An Egyptian writing under alias. Based in Cairo, but writing for the world.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Respublic Amerike (Omar, the Egyptian): Part I - Quantum Lapse
A reigning champion keeps her throne by sustaining superiority, both physically and psychologically.
It's a given that exertion and dedication are necessary to keep her at the number one spot, but equally important is firmly believing in her own invincibility. If the belief, of her impregnability, is extended to her competitors as well, then she is sure to keep her throne for a long time.
Lela Kraft believed in that.
After all, that is what her father had taught her...and it had proven right so far. Since her first year in elementary school, and throughout her entire education, the top spot of the class was always reserved for her. The charming blonde earned her place with exhausting study, patience, punctuality, and, of course, by emphasizing the vast distance between her and the rest of her class.
For two years at Harvard Medical School, she had fared, as ever, with exceeding perfection. The prospect of her finishing medical school at the top was as definite as any natural phenomenon-just a couple of years away. But, out of the blue, an incident starring Daina Stravinsky, a voluptuous Lithuanian student, blemished Lela's shining record and proved a grave threat to her dominant position.
Earlier, the frivolous foreigner never seemed to risk Lela's supremacy. If anything, Lela had always seen her as a recluse who was going to carve her way into medicine by whoring-the Baltic girl employed her attributes readily with male colleagues and much more often with vulnerable college staff.
However, this time around, Daina's talents weren't morphological-rather of mental aptness...psychic and extra-ordinary.
For two weeks, Lela revised the anatomy syllabus of Oto-rhino-laryngology (ear, nose, and throat) thoroughly, and was by the end of the revision confident of mastering the where and what of every structure, its embryology and its applied anatomy. In her mind, she could reconstruct the entire anatomy of that region from scratch. On the "challenge test" given by Professor Stifles, the anatomy professor, she was sure to seize the spotlight and shine over the rest of the class-her usual feat throughout.
On the awaited day, Lela held on for the anatomy class. Impatiently, she waited for her turn, her eyes glued to two opposing podiums, behind which two students hurled devastating academic questions at one another. When her time finally arrived, half an hour later and three students out, Lela, sucking on a sweet lozenge, jumped on stage, assuming her place over scared colleagues. She crushed and chewed her lozenge, a prelude for her future feats.
The first four students were demolished after two or three questions at most. Even the studious Greek, Mark Giannakos, couldn't manage her anatomical relationship questions. But Lela wasn't satisfied. The competition was humdrum; chewing cough drops gave her more fun than the challenge at hand. She wished facing a worthy challenger-only a tough rivalry could display her full potential.
Professor Stifles eyed Lela, asking her to have mercy with the lowly competitors. Only three students were left and still he had more than an hour at hand.
In a sleeveless top, short enough to reveal a pierced belly button, and a henna dragon tattoo on the left arm, Daina Stravinsky strode ahead like a model on a catwalk. On her way to her podium, she intentionally went through behind Lela, brushing her shoulder provocatively. Out of her full purple lips, Daina blew her gum into a big bubble, bursting it in Lela's direction.
"You're dead today, babe," sneered the Lithuanian nymph.
The girl was challenging her!
Didn't someone tell that fool that Lela Kraft is an icon, known-out of respect for her scholarly prowess-as the LELA?
"Let's get on with it, girls. Daina, spit out your gum... and Lela, please don't jump over protocol," directed Professor Stifles. "Start asking the origin-insertion questions then relationship then injury and then applied anatomy. Slow down." He pointed at his watch and nodded at the thin crowd left behind him. "We've got a full hour on our hands, so make good use of it."
Daina didn't heed Professor Stiles' instructions, nor did Lela. The Lithuanian's impertinence irritated her senses and scratched her pride; she needed to ground the insurgency immediately and make an example of the daring bitch. Eager and anxious, Lela threw a devastating question at Daina: "What's the course of the maxillary nerve, origin, distribution, fibers, and injury?" She then gave her most authentic "fuck you" smile.
Professor Stifles interrupted. "Hey, Lela. This is ENT section, remember, not neurology."
"Maxillary nerve is ENT, Professor. It feeds structures here alright."
Everyone expected Daina to protest, throw a tantrum, and get back to her seat immediately. Instead, she waved her hand in acceptance.
"It's OK. That's an easy one."
It was unusual for fifty-five-year-old Professor Eric Stifles to lose control over his class. However, witnessing that Lithuanian punk, who hadn't attended even half of his classes, answer that unexpected, difficult question was worth an exception. Most of the class thought Daina's next move was playing a practical joke. David Finley, who had a crush on Daina, whispered to Helen Bailey that perhaps she'd play it lewd and get topless.
Unfortunately for Finley, she didn't. Instead, Daina told it all, from A to Z, as if reading from Gray's Anatomy. But no, it wasn't from Gray's, because she said things Lela herself had never read about before.
After five minutes of amazement-during which Daina summarized more than five packed reference pages-David Finley whistled in admiration and clapped. "Daina, will you marry me?"
His outburst broke the tension brought on by Daina's surprising performance-and everyone laughed but Lela. Daina whisked her skirt, bending graciously in front of her admiring crowd. She turned maliciously towards Lela, and then burst another gum bubble.
"Next. Perhaps it'll be the histology of the olfactory epithelium," said Daina.
Already losing her cool, Lela consented. Stifles protested, but Daina was already at the board with the marker, and in thirty seconds had drawn the damned cells.
"These are the microvilli and this is the terminal web."
"Stop it, you two. This is ENT anatomy, not neurology and not histology. Some manners, please. Daina, get back to your place."
Lela was kneading the sleeve of her top-a long-lost nervous tic from childhood. Daina rested her elbow on the podium and looked Lela right in the eyes.
"Is it my turn, blondie?"
"I still have a question or two."
"I'm dying for it to be my turn."
Lela nervously clasped her hands together. "Fine, go on..."
Stifles was already fed up with the girl fight, so to bring the head-to-head to a close as soon as possible, he didn't interrupt again. When Daina looked challengingly to Stifles for permission, he nodded passively.
"Embryology of the maxillary nerve," uttered Daina placidly.
"What?" Lela looked towards Stifles for help, but his face said "not today."
"Maxillary nerve is ENT, right?" sneered Daina.
Lela couldn't reply with the lowly "it's not in the college reference." She couldn't admit to being another ordinary student. She bit her lip to control her affliction. She would have to throw a trump card.
"So you know it?" asked Lela cautiously.
"Sure. It's in Clinical Neuro-embryology by Donkelaar, the 2006 edition if you have it."
Silence; everyone froze, while Lela squirmed helplessly in her place. Daina drummed her podium for a long, long string of seconds.
"Too difficult? Should we skip it?"
Lela turned her head to the side defiantly.
"OK," Daina said, "the basal cells of the olfactory epithelium. You asked me about it. Could you tell me about the types, the divisions, and the differentiation rate of that type of cell?"
Lela almost collapsed in her place-she touched her temple and closed her eyes to overcome her light-headedness. To add insult to injury, the bewildered Professor Stifles challenged Daina to answer her own question.
Surprisingly, she did.
