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The Puppets of Washington Series Book 4
BLUE SHELF BOOKSTORE
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by BlueShelfBookstore
DAKAR – The End
© 2015 BlueShelfBookstore
All rights reserved
The localities, including Sabodala, landmarks and government organizations mentioned or described in this book do exist. The characters and events are fictional. Their resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
DAKAR: The Savoi Affair (The Puppets of Washington, #4)
Here is the link to my next books in the Series at a discounted price, $7.99 instead of $12.00 buying the books individually!, click HERE or on the cover:
As soon as they arrive in Angouleme in the south of France, Talya and Samuel visit Madame Leroux; a woman Talya knew before the troubles started. Madame Leroux asks Talya to recount the story that has seen her land on her doorstep that morning.
Talya goes back to THE BEGINNING.
Nearly four years ago now, James Flaubert, the President of Carmine Resources Ltd., engaged Mr. Amadou Savoi to act as the company’s agent in Mali in view of obtaining a gold exploration permit in an area located in the northeast area of that country.
With the able assistance of his niece, Mrs. Rheza McLean, Mr. Savoi applies for not one but twelve permits, promising the landowners that Carmine would mine gold on their properties and extorting them out of $2,000 for the opportunity. Once Carmine is advised of the fraud, the Board of Directors sends Talya Kartz to Mali to investigate the “irregularities” in these applications as well as the embezzlement of some $500,000 of the company’s funds. In Bamako, Talya and her friend, Mrs. Chantal Gauthier (the wife of their on-site geologist), uncover the plot and make light of the fact that Mr. Savoi is involved with some unsavory parties in Dakar, Senegal. Meanwhile, Talya engages the services of Maître Hassan Sangor, a local attorney, to help in redressing the company’s damaged reputation, in locating Mr. Savoi and his niece and to find the links that now obviously exist between Mr. Savoi, a wealthy proprietor by the name of Ousmane Ahmed Hjamal and his assistant, Mr. Abdul Rasheed.
It does not take long for Hassan to discover that he is in love with Talya. However, she, for some reason, cannot return the love and constantly pushes back his advances until they decide to let a friendship develop between them.
Upon the discovery of the body of a man by the name of Richard Gilman on Yoff’s Beach in Dakar, Talya decides to elucidate the mystery of her alleged involvement in his death, and makes her way to Senegal at the invitation of Mr. Hjamal. On his way to Dakar to join Talya, Hassan tells his friend, Khalid Sahab, the pilot who took him on this trip, of Talya’s discovery and what he suspects would be elaborate troubles brewing in Dakar.
An hour after take-off, the tension hadn’t left Talya. She had fear on the brain. Knowing she was going to Kedougou instead of Dakar was terrifying. Every minute brought her ever closer to her destination—the mine site. Was her fate to be sealed in the same way as Richard’s had been? Talya needed to do a major cerebral clean-up and find something that could get her back on track, so to speak.
Something eluded her, something important. Why would Hjamal want her in Sabodala? She didn’t want to think of any of the possible answers to that question. She had presumed that every one of her adversaries had something to gain by wanting her in Dakar—not in Sabodala. Was that presumption wrong? Why was it wrong? Talya knew Hjamal needed help with his gold-processing plant. She also had a hunch that Rasheed, for the most part, acted of his own accord. He had a lot to hide, of that she was sure. On the other hand, Talya had assumed Savoi ran off to Dakar to meet Hjamal. Was that a fair assumption? As for Rheza she was perhaps a mere pawn on this game board. Of that, Talya wasn’t sure. What about the Dutchman, how did he fit into the picture? What was he doing with the nitro-glycerine? Another question ran in front of the pack. How did Carmine’s money come into play? Was Hjamal also involved in the embezzlement of the funds? Talya was losing ground again. She was not cleaning up, she was adding to the clutter. She needed to stop speculating. While she was racking her poor cerebrum for answers, she noticed Pierre was leaving the cockpit.
He came to sit across from her. “How are you enjoying the flight so far?”
“It’s great actually. Much better than commercial flights, for privacy that is.”
“True, but really, this is not the top of the line. You should see some of the other jets I’ve had the pleasure to fly—they’re something else.”
“Oh, I see. You’re not Monsieur Hjamal’s personal pilot then?”
