For all the gold in the world.
I am his gold bar. Even in the middle of the night, when he gets lost in these streets he knows too well, I glow like the most precious of fireflies. Mahmoud watches over me, I am his treasure, the one and only that he has left and that he cherishes. I sometimes scrutinize him and his gaze. A blue-gray, piercing gaze that often gets lost, I don't know where. He must remember. Remember that day in January 1976 when he entered the vault room of the British Bank of the Middle East. He had the impression of belonging to the International of Arsène Lupines. Forty-eight hours earlier, he had gone to fetch a team of specialists from the airport. Corsican locksmiths, he had been told. Around him, they spoke French, English and Arabic - Arabic with an "s" as his colleagues in junkyard came from different regions. But everyone knew for whom they were working: for Abou Amar and his small cooperative of independentists.
The large armored door gave way after these four days of work in the basement. Where they were, they heard neither the hoarse sound of bombardments nor the shrill sound of automatic weapon combat. Beirut was in chaos. The perfect season to break the bank. In fact, and he didn't know it, all of Lebanon was only talking about the Phalangist raid on the Quarantine two days earlier. A real bloodbath, 600 dead, 20,000 displaced at once. And in the south, fighting was raging in Jiyé and Damour, where progressive militiamen were giving back to the Phalangists. All this under the watchful eye of the Syrians who would impose a ceasefire two days later, just before the end of the heist. These fierce fights, far from the rue des Banques, were the ideal diversion. The eyes of the world were looking elsewhere.
In the basement, they sometimes heard the bells of the Capuchin church through which they had passed because it shared a common wall with the British Bank. Four days is a long time. But how beautiful the reward was when, in a deafening crash, the door gave up the ghost. Hundreds of individual chests awaited them. Gold bars by the dozen, hundreds of bundles of currency, treasury bills, jewelry, works of art ... They all knew it: they were not far from achieving the heist of the century. Here, rue des Banques, in the heart of Beirut.
The cave contained so many treasures that it took two days for the team to stuff the loot into several trucks. Mahmoud and his henchmen all felt irresistible, with their little goatees, cheap cigarettes, and disgusting shirts. In addition to their salary, each of them took two ingots, as souvenirs of this melody in the basement. At 32, Mahmoud didn't know it was so heavy.
The last truck left the rue des Banques with a load of jewelry and precious objects, in the fine January rain. Mahmoud watched him disappear around the corner, not knowing that Abu Amar was going to put it all in the best-kept safe of a Geneva bank. With the fighting, the streets had already turned into paddling pools, a mixture of sand, dust, powder and blood. Beirut was already not very beautiful to see at the beginning of 1976. On returning to his parents' house, he had goose bumps. It was past 11pm, it had been dark for ages. His neighborhood, on the edge of the Quarantine, was nothing but rubble. His parents and his two sisters were on the Phalangist hunting board. He would have traded all the gold in the world to go back, to be there, for the chance to protect his people.
Tonight, like every night, Mahmoud thinks back to those days in January 1976 which hit his life head-on. As often, he looks at himself in the mirror, to verify that his wrinkles are still there, that time has not turned back. He feels sadness invading him. He hates this time and, at the same time, regrets it, so much was everything possible, all the twisted blows can lead to the most beautiful stories. Except that his beautiful story has turned into a bad fairy tale. At the end of his life, he knew very well that he wouldn't be much without me. I, who am there, before his eyes. Available for all to see. I am his ultimate wealth. And in the night, I still shine.
From January 20 to 26, 1976, when the Christian Phalangists brought down the Quarantine, the headquarters of the British Bank of the Middle East was robbed. There are several versions on this "heist of the century". One of them points to Force 17, a group commanded by Ali Hassan Salameh and affiliated with Yasser Arafat's PLO. Another evokes the involvement of the British secret services responsible for recovering confidential documents. Exceptional amount of loot, for the time: between 20 and 50 million dollars.
In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.
Short story published in Beirut on listening / Wiretapping Beirut (Amers Editions, 2011)