Short Story: Exodus of Smoke

Inspector Hyder lit a cigarette, he knew it was illegal to smoke in private property other than one’s own, but he smoked anyway. It was one of those idiosyncratic rules that the President had applied to the Nation.
He put his gun back and opened the shutters letting the miserable light in to the small one bedroom flat.
Inspector Hyder was upset, not because the smog still lingered over the city when the forecasters had promised to disperse it. Not even because of the lack of light – these last days had been gloomy. He was upset because someone had died on his watch: that just didn’t happen here. The President, the Embodiment of the Nation, prided himself on that.
He informed Control that he had found her. He puffed at his cheap Kazakhi Duty Frees peering at the young woman lying on the red divan partially undressed. She was beautiful but then everyone was beautiful, even middle aged men like him. But it was something about the young woman’s beauty that niggled away at him. It questioned his very outlook in life and demanded a riposte.

It was this impulse that made him bring out his thin rubber gloves and put them on. The same impulse made him bend down and inspect her the way a jeweller does a diamond. There was nothing perverse about this, why else had he joined Homeland Security Services, a sister company of SecuriCorp? The inspection wasn’t enough, his mind demanded more.
True, the President’s guidelines explicitly stated: ‘it is prohibited to touch the subject prior to the arrival of the Forensics Team’. But they would tell him exactly the same thing he would record in his File: ‘A classic case of asphyxiation. The attacker had probably attempted copulation, the victim had resisted and perhaps screamed. He had panicked pleading with her to stop. She had tried to scratch him and in the process broken some of her long nails that were decorated with pretty pink butterflies. He tried to calm her down using the pillow that had fallen on the floor. But she just wouldn’t stop screaming. So he slapped her in the face. Her rage turned into fear. With all the strength she had in her legs she pushed and pushed and all the while his hands closed in on her throat. She couldn’t breathe. She lost strength. She expired.

At first he was probably terrified realising the consequences of his actions. As he was about to bolt out of the door, he paused. He went to the Masterworks and selected some classical music so the neighbours wouldn’t be alerted. He returned to her, he felt her cheek, she was still warm. Her hair was soft and luxuriant, and she was still so perfect in that black dress. Before she succumbed to rigor mortis he clawed at her ripping her scant clothing away, he kissed her lips, breasts; he bit her neck lamenting her lack of sexual responsiveness, that’s what they all do. He had seen countless CSI files in the archives. Inspector Hyder took a peek, there it was; traces of dried semen on the inside of her thighs. Classic text book motive: Beautiful girl gets raped by a disturbed man she considered a friend but he thought otherwise. Wires were crossed. Now she’s dead. Case closed.
But that was not the question Inspector Hyder wanted to answer. Her intelligence was not in doubt. How many foreigners had several dictionaries of languages; Chinese, Spanish, Persian and Arabic? How many can understand archaic titles like One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, or comprehend Bach and know Arabic?

He decided to tamper with the victim come what may. Let them argue with me. After they see her they will understand. He carefully turned her over. His mind began to calculate and catalogue. Her back was a galaxy of brown freckles of all sizes. Her face was exquisite with a touch of the orient with no sign of scalpel. Her brown hair even in death remained full of glossy curls – no sign of pro-vitamin implants at the hair base. Cheekbones were chiselled. Dentistry: perfect, not even a filling. Neck: like a swan. Shoulders: sculpted. Breasts: large (but not too large). Buttocks: plump (no cellulite). Legs: not too long, not too short. Skin: unblemished apart from the bite marks. He dared not say it, his eyes widened, his throat became dry. Had he had found the Holy Grail?

