My sister Trudy and I were speeding along the autostrada, heading for Rapallo on the Italian Riviera.

The cat-and-mouse games with the daredevil Italian motorists tingled our nerves, which were already on edge as we wondered about our choice of hotel for the night. It was the only one in town that had a locked garage. Would it be safe for our brand-new red Volvo?

The concierge met us as we pulled into the driveway. She was dark-haired and broad-hipped, and her eyebrows met across the bridge of her nose.

"Facchino," she called, and a wizened gremlin of a porter appeared and began unloading the baggage.

"Parcheggiare la machina," she said to me, pointing to an open lot across the road.

"No, no," I said nervously. "Dove il garage, per favore?"

"Ah, si," she said, frowning and pausing, then disappeared through the front door of the hotel.

After what seemed a prolonged absence she reappeared, smiling broadly, and pointed to a huge steel door adjoining the hotel. Groaning and scraping, the overhead door began to rise slowly, revealing a black cavernous interior.

"Wait," my sister said. "I'll register and guard the luggage." And she stepped out of the car and disappeared into the hotel.

I drove into the yawning black cavern and immediately the heavy steel door thundered down behind me.

"Great," I said out loud. "Tight as a drum. Good place. The machina is safe. Even a cockroach couldn't get in here."

I locked the car door and set forth into the darkness looking for an exit.

Which door?

No door. Only the one I'd come through, which was now shut tight. No cars either -- only mine and room for 20 more.

Groping along the walls, looking for hidden buttons, stepping gingerly along the sides, wishing for a flashlight. I fought alarm.

Time passed -- 10 minutes, 20. Where is somebody? Where is Trudy? She knows where I am. Something's happened to her. She's gone -- I'm gone -- and so is the car.

I could see the headlines: "AMERICAN WOMEN AND VOLVO DISAPPEAR."

Panicked, I shouted, "Help! Attenzione!" and pounded on the steel door. Minutes went by without a sound. Then I noticed that the only source of light in that God-forsaken garage came through a small rectangular window set in the steel door just above eye level.

Up I jumped to look out. A bus stood just outside. A large touring bus with windows high off the ground.

What luck.

Up I jumped, up, down, up, down. No one noticed.

I could see faces in the windows of the bus, but they didn't see me.

Up I jumped again -- pounding the window with my turquoise ring. Tap, tap, tap.

Up I jumped again and eyes locked with mine. A face in the bus pressed into a window of the bus -- eyes staring, mouth open.

Up, up, up. Tap, tap, tap. "Help! Help! Help!" Now every window in the bus had a face pressed to the glass with bewildered eyes. More minutes passed.

A last desperate jump, and a new face pressed against the glass in the steel door. A face with eyebrows that joined at the bridge of the nose.

Slowly the steel door clanked open.

When I entered the lobby of the hotel, Trudy met me at the door looking annoyed.

"What took so long?" she said. "I'm hungry."

Sara Salter is a writer living in Lake Worth, Fla.