“Actually, no. The company that owns this aircraft pays my colleague and me. This jet is a bit like a chauffeured limousine. Our company has a contract with Monsieur Hjamal, not with us personally.”
“Well then, you could do almost anything you wish as long as you stayed within the contract’s boundaries?”
Pierre leaned back in the seat, crossed his legs and looked completely at home. “I’m glad you’ve said almost anything, because there are quite a few restrictions to the liberties I could take with this kind of aircraft.”
“Well, the size of it, for one thing, or its ground-speed at landing, for another. Those prevent me from taking this baby down in a farmer’s field. We need 1500 meters of solid tarmac plus a safety zone at both ends of the strip. So, I couldn’t take you to a deserted island, even if I’d like to.” He laughed and Talya smiled, panic slowly replacing dread.
“It’s like with our landing in Kedougou today. I couldn’t land—”
“What?” Talya faked total surprise at this announcement. Pierre straightened up his hands gripping the arms of the seat. He reminded her of a cat ready to pounce.
“Yes, my orders are to take you to Kedougou and—”
“I’ve heard you the first time. Whose orders are they?”
“Monsieur Hjamal, of course.” They looked at each other. “I can see that you knew nothing of this. How could that be?” It was his turn to be astonished and not faking it. He reclined in the chair, holding Talya’s eyes in his gaze.
“I have no idea what is going on, Pierre. On Friday afternoon, Monsieur Hjamal invited me to come to Dakar. He never mentioned anything about my being dropped off in Kedougou.”
“I’m sorry no one has told you, but we’ll be landing in about an hour’s time at the town’s airport. I was told Monsieur Hjamal is meeting you there to take you to the mine site.”
What had been panic thus far slowly became determination to get to the truth. “Okay then, if that’s where Monsieur Hjamal wants us to meet, that’s where we’ll go.”
“Again, I’m sorry, but our flight plans have been filed already and I couldn’t just change them in mid-air.” Pierre’s red cheeks were getting redder with irritation. “We’re flying a commercial route and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do it. I’d lose my job over something like this.”
Talya shook her head. “It’s okay, Pierre, don’t worry about it. We’ll see what happens when we get there.”
Soon after landing and when a cloud of dust began to mask the horizon, Pierre lowered the binoculars and turned to Talya. “You’re ride is here, Madame Kartz. Do you want us to wait...?”
“No, Pierre, that won’t be necessary. When we’re sure the vehicle is from the mine, you can leave me. I should be in good hands.” She shot him a tentative smile.
Pierre hesitated. “Alright then...” He didn’t want to leave this woman in the middle of nowhere. This whole thing didn’t feel right. “We’ll wait until we’re sure ‘you’re in good hands’ as you say.”
Two men climbed out of the Land Rover and rushed toward Talya. Their ragged clothes and dirt-covered skins didn’t inspire confidence but their engaging smiles did.
As soon as they were on the road, Talya asked them how far the mine site was. She didn’t get an answer. An hour of a bumpy ride later, Talya stood in front of a hut at the end of a central road.
The man, who had climbed out of the Land Rover with her, deposited her knapsack beside the door and looked down at her. “You go in and wait. We come later to give water to drink.”
Talya didn’t care about that; she wanted to know when Hjamal or Rasheed were going to show up. “Where is Monsieur Hjamal or Monsieur Rasheed? Are they here?”
The man smiled. “We come later.” he repeated. “You wait.”
“What’s your name?” Talya yelled to his back. He was already walking back to the Land Rover.
Talya shrugged. She was not going to get anything out of him, she knew.
She pushed the door open to discover a two-room domicile freshly painted, tiled throughout and a bed standing to the one side of the main room. On the other side of a dividing wall she found a large tin basin filled with water and a sink fixed to the wall. She looked around her and sat on the bed. Not bad—not a prison anyway.
Pierre and John, the navigator, were not pleased with this situation. They had watched the Land Rover go down the dirt track with misgivings. What would happen if Madame Kartz had no means of transport to complete her journey to Dakar? Hjamal had not given them any further instructions. They had simply been told Hjamal and the Rasheed guy would drive back to Dakar the next day.
Apparently having made up his mind, Pierre said, “Let’s go to town and get us a vehicle.”
“Do you want to drive to the mine?” John asked, knowing the answer already.
“Yes. This woman is not equipped to stay at a mine site. You’ve seen it—all she’s carrying is a shoulder bag—that’s hardly enough gear to stay anywhere.”
