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It never occurred to me that I might be kidnapped. There was no reason why it should. The day had certainly begun innocently enough. I'd snapped wide awake just before dawn, thanks to an experimental add-on I wear on my anterior brain implant. That plug is the one that gives me powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. As far as I know, I'm the only person around with two implants.
One of these special daddies blasts me into full consciousness at any hour I choose. I've learned to use it along with another daddy that supercharges my body to remove alcohol and drugs from my system at better than the normal rate. That way I don't wake up still drunk or damaged. Others have suffered in the past because of my hangovers, and I've sworn never to let that happen again.
I took a shower, trimmed my red beard, and dressed in an expensive, sand-colored gallebeya, with the white knit skullcap of my Algerian homeland on my head. I was hungry, and my slave, Kmuzu, normally prepared my meals, but I had a breakfast appointment with Friedlander Bey. That would be after the morning call to prayer, so I had about thirty minutes free. I crossed from the west wing of Friedlander Bey's great house to the east, and rapped on the door to my wife's apartment.
Indihar answered it wearing a white satin dressing gown I'd given her, her chestnut hair coiled tightly on the back of her head. Indihar's large, dark eyes narrowed. "I wish you good morning, husband," she said. She was not terrifically pleased to see me.
Indihar's youngest child, four-year-old Hâkim, clung to her and cried. I could hear Jirji and Zahra screaming at each other from another room. Senalda, the Valencian maid I'd hired, was nowhere in evidence. I'd accepted the responsibility of supporting the family because I felt partly to blame for the death of Indihar's husband. Papa--Friedlander Bey--had decided that in order to accomplish such a worthy goal without causing gossip, I also had to marry Indihar and formally adopt the three children. I couldn't remember another instance when Papa had cared at all about gossip.
Nevertheless, despite Indihar's outrage and my flat refusal, the two of us now found ourselves man and wife. Papa always got his way. Some time ago, Friedlander Bey had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shaken the dust off me and turned me from a small-time hustler into a heavy hitter in the city's underworld.
So Hâkim was now legally . . . my son, as queasy as that concept made me. I'd never been around kids before and I didn't know how to act with them. Believe me, they could tell. I hoisted the boy up and smiled in his jelly-smeared face. "Well, why are you crying, O Clever One?" I said. Hâkim stopped just long enough to suck in a huge breath, then started wailing even louder.
Indihar gave an impatient grunt. "Please, husband," she said, "don't try being a big brother. Jirji is his big brother." She lifted Hâkim out of my arms and dropped him back to the floor.
"I'm not trying to be a big brother."
"Then don't try being a pal, either. He doesn't need a pal. He needs a father."
"Right," I said. "You just tell me what a father does, and I'll do it." I'd been trying my best for weeks, but Indihar had only given me a hard time. I was getting very tired of it.
She laughed humorlessly and shooed Hâkim toward the rear of the apartment. "Is there some actual point to this visit, husband?" she asked.
"Indihar, if you could just stop resenting me a little, maybe we could make the best of this situation. I mean, how awful could it be for you here?"
"Why don't you ask Kmuzu how he feels?" she said. She still hadn't invited me into the suite.
I'd had enough of standing in the hall, and I pushed by her into the parlor. I sat down on a couch. Indihar glared at me for a few seconds, then sighed and sat on a chair facing me. "I've explained it all before," I said. "Papa has been giving me things. Gifts I didn't want, like my implants and Chiriga's bar and Kmuzu."
"And me," she said.
"Yes, and you. He's trying to strip me of all my friends. He doesn't want me to keep any of my old attachments."
"You could simply refuse, husband. Did you ever think of that?"
How I wished it were that easy! "When I had my skull amped," I said, "Friedlander Bey paid the doctors to wire the punishment center of my brain."
"The punishment center? Not the pleasure center?"
I grinned ruefully. "If he'd had the pleasure center wired, I'd probably already be dead. That's what happens to those wireheads. It wouldn't have taken me long, either."
Indihar frowned. "Well, then, I don't understand. Why the punishment center? Why would you want--"
I raised a hand and cut her off. "Hey, I didn't want it! Papa had it done without my knowledge. He's got lots of little electronic gimmicks that can remotely stimulate my pain centers. That's how he keeps me in line." Learning recently that he was truly my mother's grandfather had not disposed me more favorably toward him. Not as long as he refused to discuss the matter of my liberty.
