He closed the door behind him and leaned against it as if his weight would hold out the world. How many of them had there been? When was he going to learn to think before he acted? This time he could have died. His heart raced. Fucking idiot! Where the fuck had Yussuf gone?
Rob woke with a start. From the look on the face of the passenger in seat 2B, Rob must have gasped or yelled. He was breathing heavily. Rob pressed the call button for the flight attendant. There was time for one more gin and tonic before they landed.
Once in the airport, after passing through customs, he retrieved his luggage from the baggage carousel. One large green canvas duffle bag—which looked more like it had been dragged by the plane rather than stored in its cargo hold—was all he had, other than his beaten-up leather shoulder bag. He made it out to the cab stand and took the next available taxi.
“Queen’s Quay Terminal building, please,” he said to the driver, then closed his eyes. He didn’t want to appear to be rude by not talking. So Canadian, he thought. The oh-look-I’ve-fallen-asleep ruse usually fended off any attempt at mindless chatter from a driver. And he didn’t need to see the sights. The ride from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to his home on the lake shore was nothing to see. It was all highway, industrial complexes, stubby office buildings and shopping malls. The trip showed Toronto as the ugly, unimaginative metropolis that it was, until they hit the expressway by the lake. Then it all changed—the lake, so big that it looked like a sea, the gaudy glamour of the Palais Royale dance hall, and the century-old buildings of the Canadian National Exhibition—they still made Rob smile. A quick left onto Queen’s Quay and he was almost home.
During the cab ride, he thought of his last night in Mogadishu. Of returning to his hotel room after dinner with his photographer. The Hotel Mustaqbal on the traffic-jammed Wadada Uganda was one of the better accommodations in this war-torn country. Clean rooms with a fair certainty of hot and cold running water. What else could he have asked for in Somalia?
When he’d entered the room, he had sensed, without even turning on the lights, that everything had been tossed. He’d frozen, not wanting to make a sound in case the intruders were still there. Whoever’d done this was probably looking for his computer, jewellery, identity papers—anything of value. The joke was on them. He’d learned years ago never to travel with electronics, other than his phone, and he kept that and his identification on him at all times. And he wrote everything in notebooks. He never had to worry about notebooks. No one wanted them, they didn’t break and they didn’t run out of power in a jungle. He’d once lost his pen in Tierra del Fuego but was still able to finish writing using a charred stick from the fire.
As he had surveyed the damage in his hotel room, he’d heard a noise. Out of the corner of his eye, he’d seen a figure make for the window. It was Abdi, his driver. Abdi had thrown himself out the window onto the fire escape. Rob had chased him. Why? He didn’t know.
They’d both hit the main street running. Rob had run right past a man leaning against a car talking to someone in front of the hotel. He’d kept going for another few hundred yards before realising it had been his guide, Yussuf. It was a few blocks later, on a small side street, that Abdi had yelled something in Somali to a few men. One had pulled out a gun and started firing at Rob. Rob had been pinned in a doorway, shards of concrete flying all around him, when he’d heard more shouting. More firing. Where the fuck was Yussuf? Then there was silence. Finally, a familiar head had poked around the corner.
“It’s safe now, boss. You come. Come!” Yussuf had waved him to follow. In his hand, he’d held an old CAR-15 automatic rifle. A body lay in the street. Rob hadn’t stopped to see who it was.
Life as an adventure travel writer was not what he thought it would be when he began this job. There was adventure, and there was this. One of these days, the adventure was going to win and all of the Yussufs in the world would not be able to save him.