“Variety is the spice of life”, that is how the saying goes. What it means, according to some people, is that in order to fully enjoy the zestfulness of life, one must break away from their comfort zone and explore all the varieties that life has to offer. Those same people also believe in the spirit of adventure and discovery. It is those people who become wandering travelers, also called gypsies. Usually these people would leave their homes, at an appropriate age of course, with nothing but what they can carry in their bags and dreams of exciting adventures. Although, not all gypsies leave their homes so they can blindly follow the spirit of adventure. No, they have a goal, either to find fortune, fame, love, peace of mind, or the answers to a mystery, these drifting gypsies are searching for something in particular. Traveling can be lonely however, and gypsies need traveling partners to keep them company. In this story, two travelers meet by chance.
One is from London, the other is from Thailand. One is an archeologist, the other is a healer. One is of twenty-seven years of age, the other is only eighteen. Sounds like a nice pair of pen pals, don’t you think? But what about a couple? Possibly wouldn’t work out. Even if two people like this met by coincidence, they could only discover that they had nothing in common. People like this would never become romantically interested with each another, right? Would two people like this even want to be around each other? Would they be able to stand it? Why don’t we just see for ourselves?
Chapter 1: Magnet Knight
Atlantic Ocean, 12:55 pm
The boat is filthy and smells of rotten fish. That’s what I get for bribing my way onto a commercial fishing boat, I suppose. The ocean is a pretty sight, though. I love the smell of the water, the feel of the mist on my skin. The sun is hovering just above the horizon. The sky is an orange color and there isn’t a cloud in sight. I am so glad I was able to get away. I will miss my colleagues and family members in London, however I am on a mission.
We should be arriving in France by afternoon. Afterwards, I would have to walk to Paris and find a hotel room to book for the night. Oh well. At least I will be closer to when I need to be. I just hope who I’m looking for will be there. If they are, I don’t want to keep them waiting. I will write again once I enter Paris.
“Oi!” yelled a fisherman behind Knight. He turned around, his short, black hair flying in the salty sea wind. “What’re you doing on the nose?!” The fisherman’s voice had a deep Britain ascent to it. Knight gave a half smile as him as blue eyes shifted between the fisherman to the sea, “Just enjoying the view.” He said, his own voice had a Britain ascent as well, but it wasn’t as deep or as masculine as the fisherman’s, instead it was smooth, pleasant, and charming.
“Well knock it off!” yelled the fisherman. “If you fall off we’re not fishing you not!” Knight chuckled. “No, I don’t suppose you would.” He said as he and closed his journal, stuffed it inside his jacket, and stepped off the boat’s nose. The other fishermen were hard at work, reeling in large nets half full of fish and throwing the nets back in after they had gathered the fish. Knight made his way to the inside of the wooden boat, where the steering wheel would be, as the sailors gave him suspicious looks. Perhaps it was his sophisticated, carbon-colored suit and tie they were looking at.
Once inside, Knight greeted the captain who was at the boat’s wheel. The captain’s brown coat was clean and neatly ironed, in clear contract to his facial features, which were covered by his long white beard and moustache. The scars on his face made him look as if he was just in some kind of war, maybe he had. He was a very old man, his bright blue eyes were behind wrinkly eyelids and his worn hat was at an awkward angle.
“Enjoying yourself, Mr. Knight?” asked Captain Crimson. “Yes I am, Captain.” Answered Knight. “I hope it was worth the nine hundred pounds.” Remarked the captain. Knight smiled and nodded, “Yes, it was.”
The control room was silent for a good five seconds before Captain Crimson spoke again. “You’re one of those aristocrats, aren’t you?”
“Is it that apparent?” asked Knight.
“I met many people in my time, and the upper-class are notorious for throwing money around.” Said the captain.
“Have you always be a fisherman?”
“No, just as long as thirty years. Before that I moved mostly by land.”
“So you were of those wandering travelers?”
Knight considered the question for a moment, folding his arms as he thought. “I wouldn’t say that. I’m just taking a trip, that’s all.”
“Taking a trip?” questioned the captain. “If that’s so, then why not take a comfier vehicle. Don’t tell me you can’t afford something like an aircraft with your wealth.”
Knight gave out a small laugh. “An aircraft? I’m afraid not. Besides, I’m just a mere archeologist.”
“I see.” Said the captain. “Much be a good job.”
Knight shrugged. “I suppose.”
Chapter 2: Kuan Eim Rattanakosin
How are you? I know the University of Bangkok will feel scary without me guiding you, but it’s for your own good. Think of all things you will learn, like science! You always loved science. I know you and others must feel worried about me, but I’ll be fine, I am a miracle worker after all. Besides, I can’t on an important mission, remember. But enough about me, I want to know how things are with you. I want you to write back to me as soon as you get this. Tell me everything, and don’t hesitate to write to me if there’s a problem. I might be far, but I’m not unreachable.
The Chinese countryside raced by the window of the train. Kuan Eim could feel the wheels turn on the railroad tracks under her feet. As Kuan Eim finished her letter, her green eyes looked out window of the empty carriage. The third-class carriages of the Chinese Railway Express had two wooden benches facing opposite of each other and a large window on the wall beside them which has red curtains drawn to the sides, and opposite to that was the door to the carriage with its tiny square window covered by white blinds. These tiny rooms were for the middle and lower classes while the more luxurious carriages were saved for the aristocracy, at least that what Kuan Eim guessed.
Kuan Eim’s long, curly black hair draped over her shoulders and rested on her chest. Next to her was her only suitcase, filled with the items she had taken with her from home. Her hands, still holding the paper and pen, were placed on her lap, which was clothed in the orange dress Kuan Eim was wearing. The dress had a yellow sash attached around the stomach and sleeves that reached the wrists. She whistled a soft tune as she thought about her family, and if she would see them again. Yet in her hopeful heart, she knew she would, once she completed her quest.
