Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Sightings

  

 

 

Quentin Debroux could never obliterate the memory of that first day.  A servant had ushered him into the dining room where Vice Consul Jake Hundley and the Consul, an empty little vessel named Arthur Langston, lingered over lunch.

 

  Twenty-seven years old, Quentin had brushed back, dark hair and brown eyes, with embarrassingly long eyelashes.  A hint of the Mediterranean hung about him, and he favored white suits that set off his olive skin.  Quentin’s soft voice, enriched by his New Orleans upbringing, and a courteous demeanor bespoke a well-mannered gentility.  His slender wrists and fingers intimated an inclination toward fragility.        

 

“So you’re the new man,” Langston said.  “How about a drink?  Won’t cool you off.  But, enough of them, you forget how hot it is.”

 

A slight, faded man, who’d rolled down one of life’s sidetracks, Langston decked himself out in a beige safari suit (his tropical kit).  He possessed a barely qualifying chin, pursed lips, and darting eyes, all set in a triangular face leathered by too much time in the sun.  His laugh bordered on a giggle.

 

“Gin and tonic.  Thank you.”

 

“This is Jake Hundley, the other Vice Consul,” Langston said.

 

Jake’s eyes, like those of a boxer sizing up his opponent at a weigh-in, ran Quentin up and down.  Although in what way he did not know, Quentin felt ill at ease.  No, more than ill at ease—he felt threatened.

 

A man in his mid-forties, Jake struck Quentin as the sort of person he wouldn’t want to sit next to on an airplane—no neck, pudgy fingers, bulldog jowls, eyes encased in pockets of flesh—even his protruding ears were fat.  Jake’s lips, thin and hardly visible, made his mouth look like that of a cuttlefish.  His bald head glistened with droplets of perspiration.

 

Langston waved Quentin to a chair.

 

“You settled in yet?”

 

“Yes.  The cottage will be fine.  Glad I can walk to work.”

 

“First time?” Jake asked.

 

“You mean in Africa?  Yes.  My previous posts were Amsterdam and Nice.”

 

“You’ll hate it.  This place especially.  Wait until you see the office.”  Jake made a knowing face.

 

Quentin looked at him quizzically, noting how much Jake’s linen jacket cried out for a 

cleaning.  Food particles speckled Jake’s cratered chin. 

 

“Oh, Jake’s just having a little fun with you,” Langston said.  “We’ve had some problems with pests.  But I’m sure they’ll be rectified.”

 

“Bullshit,” Jake offered.

-----

 

Quentin soon discovered Langston and his wife spent extended periods in the casino hotels of an adjacent country.  The rest of the time, ensconced in the couple’s Manhattan apartment, Langston’s wife avoided Africa altogether.  Quentin never saw her, never met her.

 

Except for Langston and Jake, Quentin had little contact with other Americans.  Accustomed to having things his own way, Jake ran the show. 

 

“I suppose you’re another one of those Ivy League hoo ha’s.”  Jake had just led Quentin to the cubby hole that was to be his office.

 

“Well, I was at Amherst for a time.  Finished at Tulane.”

 

“No matter.  Last vice consul was one of ’em.  Didn’t take long to bring him down a peg or two.”

 

“I can hardly breathe.  I think I’ll open a window,” Quentin said.

 

“Can’t . . . nailed shut.”

 

“But . . .”

 

“Thieves.  Locals are all thieves.  So I nailed ’em shut.”

 

“But it’s like an inferno in here.”

 

“You’ll get used to it.  Besides, we’re only here a couple hours a day.  Can’t overdo it in

the tropics, you know.”

 

Jake cleared his throat—a rasping, guttural sound—then marched Quentin through the small office building, a relic of colonial days.  Moving from room to room, Quentin became progressively repelled by an overwhelming stench. 

 

“God!  What’s that smell?”

 

“Well, Langston said we had a pest problem.  That’s it.  Mainly dead rats, rat shit, and a mix of dead locusts.  Get up in the ceiling and die.  Can’t get anybody to go up there and clean it out.”

 

Gagging, Quentin rushed to the door.

 

*  *  *

 

Quentin quickly realized a two-hour office day was quite enough.  The fact that anyone at all applied for a visa surprised him.  Impoverished as they were, most local people did not travel anywhere, let alone to America.  Sometimes tough-faced oil workers stopped by to renew their passports.  Once in a while a washed-out American salesman stumbled in for a notarial.  And, twice, random seamen who, in an alcoholic daze, had signed on to a rusting river steamer pleaded for consular intervention to gain their release.

