Alexei Bukharin thought the setting a cliché: a half-moon, the desert outside Cairo, the looming shadow of the pyramids of Giza as a backdrop. Even the requisite Egyptian in a dishdasha waited.
He stayed in the shadow of a rusting hulk of a bus that tourists trusted to get them here safely. His eyes scanned as he turned 360 degrees around his position. The scant moonlight was enough for him to see he was alone, except for the robed man who watched at the entrance to the smallest of the pyramids on the Giza plateau.
He waited another full hour to assure no one had followed him then emerged from the shadow of the bus, clad in his own version of desert robes, hood up to cover the blond hair that would be a beacon in the moonlight. Though he could get to his gun beneath the robes, his hand lay on the combat knife he’d carried in the Soviet Army. Knives were quieter anyway; guns brought too much unwanted attention. This meet had been well-planned, vetted down to the commas and periods, but he never took chances.
The Egyptian’s face broke into a smile when Alexei approached. A hand over his heart, he bowed to Alexei and murmured in Arabic. Alexei caught only a few words—the man you want is there. The Egyptian pointed toward the entrance to the tomb. A faint glow came from within, and Alexei almost shook his head at the deepening of the cliché.
Alexei motioned for the Egyptian to precede him, not wanting the man at his back, and they entered the tomb. Alexei had to hunch to keep from scraping his head on the ceiling of the passageway, but the Egyptian had no such issue.
They homed in on the faint glow, and it brightened until they emerged into a square chamber lit with torches. Boizhe moi, Alexei thought, can it get more B movie than this?
Keeping the exit accessible and his back to a wall of the chamber, Alexei scanned his new surroundings. On a camp table lay the tools of an archeologist—a magnifying glass, a flashlight, picks, brushes, a notebook, colored pencils, a folding ruler. The implements were closest to a wall filled with hieroglyphs and a mural of the life of the Egyptian buried here, he supposed. Alexei could see a decent sketch of the mural on the pages of the open notebook. All that added up to the cover of the person he was supposed to meet.
His hand went back to the hilt of his knife when he heard murmuring—a man’s voice, gentle, a woman’s soft weeping. From a side chamber two people emerged. A dark-haired man about Alexei’s height had his arm around the shoulders of a woman whose robe covered colorful, silken skirts. Alexei could hear the jangle of tiny bells in time with her steps. The woman’s head came up when she sensed other people in the room, and Alexei saw her beauty, her eyes rimmed with kohl, which had streaked her cheeks as she wept.
The man carried a pith helmet and wore archeologist chic—jodhpurs, a safari jacket, unbuttoned to show a well-developed chest beneath it, and soft, leather knee boots. The man’s rumpled hair looked as if the woman had run her hands through it. Indeed, Alexei could see the remnants of the berry stain the woman used on her lips on the man’s mouth.
With a forlorn look at Alexei, the woman dashed across the chamber to the Egyptian and wept onto his shoulder. He soothed her, and they left.
The two men studied each other. Where Alexei’s expression was closed and stern, the other man smiled, his brown eyes shining in the torchlight. He lay his helmet on the camp table, took a handkerchief from a pocket of the jacket, and wiped his mouth. The handkerchief went back into the pocket, and he buttoned up the jacket, his eyes never leaving Alexei. A half-smile stayed on his lips.
Alexei cleared his throat and said, “The Yankees’ prospects are good this year.”
The man laughed and shook his head. “Why is it the code phrases are always baseball-related? I’m more of a football fan myself.”
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