Walker's Dream Assignment
The Sahara, Somewhere North of Timbuktu
June 30, 1976
The party of agitated scientists did a heated inventory and shouted back that they hadn't seen Hamid for hours. Clearly, their guide had participated in the city exploration only long enough to see the treasure troves. While everyone was arguing as to how to disperse the piles of gold, Hamid had sneaked up the steps and bolted out without being noticed. Now he was back with his band of Nomad cutthroats and only the intrepid Walker was battle-wise enough to stand in his way.
Almost immediately Hamid decided to risk sacrificing one of his men to test Walker's resolve. From Walker's perception, a six foot two, black Veiled Nomad suddenly appeared at the top of the steps. He stood as rigid as the side of the Scimitar sword he brandished with the wind frantically biting at his dark blue tunic and robe from behind. His ominous eyes were the only visible part of his anatomy Walker could see. They emitted a dark combination of greed and evil that Walker knew meant reason was not in the man's comprehension.
"Bet you a camel's spit you're not here to borrow some pork jerky," Walker said nonchalantly in the Tuareg's own language.
The Nomad's eyes flared briefly, then he bellowed, "Die, Infidel!"
In a blind rage he scampered down the steps, swinging his Scimitar in ever widening circles above his head. Walker reached behind his shirt tails and pulled out his Taurus 38B revolver. He took careful aim and fired.
Two Months earlier
Luambe National Park Zambia, Africa April 15, 1976
Park Ranger and Veterinarian Dean Raintree drove his '73 Land Rover 4WD on the only road passing through the park, a long trail of hot dust following him. Located between the North and South Luangwa Parks on the East bank of the Luangwa River, this time of the year the park sizzled at one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, the locals called it the cool and dry season. Though relief in the form of rain had been forecast, Raintree had grown accustomed to being disappointed.
The fifty-six-year-old Australian transplant, Raintree, was five foot six inches of flabby muscle. He was clad in camouflaged khaki and he wore scuffed black army boots. He wore an Australian Fedora--adorned with a red feather--over his brown crew-cut hair. His vibrant hazel eyes were pools of unabashed bush savvy. Raintree was the champion of the green vegetation and colorful animals and birds that made the park a wildlife haven unparalleled in the region, but today he hardly noticed any of it as he drove along.
He eagerly was on his way to visit an old friend, John Walker. He knew Walker was sanctioned by the Zambia government to act as part time poacher control in the park, but he never suspected that Walker's full time job was working as an undercover agent for Interpol International.
Raintree's back was stained with sweat as he pulled into the parking area adjacent to Walker's acreage and home. Walker came down the steps and his six-foot-two muscular frame nearly engulfed Raintree as he hugged him.
"G'day, Mate!" Raintree said. "Happy as a pig in mud to see you too."
"Dean, I'm glad you got my message. Simba has been dragging her tail ever since I got back from taking her to Hollywood to make that jungle flick," Walker said, his ocean-blue eyes looking worried.
Everyone in the park knew Simba was Walker's pet lioness and some said he placed her friendship even above that of any human. Walker said he thought it funny to name his pet after the male of the species. When a Hollywood movie studio approached him to do a fictionalized movie about his African exploits, he insisted on a small part for Simba. But a month into the shoot Walker withdrew his support for the film after he found out they were not taking proper care of her.
"Before I take a look-see, you wouldn't have something wet to take the sting off this cough I've been fighting all day, would you?" Raintree asked. "I shouldn't have to tell ya, it's dry as a dead dingo's donger out here."
The two went inside and shared a few beers before they got down to serious reminiscing.
"I thought when you went to Tinseltown I'd never see you again. Cripes, it's only been three months. They making movies that fast now?" Raintree asked.
"Simba couldn't take the pressure. Did you hear about Harlow and me?" Walker asked.
"No, what did she do to you now? I heard you two were getting hitched. Next thing I know I heard you dumped that Sheila to go off to be a big time movie star. I gotta tell you, if that's true, you're a damn fool. I heard tell on a score level of one to ten, she's a twelve, Mate."
"More like a fifteen, but while I was counting, I had a few beers and I never made it to the church--and it was she that dumped me, if you must know," Walker complained.
"Serves you right. I don't know a whole lot about women, but I do know they are an impatient lot. You see one you like, you better snatch 'er up quick or she'll drop you like an anvil into quicksand. How you holding up?"
"It does kind'a hurt. I built this place for the three of us, you know. Simba is safe to roam on the grounds, and I thought Harlow would like the house. But she never even saw it," Walker said bitterly before downing his beer in one long gurgling gulp. His belch proved he had enjoyed it.
"Well, I'm sure the Zambia government is happy to have you here anyway. It's a fabulous deal you got; you keep the poachers at bay and they let you stay here as long as you want," Raintree said. "I should have it so good. You gotta tell me how you snagged that lot sometime. You got more beer where this one came from?"
