Colombo : Naeem Baig’s novel Kogon Plan chapter 10

Colombo Kogon Plan Chapter 10

Colombo

Chapter 10

Next Day

Tanveer Ahmad was the happiest man on earth when he was placed in Colombo.

In fact, Tanveer was not one who surrendered quickly to melancholy, but it had taken him months to emerge from the psychological stress of more than four months in Kabul Prison cell. Not that those hard Afghan Intelligence officers had tortured him, or had treated him with anything in less than professional respect. For despite his tight-lipped silence, they certainly knew who his employers were. It was just that a man who is accustomed to racing around Kabul in all sort of high-powered machines does not take well to lengthy confinement, whether it is a five star hotel room or a five square meter cell.

On the road to Kabul airport, ‘Barat Khan’ had given the Kabulis a good thrashing with his silver Audi. Fortunately for him, the men had survived their rather serious injuries. The Kabul Police unable to conclusively tie Barat to Zahir’s murder had instead convicted him of reckless driving, resisting arrest and carrying an unlicensed firearm. He had given a two years sentence, yet it was quickly commuted to six months when a faceless Pakistani police liaison suggested to his counterpart at the headquarter that a confirmed story about a Kabul based firm owned by one of the rulers having illegal connections in selling drugs to one western country was ready to go for international press.

Barat had been quickly repatriated to Pakistan after four months of confinement, where the first order of the day was an obligatory bullshit by Colonel AK Zawri, followed quickly by his firm congratulatory handshake before Barat could tell him to go straight to hell. Zawri then handed him a cheque for double the amount of his pay, which was customary whenever an operative was missing in action, a prisoner of war or had served time in a foreign detention centre.

Immediately after that Tanveer was sent back to his own unit where he was honoured by a grand party on his exceptional bravery beyond the call.

Had he been in some other country’s national service, he would have been awarded a medal, yet under the customary convictions in the Pakistan intelligence agencies, he was highly paid by words and that was enough for Tanveer Ahmad. It did not matter to him. He did not want a medal, he wanted to have good spell of fresh air and relief without keeping an eye to the door all the time.

The next assignment was attractive for his appetite. The stuff of an agent’s fantasies and if he had not been transferred here, he would have not come close to this most sensitive and most relaxing work. NSB’s idea of a choice assignment was clerking a desk of a Warehouse belonged to Scientific Equipment Corporation at port in Colombo. While counting the suspected sailors who made their headboards bang and to have a close watch over them for indulging in weapons and drugs movements through the port. It was somehow considered an undercover support to Sri Lanka government as well.

Tanveer had not quit the NSB’s main stream in search of this luxury, he had done so because his old team was now history and he didn’t want to work for Zawri’s another long minute without them. Although, he would have preferred to get his retirement from the Game altogether, had a friend not talked with him for an easy spell with the civilians?

Sri Lanka was perfect. It was as close to being at home as he could get. A steady diet and Coke easily replaced his own Pakistani dishes, yet he manoeuvred it sometime at home and if you were playing a resident convincingly you had to consume your share of local dishes.

Tanveer Ahmad belonged to a family of liberal thoughts, so religious observance was not a much of problem for him while on the foreign soil. The Colombo beaches were full of available working women, yet Tanveer was instructed to liaise only with the local and western residents specifically and to utilise his Pakistani charm and brown haired good look to do so with frequent surrender. He called it ‘AZP’ — Anti Zawri Performance.

Tanveer was working on the southern part of the harbour close to the Fish Market across NHM Abdul Kader Road under the cover of Manju Patel, an expatriate Kashmiri who owned and operated a one-man water taxi and land transport contracted with SEC Warehouse in Colombo. He was beginning his thirties, tall, boyish and friendly, his off-hour hobbies running towards families and amateur photography. He travelled frequently across the length and breadth of the coast of Colombo and its islands, had many friends and acquaintances both locals and Indians, and he was free and generous with the extra money that came from a trust fund after the early death of his Hindu Gujarati father who had  married a wealthy Kashmiri Muslim women.

The most of the Sri Lankan people did belong to Buddhism; they are culturally very close to Sinhala and Tamil languages, yet they were adept at dealing with foreign invaders and ‘Manju’ was able to conduct all the business in English, which was a relief. In typical Northern fashion, when unable to make him understood, he simply pronounced his errors louder. Yet he was well liked in harbour and 6th Street and everyone knew him as Manju.

Manju’s place of business and residence was a two-room flat on the second floor in a three storied stone structure at the 6th street at the foot of one of the long wooden piers that extended into the thin blue harbour. Rows of bouncing white hulled boats stretched away from his Blue-Waters headquarters like a pearl necklaces. The piers themselves were covered with greasy coils of tough nylon ropes and bleached sail canvas, shiny petrol cans and multi-coloured synthetic tubs overflowing with weighty fishnets. The local boats owners were not wealthy, but their mechanical improvisations kept the fleet afloat. The Indian Ocean sun acted as a nasty nurtured paint peeler, so the captains and crews of vessels constantly repainting their wooden assets. Manju himself owned two fast wooden boats that resembled large whalers with stand-up wooden bridges and steel poles for canvas sun covers. He rented them to qualified tour guides, business firms. If the client ‘interested’ him, he would captain the boat himself.

But he was not on harbour to reinforce the Pakistan economy through sea trade. One hundred meters ferries made daily run to and from Colombo to India and Male. His assignment was fairly simplistic, as he was not expected to identify targets unless specifically advised to do so. The small side window of his sleeping room at Blue-Waters looked over the embarkation piers of suspected ferries at a range of two to three hundred meters. His double curtains made is virtually impossible to detect the monster lens of a Canon SLR-5D Mark II with EF 28-300 millimetre mounted there and the lens were pre-focused at the exact spots where the big boats always picked and dropped their gangways and the passengers and their cargo.

The brilliance of the set-up was that Manju did not have to mysteriously retire to his bedroom every time the suspected or wanted ferry came. The camera was motor-driven, refitted with nylon gears for silence and remote activated from up to three hundred meters. Manju kept the trigger device which looked like a vehicle finder keychain in his pocket all the time. He could be lying outside in deck chair, sipping coffee with a client, photograph every ferry as he cheerily removed his keys around his suntanned fingers.

Manju was much more known for his amateur photography, frequently clicking away at the vessels of local friends and presenting them with oversize full colour portraits as gifts. But for ‘ferry study’ he used only black and white for the convenience of Headquarters. At night he used 3200 ASA Kodak recording film which was quite sufficient for recording his targets at night.

He always delivered his cargo to SEC office. If he was to receive special instructions for example to concentrate on a particular vessel or something more to do in a particular direction, those orders in a code contained letter from his angry mother, arrived in his daily mail at SEC office via its Dubai Main Office as the personal mail is always given priority in Sri Lanka.

It was a wonderful life, striking with a touch of danger yet low risked compared to his former assignment. He was instructed to socialise, be a ‘party animal,’ and keep his ears open and as he obeyed these orders his water and taxi business flourished. He could not, of course, keep the profit, but he was allowed to turn them around and expense them. Yes, it was the stuff of an agent’s dream. If he had not paid for it with four months in prison, he might have actually felt guilty about it.

