|Off The Frame|
To his relief, Jez had been misled about the canoes and they had enjoyed a trip down the Nile in a felucca the previous day instead. The felucca, an old Arab sailboat, took them on an archaeologically oriented tour - off the usual tourist route - past dark, rugged cliffs flanking the middle reaches of the river to the wind-blown sands surrounding Abydos. Here, they learned all about Osiris and the pharaoh, Seti I, and about boat burials and the archaeological work of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. They talked to the locals about the "helicopter" and "submarine" glyphs and Jez fell headlong into the tourist trap of believing in lost civilizations and alien visitors. Fortunately, Marion was always on hand to throw cold water on Jez's wild speculations.
"Really, Jeremy! If the ancient Egyptians had helicopters and submarines and such like, I think there would be some other evidence of it," she had scolded. "Apart from this little inscription, there's absolutely nothing! The helicopters and stuff are just the chance effects of erosion and some re-carving. Ancient Egyptians flying around in airplanes - really!"
The argument had continued during the return journey and had still been going strong in the hotel bar at three o'clock in the morning, before Jez had finally conceded defeat.
Nevertheless, Jez was dreaming about Atlantis when his mobile phone rang, waking him from his mid-morning reverie.
"Hello?" mumbled Jez.
A high-pitched voice replied "Coach!"
"OK, thanks. I'm on my way."
Jez found Frank and Marion in the bar area.
"I thought you were going to have a rest till the coach arrived," said Frank.
"It has, hasn't it?" asked Jez, looking baffled. "You phoned me on my mobile. Oh, is it one of your jokes?"
"No, honestly!" said Frank. "Anyway, you said your mobile doesn't work here."
"It doesn't," Jez answered, remembering he had neglected to make the necessary arrangement. "That's strange."
"The coach won't be long now, anyway," said Marion. "It'll be our last look at the desert."
Frank delved into his pocket and produced a sheet of sandpaper, laid it out on the table and proceeded to study it.
"What on earth . . .?" said Jez.
"It's a map!" exclaimed Frank, guffawing.
On their return from the desert, Jez and Frank played tennis on one of the hotel courts, while Marion administered oils and lotions and got dressed for dinner.
"Bad luck! Well played!" said Frank, shaking hands with Jez after a straight sets win. "I like this game. It's so civilised."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, you wish your opponent luck before the match and apologise for netcords and always end up saying 'well played' at the end and you shake hands . . ."
"I always imagine it's their throats!" Jez muttered darkly.
"Oh cheer up! Marion's going to win at the roulette table tonight and we'll have a big celebration!" Frank promised.
As a matter of fact, gambling was not one of Jez's vices, but he had become accustomed to sitting with them at the roulette table of an evening while Marion frittered away modest sums of money. That evening they decided to call it a day before midnight and get an early night's sleep. While Frank bade farewell to some of the guests at the bar, Marion decided to have one last fling.
"I haven't won anything tonight," she complained to Jez. "I'm overdue some luck - I'm going to put all the rest of our money on one number."
"Frank'll go mad!" Jez warned.
Marion ignored him. "Which number? Come on, Jez - help me out!" she said, as Frank waved Jez over to the bar.
"I don't know," said Jez, walking away from the table. "What about, er, . . . your age?" he suggested.
Before he even reached the bar, Jez heard a strangled cry back at the roulette table and hurried back, thinking perhaps Marion had won. But there was no sign of her - at least, she was no longer sitting at the table. As he approached, he saw the dealer attending to a figure lying prone on the floor. Much to his consternation, Jez realised it was Marion.
"Marion!" he exclaimed.
"She'll be ok," said the dealer.
"What on earth happened?" asked Jez.
"Well, I'm not really sure," replied the dealer, looking up. "She put all her chips on 29, and then 35 came up and she just kind of fainted!"
When Marion had been revived, Jez returned to his room and noticed the mobile phone lying on the bed. Thinking back to the mysterious call earlier in the day, it suddenly dawned on him that the owner of the squeaky voice was Phil.
"But why would Phil tell me the coach had arrived?" he thought to himself. "Wait a minute. What did he actually say? Ah, yes! Just one word . . . 'COACH'! I think I get it now. I'm not supposed to win Wimbledon as a player - I'm destined to be something else!"
© 2001 Dave Winship