VAIBHAV REDDY IVN
Copyright 2017 Vaibhav Reddy IVN
Distributed by Shakespir
This book is also available in print at most online retailers
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. If you intend to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Dedicated to Mom & Dad
Someone’s account of an event
Table of Contents
The hands of the clock sprint restlessly, as if the three of them are competing against one another. While one of them meets the other two every minute, the other two meet each other once an hour. Yet, it is an endless race. For a while, it looks like one hand is chasing the other, before the one it has chased until then in turn chases it. Despite managing to stay away from each other for quite some time, they are destined to meet. That is the irony of destiny.
As the death materializes in front of his eyes, the man tries to cling to the support of the tree. But the physical support is only part of what he needs now. He loses control of himself as fear and agony take hold of him, and he crumples on the grass. He tries to muster the energy to stand up and face the reality, but his weakness insists that he is not ready for this. He slowly closes his eyes.
The woman has her gaze transfixed on the phone screen as the scene of death materializing on the screen plays with her emotions. She takes her eyes off the screen and turns to the slumped body a few feet away from her. She evaluates the various thoughts running through her mind and tries to choose the reasonable one. However, the circumstances are not in her favor. She closes her eyes, wishing for the right choice.
The boy goes numb with fear as the knot secures around the man’s neck. As the knot tightens, the boy feels breathless and tries to scream. Only air escapes out of his mouth and tears escape his eyes. He feels vulnerable, as if he is the only one in the world against all the demons terrorizing it. As fear reinforces his misery, the boy shuts his eyes, expecting the scene to vanish before he opens them again.
Somewhere all through this mess is a lone butterfly fluttering its wings to elude its predator, unaware that its flutter is the source of the tornado that would go on to claim thousands of lives in the coming future.
When every question has an answer, is life the answer for death, or death the answer for life, or death the answer for death in itself?
[+ KRAMINKO GENERAL HOSPITAL- TEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
THE MAN STANDING in front of him was pleading to let him go. The inevitable was already set to happen. The impulse in his head spread through his pyramidal tract and nudged him to execute the conscious command. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet, hungry for some flesh and blood, left his gun, as he reflexively closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, the man was gone, and so was the room. There was a woman, and he was standing on a hilly ground, with his left leg supporting most of his weight. She had tears in her eyes and she raised the gun.
‘I am sorry Daniel. You brought this upon yourself,’ she said, before pulling the trigger. He jolted backwards and felt the gravity shift as he swiveled backwards. He expected to knock his head on hard rock, but there seemed to be no apparent motion, and he woke up in a room, with his head lying on a soft pillow. He reached out towards his abdomen for blood. He found a bandage neatly plastered to the spot. He raised his head and looked around him. The setup around him resembled a hospital room. He tried to think about what brought him here. His head ached from the effort, and he was only able to recollect that a woman had shot him. For a moment, he doubted the authenticity of the memory. The bandage insisted the authenticity, against the possibility of a dream that might have come into play because of his imagination.
He tried to recollect what chain of events had led towards the firing. He had no recollection. He tried hard to recollect any event preceding the firing. But the harder he tried, the more his head ached and he felt weak. He rested his head on the pillow and let his heated brain cool down. The only things he was able to recall were the two incidents that woke him up. He shifted his attention to another vision he had before waking up. It had him shooting a man of about sixty. Since he believed that the vision that followed it was true, he believed it to be a memory too.
Again, he made a fruitless effort to make sense of the vision and his state. However, he had no clue as to what led to that event or what followed. The sudden feeling of a vacuum in his memory had him gasping for breath, and he took a couple of deep breaths to soothe his racing heart. Suddenly, he felt like an empty bin. He tried to recollect any memory from his brain’s archives, but the attempt turned out to be fruitless. The sense of distress and anxiety returned like a boomerang making its way back to the initial point. He grabbed the blankets of the bed tightly as he tried to recollect something, if any. He was unable to recollect even his name. Tears of fury rolled down the sides of his cheeks, and he wondered what was happening to him, only to face the emptiness.
His surroundings increased his sense of discomfort and he felt a source-less urge to flee the place. He pulled himself free of the IV tubes, the indwelling catheter and other medical stuff clinging to him, and rose from his bed. As he landed on the floor, the blood suddenly pooled in the peripheral veins of his legs and the dizziness forced him to grab the bed tightly. It made him stop for a few seconds, before putting his entire weight on his feet. His feet felt funny, a distressing funny. As the dizziness slowly waned-off, he took slow steps towards the door of the long hall divided into many cubicles and exited the ICU. The hospital staff was busy assisting the transfer of some injured people to the emergency wards. He ducked sideways into a small cloakroom to make way for the stretchers and to stay out of sight of the hospital’s personnel. A sourceless instinct in his mind told him that escaping the hospital was the best thing to do. As the vein that earlier accommodated the catheter began bleeding, he held his forearm tightly.
He tallied his options for the moment. He could either escape the place or ask a nurse who he was or how he ended-up there. But, something in his mind voted for the former. Having made up his dizzy mind, he leaped into the corridor once the security guard moved away from him to assist a convoy of emergency cases. He stormed out of the cloakroom and walked quickly to find the stairway. He was able to find it beside the elevator. However, he stopped himself when he looked at his reflection in the steel doors of the elevator, which showed a man in his late twenties with shabby hair, pale skin, square face, a pointed nose, dry lips and sharp chocolate brown eyes. He saw a complete stranger. He had to run his hand over his face to make sure he was not seeing someone else. He became aware of the suspicious looks the staff threw his way, and voted for a change of apparel. He looked around him and found a man going to the floor cafeteria, leaving behind his blazer and backpack in the waiting chairs.
He walked slowly towards the chairs, snatched his belongings off the chairs and made it back to the stairwell. Once he was safely in the stairwell, he looked up and down the stairs to ensure the absence of anyone in his proximity. Having ensured that, he took off the gown and put on the red t-shirt and the blue jeans he found in the backpack. They fit him tightly. He put on the blazer and patted its pockets for anything. He fished out a set of car keys, three hundred bucks notes, a wallet, goggles and a protein bar. He pocketed everything except the bar, which he feasted upon as he descended the stairs. When he reached the ground floor, he had to close his eyes as the evening rays of the sun streamed into the reception area through the glass doors of the hospital’s entrance.
He reached out into his pocket and wore the goggles. He looked awkward with a mismatched combination of proper apparel and bare feet. The reception area looked busy with the army personnel assisting the hospital staff to admit the injured people from the three or four ambulances outside the hospital. He struggled to get out of the busy doorway, and made his way out of the hospital. As he struggled to make his way away from the busy area, he dashed into a TV reporter, who was busy pouring in the information about the current scenario at the hospital.
‘I am sorry,’ he said and paced away quickly before she could respond. He walked along the tiled path in front of the doorway and turned left to find himself in the open parking lot of the hospital.
He pulled out the keys from his blazer’s pocket and examined the keys’ set. It had a Toyota’s key among the others.
I am able to say that this belongs to a Toyota, but could not remember my bloody name! How ironic of me?
He checked the parking lot for Toyota cars and found a few. He clicked the unlock button on the key and a battered Corolla Altis responded. He walked up to the car and hopped in. The car had the same odor as the blazer and the other belongings. He felt a sub-conscious contentment for not encountering cigarette odor in there. When he surveyed the interior of the car, his gaze fixed on a water bottle, which he emptied despite the warmth of it. He found a pair of flip-flops in the car, which he happily wore. He put the key into ignition and fired up the engine. As he reached out for the gear, he thought for any destination. He had no idea what his name was, let alone his home. However, he first wished for his driving skills to remain unaltered by his condition, assuming he knew how to drive a car. He first wanted to get out of the place.
He put the car in gear and pressed the accelerator. But, the weakness made it quite an effort for him. The confidence he felt while igniting the engine seemed to have evaded him and he grew impatient of his helplessness. He gave it a second effort and slowly, but unsteadily, exited the parking lot with the car in the first gear. The traffic on the road was moderate, yet he felt the confidence drain him. He realized that he could not drive along in the first gear for long, and looked around for someone to assist him in the task. There were a few pedestrians on the road. His eyes fell on a well-dressed beggar beside the road, who could be mistaken for any ordinary gentleman if not for his begging. Considering him his messiah for the moment, he exited the car and walked towards him.
Minutes later, seated in the backseat of the stolen Corolla with his new accomplice aiding him, his racing heart eased as he moved further away from the hospital. He withdrew the wallet for the twenty bucks he had promised Bryce, the beggar, and found them along with a driving license and some cards. After going on for a few blocks, Bryce had to stop the car behind a queue of other cars before him. Bryce seemed to be a calm man, who did not indulge in the amnesiac’s reasons for the request and stayed silent.
He used the moment to go through the contents of the stolen wallet. The name of his unaware-aide was Daniel Ryu Xavier. The name struck a chord somewhere in his mind, as if the name was a key to unlock some portion of his memory. He tried to pull that string to learn something about his past. As he strained for it, he felt weak, but reminiscence greeted him.
I am sorry Daniel. You brought this upon yourself!
I am sorry Daniel. You brought this upon yourself!
The words echoed in his mind repeatedly as if on a loop.
Yes! Yes! I am Daniel…Daniel…
‘Now, roll no. 175, Master Daniel Vab Shelby. Come onto the stage and collect your ID card.’
I walked up to the stage and ascended the stairs towards the man. The elderly man in the blue suit handed me my ID card and shook my hand. We posed for a quick photo and the man let me go and wished me, ‘Best of luck for your medical career.’
The vision emerged out of the blue.
I am Daniel Shelby.
He felt a sudden surge of happiness as he recollected his name and a tiny memory. A sudden noise of firing interrupted his euphoria. He jumped in his seat and bumped the top of his head against the ceiling of the car. Pain spread through his head, especially from a specific spot on the lateral part of his head. He reached out to the spot with his trembling fingers and encountered an inch long scar a few centimeters behind his hairline, which he had not noticed until then.
He shifted his attention from the scar to a staring Bryce and the traffic in front of him, as vibrations erupting from an ongoing convoy followed the shots. Daniel smiled at Bryce, who turned back to playing his game of quiet. The convoy had a group of half dozen military trucks one behind the other, packed compactly with soldiers carrying heavy firearms.
‘Attention the people of Kraminko!’ a voice blared, from one of the trucks. ‘The protest that happened at the City Centre was an unfortunate act. General Markus Byn Levisohn regrets the act and offers his condolences. But remember this, the army does not tolerate and appreciate such pointless protests. You must now be aware from this afternoon’s response by the army that you shouldn’t mess with the army, and you must comply with the military. We have taken control of this country for your own good. So, co-operate with us for the peace of this country and the society.’
Nothing made sense. It was all Greek and Latin for him. He turned sideways and asked the person in the adjacent car, ‘Hey buddy, what’s going on?’
The man eyed him suspiciously for a moment and answered, ‘It’s the military convoy. They rule the place, so we have got to bear with them.’
Daniel nodded understandingly, despite having no idea of the scenario. ‘What country is this, by the way?’ he asked, regretting asking the question.
This time, the look was self-explanatory. ‘How high are you, bud? You had better watch out on your way. Try not to land in their lap.’
As the trucks disappeared, the cars in front of the line ignited their engines. He gave a final look at the license in his hand before replacing it back in the wallet. The top of the license read- FREMIA ROAD TRANSPORTATION ORGANIZATION.
An idea formulated in his mind about the destination. He noted down the address from the RC on a scrap paper from the wallet, and handed it to Bryce as the destination.
[+ SOMEWHERE IN THE MERCUPO ISLANDS- FOUR DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
DAVID AKY LINDEN paced about the room with excitement. He was waiting for this moment since his big achievement. He monitored the arrangements his men made for the broadcast. Soon, he was going on air to confirm what were just public speculations until then.
His second-in-command 1 walked up to him from the camera setup on the tripod and bowed in front of him before speaking. ‘Sir, the arrangements are done. We are ready to go on air.’
David nodded his head and patted his shoulder. He took his place in the chair six feet in front of the camera and gestured to his second-in-command 1 to get him his rifle. Second-in-command 1 looked around and found the AK-47 leaning against the wall behind him. He picked it up and handed it to David.
His second-in-command 2 once again checked the setup in the screen of the camera and confirmed that everything was ready. He gave David a thumbs-up and said, ‘Start.’
David grinned at the screen for a few seconds before beginning. ‘The bullet that leaves the rifle knows not the difference between flesh of man or woman, good or evil, dead or alive. It just does its duty. So do us, The Invincible Army!’ he yelled, which was the motto his army respected and followed.
‘I know that you, the people of Fremia, have had your doubts regarding the hand holding the dagger that slit the throat of your Prime Minister, Donald Jol Miller. So, here I am. I have decided to put a stop to your speculations. I know that your so-called political leaders have been feeding you what all shit they like. We realize that we are the ones blamed for the death of that swine Donald. Well, at least, your leaders have spoken the truth for once in their bloody rotten lives.
‘Yes, we The Invincible Soldiers are responsible for the assassination of Donald Miller. And I am more than happy to announce it myself. Our ultimate soldier, Sazyfan, put the bullet in that idiot, who considered himself invincible.
‘And, you should be thankful to us for freeing your lives from the rule of such an idiot. And, to honor this revolutionary step, we call the day of his assassination, The Judgment Day.’
David rose from his seat, pointed his AK-47 in the air and fired it twice. ‘Hail The Invincible Army!’
[+ THE PEUPER PALACE- ON THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
THE LAWN OF the Peuper Palace swarmed to its capacity with journalists, who were eagerly waiting for the appearance of the Prime Minister Donald Jol Miller. The arrangements for the press meeting were already completed and there were twenty minutes more before the Prime Minister appeared before them. No one was ready to miss this particular meeting.
It was the first press meet the Prime Minister had called for after the blasts in the old Kraminko, which had claimed the lives of nearly a hundred. Even though many believed the so-called Invincible Army as the perpetrators behind the blasts, there was still a doubt about the involvement of the Mercupo Liberation Society, which was increasing its support in major cities of Fremia like Kraminko, Silvinkeria, Nyurado and Keotgia. The Prime Minister offered his condolences to the victims of the blasts during his survey of the blast site and promised to solve the case ASAP.
Gunther stood behind his camera and adjusted the camera’s settings for the meeting. He focused his camera on the palace, which was a sight no camera operator or a photographer could ignore without giving a few seconds of his footage. The Peuper Palace’s history could be traced back to early 1800s, when it was said to be constructed under the supervision of famous American architect Sir Jonathon Bruner. However, the benefactor of the property was a person open to debate. Initially, people called it “The Riverside Palace” because of its proximity to river Anolusa. After Fremia’s transition into a democracy, it was named The Peuper Palace in the memory of Sir Stanley Peuper, who was the initiator of the education system in Fremia. After the capital shifted from Silvinkeria to Kraminko in 1992, the palace became the official residence of the Prime Minister of Fremia. If not for the Rochen Fort Blasts, Silvinkeria would have persisted as the capital, and Peuper Palace would have still been a tourist spot.
Prime Minister Donald Jol Miller came out the side door of the palace accompanied by Agent Jacob, his head of security, and Linda Zyb Carter, his personal secretary. He joined the Minister of Defense, Joseph Lyn Martins, Kalyn Ryu Beloit, the Director of Joint Operations Force, and Gen. Markus Byn Levisohn, Chief of Army Staff.
Donald Jol Miller stood above five-and-a-half, with protruding eyes, square jaw and mutton-chop sideburns. Back in the 90s, he worked in the Explosives Unit of the Explosive Device Detection and Analysis Organization of Fremia (EDDAOF). He rose to fame after contributing a major part in solving the Rochen Fort blasts in 1991. Later, he found his place in the Fremian National Party in 1993 and slowly, but steadily, rose to become one of the most prominent members of the party. Finally in 2014 elections, the party selected him as the Prime Minister candidate, and he became the Prime Minister of Fremia at the age of fifty-five.
After he took his place alongside the others, Linda announced, ‘The PRIME MINISTER is ready to answer your questions before delivering his speech.’
So began the stream of questions. The journalists aimed their questions at the measures the government was taking to solve the mystery behind the blasts, and any plans to prevent repetition of such incidents in the future. Donald answered whatever questions he could and passed those he could not to his accomplices.
When the questions shifted from the issue of the blasts to the rising distress among the people against his government, which despite their irrelevance to current scenario the journalists raised, Donald grew so intolerant that he displayed it in his tone, before ending the meeting abruptly without offering his condolences or speech. He stood up from his chair and announced the end of the meeting, giving an excuse. The reporters scribbled notes to describe his disrespect towards the democracy and his dictator-like behavior in their own words.
Few minutes following the end of the meeting, the transformer and the generator supplying The Peuper Palace went dead within a gap of a couple of minutes. A heavy explosion followed just outside the compound of the palace, which shifted the attention of the Prime Minister’s security to taking control of the situation.
Agent Jacob, the head of the Prime Minister’s security, left behind four of his men outside the Prime Minister’s office in the building and headed towards the main gate of the compound ensuring that four others stayed outside the building’s entrances.
The explosion, which followed the sudden blackout, caught Donald off-guard, and he fell off his chair by the sudden impact. Such occurrences were very rare in the place, and his feeling of insecurity worsened. He sensed that something insidious was bound to happen.
He heard hushed voices in the corridor, followed by successive gunshots. As the doorknob began to turn, he kneeled down behind his desk and began praying.
Gunther was still seated in the driver’s seat of his van, when he heard the gunshots. He pulled his mobile out of his pocket, punched in the numbers on his keypad, and awaited the moment to punch the “call” button. When a person crashed out of a first floor window and landed in the bushes below, Gunther grinned and hit the “call” button.
The person answered on the first ring. He spoke the code words, ‘Have a good day,’ and ended the call.
He ignited the engine and sped off away from the fuss of the palace.
David’s second-in-command 2 rushed to David with the mobile still clutched in his hand. David was eagerly waiting for his arrival and his face lit-up as he watched him rush into his room. The smile on his second-in-command 2’s face was a res ipsa loquitour.
He bowed in front of David and said, ‘Sir, the work is done. Donald Jol Miller is dead.’
David clasped his hands together and rose from his chair. He ran his fingers through his beard, which meant that he was happy. He began laughing aloud, which echoed around the room.
‘Sir, do you want to go on air for the evening news sir?’ his second-in-command 2 asked.
‘No,’ David said, his fingers still in his beard. ‘Let them imagine.’
[+ FREMIAN NATIONAL PARTY OFFICE- ON THE EVENING OF THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Seventy-six year old Godwin Nyl Sanders, the co-founder of the Fremian National Party and ex-Prime Minister of Fremia, looked around the enormous conference hall as important people of his party poured in for that evening’s meeting. He remembered the last time they had a meeting in the same conference hall three years ago, when they had to decide the Prime Minister candidate for the 2014 elections. Not even six months following his election as the Prime Minister, Donald proved how bad they sucked at selecting the right candidate. Godwin wished his people chose the right person this time.
When he felt that all the important people of the party were present, he stood up and spoke in the microphone, ‘Before we start the meeting, two minutes of silence for Donald Jol Miller.’
Everyone stood up and, irrespective of their compliance, followed him. When they felt they had offered condolences for the death of the man they despised, they sat down, except for Godwin.
‘Now, I would like to come straight to the point. We know that people are looking towards us to elect their new leader. Unfortunately, the assigned vice-Prime Minister, Shawn Bolton, has fallen seriously ill and could not handle the responsibilities. So, I wish that we complete the ritual without any kind of problem driving us off the process.’
He picked up the papers on his desk, adjusted his spectacles and spoke, ‘The main candidates I put forward as the ones eligible for being the next Prime Minister are Samuel Byn Gregory and Harrison Gyl Murray.’ He turned to Francis, his Personal Secretary, and gestured him to come. He pulled a stack of papers from an envelope and handed one each to every assembled person. ‘Now,’ Godwin said, ‘write the name of the person you vote in that paper and hand it over to Francis.’
Despite feeling that the use of papers was old-fashioned, Godwin settled with that idea. Some of the people stood up and argued with him for not considering the name of Alvin Pty McCoy, who was also a prominent member of the party.
‘Listen to me,’ Godwin said. ‘We haven’t got time for these useless affairs. I asked the President to give us time until tomorrow’s evening to announce our next candidate. It is already late and delaying it would damage our credibility. The voting has got to take place now.’
Yet, it did not resolve the issue. They left the room protesting against Godwin’s decision. When Godwin decided to continue the meeting without them, yet some other people followed the same, demanding him to include even more names in the list. It then led to verbal abuses between the supporters of different candidates and left Godwin with no option but call off the meeting.
As he sat in his chair, immersed deep in his thoughts, Francis brought him his mobile, announcing a call from the President.
‘Good evening Mr. President,’ Godwin said, straightening up. President Victor Kyl Newman was elected the President of Fremia as the opposition’s candidate during the reign of their opposition, which was a reason for the tension between Godwin and Victor.
‘Good evening Mr. Godwin,’ President Victor Kyl Newman wished. ‘How did the meeting go?’
‘Well, it went pretty bad,’ Godwin mused. ‘Since the people turned against Donald for his senseless decisions the last year, a lot of distress has arisen within the party. There was already a kind of civil war between Samuel and Harrison, and now, even more have begun their endeavors to construct their own supportive groups, and the equilibrium is completely lost in the party. I am unable to make any decision.’
‘Why don’t you take the chance, Mr. Godwin?’
‘Me? No way, our party’s main principle is to give chance to younger people. I am seventy six.’
‘Fifty-five was not young, Mr. Godwin,’ Victor said sarcastically.
‘If I become the Prime Minister again, the opposition would start barking in front of the media, trying to teach me my own party’s principles.’
President Victor stayed silent for a few moments.
‘Mr. President, are you there?’
‘Yes, I am. Well, good things are bound to happen in Fremia,’ Victor said, before hanging up.
Godwin ended the call trying to interpret the context of the final sentence.
It was 4.30 in the morning, when Godwin woke up to the sound of his ringing phone. He cursed whoever it was and picked it up from the bedside table. It was Samuel.
‘Samuel, this better be important,’ he growled, adjusting his spectacles.
‘Mr. Godwin, the situation is out of hands. The military has taken over.’
The words left him dumbstruck. ‘What?’
‘Yes sir. The military trucks have already assembled in major places of the major cities of Fremia. And, the President is on the TV.’
‘What? So early in the damned morning?’ he taunted.
‘Yes, you better watch it yourself.’
Godwin ended the call and switched on the TV. He had no problem finding the right channel. Every channel, irrespective of what they usually broadcasted, telecasted his speech. The speech was taking place in the conference room of the President’s residence.
‘The Ruling party has got the majority to run the government. However, they lack an important quality to rule a democracy like our country; unity and people’s confidence. A government without these qualities is no good to rule the country. In my opinion, democracy need not be “By the people” as long as it is “For the people”. Therefore, as a well-wisher of the people and as a person, who respects the concept of democracy, I have decided to hand over the rule of this country to the Regnant Council of Armed Forces. And, this government under the rule of military is called Egalitarian Summit of Armed Forces under Gen. Mark Byn Levisohn, as the chairman, which consists of officials from Regnant Council of Armed Forces holding major ranks of the government.’
The speech ended and it was re-telecasted. Godwin switched off the TV and smashed the remote against the wall.
‘That bastard!’ he yelled.
Slowly realization dawned upon him.
Good things are bound to happen in Fremia.
[+ THE MILLER RESIDENCE- FIVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
THE SMALL POINT of light ahead of him provided him the motivation to keep running, despite his aching legs. He yearned to stop for a while, catch his breath, oxygenate his tired muscles and slow down his racing heart. But he was afraid that he might lose the light, and he did not want the adrenaline rush to recede. He kept going as the walls of the cave closed in on him as he proceeded forward, and the point of light began to grow as he approached it. For a second, he thought it was his hypoglycemic brain playing games with him. But he was too afraid to stop.
Finally, he approached the cave’s end and the sudden surge of light forced him to close his eyes. But, before he could open his eyes again, something hard hit the back of his head and everything went black.
Jeremy rolled off his bed onto the floor and hurt his already dislocated left shoulder. He pressed the ground with his right hand and forced himself off the floor, and collapsed facedown onto the bed. The exacerbated pain in his arm forced tears from his eyes. He reached for the aspirin bottle on the bedside table with his right hand, took three of them in a shot, and chased them with water.
The glimpses of his nightmare replayed in his mind and he wished for his memories not to resurface as nightmares.
Jeremy was getting dressed, helped by his assistant Kieran, when his maid entered his room to announce the arrival of some officers from the Crime Investigative Branch of the Joint Operations Force. He was not anticipating it, and did not appreciate it much. Yet, he had to. As he exited his bedroom, his mobile began ringing. He adjusted his sling and removed his phone from his pocket. It was a call from the office of Kalyn Ryu Beloit, the Head of Joint Operations Force.
‘Hey Jeremy, it is Kalyn. How’s your shoulder?’ Kalyn said, trying to sound concerned.
‘Hello Mr. Kalyn, it is fine, formally speaking’ he said, masking the embarrassment in his voice.
‘I just called to announce the arrival of my people,’ Kalyn said.
‘Yes, I know. They are already here,’ Jeremy said, in his rough tone.
‘Jeremy, I know you are embarrassed by this. We shouldn’t be troubling you after what you have been through the past five days. But, I am in a kind-of helpless position. Since the army took over, even our hands are tied down to strings. There is no such thing as protocol and we must act according to ESAF. The dirty part is Gen. Levisohn controls the strings. I told him that we talked to you about the…assassination when you were in the hospital. But, he insisted- no, commanded me to question you again. So, please, try to stay calm and co-operate with them. He has even sent a Col. Mike Nyl Fischer with my people.’
‘Yeah, I will take care of it,’ Jeremy said, longing to end the conversation.
He ended the call and descended the stairs, to find three men from JOF and Col. Mike seated in the living room.
Here are the assholes!
Jeremy, himself being an ex-lieutenant in the armed forces, knew the colonel very well and served two years under him. If he were still an army man, he would have saluted him. But, he was not. So, he greeted him just like the others and sat down in a chair across them with his legs crossed.
When all formalities were taken care of, one of the agents spoke, ‘Mr. Miller, I am Randy Sni Bollard, Joint Director of Crime Investigation Branch,’ stretching his hand forward.
Jeremy shook it and said, ‘I prefer Jeremy.’
‘Jeremy,’ Mike interrupted, not caring to excuse himself. ‘Can you once again take us through the details of all the events that happened in your father’s office?’
Jeremy wanted to yell at them that he had already gone through those things. However, he knew what kind of an idiot Mike could be if he was pissed off. He adjusted his blazer and leaned forward in his chair before speaking. ‘As I already said, I was in my second floor bedroom when I heard the explosion outside the compound. The explosions aroused me and I came out of my room. When I gazed in the direction of my father’s private office in the first floor, I saw a person walk towards it. He-’
‘Did you recognize him?’ Mike interrupted.
‘No, he was having his back to me. I would have, only if he had his head turned a half circle to the back. As he approached the office, the four agents guarding the office, drew their weapons. But one of those four agents turned against the others and shot two agents, while the man shot the other with his own gun. Then, the two of them, the man and the agent, walked into the office. Watching all this, I went towards the office and got in. But, before I could get in, I heard one more shot. When I entered the office, my father was already lying on the ground and the man was watching the fallen man on the ground, still with his back to me. But before I could reach him, the agent stopped me. Our struggle led to me being thrown out of the first floor window and ending up in the bushes below with a dislocated shoulder,’ said Jeremy, slightly raising his left elbow.
Mike nodded his head. ‘It must have been after that that the man slit the throat of the agent and left. Didn’t you carry anything for defense? I mean, how did you intend to outweigh the two of them?’
‘On the way, I got hold of a flower vase. But it didn’t prove to be helpful. By the way, didn’t the cameras record anything from the scene?’ Jeremy asked, trying to drive the conversation to some interesting point.
‘No Jeremy,’ Agent Bollard said. ‘Unfortunately, the man, Sazyfan, and the corrupted agent weren’t alone. Someone else was involved, who hacked into the servers and erased all the data recorded in the cameras. Those bastards in Invincible Army have their tentacles long way up the ass of the system. Right now, we are completely lost.’
Some other questions followed, which he had already answered in the hospital. Finally, after wasting forty-five minutes of his fresh hours, they stood up to leave.
‘Jeremy, get well soon,’ Mike said, yet another one trying to sound concerned. ‘If you need any help, don’t hesitate to call me.’
‘Sure,’ Jeremy said. ‘I hope that you catch the murderer soon instead of hopping over the same spot.’ First, get the fuck out of my house and do your fucking job!
Once they were gone, Jeremy hurried to the dinner table, where the breakfast was set ready for him. He forced the two sandwiches one at a time into his mouth and chased them down with orange juice. Once he was done with his breakfast, he dialed Adam and told him that he would be at the destined place within the next fifteen minutes.
Jeremy watched as Ethan Pti Holland, his best friend, dropped his cigarette on the ground and walked to Jeremy’s car to greet him. Jeremy observed that he was dressed in his usual black suit, which he had been wearing lately. He accompanied Jeremy to the door and stopped there.
‘Aren’t you going to come in?’ Jeremy asked.
‘No, I shall wait here while you get your work done.’
Jeremy walked into the house to find Wilson Zyb Wilkins bound to a chair with duct tape around his forearms and legs. Adam, his beefy thug with the pierced eyebrow and a limping leg, had the foreknowledge of covering the floor with plastic cover before erecting the chair and Wilson there.
Jeremy turned to Adam and said, ‘You never fail to surprise me, buddy. This plastic cover thing you did shows how much you predict and anticipate my actions.’
‘Jeremy, you bastard!’ Wilson yelled. ‘I thought you were different from your father when you publicly opposed his decision to hand over the Mercupo Islands to those Multi-National Company guys. It made me trust you with the Intel. But, I never imagined this side of you. You’re going to regret this,’ Wilson blared.
‘My biology friends told me something about a Wilson-Blair Medium. This must be it. Cool down old man,’ Jeremy said, reaching out to Wilson’s head with his right hand. Wilson flinched, anticipating Jeremy to hurt him. Instead, Jeremy held few strands of his hair between his thumb and index finger. ‘Grey hair, you just spoke like the rest of the grey-heads, good for nothing bullshit. Give yourself some rest, old-boy. Don’t waste what little energy you have to give me your stupid lessons.’
Wilson shook his chair violently, freeing his hair from Jeremy’s grip. Jeremy raised his eyebrows. ‘You like to protest? Good, I like challenges. Ok, let’s get to business. Who was the other guy you trusted with your Intel?’
Wilson remained silent. Jeremy made a fist with his left hand and released it repeatedly to display his impatience. Wilson did not flinch. Jeremy slapped him hard across his face. ‘You see old-boy, with one proper hand currently, I am able to do this. Then, imagine what both hands could do. So don’t make this hard on yourself. Just give me my information.’
Wilson was silent. He pursed his lips tightly and gazed right into Jeremy’s eyes. The gaze displayed anything but fear. Jeremy stretched his open palm in Adam’s direction. Adam handed him a handgun. But, Jeremy dropped it. ‘I need a knife,’ he roared.
Once the knife was in his hand, Jeremy stuck it horizontally in Wilson’s mouth and its tip met his teeth. ‘Speak!’
Wilson remained silent. Jeremy twisted the knife by ninety degrees and thrust it hard vertically, cutting the flesh of his jaw between the upper incisors. Blood streamed out of the gap between his lips and flowed down his chin into his lap. Yet, Wilson was reluctant to give up. Finding no progress in the situation, he thrust the knife in the gap between the two upper incisors and it pierced the flesh of his tongue. More blood jutted out his mouth as Wilson opened his mouth in response. Yet no words formed.
So, he traced the tip of the knife from his mouth to his neck and poked it against his carotid pulse. ‘Don’t waste my time, old man. Speak the fuck up! Whom did you give the Intel about Rochen Fort Blasts Conspiracy?’
Wilson pressed forward and sliced his own throat against the blade of the knife. Jeremy was dumbstruck by the act.
‘Till now, I believed that such things happen only in movies. He must be fucking crazy!’ he yelled.
He stepped back to let his men take control. Adam checked Wilson’s pulse. They lost him within a minute. Jeremy dropped the knife and began cursing. ‘Too bad we had just his body to blackmail him with. He does not even care about his life. He died useless.’
Jeremy moved away from the mess and walked to the front door of the house. Adam came behind him. Jeremy lit a cigarette and said, ‘wrap his body in that plastic cover and dispose it off safely. Remove all traces of our arrival from this place. Thank god, he has no one to care about his sudden absence.’
After Adam left, Jeremy joined Ethan. ‘He died useless.’
Ethan nodded and followed Jeremy to his car. While Jeremy expected any remark from Ethan’s side, only silence welcomed him. When the driver was ready to get going, Jeremy said, ‘We have got to find out whom he gave it to. My future depends on this,’ and hopped into the car.
ONCE BRYCE DROPPED him off at the said location and walked off with his part of the bargain, Daniel walked to the front door of the house. The door had a steel plate with the name DANIEL RYU XAVIER on it. He tried the small key from the bunch and it opened the front door of the house. He wondered if Daniel Xavier noticed the missing belongings, and tried to imagine what he might have decided to do about it. However, the need of the hour was to have something to eat, take a shower and then ponder over the rest.
The house was small with only three rooms. The door led into a living room adorned with a TV, a couch and a small table topped with newspapers. The living room gave way to a kitchen and a bedroom. The small kitchen had a small stove, a sink and some shelves filled with some cups and utensils. The bedroom had a single bed and a wall fixed with a bulletin board, covered with some photos and newspaper cuttings. He had no intention of studying those photos and trying to make any sense out of them, besides exacerbating his headache. The bedroom gave way to a small bathroom, which had all the requisites cramped to fit in. After he had a hot shower, some leftover pizza from the fridge and some coke, he settled on the couch. One of the walls had a calendar, which showed the year 2016 on it. He felt no surprise about it. Since he was an empty vessel, he appreciated knowing something. He looked at the TV and yelled, ‘TV! Yeah, I remember you, buddy!’
He felt very tired and disoriented. The silence around him ignited a sense of distress in him, which seemed difficult to resist. He wondered if it was normal for…amnesiacs to feel like he felt right now. He took the time to think back. All the same, he felt empty, except for the memories he had somehow recollected. He wished for the others too to comeback. He diverted his thoughts from the recollections to save himself from drowning in a pool of guilt for assaulting someone. He stretched on the couch and rested his legs on the table. When he closed his eyes, the visions rewound in his mind and made him uncomfortable. He began to wonder how many days those visions dated back to and what led to those events. Concentrating on them made him even more uneasy.
He rose from the couch and walked into the bathroom. He opened the shelf behind the mirror and found a bottle labeled “Aspirin”. Amidst his disorientation, his instinct told him he needed it now. He took three at a time and chewed them. Then, he collapsed on the bed and tried to get some sleep.
He woke up with a startle and was surprised to see the room brightly lit by the sunlight. It was not his habit to sleep with widely opened curtains. He had never slept until late. What surprised him next was the room he was sleeping in. He pushed the covers off him and walked out of the room, with the fuzzy feeling in his mind masking his senses. He was in a completely different house. His head felt like it was tied to a large rock and all the weight of the rock fell upon his atlas. He had to attend the wards before 9 o’clock and the time was 10 o’ clock. When he looked at the calendar, he collapsed on the floor. It displayed the numbers in bold 2-0-1-6.
He felt confused. He looked around the house for his phone, but it was nowhere. He looked around to find any clue of what he was doing there. Nothing from the house provided him any clue as of why and how he had ended up in that place. The big trouble was with the year. He had to be in April of 2012, not in September of 2016. Something was terribly wrong. He settled on the couch and held his head in his hands. The scar behind his temples ached. He traced the scar with his index finger.
Realization dawned upon him as if the pain flipped a switch in his memory box. He closed his eyes and let his mind relax as everything made sense. The events of the previous day rewound in his mind. The hospital…the injured in the hospital…the car…the stranger’s house. Everything made sense. For clarity, he checked the papers on the table. They dated back to 9 September 2016.
He had been in an accident. The vision of an assault by the woman replayed in his mind. The recollection shocked him, not because of the assault, but because…Margaret Qyx Aniston, his girlfriend, whom he had intended to marry, was the woman who assaulted him. Just as he began taking hold of the situation, it seemed to slip out of his hand. He loved her very much. She was the solo love of his whole life, his first love. Her assault on him made no sense. Something happened in those four years he lost, which must have triggered the event. There was no recollection of anything after the day he came back from the trip to Mercupo. Only blankness welcomed him.
As he over-thought, random images flashed in his mind, and in one of them, he saw Donald Jol Miller, a prominent candidate of Fremian National Party. But that was not part of his concern. He was the man he had shot in the other vision he remembered when he woke up the previous day. He sensed his control slipping. He felt like he was going to snap under all that stress. He feared that he might have reached the limit of his sanity. He sensed the rising desperation to find out the day’s date.
He switched on the TV and found a news channel.
‘It has been eleven days since the assassination of Prime Minister Donald Jol Miller. The military has taken control of the country, emphasizing their motto to establish the lost order of the society,’ the voice in the background said, as the screen flashed various images of the scenario of the country. ‘But, in their endeavors to establish the order, the military has deprived the people of their freedom and fundamental rights. Is it reasonable to do so?
‘There was no delay in using their newfound powers to suppress the people’s rights. The military encountered the protesters with brutality. People were fired upon. In these ten days, about twenty people lost their lives and more than hundred were injured. And the yesterday’s incident was no exception. Ten people lost their lives yesterday when one of the officers used a grenade on the crowd.
‘Now, we have certain people from our society, who would like to share their views about this issue.’
The visuals returned to the newsroom, where the famous reporter, Karl Sla Rogers, introduced the assembled guests to the audience. Only one person caught his attention. It was Dr. Margaret Qyx Aniston. The sight of her itself set his heart racing. If there was anyone who could fill the void in his memory, it was Margaret.
He composed himself and looked around for the car keys. They were lying on the table. After completing his bathroom activities, he picked them up and stormed out the door to the car. He got in and got onto the road. He knew very well where the channel office was. It was like a race against time for him. The road was swarming with army trucks and military personnel in camouflage uniforms. The military had setup check posts every few blocks and halted people whenever they had to make way for the trucks.
The military rule did not strike him as strange as his own condition. The last thing he could remember, Forsyth Vab Kingston was the Prime Minister of the country. However, the news-channel made him aware of Donald Jol Miller becoming the Prime Minister. The thought of the dead Prime Minister brought back his visions, which made him uneasy. If he killed the Prime Minister, the cops or someone had to be behind him. A prison sentence or a death sentence seemed trivial compared to his anguish. He kept it aside and concentrated on the matter at hand.
The blazing on the radio irritated him. He would have turned it off if not for the man quoting- “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. Daniel felt confused if the quote intended to praise or defame the military, which was already receiving negativity from the masses.
Only John F Kennedy knows, he thought before the man announced that it was a quote by Abraham Lincoln. Daniel questioned himself for misattributing Lincoln’s quote to Kennedy, and attributed his faux pas to his unsound memory and mind, and the similarities between Kennedy and Lincoln.
He turned off the radio and gave attention to his unsound mind. When he first heard of Retrograde Amnesia in Physiology during his first year and examined some subjects during his ward postings in his second year, the ailment sounded interesting. But he never expected to become its victim.
When he reached The Gulvin Junction, he turned left, which led to the channel office, fully aware that going straight would lead to his house. It was the house, which he and his mother inhabited for over ten years, which he inhabited alone after his mother’s demise in January of 2012. The memories of his mother welled up his eyes with tears. He suppressed his sorrow and concentrated on the office building, which emerged in front of him. The building invited Margaret into his mind. But he doubted very much if she still loved him, especially after recollecting that she had shot him. He knew that there was a chance she might try to kill him again, which his mind felt reluctant to accept. Deep in his mind, her thoughts stimulated happiness, which prodded him that he still loved her as much as he always did.
I met her first during the first year of my medical school at Kraminko Medical College. When people say things like love-at-first-sight, I took it as nothing but bullshit. When I first saw her, during the rehearsals for our duet performance, she did not catch my attention. She just seemed like any other girl in my class, nothing special. A senior introduced us to each other. She is Margaret Qyx Aniston. Our performance spanned over thirty seconds altogether, since there were eight pairs in our performance. So when I was chilling out with my friends while the seniors took care of the arrangements for our Fresher’s Party, one of my friends quoted about her, ‘She looks like a Barbie Girl.’
That was when I contributed my complete undivided attention to study her. She stood little over five and a half, with brown eyes, a perfect nose and jet-black hair. Yes, she was cute, rather than beautiful. And the way she wore few strands of hair over her forehead reminded me of my mom in her marriage photos, which induced a sense of familiarity.
As the days went on, it became the talk of the college that she had a striking resemblance to one of the seniors. Yet I do not remember the senior’s face and name. I have this thing with faces. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try I don’t remember some faces. After being attracted to Margaret, I did not take a second look at any other girl in our college.
She was my first love and I wanted her to be my last too.
On the day of the Fresher’s Party, I was unfortunate enough to fall into the hands of one of the seniors, who had already troubled me on my first day. He and his accomplices caught me while I was making it to the changing room. Physical abuse was the last of their choice, so they had to make do with psychological. I was not a fearless lad. So it began. It started with simple questions like what my performance was and finally ended up with forcing me to drink beer from one of their cans, before my blackouts rescued me. Blackouts are not so common for me, but they emerge during cases of extreme psychological stress. I usually wake up with no memory of what happened during that time window. But I believe that they might be stored somewhere deep in my memory, where they are inaccessible as of now.
When I woke up after some time, Margaret was in front of my very eyes. I thought I was dreaming. She and another girl, whom I have not had the privilege of noticing, helped me onto my feet.
‘Daniel, are you alright?’ she asked.
I felt short of words. I mustered up the energy to speak to her for the first time. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
‘Can you perform for the event?’ she asked, with her eyes speaking along with her lips.
‘Yeah, these blackouts are common. I can take care of it.’
‘OK, then, get ready for the performance. We must rehearse it again after changing,’ she said and left.
As days and months went by, the conversation between us on the day of the Fresher’s Party persisted to be our first and last conversation. I was surely attracted to her, but I could not call it love. I believed that love is not what you feel based on external beauty, but considers something invisible and more powerful than beauty, understanding.
But in those days and months, there were many instances, which insisted an inevitable connection between us. There were some similarities and dissimilarities. All those things formed a combined force that made me realize that I loved her. Instead of feeling happy about the revelation, I felt endangered. The only person I loved was my mom. The idea of inviting someone into that circle increased my sense of vulnerability. I feared that I could not love my mom as much as I did after having someone else in the same circle. Moreover, I did not intend to curb my education, immersed in her thoughts. She was, until then, my crush, who served as a motivation to attend classes regularly with the idea of seeing her, and getting noticed in the class for all the good reasons. But, promoting her on my priority chart stimulated a sense of insecurity.
So I made a resolution to avoid her and remain oblivious to her presence.
He diverted his attention from the swirling memories to the present. The scenario outside the building was a combination of chaos, confusion, as people fled the building, and the military personnel unloaded from the trucks and flooded the building. He drove the car to the back of the building, where the exit of the parking lot was located and entered the lot. He parked his car at a spot and looked around him for any signs of threat. There were some cars in the lot, but no human presence. He took the opportunity to walk to the office’s entrance. A soldier appeared suddenly from behind a car and confronted him with an aimed rifle. Despite believing that the soldier would not shoot him right away, Daniel reacted quickly. He disarmed him by twisting both of his forearms by a dangerous angle, and then, elbowed his face, which made him fall to the ground and lose consciousness. He had a handgun in the holster of his belt, which Daniel withdrew and tucked in the waistband of his trousers.
He progressed forward, when suddenly he felt some presence behind him. When he turned around, he found a woman, about his age, facing him. She was five-and-a-half, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a small nose that seemed to disappear in her face. She stood still, staring at him, while Daniel withdrew his gun and pulled the trigger. The bullet missed her head by a few centimeters, but found the shoulder of the soldier behind her. For a moment, his own shooting skills amazed him and he ran to the fallen soldier to take care of him. Once the soldier was unconscious, he came back for the woman.
‘You should be pretty aware of your surroundings, miss. Especially, in situations like this,’ he said, pointing at the trucks outside.
The sound of an approaching truck alerted the both of them and Daniel ran for his car, with the woman’s wrist in his grip. The both of them got into the car and laid low. The truck stopped in front of the back entrance of the building, where about a dozen soldiers loaded out of the truck and made it into the building. They remained completely oblivious to the two fallen soldiers, who were too conspicuous to miss.
‘We have got to get out of here,’ the woman said.
‘If you want, you are free to leave, miss. But, up there,’ he said, pointing at the ceiling, ‘is a woman, who holds answers to the questions of my life.’
‘Don’t you realize the gravity of the situation? The building is a swarm of those soldiers. It is like going right into a lion’s den. We should get out of here before they come back.’
He was satisfied with her reply, only after giving attention to the antiquity of her metaphor. He ignited the engine and drove away as fast as he could.
Margaret, you have to wait my dear.
[+ THE PEUPER PALACE- TWO DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
GEN. MARKUS BYN LEVISOHN was in his office on the ground floor of The Peuper Palace with The President, Victor Kyl Newman, waiting for the arrival of Godwin Nyl Sanders. Victor was anticipating the Fremian National Party cofounder’s arrival since his appearance on the TV two days ago. He knew Godwin as a stubborn ass, which probably explained the delay.
On the other side, Gen. Levisohn was growing impatient as the wait prolonged. He was not sure what The President’s stand was going to be in the meeting. Of course, he was the one, who called for the military rule. But his reluctance to let any info slip as to what he was going to tell Godwin kept him impatient. He looked around the temporary office furnished with a desk, a high back chair and some guest chairs, which seemed small as opposed to the one on the first floor. He was not a superstitious man, but he thought it better not to shift into that office unless it was torn apart and refurbished again.
The head maid of the house announced the arrival of Godwin, and minutes later Godwin entered the room, his impatience evident in his gait.
Godwin was impatient as he ascended the stairs leading to the front door of The Peuper Palace, which the Chairman of ESAF occupied now. Godwin was the first Prime Minister to reside in the palace, and climbing those very stairs to meet someone else like a guest reflected the irony of life. He called Victor the previous day, after debating the issue many times in his mind over the past two days. The scenario throughout the country replicated that of any other military ruled country. The protesters were already on the roads, already fed-up by the harsh laws implemented by the military. Godwin was not ready to leave any stone unturned, as he ordered Samuel and Harrison to go on streets and protest alongside the people. The need of the hour was to restore the reputation his party had lost over the past two years under the rule of Donald Jol Miller.
It was finally during the previous evening that he had resolved to call for the inevitable. He called The President and fixed a meeting with him and Gen. Levisohn to discuss the current scenario of the country. When he ended the call, he was able to imagine Victor celebrating the first success of his plot.
The three of them sat in the chairs around a small table. When coffee was set for the three of them and all formalities taken care of, Victor spoke. ‘Mr. Sanders, may I know what made you call for this meeting?’
Victor’s display of innocence embarrassed Godwin. As if, you weren’t expecting me to.
He realized that he was not having the upper hand in the room and he tried to sound patient. ‘I wanted to discuss the present scenario of the country.’
‘That’s so good of you to think of the country, something you haven’t cared about in the past two years,’ Victor said, in his sarcastic tone. ‘Well, as you can see, the country is now in safe hands. We are trying to establish the order, which Donald Jol Miller hasn’t had the kind intention of establishing.’
‘But, Mr. President, do you think that the military is going to establish that order?’ Godwin asked, throwing a sideways glance at Gen. Levisohn.
‘Well, I do. Why? Don’t you believe it?’
‘Sir, I don’t want to criticize the military. But look at the situation out there. The military has already enacted some harsh rules and the people have already started to protest. It has been just two days and you have already enraged them. I don’t call it order, if you call it so.’
He knew that he had pushed it too far than he had intended to. Yet, he experienced a sense of contentment. He massaged the nape of his neck as a sign of his momentary triumph. Gen, Levisohn intervened, ‘Mr. Sanders, it is a usual phenomenon. Didn’t people ever protest against any of your decisions over the years? First, they protest. But, once they start making sense of things, they will adapt.’
‘But, this can’t go on forever. Fremia is a democracy and it should continue to be so. Establishing military rule is going to suppress the fundamental rights of the people,’ Godwin said.
‘Mr. Sanders,’ Victor said, touching his chin with his fingers. ‘Who said anything about this going on forever? The military is going to control the place until you come up with someone capable enough to run this country in a better way.’
‘But, I already have Mr. Samuel Byn Gregory and Mr. Harrison Gyl Murray on my list. Either of them is capable enough-’
‘Sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Sanders,’ Markus said impatiently. ‘Your statement itself proves the inconsistency your party suffers. Having two people with two different support groups within the same party is not a solution. Further, it is going to worsen it. A civil war within the government is the last thing to expect from an effective government. Differences within the government are not appreciable.’
‘Yes, Mr. Sanders,’ Victor said. ‘And, if you don’t mind my honest opinion, either of them is incapable of running the government. Besides, people of this country are well aware of what all the shit they were and are involved in.’
