from ULTRAZONE: TANGIER TOMBSTONE BLUES
A collaborative work-in-progress
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth part in a weekly series of an excerpt from a new work by Francis Poole & Mark Terrill.
Everly Tweed stepped out of Al Andulus into the street and stood there for a while picking at his teeth with a toothpick. It was dark and the streetlights had gone on and there were still people going to and fro in the narrow streets of the medina, now just indistinct figures dressed in hooded haiks and djellabas and burnooses. Tweed tossed the toothpick into the gutter and rubbed his hands together. What to do with the newly begun evening? He would have liked to go back home and snort another line of that Blue Messiah heroin but that damned monkey had made off with it, as well as the hat. The monkey obviously belonged to that neighbor kid with the flute, so maybe there was a possibility of tracking him and his monkey down and getting the heroin back. The hat was obviously trouble. Strictly hands-off. But maybe the kid would accept the hat in return for the glass vial of heroin. The Moroccans loved to barter. There was also a bit of Abdul’s Oil of the Djinn left, but Tweed wasn’t in the mood for that kind of a high, and it was too soon after last night’s spectacle to return to the Café Triangle.
Coming down the street Tweed saw that crazy old Spanish guy, the one who was always walking around Tangier calling “Paloma! Paloma!” He was a regular fixture in Tangier, had been for years. Tweed had always wondered just who or what Paloma was. A cat or a dog? A bird? A girlfriend or a wife or some family member? A ghost of some long-lost loved one? It was a mystery and would most likely remain so. Maybe the guy was just a complete loony. Tweed watched him going on down the street, glancing left and right, calling “Paloma! Paloma!” into the darkness.
Just out of curiosity, Tweed decided to follow the old Spanish guy. Maybe he would find Paloma and the mystery would be explained. Although Tweed took great pride in knowing the medina as well as he did, he was surprised to see the Spanish guy turning into a narrow side street which was totally unfamiliar to him. The old Spanish guy was still up ahead but hardly visible, as the street was very poorly lit. Tweed heard him calling out “Paloma! Paloma!” as they went further down the dark, narrow street. Tweed followed him around a corner into another street, then another, this time really just a passageway, and saw him stop outside what looked like a small café. The Spanish guy hovered there at the window for a few moments peering through the glass and then stepped inside.
Tweed looked around the tiny intersection and at the façade of the café but recognized nothing. He wasn’t even sure if he was still in the medina. He walked up to the front of the café and looked in through the window. The interior of the café was entirely decorated in the style of a 19th century Parisian café, with marble topped tables and simple wooden chairs, with much brass and glass, a zinc-topped bar running along one wall, all bathed in a warm, muted light. It looked extremely cozy and comfortable. He also saw that there was no TV hanging up in the corner as in every other café in Tangier, with the usually dumbstruck patrons silently watching the ubiquitous soccer game or some ridiculous dubbed Spanish soap opera or game show. In fact, all of the patrons seemed to be looking in the same direction, deeply absorbed in some action which Tweed was unable to see from where he stood. He backed up a few steps and looked up at the sign above the door. “Café de Nuit” it said, in gold Art Nouveau lettering on a red background. Seeing a chalkboard hanging in another window, Tweed stepped closer and read, “Live Tonight: Poets and Storytellers.”
With no further hesitation, Tweed stepped inside and found a table at the back of the room and took off his cape and beret and sat down. On a low stage in the corner there was a young Moroccan reciting a poem. Tweed’s Arabic was relatively good, but not so good that he could understand all the subtleties and nuances of Moroccan poetry. Judging by the rapt faces of the audience, the poet was pretty good. All Tweed could understand was something about a river in the woods, and about some birds that were having a conversation, and something about a graveyard and about a tombstone. Tweed sat up straight when he heard those last words. Tweed wanted to think of it as a strange coincidence but at the same time he knew all too well that there were rarely if ever any coincidences in Tangier. How did that Arabic proverb go? “On the palm of fate we walk and do not know what is written.” Or just Mektoub, as the Moroccans were prone to say.
A beautiful dark-haired waitress with large brown eyes appeared at Tweed’s table. She was so beautiful that it took Tweed a few moments to get his bearings after the initial eye contact. Taking a wild chance, he asked if they had any absinthe. If not in the Café de Nuit, then where else?
“Of course,” she said, in a deep, silky voice. “We have a Duval from Brussels, a Berger from Argentina, or a Pernod Fils from Tarragona.”
“A Pernod Fils 68 per cent?”
“Yes, it’s one of the last bottles, from 1965.”
Tweed rubbed his hands together in keen anticipation. “A Pernod Fils then, please.”
“Very well,” said the waitress and turned and headed for the bar.
The Moroccan poet had finished and after a loud round of applause, stepped down from the stage. A tall thin man with sharply chiseled features dressed in a dark suit with a very narrow tie and with his black hair pomaded and combed straight back, with a thin elegantly waxed moustache, reminding Tweed of Salvador Dali, got up onto the stage to introduce the next performer, first in accent-free Arabic, then in accent-free English. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, our special guest for the night, all the way from Hamburg, Germany, Mark Terrill.” The applause was not as enthusiastic as that for the Moroccan poet, but the Tangerinos were notoriously nationalistic in all matters of pride.
The waitress returned with a silver tray and placed a glass of absinthe, a small pitcher of water, a small dish of sugar cubes, and a silver absinthe spoon on the table. Tweed set the absinthe spoon on top of the glass and placed a sugar cube in it, then slowly let a trickle of water run over the sugar cube and through the slotted silver spoon until the sugar had dissolved and the absinthe had turned a milky white. Tweed smiled and took a small sip. Wonderful, he thought. Just like the good old days.
Terrill stepped up onto the stage and took a seat at the small table decorated and lit by a candle stuck into an old straw-wrapped Chianti bottle. He took a sip from a glass of red wine and leaned back in the chair, and after a moment of silence in which he seemed to be gathering his thoughts, he began reciting a story, the title of which, as he briefly informed the audience, was “The Travelers.”
“Having made one of their rare collective decisions, the travelers opted to stop for a brief respite at a rest stop along the autobahn. They parked between two large trucks, adjacent to a weathered cement picnic table. From the back of the Volvo station wagon, Francine produced a wicker basket and placed it squarely in the middle of the cement table, on which could be seen various stains and residues from previous roadside picnickers. From the basket Francine took out a block of Dutch cheese, a half-loaf of dark German bread, and a dusty, cobwebbed, vintage bottle of Coca Cola. The others looked on in various states of road-weary ambiguity and ambivalence.
From the autobahn came the sudden sound of screeching rubber, metal impacting against metal, and breaking glass. In the spirit of the prevailing ambiguity and ambivalence, Ralf stood up and half-heartedly began to slice the cheese. Nearby in the grass lay the usual empty beer cans, crumpled cigarette packs, and used condoms, all waiting for someone to include them in some redundantly mundane and boring poem.
Cornelius lit a Cuban cigar and stared off into the stand of fir trees that defined the perimeter of the rest stop. He was overcome by an urgent desire to discuss the things he no longer cared about, which seemed to be increasing exponentially from day to day, perhaps even minute to minute, but then decided against it. Instead, he dipped into an ongoing reverie in which a recent trip to the island of Crete was replicated in all its detail. There was the room in the hotel above the harbor with its polished stone floor on which the rainwater that had blown in under the door to the balcony had collected in a shimmering puddle; there was the squeaking bed with its ornate iron bedstead; the bedside table with its kitschy neo-art-nouveau lamp; the hulking wooden armoire with its creaking doors; and the all-pervading fallow atmosphere of a mostly deserted holiday resort in Greece in the middle of winter.
Again the sound of screeching rubber, metal against metal, and shattering glass could be heard from the direction of the autobahn, thus bursting the bubble of Cornelius’s detailed and comprehensive recollection.
