Checkmate!

The day was hot, the air heavy.  Tendrils of steam rose lazily from the road, luring the girl into an oblivious snooze.  She would not succumb.  She was watching the young man as he surveyed the empty road.  He stepped boldly into the open and traversed the distance across in about fifteen seconds.

 

Think of tomorrow Danielle….. concentrate on getting to tomorrow… tomorrow will be different. Just think of tomorrow.  Calm down you idiot!  I am not an idiot!  She hummed to herself, tunelessly, struggling to calm down.  Her voice was so low that some of the notes broke, but the passage of air over her vocal chords comforted her; Try to think of an alpine vista Dee.  No image came to her but the bile rose to her throat.  You can’t help anyone if you panic! she thought.

Stop it!…. Why should I be afraid to die?  I wonder if I’ll get into Heaven.  Gregory could probably argue his way in.  She smiled, despite herself.  I wish I was Gregory.  I wish Gregory was dead! ….

“Stop that!” she whispered, aloud.  The girl was angry; with herself for being so afraid, but also, as she now realized, with Gregory for being so good.

Forgive me Father… she crossed herself.  I can’t let him get me killed.  From now on he’s on his own.  I don’t want to see him or have anything to do with him anymore…  Yet, as she thought about leaving him on his own, the girl was sorry for her friend.  She imagined him being caught if she abandoned him.  He would be killed.  All traitors were killed.  She had grown fond of him and would have said that she loved him in the way she did her dog, unconditionally, because he really was very brave and roguish and charming.  It had become important to her to be able to keep an eye on him.  Just think good thoughts Danielle.  You’ll live long …  and it wouldn’t be good to just leave him anyway….

Life was very dangerous in Jamaica.  Gen. Marshall had worked feverishly, not to make conditions better for the masses after the taken-for-granted gains of Jamaica’s Vision 2030, as he claimed when he had deposed President Harriott in 2065, but to destroy every trace of the way that things were before that time.  True, there were signs that the rampant corruption and crime and poverty of the turn of the century were returning, but this was worse. Instead of the people turning against each other this was the state raining terror of its own.  Popular opinion held that it was he, the General, himself, who was the real problem in the society and there were rumours of dissention even among his most ardent supporters.

The General would remove anyone who did not fall in with his plans.  Danielle, and so many of her countrymen and women, would have celebrated if the attempt on the General’s life last year had succeeded.  It hadn’t – the official newspapers had gloated that the plot had been quashed and most of the traitors annihilated.  The girl was sure that wasn’t true.  She didn’t fully believe that there ever was a plot.  That would have needed more planning than the few strategists, still not a part of the resistance would be capable of.  She wasn’t surprised, though, when Felix had been accused by the state-sponsored media, but the story describing how the lone gunman had pounced on the General at his home and tried to kill him there had lacked the imagination and daring that would have marked it as having been initiated by Felix.  Certainly, Felix wouldn’t have failed, for it was suspected by some, that without the General, there would have been no coup.

Quite naturally Danielle usually only thought about the state of Jamaican life privately.  Gregory, however, thought nothing of sharing his views with everyone who would listen to him; and she was sure, with the legions who heard about him from them.  Most of Jamaica thought that Gregory’s was the voice of the man behind the popular resistance.  The people believed that he was the real persona behind Felix, the nearly mythical figure who was destined to liberate them.

Felix was a demagogue, a near mystical figure worshipped by millions.  Rumor had made him the father of fifteen children, the circumstances surrounding the birth of each more miraculous than for the others.  He was a giant among men; alternately a native and an expatriate who loved the Jamaican people.  He was handsome; happily married to a local woman; he was single, cut forever adrift after his true love married his brother; he was an embittered widower, struggling to erase the memory of his family murdered by the junta in the early days of the revolution.  No one was sure of his real identity or would claim, publicly, to have ever helped him execute any of the feats for which he had become famous; but the Felix legends grew beyond all credibility and he had become a Jamaican William Tell.

It was his reckless attitude toward Felix which had first attracted Danielle’s attention.  Despite the ridiculous tales which abounded, and even as she wondered about the genesis of some of them, Gregory had actively encouraged those who knew him to believe that he was Felix.  He once told the listening thousands from their ham radio, that the General and his lackeys were an open sore on the moral fibre of the society…  The radio announcer had cut him off; but not before Gregory had managed to suggest that the people should unite to depose the junta in their turn. He alluded, constantly, to the fact that few persons had actually seen the General since the assassination attempt and suggested that he was really dead and that the coup was, in fact, leaderless.  Danielle had noticed that too, but she needed to be sure of this before coming out of hiding herself.

