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First Edition Web V1.0 2016
How she has become a prostitute,
the faithful city, so upright!
Justice used to lodge within her,
but now, murderers. . .
I will restore your judges as at first,
and your counselors as in the beginning;
After that you shall be called
city of justice, faithful city.
Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and her repentant ones by righteousness.
(Isaiah 1:21, 26-27)
"Don't you think Romeo and Juliet is a bit overdone?"
The Jerusalem Play Society was having a meeting to discuss their next production. Their director, Ned Fields, shook his head.
"Not if we do it in an original way, Julia." He was speaking to their Society secretary.
"Think of it. . ." For a moment, his gaze shifted to some unspecified point on the wall of the large white room. "Romeo as an Arab. Juliet as a Jew. . . The feuding families of Montague and Capulet set against modern-day Palestine."
Julia Plummer looked around at the other two members present. "That's awfully daring."
Harry Crawford, their music director, also had a faraway look. "I can imagine the opening number. A bit like the Hatikvah, with a touch of the Arab Bedouin, it would swell as the curtain opens . . ."
The final member present was quiet before speaking. Gwennie Ashton, wardrobe manager. "There would be no wardrobe, then?"
"Au contraire," said Ned. "Your job would be to give it the authenticity. Capture the look of the sabra Jew, the panache of the town Arab. Love-sick Romeo. Demure Juliet." He thought for a moment. "Not that those sabra women are demure. Quite the opposite. Maybe we should make it a Hassidic Jewish girl. Modest. Demure . . ."
"The High Commissioner would have you hanged," said Julia, knowingly. "It would cause a riot to stage it that way. We're already being too daring."
"OK, we'll leave all religion out of it," said Ned. "A Jewish girl. That's all we need for now. Maybe a new immigrant from Germany."
Gwennie shook her head.
"She would have to be from an established family. That's the whole point of the Montagues and the Capulets. They have Verona divided. They're old families."
"She has a point," Harry. "We need the sense that they’ve been here for awhile."
"If we do it that way," said Julia, "we could have it between two Arab families. You know how they are. I've been told the ash-Nashashibis and the al-Khalidis have been battling it out for years over whose turn it is to be mayor each year."
Ned was thoughtful.
"That would be more authentic," he said. He spoke slowly, but not as if he were convinced.
"I know," said Julia, understandingly. "But it's less daring." She was almost twice his age, but attractive for a woman in her forties. She had a way of reading Ned's mind. Her husband was stationed at the army barracks at Sarafand while she spent most of her time in Jerusalem. She was too conventional for an affair but all of Jerusalem, nonetheless, seemed to think that she and Ned were having one. It was a good thing for her that Major-General Plummer disliked society and gossip and never heard anything that was said about his wife.
"It's authentic," Gwennie repeated. She was the only one in the group who read non-fiction and appreciated historical veracity. "Shakespeare would approve, I think. After all, in the end, the Montagues and the Capulets have more in common than the Arabs and the Jews. Having an Arab Romeo and Jewish Juliet is just too . . . obvious."
"She's right," said Harry. With Julia and Ned paired off, or so everyone thought, it was natural that he and Gwennie would make a couple, by default. And the gossips were not wrong on this one. Gwennie was not the most glamorous of women, but she was British and that counted for something in British Mandate Palestine where the Jews wanted nothing to do with an Englishman and the Arabs had a complex code of social expectations.
"It will ring true," said Ned, convincing himself. "Yes, let's make it about the Arabs. They won't mind. They’re a poetic people."
That settled, they moved on. The Jerusalem Play Society was made up entirely of English men and women. So they would be playing members of the old Jerusalem families.
"But I would prefer that we find authentic Arabs for the roles of Romeo and Juliet," said Ned.
"Ned, dear," said Julia. "No honourable Arab is going to let his daughter appear in your play."
"OK, then. An English woman will play the part. We'll darken her skin a bit and put some black kohl around her eyes. . ."
"Cynthia always has a good tan," said Julia, thinking of one of the players. "She'd do well in the part."
"Agreed," said Ned. "But we definitely need the authentic thing for the Arab Romeo. He has to be . . . smouldering."
"Rudolph Valentino," agreed Harry, not noting the irony that in The Sheik, Rudolph Valentino was an American playing an Arab.
Under Julia's efficiency, they moved along with their production plans. Often a Play Society labored over their production as if it were opening in London's West End, but this one fell just short of taking itself too seriously. They always reached a point where they started to move things along for the sake of getting back out and down Jaffa Road to Heinrich's, one of the older beer gardens, quieter than the newer ones and their favourite for being undiscovered and therefore, authentic. Heinrich himself had been in Jerusalem long enough to remember the Kaiser's visit to the city in 1898.
Once there, it would be German stout for the men and ginger beer for the ladies.
"I was so sorry to see Storrs go," said Ned, when they were seated in the shady garden. Ronald Storrs, first Military Governor of the city, had started the Pro-Jerusalem Society back in 1918, only months after the British had taken the city in December of 1917. "He was a supporter of the arts. We could have counted on him."
Julia was quiet. She and Major General Plummer were also in Palestine at the time of Storrs and she remembered the Governor of Jerusalem quite well. He was a quiet man who loved music and chess, promoting both as ways to bring peace to the warring communities of Jerusalem. The Pro-Jerusalem Society was for promoting local arts and handicrafts and antiquities, not the English-imported culture. But she didn't say anything. Harry and Gwennie had both come out to Palestine after Storrs had been promoted to Governor of Cyprus. But Ned was a name-dropper and enjoyed being one of the earlier arrivals to work in the Palestine administration.
"I don't know where we're going to get an Arab Romeo," said Gwennie, always practical. "The amount of lines he'll have to memorize. He'll have to practically be bilingual. I can't imagine him having to play a part like Romeo if he can hardly speak English."
Now Julia agreed.
"Where do you think we should find such a creature, Ned dear?" she asked.
Ned shrugged, always the artist, expecting that such things would somehow come together. "Advertise, I suppose. Will you put something in the Post?"
Julia nodded. "I'll call for try-outs."
"Next Friday," said Ned.
