The last ochre glimmers of sunset still lingered above Port Said, as Trevor locked Atlantis and walked aft, on his way to Jan’s party aboard Talon.
A crewmember of the Thaddeus glanced down from the schooner’s rail. “Have fun at the shindig,” he said, a little tersely. “Our captain’s already left.”
“Aren’t you guys going?” Trevor asked. He was puzzled; several of the yachters had brought crewmembers to Eric’s party.
The crewman chuckled, and decided to level with Trevor. “Don’t let the captain fool you; he’s a bit of a tyrant and a slave driver, so while he parties, we get to work. He’s serious about the convoy though, because this ship would be one hell of a plum target. I’m in favor of it too; if the pirates take a ship, they’ll often hold the captain for ransom, which means they’d prefer to take him alive. They ain’t always so particular about the lowly crew.”
“He’s planning on leading the convoy past Somalia. Is he up to the job?” Trevor asked, voicing a concern he’d had.
The crewman shook his head, and then shrugged. “Yes and no. All he knows about the region is being a passenger on his own boat on this and prior trips. However, at sea I’m in charge, so you’ll have no worries. He was right; the pirates won’t go after a convoy.”
When Trevor arrived on the Talon, the party was already underway. It was cocktails and conversation, like it had been on the Thaddeus, though even more crowded due to several more yachts having arrived during the day, and Talon having less seating than the sumptuous Thaddeus.
The salon, a similar size and layout to his own, was crowded, but that’s where the air conditioning was, so people congregated there.
Trevor enjoyed the company, and meeting new people, but he kept glancing at his watch, waiting for Lisa and Joel to call.
When the call finally came, it was just after ten in Egypt. Trevor’s cell rang, and he headed out into the cockpit for some privacy to take the call.
“Trev!” Lisa said as soon as he answered. “How are you, and where are you?”
“I’m here too,” Joel said.
Trevor smiled, feeling close to his friends in spite of the distance. “I’m still in Port Said... actually, right across the canal from it. I’m at a party on one of the yachts here; a beautiful sixty-two foot catamaran, and she’s even faster than Atlantis. She should be, she’s worth three times as much. I’ve never been on one like her.”
“Sounds like you’re getting to know people, cool,” Joel said.
Trevor asked them how school was, and caught up on how people they knew were doing. Time seemed to race by for Trevor, as he lost himself in the conversation. He settled into a chair, and had the deck mainly to himself, except for a few of the yachters who came out to smoke, but they were only there occasionally, and kept a discreet distance.
“This call must be costing a fortune,” Trevor said, dreading the call’s end.
“We’re okay, Bridget said we could use her phone, and she has a line in the guesthouse. That’s what we’re on. I think the sound quality is better too; not as much cellular static,” Lisa said.
“You guys must love having a place to go,” Trevor replied, chuckling. “I just hope you don’t break the bed.”
“That’s sexual harassment!” Joel declared, laughing out loud.
“You’ll find out what sexual harassment really is after the call, Joel” Lisa said, chuckling.
“Trev, I dropped off Atlantis’s insurance paperwork, and deposited the money,” Joel reported.
“Thanks Joel,” Trevor replied, and then added, in a quieter, serious tone, “You did great. You’d make one hell of a charter captain.”
“Now he tells me, after vetoing all my destination suggestions,” Joel grumbled, trying to make light of the comment. He appreciated the compliment, but he was uncomfortable with its implication, in context with the insurance paperwork he’d dropped off, making him the heir to Atlantis.
“Yeah, those were all inland, you ass!” Trevor replied, with a chuckle. “Lisa, he wanted me to sail Atlantis up into the Swiss Alps!”
Lisa snorted. “Why am I not surprised? You two are insane, you know that, right? Trev, speaking of your insanity... are you still going through the Suez in the morning?”
“Yeah, halfway anyway. Turns out you can’t do it all in one day on a yacht. I’ll be completing the transit the day after tomorrow, then spending the night moored at the Suez Canal Yacht Club, where I’ll pick up my sat phone.”
“Make sure you get that phone working before you head out,” Joel said, and then added, “Hey, we can track you going through, right? On that AIS transponder tracking page you told me about? I’ve got my laptop with me, and it has a cellular modem so it should work from here... it’s just booting up now... uh, okay, I remember the name you’re using, but not the web site... ”
“I think one of them is marinetraffic dot com. Try it...” Trevor replied.
