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The Pursuit of the Moor

The Pursuit of The Moor

By

Teel James Glenn

Copyright 2017 by Teel James Glenn

Prologue:

Return of the Rogue

I swear I do not encourage these sorts of adventures. Not much. I am an innocent bystander, in that, I do not set out each day to have my life and sanity put in jeopardy. It just sort of happens more frequently to me than to most people.

In this case I was sitting at a table in an outdoor cafe in the main port town of Kalfia of the small protectorate of Omphan on the Gulf of Aidan. I was having a morning cup of coffee and reading the latest edition of the London Times, specifically an article of mine that the copy editor had butchered horribly, when the commotion at that corner of the town square drew my attention.

There were two of the Caliph’s guards, big black fellows in fezzes and uniform shorts, chasing a grey haired man. They were waving their long truncheons and yelling in Arabic as they ran through stands and stalls in pursuit of their prey.

The fellow the two policemen were chasing was dressed in European clothes and looked almost too frail to be keeping ahead of them. He was thin, grey haired and had a small mustachios beneath a long thin Romanesque nose. He dodged and ducked through the chaos he was creating like a much younger man and with the skill of a rugby striker.

The strangest thing about it all was that the fugitive had a wide grin on his face as if it were all a lark.

The trio came lickety-split right at my cafe while all of us patrons gaped. The expression on the harried policemen led me to believe that they were not going to just ‘slap the wrist’ of the fellow who they were after.

My next action was spur of the moment. I stood up and quite deliberately tossed my chair into the path of the first of the native bobbies, tripping him. The second constable went head over heels over his fellow with a new symphony of native curses.

The hare to the hounds stopped dead and looked at me. Our eyes locked.

“Good show, my friend,” the hare said in a cultured, calm voice, “But I think you’ve rather put your foot in it.” He pointed past me to where three more native police had appeared at a full run at the edge of the square. “I think you had better follow me.” He spun and dashed off and I had little choice but to follow.

The hare led me across the square and down a narrow alley, doing quite well at a pace for a fellow who was obviously twenty years my senior.

“Here!” He said as he dodged into a darkened doorway, grabbed my arm and bodily yanked me in, closing the door behind me.

“What is this-” I started.

He held up a finger to his lips. Outside we heard the tramp of booted feet as the police raced past. When they had faded away my host smiled.

“There, done.” He said with a gentle laugh. “I must thank you for that little diversion; I don’t quite have my old vim.” He saw my curious arched eyebrow and added as he extended his hand. “Allow me to introduce myself. Roger St. Simon.”

I took his hand and shook it.

“St. Simon, you say?” I asked. “Not–The Moor?”

Again his laugh that had a swashbuckling quality to it.

“You make one successful job early in your career and you are defined by it forever,” he said. “Yes, they do call me that.”

I was in the presence of a legend. The greatest burglar in modern history! His first and most famous score was The Moorish Mantle- or simply ‘The Moor’-that disappeared from a museum in Madrid back in ’64. It was where the thief was given the nick name ‘The Moor.” It was a decade before the suave St. Simon and The Moor were connected and though there was no proof the legend grew.

I knew all this because I was a journalist (some had more colorful names for my type of reporting- such as hack and yellow journalist- and who am I to argue with critics?). I had admired the daring rogue- whether it was St. Simon or someone else- for two decades.

But little or nothing had been heard of the cat burglar in the last five years. Now, here I was in a darkened room, out of breath and face to face with a legend.

“I’m Horatio Venture,” I said. “I feel a fool that I did not recognize you.”

“Venture, Venture,” The Moor said. “I should know– ah yes- you write for a number of papers. Did a piece on me about seven years ago, eh what?”

“Guilty!”

He winced comically. “I’d prefer not to hear that word in any context, if you don’t mind.” He took off his jacket, reversed it to reveal a different pattern and pulled a slouch hat from an inner pocket.

“You did not know it was I when you interceded with the gendarmes?”

“No,” I said.

“Why did you help?”

“Seemed like the right thing to do,” I said honestly. “Two on one didn’t seem very sporting.”

“Well done,” he said. He listened at the door and looked at his watch.

“I suspect it would be alright to head out and about now,” he said. “–but I suggest you change your look a bit.”

I took off my own jacket and folded it over my arm. The two of us slipped out of the door and walked calmly down the alley to blend into the afternoon crowd in the marketplace.

“So tell me, Mister St. Simon,” I asked as we sat down at another cafe and I ordered us each cocktails on my company expense account. “What exactly did I save you from?”

Again that piratical laugh. “My self, I suspect,” he said. “I foolishly got caught looking at what I should not have.”

“And that was?” I asked.

“Well,” he said. He sat back, sipped his drink and smiled. “Let us just say a female was involved.” And that is all he would say.

