The ice cubes tinkled as I swallowed the last of my drink. Setting the empty glass on the counter, I gestured for a refill as I glanced around the bar again. The usual crowd surrounded me.
At the end of the counter sat the hopeless drunk, drowning each misery with another shot. Between him and me sat the businessman with his too curvy of an escort. Each of her fake laughs were accompanied by a slight hand on his thigh, and it wasn't too hard to see her eyes continuously darting to the bulge of the wallet on his pant pocket. A group of youngsters were there as well, celebrating someone's promotion. Youngsters. I don't think I was even older than them, but if you went through even half of what I have, you'd be feeling pretty old yourself.
I was still waiting for Jacinto. He had been in the Consul's office for over three hours, without any sign of coming out soon. Fed up with waiting, I left the building, eager for sanctuary in the first pub that I could find. Right down the road, the 'Desert Oasis' seemed like a gift from Heaven. I walked through the door, sat at the counter, and have been with a glass ever since.
The businessman finally got up, and after throwing a few bills on the counter, left with his arm around his escort, his hand lightly resting on her buttocks. I smiled knowingly as I turned back to my drink, knowing I would find solace only in the alcohol.
The bottle was over half empty, when I heard the door swing open. One "By Jove!" told me all I needed to hear.
"Sit down Jacinto," I said. "Have a drink with me. No bars in Karnak, remember?"
"My boy," he roared with glee."Today I will treat you to the entire bottle! Bartender, get us a bottle of your best!"
The bartender looked at him for a moment, before bringing out a dusty bottle and pouring some clear liquid into two glasses. Jacinto took one and handed me the other. "Cheers," he winked, and we downed the shots. I gasped and tried hard not to cough, it tasted like liquid fire in my throat. Jacinto blinked the tears out of his eyes, and then gestured for a refill.
"As much as I enjoy free alcohol," I finally spoke. "Could I be informed of the cause of celebration?"
He stood up and clapped my on the back. "Within the next two months, I will be leading a river expedition through first the Blue, and then the White Nile, in an attempt to find the true burial chambers of King Thutmose III! It took a while at the Consul's office, but after I was able to convince him of the authenticity of the panel, he was jumping out of his skin! Of course, he's mainly interested in the value of whatever treasures would be buried in the tomb. As the Consul authenticating the expedition, he'll get a huge share of whatever profits, some of which would be sent to museums in Egypt, others back home to Queen and Country. But I'll still be rewarded handsomely, and I will be the man who found Thutmose's tomb!"
He downed the next shot and roared, yes roared, in joy. I don't think I've ever seen him so happy, or so drunk. We'd reached the city of Luxor three days ago, having left Karnak earlier as planned. As soon as Jacinto had certified that the panel was real, he readied a jeep to go to Luxor the very next day, determined to get the permission and finances for an expedition to find the tomb. Without even hesitating, I joined his as well, desperate to get back to anything that even remotely looked like a city.
Luxor reminded me a lot of home. Built on the banks of the Nile, the city was hot, sweaty and crowded with people, traversing narrow lanes between closely-cropped houses. A myriad of telephone cables, washing lines and electricity wires crisscrossed between the buildings, with several crows perched on the, cawing down at the crowds that passed by. What was once Thebes, one of the greatest cities of the Egyptian Civilization, is now Luxor, Egypt's biggest open-air museum.
Not exactly Hong Kong, but it'll do.
Yes. He was back. And this time he wouldn't go away. It had started on the journey to Luxor, when for a split second, my mind hurt so badly, that I felt my head was going to burst. It was a white-hot poker of pain, that seared through my brain. It hurt so bad, that I couldn't even think. All I could do was clutch my head in agony and wait and wait and-
Are you done? It wasn't even that bad.
Like the last time, I tried with all my will to block him out, but-
But I don't just waste my time when I'm not around, see. I practice and practice until I know that you can't bock me out. I won't lie, I'm still not strong enough to take control. But I'm getting there, I can feel it. And when I do...
