Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

GARE CASA VOYAGEURS, Morocco

On the morning in question, I woke to mildewed fumes of an air conditioning unit: a sad piece of antebellum machinery sputtering out dank coolness long after the hamster running its wheel had expired. It (the machine not the hamster) was a relic best left dead, yet there it churned in the wall above me, its recalcitrant stubbornness having wilted to electronic current, resuscitated like Frankenstein’s monster, expelling frigid breath in a stream of phlegmy coughs typical of latter century air-conditioning units. The miracle worker who brought the machine to life (despite my protest, I’d rather sweat than choke on carbon monoxide), a startlingly mechanically savvy Foreign Legion drop-out, croaked in his drunken slumber as the sunburnt blisters of his pinkened belly-flesh trembled in the artificial air. I moved with the quick subtly of the ghost of some dead ninja panther before my roommate could wake and ask for drinking money. Levitating out of bed, I recovered my passport from beneath the mattress, grabbed my desert goggles from around the shower-head, relieved my bladder while sitting down (a strange maneuver if I weren’t in stealth mode), snatched my trusty backpack and snuck out the door into the lukewarm nuke-warm hallway of the hotel.

At the foot of the stairs was the lobby. At the foot of the bill was my laundry charge. For fuck’s sake – I could have a camel decapitated in Meknes for $10, but it took the hotel proprietor’s mother-in-law more than a buck (10 Dirham) to spit-shine and fold a pair of my boxers? I paid the hotel bill and asked for messages. There was one message and it was obsolete. I told the manager to burn the memo, fully aware he would pass the note to the Moroccan Nationalist Party Istiqlal or the Muslim Brotherhood or the French Bastards along the Quar d’Islay, depending on Mustapha’s allegiance du jour (for Mustapha, intelligence paid well to spy on shifty-eyed Americans claiming Canadianship). “Oui, M’sseur” Mustapha acknowledged my incendiary request, carrying the message into the backroom as if his mother-in-law already had a fire going to dry other guest britches.

Leaving the hotel and travelling on foot, I entered the chaos of the medina for the sole purpose of throwing off my pursuers. Somewhere near a snake-charmer, I faked left and darted right: right into the leather handbag souq (medinas are not far different than wandering a Wal-Mart, just here in Casablanca probability of being pickpocketed, bitten by a cobra or contracting Ebola is increased–slightly). I arrived at Casa Voyageurs without spitting blood (spy-talk for being ‘tailed’, followed). The train was on time for Africa, delayed by Western standards. I boarded, following the migration of wildebeest into 2nd class to find standing room only. Before me, in their djellaba robes were a pair of mustachioed Arabs arguing about Allah-knows-what. Their eyes were venomous and veins were strained in their opposing foreheads. To my right, I heard a pair of sunburnt American missionaries ask each other louder than they should, “what do you think they are arguing about?” I turned to them and in an indescribable accent mentioned (lying entirely), “They are asking of each other’s wife’s well-being, wishing ‘well’ upon the other’s family.” The American missionaries, shocked to realize the bearded infidel to their left spoke English, mentioned how angry those fellars appeared while engaged in such congenial conversation and they asked if I was from Britain. Almost, I replied before lying I was Australian. The American Protestant Happy-Clappies (as they are known in Morocco) were thrilled with this knowledge and asked if I might place a figurative skewer of shrimp on some hypothetical barbeque. They further inquired what I was doing in Morocco. Knowing their trade by the patches sewn into their luggage and their sleeves, I mirrored them by admitting I was a missionary doing the religious gig. “Us too!” They spastically tremored at the celestial coincidence, guffawing amazement at how their deity of choice worked by mysterious means. They begged to know my denomination, so I said “Scientology! I would give you a brochure, but I’ve already made my quota for the month.” We didn’t speak much further than that. I winked at the wife and she naturally blushed (naturally).They were seemingly harmless. Although…

Reasons Not to Trust Stevie Joe and Mary Grace of Omaha

  1. They were American. They were missionaries. They were American missionaries.
  2. The CIA often employed missionaries to collect information in faraway corners of the world and the CIA shouldn’t be given a benefit of a doubt. Red-blooded, cornbread-fed, American spooks are a mixed lot: 1 in 8 would appreciate Vic Neverman, 3 in 8 would think me the devil and the other half would just set me up as a patsy to further their own agenda.
  3. The brainwashing Reds – Vlad’s neo-Soviet spies – were damned tricky and could have these two duped in no time. Self-described “patriots” are quick to believe anyone else self-describing themselves “patriots”. This happy-clappy couple could easily be spying for Mother Russia without ever knowing it. Stevie Joseph, did you remember to email our travel notes to Ivan, that nice carpenter from Wichita who was picking his teeth with a sickle?
  4. The Qatar Royal Family paid well and they already had it out for old Vic. Some Qatari dandy with a silk tie and manicured handshake could have approached SJ and MG at baggage claim with an opportunity to “truly do some good unto the world.”

I needed to be more careful of whom I took the piss out of.

I gazed through the cramped carriage and out the window as the suburban Casablanca landscape gave way to the barren olive fields, gum trees and eucalyptus beyond. As I stood there in the common class train car, I was approached by an Arab occupied with his cell phone. He was a lean, sinewy, dude, eyes darting everywhere but here. Once the train was in full tilt and hidden-face Moroccan ladies stopped considering my origins to re-engage gossiping amongst each other, the approaching Arab’s eyes rose above his phone and set a sight a thousand yards in the distance. He spoke, as if to himself, but he was speaking to me.

Bonjour.” He greeted me in French, changing to English. “You are travelling alone?”

