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 The Profit Prophet

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PostSubject: The Profit Prophet   Sat Aug 12, 2017 2:11 pm

Chapter six

 

The castle, some way east of Ayr, was an impressive three level stone construction. The large round tower at the front provided a grand entrance while another smaller turreted tower was on the right flank of the building and still smaller cylindrical spires were placed on strategic corners. The whole complex nestled neatly into the wooded hills behind it while up front the castle was graced by well-kept gardens and a lake that verged the road as you approached.

Daniel rolled slowly up the drive in the rented four wheel drive. Both Naomi and he were taking in the classic lines of the castle and the nurtured, tailored gardens and manicured lawns. The greenery of the mild late summer surprised him. Its recent renovations and reconstruction were hardly distinguishable from the original medieval structure—as was the wont of the National Trust.

“Wow!” was the only utterance Naomi could manage.

“It’s remarkable isn’t it? They knew how to build imposing buildings didn’t they?” As he got out, Daniel gazed up at the crenelated topped walls of the edifice. He moved around to the other side since Naomi was still in her seat, enthralled by the grandeur of the castle. Opening the door he made a pronouncement. “This may soon be yours Princess Naomi.” And he bowed solemnly.

Stepping out, she punched him a little harder on the shoulder than he anticipated. Something he thought might soon become a habit of hers. Naomi protested his suggestion. “Not likely. Of all the things Marcie has, this castle is the one thing that is dearest to her heart. I think she’ll want to live here.”

Daniel was wide eyed in mockery, “Are you giving me clues? I knew if I hung around you the secret would come out.” He attempted some diabolical laughter which sounded like a witch with a throat condition. “The plot thickens.”

A roar of an engine at the distant gateway filled Daniel with alarm.

“Get in the car!” he snapped, almost savagely.

“What’s wrong?” Naomi was unaware of the threat he had seen but felt the urgency in the pressure of his hand on her arm and the harsh edge of his speech.

“Quick!” he shoved her in and sprinted around the other side. The car, fast approaching was flailing away at the gravel surface as it followed the winding driveway. Daniel gunned the engine and spun the wheels in his haste. The four wheel drive launched off around the circular route towards the exit. Almost too fast the back drifted around the last curve leading up to the massive stone gateway.

Still one hundred yards behind but advancing fast, the dark sedan roared louder. Naomi shrieked as she saw the gun protrude from the side window. The next instant Daniel swerved around the bend and through the gateway that was enclosed by an obscuring, high, cypress hedge. He slammed on the brakes, veered savagely to the right and was perilously close to tipping the car before he halted parallel to the hedge covered wall.

At once he had the car in reverse. Rapidly he started backtracking through the huge gate.

“Hang on!” he commanded grimly. Naomi registered what he was attempting and clutched on to her seatbelt. Almost immediately there was a metal tearing crash as the colliding vehicles crumpled together. When the front end of the pursuing vehicle caved in, an ear splitting whump of the airbags inflating around Daniel and Naomi causing them to be momentarily compressed in their seats.

Not wanting to be nearby when the armed men recovered from the concussive smash, Daniel cleared the bags, threw the car into first and, after having dragged it several yards, disentangled their vehicle from the battered twisted metal of the pursuant’ s car.

Roaring back onto the road, he was soon swinging right back, almost out of control, through the entry point. He then sped up to the front entrance.

Tumbling out of the recently modified rental with the banged up rear end, they grasped their luggage and fled into the building. “Ring the police!” Daniel yelled at Marcie who was standing holding open the door, momentarily gawking at them, unable to comprehend what was happening.

“The police … call the police. There are men with guns out there. Can we lock them out?”

Marcie commenced securing the door with a heavy bolt and told a mystified caretaker-come building manager, to lock the other doors.

The phone call to the police somehow managed to absorb and dampen the frenetic urgency they sought.  With typical bureaucratic aplomb the local constabulary insisted on some details and promised a patrol car within half an hour. Daniel was bemoaning to his Aunt the menacing stalkers who had dogged their every move when Marcie’s head spun round.

A thudding at the huge oak doors had them all jumping. Daniel was scanning the hall for some weapon. A suit of armour in the corner had a big ornamental mace which he tried to extract from a clamp.

