FEB 18, 2023
Gwafa paid him and watched as he run off, presumably back to the cafe. They walked slowly towards the young men who noticed their approach but remained unperturbed. In the water, a ship uproariously blasted its horn twice, and one of the young men checked his watch and then scribbled into a notebook before he pocketed it, and turned towards Gwafa and Mzee Tembo.
"Who are you?" the other one with a thick lisp that would have been a lot more common fourteen kilometres across the strait in Algericas asked.
"Are you Lounis and Diae?"
They tensed up and stood at attention, with their ears pricked and their shoulders hunched.
"He asked, who are you and what do you want?" the other young man asked, as he cocked his head.
"My name is Gwafa and this is Tembo. Ossi from Salé sent us to meet you."
The two gauged them unsure of what to make of them.
"Well, Gwafa and what's his name, do you know how many Ossis there are in Salé? Or Morocco for that matter?"
"Ossi the jeweller."
There was no hint of recognition.
"So, what do you want?"
"We understand you guys buy and sell things and sometimes move things across the strait."
Mzee Tembo could see the young men's minds churn faster as they tried to figure out what they knew.
Clearly, they were not policemen or government agents. One was too old, the other looked rogueish and they were both foreign. Customers? Competition? A threat?
Through gritted teeth, the second one replied, "I don't know what you are talking about and maybe it's not so healthy for you to stand in the sun on this beach like this. Bad things happen here."
Gwafa ignored him, as he recognised the tough guy act for what it was.
"Look, we are wasting time here. Do you guys move stuff across the strait or not? Either you guys are Lounis and Diae or maybe we have the wrong information. It's that simple."
"Yeah? And did you get all this information from this Ossi we have never heard of?"
"Yes, but more to the point we can swing words all day or we can do some business."
"What sort of business?"
Finally, the young men eased up as they took a sudden interest in the prospect.
"So, are you Lounis and Diae?"
"I'm Lounis, and this is my brother Diae. What sort of stones are you talking about?"
"One moment," Mzee Tembo said.
He raised his left hand for a moment and after nearly half a minute, Banou trudged on the sand towards them.
"Ola!" she greeted as she flashed a bright smile.
"Ça va mademoiselle."
She pulled out the small plastic bag from her back pocket and gave it to Mzee Tembo.
"Are these the guys?" she asked.
Lounis gave her a once over and asked, "And who are you supposed to be?"
Banou sized him up for a second and chose to ignore him.
"I asked. . ."
Banou, slightly irritated by the walk and the heat glanced at him irascibly and this quietened him immediately. She felt safe with Mzee Tembo and Gwafa and she knew Mapacha was nearby so she was not about to be intimidated.
Mzee Tembo handed the plastic bag to Lounis who inspected it through the clear plastic before he gave it to Diae to check it out himself.
"Is this real?" Diae's thick lispy voice asked.
"How much do you want for it?"
Lounis tried to impress Banou and leaned forward and at that moment, his hand accidentally brushed the flap of his jacket and revealed a rusty Isidro Gaztañaga Destroyer.
"He has a gun!" Banou shouted, as she whipped out her revolver and pointed it at them.
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Lounis called out as his hand reached and pulled out the Destroyer. Diao was caught off-guard and then realised the situation had become complicated and pulled out his own Ruby pistol.
Mzee Tembo and Gwafa froze for a moment.
"It's a setup. We are going to kill all of you, right now. Put the gun down you. . . you. . . you. . . sharmoota,"1 Diae screamed as his lisp sprayed sputum and left a dribble on his chin.
"Kol khara!"2 Banou screeched back in one of the few cuss phrases she knew in Arabic as she cocked the revolver. "You put yours down!"
"Telhas teeze!"3 Lounis screamed back.
"Calm down!" Mzee Tembo's authoritatively barked at Banou.
"But he has a gun, right there."
Gwafa moved in front of Banou's gun, with Lounis and Diae's guns now pointed at his back.
"Banou. Put that thing away."
He was calm.
"Of course they have guns. We also have guns. They know it. We know it, it's the nature of this business and theirs. Now please put it away before people get hurt or the police come over."
Mzee Tembo stood muted and relaxed, as he watched Lounis and Diae's reactions. Though she was unconvinced, Banou uncocked the gun and slipped it back into her pocket. Lounis and Diae, on the other hand, still had theirs raised, but Lounis was now focused on the passersby to see if anyone had noticed the small fracas. Nobody had batted an eyelid at them. He sighed in relief.
"Brothers, put the guns away. Please," Gwafa told them. "It's just a misunderstanding."
"You guys are setting us up. This is some sort of arrangement, and you want to kill us!" Lounis yelled.
