Our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins
They waited, pressed up against one another in tense silence, for long minutes after the door was closed. Finally, in the drawing silence, Leo breathed, “Well, James Bond, this has gone well so far.”
Jed barely snorted.
“Let’s take a look.”
Jed nodded against the back of his head.
The door opened silently, just a few inches, and light from the empty room poured in through the crack.
“Nothing,” Leo breathed.
Jed let his head drop back gently against the wall behind him, and stiffened. “Leo.”
“Yeah?” Leo’s voice was distracted, as he moved his face more out into the room.
“Look. Up here.”
In the ceiling of the closet was a rectangular trap-door, just an opening with a ceiling tile laid atop it, the sort typical for suburban attics all over the world.
Leo grinned. “That could work. Give me a boost.”
Jed went down on one knee, and Leo used the other knee as a step, reaching up to push the rectangular tile up and off the hatch, then grasped the edges and pulled his head up and through.
The attic was unfinished, with a central walkway under the peak of the roof, and rafters slanting down to each side. Light filtered in through vents at either end, and Leo could see that the attic went in an “L” shape following the plan of the house.
Leo hauled himself up and turned, reaching down for Jed, and they grasped one another’s wrists, so Leo could bring him up and through. As he started lifting, there was a click from the outer door, and a grunt from outside the closet, and Jed clamped his lips shut and scrambled silently through the opening. As they moved the cover noiselessly back over the trapdoor, the closet door creaked, and they heard the sound of fabric being pushed around. Another grunt, a few words of Arabic, the closet door closing.
The two men stared at one another, eyes wide, silent, as they heard the sound of the outer door of the room click shut. Leo’s eyes widened a moment further – That was too damned close, Jed! – and he angled his head toward the central walkway.
They moved carefully and quietly, choosing their steps with great deliberation.
“Why are you here?”
The voice was sharp and harsh and arrogant, and they both froze for a moment, until they heard Kelly Robinson’s voice replying, “Well, you see, man, we were looking for my old friend Rahim Said. We played tennis in Istanbul about a year ago, and he told me, If I was ever in Al-Zahra, you know...”
Jed and Leo exchanged another glance. As Robinson spoke, it became clear that the voices were coming from below and to the left, down inside one of the rooms.
“Allow me to save you some time and effort, Mr. Robinson.” The voice was that of the man the two agents had allowed to capture them. “We have a good working relationship with the KGB. They provided us your dossiers when the King announced you would be his guests at the Palace. Let us not waste time with the harmless tennis bum, shall we?”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Now, isn’t that just great?” said Kelly’s voice. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to run that Tennis Bum cover? Do you? And for what?”
“Now, Kel...” began Scott’s voice.
“No, now, Jack, I mean it! All the money they blow on rackets, they could have bought us a sports car with an ejector seat by now, man!”
The wide eyes Jed turned on Leo spoke volumes: God! How can they joke like that!?!?
“Amusing,” said the voice of the captor. There was a meaty impact, and a groan from Kelly. “Perhaps you have heard that I am famed for my jolly sense of humor?”
Leo bit his lower lip, feeling the enormity of what went on below.
“No,” Kelly’s voice groaned. “Now that you mention it, I can’t say... Scotty, have you heard...?”
“You know, Duke, now that you mention it, I don’t think–” Another impact, and a small noise from Scott.
“There is a reason for that,” said the harsh voice.
The door below opened, and another voice spoke in Arabic. The leader responded, and there was a moment’s dialogue.
Kelly’s voice spoke again. “So we’re going, then?”
“This is my office, Mr. Robinson. I can hardly get my own work done with you enterprising gentlemen distracting me, now can I. You will be brought to more...suitable...accommodations.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“You wanna?” said Kelly Robinson’s voice.
“Hardly seems worth it, Hoby,” came the reply. “Getting locked in with a few extra bruises? Still locked in, man.”
“Very wise,” said the harsh voice again, and the two men in the attic heard the sounds of footsteps shuffling away.
