This is the third part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II.
Having little to do, Diego called up an old friend; they met at a soda for a quick meal and, as the friend even at this stage in life was something of a party animal, they hit the bars until three in the morning, reminiscing about old times and trying, as such people do, to stay in that ideal gray area between staying clear-headed and sliding toward unconsciousness. He saw the friend off in a taxi, then walked home through the deserted streets beneath the streetlamps and a moonless sky.
It was still dark when he stumbled through his doorway. He made his way through the house to his bedroom, planning on just falling on his bed to sleep. He did not quite make it that far. Just as he entered the room, something cool and flexible and plastic suddenly seized upon his face, held in place by someone behind him, and he could not breathe. A flurry burst through his brain and down to his heart, whose every beat he could not feel. It was almost impossible to think.
But Diego had been saved by an accident of timing; just the moment before, he had reached up to scratch his face, and as the plastic descended, it caught his thumb. It was only by a tiny bit, and was not on its own enough to make a difference. But as he struggled, the thumb stretched the plastic and it broke. The feel of the snap broke through, one moment, to Diego's panicking brain, and he moved his other hand, which had been scratching futilely at the edge of the plastic on the other side of his face, up to his mouth. He pressed inward as hard as he could and tore a small hole in the plastic around his mouth. With his other hand he opened the whole as wide as he could, and at the same time pivoted and ran his assailant as hard as he could into the corner of his dresser.
From that moment it became a scrambling struggle between Diego and his assailant, who had not yet registered that Diego could breathe, even if only with difficulty, and thus was no prepared for an ongoing fight. The assailant pushed forward to the bed; Diego pushed as hard as he could back toward the dresser, and back they went, both slipping. The assailant's head caught the edge of the dresser with a thud Diego himself felt, and the arms slackened. Diego tore the plastic off his face and stood a moment, huffing and puffing, before turning on the light and calling the police.
It was a long early morning from that point, answering questions with his brain still half-scrambled. The assailant was unconscious, rather than dead, and was carted off by ambulance and police. Diego was sitting on the doorstep trying to minimize the throbbing in his head when a woman came up to him and handed him a handkerchief.
"Pura vida," he said gratefully, wiping his face.
"I am Carlota Pacelli, Mirandan security," she said. She looked him over frankly. "You look like you need to sleep, Señor Páez. The embassy has reserved a hotel room for you."
He dozed in the car on the way to the hotel, which was on the other side of San Jose, and, after Pacelli had checked the room, curled up into the bed and fell asleep.
It was not, however, a peaceful sleep, and he woke after two hours with a sudden start, his heart racing as if from a nightmare. It was impossible to get back to sleep, so he went down to the lobby and found Pacelli there reading a magazine.
"You didn't sleep long," she said.
"I really find the need for a breakfast, I think," he replied.
She took him to a nearby soda, and while waiting for his meal, he raised a steaming cup of strong, black coffee to her. "May the Islands return."
She smiled slightly but did not reciprocate. "The Islands will never return," she said gravely.
It was such an unexpected response that he almost burned his lips on his coffee. "What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. When the Islands were invaded, the Venezuelans removed all of the population that failed to evacuate and replaced it with a new one. The Commemorative Obelisk was smashed to pieces. Los Ángeles..."
"...has been converted to an office building," said Diego, remembering his conversation with Tovar. The association nagged at him, for some reason.
"Yes," Pacelli replied. "San Francisco on Gran Roque is still there, but the Left-Populists nationalized it and converted it to an 'ecumenical chapel', whatever that is. The electric ferry system is gone. The posadas and people and restaurants of the Gran Roque of our grandparents' day are all vanished, never to return. Even the old lighthouse is barely maintained, and that only because it predated us. There are no Islands to return, not really. The Left-Populists didn't just set out to invade; they set out to erase us. They could not reach to Costa Rica, or any of the other places that provided refuge after the Invasion, but on the Islands, it is all gone, as if we never were. And so I say that the Islands will never return. The past is gone."
Diego's gallo pinto arrived and he tucked into it hungrily. Pacelli let him eat in peace.
After a few minutes, he said, "After this, I will need to go back to the embassy; I am expecting message there. If what's I've been told it is, I will need to fly out in the next week or so. Do you think the police would have a problem with this."
"To be honest," she replied, "this is my first time dealing with a murder attempt. We should ask them explicitly, but if it's important, I am certain that the embassy can smooth out any problems."
When they reached the embassy, Pacelli went to make some calls, and Diego found his message waiting. The envelope was an ornate heavy parchment tied with string, and it included, with elaborate calligraphy and an old-fashioned red wax seal, a Certificate of Appointment to the Board of the Miranda Organization, conditional on the approval of Augustine Cardinal Binaisa, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Insular State of Miranda.
"So I will finally get to see something of Italy," Diego said to himself.
to be continued