Samatar had no plan. Why waste time? The men were ready to go. Saalax hadn't planned anything when the four commanders captured the Malhotra. There were probably hundreds of foreign ships along the Somali coastline at the same time. Finding one would be easy.
And, just as importantly, Xasaan had replaced his old broken skiff, and he was willing to use the new one to search for ships. It would be rather difficult to fit all thirteen men into Samatar's skiff, but seven would fit nicely. Samatar also recognized the tactical advantage; it would be more difficult for a foreign vessel to deal with two skiffs than one.
The two skiffs headed southward along the coastline. At first, they saw nothing but peaceful Somali fishermen. Then, they saw nothing but the sea. Soon, the youth started to worry. At some point, there wouldn't be enough fuel to get them back. But they knew that they could not quit. They had to find a ship.
As twilight neared, their fortunes improved. They spotted something moving in the distance. It was heading southward, as they were. They pursued.
It would be just like last time, Samatar thought. They would sneak up behind the ship and board from astern. No one would notice until they had control of the ship.
As they moved closer, Samatar realized that there was a significant problem. This ship was significantly longer and higher than the Malhotra. He had a rope, but it wasn't nearly long enough to reach the deck. It was meant only to tie his skiff to the ship. They wouldn't be able to sneak on board. On cue, Xasaan pulled along side Samatar's skiff.
“How do we board it?” Xasaan asked.
Samatar spoke without thinking. “With my kalachnikov!”
Instead of sneaking up on the stern, Samatar brazenly sped ahead toward the right side of the vessel. Instinctively, Xasaan did the same on the left side. He trusted Samatar's ability to act quickly. As they both moved parallel to the vessel, Samatar fired a few random shots into the air. It got the attention of the vessel's crew. Samatar signaled for the vessel to stop. Without resisting, it did. The crew then helped The Supernovas board by throwing down a ladder.
In their haste and desperation, none of The Supernovas had noticed the vessel's flag or name. The crew were Africans, but they were speaking English. Since Samatar knew little English, Xasaan spoke to the captain on Samatar's behalf.
“Tell me everything about this ship.”
The terrified captain continued his full cooperation, hoping not to be harmed. “It's my fishing vessel, sir. The FV Valentine. I'm Captain James Oparanya. We have 22 crew members total, all Kenyans. There's nothing but fish on this ship.”
“What are you doing stealing fish from Somali waters?”
James tried his best not to anger Xasaan. “Well, I'll be honest, it's easier than dealing with the corrupt Kenyan government, and the catch is usually better when we go northward up the coast. I know, it's wrong.”
“Yes, it is wrong. And you are going to compensate us for committing this crime.”
James sighed. He had the look of a man who had just been sentenced to the gallows.
Xasaan continued. “Listen, I want to punish you for what that Thai vessel did to me. I want to punish you for the Kenyan government's horrifying creation of the TFG in Somalia. But not only do I know that it's wrong; I will not do it. Besides, we have all agreed to abide by the code of the privateers. You owe us double the value of the fish you've caught plus double the cost of our work.”
James suddenly had a look of relief. “Well, sir, that's certainly fair. About how much would that be?”
Xasaan paused for a moment in order to ask Samatar how to proceed. When he spoke again to James, Xasaan answered definitively, “500,000 American dollars.”
“What?” James was flabbergasted. “I don't have that much, sir.”
Xasaan relayed the reply to Samatar, and Samatar had another answer. Xasaan responded, “You have this ship, though.”
James was a peaceful man, but he was no fool. “Honestly, sir, your price is a bit optimistic. The fish are worth a few thousand at best, if they don't spoil.”
Samatar responded again through Xasaan's translation. “Very well. But we still put ourselves at great risk to hold you accountable for your crime. 250,000 American dollars, no less. We will give you until sunrise to consider your payment options.”
Xasaan ended the conversation abruptly, but he was extremely unhappy with Samatar's negotiating style. They couldn't pick an arbitrary dollar amount. Samatar was acting like a salesman instead of a negotiator. Xasaan saw the need to take full control of the negotiator role. Samatar was brilliant at leading his men into action, but the follow-through was alien and boring to him.
