The Courier Ch. 10bycaligula97236©
Chapter 10 -- A moment in life with Victor
Maria Elena woke up with a start. She was not in her own room, not lying uncovered on top of her own mattress. Instead, she was under a cover, sharing a warm bed with her lover. She nervously glanced at the bedroom door, realizing it was open. She remembered that Victor had closed it the night before. She wondered if he had gotten up in the middle of the night; or if Cecilia had peeked in and not bothered to close it. She closed the door, hoping it had been Victor who had left it open.
She returned to the bed and sat down. She looked at him, studying his lined face and aging body. Time and stress had taken their toll on his health and appearance. He was not physically attractive, but she had not been looking for that when she began her relationship with him. She wasn't worried about being with someone who was young. Instead she wanted to be comforted and protected by a person she could look to as an authority figure, someone who she could respect and who she felt could guide her.
As a young teen, Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres had been fascinated with some of the older male teachers at her school, especially the school director. Nothing ever came of her interests, nor could she ever figure out why older guys would fascinate her. She had never taken any psychology, so she did not have the education that would have helped her understand her own needs. A psychologist could have looked into the girl's past and quickly identified her basic issue with men. Her father had abandoned her mother when she was very young, forcing her mother to be a single parent throughout most of the girl's life. Señor Rodriguez was missing, leaving his daughter with the burning desire to find an older man who would give her some direction. Of course the popular culture around Maria Elena told her that she needed to find a handsome young guy her own age, which clashed with her hidden hope of finding someone older who could replace her father.
Maria Elena's traumatic experiences over the most recent two weeks had intensified her subconscious need to find a mature man with authority who could protect her. Victor Dukov, who was a business owner and the head of the household that had taken her in, fit her aspirations perfectly. Victor's own circumstances; the fact he was recently widowed and his sons were grown-up, added to his availability and desirability in Maria Elena's mind. She would heal him, and he would heal her.
Maria Elena lightly kissed Victor on the cheek and stood up. She'd have to go downstairs and get the kitchen set up for Cecilia to cook. It was Monday, so once the kitchen was ready she'd come back to her lover's room and help him get dressed. She would be his adoring partner...he would rely on her and not be able to live without her.
It turned out that Cecilia already was awake and had gone into the kitchen first. A quick glance sent the message that yes...she did know the prisoner had spent the night with their host. There was no greeting. The Dominican simply began with:
"I hope you understand what you've gotten yourself into. If it goes bad, don't say I didn't warn you."
The prisoner blushed. Cecilia continued:
"I saw you two last night...in the living room. I checked the bedroom later on...and I left that door open on purpose."
There was another pause, because Maria Elena didn't know how to respond. Cecilia gave her a very skeptical look.
"You don't have...anything to say about...what you did?"
"Not really...it just happened."
"No, Maria Elena, it didn't 'just happen'. I saw it coming as early as Thursday. I warned you. You knew that I was watching you, and you knew why..."
"But was it really that wrong? We love each other..."
Cecilia rolled her eyes.
"You love each other? After six days you love each other. You don't even speak the same language, but you love each other. He's 46 years old and you're 19, but you love each other. Please...give me a break. You can't love someone you don't know in just six days...It doesn't work like that!"
"Well I do love him! I don't care about any of that stuff you're telling me! I love him! What's wrong with that? Why can't I love him?"
Cecilia rubbed her forehead and sighed. She thought: Maria Elena, you don't get it...
"You can't love him because you belong to the Danubian Government! That's what I was trying to tell you last week! There's nothing wrong with you having a relationship, but it really has to be with another criminal, with someone in the same situation as you. If you're married to another criminal, the Ministry will try to respect that and they'll do what they can to keep you together, as long as you..."
"I don't want a relationship with another criminal! I want Victor! I mean...what about Tiffany? She's not married to another criminal! What about her? Why can't I just do what she's doing?"
