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Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY

A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY

BY JOHN BLAINE


GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1961
NEW YORK, N. Y.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Printed in the United States of America_

[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not discover a U.S.
copyright renewal.]




[Illustration: _The room had been searched inch by inch. Someone wanted
the cat!_]




Contents


I THE WINSTON PLAN

II THE EGYPTIAN CAT

III CAIRO

IV EL MOUSKI

V SAHARA WELLS

VI THE CAT HAS KITTENS

VII THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

VIII THE MIDNIGHT CALL

IX THE UNINVITED VISITOR

X THE GREAT PYRAMID

XI THIRD BROTHER SMILES

XII THIRD BROTHER STOPS SMILING

XIII THE SPACE MYSTERY

XIV THE BROAD SAHARA

XV THE CAT COMES BACK

XVI THE HOWLING JACKALS

XVII ISMAIL BEN ADHEM

XVIII THE FIGHT AT SAHARA WELLS

XIX THE CAT'S SECRET

XX THE SIGNAL VANISHES




List of Illustrations

_The room had been searched inch by inch. Someone wanted the cat!_

_A snub-nosed revolver was pointed at Rick's midriff_

_Hands pulled Rick from the saddle_




THE EGYPTIAN CAT MYSTERY




CHAPTER I

The Winston Plan


The date was December twenty-third. The time along the Greenwich
meridian, from which all world times are measured, was 8:15 P.M. At
widely scattered points around the globe, four voices were raised
simultaneously.

Even an experienced observer could not have found a connection between
the four voices and what they were saying, yet each voice started
actions that would soon be interwoven into a single pattern - a pattern
of danger, adventure, and mystery that would culminate in sudden
violence within sight of one of the seven wonders of the world.

In Chicago, it was 2:15 in the afternoon. At the edge of the city a man
spoke into the telephone in the office of a small plastics factory. "The
cat is ready," he said.

In Paris, a phone rang. The man who answered noted in the log that his
overseas call had gone through at exactly 9:15 p.m. He picked up the
phone and spoke crisply. "_Monsieur l'Inspecteur? ... _Bien._ This is
Interpol. We have a relay for you from the United States. Monsieur,
this will please you - and it most certainly will amaze you. Message
begins..."

In Cairo, the time was 10:15 P.M. A famous Egyptian astronomer walked
into his office and called to his associate. "Hakim! Good news. He can
come. Now we can find out what that accursed hydrogen-line impulse
means."

On Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey, it was 3:15 in the
afternoon. The island was quiet under a blanket of snow. The long, gray
laboratory buildings, where so many dramatic scientific developments had
taken place, were deserted. Only in the homes of the scientists was
there activity, and all of it was in preparation for Christmas.

In the big main house on the seaward side of the island, Dr. Hartson
Brant, director of the world-famous Spindrift Scientific Foundation,
walked to the foot of the stairs and called to his son.

"Rick, can you come to the library in five minutes? Bring Scotty with
you."

Rick Brant, a tall boy with light-brown hair and eyes, paused in his
gift wrapping long enough to call an affirmative to his father, then he
made sure Don Scott, whose room was next door, had heard the summons.

Scotty had. He came through the connecting door. "What's up?"

"Don't know. Maybe Dad has some Christmas chores for us to do."

Scotty, a big, husky boy with black hair and brown eyes, was an
ex-Marine who had originally joined the Spindrift group as a guard
during the adventure of _The Rocket's Shadow_. Since then, he and Rick
had become the closest of friends, and the Brants had accepted him as a
full-fledged member of the family.

"I'm willing, whatever it is," Scotty told Rick. "I'm so full of Yuletide
spirit I may bust a seam from sheer joy."

Rick grinned. He felt exactly the same way. He continued wrapping the
present for his sister Barbara, a pretty girl a year his junior. Barby
had a definite talent for sketching and painting and Rick had bought her
a complete artist's kit, hoping it would encourage her natural skill.

"She'll be tickled pink," Scotty remarked. "Come on. Let's go down."

"Go ahead. I'll be right with you." Rick finished taping on a spray of
evergreen, then he carefully put the present out of sight under his
workbench. Barby's lively curiosity was subdued at Christmas time, but
it was better not to take chances. He surveyed the bench to see if he
had left anything out. Usually it was cluttered with apparatus, tools,
and parts, because Rick was an inveterate experimenter, but it was clear
now, in preparation for the holiday.