“Samatar, I want to speak with the captain privately. We want this situation resolved as quickly as possible, don't we?”
Samatar agreed to the request. Xasaan was right. Samatar was in it for the action and spoils. Xasaan was better suited to finishing the group's task, although he doubted it would be done quickly enough to satisfy Samatar. Xasaan also had a good feeling about James.
Xasaan and James proceeded into a private cabin. James surprised Xasaan by starting the conversation. “Sir, I don't want to lose my ship. May I explain why I chose the name Valentine?
“Yes. I'd like to hear.” Xasaan meant it. James's refreshing candidness and thoughtfulness intrigued him.
“It's an inside joke, I suppose. I don't believe that two people can genuinely love each other. But I love nothing more than seafaring. It gives me time to come up with ideas and reach solutions that my crew can implement. And so, my ship is my only true valentine.”
Xasaan suddenly cared little about the negotiations. He considered himself a caring, loving person. He wanted to hear more of James's ideas. “Why can't two people genuinely love each other?”
“I believe that when you love something, you must love it permanently. Otherwise, you merely like it. Love is the status of being in harmony with an idea—an unchanging idea. I can say that I love seafaring because the idea of seafaring is stable, everlasting, and understandable. It is an extension of my personality. But a person is dynamic, temporal, and mentally impenetrable. How can I love something that is impossible to understand or predict? When we talk about love between two people, we are talking about affinity, attraction, or a combination of the two. It is a false love. The word love is being used metaphorically or euphemistically.”
James's objective description of love astonished Xasaan. This description went against Xasaan's core beliefs.
“You don't think that a parent can love a child?”
“A parent loves successful propagation—the continuation of one's genetic lineage. A parent feels good about having a family and the responsibility of raising a child. A child can make a parent joyful. But does a parent actually love a child as a human being? No. A parent loves what a child symbolizes instead of the actual child.”
Xasaan felt annoyed at this point, but Xasaan also knew that James meant every word he had uttered. Xasaan respected him for it, like a teacher respects a student.
“I can see that you are a talented thinker. But I hope that someday you are fortunate enough to experience the love of another person. Or at least the love of Allah.”
James's candor had worked in his favor so far. He kept up the tactic. “Honestly, sir, I must say that I'm not a Muslim. I have my own theory about the nature of life in the universe. Would you like to hear it?”
Xasaan thought about saying no, but it was too difficult. Xasaan knew that he would dismiss whatever James had to say, but Xasaan was empathetic and wanted to help James. They were bonding, and Xasaan didn't want to ruin it. He let James continue.
“I believe in deistic evolution. Our creator does not interfere whatsoever in the universe. Doing so would be counterproductive. There are a very large but finite number of spirits in the universe, and they reincarnate indefinitely. Each individual spirit in the universe is meant to compete to be the best. Life revolves around competing in mating-ritual games. Birds, for example, might play a singing game. Larger land mammals play more complex games that involve direct physical or psychological competition between individuals. The human games are even more complex; we have economic, physical, intellectual, and rhetorical games.
“But these games do not go on forever. They cannot, because eventually the universe will not be able to support any life. There is a time limit to this game. At some point, the greatest spirits in the universe—whom I refer to as angels—will compete in the most difficult mating-ritual game: the escape from the universe before time is up. They must use incredible brilliance, physical ability, and skills and technology that we don't know about yet in order to tear a hole in the fabric of space-time.
“The spirit that successfully escapes from the universe—the Alpha Spirit—is the grand champion of the game of life. And, of course, the winner's prize is to mate with the most desirable being there is: the goddess. The goddess—our finite, imperfect creator—wants to be impregnated.”
Xasaan managed not to get offended. Instead, he thought of this deistic evolution theory as fairly clever, considering that James clearly had no proper teaching in Islam. But he could not resist attempting to find flaws.
“But what about all of the females? Your view is unfair to them. Only the males can win, right?”
