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.