CARTER WAS STUNNED. He’d done his job so well, so painstakingly as inspector in chief that not a single tomb had been robbed in the Thebes area since he’d taken charge. Not one.
What had happened? Thieves in the night? Who? How?
Carter dressed in seconds and ran for the door. In the pale predawn light he picked his way across the rocks and scree of the wadi.
The path soon became wide and smooth and then led into a flight of steps that climbed steeply upward before dead-ending against a cliff face.
A doorway had been carved into the rock, marking the entrance. Carter had recently installed an iron gate across the opening to keep thieves out of KV 35, as the tomb of Amenhotep II was officially known.
But now that impenetrable barrier swung uselessly on its hinges. “How could this have happened?” muttered Carter. Then he called to the digger. “Bring men to guard the door. I’m going inside! Hurry!”
Back in Cairo, small fortunes were being made from tomb artifacts, with tourists and collectors quickly snapping up anything and everything tomb robbers put on the market. Catching a gang of these soulless thieves red-handed would be quite a coup for Carter.
He lit a cigarette and paced until the reinforcements arrived. Amenhotep II was the grandfather of Amenhotep the Magnificent, and the great-grandfather of Akhenaten, whose queen was the alluring Nefertiti.
Carter entered the tomb slowly, cautiously. As he did, silence washed over him. The first steps into a tomb were always like that—a reminder that he was leaving the world of the living and entering a place meant for only the dead. Sometimes he felt like he was trespassing and supposed that he was.
There were nine chambers in the tomb, each connected by a narrow hallway with a ceiling so low that Carter had to duck his head almost to his waist to pass through. He flicked on the light switch and waited for his eyes to adjust to the pale artificial glow.
Then he listened for the distant scurry of an intruder. But he heard just himself as he walked farther into the rocky tomb.
Stairs led down to a sharp left turn at what he liked to call the first-pillar room. Keeping one hand on the wall in case he slipped—and a sharp eye out for deadly cobras—Carter made his way down more steps and into the burial chamber.
The starry night painted on the ceiling was the handiwork of a long-dead artisan. Straight ahead lay the mummified body of Amenhotep II, thrown on the floor like a rag doll. The burial chamber had been ransacked, everything stolen. What a terrible crime had been committed here.
And on Carter’s watch.