We had a gap of a few months between the end of England and the start of Egypt, this next chapter, but dropped back into things quickly. The group make their way from the cold of London to a hot and dry Cairo.
Feb 10th Misr house
Carry your bags, sir?
Tuesday 10th Feb
Dawn was starting to slowly creep over the sky but Misr House was still bursting with activity. Police in uniform escorted injured figures into ambulances while uninjured ones had already been loaded into vans and taken away to the nearest available cells. Inspector Barrington had turned a blind eye to some of the activities of the four investigators, but he was concerned about how this was going to be explained in his report.
Barrington sighed, then frowned slightly as he saw four figures, arms loaded down with busts, books and other items from the house, scuttling down the drive away from Misr House. At least they would be out of his hair for now but he intended to have a word with them about removing important items from crime scenes. Turning back to a constable who approached him hurriedly, Barrington wished, not for the first time, he could get some sleep.
The four figures picked their way around the police blockade at the end of the drive and disappeared into the gloom of the trees. Shortly after, the engine of a truck roared to life and could be heard heading away from Misr.
Wednesday 11th Feb
The next few days were spent pouring over the items they had liberated from the cultist headquarters and planning the next step. Going over their notes and items, it looked like either Shanghai or Cairo would be their destination. Due to its closeness, Egypt seemed like the next obvious stop and they had a couple of names to look into. Besart, who had written to Carlyle, Faraz Najjar, mentioned in the letter by Besart and Omar Al-Shakti, who had been mentioned in a number of different documents to and from Gavigan.
They booked passage on a steamer heading for Port Said on the 14th leaving them several days to prepare for their journey. Singh, the only one of them who had been to Egypt before, remembered they would need documentation and visas to access the country and McTavish also brought up the issue of firearms, then looked into getting permits for their weapons. Bolan and Constanza collected a number of books to take with them and studied their finds more closely in preparation.
Saturday 14th Feb
Boarding the steamer on a cold and windy afternoon in Portsmouth, they settled into their cabins to discuss things further. Conversations about the occult, archaeology and astronomy filled many evenings. Singh took some time to study the book in Arabic that they had found in the cellar of Misr house. It seemed to be an ancient tome detailing the discussion the author had with a ‘djinn,’ a being of ‘scorching fire’ written hundreds of years ago. The book was profoundly disturbing to Singh but he continued to read it and began to see there was a deeper meaning to some of the content in the book. Meanwhile, McTavish turned to a simpler pastime, skeet shooting on the rear deck with his shotgun and improving his aim.
Monday 23rd Feb
Early in the morning, Port Said slowly appeared on the horizon. The number of ships increased steadily as they approached with cargo ships, smaller steamers and skiffs filling the sea. By late morning the port itself was in view and small craft filled the water around the steamer. Men on each boat shouted up to the passengers that they could carry them to the harbour for a small charge. Each one offered to do it at the best price, much better than anyone else. Only they would be the safest and cheapest.
It soon became apparent that the steamer wouldn’t be docking and that their only way ashore was to risk using one of the water taxis now crowding the hull. McTavish eyed one or two larger ones and indicated one he thought would be safe. Singh called out in Arabic and motioned towards it. Two others followed along, jostling for attention but Singh shook his head and pointed to the one he wanted. The other two feigned deep insult but quickly moved on to another part of the boat. Carefully passing their bags down to the boat, they climbed aboard and the owner quickly moved dockside, all the time promising how good he was. His chattering seemed to never end but after 20 minutes he had guided his craft to the harbour. Asking about how to get to Cairo, the boatman said it was an easy journey.
“Egyptian railroad is one of the finest in the world, it will take you to Cairo at incredible speed. You can get there in only a few hours.” he beamed proudly before offering to take them to the railway station, which he also swore was very close by. Declining him politely, and his offers of help carrying the bags to the customs office, they paid him for the river taxi service and carried the luggage themselves. Bolan especially had a death grip on his, not wishing to lose the busts he had taken from Gavigan’s house. Mobbed almost from setting foot ashore, they pressed through the crowds of offers of help, lifts to hotels, guides around Port Said and other less salubrious things. The customs officers proved to be slow but functional and their preparation in getting all paperwork done ahead of time proved to be time-saving.
