The Night of Power
a Mahboob Chaudri story
The burning in his lungs was a hawk with sharpened claws, and it tore at his flesh with cruel anger.
Ana aouz cigara, he thought, his throat
parched, his breathing hoarse. I must have a cigarette!
But it was Ramadan, the month of Saum, and the
Holy Quran commanded all able-bodied adult Muslims to "eat and drink
until so much of the dawn appears that a white thread may be distinguished from
a black, then keep the fast completely until night."
The sick were temporarily exempt from fasting,
as were nursing and pregnant women and travelers making long journeys, though
they were all obliged to make up any of the 30 days they missed for such reasons
as soon after the end of the month as they were able. Only the very young and
the very old were fully excused from participation.
He had no reason not to fast, so he tasted
no food in spite of his hunger, his cracked lips touched no water in spite of
the heat of the day, and worst of all the packet of cigarettes
in the pocket of his thobe remained unopened, and its cellophane wrapper
crinkled in laughter at his suffering as he caressed it with longing fingers.
He looked out the plate-glass windows of the great
Presidential Hotel, past the green-tiled roofs and golden central dome of the
Guest Palace to the sea, where the suns nether rim flamed but a centimeter
above the slate-grey waters of Gudabiyah Bay. He watched without appreciation
as the fireball extinguished itself in the Gulf and brilliant streaks of salmon
and orange and brightest yellow washed across the ivory sky. He clenched his
teeth and waited impatiently as darkness fell, and the imams peered solemnly
at their white and black threads in the gathering dusk.
Then at last, at 8:07 PM, the signal canon sounded.
Almost instantly there was a cigarette between his lips and he was drawing its
soothing smoke deep within himself, blessing the Almighty for having given him
the strength to conduct himself faithfully throughout the day.
Praise Allah, he thought,
only three days more and I am free of this torture for another year!
When he had smoked his cigarette down to the filter,
he stubbed it out in an ashtray and crossed the lobby to the doors of the Al-Wazmiyyah
Coffee Shop. The room was already crowded, but he filled a plate with mezzah
and ouzi and kofta kebabs from the Iftar buffet and found
an empty table by the window. He ate slowly and sparingly and drank three glasses
of cool spring water, then he left the restaurant and, after a brief stop to
pick up the object he needed, rode the elevator to the fourth floor of the hotel.
The corridor was deserted all the Presidentials
guests but one, he felt certain, were downstairs at the buffet, even the Westerners,
who had been cautioned not to eat in public during the daylight hours as a sign
of respect to Ramadan and to the Muslims observing the fast. He walked quickly
down the hallway to the fire door, let himself through it, and climbed the last
two flights of stairs to the hotels top floor.
Here, too, there was no one to be seen, no one
to see him as he crept along the thick brown carpeting to the door marked 613.
He put his left ear and the fingertips of his right hand to the wood and listened
intently. There was nothing to be heard from within. His hand darted into the
pocket of his thobe, not for his cigarettes this time but for the ring
of keys, which he clasped tightly in his fist to keep them from jangling as
he drew them forth.
He selected one key from the dozen on the ring
and fitted it soundlessly into the lock set into the doorknob. He held his breath as he turned the key, turned
the knob, and swung the door inward just enough to allow himself to slip through
the opening and ease it shut behind him.
The room was dark, illuminated only by the faint
glow of the hotels exterior lighting that filtered in through the drapery
covering the single window.
He waited. The only noises in the room were the
gentle hum of the air-conditioner and the deafening pounding of his heart. When
his eyes had adjusted to the almost-blackness, he was able to make out the shape
in the left-hand bed, imagined he could actually see the one thin blanket
rising and falling with the breathing of the figure who lay there asleep.
He stole across the room to the side of the bed
and reached once more into his thobes deep side pocket.
When his hand reappeared, he was holding neither
cigarettes nor keys. He was holding a small black revolver which glittered evilly
in the diffused light admitted by the curtains, and his hand was steady as he
touched it to the temple of the sleeping man in the bed.
