Muse 7: Drunk on Love, Thirsting for Sex, Tasting of Lust
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Mercedes Karpov walks slowly through the narrow labyrinthine streets in front of the man who seems to abducting her, though he has yet to tell her why. He hasn’t told her who he really is, either, but seems to think the two of them are related somehow.
She wonders if she has fallen into the hands of some kind of a lunatic who thinks himself a sheik and has picked her out to add to his harem. Unlikely, but hey, it could happen. Frankly, she hopes that’s it, because she is confident that she could use his delusions against him and make her escape when she’s ready.
Not just yet, though. She is intrigued, and wants to know more about this stranger who reminds her of her father. “Max” has promised to tell her more, and she'll play whatever his game is until that happens.
She’s completed her task here in Marrakech, and doesn’t have to be anywhere. Fariq al-Abayghur is soundly drugged and properly trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey. He won’t be going anywhere until the maintenance team sent by Chase picks him up and turns him over to Interpol. That job done, she’s still riding on the high of a hard-earned success. She’s willing to go on this new adventure for a while. Chase would have a fit, but what the heck. As far as she’s concerned, she’s off duty now.
Besides, Mercedes doesn’t feel threatened by this man. She’s not sure why, but somehow, she doesn’t think he will hurt her, the gun notwithstanding.
As if to remind her of its existence, the small revolver in his hand prods her in the back as she falters. Her head down as instructed, she steps it up a bit, curious about their destination.
The dark narrow streets are virtually empty as the two wend their way through the maze that is the medina of Marrakech. They are all at the closing Fantasia performance outside the city walls. Max has timed his abduction well. They are unlikely to be challenged as they make their way to wherever. Anyone who might observe the western man walking with a woman in a djellaba at this hour would probably take them for a tourist and a prostitute. Such commerce booms during the Popular Arts Festival.
“Stop here,” Max says.
They’ve only been walking about ten minutes and can’t have traveled more than half a mile from the Farah Mariana hotel. Within the rabbit warren of the inner city, they might as well be ten and a half miles away. She knew she’d never find her way back without a GPS or asking directions. No worries. She’d deal with that when she was ready to leave.
Never taking the muzzle of the Ruger from Mercedes’ back, Max lifts his kurta and pulls his keys from the pocket of his jeans. He turns a key in an old blue door that opens directly onto the alley. He pushes it open, then pushes Mercedes through it into an inner courtyard with a small fountain bubbling at its center. The arched doors on left and right walls of the courtyard are closed and marked with numbers.
Opposite the door is a flight of stairs.
“Over there.” Max instructs. “My place is just upstairs. We can relax and have our little chat without being interrupted.”
As she lifts the hem of her djellaba and starts up the stairs, Mercedes says, “Can’t wait.”
Before boarding the plane that will deliver him to Menara Airport near Marrakech in just over three hours, Chase calls in the troops. A team of Nemesis agents from Lost and Found will be on the ground before he arrives and a car will be waiting at the airport.
Once settled in his seat on the aircraft, Chase filters out the activity around him and gives in to his thoughts. He fears that Mercedes is in trouble. Repeated attempts to reach her cell have led him straight to voice mail. She is one of those people who sleeps fitfully, and it’s been too long. She’d have checked her phone at least once by now and returned his call.
When he learned that The Monk had killed al-Abayghur, Chase saw only two possibilities. The first -- that, coincidentally, the Arab was already a target on The Monk’s radar -- is simply unbelievable. Chase doesn’t believe in coincidences, especially one as remote as this.
That means that it was not the Arab that The Monk was stalking; it was Mercedes all along. Given what Chase learned in Moscow, the thought terrifies him. Not only is the man is extremely dangerous, he has reason to take a special interest in Mercedes Karpov.
This is a case where what she doesn’t know could hurt her, he thinks, and another wave of guilt washes over him. Dammit, why didn’t I tell her?
The Monk, aka Sagittarius, has a strong connection to Mercedes’ life. In fact, he has several strong connections. Any one of them will likely send the woman over the edge of rational thought, a trip Chase has often thought to be short in Mercedes case. Just look how she took off after al-Abayghur, hell bent for breakfast.
And despite Chase’s misgivings, she got him. Just wait until she finds out how completely she got him.
He starts to reach for the flight attendant call button over his head. The temptation to get drunk is a strong one but thinks better of it. He will need a clear head once he gets to Marrakech, as clear as he can manage given his feelings for Mercedes. Some might say he was already drunk on love and should leave the search to others.
There is no way that will happen. He knows he has no hope of finding Mercedes before she learns everything from her captor. But once he finds her, and he will find her, he’ll need all his wits about him to do damage control.
Chase checks his watch. They are still two hours out of Marrakech. He groans and digs through the pocket on the seat back in front of him, looking for the BA High Life magazine to distract him. The magazine is missing – of course, Chase thinks – but deep in the pocket, he spots a paperback. He pulls it out, and looks at the cover.
A tawdry graphic portrays a zaftig woman, heaving bosom spilling from the top of her low-cut dress, clutched in the arms of an Arab sheik. Reading the title, Thirsting for Sex, Tasting of Lust *, Chase rolls his eyes. Great, a bodice ripper, he thinks, and shoves the book back into the pocket.
He pushes back his seat, closes his eyes and gets back to the business of worrying.
At the top of the stairs, Max nudges Mercedes to the left. She walks down an open balcony, the balustrade on her left overlooking the courtyard below.
At the second door on the right, Max says, “Stop here.”
He selects another key from his key ring, and opens the door. A small tile attached at eye-level says “13.” Arabs must not be superstitious, Mercedes thinks.
The door opens to a cool, dark room.
Max twists a knob on the wall inside the door and several lamps fill the pleasant sitting room with soft light.
“Sit. Want a drink?”
Mercedes walks to a couch against the wall and sits down. It’s surprisingly comfortable. She looks around the well-appointed room. Nice furniture, ornate shutters over the windows, tile floors, and best of all, air-conditioning. It’s a far cry from the seedy hotel they just left.
“Tea,” Mercedes answers. “What is this place?”
Max heads for the small open kitchen separated from the sitting room by a counter. “Locals call it a riad. That’s just a fancy name for an apartment. I rented it. I like to be comfortable.” He smiles at her as he fills the kettle with bottled water. “You had to pick June in Marrakech. Didn’t you know it’s hotter than hell here in June?”
As Max makes the tea in the open kitchen, his revolver on the countertop beside the teapot, Mercedes scans the room for the escape she’ll need when she’s had enough. The door they came in is dead-bolted, the key back in the pocket of Max’s jeans. Through slats of the shutters, she can see that the windows are barred, as is typical in Marrakech.
“Relax, honey, there’s no way out,” Max laughs. “Why do you think I haven’t restrained you? It’s not because I trust you, I’ll tell you that.”
Mercedes leans back, thinking I’ll deal with it later.
“OK, you want to tell me who you are, and why we are here?” she asks.
Max sets the cup of aromatic tea on the brass table in front of Mercedes and takes a chair opposite her.
“I’ve been avoiding you for years, and it’s become tiresome. I thought it was time we met.”
Incredulous, she asks “Avoiding me? What the hell are you talking about?”
He rises and walks over to a carved wooden cabinet. He opens a drawer, pulls out a pad of paper and a pencil, and returns to his seat.
Putting the pad on the table between them, he leans forward, the pencil poised over the paper.
“I think I can show you better than I explain it. A picture is worth… yeah. See, honey, you and I? We've got something of a shared history. We’re family.”
He begins to draw.
To be continued in Part 8: Tartuffe
* Yeah, I know…