Friday, June 19, 2009
Patiently, the taxi zigzagged up the narrow road that tenaciously clung to a steep wall of craggy rock rising straight from the Mediterranean Sea. The mountain wall was scattered with sea pines and occasional bursts of greenery, and even a few flowers even though it was the second week of December. The flowers were hardly at their best today, as a winter storm was approaching from the sea and the first gusts of wind and rain were already spraying the windshield of the car so badly that I wondered if the driver would be able to keep us from plunging down into the rocks far below. Eventually we reached the house, I paid the driver and got out of the car. I was back home.
The old, ochre stone house was small, with just a living room, kitchen and one bedroom, but it had a disproportionately large terrace with a magnificent view over the sea and the sliver of a beach far below the house. In the summer, the terrace was my absolutely favorite place in the world, with vines from the overhanging trellis casting green dappled shade over an old but comfortable divan that had come with the house, and a table and two chairs I´d found in a second hand shop. There was also a hammock for reading, but the view usually distracted me until I just grew drowsy and eventually fell asleep in the summer sea breeze. Today, I had no time to check out the view as the storm completely drenched me during the short dash across the terrace to the double glass doors of the living room. I had left for Rome just two days ago, on Friday, but the house was already as cold as if it were uninhabited, and I wished that the slightly bent old wooden frames had provided a little more insulation against the elements I forced the creaking doors closed. The bulky semi-portable heating and air conditioning unit in the corner of the living room would however warm the house up in fifteen minutes, and I switched it on as the very first thing. Then I dragged my suitcase to the bedroom, got rid of my wet clothes and pulled on a pair of baggy jeans and a warm sweater. Once I was no longer in danger of catching pneumonia – not that I could actually catch anything, with my enhanced immune system – it was time for a large cup of hot chocolate. I took the steaming cup to the couch facing the terrace glass doors and settled down to watch the storm and wait for the house to warm up. All the shutters were now rattling like crazy in the wind, and the roar of the deluge hitting the roof would have made conversation impossible. I loved my house.
My well-planned week in Rome had turned into an utter disaster on the very second day. I didn´t visit big cities very often, no matter how much I´d have liked to, but I´d been cooped up in the Italian Riviera for most of the autumn and winter without a boyfriend and thought I deserved a few days in a big city with all the gay bars and possibilities for fast and easy sex. And even though Rome was not completely without its risks, it wasn´t like London or New York where one was bound to run into people met everywhere else in the world. Even in Rome there was the danger of my neural mesh setting off passive Axiom detectors that they habitually inserted in major traffic hubs like airports and main railway stations, but as long as I used local trains and switched into a taxi far in the suburbs I would be all right. The Guild would naturally do a preventive security sweep if I asked, but a disabled detector was pretty much as telling as my mesh signal.
The getaway had started great: thanks to a strikingly handsome Sicilian waiter from the hotel restaurant who visited my room after his shift was over I didn´t even have to go out to bars. The handsome Sicilian joined me for a late night walk to revisit the Colosseum and to wander by the Roman Forum to the tacky yet stunningly monumental Altare della Patria built by the crazed Mussolini, and as we slowly sauntered by the Forum he pointed out various features that I would never have recognized without a guide. As I stared down at the historical area – the modern city is built far above the ancient ground level – I couldn´t help wondering about all the people who had been right there, under my eyes: Julius Caesar, Hadrian and his famously beautiful yet doomed lover Antinous who had later been drowned in the Nile, and hadn´t even Cleopatra herself passed through the Forum during her famous visit to Rome? The Sicilian laughed at my bug-eyed expression, and herded me along because he was getting cold.
On Saturday, I had to get up early to make sure I could spend as much time as possible in the Vatican Museums. I was at the famously long ticket line before 9a.m. and discovered that on rainy winter Saturdays one could get in after waiting just a few minutes. My favorite part was always the Pio Clementino Museum, with Laokoon, Hercules and the Belvedere Apollo, in front of whom the pious Vatican staff had once shockingly discovered none other than Michelangelo jerking off, “publicly aroused in defilement”. When I emerged from the Museums in the afternoon a warm front originating all the way from Sahara had rolled over the city, and the sky was clear and the wind surprisingly warm. I pulled off my sweater and headed for the hotel for a nap and dinner before going out later in the evening with the Sicilian.
