Saturday, June 1, 2013

Searching for clues...

Excerpt from the first draft MS for PIRATES (Cutting Edge Press) © Greg Cummings

For the first time since he could remember, al-Rubaysh felt safe walking down the street. No one in Bosaso recognised him. During his two days in port he had managed to carry out his enquiries in the open, audaciously and without the threat of drone attacks. Widespread fear among Majeerteen fishermen, aroused by the recent spate of attacks on pirate skiffs, helped loosen the tongues of those he consulted. The conspiracy to foment jihad in Puntland through a terror campaign at sea, a plan he’d dreamed up, was working fine. So far he had gleaned useful bits of information about Mehemet Abdul Rahman. Now he needed to connect the dots. 
It was eight o’clock in the morning and pedestrians were streaming through traffic, moving swiftly through the shadows of the old quarter’s cavernous streets. Every building on Osman Street, at least the corners and cornice mouldings, was painted a candy shade of pastel. Fragrant whiffs of frankincense poured through open doorways. And at each cross street a clutch of shops displayed sacks of fresh spices. Rubaysh was on his way to find an old man who once worked for the American. 
There was no need to bluff his way through harbour security today. He’d been told to ask around on the west side of the port under the shade trees, where the fishing boats were kept. In due course he found the old man leaning against his skiff and using a fishbone needle and nylon cord to mend a damaged fishing net. Tawny, weatherbeaten and misshapen, his true age was hard to fathom. He was wearing a pair of tortoiseshell Wayfarer sunglasses that when removed revealed a pair of pterygiums growing in the corners of the his eyes, the result of too much sun. 
“Good morning,” said Rubaysh, smiling and extending his hand in a salesmanlike manner. “Are you Mohamud Farole?”
“What do you want?” asked the old man, bluntly refusing the offer of a handshake. “I don’t talk to strangers.”
“My name is Aden Ali, and I’m from Hodeida Port Authority.”
“I know the port well. Never seen your face before.” While the old man continued to mend his tattered seine, fingers moving across the weave like ballroom dancers, his peculiar eyes never left Rubaysh. “Besides Hodeida’s nearly a thousand kilometres from here. What are you doing in Bosaso?”
“There’s a very simple explanation for my being here. I believe you used to do business with the American, Mehemet Abdul Rahman, also known as Johnny Oceans.”
“Never heard of him.”
“It’s just that, well, he died recently, and a container full of goods he arranged to have shipped here from France is now stuck in my port. Maritime authorities in my country have slapped it with a ‘deceased cease order’ until I can find someone in Bosaso to whom we may deliver it.”
“Why don’t you ask his widow?”
“Ah, so you did know him then.”
“Yes, I knew him.” Mohamud dropped his gaze. “Mehemet was a good man, a Majeerteen in all but blood. He helped many fishermen along this coast retain their livelihoods, so they did not have to become badaadintu badah.”
“Really? How did he do that?”
“With small loans that we paid back within a few months. I bought a smoking machine with mine so I could process my fish for export to Dubai. I don’t know another foreigner like this man. An American who would rather help us than kill us.”
“A great man indeed, this Mehemet must have been. Did you ever work for him?”
“Doing what?”
“Why do you ask so many questions?”
“It’s a rather delicate matter, and I’m not actually at liberty to discuss it. Let’s just say the contents of Mehemet’s container have led us to believe he may have been involved with organised crime.”
“Mehemet was not a gangster.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I used to run errands for him.”
“To Djibouti. He would give me a package and I would take it there by boat.”
“What sort of package?”
“Always the same thing: a locked black box.”
“I see. And who was your contact in Djibouti? Who did you meet there?”
“An American Navy officer from Camp Lemonnier, who always gave me a different black box in return.”
Rubaysh’s eyes sparkled, and he began toying with his beard. “So Johnny Oceans was a spook,” he hissed. “Thank you, Mohamud. You’ve been very helpful. By the way, do you happen to know if the widow Khadija still lives at his same address, in Bender Siyaada?”