from ULTRAZONE: TANGIER TOMBSTONE BLUES
A collaborative work-in-progress
Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a weekly series of an excerpt from a new work by Francis Poole & Mark Terrill.
The Café Triangle was located high up in the Kasbah, jutting out of a wall on a winding street. It had four small metal tables with chairs outside on the sidewalk. Inside, the main room was painted blue and got darker the further back you went. There were several small square tables and a banquette along one side. Opposite the banquette a TV sat high up in a corner. By the time Moustapha had reached the café he was out of breath and stopped, put his hands on his knees, and looked out over the harbor and the Bay of Tangier. His ears were ringing with the blood pulsing through his head. The effects of the majoun and kif had begun to lessen and his legs felt heavy. There were a couple of men playing a game of dominoes at one of the outside tables. Moustapha entered the dimly lit café slowly and as light-footed as a cat.
Several men were sitting on the banquette smoking kif and watching a futbol match on the TV. Moustapha looked around at the tables and at one sat the lazy-eyed sorcerer, Kazim. Kazim had a short, neatly-trimmed white beard and was wearing a shiny green pin-striped djellaba and a maroon turban. He was well into his nineties and yet radiated a dynamic youthfulness, despite the lazy-eyed look of his sparkling blue eyes. Moustapha approached the table and Kazim looked up at him with one eye while the other eye seemed to be fixed on the game.
“Peace be upon you,” said Kazim.
“And you also,” Moustapha replied.
“Sit and have a coffee with me.”
“Chukran,” said Moustapha and took a chair.
Kazim motioned for the waiter and ordered two coffees.
“You have the look of a frightened hen,” said Kazim. And seeing Moustapha’s disheveled appearance, he added “A hen who’s been attacked by a jackal.”
“Oua-hah. Since this afternoon I have felt the hot breath of Satan himself on my neck.”
Kazim had known Moustapha since he moved back to Tangier after having been dismissed from his family’s acrobatic troupe. He remembered when Moustapha was hired by the rector of the Church of St. Andrew. Kazim had known the previous caretaker who had gone mad after only two years on the job. Occasionally the man would appear in the Zoco Chico, shoeless, wearing rags, and talking to himself as he went from café to café. He would sometimes run up to a group of Europeans and begin yelling and waving his arms hysterically. The waiters would then chase him off while the Europeans looked at each other with shocked expressions.
“Are those Nazrani ghosts becoming a problem?” asked Kazim.
“I have more than ghost problems. I am being haunted by that Riffian witch, Aicha. I feel as if I am sliding down the well of Abdiel in Sidi Bennour.”
Kazim smiled. Both men took long sips from their glasses of coffee. Then Kazim spoke. “I am not sure why you are telling me this. Aicha is someone who can be dealt with. But you know sometimes ghosts and djinns can drive a man mad, leaving only part of his soul on earth while the rest wanders lost in the clouds. If you know who your enemy is, you have a choice; be a peg and endure the knocking or be a hammer and strike.”
Moustapha took another sip of coffee and sat back in his chair, pondering Kazim’s words. Just then from the darkness in the back of the café, a mirror ball began scattering splintered fragments of light in mesmerizing patterns through the clouds of blue-gray smoke that perpetually seemed to hang in the Café Triangle.
From the folds of his djellaba Kazim produced a pipe and a bag of kif and the two of them smoked several pipe loads while watching the match on the TV. Moustapha explained the details of his situation to Kazim, who seemed to be only half listening. Moustapha wasn’t sure how to proceed. He was hoping that Kazim would perhaps offer to help without being asked. But if Moustapha were to ask outright for Kazim’s assistance, what could he offer him in return? If he were to lose his job as watchman he would no longer after have access to the datura plants or the tombstones.
Out of the corner of his eye Moustapha saw someone approaching them from the direction of the bar. It was Just-call-me-Ishmael, a little unsteady on his feet at this late hour, but still walking with the rolling gait of a seaman. Just-call-me-Ishmael was an American merchant seaman who had jumped ship in Tangier decades ago and never left. In the first bar he’d stepped into in the harbor of Tangier the Moroccan bartender had asked him his name, and he had replied “Just call me Ishmael,” in jest of the opening line from Moby Dick. But the Moroccan bartender had never read Moby Dick and the joke was over his head but the name stuck. Back in the old days Just-call-me-Ishmael had made himself a good living with smuggling and other less-than-legal capers. These days he seemed to survive mainly from the charity and good will of others, although allegedly he had a good-sized nest egg stashed away somewhere from his former days as a smuggler.
“Who’s winning?” asked Just-call-me-Ishmael.
“Benfica,” replied Kazim. “Just as I predicted.”
“Ah, cut the shit, Kazim. You don’t predict; you just look into the future. That’s almost like cheating.”
“Almost, except that the future is there for everyone to see, for those who have eyes for it.”
“So maybe you can look into the future and tell me who’s going to buy me my next drink.”
Kazim smiled a lazy smile and motioned for the waiter.
After his second glass of coffee Moustapha got up to go to the toilet. He walked to the back of the café into the increasing darkness and entered the narrow hallway at the rear of the room. There was a doorway on the left to the tiny kitchen, another doorway that opened into a small storeroom, and then another even smaller doorway that opened into one of those rudimentary Moroccan toilets which was nothing more than a hole in the cement floor.
Having relieved himself, Moustapha stepped out into the narrow hallway and was about to return to Kazim’s table when he heard a strange kind of music coming from somewhere behind him. Moustapha turned and peered into the impenetrable gloom at the end of the narrow hallway and saw a crack of colored light issuing from behind a closed door. Although he’d been in the Café Triangle many times, he had never noticed that door before, nor did it make any sense, as the café was butted up against one of the huge thick stone walls of the Kasbah. Moustapha walked back toward the door and stood there in the darkness and listened. The music he’d heard was coming from behind the door, music that was somehow familiar but at the same time very peculiar. He cautiously pushed open the door and peered inside and was startled to see a huge room with low tables and cushions on the floor, lit only by candles in metal lanterns inlaid with bits of colored glass on the tables and hanging from the walls. The room was thick with the smoke of incense and kif and was full of people, all of whom were engrossed in the performance of a large group of musicians on a low stage that ran along one side of the room. Across the back wall ran a bar, where several dark figures were seated on stools.
