Valley of the Kings
IT WAS NEW YEAR'S EVE as a somber, good-looking explorer named Howard Carter, speaking fluent Arabic, gave the order to begin digging.
Carter stood in a claustrophobic chamber more than three hundred feet underground. The air was dank, but he craved a cigarette. He was addicted to the damn things. Sweat rings stained the armpits of his white button-down, and dust coated his work boots. The sandal-clad Egyptian workers at his side began to shovel for all they were worth.
It had been almost two years since Carter had been thrown from his horse far out in the desert. That lucky fall had changed his life.
He had landed hard on the stony soil but was amazed to find himself peering at a deep cleft in the ground. It appeared to be the hidden entrance to an ancient burial chamber.
Working quickly and in secret, the twenty-six-yearold Egyptologist obtained the proper government permissions, then hired a crew to begin digging.
Now he expected to become famous at a very young age --- and filthy rich.
Early Egyptian rulers had been buried inside elaborate stone pyramids, but centuries of ransacking by tomb robbers inspired later pharaohs to conceal their burial sites by carving them into the ground.
Once a pharaoh died, was mummified, and then sealed inside such a tomb with all his worldly possessions, great pains were taken to hide its location.
But that didn't help. Tomb robbers seemed to find every one.
Carter, a square-shouldered man who favored bow ties, linen trousers, and homburg hats, thought this tomb might be the exception. The limestone chips that had been dumped into the tunnels and shaft by some long-ago builder --- a simple yet ingenious method to keep out bandits --- appeared untouched.
Carter and his workers had already spent months removing the shards. With each load that was hauled away, he became more and more certain that there was a great undisturbed burial chamber hidden deep within the ground. If he was right, the tomb would be filled with priceless treasures: gold and gems, as well as a pharaoh's mummy.
Howard Carter would be rich beyond his wildest dreams, and his dreams were indeed spectacular.
"The men have now gone down ninety-seven meters vertical drop," Carter had written to Lady Amherst, his longtime patron, "and still no end." Indeed, when widened the narrow opening that he had stumbled upon revealed a network of tunnels leading farther underground.
At one point, a tunnel branched off into a chamber that contained a larger-than-life statue of an Egyptian pharaoh.
But that tunnel had dead-ended into a vertical shaft filled with rock and debris.
As the months passed, the workers forged on, digging ever deeper, so deep in fact that the men had to be lowered down by rope each day. Carter's hopes soared. He even took the unusual step of contacting Britain's consul general in Cairo to prepare him for the glorious moment when a "virgin" tomb would be opened.
Now he stood at the bottom of the shaft. Before him was a doorway sealed with plaster and stamped with the mark of a pharaoh --- the entrance to a burial chamber.
Carter ordered his workers to knock it down.
The shaft was suddenly choked with noise and a storm of dust as the men used picks and crowbars to demolish the ancient door. Carter hacked into his handkerchief as he struggled to see through the haze.
His heart raced as he finally held his lantern into the burial chamber. The workers standing behind him peered excitedly over his shoulder.
There was nothing there.
The treasure, and the pharaoh's mummy, had already been stolen.
By somebody else.
Palm Beach, Florida
"THIS IS JAMES PATTERSON CALLING. Is Michael around? I have a mystery story to tell him."
As most people would expect, I love a good mystery, and I thought I might have unearthed a real doozy to write about, which was why I had put in a call to my editor at Little, Brown, Michael Pietsch, who is also the publisher.
As I waited for Michael to come on the line --- he usually takes my calls, night or day --- I looked around my second-floor office. Am I completely mad? I wondered.
The last thing I needed right now was another writing project. I already had a new Alex Cross novel on the fires, and a Women's Murder Club brewing, and a Maximum ride to finish. In fact, there were twenty-four manuscripts --- none of them yet completed --- laid out on the expansive desk surface that occupies most of my office. I could read some of the titles: Swimsuit, Witch & Wizard, Daniel X, Women's Murder Club 9, Worst Case...
"I am completely crazy, aren't I?" I said as Pietsch came on the line. Michael is a calm and calming presence, very smart, and a wonderful father who knows how to handle children --- like me --- most of the time. over the years we have become a good fit and have turned out more than a dozen number one bestsellers together.
"Of course you're crazy, but why the phone call?" he asked. "Why aren't you writing?"
"I have an idea."
"I really like this one, Michael. Let me talk at you for a minute. OK? Since you seem to know everything about everything, you are probably aware that a collection of King Tut memorabilia is touring the world. People are lining up everywhere; the exhibit is usually sold out weeks in advance. I actually visited a Tut exhibit years ago at the Met in New York, and then recently in Fort Lauderdale. I've seen firsthand how Tut's story blows people's minds --- men, women, and children, rich and poor.
