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Authors: Catherine Palmer

Tags: #Inspriational, #Suspense

A Kiss of Adventure (20 page)

BOOK: A Kiss of Adventure
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His back was to her as he leaned against the rock. “If we put our heads together we might. I have some ideas, but I can’t make all the pieces fit.”

“Give me a few of those pieces. We know who Mungo Park was and what he was trying to accomplish. His goal was to follow the course of the Niger to its mouth.”

Graeme nodded and went on, “We think we know what he meant by using the words
tree-planting woman.
He was probably referring to his vision of the future of Mali when white men and women would settle here to farm the Niger valley.”

“We know the Tuareg got their hands on the amulet about two hundred years ago. Their legends say the writing in the amulet comes from a book. And we think the book may be Mungo Park’s last journal.”

“So we’ve got a man, a goal, a journal. We know the Tuareg have been reading the inscription in the amulet to mean one thing, when Park may have meant something else.”

“Could the treasure have been one thing to Park and something else to the Tuareg?”

Graeme shrugged. “Park thought he could use the treasure to build a house for Ailie on Chester Street. It must have been something he thought he could barter.”

“Was there gold in Timbuktu two hundred years ago, Graeme? Do we even know what the city was like?”

He dug his note case out of his pocket. “We know what the Englishmen who backed Park’s African expeditions believed about Timbuktu. They based their hopes for gold and riches on a description by a guy named Leo Africanus.” He flipped through his cards. “This is from
Leo the African’s History and Description of Africa and the Notable Things Contained Therein
, written in 1526. I took these notes from the English version, which was published in 1600. ‘The rich king of Tombuto, hath many plates and sceptres of gold, some whereof weigh 1,300 pounds. And he keeps a magnificent and well-furnished court. . . . He hath always three thousand horsemen, and a great number of footmen that shoot poisoned arrows. . . . Here are a great store of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountifully maintained at the king’s expense.’”

The ancient words brought the fabulous city of Timbuktu in its glory days to brilliant, colorful life. Tillie felt like Dorothy stepping out of black-and-white Kansas into Technicolor Oz. She shut her eyes as Graeme continued reading.

“‘And hither are brought diverse manuscripts or written books out of Barbarie, which are sold for more money than any other merchandise. The coin of Tombuto is of gold without any stamp or superscription; but in matters of small value they use certain shells brought hither out of the kingdom of Persia’ . . . and it goes on.”

“Gold plates and sceptres. Gold coins.” Tillie shook her head. “Graeme, do you realize Mungo Park really may have hidden treasure somewhere in Timbuktu? What would you do with it if you found it?”

“I’m not hunting the treasure, Tillie. I told you that.”

“But what if we find it?” Somehow she had to make him tell her the truth about his own goals.

“I want Mungo Park’s journal. If we found some kind of treasure, it would belong to the Malian government.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t think there is any treasure. All we have is a scrap of the journal. That page is authentic, and the rest of it must be somewhere. That’s what I want.”

“It means a lot to you.”

“I want to know what happened to Mungo Park before he died. I want to know what he was like at the end of his life.” He gave a low chuckle. “My mom used to tell me stories about him when I was a kid. I always wanted to be like him—the adventurer, the bold explorer.”

“You are like him.”

“Not really.” He straightened and turned around. “You get enough to eat?”

Her eyes flashed. “Graeme, you
are
like Mungo Park. If I’m that woman who loves life and isn’t afraid to take risks, you’re no different. We’re in this together.”

“You had the adventurer in you all along, Tillie. I knew it the minute I tossed you into my Land Rover. You’re a fighter.”

“We did have our moments in the beginning, didn’t we?”

“The first thing you did was yell at me. Fought me like a honey badger.”

“You always bring out the beast, um, best in me,” she quipped.

He laughed.

She paused thoughtfully. “You know, I’ve never yelled at Arthur in my life.”

“Too bad for Arthur.” With a wink, he grabbed the basket and walked back to the truck.

