FEB 15, 2023
The next morning started with a good dose of exploration. After an early breakfast, they had driven in the Simca to Rabat beach, strolled a bit and then entered the Kasbah des Oudayas.
Dating back to the twelfth century, this citadel had survived repeated destruction and was now counted as an important heritage site, tourist attraction and cultural centre. Its rich and evocative Andalusian roots intertwined with its Arabian heritage and the omnipresent subtle Atlantic draught were enough to captivate even the hardened Mapacha. It came as no surprise that tourists had flocked to it as early as they could to have the privilege of unobstructed photographs and a moment to explore without the crowds. The gang wandered through the well-groomed gardens impressed by the spectacular flora. Children, excited by their momentary freedom shrieked in delight as they run through the narrow streets and alleys. The crew found themselves lost in the labyrinth of tributaries and many times rambled into blind alleys that often led to felines carelessly reposed in the sun or in clowders as they allogroomed.
Ultimately, they found themselves at the famous Cafe Maure and Banou, impressed by the dramatic view of where the Bou Regreg met the Atlantic got a table and they had lunch. Afterwards, they continued their walk and immersed themselves further in this rich display of Moroccan culture. At some point, a loud twang of a three-string hejhouj drew them to a group of Gnawa performers. Gwafa explained the bit that he knew about the music, its roots and its tight relationship with the Hausa of Kano. They musicians were robed in Gnawi garments with red fez hats and thick brown leather belts and bandoliers craftily embedded with cowrie shells. As the hejhouj player plucked on it, he jiggled the circera attached to the tip while another clapped loudly and danced, and yet another clapped a pair of iron clappers and the final one accompanied them with a tleb that he drummed rhythmically. To the tourists and the gang, these might as well have been the shepherds of Moroccan music.
As entertained as they were, the afternoon hastily arrived and it was time to go make the deal. They made their way out of the Kasbah, found the Simca and drove back to the hotel. Mzee Tembo and Gwafa went to the station, located a small hotel services bureau and entered. He enquired if they had a paid phone service. The receptionist pointed them to the telephone in the corner, and she came round to assist him. He dialled the number Ossi had provided. After several rings, the phone was answered.
"Hallo, Ossi, is that you?"
"Bonjour monsieur. One moment," Kadour's voice came from the other end.
Mzee Tembo could hear voices, presumably customers and then heavy footsteps before Ossi's voice came over the phone.
"Ossi. Its Tembo. You told me to call you round this time."
"Ah yes. I have been expecting your call. Yes, we can complete our arrangement today. Come to my shop at 5 PM and we will be ready. Is that OK with you?"
"Yes. See you then."
He hang up and nodded at Gwafa who paid for the call and they left the bureau.
Gwafa looked at his Airain.
"Roughly two hours. We need to move fast."
They crossed the road, entered the hotel and went up to Banou's room.
"We are leaving in an hour. Banou, six bags."
She crossed the room, opened the wardrobe and then the safe hidden at its foot. It was quite difficult to drag out the bag she had stuffed and then she lay it on the desk, opened it and removed the guns, and lay them on the table. She then counted six bags of diamonds and handed them to Mzee Tembo.
"Everyone is carrying a gun and spare ammunition. Hopefully, it will not degenerate to violence, but this is business and there is a lot at stake."
Banou picked up her revolver while Mapacha handed Mzee Tembo his and Gwafa his semi-automatic. He then stuffed it behind at the small of his back. He put 10 extra cartridges into his pocket and handed Banou 10, Mzee Tembo 10 and Gwafa a spare magazine.
"Are you guys ready?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"Yes, we are good to go."
"Right. Mapacha, you and Banou stick to the shadows. We will go in with Gwafa. If the thing stinks, Gwafa will signal you, and you come in with the guns and get us out."
"The meeting is at his shop, and across it, there are a few cafes. Pick one. Watch the shop and also check if there are people watching the shop or us. When we leave, Gwafa will start the engine and reverse. When you see that, come out and then jump in and we can leave. We shouldn't be more than two hours."
"What happens if someone is indeed watching the place or us?" Banou asked.
"If possible, Mapacha, you neutralise them, if not, we shall draw them out if they tail us then deal with them down the road. Yesterday we mapped a route, so we know where to handle such a situation."
"What about the opposition?"
"You have to watch out for them too. We can't touch them. This is Morocco after all. The rules here are different. So we have to try and outsmart them. But don't worry, it is likely nothing will happen."
Mzee Tembo looked at his own Omega.
They casually strode down the hall. Mapacha lead them, followed by Banou then Gwafa and Mzee Tembo. They were out and went back to where they had parked the Simca on Rue Tanta.
