Thursday, September 29, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 3) – Crepusculum II & III.

SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September 2011
IV.
VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)


CREPUSCULUM

EVENING TWILIGHT




II

The narrow passageway that wound its way steeply upwards was the central artery of a warren of streets that clung to the side the hill like a vascular anomaly. Airless and deserted apart from the small ginger cat, perched nervously on a low roof, that watched suspiciously as he walked up and down its length a couple of times Michael Mara was increasingly conscious of the very conspicuous way he was inspecting all the doorways and peering into the darkness of the few unshuttered windows. He had tried knocking on a couple of doors to no avail. Tired, he leant against a wall and lit another cigarette. Soon the light would be gone and he did not want to get lost in the area. Shaking his head in exasperation he had one more look at the map he carried before deciding to give up on the quest and start his descent down the steep road that would bring him back down to the city centre.
Just then Michael heard one of the doors creaking open behind him and quickly turning, he saw an elderly man, dressed in a finely tailored white-cotton suit, step out into the street. He hesitated for a moment, to watch while the man locked the door behind him, before approaching. “Perdone Señor. Habla ingles? Could you possibly help me? I’m looking for a bookshop on this street,” Michael asked loudly and deliberately.
The elderly man looked at the sweat-soaked visitor with an amused expression before answering in a quiet voice, “A bookshop! Here! On this street? No. Of course not!” He emitted a small nasal laugh. “No bookshop I am afraid. I am sorry. This is a residential street. You will have better fortune finding such a shop in the area closer to the central markets.” Reaching into a pocket the old man pulled out a fob watch, the casing of which was tethered to his waistcoat by a chain of rose-coloured gold, and flipped open the lid. He shook his head as he looked at the dial. “Unfortunately the bookshops will be closed by now.”
Michael blushed. “I know. I mean to return tomorrow but as I was walking nearby I thought I would check if there was a bookshop here. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
“It is not a disturbance. Perhaps you will have better luck tomorrow.”
“Perhaps. It’s . . . It is strange though,” Michael persisted.
“What is so strange my young friend?” the older man asked kindly.
“I was told by somebody I met earlier today that there was a bookseller on this street.”
“I see. What is the name of this bookseller that you seek?”
Michael pulled out a notebook and opened it. He read his written note. “Alonzo Aldahrze. Do you know of him?”
The old man appeared to be taken aback somewhat and immediately began tapping the ivory-handled and metal-tipped wooden cane that he carried in an agitated fashion on the cobblestones of the street. Small sparks flew up. The unwelcome disturbance caused the lounging cat to jump from the nearby roof and dash between the two of them with an irritated shriek. Quickly looking up and down the street the old man then stared, without speaking at Michael.
The silence was awkward between them. “I am sorry, Señor. Did I pronounce the name wrong? Have I said something to offend you?” Michael ventured.
“It depends. Who gave you this name?” he asked sternly.
“A young lady called Isabella Sanjil.”
“That is very interesting! Very interesting indeed!” The old man visibly relaxed. “Come, my lost young friend. I was about to take my evening stroll and you can accompany me. Let me lean on your arm.” He leaned forward and with his free arm linked that of Michael. “What do those English gentlemen call it . . . A constitutional? Are you English?” he asked as he began leading them both off at a brisk pace down the street.
“No! American. I don’t understand,” Michael blurted out, feeling slightly awkward with the unfamiliar physical familiarity.
“Of course you do not, my dear boy. I am Alonzo Aldahrze, the man you are looking for, although a collector rather than seller of books and I certainly do not have a shop.” He paused for a moment to size up Michael again. “Isabella sent you? That is indeed most interesting. She would know well that I do not have a bookshop. How is the dear princess? I have not seen her since she came back from America.”
Michael stopped. America? She never mentioned that, he thought. “I’m sorry Señor Aldahrze, I only met her for a brief time today. I was reading an old Baedeker guide and she told me that you might be able to help me source some more. Perhaps I misheard her when she said bookseller, she might have said collector.”
“It is of no concern. What is your name young man?”
“Michael Mara.” Michael unlinked his arm and removing his wallet opened it and handed the older man a card.
Aldahrze looked at it carefully before pocketing it. “She is an attractive young woman, our Isabella. No?”
“Very,” Michael answered a bit too quickly.

They walked in silence until eventually reaching the Plaza Nueva. The older man stopped suddenly and examined the card again. “Well Doctor Michael Mara I will try and help you with your Baedekers, but you will have to give me something in return.”
“Sure. Of course Señor . . . What would you like?” Michael was slightly apprehensive, wondering what the older man would demand of him.
Alonzo Aldahrze smiled at Michael's hesitation. “Do not worry Doctor Mara. I would just ask for the pleasure of your company for a while. I am an old man and I like to talk as well as listen. I have few people to converse with, particularly in English, and if you can spare the time, join me tomorrow evening for my walk. I will meet you here at the same time.”
Michael blushed, ashamed at his reticence. “I was due to leave tomorrow but I have decided to change my plans,” he said, finally deciding on a whim.
Alonzo Aldahrze smiled again and like an indulgent uncle, squeezed Michael’s arm gently. “Good, that’s settled then. I am sure you will find that the effort will be worth it. Until tomorrow then Doctor Mara.”




III

The cell-phone suddenly vibrated into life against his chest wall. While reaching into his pocket to retrieve it Michael realised that he must have forgotten to switch it back to outdoor mode after the conference had ended that morning. Sitting down on the bed he flipped the lid open and saw from the number display that it was Rod Mallory calling. Only he, Willard Adams, his personal secretary and his wife, Caroline, had the number. He pressed the receive button. “Hello, Rod,” he said breezily. According to Michael’s two-timezone watch it was midday in San Clemente.
“G’day cobber. How’s it going mate?”