"I'll give you another one, but not till you tell me why Simba is acting so strange. She's out back. Go give her a what for and I'll throw a few steaks on the grill outside for when you get back," Walker said.
A half hour later Raintree trudged back to confront Walker with an amused smirk on his face.
"What's your prognosis, Doc? She got the flu?" Walker asked.
"Well, what then? I've never seen her so listless," Walker said as he flipped the steaks over on his grill and momentarily disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
"You got any cigars? I hope so, 'cause you're gonna need some, Mate," Raintree said with a twinkle in his eye.
"Cigars? What are they for? You want me to put them in with her next feed? What the heck does she have anyway? Nicotine deficiency?" Walker asked.
"Not exactly," Raintree said, looking like a tea kettle on the verge of whistling.
"Are you going to tell me, or are you going to just stand there like an Ostrich about ready to drop a bowling ball?"
"Not exactly...but you are getting warm," Raintree said, then he burst out in laughter. "She'll be right! Simba is about a month away from being a Mum, Mate. What I want to know is, who's the father?" Now Raintree began giggling nonstop.
As Raintree's amusement evolved into a series of coughs, a very bewildered Walker said, "She's pregnant? I did notice she was getting a spare tire where her tummy used to be, but I wrote it off as lack of exercise," Walker said.
"Come to think about it, those studio jerkoffs did put Simba in the same cage with their other movie lions at first. When I found out, I made them put Simba in a separate cage. Even then they were treating her too rough to suit me anyway, so I pulled the plug. I guess I was a little late."
"You think?" Raintree slapped his knee. There was a tear in his eye as he soundly slapped Walker on his back.
"That's a relief...I was beginning to think she was impregnated by immaculate conception, like Mary, Mother of God," Raintree said. This time he was so amused at his witticisms he doubled over.
"So, Simba is about to become a Mom; I always thought she was a lesbian. Atta girl, Simba," Walker said, beaming.
"Oh, I almost forgot. I brought you some mail. There's not a whole lot of it. You really should get out more; make a few friends besides me, Mate," Raintree said, then he poked Walker in his side.
The two went back inside and had a very quiet meal. Every time Raintree made eye-contact with Walker, he started laughing again. By mutual agreement both just chewed and stared at their plate crumbs and drank more beer. Afterwards, Walker proved he did have a few cigars. As the two blew smoke rings at each other from across the room, Walker sorted his mail.
The one marked urgent took precedence. Walker opened it and his usual light-hearted grin melted into a stupor.
"Dean, I'm going to have to go away again. I'm not sure how long I'll be. Would you be a pal and check up on Simba from time to time?" Walker asked. "Maybe make sure she gets fed and such?"
"She'll be all right! Of course. You are going to be here for the special event though, right? It should be more exciting than finding a thousand dollar bill you forgot you hid," Raintree said.
"Wouldn't miss it--not if I have a choice. It's my job. They just made me an offer I can't refuse."
"What, you taking orders from a 'Don' now? Hey, I saw the movie," Raintree said.
"In a way...make that 'the Don'," Walker said.
"You can talk the leg off an iron pot; you're always joking, Mate. I been meaning to ask you. Level with me just this once. Just what is it you do when you leave the park for as long as you do, anyway? I know swatting poachers isn't a real profession--not one that pays enough to maintain a place like the one you have here," Raintree said.
"Okay, I will level with you...I'm a bourbon salesman. To make sure I sell only the finest, I taste test each and every bottle I sell." Walker oozed lies. It was his cover.
Raintree gave Walker an amused skeptical eye.
"Hey," Walker said, "you don't believe me--check out my garbage can."
Raintree lifted up the lid and peered inside. The can was filled to the brim with empty beer and bourbon bottles. He headed for his Land Rover, laughing. "See you when you get back. I'll help you taste test the next bottle you want to sell. If I don't like it, you can give me another one to try."
Three Days Later, April 18, 1976
Interpol Branch Office Lusaka, Zambia
According to the tourist brochures Lusaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the region. It is also the capital of Zambia. The inconspicuous Interpol office is squeezed in between sundry nightclubs and a string of bustling bazaars. Walker, wearing sandals, a tee-shirt, and shorts entered amid amused hoots and jeers from his colleagues.
"Well, if it isn't the big-time Hollywood Star!" All ten of his desk-bound fellow agents roared laughter as he passed their desks.
That Walker could take, but he thought the red carpet leading to his office was over the edge--it was made from a roll of toilet paper dyed red. Walker grinned humbly and hurriedly went to his desk and sank into his chair. He was sorting out the paper piles in his in-basket when Peter Simson, a brilliant, but seriously over-weight, agent who had abandoned his position as a Professor of chemistry at Harvard to "join Interpol in their exciting efforts of eradicating crime," stood on his toes to peer over the cubical walls.
"Wilson wants to see you...you're in for it now."
