Note: All characters in this novella are older than 18.
[This is a completed ten-chapter novella, to be posted in six entries by mid June 2019]
Shepheard’s Hotel Gentlemen’s Dining Room, Cairo, Egypt, November 1924
The times were such that it was folly for anyone of European visage to walk the avenues and alleys of Cairo alone. It had been four years of fear and chaos in Cairo capped by the assassination in the city in November, 1924, of the British governor general of Sudan, Sir Lee Stack. The city was caught in the vice of the British pressuring the Egyptian king to bow to the client state demands of British foreign policy needs and the upstart Wafd party in Egypt pressing to end British influence altogether.
Viscount Edmund Allenby, British high commissioner for Egypt and Sudan and sponsor of the creation of a sovereign Egypt, was taking a hard line, demanding that Egypt apologize, prosecute the assassins, and pay a crippling indemnity. The Wafd was taking an even harder line, sending bandits out into the streets to assail and kidnap for exorbitant ransom any European or British sympathizer it could lay its hands on.
In response, the foreign community, in its arrogance and confidence, did what it always did—it donned its suffocating, tight-fitting costumes of the latest style in Europe, completely ignoring the demands for cooler wear of the Egyptian deserts, and it went to Shepheard’s for dinner and to see and be seen in sophisticated and oblivious London splendor.
For its part Shepheard’s Hotel, occupying a commanding spot in Cairo near the banks of the Nile, was doing what it did best—perpetuating a life of European opulence as it had done for the past eighty years, without a thought to the tension and forming revolution in the street.
On this night, the hotel was in full cry, its rooms fully booked by those coming and going—archaeologists in abundance following the opening of the tomb of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, in the Theban hills of the Valley of the Kings a mere two years previously; the families of British military officers meeting their sons, fathers, and husbands on furlough down from action in the uprisings in Sudan; and the occasional inveterate wealthy European and American tourist in search of adventure and danger and the right to say they were there first. Its public dining and party rooms were overflowing with revelers grasping for the glories and privileges of yesteryear and trying to shut out the cries for change and independence from the Egyptian street.
And down a long, not easily found corridor at the rear of the hotel, the men of power and position in Egypt moved to and from a special dining room not marked on any public sketch of the hotel: the Gentlemen’s Dining Room. Here no skirt was seen or swished. No man of only middling import was permitted entrance. Here among the stark white, starched tablecloths and napkins, the gold-rimmed china, the solid-silver plate, and a blue haze of smoke rising to the pinnacle of the coffered roof above a square room, centered by a three-tiered bubbling fountain, dining galleries bordering a central area, and stained-glass clerestory windows on three walls, dined the brains, financial backbone, literary heart, and military muscle of the British empire presence in the Mediterranean and northern Africa.
Dining that evening, on the western balcony tier—being denied access to the ground-floor, central hall by his ethnic origin even though his position both as a political and financial force and a literary light was supreme—was Pasha Rushdy Abazar, scion of a family that traced its origins back to Abraham’s tent and that had traded ruling status in Egypt off with only two other families for the past two centuries.
Abazar was listening to his dining companion, the minister of culture in the current regime—and, not incidentally, his cousin—while trying his best not to draw the attention of those throughout the dining room—and particularly those Europeans permitted in the dining area below. Abazar was somewhat of a recluse, but his books—many considered a bit racy and suggestive—well, more than a bit—were all the rage throughout the British colonial empire at the moment.
He was a man of mystery—fabulously wealthy, average sized but quite well-built of stature, powerfully connected to all factions in Egypt, cerebral, sharp-tongued, and bigger-than-life darkly handsome. When the British social scientists argued that the Arab could come close to becoming civilized, it was Abazar they were imaging.
Many of those below would have loved to invite Abazar to descend the social division of the stairs from the balcony seating to the main floor and join them both to break the tedium of the severely limiting, constantly repetitive small talk of their never-changing dinner companions and to be titillated by trying to discover through guarded discussion if half of the nefarious activities attributed to Abazar and alluded to in şişli escort his writings were true.