Rod Mallory’s strong Australian accent bounced off the satellite and hurtled to earth; neither warped by space nor distorted by the many years he had spent away from his native Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Michael Mara smiled at its effect on him. Mallory had been a champion surfer and martial arts expert in his youth but it was his intellect, often cunningly shrouded, that had brought him to America, first to the University of Hawaii and then to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That same intellect was to help him achieve a quick and substantial fortune as an offshore investment banker and at the time that Michael was seeking both finance and business expertise to help develop and market his genetic patents Mallory had offered to come on board to help establish the company. Rod Mallory was currently the chief financial officer of Hoxygene.

“Good Rod, thanks,” Michael answered truthfully. “The conference was reasonably informative and Granada is a beautiful city.”
“Washington Irvine the second eh, cobber? Are you staying in the Alhambra as well?” the Australian asked.

Rod Mallory’s prodigious memory always fascinated Michael but, he thought, it was very, very unusual for him to interrupt his sacrosanct Saturdays to make a business call. Normally at this time of the day Mallory was to be found lording it on the tennis courts of the country club where they were both members. Michael did not play tennis much, a reflection more of his skill than inclination, preferring the solitude and challenge of hill walking that took him well away from the atmosphere of greed and vanity within the club. There, a better plastic surgeon, a larger yacht, a bigger house or a killing on the stock exchange defined your present, and prompted envy even amongst people already very wealthy. And that was just the men, he mused. He had remained a member of its enclaved pomposity for the sake of his wife Caroline, whose characteristic cool and dignified restraint rapidly evaporated when preparing to serve for the match. She and Rod Mallory had formed a mixed doubles combination that had dominated the local veteran’s circuit for the past three years and on the few occasions that he had had a chance to watch them play he had found that the intensity of their game unnerving. The mountains were Michael Mara’s necessary escape to sanity. Something must be up, he surmised.

“No, not really, Rod. I’m slumming it on the lower slopes. Still a good view though,” Michael explained. There was silence on the line. “Rod are you still there? Rod!” he growled into the receiver.
There was a banging sound in the background and a pause before the Australian came back on the line. “Sorry mate, I just had to shut the door.”

Michael could still hear persistent background noise, which sounded like running water. For some reason he suddenly wished, at that point, he had access to one of those Taiwanese electronic surveillance facilities that he’d seen written about in a recent copy of the International Herald Tribune. You dialled a special number and it would play back all the background peripheral sounds, with the voice screened out of the person you were in contact with. According to the report, Taiwanese women were buying the gizmos in bucket-loads as they wanted to know what their husbands were up to. The replayed sounds helped localise the errant spouses, particularly if they emanated from houses of pleasure. He had also read that the Israeli secret services had modified the application to be able to activate somebody’s phone even if it was turned off to act as a receiver form wherever the phone was located.

“Are you at the tennis club? It sounds like it’d raining,” Michael asked.
“What? Oh yes. I’m in the pro’s office. The sprinkler system just came on and I needed to shut the door. It’s splattering against the windows. Michael?” Mallory’s voice became strident.
“Yes, Rod.”
“Are you sitting down cobber?”
“Yes,” Michael lied. That type of demand nearly always automatically caused the opposite reaction and start him pacing. He got up and moved to the window, pulling back the curtains, to look out at the city. It was twilight and the streetlights were beginning to flicker on. “What is it, Rod?”
“Charles Alexander rang me with an offer. Its incredible.”

Charles Alexander was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Alpanna BioPharm, one of the biggest biotechnology conglomerates in the world. They held patents for as diverse a range of gene products as an eye pigment regulator, a complete activating sequence from the HIV virus which was now being used for vaccine production, a lung cancer associated protein, to the genes controlling disease resistance in soybean and rice crops. The present big money spinner for Alpanna, because of its implications for the paper industry, was one of the genes controlling the amount of structural proteins in the Eucalyptus tree. Hoxygene, Michael Mara’s company, had been negotiating with Alpanna BioPharm for development funding in return for the commercial production rights.

“What do you mean, Rod? Will they give us the funding?”
“More than that, Michael!”
“Get to the point, Rod!”
“They want to buy a majority stake in Hoxygene.”
“What! No way, Rod! We agreed that we were not open to offers,” he said crossly.
“Easy cobber. You’ve not even heard the -”
“I don’t care what the offer is Rod. Hoxygene is not for sale.” By this time Michael was pacing furiously, his free hand clenching and opening in frustration. “Do you hear me, Rod?” he shouted down the line. There was silence on the connection apart from the running water sounds he heard earlier. “Rod?” he asked, checking if his partner was still there.
“When you’ve calmed down cobber, you arrogant shite, I’ll speak to you. This is a business call Michael and not some playground battle over who has the most marbles.” The tone of Mallory’s voice was loaded with venom. “Call me tomorrow.”
Michael could feel himself breaking out in a sweat, caused by a mixture of anger and fear. He fought hard to compose himself. “No . . . You are right, Rod, I’m sorry for shouting. Stay on the line.”
There was a pause. “That’s better, mate. I hate playing silly games in order to haul ivory-tower scientists down into the real world.”
Michael tried to recover some of the lost ground. “Have you spoken to Bill?” he asked.

Willard ‘Bill’ Adams was the 65 year-old chairman of an old, family-run Wall Street investment bank. A few years previously, he had immediately recognized the potential of the prospectus that Rod and Michael had put together and rather than farming it out to other investors had committed the family money to the start-up costs for Hoxygene. This had amounted to about 9 million dollars and gave the bank a fifteen per cent stake in the company. While Michael controlled 45 per cent of the issued shares, Rod had 24% and in addition, there was about ten per cent placed with large institutional investors. The remainder of the shareholding was tied up in a family trust controlled by his wife Caroline, and her brother Max. Caroline was English. Michael had met her by chance, about ten years previously, while skiing in the same group in Copper Mountain, Colorado and they had married two years later. Encouraged by Caroline and Max, their father Jack, a wealthy London industrialist, had invested in Hoxygene. Michael had never liked Jack, as he was often too patronizing to his ‘American Paddy’ son-in-law but he did appreciate the industrialist’s commercial vote of confidence. After Jack’s death his shares were put into a family trust for the benefit of Caroline and Max.