Furious, Mark Giannakos whispered in desperation, "Who's that girl sleeping with now, Einstein?"
Helen, his assiduous colleague, snapped, "If sex infuses genius, then perhaps we all should get in line."
Lela was walking off stage and back to her seat, head down. "And apparently even Lela needs to get in line," she heard Helen say.
She had never felt more humiliated.
Lela resided in a luxurious apartment building across the river, on Charlesgate East Street, in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Boston's Back Bay: a town greatly influenced by the 1860s renovation of Paris by Baron Haussmann.
When Lela returned early in the evening, one of her roommates was already at home: Kathleen Mason, another medical student, two years Lela's senior and top of her class as well. For the past two years, their other roommate had been a Swedish girl, who had finished her internship the past summer and had just left for home, in Malmo. To afford the rent of the lush apartment, the medical girls reluctantly agreed to let a law student move in.
Kathleen Mason was a typical extrovert: socially smart, fun, and gregarious-yet demanding and pretentious. One of her social skills was her special talent in spotting people hiding distressed spirits behind giggling faces; a trait developed to quench her yearning to know something new and exciting, as well a means to patronizing someone down the line. A typical example was that very evening, when Lela returned and began recounting an episode that had happened at the drugstore-about a silly addict who asked for Tramadol with a photocopied prescription.
"The asshole insisted that he'd lost the original one and that he really needed the medication for a kidney stone. The cretin couldn't even feign the pain well, putting his filthy hands over his belly..."
She was laughing hard.
Putting her face back into the detective novel she was reading, Kathleen muttered, "Who pissed you off, girly?"
Lela stopped abruptly.
"Nobody. What's wrong with you? I'm telling you a funny story and you're being a smart ass."
Kathleen lifted her face and gave Lela a knowing, sarcastic smile.
"Come to Mamma, Lela. Tell me everything."
"Get off me, you freak."
Kathleen dragged her iPad over to her. "OK, let's consult Facebook. Let's see. Oops. A status by nasty Daina has 34 likes and 212 comments. Whew, in just under forty minutes."
Lela jumped, seizing the tablet. She looked fearfully at the screen, tears welling in her eyes.
"That bitch, that bitch. I'll kick her ass back to her communist side of the world. I..."
She then burst into tears. Kathleen quickly assumed her favorite role, the elder girl, hugging and offering tissues.
"Man up, Lela. You don't want the law girl laughing at us medical warriors, thinking we're sissies. Come on, tell me what happened. What does that bitch mean by 'I decapitated the LELA in the altar of medicine'?"
Sniffling her tears away, Lela shared the whole Stifles' class incident.
"As I can clearly remember, that Daina was pretty much average," Kathleen wondered.
"Below average. Whatever good grades she got were won by flashing her boobs and knees, "Lela grumbled, drying her eyes out.
"She has good legs alright."
"Cut it out, Kathleen."
"OK, maybe I have some insight. She was coached for this event."
"But she was good, actually very good. You know me, Kathy, I wouldn't be intimidated easily."
"Those questions she asked you, believe me, would have been tough even for Stifles. She had a good coach," said Kathleen dreamily. "...Perhaps, one of the best."
"But who?" Lela caught the reaction on Kathleen's face. "You have someone in mind?"
"Ahh...could be anyone, you know..." Kathleen tried to regain her cool, but Lela's scrutinizing eyes cut her way back. She garbled.
"Well, there's that pretty well-kept secret, but who knows, perhaps that Lithuanian got wind of it somehow."
"And what's that?"
Two sides of Kathleen fought: the one that took pride in the established legacy of her excellence in studies and the one that enjoyed her altruistic maternal image. She had to choose which side to keep with Lela. It was a tough decision.
"I, like many others, sometimes sought help for those ambiguous parts in the anatomy syllabus." Kathleen blew at a stray hair that was hanging over her nose and muttered in defeat. "They call him the Egyptian."
"I decapitated the LELA in the altar of medicine."
70 likes, 300 comments.
"The Lithuanian chick rocks!"
3 likes, 2 comments.
"Lela dethroned, the myth is broken. If a moron like Daina could beat number one, anyone can."
107 likes, 24 comments.
Michael Gallagher scrolled through the Facebook sensation.
Though his mind was in a state of empathy, his heart was trembling with relief. There'd been a breakthrough, at last.
Michael, a last-year medical student, was everyone's idea of a friend: fun, smart, and very good looking. However, the below-average, underachieving student had nothing in common with many of his colleagues but the check that enabled him into Harvard.
Even that monetary capability had been granted several years earlier, when his father opened a bank account that covered the expenses of the long-craved medical school. But since then the tide had eroded a lot of sand castles.
When '08 came, the economic crisis hit his family harshly. Midrange bankers had to go, and so Michael's father was one of the first. Losing their savings in the process, the family had to move to an apartment for rent in the poorer side of New York. They had to tighten the belt greatly. Still, debts chased the family, and his overwhelmed father knew he had to disappear-and so he did, the next fall.
His mother, finally free to join her in-the-shades boyfriend, left too. Therefore, two years into college, Michael was on his own-for the first time.
Earlier, Michael was just getting used to a comfortable life: of having an iPhone, driving a new car, and being able to afford daily outings to Starbucks. As such, he befriended colleagues who enjoyed the same trendy lifestyle.
However, following his parents' waiver of support, Michael quickly ran out of both money and luck.
It would have been humiliating and distraughtly to let go of his upper-class friends. So, he did the most awkward and painstaking things to keep the company of his friends and to keep his bearings in front of them. He kept the iPhone 3G model for three years claiming that it had grown on him, less frequently bought new clothes-presumably-because he was lazy, as well studied second-hand textbooks and skeletons, and for sustenance he ate cheap readymade meals and cookies. All that to spare money for the expenses needed to keep up appearances at cafés, picnics, and hangouts.
Working was an option, but not for Michael. It would have been disreputable among his coterie and would have indicated his slippage down the social ladder. Moreover, Michael never fooled himself. He didn't like work. He didn't even fancy working in the medical field. The prospect of being stuck with patients for the rest of his life was never his dream, but rather the high hopes of his, now defunct, parents.
One of his rich friends was Kathleen Mason.
Actually, he was a favorite of Kathleen, she sometimes offering him a revision of a subject or two before semester exams. They usually met in the college library, or at a café. One time, however, Kathleen had a sprained ankle, and asked Michael to pay her a visit in her apartment.
The spectacle of the shiny façade of the luxurious building, the suited security men, the marbled entrance and corridors, and the perfumed elevator had quite an impression on Michael. When he entered the lavish apartment, he was yet to gasp over signé furniture, and art pieces that bespoke high life.
Then Kathleen introduced her fabulous friend, "Lela, my smart friend and rich roommate."
He fell instantly for Lela. Was it her long blond hair, her serious yet attractive looks? Or was it her lavish living space?
Michael, a womanizer by nature, had courted a dozen girls before. But Lela was different: she was beautiful, rich, and one of Harvard's top aces. She was perfect in every sense.
He started to exercise his magic on her right away.