Moustapha slipped inside and stood against the wall, letting his eyes adjust to the subdued lighting while he glanced around the room. On stage he recognized Ravi Kahn, as well as Tony Mahoney, the crazy New York musician who lived in a villa up on the Old Mountain. Ravi was playing his sitar and Tony was playing an electric oud, along with an ensemble of Gnawa musicians, who were beating out incredible hypnotic rhythms on their hand drums, Moroccan castanets and gimbri. Immediately Moustapha could feel the rhythms penetrating into his being and within a few minutes he was already starting to move in time with the music, a cycling, pulsing, telegraphic tempo against which he felt totally powerless.
His head rolled slowly from side to side in time with the back and forth rocking of the Gnawa drummers. The colored light from the lanterns flickered like so many eyelids opening and closing. Moustapha began to relax into the lassitude of someone who has just received a deep muscle massage after a hard workout. Then he saw something which caused him to stiffen. He felt like a red-hot piece of charcoal had been pressed into his stomach. There seated on one of the cushions at the feet of the oud player, was the Burroughs imposter, wearing the hat that Moustapha had given him in the cemetery.
Burroughs’ imposter did not see Moustapha and slowly rose to his feet and with a sweeping gesture of his right hand, led the musicians into a Gnawa version of the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus.” The rhythm slowed down and the seated violinists and the electric oud player started forming the dirge-like notes of the song. As soon as the group was playing in synch, Burroughs’ imposter began clapping his hands—soon all the guests joined in, keeping perfect time. Then Burroughs’ imposter started to sing, “I am he, as you are he, as you are me and we are all together.” He repeated the same line several times then on the third chorus paused with “as you are me,” and the guests sang out in unison, “and we are all together!” This rhythmic call-and-response continued, growing stronger and louder with each repetition.
A peculiar breeze blew across the back of Moustapha’s neck and he felt someone’s cold fingers on his arm. He looked to his left but there was no one there. He looked to his right—also no one. A chill ran down his spine.
“I am the Walrus” ended in an uproar of applause. The Burroughs imposter doffed his hat and bowed and sat down on a pile of cushions near the low stage. Immediately the musicians started into a version of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” Tony Mahoney was playing his electric oud through an array of effect pedals, creating all kinds of weird feedback, distortion, and echoing loops. The beat was kept like clockwork by the many drummers, who were now playing almost as loud as John Bonham himself.The song seemed to be growing and taking on a shape of its own, gradually filling the entire room. Several people had gotten to their feet and were now dancing to the music.
Again Moustapha felt the strange cold breeze blowing in out of nowhere, or perhaps some other realm, and again he felt the cold fingers on his arm. But when he looked there was no one there. This time the chill actually made him shudder.
Meanwhile the castanet players had quadrupled the beat and the tempo of the song increased, creating an overwhelming sonic vortex into which Moustapha felt himself being pulled. Moustapha felt so drawn into the music that he started dancing too, slowly moving toward the stage where the other dancers were writhing and contorting and wheeling about. One of the dancers suddenly fell on the floor and started thrashing and squirming about like an epileptic. Some people from behind the bar came out and carried the downed dancer off behind the bar and through a doorway into yet another back room.
The music grew louder and faster and the rhythms were now pulsing throughout Moustapha’s entire body. He felt that he was slowly losing control but it no longer seemed important if he was in control or not. The music was just too strong. He was whipping himself around in circles now, a kif-crazed whirling dervish, jerking and twitching in time with the music. In his mind’s eye he saw a staccato succession of images flying by; the fedora bursting into flames in the cemetery; the cat with the human face; the ocelot with the human face trying to say something; the lizard with the human face who looked like it was on the verge of tears; Aicha and the Burroughs imposter in the cemetery; Dean’s tombstone and the sacks of datura plants disappearing into the trunk of the taxi and the taxi disappearing into the night… Moustapha felt his legs going out beneath him and his body falling toward the floor, although in his mind he was rising up, up to place higher than the highest cloud, higher than the sun itself, where all was bright and the light was completely blinding.
The dead are bestowed with the privilege of an all-pervasive, all-seeing knowledge that permits them to know everything, and Walter Harris, being dead for more than half a century, knew it all. He knew all about Moustapha’s situation and current dilemmas; about the fiery fate of Paul Lund’s fedora which Moustapha was trying pass off as William Burroughs’; about the quirky procurement of the second hat; about Aicha and Everly Tweed and their treachery; and that now Moustapha was bound to lose his job at the cemetery.
As Harris drifted down to the harbor through the twisting streets of the medina for one of his late-night constitutionals, dressed in his Riffian turban and djellaba, it occurred to him that he might be able to help Moustapha, and Moustapha might be able to help him. It was, after all, his own ghost that Moustapha wanted to see banned from the cemetery. If Moustapha was able to exhume his remains and ship them back to Malta where he could be buried in the Addolorata Cemetery next to his former lover, Pierre Rambeaux, life, or rather the afterlife, could return to normal.
When he reached the harbor, Harris turned to the right and followed the tracks along the beach and then sat down under a palm tree and looked out across the Bay of Tangier, which was sparkling in the moonlight. He listened to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach and thought about how he might best proceed, how he might enhance the intrinsic interdependence that connected all beings, living or dead.
