The Port in Tangier, about mid-afternoon a while back
Dryden had met a woman the night before at bar Africa. He wined and dined her, treated her like a queen even after her pimp came up and demanded to know his future intentions.
It wasnít the ritziest place in the old quarter of Tangier, but it certainly wasnít the grimiest. Real hand made carpets adorned the walls. Nothing sewn in the back alleys of the city, either. Truly the finest stitching the desert villages could be ransacked for. Dryden estimated the one hanging above his table was 14th century. He was something of an expert on Persian carpets. Buying them for a song in these markets and re-selling them at ridiculously inflated prices to the upper crust in St. Johnís Wood and Knightsbridge. He asked for me some assistance on this run. In the loosest sense of the word, of course. Standing behind him as he haggled in Arabic and then carrying a rolled up carpet back to our hotel was a hollow excuse to indulge in cheap smokes and cheaper women.
Speaking of which, regarding Dryden, the lady and her pimp: Dryden, being a gentleman, bought the girl for the night but did not touch her, on account of his case of the clap not being completely cleared up.
-The things I dreamed that night of doing to her, Edward, he lamented the next afternoon over coffee and thin, hand rolled hash cigarettes.
-We all have stories of the one that got away, Dryden, I said, in every sense of the word.
-And if she was a lady of better standing I probably would have done them, spots down there or not. But to be the one to put the poor girl out of a job, I just couldnít do that.
-Youíre a beacon of morality in this restless sea of filth, my friend. Suddenly I was absurdly high. The world seemed to slow down to the same molasses-like speed of my thoughts. I was hypnotized watching Dryden brush off a fly from his arm with military precision. Then he raised his head to meet my eye and spoke slowly to me.
-And you, Edward? A good night?
-A good night, I echoed. And then I remembered the story I heard the night before that I planned to tell Dryden over coffee and hash right at this moment but that Iíd forgotten after the fifth brandy around two. Somehow Iíd uncovered it again.
-Listen, as you were buying the girl champagne and god knows what else-
-Oysters, he croaked, trying to not gag on the hash. Heíd smoked his cigarette to the fingertips, but was already preparing another one.
-I met a man and we got to talking. He told me was he was trying to round up women to bring back home. He said for how much they went for and how little he had to promise them Ė just a meal a day and a roof over their heads Ė he was going to make a killing. He tried before, but was thwarted by the transport. Apparently the ship ran into foul weather and was delayed a couple nights. There was only enough food in the crate for six. By the time it reached Liverpool and his crowbar, all ten girls were dead. What spooked him, though, was that two of them had chunks of flesh cut out of their thighs. He described them as very desperate and deep cuts and then said nothing more of it. We stared into our drinks for ten minutes, or talked about the weather.
I was barely listening to myself at this point, but Dryden seemed to be giving me his undivided attention.
-People are always a problem, he offered thoughtfully.
It was then that I realized he was looking right through me.
A loud cannon blast shattered our eardrums and shook the tables. Too loud to be a cannon, in truth. A thundering roar full of brick, mortar and dust. Instinctively all the patrons stood up and strained their necks to find the clamor. We followed suit very slowly. Grey and black smoke billowed from the port. It was too close to the water to be a warehouse or the customs building. Whatever it was would soon find a new home in forty feet of filthy water. Locals were sprinting to the disaster. Some patrons threw down random coins onto their tables and joined the rush.
-Munitions ship? I asked.
-Perhaps. Some people around us are whispering treason, Dryden muttered in between his eavesdropping.
We all stood around awkwardly. There was nothing left to observe except throngs of locals pouring out of old buildings and hurrying down the street. A young military officer with a whistle and a jacket two sizes too big was trying to coordinate the flow of people in vain. An uncontrollable urge to help and assist was losing ground to the rationalization that whatís done is done; itís none of our business. The smoke hung over the port ominously. Most of the other patrons had already gone back to their coffee and doldrums. I checked my pocket watch.
-This should change things slightly.
-Yes, but only slightly, Dryden noted.
-You think our ship will still be ready some time this evening?
-Oh, certainly. International commerce doesnít stop because of a single boat.
-No, I suppose not.
-As long as itís not our boat.
I cracked a thin smile. How painfully annoying that would be. Then we exhaled the thick smoke from the corners of our mouths simultaneously and waited together for the next ship.
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