The Cairo Code 1 CAIRO
It was April and the khamsin was blowing, a howling desert wind that lashed the streets with gusts of blinding sand.
As the taxi pulled up outside the morgue and I stepped out, I wondered again what had possessed me to come here on such a wicked night, and with no more evidence to go on than the corpse of an old man washed up on the banks of the Nile.
“Do you want me to wait, sir?” The taxi driver was a young man with a beard and a mouthful of bad teeth.
“Why not?” It definitely wasn’t the kind of night to go looking for another cab.
The morgue was one of those grand, solid old stone buildings you often see in Egypt, a relic of its colonial past, but now it looked quite gloomy and the worse for wear, the granite blackened by years of pollution and neglect. I saw a filthy alleyway at the side, litter swirling in the driving wind. A porch light blazed above a blue-painted door, a metal grille set in the middle. I went down the alleyway and rang the bell. I heard it buzz somewhere inside the building and after a few moments the grille opened and a man’s unshaven face appeared.
The man nodded.
“I’ve come to see the old man’s body,” I said in Arabic. “The one they fished out of the Nile. Captain Halim of the Cairo police told me to ask for you.”
He seemed surprised that I spoke his language, but then he opened the door with a rattle of bolts and moved aside to let me enter. I stepped in out of the bitter wind, shook sand from my coat, and went into the hallway. I felt a strange excitement fluttering in my chest. Here I was, a man in my middle fifties, feeling like an excited schoolkid, hoping that at last I might find answers to a bizarre mystery that had haunted me for so many years.
It was surprisingly cool inside, and an almost overpowering smell greeted me. A mixture of fragrant scent and decaying flesh. I could see a wooden archway that led into the morgue itself, the area beyond poorly lit by a dim bulb and a couple of guttering, aromatic candles. Several metal tables were set around the room, grubby white sheets draped over the corpses that lay underneath, and built into the morgue’s granite walls were at least a dozen stainless steel vaults, their scratched surfaces pitted with dents.
Ismail stared up at me, a well-practiced look of grief on his face. He was small and overweight and wore a faded cotton djellaba. “Are you a relative of the dead one?”
“I’m a journalist.”
The expression of grief faded instantly. “I don’t understand.” He frowned. “What do you want here?”
I took out my wallet, generously peeled off several notes and handed them across. “For your trouble.”
“Your time. And I won’t take up much of it. I’d just like to see the old man’s body. Would that be possible? There may be a story in it for me, you understand?”
Ismail obviously did. The money banished any argument, and he smiled as he stuffed the notes into his pocket. “Of course, as you wish. I’m always happy to oblige the gentlemen of the press. You’re an American?”
“I thought so. Come this way.”
• • •
He led me into the morgue. It was very cool inside, the flaking walls painted duck-egg blue and the delicate Arab filigree woodwork on the arches and doors an art in itself, but the place looked shabby and in need of renovation.
Ismail gestured to what looked like a small work area, enclosed by a heavy beaded curtain. “The body is over here. I was just working on it when you rang. Not a very pleasant experience when a corpse has been in water for several days. You still wish to see it?”
“That’s why I’m here.”
I followed him over and he drew back the curtain. A couple of flickering scented candles were set beside a marble slab, a naked male corpse on top, and next to it was a small metal table with some of the simple tools of the mortician laid out. Waxed cord, cotton wool, some bowls of water. The paraphernalia of death didn’t really change much no matter where you were, Cairo or Kansas. There were some clean clothes folded neatly beside the table, an old linen suit and a shirt and tie, socks and shoes, as if they were meant for laying out the corpse.
The old man on the slab must have been well into his seventies and quite tall, at least six foot. His eyes were glassy and open in death, his thinned gray hair sleeked back off his forehead. The skin was white and shriveled from being in the water, his features tight and horribly contorted. But there was no sign of a long scar in the middle of his chest, evidence that he had been sewn up after an autopsy. In Muslim countries, they bury their dead quickly, usually before sunset if death occurs in the morning, otherwise the following day, and the dead are considered sacred and barely touched. Even murder victims are usually only treated to a necropsy: an external visual inspection of the remains to help determine the cause of death, which is educated guesswork at best.
I felt a shiver go through me, for the scent of the candles didn’t hide the stench of decomposition, and nodded at the corpse. “What can you tell me about him?”
The mortician shrugged, as if one more death in a chaotic city of fifteen million souls hardly mattered. “He was brought here yesterday. The police found him in the water near the Nile railway bridge. The identification in his wallet said his name was Johann Halder, a German, and he had an address at a flat in the Imbaba district.”
