Set Free – Chapter One

Excerpt from the novel Set Free, by Jaspar Wills, bestselling author of

In The Middle.

I would have packed less if I knew I was going to die.

Travel-worn, I waited for my ride, carry-on and small, battered suitcase at my feet. The atmosphere was chaotic, the air stifling. Marrakech airport is not the kind of place you loiter for long. Not unlike an ant hill, if you aren’t scurrying about, you either need assistance or you’re dead. You either haul ass or someone is going to do it for you. Familiar with the drill, I gamely accepted being harassed by an endless parade of locals, all of them anxious to do something for me—anything at all—for a hastily negotiated, wildly inflated price.

After failing to see my name—or anything vaguely resembling it—on any of the placards being waved in the air by a throng of waiting chauffeurs-for-hire, I settled on a reasonable wait time. Forty minutes seemed just right. It was long enough to give the driver I’d arranged for a chance to show up if he’d been unexpectedly delayed, but short enough for me to maintain a semblance of patience. If he never showed, half an hour was a bit on the chintzy side, whereas three-quarters of an hour was playing the fool.

At minute forty-one I gave up. No one was coming to meet me. I grabbed my luggage and headed for the exit.

“I can help with your hotel.” The voice belonged to a pleasant-looking young man, Arabic. At first he’d tried French, but quickly converted to near-flawless English when he saw the dumb look on my face. He was wearing a typical costume for Moroccan men: lightweight white djellaba, with a matching pillbox-style hat (I’m guessing he wouldn’t have appreciated the description) and a pair of well-worn black leather babouche slippers.

I pulled out a slip of paper on which I’d written the name and address of my riad and handed it to him.

“Yes,” he said with a confident nod, at the same time reaching down for my suitcase. “Riad Hadika Maria. Derb Zemrane Hart Soura. I know it. Come with me.” He carried the bag instead of using the rollers.

It happened that easily. Nothing about the man—a boy really—hinted that something wasn’t quite right.

The things I love most about visiting new places—the mystery, the unfamiliarity—are the very same things that can make it exceedingly dangerous. Everything you trust about the world is suddenly in question. How was I to know I wasn’t being taken to my hotel? How was I to know that, instead, I was simply being taken?