 

Occasionally, Father Timothy Delaney, a Catholic priest from further up river, showed up in his battered Chevrolet to check on visa applications for members of his congregation.  Rosy-cheeked and invariably in good spirits, Delaney possessed a truly luminous smile.  Quentin found himself drawn to Delaney immediately.  Goodness seemed to wrap around him like a halo.  Even Jake treated the priest amicably. 

 

Quentin also soon determined the Consulate provided little service on behalf of the American taxpayers who supported it.

 

“Why are we here?” he asked Jake one day.

 

“Simple.  It’s the Russians.  They go somewhere—we gotta be there too.”

 

“But Jake, there aren’t any Russians here.”

 

“Yeah.  They pulled out years ago.  Guess the boys in Foggy Bottom are just slow to react.”

 

Jake had been right.  Quentin detested the place.  A walking tour of the town, which clung to the banks of a dark, oozing river, convinced him.  In recent years, a narrow highway had reached the town and spanned the river over a bridge dedicated by the then President.  Just after the ceremony—Jake delighted in a gruesome narration—the President had been hacked to death by a gang of men armed with pangas.

 

Quentin failed to grasp the character of the flourishing arts and crafts of the local people, their industrious farming, and their rich oral traditions.  Instead, his impressions came bathed in darkness.  He saw only the beggars, some leprous, clustered outside the town’s hotel, feared the thieves roaming the nights, and drew back at the trash littering the streets.

 

On market days, when the town swarmed with arm-waving, jabbering people, dragging baskets and carrying burdens on their heads, Delaney pronounced the place vibrant, alive.   Quentin, however, found the rancid smell of it all—of urine, of rotting fruit, of greasy smoke from cooking fires, and of unclean bodies—depressing. 

 

Langston refused to endorse Quentin’s transfer request.

 

“Give it a chance.  You’ll get used to it.”

 

Soon, Quentin asked again.  This time Langston forwarded his request to Washington.  The cable, however, only evoked a snide rejection—tour of duty is eighteen months, everyone to serve their share at hardship posts.  Quentin’s face sagged as he read the response.  He crumpled the cable and flipped it into a wastebasket.

 

 “Well, buddy boy, looks like you’re stuck here for awhile.”  Jake delighted in Quentin’s failed efforts at curtailing his assignment.

 

Two local employees worked at the Consulate—a young woman named Mary, who helped with consular matters, and a general factotum named Charles.  Mary, honest and hardworking, spent a good deal of her time avoiding Jake’s hands.  Charles tended to nap outside in the courtyard.  Mary told Quentin that Jake’s bullying had driven away another clerk and a chauffeur.  Quentin suspected Jake had not reported their termination to the Embassy and was continuing to submit pay vouchers. 

 

Quentin tried, really tried, to get along with Jake.  After all, he’d benefitted from a certain upbringing.  Aunt Angelica, his dead father’s sister, who’d taken him over when he was seven, had seen to that.  She’d always told him, the more lowdown people were, the more mannerly you ought to be toward them.  That was because God had not endowed them with as much intelligence as He had others, and they couldn’t help themselves. 

 

But his aunt had never faced the likes of Jake Hundley.  Jake was out to get him.  Perhaps Jake thought Quentin would report his fiscal manipulations.  Perhaps Jake simply didn’t like him.  Perhaps he needed a victim.  Whatever the reason, Jake’s antenna, like those of a predatory insect, regularly pointed in Quentin’s direction.  Langston, over whom Jake had some kind of hold, looked the other way.   

 

Incidents multiplied.  Jake denounced Quentin for issuing a visa to a young woman sent for by her “father” in Detroit.  Quentin realized too late someone had likely forged her documents.  But it wasn’t inauthentic documents that fired Jake’s anger.  A solid chunk of irate personality, he’d planted his hands on Quentin’s desk and leaned into his face.  Reeking of tobacco and booze, Jake had growled, “You stupid shit, you didn’t collect our cut.  Now she’s gone.”

 

He offered no further explanation.

 

Every other week, Quentin waited eagerly for the mail.  Reading his mail afforded him a few moments of pleasure, a diversion from the bizarre world around him.  Jake realized this.  Twice, having picked up the pouch at the airport, for days he forgot to tell Quentin he had any letters. 

