tagNovels and NovellasMaragana Girl Ch. 16

Maragana Girl Ch. 16

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 16 -- The Bus Driver

Kim had to return to work at the music store immediately following Malka's punishment. Eloisa entered Dukov's office to remind Kim that she was needed at the customer service counter. She stopped to look at Malka's prostrate body and collection of dark welts and bruises. She was awestruck by the severity of Malka's punishment, and also by the fact that one of the most feared officers in the National Police had been reduced to a beaten and semi-conscious criminal, wearing a collar and lying naked on a recovery table.

Kim left Dukov's office to return to her normal life. Eloisa came to fetch her friend not only for their boss, but also to make sure she would be available for a recording session planned for that evening. A representative from a French record company would be on-hand to witness the session. Eloisa hoped for a foreign distributor for her band's music and needed all the members to be present.

Spokesman Dukov watched the two naked young women descend the stairs as they left to go to work. Suddenly he felt very satisfied about Criminal # 98945 and her future. For the first time he knew, not just hoped, but actually knew, that his client would come out of her two-year sentence a much stronger and better person. Kim's courage had been tested, her physical endurance had been tested, and her need to come to terms with an enemy had been tested. The young woman's character displayed incredible strength in the face of some very harsh realities. Dukov reflected that, once the restrictions of Kim's sentence ended, she really would be capable of achieving great things in this life.

Dukov's immediate problem was not Kim, however. His immediate problem was what to do with Malka Chorno. The former police officer had neither a job nor a place to live. Prior to her public disgrace Malka lived with her parents, as was the case for any young woman who was not yet married. She had a very formal and traditional relationship with a fiancée, although rumors circulated that she had enjoyed affairs with several of her co-workers. All of that ended when Malka lost her badge. Her father locked her out of the family house, her fiancée left her, and her old lovers and friends turned their backs on her. She literally was starting from nothing, having to completely re-build her life living among people she had abused and humiliated just a week before.

In many ways Kim had an easier task adjusting to being a Danubian criminal than would Malka. People generally sympathized with Criminal # 98945 because she was just 18 and a foreigner. She had no reputation prior to her arrest nor any enemies. She did not have to face the humiliation of being a criminal in front of her family and friends. Malka, on the other hand, was well known and hated by many people. She was 26 and Danubian, so there would be no patience or consideration from other Danubians like there had been for Kim.

Malka's life would be one of constant and on-going humiliations. Any day she had to take care of business in Dukov's office she would have to walk through the Central Police Station past dozens of ex-co-workers. Every time she saw a cop on the street, she would know that person. Undoubtedly she would pass members of her family or her ex-fiancée's family every so often. Worst of all would be constantly facing other criminals, people who she had terrorized and abused in the past. Malka, of course, now held no special status among criminals, so the others would be free to jeer at her as much as they wanted.

Dukov wondered what on earth Malka could do to earn a living. Kim's music store definitely was not an option. Dukov hardly could imagine Malka smiling at patrons from a store's customer service desk. The only logical solution was his brother's courier service. It was far from perfect and a solution that could only be temporary, but working as a courier really was the only thing Malka could do at the moment.

Dukov called his brother. Not surprisingly, Victor objected to the idea of having to employ an ex-police officer. All of his other employees were only a year or two out of high school. Just how would an ex-cop fit in with a bunch of high school graduates? Dukov knew that his brother eventually would agree to employ Malka, if only on a temporary basis, but he spent nearly an hour begging and arguing before Victor finally agreed to issue Malka a bicycle.

"I will tell you this, Vladim. You had better let her know that around me she won't be any better than one of my other employees. Don't expect me to be nice or courteous to her because I won't be. When I snap my fingers, she'd better damn-well jump."

Dukov sighed when he hung up. Victor, always his same unpleasant self.

