The Isabel Gemio Story - Part V
Isabel clutched the small envelope close to her chest as the stranger led her deeper into the tangle of alleyways. All around her curious faces peered out at them from hovels built of cardboard, blankets, and scrap sheet metal. The stink as they went deeper was intense, the smell of thousands of people, their waste, poor sanitation, pets, food smells, all of it a horrendous bouquet that assaulted her senses.
The buildings they passed on either side became progressively more dilapidated the further they went from the city centre. Plaster had peeled off many of the upper floors exposing the brick and concrete walls exposed to the elements, showing signs of wear from heavy rains. Rooftop patios were everywhere and a forest of brightly coloured laundry lines criss crossed above her head, providing shade for the narrow passageways beneath.
A dog snapped at her heels and she gave it a swift kick, sending it scampering back into the shadow, her rescuer turning briefly to see what had occurred before laughing softly. She studied him as they went. He was young, a few years younger than her, and was clearly quite fit. His shoulders were perhaps to broad for his jacket and his pants just a bit to short. His black hair was neatly cut and swept back from his forehead, held in place by some sort of cream or gel, and his confidence in this dark and intimidating place was evident.
"Where are we going?" She asked after she had judged they were well away from the main street. He didn't slow his pace but stabbed a figure further in to the urban jungle.
"To my home. I think you will be safe there."
They did not speak again for another five minutes. The route they took was winding but as best as Isabel could tell, he wasn't trying to confuse her, just heading in an Easterly direction. They passed several small shops, cafes and pubs, plastic chairs filled with people who smiled and returned her rescuers wave. They even smiled at her and a few called out greetings.
At last they turned into an alley that was slightly wider than the ones they had just passed through, wide enough for a small car. The buildings still rose steeply on either side for several floors but she got the impression that they had come to the tallest of them all. A proper wooden door was standing open, a large orange tabby cat lying across the entrance in a sunbeam. It flicked its tail as they stepped in to the house and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.
"Daddy!" A small voice shrieked in excitement and Isabel couldn't help but smile as a girl, not more than five, came hurtling from deeper in the house to throw herself onto Isabels' guide. Then the girl caught sight of Isabel and her face became deadly serious as she held out a tiny hand.
"Hello. I am Isa."
"Hello Isa." Isabel couldn't help but laugh at the girls earnest expression. "I am Isabel." She shook the offered hand.
"Forgive my rudeness," Her guide said as he put the girl down, holding out his own hand. "I am Jordão."
"Not at all, thank you for the rescue." Isabel shook his hand, a firm grip, and he nodded slightly at the strength of her own.
"You are most welcome. Anyone wanted by the Policia are friends of ours."
"Not a big fan then?"
"No. They are corrupt and only interested in taking our money, or fucking our women." He said so matter a factly Isabel wasn't sure she had heard him properly.
"They hurt mom!" Piped up Isa from the floor where she was holding on to her fathers other hand.
"That they did." Jordão picked Isa up and swing her onto his shoulders before gesturing toward a flight of stairs nearby. "To the roof. I am most curious as to why they are hunting you."
Isabel followed father and daughter up the narrow concrete stairs that rose for several stories. Each landing opened on to another floor. The main floor, where they had come in, was nothing more than a former garage with a hard concrete floor, several bags of garbage, and a half assembled motorbike. The next floor held what she could only assume were bedrooms even though all the doors were closed. The next floor was the kitchen and living space, which they carried on past and upward three more floors, none of which were finished, before finally climbing through a trapdoor and out on to a roof top patio that had a broad vista of the city.
A woman was sitting on the roof top, her feet up on the wall, leaning back in a red plastic chair. She turned to look at them as they arrived and stood slowly as Isabel smiled at her.
"Hello Anna." Jordão kissed her carefully before gesturing to Isabel. "Please meet Isabel, she is hiding from our dear friends with the Policia."
Anna was a pretty woman, about Isabel's height, with raven black hair, deep green eyes, and sharp chin. It was clear she was in some serious pain but she managed to smile and shook Isabel's hand.
"Welcome to our home Isabel." She slowly sank in to her chair chair. Paolo retrieved two more such chairs from a nearby corner and set one out for Isabel before sitting in the other.
"Thank you. This is quite the view." And it was. They had been going steadily uphill as they moved away from the main street and this house, taller than its neighbours, had a stunning view of the main city itself. She could see the distant location of her hotel and the ungainly sprawl of the slums she had just hurried through.
"It is." Jordão agreed before shooing Isa down the nearby stairs and lowering a small trap door after her. He turned back to face Isabel with a curious look. "Now, I don't want to press, but I am very curious why the Policia are looking for you."
"I am honestly not sure." Isabel found herself telling her hosts the story of receiving the letter in Spain, the journey to Sao Paolo, finding her friend had been murdered, and the near miss at the newspaper. "And then you brought me here, I have no idea what is in here, or why they want it so badly."
She had pulled out the envelope and placed it on the table in front of her. Her hosts were staring at her intently, enraptured with her story. Now they both looked down at the envelope where it lay between them, then at each other, and back to her.
"You are quite the woman." Anna said at last, breaking the long silence. "I have never left out neighbourhood and the one time I did..." She winced and shifted painfully in her chair.
Jordão placed his hand on Anna's and smiled encouragingly at her. "I think you will live."
"Thank you." Anna smiled gently at him and then shifted her gaze back to Isabel. "So you have come from Spain, been spied upon, your friend murdered, and now the Policia hunt you because of what is in this envelope?"
"I think so, though I don't actually "know" what is inside. I only had time to grab it and run." She picked up the envelope and turned it over in her hands. It was a simple thing, not bigger than a full sized sheet of paper but heavy with its contents. "I suppose I ought to have a look."
She took a small pen knife from her pocket and carefully slit the edge of the envelope. Jordão and Anna were watching intently and the moment seem so sacred that she had to stifle a chuckle. She weighed the envelope again and then tilted its contents in to her hand.
A dozen photographs slid slipped into her fingers. They were in colour, slightly bent around the edges, but otherwise in good condition. The top one was in colour and Isabel recognized the hotel she had just been staying at, the white and gold exterior could, the gentle arch over the patio, the same french doors she had snuck in and out of.
"Oh my god..." Jordão had craned his head for a look at the top photo and his eyes had gone wide. Anna and Isabel sucked in their breath at the same time.
The top image was upside down to Isabel but there was no doubting what she was looking at. The photograph had been taken from a distance away, possibly from a tree judging by a leaf in the bottom corner of the image. But in centre of the frame, on her hands and knees, looking back over her shoulder, very naked, and being fucked by a man whose face they could not see, was Mariana Braganza, Queen of Spain.