PART II - REVELATIONS
Terry Thorne was awake in the darkness, basking in the sensation of being free, his arms on his chest, without constraints. His limbs were still weak because of the forced stillness of the previous week and the drug but, at present, just the knowledge that he could move them was enough. The sounds of the hospital were a distant buzz in the corner of his mind. He had a splitting headache and was still dizzy, but his brain had discarded the worst effects of what he had been given. A gentle knock on the door brought the sounds inside.
"May I disturb you, Mr. Thorne?"
"You aren't disturbing me, Officer Duarte," he said to the woman silhouetted against the light of the corridor.
"Could you please go on talking, Mr. Thorne? I don't want to hurt your eyes by switching on the light, but I can't see you."
"Just a moment, please," he said, grabbing the dark sunglasses Dino had given him, then switched on the small bed lamp.
"Thank you very much. It would have been quite undignified stumbling over your feet in the darkness," the woman said with a quiet laugh under her words. "Do you feel strong enough now to answer some questions, Mr. Thorne?"
"Call me Terry, please."
"Call me Angelina and we'll be even."
"Angelina, my head is still trapped in a merry-go-round, but I think I've regained my wits enough to supply you with some semblance of an intelligent answer."
"I'm happy for you. Would you like to tell me what happened from the beginning?"
Terry closed his eyes for a moment to gather his memories, then started to narrate his abduction. He used the tone he had used so many times during meetings at Luthan Risk after the retrieval of a cargo but as he outlined what had happened, he felt the strange sense of splitting under his words. While he was explaining all the details he could muster to the officer who was jotting notes before his eyes, he had the vision of what he had been through as if he were reliving everything. Angelina was amazed by the business-like way of describing used by the man in front of her. She knew he was a professional in a trade where being emotional could lead to risking lives, but in this case she could have forgiven him if he had taken the whole thing a little personally. She was, however, grateful for his well-trained mind that made him stick to the facts, without embellishing the tale with unnecessary and misleading particulars.
"Was this the first time you became the hostage?" she asked as he stopped speaking. "This isn't part of the inquiry. I'm just curious. You can refuse to answer if you don't want to."
"It was and it was just as bad as I thought it would be, even though I've been very lucky."
"Lucky? You just told me you've been kept tied and blindfolded for a week."
"Yes, a week, not never-ending months eating shit, at the mercy of heartless thugs or self-proclaimed soldiers for freedom, justifying their blood-lust with roaring words. I was damn lucky. They didn't beat me, humiliate me or let me starve and make me beg for food."
Angelina felt the emotions he had guarded so well until that moment boiling under his words.
"And that bruise on your face was a gift from a secret admirer, I suppose," she asked.
Terry remembered the episode very well, the voice of the woman who had stopped the hurting hand. "That was an accident," he answered, unsure how to explain his feelings.
"Should you remember something else, this is my phone number," Angelina said, giving her card to Terry, who accepted with a smile. She thought with an inner sigh that it was really a pity that she couldn't see his eyes smiling, too.
Dino was waiting outside Terry's room. Angelina nearly bumped into him on her way out.
"Good evening. How is he?"
"Mr. O'Shea. He looks fine, everything considered. I've just finished hearing his story."
"Will it help in finding his kidnappers?"
"His descriptions were really accurate, but those who took him were very careful to prevent him from knowing too much. It seems they had planned everything with utmost care."
"May I ask you something personal, Miss Duarte?" Dino asked and at Angelina's nod, he continued. "Have you something planned for the evening?"
"Why are you asking?"
"'Cos' since my friend is in capable hands, I'd like to discover Maraus' beauties and why not do this in the company of one of the most important ones?"
"You're flattering me, Mr. O'Shea."
"Dino and, yes, I'm flattering for the obvious reason that you're worth it."
Angelina grinned before replying, "At 8 PM in front of the police station."
"I'll be there."
"Don't be late or you'll find yourself alone."
Another knock at the door and Terry won his personal bet.
"Come in, Mate, and stop playing the Cheshire cat."
"That's highly unfair," Dino complained, closing the door behind his back. "You went on vacation without notice, scaring the shit out of us all, you've been gently discarded in front of the hospital like a rather grown up love-child and now you end up cradled by legions of nice nurses and interrogated by the most gorgeous woman in a police office on this side of the planet. 'Fess up. You had this planned since the beginning."