If I didn’t already know this dude, I would think I was being setup for some sort of con. Instead, I did know this dude and responded appropriately, “My dog is in first class.”

“Have you yesterday’s football scores?” Rafiq asked, his eyes just briefly making contact with mine before jetting off like a flea trying to accumulate reward-miles.

“Oh sure.” I followed the script, lifting up my shoe. “They are in the heel of my boot.”

“Take this.” Rafiq handed me a folded-up French newspaper. “And keep your shoes on. Scores are on page 10.”

On page 10 was a first class ticket with an assigned seat. Message received.

First class was at the front of the train and I was many cars back. At the next stop, I got off the train and sped ahead as close as I could get to first class before the locomotive continued southward. Climbing back on the train, I fought through the common class caste with uncommon luggage strapped to my back. Eventually, I reached the first class cars where train agents eyed my beard suspiciously and asked to see my ticket. Eventually satisfied, they allowed my passage. My first class train compartment held three westerners (two of them further west than west).

“Victor Ulysses Neverman, have a seat me auld mate!” Digger McKenzie, Cultural Attaché for the Australian Consulate in Rabat, greeted me with something between a handshake and a head-butt. Beside him was his wife, Dame McKenzie. At the window was a Londoner acting as their cruise director, though, was just as likely to be their British MI spy-handler. The Brit’s nomme de plume was ‘Victoria’, which caused some antagonism between the two of us as we both went by ‘Vic’ for short. Between her yellow sunnies and my red goggles, we at the train car window were quite the pair.

He Vic and She Vic, the POME Spook

He Vic and She Vic, the POME Spook

Settling into the first class seat, I waited as Digger dealt with the Berber boy pushing the drink cart, exchanging Dirham for cans of lemonade. Take a sip of this, Love Digger begged of his wife after the Berber left. Once the can was lightened, Digger took out what appeared to be a plastic water bottle and emptied a few ounces of the clear liquid into his lemonade.

“Vodka?” I asked.

“Nah.” Digger cringed, “Gin. Cheap shit, really. Bruce is s’posed to be shipping a crate of Bundaberg on the morrow.”

Bundaberg was the rum portion of the Bundie & Coke ration every Australian citizen is allotted daily. Bruce and Digger were always fretting about the next shipment into the consulate at Rabat. There are only so many relatives and tourists one can bribe to smuggle rum into a country which follows Islam’s prohibition on booze. So the Bundie is locked away for special occasions and the ex-pats make the most out of the cheap, amphibian liquor imported from France.

“Did you receive the package?” I asked; referring to a flash drive of digital photos I took in Casa.

“Yeah mate, yous Yanks click sum bonza beaudy happy snaps!” Digger did away with the clandestine formality and took a slug of his ginned-up lemonade. It most definitely was not his first of the day. “Was going to run through the database, but the machine is tit’s-up. Bruce will run the film on Monday.”

“If it’s not still tit’s-up?”

“Damn skippy, mate.”

Dame McKenzie closed her paparazzi magazine and scrutinized me with eyes that rose above her downturned reading glasses. Digger’s wife spoke as if she was of higher breeding and education, though she was born and raised on a drover’s station out back beyond the Great Dividing Range (or ‘outback’ for short). She spoke of me as if I wasn’t in the train car, “He’s heaps of nervous intensity, Diggs. Are you certain he is trustworthy? He’s a Yank, after all; isn’t he?”

“Ahh, Vic’s alroight. You should hear his love stories. He once faked his own death to grab the attention of some bird in Sydney. Up in Airlie Beach he must’ve met my sis – he took some bridesmaid from Brisbane out dancing and spun her lazy-eye straight!”

Dame McKenzie tut-tutted her husband and looked to the window where Victoria nodded back, once. “Plenty of wait-and-see flags…” She Vic spoke of He Vic. “Nothing damning. In Northampton, 1999, we have him affiliating with Polish socialists.”

“I was in an international summer-school!” I objected. “And she was just a ballerina from Warsaw, studying law. We never got around to discussing politics.”

“Which…” The Prisoner of Mother England spook went on, “we believe you believe to be true. Let us just leave it at that.”

Damnitshit. I wasn’t going to let this POME drive a wedge between me and my first foreign love, Ewa Kubiak, best remembered knocking on my door wearing my leather jacket and naught else. Victor, I am really a good girl. And she was. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead…

“Victor.” Dame McKenzie suddenly became stern. “We’re en route to Marrakesh where we intend to stay. We stay if we’re given reason to stay. You exist as our rationalizing force, an idiot MacGuffin ploy. If Mumsy back in Canberra tells Bruce in Rabat that Australia’s best interests involve a presence in Marrakesh, then Diggs and I get to stay. You, my dear, are the rationale we offer to Mumsy.”

“I don’t follow.” I offered, though I slightly did follow, just unsure of the direction.

“Simple, mate, really.” Digger went on. “We’re after the Qataris. If we strike dirty oil in Marrakesh, we setup a diplomatic branch where we sort through intelligence affairs gathered by our agents on the ground, which is you, Vic.”

“Me Vic?” She Vic asked.

“No, he Vic.” Diggs countered, pointing at me, Vic.

“And if there are no Qataris?” I pondered.

“They’re bloody everywhere, mate.” Digger assured and referenced my blog post on the matter. “And you can’t profile them – there are only a three hundred thousand Qataris living in fucking Qatar. But their money, you can smell the stench of it everywhere. They have, we suspect, the largest intelligence gathering network outside of yous Yanks, fucking Putin, Her Majesty and the Israelis.”

“You’re leaving out the I-C-Triple-U.” I said.

“Yous been huffing my gin again, Vic? Seeing triple, are ya?”

