Chapter 3

AT THE BEGINNING of everything was a little capuchin monkey.

"Hey, you want play my girl?" the weird fellow tempts me to follow him upstairs where the monkey was.

I just got there but I have nothing against the idea. I hate the damned Dutch news bulletin anyway. My mother is dead and they are talking about teddy-bears.

I don't understand much, but using my basic German, a language somewhat similar to Dutch, I make out bits and bobs.

Apparently a man lost most of his precious cargo of teddy bears, while driving his pick-up truck down the highway. The cause, a faulty door.

They even have an interview with the dude's son, who cannot get a bike for his birthday, due to this unexpected financial loss.

And then very briefly they say a few words about my mother's suicide, emphasizing the fact that the trains travelling between Groningen to Den Haag suffered long delays due to this unfortunate "incident".

Bad news never happens close to home. Except for car accidents and gossip about the royal family to keep us all from succumbing to monotony.

"You want play my girl?"

Sometimes in life everything resumes to one question. For me, that was what are you going to do?

After my cousin Ralph convinced my mother to land on the tracks in front of the incoming Groningen train, the Euro-trip fell into disarray. I broke free, trying to lose myself in the twisted guts of A'dam, as the Dutch write it on board their InterCitys.

I broke free from the latest Chanel purse matching the Armani dress and the Jimmy Choo shoes with straps.

I broke free from the neutral color leather sofa.

I broke free the contrasting drapes.

I broke free the shelving unit displaying some photographs (some even featured my father).

I broke free from the collection of objects acquired during our holidays around the world.

I broke free the bamboo knit coffee table, the perfect beds which came with self-heating adjustable mattresses and the fully fitted Danish-design kitchen.

But most of all I broke free from Ralph's pedophile hands.

I didn't want Ralph to catch up with me: he had done me enough harm since my age of twelve. He didn't rape me; he didn't seduce me into having sex with him either. I was still a virgin, because Ralph, he had moral issues and in his perverse mind he believed he was right as long as he preserved "that gift of innocence," as he called it. He resumed to touching, groping, grabbing, telling and wanking in front of me. And I would have happily lost my "precious gift" to a dozen of toads, rather than have Ralph's fingers inside my undies again.

I escaped that prison of ease and false dreams.

What you're going to do with this gap in the wall? I used to question myself. What you're going to do?

Yet, there is nothing more predictable than a youngster on the run. Not in the sense that the jerk sneaked up on me, seized me up and dragged me back into his comfortable den. No.

There is a whole new dimension when you're trying to get away from something or someone: you have to rely on the goodwill of strangers. This is something you can't control. There is a large probability you're going to bump into the wrong crowd. This amount increases if you grew up in a "normal" family, where most of your needs were catered, where you never had to fight for yourself or recognize peril before you ran into it.

I was at my most vulnerable, while trying to seem brave and shrewd: me, a good girl, and a pretty nerd with round glasses and a dated bob haircut.

I had nobody, I didn't speak the language and my only cash were the five hundred Euros my father had put on my card.

I decided to leave him out of my plans. He didn't even call. Not even a call although he had been informed of my mother's death. He had business, short for he was a selfish son of a bitch who didn't give a shit about her or me, for that matter.

And Ralph? He had an obsession: me. He had a thing for children. It's not like I didn't warn my mother: she scolded me saying I watched far too much TV.

Ralph was an expert in making people miserable. He virtually fed with people's sorrow. I don't blame her, my mom, for giving in. I only despise the way she was, her construction was flawed.

Stuffing the headphones in my ears I wandered off without a target, trying odd jobs in bars. But being slightly underage and without a work permit they saw me as another illegal immigrant looking to steal Dutch jobs, as if the Dutch were stampeding to get those pathetic, underpaid jobs anyway.

When everything you've got is a lie, you've got nothing. The trouble is you don't know that until you've lost even your last illusions.

After a week of living rough, eating mostly chips and sleeping in crowded hostels, you stop somewhere not far from the Red Light. You don't even know how close you are to the sin part of the city.

Your hands reach in the pockets of your jacket. It is a cold wet morning, one of those when the fog drifts from the sea onto land, making everything seem airy and gloomy. Your frozen fingers have to dig in and out a few times before extracting even the last precious coin.

You have exactly ten Euros left. It isn't even enough to buy a bagel, but it suffices for a thin slice of apple pie. You ask the girl at the counter, a slender, mixed-race woman very Rasta style, to put it on a plate and you sit at one of the tables, letting your gaze wander out the glass door, into the crimson-bricked landscape. The dull light grey sky washes down the rooftops into the street, enhancing the terracotta shades of the bricks. You wish it stopped raining, nevertheless.

Your eyes roll back to the table, skimming your phone's screen with a touch of boredom and resignation. It lists about eighty calls from Ralph and twenty from a police officer investigating your mother's death. Nobody else in the whole world gives a damn. That revelation scares the living soul out of you. But there is another you, the one who gets excited with the possibility of changing your name and carrying on a clandestine existence, secret agents style. Therefore you resist the impulse of ringing back any of them and detailing your meager situation.

