Cringey Casablanca: The abduction of Edward Slavsquat
Part III of Edward Slavsquat's never-ending adventures in the Caucasus
The below text is a truthful retelling of Edward Slavsquat’s tragic circumstances in Tbilisi. But first you should read Part One (“Waiting for an exit visa”) and Part Two (“The magic chacha”).
When we last left our hero, Edward had foolishly consumed an entire decanter of magic chacha before stumbling upon a vigil for a fatally dehydrated American tourist. While in mourning, Edward was kidnapped at dagger-point by a nameless fatty…
An armed society is a polite society—a timeless aphorism, as true in Georgia as it is in a Texas middle school. Does this dagger-wielding whale think he’s the only person packing heat in Tbilisi?
I begin to fish through my pocket. I pull out my apartment keys, various coins, a piece of lint, two pens—no luck.
Maybe I should try the other pocket, I think to myself.
But it’s too late. My unnamed abductor invites himself into my shorts and snatches the dagger that was presented to me during my residency ceremony at City Hall.
Now he has two daggers and I have none.
“Can I have that back when you’re done with it?” I ask him nicely.
We descend The Hill in total silence. When we reach Shota Rustaveli Avenue, the double-daggered man herds me into a charming and very familiar-looking cobblestone alleyway.
Yes, I know these cobblestones. I know where they lead.
I freeze and go limp.
“No! Please, no! Take me anywhere but here,” I plead with my kidnapper. “Maybe I can buy you something at the flea market instead?”
“Keep moving,” he says, poking me forward.
A zesty young woman rushes up to us as we close in on our destination.
“Come, sit! The nice sir should sit! You are welcome!” she coos in a barely intelligible English-Russian hybrid, as she mechanically gestures towards a hookah lounge with oversized pillows and a fan that blows cooling water vapor.
Without acknowledging her, my kidnapper marches me past the outdoor seating area to a dimly lit corner of the lounge’s interior, where three men perched on large oversized pillows are speaking in muffled machine-gun Georgian:
“ბლოგერი ყველაფერს იზრუნებს. Დაინახავთ.”
“იმედია მართალი ხარ.”
Noticing our arrival, the largest of the three—a hunchback almost as wide as he was tall—hushes his companions.
He stares at me until I feel naked.
“This is Edward Slavsquat?” he asks my abductor. “He looks like a sweaty Hobbit.”
Then he turns to me: “Why do you sweat so much? Stop sweating.”
“I have big pores.”
The hunchback eyeballs me in a disapproving way.
“This is Irakli,” he says, pointing to the man on his left. Then he nods to the man on his right: “And this is also Irakli. You’ve already met Zurab”—Zurab smiles and pockets my dagger—“and I am Nikoloz.”
“Gamarjoba,” I correctly reply.
“Sit,” he says, motioning to an oversized pillow across from him.
“Something to drink?” Nikoloz asks me.
“Whatever you’re having.”
He signals the waitress.
“Four chachas—and the Hobbit will have a lemonade,” Nikoloz orders.
He waits for her to leave, then leans across the table.
“I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here,” Nikoloz says to me. “Well, it’s very simple. I’ll explain—”
Suddenly the hookah-master appears, prompting Nikoloz to abort his simple explanation and instead launch into a complex and intense negotiation.
Nikoloz to the hookah-master: “Something sweet but not too sweet. And maybe a little bit sour. I desire the sensation of inhaling a fruit orchard.”
The hookah-master: “A cherry orchard?”
Nikoloz: “No. An orchard with different kinds of fruits.”
The hookah-master: “I can suggest a sweet fruit mix—pear, green apple, cherry, wild blueberry, and a pinch of guava.”
Nikoloz: “Yes, but normal blueberry.”
The hookah-master: “Okay.”
Nikoloz: “And mint.”
The hookah-master: “Mint might overpower the guava—maybe just a touch of cool ice flavor, instead?”
Nikoloz: “No. Mint.”
The hookah-master: “In a normal bowl?”
Nikoloz: “In a pomegranate.”
The hookah-master: “We just ran out. We have grapefruit and pineapple.”
Nikoloz: “Pineapple, then.”
