Episode Ten ♦ Stone 

Cordella handed the canister to Avinashika. “It’s a compound with something to relax and something else to help you sleep. All you have to do is take a deep breath and hold it in for thirty seconds. You should sleep until you get to Ugo, but in case you don’t, remember we’ll be transferring you to someone else.”

Though Avinashika took the can, she held it a minute before asking, “Why can’t we see where we are going?”

“Ugo doesn’t allow it,” Cordella said. “I promise it won’t harm you.”

“And my baby?”

“How far along are you?”

“A couple days…”

“You will be fine, dear.”

Luis stood. Pa countered. The man’s overwhelming physical presence scuttled Luis’ resolve. He returned to his seat.

“It’s okay Luis.” Avinashika spoke with resignation. “If this is what I need to do to get to Ugo, then I’ll do it.” She put the breathing cup over her nose and mouth, started a deep breath, and released a dose of the aerosol. She continued to breathe in until her lungs were full, then rested her head against the bulkhead.

Luis tried to wipe some non-existent goo from his fingers as he contemplated his options. He wanted to go home.

Letting out the long breath, Avinashika held up the canister for Luis and said, “It seems okay. I just feel relaxed.”

“That’s right.” Cordella nodded. “It won’t hurt you.”

Pa asked, “So what’s it going to be, son?”

“Can I just go home?”

As if conspiring against him all three said, “No.”

“You’ve come too far,” continued Cordella.

“We can do this the hard way,” said Pa.

Luis’ chest felt tight. He needed an escape, but understood there was no way out of the moving vehicle. He thought, “Override operational control of this vehicle.”

“Operational control currently assigned. All systems functioning normally. Override operational control not permitted,” the system returned.

Pa was in control: his gaze was stern, unflinching.

Luis grabbed for the can. “Give it to me.” Avinashika’s eyelids drooped. He turned away from her and put the cup to his face.

“And remember, we’ll be transferring you along the way,” Cordella said again as Pa returned to his seat. “Don’t worry if you wake up and there is something on your head. They’ve got to shield it so that your Informateurs can’t be tracked.”

“Who’s they?” Avinashika said, her speech slurred.

Luis could feel the drug taking affect. His fear evaporated. He felt warm and comfortable. He set the canister on the bench next to him and looked out the window. Farms covered the rolling hills zipping by, a hint of the Appalachians in the distance. A vehicle heading towards them blurred past on a second beam. His head nodded as he tried to fight off the overwhelming need to sleep. Why didn’t I…last night? Comfortable bed.

“Play Mozart, Twelve Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, Maman’…”

The music started as the drug overwhelmed his resistance.

♦ ♦ ♦

Luis was sure he was flying. But unlike his usual dreams of flight he could not see buildings, trees and grass, and gently rolling hills below him; he could only see blue sky and an occasional cloud.

“You’re absolutely sure these are the right ones.”

“Yup. I mean, how many sleeping Indian women do we see out here?”

“Well, I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“And we just put them in a mine car? Why no helmet?”

“This shaft is long but the grade is shallow. Someone will take care of that down below.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

“So how long you been with Ugo anyways?”

“Couple years. Why?”

“Just curious.”

“Well, sometimes being ‘just curious’ gets a guy in trouble. I mean, you ask too many questions.”

“Okay. Okay. Just making small talk.”

“On the count of three.”

“One. Two. Three.”

Thud.

Luis started to drift again. The blue sky went black and stars shot by.

♦ ♦ ♦

The room was cold and dark. Luis lay on his back staring up at a bulb in a caged recession in the ceiling. While bright, its light was eaten by the space.

He sat upright, feet on the floor, and stretched his shoulders and back. The light formed a meter-wide puddle on the floor in front of his leather shoes. The floor appeared to be smoothed stone. The focus of the light made it difficult to see anything in the shadows surrounding it.

Thinking back to Cordella and Pa and traveling along The Track, Luis remembered breathing in something that made him sleepy. But between then and now his memory was muddled by dreams.

He stood feeling well-rested. Unable to see the black surface of the walls he started to investigate them with his fingers. The walls were rough and irregular with an occasional ridge or crack. They reminded him of the stonework on the ground floor of the bank building where he worked. He understood the room was hewn out of stone. I must be underground someplace. Wait. Didn’t I dream something about a mine? Maybe this is a mine.

His hands traced the cold rock walls until the feeling changed; the new surface felt like sand had stuck to the finish. He tapped it with his fingertips and it gave a faint ping. It’s metal. A door? Hands running over the surface, he was able to delineate its width but unable to find a knob or release.