Bread and cheese were passed around, and vintage Coke was poured into the white plastic cups that Francine had so thoughtfully included, where it foamed and effervesced with cheery familiarity, despite its advanced age. “Cheers,” Francine said, raising her plastic cup. It was the first word spoken since their arrival at the rest stop, and although no one could possibly foresee it, it was to be the last word spoken during their brief interlude alongside the noisy autobahn.
The others raised their cups in silence, wordlessly acknowledging Francine’s well-meant toast.
Brigitte returned from the women’s toilets and fell upon the bread and cheese like a person starved. Ralf glanced down at an empty potato chip bag lying in the grass nearby and was immediately aware of the lines of a poem beginning to form in his head. It was a terrible habit. He quickly looked away and forced his mind to think of something else, but being the visual sort of person that he was, there was no other choice than to think about what he saw, which happened to be one of the truck drivers climbing up into the cab of his truck. He was dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, a red and black checkered shirt, a black leather vest, and a black cowboy hat. Had they been in America, this would not have seemed the least bit remarkable to Ralf, but since they were in Germany, this struck Ralf as being most odd and incongruous indeed.
The truck driver had left the door of the cab open while he got settled in his seat, and suddenly Ralf heard the familiar strains of Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and was immediately reminded of one of his first girlfriends who had a BMW 2002 with an eight-track tape player in it and a meager collection of cartridges which included, among others, The Greatest Hits of Hank Williams, which, during the course of their relationship, they had certainly heard at least one million times, until one night the tape finally broke and became an impossible tangle of shimmering black tagliatelle.
There was another accident on the autobahn, this time apparently involving several vehicles in a series of thundering chain-reaction collisions. Sirens could be heard approaching in the distance.
Having devoured the last of the bread and cheese, Brigitte leaned back and lit a cigarette, pondering the scene she had just experienced in the women’s toilets. There had been a large, noisy group of gypsy women and their children, washing themselves and their clothes, while a portable gas samovar steamed on the floor in the corner. For the most part, the gypsies had ignored Brigitte and gone about their business, and Brigitte had followed suit, although there was one older woman who seemed not to be able to take her eyes off of Brigitte.
After Brigitte had washed her hands and was combing her hair in the steamed-over mirror, she suddenly became aware of the older woman standing next to her, gesturing with the open palm of her hand. Brigitte started to open her purse to get out her wallet, but the woman shook her head and pointed at Brigitte’s hand. Then Brigitte understood. She held her hand out, palm up, towards the woman, who took it in her own hand and began to study it with an expression of utmost earnestness. Without looking up, the woman began to speak, but it was a language that Brigitte couldn’t understand, much less even recognize. She tried to discern from the tone of the woman’s voice if what she was saying was either positive or negative in nature, but the woman spook in a flat, even monotone that betrayed no emotion whatsoever, although it was obvious from the woman’s demeanor that what she was saying was of great import. Brigitte watched the lips of the woman move as they contoured to the language she was speaking, and noticed a small growth just below her left nostril, out of which grew three shiny black hairs.
There was a long, suspended screech of rubber, almost in slow motion, followed by the violent crumpling of sheet metal and the spraying of safety glass and suddenly Brigitte was aware of herself watching Francine packing the remnants of their meager roadside repast into the wicker picnic basket.
Cornelius and Ralf had both gotten to their feet, and were silently involved in a series of stretching exercises, prior to getting back in the car and continuing with their journey.
When the last of the plastic cups and the dusty bottle of Coke were packed away in the basket, Francine found herself absent-mindedly staring down at the worn surface of the cement table, with its slight green shimmer of moss, and was immediately reminded of a recent walk she’d taken through Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, ostensibly to see the graves of Colette, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Apollinaire, and the meister of remembrance of himself, Marcel Proust, when actually she had been most interested in seeing the grave of Jim Morrison, the infamous Lizard King, although she’d been too embarrassed to mention this to her friends.
She’d had no idea where to look for Jim Morrison’s grave, and couldn’t bring it upon herself to ask someone, but eventually she began to notice little arrows scratched roughly into the sides and backs of the tombstones and monuments, sometimes accompanied by the word Jim, and as she began to follow these crude signs they began to increase in frequency and complexity, sometimes including lyrics or quotes or poems. At one point she thought she heard some kind of music, and as she came around the corner of a large obelisk, she saw a group of people loosely gathered around a small plot, some standing, some sitting, with one guy strumming on an acoustic guitar, an inept attempt at Light My Fire, sung with a thick French accent.
Francine approached the grave, and then saw the small bust of Jim Morrison’s head, draped with beads and flowers and a pair of someone’s sunglasses, a crudely rolled joint pressed between the stone lips. The people gathered there were all quite young, dressed in vintage hippie garb, with colored scarves and snakeskin boots and black velvet jackets and fringed leather vests and a lot of other things that Francine hadn’t seen since high school. The people were passing around a joint, as well as a bottle of wine, talking in hushed tones, or just staring listlessly at the grave itself. The reverential atmosphere of the scene was impressive, but there was also something quite ludicrous about the entire scenario. Francine thought about the rumor that Jim Morrison hadn’t actually died, that he wasn’t buried in Père-Lachaise, and that he was alive and well and writing poetry somewhere in North Africa. It was with no small effort that she suppressed the urge to laugh out loud, although the last laugh certainly would have belonged to the Lizard King.
Then she was suddenly swept up in another powerful reminiscence of another visit to another grave in another part of the world. It had been mid-winter as she was visiting friends in Boston. She wanted to drive up to Lowell to see Jack Kerouac’s grave, but she couldn’t interest anyone to accompany her, and ended up going alone. Somewhere on the turnpike there had been a sign for Walden Pond; a big, blue, state highway sign like all the others along the turnpike. She hadn’t realized that she would be passing so close to the idyllic setting of Thoreau’s masterpiece, and wondered what he would think of seeing his humble abode listed as just another exit along the turnpike.
Having never been to Lowell, Francine had no idea where to look for traces of Jack Kerouac, and since she was expected back in Boston for dinner that evening, and somewhat pressed for time, she finally just asked someone on the street, who directed her to a downtown office of the state park system, where a woman in a ranger’s uniform gave her a handful of leaflets and maps and described the route out to Edson Cemetery where Jack Kerouac was buried.
Francine wandered around town for a while, trying to soak up the atmosphere and get a feeling for the place. There was Lowell High School, and there was the Paradise Diner, the supposed inspiration for the last name of Sal Paradise. It was bright and sunny, but there was a driving icy wind that seemed to cut through everything, including her clothes. Despite the abundance of sun and light, Francine had no problem seeing Lowell as the dreary, red brick mill town so often described by Kerouac. She went into the Boott Cotton Mills Museum where one of Kerouac’s rucksacks was on display in a glass case, complete with its well-worn contents. She looked closely at the small gas cooker, the battered aluminum mess kit, the plastic water bottle, the sewing kit, and a dog-eared little notebook with the pages full of penciled-in notes. Also on display in the same glass case was an old portable typewriter, worn and battered from years of constant use.
Afterwards Francine walked down the hill to the plaza where the Jack Kerouac Commemorative was located and read all the inscriptions on the massive stone monoliths, but the wind was just too cold to linger, and she got back in the car and headed out towards Edson Cemetery. The map she’d received was accurate and easy to read, and she parked outside the cemetery and walked in through the wide iron gate and continued to follow the directions on the map. It was a large cemetery, with the graves organized in neat rows, divided by streets into a symmetrical grid of blocks, much like a regular city neighborhood. The leafless trees formed stark, jagged silhouettes against the bright blue winter sky, while the leaves themselves swirled and skittered among the gravestones. Apparently she was the only person in the cemetery.
