Chapter 18, in which Nick Temple meets a man and a woman in Cairo
TEMPLE ON THE NILE
Hugh Ridgely is an ex-pat. Although his degree in economics, which he took from Cambridge in 1938, is the foundation upon which he built a lucrative career in the American oil industry, it was his almost whimsical decision to study Arabic while at Cambridge, one his father thought frankly foolish, that made such a career possible. After taking his degree he headed straight for America and immediately landed a job with Caltex, the American oil company running around the Arabian Peninsula’s east coast in the 1930s hoping to find oil. They found it in bunches, and by 1955 Ridgely’s personal fortune was sufficient to allow him to retire at the age of 40. He bought a home on Long Island in the Hamptons and began to settle in for a life of leisure: golf, sailing, occasional trips into New York to take in a Broadway play, and not much else. Within six months he was bored nearly out of his mind.
The Suez Crisis of 1956 was the spark that lit the flame that became Hugh Ridgely’s second life. Through a contact from his days at Caltex’s eventual successor entity, Aramco, he offered up his knowledge of the Middle East’s economy and culture to the American State Department. State referred him to the CIA and within a month he found himself wandering the streets of Cairo helping keep tabs on a growing Soviet presence in Egyptian internal politics. By 1962 the Cairo station was his, and his dream of being a country gentleman relaxing on his estate fronting the Atlantic Ocean was a distant memory.
Ridgely finishes his morning routine of tea, toast and The Egyptian Gazette just as his secretary knocks on his door and enters.
“Mr. Temple to see you, sir.”
Ridgely wipes his mouth with his napkin.
“Right. Send him right in.”
“Mr. Temple, won’t you come in?”
Ridgely’s secretary opens the door to his office all of the way to allow Nick in the room. Ridgely stands to greet him.
“I say, Temple. Good to see you. Good to see you.”
They shake hands.
“Please, have a seat. Have you had a spot of breakfast?”
Nick is mindful of Ridgely’s reputation for maintaining his British demeanor in spite of more than 20 years of living abroad.
“I have, thanks, at the hotel,” Nick responds as he sits.
“As you suggested.”
“I say, you’re looking fit, what?”
“Fresh off an extended vacation. Spent some time on St. Thomas in the USVI. Ever been there?”
“Indeed I have. An old chum of mine from Aramco bought a chunk of property after retiring, built a few houses, and now lives the life of a semi-retired landlord. Put me up for a month a few years back. Doesn’t even put on shoes most days.”
“Sounds like the life.”
“Right you are. Now, let’s get right down to brass tacks, shall we, Temple?”
Ridgely sits at his desk and picks up a manila folder.
“You’ve seen this, I take it.”
“I have a copy.”
“She’s remarkable. Shall I ask her to join us? She’s waiting just upstairs.”
“By all means.”
Ridgely hits a button on his desk intercom.
“Laura, would you have Miss Atieno join us?”
“Straight away,” is the response.
Ridgely leans back in his chair.
“Now, what do you suppose the Jerries are up to in East Africa?”
“It’s not the Germans that worry me.”
“Right you are. The Sovs would love to get their bear claws into another ex-colony. You think that’s the game?”
“That makes sense. But at this point, I have no idea.”
Ridgely’s secretary knocks on the door.
“Do come in.”
The door opens and in walks Dalila Atieno, tall, slender, composed without being cold, naturally graceful, and free of pretense.
Nick and Ridgely stand up.
“Nick Temple, this is Dalila Atieno.”
Nick and Dalila shake hands formally.
“So happy to meet you, Mr. Temple.”
“Likewise,” is Nick’s clipped response.
“Please, won’t you have a seat?”
Dalila takes the chair next to Nick.
“What is it about this awful work that attracts beautiful women?” Nick thinks to himself.
Before Nick can compose himself, Ridgely’s desk phone rings.
“Excuse me,” he says as he picks up the receiver.
“Ridgely here. . . . Right. . . . When? . . . You’re quite certain? . . . Nicely done.”
Ridgely hangs up and stands up.
“Looks like we’ve got to get to work. A local national has spotted our German from Mombasa. He’s staying at your hotel. Convenient, what? We’ll take my car. I’ll fill the two of you in on the way.”
The three of them stride out of Hugh Ridgely’s unassuming office heading straight for the streets of Cairo.