Karnak -or more specifically, the Karnak Temple Complex- was all of two things to me.
Stone. And sand.
Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan of either of them. On the other hand, Jacinto looked like he was in heaven. When the city finally came into view he gave a whoop of joy, jumping in his seat and accidentally knocking over the cup of tea that Charles was so delicately trying to sip at.
We lost him the first day. As soon as the convoy came to a halt outside the ruins, he leaped off the jeep with nothing more than a backpack and dashes off into the broken down buildings, lost from sight in moments. We didn't see him even once throughout the entire evening, but the sounds of 'By Jove!' and 'Jolly Good!' could be heard non-stop all around us.
Tired from the trip, most of the party began camping for the night.
"There will be an extra tent and bag for you, I'm sure." Charles said as he watched three diggers pitch up his tent. The majority of the convoy consisted of local Arabs, including the drivers and the digging force. Apart from Jacinto and Charles, there were few other foreigners on the expedition, a group of college students from America and a handful of eqyptologists and archeologists from here and there.
"A bag would be fine thank you. If its alright with you, I'd like to sleep in the open."
He snorted. "Go ahead, be my guest. But I must warn you that you'll have Jacinto for company. He enjoys sleeping outside too, you see."
I smiled politely. "I'm sure I can manage. Once again, thank you so much."
"Don't mention it." Charles had already turned around to return to the supervision of his tent.
Night came fast and was colder than expected. The bag kept me snug and warm, and I was only a few feet away from one of the fires they had made, enjoying the warmth tickling at the side of my body. They had given a spare change of clothes as well. Torn and in tatters, mine were useless. All I had from Hong Kong was my passport (a forgery, of course), some money (useless here), and my Colt (which was useless as well, unless I decided to take a shot at Jacinto).
I opened the passport and looked at my face. It was an Indian one, I had requested for an Indian when Money had asked me. He had smiled at that, pleased that I was holding on to my roots in some way, at least.
I can still see him smiling at me. I can still see him flying through the window.
It was difficult to sleep. And I was wide awake, when I heard the footsteps nearby. Instinctively my hand gripped gun, finger scratching at the safety. I slowly turned my head to the side to see a shadow moving about nearby. I relaxed and breathed out when I caught the glint of the monocle in the moonlight.
"Enjoying it so far?" I asked.
Jacinto spun around like a child caught stealing candy. When he saw it was me, he relaxed visibly.
"Ah, Lurch!" He said. "You still awake. Excellent! I was hoping for some company, and I wasn't desperate enough yet to go wake Charles."
He came over and sat down beside me. "All the wonders I've seen in a single day. Now I know why Greaves and Sicard fell in love with this place, there's something bizarre and beautiful about Karnak, yes, indeed there is."
"This is your fist time here?" I asked.
"Oh yes, first trip to Karnak. I mean, we've all been to Giza and I've even been parts of a digs in the Valley of the Kings, but this is my first time to Karnak. And it couldn't have been any later. My research is itching to get on its way again."
"Yes, I'm not here for fun after all, now am I? My work, in fact my life's work, has been the study and documentation of the life of Pharaoh Thutmose III. He was the first Pharaoh to unify North and South Egypt, his conquests brought the lands of Canaan, Syria and Mitanni under Egypt as well. And here, here in Karnak..."
He paused to look once again at the ruins. Bathed white in the glow of the moonlight, the ruins looked far different than in the day. Shadows hid many of the broken pillars and walls, and the buildings seemed to have an almost ethereal look to them. I half expected to see a couple of dark-skinned men in loincloths coming out from around a corner.
"Karnak," Jacinto continued. "Is probably Thutmose III's greatest achievement. Half of these structures were constructed under his reign, the Pylon VI, the Temenos walls, temples, hallways... and you can see scores of panels depicting his military conquests, scenes from his daily life, and of course, his time as Ruler of North and South Egypt. In comparison, he was probably the greatest ruler to come out of the Egyptian Civilization."
"So what are you looking for? Some secret door that will lead to his treasures in a chamber filled with booby traps. And aren't you worried about some kind of curse?"
He impatiently tapped at his knee. "See? This is the damage bloody Hollywood does. Fills everybody's minds with complete rot, until you think that there's an undead mummy waiting for you around every second corner. Booby traps are not uncommon in these places, but most have been disarmed or have broken down, unable to stand the test of time. And despite what you see on the telly, I can assure you that the only mummies you'll see are all dead and harmless. No, we are here for research. To study whatever we can in order to uncover more about Thutmose III. There is still so much that we can only hypothesize about, but I am here to replace that with fact. What once lived thousands of years ago can still exist today."
Before I'd realized it, we'd spoken the entire night till dawn. Well, Jacinto spoke, I mainly listened, living his life over the course of one night. Graduating from Stanford in Law. Earning a fortune through his cases. Marriage to some model and early retirement. Continuing on with his love of Egypt. Running away from home with the maid. Getting caught. Then the divorce, in which he lost too much. And then finally, moving to Egypt.
Which he knew too much about. My mind spun with the different dynasties, who built what, and disturbingly graphic descriptions of mummification. But through all of that one thing was clear. This man was one of the happiest and most humane guys I had met. And after spending a year in the Hong Kong underground, I was genuinely glad for his kind of company.
He stopped when the sun had completely risen, now starting it's slow crawl to the top of the sky.
"Well, its a new day, and I'd like some shut eye before work. I trust I didn't bore you with the conversation, Lurch?"
"No, not at all." I replied. "By the way, what day is it?"
"Why its Wednesday, the Eighteenth of March to be exact."
I paused. No. "I'm sorry did you say March? Isn't it August?"
"August?" He laughed. "Very Funny, Lurch, though I'm not sure I quite well get the joke. Its March, March 2009. Come on now, let's get some shut eye before Charles wakes and starts howling for a cup of tea."
I stood there, rooted in shock as I took this in. Jacinto had said March, March. The last time I remembered anything, during my time in the Triads, it was August. August 2007. I had no memory of almost the last twenty months of my life.
Looking back at that moment right now, its safe to say that I was more than a little concerned about that.