Godwin knew he was like the lone king on the chessboard, who had lost all the major pieces to the opposition. Having made his point clear to them, even though it had little effect on them, he stood up to leave. He thanked the both of them for sparing their time for him and left.
After he left, Gen. Levisohn asked, ‘Did you mean it when you said that you would call back the forces when he found the right person?’
Victor smiled and said, ‘live the moment, Mark. No use pondering the past or worrying the future.’
As he watched Victor leave, Mark was not sure what The President meant by the statement. It was difficult to interpret the man’s statements.
On his way to the Fremian National Party office, Godwin felt helpless even with all those people in his party. There was truth in what he heard. When he thought deeply, he realized he could use the promotion rule for a pawn to which he had remained oblivious. He knew that the right time was yet to come.
[+ SOMEWHERE IN THE MERCUPO ISLANDS- FOUR DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
David was reviewing his plans for the coming days, when his second-in-command 2 appeared, announcing a call from Mudassir Al-Mustafa, the Leader of Mercupo Liberation Society.
Mercupo Liberation Society took shape in 1980 when the Mercupo Islands, a group of three islands, were united with Fremia by the then government run by Fremian National Party, under the leadership of Godwin Nyl Sanders. The islands were considered a boon for Fremia because of their rich natural resources and a great scope for mining and other activities. But local tribes, who were far from civilization and relied upon traditional methods for their living, mostly inhabited them. Mercupo Liberation Society took shape under the leadership of Mudassir Al-Mustafa, who was then just a twenty-six years old young man, and began fighting for the liberation of the islands from the Nation of Fremia. But as years passed by, The Invincible Army dominated one of them, while the Mercupo Liberation Society dominated one of the other two. And the other was under the control of the Government, over which the remaining two parties fought to establish their dominance. But, The Invincible Army and Mercupo Liberation Society came together to fight against Donald Jol Miller and his government when he decided to lease the islands to an MNC, which, as the rumor said, wanted to tear down and exploit the islands for setting up a resort. It was then that they decided to take care of Donald, who emerged to be an excruciating pain in the asses of not only those two groups, but also the people. The two parties were ready to seize the moment to look good in the eyes of the people, which they were foolish enough to believe despite knowing the pain they had inflicted on the Fremians with their constant attacks.
‘Good Evening David,’ Mudassir said, ‘Hope that you are savoring your emotions after your announcement?’
‘Yes, of course, my friend.’
‘But, you forgot, or shall I say, ignored our role in the assassination. What should I make of that?’
‘No, it wasn’t the case. I deliberately kept your name out of it. It had a purpose.’
‘Really? What is that purpose, if I may ask?’
‘Within the coming few days, we are going to hoist both of our flags on the Minar of Mercupo to show the people that we are united. And then, both of us are going to go on air to announce that the assassination was our combined effort.’
‘I believe you and hope that you stick to your promise,’ Mudassir said, not sounding much satisfied. ‘But, why didn’t you comment about the onset of military rule?’
‘Everything gets its moment. There is no need to rush things,’ David said.
‘How’s our Sazyfan?’ Mudassir asked.
‘Well, as part of our agreement, I didn’t try to contact him after the assassination. I hope that he’s doing well.’
[+ THE MILLER RESIDENCY- FIVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
THE RINGING OF his phone broke the silence of his room. For a moment, he wondered if it was playing in his mind. His mind felt tired as if he had been awake for long. Jeremy was too tired to reach out for the bedside table and answer the call.
‘Eve, can you see who it is?’ he asked, his eyes still closed.
Finding no response, he stretched his right arm and patted the bed on his right side. That was when, first, realization and then, agony struck him. It was more than a year since his wife and six-year old son had succumbed to an accident. Waking up suddenly and imagining their presence was often a common hallucination for him. Yet, he liked the way the imagination of their presence made him feels, leaving aside the agony, which followed.
He tapped the screen and leaned the phone to his ear. ‘Hey Jeremy, it is me,’ Ethan said.
‘Why did you call me so early in the morning?’ Jeremy bellowed.
‘Early? It is ten in the morning. Just because you didn’t wake up doesn’t make it early,’ Ethan said.
Jeremy rubbed his eyes and looked at the digital clock, which displayed the same. Deep in his mind, he had a feeling as if it was still very early in the morning. He stretched his muscles. ‘Sorry, my bad. I had difficulty sleeping last night. I was worried about…say, many things.’
‘I know. That is what I thought. I kind of have a solution for the matter.’
‘Then, it’s great news. But don’t say that on the phone. I’ll be at your office by eleven-thirty.’
‘OK,’ Ethan said, before ending the call.
[+ HOLLAND AND CO. TRANSPORTS- THE SAME DAY +]
The excitement of having made some progress in his mission overrode the agony of his morning. The excitement clearly reflected in the way he walked into Ethan’s office. Ethan was Jeremy’s longtime friend. They met each other in kindergarten and ever since, remained to be so. While Jeremy joined the army after his graduation from business school, Ethan took the control of their family’s business after his father’s illness. However, their friendship continued despite their separated paths and it had strengthened since Jeremy’s tragedy, with Ethan helping Jeremy cope-up with his loss.
Ethan was relaxing in his high back chair, with his feet on the edge of the table, when Jeremy entered the room. He rose from his chair and greeted Jeremy as he made himself comfortable in one of the chairs. Jeremy patted the dust off his blazer, which had settled during his walk to Ethan’s office at the end of the dusty corridor. He wondered if the office at least had workers and assumed the family business was running dry. These days, he found nobody except Ethan in the building, which made Jeremy wonder about Ethan’s idea behind staying alone in a deserted office.
‘So, what was the lead you told me about?’ Jeremy asked, brushing aside the side thoughts.
‘Well, even though we lost the old man, we have his mobile number. So it will not be difficult to get hold of the most frequently contacted numbers and their conversations. We could make sense of the scenario from those conversations. With the military shitting all over the place, it might be difficult. But, with some money, it can be done.’
‘And, what else?’ Jeremy asked.
‘That’s it. That is all I can suggest you for now. Jeremy, you know very well about the system. With your father being the Prime Minister, sorry, ex-Prime Minister of this country, you can get some help from the Communications Department if you are ready to drop some money from your pockets and make them chase it. So they can get you those records and conversations if you pay them. You can have some of your people analyze them and make some sense out of them. It’s easy.’
‘Yep, it’s easy. However, I was anticipating more. Even I thought up something similar. Damn it,’ Jeremy yelled, banging his fist on the table. ‘Do you call this stupid idea a lead? You have fucking disappointed me!’
‘Hey Jeremy, stay cool, why are you so furious?’
‘So, you give me some shitty idea and expect me to laugh like a fucking buffoon?’ Jeremy bellowed.
Ethan displayed his embarrassment on his face, but it soon vanished. ‘Jeremy, I have observed that you have become short-tempered after the accident last year. There is no use showing off your wrath. You have to control yourself. I observed you from yesterday. You even reflected your attitude in your violence yesterday, which eventually led to loss of an important source.’
Jeremy, who usually hated stupid advices, could not bear Ethan’s words. He rose from his chair and hustled to Ethan’s high back chair. He put one foot on the armrest, blocking his exit, and glared at him.
‘How dare you speak to me about my attitude? Coming to violence, do you think that my act yesterday was violence? You know nothing of violence except its fucking thesaurus spelling and definition. You could not even imagine the violence I endured. Do you want to know what happened the last year?’
[+ THE MERCUPO ISLANDS- MORE THAN A YEAR BEFORE THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Jeremy enjoyed driving the rented sedan, with his wife Evelyn Jol Miller in the passenger seat and his son Rick Jol Miller in the backseat and peeping through the gap between the two front seats. It was one of the three islands of Mercupo, which was more civilized and developed than the rest, which The Invincible Army and Mercupo Liberation Society dominated. The military helped the government control this particular island and thus, was the main reason behind its development. The Tourism Sector of the government built some resort-like rooms, which it rented to tourists and helped in the emergence of the island as a promising tourist locale of Fremia. But the constant military activity in the island served as the source of tourists’ insecurity.
The sun was descending its final distance to welcome the night, when the car reached the road, which formed a rim along the circumference of the island. It was only the railing and the wire-fence standing between the scenery and their car. Even Jeremy took a few moments to shift his attention from the road and savor the nature’s beauty.
His mistake proved its worth as a transport truck, coming in the perpendicular direction, crashed into the relatively tiny sedan and threw it off the road into the sea.
When he woke up, his mind was in complete chaos. He was unable to make any sense of his surroundings. When the recollections of the last moments before the accident dawned upon him, he longed to find out the status of his wife and son. But all he found was people dressed in black suits, carrying firearms. When he mustered the energy to ask one of them about his family, the agent summoned another one to call their Head. Before he could meet the Head of the group, he looked around the room, where he found the Blachin Flag hanging from a wall. The flag had two rifles leaning against a central sword (in white) in a black background. Being a Lieutenant himself, he knew the Blachin Flag as good as Americans knew Columbus’s contribution. The Blachin Flag represents the Secret Affairs Force, which is a secret operation force that takes care of treason and traitors within the system. It has four divisions- East, West, North, South-each under the control of a Head, who is a senior undercover agent of JOF and a trained cadet of Armed Military Forces, with more than twenty years of experience under his ass. He has two Senior Field Agents under his command and some fresh cadets from Armed Military Forces serve under him. The identities of the members are maintained secret from other Military personnel, except to some senior officers and are stored in the central database. The SAF is a group of government-funded assassins.
Jeremy, being well aware of his guilt, broke into cold sweat as the idea of his rescue by the Secret Affairs Force played in his mind and added fear to his already persisting doubts. The man, whom he assumed to be the Head, arrived with the earlier agent, with a big grin on his face. The Head was about more than fifty with a wrinkled face, a sharp gaze and a shaved head and a heavy build, and walked with the confidence that said he was serious business and bad news. He sat in a chair beside Jeremy’s bed and studied him for a minute.
‘How do you feel, Lt. Miller?’ he asked.
‘I…I am fine,’ Jeremy said, feeling the tension in the room. ‘Where…’ he strained, but his dry mouth and tired body made him aphasic.
Jeremy searched the Head’s face for any kind of emotion. It was a stone-face. ‘Well, since you weren’t wearing any seatbelt, you were thrown out of the car and ended up in water. Your car crashed against the rocks and blew into shreds. But, luckily, you ended up with only a few bruises…’
The Head’s words mingled with a vacuum as pain, even more excruciating than his physical pain, agony, swallowed him. Tears and sweat combined to make a mess of his face. But it was not his concern. He was unable to picture a world without his wife and son, who were his only source of solace in his big damned life. The bruises on his face ached as his muscles strained due to his weeping.
When he got his roaming mind back into the room, the Head was saying, ‘you must be wondering what you are doing here, instead of being in a hospital room. Well, we have the answer.’ Immediately, he gestured to one of his agents, who left after taking some secret instructions in his ear. ‘Look Jeremy,’ he continued, ‘you were lucky that you did not suffer any major injuries and one of our agents is a doctor,’ he said, pointing a young agent to his right. ‘But, there are certain things I want to make sure before I can let you go.’
The Head’s words added fuel to the already blazing fire in his heart. He feared that the Head might have known about his conspiracies. The situation spoke for itself when the agent brought in a battered-looking and bleeding Alvin Boesky into the room. Jeremy’s heart raced as they neared him. He realized that life was fucking with him when he was fucked-up. The scenario proved it once again.
‘Do you recognize this person, Jeremy?’ the Head asked, with his face still emotionless.
Jeremy knew that he was done. He had heard about the kind of treatment Secret Affairs Force was famous for, but he had never dreamt of experiencing it. He avoided the stare of the Head and kept quiet. His attitude enraged the Head. He grabbed Jeremy’s hair and raised his head from the pillow.
‘I asked you if you recognize him,’ he yelled, with his spittle spraying Jeremy’s face.
Jeremy knew that there was no point in lying to the man. Yet, he decided to take his chances. He simply shook his head. The Head rose from his chair and asked for Alvin’s mobile. When his agent handed him his phone, he pressed its screen into his face. It showed his photo with his name under it and the word-Benefactor- beside it.
‘Isn’t it your fucking photo?’ the Head bellowed. ‘And, it was sent to this idiot from someone who discussed the recent attacks Mercupo Liberation Society launched on our nation. He calls you a “benefactor”. There were many references of your name, about how you leaked them info about our military’s arms’ transports, which were plundered by those bastards.’
Jeremy felt like his heart was going to stop beating any minute. ‘I…I agree with…what you…said. I am sorry for lying to you.’
The Head leaned forward. ‘There’s no use confessing that now. You either lie or say the truth I don’t care. Either way, you are fucked. There is a lot you must confess to us. And, I promise you, you are going to experience hell as close as you could.’
That was how they started with him. Jeremy was hanged upside down in one cell and Alvin was hanged upside down in the adjacent cell. The agents used brutal force to make him spill whatever wrong he did. When he answered, the torture was a punishment. But if he refused to speak up, he was shown hell. He had to admit that he started slipping info to the Mercupo Liberation Society in the beginning of 2014, when he came to know from one of the captured members of the group that Mercupo Liberation Society paid heavy bribes to those who slipped them any valuable information. An idea formed in his mind and that was when he got in contact with Francis, an active member of the group. He made a secret agreement with Francis to get paid with heavy bribes for slipping info about the military arms’ imports and exploit the opportunity to plunder them. His black money increased as he slipped info to them. He did not feel any shame about that and took it for granted. His current situation never crossed his mind and was unanticipated. It was as part of their deal that Jeremy agreed to meet with Alvin the night the accident occurred. Unfortunately, as he was told later, one of the members of the Secret Affairs Force happened to cross his path with Alvin and found him suspicious. When they ran his history, his guilt was as clear as the moon on a full moon night.
They were done with Jeremy within three days after he got back into consciousness. By the time they were done with him, he had a broken nose, two lost molars, swollen eyes, torn pectorals, two broken ribs, apart from the scars and bruises gifted by the accident.
The following day, they executed Alvin before his very eyes with a bullet through his head and he had to taste his blood, as it sprayed from his head. Jeremy collapsed to the ground vomiting what little food they fed him that morning.
‘You know why I didn’t kill you, Jeremy?’ the Head asked.
Jeremy was in no position to answer. The Head dragged him in the mixture of blood, vomit and brain fragments before he could get the chance.
‘Be-because my father is…the Prime Minister,’ Jeremy answered, with a lot of difficulty.
‘Who the fuck do you intend to frighten, asshole?’ the Head bellowed, kicking him in his ribs. ‘I don’t care who your father is. All I care about is that you are a traitorous bastard and you do not deserve to die such an easy death. You should feel the pain all those soldiers felt when they died in the attacks of Mercupo Liberation Society.’
That night, they dragged him into the execution room, where various tools awaited his arrival. He was neither cuffed nor tied. Both of his hands were pinned to the table by a beefy agent, while the Head made his choice of tools. However, fortune spared him, for someone opened fire somewhere near the place. They left him with only one agent, while the remaining agents left to control the situation. He sensed the balance of the situation. The Head had underestimated him. He was a trained military man and had more than ten years of experience under his ass. The agent stood few feet to his left, at the door, keeping an eye on him. Jeremy’s hands were free. He slowly slipped his hands under the light-weighted table and felt its weight. He mustered up what little energy he had, flipped it off the floor and smashed it over the agent’s head. The agent collapsed to the floor, while Jeremy made it to the tools’ table and picked up what came to his hand. He made no delay in lunging at the fallen agent and cutting his internal jugular vein open. Blood gutted out of the wound. Jeremy had a sense of euphoria, watching his hands bathe in the agent’s blood.
He pulled the handgun off the agent’s holster and stormed out of the room. He tried to stay away from the noise of the gunshots, to prevent any unnecessary confrontation, and prayed for a backdoor. From his three days in the place, he had a mental map printed in the back of his head, which helped him move through some familiar rooms. Once he ran out of familiar rooms, he carefully moved through the doors in anticipation of an escape door. When he reached a heavy metal door, he found one of the agents guarding it, which made him suspicious of the door’s significance. Jeremy pointed the gun at the agent’s head and shot him, from behind a large box. When Jeremy reached the door, he kicked the agent’s corpse and spit on his face, before budging the door open. The door gave way to a cave. The cave failed to surprise him, as he was aware of it from his eavesdropping. He thanked god and sprinted through the cave.
After he progressed forward for a few tiring minutes, he found a point of light at the far end of the cave. It escalated his hopes of an escape, which made him run for it.
Soon, you will face the consequences of my wrath, you bastard!
The recollection of his memories mitigated his anger and he withdrew himself away from Ethan. Ethan looked at him suspiciously for a moment.
‘Jeremy, I know that something happened during that time after the accident, when you disappeared. But you were reluctant to tell me about it. I think it would be better if you share anything with me, so that your heart can feel lighter,’ Ethan said.
Jeremy massaged his temples and shook his head. ‘I am fine. We better concentrate on finding out who received the Intel from Wilson, rather than going over unnecessary business.’
Ethan nodded his head and said, ‘Fine.’
[+ IN THE CAR- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
AS THE CAR SPED away from the military-raided building, the silence irritated Daniel. He looked sideways at the woman in the passenger seat and found her looking intently at him.
‘I am not an alien, OK? I am Daniel Shelby,’ he said, stretching out his hand. Introducing himself with his name after his amnesia episode filled him with a sense of relief. Her presence made him comfortable enough to try some sarcasm, which he welcomed.
She looked at him for a split second and then, stretched her hand, ‘I’m Cynthia Sla Roberts.’
‘The first words I was expecting from your mouth were “Thank You”,’ he said, intent on preventing the silence from taking over.
She raised her eyebrows and smiled. ‘Then, who was the person you wanted to meet in the channel building?’
For a moment, Daniel stayed silent, trying to analyze a familiar feeling her smile and expression evoked. Reminding himself that he had no time for infatuating with a stranger, who somehow evoked familiar stimuli, he resorted to answer her. ‘Well, it was my girlfriend, Margaret Aniston.’
‘I see,’ she said, nodding her head. ‘You are going to marry her soon?’
The question sounded queer coming from a stranger like her. ‘I wanted to propose her to marry me. But, I don’t remember proposing even if I had,’ he said.
She threw him a suspicious look, which made him uncomfortable about letting out such confusing statements to a stranger. Moreover, he had no interest in speaking about his condition.
‘Can you stop here?’ she asked, pointing at a burger’s point.
Relieved that she herself diverted from the strange statement, Daniel complied and stopped the car at the burger’s point. He waited outside as she hurried in. Her request to stop the car amazed him at how easily she made a request to a complete stranger. She appeared minutes later with spots of mascara-stained spots on her face and he wondered if she had gone in to use the bathroom. She got in and Daniel got back on the road.
‘What did you mean by that statement?’ she asked. When Daniel displayed a blank face, she said, ‘I was asking about that “not-remembering-proposing” remark you made.’
He realized that she was not as easy-going as he had credited her to be. He debated the issue in his mind for a while before answering her. ‘I am suffering from retrograde amnesia and my memory card is empty as of the events that occurred during the past four years. Fate must be crazy to make me a victim of retrograde amnesia, while the anterograde amnesia is more common of the two. Am I clear?’
‘Yeah, I understand it perfectly well, being a doctor myself. So, do you at least remember her face and name properly?’
Doctor? Well, that must have been the source of the familiarity.
‘Yeah, I remember her face as clear as the bright sun on a sunny day,’ he bragged, not completely sure given his condition. ‘That’s what led me to the channel office because I saw her on live TV and ushered me to find her.’
‘So, as far as you remember, you love her, but, did not propose her. Right?’
‘Yep, and she would have, or must have, jumped all around if I proposed,’ he said, trying to imagine the moment.
‘Then, the both of you must have loved each other deeply,’ she said, raising her eyebrows. ‘I wasn’t so lucky, because I recently realized my boyfriend cheated on me. I feel like killing him,’ she said, forming fists with both of her hands and tears rolling in her eyes.
‘I am sorry to hear that,’ he said. ‘He must be a real “translocation-15-17” to lose you for another girl.’
‘What does it mean?’
Daniel enjoyed explaining his comment to her. ‘You are a doctor, right? You must be aware of chromosomal translocation between chromosomes 15 and 17, which is involved in-’
‘Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. I know. Do you mean he is leukemic?’
‘No,’ Daniel said, enjoying this particular part of revelation. ‘He is the characteristic cell of that particular leukemia.’
She thought for a moment and reflexively yelled, ‘Faggot!’ She raised her eyebrows, guarded her mouth with her palm and started laughing. ‘So, who proposed first? You or her?’
‘You sound too curious for a person, who met me minutes ago,’ he said.
‘It’s your personal life. I am sorry for intruding,’ she said, raising her hands into air.
‘I was kidding. It feels good to recollect those good, old memories.’
In the days that followed the resolution, even though I made up my mind not to concentrate on her, I thought of her more than I did before. When she was in my proximity, I would catch her from the corner of my eye. I would count the number of days I went without a single sight of her. It averaged to about three or four days. My class consisted of two hundred members, which made it easy to lose her. Yet, whenever her roll number was called, my mind would jump to alertness to find about her presence in the class. The avoidance task proved even difficult during the Anatomy dissection hours, when about fifty students were crammed around a cadaver. The girls and boys would stand on either side of the cadaver, which would lead to an inevitable face-off between us. When the uninterested students stood there chatting about food and other unrelated stuff, I would try my best to discuss the topic of the day with my friends and learn something practically, which would also help me avoid her.
As my first year neared the end, I was nearly over her, mainly because I was able to concentrate on securing a respectable grade in my first year examinations, leaving aside my deviations.
On the day of my final examination, which was a Biochemistry practical, an unexpected person came to me while I was standing by my bike, ready to leave. It was Margaret.
‘She was the first to tell me that she loves me,’ Daniel said, coming to the present.
‘Wow, you must be lucky to hear a girl tell you that she loves you,’ she said. ‘How and where did she say that?’
‘She said that on the last day of my first year at Kraminko Medical College. I was in the parking lot, when she approached me. Her sudden approach puzzled me. Even though I loved her, I never expressed my views to her. So, I thought she came to ask something…’
She stood still without uttering a word. She had to raise her head slightly to compensate the gaze of a little less than six-foot person like me.
‘Hi Daniel,’ she said.
‘Hi…Margaret,’ I said.
‘Just a second,’ she said and began rummaging through the contents of her backpack. After a brief search, a pack of cigarettes emerged in her hand. She stretched her hand forward and gestured me to have it.
It was enough to freak me. I grinned a little and shook my head. ‘I don’t smoke.’
She looked disappointed and again began her search. My mind cluttered with many questions about the scenario. This time, her hand emerged with a beer can. I was embarrassed. Once again, I repeated the same protocol.
‘Daniel, you seem a bit shy. I don’t mind if you drink or smoke. You do not have to hide these from me. Feel free to have them,’ she said, gesturing to take them.
I wondered if she was playing a practical joke on me. ‘Margaret, is this any kind of a joke? I am unable to make out what you are getting at.’
‘Well, when boys express their love to girls, they give her roses because they believe that girls love them. Similarly when a girl has to propose, she must gift him his favorites. So, I thought boys like alcohol and cigarettes,’ she said, blushing apparently.
It slowly began to make sense. For a moment, I thought it was some prank. But a bell of honesty rang in her words. All the barriers I laid over the past months seemed to explode by her words. At that moment, she seemed like a witch, who destroys a kingdom’s vast defenses with a single spell, except only in good senses. I feared that my legs would disobey my orders and begin jumping. However, they complied. I wanted to play my trump card.
‘OK, I get it. Where are the cameras? Are you going to upload this video on YouTube?’ I joked.
She was awestricken by my statement. For a moment, I thought she was going to weep, which I believed strongly by the tears rolling in her eyes. Instead, she dropped the properties onto the ground, charged at me and raised her knee to land it in some unexpected place. I shielded the blow by retarding her knee with both palms and let her foot onto the ground. I placed my hands on her shoulders, which seemed romantic and protective at the same time, and looked into her face.
‘Sorry Margaret, I was just kidding. Just kidding, I love you very much, dear girl,’ I said.
The expression on her face changed and there was a wide grin from one ear to the other in that baby-like face. She shoved my hands off her shoulder and hugged me. I looked around for any signs of living beings and embraced her and the moment.
‘I love you Daniel,’ she said.
‘I love you Margaret,’ I said.
‘She was a true “Evil Princess”,’ he said.
Daniel felt a sense of euphoria after narrating the episode. Yet, his disoriented mind added a sense of queerness, which seemed to counteract his euphoria. He turned sideways to glance at Cynthia, whom he expected to show any signs which could add to his excitement. The scenario was in contradiction to his expectations. She was weeping silently into her handkerchief.
‘Cynthia, are you alright?’ he asked, stopping the vehicle.
She wiped off the tears and said, ‘I am alright. Your episode reminded me of my relationship with my boyfriend.’
‘Oh, I am sorry about that. But, you deserve someone better than him.’
She nodded her head. ‘Well, can you, if possible, suggest me a safe motel to stay in?’
‘Don’t you have a residence in this city?’
‘No, I live in Silvinkeria. I came here two weeks ago to meet my boyfriend. However, I was unable to find him anywhere. Later, I found that he has been cheating me with another girl since the past one year. Even though I intended to leave to Silvinkeria, the military has halted all public transport for two days following yesterday’s protests. So I was stuck here in a motel until yesterday, when it was raided by the military and evacuated forcibly.’
‘OK, you can stay with me until you find someplace safe. But, I can’t guarantee you that my place is safe, since I live there owing to the unaware courtesy of a stranger.’
She displayed a face, which reminded him of his class’s expression when they were first lectured about the ascending and descending tracts of the spinal cord. ‘Do you always speak in riddles?’
‘I shall explain it later.’
Once they were home, Daniel helped himself to a pack of oatmeal, which did not take him long to cook. He served it to himself and Cynthia, which they ate in the bedroom.
‘So what were you doing in the channel office?’ he asked.
‘I actually have a sort-of friend, who works there. She is actually the last person I could think of for help. However, I was unable to meet her because of the raid.’
He nodded his head as he chewed the oats. Even though the taste was semi-terrible, he had to satisfy his stomach with it. As he looked around the room, he found something on the bulletin board, which caught his attention. He placed the bowl beside him on the bed and walked over to the bulletin board. He found a paper clipping pinned to the board. He removed it off the board and read the headlines, which said- ROCHEN FORT TRAGEDY CLAIMS FORTY-TWO LIVES.
The word “Rochen Fort” sounded familiar. He tried to recollect where he had heard it before. As he dug deep into the archives of his memory, he found a string.
I was in the Mercupo Islands for a trip I had with my friends after my graduation. The trip was mainly to cheer me up, a boy orphaned just two months prior to his graduation. As reciprocation, I had to enjoy it, which I did not seem to. Margaret always took the chance to keep me involved. She would wander off to some place near-by, so that I had to find her, which was her play.
On one such event, I stumbled upon something, which, I believe, must have changed my life completely. While I was wandering a few hundred meters away from the site of our camp, conscious of being questioned by some military official or soldier, if caught, I came across a sedan and a group of about five people near it. Since I was facing their backs, I stayed out of their field of vision. One of them was having his hands tied behind his back and the others were wearing black overalls and carrying firearms. They spoke for a few seconds in muffled tone and then dragged the tied-one to a spot few yards in front of the sedan. The headlights of the sedan illuminated the battered and bruised face of the man, which looked familiar.
It did not take me long to get familiar. The bruises on his face and the duct tape to his mouth did not mask the striking features of the man, who often appears in my dreams and remains an emotion rather than a person, my father. He remained a biological relative and a social stranger, whose name, whereabouts and appearance remained a mystery for me throughout my childhood, mainly because of my mother’s reluctance to discuss him. I first remembered him from a childhood memory where he oscillated my swing back and forth, which I dreamt in my early twenties. However, trying to extract information about him proved fruitless. He remained a stranger, whom people come across on the streets.
The setup was self-explanatory. They were going to execute him. The four armed-men stood facing him, and one of them walked forward. He pulled something out of his holster, which I assumed to be a silencer, and fixed it to the muzzle of his handgun. He pointed it at my father’s forehead and said something, which was inaudible except for the words “Operation Rochen Fort”.
I felt the increasing urge to storm into the scene before it was too late, and save my father. But my knees buckled and my legs felt weak. My heart raced and adrenaline rushed through every vein and artery of my body. But it did nothing to mitigate the fear, which had paralyzed my body, the fear of death. I let him pull the trigger, the bullet to pierce his head and let the life evade his body.
I experienced a sense of vertigo and my anti-gravity muscles felt lax. I held onto a tree, while they loaded the body into the trunk of the sedan and fled the scene. That was when I blacked out.
Cynthia was by his side as he went through the lines of the newspaper. He pinned the clipping back to the board and looked at the others. Everything pointed to the Rochen Fort Blasts. Numerous photos from the blast site, memorials and courthouses adored the clippings. The courthouse clippings mainly concentrated on a single person. His name was Ross Wud Jankis. The clipping described him as the main perpetrator behind the Rochen Fort Blasts, who also happened to be a member of Fremian Democrats Party. In one of the photos, he was clicked alongside Daniel’s father, whose name was quoted “Gary Pti Fernandez”, and described as Ross’s friend in Fremian Democrats Party.
Daniel felt a kind-of relief at finally finding his father’s name. He stood staring at his father’s photo and tears streaked down his cheeks, which met with the paper and smeared it. He wiped it off the paper and wiped tears off his eyes.
‘Daniel, are you OK?’ Cynthia asked.
‘Yeah, I am fine. My father’s photo brought me tears.’
‘Your father?’ she asked.
‘Yeah,’ he said, pointing his father in the photo. ‘That’s him. He was somehow connected to something called Operation Rochen Fort. That cost him his life.’
‘Your father is related to Operation Rochen Fort?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, do you know something about it?’ Daniel asked.
‘No, but my father was, I believe, related to it. That cost him his life too,’ she mumbled, weeping.
Daniel took her into his arms and soothed her. A paper pinned to the board caught his attention. He reached out and pulled it off the board. It said “SOURCE” on the top with some names written below it. Daniel had a feeling that it would help him find what led to the deaths of their fathers. For a moment, he experienced a mental conflict between meeting Margaret and digging deep into Operation Rochen Fort. On his way home, he heard on radio about the military detaining the people from the news channel’s headquarters. His inaccessibility to Margaret now made him vote in favor of Operation Rochen Fort.
He showed the paper to Cynthia and said, ‘I think we can find the truth using this. Destiny has set us on this path together for a reason, Cynthia. We can make this happen.’
[+ JOINT OPERATIONS FORCE HEADQUARTERS- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
KALYN RYU BELOIT, Director of Joint Operations Force, was furious after he received a hundred-page file from the Headquarters of EGAF, which explained the powers of the Joint Operations Force under their rule. Even before he was through the first ten pages, which he managed because of his leisure, he knew that Gen. Levisohn had decided to tie down his arms and legs to strings, and was curious to entertain himself. While he was watching the news about the military raid of the office of a major channel for telecasting content against EGAF, his personal secretary appeared to announce a call from the General himself.
‘Good Afternoon, Gen. Levisohn,’ Kalyn said, lifting the receiver off the hook.
‘Good Afternoon, Mr. Beloit. Have you heard of the raid on the channel office?’
‘Yes, it’s on the TV right now as we speak.’
‘I see. Then have you received the file from our office?’
‘Yes, I have received it first thing today’s morning.’ And I fucking hate it!
‘Well, then, I need not go through the protocols and all. From the people we took into custody from the office, there are certain people who belong to a social media group called “Debate Fremia”. Right now, they are on their way to your office for interrogation. They-’
‘Excuse me for interruption, why don’t your guys get done with that?’ Kalyn said.
‘You see, Mr. Beloit, our people are good at using brutal force. In the present scenario, it would be counter-productive to subject them to such forces…initially. So, I believe in your people to handle this as sensitive as the matter is. I just need you to find out about the intention behind their activities and everyone involved. I shall send Col. Fischer to supervise the interrogation.’
‘Fine General, I will take care of it,’ Kalyn said, ended the call and began cursing the General under his breath. Kalyn realized that the General had intended the call to be a show-off rather than a permission to use their services for the interrogation.
The detainees arrived in a military truck twenty minutes after the General’s call. Kalyn’s men made the necessary arrangements for the interrogation. Col. Fischer and Lt. Wayne arrived in an official sedan behind them and discussed about the interrogation with Vincent Wud Benedict, Executive Director of Joint Operations Force. Once the preparations were made, Agent Jamie from JOF and Lt. Wayne interrogated them one by one, as Col. Fischer, Kalyn and Vincent supervised the investigation from the adjacent room.
The detainees were Karl Sla Rogers, channel presenter, Margaret Qyx Aniston, a neuropsychologist and Bernard Wos Gunner, a journalism student and an active social activist. They were questioned one after the other. Agent Jamie used the printouts of certain important discussions on their Facebook and Twitter pages, which they had prepared after Prime Minister Miller asked Joint Operations Force to look into the group. They answered some questions and were reluctant to answer yet some others.
‘We believe that your group “Debate Fremia” might turn out to become another terrorist group like The Invincible Army,’ Lt. Wayne said, which was more than an exaggeration.
‘So, what do you suggest, Mr. Military?’ Margaret asked. ‘Are you indirectly threatening to kill us like those people you kill, branding them as terrorists? Is that why you deprived us of the right to have our attorney present during this interrogation?’
‘Who the hell do you consider yourself? Just answer the bloody questions or else, the military court is going to put you away for a long time on grounds of violation of EGAF constitution,’
‘When did this so-called constitution come into action?’ Margaret bellowed.
Lt. Wayne rose from his chair and bent forward, so that his face was few inches away from hers. ‘It is none of your concern when it came into act. All you need to worry about is giving the fucking answers to our questions and go free, or rot away in prison for the rest of your life.’
‘I am not the one to be frightened by a fucking pussy like you,’ she snapped.
Lt. Wayne and Col. Fischer lost their cool at the same time. Lt. Wayne banged his fists heavily on the table and moved closer towards Margaret, while Col. Fischer stormed out of the room. Lt. Wayne grabbed her by her hair and pulled her off her chair. Margaret spit in his face and drove her fist into his abdomen. He recoiled from the blow and dragged her out of the room.
‘Soldiers, bring the others too!’ he commanded the soldiers stationed outside the room. He glared at Margaret and said, ‘you will taste the bloody taste of the rusted iron of the prison bars, you arrogant bitch.’
The soldiers escorted the detainees out of the building with the Colonel and Lieutenant behind them.
‘The rest will be taken care of by our people,’ Col. Fischer said, as he shook hands with Kalyn.
Kalyn was left at the crossroads as to why they had come there when they did not intend to conduct a proper investigation. Agent Jamie felt pity for the detainees as they disappeared at the far corner of the corridor.
[+ MALORY STREET, SILVINKERIA- NOVEMBER 1991, THE DAY BEFORE THE ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
Agent Santo Galvan, forty-five, had been a spy in over a hundred missions. But he had never encountered anything so boring as his current mission. He was stationed outside a tiny villa, which belonged to someone, whose name he was informed, yet referred as Priority-2. He thought that referring them as “Priority” gave the mission a touch of seriousness. His job was to do as instructed, not to know the names of the subjects if unnecessary and not to make acquaintances with them. Having understood them, he sat back in his van and waited for any sign to provoke his attention.
Santo Galvan had made his career as a spy at the age of twenty-nine after he failed to secure a position in the JOF, despite excelling in his training. He knew very well that his feud with the son of one of the higher ranked officials’ had denied him his well-deserved opportunity. He owed his success as a spy to the current Prime Minister Godwin Nyl Sanders, who had recognized his potential and used his abilities for Fremian National Party to spy over their political opponents, which he successfully did. Ever since he lost his chance at the JOF, Santo had taught himself a set of principles, which he did not wish to cross. As a spy, he dedicated himself to satisfy his employer, whatever mission he was assigned. As long as he enjoyed it and his employer was satisfied, he did not care about the consequences. He had stopped believing in karma since his lost chance and had set money as the only goal, whatever good or bad it resulted in. There was no looking back until he recently lost his wife, Carol, to breast cancer. The string of events that followed mangled his abilities and his mental stability. After recently suffering a nervous breakdown, which his wife’s death triggered, Santo had realized that he was not as reflexive as he used to be before. He attributed it to the nervous breakdown, which had proved to be his toughest opponent so far. It had snapped him to such an extent that he had nearly hanged himself out of sorrow. But a proper psychological assistance proved its worth, when he succeeded in reconstructing himself partially, if not completely. He had finally settled down to make a living in the countryside, farming his inherited farms, before Godwin came knocking at his door for one last favor, which was more of an obligation. Santo obliged and put on his boots for one final duty.
At about nine in the morning, the said person, whose photo he received and named “Priority-2” exited the house, kissed his wife goodbye and got into his car with a boy, whom Galvan assumed to be his son. According to his instructions, Galvan followed the car from a safe distance, all the time ensuring his anonymity. Priority-2 dropped off the kid at Meridian School and drove to West division of Fremian Ordnance Factory. Galvan picked up his Sat phone, called his employer and updated his status.
‘OK, wait outside. Follow him once he comes out. This time, he comes out along with another person, whose photo we mailed you. He is Priority-1 and he is the man you must follow next. I believe you got it,’ his employer said.
Fremian Ordnance Factory is the sector of Department of Defense Production, of Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for production of ammunition and explosives to serve the needs of the military personnel.
At about two in the afternoon, both the priorities emerged from the compound in the same car and drove to a nearby diner. Galvan also had his lunch in the same diner, but failed to get a table in hearing distance of their table. He kept an eye on them and had a light meal before resuming his stalking procedure. He had to wait until six in the evening, before he found the peach colored Ford exit the compound. According to his mail, it belonged to Priority-1, whom he was supposed to tail next. He followed Priority-1 to his house and had to wait until eleven in the night to receive his next instructions.
‘Galvan, you must now hotwire Priority-1’s Ford and hand it over to the man in grey overcoat at the corner of that street. Once you do that, you stay focused on Priority-1’s movements very closely until you restore his car at three tomorrow morning. You will receive your next instructions at five tomorrow.’
Santo had done far more complicated things than the job. Requesting his services for something so trivial tricked him into believing that they underestimated his skills after his nervous breakdown episode. Santo crossed the road carefully and approached the Ford parked outside the house. From the blueprint of the house he received, it was evident that the spot of parking was visible only from the living room, which he had ensured was deserted at that time of the night. After confirming it, he picked the lock of the car, hotwired the car and drove away noiselessly to the destined person. The man in the grey overcoat did not speak a word, got in and drove away immediately. The young face of the man was no match to the professionalism he displayed in his actions. Amused by the new talents in the field, he traced his path back to his van, where he retrieved his night vision goggles and walked to the window of the bedroom.
The first thing he saw was the family photo of Priority-1, which accommodated a wife and a son apart from Priority-1. However, Priority-1 occupied it alone. Santo assumed that the wife must have been out of town, and stayed at the window wondering what fate awaited the man.
[+ OUTSIDE JOINT OPERATION FORCE HQ, KRAMINKO- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Col. Fischer received a call from Lt. Waters, as he was getting into his car outside the JOF HQ. He gestured to the driver to get on the move and answered the call.
‘Good evening, sir. It is Lt. Waters,’ he said.
‘Yes Lieutenant, what’s the matter?’
‘There was another murder of a former member of Secret Affairs Force, sir.’
He knew that it was not something Gen. Levisohn would be happy to hear, amidst the distress that had left him unsettled. It was the second murder of someone belonging to Secret Affairs Force since the beginning of ESAF reign. ‘What? Where did it take place?’ Fischer asked.
‘They found the body in the house, sir. The forensic experts have been over the place and they assume that he was murdered last night, sir. But they are not sure he was murdered there. His murder took place in a similar way. His throat was slit open with a kitchen knife, sir.’
‘Shit! Did you verify the division he served in?’
‘Not yet, sir,’ Lt. Waters said. ‘We just found his Secret Affairs Force badge in his closet. I contacted the people at database. They said that they would need the General’s orders to reveal anything about them.’
‘Fine, I will take care of it. Who’s supervising the situation?’
‘The Crime Investigation Branch, sir. Agent Barbara is here, sir.’
‘Ok,’ he said, ended the call and connected to CIB of JOF.
‘It’s Col. Fischer speaking. I need you to convey my message to whoever is handling the Secret Affairs Force murders. I need a complete report of the murders that took place so far. And, I need-’
‘Colonel, I don’t think you can call right away and pass your orders to us, sir. You need to follow a protocol,’ a woman said in an official tone.
Fischer, who was already unsettled by the news, found himself on the other side of his temper’s boundaries. ‘Hey, listen! I don’t know who the fuck you are. But do what I said. There exists no fucking protocol. The ESAF has passed the new file to your headquarters, which defines your powers. But hear me, all it says in a single word is that JOF should obey the orders from the fucking military and that is what you need to do. I need the report by eight in the evening.’
‘Yes sir,’ she replied, her tone still unaltered.
He ended the call, agitated at failing to evoke tension in her tone, and immediately connected to the General’s office and conveyed the message to the General’s personal secretary and quoted it as “Extreme Urgency”.
Col. Fischer understood the effectiveness of his rebuke, when Agent Cooper and Agent Barbara from CIB arrived at 7.45 that evening. Lt. Waters accompanied them. They presented him with the report. He dropped the file on his table, folded his hands across his chest and glanced at them.
‘Can you take me through the events?’ he asked.
Agent Barbara took the lead. She opened the file and began, ‘Colonel, there have been five murders, as you might know. And the first three took place within the previous month. The next two took place during the last ten days. The interesting part, which I learnt based on the report from the database, is that the first three murdered were the Head and the two Senior Field Agents of the East Division. Interestingly, the two Senior Field Agents were murdered in a robbery gone wrong. The next two murders were those of two field agents, who served in the same division during the period from March to September of last year. So, as far as I believe, I think this includes some kind of reprisal against some case they handled during that particular period.’
Fischer nodded his head in approval. The details of her report, procured at such short notice, surprised him, apart from her beauty. ‘So, you believe that these murders are the deeds of someone affected by them. They must have prepared the reports of the cases they handled. Did you get them?’
She threw him a look, which had many hidden meanings for interpretation. ‘Sir, the SAF itself was dismissed four months ago based on the allegations that it was formed to eliminate possible rivals of the Prime Minister and the ruling party. Off the record, SAF is itself flawed. They did not need to maintain any permanent records of their cases. They make a report at the end of a case and present it to the concerned officials and then, the reports are disposed off. So, everything that happened does not have any records on papers, except in memories.’
‘Do you mean that we have no strings to follow?’ Fischer asked, tapping his fingers on the table.
‘No strings or leads, sir. However, we can obtain something. The identities and whereabouts of the members and agents were top-secret. Therefore, obtaining them would not be an easy task. We might have to look for some mole in our system.’
‘OK, keep me updated about your investigation. I would like to get the details of the other members, alive or dead, of that particular division and from that particular time. Make it quick. Their lives might be at stake.’
Barbara gave a meek smile and raised her eyebrows. ‘Colonel, I actually took the privilege of preparing the list and details of other members, anticipating your request. Here it is,’ she said, turning to a particular page in her report.
He raised his eyebrows in awe. ‘Good work, Agent Barbara,’ he said, expecting her to blush. But she maintained her professional expression and tugged the report closer to him. He looked at the names, knowing that he wouldn’t remember even a single name and just counted them, which were marked “alive’. There were only two of them. Some names were marked “temporary” and yet some others were marked as “usual deaths”. He pointed at those names and asked, ‘What do you mean by “usual deaths”?’
‘It just refers to those, who were killed during the duty, sir.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘How, may I ask?’
‘Well, while they were on a case, their den in the Mercupo was attacked by Mercupo Liberation Society terrorists. Four agents died in those attacks. Those agents were replaced by four agents recruited from another division.’
‘Is there any scope of finding what case they were dealing at the time?’
‘If we speak to the remaining two, we can.’
‘You have done a great job. I appreciate your work. Now on, my people are going to take over from you.’
‘OK sir,’ she said, rising from her chair.
‘By the way, how do you happen to know so much about the SAF, which even I am unaware of?’ he asked, out of curiosity and to prolong her stay.
‘I was in the training phase for SAF, while it was dissolved. So, I know them from my training.’
They left his office after their greetings and Col. Fischer sat in his chair, thinking of Barbara and the murders.
[+ MILLER’S RESIDENCE- SEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
HIS MORNING MOOD, which the disturbance by the military’s daily city parade had already curbed by disrupting his sleep, improved by the news of murder of William Koz Hopkins. It was the only interesting piece of information he found in the newspaper. He found no maid around him in the room and took the privilege of reading the news aloud.
‘Private William Koz Hopkins, service member of Kraminko Division of Armed Military Forces was found murdered yesterday at his house in Hedwig Street of Kraminko. The forensic experts have confirmed that he was murdered during the early morning of September 6. Hopkins, a bachelor, was on leave for the past four weeks, and when one of the neighbors failed to get response from Hopkins, he sensed that something was wrong and called the cops. By the time cops broke into his house, he was lying dead in his bedroom, with his throat cut open. The CIB has promised to investigate the case and come up with promising results within the coming few days,’ he read aloud.
By the time he was done, there was a wide grin on his face. He dropped the paper on the table and stood up. He walked over to the window and took in the sunlight. Even though the sunlight was blinding, his excitement clouded the discomfort it caused. He sensed the dust on the glass, drew four human figures in dust with his index finger, and wrote “S-A-F” above it. He crossed one of them and wrote “3 more to go” below them. The crossed human figure reminded him of Hopkins.
I will take care of everything, Eve.
He sat in a folding chair beside the bed and gazed at a sleeping Hopkins. The bedside table was crowded with an ashtray, containing about a dozen smoked cigarettes, and two bottles of beer and a bottle of aspirin. Jeremy took the beer bottle into his gloved hand and rolled it in his hand, thinking of ways to wake Hopkins painfully. He weighed the bottle in his hand and dropped it to the ground. Hopkins woke up with a startled look, which the horror in his blood-shot eyes replaced.
‘Good morning, Agent Hopkins,’ he said, waving his normal hand. ‘How you doing?’
Hopkins licked his dry lips, as if he was about to speak, but only let out a gasp. Jeremy giggled and patted Hopkins’s shoulder. ‘Good to see you.’
Hopkins looked in the direction of the door and fear crept into his face, when he saw Adam, a six-and-a-half feet giant with a pierced left eyebrow, standing in the doorway. Jeremy sensed his fear and said, ‘He is one of my men. I bet that he could crush your bones if you try to escape. So better keep your thoughts at bay.’
Jeremy pulled his kitchen knife out of his blazer’s pocket and gently pressed its tip against Hopkins’s trachea. ‘A classic household homicidal weapon. You must have heard of the murders of the three members of your unit last month. I bet you were anticipating this moment. What a bad time to be on leave! The newspapers announced that the murderer had slit their throats open. Since I am uninterested in opening anything, I want you to speak out the names of your mates during the time I was a captive in your den. Or else, tomorrow’s papers would also read, “Serviceman William Koz Hopkins found dead in his home with his throat cut open”,’ he said, waving the knife in the air.
William gazed at Jeremy for a second, made a sudden maneuver to his right, reached for his bedside drawer, and opened it. It was empty. He turned back and found a smiling Jeremy.
‘Do you think I’m stupid? Well, I don’t find it written on my forehead,’ he remarked, elevating his eyebrows.
Jeremy shook his head and gazed at Adam, who came over to the bed. ‘Adam, pin him to the bed. Enough of this fooling around.’
William tried to protest. Adam was too heavy for him and pinned his arms to the bed using the pillows to do so, instead of using his bare hands. William’s adrenaline made him kick wildly at Adam with his knees, but the effort did not suffice.
Jeremy leaned in closer to William. ‘William, speak out the names and I promise you, you will die a painless death.’
William stopped protesting for a moment and gazed into Jeremy’s eyes with a blank face. ‘Fuck you, son of a bitch,’ he yelled, spitting in his face.
‘As if I care.’ Jeremy leaned forward, and thrust the blade of the knife into the side of his neck and ran it to the opposite side. William struggled for a few moments and lay still in the pool of blood. Jeremy stood up from the chair and walked to the door. He stopped at the foot of the bed as the idea of spitting on William crossed his mind. However, he couldn’t leave behind his DNA in his saliva. He grinned at the corpse and walked away.
Jeremy glanced at the figures for the final time, wiped them off with his fist, and walked into the bathroom.
[+ MILLER’S RESIDENCE- TEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
The clock in his room chimed, announcing that the time was seven o’ clock in the evening. The silence of the room was what Jeremy enjoyed. The sudden noise messed it up, which aggravated his headache. He sat up on the edge of the bed, holding his head in his hands. He knew that there was no going back to sleep anytime soon. He picked up his phone and called Ethan. He answered it on the first ring.
‘Hey Jeremy, how you doing, buddy?’ Ethan asked. Over the weeks, his voice had been the only source of solace for Jeremy since the accident and the tragedy that followed. Hearing his voice seemed to trigger a sense of euphoria, similar to smoking did.