Moustapha lay on the floor for several minutes before any of the other dancers noticed him. Then two women wearing red-sequin covered scarves and heavy silver bracelets stopped dancing and knelt at Moustapha’s side. One of them lifted Moustapha’s head. With all the noise and commotion it was hard to tell if Moustapha was breathing. She tried to pry his mouth open but his jaws were clenched shut. She then pinched his nostrils together and after a few seconds, Moustapha began coughing and gasping. His eyes opened wide and he said, “Allah be praised. At last I am free of the cursed demons and devils.” The two women helped him sit up and someone brought a glass of strong black tea which Moustapha drank thirstily.
Moustapha felt a hand on his shoulder and was about to ignore it when he noticed that the hand was warm, not cold. He turned and saw Kazim, who helped Moustapha to his feet and guided him to a banquette on the opposite side of the room from the stage, where they both sat down.
“I wouldn’t count my blessings too early,” Kazim said. “A brief journey into the other world does not necessarily purge one of his or her demons. For every demon or spirit that departs a human being there is usually another one waiting to take its place. But not all of these demons and spirits are inevitably evil in nature. Sometimes they can be positive or even good, providing assistance in troubled times. Everyone is possessed by something; the trick is to find out what.”
Moustapha sipped at a second glass of tea that one of the women brought him and pondered Kazim’s words. “What ‘other world’ are you talking about?”
Kazim leaned back against the cushions and looked out across the crowd of people, who were now mostly sitting again as the musicians worked their way into an acoustic version of Brian Eno’s “Spirits Drifting,” which also served as a signal that the evening’s musical performance was about to come to an end. “Think of it like this, Moustapha,” Kazim said, his one eye on the musicians on the stage, the other eye roaming the room, “There is this world and there is that world, much like the two different worlds which the kif-smoker and the alcohol-drinker inhabit. They are in ways complementary, interdependent, and coexistent. But this duality is a very primitive model and hardly sufficient to represent all the mysteries and nuances and ironies of existence. What most people do not realize is that beyond this world and that world there is also another world. In the other world there is no duality because all is one. It’s like when you are at the beach or out in the desert or up in the mountains, among nature and the animals and with no humans about; you soon see that nature knows nothing of either good or evil, of reward or punishment; there are only consequences, a never-ending chain of cause and effect. Only when human beings enter the picture do the concepts of good and evil begin to exist. And so it is in the other world, which is so large and all-encompassing that this world and that world can both exist inside of it simultaneously. But you can’t access the other world without first passing through either this world or that world. So in order to master the demons and the magic and the so-called “good” and “evil” which are present in this world and in that world, one needs to learn to recognize where the one world starts and the other ends, so that one can navigate all three worlds.”
“Ya latif!” Moustapha exclaimed. “What kind of crazy thinking is that? That’s too many worlds for me. I’m having enough trouble in this world right here.”
“Maybe a more concrete example might help you understand what it is I’m talking about. You see those two figures over there at the end of the bar?”
Moustapha peered into the furthermost darkest corner of the room where two hulking figures were just barely visible in the smoky gloom. They were both sitting on stools, drinking translucent brightly colored liquids through alabaster straws. They were neither human nor reptile, but something in between. Protruding from fleshy purple-blue lips were razor-sharp beaks of black bone. Their flesh was blackish-pink and along their spines ran a fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs. Occasionally a ripple of motion would run up and down the fan, like the dorsal fin of a fish languishing in some shallow waters. Moustapha recoiled in horror. What kind of creatures were those?
“Those are Mugwumps,” Kazim said, as though he had been reading Moustapha’s mind. “The same Mugwumps that Burroughs described in Naked Lunch. But as you see, he didn’t make them up; they’re as real as you and me. One only has to learn to access the other world in order to experience the true plethora of existence, both material and immaterial. When Burroughs was here in Tangier I taught him how to navigate these three worlds, and for much of Naked Lunch, he merely described what he found there.
“When Burroughs was writing the pages of Interzone, I would sometimes visit him in his room in the Hotel Muniria. Burroughs was suffering from various addictions to kif, majoun, morphine, codeinetta and Eukodol, and was still depressed over the shooting of his wife Joan. There was also the pain of his love addiction for Allen Ginsberg. I would say, ’Mr. William. Does it hurt?’ He would reply, ‘Only always.’ ‘Mr. William, you must make your skull an open eye, an eye that can look through the walls of the medina, across oceans, into the haunted jungles of your subconscious. Take all you know and combine it with what you see and hear in the Interzone of your mind.’
“Burroughs would sit on the edge of his bed while I made him tea. Bits of food, dead insects, used syringes and morphine ampoules were scattered on the typed pages which littered the floor. Once when Burroughs could not write for weeks, I visited him and said, ‘Mr. William. Open your mouth. There, just behind your tongue; a ragged hole in your throat through which I can see satyrs, Arab women, Javanese dancers, Aztec Priests, bums, junkies, drug pushers, drunks, pimps, poets, prostitutes, and philosophers. Listen to their voices and they will tell you the story of your Interzone. You see Mr. William, everyone experiences a different Interzone. This one will be uniquely yours; an Ultrazone, which will serve you well for the rest of your writing career.’ Burroughs sat silent for a moment, staring down at his folded hands. ‘Does it hurt, Mr. William?’ I asked. ‘Only always.’ ‘You must try to write the hurt away. Begin anywhere…and the rest is easy…and hard.’”
While Kazim was talking to Moustapha on the banquette on the other side of the room, Burroughs’ impostor, Everly Tweed, was leading the musicians in a gradual descent and eventual outro from “Spirits Drifting,” the slow pulsing rhythms giving way to a quiet drone which eventually disappeared altogether like a wisp of smoke rising and dissipating in the room. Everly Tweed reached into his pocket and pulled out a small monkey skull which hung on a leather cord. The skull gave off a bluish glow as if lit by a black light. He swung the monkey skull back and forth in front of the crowd like a pendulum. Then he began to repeat over and over, “Your power is high among us.” Soon those gathered together there in the sweaty, smoky, claustrophobic room echoed his words and chanted, “Your power is high among us.” This continued until Everly Tweed reached up with his other hand and grasped the glowing skull, extinguishing the bluish glow. For a few moments a vast silence reigned in the entire room. Everly Tweed smiled to himself and thought; At last I think I have regained my hypnotic skills.
Unknown to his acquaintances in Tangier, including the Riffian witch Aicha, Everly Tweed had been a successful hypnotist in Newcastle and London before succumbing to drink and laudanum and various other addictive substances. He had reportedly cured many forms of neuroses during his practice. One of his specialties was helping people find lost items and he was often rewarded handsomely if the item in question was valuable. Everly Tweed had also delved in the occult and through self-hypnosis had experienced telepathy and telekinesis and on occasion had made contact with departed spirits. After being committed to an addict’s asylum for a short time he had been forced by creditors to flee and had ended up washing ashore in Tangier to join the cast of other lost souls and expatriates of dubious origins that occupied the so-called Port of Saints.
As Everly Tweed walked slowly toward the low doorway which led out of the room, he saw Moustapha glaring at him knowingly.
Moustapha turned to Kazim and asked him if he knew who that man was that was just now leaving the room. “That’s Everly Tweed, a once highly gifted man who squandered his talents. He too once knew his way well among the three worlds but now has trouble finding his way home at night.”
Meanwhile, as Walter Harris sat intently listening to the soft sound of the waves breaking on the Tangier beach, he had heard Everly Tweed’s voice as if carried ashore on the crest of the foaming waves. He heard the chants of the audience in the Café Triangle growing louder and more insistent; “Your power is high among us.” Not as high as mine, Harris thought in the disembodied, ethereal, spacey-ness of ghost-thought. If I can control Tweed’s power as a hypnotist and combine it with Moustapha’s gullible and superstitious nature, I may find the peace I seek far away from the city of Antaeus.
Walter Harris left the beach and moved along the darkened Rue de España towards the ancient, crumbling gateway to the walled city. On up Rue Dar Baroud past the Hotel Continental overlook to Rue Mohamed Bergach. Here Harris would wait until Everly Tweed returned home to number 9, the small apartment building where he had a flat on the top floor. Once Everly Tweed was alone behind the thick walls of his flat, Harris would have his chance to restore and strengthen the Irishman’s hypnotic powers. It would be a matter of precise timing. When Tweed fell into REM sleep, Harris would slip into Tweed’s unconscious and begin to refine and augment Tweed’s ability to hypnotize Moustapha and make him do his bidding.
Theoretically Walter Harris could directly access the mind of Moustapha and control his mind without any outside help, but after all his years of living in Morocco Harris knew well the workings of the Moroccan mind and their oblique understanding of logic and rationality, which made them almost impervious to anything even remotely related to “western,” “Nazarene” or European thinking. It would take a powerful hypnotic spell to make Moustapha overcome his fears and dig up the corpse of Walter Harris, and Everly Tweed was looking like the right man for the job.
While he waited for Everly Tweed, Harris floated above the twisting streets which wound through the connected houses in the medina. He drifted over the rug merchants’ shops, the metal-smiths and leather workshops until he reached the Café Triangle. There he hovered above Moustapha who sat alone at a table outside the café, sipping at a glass of tea and slowly recovering from the episode in the back room. Harris then drifted up Rue Es Siaghine to the Grand Socco until he reached St. Andrew’s cemetery. He saw Zora the cat lying on his tomb, fast asleep. Suddenly Harris felt Everly Tweed’s presence nearing his flat in the medina and in an instant transported himself to Rue Mohamed Bergach. There he saw a tired-looking Everly Tweed shambling up the street and entering the door of the small apartment building sandwiched between two other buildings. From the loudspeakers mounted on the minaret of a nearby mosque came the sound of the Fajr, the muezzin’s call to the pre-dawn prayer; “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar…”
Once inside, Tweed climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered his flat. Tweed was so exhausted he just dropped his clothes in a pile and climbed into bed. Soon he was sinking into the deepest sleep he had known in months. When he reached the blackout depths of oblivion he began to drift slowly to the surface in a dazed state of semi-consciousness. His eyes opened slowly and he saw a glowing figure outlined by a red aura standing in the bedroom doorway. It was Walter Harris. Slowly Tweed slipped back into a deep sleep and at a certain point Harris entered the keyhole of his dreams. There he went to work strengthening Tweed’s hypnotic powers and embedding his plan to turn Moustapha into the tool of his search for permanent repose.
Meanwhile, in her villa up on the Old Mountain, Aicha was tossing and turning in her bed, unable to sleep. The curtains were drawn shut but there was a narrow gap through which the bright moonlight shined, throwing a luminous band of light across the floor and the bed. Aicha got up and went over and drew back the curtains and opened the window. The wind was still rustling the leaves of the bamboo grove but other than that it was quiet. She stared down into the moonlit garden and tried to focus on what the problem was, why she couldn’t sleep. It was as though there was some kind of negative energy lurking somewhere nearby, perhaps even in the villa itself.
The story of how Aicha came to own the villa had become part of Tangier legend. Following the end of the war in the late forties, a Major Rumey-Hill bought a vast estate in Kenya and built a large home in the grand style. The native-built luxury home was dubbed “Moonlight Mile.” Major Rumey-Hill was known for staging lavish parties and invited his friends and guests from all over Europe to visit and play. However after a year or so the Major became bored with guests who began drinking immediately after breakfast. He then sold the estate to an old friend and member of peerage, Michael Woodstonecraft, and left Kenya for Hollywood to become an actor. Woodstonecraft was married to Lady Ofelia, a lithesome beauty with an adventurous nature and erratic willpower.