I saw her shudder. "I didn't know that, husband."
"I haven't told many people about it. But Papa's always there looking over my shoulder, ready to jam his thumb on the agony button if I do something he doesn't like."
"So you're a prisoner, too," said Indihar. "You're his slave, as much as the rest of us."
I didn't see any need to reply. The situation was a trifle different in my case, because I shared Friedlander Bey's blood, and I felt obliged to try to love him. I hadn't actually succeeded in that yet. I had a difficult time dealing with that emotion in the first place, and Papa wasn't making it easy for me.
Indihar reached out her hand to me, and I took it. It was the first time since we'd been married that she'd relented any at all. I saw that her palm and fingers were still stained a faint yellow-orange, from the henna her friends had applied the morning of our wedding. It had been a very unusual ceremony, because Papa had declared that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to marry anyone but a maiden. Indihar was, of course, a widow with three children, so he had her declared an honorary virgin. Nobody laughed.
The wedding itself was a mixture of customs observed in the city as well as those from Indihar's native Egyptian village. It pretended to be the joining of a young virgin and a Maghrebi youth of promising fortune. Friedlander Bey announced that it wasn't necessary to fetch Indihar's family to the celebration, that her friends from the Budayeen could stand in for them.
"We'll pass over the ritual certification, of course," Indihar had said.
"What's that?" I asked. I was afraid that at the last minute, I was going to be required to take some kind of written test that I should've been studying for ever since puberty.
"In some backward Muslim lands," explained Friedlander Bey, "on the wedding night, the bride is taken into a bedroom, away from all the other guests. The women of both families hold her down on the bed. The husband wraps a white cloth around his forefinger, and inserts it to prove the girl's virginity. If the cloth comes out stained with blood, the husband passes it out to the bride's father, who then marches around waving it on a stick for all to see."
"But this is the seventeenth century of the Hegira!" I said, astonished.
Indihar shrugged. "It's a moment of great pride for the bride's parents. It proves they've raised a chaste and worthy daughter. When I was first married, I wept at the indignity until I heard the cheers and joy of the guests. Then I knew that my marriage had been blessed, and that I'd become a woman in the eyes of the village."
"As you say, my daughter," said Friedlander Bey, "in this instance such a certification will not be required." Papa could be reasonable if he didn't stand to lose anything by it.
I'd bought Indihar a fine gold wedding band, as well as the traditional second piece of jewelry. Chiri, my not-so-silent partner, helped me select the gift in one of the expensive boutiques east of the Boulevard il-Jameel, where the Europeans shopped. It was a brooch, an emerald-encrusted lizard made of gold, with two rubies for eyes. It had cost me twelve thousand kiam, and it was the most expensive single item I'd ever purchased. I gave it to Indihar the morning of the wedding. She opened the satin-lined box, looked at the emerald lizard for a few seconds, and then said, "Thank you, Marîd." She never mentioned it again, and I never saw her wear it.
Indihar had not been well-off, even before her husband was killed. She brought to our marriage only a modest assortment of household furnishings and her meager personal belongings. Her contribution wasn't materially important, because I'd become wealthy through my association with Papa. In fact, the amount specified as her bride-price in our marriage contract was more than Indihar had ever seen in her lifetime. I gave two thirds of it to her in cash. The final third would go to her in the event of our divorce.
I merely dressed in my best white gallebeya and robe, but Indihar had to endure much more. Chiri, her best friend, helped her prepare for the ceremony. Early in the day, they removed the hair from Indihar's arms and legs by covering her skin with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice. When the paste hardened, Chiri peeled it off. I'll never forget how wonderfully fresh and sweet-smelling Indihar was that evening. Sometimes I still find myself getting aroused by the fragrance of lemons.
When Indihar finished dressing and applying a modest amount of makeup, she and I sat for our official wedding holos. Neither of us looked especially happy. We both knew that it was a marriage in name only, and would last only as long as Friedlander Bey lived. The holographer kept making lewd jokes about wedding nights and honeymoons, but Indihar and I just watched the clock, counting the hours until this entire ordeal would be finished.
