. Forgive my impatience. We can talk at leisure over coffee."

Rick placed the order, then launched into a recital of yesterday's
events, including his night in the desert and rescue by Kemel Moustafa.
He concluded, "We came back to the hotel. Hassan opened the car, and the
cat was gone. Of course I had no idea what had happened to it. Moustafa
turned black with rage. He said I had a clear choice of getting the cat
back and turning it over to him, or having something unpleasant happen.
He'll be back at seven. He wasn't joking."

"No," Ben agreed. "I know this man, and he does not joke. What then?"

"I sent Hassan home to get some rest, and I came up to the room and
called the project. Scotty answered. He told me Felix was safe, so I
knew he had the cat, and he told me the police had been called in. I
just fell into bed and went to sleep. That's it."

"It's enough," the inspector said. "Of course neither of you had any way
of knowing what was going on. You had merely undertaken to do a favor
for an acquaintance. I just wish some kind wind had whispered to you the
idea of reporting to us after that first day in El Mouski."

"I guess we were wrong," Rick admitted. "At first it didn't seem like a
matter for the police. Later, we just didn't think of it."

"I understand. But it doesn't pay to be too independent in a strange
land, I assure you. Ask Steve Ames."

The boys stared in amazement. Steve Ames was a close friend, and their
contact in JANIG, one of the top American government security
organizations.

"How do you know Steve?" Rick asked in astonishment.

"He and I went through the FBI Academy together. We keep in touch. Also,
the International Police Organization, which is called Interpol, keeps
us up to date on developments. I know that your scientific group works
closely with Steve."

So Ismail ben Adhem was an FBI graduate! Rick looked at him with new
respect. "I guess we should have reported to you," he said. "We just
didn't know."

"No matter. It will all work out, anyway. In fact, your delay in
contacting us may even make things simpler."

"How?" Scotty asked.

Ben shrugged. "We will see. This cat of yours has many interesting
possibilities."

"Do you know why the cat is important?" Rick demanded.

"I have an idea. But please do not press me for details. It is better
for everything to go on normally while I do a little useful work. So, I
suggest you two continue on as before, with only one difference. You
will use a different taxi to travel back and forth to Sahara Wells."

"But Hassan is our dragoman," Rick protested. "What's more, he's a
friend. We can't switch now, after we engaged him for the duration of
our stay."

Ben smiled warmly. "Your loyalty to Hassan does you credit. But don't
worry. He will be taken care of. You and I will trade transportation. I
will use Hassan, and you will use my taxi."

"I don't get it," Scotty said.

"It's simple. Both of you are able to testify to criminal actions on the
part of Youssef. Also, if this works out as I hope, you will have
testimony to give on the actions of Kemel Moustafa. Now, if you knew
there was evidence against you, and you were completely ruthless, what
would you do?"

"Remove the evidence," Rick said slowly. His eyes met Scotty's.

"Exactly. So, Hassan stays with me, and your taxi driver will be one of
my best officers. He will stay with you at all times. While you are in
the hotel, another of my men will be your hall porter."

"Do you really think we're in any danger?" Scotty asked.

"Don't ever doubt it, Scotty. Be on guard at all times."

"It's because the cat is very important," Rick stated. "And the cat is
important because of something inside of it. You know what that
something is."

"An excellent deduction," Ben agreed with a grin. "All but the last
statement. I do not know what it is. I merely suspect. My evidence is
circumstantial. I'll tell you this much, though. I know a great deal
about certain interests of the Moustafa brothers, and I was informed by
Interpol that there is an interesting gentleman of great wealth in San
Francisco who talks too much."

Rick thought over the statement. It didn't help at all. He couldn't see
what a talkative man in California had to do with the Egyptian cat.
"That's not very informative," he objected.

Ben laughed. "I'm sure it isn't. But I'll make you a promise. Before you
leave Egypt, we will perform a small operation on the cat and remove its
appendix--or whatever else it may have inside."

"We'll hold you to that," Scotty told him.

Rick's breakfast arrived, and over _café au lait_ and Egyptian rolls
Ismail ben Adhem questioned Rick until he was sure he had extracted all
the information the two boys had.

It suddenly occurred to Rick that he had asked no questions himself.
"Where's the cat?" he demanded.

"At the project," Scotty replied. "I was going to turn it over to Ben,
but he said to leave it there."

"It might be uncomfortable at the station," Ben added with a twinkle.
"After all, it's a well-cared-for pet."