‘Yeah, I’m doing just fine, man. I just called you to apologize for my behavior that day.’
‘Oh, don’t be so fucking formal. We are friends, man. And remember, you already apologized for that. No need to do that again. So, what’s your progress with Wilson’s phone records?’
‘I trusted John with the responsibility. As you know, he is the most intelligent one of my men. But, so far, he hasn’t come up with any leads.’
‘No problem, we have to be optimistic, Jeremy. You take care of your health.’
‘Yeah,’ Jeremy said.
While they continued speaking on the phone, Jeremy received a call on his home-phone from Agent Jacob, the Head of his father’s security staff. Jeremy had called him that morning and asked him to meet him at his house. Jeremy kept Ethan on hold and answered Jacob’s call.
‘Hello Agent Jacob,’ Jeremy said.
‘Hello Mr. Miller,’ Jacob said, ‘I’m outside the door. Are you available?’
‘Yeah, come in. Kieran will attend to you. I will be down within five minutes,’ Jeremy said and ended the call. He promised Ethan to callback later and stood up to change his clothes for the meeting.
Agent Jacob, the Head of PRIME MINISTER Miller’s private security, was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, unlike his usual suits, which explained his suspension more precisely. He was suspended following the assassination of Donald Jol Miller. He stood up, shook Jeremy’s hand and they sat down to get to business.
‘So, what is it you wanted to speak about, Mr. Miller?’ Jacob asked.
‘Jacob, many people must have asked you this question over the past few days. But as the son of Donald Miller, I would like to ask you this question one more time. Have you seen my father’s assailant?’
Having faced the question repeatedly, the answer automatically kicked itself out. ‘No Mr. Miller, I am sorry. I have no idea, who it was. When the perpetrators sabotaged the backup generator and the transformer, I left four of my agents outside your father’s office, of which one was a black sheep, and left with the rest of the officers to inspect the situation. We sensed the intensity of the situation when we heard the shots. But by the time we returned, the damage was done. The-’
‘But, weren’t any of the agents present in the vicinity of the building during the firing?’
‘No, you see, the guards had to stay in their place outside the building’s door. But they too indulged themselves in unconcerned inspections with us. That particular day, everyone disrespected my orders, which ultimately brought about this tragedy. And The Invincible Army had their men swimming within the system, which made it difficult to find the son of a bitch.’
‘So you told them that you have no clue about the murderer?’
‘Yes, that’s what earned me my medal of suspension. I am not the kind of person to invent some cock and bull story to pull myself out of the shit. I could have pointed out someone and escaped this fate. But I told them the truth. I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Miller.’
Jeremy wiped off his tears and patted Jacob’s shoulder. ‘Even though you failed to protect my father, I appreciate your honesty in the issue, unlike some people who weave stories and live them as their lives.’
Jeremy stood up and escorted Jacob outside the door. Once he was inside his room, Jeremy’s expression changed. The agent’s words sounded too dramatic and cinematic. He sensed something twisted in his words. He had to call John to inquire about his progress with the records. However, John himself called Jeremy as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. The excitement in his voice was apparent as John spoke. ‘Mr. Miller, I think we have something here.’
Jeremy too was excited. He kept his emotions at bay and asked, ‘What’s it?’
‘Wilson spoke multiple times to one person and asked him to meet him at his place.’
‘But, that could have been a friend or some relative,’ Jeremy interrupted.
‘Let me complete, sir. In one of their conversations, Wilson mentioned “a lead on Operation Rochen Fort”. So, we think he might be the one.’
‘Did you find the identity?’ asked Jeremy, not bothering to hide his excitement.
‘Yes sir, it’s a Daniel…’
[+ DANIEL XAVIER’S HOUSE- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
ONCE THEY COLLECTED all the necessary properties for their expedition, Daniel and Cynthia grabbed the car’s keys and got into the car. Cynthia obliged to drive, which Daniel agreed happily. He wanted sometime to go through the diary, in which Daniel had noted some important stuff. Cynthia ignited the engine and turned onto the road.
‘So, who’s first?’ she asked.
‘Well, Xavier listed a Wilson Zyb Wilkins as the primary source. So, we will visit him first.’
‘The address?’ she asked, stealing a look into the paper slip.
Daniel observed that and it terrified him. ‘Why don’t you concentrate on the road and take care not to hit a military truck, while I look into the diary and find the address?’ he said, waving the diary.
With some effort, he was able to find the address listed under Wilson’s name in a bookmarked page. A small description read- A RETIRED ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER. COMPLETELY HONEST AND TRUTHFUL. THE MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR FOR MY MISSION. He recited the address and asked for her phone. She slipped a 5-inch iPhone into his hand, which he ended up examining.
‘What kind of an iPhone is this?’ he asked.
‘It’s 6S. Haven’t you seen it?’ she asked, eyeing him as if he was an illiterate asking about a complicated formula.
‘Leave it,’ he said, not in the mood to argue about upgraded technology.
He dialed the landline number from her mobile and got the answering machine. ‘It’s your Wilson. If you are hearing this, it means I am not here. So, leave a message.’ He did not leave a message and ended the call. There was no other number to contact. He dropped the idea of contacting him and handed her back her mobile. He opened the diary and went through details of the other sources. Xavier had listed six other names under secondary sources, of which some had their addresses and descriptions written down. One of the secondary sources was a “Mr. Lang”, whose address and contact number were missing, except for a small description, which read-CALLS ME FROM DIFFERENT NUMBERS AND ONLY DURING THE NIGHT. USES CODE AND LIMITS CONVERSATIONS TO PRECISION. DON’T BELIEVE LANG IS HIS REAL NAME. MET HIM ONLY ONCE, A COMPLETE SPECTER.
Turning the pages, he failed to find anything of interest for him. He closed the diary and relaxed in his seat. He turned to Cynthia, who was concentrating on the road.
‘So, do you know anything about this “Operation Rochen Fort”?’ he asked.
She took a moment before answering. ‘I first heard about it some years ago. My father used to mention it during his conversations on the phone with his friends. I believe that it has something to do with the blasts of 1991.’
‘The blasts of 1991?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, haven’t you heard of them? They call them the “Rochen Fort Blasts”,’ she said. His expression made it clear that he hadn’t the slightest idea. ‘OK, in 1991, when the then-government run by Fremian National Party built the Rochen Fort to serve as the Parliament of the country, after destroying the ancient fort existing there, the Fremian Democrats Party was opposed to it. The Fremian Democrats Party served as the major opposition party in the parliament for 10 years from 1979-1989. Before the 1989 elections, Fremian Democratic Party announced that they were no longer going to contest the elections and that they wanted to act as the public’s voice whenever something wrong happened from the government’s side.
‘In December of 1990, Jonathan Lyn Kruger, chairman of FDP, was murdered under mysterious circumstances after opposing a major decision by the government, which was evidently not in the best interests of the people. So the members of Fremian Democrats Party blamed the government for his murder and issued threats against the government. On the day of inauguration of the Rochen Fort, before Prime Minister Godwin and his cabinet members were due to attend the inauguration, a car bomb exploded outside the building, followed by an explosion in the building, which ended up claiming many lives. When they investigated the blasts, it was evident that a scientist called Ross Jankis, who also happened to be an active member of Fremian Democrats Party, was the manufacturer of the explosive and the owner of the exploded car. So, he was convicted, which remained as a deep scar on the name of Fremian Democrats Party. Eventually, Fremian Democrats Party got corrupted under the corrupted leaders who followed and emerged as The Invincible Army.’
She completed with a sigh of relief. Daniel felt it too much for a short question. Yet, he lingered around his father’s precise connection with the matter, except his friendship with Ross.
‘But, how do you know that his connection with Operation Rochen Fort cost him his life?’ he asked.
‘Because, his murderer said, “Remember that your involvement with Operation Rochen Fort has brought about this fate”, before shooting him,’ she said, wiping off tears.
He sensed that he had pushed the issue too deep. So, he thought of diverting the matter instead of asking if they caught the murderer. ‘So, do you know how Donald Miller died?’ he asked, remembering his guilt.
She threw him a glance, which said, “How can you change the topic so quick?” and turned away. His sense of guilt increased with that look, which silenced him from pressing any further. She stopped the car at a signal and turned to him.
‘Daniel, I think you have some problem with emotions, besides a flawed memory. You better watch out.’
Usually, the statement would have played with his temper. However, he had too much on his plate to flame a feud with her. He turned his face away from her and found a big man, with a pierced left eyebrow, in the adjacent SUV, gazing at him. When their eyes met, he shifted his gaze to the road and began whistling. If not for the whistling, Daniel would have considered him a regular person. But his instincts told him otherwise. Daniel made a mental sketch of the SUV and the person in his mind and turned away.
When the signal turned green, Cynthia put the car in gear and resumed the quest. An air of dead-silence clouded the car since her statement. On the way, he saw that the entrance to S&C Park had its gates closed shut. The S&C Park brought him back memories of his time there with Margaret. The aroma of the Magnolia garden in the park did not fail to find a way into the closed car. They had met there on numerous occasions during the evenings, when they could savor beautiful sunset from the Swelter’s Tip.
I was striding the path leading to the Swelter’s Tip, when I spotted her standing against the railing of Swelter’s Tip. It was around 5.30 in the evening, when we usually met, so that we could savor the scenery of the sunset. There was a difference in Margaret’s position, which was usually on the bench facing the path. In that occasion, she was standing against the railing with her back to me. I had a sense of understanding. As I neared her, the sense of uneasiness escalated.
After I crossed the benches, I called out her name. She straightened up and said, ‘Daniel,’ and turned her head slightly sideways. Her long hair, flowing with the wind, obscured the view of her face. ‘Long time, no see, Daniel,’ she said, turning back to the scenery. The sarcasm in her tone was obvious, which she did not mind hiding.
‘I am sorry for being late,’ I said, at a deficit of words.
‘You were late for two whole years. These fifteen minutes aren’t a big matter.’
The punishment of hearing only her voice annoyed me. ‘Margaret, it’s been a long time since I have seen you. Why don’t you turn around and speak?’
‘You are annoyed that I haven’t turned around to speak to you. Can’t you imagine my annoyance at being left alone by my boyfriend for two years? In these two years, haven’t you thought of me at least once?’
The sound of the wind, which muffled her voice, aggravated my annoyance. I thought of the best way to explain her. ‘Margaret, please understand me. I wanted to explain you everything before I left. But I knew that there was no way to convince you to accept my decision. I-’
‘Stop Daniel,’ she yelled. She was weeping, which was evident from her tone. ‘Are you seeing someone else, Daniel?’
The question seemed to strike his head sharp against something. As he came back to his senses, he realized that it was not the question, which provoked his physical pain, but his head banging against the windshield that inflicted it. Cynthia had stopped the car at a traffic light, which jolted him forwards, despite the seatbelt. His memory struck him weird, since he felt helpless when he endeavored to recollect what followed next. Unlike the previous ones, which felt familiar, the memory and the circumstances in it had an air of unfamiliarity. As he thought harder, it made sense. It was one of those fragments of his memory, which went missing after his trauma. He was sure that in all those years they were together, they had never been separate for even two months, let alone two years. He tried harder to make sense of the emotions, which it had evoked. The memory had remained suppressed, lying in his sub-conscious, until the sight of the park and the aroma of the magnolia provoked it. It was a phenomenon called the “Spontaneous Recovery”. The idea of spontaneous recovery raised his hopes of recovering all those memories, which were temporarily lost. The happiness improved his mode and he turned his attention back to Cynthia, who had confined herself behind the restraints of anger. He thought of letting her be for the moment.
His thoughts lingered around the reasons, which led him to abandon her for two years. He remembered isolating himself from others, including Margaret, since his mother’s demise. During that period, Margaret seemed worried about his isolation and had even had a quarrel with him about his behavior during the return trip from Mercupo. He feared it was the reason he had abandoned her for so long. The events following the quarrel seemed accessible, yet he felt helpless in his efforts to recollect them. The idea of Margaret’s capture by the military crossed his mind. There was a lot on his plate, and grieving the past did not seem the best thing to add to that list. He kept his emotions at bay and closed his eyes to clear his mind of any residual emotions before the big task.
He knew that they had reached their destination only when the car stopped hard against the gravel and Daniel was jolted forward in his seat again. He realized that he had dozed off and his neck ached from the sudden jerk. He held the back of his neck and cried out in pain. Cynthia grinned at his exasperation and got out of the car. He unbuckled the seatbelt and followed her to the front door. The name on the door matched with that in the diary. Daniel pressed the doorbell, half-expecting a response. When they met with silence after the third time, Daniel questioned his pessimism and looked at Cynthia for a response. She was ready with her hairpin in her hand.
‘Wait a sec,’ Daniel said and tried the door. To his surprise, it gave way. He let Cynthia in and followed her in. They found themselves in the living room, which looked like any other living room with a TV, a couch and the other usual stuff. The strange thing about the room was the strong aroma of iron, which reminded Daniel of blood. He attributed his hunch to his profession and reached a table for some preliminary inspection, while Cynthia moved from one room to another, looking for some presence. The magazine on the table lay topped with a thin layer of dust. With the kind of traffic the road experienced daily, it would have taken more than a week of negligence for it to settle.
‘I have checked the drawers and shelves in the house. There was nothing of significance. So, what do we do now?’ Cynthia asked, reaching his side.
‘I think we better go for the next address and try our luck there.’
She nodded her head in agreement and walked to the door. He gave a final look around the house and followed her outside. She reached the car and readied the car for his arrival. As he reached for the door handle, he heard a car siren behind him. He turned around to find a police car stop a few yards behind their car, and a beefy cop unstuffed himself from the passenger seat, followed by an assistant. He flashed his badge, as a mere formality, before pressing an arrest warrant in Daniel’s face. Daniel caught sight of his name in the warrant before the cop pocketed it again. Daniel was about to question when the assistant reached out for Daniel’s hands and cuffed them behind his back, while the beefy cop began reciting his rights for an inattentive audience.
Amidst all the drama, Daniel caught sight of Cynthia, who looked over the scene standing beside the car. The cop car sped off in the opposite direction as Daniel busied himself in deciphering her face, which seemed to be a mixture of many emotions.
[+ IN A CAB- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
LIFE HAD ALWAYS been this stressful for Daniel Ryu Xavier; encountering trouble had become an integral part of his daily routine. Being an investigative journalist had never been an easy task for him. There were many instances, which drove him towards quitting the job. However, the only thing that kept him going was his right to vengeance and the people’s right to truth. The act of spending the night at the hospital to take treatment for his diarrhea not only weakened him physically, but also mentally. He had discovered his missing blazer and backpack the previous evening. He complained about it to the hospital authorities, who had no witness as to who robbed him. The absence of CC cameras in the hospital made him even more helpless. Despite many complaints about the unavailability of proper resources and equipment at the Kraminko General Hospital, the Health Minister turned a blind eye to the development of the hospital, which indirectly explained his affiliations with the owners of Multi-National Hospitals. Daniel intended to investigate the cause behind the dreadful state of the hospital once he was done with uncovering the mystery behind the Rochen Fort Blasts.
He was not expecting any big blow apart from the robbery of his backpack, when he reached the parking lot that morning. His car was missing, which was unthought-of. He cursed himself for his negligence of the detail that his keys had been missing along with the blazer and wallet. The parking lot, too, was devoid of any CC cameras, which added even more to his helplessness. Despite doubting a full-fledged attention and a reasonable response amidst the chaos, he filed a complaint at the police station on his way and hoped for the best. However, he knew perfectly that the cops were busy in cleaning up the way for the military and would not give attention to a missing car. Fortunately, he had about a thousand bucks in his jeans, which helped him pay the hospital bills and the cab-drive home.
When the cab turned around the corner of his street, he spotted his car in front of his house. Its sight aroused his spirits, which dropped at the sight of the black SUV and the beefy guy beside it. He asked the cabdriver to drive past the SUV so that he could have a clear look at the man’s face. When he studied the beefy guy’s face, he was not much surprised. It was the same man with the pierced eyebrow, whom his friend Kevin had warned him on the phone about an hour ago. Kevin had explained him about his features and that the man was looking for him. He also explained him as “suspicious and frightening”. Daniel suspected some threat and asked the driver to park the cab a few buildings further down the street, where he could have a clear sight of the man and his house. The wait tested his patience, yet he made himself comfortable in the backseat and waited.
The wait ended when a woman opened the door and made it to the car, followed by a man. The bushes made it difficult for him to see their faces. Once the car was on the road and sped away, the big man got into his SUV and followed. Until that moment, Xavier believed that the beefy man had come for him. But his tailing them pushed his theories into jeopardy. He put his mind to validate his options. After giving some thought, Xavier decided to get back home. He paid the cabdriver and the extra fare for his wait, and walked to his front door. He was cautious enough to put a spare key in the cup, which enveloped the light bulb beside the front door. He retrieved the key and opened the door.
He first checked the rooms for any other human presence and then observed the house carefully. Mostly everything was in the same place in the living room. However, the surprise awaited him in the bedroom. The clippings, which he pinned to the bulletin board, remained misplaced, along with some important clippings missing. His impatience shot up, when he discovered that his diary, which contained the addresses and contact details of his sources, was missing. Studying the missing contents made one thing evident to him. They were after his research into “Operation Rochen Fort”. But he was all question marks as to what their link with the matter was.
He thought of letting a clue to the cops about the status of his car, which could eventually help him claim his properties back. When he patted his pockets for his phone, he discovered that he had lost his mobile in the cab amidst all the tensions. For the second time within the last few minutes, he cursed himself for his negligence. He resolved to make the call from the neighbors’. As he walked to the front door, the fear of his document crept up into his mind. He cursed his negligence for the third time and ran into the kitchen.
He climbed up into the attic hastily and reached for the heavy cardboard box, which lodged his heavy collection of novels that had found no accommodation in any of the rooms below. He opened the box and carefully pulled apart the two layers of one of walls of the box. He let out a sigh of relief at the sight of the document. Holding his confidence in his hiding place, he secured the gap between the two layers with two-sided tape and exited the attic. As he walked over to the door, he witnessed the silhouette of a heavy man through the glass of the front door. He panicked at the presence outside the door and ran to the window to see who it was. When he peeped out through the gap between the drapes, it was not the same beefy guy from the SUV, but yet another beefy guy, who stood at the front door gazing at the knob. Daniel thought he was going to force himself in. When the beefy guy turned towards the window, Daniel withdrew into the living room. He settled himself lightly against the door, holding his racing heart. He remembered Kevin’s insistence on taking a gun to defend himself, if need be. At that moment, he wished he had.
Failing to register any action from the other side for several minutes, he retraced his steps back to the window to peep out. The beefy man was gone, and so was his anxiety. Despite the mitigated anxiety, he braced himself and stepped out. He took less than ten steps before metal met with the scalp over his occiput.
[+ ESAF HQ- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
When President Newman had made him the Chairman of ESAF, ignoring Field Marshal Robert Qyx Butler, the Chairman of Regnant Council of Armed Forces, Gen. Levisohn believed that Newman trusted him over the Field Marshal. However, the pressures and tensions he had endured over the past week made him believe otherwise. Since the outlaw of Fremian National Party’s government, the ties with other nations weakened, which ultimately fell into his court to strengthen them up. He had to make several calls to the leaders of those nations to arrange for a summit, where he could explain them the advantage ESAF had over the Fremian National Party’s government. He was expecting to hold the meeting at The Peuper Palace the following week if greeted with positive vibes from the other side. But Lt. Gen. Papal, Deputy Chairman of ESAF, insisted on holding a video conference, which would add to the convenience of the Presidents and the Prime Ministers of those nations.
He had already passed on the orders to the administrative officers to make the required presentations and arrangements for the meeting. He had yet to deal with the problem of the protests, which added to his burdens and weakened the faith in ESAF. The CIB’s handling of the investigation of assassination of Donald Miller added to his relief. The intelligence had warned his office about the threat he might face from The Invincible Army and Mercupo Liberation Society. Miller’s proposition to lease the Mercupo Islands to the MNC had been on the hold since the mass protests the previous year. He wanted to cancel the contract permanently, which he believed would win him the trust of certain sections of the people.
His Secretary, Saunter, half-stormed into his office at five in the evening, which startled Levisohn.
‘General, you better watch this,’ he said, switching-on the TV, and jumped to a news channel.
It displayed the Minar of Mercupo, over which flew the flags of TIA and MLS. Since the invasion of Mercupo-I by The Invincible Army, their flag flew over the Minar. The sudden appearance of the Mercupo Liberation Society beside it surprised Levisohn, and many questions formulated in his mind. The faces of David Linden, Leader of The Invincible Army, and Mudassir Al-Mustafa, Head of Mercupo Liberation Society, appeared on the screen.
‘Good evening, the people of Fremia and specially, Gen. Levisohn,’ David said, running his fingers through his beard. ‘We are today in front of you to announce the Alliance of The Invincible Army and Mercupo Liberation Society.’
He shifted his gaze to Mudassir, who took over. ‘We feel honored to announce that the assassination of Donald Jol Miller was the combined effort of our Alliance to set free the people of Fremia from his suppressing and depressing rule. We have not ignored the complaints against the newly formed ESAF, which has already begun lashing the society with its rule. This message is to warn the Chairman of ESAF, Gen. Mark Byn Levisohn. You know very well what fate Miller met with. If you wish to avoid a similar fate befalling you, you better dissolve your stupid ESAF and conduct elections for the next government, unless you wish to meet the same end Miller met with.’
Levisohn switched off the TV and fisted the table in anger. Even though the message seemed to be short, they made their intentions clear. The Alliance was trying to look good in the people’s eyes by enacting a concerned-mother role. Levisohn knew that he had to give his comments about it. He was sure of one thing. Unless the people of Fremia were stupid, they would not fall for the crocodile tears of the Alliance, which had been responsible for the deaths of many innocent citizens over the years.
Before he could appear before the press with his comments, he had certain discussions to make with his men about the new problem.
‘Saunter, connect me with Lt. Gen. immediately,’ he ordered and waited patiently.
I have this under control!
[+ OUTSIDE PRIORITY-1’S RESIDENCE- NOVEMBER 1991 (ON THE DAY OF ROCHEN FORT BLASTS) +]
Time had flown off slowly for Santo during the course of his wait. When he received the call from his employer, he let out a sigh of relief before answering it.
‘Santo, the car is ready at the corner. Replace it in its spot and wait in your van till 5.’
Santo acted accordingly and retrieved the car from the same man. Once he replaced the car in its previous spot, Santo went back to his van, poured coffee from his flask and leisurely sipped it, awaiting further instructions. At exactly five, he received a call from his employer.
‘Santo, listen carefully. This is what I want you to do…’
Santo listened carefully throughout the extent of the instructions, expecting any element of thrill. By the end of it, he wasn’t much disappointed since he received at least some part of the thrill he had anticipated. He packed the required things in his backpack and exited the van. As instructed, he left the keys within the pipe of the rear-bumper and walked over to the house. He carefully surveyed the doors and windows of the house to find a way in, which he found in the form of the ventilator of the basement. It appeared as if a glass guarded it previously, which had been broken. He checked the dimensions of the ventilator and made a mental calculation in his mind. After confirming that he would fit in, he first slipped in carefully through the ventilator and then retrieved his backpack. He used the flashlight to illuminate his path as he ascended the stairs.
Taciturnly, he tried the basement door, which gave way. He switched off the flashlight and opened the door. Since he had verified that Priority-1 was sleeping, he tiptoed to the bedroom, where he was still sound asleep. He looked around him for any safe place to hide. There was a couch facing the door of the bedroom, which had a gap of about two feet between it and the wall behind it. Finding the spot perfect for hiding, he settled in the space and waited for the right time to take his next move.
At 6.30 in the morning, Priority-1 woke up and went through a usual of brushing his teeth, having a cup of coffee, shaving his beard, and stepped into the shower. When he was in the shower, Santo decided to change his hiding spot, since he found himself vulnerable in that spot, with Priority-1 roaming about in the house. He found a large closet under the stairs, which accommodated old magazines and worn out clothes. He created himself some space and left his backpack in there. Then, he left a walkie-talkie in a decorative bag hanging beside the door, retraced his way back to the closet and fit himself in.
After Priority-1 came out of the shower, Santo sensed him moving around the house, packing things for what he believed to be a routine day at work. He made a phone call to a Brad.
‘Brad, it’s Ross,’ he said. ‘I have called to check with the progress of the new explosive. It has been three weeks since I submitted the necessary reports and the model. But I haven’t received any updates regarding its status or its progress. I just wanted to know about its current status.’
A brief interval of silence followed his words. ‘Well, if Mr. Kennedy hasn’t discussed the matter with you, I think no one knows about it. I shall meet him today and talk to him personally. Thank you, Brad.’
Santo checked the time in his watch. It was eight. According to his report, Ross, aka Priority-1, left home at 8.15 in the morning. Santo had never relied upon info gathered by someone else about his priority’s activities. However, this mission had him acting according to info obtained from someone else, and he hated his superiors for making him do that. Santo realized that it was time to step into action. He slowly opened the closet’s door and stepped out. He cracked his knuckles and pulled out the gun from his backpack. He removed the safety and strode into the kitchen. Ross was buttering a slice of bread on the countertop with his back to Santo.
He raised his gun at Ross and said, ‘There you are, Mr. Ross.’
Ross turned around and found himself gazing into the gun’s barrel. He dropped the knife and involuntarily raised his hands into the air. Santo enjoyed the fear in Ross’s face and grinned at him.
[+ OREGO DISTRICT, OLD KRAMINKO- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
It was not part of Tim Gyl Bronson’s daily routine to wake up with the sun. However, the day had something important, which required his attention. He had not come up with the idea until he saw Daniel Shelby on the TV the previous evening. It was the most riskless task he had performed in the past few years since he established himself as a renowned hacker in Kraminko. The task involved very personal interests, so he took special interest in the task.
As soon as he had a cup of strong coffee, he sat in front of his laptop and got to work. It was not difficult to find Daniel’s Facebook account. It was easy for him to crack his way into his account and take control of it. The last time Daniel’s timeline registered any activity was a month ago, when he shared something concerning the plight of the soldiers in extreme climatic conditions. However, what Tim was going to post on his timeline was going to change certain things definitely. First, he had something more to do. He first opened the page of “Debate Fremia” from Daniel’s account and liked their page. He randomly began liking their recent posts, which exposed the social-crimes ESAF committed after coming to power. He used harsh language to criticize the military’s measures in the comments of those posts.
He went back to the timeline and posted-
WHEN I HEARD “ESAF” WAS GOING TO TAKE OVER FROM FREMIAN NATIONAL PARTY’S GOVERNMENT, I FELT PLEASURE. BUT WITHIN ONE WEEK INTO THEIR RULE, I QUESTIONED MYSELF “WHAT THE FUCK?” THESE GUYS ARE FAR WORSE, MAYBE THE WORST THE PEOPLE OF FREMIA DESERVE. WHENEVER GEN. LEVISOHN APPEARS IN FRONT OF THE MEDIA, RECITING HIS POLITICAL JOKES AND FAKE PROMISES TO UPHOLD FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE, I AM AMAZED AT HIS SENSE OF HUMOR. HE MUST BE HAVING HIS BRAINS WHERE HIS BALLS RESIDE TO BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WOULD TAKE THIS BULLSHIT. HE IS BETTER OFF BEING A COMEDIAN, RATHER THAN THE CHAIRMAN OF ESAF. I HAVE ALREADY BEGUN WISHING FOR A SUPERHERO TO PUT US OUT OF THE HANDS OF THESE NUT HEADS OF ESAF.
Once he posted the message, he rested back in his chair and shifted his attention to other important things, which paid him. All he had to do was to wait for the outcome of his mischief.
[+ CYBER CRIME POLICE STATION, KRAMINKO- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Officer Constantine was studying his report on “Debate Fremia”, when he received a new report from his deputy Ted about a Daniel Vab Shelby, who had posted some offensive posts on his Facebook timeline, criticizing the ESAF. Cyber Crimes division rarely dealt with such matters until the rise of ESAF. The dawn of ESAF’s reign meant the dusk of Fundamental Rights; right to expression and speech were no exceptions. Col. Fischer had ordered them to concentrate particularly on people criticizing ESAF on social networking sites and he required requisite actions within twenty-four hours.
After reading the report on Daniel, Constantine decided that he was into some serious shit and decided to act on it immediately. He issued an arrest warrant to his deputy and ordered him to capture Daniel as soon as possible. Once Deputy Ted dispatched two officers to capture Daniel, Constantine began analyzing the figures. He had already issued warrants for the capture of more than four hundred other citizens, who were involved in similar offences. If they captured Daniel, he was going to emerge as the three hundred and fifty fourth captive on their list.
Constantine nodded his head and got back to his report on “Debate Fremia”.
[+ MILLER RESIDENCE- TEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
‘YES SIR, IT’S a Daniel Ryu Xavier, an investigative journalist,’ John said.
‘OK, I want his address right now. And, I want you and Adam at his place to observe his actions.’
‘Yes sir. We have the address. We will be there within an hour and search his place for any related documents.’
‘No, don’t do that. I just want you to go there and keep an eye on his activities. If he goes somewhere, follow him. Do not take your own decisions and complicate things for me. Do not act unless I say so.’
‘Yes sir,’ he said and hung up.
Jeremy tossed the mobile onto the bed and removed the sling carefully. He unclothed himself carefully and stepped into the shower. While he showered, he heard the ringing of his mobile. He tried guessing who it was for a moment before dismissing the idea. Once he was done with replacing his arm in the sling, he checked who it was. It was a call from Bronson, the hacker. Jeremy had told him to call him only if he found a lead. He wished it were one more identity. He dialed Tim’s number and waited.
When Tim answered the call, Jeremy instantly recognized that he was not sober.
‘Good evening, Mr. Miller,’ Tim said. ‘How you doing?’
‘Fine, I presume, and, finer if you tell me that you have a name,’ Jeremy said, biting his nail.
‘Then, you are going to be the finest, Mr. Miller. I got two names.’
‘What’s with the delay? You took four days to come up with the names,’ Jeremy said, trying to show some arrogance despite his contentment.
‘Yes, I did. Mr. Miller, you must understand the scenario. When the SAF dissolved earlier this year, someone paid me to hack into the military’s database and reveal their identities. But I wasn’t this cautious at that time. The government sensed it and deleted the SAF members’ records from the database. So the only way I can find the members’ identities is by hacking into the high security database, take time and check each serviceman’s records for any strings relating to their services at SAF. Now, how about we talk about my two hundred thousand?’
Jeremy was embarrassed by the sudden hike of his remuneration. ‘Last time, it was eighty thousand for a name.’
‘Yes, but when I gave you William’s name, I was not aware of your intentions. But after I learnt of his murder, I began doubting that your interest in the SAF exceeded what met my ear. Since I am more knowledgeable of your intentions, paying more would not go in vain. Right?’
Even though Jeremy intended to keep the matter confined within his circle, Tim figured it out. Jeremy began doubting the new intentions, which took shape in Tim’s mind as he spoke. ‘OK, fine. I will have a request processed to credit money to your account right now. The money will be in your account very soon.’
‘That’s the spirit, Mr. Miller. But, this time you are lucky.’
‘Why do you say so?’ Jeremy asked, enthusiastic.
‘One of the names I have is a Belfort Kyl Harper. He served as the Head of the East division of SAF.’
The statement annoyed Jeremy. Belfort had been dead for nearly a month. ‘Hey Tim, are you mad? Or, do you take me for an idiot?’ he yelled. ‘Listen, Belfort is a dead bastard, idiot. Open your fucking eyes and read his profile carefully.’
There was a silence on the line for a couple of minutes before Tim spoke, ‘Sorry Mr. Miller. You see, I am a little drunk. So it was my fault.’
‘Yeah, it was your fault and you demanded money for a dead man. You had better realize whom you are dealing with. I am not the regular person you deal with. The other agent better be alive if you wish to live.’
‘Sorry Mr. Miller. Next time, I will keep a careful eye. He’s alive. I made sure of that. I shall mail you his profile within half an hour.’
Jeremy ended the call and rested his head on the pillow, cursing under his breath. And without realizing that he hadn’t had his dinner and medicine, he fell asleep.
Jeremy was busy in the kitchen cursing his wife for emptying the ice cubes; his impatience grew with every passing minute and he finally settled down on the couch with a bottle of whisky and a glass. He poured himself a peg, drowned it within seconds, and went for the next peg. He resumed his search for the names related to Operation Rochen Fort on his laptop, while he sipped the fluid. He was in the middle of the fourth, when the door opened and his wife walked in with shopping bags in one hand and Ricky’s hand in another. His impatience grew with the sight of her. She shot him a disgusting look and walked into the kitchen after leaving the shopping bags on the dining table. Once he was done with that peg, he replaced the glass on the table with a thud to express his annoyance. But Evelyn did not flinch, which annoyed him more. He stood up and walked over to her.
‘Eve, where have you been?’ he bellowed.
‘I went shopping for my birthday. I told you that yesterday. Don’t you remember?’ she asked, looking him in the eye.
He definitely did not. He broke eye contact with her and looked sideways, as she observed him intently.
‘Of course, you don’t. Last night, you were drunk just like you are right now. No wonder I have to take care of the house all by myself in spite of your presence because you do nothing, but lie idly on the couch with your laptop and drink all day and leave to Ethan’s at night to drink again. Don’t you realize how pathetic you are, Jeremy? Look at Rick,’ she scoffed, pointing at a playing Rick. ‘How do you expect him to turnout when he grows up with a drunkard like you around?’
Jeremy had had enough of the mockery. He turned away and took his place back on the couch. He poured himself a drink and sipped it. He observed Evelyn from the corner of his eye and knew that she was about to break down.
‘Why are you so stubborn, Jeremy?’ she asked, leaning her shoulder against the doorway of the kitchen.
He knew that he was not in a state to reply. He kept his calm and continued drinking.
‘Jeremy, gone are those days when I used to miss your presence. I just wish you weren’t here,’ she said, cupping her mouth.
The words put an end to his calm, which he boasted by smashing the glass against the wall, few inches to her right. The sudden maneuver startled her and she collapsed onto the ground still leaning to the doorway for support. Rick was terrified and ran up to his mom. In the process, he stepped on the broken fragments of the glass and wounded himself. Evelyn let go of her anguish and rushed to Rick’s aid. She lifted his foot gently and plucked off the bloody broken fragments off his sole. Jeremy too rushed to her aid, but she gently shoved him away.
‘Stay away from me and my son!’ she yelled.
Jeremy sat down on the ground and watched her pluck the fragments.
‘What a filthy bastard you are,’ she yelled, clawing his face.
The remark washed off his feeling of pity, and anger took its place. He leapt at her, caught her by her hair and pulled her away. ‘Don’t you fucking bad-mouth me!’ he yelled, slapping her hard across her face. As soon as the action completed, regret replaced anger. He realized his mistake and tried to soothe a crying Evelyn.
But she wouldn’t respond to his consolation. She shot him a glance of hatred and stood up. She picked Rick off the floor and paced towards the door. He tried to halt her, but she didn’t. She opened the door and stormed out of the house. She hauled a cab and sped away, as he watched over, over flooded by the sense of self-pity.
Jeremy woke up with a start. The sudden motion stressed his shoulder, which ached more than his head did. He held his shoulder for a few seconds, before reaching out for his medicine on the bedside table. He took the pills and chased them with water from the bottle. The sudden recollection of his memories left him feeling lonely and miserable. The room was brightly illuminated, which reminded him that he had fallen asleep unaware of his responsibilities. He reached out for his phone and woke the screen. It was three o’ clock in the morning. He found that he had an email from Tim Bronson. He opened it and found the profile of a Benedict Sni Roofer, whose face Jeremy found too familiar to forget. His status said “On Leave”.
Jeremy smiled and dialed Adam’s number.
Jeremy grew impatient with every passing moment that he could not control himself anymore and kicked a passed-out Benedict in his ribs. The alcohol seemed to have made Benedict’s senses sluggish, for he responded with a slow pace. He opened his eyes very slowly, clutching his sides, and closed them immediately as the Sun shone his rays into the back of the van through the windows. Jeremy looked at Nathan, whom he had brought as Adam’s replacement. Nathan grabbed Benedict’s arms, rolled him onto his back and slapped him across his face. Benedict woke up with a jolt and looked at Nathan in turmoil. He backed up against the truck’s wall and leaned against it.
‘Where the fuck!’ he yelled.
Nathan gestured in Jeremy’s direction, who wished him good morning. ‘Remember me?’
Benedict displayed a terrified look, which turned into a smile and then into a laugh. ‘Is this about last year?’ He reminded Jeremy of a kid, who had caught Santa Claus leaving presents for him. He sounded like he was anticipating the moment. ‘If it is, you are welcome to get your ass kicked.’
Jeremy relieved himself of his frustration by punching him in the face. The bones of his phalanges met with Benedict’s nasal bones. As agony escalated, he cupped his nose and began cursing.
‘Did you realize whose ass is getting kicked today?’
Benedict shifted his attention from his broken nose to Jeremy. ‘There are many things you have not realized as of yet, Jeremy. And, there is a fair chance you may not realize them any sooner.’
Jeremy pulled out the kitchen knife from its casing and directed it at Benedict. But he recollected his previous encounter with William and realized that he was deviating from his path yet again. He withdrew the knife away from Benedict and decided to talk.
‘How do you see that? I have realized that you people at SAF are a bunch of scoundrels, who have brought disgrace to other soldiers like us. What more do you want me to realize?’
Benedict grinned and shook his head. ‘There is more than meets the eye, Miller.’
‘Is it? Like what?’ Jeremy asked, wiping the width of the shining knife against his sling. He thought he saw a faint drop of red on the blade, which reminded him of Hopkins.
‘Is this an interview? Look Miller, I am not answerable to you. If you intend to know something, you beg and get it. I know you better not to catch my balls at your scripted actions.’
Jeremy hit his face hard with the knife’s handle and held his chin in his hand. He tugged the knife in his direction and said, ‘Your fucking life is in my hands. So, you better speak.’
The fear for his life seemed to kick in, as Benedict’s smile disappeared and he swallowed hard. ‘What are you trying to convey?’ Jeremy asked. ‘Speak straight.’
Benedict took a few moments’ pass as Jeremy waited, before opening his mouth. ‘You see, we rescued you from the accident and then filed you with treason. For your kind information, everything was part of the script. Your accident, your conviction, your torture, everything,’ Benedict said, licking his lips.
‘What do you mean?’ Jeremy asked instinctively, making and releasing a fist with his left hand.
‘Your accident was destined to happen. You see, the truck that rammed your car off the cliff belonged to Holland and Co. Transports, which belongs to Ethan Holland, your friend. The truck was setup to ram you off the road. Ethan had an agreement with Belfort Kyl Harper, Head of our division, to ram you off in the place where Belfort wanted. We were posted nearer to the spot to rescue you from the car.’
‘How can I believe you?’
‘Nobody speaks the absolute truth other than the man with his life at stake, Miller,’ Benedict said, wiping blood off his nose.
‘But, why would Ethan do that?’
‘Rumor circled that it was your father, who collaborated with him for it. I overheard Belfort’s conversation with Ethan, where he raised the same question and got Donald’s name in response. You must be a pretty rotten asshole for him to vote for that.’
Jeremy closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. He thought it repeatedly before the perfect motive crept up into his conscious out of his accessible archives. His eyes lit up and he scorned himself for his foolishness.
‘Anything else?’ he asked.
Benedict shook his head in response.
‘What about your mates? Where are they?’ Jeremy asked.
‘I don’t know. After SAF’s dissolution, we parted ways. I am not in much contact with anyone except alcohol lately.’
Jeremy nodded his head in agreement. He handed the knife to Nathan and went for the door. He jumped out of the backdoor and turned to Nathan. ‘Once you are done with him, dump his body at his house.’
He closed the door behind him and lit a cigarette. As he let out a ring of smoke, he began formulating plans for his further actions.
[+ HOLLAND AND CO. TRANSPORTS- THAT NIGHT +]
The exterior of Ethan’s office was pitch-dark as Jeremy exited the cab a few feet outside the gate and walked over to the building’s entrance. He looked back to ensure the absence of any witnesses and his gaze met the city lights, visible from the top of the cliff, where the office was located. He had not verified where Ethan was. He followed his instincts, which insisted that he was there. He had pushed his meeting with Daniel Xavier to the next day to accommodate this confrontation with Ethan and he did not want to get dissatisfied. He opened the main door and turned left into the corridor. The room at the far end of the dark corridor seemed to welcome Jeremy, who moved curiously towards it adjusting his left arm in the sling and his right hand holding his phone with the flashlight-on. The door to the room was slightly open. He reached out and opened it. He felt for the switch on the wall and switched on the lights. He hoped for Ethan’s presence.
It took him a moment to adjust his vision to the light and find Ethan, in his usual black suit, standing in the corner of the room with a cigarette between his lips. Jeremy took a moment to soothe his racing heart and sat in a chair.
‘Jeremy, what a surprise!’
Jeremy managed a fake smile and said, ‘Nothing in particular. Just wanted to pay you a visit and strike a surprise.’
Ethan crushed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and smiled. ‘How are things going on?’
‘You know life. Just as we begin enjoying life, it finds a way to screw things up.’
Ethan pointed a finger at Jeremy and said, ‘You have got a poet in you, buddy.’
‘Well, we as human beings are habituated to have hidden talents and hidden secrets. Isn’t it?’
Ethan did not answer anything, but eyed Jeremy suspiciously. He lit another cigarette and let the nicotine arouse him before speaking again.
‘So, what other talent or secret did you leave hidden?’
Jeremy thought for a moment. ‘Well, I have the talent of killing people who trouble me and enjoy it. As for secrets, I want to kill you.’
Ethan laughed aloud, which echoed in the room. Jeremy did not follow. Ethan dropped his smile and dropped the half-burnt cigarette into the ashtray.
‘Ethan, how about telling me your secrets and talents?’ Jeremy asked.
Ethan no longer seemed to perceive Jeremy’s comments humorous. He stood still, looking down at the floor. Jeremy sniffed aloud, which brought Ethan back into the room.
‘Just trying to sniff some dishonesty, my friend,’ Jeremy said, getting up from his chair. He walked over to Ethan, led him gently to his chair, and helped him sit down. ‘Let me help my buddy over here. I know that your hidden talent is to hide secrets from your friends. And, the secrets that you have hidden from me,’ he said, leaning closer to his shoulder from behind and pinning him to the chair, ‘is that your company’s truck was responsible for the accident which claimed the lives of my wife and son. The funny part is that you were behind it. You collaborated with that bastard, who I call my dad, to kill me.’ He tightened his grip on his right shoulder and slowly moved his forearm across his neck to the other side. He stopped midway as Ethan began laughing.
‘OK Jeremy, you have found out. So, what do you expect me to do? Plead guilty and cry at your feet for pardon?’ He began shaking his head. ‘You want to kill me? Just like, you are killing those people from SAF? Well, good luck with that. Killing me would not make a difference whatsoever. You have already emerged a murderer and remain to be so. Killing me isn’t going to change that you were solely responsible for their deaths. Vengeance has driven you onto the path of insanity and there is no going back from this. What you need to give a thought is fear, not vengeance. You know nothing, Jeremy.’
Jeremy loosened his grip a little. ‘Stop! Fear terrifies those who are afraid of the fear, not the fearless,’ he said, tightening his grip of Ethan’s neck. As it tightened, his limbs began flinging in all directions for release. The more he protested, more strength Jeremy put into his grip until Ethan halted protesting and lay dead in his seat.
Jeremy released Ethan from his grip and let the corpse sway forward onto the table. With some effort, Jeremy pulled the corpse off the seat and dragged him all the way out. Once he was outside the building, he dragged the corpse to the edge of the cliff and kicked it down the slope.
‘ Justice served!’ he yelled out into the night. He removed his mobile from his pocket and found a half-dozen missed calls from Adam and John. He switched on the mobile data to book a cab for himself. That was when the WhatsApp notifications acquainted him with messages from Adam and John. John’s messages consisted of photos of Daniel Xavier, the investigative journalist, who was digging up the shit about Operation Rochen Fort, and was in their confinement. He texted John to keep him in confinement until he visited him the next day. When he opened Adam’s messages, he was surprised. He found the photos of a familiar person and a woman, and below the photo, Adam had written- LIVE AT XAVIER’S HOUSE. VISITED WILSON’S HOUSE TODAY. DOUBT THEIR INVOLVEMENT WITH OPERATION ROCHEN FORT AND XAVIER. His concern was not the man’s involvement with Operation Rochen Fort, it was far more important for him.
He called Adam, who answered the call on the second ring. ‘Adam, I want you to bring the man, whose photo you sent me. Do it immediately.’
‘But Sir, he was arrested by the cops this afternoon.’
‘I don’t care where he is. I want him as soon as possible!
[+ CYBER CRIME POLICE STATION- ELEVEN DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
EVERYTHING HAPPENED SO fast that Daniel had no time to assess what brought him to prison. Once they shoved him into the tiny cell, which was going to confine him for god-knew-how-many-days, he began wondering what charges they must have pressed against him. He maintained his calm all throughout his escort to the police station. The silence terrified him. He wondered if it was about Donald’s murder or about his attack on the military officer in the parking lot of the channel building or about the theft of Xavier’s property or something else he might have committed during his blank era. If it was Donald’s murder, he knew that he was going in for a long time or might even face death sentence. However, his main concern was his helplessness when they ask him about his motive behind the murder. He wished they would at least take help of a psychiatrist to help him retrieve his memories. He considered it a lottery for enjoying freedom for these many days. If not for that offense, he wished for them to spare him with a little punishment for the other two offenses.
As he seated himself on the bunk bed wondering about his options, the deputy passed by. He grabbed the moment and called out to him. The deputy seemed to be a nice person, for he turned around and asked him patiently what he wanted.
‘Sir, I’d like to know for what offense I am held here.’
‘Well, you are in the Cyber Police Station. You must be knowledgeable enough to know your offense. The comments you posted on your Facebook timeline were in criticism of the ESAF. According to the present scenario, it’s a crime. You will be detained for two or three days at least and fifteen days max.’
‘But, I haven’t posted anything on my Facebook timeline.’
‘When trouble finds you, you take to lying,’ he said and left.
Daniel had a sense of relief for not being arrested for the murder or the other offences he was concerned about. He pitied himself for being arrested for a crime he had not committed. He sat down on the bunk bed and began pondering over what stood important for him now. There seemed to be so many matters on his plate that he remained in turmoil as to what stood the most important of all. He had the Operation Rochen Fort to chase. Given some time, he knew that it was not a difficult task. He had Cynthia, who he believed could uncover something by the time he left detainment. Then, he had the sins of his memory to handle, which held the key as to what made him kill the Prime Minister, and Margaret to assault him. The last, but not the least, he had to find out the whereabouts of Margaret, who was captured by the military. Sensing his aggravated vitals, he lied down on the bunk bed with his head resting on his left palm and his right foot on his left knee.
He was striding the path leading to the Swelter’s Tip, when he spotted her standing against the railing of Swelter’s Tip. It was around 5.30 in the evening, when they usually met, so that they could savor the scenery of the sunset. The difference was in Margaret’s position, which was usually the bench facing the path. In that occasion, she was standing against the railing with her back to him. He had a sense of understanding. As he neared her, the sense of uneasiness aggravated.
After he crossed the benches, he called out her name. She straightened up and said, ‘Daniel,’ and turned her head slightly sideways. Her long hair, flowing with the wind, obscured the view of her face. ‘Long time no see, Daniel,’ she said, still unturned. The sarcasm in her tone was obvious, which she did not mind hiding.
‘I am sorry for being late,’ he said, deficient of words to say.
‘You were late for two whole years. These fifteen minutes aren’t a big matter.’
The punishment of hearing only her voice annoyed him. ‘Margaret, it’s been a long time since I have seen you. Why don’t you turn around and speak?’
‘You are annoyed that I haven’t turned around while speaking to you. Can’t you imagine my annoyance at being left alone by my boyfriend for two years? In these two years, haven’t you thought of me at least once?’
He thought of the best way to explain her. ‘Margaret, please understand me. I wanted to explain you everything before I left. But I knew that there was no way to convince you to accept my decision. I-’
‘Stop Daniel,’ she yelled. She was weeping, which reflected in her tone. ‘Are you seeing someone, Daniel?’
The question struck him hard like a bullet. He moved forward to her and stood behind her. ‘Are you questioning my dedication towards you?’
She stood still without a response. He repeated the question and encountered the same response. ‘Margaret, please turn around.’ But she remained oblivious to his request. He was well aware of the impact his abandonment had on her. He decided to handle the issue with caution. He grabbed her arm gently and turned her around. All of his raging emotions seemed to evaporate at the sight of her face. It was not Margaret. It was Cynthia.
By the time he gained back his senses, he was on the floor of his cell. In the process of falling down, he had banged his head on the floor and the pain radiated to all parts of his head from the scar on his temple. He picked himself off the ground and settled on the bunk bed, holding his head. Once his dizziness evaporated, he began evaluating the sense of the dream. Everything in the dream had its authenticity except for the presence of Cynthia, which made him question his sanity. As he sat there tiring to make sense out of it, revelation dawned upon him. The act of spending a long day with Cynthia had occupied his mind to such an extent that she began intruding his memories and thoughts. He wondered how a stranger had come to become so friendly with him, while it usually took him at least two days to become well acquainted with any living soul.
