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Tyler & Beth

Next morning, Tyler and Beth were both up and dressed almost before I was. I barely had time to lay breakfast before they were down. Beth was wearing flying trousers and stout shoes, which I knew meant they had no intention of shopping in London.

"James", said Tyler "I think you need to get changed. Where we're going they don't have much call for butlers."

I sighed inwardly. Not only were we not going to London, but it looked very much as if we weren't going to any town in the home counties.

"Yes sir. Will you be needing me to bring anything?"

"Don't worry, we've taken care of everything. Just find some sturdy boots, and some light clothes. It might get a tad warm"

"Very well sir" I hated in when they teased me like that, but of course I did as they asked. Ten minutes later, we were climbing into her plane. By lunchtime we were in Morocco.

So there they were, strolling through one of the seedier markets in the back streets of Marrakech, when Tyler's attention was caught by a stall selling antique swords. They were swords like you've never seen. As long as your leg, yet as thin as your finger, with a grip of gold and a hilt of gems. Of course, Tyler fell instantly in love, and wanted to buy. Luckily, his Arabic was not very good back then, and so I had to translate. Otherwise he would have bought the sword in ten seconds flat, and Beth would never had had time to spot the small gold lion.

"Ask him where this comes from"

So I did.

"He says it came with everything from the stall, from a recent archaeological dig in Egypt."

While I was translating, the stall holder had reached under and brought out a tray of more than a dozen tiny statuettes. Each one was no bigger than an egg cup. They were all gold, with tiny coloured gems encrusted in them. There was a tiger, with teeth that glinted like diamonds. There was a cheetah with emerald eyes. There was a leopard whose spots were highlighted by tiny sapphires.

Beth picked up the leopard and looked at it quizzically.

"Does he know how old this is?"

The stall holder said they all dated back to the time of the pharaohs, and that Cleopatra herself had once owned them. Of course, stall holders in Marrakech will say anything to get you to buy there wears, but they did look like the Egyptian style. I had recently seen an exhibition in the British Museum on Egyptian art. I told all this to Beth.

"Do you believe him?"

"I believe they date back to ancient Egypt."

"But look at this one"

"The leopard?"

"It's not a leopard, it's a jaguar"

"My word. I believe you're right"

"And jaguars come from the Amazon rainforests."

"That's true"

"And the ancient Egyptians never went to South America. So when did they ever see a jaguar?"

"Ask him who he bought them from. I'd like to know more"

And that was how we found ourselves being led away from the main markets into one of the seedier areas of Marrakech. Here the thieves would slit your throat for the shoes on your feet, and would cut your feet off if the shoes were too tight. Here there were self-proclaimed merchant princes and kings of thieves, all jostling for power while fending off the interests of the corrupt sheikh.

We were led through a maze of streets, some so narrow you could touch both walls at once without straightening your arms. Some smelt so bad you were afraid to breathe in, in case the air became stuck in your throat like some sort of glutinous morass.

We came at last to a small door under a dark archway. The stall holder reached in front of us and opened the door, holding it open while he pointed us in. He closed it behind us without following.

We were at the top of a dark flight of stone steps. Tyler went down first, striding confidently even though he surely couldn't see were to place his feet. The stairs curved round until we were walking under the door we had entered, and then through a curtain. Tyler parted them, and we stepped into a den of thieves.

They sat around on barrels of wine and sacks of silk. There were ruffians from all corners of the globe. Murderers from Mozambique. Thieves from Thessalonia. Cutthroats from Kazakhstan. They sat there and glared up at us. Tyler glared right back. Tyler knew that most of the time you should be polite to people. He also knew that sometimes you need to make sure people know you're not to be trifled with. He put his hands on his hips meaningfully, as if to suggest he had a knife concealed somewhere under is safari jacket. Nobody moved. It was silent for a moment when suddenly.

"Tyler! I haven't seen you in years"

"Cousin Vincent! What the devil are you doing here? I thought you'd joined the foreign legion"

"I had. After that disgrace in Cambridge, my father wouldn't tolerate me around. He disowned me and banished me from the house. None of my family were allowed to talk to me. None of my friends dared to talk to me. I had nowhere else to go, so I fled the country. "

"So why are you here?"

"The French stationed me here. They have some interest in Morocco. I served here for six months before the garrison commander was murdered by a local bandit chief. The whole garrison fell to pieces before France could send in a replacement. I ended up buying and selling ancient trinkets dug up by explorers. Who's this?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Elizabeth de Montford, eldest daughter of Count de Montford of Bedfordshire, meet Vincent Bellmarsh, third son of Baron Montgommery Bellmarsh and nephew of my Uncle Rodney."

"Pleased to meet you Miss de Montford"

"Pleased to meet you Master Bellmarsh"

"So Tyler, what brings you to this den of iniquity?"

"We're looking for the guy who is selling these"

Tyler showed Vincent the gold Jaguar. Vincent whistled appreciatively.

"I don't know. I haven't seen anything like that before. What is it? Egyptian?"

"We think so, but it's a jaguar, and the Egyptians didn't know about jaguars"

"Are you sure? It looks like a leopard to me"

"James thinks so, and he tends to be right about that sort of thing"

Tyler gestured towards me. Vincent barely glanced.

