There were a couple minutes of frantic silence as they made their way through the streets, away from the university and toward a street more amenable for taxicabs. Each minute seemed more like ten as neither Kaila nor her father were willing to speak, fearing their words would only make things worse than they already were. Once they finally found a taxi, tersely informed the driver of the address and leaned back in the worn seats of the cab, Kaila felt woozy. She was exhausted both physically and emotionally from the events of the last few hours, but the sudden rush of adrenaline at this turn of events had her nerves on fire once more. The blood flowing through her head seemed to pound endlessly against her temples. She closed her eyes, trying to focus her thoughts.
“Kaila, are you alright?”
She looked up to see her father staring at her, the lines in his forehead deeper than before. He was just as worried as she was, maybe even more so. Kaila nodded lamely, her eyes returning to the floor of the cab. Her hand, still encased in her father’s, felt almost numb. He hadn’t let go once. She wasn’t willing to either. Taking an intentional breath, Kaila turned her head to look out the window. All the people on the street – mothers pulling their children through the market, teenagers loitering around convenience stores, men in business attire making their way down the street – none of this affected them at all. They were just living their lives, enjoying a peaceful weekday.
How was Theo doing? What was he thinking right now? Was he scared, maybe angry at her? He should be scared; Eamon Arthur was not someone to be meddled with. And – if she was being honest with herself – he should be angry at her too. If she hadn’t come barging into his life, Theo would probably be outside now, walking the streets freely and enjoying being home. Would she be able to free him? If things went south, would he ever see his family and friends again?
She didn’t want to turn around. Her throat was on fire and she felt like she might be sick if this taxi kept starting and stopping every other second.
“Kaila, look at me,”
He wasn’t going to let this rest. Kaila turned, her face deadpan as she faced her father.
“Whatever happens, I don’t want you to blame yourself,”
“What? But I’m the one that got Theo into this mess! If I hadn’t reached out to him, then Eamon would have never tracked him here! He’s in trouble because of me!”
“Theo is in trouble because he put himself in a dangerous situation by trying to expose Eamon Industries. He would still be in danger even if you hadn’t shown up. Besides, the only reason you’re here is because of me. If I had been a better father…” He closed his eyes for a second and took a shaky breath. “If I’d been there for you, then none of this would have happened,”
Kaila’s eyes narrowed. “No! I’m not going to blame you! And I’m not going to blame Theo either! If we’re looking for who’s at fault and go back all the way to when this whole thing started, then Grandfather’s to blame. He’s the one who convinced you to leave Mom, he tried to keep me from going out and finding you, and now he’s trying to get back at us through your family! I’m not going to let him get away with everything he’s done!”
Her father sighed. “Kaila, your grandfather is a very powerful man. I don’t think you can be hoping for revenge at his point-”
Kaila opened her mouth to protest and he lifted a finger for silence.
“I don’t think you can be hoping for justice either. Not fully anyway. What we want now is for Theo to be returned home safely, nothing more,”
Kaila could feel her gut clenching in rage, but she knew he was right. They were not in a position to be making any demands at this point. But they couldn’t just roll over and take whatever punishment Eamon decided to dish out. “He’s going to tell me that I can never see you again. I can’t accept that,”
“I won’t let that happen. I’m not going to lose you,”
“But what can we do to stop him?” Kaila paused, thinking. “He knows of my involvement in November Skies’ work against Eamon Industries. I was the one who wrote the exposé that World News Today is planning to release soon on the working conditions in Qatar. He told me that he’d cover for me, that it would be unseemly for the granddaughter of the company’s founder to be caught up in such a scandal. Maybe if I threatened to turn myself in, then he’d let Theo go. If it would save him and the company face, then he would want to protect me from leaking that sort of information, right?”
Her father shook his head emphatically. “Absolutely not. Eamon might have said he’d protect you when he thought he still had a chance of controlling you, but if you threaten to fall on your sword now, he just might let you. He has whole teams on standby who can spin any scandal that comes near Eamon Industries any way they please. If he disowns you, then you’ll be in just as much danger as Theo,”
Kaila was livid. She didn’t want to be related to such a hateful, vicious man. The only thing she felt for her grandfather at this moment was spite. How on earth was she going to act as if she still wanted to be his granddaughter and break free of his control as well?
She would simply have to find a way. There was no other choice.
The drive to the cafe seemed much longer than the fifteen minutes her father’s wristwatch reported. They’d taken almost ten minutes to even find a cab, so there was no time to waste. As the taxi pulled to a stop, Kaila flung open the door, vaulting out onto the sidewalk. Wait. Where was the cafe? Had they given the wrong address to the driver?
“This isn’t right!” Kaila exclaimed, whirling around to her father who had just emerged after paying the driver. “We’re in the wrong place!”
