Wednesday, October 31, 2012


She tried to sit up, but it felt so disorienting that she had to lie down again. Still very little pain at the moment; must be whatever drugs they'd given her.

"Asu? May I use your phone, please? Do you have a telephone?"

He turned and stepped toward her, smiling. "You need to rest..."

"No, no, I need to call my boss. I'm here on business. I need to call my boyfriend and let him know I'm ok. What day is it?"

"It's Wednesday night."

She could hardly believe so much time had gone by since her plane landed, and yet she was comforted that it wasn't any later. "Oh, they must be really worried by now. May I please use your telephone?"

Asu's face became pouty, a look she'd seen on her young nephew many times. Then it became authoritative. He spoke with careful diction, as if to a toddler. "You do not need to call anyone because you are staying here to recover from your injuries."

"But I need to let them know..."

"No. I rescued you. You are staying here." He angrily left the room and closed the door, leaving her alone with his father. The old man seemed completely unaware of what had just transpired. A shudder came over Michelle as she realized that she had gone from isolation and exposure to confinement. She didn't know much about Arab men and wondered if this was normal for their culture or if Asu's apparent possessiveness was a quirk of personality, or something more sinister. Either way, outside contact was now critical.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


The next time Michelle awoke was after sunset. Lamps lit the room softly, and the smell of Middle Eastern food permeated it. Now a second man was in the room--must be his father--along with the young man. He was dressed more traditionally. They were standing with their backs to her, apparently working on something at a table opposite her bed. She wasn't sure how much strength she had. Might as well let them know she was awake.

"Hi," she said without moving. They jerked around.

"Ah, there you are. This is my father. Oh, I am Asu. You may call him Dr. Tlass. He does not speak English. How are you feeling?"

"I'm not sure. How bad am I hurt?"

"He says you are very, very lucky. No broken bones, no open wounds. A little internal bleeding and many bruises. You are going to be very sore for a long time. He is keeping the pain away, but you need much rest to heal."

"I need to call people back home."

Asu spoke to his father. They both smiled. The older man may have even chuckled, she thought. Had Asu understood what she said? Did they even have the ability to call people in the U.S. here? She had no idea. This didn't look like the kind of place that was wired for internet, either, but one never knew these days.

Monday, October 29, 2012


"So, Rachel," Brian said, "where are you and Ricardo goin' next?"

"Las Cruces, New Mexico. We're gonna see how much fun a person can have in the desert in February."

"Huh. Could be interesting," Aggie said.

"Yeah, I'm lookin' forward to it. Ricardo was talkin' about meetin' up with some border patrol guys if we get a chance."

Just then Dave appeared in the doorway and interrupted. "Brian, can I see you in my office, please?" And then disappeared.

Andy awoke from his stupor and turned to look at Brian. Everyone in the room was silent with wide eyes. What could this be about? Brian had put his all into finalizing issue ninety-six in Dave's absence. Had he forgotten something? Was Dave unhappy? Was Brian in trouble?

"Um, ok, I'll see you guys later," Brian said, getting up from his chair.

Brady, as usual, tried to lighten the moment. "Can I have your last doughnut?"

Friday, October 26, 2012


Female voices approached, and then Emily, Aggie and Rachel walked in. Emily wanted to cry and hug Andy when she saw him, but though they'd been friends a couple of years, it didn't feel right. She said, "Hey, guys," stood beside him, cut open a bagel though she didn't want the calories. She wanted him to know he was loved somehow. "Hey," she repeated just for him. He responded in kind, giving her the smallest smile.

Brian was saying something about Star Wars to the others, though it seemed he was just trying to occupy the uncomfortable space with frivolous words. Emily also felt an oddness, something vaguely different, with Aggie and Brady. Were they avoiding eye contact with each other? No, but the eye contact they did make seemed forced, as if they didn't want anyone to notice that they'd rather not make eye contact. Emily had developed a type of clairvoyance when it came to male-female relations.

"Brady, how's your arm?" she asked, digging for clues.

"Totally fine now. The bullet really just grazed me. I'm good as new."

"That's awesome. You're a lucky guy."

"Yeah, it coulda been a lot worse."

"We saw a guy get shot, in the leg," Aggie said.

"You told us, last night," said Brian.

"Oh yeah. I think I need more sleep. Or at least more coffee."

Brady had sort of a puppy-dog look as he looked at her. Something must've happened on that trip, beyond the gunfire and a day in a jail cell. Emily had never seen him like this.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The Wednesday morning after sending off Bold Traveler's newest child into the world, the latest collection of experience, insight and adventure this family of creators had to offer, was always an unofficial rest day. There was something gloomy about putting so much heart into a large piece of work, deciding it was finished enough, and then having it out of your hands, only to start over again and try to top it, month after month. And they wouldn't even see the new issue on the newsstands for more than a week. Everyone but the writers and photographers were expected to be in the office, but no one was expected to accomplish much, particularly Brian and the two Andys, who had put in loads of extra time and suddenly had little to do until they had more content to work with.

Of course, this Wednesday morning was particularly gloomy because of Michelle's disappearance. Brady and Brian were enjoying doughnuts in the kitchen with Black Andy, trying to keep his mind occupied.

"We could see a movie, but there are just no good ones out lately," Brady said. "There's nothin' in the theater I wanna see."

"Well, they did just rerelease The Phantom Menace in three-D," Brian said through a half-chewed bite of doughnut.

"Aw, man..." Brady stopped himself, not wanting to be rude. "Yeah, I guess if you're into that."

"Well, I saw it Saturday night, anyway."

"Surprised you didn't see it Friday night."

"I was goin' to, but then Jason brought his new friend and left her with us, and I wanted to make her feel welcome..."

"Yeah, I bet you did!"

Andy stood at the counter, spreading cream cheese on a bagel. "I don't think I'd be able to pay attention to a movie anyway."

Brian and Brady exchanged glances. They wanted to say or do anything that might help, but this was a new kind of situation for them. At any time it could be announced that Michelle had been found, or that she had been killed, or anything in-between. Or no announcement may ever come.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Michelle awoke to the sounds of traditional Syrian music on a cheap radio. Someone was stroking her hair. She found herself on a bed, in a bedroom, with a young Arab man kneeling beside her. Her lack of reaction to her situation surprised her. She was very comfortable...then she remembered her crawl in the desert, the pain...the pain was gone now. She drew up her left arm slowly and felt her forehead. Everything was odd...she must have been drugged. The man, probably nineteen or twenty years old, with hair long enough to resemble a small Afro, noticed her eyes had opened and smiled. He said something softly in Arabic. She smiled back, against her better judgment.

"Where are we?" she choked. There was sand in her mouth and throat, which she just noticed.

"At my father's house. He is doctor," he said with an accent so thick she would later wish for subtitles.

She attempted to sit up, but her body didn't cooperate. "You rest. My father come back soon. Rest," the young man said.

She wanted to thank him for rescuing her, assuming he had anything to do with her being here, but all that came out was "Thank..." accompanied by a soft smile, and she drifted to healing sleep again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Peter turned the vehicle toward the southeast, away from the city, to decrease the likelihood that the pursuing police cars would notice them. Now far from the roads, driving on the dense sand, they were traveling about sixty-five miles per hour. Jason peered nervously in the direction of the airport, looking for flashing lights. He soon saw two of the cars leaving the airport at high speed on the road toward the highway. The third must have stayed behind to question the driver. They seemed to be in the clear. He breathed deeply, trying to relax. Peter made a large semicircle around the back of the airport complex and climbed onto a back road that would lead them to the other side.

They passed dozens of commercial aircraft, Arabic writing decorating their hulls and fins, without saying a word. Peter looked deep in thought. A large passenger jet came in for a landing in front of them. Still recovering from the shock of the situation, Jason swallowed hard and finally asked, "So what now?"

