Peter Astrakhan and the Pyramid of Zan’ai, Part II
By Craig Marx
PARIS, FEBRUARY 1891
Zandasar was most appropriately remembered at these awkward times, for the two years of hard labor there in the sweltering steam of the African lands had all but humbled young Astrakhan, a man now in possession of an attaché case full of newly-minted Swiss francs at his disposal and a water-logged evening in which to gaze upon them. Reflection is half of this dismal occupation, Mister Astrakhan always told himself, for without such contemplation, meditation and saturation of the past, one could not hope to better one’s self for the future.
It is humorous to think that this variety of cynical relaxation happened to grace the mind and trembling hands of a thief, particularly the caliber of the Monsieur, in moments of lucrative triumph. A whip, administered by the burliest of the Belgian Gendarmeé, thrust across the broad shoulders of a man who at this point weighed as much in perspiration as he did in soluble fat, was the pinnacle of the reflection period. Even the imminent escape was somehow not as rewarding of an afterthought as that of the misery from which the Monsieur fled. Peter Astrakhan had always felt that before in his life. A man prides himself on encountering Death and escaping his doomed clutches, but upon eventually speaking to those few souls who actually wish to hear his previous plight he highlights primarily the distancing of himself from Death. The encounters and the tribulations of that particular moment, whether it be a split second of anguish or two years of destitution, are far more appropriately spoken only to one’s self.
The Monsieur clasped his hands together once again, holding firmly between them the attaché case. As he sighed in his penitent posture, he sank further into his darkly-tanned armchair.
It was these moments that brought about the most joy in the Monsieur’s life. The fading phantasmagoria that existed between a subtle nap and overt deep sleep was the only thing Peter Astrakhan considered his own realm anymore. Those mere seconds that drift off into space, much as the mind does, when one is tired but yet still resisting rest, are the most beautiful fragments of life one could ever hope to discover.
Mister Astrakhan wiped his brow and peered out of the only window in his flat that was not the transom. Somehow he had become misty eyed and yet on the verge of an unalterable sleep, the more of which he thought of and segued into his subconscious…
‘There was once a young girl in my dreams who needed help. I was at an undisclosed summer home, possibly in Somerset or Yorkshire, something of that grand design. She was out in a field of heather and my cognizance was slowly coming upon me, so much so that this girl’s shrieks and shivers echoed into my very soul. When my mind permitted me to view her, which is the character I perceived in this oneiromantic opera, her face was non-existent and her body appeared to seemingly melt before my eyes. Yet this young woman, indistinguishable of age but most likely 20 or 21 perhaps, could not possibly have been still alive. She howled in agony as the cold wind against my backside raced towards her as I stood twenty meters away in fear…’
There was a sudden knock upon the door; three raps repeated at the most steady of repetitions. The Monsieur pulled himself from his chair slowly and with much an uneven gait walked to the mahogany, front door with the best mindset he could facilitate at the moment. Without a question, as if still in an inescapable dream, Peter Astrakhan opened the damp door to view a man who he knew entirely but yet was still incapable of engaging in even the most barbaric of greetings.
The man was ridiculously tall, two meters or more, robust and slightly stocky with large, upper arms and shoulders wider than a man needed to have. He spoke slowly with a Slavic accent not too dissimilar from the Slovak region of the Hapsburg’s Estate, yet his voice was of that deep, bass quality that brought melodrama and pomp to even the most mundane of syllables.
He spoke without hesitation, clearly audible above the rain behind him, “Monsieur Astrakhan?”
The Monsieur was stunned for the first time in nearly a year. The solitary word from his awe-stricken jaw was airy and indecisive. “Yes?”
“The Man from Hong Kong wants you to have this,” the Slavic man said, handing Mister Astrakhan an envelope.
After tearing open a side of the envelope and revealing a small note inside, the Monsieur was dumbfounded. Upon reading its contents, Peter Astrakhan’s countenance changed drastically, as though someone had deflated a large celebration balloon in his presence meant for his own ball; most alarmingly, however, was that once the Monsieur looked up again to see his acquaintance messenger, he had vanished. No one would have known even a lion had previously been there. He looked down upon the note again and sighed a gasp of air that barely left his lungs:
BIBLIOTHEQUE de SAINT-MARTIN de TOURS
2nd FLOOR, WEST BRANCH