2 APR, 2023
The drums of war gonged loudly in Mzee Tembo's head, as the Citroën's two-litre engine loudly whined over the tarmac of Casablanca. Gwafa pushed it hard as he intended to impress. The directional headlights expediently parted the night and pointed the frog-shaped nose towards the cinema.
"Bon! Bon! Eh!" Gwafa excitedly chided Mzee Tembo.
Mzee Tembo fumbled against a dull dome light as he tried to read the map and issue directions. They slipped past the cemetery and left a trail of dust before they finally halted outside a small hall that had a large sign that blinked. 'ANFA'.
"Is it here?" Gwafa asked.
"Seems like it," Mzee Tembo said with a hint of doubt.
"I'll check it out," Mapacha said, as he crept out into the dark.
"This feels like a setup," Banou declared, as she checked her revolver once again.
There seemed to be a bit of a buzz as the youth of Casablanca milled round the handful of parked cars. This was where the deal was going down? Odd.
Mapacha entered the cinema and went to the board, read it, and then he slinked out, casually crossed the lot and entered the car.
"The last feature is on and it ends in about twenty minutes."
"Right then. Mapacha, disappear and provide cover, Banou, once I motion to you, bring in the merchandise, but stay within view. If we go in, come in slow."
"OK, old man."
Twenty minutes later, they watched as a large crowd gathered and there was raucous laughter amidst the loud conversations, no doubt impressed by the cast of the Italian caper from the previous year. How marvellous was the Mini Cooper? That cast was brilliant. For the aspirational wheelmen and crooks that milled in the crowd, the film, as unrealistic as it was, was an inspiration for them to cross the Strait and rage in Europe. Little did they know, in the dark Citroën at the corner of the lot, the real deal watched and waited.
"Go Mapacha!" Mzee Tembo ordered.
Mapacha ghosted himself among the film enthusiasts and entered the cinema.
"Is he up for this?" Banou asked.
"I hope so," Mzee Tembo muttered.
Half an hour later, it was dead quiet. Only the soft hum of the sign above the cinema was audible. As it became quieter, the night creatures felt safe to announce themselves. First, it was the cicadas that sang and then it became a concert as a distant owl called and the bats infrequently fluttered.
"Showtime!" Mzee Tembo announced.
They all got out of the car, checked their guns and bravely walked slowly and cautiously towards the cinema. Before they got to the verandah, the broad wide wooden door noisily burst open and a thin man dressed in a dark suit with faded white flecks and a tie that matched floated out. They were all stunned for a moment as they took him in. His thin moustache completed the magician's image he hoped to project. The white cigarette he held left a thin twist of smoke, then glowed as he inhaled.
"Which one of you is Tembo?" his gravelly voice reached out.
"Who are you? Fadoul?"
"You are nervous. Don't worry, I am not here to harm you. Yes, I am Fadoul. Welcome to Casablanca. Did you catch the show?"
"Errr. No. We came here to do the deal."
He extended and flexed his long vampirish fingers, then eyed them cautiously.
"You are in a hurry eh?"
He chuckled then wheezed and then coughed irritatedly. He looked at his cigarette, tossed it onto the lot and motioned to them.
"Well, I guess you better come in then. There is plenty to discuss."
From the cinema to the interaction with the man, it all felt hollow. Inside, a single old Moroccan man mechanically rowed a broom back and forth and did not raise an eye as they walked past him. Fadoul led them into a small office at the back and unlocked it. He hit the switch and a starter flickered electric blue before the overhead tube lit, glowed brightly and noisily before it slowly dimmed and hummed sedately. He walked round the plain wooden desk and sat, and pointed to the chairs.
"Sit! Sit! So, you guys sell diamonds eh?"
"Something like that," Mzee Tembo responded.
"Can I see them?"
Mzee Tembo opened the valise and pulled out the small plastic bag with a single diamond inside.
"You are selling just the one?" Fadoul asked confused.
Mzee Tembo smiled.
"No. That is just a sample."
Fadoul picked it up, turned on the black table lamp, opened the desk drawer and pulled out a loupe and a pair of radiant tweezers. He clasped the diamond, rubbed it on his sleeve, set the loupe onto his orbit and examined it. Half a minute later, he let out a long, thin whistle.