The door to her carriage suddenly opened. The girl who opened it let out a surprised gasp. “Oh! I’m sorry. I thought this room was empty.” The girl had hazel colored hair that were in huge, loose curls. Her brown eyes were accented with glittery, purple eye shadow. She had miniature bird cages hanging from her ears like earrings. She was clothed in a pink blouse with a white unicorn imprinted on it and a lavender skirt.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” She asked, pointing to the seat opposite of Kuan Eim. Kuan Eim stood there for a brief moment before answering. “Sure, of course.” The girl smiled, closed the door, and sat down. “My name is Chrysanthemum Bloomington by the way.” Said the girl, extending a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Kuan Eim smiled, taking the extended hand and shaking it. “Nice to meet you too. My name is Kuan Eim Rattanakosin.”
Chapter 3: The Storm
A flash of blue lightning followed by a loud clap of thunder was heard. Dark clouds begin to form and float dangerously close to the boat. The sailors raced on deck, fastening down anything that can fall and kill them. The waves began increasingly violent, and the boat began rocking aggressively back and forth. The strong winds of the sudden storm blew a net, and it entangled a sailor in its grip. The other sailors ran to help their trapped friend but as they did some barrels, which were once held in place by a now snapped rope, began trembling across the deck and rolling over the other sailors.
“It’s chaos out there!” yelled Captain Crimson in a panicked tone as he watched his men struggle to take control of the situation. The captain tried to steer the boat safely, but the force of the raging waves and the fierce winds made it problematic. “I need to get down there!”
“Go.” Said Knight. “I’ll keep the boat stable.”
“You can steer a boat in a storm?” Asked the captain.
“It’s not the first time I did something like this.”
With minor faith, the captain left the controls in Knight’s hopefully capable hands, as he helped his men on deck. Knight firmly held the handles of the boat’s steering wheel. His hands at the two and eight o’ clock positions, Knight steered against the storm. When the wave knocked the boat to one side, Knight turned the wheel with full force to the other side. The wheel would often give resistance as it tried to spin out of Knight’s control; it was as if the wheel wanted to go where the storm took it. The storm was picking up and the rain was obtruding the field of view from the window. Knight turned the wheel this way and that; it took all of his might to keep the boat from capsizing.
The storm didn’t calm down; in fact, it was growing more in strength. Knight knew that they would have to sail into the eye of the storm if they wanted to survive. He turned the wheel to the right and the boat followed suit. The waves still threated to capsize the boat and the winds were threating to blow the sailors off the boat. Once Knight spotted the eye, like a glowing halo of safely and serenity breaking through the storm clouds, he sailed for it.
The next few minutes were merciless; rain violently assaulting the boat. The thunder grew louder as the lightning flashed above the boat. Waves crashed onto the deck of the boat. The captain and his men were scrabbling, everything seemed to be falling apart. Just then, the wind slowly became calmer, the waves became stable. The rain slowly ceased and the sounds of thunder and lightning became distant. A blanket of pure sunlight covered the boat; it was almost angelic.
After ensuring that the boat was finally stable. Knight talked out of the control room and was greeted with a slap on the back by the captain and a round of cheers by the other fishermen. “You saved our skins, son, and I’m forever in your debt.” Praised Captain Crimson. The eye above them won’t stay still for long. It will move along with the rest of the storm as it made its way across the North Atlantic Ocean, but at least it will protect the crew long enough for them to recover from the storm’s winds and rain.
Chapter 4: Acquaintances
“Really?! Monks?!” Chrysanthemum asked excitedly. Kuan Eim and Chrysanthemum has talked for several hours as the heavy rain and sleet pounded against the train and ran down the windows.
In those hours, Kuan Eim learned that Chrysanthemum is eighteen, the same age as her. She had been living with her parents in Texas until old age take their lives. Afterwards, she took over her parents’ bird taming business, which somewhat explains the bird cage earrings. At the moment, she was coming back from a job in Beijing and now she plans to visit her elder sister in Spain. Her sister, Ander, had gotten married to a wealthy Spanish art dealer and has been living with him and his daughter, Chrysanthemum’s step-niece.
Now it was Kuan Eim’s turn to tell her life story. She describes how she was born into a family of Thai rice farmers. She’s the eldest of five children, three girls including herself and two boys. She recounts the day when a group of Buddhist monks visited her family’s farm, she was about six or seven years old at the time.
“Yep, real live monks.” Kuan Eim answered.
“What did they look like?”
Kuan Eim considered the question for a moment, putting an index finger on her chin. “Well, they’re all bald and wear these orange robes.”
“And what did they do?”
“Well they mostly prayed with us and…” Kuan Eim trailed off, not sure if she should be telling a stranger this story. It wasn’t that it was a personal story, however she didn’t think her new acquaintance would think her sane if she took her the whole story. Then again, her new acquaintance had told her everything about her life, it wouldn’t be fair if she didn’t do the same.
“And what?” Chrysanthemum asked, clearly anticipating Kuan Eim’s next words
Kuan Eim decided that she wouldn’t tell her acquaintance the whole story, just the important parts. “They discovered a unique ability within me. Some sort of chi.”
“Chi?” Chrysanthemum repeated.
“Uh-huh. Turned out I can use my chi for healing.”
Chrysanthemum grasped loudly. “You’re a spiritual healer!”
Kuan Eim giggled. “I guess I am. Ever since then, I would learn and train at the monastery.”
“So they took you under their wing?” Chrysanthemum asked, impressed by Kuan Eim’s tale. “What about your sisters and brothers?”
Kuan Eim shook her head. “Nope, just me. My siblings all had regular educations.” She said this with a bit of sorrow in her voice.
“You don’t sound very happy about that.” Chrysanthemum said, noticing the sadness in her companion’s tone.
“Oh, no!” Kuan Eim said. “I’m grateful that my siblings were able to go to school. My younger sister is entering college, in fact.”
“Oh, ready? That’s great.”
Kuan Eim smiled. “Yeah, I’m proud.”
