Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Music is the heart and soul of the world
Music is the light and vision in the distance
Music is the flower on the mountain.
Through dark nights and the brightest of days,
Music is the unwavering companion
Music is a lyrical melody
That moves you to a rhapsody,
Relaxes the mind and sets you free.
Music makes the days go by.
Absorb the sound to keep you going,
Take away all your worries,
And all your cares
Even when sound goes dark,
Music will be right there
Music is the joy of the world
Music is a rhapsody, a melody, an epiphany
Music is life
Music is a saviour
Turn up the music...
Wow, spring is here and so am I,
The winter has been good, I slept, I stretched, I grew strong, I survived
My roots reached right down and I was as warm as your blanket was,
Now I spread my leaves and my flowers are up decorating
The land, The landscape, The life, Your life
Since time immemorial.
I was here before you all, now you are trying to exterminate me.
Pulling me up heartlessly, hacking me out
Like that ladylike lady, so kind to everyone but me.
Now here comes this fatherly father with his lawnmower
I thought the death sentence was no longer here
I guess I am wrong
When the frost comes on strong
When your tulips fail
When the marigold gives up because of a little frost
When the "perennial" and the "annual" have depleted your income
When the garden is bare, I'll be there
I celebrate life, hardy, headstrong, hopeful
I shall survive no matter what
The sun shone with a cold flame
From the upper reaches of the sky, they came-
An invading army, unyielding, uncompromising,
That covered everything within their path.
They fell from the sky in twos and threes,
Unique in their beauty and ferocity.
The people below rejoiced at their coming-
Save for one, for only he knew their terrible secret.
Their presence would cause an irrevocable change-
That would make even the oldest of people,
Careen with reckless abandon down the steepest slopes,
With naught but flimsy instruments.
Their presence would allow the creation-
Of the most intricate, yet fleeting of monuments.
The little ones would gather them,
And fling them with great force at each other.
They brought no tidings of comfort and joy at all,
It was not simply the first snowfall.
It was the darkest afternoon of the year.
Monday, December 7, 2009
The day was clear and crisp,
The sun shone with a cold flame
From the upper reaches of the sky, they came-
An invading army, unyielding, uncompromising,
That covered everything within their path.
They fell from the sky in twos and threes,
Unique in their beauty and ferocity.
The people below rejoiced at their coming-
And their presence would cause an irrevocable change-
That would make even the oldest of people,
Careen with reckless abandon down the steepest slopes,
With naught but flimsy instruments.
Their presence would allow the creation-
Of the most intricate and temporary monuments.
The little ones would gather them,
And fling them at each other with glee.
They would bring tidings of comfort and joy to all,
It was not simply the first snowfall.
It was the brightest afternoon of the year.
Epilogue – You Say You Want a Resolution?
In which our hero having finally began to make something of himself meets a blast from his past who makes him a shocking offer
"If I told you things I did before
told you how I used to be
would you go along with someone like me?
if you knew my story word for word
had all of my history
would you go along with someone like me?"
"I did before and had my share
it didn't lead nowhere
I would go along with someone like you
it doesn't matter what you did
who you were hanging with
we could stick around and see this night through"
Peter Bjorn and John, "Young Folks"
5 years later...
Time is a harsh mistress. Nothing ever goes as planned. Doing the right thing is difficult. Juldeh had learned these lessons the hard way over the course of his young life, but finally after a difficult period in his life, things were starting to get better. He was standing on a beach in Borneo gazing at the slowly setting sun go down over the horizon. The sand on the beach was immaculately white, and the water was a clear shade of blue that looked almost translucent. He was wearing a white, pressed cotton shirt, dark brown khaki shorts, and a battered, but still stylish fedora on his head. His feet were bare and he stood at the edge of the water as the tide washed in and out. He stared out into the ocean, deep in thought at the tiny sailing ships that dotted the horizon.
He let the solitude wash over him, but his reverie was rudely broken by a loud voice. He was startled, because it sounded like his name, but no one knew him by that moniker anymore. He had reinvented himself and went by the name Jules now. That was who he was. He turned around slowly and saw a figure striding purposefully toward him. Eventually, the figure broke out into a run, and enveloped him in a great big hug. Juldeh had to shift his weight to prevent himself from falling, but eventually he hugged back.
"Nice to see you too, Stella?"
Stella took a step back and took a good look at Juldeh.
"You've changed quite a bit, since London. You're all grown up, now. You look great. I like your hat." She took the hat and put it on. "How do I look?"
He smiled, and said "Thanks for the compliments. You look great yourself as always. Although in your case, I've seen a lot more of you than you have of me. Those postcards kept me going through some very rough times. Thanks for that. You know, I still have all the postcards you've ever sent. It's now quite a collection."
Stella blushed prettily, and replied "I'm glad I could help. That was always my goal. To help you."
He looked at his watch. It was the same one she had given him all those years earlier, and it still worked like a charm. He had never even had to change the batteries. It was a question that had always lingered in the back of his mind."
"How do you always seem to know where I am at any given time?" he asked casually.
She had a 'cat that licked the cream' look on her face and replied bashfully, "it's a long story." She held out her hand and after a pause, he took it and she gave it a tiny squeeze. "I'll explain it over dinner. It'll be my treat. We can take my car. It's parked over by the pier. It'll save you the walk."
They walked hand in hand to her Toyota RAV4 SUV and drove in silence to the Hilton hotel and walked into the restaurant close to the hotel lobby.
The restaurant was almost full, but the manager brightened when he saw her. He was a weaselly looking man with beady eyes, a weak chin, and a nasally voice.
"Why Hello Ms. Chen," he said ingratiatingly. "Table for two?"
She nodded curtly.
"Right this way."
He led them to the back of the restaurant to a table that had just been set up for them. He signalled rudely to the waiters to bring the menus.
"If you need anything at all, anything, just ask and I will personally make sure it gets done."
Stella turned towards him, and said "actually, we'd like to be left alone for at least the next hour. Be a dear and ensure we do not get disturbed. When we're ready to be served, you'll know."
"Of course, Ms. Chen. Anything you say."
He half-walked, half-ran to the back of the restaurant leaving them both alone.
Stella took a sip of her water and focused her attention back towards Juldeh.
"So what exactly are you doing here, my friend?" she asked.
"We're not here to talk about me, Stella, but I'll humor you even though you probably already know this. I'm here as part of my medical training. Uncle Sam is paying my tuition and part of paying him back is working in exotic locales such as this." His eyes brightened as he continued "It's been an eye opening experience. I could never be a for-profit Doctor ever again. Seeing all the good I'm doing here, among the people who need it the most has showed me that I can carve a different path for myself. I'm already in talks with Doctors without Borders. They have a position available for me after I finish Medical School."
Stella chuckled and Juldeh was offended by that.
"I didn't realize I was being amusing, but I guess we can't be all like you and bestride the narrow world like colossuses among the mere mortals," he retorted.
"Calm down. There's no need to be so melodramatic. I wasn't laughing at you. I was just thinking of what my first impression of you was when we met all those years ago. Do you want to know what it was?"
"Yes, please enlighten me."
"Honestly. I thought you too perfect. You were so selfless, so devoted to everyone's feelings but your own. You seemed too good to be true. And now here you are, telling me that if anything, I underestimated your degree of perfection. You're willing to give up a lucrative career to live among the poorest of the poor with no regard for your own well-being. It's enough to make anyone wonder if they can ever live up to your standards. If you were fictional, you'd be a pretty unbelievable character. One of those characters who comes about because a novice author identified too strongly with a protagonist. Have you ever done anything selfish; have you ever done anything just for yourself, because you wanted to and without thinking of anyone else?"
Juldeh looked on impassively, and said "are you done? Because we're not here to psychoanalyze me, and if you're going to insult me, maybe I should leave."
"There you go again, being perfect. You couldn't even give me the satisfaction of seeing you angry."
"I'm not perfect, Stella. For one thing, I've never been a take charge person. I always just let life happen to me, not the other way around. I'm trying to remedy that. Once again, we're not here to talk about me. You had something you wanted to tell me, remember?"
"So how are your brothers doing? When did you last see them?"
Juldeh averted his eyes from hers and mumbled "I really am not perfect. I haven't seen them in over a year. It's hard sometimes to look them in the eye when I feel like I abandoned them, but they're doing well." He fixed his gaze back on hers. "You're stalling me again. We're not here to talk about me, and what do you want from me anyway? Why are you here? I know you. Whenever you show up, everything in my life goes to hell. Trouble follows you wherever you go, but it never seems to touch you. And whatever happened to your father?"
She looked somewhat pained, but the look quickly passed.
"He and I are destined to do our little dance forever. He's the Joker to my Batman. The Lex Luthor to my Superman. The villain to my hero. At least I think I'm the hero in all this ghastly business. We've been after each other since he escaped from Ghana, but we've each stayed a step ahead of the other. My only regret in my life is that I never shot the devil in the back when I had a chance. I won't make that mistake again. But enough of my father. He's not important."