He shook his head in denial. He brought out his optifier and placed it on his eyes. He went over her one more time, dismantling her into parts like he had been taught. He came to her Piedic zone. Paused, focused the optifier. He punched the air. He had found it. ‘Not bad Mr. Hyder,’ he congratulated himself, ‘not bad.’
Inspector Hyder heard the low rumbling engine of the Morgue truck. He flicked the cigarette out of the window. He heard his partner, Richards, leap up the stairs giving the location of the crime scene: 34 Old City, Moorgate.
‘You Okay?’ said Richards pumping his hands.
‘Yeah, Yeah. I’m fine’ replied Inspector Hyder, trying to act as if his colleague’s middle age trimness didn’t bother him. The worst thing about it was; Richards knew it bothered him. Inspector Hyder was just waiting to straighten out his crow feet so his wife would stop nagging, his neighbours would stop sniggering and Richards would stop taking the mick out of him at the bar. Soon Inspector Hyder would be whole again.
‘So what’s the story?’ Richards chirped.
‘A classic case’ replied Hyder.
‘Yeah I know- looks like it doesn’t it? Wow!’ gasped Richards, ‘she is perfect! Look at her cheek bones, her breasts doesn’t even have a trace of scalpel- Amazing! I think she is a perfect 89.2 on the Continental scale and 235 on Klein ratio. Do you concur?’
Hyder got smug: ‘Why don’t you look again?’
Richards’ dead blue eyes came alive. He brought out his rubber gloves, got down on his knees until his face was an inch away from her pale skin. He went over like an artist that had masterd Vogue and the school of aesthetics it had founded. He measured her proportions, melanin levels, hairs, softness, her glassy eyes, dental imprints- she was a perfect specimen of Neo-Homo Sapiens.
‘She is perfect!’ declared Richards, ‘Perfect.’
Hyder looked at him almost with contempt the way he might look at a criminal.
‘I’m telling you she is! She is! 89.5 And 236 Klein that’s the highest!’
Hyder just pointed at her toes and threw him his optifier.
‘Look at that pinkie over there, see that?’
‘What about it?’ said Richards inspecting it with the optifier.
‘Don’t be in denial Richards, nothing is perfect. Nothing in this world is perfect.’
‘Six toes’ said Richard hanging his head in disappointment, ‘six bloody toes’.
Hyder nodded ‘the gods are against you Richards, it’s as simple as that. Nothing is perfect.’
‘Yeah, yeah’ said Richards he had just seen fame, glory and fortune vanish in front of his eyes, ‘do we know who she is?’
‘Control got a call in Ms. Olivia Santos, Mo is on the lead.’
‘And what about the aggressor?’ inquired Richards.
‘Unknown-we have to send the dried semen samples to Bio-Tech.’
‘Yeah if we haven’t found him after that then it’s an Alien.’
‘Don’t worry we’ll find him, we’ll give the cleaners a shake up and have a word with the warden.’
Hyder bent down to peer underneath the Divan to see if there were any other clues that he could spot before Forensics combed it over. There was just a business card and a poem by the famous Arab Neo-Romantic Abu’l Hassan entitled ‘Exodus’. He picked it up and read to Richards in Arabic.
‘How erotic and beautiful’ said Richards.
‘Yes’ said Hyder turning the business card in between his thumb and forefinger ‘how beautiful indeed.’
‘What does the business card say?’ said Richards looking at his colleague knowing that he was turning something over in his mind.
‘Mansur’ replied Inspector Hyder, ‘Mansur Ayluni.’

Muzzammil sat in the designated HSS smoking room. He was looking at the stern but benevolent picture of the President, a ruddy man with a hint of eastern mystery, his friendly grapelike eyes urging him to stop smoking. But Muzzammil had just started smoking two days ago. He had received the call up for the interview by Special Delivery- he had to sign for it with his finger code. So there was no excuse to proffer. In any case you can’t really refuse a Presidential Summons could you?
The place was depressing to be in. The bright stale EcoEnergy lights cut in to his eyes. He had tried to rub his eyes to soften the hard light but it was no use. He was tired from the night shift, only the Taurine Enhancers gave him that slow release energy to keep him going. He sipped synthocoffee from his polysterene cup and made a grimace that you make when battery acid hits your ulcer. He looked at his coffee cup; it would be nice to have some real beans as opposed to the synth with its daily allowance of C-vits. If he wanted C-vits he would buy an orange. Sometimes he just wanted a cup of good old coffee made from pure Arabica beans; the way it had been served to him in Masr City with a genuine smile by a real human being with all the wonderful idiosyncrasies of the human form. You could if you wanted to, spark a cigarette and no one would say anything. You could sit down in the evening with the anthology of Abu’l Hassan and you’d be just fine.