Chapter 5: Man of Mystery
Paris, 6:30 pm
I have finally arrived in Paris. I departed from Captain Crimson and his crew a few hours ago. The good captain sent me on my way with a hardy handshake and a few words of kindness: “You ever need me and my crew again, just look for our boat in the yellow pages, give us a call, and we’ll come sailing. You make one bang-up sailor Mr. Knight.”
I doubt the good captain would think the same thing of me if he known the only other time I sheered a boat, was when I took my godparents’ yacht out for a joyride as a teenager. In any case, I survived the storm and made it safely to Paris. I was able to book a room at a nearby hotel. The room was cheap but it has a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower. I must sleep, I had an eventful afternoon. I will need my strength for tomorrow.
There was a knock on Knight’s door. He turned to look at it and then got up from the table near the window and crossed the dimly lit room to answer the door. Not including the moonlight coming from outside the windows, the only light in the hotel were coming from wax candles, the same wax candles Knight used in order to see while he wrote his journal entry. Every room had electric lights, however, according to the hotel manager, they often flickered and eventually burned out so the manager decided to keep the lights off. As he was writing, Knight noticed the lights of Paris flicker before going out, making the whole city go into darkness.
He opened the door and was greeted by a small child, most likely twelve years of age, holding a silver tray. “Good Evening, Monsieur. I have brought you your dinner.” The voice has an elegant French ascent, it was also sweet and feminine. The small child must be a girl, however it was difficult to tell because she was wearing brown scarf that covered her forehead and nose. The only thing that can be seen of her face was her innocent ruby colored eyes. Knight made an educated guess that the girl’s family was Muslim. She was wearing black gloves, odd considering the warm weather. Her pink dress was long enough to hide her feet while the short sleeves covered her shoulders.
The tray she was holding had a bowl of cream soup, a spoon neatly placed on a napkin, and a red chocolate cupcake for dessert. “Why, thank you, miss.” Knight said, trying his show the same amount of politeness as the young girl.
“Please, think nothing of it, Monsieur.” She said, then handed the tray to Knight. She waited for him to place the tray onto the table before speaking again. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” She asked.
“No, thank you, I’m quite alright.”
“Very well, Monsieur.” She curtseyed and moved to leave the room.
Knight stopped her. “Wait a moment.”
“Sorry to trouble you, but I didn’t get your name. May I ask what it is?”
“Oh, it is no trouble at all, Monsieur. You may call me Belle.”
Belle, as in beautiful in the French language. For some reason, Knight thought it was fitting. “Belle, charmed. You may call me Mr. Knight.” He bowed to her.
Belle giggled a bit. “Pleased to meet you, Monsieur Knight.” She stood there for a moment, as if unsure of what else to say, or rather should she say anything. “Um, forgive me for being nosy, Monsieur, but are you a gypsy?”
Knight arched an eyebrow and smiled, looking amused by Belle’s question. “A gypsy?”
“Wee, a gypsy.” Belle said while nodding.
“I’m afraid not, my dear.” He answered.
“Then what are you doing here? You are not from here, no?”
“No, I’m from London. I’m just taking a trip.”
“A trip to where?”
She was clearly curious about him, as most children were when they encounter something new. This might be her first time seeing someone outside of her country. Knight decided to humor the young girl, what harm could it cause? He mentioned for Belle to enter the room. She obeyed and moved to stand next to the foot of the bed. Knight stood in front of her and got down on one knee, meeting her eyes. He spoke in a quiet tone. “Don’t tell anyone this, but I’m following the trail of a woman.”
“Oh, really?” Belle was getting excited. “Are you a detective?”+
“Not exactly, but I can see why you might think that.”
“Who is this woman you’re following?”
Knight’s eyes shifted downwards before meeting Belle’s again. “She’s someone very important for me to find, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?”
“Oh! Wee, Monsieur.”
“Good.” He petted the girl’s head. Her eyes closed and she let out an adorable hum.
“May I ask one last question?” Belle asked after opening her eyes again. Knight nodded. “Where is it that you are travelling to next?”
“Well,” Knight said, taking his hand off her head. “First thing in the morning, I’m heading for Rome.”
Belle’s eyes widened. “Rome. Where is that, if I may ask?”
Knight chuckled, he couldn’t help it. She was so adorably naïve and innocent in her questioning, and yet she tried to maintain her politeness, as if she was afraid she would offense him. However, Knight couldn’t see that happening anytime soon. “It’s in Italy, my dear. It’s a country that is not too far from here.”
“So you are going there in order to find an important man?” Belle’s eyes had a sort of sparkle in them. “What a mysterious, yet fascinating life you have.”
Knight was about to speak when what sounded like a French man yelling entered the room. Both Belle and Knight stared at the open door; the yelling took them both from surprise. Belle turned to face Knight, her eyes suddenly looking somber and depress. “I must go.” She said.
“Alright then,” Knight stood up and bowed again to the little girl again. “It was very nice talking to you Belle.”
“Like wise, Monsieur.” With that, she turned around ran back to the door. “I hope you have a pleasant evening, Monsieur Knight.” She curtseyed again and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Chapter 6: One Strange Lady
Guess what? I made a friend! In the first two weeks of leaving home too! Her name is Chrysanthemum Bloomington. We kind of bonded during my train ride in China. Right now, we’re loading her birds onto this aircraft, and then we’re gonna fly all the way to Europe. So exciting! I’m not sure if you gotten my last letter yet, if you did then great. If not, then know you can write to me about everything. I wish we can just call each other like they do in other countries, but I don’t know if there is a phone at the University, and there is no phone at the farm or at the monastery. In any case, I want you to keep care of herself, do well in your classes and make sure to do your homework, and make sure to say your prayers at least once a day. I’ll stop now.
The lurid noises of peacocks singing in high pitched tones followed by a thunderous crashing sound made Kuan Eim jump. She looked up and saw that a cage that once held a male and female peacock was now on the ground with its gate wide open, letting both peacocks escape and run around wildly. “Wait! Get back here! Quiet down, please!” Chrysanthemum was yelling at the two birds, trying to calm them down. She looked at Kuan Eim who was sitting cross legged on one of the wooden cargo containers. “Kuan Eim, help me catch them!” She begged.
