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Effendi: The Second Arabesk
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
excerpt courtesy of Simon & Schuster Earthlight
Effendi: The Second Arabesk
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta, and grew up in Malta, England, the Far East and Norway. He has worked as a publisher and a journalist. His novels include neoAddix, Lucifer's Dragon, reMix and redRobe. He lives in Winchester.

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Pasha-Movie by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Prologue

27th October
    'Of course,' said Ashraf Bey. 'We could just kill the defendant and be done with it...' He let his suggestion hang in the cold air. And when no one replied, Raf shrugged. 'Okay,' he said.
    'Maybe not.'
    It was getting late and autumn rain fell steadily on the darkened streets outside, while inside, sat around their table, Raf's visitors continued to chase the same argument in tight circles. A Grand Jury was in session. If three judges plus a senior detective in a damp, third-storey office could be called anything so imposing, which seemed doubtful.
    'An accident,' suggested Raf. 'The steps in this precinct are notoriously slippery. Or perhaps suicide... Shoe laces, an unfortunately overlooked belt... ? One of my people would have to be reprimanded obviously.'
    Raf looked from Graf Ernst von B, the German boy, to a sourfaced politician from New Jersey who insisted everyone call her Senator Liz, neither of whom met his eye. There was also an elderly French oil magnate, but he sat so quietly Raf mostly forgot he was there. Which was probably the man's intention.
    'Alternatively,' said Raf, 'I could have him taken out to the courtyard and shot. Or, if you like, we could lose the body altogether and just pretend he never existed. One of the old Greek cisterns should take care of that.'
    They didn't like this idea either; but then the young detective with the Armani wrap-rounds and drop-pearl earring hadn't expected them to... He was acting as magister to their judges. And no one as yet, least of all him, seemed very sure what that actually entailed.
    'Justice,' Senator Liz said loudly, 'must be seen to be done.' Her voice remained as irritating as when the session began several hours earlier.
    'Lord Hewart,' Raf pulled the quote from memory. 'One of the worst judges in history. And even he never suggested putting a North African trial on American television.'
    'That's not...' Ernst von B's protest died as Raf flipped up a hand.
    'Let's hear what St Cloud thinks,' he said and turned to the Frenchman. 'Do you think justice needs to be televised?'
    'Me?' Astolphe de St Cloud slid a cigar case from his inside pocket. And though the iridescence of its lizard skin was beautiful, even by the light of a single hurricane lamp, what they all noticed was the enamel clasp: an eagle spreading its wings, while jagged thunderbolts fell from between the bird's sharp claws.
    As if anyone there needed reminding that St Cloud would have been Prince Imperial, if only his father had bothered to marry his mother.
    'It depends,' said St Cloud, 'on what Your Excellency means by justice...' Shuffling a handful of prints, he stopped at one which showed a young girl with most of her stomach missing.
    'If we decide the evidence is convincing enough, then obviously the prisoner must stand trial. Like Senator Liz, my only reservation is that, perhaps, El Iskandryia is not quite...'
    Raf caught the wry amusement in the Marquis' voice and glanced round the room, trying to see it through the eyes of a man whose own business empire was run from a Moorish palace overlooking Tunisia's Cap Bon; and who now found himself in a third-floor office, without electricity, on the corner of Boulevard Champollion and Rue Riyad Pasha, in a tatty four-square government block built around a huge courtyard in best Nationalist Revival style.
    At street level the exterior walls to Iskandryia's Police HQ were faced with cheap sheets of reconstituted marble, while glass hid the exterior of the two floors above. Black glass obviously. The architect had been on loan from Moscow.
    It showed.
    As for the level of comfort on offer... A fire burned in a bucket in the centre of the floor, filled with logs from a dying carob. Apparently, the tree had been not quite alive and not yet dead for as long as even Raf's oldest detectives could remember.
    Two men from uniform had hacked it off just above the roots, using fire-axes. Now chunks of its carcass spat and spluttered as thin flames danced across the top of their makeshift brazier. Directly above the brazier, suspended from the centre of the ceiling like an inverted red mushroom, hung a state-of-the-art smoke detector. Like almost everything else in Iskandryia since the EMP bomb, it no longer worked.
    And behind Raf's head, a window unit that once adjusted electronically to lighting conditions had been rendered smoke friendly, also with a fire-axe. Through its shattered centre came flecks of rain and a salt wind that blew in from the Eastern Harbour.
    'Justice,' said Raf, 'is whatever we decide...' His voice lost the irony, became serious. 'And since the killing occurred within the jurisdiction of the Khedive, I demand that the trial take place in El Iskandryia.'
    Senator Liz shook her head. 'Absurd,' she said. 'We have to change the location. You cannot expect us to work in these conditions...'
    'I don't remember anyone asking you to work on this at all.' Wrap-round dark glasses stared at the woman. The other two he'd chosen. The Senator was different, she'd practically demanded to sit on the Grand Jury.
    Actually, there was no practically about it.
    On her breath Raf could smell gin, while a non-too-subtle miasma of sweat rose from her compact body. If von Bismarck and St Cloud could manage to bathe in rain water, then so could the American.
    'Your Excellency,' said Ernst von B. 'Senator Liz has a point. It will not be easy...' The young German spoke slowly, in schoolboy Arabic, supposedly out of respect for Ashraf Bey's position as magister, though Raf suspected his real reason was to annoy the American, who spoke no languages other than her own.
    'Nothing is ever easy. But the decision is made.' Raf stood up from his chair. And it was his chair because they were in his office. His was the name engraved on an absurdly-long brass plate on the door. His Excellency Pashazade Ashraf Bey, Colonel Ashraf al-Mansur, Chief of Detectives.
    He'd told his assistant a plastic nameplate was fine but that wasn't how things were done in El Iskandryia. The long plaque had turned up the day after Raf took the job, and once a week, on Thursdays, a Cypriot woman from maintenance came up from the ground floor to polish the sign.
    'Excellency?'
    Raf turned to find St Cloud stood next to him, leaning on a cane with a silver top.
    'You were joking about those steps, the accidents... I have your word this trial will actually take place?'
    The blond detective nodded. 'You do.'
    The trial would happen and it would happen soon. In all probability the defendant, one Hamzah Effendi, would be convicted. Raf just wished Hamzah wasn't father to the girl he should have married.

