Chapter 13: The wheel keeps spinning
It’s almost ten o’clock and we’re waiting at the entrance of the forest. Dylan’s worried that something can go wrong. And he’s right to be. What can go right in a situation like this?
“They’ll come. Stop thinking about it”, I tell him.
“I hope they will.”
The wind starts blowing, spreading the clouds, letting us see the full moon in all her beauty. It completes the fairytale landscape that’s in front of our eyes.
“Tell me what is it that you want the most in your life?”, he surprises me.
I stutter for a second. What is it that I want? Family, love, a new life, peace, probably a reward for some book inspired by my life… the list goes on.
“To live in Thailand.”
“To wake up in a cottage or a trailer by the sea. To travel, to see the world, to meet new people, to write their stories. To wake up and feel the breeze, to fall asleep on the sand counting the stars.”
I stop because the list is getting already too long.
“We will go there, even if it’s at the end of the world. When this is over, we will go far away from here. We will start fresh together.”
I smile and put my fingers between his. The clock shows ten and five minutes, and I can see the disappointment on his face.
“They’ve said that…”
“I know what they said. Just wait a little bit longer”, I say.
But he turns on the engine, holding tight in his hand the stick with data. We can see two headlights on the road, and my hearts starts doing bungee jumping again into my chest. The car gets closer to us, and Dalia opens the window. It’s another car, and this one is red with a cherry-colored streak in the middle of it.
“You’re people without a word”, she says.
“I knew you will come”, I say relaxed.
“Yeah, mea culpa!” I hear Raisa from the back of the car. “I’ve tried my driving skills and look what happened”, she continues pointing at the front of the car, over Ted’s head.
The place where it was supposed to be the license number was broken, and a piece of metal was hanging there, ready to fall under the car. Dylan relaxes and puts the stick into his pocket.
“Come on up. Let’s see how are going to make this work”, says Dalia.
“Have you read what’s on the memory sticks?” asks Dylan.
“No. We just finished the decrypting. We will see together”, says Ted.
We gather in front of the laptop, like some children who had discovered a new game on a cellphone. Dalia opens the first file. We discover there an e-mail exchange between Stan and the head of the Security Service. That’s how Stan entered into this world. A dirty secret about the last one’s son had brought Stan the job he has today.
The bad news didn’t let themselves expected too long. We had in front of us the proof of the collaboration of Stan with a terrorist named Raphael Gabah, the one who had provoked the impact of the two trains. From what I could understand, he kept the e-mails in case he was caught because, during the time he used to traffic weapons, he had let a mistake to ruin everything. It seemed like Raphael had entered his computer and had stolen secret information. From there to a total mess wasn’t more than a step. Everything because of Stan, a young an immature man, who had sold the security of his country in exchange for a pretty amount of money. He had kept the e-mails as proof of his unintentional involvement. What an irony, because they were about to prove the opposite.
I had heard stories about Raphael’s murder, but I knew clearly now that the man was never actually caught, because I saw in their conversation how he was threatening Stan that he will drag him along, if he dared to say anything or to expose him, just a week after his so-called ‘murder’. He’s probably very old now, but not too old not to be able to prepare other disasters.
Here comes the shock of the evening for me, because we find threatening e-mails coming from my father, just the day he was killed. He was going with some evidence to denounce him. HE had given him the chance to silently quit his job, in exchange for his silence. But it seemed that Stan couldn’t stop running for money. We find the payments to those who murdered my mother and then to the one who accessed from a distance Paul’s car, with clear instructions about the place and the hour he was going to be that day. He had made everything possible to draw him in a certain place, just to wash his hands of the evil he had done.
I take a step back. The madness goes on, and I discover that Daniel was working for him, and so did Gibson, even if I was pretty sure of that one. We find recordings received and movies made from accessing the phone’s camera or the laptop, and I find out that I’ve been under observation all my life. I feel like I need some fresh air, so I get out of the car. I start walking around like some lunatic when Dylan is about to come down.
“I need a moment”, I say distractedly.
“You don’t have to watch all of these.”
“Oh, but I do. I need to gather enough hate to be sure that bastard is going to rot in prison for the rest of his life.”
He wants to contradict me, or at least that’s what I can tell by the look on his face.
“Oh, God!” shouts Dalia.
“What is it now?” I ask.
“Dylan’s stick… Look at the footage from the night Daniel was killed. The one from the surveillance camera!”
“Gibson…” whispers Dylan. “Now everything makes sense. We knew that he was working for Stan, but I never expected him to be a criminal.”
“Look, there’s more. They sent him pictures. Pictures with Michelle! Before they killed her! Just three minute before!” I shout.