The kickoff to his romantic expedition was smooth. He casually introduced himself to her during his first visit to their apartment. Later that day, he was quick to hunt her down on social media: he followed her twitter account and sent her a Facebook friendship request. Rather reflexly, he was granted a twitter re-follow, and Facebook friendship. This way, he was allowed access into Lela's outer ring of acquaintance...just a tiny bit friendlier than a stranger, but practically gaining a foothold in Lela's life.
After a few days studying Lela's activity in the social networks, the nature of her posts, shares, likes, and comments, he gradually formed an image of who Lela Kraft was, what she liked and what she didn't. Slowly (and carefully), he started liking her Facebook posts, retweeting her Twitter messages, and finally posting comments and new topics on her home page.
After two weeks of seemingly-chance cyber collisions, Michael plotted his first real-life move. One morning, he planted himself in the university cafeteria; hiding out of sight all the time, and moving out just in time to knock into Lela, with her just finishing Physiology class. Fortunately, she had time before her next class (of course he knew about that) and readily accepted him buying them cappuccinos.
It was quite a successful head start... but that was it. Everything stalled right there. She was always busy: if not studying, then definitely doing something more interesting than anything he ever offered or held promise for. After two months of the cafeteria rendezvous, their meetings were few and far between.
Without engaging her and igniting the female's most intense emotion, taking their relationship to the next level seemed elusive. He was well below her: financially, scholastically-even intellectually. He wanted her to need him, demand his presence in her life; it was the only way he could think of to mature their relationship. However, assuming such a role needed a favorable circumstance.
...like the Stifles anatomy class fiasco. The incident was a godsend, carrying the promise of being the ultimate ticket to Lela's heart.
He jumped at the opportunity unhesitantly.
After news of Lela's plight broke at Facebook, he was active immediately. Among the scores of gloating comments on Facebook, his were the fiercest and most adamant of the few that defended Lela, even trashing Daina and downplaying her triumph. He tried contacting Lela on chat, but she was offline. He gave her a phone ring, but she didn't reply.
But that was OK.
He didn't want a distant text or call; what he really wanted was to go directly to her and be by her side, to offer a consoling embrace, and to add the emotional dimension to their budding relation.
He closed his laptop, put on his clothes and perfume, then hit the road, hoping for the best.
The security man, of the Charlesgate East apartment building, assumed cool-headedness and formality-but in fact, he was discounting the young man standing in front of him. Michael Gallagher (who happened to be that young man) knew by instinct why the middle-age security man treated him that way: the man was looking down on him as an outsider. In his dark, wholesale outfit, he was fit to be a pizza deliveryman, not a friend to a resident of this uppity residential block.
"Let me check with Ms. Kraft. Falcon Security Firm runs this place, and it sure has some protocols."
To ward off bums. I know, asshole.
Michael put the security man on his mental vengeance list and dragged two lines below his name. "Philip Irish" the name on the tag read. One day he'd kick him right in the balls, and then tell him that he had his own protocol.
"Yes, Philip, he's a school colleague. Please let him in."
Colleague?Is that it, Kathy?
He wanted to add Kathy to his mental list, but it was crowded already. To increase his portion of hatred, the man ushered Michael in, without even lifting his eyes off his desk.
"The elevators are to the left. Press the button only once. It's touch sensitive."
Michael added yet another thick line under Philip's name.
Getting in the elevator, Michael freed his mind of the trivial incident. He carefully rehearsed to himself. On seeing Lela, he would start his intro with sweet tender words and a couple wise aphorisms, slowly down the road would come a few paternal kind gestures and facial and bodily signs of affection, like hoarsening of voice and tearing of eyes. Perhaps a hug would follow, and hopefully a kiss as well.
The moment the elevator stopped at the designated floor, his mind was alert and ready for the mission ahead.
However, his readiness was suddenly off-balanced when the elevator door opened...Lela was standing right there, somber and determined.
"Hi, Michael. Do you know Summer Street in East Boston?"
"Summer Street?" He was repeated the question mindlessly, buying time to absorb the surprise of Lela's untimely appearance.
"Kathy says you'd probably know the neighborhood rather well."
Yeah, yeah, the impoverished guy must be hanging out in places like that.
Perhaps Kathy deserved a place in his mental list after all. Hiding his growing grudge, he smiled. "I think I dropped a friend off there once."
"Can you take me there, now?"
Appeasing this unexpected request meant that his tactics were being uncomfortably devastated by change of avenue and circumstance. Moreover, he was baffled by her decision to go East Boston. Still, he had to oblige. "Sure."
Lela stepped inside the elevator.
While the elevator was going down, Michael reassessed the new development quickly. An optimist by nature, he assured himself that perhaps things were going even better than expected. He wanted Lela to need him, and there she was. Confidence slowly built up inside him.
"I came to talk to you about the incident from earlier. Daina's a nobody. You know you're the best, always have been. Perhaps we can-"
Obviously, he had touched her sore spot; she dodged the subject. "I have an address. We can put it in your car's GPS, and it'll take us right there."
Actually, he no longer had a car. He had sold it a year ago. With no allowance at hand, Michael sold the car to make use of the money for his ever-growing expenses. He lived on campus, and Boston's transportation was effective, so he let go of the car easily; he told his friends it gave him a backache.
So, he declined Lela's request, recounting the same excuse.
To his surprise, Lela didn't have a car either, though for entirely different reasons. She had no time for a car. Pumping gas, maintenance, parking, all that seemed like a lot of wasted study time. Her father could have arranged for a chauffeur, but that would have looked too pretentious on campus.
They resorted to a cab.
"Where are we going exactly?"
"Summer Street, Eastie."
"Sure, you already said that."
"To a guy, a medical drop-out."
Lela's curt replies kept Michael on the hem. He went on cautiously.
"I'm sorry for what happened to you today-the anatomy class."
"You didn't do anything."
"I mean, you shouldn't doubt yourself."
She gave him an acerbic look.
Tread softly, man.
"I mean you're the best of the class. Perhaps that girl just readied herself somehow. Eventually the year's final grades will reveal where both of you truly stand."
He kept thinking of the next appropriate thing to say, but nothing crossed his mind.
"Perhaps your mind was preoccupied; even the best of minds slip up at times. You know, lack of sleep, family matters. Things you don't realize, are at the back of your mind, the unconscious lizard mind."
"I was tops. The Lithuanian was different; she could have bashed Stifles himself pretty easily. She was totally different. She was empowered."
"But how?" He rubbed the back of his hand mockingly. "Did she get a genie out of a bottle?"
"We're going to see that genie."
By the end of their ride, Michael discerned why Lela had taken him with her; East Boston didn't stand up to the reputation the rest of the city had. "Eastie," a Latino neighborhood bordering the Logan Airport, was one of the less secure parts of Boston.
He was serving as her bodyguard.
...Certainly, that's what it looked like to a pair of teenagers at the corner of a shaggy pizza building. Though he had abandoned the gym years ago, Michael still had a six pack and admirable biceps and shoulders. Nonetheless, one of the kids had enough guts to snoop around.
"Yo, you lose something here, man?"
"Looking for 304."
"It's that yellowish front. Who you lookin' for?"
