Moonlight cast down upon the swaying sailboat. It laid in a glittering halo of light as the occupant inside the cabin clutched at his beloved object. He sat on the floor, rocking to the rhythm of the ocean. He was mumbling to himself, residing in his world. Yet, he knew where he was and how he got there. About three weeks had gone by, but so much had happened.
Tim had picked up the small totem from a seller in Tunis and was on his way back to Naples to give it to his client. Things went downhill from there. The first night out at sea, he developed a delirious fever. Images of blood and carnage flashed in his mind. The next day, he found himself scratching the word al-tadhih on the walls of the boat. He didn’t know what the word meant. Another feverish dream gave him the meaning. All night he had images of people being sacrificed. On the second day, he wasn’t sure where he was anymore. He couldn’t concentrate on navigating. He didn’t eat much or sleep much. The small totem was with him where he went on the boat. He needed to keep an eye on it at all times. During next few days, he found his supplies dwindling and the ship sailing aimlessly. He took comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone. It spoke to him.
Thinking back to how it all started three weeks ago, Tim played it back in his mind beginning with the phone call…
“This is Timothy Breyers,”
“Tim! Abed here! How are you friend?”
“I’m great! What is the special occasion in which I’m receiving this call?” Tim jested.
“I know I’ve been quite busy lately. I’ve been traveling much, seeing clients. I got a lecture from Melinda the other day, I hope you’re not preparing to give me one?” Abed said
“No, of course not. I know how busy you can be.” Tim said.
There was a pause. “I have a job for you, Tim.”
“Alright, I’m interested already.”
“Really? You don’t know what it is.” Abed said.
“I enjoy the jobs you give me. It always involves traveling, art and culture. Best of all, you pay well.” Tim said, laughing.
“Yes, yes. You are right, but that’s because you always do them right and on time. You have never disappointed me.” Abed said.
“Well, what do you have for me?” Tim said, as he leaned on his office desk, in his spacious study.
After a fine late lunch at the Ristorante la Scialuppa of mussels and linguine with Abed, Tim was anxious to get to sea. The smell of the ocean and the call of the waves beckoned him aboard the Musayr, one of Abed’s yachts; which he could see bobbing on the currents of the Gulf of Naples. Musayr translates to fate or destiny, something that Abed believed. Tim didn’t care much for things like that, he believed in controlling his own life and right now he wanted to cast away on the beautifully crafted yacht for the next eight days.
“Well, Abed, I’ll be seeing you in a little over a week. Like always, I’ll treat your prize with the utmost care.” Tim said, shaking Abed’s hand.
“Yes, I’ll see you my friend. I know you will take care of it.” Abed said as he watched Tim get onto the Musayr.
“Say bye to Melinda for me and tell her thank you for the hospitality.” Tim said.
Abed cleared his throat. “Melinda went on vacation this morning. Perhaps I’ll tell her over a phone call later.” Abed said.
“Oh, alright. Take care, then.”
The yacht’s two men crew gave the final okay and started the launch. Tim glanced back at his friend Abed, who stood at the marina, waving; his linen top flowing in the wind. For a moment, Tim thought he saw a smirk on his face.
By early the next day, Tim was docking in Tunis’s La Goulette. A chaffeur was waiting, to take him to the Four Seasons hotel for the next three days of his stay. Settling into his spacious room, Tim double checked his information on his contact. Tomorrow, he would meet this person to pick up Abed’s purchase at the Yuka Tunis restaurant nearby around noon. Tim scanned the room.
“Spare no expense, huh Abed.” Tim said out loud.
After a slow hot shower, Tim dressed in his best semi-casual outfit and made his way to the hotel’s bar. He sat at the bar with a sweet Boukha in hand. Tim would always order this fig infused drink whenever he was in Tunisia. Scanning the room he noticed a lone woman at the end of the bar. Her skin was the smooth shade of coffee with milk and her black hair cascaded down her back over a tight crimson red dress. She looked up from her drink and set her sight on Tim. He gave her a smile and she did likewise. The woman coyly glanced away and then returned with a sultry stare. I knew she was going to do that. Tim raised his glass to her and she returned the toast and then flicked her eyes to the side. He peered over to where a wide door led to outside.
Nodding to her, Tim stood and headed outside. The crescent moon shined down, glinting off the pool. He took another sip.