After a closer look, we notice a very important detail in the picture. A badge reflecting in a glass, a thing that Ted observed quickly. The murderer had entered her house, probably as a police officer. Ted’s programs are beyond any type of imagination, and he manages to come up with a silhouette, not a very clear one, but enough for us to understand that the white hairs from the murderer’s head look just like the ones on Gibson’s.
As we keep digging, we find out more. He’s the one to blame for Ania’s murder because the hours he had declared in his report were false. It was the time of the murder when he unexplainable had missed from the office.
Everything is clear when we see there three more names from the police station where Dylan had worked, and seven more from the Parliament. Known names. The strange thing is that Stan’s son is not connected to anything, but I knew for sure that he had something to do with this, especially by the way he looked at me some time ago. Either Stan didn’t bring him into this, or he did a great job at covering his tracks.
The flashing news for me this night remains the fact that Daniel was working for them. I had lived with a criminal. But, after a closer look, Ted discovers that he was paid only to keep me under observation. He had orders to kill me only if they considered that I could become a threat to them, a thing that I had obviously done. The killing part though… well, it seems like Daniel’s job got him killed. The exchange of e-mails between them makes me grind my teeth. There are all of Stan’s conversations, since the moment he stepped into politics.
Stan’s accomplices from the Parliament did the dirty work for him, like selling weapons to unknown customers, for a huge amount of money. Everything was kept away from the eyes of the Prime-Minister, as they were from the trusted circle of the President.
“How idiot you should be to be blind to this? This is what it means to sleep on duty!” I burst angrily.
I get as answers a couple of nods as if they were afraid to say it out loud.
“I will start a live broadcast. I will turn on every monitor, screen, laptop, TV, phone, from this country. I will hack the codes and I will send live what we have to say”, says Ted confidently.
“Are you kidding me? One: you can’t do this, and two: even if you can, you will rot in jail”, I say.
“I will cover my face and modify my voice, even if I want so badly for everyone to know who did this. Who opened their eyes. If you want to take the word, you should cover your faces. But who wants you dead already knows how you look like. I don’t think that you will be covering too much.”
“I will not hide anymore! I’ve stayed hidden all my life. And if they kill me, at least they will do it after I show them that I managed to get away all this time!” says Dalia confident.
Ted connects some wires under our curious and shocked looks. It takes about thirty minutes, and he makes one big machine from some laptops. Anyway, something beyond my understanding. He is an informatics genius. A true hacker, if he is able of doing it, of course.
“Let the fun begin”, he says and turns on the camera.
The phones lying on the back of the van start turning on, a sign that he really knows what he’s doing.
“Good evening everyone!” he starts his speech. “We’re here tonight to open your eyes. About what? About what the people who have the power in their hands have done. They have destroyed lives”, he continues showing on the screen videos, messages, and recovered pictures from the sticks, “they have killed people and staged suicides!”
Ted continues to run the data on the screen, making sure that he doesn’t miss one detail. Dalia takes over soon, shocking us all. She doesn’t cover her face, a thing that makes me think about what she’s doing. “Does she have a suicide thought?” , I wonder not too pleased. I wouldn’t want them to catch us through her. But it’s too late to stop her.
“My name is Dalia Petrović, but some of you may know me as Dalia Novak. Why? Because this Government has stolen my identity, my life, my love! I’ve worked for them, I’ve brought them money, but my reward was this!” she shouts showing her scars in front of the camera. “It’s time for you people to know what the Government does to those who don’t want to shut up!”
Dalia continues the story about the young girl from the province, who started looking for a job in the Parliament but ended up as a mistress and a babysitter, and after that as a tortured fugitive. Her story brings tears to Raisa’s cheeks, but in my eyes too. But surprisingly, Dalia’s look inspires hate more than sadness, and at the same time relief. She had waited a lot of years for this moment. Exposing her story, where I was involved too, even if she didn’t say my name, she spits out the words with bitterness and disgust, leaving for the end a bit of sadness.
Finally, she breaths heavily, and she steps out from the camera area. Ted looks insistent at me, a sign that I should move my ass in front of that camera, a thing that I did. With my face covered, I sit on the chair in front of the miracle laptop, but I feel my mouth clenched. I turn goosebumps and I suddenly forget my story. I catch Dylan’s eyes, and it’s like they’re telling me: ‘You don’t have to do this’, but I feel like I need to, so I bite my lip and let myself flow with the thoughts.