This morning, although it was not yet eight o’ clock Tanveer Ahmad was running late. He had to ride for Kalutara along the coastal highway, conduct a full day of business and be back in time for a dinner date with an Italian girl named Lisa, whose striking flexes hair, blue eyes with tennis player’s body promised more than a summit. He had been up half the night developing and watching long shots of film. With a suspected cargo, it would be up to the analysts in Islamabad to decipher the meaning of the images. Tanveer shaved and showered quickly, pulled on a T-shirt and jeans and pair of Nikes as he gulped a cup of Nescafe instant. He donned a leather jacket and swung the strap of a leather bag over his shoulder. His desk was covered with forms and papers and having no time to sort it out, he stuffed most of it into his bag and one of his Canon 5D-mark-II. He grabbed four rolls of Kodak and then he hurried outside and locked his door. His Mailbox at SEC was nearly overflowing, but rather than scanning through it, he simply stuffed that pile into his small bag as well. The evening telegram from Sahel at Kabul International Airport went along for the ride unnoticed.

Tanveer chose his trusted Honda 250 for the long drive, which might have surprised his friends of the past. For Tanveer, riding was a sort of meditation, the only time when he was completely at rest. It was as if the act of employing his reflexes allowed the intellect to engage, in fact he had discovered himself a sixteen years old. Surely, it was this sole manner to attain peace that had moved him to love, motorbikes, cars and fast boats and even airplanes. The faster he went, the more challenging the course, the better he felt. He was out on the open road and completely out of the city when he attained his state of grace. The sun from the east was blinding even behind his Persol and the smell of sea salt in the air was slightly irritating into his nostrils.

Honda’s booming voice and speed brought on sense memories of other engines, cars and places and these brought images of the past, the faces of Sahel Farhaj, Rafi Ahmad, John Victor, Roshna Saleem. This was not unusual, for hardly a day passed that he did not think of them. He missed them all for even though his sole assignment was a choice piece of fruit, there would never again be the blood bond attachment of working deadly missions with a team. In a way, it was better now, for he knew that love was a dangerous thing in this business. It was love of his friends that had driven his impulsive deeds in Kabul, not duty, honour or country.

Captain Rafi Ahmad was dead. He had read about him in Tehran Times and he had mourned in silence and alone. No one would come to hug him for the loss of his friend. Surprisingly, he actually felt worse for Sahel, for he knew that the crippled captain and Rafi had been like twins.

Captain Roshna would also have taken it badly, wherever she was. He wondered if she was still out there somewhere playing Bano Abagull, the wandering painter. He had seen Major Dilshad Hussain at NSB Headquarters in Islamabad. Dilshad seemed unstoppable, yet Tanveer knew that the old man was an ‘emotional’ picture of Faqia’s. His outward appearance never changed, but somewhere in his close heart, he wept with each soldier’s death. Shabana Mir in Kabul was another character he would not forget. Tanveer knew one of her uncle in a senior position had managed to post Lieutenant Rati Asma Farooqui to a civilian assignment. Asma would also have taken Rafi’s death very hard. Everyone knew that she had had a serious crush on him. His passing would not end that emotion, only turn into an empty longing. Tanveer, however, wondered about Rafi’s death in professional terms, but he assumed that the mystery would be well investigated. A connection to Razmak Bilal never crossed his mind, as he had gladly accepted the conclusion that the terrorist was dead. He didn’t know even about Major John Victor’s accidental death, which had attracted a small part of the Gulf News and never heard anything further.

He was passing through the centre of the small village. On the both sides of the highway were neatly ordered pine trees planted with small hedge of different flowers to make tourists pleased with the smell. He turned left along the old road and then swung left again to climb up to the mountain area as the road began to curve around deep cuts in the range. Far below to the southeast a bowl of Lanka bay was shimmering. Soon the wind curves turned fast and Tanveer corrected his helmet and fixed his Persol more closed to the eyes. He forced himself to drive on the left over a crumbling track. There was no guardrail and he could not hug the mountainside. The memories of his old team and ‘Darkroom’ had dampened his mood, so Tanveer turned his thoughts to Lisa. He had approached her on the beach, quite sure that she was ‘secure’ for his selection was random. He never visited girls who made the first move, standard professional policy. They had since then only once for lunch, yet now Tanveer sensed tonight might be the evening.

He tried to image her and to bring her face into view as he shifted over on the seat of the Honda. Something to his instinct, the sound of another louder engine made him jerk his head around as the blunt nose of a Hilux hit down at his bumper. He swerved hard to the right across the narrow road and into the shoulder, yelling ‘Bastard’ in his Pakistani fashion, but sure that he could recover if he hugged the mountainside and let the idiot rush by. But instantly the panic deepened as he felt the monster come again, its green bumper guard crawling onto him, careening his left leg smashing it into the machine as the roar engulfed him and he flipped his head over heels. The scream of metal against stone rending against the tearing claws of Hilux as his head banged and the world went black.

He opened his eyes. He was on his back and the sky above was white-blue, painful to look at as a dark, salty curtain ran across his vision and he blinked it away. He could not move his legs.

But he was alive. He would survive.

He looked down. He could only see one of his feet, the white Nike pointing at the sky. He did know where his left leg was, but he felt that he might be lying on it, curled or broken beneath him. His left elbow lay on something hard, but the hand seemed to dangle in midair. He was at the very edge of unconsciousness.

He twisted his head to the right and blinked the liquid away again. The Honda was nowhere in sight, only a wheel lay on the roadbed slowly spinning on its metal hub. He looked down toward his foot again. An engine was still snoring and shadow coming from a green Hilux parked some distance away. It was very hard to focus but he could see a figure walking slowly toward him, shimmering with the sun and the blood in his own eyes. The figure stopped above him. He could not bring the face into focus, but he felt some relief as the man bent and hands reached out surely to help him. Then the pain passed flashing over his body as the man took Tanveer’s leather bag and tore it from his body and his head banged back on the pavement.

Tanveer opened his eyes again, blinking blood from his eyelashes to see a row of envelopes flying from a pair of hands onto him. The shuffling stopped. Something tore. A moment of silence passed, while the man flicked his eyes over a flimsy telegram paper. And then, of all things, a voice hissed at it in Persian.

“I’ll make you crazy in your cage, Mr Sher Ali. How does it feel to be hunted?”

Sher Ali, Persian? Then Tanveer knew for sure that he was dreaming. Oh, yes, a horror of a nightmare. “Your past is coming back to haunt you.” And besides, he was not Sher Ali, had never been Sher Ali. But no, the voice was not talking with him at all. It was talking to that small piece of paper, the paper that now went into a ball and sailed into the wind.

Now the face was bending; it was coming into focus. Now the voice was speaking to him in English.

“This is for Gulo,” it whispered.

“Who the hell is Gulo?” Tanveer tried to say, but no sound would come. And then he heard the sharp scrape of leather on stone and the kick slammed into his chest which flown him to another feet away. The wind was rushing over his body as he squeezed his eyes with pain and vomited mouthful of blood and began to pray something in Arabic verses….

______

Although the midday heat was growing and yet the man who walked into the police headquarters at Chatham Street looked as relaxed and refreshed as a diplomat with an umbrella of immunity and an air-conditioned limousine. He was tall and trim, his heavy brown hair freshly cut, golden rimmed sun glasses fixed above a straight nose and relaxed pensive mouth. He wore a two-buttoned, light blue linen suit over a white cotton shirt and slim dark grey pinstriped tie. The man’s skin was pretty fair and body was athletic.

His left hand rested easily in his trousers’ pocket while the other hand lay open in front of his body holding a cigarette between his fingers. Razmak Bilal walked gracefully up the wide stone stabs of entranceway, while a pair of Colombo policemen in navy blue kit and caps was just passed looking at him, a bit impressed giving space for him to enter. He resumed his serenity and levelled off before the main desk, a wooden top filled with papers and a small silver hotel bell. The desk was high and oversized and the corporal behind attentively waited for him to speak.

“Good morning,” said Razmak as he approached the desk. The accent seemed British, but he was certainly not Sri Lankan.

