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Authors: Peter Morfoot

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Darac picked out the dapper, clean-shaven man wearing a grey collarless jacket and black cotton trousers.

‘Alright, I would like to begin with you if I may, Monsieur Asiz?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Let’s get out of the way over there.’

Out of the way and out of earshot of the others.

The imam complied as if delighted at the prospect. It was an impressive attitude, Darac thought. Doubly impressive when he remembered the protracted struggle Asiz had had with Nice’s civic authorities to set up the prayer room. He was a cleric with a mission, clearly. But as he turned, Darac looked into his eyes and in them saw humour as well as the determination and intelligence for which he was known.

‘Just when I thought the situation incapable of generating any further melodrama.’

Darac was at a loss for a moment. But then Asiz directed his gaze at Darac’s socks.

‘Ah yes. If you would prefer, I could take them off.’

‘No, no, no.’

‘Thank you.’

‘In turn, Captain, I should like to thank you for your attention to our special needs here. Needs, I feel obliged to point out, that would not exist were the Mairie to agree to our mosque proposal.’

‘There is progress on that issue though, I understand.’

The imam smiled.

‘It is true that with each month that passes, antipathy to the concept at council level appears to diminish. Whether it is because they have grown tired of us cluttering up a street in the centre of the city or they have become more enlightened, I cannot say. Whichever it is, the Mairie is closer than ever before to “when” rather than “if” on the mosque question.’

‘That would be quite a coup for you, personally.’

‘The outdoor congregation is our front line, Captain. They are the ones who bear the brunt of abuse on a daily basis. When we achieve our goal, the part they have played will not be forgotten.’

‘There’s obviously a need so I wish you good luck with it.’

‘Thank you. We have indeed been fortunate in your appointment to this case, Captain.’

Bridges built, it was down to business. Darac fixed him with a look.

‘I hope you will continue to feel that you have been fortunate if it transpires that one of your congregation is guilty of murder.’ He deliberately didn’t name Emil Florian: the press and TV might be talking to Asiz later.

As if marking the change in temperature of the interview, Monsieur Asiz’s eyebrows rose, slightly. His smile, though, did not fade.

‘That proposition is destined to remain untested. Although it would make no epistemological sense to state that one of the congregation could not have killed the man, I am nevertheless certain that none of them actually did.’

‘As a cleric, it is perhaps natural that you would put faith before reason, monsieur.’

Asiz reacted with a sort of amused relish.

‘I am impressed at the precision with which you express your assumptions. But you will see at least some reason in the timing, surely? We are hardly likely to jeopardise our improved standing at the Mairie by murdering a visitor, albeit an uninvited one.’

‘Unplanned murders occur, Monsieur Asiz. All the time. As to timing, what’s to say there isn’t a renegade in your ranks?’ Darac’s gaze fell on the leader of the outdoor congregation, Hamid Toulé. Sitting away from the others, the man’s eyes were closed, his lips moving silently. ‘That’s possible, isn’t it?’

‘In practice, it is quite
im
possible, Captain.’

‘I understand that after you learned of the death, you asked everyone to stay behind to talk to us.’

‘I did.’

‘Was everyone able to comply with your request?’

‘They were.’

Darac nodded, pursing his lips.

‘According to the statement you made to Lieutenant Busquet, you were in this room at the time of the incident?’

‘I was.’

‘So you neither saw what happened outside nor even knew who was there.’

Asiz registered the hit with a raised eyebrow.

‘It is true that I can’t strictly vouch for those who were worshipping outside – you will have to see Monsieur Toulé about that. But for those who were in here, yes, everyone remained.’

The interview lasted for another five minutes. At the end of it, Darac had learned nothing further. But he had come to one tentative conclusion – he’d decided that the imam’s genial demeanour was genuine enough. But he felt he couldn’t entirely trust him, nevertheless.

Darac turned to Emil Florian’s next-mat neighbour, Slimane Bahtoum. Wearing cargo trousers and a plain white T-shirt, the young man was sweating profusely as Darac took him to one side.

‘Over here, please.’

Raising eyebrows that ran in an unbroken line, the boy seemed anxious to talk.

‘I didn’t touch the man on my right – the man who died – at any point, Monsieur,’ he said, as if countering an accusation to the contrary. ‘I will take a lie detector test, have my fingerprints taken, give a DNA sample – anything.’

