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A LETTER FROM THE PAST FORCES A DISGRACED BUREAUCRAT TO CONFRONT HIS FUTURE
TANGIER tells two parallel stories: one, a mystery, and the other a spy story set fifty years apart and told in a series of alternating sections. In the first, we follow Christopher Chaffee, a disgraced Washington power broker whose father, a French diplomat, died in a Vichy prison in 1944or so he had always believed until a letter, received decades after it was posted, upends his life. Soon he is reluctantly inspecting the corkscrew of his own life as he searches the narrow lanes and twisted souls of Tangier’s ancient medina in search of the father he never knew.
The second is a tale of espionage and betrayal, set in Morocco during WWII. Rene Laurent, Christopher’s father, struggles to maintain his integrityand his lifein the snake pit of wartime Tangier. The stories slowly intertwine as Christopher unravels the mystery of his father’s fate, and Laurent becomes trapped in a web of lies and corruption, and caught up, too, in the arms of a woman he knows he shouldn’t trust.
Ultimately, TANGIER is the story of fathers and sons, the alienation of being a stranger in a strange land, the seductive face of betrayal and, finally, the lengths we’ll go to for redemption.
|Publisher:||Amphorae Publishing Group, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.16(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
A native Oregonian and current Portland resident, Stephen Holgate served for four years as a diplomat with the American Embassy in Morocco. In addition to his other Foreign Service posts, Mr. Holgate has served as a Congressional staffer; headed a committee staff of the Oregon State Senate; managed two electoral campaigns; acted with the national tour of an improvisational theater group; worked as a crew member of a barge on the canals of France; and lived in a tent while working as a gardener in Malibu.
Holgate has published several short stories and successfully produced a one-man play, as well as publishing innumerable freelance articles. He is the author of Tangier and Madagascar, both inspired by his years of travel and experience living in foreign lands.
Read an Excerpt
Then the ship broke through the fog, and he could see Tangier on the horizon, its ancient medina glowing white in the autumn sun. Unknown scents, speaking of deserts and distant mountains, stirred on the currents of the warm air.
"Morocco. Africa," Chaffee whispered to himself, the words hard and exotic on his tongue. Land of the Arabs, edge of the Sahara. I should have come earlier, he told himself, when I was young. But, I didn't know — couldn't have known — one day I would have no choice.
Chaffee ran his fingers through his wisps of graying hair and sagged against a stanchion like the old man he would be in a few years.
He stood at the rail and felt the exhaustion of the last twenty-six hours pulling at him like a drug — the flight from Washington, the bus into Madrid, the cold, rattling train ride down to the ferry at Algeciras. Washington. If the papers got hold of this they'd play it on the front page: Disgraced Official Flees Oversees After Resignation.
"Screw 'em," Chaffee muttered. A young boy looked up at the man talking to himself. Chaffee scowled at him and the boy skittered off.
The babble of foreign tongues ground at his nerves — Spanish, French, a little English, but mostly something else altogether foreign that he knew must be Arabic.
He peered across the water at the whitewashed walls of the old quarter, the buildings crowded onto the bluffs like a jumble of discarded jewel boxes. To the east, a line of office buildings and apartment houses straggled out along the low hills.
The questions rose in his mind once more: My father's home? My father's grave?
Leaning over the rail, Chaffee looked back toward the wall of fog from which they had emerged. Everything — Spain, the Rock of Gibraltar, Europe — everything comforting and familiar was lost to sight. He drew a deep breath and turned again to face Tangier, growing larger on the horizon, where it had always been, waiting for him.
* * *
"Business or pleasure?"
Groggy with exhaustion and dislocation, Chaffee looked blankly at the uniformed man on the other side of the counter.
"Monsieur, you are here for business or pleasure. What visa?"
"I ... It's a personal visit."
He knew not to ask what visa category applied to seeking the dead.
The man stamped his passport without looking up and Chaffee emerged from the customs house, shouldering his way through the gantlet of young men milling along the curb, all of them too thin, too desperate, speaking in a bedlam of tongues. And there, before him, was the city, where it had always been, waiting for him.
"Senor, quiere ... "
"Un hotel, monsieur?"
"Kif, mein herr? You vant to smoke some kif?"
He remembered a friend telling him, "The real Casablanca is nothing like the movie. But Tangier is. You can get into a lot of trouble very quickly in Tangier."
