THE THIEF OF KALIMAR (Graham Diamond's Arabian Nights Adventures)

BOOK: THE THIEF OF KALIMAR (Graham Diamond's Arabian Nights Adventures)
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“Catch him!” came the cry….

Ramagar bolted into the dumbstruck crowds gathered at the gate’s edge. A band of mounted troops came charging from the street, whips flaying, sending the frightened citizens into a panic. Mariana, in the meantime, had lifted herself from the ground and made her way back inside. Everywhere she looked there was frenzy.

“He’s dressed as a Karshi,” Mariana heard a captain shout. “He won’t be hard to find!”

Amid the chaos a group of soldiers had cornered someone, and Mariana strained to see. Was it Ramagar? Her heart sank as never before. The Karshi robe was unmistakable. The soldiers closed ranks and raised their weapons.

“Kill him!” the commander barked. And Mariana screamed….

Map by Edward Meehan

THE THIEF OF KALIMAR

© 1979 Graham Diamond

All rights reserved

BookSurge Publishing

7290-B Investment Dr
N. Charleston, SC 29418

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

ISBN 1-4196-7790-X

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61916-514-4

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Daniel Zitin, and all those others who know
anything is possible … if you believe

1

Ramagar stood silently, his back against the cold stones, his long fingers nervously grappling at the roughness of the wall. His keen black eyes stared intently into the shadowy street as he struggled not to blink against the cold biting wind. For even in an instant he might miss some far-off movement, some half-hidden sign that a mark was close. No, Ramagar knew he must not stir, only keep watching and waiting until tonight’s long vigil was done.

And then it came. A dim darkness against the black at first. Then a blurred silhouette outlined briefly when the crescent moon peeked from behind the heavy clouds. Ramagar squinted. He had to be careful. It could be anyone at this hour. After all, in the Jandari, the night was still young.

The shuffling sound of boots over cobblestones brought the faintest of smiles to Ramagar’s lips. The silhouette began to loom larger and the thief stealthily crossed the alley.

The mark was well-dressed: well-heeled also, if Ramagar was any judge. A portly man, his finely woven cloak haphazardly flung over his shoulders. The tip of his boot made a scraping sound as he stumbled across a loose stone. He almost fell; only the reflex action of his hands finding the nearest wall saved him from losing balance completely and tumbling flat on his face. Clearly his bellyful of wine was more than he could handle.

Ramagar sneered. It would be an easy mark after all. But still he must be quick. Who could tell what others—servants or companions—might be close behind?

With the swiftness of a leopard the thief leaped into the open street. The drunken prey gasped, realizing what was about, and foolishly made to run off. Ramagar lost no time; the fist came up and the drunk doubled over, wheezing and coughing, vainly trying to scream for help. Before he had even fallen to the ground the deed was done. Quick fingers expertly yanked the purse from the belt, lifted off the emerald ring, tore the small gold pendant from his throat.

Fleshy buttocks hit the street with a thud. The prey stared bewildered as the lightning-like thief paused to bow before him and whisper a hasty “Thank you, sir” before dashing back off into the alley and becoming lost among the shadows.

The prey sat with his jaw agape; it was a long time before he was able to manage to raise a shout.

Over the low wall jumped Ramagar, thief of thieves; then he darted down an alleyway, up along the twisting back street where only the dim candles in the windows of the prostitutes could be seen, and dashed high and low among the shadows of the plaza until he reached the far corner where he ducked into a doorway. A beggar lay at his feet in a drunken stupor. Ramagar observed him disdainfully for a moment, then no longer paid any heed.

Panting, he poured the contents of the purse into his calloused palm and counted with halting breath. He closed his eyes and whistled softly. Eight pieces of silver and one of gold. His eyes opened to count again. Glittering in his hand they remained. Eight of silver, one of gold.

That fate was on his side tonight, there was no question. His mark must have been a man much wealthier than he had dared hope. In a single stroke he had earned more money than he usually could in a month. And the emerald ring and the gold pendant—tiny though it was—these would bring a pretty penny at Oro’s stall.

Tonight’s good fortune changed matters considerably. Further work was suddenly not only unnecessary, but also risky now that the soldiers would surely be seeking the robber of such a wealthy man.

Serves the fool right, though, Ramagar thought as he put the coins in his pocket. Teach him not to come to the Jandari bearing so much wealth. And in many ways the poor fool was lucky. Yes, lucky. To be robbed by Ramagar meant not to be hurt in any way. The thief of thieves abhorred violence when not needed. But there were many others in the Jandari who looked upon the matter quite differently. A swift blade could silence a tongue forever—as many visitors to the quarter had found out to their sorrow.

Stepping over the twitching body of the beggar, Ramagar tossed the empty purse to the shadows and briskly began to walk in the direction of the Jandari’s main avenues.