They exchanged looks again, and with them, unspoken questions. Now what?
Do I look like I know?
The sounds of motion were more distributed now, and Leo began looking at the walkway, trying to see where the floorboards rested solidly on beams, and footsteps would be most likely to be silent over the quiet sounds of office-work below, the shuffling of papers and then the dialing of a phone. He was starting to gesture to a set of nails in the boards when the voice spoke in Arabic. The words were rough and guttural, and then there was a Pah! of disgust, and a click of a switch. The voice spoke again and another voice, this one with the tin-can sound of a speakerphone, responded in halting, heavily accented Arabic, with many stumbles and hesitations.
The man below made another disgusted noise, and barked “Russkogo, to!”
“Nyet!” The canned voice was vehement. “Vash russkiĭ strashno, obidno! Angliiskii, ispol'zuite angliiskii yazyk.”
“Very well. I’ve had practice of it today.”
The tinny voice was irritated, its accent thickly Russian. “You need English for Kefenste?”
There was a chuckle. “Yes, but also for the two American agents.”
“Yes.” The voice was calm. “They broke into the house within the last hour. It is this I called to report to the Sultan.” On the last three syllables the voice became sharp.
“Yes, yes.” The Russian’s voice was wearily dismissive. “You know the Sultan has requested our consultation on this. You will speak to me. I will advise the Sultan.”
“Al Qabda takes its orders from the Sultan, not foreign lackeys.”
“Very well, Alaaeddin. A moment.” There was a click through the phone, then another voice.
“You are under attack by American agents?”
Leo’s eyes snapped to Jed’s. They’d both heard that voice in news reports: it was that of the Sultan of Qumar.
The man below them spoke a few urgent words of Arabic, and the Sultan’s voice was a whiplash in response. “English, Alaaeddin! Comrade Colonel Chernenkiev has difficulty with Arabic!”
The man Alaaeddin drew in a long breath through his nose. “The American agents who were guests at the Palace invaded the house and have been captured.”
“Your plan has failed,” said the tinny voice of Chernenkiev. “If Abd Al Salaam has enlisted the Americans, you will not control him. You must do such damage as you can.”
“The plan can still be–” began Alaaeddin.
“No.” The voice was the Sultan’s. “I will follow Comrade Colonel Chernenkiev’s advice. I will call the printers. Packages will be ready to go out by noon tomorrow. In the meantime, release the package you have now.”
There was a very long pause.
“Alaaeddin!” The Sultan’s voice was angry.
Alaaeddin’s reply came from his mouth like sausage meat from a grinder. “As...you will.... Majesty.” A moment. “And the Americans?”
“My country would welcome–” began Chernenkiev, but the Sultan cut him off.
“Kill them. Wait until after Evening Prayer, then kill them.”
Alaaeddin’s voice held a note of triumph that the Soviets would at least be denied this prize. “Yes, Majesty!”
“Very well. You are a good servant, Alaaeddin. It will not be forgotten.”
There was a metallic click, and the harsh buzz of a dial tone flowed up from below, before Alaaeddin made a Tcha! sound, and there was quiet. Another click, and the harsh voice spoke again. “Kefenste.”
There was a pause.
“Abd Al-Salaam has decided to value his pride over his crown. We are going to endgame. Send Hassan with the package. Use the bread truck.”
The rattle of the phone clunking down on its cradle.
“Damn,” muttered the harsh voice. There was a bark of humorless laughter, a few syllables of Arabic.
Leo tapped Jed’s arm, and when he looked up, their wide eyes locked. Leo’s were intense. We have to act. He pointed again at the nails in the walkway, showing it was on top of a rafter. He jerked his head toward the eave at the far end of the attic. Jed nodded, and Leo moved off, carefully and smoothly, choosing his steps.
