A green military truck from the Dubai Police was parked outside the building’s ground-floor entrance, with a drowsy sentry at the wheel. Visitors had to pass through metal detectors in the downstairs lobby, and the elevator wouldn’t stop on the twenty-first floor unless you punched in a numeric code, which Nanette seemed to know by heart. Sam watched out of the corner of his eye, unable to prevent himself from registering the sequence. Part of the auditor’s curse, he supposed, forever filing away extraneous data, like a Web crawler that never slept. Stanley Woodard, whose taxi had fallen behind in traffic, barely made it aboard before the doors shut, and seemed none too pleased about it.
Hal Liffey welcomed them as the doors opened upstairs, except now he was dressed in a charcoal suit. To Sam’s surprise, Nanette greeted him like an old pal.
“Hal’s the commercial attaché,” she told Sam.
“We’ve met,” Liffey said, a little embarrassed.
“Is it always the commercial attaché’s job to retrieve the personal effects of the deceased?” Sam asked.
“It is when he’s the only person available. We’re just an outpost here, and are staffed accordingly.”
Liffey led them to a conference room where a gray-haired man and a slender young woman with a severe haircut waited at a long wood-grain table. Narrow windows offered a prime view of another tall building across the way. Its white sides were wrapped partially in a robe of brown marble. Perched atop it was a dimpled sphere that looked like a giant tan golf ball. With a good swing you could have swatted it up Dubai Creek, which shimmered beyond it on a dogleg left.
The gray-haired fellow at the head of the table stood. “Todd Mooney, consul general. I’m sorry for your loss.” He turned toward the woman with the bad haircut. “Maura Steele, my assistant. I take it you’ve met Hal. We’re here to do what we can to make everything go as smoothly as possible. We know this must be a trying time for you.”
He sounded like a funeral director. Maybe that was the recommended demeanor in the Foreign Service manual. Sam wondered if their duties also involved interceding with the local police. He wished he had brought along Charlie’s datebook. This would have been a good time and place to drop it off.
“Hal tells me he has taken possession of all personal effects of the deceased,” Mooney said. “And, Ms. Weaver, am I correct in assuming that next of kin have been notified?”
“That is correct.” Nanette offered a subdued smile.
“In that case, the next order of business is to obtain the death certificate from the UAE Ministry of Health. Then we’ll proceed with the official Foreign Service Report of Death. Maura here will assist with that.
“And now, although Ms. Weaver is no doubt familiar with these logistics, I am nonetheless required to brief you on the various local laws and customs with a bearing on the disposition of Mr. Hatcher’s remains, as well as the procedures for their subsequent shipment to the United States.”
He continued in a similarly bureaucratic vein for several minutes more, repeating the words “disposition of remains” far too often. Woodard took copious notes. Sam tuned out when Mooney began discussing local embalming practices and the shipment costs of a loaded coffin. Nanette had already done so. She had retreated to a rear corner with Liffey, where she was whispering intently while he nodded with his head down.
Woodard tapped Sam’s arm.
“He’s asking you a question.”
“Oh. Sorry. I’m a little out of it.” He felt ready for a nap, and oddly vulnerable. He wished someone would just say, “Look, why don’t you go on home and let us handle this?”
Instead, Mooney said, “I was just wondering if, once the death certificate is issued, you would be available to sign out the body from the refrigeration unit, in order to expedite transportation. Not that there’s any monetary urgency. Refrigerated storage is provided free of charge.”
“I, uh, don’t know. Shouldn’t there be an autopsy first?”
“That’s not our understanding. According to Ms. Weaver, the family hasn’t requested one.”
It would have been an appropriate time for Nanette to jump in. But she was still conferring with Liffey, and Mooney seemed unwilling to interrupt. Instead he turned back toward Sam with an air of mild exasperation.
“I also gather that the cause of death isn’t in dispute. I mean, well, you
him, correct? Do you retain any doubts?”
“No. He was shot. That was pretty clear. But what about other factors?”