That much I already knew. “Did anyone claim the body?”
“Not yet. The corpse will be kept for a time while relatives are sought. But so far none have been found. It seems he lived alone.”
“I take it he’s not of the Muslim faith?”
“A Christian, the police think.”
“Did he drown?”
Ismail nodded. “The pathologist believes so. As you can see, there are no wounds on the body. He thinks maybe the old man fell into the river by accident, as happens sometimes. Or perhaps he’s a suicide from one of the bridges.”
He rubbed his stubble. “But it’s impossible to know for certain.”
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“I’m afraid not. You’ll have to ask the police.”
“From what I hear, they discovered our dead friend had a second set of identity papers hidden at his flat. They were pretty old, and in the name of Hans Meyer.”
Ismail shrugged. “I’m just a simple mortician. I heard nothing about such matters. But I know we have many foreigners living in Cairo, including Germans. You’re from an American newspaper?”
“I’m their Middle East correspondent.”
“But not half as interesting as the old man could be.”
“You knew him?” Ismail said, surprised.
“Let’s just say if he’s who I think he is, you could be looking at the earthly remains of a truly incredible man, considering he’s supposed to have been dead for well over fifty years.”
“A long story. But if it is him, then you’ve got a very remarkable corpse keeping you company tonight.”
Ismail whistled. “Then no wonder the other gentleman was so interested.”
“He was here not half an hour ago. He came to inspect the body. An elderly American. Used to getting his way, like most Americans. He barged in here and demanded to see the remains.” Ismail grinned and tapped the pocket of his djellaba. “Alas, he wasn’t as generous as some of his countrymen. When I asked him for a little baksheesh he threatened to cut off my hand.”
“Who was he?”
Ismail scratched his head. “Harry Weaver, I think he said.”
I was intrigued, felt a strange tingling down my spine. “Harry Weaver? You’re sure of the name?”
“I believe so.”
“Describe him to me.”
“Quite tall. Old, perhaps eighty, maybe even older, but he looked in excellent condition. A very capable-looking fellow.” Ismail looked surprised when he saw my startled reaction. “You know this Mr. Weaver?”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard of him.”
“He seemed like an important man. Used to giving orders. A military type.”
“He was certainly that,” I offered. “And you can thank Allah you didn’t lose your life, never mind your hand. Harry Weaver is definitely not the kind of man to solicit for bribes. He’s a model of authority. For almost forty years he was an adviser on American presidential security.”
Ismail spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “But baksheesh is the way of our world.”
“Don’t I know it.” I pulled up the collar of my coat and made to go.
Ismail said, “Do you think the body belongs to the German you spoke of?”
I looked down at the corpse. “Who knows? The poor soul’s in such a state it’s hard to tell which end of him is up. Do you know where Mr. Weaver went?”
“To the house where the German lived. I heard him talk to the taxi driver who waited for him outside.”
“This gets more interesting by the minute. Do you know the address?”
“Of course. I went there yesterday to fetch some clothes for the burial, on the instructions of the police.” Ismail wrote the address on a slip of paper I handed him.
“The rooms are on the top floor.”
“Have the police sealed up the apartment?”
“No. It was hardly necessary, the old man hadn’t got many belongings worth talking about. But if they bothered to lock his rooms, the landlord has the keys.”
As I tucked the paper into my pocket, Ismail said, “Will there be anything else?”
I took one last look at the old man’s corpse before I turned to leave. “No, thanks, you’ve been more than helpful.”
• • •
Imbaba is a working-class district, parts of it a crumbling shantytown of wooden and concrete dwelling houses near the banks of the Nile. The streets are puddled with open sewers, and the homes are huddled closely together as if to protect themselves from the poverty and squalor all around. The taxi driver found the address without any problem.
The house was built in the Arab style, a big old dwelling, all ancient brown wood and very run-down, the windows covered in shabby, faded net curtains, and there was a rotting, carved wooden balcony jutting out from the second floor. There wasn’t another taxi outside but the front door was open, banging in the wind, a dark hallway beyond.
“Wait here,” I told the driver, and stepped out of the cab.
• • •
The hallway stank of urine and stale food. As I went up the stairs, the wood creaked. I could hear a child crying and a couple arguing somewhere below in the darkness of the house. When I got to the landing I saw that one of the doors leading off was open and I stepped inside.
