The elevator stopped at their floor and the doors slid open just as Oliver’s phone started to buzz with a Skype call. Oliver didn’t recognize the username, a string of letters and numbers that could just as well have held special meaning for someone or have been pounded out on a keyboard as the Senator fumbled through creating an account in under five minutes. Oliver was impressed that the response had come so quickly. He tapped the answer button.
“Is this a secure line?” The voice on the other end wasn’t the Senator. Probably some aid tasked with watching the Senator’s burner phone when he was unable to carry it, Oliver thought.
“As secure as you can get in Egypt. Public key crypto end to end, though you never know if Microsoft has bowed to political pressure and given the NSA or locals here a backdoor. Or I suppose your boss might know, so maybe you should ask him.”
The voice hesitated, then replied, “I’ll take that to mean yes. Please hold.”
Oliver pulled his keycard from his pocket and ran it through the reader on his hotel room door. The little LED above the handle winked to green and he pushed the door open. He glanced quickly about the room, saw that everything was as he had left it, then stepped aside and waved Diana into the room.
The Senator’s voice came through his phone as he pushed the door shut and turned the lock. “Oliver, boy, this you?”
“Sure is, Senator. I take it you got my message?”
“Yes. What’s this horse shit about a half million? You trying to squeeze more cash out of me?”
“No sir,” Oliver responded.
He went on to give Senator Wheeler an abbreviated version of the story that Rais Karim had told him in the coffee shop downstairs. When he reached the part about the mercenaries breaking into the vault, then putting the contents up for sale on the open black market, Oliver could have sworn that he heard a sharp intake of breath echo across the data packets from the other end of the connection.
“I don’t have to tell you that this is disappointing, kid.”
“I’m sure it is. Will you be sending the money?”
“Hell no! I just had to release my tax returns from the last fifteen years to the press to prove to them that I’m not some sort of crook. There’s no way I can hide a transfer of that magnitude.”
“There’s no way you can snatch the scrolls from the mercenaries and keep going after the staff? I thought that was what I was paying you for. Get your hands dirty. Steal what you have to, that sort of thing.”
“Stealing from a gang of rogue military contractors is far from my line of work, Senator. You hired me because I’m experienced at solving ancient riddles and tracking down artifacts hidden in caves full of ancient traps. I’m not prepared to get into a shootout with a private army.”
“Of course, of course…” The Senator was silent for several moments. Oliver let him stew and took the time to unzip his boots and kick them off. After nearly a minute the Senator said, “This is most disappointing.”
“Understandably so, sir.”
“So I take it you’re coming home now?”
Oliver replied immediately, keeping his tone level and businesslike, lest the Senator catch the lie in his voice. “Not right away. An old friend of mine is in town doing some research. I think I’ll spend some time with her, maybe go on a tour of the pyramids, then come back in a few days.”
“Keep your head down. If you do happen upon a way to track down that staff, be sure to contact me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
There was a loud “boink” and the connection went dead.
Oliver looked at the phone in his hand. He had just made the first move of a dangerous game. If it went well, he would find the staff and be able to keep it for himself. If not, then the Senator was guaranteed to track him down and put his head on a stake.
“What exactly am I supposed to be researching?”
Oliver turned to see Diana laying face down on his bed, bare feet sticking up behind her, pert chin supported on interlaced fingers. Oliver smiled and placed his phone on the table before sinking into one of the chairs by the window. He drummed his fingers on the table a few times, then said, “Promise you won’t get angry?”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort.”
“Then at least promise that if you don’t like what I’m about to do you’ll say so. This could be dangerous and I don’t want you to even leave the hotel unless you’re sure you can handle it.”
Diana smiled and rolled herself into a seated position on the bed, legs crossed beneath her. “I’m all in on this adventure, Oliver. Now tell me.”
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Oliver asked after he had outlined his plan. “You could stay here in the hotel and I could just bring you the images.”
Diana grinned impishly and looked up at him through the lenses and thick black frames of her newly fitted glasses. “And let you have all the fun?”
The Staff of Moses © 2022, Andrew Linke