I felt like an arch-conspirator, and there is no other sensation half so thrilling. The flattery of being let in, as it were, through a secret door was like strong wine.
“Is your memory good?” Grim asked me. “If you make notes, be sure you let everybody see them; you’ll find more than one of them can read English. If you should see or overhear anything that you’d particularly like to remember because it might prove useful to me, note it down by making faint dots under the letters of words you’ve already written; or—better yet—take along a pocket Bible; they’re all religious and respect the Bible. Make faint pencil lines underneath words or letters, and they’ll think you’re more than extra devout. There’s nothing special to watch out for; just keep your ears and eyes open. Well, here’s your hotel. See you again soon. So long.”
I got out of the car and went to get ready for a Christian dinner served by Moslems, feeling like a person out of the Arabian Nights, who had just met the owner of a magic carpet on which one only had to sit in order to be wafted by invisible forces into unimaginable realms of mystery.
“Do whatever the leader of the escort tells you.”
I never learned exactly how Jim Grim got word to ben Nasir. My suspicion is that he took the simple course of getting the American Colony to send one of their men; but as they never referred to it afterwards, and might have their own reasons for keeping silence, I took care not to ask them. We have most of us seen harm done by noisy gratitude for kindness, better covered up.
I kept close to the hotel for three days, studying Arabic. By the fourth afternoon discouragement set in. I began to believe that the whole affair had petered out; perhaps on reflection the Administrator had decided I was not a proper person to be turned loose out of bounds, and nobody could have blamed him for that, for he knew next to nothing about me. Or Grim might have been called off for some other important business. The chances seemed all against my going after all.
But on the fourth evening, just at sunset, when the sandwiches I had ordered in advance were all thoroughly stale and I had almost decided to unpack the small hand-grip and try to forget the whole affair, I noticed an Arab standing in the door of the hotel scrutinizing every one who passed him. I watched him for five minutes. He paid no attention to officers in uniform. I left my chair in the lobby and walked past him twice.
He had one eye, like a gimlet on a universal joint; he turned it this and that way without any corresponding movement of his head. It penetrated. You felt he could have seen you with it in the dark.
I started to pass him a third time. He held his hand out and thrust a small, soiled piece of paper into mine. The writing on it was in Arabic, so I went back to the seat in the far corner, to puzzle it out, he standing meanwhile in the doorway and continuing to quiz people as if I had meant nothing in his life. The message was short enough: