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Authors: Aileen G. Baron

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The Torch of Tangier

BOOK: The Torch of Tangier
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The Torch of Tangier

The Torch of Tangier

Aileen G. Baron

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2006 by Aileen G. Baron

First U. S. Edition 2006

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2005928757

ISBN: 1-59058-221-7

ISBN: 978-1-61595-263-2 Epub

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

[email protected]


This one is for Caroline and Michael, for Matthew and Rachel and Gabrielle and Isaac, and for the memory of Joey


My thanks go to Dr. Abdelhay Moudden of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat for guiding me around Morocco, and to Dr. Farah Cherif, also of the Center, for introducing me to the story of her great-grandmother, Emily Keane, Shareefa of Ouezzane, and to Thor Kuniholm and the staff of the American Legation for showing me around the Legation and making old copies of the
Tangier Gazette
available to me.

I would also like to thank David Baron for suggestions he made after reading the manuscript in rough form. A thousand thanks to Sally Scalzo, Cathy De Mayo, and Linda McFadden for suffering through the many drafts of the book, to Jessica Kaye for handling the legal niceties of the contract, and to Javier Perez for encouragement and promotion.

And of course, my deepest gratitude goes to Barbara Peters, editor par excellence, whose deft hand helped whip the manuscript into its final shape, and to Robert Rosenwald, publisher of Poisoned Pen Press.

Much of the material in the book was gleaned from Carleton Coon’s account of his work in Tangier for the OSS,
A North African Story,
and the story of his excavation in the Caves of Hercules in
Seven Caves
. Further exposition of these excavations can be found in
The Paleolithic of Tangier, Morocco
, by Bruce Howe.

Chapter One

Lily threaded her way out of the medina—the old city of Tangier—past old men wearing long, hooded djelabas, their bodies bent over canes as they struggled up the hill, their backless slippers shuffling along the littered street.

At first she didn’t notice the two Germans keeping to the shadows. She saw them as she made her way back to the El Minzah Hotel from the medina but thought nothing of it.

Something about the pair struck her as familiar. Especially the one in the striped shirt, his neck bound by a tightly buttoned white collar. His wispy hair, dyed red-brown, had long white roots framing a ruddy, pockmarked face so that his head seemed to be floating away. His shirt, streaked with sweat, puffed outward around his arms. He looked like a weather balloon.

His companion had a moustache that punctuated his lips like a cocked eyebrow. From time to time he scanned the street with bulging bright blue eyes.

She had seen them yesterday, arguing in German with a man who wore a camel’s hair jacket and a cold face. The man ignored Herr Balloon and concentrated on Lily, his eyes narrowed, his lips taut.

It was his eyes, stark icy blue, that sent a shiver through Lily’s soul.

Herr Balloon’s arms flailed in anger, the veins in his neck strained while the man in the camel’s hair jacket continued to watch Lily.

His companion hung back with an embarrassed smile.

she had heard Herr Balloon shout as the man in the jacket walked away and Herr Balloon ran after him before they both disappeared in the swarming streets surrounding the Grand Socco.


The white city, bleached and frowsy in the sun, spread languid and lascivious between the Mediterranean and the Mountain. It reverberated with sounds of expatriates: Italians crooning love songs in the golden dusk; Spaniards, stern-faced and stiff-spined, barking orders; Germans with pink faces and bawdy leers, singing and swaying together over beer in sidewalk cafes; drugged Americans with blank eyes, mumbling as they rolled along the streets; British pensioners with loud voices and rotted teeth, nursing warm drinks, staring into space, complaining about the price of food; openly affectionate pairs of men with raucous laughter that seeped from seedy bars and echoed through alleys.

“They’re all spies,” Drury had said. “Every last one of them. Watch your back.”

And everyone complained about the shortage of food because of the war, but did nothing.


The Germans in front of her passed the gardens outside the Mendoubia and the 17th-century cannons—still aimed at the harbor, still ready to repel raids by marauding pirates and the unconquerable Moors.

