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Author: Veronica Melan

“Dreams Ltd”

From a sequel of novels “The City“.

Email: ladymelan@gmail.com

 

 

«Dreams Ltd»

 

Chapter 1:

An evening Call.

 

 

A group of tall buildings standing on the right bank of the river Klendon had already absorbed most of the sun and now, only a scattering of orangey-red rays were beaming down the cottage roofs that spread out as far as the eye could see - from the bridge and up to the West Barton Avenue.

Cars, like restless insects were still ploughing the streets. Not as much as in the daytime now and traffic quietened down almost immediately after the Bank on the street corner had shut for the day. Most cars were parked by the “Lorian’s” cafe (“Fresh pastry – Desserts – Live music") and near the three-story glass shopping mall "Somerset ". Doors of the mall’s entrance were swinging open every now and then letting out the tardy shoppers with their colourful bags.

Somewhere on lower floors music played softly.

I moved away from the window and sat on the sofa. I aimlessly gazed from one object to another. There is a clock on a shelf above the fireplace, its pendulum moving silently from side to side counting seconds as they disappear into nowhere. There is a tall vase decorated with bulging grapes, silver spoon, candle holder, porcelain hare...

What’s the silver spoon doing there?

I tried to remember lazily but my eyes have already stumbled upon a photograph in a frame and the spoon was instantly forgotten. My feeling of restfulness has disappeared without a trace and tenacious and bitter sadness replaced it.

Alex, Alex. ... How long has it been?

I walked over to the fireplace and picked up the photo. My fingers gently caressed his familiar face frozen on a thin plate of a black and white image. The same face, the same smile, that mischievous expression of his dark eyes. I didn’t even need to count how much time had passed since that day, I just knew - one month and eighteen days. Forty-eight days in total. Or fifty-two if you count form the day when Elmer received the letter. Thoughts instantly flooded my mind as my frozen memory tried to frantically scroll through everything that happened that night in April. I abruptly put the photo back on the shelf and walked away from the fireplace.

No! Not again.

It would make no sense to go through this nightmare for the umpteenth time.

 It doesn’t help. The ransom was paid. He hasn’t come back. End of!

Perhaps it could all change again?

My inner voice sang timidly and I then realised that in a few seconds the nightmare will start all over again. My head will get torn apart by painful thoughts, tears will roll down my face and desperation will spread a net of iron threads over my mind causing me new pain.

No! Enough! Stop!

I frantically took a deep breath and held it. I need to calm down, get distracted, take a couple of Tylenol pills and go to bed. Tomorrow is a new day and something might change. I exhaled slowly and stood in the middle of the room for a few seconds trying to listen if insane voices would come back but it seemed they were gone - at least for now. I rubbed my face with the palms of my hands and headed for the bedroom.

I only made a few steps when the phone in the lounge rang.

 

 Silver phone on a shelf made a second piercing noise and screen lit up in blue.

“Hello.” I pushed the answer key and breathed wearily as I wistfully looked at the bedroom door.

“Shereen Moore?” enquired pleasant but unfamiliar female voice.

“Yes.”

“I am calling from the Dreams Ltd Corporation.”

I shivered and tensed up.

A-a-and the time has come ... the words sailed through my head.

The woman's voice continued:

“Order number 1839920 was filed on your behalf at the beginning of April. Is that correct?”

For a split second I fought a fugitive desire to lie and said:

“That’s correct.”

“We would like to meet up with you to discuss the details of repaying the debt.”

“OK.When?” I shivered trying to imagine what they would ask for in return.

“In one hour.”

“Today?” I was indignant but tried to compose myself. “I’m sorry, but isn’t it a bit late now?” The mantel clock showed 10pm. “Maybe I can come and see you in the morning? Say, tomorrow at nine or ten? Let me just write down the address...”

The unflappable voice interrupted me but I noticed a subtle change in her tone of voice and now it felt like I was talking to a robot-woman.

“The car will come for you in fifteen minutes. No ID is necessary, just a retina scan will be enough. Our signed Non-Disclosure Agreement will be breached if you make just one phone call after our conversation or before the car gets there. Hope to see you at the office in an hour. All the best, Miss Moore! ”

I heard the short beeps down the phone. I stood there staring dumbfounded at the phone.

What a polite young woman… What a pleasure to talk to you - Dreams Ltd!