"If you want to play dice with your life, that's your choice, but I still don't know how you seem to always know where I am."
She sighed and said, "For someone so smart, you're really not very observant. She took his hand and touched his watch.
"That's a very nice watch. I wonder who gave it to you."
He looked at her like she'd gone soft in the head. "Stella, if I remember correctly, you gave it to...oh" he trailed off. "Of course. It all makes sense now. And does this have anything to do with your invention and why I've never needed to change the battery since you gave it to me."
She shrugged, "I'm too modest to boast, but let's just say that people are willing to pay a lot of money for a battery that's powered by body heat. The very act of using it keeps it going. It's brought me in contact with the kinds of people the rest of the world never sees, but I'm too modest to boast."
She seemed pleased that he looked sufficiently impressed.
"I know that you're a genius. Big deal. What do you want from me?"
"I have a simple proposition."
Juldeh shook his head. "Not this again. The last time you told me that, I went on a 4 country, 6 month rollercoaster. I just got into a stable situation. I'd really like to keep it that way. Don't do this to me. Not again."
"Hear me out. Don't be so hasty. I'll get right into it. I'm trying to circumvent the globe in record time, and I don't want to do it alone. What can I say? I'm getting bored with myself, and I always remember you being good company. If you say yes, we'll start in a month. If you say no, I leave after dinner, you go back to your boring, by the books existence, and I keep sending you my postcards. Whatcha say? Will you come along with someone like me?"
Juldeh couldn't really believe what he was hearing. A part of him wanted to tell her to get lost, but another part of him was wholly intrigued. This could be a very interesting adventure. Ever since he'd left Stella in London all those years ago and moved to Virginia, he'd tried to keep as bland an existence as he could. A part of him however always remembered that one of the only times he'd ever really felt alive was breaking into Wednesday's office with Stella. He knew his mind was being clouded by the scent of her perfume, but he found himself saying "Why not? I'll have plenty of time to live the rest of my life, but this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But I have few conditions."
She smirked, "not this again."
"First, we have to be real partners. I'm no one's lackey."
"And I don't expect you to be. What else you got?"
"I have to see my brothers before we begin. I'm sure you know where they are and can arrange a quick way to do that."
She sighed, "You drive a mean bargain Mr. Holland, but I think I can accommodate that. Anything else?" She signalled to the waiters and they arrived with platters of food.
"Those seem enough for now. My field work is over in a week, but I'm sure you already planned for that. So what do we do between then and the trip."
She looked at him and said, "You and I can spend some time together, away from all the weirdness that has characterized our earlier meetings. What do you think of that?"
"I'd actually like that," he surprised himself again by saying.
"Excellent." She rubbed her hands together in a mock sinister fashion and he smiled an enigmatic smile at her. He began to dig in to the delectable dinner that had been laid out in front of them.
He couldn't believe that he'd agreed to it, but he knew that no matter what happened, he wouldn't regret it. He would have plenty of time after that to fulfill all the goals he had for his life, but for now, he was just going to enjoy her company and try and enjoy life to the fullest.
They ate in comfortable silence broken by the occasional remark and witty retort. After they were done, the manager magically appeared by their table.
"Was everything to your liking, Ms. Chen?"
"Yes it was," she replied. "You've earned your generous tip." He took the money greedily and smiled his ingratiating smile again.
"Thank you Ms. Chen. We hope to see you again."
She got up, and he followed suit.
"I'm staying in the VIP suite upstairs. Do you want to join me? It's probably more comfortable than your current living arrangement." He nodded.
She held out her hand, he took it and in the same fluid motion put on his fedora so that it was almost covering his eyes. It gave him a dangerous, mysterious quality. "I think a walk on the beach would be a good idea," he said. "Don't you agree?"
She nodded her head and hand in hand, they walked out of the hotel, into the moonlight and the start of a new adventure.
Chapter 8 – Reunions
In which our young hero is forced to make a very difficult decision, meets his brothers, and gets his heart broken
You thought I was down.
You thought I was gone.
Thought I wasn't around.
Thought I left you alone.
But look up in the sky.
Just look up in the sky.
See that I'm everywhere
Shining down on you.
Lupe Fiasco – Shining Down
Juldeh had learned by experience that the most important element of any plan was simplicity. He didn't share Stella's flair for improvisation, so he would have to ensure everything was perfectly in place before he made any moves. He was sustained, however by his burning desire to meet his brothers. This was his only motivation. It was his reason for existence. He knew he'd eventually have to start worrying about his education, his future and what he had to do with the rest of his life. He also knew that he couldn't live with Shuttlesworth forever, but these were minor concerns. He was so very close, yet felt so far away. Now that he had come this far, his only thoughts were of his planned reunions.
The next two weeks were spent researching and finding as much information about his brother's adoptive parents as he could. Shuttlesworth was an invaluable asset. In the basement of this quaint looking house was a sprawling network of computers that was a marvellous sight to behold, and Juldeh had stood slack jawed the first time he'd seen it. Shuttlesworth looked at him and simply said, "I'm in the information business, my friend," and with that, they went to work.
Jonas and Suzanna Van't Wout lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was a Professor of Medical Science at Dalhousie University, and she was an Architect at a prestigious firm. He was 55, she was 47, and they were both real law and order types, without even a parking ticket between the two of them. They had no significant debts. Their house and all their possessions were fully paid for, and they both had the most spotless professional backgrounds Shuttlesworth had ever seen. Their personal lives were also almost equally as spotless and there were almost no skeletons in their closets. Neither was religious, but they both contributed significant amounts to charity, and did occasional eco-tourism. The only dark spot on their records was that based on her medical files Suzanna had had a botched abortion when she was 21, rendering her sterile. Jonas's only secret was a DUI arrest he'd had as a 17 year old. No one had been hurt, however and their adult lives were largely free of taint.
According to the publically available information they'd registered with the government, they had twin sons they'd adopted a little more than 2 years previously from Nigeria. According to Shuttlesworth there were significant irregularities with the adoption papers, and they would not stand up to harsh sctrutiny. Juldeh saw the pictures of his brothers, and the little blurb that went with their adoption papers. The biographies were clearly false, and stated that their parents had died of AIDS and that they had no other siblings. He felt sickened at how cheaply the memories and legacies of his parents had been twisted and deformed and how easily he had been erased from existence, but he managed to regain control of his emotions and continue poring through the mountains of information that Shuttlesworth kept spitting out of his computers.
He also learned as much of his brother's lives since he'd last seen them. They were both clearly intelligent and got excellent grades in the private school they attended. The comments from their teachers were all uniformly positive, and it was clear that they were both well balanced and happy boys.
All this information was very conflicting to Juldeh. On the one hand, he was extremely elated to see that his brothers were doing so well and had a loving family with well adjusted guardians. But on the other hand, they were his brothers, and he had promised to take care of them. He wasn't enthusiastic about being a source of upheaval to what was clearly a stable situation, but he had always being one to fulfill his promises, and he would not fail in this one.
The information gathering sessions had taken much longer and had been more difficult than he had anticipated, but after two weeks, he thought he'd had enough. He spent a few days gathering the evidence that was sure to prove his relation to his brothers. He had their birth certificates, countless photos and other official documents which Stella had sent along with a new postcard of her in Egypt standing in front of the Sphinx. She looked as good as she always did, but Juldeh barely took any notice. He was more worried about what would happen to him if things didn't go as planned. He felt fearful for his safety because he wasn't sure how the Van't Wouts would react, but what he did know was that if he was going to make such an explosive allegation, he'd better have impeccable proof.
He spent the next few days screwing up his courage to make the call to the Van't Wouts.. He'd gone over in his head countless times the script that he was going to use when he finally made the call. He'd even written two versions depending on whether Mr or Mrs. Van't Wout answered, but when he finally picked up the phone, dialled the number and got Mrs. Van't Wout on the line, the words tumbled out of him with no rhyme or reason. Mrs. Van't Wout initially thought it was a prank call, but after the third time he called, and he described a few of his brothers' birthmarks, she finally decided that this was a serious matter. She tearfully begged for a few days to discuss this with her husband and asked him to call again at a specific time.
Juldeh was feeling impatient, but he acquiesced to her request since she seemed so shaken by the news. It was only fair, he thought. He didn't feel comfortable bringing their lives crashing down around them, but blood was much thicker than water, and so he felt he had no choice.
Three days later, he managed to reach them both at the same time, and they proceeded to have one of the most painful, most awkward, and most difficult conversations he'd ever been involved in. Mrs. Van't Wout cried her way through the entire call, and Mr. Van't Wout after initially trying to bluster his way through the problem, quickly decided that silence was a better option after Juldeh pointed out a few of the irregularities in their adoption papers and detailed the copious amounts of proof that he had that would surely prove he was telling the truth. Their promises of money if he would leave them alone, had raised his ire, and only stiffened his resolve.