John nodded. “Besides, she told us Hjamal was expecting her in Dakar, didn’t she?”
“Yeah. Why don’t we call him on the radio and see if he’s home?”
“Okay.” John nodded again. “I don’t trust this guy. And that Rasheed is some piece of work—”
“Hjamal here.” the man said when he answered the radio call.
“This is Pierre Masson, sir. We’ve just dropped Madame Kartz in Kedougou. Do you want us to wait for her...?”
“Did you see Monsieur Rasheed?”
“No, sir, just the driver and one other man, why?”
“Never mind why. Get yourself a vehicle and go to the mine. She’s not supposed to visit the place alone. I’ll contact Rasheed and see where he is.”
“That’s a roger, sir. We’ll be in touch when we’ve found her and we’ll see you in Dakar.”
“Roger and out.” Hjamal said, cutting off the communication abruptly.
Left alone in the hut, Talya decided to take a look around the site. If Savoi and Rheza were held someplace in the compound, she wanted to find them. She made her way out of the hut furtively. Seeing no one observing her, she went down the dirt lane that would probably lead her to Hjamal’s plant—she hoped. Going down the steep hillside, she noticed a parking lot ahead with an assortment of trucks, Land Rovers and tractors—all of them old and in need of repair, it seemed. Farther down the track and round a corner, a bench carved out of the hill hosted a long line of equipment surrounding a water pond. The ball mill and crusher Richard had described in his letter were well in evidence. Yet, what was also evident was the fact that this machinery was ominously silent and appeared to have been in this dormant state for quite some time.
Talya walked along the road adjacent to the processing line for some five minutes until she neared the two buildings she had seen from the top of the hill. She made her way to the first one and found its door locked. She shook her head and went round it to the second building. This one was open. She went inside and discovered a fully furnished lab with assay equipment encumbering several tables. In one of the crucibles she noticed two little gold pellets. That plant is producing gold—not much by the looks of it, though.
She went out and closed the door of the lab gently, all the while looking around her to see if anyone was watching her. No one was in sight, which fact bothered her a little. Where is everyone? The answer was staring at her a hundred yards down the road. A group of men were prostrated in prayer, their backs to her. It was two o’clock—prayer time. This ritual would probably last another ten minutes—at the most—and Talya had no time to lose. She needed to return to the hut unseen. She quickly and silently made her way back up the hill and to her temporary residence. She waited. She thought someone would come to fetch her, but, when looking at her watch, she realized that a half-an-hour had passed and no one had shown up, she wondered why she had been brought up here. It made no sense. Hjamal had said he wanted to meet her in Dakar... Where is he? Does he know I’m here?
Suddenly, she heard voices outside and a car stop in front of the door. She opened it cautiously only to have it pushed wide open in her face. She stumbled back to find Pierre grabbing her by the arm before she fell backward.
“What are you doing here?” Talya blurted, stunned.
“Don’t say anything, Madame Kartz, and come with us. We’re bringing you back to Dakar.”
“Yes, right now!”
The men outside had surrounded a Land Rover with John at the wheel. The men that Talya assumed to be workers seemed impatient and not at all happy with what was happening.
Pierre pushed Talya into the backseat—a bit roughly, she thought—and went to sit in the front seat beside John.
“Let’s get out of here.” he said to the navigator. The latter nodded and revved the vehicle before turning it round and driving out of the camp rather quickly.
Once Talya had regained her seat in the Lear’s comfortable cabin, she decided to let Pierre know a little more than he seemed to do about this affair. When they reached cruising altitude once again, Pierre came back to sit opposite her.
“Why did you come and get me?” Talya asked him.
“Because I contacted Hjamal in Dakar and when he learned that Monsieur Rasheed didn’t come to meet you at the strip, he told me to get a vehicle and to bring you to Dakar as originally planned.”
“So, he was in Dakar, was he?”
“Yes, he was. It’s when you told me that Monsieur Hjamal had invited you to come to Dakar and you didn’t know anything about the Kedougou stop-over, that I wondered what was going on.”