Setting her letter to the side, Kuan Eim hopped from the wooden container and in one fluid motion, she stepped in the path of the one of the two, her right arm stretched out with the palm facing the bird’s eyes, and shouted something in Thai. Like magic, the peacock stopped clod in its tracks and, as if it was in a trance, began following her palm. When she noticed the other peacock running, she held out her other arm and shouted something in Thai again. Amazingly, the bird stopped cold in its tracks and stared into Kuan Eim’s palm as though in a trance. They stayed that way until two men took them away and put them back in the cage. Kuan Eim let out her breathe and relaxed her arms, letting them fall at her sides.
Chrysanthemum ran up to her, “Oh my god, Kuan Eim that was amazing! How did you do that?!” She was clearly in awe of Kuan Eim’s trick. Kuan Eim merely smiled and shrugged however; she didn’t bother to try to give an explanation. “You need to teach me to do that.” Chrysanthemum demanded. “That would make bird taming so much easier.” She quickly remembered herself, “Not that I’m not already an excellent bird tamer, of course.” Kuan Eim giggled at her friend’s mocked self-confident. She and Chrysanthemum, along with a pair of large muscled men, went to loading the rest of the exotic birds onto the aircraft.
The two of them had departed from the Chinese Railway Express and were in the Xinjiang Province, standing in an abandoned airfield. The cement runway was littered with cracks, which were growing wildflowers. A building was near the runway, windows broken, doors boarded up, and ceiling falling apart. A billboard that stood at the entry of the airfield has a faded painting of a cartoon airplane with human-looking eyes and a wide smile under a bright blue sky. Above the cartoon airplane were greyish letters that read: “HAPPY FLYING”. A smaller sign, standing underneath the billboard, was blue with white text that read: “FOR BUSINESS USE ONLY, UNLESS AUTHORIZE BY THE COMPANY”.
Chrysanthemum borrowed a small cargo-carrying airship from the shipping company that owned the airfield to fly them to Europe. It had the shape of a vessel with two large engines attached, and the whole thing was tied to a massive, oval balloon with metal cords. It had space to store boxes or, in this case, bird cages. At the front of the boat, was a steering wheel along with some buttons and dials on a pedestal.
Chrysanthemum didn’t say who the pilot was going to be. When Kuan Eim questioned her, Chrysanthemum said she would be piloting the aircraft, which Kuan Eim was not expecting. Remarkably, her father taught her how to pilot an airship two years prior to his death. Although she was apprehensive at first, Kuan Eim trusted her newly made friend to fly them safely to Europe. Besides, Kuan Eim was extremely eager to visit the elegant and luxuriant land she had heard so much about.
“That’s the last of them, Miss Bloomington.” Said one of the men sent by the company to help load the birds into the aircraft, as he set down the last bird cage into the space of the aircraft. The other man secured the cages with rope that was tied to clasps attached to the base. “Thank you very much, gentlemen.” She said to them. “We appreciate your hard work.” They looked at her indifferently, waiting for their paid. She reached into her small pink handbag and pulled out a pen and a checkbook. Kuan Eim noticed a white unicorn on the front of her friend’s checkbook. She theorized that Chrysanthemum might have a fondness for the mythical horse, although she never thought an eighteen-year-old would become fond of such a thing. The only people she knew with a fondness for unicorns are her younger sisters.
“Do you take American money?” Chrysanthemum asked the two men, checkbook at the ready. One of the men nodded. She wrote a handful of numbers on a blank check, tore it out of the book, and handed it to one of the hulking men. He looked at the check, then eyed Chrysanthemum questioningly. Chrysanthemum eyed them back. “What is it?”
“This is a little more then we’re supposed to be paid.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No, but won’t you need the money, ma’am?”
“Oh, I think you’ll need it more than me.”
Kuan Eim couldn’t see the exact numbers on the check, but she could infer by the man’s surprised expression that the number on the check was a very large amount. She watched as the two men tried to lower the amount so to not cause Chrysanthemum to go bankrupt, yet everytime, she refused. The whole thing confused Kuan Eim. Even the wealthiest of royal families that ever ruled her proud country of Thailand, never simply gave their riches away to the common people. It wasn’t like people to spend their money unwisely, unless they happen to be feeling very generous.
Chrysanthemum held her hands up in midair before the men could say anything more. “I insist. Take it.” The men glanced at one another, then they both shrugged. “Suit yourself, Miss.” One of them said.
With a nob of her head, Chrysanthemum walked pass the men and strolled over to her companion, who was waiting by the door of the plane. “It’s so hard to be generous without people acting suspicious.” She whispered to Kuan Eim.
Kuan Eim eyed her curiously. She wanted to ask her why she would pay the men more money than they were supposed to be paid, but she didn’t want to risk hunting the feelings of her new friend, so instead she said, “You’re one…generous lady, Chrysanthemum.”
Chrysanthemum just snickered and gestured for the door to the aircraft. “After you.” She said. Kuan Eim, with her suitcase in one hand, grip the handle of the door of the vessel, opened it, and took a step inside. She leaned her back against the railing of the vessel and sat her suitcase by her feet.
After stepping inside, shutting the door behind her and taking her place behind the steering wheel, Chrysanthemum turned to Kuan Eim. “Ready for this.” She asked.
“Uh-huh.” She said.
“Then let’s go!” She said as she pushed down on a pedal with her foot. A flame bloomed above them and the balloon inflated. She pushed some buttons, then the engines roared. The plane lifted from the ground and Kuan Eim felt her stomach push down as she tried to balanced herself. Then the aircraft floated in the air and Kuan Eim felt her heart skip a beat as she eyed over the railing. “Pretty cool, huh?” Chrysanthemum called back at her. Kuan Eim would only smile in response while she stared at the clouds around them. Her smile widened as she saw the yellow sun above the blue horizon.