"This isn't about money, I'm afraid. It's about family, and a promise I made to my brothers."
Jonas had sighed deeply, seeing clearly the difficult position he was in.
"What do you want us to do then? Whatever you want, we'll do it, just please don't take our boys away from us."
"At the moment, all I want is a chance to meet you, and to see my brothers again. I'll send you the arrangements for the meeting in a week. You may not believe me when I say this, but I'm really sorry. I never would have wanted this to happen. You seem like good people, but I'm sorry. I never break my promises."
Suzanna launched into a fresh round of sobs when he said that, and so he quickly put the phone back on the hook. He let out his breath. He hadn't even realized he'd been holding it in, but the conversation had shaken him far more than he'd thought it would. He'd always been certain of the morality of what he was doing, but for the first time in his life, he felt like a villain. Did he really have the right to bring such pain and suffering into the lives of others? Wasn't his brothers' happiness the most paramount parameter in this dilemma? It was to him, but so was the fact that he'd promised them and his parents that he'd watch over them forever. Maybe, he thought, if you loved someone enough, then you had to know when to let them go. Maybe he'd let his rigidity cloud him from the truth. All these thoughts flitted through his mind, and made the next few days of sleep almost impossible. He was haunted by nightmares in which his parents, their faces bloody and lacerated, admonished him for failing in his duties to be a guardian to his brothers. When he finally came to a decision after almost three sleepless nights, he cried like he'd never cried before. He knew what he had to do. He really had only one choice, and he hoped to God, that it was the right one, but before he did, he had one more task.
Two days later
Halifax, Nova Scotia
20 Moon Crescent
Juldeh felt out of place standing in front of the Van't Wout's residence but he knew that if he didn't do this, he'd never be fully comfortable with his choide. He had travelled to Nova Scotia with the help of Natasha, and they'd both deadheaded to Halifax. She'd been very happy to see him, but he really hadn't made very good company. She was on her way to Halifax to visit some family, and she'd invited him to join her. He'd politely declined, and he could clearly see that he was disappointed. His heart, however, was too heavy to care.
Meanwhile, Stella had sent three more postcards. In one, she was in Tanzania climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the other, she was on a raft looking over the Victoria Falls, and in the final one she was on a Safari in Botswana, with a majestic specimen of a Lion in the background. Juldeh wondered again how she could afford all this globetrotting, but then realized that she would only ever tell him as much as she wanted to. In due time, he would probably learn her history, but at present, that was not his main concern. More importantly to him, Shuttlesworth had given him a black credit card just before he left for Halifax. He knew nothing about the city, but with the credit card and the information he had in his pocket, Shuttlesworth had promised him that he'd be fine.
With calm that he didn't quite feel, he'd walked with Natasha through customs, said a quick goodbye to her and took the longest cab drive of his life to a motel about a 20 minute walk from the Van't Wouts. He'd been lucky that they didn't live very far from the airport. That was about the only lucky thing that he felt had happened to him. He wasn't even sure what he was doing, but he knew that he had to see how his brothers lived and how they were being treated.
He'd walked carefully through the deserted streets of the preppy neighbourhood with a black carry-all slung across his shoulders. He was dressed in dark pants, a black sweater and black running shoes. He certainly looked suspicious, but he didn't care. He was not going to be here for long. Even though it was almost 9pm, the air was still warm and had a hint of moisture in it. He walked methodically until he came upon the Van't Wout's residence. He took a position across from the house, and removed the high powered camera from his carry-all. Along with this, he also took out a sound enhancer and trained both of them on the house. He stayed in this position, scarcely moving, scarcely breathing until the house went dark. He then put the equipment back in the carry-all and made the lonely trek back to his motel. He did this every night for a week, considering himself lucky that he never had to deal with the law. But with the knowledge he'd gained, he felt that his decision was now much more informed, and while it was never possible to be completely sure, he felt more comfortable and at ease with his decision. He would do what was in everyone's best interests.
One week later...
Juldeh made sure to arrive early for the meeting and he purposely took a seat at the back of the restaurant which offered him a good vantage point. When the Van't Wouts entered, the Maître'd ushered them to a table for three that Juldeh had reserved. He tapped the black credit card in the Maitre'd's direction, and he gleefully accepted. Shuttlesworth had been right. It wasn't necessary to know where you where, or what you were doing when in a strange place. None of that mattered if you had a lot of money to spend.
Jonas and Suzanna timidly sat down opposite Juldeh and gave him a long, hard stare. No one spoke, and tension hung in the air, thick and oppressive like a deep fog, rolling in from the sea. Finally, Juldeh took out the corroborating documents from a black briefcase beside him and passed it over to Jonas, who looked over them carefully, his face reddening with every turned page. He passed it over to his wife, who burst into tears after a few pages. She then returned them to Juldeh who put them back in the briefcase. The exchange took about 15 minutes and no one said a word until Juldeh said:
"I suppose you realize now that this wasn't a bluff. The truth is, I could cause you a lot of trouble, but that's not my purpose. That was never my intention. This has all been a test, a probe, if you will, to see what kind of people you are."
They both looked confused, but Suzanna was first to speak up. "I don't understand. What do you mean?"
Juldeh continued with an impassive tone in his voice. "I told you that this was about family and a promise I made a long time ago, and it still is. I've observed you these past few weeks, and it's obvious that you love my brothers very much. You're both good people and in my weeks of observation, I never saw you once raise your voices in anger towards them, or each other. I just needed to make sure for myself that my brothers were in safe hands. My brothers' well being is the most important thing in the world to me, and if that means they have to be with you, then so be it. Sometimes, you have to love someone enough to know when you may not be best for them. All I want now is a chance to meet them again, and maybe a chance to remain a part of their lives in some way. If you can do that, then all this," he pointed to his briefcase, "will entirely be forgotten. That is my only request. The rest is up to you."
Juldeh nodded at the Maître'd who returned with the credit card. The Van't Wouts looked somewhat uneasy. Jonas cleared his throat and said "It's not that we don't trust you, but we need reassurances."
"I give you my word. That alone is sufficient," Juldeh replied. "I'm a boy who keeps his promises."
The Maître'd returned shortly thereafter followed by a waiter with a cart containing piles and piles of the most delectable looking dishes.
Juldeh smiled and said to them "You can leave if you want, or you can join me for lunch. I know more about you than you do about me, and I'd like to remedy that."
They stared at each other for a split second, looked back at Juldeh and then made the decision to stay.
"I'm glad you decided to stay. Help yourselves and don't mind me, butI'm famished."
They ate in silence for a few minutes, and finally Juldeh took his attention from the food, looked at them and said, "I suppose I have to start somewhere. My name is Juldeh Holland."
He then proceeded to give them an abbreviated version of his history. He left out a few of the more fantastic details but it was a mostly honest account. By the time he was finished, Jonas and Suzanna had what almost looked like admiration in their eyes.
"So where do you go from here?" Suzanna asked with touching concern in her voice.
"I'm not sure what my next steps are going to be, but I've always wanted to be a Doctor."
Jonas interjected, "if there's any way we can help, we'll be glad to." He looked at his wife, who nodded her assent.
"I appreciate the offer, but this is my burden to bear. I realize that now, and I'll sink or swim on my own, but if I ever change my mind, I'll let you know."
He looked at his watch, and said, "I'm glad we did this. My heart is more at ease now than it has been in almost 2 years. Unfortunately I have to make my leave, but I'll keep in touch to arrange our next steps. It's been a pleasure meeting you." He pushed back his chair and strode confidently out of the restaurant and as Jonas and Suzanna watched his retreating figure disappear into the crowd outside, they realized that he left empty handed.
Two days later...
20 Moon Crescent
Juldeh had never been good with reunions and so was feeling extremely nervous. He couldn't believe that after all these years he was finally going to meet them again. The fact that it would only be temporary weighed at his heart, but that was tempered by his joy at being given the opportunity which had felt so elusive all those years ago. He was standing outside the door to the Van't Wouts but couldn't work up the courage. The decision was taken out of his hands when Suzanna opened the door and ushered him in. He walked tentatively inside the modest, but tastefully furnished interior. The hardwood floors gleamed like a perfectly shined shoe, and there was a grand piano in the corner of the living room beside a library of books.
Juldeh had seen this all from the outside, but it looked even better from the inside. Suzanna led him into the living room towards a luxurious leather couch.
"Dinner will be served in about an hour. Do you want something to drink?"
Juldeh shook his head, and then she continued, "The boys are downstairs in the basement. I understand if this is hard for you. Take as much time as you need."
He nodded, took a deep breath and began what felt like the longest walk of his life. He slowly opened the basement door and descended the spiralling staircase into the bright lights below. Adeyemi and Bosco, (now called James and Jason) were playing a video game, and he watched them for a few minutes. They'd grown up so much in the years since he'd last seen them and he could scarcely recognize them anymore. Eventually, they turned away from their videogame and noticed him standing there. Time seemed to stand still for all them as flickers of recognition flitted in and out of their eyes. He opened his arms and they both rushed into them. No one said any words. They were not necessary.
