Prologue: Functional Families

Half an hour after the graduation ceremony, Ali found himself outside the auditorium building. Smoking. Alone

He and his friends had taken more photos than any one of them had ever taken in their life, and they’d enjoyed the buffet, but his friends were now with their families. For each parent on campus today, this was one of the proudest days of their lives

I wonder if amma and baba would be proud?

All Ali could do was cynically speculate. Dad would be indifferent — education was just a formality to him, something every young man was supposed to get these days. Mom would be proud — maybe she’d ignore his end CGPA long enough to just bask in the fact that Ali had survived the past four years and now her little boy was a civil engineer

Neither one of them was here. The bastards, Ali thought

Emerging from the nearest door was Nina and her family. Most of it — ‘Abhaj the Cruel’, as they had taken to calling him wasn’t there. Was he still inside? Ali didn’t think so. Nina and co. sat down at a table outside and waited for Abhaj

This was the first time he’d seen her sister in law and children, though Nina had mentioned them a few times. Fatima, Nina’s only friend in the household, had her face and hair uncovered. That struck Ali as odd. One would assume a husband would force the same modesty rules on his wife as he did on his sister. Then again, Islam was a distant memory to him now, and Abhaj was known to give preferential treatment to his wife

With an evil smile, Ali took out his phone and fired off a text to ‘Ni Ny No Num’

“really rocking that gown babe. 9:00”

She looked to her 9:00 and her face lit up

“you dont look too shabby yourself. all alone?”

“you’re way over there :( “

“ha ha. you must have other friends”

“they’re hanging out with their families now”

Her eyes widened and she started typing furiously.

“wtf that’s not fair! how could they leave you like that? you’re their friend they should be more understanding and give you company. no one should be alone on their graduation day, it’s not your fault you had to run away from home and they should stop you from suffering for that. what kind of friends are these? ditch them”

Ali always found these rants adorable, though staring at the ‘Ni Ny No Num is typing’ for so long got a little exasperating

“don’t judge them, they have functional families”

“but you’re alone on the happiest day of your life :’( “

“you could keep me company”

“no, ali…not right now”

“same time same place?”

“ ;) “


The ‘same time’ was 2AM. At that time, Abhaj and his kids were sound asleep and nothing would wake them up. Fatima was a comparatively light sleeper, but Nina had confided her affair with Ali to her. “As long as you don’t do anything God would disapprove of” she’d said, without a trace of irony

Of course, if Nina was ever caught, only God could save her. But she wasn’t planning on getting caught

The ‘same place’ was a bus stop a block away from her building. Abhaj had networked quite a bit among the people living nearby, and all knew Nina’s face. It would be very curious for her to get into a strange pickup truck at 2AM. Her abaya gave her ample cover in darkness, and she could sneak off to a bus stop far from prying eyes

2AM was not a great time to go on a date. Even on weekends, everything but cafeterias and 24-hour supermarkets would be closed. When Ali and Nina went out, it was more about heading to romantic vistas where they could sit and enjoy the view…and Ali’s pathetic cooking

Tonight, having walked through the Zayed Park for a few hours, talking about everything and nothing, they sat down on a bench in the Flower Garden. The Flower Garden of Zayed Park seemed especially fragrant that night

“Ali, how did you manage to mess up instant noodles?” Nina asked, grimacing at the taste

“They lied about them being instant! Despite what the packet said, I cooked them for a minute, which is a lot more than an instant!”

“’Instant’ doesn’t mean instant, Ali. God, you’re gonna make the buildings in Majhool now?”

“Har har. But no, I don’t think I am”

“Alright, what are you gonna do with your degree?” she asked, shoveling the noodles into her mouth despite the taste. Nina was a big eater, twice the eater Ali was, and four times the eater someone of her figure should be

“I think I’ll join the police” he replied, staring into the distance

“Why?”

“Because, Nina, we’ve been through such terrible things. No one should have to go through what we did. Or at least no one who inflicts that kind of pain deserves to walk free. Being in the police, y’know, I’d be able to do something about it”

“That’s very noble, Ali.” Nina reflected for a few moments. “I’m glad there are men like you in the world. I’d rather stay here for the rest of my life then go back to Abhaj the Cruel”

“You can’t stay here forever, Nina. But you could stay with me”

Nina stared at him. “What do you mean, Ali?”

