A Red Light

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12. Progress

12 PROGRESS

The cadets had settled down well in England. They had been given strict orders not to misbehave, as they had only three months in which to brush up their English. In February, they had to sit the entrance exam for Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, prior to being admitted there after Easter. Apart from minor scuffles over girls at discothèques, they had not been involved in any serious trouble.

Farid and Kamal had viewed the flat, and had moved in a week later. The flat was on the top floor of an old Georgian house overlooking a large square. There was one sitting room, one bedroom and a small kitchen, but they had to share the family bathroom on the floor below. After their initial curiosity about the town and the English people had subsided, they had become quite homesick, but as their culinary skills improved and nurtured their gastronomic desires, and their tapes of Persian music relaxed them during their studies, their depression soon lifted.

They watched television as much as possible to pick up the language, and made friends with English girls to practise their verbal skills. Kamal had no experience of girlfriends, and Farid spent many hours trying to initiate him in the art of making women happy.

“We’ll never understand them,” he advised Kamal. “But I can tell you how to get round them. The most important thing to remember is that if you have an argument, always apologise and say it’s your fault - even if it isn’t !”

Kamal’s logical mind could find no answer to that, except for a perplexed smile which hovered about his mouth, uncertain whether Farid was pulling his leg.

At school, Farid discovered that the blonde girl he had encountered in town and in the phone box was one of the English teachers. But she resisted all attempts by Farid to invite her out except for agreeing to dance with him at the school’s annual Christmas party for students and staff.

Farid and Kamal greatly looked forward to their letters from home, and both received news simultaneously of the continuing murders in Tehran. Hussein had written to tell Kamal that they were working for Akbar, and how he had discovered the latest victim. And Helene had informed Farid that Zahra no longer worked for Youssef and Jenny, but was singing in Akbar’s café.

For the first time since he had left Iran, Farid experienced a pang of jealousy which he did not understand.

“My…” they both exclaimed.

“You first !”

“No, you first !”

“I was going to say my aunt…”

“I was going to say my brother…”

“Why don’t we just read each other’s letters ? I haven’t any secrets,” suggested Farid.

“Brilliant idea. Nor have I.”

They exchanged letters and shortly looked up at each other. Kamal was the first to speak.

“It was very thoughtful of Zahra to ask Akbar to employ my brothers.”

“Yes. She’s like that,” replied Farid. “She’s kind to everybody.”

“I know it’s none of my business, but I can’t help feeling she’s in danger after what Hussein told me.”

“That’s exactly what I feel,” answered Farid. “But what can we do here, thousands of kilometres away ? You know something ? I don’t think it’s the mullahs at all.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Kamal. “Even a mad one wouldn’t dump a body inside a ‘hejleh’. That’s a complete sacrilege. They’re not stupid. If it was a mullah, he would disguise himself in ordinary clothes. No, someone is trying to turn the people against them…”

In the letters that followed, Farid and Kamal learnt of several mass demonstrations mounted against the clergy in which the crowds vented their feelings of frustration and outrage at the killings, and against the inability of the police to find any clues let alone the murderer. The people’s sense of injustice had been further heightened when it was learnt that a mullah was the prime suspect for Hassan’s murder.

“All we can do is sit and wait,” said Kamal to Farid one Saturday morning.

“I know, but the police don’t usually take this long. They always get someone, even if it’s the wrong person.”

“Well, that’s no good this time. When it’s a one off murder, the killer is probably ecstatic if someone else gets the blame. But if it’s a serial killer like this one, then they have to catch the real culprit, otherwise the murders will just continue.”

“Yes, you’re right. Well, I think there are two possibilities.”

“Which are …?”

“Well, my first line of thinking would point the finger at the secret police in which case they’ll never be caught. The mullahs will be forced to go underground, or into exile like Khomeini, the one the Shah threw out. The second one is that it’s the work of foreign agents who support the Shah, and don’t want the clergy to get control of the country, otherwise they lose their power in Iran. Trouble is, I don’t know which one it is, because either way the mullahs are being blamed.”

“I think you second theory is right,” said Kamal after mulling the ideas over.

“Why ?”

“Well, you know the Shah is trying to reform, to eradicate corruption and to make Iran a democracy…”

“Yes…?”

“Well, if, as you say, it’s the secret police, then they would only be acting under his orders. He’d be shooting himself in the foot if the people found out, and that would be the end of him.”

“Go on.”

“On the other hand, if it were foreign agents, then the people would blame the West, the mullahs would regain their trust and support…”

“…and overthrow the Shah,” finished Farid.

“No, not necessarily. He could remain much the same as the Queen in this country with a constitutional monarchy.”

“Well, I hope that it is foreign agents. But, either way, it doesn’t look good.”

“Nothing looks good if you’re hungry,” quipped Kamal light heartedly. “I’m the chef for today. What do you fancy for dinner ?”

“Oh, some decent rice. Mine always sticks, but yours is always perfect !”

“Well, I had to help my mother loads, so I’ve had a lot of practice. Yours will improve soon, too. Believe me, my family had to get through many sticky messes. We couldn’t afford to throw mistakes away ! How about if I put it on to soak ? Then we can go into town to buy some meat and anything else we need.”

“Sounds good to me !”

On their way to the shops, Farid suggested a detour to the 1066 Bakery. He had become very partial to apple doughnuts and liked teasing the homely, plump, young girl who served behind the counter.

“Good morning, Becky,” he greeted her cheerfully.

“The usual is it ?” she asked shyly.

“Of course !”

“What about you ?” he asked, addressing Kamal.

“Yes, please. The same,” answered Kamal.

“Shall we stay here and have them with some tea, or do you want to eat them on the way ?”

“I’d prefer to go on if you don’t mind. If I have any more tea, I’ll be running to the loo !”

“That’s all then, Becky. See you again soon.”

Becky gave them a diffident smile as they sauntered out of the warm bakery into the bracing sea air, munching their doughnuts from white paper bags.

At the butcher’s, they opted for an easily prepared meal and bought some lamb chops to grill. A quick trip to the grocer’s took care of lettuce and tomatoes for a salad, and some fruit.

“I wish we could buy some decent ‘sabzi’”, declared Farid mournfully.

“We’d probably need to find a Persian shop selling home goodies to exiles and émigrés,” answered Kamal. “The most likely place would be London.”

“In that case, we’ll get up really early next weekend and take the train up. Do you fancy it ?”

“You’re on !” replied Kamal enthusiastically. “I can smell the bread already !”

“Well, if we’re to spend next weekend there, let’s get back quick and do all the homework and extra revision in advance so we won’t spoil our trip feeling guilty or stressed !”

Farid and Kamal had thrown themselves into their studies with such fervour, that they had come joint first in their English exam, and, moreover, had learnt to speak the language with impeccable accents. A prize had been offered by the military attaché for the top student, but as yet, the nature of the prize had not been announced.

In Tehran, worried, religious leaders had sought an audience with the Shah. It was not the way, they had told him, to get the support and respect of the nation by mounting an insidious campaign against them, when religion was the mainstay of many people’s existence, and of which their own king was a faithful follower. They had been astounded to learn that Savak had played no part in the murders or the current unrest. They were assured that every effort would be made to unmask the plot and, indeed, those responsible. But they came away more confused and sceptical than before.

An urgent phone call was received by the Iranian military attaché in London. A young cadet who excelled in English was to be temporarily recalled to Tehran.

“… under what pretext ?”

“A prize for the top student. A return ticket home to Tehran to celebrate Noh Ruz (the Persian New Year). “

“Two students came joint first.”

“Very well. Send them both.”

Farid and Kamal could scarcely contain their delight when told what their hard work had earned them.

“You lucky beggars,” said Reza enviously as they sat in the coffee bar next door to the language school. “I wish I could go.”

“Your parents can send you a ticket, can’t they ?” asked Kamal.

“Yes, they can. But the Navy wouldn’t give me permission to go. You two have been given special leave for being swots.”

“Well, Reza. You should have spent more time studying books not girls,” teased Farid.

“Oh, shut up,” said Reza mournfully. “I thought I would learn better English going out with them.”

“Yes, but practical work needs theory to support it !” exclaimed Bahram.

“Oh, diddums ! Never mind. It’s only another year… and a half… “ said Dariush, trying to keep a straight face.

“It won’t be so bad,” said Farid. “I hear that last year the cadets were given tickets to go to a Persian concert in London to celebrate the New Year.”

“I’d rather go home,” muttered Reza.

“Look who’s being a baby,” teased Amir.

“Yes, snap out of it,” said Bahram. “Don’t be such a spoilsport. Nobody knew there was going to be a prize. Farid and Kamal won fair and square, so they deserve it.”

