The Staff of Moses – Chapter 9

Coffee

They slipped out of the room, leaving a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from both of their doorknobs, and boarded the elevator. As the car descended, Oliver explained the plan to Diana.

He would tell the concierge he was waiting for a friend, go into the coffee shop, and get a seat near the window. Diana would also sit near the window so she could overhear, or at least watch, whatever went on at Oliver’s table. If possible, Diana would use her phone to record the meeting. Afterwards they would compare notes and, hopefully, be on their way to see the scroll.

“Why don’t we just sit together?” Diana asked as the elevator dinged to a stop at the ground floor.

“Because I want someone else’s perspective on what’s happening. Does Karim look nervous? Is he alone? Has he just made a hand signal I couldn’t see and now a dozen armed guards are about to storm into the room?”

When the elevator reached the ground floor, Diana waved casually to Oliver, as if they had merely been making casual conversation on the elevator, then strode off across the lobby towards the coffee bar at the far end.

Oliver followed more slowly, pleased with how quickly Diana had slipped into the subterfuge. He stopped at the front desk and waited for the concierge to finish telling a couple dressed in Hawaiian shirts how to sign up for a pyramid tour. When he finished, Oliver told him his name and explained that he was expecting a colleague to meet him in the coffee bar. The concierge promised to direct any visitor who arrived looking for him.

As he turned away from the desk, Oliver surveyed the room and saw nobody who appeared to be watching him, so he hurried into the coffee bar and selected a comfortable chair by the large glass windows. A waiter arrived and offered Oliver the lunch menu, but he declined it and asked for a simple cup of whatever coffee the waiter recommended, as well as an appetizer of his choosing. Oliver wasn’t particular about his coffee. He liked it for the bitter taste, which he had always found bracing when facing a long day or stressful situation, and its efficient means of delivering caffeine to his system. He was not especially picky about the brand or method of brewing, so long as the resulting coffee was strong. The waiter returned a moment later with a small cup of coffee so strong and thick that Oliver could feel the weight of it as it slid down his throat, as well as a tray of pita bread cut into squares and topped with hummus and assorted leafy and meaty garnishes. Oliver thanked the waiter and settled in to admire the view out the window.

The bright waters of the Nile river curved past only a few hundred feet from the base of the hotel. Beyond the river, the busy streets and skyline of Cairo stretched off into the distance on the far bank. Oliver had never been to Cairo before and had, for some reason he now found ridiculous, half expected to see the pyramids or desert dunes from the windows of the hotel, but he couldn’t see anything of the desert from the coffee bar windows. The Cairo he could see was a large modern city and the hotel was situated right in the heart of it.

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