Mahboob Chaudris temples throbbed and his
pulse raced with exasperation as he stood looking down at the dead man.
"Where in the name of the Prophet is his clothing?"
he demanded of no one, though there were four other people in the room to hear
him. There were angrier words in Chaudris mind, but he was able to bite
them back before they escaped his lips. Fasting is only one half of faith, he
reminded himself. During the month of Saum, hostile behavior was also to be
avoided as were lying, backbiting, slander, the swearing of false oaths,
and the glance of passion. So it was written, and a devout believer
so Mahboob Chaudri would comport himself, the better to avoid distraction from
the pious attention to God which was the meaning of Ramadan. It was not easy
for him to calm his thoughts, but he held them inside his mouth with the tip
of his index finger as he returned his gaze to the bed.
The dead man was completely naked, covered only
by a light blanket of a blue several shades paler than his eyes. He was a Westerner,
a Caucasian, but his skin was richly tanned. He had close-cropped blonde hair,
a fine Roman nose, and what Jennifer Blake under happier circumstances would
have called a dishy moustache. There was a small black hole just above his left
temple, and the blood that drenched his pillow was still damp.
The Pakistani turned away in disgust. In spite
of the air-conditioning, he was hot and sticky in his olive-green Public Security
uniform. There was a line of perspiration on his upper lip.
"Where are his trousers?" he exclaimed,
fighting to keep his voice below a shout. "His shirt? His shoes and stockings?
Where is his billfold? Where are his papers?"
"The murderer " Abdulaziz Shaheen
began, but Chaudri cut him off.
"Yes, yes, of course. The murderer has taken
everything away with him, including the gun and the keys they used to let themselves
into this room."
"But, why?" said Jennifer Blake,
a willowy brunette in a trim gold-and-white suit with a nametag on one lapel
that identified her as the hotels night receptionist.
"So that we would not be able to determine
the victims identity, of course." Chaudri had been called away from
his Iftar meal at the Juffair police barracks to investigate a report
of a gunshot at the Presidential Hotel, and he was tired and hungry after a
long day of fasting.
"Thats not what I meant." The Blake
woman frowned, her cultured British tone beginning to broaden under the strain
of the evenings events. "Its bloody well obvious thats
why his kit was taken off, excuse my French. What I meant was, why was he here?"
"Yes," said Mirza Hussain from a straight-backed
chair by the low couch where the receptionist, Shaheen, and an elderly woman
bundled up in a terrycloth bathrobe were all sitting. "That is exactly
what I have been asking myself all along. Why was this man sleeping in room
613 in the first place? Why, for that matter, was he in the hotel at all?"
"He was not a guest?" asked Chaudri.
"I never checked him in," Jennifer Blake
said firmly. "Not tonight nor any other night."
"Mr. Hussain? Mr. Shaheen?"
Although the Presidential was part of a large American chain, it was like all major hotels in the emirate run by Bahrainis and staffed by a mixture of British expatriates, Indians, and Pakistanis. Mirza Hussain was general manager, Abdulaziz Shaheen chief of security.
Both men were native Bahrainis, both now wore the
traditional Arabic long white thobes and red-and-white-checkered ghutras,
but there the resemblance between them ended. Hussain was built along the lines
of the countrys ruler, Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa; he was small
in height but rather portly, with golden skin, a greying moustache and chin-beard,
and wise black eyes behind the glittering lenses of a pair of spectacles with
thin golden rims. Shaheen was muscularly built and cleanshaven and olive-complected,
a decade younger and a full head taller than his superior.
"I have never seen him before," said
Hussain, with an uncomfortable glance at the lifeless figure on the bed. "Perhaps
Miss Ramsey or Miss Messenger checked him in during one of the other shifts."
The security chief shook his head. "I dont
think he was a guest," he said, and paused to draw deeply on the cigarette
held between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. When he spoke again,
wisps of smoke puffed from his mouth along with his words. "But of course
I cant be certain. It should be easy enough to find out."
"You yourself do not recognize him?"
