Kurt Austin and the NUMA crew risk everything to stop a cutthroat arms dealer from stealing a priceless ancient treasure in the thrilling new novel from the #1 New York Times-bestselling grand master of adventure.
In 1074 B.C., vast treasures disappear from the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. In 1927, a daredevil American aviator vanishes on an attempted transcontinental flight. And in the present day, a fishing trawler--along with its mysterious cargo--sinks off the coast of Scotland. How are these three mysterious events connected? And, more importantly, what do they mean for Kurt Austin and his NUMA team?
As they search for answers, the NUMA squad join the agents of the British MI5 to take on a wide-reaching international conspiracy. Their common enemy is the Bloodstone Group, a conglomerate of arms dealers and thieves attempting to steal ancient relics on both sides of the Atlantic. Kurt and his team soon find themselves wrapped up in a treacherous treasure hunt as they race to find the lost Egyptian riches. . . before they fall into the wrong hands.
Release date: March 10, 2020
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Print pages: 432
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Journey of the Pharaohs
Roosevelt Field, New York
May 12, 1927
On a pleasant afternoon that marked the middle of May, a small crowd gathered at an airfield on Long Island. A roped-off area was set aside for reporters, while farther back spectators from the general public jostled for position. Nearby, on a small platform, a brass band played.
A photographer snapped a picture of the crowd and the band. ÒYou have to give Jake Melbourne credit,Ó the photographer said. ÒHe really knows how to put on a show.Ó
Jake Melbourne was a World War I ace, a celebrity daredevil aviator and, as the photographer had noted, all-around showman. While other pilots wore brown leather jackets and drab wool pants for warmth, Jake wore a bright red leather jacket, adorned with epaulets. He wrapped his neck in a golden scarf and shod his feet in ostrich-skin boots. Over the years, heÕd become famous, winning various flying contests and plenty of notoriety. Now he was going after the biggest ribbon in aviation, the Orteig Prize, twenty-five thousand dollars to the first pilot to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Or vice versa. It meant hopping the Atlantic Ocean in one leap and many people thought it couldnÕt be done.
ÒWhat good is it if he gets himself killed?Ó one reporter asked.
ÒIt makes for a good headline,Ó a second reporter answered.
ÒWinning the prize would be a better one,Ó another reporter said. ÒIf anybody can do it, this guy can.Ó
ÒYou think MelbourneÕs going to make it?Ó the photographer asked. ÒYou really think heÕs going to be the one? What about this Lindbergh guy?Ó
ÒWho?Ó the reporter said.
ÒThe guy with the silver plane. HeÕs parked over at Curtiss Field next door. Flew in last week from San Diego. Set a cross-country record on the way.Ó
ÒOh, you mean Slim,Ó the reporter said with disdain. ÒNot a chance. His planeÕs only got one engine. MelbourneÕs got two and can carry more fuel.Ó
ÒIf you ask me, it canÕt be done,Ó another reporter leaned in to say. ÒFour men have already been killed. Three other planes have crashed. And the French team in the White Bird are still missing. ItÕs been a week. Wherever they are, theyÕre not still flying.Ó
The White Bird was the English translation of LÕOiseau Blanc, the name Charles Nungesser and Franois Coli had given their airplane. TheyÕd left Paris on May 8th in spectacular style but hadnÕt been heard from since crossing the coast of Normandy. Searches for the plane and its crew were being carried out on both sides of the Atlantic even as Melbourne and other contestants prepared for their attempts.
ÒYou wonder where Melbourne gets his money from?Ó the skeptical reporter continued. ÒByrd has the Wanamakers, Fonck had Sikorsky.Ó
ÒI heard Melbourne is funding the flight himself,Ó the photographer said.
ÒAnd I heard heÕs flat broke and desperate for the prize money,Ó the reporter replied. ÒLikes to gamble, you know.Ó
The photographer considered that. ÒWell, it doesnÕt get much higher stakes than risking your life. Makes you wonder why anyone would even try it.Ó
In a planning room, near the back of a hangar, Jake Melbourne and his financial backers were having a similar conversation.
