The Cairo Deception: Chapter 3

There were five of them in total. They were sitting at the bar, directly opposite Jack, and across the room. 

Ali Abber, a notorious Cairo gangster, and four of his henchmen. They were sitting on bar stools, with their backs to Jack. Jack could see their faces in the mirror behind the bar.

Ali Abber was sitting to the left of his men. Jack had never had the displeasure of making Ali’s acquaintance, but he knew him by reputation. Many people in Cairo knew Ali Abber by reputation. 

Ali Abber was short and stocky, in his early thirties. His black hair was close-cut and thick. Ali’s face was bisected by a long diagonal scar that ran from just below his right eye, to the left corner of his chin. The scar was said to be the product of a childhood knife fight. According to the stories, Ali Abber had been a boy of twelve at the time of the fight, and his opponent had been a grown man. Ali Abber had gotten the scar, but Ali had gutted the grown man. 

Or so the stories went. Jack saw no reason to doubt them.  

Jack had not seen Ali and his men enter the bar. It seemed to him, though, that they had appeared there directly in his wake.

A coincidence, to be sure, but not the only one. Jack feared that he had been deliberately betrayed. 

It had all started with a quarrel with Tahmid, the man he had hired to serve as his digging assistant, guide, and interpreter. Jack had dismissed Tahmid after finding the garnet. He had no further need of the Egyptian man’s services, after all.

Jack had given Tahmid a bonus when he terminated his employment. The bonus was more than Jack could afford, given the meager cash reserves that he had brought to Egypt with him. 

“Is that all, boss?” Tahmid had asked. 

When Jack had asked him what he meant by that, Tahmid had replied, “What I mean, boss, is that you’re a rich man now.” Jack had been less than discreet about what he was digging for out in the desert. As a result, Tahmid had some grasp of the garnet’s worth.

Jack had reminded Tahmid that he wouldn’t be rich until he returned to the United States and found a buyer for the garnet. This was true. He couldn’t give Tahmid cash that he didn’t have. 

His assistant had walked away, but he was clearly unconvinced by Jack’s explanation.

And then just yesterday, Jack had seen his erstwhile assistant, Tahmid, in the bazaar district, talking to this same Ali Abber who was now sitting at the bar. 

Jack had watched, out of sight of the two men, as Ali had slipped Tahmid a handful of Egyptian pounds.

The exchange was technically none of Jack’s business. He had no claim on Tahmid—especially now that Tahmid was no longer in his employ. If Tahmid now wanted to work for one of the most notorious hoodlums in Cairo, that was his business. 

It was, however, an odd coincidence: Ali Abber and his men showing up at this bar—a bar that Jack was known to frequent—the day after he had seen the disgruntled Tahmid talking to Ali.

Jack was pretty certain that Ali and his men had not been in Rossi’s Bar when he’d entered. They had come in after him.

As if they had been following him.

Jack reminded himself that the garnet wasn’t the only significant object that he had on his person tonight. Also in one of the interior pockets of his jacket was a Model 1911 45-caliber pistol. The M1911 had a seven-round cartridge. 

One round for each man at the bar, with two rounds to spare.

Jack was no stranger to rough-and-tumble dealings among men. He had served in the U.S. Army during peacetime. He had been in his share of scraps—especially during his boyhood in Indiana. 

But he had never killed a man before. And he didn’t want to start tonight, not if he could help it.

Moreover, any sort of gunfight in a bar would set in motion consequences that Jack could not predict or control. Even in the Wild West that was Cairo. To simply remove the weapon from his jacket, and display it in a threatening manner, would bring consequences. Most men in Cairo were armed, in one way or another. But there were rules about such things. And one rule was: You didn’t brandish semiautomatic handguns in a crowded bar.

Then another coincidence occurred. Ali Abber turned around on his barstool. He was about to make eye contact with Jack—or so Jack thought—when:

“Hey, you! get out of here!” yelled a voice very close to Jack’s ear. 

Chapter 4

Table of contents

The Cairo Deception: Chapter 2

A new life would be possible because of the object that he now carried in one of the interior pockets of his jacket: the Garnet of Hatshepsut. 

Shortly after arriving in Cairo, Jack had procured an old map from one John Millhouse, a British professor of Egyptian antiquities. The map indicated the approximate location of the garnet. 

“The garnet is worth a fortune,” John Millhouse had told him, as Jack handed over the money for the map. “Finding it will not be easy, but not many people know about it. If you find it first, you’ll be a rich man. You’ll be set for the rest of your life, in fact.”

And two days ago, Jack had finally found the garnet. 

In order to find the garnet, Jack had endured hours in the sun, the dangers of the desert, and the constant grumblings of his Egyptian assistant, Tahmid. 

But now, finally, the garnet was his.

Hatshepsut, Jack had learned, had been one of ancient Egypt’s lady pharaohs. She had lived about 3,500 years ago. 

Jack had only the barest knowledge of ancient Egyptology. But once he was back in the United States, he promised himself, he would learn more about Hatshepsut. He owed that long-dead lady a lot. Or he would owe her a lot—once he sold the gem. 

