MAR 02, 2023
Mapacha tried to nudge Abril to get her to answer the telephone. He was too dazed to recall how he had gotten a telephone installed in the shack. The soft mattress prolonged the sleep. Was the telephone a dream? Or was Abril's silky skin a dream? He painfully cracked his eyes open. They felt gritty like they had gotten tiny bits of sand. The loud ring of the phone finally won. Blindly, his hand fumbled for the receiver and brought it to his left ear. Baou's voice was alert on the other end.
"Ola Mapacha! You up?"
"Yes," his husky deep voice responded.
Banou paused for a moment.
"Sorry, did I wake you up?"
"Not really. What do you want Banou."
She could almost sense his irritation.
"I'm hungry. You want to go get breakfast?"
"What time is it?"
"A little after seven."
"I need to shower first. Let's meet at eight in the dining room."
Her voice dropped an octave in disappointment.
Mapacha carelessly tumbled the receiver back onto the handset, turned and rose up unsteadily to his feet. Like a seasoned fighter, he stretched his body, loudly cracked his fingers, then his elbow joints, and then went through his morning ritual. Through the thick window and the walls, he heard the turbulent ocean batter the beach. It was more tempestuous than the waters around the island. From the roadside, he could hear the busy traffic as it gathered. He was in and out of the privy in half an hour, then dressed in a fresh pair of blue bell bottoms and an orange-white collared shirt that had faded flower designs, and finally wore his favourite blue Bata Bullets. Mapacha found the others seated in the restaurant deep in a hushed conversation. He greeted them and they all rose for the buffet. It was another continental affair that consisted of beef sausages, eggs, and toasted bread with large portions of fruits, coffee and juice. After the meal, there was a quick review of their agenda, and then it was time to get into action.
Gwafa left the hotel, took a taxi and went into town to pick up some equipment they needed. Two hours later, he returned with a large bag that contained two black lights. In Banou's room, he set them up then pulled out various notes and demonstrated to the others the security features on the bills.
"The money does not glow under black light, and you have to feel the raised print. If any note does not have that, then put it aside, and we can have Makhlouf verify it. OK?"
Banou was impressed by Gwafa's explanation, as she realised that she had traded money blindly. Suddenly the gang thing felt very a lot more professional.
"Also, we won't need to bring a suitcase. Makhlouf has to bring the money somehow, so we will take whatever he brings with us."
Mzee Tembo smiled. He had not considered that. It made sense so all they would need would be the valise Ossi had given him and their guns.
Over the next couple of hours, they practised till they could blindly read the notes in a matter of seconds. At around 3 PM, Mzee Tembo and Gwafa took a taxi and found a hotel services bureau. Mzee Tembo entered and made the call and surprisingly found Lounis who gave him the instructions. He got back into the taxi and they returned to the hotel where they had a light lunch of sandwiches and juice. He told them the time they would meet and the location.
Just after half past four, Mapacha left the Hotel Solazur. He walked around for almost half an hour till he got to the Grand Hôtel Villa de France. It was a quick hop into the resort, through to the restaurant where he ordered juice that he slowly drank and then paid for. When he was certain nobody was focused on him, he took a giant last gulp and shrunk away to the hotel side. He rushed up to the second floor, identified the room where Makhlouf had agreed to meet them then climbed up to the third floor. This time, he searched for an alternative exit and a place where he could hide.
Six PM. Mapacha heard heavy footsteps approach the room. He could hear Diae's heavy lisp but did not understand the conversation in Darija. From the footsteps, he counted five different people, not three as he had expected. He drew his revolver from his waistband at the small of his back, gave it a once over and then slung it back. After a few minutes, he heard the noisy squeak of trolley wheels accompanied by a rhythmic clink of glasses. He crept down, peeked and saw a waiter knock on the door before it was opened and he pushed in the trolley. Less than a minute later, the waiter left.
He counted almost ten minutes before he heard the next set of steps. Three different people. Almost instantly, he recognised Mzee Tembo's heavy shuffle. He bounded down and peered round the corner and caught sight of Banou's afro. They spotted him, and he gave them a quick wave and then flashed all five fingers. Gwafa nodded and gave a thumbs-up. He noted Banou's nervous look as Mzee Tembo knocked on the door. Almost instantly, it swung open and they all walked in. He heard Lounis greet them before the door slammed shut.
Despite the open window, a thick heavy cloud of cigarette smoke hung over the room. The small desk provided had been cleared and dragged from its corner position to the centre. On the humongous bed was a large brown leather Hartmann suitcase and next to it sat Makhlouf. Lounis and Diae sat behind him. Gwafa counted four. Where was the fifth? The air was electric with tension from everyone's anticipation of the deal.
"Bonsoir!" Makhlouf greeted them as he rose.
