Their World Tour Aug04


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Their World Tour

On the very first day of the New Year, the three friends sat drinking their morning hot chocolate and deciding whether or not to each make one New Year’s Resolution.

“Not” was winning for the first few sips until the heat of the drink began to awaken the still groggy brain cells. It was not that they had partied too much last night. To the contrary, all three had been active until the wee hours, tending the children of the other party goers.

All three young women were in need of money to make their dream of traveling together after High school graduation and before college actually come true. They have been planning this event from the day they first all three met in the third grade of Elementary School.

Kelly had been attending school there all along, starting in kindergarten. Sara arrived in the third grade when her parents moved to California while her father was stationed with NASA at the Cal. Tech. Facility. Ellie’s dad had taken a new job and moved, without his family, to somewhere in the far east, so Ellie’s mom had taken an apartment in a big building in Pasadena where Ellie started this new school and met Sara and Kelly.

On that very day the school had held a program in the auditorium and they sat watching a travel film of three friends, young men, who had made the movie as they toured the world,

This amateur travel documentary was fascinating to the three little girls who sat and ate lunch together for the first time right afterwards and got acquainted by discussing the boys in the movie and their daring trip.

“Boys are more daring.” Sara conceded. “Girls can’t do things like that.” Kelly disagreed. “You mean girls don’t, not that they can’t.” Ellie compromised.

“I think they can’t, because they don’t, even though they could if they wanted to. I would want to, I think, therefore I could.” Ellie laughed at her complicated observation. They all laughed and began to try to decide if they thought they would like to travel and make a movie for other girls to be inspired by. By the time lunch was over they had all three decided that right after graduation from High School, they would make a trip together and film it, and in their imaginative, minds, the blonde Kelly with the blue eyes, the red-head Sara with her green eyes and the dark brunette, Ellie with dark brown eyes made a great contrasting set of up-coming stars in their film. However, they didn’t appreciate the fact that nature was on their side, as they grew more beautiful each year.

In those few years, as they continued to work and plan their own trip, a little bit more each time one or the other heard about an interesting place, the movie camera had changed into a video camera and then evolved into a telephone-video camera. The plan to have to buy heavy equipment had passed and it became even easier for the girls.

The years passed they went from Elementary School to Junior High and on through High School with scarcely an argument as they grew up, keeping that most important plan in mind and using every opportunity to make and save money to make it happen.

They started by watering lawns for vacationers and feeding their animals, in the fall they raked leaves. They wished it would snow so they could shovel sidewalks, but they lived in Southern California, at the beach…thus no snow. As they grew older, baby sitting became very lucrative along with dog walking and pet shampooing. With a plan that was giving them incentive to work, they also each had a growing bank account.

However the plan quickly became more difficult in High School as parents pointed out that now was the time to get jobs and begin to save for college. They had never shared their travel plans with anyone, so they now needed two savings accounts and all of the jobs they could carry off.

Not only was college getting more costly, but their little secret travel map had stretched to include more counties and cities of interest, plus Ellie kept adding the places where her father was working and dropping the towns he had left, so far she was even.

So this first day of the New Year, they sat and counted how much they had made with their, “Over-Night-Child- Care- Service”, just for that holiday. One half went into each college fund and the other into their secret travel plan accounts.

It amazed them how many people wanted that New Year’s Eve Service and even more amazing was how large the tips were for that one night. Everyone must be expecting a very good New Year. Both accounts were doing very well.

They laughed together as they wondered how many other young girls had planned to make their dreams come true by working hard and saving money for how long? They counted… Nine years!

The New Year’s Resolutions were forgotten by probably the only three who, if they made them, would have been the most likely to keep them.

A major problem arose when Ellie went to make this new deposit into her secret account and found that most of the money had been withdrawn. She quizzed the teller and learned that as she was a minor, had needed to put her mother’s name on the account also. They all had. And this problem made the other two girls check on their balances, too.

Only Ellie’s had been wiped out. She went home in tears and asked her mother about it.

Her mother explained that she needed the money to pay the rent, so they wouldn’t get evicted. She had no money and they were four months behind. Eviction was now, if it wasn’t paid at once. The bank teller reminded her of this other account, which she seemed to have forgotten and so she used the money to pay the rent.

I didn’t know you had an account Ellie. Why didn’t you tell me? I actually believed your father might have opened it for you… you know for college. She sighed, “What a dreamer, I was. I should have known better.

So Ellie sat down for a rare talk with her mother and explained the secret money to her. And then went on to explain the college fund also. Fran was amazed that a child could be so frugal, as she had seen the girl go without things, because she didn’t have money for her… when she had money all along.

Now that High School had ended, they were about to buy tickets to leave for the first important trip of the Tour, after saving every cent possible for nine years and now! Well, now she couldn’t go at all. Explaining to the others would be difficult, especially after her mom told her the bald truth for the first time in her life.

Mother explained that their father had left them ten years ago and all of those places she had been telling her he was living and working in, were a lie to help her keep a good image of what was in reality a just plain lousy dad. Her mother was sorry about the money being gone, but she had none to replace it. Her job had cut the working hours for some political reason she didn’t understand, so unless she found another, they would be short for a very long time.

Ellie went out to look for full time work, just as her mother was doing. She apologized to the girls and that was all she could do.

If I can get full time work, I won’t be going to college, anyway, so we can live on that account for a little while at least, she told her mom, trying to make her feel better about their circumstances. Possibly, she only felt like more of a failure.

Kelly and Sara were not happy about going without Ellie so they held a conference and decided to put off the trip for one year to find a way for Ellie to join them.

Kelly sat down to her computer and wrote the story of the three girls who had planned this travel tour for nine years and had now run into money trouble. She was certain that the tour tapes would be valuable to a television studio, once they were home, or they could mail them in weekly and let a series begin and wondered if anyone would be willing to help back the trip in exchange for their films.

After completing the story she went through her albums and found pictures of the three of them from the third grade up to this graduation. Then she copied them to the story and E.mailed copies to the four major T.V. channels.

The only return was the fastest, but not as she had requested. Apparently no one was truly interested in backing a travel tour from three women who had no back ground for doing one.

She was just as quick to answer the suggestion from her one reply. Kelly was just about to punch send, when it occurred to her that she had been speaking for three without informing them or getting permission. She put the reply on hold and called her friends.

Come right over she insisted. We have to talk. Then she told them to invite their mothers to come also. If Ellie’s mom knew all about the plan the other two moms must now be informed also.

Ellie and her mother were the first in the door. But their concern was a little different. Neither mother, Fran, nor her daughter, Ellie wanted all to know what had become of Ellie’s savings. Kelly assured them that this was not in her mind or her letter for outside help. To help them feel better about the meeting, she handed them copies of her original letter, reminding them that they had not received any positive answers, except for this different one she was holding until all were here.

Kelly could tell that Ellie’s mom was embarrassed about her part in the loss of El’s savings, and maybe Ellie was too. She felt sorry for them as she understood that for all of these years her mom had been struggling to keep her daughter from knowing that they had been abandoned.

Fear of being exposed as the culprit who had ruined Ellie’s plans, Fran might not go along with this pretty good suggestion from the television station. Her mind was working to figure out the best way to present it so that they would agree.

The moms all greeted each other as they arrived and Kelly took the front to talk to everyone at once. First she caught the two moms up on the original plan and jumped to herlettertothefourstations,completewithphotos. Myoffertosellthemtherightsto the complete tour received no takers, however, this letter has a suggestion of their own.

We can all discuss it once we have all heard what they have to offer. The letter says,

Miss Kelly, We have no long range plans for a travel documentary such as you suggest. However we believe your story to be unique and interesting. We can tape and present your story just as you wrote it, showing how young you were with the photos,
and having the three of you sitting here in the studio as high school graduates, prepared to answer questions about those fairly well laid out plans to travel the world for one year and then return to go to college with the money you have also earned for that. The jobs you started out doing at eight years old will be a big part of it. Please let me know if this is of any interest to all three of you young ladies.

Kelly laid the page down and looked at the group, hoping their response would echo her already written reply.

She wasn’t surprised when Ellie’s mom, Fran, held back her opinion. But her own mom’s suggestion did surprise her.

“If you go on television you will each become an instant celebrity depending upon how far this show goes. If it is small, maybe it will stay local and the damage will be minimal. However, this idea with three very attractive young women, can go national even international in a blink of the eye. That, my darlings, can completely hinder your planned World Tour.

Everywhere you travel, you will be recognized and surrounded by…have you heard of Paparazzi? Those are the press and photographers who infiltrate where ever they smell news and follow the news makers. Your story could become very well known before you even get home to write and edit your own film.”

“Wouldn’t that make ours a better sell?” Sara asked. “Sort of like free publicity.”

“Except that for your entire journey you will be trailed and coddled by completely untrustworthy men and women who worm their way into your confidence for their own reasons. None of you will be able to trust the people you meet to be true friends. At every stop people will surround you asking for autographs, hoping some of your fame will rub off on them.

Actually this entire thing should be handled in reverse. Take the trip, see the world, meet the folks and then after you return, contact the station again and let them tell your very unique story of unending dedication, to help launch the movie of your travels. Promise that to them now if you wish, but require a faith deposit of say, $!000.oo dollars in advance.

If that isn’t enough I will add to your kitty myself.

“But if we go on television, first we may get thousands in small donations from the public.” Kelly pointed out.

“That is true.” her mom conceded. “But is the loss of anonymity worth it? Did the young men who made the film you say you all admired, travel as simple interested foreigners… or as Rock Stars?”

“Travel as yourselves.” Fran suddenly suggested. Then she broke her own privacy concern with, “I think I may have found a pretty good job, so Ellie can use her college money to travel and we will hope the tour is successful enough to help restore that fund when you all return. “ Ellie jumped up to hug her mother with joy. Then she pulled back and asked softly,

“Then I can go. You will be alright by yourself while I am away?”

“I won’t be by myself, I will be busy reading the letters from you and mentally traveling with you.” She smiled, “Go and do a good job.” She insisted, although, Fran had already begun to fear the loneliness that would soon follow. She had spent ten years with Ellie’s well being as her top concern. That job had just ended. Now what would she do? That was the top worry she faced.

“I agree,” Sara’s mother entered her opinion last. “This long time plan is not only a complete surprise to me, but a reinforcement of my trust in my daughter, who has been so true to her friends and their mutual plans for their future… How can I not be proud?”

Kelly had to rewrite her answer to the television offer from happy acceptance, to express her thanks to them for offering it and include what amounted to a transcript of their three mother’s suggestions and fears.

They accepted her offer to let them make that same show upon their return, with a check made out separately to each girl for $1000.oo, with that promised first priority provision.

Kelly’s mother, Jean, gave a dinner two nights later for all of them plus the two Dads who had not yet been informed. They were typical fathers, impressed but more concerned for their little girl’s safety. Between the two worried fathers, all three girls were given a plethora of advice on how to deal with those strangers they would meet in their travels…mostly about the men.

Kelly was promptly reminded of a line she read somewhere. It stated: “Adult girls, understand this fact: Your mother will now be your best friend forever, but your father will be your father until the end of your life.” How true that seemed this night.

Ellie, of course, now knew that she would not be visiting the current place her father had been expected to be. Now as a totally unknown person, his loss left an empty spot in her heart. In the early years she had carried a pleasant picture of a man called, daddy, in her mind, as time passed she realized that the real daddy must be much older than the one she imagined and the picture faded slowly away. Now that she knew he was not even an interested person, she decided to let him go once and for all. The recent loss was soon overwhelmed by the job of packing light for a very long busy trip.

It took all morning, but they finally decided to wear one complete outfit, jeans, T-shirt, with colorful top, underwear, and socks with good walking shoes and a comfortable long sleeved sweater. In their bags they would carry a second pair of jeans, two more T-shirts, two more sets of underwear, four pairs of socks and as many different colorful tops as possible, due to the fact that they would be filming everything, it seemed necessary to change tops often to delineate the days. So silk and nylon seemed light enough to fill that purpose. Also they would change their hair style or pony tails or braids often for variety. They added an extra warm sweater for that same reason. They knew it was up to them to make this film fashionably, interesting, something they all noticed that the boys had failed to do in theirs.

The first decision: you live in California and you’re going to go around the world no matter which way you start, so which way do you turn for that beginning step?

Ellie checked into the Trans-Siberian Railway as a way to start by Flying to San Francisco and then to Tokyo to get transport to that famous railway, which she learned was built from 1891 to 1916 to connect Vladivostok with the Capitol and the Far East.

She was getting excited about that very long train ride through some of the most interesting tourist sites and found that they could make arrangement for one of those special trains, which traveled all across Russia and Mongolia, visiting places like the Great Wall of China, Beijing and Moscow to St Petersburg.

On the map, St Petersburg seemed just a hop to Finland and by a quick boat trip to Sweden and Norway. Her plan then took them south from Oslo Norway on another cruise ship to New Castle, Northern England where they could rent a car and zig-zag England, touching, Scotland, Ireland and travel all the way down to London where without stopping they could drive the Chunnel under the English Channel to France. That was all the further she got with her “Fly West First” plan, but she knew that they knew most of the places that would most likely follow France. They could work on those later if the girls chose the western direction to start.

Sara was planning an “East-First” trip, flying to New York and north to the Boston area, before going south to Washington D.C. She left lots of time for our Capitol as that place had so much to offer. Nearly everything in D.C. was something she wanted very much to see and learn about. They would be driving from New York so they could stop easily for important points of interest, like Charleston, Norfolk, down to Orlando for a quick stop to see their Disneyland’s sister, Disney World.

They all wanted to learn if there was anything going on at the Space Station they had always hoped to visit when they were very young and wanted to be Astronauts. Kelly
had once proposed that they spend their money to go there and volunteer to work at anything they could, just to go to the Kennedy Space Station. But it began to sound silly even to themselves, as at that time only men were accepted.

Times changed, and they got excited about that choice again. Women were serving even on the International Space Station. Then they changed too much…down to almost nothing. A great disappointment to three Space crazy little girls. Still a pang was left that wanted to just look for themselves at what they had missed.

After that they would hop a plane again and fly from Miami to Portugal and Spain where they would drive the trails of the Bicycles of “le Tour de France” through as many of the charming little villages with castles and forts as they could mark out, all the way to Paris, where they would probably have to spend a week in just one Museum. le Louvre.

Kelly, Sara and Ellie listened carefully to both plans and were intrigued by both.

Of course, Ellie the brunette and Sara the redhead, each voted for their own and blonde, Kelly was the tie breaker. But as she thought of herself as an America First, girl, she chose the “Fly East” plan in order to see those places in her own country first. As she explained it,

“I will not be able to compare those foreign countries with ours, unless I know a lot more about our own. So please I would like to give my time and money into learning more about what we have here in the United States of America, first.” The other girls recognized her patriotism and applauded her. So “East First” it was!

They also agreed that very soon after this first World Tour, they wanted to plan another, just to visit as many of the United States as they could.

Ellie was appointed to purchase the three Airline tickets, so she sadly but willingly, had to bring her brain back from that so interesting Trans-Siberian Train and concentrate on getting them to New York with a car rental waiting.

Kelly reminded them to each pack a couple of boxes of tissues, for two reasons, to use as needed for the toilet and to use up and have space available for a few New York blouses.

In four days they would be on their way. Even before they were gone, their mother’s had their heads together, planning a “Welcome Home Party”. And Sara’s dad had written a list of the “Not to do” things the fathers had suggested and wanted them to be sure to remember.

The girls just smiled and looked it over then promised to consult it often.

“Just accept it,” Kelly reminded her friends quietly. “It’s from our fathers, so it will go on forever.”

They waved goodbye to everyone in front of Kelly’s house where the airport bus was arriving to take them to the airport in Los Angeles…LAX.

They spent the first hour looking out of the Airplane windows and telling each other how it was so incredible that they were actually on their way. But soon after that they were settled down to looking over the New York brochures between naps. Leaving had been so hectic with all of the people they knew wanting to say Bon Voyage or something like that. Sara was sure that “goodbye” in every language on the planet had been spoken in deference to their World Tour.

Ellie had done a good job of making their reservations and the car was waiting at the Airport. They each passed their driver’s licenses over to the young woman writing the rental agreement, as they would take turns driving. Ellie began and took them from the Airport to the first Hotel any of them had ever stayed in, in their whole lives.