Everything else had changed since Lily arrived in Tangier over a year and a half ago, in early 1941. Tangier had ceased to be an International Zone; Spain had assumed control of the Zone after the fall of France. Colonel Yuste, head of the Tangier occupation forces, appointed himself Governor General of Tangier. He dismissed the Mendoub, the Moroccan sultan’s representative in the International Zone.

Now, a Nazi flag fluttered over the Mendoubia.

And everywhere, the Spanish police strutted, menacing and arrogant. And Nazi agents—pompous, insolent—swarmed out of the woodwork like termites after the rain and scurried through the streets of Tangier for the honor of the Fatherland.

Last November, almost a year ago, slurries of mud flooded part of the Caves of Hercules where she had worked, making excavation impossible. The archaeological team had to stop digging, waiting in the city until after the rain.

Then came Pearl Harbor.

The Spanish governors denied Americans access to Cape Spartel. We should have gone home, Lily thought, back to Chicago. Now it’s the end of October, and we haven’t been able to get back to the caves.

But Drury seemed to be waiting for something. They remained in Tangier, along with the other two members of the expedition staff, Clark MacAlistair and Zaid Sutton. The pair had flown here on the Pan-American Clipper with Drury before Lily arrived and stayed in a villa on the Mountain.

Drury paid for it all. He had money that seemed to fall out of the sky.

Lily skirted the dark shade of the huge banyan tree near the Mendoubia garden, its aerial roots anchored on the ground like the buttresses of a gothic cathedral.

The Germans were still ahead of her. Who were they? Refugees? Smugglers?

She passed Berber women in their conical straw hats and striped skirts, crouched next to sacks of saffron, cumin, and thyme. The musty odor of melons, over-ripe fruit, wine-heavy grapes, the bright tang of tangerines, hovered in the air. Women in dark robes, black veils stretched across their faces, floated past her.

The two Germans skulked ahead of her onto the Rue de Statut and toward the El Minzah. Were they spies? Would they work for whoever would pay them? Or were they Nazis?

Lily trailed them into the hotel. What were these two doing in the El Minzah? She could afford to stay there only because Drury paid her full room and board and gave her a small stipend.

The Germans prowled the reception area and descended the steps to the tiled patio where two tweedy Englishwomen sat by the fountain, noisily drinking Scotch and grumbling about prices.

“For the glory of the Empire,” one of them bellowed in a resonant alto.

“Before the war,” her companion said, “it cost less than four pounds a week here with full board. Full board, mind you.”

“And what are you doing for the war effort?” her friend asked.

“Drinking the King’s whiskey,” said the woman. “Paying my bills as best I can. Had to give up food, you know. Too damned expensive.”

Lily followed the Germans through the Wine Bar. Herr Balloon brushed against a woman who had been cooing at a toy poodle, feeding it bits of pretzel from a dish on the table. The poodle, wearing a pink bow and a rhinestone collar, snapped and growled in a high-pitched yelp as soon as Herr Balloon and his companion entered the bar.

The woman lifted the dog with her left hand and tucked it under her arm.
“C’est tout bien, mon petit chou,”
she crooned to the dog.
“Reste-toi tranquille, mon cher.”

Herr Balloon gripped the woman’s free hand and bowed over it.
“Pardon, Madame, perdón.”

Lily saw him slip a small piece of paper into her palm when he bent over.

, idiot.” The woman snatched her hand away, tucked the paper into the dog’s collar, and waved the German off. “Go away,
Allez-vous en!”

Herr Balloon mopped his forehead with a dingy handkerchief, continued through the bar and up the stairs.

Lily followed at a distance to the first floor, watching the men slink through the corridor, moving out of sight when they paused. She ducked behind a writing desk that stood against the wall and saw Herr Moustache pull a passkey from his pocket, jiggle open a door, and creep inside.

Into Lily’s room.

Chapter Two

Lily heard the clang of the elevator behind her, heard it hiccup to a level stop, heard the door open. She flattened herself against the wall and craned her neck to see the elevator.

Drury trudged out, frowning at some secret thought, a sheaf of papers tucked under his arm. He glanced up, noticed Lily, and raised an eyebrow. “What in hell are you doing hiding behind a potted palm?”

