short story by Sha’Tara – part 7
“What happens then”
I was led to a quiet little office in a corner of the massive penthouse. There I assembled my notes, numbered the pages and stapled the small stack. Barely enough material to make a small article that would completely get lost in ads for perma-press pants, blenders and ice skates. Whatever I fancied myself to be, I wasn’t, at least not yet. I felt again that painful realization of being inadequate, of falling short of expectations. Damn! Thanks mom for working so hard at making me always feel inadequate to any task.
Nevertheless and determinedly, I crossed the shiny floor and knocked on Joe’s door. “Come in Helen.” I handed him my tiny collection of “facts” and winced as he took it and looked it over. “Give me a few minutes to go over this, then we’ll go out somewhere and talk. I’ll bring your notes after I have Lana make two extra sets of copies. Go wander around, or there’s a library to your right – big gray door. Why don’t you wait for me in there?” I gave him a slight bow and exited to enter the library.
The library, an extensive labyrinth of bookshelves loaded with research material and legal tomes, all expensively bound. And fax machines. I counted five machines, all sitting side by side, silent. But as I looked around one of them began transmitting and printing. Curious, I checked the printout as it spooled. It was in Arabic. Then I noticed each machine was labelled. A printed out Arabic. So I guessed that’s why it had an “A” on it. The next machine had a “C” so I assumed it was used for Russian, C standing for Cyrillic or it could be for Chinese. “J” obviously Japanese, “F” for French… and “G” for German? I found a pad of paper on a low table and using a pen from my purse I took notes.
“I’d rather you didn’t make notes about this library, Helen.” The voice startled me. There was no one in the room: it came from a hidden speaker and obviously there was a surveillance camera in the room also. Clever! That reminded me that he’d known who was at his door earlier when I knocked. Surveillance, not something I was used to. “What did you make of the message on Fax “A”? You can speak, there are microphones too.”
“Nothing. I’m bilingual, French and English, nothing else.”
“That’s too bad. By the way, I need a Cyrillic interpreter, but not just someone who can translate verbatim, I need someone who is familiar with the local jargons and uses of the language. Know anyone?”
“Perhaps the old gentleman in my apartment complex. His name is Dimitri and I’ve heard him speak some language that does sound Russian.”
“Bring him over if you can persuade him, I’d like to hear him speak with one of my assistants who speaks passable Russian. Tell him there’s money in it, that usually brings them around.”
“What about the cold war and all the spy stuff, Joe?”
“Leave it for the pulp media, it’s all a game Helen. Nothing real in it except massive piles of laundered money for war profiteers. The American long term goal is to economically strangle the Soviet Union and gain control of the world after it collapses.”
“Is it likely to happen?”
“Yes, very likely, but not right away. The USSR is a big and rich empire greatly underexploited which the Moscow based communist Mafia is preventing. I want to see Russia free and independent again, an economic, rather than military, force to contend with the Washington capitalist plutocracy. Believe it or not, your inner-city assignment – which is open-ended by the way – enters into my plans to formulate economic change that takes into consideration the fact that technology is going to implode possibly before the next 75, 100 years and billions of people whose lives are bound to city living and totally dependent upon a ubiquitous technology supporting the power grids will die in that collapse. Society itself may well be thrown back to a Dark Ages dystopia riddled with internecine warfare and genocide, disease and superstition. Excuse me, it’s ridiculous to converse this way. Come back to my office, get your brief case and let’s go out for some drinks and dinner later. I want to listen to you; I’m tired of hearing myself saying the same things over and over.”
When I entered the office he flipped a switch on a black box on his desk and said, “Lana, can you find a coat for miss Kristofson?” “Right away sir.” came the reply, as if on cue.
I took the paper with the notes I’d begun writing and gave them to Joe. He fed the sheet into a shredder, smiled and winked at me, “Cloak and dagger, Helen. A bit of James Bond stuff, the real side of it; the part you’ll never see in a movie, or in a book. No information arriving in the “library” leaves it until it’s been decoded and it says what I want it to say.”
“Try not to be too intrigued. In fact, forget what we talked about – don’t make notes on it. Just get me a damn Russian speaking dude who has no idea who I am or what I want from him. Anonymity is the name of this game. You’re a reporter, I can trust you, right?” I just nodded affirmatively and besides, I actually didn’t know who he was, who he really was.
He was smoother than I was with the Mercedes. I caught a faint wisp of diesel exhaust. “They’re diesel aren’t they Joe?” Diesel engines in cars were a novelty to me.
“What, the cars? The Mercedes? Yes, well this one is. I don’t know if they all are. Why?”
“Curious Joe, I need facts in my head. I need to know what makes things tick, like the digital clock for example.” He made no comments on that.
“The Ferryman” in the English sector was quite a class act bar. Live but unobtrusive music, adjustable lighting at each table, privacy and the darker shades of turquoise made for a mellow ambiance. Suddenly I felt my guard drop and realized how lonely I was – how hollow my life. Joe was studying me as I sipped on my white wine, slowly. If he’d known I was under-aged and little used to alcohol, I wonder what he’d say, or do.
I studied him in turn, provocatively, and met his eyes. They were a darker blue here than in the daylight and he was quite a handsome, if older, man. I wanted to sit beside him and put my head on his shoulder and feel him holding me. I thought I could trust him; I wanted to trust him. I felt so tired of the defensive position, and the aggressive moods that swept through me, tired of being the avenging angel. Then I remembered Joe’s words, “I’ll let you know when thinking about your body” and I stiffened.
“Penny for your thoughts, Helen?”
I lied. “I’m such a long way from home and suddenly I have a weakness for a touch of home, homey comfort, even if it’s just made up fiction to match my emotions.”
“It’s the wine, Helen, and no food. We need to eat.” He gestured and almost yelled, “Garçon!”
“Please explain why you use the French title in an obviously English establishment?”
“Tradition, Helen, just tradition, and they like the French title over the English “waiter!” Sounds more romantic.”
We, or rather he, ordered and I finished my second glass of wine when the first course appeared. I was famished and my head was buzzing. The food helped, and I can’t remember what it was, just that it was excellent and made me ask for another glass of wine.
We ate, we talked, we drank, laughed, enjoyed moments of thoughtful silence, ate some fancy dessert; talked some more and he drove me home, came into my apartment and commented on it.
“It’s cosy Helen. And it’s in just the right place from which to observe and write your story. Suddenly he grabbed me and held me against himself, just one arm around my waist, his head bent over mine. He turned me around to face me.
“You’re shaking. Are you afraid of me?”
“Yes I am Joe. It’s been a rough time for me and I feel safer alone for now. I’m sorry I can’t get into the mood, whatever that means. Some day, if we leave this where it is and I don’t start running again I will try to explain. Or perhaps I will weave my own story into the story of the slums. Oh, I’m so, so tired I’m going to fall to the floor and sleep there.”
“Give me a minute to tell you something, girl, can you?” I nodded, then sat on a kitchen table chair, waiting for the shoe to drop. What now? Why do I always attract these people?
“I told you earlier that I’d let you know when my interest had moved to your body, remember?” I nodded, yes, again, with my eyes closed and my heart beating loudly in my chest, too tired to muster any anger.
“Well, here’s the deal. I’m not in lust with you, rather my feelings for you go in a different direction. A very different direction. I am going now. Lock the door behind me and go to bed. I’ll send Raymond, my chauffeur, to pick you up tomorrow, after lunch, say around 1 PM. Come up to the office and we’ll discuss some serious matters. Good night… Helen.”
[end of part 7 – What happens after]