Ali got up, walked in front of Nina and knelt down, taking her hands in his

“Nina, ever since I ran from home, I’ve survived. And I did it with a smile on my face because I was free. But I can’t remember the last time I was happy, the last time I lived…before that night in the cafeteria. And I can’t remember not being happy since

You’ve brightened up my life, Nina. Colored in the blacks and greys. I would like you to be the one to keep coloring my life forever.” At the end of that speech, he pulled out an emerald engagement ring

Nina’s eyes teared up and she covered her mouth to keep her scream from being heard. In the moonlight, she embraced him and cried ‘yes’ into his shoulder over and over. The Flower Garden of Zayed Park seemed especially fragrant that night. Perhaps it was the scent of love and happiness mixed in with the flowers


Chapter 1: A Baby All Over Again

Now

The smuggler took a drag on his hand-rolled cigarette and stared out at the water. Lights from the Janaan Bridge, glittering with all the pride of Majhool, cast this part of the beach in shadow. He used to love rowing out at sea, that’s why he had made it his profession. Turns out the saying ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ was a lie after all

His passenger for the night ran panting down the beach. He had little luggage, to the smuggler’s relief, just a trolley bag with what was presumably the last of his belongings. The smuggler winced — he could smell the man from feet away. Perhaps tonight’s voyage would be difficult after all

“I’m here,” he said in between gasps, “let’s go”

“Now hold on there, son, I’m the captain here. Give me your documents”

The man handed him all his identification — passport, ID, driver’s license, health insurance and so on

“Rajesh Patel” the smuggler read out. “Think I saw you on TV a few nights ago”

“W-what, I was on TV?” Rajesh asked in a panic

“Simmer down, son. Tonight, Rajesh Patel dies” he reassured. Before taking a lighter to his documents

“NO! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?

“This life?” the smuggler began, holding up the flaming pile of Rajesh’s life, “it’s over now. When you reach Hamra, you’ll be a baby all over again. This time, pick a better name. Rajesh Patel, really?”

“I don’t — I don’t understand”

“It ain’t my business to explain. Get in the boat and keep your mouth shut. It’s a long trip”

The ‘boat’ was a long, wide rowboat, handmade from wood by the smuggler. Back when he loved rowing the sea

Now, though, he was just a criminal helping criminals. Life can take the most bizarre turns


Chapter 2: A Stiff Drink

Last night

The morgue didn’t smell like embalming fluid, amazingly. Ali had prepared himself for the assault on his nose only to find the relatively pleasant smell of disinfectant in the air. An hour after the morgue’s working hours were up, Dr Anaya Bhatia sat in a chair, cooling off

“Did you clean up the place all by yourself?” Ali asked

“Yeah. Ever since he hired me, the grump has discovered a lot of new problems in his back and joints”

“Right. Look, I’m here to see the body of Nina Kafiyah. It’s part of the investigation”

Anaya made a gesture of waving off the excuse. “I know why you’re here to see the body. And I’m disappointed you wouldn’t trust your medical examiners”

“How did you find out?”

“There were bits of emerald inside her ring finger. Didn’t Rashid mention this to you?”

“He did not”

“Oh. Ali, I’m sorry about…all this”

“Don’t be. You’re just the ME”

She got up and walked to the office. “I’d offer you a drink, but — “

“I accept”

Anaya stared at him for a moment before going to the office and fetching a Jack Daniel’s from the mini-fridge and two glasses

“You guys drink on the job?” Ali asked as she poured into the glasses

“In this line of work, I don’t see how you’d get by without a stiff drink every now and then”

Ali turned around and looked at the working area. The tables were clean and clear now, but Ali had been in here during working hours and Cole was a lot less tidy then. He saw what Anaya meant

“Can I confess something?” Anaya asked, handing Ali a glass

“Confessions already? We haven’t even started the drinking” Ali replied

“This isn’t the first time I’m drinking with an Arab, but it always catches me off guard”

“Because the whole stereotype with Arabs and religion, right?”

“Yeah”

“Don’t worry about it, the stereotype exists for a reason”

“Is it racist for me to think that?”

“Probably. But this is the Gulf, racism is the way of life ‘round here”

“Even in Majhool?”

“I’ve been learning the hard way that Majhool isn’t as different from the others as I may have thought”

They drank quietly for a moment

“So what’s your story, doctor?”

