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Quin stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around his waist. His bare feet left a trail of wet footprints on the highly-polished, mahogany floor as he made his way to the huge wooden chest of drawers where he yanked open one of the big drawers and grabbed his underwear, socks, and tees. Flipping the lid of his case open, he stuffed them in. Moving on, he yanked his clothes off their hangars in the closet, doubled everything over, and crammed it on top of the lumps of underwear. He packed everything except what he planned to wear in the morning. Quin sat the case on the floor and gave it a shoved with his foot, sending it sliding across the smooth floor in the direction of the door. It bounced as it hit the wall and settled a few inches from the wall. He surveyed the room one last time, whipped the towel off, tossed it through the open bathroom door, and laid down naked, spread eagle on the bed.
Where to start looking for her, Quin wondered, staring at the ornate embellishments on the ceiling?
He had no way of contacting, Vargas, the man to whom Carlos had said he had sold the woman to. Last night, Quin had pressured Carlos into telling him who the man was and that he lived somewhere in Morocco. Unfortunately, he refused to disclose a phone number or address. Quin supposed he could have physically threatened Carlos, but then he would not have been sure that Carlos had given him the correct information anyway. He knew Carlos could not be trusted; he was too much of a coward and would swear to anything when backed into a corner. Quin drifted off with a partial plan still swirling around in his mind.
Carlos tried once again the next morning to persuade Quin to stay, cajoling and pleading, just short of crawling on his hands and knees.
“You know I need you,” Carlos whined. “Ricardo is good, but he is not you. You know how I depend on you to run the business.” Carlos placed his arm around Quin’s shoulders as they walked down the hall to the study. “You are my number one.” Carlos grinned broadly, giving Quin a slight hug. “Let bygones be gone and stay. Why let some woman come between us? I will even increase your cut. Where else can you make such easy money? Come on, what do you say?”
Quin shrugged Carlos’ arm off and walked, stiff-backed, in front of him into the study.
“You are not going to change my mind. I am through. I told you that last night,” Quin growled as he turned and glared at Carlos. “Nothing you have to say will make any difference now. I want my money and I am taking the Land Rover.”
Begrudgingly Carlos walked to the safe and counted out Quin’s cut of the money.
“Are you sure about this?” Carlos asked one more time. He held out the packet of money to Quin, but still gripped it tightly.
“Yeah, I am sure,” Quin snapped as he jerked the packet from Carlos’ fingers.
Not even taking time to count the money, Quin stuffed it in his bag and strode down the hall to the front door. He took the steps down to the driveway two at a time. Reaching the Land Rover, he threw his bag in the back, never looking back as he sped down the driveway and out of the front gate. Carlos watched until Quin turned out onto the road then closed the front door.
Months had passed since Quin left Carlos and Lima behind in his search for the woman and Vargas. He had flown to Morocco not knowing exactly where Vargas lived. He searched in several cities before finding someone who knew a Luis Vargas, who raised Arabian horses, and had a ranch somewhere outside of Agadir. Quin had heard whispers that this Vargas might also be involved in the trafficking of women.
Quin drove his rental car to Agadir and started, quietly, inquiring about Vargas. Everyone who knew Luis Vargas said he was a well-respected businessman who raised Arabian horses and it was unthinkable that Luis Vargas they knew would be involved in such dirty business as trafficking women. That was until a tall, dark man approached Quin one day as he sat having coffee in a small alfresco café.
“You will not find what you are looking for if you proceed on your current path,” the stranger offered. “For what you seek, you must look in the dark, not the light.” With that the stranger blended into the passersby on the sidewalk.
Following the stranger’s advice, Quin turned to the underbelly of Agadir for answers. When he approached people about Vargas no one was willing to talk to him, and those who did, talked in whispers while constantly looking over the shoulder.
Yes, Vargas was known as a very dangerous man—an enforcer—one you did not mess with they cautioned Quin. You would be better off dropping your quest they told him. It was too dangerous to keep asking questions. If you value your life you would quit while you are ahead. Quin was warned many times to leave it alone, but stubbornly forged ahead.
Finally, after weeks of searching with no results, Quin sat in the small coffee shop not far from the dingy little room he had rented, wondering why the hell he was still in Morocco. Most of the tables were vacant as it was still too early for the evening regulars.
I have been beaten up, had my life threatened and for what, he thought. I am no closer to finding her than I was back in Lima. I am ready to call it quits and head back to El Salvador. Maybe I can find Ricardo and we can take up where we left off, without Carlos, of course, he decided.
Cradling the cup with his hands, Quin stared at the curious pattern the dark specks of coffee grounds made on the bottom of the cup when a stranger tapped him on the shoulder.
“I understand you have been asking questions concerning a certain Luis Vargas who might be in possession of a particular woman that you are seeking,” the stranger said, as he sat down, uninvited. “I might have the information you want.” The stranger grinned, showing blackened teeth and gaping holes where some were missing. “For a price, of course.” His grin broadened.
“You must be mistaken,” Quin said taken aback by the mans audacity.
“Oh, I do not think so,” the stranger persisted, still grinning broadly.
“What makes you think you know my business?” Quin bristled.
“Oh, I know a lot of things,” the stranger said, continuing to grin and cocking his head to one side. “I make it my business to know things. I watch. I listen. I find out what you are looking for and then I help you find it,” he said shrugging his shoulders. “I know you have come from Peru in search of a woman. I know that you were a part of the group that kidnapped and sold her. I know that you have been asking questions in all the wrong places; places that will get you killed.” His grin faded, his eyes narrowed as he leaned forward into Quin’s space. “You talk to freely. Too many people know what they should not know about you. That is why I am here to help you.”
Quin scrutinized the stranger through cynical eyes. How had this low-life person found out about what he was doing? Quin thought he had been discrete in his inquiries, but the underbelly of Agadir ran on money exchanging hands for illicit activities, drugs, prostitution, murder, and information. He had been warned that asking questions in the wrong places could get him killed, but he had avoided those—he thought.
“Tell me how you know these things?” Quin demanded.
“You have asked one too many questions in the wrong places, my friend,” the stranger leaned closer, the odor of saffron and cumin permeating the air as he whispered. “I am here to help you.” The stranger covertly cast his eyes around the room.
“Help me how?” Quin asked, pulling back from the stranger, trying to put some fresher air between them.
“I have the information you seek, as I said. But it comes with a price. I must make a living, you know.” The stranger leaned back and shrugged, grinning again.
“What information do you think I am looking for?”
“You want to know where this woman is that was kidnapped in Peru and sold to a Luis Vargas here in Morocco. That is the information I have, however, I will tell you this—right now, for free—if you continue asking questions, you will be killed. It has come to my attention that there is already a price on your head in certain quarters.” He shrugged and continued. “As I said, I have to make a living and that is why I will sell you the information you seek for a modest price, of course, and save you from a most unpleasant death.” The stranger continued grinning, laying his hand, palm up on the table.
Quin stared at the stranger’s dirt encrusted hand with its yellowed and broken nails extending past the end of the fingers. His stomach lurched at the sight.
But, he thought, what choice do I have? I have not been able to find out anything on my own and I certainly do not want to wind up dead in some damn gutter.
“That is too much. I will take my chances on the street. There are still places I have not checked.” Quin leaned back, making ready to stand up.
“That is not a wise idea, my friend,” the stranger cautioned, wagging his finger at Quin. “As I have said, there is already a bounty on your head. But,” he paused and shrugged, “because I like you, and I do not want to see you left to rot in some filthy alley. For you, I will make it five hundred American,” the stranger said, grinning broadly.
Quin eyed the stranger. Five hundred seemed like a number he could work with and it would still leave him enough money to get back to El Salvador if things did not pan out. Quin studied the stained and chipped Formica tabletop. He was in no hurry to let the stranger know he would take his offer. Let him stew a bit, he thought and watched out of the corner of he eye as the stranger nervously repositioned himself on his chair a couple of times before he spoke.
“I do not have that on me,” Quin said, slowly, raising his eyes to meet the strangers. “I will need some time to get it.”
“I will wait,” the stranger said, relief in his voice. “I will be back here in two hours. Have it then. Let me remind you, it is in your best interest to do this,” the stranger cautioned and stood, the grin was now gone as he looked Quin in the eye.
Quin waited a few moments, and then followed the stranger out of the coffee shop wondering how he was going to get five hundred American dollars in two hours. He looked at his watch; the banks had closed a half an hour ago.
Where else, he wondered, mentally running through the shops that lined the streets he knew. There is that small pawnshop I pass on the way to the coffee shop; it is worth a try.
A small bell jangled, as Quin pushed open the pawnshop door. The smell of old things, dust, sweat, and incense hung in the air. Quin walked toward the counter where an old man stood, his white tunic, spotless.
“How may I help you,” the old man inquired softly of Quin.
“I need to exchange some Dirhams for American dollars,” Quin said, stopping at the counter, his eyes quickly evaluating his surroundings.
“How much are you looking to exchange?” the old man inquired, looking Quin up and down.
“Enough for five hundred,” Quin answered.
The old man paused. “And you have this amount with you?” he questioned Quin with narrowed eyes, observing that Quin carried neither, satchel, bag or briefcase.
“Yes, I have the required amount for the exchange,” Quin answered, placing his hand on his waistline. “Do you have the amount I require in American dollars for the exchange?”
The old man studied Quin for a few seconds, turned, and walked through a curtained doorway behind the counter. Quin stared after him.
Several minutes passed and the old man had not returned. Quin began to wonder if the old man was going to blow him off. But, maybe not as he heard muffled voices coming from behind the curtains the old man has passed through. Deciding he would give the old man a few more minutes, Quin turned and rested his backside against the counter studying the pawned items that sat in no particular order on the shelves. Many of the items on the dusty shelves did not appear to have much value—just small things, everyday things and by the amount of dust that had gathered on them, gave the impression they had been sitting there for quite sometime. Observing this Quin guessed that most of the shop’s pawn business probably came from locals in the neighborhood. This worried him a bit, as he thought about it. Maybe the old man would not be able to make the exchange if he only dealt in these meager pawned items. On the other hand, if he did have the money to make the exchange, Quin was certain that it would not have come from selling these dust-covered items. That thought disturbed him even more. He had no desire to find out what might transpire in this shop after hours.
Quin had wandered around the shop then moved back to the counter as the old man reappeared through the curtained doorway followed by a younger man carrying a metal box. Quin quickly noticed the younger man also had a pistol stuck in the waistband of his trousers.
“Your Dirham, por favor,” the old man said, holding out his hand. The younger man placed the metal box on the shelf behind the counter, his hand now resting on the butt of the pistol.
Quin fumbled with the money belt around his waist and finally had it open and pulled out the Dirhams equal to five hundred American dollars. The old man smiled slightly as Quin counted out the money into neat stacks on the counter.
“There, that should do it,” Quin said placing the last colorful bill on the last stack.
“You will pardon me if I count also, por favor,” the old man smiled.
“Yes, of course,” Quin said, as he nervously eyed the younger man. Quin had his Glock tucked into the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back and was confident he could outmaneuver the younger man before he had time to pull the trigger.
The old man slowly counted out each stack and tallied it on a sheet of paper as he finished each one. The younger man stood behind the old man watching, only glancing every once in a while, in Quin’s direction.
Quin sighed rather loudly and the old man look up, smiled, and went back to counting.
“It appears that you have the correct amount for the exchange,” the old man said, laying down the pencil. He then pulled a chain from around his neck on which a key hung and unlocked the box. As he opened the box, the younger man moved closer to the counter and watched Quin as the old man counted out five, crisp, one-hundred-dollar bills. He did not hand them to Quin, but instead placed them on the counter next to the stacks of Dirhams.
“The exchange is complete,” the old man said. “You should find your money belt considerably lighter now.” The old man picked up each stack of the Dirhams and placed them in the metal box, one by one. He paused and looked at Quin. “A wise man does not spend his money foolishly,” the old man said closing the lid on the box. “Make sure you are buying wisely. What you desire today may have untold consequences, come tomorrow.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Quin said as he snatched up the bills then, folded them, and stuffed them in his pocket. A cold wisp of air brushed across Quin’s shoulders as the old man shuffled back through the curtains. A sinister smirk played across the young man’s face as he picked up the metal box before following the old man through the curtains. An eerie stillness fell over the room as the curtains fluttered and then stilled. Quin could not get out the shop fast enough stopping only to check his watch as he quickly walked back to the coffee shop. He shivered and tried to push what had happened in the pawnshop to the back of his mind.
Crazy old man, he thought. What was all that cryptic bullshit anyway?
Quin wondered how long he would have to wait since it hadn’t taken the full two hours to get the money. Not long he figured since the stranger seemed eager to make the deal. He sat down at his usual table, ordered a Turkish coffee, and settled back in the chair to wait for the stranger. The stranger slipped into the chair across from Quin just moments after he had ordered the coffee. Quin wondered if he had been hiding somewhere close, watching for him to return.
“I presume you have my payment?” the stranger asked as he sat down grinning.
“Yes, I have it, but I want the information first.” Quin looked at the stranger with narrowed eyes. “If it is not what I am looking for, there will be no payment.”
“Very well,” the stranger leaned forward, the odor of cumin and saffron again marinated the air between Quin and the stranger. “The woman you seek is to be married. The ceremony will be tomorrow at the Vargas ranch. It has been arranged that she will then travel with her husband to Dubai the next day and will stay there for a few days at the Grand Dubai Palace Hotel.” The stranger paused and placed his hand, palm up on the table indicating he had upheld his part of the bargain.
A sinking feeling hit Quin in the pit of his stomach as he heard the stranger say she was to be married.
Married. The word echoed through his mind. I am too late. Then he thought, but, what if it is an arranged marriage? One that she was forced into. If that is the case, I can still rescue her. It may not be too late.
His mind began racing as a plan formed to seek out the woman in Dubai ignoring the sinking feeling that was growing in the pit of his stomach. If it were an arranged marriage, there would be plenty of guards around, and could see it would be futile to pursue her here. No, he would wait and follow her to Dubai
The stranger cleared his throat loudly, jolting Quin back to the present. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the folded, five, one-hundred-dollar bills, and placed them on the table. Immediately, the stranger snatched them up and stuffed them inside his tunic leaving in their place a dirty scrap of paper on the table. Covertly he looked around making sure no one had seen the transaction and quickly disappeared before the waiter placed Quin’s coffee on the table.
Quin unfolded the scrap of paper. On it was written—‘Use only if you need help.’ And a phone number.