The Angel of Death

The Angel of Death - Episode 7

I was up half the night with Bert, as he insisted I call him, tossing back snifters of brandy while he cackled mysteriously about the next “little problem” that I was going to help him with. By the time I got to bed, I was starting to wonder if there could be such a thing as too much job security.

I was awakened by a boot the ribs and the sound of Larry’s obscenely happy voice. “Get up ya lazy sack. We’re partners again!”

“Isn’t there a law against being that cheerful before six a.m.?”

“Look, don’t complain to me just because you stayed up partying with the bigwigs. Me, I dropped my team off and hit the sack for a solid ten hours of shut-eye. You should try it, buddy. This race is a killer and we’re only halfway done. You don’t want to hit the wall.”

“What makes you think I’m in this for the long haul?”

He laughed. “Nice try. We all know that you’re the blue-eyed boy now. Curse or no curse, you’re not going anywhere. Well, you are, we all are, but… never mind. You know what I mean. Now get dressed and let’s get out of here.”

As we approached the mat, I saw a little blonde waiting, looking anxious.

“That’s Mirna,” Larry whispered. “I’ve heard from some of the other crew about her. She’s a bit… different.”

She turned towards me, and a look of horror came over her face. In quick succession she shrieked, crossed herself, raised her right hand in a warding gesture, turned around twice, and spat on the ground. Then she crossed herself again.

“Aieeee! It’s the Evil Eye!”

“No, ma’am, that’s just Larry. He gets that a lot.”

“No, no, no, you! It’s you!” she sputtered. Then she spat again, just for good measure.

“Okay. Well, now that we’ve got that cleared up, can we move on? I’m Frank, actually, and this is Larry. You must be Mirna. Aren’t there supposed to be two of you? Where’s your partner?”

I felt a sharp pain in my right shin.

“Hey, dumbass! I’m down here!”

I looked down, just as Mirna’s partner was winding up for another kick. I hopped back.

“Whoa, okay, sorry about that. I got you. Are we ready?”

“Oh, Charla, I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this.…” Mirna raised a hand to her forehead and leaned back dramatically.

“Buck up, princess. It’ll take more than this loser to knock us out of the race.” Charla pulled the butt end of a cigar out of her mouth, dropped it on the ground, and barked, “Roll tape.”
The transformation was astounding, even to me – and don’t forget, I’ve seen Dan Rather without make-up.
The transformation was astounding, even to me – and don’t forget, I’ve seen Dan Rather without make-up. Charla opened her big eyes and smiled engagingly at the camera. She and Mirna fumbled with the clue envelope, giggling, then pulled out the clue and took off.

Their instructions were to take a cab to the airport, and then catch a flight back to Cairo. As they ran for the cab, Mirna pulled ahead, shouting for Charla to catch up.

“Goddamn it, how long have we been on this race and she still doesn’t understand,” Charla muttered. “MIRNA! I… have… short… LEGS! Stop it with the hurry up!”

“Oh, yes. Sorry Charla. I love you! Now hurry please!”

Charla sighed. “Freak show.”

The show continued in the cab as Mirna negotiated with the driver to use his cell phone. “We give money, you give phone.” Then she slowly mimed handing over the money, and taking the phone. “Mooooney... phoooone. Yes habibi?”

Habibi? I turned to Mirna and asked her “You speak Arabic? ” In Arabic, of course.

She glared at me and crossed herself. “Charrrrla! He’s doing it again. I think he just cursed me.”

No, no curse,” I replied. Sure, my accent was bad, but not that bad. “I speaking Arabic!

“Charlllla! Make him stop!” She popped one eyebrow, closed the other eye, held up three fingers in front of her forehead, and spat out the window. Which was rolled up.

The cabbie made a throat-clearing sound, which happened to be one of the three worst insults an Arab can make to an unmarried woman. I caught his eye in the mirror, and he winked.

Your Arabic is not bad. How did you come to be with this crazy bint?

I’m escorting her to the hospital. You must take us to the airport quickly, though. I fear she is becoming unstable.”