They stood facing the two queen size beds as Ellie explained,

“This is not a four or five star New York Hotel, still these large beds will be what we will face often here in the States, so be thinking about how you want to handle the sleeping arrangements, but I have booked the lowest prices I could find. We all know that we have over planned this journey from year one, so now in this reality, in most of the foreign countries we will be in dorms for student travelers filled with single cots. As you gave me this job of booking reservations, I have stretched our money to the limit. You and I know we can see more… if we eat and sleep with less.

Kelly raised her hand like the school girl she still was at heart. Both girls looked at her with smiles.

“I just wanted to say this,” she began, “But we must get over ourselves and try to look a little more sophisticated. It was alright to be filmed by my dad looking so very excited about starting at long last on this dream trip, but… let’s all try harder now to keep it inside and not look so stupidly awed over every little thing. That’s all.” Kelly looked at the now sober faces. “That’s better. Now I know we are all excited, but the world need not know by just looking at us.”

Kelly and Sara had each claimed a bed, so they tossed a coin for which would take in Ellie. Later they would make a more permanent method of dividing two beds between three people.

They were startled by a knock at the door and looked at each other. No one was expecting anything, so Kelly stepped to the door and opened it.

Two young men stood in the doorway still dressed in their Airline Uniforms. Sara recognized them as two of the pilot crew who had flown them here, but waited for them to introduce themselves and state their business, which they did promptly.

The first ushered himself in leading the other and they stood almost as at attention to give their planned spiel to the three good looking young women.

“Greetings, to all three of this flights “First Time Fliers.” We have come to award you your “First Flight” wings” and as he said that the other man stepped forward to give each girl a little card with a small pair of silver wings connected in the center, very officially, with the Airlines logo. “And…” the lead pilot continued with a smile, we have come to escort you down to your first dinner in New York. Our third man is holding a table for us across the street.” Kelly began to laugh,

“Are you telling us that on that large, full, plane we are the only first time fliers?”

“No Kelly, just the prettiest.” He smiled back. “So as we know who you all are, from the passenger list, let me introduce us. I am Will, Wright, I was named after the one of the brothers who helped invent airplanes, so of course my parents made sure I would want to become a pilot, and this is James Thomas, the man with two first names. Jim stepped forward again and this time shook hands with all three girls followed by Will, who continued to talk, “Roger Bentley is holding a table for six, so as soon as you three are ready we will escort you down.”

“Just a moment!” Kelly took over. We have not agreed to this or even considered it. We really don’t know any of you and…”

Will didn’t hesitate. He took on a serious look to explain,

“Surely you wouldn’t refuse this simple added service of the Airline that brought you here to New York? We only plan to treat you to a nice courtesy dinner and deliver you all, right back here to your room afterward… nothing out of the ordinary about that.”

“And all because we are the prettiest new first time fliers.” Kelly remarked with as much sarcasm as she could muster. Sara and Ellie hid their smiles behind their hands. Kelly continued to glower at Will. He was momentarily struck down by the blonde whom he had drawn as his date, when the three men drew straws for the blonde, the redhead, or the brunette. Kelly took advantage of that moment and opened the door.

“Please step out while we discuss this” Both men backed out and stood across the hall wondering what those cute, but more savey than they had expected, girls would finally choose to do. This ploy worked for most women in the past, perhaps taking on three was a little bit too much, these three were pretty tight together. Still Will was very taken by his blonde and he would use his best most workable lines in his effort to get to know her better.

Inside the girls all but giggled. Sara asked Ellie,
“Is this on your dad’s, “ Not to do.” List.”
“I don’t think so, just in general as rule 4… Don’t go out alone with any strange men.”

“Well we won’t be alone. There will be six of us and all we have to do is have dinner, which we were about to go do anyway.”

“And beside these two are both very cute. We only have to take a chance with the third.”

“ Well, as long as we don’t, one of us, pair off with just one, I think it will be okay to go to dinner.”

If they don’t keep their word to bring us right back here, and want to go someplace else, we still stick together and all come back here anyway, right?”

“Right!” Kelly opened the door, The guys snapped back to attention as she announced,

“We will accept your dinner, Thank you. Just give us five more minutes.” She closed the door and the girls flew about with hair brushes and lipsticks. Changing clothes was not an option as they didn’t pack for this sort of thing. It didn’t matter. They would be driving off very early tomorrow morning toward Boston.

When next Kelly opened the door Sara stood with the camera filming the men in the hall. They had not decided how or if they would use this, but it needed recording anyway and they all wished the camera had been rolling for that guy’s crazy “First Time Pin” ceremony. That could have very well opened their movie with a laugh. Ellie made a note of it in her small, handy, note book, of which they all carried a full unopened pack of six, for recording names and places and little things they wanted to use in the final story.

The third man was a relief pilot based here in New York his name, which was carefully recorded by Sara along with the other two, was Roger Bentley, just as Will had mentioned in his “meet cute line”.

The dinner went as expected with three very funny young men trying to impress three very interested young women. They all enjoyed the evening and ended it just as promised. Will tried every well worked line he knew to get Kelly to commit to a date tomorrow, but she said she would be very busy tomorrow and refused. She didn’t say that she would be very busy driving to Boston, just to get that city in, as planned, so they could head for her important big goal of D.C.

Boston was much more than Kelly realized, there was something so old and original about the brick curbs and narrow winding streets that made her think of early settlers, like Paul Revere, riding their horses from place to place, under arches of leafy trees and off into forests.

Then they were suddenly into the modern Schools and Colleges, oh, all ivy covered all right, as she expected. It all felt so up to date, while still looking old and so cool. They all began to wonder if this was where they would return for college after this tour. Of course they could not stop filming. Everything seemed so… so important.

They ate lunch among the students, who barely noticed them and they listened to their talk. Somehow in the midst of all of these impressive surroundings, their conversations were so mundane and trivial that the three tourists were turned off to the students they heard.

Driving on roads with very few cars passing in either direction, they came upon a low, gray, cement building stretched across the back of a very large parking lot. What was most strange was that the parking lot was full from one side to the other, with a few extra cars parked out along the street. When a car pulled out, another quickly appeared and took its place.

Sara, was driving and she slowed to try to decide why this many cars were altogether in this one lot? Way, way out here in the boon-docks. There must be a reason. It was not a shopping center with small stores all side by side. It was a huge, long, boring, building without a visible name.

“Has anybody heard of Onieda?”

Kelly replied, “They make silverware, I think, why?

“Look across the street. There is a single black and white sign that reads, Onieda. I don’t know if it is the name of the street or a town, further down the road, or of that building we just passed. Ellie turned the camera on it.”

They sat at the intersection for a few minutes, to wonder why so many cars were arriving from… they did not know where, and trying to park in that lot, unless it was something special.

Sara put the car in reverse and backed up so they could watch the small door, far across the parking lot. It was soon obvious that the arriving people, who piled out of the occasional newly arrived cars, entered almost empty handed and those leaving were toting large brown paper sacks full to the top.

“There… someone is leaving. Let’s take their parking place and go find out for ourselves. It won’t take any longer than sitting here, just wondering.” Kelly suggested.

Once inside they were overwhelmed by the size of the market that was spread out before them. Aisle after aisle with large wire bins on both sides and crowds of people slowly going from one to the other, pushing full sized market baskets, some already full, but still looking carefully into each new bin, as if what it contained may be just what they needed.

But they stood amazed at beautiful silver plated items that would make any well to do home shine with pride. People were gently lowering gorgeous large coffee or tea servers into their carts and hunting the other bins for matching creamers and sugar bowls.

One man had a very large serving tray standing on end up out of the cart. That drew attention from other shoppers who stopped to ask, “Where did you find that tray.” He pointed to an aisle and off the questioner went in search. .

. People were not asking the price or haggling over it. A checkout counter zoomed though the baskets as efficiently as if they were selling potatoes and carrots

They could only conclude that the prices were right, and maybe the goods were seconds or discontinued, or why were the giant crowds snapping up everything? All three saw things they wished they could buy for their families or save for their homes… but not on their way around the world.

They filmed the sight for their story, but found no ads or brochures or anything to explain this giant super market of treasures. Only the happy faces of those leaving with their arms full told the story.

Back on the road, Ellie warned them that the next hotel needed to have them show up and settle in. Their Hotel was still pretty far away outside of the Capitol in Virginia. Thus no more stops were allowed. They would spend two nights in that out of town hotel then they were to be allowed into the student cabins built almost in the middle of the District of Columbia. For these two nights a school band was in their cabin, but after their part in a Parade was over their bus would drive them home. Then these three would be let in.

If they did wonder how a whole band could share one room, they had a surprise coming.

They had just settled into the Virginia Hotel when there was a knock on the door. As usual Kelly opened the door so she received the first shock. At first she didn’t recognize the two men standing there as they were wearing jeans and leather jackets. Even without their uniforms, she suddenly knew it was it was Will and Jim, the Pilots from New York.

The room was very small but they had two big beds and two small chairs and a tiny table. Everyone just sat and stared at each other for the first few seconds until Kelly asked the same question they all had.

“How did you find us?”

“Pilots have many sources.” Will smiled, but we did lose you for a couple of days, however this Hotel had you booked for two nights so we flew on down.”

“But why?” Sara wondered.

“I wish I knew.” Will Wright answered. He shook his head as if to explain that he did not know.

“I can tell you,” Jim Thomas decided to let them know. He threw a thumb in Will’s direction and added, “ This guy has a big time crush on one of you . So here we are!”

One look proved that poor Will was growing a little red with embarrassment. He nudged his friend and said softly, “Knock it off, Jim. You’re not helping a thing.” Jim rolled his eyes and replied. “I didn’t mention any names, no harm done. Right girls?” He asked around.

Sara spoke up promptly, She even thought she knew who it was not mentioned, but she told the boys,

“Well so sorry. It doesn’t matter, we are on our way on an around the world trip. Who knows how long that will take us. Even we don’t know and our parents are home wondering the same thing. So say good bye to us now, and have a nice evening.”

‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, “ Will stood up. “Not so fast. You will be here for two days, so why can’t we get together for dinner this one night? After all we flew here just to see you. One last dinner won’t hurt anything. Will it?” He looked at each girl trying not to favor the one. Ellie, covered her yawn as she said.

“We’re pretty tired. We’ve been in the car all day, just to get here in time for our reservation.”

“But you just got here. We’ve been watching most of the day. So if you didn’t stop to even eat, how about right now?” He threw a pleasant smile around the room.

“Can we spare an hour or two?” Kelly asked the other two women.
‘I suppose, “ Sara agreed. “But not much more.”
“I’d rather sleep.” Ellie told them.
“Then that does it, we stay and eat here. Kelly announced. You all know the rules.” “Do they have room service?” Ellie asked.

“No, no, no.” Will interrupted, once again to say, “They only have cold sandwiches this late. Jim and I will go out and bring back some real food for five. If that would be okay with everyone? I just need to know what you like, special order of your favorite food or Surprise”

“Surprise!” All three girls said at once. Will smiled his pleasure at their answer and began to leave. Jim followed behind.

Things were quiet for moment then Kelly wondered aloud,

“What are going to do about this. Don’t you see ladies that this is our first big test?

What do we want? Are we going to let these very nice, intelligent, good looking guys come between us and our life long goal? I think Sara said it all a moment ago. Goodbye and have a nice evening.

“I’d say we broke one of your dad’s rules or two tonight. Remember no men in our room and stick together.” Ellie mentioned.

“Well we have stuck together, that’s why we are eating here instead of letting Ellie sleep while we go out.” Kelly reminded them. “And as for eating here, that just made sense.” She went into the little bathroom to freshen her lipstick and brush her long blonde hair. She looked seriously into the mirror at herself and tried to see if she really was pretty as everyone said. She couldn’t tell, only that her friends were both quite pretty. In her heart she would have hoped that Will was interested in her. They had never had that kind of attention growing up and this was as she said a first big test. What was the most important these guys…any guys, or their future film? It had to be the tour. They must remain committed to the tour and nothing else.

“You finished?” It was Sara waiting a turn.

When the guys returned they brought the enticing odors of the Italian Restaurant with them. Jim had run into the Hotel’s closed kitchen and brought out five large plates and five forks, plus a handful of real cloth napkins. They opened everything on the little table, for a grand buffet. Two pastas a red and a white plus a large tossed salad and some real warm, Italian, rolls and a bowl of butter. Jim pulled a bottle each of red and white wines from inside his zipped up jacket, and sadly admitted that he forgot to grab some glasses.

Will stood by the table to see that each girl had some of everything, then took his plate to sit next to Kelly on her bed.

They all agreed that the men had done a good job of surprising them with the wonderful dinner.

“…and broke two more rules.” Ellie said under her breath. Sara and Kelly laughed and the men looked confused.

“What are these rules you keep talking about?” Will asked. So they took turns explaining their life-long plan to travel and all they had done to get this far, including two pages of rules they had written themselves over nine years. And laughed about the one page Sara’s dad had given to them as they left, to which the girls mostly pretended to give no real thought. But they admitted it did have some good points and they all tried to take his ideas somewhat seriously, even though until now they had not been challenged in a real test.

When Sara stood and began to film the dinner, the fellows knew that their time was about to run out. Will got up and went to the window. The view from the third story room was down upon the rectangle of brightly lit blue water of the swimming pool. Will waved Kelly over to see it.

With her head next to his looking down, he asked quietly if she could just take a walk with him down to that patio below where her friends could still see her if they sat in a pair of the poolside chairs in plain sight. Kelly shook her head, no, but then turned to Sara who was still sitting on the floor with Jim, their backs against the bed, munching a buttered roll between sips of the red wine, straight out of the bottle.

Kelly glanced at Ellie, hoping that the scene of Sara drinking wine from the bottle was not being filmed. But Ellie had fallen asleep fully clothed on top the other bed and was softly snoring.

This might cause trouble, but she whispered to Sara,

“Shall we walk the guys out?” Jim and Sara got up to leave and the four of them took all of the dinner trash with them. A glance at Ellie proved that she was not noticing as they left the room.

Will began his campaign to win Kelly’s attention with compliments and telling her how much he would miss her while they were traveling, maybe she could write to him and keep in touch. Kelly laughed it off and disagreed.

“You won’t, not really. Your clever little line about, “wings for first time fliers,” is very effective and you will have hundreds of ladies to choose between while we are gone. On a plane that carries three hundred passengers, there can’t be a shortage of traveling females.” Kelly could see that Jim was giving his best pitch to Sara, who was devouring it. They had better discuss this on the way back up.

She asked Sara point blank. “Which is it? A Good looking man or our life long goal?” Sara hesitated. “He is awfully nice.”

“Agreed, and so is Will, but we can’t have both and be successful so here is the first hard choice. We have to decide.” Kelly paused and then gave Sara another example.

“Think of these guys as being just like the silver store. We were susceptible to wanting things we saw and didn’t think we would ever have. But what did we do? We drove away without regret to finish what we started. If you want Jim more than anything we will have to quit the trip right now and form new goals for the future. Tell me while we are still out here. I can go either way myself and Ellie was almost washed out before we started, remember? So I think I can guess which way she will vote.”

“It’s easy for her. She doesn’t have a Will or a Jim.” “She will before this is over. What should she do then?”

They opened the door quietly, but Ellie was not in sight. So she had seen Ellie at the window, but had Ellie seen them?

Before they could speak about it, Ellie came out of the bathroom ready for bed.

“Where were you two? When I woke up I was alone. That is not supposed to happen. Don’t we have enough note books to spare me a note?” Kelly was prepared with her answer.

“Somebody had to get the trash and pilfered dishes out of here before the maid saw them.” She replied, glibly. “ Oh my” she made a dash for the window and grabbed the empty wine bottle. “Look what we missed Sara.”

“Just put it in the waste basket, Kel, The maid won’t be shocked by a bottle. It was the five kitchen plates and silver I was worried about.” Sara took her turn for the bathroom and Kelly sat to run through what had been filmed that evening. Ellie climbed under the covers and went back to sleep without knowing what big decision her friends had just made From now on they would treat all men just like silver dishes and gold jewelry…something to be desired but not to own until they had their film completed and launched. Surely there were more Jims and Will’s waiting. The next day was going to be a busy one.

The entire Supreme Court was standing out on the steps having a photograph taken. Sara joined the tourists who had taken a place behind the court photographers for good pictures of that prestigious court.

