NOV 17, 2022
Banou's stomach turned as she packed her bags. She had awoken before dawn and prepared for the big day. To her, they were going home, only with a slight diversion through the Minister's residence to pick up the diamonds. It felt unreal. In the back of her mind, the implications of this if it went sideways were serious. It would either be jail time at best or death at worst and that weighed heavily on her conscience. She opened the hotel safe, pulled out the diplomatic bag and removed her revolver. As carefully as she could, she opened the cylinder and confirmed that the chambers were empty. Slowly, she loaded five bullets from the ammunition box she had packed and closed the chamber. She flashed the gun at the mirror.
"Big-time criminal now." she mused to herself.
She put the gun in her train case and checked her clothes, a simple plain white t-shirt with a pair of blue stone-wash jeans. With one last glance in the mirror, she left the room. She found everyone else down in the lobby.
"Ola," she greeted them. They all greeted her back.
Mzee Tembo paid the hotel bill as Gwafa and Mapacha hauled their luggage out to the car."Are you ready?" Mzee Tembo asked as he noticed her anxiety."Yes," she answered plainly.
Gwafa flirted with Djeneba for a few minutes, before he cast a farewell wink at her. He got into the driver's seat and then, it was time to go. He drove slowly towards the Minister's residence. There was no rush as it was still early. By 8 AM, they had picked a spot a block away from where they watched the neighbourhood come to life. Those would prove to be the longest four hours before the Minister's Mercedes with its flag unfurled drove out. They waited for ten minutes in case the car turned back, but it was clear.
"It's go time," Gwafa said cheerfully.
He handed them djellabas to cover their clothes and balaclavas that they rolled over their heads. Banou was glad for the first time that the humidity had shrunk her afro. She imagined the battle royale that she would have faced getting it all inside. Gwafa was the first one out and he carried a small canvas bag and a crowbar. He slipped the djellaba on and covered his head with the mask. Mapacha followed him with a similar bag. He too slipped his djellaba on. Banou was the last one out and she wore the djellaba which was so big, it made her look like a ghost.
She walked towards the gate as she slipped on her Manhattans, knocked and called out in halting French, "Hallo. Je suis perdu, pouvez-vous m'aider, s'il vous plait?"
Gwafa motioned for her to turn around as the guard peered through the peephole. He saw a female form and swung the narrow pedestrian gate open. The woman turned and her face was hidden by expensive-looking sunglasses, while she held a map.
"Cute tourist," he thought as he stepped out.
The last thing he would remember was her beautiful smile as a tough blow cracked across his face that instantly knocked him out. Mapacha, with the dexterity of a well-trained boxer, had timed it right and sucker-punched him. The guard tumbled to the ground. Inside, the other guard had heard the commotion and poked his head out to investigate. He spotted the gunmetal ring of Banou's revolver as she rested it on the bridge of his nose. As he directed his eyes to his partner on the ground, he knew it was better to remain quiet and not look at his assailants' faces. Mapacha slid on his balaclava, led him back inside and quickly unholstered his Colt Cobra. Gwafa and Banou dragged the other unconscious guard back through the gate, locked it and they all entered the guardhouse.
"Tie them up!" Mapacha ordered.
Banou helped Gwafa tie up the guards while Mapacha briefly surveyed the compound from the guardhouse. Up till now, they had remained undetected, save for the two guards. Banou and Gwafa finally wore their balaclavas.
"Follow me!" Mapacha led them up the driveway, round the residence to the back. They found a small paved yard with beautifully crafted rattan furniture. Banou stood at the kitchen door while Gwafa and Mapacha stood to the side. Mapacha withdrew his revolver and held it in his left hand with the knuckledusters in his right. He nodded at Banou.
Her knock echoed loudly through the vast halls of the mansion. There was no response. She looked at Mapacha who urged her to knock again. From behind the heavy black stained wooden door, she heard footsteps approach. Banou's revolver was in her right hand. The maid flung the door open and instantly saw three figures. Two pointed guns at her as one motioned for silence with a finger on their lips. Her scream drowned in her throat as the panic veiled her face. With a surge of confidence, Banou cautiously walked into the residence with the gun still pointed at the maid. The kitchen was large and had a tremendous table set in the middle with six chairs round it. There was a modern-looking enormous cooker set in one corner with two large Westinghouse fridges on either side of the kitchen, a large island for food preparation, two huge sinks and tastefully designed cupboards. Through the gun-toting commotion, Banou took design notes.
The maid was tied to one of the chairs as tears slowly streamed down her face. Banou instinctively felt bad, but this was not that moment. Mapacha motioned for them to search the residence. There were at least two guards and a maid that they were yet to locate. Gwafa led Banou downstairs towards what they assumed were the maids' quarters. They located the other maid with a sewing kit on her bed and before she could scream, Gwafa had wrapped his hand around her mouth. They forced her back up and tied her in the kitchen with the other maid. They were both teary as the ordeal continued.
Above them, they heard a loud crash, and Gwafa tore up towards the noise. He found Mapacha in the midst of a struggle for control of a Colt revolver from a security man. The guard saw Gwafa and another figure behind him armed with a revolver and he realised he was outgunned. He let Mapacha take the gun as he raised his hand. Mapacha's nostrils flared in fury, as he hulked over the security man. Banou knew what was coming next as she had witnessed how Mapacha had thrashed the Englishman. He decked him in the abdomen with his left hand and ploughed him with an uppercut using his right hand shoved him into the small ivory table in the hallway. The security man groaned in pain and he attempted to raise his head, amazed by the severity of the punch. He was met with a harsh kick across his face that finally knocked him out. Gwafa saw two teeth fly out as blood seeped from the newly created gap on the front of his gum.
"Really big guy? You did not have to be that savage. That was unnecessary," Gwafa whispered to him.
Mapacha gave Gwafa a cold infernal look, devoid of any human emotion. He felt a cold chill snake it's way up his spine as he realised that he had just met the real Mapacha for the first time. Gwafa rolled the guard over and tied him up, blindfolded him and gagged him. He then dragged him to the nearest room which turned out to be a bedroom. They probed the mansion as they searched for the last guard but they could not find him.
"Let's locate the safe and get to work," Mapacha sternly whispered.
"It will be in the office downstairs," Gwafa said as he led them back down and into the office.
Banou hesitated as she walked past the living room."How did these people live like this?" she wondered to herself.
The residence was drenched in French luxury. The ornate dust-hued drapery complemented the ocean blue rugs that had been selected to match the blue Chesterfield furniture set. To Banou this was like being inside an aquarium. Those thoughts were diminished as she heard Mapacha rummage through the Minister's office. According to the plan, the Englishman had pointed out that the safe was located behind a small cupboard. It was locked.
"Crowbar!"Gwafa handed it to him, and he jimmied the doors open.
There it was, the prize they had sought. The safe. Gwafa cursed as he slid his mask up and revealed his face, covered in perspiration.
"What?" Mapacha asked.
"It's not the safe in the documents. This is a Hercules. The guy is supposed to have a Chubb."
They examined the paint round the safe and realised it was relatively new, less than two weeks as part of the paintwork was still sticky.
"I don't know how to pick combination locks," Gwafa said.
Banou watched them as they stared at the safe, unsure of what was happening. The adrenalin and sweltering weather had drenched her mask. She saw a reflection of herself in a mirror and realised how humorous she looked as her hair created a comical shape over her head. It made her look like a big-headed ghost. The heat became unbearable, so she slid the balaclava up and felt the instant comfort of the cool breeze as it washed over her face.
"So what now? We cut it?" she asked them.
They turned and gave her an offended look.
"Impossible. We would need a day to go through it, and even then, not with the tools we have." Gwafa said.
He stared at Mapacha whose thick white eyeballs poked through the mask holes.
"Hey, big guy, you can take your mask off. There is nobody here to see you."
Mapacha suddenly felt very amateur as he slipped it off.
"What do you think big guy?"
"We will have to blow it," he said as he unpacked the explosives.
