No personal ad today because durrrrr, Candy was a retard and forgot to upload new Smart Bitch aristocratic titles. So instead, we have chapter 1! Of my post-as-I-type-it-out serial novel!
Boring caveat-ish stuff:
1. These here words copyright 2005 by Candy Tan.
I’ll probably go for some kind of creative commons thing later once I’ve done more reading on it, but for right now, let’s just go with the full copyright, hmmm? Feel free to excerpt, since fair use covers that, but as a courtesy, please link back to the story, or at least the site.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Wow. I feel all warm and fuzzy and copyleft and shit.
2. Really, really minimal research has been done on this story. How minimal? Let’s say I looked up “Egypt” in Wikipedia, confirmed that its official language is Arabic, and that’s been about it. Please don’t come crying to me about how inaccurate my version of Cairo is. I KNOW. That’s kind of the point of this story—I’m trying to emulate the pulpy, over-the-top serials published in old magazines.
3. There’s a nifty little notes section at the end of this chapter, since I used a couple of foreign words. The annotator in me, it refuses to die.
4. This includes the partial chapter I posted a few days ago, with minor edits (exclusively word-choice issues). If you want to skip it, I’ve linked to section 2. Click on it. Bitch.
And now, without further ado: The actual friggin’ story! *trumpet fanfare*
If there was one thing Jennifer hated, it was fucking Egypt. Especially Cairo.
The crowds. The noise. The stench. The thieves. The beggars, who were more often than not thieves in disguise. The foodâ€”really, was a piece of roast mutton or beef that didn’t still have hanks of skin and fur still sticking to it too much to ask for? It was enough to turn Jennifer into a Vegan.
And the camels. Oh Lord, the camels. The gas crisis of ‘79 had hit Egypt particularly hard, and much of the populace had decided to go back to using the filthy beasts for their transportation needs. As far as Jennifer was concerned, though, the only good camel was a camel roasting on an open fire. They smelled evil, they were surly, they took up way too much room, they spit, and worst of all, some of them seemed to have a regular fetish for rubber, which they liked to bite without warning.
Not convenient for an agent who always kept a pair of rubber gloves or two in her back pocket.
Most of all, Jennifer hated the heat.
God. The heat.
The heat in Egypt had a personality all of its own. It was a pushy loverâ€”no, a strident, nagging mother. It insisted you sit up and pay attention to it now. It enveloped you, smothered you, swallowed you whole and then spit you back out, covered in a slime of sweat. And you had to brace yourself for more of the same the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Jennifer was decidedly in Egypt, and not only that, she had lost Karkossian’s trail yet again. Consequently, she was feeling out of charity with the world, and Ramzi the Flea just happened to be a handy. Literally. In the tiny, crowded back office of his shop, lit only by the few rays that managed to filter through the small, dirt-encrusted windows, she had him against the wall and dangling a foot off the ground. Her .44 Toshiba Motivatrixâ€”God bless the Japanese, it came with a built-in electronic silencer and it took decent digital picturesâ€”was jammed under his chin. Ramzi looked just about as unhappy as Jennifer felt.
“OK, darlin’” she said, her Texas drawl more pronounced than usual, the way it always was when she was pissed off, “Would you care to repeat that again? I think the heat must’ve affected my hearing, ‘cause I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear you right.”
“Madame, I assure I don’t know anyâ€”glurk!” Jennifer hitched him even higher against the wall and pressed the gun lovingly against his Adam’s apple. Ramzi the Flea had come by his nickname honestly: tiny and wizened, he couldn’t have stood higher than 4’10,” a whole twelve inches shorter than she was, and that was without the three-inch heels she was currently sporting. His face was starting to turn purple; the resemblance to a prune was uncanny. She smiled.
“Ramzi, hon, why you gotta piss me off? You know how much I fucking hate this place. You know how much I fucking hate the heat, especially when there’s no air conditioning anywhere. And you knowâ€”you gotta knowâ€”how much I hate coming into the Prostitutes’ Quarter to look up your shriveled little ass for some information that I know damn well you have. Now, maybe the heat has affected your hearing too, so I’m going to ask again, real nice: Where is the Book of Angels, and what does Karkossian want with it?”
Ramzi’s mouth open and closed, but only a faint whistling sound came out. His thin hands flapped in the air and plucked ineffectively at her. Jennifer eased up the pressure on the gun. He took an unsteady breath. “Madame. The book.” He paused and panted.
“Yes? The book…” she said encouragingly.
“It is.” Another pause, another panting breath.
“Baby, I don’t have all day,” she said and started pressing the gun against his throat again.
Something about the look in her eyes must’ve twigged him on to the fact that at this point, she would’ve happily blown his head off and looked for another informant, one who wasn’t as recalcitrant. “The book!” he squeaked. “The book, it is a very bad book Madame and it does not like women so please Madame if you forgive a worm like me to say this, if you even touch that book bad things will happen, very very very bad things, Madame, and I do not know why Karkossian wants it but he is a very very very very very”â€”another big, shuddering breathâ€”“very very very bad man.”
“Excellent, darlin’. This is a start. But come on, now. ‘A very bad book?’ What kind of bad? Mein Kampf bad? Or Bulwer-Lytton bad? And it doesn’t like women? What the hell does that even mean?”
Ramzi looked up at her, large brown eyes swimming with misery. Jennifer almost felt sorry for him. Almost, if she hadn’t known what a ruthless, evil, conniving old bastard he was.
She did spend the first eight years of her life with him, after all.
“Madame,” he choked out, “The book. It is… It has the power toâ€”to summon things. And it does not like women. Every woman who has touched it, Madame, has died horribly and in great pain. The last woman who was foolish enough to do so, they could not find enough pieces of her to find out who she was.”
“You’re shittin’ me. Come on, now, for real.” She tightened her hold on him and hitched him a bit higher.
“No, no, I do not lie, Madame,” he croaked, hands going to the back of his neck in a vain attempt to loosen her grip. “Karkossian has the book, and it can only mean he wants to summon the Elder Gods, the Sleeping Ones. No other reason to seek the Book of Angels. He took it to the ruins of Karnak, and that is very very very very very…”
“Bad,” she finished for him. “Right. I get the picture.” She sighed, stepped back and opened her hand. Gravity did the rest. Ramzi landed in an ungainly heap on the floor, leaving an impact crater in the thick dust and knocking over a stack of boxes stamped “Made in Taiwan” and “Fragile.” The topmost box split open, and dozens of massive pink dildos cascaded out. Jennifer’s eyes flickered to the spill of sparkly ersatz phalluses on the filthy floor. Her mouth quirked up, then flattened again as she pressed her gun against the side of Ramzi’s head. Caught in mid-scramble, he froze and looked up at her with a wounded expression.
She lifted him to his feet with a none-too-gentle yank, gun trained on him the whole time. “OK, Ramzi,” she said, shoving him back against the wall. “I’ll bite. Tell me about this woman-hating book and the Gods it can supposedly summon.”
There was something odd about the Ingleezi whore.
Kahiro absently smoothed the folds of his beige linen pants and contemplated the glass of iced coffee set on the marble table in front of him. He was in a small, discreet and insanely expensive coffee shop. The coffee shop was insanely expensive because each cup of coffee came with extras. One of the extras was currently purring Arabic love-phrases in his ear and rubbing his shoulders, while breasts that owed more of their shape to art than nature pressed against his back.
But Kahiro wasn’t interested in companionshipâ€”not at the moment. He was in here only because it happened to be across the street from Ramzi the Flea’s place of business. The table he occupied had a most excellent view of the front door.
Ramzi liked to call himself an antique dealer, but it was common knowledge that the job description was merely a thin disguise for the mind-boggling array of sex toys, pornographic holograms and dirty DVDs he sold from behind the counter. What most people did not know was that Ramzi actually did specialize in antiquitiesâ€”antiquities of a very specific sort. Connoisseurs and collectors of certain kinds of arcana would sometimes show up at Ramzi’s door, always at odd hours of the night, leaving with the customary brown paper packages.
The contents sometimes vibrated or shook, but they owed nothing of their movement to batteries.
Other times, the bold or the vengeful would go into the shop to consult with Ramzi about texts and amulets, statues and lamps. Objects of power, objects of summoning.
A few days ago, Kahiro received some reports, very disturbing reports, about the ruins of Karnak. Odd lights at night. Howls and screams, quickly muffled. Strange, eldritch shapes that dissipated before one’s eyes could focus on them. A book that could summon demons and gods. That last tidbit got him moving, and moving fast, but he wouldn’t do anything until certain details were confirmed. It was his job to sift out fact from rampant speculation.
He was, after all, the foremost demon slayer in all of Cairo.
The coffeegirl had grown bolder and was now nipping at Kahiro’s ear. He moved away with a subtle motion while reaching back and petting the girl’s hair, feigning encouragement while disengaging himself. The girl just plastered herself against him again, of course, but at least she was no longer licking and biting at him.