“Someone’s in my room.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Two Germans. They let themselves in with a key.”

“They did, did they?” His lips formed into the bow of a smile, his eyes steely cold. “We’ll fix that.” He reached into his pocket for his room key. “We’ll wait in my room ‘til they’re gone. Shouldn’t take them more than ten minutes.”

“I don’t know what they’re after. I have nothing of value.”

“Course not.” Drury signaled her inside and picked up the telephone. “Room service.”

“You’re not calling the police?”

“What police? Franco’s boys, the Guardia Civil? They probably set this up. Did the same thing to me yesterday.” He slapped the sheaf of papers down on the table next to him and waved Lily to a chair.

“You hungry?” He turned back to the telephone. “Dr. Drury here, room 114. An order of mashed potatoes, rolls with butter and honey, and a pot of tea. Immediately.

He crossed to the chair near the window and sat down. The bright sun behind him outlined his gaunt form in sharp contrast. “Saw Tariq in the Grand Socco yesterday, came in to tell me the Spanish army is occupying the caves. You know the High Cave where we found the Neanderthal? They use it as a stable for mules. Put anti-aircraft batteries on the headlands, right on top of the caves. Every time they shoot, a chunk of rock breaks off the roof of the cave. Practicing to shoot at
planes, I might add. Naturally, I complained to the Spanish authorities.”



Lily remembered the first time she had seen the caves, a few months after she had met Professor Hammond Drury that dark Chicago afternoon in the late fall of 1940 and agreed to come to Tangier. She sat in his office in Harper Hall at the University of Chicago, pretending he had said nothing to insult her, nothing to make her cringe.

He lounged in the chair, an expression of benign disdain in his cheerful smile.

A poster on the wall behind him pictured a kitten in front of a mirror. Looking back at it was the image of a valorous lion. The legend said, “What matters most is how you see yourself.”

Lily gazed at his pointed features, his sharp chin, his wild white hair. Does he, too, see a lion in the mirror? A tiger? A kitten?

He had just told her she was not his first choice. “In fact,” he had said, “I don’t know if you’re up to the job.”

Women never are, she thought. Good archaeologists have short hair, need shaves, and climb cliffs in the morning before breakfast.

Until the day she sat in his office, she had worked on her dissertation every afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 in her cubbyhole of an office at the Oriental Institute, site reports scattered on the floor, papers piled on the side of the desk. She had tacked a plan of Tel el Kharub—the site where she dug in Palestine—on the wall in front of her. Little pieces of paper stuck out from books stacked on chairs and bookshelves, marking pages she needed for reference.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, she led discussion sessions for freshman classes in archaeology. Tuesdays and Thursdays, she had office hours. On Monday and Thursday evenings, before the war in Europe began, before Rafi left, they would have dinner together. Sometimes they went back to his apartment afterward and nestled in each other’s arms.

Lily longed to break away from the wearying routine, go back into the field, to the blue sky and exotic faces, the excitement of strange streets. But most of all, she missed Rafi through the dreary days.

“They tell me you have some background with burials,” Drury continued. “My own graduate students are great in the lab.”

Of course they are.

“But they don’t have much digging experience,” he added. Then, that unctuous smile again.

She could see the falling snow through the tiny panes of glass of the mullioned windows behind him, the gunmetal Chicago sky, and the darkening outline of the Rosenwald Museum across the Midway.

“Morocco, Miss Sampson. The Magrebh.”

That’s where Rafi is, Lily thought. Rafi had returned to Palestine where they had met, this time to fight the Nazis. In his last letter, he said that he was with the British, somewhere in the Western Desert.

“The Magrebh,” she repeated.

“Means west. All of North Africa west of Egypt is the Magrebh. Morocco is the westernmost of all. I leave in two weeks.”

To be out of the snow and under the blue sky again. Can I be ready in two weeks? Can I leave my dissertation and the notes on Tel el Kharub behind, get back to them next year when I return? Why not? Some archaeologists take years to write reports, keep going back to the field.

“There’s a war on,” she said.