“Morning, sir,” the corporal replied in English.

“I would like to speak with the officer in charge, please.” Razmak got right to the business.

“The officer in charge?”

“Yes, your captain.”

“I am… He is at tea-break.”

“I would join him,” said Razmak as he reached into his breast pocket and produced a small Red booklet. He held it out over the desktop close to the corporal’s face and flipped it open with his finger showing him the first page. Then he snapped it shut and put it back inside his pocket.

The corporal stared him for a moment, weighing the ’diplomatic passport’ which he ever had seen. He raised his finger begging patience, picked up a phone from the cradle. A chatter of Sinhalese, an apologetic nod into the handset, an embarrass smile at Razmak, and the corporal said, “He is coming.”

A full minute passed while Razmak stood and smoked, then the wooden door to the reception foyer banged open and then a man appeared through. He seemed as wide as he was short, with a bald pellet head with steel-wool moustaches on his almost black face, but the man retained formality by keeping his navy short jacket closed over his belly in place.

“Franco, Captain Franco Naike,” The man boomed his own name as he stomped up onto some kind wooden platform behind the desk and slammed his palms onto the countertop making the papers flutter, the corporal shy away and the bell sat on the top clang.

Razmak did not move. Then slowly, he reached up and carefully removed his sunglasses, folding them with one hand and gave the captain both barrels of his ice-brown stare.

The captain’s posture weakened a bit, some of winds out of his sails.

“Hayat Gul,” said Razmak. “Major Hayat Gul.”

Razmak produced the passport again, holding it close to the Franco’s eyes. Franco took the passport, perused the document and returned it back.

“How may I help you?”

“May we speak privately?”

“I am at break. Have a seat for….”

“It can’t wait, Captain. Perhaps your superior officer is available.”

Franco raised his palms in surrender. He swiped his moustache. “Come.”

The captain marched through the doorway again and Razmak walked around the desk, following slowly enough so that the policeman would have to wait for him.

He emerged into a large open floor with the features common to urban police stations worldwide. Rows of scattered wooden desks lined the walls and facing each other with at small chest height wooden partition like work place. Two large metal standing fans kept hundreds of flimsy papers dancing on the desk tops and ancient peeled desktop computer monitors with their mingled cables falling on the floor. The hall had two water coolers, a pathetic jungle of neglected plants and collection of notice boards hanging on the wall holding some of the notices yellowed by age and weather. The police officers in uniform and plainclothes were all male. They wore navy blue kits with white belts. A few busy on the keyboard as their pistol holsters were hanging on the back of their chairs.

Razmak stopped just inside the doorway, where he perused the room slowly. He made certain that Franco had also stopped and had turned to look at him.

“This way please,” the captain called out through the clatters of telephones and printers as he held open a peeling grey door at the left side of the hall and gestured for Razmak to enter.

The captain’s office was a large enough, with a cream colour tiles partially covered by a synthetic blue carpet. Franco moved quickly behind a brown polished desk covered with bound police reports and framed photo of his wife with three children. A large plate of half eaten pizza filled with cheese and meat balls lay before him. A tall glass held a dull milky liquid.

“Please.” The captain gestured at a chair as he stuffed into his own black leatherette mounted chair.

Razmak closed the door behind him with his fingertips. He walked over and stood before the desk.

“Captain, I am the Chief of Security to the Pakistan Embassy. I am here to request your assistance in a rather delicate matter of state.”

Franco reached into a drawer and set another glass on the desk top. He poured some more of the milky liquid and handed the glass to Razmak. Then he took a ferocious gulp from his own glass waving it to Razmak face to join him. Razmak, thinking, whether his next move would put him on friendly or hostile terms, decided to sip the liquid. It was tasteless. He put the glass the down.

“My office is rather concerned about the welfare of a Pakistani national who resides at Blue-Water.”

Franco looked up at Razmak showing no expression at all. He did not even blink. Razmak decided to sit and pulled up a wooden chair and sat lightly at its edge so that his face remained close to the desk.

“This gentleman,” Razmak continued, “performs certain tasks for our embassy. He acts, shall we say as a delivery man. He maintains, under my instructions, a rather vague profile.”

Franco continued to watch Razmak, yet he still exhibited no obvious interest.

“This same gentleman,” Razmak pressed on, “was scheduled to appear at our offices this morning at nine sharp. He has not responded to our telephone calls since yesterday. Nor did he respond to my personal appearance at his residence less than an hour ago.”

With this Franco showed finally a spark of interest, for the Pakistani official was suggesting foul play of an order somewhat more significant. Franco reached out for a local pack of cigarette and lit one. He leaned back and began to smoke thoughtfully.

“What’s this man name please?”

“Manju,” said Razmak. “Manju Patel.”

“I do not know this man,” he shrugged indifferently as he could manage. The captain began to tuck his soiled shirt, signalling that the meeting was about to be over.

Razmak realised then that this was going to be far more difficult than he had imagined. Having just murdered Tanveer himself, Razmak has entered the police headquarters knowing that he was walking in tiger cage. However, the outrageous and the unexpected were his specialities, and besides his political and personal motives, it was his blood pounding risk that produced such high-wire tactics. Yet here his boldest move was being threatened by a policeman unexpected response. Franco clearly could not give a damn for these Pakistanis. Razmak had to do something quick to hook this lazy uninterested fish.

He Stood up.

“Sir, this may seem to you a small matter. However I assure you that our concern involves matters that could impact on your station.”

Franco gave him a look that said either “I don’t understand your English” or “go ahead whatever you like to do”

“If I might phone my embassy, they may allow me to share this information.”

Franco shrugged and waved at the phone. Razmak dialled embassy number. The captain recommenced his meal eagerly.

The embassy secretary answered, and Razmak began the conversation in his fluent Urdu, asking simple questions about a passport renewal. Then he altered his tone and began to berate over the ridiculous reception hours at the embassy, which allowed him to build a control fury, until he was shouting into the telephone. Finally he slammed the received down and recollected himself. He could feel Franco staring at him, and the chatter from the other side of the wall had receded to the whisper.

“I apologise,” said Razmak. It required some convincing of the Consular General.”

Franco’s mouth was open and the eyes widened.

“Al right, Captain, it’s like this.” Razmak began again and he leaned conspiratorially. The captain offered him a cigarette which he ignored. “This information is highly classified by our intelligence services. However, this is your jurisdiction and we have no choice.”

Franco continued sipping his white milky liquid and stared at Razmak.

“We believe that Manju Patel may be the victim of an attempt of his life. We believe this, because there is certain individual abroad whose trail has gone cold for us.”

“What individual… who is this man?”

“He is an infamous Afghan terrorist, formally a member of Northern Alliance, now a paid shooter for the Taliban.

“And he may be in my country? Franco asked as liquid dropped from his wiry handlebar.

“Yes.”

“Who is this man?”

“His name,” Razmak whispered as he leaned even closer, is ‘Mullah Junaid.’ Razmak’s invention of a name was a good one, memorable. “I am sure you have heard of him, but he is travelling as Mr Sahel Farhaj. We know that his mission is to kill Manju Patel.”

Franco stood up. He finished tucking his shirt as he began to pace. An Afghan terrorist,  A famous one? He had never heard of him but this could be good. The courts would let him go, not wanting a tribe of foreigner terrorists acting on this soil. But the capture, that would be a sizeable feather in Franco’s cap.

Razmak saw the shift in attitude as clearly as a flashbulb in closet and he knew that he was nearly home free.

“But this Mr Patel of yours,” said Franco as he paced. “I must know more.” He wanted it now badly. Razmak could see it.

Razmak stood up. He waited and looked at his fingertips and he was deciding something.