The ceremony itself took place in Papa's grand hall. There were hundreds of guests; some were friends of ours, and some were sinister, silent men who stood watchfully at the edges of the crowd. My best man was Saied the Half-Hajj, who in honor of the occasion was wearing no moddy at all, something remarkable in its own right. Most of the other club owners in the Budayeen were there, as well as the girls, sexchanges, and debs we knew, and such Budayeen characters as Laila, Fuad, and Bill the cab driver. It could have been a truly joyous occasion, if Indihar and I had loved each other and wanted to get married in the first place.
We sat face to face before a blue-turbaned shaykh who performed the Muslim marriage ceremony. Indihar was lovely in a beautiful white satin dress and white veil, with a bouquet of fragrant blossoms. First the shaykh invoked the blessings of Allah, and read from the first sûrah of the noble Qur'ân. Then he asked Indihar if she consented to the marriage. There was a brief pause, when I thought I saw her eyes fill with regret. "Yes," she said in a quiet voice.
We joined our right hands, and the shaykh covered them with a white handkerchief. Indihar repeated the words of the shaykh, stating that she married me of her own free will, for a bride-price of seventy-five thousand kiam.
"Repeat after me, Marîd Audran," said the shaykh. "I accept from thee your betrothal to myself, and take thee under my care, and bind myself to afford thee any protection. Ye who are present bear witness of this." I had to say it three times to make it work.
The shaykh finished it off by reading some more from the holy Qur'ân. He blessed us and our marriage. There was an instant of peace in the hall, and then from the throats of all the women came the shrill, trilling sound of the zagareet.
There was a party afterward, of course, and I drank and pretended to be happy. There was plenty to eat, and the guests gave us gifts and money. Indihar left early with the excuse that she had to put her children to bed, although Senalda was there to do just that. I left the celebration not long afterward. I went back to my apartment, swallowed seven or eight tabs of Sonneine, and lay on my bed with my eyes closed.
I was married. I was a husband. As the opiates began to take effect, I thought about how beautiful Indihar had looked. I wished that I had at least kissed her.
Those were my memories of our wedding. Now, as I sat in her parlor, I wondered what my real responsibilities were. "You've treated me and my children well," Indihar said. "You've been very generous, and I should be grateful. Forgive me for my behavior, husband."
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Indihar," I said. I stood up. The mention of the children reminded me that they could run squawking and drooling into the parlor at any moment. I wanted to get out of there while I still could. "If there's anything you need, just ask Kmuzu or Tariq."
"We're well provided for." She looked up into my eyes, then turned away. I couldn't tell what she was feeling.
I began to feel awkward myself. "Then I'll leave you. I wish you a good morning."
"May your day be pleasant, husband."
I went to the door and turned to look at her again before I left. She seemed so sad and alone. "Allah bring you peace," I murmured. Then I closed the door behind me.
I had enough time to get back to the smaller dining room near Friedlander Bey's office, where we had breakfast whenever he wanted to discuss business matters with me. He was already seated in his place when I arrived. The two taciturn giants, Habib and Labib, stood behind him, one on either side. They still eyed me suspiciously, as if even after all this time, I might still draw a naked blade and leap for Papa's throat.
"Good morning, my nephew," said Friedlander Bey solemnly. "How is your health?"
"I thank God every hour," I replied. I seated myself across the table from him and began helping myself from the breakfast platters.
Papa was wearing a pale blue long-sleeved shirt and brown woolen trousers, with a red felt tarboosh on his head. He hadn't shaved in two or three days, and his face was covered with gray stubble. He'd been hospitalized recently, and he'd lost a lot of weight. His cheeks were sunken and his hands trembled. Still, the sharpness of his mind hadn't been affected.
"Do you have someone in mind to help you with our datalink project, my darling?" he asked me, cutting short the pleasantries and getting right to business.
"I believe so, O Shaykh. My friend, Jacques Dévaux."
"The Moroccan boy? The Christian?"
"Yes," I said, "although I'm not sure that I completely trust him."
Papa nodded. "It's good that you think so. It's not wise to trust any man until he's been tested. We will talk about this more after I hear the estimates from the datalink companies."
"Yes, O Shaykh."
I watched him carefully pare an apple with a silver knife. "You were told of the gathering this evening, my nephew?" he said.
We'd been invited to a reception at the palace of Shaykh Mahali, the amir of the city. "I'm startled to learn that I've come to the prince's attention," I said.