Suddenly Francine found herself standing directly over the grave of Jack Kerouac, a small rectangular slab of stone set into the grass, with the words Ti Jean inscribed across the top. Against her will, and in absolute contradiction with her personal nature, she was overcome by a feeling of immense sorrow and loss. She could feel tears forming in her eyes, in which the bright winter sun was now refracting, temporarily blinding her.
A long howl of abrading rubber was followed by a deafening grinding and smashing of metal and glass as a large truck jackknifed into the other cars already stationary on the autobahn after the previous accident. There was a muffled explosion as a car’s ruptured gas tank burst into flames. Francine closed the wicker basket and started towards their car. The others followed, and without exchanging as much as a single word, took up their places in the green Volvo station wagon. Ralf started the engine, searched futilely for a tape with some country music but then gave up, put it in gear, eased out the clutch, and started towards the autobahn, where thick black smoke could be seen coiling up into the sky.
Francine sorted through the cassettes as well, looking for something by the Doors, and finding nothing, decided on a tape of traditional Gypsy violin music, which immediately launched Brigitte into another reverie, while Cornelius chewed on the cold stub of his cigar, trying to decide just what it was that he really cared about least of all. From somewhere in the distance came the sound of police and ambulance sirens, but they soon merged and mingled indistinguishably with the sound of the violin music, which Francine had decided to hear a little louder. It went without saying that the travelers were glad to be back on the road again.”
After a somewhat hesitant silence, there was a thundering applause. Terrill stood up and took a bow. The MC came up on stage and shook Terrill’s hand. Tweed didn’t know what to think. Looking down at the table, he saw that he had drunk a total of three absinthes. There was no way he would be able to pay for all that. Nonetheless he signaled to the waitress that he wanted to pay his bill.
What a strange story that had been. And what was with all these cemeteries and tombstones, Tweed wondered as he waited for the waitress to bring the bill. A definite surfeit of necrophilic imagery. It was getting more than just uncanny. When the waitress brought the bill, Tweed explained to the waitress that he’d miscalculated the cost of the absinthe and didn’t have enough cash on hand and had left his wallet with his credit cards at home. She was friendly enough to believe the lie, and accepted Tweed’s offer of leaving his gold pocket watch as a deposit until he could come by again and settle the bill. He then gave her the last of his cash as a token of his good will, designating half of it as a tip.
Tweed put on his cape and beret and left the café. The absinthe had definitely gone to his head, and as he tried to find his way back, he realized he was lost. The first time he’d been lost in Tangier in probably more than ten years. He wandered through the streets looking for some familiar landmark or vista, but for the most past it was too dark to see anything. Eventually he came to a wider street lit with streetlights, and followed that for a while until gradually things started to look more familiar. He was somewhere behind the medina, skirting the edge of the Marshan, heading toward the Boulevard Pasteur.
Suddenly he heard the sound of screeching rubber, followed by the sound of metal crashing against metal, and the shattering of glass. As Tweed came around the next corner, he saw that two taxis had collided in the intersection. One of the taxis had been flipped over on its left side with the driver’s head inches from the pavement. The driver of the other taxi had gotten out and was standing there cursing the trapped driver while holding a bloody handkerchief to his forehead. A crowd of men rushed over to the overturned taxi and began pushing and rocking it back and forth until the car landed upright. A few of the men then picked up some large stones and began smashing the back window in as there was a passenger in the back seat. Several other men pried open the driver’s side door and half dragged the dazed taxi driver out and laid him down on the sidewalk. It took a couple of men to pull the passenger out through the back window. Other than having a torn jacket and glass fragments in his hair he seemed unhurt, but either he’d been knocked unconscious or had fainted, and they laid him out on the sidewalk near the driver.
A few minutes later a Surete Nationale police car approached the accident scene, slowed down and stopped beside one of the taxis. The officer on the passenger side rolled down his window and shouted at the crowd to move the wrecked cars and clear the intersection which by this time was a log jam of cars, donkey carts, Mercedes taxis, petit taxis, and a tour bus full of day trippers from Spain. It seemed that everyone was leaning on their horn which added to the cacophony of the commotion. Without investigating the accident or offering any aid, the police drove off toward Rue d’Espagne leaving the crowd to sort things out.
Everly Tweed had stayed about twenty yards back from the crowd just watching through his Absinthe haze when he suddenly recognized the girl in black with the piercings and tattoos and her bearded friend who had chased him earlier in the day. They were totally absorbed in the scene with the two crumpled taxis and the yelling drivers and did not notice him. Not wanting to be recognized, Tweed pulled up the collar of his cape, pulled down the beret, and continued on down the street toward the Boulevard Pasteur.
Witnessing all of the young Moroccan men yelling and jumping into action to assist the victims had caused Evangeline’s cheeks to flush and she felt her nipples harden against her tight muslin top. Piet noticed this and felt his sex beginning to stir. He unconsciously reached out and clasped her left hand. However, his touch was both unexpected and unwelcome and Evangeline, who was more excited than frightened by the spectacle, quickly withdrew her hand without even acknowledging Piet’s gesture. As a gay man Piet’s erection at the sight of Evangeline’s stiff nipples came as a surprise to him. Or was he responding to the same display of raw youthful masculinity that had excited her? Piet decided to leave the question for later but it was something he definitely wanted to ponder in calmer surroundings.
Sickened by the smells from Dean’s Bar, Moustapha walked on to the corner of Rue de la Liberte, turned left and headed down to the Grand Socco. The ghosts of Burroughs and Dean followed close behind him as he made his way along the street through the throngs of people. The Socco was by now filled with families heading to and from the big market, and the shops which lined Rue Siaghine and all of the intertwined side streets. There were vendors with piles of sweaters, underwear, socks, and trousers laid out on the sidewalk. Kids were hawking cigarettes at three for a dirham. Sellers of roasted peanuts, pistachios, and little candies were doing a brisk business. Here and there old women sat cross-legged with baskets of Kleenex packets for sale. Some Berber women were selling bundles of sage and fresh mint. All of the tiny open air restaurants near the main medina gate were busy and the savory smells of grilled chicken and fish kebabs, French fries, and the hearty lentil soup, harira, filled the evening air. Old men dressed in fine white hooded djellabas and white babouches passed by on their way back from evening prayers at the mosque. Moustapha remembered his own experience as a child selling Gauloises cigarettes, two for ten francs. Just to enter the communal gathering of the Grand Socco always lifted Moustapha’s spirits and his sadness at leaving St. Andrew’s, perhaps for the last time, was beginning to lessen.
When Moustapha reached the Zoco Chico Burroughs and Dean dropped back and watched as he walked on past the cafes and turned into Tarik’s bacal.
“Dean, I think I’d like to sit here in the Café Tingis,” said Burroughs. “For old times’ sake. From here I have a good view of the Café Central where Kiki and I used to sit drinking mint tea and smoking kif. Some of the most pleasant moments I had in Tangier were spent there. And we can still keep a good eye on Herr Watchman.”
“All right,” said Dean. “There’s always something to entertain one in the Zoco Chico.”
On his walk from St. Andrew’s, Moustapha had decided to offer Tarik something in partial payment of the money he owed him. In this way he might gain back some of the Baraka he had lost over the tombstone fiasco. Tarik had a small shop where he sold candy, cigarettes, lighters, incense, various toiletries, ball point pens, pencils, tape, envelopes and stamps, cheap souvenirs, and postcards. He also occasionally ran an illegal currency exchange and did small deals in black market goods.
When Moustapha arrived at Tarik’s bacal an elderly American couple was looking at postcards and a small display of Moroccan Berber women dolls and toy camels made of leather. The woman looked to be in her late sixties, sturdy and stood ramrod straight. The man was perhaps a decade older. He wore khaki cargo pants, sandals over black socks and a Greek fisherman’s cap. Tarik looked surprised to see Moustapha and they greeted each other without shaking hands. Tarik was originally from Bangalore, India, and had a long pinched nose, large, expressive eyes and a small mouth with yellow buck teeth.
