Life and the Grave

By Sanguine

Episode 9.7

Part One

 

MacGyver smiled and blinked against the bright rays of sun blazing around the mountains west of the Egyptian city of Asyut. If he lifted a hand to his face, he could see the bustle of the excavation: tents, people with brushes and charts, plastic tarps, and careful arrangements of tools and artifacts. The sun was setting, which meant that soon, the temperature would drop and the dig site would be wrapping up for the day, but MacGyver wanted to come and see it as soon as he got off the plane.

As he approached the excavation site, a stocky man in Western clothing began to walk in his direction. As MacGyver lifted his hand in a little half-wave, the man called, “Hey! What’re you doing here? This is an official excavation. No unauthorized access.”

“Name’s MacGyver. Pete Thornton sent me.”

The man, obviously an American, looked almost disappointed. “Oh. Well, can I see some ID?”

Annoyed, MacGyver dug around in his pocket for his wallet and muttered, “Yeah, sure.” This wasn’t quite how he’d envisioned his first experience with the excavation, and with the sun setting quickly, he had little time to waste before the archaeologists would call it a day and make him wait for tomorrow to see what—if any—fascinating discoveries that they’d come across.

The man passed MacGyver’s ID back to him and ran a hand through his short black hair. “All right, c’mon in. Sorry for double-checking you like that. We’ve been having some problems with locals coming in unannounced and moving things around. I had to be sure you weren’t here to cause trouble.”

“No problem,” MacGyver replied.

“So what’d the Phoenix Foundation send you here to do, anyway? I heard we were getting another American, but we’ve got plenty of archaeologists already.”

MacGyver shook his head as he looked around to see where most of the digging was taking place. “I’m not an archaeologist. Not professionally, anyway.”

“Is there such a thing as an amateur archaeologist?” the man asked, puzzled.

MacGyver just gave him a look and crossed to the person he was really there to see. “Dr. Anbar!”

The elderly Egyptian man glanced around to locate the source of the voice and smiled when he saw MacGyver. “Ah! You must be Pete Thornton’s friend. What did he say your name was?”

“MacGyver.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. MacGyver. Any friend of Pete’s is a friend of mine.” Anbar shook MacGyver’s hand with a wide grin that belied how seriously he’d been giving orders to the archaeologists just moments before.

“We’ve actually met once before, Doctor,” MacGyver said, feeling a little shy. “You were giving a seminar in Los Angeles, over the symbolism of jewels and minerals in the ancient world. It was at least ten years ago. You probably don’t remember me.”

Anbar scrutinized him for a moment. “I remember Los Angeles very well. Lovely city both times I’ve visited. Now that you mention it, you do look familiar to me. You asked me a question, didn’t you?”

Mac nodded. “I asked you about sapphires and—”

“Sapphires and lapis in the temple of Jerusalem, yes, I remember now!” Anbar nodded, brown eyes sparkling. “That was an excellent question. They were all good questions. I wish I could remember them all. Well, welcome to the excavation of Inpuhotep’s family crypt. I see you’ve already met our head of security.”

“Yeah, I did,” MacGyver replied, glancing over at the American man. “I didn’t get your name.”

“Nick Westley the Second.”

Mac raised an eyebrow. “Mind if I call you Nick?”

Nick shrugged. “Call me Nick, call me whatever you want—just don’t call me late for dinner. Excuse me, I gotta check something.”

As the head of security walked away, Dr. Anbar shook his head. “Unusual man, even for an American. But, come! Let me introduce you to our team.”

The good doctor then proceeded to trawl MacGyver through a list of names that he would probably never remember, since there were at least fifteen archaeologists in all. …Except for Anna and Jennifer, the Australian twins. He might remember them.
Grinning at the pair of blondes over his shoulder, he collided with a bulky and bald man whose name had already slipped MacGyver’s mind. Travis? Trevor? Whatever his name, he dropped the handkerchief that he’d been using to wipe the sweat from his head when he slammed into MacGyver like a brick wall.

“Sorry, mate,” Travis/Trevor said before getting the attention of Dr. Anbar—who’d been trying to discuss the excavation’s findings with MacGyver, oblivious to his new friend’s distraction. “Dr. Anbar, we’ve found more execration texts and shabti figures in the antechamber, but so far, there’s still no evidence of another entrance. I think we’ve got to face it: our original conclusion was right. The empty sarcophagi and remaining artifacts we’ve found are all that’s left. The mastaba must have been sacked long before we got here, just like all the others.”

The towering Briton shook his head. “I’m sorry, Doctor.”

“No!” Anbar’s voice was firm. “I’ve researched Inpuhotep and his family for years. I’ve studied this tomb! Mastabas like this one often had secret chambers and hidden entrances. The antechamber is just a decoy to fool the robbers. The real burial chamber is buried deep inside. I’m certain of it, Terrence! We’ve just got to keep looking.”

Terrence. That was it. Tall Terrence? MacGyver could remember that.

Terrence sighed. “All right, Doctor. We’ll keep looking. But we can’t keep this up forever. Even with the Phoenix Foundation’s grant, we only have enough funding for another two weeks. And even with all the money in the world, we have our agreement with the Egyptian government to consider. We only have permission to investigate here until the end of the month. If we don’t find something soon, we won’t have a choice.”

“I know that,” Anbar replied, “but we’re close. I know we are.”

Terrence watched the elderly Egyptologist for a moment before nodding his bald head. Then he walked off to join his fellow archaeologists without another word, handkerchief forgotten in the dust.

“What’s this about a hidden entrance?” MacGyver asked, curiosity immediately piqued.

Anbar smiled. “Pete told me a little about you. He mentioned to me that if anyone could help me find the burial chamber in Inpuhotep’s tomb, it’d be you. I’m sure you know that Egyptians often used false chambers, labyrinths, traps, and all kinds of decoys to keep out unwanted visitors.”