For his part, Abazar would have enjoyed descending that staircase just to see and enjoy the shock waves that would reverberate through the stagnant society that was the British expatriate community of Cairo.
As Abazar listened to his cousin drone on with half an ear, received messages and gave instructions to a flunkey lurking near the table at frequent intervals, and watched what passed as the cream of the European community in Egypt below watch him and speculate on what he was thinking, his attention was arrested by a flurry of activity at the central door to the lower dining area and the near-simultaneous craning of heads on the ground floor to this entry.
So staid was the privileged foreign community here that Abazar, even as rarely as he dined here, could close his eyes and identify exactly where everyone below was sitting—because that’s where they always sat, much like people do in their houses of worship. The Gentlemen’s Dining Room was, in essence, such a house of worship.
On this night nearly every chair was filled—with the exception of the table of the club steward, Sir Hilary Wainsworth-Jones, which sat empty, as well it should, because Sir Hilary was deeper down into the continent climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Abazar held his breath, as did everyone at the tables below, and trained his eyes to the room’s main entrance, as did everyone in the room except for his inattentive, babbling cousin, as two men glided into the room, and, walking behind a proud, strutting maître d’, were ushered to the club steward’s table. The table was located next to the fountain, almost in the center of the room—and on a dais above the floor level, so that it could be seen from any vantage point in the dining room. Headwaiters in black tails and white gloves rushed forward and pulled chairs, faces reverently lowered, as the two men—intriguingly, men of unknown origin and import—settled in their own gilded thrones, and, for a brief moment the two were lost to view by a bevy of table waiters in black pants and starched white shirts and also wearing immaculate white gloves who revolved around the two, making them comfortable, filling the wine glass of one, explaining the menu, suggesting specials and particular delicacies, and taking orders.
There was nothing special in visage about the older man. He was tall and florid, strongly built but beginning to lose the battle with corpulence. In other words, he was much like most other men in the hall. He was dressed in a gray pin-stripe suit and had solicitor and family retainer written all over his countenance.
Abazar dismissed him immediately, as would have any of the diners below if they were not racking their brains on just who this might be who was not only received in the Gentleman’s Dining Room at Shepheard’s but who also was welcome at the club steward’s table.
Some of the men, including Abazar, were absorbed in scrutinizing the other man. And, like Abazar, they were undressing him and dreaming of all they would love to do with him.
The man was young—barely a man at all. He was white. That was the first image of the young man that struck Abazar. And it wasn’t because he was Caucasian, even though he was. It was rather because he was dressed entirely in stark white and because everything else about him reflected whiteness—even the hint of his innocence. A beautifully cut supper suit that was immaculately white and fit him as only a richly and expensively cut suit could do. But the white wasn’t contained to that. His hair, set in curls around his achingly beautiful face, with heavy-lashed sultry eyes and full, pouting lips, was white blond. And his skin was as the milk-creamiest white marble—almost translucent. And the way he lowered his eyes and seemed in awe of his surroundings cried out of a pristine, unwritten slate—virginal. Abazar immediately surmised that he was ill or had been ill—and it made him want to hold the young man and stroke him and tell him everything would be all right, that Abazar would protect him and make everything all right.
But such was the sensuousness and compelling vulnerability of the lean, but perfectly formed—and diminutive, if his dining companion could be judged as anything but a giant in comparison—youth that Abazar’s imagining went well beyond the instinct to protect and cradle. He wanted to possess this young man—sexually. He wanted to lay his hand on the young man’s marble breast and feel the quickening of the beating of his heart and devour his eyes with his own, watching for the sizzling surrender at the moment of entry of his justifiably proud cock into the young man’s passage. Abazar knew that the young man must be virginal—every shred of his demeanor screamed of this. And, as had happened so many times before, Abazar reasoned that he must be the first—as so often he was.
