Taillights cut a pool of red in the dark. Three African heavies in cop clothes man a makeshift roadblock. Two cars up, a fourth figure looms over the driver’s door.
The cops hold their rifles clumsily. Probably they’re cops, Fitch thinks. Criminals in Ghana handle weapons better than the law.
They move alongside scrutinizing his car, take positions at the rear. Fitch decides against running the blockade.
Checks his mirrors, all black; his watch, a faint glow. He taps the wheel. Half-past midnight. Five minutes since he left the club. Ten since Ops called about an action cable from HQ.
The big cop waves him up. Palm down, fingers wagging. Fitch lowers his tinted window. Sweat and booze-reek pour through the window on humid air. The cop pulls a sinister grin, round face glistening with sweat in the red-tinged dark.
Evening boss, Fitch says.
Cop asks, Black American? The red tags on Fitch’ 325.i mark him as an American. What you do in my country?
Embassy work, boss. Proud civil servant, just like you.
These streets dangerous after dark. The smell of booze pours off him. He rests a forearm where the roof meets the door, leans in close. Why you come out now?
At this hour?
At all hours.
You a spy?
We are all spies.
2 Guns, Drugs, Bribes
The cop takes a long look at Fitch; the car; expensive watch. He rubs thumb and forefinger. Asks, My friend, where my visa?
Fitch settles. Not a criminal shakedown. Just simple cops looking for bribes. With all the coke and heroin pouring through the country, working for the law’s never been so lucrative.
The cop grins a big, greedy grin. His face is sandwiched between a tight garrison cap and a triple chin pushing up from his starched blue tunic. Fitch goes on the offensive, sure of who he’s dealing with.
Lucky tonight, boss?
No big dash?
Nothing. The cop rubs his thumb and forefinger. Not yet big dash. You are not starting the coup tonight? You would not like protection?
Am I not protected?
No man here is guaranteed protection.
Surely the Ghana Police Force here to protect a diplomat?
The cop laughs a big belly laugh. He waves to the cop by the drop arm. Fitch is on his way.
Checks his watch, revs the engine. Warm night air pours through the open window. Cable would’ve arrived ten minutes ago. His career, an assignment in Europe, a life outside dirty, corrupt West Africa ticks further off with each minute the congressman awaits news of his son.
3 Midnight Communiqué—the 419 (528)
Fitch approaches the Embassy. The modern structure’s protected by double-high walls of blast proof concrete. He parks and enters the guardhouse where two locals drowse behind a counter. One nods, buzzes Fitch in.
Fitch crosses the lobby, dimly lit by emergency lights. A Marine stands post behind ballistic glass, blinking lights and monitors glowing all around.
What’s up tonight, Dorn?
Through the intercom: Saturday night in the armpit.
By armpit, you mean the box? Or the country?
Whole damn place.
Dorn clicks the lock and admits Fitch through the heavy chancery door. Fitch takes the back staircase at the far end of the marble atrium. He punches a code on the pad at the third floor. Inside the comms room, the communicator hands Fitch a cable, barely turning from his monitor.
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
PRIORITY: NIACT IMMEDIATE
AMEMBACCRA; USMECOWAS; AFCOLLECTIVE; PEACECORPSAF
SUBJECT: CONGRESSIONAL INQUIRY–WELFARE AND WHEREABOUTS
1. SUMMARY: THIS IS AN ACTION MESSAGE, PARA SIX. LATE NIGHT PHONE CALL PROMPTS CONGRESSIONAL INQUIRY INTO WELFARE AND WHEREABOUTS OF AMCIT CHARLIE GORDON, JR, SON OF U.S. CONGRESSMAN CHARLIE “CHUCK” GORDON (D, LOUISIANA).
2. GORDON WAS CONTACTED BY A WEST AFRICAN CALLER SELF-IDENTIFIED AS “PETER”. CALLER CLAIMED TO BE TRAVELING IN A BUS WITH GORDON, JR. EN ROUTE FROM THE ROYAL PALM HOTEL TO THE AIRPORT IN ACCRA WHEN THEIR VEHICLE WAS STRUCK BY A GHANAIN ARMY LORRY.
3. CALLER CLAIMED GORDON, JR. SUSTAINED “SEVERE, LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES TO THE HEAD AND CHEST”, AND ACCOMPANIED HIM TO THE HOSPITAL. A POOR CONNECTION PREVENTED IDENTIFICATION OF LOCATION.
4. PETER REQUESTED THAT $10,000 BE SENT IMMEDIATELY
-Fitch stops. He’s seen this scam before: American called in dead of night. Loved one in trouble in Ghana. Money’s wired, nobody hears from the caller again. Few days later, loved one turns up, no idea they’ve been reported DOA. Lost their phone in the bush, on the road, in a club. Two dozen calls like that a week. The 419 scam.