“No, we’re not. We’re only about half a block away,” He placed a hand on her shoulder. “We can’t go sprinting into the cafe. That will just show Eamon we’re desperate and give him even more of an advantage than he already has. We are going to walk at a regular pace and arrive in time, OK?”
Kaila nodded blankly. Her father had been clear-headed enough to think ahead to their arrival and make sure they made the best entrance possible. He was keeping it together even if she wasn’t. Maybe there was hope for them yet. They made their way down the street together. This pace was killing her. Her legs burned, longing to sprint all the way down to their destination, but at the same time they were so shaky that Kaila wasn’t sure she’d last for more than a few seconds at that pace.
At last the cafe was in sight. The first thing Kaila noticed was how quiet it was. Of course. Her grandfather may have acted like this was a public meeting in the phone call, but he would never tolerate having so many witnesses to such a transaction. He must have scared the owner into closing shop early, probably throwing a wad of cash his way to make sure he kept quiet. As they were about to step in front of the windows, Kaila suddenly came to a stop and pulled her hand out of her father’s grasp. Immediately he turned to her in protest.
“Kaila, what are you doing?”
“You said appearance is important, right? Then we can’t go in there holding hands. That will just come across as an act of defiance in Eamon’s eyes. Besides, I don’t want him to think that I’m weak, that I’m just some little girl hiding behind her father. I need to be able to stand on my own against him and show him I won’t give in,”
“You’re not on your own,”
A smile flitted across Kaila’s face. “I know,”
As they passed the window, Kaila could see a few lights still on in the back of the store. Theo and her grandfather were seated at one of the tables in the middle of the cafe. A few murky shapes behind the counter told her that her grandfather had brought backup. Kaila took a long, slow breath, trying to calm her nerves. She reached for the door handle.
A bell jingled overhead as she opened the door. Kaila saw that all eyes were already on her. Of course – they could see them through the window. Her father slipped in behind her as Kaila took a step forward. The door creaked closed behind them, the bell jangling again as it clicked shut.
Kaila looked at Theo, trying to tell if he was OK. Had they taken him forcefully? Was he injured? As far as she could tell, there was no physical damage done. As she looked into Theo’s eyes, she felt her breath catch. She had expected fear, anger, maybe even despair. There was none of that. Theo was worried, but this could only be seen in his eyes. As they turned from her, his body posture remained calm, no tension showing in his posture. He was sitting upright, his body poised, focused. He knew how bad this was, but he wasn’t going to show any fear. He was prepared for something like this.
Kaila turned to her grandfather. She couldn’t get a read on his expression. It seemed to shift continuously, melding a whole range of emotions. Rage, pride, self-satisfaction… one moment he seemed to be glowering with hatred and the next preening with pride. The room was silent, each member too busy reading the room to start the conversation. At last, Eamon shifted, opening his mouth to begin.
No, not this time. Kaila wasn’t going to have him open the floor. “I’m here as you requested,” That was a good start – simple, concise. But what should she say next? She didn’t want to just blurt something out and mess everything up. Her father stepped in to say the next words.
“You need to let Theo go. Now.”
Eamon’s lips curled in a sneer. “Do I? Are you under the impression that either of you have the right to be making any demands at this time?”
“You wouldn’t have called if you weren’t going to offer Kaila an alternative. You never do anything if there isn’t some profit for you,”
Eamon chuckled. “You are right on that count, Jeffrey. I must say, even though I was never fond of you, I could never dismiss you as an utter fool,” His eyes turned to Kaila. “What do you think my terms for your friend’s release are, my dear?”
Kaila remained silent. She knew what they were, but she didn’t want to somehow overstep those demands through her own words. Her grandfather was looking at her expectantly though. He didn’t allow his questions to go unanswered.
“I think your demands are fairly obvious,”
“‘Demands’ is an ugly word, Kaila,” Eamon rose from his chair. “It makes it sounds as if I’m a kidnapper, as though I were somehow in the wrong.” At this, his voice hardened. “But this friend of yours is a criminal, a hooligan who trespassed on company property and stole confidential documents, manipulating and then leaking them to the public as an act of slander against Eamon Industries,”
So that was his angle. Eamon Industries would both hold Theo responsible for stealing the documents, then deny the authenticity of what was written there when it came to the company’s own crimes. Kaila wanted to scream out just what she really thought of her grandfather, but she couldn’t now. That would only seal Theo’s already precarious fate.
“What are your terms then?”
“That’s better,” Eamon circled the table slowly, his hands linked leisurely behind his back. “I want you to stop all this nonsense for good. You will return to school and complete your business degree. You will take an internship at Eamon Industries, and upon graduating you will have a position at the company. Nothing too extravagant, but it will start you off on the right foot,” He paused, placing a firm hand on Theo’s shoulder. “As for this young man and your friend in Qatar and all your other new acquaintances, you will cut all ties with them. No more talk of journalism, or “the greater good” or any other silly ideas that have popped into your head in this last month,”
Kaila looked over at Theo. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. Instead, he simply stared at a pair of decorated plates hanging on the wall across from him. What was there for him to say? He had nothing that could get them out of this situation. Kaila clenched a fist behind her back. This wasn’t the sort of agreement she could get out of. She would be bound by it till the day her grandfather died, and knowing Eamon Arthur he would set up legal measures to keep her in line even after he was long gone. This was her life she was signing away. But it was her life or Theo’s. And a life spent in a gilded cage, no matter how suffocating, was better than a life behind bars.
Her father’s face looked grim, unwavering, yet without any sort of light or hope within. Was there really no other option?
“If I say yes, you’ll let Theo go, right here, right now?”
“It will be as though our paths never crossed. We will close the book on this little chapter of your life, and not look back,”
So this is where her journey would end: her voice silenced before it could even be heard. So be it. There were others out there to fight the good fight, people much more experienced and talented than she could ever hope to be. Maybe she’d been fooling herself all along, thinking she could be something more than she already was.
The air felt heavy and stagnant as she tried to force the words out. Finally they came.
“Alright. I’ll go with you,”
“I knew you’d make the right decision,” Her grandfather motioned silently for the bodyguards to come forward. “We’ll depart immediately. Our jet is fueled and waiting on the tarmac,”
Kaila could feel her eyes burning. No, she wouldn’t let him see her cry. She felt her father take her hand in his, then she was being pulled into a tight hug.
“This isn’t going to be forever,” he whispered, holding her close. “You’ll get your life back. I’ll find a way around this. Theo can go somewhere safe and then Eamon won’t have anything to hold over you. You’re not going to be stuck in his web forever,”
Kaila clung onto his shirt desperately, not wanting to let go. “I’m gonna write you every day. You’re going to hear from me so often, you’ll-” Kaila meant to say ‘get sick of me’, but she wasn’t able to get the rest of the words out. Her father stroked her back gently as silent sobs shook her body. Once her body stilled his arms loosened and Kaila looked up to see Theo standing beside them. His eyes glistened with tears.
“Kaila, I’m so sorry. You came to me looking for help, and all I’ve done is ruin your life. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have had to agree to that,”
“No,” Kaila commanded, “Don’t blame yourself. You go out there and you keep writing, because you’re going to touch lives and you’re going to make a difference. You changed my life for the better, no matter what happens now.”
Theo looked at her with sadness, the words not seeming to reach him. It was hard to take someone’s encouragement when you felt you’d wrecked their life. Hopefully in time he would believe what she said. They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment, then Theo was suddenly taking her in his arms, wrapping her in a hug even tighter than her father’s had been. Kaila stiffened, not expecting the sudden contact, but after a few seconds her muscles relaxed and she hugged him back, burying her face in his shoulder so no more tears could come out. She was never going to forget Theo. All that time she’d thought she was reading her father’s words, poring over them for any clue to who he was, how he thought… she was actually learning about Theo. It was a miracle she’d even been able to meet him. Even if she never saw him again, she’d still be able to read his words and follow November Skies’ adventures on the pages of World News Today. She wouldn’t lose him, not completely.
Her grandfather cleared his throat roughly. Her time for goodbyes was up. Squeezing her father’s hand one last time, Kaila turned to the door, following her grandfather silently as he exited the cafe. The two bodyguards flanked her, one on either side. It took Kaila’s eyes a second to adjust to the light outside. Once they did, she noticed that her grandfather’s Rolls Royce had been parked across the street this entire time. She’d been so frantic on the way into the cafe, she hadn’t even noticed. It did seem to draw a bit of a crowd, people stopping to ogle them as the wealthy businessman, young woman and imposing giants in suits made their way to the car. They entered silently, one of the bodyguards taking the wheel with Eamon Arthur in the passenger’s seat while Kaila sat in the back with the other one. They pulled out into the street, worming their way into the congested traffic of Rio De Janeiro as all parties looked out the tinted windows.
Kaila sat in silence, her hands absently twitching as she had nothing to do with them. She didn’t have her phone with her, not that she could focus on anything on its screen if she did. She didn’t want to sigh or yawn or show any sign of weakness or defeat to her grandfather. He had defeated her, but she wasn’t going to give him any further satisfaction from watching her. She focused on remaining completely still, her face blank and empty.
Her grandfather was the first to break the silence.
“Well, I’m glad that’s all over. You’ll never have to see this horrid place ever again,” He swept his hand out, as if gesturing to the entire city at once.