Sarcastic thoughts swirled in my mind like a whole colony of bees but there was nobody to sting except for me. I could only hope that the conversation in the office is going to be with someone else as the mere thought of the robot-woman made me to feel repulsed.

I put the phone down on the shelf and went into the bedroom. There is only enough time only to have a quick shower and get changed. My comfortable bed beckoned more than ever but I went passed it without thinking, it might still be possible to sleep today but later. First I need to find out exactly how they will expect me to repay four hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Four hundred and fifty thousand - an incredible amount of money!

Image of Alex appeared before my eyes – the face on a black and white photograph.

 

The car was speeding through the night streets of the city but not a single speck of light would reach me through the tinted windows. No streetlights, no shop windows – only darkness. Car interior was lit by a few dimmed lights built into the doors and the celling.

I sneered.

Of course one shouldn’t expect to be shown the way to the Corporation building. How naïve was I to ask for their address and expect an answer! I could make out a vague silhouette of the driver through the partition that separated me from the front of the car but I could not see a thing of the surroundings. Nobody spoke to me. A short greeting was the end to the conversation that never happened. The only sign of the car moving was my seat that was somewhat shaking steadily. Some moments later I felt my body move forward and then go sideways. Car stopped for a bit but a few seconds it was speeding up again.

Traffic light, I noted automatically, looking at the panel with buttons for changing the temperature in the car and positioning of the seats. Window and door locks were missing.

Not surprising.

Not losing composure (escape was never an option) I continued to stare at the black impenetrable glass.

Corporation....  Recent conversation with the lady-robot went through my mind. So it's time to find out what their rules are. I knew from the very beginning who I was dealing with but I had no choice - adverts for Dreams Ltd. were everywhere: billboards, streets were full of beautiful slogans and titles. “Problems? Need help? Talk to us ... Our number is easy to remember.” Elegantly dressed people from TV screens sounded very convincing, telling us how easy and convenient their service is. However I have not heard or seen anybody who had actually benefited from this service. It wasn’t just strange it was scary. Something became more or less clear after I signed the Non-Disclosure Agreement but how can it be that not even a single rumour reached me until then?

Don’t people whisper between each other in bars? Don’t best friends trust each other secrets? To me all this looked strange to say the least, if not suspicious.

But there was no choice.

When Elmer said that Alex was gone and then a few hours later he’d received a letter from his kidnappers – nobody could present me with the money needed. Nobody, except Dreams Ltd. After several futile attempts to get some answers from my friends. Has anyone used it before? What could this Corporation ask for in return? I had no other option but pick up the phone and try to reveal everything myself. I didn’t want to think that my friends would betray me. But I still couldn’t quite believe that no one else had used this service before me.

Well… It makes no difference now.

I recalled the day when I decided to make that call.

When I heard that Corporation lends money without asking to repay them in the same way – I made my final decision. I agreed. Money was transferred to my account very quickly, almost immediately and nobody mentioned the day of the repayment of that debt may come and what exactly I will be asked to do. Hopelessness of the situation did not allow me to debate. Having been a responsible person throughout my life I comprehended that it’s too much of a burden having to agree to a provision of an unknown service in return. But what else could I have done? However, even now – if I was asked to betray or kill someone – I would seriously reconsider or even refuse conditions of the agreement. I was, therefore, hoping that everything will get settled without going to any extremes.

So, yes, I got the money. And I sent them to the kidnappers. But Alex never returned.

Well, that’s not the Corporation’s fault, I guess.

I kept on staring at the dark window gritting my teeth. They don’t care if Alex came back home or not. They lent me the money and now they want to get it back. Or whatever it is they want back instead. It’s their right.

I closed my eyes and sighed.

After a few minutes the car stopped. The driver’s door slammed and then the door beside me opened.

“Mrs Moore? We have arrived.”

“Arrived” I murmured to myself and got out of the car.

 

“Tea, coffee or maybe just water?” asked a tall and incredibly thin man, getting up from his desk to greet me, “Alcohol?

“No, thanks”

He nodded. His face looked yellowish and kind of dry, perhaps, the reason for it was the lighting in the room or maybe a sand-coloured jacket that was creasing every time he moved, as though it was worn by a mop or a broom and not a by a man.