In fact, some would even think you are cultured! You could live there, chicken tasted like chicken. And kebabs! What kebabs! No bullshit, there was real brotherhood there too. In Masr city there wasn’t a Citizens Decree 3109 that compelled you to help an old lady with a heavy bag. People just helped. It’s true; the buildings weren’t as clean, transport not as fast but still Masr city worked well enough. In all the anarchy there seemed to be a harmony created by shared goals and ambitions. The people seemed poorer but they smiled more.

He kept on drinking if only just to stop that hawk in his belly from flapping. He could hear the rumble of the BA Interjunction above. Crisp and clear announcements of Hyper trains leaving for Manchester Sector or Mercy City, Swan City, or October City transporting busy workers, administrators, officers, peace keepers all around the Nation chasing their daily subsidised bread courtesy of the Embodiment of the Nation. All had a purpose. All knew their role. Ants.

He continued to stare at the monitor that urged him to stop smoking. He was shown the future that was available to him. If he gave up he’d get free tickets to remote places, the Presidential office would provide free medical advice and pay for the expenses. This was the picture of the Nation: everything was provided for; there was simply no excuse for any socially detrimental activities. If you felt a criminal tendency just visit the Social Integrationist Officer and he would provide you with the means to channel your criminality in a fruitful way for the greater wellbeing of the Nation. Thus many would-be thieves, killers and rapists fell fighting in far of lands; buried in sodden red earth and remembered forever as blue helmeted heroes and peace-keepers in the annals of the Nation.

Muzzammil looked at the digicast admiring the pure grass so close up. He stubbed out his cigarette in the extinguisher and looked around him: Is this where John was kept during the dark years of the 30s? Is this where they presented him with the files; where they took away his leaving papers, where he heard the screams? It couldn’t be. It was just so sanitised.
A perfectly crisp announcement called out Muzzammil’s full name. He got up and headed for the interview room 756. As he walked along the corridors he thought he could hear muffled voices, raised voices, laughter, even, faint whimperings coming out of the countless rooms.

When Muzzammil entered the bright white room he found himself in front of a podgy but extraordinarily handsome man smiling at him. He had expected his interrogator to be in the grey HSS uniform but instead he was in wearing a white shirt and fashionable jeans.

The room had a two grey chairs, a white desk with a Photopix and an ash tray. In the corner of the room was a small sink and coffee dispenser. The man invited Muzzammil to sit down and offered him the ash tray and some synthocoffee. He introduced himself as Inspector Hyder, even asked his permission to smoke. Muzzammil slightly disarmed by his affability gave him permission. And when he himself had the urge to smoke the man nodded his assent; as if they were an ancient breed of hard core smokers that wouldn’t give up their freedom to dominate their own bodies, even if it meant their own perdition.
‘Don’t worry Mr. Sheraz, those bad days are over, we have learned from our mistakes- go ahead smoke-Though I am legally obliged to inform you that it is bad for your health and that this friendly conversation will be recorded for training purposes. Should you wish to see a copy of the transcript you may do so according to the Revised Data Protection and Home Land Security Act of 2057, section 254, article 48. You merely need to apply for a licence to the department of Citizen Protection who will give you a letter to take to the House of Justice whereby you can apply for the transcript. Providing that your credit check and identity are correctly verified you will have access. All this, I should add, is courtesy of the Embodiment of the Nation. Do you agree?’
‘I guess, yes’ replied Muzzammil hesitantly.

‘Very well, I am Inspector Zakariya Kemal Hyder, your interviewing officer and responsible for this case that you may or may not have followed on the broadcasts going out to the Nation. Should you have any complaints my supervising officer is Commissioner Chris Stein. Of course, this is an informal interview and you are free to leave any time you wish.’
‘You mean this interview has no legal weight?’ asked Muzzammil.