"Don't be absurd, dear," said Julia. "That's the Muslim day of rest. We'll have to do it on Saturday."
The Palestine Post, being an English edition, was an ideal place to advertise for an English-speaking Arab to play the part of Romeo and on Saturday, the Jerusalem Play Society's small building on Jaffa Road had over ten people willing to try for the part. Ned, Julia, Harry and Gwennie took their place on chairs below the stage.
The first five were "impossible" according to Julia, although Ned thought one of them had promise.
"None of them could make it through a soliloquy," said Julia. "How could we expect them to make it through the whole play?"
Harry and Gwennie both agreed. When it came to amateur theatre, you needed dependability more than promise.
Number six was acceptable, but he was over forty.
Number seven was the correct age, but he spoke his lines in Arabic.
"That's a possibility," said Ned, turning to the others. "I mean, we all know it in English. It might be quite refreshing to have it done in Arabic."
"How do we know he's really saying his lines?" Harry asked. "He could be reciting anything. I'm told that when Lawrence translated for King Faisal at the Paris Peace talks, Faisal was reciting the Quran."
"I've heard that, too. I think we need an English-speaking Romeo."
Number eight knew his soliloquy and was in his early twenties.
"That's a definite possibility," said Julia, making a check in a small notebook on her lap.
The others agreed.
Number nine was hopeless. It was quite possible he didn't know he was trying out for a play.
Number ten was in a similar state. He asked when the lecture was going to start. He had come to hear a lecture about Romeo and Juliet.
"Number eight, then," said Ned. "Julia, if he's still here, break the good news to him, will you?"
Most of the actors had drifted away, sensing they would not be getting a call back. Julia found Number eight out on Jaffa Road, smoking a cigarette and taking in the passers-by. The New Jerusalem outside the old walls was rapidly becoming its own city, filled with commerce and European Jews.
"Have you ever been in a play before?" Julia asked him, thinking it might be wise to gather a little information before offering him the part.
He shook his head and then nodded, a decidedly ambiguous response. He dropped his cigarette and ground it under his shoe.
"I am in your play?" he asked.
"Possibly," she said, nodding. "Are you interested?"
"I am interested,” he said. He seemed receptive to the idea more than pleased.
"It's a big commitment. You would have many lines to memorize."
He shrugged and looked down at his shoe. Perhaps he was regretting dropping his cigarette so quickly.
"I have memorized poetry that is longer than your play."
Julia was familiar with the Arab capacity for poetry, having attended an evening where the recitations went on for hours.
"Well then," she said. "I am glad to offer you the part of Romeo if you want it."
"Rehearsals start in a week," said Julia. "We'll see you then."
Julia returned inside, feeling like their Romeo of Jerusalem was doing more of a favour for them than they were for him.
With an experienced player like Cynthia Carson, the part of Juliet was taken care of. But it took the rest of the week to cast the parts of Mercutio, Friar Lawrence and the Houses of Montague and Capulet.
Their Romeo showed up the next Saturday: his name was Ahmad, but everyone called him Romeo. And Julia could see that right away, the chemistry between Romeo and Cynthia ran the risk of the play being censored on opening night. This was Jerusalem, after all. Cynthia was supposed to be somewhat coy in the role of Juliet, but confessed to Julia afterwards at Heinrich's that Romeo's intensity made that nearly impossible. Romeo had not joined them at Heinrich's. Julia wondered if they had cast a Jewish girl in the role of Juliet, would their Arab Romeo have been willing to play the part? But he seemed to have no problem making love to an Englishwoman.
"It makes me blush to think of where that man had his hands when we did the balcony scene," said Cynthia.
"I'll be happy to have a motherly talk with him, if you like," said Julia.
"Oh you needn't bother," said Cynthia. "I'll manage somehow." She looked down at her still untouched ginger beer. "I feel like he was the man my mother warned me about." She sighed and looked about at the other players, now occupying all of Heinrich's back garden. Julia sensed that none of the men present had the ability to stir to life Cynthia's normally cool heart like their Arab Romeo had.
"I mean, I suppose he lives in a tent somewhere." Cynthia continued. They were sharing a table with Harry and Gwennie, but the two were absorbed in discussing music and scenery and costumes.
"I doubt it," said Julia. "He lives in Jerusalem, not the Trans-Jordan."
"He probably comes from a family of ten," Cynthia said, hardly listening. "If I met his mother, she'd expect me to give up all my freedom and serve her son tea for the rest of my earthly life. All his sisters probably currently serve him his tea and are glad to do so because he's a man and they're women."
"He might have been educated by the Americans," said Julia. "A lot of the Arabs in administration have studied in Beirut."
"I doubt he thinks of women as for anything more than bearing children," said Cynthia. She sounded more like she was trying to convince herself. "In his mud hut, somewhere," she added.
The thought of Cynthia, blonde and glamorous, bearing numerous children for Ahmad was incongruous.
"Cynthia, you're being consumed by the sin of lust. It never ends well. Besides, Major Carter keeps looking your way. I think he's going to make an excellent Count Paris."
"Until Romeo kills him," said Cynthia morosely.
Ned walked Julia back to her room. It had been awhile since there was a curfew and there were many talking and laughing sabras out, walking the stone streets, arm-in-arm, all brown and healthy-looking. So unlike the pale Jews of Europe, thought Julia, while Ned talked about the play. They passed the Russian Compound where the Russian pilgrims used to stay. Abandoned in 1917 when the Communists had taken over, it now housed the Law courts, government hospital and headquarters of the Palestine Police. The green-domed cathedral still stood in the centre of the compound.
They passed some of the newer buildings, the Post Office and the Anglo-Palestine Bank, before coming to Allenby Square and Barclays Bank.
They came to the Allenby Hotel, still called the Fast Hotel by some who remembered it from the days of the Germans and the Turks. There, Julia shared her room with another army wife who preferred town life to army barracks. The Allenby Hotel had the added advantage of being the home of the Soldier's Club, so their husbands could come and stay anytime they were inclined to.