Chapter One:

Cherchez la femme

My newsman drive wanted me to press St. Simon hard about exactly what he meant but my instinct told me if I did he would close up entirely to me. So we chatted amiably about nothing in particular for some time till finally-

“Well,” he said with that warm smile that had made him such a famous swashbuckler all these years, “I should toddle off. A pleasure to meet a fellow balancer of the scales of justice, Horatio.”

Once more a hearty handshake.

“Care to meet for diner later,” I asked?

“A midnight snack, perhaps,” he answered. “I have the habit of resting in the early evening to make the late nights my purvue.”

“Done!” I said.

“I’ll meet you at your hotel, The Gabon?”

“Yes,” I said. “You surprise me, I’m supposed to be the interrogator.”

“You lit your cigarette with a book of matches from that hotel,” He said with a laugh. “See you then.”

He waved goodbye and almost magically had disappeared into the crowd.

I had one more cocktail then wandered around the town for a bit contemplating what had just happened; was The Moor making a comeback? What grand scheme or caper did this man have in mind? If I could find out and perhaps gain access to his methods and means for an exclusive story I could make my name in the journalistic circles.

After a bit I returned to The Gabon for a light meal and a bit of an afternoon nap. I had just awoken from that nap and was sitting on the balcony of my suite once more reading the Times and when there was a noise from within the room.

“Hallo?” I called, assuming it was one of the hotel staff had let themselves in. “I’m out here!”

I expected a maid or steward, but the figure that stepped through the curtains from my room took my breath away. It was a woman, but one such as I had never seen.

She was tall and lithe, though with womanly curves beneath an iridescent green dress that trailed along the ground behind her. The dress fairly glowed in the light of the setting sun. Her hair was its own orange flame colored and fell in long tresses around her alabaster shoulders.

It was not her clothing, however that arrested my eyes, but the emerald green of her lambent eyes as she stepped out on the balcony. They were green fire themselves, the orange sunlight dancing in them as she asked, “Mister Venture, I presume?”

Her voice was as lovely as she and I almost made myself dizzy as I shot to my feet to answer. “Yes, but I am afraid you have quite the advantage of me.”

“I am called Jada Hessa, Mister Venture.” She stepped to beside my table, the sounds of her heels clicking shapely on the marble of the balcony. I stepped back and pulled a chair out from the table and she sat with a liquid grace.

“How may I help you, Miss Hessa?”

“Jada, please,” she said in musical tones.

“Then please call me Horatio.” I sat across from her and found it almost impossible to take my eyes from hers. “May I get you something? A drink?”

“No thank you, Horatio,” she said. Hearing her say my name sent a shiver up my spine out of all proportion. “I have something, uh- important to talk to you about.”

“I am at your service.” The heady scent of her floral perfume took me far from the human smells of the city.

“It is about Roger.”

“Roger?” I admit I should have caught on but I was not thinking clearly in the presence of the exotic woman.

“Roger St. Simon.”

“Oh,” I said. “What is your interest in him?”

“Interest,” she said with an enticing smile. “I like that word for it. Yes, I have an interest in Roger. I have had that interest in him for many, many years.”

I took out a cigarette from my gold case and offered one to her. She declined but when I placed the cigarette to my lips held up a lit match I had not seen her produce. I puffed and said, “Pray, do tell me what your interest and why you are here?”

“Roger is not well,” she said with the musical tone of her voice dropping two octaves and conveying great sadness. “He has only recently emerged from a Turkish prison. Five years behind those horrid, dank walls.”

“I did not know,” I said. “He–he seemed so healthy and vital today- by Jove, he outdistanced me.”

“But he suffered for it tonight.” She was quick to add, “He was running on pure excitement today; for you see, he had decided on his next robbery.”

“I surmised as much.” I lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “What is it?”

“You must never tell anyone.” She said in stern tones. “It could mean his life.”

“I am a journalist,” I said in all honestly. “It is my job and my duty to report; but I give you my word I will not reveal anything I learn here so as to jeopardize his freedom or well being.”

She considered this for a moment then let out a deep sigh. “I must trust you, for Roger trusts you, I know.”

She leaned in now. The nearness of her was intoxicating. “Roger is going to break into the Caliph’s seraglio tonight to attempt to steal back The Moorish Mantle.”

“The Moor itself?” I gasped. It disappeared those many years ago after his rumored theft of it. No word had been heard of it in all that time, adding to its storied history.

“Yes,” she said. “That necklace handed down, they say, from the Queen of Sheba herself, a gift from Solomon to her on their wedding day. Now the Caliph has given it to his favorite wife. Roger is determined to steal it. I fear he is not up to it.”

“What can I do?” I asked.