"Of course. I just hoped you wouldn't show up so soon. Now, tell me, how's the cargo?"
"Back home. He's called every day asking for news. I guess he felt guilty."
"Bullshit! It wasn't his fault."
"That's exactly what I told him and to make him feel better I also assured him that in this case we would have also charged his corporation for this unexpected development." Dino paused, while his expression grew sober. "How do you feel? What did the Doc say?"
"I feel quite fine, just tired, and they told me that if I behave I can continue my recovery out of here, provided that I return every now and then for a check-up."
"What about Maraus' Hilton?"
"Is there a Hilton Hotel here?" Terry asked doubtfully.
"Not a chance, but there's a rather nice hotel not so far from here. It has a swimming pool and a gym. That could help."
"All right. Could you come back tomorrow and fetch me? I don't think I can drive right now."
"Of course. When?"
"OK, Buddy. Don't panic if I'm late. I have a date with a gorgeous law enforcer from Maraus and I don't know what the night might bring."
"Enjoy yourself, old satyr."
"Old? I'm not old," Dino said, mock outrage in his voice, and they both began to laugh out loud.
Still giggling Dino waved good-bye and left the room.
The day after, Dino was right on time for the meeting. Dropping his sunglasses for a while, Terry took a good look at the other man's face, observing him for a while. "You look like a cat that ate an entire eagle, not just a canary," he concluded, grinning.
"Who me?" the redhead asked, feigning ignorance.
"Had a good time?"
"A wonderful time. I'm too much of a gentleman to explain all the details, but..."
"I don't want to know. I don't think I'm strong enough to stand your ravings. Please take your injured partner the hotel."
"All right, injured partner. If knowing the truth about life is too much for you, wouldn't you prefer an old people's home instead?"
"Only if it has a jacuzzi."
"I'm afraid it hasn't."
"So, let's go to the hotel."
"I'm at your command."
The hotel was a strange mixture of Spanish, American and something else, but looked comfortable and Terry found it pleasant. The room Dino had booked for him was wide, comfortably furnished, with a view at the surrounding mountains. Terry wondered for a moment if his prison was somewhere in those green-covered heights. He shuddered, heading to the bathroom. Looking at the jacuzzi dominating the room, Terry grinned.
Later that afternoon, following the doctor's advice to walk to regain his strength, Terry decided to wander outside. Maraus was a busy small town and he was happy to discover that the hotel was in the center of everything important. Walking slowly, he discovered the small stores, the Catholic Church, a fountain in a courtyard where the air smelled of flowers, children's laughter. Having no direction or aim was something new for him and he simply enjoyed the feeling. When he grew tired he stopped at a bench in a park. He sat, stretching his legs in front of him and closed his eyes, letting the spring sun warm his face while a light breeze ruffled his hair. He allowed his mind and body to relax, but just on the verge of sleep, his instinct told him that he was being observed.
Pilar had seen the stranger leaving the hotel. She was happy to see that he looked fine. His steps were slow, but still maintained the cat-like grace she had witnessed before. She followed him as he walked, seemingly without purpose until he reached the park, finally resting in the sun. She situated herself on the lawn right in front of him and took the sketch album out of her bag.
Terry opened his eyes to see a woman seated Indian-style on the grass, drawing. She was very concentrated on her job and he observed her hand moving fast on the paper. After a while she raised her head and their eyes met. She smiled and Terry did the same. He was going to get up and go to her when a gang of kids came running, blocking his way. As the children went away, she was gone.
Returning to the hotel, Terry was puzzled by the unexpected meeting he had earlier. He was sure he didn't know the woman, but there was something in her demeanor that made him think that it wasn't the same for her. He lay on the bed, allowing his body to relax. He felt sleep getting the best of him and he didn't fight the sensation, letting the world melt into darkness.
He woke at the sound of the phone ringing. Startled, he picked up the receiver and muttered something.
"How are you, Dad? I was so worried."
"Henry?" The sound of his son's voice erased all traces of sleep from Terry's mind. "How did you know?"
"Dino told me last week when I wrote you a couple of e-mails and you didn't answer."