The International Chinese Waiters Union. In the 1970’s, the ICWU was just a theory by conspiracy theorist Kyril Bonfiglioli, but I was able to prove the existence of the spy network earlier this year.”

Vic at the window with her yellow sunglasses cried havoc, “Are you implying every single waiter at every single Chinese restaurant around the world is a part of a grand conspiratorial espionage network organized by Communist China?”

“Yup, give or take a busboys.” I admitted. “Except this spy ring goes back before Mao and Marx.”

“Which is all fine and good.” Dame McKenzie put out an open-faced palm to calm the troops. “If we find Chinese restaurants in Marrakesh, we’ll have reason for concern. If we don’t, we still need to find our Qataris.”

“We’ll find ‘em.” Digger, who had settled himself into a lounging slump, was quite content. “Even if Vic has to invent ‘em.”

“When I was a girl…” Dame McKenzie began an antagonizing anecdote, harping back to her days on the drover station. “We weren’t allowed guns in the house. When we found a snake indoors, we couldn’t shoot it, so we boiled a large pot of water and scalded the beast until it slithered its way outside.”

I cleared my throat before inquiring, “Is this metaphor for finding Qataris in the High Atlas?”

“It is a metaphor, Victor.” Victoria told me from the window. “But it is a metaphor on how to rid oneself of unwanted guests.”

Victoria pulled down her yellow sunglasses just as Dame McKenzie removed her reading glasses to likewise leer at me. Digger was snoring away.

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh

FES, Morocco

I was on the payroll.

Whose payroll, it was uncertain.

Foolish is he who follows his heart into espionage. If you are going to dabble in espionage, you should only be swayed by financial gain, not ideologies which can be appealed to by any two-bit hack positioning himself as a “friend of the cause.” Sure, you might think you are playing for the right team, but just as you believe you are safely past Checkpoint Carlos, los Federales appear and Natasha, your anti-establishment, on-again/off-again intimate bunkmate unmasks herself to reveal her true identity as Stan from the IRS who is after your estranged uncle’s back taxes.

Why should you only get into espionage for the money, not for ideological nonsense? Because Stan.

Fortunately, the Australians (I assume they were them) paid well. My handler (boss, benefactor or spy-pimp, if you will; I often called him “mother” to which, in his chagrin, he’d suggest I’d be a might bit prettier if he had birthed me) could usually be found grilling saussies in the rock garden of his diplomatic villa in Rabat’s bubbling suburb of Sale. Bruce MacKenzie weighed dozens of stone and cast a shadow over the entirety of the local Kasbah. “I’ve got a new mission for ya, Vic.”Bruce informed me as he stuck his fork into a steaming sausage (actual pork frozen and flown from Brisbane to Morocco). “Heaps of gratitude if you choose to accept it. I need ya in Fes.” Here was when he appealed to my ideology: he was bringing the girls out on a holiday. He was emptying the Australian Embassy secretarial pool for the weekend and wanted to take them to “the Athens of Africa.” Would I be there to see the ladies through safely? The short answer, without the stammer, was yes. I had seen his secretarial pool. “Good on ya, Vic!” Bruce roared his appreciation. “And thanks for the new details on this Baroness bird.” Bruce MacKenzie then yelled over his shoulder at his fellow-countrymate, Digger McKenzie (no relation), “Say Digs, would you ring up the Qatari desk before you knuckle-down into that pigeon pie? I’ve a bone to pick with that dodgy bastard at the consulate.”

So began my sojourn to Fes with the greatest buddy a paranoid off-the-grid spy novice could have: Rafiq. Rafiq was much like me: tall, lean, punctual, deviously handsome, repetitive, punctual, dark & brooding, enigmatic, effortlessly flippant, wickedly cunning with an uncanny sense of direction. The chief difference was he was a mix of Arab and Berber while I was a mix of Slav, Turk, Spaniard, Cherokee, Prisoner of Mother England, Scot, Magyar and Pakistani Gypsy (there might be a drop of Irish whiskey in the mutt cocktail somewhere). Rafiq also spoke Arabic, Berber, English and the Romance languages while I was still humming my way through the Queen’s English. We were, however, both the same age (over-ripened though undercooked) and beholden only to our adored nieces. He did have this one shtick that sent the ladies swooning – he would shake hands with his right hand and then immediately move the escaped palm to his chest to ensure his passionate heart did not erupt from his breast plate. Brilliant, really.

Neither of us trusted the other, but we got along quite swimmingly.

Tariq and Vic, a pair of Nevermen

Rafiq and Vic, a pair of Nevermen

In Fes, I followed the footfalls of Rafiq and some tabby tomcat named Mister Giggles through the medieval corridors of the old medina. Mister Giggles was a striped bastard, feral and malicious, licking his maw after spare mice bits and hissing at the heathen sinners as they pass. Mister Giggles had thirty-four thousand half-brother bastards wandering this city and a few sisters and cousins after them, each one of them stink-eyed and crooked toothed, yet pleasant as punch when you dangled ostrich gizzards their way.

“There are 12,000 dead-ends in the medina of Fes.” Rafiq warned.

“Yesterday you told me there were only 10,000 streets in the medina.”

“Yes.” Rafiq confirmed; his brow billowing as a storm cloud billows. “And for every street there are many dead-ends. There is a story of the Englishman who buys a home in the Fes medina. He leaves for milk and never finds his home again. It is funny.”

“Indeed.” I agreed as did Mister Giggles, the spit-shined white stray that poked its head out of a cardboard box to see what the uproar was about.

