Taillights cut a pool of red in the dark where three African heavies in police uniform manned the makeshift roadblock. A fourth figure loomed over the driver-side door two cars up. The cops held their rifles clumsily. Probably they were cops, Raines thought. Criminals in the West African Republic handled weapons more expertly than the police did. The cops moved alongside and scrutinized his car, then took up positions at the rear. Raines decided against running the blockade though he doubted the rifles were loaded. He checked his mirrors, all black; his watch, a faint glow. He tapped the wheel. Half past midnight. Fifteen minutes since he’d left home. Twenty since the Ops Center informed him of the cable requiring immediate action.
The big cop waved him up, palm downward, fingers beckoning with impatience. Raines lowered his tinted window before the cop could tap it with his dirty hand. Sweat- and booze-reek poured through the window on the humid air. The cop’s big, round face menaced with a grin and glistened with sweat in the red-tinged dark.
“Evening boss,” Raines said, adopting local deference.
“A black American?” The red tags on his 325.i marked Raines as an American diplomat. “What you doing in my country?”
“Embassy work, boss. Proud civil servant, just like you.”
“Streets are dangerous after dark.” The smell of booze poured off the cop. He rested a forearm where the roof met the door and leaned in close. “Why you come out now?”
“Business at the embassy.”
“At this hour?”
“At all hours.”
“You are a spy?”
“We are all spies.”
The cop took a long appraisal of Raines, his car, his expensive watch. He asked, “My friend, where is my visa?”
Raines relaxed. This was not a criminal shakedown. These were simple cops looking for guns, drugs, human trafficking, bribes from Latino and Middle Eastern smugglers. With all the coke and heroin pouring through the WAR, working as a cop had never been so lucrative. The cop grinned his big, greedy smile, his face sandwiched between his tight garrison cap and the triple chin pushing up from the neck of his starched tunic. Raines went on the offensive, sure of who he was dealing with. “Lucky tonight, boss?”
“No guns? No drugs? No big dash?”
“No guns. No drugs.” The cop rubbed his thumb and forefinger together with greedy swiftness. Rollins read in the gesture a suggestion. “Not yet big dash. You are not starting the big coup tonight? You would not like protection?”
“Am I not protected?”
“No man in the West African Republic is guaranteed protection.”
“Surely the WAR police are here to protect a diplomat?”
The cop laughed a big belly laugh and waved to the cop by the drop arm. Rollins was on his way.
He checked his watch and revved the engine. Warm night air poured through the open window. The cable would have arrived ten minutes ago. His career, an assignment in Europe, a life outside of dirty, corrupt West Africa ticked further away with each minute the congressman waited for news of his son.
Raines approached the Embassy, a modern structure protected by half a square mile of double-high wall built with blast-resistant concrete. He parked in the outer lot, alighted, and entered the guard house where two locals drowsed behind a counter. One nodded and buzzed him in. Through the lobby, dimly lit by emergency lights, he approached the Marine standing post behind the explosion-resistant glass. Lights and monitors blinked and whirred behind Sgt. Dorn. Raines stopped to sign the register. “What’s up tonight, Dorn?” he shouted.
Dorn replied through the intercom. “Same shit. Saturday night in the armpit.”
“By armpit, do you mean the box, or the country?”
“Whole damn place is a sewer.” Dorn clicked the lock and admitted Raines through the heavy chancery door. Raines took the back staircase at the far end of the echoing atrium. He punched a code into the Hirsche pad on a door at the third floor. Inside the secure comms room the troll-like communicator handed Raines a cable, barely turning from his monitor.
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
PROG DATE: Z2052101011
OPS CTR: GPENTZ
PRIORITY: NIACT IMMEDIATE
AMEMBNGC; USMECOWAS; AFCOLLECTIVE; PEACECORPSAF
SUBJECT: CONGRESSIONAL INQUIRY – WELFARE AND WHEREABOUTS
- SUMMARY: THIS IS AN ACTION CABLE, 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).
