Being The Beginning Sunday January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday February 11, 2011
4 Nemesis Saturday February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday March 10, 2011
8 The Three-Cornered-Light Thursday March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman
11 The Upright Way
13 The Cave of Montesinos
16 The Perfect Square
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
“The constitution exhibited by every being is an intermingling of
subjugation and being subjugated, of action and passion. After
the mixture is produced there is a state of readiness for life . . .”
The Balance of Truth in Choosing the Most True
Flanagan looks at his watch. He feels the spasms start up and heads for the toilet. After finishing he has difficulty closing his zip and looks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. ‘Some lover you’d be now,’ he says aloud. ‘Even with pharmaceutical help.’ Too much whiskey and smoking, he realises. He wonders what Rio thought about him that first night, what she wrote about it. He returns to the living room, goes to the CD cabinet and pulls out Eric Clapton’s Pilgrim. Exchanging discs on the player he selects the eleventh track and by the time he is sitting at the computer Clapton is singing, "he needs his woman . . ." Flanagan hovers for a moment, wondering whether he should go on. He clicks:
January 16 – Belfast:
Conference today was good Walt. F was there but I avoided bumping into her. No sign of Séamus, thank God. He is already discarded in my mind and my thoughts increasingly focused on Jerome! He arrived back at my house about the same time as the deliveryman from the Typhoon Chinese take-away. I could hear their voices below the bathroom window and naked and dripping wet I opened the window quietly. I threw down a doorkey that bounced off Jerome’s shoulder and onto the ground beside his foot. I didn’t wait for him to look up and retreated back …
When Rio finally made it down the spiral staircase, some ten minutes later, she was surprised to see that the leather-clad delivery-boy was still standing, somewhat forlornly, in the hallway. She could hear Jerome moving about in the kitchen and suddenly realised that he hadn’t offered to pay. For no accountable reason she glared at the delivery-boy, blaming him for letting Flanagan get away with it.
‘Don’t take it out on me, Miss. I’m just the fucking messenger,’ he glared back.
While she rummaged in her purse for the money, she remembered one of Nan Greta’s more basic bits of advice: ‘Avoid mean men, Babette. Life is difficult enough without having to account for every pair of new shoes.’
Flanagan came back into the hallway as she apologetically closed the front door behind the well-tipped delivery-boy. ‘You look gorgeous, Rio,’ he remarked.
She brushed past him, and went into the lounge.
Thinking back, Walt. I was in a dangerous mood. My time of danger though – pre-menstrual; hair held up in a loose bun by a large clip and wearing the turquoise coloured cocktail dress that the sales assistant had said, was a outfit on the very edge of decency. Jerome had opened two bottles of wine, the white was already on ice. My annoyance melted somewhat with his choice of a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. He’s not that mean, after all, I compromised – how easy it is to compromise, contemporise…
‘Thanks, Jerome. I like the choice of wine,’ Rio said, turning the bottle 90 degrees in its ice bucket.
‘I hoped you would. Sit down and I’ll serve you some food.’ Flanagan lifted the bottle from the ice bucket and after pouring two glasses held out one to her.
She took it and agitated the glass before smelling its aroma and tasting the straw-pale fluid. ‘Mmmm gorgeous,’ she slurped slightly, taking more. She then watched him share out the food. ‘You’ll make somebody a fine wife, Jerome,’ she giggled, enjoying his slight embarrassment as they began to eat. She suddenly wondered if he had ever been married. Mac hadn’t mentioned it. ‘Have you ever been married?’ she asked, straight out.
‘No, never felt the need. You?’ he replied matter-of-factly.
‘No,’ she said, truthfully.
The meal and two bottles of wine were quickly dispatched as Flanagan told her something of his life story. She wondered whether like her he had versions of that story tailored to particular circumstances. He didn’t seem uncomfortable with her touching his arm, every now and then, when she wished him to clarify a point about his dispute with the Museum. ‘It’s in the past now and I’ve moved on,’ he assured her. ‘However, depending on sourcing rare Islamic texts for a living is a bit like being an old-time gold prospector; some years are good, some are bad, but all of them are exciting.’
‘I bet,’ she said, instantly attracted to that excitement and to the uncertainty of it.
‘And now the possibility of finding the Book of the Messenger!’ Flanagan suddenly said, clapping his hands together before leaning forward and kissing her briefly on the lips in a light-hearted, friendly way. ‘Thanks to you, Dr Dawson,’ he said, blushing a little.
