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First Edition Web V1.0 2016


by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong

The Arab Legion Mystery

Therefore Sheol enlarges its throat
and opens its mouth beyond measure;
Down into it go nobility and masses,
tumult and revelry.
All shall be abased, each one brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty lowered.
But the LORD of Hosts shall be exalted by judgment,
by justice the Holy God shown holy.

(Isaiah 5:14-16)


"We're really no different than in the days when a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves." Detective Chief Inspector Adam O'Rourke shook his head. He was reading the latest report on the state of the roads leading in and out of Jerusalem. He and Detective Sergeant Peter Howard were in his office having a late afternoon mug of tea.

Gangs of brigands filled the hills between Jerusalem and Jericho and they were no less ruthless than those featured in the story of the Good Samaritan. The Arab gangs in the hill areas were usually men who had come together to evade arrest for separate crimes. They banded together and robbed travellers. The gangs varied in size from five or six to sixty or seventy. The Palestine Gendarmie did its best to be everywhere, but it could not completely clear the hills.

"In the days of the Turks, they covered the road with boulders," said Howard. "I was talking to one English missionary who was here in those days. She told me she would loudly call out in Arabic, 'is there any strong man who can help me move these boulders?' Then they would sheepishly come out and move the stones for her and her companions to pass."

O'Rourke smiled a rare smile.

"In those days, the brigands were a charming lot. Rather straight forward. They slit your throat if they didn't like you or they invited you around their fire for coffee if they did. It sounds like your missionary was a straightforward, plain-speaking woman with a sense of humour, just the sort to survive such an encounter. The sort they didn't like were the kind who tried to blubber or bribe their way out of the situation."

"Alas," he said, returning his attention to the report. "We have something quite different to deal with here. It reminds me of a passage in the Psalms, 'Have respect unto the covenant, for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.'" He looked up. "It falls upon us to destroy those habitations of cruelty."

"Isn’t that the job of the lads with the horses?" asked Howard.

It was true that the mounted patrols were primarily responsible for keeping the ancient roads and hills safe for travellers.

"Not when one of their leaders comes out of hiding," said O'Rourke. "Suspected in Damascus for the murder of his wife and in Amman for the murder of an honest merchant. Both crimes were more than just being expedient; they were executed in particularly cruel ways. Just the sort of vile piece of filth who has lost all humanity and certainly wouldn't roll away boulders for any missionaries."

Howard preferred the idea of Arab brigands who had an ingenuous congeniality despite their outlaw lifestyle. But at the same time, something stirred in him. This was a chance to do something significant to make this part of the world a better place. He put his Rosary back into his pocket. While O'Rourke had been reading the reports on his break, Howard had been praying. In any other town, he would never have done such a thing, but Jerusalem was not like any other town he had served in and Howard had gotten into the habit of pulling out his Rosary when things were quiet in the office and on the streets of British Mandate Jerusalem.

O'Rourke glanced over and demonstrated his tendency to speak his mind. "I never did understand why you people bother with all those Hail Marys. You talk more to her than most men do to their wives."

Howard smiled as he patted the Rosary in his pocket.

"Every knight needs to have a lady, sir," he replied.

"Well, I can't fault you for that answer," said O'Rourke, standing. Despite being an Anglican, Howard knew O'Rourke was a monk at heart. Poverty, chastity and obedience. No desire for society.

"So what's this man like, the one we're looking for?" Howard asked, also standing.

"Like Lucifer himself," O'Rourke replied, as they exited the office. "His name is Abd al Hakim and he masquerades as an angel of light. But he occasionally rears his whole being in pride and one can see the beautiful exterior crumble like dust. I met him once at, of all places, a dinner party at the High Commissioner's. Give me the common brigand any day."

"Al Hakim is said to be in Jerusalem," O'Rourke continued as they crossed the courtyard, stopped in at the station to sign out and exited under the arch to Jaffa Road. "But I doubt he's getting any invitations to any dinner parties. His past is starting to catch up with him and it's becoming evident to even the social elite that just because a man is charming, he doesn't need to be invited to every dinner party."

