FEB 28, 2023
It was a quiet ride to the airport except for the wild voice broadcast by the radio. As the taxi pulled up to the terminal, a keen porter rushed out to meet them and load their bags onto his trolley. Gwafa stopped him from his attempt and alongside Mapacha, they laid the bags onto the pavement. Mzee Tembo paid the taxi driver who wished them a safe journey. In the dark behind the wheel, he beamed as he drove off, pleased with himself for how much he had managed to gouge from them.
The confused porter hang around and watched them, as he did not want to lose the gig. For people who had come to the airport, these foreign guys did not seem ready to travel. As Gwafa walked into the terminal, he called him over and palmed him a ten dirhams note for his trouble. The porter smiled and let the gig go, still uncertain as to what had happened.
Inside, the terminal heaved with excited European and American tourists who loudly chattered. They had just arrived from Milan on a charter on the first leg of their Moroccan tour. Gwafa found a hotel services bureau inside, approached the counter and picked up a handful of brochures before he quickly walked away to rejoin the gang. They quickly reviewed them and selected one that seemed low-key and tidy. As Gwafa called for a taxi, Banou admired the fashion sense of a solo European tourist who was clad in a bright yellow jumpsuit with a newsboy cap and a light white sweater. She filed it as an outfit she would certainly explore when this escapade was over. A taxi driver pulled up and stuck his head out.
"Bonsoir. Welcome to Maroc. Where would you like me to take you?"
"The Hotel Solazur."
The taxi driver jumped out and grabbed the bags. For the second time that night, the bags faced the overcast moon and took in the salty breeze over the next three-quarters of an hour as the Mercedes creaked and smoked its way back to Tangier. Finally, they drove down the wide palmed Avenue des Forces Armées Royales and ended up before the palatial crescent shape of Hotel Solazur. Seven storeys of pitch-white charm lay before them, announced by the gigantic lit sign. On the wide lot, the taxi finally wheezed out its last thick gasp of diesel smoke for the trip.
A weary porter appeared with a trolley and straightened out his black pants, to make sure he looked properly dressed.
"Good evening, welcome to the Hotel Solazur."
His well-practised English thickly gushed as he looked himself over again and made sure his white shirt and waistcoat were tidy.
"May I take your luggage?"
The gang seemed like an odd set but he was not going to try and question them. They were here and not at one of their rivals like the El Minzah or that tough-to-crack Hotel Cecil.
Mzee Tembo peeled out the bills and handed them over to an over gracious taxi driver who bowed and wished them well, turned on his Mercedes, drove off and left a thick trail of smoke. The gang entered the cavernous lobby and met a friendly receptionist who seemed pleasantly happy to see them.
"Bonsoir. Bienvenue à l'hôtel Solazur."
Gwafa smiled at him and asked for four rooms.
The porter was again mystified. It appeared that the afro girl was single. Though she had barely looked at him twice, seemingly more concerned with the bag that she jealously clutched, he thought that maybe he should introduce himself later. The receptionist negotiated with Gwafa and then pulled out a sheaf of registration forms for them to fill out.
"Excuse me, can we get a light evening meal?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"I'm sorry sir, but this late in the evening, you can only get the continentals."
Mzee Tembo smiled back.
"That is fine."
"Would you like to place an order then?"
"Yes, we will be down in about half an hour."
"No problem monsieur. The dining room is through there," he said, as he pointed down the hallway.
He then dinged the bell ridiculously, to gather the attention of the porter whose eyes were glued on the afro girl's derriere.
The porter led them up to their rooms. Banou located the safe inside the wardrobe and stuffed the diplomatic bag in. She breathed in relief, glad to be done with it. A cigarette later, she admired herself in the mirror and then realised that it was ridiculous since she was about to have dinner with the guys. The others were already at the table when she got there.
The continental meals proved to be better than they had anticipated. A well-done pasta with thick meatballs and even thicker tomato sauce served with a grated side of parmesan cheese. That, in addition to the fruit juice, while Gwafa opted for a beer, proved sumptuous. When the waiter cleared the table, they got down to business.
"So, now we know that Kobus is onto us. Plus, we know now, that he likely has guys coming into the country to confront us," Mzee Tembo said.
"Well, they can come, we can handle ourselves," Mapacha offered with a half-crooked smile.
"We don't need to add any more violence into this situation, but it may come down to that," Mzee Tembo said.
"What if we watch the airport?" Banou asked.
"It's impractical. We don't know who we are looking for or what they look like. Luckily, they don't know who we are either, so all we need to do is lay low and make the deal. But, we can't walk around freely anymore," Gwafa pointed out.
"When Kobus wakes up in the hospital, he is going to be mad. Why won't he just tell the police about us?" Banou asked.
"He can't. If he talks and we get arrested, then we simply offer up the whole story of the diamonds and the scandal alone will hurt him and the minister, so he won't talk," Mapacha answered.
Banou instinctively lit a cigarette as the waiter poured out the coffee. Gwafa did the same and inhaled deeply.
"Gwafa, there is something we did not consider. We will have a ridiculous amount of currency in our hands. Do we have enough diplomatic bags to move it?"
"I think so, but we have to wait and see. We need an empty suitcase tomorrow, to carry the money and bring it back here," he responded.
"How long do you think Makhlouf and the guys will take to go through the stones?" Mapacha asked.
"Likely a couple of hours. Don't forget, we have to go through the money ourselves to make sure we don't end up with any funny money, otherwise, we shall be back to square one," Mzee Tembo said.
"No worries boss, I have a few ideas to solve that," Gwafa offered.
They revised the minute details of the plan twice and then called it a night.
Mapacha finally entered his room, glad to be alone. He was eager to review the plan in detail again, but he was just too tired. It was a quick shower in the large privy before he finally jumped into the king-sized bed. For a few minutes, he looked round the richly decored room and realised just how elegant it was. Despite his fatigue, he listened for the occasional toot of ships' horns in the distance as they began their cross-strait journey. He tried to count them, but before he could get to ten, he had already fallen into a deep slumber, and at that moment, he was transported back to Josephine, sat out on his chair on the verandah of his new house as he watched the waters kiss and drag the beach, while Neve wiggled between his legs and thumped her tail rhythmically on the ground.
Banou was right. At that moment, an irate Kobus was awake at the hospital being attended to by a doctor and a nurse. The red mist caused his bloodshot eyes to bulge as the doctor patched him up. Somehow, he had suffered no broken bones, but, he was covered in welts, cuts and contusions.
Mapacha was also right. The policemen assigned to question Kobus got no specific information. He told them a story of him being attacked by some Africans who wanted to steal his money. Why did they beat him up? He confessed that he had resisted and had told them that he rather have died than hand over his hard-earned money. One of the policemen though unconvinced wrote down his notes and shook his head as Kobus finally struggled up to his wobbly feet, unhurriedly dressed, and then collapsed into a chair before he swallowed a handful of pills.
"I am leaving, now!" he grunted at the doctor.
"But you are seriously injured. You need bed rest and observation."
Kobus rose again and pushed the pain deeper into a cavern in his mind.
"How much do I owe you?"
Twenty minutes later, he slowly dragged his thick battered body away, struggled for nearly half an hour to hobble down the various flights of stairs, went out, found a taxi and directed him to the Hotel Continental.
It was nearly 2 AM and at the reception, he demanded to be brought a big bottle of whisky as he found his way up to his room. The fiery cauldron of hate and anger overflowed in his mind, and he made a drastic decision.
"Those fokken animals. They are dead!"
Half an hour later, the pills and the alcohol did the trick and he broke out in a deep snore on the bed.