With another subtle glance over my shoulder, I nudged my sister.
“They’re still there?” she whispered, without moving her lips.
I nodded slightly.
Walking back to our hotel from the café, we had just finished watching Les Bleus win yet another game in the world cup. The metro had closed for the night, and like typical twenty-somethings we had carelessly missed the last bus by about 20 minutes.
“What should we do?” she asked under her breath. She had clearly deferred all judgement to me, the Francophile of the trip. Either that, or she thought my two years on her had prepared me for late-night muggings.
“Just keep walking like nothing’s happening. If we get close to the hotel, we’ll turn a corner and try to lose them,” I murmured, my voice firm.
People warned me that Nice was the most dangerous city in France at the time, prone to pickpockets and petty street crimes. In my typical way, I laughed off naysayers with a flip of my hand, claiming “I’m from L.A. Nothing frightens me.”
Now these two men, who had remained a few meters behind us for the last twenty blocks.
The hotel was 4 or 5 kilometers away from the café, a dive by the airport. During the day, this distance wasn’t bad, but well past midnight it seemed like a bit of a trek, and neither of us had enough for what was sure to be a 20€ cab ride.
“What if they do something before that?” She emphasized “do something” as if describing an act too ugly to name.
“Can you believe they won again?” I said at a normal volume, trying both to steer her away from panic and to not be obvious about conspiring how to junk-punch the two men behind us.
Thankfully, she caught on, stating a little too loudly “No, it was so cool. What a great game.”
I reached into my very un-French canvas purse, digging around until I found the cylinder on my key ring. Unlocking the safety latch, I kept my hand in there.
“Should we go to the police?” she asked, her voice returning to a whisper.
“We don’t even know where the police are,” I pointed out. Still in the land of dial-up internet, the days when Steve Jobs became god of the smart phone remained years ahead of us. All I had on me was a dog-eared copy of Let’s Go France, a folded map, and a rudimentary understanding of the language that allowed me to order croissants and café creme to my heart’s content.
I could hear their feet on the pavement, now. They couldn’t be more than a few steps behind us. In my purse, my thumb tightened on the “die, motherfucker” button.
Suddenly, their voices became echo-like, and vanished. I turned my head and exhaled, my heart suddenly pounding.
“They’re gone. They turned down the alley.”
“Oh, thank God!” my sister said, laughing nervously. “I had no idea what to do!”
Locking the lid with my thumb, I tucked the superfluous pepper spray back into my purse. I may have been fearless, but I always traveled prepared.
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