Peter seemed barely aware of Jason's presence, simply speaking out loud what he was thinking. "Ditch the car. Get back to town, back to my contact list."

"Wouldn't we be better off working with the police instead of running from them?"

Peter's cell phone rang. "Hello?" There was a long pause as he listened. "Thanks, man. That's a hot lead. Fast, too. 'Preciate it." He rang off and glanced at Jason, then looked at the road. "From what I've been hearin' since yesterday, we're better off without 'em. Lots o' cops turnin' to crime since the riots started. I don't think they'd be much help right now. Better to stay off their radar."

"So what's the hot lead?"

"Rumor of items stolen from an American girl fresh off the plane. Some guys apparently usin' a taxi cab to rob people the last couple o' days."

Monday, October 22, 2012


Jason found his bravado incredible. In direct view of the three police officers, Peter peeked into the back seat of the car and, finding nothing, quickly popped the trunk open with the crowbar as if he'd done it a thousand times before. Jason's heart nearly stopped as he watched his face to see the result. Peter shook his head at him and returned to the vehicle. Either they'd followed the wrong car, or its entry onto the highway had nothing to do with Michelle. She could be anywhere.

At that point all three policemen began making their way toward them to investigate. Without saying a word, Peter gunned the engine and squealed away from the scene. Jason watched the officers in his side-view mirror; they were scrambling for their cars. What would Peter do now?

He must have the accelerator all the way to the floor, Jason thought. They were suddenly beyond ninety miles per hour and still on airport property, narrowly avoiding cars in their escape.

Peter took the SUV offroad into the desert and finally took a moment to glance at Jason. "You ok? You're turning white," he said. Jason was too frightened to answer. "Hey man, just relax. This is all in a day's work for me. We'll be alright."

Friday, October 19, 2012


Sure enough, once they'd exited the highway and found room to accelerate on the airport road, the car accelerated dramatically, obviously trying to get away. It didn't prove Michelle was inside, since the driver may have simply been afraid of the two men's intentions. Peter continued the chase, which reached high speeds on dangerous curves as they neared the airport. Both vehicles made frequent lane changes, narrowly avoiding cars as they passed by. Jason began to sweat from anxiety. He yelled "Whoa!" a couple of times, quite accidentally, but Peter ignored him.

"What if they don't stop?" Jason yelled.

"They gotta stop eventually."

Three police cars sat in front of the airport terminal, and this was where the driver decided to park. Peter rolled to a stop behind him. Three officers stood nearby, so far oblivious to the situation. No one moved in the car they'd chased down. "Be cool, Jason," Peter said as he climbed out of the cab. Jason remained in his seat, greatly relieved to be stopped but terrified of what might happen next. Peter reappeared within seconds, holding a crowbar. "We're gonna have a look in that trunk," he said to Jason through the open door, and then he proceeded toward the car.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Jason had to close his eyes as the wheel nearest him clipped the edge of the exit ramp. The vehicle went airborne for a couple of seconds, and the rear panel on Peter's side smacked the car he was trying to cut off. That car stopped, along with the traffic behind it, but Peter regained control of the SUV and continued his pursuit.

Jason's heart was racing. He hoped this effort was worth the trouble they were causing, since all they had seen was a car forcing its way onto the highway on the way to the airport. The probability that it had anything to do with Michelle seemed small, though the location did make sense based on what they knew.

"Does that look like her?" Peter asked. The passenger in the car in front of them had turned around and was staring at them, obviously wondering what the crazy driver behind her was up to. Peter had seen pictures of Michelle, but Jason would be able to identify her much better.

"No, definitely not," he said. "But she could be in the back seat, or the trunk."

"Yep. Let's stay in pursuit. It's the only lead we have so far."