“Yes.” Rod Mallory confirmed. “Bill was with me yesterday when we met with Alpanna BioPharm.”
“Yesterday!” Mara could not contain himself and shouted down the phone again. “That meeting was scheduled for next week . . . after I returned!”
There was silence again on the line apart from the sound of another slamming door. Mallory came on the line again. The tone of his voice was deathly cool. “Michael, I’ll not be shouted at. I’m way past the time when I need to tolerate such behaviour, from anyone. Alpanna asked for the meeting to be brought forward and I obliged. If you can possibly extract your head from your arse for one moment, I want you to listen up to what is on offer. Either, use that cold, detached analytical ability that you are wont to wallow in, or piss off.”


The venom stung Michael. Although Rod and he had developed a close working association over the years, he still knew very little about Mallory’s personal life away from Hoxygene and the contact necessitated by Rod’s tennis arrangement with Caroline. They rarely socialised together. This was his fault rather than Mallory’s, he recognised, as he was somewhat jealous of Mallory’s easy and warm relationship with Caroline and tended to avoid being with them both at the same time. This reservation meant that Michael had had little opportunity to probe Rod on his inner thoughts, to understand him better. Michael regretted this reticence because it had been Rod who had originally approached him at a conference and, encouraged him to develop Hoxygene together. Michael had always admired Rod’s ability to diffuse the patronizing formality of American business negotiation with judiciously used ‘out-back’ charm. In all their time together they had never had an argument where he had heard Rod resort to such unfettered anger. There had to be a very good reason, he thought.

“Rod.” Michael calmed his tone-of-voice.
“Yes.” Rod Mallory’s was still sharp.
“I am beginning to feel like some African or South American dictator who heads to Switzerland for a prostate operation only to wake up and find that a well-planned coup has removed his need for a toilet at home.” Michael was not in any mood to apologize any further.
There was a silence for a moment and then loud laughter filtered down the line. “Idi Mara. The name suits you, Michael, just do not catch the dick-rot.”
“Rod, what is the offer?” Michael mollified.
“Listen mate, I can sense how unhappy you are about what’s happened but it was Alexander who rang me requesting an urgent meeting. He also indicated that if I did not agree to do so straightaway then all negotiations for funding were off. What was I to do? Given the stance of the arrogant dickhead I brought Bill along for support. At the meeting the original agenda, that you and I had agreed, was immediately discarded by Alexander, and we were handed a summary proposal on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.”
Doors were opening and closing in the background and there was still the constant sound of running water. “Go on, Rod,” Michael said.
“One hundred and ninety million for yours, mine and Bill’s shares. You are to become a board member of Alpanna.”
“And you?”
“Hey! I’m out of here mate. I plan to spend the money. I’ll buy bloody Queensland, or a third world country! Whatever,” Rod Mallory laughed.
“And Bill?” Michael asked, wondering about their ‘silent’ backer’s intentions.
“Will probably piss-off back to New England I’d imagine. Happy in the knowledge that the Adam’s family mansion is safe for another generation of puritan coin-collectors.”
“Rod, I’ll think about this and will talk to you on Friday,” Michael said.
“Friday! I thought that you were due back tomorrow evening.”
“I’ve changed my plans somewhat. I’m staying on in Granada for a few more days and will fly back via London on Thursday night.”
“Alpanna BioPharm want an answer by next weekend.”
“They’ll have to wait until I return.”
“Michael.”
“Yes, Rod.”
“Aside from the Alpanna offer, you . . . you sound about as happy as a bastard on father’s day. What’s up? The women of Granada are meant to be some of the most beautiful in the world. How can you fail to be enchanted?”
“I’m not like you, Rod.”
“And you would know mate, with your head stuck under an extraction hood all the time.”
“I thought that it was you antipodeans that kept your heads down.”
“Wow, very quick. Perchance sharp Irish wit to blunt my jesting barb. For your information I like having my legs in the air… but seriously mate, you do sound a bit distracted. Why?”
“I don’t know, Rod.” Michael was not entirely sure that he really wanted to get into an explanation of something he could not understand myself.
“That’s a cop-out mate. Enlighten me a little.” Rod Mallory wasn’t letting go.
“You are right in a way. Despite the success of Hoxygene I am feeling a little unfulfilled. It’s as if I’m seeking a new direction to my work but do not know where to turn. I need to re-energise but cannot find either the time or the stimulus. It feels a bit like hitting the marathon runners ‘wall’. Perhaps that is why the sudden offer and your meeting with Alpanna made me angry. Perhaps that is my way out but I just am afraid to take it. Do you understand what I’m trying to say, Rod?” Michael wasn’t really sure whether he wanted Rod to understand or commiserate with him.
“Does this impasse extend into other areas of your life as well, Michael?”
“You mean with Caroline. God no! Why should it?”
“I just wondered.”
“Well stop wondering, Rod. It’s not related. I’m more than capable of separating my work from home.”
“Of course you are, cobber, but sometimes even the most capable of us are unable to prevent an overlap of frustration.”
“Listen, Rod, I appreciate the psychotherapy but it is something I will work out. I just need some time to myself.”
“Sure.”
Rod Mallory did not sound that convinced. “Thanks, Rod. I’ll talk to you during the week.”
“Michael.”
“Yes.”
“Do not pass on the Alpanna proposal. It . . . It might be outside of your control.”
“What do you mean, Rod?” Michael was on guard again.
“Oh . . . nothing mate. Think about the offer and I will see you Friday. Enjoy the extra few days. Alexander and Alpanna have asked us for a joint meeting to take place with them and their financial advisors on the 11th September.”
“Where?”
“Manhattan. The WTC, south tower; 9.30 a.m.”
“I’ll have to think really hard about this, Rod.”
“I’ll arrange a time for you, Bill, Caroline, Max and me to meet on Monday in New York before briefing the legal and financial whiz kids. Bye.”
“What’s Caroline –”

The connection went dead. As Michael looked out the window a few fireworks were exploding over the southern edge of the city. Isolated and non-choreographed, their impact soon fizzled out against the vast expanse of the cloudless, moonless, but not yet star-filled sky. He tried ringing Rod back on his cell phone a couple of times but there was a continuous engaged signal.

