Misguided Angel Page 7

"You knew my grandfather?" Schuyler asked. "Why didn't you mention it earlier? At the market?"

Ghedi did not reply. Instead, he reached into the basket and brought out sacks of flour, salt, and a small jar of sardines. "First we must eat. I know you do not need it for sustenance, but please, for the sake of companionship, let us share a meal before we discuss."

"Hold on," Jack said. "You speak the names of our friends, yet how do we know you are truly a friend to us? Lawrence Van Alen had as many enemies as allies."

"All you say is true. Yet there is nothing I can show or say that will prove I am who I say I am. You will have to decide for yourself whether I am telling the truth. I have no mark, no papers, nothing that may attest to my story. You have only my word. You must trust your own judgment."

Jack looked at Schuyler. What do you think?

I don't know. You're right to be cautious. But I feel in my heart he is a friend. But that is all I have. A feeling.

Instincts are all we have in the end. Instincts and luck, Jack sent.

Jack said, "We will trust you tonight, Ghedi. You're right, you must eat, as must she.

Please . . ." He released his hold and motioned to the fire.

Ghedi whistled while he pounded out the injera dough into small circles in the small galley kitchen. He found a metal skillet and fired up one of the gas burners. With the other, he grilled a few sardines on an open flame. In a few minutes, the bread began to rise, puffing with small indentations. The fish began to smoke. When it was ready, Ghedi prepared three plates.

The bread was a bit sour and spongy, but Schuyler thought it was the best thing she had ever eaten. She didn't even realize until she smelled the fresh, delicious aroma filling the room that she was hungry. Starving even. The fish was excellent, and along with a few fresh tomatoes Ghedi had unearthed, it made a satisfying meal. Jack had a piece or two, to be polite. But Schuyler and Ghedi ate as if it was their last meal.

So it wasn't a coincidence, then, their meeting Ghedi at the market, Schuyler thought, appraising their new companion as she dipped a piece of bread into the small pool of ghee on her plate. When she thought about it a little more, she remembered that it was the pirate who had approached them. And now, on further recollection, it seemed that he was waiting for them. He had practically ambushed them when they had walked past his stall, asking if there was any way he could be of service. He had been quite persuasive, and somehow Schuyler had managed to communicate the specifics of their confinement, and they had finally agreed to trust him with getting them a motorboat.

But who was Ghedi after all? How did he know Lawrence?

"I know you have many questions," the Somali said. "But it is late. And we must all rest.

Tomorrow, I will return and tell you what I know."

SIX

Motherless Boys

I was six years old when they took my mother," Ghedi told them the following morning with their breakfasts--cups of espresso and fresh bread in a brown paper bag.

Schuyler raised her eyebrows while Jack looked grim. They sipped their coffee and listened. Outside, the seagulls were greeting the dawn with their mournful screeching. Fishing season was over, so there was no worry of the boat's owner finding them, but they wanted to move on as early as possible.

"The raiders had never come so close to the coast before, but we had heard about them from neighboring villages. They always took the womenfolk--young girls, usually." Ghedi shrugged his shoulders as if to apologize. "I was told my mother was getting water by the creek when they took her. She was very beautiful, my mother. When she came back, she was different." Ghedi shook his head, a hard light in his eyes. "She was . . . changed. And her belly, swollen."

"She had been raped, then?" Schuyler asked gently.

"Yes and no . . . She did not remember any violence. She did not remember anything, really. My father had died in the wars, a year before, and when the baby came, it took her life with his. Neither survived. I was the only one left. My uncle took me to the missionaries. They ran an orphanage in Berbera. It was full of lost boys like me--war orphans, motherless boys.

"One day Father Baldessarre came."

"Baldessarre, did you say?" Schuyler asked, looking startled. "How did you know him?

We are looking for him as well." When she had left New York she'd taken Lawrence's notes with her. The papers that she carried from his files named a Father Baldessarre in conjunction with the Gate of Promise, and finding the priest seemed a good place to start their own journey.

Ghedi explained. "Father Baldessarre was the head of the Petruvian mission. He was very kind, and he chose several boys to take back to Italy, to send to their school in Florence. I was one of them. At first I did not want to leave. I was scared. But I liked going to school. And I liked Father B. He taught us to speak English and sent most of the boys to new lives in America.

I thought that was where I would end up as well. Somewhere in Kansas. Going to community college." He smiled ruefully and rubbed his shaved head.

"One day after class, Father B. pulled me aside. I was eleven years old--old enough, he decided, to help them with their true mission. He told me he was entrusted with a powerful secret. The Petruvian Order was not an ordinary brotherhood; they were guardians of a sacred space.

"Two years ago, when I had formally joined the order and was ordained as a priest, Father B. received a letter from a Professor Lawrence Van Alen, requesting a visit. The professor seemed to know many things about our work, and Father B. believed the professor would be able to help with our mission. Certain things had begun to happen that could not be explained, dark omens that worried him. We prepared for this meeting, but the professor never arrived, and Father B. began to get agitated. He began to worry. He was ill, Father B.; he had been diagnosed with cancer the year before and he knew he didn't have much time. And then last year, out of the blue, Christopher Anderson came to visit us.

"He told us the Professor was dead, but his legacy lived on in his granddaughter, and that she would help us with our task. He showed us your photograph, Schuyler. He told us to keep an eye out for you, to help you when you came into our region. We have been waiting for you since, especially when we heard you had left New York. Of course, we had no idea that you were in the custody of the Countess. That we did not count on."

Ghedi wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "Father B. could not wait any longer. The wrongness was growing, he said. He told me to come find you instead, and to bring you back to our monastery. I apologize for not identifying myself sooner, but I was wary of approaching you as a Petruvian until you were safely away from your imprisonment."

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