Joel loaded the site, and clicked through to the main map. “Okay, I zoomed in on Suez, and I see a few ship symbols in it.”
“Hold your mouse over them and it’ll tell you the ship’s name, heading, and speed. This only works in areas where there are shore based relays for the AIS info, or when a nearby AIS equipped ship has a satellite data uplink to a ground station, but it should work for the Suez.” Trevor replied.
“I see a Korean freighter, doing eight knots,” Lisa said.
Joel was silent for a few seconds, and then said, “I checked all the icons I can see. There’s about eighteen in the Med near Port Said, and two groups of three freighters, a few miles apart, all northbound. What I don’t see is Atlantis.”
“Atlantis isn’t moving, so she’ll show up as a purple square. The transponder is on, so she should show, but these free sites aren’t too accurate sometimes, so maybe not,” Trevor replied.
“I see her!” Joel announced, with a note of wonder in his voice. “I see the code for Atlantis. I didn’t see her before because her icon is clumped in with a couple more; the Thaddeus, and the Yarborough.”
Trevor glanced at the other yachts moored nearby. “Most people power down their transponders while moored. I do too, but I was wondering if you’d want to try that site when you called. Yeah, the Yarborough arrived today, she’s an Oyster 72, and I was on the Thaddeus last night; she’s a floating palace, a one hundred and eighty foot three-masted mega yacht.”
In Bridget’s study, George was sitting next to Bridget, at her ornate and spotless desk, as they both listened in to the conversation. Tapping the phone line had been simplicity itself – all they’d had to do was disable the microphone on Bridget’s speaker phone, and put the call on the speaker.
Bridget was busy examining an AIS website. Hers was not the one Lisa and Joel were on; Bridget had a subscription service – which provided better data – which she found useful during clandestine runs to and from the Bahamas. By a process of elimination, she was able to find Atlantis.
“It has to be this one, ‘Atla’, he just shortened the name, rather unimaginative of him,” Bridget said. Her mind started turning as she looked at the screen for a few moments, listening as Trevor, Lisa, and Joel resumed their chat about high school. “George, just a thought... but what if we destroyed Atlantis right now, while Trevor is at that party? I’m sure the Egyptian police would still investigate a bombing, and that might give us what we need without actually having to kill him.” Bridget sighed, as she realized the flaws in her idea. “No, I heard Joel mention the insurance. Trevor could get another boat, and with his father in jail, he’d probably fly home and resume his quest for the Ares. It’s a pity, but it would be better if he died.”
George nodded. “Another factor is the Egyptian cops. If they’re anything like our department, they’d investigate a lot more thoroughly if lives were lost, as opposed to just property damage.”
Bridget studied the screen, zooming out to look at the map of the entire canal. “I just had another thought... I’d almost forgotten about the transit taking two days for a yacht. Someone who hasn’t done it would be likely to assume it’s a single day. Therefore, when would be the logical time for Jim to trigger it, if he was the one doing this? Just after he thinks Trevor would be sailing out of Suez and into deep water, but is still within cellular range. However, Trevor will be taking an extra day, so that would place Trevor in the southern half of the canal. We must avoid the Bitter Lakes; too much area, and the Egyptians might not locate the debris underwater. However, in the afternoon he’ll be in the southern section, halfway between the lakes and Suez.”
“We’d kill Trevor and the local pilot, plus disrupt the canal traffic, so the Egyptian police would be likely to investigate thoroughly,” George said. He glanced at the screen, and asked, “Can we use this to know when he’s in a good position?”
“No, it is not quite accurate enough; it warns on the page that the position reports may be delayed. The only use I can think of for it is to confirm that Trevor’s second day of transit has begun. The coverage does not seem to extend south of Ismailia, but once he is underway, a detonation anytime in the afternoon should give us what we need. The AIS gives us a touch of certainty, nothing more.”
After his phone call, Trevor returned to Talon’s salon, rejoining in the conversations.
The evening soon came to an end; for most of those present, Trevor included, tomorrow was their transit day, and they would be setting out at 5 A.M.
