FEB 25, 2022
He was a tall debonair man who maintained a robust set of thick dark hair with hints of grey, that he slicked to the back. The gradient of grey that vapourised on his thick beard distinguished him. His large deep-set brown eyes were hidden behind a pair of Yvan spectacles. His lips were thin, slightly darkened by cigarette smoke, and had a cruel curl, but when he smiled, an immaculate array of milky porcelains was revealed that showed obsessive maintenance. He had undertaken a strict dietary regime to keep slim and dressed well in a white Gandoura that was paired with white pants and accessorised by a pair of leather Berber babouches that looked pristine. The touches of vanity appeared in his fastidiously manicured nails and his skin glowed from a stringent routine of an hour every other day in a sauna, though he kept that to himself. He wafted an air of Shulton Old Spice.
Had the masquerade of the veiled women been lifted, it would have been discovered that Makhlouf was one of the biggest smugglers across the strait, with the women as his fronts. Makhlouf, proud of his knowledge and travels, had stumbled upon a magazine article that had described how Colombians smuggled cocaine and cannabis on long-distance runners from various ports in South America that got intercepted by go-fast boats on the outer perimeter of the American coast where the load was transferred. The go-fast boats then covered the 'last' mile and dumped the load onto the beach, where it was collected and shuttled into the hinterland, to warehouses to be broken down and distributed. After a few enquiries, he bought his first boat and put it to work from different beaches from as far as Eddalya to Belyounech and it landed in Tarifa, near the mouth of the River Picaro in Algeciras and Gibraltar proper. The precise location depended on the load, and the effort the opposition raised. Lounis and Diae were his spotters who managed traffic as they read the port area and checked out the activity and they too periodically pushed a boat across and made the roundtrip in two hours.
This is where Makhlouf excelled. His boats smuggled back and forth unlike his competitors who made one-way trips loaded with an empty return leg. For every shipment of hashish and cannabis he sent, he got a shipment of goods delivered back, and this is what he used to stock his small shops. He dabbled in a wide variety of items, from designer clothes to alcohol to electronics and much more. His small outfit had grown to a veritable stable of powerboats, with a bold team of daredevils who understood the waters of the strait and the vessels they operated. From Seville, all the way to London, Berlin and even Rome, he had employed gangs of thieves who hijacked ferry trucks and drove them across to his warehouses in Andalusia where those goods were hidden as they awaited their shipment to Tangier. So busy was his operation that every single night, he had at least twelve boats do two round trips, yet his warehouses were eternally backlogged with orders, with high demand for more in Tangier to as far as Casablanca. This had brought him indescribable wealth, but he itched for more. He had influenced many and was revered for his slick operation by competitors, foes and government functionaries.
The tea was served promptly and Makhlouf finally relaxed before he started.
"So brothers, I will get straight to the point. If the merchandise is real, I can buy a significant load off you, though I don't know how many you have."
He leaned back and pricked his ears, eager to hear the response.
"We have a significant amount, so, we can meet high demand, though, this is currently a one-time deal," Mzee Tembo said as he habitually pushed up his glasses.
"You need to be clear. How many stones are you talking about?"
"Around five hundred, maybe five-fifty one-carat stones. All quality."
Makhlouf whistled in amazement. Rarely was he surprised, but these island guys, if they were real, had brought a serious game.
"And you have them here in Tangier?" Lounis asked.
"Yes," Mzee Tembo replied.
"What is your price?" Makhlouf asked.
"Two thousand per piece."
"Too expensive and this is the retail price. You need to do wholesale. Can I see a sample?"
Mzee Tembo waved his left hand slightly and Banou, eyes hidden behind her Manhattans bounced down the stairs and walked up to them. She pulled out the sample bag and handed it to him.
"Hey Mr Makhlouf, this was the girl I was telling you about," Lounis carelessly mouthed before he smiled. "Hey sister, you are good?"
Banou waved but did not utter a single word. She turned to walk away, down to the lower terraces.
"Bonjour mademoiselle," Makhlouf greeted her.
"Hi," she responded.
Had her Manhattans come off, he might have realised that her pupils were dilated as she fawned over him. His deep French-Moroccan accent, handsome looks, and that dash of cologne had gotten to her.
The island guy's tradecraft impressed Makhlouf. You rarely saw professionalism in the industry.
"No doubt you have security watching us, in case something goes wrong?"
Mzee Tembo and Gwafa smiled slightly.
Makhlouf extracted a loupe from the pocket of his pants and stuck it into his orbit, then removed a stone from the plastic bag and examined it. He did the same for the other two and accepted that these were genuine stones.
"The real deal," he said as he nodded his head. "I will offer fifteen hundred per stone for five hundred stones."
"No, too low. We have operating costs. We have to pay our suppliers, the cost of doing business, that sort of thing. Nineteen hundred."
Makhlouf put the diamonds back into the plastic bag and slid them over to Mzee Tembo before he picked up his glass and sipped the tea. The powerful cogs in his head rotated as he calculated his margins. The loupe disappeared into his pocket.