"Good night, dear," said Julia. Ned leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. It never went further than that. While Ned returned back down Jaffa Road, Julia went in past the concierge and up to her room. Her room was quiet. Her roommate often stayed out late and Julia never asked where or with whom. For her own part, there was a sanctity in Jerusalem that Julia would never have violated, not with Ned or any man. Even her own husband embracing her when he visited felt slightly sordid. Perhaps she should have been a nun.
As she got ready for bed, she thought of Cynthia, morose over her feelings for their new Romeo. Julia shook her head. Cynthia, breaker of hearts, was now feeling the existence of her own heart for the first time. Major Carter was the most steady of Cynthia's admirers. In fact, most people believed he had joined the Jerusalem Play Society just to be closer to her. People had a tendency to confide in Julia and she knew more about her fellow players than anyone else. Discretion came easily to her. Gossip also seemed sordid to her.
She climbed into her bed and reached for her Prayer Book.
She wondered if Cynthia would take her advice and flee from fornication. Ahmad was an attractive man, but he wasn’t the Major. The Major would be steady. He would love Cynthia for a lifetime, not just for a night or two. The Arabs were like that, or so her husband had informed her. They would be happy to take liberties with a willing Englishwoman but when it came to marriage, they would please their families and marry for privilege within the Arab community. Perhaps that was a bit too cynical, but Julia suspected there was truth in it. Julia had known women who had ruined themselves over an Italian lover.
A Play Society usually had an unhealthy number of people to represent the seven deadly sins, even here in Jerusalem. But the only other option was to move to Jaffa. It was closer to Sarafand, but it was also where all the off-duty soldiers went and got rowdy.
She opened the Prayer Book and dutifully said her prayers. But it wasn't the kind of duty that was unpleasant. She felt she could freely talk to God in her own words, too, but sometimes the prayers of past saints just seemed more eloquent.
Ned returned to his room at the YMCA on Julian's Way. It was across the road from the recently-completed luxurious King David Hotel. The British had appropriated an entire wing for their Administration. Ned was a junior clerk, mostly in charge of filing the documents that Mandatory Palestine generated. It would have been an unimportant job in London because there files got filed away and forgotten about. Here, thanks to the many conflicting sides, even the most insignificant of documents were constantly being referred back to.
The lack of creativity in Administration had led to him forming the Jerusalem Play Society. At first, it had suffered for lack of members, but as more and more of the colonial set started arriving in Palestine, the numbers had swelled to the point that they could audition rather than have one member play three or four parts.
Cynthia, she was a treasure. The kind of player every director dreamed of. With Cynthia, you never had to worry about who was going to play your Juliet or Ophelia or Lady Macbeth. Her looks alone guaranteed people would come out for the show. He hoped Major Carter didn't convince her to get married. She would be a dazzling hostess who had no time for memorizing lines if she ever got married. And the Major was useful. You couldn't count on him to play Hamlet, but he made a decent Laertes.
Ned loosened his tie and pulled off his shoes.
The new Romeo was interesting. Perhaps they could convince him to stay on. There were so many dark and brooding characters in Shakespeare.
Harry, a police constable when he wasn't directing music, was in the barracks of the British Section of the Palestine Police on Mount Scopus. He was tired. He had run out of steam at some point during the evening.
In order to preserve law and order in Palestine, the average constable spent his days on patrol to detect and prevent crime. For Harry, it meant a day on his feet trying to cover enough ground to make the troublemakers think that the Palestine Police were everywhere. In the days of the Turks, they patrolled the Old City with fifteen men. Now the British did the same job with 150.
Other constables escorted tax collectors or escorted the government treasury. The less lucky served summons issued by the judicial courts or disseminated government notices. Harry yawned as he climbed into his bunk. The single men roughed it. The married men had it a little better. Joining the Play Society had been a way to meet women. So far, however, he had only been able to get close to Gwennie. Most women had higher ambitions than a police constable. With the army in Sarafand, they could aim for an officer.
Well, there was nothing wrong with Gwennie, if it came to that, he thought as he lay with his hands clasped behind his head. She was in Administration. Ned had met her and brought her in for her skill in costume-making. Apparently, he had asked her how she had found such a nice frock in Palestine and she had told him that she had made it herself.
It all seemed so ordinary, though. Harry had come to Palestine to get away from the ordinary. He had thought of it as history, somehow. The Bible had been read regularly in his house growing up and he knew the kings of Israel better than the kings of England. But he had arrived in Jerusalem to find it full of German Jews starting up European style cafes and town Arabs who spent their days playing backgammon. Perhaps he should have joined the Arab Legion instead. There he could have rode a camel and lived like a Bedouin from the days of Abraham.
He yawned again, not quite ready to sleep despite his exhaustion. That new Romeo would stir things up. The only woman who didn't seem to notice him was Gwennie. All the women were sneaking looks over their scripts. Not Gwennie. She had stayed by him and the piano and he hadn't seen her look Romeo's way even once. Of course, she was the only girl who seemed to have her head on straight. So what if she was ordinary? Better that than a girl dashing off to the tent of an Arab sheikh. Harry was drifting off. Yes, perhaps he should ask her to the next dance at the Ramle Hunting Club. He wasn't a member himself, but he knew a chap who was. Police horses were often used in the polo matches...
Gwennie the Ordinary was anything but ordinary. She had come to see that her rather plain face was a blessing. How the beautiful women went from distraction to distraction! Even now, at the Play Society, there was a tension in the air. The new Romeo had everyone's attention. But Gwennie knew he would never consider her, even for a casual partner. It was a freedom. Some people said the truth hurt. But Gwennie had found that if humility accompanied the truth, then the truth set you free.
How many had made themselves almost mad trying to decide which man to marry, never realizing that neither of them would make her happy?
Yes, a plain face was a blessing to Gweneviere Ashton. Besides, she had friends and she had family in Palestine. Her father was one of the earliest members of the Palestine Police force. He had arrived right after the Royal Irish Constabulary had disbanded due to partition. After twenty years in Palestine, he had risen to the rank of District Superintendent of the Southern District, stationed in Jaffa. Perhaps that explained why she was drawn to the Play Society. Harry was a police constable. Julia's husband was stationed close to Jaffa. She and Ned worked together in the southern wing of the King David Hotel. She didn't know Ned very well, though.
