The Staff of Moses – Chapter 8

Contact

Oliver sprang from the chair by the window and went to squint through the peep-hole. An uniformed hotel employee stood in the hall, one hand resting on the handle of a hard-shelled black rolling suitcase. A small briefcase rested at his feet.

He opened the door.

“Delivery for Mr. Lucas,” the man said.

“That’s me.”

The man lifted the briefcase in one hand and handed it to Oliver, then rolled the suitcase into Oliver’s room and asked where he would like the it. Oliver told him to toss it on the bed, then fished a few crumpled bills out of his pocket for a tip and hurried the man back out into the hall.

“Is your door locked?” he asked Diana.

She nodded.

“Alright, now we can get started.”

Oliver stepped over to the table and set down the briefcase. He didn’t recognize it, but considering its arrival alongside his bag of toys he had a good idea who the briefcase was from.

It was a fairly generic business unit with a small paper and plastic name plate set under the handle, Oliver’s name scrawled across it, and a simple three-dial combination lock set into the left latch. He slipped the paper tag out of the name plate and examined it.

“From our friend in Washington,” he said.

The back of the paper bore a simple message: The date of our meeting.

Oliver slipped the paper tag back into place and spun the dials of the combination to the day and month of his meeting with the Senator. The lock clicked open and Oliver opened the case to find several stacks of Egyptian currency and a manilla envelope. Oliver unwound the string on the envelop and dumped its contents out on the table: A simple flip shell cell phone, three poorly lit photographs of what appeared to be an ancient manuscript, a printout from an internet forum, and a hand-written note.

The note was written in blocky capital letters that could have been penned by the senator, one of his aids, or a dexterous kindergartener. It said, “CALL RAIS. HE WILL WANT TO MEET IN PUBLIC. GOOD LUCK. CONTACT ME AT NUMBER BELOW WHEN DONE.” Under the words were the ten digits of an American phone number.

Oliver slid the photographs over to Diana and glanced over the printout. It appeared to be a message from a private internet forum Oliver was familiar with from his years of relic hunting. It had been posted during his time in Iceland, otherwise he would probably have seen it himself before the Senator and his lackeys noticed. The post described a scroll from the private archives of the Egyptian state museum, now for sale for an unspecified sum to persons capable of meeting in Cairo to collect it. Three images, printouts of which Diana was now examining, were attached to the post.

If the Senator hadn’t brought this job to him, Oliver would have thought the entire posting a scam. He and the other regulars on the forum might operate in a shadow world where myths and conspiracy theories were treated as truth, but a posting like this reeked of either rank amateurism or falsehood. A small string of text along the top of the printout informed Oliver that the comment thread on this post had been locked by one of the forum moderators only days after going up to contain the war that had erupted between the regular board members, most of whom believed the post to be a hoax, and the increasingly hostile original poster.