Rick grinned. "We've grown fond of it," he admitted. "Second question:
can't you just pick up Youssef on a kidnapping charge?"

"We could, if we knew where to find him. But Youssef is a hard man to
locate when he goes underground. We've been trying to get something on
him for years, and we know him well. This time he's over-played his hand
and we've got him. It's only a question of time."

"How about Moustafa?" Rick asked. "Is he guilty of anything?"

The police officer finished his coffee and rose. "Not yet," he said.
"But he will be. Now, stay together at all times. Ride with the taxi
driver who will be waiting for you in the hall. Otherwise, go about your
business as usual, and have a good time."

Scotty saw him to the door, then turned to Rick. "Moustafa isn't guilty
of anything yet, but he will be. That's interesting."

Rick thought so, too. "Isn't it pretty careless, leaving the cat at the
project?"

"Seems so," Scotty agreed. "But I think Ben knows what he's doing."

"I guess you're right," Rick said soberly.

After more coffee and a shower, he felt like himself again. There was
work to do at the project, so the two boys picked up the police driver,
who was keeping an eye on their door, and rode to the project.

The scientists greeted Rick happily. "We were pretty worried for a
while," Winston said, and the Egyptians echoed him.

"We don't usually treat tourists this way," Farid said jokingly, but
behind the smile Rick sensed that the Egyptian scientist was embarrassed
by what had happened to a guest.

"I got myself into it," Rick pointed out. "If we had gone to the police
about the Egyptian cat that first day, there would have been no
trouble."

Dr. Kerama put a hand on his shoulder. "It is very kind of you to try to
save our feelings. But we were so involved in this fascinating problem
that we simply didn't pay enough attention. Otherwise, we could have
advised you to see the police."

"How is it going?" Rick asked.

"Very well," Farid said. "We're exchanging reports constantly with the
other radio telescopes and it's clear that we have something
extraordinary. We're trying to agree on the precise location of this
space object. The next step will be to examine the signals more closely
to see if a pattern can be found or if they're simply random."

"If you and Scotty feel up to it," Winston added, "we'd like you to
duplicate the audio tapes for us. We want to send a set right away to
Green Bank. They started audio recording, too, yesterday, but they don't
have the hours when the object was in sight of our telescope but not
theirs. They're duplicating the signals we didn't get after the object
dropped below our horizon. That way we'll both have a complete record
for analysis."

"What is the space object?" Rick asked.

Winston shook his head. "We don't know. It's too early even to speculate
much. Can you make the duplicates?"

It was early evening. "We can get sandwiches at the Mena House and work
until we're finished," Rick replied. "That will get us home before
midnight. There can't be more than a few hours to record."

"Fine. You'll be alone, but since the inspector put a police guard on
you, I'm sure it will be all right."

Farid had arranged the technical setup, using another unit borrowed from
the government radio station for the purpose. All they would need to do
was feed tape into the machines and watch the recording level.

One of the Egyptian technicians drove to the Mena House and brought back
sandwiches and cokes. The scientists departed, to have a quick dinner
and then resume work at a different location where a computer was
available to do the complicated mathematics required for analysis of the
data.

Rick and Scotty started work right away. The police driver sat in a
chair and watched them. He spoke English, but wasn't much of a
conversationalist. After a while the boys forgot he was there.

Listening to the space signal was strange. As the tape ran through, Rick
was certain his ear detected a kind of pattern in the sounds. There was
a continuous hiss; that was normal hydrogen on the 21-centimeter wave
length. Then there were sharper hisses, as though some strange creature
was trying to send a coded message through the noisy hydrogen
background.

"It's a message of some kind," Rick stated. "I'll bet on it."

"Who sends messages from space?" Scotty asked with a grin. "Ghouls,
ghosties, or long-legged beasties?"

"Don't laugh," Rick said impatiently. "Didn't you ever hear of Project
Ozma?"

Scotty hadn't. "The wizard of Ozma?"

"The name comes from Princess Ozma of Oz, I guess, but it was the first
project to use the Green Bank telescope to try to locate intelligent
signals from space. Stuff exactly like this."

"You're kidding!"

"Nope. On the level."

Scotty listened to the continuous signal, his face thoughtful. "Maybe
there is intelligence behind it. And maybe not. I don't get much of a
pattern out of the sounds."

"Maybe the seven-eyed men of the planet Glup don't have rhythm," Rick
began. "Anyway ..."

