Along wwith my anxiety the day slowly stretched west with the tug of the sun. There was no sign of Moses.
Maybe it was the worry as to his whereabouts which triggered my broader concern. Like eyes are drawn to a blemish on a girl’s cheek, my thoughts slip back to Moses’ infatuation with Narina. Maturity nurtures the seeds of privacy and Moses’ silence on the subject discouraged interference. I wondered if his issues of the heart would run any better than my own, which had mostly faded from neglect.
‘Don’t 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. Now 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 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. Sseeing how Sophia had age, made me wonder that my dreans had not crumple like the wrinkles of our skin. Would Claudia love me back? Would Lauren have time to love anybody? Maybe love was overrated. It was good enough to be liked. Love was too stricturing. Should I tell Moses to watch out, make sure she could love him back before he lost his way, as I had?
If I thought about it, would this Bushland ever love, or evenlike me? 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 footsteps heralding Moses’ appearance out of the darkness. I didn’t 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.”
Relief mixed with annoyed 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 as well I did, 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.
“You are joking!” 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..”
“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 this time I realized it was going to be a night meeting because it was already late in the day.
“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.
Since it was going to be a night meeting, getting in close would be easier.
I moved fast, circling past the old man to get to the quarry. Knowing where they usually met, I crawled behind a thick patch of scrub and hid.
The risk of getting close was worth it, otherwise we would still be following footprints, looking for nothing more than gangs of village poachers.”
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 part of a drug cartel.”
“What!! You got to be kidding!”
“No Gidi. We were both on the wrong track, looking for petty poachers. These people are extremely smooth. They are making it look like it is poachers behind their mischief . But it is something bigger than poaching. Although there is also that.
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.
According to the old man the cut faced one is one of the gangs ‘captains’. The other short one is a business development guy.
Mustafa probably met them via Narina’s ex-husband. If we connect this with what Alan told us about Pablo Escobar, I bet cut-face was a young “soldier” when Escobar came out to Africa. He probably remembered that in Africa they could do as they pleased .
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 interrupted 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 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 .
“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 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 fists. That is where the old crocodile man comes in.
Vladimir and grey hair met each other when they were supplying the insurgents. Both were liaison officers, one for the Russians and the other for 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, to scare and get them out of the way.”
“Yes I know about this.” I said quietly. “I went looking for you because of it.”
Moses stretched back in his chair and cupped the back of his head in his linked palms.
“This is where the Latins went wrong. “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.”
“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 they didn’t agree. 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. I am not sure what he meant by that.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed.
” But that is not all.” Moses continued. ” Apparently the Russians were also tossed with recruiting mules for the cartel. Young woman who they would get to travel to various places on the pretense of getting them a good opportunity overseas. The woman would be provided with doctored luggage containing drugs. They were expendable to check for easier smuggling routes to the various destinations .”
Moses leaned forward and scratched his chin.
Before I could ask questions he went on.
“So that is where things now stand Gidi. Apparently someone 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. He will do this in front of the village people, so that they do not fear the spirit and stone the person.
“Yes Moses, it was for that very reason that I came looking for you,.”
Moses relaxed. He had done his duty, had unloaded his burden of responsibility. The sergeant was finished with 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 are the main holders of the mining rights!”
I looked at him quizzically, and taking my silence as an answer he went on.
Moses stretched again,”It seems that something was being planned with them that really got the old man pissed off. “
Dumbfounded I stared at him.
I sat for a moment thinking 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 kidnapped Precious. There’s something I haven’t told you, she is Mushala’s daughter.”