“Get out of here Gabriel, why would Adrian want to fake his death?” Isidro asked in unbelief.
“I’m not sure if I know what you’re thinking.” Adrian said with a voice just as unconfident as Gabriel was confident. Before Gabriel could say anything back, they heard several cars pull into the drive of the still burning house. They saw several men through the trees step out of the cars and converse with each other.
“We should get out of here. I don’t want to say one more word on this matter until we are back safe at the flat.” Isidro said stubbornly. “There’s too much danger in hanging around a secret police crime.” Adrian knew that Isidro was thinking of Rakavor when he was shot in the arm.
“How do we get back to the village?” Gabriel asked.
“We will cut through the woods.” Isidro replied. They proceeded to trudge through the woods as quick as possible without making much noise. Soon, the tall brick wall came into view, though they could hardly see it in detail because of the thick darkness that hung around the woods.
It took great difficulty to scale the wall, but with the help of each other, they were able to pull it off. Adrian couldn’t stop thinking about how much easier it would have been to get around without Gabriel’s video camera. He didn’t want to cause much more contention than had already been caused.
Back at the village, they waited for a city-bound bus for about half an hour. None of the three dared say one word. In Adrian’s recent experience, he didn’t trust himself talking to anyone on the street now that the secret police knew for a fact that he had unofficially joined the rebellion. On the bus ride back, Adrian began to think about his mother again. He worried that they would harm her. He then remembered what Feydra had told him a couple nights ago, just after they had gotten back home from tending to Adrian’s wound. “They have taken your mother to the dungeons in the old castle, just outside the King’s Forest. That is where they keep all of their prisoners.”
“Do they ever torture the prisoners?” Adrian asked nervously. He wasn’t sure if he wanted that question answered.
“I—I don’t know.” Feydra stuttered. “But I know that mother is a strong woman, stronger than you think. And I know, Adrian, that you have that same strength in you…you should have nothing to fear.”
“Hey Adrian, this is our stop.” Isidro said quietly, waking him up. They stood up and exited the bus. There were hardly any others who were on the bus besides them. This made Adrian a little bit nervous.
They traversed quietly through the maze of narrow alleys and staircases, making their way up the hill and back to the flat. They reached the apartment and inside Katja and Feydra sat on the couch on an edge, waiting anxiously. Feydra looked like she had just died and had just arisen from a tomb.
“Adrian, we were so worried about you three.” Feydra said with a shaky voice.
“What’s the matter? What is it?” Adrian asked breathlessly.
“This.” Feydra got up and opened the window. A small black falcon hopped inside ominously, carrying a sealed note. “It’s got the secret police seal on the outside—it has your name on it.” Adrian’s heart stopped for a moment. What was this note from the communists addressed to him supposed to be?
“I tried to take it and open it up, but the bird bit my hand. It knows that it’s only supposed to be for you.” Feydra said, almost breaking into tears. Gabriel backed away and stood in the corner, watching them with extreme fear. Isidro stood next to Adrian, emotionless, as if his brain had such an overdose of fear that it had just shut down altogether.
Adrian reached slowly towards the menacing-looking falcon to take the note. The bird nipped at his hand sharply, spilling blood. “Agh!” Adrian grunted and sucked on his finger. “How am I supposed to get the note from the little devil if it just keeps biting everyone?!”
“Wait, I think you can get the note now.” Isidro said slowly.
“What makes you think that?” Adrian asked impatiently.
“It’s what some falcons do. They taste the blood to make sure that it is the right person receiving the note. They have a special intuition or instinct for that.” The falcon immediately stepped back a little bit on the window sill, dropping the note on the rotting wood. Adrian again slowly reached for the note, and when the bird didn’t nip at his hand again, he picked up the note.
“What do you think it could be?” Katja asked.
“I’m not sure if I want to know.” Adrian said, breaking the seal, which consisted of a serpent encircling the Kestovnian flag. The room was now filled with an intensity of fear and trepidation as Adrian slowly opened up the note. Adrian looked at it, almost as emotionless as Isidro, but with ever shaking hands.
“What does it say?” Isidro asked.
“It’s written in Kestovnian.” Adrian replied.
“How’s your Kestovnian coming?”
“Well, I can’t listen to it, but I think I can read it.” Adrian said. He started to decipher the jumbled mix of letters that any non-Kestovnian speaker would never be able to pronounce.
“Can you read it?” Isidro asked.