“Al right, Captain, I can see that you are a man of discretion and I can trust you.”

Franco stopped pacing and pulled his waist belt upward to swing his chest in pride as he thought, he tricked the Pakistani to get something out like a state secret from him.

“Manju Patel was working under a cover name. I cannot, in good conscience, reveal his real name. However, I can tell you he owns a transport business down at the pier. It is called Blue-Waters.

“Jay!” Franco screamed out to one of his subordinates, for getting completely that he was supposed to be discreet. A small man crashed through the door as if pulled by the suction of his captain’s voice. “Who owns Blue-Waters Ltd?” he demanded in quick Sinhalese.

“I…I don’t know,” the little man trembled.

“You don’t know, the harbour is your beat, and you don’t know, you fool!”

“Hey… the Kashmiri, Manju, a voice called from the squad room.

“Oh, Yes,” Jay exclaimed as if saved from the gallows. “It’s Manju the photographer boy.”

“Get me a car!” Franco yelled. “And find, Wardna, Baisi, and Dordham!”

All at once the captain was so bent on speed that Razmak realized he would have much time to assure the idiot’s success.

“And Captain,” Razmak said quickly as Franco pulled a pistol from his drawer and checked the action. “We also believe that Manju was stopping somewhere en route to Kalutara today.” Razmak added.

“Where?” Franco asked as he holstered his pistol and set his cap at an angle onto his silk bald head

“Monthay village perhaps, but it should be checked.”

“Jay!” Franco called out again to the little officer, who had just left to get the car for him.

“Yes,” the responding voice echoed.

“Call Wardna and have them checked all the routes around Monthay.”

“Yes Captain.”

Franco was already at the door. Then he turned and looked at Razmak who stood in the middle of the office slightly dumbfounded by his results.

“The Afghan name again?” Franco asked. The name he is using?

“Sahel, Sahel Farhaj.”

Franco threw his shoulders back. “If he is here, I will find him.”

“I know you will.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

“Thank you.”

“I will keep you informed.”

And the Razmak was alone in the office. He waited for a moment. He slowly shook his head and smiled.

Then he walked out.

In next fifteen minutes, Razmak was at Colombo airport. He did not, of course, have a limousine, and he had parked the Hilux way up in the parking, so he grabbed a taxi. Within an hour he was about to board a Kenya Airline’s flight for Nairobi, where he would catch another flight for Zanzibar but before he did so, he stopped at public telephone and placed a long distance call to………Uzbekistan

Speaking in Russian, he identified himself as Mr Dimitrov and made an unusual request to the station manager at Radio-Kogon.

“Baby please come home, merry Christmas…I have a favourite Christmas song which I would like to have broadcast over the next six days in breakfast program. My account is already in credit with you.”

________

Zanzibar

Chapter 11

Next Morning

Sahel Farhaj had not had much strength to move forward. He was about to faint.

He stood in the arrival lounge of the Zanzibar’s Kisauni International Airport, looking down at the peeled dusty marble floor. He lifted his hand and saw his fingers tremble. He had not eaten anything since last night, and low glucose in his blood made his body swing above his knees and aching feet.

He had continuously been flying right from Colombo airport to Nairobi throughout the night and had caught connected Precision Airline’s flight of seven o clocks in the morning for Zanzibar.

He raised his head slowly and looked for a support and took couple of careful steps to the exit until he could reach out of the airport building.

He crossed the exit slowly and exposed himself to bright sun shine. He blinked his eyes to adjust and looked around and turned left in search of some place to sit. For a moment he was engulfed by a group of tourists as they flowed around him like trout passing a rock in midstream, chattering and trotting after someone who yelled, “Thees way, thees way please.”

Sahel found a wooden bench under a green fibre shelter fixed near the small parking lot for the drivers to pick the passengers and guests. He sat there quietly. He wanted desperately to doff his ridiculous Alpine jacket, but he was afraid that the effort would leave him flat out onto the bench. He had arrived in Zanzibar without a Tanzanian Visa, so it had taken over an hour until he was finally allowed to pay two hundred US dollar required for Pakistan citizen on arrival for such spontaneous entry and a mandatory money exchange of fifty dollars into Tanzanian Shillings.

Thanks to the Sri Lankan police, he was now travelling without his shoulder bag or a change of clothes; he was left only with his Alpine jacket, his documents, and wad of US dollars and a few Sri Lankan rupees. He did not really care as he knew he was nearly at the end of the line.

A small boy walked by pushing an empty trolley. Sahel called out weakly to him in English. ”Hey you, young man” he tried to smile. “Come here.”

The boy approached with the wide, unselfconscious grin, his eyes aglitter with the knowledge of expected money. Sahel slipped his trembling hand into his pocket and produced folded small US dollars currency notes. He pulled out one note.

“Please bring me something sweet to drink, my friend, quickly now.”

“Yes meester.” The boy ran off somewhere while Sahel rubbed his chin with one hand. Almost immediate boy came with an iced orange juice can. He stared as the small two hands pulled the metal strip, opened the can and placed it before his face. Sahel drank it down in one swallow. “Again,” he said as he reached once more in the pocket. The boy took off without waiting for more money and this time Sahel gave him extra two notes as he finished the second drink, more slowly now.

“Thank you.”

Poyea!” the boy smiled and thanked in Swahili. He took the empties and his money and sprang away.

Sahel felt a little better. He was now able to stand without support. His hand was wet from the iced cans and he rubbed his eyes with the cold liquid. His vision cleared yet he blinked hard twice at the figure that appeared in front of him.

A young African in a baggy black cotton suit and red shirt without tie was looking at him as if he were trying to recognise someone carefully. He had a small round face with distant glasses on his nose. He passed a wide toothy smile and asked, “Are you meester Farhaaj?” as if he had already approached a hundred others with disappointing results.

“I might be.” Sahel astonished thinking who knew him here?

The man stopped and frowned. “Are you not shoor?” The last word he spoke in his African Swahili accent.

“I would give you thousand Shilling to see the leather of your belt,” said Sahel.

Without thinking the African opened his jacket with both hands and examined his own waist, wondering why this crazy foreigner would be interested in his belt.

Sahel, satisfied that the man was unarmed, handed him the notes.

“Asante,” the man thanked him. “I have a letter for you.”

“Of course,” said Sahel, his tone exhibiting tired surrender, feeling like a pathetic old man dancing to the whims of young and beautiful fashion model. He reached out and took the small envelope. Inside was a folded piece of paper. He opened it to see one sentence neatly scripted in English.

“Would you care to join me at the Kempinski for my hospitality?” It was signed by Abu Faraz.

Sahel almost laughed. Abu Faraz had been one of the most ruthless of Afghans, a hero to Afghan Muslims for his war against the Russians. He had once invited all of his Afghan enemies to his Hirat palace for peace talks. Once inside the gates he had those all slaughtered. He immediately rolled the note into a ball out of habit and put it into his jeans pocket.

“I have been waiting many hours for you,” said the African hinting openly at his expected tip.

“I hope you were well paid.”

“I was paid.”

“I don’t suppose, you actually saw the man, did you?”

“The letter and the instructions and the money were all paid by one of the counter boy here, meester Farhaj.

“Naturally. Do you have any further instructions?”

“Only to take you wherever you wish.”

“To the Kempinski perhaps,” said Sahel.

“Only if you wish.”

Sahel looked around the pavement outside the terminal building. It looked deserted now. There appeared an interval between flights. The terminal looked rather some small airport like Multan or Faisalabad in Pakistan. Sahel wished he was there instead of here. No one seemed to be watching them.

“Do you have a car?” Sahel asked.