The hookah-master: “A light smoke or a strong one? On a scale of one-to-ten.”
The hookah-master: “Maybe six?”
The hookah-master nods and leaves.
Nikoloz turns to me again.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re here—”
“—I am. But maybe first we should ask how much that hookah costs?” I worry aloud as beads of sweat run down my face.
The waitress arrives with our drinks before Nikoloz can respond.
He takes a chacha and stands up, his three comrades following his lead.
“სიკვდილი გორაკს!” they shout in unison before tossing back their brandies.
The four men return to their pillows. Eager to get to the point, Nikoloz begins speaking to me in a more direct manner: “The American who perished on The Hill this morning—you think he’s the first?”
“Oh, I seriously doubt it,” I reply.
“The Georgian government has no publicly available data on Hill-attributed adverse events. But we’ve been keeping a record.”—he takes out a folded piece of paper from his pocket—“By our estimate, already this year, no less than fifteen lives have been cut short by The Hill.”
“Including two stray dogs,” blurts out one of the Iraklis.
“And we suspect at least one cat,” adds Nikoloz. “But we’re still waiting for the coroner’s report.”
My greatest fears—confirmed. But why is Nikoloz telling me all this? What does he want from me?
The hunchback lowers his voice: “We must De-Hill Tbilisi.”
Me: “Come again?”
Nikoloz carefully refolds his list of Hill fatalities.
“We are going to terraform Tbilisi. It will cost 800 trillion lari.”
I take a large gulp of my lemonade.
Nikoloz begins to brood. He looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes, his face trembling with visible pain and anger. Then:
“When my mother was fifty-five, she drank some spoiled wine contaminated with brain-eating amoebas—”
“—I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. When her legs finally gave out, I had to carry her up The Hill each day. Down The Hill, up The Hill. Twenty years of physical torment. And now look at me—I’m deformed!”
“It is. And on her deathbed, my mother said to me: ‘My sweet Nikoloz, my sweet boy who carried me up The Hill for twenty years, and now, as a result, is a grotesque hunchback—you must destroy The Hill before it destroys you!’”
The hookah-master arrives with our water pipe. He delicately places it on our table and sucks into the hose, causing the water in the hookah’s base to splash and bubble as the pipe fills up with sweet, minty tobacco smoke: Glub-glub-glub.
“Excuse me, how much does that cost?” I ask him.
He ignores me—Glub-glub-glub—and then passes the hose to Nikoloz.
Nikoloz sucks: Glub-glub-glub.
“It’s okay?” the hookah-master queries.
Nikoloz exhales a plume of sweet fruits and coughs: “Good.”
He waits for the hookah-master to leave before continuing.
“The authorities call us quacks and conspiracy theorists. They say The Hill is safe, that it’s good for tourism—that it’s part of Tbilisi’s so-called ‘charm.’ Imagine.”
“Can I try that?” I interrupt, looking longingly at the hookah hose in Nikoloz’s hand.
The hunchback doesn’t respond: Glub-glub-glub.
Nikoloz passes the hose to the Irakli on his left before divulging more.
“We don’t have 800 trillion lari,” he confesses to me. “There’s only one man who has anywhere near that kind of money.”
“Elon Musk, of course.”
“Yes. I see. Of course.”
I try another gulp of lemonade to dull my senses.
Nikoloz begins to whisper excitedly.
“We want to De-Hill Tbilisi. But what does Elon Musk want?” he asks me rhetorically.
“I don’t know—what does he want?”
“He wants cobalt,” answers Nikoloz.
“Does The Hill contain cobalt?”
“No,” Nikoloz replies. Then, winking: “But we can pretend it does.”
It is worthwhile to pause here and take stock of the situation.
Some of you—due to an unhealthy skepticism of authority—are perhaps beginning to harbor flickering doubts about the preciseness of this truthful retelling of my comings and goings in the Caucasus.
“You’re telling me”—this is you, speaking to me—“you’re telling me that a disgruntled Georgian hunchback would kidnap an aimless American manlet as part of a plot to trick Elon Musk into terraforming Tbilisi? And you expect me to believe this?”
Yes; of course.