The burning desert sun rose above the barren hills of the Sinai, illuminating Port Said and the canal in a golden glow. It was a hot, windless, stifling morning, and the coming of dawn was denoted as it had always been; the lilting calls of the muezzin echoed out from dozens of minarets, boosted by loudspeakers, calling the denizens of the city to morning prayer. “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Ash-had an la ilaha illa llah...” The call droned on, rousing Trevor from his slumbers. Had he been able to understand Arabic, he would have smiled in mild irritation at one of the later phrases echoing down from the minarets; “Al-salatu khayru min an-nawm,” which was repeated twice, and meant ‘Prayer is better than sleep,’ a sentiment with which Trevor, on that sultry dawn, would have most vehemently disagreed.
On this day, unlike the one before, he could not merely go back to sleep. The pilots would be arriving soon, so he got up, and began his morning check of Atlantis, making sure that she was ready for her transit.
The pilots – one for each boat – were delivered by a large tug that would serve as the lead boat for the transit. When the tug pulled up to Atlantis to deliver the pilot, Trevor, mindful of what he’d been told, offered the tug’s captain baksheesh in the form of two packs of cigarettes. The tug’s captain demanded two more, and after taking a look at the tug’s battered prow, and not wanting to have Atlantis ‘accidentally’ bumped, Trevor handed them over.
Trevor’s pilot only spoke a few words of English, but Trevor, through both words and gestures, made him understand that he, and not the pilot, would be at the helm of Atlantis for the canal transit. This was permitted, though unusual, and the pilot indicated his agreement with a nod. From his point of view, it made his job easier.
It took half an hour to deliver all the pilots. Coordinating via radio, and with the tug boat in the lead, the yachts cast off one by one, motoring out into the Suez Canal in single file. Atlantis was near the end of the line, and the Thaddeus, to her owner’s mild chagrin, was bringing up the rear.
The modern Suez Canal opened in 1869, but it was not the first to connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Shipping canals had existed, at various times, over a span of almost four thousand years, running from the Red Sea to the Nile. It had been the discovery – by Napoleon in 1798 – of parts of an old canal, disused for several centuries, which had prompted European interest in recreating a seaway between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. As Trevor began his transit, the scenery was not the sea of sand that he had expected. The first thirty miles of the canal are arrow-strait and run mainly through marshy farmland interspersed with sand.
Motoring along under the blazing sun, swatting at the numerous flies, Trevor watched as the scenery gradually changed, the terrain growing drier, especially on the canal’s eastern bank. The side of the massive channel was banked up in many places, a sloping wall of sand facing the canal. Trevor noticed one patch ahead, coming into view to port, and smiled as he got close enough to read it; a massive sign made of rock and sand, proclaiming “Welcome to Egypt.”
Trevor kept a wary eye on the yachts ahead, some of which were weaving badly. ‘The pilots don’t know how to steer the yachts,’ Trevor thought, correctly discerning the cause, and making him glad that he’d insisted on conning his own boat.
The temperature was a hundred and seven degrees, and even in the shade of his cockpit, Trevor was sweating, in spite of wearing just shorts and sunglasses. He glanced at his pilot, Ghassan,who had seated himself in the beanbag, amazed that the man, who was wearing a full cotton shirt and slacks topped by a loose jacket, appeared unbothered by the heat.
The bomb, secure in the propane storage compartment in Atlantis’s cockpit, sweltered in the unyielding desert heat, creating the perfect environment to produce more sweat from the old dynamite. The tiny droplets of nitroglycerin were growing larger, and nitroglycerin is a contact explosive. If so much as one drop fell free, its impact on whatever it struck would be enough to detonate the bomb.
The bomb, just a few feet from where Trevor stood at the helm, was just inches from a full propane tank. The eight sticks of dynamite, though unstable, retained their full explosive potential. If it detonated, it would easily be powerful enough to reduce Atlantis, and Trevor, to pieces.
By noon, the yacht transit convoy was approaching the Ballah-Bypass; an area where the canal separated, splitting into two channels with a low sand island in between. For most of the Suez Canal, the channel could not accommodate large northbound and southbound ships at the same time; the purpose of the bypass was to allow the convoy groups to pass.
Timing was the most critical factor of a Suez transit. The southbound convoys, regardless of what ship types they consisted of, had precisely four point three hours to move southward from Port Said to the Ballah-Bypass. There, they would moor to buoys in the west channel and wait for the northbound traffic to pass.
