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 The Profit Prophet

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Profit Prophet   Sun Aug 20, 2017 6:36 pm

Daniel and his father visited some displaced Somalis in a collection of scrappy hovels on the outskirts of the city. These were mainly refugees from the fighting in Mogadishu; the few who chose the harsh journey to Somaliland rather than the nearer refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Richard delivered some aid supplies that had recently arrived and noted to his son that two families had moved out of the vicinity to live on farms in the higher valleys. He was pleased that, though work was scarce for strangers, some of the IDPs (designated ‘internally displaced persons’ by the UN) were slowly being assimilated.

It was then that Daniel again raised the issue of returning to the States with Naomi and him. Richard, as a good father, listened patiently then simply restated his refusal. Daniel tried numerous angles but his father had a reply for every argument: His calling, his faith was too important. He had friends who could protect him. Ultimately, it was a calling that he had taken on irrespective of the risks.

His son disputed each point unsuccessfully. He tried to emphasise that they were in more danger here because there was no US government protection. Daniel became a bit heated but it did no good. Richard was unruffled. He had a mission.

“Come on Dan, I’ll show you why I do this and what a detestable place this world can be sometimes.”

They drove around the city, past the general hospital and a maternity hospital before arriving at the children’s refuge. The presence of the truck brought a swarm of children, many of them calling out ‘Doctor Rick, Doctor Rick’.

The doctor tenderly patted children, chatted, and knelt down to talk to another that was sitting, leaning against a wall. Both feet had been amputated. Amongst the banter and joy of their visit he turned a sad face to Daniel and said with a weight of feeling, “What do they call this? Collateral damage? It’s obscene that such inhumanity can be dismissed with such an innocuous sounding phrase; don’t you think?”

Daniel didn’t know what to say.

As they moved around some of the rooms they saw more of the carnage of war. He felt a sense of despair but, at the same time, he also felt a warm glow of pride and love for his father. His perception of sacrificial giving immediately became real, tangible. It was no longer some abstract adage.

They had a meeting with the refuge’s coordinator who detailed the hardships and needs of the refuge. Richard said that Mr Ali always ran out his sympathy patter for visitors. It was one of the ways they had received valuable support. And though it always sounded pessimistic to the doctor he understood why they tried to take advantage of western guilt and largesse.

“It’s far worse in the south, in Somalia proper,” murmured his father as they got back in the truck for the short drive back to the medical centre. “This here has improved so much over the last few years and yet, by world standards, conditions are still primitive.” He looked thoughtful. “If it hadn’t been so dangerous in Mogadishu we might have moved there already. Their problems are far worse than here.”

“Is that what you’re planning to do then?” Daniel asked.

“Well, it’s really up to our organisation. They’re looking at becoming involved there now that things have settled down a bit. But we won’t leave here unless there are replacements. It might be that we spend a bit of time to help them set up. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Before starting the engine, his father just sat in the parked truck staring blankly at the windscreen, deep in thought. “She’s a lovely girl Dan. Are you serious about her?” The question and associated probing look was totally unexpected. Daniel was thrown. He stuttered a couple of times before taking a deep breath.

“Boy that was out of left field.”

“Well?” his father had turned to face him and maintained a steady gaze.

The younger man’s face broke into a broad grin. “She is beautiful isn’t she?” Then with a little less certainty and a slightly strained croaky voice he reflected. “It’s just that… I’m beginning to think that I might be bad news for her. Almost everything I’ve done has brought her into greater harm.” Even as he said it Daniel’s voice tightened. “We should get back. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s dangerous for her to be there by herself.”

Richard started the truck. “You forget…she’s not alone.”

Daniel had forgotten his father’s earlier assurances and because of that he hardly considered Ellen’s being there qualifying as some sort of protection. But Ellen’s presence is not what his father meant.

It only took a minute to complete the short traverse from the refuge to the clinic. And as the truck shuddered to a halt the doctor observed, “And it doesn’t look like we’re alone either.” He pointed to a white van near the corner. “It’s been following us.”

Daniel looked anxiously at the van and then father and son piled out the truck and ran into the building.

Inside there were two dark Somalis standing near the entrance to the lounge room. Daniel came to a sudden halt as he saw them. His immediate qualms were alleviated when the closer of the two embraced his father, and then the other did likewise. ‘So this was the security,’ thought Daniel. Naomi and Ellen were sitting in the lounge with some of the girls who helped out. There were glasses and a large jug of cool drink.

“Hissein, this is Daniel, my son.” He introduced the second, stockier man to Daniel. As Daniel shook the man’s hand his father indicated the first man. “And this is Abu.” A curt nod and vigorous handshake accompanied his greeting. The younger, taller Abu had a scar on his cheek and scarring on his right arm. Both men were muscular and of similar dark skin shade.

The two Somalis had been chatting to the nurses and some of the aides when father and son had arrived. Ellen shared how the two men had told of their conversion.

All moved to the kitchen dining area and sat around the large dining table for more refreshments as Richard explained how he had come to know Hissein and Abu. With little elaboration Richard explained that they were reformed pirates. He summarised the story for Daniel’s benefit. After both of them had been wounded in a failed raid, Richard had treated them and provided a care they had not experienced before.

Seeing what Doctor Rick did for the oppressed and rejected children and hearing of his faith, they had both been converted.