Fitch turns to the commo guy. “For real?”
Monitor lights hitting off Commo’s thick lenses, eyes not visible. He grunts, Congressman.
Reminded of this, Fitch reads on.
5. QUESTIONS FROM CONGRESSMAN GORDON RESULTED IN VAGUE REPLIES OBSTRUCTED BY STATIC. THE SIX-MINUTE CALL WAS PLACED FROM A PHONE NUMBER MATCHING THE NUMBER USED BY GORDON, JR (+233-024-433-2479). ATTEMPTS TO REACH NUMBER UNSUCCESSFUL.
6. ACTION REQUEST: CHARLIE GORDON, JR, SERVES AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER IN CAPE COAST. CONGRESSMAN GORDON REQUESTS IMMEDIATE CONTACT BE MADE WITH GORDON, JR., AND REQUESTS TO SPEAK TO HIS SON UPON CONTACT. ADVISE PEACE CORPS GHANA IMMEDIATE.
Simple. Fitch’ police and military contacts confirm whether or not a military vehicle’s been involved in an accident. He’ll have an answer in ten minutes and be back at Bliss in the Quarter. Won’t even have to call the Peace Corps director.
Fitch figures it, Junior got tired of the bush. Came to town to party. Phone got pinched by some hat check girl in the Quarter, her boyfriend a master of the 419. End of story.
Worst to come of this will be young Charlie Gordon has to call dear old dad, the congressman, with a nasty hangover.
Read the fourth installment now at Palm Massacre.
4 Palm Massacre
Darko’s voice comes hushed and urgent over the phone. I have something for you.
An accident? Fitch asks the Deputy Commissioner. A baby’s crying in the background. Fitch asks, How’s the kid?
Godwin’s fine. But accident? No. Your young American… CID’s at the Royal Palm Hotel investigating four dead Obroni. Darko means white foreigner.
It is not known.
Massacre. Wild gunfire.
Does CID have suspects? Witnesses? Anyone in custody?
Can’t talk now, Darko whispers. I can meet you at the Palm. But you have to be discreet. It’s a drugs case. CID Chief Bonsu himself is there. Four bloody corpses, not African. A load of powder. Coke or heroin, is not yet known.
Fitch hangs up feeling hinky. The cable has Gordon, Jr. traveling from the Palm. And if Bonsu’s involved, another crime’s about to be committed: cover up.
He calls Poltz and fills the embassy security chief in. Poltz emerges from sleep and rises quickly to rage.
Poltz howls, GPF doesn’t know how to investigate! CID’s totally corrupt. When this place goes narco, it’ll be thanks to CID. Government can’t pay what the traffickers pay.
I’ll meet you at the Palm. Have you called the Peace Corps? Call Mimi Rogers. Tell her I’ll stop by for Gordon’s photo.
Already pulled it, boss. Fitch feels the storm clouds gathering, an impending confrontation between his boss and the head of CID. Their mutual loathing, come to near blows on earlier cases, already epic in the tabloids.
5 Corruptible Men
Fitch speeds along the corniche beside the Atlantic. Hookers flash hips and frightening smiles, step out of cars parked in the dark spaces between streetlights. Dark luxury sedans dot the unlit portions of road, cars belonging to Members of Parliament, government officials, other paid bureaucrats.
Darko meets Fitch in the Royal Palm parking lot.
My brother. Fitch and the DCOP exchange firm pats on the back. You should be at home with Sara and Godwin.
The boyish DCOP smiles broadly, shrugs. No rest for the wicked.
I believe that’s, No rest for the weary.
Modified for my Gold Coast. Here all is wicked. Darko leads him through the hotel lobby, moving quickly. An eager light fires his eyes. He speaks in rushed tones. He checks over his shoulder regularly.
Be careful in there. CID chief is crazy person. Hates you people.
You people, Fitch mimics.
Very old school. Distrusts America.
He knows the Cold War is over?
He knows your government killed the founder.
The chief will destroy me for involving you people. We need a story.
We were here for drinks. Saw the commotion. I knew of an American in trouble.
We put two and two together?
Something like that.
Fine. But we met by surprise. In the casino.
You’re okay with gambling on your resume?
Chief likes knowing his men are corruptible. Just a quick look. Confirm it’s not your American. Then git. Better we don’t engage Bonsu at all.
Won’t be long, Fitch says. Glancing around the lobby he thinks, No way a volunteer affords this luxury. Not even the son of a congressman.