He took me to a club called Dungeon which had opened only a few months earlier, in the picturesque Trastevere neighborhood. However, just as I had suspected, very few people were following the intended dress code as only those with the very latest in fashion accoutrements were actively shunned by the doormen. Italy was just too sunny a place to cultivate a large enough leather and SM community to fill a good-sized club. There were several interconnected, low-ceilinged rooms with bars, and one of them also functioned as a dance floor. The staff would most likely kick me out well before midnight as my present passport stated my age a few months short of eighteen, and even that was already looking like a forgery.
The place was popular as a first stop of the evening, and it filled out quickly. I was having excellent time with my Sicilian even though he kept introducing me to his friends, which was never a good idea: they´d remember me for a long time. However, I didn´t mind him being unable to keep his hands off me as I was already planning to invite him for a weekend in Le Cinque Terre. I finished my Pepsi – the bartenders refused the give me anything alcoholic – and went to get another in the least crowded of the bars. When I got back the Sicilian threw his arm around my shoulder and gave me a kiss before continuing an animated discussion with his friends. They were speaking Italian too fast for me to follow, and I let my eyes wander around the room.
Something was wrong. Suddenly my heart was beating too fast, and my fingers were tingling. Surprised by the strong and seemingly irrational adrenaline shock I scanned the crowd, but everything seemed to be all right. The Sicilian must have felt me tense up as he threw a quick glance at me before resuming the conversation. Then someone about ten yards away moved sideways, and I saw him. My heart rate picked up in earnest.
He was now in his late thirties, with a military style short haircut and a stubble, and he was toying with that thin line between someone very muscular and an actual bodybuilder. There was a tattoo on the side of his neck. He was wearing a simple t-shirt and a pair of jeans, and when I remembered what he was carrying between those thickly muscled legs the pit of my stomach felt as if I´d suddenly fallen off a cliff. He had turned himself into the kind of guy I jerked off to on the net when I´d been in the house alone for too long. Not that I´d ever been objective when it came to Alex, but I thought he had to be one of the most handsome men I´d ever seen.
Then it happened; as if from nowhere, the old feelings that I´d had for him were back, like a firebomb shattering and exploding inside of me. I was burning as if I´d last seen him in Sydney just yesterday, and I wanted his big arms around me like I´d never wanted anything else in my life.
I was vaguely aware that the Sicilian was looking at me when Alex felt my stare and turned towards me. He recognized me instantly, and for a split second there was an immense joy in his eyes, but just as soon it was followed by a moment of confusion and the realization that something was horribly wrong. Then he understood what it was and his face turned to stone. What he was seeing was inconceivable, it was impossible. It was wrong.
He got over it, if only for the time being, with a remarkable show of cold blood. Then, like in the old days, we clicked together like two pieces of a puzzle and just by looking at me he knew exactly what I was feeling. But instead of a hint of a smile, or a nod, or stepping over to me, he just stood still. His friends, disconcerted, were starting to turn to follow his gaze, and the Sicilian was saying something but I didn´t understand the words. Then, with a shock, I recognized the emotion in Alex´s face. It was hate, slowly but inexorably growing behind his eyes. The full extent of all the lies I´d told him was finally catching up with me.
My training kicked in. There was only one thing to do in a situation like this: run. Now.
I took a step back, breaking away from the Sicilian´s hold over my shoulder, and just as I turned my back I saw Alex spring into action. He stepped forward, an arm reaching out to grab me. Our relationship had been stormy but he´d never hurt me; now that had changed. He´d turn me into bloody pulp if he caught me.
For once, I was glad I was so small. I could cut through the crowd faster than anyone else, let alone someone as big and wide-shouldered as Alex had become, and I was already running up the stairs to the exit when I heard the first cries of protest from people Alex was roughly pushing aside. As I reached the top of the stairs I heard him shout my name, obviously a name that wasn´t really mine, and I was out of the club, abandoning my jacket in the cloakroom. Grateful that the club was in the Trastevere district, a Medieval maze of cobblestone streets, I was out of sight from the club exit within seconds. I needed to catch a taxi as soon as possible and check out from the hotel before Alex had time to return to the club and interrogate the Sicilian about where I was staying.
