Meyer peered short-sightedly at me through steel-rimmed spectacles. With his shock of untidy grey hair, the fraying collar, the shabby linen suit, he looked more like an unsuccessful musician than anything else. It was much later when I discovered that all these things were supposed to make him look poor, which he certainly was not.
‘What’s the charge?’ I asked.
Import of arms without a licence. I’ll give you the details later. Now get him out of here. I’ve got work to do.’
On the way to town in the jeep, Meyer wiped sweat from his face ceaselessly. ‘A terrible, terrible thing all this deceit in life, my friend,’ he said at one point. ‘I mean, it’s really getting to the stage where one can’t trust anybody.’
‘Would you by any chance be referring to our respected Chief Minister ?’ I asked him.
He became extremely agitated, flapping his arms up and down like some great shabby white bird. ‘I came in from Djibouti this morning with five thousand MI carbines, all in excellent condition, perfect goods. Fifty
Bren guns, twenty thousand rounds of ammunition, all tohis order.’
‘You know what happened. He refuses to pay, has me arrested.’ He glanced at me furtively, tried to smile and failed miserably. ‘This charge. What happens if he can make it stick? What’s the penalty?’
‘This was a British colony for years so they favour hanging. The Sultan likes to put on a public show in the main square, just to encourage the others.’
‘My God!’ He groaned in anguish. ‘From now on, I use an agent, I swear it.’
Which, in other circumstances, would have made me laugh out loud.
I had Meyer locked up, as per instructions, then went to my office and gave the whole business very careful thought which, knowing my Hamal, took all of five minutes.
Having reached the inescapable conclusion that there was something very rotten indeed in the state of Rubat, I left the office and drove down to the waterfront where I checked that our brand new fifty-foot diesel police launch was ready for sea, tanks full.
The bank, unfortunately, was closed, so I went immediately to my rather pleasant little house on the edge of town and recovered from the corner of the garden by the cistern, the steel cash box containing five thousand dollars mad money put by for a rainy day.
As I started back to town, there was a rattle of machine-gun fire from the general direction of the palace, which was comforting, if only because it proved that my judgement was still unimpaired, Rubat, the heat and the atmosphere of general decay notwithstanding.
I called in at police headquarters on my way down to the harbour and discovered, without any particular sense of surprise, that there wasn’t a man left in the place except Meyer, whom I found standing at the window of his cell listening to the sound of small arms fire when I unlocked the door.
He turned immediately and there was a certain relief on his face when he saw who it was. ‘Hamal ?’ he enquired.
‘He never was one to let the grass grow under his feet,’ I said. ‘Comes of having been a prefect at Winchester. You don’t look too good. I suggest a long sea voyage.’
He almost fell over himself in his eagerness to get past me through the door.
As we moved out of harbour, a column of black smoke ascended into the hot afternoon air from the palace. Standing beside me in the wheelhouse, Meyer shook his head and sighed.
‘We live in an uncertain world, my friend.’ And then, dismissing Rubat and its affairs completely, he went on, ‘How good is this boat? Can we reach Djibouti?’
‘Excellent. I have first class contacts there. We can even sell the boat. Some slight recompense for my loss and I’ve a little matter of business coming up in the Somali Republic that you might be able to help me with.’
*What sort of business ?’
‘The two thousand pounds a month kind,’ he replied calmly.
Which was enough to shut anyone up. He produced a small cassette tape-recorder from one of his pockets, put it on the chart table and turned it on.