“Yes, you do. I’m just a bit homesick. Sorry guys. Well done. No hard feelings ?” said Reza stretching out his arm to shake hands.

“None taken,” Farid and Kamal assured him.

In Iran, preparations for the thirteen-day festival of Persian New Year on the first day of spring always started weeks beforehand, and took precedence over any other events. One or two subsequent attempts to stir up further antagonism against the mullahs had not gained momentum. The populace was too occupied with planning for the celebrations which, apart from religious festivals, were the highlight of the year. Homes were cleaned, food was prepared and everyone planned to enjoy themselves when families and friends reunited and children received presents from Baba Noh Ruz (Father New Year). In anticipation of the forthcoming holiday, some semblance of normality had even returned to New Town.

Farid and Kamal had not been permitted to inform their families of their visit until they had been debriefed at the airport and whisked away to military headquarters in secret. There, they were astonished to learn that they could not make contact until they had completed a particular assignment. Their mission was to trap the ruthless killer who was stalking and terrorising the women in the red light district of Tehran.

“… you have been chosen,” explained the Head of Savak, “because you speak perfect English, and you are, as yet, unknown to the spy network of foreign agents who operate here. The only clue we have is that the killer disguises himself as a mullah. He is probably English or American, so if you suspect someone, you must try and trick him into speaking English. You are to pose as Western tourists in Tehran. Go round the city, but especially New Town, and keep your eyes and ears open. Use cameras, pretend to have difficulty with the local currency. In fact, pretend to have the same problems that you probably encountered in England, but always, always stay together and never speak Farsi. Not even in your hotel room - it may be bugged. At the end of each day you must return to the Intercontinental Hotel where one room will be set aside for you at all times, and expenses provided for whatever you need. Use public transport such as buses or taxis, but be on your guard.”

“But we don’t look English or American,” said Kamal quietly.

“No, but you could pass for descendants of Italian, Spanish, or Greek immigrants who live in the UK or USA, and they all speak English.”

Kamal nodded still not convinced. “Our short hairdos will definitely give us away.”

In answer, the Head of Savak opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out two wigs of much longer hair. “I was coming to that,” he replied as he handed them over. “Also, as it’s still quite cold, you can wrap scarves round your faces ostensibly to keep out the wind.”

“What if someone we know recognises us ?” asked Farid.

“You only answer in English and pretend it’s a case of mistaken identity. However, with your training, I would very much hope that you spot friends or relatives first, and make every effort to avoid them and not be seen.”

“When can we tell our families we are here ?” continued Farid.

“As soon as the mission is complete. Your father will understand that, Nezam, and your father will too, Moussavi. If you are successful in your mission, you will have guaranteed commissions at the end of your training in England plus an invitation to join Savak. On a different note, I understand your father is not very well, Moussavi.”

“No, sir. He has spinal problems.”

“How did that happen ?”

“An accident at work, sir. But he was badly treated by the company he worked for.”

“Which company was that ?”

“The Izadi Construction Company, sir.”

“Why was he badly treated ?”

Kamal related what had befallen his father and the dire circumstances the family had been reduced to.

“Hmm. Leave it with me. I know the owner of the company. I think I can persuade him to offer your father some compensation and a pension.”

Kamal could hardly believe what he was hearing.

“Thank you, sir. He will be so happy. If he could just see a physiotherapist, I am sure that he could at least be made comfortable.”

“Yes, I certainly hope so. Now, any other questions ?”

“Not at present, sir. But if we do need to talk to you, can we get in touch ?”

“Oh, definitely. I shall be waiting in your hotel room every evening at seven o’clock - the time you would normally be there for dinner - to debrief you. Now, remember, this man is clever, cunning, dangerous and more experienced than you. He may be a real mullah who has turned renegade, he may not.”

He paused briefly and looked at each of them.

“Well, good luck, and do your best. A lot depends on you. There’s a car waiting to take you to the hotel, and after that it’s up to you.”

Farid suddenly remembered that it would be very difficult to ignore Akbar and Zahra if they were to frequent New Town. He voiced his misgivings to the man briefing them.

“Very well,” he conceded. “You will have to tell them what you are doing, otherwise it could ruin everything. Now, if that’s all, I will show you to your car.”

The operation to catch the assassin was under way. As yet, Farid and Kamal had no idea how they would trap him, but fortunately for them, the killer was about to make his biggest mistake.