Papa gave me a brief smile. "There is more to it than joy over your recent marriage. The amir has said that he cannot permit a feud to exist between myself and Shaykh Reda Abu Adil."
"Ah, I see. And tonight's celebration will be the amir's attempt to reconcile you?"
"His futile attempt to reconcile us." Friedlander Bey frowned at the apple, then stabbed it fiercely with the knife and put it aside. "There will be no peace between Shaykh Reda and myself. That is quite simply impossible. But I can see that the amir is in a difficult position: when kings do battle, it is the peasants who die."
I smiled. "Are you saying that you and Shaykh Reda are the kings in this case, and the prince of the city is the peasant?"
"He certainly cannot match our power, can he? His influence extends over the city, while we control entire nations."
I sat back in my chair and gazed at him. "Do you expect another attack tonight, my grandfather?"
Friedlander Bey rubbed his upper lip thoughtfully. "No," he said slowly, "not tonight, while we're under the protection of the prince. Shaykh Reda is certainly not that foolish. But soon, my nephew. Very soon."
"I'll be on my guard," I said, standing and taking my leave of the old man. The last thing in the world I wanted to hear was that we were being drawn into another intrigue.
During the afternoon I received a delegation from Cappadocia, which wanted Friedlander Bey's help in declaring independence from Anatolia and setting up a people's republic. Most people thought that Papa and Abu Adil made their fortunes by peddling vice, but that was not entirely true. It was a fact that they were responsible for almost all the illicit activities in the city, but that existed primarily as employment for their countless relatives, friends, and associates.
The true source of Papa's wealth was in keeping track of the ever-shifting national lineup in our part of the world. In a time when the average lifespan of a new country was shorter than a single generation of its citizens, someone had to preserve order amid the political chaos. That was the expensive service that Friedlander Bey and Shaykh Reda provided. From one regime to the next, they remembered where the boundaries were, who the taxpayers were, and where the bodies were buried, literally and figuratively. Whenever one government gave way to its successor, Papa or Shaykh Reda stepped in to smooth the transition--and to cut themselves a larger chunk of the action with each change.
I found all of this fascinating, and I was glad that Papa had put me to work in this area, rather than overseeing the lucrative but basically boring criminal enterprises. My great-grandfather tutored me with endless patience, and he'd directed Tariq and Youssef to give me whatever help I needed. When I'd first come to Friedlander Bey's house, I'd thought they were only Papa's valet and butler; but now I realized they knew more about the high-level goings-on throughout the Islamic world than anyone else, except Friedlander Bey himself.
When at last the Cappadocians excused themselves, I saw that I had little more than an hour before Papa and I were expected at the amir's palace. Kmuzu helped me select an appropriate outfit. It had been some time since I'd last put on my old jeans and boots and work shirt, and I was getting used to wearing a more traditional Arab costume. Some of the men in the city still wore Euram-style business suits, but I'd never felt comfortable in one. I'd taken to wearing the gallebeya around Papa's house, because I knew he preferred it. Besides, it was easier to hide my static pistol under a loose robe, and a keffiya, the Arab headdress, hid my implants, which offended some conservative Muslims.
So when I'd finished dressing, I was wearing a spotless white gallebeya suitable for a bridegroom, beneath a royal blue robe trimmed in gold. I had comfortable sandals on my feet, a ceremonial dagger belted around my waist, and a plain white keffiya held by a black rope akal.
"You look very handsome, yaa Sidi," said Kmuzu.
"I hope so," I said. "I've never gone to meet a prince before."
"You've proven your worth, and your reputation must already be known to the amir. You have no reason to be intimidated by him."
That was easy for Kmuzu to say. I took a final glance at my reflection and wasn't particularly impressed by what I saw. "Marîd Audran, Defender of the Downtrodden," I said dubiously. "Yeah, you right." Then we went downstairs to meet Friedlander Bey.
Tariq drove Papa's limousine, and we arrived at the amir's palace on time. We were shown into the ballroom, and I was invited to recline on some cushions at the place of honor, at Shaykh Mahali's right hand. Friedlander Bey and the other guests made themselves comfortable, and I was introduced to many of the city's wealthy and influential men.
"Please, refresh yourself," said the amir. A servant offered a tray laden with small cups of thick coffee spiced with cardamom and cinnamon, and tall glasses of chilled fruit juices. There were no alcoholic beverages because Shaykh Mahali was a deeply religious man.