Lela interjected, "Doctor Omar Yakoub."
The second kid joined in, looking Lela up and down.
"Doctor Who? We have no doctors here."
It was Michael's turn. "Yakoub, what? Is that Jewish?"
"He's supposedly Egyptian."
The younger of the kids smiled knowingly.
"Ah, el hombre sesudo-brainy. He lives there alright. Top floor, the studio at the end of the hall."
He took his pal and skidded away, knowing that the visitors were legit.
Seizing the opportunity, Michael held Lela by the arm and guided her towards the building.
"It's better this way."
She complied. It felt safer and was presumably more acceptable visually. Moreover, to Michael, it felt like they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
The building's gate was unlocked, and no one obstructed their ascent. They were already at the top of the flight of stairs, when Michael tightened his grip on Lela's arm, commanding her to stop.
"Maybe it's time to let me in on the purpose of this excursion. I can be of more help if I know what we're up to."
He tested her with his eyes, but she remained defiant. He let go. At the doorway of the worn-out door, distraught Michael pressed the buzzer.
After two full minutes, the door finally opened on a thirty-year-old man: dark, unshaven, and of average build. Clad in pajamas and with a hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth, the man looked through sleepy eyes at his unexpected visitors.
"Mr. Omar Yakoub?" asked Lela.
What's stuffed in that cigarette? Certainly not marijuana or hash. Michael, a man of diverse experience, was pondering over the weird smoke that the man blew in their faces.
"Who's asking for him?"said the man in a slightly accented tongue.
His eyes were alert, but not anxious or alarmed.
He nodded, waiting for the rest of the story.
"Medical students," Lela repeated.
"Yes, medical students?"
"We have come for...you know."
"Revision stuff. You're supposed to do that super-duper revision stuff. Right?"
He straightened his back for a minute and eyed them suspiciously, "Who are you? IRS?"
"We are not the IRS...or the police. You don't have to be afraid of us. Some of our colleagues in Harvard told us about you, and we thought of paying you a visit."
"Kathleen Mason from final year," Lela paused for a second. "And Daina Stravinsky, the Lithuanian from second year."
The man reflected for a moment, and then his mouth widened into a smile. He opened the door and stood aside.
"Come in, Ms. Kraft."
Lela's skin tingled all over. Who is this man?
Humbled by the discovery, she lowered her head and entered the studio followed by Michael.
"You don't lack looks after all," mumbled the host.
Lela looked cockeyedly at the seeming flirt.
"You don't look to me like an overachiever compensating for her defective looks," he elaborated on his previous comment.
"Who said that!"
"You can easily guess."
The Egyptian motioned his guests towards the lone couch before resting himself on a big swivel chair, extending his legs over a tea table. Lela sat at the edge of her seat while her eyes inspected the premises: a typical studio with a living room, a single bedroom and bathroom, books everywhere, a recently bitten pizza in its box, and a pillow resting over the TV set!
The archetypal bachelor.
Michael, pacing the place, was drawn to the window with an overextended view of the distant ocean.
"You've got a nice view over here, man."
"Not even the best hotels in town have it, my friend. And in this summer, believe me, I have a breeze you'd die for."
"Man, I'm sure I would. Do you need a roommate by any ch-"
Lela interjected. "Mr. Omar, how did you know who I was?"
"The intersection of two circles: In one Daina Stravinsky is your classmate, and in the other Kathleen Mason is your roommate. Voilà, there you have Lela Kraft, the rich New Yorker who everyone seems to hold an emotion for."
"Admiration, jealousy, hatred."
"Would you mind explaining, please?"
He sucked on his cigarette and kept the smoke inside for a considerable time. His complexion darkened by a tone or two before he let it go with a spasmodic cough.
"How can I help you, Lela?"
"However you helped Kathleen and Daina before."
"I had helped each of them for completely different reasons. When I accepted tutoring Kathleen and some of her classmates two years ago, I was starving, in need of any stray penny. As for Daina, I had to help a girl that pleaded for help in reclaiming her boyfriend from the grasps of a serpent-the rich, overachieving girl from New York." His eyes sparkled as he stared at her with a smirk.
Lela jumped to her feet, almost screaming. "Boyfriend? That bitch fooled you."
"If you'd seen those teary eyes, you'd have believed every word she said. And then, who is this nice looking guy? David Finley?" He gestured towards Michael.
Lela burst into laughter.
"This isn't Finley. Oh, my God. So her dim mind threw in David Finley's name? The guy drools over her. Had you called him, he'd have told you that she's the one ditching him all the time. She dates only a specific type of people: lecturers, residents-" She smirked back. "-perhaps Egyptians."
"Will you correct your fault and help me as you've helped her? If I understood correctly from Kathleen, you do some sort of advanced crash course revisions, maybe some studying schemes."
Omar sized her up while dragging on his cigarette.
"For starters, you really don't need me. From what I heard from Daina, you're a first-class studier. You needn't change your style just for competition. A goalkeeper needn't aspire for the legs of an attacker. Sorry for my soccer reference, but I think you understand."
"Let me decide what I need in my studying."
"I think I've a better offer. I can stop tutoring Daina. Apparently she's a liar and doesn't deserve my help."
Lela looked to Michael, as if for consultation, but on remembering his status in scholastics turned back to Omar. As the guy said, she needn't change her methods over one incident. She could sit with Kathleen, figure out the strengths in this man's tutoring courses and then implement whatever was useful to her routine. After all, she wouldn't like her reputation tarnished with claims that she had private tutoring.
She was already getting up.
"I guess I'll agree with your suggestion for the time being." She was stretching her hand outward.
Omar sneered. "But then, what will I get for my recommendation?"
"Sorry? You want me to pay you!"
"I take money when I need money. I don't need it now."
"Then what did you take from Daina?"
He smiled mischievously and twisted his lips provocatively. Michael stood closer to Lela, holding her arm. She shook his hand away, feeling the insult of him feeling her helpless.
"She paid something you probably won't be willing to pay."
"I always knew she was a slut. But, sorry, you're ringing the wrong bells here." Lela sneered back.
"No, it's not sex." He shook his head and smiled. "You're high society, Lela, aren't you?"
"Your daddy is a renowned ophthalmic surgeon at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, right?"
"Hey, you do know me! Have you been snooping around?"
"No, Daina mentioned it while envying your bourgeois background. Anyway, your old man is reputable. I read his article in Scientific American, published last year if I remember correctly."
"OK, now, are your folks the socialite type? Do they hang with other known figures of New York society?"
"Where are you heading?"
"Do your folks by any chance know a Professor Patrick Moore, professor of the physics department? Same university as your father, different faculty."
"What do you want? To steal his research papers, to ransack his home?"
"Hey, knock it off!"
"We'll be getting to that later. But trust me, it's nothing awful or illegal. I just want a photograph."
"A what?" sneered Lela.
Michael interrupted forcefully, "Hey, man, where is this heading? What do you do for a living?"
Omar sucked the last breath of his cigarette then flicked what remained out the window. He got up and smoothed his pajamas.
"I'm a freelance detective."
