Monday 28 January 2013
A large pot of pasta boiled away on the stovetop while Sheri Kent carefully tasted the Napolitano sauce that was now more than gently simmering next to the pasta. It was Friday night, and for as long as she had known Nicholas, Friday night was pasta night. She took a pinch of sea salt from the box of salt adjacent to the stove and sprinkled it on to the sauce, stirring it slowly with a well-worn wooden spoon, and then tasted it again.
‘Perfect,’ she said. She replaced the lid on the pot, turned off the burner under the sauce, and turned her attention to the pasta.
Sheri’s kitchen skills enabled her to pull a single strand of fettuccini from the water with her trusty wooden spoon without splashing boiling water over herself. She tilted her head back, lowered the fettuccini into her mouth and chewed.
‘And perfect again.’
She turned off the burner and took the pot over to a colander sitting in the sink. She poured the water and the pasta into the colander and waited for the fettuccini to adequately drain. In less than ninety seconds, she returned the pasta to the pot for transportation back to the stove. Before Sheri could remove the lid from the pot of Napolitano sauce, her cell phone chimed the familiar ring tone, alerting her to Nicholas’ call.
All but dropping the pot on the stovetop, Sheri took two large steps from the stove to the kitchen bench where her phone continued to chime away. She lightly touched the green answer button on the screen and transferred the call to speakerphone.
‘Hi honey, you’re late and now you call me?’
‘Sheri, listen to me,’ Nick tried to sound calm and in control, ‘leave whatever you’re doing, take the emergency bag from the closet in the hallway, and the one from the bedroom closet, and get the hell out of the house now.’
‘Nicholas, what’s wrong? Why do I need –’ she was shaken by the intensity of his orders.
‘Don’t argue with me. Don’t question me. Just do exactly what I told you to. Get the emergency bags and get out of the house now.’
Sheri stood silently processing the information that her husband was telling her.
‘You remember where you need to go?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, to –’
He interrupted her, ‘Don’t say it over the phone, just get the bags and go there. I’ll meet you there. I can’t say exactly when, but I will meet you there as soon as I can. And leave the car, your cell behind. Everything you’ll need, everything, will be in the bags.’
‘Nicholas? Are we in trouble?’
He paused: how should he answer her question, how could he answer it without alarming her? He lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘The bags, Sheri, please just take the bags and follow the plan that we practiced.’
She nodded in reply even though she knew he couldn’t see her agreeing to follow his instructions. She heard a male voice in the background summoning her husband back to the operations tent. From all that Nick had told her in the past, an operations tent was not something that would necessarily lead to a positive outcome in a crisis.
‘I’ve got to go, honey,’ Nick said.
‘I love you, Nicholas,’ she replied.
‘Sheri, I promise that I will meet you as soon as I can. Remember, everything is in the bags. Get them, and get out of the house. When you’re far enough away, when you’re at a safe distance, open the envelope in the bag that’s labelled number one. It’s there in case you forget anything about our contingency plan. I’ve gotta go.’ He disconnected that call before Sheri could reply to him. She looked down at the cell phone on the bench and prayed that Nick would call back and say that it was a mistake, that there was no need to go through the contingency plan. He did not call back.
Sheri snapped back to reality and raced through the house to collect the bags that Nick had told her to get. They had practiced their contingency plan on a few occasions, but Nicholas had been worried that too much practice would draw attention to their movements, rendering the safe house unusable. It had been at least eighteen months since the last drill he’d made her go through, but the steps were relatively fresh in her mind.
Step one required her to collect the emergency bags and get out of the house, heading in a random direction away from her dream home. Step two designated that once Sheri was at a safe locale, she was to take the set of car keys that was sown into the lining of emergency bag number one and make her way, hopefully covertly, to a self-storage unit across the other side of the city in order to retrieve Nick’s back-up vehicle and extra supplies. Neither the storage unit nor the vehicle could be traced back to Nicholas or Sheri Kent; in a time of crisis, such as the one that the city was currently facing, anonymity might just save their lives. Once she had retrieved the car and supplies, step three was to get to their safe house without drawing attention to herself or her husband. There, Sheri would have to wait for Nicholas to join her.
On foot, the journey to the storage unit would be arduous. Luckily for Sheri, many of the neighbourhood kids left their bicycles in the front yard of their homes. She quickly acquired one such bike and began the ride across the city. For both Sheri and Nicholas Kent, this was going to be a very long night.
. . . To be continued . . .