Jed followed him, eyes wide, looking for nail-heads to be sure he was staying on the beam, and Leo brought him up against the eave. There was a vent, two feet on a side, and Leo gestured him to look down through the slats. Below them was the smooth white roof of the bakery truck. Leo pointed along the top edge of the aluminum vent, and Jed saw it was set on a hinge, so it could be opened for cleaning. The hinge, he was glad to see, shone in the reflected light from below.
He nodded back at Leo, who slowly pushed the vent out. It swung up quietly, and he angled his head, and Jed slipped out past him, placing one foot, then the other, on the smooth sheet-metal roof of the bread truck. He reached up to help Leo down, and as soon as Leo was on the roof, he carefully lowered the vent. There was the sound of a door opening below, and the two Americans dropped to lay on their bellies on the truck’s roof.
A soft voice muttered in Arabic, and the driver’s-side door of the truck slid backwards to a clang, and then the motor started. Tree-branches brushed over their backs, and the truck turned out onto the street.
“Hang on!” said Leo, and he grasped the edge of the roof, just back of the front edge, and swung himself down, legs arcing out straight before him, swinging down in a mighty kick. The truck wavered, swaying left and right, and began to slow down.
“Come on!” called Leo, and Jed leaned down over the edge to look upside-down into the cab. Leo was holding a slender Arab man by the collar, swinging him away from the wheel, toward Jed. “Get him!”
Jed reached out with one hand, grabbed the back of the man’s collar, and yanked, and the man went flailing backward, out of the truck, and fell to the street, rolling as he landed.
“Get in!” called Leo, and reached up to help Jed down into the van. He slipped past him, and picked up a large, sealed envelope from the passenger seat, and Leo was behind the wheel before he got seated.
“What do you suppose that is?” Leo asked.
“Endgame,” Jed replied. “It’s the weapon that the Qumaris think is going to cost Abd Al-Salaam his throne.”
Leo turned the wheel, swinging them on the main road back to Zahrat el-Saharaa. Behind them, the slender Arab climbed to his feet, and limped back toward the house.
Jed looked down at the envelope in his hands, and broke the wax seal, unwinding the sealing string from the round tabs.
“Jesus, Jed, what are you doing?” cried Leo. “That’s dynamite! You shouldn’t be in it! Leave it for Al-Shurafaa!”
“No, Leo.” Jed Bartlet’s voice was firm. “Alaaeddin said this would end Abd Al-Salaam’s reign. It’s got to be some sort of blackmail, and aimed directly at him. If Al-Shurafaa gets hold of it, it may be as bad as whatever they were planning.”
“Well, I’m not stopping,” said Leo, “so you better see what we’re dealing with.”
Jed pulled stiff paper from the envelope, and Leo heard his gasp.
“What is it?” Leo glanced over. The picture atop the stack in Jed’s hands was lurid and colorful: It showed the young queen, naked, inter-tangled with a handsome young man, his skin the color of a walnut. “Blue pictures? Of the Queen!?!?”
Jed flipped through the stack. “Oh, God, Leo, that was the tame one!” At the bottom was a page typewritten in Arabic. Jed didn’t bother with what he knew he couldn’t understand, and straightened the sheets of stiff paper. He slid them back into the envelope, re-wrapped the string. “If anybody, and Leo, I mean anybody but the King sees these, his crown won’t mean as much as a propeller beanie. We have to get these directly to the King!”
“Well, that should be no problem. I’m sure he’s always happy to accept private visits from tourists in stolen trucks!”
“Gentlemen.” Alaaeddin’s voice sounded almost tired. His gun-hand, however, as he stood just inside the door of the unfurnished bedroom, was erect and watchful. “You do manage to be most troublesome. Who–? No, later for that.”
“Man, don’t you know the union rules?” said Scotty. “You can’t torture us yet. We just got here! We get at least a half-hour settling-in period before you can torture us.”
“You know,” Kelly told him, “these guys may not have signed the International Super-Spies And All-American Heroes’ 329 contract.”
“A non-union shop?” Scotty seemed outraged. “Man, you got me working a non-union shop!”