"No. I have no idea who he was. But whether
he was a guest here or not, he had no business in this particular room, that
much is certain."
"And why is that?"
It was Mirza Hussain who answered. "Standard
hotel practice, mahsool. Sometimes important visitors drop in on us unexpectedly.
We must always have space available to accommodate them. So, no matter how fully
booked up we may be, we keep this one room vacant in case of an emergency. It
is never rented out in the ordinary way."
Chaudri made an irritated grimace and turned back
to the dead man in the bed. "Then what were you doing here sleeping?"
he muttered. "What is it you were doing in room 613, where you ought not
to have been at all, asleep so early on a Ramadan evening? And who is it who
shot you, by all that is holy? Why were you here, and why were you killed, and
by whom?" He curled his nut-brown hands into fists and rubbed wearily at
his eyes. "All right," he sighed, "let us begin at the beginning.
The older woman in the bathrobe stirred restlessly
on the green leather sofa. "I am in ze room next door," she said,
her English heavily accented. "Room 611. I am here in Manama wiss ze trade
delegation from Bonn. We were to meet in ze coffee zhop downstairs for dinner
at 8:30, but I twisted my ankle as I was dressing and decided to dine alone
in my room. I ordered a how do you say it? a cutlet from room
service." She glared disapprovingly at Mirza Hussain. "It was undercooked.
Tomorrow I shall recommend zat we try ze Hilton instead. Just after nine oclock
I heard ze shot from zis room."
Chaudri took a pad from the pocket of his uniform
jacket and made a note. "And what did you do then?"
"I called down to ze desk and reported what
I had heard to, I assume, zis young woman."
"You did not look out into the corridor?"
"Ah, yes," Chaudri remembered. "Your
"Mein Gott, it had nuzzing to do wiss
my ankle! Someone is shooting a gun, do you sink I am sticking my head outside
for a better look?"
"No, no," he said quickly. "Of course
not. Miss Blake?"
The receptionist brushed a stray lock of hair into
place and took up the story. "It was three past nine when I spoke with
Frau Jurkeit, I checked the time as I hung up the phone. I immediately rang
Mr. Shaheens office, but he wasnt there at the moment. Then I tried
Mr. Hussain, but he didnt pick up, either. So I did what I ought to have
done straightaway, I expect "
"You rang up the Manama Directorate,"
Chaudri completed the woman's sentence for her. "And
the officer you spoke with reported to the Investigation Officer, and the Investigation
Officer sent for me. And by the time I arrived here at the hotel, you had located
Mr. Shaheen and Mr. Hussain, and you gentlemen had already come up to this room
and let yourselves in, and discovered "
He let his voice trail away and indicated the body
in the bed with a wave of his hand. He worked his jaw thoughtfully from side
to side and went on. "And discovered a naked man in a room where he ought
never to have been, shot to death by an unknown assailant who then took all
the victims clothing and other belongings away with him when he left."
"It seems incredible," said Abdulaziz
Shaheen. "What will you do now, mahsool?"
The Pakistani clapped his hands together decisively.
"Now," he said, "I will begin to earn the salary which the Public
Security Force is so generously paying me."
It was almost midnight, and Mahboob Chaudri was
alone in the room with Abdulaziz Shaheen. Mirza Hussain had gone down to his
second-floor office, where he had promised to keep himself available in case
his further presence should be required. Jennifer Blake was back at her post.
In a few moments, she would be relieved by Gillian Messenger, who would be on
duty at the reception desk until 8:00 AM. Frau Jurkeit had long since returned
to her own room next door. Even the body of the murder victim was gone.
Much had happened during the last two hours. Two
and three at a time, the Presidential Hotels entire night staff and those
members of the daytime and graveyard shifts the security chief had been able
to reach by phone had paraded in and out of room 613 for a look at the dead
man. Yousif Albaharna, the daytime doorman, thought he might have seen him entering
the hotel that afternoon, but all Westerners looked more or less alike to him,
he admitted sadly, and he could not be sure. No one else could remember ever
having seen the man before, and both Gillian Messenger and Leslie Ramsey were
certain they had not checked him in as a guest.