"Brother, this price, and in this market is too much. Sixteen hundred."
"I understand, but we cannot lose money on this. So, eighteen fifty, final offer," Mzee Tembo said, a tad weary from the haggle.
"For five hundred?"
He worked it out. By the time these got to Antwerp, they would be worth at least twenty-two hundred.
"Deal!" Mzee Tembo replied as he stood up to shake Makhlouf's hand who also stood up.
Makhlouf smiled. The islanders had class, not like the Europeans who negotiated on tables and then waved you off, not keen to shake your hand in respect.
"So, when do you want to do the transaction?" Makhlouf asked.
"You tell us. We are ready to go. The sooner the better if it is possible."
"You understand that we have to go through every stone before the payment is made?" Makhlouf asked.
"Of course. Just like we have to verify the money is real, and it must be all dollars."
"OK. Tomorrow night, we do the deal. Call me on this number in the afternoon and I shall tell you where we shall meet. Be prepared."
"That's fine. We are looking forward to seeing you."
With his tea half-drunk, Makhlouf stood and turned to walk away, and this surprised Lounis and Diae who slowly sipped on their tea.
The duo scrambled to catch up to Makhlouf and as they walked up the stairs, they cautiously looked around for the so-called security Makhlouf had mentioned. Even the girl had disappeared. From his spot, Mapacha watched them walk up. Mzee Tembo stood to leave, followed by Gwafa and Banou then rushed up to join them.
"Where is Mapacha?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"He said he would hang back and see if you guys pick a tail. Also, he said that we should go to the cafe from last night."
"Right. Now, that South African guy, we need to deal with him."
"Você quer dizer matá-lo?1" Banou asked.
Mzee Tembo smiled at her and shook his head.
"No! We have discussed this. We are not going to kill him. I mean, get Mapacha to just neutralise him, get him out of the picture temporarily."
When they got to the top, he motioned to the waiter.
The waiter shook his head.
"No bill. Mr Makhlouf paid already."
Mzee Tembo smiled. Makhlouf was smooth and courteous. Crime could have style.
Mapacha shadowed them and watched if they had a tail. Gwafa led them through the back streets and eventually they were inside the Cafe Las Campanas.
"There he is," Gwafa pointed out Kobus. "Exactly, where we left him."
"In the sun? He must be worn out," Mzee Tembo said.
Kobus, absolutely determined had found a routine and crossed the street and then back to stretch his legs. The sun had finally created a partial shade and this is where he stood with his eyes stuck on the front door of the hotel. At this point, it was obvious even to the least concerned passerby that this guy was on the prowl, but he was largely ignored. Mapacha finally joined them, took off his Persols and ordered a cup of tea. The others ordered their refreshments, Banou and Mzee Tembo went for juice while Gwafa ordered a cup of coffee. They were served in ten minutes and proceeded to watch him. The city had finally started to wind down as dusk approached.
"So, Mapacha, the Moroccans have a deal for us and I have agreed. It's a million dollars and change, and we will still have some more diamonds left over," Mzee Tembo said.
Banou had forgotten that they had come from a prospective deal and suddenly realised soberly that they were in for a fair bit of money if the deal was concluded.
"How much?" she asked in disbelief.
"Yes, that much," Mzee Tembo responded.
They were done with their refreshments and decided to grab an early dinner.
"I have an idea," Banou proposed as the waiter came to take their orders.
"Can you make a tagine platter?"
The waiter was momentarily confused and asked if he could make ask the chef. After a couple of minutes, he returned and confirmed it was possible.
"Enough for all of us."
He smiled and cheerily returned to the counter to place the order.
"So, this guy needs to go. We can't be held hostage like this. Besides, if he picks up our scent, he could ruin everything. Does anyone have ideas?" Mzee Tembo asked.
The makeshift tagine was served on a large communal dish. They washed their hands in turns, sat down and dug in. In between mouthfuls of food, Mapacha described a plan he had come up with. The rest evaluated the idea and pointed out the gaps, and they modified the plan till it sounded a lot more doable. They finished the meal, and sat back, to enjoy their juice while night finally shrouded the city. The only indication that Kobus was still at his spot was the intermittent glow of his frequent cigarettes.
It was around 8 PM and they swung to action. Banou and Mzee Tembo went round the backstreet and eventually found themselves on Boulevard Pasteur. They then walked slowly towards their hotel and when they were in sight of Kobus, they pretended not to see him and continued their walk.
Kobus ground his cigarette on the pavement and sighed in relief. There were two of them, the girl and the old man. It wasn't the entire gang, but if they were still here, then they had not left the country and that held more promise. His support team should have arrived by now, and he could finally act and engage them.
When the two got to the hotel doorway, Banou suddenly crossed the junction and quickly walked towards Kobus, and this took him by surprise. He realised that had been spotted. Frantically, he tried to back away and froze the minute he felt a cold sharp metal object poke his back.
