Maragana Girl Ch. 22bycaligula97236©
Chapter 22 -- Redemption
Criminal # 98945 expected the final week of her sentence to be extremely hectic. However, because most of the issues surrounding the impending concert schedule of "Socrates' Mistresses" were settled the in the middle of June, there really was very little for her to actually do, other than make final arrangements for her sister Cindy to be present at the de-collaring ceremony in July.
Kim had a very slight disappointment when she learned that the actual ceremony would not be on July 2, the official date of her release. She would have to wait one extra day, because the Monday closest to July 2 was the following day, July 3. The change of date did not really bother anyone, however. Kim's friends had served three-year sentences and she had served a full two-year sentence. One more day hardly mattered.
Vladim Dukov filed a series of papers related to Criminal # 98945's impending release, including a certificate that assured the Danubian government that she was psychologically ready to be released and that she posed no further threat to the community. That was standard procedure, given that a Danubian Spokesperson for the Criminal held legal custody over the criminals assigned to his or her case-load. In theory a Spokesperson could be held accountable if a criminal approved for release re-offended. As a result Spokespersons had the legal authority to declare a criminal "not ready for release", although in practice postponing a release date was not common.
Dukov and Tatiana went to the basement of the Central Police Station to retrieve Kim's back-pack, which was dusty and smelled strange from having sat on a shelf for two years. He retrieved the plastic bags containing the jewelry and clothes she had been wearing on the day of her arrest. Finally the Spokesman retrieved his client's U.S. passport and had one of his brother's couriers take it over to the Danubian Ministry of Foreign Relations for a "transition visa" stamp. The stamp stipulated that as long as Criminal # 98945 held her job at the music store, she could continue to live in Upper Danubia as a legal resident. As soon as she quit her job, her visa would become a simple 30-day tourist visa, with the expectation she be out of the country before the visa expired.
Dukov studied Kim's passport picture, which had been taken about six months before her fateful trip to Europe. He marveled at the change, at how different she must have been when she was still in high school. He looked at the other stamps, noting the two-year-old exit stamp from the Netherlands on July 1 and the entry stamp issued on July 2 to enter the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia. There was a third stamp, issued July 5 by the Danubian Ministry of Justice, indicating Criminal # 98945 was prohibited from leaving Danube City for two years and that her passport would be returned to her Spokesman upon completion of her sentence. Dukov initialed and dated that final stamp, to indicate he now had possession of Kim's passport pending her release.
Cynthia Lee pled with her parents to accompany her to witness Kim's release from her sentence, trying to explain what a big event in her sister's life her final court appearance would be. However, the Lees wanted nothing to do with Upper Danubia, in spite of their daughter's troubled life prior to her trip and her Spokesman's kindness to her during her sentence. Certainly they did not want to see Kim anytime before she was allowed to get dressed. Once she was properly dressed, well, then it would be a different matter. However, the Lees still did not see the point in traveling to Upper Danubia, given that Kim was coming back to the US just a couple of days after her release.
Finally Cindy boarded a flight to Frankfurt by herself, filled with regret her parents could not understand the momentous importance Kim's release would have in her life. The ceremony that ended her sentence would mark her official redemption, the chance for her to apply all of the hard lessons learned over the past two years to the decisions she would make throughout her future. At least Cindy understood. Her sister's support was something that Kim would appreciate for many years to come.
Cynthia Lee arrived in Danube City the final day of June. As before, Spokesman Vladim Dukov was at the airport to greet her, since his client still could not travel outside the Danube City collar-zone. However, the following week, when it was time for Cindy to leave, Kim would be going with her. They would fly out first-class, courtesy of their band's music company.
Once again Kim's sister would stay a hotel near the Central Plaza, to be within walking distance of the Central Courthouse and Dukov's office.
Cindy met up with Kim and Eloisa as they got off work at the music store. The store had changed, now that several of the bands its owner had sponsored were becoming successful. The adjacent building had been converted to a contracting office for aspiring groups of musicians and was very busy. The store itself was much busier than it had been the previous year with foreign music fans and tourists, with more employees and an even wider selection of music.