 

Quentin fired off another transfer request.  Two weeks later Jake dropped the response on his desk.

 

“Tough luck.”  He grinned at Quentin with his squid mouth.

 

Quentin’s desperation mounted.

 

He continued to search for the reason Jake tormented him.  He did what work he was assigned.  He treated Jake with as much courtesy as he could muster.  He tried humor.  He tried reason.  Nothing worked.   

 

 

 

Still Quentin persevered, insisting to himself he could take whatever Jake Hundley had to offer.  After all, Angelica had also taught him to treat acts of aggression as tests of his moral fiber.  Despite such self-assurances, he felt increasingly vulnerable as Jake probed and picked, always searching for a weakness he might exploit.

 

Finally, in the third month, Quentin went to Langston for help—pleaded with him; described the situation as unbearable—beyond unbearable.  Langston smiled like a benign schoolmaster.

 

“Oh, I know Jake can be difficult.  Up from the ranks, you know.  Rough as a cob.  But you’ll get by.  Count it part of your education.”

 

“But.  I’ve never encountered . . .”

 

“Sorry.  Can’t chat.  The wife’s meeting me for some golf and a little baccarat.  Back next week.”

 

Quentin discerned only a look of uncaring ignorance in Langston’s eyes, nothing more. 

 

“Speaking of golf.  Here’s my old putter.”  Langston brightened.  “Maybe you can practice a bit on my carpet.  Good way to relax.”

 

Baffled by Langston’s response, Quentin accepted the proffered golf club.  The leather grip settled compliantly against his palm.  Unsure of what to do with it, he propped the putter against the door frame on his way out.

 

Putting for relaxation.  My God.

 

*  *  *

 

The next day—a Saturday—Quentin drove the Range Rover to the airport, met the charter that delivered the mail pouch, and returned to the Consulate.  Langston’s office was blessed with an air conditioner, and the odor seemed less pervasive there.  Mail was like an elixir, the pick-me-up Quentin needed. 

 

He happily read two notes in Angelica’s flowing hand, browsed through a Brooks Brothers catalog, and relished a letter from his friend, Donald, who was living in Italy.

Donald wrote that he was thriving in Florence and up to his ears with work on a novel.  What a happy, fulfilling life he must be leading.

 

Quentin had started toward the door, when Jake came crashing into the room, like one of the local rouge elephants then wreaking havoc.

 

“Little bitch.  Thought she’d play games on me.  I taught her.  Kicked her ass.”

 

Local girls slipped in and out of Jake’s quarters at all times of day or night.  Quentin had no idea which one he might be talking about.

 

“I was just leaving.”  He edged toward the door.

 

“You laughing at me?”

 

“No.  Why would I . . .?”

 

“Cause you think you’re too good for . . .”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“I bet you went down to them juke joints in . . . wherever the hell it was.  Got your share of . . .”

 

He was extraordinarily drunk.

 

“Or were boys more your style?” 

 

“Jake, I’m late for . . . can’t we talk later?”

 

Jake responded with a rolling belch.

 

As Quentin again moved toward the door, Jake cut him off and grabbed his wrist.

 

“What’s a matter?  You scared?”

 

“Come on, Jake.  I just want to . . .”

 

Jake’s fist smashed into Quentin’s face and knocked him spinning to the carpet.

 

“Bastard.  Teach you . . .”

 

 “Stay back,” Quentin said loudly, his voice freighted with fear.  As he groped for support to regain his feet, his fingers found the grip of the putter, still leaning against the jam. 

 

Jake came at him.

 

Instinctively, Quentin swung the club in an awkward one-handed arc.  The weighted metal thudded against the side of Jake’s head.  Jake flopped to the floor, moaned, and lay still.

 

Quentin waited for the downed man to move, to come at him again.  Nothing.  Tentatively Quentin prodded Jake with his shoe.  Nothing.  Jake’s mouth lay open in a small oval, as if he were saying, oh.  Dead!  Jake Hundley was dead! 

 

Quentin dropped into Langston’s executive chair and swiveled from side to side.  He only stopped his swiveling to gaze at a pair of flies which landed on Jake’s face and skipped about on his lips. 

