Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 16

Allegrezza almost stumbled as the door closed. He sat down in a chair, got up again, walked around the room, sat down, got up & went & stared out the window seeing only his own reflection.

He didn't know whether to leave Iran or to stay & see how things played themselves out. He felt he had discovered enough clues or, at least, hints to verify his ancestor's story, but things were not always what they seemed, stories were embellished, or deeds misrepresented.

He had a bath, he masturbated to try & ease his tension. It didn't help. He tried to pick up Idoru where he'd left off on the plane to Baku, but the first paragraph of the new chapter threw him.
"See how things work, Laney? 'What goes around, comes around?' Know those expressions, Laney? How some things get to be clichés because they touch on certain truths, Laney?"
He turned on the TV & watched the Government channel with the sound turned off, trying to lipread. It was all talking heads, very little pictorial stuff, only backdrops of maps & posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

At eleven o'clock the phone rang. He picked it up.

"There is a name on the list. You can sleep soundly. I will see you in the morning."

He could not sleep. He slept.

At nine there was a knock on the door. This time the suit was alone.

"Pack. Pay the bill. I will drive you. I saw in your passport there is a visa for Uzbekistan. Do you still have dollars? Or dollar Travellers’ Cheques?" Allegrezza nodded. "Good. The fare will be cheaper then. There is a plane leaving for Tashkent at noon. It is never full. From there you will fly back to Bukhara. We will stop in at a travel agent I know on the way to the airport to arrange for your tickets. We will talk in the car."

It was another fifteen minutes, after they were driving, that he spoke again.

"I am glad you do not ask questions because there are not many I could answer. But I am sending you to a man in Bukhara, an Armenian, who should be able to tell you a lot more. There will be a high price for his answers, but most likely one you will be willing to pay."

He pulled over, stopping outside the least likely travel agent Allegrezza had ever seen. It appeared to be a tea shop from the front, tables & chairs on the pavement, a counter open to the street. No greetings from the customers, but Allegrezza sensed a reaction of something more from them than a recognition of the suit, almost a mute military salute.

Allegrezza followed him inside, towards the back, then through a beaded curtain in the side wall & into a small room where two men sat in front of computers. The suit asked Allegrezza for his passport, gave it to one of the men whom he told – ordered – to book a seat to Bukhara through Tashkent.

The suit laughed. "If you thought Iran Air was bad, wait until you fly Air Uzbek. Old Antonovs, more of which fall from the sky than land. It's the only way they can get new planes, insuring them for more than they’re worth."

The man at the computer spoke. "The tickets are booked. You can pick them up at the airport. Pay for them there. Here’s your passport back."

They went out to the car. Once back in the traffic the suit continued talking.

"What I can tell you is that the name was on the list. Two names, in fact, a Christian one, Giovanni Allegrezza, & a Muslim one, Rashid al'Farah. The same person, but one who converted to the True Faith. That he served the Master well, with information & with scholarship. They had a contract, five years of service & then the Master would assist him to travel further East, would provide him with letters of introduction to people who would help, who also served the Master.

"I am sorry that you won't be following the same route as your ancestor. I would like to have driven you directly to Bukhara, travelling along the Silk Road, but the geo-political conditions of this modern world mean that I am persona non grata in Turkestan. So a different method of travel & a different way, further than you need to go & then back again. Nor will I give you any letters of introduction, or any names. I leave that up to those who will meet you. These days the committed word is a dangerous thing to carry round, to let loose in the air."

"This list you speak of," asked Allegrezza. "What is it? & if lists are unsafe then why do you keep it?"

The suit smiled again but this time there was little humour in it. "It's true I am the keeper of the list, but I keep it well away from me. It is a duty that was passed to me. Perhaps it is little more than an honorary title, for these days we are little more than, how is it you describe them, a Benevolent Society. Looking after the descendants of those who have served the Master. Certainly we still have some power, but it is covert, not overt. & we seek not to influence but to guide. We work within regimes, but are still looking for a regime that is stable enough to last for more than a few decades. When we find it perhaps then we can consolidate again.

"The overthrowing of regimes means that sometimes we may come down on the wrong side. I was a follower of the Ayatollah. The keeper of the list before me was a member of SAVAK, the Shah's hated secret police. He gave the list to me before he died, around the time when the Shah left the country."

"What happened to him?" asked Allegrezza.

"As an agitator for the Ayatollah I had no choice. I killed him. It was expected of me. He expected me to. Regimes change but Hassan endures. He made the sacrifice willingly."

There was no further conversation until the airport.

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