Kelly turned to Alaaeddin. “I’m sorry, we can’t be your prisoners. We’re union men. ISS&AAH Local 329. We can only be prisoners in a union shop.”
“Makin’ us doggone scabs, Jack!” added Scotty.
Alaaeddin actually smiled. “I do so enjoy your wit!” he said. “It will have to wait, though, until we have arrived at the new location.” He leveled the Makarov at Kelly. “Mr. Scott, do please lie in the center of the floor with your arms outstretched. If you resist or disobey, then I will pull the trigger, and lose whatever intelligence Mr Robinson might have to offer.” His smile widened. “And remember, Mr. Scott: with a target like that forehead, I can hardly miss.”
“Oh, ouch!” said Kelly, “That was really unkind, man, totally uncalled-for.”
Alaaeddin simply watched him as Scotty eyed him, and his gun, then stepped into the room and went down, first to one knee, and then to lay prone.
As soon as he was down, the huge form of the Mountain was inside, striding over with his head ducked to avoid the ceiling. He placed one knee in the small of Scotty’s back, and quickly drew in his hands, one and then the other, to tie neatly behind him. He pulled a piece of cloth from his pocket, and shook it out, revealing a cotton pillowcase, and pulled it over Scotty’s head.
“Now, Mr. Robinson,” said Alaaeddin, pulling another pillowcase and some clothesline from his pocket. “Turn your back, and co-operate. If you resist in any way, Mr. Kefenste will break your partner’s neck.”
Kelly looked him in the eye, then turned, facing the wall and crossing his wrists behind him.
“Not the Palace,” Jed said. Leo looked over to him, his face a question. “Marketplace first.”
“Marketplace?” said Leo.
“I want to buy a candle.” Jed looked at the back of the envelope, at the wax clinging to the winding string. “A red candle. Re-seal this. Every little bit helps.”
Leo shrugged. “Can’t hurt, but we’re working under a time limit.”
“You think I don’t know that, Leo?” There was a roughness in Jed’s voice. “You saw what’s in here! Abd Al-Salaam can’t help them if these get out! Not just in public, but even within his own people! He’ll be a joke!”
“You think a little wax–?”
“I think if it’s not obvious that anybody else has opened this, we’ll be more likely to get it to the King unopened.”
Leo had parked the truck, and they climbed out. Jed scanned the shops, and pointed to a stall. The sign over it displayed a word in beautifully calligraphed Arabic, followed, in English, with “Chandlery.”
“Chandlery,” read Leo. “Nice. There’s a word you don’t hear much any more.”
Jed chuckled. “Come on, then.”
They bought three large candles in deep crimson, and walked back to the bread truck, which was drawing no attention. In the back, Jed lit the first candle, and let it burn for a minute or so, before lifting it and angling it so that the falling wax dripped and pooled on the string and tabs holding the envelope closed, and then for good measure, laid a line along the edge of the flap. When he was done, the envelope looked, if anything, even more secure than when they had found it.
Leo looked at Jed. “Seems to me, Maher Sharif is still our best bet.”
Jed nodded. “He knows Kelly and Scotty, and he knows us, and if he was assigned to them, and we’ve got to assume he was, then it was probably by the King himself. He’ll have direct access.”
“What I was thinking,” said Leo. He went forward and slid into the Driver’s seat. “Next stop, Palace Square.”
As Jed slid into the passenger seat, a bit of color on the floorboards caught his eye, and his brow furrowed as he regarded the crushed Atiyeh package. He reached down, and scooped it up into his pocket.
Scotty looked sourly at the unfinished stone-and-mortar walls and rough concrete floor, in the dim light of the bare 20-Watt bulb.
“This looks like the basement of my old house in South Philly, man,” he grumbled. “Hoby, you ever get the feeling that they just change the sets behind us while we're blindfolded?”
“Aw, but look at the Palace and the Marketplace, Stanley!” chuckled Kelly. “Some of this gets shot on location.”