“Please, it’s Ana”

“Okay, what’s your story, Ana? How did you get stuck with the grumpiest man in the Middle East?”

“I grew up in the UK. Being a doctor was my dream, y’know, not working in a police morgue. Shortly after I graduated med school, though, some friends from waaay back set up this party on a boat. I said “hell yeah, I wanna party on a boat”. I was expecting drugs, but what they had on that ship was…something else. A designer drug that no one knew but everyone wanted to try. I didn’t get any, because the few people that took it went absolutely mental”

“Sounds like one hell of a party, doc” Ali remarked with a grin. The grin faded when he saw how serious Anaya was

“The psychos started beating on each other, beating on everyone else. Things got broken and a few people were thrown overboard. There was so much scratching, too. Eventually, someone got his eye gouged out”

“Damn”

“As it happened, I was the closest thing to a doctor on board. But I was still green, I wasn’t ready for…that. There was no saving the eye, that was clear, so I used a plastic knife to cut the whole thing out. The screams…”

“The fuck, Ana?”

“He wasn’t the only one, but I was too…I couldn’t help anyone else. By the time the ship got home, so many people were injured. That party made the news in the UK, media ran stories about the drug. Did…did you hear about it here?”

“I don’t think so. This party just reminds me of a TV show I watch”

“That explains how I managed to find work here. I did apply to hospitals in the UK, but no one wants to hire the kind of person who roams in such circles. My first ‘patient’ was on the news, too. The ‘highly unsanitary’ conditions of the surgery lead to him getting meningitis through his eye socket. It was okay, though. I don’t think I could practice medicine after that party. Not on the living, anyway”

The two of them turned the story over in their heads in silence

“Why Majhool?” Ali asked

“I have family here” she replied. “And I wanted to see the Tower of Babel” she added brightly

“Heh, I was expecting the zombie apocalypse” said Ali. Then he turned a bit somber. “Hope this case wasn’t your introduction to the Tower”

“No no, it wasn’t”

“Speaking of the case, can I see her body now?”

Anaya rubbed the back of her neck and looked away. “Her brother was here yesterday. He had her body cremated and — “

“Scattered the ashes to the sea?”

“…yes. How did you know?”

Ali finished off the glass and mustered his composure. “That’s what she always wanted done to her body, never mind what Islam said about it”

“Ali, are you okay?” Ana asked, placing a hand on his arm

“I just — I just never knew losing someone could hurt so much. We used to text each other every hour of every day. There were the late night getaways. And now those things won’t come back, she won’t come back

“It’s a phantom pain, Ana. The ache of something that should be there but isn’t”

“I know, Ali. But you’re gonna hurt him like he hurt you, right?”

“The noose is tightening ‘round his neck already”


Chapter 3: Vampires

The mood was frosty in the Kafiyah household that afternoon. Abhaj and his wife Fatima were engaged in a cold war, and its effects were being felt by the children as well. All knew the situation they faced…and Fatima knew what Abhaj had had to do to fix things

But a wrench had been thrown in the works

There was a knock on the door and the two men who had thrown the wrench stood before him

“Good afternoon, Mr Kafiyah. You remember my partner and I” Ali said

“What are you two doing at my house?” Abhaj asked, rage simmering just under the surface

“We have a warrant to search your house” Rashid explained bluntly. Ali held up the warrant on cue

“Well, Mr Kafiyah? Are you gonna invite us in?” Ali asked

“Please, come — “

Ali shoved past him. “I forgot, we’re not vampires”

“Ali, take him and the family into the kitchen and babysit them. I’ll search the house” Rashid ordered

“Roger dodger. Call your family to the kitchen, Abhaj”

Ali sat the family down at the table and watched them from a corner. Rashid ventured into the house


Chapter 4: Gloss on the Surface

“This is the second audio log of the investigation into the murder of Nina Kafiyah. We are searching the house of our lead suspect, Abhaj Kafiyah. Suspect has a family of four and lives in a single bedroom apartment. The warrant was obtained on good evidence that the suspect owns a gun that is connected with the crime”

Rashid walked down the narrow hallway, noting the lack of decorations on the walls. He turned into the first door on his right from the corridor

“Searching what appears to be the living room. There is no furniture, just two couches and a dining table. A patch on the wallpaper where the TV might have been”

