Given that there were fewer than seven hours before the Sapphire of the Seas sailed from Le Havre, Third Engineer Giuseppe ‘Joseph’ Marino queued anxiously at Portsmouth ferry terminal. The ferry was due to leave in thirty-five minutes and the sailing time to Le Havre was five and a half hours, given a calm sea. He became aware of a small girl at his side.
“All those destined for Bilbao, please proceed to gate C,” came an announcement.
Joseph’s heart thudded. No, he was destined for Le Havre, gate F. That was OK, everything was fine. He wiped the sweat from his brow.
“I’m lost, I’m not sure where my mummy and daddy are.”
Joseph looked down at two brilliant blue eyes in the little girl’s upturned face, and his heart melted. Then back to the noticeboard. Departure in less than thirty minutes. In a pocket, his fingers crushed a used train ticket. If he missed the ferry, he missed the cruise ship. If he missed the cruise ship, he missed three months’ work, three months’ good wages, wages he couldn’t afford to lose. He’d be busting his nuts in a crummy, low-paid job at home. No contest.
“Look,” he said, “just go to customer services, they’ll help you.”
“Yes, I know, but I’d like a grown-up to come with me.”
Joseph felt a lump in his throat. He looked at the clock again and felt his heart pound. “Look, come with me, quickly.” He took her hand and they set off down a long corridor.
Just as they reached the customer service desk, there came a deafening bang and a sheet of flame. “Get down,” someone yelled. Two black-clad men, young and athletic, raced past, one shouting to the other. Joseph looked up to see flames in the corridor. The little girl’s face was blackened.
A squad of policemen ran past, complete with face shields and automatic weapons. One stopped. “This your daughter?”
“No, I don’t know who she is. She lost her parents I think.”
The officer lifted his face shield. “And you are?”
“Third Engineer Joseph Marino. Listen, I need to get the next ferry to Le Havre. I’m working on the Sapphire of the Seas. It’s sailing at—”
“Look, sir, there’s nothing we can do about that. We need to get this little girl to safety. In the meantime, lie down on the floor, and stay lying down until you’re told to get up.”
Joseph was aware of men running and shouting, but he kept his head down as instructed. Finally, he felt someone wrenching his shoulder. “Joseph Marino?”
It was a young policeman. “Come with me, sir.”
They proceeded along a corridor, and Joseph noticed that things were calmer, groups of traumatised travellers being led by equally quiet men in uniform. Finally, they came to a helipad where a helicopter stood, its rotors flailing. On its side was a crest of a red lion sitting on a crown, a sword in one hand, a sceptre in the other. Through a helicopter window, Joseph could see a familiar young girl waving.
The policeman coughed. “Look, perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you this, sir, but they were enemies of the state. Terrorists after members of the Royal Family. The little girl, well, she’s … connected. Anyway, she recognised the accents of the terrorists who ran past you, she has a kind of photographic memory, apparently. They were from, er, a rather unusual country, so not hard to catch and … well, eradicate, let us say. In the meantime, please join the chopper and they will take you to your rendezvous with the Sapphire of the Seas. Your luggage will follow soon. Grazie Signore.”
Joseph laughed. He guessed the little girl, whoever she was, had detected the accent he thought he’d eliminated. Well, it wasn’t every day he got a lift in a royal helicopter. He ran across the tarmac, a weight lifting from his shoulders.
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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