Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
Vickie breathed carefully in the pepper-filled dark, trying to relax. Being on a ship inside a crate was just one more bizarre occurrence. She’d have some story to tell when she arrived back home. [MH1] She closed her eyes and leaned back. Gradually she became aware of her body. Her stomach was just starting to twinge, her feet were sore, and her leg was falling asleep.
Couldn’t do anything about food or her feet, but she could relieve the pressure on her leg. She shifted—and felt a stabbing pain in her bottom. “Ouch!”
“What has happened?”
“I’ve got a splinter in my…my…well, you know.”
“Oh.” A rustle, steps, and then Kulinahr touched her shoulder. “Here. Sit on my jacket.”
into a rich silk fabric. “Wow. Nice coat. Are you sure? I mean, this seems
“Yes, I’m sure. This suit will never receive another U.N. delegation, but I think it should continue a useful life. Now, quiet, please.”
Vickie took the jacket and arranged it into a seat pad. She folded her legs into a half lotus and opened herself to her environment. Dim shouts of dock workers punctuated the muted clank and roar of machinery, as if the outside were wrapped in cotton. Just over the threshold of her hearing was the incessant rush and slap of water.
A low thrumming of engines began under her. Her spirits lifted. They were leaving the harbor, headed home.
Then a series of sharper clanks and bangs announced the start of the police inspections.
Vickie sucked in a breath. When her chest felt about to explode she let it out, so very slowly. Heavy boots on metal stairs mixed with shouts of men and pants and yelps of dogs. She barely breathed. The clangs and yelps advanced and receded as the teams went back and forth between stacks of cargo. It seemed it would never end.
Gradually the sounds receded, and then
Vickie let out a gush of air. They were gone. She reached out a hand to grab
Kulinahr’s, opened her mouth to speak.
A dog barked—right next to her.
Boots clomped up to the crate where she sat, trembling now. Wide-eyed, she clamped her lower lip with her teeth. Something snuffled at the edge of the crate, then barked. She tried to make herself as small and quiet as possible. More dogs came closer, whining and snuffling in their eagerness.
Which was when a tickle started in Vickie’s throat. It built in the back of her throat until her eyes watered and she was certain she was going to cough. She swallowed several times in an effort to keep her body under control.
Suddenly a dog sneezed. Another snorted. Several more wheezed and yipped. The dogs had run into the pepper and sniffed full noses. Vickie smiled. There was no possibility now that they would be discovered.
An officer shouted orders in Arabic. Boots pounded and then clanged as the police hustled the dogs topside.
Vickie started to rise. But Kulinahr’s warning touch held her still.
The tramping returned. Then silence.
Crack! Vickie jumped. A resounding series of bangs and cracks followed, getting closer. The police were apparently trying to scare them out of hiding.
Then several sets of feet marched closer—and stopped right outside their crate. Vickie cringed back. Kulinahr tightened his grip on her wrist.
It was the only thing that saved them from being discovered when the crate tipped like carnival ride.
It shifted, tilting crazily onto an edge, sending Vickie and Kulinahr tumbling along the side. Kulinahr grabbed a handhold and he held onto it and Vickie with all his strength.
The crate dropped back on the deck with an explosive thud.
Vickie landed on her hands and knees. Gasping silently like a fish, she waited. She didn’t move a muscle, even when the banging retreated, even when it stopped altogether, even when she heard the boots clang back up the stairs. She remained frozen until, at last, she felt the ship move under her.
Gingerly, she edged into a corner. Now I know how a deer feels in hunting season. Hiding in the woods, never able to show their snouts. Sneaking out only to eat. Which reminded her of her own empty stomach.
Kulinahr slid himself next to her. He spoke in a low voice. “I believe they are gone, but we had better wait until we are well away before we present ourselves.”
Vickie nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her. “How long?”
“Perhaps half an hour to leave Middle Yemen waters. Then another hour or two past that, to leave the area, would be prudent.”