Not long after moving into Moonlight Mile, Lady Ofelia began an affair in Nairobi with the dashing Gilford Coalvile. Six months into the affair, Coalvile was found in the front seat of his 1935 SS Jaguar “Saloon” in Nairobi, shot in the head. The murder went unsolved and Lady Ofelia soon divorced Sir Michael. She left Nairobi for Marrakech and after a few months, ended up at the Hotel Continental in Tangier, nearly broke. It took some time before her property settlement from the divorce reached her in Tangier. By this time she had begun an affair with the infamous prostitute, Aicha. Flush with cash from the settlement, Lady Ofelia bought a villa overlooking the strait on the Old Mountain and moved Aicha in with her. There they lived together behind a stone wall and tall iron gate. Aicha hired a watchman and his family to live on the property. The watchman had grown up in the country and he and his wife gardened and raised rabbits and chickens.
Lady Ofelia had always had a drinking problem and occasionally she and Aicha would have it out. Aicha tried to get Lady Ofelia to smoke kif or try majoun instead of drinking but nothing would get Lady Ofelia to abstain. Aicha grew increasingly impatient with her frequent binges and their relationship foundered. When they argued Lady Ofelia would often threaten to make Aicha move out. This threat by an alcoholic Nazrani did not sit well with Aicha.
After a particularly nasty fight over her boozing, Lady Ofelia decided to drive to Chefchaouen where there was a nice hotel for foreigners. She told Aicha she planned to spend a few days there until tempers cooled. As Lady Ofelia drove the twisting mountain road near Zinat, she somehow lost control and her car rolled down a rocky hillside into a shallow riverbed, killing her immediately. Was alcohol to blame as gossip suggested or did the brakes mysteriously fail? The authorities put the cause of the accident to “Allah’s will” and left it at that. After a protracted contest in court Aicha inherited the villa. But there was little money left and most of that went to the Moroccan lawyers.
As Aicha was looking at the sparkling lights of Spain across the strait, she suddenly heard a loud crashing noise. She put her hands to her temples and shut her eyes in order to envision what had caused the noise, but there seemed to be some kind of interference and there was no image available. She shut the window and stepped back into the shadows and listened again. She heard the crashing noise again, which seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the building, maybe even down in the garage. Perhaps someone was trying to break in. Aicha’s collection of art and jewellery, which she had amassed over the years, was both very impressive and very well known. It wouldn’t be the first time that burglars had tried their luck. But where was her watchman and why were there no lights on downstairs?
Aicha took a pearl-handled derringer and a flashlight out of the drawer of the nightstand and went out into the hall and down the stairs. She went through the kitchen and down another flight of stairs which led to the garage. She stood before the closed door that led into the garage and listened for a few moments but heard nothing. Slowly she opened the door, the beam of her flashlight stabbing the musty darkness. Then she reached in and flicked the light switch. She quickly glanced around the garage but there was no one there and the garage door was tightly shut. Her vintage pistachio-green Mercedes 290 SL hardtop convertible generously trimmed with chrome sat untouched in the middle of the garage under a patina of dust. But then something unusual did catch Aicha’s eye, and she walked over to the large workbench that ran along the back wall of the garage. She remembered distinctly that the taxi driver and her watchman had placed both halves of Dean’s tombstone on the workbench, but now one half lay on the concrete floor, the upper half with Dean’s name on it.
She set down the derringer and the flashlight and tried to pick up the piece of the tombstone to put it back on the workbench but it was too heavy. Where was Mohammed, that useless watchman of hers? She called out his name but there was no answer, no sounds. She considered going out to the watchman’s cottage at the gate but then decided against it. She would give him a scolding in the morning at breakfast. Aicha picked up the derringer and the flashlight, turned off the light in the garage, and went back upstairs, where she got back into bed.
A few minutes later, Aicha heard another crash. She jumped up and went downstairs and turned on the light in the garage. At first she didn’t notice anything different, but then she went over to workbench and saw that it was now the lower half the tombstone that was on the floor while the upper half was lying on the workbench. Had she not seen correctly in her initial shock and confusion, mistaking the two halves of the tombstone? She knew that was very unlikely. And that did not bode well. She checked the garage door again and then turned off the light and went back upstairs and got into bed. Just as she had shut her eyes in a concentrated effort to finally fall asleep, she heard another crash. Again she got up and went downstairs to the garage, where she now found both halves of the tombstone lying on the cement floor. On the one hand, she was relieved that it wasn’t her mind that was playing tricks on her. On the other hand, she wondered who was.
Everly Tweed woke up at the third rooster call. The faint grey of morning appeared as a weak light through the colored skylight. Although he hadn’t slept very long at all, he felt strangely invigorated and leapt out of bed as though he had just been given a shot of Vitamin B and speed. His first thought was that he had something important to do, without being conscious of what it actually was. Then the image of Moustapha holding a shovel and standing over an empty grave began to emerge. Tweed recalled the previous evening, the charade at St. Andrew’s cemetery, and the bungled attempt to convince Moustapha that he was Burroughs’ ghost. The wild night at the Café Triangle was like a layer of gauze wrapped around his head. He was surprised at himself for getting caught up in the frenzied dancing and his grandstanding effort at mass hypnosis. As he prepared his breakfast of day-old croissant, yogurt and tea, Tweed felt strange. It was as though he were living slightly in the future. Perhaps only a half-second ahead of sidereal time. Somewhat troubling was that the experience of being slightly ahead in time felt like there were pieces missing. His sense of reality was not quite complete. Though he was fully awake, the reality he perceived had blind spots, as though certain aspects had been erased or rubbed out. As Tweed drank his tea he examined the way he was experiencing the present and it seemed to exist as a sequence of brief flashbacks. Each flashback came with a burst of psychic energy which was exhilarating.