"Not a good idea, the neighbours will hear and the police will be here in a minute," Gwafa responded.
"Well, we have to do something. The safe is here. We can't waste this opportunity."
"Banou, go get the boss. And watch out for the other guard!" Mapacha instructed her.
With her gun in her hand, she ran out, through the kitchen into the yard and out of to the gate. She peeked out and beckoned to Mzee Tembo to come. He jumped out of the car, in his djellaba, and walked across the road to the gate.
"What's wrong?" he asked breathlessly.
"We have a problem with the safe. It's a different safe."
They quickly walked to the back of the house, past the trussed-up maids in the kitchen and into the office.
"What do you mean a different safe?" Mzee Tembo asked Gwafa.
"Here, look," Gwafa said.
He inspected it. It was not the safe in the pictures.
"Mapacha! Blow it!" he ordered.
Gwafa was shocked by the casualness of their order though he knew that this was their Plan B.
"But the noise? Won't it attract attention?"
"It can't be helped. I know how we shall fix that problem, though. Gwafa, come with me! Mapacha, wire it up! Banou fetch two large buckets of water!"
Mzee Tembo led a confused Gwafa up the stairs.
"Where is the Minister's bedroom?"
Gwafa pointed it out and they entered. Mzee Tembo grabbed the bedspread and flung it onto the floor.
"Grab the other side."
Finally, it dawned on Gwafa what Mzee Tembo's plan was.
They lifted the massive Vispring mattress, forced it through the door, along the hall and allowed it to tumble down the staircase. It swept the mirror and paintings on the wall before it crushed down noisily. Mzee Tembo smiled as he enjoyed the chaos.
In the office, Mapacha had laid two small bricks of explosive. The cover was broadly marked with the crest of the military of Ilha de Florença accompanied by 'C 4 HIGH EXPLOSIVE' in bold letters. He broke it down and moulded it into small lumps that he stuck on the hinges of the safe and on the seal of the locking mechanism. Banou watched intensely, speechless about this new plan. The hive of activity astonished her. Mapacha attached the blasting caps to the explosives as the mattress landed with a heavy thud behind them. The three of them hauled it into the office and wedged it in front of the safe.
"There, that should dampen the sound."Gwafa looked at his watch.
They had been there for almost fifteen minutes.
"Banou, the water?"
She had forgotten.
"One moment," she said as she run back into the kitchen.
A minute later, she hauled in the first bucket before she run back to fetch the second one.
"OK. Mapacha, you know what to do. Wait two minutes while I get to the car. When you hear me hoot three times, blow it. OK?"
Mzee Tembo left the office, and a moment later he sat in the car. He monitored the road for a full minute and waited to see if anyone had detected the commotion in the residence. Everything was quiet. He hooted three times in quick succession. Ten seconds later, he heard the muffled thud.
Inside the office, it was a full-blown mess. Shards of tiny fiery wooden missiles shot all over the office as the mattress was pushed outwards. Though it had successfully muffled the explosion, it was engulfed in flames. They all coughed violently as smoke crowded the room. The cupboard itself smouldered as the flames licked it. Gwafa and Mapacha each grabbed a bucket and doused the flames. Mapacha inspected the safe door and saw it was lightly warped, but it nevertheless held.
"One more," he said. "Banou, go tell the boss that we are doing a second one, and to give us a signal when it's clear."
Banou had started to panic. She quickly ran out of the residence towards the gate. In the smoky office, Mapacha moulded three more sets of explosives and attached them to the safe. He then set the fuses. With Gwafa, they propped the singed mattress back onto the safe and propped it with the shell of the Minister's sturdy chair. For a moment, Mapacha thought he was mistaken, but the footsteps he heard were too heavy to be Banou's and too rapid to be Mzee Tembo's. He tapped on Gwafa's shoulder, slid his mask on and hid behind the door. Gwafa ducked into the footwell of the Minister's oak table. Through the gap between the base and board, he watched as a naked man wrapped in a towel crept in. His hand trembled as it clutched a revolver. The man's skin glistened with soapy water from the shower he had emerged from. He entered the office and inspected the damage. They all heard Banou's footsteps as she entered the kitchen. Mapacha let the door swing shut and he lunged out and grabbed the gun in the security man's right hand. The surprised guard did not get the chance to pull the trigger. Mapacha whirled him around violently, and he heard his shoulder pop as it dislocated. He let out a painful yell but Mapacha's left hand had already wrapped itself round his throat. The gun tumbled to the floor as Mapacha punched him in the stomach. The security man doubled down and used his left hand to cradle his stomach with a violent cough from the effects of the meaty vice that had nearly crushed his throat. Mapacha thrust him up and headbutted him, and that flung him out of the room. As the guard tried to crawl away, Mapacha gripped his leg, flipped him over and with his knuckleduster already positioned, delivered the knockout blow across his jaw. He writhed for a moment before he finally passed out.
"Gwafa, tie him up!"
Banou stared at Mapacha, horror-stricken. He had savagely beaten down three people in front of her in one sitting, and he seemed largely unperturbed by the violence. Gwafa tied him up and dragged him into the sitting room, leaving a trail of blood on the blue carpet Banou had admired a few minutes ago.
"More water Banou!"
Without hesitating, she grabbed the buckets, went into the kitchen, filled them up and brought them in one by one. She had just set the second bucket down when they heard the Renault hoot three times.
Mapacha lit the fuse and ducked behind the office door. Ten seconds later, the C 4 detonated and violently pushed the door against him. It was a louder explosion, given that Mapacha has been a lot more generous with the explosive. The mattress had a hole torn in the middle, and it was on fire again as was the cupboard, the drapes and the Minister's table. Mapacha grabbed the bucket and pitched the water onto the mattress while Gwafa picked up the second bucket and doused the cupboard.
"Water Banou, we need more water!" Gwafa shouted.
The fire on the drapes spread fast. Banou skittered with the empty buckets and came back with a half-full one that Gwafa aimed at the drapes. With a strong hiss, the fire died out. Banou returned with the second bucket and Mapacha flung it all over the flaming desk. The fires were out.
They were all teary-eyed as they approached the safe. Through the smoke, the safe door was finally off its hinges and barely clung to the frame. Mapacha picked up the crowbar and forced it into the crack on the side of the hinges. Using all his strength, he finally managed to pry it open. Finally, they had gotten in. The top of the safe was stuffed with money of various currencies. At the bottom was a large cashbox, which was about the size of a briefcase. Mapacha pulled it out, laid it on the desk and forced it open. Small plastic bags with tiny shiny pebbles poured out. Banou watched from behind as Mapacha picked one up, opened the top and poured a few rocks onto Gwafa's palm.
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Gwafa exclaimed as a smile beamed across his face.
"We have hit the jackpot."
Gwafa stuffed the diamonds back into the plastic bag and placed it back into the money box. He stuffed all of them back in and locked it. Mapacha turned, pulled out the wads of banknotes and laid them on the table.
"Forget the local stuff. Only the Western currency."
Mapacha stuffed the money into his pouch and when it was full, in Gwafa's pouch. He then handed the cashbox over to Banou.
"Wait in the kitchen!"
She run off past the naked guard in the sitting room and stood at the kitchen door. Gwafa, feeling a bit guilty, grabbed the soaked towel and covered the guard's naked body. They made their way out of the mansion and walked towards the gate. Mapacha opened it and peeked out. Mzee Tembo could see him and signalled with the headlights for them to come out. They crossed the road and as they got in, Mzee Tembo fired up the engine.
"Let's get the hell out of here," Banou said with a huge smile on her face.
Mzee Tembo did not dither as he quickly drove away from the residence.
"We got it, boss," Mapacha said.
"Yes!" Mzee Tembo exclaimed.
He followed Gwafa's instructions and made his way towards Adjame. They crossed over into Plateau and crossed General De Gaulle Bridge into Treichville. In the back, Banou and Mapacha stuffed the diamonds, money, guns and remaining explosives into the diplomatic bags.