“No. It is the physical body that is male or female. A spirit is neither male nor female. It simply would act in some male way during the mating... like a sperm. Now that I think about it... maybe the goddess didn't actually create us. All of the spirits are sperm that are traveling through her reproductive system. The Big Bang really was the big bang! Hahaha! And escaping from the universe is when one of us penetrates the egg! Of course! Oh, thank you so much, sir! My theory makes much more sense now!”
Xasaan couldn't help but laugh with James. He had helped him after all. It felt good, whether or not James's theory was ridiculous. Forget the flaws. They were friends now.
It was time for Xasaan to get back to business. “There is still the matter of negotiating the compensation. What can you offer us?”
“I do have some American dollars on the ship. Maybe 20,000. It seems like a fair compensation for my crime.”
Xasaan figured that the actual amount was more than US$20,000. But he was more interested in why James had that much foreign currency on the ship when he was only going fishing.
“You have American dollars instead of Kenyan shillings?”
“Yes.” James wasn't volunteering any additional information.
Xasaan wasn't going to let it go. “Something illegal?”
James was worried that Xasaan might think that James was doing more to hurt Somalia besides just fishing. He had to tell the truth. “Gambling.”
“When I said that I love thinking of ideas for my crew to carry out, I meant it! It's a side business. Gambling is legal in Kenya, but, of course, the government wants to regulate, tax, and license everything. Sure, I could bribe them, but it's best that they not know about it at all. I take Western tourists—usually Americans—out onto the seas, and they gamble. My crew are part-time fishermen, part-time croupiers. We get a little extra cash, and the Americans have fun. Everyone wins.”
James amazed Xasaan once again. “The games are fair?”
“Of course. The house has the advantage, but I'm no fraud.”
“Then your gambling business is more morally acceptable than your fishing business! The Americans voluntarily choose to engage in gambling. You are not using coercion in order to take something of value to them. You provide them with entertainment and the potential for winning cash. No one is victimized.”
James smiled. “I must say, you're correct, sir.”
“What games do the Americans play?”
“They're crazy for Texas Hold 'Em. We get big groups together for tournaments. They've also taken to a game I invented, Dicejack.”
“It's Blackjack with both cards and dice. The house plays like it always does in Blackjack—one card down, one card up. But the players don't get cards. They roll two dice. They roll twice and add up their total score. They can stand or roll one more time. They naturally think, 'Seven times three is twenty-one.' And when you tell them that the payout is three-to-two for any win and two-to-one for a blackjack, they think that they can win big. Once they're in, they love having control. It hooks them on the game. But the house consistently wins about two-thirds of the games of Dicejack.”
Xasaan thought for a moment. “Let's play.”
James looked astonished. “What?”
“Compensation doesn't have to be a precisely calculated number. The purpose of compensation is to resolve the victim's grievance. If the victim wants to forgive some of the debt, he can. Considering your anti-government stance, I want to give you a chance to lower your debt. And so, I'll bet 5,000 dollars. If you win, we leave with 15,000 dollars. But if I win, we leave with 27,500 dollars. Or 30,000, if I get blackjack. You probably owe even more than that, if we bothered to calculate it all. Deal?”
The odds were in James's favor. He did not hesitate. “Deal.”
James told Xasaan that there were a pair of dice and a deck of cards in the bag in the corner. Xasaan almost let James get them, but then Xasaan thought better of it. Xasaan slowly opened the bag. Indeed, he found the cards and dice—no weapons. James was an honest man.
Xasaan examined the cards in order to make sure there were no gimmicks. The set of cards appeared to be standard and proper, and so he gave the cards to James. He made sure that James shuffled the deck well in order to sufficiently randomize the cards.
The dice were gold-colored, but they were translucent. Xasaan could see his fingers through the dice. Good idea, thought Xasaan. The gamblers won't be able to complain about “loaded” dice, since they could see that there were no weights inside. Still, Xasaan asked to test the dice. James encouraged it. Xasaan rolled 9, 5, 8, and 10. He had no further concerns about the legitimacy of the dice. He was ready to play. A single game would determine their fates.