"No guys, we come in peace."
Gwafa reached into his pocket and slowly took out his cigarettes and pulled one out for Lounis and Diae and then himself. Banou, now calm also pulled out her Gitanes and lit one. Lounis finally relaxed and lowered his gun as Diae followed suit. Lounis had noted that Mzee Tembo had not shown surprise or fear. Maybe these guys were serious, save for this little incident.
"OK! OK! But no more surprises, OK?" Lounis quipped as he lit the Gauloises.
Diae asked, "What about the old man? Why is he not smoking?"
Gwafa turned, shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
"He does not smoke."
Lounis and Diae eyed Mzee Tembo for a moment, then burst out in raucous laughter. It was a good sign.
"He does not smoke? You guys are playing gangsters and you do not smoke?"
It was unabated pure mockery and they continued their chuckle.
"Old man, even the girl in your gang smokes."
Mzee Tembo presented half a smile, but he fumed on the inside. He was slightly irritated at Banou for her impulsiveness but more at Lounis for dubbing him 'old man'.
As they smoked, Lounis put on his business face.
"Listen, guys, yes, we do transport across the strait, mostly hash, coke and gold. But we are on the lower end of the business. Our boss is the one you should be talking to, so we need to talk to him. What is your price?"
"Two thousand per carat."
"Dirhams or dollars?"
Lounis removed the tiny notebook from the inner pocket of his dusty brown coloured jacket and wrote it down.
"We shall talk to our boss and see if he is interested before we get back to you. Where are you staying?"
Gwafa hesitated on the answer for a moment as he remembered the effort Mzee Tembo had made just to make the phone call.
"Right here in Tangier. Why don't we call you tomorrow and see if you are interested?"
Lounis smiled. These guys were not quite as sharp, but they knew their stuff.
"Sure thing. We shall leave instructions with the lady who answers the telephone."
He dragged on the cigarette for a moment, inhaled and then asked, "How many stones are we talking about here?"
"How many can you afford?" Mzee Tembo asked.
The point was made.
"OK. No problem. Tomorrow then."
As they turned to walk away, Lounis hesitated and cleared his throat.
"Could I have another cigarette? These are nice. French right?"
Gwafa reached into his pocket and pulled one out, pegged it on the inner side of his helix, and then tossed the pack to Lounis with a smile.
Lounis beamed a huge smile. "Choukran bizzaf."4
"B'la g'mil,"5 Gwafa responded.
Lounis raised his hands as if to surrender to Banou in a taunt.
"Hey sister, when you come tomorrow, come in peace."
The malevolence seared deeply in her soul though she sported an idiotic smile of embarrassment. They crossed the road and walked past Mapacha who then followed them until they were out of sight of the duo.
"Dog them Mapacha," Mzee Tembo instructed him.
"Right boss." He thought for a moment. "Hey what happened at the beach? It looks like you guys had a scuffle."
Banou stared sheepishly at her feet and then fessed up.
"I got a bit carried away and pulled my gun on them, cause Lounis flashed his gun."
Mapacha offered a rare smile. "It happens. Which one is Lounis?"
"The one in the brown jacket."
"Actually Banou, don't feel too bad about it. You solved a problem, inadvertently. Now we know they are armed," Mzee Tembo said.
"Did you see those rusted WWI antiques?" Gwafa chimed in as he laughed.
Mzee Tembo momentarily chuckled.
"Ridiculous. Those guns are more likely to harm them than whoever they are pointed at."
After the dry heave of his laughter, he started the long hike up the hill and beckoned the others to follow him.
Gwafa handed the map to Mapacha.
"Have fun big guy."
He then followed Banou and Mzee Tembo.
Mapacha found a shaded spot across the road and sat down to eyeball the two. From his vantage point, they only seemed to loaf around, smoke and watch the ships, and occasionally, Lounis scribbled into his small notepad. Finally as dusk arrived, they gathered themselves and started to walk slowly towards the port, past the Kasbah, roamed among the multitudes of traders and eventually, ended up in the Medina. For a while, they seemed to wander aimlessly, as they talked to random people, shook hands with elderly bearded men in various nondescript cafes and Lounis continued to make notes. They finally entered a narrow walkway and up a tenement that was written in Arabic except for one English word. 'Hostel'. Did they live here? Across it was a small streetside cafe and Mapacha went to it, sat outside and ordered himself a cup of tea, non-mint, plain and ordinary. The other stuff did not agree with him. As he enjoyed it, with one eye cautiously on the walkway, he compiled his notes in his own notebook and drew a rudimentary map that followed their journey and he noted their actions.
