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September 29, 2002

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

The trio strode down the vaulted hall. Two men dressed as palace guards, Kalashnikovs on their shoulders, trailing behind another, a stocky mustachioed figure, wearing green fatigues and a black beret. The sound of their footsteps echoing off the marbled floor and ceiling would have given them a suitably purposeful "men striding to meet their destiny" air were it not for the contortions of the leader, as he alternated between yanking at the seat of his pants and his facial hair.

"This Allah be-damned mustache is slipping again!" Ahmed pressed at the mass of hair atop his upper lip. "Whatever you used to make it stick smells of sheep anus!" He gave the coarse hair another tug, then started picking irritably at the sides of the green uniform he had struggled into a half-hour before. "And the cursed uniform is too tight."

The palace guard on his right smacked Ahmed's hands away from the cloth they were tugging at, and smacked them a second time as they rose again towards his face. Shamir glared at him. "Quit that! It is sheep anus, boiled for two days in the open sun, and probably goat anus and camel anus and rat anus and a thousand and one other anuses. Omar made it. I do not care if it smells like the pustulent hole your mother shat you of. If you tug at it again, it will fall off in the middle of your speech. Whose anus do you think they will boil after that?"

Ahmed, rubbing the sting out of his hands, gave the other guard a dark look. "It might be preferable to wearing these pants." He gave them another ineffectual yank. "My ass looks like a giant camel's toe. I liked it better back in the armory."

Omar gazed back, phlegmatic. "The error is your own. Were you not as vain as a Saudi princeling with his first boy, you would not be in such discomfort. You told me you measured 32 inches in the waist, so I made the pants 32 inches in the waist. It is not my fault that your waist hasn't seen 32 inches since your madrassa days." They turned a corner, heading towards a distant portico, through which the murmur of a distant crowd could be heard. "I will let them out tonight, if the Effendi Ji'ivsa approves of you, and you make it through your speech without stuttering like a mullah in a synagogue."

The Effendi Ji'ivsa was a small man with a tonsure of brown hair around a truly stupendous bald spot; stationed at a desk in an alcove off the hallway a few tens of yards away from looming portico. Four Republican guards flanked him. Distaste oozed from their cold black eyes as the trio halted in front of the desk. It was piled high with papers, a copy of the Koran, and a dog-eared paperback novel, surprisingly not one of the ones written by HIM. There was a time when Iraqi bureaucrats had taken to leaving copies of Zabibah and the King on their desks, until a number had been executed for reading during work hours. Each man did go to his grave with a personally autographed copy, however.

Ji'ivsa looked up from his papers, running his fingers through thinning black hair. "This is the new one?"

Omar stepped forward. "Yes, if you please, dragoman.'

He looked at Ahmed. "Memorized the speech, have you?"

Ahmed swallowed nervously. "Yes effendi, as if it were the blessed Koran itself."

Ji'ivsa slid back from the desk, the chair shuddering against the wood. "Well, let's have look at you. Had some idiot bring me a blonde last week." He walked in a tight circle around Ahmed, who had broken out in a sweat with the effort of keeping his recalcitrant belly sucked in.

"Nice attention to detail. Sweat is a good touch. HE always sweated like an ox in the oven before a speech. Mustache a bit off. Face not nearly broken out enough. Still, shouldn't matter from the distance. The pants are perfect."

Ahmed stifled a groan.

"Excuse me?"

"Pardon, effendi. I had lentils for breakfast."

"Method actor, I see." Ji'ivsa completed his inspection and returned to his desk. "Let, me see…What's the bit after ‘And hear the lamentations of their women?'"

Ahmed was silent for a moment. Omar paled, and the four guards shifted stance, every so slightly. Their eyes gleamed.

Shamir felt panic rise with the gorge in his throat. If I shoot him now, he thought, perhaps I can convince Allah that he was an enemy, and perhaps jew him out of one or two houris after those four bastards over there gut me like a lamb.

His thought was interrupted by Ahmed's smooth baritone.

"These our brethren the faithful and the Arabs, are the calls made by your sons and brothers in Iraq, the land of faith, as they confront the enemy who wants to harm Iraq, with total disregard to God and man, despite all the resilience and resolve with which the Iraqi people have faced this enemy who has refused to listen to any Islamic or Arab voice, and indeed rejected all the initiatives and calls for peace, which we had proposed more than once, name of the people of Iraq."

Ji'ivsa nodded. "Very good. You have acted before?"

Shamir thought frantically at the effendi. Don't ask him for his credits.

Ahmed nodded. "Yes effendi, in my younger days."

Don't ask him for his credits!

Ji'ivsa glance at his watch. "We still have five minutes before the CNN feed is up. Anything I might have heard of?

Lie about your credits. In the name of all that is holy, lie you fool!

Omar made a frantic gesture in his direction, to no avail. Ahmed beamed. Perhaps there was a fan to be made here! "My first roles were in the Riyadh production of Oh! Calcutta! After that I played Kenickie in the Sanaa Players Company production of Grease, effendi. The South Yemen Examiner said that my performance was ‘luminous'. My last role before Allah called me to Jihad…..

I wonder how many other calls Allah made were to wrong numbers, thought Shamir sourly. Omar was rapidly paling.

"was in the The Merchant of Venice, where my…." Ahmed stumbled to a halt, realizing too late that he had follwed the rascally rabbit over the edge of the cliff, and nothing but open space lay beneath him. "My…performance….was called ‘surprisingly tender and nuanced…'"

Ji'ivsa glanced at his watch again, picked up the paperback. "Which role did you play?"

Ahmed glanced at his friends. Their faces were as pasty white as he presumed his was. He swallowed. "Jessica, my lord."

Ji'ivsa was once again engrossed in his reading. "Well, I'm sure it's all to the good. Not much of a theatre man myself. See me after the speech, we'll arrange to get you and your entourage some decent quarters. There's a couple of chairs they can sit in just inside the balcony. I know my crew always cry like little girls after they've been on their feet a while." The four around him slumped ever so slightly, and glanced at the trio guiltily.

Immensely relieved, Ahmed started down the hall, then turned back, a question in his eyes. "Will HE be watching, effendi?"

Ji'ivsa, glanced up from his book. "What, Saddam?"

"Yes, my lord."

"I should think not. Been dead for years. Shot himself cleaning his pistol. The doubles have been running the country since then. You'll make number six, and I should think you'll be quite popular. New boy always gets the shit jobs, you know. "

He lowered his book, glanced at the 3 pairs of eyes goggling at him. " I know it's a bit of a shock, but I've found that the initial speeches each double makes are lot less stilted when they aren't worrying about HIM writing the reviews. No, he's long gone. Pissed in his eye sockets myself. Now, how do they say? Go break a leg." He waved them away, returned to his book, looked up once again. "All of this is on the hush-hush, of course. Otherwise it'll be your eye sockets getting the irrigation. Run along now!"

Ahmed, Shamir and Omar walked slowly down the remaining fifty yards. Omar held the dog-end of a cigarette to his lips, which he lit and inhaled of deeply before passing it along. Shamir greedily accepted, but Ahmed waved it away.

"Cuts my wind, makes it harder to do the monologues." His eyes were far away, calculating. "What was the book Ji'ivsa was reading?"

Omar shrugged. "Something by a ferengi named Heinlein. I didn't see the title."

"Double Star." Shamir said. "I saw the title when he picked it up. I wonder what it is about."

"Who knows?" Omar settled into a chair, just inside the balcony. "The Americans write millions of books. Perhaps it is a treatise on baldness." He motioned Ahmed forward. "Don't fuck it up, and tonight we can sleep in beds. With sheets." His eyes shined. "And women."

Ahmed strode forward into the light, his shoulders pulled back, becoming a bull of man.

"Saddam!" shouted the crowd. "Saddam!"

Posted by Bigwig at September 29, 2002 10:37 PM | TrackBack
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