You lift my gaze and you see this capuchin monkey in the upper window of a pub opposite the cafeteria.

What you do when you see a monkey on a leather leash?

Before feeding it a banana, you put your tongue out, hoping the animal would imitate. That's what monkeys are supposed to do: imitate.

You had no bananas on you. You didn't have any money on me to buy bananas either. All you could do was to show your tongue.

It didn't respond. After a while you get used to dropping it, although that youthful, ambitious side tells you to stay put and force a response. A man is calling me inside. He has the air stupid teens mistake for "cool". Not only the rings on his fingers, bling fake-gold square ones, gangsta' style: that thin smile narrowing the corners of his eyes, too. And tribal tattoos on his arms and a few naked-babes tattoos on his upper arms and a huge chain hanging by his thick neck and the leather vest to complete the picture.

And now this man insists for me to go upstairs and play with that monkey.

He loves your Calvin Klein frames round glasses.

He says you were perfect, but fails to explain you what for.

Downstairs it stinks like beer and rotting wood: one of those want-to-be-Irish-pubs dark wooden panels covering the walls together with advertisements and framed jokes to spruce up the place and a bunch of candles sticking out of bottles as means of decoration.

The ancient staircase screaks under your feet. It's so narrow two people can't climb at once. The upper section of the bar is even darker. The vicious looking guys lingering at a table take off as soon as you enter.

"I make you comfortable. Yes?" he tells you in approximate English.

You dick! Comfort is exactly what you're running away from.

But it doesn't matter anymore because of the monkey. It mesmerizes you. For a moment you become a kid at the entertainment park.

The damned primate climbs on top of a chair crying, showing its fangs and hissing at you.

"Filipina?"

"Chinese-Australian," you reply. Well it's a bit more complicated than this: it's a mix of Cantonese, Polynesian, Welsh, Irish and Chilean genes, but who cares? "Hong Kong."

"Ah! You very cute. Like panda, yes?"

You smile.

"Looking for job?"

You nod.

"You lucky, I have job for you."

"Ah, really?"

"Yes, you lucky."

You hate the word "lucky" ever since. It changed meaning. It's dubious now.

Even Teine uses it too often.

"You work my other bar. You play clients, show tits. Okay?" he put it rather bluntly.

"You mean, like a whore?" you snap back.

"Good money. You rich soon."

"How come not all whores open their own "bars" if money is so easy to make?"

"You clever," he grins. "You do me and that guy? We pay," he puffs in my hair, showing me Markus stepping in. "Yes?"

You blush gulping for air. Your sex experience resumes to Ralph's pervy games, back alley kisses with the school boys and some foreplay with your girlfriend. Not bad, but not up for that challenge, for sure.

The other man laughs revealing his metal-teeth:

"Cute panda! So perfect," he yaps. As if "perfect" had any degree of comparison.

"Not interested," you murmur.

The monkey jumps on the table squeaking its lungs out. You can't even hear your own thoughts anymore.

The rings-and-things-approximate-English slaps it to the floor. You think he has killed the poor thing. You let out an: "Oh my!"

So what you're going to do? The entire future is comprised in the action you're about to take or not. Action is reaction and the lack of action is action in itself.

You bend to pick up the limp animal.

Slam! A punch lands at the back of your head. Your upper teeth pop against your lower teeth, your mouth shots tightly. The damned rascal winks before jumping out of your embrace.

Later, much later, the damned monkey again! It leaps around, squeaking and crying. It drives you mad, but you can't stop it, you're exhausted not only from the beating and the rape, but from puking as well.

Puking on an empty stomach is a nasty business. Only some green bitter liquid comes out. Your jaws are seal-tight locked with bitterness.

"Take! Go on," says the tattooed guy. He presses the burger against those cracked lips of yours, and you can't even open your mouth. You just can't. "Fucking whore! Your momma teach you say thank you?" he laughs starting to chew your portion himself. He eats like a starved animal, the sauce dripping at the corners of his mouth. "Want see trick?" he asks. "You want!" he then answers for you.

He works the paper into tighter and tighter creases, until it resembles a swan. Origami. Must have learnt it in prison. "Look! Like?" he laughs putting it on my leg. "Stupid, bitch!" he says giggling. He stands up, picks up a garden hose, turns a tap in the wall and begins washing you.

Freezing.

The sudden impact with your traumatised, feverish skin nearly kills. It hurts every ounce of your body. Your lips open finally letting out a weird, faint cry. It doesn't even seem your own: a high pitch, continuous yell. It dies soon, together with your breath.

He kicks your thigh.

You crawl away.

He laughs.

What are the odds to finding a single smashed up window in that sealed up space? Slim. And yet there is one tiny window, like the ones they have in basements, smashed to pieces. The draft crumples your nose.

One sniff.

Your glance bounces at the shards on the ground.

What are you going to do next?

You're going to die.

That's what is going to happen.

You know it because you see that sharp piece of glass glittering in your hand. That is a representation of your entire life including what's left of it. You realize your life has been a transparent shard of nothing. You haven't achieved anything. You haven't even lived much. You haven't even been a pain in the butt. And you're about to kick the bucket.