Friday, September 23, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 2) – Crepusculum I.

SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II.
III.
IV.
VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)

CREPUSCULUM

EVENING TWILIGHT



I

The blistering, late-afternoon, September Andalusian sunlight was still oppressive enough to force many tourists, and even some of the locals, to stop their promenading on the Paseo de Los Tristes and seek out the welcome shade of the plaza umbrellas. In the midst of the bustle Michael was relieved to find an unoccupied table near the wall that separated the Rio Darro from the Paseo and before sitting down he looked around him. The parched riverbed below was a testament to the long summer and upstream bleeding by irrigation schemes and the Paseo, once an elegant avenue of elms that the Moors called al-Gharsa, was now, instead a less elegant canopy of coloured nylon fabric. From the far bank of the river the Monte de la Assabica rose majestically to the plateau where Granada’s red acropolis, the Alhambra, glowed crimson on the skyline. As he pulled out a chair and positioned it in such a way that his back would be to the mountains and he would have an unimpeded view of the turrets of Yusuf’s palace he remembered the words the Garden of the Adarves, ‘There is nothing more cruel in life than to be blind in Granada,’ and muttered them aloud while continuing to look around.
Sitting at an adjacent table to his left was a large family party, loud in their banter and laughter. The group appeared to include grandparents, parents and children and from the scattered coffee cups and empty liquor glasses they were obviously coming to the lazy but loquacious end of a prolonged midday meal. As Michael continued to watch them, he was struck by the uncannily close physical resemblance between the different generations of men and how this resemblance seemed compounded by the near-identical mouth and hand gesticulations that accompanied their manic conversation. In contrast, the women at the table were as dissimilar as the men were similar. They appeared peripheral both to the banter and to each other.
At that very moment there was the sharp metallic screech of a chair being pushed back from the table and a young woman with her back closest to where he sat suddenly stood-up. He looked at her. Agitated at first, she then quickly calmed to walk gracefully and unhurriedly towards a small child who lay crestfallen nearby. Her long legs and taut buttocks were framed by a tightly tailored white linen suit and when she bent to lift the crying child a quick flick of her red-black hair away from her shoulder revealed a finely chiselled beauty. From the edge of his field of vision he could also see that his were not the only eyes focused on the scene. He noticed that the other younger - and altogether much frumpier – woman at the family table was equally intently following the passage of the linen-clad beauty, albeit with less admiring eyes than his. The frump suddenly looked across and caught his knowing glance and just as quickly, as if somehow discovered in an act of treason, tried to hide her discomfort by reaching for a cigarette packet in front of her and turning with exaggerated attention to the stony-faced elderly matron on her right. He followed her movements and catching her eye tried giving a small wry smile, wanting to convey to her that he also understood the difficulties of trying to match up to the beautiful of this world, particularly within the suffocating boundaries of a family group.
There and then, Michael Mara had decided to dislike the linen-clad lady for no reason other than the sadness he saw in, who he surmised, was her sister-in-law’s eyes. His conspiratorial resolve was disarmed somewhat when, as the beauty returned to the table with the child perched contentedly on her hip, she stooped down effortlessly to retrieve a handkerchief that had fallen silently to the ground from his pocket. She flashed him a beautiful smile as she handed it back. Nodding foolishly he tried to avoid, unsuccessfully, a smirk from the furiously smoking frumpish woman, and stood up to pull out the linen-clad lady’s chair. Once again he was rewarded with yet another resolve-shattering smile before finally slinking back, guiltily, into his own chair. Reaching down into his knapsack he retrieved a packet of cigarettes and two guidebooks, which he placed on the table. While searching for a lighter in another pocket he could not resist drawing the prodigal handkerchief slowly past his nostrils to blot away some real but very convenient sweat droplets. “Chanel,” he whispered, scenting her perfume as he inhaled the first long drag of the newly lit cigarette. He loved this moment, as the act of smoking in a public space, at a restaurant table, was a real holiday indulgence. So far removed from the smoke-free California where he worked, he thought. Exhaling with equal relish, he carefully folded the handkerchief and packed it away, safe, deep in a knapsack pocket.
Buenos tardes, Señor,”a harsh voice interrupted.
Michael looked up and then watched as the waiter quickly wiped clean the surface of the table, dodging the guidebooks. The waiter then stood there without making any eye contact in a way that reminded him of a desert meerkat; surveying nervously with quick head movements and darting eyes the other tables of his kingdom for any potentially difficult orders or customers.
Limonada y una café con leche, por favor,” Michael ventured.
Si, Señor.” The waiter had already turned and was walking quickly away.
“Camarero!” he growled after him in a loud voice.
Reluctantly, and with slouching evasive shoulders, the waiter stopped in his tracks and glared back.
Un helado de frambuesa tambien, por favor,” Michael added.