“Well …” Sam fought hard to clear his mind, and he seized on a couple of stray thoughts that had occurred to him earlier. “Whether he’d been drugged in advance, for example. Or whether he’d engaged in any sexual activity before he was killed.”
Maura Steele frowned disapprovingly.
“How could that possibly be relevant,” she asked, “other than as a potential embarrassment to his family and colleagues?”
“Because if he
have sex, it could mean he was there for something else, which could have had a bearing on his death. So I would think that at the very least—”
It was Nanette, who was back at the table. She didn’t look or sound angry, or even disappointed. Her demeanor was closer to abiding, tolerant, as if she completely understood his concerns but nonetheless needed him to see things their way.
“It’s the police who counseled this course of action,” she said. “Apparently they’re convinced they know what transpired beforehand, and from what little I’ve heard I trust their judgment.”
“Okay. Good enough for me.” Even though it wasn’t. Or maybe he was just exhausted. Whatever the case, the weight of all his worries and what-ifs seemed to press him deeper into the chair. He resolved to say nothing further unless called upon.
The rest of the meeting passed in a blur. An hour later Nanette and he were again seated in the limo, this time with Woodard between them as they headed for the Shangri-La. The two new arrivals checked into their rooms while Sam went upstairs to crash. He drifted off to sleep before he could even remove his shoes. His cell phone woke him a half hour later. It was Nanette, offering to meet him in the lobby. She had reserved a table for dinner at Marrakech, one of the hotel’s restaurants—that is, if he was still interested. Still in a fog, he figured he had better say yes. It was now dark outside. He had been in Dubai for barely forty-eight hours, but it felt like weeks.
He splashed his face in the bathroom sink, shaved, and changed into a fresh shirt and trousers, all of which left him feeling a little more alert. He wondered if he should also change into fresh briefs. That made him realize that at some level he was treating the evening like a date, which was downright silly, not to mention unwise. Fortunately, Woodard would be along to dispel any such illusion.
He reached the lobby to find Nanette alone on a couch, drink in hand. She had changed into a skirt far more accommodating of expat tastes. With her legs crossed it rode several inches above her knees.
“Too busy. Consular paperwork, plus some other arrangements. I’m sorry that Mooney fellow ran on like that. I could have briefed you on pretty much all of that. He’s new here, so I suppose he felt like he had to impress us. How ’bout a drink? You look like you could use one.”
It was the same remark Charlie had made to start off their night on the town, and Sam was briefly disoriented, feeling as if Charlie might come bounding around the corner at any moment, raring to go.
“Are you all right, Sam?”
“Fine. Although maybe I should hold off any drinks until dinner.”
No sooner had he said that than a waiter appeared with a gin and tonic, which Nanette must have ordered on his behalf. Why not? he figured.
· · ·
Sam was hungrier than he had expected, and he ate his fill. The waiter brought dish after dish of North African
, plus plenty of wine. He hadn’t realized they were drinking quite so much until the waiter uncorked the second bottle.
Between that and his lack of sleep, he felt like he was floating. It was a precarious sensation, but also quite pleasant considering everything he’d endured in the past twenty-four hours. An oud player calmly plucked his instrument in the corner of the restaurant, adding to the serene atmosphere. Sam was finally able to put his auditor’s brain on idle, content to let Nanette dictate the flow of conversation. She blessedly steered clear of any mention of either Charlie or Pfluger Klaxon, and they might have avoided the subjects altogether if Sam hadn’t blundered during a moment of relaxation, right after the waiter brought the coffee.
“One thing about all this that still bothers me,” he said, the thought rising to the surface like a bubble. “Why was Charlie fully dressed when he was shot? I mean, considering what he was supposedly there for.”
“Maybe he had, well, finished?”
“I thought that, too. But in an office? That’s where they went, as far as I could tell. There was no bed, no couch. Nothing but a desk.”
Nanette raised her eyebrows at the mention of the desk.
desk,” he clarified.