Michael laughed, while Lela smiled for the first time since being there.
"Are you more like Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe?" inquired Lela mischievously.
The Egyptian raised his brows, accepting the challenge. "Well...you can find out for yourself...or perhaps you'd like to keep enjoying the Lithuanian's ride on your back."
The smile disappeared off her face. "Tell me, exactly what do you want?"
What he had asked for was feasible.
She knew Professor Moore, the Nobel laureate of Columbia University; she had attended, with her parents, a party in his honor two years ago when he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, and had personally shaken his hand. Her father was a great admirer of the professor, and had openly expressed his wishes for joint research with the great scientist's team to employ the latest implications of quantum mechanics in improving ophthalmic laser surgery.
Lela waited for the weekend eagerly.
Early Friday evening, she was on an airplane headed to New York. After seventy-five minutes of flight and twenty minutes of city traffic, she was finally home: Sutton Place in Manhattan. Beatrice, her old nanny, now the housekeeper, received her in hugs. Two minutes later, her mother, Janice, the economics-major turned New York superstar socialite, received her in a single-handed hug. Her undivided attention was on her MacBook Pro, her coffee, and a lite cigarette.
"Smoking will ruin your lungs, Mum. Even your skin gets wrinkled pretty soon."
"That's why they have Botox, babe," Janice smiled without lifting her eyes. "Are you free tomorrow?"
"Sorrowfully, I'll be...unless you can talk Daddy into scheduling me a meeting with Professor Moore."
Janice turned to her for the first time. "The physicist, the Nobel laureate?"
"Yes, the Professor Moore."
"But why? You're still in medicine, aren't you?"
"Yes, Mummy, don't be ridiculous." Lela hopped on the desk and pleaded girlishly. "Please. I read the man's bio on the Internet. He can be a great inspiration. Please work your magic on Daddy."
Janice pushed Lela off the desk smoothly, but firmly.
"Get off that. It's authentic Georgian Mahogany. It costs more than your Harvard tuition. And please don't plead like that; you don't have it in you. Years of overzealous study have dispossessed you of any muliebrity."
Dismissing her own emotions, Lela cajoled her mom's ego. Feigning whimsical distraught, she uttered cutely, "I can't believe my mother just said that to me. Mind you don't say that in front of any of my boyfriends"
"And you suck at looking down as well." Janice looked back at her MacBook. "Anyway, you needn't your father on this one."
"But he knows the man personally."
"No, he doesn't."
"Through my club, I do. We hosted him last year, and he left with a check for seventy grand, for his research."
Janice was a leading woman in the Rotary International Club.
"So, you'd arrange a visit to his home for me?"
"Home? Thought you'd like to hang about in his lab or something."
No...in his home.
"No, no...I'd like to see how a genius effectively manages his time. Of course at work, he's absorbed in work, everyone is. I've been dreaming of managing my spare time. In two years' time, I'm finishing school, and just reading books won't suffice in making a career."
Janice knew her daughter was onto something, something she was reluctant to share. Janice was pragmatic enough to let things go.
"Let me see what I can do."
"If it can be this weekend, that'd be splendid. I have lots of semester exams and pre-evaluation in the following weeks." Also, another Stifles class confrontation. Daina must be grounded this time, and fall back to the ranks of the proletariat.
"I told you, I'll see to it."
"Mum, today is already over. I have less than two days to go. Please."
That's the problem with having only one kid, Janice thought; she's demanding, she was bred to be.
Janice sighed and picked up her phone.
The following day, Omar Yakoub, the Egyptian sleuth, was busy as usual.
The affair at the Italian consulate-one that had consumed almost all of his previous week-was finally concluding. Today, he could finally deliver the envelope containing the lost medieval document to the consul.
In fact, he was shaking the Italian consul's hand and being delivered his paycheck when his phone began ringing. At the fourth ring, he had to end the friendly chat with the Italian diplomat and excuse himself.
It was Lela's number.
"I can't do it. I can't do it."
"Why? Your phone doesn't have a camera? Did it run out of memory?"
"Stop kidding around. The son is a paraplegic."
The Egyptian lost his humor. "How? Since when?"
"Car accident. Two months now. It appears the family's keeping the thing hush-hush. He's under sick leave from work, under the pretense of pelvic fracture."
"Now I want that photo more than ever."
"I can't. Can't you understand the situation? They're trying to keep it quiet. They wouldn't let me take a picture with him-and it'd be strange of me to ask!"
"Snatch any of his family pictures."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not embarrassing myself, or my parents."
Omar sighed, and then, suddenly, an idea sparked in his brain.
"Stay where you are. Within an hour, I'll fetch a British lord; he'll drop by to take you home."
"You'll introduce him to the family. He will shine with admiration, then realize that he's a classmate of the son. He'll get to say hi."
"And that stranger will do what? Take the photograph?"
"No, he doesn't need take any photograph."
"What? I don't understand anything, and I'm not your servant! You owe me some explanation."
"There's no time for that. If you really care to know, I'll fill you in when you come back to Boston."
He hung up immediately, and then dialed his next call.
A few days ago, Lela would have never imagined herself in such disreputable position: spying over the Moores family as commissioned by the Egyptian sleuth.
But of course, she couldn't do otherwise.
Competitive by nature, Lela couldn't bear being intimidated into second best place. Even after knowing that Daina's excellence was a result of intensive tutoring, she couldn't let go. A champion wouldn't leave her place on top, whatever the stakes. That's what she was brought up believing in anyway.
Then was that Egyptian and his way of issuing his demands. She just couldn't say no. His confident tone and overt aptness bespoke sureness and competence. After all, wasn't he the one who had made something out of a student as lowly as Daina Stravinsky.
Despite her current shameful position, her emotions weren't purely of guilt and discomfort.
However inevitable she convinced herself of her actions, Lela still expected to feel sorrowful and awkward about her involvement in this curious affair-an absurd deviation from her standard routine. Yet, her predominant feelings were of suspense and excitement. She was involved in something she'd always longed to be, but had never been: adventure. Though she was almost certain that the Egyptian was using her, she enjoyed the expedition. (The only thing that pestered her was being kept in the dark about the whole business.)
She was so enthralled, to the extent that her vengeful thoughts toward Daina had been shelved somewhere far away.
Mercifully, the Moores had dinner served by six. Still, time went by slowly. It wasn't till dessert was served and Professor Moore showed clear signs of apathy towards his guest that the doorbell finally rang.
A Lincoln limousine was parked at the doorstep. The chauffer inquired for a Ms. Kraft. Then Lord Ashby, a forty-five-year-old English noble, entered handsomely.
The glint in his eyes instructed Lela to give him the lead.
"Ms. Kraft. Our mutual friend extends his greetings."
He took her hand and placed a casual kiss upon it.
"I'm afraid we have to hurry. My jet is waiting in the airport." He turned towards the host, asking for dismissal. "Please pardon my brash impudence. I'm Fred Ashby, Baron of Hereford." He extended his hand to Professor Moore.
"This is the celebrated Professor Moore, the Nobel laureate in physics," Lela introduced the host.
The Englishman beamed. He held the man's hand in both of his.