If stepping ashore was chaotic, reaching the street was bedlam. A mass of humanity swarmed around them, filling the hot and dusty air with cries of offers of more help. Forcing further into the crowd seemed an almost impossible task. Catching the interest of one man who had been offering a ride, they found themselves escorted through a now disinterested crowd, who turned to others leaving the custom house.
Bolan looked in disbelief at what he thought the man had said was a car but turned out to be a cart pulled by a scrawny, fly-covered donkey. Biting back on his confusion, he and the other, climbed aboard the rickety cart which set off. Constanza sat at the front, keeping a wary eye on the driver for any signs of trickery, but the man just talked constantly. He happily pointed out buildings and sights along the way. He also seemed to be going as slow as possible through the streets. This was either to avoid other traffic or to simply to go out of their way to show them all the sights of Port Said.
The heat was now starting to get to Bolan who wasn’t used to this kind of weather. He started to go very pale and his eyes rolled up in his skull. Singh quickly identified heatstroke, pointing out the Englishman was wearing a suit and wasn’t prepared at all. Singh helped Bolan sip some water which helped, but Bolan spent the rest of the trip in the cart with his eyes shut trying to will the cart to hurry up. After weaving around the narrow streets, the cart finally pulled up to the railway station. The driver watched them climb out of the back, pocketed the money he was given and disappeared into the crowd.
Finding there was an overnight train to Cairo leaving in a couple of hours, they bought tickets and boarded when it pulled into the station only to find it was packed. There was little room for them to move and ended up wedged into one corner of the train. Bolan sank down and tried to sleep but the rocking and heat in the train made him feel worse.
Tuesday 24th Feb
The train pulled into Cairo mid-morning and the platform was instantly filled with passengers leaving and boarding. Forcing through the crowds was proving tough. Dragomen, porters, guides, salesmen all swarmed around them, waving flyers for hotels or guest houses in their faces. Singh looked round to try and find someone who looked respectable and spotted a tall man wearing a smart suit who stood out from the crowd. They caught each other’s eye and the man weaved his way expertly through the masses and stopped before Singh. Bowing slightly, he greeted them in English, French and Arabic before settling on English when that drew a response.
“Good day to you, and welcome to my humble city. My name is Ibi Moussa. If you have yet to arrange your accommodation, may I suggest the Hotel du Sud? Please, permit me to take care of your luggage for you.”
He turned and waved at a group of boys who jostled towards the investigator’s bags with scuffles breaking out for the ones available. Bags with important items had been held close and not let go, but the ones with clothes were whisked away before there was any chance to complain.
“Follow me, gentlemen.” Ibi turned and strode off, giving them little time to argue.
He led them through a couple of streets before arriving outside a worn-out looking hotel. The paint was peeling and, although clean looking, it had an air of faded grandeur. Ibi stood outside, hands gripping his lapels and almost beaming with pride.
“Welcome to the Hotel du Sud my friends.” He announced as he turned and led them up the steps, then holding the door open and ushering them inside.
Once inside it was clear to see that it wasn’t much better than the outside. Scrubbed clean and polished almost back to the bare wood, everything looked faded and tatty. Ibi strode over to the front desk where a slender, middle-aged woman of European extraction watched them. Introducing her as Mme. Patenaude, Ibi told her to look after these gentlemen as they were his special guests.
Glancing around Bolan realised there was no sign of the luggage but Ibi assured them it was in the front parlour where it had been left by the boys. At that point, one of them scampered from a side door heading for the front of the hotel. Bolan called to him asking where the luggage was, the boy pointed to the room then darted over with his hand out. A few coins landed in his hand and the boy vanished in a flash out of the front.
Four keys appeared on the reception desk as Mme. Patenaude signed each one of them in. She apologised but due to the hotel being quite busy, they had to be split between two floors.
“I’m sure these fine gentlemen will not mind a little exercise. We will get this poor one to his room first though.” Ibi laughed before he guided Bolan towards the stairs.
The first two rooms were on the next floor up and faced each other, the other two on the floor above, also facing each other. As he reached each room, Ibi flung the door wide and swept his hand dramatically ushered the guest into their room. Each one was the same. A bed, washstand with water jug and bowl, chair, wardrobe, chest of drawers and bedside table with an electric lamp on it. As he left each one, Ibi wished them well and told them if they needed anything then he would be more than happy to help.