"There's something about Tut that brings ancient Egypt to life for most of us. It's not just the incredible treasures he was buried with, or the art, or the near-miraculous discovery of the burial chamber by Howard Carter. It's all of that, of course, but there's something magical here, something iconic. Tut's name was scrubbed from Egyptian history books for thousands of years, and now Tut is probably the most famous pharaoh of them all. And yet nobody knows that much about him.
"Michael, I want to do a book about Tut. Three parts: present day, as I learn --- hopefully --- more and more about the Boy King; then the amazing discovery of the tomb and treasures by Carter, who is probably worth a book on his own; and a third part about Tut himself.
"Did you know that Tut married his sister --- and that theirs was an incredible love story? So what do you think? Are you going to try to stop me? Just this once, will you save me from myself?"
Michael's infectious laughter traveled across the phone lines. "How's the new Alex Cross coming?" he asked.
"Almost done --- ahead of schedule. You're going to like it."
"Well, Jim, like just about everyone else, I'm fascinated by ancient Egypt, the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Tut, Nefertiti, the rameses boys. So I have to tell you, I like the idea very much."
Now it was my turn to smile and to laugh in relief.
"I'm really glad. So let me tell you what I thought would close the deal --- though, obviously, I don't need it. Michael, I have a hunch that Tut was murdered. And I hope, at least on paper, to prove it."
Michael laughed again. "You had me at 'King Tut,'" he quipped.
Valley of the Kings
"THIS IS FAR ENOUGH! Stop right here."
More than five hundred prisoners of war halted their march toward Thebes in a great field situated two miles from the city. A contingent of the palace guard watched over them in the sweltering midday sun. Not that it was necessary. The emaciated prisoners' feet were bound with leather cord that was just long enough for them to frog walk; they could not run.
And even if they had tried to escape, their arms were tied behind their backs at the wrist and elbow.
They wouldn't get far, and the punishment would be swift and brutal.
Ineni, the well-regarded royal architect, watched over the sad scene. He knew these men well. They had just spent five years in a remote valley, excavating a new burial place for Tuthmosis I.
By day they had endured withering summer heat and surprisingly frigid blasts of desert cold that sometimes strafed the valley.
At night they had slept under a sky shot through with stars.
It had been more than a thousand years since Cheops had built his great pyramid up the Nile in Giza. As grand and awe-inspiring as they were, pyramids turned out to be beacons of temptation for every local thief and blasphemous tomb robber. There wasn't a single one that hadn't been looted. Not one.
But the ingenious Ineni believed he had the solution to the pyramid problem. Using the slave labor provided by these prisoners, he had carved a secret burial chamber for Tuthmosis I. The aging pharaoh was sick and near death, so the timing of the tomb's completion was perfect. Not merely a makeshift cave, the tomb contained several tunnels, hallways, and a half dozen rooms. The pharaoh's stone sarcophagus would Reside precisely in the center, in the largest, most luxurious room.
True, Ineni thought, brushing a bead of sweat from his eyebrow, such an underground tomb was hardly as grand as a soaring pyramid. But in many ways it was better. The walls were smooth to the touch and painted with vivid scenes from the pharaoh's life --- both the one he had just lived and the glorious one yet to come.
Most important, the pharaoh would be undisturbed. Hopefully, for all eternity. At least that was what most Egyptians believed happened when a pharaoh was put to rest.
Ineni liked the design so much that he was already working on a similar tomb for himself. "I superintended the excavations of the cliff tomb of His Majesty," Ineni had written on the walls of his own burial chamber --- it was the architect's way of bragging to those in the afterworld --- "Alone, no one seeing, no one hearing."
Of course, he hadn't been totally alone. The prisoners had done their part. He had gotten to know them, Hittites and Nubians. He'd heard about their wives and children and knew that the men cherished their families with the same passion that he loved his. Some of the prisoners had become his friends.
After the tomb for Tuthmosis I was sealed and the entry concealed with stone, he had marched the men away from the area --- a place that one day would simply be known as the Valley of the Kings, because so many other pharaohs would choose Ineni's architectural contrivance as a means of hiding their final resting places.
Ineni scanned the faces of the prisoners. They knew the location of the pharaoh's secret tomb, and that was unacceptable. The architect turned away from the men, then signaled to the guards.
"Do what must be done. Be merciful. Do it quickly. These are good men."
And so the bloody slaughter of the prisoners began. Their screams rose to the heavens, and Ineni hoped that the many gods of Egypt approved of his difficult but necessary decision.
