Bewildering Stories

Table of Contents
Chapter 28 appears
in this issue.

Observation One:
Singing of promises ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 29: Madrid, Spain

Toni travelled back to his own homeland in warm business class comfort, and started work on his final task for Quo by carefully scanning each of his newspapers and taking occasional notes. Meanwhile, Carla had a very cold but visually stimulating night flight. They both arrived at Madrid Barajas at ten to nine, and they both separately passed through Spanish customs without incident. By ten-thirty they were safely installed in Toni’s luxury hotel.

He still had plenty of energy left, after his late start that morning and a little doze near the end of the flight, so he did not complain about Carla’s request for him to spend a further hour at work in the hotel’s Business Centre, using the Internet, the TV and the latest evening newspapers. By the time he had finished, he had established a quite accurate picture of the Spanish Prime Minister’s likely movements for the whole of the following day ...

Carla had left Toni to concentrate on his task, and had been very impressed with what she had observed. But just before midnight, once the only other businessman using the Centre had gone off to bed, and Toni was gathering together all his notes and printouts, she turned up behind him once again.

Then, using their street plan of Madrid, they methodically discussed the best locations for possibly catching sight of the Prime Minister the next day, as he moved from one engagement to another. When they had finished, they had built a shortlist of three opportunities: one in the early morning, one mid-afternoon, and the other late in the evening ...

‘Excellent,’ said Carla. ‘We could not have wished for a better situation. Thank you once again.’

Then, before he realised what was happening, she reached over towards him and, for the first time since their enforced engagement on the bank of the River Seine, she once again took his head in her lovely hands. And now it would be Toni’s turn to become fully empowered by Quo ...

* * *

The next morning, with Carla in unseen tow, Toni arrived ahead of time at the first location they had selected, and managed to find a position not too far from where he expected the Prime Minister to emerge from his initial meeting. And he had judged it well. But the politician was obviously running rather late, for he hurried out of the building and straight into his waiting car without even acknowledging the small groups of people standing some distance away ...

Toni shrugged his shoulders and took a taxi to the second location they had chosen. With much more time to spare, he was able to make a better plan. On this occasion, he reckoned, he should be able to get within about fifty metres, if he was lucky ... but he would need to be there well ahead of their predicted moment. Fortunately, however, he still had plenty of time for a nice lunch ...

* * *

It was two o’clock, and Toni had installed himself at his personal observation post, his eyes glued to the main entrance of the building housing the ongoing meeting. Carla was watching from a different vantage point, with similar anticipation.

Almost an hour later, the Prime Minister finally emerged from the front door and walked slowly, in the middle of a tightly-knit group, towards his waiting limousine. Apart from one or two individuals who were booing noisily and shouting various protests, the crowd was very supportive and was cheering and applauding him. He reached his car, then stopped to look directly towards them, smiling and waving cheerfully. And the humble citizen Rafael Luis Barola returned his leader’s smile with a supremely irresistible one ...

Toni caught a fleeting glimpse of some honest opinions of four or five of the politician’s close aides and bodyguards, before the Prime Minister himself fell captive to his temporary new charm. Then, in no time at all, the newly-empowered observer gained a complete insight into the purest thoughts of the Spanish leader on the question of enlargement of the European Union.

* * *

Carla was once again waiting for him in his room.

‘You have a result, I assume, Toni!’

‘Yes, Carla ... I really think I’ve learned the truth — on Day 17!’

‘Well done, my friend. I am very proud of you. And ... ah ... I think Quo would like a few more words now ...’

Carla walked over to him, reached out to him, then paused for a moment and smiled a sadder smile than he had ever seen before. It brought a lump to his throat and moisture to his eyes, and he knew at once that he would not see her again ...

That was excellent work, Toni. You have, as usual, affirmed our great faith in you.

‘Thank you, Quo. So, if I’m going home soon, have you finished your work too?’

Only the initial phase. We feel we have now learned enough about your leaders and their integrity. We are ready to move on to other areas of discovery ...

‘But you’ve only been here just over two weeks — and you’ve only met up with a dozen people at most!’

We have learned the thoughts of many others, Toni. Enough to satisfy us.

‘I told you I was not a statistician, Quo. But I am a historian of sorts! I still don’t accept that your conclusions can possibly be valid. You just haven’t studied things broadly enough, or for long enough!’

You must trust me on the statistics. But let us look for a moment at your thoughts about History. You place a lot of faith in History, don’t you Toni ...?

