“Egypt?” my stepfather asked, unable to believe what I'd done.
I shook my head. “We’re realists, Edward, you and I,” I said calmly. “We both know if I stay here, it’s only a matter of time before they find me. If you don’t want to provide the funding, I’m perfectly willing to do it myself. But it will look more legitimate if it comes from the Foundation.”
I stood at the window in Edward’s office, not really paying attention to the view. I was preoccupied with planning my next move. I believed Dr. Raven's need for funding was the answer to my own problem as well as hers. “This is the perfect solution,” I insisted.
My stepfather wasn't yet sold on my proposal. “I suppose,” he conceded. “But to leave now, to go off and live in some desolate place, far removed from civilization—”
“They, too, are staying beneath the radar. Out of necessity,” I said. “Dr. Raven got her permits from the Egyptian authorities under false pretenses. Apparently the last thing the Egyptians want is proof that Moses actually did outwit their ruler.”
Edward still looked unconvinced.
“I’m doing what I have to do,” I maintained. “It will be the last place anyone will be looking.”
“How long?” Edward asked. “How long will you stay there?”
“As long as is necessary.” I picked up a news magazine lying on his desk. It was opened to a story on a racetrack scandal involving a genetically engineered horse. Our horse. I waved it at him for emphasis. “It’s become a witch hunt, Edward. A bloody witch hunt! If they’ve become this fired up over a horse, can you imagine what they’d do if they knew everything we’ve accomplished?” I asked, throwing it back down on the desk. “If anyone were to find out about me—”
“Sarah rang me up earlier. She seems to think you have certain ideas regarding the archaeologist,” Edward said, mildly amused.
I wasn't going to deny it. I did find her quite attractive. The idea of getting her into bed had indeed crossed my mind. “I may need to stay for some time. I might as well make the best of a difficult situation.” I couldn't help smiling at the thought of the possibilities.
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”
“Have you ever known me to lose my head over a woman, Edward?” I asked, feeling a bit insulted.
“Leave it to you to find a way to mix business with pleasure,” Edward observed, lighting his pipe. The scent of his expensive imported tobacco filled the room.
“You’re not going to fight me on this, are you?” I asked, turning again to face him. “If you have a better solution, I’m willing to listen.”
“No. I don’t,” Edward reluctantly conceded as he drew his pipe from between his lips.
“What about the funding?” I wanted to know.
“Whatever you want. I’ll give you a blank check,” Edward said.
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“You’ll stay in touch?” he asked. “We do have deadlines, people to answer to, you know.”
“Of course,” I said.
“And you’ll put everything on hold?”
I nodded. “For now,” I said. “Can’t have anyone uncovering the truth before we’re ready now, can we?"
“Have you ever been here before?” Lynne asked as we stood in line in Customs at the Cairo International Airport.
It was late afternoon and the terminal was crowded. I wondered how long we'd be kept there. I shook my head. “Never. How far is the excavation site?” I asked, handing my passport to the customs agent.
“A little over two hundred kilometers—on the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula,” she said. “We’re just south of the Jebel Hashem al-Tarif.”
I opened my carry-on, waiting while the agent inspected the contents. My passport was stamped and I was allowed to move on. Lynne took out her passport and presented it, automatically unzipping her small carry-on for inspection.
“We’re not going to be living in tents, are we?” I asked, an attempt at humor.
Lynne shook her head. “Nothing that luxurious,” she deadpanned.
I looked at her, not sure if she was joking or not.
Once we were finished, we made our way to the baggage carousel to retrieve our checked luggage. Again, there was a large crowd. It was at least fifteen minutes before the bags from our flight started to appear. “That one’s mine,” Lynne told me, pointing to a large bag coming our way on the conveyor.
As I reached for it, my hand collided with that of another traveler, a young woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties, attractive, casually dressed. I recoiled, my eyes meeting hers. What I saw there unnerved me. My pulse was racing.
“Sorry,” I said. For some reason, I felt uneasy.
“I am sorry also,” she responded in heavily accented English.
Lynne saw the look on my face. “What’s wrong?” she asked as I passed her bag to her and scanned the carousel for my own.
I shook my head. “Nothing.” I retrieved my bags. “Which way to the taxi stand?”
I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell anyone what I had just discovered...or how. I couldn’t call attention to myself, couldn’t risk exposure….
We checked into a small, seedy hotel in the heart of the city for the night. It was deplorable. I took one look at the yellowed, peeling wallpaper and stained carpet and said, “You should have let me make the hotel reservations.”
“I’ve been on a nonexistent budget,” she reminded me.
When she suggested we have dinner at a pizza parlor on Tahir Square, I thought she was joking at first. “Pizza—in Egypt?” I asked.
“Egyptian pizza,” she said. “Much better than the American knock-offs you might find here.” She looked at her watch. “I have some calls to make. We can meet in the lobby in an hour.”
I went to my own room, not bothering to unpack. Normally, I would have made sure everything was on hangers in the closet or neatly folded in the drawers before I’d even go to dinner—but here I didn’t want to remove anything from my luggage unless it was absolutely necessary. I wondered if we might be better off with sleeping bags out in the square.
The bugs I killed in the tiny, antiquated bathroom were bigger than any I’d ever seen before. The bed linens were threadbare and the wallpaper splotched with brown stains. Room service was nonexistent. It was a far cry from the accommodations to which I was accustomed.
Things were getting off to a questionable start. I shook dust from a battered pillow, one of two on the bed that were nearly flattened and smelled of sweat. I was nearly choked by the stench. I didn't care to imagine who might have previously slept there.
I rang up Edward and told him about the incident at the airport. “You have to alert the authorities,” I insisted.
“And tell them what?” Edward asked. “That I know there’s a bomb on that plane but I can’t tell them how I know? Do you have any idea how they’ll respond?”
“If that plane takes off, two hundred people will die when it begins its descent to JFK,” I reminded him, stressing the urgency.
“There’s nothing we can do,” my stepfather, always the isolationist, said.
“You think I’m having seizures again, don’t you?” I asked. I was frustrated.
“How would else you explain it?”
“And if I’m right?” I asked.
“Let’s hope you’re not.”
An airliner en route to New York City from Cairo went down over the Atlantic Ocean less than ten miles from JFK International Airport. Reports from ships in the area at the time indicated an explosion had taken place aboard the aircraft. Coast Guard ships searching the debris field held out little hope that any of the twelve crewmembers or one hundred eighty-eight passengers could have survived. According to worldwide media reports, Al Qaeda was taking credit for the disaster.
I hadn't been hallucinating, as Edward had suggested.