They walked around in the entry to learn more inside from the historic pictures and framed manuscripts. Upstairs, they took a seat in the gallery remembered the stories they so often read about what history had been made here.

Congress was a short walk and they took it. Even as they walked up the long wide steps to the entrance, they filmed the views from all sides. Whoever was not manning a camera was writing timed and dated notes. They did not want to look at the photographs a year from now and ask each other what is this?

As they sat in the public gallery, Kelly remembered reading that long ago the wife of the forth president James Madison, the famed, Dolley Madison, who after being First
Lady, went on to serve several other Presidents, who’s wife was either not up to it just appreciated her experience and assistance in a difficult job. Dolley’s knowledge of Washington and politics was outstanding. But when in old age, she was seen seated in the public gallery, a Congressman immediately rose and recommended that this long serving First Lady be awarded a permanent seat in the House, where she continued to enjoy the workings of Congress for the rest of her life.

Kelly looked around and wondered, could I be sitting in that same seat Dolley Madison once chose.

Kelly, Ellie and Sara, three very tired young women bought some things from the market and took them to a grassy area they could see across the way. Surrounded by the Cherry Trees that a First Lady had planted in what was once an annoying swamp, they rested and talked about what they had seen.

Kelly kind of wanted to talk with Sara about Jim. She was curious about how her friend felt now about their choice, but that conversation would only make Ellie feel left out, so it was avoided. She saw Sara take out a pack of post cards very much like the pack Will had left at the Hotel desk for her. Was Sara writing to Jim? That was a no, no. But she would inquire later when they were alone. She had told the desk clerk to just pretend he hadn’t seen her to give her the package and left it on the counter.

“What’s next?” Ellie asked as the rest period came to an end.

Kelly brought her mind back to the present and knowing that the Smithsonian was saved for all day tomorrow, she suggested that they go see, whatever that place is they print the money.

“The Bureau of Engraving and Printing.” Ellie told them “That’s where they make paper money and bonds and things like that. The Mint is for coins and is not here. I think it’s in Philadelphia and maybe San Francisco., least it was once.”

So off to the Bureau of Engraving they went. No cameras allowed inside. So they took pictures of the sign on the building and went into enjoy watching the mostly green bills roll by in the millions. There were samples of the many different bills from the past and present framed on the walls. None of these young girls had ever seen anything but ones through fifties.

Before they could tackle the next Tourist Trip… The Smithsonian Institution, they had to move from the Hotel to the Student’s Cabin. These sleeping abodes stood together, row after row of tiny wooden cabins on a flat strip of land next to a very large bus parking area. Students and Band Members from various schools, all over the U.S., who were scheduled to march in a Parade or attend one of the special tours, teaching kids, “How their Government Worked”, were assigned a cabin, as close as possible to their bus.

They were obviously sleeping and changing quarters only. The rooms were very small and if necessary the cots were placed so close together as to sometimes be walked over to reach the small lavatory.

When they were first shown theirs that was exactly what it looked like. A small Band had preceded them and the room held a dozen cots. The summer help of College Students, earning a basic salary, quickly assessed the number of cots needed for each group and added or subtracted to accommodate. When their cabin was reduced to three cots, their room looked positively luxurious. They were happy that they had photographed the room before it was changed.

The Smithsonian Institution needed the entire rest of the week and they each filled an entire notebook with facts and questions. The First Ladies Gowns were the group’s favorite. Ellie’s second choice was the Gems and Jewelry Room, with the Hope Diamond… who knew it was blue… and the large collection and history of her birthstone for October, Opals.

Kelly’s second favorite was the history of Office Equipment, from the Abacus to old Adding Machines up to the first Computer, which with its dozens of tubes and large reel tapes, required an entire room to hold it all.

Kelly’s Grandfather told her that he helped build that monstrosity when he was in College getting his degree at Berkeley. All it could do for its enormous size was add and subtract, but it was a start. Compared to the dainty flat computer he held in his hand, that could do the math and Google, and Face Book, and Skype, even though it was really a telephone complete with a camera, he would have to say it had come a long way up and down. He laughed as he gave it a little toss between his fingers.

“ A long way up in ability …and down… in size and price.” Still it made him feel terribly, old to realize that the one he worked on had been relocated to the Smithsonian as a museum piece.

Sara was wild about the Aviation collection. If they didn’t have the original, they had a very good replica of most important airplanes. Sara’s new friend, Jim was a pilot and loved it. After listening to him for that first evening, she was ready to consider attending college in Arizona just as Jim did, and graduate with both a degree and a pilot’s license.

Now, after visiting the Aviation Museum twice, once with her friends and again while they ate lunch, she was sure of it. One day she would be a pilot.

At the end of that week they were back in the car and driving down the East Coast. Everything they saw was new to them, in-spite of all of the reading they had done to prepare for this trip.

Orlando was the twin to the first Disneyland near them in California, so they were surprised at its size. The water lakes were large and real, not fake small ones. Sail boats could be seen far out on the water. The big boats were not stuck to tracks under shallow water, like home. Walt Disney’s folks had done their best to expand and improve everything that they had to crowd into small packages, to fit his first land in Anaheim. It was wonderful!

Then as they drove away, they somehow decided that they liked the First Disneyland best, maybe it was the smaller more homey feeling, maybe it was because the First was theirs and they felt a loyalty to it.

Kennedy Space Center was missing. That is, it was not really a center anymore and many of the locals had closed their businesses and left for lack of customers.

All they could do was hope that their kids would somehow, someday, have the great Space future they felt they had grown up dreaming about.

So they left for Miami and a plane to Portugal. They had a short time to drive around and be able to make some notes about that city, but were totally surprised when they finally went to their last U.S. Hotel to find Will Wright and Jim Thomas waiting for them.

“How’s Roger?” Kelly asked casually, upon seeing the two young men standing in the lobby. Will looked up in surprise, and smiled broadly. He had not seen the three walk in.

“Roger is very busy being my stand by, as I keep chasing around trying to see my favorite girl. When I am free, he is working.

Jim upon spotting, Sara, rushed to her with his arms wide open. Sara stepped aside and smiled a half hearted welcome with a hand shake. Kelly watched for second and had to remark. “It seems to me that it is Jim who was leading this search for his girl.”

Will put his arm loosely around Kelly’s waist, and looked sideways at her as they walked toward the desk to check in.

“Some people are just a bit more pushy than others.” He told her. “Some people are waiting to find out if they are welcome.”

“You say, some people who appear to be the most forward and flirty, with the best come-on lines are really not as they seem to be?”

“I say that some people who flirt a lot and use glib come-on lines, without a thought, when it is not important, become cautious when they realize they have something very important to them and are afraid of moving too fast and ruining it.”

Kelly smiled at Will, and stopped to face him. “You don’t look like the cautious type to me. Are you talking about Roger? It can’t be Jim.” She glanced in their direction. “Just look at that greeting!” That was when she noticed Ellie standing alone and looking confused. Ellie had not known about the good bye talks in Virginia. She left Will’s side to take Ellie by the hand,

“You’re the reservation lady. I guess we had better sign in for the three of us obviously Sara is busy.” She was still doing her best to dodge Jim’s advances.

“So I noticed. You looked pretty busy too.” Kelly just laughed it off.

“Have you ever seen anything like those Airline Pilots when it comes to flirting?”

They walked to the desk and signed in for one night. “Just think,” Kelly remarked loud enough for Will to hear, “tomorrow at this time we will be in Portugal.” Then the two of them picked up their small bags and headed toward an elevator.

Will hung back and waited for Jim and Sara to notice him, then pointed to the elevator. Jim and Sara traveled to the third floor in the next car.

When the couple entered the room without Will, Kelly felt a sad disappointment. But what, she thought, could she do? Even though seeing Will made her heart leap, she had made her final decision and she could not just ignore Ellie. And she was right. Tomorrow they would be far away. Even if at this time if she had been willing to dump the whole trip and go with her first love, it was just not possible. Her thoughts must stay on their World Tour

Kelly wrote her family their regular Post cards to let them know where they were headed. She had to remember that it was not only their tour but the family’s also.

Sara brushed her short red curls into shiny fluff then wet her fingers with hair goo and ran them through the curls until they went into ringlets and pushed and pulled those in front of the mirror until they were arranged just as she wanted them.

Ellie came out of the shower with her long dark hair wet and clean then pulled it all up into a neat smooth bun in the back with four long plastic pins.

Kelly half heartedly ran the brush though her long blonde hair and pulled it into a pony tail with a stretchy. Then she suddenly rose and picked up her small purse.

“I think I will go down to the gift shop and buy a small travel tube of tooth paste. Anyone need anything?” With no requests forth coming, she told them she would see them in the restaurant and left.

As the door closed, Ellie looked at Sara and remarked. “You think she went to look for Will?”
“Certainly not. We talked about that and…”

“And? So Sara explained to Ellie how they put men into a permanent category called silver and gold. Ellie had to laugh but agree as she heard Sara explain the similarity between those two valuable items and men. Sara hoped Ellie would remember it later, when her time was here to deal with the same choices.

Kelly walked the lobby and into the little shop and out again, but no Will. She peeked into the dining room and then the Bar without finding him. Just how much had she insulted him? . She walked out onto the patio and there he was swimming fast hard laps in the pool. He barely looked up as he turned and returned. She went to the pool side and watched. Will was a very good swimmer. He turned a smooth under water turn and kept on going. Finally Kelly removed her shoes, rolled up her jeans and sat exactly where he made the last turn. With her feet in his way he would have to notice her.

As he was completing this turn when his feet hit hers and he came up sputtering, wondering who he had hit.

“I’m so sorry!” He was saying, before he even had his hair out of his eyes. Then he saw Kelly sitting there smiling at him, her jeans heavily splashed by his turn. ”Well, I was sorry, but not now.”

“I know. It was more my fault this time than yours.”

“You three sure made a lot of rules for yourselves. I see that you didn’t make any room for someone like me in your plans, so I get the picture and I am not in it.” He pushed off and beat the water with a fury as he swam away. Kelly watched him go, then stood and rolled her pant legs back down, dusting the water off as much as possible. She left the pool area and even remembered to buy a small tooth paste, then wandered about in the gardens to kill time. She would be on time to meet the others in the dining room.

The plane landed in Lisbon Portugal. Ellie explained,

“ Google said it was an old airport and that the city is fighting to get a new one, but it is almost in the center of town and had the cheapest car rentals, so here we are.” She spread her arms to indicate that Portugal was theirs for the taking.

They drove toward the shore to see the fishing villages and colorful fishing boats and soon parked to walk around and take pictures. So many of the women shopping for fish dinner wore bright hats and shawls that they photographed them then barrowed a hat and shawl from a perky teenager for two coins and took pictures of themselves in them.

They wandered in different directions and agreed to meet at the food stand closest to the car.

“Don’t forget what this rental car looks like,” Ellie warned them. In about an hour Sara and Kelly were waiting for Ellie to return and just stood looking at the warm, blue water and home covered cliffs.

Ellie arrived in a huff, holding a rather large, dripping wet fish out in front of her.

“It sure is hard to talk to the natives when you don’t know the language. I am not good at all with sign language. I wanted to buy a fish so I pointed to myself and meant I want… but the men seem to think that means you are selling yourself, so they begin to roll their eyes and lick their lips. I try to shake my head no, but that means something here I don’t get. Then this big fisherman came and handed me this fish, I was afraid he considered it payment for me, so I tried to give it back but he wouldn’t take it. He shook his head No, or whatever that means here in Portugal. I held out two coins like we did to rent or borrow the hat and shawl, but he shook his head again. So I added a coin. But no, that didn’t work either. Finally I just said thank you!, but in English, of course, and began to walk away. Nothing happened so I kept on walking, but I was afraid to look back and see if he was following me. Is he?”

Kelly and Sara searched the street but saw no sign of anyone looking on with interest. “I guess it was a gift or he just lost a bet or something.” Kelly said,

“What shall I do with this ?” Ellie asked. “I started to try to buy a fish for our lunch but this thing is way too big,”

“Hang on to it and follow me, Sara said and turned toward the food stand where Ellie could point to the fish and the chef in front of the stove and asked, “Cook?”

The white hatted chef at the tiny food stand gave her a wide smile and replied,

“Sure thing! Do you want it fried or broiled?” The girls were startled at first, then burst out laughing. The young man turned out to be, George Henry, a British, Cambridge student working his way across the southern Countries. Sara finally gained control and asked,

“What do you suggest?”

“There’s nothing as tasty as Ye Olde English Fish and Chips.”

Great! May we watch?” They pulled up the stools and sat impressed as he turned that large fresh fish into a crunchy coated, deep fried and vinegar sprinkled, piping hot, meal served with what they called French-fries and he called Chips.

Kelly had eaten her fill before she was sent laughing again.

“So in our story do we have to admit that our first meal in Portugal was English Fish and Chips?”

“I can show you a good local place if being native is important to you.” The chef replied. “By the way I’d like to know your names, where in America you are from and what story are you writing?”

“The story of our World Tour.” Ellie replied. Then she gave him their names and just a brief version explaining why they had to write everything down… the part about a T.V. interview when they finally returned home.

“Did you catch this fish?” He asked Ellie.

“In a way.” She told him. “I think I caught a fisherman, with whom I was trying to communicate, and ended up with that…this fish.” She put her last bite into her mouth. “But you performed a miracle with it.” After she finished that last yummy bite, she thought to ask him about hand signals and gestures… the different meanings that seemed to be getting her into trouble. ”I may be wrong and too sensitive, but everything I do and say gets a response that seemed to indicate that I was for sale…personally, if you know what I mean.” George chuckled and explained,

“It’s not what you say. It’s who you are and who they are. You don’t look like most of the women you see around here, and seeing you will evoke that response no matter what you say or how you gesture.” He smiled that very British crooked smile. “Even with me… if you know what I mean… I just happen to speak your language, so I couldn’t misunderstand you.” All of the girls giggled at that remark. Kelly was especially happy that it was directed at Ellie. She needed a dose of that clever male flirting.

Their car was close by so, after thanking George, and getting some advice from that experienced traveler, they hit the road again and chose to skip Gibraltar and head toward Spain, then on to France, where they would try for awhile, at least, to mimic the curvy, narrow lanes and up and down roads of “le Tour de France Bicycle Race,” which they had all watched on television. If nothing else the scenery felt familiar.

They found a Student Hostel and spent two nights in Southern France, where they parted in a Mal and browsed for different reasons. Ellie wanted a hair solon and a shampoo. The length and thickness of her hair made washing it on the road difficult. Sara sat in the center of the snack area for a large coke and just watched the people pass by.

Kelly decided to buy her first French blouse for today’s photos. Then when she found the right one, she wanted some black Jeans to go with it.

While Sara sat alone, a young man approached her and asked permission to sit at her table. It was crowded so she didn’t object. He sipped his drink and looked at her as if trying to decide whether not to speak. She was about to decide to leave and window shop, when he spoke in broken English, with a charming, distinct French accent.

“ I admire your hair rouge… do you say, red?” Sara looked at him in surprise and felt she should answer to be polite. With a brush of her finger through the short red curls, she replied,

“Thank you. It’s red for sure.”

“I think womens with that color are more fun… No?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Are men with this color more fun?” He shook his head to a firm negative and made a sour face.

“No like men’s hair rouge, just women’s.” Then he changed to a smile and added,

“Women’s red, eh? … Oooh la la, much, much fun.” He almost reached out to touch her curls with his finger tips, but she dodged it and stood up.

“Nice to meet you.” She said and walked quickly away toward the Solon she had seen Ellie disappear into. She didn’t appear to be there, and must be finished, so she walked along looking into windows as she went.

Then she almost walked right past Kelly, wearing her new French outfit, a gorgeous, white eyelet blouse with puffy sleeves, and black piping along the edges featuring a row of sparkling black buttons down the front starting at the V neck and around a short, perky peplum. She looked exactly like a French Model in her new skin tight, black, stretch Jeans.

“Oooh. La, La, “ As Sara mocked the words of the Frenchman’s intended complimentary expression. Kelly looked at Sara and smiled, doing a model’s “end of runway” turn to show off her expensive new clothes.

“This should be a grand addition to the film, don’t you think?”

