The Courier Ch. 05bycaligula97236©
Chapter 5 -- Victor Dukov's house
Once Kim and her group had returned to her office, she began finalizing the details of Maria Elena's immediate future. The prisoner needed a place to sleep that night, she needed to begin Danubian language lessons as quickly as possible, and she needed to find work within three days.
Cecilia dispatched the language problem first. There was a new group of US exchange students at the National University who were enrolled in intensive Danubian language training to prepare for taking classes alongside local university students. Among Cecilia's students there were two language groups: slow and advanced. The easiest and cheapest solution would be to have Maria Elena attend class along with in the slow group.
The next problem was where Maria Elena would work. She had to take a job that kept her body as exposed as possible, preferably something outside. A quick question determined that she did not know how to ride a bicycle, which eliminated the option of her being a document courier. Another option, the record store where Kim used to work when she was a criminal herself, was not available either. At any other time Kim could have called the owner and started Maria Elena as a window washer, but the previous week she had sent over two clients and the store definitely did not need any more. Any other customer service job was out of the question until she could speak Danubian.
Kim shrugged her shoulders: "We have another day to think about that one. Let's see what we're gonna do about where she's gonna sleep."
It was getting late, so the only viable solution was for Cecilia to take Maria Elena home with her. She explained to the prisoner that she was living in the house of Victor Dukov, who was the brother of the country's Prime Minister, Vladim Dukov. Victor was a recent widower whose sons were grown and had moved out, so he had made his house available for Cecilia and her nephew. There also would be a spare room for Maria Elena, at least for a few nights, until Kim could arrange long-term housing. Cecilia called Victor explaining the situation and getting permission to bring Maria Elena to the house. Then she turned to the prisoner and wryly asked:
"Well, right now you get to make your first decision as a criminal. Either you can come home with me, sleep in a comfortable bed, and have a decent meal; or you can be locked up in a holding cell and sleep there and wait until tomorrow morning to have something to eat. So what's your choice?"
"I...I'll go with you..."
"Good answer. Now, you understand that means you're going back outside?"
Maria Elena nodded. Kim interjected:
"Tell her to stop nodding. You know that criminals are not allowed to nod, they have to answer 'yes' and 'no' when spoken to by someone who's not a criminal. Tell her that."
Cecilia translated, eliciting a very sad glance from the prisoner towards her Spokeswoman. The Dominican felt enormously sorry for her and was increasingly annoyed with Kim's unsympathetic behavior towards her client. However, she held her tongue, having learned never to challenge protocol in Danubia, especially from a public official. She knew that it didn't matter that Kim was her friend, because the Spokeswoman was a public official first; and a friend second.
At that moment a naked, very well-built young man showed up at the office. Upon entering he fell to his knees and placed his forehead on the floor.
"Good evening, Jason Schmidt. Please rise so you can fulfill your commitment to the Creator."
Jason immediately stood up and kissed Cecilia. Noting the shocked expression on the prisoner's face, Cecilia introduced him with the following explanation:
"This is my fiancé, Jason. He's performing Public Penance for the Danubian Church, which is why he's collared. Jason's not a criminal, but he has to follow a lot of the same protocol."
Maria Elena looked over Jason's attractive body. He was deeply tanned from having spent the last four years of his life never touching any clothing. He had a very lean and muscular figure from constantly running and working out. By far he was the most attractive man she had ever seen close up. She noticed his collar was different from hers; it was smooth and rounded, had no ring, and had a key-hole that allowed it to be unlocked.
Jason's expression was rather shy, and right away Maria Elena could tell that Cecilia was the one who controlled their relationship. A quick glance sent an unspoken message to the prisoner: don't even think about trying anything with him; he's mine. Maria Elena was unnerved by how quickly her translator had picked up on her attraction to Jason, and how, without saying anything, she had issued a warning.