Akbar had kept his promise, and made sure that no customers were allowed near Zahra as she sang in the café. As her confidence grew, so did her performance. Farid was constantly in her thoughts, so much so that it gave an added poignancy and appeal to her singing as she transposed her emotions into the lyrics of each song.

One evening, shortly before Farid and Kamal returned to Iran, Zahra noticed a man sitting alone at a table near the small stage. He was gazing at her intently. She felt that she knew him but could not place him. There was something about the man which made her uneasy, but he gave no outward sign of recognising her, nor did he engage in conversation with anyone else or show any interest in the girls hoping to attract business for the night.

“Something wrong, Zahra ?” Akbar asked her as she took a break in the sitting room halfway through the evening.

“No, not really. It’s just that a man sitting on his own near the stage keeps on staring at me.”

“Well, all the men do. That’s nothing new.”

“I know. But I’m sure I’ve seen him before.”

“You have been working here for two months now, and we have a lot of regulars.”

“It’s not here that I know him from.”

“You show me who he is and I’ll keep an eye on him. Don’t let it bother you.”

Zahra smiled at him.

“Thank you. You look after me so well.”

“I hope so. Do you like it here, Zahra, or…?” Akbar broke off in mid sentence.

“Or what ?”

“… or would you rather be back with Youssef and Jenny ?”

“Oh, no. I prefer it here. I love singing, so I’m doing what I like and I feel safe here too,” she finished shyly.

Akbar felt ridiculously pleased, but had still not declared his feelings for her. He was afraid of being rejected, and was very aware that if Zahra did not feel the same way, then he would lose her if she were not able to reciprocate his advances. He knew that she trusted him implicitly, and he did not want to betray her by compromising that trust.

When they returned to the bar, he saw at once the person who was making Zahra feel uneasy. With a big smile, he escorted her to the man’s table.

“Zahra, allow me to introduce Siyasaki. Siyasaki, this is our singer, Zahra.”

Siyasaki stood up immediately and put his left hand on his hip before extending his right hand to Zahra. She noticed a slight forward shrug of the shoulder, and the way his hand came over and down instead of firmly across.

“Your thinging ith tho beautiful,” he lisped as he shook her hand with a limp handshake.

“Thank you,” replied Zahra thinking how effeminate he was.

For the rest of the evening, whenever Zahra encountered his gaze, he fluttered his long, dark eyelashes at her coquettishly, gave her simpering smiles and clapped over enthusiastically at all her songs. At the end of the evening, he stood up to go and wished her goodnight.

“Who is that person ?” Zahra asked Akbar and Ismail as she was putting on her coat.

“Which person ?” asked Ismail.

“Siyasaki.”

Ismail grinned. “You know his name ?”

“Yes, Akbar introduced him.”

Ismail raised his eyebrows at Akbar.

“What ?” protested Akbar. “Zahra told me that he was staring at her, so I had to show her that he’s harmless.”

“What is your verdict, Zahra ?”

“He’s strange. He acts like a woman. He’s very effeminate.”

“Half of gays usually are,” retorted Ismail.

“What do you mean, gay ?”

“You know. A homosexual.”

“I don’t know what homosexual means any more than gay.”

“Oh, Zahra. Do we have to spell it out for you. A gay is a man who likes to have sex with another man,” stated Ismail.

Zahra looked at him aghast. “Ugh ! That’s unnatural. Does it really happen ?”

“You have led a sheltered life,” murmured Akbar. “Yes, it does. And Siyasaki is one of them. He’s been coming here for some time, and just sitting here not causing any trouble.”

“No wonder he wasn’t interested in the girls trying to attract him.”

“Precisely,” answered Akbar. “That’s why you don’t need to be nervous of him.”

“Then why didn’t he try to attract a man ?” asked Zahra.

“Because he would get a kick up the arse from me,” said Ismail in no uncertain terms. “If he wants to get up to something, then this isn’t the place. He can advertise himself, but he can’t pull, not in here.”

“It’s also illegal, Zahra,” explained Akbar. “If anyone caught him flaunting himself, he’d be put in prison.”

Well, thought Zahra to herself. She had certainly learned something new tonight. But how could a man physically have sex with another man ? When the obvious implications painted a mental picture, her cheeks blushed with embarrassment, and only the frosty night air helped her red face cool down !