“I’ll be back. I’m sure my father will want me to visit again,”
Her grandfather chuckled. “Of course, my dear. Of course,”
There was something dismissive about his tone. It made Kaila’s stomach lurch.
“I will be seeing him again. He and I will plan my visit as soon as I get home,”
“I don’t believe that would be in anyone’s best interest,” Her grandfather’s voice had a sinister edge to it. “Seeing as it would be in violation of our agreement,”
“What are you talking about? The agreement was that I never see Theo or any of my friends again. That’s what you said, that I wouldn’t talk to them and I’d stop pursuing journalism,”
Her grandfather laughed coldly.
“My dear, who was it who put these wild ideas of journalism and social activism in your mind in the first place? If I don’t keep that wretch Jeffrey Oliver out of your life, then what kind of a grandfather would I be?”
“That’s not what I agreed to!” Kaila shouted. “You told me to come back with you! That was the deal! I’m not letting you take my father away from me!” She banged on her window frantically. “Stop this car!”
Her grandfather spun around in his seat, eyes ablaze. “That man is not your father! He’s never been there for you a day in your life! He was just some hoodlum your mother fell into bed with who ran off at the first sign of trouble!”
“You drove him off!” Kaila screeched. “He didn’t know Mom was pregnant! He would have stayed if he did!” Her thoughts flashed to the phone call. He’d said that Theo had given him her father’s number, but… “Did you know?” She locked eyes with her grandfather, a primal tone in her voice. “Did you know he was alive this whole time?”
“Jeffrey Oliver is not a part of your life. He was never supposed to be, and I will use every method at my disposal to ensure he never is,”
Kaila screamed, lunging forward. A rough hand pushed her back against her seat. After a second the hand loosened. The bodyguard had just kept Kaila from ripping her grandfather’s face off. Eamon looked stunned for a second, then turned back to the front of the car. “You’re not well at the moment. All these experiences, these people have warped your judgment. You’re still young, impressionable. In time you’ll learn to see things as they are,” The way he said those last words had an air of finality to them. She had fallen into his trap, and now there was no way out.
Unless… no, that was crazy. Was it even possible? It certainly wasn’t safe. Kaila looked up at the dashboard’s mirror, catching her grandfather’s eyes. He met her hateful stare evenly. The same blood may run through their veins, but there was only one thing that made them alike: They both hated to lose.
With one deft movement, Kaila unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the car door, and tumbled out of the moving car. She heard a string of oaths exit her grandfather’s mouth as she fell toward the ground, then everything went went white as she hit the asphalt. Pain shot through her right shoulder, every nerve in her body suddenly screaming. Instinctively, Kaila curled up, tumbling across the ground until she crashed into the side of a parked car. Shakily, she tried to get up, then fell back down with a groan, clutching her pounding head. Looking down at her legs, Kaila saw that both her knees were bleeding, her pants torn to shreds at the knees. She didn’t feel any stinging yet. Must be the adrenaline.
Kaila heard the Rolls Royce screeching to a halt about halfway up the street. Doors opened. She had to get out of here. If they caught her again, it was all over. Legs shaking, Kaila forced herself to her feet, pushing away the hands that reached out to help her. People were crowded around her, everyone speaking loudly in Portuguese. Kaila looked around, trying to figure out where she was. There was the end of the market she and her father had passed on their way to the cafe. She wasn’t far off. Thank God for horrendous traffic. Forcing her way through the crowd, Kaila took off in the opposite direction of the Rolls Royce, sprinting back toward the cafe.
The streets were so crowded. Kaila found herself jumping from side to side, hopping into the street then back up to the curb as she sprinted down the street. She could hear shouts behind her and the beating of feet. One of the bodyguards was on her trail. Her years on the track team were nothing compared to his training. There was no way she’d outrun him for long. Lungs on fire, Kaila sprinted across the street, narrowly missing a passing car. Looking back for a second, Kaila saw several had come to a halt in the midst of her crossing. Not missing a beat, the bodyguard put his hands on the hood of a car, vaulting over it. Nothing was going to stop him.
Kaila’s head swung back around and she desperately searched for a recognizable landmark. There! That bright blue bookstore was on the same street as the cafe! Kaila felt her heart soar with hope. Turning the corner, she tried to force another burst of energy from her legs. She could hear the bodyguard behind her, even closer this time. They were approaching an alley. Kaila could hear the bodyguard’s breathing directly behind her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hand reaching out for her. She opened her mouth to scream –
And promptly collided with someone on the sidewalk, throwing both herself and the innocent bystander to the ground. Groaning, Kaila raised her eyes to apologize – and froze. This was the last person she expected to see wandering the streets of Brazil.