Having dropped the hopes of dozing off again, he stood up and paced the short distance to the washbasin. He washed his face with cold-water and began working-out for what-took-the-sun-to-rise minutes.
After tiring-out himself for more than an hour and having some loaf of bread as breakfast in his cell, the deputy announced that the people from RCAF were going to come within the next hour to escort the prisoners to the military court for prosecution. He took his time to evaluate his choices, assuming he had any except going with the flow. He made himself comfortable in his cell and began wondering about his future, which seemed as abstruse as his past. The thought of his past reminded him again of Margaret and her assault on him. The anxiety the memory evoked increased his sense of discomfort. The more he pondered over the memory, the more the questions it arose.
As he went over it repeatedly, he met with a sense of revelation. When he recalled the memory repeatedly, it made him feel sorrow for having survived rather than happy. It did not take him long to know why.
I had just gotten off my car and walked over to the Swelter’s tip, when I realized that I had become far different from what I and my mother intended I become. The sins I had committed were sure to chase me for years to come. I had no strength left in me to live life with those sins weighing upon my soul. I believed what I was going to do was for serving me what I considered righteous. I took a step towards the railing, which separated me from the cliff’s valley and removed the gun from my blazer’s pocket. The valley welcomed to me to jump. However, it did not offer me the guarantee that I would die. I stepped back a few feet until I could no longer see the valley. I knew that the death I was going to meet would meet me through a lot of pain and suffering. But I knew that it was going to be for a few seconds, only until the bullet pierced my skull and brain. and rained them over the spot I spent my wonderful moments with Margaret. The thought of Margaret welcomed me to step-back. But I was not ready to meet her as the stranger I had become for myself. I closed my eyes and pressed the muzzle of the handgun to the bottom of my chin. My index finger moved to the trigger. Before I pressed the trigger, I mentally ran the images of my father, mother and Margaret in my mind for the last time. Margaret was the only person alive I was answerable to, from whom I was departing for good.
As I was about to squeeze the trigger, I heard her voice. ‘Daniel!’
I turned around in reflex and found her behind me with tears running down her cheeks. The sight of her made me more miserable than happy, despite knowing that it was the last I was going to see her. But it was short-lived, for she raised a gun at me and shot me a glare.
‘You brought this upon yourself, Daniel!’ she said, squeezing the trigger.
As pain shot up my abdomen and I swayed backwards, I realized that God had decided to serve me justice the way He felt righteous.
The sudden surge of realization, which accompanied the memory, pushed his sense of sanity to its boundaries. He sat still for what he felt an eternity, trying to make sense of the memory, which introduced him to his suicidal instincts. He had always affiliated suicide to the family of cowardice. The revelation that he had preferred death over life at some point of his life made him doubt the consequences, which prodded him towards it.
He stood up and paced about the cell nervously, banging his fist into the palm of the other hand. The more he thought about it, the more helpless he felt. His racing heart made him attentive of his anxiety and he dropped to the ground and involved himself in a few minutes of workout to increase the surge of endorphins to his brain. Once he felt at equilibrium, he sat down on the ground and rewound the memory once again. As he went over it, one thing became clear. The memory had an air of guiltiness all throughout, whose source he strained to remember. He grabbed a wistful of his hair in both fists and immersed himself in thought, expecting the pain to improve his memory. The endeavor proved worthless. When he finally snagged the courage to give up, he had to find another means to keep himself occupied so that he would not circle back to the same spot of jeopardy.
The question seemed to answer itself, when the deputy appeared to announce that a Lieutenant and a soldier were waiting to load the detainees for what he called a “judicial trial”. Daniel got to his feet and followed a small crowd towards the Inspector’s office, where he found a couple of men, one who seemed about forty and the other about Daniel’s age, chatting with the Inspector. Despite seeming interested in the conversation, both the men had an air of impatience in their actions, which spilled out in the way they eyed the incoming detainees. However, the younger one’s glare changed into a look of recognition as soon as he set eyes on Daniel. He left behind the older lad and paced in Daniel’s direction.
Daniel doubted if he owed the man something in his lost past, until he stood facing Daniel and hugged him. The lad’s display of affection assuaged Daniel, who hugged him back, despite having no recollection of meeting him.
‘How are you, Daniel?’ he asked, the gaze of recognition persistent.
Daniel felt at a lack of words. He simply replied “good”. The lad seemed to sense Daniel’s suspicions about their affiliations, as his smile disappeared and he threw back a similar gaze.
‘Don’t you recognize me?’ he asked.
Daniel sensed a flicker of hope in his mind about escaping the detention if he posed to recognize the man. But the senior, whom he considered the Lieutenant, grabbed the chance.
‘Manyap, do you know him?’ the senior asked.
The young lad called Manyap walked towards the senior and explained something in the senior’s ears for a couple of minutes, which he listened intently and responded with a satisfying nod. Manyap moved to the Inspector’s desk and grabbed a file. The both of them went through it for a few seconds before halting at a particular page. They read something for a minute and gazed at Daniel. Once the senior nodded his satisfactory nod for a second time, Manyap returned to Daniel and escorted him outside. Once they were a few yards away from the Cyber Crime Police Station, Manyap halted Daniel and turned to him.
‘Daniel, are you alright?’ he asked.
Daniel nodded in response. As he stood there, free of his punishment, new questions formulated in his mind. Unable to keep his curiosity at bay, Daniel grabbed the chance to begin his questions.
‘What did you tell him?’ he asked, keeping aside his doubts of their association.
‘I told him what any military man knowing you might have said. You are one of us. There is no way you would criticize our own people on social media.’
Daniel was still clueless. ‘Us? Our people?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, the military, RCAF. We worked in the SAF. Do not try to sound sarcastic. You aren’t good at that.’
Military? What did I have to do with military?
The new streak of revelations boggled him. He pushed past Manyap and settled on the pavement, holding his head. As he questioned the new revelations, few things made sense. His conversation with Margaret in his memory about being away for two years made sense for him. Yet, few other questions remained orphaned of answers.
‘Look Manyap, you seem to be a friend of mine,’ he said. The statement met with a confused gaze from Manyap. ‘But, I must notify you. I am suffering from retrograde amnesia, whereupon I am clueless about the events of the past four years. So, if I met you during that time, I am sorry for not remembering.’
He searched Manyap’s face for any sort of expression. But he gazed into air, as if he was trying to analyze the situation. Once he was done with what he had to fiddle with, he nodded at Daniel and offered him a hand. Daniel took it and stood up.
‘OK Daniel, I slightly understand your situation. Once I am done with leaving the detainees at the RCAF court, I will join you and help you with the details of my version of your past. We will get done with the loading within the next hour if the truck arrives soon enough.’
Daniel felt a sudden surge of contentment at finally meeting someone, who could help him catch-up with his past. He hugged Manyap and patted his back in response. Manyap returned it for a second before he pulled off. When Daniel tried to figure-out the reason for the sudden pull-off, he found Manyap gazing behind Daniel.
‘Do you know him?’ he asked.
When Daniel turned around, he found the beefy guy with the pierced eyebrow standing a few inches behind him. Before he had time to appreciate himself for his deductive skills, he was upon the both of them and when Daniel came back to his senses, he found himself in the back of a moving van with Manyap lying unconscious by his side.
[+ OUTSIDE CYBER CRIME POLICE STATION- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
SEATED IN THE COROLLA and waiting for the two military men to reappear at the military truck, Cynthia stamped her foot on the floor of the car impatiently. She straightened up as she watched Daniel exit the police station, accompanied by the younger one of two military people. She wanted to make her move towards Daniel, but the additional presence made her halt in the car and wait. They went through a series of exchanged sentences followed by Daniel hugging the man, before the beefy guy was onto them. He shoved them into the back of a van and drove away. Cynthia quickly put the car in gear and raced behind them.
[+ ROSS’S RESIDENCE- 1991 +]
Santo motioned slowly, but confidently, towards Ross, as he stood there perplexed, afraid to move even a single muscle in his body. Santo kicked the knife away and gestured for Ross to move to the dining chair. Once Ross sat down, Santo sat down on the opposite side of the table, with his gun aimed at Ross, ready to pass down his instructions to Ross.
‘Look Mr. Ross, from what I have gained about you, you seem to be a family man. You do not seem to mind taking instructions from someone. Actually, that is what you do at your office. So if you follow my instructions, you are good to spend time with your family. Or else, you are good to spend time, but as a loner. I believe you get me,’ Santo said.
When he was done, he expected Ross to display something, which would indicate that he understood. Instead, what he received in response was a confused stare. Santo stood up from his place and stood two feet in front of Ross, with the gun aimed at his head.
‘OK,’ he said, displaying his annoyance in his tune. ‘I want you to understand that your wife is in the clutches of my people. So, if you want her back alive, you must follow my instructions,’ he yelled.
The latter evoked a response from Ross. He hoisted his arms in the air and stood up. ‘I will do anything you say. I just want my wife to stay safe. That’s all I need.’
Santo felt relieved at finally making him understand what was at stake. He thought it better to begin.
‘Grab your car keys,’ he said.
Ross hurriedly grabbed the keys and hustled out. Santo motioned him to get into the driver’s seat and once they were in the car, they buckled up. Santo led the way to the destination.
Prime Minister Godwin Nyl Sanders was dressed up in his usual Armani suit for the inauguration of the Rochen Fort that afternoon. He glanced for a second at the grandfather clock in his office, which displayed 10.15. The inauguration was set to begin at 12.30 that afternoon. However, Godwin knew otherwise. After waking up at five in the morning, he had brief encounters with his wife and his secretary, and kept to himself for most of the time. He did not appreciate others witnessing his nervousness and trying to connect it with something, especially the tragedy that was going to follow.
Overwhelmed with nervousness, his usually soft chair became annoyingly uncomfortable and he paced about the room in anxiety. After unsuccessfully trying to mitigate his anxiety, he retrieved the bottle of whisky from the cabinet and poured himself a strong drink. Sipping at it, he glanced once again at the clock. It said 10.40.
Having given up all efforts to calm down, he lifted the receiver off the hook and verified if it was on a secure line. After confirming it, he dialed the personal number of Gabriel Nyl Romero. He answered on the second ring.
‘Romero, have you received any updates from Santo?’ he asked nervously, wiping off sweat with his sleeve.
‘Yes, Mr. Sanders. He said that he had picked up Ross from his house after eight, and is on his way to Klaxon Flyover as we speak. He is awaiting further instructions.’
‘Good. Is everything in order?’
‘Absolutely, sir. All it needs is a single flip from our side.’
‘Everything must go according to plan.’
Once he ended the call, Godwin sensed his spirits rising. He soothed himself and sipped the fluid leisurely. After ensuring that he had drowned until the final drop in the glass, he replaced the bottle and the glass, and walked over to the bathroom. Looking himself in the mirror, he straightened his apparel and matted his hair. He grinned a little and then changed it into a frown.
A little practice would not hurt.
He retreated into his office, switched on the TV and flipped through the channels with the TV on mute. All the news channels were busy telecasting the arrangements for the inauguration. Godwin moved closer to the TV and peered at the screen closely for any signs of familiar faces. It tired his eyes and he retreated to his seat.
When he glanced at the clock again, it was 10.55.
Few more minutes to go, pals.
Donald Jol Miller, Chemist in Explosives Unit of EDDAOF, sat in his chair gazing at his table covered with files. Even though he had plenty on his hands, he waited for one particular file, which he believed would change his future. He knew perfectly what he had to do. His retrieved the mirror from his shelf and examined his bloodshot eyes. It had been one hell of a day, as he had to spend the early hours of the day, working on Ross’s car. His two years’ experience in the RCAF had proven fruitful in helping him install the explosive. Even to this day, he wondered how a short man like him had secured a place in the military.
He thought about how his role in solving many blasts had gone unrecognized. The thought of taking credit for something he had not done made him believe it as a reprisal for the fame he was previously deprived. He hoped that he was going to be famous for playing a vital role in analyzing the explosive that was going to claim many lives at the Rochen Fort, if everything went according to plan.
He glanced at his watch and found that the time was 10.30 in the morning. He lifted the receiver of the phone off the hook and started dialing the Senior Scientist’s number, when the clerk appeared in his office with an envelope, which said “Confidential”. He left the envelope on the table and left. Donald jumped at the file, like a kid jumping at his Christmas gifts, and opened the envelope.
There was a blue file, which branded the symbol of Fremian Ordnance Factory. The first thing he had to do was remove the papers of the file and burn the cover of the file. He did so in bathroom and flushed the ashes and the remains down the toilet.
All he had to do next was to enact the plot and prepare the document, explaining the blast materials and pose in front of the media as the genius behind uncovering the mystery.
There is no mystery for us, just a play.
[+ OFFICE- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Roland Byn Clifton, Chief Editor of Fremia Daily, gazed at the calendar on his wall. It was 12 September. Daniel Xavier had to reach him with the report before two days. Yet, he did not show up. When he initially heard from Daniel about some interesting revelations about the Rochen Fort Blasts of 1991, it immediately secured his undivided attention. The blasts were the principal reason he was crippled. However, he attributed his achievement as chief editor of the daily to the motivation incurred by his spirit to show people that he was physically crippled, not mentally.
When he found from Daniel about some foul play behind the blasts, he readily agreed to publish it in his newspaper at any cost. That had been six months ago, when Daniel had promised him that his half-completed report would be done by September. But the lack of response from Daniel worried him. He picked up his phone and dialed Daniel’s number. It said that his phone was switched-off.
He ended his endeavor and dropped the phone on the table with a thud. He had been receiving the same reply since the last twenty-four hours and its persistence agitated him, besides worrying him. He tried to deal the response optimistically. But his instincts, which said that something was wrong, constantly disturbed him.
[+ GODWIN SANDER’S RESIDENCE- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Godwin sat on the couch holding his phone. His fingers constantly moved to the dial icon on the screen, but he restrained himself. It had taken him a long time to come up with that decision. After nearly making up his mind, he had thought of informing his party men about the decision and debating it. However, he was able to anticipate their response, which dropped all hopes of a proper future for the party. If he decided to act according to his instincts, he knew that he would face opposition from his men. But he had his ways to make them understand, if not, suppress them and bring them together to support his decision.
He let out a sigh and clicked the dial icon on his phone’s screen. The person answered after a couple of rings.
‘Jeremy speaking,’ the voice said.
‘Jeremy, it’s Godwin Sanders,’ Godwin said. He did not intend to linger around. He came straight to the point. ‘Jeremy, I’d like to offer you a place in our party. I intend to nominate you to the parliament. There is something very important that has prodded me to ask for your help. Would you like to take the offer? How about we talk about this tomorrow at nine in my house?’
The response he received left him chuckling long after Jeremy ended the call.
[+ IN A BARN OUTSIDE KRAMINKO- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Daniel Xavier opened his eyes with an effort, despite the headache, which made his every single effort a load of exasperation. He was lying on dry grass and the place smelled of the stench of animal feces. When he lifted his head from the ground and gazed around, he saw what he perceived to be barn doors with small holes, which served as the only gateway for the rays of light that illuminated the dark barn. He tried to scream for help, but the duct tape secured his mouth. So were his hands and legs.
He tried to remember how he happened to end up in the place, which dragged him into the depths of his memory. The last thing he knew was stepping outside his door to walk to the neighbor’s and… then taking a hit to the back of his head. He knew that the motive was not any robbery. As he strained to make sense of the motive, the beefy guy came into his mind. The terrifying structure and the serious looks on the guy’s face had given him creeps, which made him sense something bad.
As he began connecting the beefy guy to his plight, the barn doors opened with a noise, which hurt Daniel’s eyes, and a Ford van reversed into the barn. As Daniel strained to have a clear look at the scenario, the silhouette of a beefy man stepped out and walked towards him. When he was four feet away from Daniel, he pointed a flashlight in his direction and shone it at Daniel. Once he made a mental record of Xavier’s status, he switched it off and walked back to the barn’s entrance. Daniel doubted if the beefy guy was the same one, he had seen earlier. As he lay there, marveling with his doubts, the beefy guy closed the doors of the barn and switched on a powerful LED bulb, which illuminated the whole place. He turned back, confirming Daniel’s doubts, and retreated back to the rear of the van to open its doors. He caught hold of two human bodies and dragged them out of the van onto the barn floor with ease, as if they were sacks of grains ready to sell in the market. He closed the doors of the van and turned back to Daniel.
‘Hey Xavier, I got you some company,’ he said.
[+ MILLER’S RESIDENCE- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
SLEEP HAD ALWAYS been a difficult thing to achieve for Jeremy, but never did it seem so impossible. He lay still on the bed with his left arm lying carefully by his side, wondering whether to feel happy for eliminating a back-stabber or mourn the death of a dearest friend. Whatever he decided to perceive, he wanted to savor the excitement of having finally captured the scoundrel, who had gone for days together, digging through the history of the Rochen Fort Blasts. When he felt that he had assembled what all the knowledge he could about the conspiracy behind the blasts, he felt contentment about his achievement and the benefits he was going to harvest from its knowledge. When he received a lead about someone investigating the conspiracy, it had the contrasting effect on him.
When the blasts shook the country, he was just a 12-year old, who felt happy about being announced three-days off school to grieve the loss. He had never had a clue as to what way it was going to change the course of his life.
He instinctively turned to his left, but instantly realized that it was a weak spot to pressure upon and carefully turned to his right. He peered at the bedside clock, which announced two o’ clock in the morning. He realized that it was going to be one of those days, which he starts with a massive headache and feel hung-over despite having given up drinking since long.
It is a big day ahead.
When Jeremy, ready to leave, stepped in front of the mirror at 8.50 in the morning, he wondered if he was leaving to torture someone to spill out the truth or attend a party, except for the sling and the impetuous look on his face. He adjusted his shabby hair and left his room. When he reached the dining room, the ham sandwich prepared by his maid lay neatly wrapped on the table, as he had insisted. He grabbed it off the plate and walked away to the car, waiting for him in front of the door. Once he got in, John put it in gear and drove away.
‘Have you talked to Adam?’ he asked, taking a bite of the sandwich.
‘Yes sir. He left the barn few minutes ago to join the people staged outside the Cyber Crime Police Station. According to what they acquired, the arrested detainees would be detained to the RCAF court for prosecution. He said that he would try his best to capture him without messing with the military.’
‘Yeah, right now, it’s best to stay out of the military’s hairs. What about that journalist?’
‘He’s still unconscious. Our people are guarding the barn holding him.’
‘Is Adam sure he is not dead?’
John took a pause, which made Jeremy doubt the scenario. ‘He’s pretty sure he is alive. My blow was a bit hard for the small guy.’
‘If he dies before giving me what I need, you’ll be as dead as this ham,’ Jeremy said, plucking a chunk off the sandwich.
John nodded his head, wiping sweat off his forehead.
There was utter silence in the SUV, as John drove on with Jeremy feasting on the final bits of the sandwich, until Jeremy yelled at John to stop the car. John slammed hard on the brakes and looked around him to find what caused Jeremy to call for the halt. When he turned to Jeremy, he was gazing through his window at the apparently deserted house to his right.
‘Stay here,’ he said and stepped out.
Jeremy felt the sudden surge of memories as he stood on the pavement, gazing at the house, where he had spent his days with Evelyn. He involuntarily walked over to the front door and stood gazing at the doorknob. He patted his coat-pocket for the key, which he always carried with him, not for the key, but for the locket it had linked to it, which had the photo of himself, Evelyn and Rick grinning at the camera. He unlocked the door with it and the dusty living room welcomed him. He strolled in, but stopped in his tracks when the sound of paper under his foot drew his attention to the scattered letters on the floor. He stepped back and picked them off the floor. As he went through them, they were mostly letters about various bills he had to pay, which he had paid online. But the letter that caught his attention was a letter addressed to him from a Mr. Lang, whose address was absent on the envelope.
Despite being unable to explain why he felt drawn to that letter in particular, he pulled the letter from the envelope and began reading through it.
To Mr. Jeremy Jol Miller,
This letter is to acknowledge you as to what circumstances led to your capture by the SAF and the episodes that followed it.
As to my knowledge, your capture happened as a part of an agreement between Ethan Holland and the Head of East division, Belfort Kyl Harper. You were on the SAF’s radar for more than two months before your capture. But it was Ethan Holland who arranged for your capture in the most dramatic way possible; an accident, choreographed by Ethan and Belfort together. The attack on SAF’s den, which eventually led to your escapade from SAF, was a hoax raid staged by Mercupo Liberation Society’s leader and Belfort to let you fall into their hands. Belfort is the one responsible for you facing a fate that I could only imagine as horrible. It is as far as I could grasp as of now and would like to notify you as to what little progress I could make regarding the foul play against you.
I honestly regret the fate you had to meet just because of some wrongful affiliations between a terrorist organization and a corrupt official.
Once he was through the letter twice, he folded it and pocketed it. He settled on the dusty couch and buried his face in his palms, with the episodes of his past streaming through his mind.
Pain radiating through his head must have activated his reticular system, for he woke up with a start. The surroundings reminded him of his dreadful moments in the clutches of SAF. And he began doubting if he had ever managed to escape from them. But there was something quite different in the surroundings, which did not make a sudden sense. As he began giving more attention to his surroundings, despite the fear and his hammering heart, he found the difference in the appearance of the people, who stood surrounding him, and the flag, which lay tied to a pole, wishing for some wind to blow it. It was the flag of the Mercupo Liberation Society. He swallowed hard. However, somewhere in his mind, a flicker of hope lighted up. He had worked, or at least voted, against the occupancy of the Mercupo Islands by the MNCs earlier that year. He expected that resistance to play in his favor.
When he found the people moving aside to give way for someone, his attention deviated. As he lay there wondering who it was, Mudassir Al-Mustafa appeared in front of him. He stood there, without speaking a word, observing Jeremy, as if he was the latest Benz model in display. But what appeared in his eyes mystified Jeremy.
‘So, we have Mr. Jeremy Jol Miller, the son of Donald Jol Miller,’ he said, raising his arms into the air and pointing at Jeremy. He paced towards Jeremy and stood few inches away from his face. He pulled out a knife from his pocket and incised Jeremy’s bruised palm. He ran his finger over the incision and lifted the finger to show Jeremy his own blood. His grin disappeared and he stood up. ‘Mr. Miller, you have a visitor.’ Jeremy’s fear escalated at the sight of the man’s over-respect for him. Only crooked bastards respect you more before slitting your throat.
As he moved aside to let the silhouette of a big man approach Jeremy from the shadows, his heart raced. As he strained his eyes to see the person…
The sound of his ringing phone brought him back from the past and he nervously reached into his pocket and fished it out. It was Adam on the line.
‘Sir, I captured the man and someone who seems to be his friend. Where shall I take them?’
‘A friend? Send me his photo.’
The stranger’s revelations sparked a fire in his heart. Everything that had happened to him was what some people had designed to happen. He formed a fist with his hand and released it repeatedly; the new pain fueled the already blazing fire in him. And he knew that it wouldn’t be long before everyone responsible succumbed to it.
He stood up and walked to the door. In the time it took Adam to send him the photo, Jeremy stepped out of the house and locked the front door. When he reached for the car’s door, his phone pinged. The photo he received filled him with a sense of euphoria and he texted Adam to bring them to the barn where the journalist remained a captive.
As the car drove wove its way through the traffic, Jeremy sensed his spirits escalating and realized that his excitement outweighed his insomnia.
What a pleasant day, my dears!
IT TOOK THE sound of a car, the thud of some surfaces and some muffled voices for Daniel Shelby to wake up from his unconsciousness. It took the help of duct tape to bind his hands together behind his back. He found Manyap, who claimed to be his friend, and a man with familiar face by his side in a similar state. Putting some effort into recognizing the face, he recognized him as Daniel Xavier, his unaware benefactor. When he looked down at his abdomen to find what caused the dampness, he found the red staining of his t-shirt, which was soaked with blood. He prayed for the safety of his major arteries, while marveling over who brought him there.
The opportunity to puzzle over who abducted him evaded him, since he found the silhouettes of two figures approaching them. Then a light turned on somewhere in what-was-a-barn and the figures came into clear view. One of them the beefy guy, who abducted them, and the other, a tall man with a square face, blue eyes and a pointed nose, with his left arm held in a sling.
As the duo approached them, Daniel doubted if it had something to do with his blank era. He kept his eyes open and watched them approach. The tall man removed his sunglasses and pocketed them. He looked in the direction of the beefy guy, who walked through the dry grass on the floor and woke Xavier with a kick in his belly, followed by the same in case of Daniel and Manyap. The big foot missed Daniel’s wound by inches, but left him in pain. Xavier woke up without a flicker of startle, which made Daniel believe that he was conscious when he received the kick.
Jeremy squatted down in front of Daniel Xavier, as if he was oblivious to the other two in the barn, and gazed at him intently. He reached with his right hand towards Xavier’s chin and examined his face by turning it to both sides.
‘So, you’re the person investigating “Operation Rochen Fort”?’ he asked, without any expression. He nodded his head, despite receiving no response. ‘I don’t understand people going behind things that don’t concern them. You see,’ he said, poking his index finger into Xavier’s face, ‘that attitude is what fires me up. You don’t know what I can do when I feel insane.’
Xavier tried his best to hide his fear and appear brave. ‘You’re as insane as the people who planned the blasts.’
Jeremy shook his head in dissatisfaction. ‘You don’t understand what is at stake here if this thing spreads out, do you?’
‘What are at stake are the lives and reputations of those bastards who killed innocent people. Your father’s one of those. I believe you know about that since you refer to it as “Operation Rochen Fort” instead of Rochen Fort Blasts.’
Jeremy massaged his thighs and clasped his hands together. ‘Daniel, you don’t seem so understanding. I do not know since when you have been investigating this, but I first came to know this from…Gary Pti Fernandez, who was a close friend of Ross Wud Jankis. And you know what, after I extracted what all he knew, I killed the old boy. Killing isn’t a big thing for me buddy. It is just my sport. Killing kind-of soothes me down,’ he said, licking his lips.
Daniel Shelby sat there looking at the man, who had just announced that he had killed his father. He felt at a loss of words, despite trying to pull himself together and assault Jeremy. His attention completely shifted from his bleeding wound, and he stared at Jeremy with hatred and anger, at a loss of words.
‘Yeah, looks like that. Just like your father, Donald, who fixed the explosive in Ross’s car, then made a report about the explosive composition and all, and posed as a fucking savior in front of the media. You know what, I felt happy when I heard that someone shot him like a dog in his own office. He deserved it.’
While Daniel Xavier expected Jeremy to get furious, he burst into laughter. Xavier eyed him, as if he was a maniac.
‘Daniel, do you expect me to get enraged by your comment? What I care about is not Donald’s exposure as a murderous son of a bitch. All I care about is people casting me out as an outcast just because Donald happens to be my father. Do you know what happens to me after this comes out? They will treat me like an anti-social, and people start treating me as if I am Donald Jol Miller himself. No, I am Jeremy Jol Miller, a boy of twelve years during the blasts, who knew nothing about the conspiracies. Do these people care about it? No. All they do is pass me down the guilt of my father, call me what all they please and cast me out like a terrorist. I have to notify you that Mr. Godwin had called me minutes ago while I was on the way and offered me a place in Fremian National Party. I’ll be nominated to the parliament and might as well be the next Prime Minister candidate in the coming few days. You see, the sympathy factor does work out. So, what happens to all these privileges if the truth spills out? The truth is good for nobody and harsh for everybody.
‘So, if you possess anything related to Operation Rochen Fort in paper or something, let me destroy it and set you free.’
This time, it was Daniel Xavier’s turn to laugh aloud. Adam started in his direction, but Jeremy halted him.
‘So, you want me to believe this shit. Go tell these stories to your son.’
Jeremy had had enough. He swung his clenched fist at the side of his face and it made contact with Xavier’s jaw, gushing blood out of his mouth. Daniel fell down on the ground and spitted blood onto the grass, while Jeremy stood over him with a grinning face.
‘Daniel, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there existed a little boy of about four. He had a mother and father; the father was a drunkard mechanic. But he treated his wife and son good. The boy loved the father very much. However, the wife claimed his drinking problem as the sole reason behind their poverty and began seeing a well-to-do government official. After developing some acquaintance with each other, the wife and the official finally decided to get rid of the drunkard husband. They murdered the drunkard, married and lived a good life in riches. The boy got all the materialistic things he lacked due to the drunkard’s poverty. However, he missed the love of the drunkard father.
‘Now, you are the kid. I am the official and the truth about Operation Rochen Fort is your drunkard father. You must have lost someone in the blasts, which must have triggered you to embark on this path to uncover the truth. If you let the truth out, all the concerned people will target you and try to rip you off into shreds. If you let go, you could at least live life peacefully. I can help you financially. Marry a pretty girl, have kids and enjoy life,’ Jeremy said, helping Daniel onto his knees.
Daniel maintained a blank expression on his face for a few moments, while Jeremy stared at him intently, oblivious to the other two.
‘I have tried to explain it to you the right way,’ he said, with a blank face. Daniel Xavier fell back suddenly as Jeremy’s fist collided into his nose, shattering his nasal bones. Xavier’s arm muscles flexed tightly as he tried to pull them free of the duct tape and cup his bleeding nose. ‘See for yourself what happens to you if you fucking mess with me!’ he yelled, for the first time attending to Manyap and Daniel.
‘Adam, have you got a rod in the van?’ he asked, not taking his eyes off Manyap.
Adam nodded and brought him a rusty iron rod from the van and handed it to him. Jeremy tapped the rod against his knee, not taking his eyes off Manyap. He squatted in front of Manyap. ‘What’s your name, mate?’
‘Manyap!’ he said confidently. ‘Why? Are you going to puke all over the place? If so, better notify me.’
‘You wish to show some attitude? If you want to sound unafraid, you are welcome. But you don’t know what pain I inflicted on your friends before I slit their throats. And, the two of you are going to show that stubborn bastard what it is to oppose me,’ he said, swinging the rod in Xavier’s direction, who was lying on the ground.
Jeremy stood up from his squatting posture and massaged his aching thighs. He mustered all the strength he could and swung the stick.
John, who was busy smoking his cigar, did not notice the Toyota, which noiselessly drove into the tall hay behind the SUV. Once he was done with it, he dropped the butt onto the ground and walked into the hay to pee. As he stood there peeing, Cynthia approached the SUV’s open door, removed the gun from the glove compartment and went behind the beefy guy. However, she realized that it would be her path to self-destruction if she stepped in the hay and made noise. She stayed beside the car door and waited with a heavy stone in her hand, while the gun remained tucked into her trousers’ waistband.
As John began to turn around, she swung the stone at his head. As she watched its initial trajectory, she doubted it making any contact. Ultimately, it ended up knocking him down on the ground and the hay began turning red at the base. If not for the number of surgeries she attended as a medico, she knew that she would have fainted. But it took her less than a minute to realize she had been watching too many movies lately, when John stood up holding the back of his head. He turned and motioned towards her. Unable to find an alternative, she retrieved the gun from her trousers and shot at him blindly. The first one flew right above his head, but it slowed him down. She tried to steady her shaking hands and concentrate. It was not the first time she was firing a gun; she had fired many rounds in the firing range along with her father. She tried her second chance, which ended up grazing his right arm. As he stood holding his arm, the third bullet hit his thigh and he fell back onto ground.
As she stood perplexed in her spot, the doors of the barn opened with a loud noise and she turned around with her gun drawn, ready to blast at the sight of trouble.
As the rod drew closer, Jeremy observed Manyap’s hands breaking loose. But before he could take it in, he heard a gunshot from outside, which made him withdraw the strike. As he gave attention to the two successive shots, which followed the first, Manyap broke loose and charged at Adam with the knife he pulled from his boots aimed at him. He slit Adam’s wrist, then cut the fabric of his shirt and his chest. In his attempt to evade Manyap’s knife, he swiveled backwards and banged his head hard on the ground, falling unconscious.
As Jeremy charged at Manyap, Daniel pulled himself off the ground and drove his shoulder into Jeremy’s abdomen and the both of them fell on the ground. Daniel regained his balance and drove his knee into his abdomen again, pushing him back to ground. Sensing Daniel’s struggle, Manyap came to his rescue and cut the duct tape loose. Once he was free, Daniel began kicking Jeremy, draining his anger and rage, while Manyap tried to drive him away.
‘Daniel, this is not the time for this. Come on. We need to leave. Come!’ he said, dragging a protesting Daniel.
Outside the barn, they were shocked to see Cynthia standing with a gun aimed at them.
‘She’s my friend. Let’s go,’ Daniel said.
Cynthia got into the SUV and kept the engine idling, as the both of them approached the car. But Daniel stopped a feet short of the car as he remembered Xavier.
‘I will go get Xavier,’ he said, running in. Manyap followed him and the both of them helped Xavier onto his feet and dragged him out. In the endeavor, Daniel took the chance to kick Jeremy in his face with the sole of his shoe and expected it to cause some impact.
Once the three men were back in the car, Cynthia put the car into “drive” and sped away. As the car made it for a few yards, a black Ford van sped past them, which terrified Cynthia since it was the same van, which had abducted Daniel in the morning, and had left the barn after Jeremy arrived. She slammed the accelerator hard despite the irregular road and tried to make some progress before the people in the van found out about the mayhem at the barn.
Once she lost sight of the van in the rear-view mirror, she felt a surge of relief. However, her relief lasted only a few moments, before the van reappeared in her rear-view mirror, closing in on them. She sensed the danger and tried to accelerate. The increased speed decreased the stability of the car on the irregular roads and it began to sway to either directions. She tried to keep her fear at bay to prevent it from playing with their chances and looked behind at the men in the rear seat. Only Manyap made eye contact; instead of expressing some appreciation for her bravery, he displayed suspicion in his deep eyes. She turned back to the road to find the van appear in the rear-view mirror and continued her effort to escape.
As the SUV approached the railway gates on the way, she observed the railway gate closing down. She pressed hard on the horn to notify the man-responsible about her urgency, and he halted the gates just for the SUV to pass through and she made it to the opposite side, while the van lagged behind the gates. Using the opportunity, she accelerated her way towards the highway. Once she drove the SUV onto the highway, she maintained the speed within the speed limit, while at the same time running the names of different places they could use as cover without running into the military.
Realizing that the stress had exhausted her thinking capacity, she said, ‘Daniel, can you suggest me someplace we could use for our escape?’
Daniel stayed silent for a few moments, while she concentrated on the road, expecting some reply. When she looked into the mirror, she witnessed the embarrassment on his face.
‘Daniel, I asked you a question.’
‘Of all the people in the car, you decided to ask this question to an amnesiac?’
She raised both her arms into the air and then grabbed the steering wheel again. ‘Daniel, you told me that you don’t remember anything about the last four years. But it does not mean that you don’t remember even the names of cities. Cities are part of semantic memory. It should be pretty intact in your case.’
Daniel covered his embarrassment and said, ‘You are even more embarrassing than that bastard, Jeremy. Do you know that he was the one who killed my father?’
While he expected a pitiful response, she lashed out at him. ‘So what! I have lost my father the last month and his murderer is roaming the streets like a fucking sparrow. Am I bitching about it? What we need to do is worry about our existence, not mourn the death of our fathers.’
As he thought of a response for her insensitivity, he caught site of the truck on their left side, which began closing in on them from the side. As it closed in on the SUV, forcing them to the extreme right of the road, Daniel yelled at Cynthia.
‘Cynthia, watch out!’
Before she could respond to the situation, the truck made a sudden maneuver to right. Cynthia, in her attempts to evade contact, steered right and the SUV collided into a light pole.
[+ ON THE STREETS OF SILVINKERIA- ON THE DAY OF ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
SANTO HAD THE muzzle of the gun pressed to Ross’s side, as Ross drove through the traffic. He put the safety on, anticipating Ross not to do something stupid. He had expected Ross to ask questions on the way. In contrast, he was welcomed with complete silence from Ross, who drove on as if he was driving his way to his office. Santo came to the resolution that it was his dedication towards his family’s safety, which made him obey his orders without asking any questions.
Once they reached the destination, which was the under-construction flyover passing adjacent to the newly built Rochen Fort, Santo ordered Ross to halt the car. The flyover’s construction had begun at the end of 1988. However, the decision taken in 1990 to build the Rochen Fort in that particular place led to the halt of construction of the flyover. Ross pulled over to a side and looked at Santo.
‘Is this it?’ he asked.
Santo raised his hand in his direction and pulled his satellite phone out of his backpack. He connected the call to his employer and got out of the car.
‘Remember that your family is in our hands, before you decide to do something stupid,’ he said, before walking out of hearing range of the car.
‘Are you there?’ his employer asked.
‘Yes,’ Santo said.
‘OK, you take the wheel and drive onto the flyover. The guards at its entrance have been informed about your arrival. Drive past them and ascend the flyover. Drive few yards till the incomplete end, which has been set with a slope, and halt the car few yards in line of the slope and wait for my call. I want you to get Ross on the line.’
After the call ended, Santo stood for a few seconds looking at the masses outside the Rochen Fort, who had assembled to witness the inauguration of the new parliament building. Though he was uninformed about the plot of the mission beforehand, he deducted it himself as the mission progressed. If everything went accordingly, many of them were going to be wounded or dead. But as per his principles, he was no one to decide bad or good. He was just a by-stander, who waved at whatever fate people were served. What made him nervous were his affiliations with that particular mission, which proved to be one of the riskless, yet the most crooked mission he had ever performed. He looked around to find any trace of backups or crossers, who his employers might have employed to get rid of him after the mission’s accomplishment. Failing to find anyone of that sort, he walked back to the car and looked in through the window.
‘Get into the passenger seat,’ he said and occupied the driver’s seat after Ross moved. He drove to the specified spot and waited. He received a call few minutes later and he handed it to Ross and told him to speak.
‘Is it Ross Jankis?’ a voice asked, instantly as the call connected.
‘Yes, who’s this?’ he asked nervously.
‘You may not know me. But I know you. And as the person with you must have informed you, we have your wife. So, what I need you to do is obey my orders.’
‘OK,’ he said.
Santo adjusted his posture in the driving seat of the car, as he gazed at Ross beside him. He had been speaking on the phone for over a couple of minutes and he began doubting what his employer had to say to him. He anticipated the next move to be Ross filling back the driver’s seat. As he began opening the door, Ross handed him the sat phone and told him that the man wanted to speak to him.
Once Santo was out of the car to speak on the phone, Ross reached for the gun with the silencer under his seat, which the man on the phone had said was taped to the bottom of the passenger seat. He removed the safety, as instructed, and hid it in his blazer. He sat still in his seat for a few seconds, with his eyes closed, as he weighed his options. Thinking it over and overdid not do him any good, but remind him that he had no other option but to do as instructed, to save his family. As instructed, he stepped out of the car, walked over to Santo from behind, who nevertheless reacted to Ross’s sudden appearance. The sat phone slipped from Santo’s hands when he caught site of Ross raising the silenced-gun from his blazer. Ross sensed his anxiety rising, which made his hands tremble. As Santo began to take advantage of his delay and lunged at him, he pulled the trigger. The bullet missed his head by few inches and Santo lunged at him. Ross swayed backward and fell down with Santo falling on top of him. However, his tight grip on the gun’s handle did not let it go. He raised the gun instinctively and shot in Santo’s side. The bullet splattered blood and tissue on Ross, while Santo turned about and ended up on the ground, clutching his wound. Ross got to his feet and moved a safe distance from Santo. He looked at the bleeding man and wondered what he had to do. For a moment, he thought of letting him die for himself. However, he had no time to afford. He looked at his watch and realized that it was 11.00. He raised the gun, pointed it at Santo’s head and shot him. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, unable to witness life evade him. Ross got into the car and reversed it a few feet back. After ensuring that Santo was dead, Ross picked him up and dragged him to the driver’s seat.
After making him sit in the driver’s seat and buckling him up, he ignited the engine, pressed the clutch with his hand, put the car in gear and kept the accelerator pressed with the rod that he retrieved from the trunk. He jammed the stick tightly between the accelerator and the seat. When the time was 11.12, the moment he had to launch the car off the flyover, he released his grip off the clutch. The car sped forward and ascended the elevated slope, before flying into the air and then landing into the people, who had assembled to witness the inauguration.
Ross had deduced that everything he did was to launch the car onto the Fort. Instead, it landed in the people, which part-worried him for the safety of his family and part terrified him for killing those people. But as he stood looking at the chaos, which erupted from the assault, the car blew up and the blast spread to a radius of few yards, before it was followed by a series of explosions from the Fort, which brought down the Fort onto the ground within a few moments. He felt a paralyzing effect, as he stood there gazing at the erupting flames, smoke and the chaos. Before he had time to take-in the series of blows, powerful hands clutched his face and dragged him away.
[+ KRAMINKO GENERAL HOSPITAL- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
DANIEL SHELBY WATCHED in horror as Cynthia was loaded into the ambulance. Everything had happened so fast that he still believed it was an illusion. However, belief has no power to change the past, but can modulate the future. The crash had left the three of them in the backseat jolting back and forth and hit their heads on the soft leather, except for Manyap who ended up falling forward onto the gear and was gifted a bump to the forehead. But, Cynthia’s was a serious case as she banged her head to the side after the airbags exploded and became unconscious before the broken glass bruised her arms and face mildly. Daniel Xavier’s bleeding nose gushed out blood from the jolt and he had to be crammed into the ambulance along with the rest of them.
As the ambulance weaved its way through the not-so-busy flyover towards Kraminko, Daniel assisted the paramedics in ensuring that she had not gone beyond point of retrieval. To his contentment, she proved to be holding good since her injuries were not as fatal as Daniel had feared. Daniel’s idle mind began marveling about the idea of the truck’s maneuver being a setup to kill them, and Jeremy got into his mind. The idea of having missed death, despite the accident, made him thank God for saving them and, at the same time, rebuke him for putting them in such a scenario.
Pushing aside all the thoughts, he concentrated on Cynthia, who seemed like a sleeping baby instead of an unconscious girl. Looking at her, he remembered that he had Margaret to care about; whose whereabouts were a complete mystery. He shifted his gaze to Manyap, who had claimed to be his friend. As he recalled the episodes the both of them had gone through after meeting in the police station that morning, he believed that Manyap was a generous person. He decided to take Manyap’s help in finding out about Margaret, since Manyap belonged to the RCAF.
It was only after admitting Cynthia in casualty and Xavier for fixing his broken nose did Daniel give attention to the bruises on his arms and face. While Manyap sat with an ice pack to his bump, Daniel went in search of a nurse to treat his wounds. As a medico, he had wandered the corridors of that hospital for times-unknown. When he found a nurse at the nurses’ station, the response he received surprised him.
‘Dr. Shelby, are you alright? You seem to be wounded,’ she said.
He looked at her for a moment to try to recollect any memory of her. But he could only remember passing her in the corridors during his various shifts. ‘I am fine. It’s just the bruises that need to be dressed,’ he said, managing a meek smile.
As he sat down on the couch, she approached him and asked him to lift his shirt. For a moment, he looked at her bemused. Only then did he recollect the abdominal wound, which had begun bleeding in the barn. He wondered how she had come to know about the injury, which he felt he knew the answer to. He looked down at his shirt, which was caked with dried blood and some liquid blood.
‘Dr. Shelby, why did you leave the hospital so early before you were discharged?’ she asked, removing the blood soaked bandage.
‘Well, I felt disoriented in this environment. I thought it would be better to take a stroll,’ he said, realizing that it was not a good explanation.
‘You better say this to Dr. Martello. Since you left, he has been very furious. He blamed us for leaving you unattended,’ she said, without fading her friendly smile.
Amidst all the chaos he was going through, he took a moment to appreciate her spirit and believed that she made a wonderful caretaker.
‘You mean Dr. Milan Martello?’ he said, recollecting the name of his best friend.
‘Yep, as if you don’t remember,’ she said.
He nodded his head.
‘I better call in Dr. Martello to stitch the wound again. And, you both can get some time together,’ she said, once she was done with cleaning the wound.
After she left, Daniel leaned his head against the couch and thought about Cynthia. His over-concern about her made him doubt the kind of feelings he had for her. But he comforted himself saying that it was his concern towards her as a friend, but nothing beyond that.
He watched the medium-heighted, shorthaired, thin Milan Martello step in.
‘Daniel, you rascal! If not for that fucking wound of yours, I would have stabbed you myself with a scalpel!’ he yelled, with his usual smile exposing his upper incisors.
After finally meeting someone he remembered, Daniel felt his spirits rising. He wondered if Martello had looked the same since his last memory of him four years ago during the trip, or it was the sense of recognition, which had shadowed his changes.
‘So, why did you leave the hospital without my consent?’
‘From what I have diagnosed, I must have been in coma since the past few days and I must have sustained a concussion, which led to my retrograde amnesia.’
Martello eyed him suspiciously for a second. ‘Is this supposed to be a fucking joke?’
Daniel shook his head, obvious that serious statements are most often mistaken for jokes between friends. ‘No, it isn’t a joke. I am serious. I do not remember the episodes of the past four years of my life. That is what led me to flee the hospital. You know what a stupid explorer I could be.’
Martello expressed pity for the first time since seeing Daniel. ‘Don’t worry man. You’ll be all right. Your reports made your concussion evident. But I did not suspect any amnesia. You have spared me the hectic task of going through questions about where you were for the past three years. And seeing you badly injured after three years was the worst of my experiences.
‘What about the bullet in your abdomen?’
Daniel hesitated before answering. He had already provided Martello too many things to worry about and telling him that his own girlfriend had shot him would precipitate his worries. ‘I don’t remember, buddy. As you know, the events before trauma are not usually transferred into permanent memory from temporary memory. So, they are usually lost.’
Martello nodded his head. ‘Then, what’s with these bruises?’
As Daniel wondered about what parts of the story he had to explain, Martello’s phone vibrated in his apron.
‘Hey Sam, what’s up? Is your shift completed?’ he asked. Sam was one of the common-friends of Daniel and Martello. He listened carefully before saying, ‘And, Daniel is here too. OK, I will be there with him within ten minutes.’
Daniel sat silently as Martello stitched his wound in silence, skipping his questions. Once it was done, he stood up and said, ‘Daniel, there is something I need to tell you. Vanessa is also here. She is unconscious. Come with me.’
The name seemed to struck a chord somewhere for Daniel. However, he was too tired to make a fruitless effort to recollect anything. When Martello stopped, Daniel found that they were in the same place where they had admitted Cynthia.
‘Here she is,’ Martello said, pointing her bed.
‘Vanessa?’ Daniel asked.
‘Stop kidding, Daniel. I will leave you with her and leave. Talk to you later, buddy.’
After Martello left, Daniel stood at the foot of her bed, wondering about the different name Martello had used. He had known her as Cynthia, but not as Vanessa and that too for more than a day. As he thought of the names, he sensed something fishy. He left her there and settled down in the chairs outside the ward.
He buried his face in his palms and recalled all the events that had unfolded after their meeting. The only thing that caught his attention was her interest in Operation Rochen Fort. But he had himself heard about it after he met her. He thought of the other reasons why she would have tried to hang out with him. As he dug deeper, a speck of a theory crossed his mind. He had met her in the parking lot, which he reached in Daniel Xavier’s car. Xavier was the one who had been investigating Operation Rochen Fort. Considering it, he came to a temporary conclusion that it was her misplacement of Daniel Shelby in Daniel Xavier’s place, which had made her accompany him.
He went through the details she had given about herself and wondered which parts of them were authentic. The idea of being played by a woman so easily annoyed Daniel and he questioned himself if he was too vulnerable. The nurse with the friendly face came to him and dropped a belongings-bag in his lap.
‘It has your belongings, doctor,’ she said and handed him a phone. ‘Dr. Martello told me to mention that he had downloaded some memes on your phone while you were in coma.’
Daniel smiled at her comment and took the phone. He examined it for a second wondering about its brand. It was a Samsung phone. It was unlike the last phone he remembered which had a keypad and a touch screen, while the one she gave him had no keypad and filled his palm. Examining it, Daniel realized that his new phone was as strange to him as he was to himself.
Manyap came and sat down beside him, laying his hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
Daniel smiled at him, not in the mood for a formal lie.
‘I understand that you are in a state of turmoil as of the events forced upon you today,’ he said, as if sensing Daniel’s inner chaos. ‘Since you don’t remember me, you may not remember Jeremy Miller. Right?’
Daniel nodded his head.
‘See, I have known you since the March of last year, when we both were posted as field agents in East Division of SAF. We served in that division until September before they posted us in separate divisions. We were close friends at that time. You even told me that you joined the army to try to find something about Operation Rochen Fort. This Jeremy Miller was one of the people we investigated for treason. However, he escaped and Mercupo Liberation Society captured him, whom he escaped later. And, now he claims that he has been murdering our mates for that. Capturing us was part of it.’
Daniel had received so many blows since waking up two days ago that the new revelation did not strike him as a shock or surprise. He had grown habituated to pocketing what was thrown his way. Yet, he was resolute to respond the proper way whatever it demanded. However, what surprised him was that Jeremy was chasing Daniel about some feud concerning a group, rather than the murder of his father. He believed that Jeremy did not know about it, for if it were so, he would have gone to the respected authorities with the info, unless he wanted his vengeance himself.