I embraced Fes and the One Thousand and One scents of an Arabic night: cat piss and saffron, the recycled teeth peddled by street dentists, muleteers driving their mulleted mules, knife sharpeners scraping pigeon liver off of metal, tanneries dipping animal hides into guano to preserve the color, tagine stews and roasted lamb, couscous and mint tea, sacrilegious sex and Hammam sweat, the old clothes of the water-sellers with their jangling bells. All the way, Rafiq led and Mister Giggles would follow, one moment he was a black cat, the next a calico.

By the time I had lost all faith in my navigating skills, Bruce MacKenzie and the secretarial pool arrived.

Fes

Fes

I was there at the train station, gracious host, hoisting luggage from train to waiting van. This was when I first met Sheila, the Australian typist with hair of Celtic bronze knots tinged with rust, who hid behind aviator goggles and a semi-bemused smirk. Sheila’s waning enthusiasm barely qualified my existence, but it was just a façade, a false calm under-which her humble bosom betrayed her cool as lungs heaved deep-lunges for oxygen. I too, was unlike myself. I combatted her “Well, hello Vic” with a “Howdy, Pilgrim”, which is entirely unlike me to quote John Wayne, but I was on auto-pilot, especially after my bewildered greeting rescued a smile from beneath her guise, allowing it to escape and eviscerate the aortas that attempted to hold my heart into place. My knees turned to J-E-LL-O and Sheila was forced to drag me into the van like an exhausted fish struggling to breath out of water. Sheila might have been slight, but she was full of piss, vinegar and vegemite and easily hauled my carcass into our vessel.

Mister Giggles watched the ordeal with absolute condemnation, shaking his filthy whiskers the whole damn time. Laugh it up, Giggles…

Mister Giggles spying from afar

Mister Giggles spying from afar

Touring the medina of Fes, we entered one gate and when I lost the path, I led them out to another gate, assuring them we took the better, more scenic, route. Along the way, we found the foul tanneries with all that bird shit being tossed about. We lunched on vegetarian tagines and bottled water. We shopped for leather goods and Damascene plates from Meknes. At a pottery studio, I allowed Bruce and his hens to browse as I entered into the café where the resident potters break for French cigarettes and card games. It was here where Sheila was casually sipping hot tea like a tulip suckling a droplet of spring dew.

“Have you seen these before?” I asked, picking up a handful of playing cards off the ground. “They are like Moroccan tarot cards.”

“And what are you like, Vic?” Sheila asked behind the aviators that swallowed half of her face. “The conqueror or the escapist?” She dropped the cards on the table, stood up and walked away. Goddammit, if she didn’t already know my greatest weakness was woman-speak. What the hell did that all mean? I watched the departure of her blue jean gait as everything beneath my shoulders fell away into the abyss, flushed by some chick from Oceania along with the cigarette she was hiding from her boss, Bruce.

Later in the evening, after the swallows occupied twilight with their maniacal flight, the secretarial pool was exhausted and quick to bed. As they slept, I stayed out late with Rafiq, exploring the heathen dens of the new city with Mister Giggles, the mangy calico, the three of us smoking shisha and drinking terrible wine and terrific beer as I lamented my troubled love-life.

Camel Butcher Shop

Camel Butcher Shop

The next day I guided the troop back through the medina (though I mostly followed one Mister Giggles after another) and we visited the ancient university and the Koranic school. Sheila remained aloof and I remained flummoxed, though manufacturing the utter coolness of an orca napping in an igloo. Without fail, Mister Giggles brought us to the camel butcheries where I was able to find falafel for the secretarial pool to feast on as I waited for the butcher to grill my lunch. Casually gazing through the haze of smoke and heat off the camel barbeque, I spotted a blue-eyed brunette casually gazing back. Her eyes did not shy after meeting mine and her chin rose as it dripped with chickpea grease. Her dimples drew out a devious smile that ripped apart my ribcage and played spoons against the rivets of my spine. Her name was Caroline.

Hearing laughter, I looked down at my feet to see a calico rolling in refuse. Yeah, laugh it up, Giggles…

At the end of our second day, as the ladies of the Australian Embassy lumbered up the stairs towards their quiet chambers, Sheila stopped me. At last, her aviators were removed from her face and hung from the collar of her blouse between the slight – yet perky and beguiling – coils of hempen necklace. Sheila’s brown eyes were moist and earthy, a dampened sacred soil that buried me alive and my demise could not have come sooner or so sweet. “Will you join us for a beer tonight then, Vic?” Sheila asked, her upturned lips an invaluable commodity. I guffawed some unintellectual affirmative. She put my thoughts into better perspective, “You wouldn’t miss it for the world?” I gave an imbecilic nod and she disappeared into the elevator.

Not for the World.

When I heard Sheila ask if I would “join us” I assumed she was referring to herself in the plural as royals do (just like my saying, “we’d like to take us a piss as our bladder has filled over the rim”). Instead, she meant “us” as in a whole flock of wild geese of Australian women and passers-by. It ended up being a group of ten of us – the secretarial pool of the Aussie Embassy, a couple of Swiss women, a lady lounge singer from NYC and Bruce MacKenzie, the Under Secretary of the Australian Consulate in Morocco.

I took the gaggle back to my previous haunt L’etranger. It is difficult to describe the scene of our arrival to a westerner, unless you think of Vic Neverman as some sort of warlord, pimp or soccer hero. I was greeted with a strange oriental merriment bordering on sarcasm. The bouncer of the club, the host, the emcee all embraced me, crying “Ali Baba! Ali Baba returns! Put more beer on ice!” and then kissed either cheek of mine. This outrageous display of affection startled the throngs of ladies in my tow. I shrugged, humbly, and begged the women to follow me into the parlor of absurd notion. My servants quickly reassembled couches into a horseshoe so that my retinue might best crowd itself. I ordered beer, champagne, hookah, bottles of varying wine and the customary cucumbers and olives.