There was an awkward silence for a moment before Rio stood up from the dining table, its surface strewn with empty containers, feeling a little unsteady. ‘Wow. That wine was powerful. A mean mule’s kick,’ she drawled in her best western accent – Joe Reilly would have been proud, she thought to herself. She walked giddily to the sofa and plopped down into its welcoming softness. Loosening her hair free she playfully tossed the hairclip in his direction to crash against his back. ‘Whaddya think partner?’
Flanagan turned, smiled, picked up the hair clip, stood up and followed her across the room and before sitting down appeared to want to lean in to kiss her again but then changed his mind. He sat down and taking her hand, touched her fingertips with his. ‘You really are a very beautiful woman, Rio,’ he said.
‘Thank you kind sir,’ she replied in way that implied she was fully expecting – inviting – more.
Flanagan looked at her for a moment, before handing her the thairclip. ‘This is yours, I think M’am.’ He smiled.
His hesitation grated on her but she knew instantly what the issue was. ‘I thought you said you were free and available. Who is she, Jerome?’ she asked bluntly.
‘Her name is Alanna. We have known each other for many years, lovers on and off, loving each other on and off, over those years. We are now off, for good it seems, since a week ago. I didn’t match up to her expectations . . . ’
‘Is that a warning?’
‘What happened?’ she probed. Flanagan’s eyes drifted away. Out of reach, Rio thought.
After a moment he re-engaged hers. ‘Alanna is married to a politician in Ankara. They live separate lives, but are Kurdish and very tribal. They will never divorce. She is a trained lawyer but has long been a crusading journalist for a large Istanbul paper. Recently she has increasingly questioned the continuing influence of the Turkish military in what purports to be a modern democratic country seeking entry to the European Union. She wanted my help and I . . .’
‘I declined, hoping it would stop her.’
‘Turkey is not what it seems. The military still is Turkey. Most of the papers are in their sphere of influence so at the very least she will probably lose her job, but equally could also end up in jail or worse. It’s happening all the time there now. I don’t want to happen to Alanna. I don’t want her getting hurt.’ Flanagan paused for a second, ‘I even asked her to seek a divorce and marry me, hoping it might afford her some protection.’
‘And? What did she say?’ Rio asked, genuinely intriqued.
‘Don’t know. She stormed off. I’ve not been able to contact her since.’
‘Is she Muslim?’
‘Yes, and devout with it. Why would that matter?’
‘I just wondered . . .’
He laughed. ‘About her and me, getting it on.’
‘Yes,’ she blushed, caught out.
‘Kurdish women, even in secular Turkey, are formal and reserved in public. It’s part of their upbringing, their education. However in private, all that constraint is removed and their exuberance, their real passion, is released and spent on the lucky man, or woman, they love.’
‘Do you miss that?’
‘It’s been a long time since I’ve benefited. Politics has become Alanna’s passion.’
‘Out of practice so?’
‘Yes. Despite what Mac may or may not have said about me to you I’m a serial monogamist. Something needs to click . . . beyond the obvious.’
‘And has it?’ she asked.
‘What?’ he teased.
‘Bastard!’ he poked him in his ribs.
He laughed again, catching her hand and holding it. ‘Yes of course it has Rio, you are very desirable.’
‘But? A few minutes ago you hesitated when you had an obvious opportunity,’ she reproached.
‘Don’t get me wrong, Rio. I love sex and am as predatory as the next man but . . . I have a submissive approach. I’m lousy at chatting-up people and therefore wait for the physical initiative to be taken by my object d’amour. In addition I have an uncanny knack of sometimes talking my way out of opportunities presented and I was afraid I might do that with you. I wish I could be more direct, passionate even. Tell a woman, ‘I’d like to fuck you right now. Oh and do you mind if we leave the talking ’till later.’ A lot of men seem to be able to do that! I can’t, and so wait for it to happen. Wait for the woman to take the initiative.’
‘Are you nervous, my big, brave manuscript hunter?’ she purred, her turn to laugh as she moved in closer to him.
‘Try me,’ he said turning, their faces just inches apart.
Perhaps it was the wine Walt, or perhaps it was the need to eradicate Séamus but I did want to take Jerome there and then, wishing a furious, hungry tongue to enter my mouth and life. Andre, the French climber, was the last good tongue in my life. He could stay down there for ever, probing, circling, asking of me whether I wanted him to move clockwise or anticlockwise, but pronouncing it as ‘cockwise’ or ‘anticockwise’, exciting me to the point of explosion . . . indulging himself. Sometimes I wished he would just fuck, just give of himself, not gift himself on me. He also hated talking, as it happens. Mac calls a good tongue a ‘Cunning Lingus’ but then I’m certain he would not like me describing it, or the possibility of it: not with his friend, Jaffa at any rate...
