If anyone could get Richard out of Sharia police custody, it would be Kostya. Or, so I hoped. But at second light (overslept) the following morning I was convinced I’d pay a high price for his intervention. As he had sniggered before, his services weren’t free, they would cost-ya.
But I underestimated his charity. He was delighted to hear from me, said I had brought him great fortune following my exposé of Tanya.
Careful. He’s a shark. ‘I did? What happened?’
‘You would call it creaming the cake that feeds it.’
‘Ya. I disposed her—Deli river—now take Pinay chick. Peach Pink. And Charlie, she the best thing since sliced salami.’ A pause, and then. ‘What the fuck you want?’
Bollocks. Clearly, my estimation of his charity was overcooked, but I explained how Richard had got himself caught in a Mexican stand-off — I considered that would appeal to Kostya — which could only be resolved by money or elimination of the extortionists.
Kostya had street cred, I gave him that. His immediate reaction was to test the strength of the opposition. I gave him Ibrahim, an educated but dishonest Turkish blackmailer, who was holding his employers, Muslim Relief, to ransom. Unless he received a generous severance package, Richard would remain in police custody on false money-laundering charges.
‘Where is this Ibrahim?’
‘On Sabang. He is also being interviewed by the police. Corruption could be involved.’ Kostya asked a few more questions to familiarise himself. I gave him more names, and he seemed satisfied.
‘I’ll deal with it,’ he said, and ended the call.
Which left me stranded. Not quite, I still needed to harass Tevfik into divulging what could get Richard released from custody — apart from money. I had his number, called him, and he suggested I meet him in a nearby café for an early lunch.
A bit too convenient, but I let it pass. What would happen, would happen.
An hour later, I was sitting in the café spooning sugar into my coffee, and resisting the lure of cigarette smoke drifting past my nostrils, when Tevfik arrived with Jubair in tow. I was subjected to the Muslim greetings which seemed more out of politeness than sincere, but I responded in kind as they sat down at my table.
Tevfik kept quiet while Jubair updated me. ‘Mr. Fotheringay,’ he said, ‘Mr. Richard has spent last night in custody in an uncomfortable cell, and unless we can break the deadlock today before the sunset prayer, he will be formally charged.’
I raised an eyebrow, inclined my head, and made the obvious comment. ‘I take it, that’s serious.’ A glance between the two confirmed my perception. I didn’t need Jubair to tell me, but he did.
‘He could lose his freedom, Mr. Fotheringay. Or it could be worse. Sharia law is harsh.’
Bollocks. I hoped to press the right button. ‘Tell me what needs to happen before sunset.’
More glances, heads nodding, and a faint smile crossed Jubair’s lips. ‘It would require your intervention.’
I looked at them. Tried a naïve approach. ‘Apart from money?’
Jubair seemed to appraise me. His English vernacular was excellent. ‘Money could pave the way,’ he said. ‘Is that a possibility?’
More like a last resort, Mohammed.
I picked up the menu. I needed time to think about the consequences if Kostya drew a blank. ‘Maybe we can discuss my involvement after lunch.’
Lunch was sparse like the conversation. My attention drifted to the world outside. Cloudy skies, possibly rain later, birds twittering in the trees, leaves falling like brown snow — and the constant flow of noisy traffic, scuttling past.
Where were they going? Home? To a meeting?
From having no inspiration, no options, and no plan, I felt buoyed up again. I tapped the table with my spoon. ‘Jubair,’ I said, ‘get me an audience with Amera, now.’
‘I don’t think…’
‘That’s correct, you don’t. If you want to get us all out of this mess, I need to talk to her.’ I looked at Tevfik. His face lightened.
‘I agree,’ he said. ‘Or I could face the same fate as Mr. Richard.’
As Kostya might say, Jubair was caught between the hammer and the anvil. He sighed, and stood up. ‘I can try. Pay the bill and come with me.’
Too damn convenient?
While we travelled in Jubair’s Land Cruiser to Muslim Relief’s sub-office, I still had the nagging feeling of being manipulated. Couldn’t put a finger on it, exactly — maybe if I hadn’t mentioned it, would Jubair have suggested I met with Amera?
As if to confirm my suspicions, my arrival posed no inconvenience — Amera was available, and a small meeting room had been made ready. My first, and hopefully last, foray into the enemy camp.
Formal introductions, this time cordial, and offer of freshly roasted coffee set the tone. In another existence Amera would have been a chameleon. Her attitude towards me — far from being plain rude — accommodated my Catholic faith.
My plan, unlike my normal battle approach, was to plead for Richard’s release, but I couldn’t bring myself to wimp out. So, after batting around issues of non-consequence, Amera tired of this.
‘Mr. Fotheringay, I am telling you this in strict confidence. This morning, Ibrahim withdrew charges against your compatriot and my colleague, Tevfik. Mr. Richard will be released from police custody before sunset.’
My jaw dropped open, which caused Jubair to smile, as did Tevfik. But there was more.
‘There are conditions.’
Bollocks. I knew it.
‘You and Mr. Richard are required to leave Sabang, go back to your home on the mainland, and not speak about it to anyone. Am I clear?’
‘Wait a minute, I said, ‘what happened?’
Amera shook her head. ‘You are not privy to that information. Suffice to say the integrity of our organisation is paramount.’
Integrity be damned. Maybe Kostya got involved?
I couldn’t resist hurling a barb. ‘And there I was, thinking it was all about money—but no, it was all about saving face.’
Amera glared at me. She stood up, quickly followed by her pet eneuchs. ‘I trust you can find your way out. Goodbye, Mr. Fotheringay.’
Bollocks to you, too.
I hailed a taxi outside. Called Kostya.
‘Ah, Charlie,’ he said. ‘In Russia we call it attitude adjustment. Ibrahim complied. But listen, comrade. When Peach Pink meets her sell-out day, I want another. Your Hannah, maybe?’
Ugh. I felt a stream of bile fill my gullet. ‘What?’
‘Charlie, you owe me big time.’ He was still snorting like a pig in shit when I cut the call.