If you ever come to Noah Town, you’ll probably arrive by coach. The long buses come off interstate trunk roads from far and near, from smaller towns and villages were dreams of making it in the big city still has its allure. The buses pour out streams of young men and women hourly at almost a clockwork rate. They come with their dreams and aspirations, their bags and little savings. They are drawn to a metropolis where the street lights never go off and there is money to be made with beautiful bodies, willing hands or daring minds. I know them. I was once like them.
Your coach should come to a stop at the terminal on Main Street, just at the beginning of the two mile stretch of long dual rows of hardware stores, fashion stores and business offices. As you disembark , in the mornings, you might hear the dull drone of street sweeper trucks vacuuming the road. A soft feminine voice will welcome you to Noah Town over the terminal’s public address system , advising you to mind your luggage.
Touts may accost you, offering to help you get a cheaper hotel or unlicensed taxi , some with the intent to unburden you of your few valuables. You would be better off strolling to the Visitor Centre to book a cab or walk a bit farther down the road to catch a local bus ride. Or maybe someone, perhaps a relative or friend has arranged to pick you up.
Whatever are your options on arrival, you wouldn’t help but notice two old grey storey buildings situated almost opposite each other. Their Brazilian architecture with mock Roman marble columns add a air of gravitas that make them stand out amid melange of functional matchbox shaped buildings. They are the two big banks of Noah Town.
Scores of men with crew cuts in blue or black suits march in confident strides in and out of the two grand old buildings. On the right, if you are coming from the Terminus, next to the divisional police office is the local branch of National Bank. And on the left, behind a fibre glass fountain cast of an elephant pumping water out of its trunk, is the local land bank owned by former loan shark now turned legit financier, Mr Barido Freeman. Everybody calls him Barry.
He is reputed to be very influential. I have had occasion to meet him myself, informally of course, and I found him intimidating. He owns a significant portion of the businesses and real estate in Noah Town. Sixty years old and not looking a day younger, Barry is big boned and tall, slightly balding but still working that regal look. What was left of his receding hairline, he grew into big white halo with brown dusts.
When you are told by your guide that he started out as an immigrant with nothing on him but a knapsack slung across his shoulder, you would probably be impressed too by what he has made of himself. You would think, if he can, maybe you can. He is the stuff of which legends are made.
Barry manages to keep his family out of the tabloids. Although he has never married , he had a love child, twenty years old Norah whose mother has been out of the picture since like forever. Norah, I have heard, was worth her weight in trouble and then some. Twice expelled from expensive boarding schools abroad where Barry had hidden her, she eventually dropped out, called it quits and came back home.
Barry got her an office in the family business and engaged Cuba, an ex-cop as her bodyguard, mainly to keep her out of trouble. Cuba used to be an ambitious police officer on the rise till one day he shot a teenage kid playing with a toy gun and the top brass threw him under the bus. Taking care of Norah was a better paying job however and he intended to keep it forever. A shrewd guy, he kept Norah out of trouble mainly by making sure Barry never heard of it.
A major challenge for Cuba on job was handling Nora’s long list of hangers-on, most of whom were willing to get whatever Nora requests of them even if it were illegal. Prominent in that clique was Vera, her BFF and confidant. Vera used to be a bartender at a night club on Boardwalk, Noah Town’s entertainment district, where she met Norah and the two hit it off.
Like any street hustler, Vera knew she had found a winning lottery ticket with Norah. How did I get involved with this clique? Stay with me, I was going to explain.
Vera and I once dated, very briefly. Vera also happens to have a twin brother called Jude. Jude and I, we go way back to the time we were still hungry backpackers just come off a bus on Main Street. That was a life time ago, of course.
Jude and I are now business partners, we run a little taxi operation that is thriving very well, thank you very much. Nothing fancy, just a dozen old cars in great working condition and a long list of repeat loyal patrons.
We started out as two unlicensed cab drivers willing to work all night in what was then the notorious Boardwalk. Later we formed a partnership, got licensed and started adding more cars and drivers. We evolved into an effective relationship; he handles the drivers’ scheduling and getting of corporate customers while I take care of the back office and car maintenance issues.
Once two guys have had a big fight and then gotten over it, they tend to bond well. That was what happened to Jude and I. I could implicitly trust him to have my back, at least until the events I am narrating to you now started.
One ordinary Tuesday, Jude dropped by at lunch to inform me that we have an inquiry from a prospective investor. Barry – yeah, that Barry – wanted to buy out our little operation. Could I look at our books and come up with a working valuation, just in case this turned out to be a real deal?
Sure, I replied. I acted all cool about it though I was very, very excited. I mean if the price is right, like five times annual revenues, surely why not? But then he clarified. What he really wanted to know was, at what price was I willing to cash out. They wanted to buy me out and let Jude run the operation.
By the way, by then, he was hanging out a lot with Norah . And I was worried about her Daddy. Barry was like the king of Noah Town and rumour had it, he might or might not have had mob ties. If you don’t cooperate with his type, there was the unspoken threat that he might not be pleased. This was scary to me. I don’t want to end up drowning in the Noah Lagoon like some overconfident yokel who dared above his match. And since I love the feel of fresh cash stacks in my palm like the next guy, I felt I had better play along.
I doubled my calculated asking price, asked for not half but all of five times annual revenues. We shook hands over that and he said I should give him some time to iron it out with his principal, Barry. I started to look at Jude funny from then on. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I started to daydream of the day I’ll get to seat with Jude, Norah & co. , and firm up the terms of sale. I knew what I would do with the money when it hits my account. I would take a long holiday first, to somewhere far from Noah Town. I have earned it. I’ll go somewhere where it is cold in summer. Maybe I could learn to ski in middle age, who knows?
Those were my thoughts until a Saturday, some days later, when I picked up a copy of the local evening tabloid and read the headline, “Barry’s Girl Kidnapped”. I had a premonition that, after that event, things wouldn’t turn out exactly as planned.
It was meant to be a safe job. They fake a kidnap of the millionaire’s daughter, collect the ransom and share it with her. But then things started to go wrong. As the body count continues to rise, Tony finds himself in the cross-hairs of a deadly gang as he tries to save his best friend’s widow.
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