Rachel's Night Out
The evening had not gone well.
First, Rachel had failed to convince Amanda to join her tomb raid; now Amanda lay sprawled at her feet. This was the backup plan; but when Rachel had poured the powder in Amanda's drink, she'd reckoned on getting back to her room before she fell unconscious.
It had all happened so quickly - as Rachel had reached for the dropped keys, Amanda's knees had buckled suddenly. Rachel caught her as she fell backwards, lowering her to the ground.
She had tried, without success, to rouse Amanda. Now she had to get her inside and out of sight - before they were stumbled on by concerned neighbours.
Rachel stood at the door, desperately searching Amanda's keys for one that would open it. At last, a key turned in the lock; she pushed the door inwards then propped it open. Returning to where Amanda lay motionless on the grass, she reached under her arms and dragged her unresisting body to the doorway. Amanda's feet trailed along the path; one shoe came off, then the other. Rachel set her down inside, returned for the shoes, then re-entered and closed the door.
She looked down a long, dimly lit hallway; they were safely inside, but where was Amanda's room? Rachel glanced at the keys and saw a fob numbered E212. The room on her right was E024. She cursed silently; Amanda's room was upstairs.
The staircase was ahead, through a glass-paned door. Still holding Amanda's shoes, Rachel dragged her again: down the hallway, through the door and into the stairwell. She stopped to catch her breath, slipping the shoes back on Amanda's feet. There was nowhere to hide Amanda except her room; but how on Earth would she get her up the stairs?
Voices in the hallway forced Rachel into action. She pulled Amanda to a sitting position then heaved her lifeless body up over her shoulder. Clutching Amanda's stocking-clad legs, she set off up the stairs; Amanda's arms dangled behind, swinging loosely back and forth, as Rachel climbed.
They reached the second floor, with Rachel gasping for breath. There was another door; she opened it and peeked along the landing. No one was around - but which way now? Amanda hung, a dead weight on her shoulder, offering no clues.
Rachel set off down the corridor, heart pumping in her ears, counting down the rooms: 222, 221, 220... until she reached door 212. Fumbling left-handed, she found the key and unlocked it. She pushed hard but bumped her face against the door - what the hell?
There was a second lock. She thumbed desperately through the keys again. Amanda was growing heavy; Rachel's nails dug into her stockinged thighs.
From down the hallway came the sound of people climbing the stairs. Quickly now! Rachel found the right key and, mercifully, the door yielded; she burst into the darkened room and slammed the door shut with her free hand.
Rachel took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She groped for the light switch and flicked it on.
The room was mid-sized, comfortable, and rather untidy. It had all the essentials of self-contained student life: a desk, a chair, two bookcases, and a wall cupboard; a small bathroom to one side; a single bed with a blue and green striped duvet. With immense relief Rachel unburdened herself, dumping the drugged Amanda on her bed. She reached inside the pocket of Amanda's jean shorts, pulling out the folded transcript; also a phone, which she placed on a bedside table.
Rachel massaged her shoulder and read the transcript again; Amanda's work was truly outstanding. She sighed and looked down at the unconscious girl. They could have made a great team - but Amanda had turned down the chance to split a fortune. Surely, one day she would wake up and realize the opportunity she had missed.
In any case, Rachel would soon have everything she needed. She turned to Amanda's desk and examined it. The edges were stacked with books; in the middle were sheaves of handwritten notes and sketches. Rachel picked up the pages and studied them with fascination. It was such a waste... but, despite Amanda's talent, maybe she was not cut out for tomb exploration with all its dangers - perhaps it was best that she stayed home, after all.
Rachel was getting distracted - where was the tablet? She pulled out the top desk drawer. It was packed with a jumble of items; she tipped it onto the floor. The other two drawers followed. She sifted through the items on the floor: there was no tablet.
She crossed to the cupboard and slid it open; a small chest of three drawers was built-in. Rachel opened the top one, finding only underwear. The second drawer revealed nothing more than tights and shorts. The bottom drawer had boxes and bags inside. Rachel determinedly flipped the lids off the boxes and emptied out the bags - still no tablet. She stood and glanced around the room, wondering where to look next. Had Amanda lied about the second piece? No... impossible... she must have it.
A sixth sense drew Rachel back to the middle cupboard drawer. She rummaged again through the denim and nylons, reaching right to the bottom until her hand settled round a mysterious lump. Her mouth twitched with a smile. She withdrew her hand from the drawer, clutching a heavy item wrapped in a towel. Rachel took the object to the desk and unwrapped it: here was the second tablet!
Instinctively, she reached into her bag and drew out her own piece. Holding one in each hand, she aligned the carved edges, and pushed the fragments together. Despite countless years apart, the pieces joined perfectly. Now, as Rachel examined the combined stone, she saw a pattern not recognizable before: that of a woman's face. She tried to separate the pieces again but, oddly, they would not come apart; they were now a single tablet. With satisfaction, Rachel wrapped it in the towel and placed it in her bag. Then, she pulled out a phone.
