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Book Chapters

Guiltless Chapter 8: The Patriarch

Jan , 25

‘As you are aware, Jazmin Garretts, student of GW university, was found murdered this morning in the alley beside the Void nightclub…

‘Today’s press conference will outline the details of the murder  and present key updates on the investigation…

‘We have apprehended Mr. Ryan Chow, a student at the university and the prime suspect in this investigation. Several witnesses state they saw the suspect physically assault Miss Garretts minutes before her estimated time of death. The suspect was apprehended at the GWU Metro Station. Detective Sam Raker displayed immense courage in saving his partner and incapacitating the suspect. We will prosecute Mr. Chow with the full force of the law…

‘Our officers discovered Miss Mandy Gross, a friend of Miss Garretts, dead by means of a drug overdose. We have found no evidence implicating Miss Gross in the murder of Miss Garretts…

‘I promise all the residents of our great city we will do everything within our power to close this investigation quickly. Our most heartfelt condolences go out to the victim’s family…’

All eyes in the Daly Building’s Counterterrorism Unit were fixed on the television screen; watching the Police Chief read her notes.

No one noticed Nassim Fahed spill hot coffee over his keyboard at the first mention of the victim’s name.

A beneficiary from law enforcement’s post 9-11 inclusion drive, his parents had migrated to the United States during the Lebanese civil war. With two successful undercover operations on record, he was fast becoming the go-to guy for understanding the Middle Eastern landscape.

However,  the war on terror isn’t a particularly lucrative career. And it certainly doesn’t pay for traditional Lebanese weddings.

Expensive Lebanese weddings.

The decision to trade information for cash had been straightforward. A decision which now left a bitter taste in his mouth as he watched the unfolding saga on the television.

Nassim decided to take a long walk and make a call. A very important call, to a country 7,000 miles away.

‘Perhaps he won’t answer’ thought Nassim as the call connected. It would be sunset over there, all devout Muslims would be observing the Maghrib. He could hang up now and gather his thoughts, he could deal with this later.

‘Jinnah.’

The frosty voice on the other end shattered the budding hope in his chest and stopped his thoughts in their tracks.

‘Is that you, Fahed?’ the voice prompted.

‘Yes’ said Nassim, his voice hoarse, throat dry.

‘Fahed, you remember we parted ways on the understanding no news is good news. Is it safe to assume you are calling to inform me all is not well?’

The voice was so civil, calling to Nassim’s mind the handsome, almost aristocratic features of the  man who owned it. A man  only a few years older than himself, five at most. And yet this man was already spending more in a year than Nassim would earn in his entire lifetime on the force.

Why did he take the money? Why did he take the damned money?

He didn’t know any other way to say it, and there was no point dragging the silence any longer.

‘She’s dead.’

The voice on the other end retreated into stunned silence. At first Nassim thought, hoped the line had gone dead too. Then the voice spoke again, calm, devoid of emotion.

‘What happened, Fahed? Did she have an accident? Was she ill?’

‘No, she was murdered.’

Murdered?’ said the voice in wonder. ‘Tell me, how did this happen? Tell me what you know.’

Nassim complied, bracing himself for the verbal explosion. It never came.

‘I’m sorry’ he said, after he finished.

‘All is not lost, Fahed’ said the voice, almost sympathetic and soothing. ‘There is one last thing you can do to redeem yourself.’

***

Mahamood Jinnah flung his cellphone across the spacious office and watched it burst into a hundred pieces.

That incompetent cop!

With rage filled hands he turned on his television. He watched the unfolding saga on CNN, taking in the pictures of Jazmin. Fear gripped him.

So it was true. The news would kill Abu.

Few people knew the Sheikh had a granddaughter. Noora’s shameful courting of her American lover, so unbecoming of an al-Baziri, ensured she was never mentioned within the family again.

Jinnah switched off the television and stared at its glossy black screen. His reflection, a resolute young man in a suit, stared back. Bearded and handsome, he could be mistaken for an Arab by even an Emirati. In truth he was from Pakistan, plucked from slavery by the very man whose granddaughter he had sworn to protect.