As they neared the split in the channel that began the bypass, Ghassan announced that the yachts had to stop at a checkpoint. Trevor, darkly suspecting a ruse designed to provide officials an excuse to demand baksheesh, phoned his agent, only to be informed that the stop was mandatory, for passport stamping. The fact that no prior mention had been made of this stop only reinforced Trevor’s suspicions.
As Trevor had suspected, the motive was indeed baksheesh; once Atlantis was moored, the official came out in a small boat, stamp in hand, demanding a ‘fee’ of twenty dollars and a carton of cigarettes. The driver of the official’s boat demanded cigarettes as well. Trevor, mindful of his dwindling supply, haggled them down to three packs each, though that resulted in an increase of the ‘fee’ to thirty dollars.
The wait at the bypass was precisely one hour, and then the yacht convoy, single file, set out again. The next ten miles took them mainly through barren, sandy wastelands.
Trevor had more time to take in the scenery, which had become the sandy desert he’d been expecting. He watched in amazement as a string of freighters, one every ten minutes, made their way north on the far side of the bypass. The intervening sand hid the waterway, so the northbound ships appeared to be sailing overland through the sand dunes.
After a slight gradual curve, the canal began to open out to the right; they had reached Lake Timsah. A convoy of any other type would have continued on to the Bitter Lakes, mooring there to let another convoy pass, and then continued south to Suez, completing the entire transit in seventeen and a half hours.
For the yachts, which were not normally allowed in the canal channel during the hours of darkness, this meant that they had nearly reached the end of their day’s journey. They turned to starboard, heading west into Lake Timsah, following a smaller channel in the shallow lake to Ismailia, where they would anchor for the night.
They were not alone. A rag-tag flotilla of ramshackle boats swarmed out to meet them, pulling in perilously close to the yachts, bombarding them with shouted offers ranging from cooked breakfasts to boat cleaning. ‘I’ve been cleaned out enough by this fucking place,’ Trevor thought bitterly, declining all the offers and waving the boats away.
Most of the yachts tied up at the Ismailia Yacht Club as they arrived. Atlantis and Thaddeus had been near the end of the column and had to anchor a few dozen yards out in the brackish lake, due to no room remaining at the dock.
Trevor’s erstwhile pleasant pilot fixed Trevor in a steely glare. “Present,” Ghassan said. ‘Present’ was a common euphemism for baksheesh.
Trevor had been expecting this, and offered the pilot five packs of cigarettes and a wad of ten American one-dollar bills.
Without bothering to count, Ghassan shook his head, “No good. I need taxi fare to Port Said.”
Gritting his teeth, aware that he was being shaken down again but willing to part with a few dollars to get it over with, Trevor handed over an extra ten dollars.
Ghassan pocketed the money, and then turned a baleful eye on the cigarette packs in his hand. “Generic, no good. Marlboro Reds, and something to remember boat by,” he said, glancing around, and also rubbing his fingers together, a signal for more cash.
Trevor had nothing but the generic cigarettes, and was getting fed up with the constant conniving and pressure for baksheesh. “Those cigarettes are the only kind I have; take ‘em or leave ‘em, your choice.”
“Beer, and souvenirs,” Ghassan demanded, eyeing Trevor’s sunglasses.
“I don’t have beer, and you aren’t getting my sunglasses,” Trevor said, raising his voice.
“I have seven children, three of them infants. Give me something for them,” Ghassan said, his English improving suddenly.
“Let me guess: they all smoke too, and want Marlboros?” Trevor said in exasperation. Then, his eyes narrowing, he pointed at his Zodiac. “No more arguing or I won’t give you a ride to the dock.”
The pilot took it in stride. “A boat will pick me up here in a few minutes. Fuel, for my car,” he said, pointing to a lashed-down jerry can, which happened to be full of water. Trevor was tempted for a moment, on the off chance that the pilot would put it in his car’s tank without checking. Trevor did have two full jerry cans of gasoline, but he didn’t want to part with the fuel or the cans; he needed them for the Zodiac.
