His dreams grew confused and ominous. Suddenly his muscles contracted in fear and he awoke, sweat cold on his body.
He was given an audience with someone of almost no importance at the American Consulate. The someone of no importance was young, disinterested, and disapproving. He sat behind a standard American desk in a small bare office with one window so high that the city could not be seen from it. But the noises could not be shut out, high, raucous, breathy Arab noises and, periodically, the unearthly sound of the faithful being called to prayer.
He started right in to tell the young official his story, but he was interrupted.
"I think we had better start from the beginning," said Mr. Case, for so the discreet sign on his desk declared him, gold letters on black. "May I see your passport?"
The document was handed over. "Your name is Peter Wells?"
"You were born..."
"And you are...?"
"Thirty-one years and four months old in my stocking feet." Pete Wells was beginning to dislike the young Mr. Case.
"What are you doing in Egypt?"
"Looking around for what?" The tone was cold and insulting.
Pete controlled himself. "I came here on a ship—worked my way as far as Alexandria on the freighter Roger Hale. I left the ship in Alexandria and came down to Cairo yesterday."
"Why did you come to Cairo?"
"To look at the Sphinx."
Mr. Case ignored the irony. "No tourists come to Cairo in the summer," he said precisely. "July is one of the hottest months and there is cholera in many sections of the city."
"I didn’t come for the cholera."
"What, Mr. Wells, is your occupation?"
"My last job was as deck hand on the Roger Hale. Before that I was in the Army five years. Before that—"
"Then we shall list you as a merchant seaman."
"Except for the fact that I lived in Texas and wildcatted, up to the war."
"Prospected for oil."
"There is no oil in Egypt."
"Now look here, Mr. Case, I’m an American citizen, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves. I came over here to look around. I’ve been robbed and I’m appealing to the government to do something about it."
"It’s not the government’s..." but Mr. Case paused, deciding not to go into that routine just yet. He made tiny marks on a piece of paper; then he asked, "How much were you robbed of, and where, and how?"
"Three hundred and fifty dollars in American Express checks, about ten dollars in piasters, and my Social Security card."
"How did you manage to save your passport?"
Pete shrugged. "It was in another pocket, in my shirt. I don’t know where I was robbed, but I have a pretty good idea it was the house where I woke up. You see, I think I was doped."
"The last thing I remember was going into a dive a few blocks from here, about five o’clock yesterday afternoon. French place called Le Couteau Rouge. Next thing I knew, I woke up about an hour ago in a house with some woman I never saw before, Arab woman, asking me for money. Well, I couldn’t remember a thing, but I was sure I paid in advance, knowing those places, so I got out fast. Then I found out too late I’d been rolled."
Mr. Case’s Puritan face was set in a mask of bleak disgust. "Then you don’t recall anything between Le Couteau Rouge and waking up this morning?"
"That’s about it."
"What do you propose we do about this?"
"I was just going to ask you the same thing." They looked at each other hostilely across the desk.
"I will report all this to the Consul General and we’ll see what we can do about getting the Express checks back. In the meantime..."
"I have no money."
"I assume you have a bank account somewhere. The Consulate could probably help you get a check cashed."
"The money I lost was all I have, anywhere," said Pete.
"No such thing."
"Perhaps we could get you on an American ship, a deck-hand job. I assume you belong to the union."
"I just got here," said Pete reasonably. "Maybe you could get me a job."
"Difficult," said Mr. Case vaguely. "The Consulate doesn’t like this sort of thing."
"Neither do I."
"Where are you staying?"
"Hotel Stanley, Eugenie Street. I paid a week in advance yesterday, so I’ve got a place to stay for a few days, with meals."
"Then consider yourself lucky. I’ll present your case to the Consul and we will let you know in a day or two if anything can be done." He pushed back from his desk and looked at his watch impatiently; the interview was over.
"What am I going to do for money?" asked Pete, embarrassed by having to beg.
The official looked at him blankly. "I’m sure I don’t know," he said.
"Well, thanks." Pete got to his feet. "You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?"
"I don’t smoke," said Mr. Case; then he added, "Sorry," which made it worse, but Pete Wells was already gone.
Reprinted by an arrangement with The Gore Vidal Revocable Trust