A few minutes later Cecilia, Jason, and Maria Elena exited the Central Police Station. Kim had issued some final instructions to Cecilia, telling her that she needed to have Maria Elena back in her office early the next morning. There was one final detail to take care of; the prisoner's hair. As best she could, Kim quickly tied her hair in loose braids, telling her that she would need to have her hair properly braided before returning the next day. It was up to Cecilia to make sure Maria Elena's hair was decent before she went out again.
Cecilia clearly was the one in the lead as her two naked companions followed her onto a large plaza that was dominated on each side by an important building. Directly in front of the police station was the city's main courthouse, where Maria Elena would go on trial later that month. To the left was the Gothic cathedral she had passed earlier in the day. Opposite the cathedral was the National Parliament Building. The Courthouse and the National Parliament were attractive late 18th Century buildings; the Cathedral clearly was much older than that. The plaza itself was full of people walking to catch trolleys or sitting and conversing.
Maria Elena still was horrified at having to be naked outside, but that feeling was starting to diminish. For the first time since her arrest, she was able to resist the temptation to cover herself. The fact that she was not the only naked person in her group helped her tremendously to accept her situation. The hot summer evening helped as well. She could tell that Cecilia was uncomfortable in her clothing, while Jason seemed perfectly relaxed and enjoying himself.
They walked behind the cathedral and returned to the trolley stop. The first trolley that passed was an express returning to the airport. Maria Elena looked longingly as a few travelers got on with suitcases, presumably to fly out of the country. That trolley departed, only to be followed by another trolley going directly north towards the National University. Cecilia and Jason got on, followed my Maria Elena.
Cecilia handed a coin to the fare-taker, but Jason and Maria Elena, because they were collared, did not have to pay anything. However, that also meant that Cecilia could take a seat, while Jason had to remain standing. Maria Elena, exhausted and still somewhat sick from her earlier ordeal, was looking forward to sitting down. The moment she approached an empty seat Cecilia admonished her:
"Stand up! You can't sit!"
"You're collared! You're not allowed to sit on public transportation. You have to remain standing so people can see you. Don't you see Jason? He's not sitting either."
Maria Elena felt true despair as she took her place standing next to Cecilia's naked fiancé. The trolley was about half-full, and it seemed everyone was staring at her. Part of the reason was that both she and Jason had attractive bodies that were pleasant to look at, but also the other passengers had overheard the two women conversing in Spanish, a language completely unknown in that part of Europe.
The trolley passed through an opening in the Old City Wall and into a neighborhood with elegant 19th Century architecture. A few stops later it entered a residential district of solidly-built 2-story houses along a pleasant tree-lined street. Cecilia put out her hand to allow Jason to help her stand up. Once she was standing, she gave him a quick slap on the bottom. Immediately he got out of the trolley and again offered his hand to assist her as she exited. To Maria Elena that scene was totally bizarre, because never had she seen a man appear to be so thoroughly under the control of a woman.
The trio walked along a very narrow street before arriving at a 2-story brick house. By Danubian standards the house was very nice, but it was not any larger than a typical upper-middle class home in Colombia. There were two large trees in front, several large windows, a solid wooden door, and another door on the side that led directly into the kitchen. The back yard had a wall around it, as was true for most houses in Danube City. Unlike most Colombian houses, however, the wall was not topped with barbed wire and there were no bars on the windows. Maria Elena noticed another significant difference. Not a single house on the street had a garage, none of the houses even had a driveway, and not a single car was parked anywhere in sight. The neighborhood, because of the absence of vehicles, was incredibly quiet.
When Cecilia knocked, a middle-aged man with a rather unpleasant expression opened the front door. Jason immediate went to his knees and touched his forehead to the ground. Maria Elena correctly assumed that she needed to follow Jason's lead and sank to her knees as well. The man ordered Jason to stand up in Danubian and shook his hand. The young man turned to Ceclia and kissed her goodbye. It was clear that he wanted to take her in his arms, but it was equally clear that under the staring eyes of her host father he was not about to take such a risk. Instead he departed, his uncovered body standing out among the green trees and the brick houses as he walked away in the late summer dusk.
Cecilia explained that Jason lived with a different family, in the house of a retired Spokesman called Alexi Havlakt, who was an advisor and personal friend of the Prime Minister. It turned out the only reason Cecilia's fiancé had accompanied the two women was to escort her back to her residence.
"You'll see that we're all connected here. I live with the Prime Minister's brother, Jason's living with the Prime Minister's best friend, Criminal # 98946 is married to the Prime Minister's son, and Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna used to live with Prime Minister Dukov."
Maria Elena thought that detail was very strange; why should these North Americans be living with such important people? She wanted to press Cecilia for an answer, but held her tongue, assuming she would find out soon enough.
Cecilia told her companion to kneel upright so she could properly introduce her to Victor Dukov. The man gave his kneeling guest a quick nod of acknowledgement, listened to Cecilia's explanation of her situation, and gave her another quick nod. He spoke in Danubian, as Cecilia translated.
"Victor is granting you permission to enter his house and sit at his table. You need to thank him by saying 'Spakeebo dek'.
Victor nodded yet again and let out a quick whistle. Cecilia explained that was his signal that he had accepted her as a guest and that she was to enter his house.
"People communicate a lot in this country, not just with words, but also with whistles and hisses. A quick high-pitched whistle means 'come along with me'. A long low-pitched whistle means the person disapproves of you or something you've done. A hiss is much stronger than that, almost an insult. There's a lot more, but those are what you'll need to know to get you started."
Maria Elena got up and followed Victor and Cecilia into the house. Cecilia offered her the use of a bathroom, which she desperately needed, followed by a summons to have dinner. Seated at the table along with the elder Dukov was a married son and his very pregnant wife, Cecilia, and a seven-year-old boy she introduced as her nephew Pedro. Maria Elena expected Pedro to speak Spanish, but unlike his aunt, the only languages he knew were Danubian and English. Cecilia barely had time to eat because she was translating questions and comments for four other people, plus trying to listen to her nephew's chatter about the day he had spent with some friends.
By the time dinner was finished Maria Elena knew considerably more about both her host and about Danubia in general. Victor Dukov was the owner of a successful business communications company that offered services ranging from bicycle couriers, overnight package delivery, fax machine sales and servicing, and various Internet services. He employed 25 bicycle couriers, owned two stores, and operated an Internet café. His couriers were criminals that always started out riding bicycles and then, upon finishing their sentences, had the option of working in one of the stores. He openly admitted that having his brother as Prime Minister had helped his business tremendously because his employees spent most of their time moving documents between the government's various ministries.
Victor talked about his earlier life when he had only five couriers and that Kimberly Lee had worked for him. It was clear that he was very fond of her, remembering her as one of his best employees. He reflected that in a way she still continued to work for him, because all of his current workers were clients that the Spokeswoman had recommended. "I don't have to advertise for employees at all. Kim's the one who picks them out and interviews them. Having her assistance is like having a hiring agent working for me for free."
Maria Elena clearly was worn out by the time dinner was finished. Now that her stomach was full, she was nodding off, in spite of her efforts to show courtesy by paying attention to her hosts' conversation and Cecilia's translations. The Dominican came to her aid by excusing herself and requesting permission to take Maria Elena upstairs. Once again she had to kneel and repeat "Spakeebo dek", but then she was released.
Cecilia ordered the prisoner to take a bath and brush her teeth before she could sleep, emphasizing that Danubians were fastidious about cleanliness. She also ordered Maria Elena to wash and thoroughly comb her hair, because the next morning it would have to be braided. While the Colombian was in the bathroom, Cecilia stripped off the covers from the bed that she would be using, because even in her bed she would not be permitted to cover her body. Fortunately the evening was warm and the room somewhat hot, so hopefully she would be able to adjust to sleeping naked with no covers.
Once Maria Elena was out of the bathroom, Cecilia approached her with a thin dry dishcloth.
"Pass this under your collar after you're cleaned up. The skin under your collar will chafe if you leave your neck wet, and I can tell you that's not something you want."
