After refueling in Portland, the Challenger touched down at YVR at 10:30 A.M. Vancouver was as dull as Mexico had been vibrant, a monochrome of gray with rain bouncing off the tarmac. The long-haul home had been a test of endurance.
“I look like shit,” Mattie said, after catching a glimpse of her haggard, sleep deprived reflection in the cabin window. No one on board disagreed. She hadn’t changed her clothes or washed her hair in three days.
As she stepped out of the aircraft and began to descend the portable stairs, her heart almost burst when she saw Anne standing in the rain beside her Mercedes Sedan. Not only did this woman save her, she was there to welcome her home.
They hugged as best they could with the wind tugging at Anne’s umbrella. Were there tears in Anne’s eyes or was that just rain on her face?
“Hold this.” Anne took off her coat, wrapped it around Mattie, then took back the umbrella and guided Mattie toward the Mercedes.
“I’m sorry to burden you with this,” Anne said, “but you need to know that someone tipped the media to Simon’s involvement with the massacre in Oventic.”
“But he wasn’t involved.”
“And neither were you, but where’s the story in that?”
“They think I was involved as well?”
“There’s a video circulating of you holding a bleeding migrant woman.”
“Lara. Inez must have taken it with her cell phone.”
“Right now, you’re the social media champion of a great many left-wing, human rights organizations as well as some disturbingly radical groups.”
“What should I do?”
“I’ve made some calls and if you lie low for a couple of days, it will probably blow over,” Anne said. “If the authorities do get in touch, be honest and cooperative.”
“The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, RCMP, the usual suspects.”
“Are you pulling strings for me, Anne?”
“What are sisters for?”
Mattie settled into the heated leather seat. She needed to close her eyes for just a moment.
“You’re home, Mattie.”
“What?” They were idling at the gate of the access road to her house.
“You fell asleep.”
“Sorry, Anne. It’s been–”
“It’s okay. What’s the code to open the gate?”
Anne pulled up to the front of the house. It looked cold and empty.
“Do you want me to come in?”
“No, I’m fine. You’ve done enough. By the way, how much do I owe you for rescuing me?”
“As I recall, you didn’t ask to be rescued, I offered, so nothing.”
“Believe me, if I knew what I was getting into I would have asked, maybe even begged,” Mattie said. “You saved my life.”
“No, you saved yourself. You’re remarkably brave and resourceful.”
“Thanks, Anne, but stupid and stubborn would be more like it. But that’s beside the point. How much do I owe you?”
Anne shook her head. “If you insist. To charter a jet is $4,000 an hour; a professional security detail costs $150 per hour, per individual. Both the jet and the crew were on the clock for twenty hours. Vehicle rentals, another $300, and thirty-two hundred in miscellaneous expenses including the cash to the migrant women. Ninety-eight thousand, five hundred dollars.”
Mattie swallowed. She might have been better off paying the kidnappers. “I’ll write you a cheque and mail it to you tomorrow at the latest.”
“However, considering the jet belongs to the Trust, I can write off the trip, as well as vehicle rentals. Alfie’s a salaried employee so there was no additional expense there, and The Big Four said they wouldn’t take money for helping a friend. Bottom line, thirty-two hundred dollars.”
A savings of a little more than ninety-five thousand dollars, the amount she’d donate to Peace Brigades International.
The house seemed unhappy. Too empty, too still, way too tidy.
Hello. Pickles called from the family room.
Thank goodness for that parrot. Mattie hurried to greet her, the object of her most enduring relationship. Pickles flapped, bobbed and bounced around the cage.
“Seems like you missed me.” Mattie opened the cage door, and the bird hopped onto her hand, walked up her arm and thumped her on the forehead with her beak.
“Ouch. What kind of welcome is that?” Mattie tried to stroke the brilliant blue back, but Pickles wasn’t having any of it. She fluttered onto Mattie’s head and dug in her clawed toes. The punishment kept up for five minutes and included pulling hair and painful nips of the ear. Mattie endured it. To scold the bird or return her to the cage would only make it worse. Gradually, Pickles calmed down, allowing Mattie to conduct a quick examination.
“No plucked feathers or other evidence of self-harm, eyes are clear and no discharge from your nose. I’d say you weathered this separation far better than me.”
Mattie had been forgiven for her extended absence and Pickles was rubbing her head against Mattie’s cheek when she stopped and began to shriek. Leo was double-timing it across the tile floor. The thirty-pound tortoise stood on Mattie’s foot and extended his neck. Mattie bent down to give the reptile a head rub, sending Pickles onto the roof of her cage and into a jealous rage.
“Honestly, Pickles. You’re the worst. It’s a good thing I didn’t have children.” Mattie tossed a few macadamia nuts into the cage to mollify the bird and went into the kitchen with Leo following close behind.
“Let’s see what Jonathon’s left in the crisper for you.” Mattie opened the refrigerator, found a giant bag of kale and half a dozen carrots. She was just putting down Leo’s snack, when Pickles summoned her from the other room.
“Don’t get your feathers ruffled, I’m coming.”
It was good to be home.
Her cell phone was ringing. Where was she? The ringing stopped. She was in her living room, it was afternoon, she’d fallen asleep on the sofa. Her heart began to slow down. The phone rang again. She found it between the cushions.
“Mattie, it’s me.”
“Mom. How did you know I was home?”
“Anne called me.”
“Anne called you?” Lots had happened in her absence, she needed to get back in the loop.
“I’m at the front gate. Can you buzz me in?”
Mattie punched in the code. On her way to open the front door, she saw herself in the mirror in the foyer. She still hadn’t had that shower.
“Madison.” Louise dropped her fabric grocery bag and gave her daughter a hug. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“Anne called you?” Mattie said
“She didn’t like the idea of you coming home to an empty house.”
“How did you get here?”
“I borrowed Russell’s car.”
“A friend.” Louise handed Mattie the bag. “Fig Newtons.”
“Thanks. Do you want some tea?” Mattie went to the kitchen to get a plate. “Who’s Russell?”
“When you were a kid, we ate them with milk.” Louise checked the refrigerator. “We’re in luck.” She took out a half gallon of skim and poured two glasses.
“Simon takes it in his coffee.”
“Where is Simon?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I know he’s back in Delta.”
“He should have been here waiting for you, not out campaigning with Wendy Walters.”
“He probably doesn’t know I’m home yet. Everything’s happened so fast.” Was it only twenty-four hours ago she was on the roadside in Chiapas holding a dying woman in her arms?
“What’s he got you involved with? They’re saying he was there to train terrorists, and that you escaped police custody.”
“It’s all bullshit, Louise, and if you give me a chance, I’ll tell you what happened.”
“I’m sorry, Matz. I was just so worried, and then I began hearing all this–”
Her mother quit talking and listened. Twenty minutes later, story finished, glasses empty, Fig Newtons eaten, she got up and put the dishes in the sink. It was the first time Mattie had relayed the entire experience from the moment she was told about the attack on the conference to lifting-off in Anne’s rescue jet. It seemed surreal, like it was someone else she was talking about.
She sat back down, and Louise reached over and took her hand.
“You can talk now,” Mattie said.
“You put yourself at great risk, Matz.” Her mother smiled and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. “But I guess that’s what love is all about.”
At the time, Mattie didn’t consider the risk. It was what she had to do.
“I’d better get home,” Louise said.
Mattie didn’t argue. She walked with her mother to the door. Parked in the driveway was a new Subaru Outback. “Next time we talk, Louise, you have to tell me who Russell is?”
Even with her face in shadow, Mattie could see the color rise on her mother’s cheeks.
* * *
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish