It was 11 PM on a weekday. Dawud was halfway in bed when his phone rang.
The number was unfamiliar.
“Yes?” he asked.
He didn’t need to give introductions. Few people had his number; if someone was calling him, it meant they knew who they wanted to talk to.
“I need help.” The voice was hushed; scared.
“Who is this?”
“I was told you could help me.”
“How did you get this number?”
“Officer Jamal gave it to me.”
“Okay. Tell me where you are.” When there was an unsure pause on the other end, Dawud added: “This line is safe.”
The voice lowered further. “I just don’t know if I’m safe. I think I’m being followed. Or...I don’t know. It’s-it’s too much of a coincidence.”
“Keeping you safe and figuring out what’s going on is my job. But I can’t do that if I don’t know where you are.”
“Okay. I’m in the lobby of,” a deep breath, “I suppose it’s a laundromat. I don’t know. I can’t see a name. It’s old.”
“Are there any street signs or shops nearby? I need you to be as detailed as possible.”
In the time that he received this information through the phone, Dawud was already out and navigating through the streets in his car. He passed buildings that looked the same in the dark, but it didn’t take him long to identify the correct one: it was the only lobby occupied by a young man trying (and failing horribly) to make himself hidden.
Dawud pushed the door open and closed it behind him in one swift motion. He held out a gloved hand and introduced himself, “Detective Dawud.”
The man was slow to warm up to him, understandably. Dawud’s face was bathed in shadow by the brim of his hat and he was covered, from head to toe, in black. Eventually, he shook his hand.
“Omair Majid,” he said.
Dawud nodded towards the man slumped in the corner. A baseball bat lay discarded at his side. “I’m assuming you did that.”
“I didn’t have a choice! He wouldn’t let me use the front desk’s phone! And, I didn’t want him eavesdropping! And, I didn’t even hit him that hard!” Omair gulped. “He’s not dead, is he?”
“No,” Dawud said, checking the man’s pulse. “Just unconscious. I’ll call the station and have an officer handle the situation.”
“Where are we going?” Omair asked, following the detective out of the building. They kept in the shadows to avoid being seen.
“There’s a restaurant a few minutes from here.”
“Is it safe?” Omair kept looking over his shoulder suspiciously.
“I know the owner; she can keep an eye out for us. Besides, it’s a public place. It’s less likely for someone to try something because of all the possible witnesses.”
“Try something?” Omair chuckled nervously.
Dawud glanced at Omair. “We should consider all possibilities, just to be safe.”
The restaurant was closing down when the two men arrived. The staff nodded in acknowledgment as Dawud walked through the kitchen doors at the back. Omair followed silently. They took the stairs to the second floor, which led to a large room. A lamp in the far corner bathed the room in a dull yellow glow. The windows had been boarded shut and covered with thick drapes.
“What is this place,” Omair whispered, “your secret headquarters?”
The detective took off his hat, jacket, and gloves. To Omair’s dismay, the light fell on the detective’s back; Omair’s face was illuminated but the detective’s face was concealed. He realized everything in the room had been placed strategically so as not to reveal the detective’s identity. Dawud and Omair sat across from each other on the table that was pushed against one of the walls.
“I’m guessing being a detective isn’t your day job,” Omair commented. “Is your name really Dawud?”
“I think it would be better if I asked the questions.”
“How can I trust you?”
“A valid concern,” the detective replied. “But, remember: you called me. You followed me to an unknown location, which means you’re really desperate for help. You can still walk away, if you’d like.”
“Can you help me?”
Dawud flipped his notepad to a clean page and poised his pen over it. “Tell me everything that’s happened, from the beginning, no matter how insignificant. Every detail matters.”
Omair wiped his face with both hands. Suddenly, he was glad for the dim light; it was easier to get his thoughts straight without being pierced by blinding white light.
“It’s a little strange,” Omair warned.
“That’s exactly what I’m used to.”
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