"Al Hakim," Howard repeated. "I believe that’s Arabic for the All-Wise. One of the names of Allah."

"Al Hakim is an insult to Allah and every other God in this city," said O'Rourke. "He should change his name to Iblis or Shaitan."

The Arabic names for Satan. One learned them fairly quickly when one moved amongst the excitable sellers in the souk.

"Where are we headed, exactly?" asked Howard.

"The last place where Al Hakim was seen," said O'Rourke. "A small house along the Jericho Road. Very close to the Inn of the Good Samaritan."

"We're going to walk all the way to the Inn of the Good Samaritan?" Howard asked. He had assumed that Al Hakim was in Jerusalem.

"There's something I didn't tell you." O'Rourke stopped walking. "Yes, I could leave this whole thing to the lads with the horses, as you said. But this is personal. I’m going to take Al Hakim myself."

Howard waited.

"And I'm going to do it," continued O'Rourke, "because Al Hakim was the one who killed your predecessor."

They had arrived at the inn in a showy Vauxhall borrowed by O'Rourke, an unmarked car that had no association with the constabulary but that belonged to a Jewish merchant who owed O'Rourke a favour. Something about rescuing his son back in the days of the Nebi Musa riots of 1920 when Arabs had spontaneously started killing Jews in the Old City. The car was as old as the riots, but it had been kept clean and running and all these years.

Howard had the feeling that he should be nervous, but he wasn't. One of his cases in London had involved the murder of a racecourse official. Behind the murder was said to be the infamous Charles Sabini, King of the Racecourse Games. Sabini hadn't limited his criminal activity to the race courses and was said to have politicians and constables on his payroll. At the time Howard had been investigating the murder, the thought that his own constable might be in the pay of Charles Sabini scared him more than the Sicilian assassin who had been brought in to commit the crime. Howard knew that O'Rourke could never be bought and that was enough comfort in a situation like this. He took off his hat and fanned it in front of his face.

"It's suffocating," he remarked to O'Rourke.

O'Rourke nodded.

"Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level," he said. "We're in the Jordan Valley now and the Dead Sea is 1290 feet below sea level. If Jerusalem is heaven, this is hell, by comparison."

Howard looked around at the brown, barren landscape and could understand the point, although, for his own part, he tended to think of hell as a far more terrifying than any place on earth. He had read Dante's Inferno as a young constable and found it so disturbing that he had immediately pledged to give ten pounds a week of his wages to a Catholic mission in East London because it said in the book of Tobit to give all your surplus to charity. "Almsgiving frees one from death and keeps one from going into the dark abode," it said in Tobit. That was the power of good literature, as far as Howard was concerned: it inspired holy fear.

The only other life in the lot was a pair of camels tethered to a post. A nearby stable suggested that people might also arrive at the inn by horse or donkey.

They left the car in the lot outside of the inn and set out on foot. O'Rourke had come prepared with water, some sandwiches and a pair of binoculars for both of them. He pulled a map out of his pocket and showed it to Howard.

"We're here," he said, pointing to the marked inn. His finger slid a centimeter to the north. "The house is supposed to be here." He looked up. "Probably over there somewhere." He pointed. They would have to climb a dusty, yellow hill with no shade. Howard looked back at the car in the lot and wished they could get back in and drive to their destination. The heat was stifling but at least the air moved a bit when you were in the car. Howard remembered how he used to feel the chill of a London fog when he had been a young constable on patrol. Then he had dreamed of hot countries like Africa and Arabia.

He sighed and followed O’Rourke who was already several steps ahead of him.

