Travel Mates

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Hiatus

We are sad to report that, with the strange disappearance of out soul mate and de facto leader Tomboy, we cannot continue Travel Mates.

But all is not lost. See Elsters World for a new fiction collaboration of J-Bloggers and we all hope that Tommy gets back to the cyber world at some point.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you who read our story....

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Watcher

The City had two major airports within a five-mile distance. To the north was Abraham Lincoln International Airport, the third largest airport in the country, with its endless rows of gleaming jet planes laid out like a vast winged army. South of the City, just off the Cross-Parkway, was the Jonah T. Parker airport, named for one of the City’s original founders.

But The Watcher wasn’t interested in the big boys. He was twelve miles further down the Jefferson Parkway, at the miniscule, private Henderson Airfield. The light rain didn’t bother him in the slightest. He had spent too much time in far away places, in much worse weather conditions than a little mist.

He sat in the tree line one hundred yards outside the airstrip, picked up the collar of his camo windbreaker, and peered through the lens of his high speed Canon digital camera at the Travel Club private plane.

Even in an airfield filled with only Cessnas and small private jets, the Travel Club jet stood out like a sore thumb. It was white and gold, looked like it had cabin space for about fifteen people, and had the Travel Club company logo on its tail.

The Watcher had one job. “Keep surveillance on that plane until it takes off,” his superior had told him. “I want pictures and descriptions of every person who gets on that plane today.”

“How do you know they are flying today?” he had uncharacteristically asked.

“Ever since 9/11 you can’t fly without filing a flight plan. Hell, you can’t get a freaking fruit fly up in the sky without a flight plan.”

The Watcher didn’t ask where the plane was going. It didn’t matter to him one way or the other. If they needed him to go where the plane’s occupants were going, they would simply send him there. The Watcher had learned over time that Travel Club wasn’t the only company with seemingly endless resources.

So The Watcher stopped asking questions, picked up his gear, and headed to Henderson Airfield. Security was for the crapper. He could have gotten himself on board the plane if he so chose, but instead disappeared into the trees and settled in to wait. Others would have passed the time wondering about who would be showing up to get on the plane, but not the Watcher. He wasn’t paid to wonder. He was paid to carry out the dirty jobs his superiors needed taken care of. He was a fixer. No fuss, no muss. And today his job was to watch an airplane and take some pictures. It was all the same to him. So long as he got paid well, there were very few jobs out there he wouldn’t do.

A small prop plane roared down the runway and into the gray sky. The Watcher gave it a second’s glance before shaking rain off the brim of his hat and focusing on the plane. He leaned back against a tree just a bit, not too comfortable, just enough to not tighten up. He didn’t mind the wait though, he been in much uglier spots than this. All in all, it was a pretty fine day.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


The first thought that ran through my head when I saw the cheque was, "Oh. My. God. That. Is. A. Lot. Of. Money." It could buy me a place to stay, a full stomach, some (more) new clothes...not a bad deal.

My second thought was, "Yeah...if it doesn't get stolen". It probably would, with my kind of luck. And all my "friends" would be showing up for their piece of the pie as soon as word got around that I'd come into some money.

My third thought was, "What's the catch?" There just had to be one. So I spoke:
"You said there was a deal, John." And I wanted to know what I was signing away as soon as I endorsed that cheque.

Turns out, the catch was that we could either take the money and run with it, or we could get what we signed up for--"the travel experience of a lifetime", which of course, the British jerk somehow managed to talk on and on about without ever getting specific. Oh, and apparently this "Company" knows waaaaay too much about all of us, which rather creeped me out. How the heck did they know that Jan was looking for me? And that I was starting to think that I'd need to find a new street to park my cardboard box on, because signs pointed to him being pretty close to finding me? Granted, they already knew too much about me from the beginning, considering that they found me in the first place, but still...

The second catch was that we had to decide on the spot. Paul was the first to accept; he took the travel deal. Suzie just stood by her post at the door, thinking her own private thoughts. I had to come up with an answer, and fast.

"Okay," I thought to myself, "I can take my chances with the travel thing. It will probably be pretty good anyway, not to mention all expenses paid. God knows, I can't get too much further away from Jan than that private airplane will take me. He sure won't find me if I'm out of the country, and that can't be a bad thing. On the other hand, who the HECK are these 'Company' people and how do they know so much? Do I really want to take my chances with these freaky all-knowing uptight weirdos? And do I want to spend the entire trip, wherever it is, with these two people (or maybe only one, since who knows what Suzie will choose), neither of whom has left an entirely positive impression yet? Then again, what would I do when the money runs out, if I don't go? Go back to keeping house in a refridgerator box? Jan would find me, somehow, and when he does, I'll be lucky if there's any of me to take to the hospital, if I'm even still alive. Oh heck, I may as well go--if nothing else, maybe they can leave me in another country for good."

