A deep, vibrant fragrance caused him to raise his head. It wasn’t anything like the flowers that decorated the house. Joseph whirled around as Fatin Ataullah strode into her husband’s office. She wore a loose, flowing silk kimono over simple dark-washed skinny jeans and a close-fitting, scoop-necked crop-top. Her thick, long jet-black hair cascaded over her head, and her ice-blue eyes sparkled as she watched him.
Joseph tensed at the gleam in her eyes. He knew the relationship between the Consul and his wife was strained; he heard them frequently fighting over petty things, such as the way she dressed. She would have no productive excuse for going into his office.
“Sayyidita,” Joseph slipped out of his chair and bowed low to her, both showing deference--and positioning himself between the woman and the letters. “Forgive me, your husband is not home--”
“Yes, I know,” she waved a hand and smiled, still staring at him with a tiny smile playing around her lips. “I just wanted to ask you something.”
Joseph kept his eyes downcast, as was appropriate for a servant. “Ask; I am yours to command.”
Fatin did not reply right away, but Joseph had learned better than to relax, even in the slightest.
“You are American?” she asked.
Now it was Joseph’s turn to balk. He had not broadcasted his origins, but at the same time, he was not surprised that she knew, since the Consul must have also known.
“I am, Sayyidita,” he answered. He waited for her to make the first move.
Her soft linen sandals shifted to the side and walked back toward the door. Joseph held his position, following her out of the corner of his eye until she had retreated far enough out of the room for it to be within the bounds of etiquette for him to return to his work, since she had not verbally dismissed him.
He had only reached for the pen, when her voice reached him again.
“Do you think I am pretty?”
Joseph froze, and his blood chilled; she had spoken in near-perfect English, the first he had heard since being thrown in the back of that sheep truck. What sort of question was she asking? Did she honestly want to know, or was she testing him? Which answer should he give? He had probably hesitated too long by now, anyway. Joseph decided to go for honesty first, and deal with the ramifications as they came.
“Yes, Sayyidita,” he answered, not trusting himself to say more.
She giggled softly, and he heard her hands sliding over the smooth wood of the door frame. “You are not even looking, abdul,” she made his title of service sound like a playful pet name.
Joseph felt his chest constricting. “Forgive me, Sayyidita; I do not feel it is right for me to look on you while your husband is not at home. I only mean to honor my master, and honor you.”
The scent of her perfume grew as she stepped closer.
“Look at me,” she whispered.
Joseph immediately transferred his gaze from her feet to her eyes.
Fatin Ataullah was indeed an alluring sight; Joe immediately recalled several examples of models on magazine covers, air-brushed and photo-retouched to immaculate perfection. All those seemed phony and fake as he stood barely six inches from a woman who could easily outclass any of them. And yet he only looked at her eyes.
Fatin smiled at him. “That’s better,” she murmured, running a hand through her long, dark hair. For a woman fast approaching her thirties, she still looked and carried herself as one twenty years younger. She sauntered away, leaving Joseph to stand there and watch her hips sway as she walked. The minute her back was turned, Joe resumed staring at the carpet.
He did not move until the sound of her softly-padding footsteps faded beyond his hearing.
The exchange flooded the young man’s mind with doubts; he had always spoken Arabic out of deference to the man who had paid money for him--never once did it cross his mind that either the Consul or his wife would know English. But, of course, as the Consul, it would make perfect sense for Karim to know multiple languages; how to discern this, though? The volatile man might suspect something untoward if the man he trusted most began asking about other languages; it would not be a stretch to conclude that Joseph was trying to find a language his master did not understand, with which to communicate with the enemies of his master. What should he do?
King of the Roses (David)
“Boy?” The raspy voice grated like sandpaper over my ears.
I jumped to my feet out of habit. Big Sulley had a tendency to kick anybody who didn’t stand when he addressed them.
Sulley’s big hands, stiff with arthritis, reached out and clamped my shoulders. He shook me, but it was more of an involuntary muscle spasm than actual menace.
“What are you doing here, boy?” he grunted.
I took a deep breath and prayed for peace. “Sir, I am here to do what needs to be done.”
Sulley still stared at me, his thick eyebrows drooping so I couldn’t tell if he was sneering or just looking at me. “There is nothing we can do. I am going to give the street back to Phil.”
“Just like that?”I was so surprised to hear the conclusion that I forgot all sense of respect for our not-so-fearless leader. “Mr. MacDonald, this isn’t about who controls the streets--”
Sulley sighed and shuffled slowly over to his big leather armchair. “That’s all he wants, that’s what he’s going to get. It’s not worth a fight. It’s just a few blocks. It’s Real is all but dead as a ministry. There really isn’t any point.”
“No point?” I couldn’t believe the community that had lasted my whole life would just roll over and disappear like that. “Did you not hear what he’s been saying? Gunther is making death threats against God! What sort of a ministry can we have here in Portland if we just abdicate at the least sign of aggression?”
It felt weird, hearing Big Sulley say my name. He held out his hand over the armrest. When I offered mine, he patted it like a little old lady. “You have helped me well with your music over the years, when my torments come. I don’t know what I would do without it; I want you to go home, to stay safe.”
“But we’re It’s Real!” I reminded him, pulling my hand away. “How real is it, if all we do when things get rough is give up and go away? Is it Real? Or Isn’t it?”
Sulley frowned at me, the corners of his mouth sinking deep into his wrinkles. “Why are you talking like this?”
Gunther is an angry dog that needs to be taken down, I reminded myself. “Sir, I’ve faced mad dogs that were practically wild with aggression, and one time, on a walk in the woods, a cougar attacked the puppies in my care. They couldn’t protect themselves, so I stepped in to defend them.” I wasn’t bragging, I was only stating facts. “That mobster out there? Yeah he’s big and rough and he’s got a loud, foul mouth--but he’s no different than the cougar or the mad dog.” I pointed out the window to the houses, where more than likely people cowered behind couches. “These people need to know that nobody can stand up and say those things about God.”
Sulley had stared at me, not moving, not even blinking the whole time. I finished, and he still did not move. I wondered if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open, but then he spoke.
“Take the gun,” he said.