A Travel Tip©
It was a holiday weekend and the end of summer vacation throughout Europe, so I, and several thousand others, was stuck in Heathrow airport for hours. Finally BOAC found me a seat on a special flight to Paris.
I rushed gratefully through the terminal and security checkpoints only to find the plane still nearly empty. A Hindu family with their belongings in baskets kept by their feet along the aisle, three overweight businessmen already sweating through their tight white shirts, a few nondescript people scattered about plus an elderly couple settled in at the back, beyond my window seat, were all I saw. I sat down, breathing deep to calm my nerves.
Three days before, my phone rang as I entered from the orchard of my Wisconsin farm. It was Laura, and her excited voice made me hope that she was back and maybe even back to her senses. However she was still in Paris and sick in bed besides. Someone had robbed her purse, failing to steal her money, which she kept separately with her documents, but they deprived her of the medicine that had kept her normal all these years.
No one in Paris had even heard of such a medicine. There was panic in her voice. She was already feeling very weak and feared the epileptic episodes would soon return, perhaps in deadly form.
I broke into her apartment, found her pills, put them in my carry-on bag and caught the first flight out to London, clearing customs easily. Now, just hours from Paris, I started to relax and even hope that Laura would finally give up her wanderlust and settle down with me as we once planned.
Suddenly, the plane filled with schoolyard noises. Dozens of exuberant teens talking over each other and laughing with joyous abandon dispersed into their seats. They were French, so I couldn’t understand them, and were apparently returning home from some field trip. I hadn’t slept in 22 hours and now this, I lamented in my mind. The two seats beside me were empty and by looking at the youngsters approaching I tried to guess how bad my luck would be. That’s when I saw her.
She must have been sixteen or seventeen at most, with a shock of golden hair, gorgeous blue eyes, a few freckles and a golden tan. She wore form-fitting jeans adorned by a belt of loosely-linked silver medallions and a white blouse with bare midriff. She reached my row, looked at her ticket, then at me and smiled the most stunning smile I’d ever seen.
“Ahhhlowww!” she exaggerated, holding out one hand and pointing to herself with the other. “Marielle.” she added. I chuckled at her engaging warmth, shook her hand and told her I was Mark.
She was surrounded by adoring friends who delighted in her every action. As she sat down beside me I kicked myself for not learning French in school. Almost immediately she was called to the front to mediate some altercation and within seconds had enticed the group into a singalong. Like everyone else, I could hardly take my eyes off her, yet from the corner of my eye I spotted something odd and out of place.
Across the aisle, one row back, sat a man also transfixed by this young woman. But instead of admiration, he glared at her with hatred. He was a thin, sickly looking man fidgeting nervously with the worn lapel of his blue trench coat.
As Marielle walked back toward us I saw him reach into the inner pocket of his coat and slide forward to the edge of his seat as if preparing to spring at her. I remember wondering how he could have gotten a gun or knife past the metal detectors just as his hand emerged with a sharp, thin wooden stake, about ten inches long.
I jumped out into the aisle, blocking the man’s path and motioned Marielle to my window seat with a feigned smile.
“Merci!” she smiled. I took the aisle seat leaving the middle one empty for my jacket, her sweater and some magazines. The stranger kept glancing angrily at us. Marielle, oblivious to it all, spent most of the flight talking and playing cards with her friends. When one of them offered her some candy she made sure I took one first.
I wondered if there might be police security on board but the stewardess didn’t speak English, so I spent the flight trying to enjoy Marielle’s company while worrying about what might happen next.
We reached Paris without incident and when people stood to leave I again blocked the stranger’s way. This time he tried to push past me, so I fell against him, knocking him back onto his seat. He sputtered something and tried to wrestle me away but by the time he managed it the youths had disembarked. He rushed after them but they had been led into a special section guarded by policemen.
Relieved, I left the airport by train just as Laura had instructed. From Gare Du Nord I decided to walk the short distance. It was midnight. The bustling streets became deathly quiet just blocks beyond. From Rue Lafayette I crossed into a side street two blocks from Laura’s hotel. Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind and dragged into an alley by two men. I struggled to get away but a third man arrived and I was slammed against a metal trash container. I recognized the third man immediately. He growled something at me and punched me hard into the stomach. When he pulled his fist away I saw the wooden stake and felt the warmth of my blood flowing down my leg.
I fell to the ground. Laura’s pill bottle rolled out and I grabbed it but they ripped it from my hands and ran off. Poor Laura.
Slowly my blood pooled. My eyesight went blank. My last warm breath exhaled.
Causes Frank Pineiro Supports