The room I found myself in was typically Egyptian, but it was shabby and in complete disarray. Drawers were open and their contents spilled out, as if someone had searched the place. Old papers and correspondence, clothes and personal belongings, and a pair of shattered spectacles lay crushed on the floor. A couple of doors led to other rooms, and there was a window that looked out onto the Nile, covered in darkness. I looked through the correspondence and papers, but there was really nothing of interest. As I closed one of the drawers, I knocked over a table lamp. It fell to the floor with a clatter, and then one of the other doors slammed open.
I turned and saw a tall, elderly man come into the room. The bedroom he’d stepped out of was in disarray behind him, papers scattered everywhere, and he held a pair of reading glasses in his hand. He wore a pale trench coat, his silver hair was flecked with sand, and he had a slightly haunted look on his tanned face. I knew he was at least in his eighties, but he was remarkably well preserved, a freshness about him that made him appear ten years younger. And he still looked every inch the military type—over six feet, his features finely chiseled, though his shoulders were slightly stooped and his piercing gray eyes looked watery with age.
They narrowed as he took me in. “Who the devil are you?” he demanded, his accent unmistakably American.
“I could ask you the same question, if I didn’t already know the answer, Colonel Weaver.”
He seemed taken aback. “You know me?”
“Not personally, but what American hasn’t heard of Harry Weaver? A legend in his own lifetime. Security adviser to American presidents for almost forty years.”
“And who are you?” Weaver snorted.
“The name’s Frank Carney.”
He seemed unimpressed, but then something flickered in his eyes and he frowned. “Not Carney the New York Times reporter?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Weaver relaxed for a moment. “I used to read your columns. Not that I agreed with everything you wrote, mind.”
“You must have agreed with some of it, though,” I offered. “I was a cub reporter covering Dallas as a stand-in when Kennedy was killed. You were one of his security advisers. You told him not to go, remember?”
“Too many weak spots. Holes everywhere in the local security. And he was a sitting duck in that open-top car, despite the assurances of the Secret Service that they could protect him.”
“Had Jack Kennedy listened to you, he might still be alive today. I said as much when I wrote about it afterwards.”
Weaver shook his head wistfully. “Too late now. But come to think of it, I seem to remember your article. It was a fair and honest assessment of the facts.”
“That’s because I did my homework. I read what I could about your background at the time. Trust no one and doubt every fact was your personal motto. With a career as long as yours, you seemed like a man worth taking advice from.”
“Put it down to experience. The years harden you.” Weaver seemed suspicious again. “None of which explains what you’re doing here. This is private property.”
“Again, I could ask you the same. Did the landlord let you in?”
“What is it to you if he did? Just answer the goddarned question.”
“Oh, I think you can guess why. We were both at the morgue for the same reason. Johann Halder. Arguably one of the greatest enigmas of the Second World War.”
Weaver stiffened. “You were at the morgue?”
“Apparently I just missed you. And by the way, the attendant wasn’t very pleased you didn’t leave a tip.”
Weaver’s eyes narrowed cautiously. “How do you know about Johann Halder?”
“Egyptology happens to be an abiding interest of mine, which is why I’ve spent the last five years in Cairo as a correspondent. Quite a few years back I was researching an article on one Franz Halder, a wealthy German collector of Egyptian artifacts. I had it in mind to write a book about some of the priceless Egyptian treasures that went missing from private collections and museums all over Europe during the last war, many of which have still never been found.”
Weaver registered interest. “So?”
“Before the war, Halder owned one of the finest private collections in Germany, most of it irreplaceable, and he was a benefactor of the Egyptian Museum. He died when the Allies destroyed Hamburg during a massive fire-bombing raid in 1943. Some time after that, his entire collection went missing. I tried to dig a little deeper, to find out if he had any living relatives, anyone who might have known what became of the collection. So I had a journalist friend in Berlin do some checking for me. There were no relatives still alive, at least none that could tell me anything worthwhile, but it turned out Halder had a son, Johann, who served during the war. The German military records stated that he died in action in 1943, on some kind of mission, but made no mention of how or where. Though my friend did discover that Halder had been recruited by the Abwehr in 1940. That’s the wartime German intelligence agency to you and me.”
“I know what the Abwehr was, Carney. But go on.”
“As a boy, Johann Halder was educated in America, until his mother died tragically giving birth to her second child. After that, his father brought him back to Berlin, though apparently for many years afterwards they returned to upstate New York each summer. I visited there some years back, but the place had changed hands many years ago, the house had been demolished, and no one in the area remembered the Halders.”
“I’m hardly surprised. You’re talking about a long time ago.”
