Djinn Rummy


By Tom Holt

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When Kayaguchiya Integrated Circuits III, a genie, is released from the aspirin bottle he’s been stuck in for 14 years, there’s bound to be trouble. Jane had wanted to end her life in peace, but now she’s got a genie, things look up — until the apocalypse rears its ugly head.


67,811 pints today please, milkman.
Rule one in the licensed victualling trade: Know Your Clientele. Ignore it, and you might as well keep the doors locked.
Mr D. Jones had been in the business for a very long time, and he had long since learned everything there is to know about running a hotel, bar and bistro catering exclusively for drowned sailors.
It is, in fact, fairly straightforward. Good plain food; never under any circumstances allow the bar to run dry; strong tea with lashings of milk and sugar. And, of course, ensure that all tables are secured to the floor with half-inch carriage bolts.
He glanced up through the glass roof. Light never quite made it down as far as The Locker, but the water overhead was turning the precise shade of muggy dark olive that implied daybreak. Time to roll up the shutters, take the towels off the pumps and start a new day.
D. Jones folded the scrap of paper, pushed it into the bottle and rammed home the cork. Then he opened Number Six airlock.
A message in a bottle.
Having decided to kill herself, Jane went into the nearest chemist’s shop.
‘I’d like a large bottle of aspirins, please,’ she said to the man behind the counter. He looked at her. In fact, as far as Jane was concerned, he made an unnecessarily thorough job of it, as if he was planning on doing an autopsy without the tedious business of cutting her up first.
‘Aspirins?’ he asked, making it sound as if she’d asked for the elixir of eternal youth.
‘Aspirins,’ Jane replied. ‘Please. And could you hurry it up? I’m on my lunch break.’
The man, who was white-haired and very tall, sniffed. ‘Any particular sort?’ he asked. ‘Or just aspirins?’
‘Just aspirins.’
The man smiled. ‘Not sure we’ve got any of those in stock, just aspirins. I’ll have to look out the back. Don’t go away.’
Before Jane could say anything, the man had darted away into the stockroom. She felt a strong inclination to make her escape while he was gone, but the voice of logic inside her head dissuaded her. Come off it, girl, it said, you’ve made up your mind to commit suicide and you’re afraid something bad might happen to you? In a chemist’s?
The man reappeared.
‘You’re in luck,’ he said, extending a hand containing a big brown bottle. ‘Just the one left. Directions on the label, that’ll be two pounds seventy.’
It was, Jane couldn’t help observing, a very old bottle. It had cobwebs on it. She’d read somewhere that out-of-date medicines could be very bad for you.
‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘Just what I wanted. Keep the change.’
Now then; where? Did it matter? Anywhere she could be sure of a little bit of peace and quiet. Her flat. No, not her flat; they wouldn’t find her for days (who would they be, she wondered) and by then she probably wouldn’t be very nice . . . A hotel? She looked in her purse, which contained three pounds and seventeen pence, and no cheque book or credit card. She’d left them at home, on the basis that you can’t take it with you. This, she muttered to herself, is getting tiresome.
A railway station. Yes. She was, after all, about to embark on a very long journey.
There was a station; and the station had one of those waiting rooms that make you decide to wait on the platform instead. Guaranteed privacy. She sat down, opened her bag and took out the bottle.
Note. Should she write a note? It was traditional, yes, but when you looked at it objectively, what the hell was the point? She had no family or other human associates to whom she owed an explanation; what made her think that the coroner was going to be interested in her tawdry little problems? They have a hard life, coroners; long hours, calls out in the middle of the night, constant association with lawyers, policemen and dead bodies. Boredom would probably be the last straw; and besides, she didn’t have a pen with her, and a suicide note written in eyebrow pencil smacked of undue frivolity.
Goodbye, cruel world. She unscrewed the bottle . . .
‘Thank goodness for that,’ said the genie. ‘For a moment there I was beginning to get worried.’
He hung in the air like a cloud of gunsmoke on a still, bright day; and as each second passed he became more substantial and more brain-wrenchingly incredible. There was a tinkle as the bottle hit the concrete floor and disintegrated into small, sharp brown fragments.
‘You’d think,’ he went on, ‘I’d have had more sense, particularly in my line of business. First thing they teach you in genie school, if a strange man comes up to you, offers you sweets and asks you to get into his bottle, walk away, or better still, rip his head off and swallow it.’ He sighed, and the effort made his component molecules sway in the air. ‘Fourteen years this Tuesday fortnight I’ve been in that sodding bottle, and the sanitary arrangements left something to be desired, I’m telling you.’