‘Yes and no. It depends on the various circumstances of the case, and how this turns out. I mean if you wish we could get someone from Citizen Protection to apply for a Legal Senator to ensure that my questioning is in line with presidential decree No. 259 section 45 of the Emergency Act of 2036. You are perfectly with in your rights, but you would have to remain in custody until a Legal Senator can be found. Mind you I should add two things, one, that our custody rooms are actually quite comfortable with all the creature comforts available to you. Two, that it could be a waste of time since we are not actually accusing you of anything. We are on a fact finding mission.’
‘What’s this all about?’
‘Well it’s actually quite complicated Mr. Sheraz, you know how important it is to protect the peace and security of this Nation don’t you?
‘Yeah’ replied Muzzammil almost apathetic as if he knew what Inspector Hyder was getting at.
‘Tell me, how are your studies doing?’
‘It’s tough working and studying.’
‘Yes last time some of the officers spoke to you, you were doing some work on Burnusi weren’t you?’
‘Yes I was.’
‘What about now? Are we tired of researching an ancient old Sufi?’
‘Not tired, it’s just hard to multitask, night shifts aren’t exactly conducive to study.’
‘Yes understandably, I actually read your introduction to the man, it’s a good piece. Even your supervisor likes the three chapters you wrote. I mean he was very radical wasn’t he?’
‘I wouldn’t call Burnusi radical. I just think you need to contextualise his period.’
‘Well your professor says that it’s actually one of the weaknesses of your argument.’
‘Well, I don’t actually want to get dragged into an intellectual debate regarding the merits and demerits of my paper, at least not with you.’ Muzzammil stopped himself abruptly looking at his questioner for signs of anger, when no signs of anger emerged, in a softer tone he continued: ‘maybe we could just crack on with the matter at hand.’
‘My goodness, look at me! I am sorry, just tell me when you need to go and we will finish. I always forget my lowly place amongst you intellectuals.’
‘Its quite okay, now what’s this all about?’ asked Muzzammil with a polite smile that hinted at insincerity.
‘Now’ said the Inspector leaning back on his chair, ‘do you know who Olivia Santos is?’
‘Who?’
‘Ms. Olivia Santos.’
‘No. I don’t think so.’
‘Let me see if I could jog your memory, take a look at her picture.’ Inspector Hyder pressed the Photopix and Muzzammil saw her in her full glory.

