Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Fragrance (10/24/05)
TITLE: Faces from the Past
By Peter Thomas
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Glancing at the broken bag of rock salt that had just nearly broke his neck, he remembered the fragrance. He’d smelled it at dinner, too, but all ten passengers were there and he didn’t know who it came from.
He started down the walkway, but stopped and leaned against the superstructure, squeezing his shoulder. He closed his eyes for a moment and visualized the faces of the ships crew and the other passengers. He knew their faces well. It was a habit he acquired years ago as a CIA field operative in Tangiers. The lean captain with greased-back hair and gray eyes. The first mate with a scar on his chin.
Seawater splashed along the hull as the ship rolled in the waves. Frank’s mind flashed back to the storeroom in his barn. The walls were covered with photos—intelligence photos of spies he’d known, terrorists he had betrayed, international assassins. Hundreds of faces wallpapered his storeroom. None of the faces on board matched up with the photos at his ranch on Kiska Island. But plastic surgery had come a long way. Too bad photos didn’t have smells.
He entered the galley. As he shut the big metal door, he held on tight against the roll of the boat. Don Bliss sat at the galley table with his wife. As usual, his expression suggested that he was somehow offended by your presence. His wife’s double chin quivered slightly as she zipped up her jacket. These were not faces he’d seen prior to this cargo cruise.
He climbed the stairwells to the wheelhouse. The captain and first mate turned, surprised at his sudden appearance. He headed for the wing door.
“Nobody goes out there,” the captain said.
Frank stopped. “Anybody come through here.”
The captain gave the first mate a perplexed look, then shrugged. “It’s almost midnight. Who you looking for?” He ran his hand through his hair and fixed his gray eyes on Frank. “What’s going on?”
“Some rock salt broke free,” Frank said.
The captain eyed the second mate and nodded toward the rear cargo deck. “Check those lashings, but be careful.”
The second mate slipped outside, his face unfamiliar.
Big exterior halogen deck lights illuminated the bow as the ship rolled in the ocean swell.
Frank turned to leave the wheelhouse. The captain said, “Be careful out there. You fall overboard, nobody’s gonna miss you ‘til morning.”
On the accommodation deck he paused. There was no getting off this ship for three days. He stopped at Father Carl’s door, but hesitated. He took a deep breath and knocked.
“My name’s Murdock. I’m sorry to wake you. I need to talk.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s . . . personal. I’m not religious.”
“Come on in. Just give me a few minutes.”
Air blew in through the porthole, filling the room with the smell of the sea. Frank sat and looked around. The father’s black clothes lay neatly folded on the bed. Frank closed his eyes and contemplated prayer for the first time in years. Photos raced through his mind, the faces whose every feature he memorized long ago. He couldn’t go on like this anymore, living in fear. He went to the bed and lifted the clothes to his nose. The musky smell. Before he could respond, Father Carl opened the door. Frank noticed a scrape along his cheek. “Sorry it took me so long. I went to the upper deck to pray. But fell on a lashing. Cut myself pretty good.”
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