Jason prayed to God that she was in that car, alive. But if she was, whoever picked her up may have misinterpreted Peter's daredevil move as evil intent for the girl, which could result in a real car chase after all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


They continued passing cars, swerving to avoid a road sign in Arabic that appeared to give the distance to the airport. It was almost Jason's first car chase, except the driver being chased wasn't aware of it. And once they caught up, there wasn't much they could do about it until the car stopped.

"Pretty sure that's the one," is what he thought he heard Peter say, though the big man's head was turned toward the cars and the vocalist in the speakers was screaming something that sounded vaguely like, "No love! No hope!"

"Alright," Peter said directly to him, "I'm ninety percent sure that's the car." Jason wasn't sure which one he meant. "We're getting back on the road--hang on." There was absolutely no room to do so that Jason could see, but an inclined exit ramp loomed ahead of them, so it was now or never. Peter applied the gas even more heavily. "One, two...three!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Traffic to the airport had become heavier in the afternoon. The combination of Jason's sleepless night on the plane, the extremely loud and abrasive music, and having nothing to look at but barren desert and the back of a sedan caused him to nearly doze off despite the seriousness of his mission. Suddenly the flow of traffic slowed dramatically, stirring him to full consciousness. Peter could see the reason for the delay.

"A car went off the road up here on the left. It was tryin' t' cut in and get back on."

Jason looked at him. Peter was studying the scene. Jason shouted, "You don't think..."

"We better find out." As he was saying it, he took the SUV off the highway to the right, down a slight incline onto the sandy ground, accelerating past the cars on the road. Jason saw passengers staring in disbelief. He was surprised himself, but only slightly. He wished he had something to hold onto.

"Which car?" he yelled. The music was still pumping, but now it began to add to the excitement of the situation for him.

"It was ten cars in front of us," Peter shouted back confidently. Jason was impressed that he could tell. "Or maybe eleven," Peter added. "I think it was gray, but it was hard to tell in the glare."

Monday, October 15, 2012


Peter and Jason took the highway toward the airport in a rented Nissan Infiniti SUV. Each surveyed the landscape on his side of the road as hard rock music blared from the speakers, not quite to Jason's taste.

Jason was clueless about what Peter intended to do if they didn't find any clues on this trip. "So what's your plan?" he shouted over the music.

Peter had removed his coat. His very large arm commanded the steering wheel. His eyes scanned the desert as he spoke. "I've got contacts here from my tours with the Marines. They have contacts, their contacts have contacts, and so forth. They extend everywhere from government to criminal organizations in every country. In my line o' work, if someone needs to be found, we have about a ninety percent success rate. We already got the ball rollin' last night."

"What is your line of work? Search and rescue?"

Peter took his eyes off the desert just for a second to glance at Jason with a smile. "Just gettin' stuff done, man, for whoever can afford it." He resumed his search. "The Marines train us, and the world becomes a business opportunity for those of us who can figure out how to take advantage of it. Bein' able to help people is just a nice perk."

Jason decided to be quiet for a while. He'd never met anyone quite like this before.

Friday, October 12, 2012


As Michelle continued her struggle to reach the highway, the pain became so overwhelming that she feared she may soon lose consciousness. If she could just get the attention of one merciful driver before she passed out, it would be enough. As dizziness took over, she reached up her hand and waved it with the last of her resolve. Her face fell into the sand as she heard a vehicle leave the road and stop nearby. She turned her head toward the sound and saw a figure step out of a car just before she slipped out of consciousness.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


"Who were you talkin' to there?"

"I was calling hospitals," Jason said. "I've called a few, have a few more to go."

"Good. Keep doin' that. I've rented a vehicle. Since we know Michelle landed but didn't get to the hotel, I'm gonna search the area in-between."

"I wanna go with you."

Peter looked him in the eye for a moment. "Alright. Finish up your calls real quick and meet me in the lobby."

"'K, thanks. Question. Why didn't Dave want me to call the police?"

