Friday, November 9, 2012

Hot Chips and Sand 31-35 Second Draft Comparison

Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved

She hadn’t even ordered a drink when two men arrived. According to their name tags, they were with the Music Educators convention but their twin MIB suits shouted secret service. They walked with that alert power too, and when they greeted her it was with the pass phrase Kulinahr had written: “The ship is in the harbor, but the dogs only smell pepper.”
“They sneeze and run away.” She stifled a smile.
One nodded. “Ms. Johnston? Please come with us.”
She followed the twins outside to a black Mercedes saloon with smoked windows. It was almost a parody but she couldn’t quite suppress a shiver as she slid into the plush air-conditioned backseat. She half‑expected a blindfold and was grateful when the two men got in front and ignored her through the entire drive. She did not recognize any of the streets they traveled anyway, having been to Montreal only in her childhood.
The car pulled to a stop in front of a nondescript house in a quiet residential neighborhood. One man, possibly the one who had spoken before but she couldn’t be sure, turned to her.
“Knock on the door three times. Tell the person answering the door your name and your mother’s maiden name.”
Great, she thought as she got out. They’re not Middle Yemeni secret service. They’re from my bank. But as she knocked she couldn’t dampen a thrill of anticipation. A housekeeper admitted her and led her upstairs to a small room on the second floor.
The deposed ruler was alone, seated at a writing table. When he saw Vickie, he rose with a smile. “Vickie Johnston. How good of you to come.” He met her with a warm handshake.
“Prince Kulinahr. It was kind of you to see me.” She followed him to a small grouping with a settee, coffee table set with silver service, and chairs.
In some ways he looked better than the last time they had met. He was neatly barbered and his clothes were impeccable. But there was more gray at the templehis temples and when she got closer she saw the lines in his face, deep grooves that only come from fatigue and worry.
He gestured at the settee, took a chair across from her and poured them some coffee.
Vickie sat and took her tasse gratefully; it had been a long day and difficult flight. She sipped.
Her eyes snapped opened like abruptly retracting window shades. The liquid was thick and grainy, just short of chewed coffee beans in water, hot enough to scald her tongue.
“The coffee does not agree with you? Would you care for something else?”
Blinking fast, Vickie carefully swallowed. “No,” she began hoarsely. She cleared her throat. “No, this is fine. It just takes some getting used to.”
Kulinahr smiled slightly. “My English university friends also found the taste somewhat unusual. I would understand if you did not want to finish.”
Vickie grimaced and tried another sip. It was not much better, but now she was determined. “No, it’s good.” She sipped again. “You went to a Western university?”
“Yes. Education is prized in my country, and all members of the royal family attended Oxford University in England. Each of us was assigned their course of study. My brothers were set to work at engineering, finance and education. My cousin studied medicine, and is now director of the main hospital in Misr.” His pride shone in his smile.
“And you ran a country. Impressive family.”
Kulinahr’s smile faded and he put his cup down. “Yes. Ran. I no longer govern my people.” His jaw clenched. “They are in the hands of that madman, Fahrrad. And I trusted him. I believed him. I made him my guest!”
Vickie set her own cup aside. “What happened?”
“It began less than a year ago. As a small country trapped between many larger ones, we always have our share of external problems. But suddenly we began to have internal issues as well—bombings, kidnappings, and acts of horrible violence right on the streets of Misr.”
“That’s terrible. Did you find out who they were?”
“They said they were freedom fighters, trying to liberate the oppressed in my country. I was furious. Who had I oppressed? They were an affront to my pride.” Kulinahr sighed, and looked into the small cup in his hand. “I now think their purpose was to distract me from my true enemy.”
“Who was…?”
“Fahrrad.” Kulinahr’s jaw worked. “Hafez Fahrrad was well known for eliminating terrorist threats in his own country of Kalifad. As that is just across my border, I was particularly aware of his reputation. I sent an emissary to him, to ask for his assistance. I should have known… I should have seen…the man was a dinosaur in his own country. Decades past the age of perestroika, Fahrrad is a staunch Stalinist.”
Vickie grunted. “Did you know that then?”
“Yes. I did not worry, however. I thought our country was far too progressive to give him a handhold. But I did not take his desperation into account.” Kulinahr fell silent, his eyes fixed on some point deep within.
Odd, she thought. He’s a modern day ruler, yet put him in a galabiyya and keffiyeh and he looks like somecould have come straight out of a book on the ancient patriarchs must have looked. The more things change
When the job had first come up, and Vickie had researched Middle Yemen. Driven by, she’d discovered it was Kulinahr’s ambition to eradicate poverty and ignorance among his people, that raised the nation had risen from a poor, squabbling country to one of peace and prosperity in just a few decades. She considered it Which, from Fahrrad’s point of view. The rising prosperity of his neighboring country at the time, probably looked like a cash cow just over thehis backyard fence. “How did it happen, then?”
Kulinahr sighed again. “I’m not saying he completely took me in, but he painted a very pretty scene of a repentant Communist. And though my citizen’s militia is very good, they cannot be on watch all the time.” Kulinahr shook his head, as though he still could not understand it. “All he had to do was help us keep guard while we waited for the security system to be designed and built.”
“Security system?” Vickie’s ears pricked. That sounded like the project that had started all this. Fahrrad had also been looking for a security system.

