The Panther - By Nelson Demille

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To the memory of

Joan Dillingham,

who maintained her Viking spirit

throughout her beautiful life

Author’s Note

Regarding the spelling of Arabic words in this novel, I’ve used a variety of sources in transliterating. There is no standard transliteration of Arabic script into American English, and in some cases I simply used phonetic spelling to make it easy for the reader. I mention this up front with the hope that I can persuade the reader not to send me an e-mail saying I spelled an Arabic word wrong. However, if you see an English word misspelled, let me know.





A man wearing the white robes of a Bedouin, Bulus ibn al-Darwish by name, known also by his Al Qaeda nom de guerre as al-Numair—The Panther—stood to the side of the Belgian tour group.

The Belgians had arrived in a minibus from Sana’a, four men and five women, with their Yemeni driver, and their Yemeni tour guide, a man named Wasim al-Rahib. The driver had stayed in the air-conditioned minibus, out of the hot August sun.

The tour guide, Wasim, spoke no French, but his English was good, and one of the Belgians, Annette, a girl of about sixteen, also spoke English and was able to translate into French for her compatriots.

Wasim said to his group, “This is the famous Bar’an Temple, also known as Arsh Bilqis—the throne of the Queen of Sheba.”

Annette translated, and the tour group nodded and began taking pictures.

Al-Numair, The Panther, scanned the ruins of the temple complex—over an acre of brown sandstone walls, towering square columns, and open courtyards, baking in the desert sun. American and European archaeologists had spent many years and much money uncovering and restoring these pagan ruins—and then they had left because of tribal suspicion, and more recently Al Qaeda activity. Such a waste of time and money, thought The Panther. He looked forward to the day when the Western tourists stopped coming and this temple and the surrounding pagan ruins returned to the shifting desert sands.

The Panther looked beyond the temple complex at the sparse vegetation and the occasional date palm. In ancient times, he knew, it was much greener here, and more populous. Now the desert had arrived from the East—from the Hadhramawt, meaning the Place Where Death Comes.

Wasim al-Rahib glanced at the tall, bearded Bedouin and wondered why he had joined the Belgian tour group. Wasim had made his arrangements with the local tribal sheik, Musa, paying the man one hundred American dollars for the privilege of visiting this national historic site. Also, of course, the money bought peace; the promise that no Bedouin tribesmen would annoy, hinder, or in any way molest the tour group. So, Wasim wondered, why was this Bedouin here?

The Panther noticed that the tour guide was looking at him and he returned the stare until the guide turned back to his group.

There were no other tourists at the temple today; only one or two groups each week ventured out from the capital of Sana’a, two hundred kilometers to the west. The Panther remembered when these famous ruins attracted more Westerners, but unfortunately because of the recent reports of Al Qaeda activity in this province of Marib, many tourists stayed away. He smiled.

Also because of this situation, the Belgians had arrived with an armed escort of twenty men from the National Security Bureau, a para-military police force, whose job it was to protect tourists on the roads and at historic sites. The tourists paid for this service, which was money well spent, thought The Panther. But unfortunately for these Westerners, the policemen had also been paid to leave, which they were about to do.

Wasim continued his talk. “This temple is also known as the Moon Temple, and it was dedicated to the national god of the Sabaean state, who was called Almaqah.”

As the Belgian girl translated, Wasim glanced again at the bearded man in Bedouin robes who was standing too close to his tour group. He wanted to say something to the man, but he was uneasy about him, and instead he said to his group,