He walked down the corridor to the stairs, smiling to himself. Christmas
at Spindrift was fun. The entire scientific staff and their families
joined in, first in cutting their own trees from the stand of spruce at
the back side of the island, then in decorating the big tree in the
Brant library. On Christmas Eve there was a Yule log to be brought in
and presents to be exchanged, although the Brants waited until morning
to open their gifts to each other.

Hartson Brant and Scotty were waiting in the library, standing before
the great fireplace in which logs crackled merrily. Seated in the
leather chair next to the Christmas tree was Parnell Winston, one of the
leading staff scientists.

Winston was a big man, with jet-black curly hair and great bushy
eyebrows that hid merry blue eyes. He was an expert in cybernetics, the
science of electronic computer design, and his contributions to the
theory of computer operations, and to advanced electronic control
systems, were known to scientists around the world. Winston had
originally joined the staff to supervise the design and construction of
a "thinking machine," the Tractosaur.

Hartson Brant, an older version of his son, greeted the boy. "Come in,
Rick. Parnell, the floor is yours."

Winston motioned the boys to chairs. "Sit down. I called this meeting to
make a proposal. But first, how are your bank balances? Fat or thin?"

Rick considered. Most of his income, including his small salary as a
laboratory assistant, went into his education fund. However, the salary
he had earned for working at the Nevada rocket base during _The Scarlet
Lake Mystery_ had been put into his "ready" fund. "I'm in good shape,"
he said, and Scotty echoed him.

"Fine. Now, the Egyptian Astronomical Society has just finished
constructing a new radio telescope. It's a first-rate instrument from
which we expect great things. Your father and I were in at its birth, so
to speak. We consulted on the initial designs during a meeting of the
International Astronomical Union."

Rick knew that was one of the many world-wide private scientific
organizations operating under the International Council of Scientific
Unions. He also knew of the growing importance of radio astronomy, but
he hadn't known the Egyptians were in on it.

"Apparently some unusual trouble developed during the tuning of the
instrument," Winston went on. "Earlier this afternoon I had a phone call
from Cairo, and a request to help our Egyptian colleagues iron out the
bugs. I accepted."

Rick sat upright in his chair. Winston going to Cairo? How did this
concern Scotty and him?

"My proposal is this," Winston concluded. "The Egyptians are short of
technicians and we may need help. I'll leave the day after Christmas,
returning within ten days. If you two can pay half your expenses, and
help me half the time, I'll take you with me."

Both boys jumped to their feet. Rick looked anxiously at his father.

Hartson Brant smiled. "According to Parnell's schedule, you'll be back
just in time for school at the end of the holidays. _If_ you want to go,
of course."

Rick let out a wild yell of exuberance that brought his sister Barby
running to the library. She looked at the group with wide eyes. "Rick!
Was that you?"

He grinned at her. "It wasn't a wounded buffalo, Sis. Guess what? We're
going to Egypt!"

Barby's pert face lengthened. "I don't suppose I can go, too?"

Parnell Winston walked over and ruffled her blond hair. "Not this time,
Barby. But I'll make you a promise. The next field expedition under my
supervision will include my wife, you, and Jan Miller."

The prospect of an expedition that included Jan, daughter of one of the
staff physicists and her dearest friend, cheered Barby at once.

"I don't suppose you could promise to leave Rick and Scotty at home?"
she asked.

"Can't promise." Winston chuckled. "We might need them to carry your
luggage. Girls can't travel without a dozen suitcases each, I'm told."

The scientist turned to the boys. "Start reading up on the country, and
I'll arrange for you to get some additional background by meeting some
Egyptians. It happens that an Egyptian physicist is arriving in New York
today for a lecture tour of American universities. There's a reception
for him tomorrow. We'll drive to New York. You can meet him and some of
his countrymen, and we'll go to the consulate to obtain visas. Are your
passports and health cards up to date?"

Fortunately, all was in order because the boys had spent a part of the
summer in the Sulu Sea region, where they had helped to locate and
rescue two staff scientists.

Barby asked wistfully, "Couldn't I meet some real Egyptians, too?"

As Scotty had once said, if Barby ever got wistful while fishing, the
fish would knock themselves out trying to climb into the boat to cheer
her up. Winston replied quickly, "No reason why not. I'll check with my
host, but I'm sure it's all right, so you can plan to come with us."

