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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 10

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“Who, Schmidt? They think what? The Israelis? The Americans?” He backed away then, his whole frame suddenly taut, hauled himself in-side the boat, and flipped the canvas over his head. I didn’t try to stop him. All I’d pulled out of him were a few contradictory statements, along with a fake name. I’d just been promoted for my astute reports to the Home Office, in effect, for my perceptive listening in posts abroad and now I’d managed to get nothing substantive out of this desperate, possibly criminal, fugitive. I could have cabled London, using code, and I certainly could have – should have – told the ship’s captain, whom I’d seen only once since our departure – a short, portly sort with a quiet manner. But with the rest of the crew obviously radical to the man, how could I be sure of their captain? I headed toward the stairwell, already planning my next encounter with Schmidt when I bumped into Solange Thompson, Janet’s elusive mother. I’d met her much earlier when the purser returned us our passports. “Mr. Barnes! Is something the matter?” “No. Just taking a stroll.” “You’re an insomniac. Like me,” she confided, seemingly at ease with herself, when earlier I had detected an exhausted inner agitation, noting in my diary: “So elegant, so French – a purple clustered bellflower, ankle-deep in tears.” She squinted toward the invisible horizon and said: “It would be merveilleux, wouldn’t it, Mr. Barnes, if we could stay here, on this ship?” “Not arrive – anywhere?”Her agitation returned and she said: “It’s terrible.” “What is terrible, Mrs. Thompson?”She turned and walked away, leaning against the wind, a silk- covered spirit I wasn’t sure I’d seen. The next day, the sun shone over a calm sea, the deck filled with passengers and I couldn’t visit Schmidt, a name that stuck throughout. The following morning we docked early at Port Said. I slept through breakfast, even through the clanging noises of our ship beginning to unload cargo. I hurriedly dressed and met my small group already assembled on deck, planning a day’s excursion to the pyramids.Gamal and Ilona stood by themselves, arguing. He was spending the day in Cairo, leaving Ilona to fend for herself. She wore a pair of bright red espadrille. Janet, seeing me, strolled over. “I hope you’re coming, Roger.”