Inspector Hyder gave a commentary of the victim’s background and the light form mimicked everything that the inspector said. Muzzammil’s pupils dilated as he saw her talk in several languages, he saw her walk in centre park, he saw her sitting with friends giving him stolen glances, he saw her exercising and he saw her snuggling up in the evening.
‘Beautiful isn’t she? You should see her when she undresses,’ said Inspector Hyder watching Muzzammil’s reaction as the form began to undress, ‘my colleague even thought she’s an 89.5! I told him only in Paradise. Only in Paradise eh? Why would someone want to kill her?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Muzzammil lowering his eyes as the Pixform was in her undergarments, ‘but I don’t know her.’
‘Some of your friends think that you might have known her.’
‘What do you mean ‘might’, replied Muzzammil startled, that’s an ambiguous word: ‘might’. Who said that I might know her?’
‘Mr. Sheraz, you know that under the Civil Witness Protection Act of 2087, section 567 article 29, that any one supplying information regarding homicide.’
‘Homicide!’ said Muzzammil interrupting the monotonous voice of Inspector Hyder.
‘Of course, Mr. Sheraz, it’s homicide, rape and many other by laws and sub-penalties that has been broken in this gruesome crime. You understand why we need your help?’
‘But it has nothing to do with me!’ said Muzzammil raising his hands in frustration.
‘Well it does because one of your friend’s business card was found in the victim’s room.’
‘Well what a coincidence!’
‘Come Mr. Sheraz you out of all people don’t believe in coincidence. Contribute to making the Nation a success by eliminating sickos from our communities, a diverse, tolerant and beautiful community that adheres to all those ideals that you and I believe in, come let’s find this Mansur.’
‘Look Mansur and me didn’t get along, I don’t really know him.’
‘Really? The neighbours said you guys talked all through the night.’
‘The neighbours have swastikas tattooed on their arms and cheeks- why don’t you go and harass them?’
‘Well they are entitled to their beliefs as long as they hurt no one. Our Nation accepts them even though we disapprove, so you weren’t close I take it?’
‘Look, we were flatmates. If he did all his chores he would get no grief from me.’
‘The neighbours say that you had many friends coming around with books and stuff- and they’d leave late’.
‘That’s not a crime, many of us are students.’
‘But as I understand it some of these students as you call them, have control orders on them.’
‘Correction monthly control orders, they have broken no law.’
‘Yes, I am not implying they were. I am just thinking out aloud.’
‘If it’s just thinking aloud can I go?’ asked Muzzammil.
‘Yes yes, certainly just a few more questions, so what were they studying?’
‘Usually languages.’
‘You know about seven languages don’t you?’
‘Five.’
‘It is quite interesting that these guys are learning English, it’s probably to teach abroad, right?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I mean some of them have made the Exodus out of the safety of the Nation.’
‘I don’t know about Exodus.’
‘Some’ said Inspector Hyder leaning forward, ‘were even caught crossing without a Presidential visa going to the Levant.’
Inspector Hyder was clearly enjoying his line of questioning. According to him he modelled his style on the legendary sleuth Colombo who behaved like an absent minded fool but was far from it.
‘I don’t know anything about that.’
Inspector Hyder noted an imperceptible jaw muscle move on his subject’s face. He looked for nervous twitches and flickering of the eyes. Nothing. He would have study the recordings later. This guy knew the game, maybe even trained by experts in the business of Exodus.
‘Did you know, said Hyder spitting some tobacco on the floor, ‘that Mansur used to attend illegal gatherings on Fridays? He used to sermonise without a license. Why didn’t he just apply for a presidential license, the Nation has the biggest mosque in the world. You prayed there haven’t you? I certainly do every Friday.’
‘I’ve walked past it Inspector, are we going to continue with this trivia or can I go?’
Muzzammil lit another cigarette; he offered one to the inspector. Inspector Hyder refused.
‘Soon Mr. Sheraz, I understand it’s an inconvenience but your cooperation will actually help us find the killer. You went to Masr city as well didn’t you?’
‘Yes. But if you’re asking if I am planning to enter the Levant, the answer is no.’
‘I was just checking. You withdrew a large amount of credits- we thought you were leaving that’s all.’
‘Business venture and holiday.’
‘Great! Muslims have always been great merchants. Course you know the penalty for National Citizens if they cross over to the Levant without a Presidential decree?’
‘Yes.’

Inspector Hyder got up from the chair. He walked up to the little sink in the corner of the room and washed his hands. He dried his hands and then took out a packet of Kazakhis and lit one. He knew his victim would get impatient so he took his time. With his back to the sink he inhaled the smoke and watched the broad shouldered young man with pock marks and joined up eyebrows look straight ahead as if he didn’t exist. He couldn’t understand why the young man was trying to undermine the Nation that united all peoples with complete disregard for creed, race and gender under its Blue banner perpetuating the glorious ideals of 24 October 1946. Was it because he was ugly? Is that why he hated the Nation?
‘You know what I can’t figure out?’ said Inspector Hyder scratching his head, ‘why would someone want to kill this beautiful young woman?’
‘Maybe she knew something. Maybe she had something more than just great looks.’
‘Then why would she know someone like Mansur? A nightshifter?’
‘I don’t know maybe he was teaching her?’
‘Where is he?’ he said laughing in disbelief.
‘I haven’t seen him for months.’
‘Strange, people say you two were inseparable?’
‘Who are these people?’ exclaimed Muzzammil annoyed at the repetition of the question, ‘It’s not true. He used to come in and out of the flat, sometimes he’d disappear for days, can I go now?’
‘Yes, just a few more questions’ said Inspector Hyder. He sat down on the chair as if the questioning would last as long as he wanted. ‘Now you’re a Natural aren’t you?’
‘Yes’ replied Muzzammil rubbing the stubble on his face self-consciously, his striking black eyes stared at Inspector Hyder’s smooth hairless face.
‘Do you think’, said Inspector Hyder, ‘that she was a freak?’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Muzzammil.
‘You know she preferred unrefined sugar to refined sugar?’
‘Does everything have to be about sex?’
‘Don’t be naïve Mr. Sheraz, how comes you haven’t had any work done?’
‘Not allowed too.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s forbidden, we don’t play around with the Creation of God.’
‘I know but I’m a Muslim and I get it done.’
‘You can do what you like, I’m Old School Inspector.’
‘But don’t you think it’s an outdated idea? Imagine if you have a one inch prick are you not allowed to adjust it a bit? Wouldn’t it be great to possess a twelve-inch? Wouldn’t you want to walk into the showers with a twelve inch dong and join the rest of us?’
‘Well if you possessed a one inch piece that is a genuine medical issue. You would probably be allowed to go under the scalpel.’
‘I see’ Inspector Hyder making a mental note, the subject has good knowledge of religious law.
‘Remember’ said Muzzammil, ‘It’s what you do with it that counts Inspector, not how big it is.’

