NOV 16, 2022
The following morning, the team met up again at the cafe they had breakfast in the previous morning. As before, Banou had a fruit salad accompanied by a glass of juice, while Gwafa enjoyed his staple cup of coffee with a cigarette. For Mapacha it was plantain with a cup of tea while Mzee Tembo enjoyed a large mug of porridge with plantain. They agreed on their plan for the day. Surveillance.
After breakfast, Banou excused herself, made her way to the boutique and selected a new outfit. She was back in a quarter of an hour dressed in a pale blue and yellow frock. They dropped Gwafa and Mapacha in Cocody before they headed to watch the Ministry building. Not wanting to appear suspicious, Mzee Tembo had parked the car in a hidden side street that he could quickly rush to, should the Minister decide to drive past. It would prove to be unnecessary. Even before they had finished their juice, the black Mercedes drove past with its flag unfurled. Mzee Tembo quickly paid the bill as they gulped down the last of the juice before they left the restaurant and jumped into the car. The game of the day started.
For the Minister, it would be a demonstration of a hectic morning. He paid three courtesy calls to different buildings round Plateau and Yopougon before he broke for lunch round Adjame. Banou and Mzee Tembo barely had a moment to enjoy their lunch, before the Mercedes continued its journey across the city."Busy today," Mzee Tembo muttered.
Eventually, the Mercedes stopped by the side of the road and a security man popped out, furled the flag and enveloped it with its cover before he jumped back in. Slowly, it made its way across Plateau towards the university."Ah. He is going for some fun and games," Banou chuckled.
True enough, the Mercedes stopped and the young girl from the previous night came out and waved at him before she got in."He is audacious using his official car to pick up his mistress in the middle of the afternoon," Mzee Tembo muttered.
Banou had a crude retort in mind, but she wisely held her tongue. They followed the Mercedes as it headed to a small obscure hotel a few streets down. The Minister and the girl, shadowed by a security man used the back entrance. Mzee Tembo could barely disguise the look of disgust that masked his face.
They were gone for about two hours before the Minister and his security man hastily walked out. They entered the car and headed back towards Plateau. It cut through traffic, crossed the Charles De Gaulle Bridge into Treichville and headed towards the Port. Mzee Tembo felt a sense of excitement stir in him. He was going back to the warehouse.
As he had hoped, the Minister's Mercedes sailed through the port gates with a salute offered by the guards. It made its way to the very same warehouse and parked outside. As before, the Minister left with a black briefcase and was in for about twenty minutes, before he left. It was a quick dash back across the bridge back to Cocody, and they arrived as dusk approached. Mzee Tembo parked a bit of a distance away and observed him enter the residence. As the light waned, Banou spotted Gwafa and Mapacha as they walked towards them. They seemed immersed in a conversation that made Mapacha smile."What about this?" she asked Mzee Tembo. They were still surprised Mapacha had transformed his attitude dramatically."I don't understand Banou. I truly don't. I'm just happy he has a friend."They jumped into the back and greeted each other."Can we leave? It's been a wearisome day." Gwafa politely told Mzee Tembo.
The Renault disappeared into the dusk and left a trail of exhaust smoke that was illuminated by the shimmering red rear lights. They got back to the Village Ivoire area and stopped at a local restaurant Banou had eyed and wanted to try. She was famished after their busy day.
Over dinner, they discussed the day's happenings."Today was even quieter. His wife left and came back around two hours later, and that was it. There were no visitors or deliveries," Mapacha said."What about you guys?" Gwafa asked.
Banou described the hectic day, the liaison with the young girl and the trip back to the port."The warehouse seems to be connected. What if we hit the wrong place?" Gwafa asked.
It was now a common concern. They might have to scrap the whole plan or extend their stay as they tried to figure out the right location. Also, the warehouse would present an easier target if the stones were stored there.
"I guess we have to visit the warehouse," Gwafa said.
"What if he goes into another office tomorrow, will you break into that too?" Banou asked.
"If necessary, yes." Mapacha coldly responded. He agreed with Gwafa. Who would want to break into the wrong location?
"Banou, we have to be certain of where the stuff is."
"When do we do it?" Gwafa asked.
"After this, we go to the hotel, change clothes and you guys can then break in. I need to get some things, though." Mzee Tembo said.
He paid for the meal and they all headed out, jumped into their car, and drove to their hotel. While the others entered the hotel, Mzee Tembo went towards a general shop. Inside, the owner listened to the chatter of what Mzee Tembo assumed was the news on the small transistor.
"Bonsoir!" He greeted him in French.
The old man greeted him back.
Unsure of the French word for a torch, he pointed to them
The shopkeeper eyed him amusedly and handed him a torch."Three," he said, as grew frustrated.
The shopkeeper did not understand and eyed him blankly."Three." Mzee Tembo repeated as he motioned with his finger.
The shopkeeper's eyes lit up. He got three more torches.
"No, I meant two. Total three. Ah! Never mind."
The shopkeeper pulled out four pairs of Double D batteries. Mzee Tembo separated one pair and one torch and pushed them back to the shopkeeper. Everything else he needed, he pushed to the side and pointed to them. The shopkeeper finally understood and worked out the total that he wrote down. Mzee Tembo paid him, got his change, watched him pack them into a shopping bag that he picked up, thanked the man and left.
It was nearly 10 PM when they got to the Port. With all activities ceased for the night, it was dead quiet. As they drove past the gate, the single irregular glow of a cigarette indicated a lone sentry in the guard house.
"That warehouse there," Banou motioned as the car drove past.
"OK," Mapacha noted.