“Don’t worry. It’s just an elderly couple,” said Marcie peering out a narrow side window. She unbolted the wooden doors and let them in. The plump, grey haired woman had cherry red cheeks from the harried march along the long driveway. Behind her a stooped white haired man shuffled.

“They stole our car. They blocked the road, ordered us out and stole the car. You have to ring the police,” she panted.

“That’s already been done,” cooed Marcie calmly. “Why don’t you come in and have a seat?”

Marcie led the elderly couple into the sitting room while Daniel and Naomi stared blankly at each other.

“This will be interesting to explain to the rental company,” Daniel stated in an ‘I’m thinking of something else’ sort of way. In his head was the question; ‘Had someone given these criminals an itinerary?’

Naomi crinkled her nose, “Can I be there? I want to know how experts negotiate these things … ‘I decided it was best if I charged into him in reverse. And it did the trick. Sorry about your car’.” Her parody had him grinning and drew his conjectures—about how their presence was always known—to a close.

“I hope the police will just sign us off as ‘victims of crime’ or something like that. Otherwise I’ll get Gavin to do the travel insurance run around. Knowing him he’ll just delegate it to Arnold, our lawyer; he’s very efficient.”

The two travel companions were still very wound up as they went to settle into their rooms. If Naomi hadn’t been at risk as well, he would have suspected her of communicating his whereabouts. As it was, Daniel pondered the problem. He examined his luggage for some type of location device and suggested that Naomi do the same.

When they finally arrived, the police were quite fastidious about getting every detail. Because the damaged car had been stolen and the car they now had belonged to the hapless elderly couple, no links could be made to the thugs who had now been thwarted twice. The police were alarmed to hear that this was the second episode of violence and suggested that Daniel find safer climes.

 The senior constable assured Daniel that an investigation would assess the likelihood that the same criminals were involved. He asserted that the Boston police would be contacted to pool resources. The officer added that at present there was little they could do but collect evidence and alert authorities regarding the second stolen car. Daniel had little doubt that it had already been dumped.

                                    -------------------------------------------------

 

 The other Quentins arrived just before lunch and they all sat around a roughly hewn timber table and consumed the soup and sandwiches on offer. Much talk surrounded the morning’s incident with some nervous laughter at Naomi’s description of the fastest reversing collision she had ever experienced. Despite their concern, a lighter mood was enjoined as Daniel described how he couldn’t convince the armoured knight to relinquish his decorative mace so he could bludgeon the elderly couple at the door.

“Nevertheless …” began the grave words of Marcie, “you are obviously a target and I believe your life is in danger. Perhaps you should employ a body guard.” Everyone was still. Head down Daniel was reflective. He raised his eyes, “You’re right Marcie. It is serious. I think from now on I should travel alone. There’s no reason why I should put other people at risk.” He glanced at Naomi.

“In fact, I’ve booked myself into the nearest B&B in Ayr, the little town down the road. I’d hate to be responsible for anyone being hurt due to me, so it’s probably best.” His dull patter waned as it became clear that there was little support for his idea.

“Don’t be ridiculous lad,” blurted Morna, “There’s safety in numbers, and we’d be offended if you didna think your rellies would stick by you.” Heather and Marcie supplied much of the same kind, but Donald was strangely quiet. He was having second thoughts about the whole pursuit of wealth obsession. He knew that the odds improved dramatically for each member if he eliminated himself from contention. Perhaps it was being back in the home country that made him hunger for the simple life.

“You could come back with me to Livingstone,” Donald growled. “I’m giving up on this circus.” Everyone looked at Donald. He shrugged. “It was a mistake. Morna and Heather can remain here , but I’ve got work to do.”

 “Thanks Uncle, but I’ll stick around. Ayr is nearby but far enough away to keep everyone safe.”

Naomi looked like an abandoned child. She had sensed her ‘Green Gables kindred spirit’ in Daniel and now he was gallantly riding off into the sunset. She feared for him. But she also feared for herself. Her association to him was growing out of proportion to what she was prepared to admit to. There were too many differences, too many issues still unresolved and there were life values that at present seemed totally incongruent. She sat and fretted. Where was her faith when she needed it most?

Angus and Alistair offered to join Daniel and, though rejecting the offer, the conversation about the previous incidents drew the three cousins closer. Guesswork and opinions made for colourful talk and occupied them during the post lunch coffees.