The waiter nodded his head and scurried away to his restaurant burrow on the far side of the street returning, impressively, soon afterwards with the order. After gulping down the lemonade Mara began to spoon small lumps of the delicious ice cream onto the tip of his tongue where the raspberry taste instantly, as it always did, brought back the ripple days of childhood and mollycoddled memories. Reaching for the slightly tattered version of his two guidebooks he lifted the fraying ribbon bookmark and levered it open to find the chosen yellowed page. Near the bottom of the page was a general description of Granada and how it was situated at the base of two mountain spurs that ascended gradually from west to east. He searched for the information about the part of the city where he now sat, ‘The northernmost of these long-stretched hills is the Albaicín, from the Arabic Rabad el-bayyazin, the Quarter of the Falconers, the oldest part of Granada and once the favourite seat of the Moorish aristocr–’
His reading was interrupted by a soft voice. “Perdone, Señor. Is that chair taken?”
Startled somewhat and still thinking of falcons, Michael Mara looked up to see a tall girl, her head haloed by the sun, hovering over him with one hand on the chair opposite. She was wearing a large pair of very dark sunglasses and it was impossible to see her eyes. Michael got the impression that he was somewhat in her peripheral vision, enough perhaps to detect any reluctance on his part, as she searched for an alternative seat.
“Yes . . . Sorry, I mean no. It’s not taken,” he mumbled while standing up awkwardly and slowly so that he might gauge his own height against hers. Thankfully, he found he was a little taller and smiled when pointing to the vacant chair. “Please sit down,” he said.
She ignored his invitation as she called to the waiter, “Hola, Sancho. Café solo, por favor.”
Sancho the waiter immediately stopped taking an order from an elderly Japanese couple and they watched him scurrying across the street to the restaurant with their open-mouthed astonishment of half-delivered orders. The Japanese man recovered first and began to scan the menu card and a guidebook as if trying to determine whether this behaviour was a recognized quirkiness of this particular restaurant. His wife waited vainly for an explanation.
Gracias, Señor,” the girl said to Michael as she settled into the proffered chair and immediately raised her face towards the sun. The metal rim of the chair was sun-baked hot as she had to arch one shoulder forward and then another until the contact was comfortable. She has a nice neck, he thought, as he watched it angle upwards. As he sat down again, Sancho the waiter, nearly fell over his chair in his rush to bring the girl her coffee. He glared down at Mara before panting to a stop and placing the cup in front of her.
Muchas gracias, Sancho,” she said sweetly.
No hay de que, Isabella.”
Just my luck, Mara thought, the love struck meerkat Sancho will be hovering over them both from now on. He watched as she brought the cup to soft full lips and gingerly tested its heat. She appeared to catch his stare. Running the tip of her tongue quickly along her lightly tinted upper lip while looking directly at him she asked, “Are you English?”
Michael thought she asked this question in a peculiar, precise and officious way. It was not the accent she had used when she first came to the table and his evolving fantasy of a chance to engage with a local princess evaporated quickly. In fact the way she spoke reminded him somewhat of a painfully thin French piano teacher he had when he was ten. He smiled at the memory.
“American? Australian?” she persisted.
He was still smiling stupidly to himself as the memory of Mademoiselle Porridge – as children, they had called her that, although Fourage was her real name – floated by. “I’m sorry,” he responded, trying to excuse the hesitation. “No. I’m Irish or to be more accurate, Irish-American.”
She nodded, pursing her lips slightly, before reaching for her cup again.
“And you?” he asked.
She appeared to ignore the question as she took a long sip of her coffee and looked at him again, very directly. “You smiled earlier when I asked if you were English. Is that an Irish or . . . how did you describe yourself, an Irish-American sensitivity?” she asked.
Forgetting the expected and often amusing arguments with the minor and major uniformed bureaucracy of other countries, and the occasional early morning pool-side German, there had been very few times in Michael’s adult travels where the opening salvos of a conversation with a complete stranger in a foreign place were so obviously confrontational. For him and many other travellers, there was usually an accepted etiquette of enquiry. This would determine your nationality, your reason for travelling, and your enjoyment of the visit, your opinion of the weather and where you were off to next. The protocol was also suitably softened by a genuine apology on the tourist’s behalf for the difficulties they had with the language and a compliment to the local stranger on their command of English. This, Michael realised, was not to be one of those conversations. “No!” His reply was a little terse. The woman had been very direct and he decided to be likewise.
“Was it something else?” she persisted.
Also very perceptive, he thought. “What? Oh no! I was just thinking of a childhood. . .” He was going to tell her about the anorexic piano teacher but stopped. “No it’s . . . it’s …was nothing, just a triggered memory from my past. Made me smile. That’s all,” he said a little too defensively. “Nothing to do with national sensitivities.” This is not going very well, he thought and wondered whether he make his excuses and leave.