In the early hours of the same night, a sinister figure approached the front door of Madame Ziba’s house. He tried the door handle, but found the door locked. A piece of wire inserted into the lock did the trick but, to his annoyance, the door was securely bolted top and bottom. These days, none of the girls forgot to bolt the door after a customer left, and Madame Ziba had, as a double precaution, stuck a large notice inside the door to remind everyone.

Cursing to himself, the intruder went down a side alley and climbed over a wall into the back yard. He found the kitchen door securely locked and bolted too. There was no way that he could force a downstairs window, as all of them were protected by ornamental wrought iron grills set into the stone walls from inside. His plan was thwarted. He would have to return during the day, and get in by different means.

The next day, he waited outside the house in his car. Shirin was the first to emerge wrapped in a short fur coat, and long black plastic boots with precariously high heels. Slowly he followed her up the street as she tottered along the pavement. As he drew alongside, he lowered the electric window.

“How much, girlie ?”

“Ooh, you’re early,” trilled Shirin.

“You know what they say. It’s the early bird that catches the worm ! Besides, I didn’t see you around last night,” he countered softly.

“Saucy too,” giggled Shirin. “It was too cold and wet. That’s why.”

“What’s your price ?” he persisted.

Shirin giggled again. “Well, it’s gone up, you know. Five hundred rials. But I can’t just now. I have to get a few things from the shop for Madame. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“When, then ?”

“This afternoon.”

“This afternoon is fine. I’ll meet you here at three o’clock,” came the low voice.

“I’ll walk past on the hour,” teased Shirin provocatively. “If you’re here, we’ll have a good time. If you’re not, then it’s your loss,” she declared, and watched bemused as the car sped away.

It had started to rain, and Shirin hastened her step to reach the shops before a downpour. The winter snow had given way to the showers and storms which marked the advent of spring.

In the afternoon, the car arrived near Madame Ziba’s house. Shirin did not feel inclined to move from a cosy room and brave the elements, but she peered out of the window and saw the same car waiting there which had followed her in the morning.

Well, he means business and times are hard, she told herself. If she waved from the front door, he would, no doubt, come over. She ran downstairs and beckoned to him. She saw the headlights flash in acknowledgement, and presently the man joined her at the house.

Madame Ziba heard them go up and reassuringly fingered the heavy hammer which she had always kept by her side since the murders had first started. After all, she reasoned, she had been a good time girl too, and who knew where this psychopath might strike next…?

As Shirin started to undress, the man suddenly said, “I need to go to the toilet.”

“It’s just along the landing,” Shirin informed him.

The man left the room. He had a vague recollection where it was but he didn’t go to the toilet. He went instead to Zahra’s old room and slowly started to turn the door knob.

“No, not there. It’s the next door,” called Shirin, who had peeped out behind him to check he would find the right place.

“Oh, thanks.”

He moved away and entered the small toilet which overlooked the back yard, locking the door behind him. From inside his long winter coat, he produced a small coil of rope. Quietly, he opened the window and fastened one end securely to the metal bracket holding the hinge of the wooden shutter, and then let the loose end snake gently down, camouflaged in between the gnarled boughs of an ancient honeysuckle climbing up the wall.

“You took your time,” admonished Shirin.

“Sorry, I don’t feel too good. Must be something I ate. Look, here’s the money anyway, but I don’t think I can stay.”

“Suits me, love. Pity though. You’re a nice looking bloke who could give a girl a good time.”

“Next time, maybe. When I feel better.”

“Yeah, come back again.”

“How will I get you ?”

“Just ask for Shirin.”

“Are there other lovely girls like you, then ?”

“There’s six of us here besides Madame. Got enough money for us all, have you ?”

“More then enough,” came the soft reply.

“Well, make it soon, then, handsome !”

“Oh, I will. Very soon…”

“Bye, then.”

Shirin waved the notes at him as he left, lying back seductively against the frilled pillows on her large double bed, wantonly exposing her breasts, her mouth drawn into a coquettish smile.

Several hours later, only a pale, new moon shone intermittently between the storm clouds racing and colliding across the night sky. The storm which had been forecast earlier by the meteorological office, was just breaking over Tehran. Forked lightning illuminated the shadowy alleys and side streets, and the silhouette of a man climbing late at night into Madame Ziba’s back yard.