In the afternoon Haversack and Reagan turned up and outlined the schedule for the remaining few weeks. A clothing production set up in Malaysia and a cattle station in Australia were detailed. They provided pro forma for those needing assistance with their presentations and then reviewed market valuations for all the assets.

A high tea of jam, cream and scones with hot drinks followed the small get together. Daniel had shifted to a balcony to take in the sights when he was joined by his aunt. He commented to Marcie that he thought it was a bit of a junket to have the lawyers travel to Scotland to deliver details that could have been communicated via email or in a written report. After all, hadn’t they abandoned the remainder of the ‘tour’? His aunt corrected him about his assertions. She made it clear—no, the travel arrangements were reverting to the initial plan. It seemed that Morna and Heather had already planned an extended holiday, so she was honouring the original arrangement. Marcie also assured him that anything the lawyers did was covered by their initial quote for the assignment.

“You’re joking!” remarked Daniel a little too loudly. “A lawyer settling on an account figure before it’s completed. That’s unprecedented!”

“I have it all in writing in our contract for services rendered.” She smiled contentedly. Daniel was filled with new respect for his canny aunt.

“In fact, they insisted on coming here. It was Garth’s idea. He said that they had business in London anyway and so they would combine it with a bit of sightseeing and also provide information for the quest.”

A little shiver running up Daniel’s spine was the only evidence that qualms about Haversack’s involvement had begun to crystallise in his mind. While Heather and Naomi talked with the two brothers, Daniel made his way to the young lawyer. He asked Joel what sort of business had brought them to London. He appeared a bit caught out.

“Er, a foreign client has us doing some research.” With more confidence he continued, “Yes, we’re hiring some investigators and setting up a dossier.”

“So what’s the client after?”

Reagan grinned nervously and touched his nose, “Sorry privileged information. You know how it is. You wouldn’t want your lawyers discussing your business dealings would you?”

The statement made Daniel wonder how much he knew about what he did. He delved some more but made little headway.

Soon after Marcie led a tour of the castle, and during the exploration Daniel grabbed his bags and quietly departed. Despite the extensive modifications to the back of the Land Rover, it still seemed to operate adequately. He drove the damaged four wheel drive five miles back to a bed and breakfast. Pulling in to the antiquated stone cottage, he smelled burning rubber. A quick examination showed it was from the scrubbing of the rear tyres. First thing he did inside, once he’d settled in, was to organise the replacement vehicle. It took some explanation and reference to the local police before a new agreement was reached. Following that he contacted Gavin via video link. Although it was quite late in Boston, Gavin was in the mood to share some good news.

“Our bank balance is looking amazing.”

“Oh yeah, how so?” returned Daniel feeling the aches of the morning’s collision beginning to stiffen his movements.

“Well, initial payments for the vertical wafer technology have come in, and… the lawyers have settled with the defence department for compulsory acquisition compensation for our nanotube stuff.”  

“So, the contract for the wafers is all signed and sealed?”

“Yep, they want to start right away. In fact, they have already replicated our prototype process which means it won’t be long before a trial matrix is done. It’s all happening Daniel.”

Daniel was having trouble being enthused. Whether it was the physical danger bringing him closer to confronting his own mortality or the recent revelation of a non-material aspect to life, his zest for the company and its concerns was fading.

“Gav, have the police made any progress?”

“Not that I know of … I get the feeling it’s not high on their agenda at the moment.”

“You’re kidding. I should tell you.  A couple guys pulled a gun on us again?”

“What?”

“I’m telling you … they tried again.”

“So … what happened?”

“Well, they stole a car like last time … I smashed into them with the rental and they disappeared in another stolen car. Oh by the way, I’ll need Arnold to do some negotiating on our travel insurance to bridge the difference on the rental insurance. Otherwise they won’t replace the car.”

“So you smashed it up pretty bad hey?”

“You could say that.”

It suddenly occurred to Gavin what he should be asking. “Are you all right? Was anyone with you when you smashed?”

“I ache a bit. Naomi Stockton was in the car, but she’s fine too.”

The call tailed off with the assignment of some minor tasks and greetings to colleagues before Daniel hung up.