He laughed and hit the accelerator.

Mirna beamed and clapped. “Yay, habibi! See, Charla, I told you that if I talked to him he’d go faster.”

The cabbie turned and grinned at her. “I pity your father and husband!

She winked. “Chhhharla! He likes me!”

We made it to the airport without further incident and soon found ourselves bunched with all the other teams. In my experience, flight schedules in this part of the world are all set in Middle Eastern Standard Time. This special time zone takes into account not only the earth’s rotation and the position of the sun, but other, less well-known chronological influences, such as what time the pilot got to bed last night, how many camels are grazing beside the runway, and whether the gate agent’s second cousin’s girlfriend’s uncle has asked them to hold the flight for him.

The end result was that we were all on the same flight to Cairo. We landed at the domestic terminal and everyone ran to catch cabs to the international airport. In our cab, Mirna continued her adventures in Arabic. She actually ventured beyond habibi, and ended up offering to waterproof the cabbie’s tent if he got us to the airport first. It was either that, or something involving a hookah; I’m not too clear on the Egyptian dialect. In any event, he got rid of us as fast as he could.
That was when I realised that for some of these people, travelling halfway around the world on four hours sleep a night for fourteen days was a seriously unbalancing experience.
Cairo airport. Shit. Cairo airport. That was when I realised that for some of these people, travelling halfway around the world on four hours sleep a night for fourteen days was a seriously unbalancing experience. I don’t even want to get into it. There was running, blocking, chasing, cursing, more blocking, more cursing. Elbows were thrown. Insults were exchanged. Dances of victory. Vicious scowls. And that was just getting to the bathroom. It was a mess.

At one point, Charla and Mirna actually had us hiding out in an office. Hiding. With Linda and Karen. And their crew, Jerzy and Eddie G. Eight people. Two cameras. Four hundred pounds of luggage and assorted equipment. In an airline office. Which was open for business.

I looked at Larry, hunkered down behind a potted palm, and rolled my eyes. He just laughed.

“Shut it!” barked Charla.

“Be vewwy vewwy quiet…” I began.

“We’we hunting wa-a-a-bbits…” Linda continued. Good girl. Everyone but Mirna broke down laughing at that point.

She just sniffed. “Well, if you want those criminals to find us, fine then. I’ll just make sure that these gentlemen know what they are dealing with.” She beamed at the ticket agents and then started in on her Arabic.

How she got out of the office without being arrested, married, or sold a pyramid is beyond me. Eventually, though, we were shooed away so that the other teams, who had found us despite our cunning stealth, could be sold the same tickets we had just bought. We were all off for Nairobi, by way of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Landing in Bahrain was like coming home again. I’ve spent a lot of time changing planes in various airports across the Arabian peninsula. I know the best bars, best duty-free shops, and best places to sit in a corner and get quietly shit-faced. With our tickets secured through to Nairobi, my plan was to find a bottle of whisky and do just that.

“Hey, where the hell do you think you’re going?”

I looked around. And then down. Charla was glaring at me.

“Well, we’ve got a couple of hours. I was going to do some shopping.”

She snorted. “Not yet, buddy boy. You’ve got work to do. We’re going to change our tickets.”

Mirna interrupted. “Ohhhh, I don’t know Charla. Maybe he shouldn’t come with us. I told you, he’s bad luck. He has the Evil Eye.” She crossed herself

Charla sighed. “Mirna. I told you already. We have to keep the crew with us, okay? We are going to be ON TV. We can’t be ON TV if we aren’t ON CAMERA? You see?”

“But he doesn’t have a camera-”

“SHUT IT, PRINCESS! Evil eye or not, he’s coming with us. Let’s go.”

And so, I got dragged around Bahrain airport, wasting valuable drinking time. In the end, we were re-routed through Dubai to catch a flight that landed in Nairobi a half-hour earlier.

I had a bad feeling about this. I had pretty much resigned myself to Mirna and Charla’s fate, but I was worried that they were dragging Linda and Karen down with them. “Er, folks? Not to interfere or anything, but has any flight you’ve taken in the last three days actually been on time?”

