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Authors: Michael Pearce

A Dead Man in Tangier

BOOK: A Dead Man in Tangier
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A Dead Man in Tangier

Also by Michael Pearce

A Dead Man in Trieste

A Dead Man in Istanbul

A Dead Man in Athens

A DEAD MAN IN
TANGIER

Michael Pearce

Constable • London

Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
swww.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2007

Copyright © Michael Pearce 2007

The right of Michael Pearce to be identified as the author of this work has been identified by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-1-84529-530-1

Printed and bound in the EU

Chapter One

‘Pig-sticking. You know.’

Pig-sticking? Seymour didn’t.

‘As in India,’ said the man from the Foreign Office helpfully.

What was India to do with Monsieur Bossu’s death? Or pigs, for that matter?

‘Really?’ he said cautiously.

‘Yes. Apparently there’s a Tent Club. The only one outside India, they say.’

Still harping on about India. But the Superintendent, across in Whitechapel, had definitely said Africa. And what was all this about tents? If camping was going to be part of the investigation, Seymour was already losing enthusiasm.

‘Is that so?’ he said guardedly.

‘Yes. There’s an old boy who set it up, a local sheikh. Well, not just local. He’s been Minister for War. He sets up the Tent and lays on the hospitality. And then they all come with their horses.’

‘Really?’

‘And spears.’

Spears! Jesus, what was this?

‘And go for the pigs,’ said the man from the Foreign Office happily. ‘Not quite pigs, of course. Not in our sense. Boars, wild boars. And there’s quite a difference, I can tell you! These will turn and come at you. With their tusks. They’ve got long, sharp tusks. And they really know about using them. Rip the horse’s stomach open in a flash!’

‘Rip the –?’

‘And then set about the man.’

‘It sounds –’

‘– great fun,’ said the man from the Foreign Office enthusiastically. ‘Oh, it is! They come at you with such great speed, you see. And they’re so mobile! They can double around like lightning. Much more quickly than a horse can. And then they come at you from a different angle. That’s what gives them the edge.’

‘Yes. Yes, I can see that. It would.’

‘And that’s what makes it such a good sport, of course.’

‘Of course! Yes.’

Seymour hesitated.

‘And that’s what this chap, Bossu, was doing when –?’

‘Yes.’

‘But, look, if he was killed in action, so to speak, I don’t see where I come in. Why send out a policeman? I mean, if a boar got him –’

‘Oh, but it didn’t.’

‘No? Even so, if it was an accident –’

‘Ah, but it wasn’t.’

‘No?’

‘Someone,’ said the man from the Foreign Office grimly, ‘stuck him.’

Not exactly the kind of case that you usually got in the East End. But then, Seymour, these days, did not get the usual cases. With his flair for languages he was increasingly being sent abroad, much to the envy of his colleagues.

‘Tangier,’ said the sergeant dreamily. ‘Isn’t that where the oranges come from?’

‘Palm trees,’ muttered the constable behind the counter, going into a trance. ‘Belly-dancers.’

That bit sounded all right, thought Seymour, tidying up his papers. But what if the bellies were being ripped open by homicidal wild boars?

Less than a week later, however, there he was in a little steamer nudging its way along a brown, barren coast. Occasionally he caught glimpses of white houses huddled below unyielding cliffs. Gradually the cliff became green slopes and the rock retreated inland and became mountains veiled in mist. There was a mist on the sea, too, and for a while he lost sight of the land. Then, suddenly, the mists parted and there, floating uncertainly like a mirage, was a large bay fringed with palm trees, and inland, among the houses, a white-walled building. Its flat roofs rose gradually to culminate in a minaret whose coloured tiles flashed in the evening sun.

‘The Kasbah,’ said a voice beside him.

‘I carry your baggage, sir?’

‘No, I can manage.'

‘I carry your baggage!’ – insistently.

But other voices, also insistent.

‘I carry . . .'

‘I carry . . .'

‘You carry,’ said Seymour resignedly, pointing to the first man.

Not so simple.

Another man:

‘Sir, sir, why bother with this man? I have donkey, big donkey, fine donkey –’

‘I carry the donkey as well,’ said the man already with his baggage. ‘Bugger off!’ he said to the donkey man.

An insistent hand (this belonged to a third, or perhaps it was fourth, fifth or sixth party):

‘Why bother walk, sir? When you can ride? In my fine new carriage?'

