THE BOLT slid open and Ishmael Mohammed Mahmud (he grew up in the Intifada and enjoyed checkers, soccer and reciting the Koran) was met with a truly unexpected sight: hash smoke thicker than breath and godawful music. MK nearly tackled him. They'd met years ago in prison over there in Palestine and had pledged to do a job together. <<One day we'll pray together in liberated Jerusalem>>, that had been their refrain. But the Israeli army had recently laid siege to the Old City, and Muslims were banned from the Holy Mount. This is my jihad, my holy war, Ishmael thought as he staggered into the den. But these degenerates, are they my enemies or my friends?

<<Welcome to Cairo>> Nagvib said, offering him a toke from the bong. <<How do you like our glorious city?>>

<<The air pollution's really bad here>> Ishmael replied. He waved away the hookah, and pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket instead.

<<It's the pollution of the soul that we find more objectionable>> Nagvib said. He stood up suddenly, and engaged Ishmael face-to-face (a psychic ram-lock developed.) <<There is a cancer in the breast of Misr.>>

<<I won't disagree with that>> Ishmael said and lit one of his cigarettes.

There was another knock at the door and three more men - Ahmed, Ali and naturally a bloke with a moustache named Mohammed - stepped into the haze. <<Good, it seems the circle is complete>> Nagvib said. <<Let's talk shop.>>

!SHMAEL THE !NVINCIBLE and other characters copyright Robert Sullivan 1996-2000.