"This is a most gracious moment. It's doubly splendid indeed. Do you know, sir, that I was a classmate of your son's?"
"Bronx High School of Science?"
"Sure. It's been years now. Please be sure to extend my greetings to that splendid man. I've always remembered him with admiration."
Mrs. Moore, a comely old woman in frock and chick glasses, approached gaily. "Well, actually he's here...if you'd like to say hi. I'm sure seeing an old friend would definitely cheer him up." She quickly wiped away her teary eyes.
The sorry incident was recounted in a few words. The baron of Hereford showed appropriate affliction, then was taken to pay tribute to the disabled man.
What Lela had seen on Lord Ashby's face was authentic, neither artificial nor forced; the definite eagerness behind the Englishman's placid demeanor turned into full-blown perplexity and defeat upon seeing the bedridden man's face.
Moore Junior, naturally, didn't recognize the British baron. Professor Moore attributed the amnesia to the accident and the meeting was quickly concluded.
Two minutes later, both Lela and the British baron were in the limousine. The Englishman was in considerable distress.
"That can't be," he was whispering to himself. After reflecting for a few seconds, he gradually got hold of himself again. "To the airport, Bill-move."
He looked to Lela absent-mindedly. "Are you coming to see Omar?"
The offer caught Lela off guard.
"You mean like now?"
"Within two hours we'll be ringing the bastard's bell."
Excitement was already sky-high. "Hell, yes."
When Lela and Lord Ashby reached the Egyptian's doorstep, they needn't ring the door bell. The door was wide open.
Right by the window, Omar was stretching on his swivel chair, feet on the windowsill, a rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth, while a strong current of air pushed through him and the frail contents of the room. The curtains were flying over his head, in what looked like a dreamy scene from a 1940s movie.
They entered, and when Ashby closed the door, the invigorating current vanished and every flying item returned to its humdrum rest.
"So here you come at last."
"You left the apartment door open; we could have robbed you clean while you were dreaming," uttered Lela.
"We?" Omar swirled in his chair, surprised by Lela's unexpected arrival.
He got off his chair, stubbed what remained of his rolled cigarette.
"This cut into your weekend. Sorry for that."
Lela was thankful for the action he had brought into her exceedingly boring life; however, she said something completely different.
"You're pushing me around like I'm a slave. I'm at least entitled to an explanation."
Omar turned to Ashby; he had slipped onto the sofa and buried his head in his hands.
"So, was he the man you'd met before?" The baron beamed frustration and failure. "Of course not," Omar read the answer on the man's face.
Omar regained his seat and put his feet on the tea table. He lit a new cigarette.
"The missus here doesn't know a thing. Do you mind briefing her?"
Though Lela was in his company for the past two hours, the dispirited baron didn't exchange a word with the medical student.
"Sorry, but I don't really know who she is, or why is she entitled to hear the damned story?"
"Come on... she is the one who has helped in clearing this monkey business."
Ashby still needed advice from the Egyptian and hadn't the will or the power to protest. He conceded. "OK. But you tell her. I'm just... just not in the mood of storytelling."
"Fine. But feel free to correct me at any point." Omar turned to Lela, who sat next to Ashby. He started right from the beginning.
"Three weeks from now, Baron Ashby of Hereford, this gentleman sitting right here, was in his office in his big factory in Liverpool. Lord Ashby is one of a kind, truly he is. This British industrialist is a sportsman, he's a philanthropist, and as you can see, he doesn't lack good looks at all. He is a mogul, with his businesses reaching every part of the world. Now, this multi-millionaire, probably billionaire, is sitting in his office when a visitor is summoned to his door. A DoctorJack Moore."
"Moore, the son, the paraplegic?"
"Yes, the very one. The man introduced himself as a physicist, like his father, in fact they were working in the same research team. Of course, Mr. Ashby recognized the father's name readily. After all, one of Mr. Ashby's companies provides radioisotopes, from his South African mine, to Professor Moore's lab.
"Now what followed was one incredible conversation. Doctor Jack Moore told Mr. Ashby here that his father, using an ingenious theory of quantum physics, has finally been able to time travel."
Lela smiled sarcastically and eyed Lord Ashby.
"Time travel? And you believed him."
Ashby looked to Omar in a fury and waved at Lela, as if telling him to look what he had brought on him. "One of the implications of quantum mechanics is instantaneous place travel, and it is already a fact, no longer theoretical."
Lela thought of arguing but Omar cut in.
"But that's beside the point. As per your response Lela, no one believes in time travel, not even Mr. Ashby. However, the esteemed DoctorJack continued with his story.
"He told Mr. Ashby that his father had undergone a number of time travels through which he came to know some grave truths about the federal government of the US and its hideous intervention in the fates of many nations around the world. He was sickened too by the dirty politics of affluent lobbies and their enormous influence on Washington. Eventually the man underwent some sort of self-brainwash and lost faith in the United States as his homeland.
"The son had been watching his father's change of heart and the dramatic change in his objectives.
"While time travelling himself, Moore, the son, came to know that his father would embark on a mission to devastate the National Missile Defense, known also as the NMD; the plan was that American defenses would become vulnerable to any missile attack, and the US would become humiliated and eventually withdraw from the world scene."
Ashby interrupted, "He showed me evidence: the blast of an NMD base in Virginia, presumably to occur Sunday of next week."
Lela looked puzzled and disbelieving, "Excuse me?"
"He held a copy of the Guardian and on its front page ran the heading, 'A devastating explosion of the National Missile Defense base' or something of the sort. The newspaper was dated August 30."
"I could make you a copy with more exciting headings with my laptop, a word processor, Photoshop, and a printer." Lela sneered.
"That's, more or less, what I said to him when he wouldn't let me hold the newspaper myself. But then I asked the right question: what did he want from me?"
"What did he want?"
"He wanted me to stop delivering the next package of the radioisotopes, without which his father wouldn't be able to time travel."
Omar added, "But of course Lord Ashby refused outright."
"Of course. It's not up to me. I'm just a provider. The provisions of radioactive material are a closely monitored business, and under regulations by both the British and American authorities." He looked to Lela. "And of course I didn't believe him." He paused. "I mean then."
"Ashby then dismissed him, saying he couldn't help," Omar said. "But of course adventurous Lord Ashby had one phrase dangling in his chest: What if?"
"Yes, what if the man wasn't lying?" murmured Ashby dreamily.
"What if one could glimpse into the future?" Omar added.
"Spare me your fantasies." Lela blew out her cheeks.
Ashby sneered, while Omar ignored the intermission.
"This adventurous soul couldn't let go of the chance to have a thorough look at the newspaper that Moore Junior flashed. So..." Omar nodded to Ashby to continue.
"So I called the security at the gates and asked them to stall Moore Junior, get him to put his bag through the screening machine as a security measure. He was suspicious but he complied. And then the alarm went off, intentionally of course, declaring the bag to have high radioactivity. As a result the security men insisted on detaining Moore Junior."
"Ashby gets down there himself as if to sort out the incident," continued Omar. "He says he knows the man and it'll suffice if the bag is examined manually. Moore is taken next door for a search."
