This is chapter 2 of a serialized novel appearing on Ars Gratia Libertatis weekly. Â Read from the beginning here.
Tyler Floust grimaced as he sipped his coffee. Â Stale and flavorless, the hot liquid left an acidic aftertaste as it made its way down Tyler’s throat. Â Tyler noted the particularly awful taste and took another sip. Â He needed the caffeine. Â It was 10:42 in the morning on a day that had started three hours ago and which already seemed like an epoch to rival the age of the dinosaurs.
The problem was that nothing was happening. Â Nothing ever really happened at this job. Â Tyler yawned and leaned back in his chair. Â He was twenty-four years old, but his dreary boredom made him feel closer to fifty today.
Just do the time, he told himself. Â If he ever wanted to move on to something more important and interesting, he had to do this job well. Â His current job sounded interesting to people at cocktail parties. Â Intelligence Analyst, Central Intelligence Agency, Africa Section, Oraanu desk. Â People would nod and express some interest in Africa. Â The more honest among them would admit that they had no idea where Oraanu was. Â Then they would ask how he got interested in Oraanu.
The real answer, the one he never gave, was that he wasn’t actually interested in Oraanu. Â He had been an African Studies and International Relations double major at Columbia University. Â He didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his education. Â He had joined CIA because he had not been hired at the State Department and did not have any connections to get him a job at a non-profit, NGO, or any of the other vaguely-purposed organizations that employed people such as him.
CIA had needed more people for the Africa Section, and the resident expert on Oraanu had passed away some months before he was hired. Â His mentors at the Agency had advised him to log some time at the Oraanu desk and try to work his way up the Africa Division. Â Thus, Tyler sat at his desk, bored out of his mind.
Oraanu didn’t have much going on at the moment. Â CIA had recruited a few agents amongst the bureaucrats in the Hamilton government. Â They tended to report on careerist jockeying for position within their respective agencies. Â Utterly uninteresting stuff. Â The best information still came from theÂ Locketon Gazette, the only respectable paper emanating from Lomboko.
Locketon Gazette. Â He remembered that one of the answers he gave to people who asked about his interest in Oraanu was that he was interested in post-colonial third world development. Â Oraanu had gained freedom from the British in the sixties and still retained vestiges of colonialism. Â TheÂ Locketon Gazette was a prime example. Â The newspaper had retained the British name for the city that the citizens of Oraanu had renamedÂ Lomboko. Â No one really knew why, but it was a fun fact that Tyler brought up at happy hours and cocktail parties.
Tyler checked the website of theÂ Locketon Gazette. Â The big news of the day in Lomboko was the Kwange Marketplace shooting. Â Several merchants had been killed while resisting government agents and many more had been wounded. Â Tyler wanted to see if there were any additional details on what the agents had been doing in the Marketplace. Â He knew the stories were censored, but the journalists of theÂ Gazette were experts at slipping important facts past the government bureaucrats. Â If he got some more details, maybe he could write a report on the inability of the Hamilton government to control the black market that was starving the central government of funds for its ambitious social programs.
Underneath the headline about the shooting, a new article had popped up. Â “Sindamo’s Bakery Destroyed in Fire.” Â Tyler took a quick look. Â A baking oven had apparently caught fire and burned the building down. Â The government’s fire department had rushed to the scene but were too late to save the building or the people within. Â The bakery assistant was dead. Â The owner’s body had yet to be found, but he was feared dead as well.
The news made no impression on Floust. Â Fires happened everywhere in the world, even in Oraanu. Â He went back to the story about the Kwange Marketplace and took another sip of his stale coffee.
* Â * Â *
When Sindamo crawled free of the building, several people had come to help him. Â They had seen the government agents leave and guessed what had happened. Â One of the helpers was the father of one of Sindamo’s child employees. Â Another was a worker who frequented the bakery. Â Everyone had a reason, but no one talked about it.
They carried Sindamo to a nearby home and bandaged the stub where his left ring finger used to be. Â Sindamo was dazed, bloody, and in shock from the destruction of his life’s work. Â They asked him what happened, and he told them in an emotionless monotone. Â Half an hour later, Martha Togo arrived.
The news of the fire had quickly swept through Lomboko. Â Martha had still been working on the victims of the Kwange Marketplace raid when she heard about the distruction of Sindamo’s bakery. Â She had given cursory instructions to the bystanders regarding the care of the wounded and rushed to the bakery. Â Examining Sindamo’s wounds, she said, “You do realize you’re the luckiest man in Oraanu? Â If the bullet hadn’t hit your finger, you’d be dead.” Â She took a pair of pliers out of her tool bag. Â “As it is, we’ve got to get the bullet out.”
Sindamo nodded. Â The wound where his finger used to be did not hurt anywhere near as much as the wound in his chest and his broken ribs. Â Martha put on a pair of gloves and went into the house’s kitchen. Â There was an ancient stove, which she turned on. Â She held the pliers in the flame until they glowed red.
Martha handed Sindamo a bit of rope. Â “This isn’t going to be pleasant, Thomas. Â I had to heat the pliers so they’ll cauterize the wound. Â Bite down on the rope. Â It helps”
Sindamo nodded, trying not to show his fear. Â He bit down and Martha jammed the pliers into the wound. Â Sindamo screamed and bit down with all the savage panic the more basic parts of the brain can muster. Â Martha grabbed the bullet and withdrew the pliers. Â She dropped the bullet into Sindamo’s hand. Â “Keep it for good luck.”
“He’s going to need it.” Â Martha turned around and saw that someone else had arrived to take care of Sindamo. Â Sindamo turned his head and saw the visitor. Â His thoughts had been scrambled by the extraordinary pain he had just experienced, but seeing this person reminded him that he had a purpose. Â To the amazement of Martha and the other onlookers, Sindamo said without preamble, “I’ve got a business idea I want to talk about with you, John.”