Juldeh spent two days with the Van't Wouts and he discovered that Jonas was a gourment chef while Suzanna was a maestro at the piano. He'd played a piece for her, and had managed to sufficiently impress her, especially after she learned that he was self taught. James and Jason had been sad when he'd explained to them why he couldn't stay, but they'd overcome their disappointment after he'd promised that he would try and see them as often as he could and would definitely keep in touch. They were excited and chattered constantly about all the adventures they'd had. It was almost like they were trying to squeeze the two years they'd missed into two days. It was the happiest time of Juldeh's life, but much too quickly, it had to come to an end. All good things had to come to an end.
On the morning of his flight back to London, they had breakfast together as he waited for the cab that would take him to the airport. Before he left, he gave each of the twins a watch. They were exact replicas of the one that Stella had given him. Their eyes had opened in amazement at the intricate beauty of the watches. Stella had been nice enough to send him the watches along with four postcards showing her travelling through Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Tibet. Juldeh didn't want to prolong the goodbyes, so when the cab arrived, he hugged the Van't Wouts and his brothers, said a simple goodbye and walked out of the house into the waiting cab without turning back. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and he wondered what his parents would think of him; he wondered whether they would approve of his decision; he wondered whether he would ever feel like he could live up to their memories and expectations. But ultimately, the decision had not been about him. It was about what was best for the twins, and from that point of view, he felt completely at ease. The cab rolled out of the driveway, and Juldeh looked outside as the orange rays of the rising sun pierced through the skies. He had travelled across the world in search of destiny and he now realized that destiny was what you made of it. The future loomed before him like an approaching storm, but his heart was calm. He had finally decided that he was going to take his destiny in his own hands, and with God by his side, he knew that all would be well.
One week later...
It took Juldeh a few days to get back to normal after his very emotionally exhausting trip to Nova Scotia. He realized that even though he was in such strange, new surroundings, he hadn't taken the time to do any exploration and he thought it would be wise to remedy that before his next trip. Partly this was a way of procrastination because he was feeling ambivalent about his next steps. A part of him no longer wanted to try and reunite with Nella, for fear of what the outcome would be. He didn't want to get his hopes up because that they would surely get dashed on the hard rocks of reality. So he spent almost a month pondering his decision while exploring London and the surrounding cities with Shuttlesworth. In that time, he received five postcards from Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and El Salvador. He found it strange how Stella always seemed to know exactly where he was at any given time and mailed the postcards to his exact location but he thought nothing of it.
His reluctance was a warning flag, and later he would wish he'd listened to it. It might have saved him a great deal of heartache, but the impetuousness of youth propelled him forward. He knew he couldn't ask Natasha for another favour so soon after the earlier one, and he wasn't looking forward to another information session with Shuttlesworth digging up dirt on a friend. It was one thing doing that to the Van't Wouts, but it was another matter doing that to Nella. So he decided that he would meet her with no advance knowledge whatsoever. All he had was the cell phone number Stella had given him, and her address. That should be enough, but his more pressing concern was finding his way there in the first place. He hated having to ask Stella for help again, but he had no choice. He wasn't even sure how she could help him, but he knew that she'd find a way.
In the end, it wasn't even necessary. Shuttlesworth offered to escort him.
"I've always wanted to go to another London, and besides, I need a vacation." At least that had been his justification, but Juldeh knew that it was probably Stella's doing.
It didn't matter to him. He was grateful for the help and thankful for the company. He had a feeling that a part of his life was about to end, and a new chapter was about to begin. He had planned on calling her before he got to London, but he thought he'd make it a surprise. It was a decision he would later come to regret. They arrived at Heathrow airport on an air Canada flight, went through customs uneventfully and settled into their hotel located opposite the airport.
The next day, Shuttlesworth left to go sightseeing and Juldeh decided that this was his perfect opportunity. He picked up the phone and dialled Nella's phone number. He'd been waiting months for this, and he was feeling some trepidation. The phone rang once, twice, three times. He was just about to hang up and try again when a smooth, clear, velvety voice said, "Hello."
Juldeh's heart did cartwheels. He tried to regain his composure, but wasn't quite successful because when he tried to speak, his voice came out in a little squeak.
"Hello Nella. This is Juldeh. I'm not sure if you remember me."
"Oh," she replied with barely a trace of enthusiasm in her voice.
Juldeh wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. Maybe this had all been a mistake. He should never have come here, but the damage had already been done. It was obvious that she wasn't at all interested in a meeting of any sorts, but he decided that he might as well try.
"Just to let you know, I'm in London right now, and I was hoping we could meet. You can name the time and place. The last time we met, I promised you that we would see each other again, and I always keep my promises. You know that as well as anyone."
She sighed deeply and said "I guess I have to do this then, or you'll never leave me alone will you?"
This angered Juldeh, but he managed to keep the anger out of his voice. He said evenly, "No, this is not an obligation. You don't have to do anything. I thought it might be something you wanted to do. After all, we were friends once and I've travelled a very long distance to see you."
She hastily replied, "No, you're right. It's just that you caught me off guard is all. I'll set up a meeting. I'm a bit busy, right now, but call me same time tomorrow, and we'll set something up. Goodbye."
She hung up the phone, leaving Juldeh to wonder what had just happened. He was perplexed, and was starting to regret not taking up Shuttlesworth's offer of an information hunting session. It was too late now though. He spent the rest of the day pacing back and forth restlessly. Nightfall came and went, and he barely slept at all. He spent the entire night on his back with his hand behind his head staring at the ceiling as Shuttlesworth snored softly on the other bed.
Time crawled, but eventually morning came and so did the appointed time. He called eagerly, and when he reached her, he didn't know how it was possible, but she sounded even less enthusiastic than she did the previous day. Despite this, she gave him the name and address of a restaurant in Croyden, on the outskirts of London. She told him to meet her at 6pm in the evening, and she seemed to be in a rush to get the meeting over with because she repeatedly told him of her extremely important 7 pm appointment. She abruptly hung up shortly after.
This left him perplexed and questioning the logic of what he was trying to accomplish, but he'd come this far so he might as well complete the task. He was no longer feeling enthusiastic. What once had been something he'd been looking forward to now felt like an obligation. He felt like a prisoner on death row preparing for the final walk on the green mile.
He looked at his watch. He had only 3 hours to go. He milled around looking and feeling miserable for an hour, and then he called a cab to get to the restaurant. Traffic was murder and by the time he got there, it was almost 6 pm. He took a seat at the entrance of the restaurant hoping against hope that things wouldn't go as badly as he anticipated. He sat and waited for almost thirty minutes through 4 glasses of water and the rude stares of the wait staff before she finally made her entrance. She looked as radiant as she always had, but this was now tempered with a kind of cold sterility that made him wonder why he'd ever been captivated by her. She was dressed in an ill-fitting hipster chic ensemble that looked as terrible as it was expensive
She looked around hastily before her gaze settled on him and recognition flashed through her eyes. Juldeh signalled to her, and she clumsily took a seat opposite from him. She didn't seem happy to see him. Quite the opposite, she seemed unnecessarily flustered, and kept fiddling with her left ring finger. Juldeh looked more closely and what he saw put everything into perspective and made everything crystal clear.
"You're engaged?" he asked incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me and save me the trouble of coming here and making a fool of myself; save us both the trouble."
She seemed even more flustered at that and Juldeh thought she was going to hyperventilate. "Because I felt sorry for you. My father had told me what had happened to you, and I remembered what happened before I left. I was young and foolish, and I thought you might have taken it more seriously than it warranted. To be honest a part of me wished I would never see you again. You'd just prove to be a needless complication in my currently happy life."
Juldeh was flabbergasted. It took all his reservoirs of will power to remain calm. He took a deep breath and replied carefully, "So let me get this straight. You knew everything that had happened to me, and you never once tried to help. Is that what you're telling me? We were friends for almost two years, and the best you could do was... nothing. You're not the person I once knew." He couldn't resist twisting the knife, so he continued, "and if I remember correctly, you were the one who was all over me." He paused, took another deep breath and continued, "The only reason I'm here is because I promised you that we'd meet again. I've kept my promise, and now it looks like we can both go our separate ways. I promise that you'll never see me again, and as you can already tell, I keep my promises, unlike other people."
He got up from the table, but she put her hand on his shoulder to stop him, "I'm really sorry. It never should have come to this."
Juldeh looked at her with a mixture of pity and contempt. "It was probably inevitable. The recklessness of youth worked against us. I hope you're happy with your life and your choices, because I know that I am." He took her hand off his shoulder and without looking back, walked out into the throng of people leaving the pub and out of her life forever.
