Saturday, March 5, 2011

An oriental palace

He looked frail and harmless, but as you listened to him interrogate the stranger before him you realised that there was a mind like a razor behind the mild blue eyes. The questions seemed random and disconnected in amongst the chit chat about the weather, sport, politics and economics. Though the breadth of topics should have sounded every warning bell, his hapless victim chatted away not realising how much he was telling; everything that was needed to verify that he was who he had claimed to be. At the end of it the frail man granted him entry into a glittering paradise, where the girls were well educated, attractive, attentive and immaculately dressed.

Watching him work over drinks you realised why this man had never been brought up on charges although his place was the worst kept secret in the capital. Oh they had tried... just not succeeded. It was in part his natural cunning and in part that the accessing the place was like storming a fort. The house stood on three tiers cut out of the rock, and was built on the side of a hill so steep, with a road so narrow, that it was a testament to the determination of the builder.

It had an entrance foyer with deep chairs and an enormous window overlooking everything from the bay to the surrounding hills. It was not just for show. After climbing the two flights of impossibly steep stairs, most people needed somewhere to collapse before tottering to the bar where he kept court. It also meant that you could see who was coming a long time before they struggled to the door.

On one memorable occasion they had tried coming over the back way. They burst onto the top tier, which had a large summer house and larger inground swimming pool, scrambling over high fences and through trees and shrubs, to find a rather sedate pool party going on. Apparently wool uniforms make rather bad climbing gear... they were hot, grumpy and bitterly disappointed. Not to mention that everyone had been able to hear them coming for 20 minutes...

Despite all this entertainment, there was another reason to hang out at his place. Occasionally out of the blue the odd talented musician would turn up... often with friends and the bar had a lot of musical instruments set up in a corner. If you were really lucky he could be persuaded to join them and he was no slouch on the drums. He did after all cut the first jazz record in that country.

Besides you got to see his number one fan that lived in the tree outside the window... a small possum with a weakness for jazz. It used to sit there with a look of rapt attention on its whiskers before scurrying away as soon as the last note was played.

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