"Ola!" Mzee Tembo responded, his eyes a bit irritated by the smoke.
"This is my associate Boulos, a respected jeweller, and one of the few men I can trust with such a venture. Five hundred stones are many to go through alone, so I brought him to help me. I hope this is not a problem for you?"
The man introduced as Bolous, a bespectacled small man in a grey djellaba bowed and smiled, but did not utter a single word. Behind them, they had the lavatory flush. Makhlouf was almost embarrassed.
"And that is Ghaus. He is my assistant."
A medium-sized clean-shaven man, with short cut hair, emerged from within. He appeared well toned, with that athletic cut that spelt trouble if you were on the wrong end. He also remained muted and stood behind the main door. He calmly eyed them, pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Mzee Tembo smiled.
"Now let's see the money."
Diae silently read Makhlouf's slight gesture and hauled the heavy suitcase onto the table. Makhlouf, with soft motions, undid the broad clasp of the Hartmann and inside, surrounded by the paisley lining were bundles of dollar bills.
"All 100s," Makhlouf commented with some pride.
Mzee Tembo opened the valise Ossi had given him and pulled out the small plastic bags with the diamonds.
"10 per bag, 50 bags."
Makhlouf nodded in agreement.
"OK. Shall we count then?" Makhlouf asked.
Gwafa had already set up the black lights and pointed them to the other half of the desk. He sat down on one of the chairs and broke down the bundles. Mzee Tembo dragged the small armchair over as Banou took her place in between them and ploughed through the pile Gwafa handed to her. Across them, Makhlouf and Bolous, with their loupes started a slow arduous review of the diamonds. On the far end of the bed, Lounis and Diae lit their cigarettes and quietly spectated, while Ghaus, by the door hovered over them like a pit boss.
Banou found herself worn out within the first hour. Weary, she took a break by the window, lit a cigarette, smoked and watched the action. When she was done, she sat back down and continued, while Gwafa took his smoke break. Makhouf noted their fatigue and ordered Lounis to get them some refreshments that they all stopped to take after the third hour.
It was an intense eight hours. Mzee Tembo confirmed and counted the money Banou and Gwafa handed to him. Across them Makhlouf and Boulous daisied the diamonds that they returned back to the plastic bags.
"Exquisite. I wish I had more money. I would have taken the rest," Makhlouf commented as he sat back and watched Mzee Tembo band the notes.
"If we ever find ourselves with more, I shall remember you," Mzee Tembo replied.
Makhlouf and Boulous finished first. Banou and Gwafa continued their checks and count and finally, and after an hour and a half, they were done. It all checked out. Mzee Tembo offered Makhlouf the valise for them to put the diamonds in, while Mzee Tembo stuffed the last money back into the Hartmann.
"So, we are in agreement?" Mzee Tembo asked Makhlouf.
"Oh yes. Before you go, I have something for you."
He pulled out a small slip from his trouser pocket.
"If you need to dispose of the remaining stones, call this number and the guy there might be interested. Tell him Makhlouf sent you. He is in Casablanca."
He handed the valise over to Ghaus, pulled out a cigarette, struck a match, lit it and slowly inhaled the smoke.
"It was nice meeting you, Tembo and company. You island guys are alright. Don't worry about the room. I have taken care of it. Think of it as Moroccan hospitality," he said with a dry smile as he stood up.
"Let's go!" he barked to the others.
Ghaus opened the door and peeped outside to see that the hallway was clear. He then led the way followed by Diae, then Bolous, Maklouf, and finally Lounis who stared at Banou and then winked, before he shut the door behind them. Mzee Tembo scrambled to his feet.
"Gwafa, tell Mapacha to get a taxi. We are out of here."
Gwafa crossed the room, slowly opened the door and peeped outside. He caught the corner of Mapacha's face as he peeped from the staircase and motioned with his hand for him to come over.
"How did it go?" Mapacha asked.
Gwafa flashed him a smile.
"Smooth. Get us a taxi."
He turned and rushed down the hallway out past reception onto the street. At three AM, he struggled to identify a taxi against the cars parked on the side of the street. As he looked around, he saw an old beige Mercedes approach the hotel. It turned in and drove up. When it stopped a drunk and amorous European couple in formal dinnerwear popped out and entered the hotel. Mapacha waited on the street and when the taxi made it to the gate, he flagged it down.
"Hey my friend," the taxi driver called out. "Where do you want to go?"
"Get in," the driver said, with a smile on his face.
"Let me get my friends."
"No problem brother."
He walked back up the drive, into the hotel and found them in the lobby.
They followed him down the drive, but he could not see where the taxi had parked.
"What the hell?"
He searched for a moment and saw it a few car lengths down across the road.
As they made their way towards it, they heard the whine of a starter and an engine came to life behind them. A pair of lights partially illuminated them, and the street.