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I stared at the ticket on the ground. It seemed like an easy decision. All I had to do was crouch down, pick up the ticket, and I would be on my way. It was the only reasonable alternative.The other option was represented by press of cold, nickel plating against the back of my neck. “Where's it to?” My voice was quiet and tight, but I managed to keep it from trembling.The answer came from a man in an charcoal grey Italian suit that had cost him more than my breast cancer treatments had cost me. “Does it matter?”“It might.”“Perhaps,” interceded another man, who stood to the left of the first speaker, “you're not quite getting the gist of the deal. You take the ticket and go, or my friend pulls the trigger and I go home wearing pieces of your trachea.”“I understand,” I assured him, “but I'm trying to figure out your angle.”“Angle?” the first man asked. “What angle?”I actually managed to laugh. “Yeah, angle. My options are a vacation or a bloody death. I'm a little worried about what's waiting for me on the other side of that trip. Otherwise, what's in it for you? Why would you want me to travel so badly that you would kill me if I chose not to go?”The second man stepped up to me and clutched at my chin with his sweaty fingers. They were stronger than my biceps. He sneered as he looked into my face. “Look, sweetie, I don't think you're taking us seriously.” With no further warning, he snapped off a kick at my shin. I lunged forward from pain of the sharp blow. As if I had been trying to escape, the gunman behind me pushed me the rest of the way to the ground, and planted his knee on my back. He grunted as he then pistol-whipped the side of my head. “I said don't move!”My whole body quivered now as fear and pain flooded my system with conflicting adrenaline signals. I felt the muzzle of his gun press up against my neck again. I didn't want to give them any satisfaction, but I couldn't stop myself from whimpering a little as the second of the two main speakers kicked my shin again. My face was pressed against the cement, and I could see the feet of passersby. They did not even hesitate. They never stopped. They never tried to help. They just kept walking. Leaving me at the mercy of these three.The man in the Italian suit crouched down in front of me and spoke in a calm voice. “Theresa, darling, just take the ticket.”I bit my lower lip. It made no sense. It should have been such an easy choice, but there was no reason behind it. I couldn't predict what would happen if I took them up on it. I couldn't just choose. The options were irrational. There had to be something more to it.Self-control left, and I cried.What were they after?”You see this ticket?”“Yes.”The man in the Italian suit threw it on the ground. “Grab it.”“What?”“Take it. Pick it up. It's yours. Free trip. One rule: you travel by yourself.”Why had it been so important to them that I travel by myself? Surely, they must be trying to make me vulnerable somehow? But vulnerable to what?The pistol cracked against the back of skull again. One of the men twisted my ankle as I lay there, sobbing against the cement. Twist. Twist. Twist. No, no, no more. Please. No more. I bit my cheek so hard I bled into my own throat, but I did not scream as he twisted my ankle past its threshold. I heard and felt it snap.“Make a choice,” the man in the Italian suit encouraged me. His voice was still calm, passionless. “It can all be over, just like that. Choose. The gun or the ticket.”“I don't understand. Why are you giving me a ticket?”“Because, if you take the ticket, we won't have to kill you.”“Kill me?”Another man appeared in front of me. He smiled, cocked his head to one side, and then threw his fist at my stomach. I coughed, wide-eyed from pain and surprise. In the middle of the bus station. He just punched a woman in the middle of a bus station. And no one seemed to notice or care.The moment I straightened up, I felt a cold metal cylinder press into the back of my neck.“Why?” I blubbered. “Why me?”“I like you,” the man in the Italian suit answered. “Isn't it obvious?”My only answer was a noisy sob.“If I didn't like you,” he continued, “I would just have let them kill you.” He paused. “Take the ticket, Theresa. Please. For all of us. Just take it.”The man who had spoken second earlier pried my left hand off the cement and pulled a small hammer out of his windbreaker pocket. He lay my hand flat on the ground, extended each finger very carefully. I winced with anticipation as I he pulled the hammer back. As it swung down, I screwed my eyes shut.I felt the blow, but not as acutely as I had expected.I opened my eyes. My ring. He had smashed my diamond engagement ring. The emotional blow was too much after the physical abuse I had already taken. Tears flowing, chest heaving, I reached out along the filthy ground and set my hand on the ticket.“Okay,” I relented. “Okay. I'll go. I'll go.”“You made the right choice, Theresa.”I closed my fingers around the ticket and closed my eyes. The gunman took his knee from my spine, his pistol from my neck. I counted to ten and then used my good ankle to roll myself over onto my back. I gazed up at the ceiling of the bus terminal, panting. The men were gone. No further words for me. They were just gone.Reluctantly, fearfully, I brought the ticket up. It was a plane ticket, not a bus ticket. Guadalajara. First class. There was only one rule: I had to go alone.