Once the prisoner dried her neck, Cecilia showed her the bed and explained that she couldn't cover herself, even while sleeping. Then she looked hard at her companion.
"Maria Elena, I have a question. I need to know if I can trust you."
"To not try to escape once we're all asleep. I want you to understand that Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna has taken a personal risk in delaying your trial and not locking you up. She's placing trust in you. I'm placing trust in you. Victor Dukov is placing trust in you. We all understand that you're scared. I'm not gonna try to convince you that everything will be OK, because your life as a criminal is gonna be very difficult. But you have to understand that we're doing what we can to make it bearable."
Maria Elena said nothing. She was accustomed to being told that everything would be fine, that she had nothing to worry about. She was accustomed to being constantly lied to, to listening to pleasant words that had no meaning, mixed with threats that were very real indeed. Cecilia's blunt statement came as a surprise to her, because she had been expecting to be told, once again, that everything would be fine and not to worry. She didn't know how to respond, because she was indeed pondering if there was any way she could get out of the house, find some clothes, get her collar off, and try to escape. She couldn't bring herself to deny that was what she was thinking.
Had Cecilia told her that everything was going to be fine and not to worry; Maria Elena could have lied and attempted to escape with no regrets. It was obvious, however, that Cecilia cared enough about her to tell the truth about what the future held for her. There was no mystery, no surprises...she knew what she faced as a criminal in Danubia. Almost without realizing what she was doing, she confessed:
"I was thinking...about trying to escape. I...I'm sorry..."
"That's what I suspected. Of course, you do understand that there's no way you could get away? That collar has a transmitter on it. The moment we noticed you were missing we'd call the police and they'd locate you. Even if you got the collar off, where would you go? What would you do? You wouldn't exactly blend in. You don't have any money. People would notice your hair. You couldn't talk to anyone. There's no Colombian embassy here. Your passport's gone. You try to run, and the only thing you'd do would be add to the number of switchings you'd get in your sentence. More switchings...that's the only thing running's gonna get you. More switchings."
Before Maria Elena could think of a response, Cecilia changed the subject:
"There's something else that I want you to think about. For your plane trip, you were supposed to get 15,000 Euros and a visa, correct?
"For one kilo?"
"From what I know, 15,000 Euros seems an awful lot of money for moving one kilo. Are you totally sure you would have gotten that? I mean, did you...ever talk to anyone else who flew a kilo to Germany? Did you even know those guys, I mean...before you went to Panama City?"
Maria Elena paused, realizing that no, she had never talked to anyone who had worked for Alex.
"No. I didn't know them..."
"And you weren't flying with anyone else? No partners?"
"No, I was alone."
"That's not normal, Maria Elena. Usually they fly couriers in groups, or at least pairs."
"People do it all the time. I've heard of plenty of people going by themselves."
"Yes, but in your case, to me it seems something wasn't right. I don't know...maybe Alex is a really great guy and he was trying to do you a favor. But if I had been you, I would have checked things out a bit more carefully before getting mixed up with him."
"There wasn't any time. Everything was so rushed..."
"What you mean was that he didn't give you any time. Time to think...time to have some doubts...you're right about that...no time, but you need to ask yourself why."
Maria Elena was silent, not sure how to answer her companion's skepticism. Cecilia waved her hand to get the prisoner's attention:
"So, can I trust you or not?"
"Yes, you can trust me. I promise I won't try to run away."
"In this country, people never promise. They simply say what they're gonna do."
A few minutes later Maria Elena was soundly asleep on her bed. She was lying on her stomach and gripping her pillow, which was the only item besides herself that was on the bed. Until she lay down, she had not realized how tired she was after not having slept over the last 72 hours. The previous night, of course, had been spent awake in that school. However, she had not slept the night before either, because she lay awake restless in Panama City, both terrified of what she was about to do and eager to start her new life in Europe. She was beyond exhausted; too tired to even care that she was forced to lie naked on top of a sheet.