12: Reconnoitering

I woke up earlier than usual on the morning of December 30th.
I opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. A tap on the opposite room woke Jose and Nuno up.
Nuno opened the door and let me in.
Jose got out of bed as soon as he saw me.
” Bom Dia” he said. I nodded.

I picked up the pack of Marlboro on the table and lighted one.
” Gentlemen, the day is here. This money we are about to receive is small but we will still be in serious trouble if the operations fail. We have covered our own end of the plans but we still don’t know what surprises that awaits us out there” I said.
They listened with utmost concentration.
” To make sure we don’t fall into any surprises, there would be no alcoholic for three of us until the deal is done.
Do not do anything that will attract attention to yourself.
Do not disobey any government laws including crossing the road without the green traffic light.
Do not smoke outside until we are done. Any questions?”
Nuno went first. ” where do we meet after the operation?” he asked.
”There is an abandoned ship at the foot of the Douro bridge. It has been converted to a bar. I will be waiting there” I said.

” What if she didn’t bring the money with her” Jose asked.
” We have the keys to the safe locker at the station. No money and no key. As long as she don’t give you money, she had no evidence to implicate you” I said.

” When we get the money, how do we give her the keys?” Jose asked again.
I haven’t thought about that, so I scratched my head.
” I will give you the keys. When you get the money, don’t bother to count it. Just give her the keys, tell her the locker number and run for your lives.

I finished and dropped the butt of the Marlboro into the ashtray on the table and went back to my room.

Jennifer had woken up and was fiddling with her phone to dial my number and find out where I was.

She said ” good morning” as I moved into the bathroom. I locked the bathroom door and climbed on top of the Toilet seat. I raised up my hand and found the money I had hidden behind the water pipe.
It was rumpled but still complete. I pulled out 3000 euros and put the rest back behind the pipe. I put the 3000 inside my pocket and removed all my cloths for my morning bath.
Ten minutes later, I returned inside the room and sat down beside Jenny.

” Jennifer, we will be going out any moment today to meet your madam. She may come with police or thugs which means that there could be trouble” I said.
She looked at me and started crying.

” There is no need to cry, you will not get into trouble. Here is 1500 euros. If I don’t get back in the night, hide your phone number and call me. If I don’t answer or if another person answer the call, cut the line and wait until morning. If after mid day tomorrow and I am not back here, call this number ( I handed a written number to her). He is my friend in Valencia spain. He will come here to pick you up. Our hotel deposit will end tomorrow. Pay them for another three days until My friend comes here. If my friend don’t come, take your bag and go to the train station. Buy a ticket to Coimbra. From Coimbra, buy a ticket to Madrid, the border in that area is porous. If the police control you, tell them that you are from Cameroun and that you want asylum.
I have called my friend in Madrid and told him about you. Here is his number. From Porto to Madrid is about 600km. The ticket will not cost more than 200 euros in total” I finished and held her hand.
” I know you are scared but the other option is to go back to Lisbon” I said.

When I finished with her, I went back to Jose and Nuno.
” Call madam now” I said as I entered the room.
”She called two minutes ago, she said she is on the way” Jose said.
” Why didn’t you tell me sooner” I asked
” Sorry boss” he said
He liked calling me boss and I didn’t care, I was running and sponsoring the operations anyway.

I looked at the clock on the screen of my phone and it was 8:15am.
Since the trains to Porto from Lisbon’s largest station, at the ORIENTE leaves 5 minutes past every hour, I figured she must have left with either 7:05 or 8:05 trains. Porto is approximately 3 hours from Lisbon.
It was safe to assume that she would be in Sao Bento Station by 10 am or 11 am.

We reviewed our plans for the last time and got ready to move.

I went back to my room and met Jenny crying, she stood up and hugged me as soon as I entered.
” please don’t leave me” she said.

I told her that everything was going to be alright. I made her understand why I had to give her the plan B options.
When she calmed down, I kissed her for a long minute, turned around and left the room without looking back.

Jose and Nuno were already downstairs. We got outside and entered one of the waiting-taxis in front of the hotel .

It took us to Avis, where Jose rented a small French car called renault megane. We took the car to Boavista avenue and packed behind a fiat car. I gave then 500 euros and the key to the safe, then I told them to disappear if anything suspicious occoured.

I left them both and returned to a cyber cafe opposite the major entrance into the Sao Bento train station. The time was 17 minutes to 10am. I bought a cup of coffee and a 30 minute internet voucher, then I waited for Madam Grace.