The Ingleezi whore….
She had looked magnificent. She was tall, very tall, dressed in a sequined bandeau and a tiny, gauzy skirt. Her legs stretched to eternity in her silver high heels, and she walked as if she owned the world, shoulders thrown back, every movement sinuous and arrogant. Her skin was ivory, with the pale pinkish overtones of a redhead. As required of all prostitutes who ventured into the streets, her head had been covered with a veil, but there were intriguing hints of an assertive jaw and chin beneath the thin silk.
The big, gaudy plastic gun holstered on her side surprised him a little, but it all made sense when he spotted the scorpion tattoo on her right upper arm. She was a member of the House of Suffering, and a high-ranking member, if not one of the procuresses themselves, if she was allowed out unaccompanied in broad daylight.
What was the discordant element that had caught his eye? Was it her clothing? The way she moved?
Just as he felt a revelation tickling at the back of his mind, the Ingleezi whore swung out of Ramzi’s shop and walked down the street, long strides eating up the road. Kahiro immediately set the coffeegirl awayâ€”she was perilously close to his ear againâ€”and absent-mindedly dug out two hundred-dollar bills from his pocket, tossing them on her table. She cried out with delight and clutched at him. He barely noticed. He was watching the Ingleezi, and she was almost out of his line of sight. Cursing under his breath, he shook himself free of the coffeegirl’s enthusiastic embrace and sprinted through the shop and out the door.
She was just turning the corner into an alleyway, seemingly headed towards the more upscale brothels in the western part of the Prostitutes’ Quarter. Kahiro was torn. Should he follow her? Could he catch up without making it too obvious that he was following her? But why go through all that trouble for a whore who may or may not have something strange about her?
With a bitter twist of the mouth and instincts screaming, he let her go and walked into Ramzi the Flea’s domain.
A bell tinkled overhead as Kahiro opened the door. The smell of overheated dust, plastic and rubber hit him like a punch in the face. The store was a crowded, dark oven. Air conditioning, since it used up so much fuel, was affordable only to the finest of establishments, and this shop couldn’t be considered “fine” by any stretch of the imagination.
Ramzi was at his regular spot behind the counter in the back corner of the store, surrounded by boxes and piles of cheapâ€”and likely fakeâ€”antikas. He didn’t look up at the bell, just kept tapping away at a laptop. His face, which always had a look of faint disgust to it, as if he’d just swallowed a dung beetle by mistake, looked even more disgruntled than usual. He was rubbing at his throat as if it hurt.
Ramzi looked up, and his eyes narrowed into slits. “Oh, it’s you. What do you want, Japanese dog?” His voice, normally high-pitched and raspy, sounded downright hoarse.
“Nothing more than what I always want, uncle,” Kahiro said.
“I have nothing,” Ramzi replied curtly. “I am not feeling well. Go away. If you come back tomorrow or the next day, I might have something of interest to you.”
“No, uncle, I think you have something of interest to me right now.”
Ramzi gazed at him with deep suspicion, head dipping a little like a turtle trying to draw his head in. “Oh?” he asked, hand leaving his throat to tug nervously at his green taqiyah. It looked even dirtier than usual, as if someone had ground it into the floor recently.
Kahiro walked up to the counter, navigating his way through the crooked aisles of boxes and shelves. Ramzi shrank back even more.
Very, very interesting.
When Kahiro reached Ramzi, he casually leaned his right hip against the counter and crossed his arms. “I’ve heard some stories lately, uncle.”
“People who do what you do always hear stories. What is it to me?”
“These stories are a bit different than the usual. For one thing, many things seem to have happened, but no blood has been spilled. Not that my sources can tell, at any rate. And for another thing…” Kahiro paused and watched Ramzi’s face intently, then continued, “It’s all taking place in Karnak.”
Ramzi’s mouth tightened. “Karnak? What does anything that happens in that accursed place have to do with a poor antika seller in Cairo?”
Lying old bastard, Kahiro thought, and smiled internally with grim enjoyment.
“Ah, see, these odd events are related to a certain book. A book of great power, it seems. I am curiousâ€”” his hand snaked out and caught Ramzi’s wrist just as the wily old goat launched himself off his stoolâ€”“as to what you know about this book. What it is, where it comes from, what it can do.”
Ramzi thrashed briefly in Kahiro’s grasp, reaching with his other hand for the gun he kept under the counter, but Kahiro simply grabbed the flailing arm and yanked him, hard. Ramzi’s torso hit the glass case with a sharp thud. He yelped in pain, then started spewing a filthy but undeniably creative stream of invective.