“My name is Mr Brahms”, He introduced himself pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighting one up, “Scott Brahms. And you, if I remember correctly, you are Shereen Moore.”

“That’s correct” I said frostily trying to make myself feel comfortable in the hard chair, “You know that.”

“Mr Mop” smiled.

“Hopefully your trip here has not been too much of an inconvenience to you...”

I was starting to get irritated. His false politeness was completely unnecessary. We both knew why I was here but he knew more and that was making me feel rather nervous. My tired body was begging for some rest. The office was furnished quite primitively: one table, a couple of chairs and a wardrobe in the corner - simple and tasteless.

“That’s enough Mr Brahms. Let’s get down to business.”

“Well, alright, if you wish so. Let me remind you that you are here because you have asked the Corporation to give you a certain amount of money which you had received immediately. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any complaints about the service, the actual money transfer or anything else?”

“No.”

Brahms nodded in satisfaction.

“Then let’s get down to business. We hope that what the Corporation will ask you in return will not be regarded by you as too complicated or too time-consuming.”

“I can only answer your question when I hear about the nature of the task”

“Of course, Mrs Moore. We’d like to ask you to deliver this parcel to its final destination.”

From somewhere under the table appeared a cardboard box sealed in plastic. There was no text was visible on it.

“If I understand correctly I’m not supposed to know what’s inside. Am I right?” I frowned staring at the box.

“You are absolutely right!” he confirmed brightly as though he just heard the most valuable and appropriate comment ever. “You cannot open the box under any circumstances and as you probably understand you also must not lose it”

“I hope it's not something explosive?”

“No, the parcel isn’t dangerous for you at all.”

“OK. So where do I have to deliver it to?”

Brahms stopped looking at the box and looked at me.

“The City. You need to go there, find the right person and pass the parcel. After that your mission is accomplished.”

The simplicity of my future task made me want to exhale with relief. At least they are not asking me to kill someone. But this simplicity made it hard for me to believe that everything will go as easily as “Mr Mop” has described it.

“If everything is so simple, why would you not deliver it yourself?” Thin lips on Mr Brahms’s face stretched into some kind of a smile.

“We wouldn’t be called the Corporation if we did everything ourselves, would we?”

There is some logic to your words, you son of a bitch. You need someone like me to do the runs for you.

“Good. Tell me the name of the city, address and the name of the person this box is intended for.”  I decided to get into the thick of it. The sooner I start the sooner I finish. Especially since it all looked more than doable.

“You see ...” Brahms cleared his throat. “In fact, the situation is not that simple. The city is called “Area 33" and it is a closed city. We also cannot provide you with a specific address. You’ll have to find this man yourself. But his name we’ll give you with pleasure…

“Wait ...” I interrupted him.  “What do you mean a "closed city"? If the city does not even have a normal name, just a number, and moreover, is considered to be a confined place, it is very likely to be dangerous! Am I Right?”

“I won’t be arguing with that” Brahms’s eyes narrowed. “But fifty thousand and four hundred is not a small amount, right?”

“I see-e-e-e…” I said, understanding perfectly well where he was going with this.

The man was silent for a few seconds, waiting for my new emotion to burst but as he realised that they won’t come he continued.

“So, the person's name is Christopher Laroche. The only thing I’m certain about is that he is in that city. You’ll have to find him. Since it is not possible to enter the place without the necessary documentation this will be provided for you.”

“Can you give any more information about this the place? What is going on there? Are they conducting some sort of experiments there?”

“No, as far as I know, no experiments are conducted there. And this is not a military site. The rest you’ll have to find out yourself.”

It seemed to me like Brahms was trying to move on from the unwanted subject as quickly as possible and I was trying my hardest to keep the conversation going

“So, where is it located this “Area 33”, show me on the map, please.” I pointed to the map hanging on the wall.

“OK”, he paused for a moment and then reluctantly got up and went to the map. “There it is. Here.”

His hooked finger slipped somewhere in the neighbourhood of the south-west of Klendon City.

"Maybe two hundred miles, two hundred and fifty…” I figured in my head. “Not too far but not too close either"

“It looks like there is not a lot but mountains”

“What do you expect a closed area to look like?” Brahms grunted and returned to the table. “Maybe we should draw some castles to attract tourists?”

I did not acknowledge his sarcasm.