“Stop him,” she said with desperation in her tone. “Talk him out of it. He respects you, your knowledge.”

“Why do you not dissuade him?”

“He–he will not listen to me.” She said but there was false tone to the statement; she was hiding something. “What is more, you must not tell him you spoke to me; he must not know I was here. Do not even mention me.”

“That is a very large thing to ask,” I said. “To talk the greatest buccaneer of this age out of his very greatest feat? Why should I do this?”

“Because it will be his life if you do not; I fear this time they will not just jail him when the catch him- they will kill him.” She gave a small sob. “I can not bear to lose him-again.”

There was obviously deep feeling in this remarkable woman for the elder rogue but I was at odds as to just what I could do. “How can I stop a man of his determination?”

“You are a moral man,” she said as she rose smoothly and all but glided back toward the door to my suite, a sudden rush of wind through the suite, the only sound. “I trust your morality to guide you.”

Then she was gone. It was like the aftermath of a storm or the end of a concert when she left, a silence so complete it was as if she took the air with her. Then the sounds of the busy city preparing for night came flooding back.

I shook myself to clear my mind of her presence and tried to find some way to believe I could convince the greatest burglar of the age to give up on his greatest challenge.

And, I tried to convince myself I wanted to- it would be the biggest coup of my career as a reporter to share the details of The Moor’s ‘comeback,’ and here I was suddenly trying to find some way to stop it.

Chapter Two:

The Moor the Merrier

I wrestled with that conflicting set of thoughts till it was midnight and I found myself downstairs in the bar as The Moor himself walked in through the door.

He was dressed in a dark tan linen suite with a dark shirt and slouch hat pulled low. He smiled a radiant smile and slid gracefully into the chair across from me as he signaled the native waiter for a drink.

“Good evening, Mister Venture.”

“Horatio, please. Good evening to you. Have you eaten?”

“Yes, but please feel free to order; I have unusual habits.” I noticed that he had positioned himself to keep a watch on the door and the window.

“I think this liquid meal will do me fine,” I said. “I really am here to talk.”

“About?”

“Just what were you ‘caught’ looking at earlier today,” I said.

He smiled mysteriously. “Something I should not have peeked at.”

“It was The Moorish Mantle, wasn’t it?” He tried to keep his face from registering surprise on but only partially succeeded.

His drink came and he sipped it with deliberation. “You are very well informed, Mister Venture.”

“It is my profession.”

“And ‘liberating’ object de art is mine,” he said. “My career began almost thirty years ago with the theft of The Moor.” He looked at me with piercing blue eyes. “Have you ever seen it?”

“No. Just engravings.”

“Then you have not experienced its power. It is said that the three main gems of the Mantle were presented to the Queen of Sheba herself by the Israelite king, Solomon. She had the mantle made and they say it captured the green fire of her very soul in the emeralds.”

His eyes took on a religious glow. “It was looted when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and taken by the Assyrians in 770 BC. It went from king to king to warlord for centuries even on the Iberian Peninsula where it got its name, lost and found again time after time. Finally the British Museum obtained it when Napoleon was defeated, they say the Little Corporal found it in Egypt. It was such a crime to see The Mantle in that cold, heartless edifice of stone.” He got a wistful look in his eyes. “So how could I not rescue it from that isolation and give it the love and care it called out for.”

“And that is how your career began?”

“Yes,” he said with that wistful smile. “And it is how I will end it; by returning it to the museum, but in hopes they will understand and display it with the love it deserves.”

I stared at him with shock. “End your career?”

His swashbuckling facade seemed to fall away. “I’m an old man, Horatio. I did not quite do well on my last ‘caper.’ Under an assumed name, of course, I spent half a decade in a very unpleasant prison. It took a toll on me; don’t feel bad for me, we must all face our mortality. But it made me realize I had to come full circle. A grand gesture, perhaps, but then, I am prone to them.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I ordered a second drink, and sipped it as I listened intently, surprised by this revelation.

“Because you are a moral man– you actions to intercede on my behalf when you did not know who I was proves that.”

(There was the word again- a moral man- something that my old teachers of journalism would never call me reading the last years of my work in print).

“But why now?”

“The caliph of this protectorate acquired The Moorish Mantle for his favorite wife, a witch of a woman called Yasmina who has decided to have the jewels removed from the mantle and reset. An expert from Holland is going to be here the day after tomorrow to dismount the gems and cut them into smaller forms. I will stop that tomorrow night.”

He looked at me with intense eyes again and I saw the spark of the man he had once been, both roguish and challenging at once. “I would like you to serve as representative of the museum and my witness for the world that I shall turn The Moor in to. Tomorrow on the dark of the moon, after midnight, I shall bring it to you just outside the Caliph’s seraglio.”