“First time in the air?” Chrysanthemum asked.
“Well, yeah!” Kuan Eim said. “Only the military and the wealthiest companies in the world could afford ships like this. How did you get one?”
“I have my connections.”
Chapter 7: Picturesque
Florence, 3:49 pm
Its late afternoon. I had gotten an early start at 5 am. I’ve taken a bus across France, did some hitchhiking, then took another bus, and am now in the city of Florence. The buildings here are so modest and the people are very kind. Currently, I’m in a café. I’ve decided to take a break to eat, since I haven’t had any breakfast yet, saved for the tea and crumpets that Belle gave me this morning.
She was so sweet; she brought me my dinner last night and saw me off this morning, I can’t image a small child to wake up that early, but I suppose she really cared for me. I felt compelled to be absolutely polite every time I was around her, I swear she has this aura of courteousness that forbidden me to even think about being rude. Her eyes were truly precious. Her parents must be so proud. Enough daydreaming, once I finish my meal I will continue my mission.
By the time he was finished with his entry, the waitress was already at his table. The young brunette carried a silver tray in one hand and placed his order on the table with the other. He thanked the waitress, speaking in the best Italian he could. Atop the table was a small cup of coffee companied by a piece of cinnamon toast that was placed on a small, blue plate. He took hold of the cup, pushed it against his lips, and took a sip.
He sat at one of the small round tables outside of the red-bricked café. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked confectionaries were radiating from the kitchen and flowing out of the café’s many windows. The late morning sun bathed the him and the shop in a soft light while bluebirds sung in the distance. The city streets were busy with people on their daily routine. The whole street, along with the people, the shop and the buildings next to it, was like a sense from a photograph, peaceful and serene.
The table shook abruptly, alarming Knight. A teenage boy, about sixteen years old, wearing a cotton red shirt, torn gray pants, and a cap that was facing backwards, sat in the chair opposite to Knight, after spinning it around so he could sit in it backwards. His skin was an ashy gray while his short hair was a bright red. His brown eyes stared through Knight, then, in a croaky voice, he said: “Having a nice day, are we?”
Before Knight could response another boy of the same age and wearing the same clothes of the other boy appeared beside him. This boy was of a bronzed color, with a bald head, and a lone earring on his right ear. Then a young, brunette, rosy-cheeked girl wearing the exact same clothes as the boys appeared behind Knight.
Immediately, like a hard rock of dread settling in his stomach, Knight knew the intentions of these teens were not innocent. “I beg your pardon, but I think you have the wrong man.” He said to the gray boy. He started to move away from the table, only to be stopped by the girl, who was firmly holding him in his chair with her hands.
“Leaving so soon?” Asked the girl. “That’s a little rude.”
An arm belonging to the croaky voiced boy reached across the table and quickly seized Knight’s journal. He began to read the latest entry. “You like little girls, mister?” He asked. “Your little diary talks about a girl. A ‘small child’ with ‘precious eyes’.” He scowled as he quoted from the journal. “What was her name, mister? ‘Belle’? Was that her name?”
Knight was about to took snatch the journal from the boy, when the other boy grabbed his wrist. He eyed the sleeve of Knight’s suit. “That’s some suit, mister. Looks expensive.” He began to smile as his gaze turned to Knight’s face. “Did your rich daddy buy for you?” He asked.
“You obviously got a lot of money.” Said the red-haired boy. “A lot of money that you don’t deserve, you…sick creep.”
He quickly pulled his wrist out of the grip of the bald boy with bronzed skin. He inhaled deeply, soothing the anger collecting inside of him. “Firstly children,” He began calming. “I haven’t seen my biological father since I was an infant.”
“Aw boo hoo.” Mocked the brunette girl. “We’re still going to mug you.”
“Secondly, you were reading that entry out of context.” The red-haired boy’s eye widened. He knew Knight was referring to him and that made him angry. Before the boy would response, Knight spoke. “Thirdly, you shouldn’t rob random people-” The trio of teenagers exploded with laughter while Knight’s left hand went to the reach inside his coat. Sewed inside the right side of the carbon-colored coat, was a pocket made to holster a flintlock pistol.
The laughter quickly died down and was replaced by silence accompanied by three pairs of eyes staring at Knight’s hand. It held the polished, glossy metal that was the handle of the pistol. “Like I was saying,” Knight began. “You shouldn’t rob random people because you’ll never know when you’ll become the target.”
The rosy-cheeked girl and the bald boy took quickly stepped away from Knight while the croaky voiced boy leapt out of his seat, nearly tripping over himself in the process. Knight, remaining calm, stood up from his seat, looked at the red-haired, croaky voiced boy, and said: “I would like my journal back now, if you don’t mind.”
The boy vigorously threw the journal toward Knight, who caught it effortlessly with one hand. The trio shouted phrases like “This isn’t over!” and “We got you back!” at Knight as they ran farther away from the café. When they finally disappeared into an alleyway, Knight placed the pistol back in its holster and stuffed the journal into his jacket. It was then that he noticed that the other patrons were now covering under their tables. Knight, slightly confused, gestured for the other patrons to come up from under their tables, which they did.
Suddenly, the same brunette waitress that served Knight the coffee and toast came running out of the café. “Signor!” She cried. “Signor, are you unharmed?!” She stopped in front of Knight, fear etched into her face. “I phoned the police the moment those three showed up! They didn’t harm you in any way, did they? I’m sorry; I was too scared to come out.”
Knight shook his head. “Don’t worry, I am alright. Tell me, who were those kids, and why were your customers hiding just now?”
The waitress drew in a breath, as her left elbow came to rest in the palm of right hand. Her left hand was clutched into a fist that was pressed up against her chest. “They’re the members of a local gang.” She revealed. “I’m not sure of the name of the gang, but I do know that they like to wear red and that they like to harass the citizens of Florence for whatever reason they can find.” Her eyebrows knitted and her mouth turned into a frown.
“Do they always rudely insult people while they’re robbing them?” Asked Knight.