“You’re blushing, Sam.”
She reached across the table to touch his hand. Then she smiled. Or had he imagined the touch? Her hand was already back on her side of the table. He was wrung out. Sauced and marinated, too. Venturing back onto the subject of the murder was making his mind pop and buzz like neon, a jazzed condition that seemed likely to persist as long as Nanette kept looking at him so intently with those vivid green eyes. Her cheeks were flushed, the way they were after her workouts at the Manhattan health club.
“I hate to admit this,” she said, “but it bothers me, too.”
“Yes. Mostly because none of the possible explanations are very flattering.”
For a briefly giddy moment he thought she was about to describe the various sexual positions that could be achieved atop a small desk. He then realized from her downcast expression that it was something more serious.
“Charlie may have been more deeply involved in this whole thing than we’d like to admit,” she said. “It’s one reason we’re not demanding an autopsy.”
“By ‘this whole thing,’ you mean prostitution?”
She nodded gravely. Sam couldn’t help but recall his conversation with Charlie as they’d waited in line at the York.
“He did seem to know a lot about how the business worked. Or at least its origins.”
“I’m afraid we have to entertain the idea that he may have been more than just a customer. It’s a thriving trade here, in case you hadn’t noticed. Gobs of money. And, well, with all the places Charlie regularly travels—traveled, sorry—he certainly would have been well positioned to help with, shall we say, manpower procurement.”
“You really think so?”
Then why the big lecture on atonement? Sam wondered. Unless Charlie had, once again, been toying with him. What a fool Sam had been.
“He mentioned something about next Monday.”
“Monday?” Nanette seemed to perk up.
“Big doings, apparently. Or maybe he was baiting me. He said he’d canceled his flight to Hong Kong and was going to stick around.”
“I suppose all this could explain why he got so upset when the police raided the Cyclone. If he was truly in the flesh trade, a crackdown would’ve been bad for business.”
Sam’s mind careened drunkenly back through everything Charlie and he had done, trying to see the events in a different light. It only made him dizzy.
“You know,” he finally said, “this Lieutenant Assad was pretty interested in Charlie’s movements. Especially his local contacts.”
“Oh, dear. This could be embarrassing. What did you tell him?”
“All that I knew. I thought we wanted to help—”
“Of course we do. And you were right to be open and honest.”
“Except about the datebook.”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you. After you said to get his BlackBerry, well, it wasn’t there. But he had a datebook in his pocket, so I took it.”
“And you didn’t turn it over to the police?”
“You should have told me sooner, Sam. This could have created a real problem.”
“I guess it slipped my mind. And the consulate didn’t seem like the right place to bring it up, since I didn’t have it with me.”
“Where is it now?”
“In my room. I stuck it in a drawer.”
“You should get it for me, right after dinner. In case the police search your room.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Why wouldn’t they? In a place like Dubai you can never be sure who is working for whom. Especially with the police. They’re staffed by foreigners, mostly, and the pay is terrible. Another reason we should move you back to Manhattan as soon as possible. They’ll be looking for someone to pin this on. Besides, you’ll want to attend the funeral.”
“Of course.” He swallowed hard, imagining a tearful widow. “So you won’t be needing me here?”
“When I spoke with Lieutenant Assad, I gathered he had reassured himself on whatever doubts he had expressed earlier.”
Sam supposed he should feel relieved, but he was oddly disappointed. Was it the wine, or was it that part of him had begun to enjoy participating in something a little reckless and unscripted for a change? Or maybe he felt he owed it to Charlie to see things through.
“Look, Sam. From here on out, matters are only likely to get more complicated. Apart from the personal tragedy, we have to worry about competitive considerations as well. Corporate secrets may have been compromised. I’m sure some policemen are only too happy to participate in that market.”
It made him think of the second detective, the fat one called Sharaf. He’d certainly looked like the type who might try to cash in.
“Well, the datebook didn’t seem to have any information like that.”