“Are you here to beg, borrow, or steal?” asked Tarik. “You know your credit is no good. Not until I have the 500 dirhams you owe.” Tarik spoke in Moroccan Darija, so the Americans would not understand what was being said.
“I am here to offer you something toward payment of my debt,” said Moustapha. “I have lost my job at St. Andrew’s and so must barter and sell what I can until I find another job.”
“So what do you have to offer me? That old blanket? It’s not worth the glue on a postage stamp.”
“I have something else,” said Moustapha, reaching into his basket. “Here, this wooden flute came from the St. Andrew’s Church organ. It makes a sweet sound and since it is so old maybe you could sell it in your shop as an antique.” Moustapha blew on the wooden pipe and by fluttering his fingers over the sound hole, played a string of simple notes. The American couple turned to listen and the man said in broken French, “What a lovely sound. Is that a native flute?” he asked. Moustapha blew a few more notes on it and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Oui, c’est une très vieille flûte de les habitants de la montagne.”
Tarik stood transfixed as the American asked to hold the flute and examine it.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It isn’t made like the others we’ve seen. And it looks very old. Is it for sale?”
“Monsieur, this is the only flute like this in Tangier. You would have to travel far up into the Rif to find another one, insha’Allah.”
“Well, how much do you want for it?” asked the man.
Tarik nodded his head in agreement with Moustapha and played along. “Monsieur, what he says is true. It is a great find. The wood is from a sacred tree which only grows near Ketama. It is called “The tree that Sings.”
The man looked at his wife who seemed more interested in the handful of postcards she had been looking at. She shrugged and said, “You wanted a souvenir and we’re leaving early tomorrow morning so you’d better make up your mind. But you’ll have to bargain you know.”
“Combien? How much?” asked the man.
Moustapha rubbed the flute on his blanket to make it shine a little. “One thousand dirhams. A good price for such a treasure.”
“That’s too much,” said the man. “And anyway, I don’t have that many dirhams with me. I’ll give you five hundred.”
At this, Tarik blurted out, “Five hundred dirhams Monsieur? That is an insult. The flute is worth at least two, maybe three sheep.”
Moustapha blew a few more notes, wiped the mouthpiece and handed the flute to the American.
“Here, I show you how to play. Just put your finger on the hole and blow through this end.”
The man took the flute and held it to his lips. Being that it was a single pipe from the old organ, it was easy to make it register a clear tone. After blowing a few notes, he noticed several Moroccans had gathered to watch.
“Yes, well it does have a nice sound. I can offer you six hundred for it.”
“No, no, no. This flute is too precious. Nine hundred dirhams. And look, others are also interested to buy.”
The man’s wife had put the postcards back on the pile and began urging her husband to leave as the growing crowd was making her nervous. But the man was fully engaged in the transaction.
“Alright, I’ll give you eight hundred and that’s all. My wife and I are late for dinner and we must be going.”
Moustapha held up the flute and shook his head. “This flute is in my family for many years. I cannot sell for less than eight hundred fifty dirhams, Allah be praised.”
The man turned to his wife who was already digging for the bills she was carrying in her purse. He took the money from her, then turned and counted out eight hundred fifty dirhams which he placed in Moustapha’s outstretched hand.
“Hamdoulah!” said Moustapha and glanced at Tarik who had a shocked expression on his face. “Tarik, wrap the flute in that blue paper with the pink flowers on it.”
Tarik reached for a roll of the gift wrap and quickly and deftly made a nice, tight package of the old organ pipe and handed it to the American.
“Merci,” said the man’s wife and the crowd parted as they stepped out into the street.
“Shukran bezzaf!” said Moustapha. Then he turned to Tarik with the look of a Mega-Millions lottery winner on his face. “Now I can pay what I owe. But first I want you to write une facture for the amount and sign it.”
“Moustapha, you have owed me this money for over a year and I think you should pay an extra hundred for my trouble and patience.”
“But you never said anything about that. Five hundred dirhams is what I will give you.”
Tarik was about to curse but held his tongue. “Then pay me five dirhams for the wrapping paper. You know, you could not have tricked those Americans without my help. And it was in my shop.”
Moustapha ignored his comments and carefully laid five one hundred dirham bills on the counter and then with a dramatic gesture placed a ten dirham bill on top. “Safi,” he said and picked up his basket and left the bacal.
Just-call-me-Ishmael woke up suddenly in the midst of a deafening cacophony of honking car horns. He was lying on his back on the sidewalk looking up into a circle of faces that were looking down at him with various expressions of concern and curiosity. They were mostly Moroccans but there were a few tourists as well. He tried to get up but an older man kneeling next to him with a neatly trimmed black beard streaked with gray who was dressed in a black wool burnoose placed a large, strong hand on Just-call-me-Ishmael’s chest, silently indicating that he should stay put.
“What happened?” asked Just-call-me-Ishmael.
“An accident,” the man said. “Two taxis trying to be in the same place at the same time. It never works, but they never learn. How do you feel? Is there anything broken?”
Just-call-me-Ishmael looked down at his person and flexed his arms and legs and then shook his head. “I don’t think so. Just a little shaken up.” He glanced around for the wooden crate with the Monet pastel, but didn’t see it anywhere. “My package! I’ve got to have my package! It must still be in the taxi!”
Just-call-me-Ishmael tried to get up again, but was held down by two strong hands.
From underneath the battered uprighted taxi a large puddle of gasoline had formed, apparently from a rupture in the tank. One of the headlights had been broken out of its mounting and now hung there dangling from two wires, which occasionally produced a shower of sparks. There was a flash and then a muted explosion as the pool of gasoline suddenly went up in flames.
The crowd that had gathered emitted a collective cry of astonishment and suddenly moved back, and Just-call-me-Ishmael felt himself being lifted and carried along with the crowd. “My package! I have to have my package!” he yelled at the top of lungs. But in the ensuing confusion no one seemed to be paying attention to his frantic entreaties.
Instantly the taxi was engulfed in flames, including the wooden crate with the Monet pastel, which was soon reduced to pile of ashes on the charred back seat.
Up on the Old Mountain, Mr. Garland was standing out on the balcony of his villa in the darkness, having a last snifter of Fundador before retiring for the evening. The animals were fed and mostly had made themselves comfortable for the night, with the exception of the macaques, who seemed unusually restless and agitated. They were scrambling frantically up and down the wire-meshed walls of their large enclosure, jumping in and out of the old oak tree that grew up through the roof of the enclosure, chattering and screaming and making a horrible racket. Mr. Garland was partly concerned about the neighbors, who had already complained several times about the noise and the smell of his menagerie, but he was even more concerned about just what the actual problem was with the macaques that caused them to be so disturbed, a phenomenon he had not previously witnessed among the macaques.
While pondering the situation, he looked out over the roofs of the other houses below him on the Old Mountain and was taking in the view of the lights of town and the harbor beyond when he saw a bright orange fireball suddenly leap into the sky, followed by a column of flames that produced a cloud of thick black smoke which was eerily lit from the flames below. What on earth was that? Mr. Garland wondered. A terrorist attack in some café? A gas explosion from a cooking stove in some courtyard? He stood there for a while and watched the flames and the smoke coiling up into the dark night sky. After what seemed like a very long time, he finally heard the sound of the fire engines.
Burroughs and Dean sat in the Café Tingis watching as Moustapha walked out of Tarik’s and turned into Calle de los Arcos.
“I’m having trouble believing what just happened,” said Burroughs. “Old Moustapha played those tourists like the marks they are.”