Ned, he was in his own world of Shakespeare. He never even considered a Gilbert and Sullivan production, like most colonial play societies. He would, no doubt, fail to notice that this new Romeo was creating havoc in the hearts of almost all of his female players and only see that he made a smashing addition to the cast for his ability to memorize long passages and recite them back in his sonorous broken English.
She knew from what Ned had said that night at Heinrich's that he was hoping that Ahmad would stay on with the Play Society. At one point, Ned had been talking about Henry V as their next play. After all, there were enough military men in Palestine to fill the stage for the battle scenes. But now he was thinking they could do Othello, with Ahmad playing the Moor and Cynthia playing Desdemona.
Unfortunately for Ned, Ahmad was found dead the next day. Had he been found dead in a street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, it would have been considered as, perhaps, a feud between Arabs. But he was found stabbed and lying dead on the stage of the Jerusalem Play Society, an Arab scimitar beside him.
"She isn't holy, of course, who is? But there's something of the saint about her. Or maybe the child. The sort of child that will see the kingdom of heaven."
Howard nodded, although he did not write it down. He knew what Mrs. Julia Plummer meant. For his own part, long before coming to Palestine, he had realized that his own Church plummeted even greater depths of the human soul. He would have gladly died for the Catholic Church. He knew one passionate Irish poet who had written that if the Catholic Church was a drug, he would have been an addict. Amongst the Anglicans, however, a girl like Gweneviere Ashton would seem rather extraordinary.
"Why am I telling you this?" said Julia Plummer. They were in the main hall with the stage. There were chairs sporadically placed around the hall with both cast members and stagehands using, not to weep, for no one seemed to really know the Arabic Romeo, but just to sit while they waited to be interviewed. On show night, more chairs would come out of storage and be arranged in neat rows.
Howard could tell that had they met under different circumstances, Julia Plummer would have been poised. He knew why Julia Plummer was telling him that Gwennie Ashton was a child of the Kingdom of Heaven. She was worried.
He glanced over at Gweneviere Ashton, being comforted by Harry Crawford. Harry Crawford, as a constable, had been ruled out as a suspect. But, alas, Gweneviere, or Gwennie as her friends called her, had not. It had turned out that she had dropped a valuable bracelet at last night's rehearsal. Valuable in sentimental value more than monetary value, she had returned to the Play Society's hall to look for it. She claimed that Ahmad was still there, in fact, according to her, he had attempted to embrace her and she had turned and fled without looking for the bracelet. In her favour, the bracelet had been found underneath a chair, which verified her story. Unfortunately, she had seen no one else in the hall.
For his own part, Howard would have been glad to rule out the girl, but he knew that O'Rourke would want him to keep an open mind. For that matter, even Harry Crawford, despite being a constable, could be a suspect if it turned out he was protecting his lady's honour. Harry left his Gweneviere's side and came over to Howard.
"I find your boss to be somewhat morose. He seems to suspect all of us."
"What can you expect? Most people come to Jerusalem expecting saints and he has to deal with all the sinners."
"True, enough," said Harry, "but I wish he wouldn't make us all feel guilty. Why would any of us wanted to have killed the Arab? We hardly knew him."
"Don't worry," said Howard dryly. "I'm sure the Chief Inspector doesn't just suspect your lot. He probably suspects every town Arab, every town Jews, every rural Zionist and every Bedouin sheik. Every Kurdish porter is probably a suspect, along with every European."
Harry's eyes widened. Howard realized it was because O'Rourke had appeared behind Howard.
"About the only people I don’t suspect in this town" said O'Rourke, "are the religious orders since it's my impression that those groups seem too busy saying their prayers to find the time to murder anyone." He turned to Harry. "OK. Tell me what you know. You say that you hardly knew him."
"Well, I hardly knew him," said Harry. "And he didn't seem interested in socializing with us. It's customary to go out after rehearsals. We're all equal here, so it's everyone from actors to stagehands. We're not snobs. He would have been welcome."
"What drinking establishment were in the habit of frequenting?" O’Rourke asked.
"A little beer garden in the German Colony, Heinrich's."
"Run by a Jew, I suppose," said O'Rourke, dryly. "And on top of it, he was probably a Muslim."
"I don't see what that has to do with it . . ." said Harry. He stopped. "Oh yes, I do. Yes, of course he wouldn't join us. What was I thinking? Hardly his sort of neighbourhood, what? And if he were Muslim, he wouldn't drink, would he?” Harry shook his head. "It's peculiar. When I'm here, I don't think like a copper. I'm just thinking about the music I'm going to compose. If I were on patrol, I'd never expect to see an Arab in a Jewish neighbourhood or vice versa."
O'Rourke didn't say anything, so Howard said, "It happens to the best of us." But he knew it didn't. He and O'Rourke had no social life apart from their careers. Howard had his prayers and his weekly Mass at the Holy Sepulchre, but that was it. He wasn't sure the Chief even had prayers, although he attended Anglican services at St. George's Cathedral every Sunday. He liked the Chief because in a way, they were both like monks who had taken a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience for the cause of justice in Jerusalem.
And that was a rare thing in Jerusalem, apart from the religious orders who, as O'Rourke so astutely pointed out, were too busy praying to murder anyone. Amongst the English administrators, they obviously had the time to murder someone.
He caught himself.
Why did he suspect those here in this room? It could have been anyone and was most likely a fellow Arab, not anyone here. A fellow Arab angry that another Arab should betray the cause of Arab nationalism and perform in an infidel play, perhaps?
He turned to Harry.
"It seems odd that an Arab would be willing to perform in a Shakespeare production."
Harry nodded. "Although," he said, "many of them came out for auditions."
"It's not surprising," said O'Rourke. "Among the Arabs, it's widely believed that Shakespeare was an Arab sheikh named Sheikh Zubayr."
Howard shook his head and smiled.
"That's why he's the Chief and I'm just a lowly assistant," Howard said to Harry.
O'Rourke looked pleased by not looking annoyed. That was his way, Howard knew.
"So it was an honourable pursuit, to play a part here," said Harry. "That rules out some fanatic killing him." Howard and O'Rourke both knew what he meant. "Perhaps there was something else in the man's private life."
