“More like a toll,” Amur corrected, earning a scoffing grunt from Kowalski. Their informant’s face reddened, his back stiffening with pride. Though the man had turned informant, Gray was reminded of the old adage: Once a pirate, always a pirate. Or maybe Amur’s justifications were merely a reflection of national pride.
“We deserved some compensation for our plundered seas,” he continued. “Who else is looking after us? Look at the port here.” He nodded to the bustling harbor. “This place used to be a hellhole, with no infrastructure, no hope, everything crumbling apart.”
Kowalski raised a skeptical eyebrow toward the dusty city, seeming to think the description of hellhole still fit it.
“After the government fell,” Amur continued, “we took care of each other. A local businessman started our phone system. Teachers worked for free. The police are all volunteers, too. Now we’re one of the busiest ports in the region. A boomtown, as you say. We export tens of thousands of goats, sheep, and camels across the Arab world.”
Kowalski’s skeptical eyebrow refused to lower. Gray understood as he looked out at all the new construction going on across the nighttime city, at the palatial mansions rising behind high walls. He suspected not all of that largesse came from Boosaaso’s import/export industry.
Gray had read how this city was still ranked as one of the most likely places to get kidnapped. Not exactly a high honor. Though the local government was attempting to change that. Its jails were full of pirates—but how much was that for international show? Piracy continued to be the main industry running the Puntland economy.
How were they going to make any headway in finding the president’s daughter against those economic odds? Money could free tongues—as it had with Amur Mahdi—but it also bought silence.
“And now the fishes return to our waters,” Amur said with a note of vindication and finality. “With the foreign fleets afraid to come near, our seas once again teem with tuna and our people are no longer hungry.”
Gray had to admit that much was true. Somali piracy had a positive impact on reversing the overfishing of its territorial waters. But at what price?
Amur stood up. “The night grows late. I will see what I can discover about this missing American woman. But as you know, rescue attempts over the past year have resulted in pirate deaths. It will not be easy getting information.”
Gray stood and shook the man’s hand. He read between the lines. To break that silence would require additional funds. But Gray feared if too much money was thrown into the search, it could raise the suspicions of Amanda’s captors. A delicate balance had to be struck here—but for now they had no choice.
“I understand. Do what you must,” Gray said. He shook the man’s hand and wished him good night, using his native tongue, which earned an appreciative smile from Amur. “Haben wanaagsan.”
Gray waited for Amur to leave the restaurant before motioning the others up. “We should get back to the hotel.”
They headed out as a group. Even at this hour, the streets were clogged with trucks, people, and carts. Sizzling food stands, tiny tea stalls, and makeshift shops packed both sides of the street. All around, Boosaaso bustled, hammered, rang, and shouted.
They kept to a tight knot as they traversed the crowded streets on their way toward their hotel.
Seichan spoke at his ear, her breath hot on his cheek. “You were right. We’ve picked up a tail.”
Gray stopped at a fruit stand, studying the exotic fare while searching the street behind them. He noted two figures in street clothes who ducked out of sight as he had stopped. “Two of them?”
“Three,” Seichan corrected. “The woman in the green sarong by the door of that Internet café.”
Gray didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary in her appearance, but he trusted Seichan’s assessment.
Kowalski remained oblivious. He picked up a banana and sniffed at it. “Are we buying something or not?”
Gray headed away, continuing toward their hotel, drawing the tail in his wake.
“So Amur is not as loyal as the CIA claimed,” Seichan whispered.
She leaned toward him like a lover. Physical contact between men and women was frowned upon in this country, but there was a strange, heightened intimacy in being this close without touching.
“Painter suspected as much,” Gray mumbled.
The director had reviewed the various potential contacts here and selected Amur specifically because of discrepancies in his behavior in the past. It seemed the man was not above playing one side against the other, especially with big money involved.
Once a pirate, always a pirate.
Gray sauntered down the road with his teammates, not bothering to try to shake the tail. He wanted the others following his team. Amur was playing a dangerous game, but one that suited their purpose.
Because two could play that same game.
Tucker Wayne maintained a safe distance behind Amur Mahdi, keeping a city block between them.
The radio embedded in his ear buzzed. “Do you have him?”
It was Commander Pierce. Tucker touched his throat mike and subvocalized his answer. “Affirmative.”
To blend in with the locals, he had pulled a loose plaid macawiis tunic over a thin Kevlar jacket and donned a regional turban to hide his hair and further shadow his features. Not that there weren’t white faces here. It seemed the city drew opportunists from around the globe. He heard German, Spanish, and French spoken alongside the continuous dialects of African languages.
Still, he kept almost entirely out of sight of his target, trusting another’s eyes more than his own.
Several meters ahead, Kane kept to the shadows, ghosting along, sticking to the crumbling wall of a palatial estate, gliding around and over obstacles. Few eyes glanced at the shepherd’s passage. Plenty of dogs—half-starved waifs, showing ribs and bony legs—roamed the streets.
A block away, Amur turned a corner and angled away from the busier zone of newer hotels and larger estates. He moved with determination into a bulldozed section of the city, occupied by cranes, piles of rubble, and metal trailers, all in readiness for the expansion of the neighboring business district.
Tucker radioed the change in direction. “He’s heading out of New Boosaaso, aiming for a rougher part of town. Definitely not going home.”
Tucker had memorized everything he could about his target, mapping out the man’s life in his head: where he lived, where he met friends for drinks, where his mistress was holed up. Amur wasn’t heading toward any of his usual haunts.