Things are starting to get messy in Cairo. Planning on tying up a few loose ends, the group is getting ready to leave.
Also, I’m finding it harder to come up with witty titles for these sessions.
Is that the Bast you can do?
Friday 27th Febuary
Cairo, the Street of Scorpions
Rising early in the morning, the group followed Mahmoud to the ominously named “Street of Scorpions” in the old city area of Cairo. The address they had for Warren Besart mentioned The Red Door in the Darb al-Ahmar which was a bazaar located deep in the old city. It was instantly obvious which was the correct place as it was the only red door in the street. Outside the building, a short Egyptian man was shouting to passers-by trying to call them into his shop. Singh translated that the man was selling clothes as he was the only one who could speak Arabic and it was obvious that this was not the Frenchman, Besart.
Approaching the Egyptian, Singh asked about Besart but drew a shake of the head. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” He replied a little too quickly. Singh pushed a little harder and squared up to him. The shorter man started to look a little nervous and glanced back into his shop where a curtain hung covering a doorway. Pushing past the shopkeeper they filed towards the room with Constanza at the front. He lifted aside the curtain and stepped through.
The first thing he noticed when he entered the room was the smell. There was a low haze of smoke in the room but it was a cloying sweet smell of burning hashish. Mixed in was the acrid stink of sweat and body odour, it was almost overpowering. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness in the room, he saw there wasn’t much space inside. It looked more like a storeroom that had a bed dropped in one corner and a filthy set of sheets spread over it. There was one chair and an aged, worm-eaten table that appeared to be being held together more by dust than anything else.
In the gloom, Constanza could see a sunken pale face with a scruffy blond beard glowering up at him. Shifting slightly, the figure slouched on the bed asked what Constanza was doing in his room in a slurred voice. Bolan and McTavish squeezed in behind Constanza, much to the man’s confusion, while Singh waited outside and kept watch while listening in.
Constanza asked if he was Besart as they were looking for information about the Carlyle expedition. At the mention of Carlyle’s name, the man started to puff heavily on a hashish pipe and blow the smoke up into the air. He then confirmed he was Besart but had nothing to say about Carlyle. It took a bit of persuasion and some money pushed into his sweat-soaked hand, but finally, they managed to piece together some information about Besart’s connection to Carlyle.
He told them he had been in the desert with the group when they carried out the dig at Dahshur but one day Jack Brady, Carlyle’s bodyguard, came to him and said Carlyle, Masters, Sir Aubry and Dr Huston had gone into the Bent Pyramid and vanished. It wasn’t until the next morning they reappeared but has changed somehow. Later that evening, an old Egyptian woman approached him and said that the souls of everyone in the group except his and Brady’s had been lost because they consorted with the messenger of the Black Wind. She told him to go to the collapsed pyramid at Meidum that night and watch.
What Besart told the three in his room next seemed like the ramblings of a madman. Tales of huge creatures, obscene rituals with hundreds of writhing cultists, a skeletal bulging-eyed monster and the slaughter of most of the revellers. It was at the point he described something huge and hideous rising out of the sand and swallowing the corpses that he started to tremble and shake even harder.
After a few minutes to calm down and puff some more on his pipe, he continued. Explaining that he had fainted and then awoke to find himself stumbling around in the desert. Ahead of him, hundreds of dark sphinxes lined up ready to pounce on him when his mind finally breaks. He fainted again and awoke months later to find he had been cared for by the woman who had spoken to him earlier. For two years she cared for him with her son and now he survives only by smoking drugs and hiding away.
After finishing his story Besart seemed a broken man but they managed to get some more information about the woman, Nuri, and where she lived. It was outside Cairo to the south in a small village. The left him in a stupor and went to find the Dutchman, Van Heuvelen.
Mahmoud led them on the short walk to the address the Dutch embassy had given them. As they arrived at the Street of Moths, they found an old man cursing in Arabic and chasing some cats out of his tailor’s shop with a broom. He eyed them as they walked towards his shop but turned and went back inside before they reached him. He was sweeping the floor when they entered and Constanza asked about Van Heuvelen. Getting a mouthful of Arabic in return to his question confused Constanza until Singh stepped forward and translated.
The man grunted and pointed to a back room. “He’s in there and he owes me rent.”
They filed past the tailor who glowered at them, unhappy at all of these people stomping around in his shop.
Knocking on Van Heuvelen door, there was the sound of movement within before then the door creaked open. A plump and unshaven face peered out through the crack in the door, a pair of tiny spectacles rested on the end of his nose.