Cindy had dinner with Kim and Eloisa at Sergekt's restaurant. Eloisa then departed with her fiancée, leaving Kim and Cindy alone. Kim decided to take Cindy to the Temple of the Ancients, and then to the spot where all her trouble had begun, now almost exactly two years before.
The two Americans sat on the same bench where Criminal # 98945 had sat smoking her joint, and where she had endured two very fateful encounters with Officer Malka Chorno. They sat quietly in the late afternoon shade as Kim tried to think of something she could tell her sister, something that would best explain who she had become during her two year sentence. She decided to tell her sister the story of Officer Malka Chorno. She went into graphic description about her arrest, then continued with the ugly encounter in this same spot the following year and its result. She had a hard time making Cindy understand the strange relationship she had with Malka Chorno following the police officer's conviction, the difficult efforts of the two women to come to terms with each other, and the ex-cop's genuine efforts to come to terms with herself and her flaws. Kim concluded:
"I guess we've all had to figure out who we really are. Me, Eloisa, Spokesman Dukov, Malka Chorno, and maybe even you. I can tell you that I really didn't know who I was two years ago...never really gave it much thought. I still really don't know who I am, but maybe I'm a bit closer to figuring it out."
Cindy sat silent and lost in thought for a while. Kim's sister changed the subject.
"You know, I bet it's going to be really hard for you to go back next week...maybe more than you realize...I mean, see our old high school, Mom and Dad, your teachers...you know, everyone who knew you before you came here."
"I know that. I know it's gonna be hard for me stay focused on what I really want from my life."
"What do you want from life, Kim? I mean...it seems that you've sort of found yourself, here in this country. I can tell you this is the weirdest place I've ever been to, but you really seem to fit in. So, this is it? This is where you want to end up?"
"I think so. Spokesman Dukov wants me to take his place and represent all the foreigners he thinks will wind up in trouble, once we get a bunch of new tourists, Eloisa wants me to sing with her, and Sergekt wants me to marry him. So, that'll be my life, the path of my existence, as they say it here."
"But is it what you want?"
"I don't think that's the right way to put it, Cindy. This isn't what I want; it's what I've become. It's what I am. It's what life has turned me into. Take me out of here, put me somewhere else, and what do you think I'd have left? What do you think I'd be?"
"I guess we figured that out last year...it wouldn't be all that much."
"And that was last year...I've had another year here since then, and another year away from home. This is my life, here in Upper Danubia."
Cindy's own feelings were in turmoil, over some very old issues standing between her and Kim, ones that went way back. During Cindy's previous two trips to Upper Danubia Kim had made several hard confessions to her sister. Now it was Cindy's turn to come clean with Kim. She felt pushed from the inside to talk, almost against her will. Cindy buried her hands in her hair and leaned forward. She spoke without looking up.
"Kim, I...we....uh, well...you know that up until the time you got arrested, and even a bit afterwards, I always kind of...I don't want to admit this...I hated you...ever since we were little kids. That's something I realized last fall, and I realized it only when my feelings towards you changed. I realized I hated you all my life, and now I feel really bad about that."
"You were jealous because Mom and Dad always paid more attention to me than you?"
"Yeah. Ever since you were born, it was like you got everything and there was nothing left over for me. It was always 'Kim's younger than you and...Kim needs this and Kim needs that...' I always thought that if I was the good one, the one with the good grades and the one who never caused any problems, that over time Mom and Dad would love me. But you were the one who always got all the attention. It's like...it was all about you, and you were totally messed up, and...Mom and Dad couldn't see anything wrong with you. Not until...your trip. Then everything changed..."
Cindy sat silent, still staring at the ground. She was nerving herself for what she had to say next. Kim thought she knew what was coming...
"...and so you were glad when I got arrested?"