I have to try and get used to this, he thought. It’s like no drug I’ve ever had. Perhaps I have inadvertently hypnotized myself or perhaps someone spiked my drink at the Café Triangle. He finished his breakfast and went to wash up before going out. Standing in the tiny bathroom he looked at his face in the mirror and saw that his features were changing before his eyes, as if a projected image of someone else’s face were being superimposed onto his own. The face reflected in the mirror was that of a handsome, middle-aged man with short, well-groomed mustache and beard. The eyes were intelligent and piercing in their gaze. Tweed’s heart began to palpitate as a rather high-pitched voice with an odd British accent began speaking in his mind’s ear. Finally, as the voice went silent, Tweed’s face reappeared in the glass like an image emerging on a sheet of photographic paper in a developing tray. What the voice had told him was now as firmly a part of Tweed’s being as his own name. The message had become part of his psychic DNA and was clear. Place Moustapha under your power through hypnosis and instruct him to exhume the body of Walter Harris that it may be transported to its longed for, final resting place; Malta.
Tweed left his house, double locking the door, and headed back to the Café Triangle. He knew Kazim would probably not be there but one of the waiters or doormen might be. A plan was forming in his mind. If he managed to hypnotize Moustapha and control him long enough to have him exhume the body at St. Andrews, he would have to have a way for the body to be transported out of the cemetery and beyond. What he needed was an old carpet, something a body could be rolled up and hidden in. Then even if Moustapha came out of the hypnotic trance, Tweed would be able to blackmail him into helping him ship the body to Malta. Moustapha knew the law regarding grave robbing and the severe penalty it involved if he were ever caught. Tweed would have him where he wanted. In the back of his mind, the strange voice seemed to approve of his plan and urged him on.
Despite the lack of sleep and a serious majoun/kif hangover, Moustapha was up early, having a meager breakfast of baguette, marmalade and coffee in the kitchen of his sister, Laila. When she’d first seen him in the morning she gasped with her hand over her mouth and then asked what had happened to him. He was covered with cuts and scrapes and bruises from his fall down the hillside. Moustapha explained about the group of tourists at the Café Hafa and the girl with the hat and how he tried to rescue it from the tree. Laila looked at him in such a way that he knew she didn’t believe him, although he was telling the truth. He continued eating his breakfast in silence, preoccupied with his thoughts, while Laila busied herself in the kitchen. When she offered him another coffee he politely refused and got up to go. He didn’t want to be there when Laila’s husband, Ahmed, came in and have to explain what happened again. Ahmed wouldn’t believe him anyway, truth or no truth.
Moustapha left the house and started walking toward the Church of St. Andrew. As he walked, his mind was spinning with thoughts. How would he explain the missing tombstone to the rector? Would he lose his job? Could he possibly get the tombstone back before the rector noticed it was missing?
As Moustapha turned into the last street that led to the church, he passed a small artisan’s workshop where they made masks and papier-mâché figures and effigies for theater performances, festivals, and parades. Suddenly Moustapha had an idea. He stopped and turned around and went into the shop. He asked the owner if they could make something and have it ready on the same day. The owner said they were busy but they might be able to have it ready that afternoon, depending on how involved the project was. On a piece of paper provided by the owner, Moustapha drew a fairly good picture of Dean’s tombstone, in two different pieces, with all the lettering and with the approximate dimensions. The owner looked at the drawing, briefly glanced up at Moustapha with a frown, and then said that they could have it ready that afternoon and deliver it to the cemetery, as soon as the papier-mâché and paint were dry.
Moustapha explained that he wouldn’t be able to pay until he received his watchman’s paycheck at the end of the month. The owner frowned again, explaining that they normally didn’t take jobs on credit, but the owner knew who Moustapha was and that he worked as a watchman at the church and decided to trust him. Moustapha thanked the owner and left, and continued on toward the church.
With the large skeleton key he kept on a braided leather lanyard around his neck, Moustapha opened the gate of the cemetery and stepped inside. He went immediately to the tool shed and selected a sharp sickle. He then walked to the very back of the cemetery where there were several wooden wheelbarrows parked next to the large compost heap where dead flowers, plants and weeds were piled. Behind the compost heap was a large cane grove. Moustapha cut several armloads of cane and piled them on one of the wheelbarrows. He then threw some old flowers on top as well. He wheeled the load back through the cemetery and deposited it on the plot where Dean’s tombstone had lain. Hopefully the absence of the tombstone would remain undiscovered, at least until the papier-mâché replica arrived. Meanwhile he had to figure out how to get the real tombstone back, or he would surely lose his job.
The bright early morning Tangier light seeped in around the curtains of Aicha’s bedroom, permeating it with a soft glow. Aicha lay in bed and thought back on what had happened during the night. Had she dreamed all that about the tombstone, or had it really happened? A look in the garage would tell her all she needed to know.
Aicha slowly got out of bed and walked over to the window, parted the curtains, and swung open the double panes and looked out across the garden at the deep blue waters of the strait. That was definitely one of the drawbacks of getting old, Aicha thought. It used to be that she could clearly tell the difference between a dream or reality, even when she was remotely envisioning that reality by way of her psychic powers. Nowadays she found herself often taking her dreams to be reality, and reality to be her dreams. That could prove to be dangerous.
Standing there at the open window, now looking down into the garden, Aicha suddenly started to remember a dream she had sometime during the night. Although Aicha had never been in St. Louis or even in America, in the dream she was clearly seeing the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis where William Burroughs was buried in the Burroughs family plot. It was like a giant park, with meticulous lawns and many trees and elaborate mausoleums and obelisks stretching as far as she could see. Lurking and carousing between the various trees and graves and tombstones were many cats. Some of the cats were sitting around talking to each other and Aicha could hear what they were saying. They were talking about the weather, about other cats, and about one of the new gardeners that had been hired who seemed to have a soft spot for cats. Although it was strictly forbidden by the management of the Bellefontaine Cemetery, the new gardener had taken to secretly feeding the many feral cats that lived in the cemetery.