The Street of Thieves was filled with life. The air reeked of pungent meats and cheap perfumes. Women of the night, even in winter clad only in the barest of flimsy garments, flashed their eyes at him and smiled while they jostled through the crowds, seeking an easy pocket to pick while searching for the next customer. If Ramagar had worn a hat, which he never did, he would have tipped it to them. He knew them all by face, if not by name, and counted many among his friends. After all, the Jandari was their home as well as his, and he was at ease with everyone: the con men, pickpockets, thieves, whores, drug dealers, and even murderers. Rogues of every conceivable description: his own kind.

Beyond the last of the shouting merchants hawking their stolen wares in hand-pulled carts stood the Demon’s Horn. As Ramagar came to the arched street a smile formed on his lips. He walked more slowly as the dim glow of candlelight from the shuttered tavern window enticed him, the faint smell of heady wine already filling his nostrils.

He pushed open the heavy door and was greeted by a flood of light. Worn boots kicked up a small cloud of sawdust at his feet and made him sneeze. The landlord looked up at the sound.

“Ah, Ramagar,” he laughed, standing beside the closer tables and tapping his stubby fingers along the multiple folds of his belly. “What brings you here so early? Was the night’s chill not to your liking?”

A few small cackles came from the scattered handful of patrons at the more distant tables where the shadows hid their faces from unwanted stares. A thin haze of smoke billowed and swirled at the ceiling, as Ramagar, paying no attention to the landlord’s remark, strode to the open hearth and rubbed his cold hands over the glowing embers.

It was a dirty, ill-kept tavern, this Demon’s Horn, offering little in the way of comfort or good food. Yet to Ramagar, and those of his ilk, it was at least a safe haven, a place where even the boldest of the Khalir’s soldiers dared not enter, and boasting no less than three hidden exits to flee just in case one night they did.

“Will tonight be credit or cash?” the landlord asked, belching loudly. “You’ve run up a tidy bill in weeks past, my friend—”

The thief of thieves ignored the remark. Reaching into his pocket he drew out a silver coin and tossed it in the innkeeper’s direction. A quick hand shot out and caught it, the red face glowing with the realization of its value.

“Tonight I’m thirsty,” said Ramagar. “Make sure you bring the best you have.”

The landlord bowed respectfully. He knew the silver coin would erase the previous bill, provide tonight’s wine, and leave him a fine profit besides.

He tucked the coin safely away beneath his apron. “For you, Ramagar, only the best.” And shouting to the servant girl, he demanded that a fresh bottle be brought. One from his private cellar.

The thief straightened his shoulders and took a small table near the back. There he placed his hands openly on the table, in time-honored tradition to show that he bore no secret weapon, and sat in silence as he waited.

A whore wearing an outlandish green wig slid from a nearby table to his. The fake gold necklace she wore glittered in his face as she smiled, bending low beside him so that her ample breasts just brushed against his cloak.

Ramagar shook his head. The whore lingered a moment, false eyelashes fluttering, then frowned and returned to her seat. It was no secret in the Demon’s Horn that she favored him. Always had, ever since her coming to the Jandari three years before. But not once had the thief taken up on her offers, even when she had made it plain that for him her pleasures would come without charge.

Moments later the servant girl was back. The landlord took the bottle from her and brought it himself. A dirty goblet was placed on the table and the landlord poured. He stood beaming while the thief tasted the wine and nodded in approval.

The landlord leaned in closer, glancing about to see if anyone was watching. Then, assured that everyone minded his own business, he said, “Someone has been looking for you.”

Ramagar raised his brow. “Who?”

“Vlashi, the pickpocket. He was in earlier, asking for you. He gave me a message to say that he has matters to discuss. Important matters, he says.”

The thief ran a hand along the edge of his trimmed black beard. For one reason or other, the wispy pickpocket was always seeking him out, always offering him new schemes to make them both rich. Yet it was always Ramagar’s wine that was drunk, and his own purse that was forced to pay for it.

“If he returns tell him to go away,” the thief replied. “Tonight I have other things on my mind.”

The landlord clasped his hands and frowned. “Would that I could, my friend. But, alas, it may be too late.”

Ramagar looked to the door and there he stood. The pickpocket’s beady eyes were already busily scanning the inn, seeking him out. Vlashi saw him and grinned, displaying a mouthful of decayed teeth. And without being asked, he strode to the thief’s table and plopped himself easily into the chair opposite. His nervous eyes gazed at the bottle of fine wine. A tongue darted from between fat lips and ran from one corner of his mouth to the other.

“Bring another glass,” Ramagar sighed.

While the thief poured, his companion warmed his hands by rubbing them over the wax lamp. A glint of mischief flickered in his eyes.