Surprisingly, he was not as disappointed as he thought he might have been. It all made sense to him now. He'd been pursuing shadows, chasing a destiny that had never been written in stone. It was almost impossible trying to hail a cab at this hour, and so it was almost 10 pm when he finally made it back to the hotel. He used his keypass to open the door, and was greeted by the smiling face of Stella, sitting on his bed. One look at his face wiped the smile off hers.
Juldeh had long since stopped being surprised by her comings and goings. She seemed to him to be an almost mythical figure, not constrained at all by the laws that governed the mere mortals. Appropriately, she looked almost exactly the same as she'd always had, except for a deeper tan which gave her an even more exotic, wild and dangerous look.
She gave him a sympathetic look and asked softly, "rough day, big guy?"
"Nice to see you too, Stella." He took a seat beside her on the bed. "Yeah, you could say so or maybe I'll look at it as a glass half-full situation. But first, let me ask you something. How much of this did you already know? Looking back on some of the things you said, I'm starting to think you might have done some reconnaissance on Nella."
She looked at him with a mock innocent look, but then she eventually shrugged her shoulders.
"What can I say? I'm in the information business, but you can't say I didn't warn you. I mean what more did you want me to tell you? At least your situation with your brothers is more positive, and that's what most important, n'est pas? Besides, between me and you, she was never good enough for you." She winked at him. "So what do you plan on doing now?"
Juldeh sighed dramatically and said "I'll do something I should have done years ago. I'll live life on my own terms, and only for myself. First, I'd like to disappear for a while, go somewhere where no one knows my name, where I can start anew, forget the past, forget the pain, forget it all."
"I think I can arrange that. Anything else?"
"Yeah. I've always wanted to go to medical school. I don't know where you get your connections and I don't really care, but I'd really appreciate it if you could help me with that. After that, I promise I'll never ask you for anything ever again, and you know how seriously I take my promises."
She looked at him for the longest time without speaking and then she finally said "I can't make any guarantees of course. I'm not a miracle worker. I'm just a girl who managed to invent something people were willing to pay a lot of money to keep off the market. But I'll promise you this. I'll do whatever I can to help you. The rest is up to you. You'll sink or swim entirely on your own."
Juldeh took a few deep breaths and said "I'm grateful for whatever you can do. Now if you don't mind, I think I need a walk to clear my head."
"Need any company," she asked sweetly.
"Thanks for the offer, but I need some time alone," was his soft reply.
He walked slowly out of the room, took the stairs one at a time to the main lobby and walked out of the hotel into the brightly lit streets. He felt in some ways like a fool. He'd blindly chased a destiny that had in the end being built on a pile of sand. Like a deck of cards, it had all come crashing down on him. His mind flashbacked to the story Stella told him about the Viking Prince. He'd thought it was pointless rambling at the time, but now he realized that in her own convoluted way, she'd been trying to help him. He realized for the first time, that she was starting to become the one constant in his life and he realized that he didn't mind that.
He walked slowly through the streets, with no destination in mind but the very act of walking was filling him with a new purpose. Like Stella, he was going to live his life on his terms, by his rules, with no obligations except to himself and his brothers. With her help, he would begin the slow process of rebuilding his life. The moon peeked out from behind a cloud, and he took it as a metaphor for his own existence. No matter how dark things had gotten, he had always remained true to himself. He had never given in to despair, or loneliness. He'd kept the faith even when the path had been crooked. He'd learned some harsh lessons along the way. He now knew that there were no absolutes; that passion was a harsh mistress, and all that was important was life and the very act of living. He still believed that destiny would be his friend and so he looked forward with an enormous hope beating in his chest to the beginning of the rest of his life.
Chapter 7 – Russian Roulette
This Vicious Cabaret
They say that there's a broken light for every heart on Broadway.
They say that life's a game, then they take the board away.
They give you masks and costumes and an outline of the story
Then leave you all to improvise their vicious cabaret...
There's a girl who'll push but not shove and is desperate for her father's love
She believes the hand beneath the glove maybe one she needs to hold.
Though she doubts her hosts moralities she decides she is more at ease
In the Land Of Doing What You Please than outside in the cold..
By Alan Moore, from V for Vendetta
Juldeh gazed pensively at Shuttlesworth as they weaved in and out of the evening traffic. To Juldeh's eyes, Shuttlesworth was far too intense for his own good. Juldeh had no idea where they were going; had no idea if he could even trust this strange man. Stella trusted him however, and he trusted her, and so that would have to do for now. The only words Shuttlesworth had uttered since Juldeh first shook his hand were "Call me Jesus." He pronounced "it hay-zeus", and Juldeh had been happy enough to comply with his demand. They'd driven in silence and Juldeh had pondered in great detail the strange, undulating arc of his young life. This was going to be a new adventure, and he would have enough time to contemplate his future later. His immediate focus was on ensuring that he would meet his brothers. The deafening silence eventually forced him out of his reverie.
He was starting to wonder if Jesus would ever speak when he heard him say in a soft voice that scarcely sounded like it could be coming from him, "We'll be in London in about an hour. You really should learn to relax. You're much too tense for one so young."
Juldeh said nothing. Shuttlesworth didn't seem fazed by this. His focus was entirely on the road. Eventually, he repeated, "We'll get to London in less than an hour. It may not be the London you want to be in, but it'll have to do for now."
Juldeh was perturbed by this. He wondered just how much Stella had told Shuttlesworth about him. Eventually, he decided that it didn't matter, so he responded amiably, "I'm very grateful for your help, Mr. Shuttlesworth. Interesting name, by the way. It doesn't quite seem like it fits you, and yet it does."
Shuttlesworth laughed a sonorous laugh that seemed even more out of place than his name. "Mexican mother, British father, but I guess I got most of her genes. I could change my name, but I like being unique."
The ice finally broken, the two men sat in comfortable silence as Shuttlesworth kept the Crown Victoria speeding along at a good clip. Juldeh stayed awake the rest of the trip, marvelling at the vibrancy of the scenery as they left Toronto behind, and reached London. Even late in the evening, the city seemed energetic and busy and thriving. The bright lights blinded him momentarily, but eventually he regained his bearings. He'd travelled as a child, but this was the first time since the twins' births that he'd been in a place such as this. He felt rejuvenated just looking at everything. He'd been apprehensive and unsure about what his next steps would be, but as he gazed at the beauty around him, a plan was dawning on him. He wasn't sure how it would work, but he didn't really have any other options. It would require copious amounts of luck, but he'd always believed in making his own luck. He was confident that he would succeed. All the players were in place, he just needed to set the events in motion.
Shuttlesworth zigzagged confidently through winding, cobbled streets till they reached a quaintly modest house. It was old fashioned, and the lawn that adorned the front yard was clearly meticulously kept, even by the light of the moon. Shuttlesworth parked the crown Victoria in the garage, and ushered Juldeh inside. Juldeh followed him dutifully as he showed him his expansive room in the attic. The bed was meticulously made, and the room was spotless. Juldeh looked around and gave an involuntary whistle. Shuttlesworth smiled.
"You've had a long day, you should probably get some rest. We'll talk some more tomorrow morning. Good night."
With that, he made his exit, leaving Juldeh all alone once again. Juldeh took a look at the luminous display on the watch Stella had given him. It was almost 1am, and the jetlag was starting to take its toll. He lay down on the soft, luxurious bed, and by the time his head touched the plush, downy pillow, he was fast asleep.
The next day...
Juldeh woke up to the wonderful smells of breakfast wafting through the entire house. He followed his nose and his growling stomach to the kitchen. There he saw Shuttlesworth putting the finishing touches on a steaming plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns. There was also a large pot of tea on the table, and he indicated for Juldeh to help himself. Juldeh dutifully obliged. Eventually, Shuttlesworth took the seat beside him and took out an envelope from within his coat pocket.
"Stella wanted me to give this to you. I would have done so last night, but well, I thought you needed some rest."
Juldeh took the envelope and carefully opened it. The first thing he saw was a photograph of Stella standing with her arms around a delicately beautiful older woman. Despite the height difference, the similarities were unmistakeable, and Juldeh guessed this was Stella's mother. They were in front of what looked like the Kremlin square in Moscow, Russia. Stella towered over her mother and had a huge, care-free grin on her face. Inside the envelope was also a letter in carefully scripted penmanship. Juldeh unfolded the paper, and began to read.
If you're reading this letter, then you must be in London by now. You should be safe with Jesus. I trust him with my life, and he's never given me any reason to doubt his loyalty. I know things must be very difficult for you at the moment, but I'll do whatever I can to change that. In a way, I feel responsible for you now. My actions led to this, and hopefully they can lead you out of it. I haven't been completely honest with you, and so I feel I must remedy that. Unfortunately, you've been a pawn in a game that doesn't involve you, and that's not fair. You can ask Jesus to confirm any of these details, but I promise you that all that I have to say is the absolute truth.
My name is Stella. Wednesday is my father. When I was a little girl, he did unspeakably terrible things to me. He was and is a complete monster. I never forgave him for what he did, and I escaped from his evil clutches the first chance I could. I spent my teenage years depending on the kindness of strangers as I searched in vain for my mother, and a place where I belonged. Times were difficult, but I survived using my wits and eventually, through a mixture of serendipity and hard work, I managed to created an invention that provided a gateway to solving a few of the world's problems as well as all of mine. I wish I could disclose to you what it was, but several non-disclosure agreements prevent that.
Suffice to say, money would not ever be a problem for me ever again, and it has opened up avenues for me that I never thought possible. I've made invaluable contacts, and picked up skills that have come in handy numerous times (you did wonder where I got all my toys). I also managed to find my mother, but I never forgot what Wednesday did to me. I'd been keeping tabs on him for a while, waiting to inflict as much pain and suffering to him as he did to my mother and I. Once I realized he was back in Ghana, I realized that was my chance to take him down once and for all. When I discovered that he was grooming an apprentice, I decided that if they were trustworthy enough, I would enlist their help in stopping him. In the process, I would also save them from sharing his fate. You proved yourself brave, resourceful and I decided that I would have to help you. My only regret is that I never shot the devil in the back when I had the chance. This may be a shock to you, but Wednesday escaped from prison, and his whereabouts are currently unknown. You shouldn't worry about him. He is predictable, and his predictability renders him harmless. He'll come after me, and that will be his biggest mistake. You should be safe, however. As far as he knows, you played no part, and were coerced into helping me. I will do everything in my power to ensure that no harm comes to you.
On a more positive note, I plan to spend as much time globetrotting as I can. Russia is really beautiful this time of year. You should be sure to visit one day. I'll make sure to send you a postcard from every country I stop through. It'll be our little tradition. I wish you luck in your search for your brothers. I've given Jesus instructions to help you in any way he can. Take care of yourself and I hope to keep in touch.
Stella Xiao Wu Chen
Juldeh read the letter carefully once again, growing more and more worried with every passing word. The thought of a vengeful Wednesday in search of him put a cold chill through his heart, but he eventually decided that it was no matter to him. If Stella wanted to play Russian roulette, that was her prerogative. This was a conflict between a father and his daughter. It really had nothing to do with him, as Stella had said, and besides, he still had his own destiny to fulfill and nothing would deter him from that.
He arched an eyebrow at Shuttlesworth and asked "how much of this is true?" to which Shuttlesworth replied "I haven't read it. That's not my place, but the Stella I know would never lie. She saved my life once, a long time ago. I owe her a lot, and I gave her my word that I would help you."
"How exactly did she get into all that money? How can she afford all the travel she's been doing?" Juldeh asked quizzically.
"Well, that I can't tell you. She'll tell you that, one day I'm sure, all in good time" Shuttlesworth replied coolly. He continued after a short pause, "We've dallied enough. If you're ever going to do everything you came here to do, we're going to need a plan."
Juldeh cut him off, "well, then we're in luck, because a plan, is exactly what I have."
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Chapter 6 – To another Shore
In which the always fascinating Juldeh Holland travels to a distant land and crosses paths with the irrepressible Jesus Shuttlesworth
Juldeh was deep in thought, pondering the existential reality that was his life, and he was feeling a twinge of fear. He knew that most people never really knew the meaning of fear. The thought of change could induce a cold, clammy fear in even the most hardened of people, but this fear was foreign to him. Juldeh had always prided himself on having mastered his fears. He'd had no choice. His father had always being strict and had impressed upon Juldeh the importance of stoicism in the face of adversity and the futility of fear as an emotion. His father had been somewhat distant and strict, and it had being his mother who he'd been really close to. Nevertheless, the lessons he'd learned from his father had stayed with him throughout his short life so far. They'd kept him alive. They'd kept him on an even keel. They'd kept him from getting caught in the undertow of despair and loneliness. But, it was getting harder and harder to maintain any amount of stoicism or calm, especially in the face of all the recent chaos in his life. The second law of thermodynamics had to be obeyed. Disorder ruled the day in his world. He was in uncharted waters, and was sailing blindly into the storm.
Juldeh looked around at the luxurious interior of the Air France Boeing 747 plane. It was idling on the tarmac waiting for the go ahead before it could take off. He had flown numerous times in his younger days, and had never felt anxious before, but he was feeling anxious now. Before his brothers had been born, his parents had taken him on most of their business trips. They'd travelled to most West African countries and a few countries in Europe and Asia. He barely remembered most of these trips, but he vividly remembered the last two they'd taken to Tokyo and Amsterdam. Those had felt less like business trips and more like vacations. He had been given free rein in the hotel while his parents were away. Those were some of the happiest memories that he had. He had been truly carefree, and so had his parents. They had not been consumed by work, and had had more time for him and each other.
The plane started to taxi down the runway and Juldeh gripped the arm rest tightly. Eventually, he gathered the courage to look outside his window. The view of the rolling hills, brilliantly blue water below and soft wisps of white clouds was breathtaking and calmed him down, but only a little. Eventually, his thoughts drifted back to his parents. He'd had so little time for introspection the past few years of his life. He'd been focused only on survival.
Eventually, the smooth motions of the plane as it soared majestically through the sky, and his daydreams about the new life he was flying to, lulled him into a deep sleep. He woke up to see the Flight Attendant standing over him. His mind involuntarily flashed back to the last time that had happened, and he reflexively jerked backwards.
She blushed prettily, and Juldeh took a closer look at her. She was beautiful in an understated sort of way. Her hair was blond, and done up in a quite severe looking bun. Despite the old fashioned hairstyle, she barely looked older than he did. She had a sharp, equine nose and high cheekbones, but her most striking features were her eyes. They were a deep, piercing blue, and they seemed to stare right through Juldeh and into his very soul. He was staring mesmerized when she extended her hand and said "I'm Natasha. It's nice to meet you."
He leaned back expansively in his chair as she returned to her tasks. Flying first class was certainly the only way to fly. He didn't know how Stella could afford the ticket, and in all honesty, he didn't care. All that mattered was that she'd kept her promise. The two weeks they'd spent in Abidjan felt like ages ago, but he had to admit that he'd had a good time with her. Despite her coldly brilliant and focused exterior, he'd come to realize that she was actually a funny and charming person.
They'd stayed up late at night, playing chess games, and he hadn't been surprised when she'd beaten him more often than he'd beaten her. She'd told him about her plans for her future. After reuniting with her mother, she planned to travel the world extensively. She never spoke of Wednesday during the two weeks, and she'd shaken her head and smiled her enigmatic smile when Juldeh told her of his plans to find his brothers and then when possible travel to London to meet Nella.
The flight lasted 16 hours in total, but it felt like minutes. After the flight attendants had finished serving the passengers, Juldeh had made his way to the crew quarters. Natasha had introduced him to the other flight attendants and he'd spent the rest of the flight with them. They had a plethora of interesting anecdotes and tales of far-off countries; places he'd only ever read about; places he wasn't sure he would ever see; places where wonders and magic came alive. He'd said very little about himself, and that had only seemed to intrigue them even more. He wasn't trying to be mysterious, but a combination of his difficulty in articulating his story, and his certainty that they wouldn't believe him made him reticent. Despite this, he'd still enjoyed their company. He'd hoped the flight would last forever, and he'd felt a pang of loss when the pilot had announced over the intercom that they were making their final approach. After the plane landed, he'd slowly walked out into the cold April air with his bag slung around his shoulder and Natasha's phone number and email address in his pocket. She'd asked him to give her a call at any time. He doubted he'd ever see her again, but it never hurt to have friends in high places.
The air was balmy and moist as he stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac. He glanced at the watch that Stella had given him. She'd said it was her gift for her role in disrupting his world. He didn't want to take it. He felt too beholden to her as it were, but she'd insisted to the point of embarrassment and he'd been forced to acquiesce.
It took him far too long to get through customs and immigration. It took all the willpower he had to keep his cool, but eventually, he got his brand new, faker than a two dollar bill British passport returned to him and he made his way carefully and without haste to the pickup section. As he approached the gaggle of people and cars milling about, he saw a short, wiry, stocky man holding a sign with his name on it. He was standing beside a black Crown Victoria, the kind only law enforcement ever used and as Juldeh approached, a flash of recognition fluttered through his big, brown eyes. Juldeh confidently strode up to him, stuck out his hand and said, "Jesus Shuttlesworth, I presume?"
Chapter 5 – Friends and Enemies or Keep Your Friends Close
In which our indomitable young heroes discover how deep Wednesday's rabbit hole goes, and must deal with betrayal as they attempt to bring Wednesday down.
Juldeh woke up to see the grim visage of Stella looming over him. He let out an involuntary scream, and she clamped her hand around his mouth. He wrestled himself away from her.
"Jesus Christ, don't ever scare me like that again."
"Glad to see you're finally awake. I don't have much time for tarrying. What is your decision?"