"I had only thirty seconds with the newspaper before Moore jumped back into the room and snatched the paper out of my hand."
"So what?" Lela paused for a second and then grew curious. "So what did you read in that newspaper?"
"The first few pages covered the main event, the explosion of the NMD base. Then, being a man of sports, I turned to the sports page to check some future soccer scores, and in the community section I glimpsed a topic or two of interest."
Silence ensued for a moment. Feeling uneasy and eager, Lela couldn't but speak out. "And? Don't tell me that everything you read came true."
"Hey, excuse me-"
"I had particular interest in looking at the rankings table of the English soccer Premier League. My team, Chelsea, according to that table, was up nine points from their status then. That would mean having three consecutive wins, one of which was mentioned in a corner box: a match with Martindale County, which ended with a score of 5:0."
"And that was true?"
"Chelsea, so far, have won two consecutive matches, the latest being the 5:0 against Martindale County. According to the ranks table, they'll be winning tomorrow's match as well."
"No way." Lela shook her head in disbelief.
"What was more curious was one of the community articles," murmured Omar. "There was mention of the untimely death of Trevor Mason."
"The Scottish stage actor? I saw him in a Broadway comedy last year."
"And I witnessed his death with my own eyes a week ago." Ashby said, lowering his head into his hands.
Lela jumped to her feet. "Oh no..."
"Just like it said in that community article, Mason had a gig, during which he had to stand on an overhead swing; the scaffold collapsed out of nowhere. His worn life wire couldn't bear his weight, and he fell down twelve feet. His death was instantaneous."
Lela looked furiously at Ashby. "You should have warned him. After all, you believed the newspaper was real."
"A man of my status-I'd seem like a moron announcing bizarre news like that," protested Ashby.
Lela waved at him. "Pfft. That's lame. You should have stopped him yourself. It's almost murder."
Omar interjected. "Calm down, Ms. Kraft. One minute you're a skeptic, the next you're an adamant believer. You need to keep your bumbling emotions in check."
"Then what happened?" she asked, words choking in her throat.
"I had a visit scheduled for New York five days ago, so I thought of travelling here and visiting Omar, an old friend, and consulting with him. If Moore Junior had been truthful, I had to do something to prevent the blow to the US's defenses. I-"
"Not true, you never cared about that." Omar puffed smoke into Ashby's disgruntled face. "Mr. Big Fat Liar, you had a much bigger motive at hand."
Michael Gallagher was on edge as minutes strolled reluctantly past the hour. He gulped his third espresso cup, unknowingly boosting his nervous pulse.
He was waiting in Crema Café, a small café near Harvard-an hour past the proposed meeting time. However, he couldn't just get up and leave; the sinister note, in the enclosed envelope before him, forbade him.
Looking through the window, he finally spotted his man in the sparse crowd ahead.
Clad in an expensive Armani suit, the mid-forties man folded his newspaper under his arm, put on his hat, and then rose languidly from a bench in the stretch in front of the café. He walked straight ahead; his eyes played unusually with malice, even his lips tightened into a snarl. He stopped across from Michael, with nothing between them but the windowpane. His snarl eased into a smile. Thinking that the man wanted to shift the meeting place to the street, Michael almost stood up, but the man gestured for him to stay in place.
After evaluating Michael for a minute, the man came in. He approached Michael's place listlessly and sat down. He put the folded newspaper on the table, then placed his hat on top of it.
"Yes, I am. And you are?"
"My name is of no importance to you-not now at least."
"OK...Mr. X. What do you want from me?"
"I want to help you."
"The hell you do, with that threatening note of yours."
"Threatening! There was no threat, just mention of the million-dollar shack that your father bought under an alias and then entrusted you with, a safeguard for your future I presume."
"Yeah, the one the IRS and the debtors know nothing about."
"Yeah, yeah, potentially harmful information that no one should know about."
"And yet you know about it."
"Yes, and sadly, if someone can prove that you know about it too, you yourself can serve some time in jail." The man brought forward a blinking recorder. Michael rose and snatched it in fury.
"You son of a..."
"That's not the only one on me. Sit down, Mr. Gallagher. I can harm you in ways far worse than you can imagine. I know a law firm that would be glad to know you sold your Ferrari for more than seventy grand. A man in your position isn't allowed to sell a car for that much without going through a dealership, you know. And that's for starters."
Michael threw the recorder at him with a grudge.
"We needn't talk about that at all, however. We can help each other instead."
"And there is $15,000 at the end of it. After all, all you have in your bank account is $14,000. That won't be enough for the rest of this academic year, and then there's still that internship year. As well, I hear that you already lead quite an expensive lifestyle."
Michael turned his face away, but didn't get up.
"Here's the deal." The man eased in his chair. "Do you know Ms. Lela Kraft? I mean real well?"
Lela ignored her mother's call for the second time and her father's for the third; she quickly texted him that she was fine. He texted back, asking whether she was safe, and asking about the Englishman who had accompanied her from the Moores. She texted that she would explain everything later.
She couldn't spare a moment of the heated confrontation between Lord Ashby and Omar.
"Don't you dare call me a liar, you scumbag."
"I won't return the insult, but I'll make you lick your wounds in humiliation."
"Hey, you're supposed to be friends," Lela joined in.
Ashby pointed at Omar, "Say that to him. He's the one accusing me of lying."
"So you're not lying?" Omar asked teasingly.
"And you're not hiding anything?"
Ashby paused for a while.
"Say, fifty million's worth of stock shares?" teased Omar with a grimace.
"So, you knew?" Ashby collapsed in his seat, scratching his head nervously. "When did you know?"
"The minute you told me the story four days ago."
"Quit bragging. How could you?"
"I know Fred Ashby-the man, the entrepreneur, and above all, the businessman. How could you convince me that a businessman given a chance to look upon the future would look up the sports and community pages and skip over the business page, especially the stock market section?"
"Well, fine, I had a glimpse."
"No, my lying friend, not just a glimpse. You probably had much more time than the thirty seconds you claimed."
"The minute Moore Junior left your office you reflected for a second and had a plan set in your mind. If, for a one in a million chance, the young Moore was truthful and really held a newspaper from the future, then you couldn't skip the chance to learn about the stocks: which shares would skyrocket, and which shares would hit rock bottom.
"Still you wouldn't take the risk without solid confidence that the newspaper reliably reflected the future. Therefore, you looked for soccer matches and community affairs to match them with upcoming events. If they matched those in the newspaper, then taking the financial risk was justifiable. They did, so you gambled high and bought fifty million dollars' worth of shares of the up-and-coming hard disk manufacturing company in Manchester: Memoria Company, Inc."
Lela interrupted, "But if that's true, why did he come to you? He could have kept the secret to himself."
"I felt obliged to report the looming NMD attack," muttered Ashby meekly.
"Sadly, that's not true. You had already kept the lid on that serious information for some time to safeguard your bid in the stock market. You had already favored your own interests over the safety of the people of the US." Omar stressed his following words, "What brought you to my door was something more urgent...and personal." Ashby contorted his face in agony. Omar looked to Lela. "Did you know that I already knew Moore Junior was paralyzed?"