“I tell you what, Pierre: if you had not come back, I would have had you arrested for kidnapping at the first opportunity I got. Not only that, but the Canadian ambassador is expecting me in Dakar, he has been advised of our approximate time of arrival.” Pierre was agape. “What’s more, and since you made the decision to alert Monsieur Hjamal and you came back to get me, I should tell you that he is under suspicion of murder. One of my colleagues has been killed under very strange circumstances. He was an employee of Monsieur Hjamal.” Pierre looked down at the table between them.
A moment later, he exhaled and raised his face to Talya. “That explains a lot.” He pointed his right index finger at her. “Thank you for telling me this.” He stood up, grabbed the edge of the table, and bent over. “But, you’ll have to tell me what this is all about in more details.” He then turned on his heels toward the front of the cabin.
With an almost imperceptible smile coming across his lips, Pierre went in and sat at the controls.
Talya breathed an audible sigh of relief. She hadn’t noticed it until then but she was trembling, and perspiration was beading on her forehead. The back of her shirt was wet and sticking to her seat.
Pierre was a French citizen, not employed directly by Minorex. He clearly didn’t want to abet a client—and a good one at that—into any sort of criminal activities. There was nothing worse for an aircraft company than to be involved, even remotely, with what looked like the abduction of a passenger.
An hour into the flight, Khalid took off his earphones and beckoned to his passengers. “If you’re not sleeping back there, would you mind handing me something to drink from the fridge behind me?”
Mohammed, who was closest to the cockpit, opened the cooler they had put on board before take-off, and handed their friend an ice-cold soda.
“Hassan, come and join me here.” Khalid said, after drinking a long gulp. “You’ll be much more comfortable. I promise I won’t crash while you’re beside me, Allah would never forgive me if I did.”
Almost reluctantly, Hassan went to join the pilot and sat in the navigator’s seat. He soon realized Khalid was right. He began to feel the tension subside.
Mohammed was also a little more relaxed now. They were at cruising altitude and the little plane seemed to be floating in the middle of the sky—no more sensation of acceleration—it was as if they weren’t moving.
“We’ll be over the Falémé in about forty minutes.” Khalid said, brushing a quick glance in Hassan’s direction. “If you like, I can fly a little lower to show you some of the sights. It’s a beautiful country, you know.” Hassan was looking out the window at his elbow. “There is a mine ten minutes past the border. The owner is quite mad apparently.”
Mohammed, who had seen—rather than heard—them talking, got up and went to stand behind them at the cockpit’s door.
Khalid was saying, “...he’s hired a jet last month. It was still there on the tarmac in Bamako an hour before you two showed up.”
Startled by this revelation, Hassan turned to stare at Khalid.
“Do you know the owner?” Mohammed asked from behind Khalid’s shoulder.
“No, I don’t, not personally, Monsieur Fade. People talk, you understand, especially when someone hires a Lear and practically never travels with it.”
Hassan’s impatience resurfaced. “Did you see them take off?”
“Yes, sure, it’s always a beautiful sight to see that bird taking flight.”
“What I meant was: did you see the people leaving with the plane this morning?”
“That’s a roger.” Khalid replied, keeping his eyes on the clouds and the sky stretching ahead of them. “There was a woman with them. I had seen her going to the passengers’ lounge as I came in myself. I only saw her from the back, mind you. She has blond, almost white hair. I noticed her because she was rushing after the pilot. It looked funny; she had a hard time keeping up the pace following him.” Khalid turned his head and met Hassan’s worried gaze. “Oh. I see. That’s the lady in distress, is it?”
Mohammed, who had been listening to the conversation, began to understand what could have happened. “Tell me, Khalid; is it possible for the Jet to land at the mine site?”
“Oh no—not yet it isn’t. Those babies have to have solid tarmac, a real runway, to touch down. None of these stretches of dirt will do for these toys.”
What may have happened to Talya became clearer. Mohammed had to confirm his suspicion. “If they were to go to the mine site, where would they land then?”
“I’d say Kedougou. That would be the closest strip they could use.”
Hassan couldn’t keep still or quiet anymore. “Will you contact the tower in Kedougou and ask them if they have seen the Jet today, please?”
Khalid’s eyebrows shot up. “No, Hassan, I can’t. Do you know what you’re asking? This isn’t a phone booth. I can’t just call them and ask, ‘Oh, by the way did you see that plane and can you tell me where it’s going?’ That’s against the rules.”
“Can’t you just break the rules then, or bend them a little? This is an emergency. We’ve got to find out where she’s gone.”
