The Templar Cross

The Templar Cross by Paul Christopher Page A

Book: The Templar Cross by Paul Christopher Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Christopher
Tags: Fiction, Historical
climbed out of the taxi and crossed the pier to the tugboat gangplank.
    “What if there’s somebody else on board?” Rafi asked.
    “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” answered Holliday. “But first we cross the gangplank.”
    They crossed the gap between the pier and the tugboat, oily water lapping sluggishly below them. They reached the main deck and paused, listening for any sounds from behind the bulkhead doors directly in front of them. There were three doors and three portholes, the portholes covered by so much grime that they were almost opaque. There was a companionway stair leading to the deck below and the steps leading up to the wheelhouse. Both the deckhouse and the wheelhouse-bridge above it were made of wood, probably mahogany or teak, covered by so many coats of white paint the planking was almost invisible. The filth laid over the paint had turned everything a greasy gray color. A heavily overpainted cast iron builder’s medallion read Neafie, Levy & Co. Philadelphia—1906.
    “This thing is more than a hundred years old,” said Rafi, staring at the oval plate bolted to the deckhouse.
    “They built to last back then,” said Holliday. “A thousand storms, a couple of world wars. The British were still occupying Egypt when she was built.”
    Rafi was peering through one of the grimy portholes.
    “Looks like the galley,” he said. “Nobody there.”
    Holliday nodded and turned toward the companionway leading up to the wheelhouse. Rafi followed close behind him. They both turned and looked toward the dock. Still deserted. A noon-time siesta in the heat of the day. The sun blazed down and Holliday felt sweat running down in itchy streams under his shirt. The man in the Citroën had looked cool. The Citroën, unlike Faraj’s taxi, was almost undoubtedly air-conditioned.
    They reached the wheelhouse and stepped inside. The interior was almost primitive. There were slatted wooden scuppers on the floor to let water drain, an amateurish welded aluminum dashboard with a few engine controls and a six-spoked mahogany and brass wheel that looked as though it might have been the original. There was a simple engine room telegraph attached to the right-hand bulkhead marked Full , Half , Slow and Stop . A tall iron braking handle came up from the floor to the right of the ship’s wheel. There was a marine radio bolted to a bracket in the roof above the front windscreen, a black plastic compass in a glycerin float, a modern GPS unit and an echo sounder. For a hundred-foot-long vessel it was definitely seat-of-the-pants navigation.
    “Whoever drives this bus is either very good at his job or he’s insane,” said Holliday.
    “Or both,” commented Rafi. There was a single bulkhead door at the rear of the wheelhouse. It was unlocked. Holliday and Rafi stepped through into a combination chart room and captain’s cabin. The briefcase was sitting on a small table beside a porthole. Holliday snapped the latch and pulled it open. It was filled with nautical charts and nothing else.
    “Looks like he’s getting ready to go somewhere,” said Holliday.
    “Where?” Rafi asked.
    Holliday opened one of the folded charts and laid it out on the table.
    “As-Sallum to Al-Iskandariyah,” he said, reading the chart legend. “The scale is one to three hundred thousand. About a hundred and forty miles from Alexandria. Looks like some sort of harbor.”
    “As-Sallum is also the last place anybody heard from Peggy and the expedition,” said Rafi. “It was their last staging point before crossing into Libya. It’s right on the border.”
    “It can’t be a coincidence,” said Holliday. He folded the chart again and put it back in the briefcase. He closed and latched the briefcase and put it back exactly where he’d found it. “Let’s see if we can find out why our knickknack salesman is going to this As-Sallum,” he said.
    They left the wheelhouse through the harbor-side door, screening themselves from

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