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Zahara - A short story

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Mata Hari meets James Bond with a twist in this short story thriller set in Dubai, the center of commerce and intrigue where the Western and Eastern powers vie for power in the Middle East of Cold War 2.0.

As I promised, this site will provide free short story content for your enjoyment. your comments and feedback are always welcome. Read On ...


A Short Story by Fritz Struhsaker

Zahara - Pop Art vision of our heroine

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It is the near future. Russian military adventurism in Europe and the aftermath of the Battle of Taiwan Straights between China and Western Allied Nations have created two opposing spheres of influence. A second cold war divides the world between the totalitarian regimes aligned with China and Russia and the rest of the free world. The great powers vie for the control of the Middle East with its oil reserves and newly discovered lithium reserves to fuel the green energy economy. Dubai, the defecto economic capital of the region, has become a center of intrigue and espionage.

Port of Jebel Ali, Jebel Ali Economic Freezone, Dubai

Chief Detective Amrita Singh focused on the gasoline-powered Mercedes Benz Sprinter van in front of her. The van was still idling. The driver, likely European, sat upright, held in place by his seatbelt. Blood dripped from the hole in his forehead, and a far greater amount of blood permeated his clothing from the wound in his chest. A dead Asian woman with similar injuries sat beside him, handcuffed and strapped to the passenger’s seat. Judging from the size of the holes through the front windshield and the entry wounds in the victims’ foreheads, the pair had been shot at close range with a small-caliber weapon—likely a 9mm of some sort. “Very clean, very professional,” Chief Detective Singh thought to herself.

Singh wrapped up her questioning of the patrol officers who discovered the victims. “So, to be clear,” she asked, “You found no witnesses, no sign of a struggle, and no brass or other physical evidence, correct?”

“That’s correct, Chief Detective,” the lead officer answered. “All we found was a van with four bullet holes in the windshield, idling in the middle of the night in the Jebel Ali port warehouse district. We only stopped to investigate because our thermal scanners indicated the engine was running and the van hadn’t moved after two patrol passes flying over the area.”

A warning tone gradually increased above them. The forensics team arrived in their FlyCr (“flicker” – slang for flying car). Singh didn’t bother to look up. Instead, she turned and thanked the patrol officers and dismissed them to return to their duties. She turned to her Mech synthetic partner Sam, whom she’d nicknamed after the fictional detective Sam Spade. “Sam, please run a second check of the crime scene for brass,” Singh ordered. “I’d like your opinion on whether we are looking at one or two shooters once you’ve sized up the crime scene.”

“Yes, Sayidi,” Sam confirmed using the Arabic word for master, a term Sam knew irritated his human partner. The Mech turned and went about his work. “Such a smart-aleck,” Amarita thought, wondering if the Mech’s personality was a reflection of his creator, Travis Stanhauser. The new Stanhauser Robotics Mechs purchased for the Dubai police department were a marvel. Unlike the older Japan Robotic Corp models, the Stanhauser units could perform all the duties of a typical human partner. Five thousand Stanhauser units already filled the Dubai police ranks, making up one-third of the force. Another five thousand were on order with plans to have Mechs staff half the force. One Mech partnered with one human for patrol officers and detectives.

After 30 minutes, the forensic team completed their initial investigation of the crime scene. Amrita could finally physically inspect the victims. She donned a pair of latex gloves and AR glasses (augmented reality glasses). She tucked the stems of her AR glasses under her black hijab, the traditional scarf covering her head and neck, leaving her face uncovered, unlike a more traditional niqab that left only the eyes exposed. The hijab complimented her gold-embroidered black tunic and flowing black haram pants. She looked every ounce of the well coffered upper-middle-class emigre that flocked to Dubai to make their fortune.

Amrita started with the European driver. She turned his head, looked directly at the victim, and tapped the side of her AR glasses, which instantly linked the image to both the INTERPOL and Dubai police databases. In a few seconds, the cloud-based facial recognition system identified the victim as Detective Hans Kleiner, a German national assigned to UAE INTERPOL. “What are you doing here running around in a ground transport van with the rest of the kafala,” Amrita thought to herself with a tinge of guilt for using the derogatory term, kalafa, an Emirati catchall for lower class foreign migrant workers from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, among other nations. Ground vehicles are for logistics and those too poor to afford a FlyCr. “Where’s your assigned FlyCr? More importantly, where’s your backup?” she mused.

Amrita turned her attention to the Asian woman in the passenger seat. The petite woman wore a designer western pantsuit, revealing far too much blood-stained cleavage to fit within the norms of good taste in polite Dubai society. The victim’s striking medium-length platinum-dyed hair only added to her decadence. In Amrita’s opinion, this poor girl would be quite fetching if it were not for the weeping bullet hole in her forehead. “Pitty, you had your whole life in front of you,” Amrita sadly reflected as she lined up the young woman’s face in her field of view for identification with her AR glasses. The identification data quickly returned, highlighted in bold red script in her field of vision:

Cynthia Gao, US Citizen, resident of San Francisco, graduated with honors from Stanford with a BA in logistics.

Smart girl,” Amrita thought. “But not smart enough to escape your fate here, it seems.” Amrita blinked with her right eye signaling her AR glass to display more information. Now it got interesting. INTERPOL had a RED NOTICE out on Miss Gao. Gao, a Hong Kong 14K Triad operative, was suspected of being the mastermind behind several 14K smuggling operations. “So much for using that pricy exclusive Stanford education as a force of good. Of course, the same could be said of most Silicon Valley CEOs from Stanford,” Amrita mused sarcastically.

Gao had neither AR glasses nor an “old school” smartphone in her possession. The same was true for DDetective Kleiner, which was odd. Amrita carefully checked the driver’s seat and floor area again. A slight oblong bulge under Kleiner’s left foot caught her eye. Amrita surmised that Kleiner had just enough warning to drop his phone, kick it under the floor mat, and place his foot over it before the shooting started. She opened her purse and pulled out an interrogator to extract the phone number and SIM identifier from the smartphone. She dictated a brief message and added the extracted smartphone information.

From: Chief Detective Amrita Singh, General Department of Criminal Investigation

To: Watch Officer, General Department of Artificial Intelligence

Subject: Urgent Forensic Access Request.

Please forward the last twenty-four hours of phone records and text messages of the attached device. This is an urgent priority request in conjunction with a double homicide involving a member of INTERPOL.

Dubai was not the United States or European Union. The legal concepts of privacy rights, self-incrimination, search and seizure, and prohibition of torture did not exist. Not a problem if you are a law-abiding resident or citizen, but a considerable advantage over criminal elements for the UAE police and internal security. As part of the Ministry of Interior, the General Department of Artificial Intelligence captured and recorded phone records, emails, texts, and WEB access history of every person in the UAE 24x7x365. Amrita would have her information in a few minutes. Meanwhile, it was time to see what Sam had discovered.

“So, Sam, what have you found?” Amrita queried her synthetic partner.

“Forensics found no fingerprints, and my second search found no brass,” Sam stated. “However, evidence indicates that two different weapons were used to perpetrate the crime. The bullet holes through the van’s windshield and the victim’s wounds have size differences. Ms. Gao’s ballistics are consistent with small-caliber 5.8mm x 21mm ammunition. The only weapon that uses 5.8mm x 21mm rounds is the Chinese QSZ-92 pistol, a weapon of choice amongst the various Triad organizations. The ballistics for INTERPOL Agent Kleiner are consistent with 9mm x 19mm parabellum rounds typical of a Glock, Luger, or any number of other weapons manufacturers. The evidence suggests two assailants stood at point-blank range in front of the van and fired two clean shots with little or no warning. The shooting accuracy along with a clean crime scene would indicate the work of professionals.”

Amrita held up her hand to pause her synthetic partner’s report. The download from the General Department of Artificial Intelligence had just arrived. She scanned the list of incoming and outgoing phone numbers. Nothing unusual until the last few calls before the attack. Three calls went out to the same local UAE number, which looked oddly familiar to Chief Detective Singh. Then it dawned on her. It was her friend Zahara Fitzroy bint Sharif Al Ronaihi’s cell number. Amrita scanned the text messages. She found nothing unusual until the final message:

[Zahara – It seems our troubles are twice as complicated. We may need the help of your Russian associates. Let’s meet at our usual place in Deira (north of Dubai Creek) first thing tomorrow. Our window of opportunity is less than 36 hours.]

No sooner had Amrita finished reading the text when an urgent message arrived from her Chief to return to the station and provide an update. Word that an INTERPOL officer was dead traveled fast. “Sam, we need to go see the Chief,” Amrita stated.

“Do you think the Chief has an issue with Mechs?” Sam queried his partner. “He always seems so ambivalent and curt when we speak with him.”

“It’s not you, Sam,” Amrita observed. “It’s me. The Chief is a chauvinist, and he finds it irritating that his best detective is a woman. Even worse, an infidel, non-Emirati, woman from Boston. My existence stands as an affront to his narrow-minded worldview.” Amrita viewed her career as a personal feminist crusader the day she emigrated 12 years ago with her MIT-educated husband, who accepted the Dean of Engineering position at Zayed University.

“Good to know!” Sam quipped as he let out a synthetic laugh. “I am happy that it’s you and not me who offends the Chief,” Amrita smiled and laughed at her synthetic partner’s little jest. Sam’s little quips and wry comments never failed to amaze and amuse her.

The pair boarded their unmarked FlyCr, set the destination to headquarters, and ascended straight upward 1000 feet to merge into the traffic pattern of the Sky Lane above them. As the FlyCr made its automated journey to headquarters, Chief Detective Amrita Singh sent a brief message:

[Zahara – what have you gotten yourself involved in now? Agent Kleiner is dead along with RED NOTICE suspect Cynthia Gao. We need to talk. Call Me.]

Pop Art - Burg Al Arab Hotel, Umm Suqeim Beach, Dubai
Burg Al Arab Hotel,

Burg Al Arab Hotel, Umm Suqeim Beach, Dubai

“It’s time for you to go,” Amaran, Zahara’s AI minder, chimed softly in her ear. “You mustn’t keep Mr. Morozov waiting.”

“I am aware of the time, Amaran. Morozov will wait,” Zahara mentally replied. “After all, we are meeting twelve floors down and five minutes away. I have plenty of time to finish things properly here.

Zahara returned her attention to Farah bin Mohammed Al Kalief. Farah stood naked in front of her, surveying the view of northern Dubai through the floor-to-ceiling tinted glass windows of their 39th-floor room in the Burg Al Arab hotel. Looking out toward the Sharjah desert, a glittering array of skyscrapers, residential towers, and affluent coastal neighborhoods filled Farah’s field of view, including the Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the iconic Dubai Frame. The view was as breathtaking as the ultra-luxury Burj Al Arab hotel itself, with its stunning, unmistakable sail-inspired architecture designed by British architect Tom Wright.

Farah was the first wife of the Deputy Director of State Security of the UAE Ministry of Interior, Mohammed Al Kalief, and a member of Dubai’s extended royal family by marriage. Farah was as striking as Dubai itself. Zahara admired her shimmering long dark hair, silky tanned skin, and her tall, lithe, incredibly toned frame.

Zahara, completely naked herself ...

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