He collapsed into the back seat of the first taxi in line, the springs groaning under him. The car had no seatbelts, and Chaffee careened from side to side as the driver dodged from lane to lane in the slow, heavy traffic with the trance-like concentration of kid playing a video game. He was about to tell the man to stop and let him walk when he pulled up to a dingy three-story building on a narrow street. Its wooden door held an unpolished brass plaque: "Hotel les Ambassadeurs."
"My God, is this it?"
The driver squinted at Chaffee in the mirror like a croupier wondering if the loser of a foolish bet would make a scene. "Hotel les Ambassadeurs," he said in heavily accented English. "Like you say."
When the travel agent back in Georgetown recommended the place, Chaffee had pictured a large modern hotel faced with sheets of glass and graced with a fountain in front of a wide drive. Men in fezzes would bow and open the door for him as he arrived. But the agent probably read the newspapers and assumed Chaffee couldn't afford that kind of place anymore.
He handed the driver a five dollar bill. When the man smiled for the first time since they'd left the port, he knew he'd overpaid.
An old man in a fez walked by. Chaffee opened the door for himself.
A short, dapper Moroccan in a brown suit stood behind the front desk. "Monsieur?" For most of his childhood Chaffee had spoken French with his mother — her native language — until one day when he was fourteen she said, "It's time to stop this," and abruptly switched to English, disincorporating without explanation the isolated French village inhabited solely by the two of them. Since then he'd always expected that, when needed, his French would come back to him like water flowing from a rediscovered spring. Instead, he could barely manage to find his words in English. "Chaffee. A reservation. I have a reservation."
"Chay-fee." The dapper man consulted a large book in front of him, flipping its pages back and forth before slapping it closed and shaking his head. "No, monsieur, I have no reservation for a Monsieur Chaffee."
"But my travel agent —"
Chaffee tried to summon something of his old bull persona, the gruff manner that had once turned his aides' knees to jelly. "My reservation was for a week." But the note of righteous displeasure he meant to hit had, in his weariness, slipped out as the squeak of a querulous old man.
The man behind the desk raised his eyebrows as if to ask, "Are you still going on about that?" but said, "It is not a problem."
And apparently it wasn't. The small room on the top floor lacked air-conditioning, a television, and a bathtub, but the bed was comfortable and a pleasant breeze came in through the open window, which offered a view of the port and the Straits of Gibraltar.
Despite years of advice not to sleep before evening if he was to recover from jet lag, Chaffee lay down and shut his eyes. Just for a moment.
* * *
A telephone ringing. That's how it had begun. He'd been sleeping and the telephone rang. Even after picking up the receiver he hadn't understood at first why she was calling.
"But that's what I'm telling you." Impatience gravelled her voice, "Your father's not dead."
"How could he not be dead, Mother? He's always been dead."
Her scornful voice hissed in his ear. "For you, of course. For me, no." Despite fifty-five years in the United States, her French accent had never surrendered to its environment.
"What the hell are you talking about, Mother? You've done what?"
"I've received a letter from your father."
"What? Be serious. You can't expect me to believe that —"
"Calm down, Christopher."
"Mother, you can't have received a letter from a dead man."
"Calme toi, Christopher. Je suis sure."
"Sure of what, for chrissake?"
"Are you listening at all, Christopher? I told you. He sent it during the war. Your father. He sent it in 1940."
Had she gone mad? Chaffee swore he could hear a thin sweat beading up on his brow.
"Nineteen forty," he repeated. Fifty-five years ago. The year he was born.
He managed to collect himself, refused to give his mother the satisfaction of knowing she'd astonished him. "All right, he sent a letter from prison before he died. Why do you have to call me at ... What time is it anyway?" "He didn't send it from prison."
"You said he was in prison. Locked up in Vichy during the war, and they all died there."
"I never said they all died. I said he died. That's all I was told. Now I think he didn't die."
"Why in the world do you think —"
"Je le sente. I feel it. J'ai la lettre. Sans aucun doute. Et —"
"Speak English, dammit. When did you start speaking French again? Don't do that to me." She went quiet and he muttered into the silence. "How could a letter take fifty-some years to —?"
"How do I know? The embassy sent it. They found it weeks ago they said. Then they found me."
"But your name is Chaffee, not Laurent anymore. How could they have — ?"
"I don't know. All I know is the embassy —"
"Mine — back then. His. The French Embassy. ... Say something, Christopher."