“Johann Halder also spoke several languages fluently, including Arabic, and attained the rank of major during the war, though he never joined the Nazi Party. The rest of his military background is pretty much a mystery, apart from a stint spent in North Africa, and there were no details of the mission he’s supposed to have died on.”
“And what else did you learn?” Weaver said quietly.
“This is where it starts to get really interesting. I thought no more about it until recently, when I interviewed one of the former heads of the Egyptian Museum, Kemal Assan, shortly before he died. I mentioned Franz Halder in passing and Assan said he met his son, Johann, in 1939, when he took part in an archeological dig at Sakkara. In fact, he said he’d also seen him in Cairo after the war. Considering Halder was supposed to be dead, that fact seemed pretty incredible.”
Weaver was suddenly very interested. “And what exactly did this Assan tell you?”
“Ten years ago, he was sitting in a Cairo coffee house minding his own business, when he noticed a man seated at the next table. Assan thought his face seemed oddly familiar. When he asked if he knew him, the man simply smiled and said in German, ‘We met long ago in another life.’ Then he got up and left. Assan spoke some German, and he was adamant the man was Johann Halder.”
Weaver’s eyes sparked. “Didn’t he try to follow him?”
“He tried to, but he lost him in the bazaar.”
Weaver looked deflated. “I see. So you believed Halder might be still alive?”
“It’s a mystery that’s bothered me ever since. I really didn’t know what to think—the whole thing was such a puzzle. But certainly I thought there might have been a story in it. If Halder was still alive, there was a chance he might know what had become of his father’s collection. Then I came across a mention in yesterday’s Egyptian Gazette, about the body of an elderly German recovered from the Nile. Apparently, his identity papers named him as Johann Halder, and the police were asking for anyone with information to come forward. When I heard the name I put two and two together, and hoped it might make four.”
I looked across at Weaver, who stood there, taking it all in, but he didn’t say another word.
“The question is, what are you doing here, Colonel? The last I heard you were living in Washington. But come to think of it, if I remember correctly, you’ve had a lifelong interest in Egypt. You have several archeological digs to your credit, and served here with military intelligence during the war. But I can only presume the real reason you’re here is that you obviously knew about Halder.”
Weaver seemed at a loss for words, caught in a trap of his own making. He sighed, flopped into one of the chairs, but didn’t utter a word.
“Was it Johann Halder back there in the morgue?”
Weaver didn’t reply.
“Then at least tell me why you’re here. And how you knew Halder. After all, it’s not every day I come across a story about a man who’s been reported dead, and yet might still be alive over fifty years later.”
Still Weaver didn’t answer.
I stared at him. “I get the feeling I’m talking to a brick wall, Colonel.”
He remained sitting there, motionless.
“At least tell me why you’re here. One simple question. Is that too much to ask?”
Weaver seemed to lose his patience. “Carney, you’re like a dog after a bone. I’ve had enough of your accursed questions.” He stood up, as if to leave, and said firmly, “You’re a stranger to me. And I don’t discuss my personal business with strangers.”
“OK, Colonel, if that’s what you wish. But I’d like to tell you something. Maybe come at this from another angle.”
Weaver looked exasperated. “Shut it, Carney. I’m not in the mood.”
“I think maybe you’ll want to hear what I have to say.”
“I doubt it.”
“Just hear me out for one minute. The moment I heard your name back in the morgue, I felt a shiver down my spine. I kind of like to think it might be kismet playing its part—fate to you and me, the kind of thing the Egyptians are so fond of believing in.”
Weaver’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”
“The article I wrote about you after Dallas. You never asked how come I knew so much about your personal background, when there really wasn’t that much information on public record.”
Weaver frowned, nodded. “I seem to vaguely recall all the facts were there, all right. But what of it?”
“Does the name Tom Carney mean anything to you?”
Weaver looked totally astonished, as if I’d dealt him a blow. “Captain Tom Carney?”
“The same. He was my old man. You served in military intelligence together, and landed in North Africa during Operation Torch, 1943. You were wounded by shrapnel after a mortar hit your reconnaissance unit outside Algiers. He carried you back to American lines, under heavy enemy fire. He got a medal for that one, on your recommendation. He was also wounded twice for his trouble, and got shipped home.”
The hardness peeled from Weaver’s face, all his aggression gone, and he studied me intently. “Well, I’ll be . . . So you’re Tom Carney’s son.”
“My old man talked a lot about you over the years. The feeling I got, you were once good buddies.”
