Artwork by @marty-art on Steemit... With many thanks!
[This are the last three chapters before I have to start writing anew... Maybe with your help I can get book II done!]
Oliveira was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place- this was the opportunity he had waited for all his life, an introduction into Lord Penrose's inner circle... the cost of admission- his beloved Alexa. He sat glumly in his office staring at the floor. Oliveira was ambitious but this was a very heavy price to pay. Alexa was his only child and he doted on her, he and his wife both did. She had come late, after he and his wife had given up on children. His presidency was likely lost, so if he refused his political career was over... on the other hand what could he gain by going along- the chancellorship at best. He shook his head- he couldn't bring himself to go through with it. But if he didn't, what would the ramifications be? Penrose wasn't a man who took rejection well... Would he just give up on Alexa? Not likely.
His mind was made up... He would send them away. His wife had a wealthy elderly aunt who lived in Portugal- he'd join them there later, after the election. He called his assistant:
"I have to go out for awhile," he said. "When I get back, I have something very important for you to do."
"Of course, Mr. President," the assistant replied. "May I ask what it is?"
"My wife and daughter are going to visit her aunt in Portugal- she isn't well," Oliveira lied. He trusted Arturo to a point... but he was afraid to trust anyone too much right now.
"Yes, Sir," Arturo said. "Whatever you need."
"How much can I trust you Arturo?" Oliveira asked looking deep into the assistant's eyes. He needed a friend someone he could confide in. Arturo was a good man- he had been with Oliveira since before his presidency.
Anything, Mr. President," Arturo told him sincerely, "anything at all. You can trust me Sir. Why, what is this about?"
Oliveira explained the situation to his assistant who listened intently. He could tell by his ashen face that he was as sickened by Penrose's suggestion as Oliveira himself.
"Just tell me what to do, Sir- anything," was the response.
After a good deal of agonizing, Father Tony decided that he was more use to the resistance network in America doing the Voice of Truth broadcasts. He had only done two but the response was overwhelming... between his efforts and Bret's nightly newscasts there was a wave of support and hope spreading around the world. He had but one reservation- Alessandra... he was afraid that without his steadying influence that Gerolamo wouldn't be able to keep her from doing something rash jeopardizing the operation in Italy. Przybysz and Ann had agreed to fly to Sicily on short notice and pick her up and bring her to America... only after a long heated conversation did she finally agree.
Oliveira drove himself to his home to instruct his wife to pack for her and Alexa. He didn't to alarm her by disclosing how much danger their daughter was in so he told her as little as possible. He feared that if she knew the whole truth she would be unable to complete the task at hand. She was a good woman, his wife- but a little high-strung. After preparing her for the journey, he left for the bank to get money for them to live on until he could join them- Arturo would come for them and take them to the train.
At the bank the manager raised an eyebrow over the amount he wanted to withdraw. To allay any suspicions he leaned over whispering: "It's for opposition research on my opponent- I'm not going down without a fight." He winked at the man who thought he understood and nodded back knowingly... he was the president after all.
On his way leaving the bank he ran into Gwendolyn Penrose coming up the steps.
"Good morning Miss Penrose," he said nervously as he tried to hurry past.
"Mr. President," she said calmly, "do you have a minute, I need to speak with you."
"I'm in a bit of a rush, if you don't mind," he stammered.
She caught his arm. "I think it would be in your best interest to come with me for a moment... as well as in the interest of your wife and daughter... I'm on your side."
He was caught. She knew and if she knew, her father must also know... but how? He had only told Arturo... Arturo, damn him. He had been betrayed.
"Mr. President, please. I can help you. Your wife and daughter will be much safer in America than wherever you're sending them," she said evenly looking him in the eye. "I can help. Come with me for, their sake."
What choice did he have? They walked casually to her car and got in. "Look Mr. President," Gwendolyn told the nervous man. "I'm taking a big risk coming to you like this. Your assistant Arturo is the best friend you have- he's also a part of the resistance. You're the president, you could have us both arrested if you wanted."
"What do you want in return?" Oliveira asked suspiciously.