James placed his first card face down. Then he flipped over his second card—the ace of hearts. James asked whether Xasaan wanted to buy insurance. Xasaan laughed.
Xasaan made his first roll—two fives. He had 10. Good start. With a six and a five on the next roll, he'd walk away with US$30,000. He quickly picked up the dice and rolled again—a three and a one. He had 14. He suddenly realized that he was about to make the biggest decision of his life. He frantically tried to calculate the odds. There were six possibilities per die. Thus, there were 36 possibilities total. How many ways were there to roll 7? Six ways—one and six through six and one. And so, although 7 was the most likely number to be rolled, there was only a one-in-six chance of rolling it. Xasaan needed to know the odds that he wouldn't bust. One way to get a 2, two ways to get a 3, three ways to get a 4... the odds were 21 out of 36 that he'd roll a seven or less. The odds favored rolling again. 14 probably wouldn't win against James's ace, anyway.
Xasaan picked up the dice. James looked on with a perfectly calm expression. Xasaan let the dice fly. One of them rolled much farther than the other. Xasaan looked at the near one—a two. He then looked at the one in the distance—a four.
James called out Xasaan's score—20. James then flipped over his other card.
“Blackjack.” James had turned over the queen of hearts.
A typical player would have been crestfallen. But Xasaan grinned and accepted his fate. Fortune had meant for James to win the game. Xasaan was happy for him. Sure, Xasaan would have liked more cash, but his strong intuition was that he was doing the right thing by protecting James; Xasaan's intuition was never wrong. He couldn't stand conflict with such a straightforward, thoughtful, and creative man.
James maintained a professional tone. “Is your compensation settled, then? I give you the fish, the 15,000 American dollars, and my ship returns to Kenya?”
“The 15,000 dollars is the compensation. We can't take the fish. Do what you will with them. But don't fish in Somali waters ever again.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Thank you again, sir. Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Give me your cell phone number. If I ever need a good idea quickly, I expect your help.”
Xasaan knew what James wanted—a chance to showcase his creativity. James smiled. “Certainly, friend.”
The two men shook hands and exited the private cabin. Samatar greeted them immediately.
“Are you finished? What were you talking about for so long?”
Samatar wasn't in on the joke, for once. “What? You look like you're in a good mood. Are we getting a lot?”
“15,000 American dollars, total.”
Xasaan expected Samatar to be disappointed. Instead, Samatar was ecstatic. He hadn't expected more than just a few fish again. “15,000! That means that everyone gets at least 1,000!”
Samatar asked Xasaan how he did it. After Xasaan explained the gambling, Samatar pretended to be furious.
“You two were gambling in there are you didn't invite me? Oh well. When I tell this story to the girls in Eyl, I'll be the one gambling... and I'll be the one with blackjack!”
They shared a hearty laugh. Since Samatar was more than satisfied, the two men accompanied James to the cash. James put the US$15,000, a pair of dice, a deck of cards, and a piece of paper with his cell phone number in a bag. Xasaan accepted the bag and thanked James again.
They returned to the deck, and Samatar told the men that they were going home. They cheered. Before The Supernovas boarded their two skiffs, Samatar wanted to give them their shares of the compensation.
“Friends, you all did well today. In accordance with the code of the privateers, everyone will receive their fair share. I propose that no man receive less than 1,000 American dollars for his just actions today!”
The Supernovas cheered excitedly.
“And Xasaan, for his brave, strong negotiation with the Kenyan captain, shall receive 1,500 American dollars!”
The Supernovas applauded Xasaan. Samatar did not mention that he would be keeping the remaining US$2,500 for himself.
“Friends... our compensation today may have been good. But our place in history will be great. We were the first of The Noble Somali Privateers to successfully defend our resources. Someday, everyone in Somalia will know of the legend of The Supernovas!”
The Supernovas celebrated wildly. Samatar certainly was a slick storyteller. Samatar personally handed each man his compensation. After each man had received his fair share, they all boarded the skiffs and returned to Eyl.