After settling into their rooms, Bolan just wanted to lie down in the dark, his heatstroke was making him feel very unwell. McTavish, Singh and Constanza headed out to try and find the ‘Street of Jackals’ which was mentioned in the letter to Carlyle. They spent some time wandering around before realising they had no idea how to find the address. All of the shops and cafes were closed and Singh remembered that most places closed between 1-2 during the hottest part of the day. Singh had been stationed at the British Residency years before and hadn’t had much time to visit Cairo during the time but he had picked up some basic local information.
They turned south-west and headed towards the museum area where the Residency was, hoping to find some help nearby. After half an hours walking, the dome of the museum was looming over them. The shops and coffee shops had reopened as well so, picking one at random, they headed inside to get a drink. The inside was a grand hall with a high ceiling above them and columns scattered around. Smart waiters in crisp white uniforms glided around the floor carrying drinks and food to the patrons seated at wrought iron tables. The cool of the room was a blessed relief after the sun outside. The maitre d’, eying them a little warily, guided them to a table at the back before a waiter approached with cool water and hot, thick coffee.
Back at the hotel Bolans sleep was disturbed by the soft creak of the wardrobe opening. He froze and carefully peeped through half-open eyes at a crouched shape moving across the room towards his chest of drawers. The curtains had been drawn against the hot sun and it was too gloomy to make out any details of the figure.
Meanwhile, back at the cafe, Constanza, Singh and McTavish munched happily on cakes and sandwiches in the cafe and decided to ask the waiter for some advice.
Bolan saw the figure reach the drawers and pull the first one open carefully. It was empty. The figure opened the second and third with the same result. Bolan hadn’t unpacked, simply flopped onto the bed and gone to sleep. The figure turned and moved slowly towards Bolan’s luggage.
“A map?” The waiter raised his eyebrows in surprise at Singh’s question. “But effendi, Cairo is an ancient city. Her streets and alleys are too old to be put down on a map. You need a Dragoman. A guide who can show you and help you around the city. Your hotel can help you or one of the travel agents in the city.”
McTavish slipped a couple of coins from his pocket and asked if the waiter knew anyone who could help them. The coins lingered for a while before, almost reluctantly, vanishing.
“Well, there is one who may be able to be of service to you. We have a boy here who does jobs for us. He is young but very wise in the way of the streets as he grew up on them. I will ask him to wait for you at the front for when you leave.”
Bolan tensed as he readied himself to jump at the figure when it passed him. Just when it turned towards the bags, he snatched the pillow from behind his head as he jumped and aimed it at the intruder. A bellow of anger quickly turned to shock as Bolan, still dizzy with heatstroke, tripped over his own bag and landed face-first on the floor, not before seeing his thief was one of the boys who had carried their bags to the hotel earlier. The boy jumped back in shock before darting into the wardrobe with the door swinging shut behind him. Pulling himself up, Bolan strode to the wardrobe and flung the door open.
“Now see here, what are you doing in my wardrobe? Get…” Bolan stopped when he realised the wardrobe was empty. Scratching his head in confusion Bolan tapped the back of the wardrobe and heard it was hollow. Pushing it made the whole back part swing out and open into the next room. The wardrobe had been placed to cover the connecting doors between rooms. Bolan stepped through just in time to see the boy dart through the door into the corridor. He closed the door and went back through the wardrobe into his room and waited until the other three returned.
Fortified by coffee and cake, McTavish, Constanza and Singh left with a slight nod to the waiter, who nodded back. Outside a ragged boy sat on a wall swinging his legs around. The boy scurried up, bowed and introduced himself as Mahmoud. For only a few coins a day, he announced, he would be honoured to show them around the city. Asking if he knew where the ‘Street of Jackals’ was, Mahmoud grinned and told them that was too easy. He led them away from the cafe at a quick pace.
Twenty minutes later he led them into a narrow street in the old district and told them this was it. They walked along the street looking for the shop owned by the Faraz Najjar mentioned in Bessarts letter. Partway along the street there was a burned-out shop. People passed by calling upon Allah as they passed and moving a bit more quickly to escape being near it.
It looked like this was their destination.