"We'll get your wife and daughter to safety, in America- you can join them later." Gwendolyn went on. "For the rest of your presidency, you back off of the resistance. Behrmann is an asshole, he'll keep the heat on, but no more hardball from you."
"And if I agree?" Oliveira had already resigned himself. He was already in shock that Gwendolyn Penrose was a part of the resistance.
"All right," he agreed. "What do I do?"
Gwendolyn reached into her purse and withdrew a satellite phone and dialed a number. "Prz, where are you?"
"Just touched down in Catania," he replied. "What's up?"
"What time can you be here?" Gwendolyn asked.
"In Geneva? About 3:00 your time, I guess," he said.
"No, you better make it Montreux," Gwendolyn told him. "I need you to pick up a couple of packages and take them to safety."
"Packages?" Przybysz inquired.
"Alexa Oliveira and her mother," Gwendolyn replied looking at Oliveira.
"Wha..." Przybysz was surprised.
"My father wants to make Alexa the guest of honor at one of his soirees," she told him. "The President wants to switch sides."
"I'll be there with bells on," Przybysz laughed.
Gwendolyn instructed Oliveira about what to do next. He was to remain in Geneva while Arturo drove his wife and daughter to the Montreux airport.
"Thank you, Miss Penrose," Oliveira blurted out grabbing her hand kissing it. "I don't know what to say."
"Just remember your end of the bargain. No harassment," she said.
"Yes, of course," he assured her exiting the car.
Oliveira went home and delivered the money, telling his wife of the change in plans. He lied telling her that he didn't trust U'Bamah and wanted them safe until after the election- she agreed. He kissed them both good bye and returned to his office. Arturo gave him a nod when he entered letting him know that Gwendolyn Penrose had already briefed him.
After Arturo called to inform him that Alexa and her mother were safely on the plane, he finished up and decided to go home. on the way to his car, he contemplated the prospects of returning to an empty house. Arturo had taken the Presidential limo to Montreux so Oliveira got into his Audi and sadly pulled out of the executive parking garage onto the street. He looked up just in time to see a large moving van coming straight at his driver's door. It was the last thing he saw... he felt a jarring crash and his world went black.
Przybysz and company were halfway across the Atlantic when he got word about the demise of the president. He had gone forward to have a word in private with the pilot who informed him... now he was tasked with breaking the news to 8 year-old Alexa and her anxious mother who was terrified of flying as it was. The look on his face when he exited the cockpit alerted Ann that something was wrong... Maybe it would be better to have her tell the two reluctant passengers.
At his villa in Geneva, Baraq U'Bamah sat reading through a speech he was preparing when Hassan came in. "It is done," the latter said solemnly.
"He is dead?" U'Bamah asked looking up.
"Yes," was the response.
"And it can't be traced back to us?" U'Bamah looked at his friend intently.
"The driver of the truck is dead," Hassan replied. "I saw to it myself."
"Excellent, my friend. I knew I could depend on you," U'Bamah smiled. "I've been preparing my condolence speech."
Ann intercepted her husband before he reached Mrs. Oliveira and took him aside to ask him what had happened. When he explained she asked: "Do you want me to tell them...?"
"It might be better coming from a woman, I thought," Przybysz replied.
When they sat down Alexa spoke before Ann could say anything: "It's my Papa, isn't it?" Then she went on "I knew Papa sent us away because there was danger... he's dead isn't he? I can tell by the looks on your faces."
"Yes, Alexa," Ann said reaching out touching the girl's hand.
"How did it happen?" Mrs. Oliveira asked.
"It was an automobile accident," Przybysz said softly.
"It was no accident," Alexa said firmly. "They murdered him."
She and her mother held one another and began sobbing softly.
"If you need anything..." Przybysz said rising to leave.
"The funeral," Mrs. Oliveira began.
"Don't think about it right now," Ann said. "We'll take care of everything."
"We should go back," she said.
"I don't think that would be wise at this point," Przybysz cautioned. "At least until we learn more."
"He's right Mother," Alexa told her. "We could still be in danger."
"You're a remarkable young lady Alexa," Ann said kindly. "I think you're going to like America."
"Thank you," Alexa said.