“Victor.” Caroline spoke of me as an Aussie accented songbird sighting spring beyond the crystalized flakes of winter. “What is it that brings you here, to Morocco?”

“Spice.” I spoke with intoxicated certainty, winked with a twitch and slurped my beer with minimal spillage into my Ali Baba beard. We casually chuckled merrily together, Caroline and I; the music was too loud for anything conversational. Beside Caroline sat Sheila, her shoulder chilling as it turned away from us.

A night out with Vic Neverman at L'etranger

A night out with Vic Neverman at L’etranger

Hours passed, revelry continued. Caroline had migrated across the horseshoe to speak with the Swiss when Sheila leaned across me and ignited my olfactory with scents alternating between her dollop of melted peach ice cream perfume and the rich au jous of the sweat that salted her skin. Sheila reached for the champagne with the delicacy and splendor of a fawn crawling out of her mother doe. I toasted the beauty that is life, Bisaha! Bahia! and dreamt of a life together, Sheila and I, at the Gagaju bush camp in Queensland with barefoot children running amuck as I washed cloth diapers downstream with the freshwater crocs… But, wait, no… that wasn’t a dream insomuch as a memory of a different Aussie girl and a younger, much younger, Neverman. My trance was terminated with the birdsong voice of Caroline, Victor! Please do tell us that story of the Costa Rican goatsucker again! Sheila, the other woman, looked at me dully, almost urging my departure, well go along, then, Vic. Tell them your bloody story.

“Well…” I, raconteur, stood and addressed my audience. “It is actually a Puerto Rican goatsucker.”

Midnight arrived like a thud, everything turning into pumpkin. I settled the bill – which is excruciatingly difficult to do in clubs where the abacus is the only cash register. Exiting into the street, I saw a black cat lick its scrotum and then smile.

“Hello, Mister Giggles.” I greeted my companion, certain tonight that I, Vic Neverman, would have the last laugh.

I led my caravan down the darkened street, my mind drawing a map of the sharp left ahead, the half mile beyond that which would return us to the main boulevard of Nouvelle Ville. I was an expert stranger, well in control of my path. Mister Giggles, walking beside me, coughed a hairball in mockery of my hubris.

Spanish cards, frequently played in the dens of Morocco

Spanish cards, frequently played in the dens of Morocco

Cursed with pattern recognition, my eyes spied something amiss on the dark pavement. I reached down and picked up a playing card, the same type I had found earlier. Sheila! I call to her attention, eager to ask her nearer. Holding the card in her hands, Sheila’s intuition prompted her to claim, solemnly, regrettably, “It’s the death card.”

Shriek! The crowd of lady that had assembled dispersed; Sheila held onto the card, looked up at me, asking what she should do. On my suggestion, she dropped it! The card fell onto the NYC lounge singer’s shoe and all girls screamed. I asked for calm, insisting the ill omen was just a warning and we should keep together and be careful. Somewhat assuaged, the ladies calmed and their inebriation assisted in quickly distracting them to other subjects. We continued and within moments all omens were forgotten.

“Victor, where would we be without you?” Caroline asked, admiring me as she walked along my western flank.

Attempting to remain humble, I responded, “You’d just have to hail a cab, I guess.” I turned to my opposite shoulder to see if Sheila might appreciate my modesty, but she was hidden deep under her aviators despite the after-midnight darkness of the street. Resigned, I returned to Caroline to make some casual quip about her having breakfast at my place (i.e. the continental spread at the hotel), only to find Caroline preoccupied with Mister Giggles who decided to cross the street here rather than wait for the crosswalk.

“Oh, kitty, no…” Caroline suggested plainly, with maternal insistence. Mister Giggles wasn’t registering. “Kitty, no!” Caroline was more impassioned, hurrying towards the curb. Mister Giggles snorted his contempt towards her, though did not advance further. “Kitty!” Caroline hollered, “No!” Mister Giggles, spooked by the raging Aussie, darted into the street until thwap and we were all left witnesses.

It seemed to be in slow motion, watching Caroline reach out for Mister Giggles… Mister Giggles darting into the street… the red cab thwap! The audible thump was Mister Giggles, you see, as he was interrogated by the front of the taxi cab – THWAP!

Mister Giggles was overtook by the front left wheel of the car, run-over, and then lurched up into the wheel-well to be spat out again and re-run-over. The car braked to a stop. Pause… Absolute silence from the spectators… The car sped forward, leaving the crime scene behind. The crime scene, it was a mound of giggles. I cringed, hoping the beast was dead, knowing that otherwise I would have to put Mister Giggles out of his misery with a coup de grâce stomp from the business end of my flip-flop. Fahck! Mister Giggles lives! The damned cat pulled himself to his feet and fueled by adrenaline in the last 260 seconds of his existence, Mister Giggles dashed down the alley to where he would surely collapse and expire.

I cannot even attempt to explain the disposition of Caroline. She pulled her collar up above her mouth in horror and was inconsolable even when Bruce MacKenzie wrapped his bear arms around her, insisting all was right with the world, there were too many bloody cats anyhow. It was a futile gesture, Caroline was in hysterics. I turned to Sheila and she stared back at me, aviators removed, her eyes widened at the realization… the death card she had drawn… Her eyes then tightened with bitter blame… the death card Vic Neverman had given her. For every mL of Caroline’s despondence was a Liter of Sheila’s hatred for the Neverman. Or perhaps vice versa – I am American and this metric shit is confusing.

I managed to corral the women and deliver them safely to the hotel. The dark omen had played out, but those under my watch were safe. After the women left by train the next day, I would never see them again. Sheila, at least, waved goodbye, or perhaps, she was fanning the flames of my dejection.