"What? You sounded surprised on the phone when I told you."
"I had to keep up the pretense. You were excited, feeling you were part of the action. You wouldn't have liked knowing you were being used."
"You dirty double-crosser."
"You know what's really amazing? Even this lying Englishman knew it."
Ashby's face was as black as a moonless night, while Lela was suddenly out of balance.
"If both of you knew he was paralyzed, why the hell did this baron come to you, and why the hell did you send me to the Moores?"
Omar smiled, and delivered his shocking revelation.
"As I said earlier, Ashby had a much bigger motive at hand. He didn't come to me asking to investigate the time travel case for fear of the imminent NMD attacks; he couldn't care less about that. Only bad news threatening his fortunes, could send him dashing through my door.
"A few days ago, some source-I don't know who-must have told him that Moore Junior was paraplegic...the inciting accident occurring earlier than the fateful visit to Ashby's factory. Ashby must have got scared, so he seeks my help to find out the real business behind the time travel claim. He asks me to investigate whether Moore Junior is a fraud, putting forwards the claim that if he weren't then it was really necessary to contact US authorities to alert them about the impending attack. However, I knew Ashby quite well. I couldn't imagine any other reason behind his seeking my help, except fear for his own money."
"Slow down please." Lela shook her head to wake her gray cells.
"Ashby is there, right in front of you. Ask him to confirm or deny any of my claims."
Ashby wanted the earth to engulf him that very second. Never before had he been exposed to such humiliation.
"What this bastard has just said is true. I don't know how he does it, but it's true." He heaved in agony, "Last week, I had a conference meeting with the board of directors of the University of New York. I was disgruntled to find that Professor Moore-Moore Senior-was missing; when I asked about him, they told me that he'd downgraded his administrative involvement in university projects after his son's accident two months ago."
"Obviously, Ashby, who put fifty million dollars at stake, was anxious to know the truth about Jack Moore and his curious accident," Omar commented.
"I had to know if the paralysis thing was a consequence of the time travel scenario or if I was the victim of a scam." Ashby desperately waved at the air. "First, I had to know whether the man who had visited me was the real Doctor Jack Moore. I rummaged the Internet and everywhere else I could think of for a photograph of Moore Junior, but nothing turned up. The man was a ghost."
"There was only one way to clear it all: hunt down Moore Junior in a professional, yet discreet process. So you came to me."
Omar puffed more of his smoke into the air, silence wrapping the room for a while. "I think I have fulfilled your purpose satisfactorily. The crippled son, the one you met at the Moores', didn't look like the one who visited you three weeks ago. You should stop wondering about the authenticity of time travel, dear Fred, you've been swindled alright."
Ashby sighed heavily. "Now what?"
"Luckily, I know a man in the brokerage business. I asked him to contact his London bureau and track the transactions for the Memoria hard disk company in the London Stock Exchange-all transactions, not just your shares."
Glimmers of hope shone in Ashby's eyes.
"What you saw in the newspaper was an upsurge in the stock value about one week ago...am I right?" inquired Omar.
"Exactly. That rise, in addition to the soccer scores and the death of the actor, led me to make the investment."
"But surely, experts in this business, I mean the real stock market speculators, could have predicted the soar in the stock price of the hard disk company weeks in advance."
"The two major competitors in this industry have their factories centered around Bangkok, Thailand; they were devastated by a tornado last week. However, weather forecasters expected that tornado weeks earlier. A true expert would have known that the shares of Memoria-a company based in far-away Manchester-were to rise due to the foreseen shortage of supply from the major competitors. Moreover, a further surge in the value of the company's shares would have been expected when stock buyers, like you, rushed to buy the golden stock of the one company that'd still be capable of supporting the market with hard disks.
"However, of all the recent share buyers, only one deserved my undivided attention. Advik Chapal, a descendant of an Indian maharajah, suddenly sold his sole inheritance in India, a mansion and estate in Karnataka. With the money, he bought fifteen million's worth of stock from Memoria, the same day you bought your shares."
Ashby's eyes and ears were glued to Omar's lips.
"Now, with the calamity that hit its competitors and the rush to buy its shares, the company's stock price has really skyrocketed. By how much, Mr. Ashby?"
"Over the past week, three times over."
"That means Mr. Advik Chapal will have tripled his fortunes by tomorrow morning."
Ashby jumped in alarm.
"What are you saying?"
"You're the victim of an octopus crime organization that has a number of criminal limbs, one in the match-fixing business, having played a role at least in the match with the 5:0 score, while another planned for the murder of the stage actor. Most likely, this organization has its eye on you and the Moores; and on finding out that you visited the Moores today, they will, naturally, be suspicious of your uncovering their scheme. Tomorrow, at the opening session of the London Stock Exchange, Mr. Advik Chapal will definitely sell all his shares at Memoria's all-time high value. After the huge sale, trading of the Memoria shares will stop for an hour or so, after which the value will be much, much lower, and by the end of the week, when the competing factories resume production, the value will plummet even lower."
Ashby held his head in agony. "So obviously there's only one thing to be done."
"Sell yours first: all of it. You have no other choice. You'll still get some profit now. You'll look bad in the market, given your reputation. But, honestly, I can't think of any other course of action."
A few minutes later, Lela came out of Omar's building on Summer Street, overly excited by the revelations she'd heard upstairs. The Egyptian doctor-turned-detective had really impressed her-a rare feat for Lela Kraft.
She was still wild in her amazement when she knocked into the most unexpected person.
"Michael. What are you doing here?"
"Oh my God, Lela. Aren't you supposed to be in New York with your folks?"
"Things got in the way of that. But why are you here?"
"Been thinking: If you, Daina, and Kathleen were seeking this Egyptian's help, why wouldn't a loser like me get some help? So, you know..."
Lela held him by the arm. "Come on, I don't think you'll be welcome now. He's just concluded the most mind-boggling case," she said confoundedly.
"Really? That stoner's actually a detective!"
"I think one of the best ever, Michael. I just witnessed him solve a crazy scam."
Michael's heart accelerated.
"Is it related to the assignment he gave you last week?"
"Everything's related to it." Exuberant, Lela led the way. "I can't wait to tell you about it."
And she did at the Crema Café-unbeknownst to her, just a table away from where Michael had met Mr. X earlier in the day.
The next day was one of the worst in the life of Fred Ashby, Baron of Hereford.
London's evening newspapers, amongst its numerous news bulletins, had two relevant headlines; one was about Mr. Gary Tank, one of Lord Ashby's business associates, who was shot on his way to the London stock market early that morning. The second headline was about how Memoria, the hard disk company, had lost more than 40% of its value because of a stunt by some Indian adventurer, who had tripled his own fortune as result.
-----------------------End of Part I--------------------
How do you like Part I: Quantum Lapse? If you've enjoyed it, please let me know below.
If you really like it, and enjoy the company of Omar the Egyptian, and Lela, you'd might like to check the novel, "Respublic Amerike," published on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and almost everywhere. However, if this part gets an adequate share of comments and favors, I might be inclined to publish the next part (All Roads Lead to Zippos) as well.