‘Yes, I do. It is our reference book for civilisation. We must turn to it at all times, to remind ourselves of what can go wrong if bad or selfish decisions are made by our leaders ...’

How much trust do you place in the “stories” part of your “Histories”?

‘What do you mean, Quo?’

You know precisely what I mean, Toni. I mean Varieties of Truth. I mean the documenting of events as people wish them to be remembered, not as they necessarily were. I mean the pure invention of a story which becomes a history. I mean the errors always introduced by translation from ancient to modern languages, or even between current ones. I mean the purposeful re-writing of history by historians or zealots with their own world views or aims. I mean the unintended corruption of individual memory over time ...

‘I think you are being very unfair.’

Am I really? Did you never give your parents a less than perfect explanation of your behaviour? Did you never make a wrong translation of language at school? Did you simply write boring chronologies in your history essays, or were you not encouraged (and happier) to analyse and interpret events as you understood them? And have you already forgotten your own romantic and false recollections of the Jardin du Luxembourg, last week? That was after a gap of only ten years ...

‘What are you trying to do to me, Quo?’

I am certainly not trying to destroy your faith, Toni. I am only encouraging you to constantly question it. Our own experience on Dome, the account of which has been handed down by pure memory, incorruptible by false reports, is that before we learned to know each other’s minds, anarchy ruled in the land of History, and Truth was always potential victim to any lie that could be invented.

Be careful with the truth, Toni. It is rarely what it seems. As I must now dramatically demonstrate ...

You have already lost your new and special powers of observation. And by the end of the day, you will have steadily forgotten everything that has happened since you returned to your apartment on that special Monday.

In its place, you will remember a very different course of events, triggered by the actions of the police at the café that afternoon. You were very wise to ignore your great-uncle’s advice and keep all your personal documents safely, even without our encouragement.

You will find you know exactly what to do next, to retrieve your old self. And when that is done, Toni, your new story will then be, for you, the absolute, immutable truth. This will be your immaculate defence, when you surrender yourself to the authorities back in Bilbao.

We shall watch over you, to ensure that you emerge from their investigations completely innocent and free. If there are any problems, we shall help you to resolve them. So you must have no fear. Just tell the story we shall now teach you. It is, of course, just another variety of truth. But it must always be your true story.

And Carla promises to speak to you again before she leaves.

Goodbye now, Toni. May you maintain, in your life, the stability you relish so much ...

He was back in his hotel room, all alone. And he knew without any doubt that he was, once again, none other than Antonio Felipe Murano.

It was four o’clock. He phoned the concierge and asked for information on train services to Bilbao. There were only two real options ... to take a night train and be there at seven-thirty in the morning, or to wait until the next day and arrive in Bilbao at half-past four in the afternoon. He decided to get on with his final tasks, and aim to catch the ten forty-five departure that evening ...

Then he began the process of systematically erasing the story of Rafael Luis Barola.

* * *

He went back down to the hotel’s Business Centre, collected a large quantity of unmarked envelopes of various sizes, and bought a small pair of scissors, some elastic bands, and a good supply of postage stamps.

He pulled the rucksack out of his suitcase, and changed into the cleanest of the old shirts, pullovers, trousers, underwear, socks and shoes that had been kept in it since his last day in Venice. He left all the other old clothes inside the rucksack, along with his shaver. Then he threw in his toilet bag.

He rolled up his five precious drawings inside the rest of the blank sheets from the sketch pad, and secured them with elastic bands. The roll also went into the rucksack, along with his Spanish-language art book.

He picked up his own precious CD and saw Janis’ personal note on the front cover. ‘That’ll be all right,’ he said to himself. ‘She often signs CDs ordered through her web site, if you ask her to.’ It went into the rucksack.

He cut Rafael’s passport into tiny shreds, and distributed them across several individual small envelopes, which he then sealed and screwed up. But he kept back the photograph and placed it carefully on the table next to his wallet.

He removed the SIM cards from both of his mobile phones, placed each one on the floor on a large envelope, and crushed them underfoot. Bits from each set of remains went into several more envelopes, which were all then stuck down and screwed up.

He took both of the phones themselves, wiped them of fingerprints, placed them on the envelopes on the floor, and crushed them as well. Then each was sealed inside its own large envelope.

He pulled the street plan of Rome out from the back of his pocket guide, and tore off the part where his great-uncle had written his address. That scrap of paper, and then the map itself, went into two further sealed envelopes.

