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Ok, this is gonna be a long one, sorry. And if you’re looking for a quick dive into a girl love, I’m sorry for that too because this one takes a while to get there.

The beginning is about a man who does some unusual things for a living. That leads him to meet a woman and that leads … Oh, just read it and you’ll figure it out.

This is one of those things that I sometimes write that end up as not so well-defined for any one category, ok? So I’m aiming it where the result goes best. That’s how it is with these folks.

There’s a backstory to this that’s longer than I’d planned it to be. And by the end, it’s what’s wanted and needed by the characters, but there’s still no big flashing “L” sign – but that’s there all the same.

Confused? Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.

Dang.

0_o

*****************

*********

Peru

Damian got to his feet after making sure that there was only the one part of him which had been injured in a minor way. Every once in a while down here, he’d encountered some slime or slickness on the rough stone floor and coming around the last bend; he’d slipped and gone down. His hip stung a little, but he was more concerned about his knees.

His right knee was trying to tell him something but he saw no tear in his pants and a quick feel told him that everything was still where it was supposed to be.

“A fucking idiot,” he muttered quietly as he reached into the First Aid pouch on the strap of his backpack.

“That’s what I am for sure. Who the hell besides an idiot like me would even be here doing this?”

He moved the LED flashlight to hold it in his teeth as he quickly unraveled a long olive drab cloth and stuffed it gently inside his shirt a little bit to hold it there as he worked since he’d need it in a little while. As expected, he thought, the flashlight tasted like shit and his memory went back to the places where he’d dropped it and the unidentifiable puddles of crap that it had landed in.

He pushed the thought from his mind before he began to gag.

He reached into the bag again, hoping that the surplus kit still contained some kind of disinfectant and that it hadn’t either dried up or gone bad in the million years or so since it had been manufactured for use as an emergency kit to be stored in a tactical assault helicopter. That wasn’t where he’d gotten it, he was just a fan of surplus stores.

He came up with nothing.

“Fuck,” he whispered in disgust around the flashlight as he reached into the left cargo pocket of his pants and pulled out his old standby – a squeeze bottle of Bactine.

In his careful and considered opinion, the stuff was pure gold. So far, in his odd line of work, it had worked on everything from bee stings to gunshot wounds – the less serious ones anyway. He also carried a small plastic bottle of Dettol but he rarely used it, since it stung like hot rivets in the smallest wound and it made him say even more bad words and he was trying to quit.

He shook the Bactine a few times and flipped open the top. That done, he poured a liberal amount onto the freely bleeding gash on the back of his right hand, trying to wash the wound a little at the same time with the force of the squeeze on the bottle.

It worked, sort of.

He shook his hand a couple of times as though he was trying to get rid of something undesirable which was stuck to his fingers, like trying to get rid of a booger when he’d been a kid back in New Mexico. That worked a little as well.

Sort of.

He grabbed the cloth and after folding it quickly into a long roll and slipping the end in between his index and middle fingers, he began to wrap the injured hand a little tightly, though not too much. As he slipped his fingerless glove back on, he kept muttering.

“I ever do shit like this again, I’ m gonna want a lot more for it.”

He took the flashlight from between his teeth and shifted it to his left hand to begin walking back up the slope in the passage. After a few minutes, he was about to step back out into the relative brightness of the Peruvian forest.

Relative, because it was fairly dim under the canopy of the forest.

It was just a lot brighter than where he’d been for the past three hours.

He straightened up a little too soon and he clipped his head on the rock overhang. Besides knocking his bush hat off, it caused him to bend down again in pain as he told himself that he’d now want even more to do something like this again.

But he’d gotten the three sacred carved statues that he’d come here to get for his client and now he just had to get scarce in a bit of a hurry.

Never a good thing to just hang around and congratulate yourself, he thought.

That’s when the really bad shit is liable to happen.

He looked ahead, hopeful to see the teenaged kid who’d been his guide out here and he saw him alright, just not in the way that he’d have liked.

The boy hung by his neck from a nearby tree about ten bahis firmaları feet off the ground.

Damian backed into the opening in the rock again as he stared for a minute. The boy couldn’t have been older than eighteen. It didn’t take Damian more than two thoughts to come to the knowledge that he likely wasn’t alone here with the corpse of the kid who’d told him that he knew where the statues likely were and … that the really bad shit was already happening.

There was no way that the boy had taken the secret of the statues with him.

He turned and tore off back down the passageway as a burst of automatic weapon fire chipped the ancient stone of the doorway where he’d been the second before.

As he backtracked and tried to listen for the sounds of pursuit, he was looking for the other exit that he’d been told about. It was where the brief and general instructions that he’d been given back in Mexico City said that he could get inside.

He’d said nothing of it and had only listened to the kid tell him where to get inside. Now he hoped that the boy hadn’t known of the other way. It gave him something to hope for, anyway.

As he came up to the other passage, he realized that he hadn’t heard anyone coming after him. As soon as the thought registered in his mind, he heard the sounds of a pair of rocks skipping down the slope behind him.

He felt the pit of his stomach as it fell. Nobody was going to throw rocks after him for damn certain, so those weren’t rocks that he was listening to.