“We’re not in the war yet, Miss Sampson. I booked your passage on the
. Leaves next month. Nothing to worry about, American registry. An old boat, not very fast. You’ll be getting in sometime in January, in 1941. You’ll have plenty of time to read up on the prehistory of Morocco during the crossing.”

“Morocco is a French colony, Dr. Drury. Run by the Vichy government.”

“Not to worry. Tangier’s an international city.”

“I don’t know if I have the time. I haven’t finished my dissertation.”

Work, work, work. I’m sick of work.

“You won’t need your doctorate. I’ll make the crucial decisions.”

Of course you will.

“Just competence in digging,” he said. “That’s all I ask.”

“It’s a Paleolithic site?”

“A cave.”

“I’ll think about it. Have to get back to the Oriental Institute.”

When would she have to turn in her section of the site report to Kate in London? No hurry. Kate was busy with Home Defense.

Lily stood. Her notebook fell to the floor and her notes splayed across the faded weave of a kilim, stiff with mud, that Drury used as a rug. She grabbed the notes, stuffed a wad of them into the pouch of her notebook, and shoved the rest into the pocket of her coat between her gloves and scarf while Drury watched.

“I have office hours,” she said and backed out of the room.

At the door of the building, she pulled out her scarf and the notes fell again. She picked them up, crossed the quad and skirted the Botany Pond in the lowering winter dusk, headed for her room at International House.

She ran into Drury again the next day as she was coming out of the Co-op on Ellis Avenue.

“Made up your mind?” Frozen droplets of breath billowed from his mouth. He shivered at the wind coming off the lake. His leather-like skin, creased from countless summers in the North African sun, shone glazed and purple in the painful Chicago chill.

Her toes pinched with cold. She stamped her feet and felt the warmth evaporating through her muffler. “Warmer there than here?”

Frost hung on Drury’s tangled eyebrows and on the edges of the fur hat that hid his thatch of white hair. “Start packing, Miss Sampson,” he had said with one of those smug grins.

If he smiles in the wind, Lily had thought, his face will crack and his nose will fall off.


By the time Lily arrived in Tangier, the three of them—Drury, MacAlistair, and Zaid—had been working in the caves for the better part of a week.

The morning Lily joined them, MacAlistair and his friend Zaid were waiting for Lily and Drury in the patio of the El Minzah.

Zaid wore his digging outfit, his version of the local Riffian costume—loose pants in bright yellow, an embroidered vest, and a turban wrapped around his head for protection in the caves.

MacAlistair’s jacket was draped across his shoulders and he held his cigarette European-style between his thumb and index finger. Nobody called him Mac.

He smoked Gauloise. The acrid whiff of the strong Turkish tobacco burned Lily’s eyes. MacAlistair greeted them and coughed softly. His friend Zaid placed a hand on his arm.

“I shouldn’t dig in the caves,” MacAlistair said. “The dust is bad for my bronchitis.”

He took another puff of the cigarette, coughed again until his eyes teared, while Zaid patted his back.

“Let’s go,” Drury said. “Time’s a-wasting.”

Zaid drove them out of Tangier in MacAlistair’s Hillman, up a winding road lined with prickly pears and fragrant with the scent of wild iris. They started up The Mountain, strewn with villas silent behind walls festooned with ivy-geraniums and gardens vivid with spring.

Higher still along the ridge, the aroma of pine needles and the sea wafted toward them from round-headed umbrella pines along the coast. On their left, wild oleander bloomed bright pink among scattered cork oaks and in the crevasses of the scrub. Beyond, the Rif Mountains rose like ghosts out of a blue haze of rolling foothills.

They passed the lighthouse, sited on the barren point of Cape Spartel. In the distance children ran toward a low-lying kiosk on the edge of the land, their mothers following in wind-swept dresses.

Drury pointed to the flat, bald headlands of Cape Ashagar ahead of them on the coastal road. “There they are, on the Atlantic side of the cape.” He paused dramatically. “The Caves of Hercules.”

Parked cars, carriages, and donkey carts clogged the road near the caves.

“Who are all those people?” Lily asked.