“Ja? What do you want?” he inquired.
Constanza asked about the Clive expedition and Van Heuvelen opened the door wider to let them in. The room was almost the same as Besart’s, if slightly larger, the main difference was this one had a window. It was filled with a bed, table and a single chair, but little else. The table was covered in books which all seemed to be connected to archaeology and translating hieroglyphs. Numerous wine bottles were scattered around the room with different levels of wine in them but mainly empty.
Van Heuvelen flopped down onto his chair and answered a few questions about the Clive expedition before growing annoyed at being interrupted. McTavish pulled out some more money and the Dutchman seemed placated. Carrying on he told them about the dig at Giza where the ‘unidentified’ female mummy was found. A set of scrolls in almost perfectly preserved condition seemed to interest him but he wasn’t able to get to see them before Sir Clive took them away.
The mummy, and its subsequent disappearance, was of great interest. Van Heuvelen described how one night, several days after it had been found, the mummy just vanished. The huge alabaster sarcophagus seemed to just disappear without a trace after there was some disturbance in the night. Two local Egyptian police officers had been tasked with watching the tomb but they vanished as well and were now presumed dead. He also told them he was fired shortly after that when Sir Clive packed up the expedition and headed to Memphis rather abruptly. Sir Clive needed to cut back on costs he told them, but there was something else he wasn’t telling them. No matter how much he asked, Bolan couldn’t get any more information about the reason he was fired from the dig.
As they talked, Van Heuvelen suddenly threw a spoon towards the window where a cat had been slinking in. With a yowl, the cat jumped and shot out through the window back the way it came.
Van Heuvelen went on, explaining he was disappointed he had been released but had found something else to work on that would make him famous. Bolan kept topping up Van Heuvelen’s wine glass but the Dutchman was keeping tight-lipped about what he was working on.
With nowhere to sit down other than the bed, McTavish had been looking around and spotted a scraping mark under the bed and managed to draw Bolan’s attention to it. Bolan was trying to lay on the charm with little success, in fact, Van Heuvelen was starting to get a little irate at all of the questions. No matter how much wine was drunk, he never seemed to get more than a little tipsy.
Giving up on getting anywhere further, Constanza slipped behind Van Heuvelen and swung his club down sharply to knock the man out. Van Heuvelen turned at the last minute and let out a shout in alarm before he fell unconscious to the floor. Ransacking his room they found some scrolls hidden under the bed and a book on the table which was obviously being used to translate the scrolls. Unfortunately, all of the notes were in Dutch so it was impossible to make any sense of them. Taking the scrolls, notes and books they left.
Thinking it was time to leave Cairo Singh headed to the markets to buy desert survival gear while the other three went back to the hotel to get their bags and leave. Heading back there was the overwhelming feeling of being watched but it was hard to figure out what was causing it. McTavish spotted a couple of cats watching them as they walked through the streets but thought nothing of it.
Singh was struggling to find good quality desert gear and had to make do with what he could find in the short space of time. Some of it was very poor quality but he bought what he could. As he turned to leave one stall he stepped on a cat that was slinking between his feet. The cat let out a loud screech and lept away but everyone had turned to look at Singh, making him feel very self-conscious about being seen in case he was drawing too much attention.
Back at the hotel, McTavish, Constanza and Bolan had a shock of their own. Opening to door to their suite they found a black cat sitting in the middle of the room licking its paw. As they entered the room it suddenly stopped and ran out the door through their legs. It was hard to understand how the cat had got into the room as it was several floors up and the door had been locked.
Bolan knew that cats had a religious significance within the ancient Egyptian pantheon, Bast being a goddess who appeared in the form of a cat but didn’t think anything else of it. Packing quickly and checking out, they headed to the docks at the north of the city to meet Singh and find a boat to take them up the Nile.
It didn’t take long to find a steamer which was just finishing unloading cargo and preparing to head back towards Luxor. While mainly a cargo ship, it had a number of rooms available for them to rent and the captain was more than happy to take a group of well-paying passengers along. Mahmoud was also coming along to help out. They seemed to have taken a liking to the friendly boy and he was excited to join them on the adventure.
The ship departed late that evening and pulled away from the docks. Standing on deck and looking back towards shore, Singh spotted a stunningly attractive and lithe, woman watching the ship. She was in her early twenties, with thick, black hair cut into a fashionable bob. She dresses smartly in Western clothes and gave the distinct impression of regal breeding. As the sun dropped below the horizon, a sudden brief flash of light caught the necklace around her neck.
He frowned, it almost looked like it was in the shape of a cat.