He tore his eyes from the young man—but mecidiyeköy escort only with great effort—and scanned the room, where conversation had initially halted completely. But the buzzing of queries and gossip slowly rebuilt while all eyes in the room remained glued on these mysterious interlopers. There was no doubt of the topic of their renewed discussion. And among these men of power and wealth and position, Abazar was able to pick out one here and two there—more than would be imagined—men who were watching the youth as Abazar was. And who wanted to possess him—sexually—as achingly as Abazar did. Abazar knew most of these men—biblically—and he had taken the virginity and initiated “the life” for more of them than he could count on his hands. And more often than not, the gazes of these men went from the youth to the balcony, where Abazar sat, gauging whether Abazar too had taken note and assessing their chances of being the first if Abazar had.
Abazar was a master seducer of men. And whispered about, even within the colonial community, were tales of his prowess and staying power, and, most especially, his endowments—and his ability to convince the virginal to accord him entrance. He knew he was referred to as the Stallion of Heliopolis, Heliopolis being the suburb of Cairo where his family’s stronghold palace, its origins traceable back to the pharaohs, was located. The appellation amused Abazar, and he was fond, in the wake of a conquest while his prey was still moaning of being split unto death, of laughing and asking if mere “stallion” did him justice.
“Who is that? Do you know?” he asked abruptly, interrupting his cousin in midsentence on a request to recite poetry at a museum opening in Alexandria.
“Who? What? Where?” the cousin, confused by being put off stride just as he was getting to the crux of why he had invited Abazar to dine here, sputtered.
“Down there. At the steward’s table. You must have been the only man in the room who missed their entrance.”
“What? Where? Oh, I believe that is Sir Cecil Pills. Solicitor to Allenby, I think. Top drawer. Noble firm, offices in London, on the Continent, and even in America, I think. Some place called Boston. People genuflect as his passage, I understand. There was some sort of scandal. Whisperings of something sordid. The Prince of Wales or something. But it only seemed to add to his stature. Incomprehensible these English. They need to go, the whole lot of—”
The cousin suddenly realized where he was and what he was saying, and his jaw shut with a snap that sounded like the crack of a rifle and caused the turning of heads nearby. He turned ashen and looked as if he might be in need of a bucket—which, in Shepheard’s would have been silver with crystal handles and delivered by a ramrod-straight-backed man in livery and white kid gloves.
“Mind your tongue in here, cousin,” Abazar said. But he said it with amusement and almost a sense of detachment. This wasn’t one of his favorite cousins, and Abazar was trained to go blank at any hint of partisanship. He supported his causes, but it was a family trait to know what and how to balance and to forever land on your feet. Lately, the effort had been taxing, though. Both the British and the Wafd were increasingly demanding palpable displays of loyalties. Abazar felt that it might be time for another prolonged visit to Paris, Rome, and Istanbul. “And I don’t mean the old pile in gray,” he continued. “Who is the luscious young man with him?”
There was a pause, and then a flustered whisper. “You can’t have him, Rushdy. There are men here who not even you can touch.”
“I didn’t ask for an assessment,” Abazar snapped. “I asked for an identification.”
“I believe his name is Michael Powell. American. Fabulously wealthy family and he has inherited it all. Coal and railroads, I believe. And large land holdings in England. A portfolio that transcends the continents. Just down from Yale, I understand.”
“Inherited it all? How so? He looks like he’s barely in his majority.”
“I said you can’t have him, Abazar. It would be the undoing of all of us. I can see how you look at him. I know you want them barely baked.”
“Just answer the question, cousin. How has he come to be so rich and to be here in Egypt?”
“It will do you no good. He came with a phalanx of guardians. I don’t know of any visitor as protected and well-connected as—”
Abazar scrunched down at the table, and hissed in his cousin’s ear. “I will lay him on his back on the golden table in my study, and slowly peel his clothes from him as he whimpers and begs me in despair for the shaft—begging me for it. And I will lower my face to his nipples and cause him to cry out and then do so again, more plaintively, more pleadingly, as I work my oiled fist into his virginal hole in preparation for my even larger—”
“Please cousin, please, be silent,” the cousin hissed in consternation. He was beginning istanbul escort to sweat.
“Then answer my simple question. It is just a question of information. It is no concern of yours why I ask.”
