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Authors: Charles Benoit

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BOOK: Relative Danger
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Chapter 9

He was a cop. He had to be. He had that bull neck, that close-cropped hair, and that look that always seems to say I can fuck with you all I want and you can’t do squat. Not all cops had the look, just the few who got off on harassing guys like Doug for petty shit like open beer in a car or a loud party in the middle of nowhere. He was a cop but fortunately he was Sergei’s friend. Unfortunately, Doug was struggling not to laugh at him.

“Yehia here was the police captain I was telling you about,” Sergei said as he waved off the waiter with the wine list. “Since you had a common interest I thought it would be helpful if you met.”

Doug didn’t know if it was Sergei’s accent or if it was the way it was supposed to be pronounced, but the burly ex-cop’s name sounded like “Ya-ya.” It was hard for Doug to look at a man he’d just met and call him Ya-ya. Especially a man like Yehia. Doug chose to call him sir, which the power-deprived ex-cop liked.

Yehia was leaning back into his chair, his bulky body—once impressive, now just fat—lapped over the arms of the chair like a candle melting in the North African sun. Dark stubble covered the acreage of his chins and somewhere under those eyebrows, two black eyes stared out, still trying to intimidate guys like Doug. “I was captain here in Casa for twenty-eight years. I saw many things.” He flipped his hands over as if to say it was nothing, routine for a man like me.

“So when did you retire?” Doug asked, but Sergei leaned forward, cutting off Yehia’s answer and Doug’s apparently stupid questions.

“Yehia was an excellent officer and the way they treated him…well it was all politics, and personally I think that it should have been the government’s barrister who was forced out of office. Criminal, really.”

“If there was corruption it certainly wasn’t in my department,” Yehia said offhandedly, either tired of defending himself or no longer believing his own protests. “And as for the money, well they never found it at my home and do you see me living like a rich man? And besides, those who insulted me the loudest were too busy to show up for court. Yes. Politics indeed.”

“Yehia and I were reminiscing about the post-war years and I reminded him of the robbery of the red diamond you mentioned,” Sergei said. Doug wasn’t sure what to say so he just smiled and nodded and thanked the waiter for the whiskey and soda that Sergei had ordered for them all.

“I don’t know what your esteemed friend here told you,” Yehia said, motioning his glass towards Sergei, “but Casa was not as lawless as your movies make it out to be. Those of us who found it necessary to work for the Germans when they were here were able to keep our positions after they left. Of course it was not easy but….” Again that offhanded shrug. “No, it was quite civilized here then. If you had problems with someone—an opium dealer, say, or a sex maniac—you didn’t have to wait for the courts to get around finally to do their duty. They were always delaying things, pushing things back and making our jobs complicated. And for what? They might as well have put the handcuffs on us for all the good they accomplished. A quick ride out of town and pop,” he made a gun shape out of his first two fingers and his thumb, “just like a dog. No, the streets were quite safe.”

Except from the police, Doug thought. He swirled his drink around in the glass and wondered if the restaurant used bottled water to make the ice.

“Of course I remember the red diamond case. It had a strange name, German I think.”

“The Jagersfontien Diamond,” Sergei said. “South African.”

“Yes, South African. But then South Africa after the war was where you went to find Germans,” Yehia said, chuckling to himself.

Sergei smiled. “There were many Germans there indeed, but the diamond was actually found before the war if you recall.”

“Whatever,” Yehia said and waved for the waiter to bring him another drink. “While we were questioning a well-known thief he mentioned that there was going to be an attempt to steal the diamond. I don’t remember who owned it.”

“A gentleman with the misfortune of having one of those absolutely unpronounceable Afrikaner names. I’ll admit that German names are bad enough, but that so-called language, well it sounds just too comical when two Boers get together on the
for a
to talk about life on the
. We used to call them ropes. Thick and twisted.”

“Yes, well,” Yehia said, dismissing the interruption, “the man we were questioning said that a couple of Americans and a Moroccan planned on ambushing the rightful owner—your South African—somewhere here in the city but he knew little else so….”

So you put a bullet in his forehead, thought Doug. He remembered something Aisha said about post-war Casablanca, about there being a gray area between the good guys and the bad guys. So far Doug hadn’t seen much of a difference.