Weaver nodded, and his eyes watered, as if he were remembering. “He was a good man. Courageous. Honest. One of the best I served with. I was only sorry we didn’t keep in touch. Though I heard he died, what, maybe ten years back?”
“Twelve. And still not a day goes by when I don’t miss him.” I looked at Weaver steadily. “I like to believe that sometimes lives intersect, even briefly, for all sorts of reasons we mortals can’t even begin to comprehend. Maybe it’s written in our stars. Like you and my old man. You know, it’s odd, but my father used to talk a lot about destiny. And maybe if he hadn’t been with you the time you were wounded, things might have turned out very differently, for both of you. Fate’s a funny thing, Colonel. And when I heard your name mentioned back at the morgue, I figured it might have been fate lending me a hand. Kismet helping us meet for a reason. This Halder business has been rattling around in my head for quite a few years, an enigma that won’t go away, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it. So if there’s any way you can help, I’d be grateful. I’m not trying to call in any family favors, Colonel, believe me. But I reckon my father was a man you could trust. I’m simply asking you to trust me.”
Weaver was silent.
“Maybe you think I’m asking too much? Two simple questions. Why you’re here, and how you knew Halder.”
Weaver sighed—a long, hard sigh that sounded like he was trying to expel some kind of pain from deep inside him. “Yes, I knew Johann Halder,” he admitted finally. “A very long time ago.”
“Now you do surprise me. I know why I’m here. But what about you? What’s your reason?”
Weaver sat forward in the chair, his hunched frame making him appear very old, as if my persistence had finally worn him down, and there was a sad look on his face. “Oh, there are lots of reasons, Carney. Lots of them, I assure you.” He was about to say something else just then, but appeared to change his mind. “So, you thought there might be a story in all this?”
“I was kind of hoping there might be. And even if not, I might at least be able to put my curiosity to rest.”
Weaver hesitated, as if trying to decide something, then he seemed to make up his mind. “I think you could certainly say there’s a story, but I doubt it would help you discover what happened to Franz Halder’s collection. There’s a good chance it probably ended up in Russian hands after Berlin was stormed. Almost everything of value did.”
“I figured that was a distinct possibility. But what about Johann Halder? It seems to me he’s the only link left in all of this mystery. What can you tell me about him?”
Weaver was uncomfortable, as if the pain he’d tried to expel had returned. He looked around the room. “Is there a drink in this place?”
“I guess not.”
“Damn.” Weaver stood and moved to the window. The wind was lashing the tall palm trees along the Nile. He didn’t look back as he spoke, almost absentmindedly. “Cairo used to be quite a place during the war, did you know that? You could even say the fate of the entire world was decided here.”
“Really? Care to tell me about it?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, lost in thought as he looked out through the window. “I could give you a story, Carney. Maybe the strangest you’ve ever heard. The real question is, would you believe it?”
He turned back, and his face was deathly serious. “On one condition. You don’t publish anything I tell you until after I die.”
I was surprised. “You look like a man in remarkably good health, Colonel. That could be a long wait.”
“Maybe not so long. I’m an old man, Carney, I can’t have much time left. And I kind of guess at that stage the truth of it wouldn’t hurt anyone, not with so many years passed. But you know the oddest thing? I’ve never told my story to a soul. I could have done, wanted to, many times, because it haunted me, but I kept it to myself for all these decades. And maybe the time’s come to unburden it to someone, before it’s too late.” He stared at me. “You could be right about fate, Carney. Destiny playing its part. Besides, having read your work, and if you’re anything like your father, I believe you might be an honest man, one who’ll abide by my wishes.”
I met his stare, nodded. “You have my word.”
Weaver glanced around the filthy room, as if suddenly uneasy in his surroundings.
“You mind if we get out of here?”
“I’ve a taxi waiting outside. I can give you a lift.”
“On an evening like this, I won’t say no. By the way, I’m staying at the new Shepheard’s. It’s nothing quite like the old hotel it replaced, but at least it serves pretty decent American Scotch.”
“Now you’re talking.”
Weaver pulled up the collar of his trench coat, stepped out on to the landing, and went down the stairs. I took one last look around the shabby apartment, closed the door, and followed him.
• • •
The drive to Shepheard’s was something of a trial. For some reason, Weaver hardly spoke, just stared out of the cab window, lost in a world of his own. I had a terrible feeling he might have been reconsidering his offer to tell me his story, but when we reached the hotel, he shook sand from his trench coat and said as we entered the lobby, “I’ll meet you in the bar in ten minutes. Mine’s a very large Dewar’s. Straight.”