 

Two o’clock.  What to do?  Self-defense—Jake had attacked him.  Surely anyone could see that.  Or could they?  Quentin began to tremble.  Perspiration wetted his collar.  Who’d believe him?  Reason fled, its place usurped by panic.   

 

 

Quentin fumbled with the combination and tugged open the door of the office vault.  Then, straining mightily, he dragged Jake’s body into the vault and wedged it between two safes.  He pushed the door shut behind him and spun the dial on the lock.

 

A red-brown stain darkened in Langston’s beige carpet.  Quentin knelt and frenetically tried to blot it up with his handkerchief.  The blood emitted a metallic odor.  His rubbing only seemed to render the stain darker, more apparent.  Quentin pulled down a small rug that served as a wall hanging and placed it over the stain.

 

Should he notify local authorities?  Call the Embassy?  Try to reach Langston?  While these thoughts bounded through his mind, the phone on Langston’s desk, like a prop in a stage play, jangled, again and again.  Quentin ignored it and went out, locking the office door behind him.  Startled, he jerked his head up when a crowd of birds whirred up out of the trees with beating wings.  He slid behind the wheel of the Range Rover.  Quentin had to escape.  But how?  To where?

 

He drove aimlessly around the town for a time, and then followed the hard-topped road along the river.  Buried in worry, he suddenly confronted a horn-blaring bus almost head-on.  Hitting the brakes and cramping the wheel, he barely escaped a collision.  Sweat rushing from every pore, he pulled over and sat staring at the brown-yellow water flowing languidly by.  Squawking birds skirmished over detritus at the river’s edge. 

 

His emotions bounced like microscopic billiard balls, and Quentin began to sob.  He had not sobbed so pathetically since he was a small boy seeking comfort in the folds of Aunt Angelica’s skirt.  But after he’d gulped convulsively for air, a purposeful serenity embraced him. 

-----

 

Quentin hurried back to his cottage to pack.  This time when the phone rang, he snatched it up.  He assumed his most matter-of-fact voice.

 

“Where’ve you been?” Langston said.  “Trying to get you or Jake all afternoon.”

 

“Just doing some errands.”

 

“Even tried the office.  Anyway, a colleague over here tells me there’s a State

Department inspection team headed our way.  Could even be there tomorrow night.”

 

“Why . . . ?”

 

“Maybe all those transfer requests.  Anyway, I’m hotfooting it back.”

 

“When will you get here?” Quentin asked with forced casualness.

 

“Should be there first thing in the morning.  Not seemly if the Consul’s not around when they drop in.”  Langston sounded like a truant, worried he’d be caught in the act.

 

“Yes,” Quentin said, “they might get the wrong impression.”

 

“Anyway, you and Jake hold the fort until I get there.  Where is he, anyway?”

 

“Sorry.  No idea.”

 

Quentin scrutinized his watch.  Five o’clock.  Langston would likely get to the office by eight in the morning.  It would not take long before he found Jake.   

 

Why had Quentin put Jake in the vault?  Perhaps he should go back.  But like the onset of a necrophobic allergy, the prospect of touching the corpse again repelled him.   

 

Langston would quickly determine Quentin had gone missing.  He would call the Embassy and the Operations Center in Washington, then he’d phone his poker playing pal, the Chief of the Provincial Police.  River landings, roads, airports, borders—all would quickly fall under police scrutiny.  Quentin had to get out of the country—before the gates slammed shut.

 

He climbed back into the Range Rover and drove out of the town.  He’d never traveled this route and had to puzzle his way along, relying on a tattered ESSO map.  He estimated the border to be 100 miles away.  Quentin had no notion of what he would do once he crossed it.

 

Set afire by villagers, fields flamed perilously close to the road.  A consequent haze filtered the late afternoon sun as if through an oil-smeared lens.  The acrid smoke insinuated itself in the vehicle, causing Quentin’s eyes to water and triggering a spasm of coughing. 

 

Quentin dreaded what might lie ahead.  His imagination brimmed with possibilities, all of them threatening.  The copper sun soon plummeted below the skyline, and the black of night clamped over him like a breath-denying hood. 

 

He encountered few vehicles.  From time to time, human figures, fleetingly illuminated by his headlights, tried to flag him down.  Quentin sped past them.   

 

 

The needle of the gas gauge slipped lower.  But a glance over his shoulder at the jerry can of emergency gasoline reassured him.  Jake always kept it full. 