AMENHOTEP THE MAGNIFICENT knocked back a stiff jolt of red wine as he shuffled into the sunlit throne room.
Once upon a time the pharaoh had been lean and muscular, a warrior feared throughout the known world. He was also said to have had sexual relations with more than five hundred consorts and concubines.
Now he was "prosperous," which was a polite way of saying that his great belly preceded him wherever he went.
"You'll get fat from all that wine," cooed Tiye, his queen and favorite wife --- possibly because she had a sense of humor that matched his own.
"Too late." Amenhotep slurred his words noticeably. "At least a dozen years too late."
Just back from a morning of sailing, Tiye had entered from the main hall without fanfare, her sandaled feet quietly slapping the tile floor. The queen had full lips, a pleasingly ample bosom, and wore a white linen dress with vertical blue stripes that was cinched at her narrow waist.
They both knew why she'd come to see him today.
"Pharaoh," she said, standing over him, "we must talk. This one time you must listen to a woman, my love. You must."
Amenhotep pretended to ignore his queen. He thought about swabbing a little opium on his abscessed teeth, just to take the edge off, and then maybe having a nap before dinner. No. First a visit to the lovely Resi over at the harem for a midafternoon romp, then sleep. Resi had an even larger bosom than Tiye, and she was a better actress in bed. Amenhotep got a happy feeling just thinking about the whore.
Up in Memphis, the northern capital of his kingdom, the bureaucrats would be pestering him with crop reports and tax estimates. Nothing but meetings all day long. Yes, Egypt needed officials like that; the country would be a lawless backwater without the legion of clerks. But after three decades in power, Amenhotep needed a break.
Which is why he loved Thebes much more than Memphis.
Thebes, just a week's journey up the Nile from Memphis, was so different than the northern capital, it might as well have been in a separate country. In Thebes a pharaoh could bask for hours in the desert sun, drink wine whenever he wanted, and make love to his entire harem --- a dozen beauties, each selected by him --- without a single bureaucratic interruption. In Thebes a pharaoh had time to think, to dream. In Thebes the pharaoh answered to no one --- except his wife.
Amenhotep looked up at Tiye. "I am a fat old pharaoh who is no longer fit to rule this kingdom. Is that what you're about to say? I am a whoremaster without a conscience? What am I? Tell me."
Tiye bit her tongue. In many ways, she loved this fat old man, this deity. But now Amenhotep was dying. Decisions had to be made before it was too late --- for Egypt, and for its queen.
"All right," he said with a sigh. "Let's talk. I'm dying. What of it?"
"THE FUTURE OF EGYPT is at stake. You know that. You need to take action."
"I will never share power with that accident," shouted the pharaoh.
Amenhotep had rallied somewhat from his drunken state. Now the palace walls shook with his angry protestations. He and Tiye were alone, but everyone from the bodyguards at the door to the servant girls polishing the great tiled hallway were privy to their battle. Soon these commoners would be gossiping to their friends and families, and the details of the royal argument would spread throughout Thebes.
"You are speaking about a child created in a moment of passion. Perhaps the pharaoh would like to describe what was accidental about that."
"I do not regret the act of making love, only the result of our lovemaking. He will not reign as co-regent. I couldn't bear it. He is a sniveling whelp."
Tiye sneered. "We both know that he will succeed you one day."
"You hope so, don't you? Does my queen not admit that she has selfish reasons for wanting that boy elevated to co-regent?"
"The queen admits nothing of the kind. The queen wants what's best for Egypt. Surely you wish your son to step into power --- armed with your many years of hard-earned wisdom?"
You will lose everything if someone else succeeds me, thought the cynical Amenhotep. So don't tell me what's best for Egypt. Have you braved thirst and burning deserts to wage war on the Hittites? Have you smelled the cedar forests of Byblos? You wear the gold and lapis lazuli that come as tribute from lands I conquered, but you know nothing of the world outside Thebes.
"His arms hang to his knees, and his face is as long as a horse's," Amenhotep declared. "He hasn't enough muscle to wield a sword. His only muscles are in his head. To be pharaoh is to be god in the flesh. That boy is a freak."
"He was born to lead our people. He can drive a chariot as well as any man," said Tiye. "He is well-read and smart."
The pharaoh snorted. The mere sight of his son --- also named Amenhotep --- at the reins of a chariot was hilarious. It was a wonder the imbecile hadn't been trampled to death already. "Steering through a grain field is one thing. Charging into battle is quite another," he said.
Suddenly, Amenhotep felt woozy. The opium had gone to work, but the pain was still unbearable. What he needed was more wine. And Resi's bosom to suck on.