“I sure do think. When we leave France, you will have to mail it home. It’s not a bit British, you know. It’s perfect here in France, but even a bit much for England’s fashion plate, known as the Duchess of Cambridge. You’ll have to get one of her little forehead hats called, Fascinators, when we get to England. ”

“You’re right about that. But a Fascinator would look better on your red curls. I’ll help you find the right one and a top to go with it, too.”

“Funny thing… “ Sara was thinking of the guy who sat with her. “A French guy, who must take English 101, just stopped to tell me, she tried his accent and failed, with, “Womens with hair red… more fun.”

Kelly answered with, “I thought blondes were supposed to be more fun.”

“No silly.” Sara argued, “Blondes have more fun. Redheads are more fun. There is a very big difference.” They both laughed and began to wonder what brunettes were more of… “We could ask Ellie.”

“She won’t admit it, whatever it is.” Kelly opined., just as Ellie caught up with them.

“Ellie took one look at Kelly and just said “Wow!” She quickly took out her camera and began to shoot. So Kelly did her fashion Model walk down the Mall for her benefit.

“You blondes sure do have more fun.” Ellie said as Kelly strolled back, which brought a sudden laugh from Kelly and Sara. Ellie peeked from behind the camera and asked, “Did I say something funny?”

“Just tell us what it is that Brunettes have.” Kelly asked.
“Good common sense.” Ellie answered without hesitation. Kelly and Sara shrugged, “She must know.” Sara decided. “Her answer was too firm and fast.”

Kelly then asked Ellie another, “What do redheads have?” and Ellie answered just as fast,

“Redheads have red-hot tempers.” Which startled Sara, as it made her remember her mother saying that to her when she was small and wanted her own way.

“I believe you just may be correct.” Sara whispered… “so… watch it my friend.” Ellie just laughed, “Common Sense, rules over Temper.”

Kelly just kept strutting her new French fashions, but now with a smug smile.

Tired they returned to their car and stood looking puzzled. “I’m sure I parked here. Didn’t I?” Kelly asked for confirmation.

They looked for a full half hour before giving up and reporting to the Mal Police that they could not find their car.

They were put in a Mall car and driven up and down all of the aisles trying to see if they just misplaced it. A second problem occurred as it was explained that they had rented it from the Lisbon Airport, Portugal. It was okay to drive it to France but the paper work was all in that other country. At the French Police station they were told that the Police had reported the car stolen, by telephone to the Lisbon Agency.

You can rent another from here, so you may continue on your trip, the Police informed them. Sadly they had put many of their precious filmed disks into a box tucked into that car’s trunk. Ellie told the Police about them, with tears running down her cheeks.

“They are very important to us.” She tried to explain.

“Just keep calling us.” The Police told her. “If the car turns up they may be inside unharmed.” He tried to comfort her. Ellie tucked the Police telephone information in her purse and they were driven to another rental agency. Their personal bags, as small as they were, had luckily been locked up in the Student Hostel.

Their first collection of small film memory sticks had been packaged up and shipped home before they left Miami. So now all of Portugal and Spain were missing and irreplaceable.

As tired as they were, they could not sleep late in the Youth Hostel. Others who had very early starts on hiking trips and early buses or trains and the like, were awake and walking about while speaking in seven different languages all around them.

Ellie stood in line for the shower with her professionally shampooed hair tied up in a bandana for protection. Kelly went to stand by her so they could talk. This made the people behind Ellie upset as they thought she was trying to cut in ahead of them. It took several minutes to find a translator to assure them that she was not cutting in, but only speaking with her friend.

Once everything was settled, Kelly wore a happy smile, as she began to talk about how lucky they were that the car and the films had been found. Ellie was very surprised, but puzzled.

“When was this?” She asked. “With a frown. “Where was I?”

“I guess you were still asleep.”

“That can’t happen. I sleep with my cell phone by my pillow and that is the only number I gave the Police. I was so upset that I could barely remember my own number and that was the only number I gave them…mine.”

“I thought I heard Sara ask how they got her number and she repeated to me that they said it was in the trunk with the disks. Her name and number were on that box. I saw it myself. And they told her to wait outside and they would come get her to take her to get the car and the films together. So off she went.” “All alone?”

“Yes, but with the Police.” Ellie’s eyes were wide. “That makes no sense. The Police were so sympathetic when I was crying, that they promised they would see that the car was returned to Lisbon by them and I would be the first to know when it turned up. Then he handed me his handkerchief to wipe my tears. I still have it… see!” She pulled the wad of white cloth from her pocket. “Something is not right here. No way would they call Sara and not me… and certainly not to give her the car.”

“But they did. Perhaps it was a different Officer.” Ellie dug deeper into her Pocket and pulled out her Cell and began to punch in a number from a card.

“Who are you calling?”

“The Police, before they forget their promise to return the car for us, so we could rent a different one and keep going. Sara shouldn’t bring it here.”

She covered her phone with one hand and her ear with the other to try to block out the noise from the room.

“What! You’re sure? That is very bad news. Then that only leaves the man who stole the car. Sure we will be there.”

Ellie pulled Kelly out of the line as she pulled on her Jeans and shoes. Are you already to go?”

“I’m dressed if that’s what you mean. Where are we going? “ Ellie slipped the scarf from her head and grabbed her little purse as she spoke. The Police are picking us up. Because they still have no idea where our car is, and if Sara got a call on her phone, it had to come from the car thief. So now he has the car and Sara!”

Kelly and Ellie dashed to the curb and stood impatiently waiting for an official Police car to get them.

“What car had the thief used to pick-up Sara and why did she get into it?” Ellie wondered out of fear.

At the Station they could not give the Police much help. And between questioning sessions they sat in a lobby and just worried.

Then a familiar face came into the Police Station. Both girls stared in disbelief as they realize that it was Jim Thomas. He went directly to them and asked his own question first.

“Have they found Sara yet?”

“Not that we know. How did you get involved?” Kelly was curious.

“I received a call from Sara. It was so crazy I thought it was a joke. But I never could get her back on the phone, so I followed her insistence that I come get her. The funny thing was I don’t even think she knew she was talking to me. She sounded like she was trying to get a message to you, Ellie.”

“So what did she say?”

“She started out with a strange distant mumble about not being able to reach her phone. She said she was stuck in the trunk of the car and had punched her speed dial, trying to get help. Well not so long ago she had put my number on her speed dial and then as you know, we two got the big brush off and you girls left town.

Later when we had some vacation time we headed over here behind you, but you stayed one jump ahead. We spoke with the car rental you used. They said they received a call from France that your car had been stolen. We asked where the call was from and began to drive here. Then this nutty call for help occured and here we are! Ready to help. What can we do?”

“Tell all of that to the Chief here and then hope.” Kelly told him, then said seriously and sincerely, “ You two are so good at tracking us down, so how about tracking down the car thief that has kidnapped Sara.”

Jim left to talk to the Police and when he returned he phoned Will. Jim had an idea.

They did not know if the car had been taken by one man or two. However it stood
to reason that if they had gotten Sara by surprise and into the trunk it was two. Also since they seemed to be still driving the car, they must have walked to the Mall to steal it, so they live close to that Mall.

The Police said they had a watch out for that car and that license, so the thieves must have changed both things in some way.

“What can we do?” Kelly needed to know. Jim was quick with the answer.

“We can cruise the area around the Mall, while dialing her Cell phone. We know she can’t get to it or she would call us… you. So while we drive the neighborhood calling, the Police will have the Cell Center listening for that number and zero in on the receiving station closest to that ring. They catch crooks and even lost kids, all the time by locating their Cell phones. Shall we get started?”

They walked outside to find Will sitting in his rental car waiting. They greeted each other by smiling politely, due to the seriousness of Sara’s situation. And the four of them headed toward the Mall. Jim was constantly on his phone, speaking with the Police for his instructions.

The girls made repeated calls to Sara’s phone as they drove. No one answered, of course. Will drove the streets as directed by the Police and both men looked out for the probably unrecognizable automobile or one that seemed to be disguised.

The Police indicated that they were getting close and then before they could pinpoint an address, Ellie saw the car.

“Wait there is our old rental car!” she called in surprise. The formerly white car had gotten sprinkled with a red dust, maybe while damp with dew and had dried to give the whole effect of a rose colored car.

“How can you tell?” Kelly wondered and Ellie explained,

“See that long yellow streak on the drivers-side rear fender. I got that backing out of the parking lot too close to a bright yellow fire hydrant. I got out to look at it, after I felt it scratch by. It’s not too deep but the yellow left its mark from the hydrant and became a smooth yellow streak of paint on our car.” Jim was on the phone to inform the Police.

They waited in the car a short distance away, watching the house for signs of life. No one entered or left. When the Police arrived, Jim and Ellie went out to be sure they searched the car and the trunk first thing. It was empty except for Sara’s phone.

Then the Police silently entered the unlocked house, but came out empty handed. Worst of all…no Sara. They told the worried friends that even though a couple of men lived there and not too well, as there was nothing in the fridge or cupboards worth mentioning, they found no sign that Sara had ever been there. They must have left her in the trunk while they went in for a few things… then split. But in what car? This one was abandoned. Probably because the gas tank read empty.

Jim and Will stood next to the car, which was soon to be towed away and let the red dust run through their fingers as they asked each other,

“ Where do you suppose they found this red soil.” Everyone in this group was new to the area, so they caught the Tow Truck driver as soon as he arrived and asked him.

“Do you know where this red soil comes from?” He walked over and sifted some and told them,

“This looks to me like Iron Mountain. Follow the river for about five miles then turn right, on about the only lane you’ll see, someone planted two trees there to mark it, but they died and look more like two dried up posts. Then go for two more miles give or take and you’re almost there. There’s a gate across the path to try to keep folks outa the iron mine, but all you need to do is twist it and it pops open.’

“Is there still an Iron mine there?” Jim asked.

‘Just sorta one. Most of it was lost in a big cave-in, oh, forty years ago or so. But kids were playing hide and seek in it and it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt, so they, like I say, try to keep them out.

Jim informed the Police that they were going to search the Iron Mountain area as this car seems to have been there very recently. It was being towed when they last saw it.

“Anyone for a day at Iron Mountain?” Jim was trying to sound up-beat but it wasn’t possible, as they all felt, just as he did, that finding Sara quickly was paramount.

“Are we going to take our own car or go with you?” Kelly asked. There’s was back at the Youth Hostel and they would eventually need a ride back to that place, hopefully with Sara.

Thinking back, Kelly was regretful that she had just let Sara walk out and leave all alone. Sure Sara said she was going with the Police. That was what she believed, but she felt she should have gone down to the street and made sure. Wasn’t that why they had made all of those rules? And Sara’s Dad! Boy! Kelly couldn’t even think about him. They just must find Sara and fast. She found herself sitting and making bargains with God,

“Just give us Sara back and I will follow her Dad’s rules from now on without complaint.”

Jim and Will were in front and Ellie and Kelly sat in the back seat, so there were no distractions from either. Will drove smoothly and they cruised along toward the only clue they had. Jim was pondering the wild goose chase he was taking them all on. But what else could they do? No one wanted to just go home and wait for the Police to handle everything. He was trained to take in every little oddity, if it didn’t seem to fit with the norm. And that red soil that stained the rental car was an oddity. So far they had not passed any like it anywhere.

Sure enough the gate was hanging by a thread in front of the lane they wanted to turn on. Jim got out and moved it so Will could drive through. He left it open as an escape route, just in case.

When they reached the ruts that seemed to lead to the hillside, they parked the car around a curve and got out to walk the ruts toward the open end of the Mine.

Jim held his phone in one hand and let the Police know they had arrived. I’ll call if we find something. If you don’t hear from me… well, come on out anyway. It means I need you.

As they came closer to the cave entrance, tire marks stopped, they began to find foot prints in the dust. All four stopped to study them.

“Any that look like Sara’s?” Jim asked.

Kelly pressed her foot down hard behind her and told him.

“Her walking shoes are just like mine, we bought them together. Do you see any like this?”

Jim looked at Kelly’s and went back to the thick dust piled by the entrance. “I’d say yes. Come look, Kelly.” And there they were… shoe prints just like hers.

“If she is not inside there right now, she was at one time. I’d bet on it.” Kelly crept closer and tried to listen for a voice she might recognize. She was sure there were people inside but couldn’t hear Sara. Maybe she was gagged.

Jim and Will backed off and made the call that there was something here to be investigated. So now the Police were on their way.

They found a shelter back in the trees, with a good view of the Mine, just in case.

Then it happened. One man walked out and stood to smoke a cigarette. He had his back to them, staring up at the sky. Without discussion, Will dashed forward and taking the man with his hand over the guy’s face, almost strangling him by forcing the cigarette down his throat, he yanked and dragged him back to where they were hiding.

Jim worked fast and got him tied up with a small rope that the guy actually had hanging from his own belt. Then they let him lean over and try to cough up the swallowed cigarette, before gagging him with Ellie’s scarf.

“Answer by nodding your head, Is Sara in there?” Finally, he slowly nodded, yes.

“Is she all right?” Jim wanted to know. Another nod, yes.

“Why did you take her?” He mumbled something and Jim lifted the gag a bit just long enough to hear, “Money”

Will picked the guy up and carried him back to the car, where he returned to tell them he was now safely tucked in the trunk. He had searched him for a phone or weapon and found nothing.

So they waited impatiently for the Police to arrive. Perhaps the other guy had a weapon. And no one wanted Sara to get hurt in this. Time seemed to stand still.

Then the inside man called out to the one they had in the trunk. Will crept closer in case he should come all the way out. After the third call he heard some cussing and it got louder. Then just as Will hoped, the boss lost his temper and stomped out angry to give the first guy a sharp, tongue wagging. But of course he saw no one. He walked a bit left and called the son of a bitch to get back here. Then he turned right and walked slowly toward Will, who waited quietly then jumped him and held him to the ground, while Jim arrived with the rope Will brought back from the trunk and hog tied the thief tightly. He was yelling and cussing, but if there was another man still inside the Mine, he did not respond.

Will put the second man over his shoulder and carried him back to put him in with the first. It was a tight fit but so what? The second man did carry a gun, but had not had time to get to it. Will had it now. He checked it for ammunition then held it in front, as he and Jim slowly entered the mine to search for Sara.

They did not call out, as they still did not know what to expect. About forty or fifty feet into deeper darkness they found a smaller side cave with a single candle burning. Sara was lying on the red cave floor, still tied and gagged.

Jim rushed to her and quickly undid the gag and ties while Will stood guard.

“How many men are there?” Will asked, as Jim held her and brushed off the red dust as he soothed her happy tears.

“Two.” Sara answered softly, still amazed at the two men from her past who had suddenly appeared to save her.

Then ooh, oh, ouch, wait a minute, she put her feet to the ground and Jim held her carefully not understanding how she was hurt. Then with her hands free she began to reach around, into her bra, her waist band and even her shoes to retrieve the memory sticks of their films in Portugal and Spain. She laughed as the tiny but valuable sticks that she had spent hours pulling from the cardboard box in the trunk and hiding on her body, which now poked her with their small sharp corners, reappeared. She had not wanted to lose those tiny chips they had been working so hard to collect.

At first she was too frightened to think, as those men who were supposed to be from the Police had wrapped her in ropes and put her in the trunk. Then she had tried to save herself by pushing the Cell phone buttons deep in her pants pocket, by pressing them against her side. She thought she would call her friends. But it didn’t work. Whoever answered couldn’t hear her nor she them.

Jim said she had called him. She remembered putting his number on the speed dial that night in Virginia.

“You mean I called you all the way to the United States?” Sara asked.

“No, I was in Lisbon. Will and I had two weeks coming and we can fly anywhere, so he asked, “Where shall we go?” And I said, I’ve never seen Lisbon. So we went.” He wore a suspicious smile, but Sara was still confused and so happy to see him that it didn’t matter.

She still remembered too well how difficult it had been to get the phone out of her pocket with her wrists tied together and how after all of that effort, it had slipped out of reach to the trunk floor. She now thought she understood that the person who actually got that first fuzzy call was Jim and like a miracle he was here. She still did not completely understand it. Maybe later, when she recovered from the shock of being grabbed from behind and shoved into that dark, uncomfortable place and tied so she couldn’t even think, she might understand it better later.

She was still weak and Jim swooped her up and carried her to join her friends, who waited just outside, like a second miracle.

As Kelly and Ellie took turns praising her bravery and then chastising her for going at all, they tried to laugh about it, but still could do nothing but cry with happiness.