The Forensic Medical Officer had arrived shortly
after 11, had examined the body, had confirmed that death had resulted from
a single shot to the head from a small-caliber weapon, had grudgingly agreed
that the victim had most probably been asleep at the time the shot was fired,
had stood around impatiently while the final groups of hotel employees filed
past the corpse, and then at last had instructed two uniformed natoors
to carry it away on a stretcher. He would perform an autopsy in the morning,
he announced, and then he was off.
Mahboob Chaudri had been kept almost continuously busy. He had interrogated the staff. He had conferred with the FMO. He had supervised the activities of the team of photographers and fingerprint men sent out by the Criminal Investigations Division. He had gone down to the lobby and verified that both of the keys to room 613 were present in the rooms mail slot on the wall behind the reception counter, where they belonged. There were several sets of passkeys available to the maids, and the manager and security chief each had a set of his own, of course, but these, too, he had been able to account for.
It seemed improbable that the dead man and his
murderer had entered the room together. A more likely explanation of the sequence
of events was that the victim had let himself in, either with a skeleton key
or by springing the lock with a strip of celluloid, and had then undressed and
gone to sleep. The murderer had followed some time later on, had committed his
crime and gone away with the dead mans belongings, unaware that there
was anyone next door to hear the fatal gunshot and report it.
Thus far Mahboob Chaudri had proceeded with his
investigation and with his thinking, and now he sat with Abdulaziz Shaheen and
sipped gratefully at the strong Arabic coffee which Mirza Hussain had sent up
for their refreshment. There was a bowl of fresh dates next to the fluted qraishieh
on the room-service dolly, and the fruit had happily dulled the edges of Chaudris
The security chief lit a cigarette from the butt
of his last one and slipped the almost-empty packet back into the pocket of
his thobe. "If only we could put a name to the man," he grumbled.
"If we knew who he was, that might tell us why he was here in the hotel,
in this room. And if we knew why he was here, that might tell us why he was
killed, and who it was who shot him."
"In the morning," said Chaudri, "we
will circulate his photograph around the embassies, the banks, the Western companies,
and hopefully someone will recognize him. But all that must wait for business
hours. If only there was something else we could be doing now."
"What a night to feel powerless," Shaheen
growled. "On this, the most powerful night of the year."
Mahboob Chaudri looked up from his thoughts. In
the flurry of activity surrounding the murder, he had forgotten that this 27th
night of Ramadan was Lailat al Qadr, "the Night of Power,"
when the first teachings of the Holy Quran were revealed to the Prophet
of Islam for the guidance of his followers.
"This night better than a thousand months," Chaudri quoted, "when angels and spirits descend to the Earth, and it is peace until the rising of the dawn."
He got impatiently to his feet and began to pace the deep golden carpet, his hands clasped fitfully behind his back.
"Well, for once the blessed Book is mistaken,"
he said. "There has been no peace for me this night, oh, dearie
me, no. And there will be no peace for me, not until I locate the gun
and identify the villain whose finger pulled its trigger, not even should all
the angels and spirits in Heaven choose this very moment to begin their descent."
And at that very moment, Mahboob Chaudri ceased
his restless pacing. "To begin their descent to Earth," he said slowly,
staring down at the faint impression in the empty bed that showed him where
the dead man had lain.
Then, to the amazement of Abdulaziz Shaheen, he
grabbed up his peaked uniform cap from the nightstand between the two beds and
dashed from the room without another word.
Milling crowds of men in long white thobes
and women in veils and long black abbas thronged the Baniotbah Road as
Chaudri wheeled his dusty Land Rover out of the Presidential Hotels parking
lot and headed north toward the Muharraq causeway. Andalus Park was filled with
picnickers, and children splashed in the fountains as wide awake and gleeful
as if it were the middle of the afternoon rather than the middle of the night.