There it was, out in the open. I let out a deep breath. This could be an even bigger story than just reporting about a theft. It was almost a Quixoteic story now.

Yet I thought of Jada’s words about fearing for St. Simon’s life if he went through with the robbery. Then I knew what I had to do.

“I will accept it on behalf of the museum and the world,” I said in an almost formal tone, “But only if I am allowed to accompany you on the theft.”

It was his turn to gasp. “Surely you jest, sir.”

“No. That is my condition.”

He considered this for a long moment then nodded with a soft laugh. “So, the adventure begins, old fellow,” he said. “I hope you are up to it!”

I hoped I was as well.

I quizzed him for a bit about his plans but he kept saying, “You’ll see for yourself,” several times till I finally gave up and simply enjoyed conversation with him over several cocktails.

The famed Moor proved to be quite a raconteur, spinning tales of his various adventures, but always with a ‘if I were this Moor’ framing as if I he still sure not to incriminate himself.

I did not get much sleep that night, listening long into the darkness to St. Simon’s tales of daring-do while attempting to keep ahead of the alcohol I was drinking and still memorize it all.

Afterward, in my room, I did my best to write it all down in as much detail as I could. It was just shy of dawn when I finished my labors, feeling that, whatever happened, I would at least have a good series of articles, or perhaps even a book, on the career of the astounding and delightful scoundrel.

I just hoped that I was not going to be part of a sad ending to his career or his life as Jada feared.

Chapter Three:

A Larcenous Lark

“You were supposed to stop him,” Jada Hessa all but snarled at me when I returned to my hotel suite after a trip to a cafe for dinner. Once more she was in my room unannounced except by the rush of wind from some open door as I entered. She stepped from the shadows of a corner. “Now you are going to aid him in this madness?”

I was tired from my long walk in the afternoon heat so the allure of this exotic woman was considerably less effective than it had been the night before.

“What else can I do?” I protested. “If I told him not to do it he would laugh at me. If I told the Caliph’s men or the British consulate he would be arrested or worse. My only choice was to go with him to, if I can, to stop him before the fact or help him get out successfully if I can not.”

I could see her stopped by that statement, the emerald fire in her eyes wavering. Her sensual mouth formed a slight smile.

“I was not wrong,” she said. “You are a moral man.”

I poured myself a drink. “You have too high an opinion of me, Miss Jada-I am not sure I can even get in with him-I saw the seraglio’s tower, a young man would have trouble climbing it.”

“He will have no trouble in that regard,” she smiled slyly. “Not my Roger. It is what comes after that I fear.”

“Me to,” I admitted as I gulped my drink and loosened my tie. “I hope I am up to your faith in me.” I turned to remove my jacket but when I turned back she was gone. I was so tired I did not even look for her.

****

I met The Moor at the square in the dead of night, dressed, as he had cautioned me, in dark clothes to facilitate the adventure.

“Ready to enter the realm of legend, old fellow?” he asked me. He seemed hail and spry, certainly more ready for the adventure than I.

He had a small satchel over his shoulder but no rope or other of the paraphernalia I had expected from a burglar.

He saw my look and laughed. “What did you expect, old fellow? Grappling hooks and black masks? How droll!”

“Well we are not going to fly up to the tower,” I said somewhat edgily.

“Why should we have to?” He asked then held up a key. “I stole it yesterday afternoon. The bleedin’ guard thought I was after his wallet but, in fact, I had stolen the key, copied it and was returning it to him. Sleepy fellow on a boring post, don’t you know? I let him keep thinking he was safe from theft as he chased me.”

He led me across the square to the alley I had first seen him fleeing from. There he halted and looked back to whisper, “Best to be circumspect from this point on, eh, Horatio?”

He flattened against the wall and pointed ahead to the tower, faintly outlined against the starlight.

“There is a door at the base of that wall beneath the tower,” St. Simon whispered. “That is how we enter.” He smiled. “I do my homework, old fellow; full plans of the palace memorized.”

I followed him with my heart rate rising as we slipped from shadow to shadow until we were flat against the base of the tower wall. He slipped the key into the lock and turned it with a click that sounded like a cannon going off to my over-sensitive ears.

It was pitch dark inside but he grabbed my hand and pulled as we slipped along the narrow, chilled corridor. It was an odd feeling, trusting myself so completely to this old rogue, but he moved though the darkness with the sure-footedness of a cat. I began to wonder if he could see in the dark like one!

After a few moments we came to some sort of panel in the wall. We were suddenly in a very narrow space. It was then that he whispered, “Secret passage, old boy, intended to allow the Caliph to visit his different ladies without the others knowing or going through the main palace.”

“How?”

“It was in the blueprints, old fellow,” he chuckled.

