Chapter 1 - The fairytale is over
Lilah was looking out the window at the dry flat landscape watching the miles of sparsely inhabited countryside fly by. The coach was fortunately air conditioned, and she knew that you could almost fry an egg on the stone walls she passed it was so hot. The journey would take over an hour and they’d been travelling for maybe ten minutes.
She had purposely chosen a seat behind the driver, she liked to orientate herself with the surroundings, be aware of what was happening. From behind her shades she watched a young couple trying to juggle their baby across the aisle. There were, she knew another twelve people on the vehicle. All had got on at various stops in the City, all were heading like her to the airport.
Glancing back out of the glass she could see a car on the horizon, another deserted road driving to another deserted village. She marvelled at the extent of this country, the isolation, the independence of these wonderful people. Occasionally the road narrowed to pass what was described as a village, but less than a dozen homes really only classed as a hamlet. Young children waved at the shiny new bus, their bare feet used to the ridiculous temperatures already, animals as wild as the children chasing after the bus.
As the bus slowed to negotiate a particularly difficult S bend, she noticed the driver curse, a small four door red car was jostling to overtake the coach and was being driven by an idiot who was obviously in a rush. The coach driver pulled over slightly as the road straightened and she could see him curse again as the car passed, kicking up a cloud of dust.
The vehicle whizzed past them, veering all over the road in its haste. Less than a mile later they passed through another village, both vehicles slowing to adhere to the speed enforcements, that civilisation brought to the dusty road. Passing another group of eight houses, the driver started to accelerate again when the red sporty car, still close in front of them, swung across the road, stopping at a right angle to the road, completely blocking their path. Lilah felt her heart start to pound as she saw four heavily masked men emerge with what she could only guess where machine guns stand and face the bus.
The driver was cursing far more strongly as he took in the vision ahead, and shaking his head he braked hard.
Lilah was suddenly terrified. In all the time she’d been here in this still documented as unstable country she’d not encountered any real danger, any real threats. Suddenly her heart was pounding sweat covering her brow. She was worried, very worried. She’d been in North Africa for three months, working as a nanny for a wealthy American, a man who’d won her over the first moment she’d met him, and his sweet little girl. Her parents had always been nervous of her taking on a job like this so far from home, but the moment she met first Gavin and then Maria herself she’d been hooked.
Gavin was a huge dark haired American and was the head of security for an International charity, he’d overwhelmed her with stories of his beautiful house in a safe and protected community. Gavin was busy in so many capacities, both in the country, but also travelling abroad. Since he’d lost his wife a year earlier, he’d struggled to manage his daughter. She’d been in boarding school but hated it, so he’d called in a nanny to care for her and home school her whilst he decided what to do. He spent his time between the other African nations...wherever the work took him, and he needed someone reliable to both school and care for Maria.
Lilah had qualified as a primary school teacher the previous year, and after a lengthy holiday and a lack of motivation to kick start her career she snapped up the opportunity to top up her tan, spend time with a cute little girl, and decide what she wanted to do with her life.
But it had all come crashing down earlier that day. Gavin’s parents had taken Maria for a week to Greece, a holiday home they’d rented to be near their granddaughter, so she had some time to herself, she was sunning by the pool slathered in high factor suntan lotion when the mobile Gavin had bought her had rung.
“Lilah? Some things have cropped up; you need to leave the house.” She normally loved his deep drawling chocolate laden voice, but today it was laced with tension.
He sighed, “nothing much, a few security issues. I want you away from the house. Just for a little while. I’m not saying you’re not safe, but I’m not there to support you, so I’d rather you be somewhere else.”
Within an hour a courier had brought her a month’s salary and a plane ticket leaving that day. But he hadn’t organised her transport out of there. The taxi’s were usually wild, taking corners on two wheels and overtaking where there was clearly NO room....So here she was on a coach...being held up at gunpoint. Was this to do with Gavin? Was this her fault?
The driver stood in the aisle and looked down the bus, fear and worry etching another ten years onto his face.
“Please, do as they say. There have been four things like this in one week, other buses...if you listen no one will be hurt.”
Lilah glanced around the bus. The young family opposite her were terrified, the mother trying to silence the young baby, they were obviously North African, and their fear for themselves made her even more ill-at-ease. At the rear of the bus were five boys together who looked like they were back-packing, European of some denomination, acting full of bravado, but the tell tale signs of anxiety were clear to see. Two elderly couples were sat a few rows back, hugging each other as though this was the end of the road, as were the middle aged couple saw behind her.
She swallowed a lump in her throat, she was absolutely terrified, she’d not been prepared for anything like this. Ironically Gavin had explained that this was part of his job, preparing volunteers, charity workers, teaching them how to deal with conflict or situations that may lead to torture, kidnap. And whilst she’d been sat in the luxury villa she’d almost laughed, she was so far from that. Now she rued that decision.
Sensing movement to her right, she looked up just as a very tall and broad shouldered man with a poorly groomed thatch of dark hair slipped into the seat next to her. With wide eyes she stared up at him, a question breaking through the fear she knew was evident there.
“Quinn,” he whispered in a deep British voice, “you’re a blonde haired woman in Africa, you’ll fair better if they think you’re with me.”
At that moment the first of the armed and masked men jumped up the steps of the coach, “everybody off!” He shouted, then repeated it in what she presumed was French and Arabic. Quinn nudged her and she stood, followed the young couple and their ironically now sleeping baby out into the sun. The unrelenting sun.
As they stood in a group the four men pacing around them, Lilah leaned involuntarily closer to the stranger. He placed an arm around her, stooping to whisper in her ear, “Quinn Southland, 29 and your boyfriend of six months.”
Not turning to look at him she nodded, it made sense to be with him, to have him shield her, though why he’d bother to potentially put himself at risk she had no idea. “Lilah, short for Delilah,” she sighed, “hippy parents, Dawson. 26.”
“Well Delilah, I presume a nice girl like you has never been in a situation like this, I know what I’m doing, so if you want to come through this, then I suggest you follow my lead!”