Melbourne stood tall with his boots on, hair slicked back and his red jacket hanging open. His meticulously trimmed mustache gave him a passing resemblance to Errol Flynn. HeÕd slept in very late in order to be rested for the long solo flight, but he looked tired and angry. ÒIÕm not going,Ó he insisted. ÒNot with that thing on board.Ó
He was pointing to a compact steamer trunk, which, though it was small in size, was extremely heavy.
The men across from him seemed unimpressed by the outburst. There were three of them, very different from one another but with a family resemblance.
The older man in the center was thin and balding, with glasses and wearing a double-breasted mackinaw overcoat. Beside him was a bruiser who looked like heÕd come straight from the bare-knuckles boxing ring or jail. His nose was flat, one eye recently blackened, his ears chewed up like heÕd taken a hundred punches to the head.
The third member of the trio was younger still, of more average height and build, and he considered himself JakeÕs friend. But that didnÕt count for much at the moment.
It was the older, bespectacled man who responded. ÒListen to me, Jake. WeÕre all here to help each other. Remember when the Irishmen wanted to break your hands for stiffing them on the three grand you owed? We paid them off for you. Not only did we do that, we bought out your other markers and helped you buy this plane. Now we need something from you.Ó
ÒI was going to pay off those markers after I won the prize,Ó Jake said, Òthat was the deal. You get half, plus we sell the plane. The rest I keep.Ó
ÒThat was the deal,Ó the older man said. ÒWe got a different one in mind now. In this deal, you get to keep the whole prize. You just have to deliver that trunk to a friend of ours on the Continent. HeÕll meet you in Paris after you land.Ó
Melbourne shook his head. ÒIf I put that thing on my plane, IÕll have to off-load fifty gallons of fuel. One bad stretch of weather and IÕll never make Paris. A little bit of a headwind and I might not even make the coast.Ó
ÒYou said going east instead of west puts the wind at your back,Ó the older man insisted.
ÒI still need fuel.Ó
ÒMaybe we could take out some other equipment,Ó the youngest member of the trio said. ÒIÕve heard Lindbergh isnÕt using radio. I heard he doesnÕt want a parachute. Says the equipment is too heavy and unreliable.Ó The young man turned to Jake. ÒYou taught me how to dead reckon,Ó he said. ÒYou can use a compass and your watch.Ó
ÒLindberghÕs crazy,Ó Melbourne replied. ÒOnce he takes off, heÕs gonna vanish just like the French. I need that equipment. And I need every gallon of fuel. Why donÕt you put the trunk on a steamship? Then IÕll meet your friend in Paris and tell him what ship itÕs on.Ó
The bruiser shook his head. ÒHooverÕs boys are closing in fast and the docks are crawling with flatfoots looking for us. Besides, who can we trust?Ó
ÒHoover?Ó Melbourne blurted out. ÒYouÕre telling me the Bureau of Investigation is looking for this thing?Ó
The older man nodded. ÒWeÕve had a misunderstanding with them,Ó he admitted. ÒWhy do you think we funded you in secret?Ó
Melbourne rubbed at his temple and ran a hand through his thick blond hair. Stepping forward, he grabbed the trunk, straining to lift it up, and then put it back down again. ÒWay too heavy,Ó he said. Out of instinct, curiosity or just plain stupidity, he opened it to see what was inside. ÒWhat in the world?Ó
A boot slammed the top down so suddenly that Melbourne almost lost his fingers.
ÒI wish you hadnÕt done that Jakey.Ó It was the older man talking. His foot on the trunk, a revolver in his hand.
ÒYou canÕt be serious,Ó Melbourne said.
ÒNow what?Ó the bruiser said. ÒThose stones can tie us into everything. The guys we killed at the train station were carrying them. We get caught, itÕs the chair.Ó
ÒI didnÕt see anything,Ó Melbourne stammered. ÒJust a bunch ofÑÓ
Without finishing his statement, Melbourne threw a punch, knocking the revolver out of the old manÕs hand. As the weapon hit the hangar floor, Jake turned and sprinted for the door, but the bruiser tackled him around the waist, landing on him like a sack of cement.
Melbourne squirmed to get free and managed to slam an ostrich-skin boot into the manÕs already flattened nose. Blood spurted and the man grabbed his face, letting Melbourne go.
Jumping up, Melbourne froze in his tracks. The youngest man in the group had blocked his way and he now held a pistol as well.