He pondered his next steps. This was one message that had to be delivered in person. It required tact and skillful delivery.

‘I’m going to see Abu, cancel all my appointments for the evening’ he said to his intercom.

He drove from the Global Market, Abu Dhabi’s financial district, to the Palm Jumeirah; the manmade island shaped in the form of a palm tree. A two hour drive, filled with much anger and contemplation.

Years of planning, praying and execution. Wasted. How would Abu take it? Could he survive this news?

He drove through a neighborhood where world renowned athletes holidayed beside Prime Ministers ; Presidents; Businessmen and Princes.

The Sheikh’s mansion was an imposing structure, crafted in glass and steel. A vanishing pool shimmered outside, framed by a floor made of pinewood veneers and a garden with lush palm trees. Breathtaking by day, stunning by night.

Jinnah had been part of the team that carried out the purchase of the property. It was the largest mansion on the island by a large distance; four times the land expanse of a football stadium.

The tall windows flooded the interior with moonlight. Marble floors and shale walls conjured a blissful mood, a sharp contrast to the health of the man who owned it all. Jinnah moved through the empty house, ignoring any hired help he came across. He climbed a spiraling, sprawling stairway knocked on the ornate double doors of the master bedroom before entering.

Before him, in a curtained four poster bed hooked up to an IV and a monitor, lay the man he called Abu. Father.

Omar al-Baziri. The head of the al-Baziri family and business empire. Widely regarded as the leader of the Bedouin.

His ancestors had been custodians of the pearling bays; searching the warm waters for oysters and giving the divers a fraction of the pearls discovered every season. With the great drought of 1950, Omar’s father again offered his kinsmen a way out, giving them jobs, and  a vision. He educated their sons and negotiated lucrative security contracts with oil exploration firms. In return they gave him the manpower; expertise and influence required to dominate the Middle Eastern construction business.

They abandoned the wooden dhow boats for oil rigs and sky scrapers as they moved their capital from pearls to oil. And now; with Omar as their guiding light; lead the expansion into financial services as the UAE sought to diversify its income. Now Omar owned chunks of prime real estate and sports clubs in Europe, for fun. Just because he could.

He had once worn suits, a symbol of his progressive stance on Abu Dhabi’s ever increasing relations with the west. Now, touched by the death of wife and daughter; and body ravaged by two diabetes induced comas; he was confined to bed rest.

A bespectacled man sat beside the Sheikh, owlish in his appearance. Omar’s legal counsel; Amir Karzai. Jinnah watched them as they conversed in hushed tones; al-Baziri’s mood perturbed, Karzai’s placating.

They turned towards him as he approached, and Jinnah saw a flash of triumph and ill disguised glee on Karzai’s wrinkled features.

They knew.

His shirt collar grew dangerously tight as he struggled with this realization. He fought the urge to loosen his tie and prevailed.

Salaam alaikum, Abu’ he said, testing the air, trying to gauge their moods.

Al-Baziri nodded in acknowledgement and murmured the customary reply to the salutation.

Karzai’s silence spoke volumes, his contempt barely contained as he leered at the younger man. Al-Baziri beckoned to Jinnah, and he moved swiftly to the sheikh’s side. He dropped to one knee in reverence and stared into al-Baziri’s eyes.

Sad eyes, not much changed from those which first looked upon him at the scorching, dusty camel pits of the Al Wathba racing track.

He was eight then, the oldest jockey by far. He had won his share of races, due more to the contrasting diets of rider and mount. In those days it was common practice for racing camels to feast on milk, dates and honey. The riders, foreign boys sold into slavery by their own families, enjoyed no such luxuries. They were typically malnourished and dehydrated.

The wins had become infrequent in their occurrences. His trainer complained he was getting too heavy to compete. An uncertain future had awaited him.

And then, as though God-sent, a kind eyed Sheikh, bought him off his owner.

Omar al-Baziri began the careful education of the boy. Fuelled by painful memories of his past and a fierce gratitude to his benefactor the young Jinnah applied himself to his studies, studying everything placed before him.