“Late one night,” Yehia continued, “we get a call about some bodies in the wharf area which, of course, was not unusual. What was unusual was who made the call. It seemed that this was different, he didn’t want his people accused of this one. I didn’t understand what he meant until I got there myself. Sergei, I must say that this is damn good whiskey you ordered.” Yehia looked at his half full glass and Sergei understood the not so subtle hint and motioned for the waiter to bring and leave the bottle.

“Have you ever seen a dead body, Mr. Pearce?” Yehia asked as he topped off his glass.

“Yes, many times I’m afraid,” Doug said. And it was true. There was his grandmother’s funeral, his father’s, his uncle Pete’s, the security guard’s from the brewery whom Doug sort of knew. In Pottsville every funeral was an open casket funeral. There wasn’t much excitement in Pottsville, the joke went, so you might as well entertain your friends on your way out.

“In my line of work it is almost everyday. I have seen men strung up with piano wire, a woman whose head was cut off and baked into a cake. And when the Gestapo was here, well, let us say they worked hard to earn their reputation.”

Didn’t you say you worked for them? Doug thought.

“What I saw that night, it stays with me still. It was a warehouse, an older place, dark, of course, and deserted. Most of the honest companies had moved to the newer docks. There were five or six bare bulbs hanging from the rafters. I was a new lieutenant and I wanted to make a good investigation. I entered the crime scene slowly, just like I had been taught, trying to see the whole scene. At first I thought there were small stacks of sand bags here and there. When I came closer I saw they were men…bodies…curled up on their sides like infants in a cradle. My men were afraid to touch them, there was far more blood than normal and my men were simple men, easily spooked by such things.” Yehia sipped his drink and paused for effect.

“I rolled the first man over with my foot.” He pushed his leg out to demonstrate, as if the body lay on the floor under the table. Doug pulled his own legs up under his chair. “His body was still soft. He had been dead less than an hour. When he flopped onto his back I saw why there was so much blood. They had been gut shot, two or three times, with a big bore handgun. Their intestines were squeezing out of the holes and you could tell that they were a long time in dying, trying to hold their insides in with their own hands. It was the same with each of the bodies. Whoever shot them had meant them to die slowly.”

“How can you tell?” Doug asked.

“With a gun that size, one shot to the chest and they would die instantly, or at least quickly. No, whoever shot them knew exactly what he was doing. No vital organs, but no hope of surviving. Just a long, slow and painful death. I have shot a few men myself, I’ll admit, but never in the stomach. In the back of the head and they die painlessly, they don’t even know what it was. A man who shoots another man in the gut is an animal.”

Was Yehia telling the truth? Doug couldn’t tell. There was that show that comes with being the kind of cop he was, but something about his manner changed while he was describing the scene. Was he truly remembering what he saw or was he trying to create the scene the way he felt it should have looked? Was he exaggerating for effect or minimizing to be polite?

“We never caught them. We found one in an alley not far away, his face shot off. We still were able to identify him, a local man, petty thief. We found two more bodies later, but we often found bodies. As far as the crime, we don’t even know that the red diamond was involved….”

“But the South African insisted that it was there,” Sergei said. “His claim, as I recall now, insisted that the men who were killed worked for him and that they were transporting the diamond, along with some lesser jewels.”

“But the insurance companies disagreed, my friend.”

“Of course. Who wants to pay off on a claim that size?”

“In any case, the jewel left Casablanca within a day and with it went the killers and my connection to this case.”

“Weren’t you interested in catching whoever did it?” Doug said. “I mean, you are clearly a professional and a famous police officer. It must have bothered you.”

Yehia smiled, enjoying the compliment and the attention the story had bought. “Of course, of course. Naturally I wanted justice and to find who was responsible. And we did search around here, made a few arrests….”

“Rounded up the usual suspects, I suppose?” Doug said.

“Yes, that, and some unusual ones, too. But my friend, I had by then learned that if I was to grow old wearing that uniform, I had to develop a certain attitude.
C’est la vie
, this is the life; you do what you can but learn to walk away and trust in Allah.”