“And you have got to tell me what this is all about. I thought the lady was going to Dakar, and—”
“Not here.” Hassan flared, irritated by Khalid’s queries. “When we get to Dakar, whenever that’ll be, I’ll tell you. Just trust me.”
“We know what we’re asking may be quite irregular,” Mohammed put-in, “but we have reasons to believe the lady, whose name is Talya Kartz, by the way, may be in serious danger.”
“Monsieur Fade, you just had to look at Hassan’s face a moment ago to know he wasn’t joking.”
At these words, Khalid put on his earphones and started talking in an incomprehensible gibberish used by pilots the world over. A few moments later, he took off the headset again. “The jet landed in Kedougou all right. They stayed on the tarmac for a couple of hours and then took off again. Their final destination is still Dakar.”
“You mean they dropped her off and continued on to Dakar?” Hassan shouted. Shaken to the bones, he couldn’t contain himself—he wanted to get out of this darn plane. He unbuckled his belt.
“Hold on, Hassan, there is nothing to worry about, I’m sure.” Khalid said. “They probably went with her to the mine for a short visit and they’re on their way to Dakar now. Maybe this was planned ahead of time.”
“But why would they do that? There must be something wrong...”
Mohammed had to intervene again. Hassan was becoming a pest.
“Please don’t mind Hassan, Khalid, he hates to be sitting here all tied up and powerless. Talya means a lot to him and he just gets out of control when she’s away and possibly in danger.”
“I understand. Hassan will pay for this later, believe me.” Khalid looked at the latter, grinning.
Hassan couldn’t help but return the smile although he felt utterly miserable. Defeated in his purpose he buckled up again.
Mohammed regained his seat. His legs were stiff from kneeling. After a few minutes, letting his thoughts wander, he dozed off.
Hassan, on the other hand, was far from feeling drowsy. His mind was navigating amid a sea of anger, guilt and misery. He wanted the plane to land this very minute. He checked his wristwatch—two more hours, before he’d see Talya again. The waiting had become intolerable.
Within twenty minutes from letting the gear down to land in Dakar, Pierre came out of the cockpit. He looked down at his passenger. She was staring out at the clouds beyond the window. She looked absent. She appeared deaf. He sat in the same seat opposite Talya. “Madame Kartz, we’ll be landing in less than a half-an-hour—”
Talya looked up at him—their eyes locked. Almost mechanically, she gave him an answer. “I promised you the whole story, so here it is...”
When Talya finished telling him what she wanted him to know, no more, no less, she said, “I hope you believe me.”
“This is the first time something like this ever happened to me, and yes, I do believe you.” Pierre replied. “As for the trouble we may find waiting for us in Dakar, it’s no trouble at all. In fact, our company was quite annoyed with Monsieur Hjamal—”
Suddenly as if a voice called him from the blue yonder, Pierre got up and rushed to the cockpit, shouting over the engine’s noise, “Please buckle up, we’re landing shortly.”
Talya did as requested and relaxed. She was calm. No more fear. Just sheer determination was motioning her every thought. She was on her way to the place where all the missing pieces of this fantastic puzzle would be brought together and the picture revealed.
It was 14:15, when the Lear touched down. As soon as the plane came to a standstill in front of a hangar—not much better-looking than the shack they had left behind in Bamako—Pierre came back and sat down once again.
Facing Talya, he looked into her eyes. “The ambassador isn’t here, as you can see.” He pointed out the window. “But don’t worry, I still believe you. I gather you don’t want to go to the Terranga?”
What a silly question.
“You’re right at that. There is no way I’d set foot in that hotel. But, I have a reservation at the Meridien for tomorrow.”
“Well then, we’ll take you to the Meridien. I’ll put you up in the suite that my company maintains there. You’ll be safer there than if you take up your reservation. But Monsieur Hjamal will know that you’re in Dakar the minute I contact him.”
Talya grinned. “That’s alright. I’ll see him tomorrow..., as originally planned.”
By this time, the navigator had joined them. “Madame Kartz, my name is John—and let’s leave it at that for now. Pierre has told me briefly, what’s going on. As his co-pilot, I can’t go against his orders when we’re in the air, but when we’re on the ground, that’s another matter. Down here, I trust him as a friend. After hearing your story, I think you can count on my support as well. We don’t like con-artists and criminals in general, and we certainly don’t want to work for one.”