‘I am sorry about Margaret,’ Manyap asked.
Hearing her name from Manyap made him suspicious. ‘What about Margaret?’
Manyap threw him a stare, which said, “Are you serious?” ‘Daniel,’ Manyap said, ‘Are you serious? She was taken into RCAF custody for her anti-ESAF social-media activities.’
‘That I know. I was even intending to ask your help to free her. Is there no way of releasing her?’ Daniel asked enthusiastically.
‘Daniel, when I first heard about her arrest, you came into my mind. But…there is no way they are going to let her go without any charges. She is facing similar charges as you. Her charges are of a higher degree. The people at RCAF hate her group. She might be facing fifteen days of detention, at the least.’
Daniel buried his face in his palms and thought of weeping. But he felt at a loss of tears and just closed his eyes.
‘Do you love her?’ Manyap asked.
Daniel raised his head and gazed blankly at Manyap. He nodded, again lost at words.
‘What did you do about Vanessa?’ he asked.
Daniel sensed the alarming bells in his head. Martello had used the name for Cynthia. ‘Vanessa?’
‘Yeah, Vanessa. You told me you were unable to differentiate your feelings for the both of them.’
Differentiating feelings for the both of them?
As he started to ask for a clarification, his phone pinged. He dropped the question and switched it on. It showed a message from Martello on messenger.
‘Did you see any of my memes or just sit beside Vanessa singing love songs to her? Give it a break man. She’s going to be alright,’ he read it.
Daniel found himself at the crossroads and posted a “thinking” emoticon. As he surfed through the various notifications on his phone, trying to make sense of his knowing about the emoticons, he found a few messages on an app called WhatsApp. Attributing his emoticon knowledge to his semantic memory, he opened the app from the notifications. He had several messages from several groups and friends, of whom he did not remember some people. As he scrolled down, he found a message from an unknown number, where the name “Vanessa” appeared in the message. When he opened the message, he found an audio message followed by a text that said- VANESSA FEELS THIS ABOUT YOU, YOU TREACHEROUS BITCH!
Overwhelmed by curiosity, Daniel stood up, walked down the corridor to a less crowded place, and played the audio.
‘Gina, Daniel has done as I suspected. He loves Margaret Aniston. I met him today. He is suffering from retrograde amnesia. He remembers Margaret, but not me. If he does not remember me, I believe he does not even love me anymore. I hate him!’ he heard her voice say.
Once it was over, Daniel replayed it and tried to make sense out of her words. He did not believe that he had loved Vanessa, who called herself Cynthia, and Margaret. As far as he remembered, he had been in love with Margaret. However, except him, everyone knew about Vanessa, and Martello spoke as if she was a common friend, which made Daniel believe that she was a classmate. However, Daniel recollected no memory of seeing her, which he momentarily attributed to his weak communication with the women of his class. When he recalled her words the previous day, it made little sense. She had told him about her boyfriend cheating her with another girl. He believed that she must have referred to him, and the sense of familiarity he experienced about her supported the new revelations. Yet, he did not get a complete hold of the situation. He recollected the recollection he had in the prison. When he first recollected it, he attributed it to his unsound memory, but as new revelations came into light, the memory seemed authentic. He had first loved Margaret, and then somehow moved onto Vanessa, whom he had left for two years, before Margaret reemerged to kill him. All the twists had taken place during his blank era. And he still wondered how he ended up loving a woman, whose existence in his class he had remained oblivious to. He wondered why she had acted a stranger, while they had a history together. The coincidence of their interest in Operation Rochen Fort made him doubt it as a coincidence, and perceive it just as a part of what she intended to implement.
He dialed the number and waited while it rang.
‘Hello Daniel, surprisingly late, but shockingly calling,’ the voice said.
‘Who’s this?’ Daniel asked patiently, not bothering to solve the man’s puzzles.
‘You can call me your well-wisher or whatever you please. But I must remind you that you are a careless idiot. When you had a precious gift like Vanessa, you cheated her with another girl. Not your lucky day, huh?’
‘Hey, what’s your problem? Where did you get that audio? Is it authentic?’
‘Well, if you are interested, I could welcome you to my place where I have got a lot of stuff that concerns your life. Why spoil the fun when it can be witnessed in live?’
Daniel gave it a thought before replying a “yes”. He ended the call and thought of the various tasks which sought his attention. After prioritizing meeting the person over the other issues, Daniel went in search of Martello.
Daniel observed his phone and took a right at the roundabout at the junction, according to the Google maps. It had been one heck of a job for him to borrow a pair of clean clothes and a pair of boots, in place of the ones he borrowed from Xavier’s, the keys for the Chevrolet from Martello, while at the same time evading his questions. He had promised to come back safely with the answers for his questions and his car if he allowed him to leave. Martello had let him leave only after stuffing several pills into Daniel’s hands and making him drown them for his pain. He had to inform the friendly nurse to take care of Vanessa till he got back and left Manyap to himself, who was busy making several calls to his-or their-higher officials.
The man he contacted had sent him the address through maps and Daniel followed it to reach there. He had heard of Orego District, but had never gone there. Old Kraminko looked the complete opposite of the newer city, which was flooded with modernity, while the old city was packed with ancient buildings, most of which seemed like they would collapse any minute. The Kraminko Municipal Corporation had dared not touch that part of the city, despite the critical condition of the buildings, because of the activities that part of the city served. The drugs cartel had unfolded in that part in 1980s and had since then continued by bribing the cops and the officials.
When he finally reached the destination, which was an old apartment block, he parked the car in front of the building and connected a call to the anonymous person.
‘Come to 3rd floor, flat no. 309,’ he said.
Daniel ascended the flight of stairs to the third floor, which looked nearly abandoned. When he finally stood in front of the mentioned flat, his curiosity rose and he exhaled hard. He knocked on the door, which opened a little and he got in before receiving a response. The inside of the small flat looked even more horrifying than the exterior and there was no chance of walking on the floor without stepping on something. Daniel wondered if the floor had intact marble. Despite the final rays of the Sun outside, the house was complete darkness. As he walked around, a streak of light came into view from his right, which Daniel followed. The light led him to a small cubicle room, which was crammed with computers and related stuff, and a fat person in front of a laptop. He rose up and extended his hand towards Daniel. For a moment, Daniel wondered if they were well acquainted before.
Daniel shook his hand suspiciously and said, ‘You must be…’
‘Tim Bronson,’ he said.
Daniel withdrew his hand and nodded his head. ‘So, what do we do now? Will you tell me what this is all about?’
Bronson sat down in his chair, unable to balance his heavy frame in standing posture, and drank beer from a can. A half-eaten sandwich lay on the table beside the keyboard. ‘Maybe, you can tell me. Daniel, this is not a one-sided conversation. I want some answers from you, which fascinate me. You may begin.’
Daniel lost his cool. He had anticipated uncovering something important. But Bronson’s remark pissed him off. ‘Tim, I came here to find out what Vanessa must have meant by her words, not to explain my goddamn theory.’
‘Look Daniel, you, being the boyfriend of Vanessa Romero, should explain the complexities of your dual relationship with two pretty ladies,’ Tim said, sipping the beer.
Daniel dug his fists into his pockets and exhaled. ‘Bronson, I am really not in the mood to take a fucking class. My relationship is none of your business. OK?’
Tim shook his head and adjusted his specs. ‘Daniel, you don’t understand my interests. I have been in love with Vanessa since a long time. I was her classmate in school, before I turned into a hacker and put on some weight. I was jealous of you when I saw the two of you together. I despise you, but when I came to know that you cheated her, I was convinced that being handsome like you is not everything. So I thought of meeting you here to ask an explanation for your behavior towards my sweet darling.’
Even though he did not remember anything about their love, Daniel experienced a gush of fury at Tim’s references of Vanessa. He tried to deal it with humiliation. ‘OK, let’s consider I cheated. But, she will move onto someone else, but not a stuffed swine like you.’
Tim looked like he felt insulted. However, he grinned, took a bite from his sandwich, as if he wanted to imply the inevitable, and said, ‘See, you just said that you cheated. That explains it. And coming to her loving me, she may or may not. But, you have got to admit that no one values her like I do,’ he said, swinging his hands in the air madly. He moved his chair to a side and said, ‘Come over here. See this.’
Daniel cautiously moved to the other side of the table and peered into the screen. Tim pointed a folder with his greasy hand, which said- VANESSA’S PERSONAL. ‘It contains various photos, videos, conversations of Vanessa. Lifting these things from her Cloud Storage was the favorite part of this job I liked.’ He opened the folder, which revealed separate folders for videos, photos and conversations.
As Daniel stood there, silently appreciating Bronson for his effort, Tim stood up from his chair. For a moment, Daniel thought that he was going to assault him. He tugged past Daniel and stormed into what-was-a-bathroom, with Daniel following him behind. As Daniel’s adrenaline rush subsided, he went around the house examining the crammed place. When he reached Tim’s bedroom, he was awestruck. All the four walls were covered with large-size posters of Vanessa. The sight of the room made Daniel jealous and breathless. He receded back to the crammed room and sat down in front the laptop. He opened the photos folder and found thousands of photos. He found a pen-drive by the side of the laptop and he connected it to the laptop. He formatted it and copied the complete folder into the USB. For some unknown reason, he was unable to bear someone else’s love for her.
When he minimized the window, he found an opened Facebook account. As he scrolled upwards to know what name Tim used, he was shocked. It was his account named- DANIEL VAB SHELBY. When he shifted to “Home” tab, he found a recent activity, where a status was posted, which read-
WHEN I HEARD “ESAF” WAS GOING TO TAKE OVER FROM FREMIAN NATIONAL PARTY’S GOVERNMENT, I FELT PLEASURE. BUT WITHIN ONE WEEK INTO THEIR RULE, I QUESTIONED MYSELF “WHAT THE FUCK?” THESE GUYS ARE FAR WORSE, MAYBE THE WORST THE PEOPLE OF FREMIA DESERVE. WHENEVER GEN. LEVISOHN APPEARS IN FRONT OF THE MEDIA, RECITING HIS POLITICAL JOKES AND FAKE PROMISES TO UPHOLD FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE, I AM AMAZED AT HIS SENSE OF HUMOR. HE MUST BE HAVING HIS BRAINS WHERE HIS BALLS RESIDE TO BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WOULD TAKE THIS BULLSHIT. HE IS BETTER OFF BEING A COMEDIAN, RATHER THAN THE CHAIRMAN OF ESAF. I HAVE ALREADY BEGUN WISHING FOR A SUPERHERO TO PUT US OUT OF THE HANDS OF THESE NUT HEADS OF ESAF.
As he stood there, cursing Bronson under his breath for his mischief, Tim’s phone pinged. Daniel stood up, startled and picked it up. Even the lock-screen displayed her photo. But what interested Daniel was a message from a contact called JEREMY MILLER. It read- Is he there still? We are outside.
When he scrolled up, he found the conversation, which read-
Tim- [_ Mr. Miller, Daniel Shelby, one of the members of SAF, is going to be at my place within few minutes. You can capture him if you come here. However, you must pay me 25% more for this. _]
Jeremy- Is he still there? We are outside.
Daniel dropped the phone on the table and exited the room with the USB. He went to the window and peered out. Few yards behind his car, he found a black Ford van. He walked back to the bathroom and bolted the door from outside. He stood in the hall and evaluated his options. He knew that taking the regular doorway would make him vulnerable. So, he moved from one window to the other in quest for an emergency exit. He found the emergency stairs outside a living room window, situated away from the view of the van. He opened the window and stormed down the stairs, before a bullet ricocheted off the metal floor of the stairs and Daniel witnessed the guy with the pierced eyebrow pointing a gun in his direction from below.
Daniel swiveled inward towards the wall to evade the bullet and looked around for cover. He wished to run down the stairs and escape the apartment, but he knew that he had greater risk of taking a bullet if he continued to descend the stairs. Reluctantly, he lunged into Bronson’s living room again and evaluated his options, with the bullets raining outside the building. Escaping through the main entrance seemed the stupidest idea he could come up with, and neither did the emergency stairs promise him safety. Realizing his entrapment, he hyperventilated. Suddenly, he had a sense of vertigo and nausea, and he collapsed on the floor clutching his abdomen. The room whirled around him, while the sounds of the banging door and the bullets muted for a few seconds. He got up on all fours and gagged. Even his saliva protested to emit. His mouth felt suddenly dry and his right palm ached. When he turned his gaze to his right palm, he realized that he had injured his right palm during his endeavors.
It took nearly a minute for the sensation to subside, before he could stand up and attend to his surroundings. The banging of the toilet door continued, but the sound of the bullets halted abruptly as he heard. He mustered the courage to peek out the window. He watched Jeremy outside the van yelling in the direction of the beefy guy, who was receding towards the van with his gun drawn. Daniel watched as the beefy guy leapt into the van behind Jeremy and the van made a U-turn and raced off. As Daniel watched, two men with sub-machine guns ran towards the apartment.
Aimlessly, Daniel jumped out of the window. He suddenly realized that escaping the situation was not the answer. He knew that he had to tackle the situation.
When killing the Prime Minister, with all his security, spared me alive, this is nothing.
Daniel massaged his arms as he walked towards Martello’s car. The struggle upstairs had left him drained of energy and Tim’s house completely mangled. The tiny computer room had sustained a major blow as the servers and the systems stood completely mutilated by the bullets. Daniel had successfully dislocated the shoulder of one lad, broken the ribs of another lad and literally burst the balls of a surprise-third lad.
He unlocked the car and ignited the engine. Wondering what made Jeremy flee the scene so abruptly, he drove the car towards the hospital.
JEREMY MUSTERED THE strength to pull himself up, despite his throbbing head and his tender abdomen. He looked around and watched the three captives get into his SUV and flee the scene. He picked up his phone and dialed Philander’s number.
‘Philander, where are you people?’ he asked.
‘Sir, we are two miles away from the highway.’
‘Turn around and come back towards the barn. If you see our SUV on the way, follow it. The captives are escaping in it. They must be captured at any cost.’
With the orders passed, he paced the few difficult yards towards Adam and shook him, not because he cared about him, because he could not drive the car with his dislocated shoulder. It took quite an effort, some water and few offensive words concerning his frame for Jeremy to wake the beefy guy. When he finally woke up, he was even more disoriented than Jeremy was and began examining his injuries. He licked the cuts nastily, which reminded Jeremy of the puppy he had as a boy.
‘Adam, enough of your licking. Let’s get going.’
Adam lazily hiked the few steps to the exterior and took in the air. Jeremy thought for a minute where and how he had to leave. He felt too exhausted to concentrate on anything, except some rest. He had already passed down the responsibilities to his thugs and he felt the desperate need for sleep. He booked a cab on his phone to take him home.
Once the cab was there, he got in and leaned back in his seat.
He had not cared about undressing himself and just collapsed facedown on the bed, with the sling removed and lying on the floor. Just as sleep took control, his phone began vibrating in his pocket. At first, he thought of ignoring it. But the vibration shook his genitals and he was obliged to remove it. With foggy eyes, he saw the name of Tim Bronson on the screen and a message from him. Jeremy anticipated something important and opened the message.
[_ Mr. Miller, Daniel Shelby, one of the members of SAF, is going to be at my place within few minutes. You can capture him if you come here. You must pay me 25% more for this. _]
Immediately after completing reading the message, he dialed Bronson’s number.
‘ Mr. Miller, I have got good news for you,’ Tim said. ‘I have a name called Daniel Vab Shelby, who served in SAF in the specified time and specified division. Moreover, if you like, within few minutes, he is going to be at my place. So, if you want to get him, deposit 25% more than the usual and get him.’
Jeremy thought for the name. He had not heard the name during his captivity. ‘Send me his photo.’
As Jeremy patiently waited, his phone pinged. When he opened the photo, he felt oblivious to his emotions on finding that someone he had lost more than an hour ago was going to come back into his cage himself. ‘OK, I will pay you that. Now, I want him straight into my hands as soon as I reach there.’
‘As you please,’ he said.
Jeremy stepped off the bed and bent down to take the sling.
My fucking life! Vengeance is fucking addiction.
Jeremy texted Bronson and waited for the reply, while he tapped his gun impatiently on his thigh. He had murdered many people in the past. However, he attributed his nervousness to his previous encounter with Daniel, which had gone bitter and left him with a still-paining abdomen and a forehead scar.
He examined the bloodstains on his sling and tried to wipe them off with a stroke from the gun’s butt. The blood had already dried, rendering it difficult to wipe off. The permanent stain left him wondering what permanent changes his craving for vengeance was going to cost him.
Ethan had once asked him, ‘What purpose does vengeance serve your life?’
Jeremy had smiled at his doubt. ‘My friend, vengeance itself gives a purpose to stay alive. You know, all the things we do every day, however repetitive, boring or risky they might be, are meant to serve a role, to fulfill our needs and ensure our survival.’
Remembering Ethan aggravated his anxiety and he wondered if someone found his body. The last night, his anger had clouded his reasoning and he hadn’t cared about disposing off Ethan’s body properly. He was so blind with anger that he had not cared about the consequences, which included the risk of conviction if someone linked him to Ethan’s death. However, what tugged him more painful was the blank spot Ethan’s death had left in his life.
Before he could shift his attention to the present, the sound of the gunshot alerted him to his surroundings. He gazed blankly as Adam stood at the bottom of the emergency stairs and shot at Daniel, who had emerged from the window. Realizing that stationing Adam at the foot of the emergency stairs was a clever move, Jeremy leapt out of the van and watched as Daniel lunged into the window. Jeremy had already dispatched one of his thugs into the building to bring Daniel, and Adam maintained his ground at the stairs, ready to hit Daniel.
‘I smell success somewhere in the air,’ Jeremy said to himself, as his phone vibrated.
The screen displayed the name of Lt. Grisham, who had served alongside him during his initial years at RCAF. It was on his personal number. ‘Hey Grisham,’ he said.
‘Jeremy, listen to me carefully. I do not know if the allegations about you are true, but I have to alert you. The General has dispatched units to stage your capture.’
‘What?’ Jeremy bellowed.
‘Yeah, talk is that you are the one who murdered the members of SAF. Gen. Levisohn has himself passed down the orders. So, you better escape before it is too late.’
‘Bullshit!’ Jeremy yelled, trying to sound not guilty.
‘Hey, he doesn’t care if you are not-guilty. All he needs is a culprit. So, get the fuck out of wherever you are and save your ass! And, remember to destroy the SIM card registered in your name and use this to keep in contact with me.’
Jeremy ignored the ringing bells in his mind and yelled at Adam, who was still spraying bullets at the wall. ‘Adam, get in. We need to go.’
It took him several attempts to alert Adam of his situation and when Adam got in, he ordered the driver to drive away from the spot. Jeremy discarded the SIM and switched on his phone. As the van neared the road which connected it to the new part of the city, Jeremy sensed his insecurity rising. It was not safe for him to take the vulnerable route. He asked the driver to drive away from the major roads and keep to the countryside. He ran the names of different people he could consult for protection from the scenario. However, what frightened him was the possibility of a turn-in to the military by the very people he consulted. He opened the contacts list in his phone and scrolled through the list for a reliable person. Everyone on his contacts list belonged to a category he liked calling cunning bastards, except for one person whom he considered the best choice. Yet, he felt a little reluctance to call the person.
Doubting the availability of the person, he dialed the number. It was unanswered the first time. Impatiently, he redialed and got an answer. ‘Mr. Holland, it’s me Jeremy Miller.’
There was a silence on the other side before he said cheerfully, ‘Oh Jeremy, how are you, my boy? I am sorry about your father. He was such a great man.’
‘I am fine, Mr. Holland. How are you?’
‘Well, I leave it to your imagination to imagine how a seventy year old man with arthritis and a cancerous wife is. So, what’s the matter, boy?’
Jeremy paused for a moment evaluating the pros and cons of staying with the people, whose son he had murdered the previous night. ‘I am doing just fine. May I know where you are right now?’
‘I am staying with Melissa in our summer house by Anolusa River.’ Jeremy gave attention to the way the man emphasized the word Anolusa, which showed that he was proud for holding a house by its bank.
‘Oh, if you don’t mind, can I stay there for a few days? I am feeling stressful in this city atmosphere and everything.’
‘Yeah sure, why not! You are more than welcome to stay with us. And, we could use some company.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Holland,’ Jeremy said. ‘I’ll be there by night.’ He ended the call and let out a sigh of relief.
He had met Jacques Pti Holland many times during his graduation days as part of his various weekends at their residence. Truthfully speaking, Jacques was a cheerful man, who had spent the initial days of his young age building an empire, which was the Holland and Co. Transports, before it was snatched by his son Ethan seven years ago, claiming that Jacques’s ill-health was a liability for the company’s growth. It had left Ethan separated from his parents. However, despite that, Jeremy’s fondness of the old man left him in good terms with him over the years. And their summerhouse, situated on the bank of River Anolusa and isolated from hassle of the city, struck Jeremy as a perfect place to hide.
He gave his driver the co-ordinates to drive to the place and ordered him strictly to keep off the highway unless mandatory. With the orders passed and Adam to monitor, Jeremy leaned back in his seat and slept.
[+ IN AN UNKNOWN VEHICLE- ON DAY OF ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
IN SPITE OF A BAG covering his face, Ross looked around and tried to make sense of what was happening. Strong hands captured him from behind, tied ropes around his limbs and shoved him roughly into a vehicle, which moved through traffic sounding horn repeatedly. Ross was able to hear the shouts erupting from outside the vehicle and attributed them to the chaos his car and the explosion had caused.
His taped mouth made it impossible to make a sound, yet he protested to make a sound. He began swiveling his legs haphazardly, which contacted the walls of the van and made noise. When he expected some harsh force to constrain him, a needle was plunged into his median cubital vein and he lost consciousness within a few minutes.
[+ OUTSIDE PRIME MINSTER’S RESIDENCE- THREE MINUTES FOLLOWING ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
Godwin had checked that the time was 11.10 in the morning, when he stepped outside his cabin and walked towards the line of the cars waiting outside his front door. The car was not even out of the gate, when his security-chief halted the car and walked to his door.
‘What’s the matter?’ Godwin asked.
‘Sir, there were a series of blasts outside Rochen Fort and in the Fort a couple of minutes ago, and the Fort has been flattened.’
‘My God! Take me there immediately,’ he said.
‘No sir. It is not safe for you to visit the place as such before the bomb squad checks around for any kind of explosives. We will notify you once it is done, sir.’
Godwin pursed his lips and nodded, posing grievance for the consequences.
[+ EDDAOF HQ- FEW MINUTES POST THE BLASTS +]
The Explosives Unit stepped out of the building and boarded the truck within minutes of receiving information about the blasts. Ralph Mek Gallitzin, Senior Scientist in Explosives Unit of EDDAOF, gazed through the windows of his office as the field agents loaded their equipment into the truck and left the HQ. He sipped his coffee, turned back to his table, and lifted the phone from its hook. He dialed Donald’s number and waited.
‘Hello,’ Donald said with anxiety evident in his tone.
‘Donald, how are you holding up?’ he asked.
‘Just about good, sir,’ he said.
Ralph played with the paperweight on his table and grinned. ‘Don’t get too nervous. Everything has gone according to our plan. Our field agents are going to be back with the specimens. All you need to do is act like you have deciphered the thing yourself and pose as a fucking genius.’
‘Donald, do you know why you were specifically selected from all those chemists in our unit?’ he asked. Without waiting for a reply, he said, ‘I sensed a raging fire in you. I thought that I could use it to set fire to the society. So, are you ready to get fucking famous?’
‘Ready, sir,’ Donald said excited.
‘That’s the spirit,’ Ralph said contented.
Once he disconnected from Donald’s call, Ralph dialed Gabriel Romero’s number, the major mediator in Operation Rochen Fort. As the phone rang, he stood on one leg cracking his knuckles involuntarily.
‘Mr. Romero, I dispatched my unit minutes ago. Everything is going according to the plan,’ he said, not minding to start with a formal greeting.
‘Happy to hear that. I believe you remember the guidelines of the mission properly. Take care that your men do not snap under pressure or some sympathy. If it happens so, you know the consequences,’ Romero said, his voice devoid of any emotion.
After he replaced the receiver in its hook, Ralph wondered how much Romero, who was fifteen years younger than he was, was making from the mission. As he thought deeply, Ralph realized that he was growing envious of the lad and attended to the arrangements, which demanded his attention.
…that lucky son of a bitch!
He felt a heavy feeling in his chest, which he knew damn sure was not his envy. Ever since he became associated with the operation, Ralph had difficulty convincing his conscience that his actions were for his own benefit. Yet, the guilt of claiming all those lives was sure to weigh upon his conscience until his last breath. He wondered if the rest of the people felt the same, or it was just him being over-emotional.
When he first heard the blasts, he thought it was similar to those crackers people enjoyed firing to welcome the New Year or any big occasion. As he stood licking the butterscotch-flavored ice cream in his hand, the Fort collapsed to the ground following a series of blasts and people raced around chaotically. The dust that had settled on his ice cream was no longer his concern. The people lying dead around the Fort made him obvious to the fact that the blasts were unlike those crackers, which people blasted for fun, but those that claimed people’s lives. Sensing the weight of the scenario, he dropped his ice-cream cone and ran in his father’s direction.
Amidst the blazing horns of the cop cars and sirens, he succeeded in finding the lifeless form of his father -a security guard for the inauguration- lying on the ground. His father’s ash-laden face and fractured skull did not prevent him from running away like what is expected of an eight-year old boy like him. He collapsed on the ground beside his father’s dead body and wept, clutching his father’s uniform tightly. After losing his mother during his birth, his father had remained his only support in the big wide world, and losing him was more than he could afford to. As the authorities parted him from his father’s corpse, despite his protests, he pulled off the nametag of his father’s uniform, which displayed the name RANDY RYU XAVIER on it. The boy clutched the strip tightly as if his father’s life remained in it and someone would come to take it away from him.
[+ RCAF COURT- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Margaret Aniston walked out of the courtroom alongside her partners-in-alleged-crime as the men in military apparel shoved them forward. All throughout the trial, she had stayed silent with pursed lips and her head bent down, while the judge served them with satirical justice. She found no point in arguing. She believed that arguing for the right cause with the wrong people would render it wrong.
She maintained her silence even as the soldiers shoved her roughly into the back of the truck with the rest of her accomplices. Lt. Wayne watched her get into the truck, while his mind tried to decipher her silence. He had expected a lot of fuss from her in the court, and had prepared accordingly. However, her welcoming nature towards the justice raised suspicions, which left him unsettled. When he stole a quick glance at his watch, it said 5.30 in the evening. They had to hand over the detainees to the RCAF Prison authorities by eleven in the night. It was against the protocol to escort prisoners in dark, but Lt. Grisham, who contacted him after the trial, had strongly insisted.
Once the detainees were loaded and secured in the trucks, Lt. Wayne got into the BMW in front of the truck and ordered the driver to get going. As the convoy, comprising of a BMW and two trucks, made its way out of the court’s premises, Lt. Wayne called Lester, the traffic correspondent, and ensured that everything was all right. He called Lt. Grisham’s number and notified him about the status.
‘You sound nervous, Wayne,’ he said.
‘Margaret’s silence is raising suspicions.’
‘She’s just a lady. She is not a matter of concern. Take care,’ Grisham said and ended the call.
As the convoy continued unobstructed through the city roads, a blue Chevy struggled to keep pace with it through the side roads.
Tim had grown impatient of waiting in the bathroom and he stopped his endeavors to pry the door open after finding no success with it. He had never cared about using a proper cleansing liquid for the toilet and his confinement proved the importance of a cleansing liquid. As the sounds of gunshots reverberated through the house, he feared what was happening outside the bathroom. All throughout the audio-only action sequence, he hid himself behind the wall adjacent to the door to assuage the probability of taking a bullet, which could make its way through the thin door. When the sounds disappeared suddenly, he felt even more terrified. He watched through the ventilator as the last rays of the sun disappeared and the moonlight stormed in to illuminate the stinky place.
Out of the blue, the bathroom’s door opened and he found a man pointing a rifle at him from his living room. Tim reflexively raised his hands into the air and walked out of the bathroom.
‘Tim Bronson?’ the man asked commandingly.
Tim nodded. The man patted Tim and then shoved him towards his computer room. The time in the clock displayed 8.15. The servers and the other equipment in the room stood mangled except for his laptop, which lay unharmed on the table. He found a burly, mustached man standing beside his chair and gazing at his laptop’s screen. When Tim stepped closer to the room, he shifted his sharp gaze towards Tim.
‘So, you must be Tim Bronson,’ he said, looking at his computer-chair. ‘I appreciate this tiny chair for bearing an elephant like you,’ he said, stroking the chair’s back. However, the absence of a smile on his face confused Bronson as to the genre of the comment.
Tim maintained a blank expression, while he mentally ran a list of serious crimes he had committed in the recent past. ‘Bronson, have you heard of the string of murders of RCAF servicemen in the past few days?’
The mention of the murders ran a shiver through his spine. Normally, he would have felt contentment for evading the hectic task of recollecting his crimes. However, his scenario kept him praying for the least damage he could handle. Unable to find the right words, he gazed blankly at the floor. Suddenly, a strong hand grabbed his hair and yanked his head upward.
‘Answer my fucking question! Have you heard of them?’
Tim nodded his head painfully, despite the restricted scope of movement.
‘Good, then you must have heard this conversation,’ he said, leaving his hair and fishing his phone out of his pocket. He pressed on the screen and Tim’s voice played followed by Jeremy’s voice.
He realized his helplessness. His assistance to Jeremy in the murders played in front of him with proofs, and Tim felt his knees buckle. As he stood silent, trying to make sense of his future, the audio continued. The man had a record of every conversation he had with Jeremy and played them in front of him. He wondered how much time they had taken to acquire all those audio files.
‘Bronson, you must have realized that you have no way out of this. We have proofs of your perpetration. You helped him find out the identities of SAF members and you hacked into the RCAF servers. So, you are going to be boxed in for a long time.’
Tim hung his head and thought of any offer he could make to the man. When he thought harder, he remembered the trump card he had been holding onto for the past few days, which he intended to use later.
‘Sir,’ he said, raising his head. ‘How many years can I expect?’
The officer raised an eyebrow and said, ‘It depends on what charges are pressed against you. And, I can assure you, you can expect anything above ten years.’
The number sent yet another chill along his spine. ‘If I can help you with something, can you reduce my sentence?’
The officer lunged at him and grabbed his hair again. ‘Listen, I am not a fucking cop to fall for your bribes, and neither is the judiciary your bitch. Shut the fuck up.’
‘I didn’t mean it in that sense,’ he said, and paused to catch his breath and swallowed hard. ‘Is Donald Miller’s murder still open for investigation?’
The officer displayed curiosity for the first time since their encounter. ‘Why?’
‘I know who murdered him.’
‘Listen!’ he yelled exasperated. ‘The fucking Alliance killed him. Everyone knows that.’
Tim arrogantly shoved the officer’s hand away from his hair. ‘Maybe, but not everyone knows the identity of Sazyfan. Do they?’
The curiosity in the officer’s face brightened. ‘Come with me,’ Tim said, moving into the computer room.
My trump card!
WITH MARTELLO’S CAR parked safely in the employees section, Daniel entered the building and found Manyap still busy on his phone, while Daniel Ryu Xavier sat beside him with a bandaged nose. Daniel walked into the room to find Cynthia still unconscious. Not wanting to disturb her, he stepped out and joined the others outside. Manyap nodded in his direction, still on his phone, while Xavier gazed at him intently as if guilt played on Daniel’s face.
Suddenly Xavier pointed a finger at Daniel. While Daniel expected him to accuse him of theft, he said, ‘Mr. Lang, thank you for saving my life today.’
The name struck a chord. It did not take him long to recollect that it was stated under the “Sources” list in Xavier’s room.
‘Do we know each other?’ Daniel asked.
‘Yes, you helped me couple of months ago. And, it’s funny to hear that you too are a Daniel, unlike Lang.’ He leaned in closer and whispered, ‘the report about Operation Rochen Fort is ready. I am going to get it into open as soon as possible. It is going to change the face of Fremia. The existing higher-class, who made their fortune through the mission are going to answer the society for the last time.’
Daniel nodded his head in agreement, while the questions in his mind demanded answers. ‘Daniel Xavier, I have got to notify you that I am suffering from retrograde amnesia, wherein I don’t remember the events of the past four years. So, would you be kind enough to let me know how and what I helped you with?’
Xavier pursed his lips and nodded. ‘OK, I met you in July of this year, when I was notified by an acquaintance that you were the man, who spent most of the time with Ralph Mek Gallitzin during his last days before he succumbed to cancer in May of this year. For your information, Ralph was the Senior Scientist in Explosives Unit of EDDAOF during the Rochen Fort Blasts. One of my sources, Mr. Wilson Wilkins, told me that Ralph was one of the perpetrators in the operation. So I approached you to ask if he had said something to you in his final days. Usually, these old lads tend to confess their sins in their morbidity anticipating their confession to pave their path to heaven, despite their sins.
‘At first, you were suspicious. However, when I agreed to trade some information you needed about the Operation Rochen Fort, you told me about how the old man collaborated with Mel Kennedy, Director General of Ordnance Factory Board, to acquire Ross Jankis’s report on the new explosive he designed with his team. The EDDAOF released the same report and presented it publicly as their achievement. Irony is that Donald Miller, who was a chemist in Explosives Unit, accompanied by Gen. Markus Levisohn, fixed Ross’s explosive in Ross’s car, which exploded after flying off the flyover. That bastard was lucky to be assassinated by The Alliance. But, this revelation of his role in those blasts would definitely damage his family name.’
Daniel had feared raising questions about Donald’s death for fear of facing the guilt he had to bear. Yet, he mustered the courage to ask him.
‘How was Donald Miller killed?’ he asked.
‘He was shot in his own house. The Alliance publicly agreed that they had sent someone called Sazyfan to kill him.’
Daniel nodded his head, trying to recollect any reference of the name in his memory. As usual, he recollected no links to the name, which was the routine with the other memories of that period. He doubted what caused his affiliations with the so-called Alliance, which claimed sending him as Sazyfan to terminate Donald. As a temporary conclusion, he expected his drive for vengeance for the death of his father, whose death resulted due to his links with Operation Rochen Fort, as his excuse to help them terminate Donald. The brief conclusion raised many questions as to how many people he might have killed or assaulted for the same cause. The thought of multiple-homicides in his account terrified him and he felt a raging guilt, which he attributed to going in a contrasting direction to what his profession, which his mother requested he perceive, taught him. Clearing his mind of the various doubts, which sprouted anew, he concentrated on knowing further about his link with Xavier. Before he could proceed, a new doubt took place. For him to seek vengeance against Donald, he had to be aware of his role in Operation Rochen Fort, which eventually led to his father’s plight. The doubt left him craving to know what knowledge he acquired about ORF, which must have set him on the path he chose.
‘So, what did I ask in return?’ he asked.
‘You were mainly concerned about the role of Gary Fernandez in the overall picture, apart from some names you asked.’
‘And, what was his role?’
‘He had no major role in the whole scheme, except for his friendship with Ross Jankis. Many accused him of being a co-conspirator in the blasts with Jankis. However, the allegations held no proof. Strangely, within few days after Ross went missing, Gary and his family disappeared.’
Daniel remembered his mom’s stories about how his dad had succumbed to an accident, and that his name was Leonard Vab Shelby, which he had believed. And knowing about the allegations inclined him to believe that the change of name and absence of his dad’s photos were intended to hide their true identities, which she must have believed wouldn’t allow a peaceful living. He wondered why his father had abandoned him and his mom. Expecting the question to remain orphaned for the rest of his life, he marveled if those facts formed part of semantic or episodic memory.
‘What do you mean by “Ross disappeared”?’ Daniel asked, while he thought of some other doubts he had.
‘After the blasts, it took a week for the EDDAOF to come up with their report. And, by the time Ross was framed publicly, he had disappeared with his family, before he was found dead in his ancestral home in his village.’
‘Yeah, it looked like he hung himself. But being a person who is well aware of these bastards’ influences, I believe that they must have framed his murder as suicide. And, everything these idiots did was only to frame Fremian Democrats Party as a terrorist organization, which it eventually turned into.’
Daniel pitied Ross Jankis, who had lost his life to the delinquencies of a few people. Daniel fell silent as he thought of what he had to do next. After a few minutes of reckoning, he came up with a list of objectives. Before he could give them his attention, Manyap reached him.
‘Daniel, I notified the higher officials about Jeremy being the murderer of our SAF mates. He is absconding. We do not know where he is. Judging by his drive for vengeance, I have a strong feeling that he might come behind us. So, we better get going.’
‘But, Cynthia’s condition isn’t good. She is unconscious,’ Daniel said.
‘Well, she isn’t anymore. She gained back her consciousness. She has not sustained any major injuries, thanks to the airbags. So, we better leave!’ Manyap commanded.
Daniel had to give in, before he ran to Cynthia, whom he found feasting on an apple as he entered the room.
‘Cynthia, how are you feeling now?’She nodded her head, while she chewed the apple. ‘We must get going. Manyap believes that it isn’t safe for us here.’
‘Yeah, he told me,’ she said blankly.
He realized the change in her treatment towards him, as if she realized that he knew the truth about their past.
‘Fine,’ Daniel said, exiting the room.
Minutes later, seated in the passenger seat of the SUV, Xavier said, ‘Mr. Manyap, can you drop me off at my home? I have got to take my report and go to Fremia Daily.’
Manyap, who was driving the car, said, ‘Fine, but, I can’t guarantee your safety in your house. They know your house.’
‘Manyap,’ Daniel said, ‘why don’t you accompany him?’
Manyap gave a momentary pause before he answered, ‘Fine, I will accompany him till Fremia daily. It will also help him surpass the RCAF people stationed outside the office. What about the both of you? Where have you decided to go?’
They looked at each other and shook their heads. ‘We haven’t decided it yet,’ they said in unison.
‘Daniel, assuming that you don’t remember where you actually live, I believe it is better if you and Cynthia stay somewhere safe together till Jeremy is found.’
Daniel partly liked the idea, dedicated towards his newly revealed love affair with Cynthia. For that very reason, he kept aside his idea to visit the house he had inhabited with his mom.
‘We can stay in my motel room,’ she said.
‘You have a room?’ Daniel asked.
‘Yep, I have one in Nelson’s motel. After the cops arrested you yesterday, I was able to find a safe one. We shall take a cab to the motel from Xavier’s home.’
The following minutes filled with silence, before Xavier raised a question. ‘Daniel, what’s your full name?’
‘Daniel Vab Shelby. Why?’
‘With your permission, I would like to state you as one of my sources in accomplishing my goal of revealing the truth about Operation Rochen Fort,’ he said, sounding like an excited kid. For a moment, Daniel doubted if he was the same person, who had prepared a report about a conspiracy that was destined to scar the future of the country.
While Daniel evaluated the pros and cons of the idea, Cynthia raised a question. ‘Did you say Operation Rochen Fort?’
‘Yep, I did.’
‘I need some info,’ she said.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel interrupted. ‘She told me that her father was involved with Operation Rochen Fort. And, that was why she accompanied me in this quest,’ he said sarcastically.
She glared indignantly at him for a second before turning to Xavier. ‘Do you know someone called Gabriel Nyl Romero?’
Daniel realized that she had used her real surname. ‘Aren’t you a “Roberts”?’
‘No, I lied. We will talk about it later. Period,’ she said. She turned away from him with her curiosity driving her. ‘So, do you know him?’
Xavier looked at Daniel. ‘I believe that she isn’t Jeremy’s kind.’
‘She isn’t that kind. But, are you sure you want to know the truth?’ Daniel asked, placing his hand on her shoulder.
She nodded, resting her palm on her neck.
‘Well, he was a mediator in the operation. He served as a link between Prime Minister Godwin and other people at different levels of the operation.’
She fell silent and closed her eyes. Daniels gazed at her for a moment and decided to let it be.
After reaching Xavier’s home, where Xavier and Manyap grew busy in retrieving the report, Daniel and Cynthia took a cab, which escorted them to the Nelson motel. On Cynthia’s insistence, Daniel stood outside the room while she changed her dress and gazed at the stars, which shone brightly in the sky.
He had always heard of fantasy stories claiming that the stars were people who had died, and watched over the living from the sky. In his childhood, he had believed them out of innocence and a fantasy-fond mind. However, as he grew older, science had taught him that the stars are just like the Sun, but situated far away from us. Yet, gazing at the stars, Daniel fiddled with the contests between science and fantasy. He wondered what mattered more; logic, which explained things better, or fantasy, which lets you enjoy things despite being fiction. He knew that when science steps in, it kicks out fantasy. He wondered if man deserved to know the scientific truth, which disrupts the idea of everything he is made to believe as a child, or if he is destined to stick to the fantasy that makes him want to believe it.
He had fondled with the idea that parents teach their children fantasy, not because they were taking advantage of their innocence, but because they believed in not letting their children know the bitter truths of the world at such a tender age. As he shifted his attention from the stars to the parking lot, he found a boy waiting near a Popsicle stand outside the motel. The seller walked towards the stand and helped the kid satisfy his want. Daniel stood grinning at the boy’s joy, as the boy thanked the man.
A hand appeared on Daniel’s shoulder, and he heard Cynthia say, ‘What are you smiling at?’
‘Just wondering at how a Popsicle seller can satisfy that boy with a simple living, while people like Jeremy are running behind others seeking vengeance. I like that man,’ Daniel said, pointing at the seller.
‘For your kind information, I saw him smoke a cigarette just before he came to hand the Popsicle to that boy. So, what do you have to say about the man now?’
Daniel shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, I like temporary people in my life. They create an impression and leave, unlike the permanent people who wear different masks to suit the situation.’
‘Hmm,’ Cynthia said, nodding her head approvingly. He doubted if she got the hidden context of his comment. ‘Was Margaret such a candidate?’
Daniel had a ready-made response. He did not intend to let her go with just a simple comment. ‘Margaret had been in my life for quite some time. Unlike her, I met Vanessa Romero, who took advantage of my disability and claimed herself Cynthia Roberts, despite having loved me in the past.’ He paused and scanned her face for any expression. She displayed a blank face, which he believed would not stay on for long before giving in to some overwhelming emotion. ‘You know what my first impression of her was? She seemed a sensible person and I pitied her story, when she said that her boyfriend had cheated her. But, when I learnt that I was that boyfriend, I was confused. I do not remember our past and our relationship. But am I so untrustworthy that you decided to lie to me? Were you afraid that I might come behind you?’
‘Daniel, you don’t understand the scenario.’
‘So, you think I am stupid?’ he asked.
‘Stop talking like a girl, Daniel,’ she yelled.
‘Then humor me,’ he said, crossing his arms across his chest.
No words escaped her mouth, as she stood in front of him with her head hung. Daniel grew impatient of the persisting silence.
‘Answer me, Vanessa!’ he yelled, shaking her violently.
His phone began ringing, which swayed his attention from Vanessa. It was an unnamed contact. He answered it.
‘Daniel, it’s me, Manyap.’
‘Yeah, have you dropped off Daniel at the Fremia Daily?’
‘Yeah, I dropped him there and I am at ESAF HQ. I want to notify you about something. The truck escorting Margaret and her accomplices is leaving to Jepson Port, from where it is going to load them on the ferry to Mercupo. They are going to stop at the restaurant beside Nelson’s Motel within the next ten minutes. It could be a chance for you if you intend to get her back so badly. But remember, I am pushing you into the sea with a tube around your waist. It is upto you to stay safe.’
‘Thanks for the info, buddy,’ Daniel said, already immersed in deriving a plan.
Daniel ended the call, grabbed the belongings bag off the floor and walked past Cynthia, who gazed at him blankly. ‘Daniel!’ she yelled behind him.
He turned around. ‘Vanessa, if you don’t need me, you can go to hell!’
He walked to the reception of the motel and waited for the manager. When he arrived, Daniel asked him where he could get rental cars nearby. The manager announced that he had two Chevrolets, which he rented on a daily basis. Daniel paid for one car and acquired the keys. He found the car in the parking lot and hopped in. He drove it to the opposite side of the road in front of the restaurant and waited. When he gazed at the digital clock in the car, it said nine o’ clock. He switched on the radio in the car and listened to it on low volume to calm his racing heart.
Fortunately, his favorite song played on the radio. Ironically, the song reminded Daniel of Cynthia, which struck him strange. His mind diverted to venture how he had no memory of her, yet felt an air of familiarity around her. As he diverted back to the song, a convoy of a BMW and two military trucks stopped outside the motel. First, a man stepped out of the BMW, walked to the first truck and knocked on the wall of the truck. A man in military overalls stepped out of the passenger seat, followed by two others from the back of the truck. The same followed in the second truck. Keeping an eye on the procession, Daniel removed the gun from his trousers’ waistband and checked the cartridge. Finding nine shells in it, he removed the safety and loaded the gun. As he reached for the doorknob, a blue Chevy halted few yards away from the convoy and a series of gunshots rang out as both the groups exchanged fire within the next few seconds.
Oh My God!
JEREMY HAD TOLERATED the tension in his bladder for more than an hour before he could bear it no more. He had feared that stopping the vehicle would attract unwanted attention. But his bladder was in no state to listen to him. He asked the driver to stop to a side on the rugged country road and ran into the bushes. He unzipped and sprayed the dried bushes. As he continued spraying, he gazed at his Rolex, which said 7.15. He had sensed his aggravated anxiety since hearing about his crimes on the radio and he wished to reach the destination before the military tracked his whereabouts. When he was done, he found the driver, whom Adam had brought that morning, smoking a cigarette and speaking on his phone, standing few feet away from the van.
Jeremy patted his pockets for his pack of cigarettes, but failed to find it. Unable to restrain himself, he walked towards the driver, wiping his hands on his trousers. As he neared him, he heard the words, ‘he’s here. He doesn’t suspect me,’
Jeremy pulled out his gun instinctively and shot him in the back of his head without a second doubt. The lifeless form slumped to the ground and Jeremy picked up the phone to end the call. Its fall had rendered it dead and he failed to get it back to life to find to whom he was leaking the info. Adam retreated to Jeremy from the van and stood examining the corpse.
‘What’s the matter, boss?’ he asked.
‘Where the fuck did you get him? He was leaking information to someone.’
‘Sir, Nathan sent him as an alternative,’ Adam answered.
Jeremy began cursing. ‘Give me your fucking phone.’
Adam obeyed the order silently. Jeremy switched it off and threw it into the bushes. ‘I will buy you a new one later. Let’s get the fuck out of here.’
It was 8.30 when they reached the summerhouse. Adam insisted on staying in the car, while Jeremy walked to the door and knocked on it.
‘Coming!’ Mr. Holland announced.
Jeremy waited patiently as the old man fiddled with the locks for a couple of minutes before throwing the door open.
‘Hello Jeremy, sorry for the delay,’ Jacques said, moving aside to let him in. ‘It was just the rusted locks and all.’
Jeremy smiled at the old man’s remarks and walked in.
‘Make yourself at home, boy,’ the old man said cheerfully, gesturing towards the couch, while he settled in the rocking chair.
Jeremy walked towards the couch thinking of Jacques’s smiling face, which seemed to lift his spirits. However, it was not long before his lifted spirits dropped with the recollection of Ethan’s murder. Once Jeremy sat on the couch, Jacques said, ‘It’s so good to see you. So, what brings you so suddenly to this old-couple’s place?’
‘Nothing in specific, I just wanted some time away from the city,’ he said, shifting his attention to the television. ‘So, do you have a cable connection here?’
‘Yeah, it works,’ Jacques said, turning to the TV. ‘Do you want to watch something?’
‘ No, Mr. Holland. I was just curious,’ he said, turning to his phone. He messaged Adam- THE HOUSE HAS A CABLE CONNECTION. CUT IT.
They sat in silence for a moment before Jeremy stretched his tired body.
‘Why don’t you go and rest for a while? I will send Durian to your room once the dinner is ready,’ Jacques said.
Jeremy nodded his head and walked towards the stairs, with Durian, a tall muscular lad, behind him. As he ascended the stairs, he saw an enlarged photo of twelve-year old Ethan and his mom by the stairs. The photo brought back the memories of his mother, whom he had lost when he was twelve.
The stairs of his house were the best part of his house he liked. He spent his free-time running up and down the stairs. Losing his mother to those stairs was kind-of ironic for little Jeremy. He had watched from the head of the stairs as his mother, Carolyn, fell face-first for the first three steps before banging her head on the fourth stair, and then slid downward face-down for the rest of the stairs. She had ended up at the foot of the stairs with her face mutilated and blood washing the floor below her head.
Jeremy had not dared descend the stairs for his mom’s rescue as the maid rushed to the spot within seconds and lifted Carolyn off the floor. Jeremy gazed at the blood on the floor and shifted his attention to the maid, who struggled with an unconscious Carolyn in her lap. Jeremy maintained a blank face all throughout the events. When the maid glanced at Jeremy with his blank face, where she must have imagined fear, she gestured to the chauffeur in his direction, who came storming up the stairs and pulled Jeremy away from the sight. Once he lost sight of the proceedings below, Jeremy’s hammering heart slackened.
The chauffeur left Jeremy in his room, told him not to come down any time soon and left. The chauffeur’s absence made Jeremy conscious of his loneliness, which he had desired for a long time. His blank face slowly turned into a wide grin and happy-tears escaped his eyes. He had hated his mother since he was four and had never changed his impression of her despite her affection towards him. Her sudden departure was not going to affect his life in anyway.
He was never afraid of the dark or loneliness. What he despised the most was uninvited intervention into his loneliness, which he had crowded with the figments of his imagination. As he wiped off the tears, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. He jumped off the bed and walked towards it. He caressed his reflection in the mirror with his tender fingers and widened his grin, exposing his irregular teeth.
‘I pushed her down the stairs, dad. You will be very happy to know it. She is going to die. I am just being a good boy, dad,’ he said to himself, observing his reflection in the mirror.
As he heard footsteps in the hallway outside his room, he put his index finger to his lips and walked back to the bed. Just as he settled on the edge of the bed, the chauffeur walked into the room and embraced little Jeremy.
‘Master Jeremy, I am sorry. Your mother is no more,’ he said.
Jeremy tightened his grip around the chauffeur’s waist and dug his smiling face into the man’s robes.
I have done it, dad. You’ll be satisfied with me.
Jeremy ascended the stairs, appreciating himself for his earlier achievements. When he reached the first room at the head of the stairs, Durian opened the door and led him in.
‘Sir, do you have any luggage that I need to bring in?’ he asked.
Jeremy shook his head and said, ‘Do you mind if I wear Ethan’s?’
Durian shook his head and left the room. With Durian out of the room, Jeremy closed the door and gave his undivided attention to the room. It had once belonged to Ethan, and Jeremy used to share the room with him whenever he visited the house for summer. The room looked tidy and the shelves were stacked with Ethan’s clothes, despite him not visiting his parents. Jacques Holland and his wife, Melissa, had been staying in the summerhouse since the last two years, after Ethan had evicted them out of their own house. Yet, the room’s tidiness made him question their feelings towards him.
Seated on the edge of the bed, Jeremy realized the irony in sitting on the bed of that very person, whom he had murdered less than twenty-four hours ago. He wondered about the discovery of Ethan’s corpse. But he knew that the old-couple were not so heartless that they could abandon the corpse of their only son, despite his flaws. The idea of Ethan’s undiscovered body worried Jeremy as he realized that some of his deeds had already created troubles for him, and he could not afford to create space for few more.
Jeremy smelled himself and realized that he deserved a decent hot bath. He undressed and walked into the bathroom. He plugged the bathtub’s drain and turned on the hot water tap. As the tub filled with water, he tapped his left shoulder impatiently, whose pain had mitigated gradually over the days. He tried to relax his left shoulder and the pain returned. The thought of allegations against him returned to him, and he thought about the murders of the Head and Senior-Field Agents, which he had not committed, yet found place in his account.
He thought back to how he had come up with the plan to murder the people from SAF. One day in August, the news about the consecutive deaths of three military servicemen, whom he recognized as the Head and Senior-Field Agents, sparked an idea about murdering the rest of the team for vengeance. His idle mind had been longing for something to do for quite a few days and the new idea struck him as an opportunity to provide a purpose to his aimless life. He decided to continue what began as a coincidence and wanted to dedicate it as a retribution for the deaths in his family. Just like that, he began his hunt for the rest of the team, with Tim assisting him. After all, it was just his sport.
Dropping his thoughts of murder, he stepped into the bathtub. He rested his back and felt the pleasure as the hot water comforted his tired body.
The smell of the steak had not reached him much earlier than Durian, who appeared at his door to announce that dinner was ready. Jeremy descended the stairs with a fresh appetite, wondering when he had last felt so badly to have something to eat. When he reached the foot of the stairs, he saw Jacques seated in one of the chairs.
‘Jeremy, you look handsome in Ethan’s clothes. Take a seat,’ he said cheerfully.
Jeremy occupied the chair beside him and waited. ‘Isn’t Mrs. Holland going to join us?’
The old man shook his head and said, ‘Nowadays, she doesn’t get off the bed a lot. She eats on her bed. The doctors said that I shouldn’t expect her to live more than a few months.’
Jeremy had expected her to join them, which he used as an excuse for not meeting her earlier. Thinking of speaking to her after dinner, Jeremy placed a soothing hand on Mr. Jacques’s shoulder, which the old man patted with a shaking hand. ‘You see,’ he said. ‘I have grown habituated to losing loved-ones. First, an elder son to a bike accident, second, my grip to tremors,’ he said, gazing at his shaking hands. ‘Then, a grown son to another accident and, someday soon, my wife to cancer.’
Jeremy had heard the story of Ethan’s elder brother, who had died in a bike accident at the age of eighteen. But he had not heard of another sibling who perished to accident.
‘Another accident?’ he asked, moving aside to let Durian serve the steak.
The old man wiped tears off his eyes and managed a meek smile. ‘Well, Ethan survived the fall from the cliff. But, the resulting quadriplegia caused the respiratory failure, which ultimately took his life.’
Jeremy sensed the turmoil, which began spreading to every nook and corner of his mind like a poisonous gas, and he experienced a paralyzing effect for a few moments before regaining control. He quickly cut a chunk of the steak and forced it into his mouth to buy some time to think. He had pushed Ethan off the cliff less than twenty-four hours ago. The story about quadriplegia and respiratory failure struck him strange. He wondered if the old man had lost his mind.
‘You must have observed his room,’ Jacques continued, not noticing Jeremy’s apparent anxiety. ‘I ask Durian to maintain it in perfect condition. Whenever I feel lonely, I spend time in that room just to recollect Ethan’s last days in that room. I have never hated him, despite his behavior towards us. Serving him in his last days is the only thing that still keeps me happy. In my opinion, it is the parents’ weakness that they shower their children with eternal love irrespective of their children’s nature.’
Jeremy nodded, trying to look normal, despite the anxiety clouding his senses. In his anxious state, the steak seemed difficult to swallow and he was terrified that he would choke on the steak. He reached out for the water jug and poured himself a glass. Lifting the glass to his mouth, Jeremy’s eyes met with the portrait of Ethan, standing on a table to the right of the dining table, in front of which stood a lighted candle. Jeremy did not care to drink the water and observed the base of the photo. At the foot of the photo, it said-
ETHAN PTI HOLLAND
NOVEMBER 30, 1979 – FEBRUARY 29, 2016
Jeremy counted the days on his fingers. According to the photo, it was more than six months since Ethan’s death. However, according to his memory, he had been dead for less than twenty-four hours. Either Jacques was true or he was stubborn and mad enough to erect a candle in front of his alive son’s photo. Jeremy sensed his raised vitals and dried mouth. He drowned the glass of water and feasted on the steak hurriedly, despite a lost-appetite.
Once he shoved the steak and the wine into his stomach, Jeremy ascended the stairs to his room, not caring to visit Melissa, and shut the door behind him, fearing that he might snap any coming minute. As he bolted the door, he heard a voice behind him.
‘Hello Jeremy,’ it said.
When he turned around identifying the voice, he found Ethan, dressed in his usual black suit. Jeremy jolted backward and his back struck hard against the door.
‘You look good in my clothes, Jeremy. But, you should have gone for something comfortable than a suit.’
Jeremy strained hard to speak, but he felt at a loss of words.
‘Do not be frightened, Jeremy. I am here to fill your loneliness,’ Ethan said, getting off the bed. As Jeremy stood perplexed in his spot, Ethan walked towards him.
[+ BELFORT HARPER’S RESIDENCE- FEW DAYS BEFORE THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
BELFORT STOOD FACING the calendar in his living room, as Mudassir Al-Mustafa continued speaking on the phone. Listening to what Mudassir had to say, he counted the days until the end of his leave. He counted eight more days. He raised his eyebrows convincingly and drowned the last few drops of his drink. The clinking of the ice cubes in the glass made him walk towards the table, to refill his glass.
‘So, does it leave us with anymore targets?’ Mudassir asked.
Belfort thought for a minute and said, ‘No, as far as I remember, everyone is taken care of. The Senior Field Agents, Tom and Phil, were nosy bastards; so, they met with an unfortunate fate.’
‘I am not concerned with your fucking memory! I want to know if you have taken care of everyone who knows about our links!’
This time, Belfort thought deeper and replied, ‘No, I have taken care of everyone. The cadets might not be aware about this. I would have taken care of them if not for the investigations and shit. I had great difficulty framing Tom and Phil’s murders as complications of armed robberies. The CIB is involved. So, we must be careful.’
‘OK, have you put men behind Sazyfan?’ Mudassir asked.
‘Yep, he is being followed closely,’ Belfort said, filling whisky in his glass.
‘OK, I will contact you if need be.’
‘OK,’ Belfort said and ended the call.
Just as he settled on his couch after resuming the movie he had been watching, he heard the doorbell. He cursed the interveners for not giving him time to settle down and cursed Mudassir for his arrogance. He paused the movie and wondered who it could be. He had decided to stay at his farmhouse, to evade undesired disturbances, and had even sent away the guard. He wondered who must have come to meet him there at ten in the night.
Suspiciously, he picked the gun off the couch and walked to the door. Peeking through the peek-hole, he found Daniel Shelby and Manyap Henning waiting outside his door. Wondering what they were doing at his door so late in the night, he opened the door. Both of them saluted in unison.
‘What’re you doing here?’ he asked, shifting his gaze from one to another.
‘Sir, there is something we would like to discuss with you. Can we come in?’ Manyap asked, stepping forward.
‘Come in,’ Belfort said, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
Both of them stepped into the living room and waited for a formal word before taking their seats. Not receiving any such word, they settled together on the couch and crossed their arms across their chests, while Belfort stood in the doorway deciphering their behavior. He closed the door behind him, switched off the TV and settled in the rocking chair. He placed the gun beside him on a stool and grabbed his glass off the table.
‘Sir, you seem pretty unsettled by our presence. Is this a wrong time for us to visit you?’ Manyap asked.
Belfort took a sip from the glass and shook his head. ‘I am not feeling good. So, what is it that you want to discuss with me?’ he asked, massaging his temples to fake a headache and anticipating them to end the meeting quickly.
‘We just wanted to talk about the murders of our Senior-Field Agents, sir,’ Daniel said, leaning forward and clasping his hands together.
‘Their murders? What is there to think so much about it? They were murdered in an armed robbery.’
‘It was pretty strange for the both of them to be present in the same place during an armed robbery, sir.’
Belfort nodded, but remained silent.
‘Why are you so annoyed by that?’ Daniel asked.
Daniel’s remarks raised suspicions, and Jordan braced himself for any unexpected questions, which might follow. ‘Daniel, remember my place in the system and speak carefully, god damn it!’ he yelled.
Daniel smiled and shook his head. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed a button. ‘You better listen to this,’ he insisted, stretching his arm forward.
‘Daniel, it’s me Senior Agent Philips. Listen to what I have to say very carefully. According to what Thomas and I were able to find out, Belfort Harper has joined hands with the Mercupo Liberation Society. He has been taking bribes from them to turn-in some of the information we learnt from the prisoners. We suspect that he knows that we know about it. So, our lives are at stake. I wanted to tell you this, in case something happened to us. I want you and someone you can trust to report this to the higher authorities. Don’t let us down.’
Daniel pocketed the phone once the audio stopped and gazed at Belfort for any kind of reaction. ‘So, what do you think of this?’
Belfort avoided eye contact with them and looked into his glass. He shifted the glass between both hands and listened to the clink of the melting cubes. Out of the blue, he raised his gun in the direction of the couch only to meet Manyap, who had predicted his move. He kicked Belfort’s hand, thus disarming him. Belfort swung his right arm in Manyap’s direction, thus landing his elbow in Manyap’s abdomen. When Daniel lunged forward, Belfort splashed the fluid from the glass on his face and pushed him backward.
By the time the both of them recoiled from the assault, Belfort had reached half of the corridor leading into the house and stopped. He pulled the latch of the attic-door and it came down. While they expected him to climb into the attic, he pulled off a gun, which lay taped to the inside of the attic-door, and began shooting in their direction.
They lunged sideways away from his line of fire to either side of the wall flanking the corridor. They pulled their guns off their holsters and got ready to counter-strike. Belfort shot at the walls, which splattered the plaster off its edges. Daniel and Manyap did not dare try a shot with fear of taking a bullet from Belfort.
‘Mr. Belfort, confess your crimes and surrender to the authorities!’ Manyap yelled.
‘Fuck you! Neither of you are going to get out alive!’ came the reply.
In one of the plaster strikes, the dust arising from the broken plaster fell in Daniel’s eyes and he retreated away from the wall. As he moved backward, his legs stumbled against a table and he lost his balance and the grip of his gun. He heard Manyap’s voice calling him, when he collapsed on the ground. Daniel pressed his palms against his eyes to increase the secretion of the lacrimal fluid to clear the dust particles.
It took him a minute to clear his eyes of the dust and when he finally got back his vision, he saw Manyap standing in front of him with his back to the corridor. In the blank screen of the TV, which faced the corridor, Daniel saw the silhouette of Belfort advancing towards them from the corridor. Daniel got back to his feet and picked up the knife from the dining table. He motioned towards the corridor and pushed Manyap away. Just as Belfort appeared from behind the wall with his gun pointing in their direction, Daniel swung the knife at Belfort, evading the aim of the gun, and the knife cut through Belfort’s internal jugular artery.
As the incised artery gushed out blood, Belfort dropped the gun and clutched his throat in a vain attempt to stop the blood.
‘Fuck!’ Daniel exclaimed. ‘I did not intend to do that!’
‘I know. But, this bastard was trying to kill us,’ Manyap said, pointing to a bleeding Belfort and exhaling hard.
Within the next few minutes, Belfort lay dead on the floor in a pool of blood, as Daniel and Manyap moved about the room, removing traces of their existence from the place. Once they removed all the traces, they walked into the bedroom and opened the locker, which had more than a hundred thousand bucks stashed in it. They removed the money from the locker with gloved hands and bagged it. Then, they moved into the computer room, deleted the data from the system and burnt the equipment with Belfort’s whisky.
After they made sure that they had removed every trace of their arrival, they left the front door slightly open and walked back to their car, thinking of an orphanage to dump the money.
[+ SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE SILVINKERIA- 1991, ONE DAY AFTER ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
In her two days in their custody, Rachel Wud Jankis had learnt one thing. It was never to ask them questions and follow what they instructed her to do. The only thing that comforted her was the absence of her son, Michael, whom she had left at her friend’s before leaving to her conference in Kraminko. However, she had never reached the conference, for some people abducted her from her cab on the night before the blasts in Silvinkeria. They made her see the aftermath of the blasts on the TV, and repeatedly reminded her that they were the consequences of her husband’s deeds. She was totally confused by the remark and wondered what it was that made them say that.
She repeatedly asked why they abducted from her cab. But what she received in response were the glares of the heavy tattooed men, who had abducted her. From the various conversations she had managed to eavesdrop, it became evident that they were using her to trap Ross in the scandal of the blasts.
‘Ross is innocent. Don’t trap him in this!’ she yelled, as she watched in the TV the mayhem caused by the blasts.
‘Look lady,’ the man, whom she had assumed as the group leader, said. ‘Nobody out there cares a fuck about your husband’s innocence. So, keep your mouth shut! You’ll be united with him tomorrow. If you keep yelling like this, I’ll make sure you never see him again. So, shut up!’
Despite having her doubts about the man’s honesty behind telling her that she would be united with Ross, Rachel decided to stay calm and wait for what fate had to offer her. Waiting in the back of the van with blindfold around her eyes, and her hands bound behind her back, she wished for the best.
After few minutes of waiting, she heard the whining of a truck. Then, someone roughly grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the van. After she collapsed on the gravel on her knees, she tried to ask what was happening. But the tape over her mouth made it impossible. She laid still as she heard the sound of an igniting engine and heard multiple vehicles drive away.
Just as she began to assume that they had left her in a deserted location, she heard footsteps on the gravel, moving towards her. She tried to pull her hands apart, but the tape did not allow it. As she tried to get back on her feet, a pair of hands clasped her throat suddenly.
My God, I am going to die.
[+ PRESS CONFERENCE- FEW DAYS AFTER THE ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
Though not spoken openly, Donald knew that Godwin Nyl Sanders was the brain behind the planned execution of the blasts. Seated on the dais beside the Prime Minister himself, he felt his anxiety rising. Since his childhood, he had never had the nerve to speak on the stage infront of so many people at a time. Now, everyone expected him to speak his achievements and role in solving the mystery behind the Rochen Fort Blasts. He clutched the document tightly and felt the blood drain his hands. Observing his pale hands, Godwin placed his hand on his hand and tapped it. Donald managed a meek smile and revised what he had to speak.
With the anxiety rising, he did not give attention to the speech of Ralph Gallitzin, who had until then bragged about the role of Explosives Unit in solving the mystery, and was now calling out for Donald to reveal his investigations. Only when Ralph called his name for the second time that Donald’s wandering mind came back to the auditorium, and he stood up. He walked nervously towards the podium and stopped beside it to let Ralph hand him the microphone.
Ralph handed him the control of the microphone and leaned towards his ear. ‘Get ready to get fucking famous, my boy. I wish you the best of luck.’
Donald clutched the microphone tightly as if it would slip out of his perspiring palm. With one hand, he opened the file and pulled off the first page of the file, which described the details of the explosive used in the blasts.
‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Donald Jol Miller, chemist in the EU of EDDAOF. This here,’ he said, raising the paper, ‘is the paper describing the chemical composition of the explosive that triggered the blast in the car outside the Rochen Fort. For an overview, the composition used in this explosive is a strange one. As a member of Explosives Unit for the past few years, I haven’t come across such a combination in my career. But with quite an effort, I was able to decipher this. And here I stand with the combination in my hand. This achievement would not have been possible if not for the people at CIB, who provided me with the reports of a Ross Wud Jankis, who is an employee at the Ordnance Factory. Surprisingly, his reports had the same combination of the chemicals as I deciphered. So-’
‘Mr. Miller, why did you get the idea of acquiring those papers from ordnance factory?’ a journalist asked, breaking his flow.
Donald had been so engrossed in choosing his words for the speech that he had not given much attention to other particulars of the incident. He stood still in front of the crowd, with his legs shaking behind the podium.
‘Maybe, it’s better if I explain this,’ Kevin Dormer, Director of JOF, said. He moved to the podium and took the microphone, while Donald walked back to his seat. ‘As you may or may not know, the first revelation of this investigation was that the car that went-off belonged to Mr. Ross Wud Jankis, who works in the West Division of Ordnance Factory. So, when we investigated about him in his workplace, we came to know that he had recently developed a new explosive for the RCAF, which was yet to be tested, but had disappeared a couple of days prior to the explosion. So we acquired his report about the explosive and it complied with the results obtained by Mr. Donald Jol Miller.
‘And, since you will question me about the implosion of Rochen Fort, I would like to announce that it was the work of R&D Constructions and Destructions Pvt. Ltd. They secured the contract to build the Rochen Fort for the government. During the construction, they have used explosives in the concrete mixtures. Therefore, when the explosives fixed to the support walls in the basement of the building went off, the flames ignited these explosives in the concrete and the whole building was aflame within a few minutes.
‘Ironically, Mr. Ross Jankis, who is a consultant for R&D Constructions and Destructions, was the one who assigned the explosives that were implanted in the basement. Mr. Seamus Kyl Mendes, who is the acting CEO of R&D Constructions and Destructions in the absence of Mr. Cleveland for the past two years, is also a member of Fremian Democrats Party and so is Ross Jankis. We believe that Fremian Democrats Party might be behind this. We will look into this matter further. As of now, the accused will be arrested as soon as possible.’
All the perpetrators on the dais had the feeling that they had rushed things at far faster pace than they had intended to and worried about raising suspicions. Yet, the speech had an immediate impact as one of the assembled people stood up and voiced anti-Fremian Democrats Party slogans, claiming it a shoal of murderous pigs, and the rest of the crowd followed. The crowd stood up and began protesting.
As Donald watched the people protest, his exhilaration took center stage. The aim of the conspiracy stood accomplished. Godwin patted Donald on his thigh. When Donald turned to Godwin, he saw a blank face. But he was not so stupid not to imagine Godwin’s satisfaction. At that moment, Donald mentally erased the line he had drawn between good and bad. He realized that it did not matter if it was good or bad he did, but his destiny that mattered the most, whatever the route.
[+ SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE SILVINKERIA- THE DAY AFTER THE ROCHEN FORT BLASTS +]
Ross had gone in and out of consciousness for most of the time following the blasts. The sedatives had not let him experience the weight of the guilt he bore on his heart. Every time he gained consciousness, the recollections crashed into his mind and he would shed the guilt in form of tears.
Since he drifted in and out of consciousness repeatedly, he did not notice that he was in a truck. It was not even ten minutes after he gained his consciousness before someone shoved him out of the truck onto gravel in a silent locale. He heard the receding whining of the vehicles’ engines. He stood up with great difficulty and tried to steady himself. However, he could not prevent swaying to a side as if something pulled him from that direction. Luckily, his hands were bound in front of him, not behind his back.
Within the next few seconds, he gained his balance and strolled aimlessly in the direction of a disturbance. He held out his hands forward and moved slowly, until they touched someone’s skin. Reflexively, he clutched the skin and realized that he was clutching a female’s throat. But the touch seemed familiar and he released his grasp of the neck. He moved his fingers upward and made contact with the tender lips after removing the duct tape. As he traced his way to the pinched nose, his hopes escalated. When he made contact with the scar on the forehead, he confirmed it was Rachel.
‘Rachel!’ he wanted to exclaim. He pulled the blindfold off her eyes and felt her eyebrows elevate at the sight of him.
‘Ross, are you alright?’ she asked.
He nodded. He moved his bound hands down her right arm. As he traced downward, he found that her hands were bound behind her back. He turned her around and struggled with the tape. He dug his over-grown nails into the tape and finally succeeded in tearing it off with quite a struggle.
Within few seconds after that, his hands were free, so were his hands and legs. When he removed the blindfold finally, he caught sight of her worn and sunken face, which escalated his excitement. He hugged her tightly as if leaving her would make her disappear.
‘Ross, what have you been trapped into?’ she asked, with tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘You are an idiot for not undoing yourself before coming for my rescue,’ she added, with a meek smile.
He smiled back. ‘It’s nothing. Now, we are together,’ he said, wiping the tears. ‘We can handle it together.’
[+ NEW YORK- ON THE DAY OF PRESS CONFERENCE +]
Abel Cleveland had never taken such a long leave in his forty years long career. He had started working hard to build his R&D Constructions and Destructions since he was twenty five and it had paid off. What started with a single Civil Engineer and some money inherited from his father had turned into a billion dollar company within thirty years. However, bad luck had followed him ever since his exploration into different businesses apart from constructions five years ago. None of those businesses had paid off and he failed to recover even the capital he had invested. Within three years, his company’s shares fell to the bottom and the company neared its end. That was when Godwin had approached him with the plan to use the company as a perpetrator behind the blasts. In return, what he received was an offer he could not refuse. Godwin offered him two hundred million in cash and a binami construction company in Kraminko, which he owns, yet runs under an acting CEO. As he made the calculations, he found himself on the profitable side. So, he agreed readily.
Choosing Seamus Mendes, who was a prominent member of Fremian Democrats Party, as the acting CEO was part of the framing process. Abel had already given up on the reputation of his company when its shares fell. Therefore, he did not mind the bad name that the company was going to garner.
Despite that, as he watched the press conference on BBC, his eyes watered and he had to remind himself of the fortune he was going to make by killing his company to comfort himself. The call from Godwin exhilarated him.
‘Abel, how are you holding up?’ Godwin asked, faking compassion.
‘Just about good, Godwin,’ Abel replied, faking sorrow amidst his exhilaration.
‘Well, the balance will be transferred into your Swiss bank account within the next three days.’
‘Fine,’ Abel replied. I bet it is going to be, you bastard!
Once he ended the call, he rested his head on the bed and wondered what emotion to savor.
Life is so tough!
[+ OUTSIDE THE RESTAURANT- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
DANIEL SENSED THE danger and stepped out of the car. His gaze stayed on the first truck, since he believed that Margaret was in that truck. He stood for a minute outside the car thinking of a way to tackle the situation. He had come to tackle only the RCAF, but he had two groups to tackle. For a moment, he voted in favor of letting the rumble continue before it zeroed in on one or two members, whom he wanted to tackle at the end. However, his anxiety voted against it. His legs began shaking wildly and he held onto the car to keep his knees from buckling. He patted his pockets for the pills Martello had given him and drowned one followed by water from his bottle. After he thought he was OK, he paced forward towards the shoot-out. There were five members from the Chevy against eight trained military personnel. Then there was Daniel, a lone ex-soldier, who was not sure as to whom to tackle. Daniel decided to go in the rescue of the military since they outnumbered the Chevy guys and shot at one of the Chevy guys from the back. The bullet went through the guy’s scapula and he collapsed onto the ground. Believing that the guy wouldn’t get-up to strike back, Daniel shifted his aim to the other Chevy guy beside the first one, who had already half-turned in Daniel’s direction with his carbine aimed at Daniel. Before Daniel could take proper aim, a bullet missed Daniel’s head by a few inches, and Daniel had to duck to his left to evade the bullets that followed. Searching in vain for any nearby cover, Daniel rolled further to his left and ended up in a puddle of water. The guy rained still more bullets in Daniel’s direction as Daniel continued to roll to the left. Finally, Daniel ended up behind a parked Dodge Ram. As he stayed behind the truck, bullets hit the metal body of the truck, and Daniel execrated himself for diverting attention to himself. Daniel tried to recollect any information as to the penetrating power of the carbine bullets, but he could not recollect any.
Daniel did not dare lift his head above the truck’s level and he stayed glued to his spot, reviewing various tactics in his mind. Ideas failed him and turmoil came to his rescue. Turmoil gave way to rage. In his rage, Daniel shot one of the trucks parked a safe distance away from him to distract the men, and then made a quick motion to the front of the truck, where he rose above the hood and put a bullet through the guy’s forearm. He dropped the carbine and ducked down. Before he could appreciate himself and take the next aim, a bullet tore through the lateral part of his left deltoid and the force jolted him backward. Daniel made a quick motion into cover and examined his injury with the gun clutched tight in his right hand. He felt relieved to find that it had just grazed some part of his deltoid and had left him with minimal damage. With some difficulty, he got onto his knees and peeked from above the hood. The Chevy guys were out and the military guys too were all down except for the man from the BMW, who stood behind the first truck with his gun aimed. At the sight of Daniel, he shot in his direction. The bullet missed Daniel by a foot. Immediately after that, he collapsed on the ground beside the truck, holding his abdomen.
After surveying the area clearly, Daniel paced towards the first truck and opened the slightly opened twin doors. The meager light from the street illuminated the interior, but Daniel failed to find Margaret.
‘Don’t kill us!’ the reporter he had seen the previous day said.
‘I am not here to kill anyone,’ Daniel said, withdrawing the gun. ‘Where is Margaret?’
‘She is in the other truck.’
Daniel nodded and said, ‘Take one of their mobiles and call for medical support.’
Daniel did not wait for a reply and walked to the other truck. When he opened the doors, the first thing he found was the dull and sunken face of Margaret as she raised her head to the noise of the doors. Her face was devoid of any expression before it turned into one of surprise. The surprised face came as a weird surprise to Daniel, who had always recollected her blank face whenever she came into his mind.
‘Daniel? Thank god, I was afraid I was going to die,’ she said, falling into his hands.
Daniel hugged her back and he sensed his wet shoulder, which said that she was weeping. He patted her back and told her to calm down. She pulled off after a few seconds and asked, ‘How are the rest of the guys?’
‘They are fine.’
She moved away to the others, who were out of the truck. She spoke with her peers while Daniel moved around the place, inspecting the damage done. The restaurant owner had come into the parking lot sensing the mitigated damage.
‘Is everyone alright?’ Daniel asked.
The owner displayed an annoyed face -the most annoyed face Daniel had ever seen- and said, ‘Fortunately, there weren’t any customers in there. However, my kitchen and the tables were in there. They are mutilated beyond repair. These fuckers had to fight just outside my fucking restaurant.’
Daniel nodded his head. ‘Have you called emergency?’ he asked.
The man shook his head and said, ‘Will do right now’ and turned his gaze to Daniel’s shoulder.
‘Were you hurt in this?’ he asked.
Daniel nodded. ‘Just a small injury. Nothing to worry about.’
Daniel expected the man to offer some medical attention. ‘So, you were involved in this. Hey, fuck you mate. Get the fuck out of here before I bring my shotgun.’
Daniel raised his hands in the air and receded back towards the others. The man’s mood-swings seemed to have great amplitude, which insisted Daniel to fallback, despite wanting to advise him about visiting a psychiatrist. When he got back to the others, he found them silent.
‘Hey, what’s the matter?’ he asked, trying to fit himself in their group.
‘We can’t decide where to go,’ the reporter said.
An idea struck his mind. ‘How about you split-up? You see, if you move together, there is a greater probability to trace you. But, if you split, there are wider options to think about later.’
They nodded in unison. ‘Margaret will come with me,’ Daniel said, and produced his visiting card, which he had retrieved from his belongings bag, to the reporter. ‘Call that number for Margaret.’
The reporter eyed Daniel suspiciously for a second and took Margaret to a side. They discussed something for a few moments and then, Margaret came back.
‘Guys, take care. Better split-up before they come here,’ she said and turned to Daniel. ‘Daniel, let’s go.’
Seated in the driving seat with Margaret in the passenger seat of the rented Chevy, Daniel experienced the peaks of euphoria. He wondered if he had felt the same when she proposed to him. But at that moment, he was in no mood to dwell into the past. It was five minutes since they had begun their aimless journey and Daniel thought of a way to strike a conversation, as if it was the first he was speaking to her. He manipulated the driving mirror so that he could see her, inspected her in the mirror, and found a thinking face, which surprisingly seemed strange for him. He wondered what had happened to his limbic system, which seemed to perceive every expression of her strange, except her blank face. He felt the same strange feeling he had on the day he had seen her on the TV. Dismissing his concerns as tricks of his tired-out mind, he concentrated on striking a conversation.
‘So, where shall we go?’ he asked.
She thought for a moment. ‘Daniel, can I trust you?’
Daniel reflexively turned his gaze to her. If not for her smile, he would have taken her seriously. He smiled and kept quiet. He gazed at her smiling face for a few seconds, wishing for the strange feeling to evaporate. Yet, her smiling face evoked a response which felt familiar and yet, strange at the same time. Since he had to concentrate on the road, he turned back to the road. As he continued watching her reflection in the mirror, the feeling escalated. She had stopped smiling and had a blank face. The more the time he spent gazing at her reflection, the stronger the unusual feeling grew. To relieve himself of the budding doubts, he repeated the question to expect the same reply.
‘Daniel, you are going the right way. I will tell you after a few seconds,’ she said, without smiling.
Failing to elicit the same response annoyed Daniel. The feeling grew stronger and he no longer felt the euphoria he had felt initially. In its place, he sensed a sprouting annoyance. As he drove on, trying to decipher the feeling, it made sense. The feeling was that of a stranger, as if he was speaking to a stranger. The feeling seemed familiar, as if it was not the first time he had experienced it. Suddenly, it returned to him. The feeling had persisted meagerly whenever he recollected a memory of her, but he had remained oblivious to it given its paltry. As he observed her face in the mirror again, he felt the unmistakable feeling of a stranger. He wondered if it was because of the amnesia or something that must have happened between them during his blank era, which subconsciously could be the source of the strangeness.
Despite the burning sense of discomfort, Daniel drove on until she called for him.
‘Yeah?’ he replied, not taking his eyes off the road.
‘You remember Guilin’s Restaurant, right?’ she asked.
Daniel’s discomfort prevented him from thinking deeply. He said, ‘Margaret, I have got to notify you I am suffering with retrograde amnesia-’ he said, before she interrupted him, and before he collected her assault on him.
‘Hey,’ she interrupted. ‘Just because we are friends doesn’t mean that you can call me by my name. I will complain this to Dylan. Remember, you were afraid of him during your freshman year. He’s my boyfriend now.’
The new revelation was too tough for him to handle so suddenly and he pushed the assault aside from his priorities list for the moment. He slammed hard on the brakes and turned to her. ‘Your boyfriend?’ he bellowed. ‘When did this happen, after you shot me and thought I was dead, or when I was serving in the fucking army?’ He thought he was too rude. Yet, the rudeness seemed to sprout from the revelation that it was most probably Vanessa on the cliff, whom he must have loved after some tension between him and Margaret, and whom he must have left to join the army.
She had a frown on her face, which surged his annoyance. ‘Daniel, just because I am a jovial senior doesn’t make us so close to joke about murder and speak unparliamentarily!’
‘Enough with your fucking seniority!’ he yelled. ‘When did you turn from a classmate to senior?’
‘A classmate? What is wrong with your stupid mind? Have you gone mad?’ she bellowed. ‘I should have believed Dylan when he told me that you did not perceive me just as a friend.’
‘Here you go, calling your boyfriend mad.’
Margaret banged her fist on the dashboard. ‘When did you turn from a junior to a boyfriend?’ she bellowed, not making eye contact.
Daniel felt the increasing urge to grab her hair and turn her to face him. He resisted and fisted the steering wheel. ‘I turned into your official boyfriend since the day you proposed to me in the parking lot and you were my crush since I performed with you on the stage on Fresher’s Party!’
She thought for a moment and tapped her index finger against his temples. Her face was blank again. ‘Screen your memory,’ she said, tapping his temple. ‘I just choreographed your performance. You performed with Vanessa Romero.’
‘What?’ It made no sense at all. She was the one who performed with him. The choreographer was… He always had problem with recalling certain faces spontaneously, but he had never felt so anxious about it. Daniel felt the escalating sense of turmoil. He clutched the steering wheel tightly to relieve his mind of the turmoil. However, it did not seem in the mood to clear off. His mind was faulty from the trauma, yet he believed he remembered the woman who had choreographed their performance. However, he was unable to recollect her name or face.
‘Margaret, I might have suffered a concussion and coma. But I have not gone mad. Don’t try to fool me,’ he said in his defense, not sure if he truly meant it.
For the first time since the beginning of the feud, she spoke sensibly. ‘Daniel, are you OK?’ she asked, touching his hand.
Her touch did not evoke any emotion, except a tactile sense. He held his head between his hands and rested his head on the steering wheel. He ran the different memories through his mind and examined them. All of a sudden, they felt strange. The more he ran the memories, the more the feeling grew.
Am I going sodding mad?
The recollection of the word “sodding” reminded him of the restaurant “Sodding Love”, where he and she had shot a video to upload on Facebook to publicize their relationship of three years. He remembered running into that senior at that place, who had choreographed their performance. But she was secondary.
‘OK, I will show you proof of our relationship,’ he said, he himself not confident of his remarks. He retrieved his phone from his pocket and opened the Facebook app on it. He calculated the year and scrolled down in his “Home” page. In 2010, he found a couple of videos uploaded by him, both of which held no tag. He played the video and turned the screen towards her.
‘Hello guys,’ he said to the screen. ‘It’s me, your Daniel Shelby. You must be wondering what a social-media stranger like me has to say in a video. Well, this video holds a purpose.’
He gave a momentary pause as he gazed at something over the camera and laughed. ‘Hey, let me complete my part. You will get your chance.’
He turned back to the screen and said, ‘Well, the evil princess in front of me is the one responsible for making this video. But I am happy to announce that it has been three years since my love with this evil princess,’ he said, moving to a side and allowing a woman to sit on his lap. It was Vanessa.
‘Hey, it’s me, Vanessa Romero. As my evil prince has explained, I am here to inform you about our three yearlong successful relationship, which we trust would go on to live forever.’
The both of them made half a heart with their fingers and united it. ‘Being doctors, we shouldn’t symbolize heart like this,’ Daniel said. ‘Ignore our misaddress.’
They laughed and said, ‘Here is to Daniel and Vanessa, always together.’
The video ended with the closing remarks, thus raising new doubts in Daniel’s mind. The phone slipped from Daniel’s hands and landed in Margaret’s lap. He massaged his temples and banged the back of his head against the backrest repeatedly.
‘Daniel, calm down. I can understand your situation. I am a Neuropsychologist. You have probably sustained a “source misattribution”.’
Daniel felt so weak that he asked her what it meant, despite knowing something about it.
‘Well, it’s a phenomenon where a person attributes his memory to the wrong person. For example, you recollect going to a movie. However, you recollect that you went to it with me, while you actually went with Vanessa. It is not so simple. It is to give you a basic idea about it. It is one of the sins of our memory.
‘Since you said something about a concussion, coma and retrograde amnesia, what I believe is that you must have misattributed me in Vanessa’s place when you recollected those memories after your coma. Something must have triggered that. Let me give you an example. In one case, a woman was raped by a stranger. Prior to the attack, she had seen a psychologist on a live TV show, whom she later accused as the culprit. It is just a physiological phenomenon. Everyone experiences it at least once in their life. It is just mass-misattribution in your case; I mean on a larger scale.’
Daniel tried to relax his mind and think. Slowly, he felt a sense of relief hearing her words.
‘I have seen you with Vanessa outside in a number of places. Do you remember your dates with her?’ she asked.
He remembered some incidences of dates, where they went to movies and restaurants in their long relationship. ‘Yeah, we were frequent visitors of Sodding Love and Gremlin’s Talkies on weekends.’
Margaret smiled at Daniel with her hand to her mouth, just like he remembered her in his recollections, which was actually Vanessa. ‘Of course you were. Vanessa took my suggestions about those two places. You visited the Restaurant on second and fourth Saturday of every month, and the theatre on first and third Sundays, right?’
Daniel remembered that schedule perfectly. He nodded innocently. ‘She borrowed that schedule from me. It was my timetable with Dylan too. We saw you there many times. Even you saw me a number of times.’
The cloud of confusion seemed to clear off from his mind. With some effort, Daniel recollected one incident when he had run into the bathrooms when the senior-and-choreographer-in-question and Dylan had come face to face with them in the theatre. Margaret Aniston was the senior-in-question and Vanessa was his sweetheart. He smiled at the incident and tears streaked down his cheeks. He wiped them off. The feeling seemed to subside as his faulty memory made sense to him. He ran the important events through his mind repeatedly, fitting Vanessa in the picture, and the euphoria it arose was limitless. He had finally found his way. ‘Yeah, I remember that now.’
‘That must be the bathroom incident in the theatre?’ she asked.
He shyly nodded his head and she burst down into a blast of laughter. Watching her laugh reminded him of Vanessa again.
After the incident during our Fresher’s party, I recollected collapsing on the ground on the Fresher’s Day, when the seniors forced me to consume alcohol. Despite not remembering what happened in that instant, the incidents of the blackout haunted me whenever I slept stressfully.
When I collapsed, the seniors panicked and stormed the scene within the next few moments. The next few seconds, I half-saw many faces that moved around, but ignored me. Then I saw two women, whom I thought as angels. One of them was Vanessa and the other was Margaret.
‘Ma’am, it’s Daniel, my pair in the performance,’ Vanessa said.
‘Yeah, our boys troubled him and sent me here. But, he’s sleeping in the middle of this like a baby,’ Margaret said, laughing.
Vanessa joined her in her laughter and they both calmed down as Margaret sprinkled water on his face.
The last part of the incident my sub-conscious remembered was their identical laughter, which made me doubt if they were one or two.
‘The misattribution must have been because of your similar laughter,’ he said. But deep down he knew from Manyap’s words that he had similar feelings for Margaret too in his lost past, which must have triggered his misattribution.
She nodded approvingly. ‘Have you got back together since your breakup last year? So, where’s your evil princess?’
Daniel recollected abandoning her in the motel and regretted his act. ‘I abandoned her in the motel. God damn it. She must have understood my condition. She told me that I would not understand it. She should have at least tried in these two days to explain this to me.’
‘Why did you ask me why I shot you?’
‘Well, it must have been her, whom I misattributed as you. I do not know the reason. But, I will find out.’
He opened the contacts in his phone and found a number by name- EVIL PRINCESS. Smiling at the name, he dialed the number. She ended the call in the middle. Assuming that she was angry with him, he dialed the number again and met the same response. So, he texted her-
EVIL PRINCESS, IT IS ME YOUR EVIL PRINCE, DANIEL. CALL ME
He waited for a few seconds before his phone began ringing. But he ended the call, since it was from an unknown number. He received the call from the same number again and he ended the call. When his phone pinged, he opened the message with newfound excitement.
WHO ARE YOU BUSY WITH WHEN YOUR DEAREST IS WITH ME? IT IS ME “THE HANDICAPPED MONSTER” HOLDING YOUR EVIL PRINCESS CAPTIVE. COME TO THE SPECIFIED LOCATION BY 12.30. IF YOU TRY SOMETHING STUPID, I SHALL BOOK HER ON THE NEXT FLIGHT TO THE DARK SKIES.
A photo showing Vanessa lying on a vehicle’s floor with her hands and legs bound and a taped mouth followed it. The clock in Daniel’s phone announced 10.15.
I do not have much time!
[+ ROMERO RESORTS- TWO DAYS BEFORE THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Gabriel Romero gazed impatiently at his Rolex, which said 6.30 in the morning. He had received the phone call from Daniel the previous night requesting to meet him in the resorts early in the morning. So here he was, seated in his private bar in the resorts waiting for his daughter’s boyfriend.
He would have preferred wearing shorts and a T-shirt, which he usually donned in the resorts. Since he was meeting Daniel Shelby, he was dressed in his Armani suit. That day was Lord Gulvin’s birthday, which everyone in Fremia celebrated. Therefore, he expected a little hardship and loneliness in his cottage in the absence of all the servants, whom he had sent to compensate for others, who were on leave.
At exactly 6.38, the door opened and in stepped Daniel in a jeans and a flannel shirt with an overcoat hanging over his forearm.
‘Good morning, Mr. Romero. How do you do?’ Daniel said, extending his hand.
‘Good morning, Daniel,’ Gabriel said, shaking his hand. ‘You have grown some muscle and beard since I last saw you.’
Daniel grinned and said, ‘The military does wonders to us.’
Once they settled down, Gabriel poured himself a pint of vodka and removed another glass from the counter. ‘Would you like something to drink?’
‘No, Mr. Romero, I don’t drink.’
‘Yeah, Vanessa told me,’ he said, drowning his vodka in a single go. ‘She said that you take a class about cirrhosis to your friends if you find them drinking.’
Daniel smiled at the comment and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
‘So,’ Gabriel said, ‘what is it you want to speak with me?’
Daniel exhaled and leaned forward towards Gabriel. ‘I believe you remember the Rochen Fort blasts, right?’
‘Yeah, a very unfortunate event in Fremia’s history.’
‘Yeah, besides being unfortunate, it was a murderous act of few greedy people.’
Gabriel eyed him suspiciously before nodding approvingly.
‘A few greedy people, who stood in highest ranks of the government and society,’ Daniel added. ‘And, look where they stand now. One of them is an RCAF General, other is the Prime Minister of this country, and yet another is sipping vodka in his own resorts.’
Gabriel took the glass away from his mouth and threw it at the far wall. It shattered into pieces. Daniel did not flinch. ‘Daniel, what’s wrong with you? What do you intend to imply?’
Daniel examined his thumbnail for a second and pulled a tiny bit of it from the edge. He threw it at Gabriel’s face and said, ‘This was the impact of your bellow on me. I fucking don’t care. Your anger is not going to bring back the departed.’
Gabriel shook his head and stood up from his stool. ‘You don’t get it, do you? It was part of fate’s plot. They met with their fate, death, and I met with mine, this resort and riches. Even after all these years, I do not regret it. You are not being reasonable, you’re just foolish,’ he said, poking his index finger into Daniel’s face.
Daniel shoved the finger away from his face and stood up to face the man. ‘When Vanessa bragged about your charity works, I thought, “This man is good”. But, what I feel now is “He is a fucking retard, who justifies his crimes”.’
Gabriel burst into laughter. ‘Good and Evil? This isn’t a straight world. It is crooked beyond anyone’s imagination. Let me tell you something, Daniel. There is no good or bad man in this fucking world. It is the circumstances, which determine his course for that particular moment. And, that defines a man,’ he said, pointing his thumb at himself. ‘You are just a kid. Maybe, being raised by a lone mother must have left you a boy, instead of a man.’
Daniel took a few steps towards Gabriel before he pulled out a gun from behind his coat and thrust it in Daniel’s chest. ‘I was just being cautious. Do not underestimate my skills. I can make your heart roll in pieces on the ground if I like.’
His training had taught him many things. One of them was not to display fear even as you looked into a gun’s barrel. Daniel broke into a wide grin and raised his hands into the air. He intensified his grin, which made Gabriel withdraw slightly backward. Grabbing the opportunity, Daniel pushed his left leg away from himself, which distracted Gabriel. While he shifted his aim towards his left leg, Daniel brought down his right fist into Gabriel’s arm and he lost the grip of the gun. Daniel caught it with his left hand and landed his left knee in Gabriel’s crotch. Gabriel jolted backwards and ended up against the counter.
Daniel raised his gun at Gabriel and aimed it at his chest. ‘This is your fate, Romero. Enjoy being dead.’
Gabriel raised his hands into the air and said, ‘Think about Vanessa. I am her father. She will hate you if you kill me.’
Daniel scratched his forehead and said, ‘Hey puppy, you have got to stay updated. We broke up last year. I do not even know where she is right now. OK? Remember that your affiliation with Operation Rochen Fort has brought about this fate.’
Gabriel sensed that he was helpless and pleaded for Daniel to let him go. Daniel pulled the trigger and the bullet ended up piercing his sternum and then his heart. Daniel turned around and walked away.
[+ HQ- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
Ronald Clifton was studying the “Politics” column of the next day’s edition when he caught sight of a RCAF uniform from the corner of his eye. He dropped the paper on the table with annoyance and removed his spectacles.
Why the hell do they have to come in now?
As the man entered his office without asking for permission, which they did nowadays, he maintained an exasperated look on his face. The man was not the usual one who came everyday to review the news to check for any anti-ESAF propaganda.
‘Are you Mr. Ronald Clifton?’ he asked.
The usage of “mister” before his name left him amazed for a moment. He wondered what must have triggered the newfound respect.
‘Yes, it’s me. The hardcopies will be ready within the next hour,’ he said.
‘I haven’t come for any hard-copies. I have come to deliver you someone very important,’ he said and turned back to the door. ‘Daniel!’
Daniel Xavier walked into the room. His arrival brought him a new excitement. ‘Daniel, I lost hopes of getting the report,’ he said, not bothering to ask about his bandaged nose or his clumsy apparel.
‘I am a survivor, just like you,’ Daniel said and turned to the military man. ‘This is Manyap, my friend.’
Manyap nodded at him and turned to the door. ‘Daniel, call me if you need something,’ he said, handing him his card.
‘Will do,’ Daniel said, pocketing it.
Once Manyap was gone, Daniel settled in one of the chairs and produced the file. ‘Here you go.’
Ronald took it and ran his palm over its exterior before turning the pages eagerly.
‘Do you intend to publish it in the newspapers?’ Daniel asked.
Ronald shook his head. ‘I have a better idea. Let’s get ready to break the legs of those bastards.’
Ever since Lt. Graham called his office to inform him about the video of Donald’s murder, Gen. Levisohn grew anxious to know who it was. Exactly twenty-five minutes after he received the call, Lt. Graham appeared in his office with the video. He plugged the pen-drive to the TV and played the video.
‘We obtained this from that hacker guy who was helping Jeremy Miller to kill the SAF guys,’ Lt. Graham said.
‘I don’t need your intros or sources. Play the video!’ Levisohn said.
He was at a loss of words for more than five minutes after it ended. Pulling himself together, he said, ‘I want this sent to every news channel immediately.’
Godwin will be happy to hear this.
JEREMY STOOD PERPLEXED. He looked around him for something to use against Ethan, since his gun was lying on the table behind Ethan.
‘Jeremy, you want to assault me? Why are you being so stupid?’ Ethan asked. ‘You don’t get it. Do you, Jeremy?’
Jeremy tried to flame some courage. However, courage stood as far as Mars stood from Earth.
‘Jeremy,’ Ethan said, standing few yards away from him. ‘How many times will you assault me, or kill me?’
‘Hey, stay the fuck away from me. You must be dead, either the way your dad says you died, or the way I remember killing you,’ Jeremy said.
Ethan grinned and said, ‘You still don’t get it, Jeremy. Maybe, that was why Evelyn left you for me. Remember that?’
‘Hey, don’t you give me bullshit!’ Jeremy yelled. ‘I agree that I was irresponsible in our marriage. In fact, she was very reasonable and patient. But, she wasn’t that kind!’
‘So, now even Evelyn has turned out to be good, honest and patient. So, am I the only bad guy in your life?’
‘You are a bloody bastard who tried to kill his friend and friend’s family!’
‘So, it’s that way then. Fine,’ Ethan said, tapping his fingers on his thighs. ‘OK, let’s deal it according to your story. So, how did they die, your son and wife?’