“My taxi, of course.”

“Good.”

“Where would you like to go sir,” man asked.

“I want to go Paje.”

“Oh, it’s very far.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Across the Jozani forest to the Dolphin area in the west,” the African said it as if there were no hope to reach Paje.

“I know.”

“It will be expensive.”

“Let’s go.”

They walked out of the driveway into the parking, where taxis, cars and mini buses all stared at each other, yet no one moved. The African led Sahel along the sidewalk toward a blue Nissan, which was actually parked on the curb, its front wheels on the pavement.

“You have no baggage, meester Farhaj?”

“Not anymore.”

Some sort of uniform security guard was leaning against the Nissan, looking bored and smoking a cigarette.

“You will have to pay for the parking, meester Farhaj,” said the African.

Sahel looked more closely at the guard. He was a local policeman.

“How much is it?”

“Two thousand Shilling,” the policeman said.

He took Sahel’s money, tipped his cap and walked off.

“Very tactful,” Sahel said as he got into the shabby taxi.

In a few minutes they were on Nyereri road, heading towards Stone Town. It was almost two hours drive, but with African drivers despite the bad road conditions, one must expect it quicker than usual. Sahel knew it might take one and half hour.

To Sahel, everything in Zanzibar was slow except driving.

“Do you mind if I smoke? The African asked as he turned in his seat. He had to rise up a bit as Sahel had fairly collapsed in the rear.

“Not at all, if you’ll share,” said Sahel. He took a Lite from the driver and leaned forward for the light. Then he dumped back again and let the hot breeze from outside dry his scalp. He did not have the strength to wrestle with the jacket.

“Normally, when I have my ‘special sign out’ said the African, ‘the trip is five thousand.” African was talking like if his addressee was himself. “And because I can really take four people, each further person has to pay three more.”

“Cut to the short,” said Sahel.

“I beg your pardon.”

“How much?”

“Twenty thousand.”

“Fine, I just want to rest a bit.”

The driver took the hint and stopped talking. Sahel put his head back on the cracked leather. The sun was setting rapidly. He glanced out the window at the barren wastes of Zanzibar’s outskirts. He closed his eyes. There was nothing new for him here. He had been in Zanzibar once earlier. For a moment, he felt his throat tightened and the liquid rose in his eyes.

Was it really less than seventy two hours ago that he had departed for Kabul, electrified by the self-centred conviction that he could catch up Razmak Bilal? Within two days his plan had been turned upside down. Now it seemed that whole world was after him. He had just spent the entire day in a baking Sri Lankan police cell.

He had arrived in Colombo from Kabul and literally hit the ground running, hoping that he was wrong about Razmak, that the Afghan was decoying him that he was not going after Captain Tanveer Ahmad. And even when he jumped from a taxi at the foot of Blue-Waters Ltd, he was immediately arrested by that bull of Sri Lankan police office. He still held on to the prayer that he was not too late. But when they booked him in Colombo for murder, he did not even have to ask who the victim was supposed to be. His scream of denial and regret only made the fat captain smile.

They stripped him of his belongings, cuffed his hands and threw him into an empty concrete cell below the police headquarters.

It was more like an animal cage than a detention cell, and there was actually a straw on the piss-stained floor. Two armed guards were posted, yet the event became a circus as every cop in town, and not a few of their wives and children came by to see the murderer.

Franco came down to begin his interrogation and he was increasingly angered by Sahel’s constant attempts to reverse the procedure.

“Who are you?” the captain demanded.

“What happened to Tanveer? Sahel shot back.

“What is your name?”

“You have my passport. What happened to my friend?”

“Your friend, you killed him.”

“I killed him? I did it? You let him be killed, you idiot!”

“Your name is Sahel, but your real name is Mullah Junaid. Are you not a former member of Northern Alliance, now a paid shooter terrorist?

“Paid shooter terrorist? You fool. And who told you such nonsense?”

It went on for hours. Sahel argued with Franco, using all of its wits to counter the supposed evidence, finally able to piece together what had happened. He waited until he thought Franco was at the verge of self-doubt. Then he played his ace.

“Al right, captain, I will admit this much.”

“Yes,” Franco was fairly happy now. He made Sahel wait until he had tape recorder brought down to the cell.

“Go on.” Five men were gathered outside bars. All of them including Sahel were exhausted and dripping with sweat.

“Tanveer Ahmad was a Pakistani officer,” said Sahel.

“Good,” Franco clapped his beefy hands together. “Now we advance!”

“Bring me my jacket,” said Sahel.

“What?”

“Bring it, if you are not a coward and a fool.”

The captain had no choice. Sahel’s leather Alpine was brought down, and following his instructions the lining was slit open. Franco sat there with his crony, staring dumbly at the Blue official passport with the embossed Pakistani Ministry of the Interior emblem in Golden. For a long moment, it was dead silence.

“So as you can see,” began Sahel softly, “I am a Pakistani national, so I can hardly be notorious Afghan terrorist, you fools.”

“Then why do you have an Afghan passport also? Franco boomed fighting to maintain lost position as he stood and banged on the bars.

“Because I am a dual national.”

“Then why it’s a different name?”

“Because it is common on the border lines between Pakistan and Afghanistan as their families has divided by the partition to change their names from Persian to Urdu.” In a very small part of tribes, it was true, but not in Sahel’s own case.

“Then who is Major Hayat Gul.”

“He is your terrorist.”

“Nonsense. He is the Chief of Security at the Pakistan Embassy in Colombo.”

“Oh, really? Sahel’s voice oozed sarcasm. “Then why don’t you call the embassy and speak to him?”

Once again Franco was trapped. He had to pick up the truth. He went up to his office and returned after ten minutes looking quiet. Sahel had to feel sorry for the man. After all he himself was apparently not much brighter than Franco.

“He was not there, was he?” Sahel asked quietly.

“They have never heard of him.” Franco’s answer was barely audible.

“Okay, Captain,” Sahel took a breath. “Please let me out of here now.”

Franco considered it for a moment. Then he dismissed the rest of his officers. They were reluctant to leave, not wanting to miss the last scene of the drama.

“Get back to work,” he almost shouted.

They rushed upstairs. Franco spoke politely to Sahel. “It is not so simple. You are my only suspect.”

Sahel grabbed the bars and his chains rattled against them. He tried to stay calmed.

“Captain, believe me, I understand your position. We have all of us been tricked by him. If you do not release me, I will make it know to your national newspapers that you held a Pakistani official in your cell while you allowed a terrorist and murderer to escape your grasp.”

Franco pulled at his moustache for a while as Sahel held his breath. Then the captain decided that he had had enough for one day.

“You will have to post substantial bail attested by your Embassy” said the captain.

“Alright.”

“And you will have to return here for… How it is said? Depositions perhaps.”

“Yes sure. I’ll give you in writing.”

“Jay!” Franco yelled. “The keys.”

They held Sahel, saying the passport have to be examined in laboratory. And the bail posting was painful. Sahel asked full description of ‘Hayat Gul’ and a follow up on his movement, but Franco declined on all counts. He had to release Pakistani official but he did not have to help him.

Still fuming with the rage of humiliation and impotence, Sahel went to Colombo airport. He examined the flights left this international terminal since Razmak’s expected departure until this time and noted that only three flights had departed in that spell of time— to London, Dubai and Zanzibar via Nairobi. He washed up, calmed himself, pasted a smile and concerned look on his face, and every counter inquired as to whether his ‘cousin’ Mr Hayat Gul had boarded the particular flight. He had to find him, he maintained. The man’s mother has suffered a severe heart attack.

