An Arab Detective is Born During #NaNoWriMo2014

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Photo by Tamás Mészáros

I’m doing #NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of writing pell-mell, towards the goal of a 50,000 manuscript by December 1st. This is my fourth time taking the plunge to write 1666 words a day. I’ve only ‘won’ or finished on time once and that was for the award winning novel Saving Peace. The very first time I was distracted by Thanksgiving. Another year, when I was working on The Dohmestics, I was tied up in revisions for the paperback version of another project. Needless to say, whether or not I’ve finished, NaNo has been extremely productive.

The book is as yet untitled, so those suggestions are welcome as well. This is a new genre for me, crime thriller. Let’s begin with Ali, our detective who has a secret. And a very boring day job. Or so he thinks.

CHAPTER ONE WIP

On his way to the station, Ali’s mobile rang, filling the vehicle’s speakers with its metallic ring.  “Get down to the mall bridge,” Omar said, after a terse greeting. “There’s an accident.” Ali groaned. He made a sharp U turn at the next roundabout, cursing the position of his father’s house, a mere minutes from the busiest cross-city artery. He was their first call for this area and there was an accident on or near the bridge every weekend. When he arrived, traffic was already crawling up the bridge like burdened ants. “Send a tow truck,” he texted Omar. He drummed his fingers on the dash, inching forward, regretting not taking the marked vehicle they offered to everyone on the service. He despised the way others abused the blue, white, and grey SUVs, putting on their flashers to get past slow drivers, or turning on the siren to careen through crowded streets.  He drove his white Nissan like hundreds of others on the roads but the siren would come in handy in times like now.

After twenty minutes of bumper to bumper, he pulled over in front of where a white SUV had rammed into the back of pick up truck. The force of the impact from the much larger Land Cruiser flattened the truck bed like a piece of pita bread. Ali strode to the first vehicle; on the other side, squeezed between the passenger door and the bridge’s railing were two skinny cinnamon colored men. “Okay? You okay?”

They looked up, their eyes wide, stunned like camels that had fallen off their transport, taking in his full height, crisp blue and black uniform. “Fine?” The men looked at each other, then turned to him, doing the side to side head movement that always confused him. Did it mean yes? Or no? From the way they used it, apparently the head lilt could be both at once. Horns were starting to sound of the other drivers who wanted to get onto the bridge. Ali reassured himself he saw no blood or bones. He kept walking, to check on the other driver.

The other man was talking animatedly on the phone, his head visible behind the deflated airbag which had popped like a child’s party balloon. Ali rapped on the window, expecting a litany about how Indians didn’t know how to drive. Instead, the boy, for that’s how he revealed himself, hung out of the driver side window, his hands shaking.

“This is a new car,” he said in local dialect, the sun glinting on his braces. “My father is going to kill me.”

“Are you hurt?”

The boy shook his head. Ali could see the purple knot forming on his forehead, pushing to the surface. That was going to hurt. He nodded, indicating the boy should stay in the car. He didn’t bother asking for a license. There was no sign of facial hair on the boy’s angled cheekbones or curved lip.

“No one has been hurt,” Ali reported to Omar who grunted a blessing. “This is going to be a mess in ten minutes.” He hung up, trying in vain with the Indians to get the pick up to start. The engine protested, failing to turn over, the belts screeching like a cat being stretched between two poles. They were on the tail end of the bridge, slightly past the ascending slope on this slide, so that ruled out pushing the vehicle two hundred meters to the other end. Going backward made more sense, as they could find room to stash the vehicle under the overpass. But that would mean heading into oncoming traffic. His Nissan could tow the truck but the captain would frown on his getting personally involved. They watched traffic halt on either side for at least 2 kilometers; the drivers of oncoming traffic braking to see what happened. When the tow truck arrived, night blanketed the city, the call to prayer rising from the mosques in the area like fresh bread. He turned over management of the accident to the officer who arrived with the tow truck driver. “Don’t tell my dad,” the teenager pleaded. His cousins, around the same age, judging by their narrow shoulders, had shown up, taking photos of both vehicles with their shiny Smartphones.

That he had been sweating the two hours they waited for the tow truck soured Ali’s mood as well as his uniform on the way to the office. He sat at his desk, or at his station on the long slab of plastic counter, his hands at his temples. His eyes angled downward, towards his phone, like so many of the other policemen in the station. Well, when there were others. In the middle of the afternoon, as the desert heat rippled the air outside like a shimmering wave, he was the only one around during the shift change. Anyone entering the office would think he was watching a YouTube video or reading the Qu’ran and maybe take a seat, waiting for someone else to show up.

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