From inside the stone building, the innkeeper watched the two men. One did not need brilliance to see that they were two British detectives. If they were constables, they would have been wearing their summer khaki. If they were the army, they would have arrived in lorries. Instead, these two men had used a civilian car. They may have thought they looked like tourists with their binoculars and canteens, but most pilgrims to the site arrived to look at the inn featured in Jesus’s most famous parable, snapped a photo, and then climbed back into the car to move onto Jericho. The more adventurous might stay the night, just to say they had, but they never went beyond the perimeters of the stone walls surrounding the inn. What was there to see out there?

The innkeeper knew what there was to see out there. Al Hakim. Al Hakim the Wise. The innkeeper snorted, turning back inside. More like Al Hakim the Menacing One. For days now, the innkeeper had sensed his presence just over the hill. That is why his daughter was locked in her room, lest a chance encounter with Al Hakim result in her being his next wife. The rumour was, Al Hakim had returned to his country of birth to select a woman to replace the one he had lost under suspicious circumstances in Damascus.

It was this fear that had caused the innkeeper to send an anonymous message to O'Rourke. Like any well-informed Arab, he knew that a year ago, O'Rourke had lost a man to Al Hakim and he also knew that O'Rourke thought like an Arab. He would not leave the pursuit of Al Hakim to others. He would personally see to it. The innkeeper loathed the British presence in his native land, but he loathed Al Hakim even more.

From his house, Al Hakim watched the progress of the two men with interest. He was not in the house they were headed for.

For a long time, Al Hakim had been contemplating a return home to his native Jericho. True, there was now a British police outpost there. But what of it? There were the French in Damascus. The British swarmed all over Palestine. He was capable of doing business under all sorts of guises. But before he settled in, he wanted two things. The first was a wife. He had his eye on the innkeeper's daughter. He had first seen her ten years ago when she was five, playing in the courtyard of the inn. He had been twenty-two at the time, but he had liked the lively little thing and thought that if he ever returned this way, he would stop in and see how she was progressing. She had grown up quite nicely.

But the second thing he had wanted to know was if he could trust her family. He had allowed his men to speak freely at the inn where they had openly discussed his new home just over the hill. Except that it was the home of one of his brother's discarded wives. Al Hakim and two of his bodyguards had then taken up residence in a nearby Bedouin tent, much to the despair of the Bedouin family who was obligated by their own code to offer hospitality to any stranger, while he waited to see what came of it. And what had come of it was this, two British detectives foolishly masquerading as bird watchers with their binoculars and seeming witlessness, who were now approaching the home that Al Hakim was supposedly occupying. He was watching them with his own binoculars.

O'Rourke and Howard approached the house. Howard almost expected gunshots to come from one of the windows. His attention was diverted from the windows when they heard a noise from the side of the house. He already had his gun out, preparing for a shot but was more startled when instead of a gunman, it was a toddler leading a goat who appeared from the side. The child wore a ragged shirt and no nappy. He was unafraid of the men, intent only on his grip on the goat.

O'Rourke and Howard exchanged a quick but meaningful glance. How many other children were in Al Hakim's house?

From the tent, Al Hakim smiled behind his binoculars. Yes, they had come to arrest him. That was certain. One of the men had drawn his gun. So they were earnest in their pursuit of him. He lowered the binoculars and gave a signal. Two men with rifles appeared at his side. He pointed in the direction of the decoy house and gave quick instructions in Arabic. They nodded and within minutes had set out. Their rifles were now under robes that made them look like Bedouin shepherds. The British coppers would see them coming but would not likely shoot first. And if Al Hakim's men shot first, the two British coppers would not have a chance to fire back. Their bodies would be stripped of all matters of identification, mutilated beyond recognition and buried in the sand never to be found until Judgment Day.


The sound came from the direction of the Inn of the Good Samaritan. O'Rourke turned slightly. Howard kept his eye on the house.

"Oh God, have mercy," O'Rourke muttered.

"What is it?" Howard asked, choosing to not turn and look. The danger, he felt, was in front of them, not behind them.

"The vicar of St. George's," said O'Rourke. "Good man. In his place. Back at St. George's."

Howard turned slightly to see the vicar hurrying across the dusty landscape, waving a friendly hand.