‘They died in a car wreck. While we were on a trip in Mercupo, one of your trucks drove our car off the cliff. I survived, but they died.’
Ethan clasped his hands together. ‘So, that’s what you believe?’
Jeremy nodded his head. ‘That’s the goddamned truth!’
‘ OK, let me tell you something you know, yet remain oblivious to. Yes, your wife and son died in a car wreck. They were in a car when a truck -my company’s truck- coming in perpendicular direction crashed into the car. Yes, they died. You survived, but you were not in that car, Jeremy. You were not.’
‘Stop trying to prove me wrong!’
‘There’s no point in yelling at me. Yelling at me does not change that you were the one who ordered the attack. You hired one of my drivers, Lehane, to ram Evelyn’s car off the road. The difference is that the accident happened in Kraminko, not Mercupo.’
‘Stop your fucking lies! I remember it perfectly.’
‘If you remember it so well, you must remember if anyone offered you their condolences after you were released by the Mercupo Liberation Society. Did anyone?’
Jeremy hesitated to answer. Sensing that, Ethan continued, ‘You yourself are not confident about it. Agree it, Jeremy. You planned her accident and killed her, and even your son.’
Jeremy forced back the memories that streamed involuntarily into his mind. He held his head and tried to shake off those memories, which he had spent days forgetting and manipulating. The inevitability led to disability. Jeremy’s knees buckled, as if he bore a heavy weight on his shoulders. Tears welled up in his eyes and he pressed his palms against his eyes.
14 JANUARY 2015
Jeremy tapped impatiently on the steering wheel as the traffic clock showed one-eighty seconds until the red turned to green in the signal. He bent to his right and gazed through the cars in front of him at Evelyn’s Beetle, stopped three cars in front of his car. He then bent left and gazed at the Holland and Co. truck waiting in the front of the line in the perpendicular road. Jeremy nervously looked at his phone’s screen and went through the photos he had captured during the time he had spent tailing Evelyn as she met with Ethan Holland at his house.
Seeing them together boiled his blood and he clutched the phone tightly until he feared he might break it. He loosened his grip and dropped it in the passenger seat. He sat massaging his temples as he thought over the plan again. He believed that the plan would go according to detail. Over the past few days, he had repeatedly questioned himself if he was being right. But the idea of his wife cheating him with his friend left him with no better option. After making up his mind, he contacted Lehane, whom he had helped financially several times, and discussed the plan. First, he had hesitated. However, when Jeremy offered him two hundred thousand and assured him that Ethan, who had handled accident cases frequently using his influences, would get him out within a year, he agreed. The only thing, which had pained him the most, was seeing Ricky hugging Ethan affectionately a number of times during Evelyn’s visits.
That little bastard would not even come near me now!
In his anger, he clutched the wheel tightly before releasing it again. He gazed at the timer that said twenty seconds more. His excitement escalated as the seconds discounted towards zero. He bent to his right and again gazed at the small vehicle. As he sat gazing at the car, the silhouette of little Ricky in the backseat came into view. For a second, he felt that the boy deserved it right. However, the next, regret dawned upon him. He felt a sudden instinct to call-off the attack. His instincts told him that the kid did not deserve to die for something his mother might have told him to do. He hurriedly grabbed his phone with shaking hands to call Lehane. But he realized that he was late when he heard the loud noise as the truck rammed into the tiny vehicle and the Beetle rolled off to the right before halting several yards in the perpendicular road.
Jeremy dropped his phone in the car and hurried after the wrecked car. As he hustled through the traffic, he caught sight of Lehane, whom some socially responsible citizens had dragged out of the truck. He hung his head and did not meet the crowd’s glares. Jeremy shoved past the assembled crowd and collapsed few feet away from the car. The car lay upside-down, as blood streamed from it and formed a pool around it. One of the men pulled out the lifeless form of the little boy and checked his pulse. Jeremy mustered the strength to get on his feet and lurched towards the kid.
‘Rick!’ he yelled in agony, as he saw that the boy had lost his forearm in the wreck. Blood still gushed out of his abdomen, as the broken glass remained lodged in his abdomen.
Jeremy squatted on the ground, snatched the kid from the man’s grasp saying ‘He’s my son’, and shook the boy’s head from one side to the other.
‘Sorry mister, your boy is no more,’ the man said.
Jeremy glared at the man before shoving him away and turned back to Rick. ‘Rick, come on! Get up son!’ he said repeatedly.
Someone placed a soothing hand on his shoulder. Jeremy ignored the hand and continued his vain endeavor to resurrect his son from death. As he remained squatted beside the car, he saw a lifeless Evelyn, as some socially responsible citizens dragged her gently out of the wreck. If not for Rick’s death, Jeremy would have laughed at the corpse. But he had no laugh left in him.
Life is so fucking unjust!
‘You were just a fucking coward, addicted to alcohol and stupid researches, and couldn’t even love his family. You know your guilt, Jeremy. And, you even killed Lehane’s son and wife, accusing him of your family’s death,’ Ethan said.
Jeremy tried to resist giving in to his past. However, he was too weak to resist, and he gave in. ‘No, if not for her affair with you, she would have been alive.’
Ethan gave a malicious grin and made a fist with his left hand, which he released before repeating again. ‘Now you blame me! Your irresponsibility led her to me. You are the one to be accused!’ he said, pointing an accusing finger at Jeremy.
Jeremy wept even more as Ethan accused him. Suddenly, he stood up from the ground and yelled, ‘I will kill you, you son of a bitch!’ He ran towards Ethan and ended up on the bed. He turned around and found Ethan unmoved.
‘Jeremy, don’t you remember a fucking thing of your past? Have you mutilated your memory beyond recollection?’ Ethan ranted, shaking his head. ‘You tried to kill me after Evelyn’s murder, the same way you thought you did yesterday. The only difference was that your maneuver left me with quadriplegia when I fell off the cliff. But, you ultimately killed me on this very same bed you are lying on.’
Jeremy reflexively lurched off the bed and ended up on the ground. He banged his head repeatedly on the wall before he could do it no more and collapsed. The tears seemed impossible to stop and so did his agony. Once again, his memories came back. But this time, he did not force them back. He welcomed them with an open mind.
FEBRUARY 29, 2016
Jeremy stepped out of his car and walked towards the front door of the summerhouse with Fleming’s words, which he had heard months ago, echoing in his mind.
‘Mr. Ethan Holland ordered your car-wreck. He gave me money and told me about your lone trip to Mercupo. He told me to ram your car off the cliff on that ring-road.’
Jeremy was amazed at how Ethan’s disability, which he had awarded him, did not prevent him from having vengeance. He rebuked himself for not ensuring if Ethan had succumbed to his fall those six months ago, when he had pushed him off the cliff. But Jeremy had clarity about something. His source was confident about Ethan collaborating with Donald to plan his accident and he had his proofs. Restraining the excitement his adrenaline rush produced, he knocked on the front door. Jacques Holland opened the door, and the first thing Jeremy noticed was that he looked older than his age.
‘Good morning, Mr. Holland,’ Jeremy wished him.
‘Jeremy, come in,’ he said, moving aside to let Jeremy in. Jeremy entered the living room and stood observing the familiar place.
‘So, where’s Ethan?’ Jeremy asked, fighting back a grin.
‘He’s upstairs in his room. Durian will escort you there,’ Jacques said.
‘No problem, Mr. Holland. I am not a stranger in this house. I know the room very well,’ Jeremy said, and walked towards the stairs.
Relieved at finding some privacy with Ethan, Jeremy ascended the stairs and reached the room. The door was slightly open. He pushed it wide open and stepped in. Ethan turned his head and his eyes widened at the sight of Jeremy. Jeremy closed the door behind him, walked over to the bedside chair, and settled in it.
‘Jeremy…what are you doing here?’ Ethan bellowed.
Jeremy pressed his index finger to Ethan’s lips. ‘Don’t make noise! Your parents are downstairs.’
Ethan complied. ‘So, you could talk,’ Jeremy said.
‘Jeremy, I mean you no harm. Just go away,’ he said.
‘Shush! Don’t you get it?’ Jeremy bellowed. ‘Let me tell you an equation. The more the noise you make, the more vulnerable your parents are. So, maintain silence and listen to me carefully.’
Ethan swallowed hard.
‘Good. Now, first of all, congratulations! You are alive and…’ he paused to examine Ethan, ‘well. Sorry for landing you in this condition. I would have come to apologize for bringing you to this state, if not for the accident that you planned, which landed me in the hands of SAF,’ Jeremy said. ‘Now, coming to the purpose of my visit, I just wanted to elaborate what I told you that day before the assault. Moreover, I am in no mood to repeat it all over again. I’ll concentrate on the parts I left out. What do I have to say? You killed my wife and son. I think I told you that. The SAF people tortured me and then I fell into the hands of Mercupo Liberation Society. I didn’t tell you that, right? And… Fleming was the one who revealed to me that you were behind the accident. I offer my condolences to his family in your presence since he is dead from an accident himself. Ironic, right?’
Jeremy paused for a moment to study the impact of his remarks. Ethan swallowed hard. ‘I think it’s just about everything I wanted to tell you. I can’t explain the surprise when your father called me to inform that you were in hospital and that you had fallen off the cliff. I visited you in hospital. But you were heavily sedated and unconscious. I would have killed you right there if not for the setting and your grieving parents. I wanted them to spend your last days with them. Your actions gave them more time than I had planned, and I believe that they had had enough of it.
‘So, quick question, what do you think I would do now?’ Jeremy asked.
‘Jeremy,’ Ethan pleaded, ‘I didn’t kill your family. You killed them yourself.’
‘What?’ Jeremy bellowed. ‘You had Fleming ram my car off the cliff and kill them. Now, you accuse me of murder. What a stupid joke!’ Jeremy said, slapping Ethan.
‘You are a sick son of a bitch!’ Ethan said.
‘That I know, and you need not mention. So, any final words, anything you want me to say to your parents after you die?’
Ethan shook his head and tears streaked down his cheeks. Jeremy stood amazed at the variation of expressions Ethan presented. ‘I would have turned you in for your crimes, Jeremy. I did not do it. I did not want you to suffer. Please don’t do it.’
Jeremy shook his head. ‘So, you believe that I was treated as a fucking VIP during my capture, right? I heard that quadriplegics are prone to respiratory failure, and your father even mentioned that it happened to you several times’ Jeremy said, lifting a pillow off the bed. He pressed it over Ethan’s face and held it tightly. ‘Do you have something of that sort? You are breathing properly, right?’
Jeremy gazed at his watch and removed the pillow after thirty seconds. Beads of sweat streaked down Ethan’s face and he breathed in deeply. The blanching was unmistakable. ‘That’s how it feels to see death. Now, get ready to meet Mr. Death.’
Jeremy once again pressed the pillow over Ethan’s face, only this time to remove it after even more time. Jeremy placed his index finger near Ethan’s nose and found no breathing.
‘You better be dead this time, instead of fooling me like last time,’ he said, and turned around. ‘Mr. Holland!’ he called out.
Jacques came up the stairs panting and stopped at the sight of Ethan. ‘What happened to him?’
‘I don’t know. I got a call from an associate. And, when I went into the corridor to attend the call and came back after five minutes, he was like this.’
Durian came forward and checked for the triad of life. He turned around and shook his head. ‘I am sorry, Mr. Holland.’
Jacques Holland collapsed on the ground and began sobbing. Jeremy knelt down beside Jacques and embraced him.
‘I am sorry for your loss, Mr. Holland. I can understand your pain. Ethan was my best-friend.’
Jeremy felt weak and his attempt to stand-up ended in vain. He raised his head and gazed around to find Ethan standing few feet away from him.
‘Like I said, you are sick, Jeremy. You have been a loner since your childhood, despite your parents’ presence. You imagined non-existent people to fill that gap in your life. When you met me and then married Evelyn, a physical presence filled the space for the first time. However, circumstances left you a loner after you lost Evelyn and Rick. Then, you weaved a story to shift the blame to my account when I tried to ram your car, which had only you, off the cliff in Mercupo.
‘When you found out about our affair, you killed your family and spared me. Do you know why? It was because you were afraid of losing me. You were afraid you would be a loner again. But when you repeatedly recollected that I had an affair with your wife, you couldn’t balance your emotions and finally took to killing me. You felt so lonely after that that you imagined a positive me and filled that gap in your life with my fictional presence.
‘Everything that you weaved and imagined was your excuse for a purpose. A purpose for living which you had lost when you killed your loved-ones yourself. Jeremy, you long for a purpose to live and continue to create such purposes till you finally realize that living in itself is a purpose and there is no need for a purpose to live.’
Jeremy plugged his ears and bent down sobbing. When he raised his head, Ethan was nowhere. Jeremy stood up and moved around the room, as if he expected Ethan to be hiding somewhere in the room. He had vanished. Before he could settle down with the explanation that it was part of his imagination, the door flung open, and in came Jacques Holland with a shotgun in his hand.
‘Jeremy, get the fuck out of here before I blow your brains out. I saw the news. And, I couldn’t mingle that I am giving shelter to a criminal like you!’ he yelled.
With his jeopardy still unsettled, Jeremy walked backwards towards the table. Slowly, his jeopardy evaporated, and a new emotion took place. As the tears dried on his face, a grin appeared on his face, which widened as his grasp of his gun tightened. He flung the gun forward and pulled the trigger, shooting the old man in his throat. The bullet pierced his trachea, and the old man swiveled backward and to right, and ended up rolling down the stairs. Jeremy paced to the door and peeked out to catch sight of the old man. He found Durian beside the old man’s body; on seeing Jeremy, he took the shotgun into his hands and aimed it in Jeremy’s direction. Jeremy lurched out of its range and took cover behind the wall. But the shotgun never went off as another shot rang in the house, followed by a loud thud as Durian’s dead body slipped down the stairs to the bottom. Jeremy came out of his cover and discovered Adam with his gun puffing smoke out of the barrel.
Before he could shower his appreciations on Adam, his phone pinged. Jeremy curiously retrieved it from his pocket and read the message-
CAPTURED VANESSA NOW- 45 minutes ago.
WILL BE AT THE DESTINED LOCATION IN THIRTY MINUTES- now
Wondering how he had missed the first message, Jeremy tucked his gun in the waistband of his trousers and patted Adam’s shoulder. He silently thanked Tim Bronson for the information about Daniel’s girlfriends. ‘They are arriving with the girl to the destination. Let’s go.’
Just as they were stepping out of the house, Jeremy heard a female voice, which he recognized as belonging to Melissa Holland, Ethan’s mom. He had totally forgotten about her till then. He followed her voice and ended up in the ground floor bedroom, where he found her on bed. Not giving much attention to her weak appearance, he moved into the room with Adam at his heel.
‘Jeremy, what were those sounds?’ she asked panicked.
‘No need to worry about those sounds, Mrs. Holland. They were just boys having some fun.’
‘Jeremy, don’t lie to me. What were those sounds?’
Jeremy felt the rising exasperation. He walked to her bed and stroked her hair gently. ‘Mrs. Holland, I never expected to see you in such a worse state. And, looking at you right now, I feel like freeing you of this burden.’
He turned around and started walking out of the room. But he stopped in his tracks, turned back and said, ‘Durian’s steak wasn’t as tasty as your steak. I am going to miss it,’ before walking out of the room. When he reached the patio, the gunshot rang through the deserted surroundings; Adam followed Jeremy in his stroll to the van. As the van made a U-turn, Jeremy saw the silhouette of a man in a black-suit at a far distance, visible under the moonlit sky.
[+ ALISON’S MOTEL- 1991, ON THE DAY OF PRESS CONFERENCE +]
ROSS SWITCHED OFF the TV as the people in the press conference made false accusations against him in front of thousands of people. Rachel was already worried about Ross’s entrapment in something he had not committed. And he did not want to worry her more by letting her know more of the disgrace, which he had garnered. He had actually approved the explosives for the implosion of an old building in old Silvinkeria. His assistant, whom he blindly believed, presented the blueprint and design of Rochen Fort to him in the disguise of those of that old building. He did not have the time to visit the building personally and he had signed it without the knowledge that he was deceived by the company.
He opened the door of the motel room and walked into the balcony. He could see Rachel walking in the parking place with Michael beside her. Ross wondered what must have been running in Rachel’s mind now, despite the confusion in their lives. He tucked his hands in his pockets and walked down towards them after closing the door. He toyed with the idea of informing her about his photo telecast on the TV with the tagline “perpetrator”. He knew that it would not be long before someone recognized him and reported to the authorities. He thought of moving away from the place first, and then to decide where to stay. Before he could move few feet towards the stairs, the phone began ringing in his room. He hustled back into the room and answered it.
‘Ross, it’s me,’ the voice said. ‘Get ready within half-an-hour. I will be there soon.’
Ross replaced the receiver in its hook and hurried out of the room to inform Rachel about the good news.
[+ THE NIGHT HOUNDS CARAVAN- 1991, ON THE NIGHT OF PRESS CONFERENCE +]
The Night Hounds are a group of military-trained cadets, who are specially trained to conduct top-secret operations for the government. Markus Byn Levisohn, aged thirty, was the youngest cadet to become the Head of a unit of The Night Hounds. He was having a casual chat with his cadets when the second-in-chief of his unit informed him about a phone call for him. He walked back into the tent and answered the call.
‘Markus,’ the voice said. ‘The source revealed Ross’s location. He is less than an hour from your location. Ready your unit. I want this done secretly.’
‘Yes sir,’ Markus said.
He walked out of the tent to inform his unit about the new developments. After notifying them, he walked back in to ready his gear. He opened his rucksack for his gear, and found the grey-overcoat he had worn the morning of the blasts. He felt that taking part in that operation was the best thing he had done since a long time, and geared up.
JEREMY LOOKED FORWARD for the specified GMC SUV as they neared Byason’s Junction, where he was destined to meet the captors of Vanessa Romero. To Jeremy’s excitement, the GMC waited facing their way. Adam halted the van facing the SUV, and Jeremy stepped out of it. He hurriedly walked to the van and stood beside the SUV, peering in to look for a woman. The people in the SUV remained inside the SUV, which annoyed Jeremy. Only after Adam came to stand behind him that the doors opened and they stepped outside the vehicle with sub-machine guns in their hands. Jeremy felt that it was too big a show on a highway for people to step out of a vehicle with automatic guns in their hands.
‘Adam, why didn’t they get out after seeing me?’ he asked, feeling disrespected.
‘Sorry boss, they are my new unit. They don’t know that I work for you. They were waiting for me,’ Adam said.
‘I see,’ Jeremy said, nodding his head. ‘OK, tell them that as long as they are with me, I am the leader. OK?’
‘Get on with the usual,’ Jeremy said.
Adam stepped closer to them and announced, ‘I want all of you to turn in your phones to me. You will get them back once the work is done.’
They stood still without moving for a full minute.
‘Are you fucking deaf?’ Jeremy bellowed.
They still did not move for a few more seconds, and Jeremy expected them to form a group and discuss the decision. Surprisingly, they reluctantly dropped their phones into the sack Adam held out for them, without an exchange of a single opinion. Once the phones were in the sack, Jeremy turned his attention to Vanessa, who lay unconscious in the back of the SUV. He called out in their direction to carry Vanessa into the van. First, one of the heavy ones moved forward. But another one shoved him back and moved forward, while the first one stood glaring at him.
As the man carried Vanessa to the van’s rear and loaded her in the back, Jeremy stopped Adam as he got into the van.
‘Adam, can I trust your guys?’ Jeremy asked, maintaining his serious face.
‘Yes…sir,’ Adam said, wiping the sweat off his forehead.
‘Good,’ Jeremy said, patting Adam’s shoulder.
Jeremy’s serious face worried Adam. He prayed for Jeremy not to know that the group was a newly assembled group of crooks; the members hated each other, and were famous for their disunity. Vanessa’s phone began vibrating as Adam ignited the engine. Jeremy pulled the phone from her trousers’ pocket and found a contact named EVIL PRINCE. He wondered who it was and his doubt got its solution, when a message followed from the same number.
Daniel is falling into my trap! Come on, my dear enemy!
Jeremy dialed Daniel’s number, but he rejected the call. Jeremy typed a message and sent it to Daniel’s number. He grinned as he imagined Daniel’s anxiety.
Jeremy strolled into the living room as Adam’s men carried Vanessa upstairs to the bedroom. He looked around and examined Adam’s men, who moved about the house looking for a spot to settle. As he stood there in the middle of the living room, one settled on the couch, while another one settled in a dining chair, while yet another one settled on the stairs just beside Durian’s corpse, not minding the bodily fluids of the servant. When Adam descended the stairs after leaving Vanessa in the bedroom, he looked around confused and Jeremy caught his attention. He looked like he was going to bark at them any time soon. Adam hurried down the stairs.
‘Hey, what the fuck do you people think is happening here?’ Adam bellowed. ‘This isn’t a fucking picnic. Take your positions and obey Mr. Miller’s orders.’
The matter made clear, they stood up from their comfortable positions and hustled around like a shoal of aimless sheep.
‘Adam!’ Jeremy called out. ‘Are they fucking retards? I want them in their respectable positions within five minutes. Or else, you will be dead before Daniel!’
Adam nodded and turned to leave. But he returned to Jeremy and whispered, ‘Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you leave to somewhere safe rather than calling him right here. You will be vulnerable with people knowing where you are.’
Jeremy placed his hand on Adam’s shoulders. ‘Adam, I appreciate your concern. But Daniel is in no position to play games with me. You see, his heart is there,’ Jeremy said, pointing in the direction of the first floor bedroom. ‘He wouldn’t risk it. And, I want to emerge a man of achievement, rather than a coward.’
Adam nodded and left, while Jeremy ascended the stairs to the bedroom. When he pushed the door open, he saw Vanessa struggling with the tapes. She stopped her struggle when she saw him. Jeremy walked to her position on the floor beside the bed, squatted down beside her and removed the tape. Only silence followed, while Jeremy expected her to protest.
‘You seem like a nice princess, unlike your evil prince,’ he said.
She did not reply and turned her head away from him. Jeremy turned her face forcibly towards him and looked her in the eye. She closed her eyes. He slapped her across her face.
‘Hey, am I ugly? No, I don’t think so. So, what’s the matter with avoiding eye-contact?’
‘Ha-ha! You talk of murder,’ Jeremy said. ‘So, why do you think I want to kill your prince? Is it because he is a good guy? Nope! Do you know the treatment I received from his group when they captured me? They tortured me so badly that I wished I had died in the accident. And, he doesn’t deserve to live so long after his partners in crime were parceled to hell by this handicapped monster,’ he griped, pointing to himself.
‘Vengeance, right? Then, how about I say something? Daniel killed my father less than two weeks ago and I spent two days helping him. I did not choose vengeance like you. You know why? It’s because I know what made Daniel kill my father,’ she roared.
‘I had a best-friend in school by name Teresa. She was my closest friend. The sad part was she was an orphan. You know how she was orphaned? It was the Rochen Fort blasts. She lost her mother and father in the blasts. And we both used to contribute some part of our prayers to ask God to punish those who were responsible for those blasts. So when I realized that my father’s affiliations and part in the Rochen Fort Blasts had got him killed, I thanked God for serving him the right thing. I do not deny my sorrow for his death. But, I believed that the right justice was served to him.’
She threw him a glare to show that she meant it. ‘Ignorance is what separates the two of us. While you stayed behind, oblivious to what had led to your fate, I moved on to realize the right thing.’
Jeremy nodded approvingly and thought of clapping, if not for his shoulder. He snickered, ‘You’re in a very complicated relationship. But, I can’t resist myself from stating that I too hated the person I called “dad” since,’ he said, counting numbers on his fingers, ‘I was four. You know why?’ He took a pause, despite expecting no response. ‘He was not my father.’
Tiny Jeremy had grown habituated to the presence of the mustached man in his house, while his father, Callahan Aky Edwards, an automobile mechanic, went out daily to work. Despite his father’s alcohol problem, Jeremy loved him very much. Jeremy did not particularly understand the mustached man’s purpose in the house, except that he came solely to meet his mother and never came when his father was home. He did not particularly despise the man, for he liked the man’s fancy car, his suits and the chocolates he brought him. His mother called him Donald.
On a cold winter night, Jeremy hopped his way to the door when he heard the doorbell ring. When he saw that it was Donald, he stood there expecting his chocolate, while his father, with a whisky glass in his hand, came to see who it was. The mustached man introduced himself as Donald Miller and requested to discuss something important. Donald walked past Jeremy, who watched with disappointment, as Donald moved in and settled on the couch facing Callahan.
He watched as the two men exchanged some friendly words at first, which slowly modulated into an intense argument, before Carolyn came from behind Callahan and tied a rope around Callahan’s throat. Donald lurched at Callahan and his tiny frame did not prevent him from holding the heavy man tightly while Carolyn pulled the rope tightly as Callahan protested. Jeremy watched as Callahan slowly stopped protesting and finally lay still. Jeopardy crept into Jeremy’s mind and tears welled in his eyes as Callahan’s body was loaded into the trunk of Donald’s fancy car. Through the whole scene, his muscles were paralyzed, and he watched in awe as his father’s corpse was loaded into the trunk, never to be seen again.
That was when he ceased to be Jeremy Aky Edwards and became Jeremy Jol Miller, the biological kid of Callahan Edwards, and a boy with a heart full of hatred for his now-parents.
The hatred was why he had threatened to reveal Donald’s hand behind the Rochen Fort Blasts, which eventually led to Donald collaborating with Ethan to ram his car off the cliff. Once the story was completed, Jeremy stood up. ‘Do not worry. I shall let you have a final meeting with your boyfriend before he dies.’
‘You wish,’ she said.
‘Brave little girl,’ he appreciated.
Just as Jeremy stepped out of the room, a gunshot echoed in the whole house. Jeremy descended three steps at a time towards the source of the sound and he ended up in the front corridor, where one of Adam’s men lay dead on the ground with a bullet through his head. Another one of his men stood few feet behind him with a fired-gun in his hand.
‘What the fuck’s happening here?’ Jeremy hollered.
‘Boss, I caught this bastard talking to someone about this location and about you in this phone,’ he said, handing a small feature phone to Jeremy. The phone reeked of socks’ stench, which made Jeremy assume that he must have been hiding the phone in his shoes.
The phone began ringing just as Jeremy took it and it said- BOSS. Jeremy answered it, ‘Hello, who’s this?’
‘Mr. Miller?’ a familiar voice asked.
‘Yeah, who’s this?’
‘First of all, is the boy dead?’ he asked.
Jeremy did not reply.
‘Well,’ he continued, ‘He must be dead, since you are speaking to me instead of him, and I heard the shot. Coming to introductions, Mr. Miller, this is Lehane Ryu Plainview, who you were so kind to hire to kill your family.’
‘You’re still alive?’
‘Yes I am,’ he said. ‘That’s how I am able to speak to you on phone. Lost are lost. I need to tell you something very important. You might have killed that one. I am happy to announce that there are still some black sheep in your shoal. And there is no escaping them. If you are clever enough to find them, I appreciate your effort,’ he said and ended the call.
Jeremy dropped the phone and turned around to examine all the assembled men. He studied each face separately, but found nothing that suggested dishonesty. He was in no state to whisk them away as false accusations. He walked past them into the living room and called Adam to follow him upstairs. Jeremy walked to the end of first floor corridor with Adam behind him. Once they were out of hearing range of the others, Jeremy slapped Adam.
‘Whom did you bring here, you idiot?’ he bellowed. ‘One of them was speaking to an idiot whom I thought I had taken care of. And, he claims that there are still some of his men in your team.’
‘Boss, I am sorry. I actually assembled them recently. Only after signing them separately and paying their advances did I realize that they are a bunch of assholes, who hate each other in the same team. These guys are rumored to have had a history of disputes in the past.’
Jeremy’s temper shot beyond the roof. ‘What? How could you risk my life with such idiots?’
‘I am sorry, Boss.’
‘Listen to me carefully. I have no other place safer than this away from the military, and I need protection from whoever attacks me. I want you to observe them carefully and check them for any hidden phones. I want everything to go on properly. Understood?’
Jeremy gestured Adam with his finger to leave. After he left, Jeremy walked towards the bedroom to use the washroom. But halfway there, he saw a phone resting against the far wall. He picked it up and woke the screen. It said- JACQUES’S PHONE. When he unlocked it, he found a headline in the “News Online” app, which read-
THE MURDERER OF THE LATE PRIME MINISTER DONALD JOL MILLER REVEALED.
With shaking hands, Jeremy clicked the link and found a video with another sub-headline, which read-
JEREMY JOL MILLER MURDERED HIS FATHER, DONALD JOL MILLER. Watch here.
The fucking truth shall set the hounds on me!
[+ DAVID AKY LINDEN’S RESIDENCE IN MERCUPO- TWELVE DAYS POST THE JUDGMENT DAY +]
DAVID SIPPED THE champagne from the glass, while Mudassir sat on the opposite side of the table, savoring the dinner. It was part of their newly formed alliance that Mudassir had visited David’s house with his family of a wife and a son for dinner. David’s family of a wife and two daughters joined them for the late dinner in David’s elegant dining room with the TV displaying an old Charlie Chaplin movie on a movie channel.
‘I like Charlie Chaplin’s movies,’ David said to drive the conversation off terror and fear.
‘Yeah, I like him too. However, if we say this in front of the world, they would laugh at us. These people expect leaders like us to be serious, illiterates, work-minded and all. They fail to realize that we too are well-educated, sometimes jovial and family men. That is the problem with these people. They only believe what they want to believe.’
‘Yeah,’ David said. ‘That’s absolutely right.’
The movie abruptly disappeared and in its place came the ESAF logo, which usually appears just before any ESAF publicities.
‘Another one of Levisohnian comedies,’ Mudassir said, laughing at his own comment.
As they knew that the logo would persist on the screen for a full minute, they continued with their chat.
‘My sources say that Levisohn has called for a meeting of higher officials today to discuss about taking us off the map,’ David said, drinking his wine.
Mudassir responded with a smirk before answering, ‘yeah, I heard that too. Since they believe that our sleeper cells could become active and cause havoc if they attack on us, they must have put the idea on hold. Too bad he couldn’t do something that could slacken his chances of ties with other countries.’
The logo disappeared, leaving behind a blank screen. The video began, which displayed the Prime Minister’s Office in Peuper Palace and the date said 31st of August.
Donald Miller remained behind his desk as three shots registered outside his office. Suddenly, the door flung open with a force, and in stepped Jeremy and one of Donald’s security agents.
‘Dear dad! Where are you?’ Jeremy sang.
Donald pressed himself against the desk as Jeremy strolled towards the desk and pulled Donald out of his hiding.
‘There you are,’ Jeremy said, shoving Donald into the middle of the room.
‘Jeremy, don’t do this. I am your father.’
‘Hey, I was four when you killed my father and took his place,’ Jeremy said, wearing the gloves and taking the gun from the agent.
‘But, you can be my political heir. Please don’t do this.’
‘Well,’ Jeremy said, aiming the gun at Donald. ‘You should have thought about this before trying to kill me in an accident. And, the sympathy of your death could help me in future for a political career.’
Despite Donald pleading Jeremy not to pull the trigger, Jeremy pulled the trigger, and the bullet pierced Donald’s chest as he flew backward onto the desk. Jeremy handed the agent his gun, and while he holstered it, Jeremy pulled a knife from his belt, stuck it in the agent’s throat, and left it there. Once he did it, Jeremy removed the gloves, shoved them into what could be his underwear, and moved a few feet away from the window. He ran towards it and collided shoulder-first into it, breaking the glass and ending up outside.
Mudassir watched with his mouth agape as the video ended. He turned to David who maintained a similar look on his face before it turned into a glare.
‘What the fuck! I remember you telling me that the footage was eliminated,’ David said.
‘My men retrieved it from the hacker. And, he said he had no copies of it,’ Mudassir said.
‘I can’t believe this.’
‘It is OK, David. Jeremy Miller is the one at trouble for being the Sazyfan. It is not our problem anymore. Anyhow, we announced it ourselves that we are responsible for the assassination.’
‘First, you mess up the job, now you say it’s OK. The revelation of this video threatens the superiority we established over the ESAF. I should have never trusted your idiotic organization with this responsibility. It is important that people never know that it was Jeremy. It takes the credit away from us.’
‘David, watch who you call idiots!’
Sensing the heat of the situation, the women stormed out of the room as the respective soldiers headed for the room after hearing them yell.
‘I will call you whatever I desire since you failed, you uncouth son of a bitch!’
Simultaneously, both the men pulled their guns out and met each other’s gaze. Mudassir’s son Yakub pulled out his gun and aimed it at David. In the few seconds that followed, Mudassir did not have the time to realize who hit Yakub, as the eighteen year old slumped to the ground with a thud and hundreds of bullets rained in the room.
Ronald watched as the file copied from Daniel Xavier’s floppy into his laptop. Once the file copied into his laptop, he pushed the laptop towards Carla, the hacker he hired, who scrolled through the document before closing it. She chewed on her sandwich and turned to Ronald.
‘So, what do you want me to do?’ she asked, spraying crumbs of her bread on the table.
‘I want you to incorporate this file in a virus and implant it in our Fremia Daily app such that whoever opens the app will get this file downloaded on their device.’
‘That’s it?’ she asked.
‘That’s about all of it, right?’ Ronald asked in Daniel’s direction.
‘Yep,’ Ronald said.
‘Why don’t you upload it yourself?’ she asked, licking the sauce off her fingers.
‘I can’t do this with the ESAF creeping all over the internet. So, a virus would be a perfect cover for us.’
‘OK,’ she said and uploaded the file on her mobile. She rose from her seat and announced. ‘Now, the time is 9 o’ clock. You can expect it on your app by midnight.’
‘Thank you,’ Ronald said, handing her the money envelope.
Once she left, Daniel turned to Ronald and pushed Ronald’s phone towards him. ‘The ESAF revealed that they found who killed Donald Miller.’
‘Hmm, but, our news will rock the country.’
‘Definitely,’ Daniel snickered. ‘The truth shall blaze a fire and burn shall those who blazed it.’
Sensing the intensity of the situation, Adam descended the stairs and found his men in the living room. The room had an air of conflict as they stood well away from each other. Formulating a plan in his mind, Adam moved into the kitchen with a piece of paper in his hand and settled on what he considered Durian’s resting chair. He wrote the names of all six of the remaining members and split them into three pairs, putting the worst enemies in the same group. He reviewed the different places they could be lodged in and assigned each pair a place. After he made a mental map of it, he called out for Brad, who walked into the kitchen.
‘Brad, close the door behind you.’ Once he closed it, Adam said, ‘I am assigning you the first floor balcony. Harvey will accompany you. Apart from looking out for trouble, I want you to keep an eye on Harvey, for I don’t believe he isn’t trustworthy. If he removes something suspicious apart from a gun, shoot his fucking head off.’
Brad smiled for the first time since Adam had met him, and nodded. After he left after the complete-check, Adam called out for Harvey and repeated the same to him about Brad. After that, he assigned Jake and Cook the corridor just outside the front door and repeated the same words. After that, he repeated the same for Ken and Billy, and assigned them the back door. After assigning them their places, Adam took the terrace and waited, wondering if his method was right.
Brad impatiently checked his watch and realized that it was more than twenty minutes since he took the first floor balcony with Harvey. Through those twenty minutes, he watched patiently as Harvey extracted a comb to comb his hair, a cigarette to smoke and a protein bar to eat. Each time he had extracted them out of his pocket, Brad half-raised his gun to shoot him, but disappointedly lowered it when he saw that it was a harmless object.
Standing two feet to Harvey’s right, Brad studied the shadows of Jake and Cook as they moved about the front corridor under the extended roof. Brad despised the whole group and hated being part of it, but his hatred was particularly towards Harvey and Cook. Less than a year ago, Brad had nearly killed Cook and Harvey when his sister complained him about Cook and Harvey misbehaving with her. If not for the police’s intervention, either Cook or Harvey or the both of them would have been dead. Now, standing there beside Harvey, Brad wished for Harvey to reveal something threatening so that he could blow his brains out.
But before he could complete his wish, he caught sight of something shining in Harvey’s hand as he raised it to his ear. Grabbing the opportunity, Brad raised his gun at him and pulled the trigger.
Harvey felt the dryness of his mouth as he stood there and resisted the urge to drink. Finally, giving in to his addiction, he removed the hip flask from his blazer and took it to his ear to shake it for the liquid. Before he could get it any nearer to his ear, he caught sight of Brad’s raised gun, and the bullet pierced his temporal bone and temporal lobe before he could face Brad.
Cook was leaning to a pillar in the corridor, watching Jake pee in a corner of the corridor, when he heard the first shot. A body landed with a thud on the ground from above him. In spite of the blown head, Harvey’s face was unmistakable in the meek light. He knew that Adam had assigned Harvey the balcony with Brad, and he doubted Brad’s ideals. His fears proved right when Harvey’s body landed on the floor. Cook loaded his gun and ran into the open beside Harvey’s body. He aimed the gun at the first floor balcony, where Brad stood watching Harvey’s corpse. With Jake making a run to his place, Cook pulled the trigger just as Brad did and the two bullets crossed paths by a few centimeters, finally ending up in Brad’s chest and Cook’s throat.
Adam was still reviewing his decision, when he heard the first shot. He was standing at the back of the terrace at that time and he ran to its front. Before he could reach the front, two more shots rang out. Trying to figure how many had come to attack them, Adam reached the front of the terrace and found three dead bodies in front of the front door, and the silhouette of a man standing beside them, with his gun aimed at them. Reflexively, he aimed the gun at the man and pulled the trigger before realizing that it was Jake. Fortunately, he deflected the aim in the final moment and the bullet missed him by less than a feet.
‘Someone’s on the roof!’ Jake yelled, aiming his gun at Adam and firing it.
Adam ducked behind the three-foot wall and yelled, ‘It’s me! Adam!’ But another shot from Jake’s gun masked his yell.
Aiming for a second try, Adam rose from his cover and gazed in Jake’s direction. He was not there. Suddenly, Adam sensed movement to the right of the bodies and before he could react, Jake shot him, which lodged a bullet in Adam’s pectorals. Adam fell down on the wall on his belly and he slumped backward to prevent anyone from shooting him again.
As he struggled to get himself up, he heard Ken yell, ‘Jake fired at Adam. He’s a fucking mole!’
As Adam paid attention, another shot followed, followed by Jake’s growl of agony as the bullet hit him. Sensing that Billy and Ken recognized him, Adam raised his head above the wall and gazed as a collapsed Jake shot at Ken and Billy, before Billy’s bullet hit him in the head. Three dead bodies turned to six, as Adam watched in horror. Unable to hold himself in that position, Adam fell back onto the floor of the terrace holding his wound. The blood had already formed a small puddle around him. Fear of death leapt up into his mind as he saw his blood dripping out of the injury and he reached for the small phone he had hidden in his shoe. Dialing his wife Samantha’s number, he experienced chills as the idea of dying a week before his baby was due to deliver crossed his mind. He stirred around and lay facedown on the floor. She answered the call after the second ring.
‘Hello, who’s this?’ she asked.
He struggled to restrain his pain and form the right words. Before he could answer, he felt the cold touch of a gun’s muzzle as someone pressed a gun against the back of his neck.
Lehane Ryu Plainview changed the gear of his truck as he sped past the meager traffic on the road leading to Byason’s Junction. Selvin, his mole in Adam’s team had messaged him minutes back that they were waiting at Byason’s Junction. Not interested in losing time, Lehane had begun his quest to save time. His previous mole, whom he had sent as a driver for Jeremy’s van was shot while passing him info about their whereabouts. Lehane regretted not his death, but not gaining info, despite paying the guy a hefty amount.
He had always been a family man, who believed heaven resided in a healthy and happy family. And he worked day-and-night as a truck driver for Holland and Co. to fulfill his role as a responsible father.
Agreeing to crash Evelyn’s car was part of that very principle; as the events unfolded following it, he found what lay at stake for him. While Ethan managed to use his influence and manipulative powers to lower his sentence to eighteen months, Jeremy, claiming Lehane responsible for his family’s death, killed his wife and son within two months after the accident. After his release from prison, Lehane survived Jeremy’s assault on him and changed to another company as a truck driver, but did not forget the harm Jeremy had inflicted.
As part of it, he continued his endeavors to find a chance to kill Jeremy and finally found Jeremy’s SUV on the highway that morning. He just saw four people in the SUV and assumed that Jeremy was in there too. But when the car crashed into a pole and the ambulance arrived, he found four complete strangers. Following one of them, he reached the hospital, then an old apartment in Orego District where he witnessed a brief rumble between the man and Jeremy’s gang; he regretted his assault on those people, whom he believed had something to do against Jeremy. In the narrow countryside roads which Jeremy’s van took, Lehane failed to catch-up and finally lost him.
Seeing Adam with Jeremy, he contacted Selvin who showed him Adam in a public place once as his new employer. Lehane had tried hard to shove Selvin away from the path of crime, but he did not budge. Lehane feared that the kid too would grow to become a useless being like his father, who had lost his life a decade ago in a drug deal gone wrong.
Driving along the road towards the junction, Lehane saw a man and woman standing beside a parked Chevy with the hazard lights on. Lehane saw that the time was 10.35 in the night. If not for the woman, Lehane would have continued. He halted his truck behind the Chevy and walked towards them. The man was holding his phone in his hand, which illuminated his face. He was the same man whom he could have killed with the rest of his friends.
THE MESSAGE SCARED the hell out of Daniel. He felt the tremors crept up his hands and he steadied them by clutching the steering wheel tightly.
‘Daniel, what’s the matter?’ Margaret asked.
‘Jeremy has kidnapped Vanessa. He challenged me to be at some specified location by 12.30.’
‘OK, calm down. We can handle this. We can call the cops,’ Margaret said calmly.
‘No, I couldn’t risk it. I need to be there. I better get going. Tell me where to drop you. I will leave you there.’
Margaret found no point in trying to convince him. She took the phone from him and studied the route to the location Jeremy had sent. ‘You can drop me off at Byason’s Junction.’
Daniel started the car and drove the car following the route. He felt happy at choosing that particular road to escape from the restaurant, for it helped him cover certain distance. But his happiness did not last long, as the car erupted smoke from beneath the hood and came to a halt. Cursing the engine, he stepped out and opened the hood. The engine let out a cloud of smoke onto his face and he moved away.
‘The engine’s having some problem,’ he said.
‘So, what do we do?’ Margaret asked. ‘Maybe, we can call for a cab.’
He gave her his phone and said, ‘Try that. I will look for some kind-hearted person to give us a lift.’
Daniel tried to stop someone for help. But no one seemed interested to stop for them so late in the night. As he continued his vain attempts, Margaret called out for him.
‘Daniel, one of the companies says they will send a cab outside the city. But, there will be extra charges,’ she said.
‘OK,’ Daniel said, taking the phone.
As he read the terms, a truck halted behind them and a tall man leapt out of the driver’s seat and walked towards them.
‘What’s…the matter?’ he asked.
‘The engine is having some kind of problem. Can you give me a lift?’ Daniel asked.
‘I will check the engine and see if I can fix it.’
Daniel gave way for the man as he walked to the front and examined the engine in the light of his flashlight.
‘So, where you headed?’ he asked.
There followed a momentary pause as Daniel marveled with the idea of revealing the location to him. ‘We are headed to some place in the countryside.’
‘Someplace?’ he asked instinctively. ‘What is that someplace?’
‘You must take a left at the Byason’s Junction and go a thirty miles towards the shore of River Anolusa,’ Daniel said, studying the Google map.
There was a pause before he murmured, ‘A perfect hiding place.’
‘What?’ Daniel asked.
‘Are you going for Jeremy Miller?’ he asked out of the blue.
The question struck Daniel like a bullet from the blue. ‘How do you know?’
The man leaned back from the engine and looked at Daniel. ‘Well, this afternoon, you met with an accident. It was by that very truck that I tried to ram you off the road. However, my misinterpretation of your vehicle was the reason I did it. I thought it was Jeremy in the car. I meant you no harm.’
‘A misunderstanding?’ Daniel yelled, grabbing the man’s collar. ‘You could have killed us all. Now, Vanessa is in his hands. It’s as if everything is against me and her.’
Margaret restrained Daniel as he shook with fury.
‘Vanessa?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, she was the one driving the car this afternoon.’
‘OK, listen to me carefully. I am having a mole in Jeremy’s team now and he can tell us about the conditions there. The both of us will confront him. What do you say?’ he insisted.
Daniel found sense in the plan and he nodded his head. The man’s reasoning compensated for Daniel’s fury. ‘OK, let’s go. But, we must drop her at Byason’s Junction.’
‘But, I can fix this car within five minutes for her. She can take this. By the way, I am Lehane.’
As the man leaned forward to fix the engine, his phone began ringing. He looked at the screen and his face lit up.
‘It’s my mole,’ he said and answered the call. ‘Selvin, I know the location. So, what are the conditions there?’ He listened intently to the person on the other side before his face lost color and he dropped the phone on the ground.
Daniel bent down to pick-up the phone and handed it back. ‘What did he say?’
‘There are a total of eight men apart from him and Jeremy. Now he is dead,’ Lehane answered with a blank face.
‘Yes, I heard the shot and his shout. They must have caught him,’ Lehane said, burying his face in his sleeve. As Daniel struggled to calm him down, his face returned with an excited look. ‘This isn’t the time for grieving. We must seek vengeance.’ At that moment, Lehane reminded Daniel of those characters in movies and books, who suppress their grief and inspire the protagonist not to give up. Daniel nodded his head, unable to find the appropriate words.
‘OK, apart from Jeremy and Adam, the team has seven men. But, Selvin told me that the group is unstable and that some people in the group have had a history of feuds in the past,’ he continued.
Daniel recoiled from his sympathy-mode and said, ‘So, you said they found him?’
‘Yeah,’ Lehane answered.
‘OK, call him and tell exactly as I tell you to,’ Daniel said. ‘We must implant a seed of doubt in Jeremy’s mind about his own team and expect the tree by the time we reach the place.’
Lehane nodded and listened to the dialogues he had to repeat on the phone.
Seated in the passenger seat of the truck with the KGH belongings bag in his lap, Daniel nervously gazed at his watch. It was 11.50. Fixing the car took more time than he had expected, and the frustration made him impatient. The maps said that the estimated time till destination would be 53 minutes, which was beyond the dead line. Daniel tried to settle his racing heart, and helped himself to a can of tuna and a Coke to replenish his energy.
Once he was done with them, he turned his attention to the belongings bag in his lap. The date on the bag said 29 August 2016. Daniel counted the numbers and came up with two weeks. In his hassle, he totally forgot the crime he had committed, and that he had intended to kill himself. He tried to shove those questions away and concentrate on saving Vanessa. However, his mind reverted to Donald’s murder.
‘So, Donald Miller died on 29th August?’ he asked, trying to spark a conversation.
‘No,’ Lehane said after a pause. ‘He died on 31st August. I remember it pretty well.’
Daniel experienced a rollercoaster of emotions following the new revelation. First, he felt sure that he couldn’t have killed a man in his coma. Second, he feared whom he must have actually killed, whom he must have misattributed to Donald.
Amidst his turmoil, the radio blazed, ‘It’s been two hours since the ESAF released the video showing Jeremy Miller’s murder of the Late Prime Minister Donald Miller, his father. However, his whereabouts remain a mystery and the cops claim that he is absconding. As of now, the question persists.’
Lehane muted the radio and said, ‘That stupid son of a bitch. He first killed his wife and son, and then his father. People like him don’t deserve to live.’
Daniel’s big blow left him oblivious to Lehane’s remarks and he wondered whom he must have murdered in that instant he remembered. Marveling over it, he felt a sudden weak feeling in his stomach, which he attributed to his raised vitals. He breathed heavily for a few seconds and attained some quiet. He handed over his phone to Lehane to follow.
‘I shall have a quick nap before we reach there,’ Daniel said, trying to calm down.
Lehane took the phone and fixed it in the phone slot. Daniel rested his head to a side and closed his eyes.
MARCH 28, 2012
Dressed in my only suit, I stood outside the small glass conference hall in the five-star hotel, as Gabriel Romero waited inside the conference hall for Donald Miller. I had actually come to meet Gabriel Romero on Vanessa’s insistence, which I felt difficult to evade. Gabriel asked me to wait until he completed his brief meeting with Donald Miller. Donald Miller came from the opposite door and shook hands with Gabriel. As I stood impatiently, my phone vibrated in my blazer’s pocket. It was mom. I thought she was calling out of her enthusiasm about our meeting.
‘Hey Mom,’ I said.
‘Daniel, it is Elizabeth,’ my neighbor said. ‘Your mother collapsed suddenly in your yard. She is on her way to KGH. Get there immediately.’
I ended the call and stood gazing at the photo of my mother on my phone’s screen. The idea of losing my mother crept up into my mind, and the thought paralyzed me. My body felt suddenly heavy and my knees buckled under the sudden weight. I realized that my psychological stress has induced a blackout.
I collapsed on the ground with my eyes partially open. I watched sub-consciously as a waiter approached Donald and Gabriel with coffee cups in a tray. Immersed in conversation, Gabriel swung his hand and knocked the tray off the waiter’s hands and the coffee ended up on Donald’s suit.