We moved soft footedly along the narrow space past several peepholes that allowed vision into different of the women’s quarters.

Finally we came to the fifth of the peepholes and stopped. “This is Yasmina’s room,” my ‘host’ thief whispered. He worked a simple latch and we entered the boudoir of the ‘witch’ of the seraglio. Faint starlight was the only illumination in the room, but after the absolute black of the passageway it was a relief.

The room was larger than many whole houses I have seen, strewn with pillows and with a small pool-like-bath in the center of it that extended out onto a wide veranda.

There was no one in sight.

St. Simon put a finger to his lips and pointed toward an alcove where a sleeping woman was reclined on a sumptuous divan. He then indicated a table beside her on which rested a carved wooden box.

The Moor smiled and indicated that I should move to the nightstand to procure the box and I tiptoed across to it. The woman on the bed was on her side, facing away from me and snoring deeply, so I boldly lifted the box. I backed away, my eyes focused on her, almost holding my breath.

When I had backed away from the bed sufficiently I turned to offer our prize to St. Simon and was shocked to see that he was nowhere to be seen! The Moor had slipped back into the wall panel and was gone!

I was stunned for a moment and unable to think. I looked around, hoping, perhaps, that it was some sort of joke or a misunderstanding, that he would step from the shadows smiling and we would be off for a cocktail at a local cafe.

He did not.

There I stood alone in a strange woman’s bedroom with a stolen object in my hands in the palace of an absolute ruler.

I had to get out.

I tried to find the secret passage but there was nothing that indicated where the door might be.

There was a sudden sound on the bed.

I froze.

The woman on the bed rolled over, snorted, made a grumbling noise, then screamed.

It was the loudest sound I had ever heard!

I gave up looking for the hidden doorway as she continued to yell in Arabic and spun on my heels to head for the doorway into the hall. I stopped short as I heard the thud of booted feet outside the door.

I veered from the doorway and headed out to the veranda at a dead run but skidded to a stop on the slick marble when it was clear there was no where to go. I was three stories above a closed courtyard.

By the time I turned around there were three scimitar armed guards, large, muscular women, standing at the arch of the veranda with the now awake woman from the bed.

The ‘witch’ pointed at me and yelled in Arabic. Even without translation I knew enough to freeze as one of the armed guards ran up, pulled the wooden box from me, then stepped back.

The screaming woman grabbed the box from the guard and immediately opened it to remove the contents. I thought I was going to see the Moorish Mantle but was shocked to see her pull a jeweled tiara from the case.

It had never held the necklace. The thieving Moor had set me up to be caught from the very first!

Chapter Four:

Consequence of Crime

I felt like a prized fool as the two burly women guards prodded me along into the heart of the seraglio to, what for all intents and purposes, was an auxiliary throne room. There, in silken robes was the woman I had come to rob, Yasmina.

She was formidable, to say the least. A raven-haired beauty, older than I expected for the ‘favorite wife’, in her thirties, but with an hourglass figure beneath the scarlet robe. Her eyes were an odd, swirling gold color and intensely fixed on me as I was brought into the room.

“Why have you invaded our palace?” Yasmina said in perfect English.

“I-uh-” I stammered.

“I came here to see what a seraglio was like on a bet,” I lied. “No harm was intended. A silly bet with friends in a pub.”

There was a deep silence in the room as the female ad hoc ruler considered my absurd statement. It was patently clear it was a lie, but if she was not too vindictive I had hopes she would accept it to avoid entanglements with the British consulate. I might just escape with my life or my hands intact.

My statement started to be translated by several of the watching women to others who did not understand English. I tried to look as much like a public school stooge as possible, harmless and dilettante, vapid even.

It did not work.

“You are not here to just ‘see,’ Yasmina said flatly. “You came to steal.” She placed a hand on the necklace at her throat that was mostly hidden beneath the collar of her robe. “Perhaps this.”

“No- of course not, I-” I began but suddenly the head wife rose to her feet and yelled.

“Do not lie to me!” She waved a hand and the two large female guards stepped in to kick me behind my legs so that I dropped, painfully, into a kneeling position.

“Why did you come here?” She repeated.

I just stared at her, stunned by the viciousness coming from so comely a creature. There was a fiendish light in her eyes that filled me with sudden fear.

“I promise you will tell me everything I want to know,” she said. “Take this thieving beast to the stables to contemplate the error of his ways.” Yasmina said. “We will summon him when we are more presentable.”

I was so stunned that I did not resist when a rope loop was thrown around my neck and I was led from the room down the corridor in a state of shock.

Back stairs led me to the stable below where I was shackled into a small stall that served as a cell.

The guards left me then to stew in my own doubts and let the anger in me rise.

I heard a rush of wind in the corridor outside my stall. It was Jada.