Howard found himself still thinking it was someone in this room. It was fear, he realized. A sense of fear. Someone was afraid, maybe even more than one person. Murders happened all the time in fiction, but in real life, it was a big event, both emotionally and physically, to kill someone. Someone in this room had taken an enormous risk to murder this Arab and was now hoping he, or she, could get away with it.
Harry drifted away, back to Gwennie.
O'Rourke turned to Howard.
"I'm going to stay here and question everyone again. You go talk to Mrs. Ahmad. Take one of the constables with you. Find out if there's anyone in his life who might want him dead. Find out if she might be the one who wanted him dead. Whose life was made more convenient by the death of Ahmad . . ." O'Rourke consulted his notebook. "“Rashibi."
"Do you know where he lived?"
"Start with the telephone directory and hope that Mr. and Mrs. Ahmad Rashibi were progressive enough to be listed in it," said O'Rourke. "If anyone here knows his street address, I will let you know."
Howard went over to the telephone and directory in the corner of the room. There were many Rashibis in it and two A. Rashibis. He dialed the first number and asked if this was the residence of Mr. Ahmad Rashibi. He was informed that it was not. It was the residence of Abdullah Rashibi. He dialed the second number and a woman answered.
"Mrs. Ahmad Rashibi?"
"Yes," she said. "Who is this?" She sounded scared.
"Hello Mrs. Rashibi," he continued. "This is Detective Sergeant Howard with the Criminal Investigation Department. Is your husband home?"
"No," she said. If possible, she sounded more scared.
"Is Mr. Rashibi a member of the Jerusalem Play Society?"
"Yes," she said. "But he is not here."
"I am afraid I have some very bad news for you," said Howard, glancing over at O'Rourke who was talking to one of the many stagehands. Perhaps this would have been better done in person.
"Oh God," murmured the woman.
"We found your husband's body here at the hall where they put on their plays. I am afraid there was nothing we could do for him."
"He did not come home last night," the woman moaned. "I knew something happened to him."
"Would it be possible for me to come over and talk to you?"
There was a pause and then he could almost imagine her nodding on the other end. "Yes." He asked for directions to her house and learned that she and her husband lived in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. He and one of the constables who had been taking statements left the cool hall and exited to the sunny street, heading for the walls of the Old City. The route he chose took them past the Holy Sepulchre, the Holy Sepulchre that marked the very spot where the cross of Jesus had been erected and the very spot where his body had lain for three days. It struck Howard that within a half mile of this monument, a man lay murdered and that it was one of the sins that Jesus had died for that day nineteen hundred years ago.
Jerusalem had not changed much that day since Jesus had walked the Via Dolorosa. Men still murdered one another when they should have loved one another.
He pondered the fact that very few men took up their cross and followed their Saviour, as he would have liked. Those who experienced appearances of Mary often confirmed this sad fact. Three little children in Fatima, Portugual had recently been told by Mary that the Lord was much offended by man's lack of asking pardon for his sins. As he walked, Howard said a prayer, offering up to God all the thoughts, words and actions of this day and more particularly, all his prayers and devotions, through the Holy and Immaculate Heart of the ever-Blessed Virgin Mary, for the conversion of sinners. "Mary, refuge of sinners," he murmured silently, so as not to alarm the Protestant constable beside him, "pray for us. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you." He said a Hail Mary, something he would have been unlikely to do in the streets of London, but here it felt quite appropriate. So many in these streets were of religious orders or were here to walk the Via Dolorosa and moving from one place of prayer to the next.
Mrs. Rashibi's English had been good on the phone. He hoped that it would be good enough for the nuances of a police questioning.
He found the house easily enough. In the old days of the Mandate, there had been no street signs. But the first city governor, Ronald Storrs, had commissioned artists to make tiled signs that labeled all the streets in Arabic, English and Hebrew.
An emotional Mrs. Rashibi answered the door. Howard had seen the corpse and knew that Mr. Rashibi had been a handsome man. Mrs. Rashibi was a beautiful woman. O'Rourke was wise to send a constable along so that if there were any false reports that there had been impropriety during the questioning, it could be disproven. A detective just wore a suit, but the constable beside him had on the blue serge uniform that was worn by the constabulary during the winter months. Neighbours would know that it was official business.
Despite that this was the Muslim Quarter, Mrs. Rashibi was wearing a dress that would have been acceptable at an English afternoon tea and there was no indicator that she ever put on the veil, nor was there an abaya on a hook near the door to slip on when going out.
The two men were invited to step inside to a cool white hallway that led to a quiet, tasteful sitting room done in Western-style furnishings, but with the Oriental tendency toward cushions, mother-of-pearl inlaid tables and wooden lattice.
Mrs. Rashibi waved for him to sit down and Howard did, first glancing at the books on an end table. They were a mix of English and Arabic. Among the English ones, he observed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, as well as several by the more recent D.H. Lawrence. Definitely not reading for a devout Muslim.
"I’m sorry to have to ask you this," he said, when they were all seated. "But did you and your husband get along?" It was the usual question one asked a new widow if her husband died mysteriously. In London. Not in Jerusalem, as it turned out. Mrs. Rashibi's rapid Arabic didn't hide her outrage. In fact, it only made it more intense since Arabic was her native language. She stood, a blaze of fury. For a moment, Howard thought she was going to pick up an end table and bring it down on his head to avenge her honour, although, by doing so, it would ironically only demonstrate that she was capable of murdering a man. Helpless, he let her wrath run its course. The constable leaned forward, ready to restrain her if necessary.
But when she was done expressing her outrage, she sat back down and assured him in English that she and her beloved Ahmad got along splendidly, rarely fought and that she would never experience happiness again without him. Howard nodded, seriously. But he knew that there would be a full investigation of Ahmad. If he was such the man that his wife made him out to be, there would be other more objective people to testify to it. But he also knew he wouldn't be the one doing the questioning. They had Arab constables who would be able to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Rashibi's family and neighbours about the relationship between husband and wife. It was unlikely that that an English detective would find too many Arabs willing to gossip.