And he did. It wasn't going to happen for a while, but he did it again. And I hated him for what happened. I hated him because I couldn't blame myself for it, even though I wanted to get out of Egypt as badly as he wanted to. I should have stopped him, I should have never given up on trying to block him out. But it was like he was hidden somewhere, and while I could always hear him, I couldn't sense him, couldn't feel him anywhere. How could I stop something that wasn't even there?
He might not have even surfaced again if it wasn't for me. I should have just said no, found another way to leave. But I was desperate, that I was willing to do everything, anything to escape from this bloody desert. And he knew that, he knew that very well. Which is why I'm not the only one to blame for what happened.
The guy was huge, and he looked at me like I was a little bug. I gulped, and if not for the familiar feel of my Colt tucked into my belt, would have probably turned and gone another way. Plus, there was little chance that he had anything to do with-
"Your name Lurch?"
Great. Fucking brilliant.
"Yeah, I'm Lurch. Can I do something for you?"
The man chewed on his fingernail, spitting it out. "My boss would like a word with you. He's interested in your profession."
Kick him in the balls.
"My profession?" Right now the only thing that could define that word was escort to mad Britisher.
"Yeah, your line of work. Follow me, I will take you to him."
"That's sounds interesting, but I'm actually quite busy right now.-Chicken Shit- Perhaps a rain check?" I turned around and began to briskly walk away.
A hand the size of my head fell on my shoulder, stopping me cold. "He would like to see you, now."
The mammoth led me down a series of alleys, until we came to a narrow wooden door set into the wall. the door was painted green, and had something in Arabic written over it. My knowledge of the language still had to go beyond "Where is the toilet?", so I had no idea where I was being led into.
The sight stopped me cold. About twenty children, working in two lines, filling small plastic bags with snow-white cocaine. The dust was everywhere, on the children, some over the floor, I could even smell it in the air. What kind of a man has so much of cocaine that he can just let it lie all over the place.
He was dressed in traditional Arabic robes, though the gold chains and Ray-Bans dangling from his collar were a stark contrast. His skin was brown, and a neat beard framed his fat face. A belly that looked more at home on a pregnant buffalo bounced with every step he took, as he walked up to me and warmly took my hand.
"Mr. Lurch, I presume? Such as pleasure to finally meet you. I am Abdul Il-Nihas, and I welcome you to my abode. Please, this way, where we may talk in privacy."
He lead me to another room. I took one last longing look at all of that coke, but followed the lion in into his den. There was a huge wooden desk, behind which he sat on a leather chair that had to be modified in order to hold up his fat ass. The giant followed us into the next room as well, always standing right behind me. I didn't really like that, but what can you do?
"Now, Mr. Lurch, to business." He rubbed his palms together. "You and an acquaintance of yours are in the possession of a certain artifact. This artifact has come into the interest of certain... friends of mine, and they would like to acquire this artifact, for a reasonable price, of course."
"You're talking about the panel?"
"Yes, yes I am."
I shrugged my shoulders. "I'd love to work something out, but as you said, the artifact belongs to acquaintance, not me. And I doubt that he would sell it to you."
"Yes, we have already contacted Mr. Ambersworth, who was most... uncooperative."
I froze. The Colt was almost in my hand. "What did you do?"
Abdul smiled. "Nothing at all, Mr. Lurch. In fact I'm sure Mr. Ambersworth is comfortably resting in his hotel room. If anything, he must be curious of where you presently are. Which comes back to our discussion. My friends would be most appreciative if you could somehow procure this artifact and deliver it to us. We would reward you handsomely."
I raised my hands. "Look, I know how this works, and I'll let you know beforehand that-"
"Six hundred thousand USD as well as a new passport and visa to the destination of your choice. All can be ready and delivered to you by tomorrow, if you wish."
I gulped. The man had to be psychic, there is no other way he could have been so spot on.
I like it. I'd go for it in a fucking second. Part of me still wants to go to South Africa.
Abdul continued. "I'm sure a decision of such gravity can not be made in a few seconds, Mr. Lurch. Please take a day or two to think it over. My friends are patient, though not too patient. Rahid will see you out now, and will meet you again at this time in say, two days?"
I nodded, not daring to open my mouth.
"Good!" He warmly smiled. "I will see you then."