She dialled a long number and waited.
"Carlos?" said Rachel. "It's Rachel Fox. I've reached a dead end with the Jones girl. She doesn't know anything."
In her ear, a thickly accented Mexican replied: "We grow impatient with you Rachel. When will you have the item you promised us?"
"Give me another couple of weeks to work on the Professor. And," Rachel added hopefully, "I need another advance... ten thousand dollars."
"Little lady... I told you already to stop asking for money." Carlos did not sound impressed.
"Do you want the item or not? I'm not doing this for free."
"Free you most certainly are not. If you are doing anything is... the question."
"We're wasting time. Ten thousand, same account, or I sell it to someone else," said Rachel, trying to sound bored. "And Carlos? Don't send any more of your blockheads after me."
Carlos growled in Spanish, "Voy a romper el cuello... Perra!...Cuando ponga mis manos sobre ti-"
Rachel hung up; it seemed that she'd already had her last ten thousand from Carlos. Still, at least she had thrown him off Amanda's trail - she owed her new friend that much. Rachel took a seat at the desk and dialled another number.
"As-salaam alaykum bu Faisal. It's Rachel Fox."
"Alaykum salaam! Good morning Miss Rachel," came an educated Middle-Eastern voice. "Have you made progress in the case we discussed?"
"I have good news. The object will be in my possession within three to four days."
"But... this is excellent!"
"The price has increased to three million US dollars," said Rachel, keeping her voice as steady as possible.
There was a long pause.
"This is most unreasonable: not what we discussed. Why you are now changing?"
"I have another buyer-"
"No! I will meet your price." The man sounded suddenly tired. "Will that be all?"
"I need another cash advance: ten thousand US, same account as before." Rachel was on a roll. She heard a long sigh from the other end.
"I will see to it. Just call me when you have the object." The phone went quiet.
Rachel was making progress; for the third time, she dialled a long number.
"Giuseppe? Come stai?" she asked, in Italian.
"Sto bene. E 'la bella Rachel Fox?" came the reply.
"Sì. Tu sei così gentile," said Rachel, sweetly.
"How is going our little... project?" the man switched to English, albeit with a strong Italian lilt.
"Very well. I can make delivery in three to four days... But, Giuseppe," Rachel sounded apologetic, "I received an offer of three million US."
"Questo non è un problema..." said the Italian, unfazed. "My buyer will go to three million Euros."
"Euros?" said Rachel, sceptically. "Are they still worth anything?" Her head raced with calculations; it was a problem she didn't need. "Call it three point five US and we have a deal... and I need ten thousand up front now; same account as before."
"I'll call you from Mexico, when I'm ready to exchange. Ciao."
Rachel hung up. Things were looking much better! Perhaps she should call the Arab back? No: he wouldn't go to four million - and probably hadn't sent her ten thousand yet. Giuseppe was the best bet - and besides - if she messed him around, she would probably wake up one day next to a horse's head.
It was time to go; but first, a little insurance. Rachel went to Amanda's bedside table and opened the top drawer. Her instincts were rarely wrong, and she quickly found what she was looking for. She flicked through Amanda's passport, raising an eyebrow at the exotic stamps - maybe she had underestimated her.
"Don't be coming after me now," she said to the unhearing Amanda.
Rachel put the passport in her bag, and was about to go, when something on the floor caught her eye: a small blue pocket-sized book. She reached down and picked it up.
The book was very old and was simply titled: Codebook. The author, Champollion, was the translator of the Rosetta Stone; this was a very rare and valuable book! She wondered whether Amanda appreciated its value. Rachel put the book in her bag; she felt guilty taking it, but knew the feeling would pass.
She looked down one last time at the unconscious girl on the bed. Amanda lay on her side, unmoving except for the gentle rise and fall of her chest. The brilliant student now looked helpless and rather lonely. Rachel reached down and brushed some strands of brown hair from her sleeping face; Amanda's expression showed a trace of sadness, almost as if she fought to wake up, but could not.
"Au revoir Amanda. Merci pour tout." Rachel turned to the door, and opened it a crack: the landing was clear. She stepped outside, flicked off the light and shut the door behind her.
It was cold outside the dorm block. After ten minutes of brisk walking, Rachel reached the end of her street. She peered cautiously around the corner. In the row of parked cars, one was not empty. Two men sat watching Rachel's dorm block from the car; one window was wound down and an arm trailed out, holding a lit cigarette.
Rachel sighed and shook her head. She turned and walked to the next street, taking a set of keys from her bag. Crossing the road, she stopped and unlocked a rental car; she had parked it there that afternoon, after meeting Amanda. Rachel opened and checked the trunk one last time - her case and rucksack were there, with everything she needed. She slammed the lid; then walked round, got in the driver's seat and set off for the airport.