“No, no more,” Trevor snarled, watching as a pilot boat approached the stern. Turning to face the pilot, clenching his fists at his sides and puffing out his bare chest, Trevor snarled, “Call your ride and tell them to hurry, I want you off my boat.”
The pilot shook his head, staying put. His standard procedure was to push for as much as he could get, regardless of what he’d already been given. Ghassan’s roving eye glanced around the cockpit. He pointed at one of the cockpit storage lockers, and though he had no idea what was inside, said, “A tool kit, for my car.”
That locker held only rope and lines, and though Trevor was tempted to open it and begin tying a hangman’s noose, he opened his cell phone instead, pushing buttons at random. “I’m calling my agent,” Trevor said. He would have made the call for real, but the numbers were in the salon.
The bluff worked somewhat, and the pilot, acting as if nothing untoward had occurred, walked down to the swim-dive platform and climbed onto the pilot boat a little awkwardly, with one hand clutching his side. “Cigarettes, for my driver,” Ghassan yelled, pointing at the man at the controls. The pilot boat revved its engine, and Trevor, remembering the warning about being rammed, tossed over two more packs.
Trevor waited until the pilot was out of sight, and then, still fuming, began pacing in the cockpit, belatedly remembering Ghassan’s awkward exit. His eyes narrowing, Trevor began looking around, checking the cockpit lockers but finding nothing missing. Trevor had been careful and had moved everything that he considered of value and movable to his cabin, which he’d locked. The only time Ghassan had been inside had been when he’d asked to use the bathroom, and Trevor had directed him to the one in Joel’s former cabin. Trevor had watched him as far as the salon, but now, suspecting the worst, Trevor checked the cabin and the galley.
“Fucking thieving son of a bitch,” Trevor muttered, as he returned to the cockpit. Ghassan had stolen all the soaps and shampoos, plus two towels, from the bathroom. He’d also stolen one of the frying pans from the galley. ‘No wonder he was wearing a coat. He uses it to hide his loot,’ Trevor thought sourly, as he decided that the next pilot would have to make do with relieving himself over the side.
Cursing under his breath, Trevor decided to head ashore and see how his fellow yachters had fared. He pulled on a shirt and locked up Atlantis, assuming that she would be safe moored offshore but near the dock.
Sitting on Jim’s teakwood deck, looking north up the beach, Dirk and Jim waited. Jim checked his watch again and said, “If it’s on schedule, ten more seconds.”
Dirk took a drink of his gin and tonic, and kept looking north. A spot of brilliant white light emerged from above the next house to the north, accelerating upward and arcing out to sea, riding on twin columns of fire.
“The shuttle launch pads are north of here, and they launch towards the northeast when they’re heading for the space station, like this one is,” Jim said, watching as shuttle pirouetted as it climbed into the azure sky.
“Jim, it’s okay to mention the name, you know. I won’t go into a funk, I promise,” Dirk said, with a forced smile.
Jim pondered few moments before replying, “I think you’ve learned to read minds. Mine, at any rate. Yeah, I was trying to avoid the name, in case it bugged you. That’s the shuttle Atlantis, STS 115.”
Dirk kept smiling as he watched Atlantis roaring into the morning sky. “It’s a Saturday, the first one I’ve had off in years. I’ll head home in the morning; I don’t want to miss Sunday too.”
Jim chuckled. “It’s not like you didn’t need some time off.”
“I’m glad you talked me into it. I’ve been getting a few odd looks ever since Charles Stiles and Trev’s swim team showed up for the phone.”
Jim gave an acknowledging nod. “News was bound to get out sooner or later, just ride it out. Hey, don’t forget to stop by your house and pick up your car on your way to the chandlery. Gonzalez might get suspicious if you’re at the chandlery in my car.” Jim had taken to lending his second car to Dirk, due to the issue of the GPS-based tracking device the police had placed on Dirk’s Chrysler.
“I’m still worried about that... If they’re easing off on the investigation, why the hell are they still monitoring me?” Dirk asked.
Jim shrugged. “It’s pretty much normal procedure. Once they start doing something like that, it’s easier to keep doing it. They’ve got no reason to stop, and you are still a suspect.”
“What if they see me driving your car, or find it in my garage?” Dirk asked.
