It all started with an explosion. The first explosion was his response when they called him out of his vacation. Pulled from a serene evening where he sat in a quiet Paris bistro, enjoying a lovely confit de canard (accompanied by an exquisite Alsace Pinot Gris), he was jarred by a telephone brought to his table. They wanted him to chase down some spoiled debutante who had gotten herself into trouble, a ridiculous request. Definitely not worth cutting short a well-earned vacation.
“John, we need you to do this job.”
“I’m on vacation, Hobbs.” Hobbs was head of M9, a department that was called upon for various issues including John’s specialty, problems that were spiraling out of control. This certainly didn’t seem like one of those.
“We’re never really on vacation, are we John? Not in our line of work.”
“Look, Hobbs, I AM on vacation and don’t want to lose these hard-to-get reservations, especially not to rescue some silly brat who’s gotten herself into trouble.” John dug his heels in. “I’m not sacrificing my well-deserved leisure time.” John’s voice rose and a few people milling at the other tables glanced over. He regained his composure and continued, “Get Paul to do it. He’s closer to Morocco than me.”
“I need you to do it. It has to be done successfully and it has to be done quickly. There are some East German agents that are quite… well, annoyed... at the moment. They may try to get involved,” Hobbs’ emphasis on “successfully” and “quickly” made the whole thing sound more important than it could possibly be. And what would East German agents have to do with a debutante?
Her father, Darnell Fontaine, was an American multi-millionaire. Laura Fontaine, the daughter, was constantly in the papers, flying around the world irresponsibly and getting into trouble, jumping into fountains, climbing on cars, swinging champagne bottles around. Why a British M9 agent should have to take care of an American debutante was beyond John and it galled him. Probably the money.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really,” Hobbs paused, “The necessary travel documents and further information will be delivered to you within the hour by one of our Paris agents.”
John sighed and hung up the phone without a good-bye. So that was the first explosion.
The next explosion took place a day and a half later on the not-very-thick-wall of a small jail in a little town outside of Agadir. The town had been mostly destroyed in the 1960 earthquake. And here it was 1965 looking like the quake happened yesterday. Still, they had the jail, a bunch of broken down but habitable buildings and a few shops.
“Get away from the wall!” he called and he heard the girl shuffle inside. The guards, of course, heard nothing as they were all nicely sleeping thanks to a pellet tossed into their office five minutes ago.
Boom! Not a huge hole but he figured it’d be big enough for her to get through. “Come along, Miss Fontaine.” She crawled out, coughing from the soot. Ashes decorated her wavy dark hair. “Here, put this on.” He handed her a drab hooded caftan and she dusted off her prison garb then wrapped it around herself.
“It’s hot,” she complained.
“Or you can keep wearing the jail clothes,” he shrugged and turned away, “but I think that would be a bad idea.” He began walking and glanced back at her, “Well, come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’ve got a date with a boat.”
He walked fast just to irritate her. It gave him some satisfaction to hear her quick footsteps behind him. “Put your hood up,” he told her as they approached the center of the town.
The market was quiet except for a few shoppers and some children running in and out of the alleys. John and the young woman passed through but didn’t quite make it out of town before they heard a small child call, “Mizz Merzee! Mizz Merzee!”
Four young children came running over to her. The tallest, a girl, wrapped her arms around the debutante but Laura bent over and put her finger to her mouth, shushing her. John didn’t understand the language well but knew enough to make out that she told the girl not to be loud. The girl slid a large jeweled bracelet off her small arm and onto Laura’s wrist. Laura smiled and said something like, “Thank you. I will give you one of greater value.” They hugged then Laura sent her away. Rising, Laura turned to John and chirped, “Oh, the kids here are so cute. I could just hug them all like stuffed animals,” and she giggled.
John sighed, disgusted. “We don’t have time for stuffed animals, Miss Fontaine.” He turned and walked even faster.
“Oh,” she nearly had to run to keep up with his long stride. “Where are we going?”
“You wouldn’t understand even if I told you.” He answered in clipped tones.
“You’re probably right,” she giggled again, “I’m not very geographically minded.” She was trotting now. “Do you think you could slow down a bit?”
“We’re in a hurry. We need to get away from the,” he glanced back at her, “bad guys.”
They walked in silence until they reached the little car he had been given when he arrived in Agadir. He was to use it to drive them to a spot about a mile and a half from the rendezvous point on the waterfront and they would walk again from there. Popping open the trunk he waved his arm to usher her in.
