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Authors: Michael Pearce

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The Mamur Zapt and the Return of the Carpet

BOOK: The Mamur Zapt and the Return of the Carpet


Michael Pearce




A Crime Club Book


New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland

Crime Club Book


a division
of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New
York 10103

and the portrayal of a man with a gun are trademarks of Doubleday, a division
of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Library of
Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pearce, Michael, 1933-

The Mamur Zapt and the return of the carpet / Michael Pearce.—

ed. in the United States of America, p. cm.

“A Crime Club book.”

Title. PR6066.E166M3 1990 823’.9I4—dc20




Copyright ©
1988 by Michael Pearce

All Rights

Printed in
the United States of America


Edition in the United States of America


Cairo, 1908.
The heyday—or was
it just past the heyday?—of indirect British rule. Thirty years earlier the
profligate Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, had brought his country to the edge
of bankruptcy. The Western powers had stepped in but at a price, and their yoke
bore hard. In 1881 Egyptian unrest became open rebellion. To safeguard its
financial interests Britain sent in an army, crushed the rebels and restored
the Khedive, but from now on the Khedive governed in name only; the real ruler
of Egypt was Cromer, the British Agent and Consul-General. A complex apparatus
of control was introduced. There were British “advisers” at the top of all the
major ministries; the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Army, the Sirdar, was
British; so were the inspector-general of prisons, the commandants of the two
key police forces of Cairo and Alexandria, and of course the Mamur Zapt, the
head of the Political CID—the Secret Police.

But by 1908 British rule was not as firmly
based as it looked. Other powers were growing jealous. France had cultural
links with Egypt which dated back to Napoleon and had never forgiven the
British for staying on after crushing the Arabi rebellion. Many of Egypt’s
criminal procedures were based upon the Code Napoléon, and the judicial system
in general followed French lines. This meant that investigation and prosecution
were the responsibility not of the police but of the Department of Prosecutions
of the Ministry of Justice; that is, of the Parquet.

Turkey was also jealous, for Egypt was still
constitutionally a province of the Ottoman Empire, and the Khedive in theory
owed allegiance to the Sultan of Istanbul.

And all the time the underground forces of
Egyptian Nationalism were growing in strength and now, in 1908, were just
beginning to assert themselves.

Egypt was a country of many potential
masters. It had four completing legal systems, three principal languages and
several religions, apart from Islam. It had many, many nationalities. It was a
country ripe with ambiguities.
A country bright with sunlight
and dark with shadows.
And in the shadows, among the
ambiguities, worked the Mamur Zapt.

In this story I have tried to stay close to
fact. The streets are those of Cairo in 1908. The terrorist “clubs” were a
feature of the period, too. There really was a National newspaper called
and in 1908 Kitchener’s famous screw-gun battery really did accompany
the Return of the Carpet. There was even a Mamur Zapt, although perhaps he was
not quite like this one.



Mamur Zapt was sitting in his office one morning when his orderly, Yussuf,
burst into the room.

“Come quickly, effendi!” he said. “Bimbashi
McPhee wants you at once. At once! Nuri Pasha has been killed!”

This was an exaggeration, for the attempt to
assassinate the veteran politician had not succeeded; but Yussuf was not one
for pedestrian detail.

However, along the corridor Owen could hear
the assistant commandant’s voice raised critically, so he put a paperweight on
the estimates to prevent them from being blown all over the office by the
and rose reluctantly to his feet.

There was an Egyptian in McPhee’s room. He
was short and plump and apparently very agitated. McPhee was pouring him a
glass of water, which he took with effusive thanks and much mopping of his
brow. From behind the silk handkerchief steady brown eyes registered Owen’s

“Ah!” said McPhee, catching sight of Owen as
he turned: “Captain Cadwallader Owen.”

This, too, was an exaggeration. A romantic
Welsh mother had insisted on preserving a remote family connection through the
middle name, and Owen had once made the mistake of signing his name in full in
McPhee’s presence. The Scotsman, another romantic, had ever afterwards insisted
on using both barrels.

“Do you know Fakhri Bey? No?”

They shook hands.

Bey was passing when it happened.”

was in an arabeah,” the Egyptian explained. “There was nothing I could do. So I
told the driver to drive on and came straight here.”

very glad you did,” said McPhee. “We’ll get there right away.”

picked up his sun helmet.

fact, if you’ll excuse us—”

“Of course.
Of course,” the
other protested.

set off down the corridor.

don’t want me, do you?” asked Owen.

the Mamur Zapt, as head of the Political Branch, did not reckon to concern
himself with routine killings.

McPhee over his shoulder.

would have preferred to have carried on with the estimates. They were not
especially complex but required a certain attention, and he had set aside the
morning for that purpose. His predecessor-but-one had been dismissed for
corruption and Owen was sensitive on financial matters.

he collected his helmet and joined McPhee at the front of the building. The
large square of the Bab el Khalk was empty of transport except for one carriage
which Fakhri Bey was just getting into.

stopped as he saw them.

would be very welcome to share my arabeah,” he said.

we?” said McPhee. “There doesn’t seem to be any other. It would be taking you

at all,” said Fakhri. “It would be a pleasure.”

carriage was one of those with two horses and could take three passengers at a
pinch. McPhee and Owen wedged themselves in around Fakhri, and the driver,
after a great display of urgency, managed to get the horses going at a steady
amble along the broad thoroughfare of the Sharia Mohammed Ali.

now,” said Owen, “perhaps you could tell me exactly rçjiat happened

Pasha was shot,” said Fakhri. “It was dreadful. I am so sorry. He was a
friend of mine, you know,” he said, glancing sideways at Owen.

good chap,” said McPhee supportively, but then McPhee considered many people to
be good chaps whom Owen knew to be consummate rogues.

where did all this happen?” he asked.

“In the
Place de l’Opéra,” said Fakhri, “right in front of my eyes. I could not believe
it. I could not believe it.”

actually saw the shooting?” asked Owen, putting a heavy accent, and not too
sceptical a one he hoped, on the word “saw.” “Yes,” said Fakhri. “Yes, I did.”


“Or, at
least, I thought I did. I was sure I did.”

Again the
sidelong glance at Owen.

“Now I am
not so sure,” he said.

said McPhee, sympathetic as usual. “You certainly did. You told me all about

said Fakhri. “I know. And I told you what I thought I saw. But when Captain
Car—” Fakhri mumbled a bit “—Owen asked me in that sharp way of his and I try to
recall detail, what seemed clear suddenly becomes misty.”

said Owen, brightening, “that’s a start anyway.”

The usual
problem with Egyptian witnesses was not that they could not recall but that
they recalled only too well.

expect you’re used to this,” said Fakhri.
“The fallibility of
My legal friends, without exception, assure me that
eyewitnesses are not to be trusted.”

“It’s a
funny business,” said Owen, “what you see and what you don’t see.”

“I thought
I saw.

you did. Start again. Where were you when all this was happening?”

an arabeah.”


“I had come
down the Sharia el Maghrabi. I was just crossing the Place de l’Opéra.”

the statue?”

statue of Ibrahim Pasha, the famous Egyptian general who had led his army to
within a hundred miles of Istanbul, was a well-known Cairo landmark.

by the statue.
I was about to go down the side of the Ezbekiyeh Gardens.”

And you saw?”

saw Nuri Pasha. I think he had just come out of the Hotel Continental. He
walked right out into the Place, looking for his arabeah. I think.”

“About how
far from you?”

“Twenty metres, perhaps.”

you recognized lim?”

yes. He is very distincive. And I know him well. In fact, that was why I was
watching him.To exchange greetings.
If he saw me.”
“Did he see you?”

He was looking aboit and I thought he might see me.”


I was watching hin, and then suddenly there was a loud bang, and I saw Nuri
Pasha sagger and put his arms up and fall, and I thought: That must have be;n a
shot. Nuri Pasha must have been shot.”

shot,” said Owen, “ounded close to you?”

close. It made the torses jump. The arabeah swerved. That was how I lost sight
of the

me about the man.”

put his hands to his head.

am sorry,” he said. “Itis not clear.”

the left or to the rigtt of Nuri Pasha as you
looking at him?”