Rick's eyes met Scotty's. He shrugged. He was glad in one way that his
sister could go, because he always hated to have her unhappy about being
left behind. On the other hand, Barby was unpredictable. He couldn't be
sure of what she might do or say, but he could be certain her curiosity
and enthusiasm would stir up something.

If Rick had been enough of a prophet to see all the events his pretty
sister's helpfulness at the reception would get him into, he would have
handcuffed her to the Christmas tree before ever allowing her off
Spindrift Island.




CHAPTER II

The Egyptian Cat


The reception for Dr. Hayret Ahmed was at the home of an Egyptian
importer named Mohammed Bartouki. Barby, the boys, and Winston rang the
bell of a brownstone house on New York's Upper East Side promptly at
noon.

Winston had checked with his host by phone, and his request that he be
allowed to bring his young associates to meet Bartouki had been met with
enthusiastic pleasure. Mohammed Bartouki had assured the scientist that
he would look forward to meeting the young people of Dr. Hartson Brant's
household.

The door was opened by a figure right out of _The Arabian Nights_, or so
it seemed to the young people. The doorman was a huge Negro dressed in
flowing red trousers that tucked in at the ankles. His sandals turned up
in points at the front, Persian style. An embroidered vest set off a
loose white silk shirt, and on his head was a red fez, shaped like a
section of a cone, slightly less in diameter at the top than at the
bottom.

"Please come in," he requested. His voice was accented. Rick saw that he
had two horizontal hairline scars on each cheek.

The man took their coats, giving Barby a courtly bow. "Dr. Bartouki asks
if you will please join him in the salon. It is straight ahead."

As they walked down the carpeted hall Barby gave Winston a smile of
sheer delight. "He's right out of a movie," she whispered. "Even to the
fez and the scars on his cheeks."

Winston smiled back. "In Egypt a fez is called a _tarboosh_. The scars
mean he is a Sudanese, from the country south of Egypt. I agree he's a
very picturesque type. I suspect Bartouki dressed him up for effect.
It's a common practice."

"What's Bartouki a doctor of?" Rick asked.

"I don't know. Law or something similar, I imagine. He's not a scientist
or medical doctor."

Mohammed Bartouki himself came to meet them. He was a round little man,
scarcely taller than Barby, with twinkling eyes behind horn-rimmed
glasses. He was dressed in an ordinary business suit.

"My dear Dr. Winston, how nice of you to come. And these are your young
friends?"

Winston introduced the young people. Rick found his hand captured in a
warm, firm grip.

"Welcome, welcome," Bartouki said, beaming. "We will have an opportunity
to talk about your trip to my country as soon as these scientists turn
the conversation to some matter of science we do not understand." He
smiled at Winston. "You see, I know you professional people. The
nationality does not matter. Put two of you together and the
conversation at once turns to some development a poor merchant cannot
possibly comprehend. That is why I am glad you brought Miss Barbara, and
Rick and Scotty, as you called them, if I may be so familiar. At least I
can talk with them."

Rick could see that Barby was charmed by the little merchant, and he
could understand why. Bartouki radiated warmth and enthusiasm.

In a moment the four Spindrifters were being introduced to Dr. Hayret
Ahmed and a bewildering assortment of people. Evidently they were all
scientists of different nationalities, except for two officers of the
United Arab Republic consulate. Rick recognized a few of the names, and
found he knew one or two of the Americans.

True to Bartouki's prediction, the talk turned to scientific subjects
within minutes. Rick followed the conversation, which was about a new
development in the capture and study of free radicals, but only for a
few minutes. The scientists were over his head in short order.

Scotty chuckled. "I always thought a free radical was a political bomb
thrower out of jail."

"It's a highly energetic chemical particle," Rick said.

"That's nice," Barby said. "Only I'd rather talk with Dr. Bartouki than
discuss energetic chemicals."

The merchant arranged things very smoothly. He announced that he would
not dream of allowing protocol to interfere with such a fascinating
conversation, and put the scientists together at one end of the table.
The officers from the consulate, evidently in deference to the
distinguished Egyptian scientist, continued to listen closely to the
talk, even though Rick was sure they didn't understand a word.

The three young people found themselves free to talk with their host,
and the boys at once began firing questions.

