Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 1 – Temptation

A Zaid Karim Mystery by Wael Abdelgawad

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Author’s Note: This is entirely a work of fiction. The names and characters do not represent real people. The events depicted here never actually happened.

***

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Fresno, California

I prayed Fajr, practiced Kali – the Filipino martial art that I’d been learning since childhood – for an hour, then went back to sleep, only to be awakened around 7 am by the gnawing emptiness in my stomach. I rolled out of the small cot I kept in my office and stretched my lean 5’9” frame. I’d been shot in the right shoulder years ago, and it was stiff and sore this morning.

My fondest wish was to somehow earn enough money to buy something to eat. That might seem like a modest wish, but I’d eaten nothing but an old, wrinkled apple and a small bottle of sour chocolate milk the previous day – both items left over from my daughter Hajar’s last visit. If you think there’s no hunger in America, think again.

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It wasn’t that I didn’t have a job. Technically, I was self-employed as a private investigator. But work had dried up recently, and I’d run out of cash. Every bill on my desk was overdue, my estranged wife wouldn’t let me see my daughter because I missed the last child support payment, my office rent was ten days past due, and the electricity was about to be cut off.

If you’d told me that by lunchtime I’d have enough cash in my pocket to make all my financial problems disappear, and that the money would come from the Anwars of all people, I’d have laughed out loud and called you looney tunes.

***

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. Before the Anwars came in, Shaytan tried to tempt me with a curveball. The curveball strode through the door in the form of a tall white man with thinning gray hair and an expression so hard it could break bricks. I’ve seen expressions like that before, on the faces of men whose hearts have turned as cold as dry ice from either seeing or inflicting suffering on a daily basis, until the horror no longer touches their hearts in the smallest way. The faces of convicts and cops, career criminals and prison guards.

His double-breasted trench coat looked expensive, as did his shiny black shoes. He carried a fat white envelope in his left hand.

“Mr. Zaid Karim?” His voice was as monotoned as a flatline on a heart monitor.

I sat up straight and tried to pretend I hadn’t just been fruitlessly rifling through my desk drawers, trying to find enough loose change to buy a loaf of bread or a few bananas. I studied the man’s clothing for the telltale bulge of a holstered gun, and spotted it on his lower right, just about where the liver would be. I knew where the liver was located because I knew a hard uppercut to that spot would drop a man, and a knife thrust would finish him. For a moment I wished I hadn’t led the kind of life that would enable me to know that.

The man dropped the thick envelope on my desk. It made a thud like a cooked steak.

“I want to hire you,” he said without preamble. “Routine surveillance case. I want someone located. That’s five thousand dollars. You’ll get another five when the job is done.”

“Okaaaay,” I said slowly. As much as the words five thousand dollars made my heart beat faster, a stranger offering me a large sum of cash elicited immediate suspicion. “And your name is?”

“Anadale Peterson. I’m head of security at Chukchansi Gold. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

Anadale? Was that really a name? It sounded made up. Wasn’t that the name of a Star Wars character?

Envelope full of cash

“I studied the crisp bills inside…”

Hefting the envelope, I opened it and studied the crisp bills inside, riffling them with my thumb. Five thousand dollars. SubhanAllah. It wasn’t the first time I’d held that much money in my hand, but the thrill never got old.

I imagined finally getting out from under the mountain of debt that felt like chains dragging me down. I could pay my child support, buy a new computer – the current one crashed more often than a bumper car – and buy gifts for my wife Safaa and daughter Hajar for the upcoming Eid al-Adha.

Hajar was three years old, almost four. She liked small things – tiny dolls, rings, lockets, things like that. I would love to buy her a silver ring, or maybe a miniature train set.

With this much money… I actually licked my lips as I imagined buying myself a large fish burrito from the Mexican food truck that parked out front at lunchtime. Best of all, I could buy food for Safaa and Hajar. Not that they were hungry. Safaa’s nursing job paid well enough. But I could surprise her with an Alaskan salmon, or several pounds of halal lamb. Maybe she’d even let me take her and Hajar out to dinner at Chevy’s or Red Lobster.