Kelly and Ellie had watched in awe at the way the men had stepped up and taken charge. With Will, overpowering the thieves and giving them this happy reunion. They had to admit that there were some things that boys were better at than they had given them credit for all of these years.

They would certainly hope to leave this adventure out of their story, but they had to find a way to show or tell others what the boys had done to save Sara.

Oh dear… they knew they couldn’t have it both ways. There was a lot of tour yet ahead and Ellie had been too frightened, as she watched the men capture the bad guys, to even consider filming it. Now she regretted that failure.

Then the Police arrived. They transferred the two car thief, kidnappers, into the squad car and checked to see if Sara needed medical care before they left.

Sara insisted that she was only a little bit weak and shaky. The two men were so caught up in the money that her supposedly, rich parents would gladly pay to get her back, if only they knew that her mother was not rich…far from it. Giving her food or water had not occurred to them. They kept arguing about how to get in touch with this rich girl’s parents, to send a ransom note, and how much money to demand… wanting more with each talk. They had never realized that she was a foreigner, with her parents out of reach somewhere in America.

Sara spent most of the time in that dark trunk, trying to either phone out or save the memory sticks. Then they got this new idea, to take her up to the abandoned mine, where no one would ever find her. The rented car might be in her name and they had not yet decided how to dispose of it.

After they carried her into the old iron mine, one man returned the car to their little house, where it ran out of gas, so he just parked it by shoving it into the driveway and hitching a ride back to the iron mine with some traveling truck drivers.

Oddly, between Ellie and Jim, the car was what had led them right to her. The Police were impressed.

Back in civilization, Sara showered herself back to life. The other four sat and waited by trying to decide whether to go out to dinner, they knew Sara was hungry, or to bring in food.

If Sara was up to it they would go out someplace close.

These men who, they had known before as flirty guys, trying to make points with pretty, young, women, were more serious now, and even began to show an interest in how their World Tour was coming along.

Ellie passed the latest pictures still in her camera around and lamented the fact that all of the most important recent events were not among them. She admitted that a more experienced reporter would have caught it all, but they will try to get better.

Because they still had some vacation time, Will suggest that they travel together up through France as far as Calais. Then they would fly home from there and the girls would drive the Chunnel to England. Kelly had a question to settle first.

“Will it bother you if we leave you out of our story and the film. Our rules say no men. And I have to keep my promise to God, that if we got Sara back safely, I would follow our rules better, even Sara’s dad’s rules, and you should see those!” She laughed.

Will thought a moment. Then replied,
“Perhaps God sent us to help you and would consider us as his helpers

Ellie had to smile at that and asked,

“Does that mean that you two are to be considered as… Angels?”

“Sure… if it will work to our benefit.” Will answered.

Sara had entered the room and was standing to hear the outcome of this conversation. Now she stepped forward, toweling her red curls as she spoke.

“Well you both certainly looked like Angels to me. Angels who walked right into hell, where I was hidden,… and carried me out.” Kelly had to agree that Sara had a point.

So the new plan was set into place with the two men turning in their rental car and the five of them traveling across France together until they parted at the border.

Kelly passed the pages of rules around for the entire group to agree with them. She should not be the only one.

“Pretty tough rules but we can do it.” Will said. “And you three can decide what goes into the final story when you get home and are making the movie. You might acquire some better ideas by the time you reach the U.S. again. He winked at Jim, who agreed with Will.

Every one signed the rules page and Kelly filed it away. What would become of the kidnappers, who had begun by stealing their car, would be left to the French law.

So with Paris ahead they would start tomorrow. Tonight they would eat, well.

They passed a few quick food stands but were looking to sit and relax as they ate and so kept walking.

“Hey there fish lady!” a voice called out. At first they didn’t respond, but the voice had a familiar English ring to it so they stopped and turned. It was George Henry the “Ye Olde Fish and Chips” guy, who had cooked Ellie’s dubiously acquired fish. They waited for him to catch up and then introduce him to Will and Jim. Kelly carried on about how he had made the very most wonderful meal out of a fish Ellie had… acquired from a Portugese fisherman.

“I have been watching for you.” He told them. You said you were going to drive to the Chunnel and across the Channel. I thought you might have already left.”

“We would have, but we had a little problem and it took a couple of extra days to clear it up.” Sara told him. “Our car was stolen and we had to rent another.”

Ellie rolled her eyes at Kelly, as she wondered what Sara would call a big problem.

“Oh, good, so you do have a car. I was hoping to beg a ride north.” George explained, “I should be heading back to Cambridge for school fairly soon and a ride would sure be helpful. Do you still plan to drive under the English Channel? Some say it’s cheaper to take a ferry, but I really don’t know. I’ll pitch in for either.” Kelly began to answer for them.

All five of us are going to be together until Calais, then these two are going to fly back to the U.S. They are both American Airline Pilots, in fact the ones who flew us from California to New York . Their vacation ends soon, so they will leave after we see Paris.” Then she added, “So it will be a bit crowded, but we can do it if you don’t have much luggage. And are not in a rush.”

“Just a duffle bag.” He told them. So they all agreed to take on one more passenger.

They found a quiet restaurant and sat to order, just as Kelly had hoped. There was soft music and they could still hear themselves talk. Kelly was still settling down from the scare of losing Sara, for which she was still inclined to blame herself. She didn’t feel that anyone else did, but there it was, she was the last to see her go and hadn’t stopped her or even watched as she was taken away. She shivered at the reoccurring thought. Will saw it and thought she was cold so offered her his jacket.

Kelly reached out to touch the soft beige lamb leather and said,

“This is such a fine jacket that I should accept just for the fun of wearing it. But no I’m not cold… just thinking.” She smiled “But with everyone here, I have got to try harder not to let myself go there.” Will touched her hand under the table and told her softly.

“I think I understand. You are the leader here and the responsibility rests very hard on you for one so young. You’re what? Eighteen? Some days you could pass for thirty. Then in the next breath you’re twelve. I’m twenty five going on fifty.” Kelly had to laugh at that. She had never wondered his age or even tried to guess. Will patted Kelly’s hand and turned to Ellie. “Tell me. I’ve been wondering. How does a young lady acquire a fish?”

The girls all broke into laugher. Sara told Ellie,

“Go ahead if you can and explain the men of Portugal to these Americans.” Ellie turned a little pink but faced Will with her answer,

“Can you handle the truth about guys? All guys!” Will thought he knew what was coming but he answered,

“I’ll sure try. I might learn something I can use.” Kelly quipped,

“Oh, I doubt that.”

So Ellie began to tell them from the beginning, her experiences of trying to speak to foreign men by using sign language and what they seemed to make out everything she said or did. The girls and even the men laughed at her frustration and the trouble she was soon dug very deep into and didn’t know how to get out. So she just fled.”

“You should have seen her, she panicked and just walked away.” Sara said, “Walking very fast toward us, holding as far from her as she could, this very large dripping wet fish, she didn’t even want and couldn’t get rid of or pay for, no matter what she tried. She asked us if she was being chased. She was afraid to look.”

Kelly stepped in. “That was how she met George Henry, who was the cook at a close-by food stand. She thought he was Portugese, too and was afraid to talk to him, as she might get in deeper, so she just held the fish up. And when he said, “Do you want it fried or broiled.” with that British accent, we almost died laughing and were all very much relieved.”

The food arrived and they set to eating. Sara was surprised at how little she could eat. There must be something about going without that shrunk your stomach. She was more thirsty than hungry after all.

Tomorrow they would be on the road again. They drew straws for the order of driving and packed to leave early. They would go past the men’s Hotel to pick them up and then… Kelly didn’t want to worry herself about how it would go. They would have to deal with problems as they happened. Oh and then there was George, but he said he would meet them at the men’s Hotel.

Kelly won the first straw for driving, which she thought was a good thing, since she had gone over the route with Ellie, who makes the Hotel or Hostel reservations. They would end up at the end of the day where Ellie had planned.

However things took a drastic change. As long as the girls were driving themselves, they made all of the choices, such as where and when to stop for gas and for meals.

The dynamics were now evenly divided with three women and three men. As the men seemed inclined to believe that they ruled, they took charge, no matter who was behind the wheel. For example throughout the trip the ladies had stopped at better than average restaurants with nice, clean, roomy, rest rooms for their comfort and tables with menus for their food.

On the other hand, the men chose large trucker gas stations, where they could make a run to the rest room and on the way back pick up some packaged food things to eat on the road. It was whole different approach to traveling, which of course, the women found somewhat distressing.

Another difference, but not so obvious. was the inner relationship of the groups. The women talked about the men and their choices. Each wanted to blame each other for why they had joined with them in the first place. Ellie moaned,

“I hope I die without ever seeing another white bread, egg salad, or bologna sandwich.”

Sara complained that the men spent the whole day arguing about who had the best soccer players or coach or who cares what.

The men discussed the women, as George was curious if Will or Jim had any special connection with any of the three girls. They denied having one with any of the three, which was not exactly true, but what they believed, from their experience with them, as being what the girls would all want said.

George said he was particularly interested in one, he didn’t say which, and if there was no objection he might pursue her. Will and Jim both hoped he wasn’t going for their favorite, but nothing could be done as they were due to leave from France and he would have them all alone until he was home in England… and even then as long as he could.

However by the time they reached Calais, all three women were sick and tired of men, trucker food and gas station rest rooms, and were plotting to get free of all of them as soon as possible.

They were somewhat sad, but a lot happy, to wave good bye to Will and Jim even though they knew they owed them both a lot for their figuring out and finding the iron Mine, but it was time to part. They each took a breath of freedom, then said,

“ Now, what can we do about George?”

Ellie suggest that they look over the map and try to find something they just had to stay and see that would delay crossing the Channel.

Or maybe Sara thought one could develop a sick head ache or spots and all three stay until that one was better. Kelly reminded them,

“The trouble with both of those plans is that they rely on George not deciding to stay with them, as he hadn’t mentioned a deadline to get home.”

“Okay what else?” I know Kelly said, “Give the car back and fly to London. It might even be cheaper.”

“You’re right. It might not have been that great to drive under both ground and 44

water for such a long trip. The question is, how badly do we want our freedom back?”

“Oh my!” Sara proclaimed, dramatically throwing her hand to her head, “I feel my fear of confinement coming back ! It must be the result of all of that time tied up in the trunk of a car. I thought I might be over it by now, but I don’t think I can handle the long tunnel.”

Ellie with mock worry for her friend chimed in. “ She suffers with a serious case of claustrophobia. You just rest, Sara, I’ll go make arrangements for three Airline tickets. We will have to fly to London.”

“I agree.” Kelly replied. “We had better let George know about our change of plans. He won’t have much trouble finding another ride now that we got him this close. I’ll go let him know right now.”

Alone at last in London they rejoiced with their favorite meals and fancy rest rooms and wouldn’t choose a truck stop if the gas tank was showing empty.

They celebrated by spending the day in the London shops looking for something British to film themselves wearing. Duchess Kate’s cute little Fascinator hats that clung to the forehead like magic, were too stylish and wouldn’t carry them through the rest of the tour.

This time they skipped the Jeans and each bought a cute, but simple, real dress that could be changed with a scarf or flower for variety and a hat with a nice brim that would still look good in the northern and eastern counties. They bought a pair of pumps for their dress and to give the poor walking shoes, or maybe their feet, a rest.

Up here on the colder part of earth they decided to add a jacket. Kelly insisted that hers be a real lamb leather, in beige. Luckily what with the Aussies and the Scotts connection with the British, lamb leather was much cheaper here than at home. So they all bought one almost like hers, but in different colors. Ellie, the brunette chose black. Sara chose soft green to clash nicely with her red hair.

Yes their first day of freedom had been a great success and their happy faces showed that in all of the pictures they took.

They sent actual pictures home with the little memory strips containing the first day in London and rest of France, but somehow leaving out Sara’s ”little problem” and the four, actually uneventful, days with the three men.

Their new little rental car was smaller, as one might expect in England, and thus not fitting for extra passengers, thank goodness.

Maybe it was asking too much of fate to hope that three girls traveling alone might finish the tour without any more “little problems.”

But what happened next proved that hope to be wrong.

England may be small by their standards, but so far it was filled to the top with very interesting places to visit. They had seen colleges and churches, museums and ancient walls, famous river towns like Stratford on Avon and bridges that crossed rivers, but also held safely the crown Jewels. There were mansions, which had once been homes, but were now offices for large Companies, although they still held public tours, then a castle that was complete with silver suited, but empty knights guarding every door, and a real knight riding his horse over the green land inside of the moat. Of course the Queens homes and even her yacht, which looked more like a Navy ship were available with reservations, if she wasn’t using them. They were kept very busy.

Things had been going smoothly for the week and maybe someone was careless, but the little car broke down and left them stranded in the most unpopulated part of England.

They had cruised along for miles of flat land, called Moors, they didn’t even know what that meant. Then the car stopped and they sat for a while, more or less thinking another car would come along and help out.

When that didn’t happen they got out and lifted the hood to see if anything obvious had occurred. They poked and prodded and jiggled things, but nothing convinced the car to start.

With nothing they could do to get the car going, they tried to phone. No luck there either. They looked all around. No people…no phone service.

Do we stay with the car or walk? That was the question. It seemed obvious that they would need to stay on the road as there seemed to be no signs of life out in the heather or whatever those miles of flat land was filled with.

Kelly suggested that they had been sitting here for a very long time already and that was getting them nowhere, so let’s walk.

They each took a small bag and wore their oldest jeans with the walking shoes. Everything else had to stay behind. It was very hot right now but something warned them that it would not stay that way. So the jackets were hanging loose over their shoulders as they began what they hoped would be a short walk.

They soon learned that the flat land was not really flat but ridge after ridge of ravines many with cold fast streams at the bottom. As each street crossed a ravine it was made flat by large pipes for the water, with the street built up higher, which showed them why walking the moors was not even possible. They were not flat. So they would walk the road. It seemed to go on forever with no change.

The sun got lower and the breeze came up to cool them a little which was nice, but where was the end? After walking for a long while they all agreed to sit and rest their tired feet. To do that, they had to leave the road and find a ridge to serve as a bench. As they sat for a few moments to rest they noticed that the moors were disappearing from sight. A low fog blanketed the distant areas and it seemed would soon envelope them. They got up and rejoined the road and began to walk a little faster, hoping to find help before they were lost in fog.

When the fog arrived all around them, they found that they were walking blind. All they could see was their feet and the road right under them. They could be passing a gas station and not even know it.

With the fog came the cold and the jackets and scarves were a great relief. They seemed to have no choice but to keep moving. If the car were not so far back they could sleep in it and began to wish they had stayed. But going back seemed just as impossible as going forward.

Finally at one ravine they stood and tried to see down. If they could get a place off of the road to rest where they need not fear a car or truck might run over them, which it seemed almost silly to expect, as they had not seen even one since they started walking, though they felt unsafe sitting on the road, so they stepped cautiously down a few feet and found a place to sit. With the cliff behind them they could almost get comfortable enough to lean back and sleep, or maybe just tired enough to sleep.

It wasn’t exactly what is known as restful sleep, but doze they did, off and on. It grew lighter so they took that to mean morning. The fog kept the sun out of sight, as well as everything else. They had eaten what little food they had last night and hunger drove them to continue the walk.

“You know what?’ Ellie said, “I’m hungry enough to even eat one of those terrible truck stop sandwiches.”

“Oh no.” Sara replied. “Keep reminding me of those. It will keep me from feeling hungry.”

The fog was growing lighter and they could almost see five feet ahead of themselves already. One step at a time they kept walking. Pretty soon as the bushes at the road side became visible, Ellie thought she saw some berries.

“Do you suppose these are edible?” She asked as she put one in her mouth and found it to be sweet and delicious. “They must be.” She announced, as she began to greedily pluck them off and eat them. Soon they were all filled with the berry breakfast and able to carry on walking. Sara carried a bag full for later, as she did not expect the road side to be that lucky again soon.

By noon the Moor was open and hot again and the jackets came off. Still the distant view yielded nothing and no cars came. That seemed so strange as this street must be used by somebody. What they did not know was that the start of the roadway had been closed off from traffic for some repairs, so nothing would be coming until the road was reopened. Going forward was all they had. That the road was closed was repeated at both ends.

“Have we filmed any of this?’ Kelly asked.

“No. It is not very interesting.” Ellie said.

“Not now, but if we make it, it will be.” Kelly told her

“What do you mean, IF? “ Sara asked.

“No. Of course we will make it. We’re strong.” Kelly answered.

“Not anymore!” Ellie whined. “I’m exhausted. I think I’ll just sit here and wait while you two go for help. “

“So sorry, girl, but that is against the rules.” Sara reminded her.
“So was taking on three men. So what’s another one more?”
All three sat on the first big boulder they came to for some rest. They could see the road ahead and back for miles. It was obvious that help was not on its way.

“Where is your friend Jim when we need him?” Ellie complained.

“You know something, they were all very nice and we could have handled them all one at a time, but as a group…”

“Ugh, please don’t remind me.” Kelly suggested. It will take the rest of the trip to get over the group. Why is that? Once, I liked Will a lot, but, I don’t know what happened that made me feel so happy to see him go with the others.”

“Same with me.” Sara said. “This is really important to find out before we choose a husband. How is he in a group?”

“How can you learn that before it is too late?” Ellie wondered. “My mother hadn’t and I have very little memory of my father.”

“Well unless we get going and find civilization soon we won’t have those problems.”

So they got up and began to walk, as they mulled the question of three men verses one man.

A vehicle coming toward them raised a little dust from a ravine and they saw it and began to get excited that help might be on its way. They stood in the middle of the street to be sure it would stop.

But it turned out to be a motorcycle, which did stop, but could not carry them anywhere. He told them that there was no automobile traffic until the road reopened which would be today or tomorrow. They usually wait enough time after the last car passes to close both ends. Somebody should have noticed that your car had not gone through yet. People don’t just stop in the middle for no reason. That is unexcusable.

“Yes it is. How much further do we have to walk?” Kelly asked. He pointed back just beyond that curve there is a gas station, but it was closed, waiting for the road to open. They do have a telephone booth though. I can take one of you to that.” He offered.

“Thank you. We’ll walk it. You’re going the wrong way anyhow.” Kelly thanked him for offering, and he drove off toward where they had left their car yesterday.

“If we get to a Motel with a swimming pool, I’m going to stay there until my legs come back to life.” Ellie informed her friends. Actually they all agreed.

From the phone booth, they called the rental company to tell them where the car was parked. They were going to have it towed to the next town and promised to take care of their few belonging until they called for them in Westenmoor. Then they called the closest Motel who promised that the swimming pool was full and ready. So they asked to be picked up at the closed, “Last Chance For Gas Station.” Of course they knew exactly where that was.

Just sitting on the edge of the pool, with their legs floating was the most rewarding, they could sit and talk and try to solve all of their life’s questions, as they rested, then eat at will in the little diner across the street. What more could they ask for at this point. Except maybe eventually a car that would run.

From the other guests they learned that their Moor was famous for murders committed in 1965, called just that, The Moor Murders. All three were glad they had not heard that until they were out of it. They would have to read about them and decide if they were in or out of their story.

They got lucky, as the rental agency felt so sorry that they had walked most of the Moor, that they had a new car delivered to their Motel, complete with their baggage. The only two things they missed were their lap tops and their brand new clothes.

With a fresh start they toured the rest of England going from Birmingham to Liverpool to take that ferry to Dublin Ireland then drive or bus up to Belfast in North Ireland . The next ferry would take them to Glasgow Scotland. They could travel a couple of days in Scotland as long as they ended near Aberdeen, as from there they planned to fly to Copenhagen Denmark. Soon they would be in Stockholm, Sweden, with a boat ride to Finland next as they headed for Russia.

Their rest at the Motel with regular meals had given them a new outlook and any talk of ending the tour in England had disappeared into this brand new map.

The closest big city was Birmingham second only to London. The stopped long enough to tour the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral then drove to the port at Liverpool and took a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin to get a feel for Ireland as they worked their way north to Belfast and North Ireland where they took a small ferry across the North Channel and up the firth of Clyde to Glasgow Scotland they took a couple of days traveling north through Perth to Aberdeen to turn in the car and fly over the North Sea to Copenhagen Denmark.

They soon had a reservation to fly a Russian Airline Plane to Stockholm, which  surprised the Lady taking reservations, as that service was not very popular with the public, but Ellie thought it would be a good way to get introduced to the Russians that they would soon be visiting after Helsinki Finland

It was a very strange experience, as the old plane had wooden seats much like an old train or street car. And as they sat near the front, both the pilot and a plump, woman stewardess took turns peering out from the cockpit room to look at them. They seemed unusually interested in the fact that three Americans had chosen to fly with them. Kelly finally remarked to Ellie,

“What have you gotten us into? The plane has not even left the ground yet and never will if the Pilot doesn’t get over us and start the engine.” She watched with amusement as once again he came out and seemed to pretend to need to open the door again and wave at the folks pulling the stairs away. Then pausing a quick moment to look them over a little more before going back to his job. Sara actually had to smother a laugh.

The interest distracted them from the hard wooden seats, as for the rest of the short flight, one after the other of the passengers seated behind them found a reason to walk to the front of the plane, just to turn and look them over on their way back. Sara snickered again as she whispered to Kelly,

“I don’t know about you, but I feel like a caged zoo animal” They left the plane in Stockholm with a mixed feeling about how it will be traveling in Russia. However, they were glad they had dressed up in their new dresses and pumps for this little Russian experience. At least they would leave a better impression of American Women.

They had been in the habit of wearing the dresses and pumps for the big cities like Dublin, and Glasgow and to fly from Aberdeen to Copenhagen Denmark, the Little Country with a Big Park. That was how they remembered their short visit there.

Mainly because the Park was so nice with an outdoor stage for the Danes to present various programs to entertain the park visitors. While they were there, a group of children about twelve years old, were giving a play, they must have learned in their school, and were presenting again in their Park this summer

In Sweden the Stockholm Department store was so appealing that they decided to find a second dress, maybe a black one, as they really had nothing to wear for dress up. Beige pumps would just have to do, as they didn’t want to crowd the bag too much. They each threw out their oldest Jeans to make room. Actually they just purposely left them behind in the Student Hostel Room in Aberdeen.

The girl’s first impression of Sweden was that it was the best place of them all. Only the Swedes themselves would argue with them about that. While they walked around ohing and awing about everything, the water, water, everywhere, the trees and the unique houses that lay claim to being 700 years old. They loved the Parks and boats and people enjoying the sun. Plus that darling Old Town, Gamma Stan, with shops of all sorts, and a City with enough museums to require, at one day, probably a month to see them all.That was Stockholm, where the King and Queen lived and have forever and ever.

Their Palace on the water with their huge yacht tied in front like a rowboat tied up for a fisherman, wasn’t a Castle, just a huge hotel size home.

They had an Opera House, a Music Hall and a Sports Stadium. Then on top of a long row of hills, there stood the largest building they had ever seen. It was not a tall skyscraper, just very long as it stretched across the hill tops. It was so eye catching that they had to ask what it was. It was a Hospital!

Then right down in the City they came across another unusual Hospital which had outside access to every patient’s room. If you were visiting your sick friend, you could just walk right in or out, but if you were a Doctor or a Nurse or an Aide caring for the Patients, you were confined to the center core of the Hospital and had to go through a small wash-up room that was between the Hospital Center and the Patient’s room to go in or out, washing your hands from both directions.

They just kept finding things to be impressed by, so why were the natives so negative?

One finally ‘fessed up, by saying, “You have never been her in the Winter time.”

“We don’t just have ice and snow all over the place, making travel impossible or even just difficult,” she laughed, “It is dark here, with no sun for the whole winter. Unless having it come up and peek over the horizon, then go back down again, counts as a sunny day. That is why, in case you have wondered, you will always see people leaving their offices to come out and sit chin up, facing the sun, for their whole entire lunch hour. Our bodies become starved for the sun light. If we seem to envy you your year around sun, that is why.” Then she smiled that winsome Swedish smile, as she said, “other-wise this is a very nice place.”

Ellie had her phone camera on for her whole speech. She knew she should have mentioned it, but her heart-felt complaint, ending with a compliment was just too nice to interrupt.

Because the boats going to Helsinki Finland are so popular with the Swedes, as there are strict alcohol laws in Sweden with the government in charge of all sales, the boats leaving Stockholm for those free ports are booked far in advance, sometimes simply
called Party Boats, as no one disembarks in Finland but remain for the return party. Ellie had made the three of them reservations one way to Helsinki in plenty of time and because they would leave Finland after two days to fly to St. Petersburg,. (Leningrad), Russia, they would not take a car.

“The famous Trans Siberian Railway can be taken from St. Petersburg or Moscow as it travels to the Capitol on its way.” Ellie favored starting with the train at its beginning. She had pitched this method of traveling across Russia, as the very beginning of the tour. Now it would be the way it comes close to ending, at her former beginning in Vladivostok. That is unless we decide to go down to Beijing, China, instead, she remembered… They could decide that later.”

“Anyway, the train gets us across the Ural Mountains and through interesting towns, all the way down to Lake Baikal.” She stopped to explain. “I just learned a few things about that Lake. It is the deepest lake in the world at 5,387 ft. It is also the oldest fresh water lake in the world at 25 million years old, and curves in a rift 400 miles long. So, because of its unique properties it is thoroughly studied by special depth subs and aquatic animal experts, so there is lot to learn about it that I don’t know yet. .

If they took this choice it would take them all the way to that last stop, Tokyo, Japan and one more flight to LAX… home.

After a short silence Sara opened the conversation with a new topic that set them all back for a minute.

“Why is it that we have not had any men troubles lately?” No one answered right away they were still deciding about the Siberian Rail Road, yes or no?”

“Because we sent the men all away, remember?” Ellie told her.

“I don’t mean those men. I mean any men. They once looked at us together or separately and wanted to know us, but has anyone been hit on lately? I don’t think so.”

Kelly gave her answer and it made sense.

“We haven’t stayed in one place long enough. If a guy gives one of us a second look, we are gone before he can give a third. Haven’t you noticed how fast we have become? Well except for the walk across the Moor, we only saw one guy on a motor cycle for that entire time.”

“And he was happy to get away without helping us.” Ellie reminded them. “One of our old guys, like Jim or Will, would have stuck like glue until we were safely somewhere.”

“What’s the problem, Sara? Are you afraid that we are slipping or over the hill already or what?”

“Maybe we don’t look helpless enough. Do we all appear to be too much in charge and self sufficient? ”Ellie wondered.

“Well sooner or later men stop looking at a woman with that look, you know what I mean.” Sara said, “But it isn’t supposed to stop before you’re even twenty. Thirty or forty maybe, but we three are still teens.”

“A hungry look… Like the fishermen in Portugal?” Kelly suggested with a tiny smile..

“Well, yes. Though they had it perfected down to an insult.” Sara decided.

“I still say we moved too fast” Kelly reiterated. “We hit a town, see the chosen top draw, then move quickly to the next town. Like in Dublin, we got tickets to those famous River Dancers and then we were off to Belfast while their feet still rang in our ears.”

“She’s right” Ellie decided. “What do you want to do about it?”
“Well, I thought maybe we could cool it a little and give a guy a chance.”
“Since when do we need any guys? Sara. We don’t. Not right now.” Kelly told her.

“We will soon have a long train ride across Russia, then see Tokyo, and presto! Just like that, we will be home. Even if we are very busy organizing this tour all on tape, there will be plenty of time for boys.”

“Oh goody!” Ellie clapped, “Does that mean the train is in?” The other two looked to Kelly for the answer.

“Do either of you object or have a different route to suggest? Kelly watched their faces and announced, “It looks like the Trans Siberian Railway is it. To tell the truth I was getting tired of driving or riding in the car. We may even have time to read a good book on the train.”

“And even better,” Ellie told them, “Is sleeping in the same bed for 18 nights in a row.”

As close as the end had begun to seem, they still had the boat to Helsinki and a plane to St. Petersburg ahead of them.

Kelly began to smooth her new black dress into a package. She had chosen a soft black cashmere, sweater dress, with a deep V neck and long sleeves that were slit from the wrist to the shoulder. She couldn’t wait to wear it. If not in Helsinki then perhaps, St. Petersburg. Ellie and Sara had both chosen a black silk, swing skirted, dress, Ellie’s with thin rhinestone shoulder straps and Sara’s had a low rounded neck with a large collar that had the effect of a short cape.

Sara decided to wear hers on the boat to Helsinki. It was called a Party boat. Maybe that was not for nothing. Perhaps with this dress she could find out if men still found her attractive. Instead of packing it, she hung it out to be worn. As she admired it on the hanger she thought… Wouldn’t a long string of pearls come in handy now.

They laid out what they would wear and everything else was packed and ready to go. Helsinki… here come the World Tour Girls!

The boat was larger than they had expected, as they did not realize how popular it really was with the Swedish young people.

Everything was set up to look like a Party and a Party it was. The women wore their finest dresses and lots of jewelry. The men were in suits and white shirts with bow ties, almost a tux effect.

Only Sara had dressed to kill and even without that momentarily desired string of pearls, she was outstanding. Ellie and Kelly went back to the cabin and changed to brighter blouses then returned to the Party.

However the Party was not what they expected. It was called a Party Boat due to the fact that from the three mile line from Sweden, the alcohol flowed like water and would continue to do so to the Helsinki Port, which was why most of them were on that boat. Helsinki was not the destination… apparently oblivion was. By two A.M. there did not seem to be a man or woman standing.

Sara was very popular as long as the dancing continued, but as she sipped her
single drink all evening, and had fallen behind the ten drinks most of them consumed, the others were finally confined to chairs and sofas or even the floor, although the boat people usually lifted those to a more comfortable position.

The girls went to their small cabin and changed to Jeans and T shirts for a nap until the boat docked. At that time they were among the few who got off. Most stayed on board to drink their way home. Sara sighed with disappointment. “So this is a Swedish Party Boat? Say, Ellie, did you film any of that?”

“Some,” She shrugged and added, “ until everyone fell asleep or passed out. But
this Boat flies the blue and white flag of Finland, so is actually a Finish, Party Boat. It fills with Swedes because their government controls the alcohol in Sweden, so this is their way to rebel.”

“Too bad.” She folded her nice dress to pack for a better time.

Helsinki was a great surprise. They began to understand why that city had been chosen by popular magazines to be the “Best City in which to live.”

They had wonderful old buildings from their 500 year long history, and they could challenge Stockholm for Museums and Universities, Sports Area’s, Operas, Symphony Concerts and Transportation Facilities. They were even considering a new Rail line tunnel under the sea from Helsinki to Tallinn Estonia.

Ellie soon learned that it was possible to get to St. Petersburg, Russia, by Ferry Boat, Helicopter, or Airplane. She reserved three tickets with the Airline.

Their largest department store, Stockmann, was on a street none of them could pronounce starting with Aleks… and on for thirteen letters.

Almost every citizen carried a cell phone, as Finland was the first country to make that possible. Their University was so forward thinking that they were World Wide known for new improved communications and the Internet.

While other Countries like ours would not allow them to be made, for fear that public use would interfere with Radio and Television, Nokia had made them universal at home and proved their fears unfounded. It may be safe to say that Nokia primarily made it possible for every human on earth to carry a cell phone, as it seems they do.

Why had they allowed so little time in this wonderful Country? While looking for a good book to carry on the train, they learned that Finland out produced most counties in publishing. They had 200 newspapers and a couple of dozen very popular magazines, plus some technical ones. Only the Japanese competed with them for the amount of time a citizen spent reading. No wonder they were so far ahead with communications.

They took a bus tour to see everything they could, then, chose a couple to returned to later so they could relax and enjoy some events, like a Hockey competition with Sweden and the Fair.

Suddenly they were in a rush to catch the bus to the Tallinn Airport. So it was good bye to a place they put on the list of places to return to some day.

It got finally became easier to remember that they were going to St. Petersburg and not to Leningrad. Some of the books, in which they had been researching, called that same city, Petrograd, and others used Leningrad.

In 1991 they held a vote for the name to be returned to the one given to it by the founder, Tzar Peter the Great, in 1703, or the name Petrograd which it was know by from 1914 to 1024, when Lenin died and it was re named for him, Leningrad.