“My story starts differently”, I begin with my lips trembling. “I want to explain why it is that way. I don’t want anything else. They’ve taken everything away from me. My parents, my childhood, the chance to have a normal life. I’ve been dragged from orphanage to orphanage until I reached the age when I was able to run from one another. Then from family to family, looking for my long lost family, hoping that I might find my parents one day, or at least some good folks that I could pretend to be them. Do you know what I found? Hate, malice, verbal and physical violence. But I’ve found something else too. Life stories. Every family had one, but the irony is that all the bad things that had happened to them were because of the people who lead us. When I wanted to take my life into my own hands and decided not to look for what I was hoping to find for a very long time, the life hit me straight in the face. What was next was running on the streets and sleeping in train stations, at the mercy of a few people, and only then was the resignation. But something changed the moment I found a stable job. I started again to look for my family, and I looked too deep.”
A short pause was next when I saw the others staring at me. They were listening with too much attention and I was embarrassed that I stopped.
“They tried to scare me, to kill me, they infiltrated people in my life. But something wanted me alive, and even if I’m not a religious person, I strongly believe that I’m here now for a purpose. Political games, dirt, and crimes… this is what’s happening in front of us. They killed my friends. They murdered the people who tried to help me find the truth, and then they tried to cover it up. But due to some people who didn’t give up on me, I found out the truth. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I’m grateful to them forever. Yes, there are good people in this fucked up world. They aren’t all liars and murderers as I thought. So, I found out that my parents were murdered, and I barely survived as a child. Bribe, dirt put under the doormat, and terrible people. Those were the factors that helped the cover-up. The collapse of the trains. Do you remember about it? Maybe you lost friends, family or acquaintances there. But what matters is that people died. Good people, who might have given their lives for this country. All because of Stan Bernard. Yes, you heard that right. The one who sold the weapon designed to protect us. The one who ‘accidentally slipped’ information of National Security to the terrorists.”
The proofs were on the screen as I was speaking, and Ted made sure there wasn’t a name or a detail missing.
“He infiltrated people everywhere, until nowadays, just to be sure that he will shut the mouth of the last person that knows the truth. Me. Who am I?” I ask taking off my mask. “The daughter of the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, Paul Torres. Yes, the one who was murdered by sabotaging his car, and calling it ‘a suicide’. His wife, Cassandra Torres, was murdered in the hospital, while she was in labor, with me inside her belly. They put substances into the perfusion. I ask for investigations about this case because everything was covered up and put under the doormat.”
I look at the others. I knew that it was a stupid thing that I took off my mask, but it was just a matter of time until they found me and killed me because they knew it was me from the start.
“Now that I’ve said it out loud, I’m telling you, folks, that the Government is corrupted, and the President has no idea what’s happening right under her nose. Her own people have betrayed her, by beholding information from her. They still sell guns now without shame. Maybe now that she sees this video she will do something about it. I count on her honesty and rightness. I know that we all appreciate this quality at her.”
I make a pause, and then I sigh.
“Finally, I say goodbye to you, because it’s just a matter of time until they find me and put an end to this. Yes, maybe they’ll kill me, but I hope from the bottom of my soul that justice will be made! These people need to be stopped at any cost, and if the cost is my life, so be it, because I will consider that justice has been done!”
Ted stops the transmission, and the rest of them remain there, staring at me.
“Why the hell did you take off the mask?” shouts Dalia, exasperated about my gesture.
“I don’t know… But does it matter now? They know how I look anyway!”
“I’m not afraid of them! But the rest of them! The Government! They all know how you look now! Do you think that the ones who saw the video won’t recognize you? The President will be forced to do something to you if the people demand this if they consider your act inappropriate!”
“What about you? Why did you do it?”
“Because I wanted to take all the blame! I would have tried to save you guys if they would have looked for us. And they will. It’s just a matter of time.”
“They won’t find us here. They won’t be able to track us. I’ve got it covered. But we can’t stay like this forever. We have to decide what to do next”, says Ted.
“We pull back a day, two… I’ve rented a flat at about thirty minutes from here. I knew that we were going to need one, so I booked it online and I made the payment the same way, in advance for a couple of months. I made sure I covered the tracks. The key was delivered to me a month ago. I don’t think they will track us back there”, says Dalia.
“How long have you been planning this exactly?” asks Dylan doubtfully.
“Oh, for a lifetime”, she replies.
I stand up under Dylan’s worried look and I head to the other vehicle.
“After you”, I say to Dalia.
They conform, and Dylan follows me silently and sits on the driver’s seat. The others start driving, but he feels retention.
“If you don’t want to lose them, you might want to consider following them”, I say sarcastically.
He starts driving, wanting to tell me something, but he doesn’t seem to find the words.