Furious at my own weakness, I burst into tears at the back seat of the taxi. The driver threw a couple of glances at me through the rearview mirror, but said nothing. I got to the hotel, crammed my things into the suitcase and checked out, knowing that the first local train wouldn´t leave until 6a.m. from the suburban station I used when visiting Rome. For an hour I tried to find a vacant hotel room, dragging my suitcase along, but with no success. In the end I gave up and took a taxi to the suburbs, and spent the rest of the cold night waiting at the station, on a bench in the platform, huddled in all the warm clothes I could scare up from my suitcase.
While I was waiting, Mauro called me.
“I heard what happened,” he said.
“What do we do now?” I asked. “Do I have to leave Italy?”
“Alex has a ticket reservation back to Sydney the day after tomorrow, and I doubt he´s going to tell anyone what really happened. He knows no one would believe him. So, unless the Sicilian knows where you live and told Alex, you´re safe.”
Hearing that Alex was flying back the day after tomorrow didn´t make me feel any better.
“We´re OK,” I said. “I didn´t tell the Sicilian about Le Cinque Terre.”
“What´s wrong?” Mauro asked.
“It´s really cold in here,” I answered, trying not to make my teeth chatter.
“I´m sorry I can´t help you with that,” he said. “But you´ll be back home tomorrow. It´ll be all right.”
It was the longest and coldest night of my life, despite all the long winters I´d lived through back home in Sweden. The thought gave me a lopsided smile, “back home in Sweden”... How many decades would I have to live all over the world, never revisiting my native country, before I stopped thinking of Sweden as “home”? There wasn´t any actual place there I could consider home, and yet the thought persisted.
However, Le Cinque Terre was my present home now, and I wouldn´t have to leave for another year. I still had one long summer ahead of me in my favorite place in the world, and then I would go to Osaka for a year. Mauro and his boss were still mulling my proposal over, big cities being banned and all, but I thought that after running into Alex they might be glad to send me to some faraway place for as long as possible. I finished my hot chocolate, and switched my sweater into a more comfortable t-shirt now that the heater unit had warmed up the house. The storm was reaching its full power, and I sat back in the couch and watched the show. There were even a few lightning strikes despite the late season. As soon as the rain stopped I would wrap myself into a blanket and go to the terrace to watch huge waves hitting the beach down below. One day, eroding rock would collapse my house into the sea, but with luck it would be another thousand years before that happened. At least I hoped so.
The framed photo was hidden in a cupboard in the bedroom. I shouldn´t have kept it, as it was the only thing I carried along that could pin me on a certain place and time in the past, but nowadays I could explain it as a Photoshop job. I dug it out and decided to keep it on a living room bookshelf for a few days since no one was going to enter the house anyway. The colors were already faded, and there was a crack in the corner of the frame, but the smiles were still the same. We´d been so happy that day. Alex looked better nowadays, though, with his short hair and that tattoo and the muscles... I noticed that my hands were shaking a bit, and set the photo down. It was so easy to think that it had been a mistake not to tell him, but then, who could really know? He´d always had a bit of a temper, and looking back I found it totally plausible that he might have sold me out after a bad break-up. You just never knew with people.
The scooter made deafening noise as it dealt with the steep tight hairpin curves on the way up to the house. My own scooter, which was about twenty years younger that this museum piece, was being repaired in Vernazza but luckily the mechanic´s cousin had rented me his old one for a few days. Whenever I ran into the cousin in town without his girlfriend he was all smiles and full of questions, many of them about my ever-absent family and how I was getting on always all alone, and he´d told me more than once that if I needed any work done on the house he was very good at ”fixing things”. His girlfriend studied in Pisa and spent only weekends in Vernazza, and more than once I´d been tempted to invite him over with the excuse of the creaky terrace doors. He´d been down on the beach today with two of his friends, and so he´d played it cool, but we both knew that one of these days he´d show up on my doorstep with a perfectly plausible cover story if I didn´t invite him there myself first.
It felt good to be flirting and having fun again. Ever since my disastrous trip to Rome I´d been doing pretty much nothing but moping around the house, watching the winter turn to spring and then to early summer. I refused to believe it was just Alex; there had been something more to it, a pause for reflection, or a bout of depression or whatever. Even though I had played with the idea, I had never seriously considered leaving the job as the benefits were just too good. Of course I could quit any moment I wanted to, but then all the tinkering they´d done with my DNA would have to be removed as they would no longer be keeping an eye on me and making sure I didn´t have an accident and end up in a hospital where staff might figure out that something weird was going on.