The girl felt sick every time she thought about what would happen to her if she were ever caught with Gregory.  It did not help her to think that what Gregory said was true – that popular refusal to take a public stand was the real problem.  He seemed to see her as being a part of the faceless mass that cowered behind a spineless adherence to the law – much of it introduced within the past two years.  It was obvious to her that the people needed a martyr.  Gregory, on the other hand, appeared to stand up for values which were as timeless as the Sun and to need no one.  He seemed to enjoy saying that.

Plan your life Danielle… move on.  You’re better off on your own.  Forget everything else…. But who will take care of me?  I will take care of you, Sweetie.  We can take care of each other….  And who is we?….  I must be going crazy… she mused.  She had been talking to herself again while trying not to fantasize about him.  Danielle knew that nothing would ever happen between them, and smiled to herself.

She crossed the road after him.  He had disappeared into the brush and she felt a sudden urge to be with him.  She had lived a charmed life for two years and it would probably be safer for her to be wherever he was.  It was two-thirty in the afternoon but the highway seemed to be totally deserted.  One couldn’t be sure about many things – except perhaps, that Gregory would do whatever he thought was right, and that it would probably be something dangerous for her.

Danielle didn’t see the man signal.  She didn’t notice the band of soldiers lurking in the brush; surrounding her, their guns at the ready.  She could not see Gregory.  But Joseph was very glad to see her at last….

The room was nearly featureless.  The greyness of the walls belied the fact that the paint on them was still new.  The light was bright, and the solitary mirror, which she knew to be one-way glass, was scratched.  Danielle stared frankly into it knowing that her action would cause some consternation to whomever was behind there.  One blade of the ceiling fan was bent and reminded her of the broken wing of a dead bird that she and her sister had once seen as children.

I wonder how that happened.

The building was very still and she imagined that she was so far underground that sound could not reach her.  Buried alive… Two beautiful wooden chairs faced each other at the little table marooned in the middle of the room.  They seemed incongruous where they were and only heightened the moroseness of the setting.

This is just a typical World War II interrogation room!  Couldn’t you have been more original?  For some reason, her rebelliousness comforted her, and she smiled.

A man ambled into the room and to the chair facing the door.  He moved with the easy stride of a dancer.  Thoroughbred stallion.  Images of polo players and world championship golf skipped through her mind.

Damn you’re pretty!

“Please sit down Ms. Burey.”

She was surprised about the Ms.  He probably knew a lot about women.  She noticed too that he hadn’t bothered to indicate to the chair opposite him.  That would have been pointless since it was the only one available.  She would have no choice but to face the mirror and her unknown judges.  She would have to be careful not to think too much.  He seemed to respect her intelligence.  That was not good.  It didn’t do to seem to be too smart.  She had survived simply because she was one of Gregory’s faceless masses.  She stood there wondering whether she ought to pretend not to understand him, but decided that she didn’t want to give him the impression that she was an airhead.

Pride goes before a fall Danielle…  She ignored this thought.  If you’re really honest you know that you just don’t want him to think that you’re stupid.  She dismissed that too.  You really are beautiful…. Stop that!…  Concentrate Danielle!… 

“Thank you.”

She wondered what he would have done if she had suggested that they play a game of chess.  Here was a man who was obviously very different from the minions who worked for him upstairs.  Things might not go so smoothly as she had rehearsed after all.

Get yourself into alert mode Danielle…

“So how are you this morning?” he asked.  “Is everything well with you?”

“Not really.  I’m wondering why you brought me here.”

“Oh come on, don’t worry about that.  I just wanted to ask you a few questions.  Is that so bad?”  He was teasing her!  He leaned toward her and smiled cruelly, “I have heard so many stories about you Felix.  Are they all true?”

Confirmation, you bastard! I was really hoping you’d do the right thing…

The girl said nothing but considered him, trying not to smile.  His arrogance was quite charming, and she did not wish to be seduced by him.

“That depends on what you’ve heard of course;” she replied, carefully.

Touche!

