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Authors: Michael Pearce

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The Mamur Zapt and the Spoils of Egypt

BOOK: The Mamur Zapt and the Spoils of Egypt
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The Mamur Zapt and the Spoils of Egypt
Michael Pearce
Mamur Zapt 06

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THE MYSTERIOUS PRESS

Published by Warner Books

A Time Warner Company

First published in Great Britain by The Crime Club, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.

Copyright © 1992 by Michael Pearce

All rights reserved.

Mysterious Press books are published by Warner Books, Inc., 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

A Time Warner Company

The Mysterious Press name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America First U. S. printing: October 1995 10 987654321

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pearce, Michael,

The Mamur Zapt and the spoils of Egypt / Michael Pearce, p. cm.

ISBN 0-89296-560-6 (hardcover)

1. Owen, Cadwallader (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police— Egypt—Cairo—Fiction. 3. Cairo (Egypt)—Fiction. I. Title. PR6066.E 166M33 1995

823’.914—dc20    95-8521

CIP

The Mamur Zapt And The Spoils Of Egypt

The Mamur Zapt And The Men Behind

The Mamur Zapt And The Donkey-Vous

The Mamur Zapt And The Night Of The Dog

The Mamur Zapt And The Return Of The Carpet

CHAPTER 1

A tall, thin, angular woman came through the door of the hotel.

Immediately a hand was thrust up at her. It was holding something grey, crumbly and rubbery—rather like old fish —from which a faint aroma arose.

‘What is this?’ she said, sniffing suspiciously.

‘Real mummy!’ said the voice behind the hand. ‘Genuine mummy flesh! Only ten piastres!’

‘Thank you, no!’ said the woman firmly.

Her initial hesitation, however, proved fatal. In a moment they were all round her. Other hands pushed out brandishing bits of bandage (mummy linen), bits of wood (mummy coffin), bright blue saucers straight from the tombs (well, near them, at any rate), genuine old scarab beetles (and some of them were), little wooden images of the gods, little clay images of scribes (such is our fate), little plaques of rough clay engraved with religious images and little coloured wooden Ships of the Dead.

She tried to brush past.

Something was held up in front of her to block her way. It was a mummified arm, complete with fingers.

As she recoiled, a voice said: ‘For you, Madame, for you!’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘For you especially!’ the man insisted.

‘Thank you, no.’

A young man in a white European suit and a fez came through the door behind her and at once released a torrent of Arabic so impressive that even the hardened owners of the hands were taken aback. The porters lounging at the doorway, shaken, rushed forward and chivvied them from the terrace.

‘Why, thank you, Mr Trevelyan!’ said the lady in a cool American voice. ‘You come to my rescue yet again!’

The young man bowed.

‘A pleasure, Miss Skinner.’

He looked up and saw the man sitting on the terrace. ‘Gareth!’ he said. ‘This is a bit of luck!’

Owen had just been thinking how nice it was to see so many old swindlers of his acquaintance back in town, only that day arrived from Upper Egypt where they had been passing the winter selling pillaged or fabricated antiques to the tourists on Cook’s Nile steamers. He recognized some of the old faithfuls. That surely was—

And then Paul Trevelyan had come through the door. ‘Gareth! There’s someone I’d like you to meet.’

He shepherded the woman across.

‘Captain Owen,’ he said, ‘the Mamur Zapt.’

Owen rose.

‘Miss Skinner.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Captain Owen,’ she said, extending a hand, then sitting down in one of the chairs opposite him. ‘But who or what is the Mamur Zapt?’

‘It’s the traditional Arabic title of the post I hold.’

‘And what post is that?’

‘It’s a kind of police post.’

‘You are a policeman?’

‘Yes,’ said Owen, ‘yes. You could say that.’

The woman frowned slightly. She was about thirty and had a long, thin, sharp face. Sharp eyes, too.

‘There seems some doubt about it,’ she said.

Paul Trevelyan came to his assistance.

‘Captain Owen looks after the political side,’ he explained.

‘The post was originally Head of the Khedive’s Secret Police,’ said Owen.

‘Ah!’

‘But, of course, things are very different now.’

They certainly were. For this was 1908 and although the Khedive was still the nominal ruler of Egypt and Egypt was still nominally an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans were no longer in power.

Nor were the Egyptians, for that matter. The new rulers of Egypt were the British, who had come into the country thirty years before to help the Khedive sort out his chaotic finances: come and stayed.

‘The British seem everywhere,’ said Miss Skinner.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that. We’re advisers only, you know.’

‘Really?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘And you yourself,’ said Miss Skinner pointedly, ‘you are an adviser, too?’

‘Yes.’

‘Whom do you advise?’

‘Oh, lots of people. The Khedive—’

Formally, that was.