‘You idiot!’ Donald exclaimed, slapping the waiter.
‘Sorry sir,’ the waiter said, before Gabriel slapped him. ‘Learn some decency.’
The waiter stood with a slouched head as both of them rained their rebukes on him. Only after raising his head did he see me on the ground, and came to my rescue.
‘These two are a pair of indecent assholes’, I noted.
Daniel woke up with a start, sensing that the recollection gave him the answer as to whom he killed. He thought it over again and it seemed to make sense. Margaret’s explanation justified it. He realized that it was Gabriel Romero he had killed, not Donald Miller. Jeremy was Donald’s murderer. Daniel no longer needed an answer for Vanessa’s assault. Daniel sat regretting his action as the truck came to a sudden stop at a distance from a lone summerhouse on the river’s shore.
‘That must be it,’ Lehane said, pointing the house.
Daniel shifted his attention to the silhouette of the lone house and felt a chill down his spine. They sat in silence, with their individual thoughts running through their minds, for a few seconds before his phone rang. He answered the call.
‘It’s Jeremy speaking. The time is ten minutes beyond the line. But you aren’t here. You did not respond to the photo I sent you. So I believe that she isn’t so important for you. That gives me the right to kill her, right?’ Jeremy ranted. Before Daniel could respond, he continued, ‘you shall see it yourself when you come here what I could do to her!’
Daniel had received a photo from Vanessa’s number many minutes ago, which showed an incision on Vanessa’s arm and bleeding from it. Jeremy marked a cross with blood on Vanessa’s cubital vein and wrote “next” beside it. Daniel’s heart raced more than ever and he started worrying what could have happened to her. Daniel did not care Jeremy’s warnings anymore, and made successive calls to an ambulance and then to Manyap to inform about their respective concerned situations.
He had a bad feeling as he gazed at the house and it resembled a mental picture of death welcoming him with open hands.
‘Let’s get that bastard!’ Daniel yelled.
AFTER PASSING DOWN his orders to Adam, Jeremy closed the door behind him in the bedroom and waited patiently on the bed. Expecting disturbance from Vanessa, he replaced the tape on her mouth. Lehane’s words had scared him to death, and he struggled to resolve his mental conflict regarding the authenticity of the information. But he was in no situation to take chances by either leaving the place alone with Adam or staying there among those untrustworthy idiots. Finding no better option than shutting himself in a room and wait for Daniel to come for Vanessa, he bolted the door and blocked it with a table and an easy chair. He sat facing the door with his gun in his hand and tapped it impatiently on his thigh.
Vanessa lay still on the floor with her eyes wide open and looked at him with hatred-filled eyes. Despite his resistance, his gaze ultimately turned to her and he had to turn his face away before his mind started guessing what meaning lay in her gaze. The room had only one window, which faced the side of the house and it did not give him a view of the road leading to the summerhouse. All he could see from that window was vegetation and dust.
He evaluated his options and marveled what to do after taking care of Daniel. Daniel was not the last one of the SAF. There was still his friend. Jeremy wished he had something to bate his friend too. However, as far as he knew, he had nothing to use as leverage. At that moment, a thought crossed his mind, which had not occurred to him until then. For the first time, he questioned himself if he needed vengeance so badly. His state at that moment was the proof of what his vengeance-seeking nature had landed him in. He posed that question to himself again and again, trying to find an explanation to pop out of vacuum. All it did was escalate his fear, and mitigate his longing for vengeance. The reason he held as his right for vengeance was no longer a valid one, since he had come out of his self-imposed ignorance of his role in losing his loved ones, and life suddenly seemed empty and aimless for Jeremy. The feeling of aimlessness was what he had strained so hard to evade, yet it seemed to find its way back to him. He recollected what Ethan, as part of his imagination, had said.
‘Living in itself is a purpose and there is no need for a purpose to live.’
The words reverberated in his mind repeatedly until they filled him with his lost energy again, and he jumped off the bed thinking of a getaway place he needed after taking care of Daniel. Before that, he needed to hurt Daniel even before he came to him and show him what he was capable of. So he took the knife from the fruit basket on the table and walked over to Vanessa. She started moving wildly at the sight of the knife in his hand, and he had to pin her arm down strongly with his right forearm, while he thought of the best place to cut. He needed her alive when Daniel came to him and he intended to kill her in front of Daniel’s eyes. Since he knew that the brachial artery did not run superficially, he incised her right arm until he saw blood and used the blood to mark a cross on her cubital vein. He wrote “next” next to it and captured a photo in Vanessa’s phone, which he sent to Daniel’s number.
Feeling refreshed, he decided to escape to another safe house after taking care of Daniel, and then using his contacts to arrange for his escape out of the country by any means possible. He thought of his closest friends and came up with an empty list of trustworthy friends. In fact, after recalling Ethan’s treason, he grew suspicious of everyone he had met in his whole life. Then, the name of Maxim Aky Edwards, his paternal uncle, flashed into his memory.
Jeremy had gazed in shock as a tall, lean man of above sixty walked slowly from behind the assembled Mercupo Liberation Society members. While Jeremy expected some seriousness in Mudassir’s face, he saw only happiness, like a child who had discovered his Christmas gift. He doubted all those gossip his mates had gossiped about Mudassir being a “Cold-blooded murderer”, whose temper rose as if it was always filled to the brim.
The tall man stood in front of Jeremy and squatted down to face Jeremy. But unable to stay in that posture, he stood up and gestured to one of his men to bring him a chair. One of the young men brought him a chair. The man’s deep eyes and square jaw evoked a sense of recognition in Jeremy, which his state made difficult for him to decipher.
‘My arthritis doesn’t allow me such adventures,’ he said smiling meekly; Jeremy maintained a confused look not sure whether to smile at the comment. ‘Jeremy, haven’t you recognized me?’
Jeremy shook his head wishing he knew the man.
‘Fine, you don’t. I never visited your house. Do you at least remember the name Callahan Edwards?’
The name brought back the recollections of his biological father, which were the only memories he loved from his childhood. He reviewed his idea of telling the truth to the stranger. Something in his mind told him to. With tears streaming down his face, he said, ‘Yes, I remember. He was my father before he was snatched away from me.’
The man wiped off his tears with his shirt’s sleeves and said, ‘Yes, he was your father and my younger brother, the brother of Maxim Aky Edwards. Do you know who did that?’
‘Yeah, my mother and Donald Miller did it.’
Maxim nodded and helped Jeremy sit-up against the wall. ‘Bring my boy something to drink and eat.’
In the days that followed, Maxim told Jeremy how Donald had collaborated with Ethan, who in-turn collaborated with SAF Head to throw Jeremy into the hands of SAF. Jeremy understood that it involved Jeremy’s attempt to kill Ethan, who had ended up a quadriplegic. Maxim explained how he had never married and had dedicated his entire life to their revolution, while his brother turned into an alcoholic and married a city girl, which was a complete mismatch. Jeremy told Maxim how he had worked hard to find out about Operation Rochen Fort and had blackmailed Donald to see him fear him, which eventually led to his family’s death.
‘When you revolted against his partiality to MNCs in leasing the Mercupo, I realized that you had that revolution in your blood. Jeremy, if you are provided a chance to avenge the death of your father, would you?’
Jeremy had been waiting for that opportunity since a long time. Despite his proximity to Donald, he restrained himself from doing it due to lack of proper support and resources. When Maxim offered to take care of everything to prevent his conviction for the murder, Jeremy trained one full month and took the oath to become the Sazyfan.
Jeremy had told the Alliance that he would not be in contact with them after the assassination. However, sensing the intensity of the situation, he found no other way than asking for their help. The new revelations that Mr. Lang had acquainted him with left him suspicious of Maxim. He too had collaborated with everyone to break him, only to use him as a pawn to achieve what his group desired. Jeremy recalled all the events that had followed his accident; Lang’s accusations seemed true. Jeremy doubted if Maxim had a hand behind his accident too. But it seemed unlikely, given his hatred for Donald. Yet Jeremy decided to contact him, for he had no one else to turn to for help; after all, he had at least helped him avenge his father’s death. But Jeremy was not ready to turn a blind eye to Maxim’s treason.
You shall get your turn soon, dear uncle.
He opened his phone to scroll the contacts for Maxim’s number, when he heard the first shot. He jumped off the bed in fear and readied his gun. He loaded the gun and waited for someone to come banging his door.
As time passed, several shots followed, but no one appeared outside his door. He attached his ear to the door and the walls to try to pick up some noise from the other side. It proved in vain. Mustering the courage, he opened the door and peeked out. The corridor was empty. He descended the stairs and peeked into the living room. Everything remained as he remembered it. Coming to the resolution that the terrace would be the best spot to hide and stay ready for whatever was going to hit him, he retreated into the room. He removed the tape off Vanessa’s ankles and tried to drag her. But his single working arm prevented him from handling her and the gun at the same time. He tore the sling off his left arm and dumped it on the ground. He flexed his fingers several times before shifting the gun to his left hand and dragged her towards the stairs at the far end of the corridor.
With Vanessa silently protesting his grasp, he ascended the stairs to the terrace, and cold wind welcomed him. After a vain attempt to brace himself, he dragged her towards the front of the terrace. As he moved a few silent paces, he made out the silhouette of a heavy personality lying face down on the floor. It was Adam on the ground with a phone to his ear.
You treacherous son of a bitch!
Jeremy silently walked towards Adam and pressed the muzzle of his gun to the back of his neck. ‘Gotcha!’
Adam panicked as Jeremy dug the muzzle into his skin. ‘Boss, let me explain!’
‘No more stupid explanations!’ Jeremy exclaimed. He turned to Vanessa and said, ‘This is what happens to people who mess with me’ and pulled the trigger. Blood splashed on Jeremy’s robes as pieces of bone, muscle and tissue flew in multiple directions from the injury. Vanessa crawled to the far wall as blood splattered in her direction.
‘I thought you didn’t fear blood.’ Jeremy closed his eyes, raised his head to the sky and murmured, ‘May his soul rest in peace.’ He maintained quiet as the whining of a truck slowly invaded the silence of the night. Jeremy opened his eyes and watched as a truck appeared on the gravel road leading to the summerhouse. He pulled Vanessa’s phone from his blazer pocket to call Daniel’s number. The time showed 12.40. Rebuking Daniel for not caring his warning, he dialed the number.
‘It’s Jeremy speaking. The time is ten minutes beyond the line. But you aren’t here. You did not respond to the photo I sent you. So I believe that she isn’t so important for you. That gives me the right to kill her, right?’ Jeremy ranted. ‘You shall see it yourself what I could do to her when you come here!’
As he ended the call and pocketed the phone, his angry face gave way to a wide grin.
‘Come to daddy death, my boy!’
[+ COL. FISCHER’S QUARTERS- FOLLOWING THE REVELATIONS +]
THE NEWS HAD shocked the whole Fremia, and Col. Fischer was no exception. The Rochen Fort Blasts had taken place when he was just a fresh cadet in the military and it stood as a motivation for him to thrive in his field. But when the truth came out and revealed the perpetration of Gen. Levisohn, who stood as the country’s leader currently, Col. Fischer found himself at the crossroads. His phone did not stop pinging as Twitterati rained comments on those involved. Donald Miller, despite being dead, was thrashed for his pose as a groundbreaking chemist, who used his false-achievement to win the people’s trust in the 2014 elections.
Fischer studied the one-fifty page file clearly to find something, which could point it as unauthenticated. However, every official paper produced in the file, however obtained, seemed completely legitimate and there was no denying that the guilt of those involved was as clear as the full moon outside his window. Even the RCAF app, which brought together all the personnel, flooded with messages from those personnel who had lost their dear ones in the blasts. According to a survey conducted after the blasts, one out of every five Fremians lost a dear one in the blasts, as the government used special transportation to escort people from every nook and corner of the country to attend the inauguration, at last only to sacrifice them as turkeys for Thanksgiving. Fischer too had lost his fiancée to the blasts and remained a bachelor ever since, having lost the heart to marry anyone else. With the growing agitation in the society and the system, Fischer wondered if he could do something to mitigate the intensity of the consequences. As if God had sensed his anguish, he received a call from Field Marshal Robert Qyx Butler.
Fischer stole a glance at his watch to decide how to wish the Field Marshal. It was one o’ clock in the morning.
‘Good morning sir.’
‘Good morning Colonel. Since you are awake at this hour, you must have received the news.’
‘There is something I and Field Marshal Joseph want to discuss with you and the other personnel. However, Gen. Levisohn isn’t part of it. Meet me at my quarters within an hour.’
Fischer had heard of how the Field Marshal had lost his brother’s family in the blasts, and receiving a call from him following the revelations struck a positive chord in Fischer’s mind. Once the call ended, Fischer walked into the bathroom to get ready for the meeting.
Levisohn had already drained a full bottle of whisky after the files appeared on the internet. He opened the second bottle trying to evaluate the situation. The people of the country had started raining rebukes on him and the other people involved. He had no time to analyze how his secret involvement with the operation had found its way into papers; fear found its way into his self-perceived brave-heart, and drinking seemed a better option at that moment. However, as the alcohol took control of his system, he regretted the situation. He tried to find refuge in the RCAF app. But scrolling through the app, his fear escalated and he felt helplessness paralyze him.
He tried to make a list of trustworthy members and supporters, which he believed the rest of the perpetrators too were busy in, but alcohol clouded his memory. The only relief for him was the time of release. Despite the news spreading across the country like plague, people hadn’t come out on the street in those late hours, except send their comments through social media. He called the security-chief of his security.
‘I want you to double the security around the building and don’t let anyone in.’
‘Yes sir,’ he said, thinking I wish I could do that. Sorry!
There were many official vehicles outside the Field Marshal’s quarters outside Kraminko, when Fischer’s car stopped outside the door. Thinking that he was late, Fischer hustled into the small conference room, which was already crowded with personnel of various ranks. Fischer took a seat among the crowd and waited with the rest of them for the arrival of Field Marshal.
Field Marshal Robert Butler arrived with Field Marshal Joseph Keller. After completing the military formalities, the Field Marshals took their seats on the dais, while the rest of the members occupied the seats facing them.
‘An early good morning to all the servicemen present here and elsewhere serving this incredible country,’ Butler said. ‘I believe that you know the purpose of this sudden gathering of the Armed-Forces. I don’t want to cause any delay, for its already late. This country shifted into the hands of the RCAF only because of the belief that military rule would be the force, which could bring this country back onto the right path from which it had deviated under the decades of rule of various political parties. And we tried to make the people understand this. However, the current situation has made the people suspicious of their own shadows. Whom they believed to be honest and sincere turned out to be murderous and evil forces. And this, my brothers, has erased the trust of the people in us.
‘But, it cannot be undone. What we could do is take the right step to overlap the disgrace this has brought to our RCAF. It would be possible only if we throw Gen. Levisohn out of power. I don’t claim that someone else from us replace him after that. I believe that our constitution-makers had selected democracy as the right way of administration with a specific intention and purpose. The Army or a fucking dictator has no right to override that purpose and rule against the will of people. Since the past twelve days, I have observed the scenario in the country and I felt the pain the people felt under the rule of the army. As a military official myself, I regret to admit that the army has failed terribly in establishing an orderly government and has only caused unnecessary chaos.’
Field Marshal Butler took a pause to moisten his mouth. Everyone had their interpretation of his words. His criticism of the ESAF government seemed like his reprisal for ignoring him for the role of ESAF Chairman. However, one thing penetrated the minds of people deeply. Everyone believed that ostracizing Gen. Levisohn, whose role in the operation despite being minimum was important, was the only way to regain the people’s trust.
‘My boys, unfortunately, this country is at war. The society is suffocating due to the battle between people’s will and wrongful leaders ruling the country. Therefore, as Field Marshals, Field Marshal Joseph Keller and I order you to take down those wrongful leaders and establish order in this country, which can be possible only through democracy. And, if someone has problems with violating an ESAF protocol, fuck the protocol!’
After the speech was over, the servicemen stood up and sang the national anthem in unison.
THE IDLING TRUCK approached the summerhouse following the gravel path. With the full moon in the sky and its reflection in the Anolusa River, Daniel thought it was a perfect picnic spot, if not for a bleeding Vanessa and the tension in the situation. As the truck approached the patio, a gunshot rang out and a bullet sped through the glass and then Lehane’s sternum. Lehane slouched onto the steering wheel and the truck went out of control as Daniel struggled with the seatbelt. Luckily, Lehane’s foot was on the brake when the bullet hit him and so, his foot pressed hard on the brake. Daniel sensed that Jeremy was somewhere near and ducked in his seat for cover. But his effort did not suffice as another bullet went by, which penetrated his side of glass and ended up in Lehane’s thigh, missing him by a few inches. There was no response from Lehane’s side, which brought Daniel to the conclusion that he was dead.
Having no other option, Daniel aimed his gun in the direction of the previous bullet and fired a shot. It did not seem to hit any target. Sensing that he could not go on wasting bullets aimlessly, he opened Lehane’s door and leapt out of the truck before two other bullets followed in a vain attempt. Daniel took cover behind the back of the truck, where he believed Jeremy could not reach him. He ducked behind the truck and waited for Jeremy to use another vain attempt so that he could estimate Jeremy’s perception of his location. Jeremy fired at the truck aimlessly. Daniel used the old technique of distract and engage by throwing a light stone a few feet in front of the truck, which distracted Jeremy. Daniel leapt out of his cover and fired a quick shot in his imaginary direction. The bullet did not make contact, but provided him time to make a run for the front corridor. In his attempt to reach cover before Jeremy recoiled, Daniel stumbled upon a pile of dead bodies lying in the proximity of the front door and fell to the ground. The stumble proved its worth as Jeremy fired a shot two feet from where he fell, making an estimated physical calculation. Daniel used one of the bodies as a cover as successive bullets followed before Jeremy could shoot no more. Daniel watched in the moonlight as Jeremy cursed his gun and retreated backward, and Daniel stormed for the door.
Standing beside the entrance, Daniel allowed himself a minute to slow down his hammering heart. But his adrenaline was in no mood to recede its effect until the finale. He felt the tiring effect of the adrenaline and tried to take hold; however, he failed. After catching his breath, Daniel peeked into the living room and found no apparent presence, except for the dead body of an old man and a heavy man in the corner.
Daniel’s mind wandered in the direction of making a calculation of what happened there before he arrived. But he restrained himself, since he could not afford to stray his concentration to weave an imaginary plot involving a maniac, an old man, a heavy guy and a pile of bodies outside the door. Taciturnly, he stepped into the living room. However, realizing that there were not many places in there for cover, he receded backward. His fear prevented him from progressing forward. And silence from Jeremy’s part terrified him and opened the doors of panic and imagination. Only after recalling the events of the previous days, where he had nearly kissed death many times, did he muster the courage to step into the blood-laden living room, ready to see death in the eye if need be.
He gazed in the direction of the bloodstained stairs and followed them with his vision. Fortunately, the ground floor was accessible to the first floor only through those stairs, since there was no central hollow area connecting them to provide Jeremy details of his whereabouts. Daniel tiptoed towards the left, where a dining table stood with scattered dining chairs around it. To eliminate the possibility of any presence in the ground floor, Daniel moved into the kitchen from the dining hall. The kitchen was empty and smelled mildly of steak, which the stench of blood seemed to mask. After marking kitchen off his list, Daniel tiptoed into the other room the dining area led to; the stench of blood intensified as he approached the room and once inside, he was shocked. Not that it was a corpse, which were plenty in and around the house, but that it was an old woman’s corpse.
He related the woman to the old man he had found in the living room, and did not move any further. The sight of the woman’s corpse took away the little amount of courage and hope he had built over the past couple of hours about Vanessa’s safety, which had already decreased after seeing the photo. He realized that he was wrong to build a mental fortress around Vanessa with a cold-blooded maniac in it. Jeremy’s last words before hanging the call reverberated in his mind. The words had a paralyzing effect on him and he felt the need for an anxiolytic. Pushing aside the doubts and making a try to rebuild his courage, Daniel made it towards the stairs. Standing at the foot of the stairs, he saw no one. Being a movie maniac, he hesitated to ascend those stairs without knowing what awaited him.
Finding no other alternative, he took two stairs at a time with his gun trained in the direction above him. Fortunately, he was able to ascend the first half of the stairs without encountering any counter-strikes. When he turned the corner for the second half of the stairs, he was welcomed with the other half of the stairs, leading into an empty corridor with three rooms to the right till the end of the corridor, before it turned right again. Cautiously, Daniel ascended the rest of the stairs, keeping an eye for any sudden maneuvers.
As he stepped into the corridor, a voice erupted from the room to his right. ‘I am here, Mr. Evil Prince.’
When he opened the door in a quick motion and moved to the opposite side of the door, he caught sight of Vanessa locked by her neck in the crook of Jeremy’s left elbow, while Jeremy’s right hand held a gun that released the bullet, which made contact with Daniel as he scrambled for cover.
EVER SINCE HE saw Field Marshal Robert Butler’s mass message on the RCAF app, Gen. Levisohn’s vitals took a wild turn. His mouth dried off, his heart palpitated and he sweated as if he was sunbathing in the Sahara. He reread the message, as if expecting the underlying meaning to change. But the meaning remained as unaltered as the words-
I, FIELD MARSHAL ROBERT BUTLER, AM ASHAMED TO ANNOUNCE THAT THIS COUNTRY, WHICH FOR TWO WEEKS HAS REMAINED UNDER THE ESAF’S RULE, IS AT WAR. UNFORTUNATELY, THE WAR ISN’T AGAINST ANY EXTERNAL FORCE, BUT AGAINST THOSE WHO REMAINED AS PART OF OUR OWN COMMUNITY FOR YEARS SINCE THE ROCHEN FORT TRAGEDY, AND DEDICATED MANY FAKE CONDOLENCES TO THOSE WHO SUCCUMBED TO IT, WHILE THEY THEMSELVES WERE THE PERPETRATORS BEHIND IT. SO AS A FIELD MARSHAL, IT WOULD BE A FAULT ON MY PART TO TURN A BLIND EYE TO THIS SCANDAL. TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THAT ONE OF THOSE PERPETRATORS HAPPENS TO BE MY PEER IN THE MILITARY, WHO IS SURELY INCAPABLE OF RUNNING THIS COUNTRY, I ORDER THE RCAF PERSONNEL TO COME TOGETHER IN BRINGING THOSE CULPRITS TO JUSTICE AND DENYING THEM ANY UNNECESSARY ASSISTANCE HEREAFTER. LONG LIVE FREMIA!
Markus hustled towards the window for the umpteenth time since receiving the message and gazed out for anything out of place. Everything seemed normal, but for only a few seconds. A convoy of military vehicles stopped outside the front door, as he stood gazing, and a battalion of uniformed officials walked into the residence. Markus reached for his phone and dialed his security chief.
‘Why did you let them in without my permission?’ he bellowed.
‘Sorry sir. I have heard that the Field Marshal is the highest power in military at times of war like this. So, I kept his orders above yours.’
‘I am going to having you punished!’
‘You wish. I never thought that I was going to say this to you sir. GO FUCK YOURSELF!’
As the line went dead, Markus hurried towards the door of his room to bolt it. However, the force on the opposite side outweighed him and he ended up on his butt on the carpeted floor. Clearing his hazy vision, he saw Field Marshal Robert Butler and Col. Fischer step into the room followed by some other officials.
‘Col. Fischer, take him into custody,’ Robert said.
Col. Fischer roughly pulled Markus off the ground, cuffed his hands, and dragged him out, amidst the disgusting gazes of his peers.
Godwin Sanders watched in shock as the news spread throughout the country like metastasized cancer cells, and he felt helpless with all those comments raining against him.
SHAME ON HIS PART TO KILL HIS CITIZENS BEING THE PRIME MINISTER! SUCH A SHAMELESS SON OF A BITCH…
I PRAY TO GOD THAT HE PUNISH THIS IDIOT WITH THE MOST FATAL OF ALL AILMENTS AND LET HIM DIE A PAINFUL DEATH…
WHEN MANY GREAT MEN HAVE TO LEAVE THIS WORLD SO EARLY, WHY DOES A CRIMINAL LIKE GODWIN HAVE TO LIVE ON FOR SUCH A LONG TIME? MAY HE DIE A PAINFUL DEATH!
As the tag “#GodwinACriminal” began trending in Twitter, more and more tweets poured in, as people stayed late to demand a proper justice through social media. When the convoy stopped outside his door, Godwin recalled some tweets he had received and death seemed a better option than imprisonment. As the footsteps approached his bedroom and began demanding him to open the door, he pressed the muzzle of the gun to his chin and pulled the trigger.
[+ NELSON MOTEL- 1991 +]
Rachel had taken pleasure in playing with Michael and it helped her fight the distress that the situations had gifted her. Since her reunion with Ross, she observed him closely to detect any signs of suicidal intentions. If not for Ross’s hypersensitivity to such issues, she wouldn’t have gone to the extremes of her imagination. She wished for the situation to settle down quickly so that they could lead their lives peacefully again, just like old times. However, the scenario seemed out of their favor; the changes in Ross were very unambiguous. He spent most of his time to himself and she feared the harm it could inflict on his mental health.
Sitting in the ice-cream parlor with Michael having his ice cream, she gazed intently out of the window at their motel room on the opposite side of the road. She was so anxious that she did not mind Michael licking the cream off his fingers, and repeatedly shifted her attention between the clock and the motel. Ross told her that help was on the way, and sent her and Michael to the ice-cream parlor while he packed their things for the departure.
Her anxiety mitigated as a tall figure stepped out of a car and ascended the stairs to their room. She had seen him many times on his various visits to their house and she could not miss Gary Fernandez from that distance. Gary and Ross were golf-maniacs, who enjoyed playing golf in the club every Sunday, when they were not hung-over from the Saturday. They even took their respective sons to the club to watch them play, and she frequently joked about their sons contacting the mania from them. She watched as Ross opened the door for him and they both shut the door behind them. They emerged out of the room few minutes later with their bags, and as Rachel stood up to leave with Michael, she saw another heavy man approach them from behind and tug them towards a van stopped few yards away from the motel. Sensing the fishiness of the scenario, Rachel rushed out of the parlor. Before she could step out, the heavy man stuffed Ross into the van, as Gary stood watching the scene, and the van sped away before she could do anything.
It did not take Rachel long to analyze the treason and she stood perplexed in her spot watching the van disappear into the hills. When she turned her attention back to Gary, he was gazing in her direction. She threw him a glare which seemed to say, ‘you traitorous son of a bitch!’ he responded with a simple shrug of his shoulders and got back into his car. She collapsed onto her knees and wept, as minutes later, a flock of birds flew together into the night sky from the woods in the hills. And Rachel thought she heard the distant echo of the gunshot and Ross’s scream.
DANIEL SWIVELED TO his left and took cover behind the wall as Jeremy shot at the wall. For a moment, his blood made him think he was dead. When he looked down for the source of blood, he saw a grazed wound to the side of his abdomen and he thanked God for letting his get away with a trivial wound, before he got onto his heels.
‘There is no escaping me, Daniel! I have your girl!’ Jeremy yelled. ‘I can smell your fear from here. And, the smell of blood is simply euphoric!’
Daniel trained his mind at reviewing his tactics and remained oblivious to Jeremy’s yells.
‘I came straight to this room and didn’t bother coming for you, Daniel! It is the customer who comes to the shop!’
If he were in a different situation, Daniel would have joked about online shopping. Daniel did not respond and trained his mind on finding a way to tackle the maniac.
‘You must have gone through a lot of hardship to come till here. I laughed at your fear while you struggled through your imagination and fear down there.’
He remained oblivious to Jeremy’s yells and concentrated on his strategy, which was yet to take shape. As he marveled with his thoughts, Jeremy shot at the wall in front of the room’s door and it missed the huge painting, hanging there, by few centimeters. Daniel’s attention strayed and when he turned towards the painting, he saw the reflection of the room in the glass of the painting.
Jeremy was standing near the window with Vanessa in his grip. Daniel slid sideways to the adjacent room and walked in silently after leaving his shoes outside the room. The room was similar to the other room and the window was in the exact way like the other room. Daniel tiptoed to it and peered through it. He was able to see Jeremy’s back from the other room. Daniel walked back to the corridor and retrieved his phone from his pocket. He played a six-minute long song in his phone at the highest volume, put it beside his shoes and hustled back into the other room. He held the internal casing of the window and shifted both feet onto the sill. He shifted to the exterior and slowly took small steps towards the edge of the sill. He held onto the external casing, while he slid his left foot to the other window. He observed Jeremy slowly move towards the door with Vanessa protesting in his grip.
Daniel understood that he was running out of time and slid his hands to the edge of the casing, while he stabilized his left foot on the sill of the other window. He moved his left hand to the other window’s casing with the right hand still on the right window. After ensuring that he had his balance, he used his right foot to push himself to the left, while his hands grabbed the external casing of the other window, and he brought his right foot onto the sill. Jeremy had nearly reached the door, with the gun aimed in forward direction; Daniel lifted the lower sash to slide in. Once he was in the room, he aimed his gun at Jeremy’s left shoulder, such that its course would miss Vanessa’s head if it managed to emerge on the opposite side.
But before he could pull the trigger, the veil of an approaching ambulance appeared out of nowhere and Jeremy turned around to face Daniel. Jeremy’s pupils dilated, his eyebrows raised and his mouth opened widely at the sight of Daniel, before his face displayed agony as Daniel’s bullet hit him.
Daniel was dumbstruck when Jeremy turned around with his gun aimed, and he found no other way than shoot impartially at Jeremy, hoping the bullet did not hit Vanessa. As the bullet crashed through Jeremy’s left scapula and pain crept through his left arm, he lost his grip on Vanessa and she hustled out of the room. Jeremy sensed her escape and shot in her direction, while Daniel aimed his gun at Jeremy’s visible right arm and shot a bullet through his arm. Jeremy’s bullet missed Vanessa and he collapsed on the ground, losing his grip of the gun.
Daniel made a quick motion towards Jeremy and swept Jeremy’s fallen gun away from him with his right leg. Daniel watched as Jeremy made a vain attempt to move his arms and Vanessa stepped across him towards Daniel. Jeremy took a blow from Daniel’s kick and lay coughing blood, while Daniel took Vanessa into his embrace and patted her head.
‘Are you OK?’ he asked, pulling off and inspecting her injury. It was still bleeding and Daniel tied his handkerchief around her arm to prevent further bleed. ‘I am sorry for leaving you behind, Evil Princess,’ he said.
She swung her head back and faced him.
‘Yeah, I remember everything. It was some sort of source-misattribution, which Margaret could explain,’ he said, managing a weak smile.
She playfully knocked her head against his forehead and embraced him again.
Jeremy began laughing aloud. ‘Are you done with your romance? Can we get on with the next? I mean the monologues and killing.’
Daniel pulled off from her and gazed at Jeremy’s laughing face. Daniel squatted down beside him. ‘You see Jeremy, killing was never my intention. I came here for her and I got her. Your blind urge for vengeance and bullshit brought you here. What you need is medical attention, not a bullet to the head. Killing you does not make a difference for me. It only increases the number of crimes I have to answer for,’ Daniel said, looking at Vanessa. He turned back to Jeremy and said, ‘I will leave you to the military. They will decide what to do. And, I am not answerable if you die of hemorrhage.’
Daniel removed Vanessa’s mobile from Jeremy’s blazer pocket and handed it back to her. Daniel held her wrist and led her out. Once they were outside the house and in the patio, the paramedical staff loaded out of the ambulance and came to Vanessa’s rescue.
‘Vanessa, there are many things I have to apologize for. I believe I killed your father…’
[+ SODDING LOVE- TWO DAYS LATER +]
‘SO, WE BROKE-UP last year?’ Daniel asked, sipping the grape-juice.
‘Yeah, after you joined RCAF in January of 2013, you came to meet me after two stupid years in April of 2015 at Swelter’s Tip. We argued and left the meeting abruptly. In December of 2015, when you called me and asked for another meeting, I came and told you that I could not love you anymore. So, we parted ways.’
‘So, why did you shoot me? Was it because I killed your dad or something else?’
Vanessa took a pause before answering him. ‘I would have ensured you were dead, if not for Manyap. When I found you leaving my dad’s office hurriedly, I did not understand why you were there. But when I discovered my dad dead, I came to the conclusion that you were his murderer. So I tracked you down and shot you. As soon as I shot you, Manyap called your mobile and began pleading not to commit suicide just because you killed my father, who was involved in Operation Rochen Fort. I accessed my dad’s office camera from my phone and saw your conversation. I partly understood my dad’s guilt and completely believed you. So I took you to hospital, admitted you there and left fearing that you might die because of me. Fortunately, you sustained just a concussion, an abdominal wound and coma for few days.’
Vanessa stood weeping as Daniel lost consciousness after falling down on the ground. Before she could manage her various emotions, his phone began ringing and she reached into his pocket to fish it out. It said “Manyap”. She answered the call.
‘Daniel, listen to me. There is no point in committing suicide. I understand the guilt you are experiencing about killing Belfort and Romero. But, they were accidental and for the right cause. You need not bear the guilt.’
The right cause?
Vanessa ended the call abruptly and reached for her phone to access the camera in her father’s bar. When she saw the conversation between Daniel and her father, she understood the circumstances partly. However, she completely understood her father’s guilt and arrogance, and justification for Daniel’s actions. She deleted the footage off the server and removed traces of it. She dragged Daniel towards her car and piled him in. She put the car in gear and sped towards Kraminko General Hospital.
Vanessa remembered the oath she had given Manyap in the hospital about how she would not reveal their murder of Belfort, which played a major role in Daniel’s suicidal intentions.
Daniel marveled how to react to his near death experience. ‘Fortunately?’
‘Yeah, if I had taken into consideration that you grew closer to Margaret while working in the Old-Age Home, you would have been dead.’
Daniel recollected Manyap asking if he loved Margaret, which inclined him to believe that he not only grew closer to her, but also had begun loving her. Believing that that part of his past was a stranger to him, he decided not to recollect it again and not to disclose those details to Vanessa. ‘Just a concussion?’ Daniel asked.
‘Yeah. So, you were relieved of the painful years of our relationship and the activities that took place in the SAF because of that concussion.’
Daniel laughed at her explanation and slapped her hand. ‘I always wanted to ask you something. Why did you particularly love me of all those ninety members of our class and the thousands of boys in the country?’
‘Well,’ she said, thinking for a moment. ‘In our first year, we had an open discussion about how we would react if we woke up one day and found ourselves changed to the opposite gender. Then, you said, “I would try to attract some drunkard rapist and then burst his balls to show him that girls aren’t weak. They only differ in anatomy, but not in physical strength”.’
Daniel smiled and shifted his attention to his phone, when he received a notification from the Fremia Daily app and it said “Gary Fernandez, Ross Jankis’s friend and perpetrator behind trapping Ross in the conspiracy, whereabouts unknown since the past four years.” Daniel studied the news and felt at a loss of words.
‘Vanessa, excuse me for a minute,’ he said and dialed Xavier’s name. ‘Daniel, I need to talk to you about something important urgently.’
Daniel Xavier complied to meet him at Sodding Love.
‘Vanessa, I have something important to talk with Xavier about my father. I think it’s better if you leave,’ he said.
‘OK, meet you later. I have got to make arrangements for our wedding.’
Once she left, Daniel ordered another lime tea and sipped it slowly until Xavier arrived in his lost-and-found Corolla. He took the seat opposite him.
‘I would have made you pay for the car if it was lost,’ he said, pointing to his Corolla.
‘But, it’s pretty fine there. What isn’t fine is my dilemma,’ Daniel said, leaning forward.
‘What’s with that?’ Xavier asked.
Daniel opened the app and pushed his phone towards Xavier to show the newsfeed. He studied it for a few moments and fell silent. ‘So, Daniel, was his friendship with Ross Jankis his only connection with Operation Rochen Fort?’
Xavier clasped his hands together and shifted his gaze to Daniel’s questioning face. ‘No, as you have already seen, that wasn’t all. He was a friend of Ross Jankis, but as I have revealed in my report, he cheated him for money. It is your father, Daniel. I couldn’t say this to your face for the second time.’
‘Yeah, I told this to you as part of our agreement along with some names. Right then, you were anxious and disappointed after knowing this. You said that it might be the reason your mother denied his existence because she knew that he was responsible for these things.’
Daniel held his head and tried to press back tears of anger. He felt ashamed for what his father had committed all those years ago. He did not attempt to draw any conclusions supporting his father’s deception, and let his father’s guilt change his opinion about his father. He recollected how he had tried to commit suicide when Vanessa came to shoot him. He wondered if this added to his list of guilt.
The sins of the damned father!
‘So, do you know anything about Ross’s family?’
‘He was survived by a son and a wife. However, they disappeared together after the investigators were done with investigation. However, movers emptied their house overnight and the neighbors claimed that they might have moved somewhere else. However, they recovered Ross’s body after he was found hanging in his ancestral house.’
Daniel managed a meek smile. ‘I can’t believe this. But, if you can find something about the Jankis family, let me know.’
[+ THE WEDDING- A MONTH LATER +]
‘So, you wouldn’t drink even in your marriage?’ Martello asked, stretching out the champagne glass towards Daniel.
Daniel studied Vanessa’s face for a moment and the curiosity in her face was unmistakable. ‘No Milan, you know that I don’t.’
Martello nodded and drowned it himself. ‘Thought so.’
Daniel shifted his attention to Vanessa. ‘For a moment, you thought that I was going to, right?’
Vanessa nodded and burst into laughter.
‘If Vanessa asks you to, would you?’ Martello asked, rising from his chair.
‘No,’ Daniel said.
‘Thank god, I thought you were going to be henpecked.’
As Martello walked towards the drinks section, Vanessa’s mother excused herself and walked towards some guests. ‘So, she doesn’t know about me and your father?’
Vanessa shook her head. ‘No, she doesn’t. However, she was more depressed by the revelations and the criticism my father received. Luckily, the RCAF closed the investigation of his murder, claiming that murderer’s murder isn’t worth investigating. I wonder who must have drawn such a conclusion to relieve themselves of the strain to investigate it.’
‘Yeah, I was like, “What the hell?” after listening to that statement. I don’t understand whose motive it was.’
Manyap walked in with his fiancée, Jenny, and joined them at the table. Daniel stole a glance at Manyap’s new Rolex and said, ‘such a costly watch, yet late for the party.’
‘A gift from the government, I could say. You are lucky I was posted here in the city to take care of arrangements for the elections. If it was the borders, there’s no way I could manipulate my higher officials to let me leave so early.’
‘At least, you came, buddy.’
‘So, what are your plans for the future?’ Manyap asked.
‘I am trying to get back into Kraminko General Hospital and my post-graduation. There is a desperate need to retaliate my sins with medicine,’ Daniel said, turning to the photos of his mother and Vanessa’s father placed on either side of the dais.
‘Suits you pretty well,’ Manyap said, raising his glass. ‘Where’s our Fremian Sherlock?’
‘Hasn’t come yet,’ Daniel said, surveying the crowd. Fremian Sherlock was the new name given to Daniel Xavier after the announcement of his hand behind the revelation.
As if he heard them, Xavier emerged out of the crowd with a heavy gift pack in his hand. He settled beside Daniel and placed the gift-pack in his lap.
‘Happy Married life,’ he said.
Daniel hugged him and handed the present to Vanessa. Vanessa weighed the pack in her hands and asked, ‘what have we got here, another conspiracy report?’
Xavier managed a meek smile and said, ‘no, I spare you this one time. It is something not even completely related to Daniel.’
Daniel threw his questioning look at Xavier, who responded with an “open it” gaze. Daniel set his soft drink aside and removed the wrapping of the gift. It was a worn out photo album.
‘It belongs to Rachel Jankis, Ross’s wife. She left it along with some other things in a box in the attic when she moved from Silvinkeria. It has some photos of your father and mother too,’ Xavier said, looking around for the waiter. But his eyes remained fixed on the dais and he grabbed Daniel’s arm suddenly. ‘Who’s that?’
Daniel saw that he was pointing at his mom’s photo. ‘She’s my mom, Celina. I captured it with my first camera. I lost her four years ago,’ he explained to prevent the conversation from progressing in that direction.
‘But…’ Xavier stuttered.
‘Yeah? Is something the matter?’ Vanessa asked, as Daniel remained busy in opening the album carefully.
Xavier tried to let out words, but failed to produce the right words. ‘It can’t be,’ he said, snatching the album from Daniel. He turned to the first photo and laid the album on the table for everyone to see. It was a photo of Ross Jankis and Rachel Jankis. The photo left him transfixed and words failed him. It was his mother with Ross. He turned the page hurriedly and found a photo of Ross and her on one side of a snowman with Gary and another woman on the other side.
‘This is Gary’s wife, Regina,’ Xavier said, pointing to the woman on Gary’s left. ‘According to your story, she is supposed to be your mother, Daniel, not Rachel.’
Daniel studied the faces and ran his shivering fingers over the faces of Rachel and Ross. The photo to the right of it had a younger Daniel with Ross and Rachel. Below it, it said- 2 nd BIRTHDAY OF MICHAEL WUD JANKIS. Daniel had grown up with only his childhood photos in his home and no other photo of his mother or father. Tears fell on the photo and Daniel wiped them off the photo as if the photo will be permanently lost.
The first recollection of my father was the best thing that had happened to me after my mom, and before Vanessa. My years at medical school taught me many things, which helped me care for the sick. But it also taught me that children could not remember everything from their childhood since their brains aren’t so well developed. However, I had only this one recollection of my father where I saw him oscillate my swing as I enjoyed the wind in my hair. But looking at both Ross and Gary in a single photo, a new memory came back.
I was two or three maybe. I saw myself in an enormous green field sitting beside a heavy bag with long sticks, while two men hit a tiny white ball with long sticks. I realized that I was sad and it took me few moments to make out that I needed a chocolate desperately, which I my dad had denied me. I started weeping aloud, which turned the two men towards me. The two of them walked towards me and knelt before me asking what I needed.
‘Chooclateeeee,’ I said.
They both smiled at my naughtiness. , I collapsed on the green ground trying to catch my breath. ‘Ross, what’s wrong with him? He collapsed,’ the man wearing a white cap said. The man with brown cap shook my face violently and then stood up.
‘Gary, I will get him help. Take care of him while I go and call the ambulance,’ the man with brown cap said and sped away as I watched through my hazy vision.
The man in white cap pressed his palm gently on my chest and blew air into my mouth.
‘Michael, get up!’
At that moment, I felt that he was no less than a dad for me.
The sudden recollection explained everything as to why his mom had changed their names, her locale and everything that she called hers. As he began relating his features to Ross Jankis, the weight of guilt he bore on his chest seemed to subside and his hatred for Gary aggravated, while his pity for Ross Jankis modulated into love.
The tears welling up in his eyes seemed to say I love you, Dad!
[+ SOMEWHERE IN MERCUPO- TWO DAYS AFTER THE REVELATIONS +]
Maxim walked slowly towards the heavy truck as it stopped in front of their den to dump the dead-bodies from the shootout. Despite the excruciating pain in his arthritic knees, he stood there counting the bodies, as his men loaded them out of the truck. As the mutilated bodies of Mudassir and his family were laid down in front of him, the pain in his heart exacerbated and he felt a burning rage in him, which he had last felt many years ago when he inspired his friend Mudassir to fight for the liberation of Mercupo.
One of his men approached him from behind. ‘Sir, The Invincible Army has announced David’s nephew as the next leader.’
Maxim managed a smile, despite his sorrow and said, ‘A new leader shall rise. Neither will I spare The Invincible Army nor Fremia!’
[+ MERCUPO ISLANDS- FOUR YEARS AGO +]
Gary Fernandez shut his eyes tightly as the men in front of him murmured something to themselves. The only things that he recalled repeatedly amidst the darkness were the smiling faces of his wife and son the day he left his hill-house to meet Gabriel Romero to negotiate his extra pay to keep the truth and proofs confined to himself. But when he returned home after negotiating it successfully, he found his wife and son dead in the bedroom, while Markus Levisohn waited in the living room with a gun in his hand.
‘You shouldn’t have messed with the wrong people,’ Markus said.
As Gary made a maneuver to tackle the heavy person, Markus brought him down on the floor with a single fist to his abdomen. Markus stood over him and raised Gary’s leg from the ground. One of Markus’s men handed him Gary’s golf-stick, which he used to break Gary’s right leg. Then, Markus lighted a pile of papers on the table with some kerosene and gestured in his associate’s direction. The man walked into the kitchen.
‘I’m doing this the old way. By the time the leaked gas reaches this fire and burns your house, you can either crawl out any way you like, or lay there and die with the rest of your family. Choice is yours.’
Markus made an exit with his men and closed the door behind him; Gary decided to abandon the remains of his family and tried to escape.
One of the four men, whom he assumed to be Jeremy Miller, walked forward. He fixed a silencer to his gun and aimed the gun at his forehead. ‘Thanks for your information about Operation Rochen Fort. If not for your aggressiveness towards my father, I wouldn’t have known about it.’
Gary counted seconds until his death and tried to bring back the picture of his wife and son for one last time. But, what returned was the Ross Jankis’s sharp gaze at him as Markus shoved him into the van.
[+ RIMONE PRISON- TWO MONTHS LATER +]
The two months since his capture in the summerhouse had gone like a flash amidst his dwelling between consciousness and deep slumber. When the sedatives had finally drowned off, Jeremy experienced the real pain. The pain was in neither his right arm, whose humerus was fractured by the bullet nor his left arm that was rendered useless by the bullet. The searing pain in his chest neither allowed him to sleep nor stay awake. He tired himself out daily by walking around his cell idly until he was tired out to the point that he could not do it anymore.
The judiciary had given him “life-imprisonment” and “solitary confinement”. While everyone thought it was a best way to serve a disabled like him, he thought that it was another chance for him to prepare, to complete what he was destined to do.
Jeremy strolled towards the wall and leaned forward so that the fingers of his right hand in the sling touched the wall. He scratched at it with his overgrown nail as bits of his nail broke and fell off. For a man who lost it all, bits of nail did not seem to be much. When he finally completed it, he proudly read the scribbled word- DESTINY?
‘Jeremy, I sensed that you were alone. So, I thought of helping you fight your loneliness,’ a voice said from behind.
Jeremy turned around and saw Ethan in his usual black suit, sitting on his bed with his legs crossed. He smiled at Jeremy and extended his arms wide.
‘Ethan! Thank goodness! You are here,’ Jeremy said, grinning.
Thank you for reading my book. I hope that you liked it. Would you mind leaving a review to encourage more readers to read my book?
Vaibhav Reddy IVN
Since you are here, I believe that you liked some part of it, or the whole of it, or maybe not. Anyway, this is to thank:
My Mom and Dad (V&J), who did not particularly appreciate me writing, yet provided me with all the support I needed.
My Brother (N) (my best and worst critic), who was the first to get to know the story, not because he read the book, because I narrated it to him.
All those literary agents, who did not believe in my work. Your refusal was my motivation to go on.
The self-publishing industry, which helped me represent my book.
All those books and movies, which motivated me to write a psychological thriller.
Those of you, who found the time to read my book.
Vaibhav Reddy IVN is a medico in KMC, India. He started writing since he was in his eighth grade. He believes that one’s
Follow me on Twitter:
Follow my page on Facebook:
THE MEMOIR BY VAIBHAV REDDY IVN The military convoy continues on the road, while somewhere in an old house, an old-man is tortured by a maniac for the truth about Operation Rochen Fort; while in another place, an amnesiac hikes the hole in his memory, questioning his reflection in the mirror. And, somewhere in the continuum, they are destined to cross paths and the road beyond is as dark as the night sky... Over the years, the country of Fremia stood stage to many catastrophes. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Donald Miller by a terrorist organization, the military takes over the rule of the country and begins lashing at its people. An investigative journalist sets forward to unveil the truth about Operation Rochen Fort, a twenty-five year old secret conspiracy, which promises to permanently scathe not only the history of the country, but also its people. THE ONE WITH GLIMPSES OF PAST Daniel Shelby wakes up in Kraminko General Hospital with only the memory of killing Prime Minister Donald Miller, and being shot by his girlfriend. But, when he recovers most parts of his memory, it adds more to his turmoil than relief. He embarks on a quest to uncover the motive behind his father's death, with only a single clue; his father was murdered due to his affiliations with Operation Rochen Fort. And, he is accompanied by Cynthia Roberts, who shares a common interest and a common motive. As their pursuit continues, the sins of his lost memory return to haunt him, only to leave him in a sea of turmoil. THE MAN WHO LOST IT ALL Orphaned after his father’s assassination, Jeremy Miller embarks on a killing spree to murder the people responsible for the death of his family, and eliminate the people with the knowledge of Operation Rochen Fort, haunted by his terrible past. But, his longing for vengeance sets him on a path of revelation, which entices him to question his past, present and future, where he finally ends up suspecting his own shadow. What is the horrible truth hiding in Daniel’s lost memory? Where does his quest lead him? What are Jeremy’s interests in Operation Rochen Fort? To what extent does he go to claim his right for vengeance? And, how is Operation Rochen Fort set to change the fate of the people of Fremia?