S13 THE FORTY-FIRST THIEF*

1

Doc W gave me an incorporator – like a small, dark grey e-book reader. The display on its screen said:
Title : The Arabian Nights – Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Author: unknown
Edition: 1892
PAGE: 71.

On the bottom end of it were two buttons. The one at the right was labelled, Go. If I pressed that, the incorporator would take me to that place in that story. But….

“Forty thieves?” I asked, “Is it safe?”

Doc W’s eyes opened wider. “James! Your ignorance horrifies me. Don’t you know the story of Ali Baba?”

“No.”

“I have no time to tell you. This is an emergency. We must go immediately.”

I sighed. “All right.”

We pressed, Go on our incorporators.

2

We were standing near a low cliff of brown rock. A few ragged trees were scattered over the sandy ground. The sun blasted down from a silver sky. I had to narrow my eyes against the glare, and, in a few seconds, sweat made my gear stick to me.

Gear? The incorporator gives gear to suit the story. Dr Watson had a white turban, and a maroon, sleeveless jacket over a white suit with baggy sleeves and trousers. I would’ve laughed at him, but my gear was the same, except that my jacket was blue.

Doc W ordered, “Walk by the cliff, calling, ‘Open, Sesame.’”

“Eh?”

He frowned. “James, why must you question everything I say? Do as I tell you. Walk by the cliff, calling, ‘Open, Sesame.’ We shall start below that tree. You go left, and I shall go right.”

A big tree, greener and bushier than the desert ones, was growing in a crack in the top of the cliff. Starting under that, I went along, shouting, “Open, Sesame”, into the desert.

Doc W called, “James, face the cliff.”

Face the cliff? Feeling a bit of an orchid, I walked along, calling, “Open, Sesame”, at the cliff. Until, with a grinding noise, a slab of rock slid aside, leaving a round-topped doorway.

3

“Doc W!” I called. “Look at this!”

I would’ve run in, but Doc W grabbed my arm. “James! You will show proper respect. I have warned you before to address me as Dr Watson.”

“I’ve told you I don’t like being called James. My mates call me Jam. You can do the same.”

Doc W wrinkled his face. “I refuse to address you by such a foolish name.”

“All right.” I pulled myself away from him, and ran through the doorway. And stopped, gobsmacked.

The cave was high, but bright: two big holes in the roof let the sun stream through – lighting a huge treasure. Bundles of cloth – rich red and blue. Wooden chests, bound with brass. Piles of swords, spears, shields, plates, bowls, trays, vases and jugs. All shiny yellow – gold. Sacks with gold coins spilling out of them.

I did notice these things, but only in passing. Because I was looking at a man, sprawled on the floor just inside the entrance, with blood on his face.