- GORDON WAS CONTACTED BY A WEST AFRICAN CALLER SELF-IDENTIFIED AS “PETER”. CALLER CLAIMED TO HAVE BEEN TRAVELING IN A BUS WITH GORDON, JR. EN ROUTE FROM THE ROYAL PALM HOTEL TO THE AIRPORT IN NEW GOLD CITY WHEN THE VEHICLE WAS STRUCK BY A WAR ARMY LORRY.
- 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.
- PETER REQUESTED THAT $10,000 BE SENT IMMEDIATELY
-Raines stopped reading. He’d heard this scam before: American citizen called in the dead of night; loved one in trouble in the WAR; money is sent; nobody ever hears from the caller again. A few days later, the loved one turns up with no idea they’d been reported DOA. Lost their phone in the bush, on the road, in a club. Two dozen calls like that every week. He turned to the troll. “For real?”
Marshall’s eyes weren’t visible behind the monitor lights reflecting off his thick lenses. He grunted. “Congressman.”
Reminded of this, Raines read 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 CHARLIE GORDON, JR (+233-024-433-2479). ATTEMPTS TO REACH THE NUMBER WERE UNSUCCESSFUL.
6. ACTION REQUEST: CHARLIE GORDON, JR., SERVES AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER IN THE CASTLE DISTRICT. CONGRESSMAN GORDON REQUESTS IMMEDIATE CONTACT BE MADE WITH GORDON, JR., AND REQUESTS TO SPEAK TO HIS SON UPON CONTACT. INFORM WAR PEACE CORPS OFFICE IMMEDIATE.
Raines’s police and military contacts could easily confirm whether a military vehicle was involved in an accident. He’d have an answer in twenty minutes and be back at Bliss in the Quarter. Wouldn’t even have to call the Peace Corps director. He only resented the waste of effort in sending a reply: Raines figured the kid got tired of the bush; came down to party in the Quarter; phone got pinched by some hat-check girl whose boyfriend was a master of the 419 scam. End of story. The worst to come out of this would be that young Charlie Gordon would have to talk to dear old dad, the congressman, with a nasty hangover.
Sammy Darko’s voice came hushed and urgent over the phone. “I have something for you.”
“An accident?” Raines asked the Deputy Commissioner of Police. Club noise pumped through the phone, the sound of nightlife: laughter, music, clinking glasses.
“Accident? No. But your young American? CID’s investigating four dead Obroni.” Darko meant white foreigner. “Royal Palm Hotel.”
“It is not known.”
“It was a massacre. Wild gunfire.”
“Does CID have suspects? Witnesses? Anyone in custody?”
“Can’t talk about it. Only there are four bloody corpses, not African, and a load of powder. Coke or heroin, is not yet known. I can meet you at the Palm. But you have to be discreet. It’s a drugs case. CID Chief Bonsu himself is there.”
Raines hung up feeling hinky. The cable had Gordon, Jr. traveling from the Palm. And if Bonsu was involved, another crime was about to be committed: a cover up. He called Poltz and filled him in. The Embassy security chief emerged from his sleep and rose quickly to rage.
“WARPO doesn’t know how to investigate! CID is totally corrupt. When the Republic goes narco, it will be because of 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 up on Facebook, boss.” Raines felt the storm clouds gathering, an impending confrontation between his boss and the head of CID. Their mutual loathing had already reached epic proportions in the tabloids.
Raines sped along the corniche beside the Atlantic past the hookers and cars parked in the dark spaces between infrequent streetlights. Dark luxury sedans dotted the unlit portions of roadside, cars like that belonged to Members of Parliament, government officials, and other paid bureaucrats. The hookers flashed frightening smiles and jutted their hips towards Raines’ car. Darko met Raines in the Royal Palm parking lot. “My brother,” Raines said, taking the DCOP’s hand, pulling him to his chest, and exchanging a few firm pats on the back. “You should be at home with Sara and Godwin.”
The boyish DCOP smiled broadly and shrugged. “No rest for the wicked.”