In the background, Darac saw Imam Asiz watching them as he maintained what must have been a somewhat absent-minded conversation with another member of the congregation.

‘Thank you for volunteering for all those tests, Monsieur Bahtoum.’

‘Anything to help. And I’m “Slim” to my friends.’

‘However, polygraph tests are inadmissible in law; clean fingerprints tend not to register on cloth materials such as the dead man was wearing; and there are any number of reasons why your DNA may not have found its way on to his person.’

‘But I swear, I didn’t… do anything.’

Darac was put in minde of a line in Shakespeare. The one about somebody protesting their innocence too much. The boy was hiding something, he felt sure.

‘Relax, no one is accusing you of anything.’

‘No. Sure. Sorry.’

‘I know you’ve already shown it but I’d like to see your ID card, please.’

‘Sure.’ Squeezing his hand into the thigh pocket of his cargo trousers, he extricated his wallet, took out the card and handed it to Darac. An apple for the teacher.

Slimane’s photo matched the face, and the address agreed with the one he’d given to Bonbon – the boy lived in an apartment block no more than a ten-minute tram ride away.

‘A lot of pockets you’ve got there.’ Darac handed back the card. ‘A lot of pockets and most of them crammed with stuff.’

The boy’s large brown eyes narrowed warily.

‘Yes, I know I put too much in them.’

‘It’s tempting with cargos – I do the same.’

Slimane managed a smile as he squeezed his wallet back into the pocket. ‘My mother is always telling me off for it. “You’re not a donkey,” she says.’

‘But if I knew beforehand that I was going to be kneeling and prostrating myself repeatedly, I would make sure I wore something looser.’ Darac looked into the boy’s increasingly anxious eyes. ‘Like almost everyone else here.’

‘It is our duty as Muslims to pray five times a day…’ The voice was East African-accented and it faded in from stage left. ‘…Our personal comfort while doing so is not what is important. I am Hamid Toulé. I was leading the outdoor congregation at the time of the tragedy.’

‘You have exceptionally sharp ears, monsieur.’ Darac couldn’t disguise his irritation that at least part of his exchange with Slimane had been overheard. ‘I’ll come to you later.’ He indicated with a shepherding arm that he required Toulé to step away. ‘Please.’

‘It’s just that Slimane here has been very traumatised by what happened and I didn’t…’

‘Later.’

Seve Sevran slid in between them.

‘Just step over there, please, monsieur. I know you’ve had to wait for some time already but the Captain will get to you soon.’

Toulé exchanged a reinforcing look with the boy and then withdrew. After a few paces, Darac called Sevran back.

‘I’ll get to him shortly,’ he said, under his breath. ‘But first I’m going to take Slimane outside. Watch how they react in here, alright?’

‘Watching is what I do.’

‘Pay particular attention to the imam, and Messieurs Toulé and the man who was next to Slimane – Ibdouz. Obviously, if any of them try to make a mobile call, prevent them.’

‘Anything else? I am on my own in here.’

‘This from the man who served in Djibouti, Chad – all over Africa?’

‘And a lot of good that did me.’

‘I could get someone else in here but I’d rather have you. Alright?’

Sevran still looked unhappy but he shrugged assent.

‘Okay, that’s all,’ Darac said, loud enough for everyone to hear. He turned to Slimane Bahtoum. ‘Let’s go outside for a moment.’

‘Why?’

‘It’s a bit stuffy in here, don’t you think?’

‘Not really.’

‘After you.’

‘Uh… okay.’

As they put on their shoes in the vestibule, Darac could already hear representations being made to Sevran. ‘Where are they going?’ ‘What is he doing with him?’ ‘The boy hasn’t done anything wrong.’ Following Slimane on to the pavement, Darac scanned the street for the TV news crew. Luckily they had gone.

Without warning, he clamped a hand around Slimane’s forearm from behind. Shocked, the boy didn’t try to turn or free himself. Darac dropped his voice.

‘Okay, Slim, your minders can’t prompt you out here. You’re on your own.’

As Darac squeezed a little, droplets of sweat from the boy’s arm melted into one and began seeping between his fingers.

‘Listen, Captain, I haven’t—’

‘No, you listen. And listen carefully. It wasn’t you, was it? It wasn’t you who was praying next to the dead man in your too-tight cargos.’

Feeling energy moving through the boy’s body, Darac grabbed his other arm.