 

At about nine o’clock, rain began to wash over the vehicle in foamy sheets.  The rain scrubbed away the smoke.  But it also fostered a flowing curtain of water that sucked up his lights.  He slowed, struggling to see ahead though the fan-shaped blur of the flailing wipers. 

 

Lightning crashed alongside the road and capered across the forest roof, sporadically lighting the night green-white.  The meteorological mayhem exhausted him; it frightened him.  Quentin’s stomach rumbled—he’d eaten nothing since morning—and his arms throbbed from holding the wheel.  Straddling the center of the road, he became disoriented.  Was he moving down the road?  Or was the road moving beneath him?  He was in a near-hallucinatory state. 

 

Quentin did his best to block Jake from his consciousness.  But the recollection of his tormentor had emblazoned itself in his mind.  Perhaps Jake barely qualified; still, Quentin had killed a human being.  In response to that realization, Quentin chanted an internal mantra.  I’m not a bad person.  I’m not a violent person.  I only tried to save myself.  He attacked me.  How could it all have happened?  How?   

 

 

Bleary-eyed, he squinted at the gas gauge.  Almost empty.  He feared making a stop, but he had no choice.  He opened the back of the Range Rover, leaned in, and loosed the straps securing the jerry can.  When he picked it up, it was as if Jake had punched him again.  Empty—the can was empty.

 

Captured by a bleak melancholy, Quentin slumped on the seat, listening to the rain thrumming on the roof.  His chin dropped against his chest—he dozed, and then snored.

 

He awoke somewhat refreshed and started off again.  The storm had passed, but now Quentin watched resignedly as the gauge crawled toward “empty.”  He could not make it to the border.     

 

As the stars dimmed and morning light pierced red and pink holes in the forest canopy, he pulled off the road.  Thick jungle growth screened him from anyone passing by.  When it became lighter, he abandoned the Range Rover and struck out for the highway.   

 

 

However hungry and exhausted he might be, his hopes scampered when he sighted an approaching bus.  Like a sailor lost at sea who spies a ship, he signaled frantically.  But the bus sailed on, the driver serenading him with his musical horn—“The Yellow Rose of Texas.”  Passengers waved and hooted from the roof and through open windows.

 

Trucks roared past.  His hopes rose again when a taxi slowed.  But it too zoomed by, gesticulating passengers urging the driver to add no more to the crowd.  Eight o’clock had come and gone.  Surely Langston had alerted the authorities to his disappearance.

 

A car flashed by headed toward the town, slid to a stop, and backed up.  Father Delaney rolled down his window and leaned out of his Chevrolet, confirming Quentin’s identity.

 

“Whatever brings you here?” 

 

Quentin stumbled over to the car.  He knew he looked bedraggled.

 

He mumbled something about engine trouble and needing to get to the border.

 

“I’ve just come from there,” said Father Delaney.  “It’s only twenty minutes or so.  I could run you back, but . . .”

 

“Yes.  Please.”

 

With Quentin slumped on the seat next to him, Father Delaney said, “I wonder what’s going on.  I saw a truckload of soldiers at the gatehouse.  Looking for someone I suppose.”

 

Too late.  Like stones piled on a condemned man, the reality of it all crushed Quentin’s spirit.

 

“I’ve changed my mind.  Please go back to town.”

 

What to do?  His goal had been the border.  Like a thickly viscous fluid, panic congealed his ability to think. 

 

“You in some kind of trouble?” Delaney asked.

 

The priest had turned a key.  Quentin blurted out his story.  His eyes straight ahead on the road, Delaney listened.

 

“I suspect it’s sanctuary you’ll be needing.”

 

“Yes.  Yes.”

 

Father Delaney tilted his head toward Quentin and smiled empathetically.  “Your

colleague, Mr. Hundley, was not a nice fellow.  I think this all needs a bit of sorting out.”

 

Abruptly Delaney turned off the road onto a rutted track.  They bounced along for twenty minutes until the track split.

 

“Right one goes down to the river and the church,” Delaney announced.

 

He veered left.

 

After another half hour of sinuous steering through creeping damp vegetation that threatened to overwhelm the trail, they broke out in a clearing.  There stood a small, whitewashed house, its thatched roof draped with purple-red bougainvillea. 

 

“It’s mine.  You’ll be comfortable here.”

 

Was it true?  Jake had regularly claimed Delaney had a place where he stashed mistresses.