But this was Ramadan, and Bahrains Islamic population would celebrate
with food and drink and gaiety till long after dark, then sleep for several
hours and arise to celebrate again until Sahari, when the first light appeared
in the east and the muezzins call to dawn prayer announced that
it was time to resume their fasting with the ritual of Niyya, the renewal of
The crowds thinned out as he swung across the Khawr
al Qulayah waterway, then picked up once more when he reached Muharraq Island.
He left the Land Rover in a no-parking zone at the entrance to the International
Airports main terminal building and welcomed the rush of cool air that
greeted him as he stepped through the glass doors.
As always, the terminal was buzzing with activity.
Day and night had no meaning here: Bahrain was a refueling point for flights
connecting the Western world with the Far East, and there was a constant ebb
and flow of transit passengers whiling away the hours between legs of their
journeys, in addition to the frequent takeoff and landing of planes beginning
or terminating their runs in the emirate. As Chaudri paused in the teeming passenger
hall to get his bearings, the information boards above his head showed the arrival
of a Korean Airlines flight bringing construction workers from Seoul and the
imminent departure of an Air France 727 returning bankers, corporate executives,
and diplomats to Paris.
When he found the small glass-walled checkpoint
he was looking for, a solicitous natoor listened to his request and handed
him a thick bundle of white cards. He went through the stack carefully, and
when he had examined them all he shuffled back to the middle of the pile and
removed a single card. He read it again, and a third time, and then he put it
in his pocket and returned the rest of the cards to the natoor and drove
back into Manama to the Police Fort at Al Qalah, where he closed himself up
in a tiny investigators cubicle and placed a long-distance telephone call
to a distant city where it was still late the previous afternoon.
"I appreciate your staying on so late,"
said Mahboob Chaudri, as they stepped off the elevator into the quietly tasteful
lobby of the Presidential Hotel. "So early, I suppose I should be saying
it will be dawn in another few hours. Which way is it we are going?"
"This way." Mirza Hussain led him past
the entrance to the Al Wazmiyyah Coffee Shop (still open, but practically deserted
now), past the reception desk (where Gillian Messenger stood diligently at her
post), and down a broad corridor lined with boutiques, a newsstand, a hairdresser,
all dark and long since closed for the night. "I am responsible for whatever
happens at this hotel," he said as they walked. "Never before has
such a terrible thing taken place here. Naturally I stayed."
"It is almost over now," Chaudri told
him reassuringly. They were at the end of the corridor, facing a heavy wooden
door marked "Abdulaziz Shaheen, Chief of Security" in both Arabic
Chaudri knocked loudly, then twisted the doorknob
and walked in without waiting for a response. The Presidentials security
chief was seated behind a cluttered desk, a half-smoked cigarette in his hand.
He had apparently been reading through the contents of the file folder lying
open on the desk before him, but he closed it at their entrance and pushed it
casually off to one side. His dark face was drawn and tired, and there were
shadows beneath his deep-set black eyes.
"Mr. Shaheen," said Chaudri, "weve
come to talk with you about the murder."
Shaheen nodded silently and waved them to a pair
of chairs. He put his cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply.
"According to the stories of Frau Jurkeit
and Miss Blake," Chaudri began, "the death shot was fired at approximately
nine oclock last evening. Now, of all the puzzling questions this crime
presents, the question which has been interesting me the most is this one: why
was this man in bed, probably asleep, at that rather early hour of the evening?
The simplest answer would be that he was in bed because he was tired. But why
was he tired? During Ramadan, both Arabs and nonbelievers keep late hours as
a rule and even were it not Ramadan, nine oclock is rather early
for a man of that age to be sleeping, isnt it?"
"Not necessarily," Mirza Hussain frowned.
"If he had had a busy day, he might well have decided to go to sleep early.
But why here in my hotel? He was not a guest. He had no business here. He most
certainly had no business in room 613."
"Yes, yes," said Chaudri. "But still
the question bothered me. Then, an hour ago, you said something which supplied
a possible answer, Mr. Shaheen."
"About the Night of Power, you mean?"
"Indeed. You reminded me that tonight, the
27th night of Ramadan, is Lailat al Qadr, and it struck me that perhaps
our victim had just recently descended to Earth, like the angels and spirits
written of in the Holy Quran not in a winged chariot from Heaven,
no, but in a silver bird from some other time zone. Though it was only nine
in the evening to us when he died, if he was a new arrival from, say, the United
States or Canada, his inner clock would have insisted that it was, for him,
the middle of the night. Perhaps that was why he was in bed when his murderer
found him in room 613."
Abdulaziz Shaheen stubbed out his cigarette carefully
and took a fresh packet from the top drawer of his desk. He left the drawer
open, Chaudri noticed, stripped off the cellophane and peeled back the foil,
and tapped the packet against his forefinger. "So you think he was a newcomer
to Bahrain?" he asked, as he flicked a thin gold lighter into flame.
"I know he was. When I left you in such a
rush, I drove out to the airport and found the officer in charge of Customs
and Immigration. He gave me all of the disembarkation cards filled out by the
passengers who arrived in Bahrain yesterday afternoon. Those cards are containing
quite a bit of information: name of the arriving passenger, home address, employer,
reason for visit to the emirate, and so on. One of yesterdays cards caught
my eye. It was made out in the name of Stephen Kimble, an American, and his
employer was given as Presidential Hotels International, with an address in
California, in the USA."
Abdulaziz Shaheen breathed out a cloud of smoke
that masked the expression on his face for a moment.
"I placed a phone call to the Presidential
chains Los Angeles headquarters," Chaudri went on. "It was still
daytime there, and I was able to speak with a Mr. Deming, who recognized my
description of our unfortunate corpse and identified him as a company executive
named Stephen Kimble and told me exactly why Mr. Kimble had been sent to Bahrain."
It happened so swiftly that, had Mahboob Chaudri
not been waiting for the movement, he would certainly have missed it. Abdulaziz
Shaheens hand darted into his opened desk drawer and came out holding
a .25-caliber Browning automatic pistol. His dark face was cold and hard as
he jumped up from his chair with the gun in his fist.
"I must insist that you keep both your hands
in sight," he said, his voice tight and strained. "Im
sorry, Mr. Hussain, but I really must insist."
Mirza Hussain sat very still, one hand in the pocket
of his thobe. His eyes told a tale of infinite weariness and sorrow.
At last, with a deep sigh, he took his hand from his pocket. He was holding
a packet of cigarettes and a plastic lighter. He lit a cigarette for himself
and held out the packet to Chaudri.
"No, no," the Pakistani shook his head.
"I am not a smoker. It is, I think, an evil habit. But it does not seem
to have interfered with your reflexes, Mr. Shaheen. Im glad I stopped
in to see you on my way up to the second floor and warned you of what to expect
from this visit. Now, if you will give me your pistol, I will hold it while
you are seeing what else is to be found in Mr. Hussains cavernous pockets."
"You are thinking of the murder weapon?"
Hussain smiled grimly. "I dont have it here, gentlemen. Perhaps I
should have brought it with me, after all. But it is back in my office, in my
closet in Stephen Kimbles suitcase."
"You were embezzling money from the hotel,"
said Chaudri flatly, when Abdulaziz Shaheen had confirmed that the managers
pockets were indeed empty, save for a ring of passkeys and a handkerchief.
"Yes. Never very much at a time. Always small
amounts, small amounts. But over the last three years I have diverted almost
fifty thousand dinars into my private account. I was very careful. I thought
it would be impossible for anyone to discover what I had done. Apparently I
"Embezzlement," remarked Mahboob Chaudri,
"is also an evil habit. More evil than smoking, since it does harm not
only to oneself but to others as well. But I am interrupting. Please forgive
me and go on with what you were saying."
