I was hunkered down in the van and had no idea how long the drive to
We made many turns and there was lots of traffic noise before we came to a complete stop. I peeked out from under the tarp and decided to make my presence known to Basim. I walked out of the back of the van just as Basim had exited the front and almost ran right into him.
“Dr. Fairview! What are you doing here! I thought I heard Ernst tell you quite clearly that it was not safe for you to come.”
“Ernst does not own me Basim. I have come to save Mr. Butterfly. Let us go in and do that. By the way, I thought I told you to call me Sue.”
“Well Sue, I guess that now that you have come all this way, there is no talking you out of coming in and staying in the van instead.”
He just looked down at the ground and shook his head. “My ass is grass if one hair on your head is harmed. You realize that don’t you?”
“It’s a risk you are going to have to take, big guy! I’ll keep my head low if any shooting breaks out.”
“Oh, there won’t be any shooting. It is all muscle with these guys. It is bad karma to bring guns into any such dealings. Just follow my lead.” With that, case and money in hand, Basim led the way up the stairs to the entrance of the very grand 3 storey, turreted stone house that looked to me more like a fortress. He knocked on the solid wood door and we waited. The door creaked open and an old servant answered.
“My name is Basim. I represent my Master Ernst Cullen whose two guests were taken here yesterday morning by force. He wishes to buy them back for a generous amount.”
The servant gestured towards me and said “Who is she?”
“Another of my Master’s guests, Dr. Sue Fairview, who is also a colleague of the two men you are holding.”
“Do come in.”
Then the servant retreated into the house and we followed him. I had visions of us never being seen again, but I went in anyhow.
“My Master has been quite occupied this morning, but I will check his schedule for this afternoon and see if he can arrange a meeting with you. Please, make yourselves at comfortable.”
We were shown into what can only be described as a ‘harem’ parlor. The room part of a turret and thus was round, had windows spaced pretty close together where it was not attached to the building. All the way around the room there were white gauzy silk curtains. There were no chairs, but caged birds fluttered and sang around the room. Embroidered pillows and bolsters covered the floor along with Egyptian carpets. Basim gracefully sank into a cross legged sitting position. So did I.
“So, how long do you think the Master will keep us waiting?”, I asked.
“As long as he can.”, replied Basim.
“I hate to wait.”
“Well, then why don’t we tell each other about ourselves? That will make the time fly by.”
“That’s a great idea Basim. You start.”
“I was born in
His eyes lit up as he spoke about his job. I enjoyed hearing him tell me about it so much I let him go on and on about it. Then it was my turn and I told him what I loved about working for the foundation. It really passed the time and we got closer while talking.
In no time, the servant of Akbar had returned and told us that his master would be in shortly. I checked my watch and two hours had passed.
About 20 minutes later, Akbar himself entered the room with his naked brawny slaves around him. Basim and I stood, but when we saw everyone frowning, we quickly got back down on the ground. The servant announced “It is customary to bow to Akbar when he enters a room.”
So that is precisely what we did, as much as it burned my grits to do so. We lay prostrate on the ground to this odious man. Then we sat up to begin the negotiation. Basim started.
“Pardon, but we understand that yesterday evening you accidentally took two of my master’s guests to be your slaves without knowing they were already claimed.”
“I see. These would be who? And what is your master’s claim on them?”
“A Mr. Butterfly who had traveled here from
“I see. I agree with your master’s claim on Mr. Butterfly, but not on Dr. Castagno. It seems to me that the EES has claim to him.”
“Dr. Castagno was staying with Mr. Cullen prior to their departure to the house where you found them.”
“No, no! I will not argue with you, a servant! Do not anger me or I will not negotiate on anyone.” He stamped his foot like a little boy to emphasize his point.
I cut in. “Will you hear from me? I am Dr. Sue Fairview and I will represent the EES since they are not here. May I bid for Dr. Castagno’s freedom?”
“Absolutely not! You are only a woman!” Then he spat. “You should be in purdah. You are an American whore. I would have you thrown out, but I show my guests more respect than that.”
I swallowed really hard not to react to being called a whore. It was merely a cultural difference and not personal, moreover, it would hardly be constructive to rise to the bait of defending my sex in this situation. So, I said nothing. It was not looking good for Roble. There must be some reason he didn’t want to let Roble go. I wondered if Basim had come to the same conclusion too.
“Fine Sir, fine. Let us just negotiate on Mr. Butterfly then.”, said Basim.
Over time, the negotiations were worked out and we ended up paying an absurd and usurious amount to get the young explorer back. Then Akbar took the money and left, giving assurances that Mr. Butterfly would be delivered forthwith.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the harem, the opium had worn off and Roble was in excruciating pain. He was moaning loudly and asking for more opium. Mr. Butterfly was trying to get him a pipe. Thankfully there was one and it was prepared and brought to Roble who sucked on it like he would die if he didn’t. Roble’s pain was quickly numbed and again his eyes glazed over and he lay back on the pillows comforted by the drugs. The young explorer just held him and thought that he needed medical attention and soon or he would become an opium addict. His worst fear was that Roble would get an infection and die.
One of the brawny slaves entered the room and pointed at the young explorer and said “You. Come with me.”
Mr. Butterfly had no idea what was going on, so he gave Roble a kiss and went with the slave. They walked down the hall and then down another flight of stairs to the ground level. They entered a room and he was thrown to the floor before he could see what was in the room. When he looked up he first saw Sue.
“Oh my god! Sue! You’ve come for me! Thank god!”
He rushed forward to hug me and almost knocked me over. Of course he was completely naked, but it was not the first time I had rescued him in this condition.
“Are you okay Mr. Butterfly? I was so worried.”
“Yes, I am fine. But Roble isn’t. We must get him out. Is he coming?”
I looked down at the floor and shook my head. “I’m so sorry, but Akbar wouldn’t hear of even negotiating for him.”
“We absolutely must get him out. He is injured and needs medical attention.”
“Shhh, That explains a lot. We will. But it will take some time. We will explain outside. Um, do you have any clothes?”
Basim piped up. “I have some in my van outside.”
“Thanks. Let’s get out of here.”Then we left together as hastily as we could.