 

The priest stood beside the car and spoke to a woman who’d come round the house.

 

“Old woman here lives out back.  Looks after the place.  Need anything.  Just ask her.  Can’t cook though.”

 

The woman made a sour face; but her expression transformed immediately into a welcoming, albeit toothless, grin. 

 

Father Delaney hopped back in his vehicle.  “Have to go.  Make yourself at home.”

 

“But when will . . .?”

 

“See you tomorrow.”  Off he went.

 

When Quentin entered the house, he only saw the bed—nothing else existed.  He crashed onto the white sheets and plunged into a maelstrom of deep sleep.  Sanctuary.   

 

*  *  *

Quentin wanted for little in his place of refuge.  Cans of food and bottles of wine lined several shelves.  The old woman delivered boiled and filtered water on a daily basis.  Best of all, the place came equipped with a battery-powered radio.  It was like a window on the world.  Through crackling static, Quentin learned that police in several countries were on the lookout for him. 

 

Some people theorized he had killed his colleague in a dispute over a girl.  Others theorized they had fought when Quentin resisted Jake’s advances—or Jake, Quentin’s.  Some theorized Quentin had slipped across the border.  The provincial chief assured reporters Quentin had wandered off into the jungle.  His body would never be found.  No one spoke of his possible innocence, dampening any vagrant consideration of turning himself in.

 

Often, when flies scurried along the wall, Quentin’s mind summoned up the image of the flies’ death dance on Jake’s face.  Over time, however, whatever regret the death imposed on Quentin’s conscience disappeared.  Regret of a different sort consumed him, regret that a chance encounter with a lowlife like Jake had irrevocably destroyed his own life.  Innocent of any crime, yet Quentin found himself transformed into a hunted person, on the run—alone as he’d ever been in his life.  Could fate have inflicted a more cruel treachery? 

 

Daydreams ferried him out of the jungle to a life left behind or never realized.  He sipped tea in the courtyard of his aunt’s place in New Orleans.  He lounged among beach-goers in Nice.  He scoffed up mussels in Brussels.  He blazed down the toll roads of France in a red Lamborghini.  There was no end to it.

 

Weeks passed.  Then one day, in a tattered Herald Tribune Delaney dropped off, Quentin read that someone he’d known in Amsterdam claimed to have spotted him in San Remo.  After that people reported seeing him, like a will o’ the wisp, in all sorts of places—Madrid, Sydney, Stockholm, and Rabat.  The mystery of what happened that day in Langston’s office captivated diplomats and reporters, their unsatisfied curiosity periodically rekindled by fresh Quentin sightings.

 

 One evening, when they were well into a second bottle of a Riesling, Delaney asked Quentin, “Did Jake ever mention me?  I mean in connection with Consulate work.”

 

“I don’t think so, but . . .”

 

“Nothing about the birth and baptismal records the visa candidates presented?”

 

Father Delaney recharged their glasses.

 

“Sometimes, we find ourselves traveling strange roads,” Delaney said.  “As you are now.”

 

What was Delaney talking about?

 

“Our little mission needed money.  And, for many of those desperate souls, a visa to the US was a vehicle to salvation—at least on this earth.”

 

“You mean . . .”

 

“I provided a service for which your colleague rewarded me.  The visa candidate ‘sponsors,’ in turn, rewarded Jake.  I even helped him select the applicants.”

 

He hung his head and turned away.

 

“I’d already learned of Jake’s death at the border crossing that morning,” Delaney went on.  “When I saw you, I assumed you knew of my involvement with him.  You’d likely tell the authorities, and many innocents might suffer.  So, you see, Quentin, picking you up was no simple act of altruism.”

 

“I didn’t know.”

*  *  *

 

Quentin became a calendar watcher, constantly on edge, worried some forest traveler might become aware of his presence.  Yet he did not pass his days in a wholly unpleasant manner.  Two bookcases provided an eclectic library of old books.  He worked his way through Hudson’s Green Mansions (no Bird Girl appeared in his forest), Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit (he decided Langston defined the word Pecksniffian), and Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Quentin too felt besieged and cut off).

 

Quentin could pick up the BBC at night, and, with a few cranks of the handle, he could animate a collection of vinyl records on an old Victorola—His Master’s Voice.  He supposed it to be incongruous in that remote, wild place, but he happily lost himself in Puccini, Bizet, and Verdi.  Despite the amenities, sense of safety, and forgetful moments of pleasure, he continued to dwell on the notion of being gone—gone to someplace where he could vanish into anonymity.