“What did you do?” She asked me accusingly. “You were supposed to stop Roger. Keep him safe.”

“Him safe?” I exploded. “Look at me! I’m the one who needs help.”

The bight eyed temptress suddenly scowled. “You do not see; Roger did this to draw the vile Yasmina to wear the necklace, she only takes it from her vault for special occasions, when she has to enforce her will. It is the reason she is the Caliph’s favorite even though she is not the youngest of his wives.”

She moved forward to directly lean her face through the slotted doorway to my stall/cell. The sensual quality of her features was still there, but there was steel in her voice when she said, “I know Roger did this to force her to take out the necklace and create insecurity in her so she will continue to wear it. That will make it easy for him to seize it. And they will capture him–or worse.”

“So release me,” I pleaded. “I can try to find some way to stop him, or at least help him get out.”

She seemed about to move to the bar on the outside of the door that latched it closed but stopped and looked up at me. “You must do what you will do on your own– there is a reason-I-I can not have a direct hand in this.”

Suddenly as she had come she spun on her heels and headed off into the darkness of the stable leaving me alone and angrier still.

And puzzled.

Why couldn’t she take a direct hand? Was she so afraid of hurting St. Simon’s ego that she would sacrifice me and risk the man’s very life?

Chapter Five:

Rogue Raid

Abruptly the door to my cell was yanked open and two of the large female guards entered with ropes in hand.

“Come, infidel!” They ordered me. “Our mistress requires your presence for amusement.”

Before I realized it I had a noose over my neck and was being led out of the stall once again to the room where the dark haired Yasmina lounged on her throne-like seat. She had one long, silk trouser encased leg draped over one of the arms of the chair. She was dressed in her regal finest now, her hair done and looking languid.

A younger woman, little more than a girl, was feeding the favorite wife some grapes and gawked as I came into the room. One of the grapes slipped from her fingers and ‘missed’ her mistress’ mouth.

The effect was immediate, Yasmina shot up and slapped the girl hard enough to drive her to her knees. Then, almost as quickly the dark haired tyrant was back in her seat and looking as languid as she had when I first entered the room.

“Well, infidel beast,” Yasmina said. “Have you learned the error of your way and found your tongue? Will you tell the truth now of why you slunk into our quarters or do you wish to amuse us some more?”

There were two other young girls in the room who ran to help the sobbing, kneeling girl up and the two guards who held my ‘leash’ besides Yasmina.

I noticed that, aside from being ‘more together’ now, I could clearly see that Yasmina had around her neck the object of my night’s actions, The Moorish Mantel!

The object of my nighttime raid was stunning and amazing in person, the three jewels catching and reflecting the light from the room’s oil lamps as if they were beacons.

The central stone was a golden-hued diamond flanked by a fiery ruby and an emerald of such brilliance it almost seemed as if they were all illuminated from within.

Why anyone would want to separate the three stones? I wondered. They seemed to be perfectly complementary to each other, the colors fusing into a tri-hued rainbow when the light hit them correctly.

“Well, infidel?” Yasmina repeated.

I was inclined not to reply but seeing her mercurial reactions, I had no idea what would be worse, confessing now or continuing my silence.

She stared me down and I almost spoke but then the jewels at her neck actually began to pulse with light.

I tried to turn away, tried to resist the flashing lights that seemed to emanate from within the Mantle, but could not. It was if an invisible hand had reached out from within the sparkling crystals to seize me by the throat and pull me forward toward them.

I felt as if I were suddenly seasick and had vertigo at the same time. As the room spun around me I heard the voice of Yasmina as if from a great distance away.

“You will be the lowest of the low, a beast as befits your status.”

Her words came as if from far away, swirling around me like a tornado funnel of sound. They beat against my skin and my eardrums, filled my lungs with a pulsing energy that felt as if it was turning me inside out.

All the eyes of those in the throne room were aghast as the flashing gems continued to cast the tri-rainbow of color at me.

“See, see, the power of the Moorish Mantle,” Yasmina said. “And hear my words clearly; you will serve, infidel, as all infidels will. To think I could be trifled with when I have the power of the djinn necklace.”

“Djinn necklace?” I muttered before I could stop myself.

She laughed. “I have often summoned the spirit of the necklace– the djinn that lives within it– when I wish to ‘correct’ wrong behavior. I have barely begun to correct you.”

I took this information in, stunned by the developments. Had St. Simon known about the qualities of the necklace when he trapped me into accompanying him?

Once more my eyes were drawn to The Moorish Mantle. I had the fancy that the light was winking at me as if to tell me something.

Perhaps it was my exhaustion or dehydration that made me have that fancy and perhaps they were the reason my eyes wandered from the gem to look past her to one of the interior walls.