“Yeah, I think it says something like, Adrian, you have many secrets. Please meet with us and tell us everything you know. If you don’t, you will meet the end of your life here at the castle. It will be long and painful.” Adrian set down the note quietly. Isidro could tell that there was genuine fear in his eyes.
“What does it mean, ‘it will be long and painful?’” Gabriel asked.
“It means they will torture me first.” Adrian uttered quietly. The room remained deathly silent for five minutes.
“What about the thing that Gabriel said, earlier?” Isidro asked, breaking the terrifying silence.
“What are you talking about?” Adrian asked.
“Remember when I said that I would help you fake your death?” Gabriel brought up.
“No, no I don’t want to!” Adrian retorted.
“It’s your only chance of survival man; besides, you have to go back to Illinois to warn your friend Jesse. I’ve got a video camera that I can stream live to Silver City news, Adrian, we can make this happen!”
“How are we going to bloody make it happen?” Feydra asked, getting frustrated. “I just don’t get it!”
“Look, I’ve realized something. When I first came here to Kestovnia, I had a completely different view on how things were here. But that all changed when we witnessed the murder of my cousin. He is Kastriot, the man who got you your jobs.”
“What? That can’t be!” Katja stood up, her eyes in tears. “That man was a good friend of my parents!”
“We all saw it Katja, didn’t we?” Isidro said. “They burned down his house. No, they didn’t burn it, they bombed it.”
“We were about to go inside and look for the man too. We could have died.” Adrian explained. Katja fell back into the couch, weeping.
“No. No.” She sobbed, shaking her head.
“That’s right,” Gabriel said, turning his head slowly towards Adrian in realization of something. “You very well could have died.”
Adrian looked up at him in realization as well. “I think I know what you are getting at. Frankly, it is the only idea we’ve got.”
“And I got footage of the fire too.”
“But how are you going to get the word out?” Adrian asked. “We can’t expect this to make the news you know.”
“Not exactly.” Isidro replied. “An American assassination on Kestovnian ground? That sounds like a story to me.”
“We have to make it legitimate. I will call my boss right now.” Gabriel said, and picked up his phone.
“Gabriel wait!” Adrian beckoned suddenly.
“What?” He asked, still holding his phone.
“Can I—think about it tonight? I don’t want to make any quick decisions. I should sleep on it.” Adrian said. He didn’t know whether he was getting cold feet, or if he wanted to just make this important decision after he had a good night’s sleep.
“Yeah, sure you can.” Gabriel said hesitantly. Isidro shot a furtive confused glance over at Adrian, but he didn’t notice. Adrian was entranced.
Adrian never did get a good night’s sleep. He spent hours upon hours it seemed, musing up on the roof of the flat, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He couldn’t believe it in the least that he had actually gotten himself in this much trouble, when all he wanted to do was find his parents. Why couldn’t things be simpler? He had never been in such a convoluted pickle such as this in his entire life. Nothing in his life had come close to him being threatened by the secret police that he would be tortured if he didn’t reveal the information about the rebellion.
Adrian was then brought back to something that he had almost forgotten about. It was the paper that his mother had given him the night of the raid at the pub. He took it out of his pocket, and read and reread the poem which the king had written. Since the night of the raid, Adrian had never really given the poem much thought, since he had gotten shot in the stomach that night, and soon after hearing that Jesse and his family might be in danger. He thought about all the good times that he and Jesse had shared. He was, after all, his best friend. Some of the best experiences he had had with Jesse were when they were drinking. It wasn’t that he drank with Jesse just to have fun. No, that was an American concept. The European influence in his life had taught him that he drank to socialize. In most cases, it was the catalyst for bringing about intelligent, deep conversations with his best friend.
The sky began to show dim light on the horizon of the mountains. Adrian began to doze off, staring into the wafts of smoke created by his half-extinguished cigarette, in the smoke seeing visions of his best friend and family being captured and taken by the Kestovnians. He saw Jesse’s house, which had yielded to Adrian so many great memories, burning down, just as Gabriel’s cousin’s had. He then saw Silver City, overrun with the secret police shooting innocent citizens in the street, being fought off by the army, which had, placed nearby in the flat plains of Iowa, a military base. The fate of Silver City lay in Adrian’s decision.
Adrian climbed through the window and back into the main room of the flat. The four sat around the room, apparently waiting for him quietly. Gabriel sat beside his video camera seemingly hopeful for something.
