British solicitor Sir Cecil Pells has brought his American ward, golden-haired young man Michael Powell, on an educational trip to Egypt at one of the worst possible moments in Mideast history. Anti-British and nationalist sentiments have been increasing for four years and have just reached their peak with the violent reaction to the reparations demanded for the 1924 assassination in Cairo of the British governor of the Sudan. Westerners and Egyptian British sympathizers alike are being kidnapped for ransom—or worse—by the score on the streets of Cairo. Sir Cecil and Michael, the lone orphan and heir of an American industrial fortune, sup in the Gentlemen’s Dining Room of Cairo’s venerable Shepheard’s Hotel, center of the British colonial society in Cairo, on the eve of a journey up the Nile to visit the recently opened tomb of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Here the appearance of the handsome, fair-haired Michael captures the notice of several men, including the Egyptian novelist and prominent wealthy citizen—and notorious debaucher of young men—Rushdy Abazar. Before the evening is over, Michael has been kidnapped and imprisoned . . .
A waiter came in and moved a porcelain cup of tea from a tray and placed it on the desk beside the book on archaeology Michael was unsuccessfully trying to focus on. Watching Michael carefully to see his preferences, the waiter, a young man not much older than Michael, slender and willowy and of dusky complexion and flashing black eyes, expertly dealt out sugar cubes and poured cream until Michael signaled he was satisfied. But Michael wasn’t really satisfied. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t be in the smoking room, enjoying a cigar and brandy just as Sir Cecil and that pudgy, drab-looking policeman were doing. Why was he still, at nearly twenty—well nearly nineteen, at least—being treated like a child? What was wealth and position—and youth—worth if they could not be spent.
Michael heard a moaning noise in the corner of the room, and he looked around to find that the Nubian guard had the waiter trapped in a corner and was fondling him and whispering to him in insistent tones. . . . . Michael looked over to the door out into the lobby to see that it was shut—and very possibly locked. The three of them were alone in the room. Michael gauged the distance between himself and the door, but he could see in an instant that the Nubian would make it there before he did if he made a sudden move in that direction.
What could he do but pretend that it wasn’t happening. That was what his life had been about to now—ignoring the world around him; pretending that nothing untoward was happening. He remembered a remark that Sir Cecil had made earlier in the day—about the chaos that was about in Cairo and further abroad in Egypt now. Of how the military and police had become an all-encompassing and unfettered power unto themselves in combination with the increasing violence in the Cairo streets—that the two of them needed to be wary and as inconspicuous as possible as they passed through on their journey. Sir Cecil had made an explicit point that Michael, in his youthful blondness, could not possibly be inconspicuous here, so that he was to remained glued to Shepheard’s and out of the limelight until they could embark on the Isis.
Michael turned his head away, ashamed that he was interested in watching, that within the wave of fright there was a drop of inexplicable arousal that he was too protected to begin to fathom, and knowing that this was sinful and was something that Sir Cecil admonished him about incessantly, telling him that he must accept that his visage was such as to be attractive to a certain kind of man and that he needed to protect himself at all costs. A shudder ran through him at the thought of what this ebony of a monster might do to him if he made any move to intervene—or even to acknowledge that anything was happening in the corner of the room.