“It’s a beautiful night.” An accented voice, perhaps of the woman.
Tim turned to see the woman in red, her lips pursed. She glided past Tim and placed her well manicured hand on the railing of the terrace.
“Yes, it is.” Tim said as he gave her an up and down look.
The woman smirked and raised her hand. “I’m Fatma.”
“Tim,” He took her hand, it was soft.
“This is not your first time in Tunisia.”
“Why would you say that?”
“You’re drinking a Boukha. Most tourists would order something familiar like a Martini.” Fatma said as she tossed her hair back.
“I see… you are right. And you are not alone tonight.” Tim said as he took another sip.
“What makes you say that?”
“Because you are dressed incredibly well and you are obviously taken care of by someone.”
“What if I can take care of myself?” Fatma said as she stepped closer to Tim.
“Am I wrong?” Tim said as he met her gaze.
“No, but he left. He had important business to take care of.” Fatma took a sip of her drink. “Does that bother you?” She said.
“Oh, no. Not at all, unless he’s a dangerous man.”
“Maybe he is…maybe he is not. He doesn’t own me.”
“So, where does that leave us?” Tim said, finishing his glass of Boukha.
“It depends on where your room is.” Fatma said as she laid her hand on his chest.
Tim spent the night with Fatma, their clothes found strewn all over the floor of his suite late next morning. They both woke up with urgency. Tim helped Fatma zip up her dress and he scrambled around for his pants.
“I have someone to meet later. I must go.” Fatma said as she placed her shoes on.
“Me too.” Tim said, hopping on one foot as he put his pants on.
“It was a pleasure, Tim. Enjoy your stay in Tunisia.” Fatma said as she slipped out the room.
Following a quick breakfast, Tim called for a cab to take him to Yuka Tunis. The square building sat on the beach with a an outdoor bar and elegant beach chairs surrounding it. Inside, he sat at a slim table with matching stools. It was an unassuming place, not as formal as the bar at the Four Seasons; it was perfect for what Tim was there for. He had ordered another Boukha. Peering around, he noticed a few couples; there were plenty of empty seating by him. Tim checked his watch, it was a little past noon. He glanced up when he heard a familiar voice. It was Fatma and she was speaking to the bartender. She had a gruff looking man with her. The bartender pointed at Tim’s way and she peered at Tim. The surprise look on her face was brief.
“Tim, it is nice to see you again. You are Abed’s contact.” Fatma said, she wore a blue fitted kaftan without a headdress.
“It’s nice to see you too.” Tim said as he nodded at the stony faced man.
His expression didn’t change and Fatma had no interest in introducing him. As they sat across from Tim, the man placed a duffel bag on the table.
“I would suggest being careful with this piece. It is believed to be cursed.” Fatma said as she slid the bag towards Tim.
“You believe in that?” Tim said, snorting.
“Yes, people have died handling this thing.” Fatma said.
“You don’t have to worry. I will be careful, it is my job, you know. Most of the time, I don’t even look at what’s inside the packages. All I do is pick it up and deliver it.” Tim said.
“Alright, it sounds like you can handle it.” Fatma said as she glanced at the serious man. He stood up and left. Fatma lingered.
“If you are ever back in Tunisia, look me up.” She handed him a piece of folded paper and sauntered away.
Tim grabbed the duffel bag and an image appeared in his mind. A blade swinging down on someone’s neck. He cringed and almost dropped the bag. Tim hadn’t noticed that he had his eyes shut, when he opened them; he realized that people were staring at him. He waved them off and hurried out the door.
Back on the Musayr, Tim had another stop to make before heading back to Naples. He had been to Malta before and it was always for the same reason. It held a special place in his heart and that was saying much; for Tim liked living his life as he pleased. He had no attachments, no spouse to go home to; not even a pet. The one thing that was consistent was visiting Malta and being with the one person he cared for the most.
The small crew docked the Musayr at the Marsaxlokk docks late the next day. After he had showered he noticed that his throat felt achy and that he was mildly hot. Tim took some aspirin and shrugged it off. I’ve been having too much alcohol lately.
He bid the crew a farewell and headed to the open market close by. He watched as locals and tourists shopped for goods. There were aisles of baked sweets, seafood and trinkets. Tim stood in front of a stand that sold kannolis, he was deciding which flavor to get when he was interrupted.
“My favorite is hazelnuts and pistachios.” It was a woman’s voice.
Tim turned to look. She wore a light yellow sundress, which swayed in the wind. Her hair was short and shined a brilliant auburn in the midday sun. The skin that shown, glistened a bronze hue and smelled of cocoa butter.
“Melinda.” Tim embraced her and placed his lips on hers. Some of the shop owners cleared their throats.
As they parted, Melinda straightened her dress and Tim turned back to order the kannolis. They left the open market holding hands and headed to their favorite restaurant, La Capanna. Tim and Melinda laughed and conversed as if they had known each other for years. It had only been one, ever since Tim took Abed on as a client. The moment they had set eyes on each other, Tim knew there was chemistry that couldn’t be mistaken.
The next three days were spent as usual, days tanning at the beach or exploring the town and nights of drinking and smoldering sex. On the last night, Tim and Melinda were sharing a patio chaise on the balcony of a hotel; her legs were wrapped around Tim.
“I was thinking…why don’t you leave Abed and be with me?” Tim said.
Melinda lifted her head up and looked at Tim. “You know I can’t do that.” She said.
“Why not? What’s going to happen? He’ll kill you?”
Melinda glanced away.
“Abed wouldn’t do that.” Tim said as he placed his hand on her back.
“You don’t know Abed like I do.” Melinda said as she stood up.
“Abed is not a dangerous man.”
“He can be.”
“All the more reasons to leave him. Why didn’t you tell me he was like that?” Tim said as he stood in front of her.
“What can you do? He would never let me leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is starting to suspect what has been going on.” Melinda said, shuddering.
Tim took hold of her. “What if we leave in the morning? I can tell the crew that we’re going somewhere different. I’ll pay them off if I have to. It will be alright.” He said.
Melinda peered at him and nodded.
With Melinda’s luggage in toll, Tim climbed the yacht and realized the crew was missing. He told Melinda to wait in the yacht. After looking around, Tim headed to the port’s office. The rotund attendant with the thinning hair told Tim that he had noticed two men being taken by ambulance to the hospital last night and that he believed that it was from the Musayr that they were taken from. Tim rubbed his face with his hands. He returned back to Melinda.
“The crew is at the hospital. Something happened to them.” Tim said, sitting on the bed of the yacht’s berth.
“What? Are we in danger? Is there something in the yacht that might have hurt them?” Melinda said
“No, of course not! I’ve been riding in it for the past week.”
“We should go visit them, to see if they’re alright.”
“No, we can’t do that. If they haven’t already, they probably have contacted Abed to tell him what has happened.”
Melinda slowly turned in place and then nodded.
“Have you piloted a yacht?” Tim said.
“Yes, I have a some training.”
“Good, let’s get going then.”
Out at sea, Tim and Melinda consulted a navigational map and decided to head to Lebanon, where Tim was sure that Abed had no clients or connections. The day ended in complete darkness, the only light coming from the Musayr. Tim and Melinda had a light meal, in order to conserve for the next few days.
“I feel like I’m coming down with something. I think I’m going to go ahead a lie down.” Melinda said as she touched her forehead.
“Ok, I’ll probably do the same. I’m going to clean up first.” Tim said as he gathered the dishes.
That night, Tim had strange nightmares, frightening images that he couldn’t wake up from. Sounds of screaming and moaning echoed in his mind and then a loud splash. Tim tossed and turned over in bed. In the morning, he felt groggy, his head wanting to split open from the pain. He glanced over at Melinda, her side of the bed was empty. Tim gradually got up, washed his face and searched for her. With each vacant area he visited, he grew alarmed. He crumbled to the ground when he got to the last possible spot. She’s gone!
Tim remembered the splash he heard in his dreams and was sickened. The sound wasn’t from his dream, it was Melinda. Feeling weak, Tim tried to figure out how to use the controls to bring the yacht back around. Instead he went back to bed. It wasn’t until the next day, that he found the token and his nightmare worsened.
On Tim’s final day, he laid on the floor with the small totem in one hand and a note he failed to notice before in the other. The note read:
This totem is for you, my friend. I hope you like it as much as you had liked my wife. It will open a world of wonder and horror for you. Goodbye.