A group of cats had gathered around the grave of William Burroughs and one of the cats, a big sturdy tabby, was addressing the headstone. “Hey, Bill, our pal Zora in St. Andrew’s cemetery in Tangier sent us a message along the feline grapevine. She said there’s some weird shit going down in Tangier, and Aicha, your old nemesis, seems to be behind the whole thing. Moustapha, the old watchman at St. Andrew’s, had been trying to pawn off an old hat of Paul Lund’s as one of yours. And then the hat suddenly went up in flames. Some kind of crazy spontaneous combustion By means of an impersonator and some kind of psychic extortion Aicha then made off with Joseph Dean’s tombstone. Dean’s ghost is none too happy about that.”
“Yes, I’ve been aware of all that, trying to ignore it, hoping it would take care of itself,” said the ghost of William Burroughs in his Midwestern drawl. “I did send a blast of incendiary telekinetic energy through the ether to send that damn hat into oblivion where it belongs. Imagine someone trying to sell Paul Lund’s hat as my own. What kind of fraudulent bullshit is that? And what would Aicha want with Dean’s tombstone? Well, so much for resting in peace.”
“Maybe you better get on over there and check out the scene, before something really bad goes down and you get all the blame.”
“Actually, a trip back to Tangier might not be such a bad thing. Haven’t been there in eons. Probably won’t even recognize the place. Maybe I can connect with Kiki’s ghost and relive some of them good old days long gone. Nothing like a little romance to liven up the afterlife. Or maybe I can rustle up the ghost of Brion Gysin. Sounds like Aicha’s scheming could stand a few real-life cut-ups.”
Burroughs’ ghost rose up out of the grave and hovered briefly above the family plot.
“We’ll keep an eye on things here and keep our paws crossed that all goes well,” said the big tabby. The other cats raised their paws in a gesture of farewell.
“Adios, amigos,” and Burroughs’ ghost whooshed off into the firmament.
A bank of dense gray clouds moving in from the Atlantic suddenly slipped in front of the sun, casting its broad shadow across the sprawling city of Tangier. Aicha stepped back from the window and put her hand to her mouth. That was not a dream. That was reality. She was certain of that. It was Burroughs himself who set Paul Lund’s hat on fire. And now the real ghost was here, somewhere in Tangier, and Aicha would have to deal with it sooner or later. And what about the other hat, to whom did it belong?
The clouds were slowly increasing. It looked like it might rain later in the day. Several of the more psychic mountain women from the Rif who were selling eggs, goat cheese, and vegetables in the market noticed a particularly odd cloud formation moving in from the west. The twin sisters, Hadija and Habiba, looked at each other and almost simultaneously pulled at the long white hairs which grew from their tattooed and wrinkled chins. “By Saint Ali el Goumi,” said Habiba, “That cloud is from the dark world.”
“Yes,” said Hadija, “Tangier is no place for an innocent when sorcery is afoot. We should sell what we can quickly and ride back to our village on Amine’s truck.”
“And keep your doors and windows locked shut tonight,” said Habiba.
Burroughs’ ghost first arrived at the entrance to what had been Brion Gysin’s famed restaurant, 1001 Nights. It did not enter the building which was perched high up in the Kasbah overlooking the straits but only lingered a few minutes to reflect on what had been a deep friendship between them. Burroughs and Gysin had been great collaborators and had often crossed the frontier of the Third Mind for creative energy and ideas. Some of Gysin’s animus still hovered about the place and Burroughs’ ghost felt it as a sign of welcome. It was good to be back in Tangier. After departing the haunt of Brion Gysin’s old restaurant, Burroughs’ ghost moved down through the medina past the Café Triangle, the Hotel Continental, on to the Zoco Chico. There outside the Café Central, Burroughs’ ghost surveyed the patrons who were sipping their mint teas al fresco.
“Looks like the usual mix of pushers, pedophiles, and Euro-trash,” he drawled to himself. “Oh and here’s a couple of retro American hippies just off the boat, stoned, wide-eyed, and lost.” Already a few hustlers had begun moving in, circling around near where the pair was sitting, waiting for them to leave the refuge of the café. Just for fun, Burroughs moved in between the pair and using a bit of the old telekinesis, dislodged the hippie girl’s colorful cloth bag from the chair back. It landed with a thud, spilling its contents onto the dirty sidewalk. Her partner laughed nervously as he helped her pick up her things. Burroughs smiled mischievously and said to himself, “Welcome to Tangier kids, or as Paul Bowles used to call it, the den of iniquity.”
Burroughs stayed long enough to peek around the corner at the first hotel he had lived in when he arrived in Tangier. Then he floated on up the steep street to the Grand Socco which held a chaotic mass of buyers, sellers, strolling families, petit taxis, arriving and departing busses, and the odd group of Spanish tourists being led through the main food market. As he hovered above the scene, Burroughs recalled the times he had walked through the crowds on his way to the Croissant Verde Farmacia to refill his various prescriptions for codeinetta and morphine. Back then, when he dressed like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in a gray suit and tie, glasses, and a dark fedora, Burroughs caused barely a ripple of notice. His changeless expression of weary bemusement and his measured, methodical gait were like a kind of camouflage in the sea of Moroccans in djellabas, caftans, and mix-and-match western clothes. So nondescript was his appearance that he began to be called El Hombré Invisible by the street urchins.
Further up the street, past the Rif Cinema, Burroughs felt the presence of the ghost of Joseph Dean, the mysterious owner of the fabled Dean’s Bar. There was a definite psychic disturbance coming from Rue Amerique du Sud. Burroughs’ ghost slipped around the corner and there outside the entrance to Dean’s was the ghost of Joseph Dean himself, and Burroughs sensed that he was very upset. When Dean saw Burroughs he recognized him immediately.