“I believe that’s, ‘no rest for the weary’.”
“Modified for the WAR, where all is wicked.” Darko led him through the lobby, moving quickly. An eager fire lit his eyes and he spoke in quiet, rushed tones. He looked regularly over his shoulder. “Just be careful in there. Please. CID chief is a crazy person. Hates you people. Very old school. Distrusts America.”
“He knows the Cold War is over?”
“He knows your government killed the founder.”
“Still. 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.”
“Fine, but we met by surprise. In the casino.”
“You’re okay with gambling on your resume?”
“The chief likes hearing his men are corruptible. Just a quick look. Confirm it’s not your American. Then go. Better if we don’t engage Bonsu at all.”
Raines glanced around the lobby. “I won’t be long.” No way a volunteer affords luxury like this, Raines thought, not even the son of a congressman. The lavish lobby decor was a throwback to British colonialism: wooden ceiling fans, decorative masks, comfortable bamboo-framed furniture, and swaths of cloth with Adinkra symbols. A faint mustiness mingled with a Teak and Mahogany aroma. Down a corridor off the lobby were the nightclub, casino, and a dark, expensive lounge with row upon row of imported liquor.
“The American is an important person?”
Raines hesitated. “A U.S. Congressman has shown interest in his welfare.”
“This way.” Darko led them across a terrace to the pool. The hotel sprawled over a vast property beside the Atlantic. Giant thatch-roofed bungalows squatted along a maze of dimly lighted footpaths. A tiki bar, bandstand, and a large open brazier surrounded the kidney-shaped pool. Raines knew the chalets to be taken by foreigners looking to do business in the WAR, politicians, criminals, and other cheats spending the night gambling and philandering. By day the families of these patrons frolicked at the pool. Darko led Raines through the wind towards the roaring ocean and the mushroom-shaped thatch roofs of the three and four bedroom seaside bungalows.
“Any idea what happened?”
“The four are quite dead. Lots of powder. Lots of blood. Bonsu says drug deal gone bad.” He stopped at the lighted veranda of the last bungalow. The ocean sent a salty mist over the sea wall, crashing loudly on the rocks below. “It’s quite gruesome, really.”
Bloodstink and death filled the crowded, bustling crime scene. One victim lay face down and shirtless on the bed. Two males on the floor lay in a pile of powder and broken glass, the two wooden ends of a shattered coffee table holding emptiness between them. Two more victims had been discovered, both female, immodestly sprawled on the bathroom floor. Raines immediately recognized the corpse slumped in the armchair facing the door, tattered shirt soaked with blood. “That’s our American,” Raines told Darko. He felt a swift, sudden need to control the crime scene. “Who are all these photographers?”
“Mensah’s our own,” Darko said. “That one’s Daily Crusade. Enquirer. Sun-Times.”
“They’re media?” Raines stepped towards the nearest, but Darko restrained him.
“They’ve paid the Big Man.” Darko pointed.
Even if Raines hadn’t known Vladimir Bonsu from his frequent appearances in the tabloids, the big man stood out in the crowd of eight cops, six corpses, and three newsmen. He wore an elegantly tailored shirt, an expensive local evening cut with French cuffs and shining silver cuff links, a flashy watch, and bulky rings. Raines turned to exit. “I’m calling Poltz.” Darko followed him out. The wind off the Atlantic blew hard but not hard enough to clean the stink that filled his nostrils.
Poltz picked up before the first ring ended. “It’s him,” Raines said.
“Christ’s tits,” cursed Poltz. “You told 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 Mimi and tell her I’ll pick her up in ten. I’ll call Daley.” He meant the Deputy Chief of Mission, second in command to Ambassador Stultz. “Watch your back ‘til I get there. African police. Corruption’s in their blood.”
Raines said nothing. African blood was his blood, too. Back inside, standing at the periphery, Darko kept a nervous eye on Bonsu. Bonsu’s back was to them, but Raines knew Darko to believe the big man possessed extraordinary powers, was all-seeing, a sorcerer. “Friend,” Darko said, tugging at Raines’ sleeve. “You seen enough?”