Bartouki described Cairo and promised that he would present them with
guidebooks to be read on the way over. He told them about things to do
in the ancient city, and listed places that were "musts" for tourists.
They included the step pyramid at Sakkarah, the Egyptian Museum, the
mosque of Sultan Hassan, and the mosque and college of El Azhar, founded
in the ninth century.

"Of course you will see a great deal of the Sphinx and the pyramids at
Giza, since our new radio telescope is nearby. But most of all, you must
see El Mouski."

"What is that?" Rick asked.

"It is the Cairo bazaar. There are several sections, known as _sooks_.
They have names like Khan El Khalili, Ghooriyeh, Sagha, Sook El
Nahassin, and so on, but the principal one is Mouski."

"Spell it for me," Barby pleaded.

Bartouki smiled. "What you ask is difficult. We use a different
alphabet, so there is no exact equivalent, only what is called
transliteration, which uses phonetics. So the bazaar can be Mouski,
Muski, Mosky, Mouskey, or anything else that sounds the same. Even for
Giza, where the pyramids are, there are many spellings."

"I wish you'd tell my English teacher that." Barby sighed. "I think my
way of spelling is just as good as hers."

Bartouki and the boys laughed sympathetically. The little merchant said,
"Whatever the spelling, El Mouski will fascinate you. Many things are
made there especially for tourists. Some of the workmanship is
excellent, and the prices are very low."

"We haven't had much luck with bazaars that cater to tourists," Scotty
replied. "We prefer markets where local people buy, because the things
are more authentic."

Bartouki chuckled. "That is wise, in most countries. But consider. The
attraction for tourists are things that are clearly Egyptian in origin,
no? Such things vanished from all but our museums some years ago. You
could not buy a genuine Egyptian tapestry, or a stone carving from a
tomb. Such things are beyond price. They are national treasures. But you
can buy very attractive and authentic reproductions."

"The people of Cairo wouldn't want reproductions, would they?" Barby
asked. "So they have to be made just for tourists."

"And for export," Bartouki added. "I import them myself for a few
American shops. After lunch I will show you samples and you will see."

It seemed reasonable to Rick when he thought about it. Genuine Egyptian
things simply were not obtainable. "What else is made for tourists?" he
queried.

"Many things, of gold, silver, and ivory. There are bags of camel
leather that Miss Barbara would enjoy having. There are brass goods of
all kinds, and copperware with a partial tin coating called washed tin."

The conversation paused long enough for a few bites of lunch, then
Bartouki resumed. "We try to take good care of tourists in the United
Arab Republic, both in Egypt and in Syria. For example, we license our
guide-interpreters, who are called _dragomen_. There is also a special
police force with no job but aid to tourists. And we are always looking
for ways to improve our reproductions to make them more attractive and
authentic. I will show you a new design."

By the time luncheon had ended, the talk among the scientists had
progressed to the basic theory of what physicists call "the solid
state." Even Rick, with his rapidly growing background of scientific
knowledge, could understand only fragments of conversation.

"Let them talk over their coffee," Bartouki said. "They are enjoying it.
We will retire to my den and I will show you examples from El Mouski."

The samples were everything Bartouki had promised. There were wall
hangings, beautifully made of tiny pieces of colored cloth appliqued on
a natural-color fabric, bags and pouches of leather, leather hassocks,
ivory carvings of ancient Egyptian gods, inlaid boxes and chests, and
dozens of both useful and ornamental utensils of brass, copper, washed
tin, and ceramics. Barby went into raptures. At every new item she urged
Rick to bring her one just like it.

"I'll rent a jet just to carry my luggage," he said, grinning. "You've
already ordered a ton, and I get only sixty-six pounds."

Bartouki came to his rescue. "Let me show you a new tourist attraction.
It just arrived by messenger this morning."

He went to a cabinet, opened it, and produced a stone cat. It was about
ten inches high, in a sitting position with its tail curled around to
meet its feet. It was of sandy texture, reddish in color.

"Sandstone?" Rick guessed.

Bartouki smiled. "I hoped you would say that. Here. Examine it."

Rick took the cat. He liked it very much. The design was clean and
elegant, stylized after the Egyptian manner. But it wasn't sandstone. It
was heavy, but not heavy enough to be sandstone, and the sheen was not
that of a mineral. Whatever the material, it had been fashioned in one
piece, probably cast in a mold.

"I give up," he said. "What is it?"

