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 want to hear you speak.”
Anson goggled just a little. 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 want 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 Security.
Also 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.”