Rais Karim called early the next morning as Oliver and Diana sat together on the balcony of Diana’s room eating breakfast. Oliver reached for the burner phone where it lay on the table, but Diana dropped her fork and grabbed the phone before he could reach it.
“Oliver’s phone,” she chirped.
Oliver was briefly annoyed, but not surprised. Diana had agreed to his plan, even insisted on taking a more active role in it, and now she wanted to demonstrate to the other players that she had entered the game. It was that same strong will that had drawn him to her in the first place.
Listening to their conversation while he finished his breakfast, Oliver was impressed at how quickly Diana slipped into the role of international treasure hunter, going toe to toe with a brutal intelligence agent and holding her ground. From what he could hear, Oliver got the impression that Rais Karim was not happy with this plan. He heard Karim shouting that he had personally seen the scroll before it was stolen and been privy to expert analysis that proved its authenticity. That was, after all, why it had been in the secret vault in the first place. Diana pointed out that she and Oliver didn’t question his integrity, only that of the mercenaries, who had already proven themselves untrustworthy in putting the scrolls up for sale in the first place. That seemed to calm Rais enough that she was able to make her demands known.
Diana explained that she would accompany Oliver to authenticate the scroll. She would require access to it in a clean environment where they would not be disturbed, so that she could view the scroll and confirm that it was written in the proper dialect of ancient Hieratic script. Once that was done, Oliver would contact their employer and arrange for a transfer of funds. If she wasn’t satisfied with the scroll’s authenticity the deal would be off, but she and Oliver would, of course, make no mention of the failed transaction to any other potential buyers.
Diana ended the call and tossed the phone onto the table. “He’s a tenacious old bird.”
“You don’t rise to power in a secret military agency without being tenacious,” Oliver replied.
Diana shrugged in agreement and explained that Rais was getting in contact with the sellers to confirm the meeting location and inform them that she would be coming along to examine the scrolls prior to purchase.
“Now we just hope that they don’t overreact and kill us when we don’t buy the scroll,” Diana said.
“They won’t. These are military contractors. They deal in killing, but they are businessmen at heart. Go back a few years and they would have probably never have gotten into this business. This whole mess probably started just because Egypt is filled with buyers exploiting the chaos of a major change in governance. I bet these mercenaries thought they could sell a couple of the items in the vault without getting caught.”
Diana nodded and chewed on the last of her breakfast thoughtfully. Oliver had the distinct impression that something was on her mind, and he had a decent guess what it might be. “You’re worried what the Senator will do if word of this meeting gets back to him.”
“Even if he hears about it, I’ll just say I wanted to get a look at the scroll for curiosity’s sake. There’s no way he’ll find out about the recorder unless one of us tells him.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Oliver grinned as the phone started to ring again, vibrating across the tabletop as it buzzed. Before answering it, he caught Diana’s eye and nodded. “I’m right. Everything will work out fine.”
Oliver answered the phone. Rais Karim sounded surprised to be speaking to Oliver again. “The meeting is arranged.”
“When and where?”
“An hour. There’s an antiquities dealer on Al Maqases Street in the El-Gamaleya district. It is the only one on the street and not far from a popular souk, so you should have no difficulty finding it.”
“Will you be there?”
“Certainly not. I want as little to do with those bastards as possible. Verify the scroll, buy it, and get the hell out of my country, Mr. Lucas. I’m only cooperating with you because I know that the scroll will be safer outside the country than in it.”
The phone went dead.
Oliver looked at the phone in his hand bemusedly, then stood and tossed the phone onto the table.
“We’re on,” he said.
He pulled his handgun from his waistband and checked that it was loaded with a round chambered. He didn’t like carrying the weapon into meetings, but the way Oliver saw it, this meeting would either go quickly and without incident, or it would rapidly unravel into the sort of situation in which he and Diana might have to shoot their way out and make for the nearest airport.
“Bring your passport and some cash, just in case we have to run.”
“Do you think this will turn dangerous?”
Oliver slipped the gun back into his belt and shrugged on a tan blazer that almost, but not quite, matched his khaki pants. “I don’t think so. My gut tells me that Karim and the mercenaries don’t want any trouble, especially since he isn’t officially involved with national security anymore. If he weren’t trying to lay low, I think that those contractors would already have been found dead somewhere.”
“How do you think he’ll react to the plan?”
“Probably be angry. Maybe track us down and argue the authenticity of the scroll with us after the meeting, but I don’t think he’ll get violent. Again, he’s not official anymore. He doesn’t have any more protection than we do if he’s caught at a murder scene.”
“Alright. Give me five minutes to get ready and I’ll meet you in the hall.”
Oliver took that as a hint to leave and hopped over the railing between their balconies, then slipped into his own room to make some final preparations of his own.
The Staff of Moses © 2022, Andrew Linke