(For Part X click here)
“Shit!” Sylvia said to no one in particular and the universe in general.
“I didn’t know which one was yours, but I wasn’t going to leave the rest, anyway. They’re in bad shape – filthy, dehydrated, scared – they’re right on the edge. I brought water and chocolate, but there wasn’t enough.”
Sylvia looked out into the night and back towards Sinclair’s car, trying to focus. There were two neat bullet holes, just above the rear tire.
“Did anybody get killed?” she asked matter-of-factly.
“No idea. Karga had his boys lay down some serious punishment when I was driving away, but I didn’t stop for a body count. I imagine this place is going to explode tomorrow.”
“This is the second war I’ve caused.”
“Well, I gotta say you’re pretty good at it.”
They both gave a short, breathy laugh, trying to quiet the adrenaline rush. Then they just stood there for a few vacant seconds.
“Okay, you know the roads. Take your girl and I’ll follow you with the rest. When we get to the border, we’ll improvise.”
“No,” Sylvia said, her mind clear and working. “We’ll stick to the original plan. I wasn’t going to use the passports anyway, so one girl/ five girls, what’s the difference? Your car’s the one they’re looking for. You need to go back into town and dump it.”
“Plan A was the port. They’ll be searching ships for hours. I’m sure I can still make it.
Sylvia held up her index finger. She reached into her bag, found her telephone and tapped it. A couple of seconds later, her voice was suddenly frantic.
“Help! I need help! Zehra, you have to help me. Madison’s gone. She’s gone. We were in the bazaar, and a man grabbed her. You have to help me. Call the police. You have to send somebody. You were supposed to take care of us. Oh, my God! What am I going to do? Send somebody, please. Hurry, I’m at the …”
Sylvia hung up, switched the phone to vibrate and handed it to Dreyfus.
“They’re probably listening to the police band. That should add to the confusion. Drop this on the street somewhere.”
Dreyfus smiled and took the phone. He reached under his arm and pulled out a Beretta nine millimeter Tomcat and an extra magazine.
“You might need this,” he said, handing her the gun. Sylvia took it and automatically tucked it into the back of her jeans. Then she pushed the second clip down her neckline and into the side of her bra.
“Are you going to be okay?” Sylvia gestured with an open hand.
“Yeah, the Albanians and I know each other. They’re not stupid enough to involve me in this – unless I force them to. As long as I’m gone before they show up, we can still be friends. It’s you and Karga they’re going to go after.”
“Can he win?”
“The Albanians are tough, but Karga’s a nasty piece of work – he’ll win. Besides, the Russians don’t like publicity, so they might just chalk it up and walk away.” Dreyfus shrugged: he didn’t believe it, either.
“Yeah, my money’s on Karga, too. Okay, Maddy’s in the second row, closer to this end.” Sylvia half pointed. “Give her the girls, and get the hell out of here. I’m going to find some water.”
Dreyfus opened the door to the car.
“Good doing business with you. Good luck.”
“Same to you, and if you could hit some traffic cameras on the way through, I’d really appreciate it.”
Dreyfus laughed and drove away.
Less than ten minutes later, Sylvia was back in the car with several bottles of water and they were pulling onto the highway.
“Okay, girls. You’re safe now, but we have to get you out of here. No, don’t drink the water so fast: it’ll make you sick. Just stay down and do exactly what we tell you, okay? It’s a couple of hours to the border, so try and get comfortable.”
Madison had put the seats down, so the girls lay in a tangled heap. They looked like frightened little animals, huddled without their mothers, fear in their eyes and shivering.
“Stay with the traffic, Maddy, and stay in the right lane so we can use the shoulder if we have to.”
“Last winter, Mom wouldn’t let me go to the mall by myself. Now I’m driving the getaway car.”
Sylvia laughed with her, and they rolled down the windows against the warm night and the nauseating smell from the back seat. With the wind in their hair, they headed northwest to the Bulgarian border.
Two hours later, Dreyfus had abandoned his car — ironically, close to where the S.S. Delfini was still tied up to the dock. As he walked away, he had to duck into a doorway as several sirens wailed past him. He waited and then kept walking, wondering whether Emily would still be awake when he got back to the hotel.
Sylvia and Madison had turned off the highway some time before and were driving very slowly on a dirt and gravel road that ran parallel to the Rezovo River. They had missed a grey stone marker in the dark, and it was several minutes before Sylvia realized they’d gone too far and they turned around. Now they were inching their way forward with Sylvia’s head out the window.
“That’s it. There. Stop. Turn the lights off, Maddy.” Sylvia turned her head towards the backseat.
“Okay, girls. Nobody knows we’re here, so you’re safe now. But you need to stay in the car until we get across the river. Maddy and I are going to get out and find the crossing. It might seem like a long time, but don’t worry. Just stay here: I promise we’ll be back.”
Sylvia and Madison got out of the car. Sylvia came around the front and found Madison’s hand in the pitch black.
“Wait for your eyes to adjust,” she said.
After a minute or two, Madison could make out shapes, but she couldn’t really see anything. Sylvia led her away from the car towards the noise of the water, and after a couple of dozen tentative steps, she could see thousands of silver sparkles reflected from the million brilliant stars overhead. They were at the border.
“This is where we’re going to cross. It could take a while, so you might as well sit down.” Sylvia said.
“We’re going to cross here? There’s no bridge.”
“There will be. All we have to do is wait for the moon.”