NOV 12, 2022
For a moment he thought it was all a dream. The incessant knocking did not subside, and it dragged him from his sleep. He could hear Banou's gentle voice as it roused him. The surroundings momentarily disoriented him and the thought of waking up in St. Michel flooded his mind. He opened his eyes, momentarily blinked and was reminded of his location by the ashtray next to the bed with the hotel's logo.
"I'm coming Banou," he called out.
He stumbled to the door, still unbalanced from waking up in a different bed. Hesitatingly, he swung the door open and before him, Banou was dressed in an airy flowery gown that revealed her shoulders.
"Hi, Mapacha. Gwafa says we are leaving in twenty minutes, so you need to get ready. Also, put on your 'Sunday Best'. We are going to some elegant restaurant."
He stared uncomprehendingly at her.
He closed the door in her face, quickly undressed and jumped into the shower. The sweltering climate did not deter him from enjoying the hot shower. He scrubbed his body down, his sore muscles soothed by the rivulets flowing down his body. It took him ten minutes after which he brushed his teeth and towelled down.
"Sunday best?" he wondered.
There were things he did not get. He picked his newest blue jeans city sweepers and a pale loose-fitting shirt trying to copy Banou. He placed the guns and explosives, still in the diplomatic pouch and his passport in the safe. In the twenty minutes Banou had told him, he walked into the hotel reception. Mzee Tembo wondered at his sight. Mapacha was never late or sluggish.
"Are you OK Mapacha?" he queried him.
"Yes. Sorry, I had to take care of something. I will be right back." He said, making a beeline for the Bureau De Change.
A few minutes later he walked out, and together, they left the hotel as Gwafa ushered them to a grey Renault 12 parked on the street. They all got in and Gwafa navigated it up the broad boulevard. When he got to the roundabout he took the turn that led down the single road, across the faux concreted railing bridge and down the runway that led to the spacious tarmacked parking lot. It was obscured by a thick tall wall that was embellished by a host of abstract paintings. Through it all, Gwafa played the perfect host guide, as he recounted the history of Abidjan. His face was highly animated, revealed to them by the dull glow of the lights in the car's instrument cluster.
The Hotel Ivoire was considered to be one of Africa's most dazzling resorts. It was a cherished project of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. He had visited Monrovia a few years earlier and found himself dazzled by the Ducor Palace Hotel. In an inflated insecure moment, he had contested for a more glamorous palace that came to be known as the Hotel Ivoire. The Inter-Continental conglomerate, under its Pan American World Airways parent, managed it, and with an airline to boot, fed the coffers with its continuous stream of tourists that flocked to it. The ivory-toned tower bore over two hundred air-conditioned rooms. Past the magnificent doors, the lobby hosted laudable artwork. For short meetings or to wait for your host, there were low recliners to relax on. There were unheard-of luxuries within. You could dine in either of the two masterpiece restaurants or three of the informal restaurants, and if the lady of fortune seduced you, a casino. Aside from that, for simpler tastes, there was an elegant pool bar, a trendy snack bar, for your aperitifs, a handsome cocktail lounge and if you were in a dancing mood, a nightclub. Moshe Mayer, the architect entrusted to deliver on the President's wishes excelled to par, and the hotel was consistently busy.
Gwafa led them through the lobby into the elevator and rode it up to the twenty-third floor where they entered one of the masterpiece restaurants, Le Toit d'Abidjan. Despite them all wearing their 'Sunday Best', they felt vastly scrubby among the dapper guests seated at the various tables. The restaurant host shot them a dirty scour before he led them to a less prominent table. The restaurant was refinedly detailed in a red theme. All the fabric, from the drapery to the tabletop covers matched in a tasteful unison. To accentuate its position on top of Abidjan, the drapes were adeptly left open gracefully showcasing the Bay of Cocody. The intimate atmosphere was sensational and contagious.
Menus were presented and they all made their choices. For Gwafa, it was a trip down memory lane with his choice of a Chicken Tangine rounded off with Olives and Citron Confit. Mzee Tembo, his innards raw from the long flight picked a simpler Kedjenou de Poulet, which Mapacha chose as well, uncertain of what it really was. Banou, a typical island girl found herself longing for grilled fish with a vegetable salad. As they waited for their meals, cold glasses of Gnamankoudji frosted with condensation were presented and they all downed them with relish. Gwafa, still enthusiastic from the trip and the restaurant and with his new kin continued his anecdotes of Cote d'Ivoire, backed by the clinking of cutlery.
The captivating aroma arrived way before the hearty meal was served. Banou was finally at ease as she tucked into her monstrous cassava croaker. Mapacha struggled with his cutlery. At Nsia's everything came down to a spoon or his hands, so a fork and knife were way out of his league. Still, he mimicked Mzee Tembo with bold endurance. For the first time since they had arrived in Abidjan, Gwafa was finally quiet, as he enjoyed his dinner, a quizzical emotional look on his face. As they ate, a short stubby man led a younger female companion in a racy black velvet dress. Her dazzling presence seemed to cofound the man, as he struggled not to stare at her.
"Ah, Monsieur Minister, welcome. We are overjoyed you are here," they overheard the voice of the host as he announced their new diners.
Embarrassed, the Minister barely acknowledged the man, his eyes stuck on the litheness of his companion. They were led to a deluxe table by the open drapes. He barely glanced at the menu and hastily ordered. The two men who accompanied him, dressed in floppy black-striped suits picked a table behind him and also placed their orders.
"That is him," Gwafa deftly pointed his nose towards the Minister as he gently stroked his jaw with the back of his palm, rustling his five o'clock shadow.
Mapacha and Mzee Tembo covertly observed him. Banou, unconcerned, did not hesitate for a moment and concentrated deeply on the grilled intones of her fish.
"You brought us here to spot the Minister?" Mzee Tembo asked incredulously.
"Yes. We are here for a job, no?" Gwafa was a bit surprised. Why waste time?
Mzee Tembo chuckled and nearly shot out the bits of chicken from his mouth. For a moment, his simplicity was exposed. The lavish surroundings in a foreign country had momentarily erased the idea that they were here on a mission.
"Banou, you see him?" Mzee Tembo asked.
A bit irritated with the interference of her dining, she followed Mzee Tembo's gaze and spotted him.
With a mouthful of fish, she answered, "Yes."
"Good. From tomorrow, wherever he goes, we go." Mzee Tembo said.
"Gwafa, does he change his security often?"
"I'm unsure, we just have to follow him and see, OK?"
"Fine. Now, stop staring and let us enjoy this meal before we spook his security team."
They too were momentarily thrilled by their dinner to notice their charge being watched. This was another regular moment, and they were bored by the itinerant ways of the Minister. This meal at the most elegant restaurant in Abidjan was the highlight of their evening, and also a secure space, far removed from the riff-raff. They would rather have enjoyed their meal than bother their boss and his companion. As they enjoyed their dinner, Mapacha continued to surveil them, getting a read on their body language. He saw the carelessly hidden bulges from their holstered firearms and knew that weapons would complicate the task. The dinnerware was cleared, and Gwafa ordered more juices and fruit salads.
Behind them, the comedy of a failing seduction, salved by money and influence played out. The Minister was in his cups as he drowned himself in whisky. As the coarse liquid quickly wrecked his inhibitions, his voice slowly carried and amplified by each new glass. The young girl endured his barrage with a glass of white wine in her right hand as tedium manifested on her amusingly crafted eyebrows. His security men sensed a line being crossed and motioned to the restaurant host to hold the whisky and hasten the bill. One of the security men approached the Minister and arched his back in a courteous manner. He whispered into the Minister's ear and saw his face curl up in a fury before the security man whispered some more, and this quieted him down. The Minister seemed to agree and nodded, as the host placed the bill before him. The Minister's man read the bill, helped him count out the necessary bills and then they slowly stood up and they left the restaurant. The bored security men, now alert for anyone that surveyed them trailed their staggering boss and his companion. Gwafa was already paying the bill as they trooped towards the elevator. They rode it down and caught sight of the Minister's Mercedes Benz 300 SEL turning round the corner. They walked hastily towards the Renault and jumped in.
"Quickly, get in. Let's go," Gwafa hastened them.
Banou was surprised. "Wait, we are following him now?"
From the front passenger seat, Mzee Tembo replied.
"Yes. Let's see what he gets up to."
She wanted to protest.
"Banou," Mapacha explained to her, "this is not a holiday. Don't get comfortable. We exploit whatever opportunity is presented. This is one of them."
The Mercedes was easy to trail. Its government flag was capped by its green canvas cover. They made their way across Cocody, till the Mercedes ultimately stopped at the main gate of the University of Abidjan-Cocody. Both back doors swung open and the young woman exited from the left, while the Minister struggled out from the right. The front passenger door also opened and one of the security men stepped out and pretended to ignore the couple as he covered his boss among the empty surroundings. There was an animated conversation as the young woman walked towards the gate, seductively blowing a kiss towards the Minister. He groggily stumbled back to the Mercedes, jumped in and slowly turned around, heading back to Cocody proper. The car swept through the various streets and finally into a more sedate neighbourhood. The distinctive properties here did not resemble the majority of Cote d'Ivoire, but a lot of power and wealth was contained in this small area. A little after midnight, the Mercedes stopped in front of a wide black gate. Gwafa drove past it and turned around at the end of the street. As he slowly doubled back, they all saw the handsome baronial mansion with the Mercedes parked underneath the carport. Gwafa stopped the Renault, extinguished the lights and watched the drunk Minister enter his home. The two security guards had a brief word with the security men at the gate after which they walked out and lit cigarettes as they headed down the street with Mzee Tembo following the glow of their tips as markers.
"In there," Gwafa said. "That is where we are going."
They waited for another ten minutes, switched on the car and without a fuss drove towards their hotel. Each of them fathomed the other's thoughts. They were one step closer to their objectives and now they had properly identified the location of the job.