“Should we see where he’s going?” asked Dean.
“Naw,” said Burroughs. “Let’s just stay put for now. We can catch up with him later. He may figure out a way to get your tombstone back with the money he conned. He’s probably headed for a restaurant on Rue D’Espagne for a nice dinner.
The sound of a muffled explosion coming from somewhere outside the medina caused everyone in the Zoco Chico to pause and look up.
“That can’t be good, whatever it was,” said Dean.
“No, not good. Not good at all,” said Burroughs, his voice breaking with emotion. Dean looked at Burroughs and saw that tears were streaming down his face.
“You okay, Bill? Why are you crying?”
“Maybe it was that noise, I don’t know. Reminded me of the gunshot that killed Joan in Mexico City, and that pitiful scene today at Aicha’s, as though I’d never learned a thing, doomed to repeat my mistakes over and over. And then I felt the presence of the Espiritu Feo, the Ugly Spirit, as Brion called it. Now I feel the same heavy cloud of hopelessness and depression I felt just before I killed her. It’s like some malevolent force has its scaly hands around my throat. As if I were about to do something terrible but had no power to prevent it.”
Dean looked at Burroughs and felt a sense of dread beginning to press down on him too.
“I think I feel this Ugly Spirit too,” said Dean, a little frightened.
“And what is worse is there are moments when I’m not sure if I actually shot Joan. The Ugly Spirit continues to torture me with that doubt. And even if I didn’t pull the trigger, I let it happen and I will always blame myself.”
“You mean someone else might have shot her?” said Dean.
“I keep recalling there was someone or some thing standing beside and just behind me when the shot was fired. You know there were several pistols in the apartment and four or five other people besides Joan and me in that room. My boyfriend Lewis Marker, another friend, Eddie Woods, and Betty Jones. May have been a few others there. Everyone was drunk or on drugs. I had that Star .380 automatic with me, because I was planning to sell it. Then after the shooting someone called my lawyer Bernabé Jurado but before he could get to me I had told the police I was drunk and had accidentally shot her. Then Jurado gets all the witnesses to say I or someone dropped the pistol and it went off. I’ve told the story now to so many people over the years in so many different versions that I’m no longer sure myself just what happened.”
“So it is possible you didn’t shoot her. Maybe the Ugly Spirit wants you to believe you did. Maybe someone else fired the shot that killed her, and then left the apartment,” said Dean.
“None of it ever made sense. Just absolute insanity. Even now, sitting here in Tangier, the city I escaped to after her death, nothing is clearer. But the Ugly Spirit continues to lurk about and the oppressive guilt I feel remains. Funny but my lawyer Bernabé later ended up shooting his own wife and then killed himself.”
“Bill, we should try to find a shaman to contact the Ugly Spirit so you might learn the truth. And perhaps even destroy that devil. At least then you might begin to find peace.”
“Well old buddy, I don’t see how that’s going to happen. But I remember when I was coughing up the hairball that became known as Naked Lunch, I also produced hundreds even thousands of pages of automatic writing which somehow disappeared. I would get high on majoun and just type until I would literally fall out of my chair. It was an attempt to drill into what was left of my soul to find the truth. In those pages I could sense Joan speaking to me—or rather through me. I believed then it was her way of reaching out to help me heal. Joan and I used to play a telepathic game. We would each take a sheet of paper and draw a box of nine equal squares. Then we would sit across the room from each other and draw an image in each square. When we compared them the images were almost always identical. One night when I was living at the Muneria I had a very vivid, almost super-real dream that Joan had come to Tangier to visit me and to tell me, not directly but telepathically, that it was time for her to leave the realm that she was inhabiting. I asked her to forgive me but then without saying goodbye, she was gone. I don’t know what realm she inhabits now. I continued to dream of her even after I left Tangier but she would never speak. No communication at all. I think she must have said all she needed to say. So now that I am back in Tangier maybe it’s time to try and locate that manuscript.”
“So you have no idea where these writings are?”
“I can’t remember what happened to them. They got lost somewhere along the way. They might even still be here in Tangier somewhere, in a trunk or suitcase perhaps. I might have left them in the basement of a hotel. I used to have a safety deposit box in a bank here somewhere, but I lost the key years ago. Can’t remember which bank it was. They were meditations, if you will, what I collectively called Ultrazone. I believe Ultrazone was actually the record of the therapy Joan was offering me subconsciously. Naked Lunch was mostly drug-induced stream-of-consciousness scraps, gathered up by my friends and edited together and published by Maurice Girodias. It was really about being tormented by guilt and addiction. Of course in life I thought drugs would bring me peace. An addict’s delusion at best. And as you know Dean, drugs are of no use to the dead. I find it amusing that drugs were actually placed in my coffin. Look here what they sent me off with.”
From various pockets in his jacket Burroughs produced three joints, a small packet of heroin, an Indian-head five-dollar gold piece, a pair of reading glasses, a ballpoint pen, and a Smith & Wesson snub-nosed .38 revolver, all of which he placed on the café table in front of them.
“No doubt they meant well,” Burroughs continued, “and it was certainly a nice gesture, but I never did believe in that Egyptian-mummy afterlife shit. The fact is, if I had indeed made the big transcendence and managed to get all the kinks out of my karma, then the place I would be now would be somewhere far beyond the Western Lands, a place where drugs and guns and money and even the written word were of no use whatsoever. Game over. End of the Word Virus. The ultimate liberation.”
“But what about the Ugly Spirit? Maybe you became possessed on one of your trips to South America when you were looking for yagé. And you say that demon is still haunting you.”
“No, Dean, the Ugly Spirit and its parasitic possession happened in Mexico before I took yagé.”
“Bill, you must find the right person to rid you of its curse. Perhaps your old friend Kazim can help, if he’s still around. Otherwise you will continue to suffer in a kind of purgatory as you did in life.”
“I wonder sometimes if the Ugly Spirit didn’t dictate some of Ultrazone,” said Burroughs. “The answer might be in those pages. And you know Dean, I do believe in exorcism. Exorcism of the text you might say; like editing, crossing out passages, rubbing out the word, erasing the tapes. Ian Sommerville once showed me how to completely erase a reel of tape just by passing a heavy magnet over it. Maybe exorcising the Ultrazone manuscript would finally be the antidote I need to rid myself of the Ugly Spirit.”
They both sat there for a while in silence, contemplating the implications of what they’d been discussing while watching the evening crowds drift by in the Zoco Chico.
“What the hell?” Burroughs suddenly exclaimed, sitting upright in his chair.
“What is it, Bill?”
“You see those two kids over there with the monkey on the leash?”
“Well, the hat that one kid has on looks exactly like an old fedora of mine. Right down to the stains on the hatband.”
“Looks to me like the same one we saw that guy wearing earlier today, the guy who we thought was your dead ringer.”
“You know, Dean, for me Tangier was always a place where anything could happen, a sort of open-air laboratory. A place where reality was constantly being subjected to the cut-up technique, before Brion Gysin ever even introduced me to it. And that’s exactly the feeling I’m having now, that the linear narrative of reality is being sundered by something much stronger than the sort of psychic cement that normally holds everything together. It’s like what Don Juan was talking about in Tales of Power with his ideas of the tonal and the nagual; the tonal being the sum of any individual’s perceptions and knowledge, everything he can talk about and explain, including his own physical being. The nagual being everything outside the tonal: the inexplicable, the unpredictable, the unknown exogenous force. The nagual is everything that cannot be talked about or explained, but only witnessed. That’s also very close to Kazim’s personal philosophy about ‘this world,’ ‘that world,’ and the ‘other world,’ all existing simultaneously. Now that may be a bit confusing to some people, because it sounds like three different worlds, but it’s really just two; the one world with its binary complements of rational and irrational, good and bad, right and wrong, and all those various man-made dualities, and then the other world, which both includes and precludes the world of duality, where all is one and one is all. It’s like what the Buddhists say, ‘Not one; not other.’”