Malka's next problem was where she was going to live. Dukov did have a possibility. He had a classmate from high school whose husband had just died. The woman was trying to raise three children and manage a small goose farm by herself. Anyone who has ever been around geese knows that geese are quite ill tempered. Well, Malka was even more ill tempered. No goose would be a match for the ex-cop. Vladim called his ex-classmate to suggest giving Malka a room and board in exchange for help with the geese and a small monthly rent. Overwhelmed with the loss of her husband, the Spokesman's classmate quickly agreed. Besides, the woman's children were getting out of hand, and having a cop around might help them calm down.

Vladim Dukov then called his secretaries in to have afternoon tea. In Upper Danubia mid-afternoon tea was a custom in all professional offices, a time when a boss and his employees sat together to relax. It was the one opportunity the Spokesman and his two assistants could sit together as equals and chat about their lives. Today's topic, of course, was the disgraced police officer recovering in the reception area and the events that led her to her current situation.

The three heard Malka stirring outside Dukov's door. They invited her in to join them for tea. Malka came into the office, knelt, and placed her head to the floor. When the Spokesman gave her permission to stand up, Malka took a cup and a sweet roll. She had to eat standing because her bottom and the backs of her thighs were dark and still horribly swollen. She would be very badly bruised for quite a while, so her first deliveries for Victor would have to be done on foot. There was no way her bottom would take the pressure of a bicycle seat until the bruises subsided a bit.

Dukov told his new client about her new job and living arrangements. Malka quietly nodded and thanked Dukov for taking the time to get her set up. As for her living arrangements, she was quite happy. She had grown up on a farm, so it would be a nice change from her life in Danube City. She had a comment about Victor that put Dukov's mind at ease.

"Spokesman, your brother doesn't sound any worse than several of my section chiefs. Remember where I worked is not a place known for having nice people, and I am used to taking orders. I've been yelled at plenty of times, so I'm sure your brother will be just more of what I'm accustomed to already."

The only problem with Malka's living arrangements was the location of Vladim's classmate's farm. It was a kilometer outside the Danube City collar zone, which meant that he would have to petition to have the transmitter in her collar re-programmed to allow her to live outside the normal area for criminals. Because it was Saturday, Dukov had to wait until Monday to turn in the paperwork. It would be Tuesday at the earliest before Malka could have her transmitter re-programmed. One of Dukov's secretaries volunteered to have the criminal stay with her family until Tuesday.

With that Malka put on her police belt. She was required to wear it to show everyone that she at one time had been a police officer. The belt, sitting alone on the woman's otherwise naked body, accentuated her nudity. She sadly knelt and said goodbye to her Spokesman. Malka then left the Central Police Station with the secretary, trying to avoid the stares of her ex-peers as she made her way out of the building.

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Following the broadcast of Malka Chorno's trial that Sunday night, Criminal # 98945 became something of a hero among her fellow-criminals. The others were amazed that she had been so savagely beaten and managed not to cry. They were impressed that the American was able to look Officer Chorno straight in the eye, even as the cop was slapping her face. They were gratified that Kim's actions resulted in the removal of a feared and sadistic police officer from their lives.

Kim expected the others to be angry over her plea for leniency for her former nemisis, but they were not angry at all. Danubian criminals tended to be more religious than average citizens, so Kim's actions following her visit to the Temple of the Ancients made perfect sense to them. Many of her peers even held out hope that once Officer Chorno returned to duty, she would be changed and would encourage her co-workers to treat criminals with respect and leniency.

For the first time in her life, Kim felt good about herself. She was not proud, because pride in oneself was an emotion Danubian society ridiculed. However Kim had learned self-respect and confidence in her ability to make decisions that were morally right. Her feeling of well-being increased when her father broke the news about the arrest of his attorney in Lima, the attorney who had promised, for a huge fee, that he could negotiate Kim's release from her sentence. For the first time Mr. Lee treated her with respect over the phone, gratified by the changes that had transformed his daughter into an adult.

Kim realized something else the week following Malka Chorno's trial. No longer did she want to kill Tiffany, nor in any way harm her. Her feelings about her high school friend had changed. If Tiffany were to re-enter Kim's life, she would be concerned with doing everything possible to help her. As her hatreds dissipated, Kim found herself well on her way to achieving inner peace.

The following Tuesday, exactly a week after her switching, Criminal # 98945 took Officer Malka Chorno's badge to the National Police Academy to surrender it. As promised by the judge, the institute's director was on hand to receive it. He assembled the cadets in the parade yard as Kim knelt and formally handed over the badge.

The director of the academy ordered Criminal # 98945 to stand up and then did something that shocked everyone. He bowed his head and kissed Kim's hand.

"Your gesture has humbled the National Police of the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia. I will carry through with your desire to someday provide ex-Officer Chorno the opportunity to earn back this badge. I assure you that the opportunity I will give ex-Officer Chorno will be just that, an opportunity. She will need to earn her badge. It will not just be given to her. Now, please face the cadets and remain standing."

The director then let out the loudest and most ear-piercing whistle Kim had ever heard. The cadets, in unison, shouted:

"DOC-DOC DANUBE!"

----------

The water crisis in Upper Danubia intensified as the hot July weather showed no sign of abating. Eloisa was forced to cut back on band rehearsals as her male musicians took afternoons off to try to save their parents' vegetable gardens. All around the outskirts of Danube City groups of exhausted, forlorn young men clustered around pumps with buckets, waiting their turn to obtain precious water for their families' dying plants. Farms began slaughtering farm animals, reservoirs dried up, and the nation's forests began to change color as the trees sickened from the drought.

The Danubian government did what it could to ease the situation. Around Danube City it set up several pumping stations to move water from the Danube River to the residents' garden areas. It approved emergency measures to make sure farmers did not lose their land due to foreclosures. The Parliament approved a plan to ration water and electricity that began July 15, as the water level behind Upper Danubia's main hydro-electric dam dropped to a critical level. Danube City ended up with electricity for only 9 hours per day: from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., then from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The main purpose of the schedule was to keep the trolleys running during rush hour, but even so, the country's Prime Minister appeared on TV to exhort the citizens to ride their bicycles whenever possible.

As bad a crisis as the drought was, Danubian society was well suited to confront it. The government's main goal was to ensure the nation's food supply through the next growing season, so every action taken by the Parliament served that purpose. The population clearly understood the need to make sure everyone would eat through the winter, so any personal sacrifices that needed to be made to save a farm, or a vegetable garden, or a herd of cows, or to import food, were accepted and supported by the citizens.

On July 15 government scientists issued a warning the water table all around Danube City had dropped, and shortly many wells would run dry. The Minister of Agriculture warned that whatever vegetables people had managed to grow needed to be harvested and canned as quickly as possible. Food prices on fruits and vegetables started going up, but fortunately there was very little speculation and no panic buying.

The Ministry of Justice ordered all the nation's criminals to report to the Central Police Station the day after the warning. The police quickly turned off the transmitters in everyone's collars and then loaded the criminals onto buses to help farmers and pensioners get their vegetables harvested.

The wells ran dry over the following week as Kim and her friends helped harvest vegetables from several farms. The farmers issued the criminals work boots and aprons, and did what they could to show gratitude for the help. In the heat of the day, after working hard all morning, the criminals relaxed under shade trees and drank cold fruit punch to avoid dehydration. They started up again as soon as the sun lowered in the horizon and worked until well after dark. They slept on army cots, but in the evenings they ate well, enjoying food provided by the farmers they were helping. In spite of the hot, hard work, Kim enjoyed her week outside Danube City and the chance to see a part of Upper Danubia that normally would be off-limits to criminals.

The criminals spent their second and third weeks helping pensioners and anyone without an adult son harvest their vegetables from private gardens. They hauled baskets of harvested food to trolley-stops, and when necessary, helped pensioners carry heavy items to their apartments and houses. The fourth week most of the criminals returned to the farms for a final round of crop harvesting.