"Do you like horses?" Ann asked.
"Oh yes," Alexa replied. "Papa took me riding. I had lessons."
"Well, we have a horse farm," Ann told the girl, "that's where you'll be staying."
"Thank you so much," Mrs. Oliveira said tearfully, "for everything."
Alessandra, overhearing the conversation walked over to where they were sitting: "I'm happy that pig is dead," she said and spat on the floor of the plane.
Ann stood slapping her hard across the face. "Shut your ignorant mouth and show some respect. They've never hurt anyone."
Alessandra turned on her heel holding her face and walked to the furthest part of the plane.
"Will she be staying with in America?" Alexa asked looking up at Ann.
"No honey," Przybysz assured her, "I have somebody picking her up at the airport. You'll never have to see her again."
"I know Papa did bad things," Alexa looked at her mother," but he loved us very much."
"I know he did sweetie," Ann told her. "Try not to think about it. Think about your new life in America."
"What will we do?" Mrs. Oliveira asked. "We don't know anyone there."
"You know us," Ann said looking at Przybysz. "That's enough for now."
Outside U'Bamah's villa a limo pulled up into the drive and parked under the portico. Hassan looked out of the window replying to his friend: "It's Lord Penrose."
"I've been expecting him," U'Bamah smiled, "show His Lordship in."
"Were you responsible for Oliveira's accident?" Penrose asked bluntly.
"I saw no point in the formality of an election," U'Bamah said blandly.
"I wish you'd have checked with me first," Penrose said irritably, "I don't want any blow back from this."
"Don't worry," U'Bamah said with a grin. "Everything's been taken care of- the driver's been killed and he can't be traced back to us... Besides, I am The Chosen One, or have you forgotten. I don't have to check anything with anyone."
"I just don't want any of our plans upset," Lord Penrose told him. "Please- all I ask is that you let me in on what you're doing so I can provide cover."
"You worry too much," U'Bamah said smugly. "Just go home and tell your lovely daughter I'd like very much to see her."
"Gwendolyn?" Penrose said with a worried look. "Why?"
"Who do you think it was that got Oliveira's wife and daughter out?" He looked hard at the older man to see if he suspected. It was clear that he did not.
"What are you going to do?" Penrose was visibly nervous.
"Relax, I don't care about them- they're gone and that's good enough... She did me a favor," U'Bamah said calming the older man. "I just want to take her out to dinner-to celebrate." He laughed.
Penrose left in a hurry. He hadn't suspected his own daughter for a moment. He would question her about it himself. He had plans for Alexa Oliveira... Long term plans.
It was with a heavy heart that Arturo Salazar called Gwendolyn Penrose on his way back from Montreux. He has served Oliveira for over two decades- ever since the president had begun his political career in Brazil. On the return trip from dropping Mrs. Oliveira and Alexa he heard the announcement interrupting the music program he was listening to. He couldn't drive on... he stopped the night at an inn in Lausanne, too upset to go on. He sat on the bed, phone in hand.
"Miss Penrose?" He asked calling the secure number she had provided.
"Yes, Arturo," she replied. "I'm sorry about your boss... I know how bad you must feel."
"He wasn't a bad man, Miss Penrose," Arturo told her, "just ambitious. I often didn't agree with the things he did, but in the end he did the right thing for his wife and child."
"Yes, he did," Gwendolyn said. "I have nothing against him, Arturo. He was what he was- a politician. Did Mr. Przybysz give you something for me?"
"Yes, he did," Arturo replied fingering the envelope on the bed beside him. "I'll call again as soon as I get back."
"No," Gwendolyn told him. "It isn't safe for you to come back right now. Give me your location and I'll come to you," Gwen said.
"But the funeral..." Arturo began, "I'm the only one left to make the arrangements."
"If you come back now, you'll be in danger and not able to make any kind of arrangements- even for yourself," Gwendolyn said firmly. "Tell me where you are and I'll come to you."
"I'm at an inn in Lausanne," he said sadly, wanting desperately to return and see to his boss's final arrangements. With a heavy sigh, he gave her the directions.
