ECHO ELEVEN : A Can Of Worms

He looked up to watch the string of smoke from his mouth as it curled, twisted and disappeared onto the ceiling. In the far corner of the almost empty bar, three heavily made-up women sat nursing their drinks, winking and giggling to each other, talking most probably about the previous night’s catches. He stole a quick glance at them and one of the women who were also looking at him smiled toothily, revealing very white, well formed teeth. She whispered something to the others who laughed out carelessly. They took uninterested sips from their drinks and continued their idle chatter. The music from the machine in the corner next to the door played softly, befitting the time of the day. Only the early birds, vaya vanogeza mukanwa nedoro, those who use beer as a mouthwash, had arrived.

The barman absentmindedly toyed with some glasses, cleaning, shining and arranging them in neat rows on the shelf. It was still too early in the morning for business. With time, as the day wore off, the bar would fill up and he would hardly cope with the avalanche of customers. He had attempted several times to make conversation with the gentleman at the bar but to no avail. The gentleman hardly said anything and would only nod to him when he needed to have the contents of his glass replenished. The barman studied the man closely. His general demeanour and turnout was very much unlike that of local men. His complexion, though black, had some lustre to it that associated him with West Africans. He was definitely not from this corner of mother Africa. His hair was prematurely greying at the temples but one could see that the man was still on the good side of the thirties, age-wise. One could also easily tell the man was waiting for someone by the way he kept looking at his watch and then out onto the street. The barman was not unaware that a lot of deals were concluded in this bar. Even politicians and trade unionist frequented the bar to discuss business.

The man at the bar was drinking White and Mackay Scotch whiskey, on the rocks. A huge man boisterously strode into the bar and went straight to the counter where he ordered a double whiskey, on the rocks. He ordered the much cheaper local brands instead of the imported and expensively priced whiskey. The man-mountain wore an expensive dark blue double-breasted suit, brown crocodile-skin moccasins, gold rimmed spectacles and a milk-white shirt. His black silk tie was neatly knotted, business executive-style. At first the man at the counter let the mask of indifference drop off his face, the beginnings of a smile lingering at the corners of his mouth, but quickly relapsed into his state of indifference again. The boisterous man-mountain who had just invaded the bar was definitely not the man he was waiting for. He however became worried for the newcomer was dressed in the same way as his expected visitor. This chance accidentality was just not what he wanted for it could be a harbinger for bad things to come. In his situation he could not afford to put one foot wrong.

The West African waited, drops of sweat forming on his forehead which he constantly wiped off with an expensive silk kerchief. He was studying the newcomer intently but the big man totally ignored him and continued taking mouthfuls of the whiskey before him. Each time he took a mouthful he would contort his face as if he were drinking hemlock or some other poison. The man was obviously not used to drinking whiskey but was doing so because he had to. He mumbled quietly to himself before loudly swearing obscenities. The barman shot him a glance and continued toying with his glasses. It was curious that such an expensively and quietly dressed gentleman would mutter such unprintable words. He did not appear drunk, far from it. If anything he was as sober as a member of the bench. This was more like his first drink and he was already acting funny.

Onyango did not like the general direction events were taking. He ordered another drink and took an uninterested sip. He felt the heavy bag at his feet with one polished boot to assure himself it was still there. The big man at the other end of the bar took out a white kerchief and wiped his high forehead. He was going step-by-step identifying himself to Onyango. The man had ordered a double whiskey but one could tell the old sock did not drink the stuff from the way he sneered at his glass each time he lifted it to his lips. And the white kerchief and the suit and the gold-rimmed spectacles? Perhaps they had changed men and failed to notify him. Perhaps the man-mountain was merely a passer-by and his appearance chance accidentality? Whatever had happened, Onyango did not like the present scenario. The big man was getting restive, obviously not amused with Onyango’s delaying tactics. He was toying with the magnificent dial of his Rolex gold watch.

‘These Nigerian scoundrels!’, he loudly swore and muttered inaudible obscenities. The barman came up to him and asked politely if the man needed any help.