“Tourists. Visitors. In good weather they drive out from town for picnics and sightseeing. And locals have an industry hewing millstones out of the walls of the sandstone caves. The only thing that bothers us is the noise of quarrying.” Drury leaned forward and looked out the window toward the crowded road. “We work in the High Cave. It’s a bear to reach, so tourists leave us alone.”

Zaid maneuvered the car onto a spur that led to an upper path, and parked next to the cliff face in the shelter of a small niche not visible from the road. They unwound themselves from the tiny Hillman and stood in the freshening breeze that funneled through the Straits of Gibraltar.

The Pillars of Hercules!

From here, Lily thought, I can see the end of the world. Below them, the Atlantic roiled, green and foaming. Far to the right, inside the Straits, a turquoise Mediterranean reflected the sharp cerulean sky.

A blue-eyed Riffian with a blond beard and wearing a knitted cap, orange pantaloons, and a broad smile came toward them.

“This is Tariq,” Drury said. “He’s from the village down in the valley. Medionna. He and his brother Hasan are our pickmen.”

Tariq touched his forehead and waved his hand in her direction. “Welcome, lalla, welcome.”

They scrambled down a steep path that jutted from the cliff face like a tiny shelf, just broad enough for a footing, to the mouth of the cave. Here and there, the jagged ledge was shattered. Below her, the furious sea broke against the jumble of rocks. Lily held her breath and clawed the sharp limestone of the wall.

“Afraid of heights?” Zaid reached for her. “Take my hand.” He guided her across the gaps to the entrance platform of the cave.

Inside, lit by a dim shaft of daylight from a hole in the roof, a series of strings one meter apart stretched across the floor. Lines weighted with plumb bobs hung from the ceiling like so many stalactites.

“Watch your step,” Drury said, and handed her a miner’s helmet with a lamp attached to the crown.

The others, their helmets already lit, moved cautiously among the strings, stooping under the low ceiling of the cave, casting long shadows across the cyclopean beams of the lamps. Only Lily could stand upright.

Tariq worked his way steadily along a trench down the center of the floor that led from the threshold of the cave to the back wall. He dug with the sharp end of a
, a double-headed pick, straddling the trench, chopping at a layer of gritty red soil. His brother Hasan carried away the loose soil in a two-handled basket to a tiny shelf outside the cave.

“The boys sift the dirt through a screen with a quarter-inch mesh.” Drury’s voice echoed through the hollows of the cave, over the sound of the sea and the muted hammering of workmen in other caves quarrying mortars out of the rock. “We’ve picked up a few teeth, cut bone—some splintered for the marrow—from this level. Mainly gazelle, wild bovine.”

Tariq, crouched over the trench, looked up at Lily and grinned. “My brother Hasan and I, we find.”

“We dig in twenty centimeter increments,” Drury told Lily.

He picked up a pebble and pitched it at the top layer of soil on the side of the trench. Lily swung her headlamp around to light it. Near the surface, the deposit was dark and oily from human habitation.

“That top layer had some modern Islamic and Roman remains and Neolithic material. Last year we brought out polished stone axes, impressed pottery, sheep bones, tanged Capsian points.”

Tariq was working in the packed red earth below it.

“The red soil of the next level is from the last pluvial of the Pleistocene,” Drury said. “We’ve taken out Mousterian points, scrapers, a Neanderthal jaw.”

Lily peered into the shadows and adjusted her headlamp. She could just make out a lens of charcoal and burnt earth.

A Neanderthal hearth.

Here, in these caves at the tip of the world, they had cooked their food, chided their children, buried their dead. Long before the Romans, before the Phoenicians, even before Hercules, voices echoed in hollows lit by dim fires and the caves held the smell of habitation.

What were they like, these gruff creatures with their bulbous noses, heavy brows, receding chins? Was their hair matted? And did they smile, did they hold each other, did they croon soft songs to their babies?

MacAlistair had begun to cough again, this time uncontrollably. He groped for the cave entrance. Outside, he leaned against the rock face, gasping.

Zaid waggled his light dolefully from side to side. “He’s sick. Very sick.”

Zaid had stepped outside to comfort MacAlistair and Drury had explained, “Can’t seem to shake the bronchitis.”

BOOK: The Torch of Tangier
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