Olga woke up the next morning in a panic. It dawned on her to start worrying about what, exactly, she knew about the man she was going to spend a day with in a strange city. Years of watching American news stories about women coming to bad ends through chance encounters with charming men had taken their toll on her trust. She powered up her laptop and Googled Benedict Vickers.
She quickly found academic papers that he’d written and notices of talks he’d given in which he was identified as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Columbia University. Older items showed that he’d worked at Christie’s, the auction house, first in London, then in New York.
The search also brought up several news stories from the previous summer about the accidental death of a Dr. Jonathan Vickers on a climb in the Himalayas. One of them yielded a photograph of two men in climbing kit identified in the caption as Jonathan and Benedict Vickers. Olga exhaled with relief and stretched, somewhat embarrassed by her fears. The man she was about to meet that morning was indeed who he said he was.
She ran another search, this time on Jonathan Vickers. He left a wide electronic trail in his wake, and Olga was quickly able to piece together the general contours of his career: Oxford medical degree, Harvard-Massachusetts General Hospital internal medicine residency, Harvard Ph.D., a brief stint as an attending at New York’s Rockefeller School of Medicine, where he also had a grant to do research in obesity remediation, then his own independent biomedical startup called Sliema Pharmaceuticals.
The startup information sent Olga to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site, where she searched for patents on which Jonathan was named as an inventor. Sure enough, eleven patents and patent applications popped up, all relating to obesity and all assigned to Sliema.
Olga Googled Sliema next, and learned that Sliema had a very promising drug in advanced-stage human trials. Vickers was poised to become a billionaire.
“My, my,” Olga murmured. “You were a real go-getter, weren’t you.” A picture of an ambitious, driven, and proud man crystalized in her mind. Men like Jonathan Vickers were well-known to her from her days in science.
Curiosity propelled her further. A couple of searches later, she sat back in surprise. Sliema Pharmaceuticals was funded by a major investment from the Gardiner New Horizons Fund. Olga promised herself that she wouldn’t ambush Benedict the minute she saw him about the coincidence of his working for the man who was funding his brother’s startup.
The weather on Thursday morning was glorious—warm and sunny with just enough of a breeze to make long sleeves comfortable. Olga had originally intended to walk the two miles from her hotel in the New District to her meeting with Benedict, but she got lost in her online research and was forced to take a cab to make it there on time. She wanted to spend the ride considering how or even whether to bring up what she’d learned about Jonathan’s work with Benedict, but the scenery before her made thinking of anything else impossible.
Crossing the bridge from the New District into the Sultanahmet neighborhood of the city transported Olga from the present to a curious mélange of ages in which an ancient city had made room for tram tracks and parking lots. Giant, multidomed mosques were everywhere, their tall, graceful minarets providing a perfect balance to the vastness of their footprint.
Olga expected to see streets teeming with pedestrians attempting to negotiate the narrow roads while avoiding peddler carts and merchants standing outside their shops, inviting all who walk by to come in and browse their wares. That is, she expected the old part of town in Cairo. Instead, although the sound of the muezzins’ calls to prayer firmly grounded her in the Middle East, the orderly, Western-garbed and purpose-driven foot traffic made her think of Florence.
The cab deposited Olga at the gate to the Hagia Sofia complex a few minutes early. She was hoping to be there before Benedict so she could cheat and crow that she’d walked over without getting lost, and was a touch irked to see him already there, leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette and observing her pay her cab fare. Olga waved and Benedict acknowledged her with a nod, taking a last drag of his cigarette before extinguishing it and throwing the butt into a trash can.
Olga said hello as she walked up to him.
“I bought the tickets already,” he said, handing her one.
“Thank you.” Worry about splitting entrance fees and the other costs associated with their tour now sprang to her mind. “Um, an awkward question.”
“No!” exclaimed Benedict turning to look at her in mock surprise. “From you? Never would have expected that.”
Olga blushed and reconsidered. “Forget it, it doesn’t matter,” she muttered as she covered her hair with a scarf prior to following Benedict inside.
No amount of reading or film-watching could prepare Olga for the grandeur of the Hagia Sofia in real life. She walked to the center of the main hall and spun around slowly, taking in the delicate carving work on the balustrades, the stylized Arabic inscriptions, and the perfection of the dome above her.
“You’ll get dizzy,” Benedict cautioned.
Olga stopped, immediately feeling the truth of his words but not willing to admit it. “I’ve seen some impressive places before, but this…”
Benedict smiled. “Welcome to my world. Now, as I’m sure you know, the Hagia Sofia was originally consecrated as a Byzantine church, and there are still Greek Orthodox icons gracing its walls, as you’ll see shortly.” He turned out to be a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, and his love for the history of the famous mosque was obvious. When they left, Olga was surprised that more than two hours had gone by so quickly.
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Genre – Legal Thriller
Rating – PG