When he considered a second cup three-quarters of an hour later, the duo finally emerged with fresh outfits and their hair slicked back. They both wore kaftans, Lounis in a pure white one with bronze patterns to the side and a dark brown pair of babouches, while Diae's kaftan was a plain blue one with a light brown pair of sandals. Their walk seemed leisurely and haphazard, and they lumbered deeper into the alleyways of the Medina, up and down the beat staircases, amongst the crowded paths that occasionally had a laden mule, and for a moment, Mapacha had to lay back, as he thought that he had been spotted and was being led on a runaround. Were they just being cautious? Regardless of the situation, he respected his own aptitude as a professional tail. The army had taught him how to hide in bushlands among the foliage but this was no more different. It could not have been that. Eventually, they emerged at the Hotel Continental, turned and then seemed to walk backwards and for a quarter of an hour, it was the same affair, except, Mapacha noted that they were getting further away from the ocean. They went past the American Legation, where they turned left and then right and eventually stopped near the Gran Teatro Cervantes.
On the street, a snake charmer, attired in a grey djellaba with white stripes and a blue fez performed for a small group of tourists. Next to him was a young teen in a black djellaba who clapped his black tambourine steadily, as he tried to draw more tourists. The charmer, completely committed to his act, stuck his tongue out and brought the black Egyptian cobra close and then drew it away at the very last possible moment when it hissed and flipped out its fangs. This elicited enthusiastic gasps from the spectators who flashed their cameras at the trio and then dropped money into their wicker basket. He saw Lounis stare at him and he whispered to the boy. After a few minutes, the show was over and the boy withdrew the money and then the charmer chucked the cobra into the wicker basket which he covered. He walked over to Lounis, had a quick conversation and then pointed in one direction. Then he instructed the boy, who rolled up their small faded and tattered maroon carpet and they all walked off together. They all headed away to the rear of the theatre and found a small shop where a tall thickly bearded man welcomed them. Lounis peeled a note from the depths of his djellaba and handed it to the grateful snake charmer who hastily slithered away, teen by his side, and then with Diae they sat down on the chairs provided by the tall man. A moment later, a veiled woman served them tea.
Their conversation lasted about a half-hour, and Lounis did the lip work, while Diae, quieter, seemed to only nod or shake his head and throw in a word or two. Eventually, they seemed to be in agreement and shook the man's hand before they left. Mapacha noted the location of the shop and realised it was merely a five-minute walk from their hotel. The duo hastily cut a direct path to their hostel and stopped long enough to catch a quick meal at a streetside cafe. The luminous dials of his Timex pointed to half past nine, and he figured they were done for the day. He broke off the contact, walked away, and followed the map and his intuition back to the hotel.
When he got to the door, he knocked three times and Banou opened it quickly.
"Hey, Mapacha. How did it go?"
She saw the creases of fatigue on his face and knew it had been a long afternoon. The others were sat in her room and they seemed relaxed. Gwafa was on the window with a cigarette, while Mzee Tembo was on one of the chairs with a cup of tea next to him as he read a copy of a day-old Guardian broadsheet that someone in the hotel had acquired from him. Gwafa nodded at him with a smile.
"Banou, that is what you are going to ask him?" Mzee Tembo reproached her.
Her face crinkled in confusion and she turned back to Mapacha.
"Have you not been following those guys?"
Before he could answer, Mzee Tembo cut him off.
"Have you eaten son?" he asked.
"No. Not yet. Just had a cup of tea earlier."
"OK. Let's go downstairs and find a place to get dinner."
Gwafa doused his partway smoked cigarette in the ashtray and stood up.
"Big guy? How was walking around Tangier?"
Mapacha grinned at him.
"The roads here are disorganised. It's like a delta."
"Yeah. I know. We nearly lost our way getting back here."
They left the room, walked down and Banou got a quick referral from the receptionist, as well as directions. She led them down the boulevard, where they turned right, and about a hundred metres along the road, they found themselves in front of a sign that read 'Cafe Las Campanas'. She found them a table among the sunburnt tourists who were out for dinner and a nightcap.
"Welcome to Cafe Las Campanas," a waiter who looked knackered greeted them and quickly popped menus onto the table. "I will be back shortly."
Banou, still stuffed from her lunch picked a light Taktouka with a side of bread. Mzee Tembo and Gwafa opted for Bissara soup with bread, but a famished Mapacha chose to get a plate of sardine meatballs with a double order of Khobz. As they waited for their dinners, the waiter served them freshly squeezed mango juice and two ashtrays were laid as quickly as the packs of cigarettes landed on the table.
