…The two men stepped on to the narrow starboard deck. There was a mild breeze, just enough to see the lateen sails billowing gently as they powered the dajabiya through the moonlit western desert.
Both men leaned over the wooden handrail and gazed into the scudding, murky water as the vessel headed swiftly south. Small islands of scrub and felled palm trees flitted by and they heard the odd squawk of wildfowl as perhaps the night’s slumber had been rudely disturbed.
Vaux said, ‘Okay. Tell me what this is all about.’
Simcoe fished a packet of Cleopatra from his pocket, then a classic Ronson lighter. He offered Vaux a cigarette. Vaux shook his head. Simcoe lit up and quickly dispelled smoke from the side of his mouth.
‘You must have noticed that clique of military men. They were there at dinner. That fellow who looks like President al-Sisi’s twin brother and had the gall to whisk Anne away to see his big presidential cabin, or whatever he called it, is an army man if ever I saw one.’
‘Yes, they’re on a sort of sabbatical as far as I could gather. This Himeidi fellow says he hoped the cool Nile evenings will help them relax and discuss some military games that are coming up—or so I understand.’
‘That’s just it, Westropp. Or should I call you Vaux?’
‘Don’t be flippant, old man. Get on with your story.’
‘It’s all a sham. This clique, or whatever we want to call them, are plotting the overthrow of the current Sisi regime. There—as succinct as I can make it.’
Vaux showed no reaction. ‘Then as a journalist you’re in the right spot at the right time. You’re on the brink of a major scoop and you could be nominated Newsman of the Year.’
Simcoe shook his head and looked Vaux straight in the eye. ‘Don’t joke Vaux. I’m serious. London wants you to work with me to help expose this conspiracy to overthrow the legitimate government of Egypt.’
Vaux fell silent. He peered through the moonlit night, his eyes sometimes falling on dim, isolated Bedouin camps and makeshift tents, the outlines of supine camels resting on the ground nearby. At one point, he thought he saw a floodlit minaret surrounded by palms in the middle of nowhere…
So, he thought, the wily puppeteers at Vauxhall Cross had decided on one final and masterly deception to bring him back into the fold…