 

Quentin expressed no contrition over Jake’s death, and Father Delaney required none.

Father Delaney did, however, promise that, once things “quieted down,” he would help Quentin leave the country.

*  *  *

 

One afternoon during the third month of Quentin’s enforced residence, Father Delaney rattled up to the house in his old car.  He brought news.

 

“It’s all arranged.  We leave tonight.”

 

After weeks of hoping, Quentin experienced a surprising rush of reluctance at actually leaving.  But, quickly as it had come, his reluctance dissipated—in its place, a surge of euphoric excitement.

 

Good to his word, as darkness fell the priest arrived at the house.  Quentin climbed into the car and waved to the old woman.

 

While Father Delaney maneuvered through tropical greenery brushing against the car, he explained what had been arranged.  Fear and anticipation battled for domination in Quentin’s chest as the priest sketched the plan.

 

He handed Quentin an envelope.  “You’ll be needing this,” he said. 

 

“The money?”

 

“Yes.  Took a long time.  Had to be careful to obscure where it came from.  Where it was going.  Ten thousand dollars.”

 

What must Quentin’s kindly aunt, now in her seventies, have thought?  Mysterious phone calls.  Strange people.  Odd addresses.  But she hadn’t failed him.

 

“Here’s your passport.  You’re a Canadian now.  Visas and stamps show you’ve long lived overseas.  The real fellow died ten years ago.”

 

Father Delaney smiled—the smile of a smug conspirator.

 

For the next two hours he primed Quentin with details of his new identity.  He also told him Langston had been sacked and the consulate closed (unfit for habitation).  Later, after they’d shared a light supper, Quentin passed the night in a tiny room at the back of the church, where he managed a few fitful hours on a cot.  He jerked awake with Father Delaney shaking his shoulder.

 

“Time to go.”

 

Flashlight in hand, Delaney guided Quentin through the moonless night down to the river.  The hair on Quentin’s neck stood erect at the prospect of crocodiles lying in the mist that rose along the water’s edge.

 

“Don’t worry.  Just stay close.”

 

Delaney allowed their dugout to drift out into the stream before he jerked the starter cord on the ancient Evinrude.  The motor performed smoothly, but on the silent river it generated what seemed to Quentin to be an attention-getting roar.  When morning broke and other vessels, large and small, appeared on the river his fears receded.  The putt-putt-putt of Delaney’s motor became one among several.

 

Father Delaney had outfitted Quentin with a wide-brimmed straw hat and a shawl.  Quentin welcomed the anonymity they provided, especially on the following day when they passed the very place where, months before, he’d sat anguishing over what to do.  He’d tried, with increasing success, to blot Jake from his mind.  But, as he and Delaney glided under the bridge and through the town, recollections of that day spun through his mind, like resurrected and fragmentary dreams.   

 

Three nights later, Quentin and Father Delaney faced each other on a barely lighted pier.  They shook hands.  Then, laden with a burden it seemed likely he would carry forever, Quentin plodded up the gangway of a rusting Panamanian freighter bound for three or four African ports and, eventually, Malta.  The ship’s master raised an acknowledging hand to Delaney, and a seaman led Quentin aft to his quarters.  Once inside his cabin, Quentin peered out a porthole, probing the murky darkness for his benefactor.  But he saw nothing.

 

The sightings might continue for a time.  But he clung to the hope that eventually he’d be forgotten.  After that, well, Donald would still be at work on his book, and who’d pay attention to one more scruffy foreigner hanging around in the Piazza della Signoria or on the beaches of Majorca.

 

While Quentin stared into the darkness, the ship began to move.

 

  

 

 

 

As a career diplomat, Lawrence F. Farrar served in Japan (multiple tours), Norway, Germany, and Washington, DC.  Short term assignments took him to more than 30 countries. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer.  In addition to appearances in GHLL, his stories have most recently been published in such magazines as Big Muddy, Zone 3, Curbside Splendor E-Zine, Tampa Review Online, O-Dark-Thirty, Jelly Bucket, The Write Room, Bryant Literary Review, Marathon Literary Review, Cheat River Review, and Streetlight. Farrar’s stories often deal with people coming up against the norms of a foreign society.