Ralph Wilson was the Interpol district manager and a man of little patience. Walker knocked on his door half hoping he wasn't in. Wilson was in his mid forties, he had incredibly haunting blue eyes, and his well-groomed black hair always looked like he had it cut every day. In the sweltering heat he had taken off his tie and draped it over his desk.
Wilson had retained his vest but his white shirt had sweat stains on the back and under the arms. His pinstripe trousers were neatly pressed and his brown shoes were spit-polished. He spoke with a Cockney accent.
"Oh, it's you. Bloody good of you to take the time to drop by. Take a chair and do close the door behind you."
A rotating fan on Wilson's desk was aimed at him and not a whiff of the air it stirred got as far as Walker's seat. Walker began to feel like an ant under a magnifying glass on a sunny day. Wilson's fiery gaze bored through Walker as he built tiers of tirades.
"When you asked for a leave of absence, I never dreamed you meant to go public and broadcast to the world what you do for us in a bloody cinema yet."
"Not so, sir. I--" Walker said, responding to a knee-jerk reaction. But Wilson was on a roll.
"Oh, but that wasn't enough for you. You ignored all of my attempts to contact you for three whole weeks since you got back. Ever think of getting a telephone or at least a radio that works?"
"Sir, can I speak?" Walker attempted to stand up, but Wilson waved him back down.
"You've been a screw-up ever since you came here. If you didn't come so highly recommended, I'd have you tracking down igloo rustlers in the North Pole; instead, my opinion of you has been continually overridden by the powers that be. It must be nice having friends in high places," Wilson said, sounding more than frustrated.
"But, sir, that Hollywood thing just didn't work out. They say everyone deserves fifteen minutes of fame. Well, I gotta tell you I had my fifteen minutes--and it stunk. Besides, I altered my movie bio to say I was working undercover for the Botswana Government. Even my girlfriend's newspaper stories of my quasi-African adventures never mentioned my involvement with Interpol. As for you trying to get in touch with me, I just got the letter a few days ago. As you pointed out, my radio does have a mind of its own; it only works when it wants to."
"Just the same I don't like the way you were crammed down my throat the way you were. But I suppose that's neither here nor there--I'm stuck with you now, aren't I?" Wilson said.
"I can't say I'm sorry about that; my whole life has turned around since working here. I am sorry you think I'm not very good at what I do," Walker whined.
"Oh, I didn't mean all that rubbish...it's all this bloody heat. Forget what I said. But if you foul this assignment up, don't bother to come back. My sources have informed me a very important Saudi potentate is making a visit to Somalia in a fortnight. There are rumblings that terrorists or kidnappers may try to attack him or members of his harem. They say it's likely, in fact. If anything of that ilk happens on Somalian soil, there will be an international incident of bloody incalculable proportions. I want you to get your ass to Somalia and get closer to the potentate bastard than a pickled maguey worm is to a bottle of Mescal," Wilson said. "Make friends. Keep him and his lot out of trouble."
"Why me, Sir...why not one of the other guys? I'm no wet nurse. Wait a minute, you did say 'harem', didn't you?"
"I thought that would get your attention. Believe me, I'd rather send a cat to ride herd over Mighty Mouse's mouse city, but what passes for the Somalian government has asked for you specifically," Wilson lamented.
"Thank you God," Walker muttered, then he sighed. Being a friend of a high ranking head of the CIA branch Walker used to work for finally had its perks.
Somalia Democratic Republic
Mogadishu, Eastern Africa
April 26, 1976
Somalia. Geographically located along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, it is bordered by Djibouti in the northwest, Ethiopia in the west, and Kenya in the southwest. Texas is larger, but less arid and barren than Somalia. There are two inland rivers, the Shebelle and the Juba, that made this an ideal Arab and Persian trading post in the 7th to the 10th century.
Twenty-two-year-old Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasiek had come to Mogadishu, the capital city, to make a courtesy call to Mohamed Siad Barre who was the reining President of Somalia. Though ruthless, the roads leading into the city were lined with large posters of the man. The oil-rich Sheikh Rasiek was here intending to combine affairs of state with a long overdue vacation. As was his and his father before him's custom, he had brought along thirty of his closest confidents, a harem consisting of his four wives, a virtual army of bare-chested eunuch guards, and a full compliment of concubines to attend to his every whim.
Walker suited up and caught the Sheikh at Hotel Puntland where he had the entire top floor booked. After a thorough frisking and sheepishly handing over his Taurus revolver, he showed his introduction from the American Embassy, and then he flashed his Interpol ID to several unenthused black guards--all wearing traditional Arabian garments. By the time he was granted an audience with Rasiek, he was convinced everyone from Arabia wore sunglasses.
But Sheikh Rasiek was nothing like what Walker expected. For one thing he couldn't have been a day older than twenty. Not only did he not wear sunglasses, he didn't even wear the traditional Arabian robes his entourage wore. Instead, Rasiek dressed more like Errol Flynn ready to play a game of polo. He spoke with a distinct British accent. He was tall and thin, had hollow cheeks and well trimmed eyebrows over vibrant dark brown eyes. He had an oval face and his mouth was wide and full-lipped. And when he smiled, his full compliment of even teeth glistened. His dark black hair was also well trimmed and he wore it combed straight back. Several yards to the side of his red pillow was the to-be-expected Muslim well-worn prayer rug oriented to face Mecca.
As the air conditioner hummed away, the Sheikh was seated aloft, legs to one side and crossed. At his side he petted a chained cheetah whose purr could be heard as far as six feet away. On his other side he had perched the hotel telephone. One of the Sheikh's muscle-bound eunuchs silently provided Walker with a large yellow pillow to sit on.
The Sheikh calmly looked down on Walker and he was the first to speak.
"I say, it isn't everyday I meet a famous American movie star," Rasiek gushed. "I read all about you in Variety, Rolling Stone, and Time. Is it true you actually have a full-grown lioness for a pet? I must say you look much shorter in person; must be a camera thing."
"I'm flattered that you read up on me, but you must have missed the gory details that included my hasty departure from Hollywood. I'm afraid my movie career was a very short one; something about my being a no-talent stumble-bum or some such. And, to answer your question, yes, I call her Simba. She's the love of my life. It's kind of a joke, calling her that since she's female. What do you call your big cat?" Walker asked.
"I call him Hungry. It never occurred to me to call him anything else. He's completely tame, you know. The hotel insists I use the chain. I think they are afraid Hungry will get frisky and tear down one of the drapes."
"Or tear down one of them? Forgive me, but did you go to Yale?" Walker asked, hoping to break some ice.
"Oh, heavens no--I went to Eton. What on earth made you think I went to Yale? We ate 'Elis' for breakfast, you know."
"It's just that you look and act so Western. I just naturally thought you had been schooled in the states," Walker said. He kept poking his finger between his tie and the inside of his shirt.
"I've never been to the 'states' as you put it, but I do hope to go someday. On the other hand, it's so violent there. I know all about America. I've seen all the gangster movies, you know. I would love to go to Hollywood and meet Edward G. Robinson someday." He took a few puffs from his hookah pipe then he offered it to Walker who accepted it, not wishing to offend him. As Walker fought back a coughing bout, his eyes welled under the strain.
"I think...I think you waited too long, Your Highness. Edward G. died in 1973. Late January if my memory serves me right," Walker said, looking genuinely pained over the loss and not the smoke.
"I see. Well surely I can meet Elvis Presley when I come? Maybe he can teach me to swivel my hips like he does. Though I am not at all sure my lute plucking will ever match his guitar skills, my wives do say I have a sterling singing voice."
"I am sure you are being too modest, Your Worship. But Elvis and I don't run in the same circles. I can't help you meet him, but you might try the U.S. State Department, Your Highness. I must confess I don't know what title you prefer," Walker said, looking sincere as a baby groping for a bottle of milk and finding out it's empty. Again he nervously poked his finger between his neck and the inside of his shirt.
"You seem like a nice enough chap. For heavens sake, take off that silly tie and relax. You can call me Razz; it was my nickname at Eton--everyone called me that in those days. I will in turn call you John. My people showed me your papers before they let you in and John does fit you. But I'm sure you haven't come here to talk of Hollywood and share my hookah. What can I do for you?" the Sheikh asked, leaning forward and raising an eyebrow.
Walker gratefully slipped off his tie and opened the top buttons of his shirt. But before he could respond to the question, the Sheikh slapped his own head and said, "Forgive me, I am forgetting my manners." He clapped twice before adding, "We must feast first--we can talk afterwards."
The doors swung open and a steady stream of Black eunuchs entered, carrying trays of steaming hot food of every description. As they lifted the silver-plated lids and displayed each delicacy, Walker's hunger flared and the cheetah sniffed the air in anticipation of the scraps the Sheikh might throw to it.
There were loaves of Kbubz Arabi, Hommus, Mantou Dumplings, large bowls of Baharat, Bambia, layers of Ejje, Hamour, Kabsa, open dishes of Koshary, Kouzi and Markok Lamb, varieties of Tamr dates, assorted unmentionables, and just about every Arab delicacy imaginable. Other eunuchs brought freshly-brewed coffee and mint tea.
Two more claps and the colorful dancing girls and their musical accompaniment swirled in. These veiled lovelies were dazzling and Walker thought for a moment he had walked in on the movie set of the Arabian Nights in mid-shoot back in Hollywood.
Walker was in a quagmire; Arabian food wouldn't have been his first choice, but he was prepared to eat horsemeat just to be polite. But why wasn't the Sheikh eating? Should he wait for the Sheikh to dive in, or should he just pretend he wasn't hungry? No, that might be interpreted as an insult.