She wouldn’t waste his time denying that she was Felix, but she knew that there was only one person who would have told him that…

***

His work done, Gregory was depressed.  He knew that Danielle must die; but he did not feel the sense of triumph that he had anticipated.  He had lived with her and her friends for nearly two years and had known that she was Felix almost from the start.  She was the real force behind the leadership of the rebels – the triumvirate – as they called themselves.  He had worked feverishly to make her believe that he wanted people to think that he was their hero and, almost against his wishes, the ploy had apparently succeeded.  She didn’t seem to suspect that he was the one sent by the General to infiltrate the resistance, and rope Felix in.  Her active support was only about two hundred strong by his estimate – not as popular as they should have been.  Most people were simply too afraid to embrace the group.

“….. I wasn’t sure which of them it was at first, but she told me herself.  We were talking about the trouble that the group had been causing the General, and she looked at me and said ‘Render to Caesar’.  She stopped there and laughed, but her eyes were serious.  She’d been gauging me, trying to see if she could trust me…”  He paused to think about this for a minute.  “Apparently she decided that she couldn’t but the clue had already been given…” he continued quietly, more to himself than to his companion.

“Why do you think she did that?”  Joseph was suspicious.

“I don’t know, maybe she just thought that she could get away with it.  If I got it – then fine, if not, then that was probably just as well too.  You know most people have a half-hearted approach to volunteering for martyrdom.”

“Listen to yourself Greg – would Felix think like that?”

“Well she obviously did.”

Joseph didn’t think so, but Gregory seemed to be getting angry so he didn’t pursue the point.

“Why do you think she lives this way?  She knows the consequences better than everyone else.”  Joseph began again after a pause.

“She’s probably just a self-sacrificing ninny.”  Gregory snapped, sweeping his glass to the floor.

Joseph was surprised.  He thought that the youth might feel even a modicum of respect for the woman.  Everyone else did.  He looked at Gregory, thoughtfully.  The young man sat immobile, his brows furrowed and his jaw clenched.  He stared at some non-specific point on the wet floor to the left of Joseph’s shoes – clearly wrestling with an intense internal demon.  He seemed to become angrier with himself by the minute until Joseph saw him nod; almost imperceptibly to himself; purse his lips and sigh.

“I’m sorry about your glass Joseph,” he grinned as he struggled to his feet.

“Forget it,” said Joseph, waving him through the door.

Danielle wasn’t surprised when he entered the room.  She only wondered why it had taken him so long.  She sat, cross-legged on the floor, her back to him.  She had been meditating, ridding herself of nervous energy, draining herself of pain; preparing herself for the further ordeal ahead.

Gregory stood just inside the door, watching her. He waited, embarrassed by her vulnerability.  Finally, she got up and turned toward him; meeting his gaze steadily.

“You don’t seem very surprised to see me…” he ventured.  He winced at the sight of her bloody face and hands.  She had been beat up and some of her fingernails ripped out.

“I’m not.”  She shook her head slightly.

Realisation dawned.

“How long have you known about me?”  he asked after a while.

“For a long time Gregory.”  Her voice was gentle; pressing the point home.

“So you allowed yourself to be caught?  You staged all this?”  He had a desperate need to be sure.  He was aghast.  The full implication of her actions began to sink in.

“That’s right.”

“But I thought¼”   He was becoming confused.

“You thought I’d be so careless?”  Her voice was imperious and she looked at him scornfully. “Well maybe I was¼” she muttered crossly to herself and turned away from him.

“So why then?”  He was frightened; she was even more emotionally formidable than he had believed, in control even here.

“One has to take a stand Gregory.   It’s a matter of honour.  I was just trying to do something for the people; but it doesn’t seem to have panned out,” she added dully.

“Look, this is a very dangerous situation. What can I do to help you get out of here now?” Gregory said insistently.  He could hardly look at the girl.

She glanced at him sharply.

“You and I both know that I’m not going anywhere today…” she chuckled.

She bit the nail on her left thumb; sure indication despite her bravado, she was under extreme stress.  He had seen her like this only three times before.  The first time had been on Christmas Eve last year.  Her usual reserve had all but snapped.  She had been edgy all day and had eventually declared that she needed to have some time alone.  No one among their group of ‘friends’ had argued with her or offered to accompany her and no one had asked where she had been when she heard the news that the Presidential Palace had been burned to the ground.  She had claimed to have PMS, and to be in need of solitude again, on the day that the entire cache of the government’s arms supply – all sixty-seven trucks were hijacked; and she had been nervous about her impending marriage only the evening before a major diplomatic incident which had threatened to cause a war between Jamaica and France had occurred.  She had revelled in crippling the government’s computer system and the country’s stock exchange through an elaborate series of virus attacks and by posting vicious rumours over the Internet though; actually throwing a pizza party at her loft, ostensibly to celebrate the sale of two of her larger sculptures.  None of these sallies had been designed to actually kill the General.  They were meant instead to humiliate and harass him; belittle him in the eyes of the people; to wear him down and tire him out – a cat toying with a rat before the kill.