A permanent silence threatened the space between them but she dispelled it. “It is very hot, this afternoon. We have had a long summer,” she said matter-of-factly.
He noticed that the girl’s accent had softened again and began to take in some of her other features. Her hair was earth-brown and had an Afro quality. There was a small bead of perspiration on the skin of her neck just below the level of her right ear and it appeared to move sideways as she fanned her face with a menu card. “Yes, very. I was glad to get some shade,” he replied.
Michael relaxed, grateful that the semblance of a normal protocol was being restored. Leaving the menu card down she leaned towards him. While pushing the sunglasses upwards to rest on the crown of her head with one hand she touched with the other the battered guidebook that he’d been reading. She looked up at him and it was the first time that he’d could see her eyes. The irises had the most amazing turquoise-green opal speckled pattern and he wondered at first whether she was wearing those fashionable tinted contact lenses but could not see any evidence of this. Further below an intense blue cylinder-shaped pendant she wore attached to a simple gold chain around her neck complimented the opal flecks. He could only see the top of the pendant, where the chain passed through, as she was wearing a high necked silk blouse.
“May I?” she asked as she lifted the book.
“Of course,” he said and watched as she ensured that the red and black bookmarks were carefully in place before closing the book to look at the cover.
“Hmmm! An old Baedeker guide to Spain and Portugal! How quaint. You do not see many of these being actually used by tourists.”
He stared at her for an instant, surprised by her knowledgeable interest and how good her English really was.
“No . . . you are right, not many people use them while actually travelling. Mind you, that is a second edition, 1901. I have a first edition at home. Do you know much about Baedekers?”
She smiled, indulging him. “A little. Do you collect them?”
“Yes. I have about ten first editions, many others of course, but of later editions. Always on the look out for more.”
She nodded slightly before looking down at the book and turning the pages carefully and slowly. Without looking up she said, “I know a bookseller who might be able to help you. His name is Alonzo Aldahrze. He lives quite nearby in fact, in the street behind San Juan de los Reyes.” She continued to turn the pages slowly. “Baedekers are beautiful in their own way, are they not? Bibles of a lost age when travelling was the preserve of the idle rich and knowing what steamers and railways to take was considered essential knowledge.”
Michael laughed. “Yes and with loads of really helpful advice on why a traveller should be prepared to alter his habits somewhat but not to the extent of adopting some of the less moral habits of the natives. Poor Baedeker was obviously worried that his Northern European and English pilgrim travellers would be seduced by the charms of the South of Spain… and elsewhere.”
The corner of the girl’s mouth turned upwards slightly. “It has happened anyway . . . to our cost, I think. Concrete coastal communes and Irish pubs… sorry I do not want to hurt your sensitivities.” She laughed as she handed the book back to him.
“No offence taken. I agree with you entirely. I hate the coastal development that has been allowed.” Taking a pen and small notebook from his breast pocket he began writing. “Alonzo . . . eh . . . Allarze, you said? The name of the bookseller?”
Aldahrze.” She smiled indulgently again. “May I trouble you for a cigarette?”
“Of course. I’m sorry, I should have offered.”
“No need to apologize, I rarely smoke.”
Taking the cigarette she leant forward to cup her hands, unnecessarily, he thought, given that there was very little wind, around the flame of his lighter. The touch of her skin against his was light, cool and fleeting. “Are you from Granada? I must say that your English is excellent,” he asked.
“I am from Seville originally but my mother is from Gibraltar. I read for my master’s degree in Oxford, hence the accent.”
“In what?”
“Pharmacology.”
“Interesting,” he murmured.
She laughed loudly this time, a curt easy laugh. “You managed to say that without sounding bored. Yes it was and is.”
Michael blushed. “I’m sorry! I did not mean it like that, I . . .”
She touched his hand again. “You really must stop apologizing. I was only teasing you. I am a doctoral student in the University here in Granada.”
“What are you doing your thesis on?” he asked, wanting to take her hand fully in his.
“Basically I am investigating new ways of delivering drugs to specific parts of the body.”
It was his turn to smile. A slightly smug smile of satisfaction, which was badly concealed, creased his face. “Using trans-membrane proteins as the piggy-back carrier?”
She appeared to be genuinely caught off guard. “Yes! How did you know? Are you a scientist?”
He held out his hand out towards her. It was the first time he’d felt comfortable, in control. “I know your name or at least your first name. Isabella is it not? Mine is Michael Mara and I’m pleased to meet you.”
The girl accepted the handshake, her grip was firm but somewhat distracted and she continued to look at him with a puzzled expression. “How do you know about my name and my work?” she challenged.
“Oh that. Well with your name I had some help.” He pointed to the hovering Sancho; who took it as a signal to immediately approach.
She smiled knowingly as he arrived.
“Would you like another espresso, Isabella?” Michael asked with as much familiarity as he could dare, and without the scowling Sancho killing him there and then.
She nodded without looking at him. “Yes, thank you. A black coffee please.”
Otra café con leche y café solo, por favor.
Si, Señor,” the waiter snarled.
Mara watched Sancho sulking his way across to the restaurant. “I have a distinct feeling that I’ve crossed into his territory . . . his attention to you, I mean.”
“Don’t mind Sancho. He is a …pussycat. His mother is my landlady and they have sort of adopted me. Sancho considers himself to be the big brother I never had and feels he needs to protect me.”
“Or embalm you!”
“Yes, perhaps that also. He is harmless though.” She laughed lightly before looking back at him. This time it was with an inquisitor’s gaze. “You still have not answered my question Michael Mara. How did you know about my work?”
“Oh that! An educated guess really.”
“Explain. Please.”
“I’m in Granada for the pharmacology conference at the Centro de Congreso and I happened to listen in on a presentation about trans-membrane carrier proteins. It was given by Alvorro Martinez, the Professor of Pharmacology in the University here in the city. I just guessed that is what you might be working on.”
“You are right as it happens. Professor Martinez is my supervisor and most of the work he presented was mine.”
“Do I detect a tone of resentment?”
“No, not really. That is often the fate of a student’s doctoral thesis work. He is the professor and my work is only the next stage of his life-long academic commitment to developing new drug-delivery systems. We agreed that he should present, although it was a joint paper.”
Michael reached down and retrieved the conference programme from his knapsack. Flicking quickly through the pages he came to the section that detailed the session he had attended where Martinez had spoken. “Ah I see! Alvorro Martinez and Isabella Sanjil, Department of Pharmacology, University of Granada. Your surname is Sanjil?”
“Yes. And you? Were you presenting a paper at the conference?” She reached over and took the conference programme from him and began to flick through the pages.
“No. Not a research paper. I was invited to give the keynote lecture on the first day.” He leant over and pointed to his name on the programme page, a little disturbed. Normally PhD students of the host university would have been very involved in the organisation of a conference.
Isabella Sanjil appeared to anticipate these thoughts. “Forgive my rudeness and accept my apologies for not hearing your talk. I have been away for the past four months and was not really involved in the organisation of the conference. Do you know Professor Martinez well?” she asked.
Michael thought the question had a slightly concerned edge to its tone. “No. Don’t worry, Señorita Sanjil. I will not tell him about his student’s rightful but muted annoyance. The invitation to speak, in fact, was a very unexpected honour.”
“Why? Are you not also a pharmacologist?”
“No, as it happens. I am, or was at least, a molecular biologist but now, increasingly a reluctant businessman.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m a biotechnology entrepreneur developing gene products for commercial exploitation.”
“You do not sound very happy about it, Michael Mara. I thought that this was the dream of all scientists to have control and reward from their years of work. Is it not very lucrative?”
“Very . . . well, at least on paper. The industry at present is at a volatile stage. Reward comes with the ability to patent and protect your developments and neither the consumer legislation nor the ethical debate can keep pace with the rate of new gene products being developed. That is what I gave the talk about to the conference.”
“What is your company?”
Retrieving his wallet he opened it and pulled out one of his business cards. He handed it to her and she examined it carefully.
Doctor Michael Mara. Both an MD and PhD I see. Very impressive!” She looked at him with raised eyebrows as she read the card, running her fingers over the gold-embossed lettering. “President, Hoxygene Inc. San Clemente, California. May I keep this?”
“Sure.”
“Are you in Granada for long?” she asked after a momentary pause.
“Unfortunately not. I leave tomorrow.”
Isabella continued to examine the card before looking up at him. “ How are you exploiting hoxygenes?”
He ignored the unnecessary emphasis. “Basically, as you are aware, they are site-specific short-chain DNA genes that initiate and direct cellular repair. There are about seven known, but ours, which targets cardiac muscle, is at the most advanced stage of commercial development. It will be licensed for human use by the FDA early next year.”
“Very lucrative indeed!” she smirked. She lifted one eyebrow while tilting her head slightly. “The ‘plant of immortality . . . The plant of the heartbeat’.”
Michael had heard those words before and tried hard to recall from where. Suddenly, he did remember and like a teacher’s pet began to blurt it out. “Gilga- ” Sancho had returned with the two coffees causing Isabella to look at her watch and interrupt.
“My apologies, Michael. I must go. I misjudged how much time I'had. I am sorry about the coffee. I start work in ten minutes.”
“Work! On a Saturday evening? Very dedicated,” he said smoothly.
Isabella Sanjil smiled. “No. Not the lab. I work part-time in the old Moorish Baths, down the street, as a masseuse to earn some extra money.”
“Wow…” he stuttered, completely caught for words. He tried to recover. “Now that’s an amazing coincidence Isabella. I’ve been cooped up so much in airplanes and meetings that I was thinking of having a relieving massage. What do you suggest?” he blurted, hamming the last question out like a bad afternoon-soap actor.
Isabella laughed out loud as she stood up. “Dr Michael Mara M.D., Ph.D. it was a pleasure to meet you but that was the most pathetic cameo of locker-room humour I have ever heard. Perhaps reflective of a repressed American or Irish-American if you wish hang-up of what a therapeutic massage actually offers. If you are genuinely interested, however why not call to the bathhouse and make an appointment. I am working until nine and there might be a vacant time-slot.” She hesitated for a moment as she placed his card in her bag. “I am usually booked out though.”
He also stood up and held out his hand. She shook it firmly and released it quickly. “I’m not surprised,” Michael replied weakly and almost immediately regretted.
Isabella Sanjil was already walking away, waving to Sancho as she left. She stopped for a moment and looked back over her shoulder towards him. “Mention that you are a friend of mine to the receptionist and she will try and fit you in. You were right by the way. The quote was from the epic of Gilgamesh. Adios.”
He watched her go, for a long time, hoping she might turn around again.
Si, Señor,” a voice demanded.
Michael focused. It was ‘big brother’ Sancho. “Oh . . . La cuenta, por favour,” he stuttered.
Si, Señor,” Sancho said grumpily.
Gracias,” he replied, equally grumpily.
Sancho began to walk away but then stopped and turned. “La señorita, tambien?” he asked.
“What?” Michael questioned but then realised Sancho, despite his apparent ardour, was still going to stick the cost of Isabella’s first coffee on his bill. What the hell, he thought. “Oh… si. . . Yes, yes of course! Gracias.

