But that was something he might have to work on.
She nodded and closed the door behind her. He breathed out deeply, trying to release the accumulating tension. He wouldn’t be here this afternoon, and he would never speak to Monsieur Cattiaux from the bank, ever again. He took some satisfaction from that, at least. A single crumb of comfort floating in his sea of troubles. If there was one thing he did not mind leaving behind him it was debt.
He put the empty container back in the safe and locked it again, carefully re-hanging the picture. Then he turned to his desk and began going through the drawers. Not much here that he would take with him. Almost impossible to anticipate what he might need in an obscure and uncharted future.
The azan call to prayer rang out across the kasbah, the voice of the muezzin carrying across the night, rising above the racket of the street markets and restaurants below. It was a familiar and comforting sound to Yves, coming as it did with the soft air through the open windows of his studio. Even in February the night air was mild. He would miss the climate. The heat of the summer, the mild winters, the clear, dry air. And the smell and sound of the sea. When silence settled across the city in the dead of night, it was always there, a sound like breathing. The deep, sighing, ever-present breath of the sea. In a way, he thought, it was what he might miss most of all.
The small leather suitcase was open on the bed. Prepacked and always ready, he was adding last minute items. Insignificant things. The detritus of a life to which he had grown too attached and was reluctant now to abandon entirely. An engraved silver cigarette case, a clock with luminous hands that he had bought at the souk, a gold wrist chain given him by Salima. He paused and wondered about her photograph. It stood in a pewter frame on the bedside table. When he hadn’t wakened to her on his pillow, she had always been there at the side of his bed. On an impulse, he tore the cardboard backing away from the frame and took out the black and white print. He looked into her dark, smiling eyes, and ran a fingertip over her lips. Lips he would never kiss again.
He slipped it into the lining of his suitcase and stood debating whether he should call her. But he knew he could never explain the reason he was leaving, or make her understand why she would never see him again. And he wondered why that thought caused him more pain than the leaving of Magda and the boys.
In the end, he found a more practical reason for not calling Salima. It was just possible that his phone was being tapped, and he did not want to alert his pursuers to the fact that he was about to flee.
He closed his suitcase and sat on the edge of the bed looking around his studio. A glance at his watch told him it was not long after 11.30, and he suddenly felt very alone. And frightened. He had never planned for a life like this. Living in the shadows, watching for those who might be watching him. Forced to flit from one life to the next, always leaving behind the people and the things he loved. There was almost, he thought, no point in building a new life. Because somewhere, sometime in the future, they would find him, and it would all begin again. Wearily he got to his feet and lifted his case. The bastards were relentless. And if they ever caught him, his life would be over.
At 11:38 he pulled the door of his apartment softly shut behind him. The old stone staircase was in darkness, the bulb on the landing burned-out or stolen. He would leave by the side exit in the corridor next to the caretaker’s apartment on the ground floor, just in case they were watching the street. Once out into the maze of alleyways that riddled the kasbah, he could melt undetected into the night.
But the dark in the stairwell was profound, wrapping itself around him like a cloak, very nearly tangible. His outstretched free hand followed the line of the wall downwards as he searched ahead with each foot for the next step. His own breath resonated loudly in the silence that resided behind the thick, stone walls of the old riad.
Excerpted from Freeze Frame by Peter May. Copyright © 2010 by Peter May. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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