He was almost certain that the answer would come at Kenya Airways, and so it did. For Lieutenant Rati Asma Farooqui, after her best role played as ‘Shabana Mir’ in Kabul, was posted as Liaison officer in Pakistan Consulate office at Zanzibar and she was probably the next ‘prey’ on Razmak’s list. He had to wait for two hours to make many connected flights into one to reach at Zanzibar, unable to eat, drink or think….

Sahel opened his eyes. The taxi had stopped, but by the looks of the buildings and the angle of the disappearing sun, they were only in Kwebona at the southern end of the Jozani National park. The driver was out of the taxi and was poking his grimy face into the open left passenger window.

“Why are we stopping?” Sahel asked.

“Do you need something to eat?” the African smiled as he asked Sahel. “There is a good restaurant here, and it’s my meal time.”

“I am in a great hurry.” Sahel tone was stern, but he tried not to lose his temper. He no longer harboured great illusions about being able to save Rati Asma. “I can’t take an hour now for a feast.”

The African frowned like an offended child. “I must have something my friend. And to be truthful, you look as though you should take something as well.”

The African was right. Sahel needed some fuel. He could barely linger-on starving anymore.

“Can we take along?”

The African raised an eyebrow. “It’s not proper.” Then he banged an open palm on the door sill and smiled. “But we shall do it, what would you like?”

“Up to you.”

“I shall get us Kebab in pita, baklava and a Safari, a hard beer of Zanzibar, Okay? And yes, do you need some Kili Manjaro, a fine beer liked by tourists.

“No, no it’s fine without beer.” It actually sounded terrific. “But please quickly.”

The African looked at his foreigner with some pity.

“I shall be quick. But you must abide, my friend, that during meals you should bend to the winds of our thoughts.

“I am learning.”

The African nodded and waited.

“Oh,” Sahel reached into his pocket. “How much?”

“Fifteen thousand Shilling should be enough.” The African thinking perhaps Sahel had no Tanzanian Shilling in his pocket. “Do you want some dollars change into shillings?”

“No.” Sahel said. “I have already.” And he pulled the money and handed him over.

“Asante,” the African took the notes and walked away.

“Crook,” Sahel muttered under his teeth.

Within 10 minutes they were again on the road. Sahel had finished his feast and licking honey-soaked flakes of the baklava from his fingers. He could feel his strength returning and he sat up on the rear seat and drank his Coke.

“Now cut over to Kitogani,” he instructed the driver.

The African obeyed, turning down to Kitogani.

“You have been here before, my friend?”

“Yes, once.”

“You will miss the sights of Jozani National Park.”

 Sahel suppressed his laughter. ‘Who cares the sights?’ Sahel thought.

“You can stay on it all the way to Kijini,” said Sahel. “Then cut east to Kufile.”

“You have an excellent memory,” said the African.

“When they reached to Kijini, it was almost dark. Sahel could see the lights of the restaurants and some hotels on their way on the both sides of the road.

“Take a left and cross the big mosque, and then right up to the hill.”

Sahel’s orienteering abilities had left the African slightly threatened, for he was unable to play a shepherd to such a knowlgeable foreigner. They crossed the mosque, took right and went up to the road alongside thick cedars and palms on the western beach facing shimmering Indian Ocean in the early moon days. Somewhere very far in the ocean, glowing lights of the sailing ships were dazzling. When they arrived at the small intersection of the road, Sahel told the driver to stop the car.

“Can you wait for me?” he asked the African.

“I can always wait.”

“I don’t know how long it will take.”

“No problem.”

Sahel paid the money and gave the African another five thousand Shilling as a deposit. He left the taxi and began to limp quickly west, parallel to cedars, until he came to the huge building. He turned right and could see the small beautiful white stone structure villa with a golden plate fixed at its big entrance reading Consulate of Pakistan. The flag on the roof had been drawn down as matter of practice. The drive and the entranceway were secured with local security troops.

Two uniformed African stopped Sahel at the small entrance next to the main gate. Without speaking, he showed them his Pakistani passport.

“The visiting hours are closed.” One of the African said in broken English.

“I am not a visitor.” Sahel’s harsh voice somehow convinced the guard and he took him by the arm and led him near to the front entrance’s small window. The African spoke into a walkie-talkie as he kept Sahel from mounting the stairs.

“Mr Khan, There is a Pakistani out here.”

“What does he want?” A voice crackled back.

“I want to see Asma Farooqui.” Sahel said.

He half expected this answer over the walkie-talkie “Tell him, He’s too late, she’s dead. Come tomorrow.”

For a moment a wave of shock rippled into his spine. Rati Asma Farooqui is dead. All went in vain, and how this bastard was announcing it on the Consulate’s gate to a stranger. Sahel blinked his eyes and restored his senses.

“I want to see her now,” Sahel shouted close to walkie-talkie before the African released the microphone key.

There was no further response from the walkie-talkie. After a minute one of the door slid open and a head emerged. It was bald, suntanned and wore sunglasses despite the emerging dark evening.

Sahel broke himself free and limped up the steps. The African charged after him. Sahel switched quickly into Urdu before he could be dragged away.

“I have to see Asma Farooqui!” he shouted. His heart was pounding now as he had regained some hope that she might still be alive. Had she been murdered, the reactions would have been decidedly different.

And who are you.” The Pakistani security officer asked.

“I am here right from Pakistan to see your wedding, you fool, now let me in, before we have an international wrestling in front of the Consulate, a lead for the morning news.”

The door slammed shut with a resounding echo. After a moment two young guards emerged from the door. They were typical NSS Jawans, not long out of the army, muscular and rock faced. One of them opened Sahel’s jacket and searched him quickly, front, back, arms and legs.

“Clean,” he said.

“Come in,” said the other one.

They led Sahel to the main building, and waited for a while in front of the entrance. A quick click produced a tray into the wall beside entrance and Sahel dropped his passport into it. It slammed back and shut, and after another minute the secondary door buzzed and the two men escorted him into the consulate.

He found himself in a large, arched reception hall. The building had probably once been someone’s palace. Although reception hours were over, many of the government workers were still at their tasks. As they passed through the area, someone stopped to stare at him.

Khan, the Chief of Security, came into the expensive room. He put his hands on his hips and looked Sahel over without removing his sunglasses. He wore them to frustrate recognition, for he was thinkable target at any time especially once facing the stranger.

“Al right,” the conversation recommenced in Urdu. “What’s the problem?”

“I have to see Asma Farooqui.”

“We have no such person here.”

“Of course not, but I have to see her anyway.”

“I am afraid, we can’t help you. Are you lost?”

“I am not an ex-husband or jealous lover. Get yourself a second secretary, a note pad and let us talk.”

The chief looked Sahel over. The costume was weird, dried punk hair, face full of tiredness, and nerves stricken. However, the man was clearly not a simple tourist in distress. He seemed to know the drill.

“Johny,” he gestured to one of the guards. “Take him upstairs to room 105 and wait for me.”

The two NSS men escorted up Sahel a long stone stairway. He looked at the face of every by-passer female worker hoping to spot Asma, but the strangers returned his frank gaze with disdainful expression. Room 105 was simply an empty room with a desk, four chairs and fan hanging up in the roof. The chief returned with another young man. By his age, modest suit and expression of enthusiasm, Sahel could see that he was not of the rank assigned to tasks of any important.

Sahel sat down in a chair, wanting very badly to appear composed and rational. He looked up at the four men.

“How about a cigarette?”

Khan produced a pack of Golf Leaf. Sahel looked at the pack and took one surprisingly, how he was managing this brand over here, and lit it.

“Okay, let’s hear it, said the officer as he looked at his own cigarette lighting.

“Fine, but can we keep the guests to a minimum? Sahel asked.