Jim shrugged. “Not a big problem... there’s no law that says you have to cooperate with their supposedly-clandestine monitoring, and it’s sure as hell not illegal for me to lend you my car. I think it’s mildly useful to let the police chase their tails a bit, otherwise I’d have told Gonzalez we knew about it, and told him to take it off or I’d trash the thing. Right now, I don’t think we have any major worries, so don’t stress out on them finding out about us. We’re just running out the clock; three more months and its all behind us.”
They fell silent as the distant thunder of the launch reached them. As they watched, the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters dimmed noticeably, and then peeled away, blossoming into two arcing trails of white vapor, leaving only the bright blue dot of the shuttle’s three main engines.
Like most yacht clubs anywhere in the world, the Ismailia Yacht Club was a modest affair; a collection of a few offices and a small store. Adjoining the club – and within its perimeter fence – were two patio restaurants, well kept other than a few broken chairs. Trevor was still fuming, and feeling like venting, he walked back to the dock, where the yachts were tied up. He exchanged a few friendly waves and nods with some of the people he’d met in Port Said, until Tim jumped ashore a few feet in front of Trevor. Tim and Carla, a retired couple that Trevor had met briefly at the party the previous night, owned Outcast, a homebuilt forty-foot trimaran.
Tim shook Trevor’s hand in greeting. “Hi... Trev, right?” Trevor nodded, and Tim continued, “I’ve never been good with names... I saw you arguing with your pilot. This is my third time through Suez, and what I’ve found is that the pilots will push hard for whatever they can get, no matter how much you offer them at first. They aren’t all like that, but most are. They probably see you as an easier mark because you’re young. Don’t let it get to you; just be firm,” Tim said, glancing out at Atlantis.
I’ll keep that in mind, thanks. I was warned it was bad here for scams like that, but even the cops in Port Said did it... I’ll be glad to get out of here.”
Tim sighed and nodded. “I thought that, my first time through. I’m betting all you’ve seen of Egypt is the canal, right?”
“Yeah, and that’s enough for me,” Trevor sad, a little bitterly.
“Understandable, but wrong. Got any plans for the next hour or two? Carla and I are going into Ismailia. Come with us and see some of the real Egypt. The people are nothing like you’ll meet on the canal. Got your passport with you?”
Trevor hesitated. He was reluctant, given his impressions so far, but then he thought, ‘Why not? It’s not like I have anything better to do.’ Trevor smiled, and said, “Thanks, and yeah, I’ve got my passport.”
Carla soon joined them, and they walked together to the guard post at the yacht club’s entrance, where two sleepy guards, with AK-47s slung haphazardly over their shoulders, gave their passports a cursory glance.
They walked into the streets of Ismailia, turning left to head west at the first corner. Trevor noticed the difference immediately; genuine smiles and friendly greetings. He began to relax a little, enjoying the experience.
Tim, Carla, and Trevor continued their casual stroll, surrounded by a cacophony of buildings, some in disrepair, others spotless and brightly painted in vibrant pastel shades, made all the richer by the last rays of the setting sun.
Carla stopped at a vegetable stand, selecting a few tomatoes. Though no English was spoken, Trevor watched with interest as Carla bargained for her purchase using sign language, with good humor and ready smiles on both sides.
Tim chuckled. “Egypt away from the canal is a lot different. There’s still baksheesh, sort of, but it’s nothing like the canal. What you see on the canal is more of a perversion of it than anything else. In Egypt – away from the canal – baksheesh is sometimes a tip and sometimes a bribe, depending on the situation. It’s customary, even when dealing with government officials, but not like the blatant greed and corruption on the canal. If I can find Mohamed’s shop and he’s still there – it’s been two years since I was last here – you’ll see what I mean.”
As they walked, a pair of teenagers stopped to practice their English, and strangers greeted the trio in the street with open smiles. Even as they approached the busy town center, Trevor felt more like a guest than like the prey he’d felt like in the canal.
Tim suddenly doubled back, and then crossed the street, leading them around a corner. “Here it is,” he declared, pointing to a small storefront, its windows abuzz with a panoply of household items. He led the way inside, and as the storekeeper looked up from his newspaper, Tim approached, saying, “Hello Mohamed. It’s been two years, do you remember me?”
Mohamed’s eyes brightened in recognition. “Yes, it is good to see you again.”
“How is your family?” Tim inquired politely.