The inspector grinned at Muzzammil’s ironic remark. In other circumstances maybe they could have been friends. Maybe they could have drunk a few beers and discussed how every historical figure had made that small step towards establishing the Brotherhood of Man. He couldn’t understand why the young man rejected what every citizen, every school, every institution and brotherhood council saw as being self-evident truths? What is wrong with saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war? What is wrong in affirming faith in fundamental human rights? Establishing justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law? What is wrong with promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom? Inspector Hyder could not understand why that was so problematic.
‘So’ said the inspector sighing, ‘you are a true Muslim then?’
‘No more true as you.’
‘Sure- did you hear what the Embodiment was saying yesterday?’
‘Yes, he was urging us to prevent the Mehdi Army from penetrating the Holy Sanctuaries.’
‘Yes, don’t really think he’ll succeed. The President has sent ten Fighting Potemkins their way to protect the Prophet’s mosque.’
‘If that was all can I go? You understand I have work.’
‘Sure, absolutely, let me just ask you one more question about Ms. Santos, if you didn’t know her how comes we have Pix of you walking with her?’
‘What are you talking about? I don’t know anything about that?’
‘If you want them, I have them.’
‘Just exactly what are you accusing me of?’
‘You sure you two weren’t preparing for Exodus?’
‘You are kidding me?’ said Muzzammil staring at Inspector Hyder.
‘I think Mr. Sheraz you are getting overly agitated. Why don’t you sit yourself down’ said Inspector Hyder.
‘You are kidding me aren’t you?’ repeated Muzzammil.
‘This is clouding your judgement. I think we will have to resume this interview at a later date.’
‘Why?’ We don’t need to continue this at all.’
‘For the moment I think we will put you on a weekly control order until the next interview.’
‘I haven’t done anything wrong! You can’t do that!’
‘I didn’t say you did- it’s standard procedure.’
‘But what about my holiday?’
Inspector Hyder smiled. Game, Set and Match. The subject was going to join the Barbarian who calls himself the Saviour.’
‘Well I guess you have to reschedule, please put your print here to acknowledge notification.’
‘I want a Legal Senator!’
‘You have waived that right Mr. Sheraz. If you want I can put you in custody until we conduct the next interview. The process will take a month but with the control order you can get along with your life.’
‘I won’t even be able to take a shit without you knowing about it.’
‘Mr. Sheraz’ said Inspector Hyder smiling, ‘we knew that anyway.’
The inspector got up to leave and offered him a pack of cigarettes. Muzzammil refused.
‘That’s right’ said Inspector Hyder, ‘quit while you can Mr. Sheraz you’re a poor actor. Now here’s my card if you want help us, HSS has prayer rooms for Muslims who work hard to keep our Nation safe. We have discounted Hajj tours to the Holy Sanctuaries; Ramadan is catered for. Our Nation is better than anything that Barbarian in the Levant is offering. Take your time I know many Naturals like you who think you can’t reconcile your ideals with this Nation but it’s not true. ’
‘Ms. Santos? What about Ms. Santos’ asked Muzzammil.
‘What about her?’ said Inspector Hyder smiling, ‘we caught Mansur three weeks ago. He killed her because she was beautiful and he couldn’t take it. He committed the most heinous crime a man could commit. You know if you work with us I can make you beautiful.’
‘Is that what you think? Give me a cigarette.’
Inspector Hyder took out a Kazakhi and threw it on the table. Muzzammil lit it and dragged on it till the cherry was a red hot and then put the cigarette on his forearm so it started to sear his skin. He kept it there without a sound.
Inspector Hyder put his hands to his eyes. He couldn’t watch this, his stomach turned. He could smell the cigarette smoke mingle with burning skin. Muzzammil moved the cigarette and made burn marks all over his forearm.
‘Stop it’ shouted Inspector Hyder, ‘it’s illegal. Stop it.’
Muzzammil continued.