ÒYou have to fly it,Ó the young man said. ÒOtherwise, we all go down. And that means you too.Ó
Melbourne was past caring. He pulled open the top drawer on his desk, reaching for a derringer that lay there.
ÒDonÕt!Ó the younger man shouted.
It was too late for reason. Melbourne grabbed the pistol and spun. The fight ended with a pair of gunshots ringing out.
To the crowd outside, the shots were barely noticeable. Muffled by the walls of the hangar and masked by the playing of the brass band, no one could be sure if they came from bottles of champagne being opened, rimshots from the drummer or the backfiring of a nearby car or plane.
Any thoughts about the sounds were forgotten when the doors of the hangar opened and the crew pushed MelbourneÕs plane out into the sunlight.
The aircraft was beautiful. Painted bright red, with MelbourneÕs name on the tail and his personal emblemÑa polished brass ramÕs headÑon the side.
The plane was also a technological wonder, for its time. One of a kind, with an all-metal fuselage and a mid-mounted wingÑdesign cues that foretold the future direction of aviation. It had twin engines, with inline twelve-cylinder power plants that were water-cooled and had a capacity of 450 horses each. Its streamlined appearance and extra power gave it a top speed nearly twice what the average plane could fly. Its only weakness was that those engines consumed a lot of fuel. MelbourneÕs plan was to shut one engine down when he reached maximum cruising altitude, spend an hour slowly losing altitude, then fire the sleeping engine up and climb back into the sky. It was risky since twin-engine planes didnÕt fly particularly well on one engine, controlling them was difficult and restarting engines in flight had a spotty record of success. But Melbourne claimed to have practiced it and thought he could pull it off.
It was precisely this level of daredevil confidence that made the crowd love him. And when he came striding out behind the plane, in his red jacket, leather helmet, goggles and golden scarf, the crowd roared with delight. He bowed and waved and then climbed onto the wing of the plane.
From a spot behind the rope, the photographer raised his Ansco Memo box camera to take a picture. But just as he centered it on Jake, the reporter beside him pushed the camera down, the shutter snapped, and the photographer knew the photo would be blurred.
ÒWhat gives?Ó he said sharply.
ÒNever take a photo of a pilot before his flight,Ó the reporter told him. ÒItÕs bad luck.Ó
The photographer sighed. ÒCan I get the plane?Ó
ÒWait until itÕs moving.Ó
As the photographer waited, the band struck up a rendition of ÒGrand Old FlagÓ by George M. Cohan. The crowd sang along as Melbourne climbed into the cockpit. Within minutes, both engines had been fired up and the Golden Ram was heading toward the far end of the runway. There were no preflight checks, no delays, nothing that would cause the plane to spend more time on the ground burning fuel. It taxied out onto the runway, turned into the wind and began its takeoff roll.
The photographer took a photo and then lowered his camera.
With its twin engines thundering, the craft accelerated, but slowly. Halfway down the field, its tail wheel came up. Then, with only a quarter of the runway to go, it finally lifted off the ground, clawing its way into the air, fighting for every foot.
Everybody in the crowd held their breaths. Many of them had seen Ren FonckÕs overloaded plane crash and burst into flames at the same spot the previous year. If they could, they would will the Golden Ram into the sky.
With the end of the runway nearing, the landing gear was jettisoned from the aircraft, the idea being that two hundred pounds of metal wasnÕt worth lugging all the way to Paris when one could land on the skid underneath the planeÕs belly.
Relieved of the landing gear, the plane climbed more easily, clearing telephone wires strung along the road at the end of the runway. Only now did the photographer snap his final shot. It caught the red plane turning east, heading for the coast, the sun glinting off its polished ramÕs head emblem. The Atlantic Ocean beckoned and, on the other side, Paris, fame and fortune.
The photographer developed his photographs the next morning. His pictures of the Golden Ram in flight would be used repeatedly over the next month, first in articles describing the great hope on the day of the flight, then during the unsuccessful search for the plane, which would go on for weeks after the Golden Ram vanished.
Despite the possibility of selling it for a large sum of money, the photographer would never publish the slightly blurred picture of Melbourne climbing onto the wing.
ÒBad luck,Ó the reporter had called it. And for the rest of his life the photographer would believe it had been just that.
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