“So where does that put us, Bill, a couple of old ghosts? Which realm are we in?”
“I’m not so sure myself, Dean. Wherever it is that we are, you’ve been here a lot longer than me. This afterlife business is still somewhat new to me. I’m still learning how to navigate it. But I don’t see why we have to just sit back and ‘witness’ something that doesn’t make sense. I suggest we discreetly follow those two kids and see what else we can learn.”
Steetoo, Sayyad and Cheikh the monkey were cutting through the Zoco Chico on their way to the apartment in the Rue Mohamed Bergach where Sayyad lived with his older sister and their mother.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be wearing that hat,” Steetoo said. “What if someone recognizes it?”
“It belonged to the stupid Nazrani who lives next door. I’d see him before he ever sees me.”
The ghosts of Burroughs and Dean were drifting along about ten yards behind the two boys and the monkey.
“So, Dean,” Burroughs said, “How do we know if we’re actually invisible or not? I mean, what if one of those kids turns around and sees us?”
“Try to bundle your psychic energies in such a way as to remain totally invisible. The will power of the dead is a powerful force.”
“When I used to walk through the streets of Tangier 40 years ago no one paid a lick of attention to me, which is how I got that “El Hombre Invisible” moniker. And now here I am, dead as a doornail, ghosting along through the Zoco Chico, worried about possibly being seen. The irony never ends.”
Steetoo, Sayyad and Cheikh turned into a side street, lit only sporadically by the weak glow of the few low-wattage streetlights. There was hardly any foot traffic now and Burroughs and Dean dropped a little further behind, just in case.
Cheikh, who had been prancing happily along at the end of his leash next to the two boys as they walked along, suddenly stopped and turned around, and seeing the ghosts of Burroughs and Dean, let out a vitriolic hiss.
“Shit,” Burroughs exclaimed, “So much for remaining invisible. Let’s duck into this doorway here.”
Cheikh started jumping up and down, emitting a frightful array of screeches and hisses.
Steetoo and Sayyad both turned around and looked behind them but saw nothing unusual.
“What’s the matter, Cheikh?” asked Sayyad.
“What’s his problem?” asked Steetoo.
“I don’t know. He was doing the same thing this afternoon when we were up on the roof, like he was seeing or hearing things.”
“Maybe he’s seen a ghost!”
Steetoo and Sayyad turned and continued up the street, while Cheikh screeched and hissed and hopped up and down at the end of the now-taut leash as they walked along.
Burroughs and Dean dropped even further behind, ducking into doorways or hiding behind the corners of buildings, still following the two boys and the monkey.
In the Rue Mohamed Bergach Steetoo, Sayyad and Cheikh stopped in front of a large, anonymous looking apartment building. Sayyad produced a key from his pocket and unlocked the door and the three of them went inside, while Burroughs and Dean watched from their vantage point further down the dimly lit street.
“Shit,” Burroughs said. “If we follow them inside the building that monkey will keep making a ruckus and totally blow our cover.”
“You sure that‘s your hat that the kid is wearing?”
“Looks just like the one I bought on my first trip to London, when I took my first apomorphine cure with Dr. Dent.”
“So what do we do now, Bill?”
“I’m not so sure.”
As Burroughs and Dean were hovering in the street pondering their next move, a dark figure emerged out of the shadows, unsteadily making its way up the Rue Mohamed Bergach. The figure stopped in front of a small narrow building next to the apartment building where the boys and the monkey had gone inside.
The figure was a man dressed in a black beret and a long black cape, now somewhat clumsily looking through his pockets, apparently for the key to the door.
“I wonder who that guy is,” Burroughs said. “Looks sort of like Doctor Sax.”
Burroughs and Dean drifted in a little closer for a better look.
“Hey, Bill, isn’t that the same guy we saw earlier today by the Café Central, the guy you said was your dead ringer?”
“Hmmm. Could be. Let’s tag along and see what he’s up to. Smells like he’s been hitting the absinthe.”
Everly Tweed unlocked the door and ploddingly ascended the stairs to his apartment. Once inside, he was confronted yet again with the chaos and total disarray that the monkey had caused earlier in the day, with all of his books and clothes and meager possessions strewn across the floor of the small apartment. But he was much too tired and zonked out to do anything about it now. He threw his beret and cape onto the pile of detritus and flopped out on the unmade bed. Within a few minutes he was fast asleep, snoring loudly.
Burroughs and Dean came floating up the stairs and passed through the locked door of Tweed’s apartment as though it was a thin veil of smoke.
“Well, well,” Burroughs said as they surveyed the ransacked contents of the apartment. “What a mess. Looks like he was visited by some thieves while he was out.”
“I wonder how they broke in,” Dean said, looking around at the single window that faced the street below and the locked door, both of which were intact and unscathed.
Burroughs glanced around as well, then looked up at the colored skylight and briefly scratched his bony chin. Then he looked at the front door again. “Look at that worthless antique lock. You could pick that with a wet dishrag.”
“I wonder what they were looking for. Doesn’t look like there’s anything of much value here.”
“Except for maybe some of these old books, which were apparently of no interest to the thieves. I must say, this guy is no slouch, intellectually—assuming he’s read all these books. A lot of these titles I had in my own library. Just this selection of books on the history of hypnosis is most impressive. Look at this; here’s a copy of James Braid’s Neurypnology from 1843; here’s a copy of Clark Leonard Hull’s Hypnosis and Suggestibility from 1933; here’s a copy of Hypnosis in Criminal Investigation by Harry Arons from 1967; here’s a copy of Ormond McGill’s Encylopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism from 1947. Amazing.”
Burroughs noticed some framed certificates and diplomas hanging on the wall above a small cluttered desk in the corner. “Everly Tweed. That name ring any bells?”
“Can’t say that it does. Look at this though, apparently he’s no stranger to the world of opiates as well,” Dean said, pointing to the blue foil wrapper and the mirror on the table.
Burroughs came over and had a closer look. “Well I’ll be damned. I’d recognize those blue foil wrappers anywhere. That’s from the Blue Messiah. I used to score heroin from him way back when. And he had some other poison from a village near Toubkal that was mighty potent. Made from mushroom-eating-donkey shit. I used to say one hit of that in the morning made a man feel as creepy as 100 centipedes under a rotten log. He must be getting on in the years.”
“Maybe it’s become a franchise, or maybe his son took over the business,” Dean said, picking up the blue foil wrapper to look at the strange insignia stamped on the inside. It was the figure of a half-man, half-goat creature, its legs spread to show an erect cock. The eyes were wide open and hollow looking and it had a toothy, wide-mouthed grin.
“Strange,” Dean muttered, passing the foil to Burroughs. “Look at this. I’ve seen that insignia somewhere else before.”
“Any idea where?”
“I think I’ve seen it on a tombstone or a mausoleum in St. Andrew’s. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s where I’ve seen it.”
“Let’s float on over to St. Andrew’s and have a look,” Burroughs suggested.
“Right now, in the middle of the night?”
“What are you afraid of? Ghosts?”
In the apartment building directly next door, just on the other side of the wall of Tweed’s apartment, Steetoo and Sayyad were sitting on the low cushions in the main room along with Sayyad’s mother and his older sister, Mina. Sayyad had made up a story about buying the old Nazrani hat at the flea market and then finding the key and the slip of paper sewn into the hatband. Mina worked as a secretary for a shipping company in Tangier and her English was quite good. She read the slip of paper several times and pondered the meaning of the words there. She agreed to go to the bank the next day with the safety deposit box key and see if she could claim the contents and bring them back home.