“I know that you have some objections about my decision, but…”
“How could you?” he asks seriously. “Why on Earth did you do that? You would have come out clean! Or at least you would have tried! Now they will look for you! Do you really believe that the ones who have the power are going to let the ones who destroyed their security systems to walk around free? Even if you told them precious information, they would never let the ones who broke the law, even though it was for the greater good, to remain free!”
“I don’t know what happened to me! All that I can tell you is that is what I felt I should do at the time. And if you think that I regret that decision, you must find out that I don’t! Any price is worth to be paid for justice!”
Dylan seems to disagree with this.
“Not if it comes to…”
“If they want to kill me they have to find me first!”
We stop behind Dalia’s van, on a poorly lit street. She comes down and waves at us to get in their van, and she disappears with our car for a couple of minutes. I realize that she’s getting rid of the car which we kept already too much with us, and I can’t help wondering where she finds these old cars she brings us. This time, she comes back on foot.
We continue our way for a while until we arrive in front of a dilapidated house. We follow her closely and we see that she really has a key. She opens the wooden gate, and it creaks when she pushes it. There’s a garden inside, with a table and some chairs, and the stairs lead us to a green door.
“Here’s the flat”, she says. “There are others here, but the owners don’t usually come around often. We will be safe for now.”
Behind the lit green door, we find two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom. The kitchen is a part of the living room, but it’s not much, only an electric stove and a fridge. Dalia made sure to fill it with cans and some other time-resistant stuff when she had taken the place. Good idea, because we went straight to it, putting all of its insides on the table.
Dalia turns on the TV, waiting for a sign that we didn’t expose ourselves in vain.
“You’ve thought at all”, says Ted chewing something.
She replies with a smile and sits on the couch.
“Who are you?” Raisa suddenly asks Ted.
“What kind of a question is this?”
“Seriously now. A simple hacker couldn’t have done what you just did.”
Ted remains a second to think, and something makes him smile. I hadn’t noticed his features until now, but only the standard hacker look, tall and with glasses. His brown hair and brown eyes, the pale face, the thin conformation, and the thin voice made him seem a teenager, but I was sure that he was in his forties.
“I’ve worked for them, at the Security Services. They fired me. They thought I was weak and that I wouldn’t be a threat. They usually don’t let you go out alive. But I was just starting and they didn’t believe that I was able to know any secrets after one month… Not that they have told me any. I’ve served myself with some information, just in case. I knew a lot more than I let them believe at the beginning, but I was going to get bored to do the hard stuff so quick, so I took advantage and played the dumb one. Smart choice. When they fired me and hired a politician’s son instead, I realized I had to keep the appearances for some time in order not to get killed. It worked for a while, and then I disappeared. It’s been so long since that moment.”
“And what are you going to do now?” asks Raisa.
“Well, they didn’t see my face. I’m planning to disappear. All I ever wanted was to bring justice on people’s screens. When I’ve met Dalia, at a meeting anti-system, twenty years ago, I knew we would do amazing things together. And we survived this.”
I see Dylan heading to one of the bedrooms, holding a can. I follow him closely and close the door behind me. He approaches the window and pulls the curtains, but he remains with the face turned on them, staring at nothing.
“This place reminds me of the motel where Dalia took us. The smell is different though. It’s old.”
He’s right. There’s something with this place. It’s something in the air that makes it smell of memories. I go near him and I want to touch his shoulder, but he suddenly turns around.
“I’ve got an idea”, he says.
“What is it?”
“You’ll see”, he says and grabs my hand.
We get out of the room in a rush.
“We’re going out a little”, he tells Raisa.
“Where are you going?” asks Dalia. “It’s not safe for you to wander on the streets!”
He goes and whispers something in her ear, and she replies the same way. The mystery makes me curious, but angry at the same time. Dalia nods her head, giving him a cell phone.
“Turn it on in case of emergency. Just call the only number from the agenda and I will answer, she says. “If I think a little, the best hiding place is in sight.”
Dylan nods and pulls my arm.
“Where are we going?” I ask again.
“Do you trust me?”
“If I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t be here right now. I’m just curious. What’s the mystery?”
“You’ll see”, he says, searching with his eyes something in the back of the house.
He pushes aside a false wall, which seems to be leaning on the garage, and he takes out a key from his pocket. I see another car, which looks newer than the others. It’s a van, obviously, but it’s smaller and with a normal color: gray.
“Dalia gave me the key”, he says quickly.
The road seems endless, and for tens of minutes, Dylan remains quiet. The radio sings pretty loud, and I don’t bother to start a conversation. The darkness and the long and empty road make me fall asleep, but my relaxing doesn’t last long because I’m shaken by a pit on the road, followed by a curse coming from Dylan.