He knocked on the modestly large rectangle of faded wallpaper and the darker, dustier wall around it

Next, he went to the couch, picking up each cushion and squeezing it. There was nothing to be found in the base of the couch either. The search of the living room concluded with an inspection of the dining table. The wood wasn’t hollow, and there was no gun to be seen

“Living room is clear. Moving on”

After the door to the living room, a door on the left lead to the kitchen. That was Ali’s job. Across from the kitchen was the one and only bedroom in this apartment

“Bedroom furnishing is bare as well. There is a double bed, presumably the parents’. A single bed, shared by the boys. Toys are scattered all over the floor. Patches on the walls everywhere indicating furniture they owned but no longer have. What’s left is a cupboard, a single compartment with a drawer on the bottom”

But where did Nina sleep? he wondered

Rashid stepped into the bedroom, dodging the toys. They seemed very low in quality — the kind that third rate restaurants gave out with their kid’s meals. Maybe that was a matter of perspective — after all, Rashid could afford to buy Khalid everything the boy’s heart desired from Toys R Us and other toy stores. Places like this reminded Rashid of how privileged he and his family were. It made him wonder what he’d done to deserve such luck in life

Walking past the bed, he noticed the only decorative flourishes in the entire house: a picture of Abhaj and Fatima, and a picture of the whole family

Nina included

He took the photo down and looked at the poor girl. This was the first time he’d seen her as a person and not a flat tire (dammit, Cole), aside from photos on her documents. In those, she had a serious, nervous look about her. Here, though, she was happy. And she was a vision, graceful in figure and posture. A smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. It was no wonder this was where Ali had found his peace. Rashid hated the killer even more now

Placing the photo back on its perch, Rashid contemplated something he’d told Ali many times before. Zahab al Aswad is all gloss on the surface, and those who stay there will live and die happy. But sometimes, a hand will reach out from the ugliest depths and take away everything you cared about, everything you wanted. Ali had rejected that notion, and Rashid was beginning to see why: Majhool was a fresh start for him, an escape from his wretched home. He’d found a future, hope, and love here

But the hand had reached out for him. And that was the biggest injustice of all

Rashid approached the cupboard and started rummaging through its contents

“The compartment has clothes for all five of them. There aren’t many. No gun. Drawer contains socks and underwear for all five. Again, not many. Still no gun”

The couple’s bed was next. Rashid looked under the mattress, inside the pillows, knocked around the base and checked under the bed. Nothing

He wasn’t expecting the gun to be hidden in the kids’ bed, but he looked anyway. Nothing

“No sign of the gun in the bedroom. Moving on”

At the end of the corridor was the door leading to the bathroom. The prison in Bani Sabaar had solitary confinement cells bigger than Kafiyah’s bathroom. There was a commode, sink and shower, all of them so close together that only one of the facilities could be used at a time. Rashid checked the tank of the toilet and couldn’t think of anywhere else the gun could be hidden

“Unless Ali finds something in the kitchen, the gun we’re looking for isn’t in the house. There is no gun in the house, period. Note: a lot of furniture and personal effects have been sold off. Consistent with the suspect’s narrative of fleeing the country — “

Rashid dashed for the kitchen as soon as heard the sounds of fighting


Chapter 5: Tough Guy Bluster

“This is the second audio log of the investigation into the murder of Nina Kafiyah.” Ali heard Rashid say into his voice recorder. “We are searching the house of our lead suspect, Abhaj Kafiyah. Suspect has a family of four and lives in a single bedroom apartment. The warrant was obtained on good evidence that the suspect owns a gun that is connected with the crime”

Ali looked over the Kafiyah family. Fatima’s hair was a mess and her eyes were sunken. The kids, a 5 year old and a 6 year old boy, fidgeted in their chairs

“Mr Kafiyah — or Abhaj, I think we’re on a first name basis now -, I’m gonna need you to stand up so I can search you”

Abhaj submitted to the search without protest

“I tried to withdraw some money, detective. I was blocked. What’s going on?” Abhaj asked as Ali ran his hands over his body

“Are you a tourist or something? You can’t be this clueless about how these things go in Majhool”

“I tend to stay on the right side of the law. As I am right now”

“Well, while you’re a guest of the ZAPD, you can’t open new bank accounts or receive money in or make withdrawals from existing ones. You can pay for things with your credit card, but the cash you have is all you get. But then, where are you shopping where credit cards aren’t accepted, Abhaj?”

“I’m sure this is a violation of our human rights, detective” Fatima said. “What kind of totalitarian hell is this?”

“Damn, check out those $10 words. You let her get an education, Abhaj?” Ali taunted

Abhaj’s fist clenched and face began to redden. Ali was more than pleased with that reaction

“As for your ‘human rights’, your husband is suspected of having pushed his sister off a 600 meter tower. Until he’s proven innocent, he’s less than a human as far as we’re concerned” Ali replied to Fatima. He noticed a shifty look in her eyes that Rashid might read as her being afraid that she was caught. That was something to keep in mind

“Are you going to search my wife and kids too, detective?” Abhaj asked, fuming

Ali thought about this. He ought to cover all his bases. Fatima seemed like she was in on the plot, but even Abhaj wouldn’t be insane enough to hide a gun with his kids. Or was he?

“Actually, Abhaj, I am. You’re up, Mrs. Kafiyah”

“You put your hands on my wife and I’ll kill you, detective. I wouldn’t even need a gun” Abhaj threatened

“You think you can take me just ’cause you managed to overpower your sister?”

“Do you have a personal interest in my sister’s death? Was she having an affair behind my back? I actually would have killed her if she was.” Ali couldn’t tell if Abhaj meant that or if he was just trying to rile him up. His tone was too level

“The fuck kind of brother are you, anyway? Aren’t you even a little sad she’s gone? Whether or not you killed her, she was your sister, you must have loved her at least a little”

“Love? Nina had no need of love, detective. She just needed to shut up and do as she was told”

Ali was the first to lose control in the end. He decked Abhaj in the face and broke his nose. Abhaj began punching wildly at Ali’s face, but Ali was formally trained in hand to hand combat, and all he had to do was hold his arms up over his face. Once he saw an opening, he grabbed Abhaj’s hand and elbowed him in the face. Abhaj fell to his knees, his arm still in Ali’s clutches. He began to twist…and twist. Abhaj screamed surprisingly loud for all his tough guy bluster

That was when Rashid burst in and broke the two of them up. And that concluded their investigation of the Kafiyah household


Chapter 6: Embarrassment of Riches

On the outskirts of Zahab al Aswad city, not too far from the ZAPD headquarters, was a two storey villa. It had a garage with space for two cars, parking space on the sides of the villa, a front yard, a backyard and a swimming pool in the backyard. It was painted white, with red shingles on the roof. Most people in Majhool would drive past such a villa with a green glow in their eyes

The villa had a foyer, with a spiral staircase leading to the upper floor. To the right was the living room, in which a glass coffee table was flanked by three sofas. The table stood upon a fur rug — no one thought too much about whether or not the fur was real. Across from the sofas was a 105" curved TV that was presently switched off

On one sofa sat detective Ali Tabarik, angry still over the fight and doubly so over his partner’s intervention. Across from him sat detective Rashid Awad, owner of this embarrassment of riches he called home

“You know how much trouble we’re in, don’t you, Ali?” Rashid asked

Ali said nothing

“You know Abhaj is going to complain about this, don’t you, Ali?”

Ali said nothing

“You know that our case is screwed if he presses charges, don’t you, Ali?”

“The fuck do you want me to say? That I messed up? That you were right to try and get someone else to solve this?”

“Well, I don’t like to say I told you so…”

“I should’ve killed him right there!”

“Um, guys?” Wafa interrupted, standing in the doorway. In her hands was a tray holding two perspiring glasses of cold water

Ali turned to look at the black screen of the TV as Wafa placed the tray on the coffee table. She left in silence. Once Rashid was sure she’d made it to the kitchen, he left to join her, leaving Ali alone with his thoughts

“Is everything okay with you two?” Wafa asked, genuine concern on her face

“This case is just hitting close to home for Ali. Don’t judge him too harshly”

“Has he ever…raged like this about anything? I can see the murder in his eyes”

Rashid sighed. “His fiance was murdered”

Wafa looked shocked. “He was engaged?”

“News to me, as well”

“How did you not know your partner was engaged?”

“It never came up…?”

“Ali is a friend of the family, Rashid, and his engagement ‘never came up’?”