Cecilia did not know how to answer Maria Elena without spending the entire morning explaining the unique circumstances that had brought Vladik Dukov and Tiffany Walker together. It was true that he was a cop and she was a criminal, but they first met when he was suspended from his position with the National Police and performing Public Penance. When he and Tiffany started their relationship, Vladik was little more than a criminal himself. Anyhow, Cecilia didn't want to argue further. She wasn't going to convince her housemate not to pursue Victor; the only thing she could do was try to get her to think about what she was doing.
"Maria Elena, it's a long story about Vladik and Tiffany. Your situation is different. It just is. I'm worried about you and Victor, and I don't want to see either of you get hurt. I just don't think you being with him is such a good idea. Right now...I really can't figure out how to tell you why I feel that way. But I know him. I know this country. I know what it's like to be criminal. And, I know some things about you. I really think that a year from now, you're gonna have different needs and Victor's not gonna be able to fill them. That's when things are gonna go bad between you two."
Cecilia's words were met with a hard, skeptical look from the prisoner's eyes. No, she wasn't going to be convinced. Her only option was to give up on trying to dissuade her housemate and fall back on at least making sure she adhered to criminal protocol:
"I hope I'm wrong. But I do want you to think real hard about what you're doing. And there's something else..."
"The next time you see her, you're gonna have to tell Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna what's going on. That's not just protocol, it's the law. The Spokeswoman holds custody over you, so she gets final say over whether or not you can have a relationship with someone. You need to talk to her, because if you don't, you'll get charged with insurrection and in theory you could get Victor in trouble."
"But...she'll simply say no."
"Not necessarily. What she will do is force you to be sure, in your own mind, why you want to be with him. And, I'd imagine she'll want to talk to him as well. Then she'll make a decision. She won't say no until she talks to both of you."
As Maria Elena knelt to hand Victor his shoes and finish helping him get dressed, her heart was very heavy. She was learning that romance, especially for a criminal, was not something that simply happened in Danubian society. For her to love Victor, other people had to get involved. Her romantic life would be documented in her criminal record. To have a relationship with Victor she would have to obtain official permission, and to marry him she would have to seek permission yet again. She felt enormously sorry for him, because for her sake he would have to seek the approval of Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna, someone half his age (and his former employee on top that) for a decision that really should have been up to him to make.
Maria Elena returned to the university that morning with Cecilia and Jason for a normal day of work, class, and exercise. She spent most of the afternoon with Carmen, realizing that the Californian was her best chance at having a friend among the US students. Maria Elena was aware that there was nothing Carmen could really do to help her situation, but it was nice just to have someone else to talk to in Spanish besides Cecilia.
After class, the norteamericanos split up by sex to undress and attend physical fitness training. As usual, Cecilia handed Maria Elena her running shoes, which she was only allowed to use during exercising. As usual, the gringas took off their clothes in the locker room for a ritual that many still were not comfortable with.
Exercise proved to be a very unnerving experience for Prisoner # 101025. The instructor announced that she was ready to fully participate in the program, which included the runs. The Colombian would be expected to run three kilometers non-stop, which was the distance that the other women typically ran every other day. Cecilia made the mistake of telling the instructor that she couldn't use her switch to punish Maria Elena because she was going on trial the following week and faced a full judicial switching of 50 strokes. The instructor cheerfully responded:
"That's not a problem, Director Sanchez. Since you are in charge of the prisoner and are responsible for her success with us, then I will simply give you any strokes she earns. If she fails to live up to my expectations, then I will hold you responsible."
Maria Elena noticed the Dominican's dark skin turn a shade lighter. Cecilia turned to her and translated what the instructor had just said, adding:
"You'd better do what she wants, and do it right. If I have to take any strokes for you, I'm gonna be pissed."
"No...Tell her I'll take the strokes...It's not your problem."