“All I can say, gentlemen, is thank you for coming back to get me out of the mine site.” Talya felt very relieved. “I really appreciate what you’ve done, believe me.”
Not expecting to find any support or a helping hand on the ground, now that the game had taken an unexpected turn, Talya was glad to have these two men to escort her to the safe haven that the Meridien should be.
John smiled. He then turned and left Talya and Pierre, to get the door opened and the stairwell lowered. John was a handsome young man, tall with a nonchalant attitude. Yet he seemed to have inner-peace that made Talya feel comfortable in his presence. He spoke French fluently with a slight African-English accent. His caramel complexion was smooth as a baby’s bottom. With his curly black hair and thin black moustache, light brown eyes and high cheekbones, he looked like a celebrated movie actor straight out of the 1930’s picture films.
Talya shot an inquisitive glance in John’s direction. “He said his name was John, but he didn’t want to tell his last name. Why was that?”
Pierre smiled. “We call him John.” He must have been asked the same question hundreds of times. “His last name is too hard for anyone to pronounce or to remember. He’s from Ethiopia but he was raised in a French boarding school. He did his training in England. And, I’ll tell you a little secret, when he’s out of uniform he’s quite a character.”
“What about you, where were you trained?”
“In France, at the Aeronautic School near Paris. I really didn’t enjoy the training—much too rigid for me. I could hardly wait to get ‘my wings’. I only did the schooling because without it, commercial flying would have been out of reach, and when I started flying, there was no holding me back. I was like a kid at Christmas. Every time I had the yoke in my hands, I was happy. Even now, it’s like that. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
They unloaded their luggage, and a few items that would remain at the airport waiting for their next flight. The ground attendants went deftly at their tasks and after gathering her meagre belongings, John directed Talya to the hangar where an immigration officer was waiting for them. After filling out the landing forms, having everyone’s passports stamped, John led Talya out of the hangar to a waiting car.
“We’ll wait for Pierre in the car.” he said. “He has to file the flight report and lock the engines. He won’t be long.”
“Thank you.” Talya replied, climbing in the back seat of the vehicle. “Pierre tells me you’re from Ethiopia?”
“Yes. My parents were fortunate enough to be able to send me away when I was a boy. I hope to return to my country someday soon, when I have saved enough money to buy them a nice house for when they get old.”
The clock on the control panel was showing 15:00. Hassan unbuckled his seat belt. He wanted to stretch his legs and get a drink from the cooler.
Khalid stopped him. “Don’t tell me you want to miss the landing?”
“You mean it? We’re actually going to land?” Hassan could not believe it.
“Oh yes, we are. Your nightmare is nearly over. We had a tail wind since a little before Tambacounda and we’ll be on the tarmac in fifteen minutes.” Khalid smiled at his friend. At last they were landing. Hassan buckled up, this time with some keenness in his movements.
“You’re serious? But I don’t see the strip yet.”
“You don’t have to see it, but it’s there just below these clouds. Let me show you.”
Matching action to words, Khalid smoothly turned the aircraft to the left and started his descent through the cotton balls ahead of them. Khalid put on his headset again and returned to his ‘pilot talk’ to the Dakar control tower.
Hassan was alert, yet apprehensive. Somehow, he believed Talya had not stayed in Sabodala—she was safe, and in Dakar. He tried to think where she would have gone after landing. Hjamal had invited her, probably to his home. Knowing Talya, she wouldn’t go there first, it would be throwing herself into the proverbial lion’s den, and she was too smart for that, unless she’d been forced to do it. The ambassador had reserved rooms at the Meridien. Yes, that’s where she must be... unless she’s still in Kedougou.
Khalid looked at him—it was time to recall Hassan to attention. “Would you tell Monsieur Fade to buckle up, please?”
Hassan turned his head around and practically yelled at the top of his lungs, “Mohammed. If you are still of this world would you buckle up, we’ll be landing soon.”
Over the noise of the engine, Mohammed didn’t hear his friend call. He had fallen in a deep slumber from which he would only awake after touch down.
When they arrived at the Meridien Talya was in awe. Majestically dominating the tip of a promontory, the edifice itself could have been easily compared to a mosque. To the right of this magnificent sandstone structure, a golden cupola rested over a low building extension such as the arm of a giant holding a golden ball. To the left, and partly encircling the complex, the ocean’s expanse encroached on it with the fiery rage of crashing waves. A modest plaque, near the entrance told Talya this ‘guest house’ had been designed, built and donated by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The building had been erected originally for the purpose of hosting a symposium, which had taken place some years earlier.