The farmers and pensioners were grateful for the assistance they had received and wanted to find a way to thank the criminals for their help. When several of them called Spokesman Vladim Dukov, he suddenly had an idea. He presented a petition to cancel all corporal punishments due to be issued through the end of September as a gesture of gratitude from the government. The idea caught on as many of those helped by the criminals lobbied their deputies to approve Dukov's proposal. The Upper Danubian Parliament approved the measure, not really having the time or the inclination to resist a popular idea. When the news broke to Kim and her friends out in the fields, they squealed with delight. Eloisa shocked Kim by hugging her. She and the others in her group had been due for a switching at the end of August. That punishment now was canceled.

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At the end of the second week in August, the criminals were transported back to the Danube City Central Police Station and their collar transmitters turned back on. The majority of the help they could provide was over, so they were released and ordered to return to their normal lives. The criminals had been away for four weeks, working 16-hour days with only a short break in the mid-afternoons. They were exhausted, sunburnt, and reeking from not having had the chance to get cleaned up. Their hair was disheveled and the men had beards. The women did not feel particularly feminine at that moment. Still, the criminals all were quite happy. They had performed public service to a country that had expressed at least some gratitude for their efforts.

Sergekt and Kim trudged up the hill to Dukov's house that evening. They hugged each other goodbye, and with that she went inside. Vladim and Maritza were eager to talk to Kim, but held off when they saw what a smelly mess she was. The first thought on everyone's mind was getting their surrogate daughter into a bathtub as quickly as possible. Once that was taken care of and Kim was civilized again, there was a dinner waiting for her. She recounted her adventures on the farms, but soon was nodding off. She went to bed right after dinner.

The next morning Kim woke up and looked out her window. She had not seen the view for a month and was shocked by how brown everything in the countryside appeared. A landscape that normally would have been lush green instead reminded her of the time she went on vacation in eastern Colorado. The trees were green, but the ground underneath them was completely brown. Kim noticed something else in the distance that she wondered about, some smoke in the air. She figured a farmer must have been burning some harvest debris. She shrugged her shoulders at the desolate view and prepared to deliver packages for Victor Dukov, for the first time in over a month.

There was more smoke in the air when Kim got home that evening. She spent the evening with the Dukovs, because Eloisa had decided to hold off on band rehearsals until the following week, and her boyfriend was busy helping his mother and aunt preserve what he had been able to salvage from her garden. Kim and Vladik stood at her window, commenting about the line of smoke in the distance and the increasing haze.

"This isn't good. I'd better call my section chief and see what's going on."

What was going on was the beginning of the worst natural disaster Upper Danubia would face in over a century. There were a series of huge forest fires just getting started. Already the entire fire departments of four provinces were totally occupied fighting the blazes. Most of the soldiers in Upper Danubia's small army were on their way to the fire zones as well. Officer Vladik Dukov's chief informed him a call-up of Danube City's police officers and firefighters was imminent.

While their son was on the phone, the elder Dukovs turned on their television. Vladim, Maritza, and Kim watched news footage of huge fires burning forests, farms, and villages in eastern Upper Danubia. There were dramatic shots of frantic farmers and police officers trying to move herds of panicking cows away from rapidly approaching flames. There was one particularly gruesome shot of a pig farm on fire, with hundreds of dying pigs trapped in burning buildings.

The fires were exacerbated because the country still had plenty of forested areas, some even close to major cities. The forests were a vital economic asset to the country, as well as a traditional part of Upper Danubia's defense strategy. Having large forests near the cities allowed the Danubian military to mount guerrilla operations against any foreign invader, since there was no hope that such a small country could defend itself in a pitched battle against a large modern army.

King Vladik the Defender originally set up the forest preserves in the early 1500's after successfully using the woods to help his army repel a total of five foreign invasions. The king was a military visionary, a person whose guerrilla tactics against both Papal and Turkish armies were way ahead of their time. As they made their way through the forests, the invading armies suffered massive losses before they ever got to Danube City, at the hands of King Vladik and his guerrilla archers. Because of the forests and King Vladik's military strategy, Danube City never fell under foreign occupation at a time the rest of central Europe was devastated by wars.

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