I parked the scooter, took off my backpack and walked to the edge of the terrace to have a quick look at the beach down below. The cousin and his friends were gone, too. I was hungry and thirsty after the beach and decided I would prepare an enormous feta cheese and green salad and wash it down with a gallon of Dr. Pepper. Trying to remember what exactly I had in the fridge, I unlocked the terrace doors and stepped in.
Someone had been in the house. I stopped dead on my tracks, and listened to any telltale sounds that someone might still be in the kitchen or in the bedroom. There was no immediate visible sign of a visitor; everything was where it was supposed to be, but some kind of animal instinct knew otherwise. Maybe it was just a trace of an unknown scent in the air, maybe things had been moved only a fraction of an inch, but I knew. Slowly, I stepped forward and looked into the kitchen. There was no one, which left the bedroom as the only possible hiding place. I picked up a knife from the kitchen table, and only feeling more wobbly for it, circled the living room to gain a view into the bedroom. No one was there either.
I stood still, heart still thumping, and checked out every detail. Nothing was out of place. I walked around the house and double-checked. Even though I kept my house tidy, I wasn´t the most conscientious duster and in the end I did find that something had been moved. It was the framed photo on the bookshelf. Someone had picked it up and then set it down, without noticing that he´d misplaced it just a little, leaving a telltale sign in the dust behind the frame.
Far from conclusive, the evidence certainly didn´t warrant a call to Mauro. Or did it? Someone had been snooping in my house. I couldn´t count on the judgment of whoever was receiving the signal from my mesh as I suspected I´d been relegated under the watchful eye of an automated program. No one in their right mind would be following live feed from me, as Jonatan moping around the house surely rated far less than D- on the interest scale of anyone.
Tonight, I´d ride the scooter to Vernazza and talk to the cousin about replacing the lock on the terrace doors. Until then, there was nothing else to do but get on with my early dinner.
The cousin, however, had taken a train to Pisa and wasn´t coming back until the day after tomorrow. The mechanic was visibly upset with the thought of an intruder in my place and offered to come and fix the doors right away, but it was already late and I adamantly refused to bother him. I´d be careful, and his cousin could come and have a look whenever he got back from Pisa. For the next two nights, I kept the terrace lights on and made sure that no one could get into the house without waking me up in the process. Then, as arranged, I met the cousin on the beach two days later. He was with his friends again, but this time there was a legitimate topic of discussion and I was invited to sit down with them to tell about the intrusion. It was all very business-like, and he told me he´d be over at my place at 6p.m. which would leave him plenty of time – he added off-handedly – to get back to his parents for the dinner. That was when his two friends exchanged a look, and I left hurriedly before they noticed that my face was turning red.
I started getting hunger pangs around 5:30 and left the beach after a quick ´see you later´ to the cousin and his friends. The earsplitting but otherwise reliable scooter took me home, and when I turned the last hairpin curve I saw that there was a Rent-A-Van parked in front of the house. I got off the scooter and stared at the van for a moment. This was not good. I hadn´t heard from Mauro, which meant that my situation hadn´t been red-flagged, and as I couldn´t be sure that someone was watching live feed I considered calling him before going in. On second thought, my adrenaline level was so high that even the dullest of programs would be alerting someone to see what was going on. Calling Mauro would make little difference, and it would only make me look like a wimp if there was an innocuous explanation for the van. When it crossed my mind that I could get back on the scooter and drive away a sudden anger washed over me. Someone was in my house, what the hell were they thinking! And besides, if this was the worst case scenario, my mesh was transmitting a hundred-meter-radius advertisement about my presence and I could hardly get away in any case. Most of my training had gone into how to avoid the Axiom and very little into what to do if they did track me down. Basically, all I could do was to count minutes and hope the cavalry didn´t arrive too late.
I took a deep breath and walked into the terrace. The doors were open. The living room appeared dark compared to the sunlight out in the terrace, but I could tell someone was sitting in the couch. I took the last two steps and recognized him, even in the relatively dim light of the room. It was Alex.
I was about to say something witty or snappy or whatever, but my throat just closed up. I merely stood there, watching the familiar face with the new body, and he didn´t move either. There was a protracted silence, and then he stood up and walked up to me. I stood my ground, while trying to figure out how angry he was, but there were no visible signs yet. He´d had time to think it over.