“Damn it! This road has no lights! It’s full of pits! It’s not even marked! I don’t even know where to drive! In fact, I hope I didn’t leave the road because I feel like I’m in some field! I need an indicator to know that I’m going in the right direction…”
“You’re asking for too much”, I laugh stretching my arms. “Have you forgotten in what country do you live?”
He mumbles something, but I can’t hear it. Some headlights appear on the road, and Dylan suddenly pulls the wheel.
“See? Exactly what I was telling you! Marks on the road… missing! I don’t even know how many driving lanes are!”
I let a laugh slip, which means: “Told you so!”. He finally pulls over on the side of the road. It’s too dark around to ask for a street lantern. Dylan waits for a few seconds, staring out the window.
“This is it. We’re here”, he says in the end.
We go down together, and even if it’s totally dark, a peaceful and beautiful sound fills up my ears. Waves.
“You brought me to the sea”, I smile.
“It’s not Thailand, but it’s something. Until we get there, I figured you might be pleased with this. A wild and dark beach, because we can’t afford to be seen on a normal beach right now.”
I step on the sand and take off my shoes. It’s an extraordinary feeling to touch the sand with bare feet. An unexplainable feeling of freedom. Dylan follows my example. I run to the sea, excited like a child. Maybe I’m just a child right now, one who had missed this kind of moments during childhood. I don’t stop when my feet touch the water, and I continue running until it reaches my knees. I let a laugh come out from my soul. I can really feel free there.
Dylan comes near me, excited about my reaction. I notice that he’s ready for a swim in the sea. I throw my blouse on the shore, and then the pants, and then I jump into the waves. The sea is calm, and the water is perfect for a bath as if she had waited such a long time for us to finally meet, because yes, this was the first time in my entire life when I saw and felt the sea.
“Thailand”, I whisper. “We will come soon.”
I feel his hands around me, and I wish the time stops. It seems unreal, but I try to enjoy the moment. “Even if it’s just a dream, it’s perfect”, I think while I feel his lips on my neck. His large palms measure my body from the bottom to the top, and I end up wrapping around his body. I let the tension go away and I relax, so I soon see my bra floating to the shore.
His touching is different, and his kisses are the same. Something’s different about me, and I believe it’s because of him. The silence is broken from time to time by a moan, which is covered soon by the waves cracking on the shore. My nails are touching his back, and the toes are squeezing in the sand. Here and now, I let myself flow with the feelings, more than I had ever done before.
In a perfect night, the first perfect night from my life, I feel safe, free and happy. It’s the first time when I feel protected, even if I had thought for so long that I didn’t need to feel that way. Here, in the salted water which touches my hair and my body, it’s happening a thing that I would have considered impossible. The sea that’s taking over my body is the only witness of what I feel. I’m falling in love, and the feeling is nothing as I had imagined. It’s an unexplained calm, a release of tension, a combination of fear and high euphoria.
I let my body float on my back, taken by the waves to the shore, but by Dylan’s hands too, which are touching my legs and back, and they have something to do with my floating direction.
“It’s ending. This whole madness. I can feel it”, I tell him when I finally reach the shore and feel the sand under my feet.
It’s dark, but I can still feel his eyes staring at me. I put on the half wet clothes and I lay on the sand next to him.
“And this is how we made the perfect happy ending for your book”, he says.
“You know, it may seem an irony me being here now and feeling so happy. All my life I believed that the book I’m struggling to write is going to have a tragic ending. But it seems like the happy ending for it was always there, I just had to look a little deeper to find it. I was about to give up.”
“Don’t you ever give up on this dream. The way you described your life on those pages made me shiver. And if the words touched my heart, believe me when I say that they will touch other hearts too.”
“Thank you,” I say putting my sandy hand into his.
“Write nicely about me”, he says squeezing my fingers.
Soon, the sun comes out from the sea, under our excited looks. The seagulls gather above us, making an infernal noise. Some are hitting the water, others are flying in circles, looking for food. As the sun rises, the sand from Dylan’s hair is shining brighter, giving him a mysterious air, and making him look like a cartoon. I smile, and he catches my reaction. He puts his arms around me, and he lifts me up. I touch his forehead with mine, leaving the light shine between us.
There’s no one on the beach, and the silence is broken by the sound of waves and, of course, by the seagulls. His lips have a salted taste. Sea taste. A taste that I’m not going to forget. The sun’s light warms our bodies, and the salt from my skin drying, making me feel it squeezing on me. It doesn’t bother me, and it’s a moment that I won’t ever forget. It’s my first beautiful memory, and something tells me that’s about time to start making new ones of this kind.