Rashid looked down silently

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“Wafa, I want to help him, but he’s only making things harder for us”

“Rashid, Ali doesn’t need the bull-headed determinator that you usually are”

“Determinat — ?”

“He needs a friend. He needs someone to hear him out and empathize with him. Someone he can complain about the pain to. Can you imagine how much he’s hurting? Rashid, I don’t what I would do if I lost you”

Rashid didn’t say anything, but they both knew he felt the same

“Make him stay over until the case is solved” she said, holding Rashid’s forearm

“He won’t — “

“I said make him. He thinks he needs to be alone. What he needs are friends. Besides, hanging out with his ‘bromeo’ will make him feel better, right?”

From the living room, Rashid heard Khalid greet Ali with “Broliet!”

“Bromeo!” Ali replied

“Wafa, how is it you’re always right?” Rashid asked, putting his arms around Wafa

“You’re just Watson. I’m the Sherlock” she replied, returning the embrace


Chapter 7: Was It Worth It?

Now

The smuggler secured the one suitcase into the boat and started pushing it down the beach into the water, grunting all the while. Rajesh looked around nervously. That was normal — he was fleeing the police, after all

Just as the thought of the police had crossed his mind, the smuggler heard the sound of sirens approaching. The red and blue lights of the police could be seen from miles away in the night. He stopped pushing the boat and sat down on it. There was no running

“You done fucked me over, Rajesh” he said to his last passenger

“I’m sorry, but I will not be be punished for doing the right thing”

“What did they offer you to rat me out?”

“Less jail time”

“Was it worth it?”

“Yes”

The smuggler drew a Desert Eagle from his waist band, its barrel gleaming in the moonlight. It sounded more like a bomb than a gun when fired a single shot at Rajesh. He was thrown off his feet by the sheer force of the blast, blood raining down on the sand. The smuggler was pleased. He’d paid a pretty penny for the gun. That, the smuggler thought, was worth it

It wouldn’t save him from the police, who had now surrounded the smuggler. A searchlight shone on him

“This is the Zahab al Aswad Police! You are under arrest! Drop your weapon and get on your knees!”


Chapter 8: Illusions, All

The office of Police Commissioner Abdullah Jaafari looked almost like the Oval Office. The walls had wood panels, with a mahogany wood desk sitting in front of a tinted floor-to-ceiling window. In front of the desk was a table flanked by two sofas. A lush carpet on the ground bore the coat of arms of the ZAPD. The office was not, however, oval shaped

One would think the position of Commissioner was a ceremonial one looking at this office — and that was the point. Many press conferences were held in here, and an office like this showed the power wielded by the ZAPD. It also showed that the ZAPD and the government of Zahab al Aswad in general had time and money throw into making lavish places like this, which must mean there wasn’t a lot of crime that demanded the time and money

Illusions, all

Abdullah Jaafari was the only commissioner in the history of the force and he was tougher than nails. With good reason — the early days of Majhool still saw civil strife over the island becoming a sovereign nation. A large contingent of people believed that everyone would be better off being absorbed into the UAE, which had an economy, a constitution and a game plan for the future. The ZAPD had spent most of its infancy suppressing such conflicts, and were it not for the iron fist of Abdullah Jaafari, all out civil war may have come to pass

And Ali was being reprimanded by this man for the second time in a week

“Have you lost your mind?” Abdullah asked, a calm tone that only thinly veiled his anger

“No, sir” Ali replied. It was best to answer the commissioner’s questions in binary terms

“I don’t know, I’ve received complaints of you fighting with suspects unprovoked. Sure looks like you’ve lost your mind”

Ali could’ve defended himself by saying the fight was definitely provoked. But he didn’t

“I just lost control for a moment. It won’t happen again”

“You’ve undermined an ongoing investigation and confirmed people’s opinion that the ZAPD is too power-drunk. I’m not sure you deserve another chance”

Ali said nothing. There was nothing to be said

The commissioner stood up and walked to the window. His figure, even in silhouette, was intimidating, a man at the peak of physical fitness for someone his age

“This is the second time I’ve had you in my office this week. And that disappoints me, Ali

“I hope you know that you have no business being a detective at your age and with your level of experience. That should be keeping you grounded, humble, weighing every action carefully so you don’t make a fool of yourself in front of your seniors. You’re not doing a good job

“Do you know how you got this far so fast, Ali?”

“Because you trusted me” Ali replied

“No, I don’t trust strangers. In fact, there are people in the force that have been here longer than you and I still don’t trust them. Your friend Abdullah Ghazal happens to be one of them. Every one of you is likely — no, bound — to make mistakes. So what makes you so special?

“You’re young. You’ve yet to see this city at its worst. If you think you’ve seen everything this place has to offer, trust me, you’re wrong. And I do remember the barber with the magic powers

“Because you don’t know how bad this city can be, you believe it can be saved. And that’s the approach I imagine you take to your cases: not to eliminate criminals, but to save the city. None of your peers are capable of thinking that way any more — your partner is especially fond of going on about what a terrible and dark place Zahab al Aswad is. They’ve seen too much

“I’ll confess something, Ali: taking you off the immigration cases was a formality. I know the shooting of that man was not your fault, but if I was punishing an officer, I had to punish the one who was commanding him. I think you thought right, that there was nothing to fear from him. But this? You’re unquestionably in the wrong here

“I shouldn’t give you a second chance — Majhool didn’t get to where it is today because I was giving out second chances. But you’re a good man, Ali. And you’re better than this. At least that’s what I think. Prove me right”

The lecture moved Ali. “Thank you” he said quietly

“Dismiss-”

“Sir, there’s something I need to ask you”

Commissioner Jaafari turned to Ali. “Ask”

“You’ve been here longer than the rest and you still think the city can be saved”

“What makes you think that? It’s not that I think the city can be saved, Ali. I believe that as officers of the Zahab al Aswad police, it is our job to keep trying until we just can’t anymore. Dismissed


Chapter 9: The Smoking Gun

I don’t have a sister. I still think taking a life insurance policy on your sister is more than a little weird Rashid thought, looking at Abhaj Kafiyah’s finances

He had remembered something Ali said while describing their fight. “Dude was trying to withdraw some cash and was pissed when he couldn’t”. Looking at bank records in his office, Abhaj had tried to make a rather large withdrawal, DHS1,000,000.00, a day after he was questioned. It wasn’t just that he was blocked from making withdrawals, Abhaj just didn’t have that kind of money. How could he? He was out of a job

That lead Rashid to conclude that Abhaj was expecting there to be a million dirhams in his account but something went awry. The police hold on his assets would also stop any cash inflows to his account. Rashid investigated these inflows

And there he discovered the insurance. Taken out five years ago

If the two of them had waited even a day longer to question Abhaj or if they had hastily concluded that Nina had acted alone in her own suicide, Abhaj would’ve been a millionaire. Whatever scheme he had for getting out of the country, he would’ve been able to afford it for himself and his family. That made this life insurance a perfectly valid motive for the murder

So that’s where Rashid and Ali stood. They had established that Abhaj was more than capable of the crime and they had a motive, but still no definitive proof. What Rashid needed was the missing link, the smoking gun that would nail Abhaj to the crime

If only we’d found that damn Desert Eagle

His phone, sitting on his desk, lit up. Bilal Aswad, an old comrade was calling

“Salam alaikum” Rashid said on answering

“Walaikum salaam, ya Rashid!” Bilal replied on the other end. “How’s everything going, brother?”

“Eh, this case is proving really troublesome. Sipping pina coladas by the pool?”

“Actually, I’m just now leaving HQ. I have good news for you”

“Lay it on me”

“I hear you’re looking for a bird. One that likes to fly around in the desert”

“I am indeed in search of a Desert Eagle”

“Well, our old friend Rajesh Patel helped us track down his escape plan. A smuggler who sneaks people out of the country and into the Emirates by boat. We’ve tossed the dude into the basement” he explained, the basement referring to the ZAPD’s prison

Rashid was intrigued but still wondered what that had to do with Desert Eagles. “Go on”

“We told Rajesh we were going to cut his jail sentence, even though the plan was for him to get iced by the smuggler (classic ZAPD, Ali’s voice said in Rashid’s head). Guess what gun the smuggler used”

Rashid’s heartbeat started to speed up. “A Desert Eagle?”

“That’s right. A Desert Eagle with origins back in Yemen. Wanna pay this smuggler a visit?”

There it is. The smoking gun

To be concluded

Lambda