“… But there is something that you can do for me….”  She hesitated, seeming unsure about how to phrase her request.   “I need a gun.  I don’t think that I want to die by firing squad…  wouldn’t want to give him the pleasure¼ I’d rather do it myself….”

The man looked ill.  She was unarmed!  What kind of plan was this?

“No! No! No!  You can still get away if you really want to.  You’re Felix…I’ll help you…”  He whispered, clutching desperately at her arm, willing her to escape the gaol.

Presumptuous! Why should I trust you now? Felix doesn’t need vermin like you.

“Look at me Gregory.”  She grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing him to face her.  “Look at me.  Look at what they’ve done to me.  I really don’t have the strength to fight any more.  I was counting on you not to tell them. I hoped that they wouldn’t know who I was before I got here and that them ‘discovering’ it would distract them enough to buy me some time…”

“Time for what?” he demanded.

“Don’t you see that things have gone wrong?” she continued through his interruption.  “I can’t see how I’m going to get out of this one alive.  I’ve accepted it. I’m going to die by tomorrow anyway, with or without your help. Felix will live though, in the minds of the people, and he will triumph eventually that way! Yes, I need that to happen…sad that I won’t see it but, that’s life.  No one will ever believe that I, Danielle Burey, am The Felix and so if I die it won’t really matter. I just need to do it with some dignity though; so I have to do it my way.”

She winced dramatically, and let her hand drop to her side.

“Besides that, my whole body hurts.  I’ve never felt anything like this before.  I’d really prefer to make a quick job of it.”  She paused.  “I have to do this.  You must help me.  You’re the only one who can…”  The man still hesitated, this wasn’t his idea of martyrdom.  She really was a suicide after all!

“You said that you wanted to help me…” she reminded him, coyly.  “Come on Greg.  They’ve already won this round; but my dream for the people will succeed in the end.  Believe me, I’m sure of it.”

She was coaxing, her every word deliberate but playful, an exhausted mother speaking to a wary but very young child.  Had he refused though, she would have broken his neck and then taken whatever weapon he happened to have been carrying.  The only times that she had ever known him to take his gun off in the last two years was when he bathed; and even then, it lay snugly on the shower caddy in front of him. She counted on him to be just as paranoid here among his own.

“Okay.” Had his eyes really become tearful?  “I’ll get one for you.” he said turning from her to go; but she was prepared for that.

“So why don’t you just give me the one that you have there now?”  She said sweetly while nimbly stepping in front of him; blocking his escape; her tone, her actions and the cold glint in her eyes belying her previous assertions of defeat.

The man stared at her, incredulously.  “You’ve won again – as usual,” he said shoving the gun at her, and he stormed suddenly from the room.

Danielle looked at the weapon and smiled, her plan was working beautifully.  She was relieved to realise that she wouldn’t even have to kill Gregory herself; she could admit it, in a perverted way she’d grown fond of him.  She was sure that he would be taken care of eventually.  She had left the order for his execution if she did not return and she was sure that her partner in all things, Raymond, would not fail her.  Traitors on either side didn’t usually survive the day in Jamaica but perhaps he would be lucky – only the unfolding of events would tell.  She patted the swollen spot under her left eye tentatively and thought sadly about her poor misguided friend…He could have been great; he had what it took. What a waste.

“Why did you do it Gregory?”  Joseph was furious.

He had been troubled by the young man’s apparent remorse about helping the government to capture Felix and had ordered that he be watched carefully.  Joseph had known about his visit to the girl’s cell within five minutes of his going and had rushed there to demand an explanation.  He swore, violently, at Danielle on finding her there alone and ordered his two companions to search her and the cell thoroughly.  He then went to find Gregory.  Joseph had been waiting for him for about three minutes when Gregory returned to his office.

“She wants to kill herself.  She needs to protect her honour… I owe her that much…  I mean…”  He had begun to stammer.

“You bloody fool, and what do you think General Marshall is going to do to us if she does that?” he screamed.

Gregory became calm.

“Well you can’t do anything about it now Joseph.”

