Chapter 2 - Behind The Mask
Cielle was silent all the way and so were her captors. She smelt the aroma of the chicken all over the place and this made her stomach grumble.
The last time she ate was this afternoon. She envisioned herself eating heartily, but with the fact that she was unexpectedly abducted too, the thought of a full, belly-protruding dinner had slowly vanished.
Once in a while, she had contemplated picking out one piece from the bucket, but in the end resisted, feeling more irritated with Theo who was having the time of his life eating two more chickens.
After half an hour of travel, the convoy of two motorbikes, a black Chevy and her SUV arrived on a narrow dirt road. Cielle’s worry worsened, wondering where in Cordova they were.
When Nic pulled the car in a grassy clearing, Cielle finally was able to see the black waters under the moonlight.
They were specifically in a secluded area absent of electric lights or lamps where a short rocky cliff met the pristine salty water. In here, a decent-sized pump boat awaited them — its engine already roaring to life. Still, no light could be seen in the boat except for a built-in flashlight on a small radio.
Through the windshield, Cielle could see someone disembarking the Chevy. Her breath hitched when she saw the boy — Alex — lying unconscious in his captor’s arms.
“Let’s go, ” Nic prompted, glancing at her briefly before opening the door.
Cielle’s feet however turned cold and stayed rooted on the spot. She, for the life of her, refused to get out of the car, but then she felt something poke her left shoulder. It was a gun.
“Out, ” urged Theo from behind.
After pressing her lips together in dismay, she opened the car door and slipped out. Nic was already waiting for her outside and just like the last time, he gripped her right wrist and dragged her forcibly into a cleared pathway towards the boat. It was a tug of war at first, with her doing the best to give him difficulty but Nic was too strong to easily tow her.
“You will only give yourself bruises if you do that woman, ” he grounded, giving her a pointed glare.
“If you keep on man-handling me then that would happen! I can walk properly you know! It is not like I can escape now, and besides, I can’t leave Alex with all of you!”
“Good to know, ” was Nic’s flat tone just as he abruptly stopped right in front of a gangplank.
“After you, ” he stated, sweeping his free hand sideways.
Cielle in response mock-smiled him and rolled her eyes.
Truly, there’s no need for the gentleman act at all. He may have the looks, but he certainly counts as being a villain still.
How had he gotten to be with these kinds of people anyway? she asked in her thoughts, but dismissed the big question at the back of her head when she saw Alex now lying in a makeshift bed inside the boat.
After a deep breath, she walked precariously at first; balancing herself in the plank so she wouldn’t fall towards the black water. It was a hard ordeal the whole time because not only that there was no one to assist her, the spot was dark enough to keep her from seeing clearly.
Please don’t fall, please don’t fall, she chanted to herself as she continued in baby steps.
By the time she boarded the boat, she sprinted towards Alex.
Kneeling, she scooped the boy up, handling him carefully. Just as she placed his head in her lap, two tears dripped in his forehead.
Sad. She felt sad. The boy didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to lose his step-father early in his life; he didn’t deserve to be the bait in these men’s greed; he didn’t deserve this kind of treatment at all.
But not wanting the men to see her breakdown, she wiped the gleaming beads quickly from Alex’s forehead with her palm and dried her eyes with the same.
She saw all of them board the boat except for the man who wore the black helmet. He remained standing in the short cliff with the keys of her car and a silent promise of not returning it to her.
“Wow! Ain’t this delicious!” Don, who was sitting across her, exclaimed in glee. He snatched one plastic that contained a bucket of chicken from Theo’s hands and hurriedly opened it on the wooden floor.
Cielle hadn’t even noticed that the goatee man brought the buckets with him if not for Don’s announcement.
She glowered at Don’s hands who ever so greedily took two well-seasoned wings and bit on them with a wide smile. Though it lacked light, she could still see the tar sticking out from his teeth as he chomped the juicy meat.
Others followed after him — Theo, Arthur, and three other men on board — except for Nic who stood silently at the engine side of the boat, facing the waves as the boat started to move.
Cielle wanted to retch seeing them eat to their heart's content. Those buckets were supposed to be for her friends and family, but look where they ended up now.
She felt her own stomach growl again and this made her clench her jaw. Nope. She won’t be pleading her case to them. She’d rather die in hunger than to be at their mercy.
Due to the boisterous laughter of the kidnappers, Alex woke up. Cielle noticed him stir and so she pressed her palm in his sweaty forehead.
“Hey, shhh. It’s me, your big sister Cielle. You’re fine Alex. Go back to sleep.”
The boy looked up at her and knitted his brows. “I’m hungry Big Sis.”
It must have been either the side-effect of the drug they used to render him unconscious earlier or the reality that he himself hadn’t eaten dinner too before he was kidnapped.
Cielle blinked a couple of times. Now, this is a predicament she must face.
“I will get you food then, ” she stated while smiling at him.
After Alex nodded, she turned her attention on the men huddling across her and shouted, “Hey!”
No one seemed to listen.
“Hey! Give one chicken for the boy, will you? He is hungry.”
Still, they ignored her.
