My “interview” with the Sabang police was more of a character reference. With my testimony — the declaration of a British Army major — Mr. Richard, as he was referred to, was transformed, in their eyes, from a common thief to a man of honour.
Admittedly, the transformation came at the expense of verifying my credentials — recently renewed passport visa, address at the Manor House, plus a lengthy request to my UK bank, that displeased me. No doubt my account would be debited with an outrageous fee.
Not that I showed any irritation; the UK time-difference worked to my advantage, and a faxed supporting letter signed by Sir Archibald “something or other” brought a smile to my interrogator’s face when he showed it to me.
‘You’re free to go,’ he said.
I nodded. ‘And Mr. Richard?’
He tinkered with a brass button on his tunic. It had lost its lustre. ‘He’ll be treated fairly.’ A hint of a challenge when his eyes met mine. ‘We’re not savages, you know.’
Really? Sharia police?
I stood up. My turn to smile. Under my breath as I walked out. Merely seventh-century advocates, Muhammed.
The “walking out” left me in a quandary. Nearly midnight, and nobody sitting in the room we vacated. I decided to go back to our guesthouse, return the next morning refreshed.
But I was waylaid outside by Tevfik. He offered me a cigarette from a crumpled pack — an evil-smelling Camel — which I declined.
‘I’ll accompany you,’ he said, lighting up, and coughing. ‘It is best not to walk alone late at night.’
I glanced over my shoulder. Shadows. ‘It’s good to know my welfare is being taken care of. I only wish the same could be said about Richard.’
‘How do you say it,’ he said. ‘Wheels are turning, Inshallah.’
The headlights of a passing pick-up silhouetted his face for an instant. His expression sincere, although I surmised he’d make a good poker player — God willing.
I didn’t reply. Thought it better to let him open up during the short walk back to the guesthouse. In between his coughing spells — I resolved to cut down on my Havana consumption — he explained that Jubair was brokering a deal.
I paused, looked at him. ‘What’s that?’
‘To save face.’
‘Save face? What a load of baloney.’
Tevfik took a drag, grimaced, and dropped the cigarette butt. Squashed it under his shoe. ‘Not in Sumatra,’ he said. ‘To respect Asian culture is as important as being a good Muslim.’
‘Hang, on,’ I said, as the thought struck me. ‘Who are we talking about?’
He sighed, opened his hands, palms up. They were empty. Nothing to hide.
‘Amera was born in Sumatra. Went to school here, learnt the language and customs, before continuing her education in her home country, Pakistan.’
Pieces of the jigsaw slotted into place. ‘Her face?’ I said. Tevfik nodded, and we walked a little more in silence. At the guesthouse I opened the front door with the key given to me. I wasn’t ready to sleep, despite the late hour, and I invited him in. He accepted, and we made our way to my room.
‘Better if I hear the whole damn deal,’ I said, pointing at the solitary chair beside my bed, ‘and don’t bullshit me.’
He took the seat, and I slumped on the bed, plumped up the pillow, and waited. To me it seemed that he enjoyed talking to a captive audience — compensating for an inferiority complex? — And I indulged him.
The deal had as many tentacles as an octopus, but the main players — and recipients were Muslim Relief, Tevfik, Richard, Ibrahim and the Sharia police. The Agency would have their funds returned, the police would be compensated for their time and effort, and Ibrahim would receive a generous severance package on the condition he withdrew the charges against Tevfik and Richard.
Except that the size of Ibrahim’s severance package and police compensation was being contested.
‘Muslim Relief is being blackmailed,’ Tevfik said. ‘Negotiations might take a while.’
I looked up at the cracks in the ceiling plaster, moved my eyes down the wall. A damp spot near the window frame that had paint flaking off.
‘And in the meantime,’ I said, ‘Richard—being an infidel, and possibly an affluent one—is being held hostage.’
He nodded. ‘You would call it a bargaining chip,’ he said, narrowing his eyes and scratching his chin. ‘Is he rich?’
I mentally kicked myself for insinuating that. Time to set the record straight. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Our property is rented, and we both live off our pensions. Our sole luxury in life is a bottle of wine at Christmas. Goes with the chicken giblets,’ I said.
His face dropped a notch. ‘That’s unfortunate,’ he said. ‘Most unfortunate.’
We lapsed into silence again, while he shuffled up from his seat. He was ready to leave me. I knew Jubair wouldn’t be happy to receive the news. No doubt this scenario had been arranged between the pair of them, and I was — supposedly — the unsuspecting victim. With that in mind, I thanked him, and escorted him out.
Plan B was taking shape. I even whistled while I took a shower and readied for sleep. Clearly my ploy to transform Richard as a man of honour had misfired. Now he was a man of substance. If I wanted to save him from his continued incarceration — and I needed to — I had one card to play.
Media exposure of corruption, or the threat of it — and I had the one person who could bring fear into the heart and minds of everyone involved:-
--The Sharia Police.
And me. Even though he was the last person I ever wanted to confront again, Richard’s situation looked desperate. In the morning, I would cross that barrier.
I’d call Kostya.
And be damned.