“I dunno, man, didn't you learn anything from those Hollywood trips? Doesn't take...” He glanced at his watch, “forty-odd minutes to change a set.”
“Might,” said Kelly. “You know, if it's a union crew.”
“Yeah, but, Mr. Hoffa, we've already established this isn't a union shop!”
They sat quietly for a moment. Scotty shifted uneasily on the bare cement.
“Northeast?” Kelly mused. “Near Bashik's new desert-reclamation plots?”
“Smells about right. Enough manure to plant a forest.”
The door opened, and Kelly and Scotty looked up from the concrete floor.
Alaaeddin stood there, looking in, his mouth a thin, hard line. Behind him stood the hulking form of Letsego “The Mountain” Kefenste. “I know I waste my time with the question, but I must, in fairness, give you a chance to answer me rather than the Mountain. Where are the other two American agents? What are their plans?”
The two seated Americans exchanged an amused glance.
“American agents?” said Kelly. “That would be us.”
“The other two,” said Alaaeddin again.
“Man,” replied Scotty, “there are no other two! When you got me and Captain Marvel here on the case, there’s no need for more, Jack! That’s really insulting, man!”
“I think we should file a grievance,” said Kelly. He turned to Alaaeddin. “I demand to see your Grievance Officer!”
The corner of the Qumari’s mouth twitched. “That would be Mr. Kefenste,” he said. He turned to the Mountain. “Take him to the Question Room, Kefenste. Give his...grievances...a thorough hearing.”
“Mr. Sharif,” said Jed, seriously, offering a hand. They had presented themselves at the Al Shurafaa offices, and spent twenty minutes speaking with various functionaries before he had limped out of one of the corridors.
“Call me Maher,” Sharif replied, smiling. “How can I help you gentlemen?”
Jed didn’t hesitate. “We need to speak with his Majesty. We know how extraordinary that is. We know that he’s in trouble. We know Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott were helping him. They have been captured, and are being held in a house outside El-Zahra. Their captors are under the orders of the Sultan of Qumar himself. Their capture has caused the Sultan to accelerate his plan, and he will be taking devastating action. We must explain all this to the King.”
Sharif’s smile dimmed to a professional firmness. “We, the Honorable Ones, safeguard the King’s security. This is our purview.”
Jed shook his head. “No, Maher. I’m sorry, I respect you and the job you are doing, but only the King can deal with this.”
Maher Sharif regarded him for a moment, and then Leo.
“A top-secret Al-Qabda base, hidden here in Zahrat Al-Saharaa, in some modest suburban home? I am to accept this, simply on your word?”
Jed reached into his pocket, took out a flattened and dirty piece of litter, foil and paper and cellophane, and handed it to Maher Sharif: a crushed cigarette package labeled Atiyeh.
Sharif examined it, turning it over in his hand, then, apparently satisfied, he nodded, picking up a phone on his desk, and dialing an extension. There was the sound of a voice, words indistinguishable, through the phone.
“Your Majesty,” said Sharif. More of the voice from the phone. “It is because I wish my American guests to understand. I have two American tourists, here, Josiah Bartlet and Leo McGarry. They are past acquaintances of Mr Robinson and Mr Scott. They say your friends are in trouble, and so are you. They say they must speak directly with you. They bear documents, which I daresay they will give only to you.”
“A large, sealed envelope, Majesty. It has not been mentioned, but is prominent.”
“Immediately, Majesty.” He set the phone down. “You gentlemen will please accompany me?”
They followed him through a door, and into a long, white-walled corridor, to another door that he unlocked with a key, and gestured them through, closing that door behind himself. They were in a room, a little bit longer than wide, about the size of a respectable suburban bedroom. There was another door at the far end, but Sharif stepped ahead, and turned to face them.
“Maher,” began Jed.
“Jed, Leo, I will not bring you into the presence of the King, no matter what my orders, until I am satisfied that it is safe to do so. Please stand against the wall, as they do in your American police dramas, and I will search you for weapons.”
