The Sketchbook (A Tale of Adventure and Romance in the Amazon)
Here she was, in South America, in a motor coach following an insane hunch that the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life was somewhere nearby waiting for her. She had no idea who he would be, but she had already drawn his picture in her sketchbook.... More
...His Guide’s Manual warned James Hennessey adamantly never to associate on an intimate basis with any passenger, female or male. He'd heeded that sound advice for the ten years of his employment, and was well content to heed it for the next ten years. He avoided the coy signals that Carole Santini and Ira Krausner sent him. As for Mary Juliette, her glances did not invite. She was curious about him, but not brazen or flirtatious. It felt more as though she were trying to make up her mind about him. Perhaps she realized that her chances of capturing his interest were slim. She was plain. She wore some makeup, her dark brown hair was well styled in a page, but she would never be glamorous. And he had to admit he liked "glamorous." And "glamorous" often responded; though what they saw in him, he had not the slightest idea. Yes, he was easy on the eyes, a tall, broad-chested man, with a casual air that matched his safari poplin shirt, pants, and wide-brimmed hat. He kept himself in good shape, worked out, watched what he ate. He had a fair amount of intelligence, and enough wit to keep a conversation going. Outside of that, he was just another guy. Yet three quarters of the women who had ridden this motor coach in the past ten years, had tried to flirt with him. He doubted he need worry with Mary Juliette. Plain and reserved, and as far as he could tell thus far, unaffected. He could trust this one for some light conversation... Mary Juliette could hardly contain her excitement. They were entering the South American jungle. She was finally going to see it and be able to sketch it first hand. And when she returned to her favorite hill overlooking her hometown, she would breathe life into her sketches by transferring them to canvas in vivid oil colors. This particular tour avoided the tourist traps and touched upon the real Amazon, the parts of the country indigenous to the giant slithering anacondas, and the large butterflies whose colorful wings were like oriental fans; the lush vegetation of the Amazon Basin – the laurels, the mimosas, the papaya trees; the native among his village of thatched huts, as he fished and hunted, while his woman, nursing their child at her breast, wove cloth for their garments in colorful, intricate patterns. MJ flipped through the used pages of her sketchbook, pausing at the last image she had drawn, her conception of "Mr. Right," her "Mr. Right." She looked closer at the sketch and her mouth fell open. The drawing bore a striking resemblance to Hennessey. It was Hennessey. Was Hennessey "Mr. Right?".... No one except the mulatto guard, Connors, noticed the figure perched in a tree, holding a long firearm ready and aimed directly at them. "Deus—Nao!" Connors uttered, as the dissatisfied Mestizo opened fire on the motor coach and its occupants. Enrique never knew what hit him. He slumped forward over the steering wheel. Connors shouted as he dove to his knees and made a grab for the steering wheel, ducking as another volley of bullets hit the windshield and shattered the glass into a frosty kaleidoscope of blues and whites. He managed to turn the wheel trapped under Enrique’s bleeding chest, and steer the bus away from the river and its hungry inhabitants. More bullets riddled the metal monster on wheels as it veered and careened off the road, and crashed into a clump of gnarled vines and close-knit trees. Hennessey crawled down the center of the bus, checking on the passengers. From the corner of his eye he saw Mary Juliette sliding out from under her seat into the aisle. "Where do you think you’re going? Get back under!" he ordered grimly. Big dark brown eyes stared defiantly back at him. "Go ahead, stand up, give those hell hounds a clear target," Hennessey told her in earnest. ...
(This story appeared in the anthology novel Heart Bouquets, written and copyrighted by the same author, Paula Freda)