‘Mind your bloody business madala, I didn’t call you here! The man thundered.

‘ But you are my business Sir, at least when you are in here’.

‘I told you to scatter and mind your helluva business old man’. The big man was visibly angry, his veins taut on his temples. He crushed his fist onto the counter with such great ferocity that all the glasses on the counter rattled. The barman stared at him for a long time, shook his head and returned to his glasses. Everyone in the bar was staring at the oaf perched on the high stool at the bar. Onyango was keenly studying the man and did not notice the two men when they came in. One could easily see the two men were cops because of their bearing and trim mustachios. They looked with contempt at both Onyango and the big man who was mumbling inaudibly to himself. The three women were still in the corner, whispering and giggling.

One of the two new-comers went to the door, beckoned to someone outside and returned to the counter to order drinks for both of them. At about that time, a bespectacled short man dressed in a dark blue polyester suit, white cotton shirt and black tie shuffled into the bar. A white kerchief dangled from the breast pocket of his jacket. Serve for the quality of his clothes; he was dressed exactly like the big man. One of the ladies said something like the man’s clothes, being 100 percent polyester, were a fire hazard because of static electricity and the barman should have a fire extinguisher close at hand. The other ladies laughed toothily at the joke. Except for the Hitler mustachios, the man was, in all respects, a scaled down image of the boisterous fellow at the bar. The big man looked at his watch and turned to look at the door as the little man shuffled lackadaisically into the bar, like a bull-elephant. The big man’s eyes opened a shade wider as fear stole into him.  He looked at everyone in the bar and then at the little man who had reached the counter and proceeded to order a double whiskey on the rocks.

Onyango remained motionless, busy counting the bubbles in his drink as they raced each other to the surface. He seemed not to be aware of the newcomer. The two lawmen were regarding both the big man and the little man with keen interest and whispering to each other animatedly. Onyango was thinking very fast. The bag at his feet contained almost half a million mandrax tablets. Even though he was not looking at them, he could feel the hostile glare of the policemen on him. He was now sweating profusely. The big man seemed to be preparing to leave as he was now taking more frequent sips at his drink. The little man went and sat next to the three ladies and appeared to be desperately trying to conceal the huge bulge on his right inside jacket pocket. It was either a firearm or chibhanzi, money. The policemen knew the little man, old Gondo, had close to ten thousand dollars in crisp twenty dollar bills, nzou dzoga. In the language of the ladies of the bars, the man was loaded.

*******

Chief Inspector Trevor ‘Masitaira’ Rupaso sighed and poured himself another stiff whiskey. It was from the bottle they had confiscated from one of the illegal shebeens, a Johnny Walker Red Label. Good whiskey was a rarity in newly-independent Zimbabwe and the guy jealously guarded his loot. His arithmetic was still good. For a policeman it had to be good as his job was always a game of calculations. Calculating moves, calculating strategies, calculating counter-moves, calculating distances, money…….always calculating. For him to be where he was in his profession, he had had to calculate his way there. And being a Chief Inspector in the Zimbabwe Republic Police so soon after independence was no mean achievement. During the old Rhodesian days, the highest he would have risen to would have been Sergeant Major. Commissions were the preserve of whites, dzaive nyembe dzevana vaMisisi.

 

At the going rate of twenty dollars for each mandrax tablet, half a million tablets were worth more than their weight in gold for they could bring him ten million dollars. Who ever heard of a black millionaire in Rhodesia, let alone a black policeman who was a millionaire ten-fold? He would soon be rubbing shoulders with the Thomas Meikles, the H.M. Barbours, the Tiny Rolands and many other millionaires.  He knew old Gondo very well, from the days when he, Rupaso was still a mubhurakwasha and Gondo was a police informer. Rupaso was then personal butler to Patrol Officer Piet Cronje. It was largely due to his relationship with Patrol Officer Cronje that he was able to rise to senior non-commissioned officer. And with the exodus of many white officers at the advent of independence, Rupaso found himself well positioned to enter into the commissioned ranks. He had then moved to Criminal Investigations were a lot of the officers there had been white and had left for South Africa en masse. He knew if he was a little bit patient he would soon be Superintendent Rupaso. For those who were not educated, patience and hard work was always the name of the game. He had to pull this deal through because if it were to flop then he would be finished as a policeman. Already he had risked $10 000 of state money which he had illegally taken and given to old Gondo so he could conclude the deal with the Nigerian drugs and narcotics pusher.