The new e mails in my inbox was from Efuah, Agnes and an Unknown name.

I opened Efuah’s mail. It was two pictures of Princess my daughter. She had grown bigger and looked like her mother. A short message that accompanied it said that they were Ok. Her husband had called and said that her travel documents would be ready by the middle of January. I wished her goodluck and opened the second mail.

It was from Agnes. She wanted to know how I was doing with the resident permit processing. She said she was also interested if I could help. Victor was fine.
I closed it and opened the third mail. It was from a lady who claimed to be from Sierra Leone. According to her, she was in a refugee camp in Dakar Senegal and wanted me to help her retrieve 3 million dollars her dead father had lodged into a foreign account for her. She asked for my phone number and resident address etc. I suspected that it was a scam mail, so I replied her and gave her madam Grace’s phone number. Madam Grace would be of a better help since she knew how to smuggle girls.

After the last mail, I looked up and saw people coming out of the station. A train had arrived but I was not sure where it had come from.

Since Sao Bento ( St Benedict) station was the largest and the most central station in Porto, trains from all over Spain and Portugal stopped there.

I looked at my watch, it was 10: 01am. I signed out of my e mail and concentrated on the train station.

There! The unmistakable fat Madam Grace was fumbling in her handbag. I watched her brought out her phone and dialed a number. She spoke for a minute or so and put the phone back in her bag. I watched her cross the road to where I was and entered a taxi.
I figured out that it was Jose that Madam Grace had called.

*Why haven’t Jose called me and report that the woman had arrived. Something was wrong.*

I jumped outside and called a cab. I told the driver to follow the road south of the station where I had seen madam Grace and her taxi gone to. Fortunately for us, we caught up with them in a traffic light.
My taxi driver was a Pakistani man. I told him that I wanted to know where Madam Grace’s taxi was going. He nodded and followed her.

We followed them to Massarelos roundabout but instead of going right to the Boavista avenue, they diverted left down to the Douro river.

At that stage, I knew that something had changed. Jose and Nuno were no longer working according to Plan.
I wondered if they had been discovered where they were waiting for madam Grace and had decided to change the point of exchange.
But why not tell me. I was running the operations. I was the group leader. I recruited two of them.
I was going to find out what was happening.

They got to the Douro river and climbed the Arrabida bridge. I followed them. They crossed the Bridge and headed to the Vila Nova De Gaia, a suburb of Porto down in the South. They were heading to an area I had not visited, I needed to act fast.

I called Madam Grace with my old number. She picked the phone after the first ring.

” Solomon, I no know where your friends are taking me to. I have the money here and they have been telling me to come here and there.” she yelled.
I told her to stop at the traffic light ahead. She did.

She got out of the taxi and stood in front of a coffee shop. I stopped behind Them and asked her to settle her taxi driver.

I told her to enter my own taxi and we drove away. We turned and headed back across the Arrabida bridge. I asked her to off her phone.

I called Jose and asked for updates. He said that he would call me back and cut his line off.

”Where is the money” I asked.
” Where is the record” she fired back.

I told her that it was locked up somewhere close and that she will get it as soon as I get the money. She hesitated for a few seconds before throwing a small black bag at me.
I opened it and saw roles of Euros inside. I zipped it slowly and asked the taxi driver to head to the Sao Bento Station.

We got to the station and I asked her to wait with the driver while I get the recorded message. She said nothing.
Just like me, She was scared too. Her offence was too bad. She needed to destroy that recorded message and she knew that any wrong move would change everything.

I went down to the Angolan safe keeper who assigned us the safe where I had hidden the phone.
I told him that I lost the key and asked him to open it for me.
Luckily, he recognized me; I had given him 20 euro tip when we brought the phone. He said that I needed to fill in some paper works before he could open the safe for me. Standard procedure according to him.
I did. After the paperwork which included my names, my address, my phone number ( all fake), he opened the safebox for me and I took the phone.

The price meter of my taxi had stopped at 128 euros when we got back to the station.

I sneaked to the taxi window and threw 150 euros to the driver and threw the phone to madam Grace. Then I walked hurriedly down the station again and disappeared through another exit.

As soon as I came out of the station, I called Jennifer. I told her to get ready in ten minutes; we were checking out. I hung the phone before she asked why.

I called Jose and told him to come to the abandoned ship; our rendezvous point. I told him that I had followed madam Grace across the brigde and had collected the money. I figured that by the time they get to the ship and back to our hotel, I must have been half way to another city.

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