Citizen Lansky

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At the last minute, my boss, William M. Lansky, invited me on a highly classified expedition in search of an alleged chamber beneath the Sphinx—a void, an anomaly in Earth’s crust that couldn’t be explained geologically. The discovery of a chamber, Lansky insisted, would rock the archeological community and unsettle underground parking in Cairo. It was 2006, five years before the Egyptian revolution, so the Mubarak regime had assured us safe passage. But I had less than a week to hustle up a passport and inoculations for malaria, typhoid, tetanus, and diphtheria. As we crossed Cairo’s new international airport, Lansky half-expected to find hieroglyphs in place of international symbols—tomb paintings like those in the Valley of the Kings and on sarcophagi and coffins: a pictorial pharaoh for the men’s room and a Cleopatra in mid-stride for the women’s. He joked we’d come across a jackal god chomping down on a burger, symbolizing the food court up ahead, and a partially unwrapped mummy pointing the way to airport security. Nothing quite so kitschy here in Cairo, he commented. Although the dig sounded about as plausible as a multiplex thriller, I had no reason to doubt my boss. Lansky ran with power geniuses, techno-billionaires, and venerated dignitaries. He counted Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Australian Trade Minister Truss among his good friends and reliable acquaintances. Lansky kept a tight inner circle, even though archeological discoveries banked heavily on open peer review. In fact, he was secretive to a fault, so the media’s portrait of him was that of a shallow man—a man who craved attention but reneged on the narrative. With nothing to go on, journalists were left to speculate. They concluded he was all surface, ... ... middle of paper ... ... airborne. On the makeshift walkways, people leaned into the big blow, dancing in place and fighting to remain upright, the women’s long skirts luffing like sails. Blinded temporarily, Lansky stiffened his back against the granules yellowing the length of his dark blue suit. He stripped off his jacket and held it to his face. Nearby, scaffolding clattered and wooden cement forms creaked and yowled. Garbage whorled at our feet. Khalid buried his face in the crook of his arm, pointing skyward and crying out over the racket, “Khamsiin! Desert wind from the south.” We bucked the wind and tramped ahead. When we reached Khalid’s station wagon, he unlocked a passenger-side door for us, then went around back with our bags, mumbling in Arabic when the tailgate wouldn’t open. Lansky pointed out that the car was a vintage Peugeot, a relic from a pre-catalytic converter age.

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