Linda and Karen got quiet and thoughtful. Mirna just scowled at me. “Chhhharla! Listing to him! He’s trying to curse us!” Then she turned around three times and wound up to-

“Whoa whoa whoa!” I interrupted. “This is an airline office, ma’am! No spitting, please.”

She glared at me. Charla stepped between us. “Look, enough with the cursing, and the anti-cursing. We’ve got a plane to catch. Let’s hustle.”

Mirna hissed at me “I know what you’re trying to do, shakoosh saghir, and it won’t work.”

As we dashed to the gate, Larry whispered to me, “What did she just call you?”

“I think she wanted to call me an evil spirit that drinks the blood of goats by the full moon. But she actually said I was a ball-peen hammer. Anyway, think we’ve got time for duty-free?”

We didn’t. By the time we got to Dubai, I was desperate for a drink and a cigarette. Unfortunately, Mirna had decided that in spite of my evil ball-peen tendencies, she wanted to keep an eye on me.

“Charlaaaa! If he goes, who knows what he might do.” Her voice dropped to a low hiss. “I think he wants to commune with his taffaya.”

“Fire extinguisher,” I whispered to Larry.

“Mirna, we’re in an airport. There are no dark forces here! Let the man go, okay? And pal, when you’re in the shop, see if they have any stogies. I’m running short.”

I just looked at her.
“Don’t say a word, dumbass. Your crotch is at the perfect height for an elbow jab.”
“Don’t say a word, dumbass. Your crotch is at the perfect height for an elbow jab.”

Eddie G. agreed to cover sound for both teams, and they headed for the lounge while I hit the duty-free shop. By the time I rejoined them, Middle Eastern Standard Time had done its thing. A cloud of doom had descended.

“We’re delayed,” reported Linda. “Something about chickens in the cargo bay.”

“Welcome to Dubai!” I replied, unscrewing a large bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. “Bottoms up!”

We managed to get through a good two-thirds of the bottle before we boarded. I tipped the rest of it into my water bottle and dropped it in my bag. Once we were on the plane, everyone got some shut-eye. Well, everyone but me; I used the time to ensure that my record of never carrying alcohol off a plane remained intact. Needless to say, I wasn’t much use to anyone by the time we got to Nairobi.

I weaved my way after the teams as they ran for the desk to sign up for our charter flights. “Hurry, Charla, hurry! Maybe we can make it!”

“SHORT LEGS, damn it! And what’s the point. The first flight has already gone. The other teams are already here. Look, Mickey’s little hand is on the eight, and his big hand is on the three. That mean’s it’s we’re-screwed-o’clock! So SLOW DOWN!”

Sure enough, we were on the last plane. I went out for a quick smoke and then took advantage of the wait to have a quick nap on the floor.

By the time we got on board the plane, the Johnnie Walker was starting to wear off. I was beginning to remember why I don’t drink blended scotch. My situation was not helped by the fact that our pilot seemed to have an unerring gift for finding every air pocket between Nairobi and wherever the hell it was we were going to. And did I mention the lack of air-sick bags?

It was a much subdued group that deplaned at Kilimanjaro. The teams opened the next clue, which instructed them to take a bus to the village of Mto Wa Mbu. After a brief delay to pick up some water – I was dying of thirst - we headed to the bus stop. It turned out that the next bus left right away, so we climbed in and hit the road.

I finished my bottle of water. Then I finished Larry’s. Then Jerzy’s. My tongue still felt like a termite mound, so I gave Linda a pleading look, and she handed hers over. Then I rested my head on the back of the seat in front of me. The throbbing soon matched the pounding of the wheels on the road; together they lulled me into a combined hangover-fugue state.

I vaguely recall hearing some sounds of cheering, something to do with us passing another bus. I dozed for a little while, until I was awakened by an unmistakable feeling in my abdomen. Uh oh.

I sat up and nudged Larry. “We, uh, we need to make a little stop.”

He edged away from me. “You’re gonna spew?”

“No, no.” I stifled a burp. “NO! But you know all that water I drank…”

“What do you want from me?”

“Well, you’re mister wildlife documentary. You’ve been here before, you know the language.”

He rolled his eyes, then shouted, “Driver! Basi, tafadhali! We need to make a pit stop!”

As I stood up, Mirna whispered to Charla, “Why did he call that driver a rocking chair?”

I didn’t hear Charla’s reply, as I was running for the door before the bus had even come to a halt. I made it about thirty feet into the field beside the road before I had to stop and just let fly.

There are many satisfying moments in a man’s life. Shooting a perfect three-pointer. Landing a ten-pound largemouth bass. Taking one girl to lunch, and a completely different girl to dinner. For five minutes, I experienced one such moment. That gallon of water had served me well, and I was sending back out into the world so it could help someone else. I almost passed out.

Then I felt a sharp pain behind my left knee. “Yow! What the hell?” I jumped and turned.

“Hey, watch where you’re pointing that thing, pal!”

It was Charla, wearing an evil grin and waving a cigar. I looked at the back of my leg and saw a round red blister forming.

She winked at me. “I had to get your attention somehow. If you ask me, you were enjoying that far too much. Anyway, we gotta move, alright? The other teams just passed us again.”

I stumbled along behind her, zipping myself up. “No doubt Mirna blamed my Evil Eye?”

Charla snorted. “Nah, she thinks she’s taken care of that already. Check it out.” She pointed to my chest.

I realized that there was something hanging around my neck. I pulled it out from under my shirt.

“She collected a bunch of stuff on the bus and made that up while you were sleeping. It’s something our grandmother taught her.” She took a puff of her cigar and exhaled the smoke. “Gram was a crazy woman. Even more batshit than Mirna.”
I recognized a clove of garlic, several chicken feathers, and some kind of cocoon. I didn’t really want to know what the red stuff smeared on them was.
I recognized a clove of garlic, several chicken feathers, and some kind of cocoon. I didn’t really want to know what the red stuff smeared on them was. “You’re joking.”

“Look, dumbass, do you want her to keep spitting and crossing herself? Just leave it on, okay? She’ll be happy. And it’s not like it’ll make you smell any worse than you already do.”

She had a point. I left my new amulet in place, and we got back on the bus.

The rest of the trip passed without incident. We got off the bus at Mto Wa Mbu and found the next clue box. It was Detour time; the options were ride a bike to a beehive, or carry a chair in a cart. I had already turned and headed for where the bikes were parked when Charla barked at me.

“Yo! The carts are this way!”

The carts? “You’re, uh, you’re going to deliver the furniture?”

“Yeah.”

“In that cart?”

“Yeah.”

“By hand?”

“What’s the problem? My cousin, she’s not so good with the bees. What, you think I can’t handle it?”

By this time, Charla was standing next to the cart. The wheel was only slightly smaller than she was. The wheel, however, was not scowling at me and waving a lit cigar in a menacing fashion. I felt the stinging in the back of my knee, and decided not to say anything more.

“Right!” said Charla. “Let’s go.”

And we did, taking off on a walking tour of Mto Wa Mbu, past scenic ditches and across scenic fields fertilized with scenic cow manure. The amulet around my neck was becoming the best-smelling member of our team. We delivered the chair and made our way back to the village square. Mirna sank to the ground in a pose of complete exhaustion while Charla read the next clue.

She nudged Mirna in the ribs with her toe. “On your feet! We’re going to Kye-ba… Kee-bo…”

Kibaoni,” Larry offered.

“Yeah, yeah, what he said. That place. Let’s go, princess!” Another nudge, harder this time.

“Ohh, Chaaaarla, I don’t know…” Mirna sat up. “I don’t feel so good…” She rolled her eyes back and swooned dramatically.

“Aw crap, here we go again. Mike boy, grab her feet.”

I stared at her. “Pardon?”