“His parents—I believe he was an only child—were killed in an accident on their own railroad, I understand. He was crushed by the event, and his minders have done all they can to amuse him and pull him from his depression. He had expressed interest in the excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb, and he had done no more than mention it before an expedition was launched. The river barge Isis has been chartered, and they leave for Karnak on the Nile in the morning. Or so I’ve heard. I was consulted, I’ll admit, about present conditions in Cairo, and I counseled that they embark on the Nile as quickly as possible.”
“A pity,” Abazar murmured. “Just the night. I believe it would take longer than that.”
The cousin relaxed, feeling the crisis was over. Abazar was going to see reason. That was unusual for him. Usually, the stronger the challenge, the more interested he was. When he had taken the young son of the pope the previous spring, he had had to work his way through waves of Swiss guards and literally pull him off the cock of the Austrian prince. But he had done it—and subsequently had enjoyed the Austrian as well—not to mention several of the Swiss guards.
“The gall,” Abazar hissed, which caused the cousin to look up sharply. He followed Abazar’s gaze and focused on the center of his attention quick enough to see Raymond Little, an assistant of Allenby’s, who was functioning as the de facto police chief of the city of Cairo and was using a heavy hand in dealing with all signs of dissent he could put his finger on, appear from somewhere in the swirl of diners and approach the steward’s table.
The cousin looked on in horror as he listened to Abazar’s heavy breathing and watched the man in gray and youth in white rise and shake hands with Little. At a gesture from the gray-suited man, the police chief sat down at the table. Immediately behind him stood a Nubian in the uniform of the Egyptian police, a veritable mountain of solid muscle of a man. The cousin knew that Little’s life was in constant danger, and he wasn’t surprised that he kept an intimidating guard at his elbow at all times.
The presence of the Nubian in this position was no more threatening to the social standards than were the army of Egyptian and Sudanese waiters working the room. All were virtually invisible to those who were there to dine—and to be served properly as they had been at Shepheard’s for eighty years. They weren’t there to dine, so they were invisible—in ways that Abazar and his ilk on the balcony weren’t. The existence and necessity of Abazar and his class of Egyptians was recognized and accepted—they were just kept in their place.
“The Prick,” Abazar growled. “Always the opportunist.”
The cousin almost swallowed his tongue, knowing the ways of Abazar as he did. He might have at least chuckled at the absurdity of what his cousin had said, if he didn’t know what was at stake here. Little was as corrupt as they came in Egypt, which was saying much, and was a notorious user of man flesh, the younger and more tender the better, ones whose mark of cruelty when he was done with them would clearly be understood as his work. He preferred young Egyptian men, effeminate ones—dancers usually—ones who would not be missed or remarked on if they suddenly disappeared after an overindulgent night. But the cousin could see that the youth in white was so exotic that Little could easily be aroused by him.
Although Abazar was trembling with emotion beside him, the cousin saw this as a relief. Abazar would have to bow to the inevitable and let this one pass. The challenge was just too great. Little had gotten there first. A chill went up the cousin’s spine at the thought of the danger he knew the youth was in—and he muttered a little prayer to Allah that the expedition set off before Little realized how limited his opportunity was.
His attention was snapped back to reality, though, when Abazar called his flunky over and whispered in his ear. The cousin watched in building terror as the message was conveyed through a chain of increasingly senior waiters until the maître d’ was at the shoulder of the man in gray at the steward’s table.
The man looked up at the balcony and then whispered to the maître d’, and the diners—ever in tune with any shifting of the routine—held their knives and forks in abeyance as the message transited back up the social barrier of the staircase, and the head waiter of the balcony leaned down and whispered a message to Abazar.
Everyone in the room could read the message in Abazar’s frozen reception.
“I’m sorry, Pasha Rushdy Abazar,” the waiter intoned with trembling voice, “but Sir Cecil says it would not be convenient for them to join you in the smoking room following supper. He says his ward is weary and they must embark on the Isis for an early start in the morning.”
“Thank you,” Abazar responded in an icy tone that made the head waiter’s knees begin to buckle. “Do they know who I am?”
“Yes, Pasha. That was made quite clear to them. But they aren’t from—”