It was the first time that Sancho the waiter had smiled at him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 1) – SOL OCCAXUS (SUNSET)




SAECULUM
(A NOVEL)



SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)




SOL OCCAXUS
SUNSET


Nam tempus per se non intelligitur, nisi per actus humanos

For time cannot be understood in itself, except in relation to human acts.

St. Isidore of Seville
(560 – 636 CE)
Etymologies V.xxxi.9


Not all dreams are like this, Michael thought, as he surfed in and out of the pipe of a wave-tunnel. The wall of the tunnel became a parabolic movie screen and the images that appeared to arc upwards to cascade over him did so with such frightening clarity, such proximity, that they dazzled perception and dispelled all suspicion of their reality. He tries to put out his hand to touch the wall, to steady himself…

…the image changes: on the tunnel wall he is a nine-year old boy again, standing naked, shivering and dripping wet, on the cold blue-black granite slate slabs of the kitchen yard to the rear of his childhood home. His father is talking, back over his shoulder to him, as he slowly tilts the rim of a tinker’s beaten bathtub. Michael is unable to make out what his father is saying over the noise of the cascading water and so, settles for watching the warm dirt-laden liquid as it waltzes and swirls down through the rusted grill cover of the outside drain. The released thermals of moist air are spiralling up into the cold January night air and, high above the two of them, the bright stars of Orion shimmer as they continue their hunt across the winter sky. His father stops talking, stands up suddenly and, with hands on hips, arches his back to look up at the constellation. He smiles wistfully, as if wishing Orion well, before looking back down. “In the beginning, Michael,” he whispers, while drying off the moisture with a coarse-woven towel. “There was, in the centre of our universe a huge whirlpool. This whirlpool led down into the deepest darkness and, like a swollen river trapping a drowning child in its current, it did everything in its power to suck in the light of the stars. But, near the edges of that swirl, near the edge of the sky, where the pull of the black current was least, just enough pulses of light escaped from the funnel to warm our world and favour our lives. Remember Michael, there is always a beginning and an end, and there is always darkness and light. Life is lived between the twilights, in the transit time between risings and settings. But, that can be one of our secrets.” He spoke earnestly, as he always did, to an adoring son…

The wave and dream evaporated as Michael became conscious. His father, who had been compelled by the financial and personal obligations of an unplanned but imminent child to abort his doctoral thesis and become a school teacher instead, always had a habit of talking down to him and filling the distance, and occasional void, between them, with words and ideas. Much later Michael had learnt that those ideas were generally borrowed and sometimes stolen and the sharing had involved him in the conspiracy. It had been a long time since he had dreamt about his father and now, as his mind cleared and the wave receded further, he wondered momentarily why that particular memory had surfaced. Perhaps it was all too obvious. That evening in the kitchen yard was the last time they had been alone together as his father committed suicide a week later, a day before his tenth birthday. A morbid fear of cancer and suffering his family had said. His mother had remained silent, as always.