Daniel felt elation as he heard the men praise his father. They spoke of the rescuing of orphans and how they had assisted in many other ways after finding out about his passion to help the downtrodden.

Often they would travel to the dangerous south of the country or across the border into Ethiopia ready to rescue orphans in need.

The Somali men asked about the incident at the market. Apparently, Rashid had told them earlier of the foreigners who had tried to abduct the doctor. Daniel filled them in with an abbreviated version of his story. All the technical information was implied. He didn’t see the need to go into detail. It was enough to say that he had information that desperate people were after. And people he knew could be in danger. He explained that he was trying to convince Dr Treloar to leave North Africa, but that his efforts, up till now, were unsuccessful.

Talk about danger suddenly reminded him. What about the van? Was it still there? It was a peculiar afterthought, as if the shock of the two strangers in the house had banished it to some less accessible recess in his mind, only to surface as he spoke of the troubles they had experienced.

 A clatter of the door and scuffing feet heralded Rashid’s entrance to the room.

“Doctor Rick, a van is outside the centre.” Both Richard and Daniel went to the kitchen window. It was still there; the same white van! Looking closer the vehicle appeared to be empty. Like an orchestrated move, the two looked at each other anxiously, wondering what to do, when a sharp rap sounded at the door. Humorously, father and son then jumped in unison.

Hissein and Abu took defensive positions near the doorway when they sensed the tension in their friend. Another series of heavy raps followed before a gruff voice called out, “Mr Treloar, I need to speak with you.”

“What do you want?” Richard and Daniel replied almost simultaneously.

“I need to talk to Daniel Treloar… It’s State Department business.”

“Identify yourself,” the doctor demanded loudly.

“My name’s Devon O’Neill. I’m with the State Department.” He spoke deliberately and firmly.

“Push your ID under the door,” directed Daniel.

“I’m not going to do that.” The reply was almost a rebuke. “I’ll tell you what; I’ll hold my papers up to the window.” They heard a brushing of feet in the dirt as he moved away. All four men hustled into the other room.

At the kitchen window a small booklet rose and was pressed against the pane. The open pages showed a picture of a tanned face with short, dark hair. The man was probably in his early thirties, looking quite athletic, and not like your average bureaucrat. His papers looked genuine.

Daniel gave his father a nod and called for the man to meet them at the door. He asked Naomi and Ellen to go to the lounge while they checked out their visitor. The girls moved off compliantly as the older Treloar and Daniel went to the door, with Hissein and Abu close behind.

 

Still wary, the doctor opened the door marginally and spoke, “I’m Doctor Richard Treloar. What do you want to speak with my son?”

“Mr Treloar, I’ve been sent by our government to guarantee that your son is safe and that he gets back home as soon as possible. This is not a safe place for him to be.”

Daniel’s father scrutinised the man at the door briefly. He appeared unarmed but, nevertheless, quite capable of looking after himself if things became physical. He jerked his head to his two Somali friends to retreat into the other room and then opened the door.

The government agent walked inside cautiously and followed the two men into the kitchen. His whole manner was alert and he sat down with practised vigilance with his back to the wall and a view of the door and window.

“So, what can we do for you Mr O’Neill?” Daniel started.

“Call me Devon. As I said, I’m here to help you.”

“Have you been following us?”

He looked at Daniel. A little smile crept onto his face. “You could say that. I was asked to keep an eye on you. Then this morning I was told that I should bring you back. They were concerned about the level of communications chatter.”

“You look different from the guy I thought was following us yesterday.”

Devon smiled. He knew they were referring to his young colleague, Ray, who seemed to think it was necessary to go native when tailing. He said nothing.

At that moment Naomi and Ellen entered the kitchen. Brief introductions ensued and then a discussion was held regarding the threat, real or perceived, to their safety. Richard insisted he would be safe with his Somali friends. Devon gave no indication whether he understood what the doctor alluded to. He was just as determined to convince them to leave. If not all, then at least Daniel and Naomi, who, he had been informed, were ‘a package’.

After much haggling, Daniel yielded to his incessant appeals and negotiated their departure in two days’ time. This was not particularly to Devon’s plan but he had battled to get them to leave without the doctor, so he relented.

He informed them that he had been instructed to monitor them and assist their evacuation in any way possible. He would drive them to Berbera where a waiting transport plane would ferry them to a US base in Kuwait. From there they would return to the States. In the meantime, he asked them to let him know if they were planning any excursions so he could keep an eye on them.

It dawned on them that he was a cagey operator when he concluded his case with the comment; “You know, nominally Hargeisa is relatively peaceful, but if international terrorists make a move on you, even ex-pirate protectors will have their work cut out for them. By the way, you should probably invite them back in. They might feel a bit excluded out there.”

The two Somalis were invited back in and greeted Devon with wry smiles as if they’d heard everything that had been said. 

Having been persuaded to stay for the evening meal, Devon got to know those in his safekeeping better. Joel arrived just prior to the meal and the large table was quite crowded with the eight people seated around.

They consumed local vegetables, goat meat and fruits for dessert washed down with Ellen’s personalised ginger beer. Rich coffee concluded the satisfying meal and vigorous conversation had them all laughing and enjoying the warmth of sharing personal stories. Though notably, the government agent kept his anecdotes to purely facile stories of local life.
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The Profit Prophet
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