Coming Soon: The Package, a Novella by Heidi Slowinski

You read that headline correctly! I have a new novella coming before the end of 2020, official release date to be announced soon. The Package is a short thriller following Noa, a travel blogger who finds herself working for an international spy agency. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing more details, including an excerpt, character interviews, and, of course, the unveiling of the cover art. Today, I’m highlighting the short story that inspired the novella.

And don’t forget to check out my debut novel, The House on Maple Street, currently available on Amazon.

The Package

By: Heidi Slowinski

         

It happened just after takeoff. This thing that would change my life forever. I was getting settled in for a three-hour flight to Vancouver, celebrating to myself at my luck of getting upgraded to first class. I didn’t even ask. The gate agent just called me to the desk and handed me a new boarding pass.

“Looks like you’ve been upgraded,” she said brightly. “Enjoy your trip.” Things like that never happened.

My phone and earbuds were tucked into the pocket of my jacket. It was a vintage velvet blazer, in a deep plum, I found at a thrift store. They don’t make clothes like that anymore, I thought when I picked it up off the rack. I slipped it on and ran my hands over the sumptuous fabric. It fit perfectly, like it was made for me. Best twelve dollars I ever spent. As I reached into my pocket to retrieve my phone, my fingers caught something else. A piece of paper. I assumed it was my rumpled boarding pass but I pulled it out to have a look. It was not my boarding pass.

I turned the piece of paper over in my hands, trying to remember if I had tucked something into my pocket earlier in the day. Carefully, I unfolded the tattered edges. In very neat, precise script was an address, in Vancouver. Then a date, tomorrow’s date, I noted. And finally, 2:30pm. Nothing else. I shrugged lightly, refolded the note, and replaced it back in my pocket. The flight was unremarkable and we arrived early in Vancouver.

Later that evening, back at my hotel, after enjoying an incredible meal at a Yaletown hot spot, I remembered the note, still in my jacket. I retrieved it again, studying it a little more closely this time. The handwriting was unfamiliar. While I’d been to Vancouver several times, the West Hastings Street address meant nothing . I flicked through my phone and searched it. It was a restaurant. One with really good reviews. I bookmarked it. Then I tucked the note back into my pocket and went to bed.

I started my morning early, with a trip to the Granville Market for breakfast. It was my favorite spot in the city. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. The ferry took me back across to the city where I strolled, soaking in my happy place. I took lunch from a food truck near Gastown before doing some window shopping. Around mid-afternoon, I checked the time to find it was 2:00pm. I wasn’t far from the address on the note. My curiosity rose. Why not go? I thought. It wouldn’t do any harm. I shook off the notion and went on window shopping. It was silly, I told myself. But what a strange coincidence to find a note with an address in Vancouver, at a date and time, while I was in Vancouver. I finally convinced myself to go and headed off.

Only a few tables were occupied when I arrived. I waited a few moments at the hostess station when a bubbly young woman appeared. She didn’t ask how many in my party or if I preferred indoor or outdoor seating. She simply pulled out a menu and said, “right this way.”

I followed her to a table near the window. She set the menu down for me at a place setting across from a man, wearing dark glasses. I protested to the hostess but she sped away without another word.

“Sit down,” said the man. “We don’t have much time.”

“I’m sorry?” I stammered, “I think there’s been a mistake.”

“No, there’s no mistake,” he responded briskly. “Sit.” I quickly sat.

“You don’t understand,” I started again. “I found a note in the pocket of a blazer I bought at a thrift store.”


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“Right,” he responded abruptly. “And we don’t have much time. So if you’re done explaining things I already know, I’ll explain the plan.” I stared at him. “Good. So the drop point has been moved to a hotel on Davie Street. You’ll take this to the bathroom, near the lobby bar. Tuck it behind the toilet. Make sure no one sees you. Got it?” I didn’t respond. “Got it?” he asked again impatiently.

“I think you were expecting someone else,” I responded. “I bought a jacket in a thrift store, in the States. The note with the address of this restaurant and the date and time were in the pocket. I only turned up because I was curious. I’m not the person you’re waiting for.” His annoyance was written all over his face.

