The Masked Messenger
David Conyers & John GoodrichHarrison Peel counted the dead as more covered corpses rolled into the Marrakech morgue. They weren’t really humans, rather the dissected remains of their flesh, bloody in leaking body bags. The sharp, coppery smell of blood filled the room, reminding Peel of an abattoir.
Lounging next to Peel was Fabien Chemal, a spook with Morocco’s DST intelligence agency. Chemal mumbled something in Arabic about being inconvenienced by the gory spectacle. While he watched junior spooks and morgue attendants catalogue the grim remains, he offered Peel a cigarette. Peel refused, wishing instead for a good strong coffee.
“How many dead?” Peel wiped his sweaty hands on cotton pants. It should have been cold in this place. That’s how they would have done it back in the NSA. Cold to keep the body parts preserved for proper forensic analysis.
Chemal shrugged, lit his cigarette. “We don’t know yet. At least eighteen dead: five Americans, two Germans, one Spaniard. The rest were my people, but I guess your people won’t care about that.”
“I care.” Peel said as he stood. The smell of death and smoke felt constricting from his seat in a corner. “The NSA care, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
Chemal raised an eyebrow. “I get the impression, Mr. Peel, that you were a little eager to come in person, rather than send a subordinate?”
Peel didn’t know precisely what Chemal’s rank was in the murky hierarchy of the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire. He did know that any time he didn’t spend with Chemal he would spend being tailed. They were controlling him, and this would make his job here more difficult than it needed to be.
The morgue was in the basement of Marrakech DST offices. At least one more level existed beneath their feet, reserved for DST’s prisoners and interrogation cells. In this building, the dead warranted more respect than detainees.
“Some personal reason perhaps, Mr. Peel?”
Peel ignored Chemal’s question. The Moroccan’s tone sounded too inquisitive, as if Peel were under interrogation. “You said you don’t know how many died in the blast? How’s that? And secondly I’m not sure it really was a blast. To me the bodies look like they’ve been sliced to pieces. Thousands of pieces?”
“They were ... They still will be?”
Peel’s stomach felt empty. He was confused, but then everything about yesterday’s terrorist bombing in Jemaa el-Fna square lacked any resemblance to sense. The blast had been invisible, soundless. People were shredded where they stood in the Marrakech market. Yet their clothes, wallets, purses, souvenirs and the pavement beneath them remained untouched. It was as if invisible demons had mutilated their victims with razor sharp teeth and claws.
“Do you know that some of the victims died before the blast occurred, hours, even days before?”
“I don’t understand?”
Chemal shrugged. “Neither do we ... really.” His burned-down cigarette hung precariously from his lip as he reached for another. Perhaps his need to smoke was only a need not to smell death. “Of the eighteen dead, two were market vendors who would have been in the square at the time of the blast, had they not been shredded three days earlier. The German pair were found in their homes two mornings ago in the same mutilated state.”
Feeling anxious, Peel rubbed the back of his head where it itched. He saw a pattern now, and wished he didn’t. Yet he’d been right to come so far, these people needed to know what he knew, if only they would let him help. “There’s more, isn’t there Mr. Chemal?”
“Yes.” The Moroccan lit a new cigarette from the embers of the last one. “Three more have died in the twenty-four hours since. Same cause of death: spontaneous shredding.”
“And none were in the square at the time?”
“They were when the blast went off.” He caught Peel’s stare with a sardonic grin. “You came all this way Mr. Peel, all the way from Maryland, U.S.A. Can you tell me what it is that’s happened here?”
Peel wouldn’t catch his stare. “You said the bomber is still alive? I need to speak to her before I can give you definite answers ... if I can do even that.”