“Can we get rid of the cameras before Poltz arrives?” Raines asked. As much as he sympathized with his friend’s plight, he was staring down the barrel of a congressional inquiry. He would take his time and memorize the crime scene rather than rely on the police report.
“They work quick.”
Raines checked 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.”
Raines looked over the scene and pointed out the obvious flaw with that theory. “There are no weapons.” He looked more closely at the other 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 was sweating. His eyes were wide and nervous, as if his head were being squeezed by some unseen force coming off Bonsu.
Darko shook his head. “You won’t be able to rely on anything we give you.” He spoke with defeat. “Let’s go outside,” he begged. Raines followed.
“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 shook his head. “We can’t interrupt the trade on a Saturday night. Not after the girls have paid.”
“Who is the room registered to?”
Darko made a face. Raines knew what it meant: that information resided with Bonsu. The Royal Palm, a government hotel, wouldn’t release it without CID concurrence.
Poltz and Rogers went straight to their dead American. Rogers got down on one knee, like a sister of the cloth, and took his hand. She ignored the blood that streaked her forehead just below the grey highlights at her high, sculpted temples. Even crying she was beautiful. Poltz stood beside her, seeming to mourn her pain as much as the dead.
“Deputy Commissioner!” Darko jumped at the boom of Bonsu’s voice. “Do we have uninvited guests?” Bonsu spoke from the center of the room in a deep, loud voice. Raines heard the British schooling in that African boom. Darko’s shoulders folded around his chest, as if to protect himself from what was to come.
Poltz turned on the CID Chief. “Seen enough, Bonsu? Is this enough for you?”
Bonsu remained cool, ignoring the short, pudgy foreigner in jeans and rumpled sport coat, badly fitted over the shoulder holster weighted down by his P.229. “Darko? Who are these people?”
“You know damn well who I am,” Poltz said, storming up to the massive CID chief. Bonsu was majestic next to the oafish, lumpy Poltz, a mastiff attacked by a pug. Poltz stuck out his chest and blustered, his small pale mustache bristling over his lip. He ignored the photographers snapping photos. Raines couldn’t stop them. Bonsu’s subordinates scratched around for something else to look at, like chickens before the rain. The shit storm had come. “You know damn well why I’m here,” Poltz said. “Are you proud of yourself? Dragging a woman here to witness this, this, this… Jesus fucking Christ, Bonsu, this isn’t even a crime scene! I don’t even know what to call the three ring circus you’re running here.”
Bonsu casually went back to reading the notes on his clipboard. The American could wait. After he’d finished Bonsu handed the clipboard back to the corporal. He glared at Darko, reduced to a speck by the door. He look down at Poltz. In a clear British accent he said, “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’ face had gone from red to purple. “That is a dead American. He was working in the Republic in an official capacity. According to our bi-lateral law enforcement agreement, we have jurisdiction.”
“We have not established with 100% certainty that any of the deceased is an American.”
Poltz waved his hand towards Rogers, now standing and wiping her eyes. “What do you call that? The Country Director for Peace Corps has positively ID’d the deceased.”
“I haven’t heard it from the woman.”
“Jesus H. Christ, Bonsu,” Poltz yelled.
Bonsu, unflappable, declared evenly: “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-”
Raines interrupted, handing Poltz his phone. If he let Poltz continue, Poltz would blow any chance of cooperation, would wind up in the tabloids again, be dismissed by the Ambassador, by the government of the WAR. Their presence at the scene had already put Darko in jeopardy. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said. “Daley wants to talk to you.” Poltz took the phone, confused, and stepped away glaring at Bonsu.
“With respect, Commissioner. If I may.” Raines turned and spoke in a soft tone. He was as tall as Bonsu, but not as large, and he was careful not to look Bonsu in the eyes. He wanted no chance of appearing disrespectful. “Embassy security deputy. Collis Raines. The chief is 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, by the way, speaking of resources, I assure you that we have resources that can be made available to you and your team to move this investigation forward.” Raines tapered off to let his vague offer sink in.