The night turned black, and the stars were hidden from view by a thick haze that spread across the sky like spilled honey. As the truck rattled along, Graeme tried to focus on the topography, but he could make out very little. It was like traveling in a vacuum.

Hours passed, and the road ahead began to whip into a whirling sea of grass, twigs, and sand. He fought the steering wheel to keep the truck on track. Tillie sat beside him, as stiff as a windup doll. The wind picked up; the truck swayed. Sand peppered the windshield like pellets from a BB gun. Graeme finally braked to a stop, cut the ignition, and leaned back in the seat.

Even with the engine off, Tillie had to shout over the wind. “What’s going on?”

“Gotta stop.”

“I thought you wanted to go on to Timbuktu.”

“It’s getting bad outside.” He turned the headlights back on.

Tillie stared out the windshield. The inky sky had crept down close, and now it seemed threatening. Whole bushes whipped across the road. There was a strange pall, an eerie half glow to the landscape.

He switched off the headlights. “Sandstorm’s coming.”

“Are you sure?”

“Only one thing looks like a sandstorm.”

“It’s going to catch us head-on, isn’t it?”

“Reckon so.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You spotted the storm from the outcrop back there where we ate. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought I might be able to outrun it.” He put his hand over his eyes and rubbed his temples. “Look, I didn’t want to worry you. You’ve been through a lot.”

“Should I worry?”

“A little.” He brushed back his hair and sat forward. “I guess we’d better try to make the best of it. We’ll weather it better in the back of the truck. The sand is starting to sift into the cab. I suspect it’s going to get uncomfortable in a few minutes. Come on.”

He pushed open the door. Blowing sand and grit hit him in the face. He threw his arm across his eyes and covered his nose with his hand. Tillie slid across the seat. Holding her close, he pushed her head into his shoulder and jumped with her from the cab to the desert floor. Sand bit into his cheeks and flew into his ears. It cut through the fabric of his khaki pants and stung his legs like biting ants.

Sheltering Tillie, he stumbled through ankle-deep sand to the back of the truck and flung down the tailgate. They clambered onto the corrugated steel bed; then he caught the metal gate and pulled it closed. As he tucked down the flapping canvas, Tillie fell onto the pile of blankets in a fit of coughing. He tied a handkerchief over his face.

“Tillie!” he shouted above the wind. “Put this over your nose and mouth. Breathe through it.”

He tore off his shirt and threw it to her. She clutched it to her face, breathing into it like an oxygen mask. Even in the relative sanctuary of the covered truck bed, the grit found easy entry. Sand piled up in the corners and seeped through the tiny seams of the canvas covering. Graeme rooted around in the supplies until he found a box of matches. When he struck one, their haven lit up like Ali Baba’s cave. Tillie crawled to his side and held the glass globe of the lantern while he fumbled with the wick. At last the tiny spark wobbled into flame, and she lowered the globe to keep it from blowing out.

“Hand me a blanket,” he called over the moan of the wind shuddering around and through the truck.

She helped him tie the blanket by its four corners to the steel frame over the truck bed. They worked around the inside of their shelter, layering sheets and blankets like a baklava pastry. With the insulation the sand lost most of its sting, and the wind had fewer cracks to penetrate. They stuffed bits of torn fabric into every opening.

By the time the lantern’s wick had burned to a low flame, the truck had become almost comfortable. Graeme untied the handkerchief from his face and looked around. Like some fantastic crazy-quilt tent, the inside of the truck had walls of bedding tied helter-skelter in a riot of daisies, rosebuds, tulips, and daffodils. Pink blankets, blue blankets, white sheets, and yellow-striped sheets muffled the wind and kept out the sand.

“Thank God for Mary McHugh and her sheets,” he said.

Tillie glanced up. “God again? You think maybe he took time out from ignoring his universe to provide us with some sheets?”

He smiled, glad she was still percolating. “I think maybe both of us are going to end up on our knees before this storm runs out. I should know better than to try to outguess the desert.”

