The Chintzy Carpet
by Michael A. Kechula
One evening in the year 1938, as Winston was stuffing a dead German spy into a Lisbon back alley garbage can, a Portuguese barmaid stepped outside for fresh air. She screamed and ran back into the bar before he could shoot her with his silenced pistol. After hearing his report, the British station chief ordered Winston to disappear in the Casbah of Tangiers until things cooled down
Winston hurried to the Lisbon Aerodrome to catch the night flight to Tangiers. While waiting for the eight-passenger, Ford Tri-motor airplane to depart, he decided to pass the time in the small, terminal cafe. The moment he entered, he scanned the room to see if any of the several dozen patrons were German agents. None of the faces matched any he’d memorized from dossier photos.
After downing two scotches, Winston was approached by an Arab wearing a business suit.
“Begging your pardon, Sir. You are English, no?”
“Yes, I’m English,” Winston sniffed, while checked to see if anyone was looking his way.
“Permit me to introduce myself. I am Abu Yacob Ben Wadi, recently of Cairo. Now, sadly, a resident of Lisbon.”
“Harry Ingram, London Times.”
Appearing nervous, the Arab wiped perspiration from his forehead with a grimy handkerchief. “If I may get directly to the point. Due to a slight misunderstanding, the police have confiscated my passport. Thus, I cannot leave Lisbon. But, I must get something to my son in Tangiers. You are going there, no?”
“If so, perhaps you will deliver a parcel to my son. I am willing to give you this magnificent, two-carat ruby ring for your kind assistance. See how it catches the light?”
“A ruby to deliver a parcel? No thanks. I’m not interested in carrying contraband across any border. Not for a ruby ring, or all the gold in the Bank of England.”
“You misunderstand, Sir,” Ben Wadi said, wiping his forehead again. “Not contraband. A family heirloom. A small carpet.”
“The post office offers reliable service. Certainly, they’d welcome your business, and charge far less than the price of a ruby ring.”
“I do not trust the mail. This is worth far more than you can imagine. Let me show you.” The Arab opened a case and removed a thin, chintzy carpet the size of a bath towel.
Winston had seen similar junk in bazaars all across North Africa. Why was delivering something so cheap and common worth a ruby ring? But those were strange times. Jews were giving fortunes for train rides to flee Nazi-held territories. And now Arabs were giving rubies for carpet deliveries.
“I will not withhold the truth,” Ben Wadi said. This is a very unusual carpet. If one says, ‘rise carpet,’ it obeys. When one climbs onto the carpet and says ‘go carpet,’ he is taken anywhere in the world, in seconds.”
“Perhaps you should use it to leave Lisbon and visit your son.”
“I cannot. One is allowed to ride only thrice in a lifetime. Alas, I’ve used all three. But my son can use it for transport to South America. War is near. Europe, Asia, and Africa will not be safe. But the great ocean will keep South America safe. There, he will prosper. Here he will die. Please sir, take this carpet to him. Allah will bless you.”
“How do you know I won’t steal your carpet?”
“Allah would frown on such a monstrous sin, and send a thousand djinn to punish you severely.”
This man’s a loon. On the other hand, if I agree to deliver his crummy carpet, I’ll be the new owner of that expensive-looking ring.
Winston asked for the son’s address, took the ring and carpet, and boarded the plane.
The next morning, he put the carpet in a satchel and caught a cab. When he arrived at the blighted apartment building near the waterfront, he found the young Arab’s quarters empty. Neighbors said he’d moved a week ago. Nobody knew where. Winston shrugged and headed back to his seedy hotel room in the heart of the Casbah.
That evening, while puffing an after dinner cigar in a shabby café, Winston felt eyes penetrating his back.
Turning, he saw an androgynous face of indeterminate nationality sitting with three thuggish-looking brutes.
“Mister Ingram. Are you enjoying Tangiers?” a voice purred in an accent he couldn’t place.
“I don't believe I’ve had the pleasure—”
“Do not play games. I know what you have. I want it.”
Winston chuckled. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else, Miss, uh, Sir. My name is Archibald Palmer. I have nothing of value, except my collection of African locusts, which is not for sale.”
When the scowling goons reached inside their jacket pockets. Winston raced for the door. Jumping into a taxi, he headed for the Casbah. Certain they were following him, he switched cabs three times and gave drivers large tips for driving at breakneck speed through Tangiers’ narrow streets. When he was certain his evasive tactics had worked, he returned to his hotel.
After a hot shower, he listened to BBC news on a battered radio. Prime Minister Chamberlain had just returned from Berlin. “Peace in our time,” he told applauding masses after signing a peace treaty with Hitler.
Winston scoffed. He’d read highly secret intelligence reports about Hitler’s global ambitions. He’d also read Winston Churchill’s speeches in the London Times, that warned against British complacency and appeasement policies. He agreed with Churchill that another European war was looming. He figured once it began, there'd be no safe haven for anyone in Europe, or Africa—especially intelligence agents. He knew that once war was declared, his life expectancy would be reduced to zero.
I’m getting too old for this, he murmured. The last war was horrible enough. If our intelligence is correct, Hitler’s planning a war that’ll make the last one seem like a bloody Boy Scout picnic.
He found himself wishing he were on the other side of the world on one of Tahiti’s majestic beaches. Gentle Pacific breezes. Lovely Polynesian maidens. Peace and quiet. No Germans. No war. No espionage—ever again.
Someone knocked softly. “Mr. Ingram,” said the voice from the café, “we have a business proposition.”
Dammit! How the hell did they find me?
Grabbing a pistol, he pressed against a wall near the door. “I told you my locust collection is not for sale.”
“Locusts do not interest us. We want the carpet. Just open the door slightly, pass it through, and you won’t be harmed.”
“What bloody carpet?”
“The one the Arab gave you. Before we killed him. The carpet that flies.”
Who are they trying to kid? Something must be sewn inside that thing. Maybe it’s filled with diamonds. Maybe Ben Wadi’s a jewel thief, or deals in stolen gems. Why else would they threaten me over a chintzy carpet? “How much are you willing to pay?”
“We’re not buying. We wish to trade. In trade for the carpet, we’ll spare your life.”
He wondered about the odds of a shoot-out. Even if he survived, he risked arrest, interrogation, identification. All hell would break loose among the twenty nations who jointly administered Tangiers, if they discovered his true occupation. They’d probably label him a dangerous provocateur, and charge him with instigating a destabilizing, international incident. If they didn’t hang him, he’d rot in a stinking North African prison.
“I don’t have the carpet,” he called.
When they began to pick the lock, Winston felt panic rising. There was no way out, except through the window. But lack of a fire escape meant a four storey fall.
He figured he only had seconds left before they’d charge into his room. His mind raced. Then he remembered what the Arab said in the café about the carpet’s magical properties. Desperate, Winston threw the carpet on the floor and shouted, “Get me the hell out of here!”
Dammit. What are the right words? He visualized the scene with the Arab and remembered Ben Wadi had used the words, “Rise carpet.”
The moment Winston said those words, the carpet levitated a few feet. Amazed, he grabbed his valise, climbed aboard, and yelled, “Go carpet!”
Instantly, Winston was hurled through the windowpane.
Seconds later, the door burst open.
While goons searched the hotel room, an Englishman rolled up a carpet and tucked it under his arm. Whistling “Rule Britannia,” he strolled among coconut palms along a peaceful, moonlit beach.
Michael A. Kechula is a retired technical writer. His flash and micro-fiction tales have won first prize in six contests and honorable mention in three others. His stories have appeared in ninety-four online and print magazines and anthologies in Australia, Canada, England, and US. He’s authored a book of flash and micro-fiction stories: “A Full Deck of Zombies--61 Speculative Fiction Tales.” eBook available at www.BooksForABuck.com and www.fictionwise.com Paperback available at www.amazon.com
What inspires you to write and keep writing?
I've been writing fiction only six years. Prior to that, I made my living as a professional writer of self-study textbooks and task-oriented instructional manuals for industry. By switching to fiction, I've found new outlets for my unquenchable urge to write. Frankly what inspires me to keep on going is the fact that I've been able to get an average of 1.7 stories accepted per week for thirty-seven months straight. During that time, my work has been accepted by ninety-four print and online magazines and anthologies in England, Canada, Australia, and US. With that kind of success and continuous reinforcement, the impetus to write even more is quite powerful. If my fortunes were suddenly reversed, and my work was constantly rejected, I'd write anyway. Perhaps it's a compulsion. But it's the o ne of the most rewarding compulsions anybody could hope for.