“Is this all there is?”
Attila glanced at her from behind his laptop. His eyes drew focus above the rim of his reading glasses. He had not become used to using the crutch for his sight yet, and quite honestly hated the fact that age had finally forced him to wear the damn things. He pulled the nuisances from the bridge of his nose and sat back in an overstuffed leather chair behind his desk. He could see Zsofia standing beside one of the thin column windows at the east wall of his office.
“What’s bothering you Zsofi?
She stood in silence with the palm and splayed fingers of her left hand against the glass pane. Lost in another world, Zsofia seemed to focus beyond the drab weather and the rain streaming down the window beneath her slender hand. Attila folded his annoying spectacles and hung them from the neckline of his white, crisply pressed button up shirt. He knew she would divulge her angst eventually.
“Don’t let me fall Attila”, Zsofia wailed through a toothy grin of excitement.
“I have you little one. You are doing so well!”
“Do you remember when you tried to teach me to ride a bicycle?”
Attila combed his hand across the top of his head as though the hair he’d been missing for years was still there. “If memory serves me my dear, I succeeded in teaching you to ride a bicycle.”
Zsofia peaked over her shoulder to see Attila gazing in her direction. She knew her abstruse question had sequestered his concern. Oh how she loved his concern for her. Too bad he thought of her as no more than a child.
Attila kept his focus upon her while a thousand emotions seemed to gush from her huge chestnut eyes toward him. She said nothing then turned her sight to the distance beyond the window once again.
Unbeknownst to himself, a smile creased his lips. What a dynamic young woman she’d become.
He recalled Zsofia’s fifth birthday perfectly. Her father, Arpad, had given her a bicycle as one of many gifts to commemorate her birth at an extravagant party. As usual, the party and gifts were no more than a show to the masses that Arpad Szabo had met his obligatory responsibilities as a father. Once Zsofia grew tired of the ponies, face painters and juggling clowns, and simply wanted to play as any child would, her father could not be found. Enter one of Attila’s roles as head of security. He would see to Zsofia’s needs even on holidays, including her birthday.
In the east courtyard, laden with dark granite pavers and contrasting stone busts of those held highest in the global counsel, Zsofia sat with her knees pulled tight to her chest. One bled from the knee while she sobbed uncontrollably.
“Why did you let go”, she cried.
Attila knelt beside her. “I told you I was going to. You rode for a hundred meters before you fell. You did it little one! You rode your bike!”
Zsofia scrunched her angelic face into a scowl. She peered at Attila aiming to kill him where he stood with her scornful glare. A pair of huge brown eyes squinted toward him beneath a thick mess of dark auburn hair he had tied into pigtails just that morning. Atilla couldn’t help but chuckle at the adorable creature before him trying so hard to make her anger known.
“I’m going to tell my father”, she spat while pushing herself to her feet.
Zsofia ran off. He let her be, even though he easily kept tabs on her whereabouts. Several weeks had passed before she would even speak to him. In those same weeks, she had never been able to trouble her father to relinquish her tattle tale. In time, she eventually faced her perpetrator of betrayal and made amends.
Attila smiled again at the recollection Zsofia had just spurred. This memory alone marked the cornerstone of the bond between them now. What a shame, she is only a child, He thought.
“So what do you think?”
Attila snapped from his reverie of yesteryear to see Zsofia’s face peering at him. Her pretty, sun kissed face lying within the clutches of her upturned palms under her chin, and her slender elbows resting on the heavily varnished desk between them. She smiled coyly realizing she’d caught him off guard.
“Think about what”, Attila asked. He knew damn well what she was thinking, but he would humor her anyway.
Zsofia huffed and rolled her eyes. “What if this is all there is?”
“You’re going to need to be a bit more precise little one”, Attila retorted with upturned palms and a shrug across his shoulders.
“Quit calling me that! I’m not little.”
Some habits were hard to break, he thought while witnessing a look of scorn across her face. She wasn’t little anymore. Hell, she stood nearly as tall as him, and had long since worn the curves of the woman she had become.
Five years ago marked the date when Zsofia’s every need would no longer be a part of his security responsibilities, yet here she sat; still under his watch. Along with her absent father having much to do with Attila’s continued attention, his own unconditional love for the young woman before him seemed to play an equal part. She had been the closest thing he had ever known to having a child of his own.
“I’m sorry Zsofi.”