“Ah, Monsieur Burroughs. We have not seen you in Tangier in many years. You are looking as gaunt and dissolute as ever. Did your old habits finally catch up with you?”
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t that old saloon-keeper. I remember the last time I was in your dive. You refused me a vodka-tonic because you thought I was a dope-fiend. Well, I was, but not the pernicious nasty kind. Just a bad habit. And hey, look who kicked the bucket from OD’ing on cheap coke cut with paregoric. Looks like you’ve still got the shakes. How’s business been?”
“I’m not hanging around here to count bottle caps, Bill. I had been resting peacefully since 1963 in St. Andrew’s churchyard along with some very distinguished company. In fact I was starting to romance a lovely Canadian artist named Henrietta who died of cholera in 1938. And then along comes this inept and superstitious watchman and groundskeeper, Moustapha. Apparently he was tricked into stealing my tombstone and giving it to some hag witch named Aicha. Since then I have been passing back and forth between the two worlds. The loss of my tombstone has left me feeling naked.”
“Well, Dean, you always were the kind of guy who would wear a tie without a shirt. I was happily at rest with the Burroughs clan in St. Louis when I got wind of some devilment going on involving the proposed sale of what was supposed to be one my old fedoras which actually belonged to none other than Paul Lund, that sniveling good for nothing petty criminal. And now this bit about your tombstone having gone AWOL.”
“Then why don’t we proceed to St. Andrew’s, Monsieur Bill? Perhaps we can join forces to solve the mystery of my missing tombstone and the fraudulent fedora.”
“Not a bad idea, Dean. I haven’t been to St. Andrew’s cemetery since Jay Haselwood’s funeral in 1965, or was it 1966? Hey, Dean, this could be the start of a beautiful…”
“Don’t say it, Bill, you old prankster. Bogart himself came to my bar in 1943 on some kind of USO tour and we toasted the Allies with champagne just like in the movie. And he didn’t say, “Here’s looking at you, Dean.”
(c) 2014 By The Authors
FRANCIS POOLE first visited Morocco in 1973 and 1975 and was eventually hired to teach English at the American School of Tangier in 1979. During this time he met and befriended Paul Bowles, in whose apartment he also met Mohamed Mrabet, Mohamed Temsamani, Mohamed Choukri, Gavin Lambert, Claude Thomas, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and others. During Poole’s three-year stay in Tangier he wrote poetry and edited BLADES, a small magazine of experimental writing to which Paul Bowles contributed several items, including the first poem he ever wrote as a young child. After other teaching stints in Evora and Lisbon, Portugal, Poole eventually returned to the USA, where he became a film archivist at the University of Delaware, which had a substantial Paul Bowles collection. Poole was then able to negotiate the acquisition of a substantial amount of Bowles’s papers, notebooks, letters, and books, which greatly expanded the University of Delaware’s collection. Poole last spoke with Bowles in September, 1999, two months before his death. The outcome of that conversation was the last interview with Paul Bowles, which appeared in Five Points. Poole has published several collections of prose and poetry, including Everybody Comes to Dean’s; Dean’s Bar, Tangier, (Poporo Press, 2012), Snakeskin Raincoat (Poporo Press, 2013), and with Kevin Lacey he co-edited Mirrors on the Maghrib: Critical Reflections on Paul and Jane Bowles and Other American Writers in Morocco (Caravan Books, 1996.) His essay on Hollywood’s depiction of the Moroccan bandit, Moulay Ahmed al-Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion, was published in The Arab-African and Islamic Worlds: Interdisciplinary Studies, and an essay on William Burroughs and the Beats was published in International Quarterly. Other writings have appeared in the Village Voice, Exquisite Corpse, Black Moon, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Bukowski Review, Chiron Review, Lost and Found Times, New York Quarterly, Pearl, Poema Convidado, Poetry East, Rolling Stone, Shattered Wig Review and elsewhere. Recently he collaborated with Mark Terrill on two limited edition chapbooks of poetry illustrated with collages by John Digby, The Spleen of Madrid and A Pair of Darts (both Feral Press, 2012). Poole lives with his wife in Newark, Delaware.
MARK TERRILL shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, and was a participant in a writing workshop with Paul Bowles at the American School of Tangier, Morocco, in 1982, resulting in a long-lasting friendship and many return visits to Tangier over the years. After extensive travels and stays in Europe, Terrill settled in Hamburg, Germany, in 1984, where he’s worked as a shipyard welder, road manager for rock bands, cook and postal worker. He is the author of Here to Learn; Remembering Paul Bowles (Green Bean Press, 2002) Bread & Fish (The Figures, 2002), The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press, 2003), The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, (Main Street Rag, 2009), Laughing Butcher Berlin Blues (Poetry Salzburg, 2010) and 22 other books and chapbooks of poetry, prose and translations. Other writings and translations have appeared in over 700 literary journals and anthologies worldwide, including City Lights Review, Cahiers d’Art, Bombay Gin, Denver Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Skanky Possum, Gargoyle, Rattle, Zen Monster, Talisman, Jacket, Partisan Review and elsewhere. In 2009 he was invited to guest-edit a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review, which included his translations of Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Nicolas Born and many others. Together with the poet Cralan Kelder, Terrill co-edited the poetry journal Full Metal Poem. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his own work has been translated into German, French and Portuguese, and he’s given readings in various venues in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Prague and Hamburg. Recent publications include a chapbook of his translations of the poetry of Jörg Fauser, An Evening in Europe (Toad Press, 2011), and a full-length collection of his translations of the poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, An Unchanging Blue, Selected Poems 1962-1975 (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2011). Currently he lives on the grounds of a former boatyard near Hamburg with his wife and a large brood of cats.