The lobby wasn’t a ‘lobby’ per se. This circular reception hall rose to the full height of six marble columns. Daylight streamed through the huge dome above. From its moulded brass rim, ancient lamps descended to some three meters above the floor. The number ‘six’ has significance in Islam and it seemed to have played a major role in the design of the edifice. Six floors encircled the hall, hosting a total of three hundred and ninety six rooms. On each floor there were six corridors counting eleven rooms each, which is the numerical representation of Allah, or sixty-six rooms per floor.
A number of chairs and small antique escritoires were set against the columns. Multi-coloured, intricately woven carpets partly covered the marble floor. An incredible sense of peace and respect enveloped her as Talya entered the place.
The front desk area stretched along two walls partially recessed under the floor above. Discreet spotlights set under the counter illuminated its elaborately carved wooden base. From the hall and beyond a large archway, Talya entered what is called an ‘atrium of life’. A young baobab stood massively at the centre of it. This ‘tree of life’, as it is referred to in the Koran, was surrounded by an impressive terrarium of exotic plants and flowers, and covered by a gigantic glass cupola. It was probably the one Talya observed when they came in.
There were a dozen leather-covered sofas placed at an angle around the terrarium. Standing over immense Persian rugs, a number of men were talking in soft voices. The spotlights casting their beams from the low ceiling encircling the cupola shone discreetly over the green and white marble floor, while avoiding the carpets. Talya would have taken her shoes off if she hadn’t been told this was a hotel and not a mosque.
She hadn’t accompanied Pierre and John to the registration desk. They had told her to wait for them in the atrium. They joined her a few minutes later, handing her the key to her ‘new home’, as John called it. They went up the lift and walked along a large corridor, on the sixth floor to the suite now assigned to her diminutive self—she felt very small indeed amid the grandeur surrounding her.
In an instant, the electronic key unlocked the door to her domain. The suite was in fact a large apartment. Talya’s mouth fell open when she passed the threshold.
“Wow!” Finally, she had found a word to interrupt her amazement and then a sentence came out, “Pierre, John, this is unbelievable. I can’t possibly accept to stay here. I don’t know what to say.”
“Would you prefer we drive you to the Terranga?” Pierre asked, snickering.
Talya smiled. “This is the most magnificent snare anyone has ever lured me into. I’m very much indebted to you both.”
“Never mind that.” John said. “Please, make yourself comfortable. We’ll go to our regular rooms and let you sleep or do whatever your heart desires for a few hours. We need to call our boss and advise him of these new developments. We’ll ring you later to see if you are free to have dinner in our humble company.”
“Of course, I’ll be free. I’ll make sure of it. In the meantime, I’ll follow your advice and rest for a while. And again, thank you.”
They both walked to the door together, leaving Talya to admire the exquisite taste with which her new home had been decorated. Quite incredible! There were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a dining room both opening onto an immense terrace dominating a swimming pool, an outdoor restaurant and the ocean beyond. This is too much, really. What am I supposed to do with all this space? Perhaps I should organize a tea party for the ambassador. The ambassador! Talya had completely forgotten about him.
She went to the one bathroom. Good gracious! A Jacuzzi! Talya stood agape in front of the sunk-in bathtub. Shaking her head, she opened the tap, lifted the lid of one of the jars lined-up on the bath-shelf, and poured some blue salts in the sparkling water. It had been weeks since she had luxuriated in one of those soapy clouds. As the blue water ran into the tub, she went on a tour of her kingdom.
Cream, thick carpets covered the entire suite. The bedrooms had nothing left to be desired, sumptuous and inviting beds in each of them. In one room, dark green flowery cushions emphasized the design of the bedspread and recalled the light green striped wallpaper colours. The second bedroom was a repeat of the same décor, this time in blue. There were lithographs on each wall—landscapes in the green room and seascapes in the blue one.
In the spacious living room, the white four-seat sofa and chairs were arranged about a long table. A black tree stump supported its glass-top, in the middle of which, a brightly-coloured flower arrangement broke the whiteness of the furniture. In the corner to the left of the entrance, there was a bar with four white padded stools standing opposite. A couple of spotlights shone on the series of glasses and decanters arranged on the built-in glass shelves behind it. Encased ceiling lights were casting patches of white and faint pink over the floor and furniture, the effect of which promised to be even more striking at night.