"It is my problem, because you have to go on trial next week. When it's over and you get sentenced, you're gonna get your butt whipped. You can't have any marks on you when that happens, so in the meantime I have to take your punishments for you 'cause I'm in charge of you. The only thing is, I'm not gonna take any punishment for you 'cause you're not gonna earn any, 'cause you're gonna bust your ass on that run. Get it?"
"Yes, Cecilia, I get it."
Maria Elena certainly did try as hard as she could, but there was no way she was capable of running three kilometers non-stop. She fell to her knees and threw up after completing just half the distance. Cecilia screamed at her to get up and keep moving. Maria Elena cried as she staggered along the university sidewalk, pain tearing through her sides and her legs trembling from weakness. She put everything she had into the run, terrified that Cecilia already was in trouble. It was just a simple physical exercise, something that everyone else in the group had long since mastered, but for Maria Elena it was every bit as awful as what had happened to her the previous week in the interrogation room.
When Cecilia and Maria Elena finally crossed the finish line, both were expecting the instructor to hit Cecilia several times with the switch. However all she said was:
"Good effort, Prisoner # 101025. You put everything into it, and that's all I'm asking. Wednesday I'll expect you to do a bit better."
Cecilia had to stay late at the university that night, because one of the male participants had decided to quit the program. He was having trouble with the Danubian language, was not getting along with his host family, and to top off everything else, he had taken three strokes that afternoon from his physical fitness instructor. The program director was used to dealing with crises stemming from Americans struggling to adapt to Danubian culture. Normally she was able to convince the students to stay by reasoning with them. They already had paid their money and could not get a refund, if they left Danubia they would lose the semester because there was no time left to enroll back in Chicago, and if they quit, that decision to give up would forever haunt them. If a student was determined to leave, she did what she could to get him or her to put it off as long a possible.
There were cases where Director Sanchez spent an entire semester convincing a student to "wait just one more week...just another week...is that really gonna hurt you? Just one more week?" She always pointed out: "I know it's hard, but if you at least wait another week or so, do you think you'd really lose anything? If you really can't stand it, you can always decide to leave later on, but once you leave, you can't decide to come back."
In the end the student usually procrastinated one week to the next, right up to the end of the semester. During the three years Director Sanchez had been counseling exchange students, 130 had participated in the program and only 4 ended up leaving early.
Maria Elena went home by herself. She noted that Victor was helping Cecilia's nephew with a homework assignment, so she started dinner and began straightening up. She washed a load of clothing, set the table, served three portions of food and set aside a fourth for her housemate, for whenever she came home.
All the while she was attending to the needs of the house; two huge worries loomed in her mind: her upcoming trial and the horrific switching she would have to endure, and her concern over what to do about Victor. She dreaded the upcoming session with her Spokeswoman even more than she dreaded her trial, because she was convinced that Kim would put an end to her relationship with her host and embarrass him at the same time.
Victor made sure Pedro was properly cleaned up and in bed before putting on his prayer robe and performing his nightly vigil beneath his wife's picture. Maria Elena wondered if the Danubian Church had a formal mourning period and if Victor would ever get over doing that strange ritual and move on with his life. She felt that he could move on, but that he would need her to do so. That was something Prisoner # 101025 could tell her Spokeswoman; that Victor's future depended on her. She was offering him the chance to emerge from his emotional pit of grief and guilt. Maybe she was his last hope, the final opportunity he would ever have to return to a normal life. Did Kim really have the right to take that away from him just because of protocol?
With that thought Maria Elena felt much more confident of herself. Yes, she now knew what she needed to say that would counter the doubts of both Cecilia and Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna. Victor's life was at stake. Maybe his relationship with his guest was not "correct protocol", but did anyone have a better option for him? Did anyone else know how to get him to return to his old life and find happiness?
