Death In The Caliphate
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"Of course. Some people, as you said, would rather
that we keep fighting everyone until we have the world at our feet. Some people
wish we were still crucifying people and hacking off heads."
I stirred in my chair. "Speaking of that, Khalifa..."
"Yes, I know. That, actually, is why I called you, Colin.
This business with the Bisarian delegate." Al Sirdardi leaned back in his seat
and stared at me. "What do you know about it?"
I shrugged. "Not much more than the average person, I
suppose. I’ve been busy arranging logistics for the conference, as you know." I
bit my lip, thinking. "He disappeared sometime the night before last, hours
after arriving at his hotel. Late yesterday afternoon his body was found in the
desert, with the head cut off. That’s about all I’ve been told."
"You’re going to find out more about it," the Khalifa said.
"I’m putting you on the job of discovering who’s behind this. Your assistants
can carry on the arrangements for the conference. Most of the work’s done
"Me, Khalifa? Why? I assume the police are investigating."
"Of course they are, and they’ll either find nothing, or
they’ll get some low level thug pushed in their direction for them to catch. It
wasn’t just any killing, you know."
"No. Last night someone posted a video online, through an
untraceable proxy account, naturally." Al Sirdardi poked at the keyboard of the
computer on his desk, and swivelled the monitor my way. "Look."
I looked. It was like gazing back twenty years through a
time machine. An African man in a flaming orange jumpsuit knelt on the
hard-packed sand of the desert floor. A hooded figure in black stood behind
him, brandishing a knife.
I had made videos like that myself, once. I remembered
standing in the desert, the sun of high noon beating down, the knife heavy in
my hand. I could feel the trickle of sweat down my back, the anvil-like heat on
the hood over my face, the air like fire in my lungs. I felt once more the
mounting irritation as the cowering wretch at my feet stumbled over his lines
yet one more time, meaning we’d have to shoot the whole damn thing over again.
I could feel my jaw muscles clench as I told myself that he deserved to
have his head cut off for being such an incompetent clod. I could feel the old
anger, tight in my throat and rising in my chest.
"Colin?" Al Sirdardi was leaning across the desk, an anxious
look in his eyes. "Colin?"
"Sorry." I brought myself back to the present with a
conscious effort. "Got lost for a minute in memories there."
"Yes, well." The Khalifa had paused the video, and now he
started it again. The West African man was speaking, reading off lines in a
high-pitched voice. I had greeted him at the airport the day before yesterday,
as the very first delegates arrived. He was the only one from Bisaria, and had
a somewhat lost air about him, as though he didn’t really know why he’d come
and what he was supposed to be doing. "Listen to what he’s saying."
"This is the message," the Bisarian said. Sweat glittered on
his blue-black skin. "This conference...is against the law and the principles
on which the Khilafat was founded. This is your one and only warning. Either
call off the conference, or else the other delegates will all share my fate,
one by one. We will not permit the Khilafat to stray from the path of purity."
I swivelled my chair away as the hooded figure leaned
forward with the knife. I didn’t need to watch that part. The feel of hot blood
spurting over my hand, the agonised jerking of the terrified creature – no
longer a man, nothing more than raw fear and pain – these were well known to
me. I’d felt them many times. I let out a slow long breath.
"Clearly, this wasn’t done by one man," I observed.
"Obviously not. Whoever it is that is out to sabotage the
"Can they do it?" I asked. "Can they actually sabotage the
"Of course they can. The delegates came here under a
guarantee of safety, given by me. By the Khalifa." He paused for a moment to
let that sink in. "If something happens to one of them, what dependence can
anyone have on my word?"
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