Burroughs and Dean glided out through the closed window of Tweed’s apartment next door and set their course for the cemetery at St. Andrew’s. Cheikh, who had been sitting on the windowsill of Sayyad’s apartment looking down into the street, suddenly started hissing and chattering and jumping up and down.
“What’s the matter with Cheikh? Asked Sayyad’s mother.
“I don’t know. I think he’s going crazy.”
“Well, give him a banana. Maybe that will quiet him down.”
As Burroughs and Dean made their way up Rue des Siaghines, the cafés in the Zoco Chico were filling up with members of the nouveau expat community. Most were middle-aged or elderly European or American men dressed in the continental style of sport coat, shirt and tie, or sweater vest. One portly looking gentleman wore a white opera scarf around his neck.
“Looking at that gaggle of graying wannabes just reminds me that all my old friends from the Interzone days are dead,” said Burroughs somewhat wistfully. “Some of these old birds look like roosting buzzards.”
“I know what you mean,” said Dean. “They just bring back memories of the days when my bar was one of the world’s great bars with a clientele to match.”
“You mean one of the great dives and notorious hangouts for smugglers, fugitives from justice, and out-and-out losers.”
“Let’s not forget, Bill, that back then I had a steady stream of some of the most famous drunks and drinkers who ever staggered out into the Tangier night; Samuel Beckett, Jane Bowles, Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, Ian Fleming, Barbara Hutton, Jean Genet, and speaking of fugitives, even that Hombre Invisible, who as I recall, skipped out a few times without paying.”
“Dean, I might have been a pervert and an addict but I was never a deadbeat, especially when it came to buying drinks. I respect the profession of saloon-keeper too much. I must have been so high on occasion that I forgot to pay. Anyway probably some of your favorite Naked Lunch routines were fueled by your choice selection of whiskies. And didn’t you used to add a pinch or two of cocaine to my gin and tonics?”
“I think I did a few times when you brought along one of your sleazy scores. You looked like a glass-half-full-of-poison type and I was hoping it might finish off the job.”
“Dean old pal, I was managing quite well at trying to shuffle off the mortal coil myself. No help needed from you.”
“Well I may have been dead longer than you have but we’re equals now,” Dean laughed. “And anyway all will be forgiven if you can help me get my tombstone back.”
As the two neared the Rif Cinema they recognized the couple from Tarik’s bacal. There seemed to be some commotion and a small crowd had gathered. The man was cursing and shouting while his wife tried to pull him away. A street urchin had tried to snatch the brightly wrapped package out of the man’s hand but only succeeded in causing the man to drop it to the pavement where it got kicked around in the foot traffic until a passing donkey trampled it. All that was left of the magic flute were pieces of wood shattered by the donkey’s hooves. Some of the crowd were laughing and saying that the broken flute was a cheap fake. “Is not Moroccan,” jibed a toothless old man in skullcap and a frayed plaid overcoat. “Is plastic toy.” The crowd erupted in laughter. Exasperated by the commotion and the loss of his prize souvenir, the man picked up what was left of the wrapping paper and tore it into smaller pieces, then stomped on the wooden fragments that remained. As his wife dragged him away, the onlookers quickly dispersed.
“I’d say it’s a good thing Moustapha isn’t anywhere around,” said Burroughs. “That guy’s wife looks like she’d like to cut off somebody’s balls.”
“It’ll probably be her husband’s,” said Dean.
As Burroughs and Dean neared St. Andrew’s Church they sensed a unique form of otherworldly energy emanating from behind the cemetery walls. It was a familiar energy, but one they hadn’t been in contact with for quite a while. Once inside, the smell of kif smoke cut through the cloying perfume of the datura blossoms. Both ghosts clearly recognized the source of the smoke. There in the darkness, sitting on the tomb of Sir Reginald Lister, was Paul Bowles, in the form of yet another spiritual entity, puffing on a black and gold cigarette holder from which protruded a Benson & Hedges cigarette in which the tobacco had been replaced by some high-grade kif. Bowles was dressed in a corduroy jacket over a white turtleneck sweater, with neatly pressed brown slacks and untanned leather shoes. Bowles turned to see Burroughs and Dean gliding toward him through the tombstones.
“Paul Bowles? Is that you?” Burroughs asked, somewhat incredulously.
“Well it depends on what you mean by Paul Bowles,” said the figure dryly. “If you mean Paul Bowles, the author of The Sheltering Sky and composer of The Wind Remains, etc., etc., then, No. That Paul Bowles never existed. As I said many times when alive, there was no such entity called Paul Bowles. But if you mean the ghost of the egoless figure that once walked the earth known as Paul Bowles, then that would be him, or me, if there ever was a ‘me.’ To be honest, I’m still trying to come to terms with this very different variety of non-being.”
“Same old slippery Paul,” said Burroughs through a smile. “I was just talking to Dean about that a little while ago. This afterworld business is a whole new ball of wax. Anyway, good to see you again.”
“I must say Bill, you seem to have enhanced your status as ‘El Hombre Invisible.’ You are actually less gaunt than before. Let’s say you are more like ‘El Hombre Transparente.” But it’s good to see you, too.”
“Imagine finding you here. I thought you were peacefully interred back in the States. Last time we met was back in ’94 I reckon. You’re looking well yourself, considering the circumstances; rather debonair, as always. So what brings you back to your favorite den of iniquity?”
Bowles took a drag of kif from his cigarette holder and slowly exhaled. “Since my passing I have been mostly at peace. Not like during my last years in Tangier when my flat was constantly overrun by nitwits of every stripe and color who had decided I was their guru and who clung to my withering remains like insatiable leeches. Thank Allah for my driver and assistant Abdelouahaid Boulaich. He did his best to manage and filter the endless stream of unannounced drop-ins. He also kept an eye on the book thieves who tried to steal valuable first editions from my library. Anyway, I heard from Jane that there was some trouble at the St. Andrew’s Cemetery. And as I was originally planning to be buried here I thought it might be a propitious opportunity for a visit. You might say I like to watch and observe; An Invisible Spectator, as that sham of a biography of me is titled. Also, I quite miss Tangier. By the way, Jane sends her regards.”
“Why aren’t you buried here?” asked Dean.
“Good question. It seems the church fathers decided that my grave would attract a lot of unwanted visitors, à la Jim Morrison. They didn’t want my final resting place to become a shrine for any Paul Bowles death-cult-groupies. Certainly the strangest rejection letter I ever received. So I began telling everyone who asked that I wanted to be buried in the Tangier pet cemetery, as a joke. Although I’m relatively content with the peaceful view of Seneca Lake from the apple orchard where my ashes are buried in upstate New York, I’m far from happy there. Here in Tangier I used to enjoy the sounds of drumming in the night or the calls to prayer or the occasional wedding procession passing by in the streets, but now the only sound is the intermittent thud of a falling apple in the grass. The only excitement at Seneca Lake is the annual National Lake Trout Derby.” Bowles flicked the ash from his cigarette holder and smiled, his blue eyes sparkling in a shaft of moonlight shining down through the trees.
“And Janey was buried in San Miguel Cemetery just across the straits in Málaga, correct?” asked Burroughs.
“Well, one is told her remains are there, but who knows exactly where? Anyway as I once remarked, Jane isn’t there. Actually she moves about quite freely as she did in life. She’s given up the booze though does partake in the occasional snort of Vermouth. She flits around from party to party on Long Island, then checks out the lesbian bars from Cairo to Paris, constantly moving between the here-and-now and the hereafter. In fact she has stopped by Dean’s a few times to see if the stray cats are being well fed. That’s when she heard about the necropolitan antics at St. Andrew’s.”
“They cats are well-attended to, as always,” said Dean.
“Well, that certainly sounds like Janey,” said Burroughs. “Always ready to have fun. You can’t keep a good girl down.”