“Okay, here’s the package,” he said, sliding a small packet across the table toward me. “It has to be there by 10:00pm so don’t be late.” With that, he stood and left.

I was struck dumb. What was I supposed to do? It was like something out a movie. Did I pick up the packet and take it to the hotel? Leave it there on the table and walk away? I was only in town for a few days, after all. Then, my phone rang.

“Are you still at the restaurant?” It was the man again. How did he have my number? “You really need to get out of there. They could be watching you.” I glanced around the restaurant. The place was empty now. I ended the call, snatched up the packet, and left the restaurant.

I spent the rest of afternoon, wandering around the city. But I couldn’t relax. I kept turning the events of the afternoon over in my head. Why, why did I go to that restaurant? I wanted to go back to my hotel but decided it might be too risky, now that I was caught up in this mess. Finally, as evening was setting in and the light was beginning to fade, I gathered my courage and headed off toward the designated hotel. My heart was racing. It was too early for much of a crowd in the lobby bar. I wasn’t sure what to do. Did I just go straight for the bathroom? Should I order a drink first? I certainly needed a drink about then. I decided ordering a drink and hanging around was a stupid move. The guy said to make sure no one saw me. Plenty of people would see me if I sat down and ordered something. I walked toward the bathroom, trying to be casual. My palms were sweating so hard the knob slipped out of my hand when I tried to open the door. I glanced around to make sure no one saw me, then tried again. Once inside, I tried to calm myself down, pressing my back against the door. All I had to do was tuck the packet behind the toilet and leave. And all of this would be over.

As I was pulling the packet from my bag to tuck it away, the bathroom door flew open. In stalked a woman with long auburn hair, wearing high-heeled boots that came up over her knees.

“Hand that over and no one gets hurt,” she demanded. I didn’t see a weapon but I was sure she had one. Or maybe she didn’t need one, judging by the boots she was wearing. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. She stepped closer.

“Look, this is all a mistake,” I rambled. “I found this random piece of paper in a jacket I bought at a thrift store. The next thing I know, I’m making drops in hotel bathrooms. I didn’t ask for any of this.” She didn’t respond. Her heels clacked on the tile floor as she slowly moved closer.

“I said, hand it over and no one gets hurt.” Her words were deliberate and measured.

“You know what, fine,” I responded impatiently. “I didn’t want anything to do with this anyway. Here, take whatever this is and leave me alone.” I held out the packet. She stopped.

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“Seriously?” she shot back in amazement. “You’re just going to hand it over? Just like that.”

“You said to hand it over and no one would get hurt,” I retorted. “So here, take it. I don’t care anyway.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, taking the packet from me. “Thanks.” She studied it for a moment, shrugged, and then turned, leaving the bathroom. I stood there, breathing deeply, trying to come down from the adrenaline rush. But something told me this wasn’t over. I was checking myself in the mirror before exiting when the door burst open again. This time it was the man from the restaurant.

“What are you still doing here?” he demanded. He didn’t wait for my answer but rushed over to the toilet, checking behind. “Where’s the packet?” he demanded hastily when he didn’t find it.

“It was picked up,” I told him matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean it was picked up? It wasn’t supposed to be picked up yet. Who picked it up?” I was surprised he was so flustered.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “We didn’t exactly introduce ourselves.”

“Don’t get cute with me,” he hissed. “Who picked up the packet?”

“I told you. I don’t know. She came in here and said ‘hand it over’. So I handed it over.”

“You have no idea what you’ve just done,” he responded before rushing out of the bathroom.

I let out a slow breathe of relief when the door closed again. I waited a little longer before exiting. I left the hotel. It was dark out by then. Music poured out into the street from the handful of bars I passed as I wound my way through the city, taking an indirect route back to my hotel. When I came upon a dumpster, I slipped off the velvet jacket and stuffed it inside. The note was still in the pocket. As I walked away, my phone rang. Another unknown number.

“Is it done?” the female voice asked.

“Affirmative,” I responded. “The package has been delivered.”

“You did well for your first mission,” she said. “There’s a dress in a shop window on Robson Street. Go and buy it at 10:00am tomorrow morning.”

“Go it,” I responded before ending the call. I tucked my phone into my bag and headed back to my hotel.

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