"I'm fine. Just a bit tired, but I'm fine. No need to worry."
"Thank God! Mum was going frantic, too."
"Thank her for her concern. I'm going to be back soon. I still don't know exactly when, but I'll be back."
"I'll be waiting for you. Now I have to cut this or your next call will be from the police because Mum clubbed me for staying on the phone so long with another continent."
Henry ended the phone call giggling and Terry couldn't help but smile at the thought of his son calling him in the middle of the night to wish him well. He got up and went to the desk on the other side of the room. He switched on his laptop and when the machine finally booted, he began an internet search for a surprise for his son.
The day after, Terry was sunbathing near the pool. He had swum a little, enjoying the water's cool embrace. Dino had told him once that in another life he must have been a dolphin, to love water so much, while he himself must have been a dromedary, because he just needed water to drink. After a while he grew tired of the sun and decided to take another walk. Maybe the nice artist was back at the park.
Terry returned to the bench, slightly disappointed that she wasn't there.
"The drug must have done something to your brain, Mate," he said to himself. "What did you expect?"
As a matter of fact, a few moments after this discouraging thought, the woman was back, smiling at him, not trying to hide her interest. "Would you take off your sunglasses, Mister? I'd like to draw your eyes if you don't mind," she asked in good English.
He complied and Pilar found herself staring at an arresting pair of aquamarine pools. On the other hand, Terry was looking at a brown gaze that matched her short curly hair.
"Don't you mind that I'm sketching you?" she asked.
"Am I such an interesting subject?"
The woman laughed at his words. "You know you are. I guess you watch yourself in a mirror every now and then."
Terry got up from the bench and walked in her direction. With a few steps he was right in front of her.
"May I have a look?" he asked, ducking to see her work. He was amazed at how she had managed to catch the essential traits of his face, like a true artist.
"Wow, even nicer than the original."
"I'm glad you like it. Now that you're closer, I can continue with the details."
She went on sketching, while Terry sat on the grass next to her. He watched her hand moving quickly on the paper, the light scratching sound mingling with the soft murmurs of the park, the wind through the leaves, a bird song and voices in the distance. As she finished, Terry contemplated his own face on the paper while she was adding a signature. «From Pilar to... »?" she asked' looking at him.
"So, «From Pilar to Terry, in memory of a bright sunny day.»
"Thank you Pilar. This is really beautiful. You're quite an artist. But if you live on your work I think I ought to pay for this."
"Don't worry. I live on my work, but I love making presents when the mood strikes."
"Well, thank you. May I, at least, offer you something to drink?"
"Yes, if you like. Let's go."
She got up with a fluid movement, while the operation took Terry a little more time and effort.
"Problems?" she asked out of guilt.
"I had a little predicament lately, and forgot to take things slow for a while," he added as he stood. He offered her his arm with a courteous gesture and she took it with the exaggerated grace of a patrician woman, while her eyes twinkled in amusement.
While Pilar was leading him to a bar nearby, Terry speculated about their meeting. She had been interested in him, but the reasons for such interest weren't so clear. It would have been flattering to think that this was due to his charms, but something just didn't fit. And a voice inside him kept on telling him that he knew her. At the same time, Pilar was weighing the risks of her action. She knew that she was playing with fire, but she wanted to be sure that he was fine and his skin under her hand was just as warm as she had guessed.
Terry's impression lasted during their chat at the bar. They talked of many things like art, music and movies, but never about the reason for their presence in Maraus, which was surely uncommon for two strangers. It was as if she was deliberately avoiding the subject.
"You eat like a little bird, Terry," she teased him when he chose a lemon sherbet, while she had ordered a giant strawberry and vanilla ice cream. "I would have thought that you were a man of strong appetites."
He gave her a mocking glare, then smiled, answering, "I have to economize if I must pay for your monstrous dessert. Well, jokes apart, my stomach wouldn't forgive me if I indulged in heavy food. I'm still convalescent and it's still a little upside-down."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Really, you didn't? Terry thought and Pilar frowned under his direct gaze.
The woman was thankful to the waiter for being so fast with their ice cream, giving her a chance to avoid direct questions. Under the cotton of the umbrella the light was softer and Terry had taken off his sunglasses. She saw the bruises of the blindfold and had to fight the urge to brush her fingers on his skin.