“And Douglas,” Sergei said across the table, “that might be the best advice when it comes to your friend. Do what you can for her but don’t get too involved.”

“When did this robbery happen? Forty-eight? That’s over fifty years ago. I doubt that bloodthirsty killers are still lurking around, trying to get their hands on this diamond.”

“Fifty years is not that long ago, Douglas. I was twenty-two then and I’d like to think I’m still able to get about. But perhaps my years of lurking are behind me,” Sergei said, darting his eyes from side to side theatrically, like a silent movie version of the villain.

“Don’t underestimate men our age,” Yehia said. “Time may have made us patient, but it has also made us desperate.”

“Douglas,” Sergei said, dropping the stage voice and looking Doug steady in the eye, “I’m not suggesting that the original killers are out there….”

“They may be. I never found them,” Yehia said and added a burp.

“Correct, but what I mean is that this diamond, well, it’s not that I believe in curses, but it has brought out the worst in people. And that can span generations, passed on just as surely as a genetic trait.”

“So you suggesting I should go home? That I’m not up to it?”

“Not at all Douglas. I don’t doubt your tenacity. I just want you to remain as safe as possible—don’t take any risks that you don’t have to. There was a local connection, here in Casa you know.”

“If it makes you feel better I’ll be leaving Morocco soon, so don’t worry about the local connection.”

“To Cairo? That’s where the jewel went, isn’t it Douglas, to Cairo?” Sergei said, his eyes fixed on Doug’s. Doug nodded and drained the rest of his first drink. Sergei sighed and fell back into his chair. “Your Canadian friend doesn’t know how lucky she is, you know that?”

“Oh I don’t know if she’s all that lucky to have me working for her,” Doug said.

“Lucky?” Yehia shouted, startling people several tables away. “Lucky is what the other guy has to be. Real men don’t need luck, they have their skills.”

“Well then, gentlemen,” Douglas said, raising his empty glass, “wish me luck.”


“Nice friend you’ve got there, Sergei,” Doug said as the taxi zigzagged through the identical-looking streets of downtown Casablanca. “Where’d you meet him? A flogging?”

Sergei let out a sigh. “Douglas, don’t tell me that you don’t have a few friends who are a bit rough about the edges.”

“Edges? Sergei, that guy is rough down to the center.”

“Yes Douglas, I know this,” Sergei said. “Captain Yehia was a crook, a bully, a sadist and possibly a murderer. But you know Douglas, if you are not part of the culture, not part of an era, it is easy to look and make judgments.”

“Yes, I understand Sergei,” Douglas said, “but come on, he all but told us he shot anybody who pissed him off. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Of course, what kind of man do you think I am? No, I understand, that’s not what you meant and yes, I agree, Yehia is difficult at best, but when he was faced with a tough situation, when he had his finger on the trigger, he did what he felt he had to do. How many of us would know what to do in that situation?”

“I would know,” Doug said. “There’s no way I would just kill somebody. I’m sure of that. Bet on it.”

“I’m just as sure as you that you would not,” Sergei said, slapping Doug’s knee. “And as you put it, I’d bet on it. You’re a good man, Douglas, you can’t hide it.”

Doug smiled back. It was easy to feel self-righteous after a dinner with Captain Yehia.


Two hours later, as Doug wandered around the red light district, he didn’t feel so self-righteous.

At first he planned on a good night’s rest and tried again to read the guide book, certain it would work its magic and put him under fast. But in the middle of a general description of the city was a warning to avoid the area the guidebook called “decidedly seedy.” “As unlikely as this sounds,” the book said, “in the area between the Boulevard Hassan Seghir and Rue Mohammed Smiha, from where they join at Avenue Zaid to the roundabout a half a kilometer away, the unwary late night visitor may find himself accosted by
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
plying their trade.”

He just came to look, he told himself as he tried to use the map in the guidebook without walking into a lamp pole. How do you
look around, he reasoned, he went on this trip to see the world and wasn’t this part of it, a part he’d not really seen and only a fifteen-minute walk from his hotel? And with syphilis being the nicest thing he might catch—would catch—he wasn’t going to go for it, no matter how good-looking they were.

BOOK: Relative Danger
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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