He stood in front of me for a moment, looking down at me, and then, tentatively, lifted his hand to the side of my face and ran his fingers into my thick engineered hair.
“So it´s true,” he said in the end, as if he´d started to doubt himself in the months since he´d seen me in Rome. “You look just the same.”
He wasn´t going to hit me. I had so many questions, but I knew which one would have to come first, for the record.
“How did you find me?”
“Jonatan,” he said with a humorless smile. “I know you. It was a given that you´d be living by the sea, so I´ve been combing every Italian coastal town for the last six months with one of your old photos. Hit pay dirt here in Vernazza.”
“Have you told someone?”
“Of course I have.” His voice was so controlled that I could tell he was getting angry again. “What, you wanted me to keep quiet about this? For the old time´s sake?”
“Christ, Alex... You don´t know what you´ve done,” I said, shaking my head.
“And why is that? Yeah, right. Because you never told me what the fuck is going on.”
“Listen. We have to get out of here, now.”
“Why? Aren´t your people supposed to get here in about thirty minutes?”
I felt a chill run down my spine. “How do you know about them?”
Seeing how shaken up I was, he decided to answer me.
“About a year after you disappeared two men knocked on my door,” he said, after a quick glance at the clock on the wall. “They showed me a drawing of you and asked me to call them if I ever saw you again. I would have thrown their number away but they paid me five thousand dollars just to keep the number.” He shrugged. “So I did. Then I saw you in Rome, and called them. Two of their associates came to visit me in Sydney, and we had a long chat.” He stared poignantly at my unbuttoned shirt. “That Roman coin you´re still wearing... that´s now your GPS tracker, right?”
So he didn´t know what it really was. They´d lied to him, too, but the tiny flicker in my expression had told him what he needed to know. “Alex, this is bad. Let´s go.”
He didn´t budge. “So you´re not going to tell me? The truth, for once?”
“I can´t. Not now. There´s no time.”
It had been the wrong thing to say. He´d made his mind up. “I was told to get you out of here within twenty minutes, and smash your GPS tracker before leaving.”
He had pulled a clunky, dated cell phone from his pocket. He pressed a button before I could stop him and I hit the ground instantly; it was as if thousands of large needles had instantly injected my nervous system with powerful acid. The bastards had given him the EM pulse emitter that could overwhelm my neural mesh. For an interminable second or two he kept the button down, and then my audio system let out a loud explosion of sparks and short-lived flames, immediately followed by the TV. In quick succession, the clock radio in the bedroom as well as the clock in the living room wall, microwave in the kitchen and my cell phone – in my goddamn pocket – all let out crackling sounds and then fell silent. My laptop held out the longest, but it also made the loudest sound as it exploded, cratering the table with shards of chassis. Thin but foul-smelling smoke started to fill the room.
Alex was on his knees, leaning over me. “Are you all right?”
I tried to speak but couldn´t, and my arms and legs weren´t functioning either. Luckily, I didn´t feel anything near the dead cell phone in my pocket, so it probably hadn´t burnt my leg.
“I´m sorry,” he said. “They didn´t tell me it was that bad. You´ll be all right in a couple of minutes. Don´t be afraid.”
He undid the chain around my neck, and set the Roman coin on the floor. When his heel came down on the uplink relay there was a soft crumbling sound and suddenly nothing was left of the coin but black soot. For a second Alex stared at the result, aghast. It was starting to dawn on him that maybe he hadn´t been told the whole truth by his friends either.
“What the fuck-” he muttered, and after glancing at the stopped electric clock on the wall turned back to me. “Here we go.”
He picked me up effortlessly, like a rag doll, and carried me out to the terrace. Realizing that with the commotion he had forgotten to first open the back door of the van he muttered another curse under his breath and set me down on the hammock, leaving me there to swing helplessly back and forth with my head hanging over the edge. The door only delayed him a couple of seconds, and then I was back in his arms and being hoisted into the van. There was a mattress on the floor, and two pieces of instantly recognizable equipment. Black leather wrist and ankle restraints to hog tie a person, and a bit gag. We´d fooled around with similar equipment a few times, ages ago.
“I´m really sorry about this,” he said while fastening the restraints around my wrists.
I was coming back to my senses. If I was lucky, the cousin would be here in time to stop Alex if I managed to stall him even for few minutes.
“D-don´t...” I stammered, but once the bit gag locked my mouth open nothing but unintelligible yelps came out.
Alex kneeled over me. “There are no windows, so you´ll probably get car sick. That´s the reason for the bit gag, it won´t smother you if you have to throw up. Don´t worry about it if you do, I´ll clean up the mess.” He caressed my hair for a moment. “ I´m sorry.”
Then he was gone, and the back doors slammed shut. He´d turned on the overhead light, so at least I wouldn´t be in the dark when the car started zigzagging down the road and messing with my inner ears. I heard the engine come to life, and we were moving. I was too frightened to get car sick; without my uplink relay there was no way security could follow the ultra weak signal my neural mesh was emitting. The team would be down at the house as soon as possible, and that was the sum of what they could do for me. There had been no chance to ask what the Axiom had told Alex, but then, all things considered, it wouldn´t have been too hard to make me look like a fiend. And it wasn´t as if I had never considered smashing the uplink relay myself and trying to walk into the Karolinska Institut to have my DNA extracted and studied by genome specialists, even with the predicted consequences.
It didn´t take me long to completely lose track of the direction we were going, no doubt helped by some fancy driving by Alex. I knew we weren´t on the Autostrada because the road kept going up and down, and for the endless succession of steep curves. After a while I lost track of time, too. When the car finally stopped and he opened the back door of the van sun had already slipped below the mountains and the sky was quickly turning dark blue. We were in a some kind of a rest stop, maybe in one of the inland national parks, and from my narrow point of view I could see a river valley sided by lush green mountains. It seemed that for the time being there was no one else in the parking area.
Alex was kneeling over me, and by the way he was looking at me I realized he was getting turned on. I let out an ugly gnarl and struggled to free myself, and he unfastened the bit gag.
“You fucking bastard,” I growled at him. “Listen to me, and listen to me carefully.”
I told him everything, or as much as I could fit in three minutes. At first he regarded me with a sarcastic smile, but after a while the smile started to look a little forced. Halfway through, his face went blank, and I hadn´t even finished when he was already undoing the restraints. I often liked my men big and stupid, but Alex had never been the latter.
It was too late, however. There was a glint of light down the road, behind clusters of trees, and when we turned to look we saw the headlights of a car on its way up the tight hairpin curves leading to the rest stop.
“Hurry up,” Alex said, his eyes wide. “We have to-”
“Too late,” I interrupted, and thought quickly. “They can track my mesh signal. I can´t get away. But you can.”
“I won´t leave you-”
“Shut up,” I snapped and started refastening the ankle restraints. “Listen. They will let you go as long as they think you fully believe their story. We put these back on, and you pretend we never really talked and you walk away.”
“Fuck you Alex! You got us in this mess, and you have to get us out, and this is the only way. My people will come for me,” I lied to him again, “but they´re not here yet so you´ll have to get out on your own. Put these back on!”
He fumbled with the wrist restraints, trying to find a fault in my logic. He couldn´t; he´d believed yet another one of my lies. The headlights were closer now and we´d only have a few more seconds before the car would reach the rest stop. He locked my wrists behind my back.
“Do it,” I said as he picked up the bit gag, and he followed my order.
He was still leaning over me, eyes fixed on mine, when the arriving headlights lit up the back of the van. He turned to look at the car, shielding his eyes with his hand, and the lights went out. It was an ambulance. He threw me one last glance, and climbed out of the van to greet the people stepping out from the other car. There were three of them. Each one looked like an accountant; average height, nondescript suits, receding hairlines, and two of them were wearing glasses. You´d never notice them in the street, and even after a meeting you´d struggle to remember their faces.
“Mr. Rayner,” the first one said. “The money has been transferred to your account.”
I could see Alex´s shoulders stiffen. He knew I´d heard. For a moment, he stood still, and then he nodded. The men came forward, and one of them took a syringe out of the pocket of his jacket.
“You´ll have your car back in just a moment.”
The whole scene seemed to be happening to someone else. The man climbed into the van, uncapped the syringe and injected my arm. Within seconds my muscles relaxed, but otherwise I was feeling perfectly alert. The restraints and the gag were removed, and two of them carried me into the ambulance while the third one chatted with Alex. As I was being lifted into the ambulance I caught a glimpse of him, the edges of his mouth white but otherwise focused on the man talking to him.
The moment I lost sight of Alex, my memories end.
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