Amenhotep ignored his goblet and raised the full pitcher to his lips. The ruby liquid spilled along his face, then trickled down his thick neck and under his collar onto the copper skin of his belly. It came to rest on the white kilt around his waist, leaving a stain that looked like blood.
The pharaoh tumbled backward into his pillows. This was an act of retreat, and they both knew it.
Tiye stood over him to close the deal, as the sun's fiery rays taunted the crocodiles and cobras painted on the tile floor. "This must be done, Pharaoh. And soon."
"They are almost finished decorating my burial chamber," the pharaoh muttered. He reached for a plate of bread flavored with honey and dates, unaware that the grains of sand in every bite were the source of his pain. Year after year, the desert grit in the bread wore away the enamel on his teeth, inviting the decay and infection that would soon take his life.
Tiye handed him another goblet filled to the brim with wine, then remained still as Amenhotep chased the bread with a long gulp. She was as serene as the Sphinx as she waited for her husband to bend to her strong will.
"Tuthmosis would have been a great pharaoh," he said mournfully.
"That son now wanders the afterworld," Tiye replied.
Amenhotep nodded sadly. Their oldest boy, his beloved, his favorite, was dead. Soon he would join him. Egypt would need a new pharaoh. The only way to control the selection was to do it himself.
"Bring the accident to me," Amenhotep roared. "of course he will be pharaoh. But shame on me for leaving Egypt to him. Shame on both of us."
Didlington Hall Near Swaffham, England
"HOWARD, IS THAT YOU? What do you think you're doing in here?" asked Lord Amherst, swinging open the library doors. "These artifacts are irreplaceable. I've told you that before. You are a stubborn boy."
Thirteen-year-old Howard Carter quickly turned his head toward His Lordship. He was caught! He had been warned repeatedly about this room. He was definitely a stubborn boy.
It was the middle of the day. Young Carter was supposed to be helping his father, who was painting a new commission for His Lordship. In a moment of boredom, the boy had slipped away to the most forbidden and imposing room at Didlington Hall: the library.
He couldn't help himself. The room was utterly fascinating, its silence augmented by the startling, massive stone statues situated about the room, imported straight from the sands of Egypt. To gaze at them allowed Carter to see into the history of the known world. These pieces truly were irreplaceable.
Didlington Hall was a palatial fortress eight miles south of Swaffham. It was the county seat of Lord Amherst, a member of Parliament with a penchant for styling his hair in the foppish manner of oscar Wilde. Seven thousand acres and sixteen leased farms surrounded the great home. There was a large, pristine lake, a paddock, a falconer's lodge, a boathouse, and a ballroom that had been host to grand and important parties for more than a hundred years.
But it was the library that Howard Carter loved most, and he couldn't stay out of the room.
Fortunately, Lord Amherst was a nice man with five daughters; Carter was the closest thing to a son he'd ever had. He recognized the slender, strong-jawed young man's innate, sometimes fierce curiosity and saw in him something of himself.
He and young Carter both wanted --- no, that would be too soft a description --- demanded answers about what had come before them. They were obsessed with the ancient past.
So rather than kicking Carter out of the library, Lord Amherst proceeded to walk him through the wood-paneled room, patiently explaining the significance of the more notable books.
There was a priceless collection of Bibles, for example, many printed centuries earlier. There was a section devoted to incunabula, books printed shortly after the invention of the printing press. There were books with fancy bindings, first editions by famous authors, and so forth and so on.
And then there was the Egyptian collection.
In addition to owning tome after tome detailing the known history of ancient Egypt, Lord Amherst had rather obsessively decorated the library with Egyptian relics. The taller statues were bigger than a man and loomed like sentinels among the overstuffed wingback chairs and oil reading lamps. There were dozens of smaller statues too, and rare texts printed on papyrus that had been sealed behind glass so human hands like Howard's couldn't damage them. Amherst had bought the collection from a German priest two decades earlier and had added to it every year since.
"Not only is it the largest collection of Egyptology in all of Great Britain," he told Carter, "it is the joy of my life."
"And mine as well," Carter chimed in.
The tour concluded with a history-changing announcement: Lord Amherst was hereby offering the young man unlimited access to his collection. Never mind that something as simple as bumping into a statue could cause thousands of pounds' worth of damage --- Amherst had seen the passion in Carter's eyes as he told him of the mysteries of Egyptian culture, with its strange alphabet and belief in the afterworld and the amazing burial chambers.
Amherst encouraged Carter to immerse himself in Egyptology. And that was precisely what Howard Carter did --- until the day he died.
Excerpted from THE MURDER OF KING TUT: The Plot to Kill the Child King © Copyright 2011 by James Patterson and Martin Dugard. Reprinted with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.