"May your table last forever," I said. "Your hospitality is famous in the city, O Shaykh."
"Rejoicings and celebrations!" he replied, pleased by my flattery. We conversed for about half an hour before the servants began bringing in platters of vegetables and roasted meats. The amir had ordered enough food to stuff a company five times our size. He used an elegant, jeweled knife to offer me the choicest morsels. I've had a lifelong distrust of the rich and powerful, but despite that, I rather liked the prince.
He poured a cup of coffee for himself and offered me another. "We live in a mongrel city," he told me, "and there are so many factions and parties that my judgment is always being tested. I study the methods of the great Muslim rulers of the past. Just today I read a wonderful story about Ibn Saud, who governed a united Arabia that for a time bore his family's name. He, too, had to devise swift and clever solutions to difficult problems.
"One day when Ibn Saud was visiting the camp of a tribe of nomads, a shrieking woman ran to him and clasped his feet. She demanded that the murderer of her husband be put to death.
" 'How was your husband killed?' asked the king.
"The woman said, 'The murderer climbed high up on a date palm to pick the fruit. My husband was minding his own business, sitting beneath the tree in the shade. The murderer lost his grip in the tree and fell on him, breaking my husband's neck. Now he is dead and I am a poor widow with no way to support my orphaned children!'
"Ibn Saud rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 'Do you think the man fell on your husband intentionally?' he asked.
" 'What difference does it make? My husband is dead all the same!'
" 'Well, will you take an honest compensation, or do you truly demand the death of this man?'
" 'According to the Straight Path, the murderer's life belongs to me.'
"Ibn Saud shrugged. There was very little he could do with such an obstinate woman, but he said this to her, 'Then he will die, and the manner of his death must be the same as the way he took your husband's life. I command that this man be tied firmly to the trunk of the date palm. You must climb forty feet to the top of the tree, and from there you shall fall down upon the neck of the man and kill him.' The king paused to look at the woman's family and neighbors gathered around. 'Or will you accept the honest compensation, after all?'
"The woman hesitated a moment, accepted the money, and went away."
I laughed out loud, and the other guests applauded Shaykh Mahali's anecdote. In a short time I'd completely forgotten that he was the amir of the city and I was, well, only who I am.
The pleasant edge was taken off the evening by the grand entrance of Reda Abu Adil. He came in noisily, and he greeted the other guests as if he and not the amir were the host of the party. He was dressed very much as I was, including a keffiya, which I knew was hiding his own corymbic implant. Behind Abu Adil trailed a young man, probably his new administrative assistant and lover. The young man had short blond hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, and thin, bloodless lips. He was wearing an ankle-length white cotton shift with an expensively tailored silk sport coat over it, and blue felt slippers on his feet. He glanced around the room and turned a look of distaste on everyone in turn.
Abu Adil's expression turned to joy when he saw Friedlander Bey and me. "My old friends!" he cried, crossing the ballroom and pulling Papa to his feet. They embraced, although Papa said nothing at all. Then Shaykh Reda turned to me. "And here is the lucky bridegroom!"
I didn't stand up, which was a blatant insult, but Abu Adil pretended not to notice. "I've brought you a fine gift!" he said, looking around to be certain that everyone was paying attention. "Kenneth, give the young man his gift."
The blond kid stared at me for a brief moment, sizing me up. Then he reached into his jacket's inner pocket and took out an envelope. He held it out toward me between two fingers, but he wasn't going to come close enough for me to take it. Apparently he thought this was some kind of contest.
Personally, I didn't give a damn. I went to him and grabbed the envelope. He gave me a little quirk of the lips and raised his eyebrows, as if to say "We'll sort out where we stand later." I wanted to throw the envelope in the fool's face.
I remembered where I was and who was watching, so I tore open the envelope and took out a folded sheet of paper. I read Abu Adil's gift, but I couldn't make any sense of it. I read it again, and it wasn't any clearer the second time. "I don't know what to say," I said.
Shaykh Reda laughed. "I knew you'd be pleased!" Then he turned slowly, so that his words would be heard easily by the others. "I have used my influence with the Jaish to obtain a commission for Marîd Audran. He's now an officer in the Citizen's Army!"