There were twenty minutes of idle chitchat before dinner was served with a fresh round of juice. it was now close to half past ten, and the restaurant had quietened as the staff prepared to wind down since most of the customers had left. It was down to a few stragglers who were on their last glasses of wine or beer. With dinner out of the way and their last glasses of juice on the table, Mapacha drew his notepad and began to describe the afternoon.
"Well, it wasn't much. They live in a hostel not far from here. About ten minute's walk. They walked round a bit, bought cigarettes, and then they went to a snake charmer who took them to a small shop near a theatre. They seemed to know the owner, a tall bearded guy, who hosted them for tea, and after almost half an hour, they left, walked back, ate dinner at a small cafe, and came to the hostel and that is where I left them."
Gwafa was curious.
"This tall guy, could he be their boss? That Makhlouf guy Ossi told us about?"
"It's possible. Also, Lounis paid the snake charmer money for taking them to the shop owner, so he might just be a go-between between them and the other guy, or he might be a sort of tracker-courier. It did not make sense."
"OK. This is good. So they did not spot you?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"No. I don't think so. The way they walked, though, it seemed circuitous and I thought they were trying to throw a tail off, but as far as I could tell, I was the only one following them."
"OK. So now we know what to do. Tomorrow morning, Mapacha, you and Banou watch the shop. Gwafa, you fit in better here so tail the duo, and I will prepare for the meeting."
"Always foot duty," Banou sulked as her voice trailed as she went to cover their bill. They finished up, left the restaurant, and sauntered back to their hotel.
In the darkness, the heavy European man clad in a khaki shirt with olive green pockets as well as a matching pair of khaki pants and a pair of brown veldskoen watched them as they strolled from his hideout behind an ornately decorated pillar. A large smile was channelled on his lips. He had found them in what must have been the luckiest fluke. He had enquired about them at practically every popular hotel in the area all afternoon. That had left him bitter since it was the taxi driver who had mucked things up from the airport and lost them at the Place de France roundabout, but all of that was done now. He watched them enter the Hotel Rembrandt.
"Tops!" he muttered to himself.
He rushed past the hotel, and found himself at the El Minzah, blew past the reception and entered the bureau where he found a drowsy phone attendant.
"Hi!" he enthusiastically greeted. "I would like to call Belgium."
The attendants sleep deprived bloodshot eyes stared back at him as he tried to focus on the issue.
"You have the number?"
"The rates are..."
He was too excited to hear all that.
"Don't bother with the rates. Just make the call."
He plopped a handful of dirham notes onto the table. The attendant was now alert, and he picked up the receiver and called the exchange. His weary voice chattered with another weary voice for a moment, and then he read out the number and hang up.
"Please, sit and wait while they connect the other party. It will be a few minutes."
However, he was far too agitated to sit, so he leaned on the wall and slowly drummed his palms and counted the minutes. Eight. The phone rang and the attendant picked it up, spoke to the operator and then handed him the receiver. There was a torrent of static and noise and he could barely make out if the call was connected.
In the distance, he heard a voice. "Yes. Who is this?"
The excitement rushed him again.
"Hallo Henrik, dit is Kobus, hoe gaan dit met jou?"6
He waited a moment before he heard the response.
"Wat het gebeur?"7
"Ek het die mans gevind,"8 Kobus replied.
"Fantastiese. Weet jy wat om dan te dan?"9
"Bel my wanneer jy die probleem opgelos het."10
Green light. Those gangsters were about to feel his wrath. He hang-up and felt a lot more fortuitous. This whole situation could be salvaged after all. The phone rang again and the attendant answered, spoke to the operator and hang up and did a quick mental calculation.
"Thirty-two dirhams please."
Kobus counted the money, laid the notes and coins on the table and when the attendant confirmed it, he walked out through the reception into the street where he lit a cigarette and with a spring in his step disappeared into the night.
Back at the Rembrandt, as Mapacha finally settled in after a long hot shower, he could hear the drone of a plane as it embarked on its cross-strait journey into Europe, likely to one of the numerous capitals that connected directly to Tangier. Despite his weariness, his head could not help but try to determine what type of plane it was. The one thing he had come to learn was that all planes had a distinct sound and he was determined to learn as many as possible. Next, he wondered about Neve. Was Abril good to her? Would she like their new home? He reminded himself to build her a proper dog house, and not just a plain kennel. She had been good to him, so a good turn deserved another. And how was Abril? His mind finally opened that deeply hidden compartment. Why did she love him? Did he love her? That would once again remain unanswered as sleep finally overtook him.
2. Eat shit!
3. Kiss my ass!
4. Thanks a lot.
5. Don't mention it.
6. Hello Henrik, this is Kobus, how are you?
7. What happened?
8. I found them.
9. Fantastic. You know what to do then.
10. Call me when you've solved the problem.