Books Fiction The Staff of Moses

7 – Arrival

Two days later they arrived at the Hotel Sofitel in Cairo. Pulling up under the carport of the gold-topped pink tower located in the nook of a curve in the Nile, Diana expressed surprise at the choice of lodging.

Oliver finished paying the driver and stepped up beside her, saying, “I got a large advance on this job. Besides, we might as well be comfortable for the next few nights. Soon enough, we might be camping in the desert for a week or more.”

Diana nodded in agreement and together they pushed through the revolving door into the cool air of the hotel lobby. 

The clerk at the desk greeted them in flawless English, checked them into two adjoining rooms on the nineteenth floor, and informed Oliver that two packages had arrived ahead of him. Oliver requested that they be delivered to his room and gestured for Diana to lead the way to the elevator. Once upstairs, he insisted on checking her room before entering his own. 

“I’m not helpless, Oliver,” Diana complained as he pushed past her into the room. 

“Obviously, but when were you last in a fist fight?”

“Eighth grade.”

“Well, that puts me in the more experienced category when it comes to dealing with any covert agents or bastard relic dealers hidden in your closet. We’re in-country now, Diana. Things might get dangerous.”

That seemed to upset Diana, so Oliver didn’t make any further comments as he pulled an electronic bug sniffer, disguised as a light meter for his camera, out of his carry-on bag. Once he was certain that the room was clear of both electronic surveillance and hidden attackers, Oliver informed Diana that he was going to get a shower and lay down for a few minutes. She expressed similar plans and they agreed to meet again in an hour.

Oliver locked his door behind him and leaned against it for a moment, taking in the view of the room. It was a perfect mirror of Diana’s room next door. Both rooms were decorated in shades of amber and beige, with thick green carpeting on the floor and a single wide window looking out over the curving banks of the Nile. A heavy door set into the adjoining wall opened to reveal the flat face of a matching door in Diana’s room, allowing easy access between the rooms when both doors were opened. Oliver made a quick check of his room and, convinced he was alone and not under any obvious surveillance, stripped and climbed into a cold shower. 

It was probably a mistake bringing Diana along, he thought as the chill water pounded against his skin. Sure, he needed a translator and he was certain that she was the most competent Egyptian linguist he could trust. For that matter, she was perhaps the only one he could trust if the story about the staff turned out to be true. He was also reasonably sure that she could hold her own if things got rough, which was important. Three years ago, he had allowed a girlfriend to travel with him on a simple photo expedition, assuming that anyone who fell for an outdoorsman and expressed interest in traveling to exotic places would be at least as competent as Diana or Amber. That had been a disaster. The relationship had come to an abrupt end when, two days into the jungles of India, the woman had announced that she was taking one of their guides and returning to the city with or without Oliver. 

No, it wasn’t concern for Diana’s linguistic skills or survival skills that gave Oliver a niggling sense of unease, which had grown into a raging headache in the last hour. It was a growing worry that he had gotten in over his head on this job and was now involving someone he cared about. Senator Wheeler hadn’t even been vague in his threat to interfere with Oliver’s livelihood should he suspect that Oliver had betrayed him. That was disturbing, but Oliver had ways of getting around the no-fly list if matters became desperate. But if the Senator decided to interfere with Diana’s ability to travel and work internationally, Oliver would feel terribly guilty and have no ready means of remedying her situation. 

Oliver stepped out of the shower, toweled his hair dry, and wrapped the towel around his waist. He shaved in the foggy bathroom mirror, then stepped out into the main room. He stood for a moment, gazing out the window at the lazy waters of the Nile far below. Boats darted past, splitting the sun-specked surface of the water with their wakes. After a few moments of contemplation, he tossed his towel over a chair and pulled on underwear and a pair of khakis from his bag. 

He settled into a chair by the window and focused on breathing slowly and contemplating the ramifications of his decision to take this job.

“Alright, enough of that,” he muttered, eventually.