As for Mister Giggles, he was waiting for me outside the hotel, splotchy black and white, stink-eyed and surly, laughing his mangy ass off.

 

Read more of Vic’s travels in Morocco here.

Read more of Vic’s troubled paranoid romances here.

Rabat is an increasingly modern city with fancy shit yachts in the Bou Regreg River and jazz concerts in the Roman ruins of Sala Colonia. I arrived via hired car driven by a hired driver whose only CD was The Best of Cat Stevens. My contact, smarmy bastard he was, recognized me as soon as I set foot in the shadows of the Kasbah despite my disguise as a Norwegian ex-Marxist who suffered somnambulism.

“Ali Baba!” Mustapha greeted me with an unprovoked enthusiasm. “Each day you are more and more ugly!” Mustapha was Fassi and Fassis consider themselves exceedingly clever. Mustapha, in all his cleverness, fashioned himself an expert on American humor and believed the cornerstone of sarcasm was direct insult. Forget subtlety and nuance, Mustapha’s quips were more unfiltered hatred. “Greetings, oh itchy fellow! Oh leprous one! Welcome to the Capital of Morocco. May Allah give you fever without perspiration!”

“Likewise… Dick.” I spoke, forgetting to use my Scandinavian accent.

The Marrakeshi have a joke about their clever rivals from Fes. The first time a Fassi encountered a mirror, he immediately set out to deceive his “other” (there are donkeys involved, as is standard with all Marrakeshi stories). Long joke short, the Fassi is eventually carrying the city of Fes upon his shoulders as he attempts to outclass his reflection. When witnessing in the mirror the image of a city as beautiful as his own, he dies of heartbreak… it is funnier if you are from Marrakesh.

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

The intensity in Mustapha’s eyes as he wished boils upon my tongue was such that any semblance of sarcasm, if there ever was any, was lost in the exchange. And yet – he was my host and as my host, I was under his protection. There is an old guideline amongst the French Colonialists of lore when dealing with the Berber peoples of North Africa and this guideline plays upon the honor and hospitality of the Berber culture. Read any diary of European adventurers of the 19th Century and they will remark on how the local Moroccans may not drink, but they will thieve and lie and kill… unless you are under their protection. So the guideline is this: find yourself the most disreputable warlord of the region and invite yourself to dinner. Once the water for tea starts to boil, you are considered protected, just do not depart prior to slurping down at least three glasses of sweet, minty, substance. Do not sit with your legs crossed (as I am prone to do) as this is considered to be the habit of dogs. Do not pace or mention Christians or Jews in the company of Believers. Do belch as much as possible when eating and do not fret over your tablemates using their dirty paws to dig into the couscous on the public plate before you. Do not make eye-contact with the ladies of the house; in fact, just ignore them (or risk their being banished by their fathers or husbands). Follow these rules of etiquette and you are protected as an honored guest.

This hospitality custom brings us to Mustapha – the nastiest scoundrel Africa could conjure this side of the Atlas Mountains. He spoke almost as many languages as he had girlfriends, which made him increasingly valuable to a simple-lingual adventurer, such as me. If I was to stay in Morocco for any length of time, I was going to need friends like Mustapha. I had already crossed a Teutonic madman in Casa: a liar, thief and cut-throat convinced I cheated him out of a taxi fare, even after I paid him to quit his screaming outside my hotel window. Mustapha’s associates eventually took Conrad to a cabaret where they filled him with enough drink to subdue him.

After I arrived in Rabat, Mustapha led me into the Kasbah of the Udayas, within the blue and white alleys (painted the two colors to honor both Andalusian and Berber influence) towards an agreed upon rendezvous point. Mustapha reached behind his head to the white wizard hood of his djellaba where it rested between his shoulder blades and withdrew a packet of Marlborough cigarettes, offering me one and suggesting, “Once your business is done, I can show you where the Peace Corps girls can be found.”

Non merci.” I waved off the offering. “I’ve long since learned to avoid them. And I don’t smoke.”

“Avoid?” Mustapha stopped in his tracks, nearly tripping out of his slippers. The look on his face was perplexed. “Avoid women? Yes, yes, it is known by boys in Fes, ‘Share a meal with a Jew, but not a bed. Share a bed with a Christian, but not a meal.’ You Nazarenes are known for particular appetite, no?”

“No!” I insisted. “It is only Peace Corps women I’ve learned are best avoided. As for Nazarene appetites, these I do not share.”

Mustapha nodded, smiling knowingly. “Your hands are too soft for Peace Corps women. Very hard, these women are. Like mule driver. They are very quick to lie down, like wife of mule driver.” His eyebrows peaked excitedly at the wicked notion. Mustapha eventually paused his commentary and his trot, placed his cigarettes back into his wizard hood (“Berber suitcase” he grinned) and withdrew an ancient cell phone. After umpteen seconds of pumping the relic with his thumb, Mustapha announced, “It is time.”

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

We entered a blue & white striped building to find a dark room with a darker-still corridor to traverse. It was quiet and the air thick with dust as if sunburnt tourists and molting snakes had a firm shake within these walls. Down a hall decorated with Berber rugs dyed with henna, saffron and clove, we traveled until we came upon a backroom with, seemingly, no other exit. Tea had been prepared and an assortment of almond cookies lain out. I was told to take a seat and five minutes later a hidden door materialized and two well-tanned Western gentlemen entered wearing shorts, collared shirts and trainers. Both men were both built for rugby, though they were of an age where most of their scrums were behind them. These were diplomats from the Australian Embassy.