Chapter One

18th October
    Nine days before the Grand Jury met in an upstairs office at Champollion Precinct, Ashraf Bey sat through a warm Iskandryian evening, bombed out of his skull, at a pavement table outside Le Trianon, drinking cappuccino and listening to DJ Avatar wreck havoc on the words of a Greek philosopher. The afternoon call to prayer had finished echoing from the mosque on Boulevard Sa'ad Zaghloul and the bells from l'Eglise Copte had yet to begin. If it hadn't been for a sense of dread hanging over El Iskandryia, this could have been a Monday in October like any other.
    Horse-drawn calèches, their brasses shined and wheel bosses polished, rumbled up the Corniche, from the fat sea wall known as the Silsileh all the way north to Fort Qaitbey, where the ancient Pharos lighthouse once stood.
    And at both ends of the sweeping Corniche, at Silsileh in the shadow of Iskandryia's famous library, and at Fort Qaitbey, groups of tourists watched as fishermen set hooks or mended and untangled nets, waiting for the evening tide.
    It was a tourist who'd taken the taxi that stopped outside Le Trianon, with its window down and sound-system up too loud, giving Raf the chance to hear the city's favourite DJ one more time.
    'And remember. . .'Avatar's voice was street raw. 'Rust never sleeps. Coming at you from the wrong side of those tracks, this for the Daddy, the Don...'
    Most of Raf's officers thought DJ Avatar came up with SpitNoWhere on his own; if they thought at all, which Raf considered unlikely. So they happily stamped the corridors at Police HQ, humming along, not knowing that the unchopped original went, 'In a rich man's house, there's nowhere to spit but his face.'
    Raf hadn't known that, at least not until recently, but the fox in his head did. And while the fox couldn't say why, the General's aide de camp had just delivered to Raf an engraving of hell, inscribed with the words, 'At its centre hell is not hot.' It had at least been able to identify the picture as late Victorian, unquestionably by Gustave Doré...
    '. . . ou know,' said the fox, before all this happened. '. . . ese things, they occur.'
    The fox had a grin like the Cheshire Cat, except that no cat ever owned so many teeth or carried its tail wrapped up round its shoulders like a stole. Come to that, few cats took afternoon tea at Le Trianon.
    These things could have been Raf becoming Chief of Detectives by default, or his recent refusal to marry the daughter of a billionaire.
    'Why?' Raf asked. 'Why do they occur?'
    But the fox didn't answer.
    Sighing, Raf took a gulp of cold cappuccino to wash away the taste of cheap speed and fixed his gaze on the pedestrians who streamed past his cafe´ table, separated from the terrace where he sat by a silk rope and the assiduous attention of two bodyguards.
    The only pedestrians to meet Raf's stare were those, mainly tourists, who didn't realize who he was. They just saw a blond young man in dark glasses, wearing an oddly old-fashioned suit, the kind with a high collar.
    'Come on,' said Raf, searching inside his head. 'You can tell me.'
    He ignored his two guards, who looked at each other and then hurriedly looked away. Raf didn't doubt that they could see tears trickling from under his glasses, but he didn't much care either.
    The fox was saying goodbye.
    The beast had been dying for years. Its abilities limited by memory conflicts, failed backup and the fact that, these days, the animal could only feed on neon light.
    Once Tiri had been state of the art. Feeding on daylight, infrared and ultraviolet, or so it told Raf. White light, black light – back then anything went. The fox sharpened Raf's reflexes, steadied his nerves and gave him good advice. It was what Raf had instead of parents...
    A small ceramic box set into his skull behind one ear which kept him sane, sort of, and gave him a definable centre. And once, when Raf was very young and in another country, it had helped him walk out across a steel beam through flames and crumbling walls.