Oliver stood and began unpacking his suitcase. He wanted the room to appear as normal as possible, just in case it was checked by Egyptian or American security. Fortunately, many of the trappings of his legitimate role as an adventure photographer aligned nicely with the needs of a relic hunter.

He was interrupted by a knock on the door separating his room from Diana’s. Oliver strode to the door, turned the bolt to unlock it, and stepped back over to continue arranging camera lenses on the broad oak table in front of the window. Diana stepped into the room, glanced briefly at Oliver’s bare chest, and then shook her head and fell into a chair  at the opposite end of the table. 

She regarded him critically through half closed eyes. “I get the feeling that you don’t thoroughly trust your employer.”

Oliver shrugged, finished checking a telephoto lens, then stepped to the closet to pull out a lightweight button-up shirt. “I trust him to act in his best interests, which might not always line up with ours.”

“How so?”

“I don’t like people treating relics as if they are some sort of cosmic vending machine. Just because something channeled divine power four thousand years ago, or was the focus of belief for an entire nation, that doesn’t mean that it is still going to be effective in the present day. And if a relic does still possess power, why should that power be used for personal gain?”

“Understandable. So why did you take this job?”

Oliver studied Diana for a moment, trying to figure out how he could explain his concerns without appearing weak. Finally he strode over to the window and stood gazing out at the glistening waters of the Nile flowing past, and beyond to the sand dunes stretching into the distance beyond the city. 

“What’s the most intimidating position you’ve ever found yourself in?” he asked her.

She pondered the question for a moment, then responded, “My thesis board. They were pretty brutal in questioning some of the connections I drew between modern comics and ancient mythology.”

“I know that feeling. You might recall that a similar event cost me my career. Now imagine that times about ten and you might have half an idea what it’s like to be standing face to face with a man who has a serious chance of becoming the President of the United States and he’s threatening to ruin you. If I fail here and Wheeler decides it was my fault…” Oliver paused for a moment, chewing at his lower lip, then shook his head and continued, “If that happens, we both might be in a world of trouble.”

“You don’t really think he’d exploit his position for a personal vendetta?”

“What do you think this whole job is? Wheeler is a powerful man using his influence to get what he wants, damn the rules.”

“You’re not a big fan of rules yourself, as I recall.”

Oliver had to smile at that. “True, but as hypocritical as I might sound right now, I’ve got this notion that people who are in powerful places have a responsibility to not abuse their power.” 

“So why are you helping him?”

“I don’t know that I had much of a choice. Senator Wheeler is a powerful man. I couldn’t risk him going after me. All it would take is one call to the TSA and I’d be unable to fly for months, maybe years. I couldn’t even prove it was him. Just a mistake. A simple mixup of names on the no-fly list, happens all the time.”

Oliver moved to stand behind Diana’s chair and rested his hands on her shoulders as he spoke intently, leaning down to almost whisper into her ear. “Diana, I’m this close. Just a few more pieces and I might be able to finish assembling the mechanism, then I’ll understand why so many ancient cultures seem to be linked to it. Why inexplicable technologies cropped up across the globe. I need to know, Diana. I can’t afford to be trapped in the United States indefinitely. And if he targets you too…”

She turned her head and looked at him closely, studying Oliver’s expression with an intensity normally reserved for faded paintings and eroded glyphs. Finally she said, “Don’t worry about me, Oliver. If things go bad there’s plenty of work for me in the States.” She studied him a moment longer, then put her hand on his cheek. “You might be afraid Oliver, but I see in your eyes that you’re hungry for this. You want to find that staff, don’t you.”

Oliver released her shoulders and fell back into the chair opposite her. He studied her across the arrayed camera lenses and grinned. “You know me too well, Diana. I don’t know if I can give it to the Senator in the end, but I absolutely want to find it.”

“Then stop fretting. We’ll find it if we can, then we’ll deal with the Senator.”

There was a knock at the door.

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The Staff of Moses © 2022, Andrew Linke