"Plastic," Bartouki replied, obviously pleased. "It did not come from
Egypt. It was made right here in America. In Chicago, to be exact. It is
what you call a prototype."

"But it's Egyptian in design," Barby protested. She took the cat from
Rick and examined it.

"Yes, it is clearly an Egyptian cat. The design came from Egypt, but the
cat from America. I have been working on this for months with a plastics
company. Now I have the model, and the method. We will reproduce these
in quantity in Cairo."

"It's pretty heavy for plastic," Rick commented.

"True. We put a piece of lead in the middle of the casting. You see, it
looks like stone, and the buyer will expect it to be heavy. So, for
psychological reasons, we give it weight - only not so much that it
becomes a problem to carry."

"You certainly have it worked out," Scotty said admiringly. "But why a
cat? Why not a ... a camel?"

"We have camels of camel leather, brass, and wood. But we do not have a
good cat. You see, the cat is important in Egyptian history. There was
even a cat goddess of the Upper Nile Kingdom, called Bubaste. In the
ancient tombs there are sometimes mummies of cats. Some cat lovers think
our land first developed the domestic strain of cat. So we believe
tourist cat lovers should have an authentic reproduction of one. This
particular cat is a faithful copy of an antique, which I am fortunate to
own."

"What will you do with it now?" Barby asked.

"Send it to my associate in Cairo, as soon as possible. I would like to
airmail it right away, but you Americans overload the mails at
Christmas, so it would be safer to wait. Next week I hope to send it
with full instructions, hoping to get production started in time for the
big tourist season. I wish it could go sooner. It is needed."

Barby said impulsively, "Rick leaves the day after tomorrow. He could
take it for you. Couldn't you, Rick?"

There was no reason to refuse. It was certainly a worthy project, and
Bartouki had been generous in answering their questions.

"Be glad to," Rick said.

The merchant's eyes lighted. "It would not be an imposition?"

"Of course not. I can put it right in with my clothes. I have plenty of
room."

"Believe me, I will be in your debt. And so will my associate, Ali
Moustafa. You will like him. He is a great, jolly man, three times my
size. If he had a beard, he would resemble your Santa Claus. And he will
insist that you accept some token of his appreciation. I will send the
instructions separately, so you need not bother with the technical
reports."

"I couldn't accept a gift for such a little thing," Rick protested. He
looked at the cat, now in Scotty's hands. It was a handsome little
statue.

"Ali Moustafa is a hard man to refuse," Bartouki said. "You should not
deprive him of the pleasure of making a gift. But I will not press you.
It will be between you and him. You are quite sure it will be no
trouble?"

Rick's words would return to haunt him during the days ahead. He said
blithely, "No trouble at all."




CHAPTER III

Cairo


The jet descended smoothly over the desert on the approach to Cairo
International Airport. Rick leaned toward the window to watch for the
first sign of a runway. In the distance he could see the valley of the
Nile River, a great green swath which cut through the tan desert wastes.

"Excited?" Scotty asked.

Rick had to grin. "Excited? Why should I be excited? A trip to Egypt is
an everyday event for me. Stop asking silly questions and look at the
scenery."

"I would," Scotty told him, "only somebody's head is in the way. I won't
exactly say it's a fathead, but it's too thick to see through."

"Real subtle. I like the way you give delicate hints." Rick moved back
so Scotty could see, and watched as the great plane dropped toward the
desert, then touched down and sped along modern runways to the
administration building.

Two Egyptians were waiting as Winston and the boys walked down the
stairway, and the scientist at once hurried to greet them. Obviously the
three were old friends.

Winston introduced the two boys. The older of the two Egyptians was Dr.
Abdel Kerama. He was a tall, gray-haired man of distinguished
appearance. Rick thought that in traditional desert costume he would
look like the head sheik of all the desert tribes. The younger Egyptian
was Dr. Hakim Farid, a youthful, clean-cut man with an attractive smile.

Rick knew from Winston's advance briefing that these were the two
leading radio astronomers of the United Arab Republic, and that both had
international reputations in the field.

The Egyptian scientists made the boys feel at home right away. Dr.
Kerama took Scotty and Winston by the arms, and Dr. Farid fell in step
with Rick as the group walked toward the administration building.

"We're glad you could come," Farid said in excellent English. "We'll try
to make your visit interesting."

Rick thanked him. "I don't know whether we'll be of much use, but we're


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