Peter Astrakhan and the Pyramid of Zan’ai
By Craig Marx
PARIS, FEBRUARY 1891
Peter Astrakhan looked out the large transom of his flat’s only accessible door. Supposedly a small trapdoor, the size of a dumbwaiter perhaps, was located in the far back of the flat and allowed one access to the alleyway that jutted off one of the main thoroughfares in this section of the East Bank. Rain pattered against the thick mahogany of the front door and disguised any trace of auditory recognition as to what occurred outside. A cabman hurried his hansom through the torrent’s waters and the sound of his mare’s hoofs clattering against the cobblestones were the only din to be heard that evening on the Rue de Tours other than water from the heavens slowly decaying the roadway.
“Has it let up at all, Monsieur Richard?” The man seated by the fireplace asked Mister Astrakhan.
“I am afraid not, Senor Valdez. You just missed the last cab for the evening as well, I fear. Whenever it rains as such here, the cabmen find it conveniently obliging to take the night off.”
“But where am I to go? I cannot stay here! Inspector Godwin already suspects I am somewhere on the East Bank.”
“Let Inspector Godwin worry you not,” said a smirking Astrakhan. “He knows nothing of my flat here in Paris and has not been on my trail since Istanbul. Now, you have the francs as promised, correct?”
Senor Valdez unchained the attaché case that was cuffed to his left wrist. He opened the lock, revealing to Mister Astrakhan a seemingly endless number of neatly stacked Swiss francs. “Seven hundred and fifty thousand Swiss francs,” the portly man gloated, “in new currency of course. An ample reward for a more than ample gift.”
The man closed the attaché case and clenched it to his breast, watching Peter’s next series of movements with a certain sort of aroused longing. Mister Astrakhan crossed over to his writing desk and took out the upper drawer completely, only to break the bottom of it open so as to reveal another shallow compartment inside. He removed from the now defunct drawer-compartment a small object sheathed in a drab, stained kerchief. Peter took a pensive moment to reveal the cloth’s mysterious contents and when the deliberation was finally suspended a relatively small diamond, the size of which would occupy only the palm of an average adult male, was placed into Senor Valdez’s hands. Despite its minute appearance, it was incredibly ornate regardless. Fashioned into an old Germanic cross, the four extreme ends of the diamond were tipped with lush apple-red rubies and when held at the correct angle provided the effect of crimson red running down the facade of the cross.
“It is even more beautiful than I remember, Monsieur.”
“The famed Teutonic Cruciform Amulet. Do you know how long that piece of glass has been on display in the Galerie der Dietlaggen? Four hundred and seventy-three years undisturbed. Until three days ago.”
“How did you obtain it, Monsieur Richard?” The man asked in punchy, puzzled perplexion while handing the attaché case over to Peter, so excited that he almost forgot to unchain his wrist.
“Oh, no, no. My life is that of little explanation. For your sake, Senor, as well as mine it would best for you to be on your way now. If you seek refuge from this rain, there is a small inn two blocks down the street on the right. Towards the river.”
“So that is it then, Monsieur? Easy as that?”
“Senor Valdez, I provide a service,” Peter said humbly, clasping his hands as if he were an elementary teacher. “What my clients ask for is irrelevant to me. One could ask for the toilette of the Tsar, and I would contemplate its criminal feasibility. The end justifies the means. It all comes down to the amount of capital I walk away with for providing you with vain satisfaction. Adieu, Senor.”
The mahogany door opened quickly, letting a short mist from the downpour outside to be cast upon the inner doorstep of the Monsieur’s flat, and was closed as hurriedly as the Senor had opened it.
The brief affair had ended with the sort of awkward malaise that usually graced such dubious business encounters, the encounters of which Peter Astrakhan had partaken quite frequently in. As he sunk into his robust and seemingly disproportionate (in regards to the body of this particular thief) parlor chair, it was the times such as this that the Monsieur would ponder his time spent in moments of discomfort and dissatisfaction. . .