Pounding on the metal surface with the side of his right fist, Luis called, “Hello! I’m awake. Can you let me out now?” He waited a minute and hammered three more times. “Hello?”

“Please sit on the cot. I’ll notify your handler you’re awake.” The voice was unusual. Instead of coming from inside his head, it crackled from somewhere in the room. He looked around to reassure himself he was alone.

He beat on the door some more. “Please. Let me out!” He thumped and hollered but no one responded. He continued pounding on the door until the heels of his hands hurt. It was futile: it was time to follow directions.

Within a minute of sitting down, another voice crackled in the room. “Who are you and why are you here?”

“I am Luis Antas. I am with a friend who is looking for someone.”

“What friend?” The voice was a woman’s.

“Avinashika…” Damn, Willem never told me... “Uh, I do not know her surname.”

“Who’s Avinashika looking for?” The voice was cold, dispassionate.

“Someone named Ugo. That is all I know.”

“Why’s she looking for Ugo?”

“I do not know.”

“I see.”

Luis stood. “Where am I? Are you with Investigative Services?”

“I’ll ask the questions. That’s all I have for now.”

“Is Avinashika okay?”

No reply came.

What has she gotten me into? I wanted to go home. Pfft. She was worried about prison. Look where we are. I should have known better. I should have gone my own way this morning.

“Play Debussy, Prélude à l'apres-midi d'un faune.”

Nothing happened.

“News.”

Silence.

“Informateur status.”

No response.

It’s not working? How far underground am I? Luis sat on the cot feeling captivity closing in.

“Hello? I am thirsty. Can I have something to drink?”

Silence. Though he listened, he could make out no sound other than his own breathing. No, this is not a prison. It’s too quiet. Luis stood and started to pace between the cot and the door. Pounding on the door is no use. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

No response.

He lay on the cot and started to hum “Muzetta’s Waltz.” Time drifted without meaning.

“Please remain on your cot.” It was the questioner’s voice.

Metal grated against metal. Luis cringed as he looked towards the door. He saw nothing.

Thud. Something fell on the stone floor near the door. Again, the metal grated on metal.

After a short delay the questioner said, “I’ve provided you with some pomegranate juice and a sandwich. We’ll talk again after you’ve eaten.”

“Thank you.”

That was stupid. I thanked someone who is keeping me locked up. Luis rose and walked to the opposite corner of the room. His foot knocked over a liter plastic bottle. That was lucky! I might have stepped on the sandwich. Bending over, he fumbled around the dark corner for the bottle and plastic bag. Under the light he examined them both closely. Looks like they are factory-sealed. I guess they are safe. Not much else they can do to me at this point.

He sat on the cot. His side itched. What is this? Setting the bottle and bag on the bed, he stood under the light. A heavy sweater covered his shirt. Where did this come from?

 After a good scratch, Luis returned to the cot and picked up the sandwich. He tore open the plastic bag with his teeth and instantly noticed the delicious aromas mingling: ham, brie, mustard, and onion. A dart of his tongue over his lip and he was alerted to his hunger. Pushing the sandwich out of the bag’s opening, he took an oversized bite. The flavors were intense. He sensed a bit of horseradish in the mustard. The bread was an old world white, chewy, with a substantial crust. He swallowed and took another bite.

Oh this is good. He held the sandwich in his left hand and picked up the bottle in his right. Flicking the sealing catch with his thumb, he popped open the top and poured the cool liquid into his mouth. He was thirsty. Having downed a quarter of the bottle, he continued eating the sandwich. I wonder if I can get another of these.

“Thank you. This really hits the spot.”

“You’re welcome,” crackled a voice.

Though he was hungry, he tried not to rush. Better not ask for more. It’s impolite. He continued with the hearty sandwich and took a sip of juice. I need to save some for later.

He ate and pondered where he might be. The Appalachians were mined heavily a few centuries back. Is this an abandoned mineshaft? That seems unlikely. Maybe it’s a government bunker? Why would they bring me here?

Or maybe they are not De Authoriteit? Do they work for this Ugo person? I wish someone would tell me who Ugo is. Why is it so important she speak with him? Well, if this is how he treats his guests…

Luis finished the sandwich, took a final sip and set the juice bottle on the floor. Feeling a bit sleepy, he lay back on the cot, his left foot resting on the floor. He drifted off.

♦ ♦ ♦

“Help me! I can’t breathe! Help!” Luis struggled. He grabbed at the thing on his face. His arms would not leave his sides. He attempted to kick his feet. They too were immobile. “Let me go!” His words were muffled.

A pillow was removed from his face. “Why do you seek Ugo?”

♦ ♦ ♦