Now this whole task did not seem so easy but it still seemed achievable. Of course it will take some time and I’ll have to ask Linda to look after the shop, but she knows what to do. No wonder - we have worked side by side for nearly three years.

I sighed and tried to stretch out my numb legs. My head was buzzing with fatigue and the lack of information made my thoughts go randomly round in circles. However as the difficulty of the task increased I felt a relief. Possibly it was irrational but the simplicity of the mission scared me a lot more than its complexity. If this area was open, like any normal city my suspicious mind would begin to search for a trick or hidden agenda. But now… Maybe they just do not want to get their hands dirty with any sort of closed areas? It is unpleasant that this has now been entrusted to me but at least there was an explanation.

“When will I be able to read the documents that you provide to enter the territory?”

“You will get them directly at the entrance of the border. Any other questions?”  Brahms, oddly enough, also looked tired.

“I would like to familiarise myself with them now.”

“I cannot provide you with this opportunity. Documents are being prepared by another department. They will be given to you at the entrance to the city.”

Damn! I can’t get a lot out of you.

“When will I need to go there?”

“At dawn.”

I almost didn’t feel surprised. I just stretched out my hands in front of me and rubbed my tired face. On one hand it is bad - I have no time for packing, on another hand - it’s good. As I said before, the sooner I start the sooner I finish. If it’s not going to take more than a few days I’d prefer to go there as soon as possible. Yes, get it over with and come back with no debts and no liabilities.

“Do you have any further questions, Mrs Moore?” Brahms asked indifferently, reaching for another cigarette.

“I have plenty of questions. It’s just hard to think where to ask”

“Get some rest” He obviously noticed the signs of fatigue on my face and it was to his advantage as I had no energy to concentrate or insist or argue about anything. “Decide what to ask later. You’ll be given a room on the fifth floor where you can sleep. You will be also provided with food and you will have access to the bathroom should you wish to refresh yourself.”

All that sounded damn nice, especially the idea of a cushy bed. And I was forced to give in.

“Alright” I rubbed my eyes wearily. “I guess I really should get some sleep. But I still have many questions. Do not forget that.”

“Of course” Said Brahms softly. “We won’t forget.”

He picked up an internal intercom and pressed the button:

“Lee, please escort Mrs Moore to her room. We are done for today.”

 

As I was leaving the office and followed the woman in red skirt I was still thinking about everything that Brahms said. The City… I must not forget to pick up the box and write down the name of this Laroche.

I forgot to pick up the box from the table. I remembered suddenly and as I was going to turn around when another thought came. They won’t let me leave this place without it, no worries. And after I get some sleep and have some food – I’ll ask my other bunch of questions.

At least, those were my thoughts at that very moment.

 

 Tossing and turning in bed, I tried to find a comfortable position which would allow me to fall asleep quicker. The room I was taken to was unpretentious but comfortable. The lay out of the room reminded me of a hotel: a wide double bed, bedside table, lamp, three chairs and a couple of paintings on walls. To complete the resemblance there should be a TV but it was missing. The windows were tightly draped; I tried to open the curtains to look outside but they were pinned to the walls. I backed off without putting in too much effort into pulling them off. If they don’t want to show where we are – it’s their choice. I washed my face, turned off the lights and went to bed. Impenetrable darkness surrounded me.

My head was spinning from all that has happened today. A new collection of accessories came to the shop in the morning - Linda and I sifted through the various items and added the new stock to the database. I sleepily thought I should give her a call in the morning and warn of my temporary absence. I opened a women's clothing boutique three years ago and during this time it began to bring a small but steady income. A business like this was not difficult to run and I only hired four employees, yet I enjoyed being  there every day, looking after employees, ordering new collections, thinking of strategies to attract new customers. Overall everything was going quite well and I was thinking about opening a second shop but perhaps bit closer to my apartment. Even though Alex used to pick me up after work every night I still wanted a chance to walk there and back to enjoy the warm summer air.

I didn’t notice how my thoughts returned to Alex. I remembered the smile on his face and his mischievous eyes. But lately he’d not been his usual happy self as before he’d disappeared. He completely stopped smiling and he was always frowning. Something had changed. How could I have missed that moment? Looking at him I saw this intense, even frightened look on his face. I tried not to press him with too many questions but support and take care of him, but nothing seemed to bring him back to his usual self. Alex