The Officer looked at Sahel then he nodded to Khan and two of the guards left the room. They knew their boss could handle this alone.

Sahel smoked for a moment, considering how much he should say…

“Al right, first of all Asma Farooqui is in danger of being killed.” He put up a hand. “And No, don’t say it that you have never heard of her. But if you have heard of her, and she is in the consulate, don’t let her leave.”

The second secretary began to write furiously on the notepad. “And if she is not in the consulate, find her and put a team on her round the clock. No better than that ship her home tomorrow on the first available flight.”

The chief kept on smoking and listening quietly to Sahel. He put one foot on the empty chair.

“Okay, Boss we understand this, but who are you?”

“You have my passport.”

“All right, Mr Sahel, once again who are you?”

Sahel knew what the question meant. “It does not matter,” he said. “Just do it as I said for God’s sake, and we will play policeman later.”

Khan watched his for another thirty seconds, while Sahel returned his stare without blinking.

“Johny!” the chief called out and one of his officers appeared almost immediately. Khan took the second secretary’s note book, scribbled something on it, tore off the sheet and handed it to his man. Johny left quickly.

Sahel looked on them and headed off the interrogation.

“Look, I can’t give you the details, I want to but I can’t,” he felt stupid playing the game, but old habits die hard. He knew it really didn’t matter now while telling them the truth about him and all as his career was over now.

“I served in the 45th GG regiment. My Unit Commandant was Colonel Niaz.

“And then…?” the chief asked.

“And then, I was transferred to some other assignment, you want to land us both in Adiala prison.”

Khan was fairly sure that he was dealing with a professional now, but his own code of conduct demanded some more caution.

“You want to play some more geography; we will probably wind up related.” Sahel continued.

Khan actually smiled and second secretary laughed.

“So that’s all,” the chief asked. “You are worried about this Asma Farooqui.”

Sahel considered his next move. If Asma was still alive, then would probably be safe very soon. The NSS people had to act on the tip. And that was his job. Sahel knew that his own run was now over. They might hold him for more questioning, delay his departure for home. And in the meantime Razmak Bilal was out there, and who knew where he would go next?

“There is one more thing,” said Sahel.

“What’s it?” Khan asked.

“It’s big thing.” Sahel took a deep breath. “It’s information about Razmak Bilal.”

The chief put his foot back on the floor and placed his hands on his hips. Sahel could see his face squeezed a bit and in disbelief as it crossed the man’s eyes.

“Razmak Bilal, the terrorist?”

“Yes,” said Sahel.

“Razmak is dead from all the reports.”

“No, he is not dead.”

Khan and second secretary exchanged looks.

“Razmak is not dead?”

From the new tone that had arisen into the chief’s voice. Sahel knew that he had lost his credibility. Both men were now observing him like some scientific experiment gone away.

“He is very much alive.” Sahel pressed on.

“And I suppose you know where he is?”

“Yes, he is here at the Kempinski.”

Even as Sahel said it, Razmak’s brilliance washed over him like a shock wave from a nuclear blast. Yes, he knew for certain that the Kempinski was exactly where Razmak would be, why? Because it was too simple to believe by any sane professional that he would be there. Razmak knew that Sahel would be found mad by anyone whose aid he attempted to procure. That’s why the terrorist had left note, inviting him to dinner.

“So, the chief was growing angry now, “Razmak Bilal staying at the Kempinski, is he?”

“And Abu Faraz at the Matoni Marina, I hear. The second secretary spoke his first words of the encounter. “And Baitullah Masood is signing in at the Dunga Kwibini Resort Club tonight.”

“Al right, I am not arguing you. Just let me see Asma. See her face, see that she’s alive. Then you can put me in a straitjacket and ship me to Islamabad.”

The chief shrugged his shoulders. “You are behaving like a madman. I don’t know who the hell you are, and you are not going to see Asma Farooqui or anyone else. You calm down and I have to check you out. He turned and called out into the hallway again. “Johny.”

The young guard came back to the room. “Entertain this gentleman, while we go over to communications.” Khan ordered.

The Chief motioned to second secretary to accompany him. They left the room and closed the door while Johny stood over Sahel and looked at him.

Sahel knew exactly what was now going to happen with him. He envisioned the telexes and flash messages, the orders that would soon have him immobilised. But he could no longer be sure that Asma would be protected, and he was damn sure that Razmak had not done his work.

He looked at the young Johny and he smiled.

“Where you from, Johny?”

The guard did not answer immediately.

“I am from Jhelum, myself,” said Sahel.

“Me too.” The ice cracked a bit.

“Really, I am from Wadepore near Dena.” Sahel grinned.

“My folks lived near to Wadepore, village Hushman.” Johny retuned a smile.

“Johny,” Sahel said as he rubbed his right knee. “I have to stand up. I have got a bad leg in last Exercise ‘Zarab e Karar’ in Murree.”

The mention of the name of the latest army exercise held at Murree caused Johny to offer a helping hand to a wounded comrade, which Sahel accepted gratefully as he said.

“Sorry, Johny….”

The Chief of the Security came marching back out of communication, the second secretary barely able to keep up. In his hand, Khan clutched a flimsy telex sheet. He had began to send out a coded inquiry to NSS headquarters in Islamabad, asking for information on an Pakistani citizen named Sahel Farhaj, with his passport number and general description. Yet even as he dictated the communiqué, he saw the Top Most Secret/Immediate Message from the office of the Colonel AK Zawri from NSB posted on the Flash Board. It was an order to worldwide NSB’s Covers to detain one Sahel Farhaj at all costs, being a NSBs Officer an AWOL from HQ.

The Chief slammed opened the door to room 105.

Johny sat on the floor against wall, holding his head and groaning blood from his nose running over his chin and onto his neck all the way down.

Sahel had gone…

“You have to be very quick now, my friend, very quick.” Sahel said as he was settling down in the back of the blue Nissan, finally stripping off the jacket, he had loved at Kabul and now hated in Zanzibar.

“Yes, meester Farhaaj. Quickly.”

The African had waited for him as promised. He was driving as fast as traffic would allow him. They had already passed the Unguja Ku over to Kitogani.

“What is your name, my friend?” Sahel finally asked. He was feeling sorry for the disdainful way in which he had treated the African all evening. He realized that at the moment, an African was his only ally.

“My name is Yaqub.”

“Please to meet you, Yaqub.” Sahel said as the driver turned sharp right to avoid a donkey cart and Sahel’s head banged with the left window glass.

“The pleasure in mine, meester Farhaaj.” There was true joy in his voice for hospitality was the greatest feature of the Africans.

“Yaqub, you must do two things for me now. Maybe three.”

“What should I do meester Farhaaj?”

“You will take me to someone you know, perhaps someone in Stone Town, not too far inside, as we have to go north again after that.”

“Who will it be meester Farhaaj?”

“Someone who may give me a change of clothes, a shirt and a trouser.”

There was silence from the front seat. It was clear what Yaqub was thinking.

“Meester Farhaaj,” the African said after a long pause, “I do not want a trouble with the police.”

“I am not a criminal, Yaqub. I swear by Allah, but I am in danger and I must change these cloths.”

Silence again. Then, “I know someone in Stone Town.”

“Good, now one more thing, Yaqub.”

“Yes?”

“I want you to get me a dagger.”

The image of the dagger made Yaqub gasp, “please meester, it’s too much.”

“Don’t worry, Yaqub. I will not harm anyone.”

“Then why do you want a dagger.” Yaqub was not a fool. “You don’t need such a dagger for cutting carrots.”

“I promised it to someone.”

“To be shoor,” Yaqub wanted to be sure.