"I was told by the innkeeper that there were some roaming English men in the vicinity," he called out, while still a distance away. "I thought I would come out and see if they were part of my flock."

Howard kept a wary eye on the house. The toddler and the goat had moved on, down the other side of the small stone house.

"I recognize you," the vicar said cheerfully to O'Rourke, now almost upon them.

"He's a Papist," said O'Rourke, nodding toward Howard. Howard smiled, not minding.

"Peter Howard," he said. "Nice to meet you, vicar."

"Now Detective Chief Inspector," said the vicar. "We do not talk that way. Anymore, anyway."

"We did in the neighbourhood I grew up in," said O'Rourke, turning his attention back to the quiet house.

"And what ne'er do well lives here?" said the vicar. "If I may ask?"

"You may not," muttered O'Rourke, but only so Howard could here. "We are on a stake out," he said in a louder voice. "I suggest you move along."

The vicar looked back to where he came, nodded, and turned to walk away.

That was when the first shot came, not from the house, but from the top of a sand hill.

All three men dropped to the ground.

"God have mercy," the vicar gasped.

Howard said a silent Hail Mary as he returned the fire.

O'Rourke was also firing and from the hill, they could hear a cry.

"That's one down," said O'Rourke, calmly. "God only knows how many more there are."

But no one else appeared on the horizon.

"Thank God that's over," said the vicar, standing. Almost at the same time, there was another shot and the vicar was gasping and clutching his arm.

O'Rourke had not taken his eyes off the hill. His shot took the man out. He slumped to the ground and remained still. The vicar moaned.

Howard pulled him back down and tore of the vicar's jacket. He ripped the sleeve off the shirt and looked at the wound.

"It's nothing, vicar," he said, returning his attention to the hill from where the shot had come. "A flesh wound. Just apply pressure and we'll get you help in a jiffy."

Of course, that all depended on how many more men with guns that they had to face. But this time the hill was quiet.

O'Rourke had been crawling forward on his belly. When he reached the base of the hill, he raced up, his gun still out.

But he encountered no resistance. The man who had taken the first shot had disappeared from the hill. In the distance, O'Rourke could see a few Bedouin tents. No doubt they would shelter him. The other man lay still on the top of the hill.

O'Rourke returned to Howard and the vicar. There was nothing they could do now. Every Bedouin had a shot gun and it would be unwise to proceed without help from the military.

They helped the vicar back to the car. He had also arrived by car, but with some tourists who had wanted to see the inn in Jesus's parable. Howard put the vicar in the backseat of the Vauxhall and got behind the wheel.

O'Rourke was fuming.

"By the time we get back, they'll have packed their tents up and be miles from here."

Howard agreed, but was also glad to still be alive, something that he gave the Blessed Mother credit for.

O'Rourke was quiet on the ride back to Jerusalem.

The vicar clutched his arm and talked non-stop. Howard suspected it was to keep his mind off of the pain. He felt sorry for the young man. He talked about what the bishop would say about his little adventure in the Judean wilderness. He thought it might make a good message for the flock, something to do with the story of the Good Samaritan, of course, until O'Rourke told him he couldn't say a word to anyone about the events of the day because it was part of an ongoing investigation.

They dropped the vicar off at the Palestine Government Hospital and returned to O'Rourke's office.

"I couldn't help but notice that you had very little sympathy for your vicar," said Howard, lighting the stove to boil some water for tea.

"I don't," said O'Rourke, looking around his desk for something. He found a small black book and picked up the phone, asking for the Transjordan Frontier Force stationed in Zerka. Howard waited until O'Rourke was on hold to speak again.

"His presence today seemed rather ordained," he said. "I think he might have saved our lives."

"Possibly," agreed O'Rourke, nodding, the phone still to his ear. "But I will say this about your Church. It breeds men. Ours tends to breed pale young men who prefer study to action." He turned his attention to the phone. Howard could hear an Arabic voice on the other end, but O'Rourke was asking for a specific English officer. Soon, O'Rourke was relating to him the events of the day and his suspicion that the Bedouins were giving refuge to Al Hakim.