The lavish décor’s a throwback to colonialism: wooden ceiling fans, decorative masks, comfortable bamboo-framed furniture, and swaths of cloth with Adinkra symbols. A faint must mingles with the scent of Teak and Mahogany. Down a corridor are the nightclub, casino, and a dark, expensive lounge with row upon row of imported booze.
Darko asks, The American is an important person?
Fitch hesitates. A U.S. VIP’s shown interest in his welfare.
This way. Darko leads him across a terrace past the kidney-shaped pool. A tiki bar and large open brazier stand beside the pool. The hotel sprawls over a vast property beside the Atlantic. Giant thatch-roofed bungalows squat along a maze of dim-lit footpaths. The chalets are taken by foreigners looking to do business, politicians, criminals, and other cheats spending the night gambling and philandering. Darko leads Fitch through the wind toward the roaring ocean.
Fitch asks, Any idea what happened?
The four are quite dead. Lots of powder. Lots of blood. Bonsu says, drug deal gone bad.
Darko stops at the last bungalow. The ocean sends a salty mist over the sea wall, crashing loud on the rocks below. Inside is quite gruesome, really.
6 Bloodstink and Death
The stinking crime scene bustles with cops. One victim face down and shirtless on the bed. Two males on the floor in a pile of powder and broken glass, the two ends of a shattered coffee table holding emptiness between them. Two more victims discovered, both female, sprawled and exposed on the bathroom floor.
Fitch recognizes the corpse slumped in an armchair facing the door. His shirt’s soaked with blood and tattered with bullets.
That’s our American. Fitch feels a swift need to control the crime scene. Who are these photographers?
Mensah’s ours. That one’s Daily Crusade. Enquirer. Sun-Times.
They’re media? Fitch steps toward the nearest. Darko restrains.
They’ve paid the Big Man. Darko points.
Fitch knows Vladimir Bonsu from the tabloids. Now the big man stands out in the crowd of eight cops, six corpses, and three newsmen. He wears a tailored shirt, French cuffs, shining silver cuff links. He’s got a flashy watch and bulky rings.
Fitch turns to exit. I’m calling Poltz.
Darko follows him out. The wind off the Atlantic blows hard, but not hard enough to clean the stink from their nostrils.
Poltz picks up on the first ring. It’s him, Fitch says.
Christ’s tits, curses Poltz. You tell the lead investigator?
It’s your old friend Bonsu. He’ll need more than my word. More than your word.
All right. I’m on the move. Call Rogers. Tell her I’ll pick her up in ten. I’ll call Daley. He means the second in command to Ambassador Stultz. Watch your back ‘til I get there. African police. Corruption’s in their blood.
Fitch says nothing. African blood is his blood too. Back inside, standing at the periphery, Darko keeps a nervous eye on Bonsu. Bonsu’s back is to them, but Fitch knows Darko believes the big man’s got extraordinary powers, a sorcerer.
Friend, Darko says, tugging at Fitch’ sleeve. You seen enough?
Can we get rid of the cameras before Poltz arrives? Much as he sympathizes with his friend’s plight, he’s staring down the barrel of a congressional inquiry. He’ll take his time, memorize the crime scene. No relying on the police report.
They work quick.
Fitch checks his watch. Will it make the morning papers?
They’ll run inserts if they have to.
Who called this in?
Anonymous. Anyone on the hotel grounds would have heard the shooting.
Just before midnight.
What’s Bonsu saying?
Smuggler’s curse. Double-cross. They killed each other.
Fitch looks over the scene and points out the obvious flaw. No weapons, he says. He looks more closely at the dead. White. Middle Eastern. Could be Latino. Definitely not African.
Just the girls. Please; let us go.
No ID. No wallets. No valuables. Nothing. Darko’s sweating. His eyes are wide, nervous. Looks like his head’s being squeezed by an unseen force.
Darko shakes his head, speaks with defeat. You can’t rely on anything we give you. Let’s go outside.
Fitch follows. Footprints? Blood traces leading elsewhere?
Other victims? Wounded perps? Eye-witnesses? What do we know?
Bonsu says the girls have pellets. Inside. Mules. They are known from the Quarter.
There must be more girls, somewhere. Can’t we sweep the Quarter? Their friends will know something.
Darko shakes his head. We can’t interrupt the trade on a Saturday night. Not after the girls have paid off the cops.
Who’s the room registered to?
Darko makes a face. Fitch knows what it means: that information resides with Bonsu. The Royal Palm, a government hotel, won’t release it without CID concurrence.
Rogers goes straight to the dead American. She gets down on one knee like a sister of the cloth. Takes his hand, ignores the blood that streaks her forehead.
