Release

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rating: +9+x

This almost feels fun.

True, the helmet pinches. The suspension is unforgiving. There is much dust. But the bike is sound, the sun bright, the road ahead clear. Not much further to the unnamed, unpopulated city.

James sends another heartfelt thanks to Miguel. At least the old man can sell the Jeep. James does not think he will return for it.

He accelerates, handlebars rattling. At this speed he cannot think ahead. Reaction only. He has not ridden like this since he was twenty. It feels strange, discarding so many years of caution.

The unsealed road climbs a low hill and joins the highway. On the descent, James sees his turn-off ahead. A new road, leading into rough woodlands. He spots a police truck, then a second. They are stopping every car. He swallows.

There is no avoiding them. The hill is exposed; he can't stop here. He slows down to buy time. What would Belén do? Maybe a morning of riding too fast, feeling young, has made James reckless. Realising his decision, he almost laughs.

The road-block is a few hundred yards away. A van and a utility truck creep toward wooden barriers. There are four police: two lift the barriers back into place, as the other two step towards the van. Another car sits beneath a tree on the right. James can't see inside it.

He idles the Harley towards the back of the truck. Thirty yards away. It will be tight. A policeman looks up at the sound of the bike's engine. James' stomach drops, but the officer turns back to the van's driver. He is wearing a helmet and sunglasses. They are expecting a Jeep. Twenty yards. This can work.

The officer steps back and waves the van forward. Ten yards. The police at the barriers start to move. Now.

The Harley roars as it swerves out. James accelerates, vision narrowed. Shouting from both sides. The van brakes squeal. An officer stumbles back, letting the barrier fall. A two foot gap. James wrenches the bike left. A hand bounces off his shoulder, and he is through.

James opens the throttle, crouching low. In his mirrors, police are scrambling. A dark shape obscures them. Shit. The car from beneath the tree.

It is coming fast. James pushes the Harley to its limit. Air buffets him. The road, thank god, is new: wide, flat and smooth. He tears too fast around a bend. The car, inexorably, gains.

His grip tightens. On the next corner, his knee touches asphalt, and he is almost thrown. He cannot go faster. The car is closing. On either side, trees whip past in a blur.

The city must be near. The car is almost at his back wheel. It pulls to his right. James leans lower, willing the bike quicker. Somehow he knows the driver has experience, won't swerve until certain they will hit him. He angles the bike away to the left. For a second, the back wheel wobbles.

A long right-hand curve. Trees on all sides. James leans into the camber. The car, on his inside, draws level. He is out of time. The Harley is not fast enough. When the turn ends, they will -

A horn blasts. A truck, straight at him. It sees his bike and swerves. Directly at the car.

James flicks the steering left. For an instant, the Harley fishtails. He clears the truck. There is screeching, and a crash. And then he is around the corner. Nothing can be seen behind.

Heart thundering, James forces himself to slow marginally. For ten minutes he rides, twitching at every noise, every unexpected bump. Nothing in his mirrors. There is a large sign, and then he is at the construction site.

Shaking, James almost falls off the bike. He leaves it between dusty cars and walks across the crowded parking lot. Now what? Varela.

Prefabricated trailers sprawl before him. The city must be close. Laborers are pulling on gloves and hard hats, their lunch break over. A few curious glances. Then more, over his shoulder. James turns. His chest tightens. A police van has pulled into the lot.

James looks for cover. Too late. An interloper, the space around him draws the eye. The two policemen spot him.

He is trapped. The swarming men have coalesced into a hard wall. They part as the police approach. James sees handcuffs, a hand on a gun. Not drawn; they do not want to risk relations with the workers.

"You!" shouts the lead officer, stout and rough-shaven. "Don't move! You're under arrest."

"For what?"

The voice is from behind James. A man emerges, slim, dark-eyed. A saviour? He spares James only a brief glance.

The lead officer stops. With a half-look to the press around them, he asks, "Do you know this man?"

The young man turns to look at James. James knows he must speak, but nothing comes.

"No," his erstwhile protector replies.

James can feel hope sink away. "I am here to - to speak with …" he begins in Spanish, but tails off.

The young man reacts to his accent. The officer bustles forward, handcuffs open.

"This American gringo has no right to be on your site," he growls.

The policeman sneers at him, close enough to smell. His meaty hand grabs James' wrist.

"Wait!" calls James, still in Spanish.

The officer hesitates. It is long enough. James raises his arms, and his voice.

"My name is David Bradley. I am an American delegate from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers." James sees this ripple through the crowd. "I have been asked by the AFL-CIO to visit you, to show solidarity with our union colleagues in Argentina."

The ripple is now the beginnings of a wave. The policemen scan the sea of faces, apprehensive.

James continues, locking eyes with the young man. "These policemen are harassing me in the performance of my duties. They do not want you to receive the message of comradeship from your brothers in the United States!"