She finished in the kitchen and set a pot of water to boil for tea. As usual she would make a cup for her host and kneel beside him to serve him. She now knew a few words and phrases, so she could communicate with him at a very simple level. As she waited for the water to boil she went to the bathroom and studied her reflection in the mirror. She noticed that her breasts now were as tanned as the rest of her body, that the marks from her swimsuit were completely gone. She was developing a new tan-line, the one on her lower neck that was the result of constantly wearing a collar. She knew that her neck would be uncovered very briefly the following week, when she would take off the temporary collar and be fitted with her permanent one. For a few minutes her neck would be uncovered, then covered again, permanently.
Permanently. This would be her life. How strange...only a week before she had been sitting on a plane, worried about delivering a kilo of cocaine. Just two weeks before she still was in Colombia. Just two weeks, but it felt like so much more than two weeks. So much had happened in just two weeks...so much... The worries she had just two weeks before had no presence in her life at all now. She was a different person, worried about different things, with different goals and aspirations. It was not her choice to become different, but nonetheless she was able to accept what had happened to her. Just one week after her arrest, Maria Elena had fully adjusted to the Path in Life that the Creator had set up for her.
The prisoner knelt with her cup of tea. This time Victor quickly finished his prayer and took the cup. He stroked her face and touched her hair. Yes, she was his escape, the sign sent to him by the Creator that he was free to stop grieving about his dead wife and move on with his life.
A few minutes later they were upstairs in his room. Maria Elena pulled off his prayer robe and carefully hung it up. He took her hands and kissed her passionately. The couple embraced, then he explored her bottom with his hands. He felt bad, because within a week her backside would be covered with painful welts, but after her trial he would comfort her. She would spend the night crying on his bed, as he gently rubbed lotion onto her body. Finally he would hold her hand and she would fall asleep. The next day she would wake up, and he would be there for her...and for once he would be the one with a cup of tea for her...and she would begin her new life...
Yes...my poor little foreigner...
He became aroused much more quickly the second night than the first. She had reawakened those old feelings and passions, something that just a week before he felt that he had no right to enjoy. There was so much in him that she had brought back, so much of his life that she had restored. He now had something to live for, apart from running his business and serving his employees and clients. He held, in his arms, a lovely girl that he could call his own and love.
That night she got on her hands and knees on the bed and he took her from behind. She was so lovely...so different from the Danubian women he had known...so lovely...his Maria Elena...
The next day Cecilia asked the university gardener to let Prisoner # 101025 off work early so the two women could see Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna before lunchtime. At 11:00 she met Maria Elena at the shower. The Colombian sighed, because the trip meant that she would have to come clean about her relationship with Victor sooner than she had wanted. She cast an angry look at Cecilia, suspecting that she must have placed a call to Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna to arrange the appointment, precisely to mess up her plans with him. The Dominican, who was extremely observant and picked up on everything, snapped:
"Quit looking at me like that. I didn't call your Spokeswoman. She called me. She wants to talk about your trial. It's got nothing to do with Victor."
The two women arrived at the Central Police Station and entered the Spokeswoman's office. At that moment Maria Elena saw the reality of her future close-up, because a badly beaten criminal was lying face-down on a foldable table that looked like a padded massage table. He was very young, perhaps even younger than Maria Elena. His bottom and the top part of his thighs were a solid mass of reddish welts that were about a centimeter wide each. Where the blows crossed each other they formed blisters that were purple. Six reddish stripes crossed the criminal's upper back. In spite of the severity of the punishment, Maria Elena noted that he was not bleeding anywhere, but that was not much consolation. It was obvious the young man was in a lot of pain and content to just lie still on the table.
Cecilia explained that all criminals received their first judicial punishment immediately after they were convicted. The first switching was part of the ritual of trial and the criminal's formal introduction to the reality of his sentence. No matter how many or how few switchings were assigned during sentencing, the first one always came at the end of the trial. A formal police switching consisted of 50 blows administered to the criminal's bottom and upper thighs over a 30-60 minute period. Following the switching, the punishment was certified by the trial judge, and then the criminal had to be photographed. Once that was taken care of, the convict normally spent a couple of hours lying on a "recovery table" in the Spokesperson's office until he could stop crying and walk home.