Nic, who heard her in the first try, turned to look at her silently.
“If you don’t, he will get weak and die and you obviously won’t get your money, ” she reasoned, which got an expected response from them.
Don glanced at her, frowned, and then picked a lighter bucket from the batch. He nudged at a skinny man in his left — Arthur — and ordered in a native tongue, “Give this to her.”
Arthur gave out a doubtful look at first and then stood up, taking the bucket with him to Cielle.
“Thank you, ” she said in a clipped tone to which the one addressed just shrugged his shoulders.
Cielle then smiled back at Alex, one that hid the worry in her heart, and said, “Here, eat this Alex.”
“Thank you, Big Sis, ” the boy replied, sitting up and biting the white meat off the sole drumstick from the bucket Don had given.
“You should eat properly so that when you leave here, your mother won’t see you a thin boy, ” she stated.
“How about you Big Sis? Do you have a mommy waiting for you too?” Alex asked whilst giving her a curious face.
With that, somehow, it lightened the gloomy mood she was in. “Yes, I do. They must be really worried about me just like how much your mother is worried about you now.”
“I like to eat spaghetti, ” suddenly and as carefree as any other kid, Alex expressed. “Can we go to my favorite restaurant now?”
Cielle’s mouth dropped. She glanced at the kidnappers consciously wondering if they heard the innocent request of the boy. They however were too busy eating to even take notice which relieved her greatly.
“Uhh, uhm, no Alex, we can’t. These men aren’t nice people. We can’t ask them to go there, ” she reasoned as low as she could to him. What she didn’t know was that Nic had been listening and observing them discreetly.
The boy’s shoulders, after hearing her, slumped. Cielle immediately attempted to cheer him up.
“Hey, wipe that pout off your face.” She tipped his chin up and smiled a radiant smile. “I promise you, when we are done with this...travel, I will buy you whatever you want to eat anywhere.”
The boy’s eyes beamed with mirth in response. “And mommy and daddy too? Can they come along?” He didn’t even recall that his step-father had been gunned to death.
Cielle swallowed a lump in her throat. “Yes, ” she answered quietly, her smile not faltering for a moment.
“Yaay! Thank you, Big Sis!” And then, Alex hugged her tightly.
Cielle hugged him back, disregarding the hard-driven frowns of the men now watching them.
Let them be. Let them show what pain they caused on the boy.
“You’re welcome, Alex, ” she replied, rubbing the child’s back to soothe him.
Almost two hours later, their boat arrived at an island off the coast of Cordova. It was a clean island with a white sandy shoreline shimmering under the moonlight. Tall palm trees could be seen everywhere but what caught her attention more was the readily seen small sleeping community. There were probably fifteen roofs she could delineate from the dark, some of which were made of coconut leaves and others, galvanized iron.
This must be their hideout, she thought and that soon was clarified when from the shadows armed men holding rifles stepped out.
Once again, she felt her knees tremble.
Nic and two others climbed down the boat first using the same gangplank earlier. Cielle saw him steal a glance at her before leaving, but it was so brief and cold she couldn’t make out if there was worry in his eyes.
And why would he even worry you, pray tell? her subconscious criticized. Him telling you some few kind words earlier didn’t mean a thing!
“Put them in the room, ” her musings snapped when she heard Don say to someone and that someone being Arthur again, approached her and Alex after a nod.
“Come, ” he said, urging them up with a hand.
Cielle did so, pulling Alex up at the same time.
“Big Sis, why are we here?” Somehow the boy noticed the peculiarity of the place.
She sighed first and raked his tousled hair before answering. “Ah, they needed us to rest Alex because we had a long journey. Didn’t the sea waves made you sick earlier?”
He nodded slowly.
“Is my mommy going to get me?”
Cielle, although taken aback by his change of question, managed to create a quick answer, “Yes, she will, but they need to call her first.”
“I miss her.” The boy’s head dipped and even from the lack of light, she could see the sadness in his eyes.
“I know, ” she replied looking far away.
“Hey, what’s wrong?! Why are you so slow?!” Arthur shouted angrily whose sandalled feet had already touched the sand.
Quickly, Cielle jogged to the gangplank whilst holding Alex’s hand. Once they were able to disembark, Arthur didn’t waste time on guiding them towards the appointed room err — prison.
They passed houses along the way (whatever they were headed) and watched as coconut trees towered over them. The land in this part of the island was rocky, with a bit of sand distributed in certain areas and thick grasses scattered along the way.
Cielle held Alex’s hand tightly, mentally noting the twist and turns of the pathway should she have the audacity to escape.
But what was she thinking? How could even one escape an island full of criminals without being found out?
After a minute of walking, the three of them stood in a house made of concrete. The main door was left open but they didn’t use this to go inside. Instead, Arthur directed them to another smaller opening at the right side wherein it led to a short narrow underground stairway.
Once inside, Cielle could see a wider hallway that led to different underground rooms. In one of them at the right, they were deposited by Arthur without saying anything. No final words or instructions or any greeting of a late goodnight.
Cielle didn’t care anyway though. Once she heard the door close and locked, she turned around and scanned the whole square of a room lit by a sole yellow light bulb.