Col. Hafez Fahrrad was the name on the cover letter. She had done her usual thorough research and had discovered he was presently the dictator of a Middle East dot on the map, Middle Yemen by name, recently coming to power in a particularly bloody coup.
In person he was a slight man in an overdesigned uniform and a too-big hat, with small dark eyes and a tidy mustache.
At their first meeting, in her company’s conference room, Fahrrad had stood as if transfixed, eyes flat and glassy. “What an unusual color for hair. It is like a sunset.” He reached out to touch a curl.
She automatically slapped his hand away. She still could see his expression, his eyes sparking with anger.
But he controlled himself, and actually smiled, with a toothy, gold capped grin. He gave a slight bow in apology.
Vickie knew weaseling when she saw it. Trying to get back in her good graces to get a better price for his system. “So what is it you’re looking for, Colonel?”
“I wish to implement a security system. Shall we sit?” He took a chair, then patted the one next to him coaxingly.
She stayed on her feet. “I’m not sure we can help you. Here at Fitzwater Software and Consulting, we generally work in database design and implementation.”
“Yes, so my advisor said. He also said that what I want is not so different, is it, my dear?”
Terms of endearment in the business environment grated on her. If Fahrrad hadn’t been a client, she’d have made an issue out of it. As it was, she asked politely, “And what do you wish to make secure?”
His slow, sensual grin had not endeared him to her at all. It really looked more like a leer, ruler of a country or not.
“Your government’s headquarters?” she prompted. She remembered from her reading that Fahrrad had infiltrated the palace and slaughtered all the people loyal to the Prince Kulinahr in the coup. The world thought he’d killed the Prince himself and she supposed at the time that he’d want security to make sure no one pulled the same trick on him.
“Not my headquarters, my dear. For the entire country.”
Her legs wobbled under her and she found herself sitting next to him. The tech for building security was  commonplace. But a whole country…? “Wouldn’t you be better asking your military about this sort of thing?”
He brushed at his mustaches. “Ah, no. We are a small country with little in terms of development resources. But you and your company have just the combination of initiative and experience that I am looking for.” He took her hands and held them tightly. “I’m sure we will work well together.”
She managed to squirm her fingers out of his hands and had to steel herself against shaking the ick off them. “I’ll have to check with the vice president of development on this, Col. Fahrrad. Unless you’d like to speak with her yourself?”
“No, sweetheart, I’d rather with you.” Again that oily grin. “Such beautiful, unusual hair.”
She shuddered even now, remembering it.
Two days later, as she left work, men had kidnapped her. They hadn’t said a word, but they didn’t have to. Their guns spoke for them quite clearly. She knew better than to get into their car but with four of them grabbing her and carting her off she didn’t have much choice. She tried to not be a complete victim; as they dragged her past the clipped hedges she struggled briefly, chucking her briefcase surreptitiously into the nearest bush. She hoped it would alert someone, anyone that something serious had happened to her.
She only started suspecting the Middle Yemen connection when her kidnappers broke their silence. Only one spoke English. She didn’t recognize their native language but she overheard a conversation punctuated quite frequently by Col. Fahrrad’s name.
And then they had arrived in that place of sand and sweltering heat and dank buildings, and produced that skimpy teddy, which they had requested, quite nicely if you didn’t consider the rude manner in which they had pointed at her and  the guns they had used to point with, that she put on. Then they had burned her own clothes.
“Hey, I might need those,” she protested.
“Not with the Colonel, Madam,” the bilingual one answered.
They went into the city to celebrate, leaving one guard behind. Maybe they thought she wouldn’t attempt escape since she was nearly nude. Well, she was modest, but she valued her life more highly than modesty.
The remaining kidnapper was relieving himself in the next room, and she simply let herself out. She snuck down the stairs.
And saw the other three men, just entering the lobby, carrying food and drink. Apparently they’d only gone out to get it.
She dove behind a large sculpture that looked like a curled up triangle. For a moment it seemed as if the men hadn’t seen her, but an old woman coming down the stairs stopped and pointed at her, eyes bugging from under her veil. Desperately Vickie put finger to lips, hoping the sign for shh translated. It must not have because the woman started yelling at her.
The three kidnappers came running. Vickie had then begun the flight which had brought her to that truck of a man. To Cliff.