Peter smirked. "He don't even trust New York cops; you think he's gonna rely on Syrian cops? Uh-uh. Now get dialin'."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Around noon on Wednesday Jason was on the phone in his hotel room when there was a knock at the door.  Since he was on hold, he took the phone unit with him and opened the door. Behind it stood a bulky man in a gray trench coat, navy blue sweater and khakis. He hard straight, dark hair, meticulously combed, and hard eyes. He reminded Jason of a boss at the end of a level in a video game. This was not someone to mess around with.



The man clearly didn't wish to interrupt Jason's phone call. Jason beckoned him to enter and said, "I'm on hold, hang on--oh, yeah?" (To someone on the other end of the line.) "You do?" A long pause, and then: "Oh, no, the Michelle Owens I'm looking for has brown skin and black hair. Ok, man, so close...thank you...thank you very much. Bye." He returned the phone to the desk, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then turned to the stranger in his room. "And you are?"

The man extended his hand. "Peter. Peter Leiser. Dave Pike sent me."

He shook his hand. "Oh?"

"I'm here to help you find your missing coworker."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


She tried to get a sense of direction and time of day. The sun was low, but the temperature felt more like late morning than early evening, not that she was familiar with the February climate in Syria at all. Maybe she'd only been there an hour. Then why did she feel so parched and hungry? Could she have been lying there for more than twenty-four hours? Had she survived an entire day and a frozen desert night exposed to the elements, after being flung from a speeding car?

It suddenly occurred to her how fortunate she was to be alive. She thanked her lucky stars that she had no open wounds; she could've bled to death. Her goal now was to keep breathing, in honor of God or fate or whatever had managed to carry her this far. She thought of Andy and her friends, of seeing them as soon as possible.

She needed medical attention quickly. And that meant getting to the highway and getting a ride.

Fighting through the pain, she managed to slowly roll herself onto her belly. Then she reached out her hands, dug her fingers into the sandy soil and inched forward using her elbows, hips, knees and toes, as vehicles continued to pass by not twenty yards away. The pain was excruciating. She traveled half a body length before she was forced to stop and rest.

Monday, October 8, 2012


She felt a warm wind whipping over her body. Where was she? A hotel room somewhere? Syria...she had flown to Syria. Had she forgotten to lower the shade? So bright. Cars driving at highway speeds every few seconds, not far away. This wasn't a bed at all...

She opened her eyes slowly. Holy Lord, she was outside. There was no vegetation in sight, only barren desert. She tried to lift herself, but her body ached all over. What had happened to her? She turned her head in the direction of the passing cars. Suddenly she remembered. The cab she'd entered at the airport didn't belong to a taxi service. How could they get away with...must have something to do with the riots. It was chaos here, and she'd become a victim of evil intent the moment she arrived.

She checked herself over. No sign of sexual aggression. Nothing left to her but the clothes she was wearing. How many passing drivers had noticed her there and done nothing? How long had she been there?

Every attempt to stand was met with unbearable pain. For the first time since she was a child, Michelle realized she may have to depend on the mercy of another human being to survive.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Paul arrived, and Emily made her apologies as they had made reservations at an expensive restaurant months prior. Once they'd left, Brian made a proposal.

"Hey, we should all go to a nice place for dinner, too."

Ricardo, Rachel, and Andy Haines liked that idea and started discussing possibilities. Black Andy wasn't in the mood.

"Andy," said Ricardo, "we all love Michelle. We'll all be thinking of her. Let's do this in her honor. Let's celebrate her...and hope our thoughts and prayers bring her back to us."

A few minutes later they began making their way out of the restaurant to find a cab to pile into. But before they reached the door, a couple of familiar faces entered through it.

"Oh my Go...look who it is!" Ricardo shouted.

Hugs and handshakes ensued all the way back to their table, and questions were asked and stories begun. Aggie and Brady were finally home.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


When Ricardo and Rachel showed up at Little Nemo's, the others had already been there an hour and were embroiled in conversation at their usual table. It was Andy Haines' first time out with them since the events of Friday night that had led to his move into a hotel room, and he seemed to be doing alright. But Ricardo noticed all the fun had gone out of the younger Andy. He engaged him when he reached the table, as the others continued talking.

