By Sidney Williams
This is part two of a four-part serial published July 10-31 2014. The rest of the story can be found here.
She answered the knock that came a shower and make-up touch up later, adjusting her robe’s neckline to make sure it didn’t conceal too much.
“Welcome back. Glad you’re still on duty.”
“I work most weekdays. We trade off on weekends.”
He gestured to his side, to a woman with skin as smooth and bronze as his, large black eyes and hair equally dark and glossy.
“This is Hadia. An apprentice with me today.”
Aubrey felt her smile fade as her cheeks flushed. She gave a cool hello then found her glass and a formal tone.
“Knots in neck and back if you could help with those.”
She watched him set up the table, watched his biceps and forearms ripple with the effort. Her skin warmed in spite of Hadia’s presence.
“Ready,” Hadia said.
“Would you put this somewhere handy?” she asked as she slipped out of her robe, hoping the look was tantalizing and frustrating since Baraz’d brought the chaperone.
“If you’ll lie face down,” he said.
She complied, and he touched her calves first with the backs of his hands, almost a teasing caress.
“Strange. I met a rather odd little man who used to work in the theater. I thought he might have some leads, but it didn’t work out.”
“Did you have any success?” Hadia asked as she watched from beside the table. With a glance Aubrey took in her beauty, white tee and crisp shorts hugging her form, her hair tied back.
Didn’t seem prudent to mention the discovered page, but Baraz’s palms glided across her flesh, moving to the tops of her thighs, brushing against her ass. Something inside relaxed even as little waves of pleasure rippled to her core.
“A partial on what I was looking for.” She wasn’t supposed to say that. “Not a complete song, just the middle page.”
“Intriguing, though. A portion could be played, give you the tune, no?”
“A start.” The last word slid out in a sigh. “Can you go higher? I spent a lot of time sitting on the Underground today.”
“Perhaps Hadia’s touch would be helpful.”
Before Aubrey could protest, the girl’s palms were moving up her legs. But she didn’t have time to analyze. Her thoughts blurred as those wonderful hands began kneading, brushing under the sheet, leaving the tops of her thighs behind.
Was there another question about the music from one of them? Were they working for a competitor or for Amil? Did she answer?
Aubrey’s face pressed the table as her breaths came in slower measures. Her eyes closed tight. Electric ripples of pleasure coursed through her. Both sets of hands were on her, and the girl’s waist-length hair spilled free.
For a while she could forget about everything.
An e-mail sent in the wee hours in the U.S. awaited the next morning. The client, the actual buyer not the middleman, had communicated with Amil and wanted the page scanned and faxed ASAP.
In the final fragments of dream Aubrey had been reliving moments with Hadia and Baraz, dozing intertwined, her head resting on Baraz’s shoulder while Hadia’s arm draped gently across her. It soothed all the pains and concerns.
But she awakened alone.
She slid out of bed without giving herself too much time to mull what had happened. At least here Jody’s lawyers weren’t here tracking the ways she escaped his dominance.
At the hotel desk, she asked for assistance with the scan then sent the .pdf before heading into the hotel’s coffee shop. Opening a city map on her tablet, she plotted her route for the day. Just as her chai arrived, a new e-mail popped up from Amil. What time was it there?
Aubrey, the client is very excited by this find.
He is willing to throw money at us if we find the rest of that sheet or other tunes, but the clearing house may have other emissaries at work. Keep up the good work and don’t lose focus. I don’t want to have to turn this over to someone else.
Amil was now dealing directly with the client, and it was the middle of the night there. Could that mean a few extra shekels toward getting Delilah back?
With her chai in a go cup, she headed for Charing Cross. On a train, crunched among the morning crowd, she spotted the kufi from yesterday. At least it looked the same. Had to be plenty of them in London, but the man wearing it kept his head turned down.
At the station, she jostled through fellow passengers and slipped off, hurrying along the tiled strip beside the track, not quite at a run. She wanted to reach the escalator with enough of a lead to get a vantage.
On the extreme diagonal, she looked back and found the move had paid off. The man was in the jumble of commuters. A glimpse of his face confirmed he’d been the one outside the old man’s apartment. What did he want? Casbah artifacts because of a passion for Middle Eastern appearances in Western art? Couldn’t be that simple. Maybe his goal was to slow her down.
On the street again in a few minutes, she tapped Amil’s number.
“Shit’s getting interesting,” she said. “I’m being followed.”
“There are others at work then.”
“Or someone besides our buyer’s intrigued by what we’re after. Not your man to keep an eye on me, right?”
“No. Not mine. This is what I was afraid of. Find the rest of the music before anybody else does.”
She prowled more shops, sifting bin after bin. An Irving Berlin piece, “I Threw a Kiss in the Ocean,” caught her eye. Must’ve been from World War II. On the cover page, a young woman on a ship’s deck looked forlornly across waves, lonesome for a serviceman, no doubt. Aubrey empathized. It was like the longing for Delilah. Could she duplicate the song’s hopeful ending ship ahoy lyrics some day?
She left the shop, checking her tablet for the next location and almost collided with the man in the kufi. She threw up a hand as she recognized him, pressing a palm against his chest, ready to scream.
“Please, please,” he said. “I mean no harm. My name is Takis Safar. Have me checked out.”
“In a hurry.”
“Please, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I mean no insult. I mean you do not know what might come of your activities.”
“I’m just a tourist shopping.”
“You seek music. Word gets around. There are those who watch for these things.”
“Women shopping for sheet music?”
“You do not know the power you might be dealing with. We thought everyone had forgotten”
He caught her forearm as she tried to pass.
“Let me go.”
“Just a few minutes of your time.”
“I know there’s a myth about the productions and that people supposedly really saw…”
“There are people who want to control the powers of the djinn. In the New York show, people were driven mad.”
“The critic who was there, you’ve heard of him?”
“I know he never wrote a review.”
“He never wrote anything again, madam, because the view at Casbah drove him insane.”
“Nice legend. Makes everything about the show mysterious. Happily for me it keeps collecting alive. Since the U.S. production materials were lost…”
“…and there are strange little rumors…
“Not rumors. We in the Society of Discerning Research…”
“That’s a name?” She laughed. “I don’t have time for this. I’ve very sorry. You seem sincere.”
“Please, please, the djinn will want you to succeed. There are things in this realm they’re limited in doing, but they can influence. Some can take human form. They may be guiding you or others. If you help them, the results, with the materials in the wrong hands, could be disastrous.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“And beware. They can inhabit many things, tiny spaces.”
“Bottles? Word’s out on that.”
“They could find you. Please be careful.”
“Sure, thank you.”
She forced past him now, zigging and zagging until she was comfortably lost in the crowd.
She bought a beverage later, when her feet had begun to throb, a chai in a Starbucks. She topped it from the flask in her coat. Then she Googled the critic Takis had spoken of, Alta Allen. He’d died in 1970, and it was true. He’d never written again after 1957, as far as she could tell, though details of his later life were vague. Wikipedia only indicated he’d died in a private hospital, no name given. No cause of death.
That detail didn’t seem to turn up anywhere, so she Googled “Casbah New York production.” It had been long before the Internet, but perhaps some account was out there.
She found a forum from the Society For Discerning Research. It was real. The group’s About Us noted they were devoted to all things strange and paranormal, and one thread focused on rumors and reports about the Broadway staging. Many of the posts were pasted in from older and defunct websites, Usenet FAQs or citations for paragraphs in obscure paranormal paperbacks, but on the third page, she found a secondhand report.
“My grandmother, now deceased claimed she was in the audience of the broadway show and that the nite was horrifying. Her date provided the tickets, and they went after a dinner in the theater district, expecting a lite hearted musical entertainment. That proved tru for most of the first act, but as the end of the first act approached, a song was played and the theater began to feel strange. The place didn’t go black, but something changed, and the began to sense the presents of something. Some people on a back row got up to leave, some people started to scream as they looked up into air. She could never describe what they felt or what they saw, but something was there. Something was in the air over the seating area. Something from another world. Not alien, but something not from this Earth.”
She bookmarked the forum but dismissed the notion that the Act I closing song held any special power, though she couldn’t stop asking herself if Takis been right?
She redialed Amil.
“What do we know about our client?”
“Just a daffy collector. I don’t need to know too much. He sent us a nice retainer, and he’s talking about more money with the pages you sent, though he is impatient.”
“Have you seen him? Met him?”
“Only talked on the phone or online, but his wire transfer cleared.”
“No sense that he’s anything else, other than a fan?”
“They’re all a little crazy, but I’m confident he doesn’t have four hands. What `anything else’ is there?”
“What name did he give you?”
“Just a user name. Djinnfan. It’s just a musical and our client is just a man with some disposable income and an interest.”
She rang off, sipped chai and scrolled through more forum posts and more rumors. Near the bottom, she found an old one, three years old. Another descendant, a great-granddaughter from the other side of the equation. London and related to a man she claimed was part of a new Order of Lazarev.
Sidney Williams (@Sidney_Williams) is a creative writing instructor and the author of several paperback horror thrillers, graphic novels, and comic book mini-series. His latest novel is Midnight Eyes from Crossroad Press, and he is finishing a book called Dark Hours also to be published by Crossroad Press. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Cemetery Dance, Under the Fang and Hot Blood: Deadly After Dark, and he has written young adult thrillers under the name Michael August. He can be found on the web at Sid is Alive.