"Eh. This is very nice. Beautiful. Where did you get this?"
"Does it matter?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"Not really. Just curious. So, how many do you have on sale?"
"Right now, one hundred."
"I want the same price you gave Makhlouf. It's only fair, no?"
"You have the money?"
"But of course."
She stealthily crept from the back, pulled out the two bags and placed them in Mzee Tembo's hand. As quietly as she could, she shrunk back and stood by the door and eyed the deal on the table.
"This is our end. Yours?"
He smiled and revealed his long pearly white fangs. Fadoul had envisioned himself as a long-grey wolf and vampire. That part was a major conflict for anyone who knew him, but it made sense to him. Ever since he had watched Christopher Lee, terrorise as Count Dracula, he had become obsessed with the idea that he could become a creature of the night. That quickly replaced his infatuation with the vision that he could become a magician. His inconsistent persona, however, did not diminish his business acumen. A son of a wealthy Lebanese who had emigrated to Morocco and married a Berber, Fadoul found himself trapped in two, near similar worlds. Schooled in Morocco at first, he pursued his Administration degree at the Middle East University in Lebanon, whiled in Paris before he found himself back in Casablanca at the helm of a cinema. While he would have rather have spent more time in Paris or even Tangier, where he could be free of family influence and parade himself in his ghoulish threads, he was limited to this city. A chance encounter with Makhlouf had introduced him to the black market and now, he had an active route between Morocco and Lebanon. Cigarettes, hashish, weed, opium, firearms, jewellery, in fact, anything he could get his hands on was fair-trade. He often smiled at himself for the sheer genius, he considered, to smuggle Moroccan weed to Lebanon and Lebanese weed to Morocco. Inspired by Makhlouf, he had started to accumulate funds to build long-range boats that could deliver weed and hash across from Port Tarfaya in the south, across the ocean up to the mouth of the Barranco Del Roque on Fuerteventura, Tenerife, where he could tap into both the domestic and tourist market. Thus, this exchange needed to become a success.
The thought of this deal's potential crossed his mind, as he swivelled his chair and opened the small grey safe mounted to the wall. He fished up thick dirty bills, some tattered, some relatively new. Fadoul knew he needed some professionalism so he counted twenty of the cleanest bundles, spread them out on the table, took apart one bundle and drew it down.
"One hundred and eighty-five, no?"
He pushed the money towards Mzee Tembo who pushed it aside to Gwafa, then picked up the two bags of diamonds. He set aside the stained cup that was on the saucer and poured the diamonds onto it and slowly, he started to review them one by one. Gwafa painstakingly read the notes with his fingers and handed them over to Mzee Tembo who confirmed them and then counted them out. One long hour later, Gwafa was done. Mzee Tembo was also done and had the stacks still set on the table. Fadoul was in no rush as he inspected the stones and it took him another thirty minutes before he was done.
"These are excellent," he commented.
He poured them slowly back into the tiny bags and then dropped them into the safe that he closed and pocketed the key. By the time he swivelled back around, the bundles of money were in the valise, which was now fiercely clutched by Banou's fingers.
"See. Good deal. No?"
Fadoul flipped open a pack of Camels and pulled out a cigarette that he lit with a shiny faded scratched Zippo. He noted Mzee Tembo take an interest in it.
"You like? My father gave me this. Present from the American GIs"
Across the table, they were unimpressed by the remark and genuinely unhinged by his macabre deportment.
"It looks nice, but I don't smoke and we have to go, now that everything is in order."
Fadoul feigned to hide his offence at being rushed, then replied, "Ah, no problem. Good luck friends. I will show you out."
He led them through the office door and out into the lobby. The old man they had left with the broom was nowhere to be seen. Banou shivered as a cold stiff breeze cut through her as they stood outside the cinema and she ducked behind a column to shield herself. Fadoul latched the door and floated back into his office.
"Creepy guy!" Banou commented.
"Wait here Banou. Gwafa, let's go get the car."
As they walked across the lot, the bright cinema light and the sign were suddenly turned off and a single bulb was left. They got to the car, and as Gwafa fished out the keys, he felt a rustle from the other side. Two figures materialised from the dark with revolvers in their hand. The one figure held the gun close to Mzee Tembo's face, so close that he could smell the gunpowder.