"How about your phone number, then?" he jokes, pseudo-husky,
leaning in again to smell her cheek. She laughs, shoving him off. He winks, and
the color of his eyes makes her think of olives resting in martinis.
Okay, so shes partial to his blond good looks, his humor, and his consummate skill with a camera. She likes that hes drawn to her face without make-up and her constantly disheveled short hair. But they arent a couple; spare her that conventionality. They are colleagues. Plus lovers, when the mood strikes. Both of them journalists who find the story irresistible and plan to live in it a long time. Discussions about relationships soon bore her. Too much dependency invariably backfires, in her experience.
Usually she thinks Marcus agrees. There are, of course, those other times. Like in the hotel bar last night. Shed been talking about how she didnt want to sign another year-long lease on her apartment, and hed said shed become afraid to commit to anything, too hooked on the ephemeral news story to ever be satisfied with the solidityness of real life. His tone was surprisingly wistful. She refused, though, to give him a serious response. They were in a bar, after all, with colleagues. Screw you, shed countered, laughing. News stories are real life. And they werea form of it, anyway, the way bottled perfume was a form of odor. Besides, Im just talking about a lease. She could tell he wanted to say more, but he took another slug of beer, letting it drop.
The mustachioed militiaman who collected their cards strides out of the hut, shaking his head as though hes uncovered a plot. He motions. Their driverwhats his name? Hussein? Mohammed?glances back without meeting anyones eyes. Grains of sweat darken his temples and bead above his lips. He slides from the jeep, taking the keys with him, as if these journalists were inmates, plotting to drive off and leave him behind in the vacuous Lebanese landscape. Christ.
The gunman speaks to the driver in a dull slur that Caddie cant make out. Their guard is still swaying, his AK-47 balanced delicately in his arms and pointed in their direction. The crickets grow loud, unusual for midday.
The driver shuffles back and passes out press cards. Three.
"Excuse me," Marcus says. "Wheres mine?"
The driver shrugs.
"Brilliant." Marcus swings out of the jeep, the two Nikons around his neck bouncing.
Their pear-belly guard stiffens, aiming his gun at Marcuss chest. Caddie reaches from the Land Rover to try to grab Marcuss arm, but hes too far away.
"Okay, okay." Marcus raises his hands. "I need my card back. Card. Back. Comprenez?"
The guard holds his gun steady.
"Tell him, Catherine." Hes still grinning, still outwardly confident that this adventure is manageable, no more threatening than a Ferris wheel ride. But Caddie knows he drops her nickname only at serious moments,
"My colleague, please, must have his press identification," Caddie says in Arabic, addressing both militiamen, trying for a there-must-be-a-small-mistake smile. "Then we will depart, thank you."
The mustachioed militiaman speaks shotgun-fast to the driverto Caddie it sounds like "these beans should be fried again in Syria,"and the driver listens without expression. Caddies Arabic isnt bad, but now she wishes, deeply, for a better grasp of local colloquialisms.
Another man emerges from the hut. Shirtless, skinny and muscular, he appears younger than the others. His face is creased in irritation. His hair sticks up in tufts as though hes been unwillingly roused from bed. Carrying no weapon, he walks with shoulders high, hands alert, fingers slightly extended. Caddies tongue suddenly tastes metallic.
From The Distance Between Us by Masha Hamilton. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Unbridled Books.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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