FEB 23, 2022
The burly Kobus had heft like his Dutch ancestors who had emigrated to South Africa by way of the United Kingdom. His thick log neck carried an even thicker head covered by a dark mop. The scalding sun that radiated over the mines of Kimberley had spattered his skin with dark splotches cause of a perpetual sunburn, but that was the least of his worries. His forearms bulged with thick muscles that strained the sleeves of his khaki shirt. His red eyes were eternally angry and underneath them were heavy dark lids brought about by stress and insomnia. On his chin was a light shadow just like his ou toppie1 once had. Kobus like many of his peers valued the versatility of khaki shorts whose elastic waistband could stretch to accommodate his bulge. They were part of his culture as were the woollen socks that wrapped themselves round his thick ankles and the veldskoen2 that just made sense. Kobus did not imagine himself as being a doos3, in fact, he was far from it. His partners had hastily given up on the gangsters, but, he had made it his personal mission to find and eliminate them and get their diamonds back and resume business. It was bad practice to get robbed and then allow the thieves to escape with their stuff. It was bad for business because it meant that anyone else could do the same and get away with it.
His ancestors had settled in the Cape Colony and made a lavish fortune in the mines. Because of that, they had under them, large tracts of land in Transvaal and his great dream was to finally walk away from all this diamond business after his laaitie4 had taken over and rove all over his land in a bakkie5 or tractor. However, he recognised the signs. He knew apartheid would eventually come to an end and so he had to plan that if that came to be, and for whatever reason, he had to flee, he would have the money to move somewhere else and become the ancestor for the next generation wherever he settled. Australia perhaps? Or South America? That would have to come later.
So when the French government had prompted Côte d'Ivoire to engage the government of South Africa a few years back, Kobus had found himself in what he termed as a 'weird' discussion in Belgium, as part of a mining expo and engaged the minister of Côte d'Ivoire as he wondered if somehow he could get permitted to exploit the Ivorian mines. The request was naturally declined but after a few drinks, they had found themselves endeared to each other. This had led to a clandestine set of rendezvous, in London and soon, their unholy business arrangement had been created. For over three years, they had run the scheme flawlessly and collected tens of millions that had been channelled to wherever they needed the money to go. Switzerland, the Caribbean, South America. . . they had stashed it everywhere. The minister had taken pains to mentor Kobus and improve his acumen of corruption. For Kobus however, a loss of over a million dollars in diamonds was far too much. Thus, he had to make it right and if it meant that he would knock down every building in that quarter of Tangier, by God and every little ounce of energy he had been given, he would do it. Of course, his sense of intelligence at this point had been overcome by his anger, and thus had led him to wear his 'kit' and this had made him stand out. The lesson of the rapier that the minister had tried to instil in him was lost.
Mzee Tembo laboured up the staircase to his room in the hotel, stripped off his shirt and dabbed himself down. Tangier's atmosphere sizzled and the rapid walk had not helped. He had begun to accept that a life of crime at his age would demand more from him than he possibly had. The others were young and fit and could run in circles all day. He wore a fresh beige shirt and left his room, entered Banou's room where he took out the sample bag and packed additional ammunition and a spare magazine for the team and placed it in a yellow retail bag. He knew they could not gamble any longer. With a whistle and a spring, he hit the street and vanished among the walkers. The makeshift plan he had come up with led him to a hotel services bureau where he found an enthusiastic snappily dressed receptionist.
"Yes, hello. Telephone?" Mzee Tembo responded.
"Local or international?"
"Local. Here is the number."
The attendant dialled the number and handed Mzee Tembo the receiver the minute he heard the ring of a phone. A feminine voice answered.
"Yes, hello, this is Tembo. I am calling for Lounis and Diae."
There was a moment of silence before the voice came back on.
"Yes, Tembo, I have a message for you. Four PM. At the cafe. You understand?"
"Yes. Thank you."
The other end was disconnected.
"Two dirhams please."
He quickly took out the money and gave it to the receptionist.
"Is there a cafe nearby where I can get something to eat?"
The receptionist eyed him as he tried to gauge what sort of cafe this man would like. He pointed to the map.
"We are here. If you walk down this street, turn here and keep going, you will find yourself on Rue Almohades. This is the Petit Socco. At this corner here, you will find the Gran Café Central."
"Thank you," he said dryly, aware that he was parched.
The walk lasted less than ten minutes and his eyes constantly hovered over his shoulder in search of a tail.
"Had Mapacha dealt with the South African? Was the South African operating alone or with a team?"
He heavily debated those two issues. At the cafe, he found a hidden corner table and slumped into a chair. The waiter brought him a menu as he swabbed his sweaty forehead with his drenched handkerchief.
"Orange juice and a chicken sandwich," he ordered.
The cold glass came fast and he downed it in one go. When the waiter brought the sandwich he asked for another one and by the time he was done with the snack, a third one. The relief and rest were needed, but this break was only momentary. He needed to find the guys and organise them.
Kobus was certain about one particular thing. The guys would have to come back to the hotel, so it made sense to stake it out. Either way, it was his only lead. That mission led him to suspiciously analyse every single face that passed by the hotel. He was at a loss. What if the afro girl returned in a veiled disguise? Or even all of them? He had to wait, and the anxiety forced him to smoke a lot more than he preferred. It was barely past lunchtime and he was hungry, yet he could not move from the hotel, and his only nourishment was his second pack of Marlboros.
"The cigarette for real men," he muttered, as he remembered the cowboy that he greatly admired.
For Mapacha, the pursuit was far too easy. The South African was highly visible. His bulk stood out amongst the shorter Moroccans who cut a path for him as he stampeded down the street like an angry giant. His stakeout spot, underneath the sun, would drain him in a matter of hours. A desperate amateur. And so, Mapacha watched him puff through cigarette after cigarette from the comfort of a relaxed seat by the window at Cafe Las Campanas.
The Moroccan duo was soon back at the beach laid back lazily with their trademark cigarettes while they watched the ships shuffle back and forth. Gwafa quickly realised that the duo's curiosity had the hallmarks of an operation. The ships Lounis recorded were all cross-strait vessels, headed to Europe, and they had picked the most innocuous location on the beach.
Mzee Tembo was back on the street and walked down towards the hide. Gwafa was still laid back on the sand, surrounded by numerous cigarette butts.
"Anything?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"Nothing. We are all smoking on the beach today."
"Four PM at Cafe Hafa."
Gwafa checked his watch.
"That is a little over forty-five minutes."
"Yes. Let's go get the others."
Gwafa stood up and dusted himself and they walked past the Hotel Continental, cut through the Gran Socco and found themselves at the cafe where Banou was seated at the back as she enjoyed a glass of juice.
"Nope. He just sits there smoking, or selling things, but nothing so far," she responded.
"Where is Mapacha?"
"He is out tracking the South African. Why?"
"We have the meeting in about thirty minutes. Gwafa, find him."
Since he had not seen the South African anywhere, his first assumption was that the guy would go back to stake out the hotel. He headed that way and a few minutes later he spotted Kobus in his poorly selected position under the sun opposite the corner.
"Well that's daft," Gwafa reasoned with a chuckle.
He found a back alley and walked to the street he knew Mapacha would have picked to watch him. Then he remembered the Cafe Las Campanas. He checked inside, but could not find Mapacha. This was going to be a task. He could be anywhere. As he reached to open the door to leave, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Gwafa, what's going on?"
"Oh hey, big guy. So this guy is watching from under the sun?"
"He is not good at this, at all."
Gwafa laughed. Clearly, they had given Kobus far more credit than he deserved.
"The boss sent me. The meeting is on in a few minutes. We have to go."
"What about this guy?"
"We need to leave him. The meeting is far more important. Besides, if he is staking out the hotel, he is not going anywhere."
"We need to take him out. He knows where the hotel is and has likely talked to his people."
"If this deal goes down, then we can leave this very evening. The plane is fuelled and everything. It won't matter then."
Mapacha was unconvinced but he could not do much else. They slipped away using the backstreets and returned to find Banou and Mzee Tembo at the cafe.
"Hi. You guys ready?" he asked them.
"Yes. Let's go."
Banou picked the tab up, and they followed Mapacha out of the cafe. Out of abundant caution, Mapacha read the street to make sure the South African had not decided to go on another rampage. They walked through the narrow streets and arrived at Cafe Hafa.
"Mapacha, be invisible, Banou, you do the running, Gwafa, let's go, you will read the guy."
Mapacha took a table at the bottom terrace while Banou took a table on one of the top terraces, which was carefully hidden from the doorway. Mzee Tembo and Gwafa picked a table midway, sat down and waited for Lounis and Diae. They arrived fifteen minutes late, with Lounis on point, followed by the bearded man and Diae at the back. Gwafa spotted them and waved to them. They came over and stood in front of the table.
"Lounis tells me you guys are the island guys?" the bearded guy started. "My name is Makhlouf. Welcome to Tangier."
"Thank you," Mzee Tembo responded.
They sat down and Lounis called a waiter, who rushed when he saw Makhlouf.
"Mint tea for everyone," Lounis instructed.
The waiter half bowed at Makhlouf with reverence and rushed off to fetch the tea.
The bow was necessary. The benign-looking Makhlouf was anything but. He masqueraded as a serial businessman and indeed had small shops across Tangier that were always manned by a harem of veiled women. They were rumoured to be his security but in reality, he had found orphans across Tangier and Tetouan whom he had front his businesses. The façade that people had invented worked in his favour, and he had never bothered to correct anyone.
1. Elderly father
2. South African boots made from animal hide