Thursday, September 20, 2007
How I deducted my summer vacation
I'm not going to have much original blog material between now and October first, I don't think--too busy pushing toward the deadline for THE FACE. However, if I feel moved, I might share a scene or so.
We went to Spain and La Coruna when the hubby and I took our cruise last May. So of course, the port ended up in the book!
In the last two days I have been pushed, prodded, stepped on and frisked—twice. I have traveled aboard a jet, a shuttle bus, and a ship. I have been addressed in British English, American slang, and Castilian Spanish. I think I’ve been cursed at in French.
Now I am standing on a wharf in La Coruña, Spain, where I have just stepped off a ship filled with what I suspect are Navy SEALs. But they don’t wear uniforms and they don’t talk much—none of them have addressed me with anything more personal than “Yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.”
I have my passport out and ready, but no one is asking to see it and there’s no sign of an immigration office at this port. Not much of anything, really, but shipping containers and a few burly men who are helping secure the ship.
I slide my passport back into my purse and grip the handle of my rolling suitcase as if I’m confident of my next step. I haven’t a clue about what’s supposed to happen next. I have no papers to validate my security clearance, and nothing but my passport and Virginia driver’s license to prove my citizenship and identity. I could be mugged and tossed into the sea by one of these longshoremen, and no one would miss me for months, if ever.
All I know is my contact is supposed to meet me here and deliver me to Sarah.
A small black sedan whizzes down the dock and completes a u-turn at the end of the pier. A moment later it pulls up and the automatic window lowers. A man peers out at me from beneath the wide brim of a black hat. “Señora Carey?”
“Sí. Yo estoy—” Why didn’t I brush up on my Spanish before leaving? Because the ticket I was instructed to purchase took me to London’s Gatwick airport. I had no idea I’d be visiting Spain.
“Welcome to La Coruña,” the man says, switching to English. He steps out of the car, and I am amazed to see that he is wearing the garb of a priest—an old fashioned priest, at least by American standards. The black cassock, wide hat, and white collar render me temporarily speechless.
The CIA sent a clergyman to pick me up?
My contact bends to give me a hand with my luggage. “Only one suitcase?”
“You travel light—a real talent. You must teach me that trick.”
I bend to peer beneath his hat brim. “And who . . . what shall I call you?”
“I’m Father Paul.”
“Oh.” I want to ask if he’s really Father Paul, but paranoia bridles my tongue. If this man is an actual priest, I’ll offend him by the question. If he’s a CIA officer in alias, I’ll offend him with my stupidity.
Before I can ask where we’re going he has tossed my bag into the trunk and is opening the rear door. With one hand, he gallantly offers me the back seat.
“Um . . . thank you.”
In an effort to appear confident and in control, I rummage through my purse as he strides to the driver’s door. I dredge up my cell phone and study the keypad, wondering if I could dial an international version of 911 if this priest turns out to be some sort of renegade, but that idea is as ludicrous as the thought that I might actually have a friend to call in Spain.
Father Paul starts the car and pulls away from the ship, ignoring curious glances from some of the dockhands. I shiver as the cool breeze from his window fills the rear seat. “Do you know—” I hesitate, not wanting to create an international incident with an unintentional security breach. “Can you tell me if we’re going far?”
His gaze catches mine in the rear view mirror, and his eyes crinkle at the corners. “Not far at all, Señora. In fact, we are almost there.”
I glance around, unable to tell that we have left the port. The sea no longer lies behind us, but is located at my left. We are passing a marina filled with small boats, most of which look like pleasure craft or fishing vessels. My driver pulls alongside a curb, kills the engine, and bounds out of the vehicle before I can gasp another question.
I fumble with the door and let myself out, then step to the back of the car, where the priest is placing my suitcase on the pavement. “We’re stopping here? But I am supposed to go to some sort of facility.”
“Sí, Señora. And this man will take you there.”
“What man?” I straighten and shade my eyes from the glaring sun. Another man in a clerical collar is lumbering over the dock, a sheen of perspiration on his wide forehead. No old-fashioned cassock for him, but black pants and a black short-sleeved shirt. He is built like a guy who rips phone books for fun.
“I—I’m supposed to go with him?”
“Sí. Upon his boat, La Reina del Cielo.”
“The queen . . .”
“The Queen of Heaven, of course.”
I take a step back, not certain I want to go anywhere on a boat dedicated to heaven, but the perspiring priest has reached us. He lifts a questioning brow at Father Paul, who nods and points to my luggage.
I turn and gesture toward the comforting solidity of the city behind me. “Um—”
“This way, Dr. Carey.”
The second man’s accent is as American as baseball and he calls me doctor, which I take as a reassuring sign. I give him an uncertain nod and follow, remembering at the last moment to wave and thank Father Paul.
He and his sedan have already vanished.
* * *