Once he’d heard back that Arnold had effected his miracles, he drove to the centre of Ayr to pick up the new car. Daniel then went into a pub to have a meal. With little else to do, he stayed longer than planned. The venue provided some live folk music upstairs which kept him entertained as he sipped coffee.

                                    ------------------------------------------------------

 

Restlessness and a sleepless night—due to a racing mind and, probably, too many coffees—had Daniel abandon his initial plan of an early morning walk. He lay in till seven thirty.

When eventually he left, he was thankful that the Sunday traffic was light except for a bit of congestion near the local Presbyterian Church. Daniel called in at Aunt Marcie’s at nine. He greeted Naomi and Marcie briefly as they were heading off to church. An invitation from his aunt was quickly side stepped with the excuse that he hadn’t had breakfast yet.

The excuse became suggestive enough to develop an appetite and he munched on some cereal at a servery in the kitchen and chatted to the cooking staff. They were locals; two women who came in whenever Marcie occupied the castle. While Daniel ate, they filled him in on village trivia. The cooks told him some dos and don’ts for travellers to Scotland and then shared how the current gossip was about their American—namely Aunt Marcie—being ‘Lady of the manor’ possibly selling up.

Daniel listened but said little.

Once he’d had enough of breakfast and gossip he decided he would move to the library. The move made him glad that his preference had been, to not be exposed to a proselytising pastor in the pews of a local church but to luxuriate in the cosy armchairs of this walnut panelled, book-lovers’ inner sanctum.

 

Fascinated by the walls of books, he studied the titles on the spines and fingered through old collectors’ items wearing white gloves provided for that purpose. There he read an old book called ‘The Everlasting man’. He was intrigued to read a preface: ‘The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to it to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it.’ 1

He read a little further. Was it about objectivity? Was he so impartial that he longed for a spiritual dimension? Did he envy or even need that purpose and contentment with life that Christians claim to have? Or was it the other? Was there an element of his being tainted by the influence of Christendom on his family so that there was a gnawing aggravation to faith?

He considered the phrases again. It was an argument for the truth of the gospel. He guessed he was outside. Far enough to not be bothered by the religious weirdos and cranks that occasionally hit the media. Far enough to say live and let live; they were entitled to their beliefs—except that he had issues. There were his family histories about religion that irked him. So he wasn’t that impartial. Maybe that’s what was causing him to resist, to be sceptical, before examining ‘the facts’—most unscientific. Wasn’t that what Naomi had intimated. Maybe his closeness did engender some hatred toward religion.

So he moved to a comfortable armchair, sat down and read some more. He found it hard going and glanced at the end of the book. What were the conclusions this Christian intellectual had come to? He read two paragraphs at the finish. The line began:

 

'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'

He was quoting the Bible he thought. There was a sense of the indestructibility of ‘God’s Word’.   

Whe he finished, Daniel put it down. It was intriguing that someone could argue so passionately for a belief based on an episode in history two thousand years ago. Yet, it occurred to him that if you believed, it put the whole universe, the whole of history, into perspective. The author was arguing, of course, for the existence of Christianity itself. To the author it was not serendipitous, it was ordained. It could not just be refuted and interred into the grave of primitive mythologies, no, it was somehow empowered.

It gave Daniel pause for thought. Had he really been content to accept everything as random? It just suited him to explain ‘the special human animal’ as a result of eon’s of time. It hadn’t occurred to him before, that the rate of producing someone human shouldn’t alter the fact that the end product was, in a sense, miraculous. And just because science had proclaimed that that was the way it had to be, it didn’t mean it had to be.

Was it true that man was an everlasting man? That the perceived virulence of faith by humanists was in fact the inexorable force of truth prevailing, as part of some divine plan? He sat back and thought. So where did it start? At Jesus? Perhaps he should read what the bible had to say about ‘the everlasting man’. Daniel had an inkling that if ‘Anno Domini’ were a correct description of the present era then the story began a long time before that.

The argument was similar to the claims of the converted atheist, who viewed ‘government’ treatment of Christianity, historically, as akin to a conspiracy to sideline it.

He knew the problem was that he wanted science to be right. It would mean that people were in control—that he was in control—that intellect and innovation would see him through. He shook his head. What was he thinking? That science was his religion—that he was a disciple of human endeavour? Is that what he wanted? If only he could know the truth. If God were true why didn’t He just introduce Himself? Maybe he should ask Naomi, but he had a feeling that she would tell him it didn’t work like that.