‘Yes, it was me, captain.’ The voice came out in a tremulous whimper. Whatever Slimane Bahtoum was, it was obvious he was unused to skirmishes with the law. ‘Who else would it be?’

‘That’s why you were so eager to be tested to prove you hadn’t touched the murdered man. Of course you hadn’t. Because you were not here at the time, were you?’

‘I was. Ask anyone. Let me go.’

Across the street, one or two of the detained onlookers had started to pay attention to them.

‘Ask anyone? Alright – see those people gathered together on the opposite side of the street? The ones talking to the officers? They’re doing that because they saw the whole thing. Shall we go over there and see if any of them recognises you?’

He felt the boy’s body flex as he gave him a slight push.

‘Ask anyone in the congregation, I meant. The man praying on my other side – Anthar Abdouz. Ibdouz, I mean! Anthar Ibdouz. Ask him.’

‘You don’t want to meet the people opposite because you know none of them saw you earlier.’

‘No!’

Behind the onlookers, the two CCTV cameras stood as blind sentinels over the scene. They gave Darac an idea.

‘Alright, forget the crowd. We have better witnesses. See those CCTV cameras?’

He let Slimane think about it for a moment.

‘We’ve reviewed the tapes and they prove conclusively that it was someone else praying next to the dead man.’

Spotting that Officer Yvonne Flaco had finally finished questioning the onlookers, Darac gave her a beckoning nod.

‘Look, I’ll make it easy for you. You’re sitting at home or you’re out with your girlfriend or whatever when you get a call on your mobile – a mobile I’m going to have examined in a minute, by the way…’

‘Examine it! There’s nothing there!’

‘Deleting entries on a phone’s call history doesn’t really delete them, Slim. And we have other ways of finding out who called you. Whoever it was – maybe it was your brother or just someone who looks like you – had a favour to ask. A big one. Because
he
was the one praying next to the man who was killed.’

‘No. And it was that old woman! She did it.’

‘Describe her.’

‘Old. Short. Ugly.’

‘You were waiting for that one, weren’t you?’

‘No. I saw her do it.’

‘But I think you people have been watching too many James Bond movies. A Rosa Klebb type with a dagger wedged in her trolley? No, no. It was your associate who murdered the man.’

Darac didn’t believe it, necessarily. But putting the frighteners on the kid was a good place to start.

‘It wasn’t!’

Flaco joined them, unclipping her cuffs as her eyes met Darac’s. He shook his head.

‘That makes you an accessory to murder. Twelve years in prison at least.’

‘It was the… woman.’

‘Alright, let’s say your associate is innocent. Why the call to you? Because he knows he’s the more likely suspect. Maybe he’s got a police record and we know you haven’t. Yet. “The police won’t care. They’ll fit me up for the murder,” he says.’

‘No, it didn’t happen. I was here all the time. Next to the dead man.’

The boy’s head dropped. He started to weep.

‘Look, I admire your loyalty…’

From out of left field, a shape streaked across the pavement towards them. Shouts. A swell of noise from the crowd. Warnings. The shape didn’t stop. Flaco drew her automatic and with two hands, pointed it at the target. More warnings. The shape was a young man, older than Slimane but resembling him. He called out something in Arabic.

‘Hold your fire!’ Darac released his hold on the young man. As officers swarmed all around them, the pair embraced. Darac couldn’t understand the words that percolated through Slimane’s tears but their meaning seemed clear.

There was an onrush of sound behind him. Pursued by Jacques Sevran, Hamid Toulé and several others had come running out of the prayer room. The spectacle stopped them as if they’d hit an invisible wall. In their wake came Imam Asiz. He seemed mystified at what had happened. Darac made an instant decision.

‘Okay, everyone – listen. Slimane here and his… brother…?’

‘Cousin,’ the older boy said, his voice heavy with defiance.

‘Cousin. That means you share some DNA, by the way. Name?’

No response.

Darac’s expression hardened.

‘Name?’

‘Narooq. Mansoor Narooq.’

‘Thank you. So Slimane and Mansoor have just earned a trip to the Caserne Auvare where they will face charges.’

Darac nodded to a couple of burly uniforms. As they cuffed the boys and led them away, he gave Seve Sevran a questioning look. The man shook his head – no one in the prayer room had made or taken a call. That was one plus, at least.

BOOK: Impure Blood
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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