He stuffed all the envelopes he had prepared into a hotel laundry bag. Then the music magazine and all the newspapers were put into a second bag, along with the old brown envelope, the cover of the sketch pad (the text was in French), the envelopes used to destroy the phones, and the printouts from the previous evening’s Internet research. Both laundry bags were then stored at the top of his rucksack.

He kept back a large quantity of euro notes, totalling a little less than the amount he already had in his wallet when he left Bilbao after making his two big withdrawals. This was far more than he would need for the rest of the day and his train fare home.

He wondered for a moment just what he should do with all the other cash — and then he had the answer. The rest of the euro notes, and the remaining sterling and Czech bills, were placed in a large envelope, which he addressed to his favourite singer’s favourite charity, and endowed with more than enough postage stamps.

He put his few euro coins into his trouser pocket. His Czech and British coins were left for the hotel maid.

The sheet of paper recording Rafael’s web ID and password went into his trouser pocket, along with the scissors and elastic bands, the pages on which he had written the co-ordinates of all the position fixes, his notes on the Prime Minister’s anticipated movements that day, and the scraps of paper recording the address of the Prague jazz club and the various phone numbers of Giuseppe Terleone, the son of his friend in Prague, and Mlle Mireille Daurant.

His wallet, now containing only his own cash and plastic cards, his other personal papers, the postage stamps and, temporarily, Rafael’s passport photograph, went into the inside pocket of his old jacket. In the other pockets he stored the stamped envelope full of cash, his bunch of keys, his old pen and pencil, his comb, his own passport and identity card, plenty of spare envelopes, and Rafael’s doomed shades and bank card.

He then placed all of Rafael’s new clothes, plus the hated cagoule and baseball cap, into the wheeled suitcase. He picked up the GPS unit, erased all the stored “marks”, and did a full system reset. Then he did his best to wipe his fingerprints off the GPS itself, the mobile phone charger, the marker pen, the drawing pencils and the eraser (they all had French writing on them), all the other city street plans and guidebooks, his British-published paperback, the outrageous cheap sunglasses, the CD player and all the CDs that he had purchased, and the various spare batteries that he had acquired. All of these were added to the suitcase, which he then wiped clean.

Then he put on his old jacket, and with his rucksack on his back, his case rolling behind him, and Rafael’s glasses still on his nose, he left his room and checked out of the hotel, using his alter ego’s bank card and signature for the very last time.

* * *

He took a taxi straight to the address of a Third World charity shop which he had obtained from the concierge. He wiped the handle of his suitcase with a handkerchief, left it wrapped around the handle, trundled the case inside, let them open it for inspection, and then discreetly pocketed his handkerchief and left without saying a word.

Then he sat down on a pavement bench. He cut Rafael’s bank card into a dozen pieces, each of which he put into a different envelope. These were then screwed up tightly and stored in the laundry bag along with all the others.

He then strolled around the city streets at random, making the acquaintance of a very large number of Madrid’s roadside litterbins. At every second or third one, he stopped and discarded a single screwed-up envelope from the bag. When this was finally empty and thrown away, along with the wiped-clean scissors and the elastic bands, he sought out a larger bin, and dumped the other big bag full of newspapers and general rubbish.

Next, he went to a kiosk and bought a box of matches. In a quiet side street, he took the photograph from his wallet and the various sheets of hand-written notes from his trouser pocket. He set fire to each of them in turn, letting the ashes fall into further spare envelopes. He then screwed up all of those and found yet more litterbins for them. The box of matches was dumped as well. Finally he threw away the few remaining hotel envelopes.

He stopped outside an optician’s shop, and removed Rafael’s glasses from his nose and the matching shades from his pocket. He wiped both pairs clean, then dropped them into the shop’s charity collection box.

He found a post-box and sent off his anonymous donation to Janis Ian’s charity.

Then he checked and re-checked his rucksack and all his pockets. All clear. All just Antonio. Now he felt he could have a little break, and the glass of beer he had been looking forward to all afternoon.

Once he was refreshed, he found a hairdresser’s. He had a wash and trim, and another application of a matching dye. Then he asked them to shave his beard and moustache off completely.

He was certain he had completed his chores in Madrid. He took the metro to Chamartin station, ate a good meal, drank a couple more very nice beers, paid cash for his train ticket, and boarded the 2245 departure for Miranda de Ebro and onward to Abando station, Bilbao.

To be continued ...

Proceed to the Table of Contents ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

Home Page

[an error occurred while processing this directive]