Gabriel bent over and picked up what looked like a scrap of paper lying on the floor. “Trudy! Look! Talk about a stroke of luck!”Trudy hitched her backpack further up her shoulder and walked over to Gabriel. “What’s a stroke of luck?”“It’s a ticket! Victoria to Folkestone. And the date’s still good. Look!”Trudy leaned around Gabriel and peered at the National Rail Ticket. “Wow. You really are one lucky S.O.B. You just saw it lying there on the ground?”“Yup.”“Well, someone must’ve lost it. We should return it.”Gabriel shook his head. “Trudy, love, you are so naïve! There’s no name on it. If we turn it in, someone else will just get the use of it. It’s too bad for the poor sod who dropped it here, but his bad luck is our good luck. Saves us the cost of one ticket now, eh?”Trudy chewed on her lip. “I dunno...bad karma and all that, Gabriel.”“Come on, Trudy. You don’t believe all that claptrap, do you?”Trudy chewed some more on her lip.“Well, I’ll tell you what,” said Gabriel. “I say we should use it. The train is already in the station – see? Read the monitor up there. I’m going to get on the train right now and save us a couple of seats. You go buy the second ticket – especially as I can see it’ll soothe your conscience, and then you can join me on the train. We‘ll take the train to Folkestone and then get on the hoverspeed to cross the channel. We’ll be in Paris by tonight and with the savings, we can have a lovely meal, too.”Gabriel gave Trudy a light kiss on the lips and then headed towards the gate. Reluctantly, Trudy walked up to the ticketing window. No line was short and every agent was slow. It seemed like everyone was waiting for service. Trudy wished she could have just used the machine for her ticket, but one was out of service and the queues for the others were simply insane. Plus, she wanted to speak with a person to get some information. The maps were too confusing. She wished Gabriel were still here. He knew his way around, being from somewhere or other in London. At least, that what he said.Trudy finally got her ticket, and dashed for the gate. Unfortunately, Gabriel’s good luck didn’t seem to rub off on Trudy: the train had already departed and Gabriel was nowhere to be seen. “Dammit! I can’t believe he took off without me! Why didn’t he get off that train and wait for the next one, so we could go together. I can’t believe he’d leave without me!”Trudy went back to the wait area, to pass the time until the next departure to Folkestone. Frantically, she kept ringing Gabriel’s cell phone, but he wasn’t picking up. After the fourth try, she gave up, telling herself that perhaps the reception was funky since they were in Europe and her cell was American.He’ll probably just be waiting for me at the station in Folkestone. I won’t worry about it for now.At last, she boarded her train and settled in for the ride to the coast. The scenery was pretty, in places, but she barely noticed it. When she arrived in Folkestone, she scouted the area for Gabriel. Nada. She went to the hoverspeed wait area. Nada again. She had him paged. Double nada. She tried his cell phone once again. Zip zero zed rien nothing nada. Trudy went back to the stationmaster and showed him a photograph. Gabriel and Trudy each had their arms around each other, but were facing the camera and smiling broadly at whomever had taken the picture. The picture had been taken in front of Kensington Palace. The stationmaster shook his head, saying he didn’t recognize the fellow in the picture, but asked another officer who was nearby if he’d seen Trudy’s young man, pointing to Gabriel in the photograph.The second officer scratched his head. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable as he shifted from his right foot to his left and back again. He did this several times. Then he stared at Trudy. Finally he replied slowly, “I did see the fellow in your snap, but he left a few hours earlier. He was in the company of another young lady.”“Are you sure? Maybe it was someone else who looked a bit like Gabriel.” Trudy looked around nervously and then looked back at the officer.The officer shook his head. “No – I remember this one. Rather clearly, in fact. That’s why I probably seemed surprised at your inquiry. He asked me take a photo of himself with the young lady with him, in much the same pose as you and he are in in this snap.” Seeing Trudy’s face, he added, “I’m terribly sorry, Miss. But don’t you trouble yourself. He’ll get his. What goes about comes about. Karma, right?”Trudy brushed a tear off her cheek. “Thank you for your trouble, Sir.” Trudy nodded to the officer and went to a bench to sit down for a minute. After she composed herself and dried her eyes, she made a decision. She calmly walked up to the ticket window and purchased a one way ticket for the hoverspeed to Boulogne, with a second rail ticket from there to Paris.
What a slime, RJ. I mean, not you. Gabriel. Boo hiss. Good tale, though. I definitely felt for Trudy and despised Gabriel.
Nevets - when I read your story, I was in pain. What horrible people! Poor Theresa! But you built up real suspense as to both the what and the why. I kept wondering what they were going to do to her next - or if she was going to capitulate.