“We’ll be okay. You have a Bible on you?” She read the answer in his face. “There’s something in Deuteronomy . . . something like . . . ‘In the howling waste of a wilderness, he encircled him, he cared for him, he guarded him as the pupil of his eye.’”

“Hannah taught you that?”

Her eyes softened, and he knew the African woman was never far from Tillie’s thoughts. “The Scriptures are God’s Word, she used to tell us. If you want to know him, listen to his words. We listened a lot.”

“‘The howling waste.’” He sank onto a remaining blanket beside her and tugged off his boots. He tilted one, and sand poured out. “I can’t quote the Bible, and I can’t guarantee you’re going to come out of this one okay. Sandstorms are unpredictable. I’d have made you stay in Mopti with Robert and Mary if I’d known it was coming.”


Made
me stay?” Her eyebrows rose imperiously.

He struggled with a grin. “
Suggested
you stay.”

“I wanted to come,” she said, reaching out to touch his arm. “Even knowing about the sandstorm wouldn’t have stopped me.”

He stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles. At least it was a chance to be alone with Tillie. Kind of nice actually. Enclosed, secure. Sort of a cocoon from which something beautiful might emerge.

“Mungo Park was in a sandstorm once,” he said, draping his arm around her shoulders. “He’d been held captive by the Moors for more than two months. Finally, they let him go, and a sandstorm blew up. I don’t think it lasted long, but it exhausted his supplies. He wrote that rain fell for more than an hour after the storm. He quenched his thirst by wringing out and sucking on his clothes.”

She stiffened slightly. “We have enough water, don’t we?”

He reached beside him and jostled the heavy can. “We’ll be okay for a few days.”

“A few days? Graeme, are you serious?”

“This might last a while.” He listened for a moment to the sounds outside the truck. “To tell you the truth, I don’t think the storm’s hit us yet.”

She fell back against the pile of blankets. “So what’s
this
? Fairy dust?”

He grinned. “Come on, Tinkerbell. We might as well get this place as comfy as we can. I’ll check out the food supply. Why don’t you see what’s in those boxes Robert packed? I’m not going to worry yet. Only trouble is, I’ve heard these storms can really change the landscape. The dunes move, and they can bury stationary objects like—”

He caught himself too late.

“Like trucks.” Her voice was dull.

“We’ll check outside now and then to see how she’s holding up.”

“And if the sand is starting to bury us alive, we’ll just take our handy-dandy shovels and dig ourselves out.”

“If we had any handy-dandy shovels.”

Muttering something, she began digging through the wooden boxes stacked against one wall of the truck bed. As she counted screwdrivers, socket wrenches, and rolls of electrical wiring, Graeme opened the baskets of food Mary had packed. There were salted crackers, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, papayas, candy bars, cans of beans, and . . .

“Bananas.” He held up a bunch, his grin broad. “We’ll live, Tillie! Manna in the wilderness.”

She groaned.

They spent at least an hour sorting through and arranging things. Tillie hung the lantern from one of the metal ribs over the truck. Then she improvised a miniature table out of an upended box and put two pillows around it for seats. She covered the box with a pillowcase decorated with sprays of roses, put the bananas in the center, and set plates and tin cups around them.

Then she turned four empty crates on their sides to make shelves, and she stacked the cans and packets of food in neat rows, everything visible and handy. She created two pallets out of the remaining blankets and pillows. She used an old rag to sweep all the sand into the corners of the truck. Then she dusted off her hands and sat back on her heels.

“Home,” she said.

“Sweet home,” he finished.

Graeme had never seen anything like it. In fact, he’d been watching her work as he checked the supply of kerosene for the lantern and rigged a couple of air vents out of some tightly woven netting he’d found. Nesting, he’d heard it called. But he had never actually seen such a transformation. The truck could now claim a dining room, kitchen, and bedroom. It was downright cozy.

BOOK: A Kiss of Adventure
6.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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