Like life itself the day aged slowly, stretching uneasily westward with the waning sun. It was a day which didn’t yield any sign of Moses.
Maybe it was this worry which triggered my concern for his whereabouts. Like eyes are drawn to a birthmark blemish on a pretty girl’s face, my thoughts slip back to Moses’ infatuation with Narina. Unlike those days of young soldier yore, when affairs were shared with the whole unit, maturity nurtures the seeds of privacy. Moses’ silence on the subject discouraged interference. I wondered if his issues of the heart would run any better than my own futile efforts even as the blossoms of my life were wilting.
‘Don’t ever love anything that can’t love you back. For decades, like footsteps echoing in the hallways of my mind Sophia’s words returned sporadically to haunt my regrets. Sitting, waiting, wondering, in the leafy shade under the trees, was I condemned to be forever searching for something that could love me back. Were my reveries and emotions triggered by envy of others, or that Lauren had invited me to stay longer last night, as we listen to the others packing and preparing to depart. The transience of it all.
Only after seeing how, unlike my emotions, Sophia had age, did the dreams of a future crumple like the wrinkles of our skin, to be tossed into the wastebasket of my hopes. The surprising thing was how long those hopes had endured.
Would Claudia love me back? Would Lauren ever have time to love anybody? Maybe love was overrated, and it was good enough to be liked. Love was too stricturing.
Should I tell Moses to watch out, make sure a woman could love him back before he lost his way, as I had?
If I thought about it deeply, would this Bushland ever love me back? So why should I care for it so deeply.
Ahh to hell with the philosophizing.
It was after sun set that this wispy nostalgia was brushed away by the sound of footsteps approaching, and Moses appearing out of the darkness. I didn’t even bother greeting him. “What in the world have you been doing?”
“I was doing what you asked me to do, getting the ansers to your questions.”
A surge of impatience washed over my equanimity.
“OK, I will make the coffee, and you can tell me all about it.”
Drawing up a camp chair on the opposite side of our embers, he sat down. “It is complicated.” He answered back. “Guess who explained a lot of it to me?
“I have no idea.” I said, “All I know is that Musekela said you had gone off on your own, tracking somebody?”
“Yes I did. And it is just as well, because it was he who explained much of it to me.”
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Your old friend, the crocodile man.” Moses said nonchalantly.
‘What!’ It was the second time in a short while that I had been astounded.
“Yes Gidi, it is complicated. But I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. As they say luck comes to those who look for it harder than the others.”
“So how did you get lucky this time?” I queried.
Moses went on. “While patrolling down the Lunga with Musekela, I recognize the tracks of our old man. He had followed behind the poachers.
I don’t think he was part of the group. He was just following them. Then at some stage he broke off and headed away on his own.”
As I tracked him I realized that he was heading to the quarry where he usually met the rest of the bunch. But because I had been following him for some time I knew he would wait until darkness before moving in for a meeting.
“They are not the best operatives. Like novices, they met at the same place each time, which meant if I knew there was a meeting I could get into a good place to overhear what they were saying, before they arrived.
To do this I had to get there early, because once they were there moving in close undetected wasn’t possible.
After all my snooping around and getting no clear picture, I figured the only thing that would work was to listen to their plans.
Gidi, “If they had been trained like you and I, they would’ve changed their meeting places. I would not know what they were up to. We would still be following footprints, looking for nothing more than gangs of village poachers.”
“I took a chance. I moved fast and circled past the old man to get to the quarry, while he waited for nightfall. Knowing where they usually met, I crawled under a thick patch of scrub and hid.
Sure enough they all showed up. And I could hear much of what they were saying.”
“What did you discover?” I asked.
“Well, to begin with I thought it was the Russians who were behind everything, and then I thought it was the Indian, but actually it is the Spanish speakers. They don’t mind dabbling in ivory, but it is much more they are after. They are some of the most successful and powerful criminals in the world.”
Moses paused for effect and I looked on incredulously.
He went on. “They are top captains of a big South American drug cartel. Colombian I think.”
“What!! You got to be kidding!”
“No Gidi. We were both on the wrong track, looking for petty little poachers. These people are extremely smooth. They are making it look like it is poachers behind their mischief . But it is something bigger than the elephant or rhino poaching.
These people have so many fingers in so many pies, they make Mustafa look like a street vendor, compared to their worldwide bakery.”
“Have you met these Latins yet?”
“No. “I said, “they have not been at the Lodge much, and when they were I’ve stayed away. I’ve only seen their woman.”
Moses rubbed his hands together. “They are not a handsome duo, one short and stocky, the other has a face that is sliced with knife scars.
You can imagine how much power that ugly duo must have to attract and hold the attention of those two world-class gold diggers. We can now understand who paid for the Russians at Alan’s camp.
The cut faced one is one of the gangs ‘captains’, and the other short one is there clever business development expert.