He was no longer transparent; scarcely translucent. A shaft of light nudging its way through the dusty window hit the back of his head and, knowing what was good for it, refracted violently.
Genies are designed to be useful rather than ornamental, and this one was a masterpiece of the genre. There was enough ivory in its tusks to make cue balls for all the snooker tables in Europe.
‘Who are you?’ Jane said.
The genie frowned. ‘Are you serious?’ it demanded. ‘Or just extremely sceptical?’
‘You’re a genie?’
‘Hole in one.’
‘A real genie?’
The genie clicked its tongue. ‘No,’ it replied. ‘I’m a fake, you can tell by the lack of hallmarks. Of course I’m a real genie. What do you want, a certificate of authenticity?’
‘What . . . ?’ Jane felt her vocabulary clot. On the one hand, she had made up her mind to put an end to her pointless life, the existence of genies wasn’t really germane to the various issues that had influenced her in making that decision, and time was getting on. If she didn’t get a move on, she’d arrive in Heaven too late for dinner. On the other hand . . .
‘Admit it,’ she said, ‘you’re my imagination, aren’t you? I’ve taken the pills and I’m hallucinating.’
‘Thank you very much,’ replied the genie, offended. ‘Do I look like a hallucination?’
Jane considered. ‘Frankly,’ she said, ‘yes.’
The genie considered this. ‘Fair enough,’ it replied. ‘Maybe that wasn’t the most intelligent rhetorical question I’ve ever posed. Do I take it, by the way, that you were planning on eating the pills?’
Jane nodded.
‘Headache? Sore throat?’
‘Bad dose of life,’ Jane replied. ‘Fortunately, the remedy is available over the counter without a prescription.’
The genie shook its head. ‘Bad attitude you’ve got there, if I may make so bold,’ it said. ‘There’s lots of things worse than life, believe you me.’
‘Oh yes? Such as?’
‘Such as death, for one,’ the genie replied, ‘spending a lot of time in bottles coming in close behind to clinch silver. Mind if I sit down, by the way? Cramp.’ Like a closely packed swarm of bees it drifted down and hovered an inch or so above the bench opposite Jane. ‘Mug’s game, death is. All that standing about in queues and filling in forms. Compared to death, life is just a bowl of cherries.’
‘Ah,’ Jane replied, with a strong trace of ice in her voice, ‘I wasn’t planning on dying, I was planning on being reincarnated. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mister Clever.’
The genie nodded. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ it said, ‘there’s nothing bad about reincarnation per se, it’s basically a very good system, cost-effective and ecologically friendly. It’s just that, until they iron out the technical glitches . . .’
Jane frowned. ‘I don’t think you’re a genie at all,’ she said. ‘I think you’re actually the imaginary friend I had when I was five, only grown-up. You’re just as irritating as he was, and you’ve got the same knack of poking your finger in your ear and wiggling it about when you’re talking. ’
‘Do I do that?’ The genie looked at its hand. ‘Really?’
‘Have you seen the length of my claws? How come I don’t lacerate my eardrums?’
Jane shrugged. ‘That’s your problem, surely. Look if you really are a genie and you’ve been sent to make me change my mind -’
‘Sent? Who by?’
‘Search me. Is there anybody who sends genies, or do they just turn up? No, forget it, no offence but I’m really not interested. It’s been lovely meeting you, really it has, but it’s time I wasn’t here. ‘
‘Positive.’ Jane looked at the floor. ‘I take it,’ she said, ‘the bottle was empty. Apart from you, of course.’
The genie nodded; or at least, it shimmered up and then down again, like an indecisive smoke signal. ‘You want some aspirins, I take it?’
‘Your wish is my -’
‘Hold it.’
‘Shit.’ An expression of disgust flitted across the genie’s face. ‘I thought you’d say that,’ it muttered. ‘Perceptive, aren’t I?’
Jane leant forward, her chin cupped in her hand. ‘My wish is your command?’
The genie winced. ‘Bloody marvellous,’ it said. ‘Humans, all they’re interested in is one thing. My mother was right, it’s wishes, wishes, wishes all the time with you people. Makes me sick.’
‘Three wishes?’