"I suspect they're all halfway to Petra by now," O'Rourke concluded. A few minutes later, he had hung up. "The Arab Legion will be on the look-out for Al Hakim," he said to Howard.

The kettle started whistling. O'Rourke, who had been standing the whole time he had been on the phone, sat heavily down into his chair. "I'm ready for a good cup of char."

The next few days were quiet.

The innkeeper at the Inn of the Good Samaritan filed a complaint that his daughter had been violated by Al Hakim. He had been scared to say anything while Al Hakim had been in Palestine, but now that he was thought to have crossed the border, he was less scared and more angry.

O'Rourke was not happy to hear that Al Hakim had forced himself on the young woman, but if there was a silver lining to the cloud, it was that this was the first actual charge that could be laid against Al Hakim and it would give them a reason to arrest Al Hakim, not merely to watch him.

O'Rourke rubbed his hands together and said with satisfaction, "Once he's in our custody, we can contact everyone who he may have threatened or harmed. They'll be more willing to talk knowing he's in custody."

But Al Hakim remained at large.

And O'Rourke and Howard concentrated on local matters. There was a mysterious death that turned out to be a case of undiagnosed kidney problems, not poisoning as was originally thought by the coroner. A pedestrian hit by an automobile on King George Avenue. And a battered young wife who had arrived at one of the Jewish hospitals, telling the doctors she had fallen down a flight of stairs in her home. Suspicious, one doctor had taken the time to actually visit her home in the New City and discovered she and her violent husband lived on the first story of some recently constructed flats. O'Rourke was content to arrest the man on the basis of his bruised knuckles, which the doctor said was consistent with the broken ribs and broken jaw of his patient. Howard, however, wanted to know why and visited the man in prison.

He was young, not Orthodox and sullen. Howard sat with the man in his cell.

"I'm not here to force a confession from you," said Howard.

The evidence was circumstantial, but O'Rourke was relying on the testimony of the doctor and the couples' neighbours in the flat to keep the man in prison.

The man shrugged. He was Russian but could speak passable English.

"I just would like to pray with you," Howard continued, pulling out his Rosary.

The man snorted with disbelief.

"Are you a religious man?" Howard asked.

The man shook his head. He looked at the beads, perhaps associating them with the Orthodox Church. "In Russia, we are persecuted by you."

Howard was used to it. Some Jews said the same thing about the Catholic Church, citing incidents in Europe that went back to the days of the Crusades. For his own part, he had never met an anti-Semitic priest.

"Are you a Zionist?" he asked.

"What else?" the man said.

"Do Zionists beat their wives?" he asked.

"They do when their wives are sleeping with other men."

It was as good as a confession, but Howard decided not to treat it as such.

"I don't suppose it's easy to create a moral foundation apart from the Jewish faith," he said.

"What do you mean?" the man asked. He had been defiant since Howard had entered the cell. But for the first time, he seemed curious.

"If you were religious, you could make an appeal to your Holy Book," said Howard. "A marriage is supposed to signify the union between the God and his wife, Israel. That's why fidelity is critical and why a holy God demands it. He wants every man and woman to know how he feels when he makes an exclusive covenant with one people."

"You are Christian," said the man. "You don't even believe this."

"I do believe it," said Howard. "In a sense, the Church is Israel. And God demands complete fidelity. No idols. In the same sense, a man demands complete fidelity. No lovers. And yet, without that belief in God, there really is no reason for a man to expect the woman he loves to be faithful to him."

The man was quiet. He was thinking.

Finally he spoke.

"So, if I were Hasidic and spent my day knocking my head against the Wailing Wall, I could beat my wife for taking a lover?"

"If you were one of the pious ones, I suspect you would bear the pain like God did. Heartbroken anguish might even bring you closer to Him, since you would understand his grief. Like the prophet, Hosea."

