Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lost Excerpts from The Yemen Contract

Arthur Kerns

All writers lament how publishers cut sections and scenes from their manuscript, prose you are positive was just fantastic. Ah, those lost darlings. In The Yemen Contract, a spy thriller featuring CIA operative Hayden Stone and his friend Contessa Lucinda, I wrote a few scenes describing the country of Eritrea, a fascinating country on the Red Sea across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is not on everyone’s vacation bucket list so I wanted to let my reader know I saw and experienced. My editor did not think these scenes moved the story and were cut. So here they are out of the dustbin. 

Contessa Lucinda and Hayden Stone ambled along the tidy streets of the capitol city, Asmara, stopping now and then to look into shops to examine the foods, clothes, jewelry, and curios. Lucinda’s bodyguard, Marcello, maintained a discreet distance. One shop along Liberty Avenue sold crude ivory carvings, which so soured Stone he barged out and stood on the sidewalk, watching the people pass by, most offering polite smiles. A few minutes later, Lucinda came out and leaned against him.
 He fumed. “I get pissed when I see ivory taken from a butchered elephant only to end up a piece of crap in a tourist shop.” 
 “What’s really wrong with you?”
 “The stitches in my leg are bothering me. Maybe we can take a car.”
 Lucinda patted him on the arm and then went over to Marcello. When she returned, she said she told Marcello they were taking a cab. He could follow if he thought it necessary. “Meanwhile, my dear, I will assume the role of architectural guide.”
  Stone arranged with the driver for an hour's ride around the city, which Stone had come to admire. An old Africa hand, this was one country where he needn’t keep his guard up. The people here were neat, looked you in the eye with dignity, and weren’t reluctant to offer a handshake. 
 Lucinda impressed him with her knowledge of the architectural schools of Art Deco, Cubist, and Futurist. “Rationalism was Mussolini’s favorite,” she said. “A group of architects led it in the thirties from Milan called Gruppo Seven. One of my cousins belonged to it.”
 Stone touched her arm. “Let’s see if we can get out of this bird watching trip up country tomorrow. Maybe hang around Asmara until I go back to Yemen.”
 “Patience told me that Ambassador Bunting wants to get you alone and discuss some things.” She smiled. “Besides, it will be fun. We will see something new . . . and learn a few things.”

The road became winding and rough. They passed scatterings of tidy villages with one-story house fronts painted in pale blues, others in aquamarine. Some were painted beige and had doors and shutters a dark shade of blue. Here and there were remnants of the war with Ethiopia, burned-out tanks, and rusting trucks.
 They reached the top of an escarpment and the embassy driver pulled to the side of the road. The fertile landscape below was a marked change from the arid country they had left behind. The deep canyon was terraced along both sides. Farmland lay on the floor of the gorge. 

The driver eased them down the switchbacks onto the valley below. Eventually, they saw their destination. In the distance, on a rise above cultivated fields, a collection of white buildings sat among tall trees. The settlement turned out to be not an active monastery, but a state-owned farm, built in the nineteen-thirties by an Italian settler. 
 The farm had a church with a tall steeple, holding a bronzed-colored bell. “I guess that’s where someone got the idea this was a monastery,” Stone said.
 “I have a feeling it was at one time,” Lucinda said. “The government probably wants to avoid controversy by not admitting they took over a religious building.”
 When the two were shown their rooms, Stone laughed, “Now I believe you. This was definitely a religious building. This room reminds me of a monk’s cell.”
 The accommodations were spotless and very ascetic: pale green walls, two single iron-framed beds with thin grey blankets. The shower in the corner comprised a showerhead and a hole in the floor. No curtain. 
 Stone stared at the two small beds. “How many nights are we staying here, dear?”
 “Hayden, consider this a religious experience.”
 After a dinner of pasta noodles floating in a watery acidic tomato sauce, yougurt, and a leaf salad no one touched, the four walked the grounds. They met few people, only birds singing at dusk. 
 Stone remarked, “I wonder how the facility can be kept in such good condition with so few people. Look, they prune the citrus trees, the bougainvillea trimmed, the grass is cut.”
 “They probably do the work during the week and have weekends off,” Ambassador Bunting said. “Then again, many of the young men are off at the Ethiopian front.”
 “It is so peaceful here,” Patience said. “Hard to imagine war could erupt at any moment.”
 Stone thought about the ruined Russian T-34 tanks, along with other damaged military vehicles they’d seen on the road on their way to the farm. “These interludes of peace are a blessing.” He thought about the day’s birding in the valley. “Good that we had a guide today to steer us away from the minefields.” 
 At Stone’s words the others became quiet. Lucinda gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

 The next morning being Sunday, Stone asked at breakfast if mass would be held in the church. The kitchen staff, while offering only fresh bread and an orange drink called Fanta, informed him that they held church services only on Christmas and Easter. 
 Afterward, he and Lucinda found the church door open and entered, going into the bright white painted interior decorated with Coptic images and carvings.
 “My father would have felt at home here,” Lucinda mused. “He was Egyptian and a practicing Copt before he married my Italian mother.”
 Stone went to the votive candle stand and lit two candles. One for his family; the other for his ancestors.
 “Hayden, I never saw you do that before.” She took the burning wick from Stone and with her delicate hand lit two of her own candles. As they walked back to their room to pack for the return to Asmara, she put her arm through his and held on tight. “You continually surprise me. You are a very complicated man.”

Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Intelligence Community and the Department of State, which took him to over sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in a number of award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. Early next year his new thriller, Days of the HuntersMurder, Mystery, and Romance in Tuscany will be published.


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