A Very Fine Solution VIII
I parked the car nose in, a block or so down from the Heladeria. MariaJose was locking the ice cream parlour doors, it was about 11. Late - for a winter evening, at least. I watched as she walked off with the man who'd been inside with her. He was unfamiliar: MariaJose had some regulars. I didn't know that they showed their appreciation in the age-old manner, but anything was possible. This man, I didn't know. Something didn't sit right: the cashmere coat or the hat. Who wore a hat? Especially not a homberg. They were well down Calle Gerald Brenan before Penny and I manhandled our man up to the doorway of the ice cream parlour. Mohamed looked frightened and groggy at the same time, I leaned him up against the wall whilst I unlocked the door.
Upstairs, we tied him to a plastic, schoolroom chair. It looked better with him on it: you couldn't see the stains. I got a dessert spoon from the kitchen,
'Got a lighter, Penny?' I asked.
'Why don't you use my real name? I told you it, after...' she said.
Mohamed's eyes were darting from side to side, the whites bright against the dark skin. There was no overhead lighting; I'd only switched on a dim-bulbed table lamp that sat in the corner on the bare floor-boards.
'Oh that. I'd just assumed that wasn't a real name either. Besides, you're in another line of business now.'
She passed me the lighter and said, 'Am I?'
A whimper came from the chair after I put on a glove and started heating the spoon.
'What do you think he knows?' I jerked my head towards our captive audience.
'Less than me, most likely.'
Mohamed's head was jerking from side to side, although the spoon was nowhere near his eyes. Perhaps he just didn't want to look at it.
'Take the gag out, Penny.'
It was the squawk of a scalded cat. There were still at least 2 centimetres between the skin of his cheek and the spoon.
'You know.' I said.
He looked quite shocked and began shaking his head from side to side as if the words themselves could be shaken from his mouth:
'Shit!' I gave it plenty, jerking my hand up and dropping the spoon at the same time. Barely a second later there was a hiss as Mohamed's bladder proved my overacting had been unnecessary.
'Who are you with?' I asked.
He started telling me.
Some time later, Penny asked what we were going to do with him. There were four days to go until the 7th of December, after all. I told her he'd be staying here. Then I sent her to get the drugs.
There wasn't a mark on Mohamed, of course. He'd told quite a tale, nonetheless. Rich, spoiled and Algerian, he'd been on the Costa spending family money since leaving the University of Seville. When I'd asked him if his family knew he'd said they were proud of him. I'd told him I'd meant his lifestyle. 'That too.' he'd replied. Mohamed was a member of آلتحرير Al Tahrir – the Emancipation. I'd heard a little about it, militant noises but very little action. No doubt Mohamed's colleagues in the movement came from similar backgrounds. He'd given me a long and muddled account of Pan-Arabist goals allied to a return to the Caliphate, based in Algeria, naturally. Funny how the seat of the Caliphate was always destined for the homeland of a group's members. He claimed to have no idea why the department would be interested in him. Neither had I.
Eventually, I asked him about the Barak. He'd known who owned it, but not much more. Before I finally gave up on him, he said,
'People are talking. Rumours. Things which are only half-told before you look around for someone listening. And then you stop telling.'
'I'm listening now, are you even going to start?'
I tossed the cold spoon over my shoulder and listened to it clatter in the sink.
'What is the worst thing? The greatest fear for Islam.' he asked.
'I don't much care,' I wanted to yawn in his face.
'Accommodation. With Israel.'
'If there is a Palestine, for Palestinians, what would we do? We need the injustice...'
he laughed, teeth shining in the gloomy room. 'It is a justification.'
'So, it's unlikely, isn't it? This...accommodation?'
'There are rumours, as I said. A faction. A Saudi-brokered peace, a worried Israel. A black man in the White House.' Distaste fought with disbelief as he said this last.
'Is that it?' It didn't seem much.
'There is something else. A senior political figure, a European. German maybe... or British perhaps. Always mentioned in connection with... what do you call it? A legacy?'
I let Penny fix the works. Mohamed didn't protest much as the needle went in. The spot of blood in the crook of his arm was surrounded by evidence of earlier punctures. He went on the nod and left for dreams of houris and paradise, for all I knew.
'What now?' Penny seemed interested, I couldn't think why.
'For the 7th, or whatever happens before that.'
Penny checked the bonds on Mohamed, without being asked.
'Come on,' she said. 'It's eight in the morning, I'm tired and I need a coffee.'
'Let's go,' I said. And then the mobile in my pocket rang.