He moved on to the topic of whether there was anyone who would have liked to have seen her husband dead and again, she was the picture of indignation. No one wanted Ahmad dead. Everyone loved Ahmad. Their lives would be miserable now that he was gone.
Howard sighed at the lack of progress he was making. The house itself was interesting, though. Real estate in the Old City was not inexpensive and although the house was small, it was well-furnished. What did Ahmad Rashibi do when he was not playing the part of Romeo? Mrs. Rashibi gave a vague reply about exporting.
"What did he export?" he asked.
"Products," she replied.
Either she did not know or she did not want him to know. He pursued it and only gathered that Ahmad's work often meant travel to Syria. Howard hoped they didn't have to take the investigation to Syria. It was under French Mandate and it would take an inordinate amount of time to co-ordinate their investigation with Damascus. They ruled with a much firmer fist in Damascus where Arab nationalism lived on.
He knew O'Rourke would not want him to just walk away without something.
"Do you have any idea who would want your husband dead?" he asked bluntly.
She hesitated and he noticed.
"No," she said.
But he wasn't convinced. But that was all he was getting out of Mrs. Rashibi. He stood. By chance, he glanced back down at Mrs. Rashibi. Her face had been a mask, now he saw it for the first time. Grief. Despair. The emotions of a broken soul.
Howard knew he lacked intuition. It was people like O'Rourke who were the magicians of the police force, able to pull a suspect out of a hat and announce that he was the killer. But one thing Howard had that most of his fellow detectives didn't was a capacity to see the spiritual side of the problem. Up until now, he had considered Mrs. Rashibi an obstacle to conquer, someone who was hiding something. Now he realized that what she had been hiding was her pain.
"My dear," he said, sitting back down. Instantly, his tone changed. He was a man now, not a detective. "I am so sorry."
It was the tone and not the words that changed everything.
Mrs. Rashibi started talking. It was a mix of English and Arabic, but in the end, it all came out.
Her husband was handsome. That was fine at first. She knew he had had lovers before they married. Not nice women. The fallen kind. He had declared that all behind him and he had been faithful to her. At least, he had been until that advertisement in The Palestine Post. Why he had answered it, she did not know. Perhaps to increase his contacts. He really did have a legitimate business. His family dealt in olive products. He dreamed of having his olives sold as far away as London.
But something had changed.
Ahmad had changed. He had stopped being so loving. A woman knew. Mrs. Rashibi knew. Her husband was having an affair and he was having it with one of the English women. She had followed him one night and seen the woman. They had been making love in a dressing room. Mrs. Rashibi had crept away, ashamed, broken-hearted.
With tact, Howard asked her if she had seen the face of the woman with her husband. She had. She described the woman in great detail. Obviously, she had not just had a quick glimpse before creeping away. To Howard's relief, the woman did not resemble Gwennie. It was always better when saints stayed saintly. But the woman with Ahmad did sound like the woman playing the role of Juliet, Cynthia something-or-other.
It was tempting to get this information back to O'Rourke, but Howard stayed for another hour, the constable made tea and Mrs. Rashibi showed them a photo album of her and Mr. Rashibi in happier days. When they were done talking, Mrs. Rashibi declared she would never love anyone but her Ahmad and would spend the rest of her life in captive love to his memory.
The constable thought differently. When they were back out on the stone-paved street he said there would be other people to comfort her.
Howard was noncommittal. But if she were to marry again, Howard thought, perhaps it would not be to someone quite so handsome.
"It sounds like your Mrs. Rashibi is a strong suspect," said O'Rourke that night, over fish and chips at the Duck and Doodle.
"If Cynthia Carson were found dead on the stage, I would agree," said Howard, reaching for his pint. "But she wasn't angry with her husband, she was hurt."
"I still say that makes her dangerous."
"Then I take it that you don't suspect anyone in the Play Society."
"As you noted earlier today, I suspect everyone. It's just that nine times out of ten, it will be the wife or the husband."
"Normally I would agree," said Howard. "I can't give you any good reason for it, but I don't think Mrs. Rashibi did it. She loved her husband. She would have made him suffer for his infidelity, but she didn't want to lose him. I think in this case, we're looking at the one time out of ten when it's not the most obvious suspect."
O'Rourke shrugged and added some malt vinegar to his chips.
"I'll let you prove it, then. But one of the constables tracked the scimitar down to a seller in the Old City. He said he sold it to an Arab but was vague with the description."
"Obviously we cannot go on with Romeo and Juliet," said Julia. The Play Society was having an emergency meeting the next night. All its members were present. They almost filled the seats of the small theatre.
Normally, such a meeting would only have been attended by the inner circle of Ned, Julia, Harry and Gwennie, although any member was welcome at any time. But most people only bothered with the rehearsals. But it was still a matter of hours since a body had been found on the stage. The body had been taken by the police and the blood had been scrubbed from the stage by their cleaning woman, but if one looked close, one could still see the stain. There had been many mock deaths on the stage, but a real one was both sobering and thrilling.
"I don’t see why not," said Cynthia, sounding almost shrill. "Major Carter can be Romeo."
"But Major Carter is playing the part of Count Paris," said Julia, patiently. "He cannot play both parts."
It was true. An actor could play two parts if they weren't in the same scene, but Romeo and Count Paris had a duel together.
"It will not be the same," Ned moaned. He had been devastated by the loss of Ahmad, his Arabic Romeo. "We cannot carry on unless we do it differently. Perhaps a Jewish version. Do the Jews have warring families? Maybe an Orthodox girl and a sabra boy?"
"It’s a possibility," said Julia who had taken over while Ned remained in creative despair. She had organized the meeting and contacted the players.
"I'm not going to play the part of an Orthodox Jewish girl," said Cynthia. "I flatly refuse."
Julia thought about that and agreed with her that it was unlikely that Cynthia could pull it off.
"You would be an excellent sabra, though," said Julia. Cynthia's long brown legs and arms would look fabulous in the shorts and white shirts of the average sabra girl.
Ned leaned forward.
"Would you be interested in the part of an Orthodox Jew?" he said to Major Carter.
Major Carter hesitated.