“I don’t know, signor.” Answered the waitress. “Their intentions are unclear.”
She continued, “If you ask me they’re just after money, especially those three. I have seen those three around here before; they are nuisances! They scare away potential customers and it’s bad for business!”
“Sounds troubling indeed.” Said Knight. He was about to ask more questions when the sounds of the sirens were heard racing toward the café. Within minutes the Florence police surrounded the area and were questioning the patrons of the café, including Knight and the brunette waitress. Since the waitress was quick to tell the officers everything that had happened, Knight didn’t have to explain much, saved for how he was able to scare off the trio. He told the officers about his pistol and the authorizations they allowed him to carry it on his person.
As soon as he was freed from questioning, Knight headed for the closest phone booth. Luckily for him, the booth became soundproofed the moment he closed the door. He spun the wheel of the rotary dial phone and waited. Then, someone picked up on the other end. “This is Knight.” He said into the phone. “Yes. I believe I got a lead on our thief.
Chapter 8: The Woman with the Yellow Umbrella
“Are you’ll be fine on your own?” Asked Chrysanthemum while squeezing Kuan Eim’s body in her arms. She and Kuan Eim had land in Rome hours ago; Chrysanthemum needed to complete a job in Rome before visiting her sister in Spain, a job involving taming a flock of starlings and then relocating them out of Rome. However, Kuan Eim was planning to go elsewhere and couldn’t stay in Rome for very long.
With a heavy heart, Kuan Eim hugged her new friend goodbye. “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” She said. She broke the embrace, but still clasped Chrysanthemum’s arms. “Thanks for everything, Chrysanthemum. Our time together was amazingly fun.”
Chrysanthemum giggled. “I should be thanking you, friend.”
“I hope we meet again.” Said Kuan Eim.
“We will. Don’t you worry about that.”
“You think so?”
Chrysanthemum’s words gave Kuan Eim joy and thrills; Kuan Eim, the young and eager girl from a faraway place, now had a friend in the world, who she could go to. They were only together for a short while, but she could see the good in Chrysanthemum. “Well, I guess this is goodbye until we meet again.” She said. Chrysanthemum just smiled and nodded. The two young women waved goodbye to each other and then parted ways.
After saying goodbye to her friend, Kuan Eim began to sightsee. Rome was truly a lovely city she thought. The balconies were covered with geraniums, irises, and dahlias, all in full bloom and decorating the city in a rainbow of bright colors. The delicious scent of baked pasta and fresh coffee escaped from the windows of cafés and restaurant and into Kuan Eim’s nose. The people were pleasant and very friendly; they all said ‘ciao’ and ‘buon pomeriggio’ as she passed by, smiling as they bowed and curtseyed to her.
She walked the stone streets for hours, looking at the many landscapes and ancient buildings. She took in the magnificence of the Pantheon, explored the Piazza Navona, and toured the Roman Forum. When she reached the Colosseum, she felt her stomach grumble from lack of sustenance. She walked passed many food stands and eateries, regardless of how much her stomach demanded food; she was just so involved with her sightseeing that she forgotten to eat. That was when she spotted a fruit stand.
The fruit stand was large and with an exotic array of fruits piled in wooden boxes and placed neatly next to each other. The woman, looking about forty years of age, behind the stand held a yellow umbrella in her pale hands to shade herself from the heat. Her black hair was tied into a bun, her sapphire eyes scanning the Thai woman that was eyeing her stand. The woman wore a long white, sleeveless dress and around her neck was a round, gold-plated locket. She giggled when she saw Kuan Eim stare at a box of reddish-pink fruit with light green spikes. “Do you like pitahaya?” She asked.
“Pitahaya?” Asked Kuan Eim, snapping her attention away from the fruit and looked at the woman. I thought it was called dragon fruit?”
“Yes, it is.” Said the woman. “But it is also called dragon fruit in other parts of the world. It a rare cactus fruit from Mexico, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Could you like to buy one?”
Kuan Eim took another inquisitive look at the box fill of dragon fruit, before turning back to the older woman. All her life she had eating foods like fried rice, fried noodles, steamed dumplings, deep fried pork, spicy beef, chicken curry, and spicy shrimp soup. However, she had never eaten dragon fruit, or pitahaya, before. “Are they sweet?” She asked.
“It may varies depending on the color of the flesh, but these…” She gestured towards the fruit in the box with a smile. “I assure you, these are sweet.”
Kuan Eim’s stomach gurgled again; apparently it was loud enough for the woman with the yellow umbrella to hear, because she began to nervously laugh. “You must be hungry…tell you what, because you seem really hungry, I’ll give you a discount on the dragon fruit.”
Kuan Eim blushed, slightly embarrassed. “I guess I’ll get one.” Her stomach gurgled louder. “Maybe two.” She said meekly.
The woman giggled a bit and folded her umbrella. She placed the umbrella beside the stand and began to placed two pitahayas in a brown paper bag. “Oh!” cried Kuan Eim. “I just remembered that don’t have any European money. Sorry.”
“Don’t fret.” Said the woman. “I take any type of currency.”
“Great!” She pulled out a five-baht bill from the front pocket of her dress and handed it to the woman, who handed her the bag of fruit. She thanked the woman and was about to leave when the woman spoke.
“You are from Thailand, are you not?” She said as she eyed the bill.
Kuan Eim looked at the woman surprised. “How did you know?”
“The baht you gave me.” She pocketed the bill and looked at Kuan Eim. “A little very far from home, don’t you think?” She grabbed the umbrella and re-opened it.
Kuan Eim smiled and her eyes lit up with promise. “Are you from Thailand as well?”
The woman shook her head sadly. “No, dear. I just visited Thailand in my travels.”
“Oh,” Kuan Eim said dejectedly. She has gotten herself excited about meeting someone from her home country. She hoped that the woman has knew her family so she could ask whether they were doing well. “Well, I hoped you enjoyed your stay.” She said instead.
“Why, yes, I did.” The woman said. “It’s a beautiful country.” She then quickly turned the subject with, “Are you looking for a hotel?”
She pondered on the question for a while. “I guess.”
“If you like, there is a cheap hotel called The Bellezza di Roma is not far here.”
“‘Bell…’? What does that mean?”
“It means the beauty of Rome.”
“Really? That’s a cool name.”
“Yes, well, it’s around the corner. That way.” She pointed the way with one hand, which Kuan Eim followed the hand with her gaze.
“Why, thank you, miss.”
“Call me Mary.”
“Alright. Thank you, Mary.” She bowed to Mary and left, heading towards the corner. She turned around briefly and wave to Mary. Mary waved back, yellow umbrella still in hand.
Several minutes after meeting Mary, Kuan Eim was at the desk of her hotel room, eating the dragon fruit. Mary was right, the fruit was sweet, but it was also a little tart. Kuan Eim loved sweet and tart foods. The white flesh of the dragon fruit danced upon her taste buds while the juices ran down her throat. Eating the fruit made her fingers wet with dragon fruit juice and she needed to wash them in the bathroom sink, but at least the fruit had fill her stomach.
She returned to the desk and pulled out a pen and paper. She began to write another letter; it was going to be her third letter written to her sister. With every letter written, she grew more worried. Worried that they might be mad at her for leaving. She did wonder why Melee hadn’t written her back yet. Was it because she was moving around so much that she couldn’t send a letter to her big sister? She hoped that every letter would reached her family, so to let them know that she was well and missing them.
Chapter 9: First Meeting
Maybe it was the traffic or maybe it was the events that transpired earlier or maybe it was because he was travelling for hours, but Knight felt exhausted. His eyelids were getting heavier as the bus ride grew closer to Rome. When the bus finally made it to Rome, the sky was quickly turning a dark purple. People were blocking their windows as a cold gale swept the city. Shops and businesses were beginning to close as lanterns lit up one by one to illuminate the streets.
Fortunately, the bus stopped in front of a hotel. Bellezza di Roma, was the name of the hotel. It looked to be about three stories tall. Colorful flowers hung underneath all of the windows and the exterior walls were made of red brick. Hanging from the roof of the hotel, were two flags: one was the flag of Italy, the other had a painting of the Colosseum. It was a very modest hotel and it was perfect for the kind of work Knight was planning. He went inside and booked a room.
At the front desk, he was given the key to Room 218. He climbed the steps, unlocked the door, and shut the door behind him. The room was also modest; a single bed, a wooden desk, a window with light blue curtains, and an adjective room that led to the bathroom. The spring bed, with its ebony sheets and plush pillows, was becoming more inviting. The half-open window, letting the cool air in, made him even more tired.
He spotted a phone on the nightstand beside the bed and was reminded of the call he was supposed to make. He groaned and yawned, fatigue slowly over taking him. As much as he wanted to sleep, he had a task to complete. He would just make the call, afterwards he would get to sleep.
“Done!” Kuan Eim exclaimed as she set down the pen on the desk. She had finished writing the letter to her sister describing her sightseeing in Rome as well as her encounter with Mary. She looked it over one last time, before sealing it within an envelope. Now she just needed to place it in the mailbox and let the mail carrier ship it to Thailand. She remembered see a small mailbox outside of the hotel; she would be downstairs and back in five minutes. She stood from her chair and started to walk towards the door.
That was when she heard a voice. It was faint, but audible and sounded as though it was coming from the room next to hers. She stepped toward the far wall and the voice behind the wall became louder and clearer. She continued to step closer, and closer, and closer still. Before she knew it, her ear was pushed against the wall. The walls of the hotel must have been as thin as paper because she could hear just about everything from the other room.
The voice in the other room sounded deep and masculine, but it was also smooth like silk and as elegant and refined as diamonds. It was the kind of exotic, romantic voice she only heard on the radio. Almost instantly the voice took her. She felt her heart beat louder as a wide, giddy smile formed on her face. The voice was so romantic and so alluring; it made her feel as though she had nothing to worry about. She listened to the enchanting voice as it talked about something she was only faintly paying attention to.
The sound of a phone hitting a receiver snapped her out of her daydream. She quickly stepped away from the wall, blushing. Remembering what she was going to do, she hurriedly raced to the door, letter in hand.
“All right. Goodbye.” With that, Knight placed the phone on the receiver and yawned. The call was done, and now he could rest. He began to unbutton his suit when a thought strike him. He groaned in annoyance, realizing that, in his haste, he had forgotten his wallet at the front desk. He would have to walk downstairs and receive it. With a heavy sigh and drowsy eyelids, he marched out of his room.
As soon as he stepped out of his room, he collided with something soft and smooth. It took a while for him to realize that a beautiful young girl with long, curly black hair and emerald eyes was standing in front of him. She was in the daze and confused, one hand rubbing at her forehead. After shaking the sudden shock from his mind, he quickly apologized. “Oh, I’m so sorry, miss.”
“No, no. It’s ok.” The girl said, after shaking the shock from her own head. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“No,” Replied Knight. “I should have been paying attention to my surrounds.”
“Please, no apologizes are needed.”
“Still, I am deeply sorry, miss.”
“It’s no trouble, so don’t worry about it.”
The two looked at one another until Knight awkwardly cleared his throat. “Now, if you excuse me, miss.” He stepped back a bit before turning his back to the lovely young woman he just met, fighting the urge to look back.
Kuan Eim, still staring at the back of the handsome gentleman she just met, remembered her letter and that she needed to head in the same direction of the gentleman. She considered heading that way too, but ultimately decided to just mail the letter in the morning.
Chapter 10: Trapped
The woman at the front desk was kind enough to fetch his wallet for him. He thanked her and started to head back to his room. He was halfway up the stairs when a man with short brown hair in a red shirt walked through the hotel’s doors, one hand hidden in his pants pocket. A pair of thick, pure black sunglasses covered his eyes. The appearance of the man strike Knight as odd; ominous even. He shook the feeling out of his mind and continued to climb the stairs.