“I bloody well mean to though.  I have asked Parris and Michael to guard her and they will stay with her until tomorrow morning.”

Gregory smiled grimly.  Michael and Parris, two of his closest friends, were among the General’s finest operatives.  They would stop at nothing to prevent her from killing herself.  He was only vaguely aware that Joseph was still shouting at him.

“¼ but you though, I have come to deal with you myself.”  His voice was hard…..

The dawn was cool and crisp, a rosy hue to the sky.  Danielle was led to the side of the building and asked if she wanted to be blindfolded.

“No.  I am not afraid of this.  I want to see everything; I want to look you all in the eye.  Please don’t think I’m crazy.  I know what I’m doing…I’m upholding my people’s honour to the end.”

Danielle looked around her to see who had come to witness her execution.  She was pleased to see that the event had been deemed to be important enough for the General to be there himself.  She had entertained no doubt that this would have been the case.  Her face was inscrutable; the calm of the Buddha; her concentration heightened – the intensity of an Olympic athlete.

“Please don’t handcuff me,” she said to the weedy little private who approached her solemnly. “I am not a common criminal…. and you know that I won’t try to run away.”

The man glanced at the priest nearby who just hung his head sadly; unable to keep up his muttered prayers.

“Have faith Father,” she winked at the priest.  “Everything is going to be just fine.  In the end, good always triumphs over evil.  Remember that! You really must go now though and tell your parishioners what you have seen here today.”

As a reward for capturing Felix, Gregory had been granted the privilege of selecting the members of the firing squad but the General had reserved for himself the pleasure of giving the final order for her to be shot.  He meant to savour the moment and so he misunderstood why she let her hand creep to the waist of her trousers.

“Ready! Aim!…”  he paused and grinned at her, taunting her; and so she fired….

The General fell dead just before her bullet hit him.  The hush in the courtyard as everyone turned toward her was broken only by the echoes as the sound of the blast of six bullets died away.  The entire squad had turned their weapons on their commander-in-chief and now seemed to be awaiting new orders.  They did not wait for long.

“It’s okay now.  Put your guns away, gentlemen.  Everything’s over…”

“Why did you do that?” she asked him later.  “Was it for the movement or because you want to try to get something for yourself, Gregory?”

“I just thought about what you said about honour… I sort of guessed…” he paused, “No, I was hoping that you would do something spectacular…. I suppose I’m beginning to believe in Felix too….  I didn’t think you’d just give up like that.”  His smile was rueful.  He couldn’t believe the irony of her words.

“The others know about you too, you know,” she said, softly.

“I don’t really care about that anymore.  You said I had to take a stand….” he continued.

“Well you’re always telling everybody to do that;” she reminded him. “Even if you were just pretending.”

“I know.  I just thought about what sort of stand you would take and I knew what you were going to try to do…. but I wasn’t sure that you could pull this one off on your own.” he admitted. “You’re only human after all – even though you are Felix….” he teased.

He entertained the idea of reaching for her hand, but moved away before he did something foolish.

“Why did you choose that name?” he laughed, trying to change the subject.

“My plan would have worked you know,” she persisted.  “Mark you, I really thought it was over for me when I saw your two friends coming to guard me. I mean, how many improvisations can one plan take?  But then they started to tell me how great you really were and what you were like as a boy!  I really wasn’t sure what to think…One of them said that you had a plan for me to escape… One of them even asked me not to kill them!  What have you been telling people about me, Gregory?”

Gregory smiled to himself.  He had sent them to guard her even before Joseph had done so.  Apparently they had run into him on their way to her.

She hissed her teeth at the memory, and continued, “I would have got him though. Marshall was supposed to have been mine. I’d be dead too, but I would have got him.”  She was chuckling lightly to herself at last.

“Yes, I know you would have got him; but it seems to me that if you’d be dead at the end then your plan needed a little more work… Don’t you think so? Anyway, Felix has staring-down-a-firing-squad to add to his legend now…not bad for a morning’s work, I think.  Certainly it’s a better outcome than the one you’d planned for him.

True. You know, you really are a beautiful ma…STOP THAT! Don’t you know that some day you’re going to have to kill him? It would seem churlish to do it today though…I must remember to call off Raymond…

I don’t know what will happen from here on Dee, I can only imagine what you and your friends have planned for me, but I suppose that I just didn’t want you to die today…Jamaica…everyone here needs you…and I think we have so much to discuss.”

 

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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