For a second, nothing. Then the young man thrusts his fist skyward.

"Solidarity!" Voices cry out all around. "Let him stay! Let him stay!" "Viva la Patria!"

A tide of men bears the helpless officers back towards their van. The young man snatches James' arm.

"Come with me," he says roughly. "Here."

They stride through a maze of portable buildings. Mess halls, bunkhouses: a city to build the city. James is wondering at it when the young man ushers him inside a trailer. The makeshift office is full of papers and telephones. He is waved impatiently to a folding chair.

The young man stands over him. "Whatever you are, you're not a union delegate. Tell me why I just helped you."

Can he be trusted? James decides to hedge his bets.

"I am here to meet with Agustin Varela. I am - I used to work with him, a long time ago."

Unexpectedly, the young man laughs. "Varela? You worked with him? What, you were a guerilla?" He laughs again.

James flushes. "I must see him, please. I have a message for him - a warning. He is in danger."

"Life is dangerous, friend. It seems to me that perhaps you do not know him after all." The young man folds his arms. The ground is shifting too fast.

"Truthfully, I do not know him," confesses James, "but we were colleagues. I know another colleague of his. Belén."

This name gets the reaction James is seeking. "Belén?" the young man responds. "Agustin has told me of her. Is she as beautiful as he says she was?"

"You can judge for yourself," replies James. "She is coming here too."

"Ha! Belén coming here. Well, we will soon see whether you are a liar, at any rate." Abruptly, the young man's tone is jovial. "My name is Aurelio."

Aurelio holds out a hand, brown and battered, with a long scar on the back.

"James. My name is James." It is a relief to use his real name.

"Welcome, James. You have come a long way for someone you have never met." Aurelio sits back on the desk, still smiling lightly.

"Can you take me to Agustin?"

"He is on the site. We will see him tonight. Besides, you should stay out of view for now. Will you have a coffee?"

Tamping down his frustration, James nods. It seems there is time for conversation. "Do you know Agustin well?"

"I have worked here for four years," says Aurelio, filling a kettle. "He has been site supervisor all that time. I do not know many better men."

James has a sudden hunger of curiosity. "Tell me about him."

"To the workers, he is a lion. Noble, he makes them proud. Fierce, he makes them strong. He fights for them, so they believe in him. And yet the bosses, in Buenos Aires, respect him too. The men work harder for Varela. His demands are fair. They can see the benefits he brings, so they are more generous to us."

Aurelio passes James a cup. "Even with the coffee."

The smell is warm, rich and inviting. James' stomach growls. He has not eaten since the morning.

"What do you know about his past?" James asks.

"He rarely speaks of it. Many people say he was with the Montoneros, but I do not believe it. He does not seem like a killer, even of -" Aurelio hesitates.

"I understand," says James. Even in private, he will not make this young man speak his views of the junta.

"In the stories I believe, Agustin was a teacher. He worked at a school, in the capital. Poor children, orphans. Some were children of desaparecidos. Agustin taught them mathematics, science, taught them history. Dangerous things to learn.

"One day, men came to the school, asking for Varela. They had come to make him disappear, to take him to be tortured. His students, those brave children, would not let him go. They surrounded the men, even though they were beaten with sticks, even as Varela told them to let him be taken. There were too many students, and they loved him too much. The men went away empty-handed.

"Varela knew he had to leave, to keep his students safe. He was missing for a long time, say the stories. They thought he had been captured or killed. But then he reappeared, working on construction sites in the provinces. Now, many more love him. If they tried to kill him there would be a mighty outcry. So they will not try again."

James feels doubt gnaw at him. Pushing it aside, he asks, "Is Varela a revolutionary, then?"

"No. When he speaks to the men, he does not speak with fire. It is of simple things that he talks: family, home, pride in work done well. This is his way with twenty men, with a hundred. But with one man … then he can cut to the heart. With many men, he is again a teacher, with each man alone, he is a father." Aurelio laughs at himself. "I sound foolish, but that is the way when fools try to speak of wisdom."

There seems no more to be said. Both men sit, thinking.

Aurelio looks up from his coffee. "You have not yet seen the city?"

"No." In James' mind, this place has become entwined with Varela himself.

"Let me show you."

Outside, Aurelio leads him between more buildings, through a copse of trees beyond. They emerge on a hillside, the city spread out below them.

James blinks at the immensity of it. Low-rise residential blocks stretch for miles into the West. They squat, paralysing in their uniformity. The boulevards separating them are unpaved; dry riverbeds, silent and empty. No trees have been planted in the public parks, making them pockmarks in the city's concrete skin.

Late afternoon sun silhouettes the skeletons of taller buildings, almost finished. James' eye is drawn inwards and upwards, to the unborn city's centre.

To the tower.


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