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The Black Scarab

The Black Scarab

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Published by John Wallen

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Published by: John Wallen on Jan 21, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/16/2009

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THE BLACK SCARAB OF AMUN-RAI was staying in the Ramses Hilton, on the banks of the Nile itself. It was half-past-twoon a sultry August afternoon and in an hour’s time, I was going to take a leisurely walk across the 6 October Bridge. At the other end, I would meet a man who would hand over the priceless artifact I’d been in search of for more than ten years: the black scarab of Amun-Ra. My long journey was approaching its conclusion.I had traveled the world in search of the scarabaceous beetle of the sun god Ra. Always, ithad eluded me—sometimes almost miraculously so. In New York, I had actually had it inmy hands after planning the careful murder of its philanthropic American owner.However, an English detective employed on the case, had thwarted all my plans,retrieved the scarab and put me in a position from which I was happy to escape with mylife. Since that time, I had been forced to change my appearance by means of plasticsurgery. New skin had been grafted onto the ends of my fingers, so that even myfingerprints could no longer betray me. Outside, I was a new man---but inside the oldobsession with the scarab continued to fester.It was related that the black scarab had not been crafted by any human hand: rather it hadcome into spontaneous existence like the scarabaceous beetle from which it took itsname. It was the product of a blessed thought of the sun god Ra and represented the lightof the universe and the mysterious powers of regeneration that sustained the universe.Personally, I didn’t believe any of this. What I did believe in was its price tag: a cool fivemillion US dollars!I had followed the scarab’s trail from New York to London, where it had been taken bythe English detective. I believe that this foolish man had intended to donate it to theBritish Museum’s Egyptian collection. However, two days after arriving in London, thedetective was found murdered in his Chelsea flat, with throat cut from ear to ear. Of course the scarab had gone. Stories surfaced about it being taken to Norway where awealthy private enthusiast wished to make it the star acquisition of his collection.Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. The next certain news I received was that thescarab had returned to Egypt and was in the hands of a small time crook whose businesswas selling fake antiques. From across the world, I had contacted this man—his namewas Ahmed Bakr---and asked for an inventory of his bogus goods. Try to imagine myexcitement on discovering that the sacred beetle of Amun Ra was among his patheticcollection! Of course, he didn’t realize its importance, but I recognized it by the minutedescription I had demanded from him. In particular, the bottom had been used as a seal by the great pharaoh Amenhotep III. I offered him ten thousand pounds and he accepted iton the spot. Now I had come to collect the scarab. His shop lay on the other side of the bridge and in a very short time the sacred beetle would, at last, be mine.At three-thirty I called a taxi and just a few minutes later I was describing in egregiousArabic, precisely how the driver should arrive at Ahmed Bakr’s seedy shop on the other side of the bridge.‘Ah effendi, I know that area very well. There is no antique shop in the place of whichyou speak.’I waved the taxi driver on impatiently.
 
‘I am not paying for your opinion. Drive on and simply follow my instructions.’However, when we arrived at the spot where the old antique shop should have been, wefound nothing but a seedy hotel: the Amun-Ra.The Egyptian driver turned to me with a smug satisfaction in his eye.‘You see Effendi? There is no antique shop here.’I was very puzzled. The instructions had been explicit. This should have been the place—  but it obviously wasn’t. I decided to ask inside the suspiciously named hotel.‘Draw up here and let me out. I intend to ask inside that hotel.’‘Should I wait for you Effendi?’‘That won’t be necessary,’ I replied shortly and gave the man his money plus a big tip.’The Egyptian’s eyes lit up.‘The blessings of Allah be upon you for your generosity Effendi. I will wait for you here,as this area of Cairo is not safe for foreigners. As you say in English….one good turndeserves another.’I smiled and clambered out of the narrow little black and white car. Perhaps it was just aswell that he should wait for me.‘I shouldn’t be more than five minutes.’‘Do not worry Effendi. However long you may be, you will find the driver Yousef here,waiting for you.’I entered the Amun-Ra Hotel and was immediately struck by the almost unearthly silence.On the reception desk, a swarthy Egyptian in a tarbush lounged lazily, smoking acigarette. He looked me slowly up and down in a disapproving manner.‘Do you need a room?’ asked the Egyptian in evident surprise.‘No, no…that won’t be necessary. I was told that an antique dealer by the name of Ahmed Bakr had his shop here. However, I find only your hotel…’The swarthy Egyptian smiled.‘Indeed it is true, Effendi, that the rogue Ahmed Bakr, on occasions, has been known toconduct his somewhat perfidious schemes from this hotel. We have tolerated him only because my wife is his sister. However, some days ago he left us without an explanationand we have heard nothing from him since. If you had arranged some meeting with himin order to view an ‘ancient Egyptian artifact,’ I advise you to put him right out of your head. The man is a villain and a charlatan. Anything he told you was surely false.’
 
I pondered the man’s words for a moment. On the surface it appeared that I had beentaken for a ride. However, I recalled to mind the minute description of the scarab that Ihad received from Ahmed Bakr. There could be no doubt: his description had been of thegenuine black scarab.‘Mr…….’ I began.‘Hesham,’ the man politely volunteered with a little bow of the head, ‘Hesham Rashwan.’‘Mr. Hesham, I would be greatly indebted to you if I could have a word with your wife. Ifeel that she may be able to solve a little mystery for me concerning the activities of her  brother.’Hesham Rashwan looked doubtful.‘I don’t know, sir. That rascal gives us both nothing but heart-ache, but Aisha—that’s mywife---still loves Ahmed as her little brother, whom she must protect now their mother has passed away. It is enough that he has gone. I would prefer not to bother my wife withany further remembrances of his villainy.’I took out my wallet and withdrew a one hundred dollar bill.‘I quite understand Mr. Hesham. Neither you nor I want to cause your wife anyunnecessary distress. However, this hundred dollars is yours, if you will just let me speak to her for ten minutes. I assure you that my questions will not distress her in any way.’The seedily dressed Arab looked at the hundred dollar bill for a moment—and then hesmiled.‘You are fortunate Effendi. My wife had just returned from a visit to her parents,moments before you entered. I am sure Aisha will be honored to speak with a well-to-doAmerican like yourself---even if the subject matter might cause her a little pain. What isyour name Effendi?‘Horus. Sebastian Horus.’The Egyptian gave an ironic flourish of his right hand.‘Of course, I should have guessed,’ he smiled. ‘You are the son of Isis and Osiris…the boldest of magicians.’ Now it was my turn to smile.‘Actually, my name was Slavic in origin. When my great grand father first enteredAmerica from Poland, Horus was the nearest pronunciation that the immigration officialscould get to Horowitz.’‘Horowitz is a Jewish name…..’‘Yes….my family is of Jewish extraction. Now Mr. Hesham…my time is rather short.’

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