“We are a small country,” Kulinahr  was saying. “Surrounded“We are a small country surrounded by three much larger countries. I think the best way to protect our interests is through technology rather than manpower. A defense net may not have worked for a nation so large as your United States, but for us, it is more feasible.” He sighed a third time, and sat in the chair opposite herback, shaking his head. “Ah, to explore our land for oil without fear of invasion. To release my people for peaceful pursuits… Well, you can of course see the advantages.”
Vickie nodded and picked up her coffee again. It was a little easier to drink now that it had cooled.
Kulinahr rose and started pacing. “That is how I met Cliff.”
She frowned. “In connection with Fahrrad?”
“No, in connection with our defense. He came to me and proposed a system unlike any I’d seen, a marvel of advanced technology. Moreover, he wanted to build the component manufacturing plant in Middle Yemen. In one stroke, we’d double our protection and our revenue.”
“Cliff is a businessman?” Vickie’s mouth fell open. “But…but I thought he was an international spy or something.”
Kulinahr’s cheeks folded in a smile. “He has some rather, ah, unexpected skill sets. He knows things no mere businessman would. He warned me that Fahrrad intended to overthrow me. Alas, I did not believe him.”
“If he knew Fahrrad was plotting against you, why didn’t he do something?”
“He did. He saved my life.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t he have done something about Fahrrad?” Vickie shifted uncomfortably on the couch. The dictator’s chilling smile, his constant reaching for her hair, still plagued her.
“I don’t believe you understand how much he did just saving my life. Fahrrad brought his own guard with him. They are, like the Colonel himself, ruthless. The entire palace staff…friends and allies…was murdered.”
“Thank you.” His eyes were bright with unshed tearsHe blinked, and one tear trickled down his cheek. He dashed it away.[MH2]  “If not for the bravery of my personal servant and, of course, Cliff, I would not have made it out of the palace alive. As it was, I had to remain constantly on the move in the desert highland to avoid capture. It was only later that I could return to the city long enough to stow away on board that ship.” He slid hispatted her hands out of hers and patted hers briefly before rubbing his eyessitting back. “Now I am in exile.”

 [MH1]For reasons of grounding the reader, I moved this earlier.

 [MH2]I showed her sympathy here by taking his hands, but the small fillip of showing got lost in the dialog. Important emotions Important emotions should be given enough words to equal their importance.

No comments:

Post a Comment