"You're not from the States, are you?" she asked abruptly.
"No, how did you guess?"
"The way you talk."
"Is my accent so bad?" he demanded, grinning.
"No, exactly the opposite. You speak slower and without chewing the words as some Yankees do. Are you British or what?"
"You're quite far from home."
"Yes, I needed more space."
She laughed at his words. "Your country is nearly a continent and you needed more space? Are you claustrophobic or what?"
"No, just restless. I hate being confined."
Terry looked at her as he spoke and he caught the glimpse he had expected. There were a whole lot of things to discover about her and he was becoming more and more interested. When they had finished eating, they returned to the hotel and Terry thought with a smile that it was the first time a woman had walked him home. They parted at the door and as Terry went in he recognized something about her.
That evening Dino had invited Terry to have dinner with him and Angelina. Terry had tried to refuse, unwilling to play the third wheel, but saying no to his friend seemed just too hard. So, at 8:30 they decided to meet at the hotel restaurant.
Terry was waiting at their table when he saw Dino steering Angelina in his direction. She was just as nice as he remembered, her dark eyes shining and was wearing a deep green, short dress that made every head turn at her passage. He got up to take her hand.
"Good evening, Miss Duarte. I'm happy to meet you again now I've regained my wits."
"The few of them you possess," Dino teased.
"At least I have some," Terry retorted.
Angelina laughed at the friendly banter. "Please don't start a fight. It would be embarrassing for me having to arrest you both as disturbers of the peace."
Terry and Dino joined her in the mirth then sat down. They began to chat and Angelina was happy to be in the company of men so interesting. Dino had a sort of wicked sense of humor, while his friend was more sober, but well equipped for the counterstroke. Watching them in civil clothes it was difficult to guess how different they had to look in action. Dino was slender but she had seen the muscles rippling under his redhead's fair skin. In his classical-casual garb Terry looked civilized, but she remembered his sturdy frame at the hospital.
I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of a knife with one of them, she thought, shivering.
"Are you cold?" Terry asked.
"A little. The air-conditioning in this place must have been designed for polar bears," she said to hide her thoughts, and the two men laughed. Dino took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. She wasn't small, but she nearly disappeared into it.
"Well, this isn't exactly matching my dress, but I feel so much warmer."
"I'm happy that you feel better, but it's really a pity to hide your dress. Should your police department use a picture of you like that, I think they would have no problems finding rookies," Terry said, grinning.
"And with a picture of you both, I guess that the K&R trade could witness an increase in female applications," she countered.
The rest of the evening went on, with the same friendly pattern, the trio chatting, teasing and laughing. After the dessert, Terry excused himself and, confessing his tiredness, he returned to his room. As a matter of fact, he wasn't overly tired, but his mates needed their time together and he, too, wished to be alone to think bout his meeting in the afternoon and about a scent of soap and cleanliness.
Once alone, Dino turned serious and asked, "Did you find out anything about Terry's kidnappers?"
"Unfortunately not yet. They've been very careful to hide their tracks. Terry's descriptions were helpful, but they managed to prevent him from knowing anything useful. While I interrogated him he said something strange. He said he had been lucky."
"He was and he's in the position to know this for sure," was Dino's reply and his voice was deadly serious. "We've been in this trade for years and he's witnessed how captivity can break people's minds and bodies. Terry's kidnappers ought to gain the most fair abductors award. Even the cargo he had come here to rescue was in pretty good shape. To know how to deal with kidnappers you must try and go deep in their minds, to discover the buttons to push for reaching your goal and freeing the hostage, but I don't understand this. After Terry's disappearance, I tried to contact them, but to no avail, and they didn't demand a ransom. They surely knew how valuable he was. I guess they were afraid of him and wanted to be sure he didn't come back for revenge."
"He's a friend of yours, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is. We've saved each other's ass every now and then, but that's not the reason. He's tough and strong, cold as a mountain lion and just as dangerous, but he really cares for the people he's retrieving, not just because of the money. He thinks of them as human beings, not just as figures on a statistic. This is what makes him so good in this job, but is also painful. He's cool when the going gets rough, but his heart still bleeds when he faces mindless brutality toward the innocent or the helpless ones. But,thank God, he's still a fucking bastard when it's needed. If I were in trouble, he'd be the first person I'd call. And after telling me to fuck myself, he'd come in full combat mode to help me get my sorry ass out of trouble."