Chief Inspector Rupaso was not taking any chances either. They did not call him Masitaira for nothing. The guy was simply cunning and sly. Having come up through the ranks, there was no trick that a subordinate could play on him without him knowing. He had two of his most trusted officers in the CID Drugs Section watching old Gondo. Their brief was to make sure the deal sailed through without hitches. He had told them all they needed to know about the deal. Rupaso had already emptied the safe in his office of all its contents. These included emeralds, gold dust, diamonds and various other items of jewellery which were the subject of robberies, frauds, thefts, etc. The wall clock in his office struck 1630 hours. Old Gondo would be arriving in the office anytime now.

His two hefties would arrest the Nigerian fellow as soon as he left the bar and bring him to the office. He was not going to let the scoundrel get away with ten thousand dollars. That was too much change to leave lying around. He would have both old Gondo and the Nigerian locked up in the maximum security cells. By the time the prisoners would be found he would be cruising on the Atlantic Ocean in international waters.  There was no end to what money could buy. Achieve fortune and see what gap it cannot cover! It is quite possible that you however may achieve fame but still remain without fortune. Masitaira knew life was full of consolations. There was only so much of anything it had to be distributed amongst the deserving people. The resources being limited, not everyone would get everything. One missed out on some things and benefited on others. God was not a fool. Whilst others went hungry, some would be feasting. Those who went hungry would have children whilst those who feasted would be childless, much as they would try to bear them. In life therefore, one had to make the best out of whatever came one’s way. Chief Inspector Rupaso was very much alive to that piece of wisdom.

*******

Lucia Pazvakavambwa, popularly known as Lucy, was Secretary to Chief Inspector Trevor ‘Masitaira’ Rupaso. She was a smashing fleshy and leggy beauty of twenty three years. Lucy had discovered a way of eavesdropping on her boss whenever he was on the phone with someone whom she considered to have hot news. Lucy had immediately become suspicious when a shabby and unshaven tramp of indeterminate age shuffled into the ante-office and assertively asked to be announced to Chief Inspector Rupaso. She had then routinely enquired whether it was to do with business or a private matter. At that stage the old man had lost his temper and shouted at her saying all he wanted was to be announced to Rupaso. The reason for his call was none of her business, and even if she thought him a potential suitor, he was not interested, he told her. His impudence took her by surprise and she had barely recovered when Rupaso himself emerged, curtly apologised on the old man’s behalf, shook hands with him and conducted him into his inner chambers.

Lucia’s current squeeze, Steven Jongweguru was the boss of the local Intelligence Unit. He was feared by everyone who knew what his job was all about. He exuded a strong physical presence because of his huge muscular frame. His weightlifter’s features always threatened to burst the seams of the expensive designer suits that he always wore. His cruelty was as big as his frame. Many people had suffered at his hands with some even departing from this world before their Maker called them. It is a consolation however that when you take the initiative to go to your Maker without having been summoned, you are not denied entry………….there is more than enough room for board and lodge there, up above. Kune dzimba dzekugara dzakawanda. All are welcome any time every time, no appointment or prior booking is necessary.

Rupaso emerged from his office with old Gondo behind him, a smug look on his face. He saw him to the door and was a good five minutes before he came back. He only got into his office to collect his jacket before rushing out into the street. Lucia dialled her boyfriend’s number and waited. The phone rang for what seemed to be ages before someone picked it up. She could tell Steve had a mother of all hangovers when he said hello into the mouth-piece. After a lot of sweet-nothings, she asked him to meet her at her flat that evening.

‘Please don’t let me down by failing to come, it is business dear. I know these days you are going out with that fat gigolo without a waist who works at Meikles Hotel but handinei nazvo, I don’t care’.

******

The big man, Mago Chesango also known as the Red Crab on account of his very light complexion, was one of the latest arrivals to join Jongweguru’s unit. He thought the Red Crab would do in this assignment as he was still new and unknown in the town. The Red Crab was summoned on the morrow by the Boss. He was briefed on his next assignment and the necessary funds were made available to enable him to effectively complete the task. Jongweguru also knew the Red Crab would give it his best as it would be his first assignment for him.

When Mago Chesango got into the bar he was very upset at discovering that the Nigerian was not playing along as expected. The situation was further complicated by the unexpected arrival of the two lawmen. If things came to the worst, he would identify himself as a member of the secret service and tell the lawmen to scatter or get lost. The cold weight of his service automatic under his left shoulder was also a comfort. He had to move first and fast.

The policemen acted like they were reading his thoughts. They quickly realised that it was no coincidence that Red Crab was dressed exactly as old Gondo and that he had arrived at the bar ahead of him. They decided to arrest the Nigerian right away since he had his parcel with him. They would also take old Gondo in for questioning so that they would recover the $10 000 he had been given. The big man stood up and stretched lazily before going straight to the Nigerian fellow, Onyango. He flashed his ID card at Onyango at the same time the lawmen were flashing theirs at him. Red Crab ignored the lawmen and ordered the Nigerian to get his things and come with him.

One of the policemen barred the way. They told him that he was not taking the Nigerian anywhere.

‘You aint taking this fella from here pal. He is our meat and we have the Police Commissioner’s orders to bring him with us to HQ.’ The policeman spoke rapidly, fear creeping into him. The big man could be an accomplice to the Nigerian and was trying to spirit him from danger, they reasoned. They threatened to arrest the big man if he continued to interfere with their work.

‘To stinking burning hell with the Police Commissioner and his orders! This chap is a foreign spy and saboteur. I am not letting him out of my sight for any reason. Now get the hack out of my way!’ the big man thundered, visibly angry. The Nigerian was taken aback. Both the Police and the Secret Service were interested in him but for different reasons. H e wished he had left his parcel at his hotel and brought a bag stuffed to bursting with papers. But the silly little fellow in the corner had insisted on inspecting the parcel before he could hand over the cash.

Red Crab picked up the Nigerian’s bag and pushed him across the room to the door. The policemen blocked the way, murder in their eyes. The three women watched the drama from the corner, trembling and cowering like frightened rabbits. Old Gondo sat sipping his drink, apparently uninterested in what was going on. He was waiting for a chance to slip away.

‘I said get the hell out of the way you beggars!’ screamed Red Crab. The policemen did not move. It was clear that it would be necessary for force to be used if any party was to have things their way. At that time there was a screech of tyres on the tarmac and an unmarked prowler or patrol car came to a stop at the pavement near the entrance. A tall police officer in uniform and wearing the insignia of a chief inspector hurriedly strode to the bar entrance. The two lawmen snapped to attention at his approach.

‘What’s the hullabaloo all about here gentlemen?’ Rupaso asked in a cool unexcited voice.

‘This chap here is a foreigner and a suspected drug dealer and peddler. We want to take him in for questioning but our big friend here is preventing us from taking him. He says he is from state security and wants the foreigner on suspicion that he is a spy and paid saboteur. Sir!’

Chief Inspector Rupaso looked at the big man for a long minute. The big man was quivering with anger and sweating profusely on the forehead and neck. He looked at the Nigerian and then at the bag the big man was holding.

‘And whose is that?’ H e asked, referring to the bag.

‘The bag belongs to my prisoner.’

‘Prisoner? Who said you can take prisoners? Even we don’t take prisoners. Let’s have the bag opened up and let’s see what’s in there.’ Rupaso was looking at the big man with suspicion.

‘No one is opening this bag and my prisoner will not be interfered with by anyone. I will search the bag when I get to our offices,’ said the big man.

The Nigerian spoke for the first time. ‘You have no right sir, to open that bag unless and until you produce a search warrant from the Minister of the Interior and….”

‘Shut up you beggar! I am the Police and I am empowered to act on behalf of the Police Commissioner and the Minister. That bag will be opened here and now.’ Rupaso was losing his temper.

‘Permission denied, totally and absolutely, Mr. Chief Inspector’, said the big man shaking the bag and tapping the bulge under his shoulder to warn the policemen that he was armed.

‘Don’t be a fool my dear man. Stop toying with that gun and give us the bag. I am prepared to forgive all the crimes you have committed thus far if you cooperate with us.’

‘I said to stinking heaven with all of you. Anyone who gets in my way will have himself to blame.’ The big man pushed the Nigerian along. Alarm crept into the Chief Inspector’s eyes. This intelligence sod was taking things too far. He had to be stopped. The chap was armed and looked every bit the type who would shoot if he said he was going to shoot. The other two policemen stood watching their boss. It would not be easy for the three of them to overpower the big man. Old Gondo had already disappeared into the gathering dusk.

The Nigerian was considering whether to go with the big man from intelligence or to go with the policemen. Perhaps he could bribe the intelligence man and be let loose. The policemen looked so mean that he could not succeed with them. Moreover they were a crowd. It would not be easy trying to bribe a crowd. And he remembered that in his profession two men could only keep a secret if one of them was dead. Two were a mob that is why he preferred operating alone.

‘I won’t have snivelling policemen messing up with my work. Even your bloody Minister of the Interior has no right to interfere with my work. I get my orders straight from the Prime Minister’s office. Now all of you scatter! You beggar let’s get going, I have more urgent and important things to do.’

‘Mind what you say Sir. Anything and everything you say may be and will be used against you in a court of law,’ said the Chief Inspector. He was sensing defeat but was not giving up yet. If anything, he was going to get the bag at least.

‘You will get both the bag and the foreign beggar when I am finished with them Mr. Chief Inspector.’ With that he pushed the Nigerian along and left the three lawmen standing awe-struck.

Chief Inspector Rupaso was the first to recover. ‘What in damnation and hell are you waiting for you oafs? Follow the bastard!’

They got into the patrol car and the vehicle screamed away its beacon flashing and its siren blowing defiance of the traffic lights. They picked up the big man and his prisoner in the car’s headlights three streets away. The Chief Inspector trod harder on the accelerator. The high powered vehicle lurched forward as the engine responded. The big man tried to jump to one side swearing that he would shoot the son-of-a-bitch who was driving that carelessly. He was a shade too slow and would never get the chance to shoot anyone. Both Red Crab and the Nigerian went under the car to emerge at the rear dead, with broken limbs and cracked skulls. The bag flew to the pavement as the car hit them. Rupaso crowded on the brakes and jumped out to pick the bag which he threw to the back seat.

People were already gravitating towards the accident scene. Rupaso was giving orders to his charges that were barricading the scene and marking the position of the car and the dead men.

‘How can people be so drunk so early in the evening? They should have been drinking the whole day since morning.’ One of the policemen was saying to the crowd. They had already frisked the dead men and taken what papers they had so that it would take some time for them to be positively identified. Within minutes an ambulance arrived wailing and blowing defiance of the traffic. It screeched to a halt and the attendants got out. They looked at the bodies and left them. Since they were dead, they were now the responsibility of the Police. Ambulances do not carry bodies but casualties and patients. A police truck arrived and the bodies of the Nigerian, Onyango Onyejekwe and Mago Chemusango were loaded into tin coffins and carted away to the morgue. Rupaso and his men got into their car and drove off at high speed.

At Intelligence Offices Steve Jongweguru was pacing the office waiting for the big man who was already overdue. Little did he know that the big man would never come?

 

 

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