“Well yes,” Kahiro said when Ramzi paused for breath, “We both know my mother was a whore, but I doubt she did any of those things you’re claiming she did with either camels or swine. Unless you paid her a visit, uncle.” He transferred both of Ramzi’s wrists into one hand and reached into his pocket with the other. He threw a wad of bills onto the counter; he did not bother looking at how many or what denominations they were, but judging by the way Ramzi’s eyes widened, it was a respectable amount.
“So, uncle, are we ready to talk? You don’t like the Japanese, I know, and you like half-breeds even less, but we have been doing business for many, many years. You know you can trust me to treat you fairly. Tell me the information I need to know, and there will be more where this came from.” He tightened his grip on Ramzi’s wrists until he felt the bones compressing. “You know I don’t like hurting humans, but if I have to, you also know I am more well-versed in pain than most…”
Ramzi’s mouth worked soundlessly, his skinny body trembling with rage. He glared at Kahiro, who smiled gently, even fondly, back. After a few moments of silence, he spat out, “Fine! On your head and mine be it. The book, it is the Book of Angels. It is in Karnak.”
Shock nearly made Kahiro release Ramzi. “What?”
Ramzi smiled. “Yes. A crazy Ingleezi man came to me and claimed he found it in the private collection of some Israeli warlord, and he wanted instructions.” He wheezed out an ugly chuckle. “Instructions!”
The Book of Angels.
Kahiro felt numb. He’d heard of it, but he thought it had been destroyed hundreds of years ago, during the First Crusadesâ€”that was how the story went, anyway. He didn’t want to think right now about how the rest of the story went.
“Are you sure it was the book?” Kahiro asked, leaning in closer. “Did you actually see it? It’s a fake, surely. According to everything we know, the book was destroyed.”
Ramzi snorted. “Yes, I saw it. He brought the cursed book into my shop. At first I thought the same as you, that it was a fake. But he put it on my table, and when I touched it…” He closed his eyes briefly and shuddered, his face tight with horror. “It was not fake. I could feel the power in the book as soon as I laid hands on it. It burns to touch it, but it is almost impossible to let go. And you see… things. The man had carried it in a lead box, but even then, you could see in his eyes that he had touched the book a few too many times.”
He sagged in Kahiro’s grip. “Are you happy now? He told me there would be consequences if I told anyone about this. But then you tell me there will be consequences if I don’t tell. I am an old man, a poor, simple antika seller, and for this I get beaten and strangled and abused…”
“Yes, yes,” Kahiro said, cutting off Ramzi’s flood of self-pity. “What instructions did this man want? And did you give them to him?”
“Stupid Japanese dog! He wanted to know how to summon the Elder Gods. I didn’t want to tell him, but he was…persuasive. Even more persuasive than you.” Ramzi bared his teeth and wheezed out another chuckle. “I told him all I knew, gave him all the scrolls I had, but I warned him that my knowledge was not complete, that he needed to seek…”
Ramzi never got to finish his sentence.
It wasn’t until the head thumped dully on the floor and the warm arterial spray hit Kahiro’s face that he fully realized what had happened. The cut looked unusually clean, as if sliced with a very sharp blade. He let go of Ramzi’s completely limp arms, allowing the headless body to collapse like a sack of meat. He wiped his sleeves over his eyes to clear the blood off, turning and looking around the shop but seeing nothing.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…
Then he noticed the smell of blood, sulfur and rotting meat filling the shop. Deep, booming vibrations shook the floor and rattled the shelves, vibrations that felt disturbingly like laughter.
“Oh fuck,” Kahiro said, and pulled out his gun.
Wasn’t that fun, kids? Stay tuned next week for chapter 2!
1. Kahiro calls Ramzi the Flea “uncle.” This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re related by blood. In a lot of Asian cultures, calling someone older than you “uncle” and “auntie” is a sign of respect. Unless the person already has an honorific (mother, father, teacher, etc.), you call them “uncle” or “auntie” if you want to address them politely. This can get confusing for people who aren’t used to this, because it’d seem like everyone is related to everyone else. I have no idea if Arabic cultures in general or Egyptian cultures in particular do this. I just stuck it in there because I could. If anyone knows for sure, do let me know; I’m curious but way too lazy to look it up.
2. A taqiyah is a small hat-like thing many Arabic Muslim men wear. This page has a decent explanation of its function and a picture of what it looks like.