Hers was a fear of happiness, Michael had always thought. The fugitive colours and sounds of the dream faded further as a far more tangible, harsh, mechanical noise kept intruding. As he struggled to determine where the sound was coming from he soon realised he had no clear perception of whether it was a foreground or background noise. He felt he was in a vacuum with no centre and no horizon.

Sheshhhhhhshup . . . . . . . . . . . . . sheshhhhhhshup –

Was it the sound, that had that woken him, he wondered. How long had he been asleep? Where was he? Unanswered questions posed in the confused twilight of waking moments.

Caught between nonsense and sense, between entrapment and escape, Michael felt groggy and un-refreshed but became increasingly alert to other noises in the vacuum. Like soft rhythmic hand-clapping, the sounds were sometimes fast and sometimes slow. What could they be? All of a sudden, he realised. They were footsteps . . . yes, they were footsteps he was certain, echoes of rubber-heeled shoes beating out their passage across a hard-surfaced floor. Where were they coming from? Again, Michael could not be sure.

Sheshhhhhhshup . . . . . . . . . . . . . sheshhhhhhshup –

He tried to reach out and switch off the monotony, but couldn’t. Elsewhere the clapping sounds changed their pitch, the rhythm slowed, then stopped.

“What’s his name?” A throaty whispering voice, suddenly asked.

Michael needed to see the speaker but couldn’t. He wasn’t even certain whether or not his eyelids were open. There was no real light, just a dense haze, yet there were moments when darker undefined shadows moved in and out of the cloud. He wanted to touch his eyes. Rubbing them would surely help, he thought. He tried to touch his eyes but nothing happened, no light came in! What’s happening to me? How long have I been like this? Where am I? He panicked in deafening silence. He felt no pain; in fact he had little feeling of any kind save an intermittent stretching sensation, somewhere in his chest, at least he thought it was his chest but again, it was proving difficult to orientate himself. In the surround, and he now realized completely synchronous with the stretching sensation, the repeating mechanical noise continued.

Sheshhhhhhshup . . . . . . . . . . . . . sheshhhhhhshup –


“According to his passport his name is Michael Mara,” a tired sounding woman, with a Caribbean accent said.
“Irish?” Another woman asked. A younger voice this time with a Scottish brogue.
“No. Well . . . Don’t know for sure. He had an American passport on him.”
“What happened to him? How long has he been here?”

My questions exactly! Michael screamed soundlessly. The voices and moving shadows were really close to him now.

“We’re not sure exactly! He was brought in three days ago and he’s been in a coma since,” the nearest shadow-voice answered, with West Indian fatalism.

Three days ago! Jesus! He shouted silently into the vacuum.

“Brought in from where?” the Scot asked.
“Heathrow. He apparently collapsed in the arrivals area.”

Heathrow! Collapsed. What’s happening to me? What happened to me?

Michael Mara forced himself to try and remember.

SAECULUM (A Novel:Preamble)




SAECULUM – A Novel and a Revisitation.

Now that I have put both my first (The Simurgh and the Nightingale) and fourth (Windsong – Breath of Being) novels up on the blogsite I have decided to go back and revisit my second, which sits on my consciousness like a half-fed urchin. The novel was first published as When Twilight Comes in 2003 (ISBN: 0-9542607-3-2) and is in effect was an examination of time, the notion of time, and man’s place in the inevitable progression of time. The novel turned out to be a little more esoteric than I had anticipated, or as one of my more kinder readers suggested a bit of ‘navel gazing where I had lost the run of myself.’ This is partly true and yet I had done a lot of research and had enjoyed the writing. I had also originally wanted to call the novel Saeculum but my editor at the time felt that this would probably be an unappealing title. I hope you enjoy some or all of it and comments are welcome.

A Note on the word SAECULUM

The Etruscan civilization in Italy existed from about 750 BCE until fully absorbed by the Romans in the 1st century BCE. It had its own unique language and it was they who developed the idea of a human era or Saeculum. The Saeculum ( possibly ril in the Etruscan language ) was understood to have been the longest life of a man and averaged about 100 lunar years, after which a new Saeculum began. The first Etruscan Saeculum began in 968 BCE and lasted 100 years, as did the next three. The 5th Saeculum beginning in 568 BCE lasted 123 years, the 6th and 7th 119 years, the 9th only 44 years ending in 44 BCE when the Etruscan nation was assimilated by Rome. The Romans had adopted the Etruscan system about 460 BCE and began the Ludi Terentini or Ludi Saeulares (under Caesar Augustus in 17 BCE) festival to celebrate a new saeculum, siècle or century every 110 years. Saeculum refers not exactly to a numeric appraisal of time but to a generational concept.

A Note on the Divisions of the Night.

The Chapter Titles in general follow the Roman Divisions of the Night from Soli Occaxus (the setting sun in the occident or west) to Sol Ortus (the door or rising of the sun in the east). The chapters are long and they have been subdivided.

A Note on the Cover Illustration

This incorporates the Nebra Sky Disk, a bronze-age astronomical disc from about 1600 to 2000 BCE from Nebra in Germany.
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_sky_disk