He was bright, but barely literate. Learning was initially slow, and his new life was not without its challenges. The Bedouin are a close knit group who place a premium on blood ties. He was loved by few, and tolerated by most. Karzai, al-Baziri’s right hand man, outright despised him.

Jinnah understood. An outsider, a former slave, had no place in the al-Baziri empire.

So he was surprised, in his late teens, when al-Baziri offered him the opportunity of a lifetime, an education at Harvard.

Karzai was furious, even more so when al-Baziri explained his reasoning. The Sheikh desired a reunion with the granddaughter he had never met. Jinnah studying in the States was a  test of sorts. How much information could he get on her? And how could he successfully orchestrate a meeting once she was old enough?

If he succeeded, Jazmin and Jinnah would be listed as heirs, according to al-Baziri’s alternate will.

Now Jinnah sensed the danger in the air. Karzai’s influence grew with each labored breath of al-Baziri. The sicker the sheikh got; the stronger his attorney’s position became.

There would be no reconciliation between the Sheikh and his granddaughter. With Jazmin dead the will was out of play. There was a perfect deadlock between them. Karzai was the seasoned stalwart; Jinnah the talented protégé. Both had conflicting views on the future of the conglomerate. It was clear neither would tolerate the presence of the other. Jinnah considered his options; he had burned his bridges with potential employers; rivals, by doing al-Baziri’s dirty work.

The Sheikh had never explained his reason for choosing Jinnah all those years ago. Perhaps one day he would ask him.

Soon, but first he had to make amends for this costly mistake.

Abu, I received word from my informant-‘

‘Spare me the agony of hearing it a second time, Mahamood. What else do you have to tell me?’

‘The police have found the killer. He will be prosecuted, but the American courts can be lenient.  The death penalty does not exist in the DC justice system. The best we can hope for is a life sentence. However, my informant says they could offer him a deal, 20 years.’

Al-Baziri chuckled, a hollow sound devoid of mirth. He grimaced, barely hiding his discomfort.

‘We must hope it does not come to that. That is not enough. She was my only grandchild. I want his life.’

‘Nothing less will be accepted’ interjected Karzi.

There was a brief moment of silence as the three men stared at each other in unspoken understanding. Jinnah perceived another test, again something was required of him, and his response would either restore some measure of the Sheikh’s confidence or banish it completely.

‘I have a plan’ he said.

‘Go on’ said Karzai.

‘A request for an extradition will never be honoured. Instead, I can convince them to withdraw the deal and include me in the prosecutorial team. This will come at a cost to us. We would have to offer them something valuable. Something the Americans covet desperately.’

‘And what would that be?’ inquired al-Baziri.

‘A name.’

Al-Baziri squinted at Jinnah in wonder. Jinnah averted his gaze and looked down at the plush, woolen carpet he knelt on.

‘Do you understand what you are asking?’ quipped Karzai.

Abu’ said Jinnah slowly. ‘Your branches are many and your roots run deep. People talk. Let us give the Americans what they want and I guarantee you will get justice for Jazmin.’

Silence, then-

‘It is done’ said the sheikh. ‘I will request a letter of introduction from Waheed Sulam; the Emirati Consul in Washington. He is a good friend, you must go as promised and ensure my wishes are carried out.’

Jinnah nodded, but the suffocating discomfort of his collar remained. America held unpleasant memories.

‘It seems you are hesitant to go through with this, Mahamood’ observed Karzai. ‘You did not expect Omar to honour your request?’

‘I am merely considering the requirements of the task at hand’ replied Jinnah.

Al-Baziri’s hand, weathered and veined,  slid across the expensive silk sheets towards him. Jinnah reached out and grasped it.

‘I want justice delivered Mahamood. Can it be done?’ asked the Sheikh.

Jinnah looked him straight in the eye and nodded.

‘For you, I will do anything.’

As he knelt, staring at his ailing benefactor, he made a solemn promise to himself. The man who violated Jazmin’s body would pay.

 

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