The room had heavy hangings on the walls that showed abstract designs, in keeping with Arabic tradition, but my eye was drawn to one that had bright slashes of blue and yellow. The hanging seemed to sway, as if from a breeze, but there was no breeze in the room.

I stared again and again it moved.

There was someone hiding behind the hanging!

I tried not to focus my eyes on that tapestry while trying to determine if it was another menace to me or not.

At the head of the room Yasmina had settled back onto her ‘throne’ and leered down at me with half lidded eyes. “So, infidel, will you tell me the truth now or shall I show you the true power of my necklace?”

For some reason that made me very angry and, perhaps unwisely I said, “I don’t bloody well care what you do or don’t show me, ducks.”

I had a sudden surge of anger fueled strength and surprised the burly woman to my right with a quick low kick, my shoe hitting her shin hard enough to bring a curse of pain from her and over balance her.

Before the guard to my left could react I pulled the ‘leash’ from her hands and struck out at her with a near perfect right hook to her ‘manly’ jaw. She also fell.

The young servant girls in the room all gasped as one and Yasmina’s mouth gaped as I started to run toward her.

One of the servant girls yelled. It seemed to snap the dark haired houri from her shock and she began to speak.

“Necklace, I command-” she began but just then the tapestry was brushed aside and St. Simon sprang from it yelling at the top of his lungs, “Not at all cricket, Yasmina, to call up the boogyman!”

When the startled first wife tried to reframe her order to the necklace The Moor raised what looked to be an antique blunderbuss! He pulled the trigger and there was a flash of light and smoke.

Yasmina screamed and flew back against the throne-like chair to slump forward, completely still!

My mind was reeling at the developments but I was at a loss as how to react to the man’s sudden, violent reappearance.

St. Simon showed no hesitation, however and raced directly to the first wife. It was then I saw that she was not dead, that, in fact, he had not even shot her with a ball, but there was some sort of cloth bag on her stomach.

He saw where my eyes were directed and said, “Not to worry, old fellow; I just gave her a knockout ‘blow’ to the gut with this bag of rice.” He reached around the woman’s neck and removed the necklace from the unconscious woman.

The two guards had recovered from their shock and drawn knives but The Moor produced a regular revolver and pointed it at them. “Now, now, ladies–put the cutlery down and turn around– these are not loaded with rice.”

The two women had no choice but to comply.

“Let’s pop off, shall we, old fellow?” He said then turned on his heels and headed for the balcony of the room.

The servant girls were screaming now, a constant, horrified sound not unlike a siren.

I heard the sound of booted feet pounding down the outer hallway. I had no choice but to follow him.

Out on the balcony he moved quickly to a rope that he had preset and he slipped over the railing. “Hurry, old fellow,” he called to me. “Those are the Caliph’s guards and they will not be as nice as these ladies were.”

“Nice?” I yelled as I dove for the rope.

He ignored my statement and shimmied down the rope with grace that belied his age. I had some difficulty but managed and slid down.

By the time we reached the bottom of the wall the guards above had reached the railing and yelled down at us in Arabic.

St. Simon whirled about and with a deft pull un-hooked his rope so that the guards could not follow us down. “Come on,” He ordered and then raced off into the darkness.

We were quickly into the maze-like city around the palace, hidden by shadows in the twisting labyrinthine corridors. We could hear distant pursuit, but just when I worried that they might come close to us, the sneak thief ahead of me pulled me through a doorway and locked the door behind us.

“I am not as young as I once was,” the silver haired rogue wheezed as he sat on a wooden bench inside the stable we had taken refuge in. He pulled up a bottle of wine he had previously set there. “This little jaunt wouldn’t have even winded me in my heyday.”

He took a drink then lit a small lamp. In the flames The Moorish Mantle sparkled with inner life.

“What about me?” I asked. “You almost got me killed.”

“You have a heck of a tale to tell, old fellow,” he said. “That should satisfy.”

“Satisfy?” I yelled, though it came out more as a bray. “You deserted me, abandoned me, sent me on a wild goose chase then threw me to the wolves like a sacrificial lamb.”

He gave a roguish chuckle. “That is the worst string of mixed metaphors I’ve ever heard. Tsk, tsk, and you a journalist!”

His attitude infuriated me. I stomped my boot. “You betrayed me.” I reiterated.

“I did no such thing, old fellow,” St. Simon said. “I knew that Yasmina kept the necklace in a hidden safe, but I didn’t know where. I had to get her to take it out. I could not figure a way to force her to do it, until your selfless act the other day. I knew she would don it to punish a thief.”

“But you are the thief!”

“Ah–I think of myself as a recovery agent, it has a better ring.” St. Simon said with a jovial smile. “But, as I said, I had to make her get it out. You were just means to accomplish that. I could not have gotten it without you.”