The Sheikh noticed Walker's hesitancy and he bid his chief eunuch to leave long enough to follow his whispered instructions. "Please indulge me in my asking why you delay diving in, John." With a wave of his hand his eunuchs snatched up the food stuffs and ushered themselves out.
Walker became convinced he had inadvertently committed a faux pas. In a panic he searched the Sheikh's eyes, but only found noncommittal impatience.
A half an hour later, and four more claps, once again the doors swung wide open. This time two of the Sheikh's eunuchs smartly marched in, one carrying a super-sized bucket marked "Colonel Sander's Kentucky Fried Chicken," and the other eunuch toting an extra large bag marked "Sander's Condiments" in one hand and a tray of cups filled with something bubbly in his other hand.
Now the Sheikh ate with complete abandonment. He grinned and invited a very befuddled Walker to join him. When Walker looked relieved, the Sheikh gave out a resounding belly laugh.
"Sorry to do a number on you like that; I know what most Westerners think of traditional Arab tent food. I also know the sheep eyes and camel tongues my father relished are an acquired taste that even I haven't mastered. I wish I had thought to bring my Hasselblad, though. You should have seen your face when my people brought out all that tribal fodder."
The Sheikh tossed a chicken breast to the big cat who pounced on it as if he had caught it running in the wild.
"Hungry also deplores my father's foodstuff. Please, have some chicken, there's plenty more where that came from."
Walker grinned. "What would you have done if I had eaten some of your father's favorites and up-chucked on your fine Persian prayer rug over there, Razz?"
"I would have complained to your State Department, of course," the Sheikh said. "And Allah would have cursed you."
"Those dancers of yours are really good...they should think about joining a USO show with Bob Hope someday," Walker said.
"No, they aren't brought up to think for themselves. They and my eunuchs are part of my Sharjah Kingdom inheritance; they are part of my father's legacy. The rest I had to leave behind to keep the ball rolling. Someone must keep the clock ticking while I am away, you know. Those I brought with me are only representative of my father's albatross, my heritage. I find the responsibility a double-edged sword at times."
"I take it you don't entirely approve of your father's ways," Walker said, then he reached into the bucket for another piece of chicken.
Sheikh Rasiek sent the dancers and all but the guard eunuchs with their shiny curved Scimitars out of the room.
"While he was alive, my father and I had serious disagreements on how our kingdom should be run after his death. He longed for the Arabia his grandfather knew. I can appreciate the romanticism, but to me, a diet of goat's milk is repulsive."
"Yet you say you have four wives in your harem. I didn't know there were any of those left," Walker said.
"My father arranged that for me too. I took them to keep peace between us. At first I didn't love any of them, you know. I admit to you in confidence they sort of grew on me. Now, if anything were to happen to them, I would use the full vent of my imagination to torture the perpetrators."
"Got anything to wash this chicken down with?" Walker asked.
"Root Beer or Pepsi?" the Sheikh asked.
"Root Beer or the real thing if you have it," Walker said with special emphasis on the latter.
The Sheikh reached in the bag and brought out two ice-cold Hamm's Beer bottles.
"I knew it! I had you pegged for a beer man," the Sheikh said. "I hope you don't have a brand preference. I took a chance you wouldn't care--not as long as it was beer."
Walker accepted the offer with the eagerness of a starved pig offered slop.
Later, the two had themselves a hearty burp before getting down to serious discussions.
"Razz, I appreciate your hospitality, but why did you ask for me? Like I told you--I'm no movie star," Walker said.
"I knew that...I had some of the advance clips of your movie flown out for a private screening in my palace," the Sheikh said. "I can see why the movie died in the can it was stored in."
"Was I that bad?"
The Sheikh nodded a resounding yes. "Still, your on-screen presence made me an instant fan. When your State department called my people and told me you were coming for a visit, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, they declined to tell us what this is all about. The people at Interpol tell me you can retrieve a lost needle in a world of hay while wearing a four-ply blindfold. I am truly impressed. But I haven't lost any needles lately. So, the cricket ball is in your court; please do enlighten me."
"Okay, Razz, I'll take the gloves off; let's spar. Interpol is very concerned that what you call 'perpetrators' may try to target you and your entourage during your visit here."
"If Allah chooses, what can one do?" the Sheikh asked.
"Don't get inscrutable on me, Razz. If something bad does happen to you, you are on Somalia soil and the political repercussions are incalculable--or so my boss tells me. He must have really been desperate to send me. I'm sort of the black sheep of Interpol, the undercover agent nobody is supposed to know about. Anyway, suffice it to say I was sent here to protect you and your people the entire length of your stay."
Sheikh Rasiek eyed Walker a moment, then he burst out in laughter.
"Forgive me, John. Look around you. I have more armed eunuchs and servants than I have toes to guard me. My father had all their tongues removed so they wouldn't disturb me with their babblings. Because they idolized him, not one resisted. They were loyal to my father and now they are loyal to me. They would all take a bullet for me if need be. What do you think you can do that they can't? Drink more beer?" the Sheikh asked.
"Probably not, but since I have experience in detecting criminal intent, you would do well to take advantage of my questionable expertise, Your Highness."
"Yes, I know. As I said, your people tell me you are hot stuff in finding things in the dark. Sorry, I don't see how your adventures in Braille can be of any use to my sense of well-being," the Sheikh said.
"Just the same, our mutual governments have conspired to order me to hang on you like a cheap suit. When can I meet all your people? I must confess I've never seen a harem before, but I assure you my interest is purely professional," Walker said, sounding as sincere as a child caught unable to pull his hand out from a cookie jar, loudly insisting he wasn't planning on stealing any cookies.
Walker had told a truth about his lack of knowledge regarding harems. His imagination conjured up visions of semi-nude voluptuous young girls who undulated to bump and grind music at the slightest provocation. Pampered Exotic beauties whose very existence meant a release for unbridled lust and sexual pleasure of a male dominated society devotee. He could even smell the perfumes and incense inherent to such dens of iniquity as his mind roamed.
"John," the Sheikh said. "Are you still there?"
"Sorry, I was deep in thought...you were saying?"
"I agree to take you to meet my wives, but only a few trusted eunuchs and I are allowed to see them without their veils. I will have Ashere here prepare you. Once you are a eunuch like him, you will be allowed to see all you wish of my wives--but only then would I ever permit it," the Sheikh said.
Walker's face was flush. Razz's expression was grim and unrelenting. Ashere pulled out a small dagger and he handed it to the Sheikh. He smiled, displaying a full set of gold-capped teeth.
Walker was stunned. "You've got to be kidding! I might need my dingus someday. What would you do with it anyway? Send it out to the Guineas Book of Records?"
The Sheikh milked the moment as long as he could, then he said, "You're right--I'm kidding!" He began another rolling belly laugh. This time the Cheetah gave out a growl that alarmed both men for a moment.
Now it was Walker's turn to laugh.
"You had me going there, Razz. But seriously, I need to see everyone in your group; how can I guard them if I don't even know what they look like?"
The Sheikh snapped his fingers and the huskiest of his eunuchs came and bowed. Razz whispered into the man's ear a few words and the big Black hastily headed for the door.
"You can start with my wife's passports."
"Yes, that would be a start. I do have a photographic memory," Walker said.
"How wonderful. I have often wished for such a gift, but I'm afraid I can't even remember the names of my wives without a cue card," the Sheikh said. When he saw how shocked Walker appeared he added, "I am joking again, of course."
Walker didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He had always been the jokester and being at the receiving end unnerved him.
"Do you have a selective memory? Can you turn it on and off at will?" the Sheikh asked.
"No, I can't always turn it off. I dream in Technicolor and you'd be amazed what sometimes gets stuck in playback mode."
"That must be awful," the Sheikh empathized.
"You learn to cope...and I have my friend," Walker said.
"Who is that?"
"More like, what is that? Bourbon is something of a standby. A jigger of that and you'd forget an elephant standing on your foot," Walker said before grinning from ear to ear.
The guard brought the passports and the Sheikh graciously handed them over to Walker.
Walker studied the photos and memorized the names. In their pictures, Amurra, Darourat, Sababa, and Yasmeen all had one thing in common--they were all wearing veils.
"Razz, except for their names, these passports are pretty much useless to me. For all I know you've put camels with beautiful eyes behind those veils."
"I see. It is a dilemma, I suppose. In my grandfather's day even doctors were denied what you are asking. Physicians were privy to every part of a wife's nude bodies--except their faces. The ladies rarely went anywhere without wearing chaddars. And sometimes grandfather had the doctors beheaded when he caught them cheating. That was after they prescribed treatment of course."
"I hope you're more progressive than he was; I'm kind'a attached to my other head too," Walker stated.
"I learned a lot from my father. He was a whole lot more tolerant than were his peers; as far as I know he never beheaded anyone. Of course he wasn't above cutting physicians' hands off at the wrist if they deserved it."
"Luckily I'm not a doctor. But I still need to see what your wives look like under all those veils. Heck, what harm can it do to just let me have a peek. I assure you I'm as harmless as a monk in a straight jacket," Walker droned.
The Sheikh called for an escort of eunuchs to take Walker to each of his wife's rooms. He explained that he kept his women apart to avoid strife over his affections. He also stated, with a devilish smile, that each eunuch was assigned to keep his sword at the ready should Walker forget his manners.
The seventeen-year-old, five-foot-two Amurra looked entirely too young to be endowed with such a provocative figure. She had long, dark, shoulder length blond hair that glistened under the overhead lights. She had brown apologetic eyes and thin puckering lips. Her skin was a healthy tan. Overall, she had a demure appearance and sensuous perfume that instantly raised Walker's libido. Walker never did have a passion for rejection and he found her passive disposition the most appealing of all. Still, he was all too aware he could only look. To do otherwise would mean a lifetime of hurt, no matter how short that might be.
Darourat was a twenty-year-old. She stood five-foot nine inches and she had a body that would cause most men to walk into walls. She wore her bright red hair down to her navel with bangs in the front. Her hazel eyes were luminous, slightly protuberant. She had a mysterious dark complexion the color of honey that intrigued Walker more than he cared to admit. He couldn't keep his eyes off her fluid motion. Her long neck begged to be kissed, but Walker knew he would be cat food for Razz's cheetah if he so much as brushed up against her.
Eighteen-year-old Sababa struck Walker as an angel from some centerfold. Still, at four-foot-seven, her figure was less ostentatious than the other two. She did, however, make up for her minute proportions by hiding behind her long, flowing brunet hair that kept draping over one of her blue eyes. Her lips were full and succulent. Her dark complexion matched her sultry disposition, but Walker thought she came across like an unopened Christmas package. He eyed the disapproving eunuch who was eying him back. That package would have to remain one of life's mysteries.
By the time Yasmeen ambled across her room to greet him, Walker was showing signs of restless legs syndrome. The Sheikh had saved the best of his wives for last. This woman was everyman's dream. She was nineteen years old in body but forty years old in mind. In addition, she was voluptuous. Walker always preferred women with big breasts, and hers were barely constrained beneath her Haute Couture dress. If she stood on her toes she would have soared to five and a half feet tall. She had long flowing purple-tinted hair. Her complexion was olive and her pouting lips caught Walker's eye long before he gazed into her very appealing cyan colored eyes.
Walker knew that in the future when ever he fantasized sexual encounters with the ladies in his dreams, this scrumptious beauty would knock the others off their pedestals. Even while awake it would be a heap of Sundays before she didn't dominate his thoughts.
After Yasmeen left, Walker tried his best to clear his mind of all the turbulent clutter that had just made a home there. He was taken aghast not only by the stunning beauty of Razz's wifes, but by the fact that each spoke flawless English, and none of them were the least bit shy. What was that thing about those veils? None of them were wearing any. And those clothes...
What a jokester, Walker thought. Oh, he supposed, when traveling, all four of the Sheikh's wives were most likely required to wear the Saudi Arabian traditional head-to-toe abaya robes. But in the guarded privacy of the Sheikh's hotel arrangements, they obviously were allowed to dress as they liked. And what they liked, Walker liked.
It didn't occur to him until after he returned to Razz's pillows that he had been so entranced by the ladies charms that he had forgotten to commit their individual features to memory. It would have to be enough to remember they all had quiet, oval faces and all were dark and delicate looking. Still, he wanted to ask Razz to clarify a few things that were beginning to nag him.
"Those dresses your wives are wearing...they don't look Arabic to me. Can you tell me a little about them?"
"Those dresses are one of a kind, I'll have you know. I am a great supporter of Jean Paul Gaultier. You must have heard of him. He's the one they call the Enfant Terrible of the French Fashion World. I'm told his fashions are all the rage in Europe. The dresses you've seen are especially hand-made for me and are form-fit to the measures of my lovelies. I am sorry to say my countrymen, in their ignorance, frown on such revealing works of art; my wives can only wear Gaultier's dresses in my secluded palaces--and of course at hotels such as this one. You should feel privileged I let you see my wives wearing them."
"I do, but don't forget why I'm here; in return, I won't forget my place regarding your 'lovelies.' I don't want to wake up singing alto--or not singing at all."
"Not to fear, John, I am tone death."
Walker found Razz's laughter unnerving.
Later, the Sheikh ordered Ashere to assign Walker a room and he began preparing to perform his Sunni Islam Salat-ul-asr, mid-afternoon prayers. Razz, for all his riches, was not exempt from the requirement all Islams must perform five times a day. But first the Salah prayers, the demonstrative worshiping of Allah, must be precluded by a process called the Wudu, or the cleaning of the hands, face, arms, head, and feet.
When he had done all this, the Sheikh invited Walker to play chess.
"I love all my wives and they do keep me entertained. But as hard as I try, I can't get a decent game out of any of them. Don't get me wrong...they aren't stupid; I think they are afraid if they should ever actually win a match, they would lose my favor."
"In other words, they always let you win?" Walker asked.
"Exactly. If, however, you should win...I'll probably get over it. Someday."
"I think I'll pass on playing with you. I heard all about Arab vendettas; you'd probably string me up naked between two camels and get a third to do the double hump on me," Walker said.
"Come on, John. Just a friendly game between friends? I promise not to fly off the handle should the impossible happen and you manage to get a check mate in once or twice."
"All right, if you insist--but I hardly know the game; I haven't played for years," Walker lied.
As the Sheikh set up the board, Walker debated to himself as to just how much he should tell him about how extensive his photographic memory was. In his youth, and as an avid student of chess, he studied all the famous tournament masters like Steinitz, Glucksberg, and Kasparov. In fact he mastered all their moves. But there was that other side of the coin. Just how fair would it be to use all that accumulated knowledge against the man who drank the same brand of beer he did?
The Sheikh won the coin flip and took the white pieces, arguably giving him the first move advantage. When Steinitz played Bardeleben in 1895, he projected a check-mate in seven moves. Disgusted that the next move Steinitz would make would end the game, Bardeleben raged, and he stormed out of the game room. The elated Steinitz had to wait an hour for Bardeleben's move counter to run out before he could claim the victory. When Walker mimicked Steinitz's moves, he hated himself for giving into the temptation. As for the Sheikh, he was astounded.
Walker grinned. "Beginner's luck," he said.
Four more games, and four more wins for Walker later, the Sheikh was more determined than ever to at least wear down his opponent to where he could strategize a draw. But halfway through the fifth game, Walker's conscience forced him to quit.
He knocked down all the chess pieces with a wave of his hand as he laughed. "Sorry, Razz! I've been taking you for a ride. I told you I have a photographic memory. I've studied all the chess masters and memorized all their moves. I can't beat everyone, but you kept playing into my hand. I'm surprised you didn't just call foul when I slaughtered your king in the first game."
The Sheikh's face turned all the shades of the rainbow as he sped through surprise, anger, and amusement. Finally, he joined Walker in an unbridled laugh.
Suddenly the Sheikh cut his outburst short and he wiped the tears from his eyes, his expression grim.
"I suppose you realize I'll have to have you killed now; no one takes advantage of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasiek and lives to tell of it."
Walker couldn't stop at first, but his laughter dropped octaves like a bagpipe at the end of a parade.
"You've got to be kidding--I was just playing you." Walker was grinning from ear to ear.
The Sheikh whispered a few words into Ashere's ear. With a great show of athletic agility, Ashere darted to the far end of the room, turned around, withdrew his Scimitar sword, and he bolted headlong toward a very frightened Walker--forward somersaulting and swinging his sword alternately over his head and at each of his sides.
At the end of his run, Ashere stopped cold, the tip of his blade a quarter inch away from Walker's trembling nose. The cheetah, sensing Walkers fright, growled and lunged forward, straining the chain.
The Sheikh waved Ashere back to his post and he stared into Walker's eyes. "You're right--just kidding!" This time it was the Sheikh that grinned from ear to ear.
Razz returned to his pillow where he clapped twice. The dancing girls returned and did their dance of the seven veils for a very relieved but pale Walker who could hardly see them for all his hyperventilating. Walker most assuredly had met his match in an undeclared contest of jokesters.
Suddenly, the door burst wide open. Down the hall there was screaming and small arms fire. The dancers screamed hysterically as four men wearing ski masks barged in and machine-gunned the ceiling. Amid falling debris Walker crawled over to the Sheikh's pillow.
"This another of your jokes?" Walker asked, his eyes billowing.
"No, but I can't wait to hear the punch line if it's yours."
Razz screamed and his guards burst into the room.
Ashere and ten of his Scimitar swinging eunuchs charged toward the intruders with fire in their eyes. Now the machine-gunners noisily pulled back their bolts and took a swinging aim on each of them.
The Sheikh wisely held out his right hand, showing all five of his fingers; the eleven eunuchs froze.
The masked leader strutted forward and spoke with chilling clarity. "Listen up! Do as I say and nobody gets hurt." He kicked a jagged piece of ceiling that had fallen down in front of him to one side. "We're here to propose a business arrangement with you. You have something we want--and now we have something you want." His eyes were as cold as a Syberian night.
The Sheikh fumed as he roared, "What could you possibly have that I would ever want?"
"My men are escorting your harem to a van as we speak. Cough up ten million deutschmarks or you better plan on storing their parts in a very large Arabian cookie jar."
Walker rose to his feet. "You'll never get away with this." He reached into his shirt and groped for his Taurus Revolver. Remembering he had forfeited it to the guards earlier, his stern expression melted into an embarrassed smirk.
"We won't? Who's going to stop us? You?"
"Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But you better start looking over your shoulder, not because of me--but because of who I represent," Walker snarled.
"Boy, I sure am worried now. I don't know who you represent but I do know who has all the guns. Sheikh--stay glued to your phone. We'll let you know where to bring the money. Better yet, let big mouth here bring it. And one thing more--use that phone for anything more than to send out for Pizza and you will never see your wives this side of the great white light again."
As the quartet of masked intruders backed out of the room, they fired a final burst of machine-gun slugs into the ceiling. After the dust had cleared, they were gone.