“Look, Yaqub,” Sahel began to bargain as they came across Kitogani and were about to cross Jozani National park. “I’ll give you all the money, I have left.”

Sahel could see Yaqub’s face with indifferent smile. “Forgive me; boss, but perhaps you only have a few dollars left.”

“I have two hundred dollars, when you are done with me, it’s yours.”

Two hundred dollars were more than Yaqub could fetch in two months.

Mungu awabariki,” Yaqub wished the foreigner ‘God bless you’ as he turned the car towards Stone Town.

Sahel had to wait patiently while Yaqub’s cousin finished ironing a short sleeved sky blue cotton shirt. He wanted to scream at the man. “I’ll take it wrinkled, damn,” yet he just stood there massaging his aching knee.

He certainly had no illusions left about taking Razmak Bilal down alone, but he did not care much anymore. He was functioning on a soldier’s momentum, the same poison that made men stand up in a trench and yelled ‘Attack.’

He knew that the terrorist’s list of ‘prey’ was growing shorter with each killing, and he felt that Razmak probably saving him for last. But if Sahel was lucky, the terrorist might go for him at this juncture, and Sahel preferred to die than witness the demise of anymore of his friends.

The man left back and lifted the shirt from the table examining his work. He smiled through a wide gap in his teeth, “Nzuri sana,” he praised proudly, and Sahel took the shirt. He was already wearing as pair of man’s baggy tan trouser. The African immediately picked up the Alpine jacket that had been offered in exchange. He began to smell the leather. They were in a cool stone basement of a slum in Stone Town. Yaqub came down the steps holding a kerosene lantern in one hand and bundle of wrapped cloth in the other. He set the lantern down on the floor and walked over to Sahel. Sahel opened the cloth slowly and there lay the dagger. Its handle was decorated with jewels; the small curved almost a seven-inch steel blade shinning under the yellow light. It seemed unused.

“Let’s go,” he said as he tucked the dagger into his belt.

Sahel and Yaqub had pulled the car over just north of the Zanzibar Museum. The hotel was a just a short walk over the Marubi Bay. The evening has cooled considerably and Sahel pulled the windows glass over and the Nissan engine smooth down as the metal condensed. They reached the end of the pavement short of Kempinski’s entrance. Sahel sat for a moment and watched the passing crowds. In this part of the town, they were mostly wealthy foreigners. The men wore tropical suits and mostly women with jeans, a few with skirts. He felt an inexplicable disdain for their wealthy indifferences. He reached over the seat and handed Yaqub the two hundred dollars.

“Thanks, meester Farhaaj. Do you want me to wait?”

“No, Yaqub, I am going to the Kempinski. It may be danger there and I don’t want you involved.”

With what he was about to do, Sahel realised that Yaqub might be the last man to know him, the last soul to share his last day before he died. He did not know how he would find Razmak, if Khanzada Syad had been right then he would have no idea what the man looked like now. But if he could manage to locate ‘Mr Hayat Gul’ he would do his very best to kill him, if it was right there in the lobby in full view of the world. He was just as sure that Razmak would probably disarm him of his newly acquired dagger and slice him with it.

“Yaqub, you have been a good friend.”

“You paid me well, meester Farhaaj. The African had turned his seat. His eyes watered.

“No, a good friend.” Sahel got out of the car and leaned in the front window. He took Yaqub’s hand, “Kwaheri,” he said goodbye in Swahili.

“Be careful,” called the African after him.

Sahel walked straight for the hotel. He did not pause, or hesitate, nor did he bother to check for tails or watchers. He leg pained like hell but he ignored it. He could feel the cold feeling of the dagger against his belly beneath its open shirt over trousers. He crossed the big circular driveway, where the big cars of diplomats and wealthy European visitors cruised in and out and he neared the steps.

They appeared before him like a flash of the thundering storm. His heart pounded and his face jerked as he lifted his aching leg onto the first step. Both of his elbows were suddenly locked in a crushing grip. He turned his head to see three Africans plainclothes policemen. One of them flashed a badge while quick hands moved over Sahel’s body. He felt the dagger being jerked from his belt.

“Please Mr Sahel,” a low African English accent rumbled. “Just come along.”

He did not resist. The detectives escorted him across the drive. A large black car sat there with its rear door open like a panther waiting to swallow him. He was pushed inside and the door slammed.

The Chief of Security from the Consulate sat in the rear seat. Two of his men were already in the car, one in the front beside the driver and other with the chief.

“I think it’s time for you to go home, Mr Sahel,” said Khan.

And the car began to move.

On the steps of the Kempinski, Razmak Bilal stood casually conversing with a pair of striking Danish women. They tittered as he entertained them with a concocted story about life in the African Congo. Yet all the while, as he smoked a B&H and smiled at the women, his eyes were watching the lightning quick capture and removal of ‘Bravo.’

He smiled, dropped his cigarette and crushed it out on the rich carpet of the stairway.

______

Sahel arrived at Islamabad International Airport at five thirty in the morning. Dark clouds over the sky had not let the morning light to stretch over the city and the sun still far away to rise. He had flown unescorted, although the Chief of Security cautioned one of the crew of Thai Airways to keep a close eye on him.

He sat in his seat while most of the passengers hurried to the exit anxious to see their friends and families and tell of their visits to an African country. His flight had directly come from Dar es Salaam.

Sahel was not avoiding the crush; he simply found himself unable to get up. His body repelled against inevitable, until a hostess finally offered him to get up and he managed to disembark with a declining shake of his head. He walked to passport control with his legs heavy. What he was expecting, yet it did not happen and he strolled himself into the queue for the passport control.

His problem was solved, as he looked on the other side of the passport control counter. A team of NSB men were approaching him, three gorillas in jeans and blue winter blazer. One of them showed an ID and cocked his head indicating that he should follow along.

They surrounded him as they would do with a head of state, leading him past through the passport control, tourism information counter and group of excited Pakistanis who were claiming their bags and wondering if they would get caught with their smuggled electronics. They skipped the declaration section of custom and went passed a pair of uniformed ASF guards through a side exit, and suddenly they were outside on the side walk.

Captain Qadri was standing there. He was in full uniform, his bars and boot polished, his hands on his hips and his dead eyes glittering.

He step forward and made his pronouncement with undisguised pleasure.

“Captain Sahel Farhaj…You are under arrest.”

______

About نعیم بیگ 142 Articles
ممتاز افسانہ نگار، ناول نگار اور دانش ور، نعیم بیگ، مارچ ۱۹۵۲ء میں لاہور میں پیدا ہوئے۔ گُوجراں والا اور لاہور کے کالجوں میں زیرِ تعلیم رہنے کے بعد بلوچستان یونی ورسٹی سے گریجویشن اور قانون کی ڈگری حاصل کی۔ ۱۹۷۵ میں بینکاری کے شعبہ میں قدم رکھا۔ لاہور سے وائس پریذیڈنٹ اور ڈپٹی جنرل مینیجر کے عہدے سے مستعفی ہوئے۔ بعد ازاں انہوں نے ایک طویل عرصہ بیرون ملک گزارا، جہاں بینکاری اور انجینئرنگ مینجمنٹ کے شعبوں میں بین الاقوامی کمپنیوں کے ساتھ کام کرتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کو ہمیشہ ادب سے گہرا لگاؤ رہا اور وہ جزو وقتی لکھاری کے طور پر ہَمہ وقت مختلف اخبارات اور جرائد میں اردو اور انگریزی میں مضامین لکھتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کئی ایک عالمی ادارے بَہ شمول، عالمی رائٹرز گِلڈ اور ہیومن رائٹس واچ کے ممبر ہیں۔