All of this, of course, was going through my head silently as I kept as good of a poker face as I could. I only spoke when I had my final answer ready, and then I spoke smoothly and calmly, "I'll take the travel experience as well." No need to let the others in on my calculations, especially not John. Since I trusted him about as far as I could throw a gorilla.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All Apologies

The management would like to apologize for the delay in the next installment of Travel Mates. We guaranty a new installment will be up and running early next week (even if I have to write it myself).

As a reward for your patience, the next installment will be absolutely free. That's right, free. We hope this makes up for any inconveniences.

Have a nice weekend.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Deal

“Please,” the man said. “Come in.” He gestured to the door behind him. Suzie, Paul and Kira shuffled in, dazed and a little pissed, past the man who was well-mannered enough to hold the door for them all. He was wearing a Burberry suit that probably cost twelve hundred dollars and he had a magnificent British accent. “Please call me John.”

The office they entered looked just like the office of a man with a Burberry suit and a British accent. It was all dark woods, rich leathers and plush carpets. The man took a seat in a massive leather chair behind the desk. Suzie remained standing by the door, hands firmly wedged in her pockets. Kira and Paul took seats on a couch which was so soft, Paul figured he’d need a crane to pull him out of it.

“Our apologies for the slight deception,” the man said. “The Traveler's Club is most exclusive and secretive. Many precautions must be taken.”

“So the rats in a cage thing is precautious?” Suzie mumbled from her post. She seemed unwilling to stray from the door, lest they all get locked in with the man Paul was already thinking of as Jeeves.

The man ignored her or pretended not to hear. “The Club, or Company, would like to offer each one of you a deal.” He opened up a large drawer under the desk and extracted three envelopes. He got up and handed one to each of the three contest winners.

Paul saw that the envelope had his name on it. He slid his finger across the glued seal and opened the envelope, shaking out its contents into his hand. A single piece of paper came out. It was a bank check, made out to him, in the amount of $7,500. He whistled. He could tell from Suzie and Kira’s reactions that they were equally impressed. “That’s a lot of bread, Jeeves.”

“Indeed. Seven Thousand, Five Hundred Dollars to each of you.”

Kira broke the thoughtful silence. “You said there was a deal, John.” Paul sensed an almost desperate quality in her voice.

John smiled at her, like a kindly grandfather. “Yes. Indeed there is. The checks are in your names. You can take them right now as your prizes for winning the contest and simply walk away. Or…” he trailed off. They all waited for the other shoe to drop. Even Suzie seemed to move forward from the door post to hear the great “or”. “The other choice is to give the money back and instead take the option originally presented to you. The travel experience of a lifetime.”

“Yeah,” said Suzie. “We keep hearing about this so-called adventure of a lifetime. But maybe it’s time to elaborate a little.”

“Oh trust me, Ms. Suzie,” John replied with a condescending smile. “You will go places and see things…” he trailed off. “It’s far more rewarding than taking Japanese tourists on weekend jaunts in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Suzie’s jaw dropping was almost cartoon-ish.

John’s face was back to Paul. “Consider well. The money would buy you a new computer for your writing, plus pay the rent on your, ah, living quarters for several months.” Not to mention pay for a couple of steaks at a halfway decent place, Paul thought.

“And Kira, consider this. The travel experience of a lifetime is the chance to get away from some situation you are in now.” He stared at her, knowing and hard. “Or from someone perhaps. Though on the other hand, the money could allow for somewhat of a fresh start.

“And Ms. Suzie.” Strongly condescending again. “Even a professional like you cannot dream of the type of experience this would allow for you. One of your adventurous nature would regret not going your entire life. And besides,” the grandfatherly smile was back, “what’s money to someone like you?”

With that, John sat back in his chair, leaning forward slightly. “Under normal circumstances, we would give you some time to decide. Obviously, this is a fairly difficult choice. However, the travel experience begins soon. There is a private plane waiting at Henderson Airfield right now for those who choose to go. It leaves in two hours. And please,” he waved them all off with his gesturing hands, “let’s not go through the theater of you claiming that you could not possibly leave on such short notice. We know perfectly well that all of you can. So, let me put it in terms you all can understand. The time has come, as you Americans say, to put up or shut up."


A heavy, almost disbelieving silence descended. After about ninety seconds, Paul broke it. He looked at Kira and Suzie more than Jeeves. “Don’t know about you kids, but for me this is a no-brainer.” He smiled. “Seventy five hundred bucks aint enough bread to retire on anyway. Tell you what Jeeves, you keep the money, I’ll get on that plane. Never been on a private plane before. Hope it has a stocked bar.”

“Excellent Paul.” John turned to the remaining players. “Well, ladies. We need some answers from you both as well. And as I said, we need them right now.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lock Picks are Lovely

To get by on the streets, you always have to act cooler and tougher than you really are, so I had a lot of practice putting on an act. Plus, it was just fun to be wearing clean, new clothes that actually fit. I wouldn’t have cared if I’d met Paul and the other woman (who’d remained mum about her name) in my old stuff, but since the Company seemed to want me to be more respectable-looking, I figured I could act the part.