You have a shank made of glass in your hand and your hand bleeds but you're afraid to turn around and fight. You stand no chance.

Human brain has evolved with a kind of barrier against the deliberate obliteration of other human beings. It must have happened when we were still living in small family groups. To be able to put it in act, the criminal thought has to override this "rule" and recognize absolute danger in a fellow.

Not easy since there's another mechanism involved: absolute fear. That's even older. It occurs when a victim stares into the eyes of an aggressor and the aggressor into the eyes of the victim. It's a mental dance. Stare too long and you're hypnotized. Stare too little and you're going to get it. The best is to strike before either of you had any chance to blink.

And you're not staring. That helps.

The man crouches next to you. And yet, you're petrified. But you can hear his breath. It raises the hairs at the back of your head.

What are you going to do next?

You swing your arm around. The shard becomes an extension of your arm. You become an extension of the shard. Next you're covered in blood. There's blood on the floor too. And the guy is chocking clutching his neck trying to hold in the flow.

The monkey squeals and leaps in the blood, her tiny feet, her tiny hands, leap, leap, leaving its prints everywhere. And you want to laugh. But you can't, because your face is puffed and you have no feel in your muscles. You decide that's all right, because there's nothing better to do and you feel like shit. You're going to take a nap. But you can't because they're coming to get you. Their steps, louder and louder.

"What are ya guys playing here all by yourselves?" you hear someone asking. His voice sounds like a distorted song. His tone changes a few times during that short sentence. You can't see him. You can only hear him. Everything is a haze.

But it's the older one that wants to kill you. He kicks and punches so fast you have no time to strike. You cash. A whistle blows in your mind as you shut down.

And the guy you suspect is the one with the winding voice, he sneaks in behind the brute. Swift and stealthy. The man who kicks you has a thick neck and a v-line. The other man's arm crosses his neck. It happens so fast you barely notice the thin red line painting his skin. The red drips on the v-line. The hulk thumps collapsing on his knees and the other's face emerges. He has dark brown, nearly black shaggy hair and eyes the color of the sky. He must be in his late forty's, maybe even older than that judging by his wrinkles. His large chest fills up that light turquoise shirt.

"Screw this!" he murmurs again and again, clanging his big hands into fists.

He snaps out of it, giving you one of those guilty gazes:

"I'm so sorry," as he reaches for you, he grabs your hair, pulling your head backwards. His thumb strokes the bulging blood vessels in your neck, while the blade is inches away from cutting them open.

"Merde! Oh, fuck!" screams someone else. A Frenchman. "What the hell did you do? You slashed Pali. Fuck!" It amuses you the way he pronounces the "f" word, but again, you can't smile. You've forgotten about that senseless face of yours already. Everything you see is a fragment of that man's arm, everything you feel is his pulse synchronizing with yours.

"This is so wrong!" his focus slips. The thumb draws narrow circles on your skin.

"I can do that for you," the Frenchman offers. He's less funny now.

But you don't give a damn. You pray in your mind to that kind killer to deliver you from harm.

Once and for all.

Deliver me from pain. That's what you ask.

Deliver me. Make it fast.

His focus slips from you to the monkey.

"Damned monkey!" he murmurs.

The circles get nearer and nearer.

"Let me!" insists the Frenchman.

"Stay away! You wanna go next, Axe?" he roars.

The little monkey leaps around letting out a series of sharp squeaks.

"Damned monkey!" he lets go and grabs the animal's leash, flinging it by its neck, straight into his arms.

And you still don't want him to kill the monkey, because the monkey hasn't done anything wrong, it must have been trained to act the way it did. But it's not your decision, it's his. The primate flips in mid-air landing on the dead man's back.

A high pitch yell spurts out of your throat.

"The damned monkey, man," he kicks that jerking, tiny body while staring at you, staring straight into your eyes. It annihilates you, that gaze. Nobody has ever looked at you with that intensity. "Give me yer hand, Kido! You're on the avenue of survival."

Here we go!

Next you're listening to Plastic Bertrand in a car that drives at mad speed towards the city. "Ça plane pour moi". You wish you could sing with the man behind the wheel, but you're done. You can barely stay awake. You clutch to this rugged guy. He's your lifeline.

What you've been through was snuff porn, he explains you. Reality-TV-porn if you want.

No, there was no camera at the scene. Someone must have taken it, but he's going to look for that film. For you.

He burnt down that place.

Uhuhuhu, ça plane pour moi!

He told you his nickname was "Fire".

Why?

Cause he likes torching things.

He's going to keep you safe.

Even if that means finding all of them.

He excuses he could only find two inside, the one he slashed in front of you and another he did out of your sight.

Uhuhuhu, ça plane pour moi!

Why?

He wants to do the right thing, to pay for the wrong in his past.

He doesn't like this kind of clean-up jobs. He likes you. No explanation given. Who cares why anyway?

"Putain!" roars Axe, gazing in the mirror at his mate's caressing hands.

"Drive! Drive! Watch the fucking road!"

You already love Teine and he scares you. Not because he might finish you off, but because you've just become part of his nightmare.

"Yeah, I'm mayhem. A rider of the apocalypse. All these are signs for my mission. You're a sign too."