Closing his eyes, Daniel could almost feel his mind swirling through confusing possibilities. Consider the alternative; the path taken by many and, perhaps, sought by even more. Was there a world with a purpose, a God who loves and a hope in the ‘everlasting man’? Was it wishful thinking, or was it true? He would have to read more.

                                                ----------------------------------

 

When Naomi and Marcie returned they found Daniel in the library reading a bible. He put it down quickly when they walked in, but it was clear they had noticed and there was some celebratory, self-satisfied collusion between the two.

“Do you understand what you’re reading?” asked Naomi.

“What? That?” Daniel indicated defensively to the well-thumbed book and then offered a sheepish grin. “It’s all very … epic isn’t it? I mean … creation … good and evil … judgement.”

Naomi nodded. “I’m sorry. I was being a bit flippant. You see that question was asked in the bible by someone when they saw someone else reading scriptures.”

Daniel gave a funny look. “That’s a conundrum; a book that has a character reading the very same book in the book. Did he get to the part where he was reading it?”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s made up of old parts and new parts. They were put together much later …” Naomi sighed, “I didn’t mean to confuse you…”

Daniel held up both hands, “No, don’t apologise. I was just teasing. I’m not totally ignorant of biblical history. I just haven’t made a habit of reading it.”

Naomi relaxed and sat down near Daniel while Marcie who was still standing near the doorway with an amused expression spoke.

“I’ll get Annie to fix us a coffee. Is that okay with you two?”

Their murmurs of thanks were all she needed to slip away quickly.

“So what did you read?” began Naomi.

“Well I started in Genesis … means beginning you know. So I thought I’d begin there.”

“Uh huh,” she responded, purposely avoiding acknowledging his silly grin.

“Well, I got past the flood and opted for the New Testament. I figured I could go back and get to know all those families some other time. Anyway I read Matthew and got a little bit into Mark and Luke but … I don’t know … same story, different point of view?” he said with an upward inflection.

“You could say that. Scholars call them the synoptic gospels. Pretty much means what you said.”

“Mmm, well I was just getting into John when you guys came in. I reckon there are some mind boggling concepts in just that first chapter. It’s sort of poetry and philosophy and theology all wrapped into one.”

There was a cute crinkle around Naomi’s eyes as she gave a squinty smile. “I shouldn’t have interrupted you.”

“No, no it’s fine. There’s enough for me to mull over for a while. The whole value system of Jesus is a bit of a shock. It’s a different economy than you see these days, Christians included.”

“What about your Dad?” countered Naomi.

“Yeah, well …”

“What about my parents? I’m sure I could list a whole lot of people … but that’s not the point is it?”

Daniel looked up into her soft brown eyes. “No, I guess not. It’s my world I’m thinking about. I say I’m not after Marcie’s money, but it’s only because I’m after my own. Material success has always been in the background in my life, not always evident, but it’s there. Believe it.” 

“Well if it’s any consolation, us Christians have the same problems. It’s just that we made a commitment not to head towards hang-ups like materialism and hedonism; we’re going in the opposite direction. I guess we’re aiming at being like Jesus and all those things are weights that can hold us back.”

“Is that a cop out?” he asked, his head tilted questioningly.

“It seems like it doesn’t it?” Naomi leaned forward on her seat and spoke softly. “Our pastor explains it like this: A Christian is not someone trying to do good, though there’s nothing wrong with that, a Christian relies on what Jesus has done and gets infected. CS Lewis calls it a ‘good infection’.” She stopped and got up.

“What’s wrong?” he quizzed.

She ran her hand along a row of books. “I’ll bet Marcie has a copy. It’s called ‘Mere Christianity’2. You’d be better off reading it yourself rather than getting it second hand. Oh, here it is. Goodness; she’s got three copies!” She sat down and handed him a paperback.

Just then Marcie came in with a tray of coffees and scones. Her smile lit up as she saw their proximity and the book in Daniel’s hand. After acknowledging his willingness to explore some of the arguments, the discussion diverted and related more to the next few days and whether Daniel could spare the time to journey to the remaining locations. He told them he would have to consult with his colleagues before he could make a decision.