‘Absolutely correct. Still, since you’re absolutely dead set on killing yourself, there really isn’t much point, is there? Unless you want a hand getting the job done, that is.’ The genie grinned toothily. ‘In which case,’ it said, ‘absolutely delighted to oblige. Fourteen years in an empty bottle, one thing you do get is decidedly peckish.’
Jane shook her head. ‘That,’ she said, ‘was before I had three wishes from a genuine genie. You’ve got to admit, it alters things.’
‘Up to a point,’ the genie said. ‘I mean, we’re talking parameters of the possible here. There are very strict rules about what we are and are not allowed to do for clients.’
‘I’ll bet.’
‘So strict,’ the genie went on, shimmering persuasively, ‘as to make the wishes virtually worthless, in my opinion. Not worth the hassle. Forget all about it if I were you.’
‘I think I’ll give them a try, thanks all the same.’
‘Gosh, there’s a train just coming in, if you’re quick you could jump under it and -’
‘Three wishes,’ Jane said firmly. ‘Agreed?’
The genie sighed. ‘In which case,’ it said, ‘you’d better have one of these.’
There was a rustle of pages, and a book appeared in Jane’s lap. She picked it up and squinted at the spine:
‘Demeaning, I call it,’ the genie muttered. ‘I mean, owner, for God’s sake. Makes me sound like a blasted lawnmower.’
Congratulations! You are now the owner of a Model M27 ‘Gentle Giant’ general service domestic and industrial genie. Provided it is properly maintained and only genuine replacement parts are used (N.B. use of non-standard parts may invalidate your warranty) your genie should provide you and your civilisation with a lifetime of cheerful and near omnipotent service -
‘Gentle giant my arse,’ the genie interrupted. ‘Well, giant maybe, but gentle . . .’
Jane read on for a while, and then closed the book. ‘Three wishes,’ she said.
‘That’s right. You saw the bit about the “Wish By” date, by the way? Very important, that.’
‘Very well,’ Jane went on, ‘I’ll have the first one now, please.’
‘Fire away.’
‘I’d like,’ Jane said, ‘another twelve million wishes.’
The genie’s head jerked upright. ‘Now just a cotton-picking minute,’ it complained, ‘that’s not fair. There’s no way . . .’
‘Why not?’ Jane smirked. ‘Completely legitimate request, according to this book.’
‘Rubbish. Like I said, there are strict rules.’
Jane nodded. ‘I agree,’ she said. ‘Here they are on page four, paragraph two, three lines up from the bottom. Want to have a look?’
‘I know the rules, thank you,’ said the genie icily.
‘As follows,’ Jane continued. ‘One, no wishes that change the very fabric of reality. Well, that’s OK, if I can have three wishes I can have three billion, it’s all the same in principle.’
‘Matter of opinion,’ grunted the genie.
‘Two,’ Jane said firmly, ‘no wishes beyond the genie’s power to fulfil. Obviously no worries on that score.’
‘I’ve got a bad back, mind,’ the genie interjected. ‘Gives me one hell of a lot of jip in the winter months, my back does.’
‘And finally,’ Jane said, ‘rule three, all wishes to be used within three hundred years of first acquiring the genie.’ Jane glanced at her watch. ‘By my reckoning that gives me till half past twelve on the sixteenth of June 2295. Agreed?’
‘Twenty past twelve, I make it.’
‘Then twenty past twelve it shall be.’ Jane closed the book. ‘Nothing in there that says I can’t wish for more wishes. And if with my next wish I wish for another nine trillion and four wishes, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Is there?’
The genie scowled. ‘I think this is probably something of a grey area, interpretation-wise,’ it said. ‘However, as a gesture of goodwill, would you accept six wishes in full and final settlement?’
‘You’re not a lawyer by any chance, are you?’
‘That’s a horrible thing to say about anybody.’
‘True.’ The genie scratched the back of its head, and for a few moments bright sunlight seeped through the gashes made by its claws in the glittering air. ‘All right then, tell you what I’ll do. All the wishes you want for three years, how about that?’
Jane shook her head. ‘For life,’ she replied. ‘But I promise I won’t wish for anything too yuk, provided there’s not an emergency or something.’
‘God, you drive a hard bargain.’
‘I know.’
‘Can I go now?’ The genie lifted its arm and sniffed. ‘I mean, I’ll be there as soon as you call, word of honour, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d just spare me a few minutes. You know, to freshen up, brush my teeth, that sort of thing. I won’t be long.’
‘That’s all right.’ Jane considered. ‘What’s your name, by the way?’