Bonsu rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. “If we establish that one of the deceased is, as you claim, an American Peace Corps, then Embassy investigators may participate in this investigation. But only at our discretion. Per the bi-lateral agreement. As for the resources-”
“Thank you, Commissioner. For the resources, let us say we start here. Let us say that this is Charlie Gordon, Jr. He was an American. He was working in the Republic in an official capacity, with the Peace Corps.”
“Even with that,” Bonsu said, “what I see here is an open and shut case. These junkies killed each other for profit. We are better off without them.” He looked at Darko. “And you still haven’t answered my question. What, or who, brought you here?”
“I bumped into the DCOP at the casino,” Raines said, and elaborated the story he’d established with his friend. Bonso eyed Darko. In seconds, Raines knew, Poltz would give up on the faked Daley call. With any luck he would try to reach her himself and get tangled up in a confused dialogue about a dropped call that never took place. Raines didn’t have much time to turn the tide. “Commissioner Bonsu, listen. There’s something else I must tell you.” He lowered his voice and spoke conspiratorially. “Gordon is the son of a U.S. Congressman. Poltz wasn’t going to say anything with the cameras here. It’s quite sensitive. But now they are gone. So our cards are all on the table.”
Bonsu invited Raines 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. Raines. 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?” Raines saw 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 hard core criminal connections.”
Poltz rejoined them. He had cooled off somewhat. Raines said, as much to fill his boss in as to move the investigation in his own direction before Poltz derailed it again, “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 said, eyeing 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 blew. “And you are denying the claim. This doesn’t add up, Bonsu, and you know it. That dead kid-”
-Rogers started sobbing, and Raines went to her. Darko left the room with them. Large insects zipped into and out of the light. Others beat clumsily, heavily against it. The ocean roared. Through the door Raines heard Poltz carrying 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 blood-fest. 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 young man in the chair, you are forgetting 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 call us in the tabloids? A ‘Culture of Beggars’?”
“Dignify this,” Poltz said. “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 said, “This is not good, my brother. You will lose all privileges here. Your boss will be sent home, I promise you. His investigative instincts are correct, of course. But his insults.”
“Sammy, what is Bonsu covering up?”
“That’s something 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.”
Raines wasn’t convinced. Darko hadn’t convinced himself. Raines would tell Poltz his friend wasn’t safe. He knew how Poltz would respond: Nothing I can do for him. He’s a cop in his own country.
He’d already seen it in one of 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 of the WAR, the seventh in a single night.
Now, watching the video that had arrived at the Embassy in a plain manila envelope marked with his name, Raines felt it. He felt 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. Raines felt the wire across his throat and the rough harvest sack forced over his head and the zip cuffs binding his wrists.
“Rat,” a voice on the recording accused.
Though he knew the outcome, Raines watched, and felt. The victim would have prayed to the God he believed in, prayed that these were organized criminals, not WARPO, with an impromptu barricade somewhere late in the night. Boots kicked. Two dark arms rolled the victim over. A boot came down on his stomach. Vomit. Bile. The taste of blood.
“You shit cop. You sold us out.”
Was it then that Darko realized he would never see Godwin and Sara again, in spite of his prayers? Raines watched the video; it was the least he could do for his dead friend. The greatest sorrow came from the ignominy and shame this would bring on the wife and son. He had seen it happen to other good cops. Nobody knew they were good cops. Raines’ heart ached.
Hands pulled up Darko’s sleeve and jabbed the needle. Instant delight, Raines knew, a heady surge. The men who belonged to the hands that did the work took money from the photographer.
“Is this exclusive?”
“You pay double.”
The bulb began to flash. The bulb flashed and winked and two hands removed the hood. Darko’s bruised face and blissed out eyes. The men belonging to the hands passed 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”. The subtitle: “Disgraced DCOP Follows Them Home”.
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