Hussain told his story matter-of-factly. There
was nothing in his manner to indicate that he saw anything out of the ordinary
in the events he was describing. "Kimble flew in yesterday afternoon,"
he said. "He took a taxi from the airport and came directly to my office
without stopping at the reception desk. We spoke for a few moments only. He
was exhausted from his journey, and I took him up to 613 and let him in with
my passkey. He did not tell me why he had come we would talk further
in the morning, he said but I knew. The home office had found out about
the missing money. He had come to investigate, and he was sure to learn that
I was the thief. If only I could have another few days, I thought, I could get
my affairs in order and get out of the country before anyone was the wiser."
"So you killed him," said Abdulaziz Shaheen.
Hussain looked down at the glowing tip of his cigarette.
"Yes. I waited until Iftar was well under way, when I could be certain
that the sixth floor would be deserted, then I went upstairs and let myself
back into the room. It was dark, he was sound asleep. I shot him. Then I gathered
his belongings and put them in his suitcase with the gun and brought it down
to my office."
"You realized that if we knew who he was,"
Chaudri suggested, "we would quickly learn the reason for his visit to
Bahrain. And that would tell us it was you who had the only motive for killing
"I thought I was safe. Unless room 613 is
in use, the maids clean it only once a week. It would be days before the body
was discovered, I felt certain, and by then I would be safely away. It never
struck me that there might be anyone else on the sixth floor when I fired the
shot. I never stopped to consider that you would be able to trace him through
Customs and Immigration without his papers. I must have been mad. If I had thought
of that, I would never have killed him. I would have dropped everything and
Mahboob Chaudri got to his feet. "But criminals
never think of everything," he said. "Not even wise men think of everything.
Perhaps it is their remembering that fact which makes them wise."
"In another hour it will be Niyya," said
Mirza Hussain, lighting a cigarette. "Id better smoke now, while
it is still permitted."
Chaudri marveled at the state of the mans
mind, at the idea that he felt it acceptable to embezzle money during the month
of Ramadan, felt it permissible to commit murder then or at any other time,
but would be careful to avoid food, drink, and tobacco during the daylight hours
as if he were truly a devout Muslim.
They were standing in the warm night air in front
of the Presidential Hotels main entrance, waiting for a Public Security
van to come and take Hussain away. The streets were almost empty, the city was
asleep. But shortly the Islamic population would begin to awaken, in time to
enjoy another meal before the time of fasting began.
"Listen to me, mahsool," said
Mirza Hussain softly. "I have perhaps ten thousand dinars hidden away at
my home. If we were to go there, you and I, I could give you half of that money
and use the other half to make my escape. You could say that I broke away from
you, that you chased after me but lost me in the darkness. No one would ever
know the truth."
Chaudri did not respond.
"Five thousand dinars," the murderer
continued. "That is a great deal of money, mahsool. It is, I imagine,
more than your beautiful green uniform earns you in an entire year. Does my
proposal not even tempt you?"
Chaudri considered the question. In fact, five thousand dinars was slightly more than he earned as a policeman in two years. It was enough to make the down payment on the bungalow in Jhang-Maghiana he was planning to build for Shazia and the children. It was enough to allow him to return to Pakistan much earlier than he had ever dreamed possible.
Was he tempted? Was he resisting temptation
now, or was his mind truly pure?
The answer came to him with the clarity of polished
"No," he said firmly, truthfully. "Your
proposal is not tempting me, Mr. Hussain. It is not tempting me at all."
It was still quite dark, but soon the sky would
begin to lighten. Soon it would be possible to distinguish a white thread from
a black, soon the muezzin would call the faithful to the renewal of their
fast, soon the Night of Power would draw to a close.
Mahboob Ahmed Chaudri took in a deep breath as
he stood there before the great hotel with his prisoner at his side. He could
feel the power enter his body, his lungs, his very being the power of
a thousand months. He raised his gaze to the heavens and offered up a silent
prayer of thanksgiving and joy. As his lips formed the unspoken words, a shooting
star arced across the sky and lost itself in the velvet infinity of the night.
A great sense of peace descended around him and into him, a peace Mahboob Chaudri knew would last until no, beyond the rising of the dawn.
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