“Well, and yours?” Mohamed answered.
Carla smiled in greeting, and spotted an ornate pewter tea service.
“We’re doing great, thanks, and we’re not going to get out of here lightly, I can see that now,” Tim grumbled in a good-natured way as he took note of his wife’s interest, and then he came to the real reason for his visit. “Can you still arrange fuel?”
Mohamed nodded. “Of course. I have a trailer now, and it is at the station.”
“I’ll need seventy gallons of diesel,” Tim said, and then he added, “Make it eighty if you can carry it; I’ve got two jerry cans I can fill.”
Mohamed glanced at Trevor, gave him a friendly nod, and then replied to Tim, “I have some empty plastic jerry cans in back, and the trailer can carry as much as you need, up to one hundred fifty gallons.”
Tim thought it over, and than agreed. “I can find stowage for two more cans, so make it ninety and the cans,” Tim glanced at Carla, meeting her eye.
“Ask about the tea set, and the copper glazed dinnerware,” Carla said.
“Can you give me a price for the lot?” Tim asked.
Mohamed made a show of scribbling on a notepad, and then came back with a price. Tim haggled, driving the price down. Trevor watched with interest, noticing that both men did the bartering in a friendly, almost jovial, way.
Finally, Mohamed agreed to a price of three hundred dollars, but then added, “For that, you will have to deal with the guards. I cannot, not at that price.”
“Done,” Tim declared, shaking Mohamed’s hand, and then waiting as he wrapped up the tea service and dinnerware set.
Tim looked at Trevor and explained, “Diesel fuel is subsidized in Egypt, so the price is less than half what you’d pay in the Med, and about a third of what you’d pay your canal agent. It’s not legal to sell it to foreign boats for that price, but Mohamed sells it from his trailer. That’s why we need to get the cops at the yacht club to turn a blind eye.”
Trevor’s interest was piqued. “Is it good fuel?” he asked.
“I get it from a petrol station that sells to cars,” Mohamed said. “You can watch me fill it yourself.”
“I have a test kit, and like any fuel I put in Outcast, I’ll test it, but it was good last time,” Tim added.
Trevor was somewhat skeptical, so he decided to wait and see how the transaction went.
Mohamed asked his wife to come downstairs and mind the store, and then led Tim, Carla, and Trevor to the gas station. It was old, but the pumps looked serviceable, and Trevor watched with interest as Mohamed pulled a car and trailer up to the pumps, and began filling a large plastic tank on the trailer from the diesel pump. “The station belongs to my cousin,” Mohamed offered, by way of explanation as to why his vehicle had been parked there.
They piled into Mohamed’s old but well cared for sedan, and with Tim on the front seat, they drove to the yacht club.
At they approached the gate, Tim collected passports from Carla and Trevor, slipping two ten-dollar bills into his own before adding it to the stack. As they pulled to a halt, Tim handed the passports to one of the guards, who took the money, returned the passports, and waved them through.
Tim pointed out Outcast, and Mohamed drove right to her stern on the concrete waterfront. When they arrived, Mohamed unlimbered a hose connected to an electric pump. Tim used a test kit on the fuel before allowing Mohamed to fill the jerry cans, and then begin pumping into Outcast’s fuel tank.
Trevor was amazed. Though night had fallen, the dock was moderately well lit, but no one seemed in a hurry, or even concerned, over what was technically an illegal act. Tim saw Trevor’s bemused look, and said, “Mohamed does this regularly. I first met him when he was fueling a yacht next to the one I was crewing on at the time.”
“But now I have the fuel tank. Before, I had to fill containers. A lot of work,” Mohamed said, as he pumped the fuel into Outcast.
Trevor looked west, towards the glowing lights of Ismailia. His experiences that night – the Egyptians he’d met, open and friendly, had shown him a very different land than the one of the canal. Trevor smiled, taking a deep breath of the sultry night air, which was perfumed by a hint of cardamom and turmeric wafting from a nearby restaurant. He smiled to himself, with fond feelings towards Egypt and the Egyptians, and the knowledge that the canal was a very different world from the real Egypt.
Author's Note: The AIS image in the chapter above is hyperlinked, so clicking on it will take you to the actual marine traffic AIS tracking site, where you can see tracking maps for the Suez and many other regions of the globe.