They continued down in search of a vulnerable spot they could use to get into the port complex. About two kilometres down, they spotted a part where the stone wall ended and the chain link fence was the only defence. The car stopped and they got out. Gwafa carried a small bag of tools and other assorted items. He pulled out a pair of wire cutters and cut an upwards strip that was long enough for them to slip through. They all slithered in and walked back up, well into the perimeter of the port complex. Midway through, the path they had followed narrowed and became impassable. Swimming was the sole option left.
"You ready big guy?" Gwafa asked Mapacha.
"Let's go."They stripped to their undershorts and vests, put the torches and tools in a waterproof bag that Gwafa extracted from the tool bag and entered the waters of the Ébrié Lagoon. It was a good half hour before they got to the harbour. They probed around the harbour and found a utility ladder that they used to hoist themselves out of the water. Under the cover of darkness, they sneaked among the pallets towards the warehouses. In the distance, they could hear the voices of the guards that patrolled the docks. They crouched to the main door of the warehouse Banou had pointed out. From his waterproof bag, Gwafa pulled out a small leather kit with his lock-picking instruments. While Mapacha illuminated the lock with his torch, Gwafa fiddled with the tumbler until the keyway turned. He rotated it slowly, satisfied that the door was unlocked. With deft fingers wrapped round the handle, he slowly opened the door, and the two slid into the warehouse and closed it behind them. The darkness encompassed them and they lit their torches.
Over the next half an hour they scoured through the palettes with large boxes stacked on them. They reviewed the labels and saw medicines being imported and coffee being exported amongst many other things.
"This has to be the cover," Mapacha whispered to Gwafa.
"I'm going to the office in the back to see if there is anything of use there."
He edged cautiously into the office and went through it, and all he could find were invoices and manifests. There was no safe there. He made his way back to Gwafa.
"Nothing," he whispered to Gwafa.None of this made sense to them."I think we better leave. There is nothing here." Gwafa declared.
They headed for the small door when a thought crossed Gwafa's head. He had noted some containers from South Africa, but they had not registered. Since when did an embargoed South Africa export stuff to Côte d'Ivoire?
"Hey wait. That is not right."
"What is not right?" Mapacha was confused."Look," he said, pointing to boxes marked 'Republiek van Suid-Afrika'.
The three small boxes were empty within, except for the straw that kept its contents safe.
"I don't get it Gwafa."
"Most African countries don't do business with South Africa, so there shouldn't be any boxes here. This must be where the diamonds are coming from."
"But Côte d'Ivoire mines diamonds. Why do they need South African diamonds?"
"Because nobody can tell where diamonds are from. You have to obtain a certificate and if it says you have forty, provided there are forty, nobody will ask questions.
"Mapacha shushed Gwafa. Outside, two loud voices approached the warehouse. They switched off their torches and froze. The conversation outside turned into laughter as they walked past.
"Let's go," Mapacha said.
He poked his head out, saw it was quiet and crawled out followed by Gwafa who then locked the door with his kit, before the skulked back to the utility ladder, clambered down and swam away from the harbour. The journey back took them much longer against a strong tide. Mzee Tembo heard them splash in the water and he blinked his torch to instruct them it was safe to exit. They gasped from exertion, crawled onto the rocks and lay down to rest.
"Hey, you guys took long," Banou complained. "What happened?"
"Not here, we need to first head back to the hotel." Gwafa gasped.
They put on their clothes and walked back the way they came and climbed up, through the hole he had cut. Mzee Tembo took out a bit of wire from the tool and quickly repaired the fence. A few moments later, they started the drive back to their hotel.
When they got back, Banou made them coffee, and they sat on the balcony of her hotel room.
Gwafa deeply inhaled his cigarette and started. "I think the smuggling operation is happening in the warehouse. The Minister is mixing local diamonds with some from South Africa."
Mzee Tembo whistled in surprise. "South Africa, eh? That is extremely illegal."
Banou was confused. "Why mix the diamonds?"
"Because nobody can tell where a diamond is from," Gwafa responded.
"Nobody knows where they are from except the person who owns them, and if you are a Minister, you can easily get paperwork that says whatever you want it to say. So if he gets twenty local diamonds and twenty imports, and gets forty certified for export, then nobody knows."
Banou smiled. "Clever."
"Tomorrow Tembo, we need to go buy the bicycles and tools for the job," Gwafa said.
"Aren't you being a bit presumptuous? We don't even know if the diamonds really are there. All we know is that the Englishman wanted to do the job at the Minister's house."Gwafa smiled.
"Oh, there are diamonds alright, and they are in his house. I am certain."
"OK. Gwafa." Mzee Tembo said. "When do you want to do it?"
"That's crazy, it's three days to go. Why Sunday?" Banou asked.
"Because there is an election later this year, so if the Minister wants to keep his job, he will be toadying to the President at the normal election rallies."
"Hmmm. . ." Mzee Tembo wondered. "That is thin. Are you sure we will be ready?"
"We are already here. If we continue to stay, we are just wasting time and risking exposure. Also, we don't know if this Englishman already had a team set and they could execute on the job before us."
"Mapacha, what do you think?" Mzee Tembo asked him.
Mapacha rubbed on his 5 o'clock shadow. "I think Sunday is OK. If the house is empty, then we can do the job."
"OK. We go then." Mzee Tembo conceded."Tomorrow we first go to purchase the bikes and the tools then we will load the plane. That way we will look like we really came here for business. Afterwards, we resume the surveillance."
They all agreed with the plan. For the next hour, they chatted before they finally went to their rooms. For Mzee Tembo, turbulence brewed in his belly. His blood coursed through his veins as the rush he had longed for finally came.