“So may I ask what all the commotion is about?” asked Bowles.
“It’s a long story,” said Dean. “Moustapha, the watchman who used to work here, got tricked by a conniving old witch named Aicha into letting her remove my tombstone for use in her diabolical magic.”
“If you want to call that two-bit gimcrackery of hers magic,” Burroughs interrupted.
Dean continued; “Moustapha was being harassed by some ghosts and asked for her help in ridding the cemetery of them, offering the use of a hat which allegedly belonged to Bill, but most likely belonged to Paul Lund. As remuneration he offered her various plant cuttings and pieces of old tombstones. Evidently she employed the services of some imposter to portray Bill’s ghost, which she hoped Moustapha would believe she had conjured by way of the hat, but the hat went up in flames, the ghost blew his cover, and the plan went askew. Nonetheless, Aicha took my tombstone by way of extortion. I wasn’t involved but the fools who removed my tombstone released an ancient centipede curse. Aicha has what’s left of the stone at her villa. Bill attempted to frighten her into giving up the tombstone by shooting a glass off her head but that didn’t work. Moustapha tried to cover his tracks with a phony papier-mâché tombstone, but it melted in the rain and Moustapha got fired. Quite a mess, really. I just want my tombstone back where it belongs, and I’m sure Moustapha would like to have his job back.”
“A little superstition can go a long way when misused,” said Bowles. “In this case it seems to have backfired on everybody, which sometimes happens. Oh and of course you know who Aicha’s sister was; Cherifa, the same Cherifa whose magic caused Janey’s stroke and ultimate death. So you’re dealing with some very serious power-sisters here.”
“Cherifa!” exclaimed Dean. “That name is still spoken with a sense of fear in Tangier.”
“And rightly so,” said Bowles. “I suggest you look up Kazim, a wise old Moroccan shaman whom I knew. Perhaps he can be of help. His insights into and understanding of Moroccan black magic and superstition never failed to amaze me. As far as I know he’s still around. If I had been in Tangier when Jane became ill instead of on a boat returning from Ceylon I would have gone immediately to Kazim to have the effects of the magic reversed. But by the time I got back it was too late.”
“Well,” drawled Burroughs, “If that’s the same Kazim I remember then we might have something. After we cure Dean’s tombstone blues, I’ve got to find my lost Ultrazone manuscript. It’s probably still in Tangier but I can’t recall where it might be. I suspect the Ugly Spirit is dwelling somewhere in those pages feeding on various word viruses as an energy source. And the Ugly Spirit is always close by, taking every opportunity to torment me. Finding the manuscript might at last enable me to kill a rat with an Uzi, if you get my drift.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dean.
“I’m not saying any more than that. You never know who might be listening,” said Burroughs. “Even the dead spy on each other.”
By now Bowles’ kif cigarette was finished and Dean led the way to the spot where his tombstone had been. There he pointed out the dismal remains of the papier-mâché fake that Moustapha had tried to pass off as the real tombstone. Bowles smiled and shook his head, always keen to engage in a bit of schadenfreude. All the cemetery cats except Zora were blissfully asleep atop their favorite tombs. Though unseen by the three ghosts, the mysterious turtle that always seemed to appear out of thin air winked at Zora and moved slowly along the path behind Walter Harris’ grave.
From his jacket pocket, Burroughs produced the blue foil wrapper and handed it to Bowles. “That weird insignia mean anything to you?”
“Of course,” Bowles said after a quick glance. “The Blue Messiah. Although mainly known as dealer, he was, or is, also the head of some obscure primitive cult.”
“I was just telling Bill that I thought I’d seen that same insignia somewhere here among the tombstones, but I can’t remember where,” Dean said.
“Ah, yes,” Bowles said. “When I was doing the research for that book of mine, Points in Time, I tried to find out more about the Blue Messiah and his cult, but found myself up against an impenetrable wall of silence. But I did find the mausoleum here in St. Andrew’s with that insignia carved on the door. It’s right over here somewhere.”
The three ghosts glided over toward the back of the cemetery, watched through the half-closed eyes of a dozen cats. They stopped before a low, squat marble mausoleum surrounded by a rusty wrought-iron fence. There on the door of the mausoleum, in weathered bas-relief and slightly hidden under a thin growth of moss, was the half-man, half-goat insignia.
“Very strange,” said Burroughs. “I mean if it’s a primitive Moroccan cult, then what’s this doing here in the Anglican Cemetery of the Church of St. Andrew?”
“Good question, Bill,” said Bowles. “And one I’ve never been able to answer.”
“Shall we have a look inside? Burroughs suggested.
“Why not?” Bowles said. “I’ve always wanted to get to the bottom of this Blue Messiah thing.”
The three of them passed effortlessly through the iron gate and the thick marble door of the mausoleum into the dark musty interior. Ghosts have their own light source gathered from the earth’s molten, magnetic core and with this residual light, they could make out the tiered shelves on the two opposite walls where several dusty cobwebbed coffins and urns could be seen, in various states of decay and disintegration.
“Pretty creepy,” said Dean, looking around with an expression of mild disgust.
“Hey, what’s this?” Burroughs said, as he drifted toward the rear of the mausoleum. Embedded into the stone floor was a large trap door with an iron ring as a handle.
“Well, we better have a look.” Bowles said.
The three of them descended effortlessly through the slab of stone and found themselves in a cavernous room furnished with a single large stone altar. At one end of the room was a doorway, closed with a red stone door. They passed through the door and found themselves in a natural grotto, the walls of which were black stone and glistening with moisture. At the opposite end of the grotto a flight of hand-carved stairs seemed to descend into eternity itself. Wafting up from the darkness below was the tangy smell of the sea, and the distant sound of the surf.
“Very interesting,” Bowles said. “I’d always heard that supposedly there was a system of catacombs and tunnels beneath Tangier, which had been widely used by smugglers during the International Zone days, and previously by various religious cults who practiced forbidden rites and even sacrifices there.”
“Where do you think this comes out?” Burroughs asked.
“Judging by the sound, somewhere along the coast west of the port, probably among the rocks along the Rochers du Marshan, maybe by the Tombeaux des Phéniciens. Mrabet used to fish there from the rocks and he told me that he thought some of the caves there were haunted, or inhabited by strange spirits.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Burroughs said, rubbing his chin as he peered down into the bottomless darkness. “First the Afterworld and now the Netherworld. What’s next, I wonder?”
“How about my tombstone?” Dean said.
“Of course, I almost forgot,” Burroughs said. “We can continue our spelunking later on.”
Burroughs, Dean and Bowles then drifted back up to the surface and passed through the iron gates of the cemetery and started down the Rue d’Angleterre toward the medina. As they drifted along Bowles would stop here and there to comment on various landmarks as he recalled the earlier International Zone days. Where trees had once filled the Grand Socco, there was now a large marble fountain. Following an episode involving a panicked donkey which trampled several people causing serious injuries there was a belief among the Moroccans that evil spirits which dwelt in the trees were responsible. After pleading to the authorities all of the trees were cut down. There were several new restaurants lining the Socco and some of the old cafés above the vegetable market were gone. It was all a bit disorienting.
“I think I can still find Kazim’s house,” said Bowles. “Jane and I used to have a small place near his. We can see if a light’s still on, and if so, perhaps pay him a visit.”
They continued on as the small shop lights began to go out and the night grew darker. When they reached the patio of the Hotel Continental the three sat down to admire the view of the port in the moonlight and the tiny flickering lights of the fishing boats as they made their way out of the harbor toward the fishing grounds. In a few hours, dawn would break and the boats would return filled with the night’s catch. The only sounds were muted conversations from the clustered houses and the sea breezes which blew through the medina alleys. At times one could imagine hearing the old city whispering its secrets to the sky.
(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.