"Not so fast," he said forcefully we're going to have to sort out a few details first."
"You're not really in a position to be bargaining, you know that?"
"Just hear me out. First, you do realize what a risk I'm taking here, don't you? Before I agree to whatever you have planned I need assurances that you'll help me relocate. I don't really care where, just as long as it's not here. And I'll need you to help me track down my brothers."
"Trust me. Everything is taken care of. I'm the girl with the plan and you just have to follow my lead."
"That's not all," Juldeh continued. "There's someone else I'll need you to help me find. She should be easy enough for a person like you to track down. She's the only daughter of the ambassador to London. I made a promise to her, and I intend to keep it.
"Three things: first, what do you mean a person like me? Second, I'm not a miracle worker, and third, why does there always have to be a girl involved. Forget about her. The only people you owe anything to are your brothers and yourself."
But Juldeh was adamant, "I gave her my word, and I always keep my word."
"If she really cared about you, don't you think she'd have tried to contact you already? Or maybe get you out of this hell you've been in the past few years. She's probably shagging some bloke as we speak."
Juldeh knew she was trying to wind him up, so he remained silent, but she continued.
"You can't let a blind idea of love rob you of rational thought. Ever heard of the legend of the Viking Prince? It's a cautionary tale of the dangers of passion and obsession.
In Scandinavia, early in the tenth century lived Prince John, the greatest warrior of his era. His adventures were epic as were the legends that grew around his exploits. On a frozen battlefield, Prince John, sole survivor of a bloody war, its purpose lost to time, met a valkyrie, a messenger from the Norse gods, sent to escort the souls of fallen heroes to their reward in the halls of Valhalla.
Impossibly, they fell in love, and swore their hearts to each other. But Odin, King of the Norse gods, discovered their illicit affair, and enraged, banished John from Valhalla. The Viking Prince pleaded with Odin for mercy, begging to be allowed to remain with his love. Odin agreed, saying that if John died a heroic death, he and his love would again be united for all eternity.
But Odin was a crafty god-and cruel, and before exiling John gifted him with invulnerability to harm from fire, metal, wood and water. The Viking Prince soon realized that he would never die a hero's death, because no weapon on earth could slay him. He trekked boldly across a troubled world in search of adventure and an honourable death, growing ever more distant from humanity.
Eventually, weary of the endless fight for justice, and despairing in his loneliness, he sailed North, beyond the boundaries of the known world, and passed from the knowledge of man."
Juldeh was unimpressed. "Great story, but I've made up my mind."
"Is any of this getting to you? She asked incredulously.
"No, it really isn't, but thanks for trying."
Finally she acquiesced. "I'll do it, but in return, you have to follow my every instruction. I've got all my equipment upstairs. Follow me. I'll tell you the plan when we get there."
Over the next hour, she meticulously detailed to Juldeh the proposed sequence of events. The plan was certifiably insane, and Juldeh bluntly told her so. She smiled her enigmatic smile and replied "the only way to outfox a fox is to be foxier than he. Trust me, everything will be fine. We leave for my father's office at 11:00 pm. It should be dark enough at that time. Till then, you should probably rest, and I'll be here meditating. Please do not disturb me."
Juldeh took that as his cue to leave. He closed the door softly behind him, but not before taking one last look at her. She was in the stereotypical Buddhist pose on the floor, with her hands in her lap and her eyes closed. "You're still here, why?" she asked with her eyes still closed.
Juldeh hurried downstairs. He was tense, and there was no way he could sleep or do anything except watch the minutes drag by until it was showtime. All he could do was lie on his bed and think about all the ways this could go horribly wrong, how it could all come crashing down around him. She would probably be fine. She seemed like the person who could get herself out of any situation, but knowing his luck, he'd spend an eternity doing hard labour in the worst prison Accra had to offer. Eventually, weary from his thoughts he fell asleep and when he woke up, Stella was standing at the foot of his bed, again.
"You really have to stop doing that," he said.
She had two sets of clothes. One was a dark tracksuit and the other was a business suit.
"It's almost time. You remember the plan, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," he replied testily.
"Good," she said. "Here you go, wear the tracksuit over the business suit. It'll make you look larger than you are. It'll be harder for you to get identified that way."
She was talking in the clipped, harsh tones of a drill sergeant, and Juldeh wondered what else about herself she wasn't telling him.
She left him to his task and he went about it methodically. First he donned the dark tracksuit, then the business suit, and finally the black, rubber soled running shoes. He went upstairs and saw her dressed in a sheer black, body hugging dress. She had a tote bag that contained her dark army fatigue pants, a black shirt and rubber boots. She threw it at him and he expertly caught it.
"Keep your eyes in your head, lover boy. I'll change once we get to my father's office. If we get spotted before then, we'll just be a couple out on the town." She looked at her watch. Okay, from now on, we're on the clock. Stay sharp."
After shutting off all the lights, she threw the car keys at Juldeh.
"Here, you drive. It'll be less suspicious that way."
The first part of the plan involved getting past the security guard without arousing his suspicion. As they drove up to the outer gates, Stella rolled down her window and smiled sweetly at the security guard.
"Kofi, I'm taking Juldeh for a night out on the town. Don't expect us back any time soon, if you know what I mean." She winked at him as she said that.
Kofi smiled broadly, showing his rotted, yellowing teeth. "Yes, Madam. I'll tell Boss when he comes home." Lucky boy, he thought. I would give up my eye teeth to have a night with the boss's daughter.
"Dirty old man," she said disgustedly when they were out of earshot. "I see how he's been looking at me. I oughta cut his nuts off."
"You really are your father's daughter aren't you?" Juldeh replied. She shot him a look of cold fury which chilled Juldeh's heart and nerves. He tried to concentrate on his driving, but there was a quiet terror simmering in his heart. The streets seemed so foreign, so desolate, and so empty at this time of the night. Everywhere he looked, there were shadowy figures lurking. He felt like he was driving blind, but instinct told him he was on the right track.
"OK, we're almost there," Stella said with a quiet edge in her voice. "Park a few streets away from the office. We'll walk the rest of the way."
As Juldeh parked in an abandoned lot a few kilometres from the office, he noticed out of the corner of his eye, a police officer on foot, making his rounds. He signalled to Stella, but she had already seen him. The police officer was about a foot from them when he felt her wrap her hands around his head and pull him into a deep kiss. He saw what she was trying to do, and so he surrendered himself to her kiss.
The officer shined a flashlight into the car, and they pretended to be startled. He saw what they were up to and ruefully shook his head. He'd been a kid himself, and he knew the allure of forbidden love. They're probably sneaking behind their parents' backs. Poor kids. He shut off his flashlight and walked away.
When they were sure he'd left, they disengaged from their embrace.
"Sorry about that," she said.
"Don't be," he replied.
"OK we're back on track. Now take off your clothes."
He arched an eyebrow at her. "You know what I mean," she said playfully.
"Of course." He took off his outer layer of clothes.
"Now be a gentleman, and look the other way,"
Juldeh looked away, and started counting to a 100. Before he reached 50, she had already completed her transformation.
"Wow, that was fast," he said incredulously.
"I took a few theatre classes. Trick of the trade. The game's afoot now my friend."
They got out of the car, and slowly and methodically made their way to the high rise building that Wednesday's office was located in. They took up a reconnaissance point across from the high rise building and carefully watched. Juldeh had told her that there weren't normally any security, but she'd wanted to make sure. They waited for an hour in the cramped alley until she was sure there weren't any guards, and then they purposefully made their way to the bilding.
She intentionally tripped the alarm while Juldeh covered her, and then they faded back into the shadows. After five minutes, the same officer they'd run into previously pulled up in his police car. He got out and looked around. After about 15 minutes, he spoke something into his communicator, and drove away.
Stella felt elated. Her plan had worked. They'd intentionally tripped the alarm in the hope that the officers and the alarm companies would assume it was another false alarm from animals or pranksters and shut off the alarm, and just like she'd hoped, the officer had then sent word to the alarm company to shut off the alarm. It was highly irregular, but it happened more often in security services than most paying customers would care to know.
She walked up to the security keypad at the entrance and took out a tiny device from her tote bag. It looked like a large cell phone, but it had a cord dangling from the end, which she connected to the keypad. She furiously typed on the number pad, until the red light blinked twice, turned green, and the door silently opened.
"Where do you get all these wonderful toys?" Juldeh whispered. They walked into an expansive lobby with giant rainbow colored koi fish swimming in a pond. Juldeh walked over and stared plaintively at the Koi. Stella turned around and hissed at him, and he regretfully walked towards her.
Juldeh led the way to the 14th floor. It was quite a long walk up the stairs, but they couldn't risk using the elevator. Wednesday's office was located on the south side of the floor, and they quietly walked up to the door. Stella took out a set of lock picking tools from her tote bag, and she fiddled with the lock until it popped open.