“In there?” She stepped backwards.
“In case we’re pulled over. We can’t have you sitting out in the open.”
She didn’t move.
“It’s only about an hour’s drive.”
“I don’t like small places.” She looked back and forth from him to the trunk then took a step towards it. “You’ll have to help me.”
“Shall I pick you up and put you into it?”
“No!” She stepped back again. “No. Just… just keep talking to me when I’m in there.”
“Talking to you?”
“So I know you’re with me…. so I know I’m not stuck. Keep… conversing.”
She nodded, then slowly climbed in.
“Conversing,” he said, closing the trunk. “Just what I want to do,” he mumbled. He got in the driver’s seat, started the car and pulled onto the road. “Are you okay?” he asked blandly.
“Yes.” Her voice was small and muffled.
“Good.” That’s as far as he was going to converse. The car rolled down the dusty road.
“You’re British, aren’t you?” Her muffled voice trembled from the trunk.
“I wonder why Daddy sent you?”
“Me too,” he answered and rolled his eyes. Just thinking of having to leave his cushy hotel in Paris irked him.
“Daddy DID send you, right?”
“I suppose so.”
“You mean, you don’t know?”
“I mean I was just told to get you out, which I am trying to do.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“They will tell me exactly where once we are on the boat.”
“So… you could be kidnapping me then?”
“I doubt it.”
“But you don’t even know where we’re really going?”
“I’m sure it will be somewhere very safe.”
“Who do you work for?”
“Nobody that you would know.”
“So you don’t work for my Father?”
“I, personally, do not work for him.”
“You know, he’ll give you money to get me home safely. Lots of money.” Her voice rose.
“I’m sure you will get home safely, Miss Fontaine. Now please, let me just drive.”
He enjoyed the ensuing silence and the wind on his face as he continued toward the rendezvous point… at least until he heard the muffled sniffles and soft sobs coming from the trunk. He tried to ignore the sounds, wishing there was a radio in the car, but the suffering of women always got to him. He knew that “modern women” didn’t see themselves as the weaker sex, but he still felt as if he needed to step in whenever there was the proverbial “damsel in distress.” So, hearing her quiet crying back in the trunk chipped away at him until he pulled over, stopped the car, walked back and opened the trunk. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, but tears streaked down her cheeks and her eyes were blotchy.
“Come on,” he nodded his head for her to get out.
She pulled herself up to a sitting position then he helped her climb out of the trunk. “I suppose we’re far enough away now to be safe.” She walked to the front passenger door and waited for him to open it, which he did, feeling vaguely annoyed.
After he got back in the car and began to drive down the road again, she asked, “Are you kidnapping me?”
“I am not.”
They were quiet after that.
An hour later he pulled up to the barren spot where he was to leave the car. He grabbed his bag and supplies from the trunk and they got out to make their way through the unfriendly bushes, rocks, and sand that separated them from the rendezvous point with the boat. John checked his watch. “We’re doing well. The boat will be here at sunrise.”
“You mean we’ll have to spend the night out here?”
“No, we’ll spend it closer to the beach. We have a bit of a walk.”
“Here, have some water.” He handed her his canteen. “Just a couple sips. That needs to last us.”
After she drank, they began the scorching walk. He ignored her occasional complaints and kept her moving at a pace slower than he’d like but faster than she wanted. When they got close to the rendezvous point, he found some boulders that he thought would make a good place to stay for the night. “Over here.” He pointed to a “U” shape where they could lean against the rocks and relax. She looked skeptical but came toward him. About half way over she stopped then turned.
“Oh, look!” She ran a few yards over then came back cradling a small brown dog in her arms. “Look at him! He hurt his leg. Poor thing.” She carried him over to the rocks with her, then sat down with the dog in her lap. “Give me some of that water.”
“We barely have enough for ourselves.”
“Come on, don’t be so cruel. He’s thirsty. Plus we need to wash off his paw.” She glanced up at John, “Well, come on.”
He handed her the canteen. She poured a bit of water into her palm and let the dog drink, then she dribbled a bit on her caftan and wiped the dog’s paw. Finally, she tore a bit of material off of the caftan and wrapped the dog’s leg with it. Handing the canteen back to John she said, “He had my share.”
“No, go ahead have a sip. We’ll both have a little less.” He glowered at her. He didn’t want her to think he agreed with this. “I’m supposed to be keeping you alive.”
“Thank you… I don’t even know your name,” she looked up.
“John... John Drake.”
“Thank you, Mr. Drake.”