"Don't let any of this get into the papers."
"The papers? Why should they care about you anymore?"
"I'm just saying ..."
"Bouf! You're still angry about —"
"Damn right I'm angry. Those bastards at The Washington Post ..."
"Christopher, they're not the ones who should have —"
"I'd already paid the agency back. I'd still have my job if those sonsabitches at the Post hadn't decided they wanted to nail someone in the administration. Decided to make a big deal about a couple thousand dollars in travel expenses. I mean, I'm the director of a federal agency —"
"Not any more, Christopher."
He muttered unintelligibly, gripped again by the anger of destroying his career over something so banal, writing a three instead of a one in the thousands column of his travel voucher. All right, doing it several times. Over a number of years. Always citing non-existent receipts he claimed to have lost. He'd led his agency well, for years. He deserved a break he told himself. When he thought of what he could have made in the private sector ...
"I'm just saying it didn't have to be a big deal. No one was telling me I had to resign. Then it got into the papers. And that's when you find out who your enemies are."
"Yes, Christopher, did you read the latest edition?"
"No. I don't even look at the goddamned thing anymore. What did it say?"
"It says there might be a ... what is the word?"
"How should I know what the word is? You're the one —"
"Indict. Is that a word? It said they might indict you. Christopher, are you there?"
"Jesus," he whispered.
"What? I'm only telling you what's in the —"
"Drop it. Just drop it, Mother."
"All right." He could see her making that Gallic shrug. "But this letter from your father."
"Letter?" Caught in his own obsessions, it took Chaffee a moment to come back. "Yeah, the letter. It doesn't make any sense. If he's been somewhere else all this time, why wouldn't he have contacted us? Why would he still be in ... Where did you say it came from?"
"Morocco. Tangier. I don't know why anything. But I feel it strongly, I know he's not dead."
Chaffee sighed. "And I suppose you want me to go there and look for him."
"You're out of your mind."
"So, why don't you go?"
"The trip would kill me."
Chaffee started to say something irretrievable, but stopped himself. "Look, Julie's still working. She can't get away long enough to —"
"Sure. Why not? I'm unemployed now." A river of silence flowed through the telephone. "So you expect me to drop whatever I'm doing and just —"
"Do you have a choice?"
"Sure. I can say no."
"No. You can't, Christopher."
He slammed the phone down but it wouldn't stop ringing. In fact, it had been ringing even while they spoke.
Finally, Chaffee understood and woke up, groped for the receiver.
"Monsieur Chaffee? This is the front desk. You asked for a wake-up call."
Chaffee had no memory of making any such request. "What time is it?"
"It is three o'clock, Monsieur Chaffee."
He'd been asleep for two and a half hours.
"Yes. All right. Merci." He slumped on the edge of the bed and caught the stink rising from his clothes. He opened his suitcase and pulled out a fresh shirt, nearly as rumpled as the one he wore. From its folds a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. The photocopy of his father's picture.
His father. Since boyhood the words had carried a sanctified gravity. While other kids had dads, he had a photo. This photo. It stood on the buffet in his mother's dining room behind an unlighted candle, like an abandoned shrine. A formal portrait, very much of its time, of a man in his late twenties dressed in a dark pin-striped suit, strong, thin face, skin porcelain smooth. A handkerchief, folded just so, peeked out from his breast pocket. His faint complacent smile reflected the hauteur appropriate to a young man recently appointed to the Foreign Ministry.
How many times during his boyhood had visitors remarked on Chaffee's strong resemblance to the handsome man in the photo? They invariably added that he would one day live up to his father's myriad virtues, his intelligence, grace, and his bravery in the face of tyranny that led to his imprisonment and martyrdom. Yet the tone of their voices spoke more of skepticism than certainty and their praise left him feeling somehow diminished.
When he had asked his mother about him, she had little to say. She spoke of his idealism, his love of country, his hatred of its enemies, of Hitler and the Nazis, until it wore on his nerves. A saint's virtues. Noble. Bloodless.
When no one was home, Chaffee would gaze at the photo, vowing that one day he would buy himself a suit like the one in the photo, would look just as handsome, just as untouchable. As for his father's virtues, they were what had led him to prison without ever meeting his son, and he wanted nothing to do with them. He would be no one's martyr.