At first, Gwafa drove about in a circle while they all kept a sharp eye out for a potential tail. It was clear. They could feel their vulnerability as they crisscrossed the city, and searched for a potential tail, but it was an uneventful ride. Gwafa kept within the speed limit, and after almost half an hour, they were parked about a hundred metres away from the shop.
"See the shop there?" Mzee Tembo asked. "That is where we are going. Mapacha, you and Banou do a quick walk and check it out then signal us if it's clear."
"What will be the signal?"
"If it looks like a setup, don't enter any cafe. Just turn around, and walk back and we will leave. If it's all clear, enter the cafe and we will know you are in position."
"OK. How many people do you think will be in the shop?"
"Just Ossi and his son I think. There were only the two, so I don't think there will be more people."
"OK. Banou let's go."
They hopped out of the car and slowly walked to the side of the street parallel to the shop.
"It's a beautiful shop," Banou said as they walked past it.
They scanned the other shops and found a small cafe with a wide glass front. Before they got in, Mapacha turned and faced the Simca and gave a slight nod, imperceptible to just about everyone, except the gang and he held the door for Banou and followed her into the cafe. They chose a table that gave them a good view of the shop.
The Simca drove up to the shop. They were ten minutes early.
Inside, Banou ordered two coffees and Kaab el ghazal. They watched as Mzee Tembo pushed the heavy door open and walked inside. Gwafa signalled him with another tiny nod and walked inside.
Kadour welcomed them from behind the counter.
"Bonsoir," he greeted as he walked past them, peeped outside for a second, and then locked the door. " My father is waiting for you in his office."
The locked door gave Gwafa slight jitters, but Kadour left the key in the hole, so it was more for external deterrence. He hesitatingly followed Mzee Tembo through into the office where they found Ossi behind his table with a large stack of bills.
"Good afternoon," Ossi greeted.
It all seemed obscene being sat behind the money.
"Good afternoon," Mzee Tembo greeted back.
"Forgive me, friends, I do not wish to appear to flaunt this money, but it arrived late and I had to verify that it was the right amount."
They sat down across the table, and Gwafa pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Ossi pushed him an ashtray and leaned back in a relaxed pose.
"So, are you guys ready to do this? As you can see, I have the money. I am prepared. Naturally, you wish to count it, no?"
"Of course." Mzee Tembo said.
"Do you have the stones?"
Mzee Tembo delved into his pocket and extracted the five plastic bags, and placed them in front of Ossi.
"Here you go."
"Kadour, go get the tea."
He had already steeped the tea, so he brought the salver with three glasses, served them and then stood next to his father. Ossi pushed the money across the table.
"Shall we start?"
The next hour and a half was a particular one for everyone. Kadour wore a loupe and first inspected a stone and then handed it to Ossi who also inspected it and then laid it on the velvet tray, then they repeated this again and again. Across them, Gwafa's fingers, like detectors counted the money, and he run a finger on every note, as he checked for the raised print that was the hallmark of US Dollars. He then handed the notes to Mzee Tembo who stacked them and verified the count. For every minute that passed, the tension grew.
When Gwafa was done, he gave a slight nod to Mzee Tembo, who had neatly stacked the money on the table. After a few minutes, Ossi himself crafted a smile and rubbed his palms on his shirt.
"These are beautiful. If only I could afford more."
He focused on the money.
"It is all there?"
"All eighty-seven thousand five hundred."
"I am glad. Kadour, the valise please."
Kadour picked up a brown valise from the floor and gave it to Mzee Tembo.
"You can carry the money there. A small complimentary gift from Ossi."
"Thank you," Mzee Tembo said as he stuffed the money into the valise and put it on the floor.
Across them, Kadour covered the velvet line tray and laid it on the credenza before he poured them all more tea and then excused himself.
"Now, gentlemen, I have some information for you. As I said, the only way to deal with these diamonds on a larger scale is to go to Europe or Beirut or even Hong Kong. If you can't, then you will have to find someone who deals with Europeans. That means you have to deal with some underworld creatures and travel to Tangier."
"Yes. You know, it has a historic reputation. There is a guy I dealt with once, called Makhlouf, but, he does not just meet anyone. You have to go through an intermediary called Lounis. Makhlouf smuggles things across the Strait, and Lounis is his point man, so he has the better connections."
"How do we find him?"
"When you get to Tangier, you call this number. Whoever answers it, you tell them Ossi sent you. Then follow their instructions."
"OK. Can we trust him?"