Automatic weapons and now grenades.

Who the fuck were these people, anyway?

He hung a left and scrambled off that way as fast as he could go, counting off seconds – seven.

Minus at least two.

Five, four, three, two…

The sound of the explosions was deafening and worse, he felt them reverberate in the stone floor. They faded after a few seconds, but the rumbling didn’t. He kept running as he heard the crash from the other passageway behind him.

The ceiling was falling in.

——————–

It was an hour later when he emerged after pushing a pair of small boulders away from the sliver of light that he’d seen at the end. Not knowing if there’d be another welcome for him here, Damian had been fairly slow and quiet about it.

As he stepped into the light, he ran to the thickets as quietly as he could and he waited for a time for his pocket GPS to acquire enough satellites so that he could figure out which way that he ought to be walking.

He reached the twenty-five year-old Nissan Pathfinder after more than an hour of careful walking and he pulled the tree branches off after first making sure that they hadn’t been disturbed. He saw that something at least had been moved.

A quick look underneath showed him the packet of plasitique. He yanked the wires from the charge and pulled the thing out to toss it into the undergrowth.

He found the second one under the driver’s seat and did the same before he climbed in and turned the key, hoping a little that there was no third charge.

With the engine running, he backed out and tore off along the only path there, though he did pull off onto an even smaller one a little while after.

That’s when he saw them.

Assholes, he thought.

Assholes in pickup trucks.

With guns.

It didn’t matter where he was sent or what the goods were, at some point, far more often than not, there’d be assholes with guns in pickup trucks there in his mirror.

He had the most insane thought then and he groaned. It didn’t make much of any difference. He’d do his best to get out of this in one piece and if he still had just a little luck anymore, he just might.

In the middle of his day turning to pure shit, the memory that he’d forgotten to give Trish her birthday present the day before he’d left had come to him – the day before her birthday. He’d dropped it off on his way to the airport, leaving it for her to find when she got home from work with a nice card and his written apology for running out of time.

AND he’d left a long-stemmed rose lying across the card.

So he was a dead man regardless, he thought.

As he downshifted and slammed the accelerator down, cranking the wheel to power-slide the thing around and hoping that the old beast had enough lungs left for this, Damian told himself that he’d for fucking sure want a lot more money before he ever agreed to do anything like this again.

———-

Tamanrasset, southern Algeria

Malikah was thinking of closing up her little market stall a bit early and going home.

She shook her head.

Home was a little place in a village where she was a stranger, three quarters of an hour’s walk away through the dust. She might not have known any better once upon a time, but from her present viewpoint, her home was little more than a hovel.

She’d have to hide her wares in her home and then walk to the well to draw water – making several trips until she had kaçak iddaa enough to cook her evening meal with and pour a third of what was left into the big kettle to heat it near the fire. The remainder would go into the washtub.

Long after her plain and unpretentious meal, and even after she sat by the only light to craft a few more pieces to offer for sale the next day, she’d look over and hope to see that the water in the kettle had begun to steam a little.

Then she knew that she’d lock the door as best she could and struggle to get the kettle near the washtub and pour the contents in. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as hot as she’d wish for it to be, but that would be her bath just before she went to bed.

She looked down at the jewellery that she’d made and wondered again at the fruitlessness of running a small stall at the edge of a market in an almost nameless place near the edge of the Sahara in Algeria. No one knew when the fish were biting, she thought. No one could predict it when it happened.

Sometimes, she’d be here thanking Allah for bringing the tourists to her stall. It happened sometimes that she was sold out by one in the afternoon and had to close because she had nothing left to sell anymore. Those were the good days, and they happened, just not all that often.

Most days, she sold enough to get by on, and sometimes … there were days like this one, where she hadn’t sold even one thing all day and it seemed that her feet were already complaining to her and she hadn’t even begun her long walk home yet.

Malikah sighed to herself. This was the way that her life was to go, and she knew that. It was just …

She backed up until she felt the edge of the stool against her bottom and she slid onto it, looking at her feet.

It was just that she’d had a chance once to do better for herself, but it had evaporated somehow when she hadn’t been looking.

She was Imouhar. It was what people like her called themselves, though the people around them called them Tuaregs.

For as long as anyone could tell of the ancient past, they’d been nomads, though that was changing to an extent in the present day. By her blood, she was from one of the old tribal confederations in Mali.

But she wasn’t there. She lived here, where the people were more Berber than Tuareg. It was just another thing that set her apart here and to be set apart was to be alone.

She was born in Mali and lived there for only ten years before her father had found a way to make some money so he’d brought his little family to live here.

But her mother had died after hemorrhaging while giving birth to their second child. She’d passed in the back of a small pickup truck as her father was driving her to hospital. He’d raised Malikah alone and never married again.

She didn’t know what he’d done to earn his money back then when she was a little girl; she only knew that he was gone sometimes and she was placed in the care of some distant relations in another place now and then until he came back to get her. She’d been alone there too.

They might have been relations of a sort, but she could never see it, now that she looked back. Whatever they were, they certainly weren’t Imouhar.