The man sighed.

"I understand the philosophy of what you are saying. I have no moral grounds for being angry with my wife and if I did, I would not be the type of man to beat my wife."

Howard was pleased.

"Did I just confess?" the man asked. "That's not really why I'm here," said Howard. "I'm more interested in whether you're sorry for what you did."

"Not really," said the man.

Howard stood.

"Then I will pray for you."

The man was silent as Howard waved for the constable on guard duty to let him out of the cell.

When word came a week later that Al Hakim was once again freely walking the streets of Damascus, O'Rourke fumed.

"If I want him, I'll have to work with the Frenchies," he said. "Oh why couldn't he have ended up in Amman or Baghdad?" The British were advisors to King Abdullah in Jordan and to King Faisal in Iraq.

Howard proposed a covert mission to bring Al Hakim back to Jerusalem. He, too, held a low view of the French Mandate in Palestine. At first, he had rejoiced that a Catholic nation had once again taken it's place in the Holy Land, except that the administration was so secular, it was even frightening the Catholics in Syria. The French government that had replaced the Arab government after the Great War had reached a point where it even spurned delegations of Church leaders. Howard had read in The Palestine Post that French children were being withdrawn from Catholic schools and that had resulted in fears that the schools would be closed all together. The Vatican had protested against the republican regime’s treatment of the Church.

Christians still did well in the civil service of the regime, not because of religious favoritism, but because they had been educated in the French schools and knew the language of the government.

Howard found it all somewhat distasteful compared to the more muddling, but less ruthless, British governing in Palestine. There was something doomed to fail about the British trying to please everyone, but Howard was still proud to be serving in Palestine and not in Syria. For his part, Howard didn't fret that they hadn't caught up with Al Hakim yet. He knew they would. He had asked the Blessed Mother that Al Hakim would be brought to justice and he had confidence that her prayers would bring about justice. God loved justice and Jesus never said no to his mother.

Both O'Rourke and Howard worked long hours since there was only a narrow room to return to at the end of the day and neither of them had any social life to speak of, despite that both the Grand New Hotel inside of the Jaffa Gate and the Allenby Hotel on Jaffa Road provided tea dances and weekly balls for the residents of Jerusalem and were well-frequented by the English. O'Rourke continued to chide him for praying the Rosary in quiet hours, saying that he found prayers to be dull. Howard had smiled and told him that he would find life to be dull without prayers. He had observed a moment of interest in O'Rourke's face at that, even if it was just a momentary interest. But it was true, every time Howard picked up the Rosary, it was like entering into the life of Jesus and his mother, a way of traveling back through time. He had seen the holy sites since coming to Palestine: the places where the important events had taken place. Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Temple Mount, the river Jordan, Cana where water had been turned to wine, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Mount of Transfiguration, the Upper Room, the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Olivet where Jesus had ascended: all the place commemorated by the Rosary, in fact. But praying the Rosary and meditating on the events was entering into the Spirit of each place, and anyone, anywhere could do that.

"I feel at a disadvantage because I've never laid eyes on Al Hakim," said Howard. "He could walk right past me in the Old City and I wouldn't know him."

"It wouldn't do you any good if you did know him," said O'Rourke. "If he comes back to Jerusalem, he could dress as a Bedouin or an Italian merchant or a Latin monk and I wouldn't recognize him either." He was seated behind his desk and he leaned forward. "No, what I want to know is why he came to Jerusalem in the first place. It's clear he took an interest in the innkeeper's daughter, but I think that was not his main reason for coming back to Palestine. I've had five constables doing nothing but retracing his steps while he was here, questioning everyone he talked to and no one has opened up to us about it, if they know at all. He's a shrewd businessman, but Jerusalem isn't the obvious place to do business." O'Rourke leaned back. "The money is in Cairo or Damascus, not here."

"Then he came here for something other than a money," said Howard. "A woman perhaps?"