So now, and the girls hoped for a long time, to end the confusion and give the history books a chance to catch up, that city on the River Neve, at the Gulf of Finland, on the Baltic Sea, would be known as St. Petersburg again. There are others, even in Russia, but they will have to fend for themselves.

They took so much time in Helsinki that they made it to St. Petersburg just in time to catch the Train they had reserved. So they stayed glued to the windows as long as there was anything about that area to see. When it turned into open plains or Stepps, they sat close to the window, just in case, but could open the books they had found in Helsinki… on the foreign language table… in English.

The train had a planned stop in Moscow, where they were offered a short bus tour of the Capitol with an English speaking tour guide, so they accepted and spent the next 40 minutes viewing what were the most important sights of the tour. Somehow the outstanding, colorful buildings of Moscow were shown so frequently on television and in movies that they recognized most just from seeing them so often. In real life they appeared elegant and familiar.

When they returned to the train they passed the station gift shop and were accosted by a determined salesman who carried a lovely set of these cute little nested Russian dolls.

“How can you leave Moscow without these so beautifully hand painted little dolls to remember your visit by?” He shouted.

Well these three had passed up the most beautiful. tempting, silver at the very beginning of the trip, rather than begin to get loaded down with items that they would then have to carry all of the rest of the way. So they were passing up the ten little wooden dolls, when the clever salesman suggested that he would put them into a safe package and mail them directly home for them.

That stopped them for a minute. After a conference, they pooled their money and sent a set with a note to Fran, Ellie’s mother, telling her that these ten tiny Matryoshka Russian Wooden dolls would sit on her mantle and smile brightly down at her, keeping her company until they brought Ellie safely home.

Ellie was most pleased with that decision, as she knew best how lonely her mother might be. Then they took their chosen seats spread out as before in car seven. Soon other passengers would be arriving and they had grown accustomed to their separate window seats, where they were on the watch for the first sign that the train was climbing, for the Ural Mountains were somewhere out there after Moscow.

Then something strange happened, as they each settled in their chosen window seats, Kelly looked up from her book to notice when a young man took the seat beside her. He had a lap top, which he opened at once, so she went back to her book without thought. Then she noticed that Sara and Ellie each had a new male seat partner, also, even though there were other empty seats to be had.

As Kelly looked at each one, she noticed that they were all nice looking, well dressed and at least College age. Was there a College near here with a group taking the train? She saw that Ellie was reading and had not noticed her new friend, but Sara was deep in conversation with hers. She peeked at her companion and he was looking at her, so he smiled when she looked his way.

“What is this?” She asked, “University’s day off or what? How did this car suddenly fill up with young men?”

“That’s three questions.” He replied “How about boiling that down to one, like “Hi! What is your name? Mine is…”

“Well at least you speak English.” Kelly said seriously, “That’s a good start. Do the other fellows?” She nodded in their direction.

“Among others. “ He answered curtly. “On this train you might need almost any language. It is very popular with world tourists.”

“And you are what? An official tourist assistant?” Kelly asked. She had tried to refrain from smiling, as that always seemed to encourage strangers. She saw that Ellie had just become aware of her seat companion and had moved to another open window seat.

Kelly had to smile at that. But her neighbor took it be a smile at him and responded with.

“Aw that is much better. You have a lovely smile. Now a name would be nice.”

Kelly didn’t go as far as Ellie and change seats, but she turned back to her book to continue reading.

“Okay.” He said, and he opened his lap top so he could read also. They read side by side for about a half an hour. Then Kelly looked up to see Sara standing beside her and explaining that she and Phil were going down to the dining car for lunch. “Want to join us?” She asked.

“I will.” The fellow next to her volunteered. “Is Pete going to join you?” He asked.

“Later.” Phil said, as he looked at Kelly for her answer.

“Maybe later.” Kelly answered. “Then she noticed that Ellie had been followed by her ex-young man, who must be Pete, joining in with the lunch group.

The five of them inched their way toward the next car. She was alone. She went back to reading, but with her partners out having lunch, she had a hard time concentrating on the book, so she closed it and her eyes for a rest.

When she opened them again, surprised at how long she had slept, her young man was just taking his seat beside her. He spoke softly and told her that she had missed an excellent lunch.

“But so you won’t be left too hungry until dinner, I stole you some leftovers. He opened the white cloth napkin and revealed a very nice bread roll and two kinds of cheese with an apple, then, he lightly wrapped them and tucked them onto her lap before he opened his lap top to read.

Suddenly he spoke again, “By the way, Kelly, your friends said to tell you that dinner’s at five, so you can plan ahead.”

“Thank you.” She replied, knowing that he had gotten her name from

Sara or Ellie, so why fight it. She decided to asked him another question, careful to make it only one.

“You said you knew lots of languages. Which one is your native tongue?” “I’m Swedish.” He answered without looking up from his reading.
“We just visited Stockholm.” Kelly told him.
“I know.” He continued reading.

“Almost everyone spoke English there.” She remembered.

“I know that too.”

She laughed, “Of course you do.”

The group must have had every conversation imaginable as they ate lunch. Now she was trying to think of something to ask that he would have to think to answer.

“Okay, how about this? How many Countries have you been in?”

“All of them.” He answered at once.

“All of them.” She repeated. “You say you have been to every Country on this planet?”

“That’s what I said. Don’t you believe me?”

“No, I don’t think I do.” Kelly smiled at him and suggested, “You’re just teasing me for ignoring you when you first sat here.”

“I should be, but I’m not. I travel for a living. If I haven’t been in a country, I go to see what they have to offer and then write them up in my articles for magazines and newspapers.”

“That sounds great!” Kelly told him. Then he spoke about her trip.
“I understand that you and your friends are going to make your extensive tour into

a movie. Now that is great… or better, it’s wonderful!”

Kelly was getting interested in talking to him and was sorry now that she was so offish when he first sat down. Now she felt confused as to how to make it up. She covered it by taking out the apple and biting into it…

“Thanks for remembering me with leftovers, “ she mumbled through the juicy bite.

“You’re welcome.” He replied and turned back to his reading. Now she realized that she did not even know his name.

“Is your writing name the same as your traveling name?” Kelly inquired after she finished the apple. He turned to look at her puzzled by the question.

“Maybe I have read some of your travel stories.”

“Oh, no… I write as the Wandering Writer.” My name is Bruce Brighton.”

“With such a pleasant sounding name, why don’t you use it?”

“If I write a book I will. I’m glad you like it.” He smiled pleasantly and was about to return to the Lap Top, when Kelly interrupted him again.

“Are the two young men you came aboard with in Moscow writers also?”

“No they have totally different jobs. We joined up in Moscow to take this T.S.R. across the country for different reasons. Phil and Pete went to the University with me in Stockholm although they are British. Are you going to ask me next how we each came to sit with one of the American Ladies?”

“It had entered my mind, Yes. So you knew, somehow, that we were here and 61

planned this situation.”

“When we gave him our tickets, the Conductor casually mentioned that three good looking young American ladies were booked into car seven for the entire trip. Well you have to know, if you don’t, that the long sometimes boring trip suddenly took on more meaning for three hard working fellows. So we stood outside the door, looking in, while we chose from a deck of cards the order we were to enter and take a seat.” He beamed with the memory of the thought, “I took the Ace and was the first, so here I am.”

“What am I supposed to do with that information? Write you a thank you note?” Kelly asked, trying not to look pleased, as that was what he seemed to expect.

“May I write you one instead? I will if you will give me your address.”

“I might if you will go to another seat and leave me to have this one to myself.”

“No,” He shook his head. “That would be dirty trick. At the next stop, a giant fat man might get on and cuddle in tightly beside you. Then you would wish I had kept it.”

“You might be right,” Kelly laughed, “Okay stay, but I don’t promise to make this trip be more meaningful to you. You might even wish you had drawn a Deuce. I never intended to make this train trip a social one. Now if you had chosen Sara you would have done your Ace proud, she loves companionship.”

“I can see that.” Bruce told her, “But to tell the truth, I like a little peace and quiet myself and to me that looked like you.”

“Thanks. That is a compliment.” She picked up her book, as he turned back to his computer.

At a few moments to five, they left together to get a table in the dining room for dinner.

As they sat across the table from each other talking, Kelly wondered at Bruce’s accent free English.

So he began his story of his five years as a Californian.

“My Father works for the Swedish Telephone Company and was stationed often almost any place in the world, where his Company did business. When I was five and my brother was six, we moved to Newport Beach, California. My parents were to be there for five years, so they bought a house on a hill overlooking the Pacific with a beautiful swimming pool, facing the Ocean.”

“Just up the street from my house in Laguna Beach.” Kelly piped in.

“We were enrolled in the public school with just a smattering of English, but by the end of the semester we were complete Californians.” He smiled at the memory. “I was thinking about our first winter there. My mother had asked a neighbor what it would be like at Christmas, as our grandparents were going to spend a week with us then. She wondered if our swimming pool would be usable that week. It had a little gas heater.

We were so surprised when she was told that Christmas day was very likely to be exactly like today, in the summer. A big bubble of high pressure air could be sitting over us in December, or any time, and forcing the lows to flow around us and north east or south to Mexico.. Then all of the cold and windy storms would come from Alaska and rain on the northern States, Washington and Oregon, maybe California as far south as Bakersfield, but then travel east to torture Chicago and Boston before going out over the Atlantic Ocean. But if the high moved off to warm Nevada and Arizona the lows could bring the storms down to us.”

“How was it?” Kelly asked. She knew the weather routine, but when he was five she was she was not yet born.

“We were lucky and swam in our pool everyday that my grandparents were there. But they went home with an almost unbelievable tale about the ski hills in Southern Cal.

They had heard that millions of dollars were spent to lay water pipes in those mountains, so that when the late night air was below freezing at that altitude, but no rain or snow in sight, they could turn on their “Rain-Birds” which sent water spraying high into the air to freeze and cover the ski hills with snow. By morning they could get a few good inches and if the next night was the same, build up maybe a foot of “Artificial Snow.” for the skiers who flocked up early each morning before the sun began to make it slushy. Grandfather carried home to Stockholm the story of people who actually spent big bucks to make it snow in the wintertime.”

Kelly’s few days in sunny Stockholm had made it possible for her to appreciate his story, aided by the Waitress’s tape about their winters.

Soon the others joined them and Sara and Phil sat at their table. Phil sold Cell phones made in Great Briton, Sweden and Finland, which meant he traveled constantly also, though he had not lost his English accent. Ellie and Pete sat across the aisle and were totally wrapped up in their own conversation.

As they ate, the Ural Mountains loomed out the windows on both sides, as the train made its way between the gentler passes, while ever so slowly climbing as trains do. Some passes made visible the distant low lands between steep cliffs and the other had mountainside homes with people going about their lives, shaking bedding out of the top windows to air and tilling the flats areas around their cottages, which all seemed to feature bright red geraniums in window boxes… at least for the summer.

Every now and then Kelly smiled, as she noticed Ellie taking pictures of something or someone. What would they have done without Ellie’s diligent camera work?

The next stop would be, Yekaterinburg, as they approached they decided to get off and look around. It would feel so good to move their legs on ground that was not rolling.

For a short while all six walked together, then unfortunately, forgetting the rules, Ellie and Pete went down the path to film more of the City. While Sara and Phil followed Kelly and Bruce back to the train.

Kelly was anxious for Ellie to return. She had bad luck once by not insisting that they stay together and didn’t like the feeling as the time slid by and no Ellie.

She rose to get off of the train to look for her , when the train began to roll. “No!” Kelly shouted, “Stop the train. Ellie is not back!”
Sara rushed to her side.
“Where is she?”

“She went to film the city. And didn’t get back in time.”

“She’ll be okay.” Bruce assured her, “Pete is with her and he knows his way around.”

“What kind of help is that?” She shouted, “Why didn’t he get her back to the train in time?”

The Conductor appeared at the noise and shouting and learned that one of the Americans had missed the train, also a Brit.

“Not to worry, this happens.” He said calmly, “ But the next stop is Omsk and they may board there.”

“Just stop it here and let me go find her.” Kelly asked.

“We both want to get off here. Right now!” Sara insisted loudly..

The train is moving. I can’t stop it.” He told them. “She will get on again at Omsk, you’ll see.”

“And exactly how does she get to Omsk?” Kelly asked.

“The bus will bring them both. Her young man missed the train, too. So they will take the Omsk bus together. You’ll see. It happens.” The Conductor having done his best walked to the next car hoping things had gone better there.

Bruce tried to lead Kelly back to her seat, but she would have none of it.

“I want to talk to the Engineer. He can stop the train.” She insisted.

“No one talks to the Engineer.” He told her. The Engine is separated from the train by the coal car.

The ride to Omsk was all they could do. If she was not there, they would leave the train to find her. So Sara and Kelly sat together to worry about the possibilities.

Back in Yekaterinburg, Ellie didn’t even see the train leave without her. She and Pete had walked a little bit too far as she filmed the lovely Russian city. Once they became aware of the time, they began to run to get back, when Ellie slipped and fell against some cobble stones and smashed her wrist to the stone street. She reached over with her right hand and felt the break in her wrist snap together between her fingers. So she continued to hold it until they could get back to the train.

She hurried with her camera strap on her right shoulder, trapped there until she was able to let the broken wrist go, with her other hand. So Pete could not even relieve her of the camera’s weight.

A policeman, who had seen her fall, came to her rescue and tried to take her to the Medical Center for help, but she insisted that she must go forward to get the train.

“The train is gone.” He told her. “Let’s go and get this arm fixed.” 65

“Gone.” She looked at Pete. “We missed the train?” she asked.

“It looks like it.”

“My friends will be frantic. Can’t they stop it?”

The Officer was sympathetic, but this was not uncommon. They have a Bus to the next station which is Omsk. We can get you patched up and on the Bus in no time.

So to the Medical Center they went. Ellie’s x-rays showed two breaks in the bones of her wrist. A cast was put on her left wrist and part of her hand to keep it steady for healing and the pair, who wanted back on their train, was dropped at the Bus Station.
The Bus hit the road and the pills given to her for the pain were making Ellie drowsy. Pete held her on the ride and she dozed until they arrived. Then he woke her and they waited at the Station for the Train to arrive.

They had no trouble recognizing their train or car seven, as four people hung at the door anxiously looking for them.

Ellie’s cast told it all, and they gratefully took their old seats.

Ellie and Pete filmed the next two stops from the windows, both Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk were simply mentioned on her tape, as the train stopped for changing passengers. It bothered Ellie to think she might be missing something interesting and important.

Irkutsk was next, the largest City and Government Center in Siberia, but partly because it was close to Lake Baikal and provided Hotels and Universities for that World famous Lake, which drew scientists from all over the world. And nothing could keep Ellie on the train for that one. Although the lovely, blue, four hundred mile long lake was often visible to them long before the train made its official stop. Forests of tall green Pines grew like an artist’s painted picturesque back ground at the far edges.

She was busy informing her friends what little she had learned about this planet’s deepest Lake. It held 20 % of the Earth’s fresh water reserve. In it’s unimaginable, 25 million year evolution it had developed unique varieties of flora and fauna. Some deeper than it had once been believed that life could exist. Even on its very long border with dozens of different little islands, it had developed 1,340 species of animals and 570, indigenous plants.

So it was no wonder that it had come to the attention of the United Nations, where it had been taken under the control of UNESCO…twenty years ago.

“And to think.” Ellie complained, “I had never even heard about it, until we planned

this tour.”

Once they left the train and began to look around the girls all agreed that had they known what an amazing place Irkutsk and Lake Baikal were, they would have allowed about a week to visit it.

They saw adds for tours which covered all 1200 Historical Monuments and others featuring camping out on special Islands. Some Islands and special Forests were off limits for their protection, but there too many things allowed as public attractions for anyone to complain. In spite of the cold water, some swimming areas had docks and floats for public use. Museums held shows to explain what had been learned about the strange aquatic life at the deeper than 5000 ft. level.

When it was time to return to the train the very most they had learned was how much they were going to have to miss. They had a fistful of pamphlets explaining subjects they would now only be able to read about.

The train came out on a flat plain and in the distance they saw a very large low building, totally fenced with both a wall and wire. As they watched for a sign to explain it when that sign finally slid past, it was, of course, written in Russian, so they now knew nothing more.

Bruce laughed and they looked at him with a question showing.

“Could you read that sign, Bruce?” Kelly asked.