I pretended to be interested in Paul, who seemed a bit full of himself but not a bad fellow, and at least he talked. The other woman just stood and glowered at me, until she suddenly tried opening the door she was leaning against. It opened to a dimly lit, dank corridor, though the smell didn’t bother me since I was used to much worse. Like total idiots, Paul and I followed the woman in without leaving someone to hold the door open behind us, and I mentally cursed when I heard it lock with a quiet click. Still, true to my new persona as a cool, collected person, I didn’t let my exasperation show as I shared this observation with the others.

Paul looked like he was going to be ill and made some inane comment about chewing gum. The woman let out a long, colorful string of curse words, then shut her mouth, perhaps realizing that swearing wasn’t going to get us out of there. I didn’t say anything, but walked up to the door that she’d been unsuccessfully trying to open at the other end of the corridor. It was fairly securely locked, but nothing I couldn’t handle. If I was going to pick a lock, I may as well pick the one that led somewhere besides that sterile waiting room.

Without telling them what I was going to do, I reached down into my shoe for my lock picks, pretending to fix a shoelace. I thanked God and my lucky stars that I’d remembered to take them into the bathroom with me at the hotel; otherwise, they’d have disappeared with my old clothes. Still, I didn’t want them to know what I was doing, so I had to come up with a diversion.

“You, what’s your name—“

“Suzie,” she replied sullenly.

“Suzie, you and Paul try to get that other lock open. Maybe it’s not as secure as this one. I’ll try my luck at this end.”

Suzie looked mutinous, but Paul seemed to be glad of something he could do to pretend to be useful. He nodded, grabbed Suzie’s hand, and yanked her down to the other end of the hallway, Suzie muttering under her breath as she went.

I gave a mental shrug. She didn’t have to like me, I just needed the two of them out of the way for a minute so I could get at the lock without them seeing. I quickly pulled the lock picks from my sweater sleeve, where I’d stashed them after removing them from my shoe. The door surprisingly wasn’t deadbolted, so it only took me about a minute to get it open.

“Hey, I got this one to open,” I called to Paul and Suzie, who were still struggling with the other door. I slid the lock picks into my waistband before they could turn around.

They quickly joined me by the door, which I’d opened only a crack—I wasn’t taking any more chances with this place.

“Shall we?” remarked Paul, trying to sound gallant and brave but failing.

I rolled my eyes and opened the door, which showed us another hallway, but more brightly-lit, and with doors that looked like offices on either side. Suddenly, one of the doors opened, and a well-dressed man stepped out and walked up to us.

“I see that you are already a resourceful team,” he remarked. “Welcome to the Company.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Open, Damn Sesame

When I assess people, I directly associate them with geographical sites. It's the tour-guide's syndrome.

Paul struck me as a Mount Rushmore, due to his natural self-importance and some charismatic magnitude. Plus, his sense of cultured intelligence seemed to hit an abyss between us. If there was ever a finalists' contest, he's sure to win, hands down.

But the woman who climbed the stairs in twos, gracefully avoiding the deceased palm and faces us, hand on hip, is the living St. Helens.

Paul runs his mandatory introduction agenda again, trying to break the silence of rain drumming on papered window panes. I dig lower into my cargo's pockets, and sulk.

"So, you're a winner?" he asks. Oh, natürlich! Check out those classy jeans and polo, dammit.

"Are you?" she asks, eying him with blatant mistrust.

"Every one is a winner," he shoots her a winning smile.

Oh my God, they killed Kenny. I thought I groaned mutely, circa my abdomen, but apparently it is audible.

He grins at me and wonders aloud if we ladies have any clue as to what our prize could be.

"Whatever it is," says St. Helens, "It's bound to be divided by three. I hope there are judges who will determine justly the ratios." What ratios? This is a win-win, woman. If you want more than your share, bite the hand that feeds you, whatever the hell the dog biscuit is.

She performs the impossible, and manages to plonk with poise on the butt-misshaping bench, crossing her awesome legs at the ankles. I see Paul quickly averting his eyes.

Oh great, now I'm beat to the alpha-female jealousy disorder.

"If it would be divided, you're welcome to my share, as long as we can spend it together over a drink or two," Paul machos on gallantly. She grins, I frown, and he pops another Juicy Fruit in his mouth, offering a second round.

Instead of accepting what is non-mint and therefore inedible, I return to my original quest - the door.

I press the handle. It clicks open. Alas, the door does not creak.

The corridor revealed is dank and smells of stale coffee. A single 60 watts bulb at its end, shedding darkness on a second door. I inch along, followed by the stratovolcano and Paul.

Open, Sesame.

I lunge onto the handle. Nada. I wrench it a few times more, disappointed, and turn around reluctantly.
"You can't wreck the unbreakable," sages Paul.

But the woman expresses a more profound notion. "Someone just locked us in from the outside."
And suddenly, we're hit with a collective wave of claustrophobia, as burnt coffee beans never reeked so dreadfully, not even in some godforsaken Bolivian plantation.

"Juicy Fruits, anyone?" whispers Paul.