“You’re Neverman, then?” The bigger one inquired with a half-sneer, his voice filling every crevice of the room. “I’m Bruce MacKenzie, this here’s Digger McKenzie, no relation!” At this, the two Aussies broke into laughter, which I matched in volume. Nothing earns an Australian’s trust sooner than to laugh heartily along with their laughter.

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Everyone took seats and Mustapha served tea in the traditional fashion, pouring the liquid out of the silver vessel from a great height to honor the guests. Once served, I thanked Mustapha and excused him to play video games on the handheld Nintendo hiding inside his wizard hood.

“I suppose we are free to speak here?” I asked the Aussies.

“Say what you want, just know the Yanks have everything bugged.” The younger Digger McKenzie noted. “And the Chinese have the Yanks bugged, but at least the Qatari can’t hear us here.”

“Bloody Qatar. Fucking everywhere, mate.” The elder and larger Bruce MacKenzie admitted. “Why’s it you come to us and not your Yanks?”

“I am not looking for American friends. Besides, I figured you’d tell them soon enough.”

“Too right, Vic. They rang us up before your Mustapha fellow did.” Digger said candidly.

“Oi, but we got our own file on you, mate.” Bruce said, proud of his own independent intelligence network. “Canberra gave you political sanctuary some years ago. Clean record it seems, other than some fuss in Sydney.”

Faked your own death and then forgot about it the next day.” Digger was impressed, or in the least, entertained. “Brilliant, really. You must have been quite pissed.”

“What’s it you want with us, then?” Bruce MacKenzie, Under Secretary of the Australian Consulate in Morocco, cut to the chase as his sausage fingers powdered the almond cookies before they could be tossed into his great mawl.

“Friendship for a favor.” I suggested. “I can provide intel on shady characters here in Morocco.”

Bruce and Digger glanced at each other, sharing the same thought.

“Not sure we’re looking for any friends, Vic.” Digger admitted, almost saddened by my hapless cause.

“Future consideration, then? I’ll give you some intel, maybe later we grab some pints and who knows?”

“What’s your business here in Africa?” Bruce asked, leaning forward as chief inquisitor. “Not the tequila rubbish, Maroc Spirits, LTD founded by Victor Neverman. We’ve seen your permits. What are you really here for?”

“You don’t go into liquor business in a Muslim Country, do ya Vic?” Digger asked patronizingly. “Next you’ll have a hotdog cart in the streets.”

“It would be mostly exports. Maybe deal in a little spice, some saffron.” I suggested. “Look, do you want to bust my balls about my business acumen or talk shop?”

Bruce and Digger shared another look, this one a bit more solemn. They nodded for me to continue, sitting on their bench like a pair of footballers looking to knock some heads. Their combined ribcages could have fit 18 of me. Their good humor was waning…

“There is a guy back in Casa I can deliver to you. He’s an Algerian spy. His name is Conrad and he claims to be a deserter from the Foreign Legion. He’s mostly full of shit, but I know he is working for the Algerians.”

They were unimpressed. Digger McKenzie, Cultural Attaché for the Australian Consulate explained, “We’re not in the border dispute business, Vic.”

“Now if you make him a Qatari spy we’re interested.” Bruce MacKenzie suggested in a quiet boom.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” I spoke excitedly. I then mentioned the mysterious Baroness. She was playing every fiddle in the European Union, she drank vodka like a Bolshevik and she was rather stunningly beautiful, I mean, if you could get past the, umm, cold sores.

“Imagine that’s what your Ali Baba beard is for.” Digger suggested with a wink. “First line of defense against the herp.”

“How is it you said she is passing information to Qatar?” Bruce queeried.

“She picks up French newspapers, sometimes days old.” I mentioned. They waited, their opened palms expressing a desire for more. “She doesn’t read French, you see, she is hopeless with a menu. Newspaper transmission is old spy craft – the agent in the field takes a pin and pokes holes into certain letters to spell out a message. She drops the used paper in a garbage bin; her handler picks it up and later holds it in front of a light and writes down the message.”

“Fucking Qataris!” Bruce groaned and shook his head. “It’s got their stink all over it.”

“First offer of advice, Vic.” Digger leaned in. “Drop this Mustapha fellow. He’s a bad sort. We’ve got a Marrakshi bloke who’s tops.”

“Rafiq?” Bruce raised an eyebrow at Digger.

“Too right, Rafiq.” Digger confirmed and then patted me on the shoulder. “Tops.”

Which is how I found my Moroccan partner-in-crime, Rafiq.

First though, I had to end my relationship with Mustapha. I gave him the news before we parted ways outside the Tower of Hassan in Rabat. I wasn’t sure if his reaction was elated or angered. I hoped he understood I was moving on from Casablanca and would be living in Marrakesh, where his influence was nullified.

“I understand, M’sseur Neverman. I understand Allah in his wrath gave Nazarenes the heart of dogs.”

I laughed, assuming he was trying to be sarcastic. I said something about God being with him, as is custom if you can enunciate the Arabic in a non-offensive manner.

“May God let you finish out your miserable life.” Mustapha responded.

“Yep, so… Adios!”

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Tariq and Vic Neverman

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Rafiq and Vic Neverman

Pseudocide – the ultimate escape. More than just a plot device on daytime television, the death fake properly executed is a thing of beauty. It is the perfect murder. Consider this: any sloppy murder can still go unsolved, but faking one’s own death – to kill your own identity – in this day, this age, requires a masterful stroke of genius.

Sherlock Holmes and Huck Finn faked their own deaths. Jim Morrison did too and he used the same Dutch company that assisted Elvis with the King’s exit of the building. Keep in mind – the best pseudocides are those we never suspect. We usually only hear of those that fail, like the douchebags that buried their spouse in the backyard before claiming their partner was in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Or Ace Baker, my fellow conspiracy theorist, who was so tired of not getting any traction with his “9/11 as inside job” theory that he had himself “executed” via machine gun attacker while live on the radio. Or Marcus Shreuker, the Indiana financial planner who set his plane on autopilot, called MAYDAY and parachuted out, only to be arrested at a campground a few days later.