She sure hoped it was no longer than that. Her stomach was starting to make a nuisance of itself. She tried to ignore it. “What was all that with the dogs?”
“Fahrrad evidently knew I was still in the country.” He paused and muttered a phrase in Arabic. “That was his special police. They are deadly. It is well Cliff planned this escape, for I think Fahrrad has spies among even my most loyal militia. They would have found us had we shifted in this crate.”
“We’re lucky you found that handhold then.”
“Luck was not involved. The strap I held on to is not standard equipment for a crate; not on the inside, at any rate.”
“Yes.” Another pause. “He would make a most formidable enemy.”
And obviously an amazing ally. “Could you tell me more about him now?”
This time there was a longer silence. Finally, Kulinahr said, “I am concerned that you would not understand, right now. And I am tired. We will meet after this trip and discuss it, yes?”
Oh, sure, let’s do lunch. “Get some rest, then, if you’re tired.”
She settled back into the dark silence. The rocking of the ship lulled her into closing her eyes, although she was still too tense to sleep.
The escape had been close. She had been athletic in her youth, but had let all that slide in favor of sitting in front of a laptop screen twenty hours a day with diet Mountain
Dew[MH3] and popcorn as her nod toward health.
That run up the stairs had really taxed her.
Not to mention swinging through the air like Tarzan and Jane. She clamped down on that thought.
to relax, here. Thinking about that man did not cause her to relax.
Her stomach growled. How much time had gone by? She started to shift her position but abruptly froze when the crate creaked. Gingerly, she settled back against the side. Where was that coat of Kulinahr’s? Lost when the crate had done its rumba, probably. She could sure use it right about now. Although I suppose I could use this lunking T‑shirt I have wrapped around my head to sit on. It probably has just as much material as Kulinahr’s coat.
She pulled the shirt from her head and was folding it when she felt something hard embedded in the material. Carefully, she moved her fingertips along the shirt
searching for some opening[MH4] . Nothing. Methodically she turned
the shirt inside out and tried again. This time she found a small storm flap pocket.
Poking gingerly into the pocket she got the impression of small, flat and plastic. She withdrew the object, wishing for some light but not willing to tempt their discovery quite yet. She ran her finger over the edges, noting a notch and what felt like tiny threads. It felt like a computer chip, but not any computer chip she’d encountered before. Puzzled, she returned the object to the pocket. Perhaps seeing it in the light would give her some clue.
Her stomach growled again, distracting her. She opened her mouth to ask Kulinahr how long until they were in international waters, realized it would sound like a kid on a car ride. Are we there yet? Kulinahr wouldn’t stay here any longer than he had to. Although he had more to lose if the ship’s captain should decide to return them to Misr.
Holding the big T-shirt to her growling stomach, strangely comforted by it, she sat back to wait.
Several hours later, Vickie sat next to Kulinahr in a walnut paneled room. She should have been enjoying the soft chair cushions and the ankle deep Persian carpeting, or examining the dusky gold spy glass and a huge relief globe. Instead her gaze was riveted on the delicate pink shrimp coated with shiny red sauce disappearing one by one into the ruddy lips of the man opposite. She licked her own lips. The captain hadn’t offered them any, and she hadn’t wanted to rock the boat to ask.
“I may know this Cliff of yours.” He flicked a bit of sauce from his bristling mustache. “I may not. A lot of people named Cliff, after all. What does he
Vickie sighed as the last of the shrimp vanished into the captain’s mouth. While she’d only vaguely missed eating over the previous two days of her kidnapping, in the last two minutes she’d become ravenous. Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on her. Ring the shrimp and she salivates.
[MH3]Eliza pointed out that some publishers don't allow trademarked items. Fair use aside, I like the idea of mashing up a new product.
[MH4]When updating this I added more immediacy and concrete language, but I do experience a lot of the story through the heroine's mental landscape. Eliza continually pointed out that we need more tactile details.