Essaouira, the windy city.
It certainly deserved its name on that summer morning. From the height of the city, sea waves were fighting each other, rising, foaming, hissing their wrath against natural and man-built walls. Shiny and white, lime helping, the small buildings of the island stood impassive. Not so its inhabitants, particularly the merchants, whose sole protection was the narrowness of the streets, and who not only had to endure the moods of the weather but the caprices of the spoiled tourists as well
All this, amidst the beauty, the unquestionable beauty of the sight, Aimé reflected. With all the salty humidity, he wondered how many unsold items the merchants had to throw out.
Essaouira had a beach, but tourists who came hardly stayed longer than a few days, and Aimé understood why. He also could see why Essaouira could be a great setting for undetected crime. The wind was slapping his face with virulence.
From where he stood, he could see the port. It was a small one, apparently only capable of hosting low-tonnage ships. Indeed, it looked like an innocent little fisherman’s port. But Aimé knew better. He knew about fisherman’s tales.
They now reached the top of the ramparts. What if these tales were meant to hide secrets? Aimé went toward one of the old canons seated between the ramparts. “How far are we?” he asked.
Hafid, who was walking in front of him, turned back. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Unless—”
Unless I change my mind, is that it, kid? Aimé could feel the tension in the young Arab man’s gait. His curly dark hair, his sad dark eyes. A fucking sacrificial lamb. Eh, merde![i] Aimé stopped and lit a cigarette. He then offered one to Hafid, who took it gratefully. The two men smoke in silence for a while.
“You know, since we’re here,” Hafid started. “I could tell you about—”
“The cannons. Tell me about the cannons,” Aimé interrupted. The cop repressed a smile.
“Oui. I could.” Hafid was enjoying his Gauloise. Although he wouldn’t tell the French guy that he preferred American tobacco.
“So, I am a tourist now, eh, Hafid?”
“It’s just that, since we are here...” When Hafid threw his cigarette on the ground, his arm was shaking, ever so slightly.
“Okay, tell me about the fucking cannons and then we’ll go pay our little visit.”
Aimé smiled. “When was the war?”
“I don’t know. I don’t ...think so. It was in the 18th...no 17th Century.”
“You don’t know, and you want to give me a tour? Come on, Hafid!” Aimé smiled.
“It’s just that I am not sure there was a war. It’s more about ramparts and... protection. It happened during the reign of Mohammed III. He wanted his kingdom to be turned toward the Atlantic, so he chose Essaouira as the center. Only it wasn’t called Essaouira then. It was called Mogador.”
“That’s a Portuguese name.”
“Yes, it used to be a Portuguese place.”
Hafid raised his glance and tried to look at Aimé straight in the face. The tall Black detective responded with another one of his annoying smiles. A native of France working for the NYPD! What a combo! Allah, please help me!
“Mohammed III hired...” Hafid produced a sudden grin. Maybe he had found a way to soften the smiling guy and make him forget for a while where they were heading. “He hired a Frenchguy to build the city.”
“Oh yeah?” Aimé said. “Who?”
“A French guy—” Hafid muttered, frowning.
“I know, you said that. What was the name?”
But Hafid at the moment couldn’t remember the name of the architect. Or could he? “Ah, yes. Théophile Gautier,” he finally uttered.
Aimé smiled. “Théophile Gautier, like the writer? Like the guy who wrote about mummies and Egypt? You mean to tell me he wrote in the 19th Century and also built walls in the 17thCentury? What a guy, eh!”
Hafid was shaking. “The tour, please! Let me give you the tour first!”
Aimé was slowly but surely losing patience. To get something out of Hafid, he had to be as gentle as possible. Jane had been adamant about this on the phone, and 95% of the time—okay 98%—the goddamn Russian witch was right. So Aimé had tried to be as careful as he could. But he had to admit it: working without his partner Julie, who told him on a regular basis where to park his balls, was not as easy as he thought. Not being able to have Cool Cat Leek and his astute advice nearby, was challenging. And doing the whole damn thing on what was supposed to be a freaking vacation.
He frowned. Was visiting his family really a vacation? When they were not yelling at each other, it was because they had something in their mouth, either saucisson or Beaujolais.
Aimé touched his stomach. The sausage and the wine had gone there too. That’s why, when Jane had called, he had jumped on the occasion. He had a perfect excuse to leave his family. “Emergency,” he had told them. When he touched his stomach again, he really knew it was an emergency.
“Théodore Cornut, that’s it. That’s the architect,” Hafid said.
Hafid smiled. “He designed these ramparts Vauban style, see?”
Aimé observed the dented walls and looked at his watch. “It’s time to go and see your friends, Hafid.”
Hafid looked at Aimé, tall and stern before him. “Orson Wells came here,” he told him. “He used the narrow streets of Essaouira because they are snaky, like a labyrinth. And at night they get—”
“I know.” Aimé nodded.
A veil of darkness was slowly hovering over the sky, the walls and the cannons. Below the ocean kept hissing.
“The movie Orson Welles shot here, have you seen it? Have you?” Hafid insisted as he looked at the tall figure standing tall and dark next to him.
“Othello?” Aimé let his arm glide over a sleek cannon as his eyes traveled across the ancient stones. Thirty yards away, a small child, his mother holding him, was on another cannon, riding it horse style.
Aimé’s towering figure bent slightly toward Hali, who saw that the lids had lowered, and the smile had lessened. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. Come on, man, it’s time to go.”
[i]. Merde: shit (in French)