It wouldn’t have been new in Julius Caesar’s time. Seymour took one look and shook his head.

But the man insisted.

‘No, sir, look! Fine new carriage!'

He opened the cab door and a swarm of flies rose from the tattered upholstery.

‘Thank you, no.'

His already chosen porter, who looked, actually, as if he could carry the cab as well, shouldered the cab man indignantly aside and set out determinedly.

‘Just a minute, you don’t know where –’

‘But, yes, sir,’ said the porter in injured tones. ‘You are going to the Hotel Miramar.'

‘Well, yes, I am,’ said Seymour, surprised. ‘But how did you –?'

‘You are official, sir. All officials go to the Hotel Miramar.'

It wasn’t far, which was just as well because Seymour was already bathed in sweat. He preferred it like this, however, as he wanted to give himself time to adjust.

They walked first beside the shore, past palm trees beneath which donkeys, their panniers filled with charcoal, waited patiently for customers while their masters squatted on their heels beside them gossiping with their neighbours, and then they turned up into the narrow, dark lanes of the old city, where he was suddenly hit by all sorts of exotic smells, and where girls with hennaed hands pottered past carrying water melons and small boys, some of them with startling auburn hair (Berber, wondered Seymour?) played in the dust.

They came to a square with a solitary tree, lit by a dim lantern, where merchants squatted beside mounds of brilliantly coloured spices. The air was full of incense and the fumes of frying oil.

There was the sound of a gunshot.

‘It is to signify the end of the day’s fast, sir. This is Ramadan.'

‘It sounded as if it came from the mosque.'

‘It did, sir.'

Around the edges of the square people were preparing food. Bowls of soup were steaming, flat loaves of bread were neatly piled up, and in the pans over charcoal fires the hot food for the main meal was already simmering.

The porter led him off up a side-street between high white walls from the other side of which drifted the heavy perfumes of sweet-scented shrubs. They came to a white building with balconies fenced off by railings of iron fretwork, quite Spanish, Seymour thought: and why not? Spain was only a mile or two away across the straits.

‘The Hotel Miramar, sir.'

He was shown to his room and walked out on to the balcony. Across the tops of the houses he could see the harbour with its thousands of lights and just off to his right he caught a glimpse of the Kasbah. From the European part of the city, further away, he could hear the castanets of the cabarets: Spanish, too.

But here it was quieter. When he listened he could hear the clicking of the crickets in the garden below him. The sounds of the square had disappeared almost entirely; except, occasionally, for the soft quavering of flutes.

He unpacked his things and went downstairs. In the foyer a young woman was sitting behind the desk. Later, he realized that this was unusual. Such jobs in the Arab world were normally filled by men.

She looked up from her writing and smiled.

‘I am afraid we don’t serve evening meals,’ she said. ‘But just around the corner there’s a very good restaurant.'

When he stepped out of the hotel the air struck him as unbelievably warm. He shouldn’t have put on his jacket. He went round the corner as she had suggested and found the restaurant.

After he had eaten, it was still early, and he walked down to the square. The post-fasting meals were still going on, the eaters sitting in small circles in the darkness around the charcoal fires. The merchants were still squatting beside their spices. The henna-handed little girls were still flitting about. Some of the shops were still open and in the dim light of their oil lamps he could see the shopkeepers weighing out raisins and spreading bales of cloth for the women to fondle.

By the time he had completed his circuit of the square the moon had come out and was lighting up the roofs of the houses. The minaret he had noticed earlier had lost its colours and become a mysterious silver, and as he turned back up the road towards the hotel he found that the sand underfoot, where the moon fell upon it, had changed to silver too.

In the street outside the hotel it was as bright as day. A knot of men suddenly burst into it. The knot became two groups which surged around each other. There were shouts and cries and the flash of knives in the moonlight.

One of the men fell and another man stooped over him. Seymour saw the knife and shouted. The man looked up, startled. The man beneath rolled away.

Seymour shouted again and began to run towards them. The knot wavered and then broke up and in a moment there was only the man lying there.

Seymour bent over him. There was something wet and sticky on the front of his shirt and he was holding his arm across his chest. Seymour moved it away to see the extent of the damage and the man gave a little moan.

He became aware that someone was standing beside him and spun round. The man stepped back and held up his hand apologetically.