‘The Chief of Police—’

Who happened to be British.

‘Mr Trevelyan’s boss?’ asked Miss Skinner.

The Consul-General. The British Consul-General, that was. The man who really ran Egypt.

‘You could say that,’ said Owen, smiling.

‘I get the picture,’ said Miss Skinner.

‘Miss Skinner’s interests are archaeological,’ said Paul firmly, deciding that it was time to re-route her.

‘And statistical,’ corrected Miss Skinner. ‘There are a number of things I wish to look into while I am here.’ Behind her back Paul raised his eyes heavenwards.

‘I am sure our Finance Department will be glad to help you,’ said Owen, who had a grudge against the Finance Department.

Miss Skinner pursed her lips.

‘It is the flesh and blood behind the statistics that interests me. I am not sure that Finance Departments are so good at that.’

‘I am taking Miss Skinner to see some of the excavations,’ said Paul doggedly.

‘Fascinating!’ said Owen.

The vendors of antiquities, recovered, had regrouped in front of the terrace and were now beginning to slide their wares beseechingly through the railings. Miss Skinner looked down.

‘Fake!’ she pronounced.

‘But nice, don’t you think?’ said Owen, who rather liked the blue scarab beetles and admired the workmanship that went into the barques.

‘I am only,’ said Miss Skinner, ‘interested in the truth.’ There was something of a pause.

‘And where,’ asked Owen chattily, seeing signs of desperation in Paul, ‘were you planning to go?’

‘Der el Bahari, primarily.’

‘Oh, there are lots of things to see there. You’ll find it very interesting,’ Owen assured Miss Skinner.

‘There’s an American team up there at the moment,’ said Paul. ‘I gather they’re making some promising finds.’

‘I know Parker,’ said Miss Skinner. ‘I’m afraid I don’t like his methodology.’

‘Ah well,’ said Owen, ‘you’ll be able to help him put it right, then.’

He felt something touching his foot and glanced down. A particularly resourceful vendor had laid out some
ushapti
images on a piece of coffin and was poking it under the table for them to see.

Miss Skinner picked up one of the images and turned it over between her hands. She seemed puzzled.

‘It looks genuine,’ she said, ‘but—’

‘It probably
is
genuine.’

‘But how can that be?’

Owen shrugged.

‘It might even come from Der el Bahari. That’s where a lot of these men came from.’

Miss Skinner’s eyes widened.

‘You mean—these things are
stolen
.’

‘Accumulated, say. Perhaps even over the centuries. The ancestors of these men, Miss Skinner, built the temples and tombs in the Valley of Kings. And ever since they have been, well, revenging themselves on their masters.’

‘Then they are grave-robbers,’ cried Miss Skinner, ‘and must be stopped!’

As Paul piloted Miss Skinner down the steps, the vendors closed in again. The man with the mummified arm pushed his way through the crowd and waved it once more in her face.

‘For you, Madame, for you!’

‘No,’ said Miss Skinner, ‘no.’

‘For you especially,’ the man insisted.

 

‘Grave-robbers!’ said Monsieur Peripoulin hotly. ‘That’s what they are!’

‘Oh, come—’

‘That’s what they are!’ the Frenchman insisted. The sweat was running down his face, which wasn’t surprising since he was wearing a dark suit and a stiff, high, white collar, which was, apparently, what he always wore at the Museum.

‘Just tourists,’ said Owen.

‘Not the ones I’m talking about,’ Monsieur Peripoulin declared. ‘Tourists go to the bazaars and buy a few souvenirs. These men usually go straight to the excavations and buy there.’

‘They can’t, surely,’ said Paul. ‘Excavations are closely controlled these days and all finds have to be listed and reported to the Director of Antiquities.’

‘Closely controlled!’ said Monsieur Peripoulin scathingly. ‘If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!’

Paul sighed. The meeting had been going on for two and a half hours now and it was past midday. He had been relying on the French habit of dropping everything at noon and going for lunch, but the elderly Frenchman seemed as determined as ever.

‘What exactly, Monsieur Peripoulin, are you proposing?’ he asked wearily.

‘A licence system,’ said the Frenchman immediately. ‘That is what we need. Anyone wishing to export an antiquity should have to obtain a licence first.’

‘Don’t we have that already?’ asked Carmichael, from Customs. ‘Or the next best thing to it. If anyone wishes to export antiquities they have to send them first to the Museum.’

‘Yes, but that’s only to determine export duty,’ said Monsieur Peripoulin. ‘We put a value on it—and that’s not always easy, let me tell you: what value would you put on the Sphinx?—seal the case and notify the Mudir of Customs.’

‘What’s wrong with that?’ asked the man from Customs.

‘It just goes ahead automatically. No one makes a conscious decision.’