The garnet was a large red stone, with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into its bottom, flat face. 

It was a beautiful gemstone. The most beautiful gemstone that Jack had ever seen.

But Jack had no intention of holding on to it. He had already tied up most of his affairs in Cairo. Tomorrow—or the next day, at the latest—he would leave the Egyptian capital and catch a train to the port city of Alexandria. From there he would catch a steamer to New York. 

In New York he would find a buyer for the garnet. There were dealers of rare gemstones in New York. Many of them would want to purchase a stone like the Garnet of Hatshepsut.

Jack had already determined that while he would not allow himself to become greedy, he would not be taken advantage of, either. A bidding war among the New York dealers of rare gems would not be out of the question. 

After he had sold the garnet, he would take his bank draft payment to the nearest branch of a major bank. 

He would put the bulk of his earnings into a new savings account, of course. He would permit himself a single indulgence, however. 

He would visit one of the many car dealerships in New York. There he would purchase a brand-new Ford automobile—perhaps a DeLuxe Roadster or Fordor. 

Or, for that matter, why not a brand-new DeSoto Airstream? Before leaving for Egypt six months ago, Jack had seen one of the 1936 DeSoto Airstreams in Indianapolis. The newest DeSotos were really something. 

Whichever car he decided upon, he would pay cash. He imagined the look on the salesman’s face, the smell of his new car’s leather upholstery. 

Over the past two days he had replayed the scene many times.

Then he would drive to Franklin, Indiana, where he would begin the rest of his life. 

But before he did all that, he had to get the Garnet of Hatshepsut safely out of Egypt. And he was now concerned that a group of men might be specifically intent on taking it from him.

Men who were presently in this bar. 

Chapter 3

Table of contents

Kusmi direct:

Kusmi Tea

The Cairo Deception: Chapter 1

Jack McCallum thought: I am in one of the most dangerous bars in Cairo, and I have a fortune in my pocket. 

Of course, all of the bars in Cairo were dangerous, or most of them, anyway. Now, late on a Saturday night, Rossi’s Bar was filled with prostitutes, gamblers, and any number of men who would gladly slit your throat for a few Egyptian pounds.

The item that Jack had in the pocket of his leather jacket might be worth several hundred thousand dollars or more. 

Who knew?—It might even fetch a million. 

Jack sat alone at a small table in a corner of the darkened bar. He was nursing a glass of bourbon. A Lucky Strike cigarette slowly burned in the ashtray before him.

Rossi’s Bar was billed as an Italian bar, though the owner, Jack happened to know, had no particular affiliation with Italy. On the far wall, there was a cheesy mural of men wearing striped shirts and broad-rimmed hats, pushing gondolas through the canals of Venice. On another wall, the flag of Italy. 

Jack wondered how much more time would pass before the bar’s theme and decor would have to be changed. Italy was a loaded topic in Egypt. Three years ago, in 1935, Italy had invaded the nearby country of Ethiopia, or Abyssinia. 

Egypt still enjoyed some protection, as a result of its relationship with the British Empire; but the Egyptians were rightly worried about Italian ambitions in North Africa. The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, openly compared himself to the emperors of ancient Rome. Mussolini expressed a desire to recreate the Roman Empire in the twentieth century.

The world was a troubled place, Jack knew, as it entered the tenth month of 1938. The nations of Europe were all nervous about not only the ambitions of Mussolini, but also those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. 

In the Far East, the Japanese were waging a war of aggression in China. Last December, Japanese forces had entered the Chinese city of Nanking, where they had murdered tens of thousands of Chinese civilians in cold blood. Japanese soldiers had also violated untold numbers of women and girls. 

Journalists were calling the incident “the Rape of Nanking”. Jack had read perhaps a dozen newspaper articles about the atrocities in China. They were hair-raising and saddening. 

I would like to save the world, Jack thought. But first I’m going to go home to Franklin, Indiana. I’m going to pay off my parents’ debts. Then I’m going to set myself up with a farm, or maybe a business. 

I’ll have enough money to save part of the world, Jack thought, if that’s what I want to do. And I’ll have plenty of time. I’m only twenty-five years old, after all. 

If I can get out of Cairo all right—and then out of Egypt—I’ll be set for life.

Chapter 2

Table of contents

Are beauty standards universal across time?

The answer to this one is complicated.

Some biases regarding attractiveness certainly are universal, in that they applied equally in Elizabethan England as they do today (and probably will five hundred years hence.)

Men who are tall and broad-shouldered have a natural advantage with women. Always have…probably always will.

Men have always preferred younger women, and women who have a certain hip-waist-bust ratio.

Speaking of age: In no society that I am aware of, have the elderly ever been regarded as the sexual ideal.

(Hey, I just turned fifty; so I’m not any more enthusiastic about it than you are. But it is what it is.)

The age thing probably makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective. Sexual attraction is ultimately about procreation. Older women can’t get pregnant; and a man’s ability to produce healthy offspring declines with age. If young people were naturally drawn to sexual relations with old folks, the human race would have died out eons ago.

(Twentysomething female readers who don’t wish to remain pawns of their evolutionary impulses are of course welcome to email me.)



 

Once you get beyond these basics, though, there is some real variation.

I watch a lot of old movies, and I’m often surprised by my reaction—or lack thereof—to female sirens of the early twentieth century.

Almost all of them, no matter how young they were when they appeared in a particular film—make me think of my grandmothers. And that’s a real libido-killer.

Consider that famous pinup of Betty Grable. You’ve seen it: the one that features Grable standing in a swimsuit with her back to the camera. She is looking mischievously over her shoulder.

Betty Grable, 1943

It has been said that no World War II GI was without one of these. (I know that my grandfather, a World War II veteran, had a copy.)

Betty Grable was twenty-seven when she posed for that iconic shot. Put me in a time machine and take me back to 1943, and Betty Grable would consider me an old man at my present age of fifty.

And yet, the pinup photo of Grable (which so inspired men of my grandfather’s generation) does absolutely nothing for me. Even at twenty-seven, Grable strikes me as matronly.

I don’t really see much in the way of wow! feminine attractiveness until you get to the Baby Boomer generation.

This makes sense. In the early 1980s, when I was an adolescent boy discovering the existence of the opposite sex, many Baby Boomer women were still youngish, and therefore objects of fascination from afar.

(There is one group of males who are consistently attracted to older women, by the way: twelve- to fourteen year-old boys!)  

 

 

I have never been prone to celebrity obsessions. By this, I don’t mean to claim that I have never been interested in women who are out of my league—but they have tended to be women in my immediate surroundings, versus women on television. When I tilt at windmills, I like the windmills to be nearby.

 

I do, however, recall a brief adolescent infatuation with Olivia Newton-John, one of the costars of Grease (1978). Since Olivia was a Hollywood celebrity and twenty years my senior, I recognized, even at that age, that these were foolish thoughts. But since celebrities can provide a frame of reference for discussions like this, I’ll note that I can also see some real make-my-heart-flutter beauty in Nancy Sinatra, circa 1968, and Michelle Philips, from anywhere around that time.

Nancy Sinatra, 1968

Michelle Phillips, 1974

 

My ability to see attractiveness in the young versions of Baby Boomer women (versus women of the World War II generation) makes a certain amount of sense from a cultural perspective, too. My world very much overlapped with the world of the Baby Boomers. When I was an adolescent, Baby Boomers defined youth culture.

Virtually all of the celebrities of my youth were Baby Boomers. So were the female sex symbols: Farrah Fawcett, Jacklyn Smith, Bo Derek.

(I recall seeing my first copy of Playboy at the tender age of eleven, in 1979. The centerfold model of that issue would have been born in the 1950s—making her a Baby Boomer.)

This 1976 poster of Farrah Fawcett was literally everywhere during my adolescent years.

 

 

Now I’m going through beauty-standard culture shock from the opposite perspective. To me, there is no aesthetic tragedy to equal the young woman who turns her body into a canvas of gaudy tattoos and ridiculous piercings.

Yes, I said “gaudy” and I said “ridiculous”. Almost all men in my age group feel the same way. For that matter, I strongly suspect that many Millennial men share this opinion, but are hesitant to openly express it.

Slightly below tattoos and piercings on the “what was she thinking?” scale are breast implants. Whenever I see a young woman with breast implants, I think of the strippers in one of the scenes from Bada Bing in The Sopranos.

Where the female body is concerned, I have an unapologetic preference for the “natural” look.

Kat Von D, via Pinterest: Why?????

 

I’ve also noticed that young Millennial women tend to vary more widely in weight and physical fitness than their predecessors. When I was a young man, it was somewhat rare to see a young woman who was either super-fit or noticeably overweight. (It was the same with males, I should note.)

Generation Y, however, has both more couch potatoes and more gym rats. The result is that most Millennial women tend to strike me as either jaw-dropping, centerfold-attractive…or not very appealing at all.

 

 

I will acknowledge a certain chauvinism here in addressing only the female side of the coin. But this is a personal essay—not a broad-ranging academic paper. And so the perspective is personal.

I’m sure that what women find attractive has changed, too, since the early twentieth century. Think about this: In the mid-1980s, most male sex symbols wore mullets (though nobody called them that back then).

I’ll leave that piece for a heterosexual woman to write. As a heterosexual man, I’ve always paid a lot more attention to the distaff side of things. Please keep that in mind as you compose your hate mail.

Beauty standards will continue to change, I’m sure—even as some factors remain constant.

Looking back at my own high school yearbook, I’m struck by how much standards of feminine beauty have changed in a mere thirty-five years…

But I’m going to keep those particular observations to myself. At least a few of my former high school classmates have been known to frequent this blog.

I can handle hate mail from anonymous folks on the Internet…but not from people I’ve known for thirty-five years.