The Jaish was this unofficial right-wing outfit that I'd run into before. They liked to dress up in gray uniforms and parade through the streets. Originally their mission was to rid the city of foreigners. As time passed, and as more of the paramilitary group's funding came from people such as Reda Abu Adil--who himself had come to the city at a young age--the aim of the Jaish changed. Now it seemed that its mission was to harass Abu Adil's enemies, foreigner and native alike.
"I don't know what to say," I said again. It was a pretty bizarre thing for Shaykh Reda to have done, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure what his motive had been. Knowing him, however, it would all become painfully clear soon enough.
"All our past disagreements have been settled," said Abu Adil cheerfully. "We'll be friends and allies from now on. We must work together to better the lives of the poor fellahîn who depend on us."
The assembled guests liked that sentiment and applauded. I glanced at Friedlander Bey, who only gave me a slight shrug. It was obvious to us both that Abu Adil had some new scheme unfolding before our eyes.
"Then I toast the bridegroom," said Shaykh Mahali, rising. "And I toast the ending of conflict between Friedlander Bey and Reda Abu Adil. I am known among my people as an honest man, and I have tried to rule this city with wisdom and justice. This peace between your houses will make my own task simpler." He lifted his cup of coffee, and everyone else stood and followed suit. To all but Papa and me, it must have seemed a hopeful time of reconciliation. I felt nothing but a growing knot of dread deep in my belly.
The remainder of the evening was pleasant enough, I guess. After a while I was quite full of food and coffee, and I'd had enough conversation with wealthy strangers to last me many days. Abu Adil did not go out of his way to cross our paths again that night, but I couldn't help noticing that his blond pal, Kenneth, kept glancing at me and shaking his head.
I suffered through the party for a little while longer, but then I was driven outside by boredom. I enjoyed Shaykh Mahali's elaborate gardens, taking deep breaths of the flower-scented air and sipping an iced glass of Sharâb. The party was still going strong inside the amir's official residence, but I'd had enough of the other guests, who came in two varieties: men I'd never met before and with whom I had little in common, and men I did know and whom I just wanted to avoid.
There were no female guests at this affair, so even though it was nominally a celebration of my marriage, my wife Indihar was not present. I'd come with Kmuzu, Friedlander Bey, his driver, Tariq, and his two giant bodyguards, Habib and Labib. Tariq, Kmuzu, and the Stones That Speak were enjoying their refreshments with the other servants in a separate building that also served as the amir's garage and stables.
"If you wish to return home, my nephew," said Friedlander Bey, "we may take leave of our host." Papa had always called me "nephew," although he must have known of our true relationship since before our first meeting.
"I've had my fill of this amusement, O Shaykh," I said. Actually, for the last quarter hour I'd been watching a meteor shower in the cloudless sky.
"It is just as well. I've grown very tired. Here, let me lean on your arm."
"Certainly, O Shaykh." He'd always been a bull of a man, but he was old, nearing his two-hundredth birthday. And not many months before, someone had tried to murder him, and he'd required a lot of sophisticated neurosurgery to repair the damage. He'd not yet completely recovered from that experience, and he was still weak and rather unsteady.
Together we made our way up from the beautiful formal gardens and back along the cloistered walk to the softly lighted ballroom. When he saw us approaching, the amir rose and came forward, extending his arms to embrace Friedlander Bey. "You have done my house great honor, O Excellent One!" he said.
I stood aside and let Papa take care of the formalities. I had the sense that the reception had been some kind of meeting between those two powerful men, that the celebration of my marriage had been entirely irrelevant to whatever subtle discussions they had conducted. "May your table last forever, O Prince!" said Papa.
"I thank you, O Wise One," said Shaykh Mahali. "Are you leaving us now?"
"It is after midnight, and I'm an old man. After I depart, you young men may get on with the serious revelry."
The amir laughed. "You take our love with you, O Shaykh." He leaned forward and kissed Friedlander Bey on both cheeks. "Go in safety."
"May Allah lengthen your life," said Papa.
Shaykh Mahali turned to me. "Kif oo basat!" he said. That means "Good spirits and cheer!" and it kind of sums up the city's attitude toward life.
"We thank you for your hospitality," I said, "and for the honor you've done us."
The amir seemed pleased with me. "May the blessings of Allah be on you, young man," he said.
"Peace be with you, O Prince." And we backed away a few steps, then turned and walked out into the night.