Poltz stands beside her, mourning her pain more than the dead.
Deputy Commissioner! Bonsu’s booming voice makes Darko jump. We have uninvited guests?
Fitch hears British schooling in Bonsu’s African boom. Darko’s shoulders fold around his chest, protection from what’s to come.
Poltz turns on the Chief. Seen enough, Bonsu? he says. Is this enough for you?
Bonsu remains cool, ignores the short, pudgy foreigner in jeans and rumpled sport coat. The jacket fits badly over Poltz’s shoulder holster and P.229.
Darko, who are these people?
Poltz says, You know damn well who I am. He storms toward the massive CID chief. Bonsu’s majestic next to the oafish, lumpy Poltz. Poltz sticks out his chest and blusters, his small pale mustache bristling over his lip. He ignores the photographers snapping photos.
Fitch can’t stop them. Bonsu’s subordinates scratch around for something to look at, chickens before the rain. The shit storm’s on them.
You know damn well why I’m here, Poltz says. Are you proud of yourself? Dragging a woman out here to witness this, this, this… Jesus fucking Christ, Bonsu. This isn’t even a crime scene! I don’t know what to call the three-ring circus you’re running here.
Bonsu casually goes back to reading the notes on his clipboard. The American can wait. After he’s finished, Bonsu hands the clipboard to the corporal. He glares at Darko, reduced to a speck by the door.
Bonsu looks down at Poltz. In a very British accent he says, I am most surprised to see you here this evening. Most surprised indeed. Please tell me what it is you are doing here, and how you came to learn of this unfortunate circumstance.
Circumstance? Poltz’s face goes from red to purple. One of the deceased is an American. He was working in Ghana on official capacity. Our bi-lateral law enforcement agreement gives us jurisdiction.
We have not established with 100% certainty that any of the deceased is an American.
Poltz waves his hand toward Rogers, now standing and wiping her eyes. What do you call that? Peace Corps Country Director’s positively ID’d the deceased.
I haven’t heard it from the woman.
Jesus H. Christ, Bonsu.
Bonsu, unflappable, declares: The procedures laid out by the laws of this country shall govern this investigation.
What procedures? You’re going to waste time waiting for the botched results of a fingerprint check? You don’t even have a proper forensics lab to run blood samples-
Fitch interrupts, handing Poltz his phone. If he lets Poltz continue, he’ll blow any chance of cooperation. He’ll wind up in the tabloids again, be dismissed by the Ambassador, by Ghana’s foreign ministry. Their presence at the scene’s already put Darko in jeopardy.
8 Banana Republic
Excuse me, gentlemen, Fitch breaks in. Daley wants to talk.
Poltz takes the phone, confused. He steps away, glaring at Bonsu.
Fitch averts his eyes, speaks to Bonsu in a soft tone. With respect, Commissioner. If I may.
Fitch is tall as Bonsu, but not as large. He takes care not to look Bonsu in the eye. He wants no chance of appearing disrespectful.
Embassy security deputy, Collin Fitch. Chief’s excitable; he forgets we are guests in your country, that we follow your rules. From his background he’s used to accepting the visual ID. It’s in his blood. It’s a question of speed, but also of resources. Which, speaking of resources, I assure you we have resources that can be made available to move this investigation forward. Fitch tapers off, lets the vague offer sink in.
Bonsu rubs his thumb and forefinger together. If we establish that one of the deceased is an American Peace Corps, then Embassy investigators may participate in this investigation. But only at our discretion. Per the bi-lateral agreement. As for resources-
Thank you, Commissioner. For the resources, let us start here. Let us say that this is Charlie Gordon, Jr., an American, working in Ghana with the Peace Corps.
Even with that, Bonsu says. What I see here is open and shut. These junkies killed each other for profit. We are better off without them. Bonsu looks at Darko. And you still haven’t answered my question. What, or who, brought you here?
I bumped into the DCOP at the casino, Fitch says. He elaborates on their story. Bonsu eyes Darko. In seconds, Fitch knows, Poltz will give up on the faked Daley call. With luck he’ll try to reach her himself and get tangled up in a confused dialogue about a dropped call that never took place.
Commissioner Bonsu, there’s something else you must know. Fitch lowers his voice and speaks conspiratorially. Gordon is the son of a U.S. Congressman. Poltz couldn’t say anything with the cameras here. It’s quite sensitive. But now they are gone, and our cards are on the table.
Bonsu invites Fitch to continue. You have another theory?
I have questions.
If this crime was committed by the victims, where are the weapons?
This is a very poor country, Mr. Fitch. You must assume the guns were taken from the crime scene. By housekeeping. Room service. Other criminals. Anyone who heard the ruckus and came to see.