He held the necklace up and looked at it intently, moving this way and that to catch the refracted light. “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” He said almost wistfully. “I saw it in that museum and knew I had to hold it. And it has given me my whole career. I–I made the mistake of letting it out of my hands to have it cleaned six years ago and it was taken from me. I was trying to get funds to pursue the thieves when I was captured and spent time in that prison. I thought about this every day I was in there.”

He caressed the gems, touched them to his cheek. “I know some will think me mad for it, but I have always felt something more for The Mantle than one would feel for a cold piece of metal. Like-like I had a special connection to it. To others is it is cold but to me–warm as a beating heart. I am afraid I lied to you.”

“You bet you did–”

“No-I do not wish to return it to a museum. I–needed to hold this to be sure– but I know now what I must do.”

“What?”

“What I incorrectly told you that vixen Yasmina was going to do, but not for the reason she was going to.” He produced a jeweler’s hammer and chisel.

I couldn’t believe what he was going to do; he would destroy The Moorish Mantle!

Epilogue:

Crystal Clear

“You can’t just whack at a gem like that ruby and get a decent cut. You could shatter it to pieces.”

“I know,” He said. “I’ve had five years to study it in my head, to know every flaw and fissure of it. I know exactly what I am doing–I hope.”

I couldn’t believe he was going to destroy this treasure that had framed his career. I was about to speak about again when I heard a rushing wind sound from out of the shadows of one part of the room.

I turned, expecting to see one of the Caliph’s guards coming through a hidden doorway and was stunned to see the fire haired Jada, wrapped in a ruby colored gown that hugged her curvaceous figure, step into the light.

I was once more captured by the presence of the woman, her green eyes almost glowing. She put a finger to her lips when she saw I was going to speak and then pointed to St. Simon who was bent over the necklace intend on his work.

He raised the hammer and inhaled.

I held my breath.

Jada stood, here eyes fixed on the necklace as if her life depended on it.

The hammer fell and struck the chisel.

It seemed to me as if the world went silent at that moment, as if time slowed and every part of my consciousness was drawn to the edge of the chisel where it met the ruby.

There was a cracking sound and Jada gasped, grabbing her stomach and stumbled forward.

“Roger!” She called in a breathless and pain wracked voice.

St. Simon shot up from his seat and starred at her as if he had never seen her before, then ran to her side.

“You are real.” He spoke in a voice that sounded curiously like a child’s. He grabbed her shoulders and helped her straighten up.

Her face was radiant, her smile glowing and her eyes emerald beacons.

“Yes, Roger,” she said. “I am real. And thanks to you I am now free.”

“What is going on?” I asked.

The two stared into each other’s eyes as if they had never seen each other before, as if the world could come to a stop and they would not care.

After a long moment St. Simon said, “All the years of my career they all said I had some special luck, a guardian angel. I was never caught, life went well for me, it was all a thrill, fun. Always there was an image in my mind, a ghost woman, my dreamgirl, I guess you’d say. I would talk to her, dream a future with her. And, sometimes I would imagine I heard her.” He ran a hand along Jada’s jawline as if he was afraid she would disappear and wanted to memorize it.

“It was not until I lost the necklace and I was locked away that I heard that voice clearly.”

“My voice,” Jada said. “Since he first stole the necklace that was my prison and my home I knew that I had a special connection with Roger. After all the centuries trapped in the necklace, slave to any who possessed it and knew how to summon its power I knew this connection was more.

“He did not know how to summon the power of the necklace, but I could ‘help him’ in little ways. And I did. When he foolishly let the necklace leave his hands I knew what you mortals feel with the loss of hope. I reached out to his mind and told him what he must do to free me.”

“So you see, Horatio, old fellow,” St. Simon said. “Why I had to get the necklace; to see if the voice in my head was real or I had simply been driven mad in that jail.”

He never took his eyes off her. “And I am mad, but not like I thought. To have had this immortal angel in my grasp and yet unseen all these years.”

“No angel,” Jada said. “But a Djinn and immortal no more.” She walked with St. Simon toward the door of the stable. A gush of wind blew her flaming hair aside to reveal a delicate ear that came to a point.

She saw me look and said, “As with Solomon’s wife we of fire and flame can not assume a perfect human form.”

“It is perfect for me,” the old rogue said.

She held St. Simon’s hand to her cheek. “I shall live as one of you and grow old and die with my Roger.”

“And I with you,” he said. He looked back at me and smiled once more that roguish smile. “And so you have a heck of a tale to tell, eh, old fellow?”

Indeed I have. And now you have read it. As to where the two have gone–I do not know and if I did I would not tell, but where ever it is, I know they are happy, as I hope some day I shall be, in the arms of a perfect love like theirs. 

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