You can’t blame them for trying. The romantic appeal of leaving it all behind and starting over is strong. Especially if you include some sort of loot-grabbing heist to the plot. Many claim DB Cooper was the greatest of all pseudocides, but DB does not apply as the identity of this bank heist/hijacker/parachutist has never been proven, therefore, no identity was ever killed (For what it’s worth, I know the terrain where DB Cooper dropped into and it is a land of marijuana barons and Big Foot, no surprise DBC was never heard of again).

Most failed attempts (again, we cannot study the successful ones) are by those in dire financial straits and/or wanted on criminal charges. Executing a death fake might seem to be a good evasive strategy, but there is going to be more skepticism if the subject is already a flight risk. The best time to pull off a death faking is when the public would least expect it.

Old Man Neverman… or DB Cooper?

Rule #1 – never attend your own funeral service. I can’t tell you how many egomaniacal idiots have been busted by breaking this first rule.

Best Bet – to fake your own death, leave a post on your facebook page that you are going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Never before has a span inspired so many jumpers, this is an ideal setting. All you have to do is leave enough suspicious personal belongings on the edge and disappear. No one would ever question the lack of body.

(It would seem odd I would condone such a selfish criminal act, but I merely see pseudocide as a great alternative to the very fatalistic suicide)

Personally, Vic Neverman has a long history in this craft. Many even accuse my father of pseudocide. Old Man Neverman lived double-lives, why wouldn’t he shed one in order to pursue another?

Before my exodus out of Chicago, I planned my pseudocide very carefully. Everything was ready – my life insurance was made out to Des Riley (the X), I tossed my extracted wisdom teeth into the front seat of my car, all I needed was to set the spark during any typical winter blizzardy night. The chance arose, but I turned chicken shit. I decided to wait one more day. Over the next 24 hours, my car was entirely buried by snow. By the time of the thaw, I had a change of heart. Des may, herself, have had something to do with that. I decided to take my fight to City Hall and did manage to get a lot of parking tickets lifted from my record.

Brothers Von Trier of South Milwaukee

The Chicago turnaround was just a stay of execution. I would eventually be forced to flee for the nearby suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There I had a nice existence: I would camp out close to the airport lounges with the Von Trier brothers, sipping outrageous cocktails or intense German beers. I even had a girlfriend who was once in a Christian cult compound in Texas (not Waco, but now that I think about it, she didn’t specify). Once the lilies of spring rose, so did the snooping grunts of Chicago. South Milwaukee was not far enough away. I decided to fake my own death once again. This plot was even more perfect. I was going to hire a call girl, take her aboard a gambling cruise, feign gross intoxication, and while the shore was still within range, I was going to fall overboard into Lake Michigan and use an underwater breathing apparatus to help me ashore to where the Von Triers were waiting. The prostitute would not be included on the plan, she would just be an innocent witness. When it came to showtime, though, I just couldn’t find a hooker I didn’t mind being seen with.

Rule #2 – if you give a shit about how others perceive your “death”, you shouldn’t be faking it in the first place.

Obviously, it seems as though Vic Neverman is all bark and no bite the big one. These Midwestern attempts, however, were not my first plots. I have faked my own death. Let me take you back to the period of my life I refer to as the “American Werewolf in Sydney” days. Dark days? Not at all. Sure, I was searching for my recently departed elder Neverman, but I was in fairly good spirits. A lot of those spirits were served up by a lovely Aussie muse in a halter top at a city bar English ex-patriots frequented. Her name escapes me, so I will refer to her as Matilda. Her hair was touched by fire, as they say.

At first, there was darkness… Well, before the darkness was Matilda and the deviled bollocks sweat she peddled. Then there was darkness.

I remember waking up at four am in a strip club in Kingscross, a sketchier neighborhood in Sydney. A local firefighter was to my right, telling me out how his wife had kicked him out. The strippers on the pole were horrendous, but not as bad as the American domestic bottle of swill in my hand. I would never order this brand of beer in the USA, let alone Australia, so obviously I had not been myself. I recovered from this blackout and walked across the city in the mid-AM towards my hostel with a vague recollection of what happened earlier in the night.

Vic playing the didge in Aus

Two nights later, I returned to my regular drinking hole to see the lovely Matilda. The bouncer at the bar, some bloke I didn’t think I knew, gave me a pat on the back, “Good to see you’re alive, mate.” Yeah, likewise, bro. One of the bartenders saw me and greeted me similarly, “Oi! Look whose liven’!” Yep, no zombies here. Matilda arrived and was not surprised or thrilled to see the looks of me. I asked her if I had been a jackass the other night. “I’ll let you be the judge of that” she said with no love lost. That’s just it, I don’t quite… remember…. It was apparent Matilda was lost to me, so I left the bar with an empty heart to sleep in an emptier bed.

The next day I decided to leave Sydney behind me. It wasn’t long before I was at the airport with a ticket to the Northern Territory when I ran into a couple of Prisoners Of Mother England who I had been drinking with on the night of infamy. I asked these guys if I had been a jackass to sweet Matilda the other night. “Oh no, you were brilliant!” they exclaimed. “When you were on the floor, I about pissed myself.” On the floor? “Yeah, when your red-headed bird started ignoring you, you started to do anything to catch her attention, right? You eventually pretended to choke. When that didn’t work, you faked your own death and we had to carry your wanker arse out of there!”