The two Americans exchanged a look and shrugged, leaning hands-first against the wall. Sharif’s left hand frisked them efficiently and thoroughly, and at his, “Thank you, gentlemen,” they straightened and turned, but he stood before them, his hand held out. “The envelope, Jed.”
Jed shook his head. “I can’t let you open this, Maher.”
Sharif went to a desk in one corner, and switched on a strong lamp, angling it up into the room. “An envelope like that could contain anything! A knifeblade. Poison. I will not open it, but I must inspect it for safety.” He gestured to the light-bulb. “I will look through it, in the light, be assured that it cannot harm the King.”
They stood for a long moment, eyes locked. Leo, at Jed’s side, looked back and forth between them. Whatever he himself might have thought, he kept his own counsel.
Finally Jed spoke. “Maher, is your loyalty to the Throne, or also to the man?”
Maher blinked at him. “Is that the question?”
“It is,” said Jed Bartlet.
Maher regarded him for a moment. His posture did not relax, but he nodded. “Very well. Al Shurafaa’s duty is to Khadra. The King is ruler of the Nation, and his safety is of utmost importance. But Nation and Throne and Crown depend upon the man who wears it. My highest loyalty is to my nation, but that is also loyalty to my King.” There was another long pause. “And Abd Al-Salaam is a very good man. I like him very much.”
“Then you’re going to have to trust me, Maher. I haven’t met the King, but I trust your judgment, and I trust Kelly’s and Scotty’s. I’m here, we’re here, to save his reign before it even begins. You’re going to have to trust me.”
Sharif gazed back at him. “With a sealed, uninspected envelope.”
“You can inspect it,” Leo said. Jed looked over at him, and Leo nodded back. “Hold it, juggle it, feel it, bend it. But you can’t look through it. It’s that important.”
Jed nodded. “Yes, that works.”
Sharif considered another moment, and then nodded, holding out his hand.
Jed handed him the envelope, and Sharif spent a moment on it, bending it, shaking it close beside his good left ear, his eyes closed with concentration. He finally looked down at it again, in his hand, and then over to the powerful desk lamp.
Jed and Leo exchanged glances. Leo angled his chin forward by a millimeter. Jed shook his in negation by the same amount.
Sharif approached the desk, the strong light throwing his shadow grotesquely across floor, wall, and ceiling.
The two Americans watched, faces still and serious.
Sharif placed the envelope under his right arm, turned the goose-necked lamp back down toward the desk, and shut it off.
“Come,” he said, holding the envelope back out to Jed as he led them to the far door. “His Majesty awaits.”
The young King met them in a room that Jed and Leo would have called a library, but that Sharif had called the King’s private office. He was a handsome, self-possessed young man, his eyes dark as they tracked the envelope in Jed’s hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Maher,” the King said quietly. He looked seriously at the security man. “May I call you in your office for further assistance in a while?”
Maher Sharif smiled, with a gesture halfway between nod and bow. “Of course, your Majesty. I am ever at your service.”
As the Honorable One backed out, closing the heavy door behind him, the King turned to Jed and Leo. “He is a very good man,” he told them. “I sometimes think I’d be lost without him.” His focus sharpened on Jed, and he offered a solemn hand. "You are Mr. Josiah? No, I'm sorry, Mr. Bartlet. Forgive me, I'm a trifle distracted."
“I imagine so, your Majesty,” said Jed, clasping the offered hand briefly. As the King shook with Leo, he continued, “And I can’t offer you much relief. Leo and I bumped into Kelly and Scotty and your Mr., uh, Maher in the marketplace. We’d both met Kelly and Scotty previously. We didn’t know it at the time, but I guess we were part of their cover for– Well, anyway, it seemed only polite to say hello. After that, there was an assault in the marketplace. A man attacked a woman and child–”
“I am aware of this,” said the King. “Mr. Maher reported it to me, although at that moment, he didn’t mention you. This man is known to the authorities.”