"Anyone can play the part of Count Paris," said Ned, with insensitivity to both the current actor playing it and to anyone who might play it in the future.
Major Carter looked over at Cynthia on the other side of the room.
"Of course I'd be willing," he said.
Ned started to look hopeful. Julia leaned back. Ned would resume leadership now.
The door in the back opened. Everyone looked back.
Howard was momentarily uncomfortable. They continued to stare. His arrival was part of the ongoing drama.
He nodded. There was no constable with him today. This wasn't even official. O'Rourke had his best Arab constables out talking to everyone associated with the Rashibi family.
"I thought I would just stay and watch, if that's OK with you," he said.
"Of course," said Ned, waving a hand toward an empty chair. He had fully recovered. "We have decided to continue with Romeo and Juliet. We are simply working out the new players."
Howard nodded and sat down. He simply wanted to observe the interaction between the people in the Play Society. He wanted to get a sense of whether any of them were ill at ease with his presence.
It was disappointing. Everyone was now on their feet. It was a rehearsal. He gathered that the only business was to find a new Count Paris. Cynthia and her new Romeo, one Major Carter, were up on stage, in each other's arms, working out a scene. They seemed comfortable with one another.
"I say," said Ned, approaching him. "Would you be interested in the part of Count Paris?"
Howard was startled.
"Well, I . . ." He didn't like the idea. "I have very little experience . . ."
Ned shook his head.
"I'm doing an abbreviated version. If you like, I can cut some of your parts. Major Carter wanted to do the full version of the Count, but he's got the part of Romeo now. The important part is the duel. Can you duel?"
Of course he could duel. Every school boy could duel and how often had Howard feigned that he was Godfrey of Bouillon taking Jerusalem, making his imaginary enemy the mighty Saladin, even though Godfrey had died 38 years before Saladin had even been born.
He had to do it. Of course he had to do it. Perhaps it was an Arab who had killed Ahmad Rashibi. If it was, O'Rourke's constables would find him. But Howard had a sense that the murderer was in this room. He didn't know why. That is, he didn't know why Ahmad Rashibi had died. But he did know why he suspected that the murderer was in the room. It was what Julia Plummer had said about Gwennie. She had rambled on about her holiness, trying to convince him that although Gwennie was the person with opportunity, she was the least likely to kill the Arabic Romeo. Howard hadn't needed convincing. He was familiar with saints. Yet Gweneviere wasn't a saint. Julia, who seemed the next likely person in the room to be canonized by her fellow theatre players, was also not a saint. Not by Catholic standards. Only by the standards of this little clique. This group of people gave off no air of holiness. Most of them were too self-absorbed.
Since coming to Jerusalem, Howard had observed that there were pockets of Jerusalem where the air actually seemed thicker for the presence of holiness. Howard knew what it was like to be in a room with friars or priests who were lost in their own little worlds, but rarely was it because they were self-absorbed. They were absorbed in prayer or meditation.
Unfortunately, he had very little time for further study of his fellow players. He was handed a copy of Romeo and Juliet and expected to memorize his lines. Before he left, he and Major Carter had also had a mock duel on stage. Major Carter had the advantage since he had been practicing his dueling for the role of Count Paris.
O'Rourke listened with patience to the report of his day. They were drinking tea in his office. Howard had supplied the falafel sandwiches. Back in London, they would have been meat sandwiches. Here in Jerusalem, they were heavily seasoned fried chickpea sandwiches.
"I think you might be wasting your time," said O'Rourke. "One of Mrs. Rashibi's neighbours says Mrs. Rashibi was friends with another man. He visited the house once. Unfortunately, he was described only as a dark-haired man wearing a white shirt and white trousers."
"Arab?" This was news.
"He left in the early morning and he was moving fast. She couldn't tell. Mr. Rashibi often went to Damascus on business she told me."
Howard took this in. It wasnt inconsistent with his visit with the lady. Obviously she and her husband were both passionate people.
"I still don't think Mrs. Rashibi killed her husband," he said. "He was killed with some force." That was the reason that Howard had ruled out Gweneviere.
"In any divorce, the partner at a disadvantage is the one who wants to remarry. The woman who can wait indefinitely is hardly likely to murder. The question is, does Mrs. Ahmad want to remarry?"
Howard was quiet. He had the impression that Mrs. Rashibi had been genuinely devastated by her husband's infidelity and that she truly loved him. And the story of her seeing Celia with Ahmad was true. After the rehearsal, away from the rest of the cast, Howard had asked Celia how well she had known the Arab. At first she had said not at all and then when Howard informed her that an eyewitness could contradict that, she had admitted the fling. Because that’s all it was to her. "A mistake," she had said, but not sounding contrite about it.
The next rehearsal was in two days. He had a lot of reports to read. He was still convinced that the answer was with the Jerusalem Play Society.
Julia Plummer had been keeping a close eye on Celia. Something had changed since the death of the Arab Romeo. Celia had been shrill. She had been clinging to Major Carter. It was now Julia's fear that Celia had killed the Arab. There was only one thing that explained Celia's sudden attachment to the Major. Celia had had a dalliance with the Arab and then regretted it. The immediate consequence would be wanting to be with her own kind. Celia now seemed to want what Major Carter stood for, a solid, reassuring English presence.
It happened in the colonies. The exotic was alluring. Until it became all too real. And then a man or a woman scurried back to the English community.
But Celia's interest in him seemed to be distressing to Major Carter. After worshipping her from afar, he didn't seem to like her constantly holding onto him. She would have kept these observations to herself except that finding it hard to sleep after the rehearsal, she had gone down to the bar of the Allenby for a gin and tonic and found Major Carter there. They had already been to Heinrich's and had their evening beer and Celia had sat so close to Major Carter that she had practically been on his lap. But now he was alone. He seemed happy to have her company, though.
"How are you, Major?" she asked.
"I’ve been better," he answered, frankly. "What will you have?"
"Gin and tonic, please."
Major Carter waved to the bartender to get her the drink.
She sipped it slowly when it arrived. Major Carter ordered another whisky and soda despite that he had already had several drinks at Heinrich's.
"Our Celia seems to be throwing herself at you," she said. It was bold, but it was also stating the obvious.