"For the business, yes. But, these are smugglers and well, you know, greedy, so they might try to pull a fast one. I suggest you don't walk around. . . naked."
Mzee Tembo smiled.
"I see. We are never naked."
They saw Ossi stiffen ever so slightly as his lips tightly gripped the Black Russian that lazed on his lips.
"Well, here, old Ossi is straight with business."
They finished their tea and rose to leave.
"Well, Ossi, it has been a pleasure. You are a wonderful host."
"Not at all. I wish you safe journeys, Inshallah."
Kadour hang up the phone the instant they left the small office. He gave them a cordial smile, unlocked the door and let them out.
"Thanks for the tea brother," Gwafa told him as he walked out of the shop.
"Any time brother."
They walked to the Simca quickly. In the cafe, Mapacha saw them come out.
"Time to go."
Banou stood up and walked to the counter and dropped a few dirhams on the counter for the snacks. Mapacha waited at the door and watched as the Simca's engine ignited. It reversed quickly and stopped near the cafe. They rushed over it to it, glanced into the dark, and jumped into the back.
"Go Gwafa," Mapacha said.
He lit the brights and mashed the accelerator, and began the getaway. Like before, he meandered across Salé, backtracked twice and swung left and right into small side streets. In the back, Mapacha watched for a tail, but it seemed clear. Gwafa drove around and finally got to the main road and crossed the bridge at a relatively fast pace. Banou was at the back, quietly watching the action, relieved that they had gotten away safe.
"Mapacha, see anything?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"All clear boss."
"OK. Gwafa, slow down. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."
Gwafa eased up and the roar of the engine quietened to the faint hum. There was perspiration on his brow and he mopped it with his sleeve. Across the bridge, he made his way towards Rabat beach and then slowly drove through the narrow streets eventually crossing Avenue Mohammed V and after a few turns back to Rue Tanta. As they parked a sky-blue Renault 16 drove past them and stopped a few metres away from them. A thick white European man in a navy blue blazer and brown pants exited, crossed the street and entered a photo studio. The driver of the Renault 16 waited a moment and then stood outside the car. He was short tough who wore a white shirt with half of the buttons open and a grey pair of city sweepers. He flicked a light and lit a cigarette.
"How did it go?" Banou asked.
"Wait Banou," Mzee Tembo replied as he watched the young man.
"Did you see anything, Gwafa?"
"No, nothing. Might be random."
They watched for a few minutes as the tough smoked his cigarette and then dropped it onto the pavement and squished it with his heel. A few moments later, the thick European came out with a lit cigarette, looked around carefully and then dropped his own cigarette and smashed it before he entered the Renault. The tough got in and started it, and they drove off.
"Let's go," Mapacha said.
"Who was that guy?" Banou asked.
"Probably nobody. Just seemed awkward," Mzee Tembo said. "You numbered him Mapacha?"
"Completely, boss. I think we can get out of the car now."
Banou did not understand. Why did the guy trigger them? Who was this guy anyway? She could see Mapacha's nostrils flare so she knew he was tense. They left the car and Gwafa locked it. As casually as they could, they walked towards the hotel, with Mzee Tembo's right palm tightly gripped on the handles of the valise. Behind them in the dark, the blue Renault appeared again and stealthily parked in the distance. The two men, the tough and the European slowly rolled down the window and then lit cigarettes. Their eyes were trained on the gang as they entered the hotel.
The crew barely acknowledged the hotel receptionist when they walked in. It was a quick run up the two flights to their floor and then a few hasty steps into Banou's room.
Mzee Tembo and Mapacha sat on the pair of lounge chairs while Gwafa went to the window and opened it. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Banou was worried that everyone was deathly quiet.
"So? Did the deal go well?"
"It went well. We have our first deal, but we need to go to Tangier."
"That is where the big deals happen. Rabat is good, but the only other contact we have who can help tells us is there. Tangier is a better place to do a deal."
"So the money is in the little brown briefcase?"
"Yes. Put the money in the diplomatic bag and then back in the safe."
She picked the valise from the foot of the bed where Mzee Tembo had set it and opened it, then flipped it over and poured the contents out. Bills poured onto the bed and she sat down stunned.
She stared at the money for a moment, then went to the wardrobe and returned with the diplomatic bag.
"Mapacha, on the desk, there should be some rubberbands. Could you pass me a few?"
She sat down, took out a cigarette and lit it. Then she started the arduous count as she grouped the notes in bundles of twenty that she wrapped with a rubber band. It took her nearly an hour.
"Yes, it checks out," she said as she piled the bundles into the diplomatic bag.
"Good. Now, put it away and then let's go get something to eat."