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steadying him. The boy had a gun tucked into his belt.
Straight ahead, the compound looked like a set from a
musical: tall palms leaning over thatched buildings, a tumble
of flowers with electric colors and heavy scent. Farther down
the beach, brown-skinned children splashed naked in gentle
waves; they seemed to be all about the same age, perhaps
three or four. A man lounged against a trunk, watching them.
Sensing Joe's gaze, the man's eyes flicked briefly to him, then
back to the children. There'd been something watchful in the
glance, Joe thought. Or was that only a guilty conscience
stabbing again?
 Does this place have a name?
The boy shrugged and led him into a dim interior.
Apparently none of his old roommate's employees spoke
English, unlike their employer, whom he remembered using
English with a non-native's exaggerated care.
If the building was Polynesian on the outside, it seemed all
Arabian Nights inside: ceramic tiled floor with dark patterned
rugs, low table of pale wood inlaid with ivory and mother-of-
pearl. Sunlight filtered through a fretted screen. Something
perverse about it, he decided, an exile's attempt to cling to
the things of home.
His host sat in a wheelchair across the table, a white shawl
draped over his knees. Joe remembered his roommate as
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being quite a bit shorter than himself, but the chair turned
him into a dwarf.
 Welcome, the man said.  Forgive me if I do not rise to
greet you.
The eldest son of a minor member of the Saudi royal
family, Ahmad al-Something Khalid Muhammad bin
Something Joe had never tried to memorize all of it, even
when they shared quarters had left America, and Joe had
entered the Church, before the war began.
 Good to see you again, Joe said,  I didn't know 
The Saudi held up his hand and Joe fell silent while the boy
set out two decanters, a brandy snifter, and a tall water
glass, then withdrew.
A shimmer of strangeness passed over him. In the years
since Cal, the former roommates had not only lost touch,
they'd become enemies. Former enemies now; the war had
been over almost ten years. Joe said,  Your invitation was
quite a surprise.
His host inclined his head politely.
 Pretty place. I missed the name?
The Saudi leaned forward and lifted one of the decanters,
holding it out for Joe's inspection. Light sparkled in the cuts of
high-quality crystal.  You were always fond of brandy. I hope
this will not disappoint?
He got the picture. They were going to play verbal chess,
and it wasn't his move. Wealth always called the shots,
nothing new here. He squinted at the decanter's silver tag.
 Back then, Al, I was drinking Gallo.
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His host poured cognac into Joe's snifter.  A careful host
knows many things about his guest.
Familiarities belonged to the past, he saw. Al-the-student
had given way to Ahmad-the-careful-host. Another casualty
of the war his side had won and Ahmad's had lost.
 My own tastes are constant. Ahmad picked up the
second decanter.  Imported mineral water.
Irritated by the implied rebuke, he decided to press the
point.  Seems like this island's closer to Tahiti than Hawaii.
Does it have a name?
For a second, Ahmad's mouth lifted in a smile; then his
expression shut down again.  Let us, for the sake of
discussion, call it Paradise.
In the silence that followed, Joe became aware of the soft
plashing of a fountain in the courtyard outside the open
window. A quick gush of children's voices, just as quickly
vanished.
 Certainly beautiful enough to be Paradise, he agreed.
 But I seem to remember your father wanted you to come
back to Riyadh when you left Berkeley.
 I do not share my father's politics.
Joe studied his host. Most of the Muslim World climbed
laboriously toward democracy since losing the war. Middle
Eastern economies were on the upswing, and most Muslim
women went without veils, drove cars, and held jobs, even in
Saudi Arabia. The peace was fragile but seemed to be
holding. The West made a benevolent victor; not loved what
victor ever was? yet accepted, as far as he was aware.
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Tired of the waiting game, he said,  I can't help wondering
why you sent for me.
Ahmad held up a hand.  All in good time. You were always
too impulsive.
They'd made odd roommates: Joe, liberal and hotheaded
like his IRA father; Ahmad the conservative scientist,
uninterested in student activism or world politics. At night,
they'd argued everything from religion to American pop
culture. Joe was eloquent in defense of his causes; Ahmad
expressed revulsion at American secularism. Joe remembered
teasing Ahmad for hypocrisy the Saudi had a taste for
Hollywood SciFi. In turn, Ahmad derided Joe's second-hand
revolutionary zeal. Trained to debate by Jesuits in high
school, Joe had won all the arguments.
 I have never forgotten our youthful discussions. Ahmad
refilled his guest's glass.
Joe was suddenly uncomfortable to have that part of their
past brought up. He'd been something of an insufferable
bastard in those days, the Irish in him, as his Mexican mother
called it. She'd despised the senior O Connor's espousal of
violence for political ends, a commitment that led to his death
by a British bullet.
 These days, I listen to other people's problems and
opinions, he said.  I don't push mine on them.
Ahmad nodded.  I have followed your career from a
distance.
And just how did Ahmad manage to do that? Not as if the
life of an obscure parish priest in East L.A. made the news.
 Couldn't have found much of interest.
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 You are being considered for a bishopric.
He hadn't even confided that possibility to his mother. In
his mind he heard Annie's laughter, her phony Irish accent
teasing him:  Himself would like to be pope someday, is it?
 Come. Ahmad set his water glass down.  I wish to show
you something.
He followed Ahmad's wheelchair, wondering what had put
his old friend in it; the man's thin hands turning the wheels
seemed bloodless. They passed through a doorway to a
courtyard, the bead curtain clicking behind them. Outside, the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]