"Well, if you say so, but like I said I haven't seen anything like it. Still, you've come to the right place. Anything Egyptian has probably gone through Silas Deragadio, and his number one guy operates from here. I'll introduce you"

Vincent got up and wondered over to the other side of the room to where a swarthy gypsy-looking gentleman was picking his fingernails with a knife while he glared at another man weighing some saffron. He looked up at Vincent. Vincent said a few words and pointed. The gypsy looked over at Tyler. After a second's thought he nodded. After a brief scowl at the man with the scales, he stood up and walked back over with Vincent.

"Tyler de Lancey, this is Ramone"

"Pleased to meet you"

"I greet you Tyler de Lancey"

"Ramone works for Silas. If Silas is trading in gold cats, then Ramone will know"

Tyler showed Ramone the gold jaguar.

"Yeah, I see that before. It is from Egypt. It come in Monday. In a crate with many others. You like it? I can get others."

"Can you take us to see Silas?"

"No. He don't like that. But when I see him, I say you want more. Do you want more leopards? We have many others."

"Do you know where in Egypt they came from?"

"No. I do not ask. I do not know Egypt. He say it from a British dig. He say he know a man called Dr. Rose. I think he is the digging man".

"James. You ever heard of a Dr. Rose the Egyptologist?"

"Indeed sir. Not very well thought of I'm afraid. He didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge, and there are some who say he's not even a real doctor. Of course, he's not supported by any of the respectable institutions, which I suppose is why he has resorted to selling his finds on the black market."

"Do you know where he would have been working"

"I believe he is in search of a lost pyramid somewhere near the great pyramid of Ramses the Great"

"Well Beth, make sure we have plenty of fuel. It's a long flight to Cairo, and I don't think we can stop along the way"

It was at that moment when it all changed. Two gunshots rang out, echoing down the stairway. There was a thump and a clatter, as someone fell down the stairs. Booted footsteps followed.

"Quick, hide." ordered Tyler. "Behind those sacks."

Beth and Vincent dived behind the sacks of saffron that he pointed to, while he and I dove behind some crates of wine. No sooner had I dragged my feet underneath myself, when four men marched through the archway. I could just make them out through the gaps between the wine bottles. Three of them looked like hired thugs. They each carried viscous looking knives. The fourth was not a local. He was dressed in white clothes, appropriate for a European in Africa, but almost as appropriate for a game of cricket, and he carried a German pistol.

"I am looking for the gypsy Ramone" he demanded. He didn't have a German accent.

Nobody answered. I saw him gesture towards something. "You. What's that you're holding?"

Again, no answer. The man in white walked a few steps out of my sight. I could only hear his voice.

"Where did you get this? From Silas Deragadio?"

"I tell you nothing." That was Ramone's voice.

"I am looking for the man who sells golden jaguars, just like this one. I am told that man is Silas Deragadio, and that I can reach him through a certain gypsy known as Ramone. You look like a gypsy, and you're holding a golden jaguar. So I think it more than likely that you are the Ramone I seek"

"I tell you nothing." Said Ramone again.

I heard the man in white sigh, but I still couldn't see him.

"Do you know what this is?"

I couldn't see what it was, but I heard Ramone gasp.

"Yes" I could tell he was trying to sound brave.

"And you know what it is used for?"

"Yes" Again, Ramone was trying to sound brave, but even I could tell that whatever it was the man in white was carrying it was not pleasant.

"Would you like me to use it on you?"

"No"

"Good. So, will you take me to Silas Deragadio?"

There was a pause, and then "Yes."

I heard some shuffling, then awkward footsteps, then I saw Ramone as he walked past our hiding place and out of the room. He was followed closely by the man in white. I never did see what he was carrying.

Once all the men had gone, we crept out of our hiding place. Some of the other cut-throats and thieves had also been hiding, and they were also emerging. Others had chosen, like Ramone, to stand their ground and trust in their strength. Ramone's physical strength may well have been more than adequate, but his mental strength obviously wasn't.

"Who was that?" asked Beth to anyone who cared to listen.

"I've never seen him before" Vincent decided to answer. "Anyone recognise him?" he asked to the various low lives. Some blank looks. He asked again in Arabic, but still the faces were blank.

"He wasn't local though. He sounded English"

"An Englishmen who has lived in the USA for quite a few years" said Tyler. For someone who was adequate at best at learning foreign languages, it never failed to astonish me when he could pinpoint an accent so precisely. "New York, I'd guess, but it's hard to be sure"

"So what should we do?" asked Beth. "Do we let them get on with it, or do we try and warn Mr Deragadio?"

"Silas Deragadio has been in this business long enough to be able to take care of himself. Besides, what business is it of ours? Silas is hardly a model citizen. Perhaps this man is a policemen of some sort?"

"He was no policemen. Policemen don't threaten people like that. But you're right, it could be anything"

"Not quite anything. That man was asking about the golden jaguars." Noted Beth

"So? " asked Tyler

"So, he noticed it too. That jaguars do not come from Egypt. But he was willing to use force to find out where they came from."

"Why would Egyptian jaguars be that important?" asked Vincent.

"I don't know. But I think if someone like that thinks they're important, then I think it's more important that we found out first."

"I agree" asserted Tyler. "We need to set off for Egypt right away. Vincent, how's you're Egyptian?"

"A bit rough, but I'm up for a challenge. Lead the way"

And so, with Vincent as an extra recruit, we headed back to the plane. By the end of the day we were in Cairo.

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