Some years ago, on matters concerning Hamri the Painter of Morocco, I called on Tangier's Galerie de la Place which was owned by Dave, a gay man in advanced middle age who'd previously been an art dealer in London where his South London gallery enjoyed as good a reputation as a South London gallery can hope to enjoy. Dave had been in business there since the Seventies heyday of the counterculture, when he cut a significant dash in post-Swinging London.
When London stopped swinging, he swung off to Tangier where he gradually built up a reputation at Galerie de la Place for dealing in contemporary Moroccan art. He also developed a reputation, like most of the foreigners who wash up in that neck of the woods, for being addicted to Moroccan penis.
When I called on Galerie de la Place, a nice white marble affair with big stylish windows, I was thinking about buying some works by Hamri - he'd died the previous summer - which I'd heard were on sale there. I was cordially met in the gallery by Dave, the sort of old school queen I can't abide, and he showed me around. He dealt in the sort of decorative, effete, colourful art now being manufactured en masse by Morocco's utterly hopeless but slick modern painters. He hummed and hawed about Hamris being available for sale but didn't actually produce any. He described Hamri as having been a "charming little fellow." I decided that I didn't want to deal with someone who'd denigrate my old pal thus while telling a sniggering story about him showing up pissed for an art opening. I didn't think that was the right way to talk about the recently deceased or about Morocco's most significant 20th century painter.
I didn't like Dave at all. Something about him made my flesh creep and I knew what that something was.
Yesterday I dined in Tangier with my friend Batchi. We were having paella in Alhambra.
"I have seen Dave from Galerie de la Place in handcuffs." Batchi triumphantly announced.
"That horrible bald old queen?" I inquired. "Boys I suppose."
Batchi soon told me the whole story and here it is.
Over the years Dave had acquired a pimp who procured mid-teen boys for him. This pimp worked out of a coffee shop near the Fes Market and the Finebouche grocery store.
There was this fifteen year old schoolboy and every morning when he went to school his mother gave him 10 Dirhams, about a Dollar, spending money. One morning when she handed him the 10 Dirham coin he said he didn't need it. "No, Mam, I have money." he said. The next morning she offered him the money again and again he said "No, Mam. I have money." The third and fourth morning she didn't bother offering him the money and he didn't ask for it.
On the fifth day she followed him. He went to school as normal, came home for his lunch, and went back in the afternoon. He came home soon after school. The next day she followed him again and got the same result.
On the third day that he took a bus into the centre of town and went to a certain street corner on Boulevard where he met a guy in his late twenties (the pimp) whom the mother didn't recognise. They proceeded to an apartment block in a nice part of town where they disappeared inside.
The mother got out her phone and called her husband at work. "I have been following our son," she said, "and he has met with a man I don't know on Boulevard and they have gone into an apartment building together. I am outside the building now."
Fifteen minutes later the father showed up with the cops. The building's concierge readily told the cops which apartment they were looking for. The cops climbed the three flights of stairs and with one good kick bashed in the apartment's front door.
Inside they found the boy and Dave naked in the sitting room. The pimp was in the kitchen cooking lunch.
The boy, of course, has been let off so long as he goes to court every day and gives the right evidence. The pimp has given a detailed account of all the boys he was procured for Dave over the years.
"So you went to the court to see him on trial?" I asked Batchi.
"No, I was just passing the courthouse and he was coming out in handcuffs with one policeman at either side of him and one behind." claimed Batchi.
"How'd he look?" I inquired.
"Not very happy." said Batchi, smirking, turning his attention to his paella which was getting cold.
We let the subject rest for a while and got on with our eating.
Batchi and I had often talked about Saddam Hussein. Batchi was no fan, saying that he'd killed his own people and that that was a bad thing. I'd have been the one with a good word to say about Saddam during those conversations. When Saddam got locked up Batchi, who's been in jail a fair bit, said that he felt very sorry for the fallen leader now, sorry for anybody who ended up in prison. This was a sentiment I shared and which I thought about as I mulled over Dave's plight in my head, poking the paella in search of shrimp.
A fifteen year old boy is perfectly within his rights to go hustling himself if he feels like it. I don't automatically buy the contemporary hypothesis which assumes that every hooker is a victim, a pawn being used up by others.
What a stupid boy he was to tell his mother that he didn't need any money! What an intelligent woman the mother was!
People are perfectly within their rights to go out and pay for sex. It can, at best, be a tawdry pastime but it's none of my business. I do object to the inbuilt racism, exploitation, and rough depravity practiced on Tangier's so-called "Gay Scene".
"Did you feel any bit sorry for Dave when you saw him being led out in the handcuffs?" I asked Batchi after a while.
"No." Batchi said without pausing to think. "I feel nothing for him. He is asshole."
And, though I think that the entire matter of prostitution, underage sex, and sexual exploitation is a lot more complex or multilayered than anti-paedophilia and anti-prostitution campaigners would have us believe, I couldn't feel even a tincture of pity for him either.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.