As a boy, Chaffee had tried to imagine playing ball with his father, eating dinner with him, riding in a car, having a dad like the other guys. Instead, he could only picture him like this, in the dark suit with the handkerchief poking from his pocket. It was funny, he thought, the peculiar nostalgia one can have for moments that should have happened, but never did.
Chaffee stood in the middle of his hotel room and put the photo in his pocket next to the copy of the letter from his father. Another copy. He had wanted to bring the original letter, but when he went to see his mother the day before he departed she had refused to give it to him.
"It might have some clues in it," he had argued, "Something in the type of paper or the ink or something."
"Clues," she scoffed. "You're not Sherlock Holmes, Christopher."
"I won't lose it."
"Of course you won't," she replied, meaning that he couldn't lose what he didn't have. Grudgingly, she had agreed to let him make a photocopy.
Letter and photo in hand, Chaffee descended the stairs into the lobby, stepped out into the sunlit street and headed toward the French consulate.CHAPTER 2
The assistant French consul, a kid of perhaps twenty-five, propped his elbows on his desk and turned his hands palms up. "I ask for your pardon, but could you please attempt to make more clear what it is you want me to do for you, Monsieur Chaffee?" The baroque imprecision of the kid's English grated on Chaffee, who had at first tried to conduct the conversation in French. At the sound of the American's accent though, the young diplomat — what was his name? Janvier? — had shaken his head like a spaniel getting the water out of his ears and switched to English.
Chaffee growled under his breath, fighting the impulse to tell him that a few months earlier, when he had still been director of a federal agency, he could have traveled on an official passport and insisted on speaking directly to the Consul General or even the Ambassador in Rabat, rather than sitting in this tiny office, soliciting the assistance of some bottom-feeding Third Secretary.
Instead, he forced himself to smile.
"As I told your receptionist, I'm looking for any information you might have on a Monsieur Rene Laurent."
Janvier made a theatrical frown. "He is French? Or an American like yourself?" "No, he was French."
"Was French. And now?"
Chaffee thought what a pleasure it would be to throttle this supercilious sonofabitch until his tongue turned black. With an effort that warned him that his body might outlive his soul if he kept this up, he dredged up another smile. "It's difficult to explain. The man I am looking for is my father."
The young man cocked his head as if he hadn't caught this quite right. "But your name is ... "
"Chaffee. Yes. I was born Christopher Laurent. My mother remarried and I took my stepfather's name."
"So, monsieur is French."
"I was born American. Technically, I am a dual national."
Janvier leaned back in his chair and regarded Chaffee for a long time. When he leaned forward again, his manner had changed. Apparently, he had made some decision about this American and now lowered his guard a bit.
"And you believe your father is here in Tangier?"
"It is possible."
"Possible. If so, how long he has been here?"
"I'm not sure."
Janvier squinted at him. "Is he ill? In difficulties with Moroccan authorities?" "No, nothing like that — at least I don't believe so."
"Then why do you think —?"
"I have a letter. Sent from Tangier by my father years ago, through your diplomatic pouch."
The consul's mask of aplomb showed its first crack. "Through our pouch?"
"He was a French diplomat. Like yourself."
The young man's eyebrows popped halfway up his forehead.
"But the letter was never delivered," Chaffee continued. "I don't know why. Perhaps the confusion of war. Someone apparently stumbled upon it recently in a file at the Quai d'Orsay and sent it on to my mother. It's the last word we have from him."
Janvier frowned in thought. "And when did he send this letter?"
"The summer of 1940."
"My God, that was during the Second World War. Why do you think he is still here?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tangier"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Holgate.
Excerpted by permission of Amphorae Publishing Group, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: FALL 1995,
PART II: SUMMER 1940,
PART III: FALL 1995,
PART IV: SUMMER 1940,
PART V: FALL 1995,
PART VI: FALL 1940,
PART VII: FALL 1995,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Named a top ten thriller in 2017, Tangier is an assured, mesmerizing debut set in WWII Morocco and 1995 D. C. Mixes mystery with political intrigue in a novel that masterfully recounts the story of a son searching for the truth of his missing father. Highly recommended! Grateful to NetGalley and Amphorae Publishing Group for the ARC. Opinions are mine. #Tangier #NetGalley
Excellently written first novel. Could have been less angstridden in certain spots, but certainly grabbed my interest and kept it. I read it in two sittings. Tangier was just as it should be - a major character in a convoluted story of war and the legacy of war.