"Move one inch and you are dead. Make a sound and you are dead," he heard Mapacha's low growl from behind him.
He cocked his revolver and grabbed the back of the collar of his shirt while Gwafa covered him and discreetly searched him for weapons before he shook his head.
"This way. . ." Mapacha dragged him away from the street and was followed by Gwafa who found a narrow street that was dark. Shocked by how fast it had happened, Kobus found himself surrounded by the old man, the girl and the two other guys and realised he had been cornered.
"Hey, you doos2, careful with that thing," the South African interjected as the revolver prodded him.
When they were finally in the dark, Gwafa rifled through his pockets and found his wallet and passport, struck his lighter on and scanned the document.
"Meet Kobus Cilliers from Kimberley, Cape Province, in South Africa. He has a British passport too. International traveller," Gwafa mocked him.
Mzee Tembo approached Kobus and stared into the red haze that bombarded his eyes and pushed up his unibrows, before he asked, "Well Mr Cilliers, what can we do for you?"
Kobus' anger and fear frothed over and he blurted out, "I know all of you, I have been watching you. My guys are coming. We know that it was you that blew up the safe and ripped off the minister in Côte d'Ivoire. Those are my diamonds. I will moer3 all of you and that ouballie4, and this fokken afro loskind5! You are all dead!"
Mapacha had heard enough. He violently jostled him and headbutted him, and watched him tumble down, as blood spewed from his broken nose.
Kobus shielded his face with his left hand and tried to use his right to lift himself up, but his own hand obstructed his view and he did not see Mapacha slip the brass knuckles on.
Or fold a fist.
Or the swift long-distance roundhouse that pulverised his jaw.
"Fok!" Kobus screamed in pain.
He gagged on his own blood as it gushed from his cracked jaw and forced its way out through his lips.
Mapacha grabbed his shirt collar and dragged him deeper into the dark alleyway and started to assail his upper torso mercilessly with a series of well-timed punches with the brass knuckles wrapped around his right fingers. The brutal meaty thunk as the metal tore through him sounded sickly vicious and all Kobus could do was gurgle up repeated yelps as blood frothed from his mouth. He tried to use his hands to ward the punches off, but Mapacha aimed at random spots on the thick torso and swung hard with precise calculation. The others could hear as Kobus' flesh took the punishment, which for Mapacha was a workout he enjoyed. Finally defeated, Kobus sprawled out and Mapacha removed the brass knuckles. He was not done yet and reached for the revolver that he used to pistol-whip him across the face. The three strikes shocked even a hardened Mzee Tembo. Kobus lay on the hard pavement in a pool of his own liquids, but despite the ruthless punishment, he was far from defeated.
"I will get you. All of you. I fokken swear. You don't know who I am!" he furiously shrieked as bloody sputum spewed onto the cobbles.
Mapacha smiled at his handiwork as he panted from this beatdown. The others had stood back and watched the bloody violence. He had to admit, Kobus was not easy to put down.
Then he snapped out of his momentary exhaustion.
"Get who?" he angrily snarled.
He ferociously kicked him across the face and then savagely stomped on him with both his feet and that finally knocked him out.
"Hey! Hey!" They heard a shout from the end of the street.
Then a whistle shrilled.
A second shrill pierced the night and they heard heavy steps run towards them.
"Let's go!" Gwafa told them and they all started to run down farther into the darkness of the narrow street.
They got to the end, then turned left and walked slowly, though with a strident step. At the junction, they turned left again back onto Boulevard Pasteur. Five minutes later, they walked into their hotel with rushed looks painted on their faces, and they hastily walked up and entered Banou's room.
"You guys go to your rooms and start packing. We are leaving now," Mzee Tembo ordered them.
They left Banou's room, entered their own and hastily packed their suitcases and walked down with their own luggage in hand. The receptionist seemed dumbfounded by their haste and the late checkout.
"Is anything the matter with your accommodation?" he inquired.
Gwafa grinned at the receptionist and carefully explained.
"The accommodation is fine. We are done with our business here and have booked the midnight flight to Dakar."
The receptionist smiled unconvincedly but did not bother with a follow-up question.
"OK. Would you like me to call you a taxi to the airport?"
"That would be fine," Gwafa responded.
The receptionist worked out the bill and then handed the invoice to Gwafa and while he counted out the dirhams, the receptionist instructed the doorman to get them a taxi. Gwafa handed the receptionist the money that he confirmed and then wrote out a receipt. He verified that he had all the keys to the rooms and bid them a safe journey. The doorman had hauled the luggage out and loaded it onto the Mercedes taxi's carrier. As they drove off and passed the street they had walked up from, they saw two cars parked at the far corner. A blue emergency light rotated on the roof of a Mercedes ambulance as well as a red one on a Peugeot 403 police car. They had arrived to attend to the battered Kobus.
1. Do you mean kill him?
4. Old man.
5. Loose woman