    Only life wasn't simple; because the fox, of course, refused to admit that it existed. The fox's view was that Raf had a number of unresolved issues.
    'Your Excellency... ?'
    Someone hovered at his shoulder.
    'Go', said Raf and the waiter went, grateful to have been waved away.
    Raf went back to watching the tourists who fed off from Place Sa'ad Zaghloul, and headed south down Rue Missala, searching for bars and theatres or just in a hurry to get back to their hotels.
    After a hundred and eleven days in the city, Raf could now identify tourist groups as clearly as if they wore labels: waddling Austrians, dark-haired French men, the odd bunch of shore-leave Soviets in mufti and, rarer still, an occasional pink-skinned English woman with silk scarf and sensible shoes. But mostly Iskandryia got nice couples, as befitted a famously romantic city.
    The fuck-me singles, with their piercings, tattoos and trailer chic, came out only after dark, and then only in closely-defined areas. Places like PeshVille, where Scandinavian kids hosed lines of coke off toilet rims, while girls shuffled in darkened corners on the unzipped laps of boys too blasted to know they weren't safely hiding out in student halls back home.
    But that wasn't really Iskandryia, just how it went, with the limo-delivered international DJs as interchangeable as the clientele. It could have been Curitiba or Berlin, Punta del Este or Kota Baru. And anyway those clubs weren't Raf's business. The tourist police dealt with that stuff.
    'You in there?'
    Raf counted off the seconds, listening carefully for an echo inside his head. One winter night, when he was maybe ten and feeling sorry for himself, something that happened less often than Raf remembered, he'd asked the fox if he (Raf that was) had a soul... And the fox had gone all silent.
    That was the weekend Raf refused to go to chapel. For five weeks he'd been made to run round a field in the sleet at the back of his school, while the others sang hymns in the dry. And the fox's only comment, months later, had been to point out that he should have waited until summer to lose his faith.
    Maybe it was one of his schools that first put the fox in his head. Or perhaps it was his mother. Alternatively, just maybe the fox was right and it didn't exist, maybe it had never existed outside of Raf's imagination.
    Raf sighed. 'Do I get an answer?' he demanded. 'Or do I sit talking to myself like an idiot?'
    'Your Excellency?' It was the maître d' this time. Raf tried to wave away the thin man but the maître d' stayed rooted to the spot, urgency winning out over embarrassment. 'The General is on the line from New York...' In his hand the man held an old-fashioned telephone. 'He says it's very urgent.'
    Raf shook his head and almost laughed as shock flooded the maître d's face. No one refused to talk to General Saeed Koenig Pasha, not even His Excellency Ashraf Bey.
    'What do I tell him?' The maître d' begged frantically. Raf thought about how to answer for so long that the thin man holding the telephone actually began to squirm with agitation.
    'I know,' said Raf finally, 'tell him my fox is dying.'

We had a give-away contest. Winners were sent a copy of Effendi, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Earthlight.

The questions are:
What kind of glasses was Raf wearing? wrap-round dark ones
What is the name of the city's favourite DJ? Avatar
What was on the clasp of St Cloud's cigar case? It was an eagle spreading its wings with jagged thunderbolts between the bird's sharp claws.

Small Print:
In order to win a copy of Effendi, you must send an email to editor@sfsite.com stating the correct answers to the above questions. Please send only one email; duplicates will be ignored. Winners will be chosen from those with correct answers and notified by email. Books will be mailed out post-paid once all winners have been notified. A final list of winners will be posted on this web site.

Copyright © 2002 by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author. This excerpt has been provided by Time Warner and printed with their permission.


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