Criminals took the weapons but left almost 200 kilos of powder?
Fitch sees movement from the corner of his eye. Poltz.
It is Cocaine. And we don’t know how much of it might have been stolen before my people responded. Besides, I am quite certain we are dealing with the kind of criminals who prefer wallets, passports, watches, and cell phones, items they can sell easily, like guns. Anyone can move guns in the Republic; everyone is looking for protection. Moving dope, on the other hand, requires criminal connections.
Poltz rejoins. He’s cooled off somewhat. Fitch says, as much to fill in Poltz as to move the investigation in his own direction, The missing IDs may point to petty criminals, but they also point to organized conspiracy, an effort to confuse the investigation.
The missing items point to petty crime, Bonsu says. He eyes Poltz with open hostility. I don’t intend to pursue it. I have a much bigger case to solve—as you can see here. You yourself said we are talking about the murder of an American official. A connected American official.
Poltz blows. And you are denying the claim. This doesn’t add up, Bonsu, and you know it. That dead kid-
-Rogers starts sobbing. Fitch goes to her. Darko leaves with them. Large insects zip into and out of the light. Others beat clumsily, against it. The ocean roars. Through the door Fitch hears Poltz carry on: And you want to say that the four males were working together and suddenly decided that a hundred thousand apiece was a worse deal than this bloodfest. Is that your personal opinion, or professional assessment backed up by fact?
That is my years of experience. And Mr. Poltz, regardless of what you think, or what that woman thinks of the dead, you forget yourself. You are present here only at the discretion of the CID. Do not presume to tell me how to run an investigation. I have run investigations for 40 years in the Republic.
The Banana Republic.
That remark will not be dignified. It is like your—what is it you called us in the tabloids? A ‘Culture of Beggars’?
Dignify this. I’m a U.S. Federal Agent. CID’s cooperation in all law enforcement matters involving official Americans is requisite, per our bi-lateral agreement. You’re going to be answering inquiries into how this investigation got botched. Come Monday morning this place will be crawling with more U.S. Federal investigators than you can hit with the shit tossed into a fan.
Then I shall use the opportunity to seek more resources. After all, Mr. Poltz, we are merely a culture of beggars.
Darko says, This is not good, my brother. You will lose all privileges here. Your boss will be sent home, I promise. His instincts are correct of course. But his insults.
Sammy, what’s Bonsu covering up?
That’s for you people to find out.
Sammy, are you ok?
I’ll be ok. Bonsu has bloodlust, is all. He’ll forget about me once he leaves the scene and returns to his mistress.
Fitch isn’t convinced. Darko hasn’t convinced himself. Fitch will tell Poltz his friend isn’t safe. He knows what Poltz will say: Nothing I can do. He’s a cop in his own country.
He saw it first in the tabloids. An inset photo on the front-page spread of Daily Crusade depicting the horrible end of six criminal lives amid blood and powder at the Royal Palm. The inset, another drugs death in the capital, the seventh in a single night.
Now, watching the video that arrived in a plain manila envelope marked with his name, Fitch feels it. He feels the arms of the hooded figures wrestling the victim from the car. Throwing him to the asphalt. Pulling his arms up behind him. A boot in the nape of the neck. Fitch feels the wire across his throat and the rough harvest sack forced over his head, the zip cuffs binding his wrists.
Rat, a voice on the recording accuses.
Though he knew the outcome, Fitch watches. And feels. The victim would have prayed to the God he believed in, prayed that these were organized criminals, not GPF, with an impromptu barricade somewhere late in the night. Boots kick. Two dark arms roll the victim over. A boot comes down on the stomach. Vomit. Bile. The taste of blood.
You shit cop. You sold us out.
Is it then that Darko realizes he’ll never see Godwin and Sara again, despite his prayers? Fitch watches the video. It’s the least he can do for his dead friend. The greatest sorrow comes from the ignominy and shame this will bring the wife and son. He’s seen it happen to other good cops. Nobody knows they were good cops. Fitch’s heart aches.
Hands pull up Darko’s sleeve and jab the needle. Instant delight, Fitch knows, a heady surge. The men who belong to the hands doing the work take money from the photographer.
Is this exclusive?
You pay double.
The bulb flashes. The bulb flashes and winks and two hands remove the hood. Darko’s bruised face and blissed out eyes. The men belonging to the hands pass a file to the photographer. Editor’s eyes only. This makes morning press or next time you pay double double.
The headline of the Daily Crusade, tabloid folio, blood red and loud:
DRUG GANG SELF DESTRUCTS.
DISGRACED DCOP FOLLOWS THEM HOME.