MacGyver winced just a little as his mind rapidly retraced every single dangerous archaeological venture he’d ever volunteered for (or been dragged into). “Yeah, I know all about that.”

“Well, Inpuhotep was just a vizier, not royalty, so his mastaba is much more modest than most. But that doesn’t mean that his family’s crypt doesn’t have a few surprises somewhere. My research tells me that the entrance to the rest of the tomb has got to be inside the antechamber somewhere, and one of the old family journals that I found in the local archives suggests that sand is the key. But obviously, there’s sand everywhere in this area, so most of the others think I’m wrong.”

MacGyver shrugged. “I doubt you’re wrong, but maybe there’s just something we’re missing. Mind if I take a look?”

Anbar flashed a grin. “Of course you should look, MacGyver, that’s what you’re here for!”

A loud clatter broke off the conversation abruptly. Springing into action, everyone ran towards the source of the sound.

“Oh, no!” one of the archaeologists groaned. “Look at our equipment.”

“It’s scattered everywhere! This is the third time this week,” chimed in another.
Terrence sighed. “Come on. We’d best be sure that nothing’s broken. Do an inventory of the artifacts, too, just to be sure. After that, we’ll have to come back when it’s daylight.”

Nick Westley reappeared, searching in all directions. “I don’t know what could be doing this, but I saw those animals out there again. I think they’re jackals.” He pointed out a pair of small canines peering at the group from behind a rock. “Maybe they’re wild dogs and not jackals. I don’t know, but I don’t like ‘em. They’re too close, and they could be the ones messing with all our stuff. I know for a fact that something’s been digging a hole underneath the tarps.”

MacGyver watched them for a moment and shook his head. “Those aren’t jackals. Not wild dogs, either. They’re foxes.”

“Just ordinary foxes?” Nick said doubtfully.

“Well, how do we get rid of them?” Terrence asked.

“I think I have a couple ideas,” MacGyver replied as he picked up Terrence’s sweaty handkerchief from the ground with two fingers. “Will you show me the hole they’ve been digging?”

“Yeah, sure thing,” Nick said, leading MacGyver around a maze of trenches and coverings until they came to a blue tarp close to the rock wall. A sizeable hole had been scratched into the dirt and sand beneath the tarp, between two stakes that were holding it flush against the ground. “See what I mean? I don’t know why they want in there. It’s not like there’s any food or anything around here.”

MacGyver shrugged and knelt beside the hole. “Foxes like to burrow. They make their homes in shallow holes under the ground. These two are probably looking for a place to raise their young.”

Nick snorted. “Well, they need to raise ‘em somewhere else.”

“What we need to do is convince them that this area and this burrow have been claimed by somebody else.” MacGyver waved the handkerchief in the air before stuffing it into the hole. “Normally, anything with enough human smell on it is enough to keep foxes away. They're usually pretty shy.”

“These foxes are anything but shy! They came around and started getting into stuff in broad daylight.”

MacGyver quirked an eyebrow. “It’s not exactly broad daylight out here anymore, but I see what you mean.” Then he pointed to some of the equipment. “Those candles over there, by the mosquito netting. Citronella?”

“Uh, I think so, yeah.”

MacGyver grabbed one of the big, round candles and Nick reached over with a lighter.

“Why do you need one of these?” Nick asked. “You getting bit?”

“No, but I need some of the wax.”

Nick’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

“Citronella is a natural repellent for just about everything, not just bugs. The smell is so strong that it’ll keep the foxes and lots of other animals far away from that hole.” When the candle had burned long enough to melt a sizeable pool of wax, MacGyver dripped the fragrant liquid around the perimeter of the half-finished fox burrow. “There you go. I don’t think they’ll be giving you too much trouble anymore.”

“Hey, Nick!” Terrence called. “We’re ready to head out!”

“All right! I’ll do another check and be right behind you,” Nick said. After a moment, he looked at Mac and added, “Also, thanks for the help. That’s a neat trick.”

MacGyver smiled. “Don’t mention it.”

As Nick started to walk away, he smirked and replied, “I wasn’t planning to.”

Rolling his eyes, MacGyver started to look around at the equipment that the others were working on putting away, checking off items on an inventory clipboard before securing everything under tarps staked to the ground. “Need some help with that?”

“No, I think we’ve got it, but thanks,” one of the archaeologists replied. “We’ve gotten used to picking everything up over the past few weeks. At least nothing’s gone missing this time.”

“Things have gone missing?” MacGyver tilted his head in curiosity. “What kind of things?”

“No artifacts, thank goodness, but lots of equipment. Brushes, chisels, shovels, radios… You name it. And even if nothing gets lost, we still have to pick it all back up and shove it underneath the tarps again. It’s hard to protect the equipment and the artifacts from the weather when something keeps stirring it all back up. Hopefully, that thing you did to keep away the foxes will help with this.”

Slowly, MacGyver shook his head. “Somehow, I don’t think that these problems have been caused by the foxes. I'm far from being an expert, but that hole seemed a little too perfect and a little too deep to be an animal. It could've easily been a person with a hand shovel…someone who’d like to use the foxes to draw away suspicion.”

“Well, if it wasn't a fox, then who could it possibly be? We have the support of the government and the local community. There aren’t any other teams competing for this dig, and the people buried in this tomb have no more living relatives. There’s no one else who would care about something like this. I mean, as a historian, I hate to say it this way, but—we’re just digging up some dead guys. That’s it.”

MacGyver shrugged. “You could be right. Maybe it’s nothing.”

The archaeologist raised one perfectly tanned eyebrow. “But let me guess: you’re going to keep an eye on things anyway?”

MacGyver smiled. “You got it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

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