He never finished the sentence. The control-room door slammed open.
Arabs crashed through, bringing the police guard to his feet with a
bound. He snatched a pistol from a shoulder holster and got off two
shots before an answering shot caught him and spun him around with the
impact. The police guard slid slowly to the floor!



CHAPTER XVIII

The Fight at Sahara Wells


The pistol dropped from the police driver's nerveless hand and Scotty
leaped. Rick dropped to the floor as his pal picked up the pistol and
rolled, shooting as he turned. His second shot caught an Arab and
slammed him back into the others who were trying to crowd in.

Rick looked frantically for a weapon. The only thing in sight was a
heavy ceramic ash tray that the guard's fall had knocked to the floor.
He grabbed it and threw, rising to one elbow. The ash tray caught an
Arab in the throat. Someone shot, and chips flew from the cement floor
next to Rick's head. He rolled away.

Scotty aimed with care, as coolly as though he stood on the range back
home. He squeezed the trigger and was rewarded by a choked yell from
beyond the doorway. He fired again, and a burnoosed figure grabbed the
doorframe for support.

The Arabs beyond the doorway had dived for cover, leaving the doorframe
clear except for the most recent victim of Scotty's shooting and the one
Rick had hit. He was lying on the floor with both hands clutched to his
throat, gagging and gasping for air.

A headdress was thrust around the frame and Scotty squeezed off a quick
shot. The hammer clicked harmlessly. He was out of ammunition! He threw
the pistol and the head vanished.

Both boys got to their feet and crouched to rush any newcomers. They
whirled at the tinkle of broken glass behind them.

Youssef stood in the window, a Sten gun trained on them. Rick looked at
the deadly little submachine gun and gulped. He remembered what Ben had
said about removing the evidence.

The thief said, "Put both hands on top of your heads."

The boys did so, with no hesitation. In spite of Youssef's apparently
casual manner, both knew he would not hesitate to shoot. He raised his
voice and shouted in Arabic. The boys stiffened as footsteps sounded
behind them and gun muzzles were thrust into their backs. Youssef
vanished from the window and reappeared in a moment through the door.

"You're a difficult young man," he told Rick. "But the time for being
difficult is over. I want the cat, now."

"I left it in Hassan's car," Rick said, with pretended hopelessness.

Youssef spoke in Arabic. The pressure of the gun muzzle left Rick's
back. He felt a cord being slipped around his forehead, a cord with hard
knots that fell across his temples.

"What you feel is a strangler's cord," the thief said grimly. "Don't be
a fool. The cat means nothing to you; you were merely a messenger boy.
Give me the cat and you will be left alone."

"Not until the evidence is destroyed," Rick thought. "Not until we're
dead."

"It's in the car," he repeated.

Youssef lost his composure. He snapped an order in Arabic and the cord
tightened. Rick gritted his teeth. Next to him, Scotty bent forward.

"Don't try it," the thief grated. "I only need one of you." His black
eyes bored into Rick's. "One of my men watched you and Moustafa search
Hassan's car this morning. The cat was not there. Where is it?"

Rick started to shout that he didn't know, when a burst of shooting
accompanied by wild yells broke out outside. Youssef spoke quickly in
Arabic, then turned to the boys. "Sit down in those chairs. Move, and
you die. I will deal with you when I have found out what this is all
about."

The shooting gained in volume and the yells increased. The boys took the
seats and stared at the big Sudanese, who was covering them with the
Sten gun. The strangler's cord was draped carelessly about his neck.

"That's a real gun fight outside," Scotty whispered.

Rick nodded. He could detect several guns of different calibers, and the
chatter of Sten guns was distinctive. What was going on?

The shooting lessened, then stopped altogether. The shouting increased.
The big Sudanese kept glancing over his shoulder at the doorway, as
though fearful of what he might see, but he always glanced back too
quickly for the boys to act.

"Watch it," Scotty said from the corner of his mouth. Rick casually got
his feet under him and tensed.

Scotty's eyes opened wide and he choked, "Inspector!"

The Sudanese whirled, Sten gun ready, and the boys left their chairs in
a bound. Rick dove for the thief's knees while Scotty smashed straight
into him like a battering ram. The big man toppled over backward, his
blazing Sten gun chipping plaster from the ceiling.

Rick let go of his grip on the knees and clawed for the man's throat.
Scotty concentrated on the Sten gun, grabbing the hot barrel and bending
backward.

The big Sudanese heaved, and Rick felt as though he was a terrier
hanging to a wild bull. The man was incredibly strong. The boy grabbed
his throat in one hand and fended off crushing blows with the other.

He was concentrating so hard on holding his grip that a newcomer who ran
into the control room had to yell. "Get up, I said. All of you!" A heavy
foot crashed down on the Sten gun and held it.

Rick looked up, dazed with effort, into the cold face of Kemel Moustafa.
Third Brother had a Luger automatic, and he looked ready to use it.

The boys rolled away and got to their feet. The Sudanese got to his
knees and started to get up. Moustafa struck with the Luger and the man
collapsed.

The pistol muzzle pointed at Rick. "You double-crossed me," Moustafa
grated. "You were supposed to give me the cat an hour ago at the hotel.
Fortunately, I had one of my men follow Youssef, because I suspected he
would find the cat sooner or later. Give it to me."

"Your men must have won the fight," Rick ventured.

"They did. Conversation will not help. I have thought about this, and I
am certain Youssef did not get the cat. His presence here confirms it.
Also, I believe that you thought it was in the car until we searched. If
Youssef did not take it, your own friend did. You would not leave it in
the hotel, so it must be here. Either you give it to me freely, or I
will shoot you and take my chances on finding it."

Rick hesitated.

"Make up your mind!" Moustafa snapped. The pistol steadied on a line
with Rick's head.

"Give it to him," Scotty said. "He means it."

There were shots from outside again. Moustafa blazed, "Hurry! Youssef's
men must be loose. I count three and shoot! One, two...."

"Hold it," Rick said hurriedly. "It's under the amplifier."

He walked to the amplifier and bent, fumbling with the door latch. If he
could shield his motions, he could grab the cat, turn, and throw. He
might be lucky ...

"Just hand him the cat," Scotty said quickly.

Rick seethed inside, but he knew Scotty was right. The Egyptian cat
wasn't worth his life, no matter what it contained. He opened the door
and took the cat out. Then he turned slowly and held it out to Moustafa.

"You're being wise," Moustafa said. His eyes gleamed. He reached for the
cat. Rick handed it to him.

"Drop!" a voice yelled. Rick and Scotty dove to the floor on the
instant. Moustafa whirled, gun lifted to shoot, and saw no one.

"The building is surrounded by police officers," the voice said. "Just
drop your gun." The voice came from outside the doorway, and it belonged
to Ismail ben Adhem.

Moustafa yelled desperately, "Don't try anything, or I shoot the
Americans!" He faced the empty doorway, ready.

Ben's voice said, "If you will turn slowly, you will see a shotgun
barrel pointed at you through the window. If you turn rapidly, it fires.
And, as you turn, another shotgun will come through the doorway to cover
you. You're all done, Kemel. Better drop it. I want you alive."

Third Brother turned, slowly and carefully. Rick looked up and saw the
shotgun barrel, as Ben had promised. He saw Ben step through the
doorway, a riot gun in his hands.

Moustafa's Luger dropped to the floor.



CHAPTER XIX

The Cat's Secret


The tape machines ran unnoticed, except for an occasional glance from
Rick and Scotty. All through the fight the signals had continued, with
no one paying any attention. Rick hoped that if they came from
intelligent beings, they were of a kind that didn't get involved in gang
fights.

Next to him, bandages around one thigh, Youssef sat, his hands
handcuffed together in his lap. Moustafa, unharmed but helpless, was
handcuffed in another chair. From outside, the wail of ambulances
announced that the wounded were being carried off, the police driver
among them. He had been knocked out by a chest shot, but Ben assured the
boys there were superb surgeons in Cairo who would take good care of
him.

The inspector sat on a chair facing the others, the Egyptian cat in his
hand.

"Now that things are quiet again," he said, "I think we might talk a
little. I promised our two American guests that they would find out the
secret of this little beast, and now is as good a time as any."

"I can get a saw to open it with," Rick offered eagerly.

Ben grinned. "Patience, Rick. First we must paint a background, so that
we may see the whole picture. Where shall we begin? With Moustafa?"

Kemel Moustafa maintained a sullen silence.

"No co-operation? Then I shall begin. Boys, I regret to inform you that
Mr. Kemel Moustafa is a member of a conspiracy to overthrow the United
Arab Republic government."

Rick and Scotty turned to look at the mustached man. He sat impassively.

"His brothers also are in this conspiracy. He told you they were in
Beirut, but he was not truthful. They are in jail, here in Cairo,
awaiting trial. We picked up Ali the day before you arrived. We did not
get Fuad until an hour before you visited him. The local people were
nervous over the arrest. Many in that neighborhood support the
Moustafas."

Kemel Moustafa spoke. "I'm not in it. You can't prove that I am."

Ben nodded. "Proof may be difficult. That is why you were allowed to
remain at large while we collected your brothers. But, meanwhile, we
have you on a charge of armed robbery, since you used a pistol to get
the cat from our American friends a few minutes ago." He turned to the
boys. "Talk of overthrowing a government probably sounds strange to you.
It has been many years since the American government was in any danger
of revolt."

"We don't understand some of the foreign revolutions," Rick agreed. "But
I suppose when a group isn't satisfied, it's apt to plot a revolution if
there seems to be a chance of success."

"That's right," Ben agreed. "Our country is much older than yours,
historically, but actually it's much younger. The Republic is pretty
new. Some of our dissatisfied citizens still think it's more efficient
to make changes with bullets instead of ballots."

Scotty asked, "Why do they want to make changes? What kind of changes?"

The inspector grinned. "Many kinds. We have groups that think the
monarchy ought to be restored. We have others who think our foreign
policy is too neutral, or that it isn't neutral enough. And we also have
people who don't like our currency controls because they prevent
tremendous profits from speculation. There are other groups, too. All
are minorities and the only way they can see to make rapid changes is to
overthrow the government and set up their own."

"Then you have revolutionaries plotting all over the place!" Rick
exclaimed.

"It's not quite that bad. Most groups have little support, and only one
or two have any funds. It takes money for revolution, you know."

Rick could see that revolutions cost plenty, and he began to see the
importance of the Egyptian cat. In the little plastic statue, in some
form, were the finances of the revolt!

"The money for the Moustafa revolution was to come from America," Ben
continued. "Bartouki needed a messenger, so he waited until one came
along. That was you."

Rick protested, "But why should he trust his finances to a stranger?
There must have been better ways of getting the money here!"

The officer shook his head. "It is not as easy as you think. We know who
these revolutionaries are. We keep an eye on their comings and goings.
They do not get past our borders without a thorough customs inspection.
Now, ask yourself--who can get past customs with no difficulty?
Officials of governments, scientific groups who come at our invitation,
and tourists."

"Why didn't he use someone disguised as a tourist?" Scotty asked.

"That probably would have been his method, except that you stumbled into
things and the chance was too good to miss. Also, you did not declare
the cat on your customs statement. We would have been interested in an
Egyptian cat coming the wrong way!"

"I didn't know I was supposed to declare it," Rick said. "It just never
occurred to me."

Ben glared. "Technically, you have broken our laws." He relented and
grinned. "But if you will promise to import no more Egyptian cats...."

"I promise, swear, and affirm," Rick said hastily.

"Good. To continue. We took Ali Moustafa into custody, but not before a
phone call reached him from New York. His chief clerk listened to this
call and sold the information to Youssef. The clerk also agreed, for a
share of the profits, to pretend to be Ali, and he enlisted the help of
the other clerks. We know this from the clerk. He talked freely, in the
hope of leniency."

Ben turned to Youssef. "Do you know what is in the cat?"

The thief shook his head. "Only that it is of great value. I bought the
clerk's information and help because I knew it was the Moustafas who
stole the necklace from the museum. I believe the necklace is in the
cat."

Rick stared. The Kefren necklace, worth a quarter of a million! Great
ghostly pyramids! This was big business!

"The necklace was smuggled out of the country," Ben agreed. "We are
certain of that. But I do not believe it is in the cat."

"Open it," Rick begged.

The inspector held up his hand. "Presently. Aren't you enjoying the
suspense?"

"It's killing us," Scotty wailed.

"Ah, the impatience of the young!" Ismail ben Adhem obviously was having
a good time. "Well, the pieces are nearly tied up."

"Good," Rick applauded.

Ben chuckled. "On the same day that Kerama invited you to come, I had a
call from the Interpol clearinghouse in Paris, a relay from the San
Francisco police. A wealthy collector of early Egyptian objects in San
Francisco had been bragging that he had just purchased a genuine
necklace that had belonged to one of the early Pharaohs. We requested
the Americans to investigate."

That explained the Californian who talked too much, Rick thought. He had
known the purchase was illegal, but, like many collectors, could not
resist letting a few friends in on his secret--and the secret had leaked
to the police.

"This collector had paid for the necklace with a certified check, which
was cashed by an American accomplice." Ben paused for effect. "The
amount was two hundred thousand dollars cash."

He got his effect. All four of his listeners gasped in amazement.

"Even Moustafa didn't know the exact amount," Rick thought.

"The money was in thousand-dollar bills. I have the serial numbers."

Rick spoke up. "But, Ben, numbered bills are like a flag! No one can
spend them without getting caught."

"That is true, Rick, when something illegal is involved. Had the
collector kept his mouth shut, no one would have known any illegality
was involved in the transaction."

"But you can't use American money in Cairo," Scotty objected. "It has to
be changed."

"Right, Scotty. The problem was this: the revolutionaries could not
convert their dollars to Egyptian pounds in America. It would have
attracted too much attention, because only a few banks and finance
houses can handle such amounts, and then only in co-operation with the
government. Their best bet was to get the dollars into the Arab
countries. We can watch international traffic, but local traffic among
the Arab nations is hard to control. They would have sent the dollars to
another country to be changed."

"An Arab country?" Rick asked.

"Probably. The borders between the Republic and its neighbors are
desert, impossible to patrol. The dollars could have been sent, then
gradually converted into Egyptian currency. Dollars sell readily in this
part of the world, and sometimes not too many questions are asked."

"I get the picture," Rick stated. "The Moustafas stole the necklace, and
smuggled it to America. Bartouki sold it to the collector, through an
American helper. Then he had the money sealed in the cat. He handed it
to me, because my sister gave him an opening and I fell into it.
Meanwhile, you put Ali in jail, then Fuad. Youssef got into the act
through the clerk. So then we had Kemel Moustafa and Youssef on our
trail. Why didn't you put Kemel in jail, too? And how about Bartouki?"

"We had no evidence that would stand up in court against Kemel, although
we were convinced he was in the act with his brothers. That's why I
waited until he tried to take the cat by force."

Rick exploded, "You used us and the cat for bait!"

"It worked," Ben pointed out mildly. "We got both Youssef and Moustafa,
although the trap was only for Kemel. And you were never in any real
danger, except for a stray bullet. I've been in the unfinished barracks
with my men since noontime. The senior scientists knew it. That's why
they were willing to leave you alone. Two of my men mingled with
Youssef's gang as soon as they arrived, and weren't detected. Any sign
of real danger to you and they'd have bailed you out fast. But we were
holding off, because I had a radio message that Kemel was on his way
with a gang of his own."

"You certainly had things taped," Scotty said admiringly. "I guess we
ought to be mad. But you'd have an equal right to get mad because we
tried to go it alone."

"We'll call it square," Ben agreed. "About Bartouki. We needed the
evidence of the cat, and a statement from you that he had handed it to
you. That was the only sure way of tying him in. Tonight we'll send a
message via Interpol to the New York police."

So far, everything had been circumstantial evidence. Rick wanted to see
if their guesses were correct. "Open the cat," he begged.

"Get the saw," Ben said.

Rick jumped to his feet. There was a toolbox in the closet. He brought
it to the inspector.

Ben handed the cat to him. "Saw away."

Scotty held the cat firmly on a chair while Rick wielded the saw.
Plastic sawdust flew from under the blade.

Rick felt the blade hit metal and stopped. "Hit something!" he said
excitedly. "Metal, but soft. Like lead."

Scotty groaned. "Do you suppose Bartouki was telling the truth?"

"We'll soon know." Rick moved the saw blade to a different angle and
began cutting around the cat, changing angles each time he hit the
material on the inside. Before long, the Egyptian cat had a cut around
its middle and Rick put the saw away. There were a hammer and screw
driver in the toolbox. He inserted the tip of the screw driver into the
saw cut and tapped the handle with the hammer.

The cat split open.

Scotty let out a yell of triumph. In the bottom half was a square of
lead, and it was clearly a box, not a solid lump.

"Hurry!" Rick pleaded.

Scotty took the screw driver and pried. The lead box yielded
reluctantly.

There wasn't a sound in the control room except for the impulses from
the tape recorder, which ran on unnoticed.

Scotty pried gingerly, and the lead box came loose and dropped to the
floor.

Rick scooped it up and turned it in his hands, looking for the opening.
He found only a thin seam of solder around one flat side.

"Have to cut it open," Rick said. Using his jackknife, he scored the
bead of solder. It cut easily. He scored it again, deeper, and felt the
knife blade penetrate. He turned the box and did the same thing to both
ends.

Face flushed with excitement, he took the screw driver, thrust it under
the lid, and bent it upward.

The box opened.

It contained a solid wad of bills. Rick touched the top one, still a
little unbelieving. The figure on it was 1000!

He turned the box over and tapped it. The bills dropped out. He didn't
doubt there were two hundred of them.

Two hundred thousand dollars!

Rick looked at the expressions on the faces around him. Scotty was
standing with openmouthed excitement. Youssef was leaning forward,
feasting on the wealth with greedy eyes. Moustafa was slumped in
resignation. And Ismail ben Adhem had the look of the cat that swallowed
the cream.

"Now," Rick said triumphantly, "now we know why the cat was important!"



CHAPTER XX

The Signal Vanishes


Rick studied the Sanborn tracing. He could see where the pulsed signals
gradually disappeared into a much stronger, steady 21-centimeter signal.

"We lost it at 4:02 yesterday," Winston said. "It hasn't reappeared.
Apparently the signal source moved into, or behind, a globular cluster."

Rick's brows knit. "That's more evidence that it was moving contrary to
normal direction?"

"It is," Dr. Kerama agreed. "What's more, the calculated velocity was
simply incredible. The only velocities we know of that approximate it
are those of galaxies at the very limit of our instruments."

Rick said what was on his mind. "It was a spaceship. What else would
travel across normal star directions giving out signals?"

He grinned sheepishly. It wasn't strictly proper to blurt out his own
theories.

"The possibility has occurred to us," Kerama said slowly. "It is
certainly the most appealing explanation, and it is natural that it
should come to your mind, Rick. But it is not the only possible
solution."

Winston agreed. "There are others that are difficult to explain, unless
you have a good background in astrophysics, Rick."

Scotty said, "I'm sure you have lots of theories, but honestly--what do
you really think?"

The scientist glanced at his Egyptian colleagues. Farid urged, "Tell him
what we talked about last night. It may not be subject to any real
proof, but I think the boys have a right to know what we've concluded."

"All right," Winston nodded. "To put it as briefly as possible, we agree
that the most likely explanation is that we intercepted intelligent
signals, sent out for some reason by some beings we can't even imagine.
For one thing, the space object is so small that we can't even give it a
dimension. Neither can the other telescopes. Mount Palomar can see
nothing."

"A spaceship," Rick said soberly. The implications of it were
tremendous!

"It's as good a name as any. And now, boys, let's start folding up our
part of the operation. We have reservations on tomorrow's flight. That
will put us into New York just about suppertime."

"We hate to leave," Scotty told the Egyptian scientists. "Unfortunately,
thanks to that Egyptian cat, we didn't get to see much of Cairo."

"At least I saw a piece of the Sahara Desert," Rick said with a grin.
"Anyway, let's move. I have some shopping to do for my folks, and for
Jan Miller, and especially Barby."

"Going to take her a bouquet of Egyptian poison ivy?" Winston asked with
a smile.

"Nope. I'm going to buy her some nice things, but I'm also going to take
her the remains of the Egyptian cat. Just as a reminder."

He turned to glance around the control room before leaving. The plaster
on the ceiling would need repairing where the Sten gun had chipped it
down to the concrete roof slab, but there was little real damage to show
the effect of last night's fight. Even the window broken by Youssef had
been repaired.

How simple it all had been--once Ismail ben Adhem had taken over. Rick
knew why he and Scotty had failed to solve the mystery. There was too
much information they did not have, such as the disposal of the Kefren
necklace and knowing that the Moustafas were the prime movers in a
revolution.

Farid and Kerama had not been surprised. "There are some who do not like
the controls on trade and exchange that our government had to impose,"
Farid explained. "Mostly, they are people who had things pretty much
their own way before the Republic was formed. They used to get special
treatment from government officials who were in their pay, and they grew
rich. Now, that's impossible. So they plot revolution to bring the bad
old days back again--bad old days for most Egyptians, that is. The
Moustafas and Bartouki used to be pretty powerful. I suppose they wanted
that power back."

Dr. Kerama added, "This is probably not the last try at revolution the
police will have to stop. But our country grows more stable all the
time, and the would-be revolutionaries grow older and perhaps wiser."

"Time goes on," Rick agreed. "Things change." He thought of Kemel
Moustafa the revolutionary, the only one of the three brothers they had
met--and he thought of Hassan's saying. He added, "The little jackal
barks, but the caravan passes."

Hakim Farid laughed outright. "We'll make a good Egyptian of you yet,
Rick."

       *       *       *       *       *

The time along the Greenwich meridian, from which all world times are
measured, was 9:30 P.M.

At Spindrift Island, it was 4:30 in the late afternoon. Barby Brant sat
with her close friend, Jan Miller, before the roaring fire in the
library.

"I'll bet Rick and Scotty are having a marvelous time," Barby said.
There was no envy in the statement. She always protested volubly at
being left behind, but that was more a matter of principle than anything
else. Once the boys had gone, she always simmered down enough to be glad
they could go, even if she could not.

Jan, a slim, attractive dark-haired girl, said, "I'll bet they're glad
you suggested that Rick deliver the Egyptian cat, too. It was an
introduction to a real merchant, right in the bazaar."

Barby smiled. "They probably made a lot of new friends from just that
one thing!"

It was 5:30 in the afternoon on a tiny island off the coast of
Venezuela. Two elderly men looked up from their inspection of a hot
spring. The smaller of the two shrugged. He spoke in Spanish.

"I will keep watch. If new signs develop, I know where to go for help.
It is the Spindrift Scientific Foundation. If anyone can help us, that
group can. If they can't--well, we are doomed."

In Cairo, it was 11:30. Rick Brant hauled himself to the top of the
great pyramid of Khufu. Scotty and Hassan joined him.

The view was magnificent. Cairo sparkled like a million jewels, and in
places they could see the silver ribbon of the Nile. Rick turned and
looked at the radio telescope at Sahara Wells, its great parabolic
reflector gleaming in the brilliant moonlight.

He was content. As a last adventure, and with the permission of Winston,
the three had decided to climb the pyramid by moonlight. Now the
mysteries of the Egyptian cat and the strange signal from space were
behind them. In eleven hours they would be air-borne, and tomorrow night
they would sleep at home.

Hassan spoke. "I sorry to see you go. You come back, maybe?"

"Someday," Scotty said.

Rick added, "When we show my sister that picture of you with the fancy
clothes and that scimitar you borrowed, we'll have to bring her to see
you in person. She won't believe her eyes."

Hassan chuckled softly. "Tell her I will be her bodyguard, to protect
her from Youssef, if he ever gets free from jail. I will even protect
her from our so terrible Egyptian cats!"

The three sat down on the rough stone at the top of the pyramid. Once
the great monument had risen to a sharply pointed capstone, but the
blocks had been removed and only a tall wooden pole showed how high the
pyramid had once reached.

Rick looked up at the stars and traced the outlines of the familiar
constellations, Orion, the Twins, Taurus, the Big Dog, and the Little
Dog.

Out there, far beyond those constellations, a spaceship had once passed,
sending unknown signals to an unknown destination, eventually to be
intercepted here, within sight of the pyramids.

"I wonder what it was," he mused aloud.

Scotty needed no explanation. "Does it matter, if it was some kind of
intelligence?"

Rick shook his head. "Not really. It was nearly five thousand light
years away, so it took five thousand years to reach us. So when the
signals were first sent, this pyramid hadn't even been built. Egypt
hadn't been united."

Scotty added, "And in the Upper Nile Kingdom, people were worshiping
Bubaste...."

"... and Egyptian cats," Rick finished.

The boy glanced up at the stars again and saw the tight cluster of the
Pleiades. Across the world, the constellation was just coming into view
of anyone standing on top of the mountain known as El Viejo, the Old
One.

The slow stirring in the earth deep under El Viejo would take a few
months to grow, but already events taking form would plunge Rick,
Scotty, and the Spindrift scientists into the midst of mob violence,
armed revolt, and one of the most daring scientific feats of all time, a
story to be told in the adventure of THE FLAMING MOUNTAIN.



_The_ RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE _Stories_

BY JOHN BLAINE

    THE ROCKET'S SHADOW
    THE LOST CITY
    SEA GOLD
    100 FATHOMS UNDER
    THE WHISPERING BOX MYSTERY
    THE PHANTOM SHARK
    SMUGGLERS' REEF
    THE CAVES OF FEAR
    STAIRWAY TO DANGER
    THE GOLDEN SKULL
    THE WAILING OCTOPUS
    THE ELECTRONIC MIND READER
    THE SCARLET LAKE MYSTERY
    THE PIRATES OF SHAN
    THE BLUE GHOST MYSTERY
    THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY





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