On the one hand, our Earth is inhabited by highly educated, moral, upstanding, tax-paying, very serious and thoughtful people who would never willingly allow absurdities, injustices, or untruths to flourish.
On the other hand, to the untrained eye, sometimes it might seem as if the whole world is drowning in an Olympic cesspool of the most brazen affronts to basic decency and common sense ever conceived.
Despite having the honor and privilege of living among so many astute and responsible homo sapiens, these days world events sometimes appear beyond the realm of possibility. Nonetheless, here we are, in 2022, obviously guided by prudent and unmatched level-headedness.
Ergo, we live in the best and most reasonable of all possible worlds. Ergo, logic dictates that tomorrow’s newspapers will report on Elon Musk being tricked into mining for cobalt in Tbilisi.
Ergo, not only is my truthful retelling completely plausible—it’s basically inevitable.
Everything Nikoloz was saying made perfect sense, only I still didn’t understand why he was baring his Hill-hating soul to me.
“You’re unemployed, correct?” Nikoloz asks your correspondent.
“I’m a blogger.”
“Right. Same thing,” replies the hunchback. “We need you to blog about secret cobalt deposits in The Hill. And then please tweet your blog posts at Elon Musk.”
I drink the rest of my lemonade. I need to proceed very carefully to avoid getting daggered, I think to myself.
“Isn’t Tesla transitioning to cobalt-free iron-phosphate batteries?” I ask.
“What?” spills out of Nikoloz’s mouth.
Zurab takes out his iPhone.
“It’s true, boss,” he says after some internet-searching.
Nikoloz frowns as he taps the table. The two Iraklis pass the hose back and forth: Glub-glub-glub…Glub-glub-glub. I stare at my empty bottle of lemonade.
Finally, the hunchback’s eyes light up.
“We say it’s eco-friendly cobalt,” Nikoloz suggests.
“Green cobalt—yes,” one of the Iraklis adds. Glub-glub-glub.
Nikoloz is beaming.
“So, do we have a deal?” he says to me. “You will be rewarded, of course. But the greatest reward will be helping to De-Hill Tbilisi.”
What am I supposed to say in such a situation? Do I like The Hill? No, obviously not—in fact, I hate it. But I took a solemn oath to blog sincerely, and without foreign meddling or influence of any kind. It is what it is.
“My blog—my blog isn’t for sale,” I stammer.
“Yes, I see. That’s very interesting,” replies Nikoloz as he strokes his chin.
The two Iraklis glance at each other and smile. Nikoloz removes a blade from his belt.
“You see this? This was my great-grandfather’s dagger. Two hundred years old.”
“Hey, boss! Remember you found one that looked exactly like that at the flea market last Saturday?” interjects Zurab.
Nikoloz shushes him, then returns to admiring his blade of dubious origin.
“Do you know how to make khachapuri, Mr. Hobbit?”
“It’s a very simple recipe. Very simple. First, I gouge out your eyes”—Nikoloz twists his knife into the air—“then I fill your eye sockets with cheese”—he pantomimes a cheese-sprinkling motion in front of my face—“then I wrap you in dough and crack an egg over your head.”
Glub-glub-glub—Nikoloz takes a pull from the hookah hose and blows a wall of smoke at me from across the table.
“I make you into Hobbit-khachapuri, you understand?”
I nod slowly.
“Good. Everything is understandable, then?”
“I’ll write anything you want.”
“Oh, and one last thing,” says Nikoloz as he looks sternly into my eyes. “When you tweet at Elon, please tell him to pump Dogecoin.”
“Yes, ask Elon Musk to send Dogecoin to the moon,” the Irakli on the right requests.
“But don’t be too insistent,” Nikoloz clarifies. “Elon doesn’t like that. Just tweet a funny Dogecoin meme at him or something.”
I nod again, earning me a pat on the head from Nikoloz.
“Very good. Then we understand each other perfectly. Don’t worry, we take care of our own.”
Nikoloz reaches into his pocket and tosses a crumpled 50 lari note on the table.
Glub-glub-glub—he has a final puff, then rises from his cushion.
Irakli, Irakli, and Zurab jump to their feet, bow slightly, and usher their ringleader out of the lounge.
