It was the time of lamp lighting, one week after the day when he had killed Kefas on the street of Arcades, that Fletcher was summoned before the keeper of the house. He found Sinan ibn Ajaj seated at a teakwood desk, its top inlaid with mother of pearl. There was a large leather bag in front of the bald Turk. At sight of Fletcher, Sinan dipped his brown paw into the coins that bulged the sides of the sack. He counted out a handful, and pushed them across the table top to the American.
“Your alaik coins, Stefan. There’s a slave tavern run by Niccolo Gritti the Neapolitan, beyond the Street of the Sail-makers. You’ll find your kind there, nasrany, Christian dogs, Maybe even some Americans. Have yourself some fun.”
Fletcher stared, aware that puzzlement showed in his slack jaw and wide eyes. The Turk leaned back, thumbs hooked at his sash, grinning.
“Surprises you, doesn’t it? All slave masters aren’t as stupid as Ali ben Sidi! That’s why we hand out alaik slave money. Matter of fact, there’s a little slave community right here in the heart of Tripoli itself. Gritti runs a tavern. Carapoulous the Greek owns an odd goods shop, where an Italian can buy himself some maccaroni, or a Frenchman some pastry. I understand they have little flags for homesick Americans, too. Buy yourself one. It’ll make you feel better. And work better, too. The smart masters give their slaves a chance to let off steam by meeting at Gritti’s Olive Tree, or the Coq d’Or. Do they lay, plans to escape, there? What if they do?”
Sinan leaned forward, and his dark eyes blazed with mocking pride. “Where can they escape to, eh? The desert? They’d dry up and blow away inside two days. The sea? The corsairs own the sea hereabouts except where the cursed Americans sail their frigates! They’d bring ’em back and torture them in public. No, it doesn’t do any harm to let the slaves meet. They can’t go anywhere. They talk a lot and make plans that never come about, and are happier and healthier as a result. Their owners get out of them. Everybody’s better off, all the way around.”
Sinan pushed the silver coins forward. “So take the money and enjoy yourself. You can get drunk on whisky—mashallah! what an infidel concoction!—if you want.
Fletcher walked out of the palace to the street. Dusk was settling along the shore of North Africa, bringing the glow of lamplight from deeply recessed windows in the white walled shops and mosques. In the cool shadows he swiftly, passing a Berber tribesman newly out of the Fezzan desert sands, and a harem eunuch on his way to the sweetmeat shops.
There were a few corsair captains in turbaned helmets moving along the Street of the Sail-makers, readying equipment for fresh voyages upon the Mediterranean. Through the open doorways he saw the sellers of sails haggling over prices or displaying canvas to swarthy men with beak noses and spade beards, their left hands resting on the hilts of scimitars or curved daggers. American ships like the frigate Constitution and the schooner Enterprise maintained the blockade outside the harbor rocks, but the Mediterranean was a large sea, and the African shoreline boasted many little coves and inlets. Small feluccas and narrow barquentines could anchor unseen in the shelter of high rocks and tree-clad promontories. At night they could slip out into the sea and be a score of miles away by dawn.
The slave trade prospered at the hands of these ingenious sea captains. They brought their captives and their pirated loot overland from those hidden coves in camel caravans. Tripoli suffered from the patrolling of its coastal waters, by American ships, but not as much as it would have done without the hawk-faced corsairs.