"Ladies first," she said as Juldeh walked through the door towards Wednesday's personal office. Finding the files was easy enough for Juldeh. He knew exactly where they were, he'd just not being foolhardy enough to ever try to read them. He did now though and what he saw betrayed Wednesday for the monster he truly was. According to the meticulous records, Wednesday had been working as a building contractor for the city of Accra, building schools, hospitals and roads. Of course, he wasn't remotely qualified for the task, but his forged papers said otherwise. The buildings were being built with not only substandard materials and workers, but with absolutely no regard for safety codes. He'd used cheap materials, and pocketed the extra money after accounting for a few bribes to get inspectors to look the other way. If what Juldeh was reading was correct, three schools and two hospitals were going to be opening within a few months. These buildings couldn't withstand a violent sneeze, and they would certainly come crumbling down on whoever was unlucky enough to be inside them.
Wednesday was also planning on creating false geological readings that showed the presence of oil off the Ghanaian coast. After setting himself up as a middle man between the government and Western businessmen, he planned to set up a dummy corporation which had all the oil leases in Accra. When his shareholders saw the geological readings, the price of the shares would skyrocket and when the shares were at a sufficiently high value, he would cash out his shares. By the time the terrible truth came out, he'd be long gone, leaving Juldeh to take the fall. It was an ingenious ruse, bold in its simplicity and daring in its brazenness.
He showed the documents to Stella and she gave an involuntary whoop of joy.
"We have him now. All we have to do is photocopy these documents, mail them to the proper authorities, and he'll spend the rest of his natural life in jail."
Juldeh had just finished photocopying all the documents detailing Wednesday's sordid plans when he heard the office door open and saw Wednesday stroll in with a Magnum .38 revolver in hand. Their best laid plans were about to be completely shredded. He must have had a personal connection to the alarm system, and this made sense giving his extremely paranoid nature.
Juldeh crawled on his hands towards Stella's position and through a combination of gestures and hushed words, he managed to impress upon her the seriousness of their situation. Her eyes filled with fear, but soon that was replaced with steely determination. She reached into her tote bag and took out a .45 caliber handgun. Every time Juldeh thought she couldn't surprise hin anymore, she went and did something like that.
"Plan B is in effect, my friend," she said with a small smile on her face. "We either both stay here, and get picked off, or we make our escape."
Juldeh nodded, put the documents in the tote bag and the two of them crawled slowly towards the exit. They were maybe three steps away from freedom when they heard the click of Wednesday's revolver.
"You two can stop crawling around like the dogs you are, and face me like the rats you want to be," he said menacingly. "And I think I'll take your gun m'dear."
They stood up slowly and to Juldeh's great surprise, Stella walked confidently up to her father with her gun at her side.
"This isn't what it looks like, daddy," she said. "I'm still on your side."
Juldeh was dumbfounded. He'd been double crossed, again.
"Don't do this Stella," he said desperately. "We had a deal."
"Shut up, boy," she said harshly to Juldeh. To her father, she said "daddy, this was all to prove to you that I'm the only one you can trust. I'm the one who should be your apprentice. Look how easily he betrayed you, and have I ever given you any reason to doubt me."
Wednesday laughed his deep booming laugh.
"You've always been full of many surprises, but I wasn't born yesterday, girlie. You're going to have to do better than that. Much better."
Juldeh felt like he was trapped in a cosmic tug of war. Whatever happened, this wasn't going to end well for him. He was the only one in this Mexican standoff who wasn't armed, and he was starting to feel very vulnerable.
"Do you want me to prove my loyalty daddy? I never turned you in after all you did to me growing up, didn't I? Wasn't that enough? You want me to do more. Well, how's this for you?"
"Oh Crap," Juldeh said. He should never have trusted Stella, or anyone in this crazy family. He was about to die and in the most ignominious of fashions.
"Sorry, Juldeh, blood is thicker than water."
Stella walked to Wednesday and stood by his side. She raised her gun and pointed it at Juldeh casually. He instinctively took a step back and raised his hands in surrender. Juldeh tried to bargain his way out of it, but she was having none of it. She took out a silencer from her tote bag, screwed it on the barrel, and unlocked the safety mechanism. Wednesday also had his gun trained on Juldeh and this prevented him from being able to make a move. It had all come to this. He was staring death in the face. He said a small prayer and apologized to his brothers and Nella. He had failed to fulfill his promise. He would never see them again, but he resolved that if he had to die, he would die with his dignity intact.
"Just make it quick, you back stabbing piece of..."
The gun barely made a sound when it went off but Juldeh looked down at the red spot slowly spreading on his chest. It didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He slumped to the ground. It was so cold, and then there was nothing.
Wednesday laughed again, a deeply menacing laugh that chilled Stella's blood.
"I misunderestimated you, my little star. That was one hell of a con you just pulled. I didn't even see that coming, but like I always tell you even a pawn can checkmate a king."
Wednesday took a last look at Juldeh's broken body, turned his back to Stella and began to walk towards his office. She walked softly behind him.
"Remember what you used to tell me about the two man con daddy?"
"Yeah, that it's better than any one man con ever could be."
"No, not that, the other thing."
"I'm not sure, why don't you refresh my memory?"
"You told me that the best two man con is one in which the second person doesn't even know they're a part of it."
"Of course. Poor kid never saw it coming. I had a soft spot for him, but like you said, blood is thicker than water."
"Do you know what you are in this con, daddy?" she asked sweetly
"The puppetmaster" he replied arrogantly.
"No, you bastard, you're the mark."
Wednesday turned sharply, but it was too late. The butt of the gun caught him in the base of his skull, and he crumpled into a heap on the floor.
"That's for ruining my childhood, you sadistic monster, and where you'll be going, you better hope you don't drop the soap."
She hit him a few more times, to make sure he stayed down, took out a pair of handcuffs, chained him to his desk and then she rushed worriedly to the front of the office where Juldeh was sitting up with a pained expression on his face. She smiled her enigmatic smile at him and said.
"The old rubber bullet and fake blood trick. Works like a charm every time."
"I don't know how we pulled this off, but that was some plan, although a heads up would have been nice. Oh, and remind me never to get on your bad side."
He gingerly got up and looked her squarely in the face. They were in this together now till the bitter end. After all the crimes he'd just committed, he had no choice but to continue with the rest of it.
"So what do we do now, partner-in-crime?"
"We execute the rest of my plan, our plan."
And so they did. After making sure Wednesday was still alive, they tied him up more securely, removed all traces of evidence they'd been there, and calmly, and without haste walked out of the office building and disappeared into the night.
They spent the night in a dingy motel under false names, and when morning came, Juldeh used the payphone in the lobby to report a break in at the office building, while Stella mailed the damning documents to the police, and every newspaper and TV station in Ghana.
Two weeks later, they smuggled themselves into Ivory Coast using Stella's forged documents and booked a flight for Paris. In the newspaper they were reading, they saw a picture of Wednesday looking worn and haggard in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles. According to the article, his trial was due to begin in a month, and the general consensus among legal experts was that this was going to be one of the most sensational trials in Ghanaian history, not because the outcome was in doubt, but due to the egregiousness of the crimes. The authorities were still searching for the anonymous whistleblower that had exposed the crimes, and there was even talk of giving this person or persons unknown a key to the city in absentia. According to the editorial, "they were a shining example to the rest of the country that corruption and avarice can be defeated by the actions of only a few."
Stella smiled and looked up at Juldeh. The past two weeks had being such a whirlwind for both of them, and they were only now beginning to climb down from the adrenaline high. They'd also grown very close during this time, but they were about to part ways. She was going to France to reunite with her mother. She had begged him to join her, but he politely refused. He knew what his destiny was, and it wasn't with her. He'd come to admire her tenacity, her resourcefulness, and most of all, her fierce loyalty. But he'd made a promise to his brothers and to Nella, and he would fulfill his promise, even if it took him the rest of his life.
The boarding call for the Air France flight to Paris sounded over the PA system, and she got up reluctantly.
"That's my cue. I'm really going to miss you, you know that?"
"I know," he said softly. "I'll miss you too."
She embraced him and kissed him softly on the lips, a chaste kiss with a hint of a deeper meaning. She'd promised herself she wouldn't cry, but the tears had a life of their own as they cascaded down her cheeks. She hugged him tightly again, and then slowly walked toward the plane, towards her destiny and out of his life forever.
Juldeh walked back to the airport hotel with his hands in his pockets. In one hand was the name and address of Stella's family friend in London, Ontario who had promised to be his guardian. In the other pocket were the addresses of his brothers and Nella Owusu. It had taken him two years, and more twists and turns than a mountain road, but he was closer than ever to fulfilling his destiny. The sun was shining brilliantly as he walked through the beautiful streets of Abidjan. His flight left tomorrow, and now that he was this close, he felt a bit of apprehension. He had seen the true face of evil. He had faced it and never once given into despair. No matter what happened to him, he knew he had God on his side. He knew that destiny – would be his friend.