The crashes of thunder masked the sound of his boots scraping against the wall as he climbed up the rope. The window catch, which he had earlier released, was still unfastened and he clambered stealthily into the toilet, crept out of the door, and into the next room. He paused to regain his breath before approaching the bed but, as the jagged streaks of lightning flashed across the sky illuminating the room, he saw to his intense fury that the bed was empty. Frustrated, he left to make his exit but was startled by a large figure emerging from the toilet. It was Hilda who had woken up to a call of nature. As she opened her mouth to scream, the man swiftly drew out a knife and plunged it into her stomach. Then, with an evil grin, he withdrew it, ripped open her flimsy nightdress, and carved a cross on each breast before calmly making his getaway through the toilet and down the rope.

His fatal blow, however, had not killed Hilda outright. Shirin had been woken by the storm, and hearing the thud when Hilda fell to the floor, went to investigate. Her screams roused the whole house bringing Madame Ziba and the other girls running out of their rooms.

“Call the police and an ambulance,” cried Madame Ziba cradling Hilda with her left arm, and with her right, desperately trying to staunch the flow of blood from Hilda’s stomach with a towel which Sonia had quickly produced. Hilda was trying to say something and she bent her head down to catch the dying girl’s words. All she could hear was a faint whisper as Hilda clutched her arm and uttered “Not…a…not…a…mullah…,” before she died.

“Jaleh’s bedroom door is open,” cried Pari, clutching her sister’s arm.

“No, it’s OK. She’s gone home for the weekend,” Madame Ziba managed to say. She was still in shock and could barely register what had just happened. It seemed like a terrible nightmare, but her blood soaked clothes and the inert body in her arms confirmed that it wasn’t.

Shirin was inconsolable as she later recounted the previous afternoon’s events.

“It’s all my fault,” she sobbed. “It must have been that man who came here. He spent a long time in the toilet. That must have been when he fixed the rope there to climb in later. He must have been out to get Zahra because he was going to go into her old room…. it’s all my fault,” she broke down.

“You weren’t to know,” soothed Sonia with an arm round the weeping girl’s shoulders.

“You must warn Zahra,” cried Shirin hysterically. “He asked about the other girls. He wants to kill her…..oh, Hilli..”

The doctor who had come with the ambulance had to give Shirin a sedative after Madame Ziba had led the distraught girl to her room and made sure she was safely in bed.

The police were grimfaced as they left, having taken down everyone’s statement before escorting the ambulance which drove Hilda’s body away. Another death, but their first real leads - Hilda’s dying words that the killer was not a mullah, and that his face was probably scratched by her nails.

Madame Ziba phoned Akbar immediately after their departure.

“Akbar ?”

“Yes, Madame Ziba. Something wrong ?”

He could sense that she was not her usual self. She couldn’t even utter the requisite niceties that custom dictated for starting a conversation.

“He got in here. He killed Hilda.”

She heard him gasp as she fought to regain her composure.

“Shirin thinks he’s after Zahra because he went to her old room…and…Hilda… Hilda… said something before she died. She said…not a mullah…”

She was forced to stop as she felt herself start to cry, “… but don’t let it get out because the killer doesn’t know that she…she didn’t die immediately.”

For once, even Akbar was lost for words. What could he say ?

“I’m so sorry,” came his shocked reply. “Is there anything I can do ?”

“Yes, catch the bastard before he gets Zahra or anyone else.”

“He’ll never get Zahra, not if I can help it.”

“Akbar, get him. Please…” said Madame Ziba brokenly.

“I’ll get him, Madame, if it’s the last thing I do,” declared Akbar down the phone. “And you’ll be the first to know.”

Akbar and Ismail were further surprised early next morning to receive a visit from Farid and Kamal who told them of their mission.

“Well, I can help you there, guys,” he said, and told them about Hilda…”so you know, at least, that it’s not a mullah. Not a real one, that is.”

“Do you think he means to kill Zahra ?” asked Farid.

“Yes, he does. Shirin said that he went into her old room at Madame Ziba’s, so he obviously thinks she still lives there.”

“Look, Akbar. We’ll come back later. Is Zahra singing tonight ?”

“Yes, she is.”

“Well, please tell her what’s happening, and not to show that she knows us,” Farid cautioned.

“Don’t worry. I want to get him as much as you do, but somehow, I don’t think that he will be back for a while. According to the police, Hilda must have scratched him badly. Some of her nails were broken and had blood underneath, so his face will be marked.”

“Could have been her own blood,” suggested Kamal.

“No. Apparently, there was blood everywhere but not on her hands.”

“Nevertheless, don’t let your guard down,” warned Farid. “I’m sure he can disguise a few scratches if he’s desperate for a quick result.”

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