No furniture was seen other than a small round table, one wooden stool, an empty cabinet, and of course, a single-occupant bed.
Her heart sank.
“Here Alex!” she exclaimed just as she released a deep breath. She jogged towards the bed to sit down and smiled at him. “Won’t you take a nap? I’ll be here to watch over you.”
She may not know exactly what time it was, but she was aware enough to think that they were nearing midnight.
The boy nodded without hesitation and ambled towards the bed, but before he could lie down totally, he, out-of-the-blue, declared, “I’m hungry.”
What? Again?! her mind strained.
But of course! It was understandable that he would be hungry since his dinner consisted only of one drumstick and a sip of half-emptied bottled water.
She was hungry too, so, so hungry, but she didn’t show it to Alex and only smiled.
“Just take a nap, okay? I promise, when you wake up, food will be served.”
And with that reassurance, Alex slept with a smile on his face.
Early in the morning, Cielle woke up with her back aching. Since the room they were in had a small bed, they had to sardine themselves in sleeping. Not only was that the problem, but the bed also had little to no foam. It was a bamboo-made bed frame, rickety and squeaky, and rather a far cry from what she had been accustomed to.
But it is not like she could request a much comfortable bed anyway.
From where they were, she could hear the sound of soft waves rushing to the shore, the gentle breeze of the palm trees, and the crowing of roosters. These weren’t the only sound she heard though. Her stomach complaining was included as well.
With this and the promise she made with Alex about food made her stand up in bed.
The room was rather satisfactory-looking but since they were underground, it lacked essential elements like a window. There was a rectangular opening located overhead though that looked like it was once used as an air vent. Standing in a stool, Cielle used this vent to perch and see if she could find someone for help.
And she did, specifically a skinny-looking, tanned stranger who somehow passed by her way.
“Hey!” she shouted, slipping her forearm out to catch his attention. “Hey!”
The man who had quite a mustache approached the opening and stooped low to look at her. “Why are you so noisy woman?” asked he in his native tongue, slightly irritated.
Cielle fanned her face first to rid of the dust particles his sandal had scattered.
“The boy needs his breakfast, ” she stated and met his eye with thorough concern.
And me too, she wanted to add but refrained.
“What? Da boi niids brekfist?” he clarified in a mocking tone; his English pretty much rough and edgy.
“Yes! Yes!” Cielle vigorously nodded. “Please, he is very hungry.”
The man stepped backward and straightened. From the little opening available, Cielle could see how he scrunched up his nose and rubbed the back of his nape.
“Sheesh, like I care, ” he stated acidly and then went on his way.
This made Cielle blink many times. “Hey! Sir! Please! He needs food!” she shouted, desperate now, but the man just ignored her.
“Oh, God.” Dropping to sit on the stool, she palmed her face and groaned. She was on the tipping point of crying but she held her tears at bay. No, she won’t be a mess in front of the boy. If she had to try and try again and beg these scumbags for food then so be it.
For the boy.
Yes, for the boy.
Her own welfare and hunger could wait.
With a huff, she stood up in the stool again and waited, waited for someone — anyone — to pass her by, and hoped, really hoped that this time, he or she would be kind enough to give them food.
But minutes passed by with not a single soul in sight. Her elbows had grown weary from perching and her feet had started shaking from the lack of energy.
It was an understandable situation since it was still early in the morning. If these kidnappers stayed out late, then it was expected they would wake up late too. All of them possibly were still on their comfortable beds sleeping.
Or so she thought.
The door of her prison all of a sudden was unlocked and pushed open. Nic, her captor last night, stepped in with something in hand: a rattan tray with two medium-sized bowls of fried rice, two slices of spam on top it, two bottles of water, one green banana, and a miniature figurine of a bee mascot.
Still standing in the stool, Cielle’s mouth dropped open when she turned to see him. She did not see this coming. At all. And from him, an unlikely source!
“Woman, ” Nic said bluntly; his eyes trained on her disordered appearance.
Somehow that irked her.
“I have a name you know, its Cielle.”
She spared a brief examination of him — at his freshly-bathed form, new clothes, a new set of boots — and cringed at the thought that she was still in her yesterday clothes, smelling like filth and looking like one.
Nic, if he was affected by her acid mouth, gave away no sign.
“I’m not in the mood for formalities, ” he spat flatly. “You asked for food, here it is.”
She saw him place the tray on the round table and stalked back to the door.
“Uh, I guess I should say thank you?” was her remark before he fully exited.
“Don’t bother, ” Nic replied and then closed the door.
God was truly looking after them if He used such a rude, impolite man to feed them.
Still, it made her question what had gotten in Nic’s mind to do this. She was sure as hell didn’t notice anyone when she pleaded with the first man for food.
Maybe her voice was too loud to catch his attention? Maybe the man told Nic of her dilemma — which was most unlikely anyway. Maybe he was assigned to give them food? Or maybe... just maybe he had a good side in him and that said side was concerned about their stomachs growling.
Whatever the reason was, she felt happy that their breakfast was in their table, ready and waiting to be tasted.