“You look awful, brother; did you sleep at all up there?” Feydra asked.
“I’ve made a decision.” Adrian replied.
“And?” Isidro asked.
“Let’s do it.” Adrian said. He felt like some corny character from a poorly scripted movie saying that, but no other clichéd phrase could have expressed the feelings and thoughts that he was experiencing at the moment.
“Adrian,” Gabriel said enthusiastically, “in no more than twenty-four hours, all of America will be informed of your tragic death.”
“How will he get back to America then if everyone thinks he is dead?” Isidro asked.
“I know someone from the rebellion who can get him a fake passport and ID.” Feydra said right away. Adrian was surprised to hear this. He had apparently underestimated the power of Feydra’s connections.
“Good,” Adrian said, “Because I need to get back to Silver City to warn Jesse and his family—by tonight.”
It had been a fairly stormy morning in Silver City. A lot of the rougher part of the storm had passed through Little Granite, keeping Jesse awake through the very early hours. This was why he was still completely awake when his mother had knocked hurriedly on his door, calling his name frantically.
“Jesse, Jesse! Wake up; there is something that you must see on the news! Hurry up or you will miss it!” Jesse groaned. He didn’t like being woken up early in the morning in the least, especially by his mother. He slowly got up from his bed, put on a shirt and walked downstairs and into the family room. His mother had the TV on Fox Five news.
“Just in time.” She said. Jesse sat down groggily on the couch, not expecting much to be on the news. “There seems to have been an American death in Kestovnia, isn’t that where Adrian is?”
Jesse was suddenly fully awake. His heart skipped a beat upon hearing this. “It can’t be Adrian… why would that happen?” He asked.
A news reporter came on the screen after the commercials, in the Fox Five studio. “For the past couple days, we have had one of our new interns, Gabriel Powers, documenting the story behind the trouble brewing in Kestovnia, the world’s newest country. According to Powers and his real footage captured last night, there has been an apparent American assassination on Kestovnian ground. We will now stream live to our young reporter, Gabriel Powers, for more information.” The screen switched views to a young man nearly thirty years old, holding a microphone. He stood in front of what looked like a burned-down building of some kind; it almost looked like what used to be an enormous house.
“Here in Kestovnia, just outside Nikolai, there has been a bombing by the infamous Kestovnian secret police. There had been several deaths involved, but one dead body has been identified as an American from our own Silver City.”
“What?” Jesse whispered. His mother seemed surprised as well.
“The suspected reasoning of this arson has been that there were several people of the Kestovnian rebellion inside, possibly attending a very important meeting of some sorts, but we have not been confirmed anything on the matter.”
“It can’t be Adrian.” Jesse said out loud. “He wouldn’t be involved with any sort of rebellion.”
“One main confirmation that we have had for certain is that this American who has been killed in this fire has gone by the name of Adrian Swanson in America, and Adrian Navankia in Kestovnia.” Gabriel said.
Jesse’s face turned pale. His mother looked over at him, terrified. “Jesse, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was him!”
Gabriel continued. “This may be just the first of many American deaths, here in Kestovnia. Ever since the King has died, ten years ago, the secret police has gone after several whom they suspect of treason to the new regime. As always, Americans automatically remain number one on their hit list. In fact, it may no longer be safe for me to be here. This may be my only broadcast here in Kestovnia.”
“Thank you Gabriel.” The news reporter in the studio replied. “There has been indeed an American death in the Balkan country of Kestovnia, suspected of being a secret police assassination. The American’s name is Adrian Swanson Navankia. On to other news…” Jesse ran up to the screen and turned it off furiously.
“Jesse, what if they are wrong?” His mother asked hopelessly.
“He’s dead. Adrian is dead.” Jesse said, and breaking into tears, he ran back upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door. The first thing that Jesse resorted to once inside his room was letting out any vulgar cuss word he could think of. He threw his pillow against the wall; he punched his bed mattress several times. He then collapsed on his bed, overly exhausted from his rage of emotions. Adrian was his best friend. None of his other friends could understand Jesse as he did. Jesse knew that he had a hard time making friends as it was. He was shyer around people that he didn’t know very well, being extremely used to being around kids that he grew up with.
“I don’t want to start over.” He said to himself. Every single day, he was banking on the fact that Adrian would call him up with the good news that he was allowed back into the U.S. That never happened. The idea drove him crazy. He beat himself up for not spending more time with Adrian before he had left. Of course, there wasn’t much time to begin with. Within twenty four hours of him and Adrian having their last drink together, Adrian was on a plane to Europe.