He stepped into the elevator and I went into the restaurant bar. The old Shepheard’s Hotel had what the guidebooks like to call atmosphere. It had a certain faded glory that suggested belle époque, all dark wood and soaring marble columns, rich carpets and antique furniture. It used to be one of the old grand hotels, built to accommodate wealthy Europeans. The modern Shepheard’s is a pale imitation by comparison, though it still attracts the tourists. But there were none in the bar that night, just a couple of foreign businessmen chatting over drinks. I took a seat near a window and ordered two large Dewar’s, then changed my mind and told the waiter to bring the bottle.
Weaver came down ten minutes later. He had changed into a sweater and cotton pants and he seemed more at ease as he looked around the bar. “Damn it, but this looks nothing like the old place.”
“Does Shepheard’s bring back memories, Colonel?”
“Far too many, I’m afraid,” Weaver replied almost wistfully. “And enough of this Colonel business. I’ve been retired for well over twenty years.” He studied the room. “Did you know that Greta Garbo used to stay at the original hotel? Not to mention Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill, and half the Gestapo spies in wartime Cairo.”
I refilled our glasses and set the bottle between us. “I read somewhere once that Rommel telephoned the front desk to make a reservation after the fall of Tobruk, believing he’d be in Cairo within a week. If memory serves me, the old Shepheard’s was burned down during the riots for independence in ’52. Apparently, most Egyptians saw it as an irritating symbol of British imperialism.”
“It seems you know your history, Carney.”
“Which is why something bothers me. If everything I’ve learned about Johann Halder is true, and if he was still alive after all that time, why would he choose to disappear into hiding and remain such a mystery?”
“I believe there could have been several reasons. One of them being the fact that the United States had good enough evidence to condemn him as a traitor. Probably could even have hanged him.”
I frowned. “Whatever for? Halder was a German citizen, surely. How could he have been a traitor?”
“He was certainly a German citizen, but he was American-born. His real name was Johann, though he was better known as Jack. And his disappearance had to do with the mission you spoke about, the one he was supposed to have died on. Probably the most daring the Nazis ever came up with. And it happened right here in Egypt.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Halder led a covert team to assassinate President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Cairo, on Adolf Hitler’s direct orders.”
I was stunned. “Now you really do surprise me. An American-born assassin sent by Hitler to kill the U.S. president? It beggars belief.”
Weaver put down his Scotch. “And probably the best American president that ever lived, come to that. Halder’s mission was meant to change the tide of the war for the Nazis. And there was much more at stake than when Kennedy was targeted in Dallas. The future of the entire free world, no less. And it happened while Roosevelt and Churchill were attending the Cairo Conference in November 1943, one of the most vital Allied conferences of the war.
“Among other things, the president and prime minister were in Cairo to agree on top-secret plans for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe. Had Hitler got his way, and had them assassinated, the Allies would have been thrown into chaos, the invasion would never have gone ahead, and Germany would have won the war.” Weaver put up his thumb and forefinger, held them the barest fraction apart. “Believe me, Carney, it came this close to succeeding. It still frightens me to think about it.”
I was overwhelmed. “You’re serious, aren’t you? It really happened.”
Weaver said firmly, “Oh, it happened all right, don’t you doubt it. And it was my job to stop Halder and kill him. But it wasn’t something that ever got a mention in the history books; it was far too sensitive a matter for that.”
I looked at him eagerly. “But I don’t understand. Even assuming Halder survived, why would you still want to find him after all these years? So he could be branded a traitor? It’s pretty late for that, surely?”
There was a rather sad look in his eyes. He glanced out towards the Nile, before looking back. “No, the reasons are far more private,” he said quietly.
And then I was aware of a sudden powerful emotion in his voice. “But make no mistake about one thing, Carney. Halder really did help to change the course of world history.”
“You mind telling me how?”
Weaver must have noticed the confusion on my face, but he didn’t reply. Instead, he looked out beyond the window and his eyes glazed over, as if he were trying to see into the past. The howling sandstorm had almost died away, lifting the veil off the ancient city, and all of a sudden you could see the majestic Nile, the houseboats out on the river, the pungent dark alleyways and soaring minarets, the ghostly outline of the Giza pyramids in the far distance. I could easily imagine how it must have been during wartime, decades ago, a city full of mystery and intrigue.
When Weaver turned back there was a look on his face that was hard to fathom. Grief perhaps, or pain—I couldn’t tell which.
“Maybe I had better start at the beginning. You see, I knew Jack Halder long before the war. We were childhood friends. You might even say we were like brothers.”