“Her feet, I said! Look, your pal can’t do it, he’s got the camera. Grab her feet. I’ll get her shoulders.”

Together, we picked Mirna up and started lugging her down the road. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I grunted.

“Yeah, yeah, it happens all the time. In a minute or so, I’ll bump her ass on the road a couple of times and she’ll sit up and be fine. She just likes to know that I won’t leave her behind.”

Not for the first time, I found myself hoping that I really was cursed.

Sure enough, though, Mirna roused herself and was back on her feet. Five minutes later, she was out in front, yelling at Charla to hurry.

“SHORT! LEGS! YOU! FREAK!” puffed Charla.

“Oh yes, sorry Charlaaaa. Now hurry please!”

We were the last team to get to the next clue box, which was a Roadblock. As soon as they found out that it had something to do with food, Mirna started to moan.

“Ooooo, Charrrrla, my stomach…”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it. Let’s go.”

When we got to the patio where the other teams were doing the roadblock, I thought I was having a flashback to Pledge Week. The ground was covered in a sticky morass, people were gorging themselves on truly unwise quantities of food, the air resounded with belches, and there were buckets of vomit everywhere. Somewhere, a PR man for the Egg Producers of America wept quietly.

Most of the other teams were done or close to it by the time Charla got her own eggs cooked. The only ones who still had a lot left to eat were the two blond twins. They turned their cold gaze on to us, and then returned their attention to the food. I could see that they were slowing down.

Charla, though, was getting stuck right in to it. I’m not sure where she was putting it, but the eggs were disappearing at a phenomenal rate. I looked back at the twins. The one who was eating had turned a distinct shade of green. As I watched, she took a swig of Coke and then bent over her bucket, retching. Nice.

I turned back towards Charla, who seemed to have actually overtaken the twin. We had been travelling a long time, and I was getting used to the rhythm of the race. I figured that the next clue would send us to the Pit Stop. Whoever finished first was still in the race; whoever finished last was going home.

Was this the end of my curse?

I watched Charla shovel in the eggs. I thought to myself that this was one tough customer. Maybe she was tough enough to overcome whatever force seemed to be following me around.

Then I looked at her cousin. “Eat! Eat! Faster! Faster! Come on, Cccchhhhaaaarrrrlllaaa!”

Fuck that.

I reached up under my shirt, grabbed Mirna’s amulet, and gave it a sharp tug. The string broke, and in one smooth motion I pulled it off my neck and tossed it away. As it splashed into an abandoned bucket across the room, I turned back to see how the twins were doing.

They seemed to have sped up a bit. I noticed something odd; the twin who was eating looked somehow refreshed; her partner, in contrast, was drained. And a little green. As I watched, she flicked a suspiciously egg-like fragment from the corner of her mouth.
Then she looked at me. The message in her gaze was clear: Prove it.
Then she looked at me. The message in her gaze was clear: Prove it.

I shrugged, and turned away. They might get away with pulling a switch now, I thought, but I was confident that my new friend Bertie would be on to them soon enough. In fact, I was sure of it. And then, they’d have an appointment with me.

Charla might be able to eat her way past one twin, but two was too much even for her. We were the last ones to head to the Pit Stop.

“Why do we have to run now, Chhhhharla? We’re last anyway. And this could be a non-elimination leg!”

“We run because it’s a fucking race, Miss Hurry-Charla-Hurry! Now come on!”

And they ran, all the way to the zip line that would take them across to the Pit Stop. Larry and I stayed behind; the Mat crew would pick them up on the other side. As I watched them slide across the gorge, I felt a cool breeze beside me.

“Evening, Bert.”

“Evening, Frank. Larry. Another nice leg.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “This could be non-elimination, after all.”

He chuckled. “Oh, no, it couldn’t. Not for these two. They’ll be ratings gold, don’t get me wrong, but you can have too much of a good thing. Besides, I don’t want Mirna making any more of those damn amulets.”

I turned towards him. “You mean that really-“

He just grinned. “Get some sleep, Frank. You’ve got a lot more travelling to do.”




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