"I'm on my way," she told him. "My father has his heart set on Alexa... she's what's important now, her safety. Do you understand? Just stay where you are."
"Ok," Arturo agreed reluctantly. She was right. He ordered room service although he wasn't feeling much like eating... He had to keep his strength up.
Thomas Beck, former American President was summoned to the Penrose estate. When he arrived he found His Lordship in a very agitated state.
"I need you to use all of the resources at your disposal, Beck- I want that girl... I need her, I need her energy. I want her flesh," Penrose hissed.
"Both she and her mother have disappeared," Beck replied. He had never seen Penrose in such a state, "along with the assistant Salazar."
"Find them... Whatever it takes. I want that girl," Penrose's voice rose almost to a shout.
"And the mother?" Beck asked.
Penrose shrugged and walked away. "I don't care... I want the girl."
Beck left, calling Chancellor Behrmann from his limo. "Behrmann," he began, "have you seen Oliveira's assistant today?"
"No Sir, not since yesterday morning," Behrmann replied. "Why?"
"I want him," Beck said. "He knows where Oliveira's wife and daughter are... Lord Penrose wants to see them."
"Let me see what I can find out," Behrmann told him. "Give me a couple of hours and I'll call you back at this number."
After Arturo met with Gwendolyn Penrose, he drove back from Lausanne to Geneva. When he got to his apartment he found a welcoming committee- Behrmann's secret police. Because of Gwendolyn's warning he was prepared for what he was certain would come next.
"Are you going to handcuff me?" He inquired of the lead officer.
"Of course not, you're not under arrest," the officer sneered. "Why, should we?"
No," Salazar replied dourly, "I just knew something like this would happen."
When they arrived at Behrmann's office, Arturo was brought in by the officer that had come for him... a large German in plain clothes. Inside was Behrmann and Thomas Beck.
"Where did you take Mrs. Oliveira and her daughter?" Behrmann asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Arturo replied trying to sound casual. "What's this all about?"
"C'mon Salazar," Behrmann said. "I'd hoped you'd be reasonable. We know you left yesterday morning in the Presidential limo with President Oliveira's wife and daughter and now he's dead. What did you have to do with the accident?"
Arturo was confused. Were they blaming him for his boss's death?"
"I didn't... He began.
"We only need to find Mrs. Oliveira and her daughter to make sure they're safe," Beck lied. "What did you do with them? Did you kidnap them?"
"No, of course not," Arturo stammered. "I would never..."
"Well, I tried to be reasonable," Behrmann said nodding to the large German who stepped forward and held Arturo while Behrmann began punching him, stopping only to ask an occasional question. Arturo held fast and revealed nothing.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Salazar," Behrmann intoned, "I had hoped we could settle this amicably and this violence could have been avoided."
The questioning went on for over an hour, but Arturo was resolute. When it became apparent that he wouldn't relent, the officer that brought him in led Arturo to a dank cell with only a blanket on the floor and a bare bulb in a ceiling fixture high above. This would be his new home until he "came to his senses," as Behrmann put it.
Gwendolyn returned home to find her father waiting... "Gwen dear," he smiled, "I need to speak with you for a minute. I won't keep you."
"Just one moment father," she demurred. "I've been out driving and am about to burst."
"I'll be in my study," he said walking out of the room in that direction.
In the restroom Gwendolyn opened the envelope and withdrew the odd looking ring inside, placing it on her finger. She read the instructions Przybysz has placed in the envelope and returned it putting it all back in her purse. She walked calmly into her father's study.
"Gwen dear," Lord Penrose began, "do you know the whereabouts of Mrs. Oliveira and her daughter Alexa?"
"This must be important Father," she said walking toward him. "I don't even get a hug before you begin interrogating me?"
"I'm sorry darling," Penrose smiled opening his arms, "where are my manners?"
Gwendolyn stepped into his open arms gently touching the back of his neck... he never felt the prick of the tiny needle. His Lordship's eyes opened wide with surprise as did his mouth. The look on his face was almost comical, thought Gwendolyn. He clutched at his chest with both hands and slumped to the floor. Alexa Oliveira would never know the danger she had been in.