Vlashi took the drink greedily and downed it with a single swallow, not caring that excess wine dripped from his mouth over his beard and onto his seedy, torn cloak.

He winked at the thief. “You must have had a fine mark tonight to afford such a quality brew,” he observed.

Ramagar eyed him slowly. “I hear you’ve been looking for me,” he said, purposely ignoring the question. Vlashi, not the brightest of men, was unaware of the slight.

Leaning his body over the table and bringing his dirtied face so close that Ramagar could smell his foul breath, he smiled. “I, too, have been fortunate tonight,” he whispered. “Yes, most fortunate.”

“Then the gods must have favored us both. Perhaps you can pay back the three coppers you owe me.”

Vlashi looked at him sourly. “Coppers? Ah, a mere trifle, my friend. A matter of no consequence. Not with what I have to show you.”

“And what might that be?”

The pickpocket poured himself another drink and finished it off in the same manner as the first. Ramagar sat back and waited while the cutpurse looked carefully around the room. At the closest table the patron was half-strewn across the table, snoring loudly. At the next, the green-haired whore was sitting with her eyes on the door, too interested in the possible next customer to be paying any attention. Two other patrons were dealing in whispers of their own, while the servant girl doted on a group of newcomers to the Jandari who obviously had no idea where they were.

“It’s safe,” said Ramagar, beginning to stir with impatience. “You can speak.”

The decayed teeth flashed with the smile. Vlashi nodded in agreement and slowly put his hand inside his faded tunic.

A long curved object glittered as it first caught the light. Ramagar stared as the pickpocket placed the object in his hand. It was a tiny, jeweled scimitar, not much longer than a man’s hand, but intricately woven with fine design along both sides of the scabbard, which, as the thief had no trouble realizing, was made of pure gold.

Before Ramagar could inspect it more closely, Vlashi pulled it back and began to fondle it affectionately.

“Now
this
is a prize, eh, my friend?”

The thief was too stunned to answer. He narrowed his eyes and gazed at the jewels, tiny baubles that reflected dancing light onto the wall. The whore turned to look, and Vlashi quickly put the blade back in his tunic.

“Look this way again and I’ll slice your tongue!” he hissed at her.

Undaunted, the girl was about to reply when the thief’s angry eyes caught her own, sending her back into silence.

“She’ll cause no trouble,” assured the thief. “Now tell me more about this, er, prize. Where did you get it?”

Vlashi chuckled. So the thief was interested after all. Perhaps more interested than he was willing to admit.

Ramagar read the thought. At once his face returned to impassivity, his voice no longer betrayed emotion.

“How I came upon this prize is in itself a tale to tell,” Vlashi said quickly. “Ah, Ramagar, it is not to be believed! Never in a thousand, thousand years could it happen again. I swear that if I—”

“Yes, yes,” growled Ramagar. “I am sure you could take all night to explain to me in detail. But get to the point. I have very little time to waste …”

Vlashi’s face twisted slightly into a grimace. “I lifted it from a beggar.”

The thief roared. “Very well, Vlashi. Perhaps I had no business in asking. It bears no merit—”

“But I swear to you!” cried the pickpocket. “I was not trying to keep anything from you, Ramagar. This very prize that I now hold was truly lifted from the pocket of a beggar!”

The thief scrutinized him carefully. Such a thing was impossible, he knew. Where would a beggar come to possess such a prize? And if he did, surely he would no longer have to beg for a living. The scimitar was a gift of princes, or even kings.

“Tell me more,” said the thief, and his companion was all too eager to comply.

“It was a man in rags. A peculiar fellow—yellow-haired, A foreigner. I first saw him wandering aimlessly along the streets and into the plaza,” Vlashi’s eyes brightened and he paused to pour himself yet another glass of wine. “Normally I would not have given such a man a second look, much less a piece of my valuable time. But …” He seemed to grope for the right words. “But there was something else about him, something I cannot explain, that left me intrigued. His dress and open palms said beggar, yet he carried himself like no other I have ever seen…”

“And then?”

The pickpocket hunched his shoulders and leaned closer. “And then I began to follow him. Why, I cannot say. But whatever the reason that drove me on, I felt somehow compelled to find out what the lout was up to. I assumed the bulge behind his rags to be no more than a cheap dagger of sorts, causing me to think that perhaps my prey was in truth a murderer only disguised as a beggar or brought to this low state by circumstances I could not guess.” He shrugged and grinned wanly. “But, as times are hard, and business was poor, I felt that if I could lift even a copper dagger it might bring me a few coins to pay for a good meal and bottle of wine.

BOOK: THE THIEF OF KALIMAR (Graham Diamond's Arabian Nights Adventures)
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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