Jed nodded, and Leo leaned forward. “It appears that Kelly and Scotty knew him too,” he said. “They took off in hot pursuit.”
“And, you know,” Jed added, “tennis bums aren’t really known for crime-busting, and seeing that, and remembering how we had met them before, well, we figured out that tennis isn’t their only game. And, well, I decided that we should follow them, so if they got into trouble, someone would know.”
“And they have.” The King’s eyes flickered down to the envelope again.
“Yes, your Majesty. They, er, broke into a house outside the city. At, er....”
“81 Shari’ Ibrahim,” supplied Leo.
“Where the men they were following had gone. Someone named Kefenste, an Alaaeddin, and a Hassan. They took orders on the phone from the Sultan of Qumar himself, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We followed Kelly and Scotty in to warn them of a guard, and set off an alarm. They let themselves be captured so we could escape. We hid in the attic. Eavesdropped. The man Alaaeddin, he seems to be in charge here, he called to report in, and spoke with a Russian named Chernenkiev, and the Sultan. The Russian felt that Kelly and Scotty going into the house meant that you were not going to be controlled. He advised that all there was to do was as much damage as possible immediately. The Sultan agreed, said that he was calling printers, and packages will be going out by noon tomorrow, and he ordered Alaaeddin to send out his package immediately.” Jed gestured with the envelope. “This package. Alaaeddin called it ‘Going to Endgame.’ Then the Sultan ordered that Kelly and Scotty be killed after evening prayer.”
The King’s gaze moved quickly up and down, from Jed’s face to the envelope in his hands, lips hard-pressed, eyes intense. He shook his head once, quickly, turned to his desk, lifted his telephone.
Jed automatically turned away from him, giving him a symbolic margin of privacy. His eyes fell on a table near the desk, on which stood a beautifully-carved chess set, in onyx and ivory. Jed gasped softly. The rooks were elephants carrying archers in battle-towers on their backs, the bishops turbaned Viziers, the knights armed with scimitars. Jed nodded, gazing back into antiquity as he listened to the King speak.
“Mr. Maher?” Bashik was saying. “Send a strike team to 81 Shari’ Ibrahim. Rescue mission. Messrs. Robinson and Scott are being held there, or were when Messrs. McGarry and Bartlet left.” His eyes flickered to a desk clock. “Time is of the essence. Give instructions, though, that this is a rescue mission, not a law-enforcement operation: no evidence is to be seized, no documents to be examined, until I am present.” He paused. His eyes closed. “You must see to it, Maher. Please.” Another moment. “Thank you, Maher.”
He hung up the phone and turned back to the two Americans. Jed turned back to face him from the chess set.
“You managed to escape,” he prompted them.
“Yes, sir,” said Leo. “On the roof of a bakery truck they were using for ‘Endgame.’ One man aboard, Hassan. He was carrying that package. We took over the truck, threw him out, and left.”
“I’m not going to lie, your Majesty.” Jed held the envelope out to him. “We’ve seen what’s in this. I re-sealed it myself to make it less tempting to your staff.” He paused. “I’m very sorry, your Majesty.”
Bashik picked up the particular tone of sympathy, and snapped sharply at Jed, “It isn’t her!”
“Of course, your Majesty,” said Jed, immediately.
“It isn’t! It is her face, and the face of a recent guest in the Palace, but it is some form of photographic trickery, I assure you.”
Jed lifted a palm. “Pax, your Majesty.” The King’s face came up, an eyebrow raised, at the Latin. “I take you at your word, and in any case, it’s not for me to judge. I’m here – we’re here – to help.”
“There is no help.” The King’s voice actually trembled as he spoke. “What can be done? Perhaps an air-strike on every printing press in Qumar? You have likely watched me give my last order as a King.” His eyes took in the ancient chessboard. “My last before I turn over my King. As Alaaeddin called it, endgame. I don’t see how we can stop this now.”
“But perhaps I do, your Majesty,” said Jed. “Just maybe.”
“What have you got in mind?” asked Leo, and the King stilled, waiting.