Flanagan’s hand moved down towards Rio’s thigh to trace his finger along the skin on its inner side. Rio’s pelvis began to shift in response, inviting him upwards. Suddenly, the telephone shrilled, and she had to lean across him to pick it up from the small occasional table. He had to lean backwards and as she reached she caught him on the side of his nose with her elbow and he let out a muffled yelp. With one hand on the receiver she delayed answering as he squirmed from under her and she tried to apologize with her eyes. It was to no avail however as he was already heading for the kitchen. The phone continued to ring and she reluctantly picked it up.
‘Jeez, Rosalind. You took your time. Were you asleep?’
‘Not quite, Jack.’ Rio knew she sounded breathless but made no attempt to hide it. Her pelvis was still moving. Time for discipline and punishment, she thought.
‘Christ, Rosalind. I’m sorry. Bad timing as usual. I’ll ring back in the morning.’
‘No it’s fine, Jack. You always somehow knew when I was fooling around.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. ’
Rio thought Jack sounded lonely and also a little drunk. More than her at any rate! She calculated that it was about 7.30a.m. in Florida as she watched Flanagan saunter back into the room. He indicated that he was going for another drink.
‘Do you want one?’ he whispered.
She covered the mouthpiece. ‘It’s Jack . . . my uncle.’
‘Your guardian angel?’
‘Rosalind! Are you there?’ the voice at the other end of the line demanded.
‘Sorry, Jack. I was distracted,’ she said, truthfully.
‘Spare me the kinky details but tell me what’s been happening with you. How’s it going with the parchment?’
Rio had telephoned Jack yesterday to tell him about it. ‘Good. Exciting really. I was going to ring you again tomorrow with an update. A man . . . Dr. Jerome Flanagan, who used to work in the Museum, has been very helpful.’ She wondered at that point whether she should tell him of Jerome’s concerns, and decided against it.
‘I delighted for you. Is that who’s with you. A home run on the first date eh,’ he laughed.
‘Don’t be so lewd.’
‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. You deserve the happiness.’
There followed a prolonged silence when all she could hear was his breathing. She sensed he wanted to say something but didn’t know how. She knew she had to help him. ‘Spit it out, Jack, whatever it is that’s on your mind.’
‘I could never fool you for long, Rosalind but you’re right. I’m planning on making some changes myself.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Sara Lou telephoned me from her mother’s. In all honesty I don’t think she and I will be able to patch things up. She’s bored and wants to move on.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that Jack.’ Rio couldn’t help smiling at the historical irony of his assessment.
‘That’s only part of it Rosalind. I’ve decided to sell the firm. Hank Jago has organised a management buy-out and the price is good. I’d like to travel a bit . . . perhaps even move to Europe. Whadddaya think?’ he slurred.
‘Christ, Jack. That’s a bit of a . . .’ Rio hesitated, searching for the right description and wondering whether he was in full control of his actions. ‘Wow! Are you sure?’ she asked. It was all she could manage.
‘Yes. That’s why I rang you. The deal was signed in principal today and will be notified to the exchange once the lawyers have got their rocks off on it. Parasites! So you see Rosalind my only other real love has now also gone.’
Whoa, Rio thought, I’m not going down that road . . . again. ‘Don’t be so morose, Jack. I’ve never left you. You know that.’
‘I know, Rosalind but . . . listen I’ll ring you tomorrow when my head is together more.’
‘Jack,’ she said quietly, worried about him.
‘Are you really ok?’
‘Sure. No problem. I might even try the position on page 90 without Sara Lou tonight. I’ll consider it my celebration. ’Night Rosalind.’ The phone went dead and she stared at it for a moment wondering whether to call him back. She decided against it as Flanagan returned. He sat down and snuggled in close to her.
‘You deserted me?’ she cooed with a half-hearted invitation.
‘Is there a problem?’ he asked, noticing.
‘Jack is thinking of coming here.’
‘What does he do?’
‘Jack started his working life as a Colorado State Trooper, switched to the FBI and after ten years left to establish his own security and industrial intelligence firm. It grew quickly and eventually gained a stock exchange listing and it was with some of the proceeds of that listing that he established a trust fund for me. Although a lousy husband, Jack is a good employer and delegator. In recent years he has relinquished operational control to a man called Hank Jago, like him, a former FBI agent. The firm has continued to expand and by now is about the third biggest in the United States. There is a management buy-out on the cards by Jago and Jack is seriously considering it. His 51 per cent holding is worth a considerable sum.’
