“they’re a bit creepy don’t you think,” asked Sandra, leaning across the table.
“You think?” replied Dave, “I hadn’t really noticed,” but the more he looked the more he realised she was right. The tall man never seemed to move, he just stood behind the bar, but his eyes followed you around the room. The little guy was worse; he seemed to appear from nowhere, right next to you. One minute you were munching quite happily on a Chicken Biryani and the next he was inches away from your face.
“Everything is ok?” he’d ask, nodding furiously as if daring you to contradict him.
“It’s probably just the lighting,” Dave washed down a mouthful of naan with the last of his lager. He turned to order another and jumped out of his skin.
“Everything is ok?”
“Erm, another pint of Cobra please?” he looked across at Sandra, “You ok babe?”
“Nothing for me thanks,” she said to the nodding waiter. As he walked across to the bar she smiled at Dave.
“You see what I mean?”
“Yeah, that was freaky,” Dave reached for the Aloo Ghobi. “Is it just me or does he smell a bit, well, odd?”
“I was going to ask if you’d seen his dandruff, that’s a lot of dead skin,”
Dave looked up as his drink appeared on the table. It was a third waiter, someone different.
“Your drink sir,” murmured the man, “and here is something complements of the house, I hope you both enjoy it,” He placed two small steaming cups on the table, and walked away. The smell was intoxicating.
“Where did he come from?” asked Sandra, “I haven’t seen him before,”
“What?” replied Dave lowering the cup from his lips, “Who? This is good you should try it. I wonder what it is…”
Arow of large pans sat bubbling on the hob, the two brothers were engrossed in their culinary creations. With a flourish Shafiq tossed a pinch of spices into the cast-iron dish in front of him and muttered a short phrase under his breath. A plume of purple smoke dissipated into the extractor fan.
“This is not a good idea Shafiq,” said Amir appearing from inside the walk in fridge.
“You’re right Amir, this isn’t a good idea, it’s a great idea.” Shafiq walked across to the disfigured corpse laid out on the table, “You worry too much,”
“I’m serious Shaf, someone is bound to notice, there’s no way you can hope to keep this a secret,”
“Believe me, I can,” he handed Amir a small mug, “I’ve got it all covered. Drink?”
As the cup touched his lips, Amir’s eyes glazed. Shafiq led his brother through the door and away from the kitchen.
The ceiling fan spun lazily, casting shadows across the marble walls. Shafiq sat tapping his foot against the worn leather of the settee. He checked his watch; the guide should have been here ten minutes ago. He’d been a fool to believe the stories might be true. With a lunge he pulled himself up from the enfolding mass of the cushions and walked towards the door.
“Shafiq Mir?” said a heavily accented voice. The newcomer was silhouetted in the doorway by the glare of the North African sun.
“You are to come with me,” The figure turned and walked down the stairs towards an ancient car. Shafiq followed. No sooner did he have his seatbelt fastened than the car darted down an alleyway and before he’d had chance to take notice he was lost. The driver pulled up in a residential street, opened the car door and gestured towards an ordinary looking building. Shaf stood and walked up the worn stone stairs, as he reached his hand out the door swung open ahead of him.
“The Vizier is expecting you Mr Mir,” said the guide gesturing to another open door. Shafiq walked through.
“Welcome to the Halls of Ma’ati Mr Mir. Please take a seat.” The man smiled, “We will share our secrets with any who ask, if they are sure it is what they wish,” The Vizier was nothing like Shaf had expected, no jewelled turban, no flowing robes, and no ornately sinister beard. Simply a middle-aged man wearing jeans and an “I Love New York” T-shirt.
“I see my appearance surprises you Mr Mir, if we looked as you expected would we not be easier to find?”
“I suppose, how…”
“Did I know what you were thinking?” the Vizier interrupted. “Wouldn’t you be disappointed if I hadn’t? But enough of such parlour tricks, take a seat,”
Shafiq found himself liking this man, then found himself wondering if that was simply the magic and he was supposed to like him. Then with a start he remembered the Vizier could tell what he was thinking.
“Be at your ease Mr Mir, you will come to no harm whilst within our walls,” the man smiled. Shafiq found himself relaxing into the soft cushions. “I must warn you that if you leave with the secrets of Usire you will remember nothing of how you came to possess them. You will have no memory of me, nor of this sanctuary. Are you certain you wish to continue?”
“Is it true the dead can be brought back to serve the living?”
“Then I am certain,”
“Very well, use the knowledge wisely Mr Mir. Would you like a drink?” The Vizier passed a small cup of steaming liquid across and as Shafiq drank his eyes glazed. The next thing he knew he was stood in the centre of the Grand Bazaar clutching a leather bound book.
“You simply can’t go on this way Mr Mir,” said the accountant from behind his desk.
Shaf leaned forwards and looked at the columns of figures. They made no sense at all.
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Shafiq shook his head, “What do I need to do?”
“I take it bookkeeping isn’t your strong point Mr Mir,” said the bespectacled man with a slight smile, as he sat back in his chair. “Your expenditure grossly outweighs your incomings. The money you spend on wages alone will bankrupt you within three months at this rate,”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Have you considered magic?” he chuckled.