"Yes, I don't know what's gotten into the woman," said Major Carter. He was morose. "She's spoiled everything."
Julia knew what he meant. He had enjoyed the romance from a distance. Celia was a spirited woman. But he really didn't want her laying claim to him with her constant attention. Julia repented of ever encouraging Celia in the Major's direction.
"She probably finds this death disturbing," said Julia, in her friend's defense.
Julia finished her gin and tonic and returned to her room. She hoped Major Carter didn't have too bad a hangover.
Howard had told O'Rourke that he wanted to talk to Major Carter about the murder. It was partly true. Romeo was supposed to win the duel which was just as well, since Major Carter's skills exceeded his. Still, Howard wanted to put on a good show. He wanted to meet with Major Carter for a little extra practice. He was on his way to the Allenby Hotel, where most military men stayed when they weren't at Sarafand. He wanted to get there before Major Carter set off for whatever it was he did with his days when in Jerusalem.
He showed his badge to the front desk and was told that the Major occupied room 202. Howard headed up the stairs. He didn't expect the Major would want to engage in a practice duel at this early hour, but at least they could set a time to practice on the stage of the playhouse, perhaps later today.
The Major did not answer his knock. Perhaps he had already left for the day. He returned to the lobby and was surprised to see Julia Plummer, large straw hat on her head, just heading out the door.
"Have you come to see me?" she asked, pausing.
He tipped his hat.
"The Major, actually. I was hoping to set a time for us to practice our duel. He doesn't seem to be in, though."
"I'd be surprised if he wasn't still in his room," said Julia. "I met him in the bar of the hotel last night. And we'd already had quite a few drinks at Heinrich's."
Howard thanked her and as she exited the hotel, he went back upstairs. This time he knocked and then checked the doorknob. This could be considered an official call. When it opened, he decided to at last poke his head inside the room and call out, "Police!"
There was no answer. And Julia was right. The Major was stretched out on the bed looking pale. In his hand was a service revolver. With blank eyes, the Major stared at him. Howard had a chance to take in the room. It was the room of an Arabophile. On the walls were framed pictures of Arabic writing. The bedspread was distinctly eastern, as were the scattered ornaments. Howard had only a moment to take it all in because the Major lifted a limp hand and pointed the revolver at his head.
"My God!" said Howard. "What are you doing, man?"
"You're the police, aren't you?" said the Major. "I assume you have come to arrest me. Well, I won't do it. I'll take the honourable way out."
"There is no honour in suicide," said Howard moving fast. He had crossed the room and leaped on the bed. With a swift grasp, the revolver was in his hand. He leaped back with it as the Major groaned and slumped over, not shot, but in despair.
"It's a mortal sin," Howard explained, as he emptied the revolver of its cartridges. "I won't have that on my conscience."
"She won't have me," said the Major. He groaned again and stretched out on the bed to stare at the ceiling. "I killed her damned husband and she won't have me. The bloody awful thing is, I think she really did love him and she was using me to get his attention."
Howard had to think fast.
"When did you two get involved?"
"Never," said the Major. He sighed and sat up. "That's the blasted part. We met because of her family's olive oil business. At some party. I liked her. Who wouldn't have? I practiced my Arabic on her and she was very charming about it. The Rashibi's are an important family. We're expected to keep the goodwill of the natives so most of us go to their parties when we're invited . . ." Howard let him ramble on. He had encountered Mrs. Rashibi on several occasions. Then he had visited her once, when he knew her husband was in Damascus, but then had lost his courage and hadn't even knocked on the door.
"She came to me and said her husband was carrying on with another woman. As soon as she described the woman, I knew it was Celia." Major Carter shook his head. "I rather fancied Celia myself. I'm not sure what I really wanted, though. I've thought about staying out here and I've thought about going back to England. I suppose liking two different women was part of that, somehow."
"So Mrs. Rashibi persuaded you to confront her husband?"
"Confront," the Major snorted. "That's a good word for it. She basically told me if her husband was dead, she would welcome me into her bed. I suppose she came to me because we had encountered each other so many times. I wouldn't be surprised if one of her nosy neighbours told her I almost visited her once."
"I wasn't thinking. I felt like my decision had been made for me. Celia was a tramp. Aisha was my future. She has family in Baghdad, you know. I thought maybe I could get a transfer out there and we could have a new start."
"Did you think you could get away with it?" Howard asked.
"I thought I could," said the Major said. Howard realized with some humility that his coming to the Major had had nothing to do with the case.
"You were hoping that the Arab scimitar would make everyone think he was killed by a fellow Arab."
The Major nodded.
"My only concern was that the Arabs hardly venture into Jewish neighborhoods socially and the Play Society meets in the New City. But, a lot of Arabs come and go to do business there during the day, so I was hoping that would be overlooked."
"The scimitar was sold to an Arab. How did you come by it?"
The Major smiled.
"Don't you understand the Arabs, detective? If you can speak Arabic, you're an Arab. I didn't buy it wearing the uniform of a British Major."
"No, of course not," said Howard. "And you're right. You almost did get away with it. But I'm afraid you'll have to come with me . . ." He braced himself for another suicide attempt. Not that jumping out of the window of a second-story room would kill a man. Or perhaps an attempt to escape. But the Major only stood and said, "What a cock-up."
"Indeed sir, indeed," Howard agreed.
"Not bad," said O'Rourke. "Can you I take you out for a beer?"
The Opening Night performance was over. The play had been a success. Making it about two warring Jewish families would create some controversy. The Palestine Post would see to that and Ned would be pleased. There would be future performances, but Howard had bowed out. As Ned had said, anyone could play Count Paris. One of the other male players had filled in with the part of Romeo, but Howard knew that Ned would be moving heaven and earth to find another Romeo with the stage presence of the late Ahmad Rashibi. He was glad he wouldn't be there for it all.
Howard thought about the cast party with all of the English elite in attendance. He thought about a beer in the odd but pleasant atmosphere of the Duck and Doodle.
"Yes, sir, I'd love that," he said.
Read the next story in the Chronicles of Palestine:
The Arab Legion Mystery by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong