Books Fiction Crime Fiction. The key to Rebecca by Ken Follett 30 May Category: Crime Fiction. A Ruthless Spy Alex Wolff's goal is Cairo. Following a relentless trek across the scorching Sahara, he arrives in the city with a copy of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca , a lethal blade and a trail of bodies in his wake. He sat up abruptly, the old thoughts clearing rapidly like the morning clouds.
He had crossed the desert on a vitally important mission. He had found the well, and it had not been a hallucination: his cousins were here, as they always were at this time of the year.
He had collapsed with exhaustion, and they had wrapped him in blankets and let him sleep by the fire. He suffered a sudden sharp panic as he thought of his precious baggage—had he still been carrying it when he arrived? Ishmael was squatting beside him. It had always been like this: throughout the year the two boys had spent together in the desert, Ishmael had never failed to wake first in the morning.
Ishmael proffered a tiny jeweled bowl containing water. Achmed dipped his fingers in the water and washed his eyes. Ishmael went away. Achmed stood up. One of the women, silent and subservient, gave him tea. He took it without thanking her and drank it quickly. He ate some cold boiled rice while the unhurried work of the encampment went on around him.
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It seemed that this branch of the family was still-wealthy: there were several servants, many children and more than twenty camels, The sheep nearby were only a part of the flock—the rest would be grazing a few miles away. There would be more camels, too. They wandered at night in search of foliage to eat, and although they were hobbled they sometimes went out of sight.
The young boys would be rounding them up now, as he and Ishmael had done. The beasts had no names, but Ishmael knew each one individually, and its history. Ishmael would have. Achmed finished his breakfast and went back to his baggage. The cases were not locked. The case also contained a book, a novel in English. Carefully, Achmed picked it up and put it back. He closed the book, replaced it in the case, and closed the case.
The Key to Rebecca
Ishmael was awestruck: even the nomads did not make such long journeys, and he had never seen the sea. They are like the nomads—they are proud, and cruel, and strong. They are going to rule the world. Achmed remembered: he had learned, in school, that there had once been lions in the desert, and that it was possible a few of them remained, hiding in the mountains, living off deer and fennec fox and wild sheep.
Ishmael had refused to believe him. The argument had seemed terribly important then, and they had almost quarreled over it. Achmed grinned. The two cousins looked at one another. It was five years since the last time they had met. The world had changed. Achmed thought of the things he could tell: the crucial meeting in Beirut in , his trip to Berlin, his great coup in Istanbul. None of it would mean anything to his cousin—and Ishmael was probably thinking the same about the events of his last five years. Since they had gone together as boys on the pilgrimage to Mecca they had loved each other fiercely, but they never had anything to talk about.
After a moment Ishmael turned away, and took the case to his tent. Achmed fetched a little water in a bowl. He opened another bag, and took out a small piece of soap, a brush, a mirror and a razor. He stuck the mirror in the sand, adjusted it, and began to unwind the howli from around his head. His strong, normally clear forehead was covered with sores.
His eyes were hooded with pain and lined in the corners. The dark beard grew matted and unkempt on his fine-boned cheeks, and the skin of his large hooked nose was red and split. He parted his blistered lips and saw that his fine, even teeth were filthy and stained. Gradually his old face emerged.
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It was strong rather than handsome, and normally wore a look which he recognized, in his more detached moments, to be faintly dissolute; but now it was simply ravaged. He had brought a small phial of scented lotion across hundreds of miles of desert for this moment, but now he did not put it on because he knew it would sting unbearably. He gave it to a girl-child who had been watching him, and she ran away, delighted with her prize.
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He took off his desert robes and donned a white English shirt, a striped tie, gray socks and a brown checked suit. When he tried to put on the shoes he discovered that his feet had swollen: it was agonizing to attempt to force them into the hard new leather. However, he could not wear his European suit with the improvised rubber-tire sandals of the desert.
In the end he slit the shoes with his curved knife and wore them loose. He wanted more: a hot bath, a haircut, cool soothing cream for his sores, a silk shirt, a gold bracelet, a cold bottle of champagne and a warm soft woman. For those he would have to wait. When he emerged from the tent the nomads looked at him as if he were a stranger. He picked up his hat and hefted the two remaining cases—one heavy, one light. Ishmael came to him carrying a goatskin water bottle.
The two cousins embraced. Achmed took a wallet from the pocket of his jacket to check his papers. Looking at the identity card, he realized that once again he was Alexander Wolff, age thirty-four, of Villa les Oliviers, Garden City, Cairo, a businessman, race—European. He put on his hat, picked up his cases and set off in the cool of the dawn to walk across the last few miles of desert to the town. The great and ancient caravan route, which Wolff had followed from oasis to oasis across the vast empty desert, led through a pass in the mountain range and at last merged with an ordinary modern road.
The road was like a line drawn on the map by God, for on one side were the yellow, dusty, barren hills, and on the other were lush fields of cotton squared off with irrigation ditches. The peasants, bent over their crops, wore galabiyas, simple shifts of striped cotton, instead of the cumbersome protective robes of the nomads.
Walking north on the road, smelling the cool damp breeze off the nearby Nile, observing the increasing signs of urban civilization, Wolff began to feel human again. The peasants dotted about the fields came to seem less like a crowd. Finally he heard the engine of a car, and he knew he was safe. The vehicle was approaching him from the direction of Assyut, the town. It came around a bend and into sight, and he recognized it as a military jeep.
As it came closer he saw the British Army uniforms of the men in it, and he realized he had left behind one danger only to face another. Deliberately he made himself calm. I have every right to be here, he thought. I was born in Alexandria. I am Egyptian by nationality. I own a house in Cairo. My papers are all genuine. I am a wealthy man, a European and a German spy behind enemy lines—.
The jeep screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. One of the men jumped out. He had three cloth pips on each shoulder of his uniform shirt: a captain. He looked terribly young, and walked with a limp. Wolff put down his cases and jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. The captain nodded, accepting the explanation instantly: it would never have occurred to him, or to anyone else, that a European might have walked here from Libya. Wolff handed them over. The captain examined them, then looked up. Wolff thought: There has been a leak from Berlin, and every officer in Egypt is looking for me; or they have changed the papers since last time I was here, and mine are out of date; or—.
In Praise of Follett
Wolff realized that his ravaged appearance might get some useful sympathy from another European. Wolff opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again abruptly. A man who had been walking all night would be only too glad to have someone take his luggage. To object would not only discredit his story, it would draw attention to the bags. As the corporal hefted them into the back of the jeep, Wolff realized with a sinking feeling that he had not even bothered to lock them.
How could I be so stupid? He knew the answer.