"Yeah, Kim. I was glad. I hate to admit it, but at the time I felt real good about that. Mom, and especially Dad, I mean...they were totally devastated about your pot-smoking. And then, later that summer, when they found about your grades in school, I mean...the grades you really got, when all those college rejections started coming back because of your GPA...I loved it, watching their illusions about you fall apart. I felt like I was getting even for all the crap I put up with when we were growing up."
Kim sat quietly for a long time. It seemed that every time she sat in this spot something awful always happened. Cindy's confession frightened her. Kim forced herself to speak.
"So...why the three trips to Danube City if you hate me so much?"
"Because I don't hate you anymore, not now. A lot of what happened between us wasn't your fault, and that's what I came to realize a few months after you got arrested. Now it seems like...I'm the family's 'good girl' and you're not...and that's not right either. It's not right that either of us be 'the good one' or 'the bad one'."
Cindy again sat silent for a while, and then continued.
"I'm telling you all this because...I realized that whatever happens between you, me, Mom, and Dad, I want to have my own relationship with you, on my terms, not anyone else's. I don't want you to be 'good' or 'bad' in my life. I just want you to be happy, I want to love you, and I want you to be my family. I want to appreciate you for who you are, not for what anyone else wants you to be. We have the rest of our lives, maybe 60 years, ahead of us, and I want you as part of my life. That would mean a lot to me. And that's what I started to realize when I came here at the beginning of last year. That's why I kept coming back, simply because I wanted to see how you were doing and because wanted to be with you. It wasn't because of anything Dad wanted...not really."
Kim bit her lip and nodded, overcome with the emotion of the moment. She felt, for the first time in her life, that she was destined to have a real relationship with her sister. They would live on different continents and would have to travel to make their changed relationship work, but Cindy suddenly had become an important and appreciated part of Kim's life. As Cindy had said, the two women had at least 60 years to set things right with each other.
Kim and Cindy stood up and hugged each other hard, on that Sacred Ground behind the Danubian Temple of the Ancients. Criminal # 98945's conversation with her sister was the final, and the most important, act of redemption she would experience as a result of her two-year sentence.
The night of July 1 was the final night Kim and her friends went to the Socrates Club as criminals. Kim and Eloisa went with Cindy, who entered the club wearing a simple sun dress she could slip over her head as soon as she was inside. Once she was in compliance with the Club's dress-code, Cindy sat among a couple of Sergekt's friends and started flirting with them, as Kim and Sergekt spent the night eating, dancing, and socializing.
That night there was no singing or performing from any member of "Socrates' Mistresses". The participation of Eloisa and her friends in the Club's creative efforts had ended. Tonight was a night for Eloisa's friends to simply relax and enjoy their final evening together as criminals. There were other performers on stage, and more recently sentenced criminals discussing their feelings about their punishments. Life was moving on. Now it was the time for others to read their thoughts, write songs, and perform for their friends.
As she danced with Sergekt, Kim looked nostalgically at the row of tables where she and her friends had sat evening after evening over the past two years. Within a couple of days the tables would be re-arranged to accommodate the fact that Eloisa and her defenders had graduated from the clientele of the Socrates Club. Kim's friends would be able to come back any time they wanted, but it wouldn't be the same. They would be coming in as guests and outsiders, not as criminals and members in full-standing. Kim found it odd thinking about how much she would miss some aspects of her life as a convicted criminal, realizing the loss of the Socrates Club and its supportive environment would leave a huge gap in her existence.
Kim's final full day as a Danubian criminal passed very quietly. It was the custom in Upper Danubia that a criminal spend the final day of his or her sentence with family, in quiet contemplation, or at church. Kim knew that Sergekt would be at church with his family, as would most of the other members of Eloisa's band. Kim and Cindy, somewhat less religious, spent the day picnicking with the Dukovs at a nearby park, along with Vladik's fiancée and her younger brother. It was a very quiet and anti-climactic end to Criminal # 98945's sentence, but everyone wanted to be well-rested for the de-collaring ceremony the following day.