Jed turned to Leo. “Remember who we saw at the hotel, this morning? At the elevators?”
“Shareef?” said Leo. “The Qumari ambassador?”
The King and Jed both shook their heads, for their very different reasons.
“Shareef will not help us,” said Bashik. “He is the Sultan’s nephew.”
“No,” said Jed Bartlet. “But El-Hassan bin Yazeed might.”
“The Bahji,” breathed Leo.
“The Blind Imam and his Ulema?” said Bashik. “They have no power over the Sultan.”
“But think of it, your Majesty,” replied Jed. “A network of ultra-conservative clerics. The Islamic equivalent of Jewish Hassidim, or possibly our Quakers or Amish? Militating to teach the Salafi tradition? A quaint but uncompromising moral voice: the Bahji.”
“Yes, but what have the Bahji to do with this?” asked the King.
“They’ve got a lot of support among the clergy,” said Leo. “All over Qumar.”
“And those shepherds,” added Jed, “tend flocks. Congregations. If we bring that–” Jed pointed at the envelope. “–to binYazeed, and tell him these photographs are fakes... Surely to falsify pornography of a teenaged girl in order to strike at her husband was never something Allah had in mind! It can’t be hard to persuade him that this is an outrage in the eyes of God.”
“So then, he can mobilize the Bahji,” added Leo. “And before the Sultan can release the photographs, they will have been publicly denounced as fake! Protests in the street against the Sultan’s shameful affront to Allah!”
“Even if he goes ahead and releases them,” Jed finished, “they won’t be believed. Not with the Qumari public calling them fake before you’ve even had a chance to make a statement.”
The King’s eyes were wide, his face pale. “Are you mad!?!? You think I will return these – these – to two American tourists of little account, to wander loose in my kingdom with some fabulous scheme to use them to convince a cleric to riot in the name of holiness? My kingdom trembles on the brink of catastrophe, four hundred years of our history, the entire Yaphetite dynasty, crashing to an end, my friends in enemy hands, sentenced to death, and the best you can offer is this– this–”
“In the middle of the Fifteenth Century,” Jed Bartlet said, “After the fall of Constantinople, the Turkish forces which occupied the north of what is now Khadra were recalled to Turkey.” His voice was rich, now, and considered, the voice of a teacher, and it filled the room. “Many of the officers had come to like the life they led here, and so they stayed, and ruled as princes over a merging and disintegrating collection of city-states. For more than a hundred years, these Turkish northern countries warred and skirmished continually with Arab tribes from the south, who rejected as invaders the generations of Turkish descendants who had been born in this land. Then the eldest son of the leader of the southern alliance took as captive the youngest daughter of the ruling prince of the northern territories. Neither expected to fall in love, but fall they did, and they returned to her father’s palace, where the southern leader surrendered his sword, and knelt before the Prince, his neck exposed, to ask for the hand of the young princess.”
Leo and the King were very still, watching Jed as he spoke, the King with growing respect in his eyes, and Leo with a dawning of something more like reverence.
“The father, impressed with his courage, and touched by his trust, stayed his hand, and gave his blessing. A century of war ended in marriage.” Jed’s eyes moved over the black-and-white squares, the exquisitely carved pieces. “In commemoration, the Prince commissioned a fine, hand-carved chess set in ivory and onyx, and gave it to Yapheth Abd al-Mutakabbir, who would now be the first King to rule over North and South alike, and who swore to make a green land for all, thus founding Khadra, the Green Lady of the Desert.”
Jed picked up the white King’s pawn from the stone board. “We can do this, your Majesty. I know it seems overwhelming, and I respect that it’s hard to trust two men you’ve never met with your future and your bride hanging in the balance. I know it looks like there are a thousand things that have to go right and a million that can go wrong. But we can do this. Don’t concentrate on the details. Look at the whole board.”
He placed the pawn two squares forward in the classic opening gambit.
“Your move, your Majesty,” said Jed Bartlet.