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Authors: George Alec Effinger

Tags: #Fiction, #Cyberpunk, #Genetic Engineering, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Science Fiction

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BOOK: The Exile Kiss
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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. "Marid Audran, Defender of the Downtrodden," I said dubiously. "Yeah, you right." Then we went down-stairs 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 influen-tial men.
"Please, refresh yourself," said the amir. A servant of-fered 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, jew-eled 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, break-ing 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 com--mand 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 every-one 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 Marid 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 peo-ple 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 AdiFs 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
fellahtn
who depend on us."
The assembled guests liked that sentiment and ap-plauded. 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 Fried-lander 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 Sharab. 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 body-guards, 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," ^aid Fried-lander Bey, "wp 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 meet-ing.
"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 mur-der him, and he'd required a lot of sophisticated neuro-surgery 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 for-mal 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 em-brace 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 cele-bration 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 de-part, 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.
"Kifoo 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 dis-play in the ballroom, and would be gathered up and deliv-ered 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 ad-mired the carefully tended flowering trees and their shim-mering 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 ga-rage. 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 inter-ested 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 limou-sine, in the hands of a cop who'd taken the pay of both Papa and his chief rival, Reda Abu Adil. For a few min-utes, my stomach churned and I rehearsed several clever and heroic things I'd do when Haj jar 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.

BOOK: The Exile Kiss
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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