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Authors: Karim Miské

Tags: #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / International Mystery & Crime

Arab Jazz (10 page)

BOOK: Arab Jazz
4.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Do you have a pay phone?”

The waiter looks at him in astonishment.

“A pay phone and the phone book? Not every day we get asked for that! There hasn’t been a pay phone here since the ’90s . . .”

“What about a landline? You must have a landline. I’ve got to make a call—just to another landline. It’s important.”

Ahmed’s tone and appearance disarm the achingly trendy barman, and he gestures to the telephone by the counter.

“Hello, Dr. Germain? This is Ahmed Taroudant. You remember . . . Can you fit me in? . . . In twenty minutes. Wonderful, I’ll be there.”

He replaces the handset, drinks his coffee and pays before crossing the road to take a seat at the edge of the canal. Dr. Germain’s deep voice had taken him back many years to a time when, session after session, he would relive his parents’ story, which he only knew from his mother Latifa’s well-worn accounts. Until he was thirteen, Ahmed’s life had been limited to one long, tragic saga. And then—nothing.

The story begins in 1970 with Latifa Mint Ibrahim’s arrival at the Faculty of Literature at the University of Rabat. She was the daughter of a well-known Sufi religious leader. Her father was a progressive. He wanted to set an example and pressed his beloved daughter to study and be independent. In those days, the regime was harsh, very harsh, but the people were not to be defeated. Far from it. Young people believed in their power to change the world and their country. Latifa felt giddy with freedom, and was naturally inclined toward the more radical, adventurous fringes of society. She was drawn to the Maoists of the all-new 23 Mars movement. Her heart swelled with notions of liberty and—even more so—equality. As a child she felt shackled by her status as daughter of the
, and would have willingly switched places with the black-skinned young girls who were her servants, but who were free to run wherever they pleased. On her return from school she would eat the dates with
butter brought to her by Soueïdou, their young
, a freed slave girl. But she only ever dreamed of milking the goats and churning butter in the old vessel made of animal hide. When M’barek, Soueïdou’s father, went up to gather dates from the tree in the garden, Latifa would imagine what it was like to be up there. As far as everyone was concerned, M’barek was a
, a slave, barely the quarter of a man. To her he was the very embodiment of freedom. Later, when her new Marxists friends spoke to her about Hegel and his “master-slave dialectic” she didn’t need them to spell it out. But what she never understood was why they deserted her when she fell in love with Hassan. They met at a music festival. Hassan was black, like most Gnawa musicians, the Gnawa being a people descended from slaves imported—as with so many others—from the banks of the Niger River, the place the Arabs called
Bilad es-Sudan
, the Land of the Blacks. For centuries, the black slave trade had been a lucrative business, amassing great fortunes for the most distinguished families from Fez and beyond, all pious Muslims unperturbed by the fact that the origin of their wealth lay in the trafficking of human beings, most of them fellow Muslims. The Gnawa had succeeded in preserving the memory of their ancestors’ music. Music that had the power to deliver the sick of the spirits that possessed them. One night—only once—Latifa had confided in Ahmed that Hassan, his father, sometimes had visions. Before he had even met her, he knew she would be coming and that their love would spell his ruin. It had been written, and it would have been unmanly of him to shy away from his destiny. This was her way of telling her son that she knew he had inherited the same gift. Then she picked up the thread of her story again . . . From the first moment Latifa laid eyes on Hassan, she had no doubt that this was the free man she had been waiting for her whole life. She lost any concept of the time and country in which she lived. Consumed by love, she never considered the risks and the price she would have to pay. As for Hassan, he loved her all the more strongly knowing that death lay in wait for him. One day, he disappeared. He never came to their tryst. This was common enough in the dark days of the Years of Lead. No one dared ask where or why he had gone. There, a Gnawa—an
, a
—had loved a girl from a good family. Not often the secret police had the chance to get their hands on a case like that. Maybe it was a personal vendetta by an especially racist, jealous policeman? An intervention from Latifa’s father? Right away she got the feeling that she would not see her lover alive again, and she decided to flee the country, never to return. Her comrades were so wrapped up in their revolution that they saw her plight as irrelevant. Only Ahmed Taroudant—a closeted homosexual from a middle-class Agadir family—resolved to come to her aid. He took the
’s daughter into hiding, fixed her up with a fake passport, and they left the country together across the Algerian border to the south of the country, disguised as peasants. Back in that long-distant age, Arabs and blacks could travel freely between Africa and Europe. On arriving in France, the young Moroccan girl realized she was pregnant. She decided to keep the baby. Ahmed stayed with her until the birth, met the child who was to be named after him, the only friend she had ever had. He returned to his country, and she stopped hearing from him three years later.