Mustafa probably met them via Narina’s ex-husband. If we connect all this with what Alan told us about Pablo Escobar, I bet cut-face was a young “soldier” when Escobar came out to Africa. Quite a few people in Escobar’s organization knew that he could come out to this continent in his private jet and do as he pleased, with no passport required. He hunted and took back animals for his zoo. After all putting hippos in the river on your property in Columbia is not something that you can hide easily.
They knew how simple it is to get anything you want over here with a carrot and stick approach. Their carrot is in the form of plenty of money for bribes, and they use the stick to knock people’s heads off .”
I broke into Moses’s explanation. “But why would they want to sell drugs out here in the middle of nowhere? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Gidi, that is exactly why I needed to listen to their plans. It is not about selling drugs. It is about taking over the Lunga-Luuswishi mining concessions. They want it as a money laundering operation. Dirty money will come in to set up a copper mine. They will pay fake or quasi subcontractors huge amounts of money to run a mind that does almost nothing. The money comes out clean the other side.
The Lunga-Luswishi is ideal for them. It is out of the way, in the back route between Angola and the lawlessness of Lubumbashi in the Congo.
The only problem is, that even though it is a poor concession, with poor grade ore, which the big operators aren’t interested in, it is held by some locals, who don’t see any reason to give up their rights.”
And that is the source of all of our strange stuff.
However, as criminals they are not averse to getting any other cake along the way and eating it. As a by-product, in addition to transporting ore, they intend to use Mustafa’s trucking expertise to transport drugs into and across Africa, from a distribution hub in the Congo. Maybe they will throw in a bit of poaching as well. After all they already have expertise in illegal shipping and the distribution of contraband.”
I whistled softly.
“But like so many things, they didn’t realize that, even for a drug cartel, that in Africa there are people who believe in things even more fervently than money.
I shook my head.
“One of these men,” Moses said, “is our old crocodile man’.
“How do the Russians and the old man fit into all of this.”
Moses picked up his thread again.“ They gangsters sought out, and began the ball rolling with Mustafa.” He explained. “Mustafa brought in the Russians, the Russians the old man.”
“As you have noticed, Vladimir is little more than a thug. His whole life has been involved with vodka and barroom fist-fights. For him that is entertainment. The Russians are primarily in forces. They are not using bar tactics here, but they are still in forces. They have learned that in Africa you are more likely to get results with witchcraft than with your fists. Where is where the old crocodile man comes in.
Vladimir and grey hair met each other when they were supplying the insurgents.
Now it is the old man’s responsibility to use witchcraft to corece recalcitrants. The intention is to scare the concession holders out of the area. Ultimately to scare them into selling their rights to the cartel front people.
My real luck was last night I heard them have a fight. The Latins wanted things to go faster. They mentioned how they were going to speed things up. They were already ‘fixing’ funerals by inserting hand-picked pallbearers to target people as witches who they wanted out of the way.”
“Yes I know about this.” I said quietly. “I went looking for you because of it.”
“The old man got furious. They could not play with the spirits and make a mockery of it all. He was so upset he stormed off. The others were arguing so loudly I risked crawling away. I then moved quickly and went to where usually he hit his bicycle. I waited for him. I thought I may need to force him to talk. But that was not necessary. He talked freely once he got over his surprise at meeting me.”
Moses leaned forward and scratched his chin.
“According to him designated locals” will front end the operation. Kings is probably one of these. Which explains his attitude, he wants everyone out the way sooner rather than later, so that he can get back to his unfettered poaching.
“The Latins wanted extreme pressure, even violence, used to convince all concerned to sell. They wanted an example made of people if s they didn’t agree to sell. But they don’t realize that African witchcraft, like other forms of religion, has purists who will not compromise their beliefs for money.
Apparently it was this that finally was too much for our crocodile man. You do not mess with the spirit of Mushala.”
Before I could query this last reference he went on.
“So that is where things now stand Gidi. Apparently one of your scouts has been targeted as a witch by ‘fake’ pallbearers. The old man is looking for preventative potions. When he is ready, he will travel up to the village to purify that house, and the scout himself. He will do this in front of the village people, so that they do not fear the scouts spirit and stone him. The old man didn’t want us to transport him there. That would diminish his magic powers he said.”
“Yes Moses, it was for that very reason that I came looking for you. Precious told me about Musekela.”
Moses relaxed back into his chair. He had unloaded his burden of responsibility. The sergeant in him had done his part, it was now up to the old officer in me to do mine.
He leaned back in his chair, “I am tired, I will sleep well tonight.” He added. “By the way, guess who one of the main holders of the mining rights is!
I looked at him quizzically, and taking my silence as an answer he went on.
“Precious,” he said. “Apparently she has inherited them from her father. Croc man refused to mess with Mushala’s daughter.””
Moses stretched again,”It seems that something was being planned with her that really got the old man pissed off. “
He yawned. “It was another of the things the old man balked at. No one messes with Mushala’s daughter and gets away with it, he said, not even drug gangsters. Mushala spirit will not tolerate it.”
Dumbfounded I stared at him.
I sat for a moment thinking about this information, before the implications struck me.
“Moses, I have news for you. You’re not going to do much sleeping tonight, we have to act fast. They have already kidnapped Precious.”