"He already has three wives," said O'Rourke, "and from what I gather from the innkeeper, after he violated the daughter, he graciously offered to make her his fourth wife." O'Rourke spoke sarcastically.

"The only thing left is religion," said Howard.

O'Rourke looked thoughtful.

"He's not known to be religious, though," he said.

"I think you'll find that in both our faith and in his, that as a man gets older, he takes more interest in how he will fare on Judgment Day."

"Al Hakim has more reason than most to fear that event," said O'Rourke.

"Then it's possible he came here as a kind of pilgrimage. Was he observed on the Temple Mount?"

"Yes," said O'Rourke. "He was. But it's not easy for us to monitor the activity there. There are so many rooms that are off limits to us."

"He may have simply been praying, or consulting with an imam," said Howard.

"It's a possibility," said O'Rourke, making a note, "and one worth pursuing. I'll have a couple of the Arab constables ask some discreet questions."

A week later, the report was on O'Rourke's desk and it was unambiguous. Al Hakim had been seen praying in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and had also attended a festival called Lailat al-Qadr, Night of Decrees, a night considered to be a time of great mercy and blessing from Allah.

"There are prayers and sins are forgiven," said O'Rourke. "Al Hakim donated a great sum of money to the Waqf to celebrate the event." The Waqf was entrusted with maintaining "the Noble Sanctuary" as they referred to the Temple Mount.

"It doesn't sound like he'll return to Jerusalem, then," said Howard.

"No, but we have something better now," said O'Rourke, looking triumphant. "If Al Hakim has become a holy man, he'll want to make the Hajj this year. I've contacted the Frenchies in Damascus. They'll have men at the Hejaz Railway from now until the Hajj has ended. The Arab Legion will be checking all trains at Dera'a. Pilgrims can't wear disguises. They are expected to arrive in white robes to signify that wealth does not matter and that they're all brothers and sisters. He won't slip past us again."

A month later, Al Hakin was in custody in Jerusalem. He had managed to make it past the French in Damascus, but had been unable to slip past his own at Dera'a. The Arab Legion had passed him onto the Palestine Police.

"You were right," said O'Rourke, sitting down at his desk. He had been the first to interrogate Al Hakim and Al Hakim had confessed to all the crimes he had been accused of and a few more they hadn't known about. "He wants to live a holy man and go to Paradise when he dies. He hopes that between now and then, he'll have enough time to balance the scales."

O'Rourke shook his head. "Although, he won't have much time left. After this, he'll be found guilty and executed."

"I don't understand why he tried to kill us that day," said Howard. "I mean, if he was a reformed man."

"I asked him that very question," said O'Rourke. "He claims he wasn't trying to kill us. He had sent his men out to bring us back by force, yes, but only to ask us if your predecessor had a widow. He wanted to make amends by giving her a gift equivalent to his lost wages. Unfortunately, the vicar stood up. Their plan had been for us to stay down on the ground while they came down the hill and marched us back to the tent where Al Hakim was staying. It was an improvised plan. Al Hakim had been hoping that we would never know he was in the neighbourhood, but the innkeeper called us. But Al Hakim did say that one of things he had planned to do in Palestine was to find out if my detective sergeant had a widow and to make amends."

"It doesn't sound like a bad ending," said Howard.

"I've had worse," agreed O'Rourke. "Al Hakim was easily the most hardened criminal I've ever encountered, but there was something different about the man today. He had softened. He was willing to take whatever came to him now, as due penance. If he hadn't confessed, the only crime we would have been able to convict him of was the rape of the innkeeper's daughter. Ironically, that is the one thing he wasn't sorry about. He said he was genuinely fond of the girl and that he would have lavished every luxury on her if her father had allowed him to marry her."

"Sounds a bit like the rape of Tamar," said Howard.

O'Rourke nodded.

"In this land, the Bible does tend to live itself out over and over, doesn't it?"


Read the next story in the Chronicles of Palestine:
The Body in the Garden Tomb Mystery by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong