Episode Seven ♦ Questions 

Waking after a fitful night’s sleep, Avinashika queried her Informateur for an update on the previous day’s terrorist attack. The information contained only reassurances of a return to ‘business as usual’ and promises to find those responsible for the crime.

I guess no one was killed; they’d be happy to publicize that.

Dressing in her overalls with the daisy buttons, she skipped her morning coffee preferring to weed the garden and reconnect with the natural world. There was no remorse as she ripped the young dandelions out of the soil – she grew plenty of tastier greens; no volunteers were needed.

If only international politics were so easy.

Rap, rap, rap – knuckles on a door. Since no one had passed her on the garden path, she knew it was not her own and continued with her work.

“Mr. Bennett, I’m Chief Investigator Kreitman and this is Detective Rivers. We understand you and your wife recently took possession of these premises from Willem van de Velde. When was that exactly?”

“Three days ago. Why?”

“We are trying to trace the movements of Mr. van de Velde.”

Avinashika stayed low to the ground and turned towards the porch of Willem’s old home. She was unable to see those talking.

“Our information says you transferred one thousand credits to Mr. van de Velde one week ago.”

“Yes. I understand that’s a normal amount of key money for a place like this.”

“Where is your wife?”

“She’s feeding our baby…”

“Mrs. Bennett, please join your husband at the front door. We need to ask you a question.”

“Is that really necessary?” Tristam objected.

“Don’t worry. Eton was just finishing.” The woman’s placating voice joined the conversation. “That’s a good girl.”

“Did either of you offer any additional compensation to Mr. van de Velde?” A deeper, male voice entered the conversation. It seemed more menacing to Avinashika.

“No, just the thousand credits,” replied the husband.

“And you ma’am?” It was the tenor male voice.

“Tristam took care of all the arrangements.”

“How did you become acquainted with Mr. van de Velde?”

“We really didn’t know him,” Tris responded. “My in-laws run a booth in the market and heard he was looking for someone to take his house when he left. Can’t blame my father-in-law for helping us find our own place – their home was rather cramped.”

“How many times did you meet with the previous resident?”

Tristam answered, “Just once, about an hour after Dad contacted me. I met Willem where Marigold Place meets Sylvan Lane. I followed him here, looked the place over, and transferred the credits. It was quick, but we’ve been looking for some time and I didn’t want to miss the chance.”

“That’s the only time you met?” It was the other voice.

“Oh, and to pick up the key…”

“I see.”

“Did Mr. van de Velde leave any contact information or share with you his travel plans?” The original questioner took up the interrogation again.

“No, just that he was going out west.” Tristam returned.

“I see.” It was the deep voice. “Is there something you wish to share with us Mrs. Bennett?”

There was no reply. It was then that Avinashika noticed her hands supporting her lower abdomen. She released the stress by concentrating on her breathing.

“I have transferred our contact information to your Informateurs.” It was the tenor speaking. “If you should remember anything related to Mr. van de Velde, we ask that you contact us immediately regardless how trivial it might seem.”

“Anything remotely related to Mr. van de Velde,” continued the baritone. “Your comments have been… informative. Good day.”

Oh no, they are coming here next. Avinashika squatted, trembling, but they must have walked the other way down the trail. Images played across her mind: Bubbeh’s oracle, her recent dreams, the disappearance of politically active friends. She forced the panic down with slow, deep breaths and cleared her mind. Rising to her feet, she reentered her home.

She started dropping items into a cloth sack – cheese, bread, apples. Then changed out of her gardening clothes into denim slacks and layered the dark cotton blouse over a T-shirt over her bra. She grabbed a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, and a couple extra changes of undergarments and stuffed them in the bag before putting on a pair of walking shoes and a navy, medium-weight jacket. Last she picked up a wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl, coral, and lapis lazuli.

Closing the door to her home, Avinashika made her way through the garden into the grazing area of a neighbor’s pair of goats, between some houses, and onto a different track towards a more distant tram stop. By going this route she hoped she would be less likely to run into someone she knew.

♦ ♦ ♦

 Luis stood on the Unity Plaza Station platform listening to “Neptune, the Mystic” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. The music stopped mid motif.

“This special bulletin is being released by the Office of Investigative Services for the Middle District of the Northwest Atlantic Sector of the Industrial Confederation. Your attention to this matter is required.”

Looking up, Luis noted the mural’s artistic design was replaced by an agency logo repeated down the length of the platform.

“Investigators seek any information related to the movements and whereabouts of Willem van de Velde, most recently of the East Hartfield Free Settlement Area. Mr. van de Velde is believed to have information critical to the investigation of recent terrorist activities against communication infrastructure in the district. Residents with information about Mr. van de Velde’s movements are required to contact the Office of Investigative Services or their local constabulary immediately. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution, a fine, and possible confinement.”

Having finished the final movement of The Planets, the Informateur restarted the symphony with “Mars, the Bringer of War.” Luis struggled for breath as Willem’s picture remained on the wall with an ‘If you have seen this man…’ message and contact information. But for the coaxing movement of the crowd surrounding him, he would have remained transfixed where he stood. The image persisted in his mind as he reached for a hanging strap. The train glided out of the station.

Luis thought, “Status Willem.”

“Status unavailable.” No information about Willem’s location was provided.

“Leave message, ‘Call me’.”

“Messaging capabilities with this account are currently inactive. No message left,” the system returned.

That is very strange.

Should I contact the Office of Investigative Services before talking with Willem? If so, what do I say? We ate a meal together a few days ago. He said he was leaving for the West. I don’t know if he’s even left yet. He might be going to Memphis, Norleans, Saint Louis. I have to share this information with investigators.

Then he pealed off the questions he would ask someone who volunteered such meaningless details: How long have you known him? What is the nature of your relationship? Why didn’t you ask him about his plans? What information are you hiding from us?

Maybe I should not come forth, at least not until I have thought this through better. Yes, if I organize my thoughts…

This provided a sense of comfort, but he knew they would come to him.

No, it’s always better to go to them. I could go to the precinct in Roseville Station. No, not a good idea. It would be better to go to the Office of Investigative Services tomorrow in Hartfield. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

“Approaching Roseville Station in one minute. Thirty-three credits will be deducted from your account when you leave the station.” The inorganic thought scratched the layer just below Luis’ consciousness.

He started walking towards the train’s door.

A hand rested on his shoulder. “No. Don’t get off here.” The woman’s voice came from behind him.

Surely, if it’s them, they would be escorting me off the train.

She continued, “There are some seats behind us. Come.”

Luis wondered if it was safe to turn around, but nothing in the voice nor the touch had increased his fear. On the contrary, it was calming, soothing.

He followed the woman. She was almost his height with straight, black hair flowing down to her shoulders. Her dark jacket – while a bit warmish for this time of year – and dark, indigo jeans only revealed that she was not obese.

She ducked into a pair of open seats facing in the direction of travel. He caught her profile and immediately recognized her Indian features. “Avina…”

“Shhh. Play some music. We’re going to need to change at Brockton.”

“You don’t think he…”

“I don’t know what to think — it’s best not to — not just now.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Avinashika walked down the Brockton Station platform in silence. Luis followed her lead while attempting to concentrate on Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2. Avinashika looked around; no one was near. She sat on a bench. He joined her.

“Stop music,” he thought to the Informateur sensing she wanted to talk.

“Through trains stop here. I think it’s best we go north,” she declared.

“I don’t understand.” Luis’ panic had long since given way to confusion.

“Two investigators questioned the new people in Willem’s home this morning. It’s only a matter of time before they come for us.”

“Why? They probably know everything we know.”

“Yes, but they still need to see our reactions, our body language.” She removed an apple from her bag and held it out to him.

He waved it off. “You think he was involved?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I know his politics were…”

She cut him off. “Don’t go there. Listen, as far as I know, he was closer to us than anyone. Even though he told me almost nothing about his plans… Did he tell you he was leaving the morning after you came to lunch?”

Luis shook his head. “I thought he was still at home.”

“I don’t understand why, but he didn’t want us to know details. We both know he was funny that way, and it just won’t past the smell test,” she tapped her forefinger aside her nose, “if you know what I mean.”

“But I have nothing to hide.”

“I take it you don’t know many people who have been active against the government.”

“No. I do not move in such circles.”

“People disappear.”

“But I have nothing to hide,” he insisted.

“Luis, please understand that whatever you two mean to each other…”

Now he interrupted, “We have only ever been friends.”

“It doesn’t matter. Willem knew lots of people. He slept with lots of people. It’s not important.”

Luis was dubious but kept his mouth shut.

“I think I might be pregnant.” She put her hand on her abdomen. “If I am, I’m carrying Willem’s child.”

♦ ♦ ♦