Jesse had almost wished that Adrian had never told him over the phone about what was going on in Kestovnia. He didn’t want to know that he was being chased by the secret police or nearly getting shot at every other day. He wanted his best friend back.
“Please fasten your seatbelts. We are beginning to make our descent towards the Silver City International Airport. The local time is nearly eleven-thirty p.m. and the temperature is still running at a balmy ninety-two degrees with high levels of humidity. We hope you have enjoyed your flight with Lufthansa and hope that you will fly soon again with us.”
Adrian couldn’t have been more nervous and anxious to get off the airplane. He still had no clue how he was going to get to Little Granite to warn Jesse and his family. The plane finally landed on the strip and within the next ten minutes, everybody was filing off the plane.
The first thing Adrian did in the airport was go to the bathroom to wash his face. There was no need to go to the baggage claim at this point; he had no baggage to claim besides the backpack which he currently wore. He couldn’t believe what was happening. Was he truly back in the U.S.? Was he really back in Silver City, Illinois? Looking in the mirror, he could not recognize himself. He was blonde. He had shaved all of his facial hair that he had grown in Europe to look like a true Kestovnian. He was wearing colored contact lenses, which made his eyes turn blue. More than anything else, it looked as if he had been born in Denmark or Norway.
Adrian couldn’t get his mind off of the possible fact that Jesse may have already seen the news. What would his reaction be? It was little known to the rest of the friends in their group, but his best friend Jesse suffered from depression. He also had a drinking problem, just like his father. How would this affect his friend? He wished that Jesse wouldn’t resort to anything rash.
He decided that, using the money that he still had in his account that the Swanson’s had given him, he was going to take a taxi to Little Granite. There was no other way to get halfway across the county.
The taxi dropped him off at the main crossroads of the small village. The downtown strip on Main Street consisted of less than ten buildings all built close together, mainly small offices, banks or hotels. Adrian cut through a few alleys, traversing towards the edge of the village limits and into the countryside subdivision where Jesse’s house was located at the edge of.
In the distance, a small airplane landed at the nearby private airport whose landing strip was located in the middle of a vast open wheat field. Never before had Adrian ever seen an airplane land at this small airstrip. Most of the time, it was just small stunt planes that the local wealthy people of the countryside owned.
Adrian finally reached Jesse’s house, which was located on the edge of the vast wilderness, which included a nearby quarry which had turned into a lake. This was a place where he and Jesse had frequented often to sit on a shallow bed of rock at the edge of the lake where the warm water was only three feet deep. Only Adrian would walk up to the long peninsula of rock fifteen feet high to dive into the forty foot waters. Jesse couldn’t swim.
Adrian made it up the mid-length driveway up to the quaint two story house that had brought so many good memories. The last time he was here was the night he was arrested by Officer Ketnik.
A dark shadow crossed over the threshold and made its way around to the side of the house. Adrian squinted his eyes to see who it was. It was Jesse. He wanted to badly to yell out his name, but for some odd reason, Adrian wanted to just keep quiet and follow Jesse where he was walking.
More and more curiosity grew inside Adrian as he followed Jesse walking to the edge of the back yard of his house, and soon followed him into the broken straight line of trees and shrubs that followed the major power lines. Jesse was walking towards the quarry lake.
Still following nearly a hundred feet behind, Adrian grew tenser for some reason. Soon enough, the lake came into view in an opening of the woods to the right of the power lines. It was very dark outside, but the stars were brighter than ever before and there was a full moon that lit up the landscape enough for Adrian to see Jesse ahead of him clearly.
Jesse approached the edge of the lake. Adrian watched closely, now about fifty feet behind. He was just standing there. He lit a cigarette, and then threw it into the lake, only smoking it for about ten seconds. “What are you doing, Jesse?” Adrian whispered. He walked up to the rocky peninsula, climbing the five feet from the ground, then walking up the rest of the way to the edge of the rock, which was fifteen feet off of the surface of water. “Jesse, no.” Adrian whispered once again, and ran up closer to the rock, now about twenty feet behind, still hiding in the shadows. Jesse was going to do it, and yet something had Adrian paralyzed to the darkness of the trees. Adrian was scared out of his wits.
Then, Jesse jumped into the lake.