“Yes I did. Do you really want to know?” She just looked at him, until he caved. “So okay, the sign said, “Irkutsk, Oblast, High Security, Penal Colony # 19.” It is the largest Penitentiary in Siberia. You’ve heard of folks being sent to Siberia, I imagine.

Kelly nodded yes, they often heard about that place in America as dissidents seemed to disappear inside of those ominous walls. But she never imagined seeing the actual building, itself, with all she had heard about that place where Political Prisoners were sent for rehabilitation, whatever that was.

Bruce shouted out cheerily to break the gloom… “Next stop, Novosibirsk!”
“Did you get a photo of that building?” Kelly asked Ellie quietly. She replied in a whisper. “Shall I keep it?” Kelly thought, “Let’s decide later. It may get confiscated as we leave the train, or even sooner, she decided as she saw the Conductor enter and walk though the car looking carefully at everyone. He checked a cell phone one man was holding, but it seemed to not have a camera, so he returned it. With no other cameras in sight, he moved on to the next car. Ellie whispered,

“I see what you mean.” She slipped the memory chip out and tucked it into the cast on her broken wrist. “We can still decide later.” Her camera remained out of sight of the snooping Conductor for the rest of their journey.

Kelly took her seat and in a fit of curiosity, she opened her lap top and Googled, Wandering Writer. What, she wondered, did Bruce’s stories look like. She would like to read just one. But nothing came up, so she tried Bruce Brighton… nothing. That was strange, as she had always been able to get info on anyone by putting in a name. He said he graduated from Stockholm University so she tried his name there. Nothing.

Now she really was curious. So she returned to his earliest story about going to Kindergarten in Corona Del Mar Elementary school of Newport Beach California.. Everything about that had rung so true, as it was so close to where she went to school five or six years later.

Nothing came up about Bruce Brighton, so she tried, Swedish for that year and got two boys Boris and Johan Pedersson from Stockholm. They returned to Sweden after five years of schooling.

Ah Ha! Now she was getting someplace, the story was true, only the names were changed to protect… what? She sent the names of those two into the Stockholm University system. Then sadly Boris was listed as killed in a motorcycle accident, but Johan graduated and left for Leningrad U. for graduate work.

Johan Pedersson received a degree and moved to Moscow. U. for more special training. But very strangely… so did Boris Pedersson. At this point two photos appear. One was definitely Bruce and the other his brother, Boris, who was the perfect image of Pete, the young man with Ellie. The one Bruce, or Johan, had told her knew his way around and would get her back to the train. Pedersson, Pete, it made sense.

Now she knew she had to speak to her friends in a very private place to let them in on the set up. She grabbed Ellie and told her, very quietly, to shake Pete and meet her at the far side of this train’s engine at the next stop. Sara was given the same message. Kelly reasoned that if they, whoever they were, had gone to the trouble to set an agent on each of them, anything they said on the train could be picked up. The engine was very noisy, as it awaited the next start. She would try to explain this new problem to them there.

She also had to be very clear that they must not give away their new knowledge to any of the three men. They must continue to be very friendly, the same as before, if they didn’t want to find themselves arrested as spies and not allowed to go home. Almost everything seemed to dependent upon what these three agents of probably the KGB, Or whatever they called the Russian CIA now, reported about them to their superiors. Just exactly what did they think? And more important what would they report? Bruce rarely left his lap top behind and even so, it was most likely written in Russian. He had no trouble translating the Prison sign. Although he probably shouldn’t have, it smacked a little like just showing off.

This trip could possibly end in Vladivostock with their arrest. So they may choose to leave the train at Khabarousk the one stop before Vladivostock and just across the river-border there was Manchuria, China. Maybe not much help, but at least out of Russia’s reach.

Another train actually left for Beijing from the Trans Siberian at Khabarousk, so they had more work to do, which could not involve their appointed agents, Bruce, Pete and Phil.

If they could walk the Moor they could do anything.

They met behind the train and Kelly filled them in. After the shock of learning they had been under the scrutiny of those three agents of the KGB wore off, they got with Kelly’s plan and Ellie suggested that they buy another Russian Nested doll set and while they wrote a note to another mother, they tucked all of their memory sticks into the dolls and hope it went home ahead of them. It had a much better chance of getting there if mailed by someone like a store, other than one of them.

They knew if they lost them, they were going to lose them anyway and being caught hiding them on themselves was too risky. While in their sleeping room, they packed for a walk, if necessary, and carefully tucked all of the extra pretty clothes they had accumulated into places in the car that they would not be found easily. Some lucky cleaning lady might like to have them. If they had to walk or even swim they would.

Hunchun, Manchuria was near the Sea of Japan, maybe a boat to Tokyo could be found there.

They each returned to sit with the guy who had been assigned to them. Acting natural was about to be one of the most difficult things the three girls had to do. Upper most in their minds were the newspaper stories of women who had gone to a foreign country only to find themselves arrested for no good reason and accused of spying, followed by the months or even years it had taken their country to get them released… if at all.

Kelly began by just sitting down and opening her book. She expected to finish it soon and she certainly didn’t plan on carrying it when they left. She would probably not use the lap top for awhile, she wanted Bruce to think she was barely computer literate.

Ellie sat in a different seat from her usual, as she sometimes did. She had learned that Pete would continue to seek her out. She used to think that was odd. The average guy would have given up by now, of course now she knew he would not… and why. And there he was seeking her out again, just as usual. She did her best to forget his real name so she wouldn’t use it by mistake…wouldn’t that be disaster!

Sara patted the chair beside her to draw Phil to it, and as usual he responded. Why did there have to be a catch with all of the cute guys? Just when she thought she had caught one herself she finds that he had been assigned to her and she couldn’t lose him even if she was as rude as Kelly tried to be. So she smiled and began a conversation far from anything important.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all come back to Lake Baikal someday?”

Phil agreed and told her of other lakes that were very nice and were easier to get to. She told him about Lake Tahoe where you could sail or swim or ski.

Time passed slower now that they had so much to think about, words or actions to withhold, and even the other passengers were now looked upon with suspicion. This entire part of the Tour had taken on a heavy feeling of intrigue, with very serious consequences. Unless they handled these next few days correctly, the entire Tour was doomed and they all knew it.

By looking at Ellie’s map at bed time they learned that the airport in that area was Russian and not much use to them. There was a Chinese Railway but not much info. The Sea Port of Vanino might have something heading for Tokyo if they could get to it. The Ulya River seemed to be the border, but they probably had to cross it to be safe. Whatever it was called, it would be the one they were looking at from the wrong side. They only hoped it wasn’t as wide as it looked to be on the map.

They tossed different excuses back and forth to give the guys so they could disappear. That part looked the most impossible. They were after all getting paid to keep an eye on them. With maybe very bad consequences if they failed.

Perhaps they could convince them to go with them across the river, on a ferry or something, so they could say they had been in China. Girlish pleading might work…what with there being three of them and the guys still needed to try to please them… as far as they knew.

It might work, as far as getting on the boat was concerned, but would they agree to get off and step on the actual Chinese soil? Sara even considered jumping over board at the far side if necessary. The men were going to be itching to get to the Train and head for Vladivostok… their last stop.

If they had to pass through customs there, the women feared that they may never be seen again… who knew what they might be accused of filming illegally…visions of Irkutsk Penal Colony passed through their heads.

The time had come. The Conductor called out Khabaronsk Krai! And the departing passengers began to pass through walk ways toward the doors. The others stayed in their seats, as they contemplated whether not to get off for a short time.

Finally Kelly picked up her small bag and stretched, as she asked the other two ladies if they were up for a walk. Sara looked eager but Ellie was reluctant. She turned to her man Pete and asked,

“Are you frisky enough to help me with a walk?” He smiled and answered,

“Promise to stay on your feet this time?” Ellie smiled coyly and replied,

“If you will give me your strong, manly, arm to steady me.” They began to leave the car arm in arm right behind Sara, who had coxed Phil to come along. Kelly was hoping to go alone if she could convince Bruce it was alright , so she suggested,

“You may stay if you’re not interested in another useless walk, while watching the clock.” She told Bruce sweetly, “I’ll just take Pete’s other arm.”

“Can you handle two, Pete?” Bruce asked, “ I do have some work to do on the computer. You know we are very close to our last stop.” Kelly was certain that he sounded as if he was looking forward to that day. But not as much as she was, she would bet.

“Do you doubt me?” Pete asked. “Have I ever let you down?” Pete took Kelly’s arm and Kelly smiled down at Bruce,

“The two of us ladies will see that he doesn’t get lost. We’ll take good care of him, I promise.” She blew Bruce a kiss.

Pete with the blonde on one arm and the brunette on the other, followed the red head with Phil down the steps and across the platform to the first street of this new town called, Khabaronsk in the county of Krai. They walked briskly with the girls all but leading the way straight to the river’s edge to stand and survey it.

“So, is this the border?” Kelly asked,

“It is.” Pete told her.

“Then does that mean that China is over there.”

“Actually Manchuria, Is on that side.” He answered, correctly.

“Oh, I thought it was China.” Kelly almost pouted with disappointment. “I always wanted to say I had touched China. It’s much too big to pretend you just missed it.”

“Well for all practical purposes it is China. They rule it.” Kelly brightened,

“Then let’s go over and put our feet down on it. So I can say I have set foot in China.”

“It might take too long.” Pete suggested but didn’t sound too unwilling, so Ellie began, to plead.

“Me too I want to go touch some of China. How do we get there, Pete, I can’t swim with this cast on.” He pointed left as he answered.

“There is a Ferry, but we will have to ask for the schedule to be sure of the timing with our train.”

The Ferry was about to leave and said the trip was five minutes each way.

“Oh goody!” Ellie exclaimed. “We get to go to China!” She clapped her hand with the cast on it lightly on the other, to show her delight. She needed to tie Pete down with some commitment, as she led him aboard.” Phil had one hand free and used it pay the Ferry fee. “Oh thank you Phil, you are such a darling.” Cooed Sara as she stepped quickly to the Public walk onto the Large Ferry boat, which was also letting cars drive to the front until they ran out of space. Then a board dropped behind the last car and the boat began to crawl in the direction of the far ramp. It was slow and the girls hung over the rail and pretended to enjoy the wind in their faces on this fun cruise.

“This is so different from the train. We must do this more often.” Ellie proclaimed as they scanned the far shore for something to help them make their escape.

They could see the Ferry ahead of them unloading and noticed a little conflict with the passengers who drove and the walk-on’s. One of the cars had been in a rush and had cut off a walker who was angry about being nudged by the automobile.

Kelly decided to let a car hit her, so that she could go at once to the Ferry office with her complaint. If they all hurried to the Office, which was upstairs on the Dock. And if they could get around a corner out of the men’s direct sight, and if the men were sure that the girls were inside of the office complaining, they might relax and wait patiently on the Dock.

Kelly was so anxious to find the right car to do the accident, that she didn’t see the Jeep coming and was unexpectedly knocked right off of her feet.

So with Kelly suddenly laying on the deck and the worried girls around her trying to see if she was alright, a pair of Sailors arrived with a stretcher. They carefully placed Kelly on the stretcher and began to take her ashore to the Medical Building that flew the Chinese flag… That was encouraging!

The men followed, but were sent outside to wait, as Medics tried to assess Kelly’s possible injuries. She came to and seemed to faint again, as she continued to moan and roll her head, acting according to plan and staying down while the three women tried to decide how to make use of this poorly planned incident.

“Please Kelly, moan or something.” Sara pleaded in her ear. She looked around and announced, to the Medic, “She looks pretty bad to me.” But he did not speak English. So she looked around for someone who did, without any luck. She kept telling herself, keep calm we will make this work.

The Medic put Kelly’s bag on the stretcher with her and ordered the other man to help take it up. Together with the girls following, they carried Kelly from the First Aid room to a larger facility behind it. The men watched and tried to enter this also, but were turned away again… family only. They trotted her inside where she was placed into a room with her sisters, who were allowed to stay by her side.

Ellie walked back out to assure the men that Kelly was being cared for, but she had been put into a room, they thought to await a Doctor’s arrival.

The young man who had been driving the Jeep, came up to inquire about the lady he had hit. He both apologized and tried to dodge the blame at the same time. Ellie left him to the two men, who sat on a bench waiting impatiently for them to return before they missed the train. They knew their boss, Bruce, was not going to be happy about this at all.

Pete still held her camera and Phil had Sara’s phone in his hand. She had tossed it over to Phil, asking him to hold it while she went to Kelly’s side. The men were not likely to leave without the women. How could they explain it if they did?

“Only don’t let them take too long.” Pete told her. “Remember, we have a train that will not wait.”

“ I guess I know that.” Ellie smiled, knowingly at Pete who had been her helpful companion during that episode. “We’ll hurry.” She left them running in, to show how fast they would be. Ellie glanced back at Phil and Pete as they sat waiting on a bench beside the little Hospital, discussing the accident with the Jeep driver. That would be the last she would ever see of those men.

The girls waited until the Sailors left them alone, then they worked very fast and went quietly, quickly and happily out the back way, which Sara had located as Ellie was doing her job with the guys. They inquired at each Dock about getting a Ferry or something to go to Tokyo Japan. It was just across the Sea of Japan and they soon found a ship due to leave and took it. The girls had dressed in two outfits each with their leather jackets over them and carried their money and Passports in the little bags. If they got free of Russia without trouble, that was all they needed to complete their World Tour.

As the ship pulled out they looked toward Khabarovsk and saw the train moving out toward what had been their final destination, Vladivostok.

They cheered with joy. That moving train, their train, gathering steam was a very good sign, because it meant Phil and Pete had missed it. They could not go back without the girls, they might even waste more time looking for them, but would eventually have to take one of the buses to Vladivostok, and thus Bruce, AKA Johan of the secret police, would not learn that the girls had disappeared until the that bus arrived. By that time they would be safely in Japan

Tokyo was further away than they thought. By the time the girls arrived, it was lit up like the fourth of July, which they decided to accept as a special greeting to them. Thinking that was a very egotistical of them, they laughed at themselves, so were surprised when it turned out to be correct. The T.V. Station who had purchased their story rights, had an affiliate there. When they learned that their young ladies would be arriving earlier than expected ..thanks to the Paparazzi, they had a welcome committee set up a television greeting for the three American girls who had gone around the World, and were here in Tokyo on their last stop going home.

The City officials greeted the ship and made welcoming speeches between Band numbers. Each girl was required to speak, as the Station thought it would help break them in, before they had to present the big Homecoming show in Burbank. As the girls were introduced, they were kissed and had a lovely long Pearl necklace placed over their heads, which made them think about those perfect black dresses hiding in the sleeping room of car seven, probably now traveling their way back toward St. Petersburg. Ahh, what price freedom!

Resting in their Hotel, they wondered what had become of the men who had almost succeeded in making them believe their homey stories, as they herded them about, flattering them with compliments while trying to learn any secrets they might have gathered. What had they told their leaders about them? Were they now on a wanted list as spies or were they dismissed as simple women on vacation? They would probably never know, unless they returned to Russia, which would be either fun or fatal.

They spoke about the dirty trick of leaving Bruce flat, but needing to explain what had happened to the three women he had been given the job of watching, when he had no way of knowing. And poor Phil left holding a non-working, cleaned-out Cell phone belonging to the woman he was supposed to watch. And Pete stuck with an empty camera, and two lost charges. But the girls thought of those expendable items as little guarantees for the men that they would all be back any moment.

How to handle all of that in their movie was still a problem. Those three guys would obviously be in enough hot water without that tale. And they, themselves, might come across a little like gullible babes in the woods.

They still had Sara’s Cell phone to take photos of Tokyo. Kelly’s had been crushed 75

under the Jeep.

Like horses heading for the barn, they made their reservations for LAX the very first thing. It was difficult to enjoy Japan with Los Angeles and Orange county waiting, so they made it a short, sweet, visit and left for home.

They would spend years saying,

“Why didn’t we see this or that place, while we were so close. “ But they all knew in their hearts that they had been on a World Tour of a life time, until suddenly going home had looked so good.

Two mothers had Beautiful hand-painted, Nested Wooden, Russian, Dolls to show for the trip, so why didn’t they buy a third set?

They could only shake their heads and admit reluctantly that they had been distracted by three very good looking men on that Trans Siberian Railroad Train.



With no apologies for the names… as all are fictional characters. Only the World’s Places are real as of…

August, 2013