“Hands in the air, lady!”
Boisterous yelling made Knight race back down the steps. To his utter shock, he saw the man in the red shirt and dark glasses holding a pistol to the woman’s face. The woman, clearly scared for her life, held her hands in midair. She took a step backward screaming: “Please…please don’t hurt me!”
It wasn’t long before four other people, all wearing red shirts and dark glasses, came rushing through the doors of the hotel, all of them holding pistols at the ready. They immediately began to tear apart the front lounge; knocking over the dark emerald chairs, breaking the legs of the dark wood coffee table, breaking the ornamental flower vases, and tearing down the embroider drapes.
Knight immediately want to reach for his gun, only to be reminded that he left it in his room. “Bugger!” He said under his breath. He ran to his room, threw open the door, and hurriedly gasped his gun from the bedside table. He hurried back to the staircase, pistol in hand. Before he could set foot on the first landing, a familiar and frightened face appeared before him. It was the woman from the front desk and behind her was the man with the red shirt and thick glasses, holding the barrel of the pistol to the back of her skull.
“Hand it over, or I’ll shot her!” Shouted the man. Knight gritted his teeth and begrudgingly handed his pistol over to the man, who tucked it in his pants. “Now hands in the air!” The man ordered. Knight obeyed. “On the floor against the wall! Now!” He ordered again. “You too, lady.” He added, referring to the woman. Knight slowly sat on the floor, his back against the far wall. The woman followed suit, her hands still in midair.
The man, holding the firearm in-between his two hostages, turned his head slightly and whistled loudly towards the stairs. Within seconds, the four others came running up the steps. They ran passed Knight and the woman and began to kick open the doors of the rooms, breaking the locks. The surprised yelps and terrified screams of the customers of the hotel rung out throughout the hallway. The people in red stepped into the rooms and yelled at the customers to get into the hallway. One by one, the people in red led the hotel customers out into the hallway. They shouted at the customers to sit down against the wall and held their hands in midair, and the customers obeyed. One of the people in red, whose Knight presumed was female from the long scarlet hair, went to bound his wrists and the wrists of the hotel’s customers and staff members with thin white rope. The rope cut into Knight’s flesh.
Suddenly, another scream rung out, yet this time the scream sounded familiar to Knight. He snapped his head to his left and what he saw made his stomach drop. The beautiful young girl who he bumped into earlier this evening was being pulled out of her room by her right arm. The person pulling her was one of the people in red, who Knight presumed to be a man by the short black hair. The man pointed his firearm at her and shouted at her to get on the floor. The girl obeyed, sitting against the wall. The man kneeled before her, set his gun down on the floor, and went to bound her wrists with rope.
Once all the customers and staff members were present, the man with brown hair stood in front of the twenty hostages that sat against the two walls of the hallway. “Ok, everyone!” He shouted. “We are going to break into the basement of the hotel and put you there!” He looked at one of his companions, the man with short black hair. “Break into the basement!” He barked. The man with black hair nodded and run passed the hostages and down the stairs. “Once the basement is open, we’ll bring you guys down there two by two. You…!” He pointed a finger at Knight. “And…you!” He pointed at the young girl with curly black hair. “You two are going in first.”
In the dark, damp basement of the hotel, where she was sitting against one of the walls, Kuan Eim was trembling. She wasn’t trembling because she was scared, rather because she was cold. The basement had pipes attached to the walls and hanging from ceiling. The exposed red brick walls felt moist and cold against her back. In some corners of the room, there were cobwebs forming. Rectangular pillars of bricks were supporting the ceiling and massive barrels of wine were located to the right of her. Valves were attached to the wall opposite her. There was an arched doorway that led to a set of stairs the led up to the lobby; it was the way set of stairs that the people in red pulled her down by her arm.
The other hostages were around her. Five of the hostages were seated near the wall opposite her. Nine more sat on the wall to the left of her. Five more hostages were seated near the barrels of wine. Finally, seated near the arched doorway, was Kuan Eim, and beside her, was the handsome gentleman she had ran outside her room. He was scanning the room before him with his blue eyes. She noticed that he was grinding his teeth. She wondered what was he so upset about; it was not as if he could have prevented this from happening.
He watched the eyes of the gentleman dart from the other hostages to the doorway and then back to the other hostages. She wondered what he was thinking about. She shifted her gaze to the floor. Her mind raced through ways to get out of this situation, a way for her and the other hostages to make it out of the hotel alive. When she couldn’t settle on a probable plan, she resorted to praying. Interlocking the fingers of her hands and pressing them against her chest, she closed her eyes and silently said: “Buddha, please help us.”
“What is your name?”
Kuan Eim’s eyes snapped opened. She looked up to find the handsome gentleman looking at her with gentle eyes. He had whispered a question to her. “E-excuse me?” She asked, as she couldn’t hear him clearly.
“What is your name?” He repeated.
“Kuan Eim Rattanakosin.” She answered.
“Nice to meet you, Kuan Eim.” He said. “My name is Magnet Knight, but my friends and colleagues call me Knight.”
She giggled a soft and almost noiseless giggle. “That’s an odd name, don’t you think?” She said.
“You also have an odd name as well, Miss Kuan Eim.” He said with a smile.
She giggled again. “Yeah, I guess I do.” Her glaze shifted to the floor again, the smile on her face quickly fading.
“I know you’re scared Kuan Eim-” Knight began to say.
“I am not scared!” Kuan Eim interrupted him, her voice barely below a whisper. “I’m just uncomfortable is all. It’s really cold in here.”
“Yes, it is rather cold.” Knight agreed.
“What do you think they went with us?” She asked.
“I met these people before.”
“Yes, in Florence, Italy. Three teenagers wearing identical red shirts. They attempted to rob me.”
“What did you do?”
“I was able to frighten them off, but that was when I still had my pistol.”
“You had a pistol? Where is it now?”
“They forced me to surrender it.”
“However, I have a plan get it back.”