***

The next day Pat and Eric Greer contacted Marcie and appealed to her compassionate nature to allow them to re-join the quest. Pat assured her the ‘children’ were now out of the picture; it was just them. Marcie relented, filling them in on the past week, and insisting that they sign an agreement that in no way would they contest her decision. The assumption that everyone else had already signed similar stipulations caused them to accede to this requirement without a whimper.

Daniel spent time on the phone with Gavin mostly being convinced that they could survive for a week or two without him. Max, Erin and he were going to spend those two weeks on the west coast at the integrated circuit labs and trial production line. Although Gavin was confident that all indications suggested a successful transition to volume production, he was still keen to consult with Daniel regarding electrolytic deposition on gallium indium alloy etching. Daniel referred him to his notes and almost deferred his travel plans before his colleague held his ground and said straight out that they would let him know if they needed him. Gavin’s stance, that a phone call would cover most eventualities, finally won him over.

                                                ---------------------------------------

 

The following two weeks were spent travelling to Malaysia and then to Australia. While some of the group were absolutely focussed on completing the quest, Naomi and Daniel went sightseeing. They snorkelled around coral reefs, hiked in tropical rain forests, visited theme parks and went shopping. The latter activity not entirely to Daniel’s liking.

He was growing closer and closer to his beautiful companion and was trying to summon up the courage to tell Naomi how he felt.

Their last night was in Sydney and all were eating dinner in a revolving restaurant overlooking the spectacular harbour. Sitting opposite her and a little away from the others, Daniel earnestly gazed into Naomi’s dewy brown eyes. As if sensing his resolve she leaned away a little and began with a nervous croak in her voice.

“I didn’t tell you … I’ve been accepted into Bible College.”

Daniel stared trying to decipher the words. “What?” He eventually managed.

She spoke again, steadier this time. “Well, after talking with the mission society, they were pleased to support my application to serve in Africa, but they said I had to complete a year in Bible College first. So that’s what I’ll do … starting next month.”

There was a dull ache in Daniel’s stomach. He was angry and sad at the same time. Her eyes averted as she sensed his pain. There was a tremor in her words as she spoke, “I’m sorry … I should have told you.” She gathered herself, “Dan, I’ve really appreciated being with you. I … I mean you’re a great guy and … and, well … I know this is what I have to do.” Her eyes were glistening now; and even more so when she saw his downcast eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Looking around she became aware of glances from the others. Barely audibly she spoke again, “I’ve been unfair to you.”

Daniel tried to say something but his throat was tight and in that instant he didn’t trust his emotions.

“I should go,” he managed to utter. Then he just got up and left the restaurant. In a trance he descended the elevator and exited the building. Soon he was walking along the harbour-side, gulping in the mild, salt tainted air and wondering; at what point had he fallen in love with Naomi? He didn’t see the shimmering lights on the water or the immense arched bridge spanning the stretch between the north and south of the city; he just trudged through a vortex of emotions.

Was it this religious fervour that had ruined his life again? Could Naomi’s faith mean more to her than being with him? Had he over estimated their relationship? Somehow he imagined, even assumed that she had affection for him. Surely it was mutual. It had felt shared.

Now he felt foolish. Confusion created a mist in his mind. For the first time since his mother’s passing he wanted to cry. If God was in this, what sort of a God is he? Does God drive away everyone that he loves? He walked back through the streets and, almost like a taunt, was confronted by a sign; Eternity it said. He recalled his reading ‘The Everlasting man’. What was he being told? That there’s more … that compared to eternity his life was inconsequential?  He stared at the shiny metallic sign. He would have to read more … maybe locate a copy of ‘The Everlasting Man’ on the internet.

He shuffled back to his hotel room, dazed by his turmoil, still aching inside from the perceived abandonment.
Sleep eluded Daniel for some time as he dwelt on trying to isolate a rationale for his life. He hadn’t looked for a relationship, but somehow his life had become enmeshed with Naomi’s, and now he was stranded. Could he retrace his steps and pretend it hadn’t happened? He doubted it. Thumping his pillow, once, twice and then with a third aggressive punch for good measure, he collapsed on his stomach. In his insomnia he tossed and turned, attempting to find a more comfortable position.
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