The next day was Monday, July 3rd. Kim woke up in her sister's hotel room after an excellent night's sleep. She had expected to past the night in restless anticipation, but the quiet picnic from the day before put her in a relaxed mood, as did the familiar presence of Cindy.
The two sisters had a light breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then walked to the Central Courthouse. The sun already was shining hot on Kim's exposed body. In spite of the happiness she felt over having her sentence finally end, she felt slight regret over not being able to enjoy her body uncovered outside in the hot weather anymore, except when she went to the beach or relaxed in Dukov's backyard. At her job at the music store Kim would continue to work in the nude, but the morning's walk to the courthouse would be her last appearance without clothing on Danube City's streets.
Kim and Cindy met up with Dukov and his family at his office, and then the group walked across the Central Plaza to the Central Courthouse. A large group of naked criminals and their relatives already were assembled in front of the main door, waiting for the call to line up and go inside. The relatives snapped numerous pictures of the group, and group members took pictures of each other. As always, the whole affair had the general mood of a graduation ceremony, which in a way it was.
Cindy took several pictures of Kim: by herself, with the Dukovs, with Sergekt and Eloisa, and with her fellow singers from "Socrates' Mistresses".
Spokesman Havlakt finally arrived with three workmen carrying 29 packages of clothing. He was in a very upbeat mood, very happy to see the sentences of his 28 clients, along with their added friend Kimberly Lee, finally concluded. He also was looking forward to finally being able to retire, three years later than he originally had planned.
The workers carried the packages inside while the two Spokesmen whistled loudly to get their clients to separate from their families and form a line to go inside. The relatives then quickly passed through the door and filed into the courtroom to take their seats in the public viewing area.
The 29 criminals formed a line as requested, with the women in front. They waited in silence for a minute or so, until they heard the trumpet blast from inside the courtroom. Kim and her friends filed in, 9 women and 20 men. They knelt and put their heads to the carpet, for the last time of their lives. The trumpeter blew again.
The entire room put their right hands to their left shoulders, except for the 29 criminals in the front of the room. Kim and her friends remained kneeling, but they did not need to keep their heads pressed to the floor. Today was their day, the ceremony that was being held for them, so the court expected them to kneel upright to be able to watch what was going on.
Vladim Dukov and Spokesman Havlakt came forward. They saluted the judge, who saluted back.
The judge asked the Spokesmen if each of the criminals under their authority had completed their sentences and whether or not they were ready to assume the rights and responsibilities of a free citizen. He asked the same question to Spokesman Havlakt eight times for each of the women in his custody. Then Kim heard the question addressed to Vladim Dukov:
"Spokesman Dukov, this court wishes to know if you consider Criminal # 98945, the American Kimberly Annette Lee, ready to assume the rights and duties of a free citizen."
Dukov replied with a very loud "Doc!"
Kim's heart raced with anticipation. The question and the answer from her Spokesman legally ended her sentence. The question had to be repeated 20 more times for the guys. Sergekt's name came up 10th on the list, while Dima, the leader of the group and the main instigator of the unlawful actions that lead to the sentences, was the last one whose sentence was ended.
As he did for all de-collaring ceremonies, the judge then gave a brief speech about the transition from criminal to free citizen and the significance of reform and a new start in life.
The next part of the ceremony was the actual de-collaring of the Criminal # 98945 and her friends. Vladim Dukov signaled to his former client to get up and to have her collar removed first. Kim got up and knelt in front of a short metal post slightly less than a meter high. The post had handles on it for the criminal to hang on to. The collar technician ordered Kim to grab the handles and hold herself steady. The post had a metal loop near the top, to hold the collar extractor in place while it was being operated.
The technician closed the imposing-looking device around Kim's neck and closed several latches on her collar.
"Hold your breath and don't move."
The former criminal felt a slight jolt and heard the distinct crack of metal snapping. The collar technician had shot the firing pin into the latch of her collar to break it. He then pushed the extractor's levers apart and opened the collar. A second later Kim's collar was off. For the first time in two years she felt the cool air of the courtroom against the lower part of her neck.