Something happened after that, and they were back here in this village, though it was a place that she’d never really gotten to know. Her father had never moved them back to Mali. He’d said that there was trouble there – that their people were rising up to fight for their independence and he didn’t want to lose more than he already had.

Her father had shown her where to go to get the little stones which she could easily shape and make into beads and he taught her how to drill them and the ways that she could fashion jewellery out of them. It was a little close to the blacksmithing that he could do, he’d said with a smile, you only had to hit things a lot less hard.

Apparently, her father had saved at least enough money so that she could attend university in Algiers when she was old enough for it and she’d gone, happy to learn and expand her tiny horizons. As what she was, she was a little alone there as well, but she had made few friends and that was all that mattered to her.

But the money had run out one day and knowing nothing of it, she’d had to return home. She’d had many questions for her father at the time, wanting to know how he’d come by the relative wealth that they’d enjoyed very frugally, and above all, why she’d had to come home partway through her final year of studies.

But she’d never gotten to ask him the questions because when she arrived, she found that her father had died fifteen days before and nobody knew much of anything.

And so, with nothing else to do with which she might make a living, she’d searched and found the old tools and things which went along with this craft. It was a living, but a very poor one – made all the worse by her having to live on alone in a place where she was not well known, not being from the Berber peoples. Everyone kaçak bahis kept to themselves here. She’d never even made a single friend among the other children back when she was growing up.

It was also made worse by the fact that she’d been away someplace else and she’d seen that this was a poor life.

But there wasn’t a thing that she could do about it.

There was only one other option for her and she hated it.

More than the curious customers which came to her stall, and far, far more numerous than the very occasional and supremely delighted clients who came back to ask her about fashioning something special as a custom order, …

What she faced more than anything were hopeful young men who came to enquire about something else.

Given her social standing, Malikah knew that she’d make a rather poor bride, monetarily speaking. But that didn’t cause too many of the hopefuls to turn away. She knew that she was pretty.

She also knew that each day removed a little of her desirability in the eyes of those young men.

But she had no desire to become a wife and mother. She saw many others who lived that life. There was not one single man out of all of the ones who came to try to chat her up a little awkwardly that she liked even a little. The same boys who’d looked right through her when they were children now wanted to get to know her?

Really?

The other thing was that she’d been to a place where the men treated women fairly well.

That place was not here.

And she was under no illusions. Even if she married a local, she’d still be an outsider. And what sort of man would want her for a wife if she was of a different people? She supposed that if she loved the man, it probably wouldn’t matter that much to her. But marrying her would put a strain on the man’s relations with his own family, wouldn’t it? Malikah hadn’t seen a man who she liked but that didn’t mean that he didn’t exist somewhere.

Some men were cruel to their women. If that happened to her, there would be nowhere that she could turn for help or support.

She just didn’t think that she wanted to be the Tuareg wife of an Algerian of any kind and she saw other Imouhar only very seldom.

The choice was looking her in the face more and more every single day, but she knew that to accept that would be the final stone around her neck.

She might as well cut her throat right now.

It was just as exciting a prospect to her.

————-

Minneapolis, MN

Damian sat at his desk in the basement catacombs of the museum, working through the lists of the bills of lading which had accompanied the most recent shipments of small artifacts. For the most part they represented a small portion of the normal and regular trade of things such as this which went on between museums now and then.

This particular shipment was causing him a little trouble, given that the description of the articles against what they looked like was taking up far too much of his time. He often had to stop and actually get up to go look through the packing material, trying to find something which matched the description. Most times, there would be a small and unobtrusive alphanumeric identifier painted on somewhere.

But this shipment had come from a Middle Eastern source and he was having trouble making out the writing a lot of the time – if it was even there at all.

Couldn’t they have just taken a bunch of pictures and referenced them against the shipping list?

He sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair for a moment. It caused him to notice that his neck was getting a little stiff, and that told him that he ought to look at the clock on the wall.

2AM, and he was still at it. That had to be enough for one day, he told himself as he stood up to stretch for a moment. He turned off his desk lamp and grabbing his jacket, he walked up the stairs, wished the slightly surprised night security guard a pleasant shift and walked out into the winds of a cold and rainy Minneapolis night.

He’d just gotten his truck started and was buckling in when his phone picked up a text. He only noticed because the screen of his phone lit up. He turned the phone’s ringtones back on then.

He’d turned them off after getting at least seventeen missed call notifications – all from his girlfriend the evening before. Apparently, his forgetting to wish her a happy birthday and only leaving her gift and a card on her table on his way past to the airport couldn’t have waited for her to express herself in person to him. He’d even offered to drop by for his turn tied to the whipping post.

Damian sighed.

He was still in deep over the birthday thing – though Trish kept the diamond necklace, never even acknowledging the gift or thanking him for it. Not a word about the rose either.

It all seemed to be about giving him hell because he thought so little of her.

Fuck, he thought, it was a diamond necklace and she wouldn’t accept that he was in a hurry and was genuinely sorry?

He briefly wondered just how dumb she thought that he was. In his book, if he did something wrong, then he could expect to be told – once only. He’d do his level best not to do it again.

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