Angelina was more than happy to see the devilish expression return to Dino's face. He wasn't as handsome as his Aussie friend, but something about his energy made him look really attractive.
"And what about moving your sorry ass now to another place? I'd love to dance. What about you?"
"At your service, Beautiful Damsel. Just show me the way in this starless night and on my shining steed I'll bring you wherever your heart commands."
They got up giggling and left the restaurant.
The next day, Terry was wandering through Maraus' streets, hoping to find Pilar and yet uncertain about his reasons. He didn't know if she would be somewhere near and if she was as smart as she seemed, she would be miles and miles away from him, but he had a hunch that she was around. He felt stronger and his steps were faster and steadier as he headed to the park. He found her seated on the bench where he had been the day before, with her sketch album on her thighs, very concentrated on her work. He smiled, getting closer until he caught a glimpse of what was happening next to her. He saw a man taking advantage of her distraction to steal her bag, but the thief made the wrong move, running directly into Terry's arms. The Aussie tripped him up, grabbing the purse from his grip. The thug turned angrily, a knife in his right hand. Terry assessed the situation and with a quick move disarmed the man, knocking him down. The whole scene had been so fast that Pilar had barely registered the movements. The commander had been right to capture Terry Thorne while he was committed to take care of the hostage and keep him restrained. He was far too dangerous to be left free to act. And now he was next to her, with her bag in his hand and the remainder of his combat mode lingering on his face.
"This is yours. If you have a cell phone we can call the police from here, or find a phone outside the park. The guy won't move for a while."
"No... no...." she stammered, "we don't need to disturb the police. I have my bag back. No reason to disturb them."
Anything wrong with the cops? he asked himself.
"I didn't know you could do something like that," Pilar said, still shocked.
"Really, you didn't?" Terry asked coldly. "Since your friends and you were so careful with me, I guessed you had collected information about me."
Pilar froze at his words. "What do you mean?" she tried to say but his tone told her that he wasn't going to give up so easily.
"Don't insult me by treating me like a simpleton. You know exactly what I mean. I only have one question. Why were you waiting for me yesterday? Didn't you think that I could have recognized you?"
"Yes, but I wanted to be sure that you were fine and from what I've seen here, you are. And now what happens? Are you going to bring me to the police with that gentleman?" she added, pointing at the unfortunate bag-snatcher who was starting to regain consciousness.
"I'm tempted, but I have to think about this," Terry replied and raising her eyes, Pilar saw that he looked puzzled. He grabbed her hand, steering her toward the heart of the park.
As they walked, Terry wasn't sure of his motives. All of a sudden exacting his revenge for the abduction didn't seem so important. Right now what he wanted were answers to the questions this woman had raised. He stopped in the middle of a tree-covered path then headed to a stone-carved bench.
"Why were you concerned about me? I thought I was just another hostage, probably an uncommon one, but still a hostage. Why did you care?"
"Because I do care for the innocent ones and I hate watching innocent people suffering. Don't look at me like that," she added, hurt by Terry's sarcastic expression. "You don't know a thing about me and this country."
"You're wrong. I know a great deal about this place. As a matter of fact, I've been here many times during the years, dealing with kidnappers, so-called rebels, corrupted cops or decent officers trying to protect people despite the problems. I may not know you, but I have eyes to see."
"You see, but you don't know how it is to be loving and hating your land at the same time. You come from a place where you can state a claim against your government. It may be hard but you can. Where people are unlikely to die for lack of food or diseases forgotten in the rest of the world. You come here to do your job and when it's done you just go away. I must stay here. I want to stay here."
"I don't just go away. I see the faces of men and women caught in the struggle for freedom. You may be right but I've witnessed the havoc of your actions and those of people like you wreak upon their lives. I've rescued people afraid even to breathe. I've watched their tired eyes lost in the memories of hell and worse, or crying like babies looking at a clean dish full of food."
Terry stopped speaking as he tried to hide the depths of his feelings from her. He didn't want to show her how much he cared for the cargos, for their shattered souls.
