crime novel, morocco, mystery

Blue Duende

(Photo above by Anastasia Sofia Jones at Gallivant

Y’all have been so supportive that to thank you I’m sharing a scene from the middle of PARADOX. You don’t have to know much about the story to “get” this scene: Adele is an art crimes investigator. Mark is a dark ops agent assisting her in Morocco. Eannatum is a 12-inch, stolen Mesopotamian sculpture. And duende is a word that doesn’t translate from Spanish. ~Lucie

“Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks…” ~ Garcia Lorca

We arrived in Chefchaouen as the sun set over its deceptive, blue-wash walls. The center of Morocco’s most profitable industry, hashish, its loyalty rested with the drug cartels, not the king. Constant glimpses of gun barrels and gun-bulges under clothing didn’t surprise me, but what I never expected—what the FBI could never prepare me for—was the mystical quality of Chefchaouen’s old town.

Originally painted blue by Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, its kaleidoscope of periwinkles, aquamarines, sapphires and indigos created a feeling of serenity and, at times, the illusion of walking through sky. In its maze of twisting alley-streets, just wide enough to walk two astride, Mark led me around blind corners, each revealing a new shade of blue with smiling faces offering a room, handmade jewelry, or a smoke of the sebsi hash-pipe.

The streets smelled of freshly baked bread, mint tea and cannibis. I knew this mystic medina veiled a ruthless web of intrigue–and in my beaded evening bag I held Eannatum, the trophy I had stolen from that ruthless, hash-web’s kingpin.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by محمد بوعلام عصامي
Photo from Wikimedia Commons by محمد بوعلام عصامي

“So beautiful,” I said as we turned a corner laced in orchids.

“It’s a brilliant deceit,” whispered Mark. “The blue represents heaven and hope but it also provides this sense of tranquility, lowering your guard.”

“So they can pick your pocket?”

“Don’t have to. You’ll lay down the cash yourself.”

“No, thanks” we repeated again and again to the predator guides offering to lead us through town. Mark knew these streets, didn’t need a guide and didn’t want their prying eyes.

An ultra-aggressive one followed us demanding payment for guide work never done. When we turned the corner, Mark flashed his gun. The man left.

Why were we here? was Mark insane? Like a crystal blue labyrinth, each curve, every archway revealed new secrets. Between tea shops and trinkets, an old man winked at me, mimicking a smoke; a young boy offered us the greatest sex through a riveted purple-blue door; and a beautiful waif offered the “finest trip” up a staircase.

“Mesmerizing,” I said.

“I thought you would like it. Under better circumstances, I would bring you here as a tourist.”

Mark’s eyes constantly checked every direction for threats, his hand on the hilt of his Smith and Wesson.

“Look out!” he called as a soccer ball flew next to me, two boys in pursuit.

“Sorry,” said one in perfect British.

With the silk hijab over my dress, I didn’t stand out as much as before, but I was still wearing chopped-off, sequined heels. We were obviously outsiders. Mark pressed on through sky-blue twists and turns until an elderly woman in an orange dress, green and yellow scarf, greeted him.

Assalam Oualaikoum, Mr. Norquist,” her head slightly bowed, she shook his hand then touched her heart. She started to shake mine but Mark interrupted.

He said “Aisha, we need to disappear.”

She led us into a wider street with royal blue arched doors. Aisha opened one of them and we went inside what appeared to be a tiny bakery.

A man stood up fast and, head bowed to Mark, shook his hand and touched his heart. His voice quivered as he said, “My home is honored by your visit, Mr. Norquist.”

Mark spoke coldly in a voice I had not heard before. “Make me disappear for a few hours.”

Our host led us to a storage room that contained large sacks of grain next to plastic-wrapped bricks of hashish. He sat us down on the floor within a clump of them, spoke a few words in Arabic with Mark. Then he turned out the light and closed the door.

The floor felt cold, damp with the only light coming from that crack under the door. Mark got up and started rearranging bags to make chairs for us. One bag came open spilling grain all over the floor.

He said, “Have a seat.”

“Won’t we ruin something?”

He pulled me up and said, “He doesn’t bake really. Ahmed’s a trafficker and paid informant.”

“Will he turn us in?”

“No, he’s completely terrified and thus loyal.”

“To the CIA?”

“No, to Mark Norquist, trafficker. He wouldn’t dare turn on me.”

Click. The door opened. Mark pulled a gun with his right hand and pushed me onto the floor with his left.

“I brought you some blankets and batbout,” the host said, his hands trembling as he laid out the stew with bread on a box. “I apologize I cannot do more without, uh … being seen.”

“Any sign of Richter or his men?,” said Mark, lowering his gun.

“No sir, Aisha told a tale of you going away in a car. They left.”

“Thank her,” I said, but the man never looked at me. Instead he kept his eyes on Mark, lowered slightly.

With a dismissive air Mark said, “Keep me invisible.” The man left, his hand shaking as he closed the door.

“Mark, he’s completely terrified of you.”


I frowned. All I could think about was what he might have done to make this man fear him. Had Mark become the very evil he was supposed to defeat? Instinctively, I reached for the P229 strapped to my thigh. Would I have to use it on the man who put it there?


4 thoughts on “Blue Duende”

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