I had been given a veritable hillock of gifts by the amir and by many of the other guests. These were still on display in the ballroom, and would be gathered up and delivered to Friedlander Bey's house the next day. As Papa and I emerged into the warm night air, I felt well fed and content. We passed through the gardens again, and I admired the carefully tended flowering trees and their shimmering images in the reflecting pool. Faintly over the water came the sound of laughter, and I heard the liquid trickle of fountains, but otherwise the night was still.
Papa's limousine was sheltered in Shaykh Mahali's garage. We'd begun to cross the grassy courtyard toward it, when its headlights flashed on. The ancient car--one of the few internal combustion vehicles still operating in the city--rolled slowly toward us. The driver's window slid silently down, and I was surprised to see not Tariq but Hajjar, the crooked police lieutenant who supervised the affairs of the Budayeen.
"Get in the car," he said. "Both of you."
I looked at Friedlander Bey, who only shrugged. We got in the car. Hajjar probably thought he was in control, but Papa didn't seem the least bit worried, even though there was a big guy with a needle gun in his hand facing us on the jump seat.
"The hell's this all about, Hajjar?" I said.
"I'm placing both of you under arrest," said the cop. He pressed a control, and the glass panel slid up between him and the passenger compartment. Papa and I were alone with Hajjar's goon, and the goon didn't seem interested in making conversation.
"Just stay calm," said Papa.
"This is Abu Adil's doing, isn't it?" I said.
"Possibly." He shrugged. "It will all be made clear according to the will of Allah."
I couldn't help fretting. I hate being helpless. I watched Friedlander Bey, a prisoner in his own limousine, in the hands of a cop who'd taken the pay of both Papa and his chief rival, Reda Abu Adil. For a few minutes, my stomach churned and I rehearsed several clever and heroic things I'd do when Hajjar let us out of the car again. Then, as we drove through the twisting, narrow back streets of the city, my mind began searching for some clue as to what was happening to us now.
Soon the pain in my belly really began to gripe me, and I wished I'd brought my pillcase with me. Papa had warned me that it would be a serious breach of etiquette to carry my cache of pharmaceuticals into the amir's house. This was what I got for turning into such a respectful guy. I got kidnapped, and I had to suffer through every little physical discomfort that came my way.
I had a small selection of daddies on a rack in the pocket of my gallebeya. One of them did a great job of blocking pain, but I didn't want to find out what the goon would do if I tried to reach inside my robe. It wouldn't have cheered me up to hear that things would soon get a lot worse before they got better.
After what seemed like an hour of driving, the limousine came to a stop. I didn't know where we were. I looked at Hajjar's goon and said, "What's going on?"
"Shut up," the goon informed me.
Hajjar got out of the car and held the door open for Papa. I climbed out after him. We were standing beside some buildings made of corrugated metal, looking at a private suborbital shuttle across a broad concrete apron, its running lights flashing but its three giant thrusters cool and quiet. If this was the main airfield, then we were about thirty miles north of the city. I'd never been there before.
I was getting worried, but Papa still had a calm look on his face. Hajjar pulled me aside. "Got your phone on you, Audran?" he said quietly.
"Yeah," I said. I always wear it on my belt.
"Let me use it a minute, okay?"
I unclipped my phone and handed it to Hajjar. He grinned at me, dropped the phone to the pavement, and stomped it into tiny broken pieces. "Thanks," he said.
"The fuck is going on?" I shouted, grabbing him by the arm.
Hajjar just looked at me, amused. Then his goon grabbed me and pinned both of my arms behind my back. "We're going to get on that shuttle," he said. "There's a qadi who has something to tell the both of you."
We were taken aboard the suborbital and made to take seats in an otherwise empty front cabin. Hajjar sat beside me, and his goon sat beside Friedlander Bey. "We have a right to know where you're taking us," I said.
Hajjar examined his fingernails, pretending indifference. "Tell you the truth," he said, gazing out the window, "I don't actually know where you're going. The qadi may tell you that when he reads you the verdict."
"Verdict?" I cried. "What verdict?"
"Oh," said Hajjar with an evil grin, "haven't you figured it out? You and Papa are on trial. The qadi will decide you're guilty while you're being deported. Doing it this way saves the legal system a lot of time and money. I should've let you kiss the ground good-bye, Audran, because you're never going to see the city again!"
Copyright © 1991 by George Alec Effinger