Watching his eyes grow cold as steel, Pilar shivered. She saw the fury lying under the surface and it was frightening. "Did you ever feel guilty for something you have no choice but to do?" she asked. "It's against my nature, depriving someone of freedom, but we had no choice. When you were in that bed, blindfolded and helpless, I wished I could have set you free, apologize and explain the reasons. And I wanted to kiss you, feel the taste of your lips."
At this revelation, the coldness in Terry's eyes changed to a stunned bewilderment. She looked at him, smiling through the tears that had welled up in her eyes.
"The night before your release, I was so tempted to seduce you, willing or not, to forget myself in the warmth of your skin. Instead, I just watched you sleeping and drugged you in order to bring you back without risks."
Terry's eyes were still focused on her face as he asked, "Why didn't you do that?"
"Pride. I prefer being with someone who wants me. not taking advantage of helplessness."
"You're a bit too soft for a terrorist, aren't you?"
"What does it mean 'terrorist', anyway? A terrorist is a rebel who hasn't won yet. Winners write history and a terrorist becomes a revolutionary."
"Don't play with words! I can try and understand your motives, but I still don't think that exacting justice through injustice is the right thing to do." Terry stopped speaking, letting his gaze wander towards the mountains.
"I should have known that you weren't a Yankee," Pilar said, breaking the silence. "Your eyes are so different. You have the eyes of a spell-binder."
Terry chuckled slowly. "How come we were talking of you kidnapping me and why you did it and now you're accusing me of being a wizard?"
"Because of your eyes."
"Maybe. Now, what are you going to do with me? Will you denounce me?"
"What would happen if I did?"
"Nothing pleasant, as you may guess. Female terrorists are a real treat for inquisitors. I'll vanish somewhere and never return. It wouldn't be either the first nor the last time this happens."
"I've known the local officers and they are decent people."
"They may be, but they don't matter more than me. Once in the Secret Police's hands, nothing else matters."
"This is a dirty trick."
"Because you're trying to convince me not to go to the police. You're working on my conscience to let you go free."
"Why shouldn't I? It's my life that's at stake."
"Like mine was not so long ago?"
"Your life wasn't in danger!"
"No? What if I tried an escape and got caught? Would I have been patted on the head and been told, You naughty boy, you must not do this? Or, more likely, I would have been shot and left in the jungle to rot and be lunch for wild animals."
Pilar lowered her eyes without speaking. Terry jumped up from the bench and walked away. The woman stared at him dumb-founded for a minute, then followed him.
"Wait, Terry! Please wait!"
When he didn't stop she grabbed his right arm. He freed himself from her hold so fast that it frightened her.
"What do you want from me now? Why did you come? Go wherever you want before I change my mind. Get the fuck away from here!" he yelled.
"Terry, would you make love to me?" Pilar whispered and Terry froze.
"Are you mad? You don't need to do this. I won't denounce you. You owe me nothing."
"Because I need to believe that this world is a place where decent men protect the harmless and the innocent ones. Because I want you. I need you."
Terry stared at her for a while, at loss of words. When he finally kissed her, his lips were just as soft as she had thought.
Pilar knew that they had walked back to Terry's hotel, but she couldn't have told if they had run or what. She was too mesmerized by the feeling of his hands in hers. She had waited in the hall while he retrieved the keys and as the lift's doors had closed, her heart was beating fast.
"Now you're here," Terry said, nearly whispering. "Did you change your mind? You don't have to do anything you don't want."
"I want this. Please love me."
He replied by proceeding to take off her clothes as if he was unwrapping a long-awaited Christmas present. His large hands, though calloused, were gentle on her skin and she shivered under his touch. She put her arms around his neck, kissing him. He answered in kind, never letting her go until their reality left space for a dream and they both got lost in each other's bodies.
Pilar woke up, her head resting on Terry's chest. He was asleep and she let herself be lulled by the quiet rhythm of his breath. He looked so peaceful that she wished she could be in his dreams with him. A dream of love and peace.
Hours later, Terry found her gone. He hadn't meant to sleep so long, but he was more tired than he had thought. Her scent was still on the pillow, pure and clean as the dream they had shared. He inhaled deeply and smiled.
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