Using only the nails of my thumb and forefinger, I grasped the edge of the fragile sheet of papyrus, pulled it from the tube, and carefully unrolled it. Coptic writing in faded ink covered both sides.
“What does it say?” Annie asked.
“I can’t read Coptic! Then there’s authenticating its age and provenance–fogettaboutit! The Egyptian experts can do that. What’s important is my handing this over to them. And I know where to do it.”
I slipped the scroll back into the tube, got to my feet, and pointed to the next block. “Five hundred Michigan Avenue. The Egyptian Consulate.”
“So I rescued the scroll and I made us run in the right direction?” Annie grinned. “I am brilliant!”
In fact, I knew better than to just walk into the consulate. Instead Annie and I sat down in the window of a cafe across the street. She celebrated with a half bottle of wine while I stayed stone cold sober and made a phone call.
It may have been the middle of the night in Cairo, but I needed to reach my friend in the Egyptian Antiquities Department. His wife didn’t appreciated my waking him.
“You have the scroll?” Aziz was elated. “Impossible! And wonderful! But how did you get… No, I don’t want to know how. And I’m sorry, Layla, at the way my colleagues pinned its theft on you.”
“And framed me so that I would rescue it. Now I just have to turn it in. But I don’t know anyone at this consulate.”
“But how fortunate! My nephew, my little Josef, is visiting the consulate. I will contact him and tell him to expect you.”
“I step foot in that building, his superiors may have other ideas. Tell him to meet me out on the sidewalk.”
When I gave Annie the details, she frowned. “I still don’t like it.”
“That’s why you should stay here. If I have to fight my way out of the situation, you’ll be my witness.”
I was crossing the street corner when a man came out through the consulate door. He was talking in Arabic on his cell, and he was also tall and wearing a familiar Tom Ford blazer I had cut with my knife.
“You!” My voice was hot with contempt as I marched up to him. “Aziz said Little Josef would meet me!”
“Little Josef?” The gorgeous stranger smiled before speaking again into his cell, this time in English. “So you still use my childhood name for me, Uncle?”
Suspicious, furious, incredulous—and with other -ous feelings—I snatched his phone away and put it to my ear. “Aziz?”
“Layla! My nephew just told me you have already met and he caused you some trouble.”
“Trouble! You have no idea what he put me through!”
“Then he must make amends. I told him to take you to the best, most expensive restaurant in Chicago.”
“Which changes nothing! Besides, I don’t have the right clothes with me.”
“Then I insist he take you shopping first.”
I hesitated. “I will need a very expensive cocktail dress.”
“It is the least he can do.”
“And a first-class, round-trip ticket to Cairo where your department head will accept the scroll from me.”
“I’m afraid I can’t authorize that.”
“Oh, alright! But I’m giving Little Josef the scroll only after we go shopping and to dinner. And he sends Annie home in a limo.”
“You have a deal.”
I gave the phone back to the gorgeous stranger. “You heard all that?”
“I did.” He held out his hand to shake mine. “Josef Yacoub, at your service.”
“Layla Daltry,” I said, and smiled.