Just as quickly as this mental train began to roll, it derailed. My heart sank as I realized that I was going to have to turn this money down.

I was the first to admit that I was no great shakes as a Muslim. At one time I knew ten ajzaa’ by heart – a third of the Quran. Now I remembered half of Juz ‘Amma – maybe. I performed most of my daily prayers, though I sometimes missed one. I fasted in Ramadan, but rarely prayed taraweeh. Now and then I prayed sunnah, but not regularly. Outside of Jum’ah and Ramadan, I rarely visited the masjid.

I wasn’t proud of any of that. I wished I were a stronger Muslim. I wanted to be sincere with Allah. I wanted to be a good example for my daughter Hajar, and a good partner to my wife, even in our current situation. But I couldn’t seem to figure out how to achieve that goal.

In spite of my torpid faith, there were a few rules I didn’t break. Alcohol and pork were verboten. I didn’t deal with interest if I could possibly avoid it. And I didn’t gamble.

Of course I’d heard of Chukchansi. The massive Indian-owned casino sat just off Highway 41 in the rolling hills near Coarsegold, about an hour north of Fresno, where I lived. That particular stretch of cattle country belonged to the Picayune Rancheria Tribe of Chukchansi Indians.

I’d visited the casino once on a job. I was following a man who claimed to have suffered a serious neck injury after apparently being struck by a security patrol car in the parking lot of a shopping mall. Using an expensive body cam that masqueraded as a tie pin, I took photos and even a few video clips as the supposedly injured man danced and drank with two overly made-up middle aged women that he picked up at the bar.

Never having been to a casino before, I was amazed to see that the place had thousands of slot machines and hundreds of hotel rooms, not to mention roulette, cards, an entire collection of four-star restaurants, and a spa. They must have been soaking up money like rain.

If this guy was offering five large right off the bat, he’d probably go double if I pressed him. Not that I intended to. It was just… man, that was a lot of money.

I knew this was Shaytan coming at me, tempting me. Sometimes Shaytan was more subtle than a black ant on a black rock, until you thought the evil impulse was your own; but this play was obvious as day. Knowing this, however, made it only marginally easier to resist.

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

“How’d you get my name?”

“An acquaintance.”

Setting the money down on the desk and reclining in my chair, I gave the man a hard stare. “Who?”

Five thousand or no, I wasn’t playing games with this breadstick. Did I think the FBI was above walking in here and trying to entrap me on a tax beef? Did I think the local FPD – the Fresno Police Department – wouldn’t try to jack me up, take away my license? No and no.

“Mike Estevez. You helped him when he was charged with assault a few years back. He works for me now.”

I relaxed a bit. “Yeah. I remember Mike.” I slid the money across the desk, pushing it toward him. “Afraid I can’t take your case, though.”

“You haven’t heard the details.”

I shook my head. “I don’t do casino work.”

The man looked around pointedly, surveying my dilapidated office. “You’re doing well enough to turn down five grand?”

Fresno, California

“I’d been living in this cramped office in central Fresno.”

Ever since my wife Safaa threw me out of the house six months ago, I’d been living in this cramped office on a crime-ridden stretch of Belmont Avenue in central Fresno. It consisted of one small room, a closet and a bathroom. My sleeping cot was folded against one wall. A small table in the corner bore a hot plate stacked atop a microwave oven. Next to it a mini-fridge sat on the floor, humming quietly. A tall bookshelf with ten cubbies held a variety of books, from private investigation manuals to novels and two different Quran translations, along with some children’s books and games for the few occasions when Safaa would let me take Hajar for a day.

Aside from that, there was the small desk I sat at, my practically fossilized desktop computer, a variety of surveillance equipment stashed in a locked drawer of the desk, and my framed private investigator’s license, which hung on the wall behind me.

Morning light streamed through a single barred window, illuminating a galaxy of dust particles that drifted lazily through the air.

“No,” I said finally. “But I’m turning it down anyway.” I didn’t trust this guy and didn’t like him. Coming in here, dropping cash on my desk and acting like my working for him was a done deal. He reminded me of men who had humiliated me and treated me like a subhuman when I was incarcerated.

The man snorted and looked at me as if I had sand for brains. He reached into his jacket pocket.

For some reason the motion alarmed me. My hand shot beneath the desk for the little .25 caliber automatic pistol that I kept beneath the desktop. The holster was screwed into the underside of the desktop with the butt of the gun facing me. I set my hand on the grip and fingered the trigger guard, not touching the trigger itself, but ready. The pistol was loaded and the safety off. I could draw and fire in a second. If the target happened to be standing in front of my desk, I could even fire without drawing.

Not for the first time, the thought came that when you’re prepared to shoot the people who walk into your office, you might be in the wrong line of work.

Putting my hand on the gun was an irrational and stupid thing to do. If this guy truly was an LEO – law enforcement officer – then I’d get myself either killed or locked up again. As an ex-felon, even being in proximity to a firearm was a crime. And though I’d been burglarized twice, and robbed of a princely $15 at gunpoint last year by a strung-out stickup man who jittered in off the street jonesing so hard he almost dropped his gun (he caught me in the act of microwaving a frozen burrito, and took the burrito along with the cash), I knew this guy wasn’t here to rob me.

The man’s eyes flicked to the spot on my desk immediately above the gun, as if he had x-ray vision. He froze. “My card,” he said in a drawl, as if talking to an idiot. His hand resumed its motion – though more slowly – and emerged with a business card. He dropped it on the desk and picked up the envelope full of cash. “Call me if you change your mind. Don’t delay.” He turned to walk away.

I released my grip on the gun that I was not legally allowed to own. As an ex-felon, possession of a firearm would get me an automatic five years behind bars. In my profession, however, it was a necessary risk.

The bell on the door jangled as he walked out.

I rubbed my neatly trimmed beard, thinking of the hefty chunk of change that had just strolled out the door. I could have done so much with that money. But… sitting there at my desk, reclining in my secondhand office chair with faux leather peeling off the arms, I nodded my head, as if trying to reassure myself that I’d done the right thing.

Allah would provide for me in some other way. I’d messed up everything else in life. All I had left was sincerity with Allah, sincerity with the people who loved me, and sincerity with myself. Perhaps the most important thing I’d learned in prison was that when you had nothing left – no home, friends, property or money – you had to hold on to your integrity as if it were your only garment in a snowstorm.

No matter what, I had to hold on to sincerity, or the being that was me, Zaid Karim, a Muslim, husband, father, P.I., and a man with an anchor around his neck who just wanted to get free, would dissolve into nothingness. I’d lose myself in the modern sea of moral subjectivity and apathy, and my life would have no more meaning than a grain of salt in a rising tide.

Next: Zaid Karim, P.I., Part 2 – Private Defective

P.S. Please comment after reading. Constructive criticism is welcome as well. – Wael.

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35 responses to “Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 1 – Temptation”

  1. As-salamu alaykum all. I’d love to hear from the readers. How is it so far?

    • Omer says:

      Wa Alaikom Al Salam Wael,

      Glad to have you back. Its a great start with a lot of potential. I like the tidbits of general facts ( like a felon not being able to carry a gun). Promising character development. It should be a fun read.

      Ps: Its interesting that head of security at a casino is considered a LEO

    • Mohamed says:

      Wa aleikumu salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu Br. Wael

      Glad to have you back. This one definitely sounds like a thriller of a story that’s burgeoning upon something really great.

      I like the first part so far, nice and slow way to start it off before the storm of Zaid Karim rises.

      I also love the way you connect your stories with the realities of today.

      Keep up the good work mate.

      Eagerly awaiting the second part already.

      P.S. Please if it’s not too much of a hussle, make the parts a bit more longer. Thank you never-the-less :-)

    • Bint A says:

      Mubarak, welcome back!
      Was a lovely surprise to see a title from you once more on MM.
      Haven’t started yet, but looking forward to it and of course the conversations that ensue :)

  2. SZH says:

    Alhamdulillah, you have returned.
    This story seems to have a great potential to be another marvel. First person narrative is difficult than third person narrative, IMO, and may lack details of the world around. A Private Investigator being “without a weapon” is interesting on it’s own. Overall, good read, waiting for the next.
    Thank you, and, please don’t let us wait longer this time. :-D

  3. Renee Humphrey says:

    I enjoyed this a lot. Looking forward to the next installment. Thank You!
    -Renee

  4. Renee Humphrey says:

    What draws me to your characters is their internal dialogue; the real-life not-so-perfect situations they are in; and their struggles to grow and move towards truth and light.

  5. HM says:

    Assalaamu’alaikum,

    Really glad to see you back, and l’m looking forward to seeing this story develop. Zaid already seems to be an interesting character with an intricate past, which has definitely followed him.
    I like the foreshadowing from the very beginning, definitely spikes intrigue, but at the same time makes you focus on what is going on in the present so that you can understand what it is that motives Zaid.

    Just simple corrections I noticed:
    Underneath the first image of the bills (in the second paragraph, second sentence): the word “pay” is repeated.

    In the paragraph starting “I’d visited the casino…” (in the last sentence): the words “a” and “even” should be switched.

    “I rubbed my neatly trimmed beard…” – this detail made me smile. Despite Zaid’s situation, he neatly trims his beard, and though it may be insignificant, I think it says a lot about his character and attests to his religious struggle. Definitely keep details like that coming!

    Jazak Allahu Khairan for this! I’m really glad to have a great story to follow again.

  6. Humaira says:

    Glad to see that you’re writing again. What I liked: the references to the Quran and the struggle to make the right choice.
    Some things I kept thinking about as I read:
    1) I haven’t read a lot of detective novels but the ones I’ve read are all similar in the sense that the story starts off with a struggling private detective who lands an impossible case that brings endless trouble and, ironically, success. Not sure if this is expected in the genre but could be viewed as cliche.
    2) I kept wondering if third person narrative would have been better. At times omniscient, at others close third person. I don’t know since I don’t know much about the direction in which the story is headed but there were a few parts where I felt first person worked well and in others I felt close third person might have worked better.

    • Humaira, I see your point about the stereotypical struggling detective story arc. And yes, I’m following that cliche to some degree. But I see this as the first in a series of novels, so in this one I want to document a moment in which Zaid experiences some major life changes.

      I realize that writing first person presents challenges, but I’ve never done it before and I want to give it a shot. Insha’Allah I can learn by doing.

  7. Taban says:

    Asalaamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu …hey you are back…. jazaakAllahu khairan i had run out of novels… i want to say something that while Zaid rejected this offer he did not know whether it was good or bad decision… But his intention was to overcome temptation and thats what counts with Allah… in life we may sometimes commit mistakes in making decisions thinking we are doing the right thing and that may affect our future in wrong way, but if the intention was to please Allah than its worth it….even the intention is not wasted with Allah… we as human beings will make mistakes in life as we dont have foresight but in the end its our sincerity and integrity and our intention in making decision that is valuable to Allah. Rest help of Allah will always be there whether our decision was wrong our right…. A request brother i dont know it maybe i feel that way, but i thought the language was a little complex, but still jazaakAllahu khairan..

  8. masood says:

    Good start but too small a reading. would like the episodes a bit more.

  9. Victoria Braham says:

    Assalamu alaikum. I am so glad that there are more stories to read. I loved ouroboros.
    Two things I wanted to ask. Number one, will you publish your previous stories? And also i’m not sure whether the reference to the Indian owned casino is talking about Native Americans and if so then isn’t calling them indians derogatory? Or is it part of the story that the character is ignorant of that fact? Or is it not offensive?

    Great story so far.

    • Victoria, wa alaykum as-salam. I will publish the previous stories one by one, Insha’Allah. I’ve recently completed a novel-length version of Pieces of a Dream, and it’s in the editing phase now.

      My experience with indigenous people of the U.S. has been that a lot of them refer to themselves as Indians and use the term interchangeably with Native American. The American Indian Movement (an indigenous activist organization) is an example. Here’s a PBS article that says that more indigenous people actually prefer the term Indian (49%) than do Native American (37%):

      Native American or Indian?

  10. Happy Hippo says:

    I am writing this as a female citizen of an Asian country, who knows little about the American legal system, norms and culture, and whose only first hand exposure to America was a short visit almost 30 years ago. Nevertheless, as a child I used to be a big fan of The Three Investigators junior detective series – I value the intellectual and scientific input and the humour in those stories the most.

    I have not read your previous stories, Brother Wael, but I like the fast paced literary style in this one – despite the flashbacks, the story flows fairly quickly. The Islamic elements are novel and impressive, and would possibly appeal both to the devout muslim and someone new to Islam who wants to know more. I look forward to reading Part 2.

    • Thank you so much for your comment Happy (I won’t call you Hippo, lol). I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was wondering why your nickname is so familiar if you haven’t commented on my stories before, then I remembered that you were a longtime (and valued) commenter at IslamicAnswers.com.

  11. neha says:

    OMG, you started writing again! its great to read your work. this seems like an interesting story. like the gentle start.
    can’t wait for the next part. :-)

  12. Honey says:

    Assalamualykum. This is the first time I am reading any of your stories. Masha Allah. Very enjoyable start. Waiting for the next chapter in sha Allah. Cheers!!

  13. Ahmed says:

    I never read things like this but i loved it.

    Ahmed

  14. Ifrah says:

    Assalamualaykum brother Wael. I was awaiting your next story since ages. Nothing has been able to keep me interested after finishing Ouroboros. I have never given up on so many novels midway! Coming to this story, as soon as I started reading it, the chapter ended! I was just getting comfortable and that’s it. It just shows how good a story it is, ma shaa Allah. I did find the start and internal monologue a tad slow but looking back I think it’s because I might have been subconsciously comparing it to the action packed, fast paced chapters of Ouroboros.
    Waiting for the next instalment!
    Allahumma Baarik laka.

    • Wa alaykum as-salam. I’ve never written in first person before, and I think one of the challenges is that it naturally lends itself to deep introspection, flashbacks, etc. I’ll work on balancing that with keeping the story moving.

  15. Abdullah Ahmad says:

    Assalamu Alaikum Brother Wael,
    I can’t tell you how often I’ve been coming to this page to check for an update. I’m very glad that you are writing again, and I hope that Allah rewards you for your effort in portraying the life of a modern day Muslim. This seems like a very interesting story, keep up the good work!!

  16. Vendula says:

    Alhamdulillah I am so glad you are back! This story really pulled me in and I love the informative details. As someone who has lived in the Bay Area almost all my life I really enjoy the fact that your stories are in locations that I can somewhat picture in my mind.

    Eagerly awaiting more…may Allah put barakah in your time so we don’t have to wait long!

  17. Kaleem says:

    Great series, I m hooked. Can’t wait to read the next instalment.

  18. J K says:

    Asalaam Alaikum Br. Wael – So happy to see you back! Great start. Looking forward to more stories inshaAllah.

  19. Khalida says:

    السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاتهُ

    I am so ecstatically happy to see that you’ve continued writing!

    I’m a tad bit late, but alhamdulillah nevertheless.

    I really like the way you described Zaid Karim’s inner struggles and principles.

    جزاك الله خيرا

  20. UmmA says:

    Assalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh.

    Just finished reading Ouroboros and jumped straight into this.

    I saw the stark difference between Hassan and Zaid and I love it. Love that Zaid is not-so-perfect Muslim trying to make his ends meet.

    Great potential for the story. Will continue the rest of the story tomorrow insha Allah.

    Got to go and catch my sleep – it’s 1.30 am =D

    Allahumma baarik 3layk Br. Wael.

    P. S: I believe first-person narratives gives you a deep insight into their thought process and yet maintain the necessary worldly informations that’s needed to be given.

    Okies, adios at 8% battery life.

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