Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 22

Gradually Allegrezza settled into the rhythm of the place. For several weeks all he did was prowl the library, looking in rooms, compactuses, taking out things at random. At first Tamur or Anil accompanied him, opening doors for him, watching what he did; but then he was given his own entry code, discovered that there was a hidden check in it, the letter X which always had to be a part of it & which had to be keyed in with the first finger of his right hand so that a fingerprint verification could be made.

The evenings were given over to long dinners & conversations in the courtyard. Occasionally a projector was brought out, to be operated by Iskander, & they would watch movies, the titles dependent on whose turn it was to select them. Allegrezza's arrival had coincided with Tamur's selection, so over two nights they watched the three parts of Eisenstein's Ivan The Terrible, with Disney's Fantasia separating the second & third parts.

Tamur gave him some books by Alisher Navoi to read. Then he showed him the originals. "There were more," he said, "but we gave some to the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent. Something of a bribe, a payment to the state for ignoring us."

Anil decided it was time to see a six-hour musical epic based on a battle between the Hindu gods. He watched the last two-thirds of it alone.

Betseba arrived back. Tamur & Anil drove off in a Mercedes early one morning to go to Tashkent to pick her up. No Landrover for her noted Allegrezza, no crappy local plane. They arrived back late afternoon, Betseba driving.

"She will be distant, distrustful at first," Lee Joo-eun had told him during the day, "but once she gets to know you it will be fine." The prediction proved correct.

They watched a week of Alain Delon & Jean Paul Belmondo movies.

Tamur told him where to find the room full of early Persian poetry.

He started re-reading Idoru. This time he finished it.

He overheard Betseba & Tamur talking. She called him Papa Yevgeni. They were discussing her elder son, Tamur’s grandson. "I went across to see him, to tell him it was time he was thinking about coming home." "Good," said Tamur.

Tamur's son Ibrohim arrived from Termez. He called Tamur Papa Yusif. They spent most of the day locked in what Allegrezza thought of as the electronic room. Ibrohim said he was in "import/export" in answer to Allegrezza's enquiry over lunch. He wasn't any more forthcoming.

The Lees were divided in their movie tastes. Dae liked Humphrey Bogart, Joo-eun was into anime. They argued as to whose selection should be shown first. "It's always like this," said Anil. Iskander went into the house & reappeared five minutes later with some hash & another projector. They ended up watching The Maltese Falcon & The Return of the Tokugawa Ninja side by side, with the sound turned off on the Falcon. Later they put some music on. The Lees got up & danced. A few minutes after Anil & Betseba joined in. Iskander asked Allegrezza to dance. He declined. Iskander went inside. Umberto & Tamur sat there smoking cigarettes, listening to Sting drift out into the otherwise empty Uzbeki night.

He started brushing up on his classical Persian. He showed Tamur his translations of Navoi. Tamur liked them, suggested they publish them through a printing house he owned. The Manichean Press was born.

Unable to contain his inquisitiveness, he asked Dae what she & Joo-eun were doing, was told that they were forging ancient Egyptian & Greek commercial documents, that one of Tamur's sidelines was selling them through blackmarket channels. Tamur admitted it, said that the dig at Oxyrhynkhos had given him the opportunity to suggest to prospective buyers that he might be able to obtain documents smuggled out from the site. Allegrezza was surprised when he told him how many museums had taken advantage of his offers.

He still wandered through the collection, opening rooms randomly. Then he discovered that what Anil had been working on for these past few months was a database of everything that was there. Anil gave him a password to access it. The wanderings were no longer random.

The first reviews of his Navoi translations appeared. He was universally criticised for not adhering to the strict ghazal form of the originals.

He spent time working in the orchard. Unused to physical labour, he found it hard but relaxing. Iskander seemed not to resent Allegrezza's rejection of his advances. If anything he became more open & friendly.

He began translating the Persian poets during the morning, reading various things that caught his eye during the afternoon. There was an almost complete collection of the works of Arrian which, because of his enjoyment of that author's The Campaigns of Alexander, he started on but gave up halfway through the first book of the History of Bithynia when he realised that Arrian seemed to have expended all his creativity writing The Campaigns. He moved on to a previously unheard-of work by Apuleius, The Daughters of the Slavemaster of Madaurus, but put it aside after he had an erotic dream that night in which one of the daughters morphed into his cousin Gemma, in a habit, & he ejaculated. He decided to talk to Anil about what avenues of relief were available in Bukhara.

The print of Blade Runner he had asked Tamur to bring in for him finally arrived. Both the Lees like it.

Helicopters arrived at various times. With various visitors. Uzbek bureaucrats – "They are honourable people. Nothing for themselves. Ever. But if I can provide them with hard currency which helps to build schools & hospitals & roads & water-purification plants then their gratitude knows no limits." Two men whose Pathan clothing & beards did little to conceal the fact that they were anything but – "Yankees. Fucking CIA." It was the only time Umberto ever heard Tamur swear. "They have their claws into me. When I began renovating the caves they thought there were missile silos being built. I talked them out of that. Then when they got satellites in the sky they picked up the high energy signatures & came back again. I talked my way out of that, but had to give them a bit of an idea about what was actually here. Which they held over me & forced me to give them information about the Russians & the Iranians. Then a mole inside the CIA told the Russians about me so I had to pacify them. & I had, of course, to tell the Iranians about what I was doing. Nobody was happy. But they all used me.

"Then the Americans came back. They wanted to know what the Russians were doing in Afghanistan. Then when they found out they wanted to use me as a conduit to smuggle arms to the Mujahadeen. I sent Ibrohim to Termez on the border to set up a business to look after it. & how did the CIA pay me for my services? Opium, the cursed juice of the poppy. Which they shipped out for me using their own planes & refined for me using their own processing plants in Thailand & Mexico."

He paused for a minute, as if considering whether he should go on.

"Their greed was my salvation. They made me a rich man, but they were also interested in making themselves rich. No-one in the Organisation was aware of the sideline to their activities. So one day I had all four of them eliminated, all at the same time, in different parts of the world. The Brotherhood can still arrange such things. I still import the opium tar from Afghanistan, but now I use it to make legitimate pharmaceuticals. & I ended up with quite a stockpile of weapons, which I gradually got rid of, at good prices, over the years."

He paused again, & this time he did not continue.

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