Ahmed therefore inherited the first name and surname of his mother’s savior. As for his father, he knows only his first name, Hassan. Latifa never wanted to give him his full name. Nothing but the story. Always the same story. Two lives locked up in this one fucking story. How can you live after that without turning into some fictional character? From then on Latifa, moving from job to job, slowly began to lose her mind. First a job in a bookshop, then a florist’s, then a fruit-and-vegetable stall. Doctors, psychiatrists, hospital. Ahmed had to fend for himself from the age of fourteen. Latifa was either on antipsychotics or in the hospital, first at Maison Blanche, then at Pithiviers, where the doctors abandoned any hope of releasing her. It didn’t take long for him to prefer her being in the hospital. The social worker turned a blind eye: didn’t put him into care, sorted out the paperwork, and made sure he got his child benefits. He started work at sixteen. At eighteen he managed to get out of military service without even having to fake it. Mentally unstable. They didn’t admit him to a psychiatric ward. Just let him go like that. By the age of twenty he was a night watchman, happily removed from the world with his books and his Go board games. Human contact was limited to Al and two or three other friends. Sketchy love and sex life: every once in a while a girl would show some interest, and he would drift along with it until she got tired. For him, love was death. Ahmed assigned words to his mother’s silences: Oufkir, Tazmamart, Driss Basri. He learned about the different forms of torture. Whenever he thinks of his father, he sees a man who loved a woman and paid for it with his life, dying in agony. An endless loop runs through his head detailing every conceivable death, every conceivable torture. Water baths, parrot’s perches, electrodes, red-hot pokers. Plus the ones he’s read about in de Sade, and that photo of the slow-sliced man with the ecstatic expression that Georges Bataille obsessed over. This is what fills his head: the sound of screaming and ripping flesh.

Lots of images.


Ahmed stands up. Must be about time to head to Dr. Germain’s. Time for words.


At the Bunker, an uneasy Gomes is updating Kupferstein on what he’s found on Laura Vignola’s family in Niort. Since his arrival at the commissariat last October, fresh from completing his police training, the young lieutenant has been captivated by Rachel. He would do absolutely anything to make her smile. She uses her power over him sparingly, saving it only for when she really needs a hand. She doesn’t like the idea that the sorts of favors she asks of Gomes are down to the effect she has on him; they’re no different from what she’d naturally expect of any colleague. What’s more, she knows that the rest of the officers at the local force—with the notable exception of Mercator—don’t like her and Hamelot. They think they’re only out for themselves—too cerebral, too unlike the others. Rachel was spoiling for this widespread animosity, which ultimately she couldn’t give a damn about, not to taint her young admirer. But then she did like the fact that she had this grip over Gomes, even if he wasn’t her type and his first name was Kevin; however hard she tried to put her class prejudices to one side, that was a mega deal-breaker. Anyhow, she’s playing it very carefully so that she can keep up the beguiling act for as long as possible. Gomes tugs nervously at his shirt collar. Without needing to look, she can sense the reason for his growing discomfort. She wheels her chair around regardless, if only to show her one true enemy at the commissariat that she’s not afraid of him.