Inspector Hyder rushed out of the room. He leaned on the wall breathing hard, he wanted to vomit. Once he caught his breath, he went in to the room next door. Richards was watching the whole scene visibly disturbed.
‘What a psycho,’ repeated Richards, ‘what a psycho!’
Muzzammil had stopped burning himself and was staring at the business card smiling as if he knew Richards was watching.
‘You are telling me he is a proper psycho’ exclaimed Inspector Hyder, ‘no wonder that barbarian wants his sort. Come on I need a beer.’
Richards agreed. He informed Control that they had checked out for the day. They left the subject next door for Control to deal with. They went down the hallway towards the bar. Inspector Hyder walked in silence.
Richards nudged him.
‘Oi!’ he said, ‘what’s eating you?’
‘Nothing’ replied Inspector Hyder.
‘Come on man. I know you better than that. Spit it out.’
Inspector Hyder stopped.
‘You think that psycho is right man?’ asked Inspector Hyder, ‘you think that maybe this isn’t real?’
‘What!? You too?’ said Richards slapping his back. ‘Are you going to listen to a barbarian who squats on his knees to take a shit and says he’s going to free the oppressed?! What a joke, where are the oppressed? Where? The boy is lost and ugly I might add. We are real. We are free. We believe. They believe in nothing.’
Inspector Hyder felt reassured at Richard’s contemptuous gesture.
‘Come on’, said Richards, ‘let’s go and see Martin and Rosa sing. Martin’s not a bad looker but you know what the miracle is about Rosa?’
‘No’ replied Inspector Hyder.
‘She’s had four kids sucking at her nipples and you know what? She still manages to stay a 76.5 consistently day in, day out. I don’t know how she keeps those boobs up there man!’
‘Yes’ said Inspector Hyder laughing, ‘but there’s nothing there. Nothing’.
For a moment they burst out in laughter; both pretended to be Rosa, singing, dancing, holding their imaginary boobs and running their hands down their bodies the way she did when she sang.
‘You are right’ said Richards, ‘there is nothing there, you know she is 75?’
Inspector Hyder was struck by the nothingness of Rosa boobs. He became pensive and watched Richards’ perfectly smooth face. It had no wrinkles, no sign of stubble, not a single eyebrow out of place. His teeth were white like the moon and his suit always seemed new.
‘You know what?’ said inspector Hyder, ‘tomorrow we got Mansur to play with in the morgue best get an early start. He’s gonna be an ugly feller after what those eels did to his face in the Thames. I’m going to have an early night.’
Richards didn’t like it and tried to convince him to stay but it was no use.
‘Make sure you debrief with Trauma. It’s not every day you see a man burn his forearm.’
Inspector Hyder dismissed the idea with a wave. Richards continued on towards the bar to meet the rest of the gang. He was looking forward to watching Rosa and that spunky singer Martin performing their jazz duets.

This dystopian sci-fi short story was first published in Critical Muslim a quarterly journal published by Hurst