"Got it sent off?"

"Yep. I think we did ok."

"Awesome. So how you holdin' up, man?"

"Man, I dunno. All I can think about is 'Where's Michelle?'" Ricardo just looked at him, hoping to lend an ear and help in any way. Andy continued. "I just remembered on the way over here that it's Valentine's Day. Hadn't thought about it since I found out she was missing. Course, all I could'a done is call her at her hotel, but I'da done that anyway."

Rachel was listening in. "Man, your first Valentine's together and...that's terrible," she said, barely audible over the din of the restaurant. She put a hand on his shoulder, a very unusual gesture for her. "I'm so sorry."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


"And, sent." It was Tuesday afternoon and Emily sat at the head of the giant table in the largest conference room. Black Andy and Brian stood on either side of her. The other Andy sat a few chairs away. A large screen portrayed the contents of Emily's laptop display on the other end of the room. They had just delivered the entire contents of the next issue to their printing vendor electronically, a monthly ritual for the four of them. After five years using this vendor, the process was relatively smooth, though it always took at least three hours in this room together to work out last-minute kinks.

Normally Dave would be in the room with them, running things, but he was still en route from El Salvador. Number ninety-six would be the magazine's first issue that would go to print without Dave Pike's micromanagement on the last day. Brian therefore saw Aggie's and Brady's very brief incarceration as an unfortunate boost to his career, since it had been up to him to take the leadership reins. He would always think of this issue as his. He wanted to hug the others, but he restrained himself.

"Well, that's that," said the elder Andy, still looking at the screen. "Hope Dave likes it."

"If he doesn't hate it, I'll feel like we succeeded," the other Andy joked.

"Come on, Black, we did great work here," Brian said, grinning.

"I agree," Emily said. "Brian, congrats. I think it's a great issue. Look at that cover. I'm ready to see Belarus myself now! Michelle's pictures are fantastic." The reminder brought an ominous silence to the room.

"Four thirty," Brian said after a few moments, looking at his phone out of habit even though the time was displayed on the large screen. He sighed, his grin now gone. "Let's sneak outta here and head for Nemo's. First drink's on me today."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


"Excuse me," Jason said to the black-clad woman behind the reception desk. He spoke slowly to be sure she'd understand. "I'm looking for someone staying at this hotel. We work together. Her name is Michelle Owens. O-W-E-N-S." She didn't bother making eye contact and continued typing into her computer, so he wondered for a moment if she'd heard him at all. Finally she stopped typing and looked at him. She spoke with a thick accent.

"Michelle Owens reserved a room with us for five nights. Check-in date was Tuesday, yesterday." Hope sprang up in Jason's heart as she resumed her typing. "But she did not check in."  She continued typing and staring at her screen, as if making sure. Again she said, "She has not checked in, sir."

He thought about asking if he could be notified if she did check in, but he decided that was extremely unlikely. He briefly imagined her spending the night with some handsome Syrian man she met in the airport. No, all signs pointed to something bad happening to her.

"Thank you very much."

His next step, following Dave's orders, was to ask around elsewhere. He had no idea where to start.

Monday, October 1, 2012


After Dave gave his orders to Jason, he and Pierce had argued, over delicious tamales de elote, about whether the police in Damascus should be notified. Then a sudden silence overtook the table as each of their thoughts turned toward Michelle. It was Brady who interrupted the solemnity.

"Thanks for breakfast, Dave."

Dave ignored him. The waitress filled their coffee cups. He ignored her, too. Suddenly the group wasn't speaking because they were afraid to. Aggie sipped her coffee, thinking a prayer for Michelle, and another for Jason, and wondering what would happen next. The waitress cleared the table; Dave paid and continued to drink his coffee in silence. Finally, after an eternity, he spoke.

"Let's go home."