At the far end of the open-plan office, old Lieutenant Meyer is swaying nonchalantly on his chair, watching them with a mocking air. He’s gnashing on some chewing gum, and pops a green bubble on his lips at the precise moment Rachel’s eyes meet his. Scum. The guy is scum. A single look and you need a shower. This is a policeman from the old school—fat but muscled, embittered, racist, macho, homophobic. And all the more anti-Semitic because everyone thinks he’s Jewish because of his Alsatian surname. Just by looking at him Rachel can feel herself turning into a guard dog, an anti-racist angel, a militant, a
Charlie Hebdo
–reading militant. She cannot stand it. Fine if Meyer does his Meyer thing: she couldn’t give a damn. But what she can’t accept is the fact that he is capable—with that craven look of his—of touching the side of her she is least comfortable with. She didn’t become a policewoman so she could be confused with the teacher in that film
Entre les murs,
going all soft on troublemakers. No—she became a policewoman to turn a vision into a reality; to embody an inanimate ideal, namely to uphold justice through the employment of force. As far as possible, Rachel strives to believe in that. She is lucky enough to take her orders from Mercator, who is far from an angel, though he does retain some notion of what it means to be a policeman—something along the lines of “we must protect society,” including against the powerful. The chief still has that bit of naïveté. If she had been stationed at the commissariat in the eighteenth, Enkell and Benamer would have left her with only one option: turning to the dark side.

That is what she cannot bear about Meyer—because of him, she is forced to view her work from a more sinister angle. His presence means she cannot forget that the police force is not just about Luke Skywalker, but about Darth Vader too. Deep down, a part of her—hard though it is to admit—reminds herself in a whisper that her very being is made up of this mixture of good and evil. The incestuous relationship between crime and justice is what sealed the fate of her forebears. It’s what allowed her to be born. This buried part of her only creeps to the surface in the dead of night. It’s a spirit. One that is no stranger to the police, and which is personified by Meyer. A demon with carpet slippers and—despite the heavy dose of chlorophyll chewing gum—halitosis. All in all, she prefers Benamer, the torturer with the piercing eyes who taught them the most abject of interrogation techniques, and whose advances she managed to stave off until her final month of police training. Everything he stood for revolted her, but she was magnetically drawn to him. She was going through a Nietzsche phase at the time, and the philosopher’s writings had provided her with a tailor-made means of self-justification: “Wisdom is a woman, and loves only a warrior.” It was an encounter as brief as it was intense. Other men since have seemed somewhat plain. She had drawn a line through Benamer. She had not the least desire to get lost in his darkness.

Gomes is becoming increasingly unnerved by Meyer’s hostile presence. Rachel looks the young officer in the eye to encourage him to pick up from where he left off. Laura’s parents, Vincenzo and Mathilde, had been easy to locate in Niort, where they have lived in the same house for at least twenty-seven years, since it was the same address as the one on their only daughter’s birth certificate. Just to be on the safe side, he had also run a Google search and found an article on the
Charente Libre
website detailing a dispute between the taxman and the local branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The tax authorities were demanding thousands of dollars that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were refusing to pay, invoking the 1905 law separating state and religion, which affords religious organizations certain tax breaks. Yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who feature on a list of sects published by the French government, are not recognized as a religious organization. Proud of having unearthed all this information, Gomes is eager to put the icing on the cake.

“And guess who is the head of the local branch?”

“Vincenzo Vignola . . .”

The young policeman eyes her suspiciously, utterly deflated.

“You already knew?”

“To be honest, the answer to that particular conundrum was as clear as day. And I found out less than an hour ago that Laura’s parents’ religious background was the reason behind their conflict. They’ve refused to see her ever since she left home. Do you mind following up that lead, please? I’ll take care of informing the parents, or more like getting someone else to inform them. Let’s hope the police at Niort can show a bit of tact . . .”

She thanks her colleague wholeheartedly and is about to ask him a question regarding the new drug in town when she makes eye contact with Meyer once again. A funny feeling courses down her spine. Is he spying on her? What for? And
for? Could he hear them from over there? She saves her questions for later and heads to her office, skirting around Jean who doesn’t even seem to notice her. Slumped in front of his screen in a daze, he looks like he’s out of service. She leaves him in his vacant state, sits down at her computer, looks up a number and dials.

BOOK: Arab Jazz
4.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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