Zsofia seemed to accept the apology before it had even been delivered. She sat back in the chair across from Attila with a sigh.
“What if all I’ve been taught about the world and the people and places in it, is all a lie? What if there is nothing more than the zóna?”
Attila pondered the question for a moment, wondering how he would offer a different answer to a question she’d been asking more and more frequently. More recently, she had begun labeling her ten square kilometers of confinement. Today, it seemed, the area reserved for the protection of government elitists and their families was going to be referred to as the zóna.
“You know there is a world beyond the ‘zóna’, if that is what we are calling it today.”
“No I don’t.”
“Sure you do. I have told you stories.” Attila knew serious punishment would await him if anything he had told her about the world outside of her own got back to her father. He trusted her though, just as she had come to trust him. Zsofia would sell him out to her father just as soon as he would turn on her. Atilla trusted the young woman across from him more than some of the agents working under him.
“You could be lying to me.” Zsofia quickly followed her accusation with a grin.
“How am I supposed to know if it’s real or not”, She pleaded.
“I know what I have learned in school, and the stories you have told me, but I have never seen the world for myself! When do I get to leave this shroud of eutopia? Sometimes I feel as though this world is less real than the one outside of it.”
Attila maintained his lean within his puffy chair. My God she had become intuitive, he thought. He knew the few stories he had shared with her likely contradicted anything she had learned within the government controlled school system. Perhaps this contradiction is what seeded the growing rebellion inside her?
Still, he knew the curriculum taught in primary school to those fortunate enough to afford any sort of education. Propaganda couldn’t encompass the degree of absurdity taught to the world’s children. Outside of the fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics, Attila couldn’t imagine one being so naive to actually believe the horse shit being shoveled in classrooms around the world. Yet, the thumb of Zsofia’s father, Arpad Szabo, and his all-knowing council continued to hold the world under submission.
“You can leave the area your father has designed to be safe for you when he decides you are ready.”
Zsofia snapped to her feet toppling her chair behind her, and let out a loud huff in rebuke.
Now for the tantrum, Attila thought to himself. Still a child; though he couldn’t blame her for her frustration.
“Picsába! A budos kurva életbe! Kibaszott szennyes mindenit!” As the string of profanity flew from her mouth, Zsofia shook her fist toward the window she had stood beside earlier.
“And who is going to stop me; you?”
Attila couldn’t help but chuckle under his breath while she stomped across the room. “I will if I have to”, he replied while Zsofia stormed from his office slamming the door behind her.
Attila sighed. “What am I going to do with that girl”, he asked rhetorically to the air.
Paul roared with laughter. “Well your swearing in English is a lot better than your fighting!”
Paul watched as Dani sprung to his feet despite the fact that he had just taken a left hook to the jaw from a guy more than twice his size. Paul dropped to the rain soaked pavement releasing the agent he’d just finished choking out.
“Kiss my ass Burke”, Dani retorted toward his friend finding comedy at his expense.
Dani spat toward the ground. A nearby street lamp announced the crimson color his best friend had just expelled, but Paul knew Dani’s pride had been hurt more than his jaw.
Daniel Tákacs may be small in comparison to both his adversary and Paul Burke, but his size bore no resemblance to his fierce capability with his fists. He had obviously whipped the hell out of the bear of a man standing across from him prior to taking the blow to the jaw. The agent looked as though he would fall on his own ass at any moment. He staggered about completely oblivious to the fact that little Dani had gained his feet.
Before Paul could witness the hell Dani would certainly release, sparks of light danced across his vision. His teeth clapped together while he felt his body jerked backward by some vice around his neck.
Shit, another one, he questioned. Is this the cop that ran off earlier, or someone He and Dani had somehow missed?
The man behind Paul foolishly tried to correct his nearly perfect rear naked choke hold around his neck. Paul instantly took advantage of the momentary correction.
Now facing his surprise attacker, Paul grabbed the back of the man’s head by the hair, kneed him in the crotch with his right leg and pounded his left knee into the man’s face while he fell forward from the blow to his manhood. His attacker fell limp to the pavement. Paul opened his balled fist allowing a handful of the man’s hair he’d just ripped from his scalp to float to the wet pavement.
“You weren’t watching”, Dani muttered now standing right behind him.
Paul turned witnessing a smirk across his friends face. “Sorry, I was kind of busy getting the life choked out of me.”