The genie looked embarrassed; that is, the million billion minuscule points of light of which it was composed flickered red, one after the other, all in the space of a fraction of a second. ‘Just call me Genie,’ it said quickly. ‘That’s what everybody else does, and it’s much -’
The genie dimmed. ‘Kawaguchiya Integrated Circuits III,’ it mumbled.
‘Kawaguchiya Integrated Circuits?’
‘’Fraid so.’ The genie nodded stroboscopically. ‘Commercial sponsorship, you see. Pays for all the running repairs, plus a twice-yearly check-up and insurance. People call me Goochie for short. If they dare,’ it added. ‘And even then, never more than twice. Myself, I prefer the acronym. It’s more me.’
‘Kiss,’ Kiss replied. ‘The C is soft as in coelacanth, certain and celery. Like I said, though, just plain Genie does me absolutely fine.’
‘With the light brown hair, huh?’
Kiss sighed and gathered together his photons with all the dignity he could muster. ‘All things considered, I was a fool to leave the bottle. Be seeing you.’
He said; and vanished.
Much to Jane’s surprise, he came back twenty minutes later.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ she asked.
‘Thank you,’ Kiss replied. ‘Nice place you’ve got here, by the way.’
Jane raised an eyebrow. ‘You like it?’ she said. ‘Personally, I think it’s a dump.’
‘Objectively speaking, it probably is. Sure beats an aspirin bottle, though.’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ Jane replied. ‘Milk and sugar?’
Kiss shook his head - he was, Jane noticed, considerably more together than he had been; the gaps between the little points of light and shadow that comprised him were much smaller, and unless he stood with his back to the window you’d almost imagine he was solid. ‘A slice of lemon, if you’ve got it.’
‘Sorry.’ Jane frowned. ‘Hey, who’s doing the wishes around here, anyway?’
Let there be lemon; and there was lemon. She handed him his cup (it was disconcerting to say the least to push one of her grandmother’s Crown Derby teacups into a glistening dustcloud, but there was no crash) and bade him sit down. He repeated the hovering manoeuvre she’d witnessed before.
‘I wasn’t expecting you,’ she said.
Kiss’s eyebrows flickered sceptically. ‘You usually lay out the best china just for yourself, do you?’ he enquired.
‘I don’t remember giving you my address,’ Jane replied.
Kiss snorted. ‘Give me some credit,’ he said huffily. ‘I am, or was, one of the marshals of the hosts of heaven, rider of the tempest, companion of the cherubim. Looking someone up in the phone book is scarcely taxing my powers to the limit.’
‘So how did you find out my name?’
‘You write your name inside your handbag; evidently a throw-back to your schooldays. Rather endearing, I thought. Mind if I smoke?’
Jane frowned. ‘Actually,’ she said, ‘I’m allergic to tobacco.’
‘Who said anything about tobacco?’
Jane shrugged. ‘Please yourself.’
A second or so later she became aware of the most delicious perfume; attar of roses or something like that. Two hundred quid for a tiny bottle sort of thing. She nodded approval.
‘Actually,’ said the genie, ‘it’s woodbines. Well, this is all very pleasant. So far, anyway.’
‘Let’s hope it stays that way,’ Jane replied. She pushed her hair back up out of her eyes, and put on a serious face. ‘I think it’s time we did a little basic ground-work, don’t you?’
The genie looked at her. ‘Ground-work? You mean ploughing or something?’
‘I mean,’ Jane replied, ‘I want you to tell me something about yourself. You see, I haven’t got the faintest idea what a genie is, or where they come from, anything like that. Except that they come in bottles and grant you three wishes,’ she added lamely.
‘I see.’ Kiss scratched the bridge of his nose. ‘That’s a bit like saying all you know about America is Eggs Benedict and the date of Groundhog Day. Not enough, in other words.’
‘That’s what I’d assumed.’
‘Right, then,’ the genie said. ‘Now, where shall I start?’
Genies (Kiss explained) are fallen angels. That is to say, in the beginning they were created out of the Mind of God, to do the things for which angels are necessary. All I can say about that is, He’s got one hell of a warped imagination.
Most genies got to be genies by backing the wrong side in the civil war between the archangel Michael and Lucifer, Son of the Morning. Not me, though; I was on the right side in that lot, albeit in the Pay Corps. As I remember, I spent the duration of the war either playing cards or wandering around with a clipboard trying to keep out of the way of the officers. Which suited me fine, by the way. Never saw a thunderbolt thrown in anger, and I play a really mean game of djinn rummy.
No, my departure from Heaven was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding about a lorryload of black market stardust somehow going missing en route to HQ from King Solomon’s Mines. I was, of course, framed, but would they believe me? Would they hell.
Well, after that I bummed around for a bit, doing the things genies generally do - You don’t? Well, all sorts of things, really: raising storms, necromancy, digging up pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, riding the moon, changing princes into frogs, a few real estate deals, anything to pass the time and put a few dinars in your pocket. It’s a good life if you like that sort of thing, though you do tend to end up mixing with heroes and grand viziers and a lot of other lowlifes, and you’re really only ever as good as your last job. Particularly these days, with all the science and stuff. In fact, quite a few of the lads I used to hang out with have packed in the road and settled down as lift operators. No, not lift attendants, lift operators. You don’t seriously think lifts go up and down all day with just a bit of wire and a few pulleys, do you?
And the movies, of course; special effects. You’ve heard of George Lucas, I take it? Now that’s one genie who really did make the big time.
Anyway, there I was, just sort of pottering about, minding my own business; and then, wham! Lamp time. It happens to all of us sooner or later, of course, it’s genetic programming or something, like lemmings. Doesn’t stop you feeling a right idiot when the stopper goes down, though.
Well, I was out of circulation for, what, five hundred years, five and a bit, and then - Sorry? Look, do I have to, because it really is very embarrassing? All right, if you insist.
I was at this party (Kiss said, cringing slightly) and there was this djinn, right? Tall, slim, blonde, pair of fangs on her like a sabre-tooth tiger; I mean, we’re talking serious chemistry here and, besides, I may have been drinking. Alcohol has a bad effect on my metabolism, it has to be admitted. All I have to do is sniff a bottle of cough medicine and somebody has to take me home in a wheelbarrow.
Anyway, there we were and one thing led to another, and she said, ‘Your place or mine?’ and the next thing I remember was waking up in this lamp thing with a splitting headache and the lid coming off and me being shot out like someone had just shot a hole through the cabin wall at fifty thousand feet; and there’s this magician type in a big pointy hat staring at me and saying, ‘Hold on a minute, you’re not the usual fiend, what’s become of Mabel?’
Mabel, needless to say, was the looker with the luxury dentures, and she’d lured me back to her lamp, done a runner and left me there. I tried explaining, but it didn’t do any good. ‘Never mind, you’ll just have to do instead,’ was all the sympathy and understanding I got out of him, the bastard.
Now here’s a word of advice, from someone who’s been there; if ever you get yourself indentured to a black magician, try to make sure it’s not a black magician who’s into the financial services stuff. It’s bad enough as it is with the hurtling backwards and forwards through time and space, I-hear-and-obey-oh-mastering twenty-four hours a day, doing evil and getting yourself thoroughly disliked all the time. When you’ve got all that, plus you have to play snakes and ladders with the international currency markets, it can get to be a serious drag. You can imagine the sort of thing I mean: go sink a few of So-and-so’s ships so I can mount a hostile takeover of his company. Oh look, the Samarkandi dirham’s risen in early trading, go and raze their walls to the ground and eat their finance minister. I mean, where’s the self-respect in that?
(At which point Jane interrupted to say it sounded awful. Kiss nodded sadly.
‘It was,’ he said. ‘And you know what the worst part of it was? All this inside information floating around and me without a dinar to my name. A few lousy coppers in the right place and I could have been taken seriously rich, you know? As it was . . .’
‘I see,’ Jane said coldly. ‘Do please go on.’)
Anyway (said Kiss) eventually the Securities Commission caught up and it was a case of into the sack and off to the Bosphorus for him, and bloody good riddance too. Not, however, much fun for me, because I was in the lamp at the time. And in the lamp I stayed. For five hundred years, with nothing to do except play I Spy. Something, I need hardly tell you, beginning with L.


On Sale
Sep 4, 2012
Page Count
277 pages

Tom Holt

About the Author

Tom Holt was born in London in 1961. At Oxford he studied bar billiards, ancient Greek agriculture and the care and feeding of small, temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines interests which led him, perhaps inevitably, to qualify as a solicitor and emigrate to Somerset, where he specialized in death and taxes for seven years before going straight in 1995. He lives in Chard, Somerset, with his wife and daughter.

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