Douala, Cameroon / Summer 1998
The overgrown, abandoned dirty white two-story cinder block house sat on a deserted street of more houses just like it in the southern Douala ghetto. It’s footprint no more than twelve by twelve. Inside it was hot as hell. Sticky. Close. The floor for the second floor and roof were both missing. Chain-link fence wire and plywood covered the windows, the faded blue plank door off its hinges leaned to the right side of the doorway. A weathered sign featuring a smiling African woman with a gap in her front teeth, her head surrounded by vegetables said someone once ran a market here. Now two Englishmen in wilted white evening clothes, one thirtyish, longish hair, the other maybe forty, clean cut with laser eyes, both running on vanishing patience stood in the sweltering Douala dusk with a large fat man in brown and green military dress, a small, bald, black as midnight accountant type in a bright yellow shirt covered in orange pineapples and a tall, thin vacant eyed blonde man in a black uniform straight out of a Nazi war poster.
“We came unarmed. Colonel,” the younger Anglo said, the fat man’s rank escaping with uncloaked derision. Colonel. General. Why did all the supercilious pissant liberation leadership adopt a military veneer? “You’ve inspected your merchandise. We need our money.”
“As I said, I do not trust him. Nor particularly do I care for your lack of respect, Monsieur Caswell. I ask again. Shoot him for me. To make me happy, and for your insolence. Do so and the money is yours.” The grin full of gold teeth and ego.
“And I say, again, we are not armed. We’re businessmen, Mon Colonel, not gangsters.”
From the older Anglo, “Give him a gun, somebody. Get this farce over with.”
“What then?” Caswell tilted his head to the contingent of three. “I kill you, the one in the monkey suit kills me, they walk with the money and the merchandise?”
“The fat one is a stooge. The other two are decoration. I say Colonel fatass leaves with the money,” he motioned with his hand to Short Baldy and Vacant Eyes. “Has someone waiting to kill these two. Maybe somebody he doesn’t see coming kills him. What they’re sweating now is fatass’s Bogart routine that’s failed. We were supposed to show up cowboy, they talk us into killing each other over the money. Cheap. This has been a cheap sideshow operation since day one.”
Caswell turned to the three. Vacant Eyes now held a Chinese Glock knock-off in his left hand, his forearm rigid at a right angle to his shoulder. Sweat beaded on his upper lip, his forehead, dripped from the tip of his nose. Colonel Clown remained crisp, impervious to the heat, hat fat-arm-clamped to his side. Below the hat he had a revolver in a big, shiny black military holster with a flap secured by a snap. Little Baldy was sweating profusely, staining the leather briefcase he clutched to his chest with both hands.
“He’s right. Somebody give me a gun.” He glanced at his friend. No one moved. He judged his distance to Vacant Eye’s. Half an arm’s length, if that. “Gestapo boy. Gun. NOW, if your boss wants this done. Or you do it. Somebody do something, do it now.”
Vacant eyes responded by lifting his gun hand. Caswell grabbed Vacant’s wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up and under Vacant’s chin, pulled the trigger. Vacant Eyes gurgled, sputtered, Cas pushed him away, turned the gun on Colonel Clown fumbling to unflap his holster. He allowed the pistol as shiny and black as the holster to clear before he shot the Colonel in the elbow. He screamed, the pistol hit the ground. The older wilted Anglo snatched it up, leveled it between the Colonel’s eyes.
“I have your women. If, if we’re not at the container in —” The shiny black revolver boomed once, the Colonel backed up, a look of complete, cross-eyed surprise on his face as if trying to focus on the .45 caliber hole above the bridge of his nose. He sat down hard, fell over on top of Vacant Eyes.
“What, Cas? Eh? I was bloody sick of his Casablanca bullshit. ‘Prove to us your loyalty. Shoot heem. I do not trust heem.’ Somebody in this circus act wants us dead. More than they want the merchandise or their money back. Or these clowns were a front and there’re parties involved we haven’t seen.”
“Maybe,” Caswell wiped his forehead with the left sleeve of his white tux. “First though,” he stuck the Glock clone in the short bald man’s ear when he came up from vomiting. “The women?” Baldy nodded rapidly in the affirmative. “Where?” Baldy turned his head, bent, vomited nothing. The Glock followed him, locked to his ear, Caswell upped the pressure, kept the man bent over.
“Please…I have family. The hotel. Your hotel. He sent two men there. Like him.” Baldy pushed dead Vacant Eyes with his foot. Cas backed off.
“Open the briefcase.”
Caswell waited while Baldy fumbled in his pants pocket for a key, got impatient, ripped Baldy’s hand out, stuck his own hand in, came out with a tiny pearl handled .25 automatic and a key ring. The older one lit a black cigarette, exhaled sideways.
“You could just cut his hand off, Cas. He might’ve shot you with the flea gun.”
“Shut up, you’ll scare him. Goddammit what’s that smell…See? You made the little fucker shit himself.”
“That’s fatass or the Aryan wonder boy or both lightening up before they cross the great divide. Baldy’s still alive and unloading topside, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Comedy relief for Africa?”
“I was thinking a signature tune for Visit Cameroon. Forget your cares, leave your brains and empty your bowels in Douala.”
“An instant classic. Teach the world to sing while you’re at it.” Caswell uncuffed the briefcase, tossed it to his partner, mashed the gun back in Baldy’s ear. “Money, or was this little man running his own game?”
“Kiss your family for us.” Caswell spun Baldy, put his foot in the small of his back and shoved him through the opening where the door should have been. They could hear him dry heave his way down the dusty street.
“One of us should have killed him on principle, Cas.”
“We need to know where he goes. I put a couple of locals on whoever left this dump alive.”
“Ah. Altruism with return postage.” He pointed with the Colonel’s shiny revolver. “These two?”
“Fuck them.” Cas peered through the deepening dusk at the bodies, kicked the sole of the Colonel’s gleaming boots. “The locals will pick them clean, pull their teeth, burn the bodies. Elise and Ori?”
“Customary for them I say there’s two more dead liberation fighters. Most likely in a commercial laundry hamper in the hotel basement.” He crushed his cigarette out on a wall. “Discharged, I’m sure, with a good deal more finesse than we put up. Who were the locals supposed to report to if we didn’t walk out of here?”
“A note at the hotel, a scrambled cold phone to the Oxford drop for Dunning.”
“One of these days somebody’s going to have to kill Richard Dunning.”
“Don’t tell anyone you’re on the way or he’ll hear about it somehow.”