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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 7

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He’d removed his jacket, and I quickly surmised he wore what looked like a money belt beneath his shirt above his waist. “What then? Austrian?” A front tooth was missing and his lower lip was swollen, but he managed to hungrily chew the meat and bread, all the while glancing round to see if anyone else was on deck. ”Paul Rogers,” I said, stupidly, from habit, thrusting out my hand. “I’m English.” “It’s obvious you’re English. You dance like zee Anglander. I saw you,” he said, pointing to the deck below. This made us both smile. I pressed: “Where are you from?” He ignored the question, held up the bottle of Bordeaux as if to ask my permission to drink from it. This was my chance to grab hold of it, dole out rewards in exchange of information. I was by training a diplomat, presumably skilled in the art of shrewd or subtle bargaining, the artful game of knowing when to stop and simply wait. I knew the rules and I obeyed the law. But as I watched him devour the food, intent on the simple act of staving off starvation, I let go of the rules. Something in his eyes – an embedded wound that might never melt away – reminded me of some of my wounded fellow air force officers, my own uncle, after the war. “Yes, drink the wine,” I said. Whatever I felt for him, I was laughably failing in my plan. “You must have a name.” He took his time, finished the wine, ate another hunk of bread, and placed the bottle back into my knapsack before answering. “Schmidt,” he said. Again, I smiled over the obvious lie. But he was also starving, on the run, was very probably German – maybe even a Nazi -- hadn’t lost his wits, or his sense of humor. And I, Roger, had better be careful. “Peter Schmidt,” he said. This time, he smiled, as if he savored his latest invention. He’d probably collected many identities by then. But his large black eyes didn’t laugh; the look in them was at once hard and haunted, threatening and begging, and I felt both apprehensive and supportive. It occurred to me to reconsider reporting him. This was what I should have done, but I only remember wanting him for myself, under my control, at least for a while. This too might have given me pause. I believed I’d stopped wanting to own lovers, friends, all kinds of people.I spotted a nasty gash across one of