By the time I’d returned to my room, paddling up the dripping steps, Emile had curled up on her end of my bed and had fallen asleep. Wept herself to sleep even, after overhearing me on the telephone making my plan to take some ‘company’ to a compound on the outskirts of Tangiers. On the old Ouija road, no less, to rendezvous with the duplicitous Tammy and her Americano friends and to party through the storm with the louche, corrupting, near-depraved ex-pat Orientalist Tangiers set. These were the very people who we’d been spying on from a distance as they plied a notorious trade in lost boys down at the dock wall beside the harbour. Emile had heard me tell Tammy that it was time that we let our hair down a bit. I would look for ‘company’ down at the docks and take them to that compound, ‘Earthly Desires’. Emile was convinced that this was all a trap and, I might wager, was suspecting that I had become corrupted myself. She had cried herself to sleep clutching her favourite scarf, one of the little presents that I’d given her, her head buried in it.
I sat on my end of the bed, my back against its steel-framed headboard. Outside, the storm continued, a flash of light burst through the shutters of my room. Was it lightening or the beam of Cap Spartel catching the storm clouds above Old Mountain? Or was it God and Lucifer wrestling for my soul? I addressed my small collection of possessions, few enough to fit into a pale blue air force canvas bag. The only recent addition to which was a fez, bought in haste from a street-side stall to act as a disguise, it didn’t fit. Too small for me, being careful not to wake her, I placed it on top of Emile’s flowing raven hair. I found my pen and notebook, turned to a clean page and noted, as was my habit and obligation, the day’s events. On the previous two pages, I had written of my raid on the duplicitous Tammy’s Americano friends room at the Royal Marco Hotel. I had found a stash of reconnaissance photographs. Enlarged and developed, faces had been recognisable. Not all of them would require months of investigation to identify. Disappointingly, some were well known public figures. Even more disappointedly, I’d been to school with one of them.
As I turned to a clean page, a drip of water from a crack in the ceiling christened the middle of the sheet. My back was getting wet too as the deluge outside crept into the room through cracks in the walls and seeped towards the floor. Having completed my summary of the day, I tore out a centre page and wrote a letter to Emile. When I’d finished, I folded some banknotes within it, the near last of my Dirham, and placed it in Emile’s little palm. Then I rearranged my clothes and possessions in preparation for going down to the docks.
I let myself out of my room and tiptoed downstairs, past reception and the neighbouring bead curtain. On a dreadful night of no passing trade, madam sat in the anti room snoring. Outside, I was hit by a tornado of wet dust. I made my way down the narrow sidewalk, its wide gutter a race of gargling rainwater. At the bottom of that steep street, lay the beginning of the colonial seafront boulevard made up of part dilapidated buildings. Cafes and shops by day were reduced to hollow shells by night. Beneath an awning, the most desperate of the lost boys of the desert, tempted by the big city and trapped into a life of servitude to the amoral, huddled and waited. I approached them, walked up to them, joined the end of their little queue and whispered a blessing to them in Arabic.
“What’s your poison?” I continued in French, “Hashish? Money? An empty stomach?”
The London office rule was that these transactions should take place in public, in full view of others. A small number of simple questions should be asked, some of which the answers to which should already be known. Only a reasonable amount of money should change hands. I was breaking all of the rules but, for once, I wasn’t gathering information, I was giving it away, or even making a confession of my own.
“I’ve done as much as I can. I have to get back to England now. You’re being watched and photographed and so are the bad men who use you. I thought this was my operation with American help, but it’s the other way around.”
“The Americans have set off in the wrong direction, to the ‘Earthly Desires’ compound. This is my chance to get away before I’m compromised, corrupted and trapped myself.”
“They probably won’t miss me,” I reflected optimistically. “Might not even come looking for me. Hopefully, they’re sick of me and want me out of the way.”
I received no response from my small audience. They looked at me with the dead cod-eyes of a fishmongers slab. All the same, it being therapeutic for me, I continued.
“I have my notes, my memory, my first-hand recollections and my word as an English gentleman. And the American’s reconnaissance photos. I’ve had a sneaky look at most of them. It’ll be revealing to see what the Americanos choose not to share with us.”
“We’ll try to stop this trade from Europe. Prosecute people over there for offences over here. As you know, if we try too hard in Tangiers, a bent police chief or a decadent foreigner will kill one of you to put us off.”
The eyes remained dead, the body language disinterested, beyond the need of my own redemption, I was wasting my breath.
“The local politicians are keen on a deal with Europe. We’ll add the rights of children to it and then use that in local law. Across a period of time, we’ll kill this evil trade. As for the bad people who hurt you, you might think some of them have got away with it. They’ll be heavily blackmailed for the rest of their lives. Terrified every time the phone rings, every time a newspaper arrives, every time there’s a knock at the door. That’s the best we can do. Sorry.”
I repeated the Arabic blessing and turned away from them. I held my canvas bag above my head to keep the worst of the rain, desert sand and ocean brine from stinging my face. In the middle of the road, a row of palm trees were near bent in half. The harbour terminal building was a concrete box topped with a big clock. No matter what the time, the hour and minute hands ordinarily hung lifeless at six-thirty. On either side, abandoned warehouse buildings, in front, the last of the railway sidings before a single line arced into the harbour, its rails sunk into the roadway.
This night, (or was it early morning by now?) the wind tossed the time about between twenty past four-ish and twenty to eight-ish. There was a clap of thunder. The entrance doors, cracked glass between rusty iron, trembled as I let myself into the building. The ticket counters were closed. Beyond them, in a corner, lit by an oil lamp, serious bearded men in uniform, guns on their belts, played dominoes. A covered woman mopped the floor around them. I threw a roll of notes onto their game. The last of my Dirham.
“You haven’t seen me, I’m not here,” I told them in French. The game carried on as though I was already invisible and forgotten.
Back outside, on the harbourside now, the wind caught me all the harder. My eyes smarting I couldn’t look up. Wary of losing track of the ground beneath my feet, I followed the railway line towards the customs house. On arriving, as expected, it was closed but there was some shelter about a doorway. I was not the only one hunkered down before it’s smeared panes. Perhaps a dozen stoical others huddled together in anticipation of the early, pre-dawn prayers, ferry. I couldn’t tell much of them apart that they wore hooded garments, pulled up against the storm, and sat with their feet tucked beneath them. More than one of them had their possessions wrapped in a cloth, tied to the end of a stick.
Looking back towards Tangiers, the electricity cut, there was little to see. The high cloud was rhythmical lit by what only could only be the beam from Cap Spartel. The lightening remained erratic but seemed to be lessening, showing fewer and fewer outlines of the rooftops. Hopefully, the storm was passing and the first ferry of the day wouldn’t be delayed for too long.
To be continued…….
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file