I sit in silence for several minutes as I try to piece things together. De-Hill Tbilisi? Fake cobalt deposits? Dogecoin to the moon? None of it made any sense. Has the whole world gone completely insane?
The hostess interrupts my ruminations.
“Something more for the nice gentleman? Maybe another lemonade?” she tries to tempt me as she twirls her hair.
“Just the check, please.”
The hostess returns a few moments later—practically prancing to my table—and hands me the bill.
Four chachas—80 lari. One lemonade—15 lari. One hookah with a pineapple bowl and flavor of sweet fruits and mint—450 lari. Total: 545 lari—$195.
I look up. The hostess is resting her hands under her chin as she bats her eyelashes at me.
I nervously review the contents of my wallet—490 lari. With Nikoloz’s generous contribution—540 lari.
“The nice sir will pay by cash or card?”
“I only have 540 lari.”
“But sir, you must pay 545 lari.”
“I know. But I don’t have that much.”
The hostess is suddenly less zesty.
“You can’t pay?”
“I can’t pay,” I admit.
The hostess scowls, spits on my pillow—twice—and storms off.
Moments later a man in a half-unbuttoned turquoise shirt confronts me.
“You think you can get away with this? You think you can disrespect my lounge?” he shouts, adding more spittle to my cushion.
He wraps one of his big hairy paws around the glass of ice that came with my bottle of lemonade and dumps its contents on my pillow.
“The police are on their way!” he roars.
I sit on my soiled pillow, stunned.
Eventually two policemen holding coffee cups wander into the building.
Here we should rest a moment and explain an important nuance.
Tbilisi boasts a special breed of policeman. These are not your typical officers of the law, outfitted and armed with surplus military equipment from Afghanistan. No. These men and women maintain public order in khaki shorts and black polo shirts. Walking down the street, you might mistake one for a lost golf caddy with a sidearm.
It is also vital to understand that due to union regulations, as well as cultural tradition, an officer in Tbilisi’s police force might average ten to fifteen minutes of actual policing per day. The rest of their time on the clock is spent drinking coffee.
Tbilisi has the safest coffee kiosks in the world. According to the latest government statistics, since January 2022, only fifteen muggings, four stabbings, and seven reports of indecent exposure have occurred within ten meters of the city’s multitude of coffee kiosks. I would like to stress that I truly and sincerely believe the world would be a better place if the Tbilisi Police were in charge of everything.
And now two of these valiant public servants—rudely interrupted while drinking their coffee—are sipping their hot beverages as they look around the hookah lounge.
“He’s over there!” the hostess shrieks, locking in on me with one of her fake painted fingernails.
The policemen approach the puddle forming around my pillow.
“Come with me, please,” one of them says before taking another sip of coffee.
“Do I have to?”
The policeman drums his fingers on his coffee cup: “Yes.”
As they lead me out, the hostess—eyes now bloodshot—spits and curses at me.
The man in the half-unbuttoned turquoise shirt runs up to me and begins shouting obscenities in my right ear; the hookah-master does the exact same thing in my left ear. Then they spit in concert, like a choreographed fountain.
Even the lounge’s patrons—in the process of being brutally fleeced—join in. A group of clueless tourists smoking out of a grapefruit get up from their pillows and fire their phlegm at me.
“Traitors,” I grumble under my breath.
My police escort gently pushes the enraged mob out of the way and walks me to a waiting paddy wagon.
As they prepare to load me into the police van, two men with black trench coats and earpieces approach and flash shiny, metallic badges.
“We’ll take it from here,” one of the trench coats informs the officers.
Overjoyed, the two policemen jump into their automobile and zoom to the nearest coffee kiosk, leaving me behind.
My two new friends grab me by the arms and usher me to a limousine parked around the corner. They open the door and throw me in.
I look up and see a smartly dressed man sitting on a leather seat at the far end of the limo.
“Mr. Slavsquat? I’m Henry Strasse, director of security at The Biltmore.”
“Gamarjoba,” I obviously reply.
“Mr. Slavsquat—are you aware that under the Criminal Code of Georgia, discrediting The Biltmore is punishable by up to ten years in maximum-security prison?”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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