‘We make a decision,’ said Carmichael. ‘We decide what level of duty applies.’

‘Yes, but you don’t ask yourselves whether in principle the thing should be exported at all. It’s that kind of decision I’m talking about.’

‘Just a minute,’ said Paul, chairing the meeting on behalf of the Consul-General. ‘Are you suggesting that we should interfere with the free flow of trade?’

‘These things cannot be seen solely in terms of money,’ declared Monsieur Peripoulin stoutly. ‘They are part of Egypt’s priceless heritage.’

‘I quite agree,’ said the man from Finance: an Egyptian. He was an Under-Secretary—which was a sign that someone somewhere was taking the meeting seriously—and his name was Abu Bakir.

Paul raised an eyebrow.

‘Naturally, works of art have an intrinsic value,’ he said smoothly. ‘Once they are on the market, however, they have a market value.’

‘The question is: how do they get on the market?’ said Abu Bakir.

‘It is not their value that I am concerned about,’ said Monsieur Peripoulin, ‘but their location.’

‘That, too, is determined by the market.’

‘But ought it to be? That is what I am asking. It is an issue of principle,’ the Frenchman insisted.

‘Yes,’ said Paul, ‘but which principle? At this stage in Egypt’s development I would have thought the overriding necessity was to ensure Egypt’s economic health. And that is best done by adherence to the principles of Free Trade.’

‘I am afraid,’ said the Egyptian, who was, after all, from the Ministry of Finance, ‘that I have to agree.’

‘What?’ cried Monsieur Peripoulin, throwing up his hands in dismay. ‘You are willing to see Egypt’s treasures disappear?’

‘I did not say that,’ said Abu Bakir. ‘I did not say that.’ He turned to Paul. ‘Can we return for a moment to a distinction Monsieur Peripoulin made earlier?’

‘What distinction?’ said Paul, glancing at his watch.

‘The one between the ordinary tourist and the specialist buyer. As far as the ordinary tourist is concerned, I think I agree with you: we should not interfere in the ordinary processes of trade. With respect to the specialist buyer and the exceptional item, however, I find myself tempted by Monsieur Peripoulin’s licensing proposal.’

‘I don’t think we can take a decision on something as major as that today.’

‘Perhaps not, but I don’t think we ought just to leave it. Perhaps we can ask Customs to look into it and report back?’

‘We could do that,’ assented Paul.

It being past lunch-time, everyone was prepared to agree and the meeting broke up. As they walked out, Monsieur Peripoulin put a hot hand on Owen’s arm.

‘All this is missing the point. Licence, not licence, that is not the point. What happens when the goods don’t come to us at all?’

‘They should all come to you.’

‘But what happens when they don’t?’

‘Ah well,’ said Abu Bakir over Owen’s shoulder, ‘that’s where the Mamur Zapt comes in.’

‘Not the Mamur Zapt; the police,’ said Owen.

‘The police!’ said Monsieur Peripoulin dismissively.

‘I’m inclined to agree with you,’ said Carmichael, from Customs. ‘The police can’t do much about it. Half the staff goes out under Capitulatory privilege.’

‘That’s why I said the Mamur Zapt,’ said Abu Bakir.

 

‘I don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ said Owen.

‘Very sensible of you,’ said Paul.

‘If it’s tied up with the Capitulations we won’t get anywhere.’

The Capitulations were privileges granted to European powers by successive Ottoman rulers in return for organizing international trade.

‘True,’ said Paul.

‘In that case that’s something for the Foreign Office, not me.’

‘Mm,’ said Paul.

‘In fact, I wonder why I was there at all. Who called the meeting?’

‘I did.’

‘You did?’ said Owen, surprised.

They were at a reception that evening in what Old India hands called the Residency and new English ones the Consulate-General. The house was, indeed, in the style of English building in India, designed to protect against the heat rather than against the cold. The floor was tiled, the roof domed, the windows shuttered and the doors arched. Through one of the arches Owen could see Miss Skinner talking to Abu Bakir.

‘Yes. It’s moving up the political agenda.’

‘The export of antiquities?’

‘People are getting interested.’

‘What people? Peripoulin goes on about it, I know, but—’

‘Other people. People outside Egypt.’

‘They’re the ones who are buying the stuff!’

‘Yes. But other ones are asking questions about it.’

‘About us exporting antiquities?’

‘And other things, too. About our stewardship, for instance, of Egyptian treasures.’

‘We’re looking after them all right, aren’t we? Old Peripoulin—’

‘We’re selling them off. At least, that’s how some people see it.’


We’re
not selling them off. Private individuals are. That’s nothing to do with us.’

‘Isn’t it? Some people think it is. Some people think there ought to be a regulatory framework.’

‘I see. So that’s what the meeting was about.’

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