The Staff of Moses – Chapter 17

Into the Desert

Oliver secured a single small room at an inexpensive tourist hotel down the street from the Sofitel and stashed what supplies they weren’t bringing along in a locked case in the closet. He booked the hotel room for two weeks and scattered several bits of laundry and surplus camera gear about the room to make it appear to all but the most observant maid that they were occupying the room. If all went well, Oliver expected them to be back within four or five days. They spent one last night enjoying the fine food and comfortable lodgings of the Hotel Sofitel, then checked out early the next morning.

Sunrise found them in a rented Range Rover, streaking up the Cairo Aswan Road with the Nile on their left and a wide strip of fertile farmland stretching away to the west on their right. They followed that road for three hours, though the time seemed to pass quickly as Oliver regaled Diana with stories about his latest efforts at tracking down the mysterious shards of metal that had become his obsession. For her part, Diana provided Oliver with a detailed summary of the book she was writing based on her research at the Louvre.

Soon enough they arrived at Faiyum, the nearest large city to the expected location of Sephor’s estate. There they refueled the Range Rover, filled several extra containers in the cargo bed with gasoline, and purchased a freshly cooked lunch. Once they had finished eating and walking off the leg cramps of a long drive, they climbed back in the Range Rover and headed southwest along a regional highway with Diana at the wheel, following a path that Oliver had plotted into the GPS.

This course took them through several small towns along the wide loop of highway that encircled Al Fayyum Lake. They followed this loop to its southernmost point, skirting the southern edge of the long lake, then drove off the side of the road and headed out across the desert. Oliver had already loaded maps of the region, supposedly updated within the last two years, into a GPS app on his phone. They also had a collection of printed maps, including the hand-drawn work of the archaeologists who had first discovered the site to which they were traveling and a topographic map of the desert for several hundred miles in every direction. Determining where to look for Sephor’s estate had been difficult, but now that they had selected a location, traveling to it, even across the desert, was proving to be a simple exercise in following the paths worked out by the archaeological expedition that first discovered the site twenty years before.

As Diana drove, Oliver pulled out his phone and posted several updates to his secure Twitter account, letting Amber know where they were and giving instructions on where to find them if they didn’t get back online within three days. She replied almost immediately, wishing them good luck and joking about his prospects of rekindling a romance with Diana in the desiccated remains of an ancient Egyptian temple. He ignored her jokes and slipped the phone back into his pocket.