In the dining room, six black chairs around the lacquered table stood proudly in front of a matching sideboard over which the decorator had chosen to hang a vividly coloured abstract painting. There was an enormous crystal bowl of fruit in the centre of the table.
On the terrace, there were three chairs, a lounge chair and a glaze-topped table.
There were magazines on the coffee table, drinks of all kinds in the bar and colourful cushions strewn all about the place. And... all those treacherous mirrors in the bathrooms—no disguise, make-up or a hair out of place would stand the scrutiny of their reflection.
Once undressed, Talya descended slowly into heaven; yes, ‘heavenly’ was the word she would have used to describe the sensation. She read the latest Vogue and sipped on an ice-cold bissap juice, of which she found a big jug in the fridge below the bar. She had forgotten the purpose of her visit.
As soon as they landed, and they were taxiing toward the private airport, Khalid and Hassan saw the Lear parked in front of the passengers’ lounge. Had there been a possibility for Hassan to jump out of the aircraft, and run after his quest, he would have done so. As for Mohammed: the wheels touching the ground had been enough to bring him out of the dream world. All three men lost no time. Once Khalid’s plane arrived at the hangar, they alighted from the aircraft and unloaded their cases. Khalid went to the tower to file his flight report while his passengers went through customs and waited impatiently by the exit door, where Khalid joined them a few minutes later. They hailed a cab and directed the chauffeur to the Meridien.
Upon reaching their destination, Hassan didn’t take any time to admire the surroundings. He went immediately to the reception desk, Mohammed in tow. There, he was promptly informed that ‘no’, they had not registered a Madame Kartz as a hotel guest during the past two hours, but they still had a reservation in her name for the next day.
Upon hearing this, Hassan was on the verge of collapse. Mohammed didn’t know what else they could do. They both went to sit in the atrium near the baobab.
“What do you suggest we do now? Where is she?” Hassan asked.
“I don’t know. She may have gone to Hjamal’s place since he invited her.”
“No. She wouldn’t have done that, I’m sure she wouldn’t.”
“Maybe the pilots left her at the mine.”
“I’ll kill them. I swear to you. If this Hjamal touched her, I’ll kill him...”
“Hold on, Hassan, let’s wait for Khalid and listen to what he has to say.”
The Touareg had remained by the desk. He had silently watched his two companions getting nowhere with the clerk. He let them go to the atrium alone. Then, when they were out of earshot, he turned to the receptionist. “Perhaps you could help me, Miss Katy...” He had read the nametag pinned on her dress. “Do you recall seeing the two Air Location pilots this afternoon? I’m a colleague of theirs. I just landed myself. I need to return an item left at the airport by their passenger.”
“Yes, Captain. They’ve registered an hour ago and they also assigned their suite to a lady they had brought along with them.”
“Thank you, Miss Katy. I’ll just call my friends to come and register. We will need to stay the night.”
Khalid walked away from the desk and went to sit with Hassan and Mohammed. The smile on his face spelled victory.
“Well, gentlemen, this humble servant has brought you at your destination and has found the lady you were searching for.”
Hassan, abashed by the events, barked at Khalid, “That’s impossible!”
Ignoring the rebuff with a shrug, Khalid turned to Mohammed. “Monsieur Fade, would you mind hearing me out? At least you, I’m sure, will believe the word of a Touareg.”
“Of course. Hassan meant no disrespect. Please go on.”
“Madame Kartz is here. She’s been escorted to a suite, which the pilots assigned to her. If you wish, I’ll find out which suite it is and we can go and see her.”
Hassan had been listening reluctantly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. Please forgive me.” he muttered.
“Allah will forgive you, if he has not done so already. As for me, I only wish for you to heed my guidance.”
Mohammed hesitated. “What do we do now?”
“Come with me.” Khalid said. “You both shall register as my guests. And, follow my lead.”
“All right, let’s go then.” Already, Hassan was up and marching toward the registration desk.
Khalid grabbed his arm. “Hassan, please... take my lead.”
They went together, walking calmly, to the awaiting receptionist. They filled out their registration cards and were each given a key to their respective rooms on the fifth floor.