Flanagan nodded then leant forward and picked up the photographs from the coffee table. ‘I can’t stop thinking about these however,’ he said waving them towards her.
‘Doesn’t say much for my attraction,’ she pouted.
‘On the contrary, it says everything, Rio. I really am very concerned. I’ve a bad vibe about these.’ He touched her face lightly with the back of his hand before putting his arm around her shoulders, drawing me in.
‘Read it again, Jerome.’
‘No need to! I’ve written it out for you.’ He handed her a foolscap page with neat but small writing.
She had to focus hard to read it. ‘Who was the Sultana Sporcha?’ she asked.
‘She was one of the mad Sultan Ibrahim’s junior wives who, after the Sultan’s execution, was married off to an elderly general. After his own, some say hastened, demise she then opened the equivalent of a geisha house for the entertainment of the elite in Istanbul. According to the letter Roxanne was one of those geisha girls.’
‘And the Ok Meydani?’
‘The “Field of the Arrows”, or archer’s shooting range on the high ground on the northern side of the Golden Horn. It was the site of public gatherings as well as competitions for the longest flight. No longer there of course. Its demise hurried by artillery in the eighteenth century and the squatters of the nineteenth. It had a number of distinctive traditions however. The targets of the original space were known as “the idols” and the winning distances of famous archers were marked by large stones, some of which were still standing in the late eighties holding up clothes lines and the like.’
‘Idols?’ she queried.
‘Yeah. The Turkish for a cross or idol is Put. Like the mentioned Tobra.’ He pointed to the bottom of the letter.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said shaking he head.
‘The so-called “idols” were probably statues of the crucifixion taken from the Byzantine churches when Constantinople fell in 1453. Sultan Mehemmed the Conqueror had them carried up to the Meydani and set up as targets. There was Puta Ebrisi to the north, Yaaf and Nesr and Tobra to the east, Aymaish and Hekim on the south side, Pelenk to the west and Pish was to the north-west.’
Rio looked at the foolscap page for a moment, feeling suddenly very sober. She spoke in very measured tone, ‘And you think the mus’ir will tell us which target the letter writer was telling his father to walk towards in order to retrieve the Book.’
‘Exactly! Have you got it?’ he demanded.
She found that Jerome's hold on her shoulder relaxed alarmingly quickly, almost pushing her off the sofa. ‘Sure,’ she answered with annoyance as she uncoiled, stood up and headed for the kitchen, where she had left Jha’s book Smell, the previous evening when preparing her meal. The book was not immediately visible but after searching around for a moment she finally found it had slipped down behind the microwave unit. Her face suddenly drained of its colour when she realized, as she flicked through the pages, that the folded piece of paper with the copy of the catchword was missing. She held the book upside down, shaking it angrily, as she returned to the lounge. ‘It’s gone. It’s bloody missing,’ she rasped.
‘Are you sure?’ Flanagan asked. He stood up and took the book from her. ‘Let me check.’
‘Yes I’m bloody sure! Who would have taken it? Only I . . .’ She stopped and looked at him.
‘Only what?’ he enquired gently, trying to placate.
‘I was going to say that only I had been in the kitchen but then I remembered you were, and so was Mac for that matter.’ Language and lunacy, she suddenly thought.
‘Where did you find the book?’ he asked.
‘Behind the microwave!’
‘Hold on a second,’ he said brushing past her and going into the kitchen.
Rio could hear him moving around and it was only a matter of minutes before he returned, brandishing the folded paper in his hand. ‘Where did you find it?’ she asked, relieved.
‘It must have fallen out of the book and slipped under the microwave base.’ He smiled as he waved it and then walked away from her, towards the better light in the dining area. He unfolded the paper and studied it for a moment. ‘Great. I can make it out. It’s Nesr, the target on the south west side of the Ok Meydani. Logical really, it would be the closest to the waterfront of the Golden Horn,’ Flanagan shouted excitedly before suddenly going to the fireplace and setting alight to the paper. He continued to watch it burn on the grate as she joined him.
‘Why did you do that, Jerome?’ she asked, puzzled.
‘No one else must know about it, Rio. It’s too dangerous. Do you understand?’
‘No! Not yet, if you must know,’ she answered. She watched the burnt paper disintegrate before taking Flanagan’s arm. It was nearly 2.00 a.m. and she felt that the passion of earlier had completely evaporated. ‘Jerome. Tonight, the two of us here, was so nice it’s hard to sense that there is any danger lurking in the shadows.’ She released his arm walked to the coffee table and picked up the copy of the letter that he had written out for her.
‘Was?’ he asked her from behind.
She ignored the observation, not even turning to look at him. She inspected the letter and asked, ‘What are the “muserin” that the letter refers to?’
There was silence for a moment, frustration hanging in the space between them. ‘Now that is a very interesting word, Rio because it confirms that this letter definitely refers to the long lost Book of Warnings of the Messenger,’ he explained.
‘Why? What’s the connection with writer of the letter?’ she persisted.
Flanagan came up behind her, to rest his hand on her hip. She did not pull away. ‘Around the time this was written, because of the fusion of Christian and Islamic beliefs in the Imperial schools and also the influence of Sufism a number of strange sects developed. The Muserin, and another group called the Chapmessahi, believed Christ to be the God and Redeemer and that Mohammed was the Holy Spirit promised by him. The book of the Warnings of the Messenger may have been supposed to, or was, supportive of these beliefs. Obviously these would have been seen by the Sunni orthodox theologians as completely heretical and dangerous, hence the supposed “sleepers” who wait and watch for its reappearance and . . . hence the danger to you. They will stop at nothing to retrieve it.’
Flanagan’s hand was moving downwards, but somehow Rio sensed his heart also was no longer in it. He looked exhausted. ‘Talking of “sleepers”, I’m suddenly very tired,’ she said with a forced yawn, turning towards him.
He laughed and leant forward to kiss her. ‘Yeah! We can worry about that tomorrow. Meantime let’s go back to where we were at.’
‘And where was that?’ she asked, pulling back.
He began to kiss her neck. ‘You are almost impossible to resist.’
‘Almost!’ she hissed. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Listen, Rio, I’d travel with you to Belfast tomorrow but there is something I need to do here urgently. It’s important for your safety.’
‘The less you know the safer it will be. Trust me?’
‘Trust you? I’d rather know what you are planning,’ she demanded.
‘That’s for tomorrow. Right now I’d rather. . .’ Flanagan moved in closer, his fingers pulling at the silk of her panties...
I soon realised, Walt that Flanagan seemed to be having some difficulty getting a hold and his movements felt clumsy and uninviting. It was as if, I suddenly realised, he was trying hard to meet my expectations, not his. Also, and weirdly, there was now a strange odour coming from him, mixed in with the aftershave. Not from his breath but from his skin. It had a slight whiff, like that from day or two-day-old wet grass cuttings. Not the matured peat-smell of malt or heath which I love but the early scent of that decay and I pulled back from him…
‘Not so fast, Jerome Flanagan! I’m not that easy and you’ll have to earn my trust. You may stay here tonight, if you want . . . in the spare bedroom but we’ll take things slowly on the personal front. Right now I want to sleep. Remember I have to leave early.’
‘But before . . . eh, your uncle rang? You were so . . . You seemed to be enjoying yourself.’
‘That was then, Jerome. Spare bedroom or nothing.’
‘It amounts to the same thing,’ he said with a generous smile and both of them were laughing as he let her pull him playfully up the stairs. He tripped near the top and she noticed it took a little time for him to stand up. The wine was getting to him too, she thought. They kissed goodnight at the bedroom door: a thank you, first-date kind of kiss. Strangely, he looked relieved, she thought as she went into her own room and closed the door behind her.
Some hours later, after waiting for the door-opening creak or knock that never came, she heard him slip quietly from his room and out of the house. On the floor outside her door he had left a single sheet of paper with a poem written on it:
The Pillars of Ubar
Into the empty quarter:
Travelling amongst the fortunate people,
And the three-cornered light awakening
So strong as to take your breath away
With Afiah b. Nasr al-Shabatini:
The last of the Uzza.
Morning star, sacrificed.
Following the scent of precious trees,
To the pillars of Ubar
And the three-cornered light awakening
So strong as to take your breath away
A khamson wind.
With Hud, the warner.
To swallow, drown
In seas of silica silence
All the people of ‘Ad,
And the three-cornered light awakening
So strong as to take your breath away
And at the end of the page,
This is the poem I promised you. We need to be very careful!
Couldn’t have done it if I tried, Flanagan thinks, and then wonders what time it is. He has difficulty focusing on the dial of his watch and settles for looking at the display on the CD player. 02:12 it announces, then 02:13, 02:14, 02:15. . . He continues watching, mesmerized, feeling his pulse, counting to see if he can predict the moment the new minute will arrive. He holds his breath in concentration. His pulse rate changes and he loses the rhythm of his count. The clock continues to change at its own pace: 02:18, 02:19, 02:20 . . .
‘Fuck that!’ he says aloud, exhaling, pulling his eyes away.