‘Pardon!’ he said.

The man on the ground looked up.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ he said, in French.

The other man knelt down beside him.

‘Are you all right?'

‘No, I’m bloody not!'

‘Can you stand?'

The man grunted and put out a hand. His friend took it and helped him up. The wounded man gave a little gasp. Then he put an arm round his friend’s shoulders and stood for a moment, swaying.

A door opened and light fell down the hotel’s steps.

A woman’s voice said:

‘I will not have this! Not in front of the hotel!'

‘Sorry, Chantale!’ said the wounded man humbly.

‘It started further up the road,’ explained his friend. ‘I don’t know how it came to drift down.'

‘See it doesn’t happen again!'

She went back inside. It was the receptionist.

The wounded man said something to his friend and the two wobbled across to Seymour. They stopped in front of him and the wounded man detached his arm from his friend’s shoulders and made a little formal bow.

‘To you, Monsieur, I owe thanks.'

‘It was nothing.'

‘Ah, but it was something. I shall not forget.'

They all three shook hands formally in the French way, and then the two men set off up the road, the one supporting the other.

The receptionist was back behind her desk, head down. She gave Seymour a little flicker of acknowledgement but barely looked up from her writing. Seymour started off up the stairs.

A porter was just coming down. He glanced at Seymour and then said something to the receptionist. This time she stopped her writing and looked up.

‘There is blood on your coat,’ she said, matter-of-factly. ‘Take it off and I will have it cleaned for you. It will be ready for you in the morning.'

The affair was otherwise dismissed. So this is how it is, thought Seymour, in Tangier?

When he came down the next morning she was there at her desk, writing again. She jumped up when she saw him.

‘I am afraid you have caught us out,’ she said. ‘I did not expect to see you so early. I had to send your coat out and it’s not back yet. My people here couldn’t quite get the blood all off but there’s a good little tailor in the square who is used to this sort of thing.'

Used to this sort of thing? Blood on your coat?

‘It will be ready, I promise you. I can send someone down immediately. But . . .’ She hesitated. ‘Were you thinking of wearing it? Here in Tangier?'

‘Why not?'

‘You’ll be too hot. People don’t usually bother with jackets in Tangier.'

‘I have to see the Consul.'

‘He won’t be wearing one, either,’ she said drily. ‘What you could do is get Ali to make you up something in lightweight suiting. He would do it very nicely and you would have it by this evening. And it wouldn’t cost you much. Two pounds.'

‘Two pounds?'

‘Yes. He might suggest more, but just say you’re a friend of Chantale.'

‘Thanks. I’ll think about it.'

It didn’t take long. When he stepped outside, the heat hit him like a hammer.

‘Where did you say this tailor was?'

‘In the square. His name is Ali. He’s very good. And you can pick up the jacket at the same time.'

It was the tailor he had noticed the previous evening. When Seymour went in he was sitting on the counter, sewing. All the shopkeepers sat on their counters. The things they sold were stacked on shelves around the walls.

‘Ali?'

‘Monsieur?'

‘I think you’ve been cleaning a jacket for me.'

‘Ah, yes.'

He climbed down off the counter and reached up behind a curtain.

‘Thank you.'

The coat was spotless.

The tailor weighed it in his hands. ‘Good cloth,’ he said.

‘But a bit heavy for here, perhaps. I was wondering if you could make up something for me?'

‘I certainly could. Would you like to look at my materials? This one, for instance. Just right for you.'

‘How much?'

‘Six pounds.'

‘Chantale said you would do it for two.'

‘Ah, Chantale? Well, that’s a bit different. Yes, well,’ – regretfully – ‘I suppose I
could
do it for two.’

He held the cloth up against Seymour.

‘That girl,’ he muttered to himself, ‘will be the ruin of me.'

Then he brightened.

‘But also, perhaps, the making of me!'

A man came into the shop, saw Seymour and slipped out again.

The tailor asked Seymour to put on a dummy jacket and then began to mark it with chalk.

The man came back, bringing a friend with him.

‘Hello, Ali!'

‘Idris! And Mustapha, too.'

They seemed familiar. He suddenly realized. They were the ones he’d met the previous night.

Seymour’s jacket was lying on the counter. The wounded man came across and touched it.

‘That his jacket?'

BOOK: A Dead Man in Tangier
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