“Where in hell did this guy come from”, Paul questioned, motioning toward the man he had luckily gotten the better of.
“He isn’t the same guy that took off running when we sprung on ‘em is it?”
“Don’t know, let me ask.” Dani sent a foot into the ribs of the first agent Paul had knocked out. A muffled groan escaped the man’s lips.
“Hey asshole”, Dani began the interrogation in his native Hungarian tongue. He grabbed the agent’s hair and yanked his head upright. “Do you know this guy?”
A garbled rebuke spilled from the agent’s raspy throat. Hungarian wasn’t Paul’s first language, but he knew enough to tell the man wasn’t being cooperative.
Dani held the agent’s head in place with his left hand while he pulled a knife from his jacket pocket with his right. He flicked the blade open and held it to the incapacitated man’s face.
“I will cut your damn nose straight off of your face if you don’t start talking.” He continued before the man could respond. “Then I’ll take your ears, and mail them to each of your daughters. If that doesn’t work, I’ll slice your rapist little prick off, and send that one to your wife with a list of innocent women’s lives you’ve destroyed.”
Paul turned from his friend’s convincing threats and scanned the area. Dani would find out what they wanted to know pretty quickly, but Paul didn’t want to take any chances on being met by another surprise.
An algid drizzle continued to blanket the city while Paul put some distance between he and his interrogating partner. Paul only now noticed how cold the autumn night had become. It seemed the momentary adrenaline had made him immune to the frigid breeze now biting at his cheeks.
All seemed quiet. A dismal glow sat above Budapest in the distance as the city’s lights pushed toward the cover of clouds. He and Dani had ambushed two of the government agents they’d been following for the past three months. The third guy was an unknown; a beat cop that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would be held guilty by association. The bastard took off like a shot just as they had almost instantaneously disarmed their marks, and Dani had put a fist into the big guy’s face. All three of them were so damn drunk, Paul found the man’s sprint to be as remarkable as the ease they had in disarming their primary two objectives.
Paul sighed. The cop had become a problem; a loose end. The resistance couldn’t risk loose ends. If the man now wearing his testicles in his throat didn’t turn out to be the same cop that bolted, He and Dani would have to add a mark to the list and rectify the situation quickly. First they would have to get the two they had come for to a safe house for proper interrogation.
Paul watched as Dani approached shaking his head.
“It’s not him.”
Dani nodded his reply. “Means we have some more harvesting to do my friend.”
Paul looked over Dani’s shoulder to see that his partner had been quite resourceful while he kept a lookout. The two they’d come for were bound and ready to toss into the trunk of their car. Suddenly, he noticed something missing.
Paul frowned. “Where’s the other one?”
“I broke his neck and tossed him in the Nube.”
Paul shook his head.
“What”, Dani pleaded. “We didn’t need him, and there is no way we could have fit him in the trunk. Did you see the size of the guy I took out Burke? He’s fucken huge! I’ll be shocked if we can get him in, let alone both of them!”
Paul turned on a heel and started back toward the two they were going to haul. “You know why I’m pissed Dani”.
“Yea, yea, I know Paul. Human life and all that nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense Dani, and I think you’re getting a little too quick to kill.”
“Hey man, that guy was set on killing you a few minutes ago. Kill or be killed in this world buddy.”
“I get the logic, I just think you are getting a bit insensitive toward the fact that you’re taking another human’s life.”
“Ah man, I’m not insensitive. I broke his neck while he was still unconscious!”
While he keyed the trunk open to their midsized sedan, Paul couldn’t help but chuckle at his friend’s rationalization.
About ten steps from the open trunk, Paul and Dani lifted the lighter of their two marks. He hadn’t gained consciousness yet from Dani’s interrogation methods. With a synchronized heave, the agent’s body found the floor of the trunk with a thud. Dani pushed the man’s limp body toward the front of the trunk to make room for the big guy.
Paul rounded the huge agent and bent to take him by the shoulders. Dani took the feet. Suddenly the large framed agent snapped alert and thrashed wildly causing both Paul and Dani to lose their early formed grip. While he writhed amongst the freezing wet pavement, muted groans emitted from behind the gag in his mouth. Paul quickly swung a fist into the side of the man’s head at the temple knocking him out cold.
“Oh, and I’m insensitive”, Dani spat through laughter.
Paul grinned toward his mocking friend. “Shut up”.