“To the right.
But I didn’t really
see him. It was just that, as Nuri Pasha fell, in the corner of my eye I
thought I saw someone move away.”

“A blue galabeah?”


grimaced. “Like al the other galabeahs,” he said.

long blue gown was the standard garment of the Cairo poor. They exchanged

a while, as Fakhri s
nothing more, Owen prompted:
“And then?”

was all,” said Fakhri. “The arabeah swerved and I lost sight of Nuri Pasha. It
was—oh, I suppose three or four minutes before I could look again.”

then there was a ciowd ten feet deep round Nuri Pasha, and you couldn’t see a

said Fakhri, surprsed. “That’s right. How did you know?”

crowd was still
thick ;vhen
they reached the Place de
l’Opéra, although the incident must have happened at least half an hour before
by the time they got there,

sprang out of the arabeah and shouldered his way into the throng. A constable
appealed from nowhere and joined his efforts to the bimbashi’s, laying about
him with his truncheon. Reluctantly the ranks of the crowd parted and brought
McPhee to where a man was lying stretched out in the grit and dust of the

space! Make space!”

thrust the bystanders apart by main force and held them

he said in disappointed tones. “This isn’t Nuri Pasha! Who is this?”

is Ibrahim, sir,” said a voice from the crowd. “He was wounded when Nuri Pasha
was shot.”

where is Nuri Pasha?”

was taken into the hotel, sir,” said the constable.

sort of condition was he in?”

that the constable did not understand, McPhee changed his question.

he alive or dead?”

voices from the crowd assured him that Nuri Pasha was (a) dead, (b) unhurt, (c)
suffering from terrible injuries. Leaving McPhee to sort that out, Owen pushed
his way back through the crowd.

one side of the mêlée two constables were casually talking to a slight, spare
Egyptian in a very handsome suit. He looked up as Owen approached.

“The Mamur Zapt?
I did not expect to
see you here in an affair of this sort. Mahmoud el Zaki.

Parquet was the Department of Prosecutions of the Ministry of Justice.

shook hands.

were here very quickly,” said Owen.

Egyptian shrugged his shoulders. “Nuri Pasha is an important man,” he said.

is Nuri Pasha?”


“That all?”

shot did not touch him. It slightly grazed a lemonade-seller.”

need for me,” said Owen.

need for me either,” said Mahmoud. “Though I expect I shall get the case now.”

Parquet, not the police,
responsible for
investigation. It was clear that they already had the case in hand. The
Ministry of Justice was nearer than the Bab el Khalk and they must have sent a
bright young man down as soon as they had heard. There was nothing that Owen
could do.

pushed his way back through the crowd to where the wounded lemonade-seller lay.

you badly hurt?”

am dying,” said the man.

seemed no evidence of any wound.

is your hurt?”

man groaned but said nothing.

the bum, effendi,” a woman said eagerly. “Look!”

lifted the man’s galabeah. The bullet had glanced along the buttock, leaving a
livid furrow.

will survive,” said Owen.

man was unconvinced.

am dying.”

is not a
you see,” said the woman. “It is your
wife.” The man groaned again, louder. The crowd guffawed.

heart, man,” said Owen. “You might have been hit in the front.”

woman looked up at him mock-demurely. She was a villager and did not wear a

“What difference would that have rnade,

at all in his case,” said a voice from the crowd. “He has not been with his
woman for weeks.”

wounded man sat up indignantly.

moved away. There seemed very few casualties from the shooting. Whoever it was
had thoroughly bungled his job.

was talking to the man from the Parquet. He signalled to Owen to come over.

think they’ve got the man,”’ he said. “He was seized as he tried to run away.”

by?” said Owen, surprised.

was very rare for the ordinary populace to intervene in an assault, which, as
opposed to an injury or accident, they tended to regard as a private matter.

not so surprising,” said the man from the Parquet. “Come and look.”

led them across the Place and into the Hotel Continental.

a small storeroom at the back, guarded by a large, though apprehensive
constable, an Arab lay prone on the floor.

was completely unconscious. Mahmoud turned the head with his foot so that they
could see the face. The eyelids rolled back to reveal white, drugged eyes.

dropped on one knee beside the man, bent over him and sniffed.

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