THEY INTERCEPTED him as he came out of Baltimore-Washington Airport, two men wearing suits and an air of officialdom like a brisk cologne.
“Mr Anson Hunter, the British Egyptologist?”
Egyptologist? That sounded good. Very establishment. Anson stood a bit taller, which placed his beanstalk elevation a few inches above theirs. The man could have said independent, renegade Egyptologist and phenomenologist, lecturer at out-of-town halls and auditoriums, writer, blogger and alternative theorist as well as leader of occasional, fringe tour groups to Egypt. But instead the man had said ‘Egyptologist’.
“Who wants to know?”
“You are invited to Johns Hopkins University. They wish to hear you speak.”
Anson goggled. Johns Hopkins and Anson Hunter? His moment of elation quickly faded. They didn’t belong in the same sentence.
“A nice thought, gentlemen, but venerable institutions like Johns Hopkins don’t wish people like me to speak. They would prefer us not to breathe.”
Anson had arrived to give a lecture on ancient Egyptian ritual smiting power and execration texts at a hired Masonic hall that evening.
He tried to move past, but the men blocked his way, smiling with steely politeness.
“Please come with us, Sir.”
“There must be some mistake.”
The spokesman frowned and reached inside his coat.
Hell, Anson thought, what is this? Has mainstream Egyptology finally sent a hit squad?
The hand came out of the coat. Anson resumed the business of breathing. The man flipped open a wallet, by way of introduction.
Anson glimpsed a crest – an eagle inside a circle and the words:
U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityAlso a name, Browning. He was a broad-faced man with steady eyes.
Anson’s ex-wife May had always said that he had the burning eyes of fanatic. Had they picked him out as a likely threat to the US homeland? This Johns Hopkins stuff was just a cover for an arrest.
He suddenly felt very alien.
“I’ve been a mild threat to conventional Egyptology for years,” he said, “but I hardly rate as a security risk.”
“We need your help, Mr Hunter.”
The other man relieved him of his suitcase and also took his briefcase containing his laptop.
“Careful, there’s an explosive PowerPoint presentation in there,” Anson said.
Browning flicked a glance towards Anson’s briefcase, but a sense of humour overtook his instinct to protect the homeland. He allowed himself a flinty smile.
“Ah, yes. Almost had me going there.”
“Would you please explain why Johns Hopkins Near Eastern Studies Department would be even faintly interested in my theories?”
The man lowered his voice.
“It’s not that Department that wants you. Johns Hopkins is also the Centre of Excellence for a new Homeland Security Centre. Goes by the full name of the Centre for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response. You’ll be addressing a consortium that’s studying how the nation can best prepare for and respond to a range of unexpected large-scale incidents or disasters.”
The only large-scale disaster he was familiar with was his own career – his failure to swing the world of Egyptology, with very few exceptions, to his alternative theories. But maybe his luck was changing. Any invitation to speak at Johns Hopkins – anywhere at Johns Hopkins, even in a restroom - was too intoxicating to pass up. Not that his abductors were giving him much choice in the matter.
They led him to a waiting black sedan that purred on the kerbside.
He shrugged, climbed into the back with one of the Homeland men and sank into baffled acceptance. The sedan slid away into traffic.
This was the smoothest of smooth abductions. But they had his attention. He decided he quite enjoyed being whisked away into intrigue.
He was still troubled however.
“I’m not exactly sure where we’re going with this. What has US Homeland Security got to do with ancient Egypt? Or me?”
The Homeland man who sat in the front beside the driver, threw a mystified look over his shoulder.
“Beats me, I’m a practical man. I’ll leave it to others to explain.”
“Then there’s the small matter of my engagement. I’m booked to give a lecture tonight. Hundreds of people will be disappointed. Well, dozens.”
“Cancelled already. Just consider it a change of venue.”
It was quite a turnaround from out-of-town Masonic hall to Johns Hopkins University. A bit presumptuous of them, but he could be flexible.
© Copyright Roy Lester Pond 2008/2009