Read Arab Jazz Online

Authors: Karim Miské

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

Arab Jazz (9 page)

BOOK: Arab Jazz
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“Where do they live?”

“In Niort.”

“Did she ever talk about her life with the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Was she afraid of them?”

“Yes, she spoke about it regularly. It left its scars, for sure. But their message was mostly about fearing the world, fearing life. That’s what she was so strongly against. I don’t think she felt threatened by them directly. She found them poisonous, sordid, intrusive. It was as though something had stuck to her; like a sort of glue that she couldn’t rub off. She never spoke about it for long; it upset her too much. And we’d never ask her questions.”

“How did you meet her?”

“Rébecca met her first. One afternoon, at Onur’s, she spotted a girl reading
by Maupassant. She loves that book, so she got talking to her. They became friends right away, just like that. We met her after that. She was great, Laura. Really great.”

“And what did you do together?”

“Oh, not much. We drank tea, chatted about life. She was our friend, you know. Our friend . . .”

Bintou’s voice catches in her throat and she starts sobbing. Aïcha grips her hand very tightly, trying her hardest to hold back her own tears. Rachel takes a pack of tissues out of her pocket and offers one to Bintou with a somber smile. Silence reigns, only broken when Aïcha, with a final squeeze of Bintou’s hand, speaks up.

“Go on, ask away. It’s my turn again.”

Rachel leaves it a moment longer before continuing.

“And your friend Rébecca . . . Where is she now?”

“Rébecca fell out with her family. She’s taken off until things calm down.”

“What sort of falling-out?”

“Long story . . . Nothing to do with Laura . . .”

“Listen up, both of you. A young lady you were very close to has been murdered. She had four friends in the whole world. You two, Rébecca, and Ahmed Taroudant, her neighbor downstairs. So as far as we’re concerned, anything involving any of those people has got everything to do with Laura. Rébecca has disappeared, and we need to know what’s happened to her. Simple as that.”

“Okay. Okay! Don’t get stressed. We’ve got nothing to tell. But we’ll do our best to put you in touch with her. Is that good enough?”

“Yes that’s good enough, but I’m asking you to do it as quickly as possible. I’m sure you’ll be as persuasive as you can. Anyway . . . Were there any men in her life?”

“Not really, no. You mentioned Ahmed, her neighbor. Fernanda must have told you that she was in love with him. To be fair, you could almost say that she picked a guy like him on purpose, just to be certain nothing would happen.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ahmed’s nice, but girls . . . It’s like he doesn’t notice them. When we were younger we used to play this game where we’d flirt with him. Nothing. Never even realized.”

“And no one in the neighborhood tried to push her buttons, as far as you’re aware? She was a beautiful young woman.”

Bintou looks at Aïcha, who takes over.

“No, not that I know of . . . There was just this weird thing with some of the, like . . . the over-religious guys. She had this funny effect on them . . . Was like they knew by intuition where she’d come from; what she’d escaped.”

“Which ‘over-religious guys’?”

Aïcha stops herself as though she’s already said too much. She gives her friend a pointed look before moving on.

“Moktar and . . . Ruben. A Salafist and a Hasidic Jew. I don’t know why, but they seemed uneasy every time they saw her. They looked down on her. What’s even weirder is that those two hate each other as well . . .”

Rachel locks her blue eyes on Aïcha’s, which are a light hazelnut. Silence. She turns toward Bintou and looks at her with the same intensity.

“What you’ve just said is extremely important. One of our theories is that Laura might have been killed because of her relationship with Jews or Muslims. Religious types—fundamentalists—the sort that are a bit of a specialty in this neck of the woods. Do you know them well, Moktar and Ruben?”

Bintou hesitates, beginning to answer.

“A bit . . . Through our brothers . . .”

All of a sudden, Jean sits up and looks at the girls more closely. Rachel turns toward him, holding fire. Her colleague narrows his eyes for a split second, as if to say “later.” A shadow crosses Aïcha’s big eyes, and she cuts her friend off.

“Listen, we’ve got to go now. Can we meet up again some other time? What’s your number?”

Jean snaps out of his drowsiness. Rachel looks closely at the two girls, suddenly so fragile and frightened. She hesitates for a moment before tearing a page out of her notebook. She writes down her name and cell number with a black pen then hands it to Aïcha.

“An investigation is a race against the clock. We’ll either catch the murderer in the next three days, or it’ll take us months, years, eternity.”

She turns to Jean—who hasn’t said a word since the start—and continues.

“The two of us know a lot, and we’re pretty patient. And you can trust us. Tonight and tomorrow, we won’t be getting much sleep. Nighttime’s good for talking. Think, then get in touch—even if it’s 3:00 a.m., I’ll be there. I know that you want Laura to be at peace now.”

She holds her notebook open at a blank page.

“Can I take down your details?”

The friends take it in turns to jot down their names and numbers. Bintou Aïdarra has pretty, round handwriting, while Aïcha Bentaleb’s is much more angular. A few nods goodbye and the beauties take their leave.

A pause.

“What made you react like that just now?” Rachel asks.

“Their brothers, Moktar and Ruben: 75-Zorro-19.”


“A local rap group. If I remember rightly, the four members were Moktar and Ruben—the guys the girls mentioned—as well as Alpha and Mourad . . . I’d put good money on them being Bintou and Aïcha’s older brothers. Nowadays they’re fully paid-up regulars at the Salafist prayer room along with Moktar.”

“Are you trying to tell me that Bintou and Aïcha’s brothers are Salafists? Odd. Doesn’t really fit. I think I’ve heard of Ruben. If we’re talking about the same guy, he belongs to a new Hasidic circle whose name escapes me. A group set up by Jews from Tiznit in Morocco. They split from a movement that originated in Belarus and reestablished themselves with their own rebbe—in Brooklyn.”


“A messianic religious leader, if you prefer.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I sometimes flick through
La Tribune Juive
at the newspaper kiosk, and every now and then I grab a coffee at the kosher
salon de thé
on rue André-Danjon, that one where all the moms meet after dropping the kids off at the Lubavitch school. I listen in on their conversations. Not long ago I heard them talking about a certain Ruben. This Moktar . . . Is he the guy that preaches at the crossroads on rue Petit?”

“The very same. An old pal of your Ruben. So, to recap: we’ve got three Salafists, one Hasidic Jew, and a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . That is one holy hornet’s nest! While we’re waiting, I can’t even remember the last time I ate. I’d kill for a steak—how about an
at the Boeuf Couronné?”

Rachel stands up, checking her watch.

“5:30. Bit early. Let’s swing by the Bunker first. Settle up and get a receipt. I can’t be bothered to dither around with expenses forms again . . . Don’t forget to write their names on the back.”

“Yes, boss! Oh yeah . . . What are we going to do about those new pills Onur told us about?”

“Not sure yet. We haven’t got time to deal with that right now. I’ll ask Gomes to see if he can get anything more on it.”

“Dear old Gomes . . . And to think you pick on me about me and Léna!”

“Well I’ve never slept with him, and there’s not the slightest danger of that happening!”

“That’s even worse—you’re stringing him along!”

Rachel laughs.

“Touché, we’re even. Can we go now?”


A few miles south and several orbits later, Ahmed gently touches down from his Himalayan odyssey. The walls holding up his friend’s dingy pad fall back into focus: naked women; porn cartoons; Hendrix photos. The light has faded, and so too the pressure in his head. He’s not far from feeling alright. Al is smoking and doodling. There are sheets of A4 paper scattered in front of him scribbled in words and drawings. He signs the bottom-right of the last one, gathers up the pages and hands them to Ahmed.

The Ballad of the Serial Killer

(an illustrated song for the times)

All the girls on the métro

All the girls in pink

Too many slappers, too many

Gotta do something

Sex makes me sick

I’m all about purity

Under their dark glare

I feel in danger.

Stronger than me

Yeah . . . it’s

Stronger than me

Them with the brown hair, the big booties

I got to . . . kill them

A backyard, a box room

A blade for cuttin’, shut it!

The girl lets it happen

Not so proud!

Stronger than me

Yeah . . . it’s

Stronger than me

Them with the brown hair, the big booties

I got to . . . kill them

Still in ma’ pocket

I got a pair of tights

Ain’t nothin’ better, trust

For killin’ slow

In her dyin’ eyes I took pleasure

In the street, I take a chance

I step lightly

Stronger than me

Yeah . . . it’s

Stronger than me

Them with the brown hair, the big booties

I got to . . . kill them

A moral to the story

To kill’s to live too

No philosophy simpler

For the serial killer.

The accompanying sketches are very lifelike, harking back to the golden age of the old-school
magazines. Ahmed is transfixed by the penultimate one. It features the killer seen from behind. His neck thick like a bull’s. Massive shoulders. Unlike in the song, the victim is looking not at her killer but at the reader. At him, Ahmed. Exactly the same look as that night. Exactly the same shoulders, too. Ahmed looks at Al as he rolls his umpteenth joint, his eyes elsewhere.
It’s cool, the dude’s a shaman. Images come to him. I was totally wired when I arrived here. He got inside my head and purged me with his drawings.
He looks up from the final sheet, feeling calmer.

“Not bad, man! If only I could follow your lead and get all my obsessions down on paper, that would free up my head space for a shitload of other stuff . . . Girls, for starters . . . You know, the last five years I’ve completely stopped thinking about girls. Lucky enough if I even noticed they were there. Since Laura’s murder it’s all come flooding back. There’s this policewoman . . . I don’t know . . . There’s something about her . . .”

“A policewoman! Yeah, boy!
Rock ’n’ roll!”

“Thanks for having me around, man. It’s done a lot of good. I’ll come back some time.”

“In three years?”

“Maybe five . . . Or two weeks. The important thing is I’ll come back.”

The summer’s night is falling slowly. Ahmed heads back northeast in no rush. His little stroll has allowed him to recalibrate. He thinks of Dr. Germain. It’s time to get back on that couch. To talk. Talk until he can at last bring himself to discuss that night at the furniture store. And it’s not like psychoanalysis was that bad. It was quite fun, thinking back, even if at the time it didn’t make him laugh much. He remembers the last sentence he uttered: “The trouble with girls, doctor, is that you have to make them come!”

“You have to?”

Germain’s trump card had stopped him in his tracks. Then, for a whole year, he couldn’t say a single word. He replayed the film over and over in his head—a succession of different actresses but always the same scenario . . . A girl notices him and shows an interest. He won’t even stop to wonder whether he likes her or not. Generally speaking she’ll be fairly pretty. So he leaps on this golden opportunity, fully aware of his inability to seal the deal. He’ll then set about trying to satisfy her on every level. Until it fizzles out completely and he loses any notion of who he is and what he wants in life. In the end, the girl gets fed up with spending her time with such a slippery bastard and takes off without thinking for a second why she’d set her heart on such a passive boy. But each to their own psychoanalysis . . . He knew where this imperative for making women come originated: his mother. But this, this was the abyss, the black hole. “Hole?” Germain would have said. The second he started thinking about his mother, his brain would freeze. He used to blank out, develop facial tics, and end up collapsed in a heap. This was what it was like for a whole year on the couch—nothing. Eventually he got sick and tired and stopped going. But today, something’s clicked. To put it to the test, he thinks back to the shrink’s “You have to?” and he starts laughing.

Wandering along the canal path he finds himself at Café Prune. Spitting distance from Dr. Germain’s. Throughout his years of psychoanalysis he’d go there for a macchiato before each session, even though he never took milk in his coffee any other time. Only on Mondays and Fridays at 8:45 a.m. Today, despite the fact it’s 9:00 in the evening, he enters the favorite haunt of the
hipsters in the tenth arrondissement and heads to the bar. The waiter—black hair, black T-shirt, burgundy apron—seems to recognize him vaguely. When he brings over the coffee, Ahmed, acting on a sudden impulse, asks for the telephone book. The guy gives him a funny look and fetches it. Germain Alfred, 18, rue Dieu. Tel: 01 57 91 28 73.

BOOK: Arab Jazz
4.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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