“Yup, deader than my uncle’s great aunt.”
A skinny bare foot shot out to poke the body sprawled on the sun-baked earth.
“You ain’t got an uncle, Arnon.”
“That’s the point. Anyway, this guy won’t be botherin’ none of us no more.”
The other man looked around furtively. The noonday heat had driven every living thing in search of cooler places. The two men were alone—if you didn’t count the dead man.
“Yah, well, there are lots to replace him. Slave drivers work and slaves work, but only one of us gets paid.”
The man without an uncle bent over to finger the cloth of the dead man’s tunic.
“How much you think that’s worth, Ghassan?”
“Forget it. You can’t sell it, wear it, or give it away unless you’re thinkin’ of bein’ buried in it after his buddies stretch you to pieces between two of them wheels."
Ghassan waved his arm in the general direction of the two stone rollers the slaves used to move the blocks designated for the building of Pharaoh’s storehouses. Arnon recoiled, both from the cadaver’s clothes, and from the horrific thought of such a painful end. He quickly changed the subject. The stones might have ears.
“You seen who done it?”
“Sure. I was the one he was beatin’ on, wasn’t I.”
“So, if you tell, maybe we won’t all get blamed for this guy’s sudden end.”
“Whatcha waitin’ for then?”
“Dunno. I got a feelin’ about him, you know, the one who stuck his nose in my business. Said he was one of us—didn’t see any dirt under his fingernails though. Told me he was fed up with us bein’ treated like so much garbage. I don’t feel right about turnin’ him in. ‘Sides, I don’t want him mad at me. He seemed a mite quick tempered.”
“Well then, we’d better get ourselves outta here before someone finds this buzzard bait, or we’ll do time for the crime.”
With that, the two slaves scurried off. When they were out of sight, a shadow, hidden behind a pile of brick, converted itself into flesh and blood and moved quickly to where the body lay. Grabbing the dead man under the arms, his killer dragged him away.
If anyone missed the slave master, it wasn’t the slaves. As predicted, someone just as cruel soon took his place. Life went on, one painful day dying, then resurrecting, into another.
Some time later Arnon and Ghassan were assigned to collecting the bits of straw that fell from the carts as they trundled back and forth from the pits where the bricks were made. The two men took advantage of the lighter work to get as far away from their compatriots as reason would allow.
“Hey, that sister of yours is sure gettin’ to be quite a looker. She got herself a boyfriend?”
Ghassan straightened from his task, his eyes narrowing in anger.
“You’ll be smart to keep your eyes to yourself. That ain’t any way to speak about a respectable girl.”
“I’m only sayin’ …”
Whether it was the heat, the sun, the boring job, or the comment itself, the difference in perspective soon brought the two men nose-to-nose and fist-to-fist.
“Stop it, you two. You’re brothers in captivity. You should be helping each other, not fighting like two dogs over a bone.”
Surprised by the presence of a third party, Arnon and Ghassan stopped in their tracks. They turned. Ghassan gasped. The killer had returned.
Recovering from the shock, and with the heat of his spat with Arnon still burning in his brain, the words spewed thoughtlessly from Ghassan’s mouth.
“What? Who made you God? What right do you have to lord it over us and tell us what to do. You gonna kill me too, like you killed that Egyptian?”
To his surprise, the stranger’s mouth went slack, his face paled. Without another word, he turned and fled.
Their argument forgotten, Arnon turned to Ghassan.
“Well, don’t that beat all. You suppose he really wanted to kill us?”
Ghassan shook his head.
“I got a feeling lots of men will die on account of him, but I don’t think the Egyptian was supposed to be one of them. It’s like he suddenly realized he’d started a war before reading the battle plan. He’s runnin’ scared.”
“Ask the one who’s chasing him.”
“Arnon, you know, sometimes you’re thicker than a brick. My granddad told me about the prophecy …”
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