In early 1998 Nicola Ruiz is eleven years of age, and already looking a lot like her lovely mother when Angela, her mother, is sent to prison because the evidence of Nicola’s father’s criminal deeds point to Angela. The bank accounts, the property deeds, etc. are all in her name. Angela refuses to turn in the man she loves. Within a week of her mother’s arrest her father (Roberto) has another local woman (Tequi) in his bed. Nicola is disgusted with her father. Sadly, she has nowhere else to go; her father’s parents are long dead, and her mother’s parents disowned Angela when she married Roberto after she got pregnant.
Angela was the only member of the family with a regular job, and Roberto has to cease his criminal activities, at least while the police are watching him so closely. Thus there’s very little money coming into the house, most of it’s welfare payments. Most of what’s available is spent on cigarettes and alcohol for Roberto and Tequi, but it just isn’t enough for them. They need to find a new source of income, one that’ll allow them to live as well as they’d like to live.
One night near her twelfth birthday Nicola hears, through the thin bedroom wall, her father agree with Tequi’s idea to make money, good money, by using Nicola as a child prostitute by renting her to men for sex. Nicola has seen what prostitution does to women and older girls, as many live in the same suburb of Dareena, the largest city in the Dareed region, and how it destroys their lives. She isn’t going to allow them to do that to her. She gets out the two carry bags she has, and packs all of her clothes and possession in them. When she’s sure both Roberto and Tequi are asleep she sneaks into the kitchen to get all of the edible food that doesn’t need a can opener or cooking, what little there is of it, and two large bottles of water. After putting the food and water into her bags she’s quiet while she leaves the rented flat without a backward glance.
After two hours of walking she’s at the bus terminal buying a ticket to go as far north as she can with the little money she has of her own she saved from after school jobs. Near dusk that day she gets off a bus in Marley’s Landing, and starts walking north on the road that looks to be the least used one. She thinks when Roberto and Tequi get around to chasing her they’ll expect her to stay on the most used road while looking for a lift. About an hour later she’s given a lift in a farm truck. When they reach the farm turn off the driver doesn’t stop until he reaches the farmhouse itself, about three kilometres from the road. Nicola is scared, and waits to see what’s happening.
Getting out of the cab the driver calls to his wife they’ve a guest for dinner and the night. He tells Nicola to get inside, to have a bath, and to get set to use the spare room for the night. He adds, “I don’t care why you’re running away from home, but I won’t leave you out on the road overnight. You can continue your journey in the morning.” After a good night’s sleep, and two delicious meals, dinner and breakfast, he drops her at the turn off, and she starts walking north. She takes ten days to walk across the Kotar Plain to the Amir Mountains, but each night is spent in a farmhouse after a hot meal. It seems every farmer in the plain knows she’s a runaway, and is prepared to give her a feed with a safe place to sleep at night. None ask her about why she’s a runaway. The friendliness of the people is a huge shock, and totally different to what she’s used to seeing in the city of Dareena.
Three weeks after leaving home she’s crossed the Amir Mountains, and walked to the coast. She’s nearing a small coastal town when a neatly dressed man stops to give her a lift. They chat for the twenty minutes’ drive into the town. After parking he asks her why she’s running away from home. She turns to get out of the car to run. Seeing he’s parked outside the local police station she turns back, and answers the question. He gets out of the car, and takes her to a nearby eatery. Sitting her down he orders and pays for a meal for her. He tells her to stay put, and asks the owner to keep an eye on her. He crosses the road to the police station. Several minutes later he comes back to rejoin her in the eatery. Sitting down he says, “Roberto Ruiz has got to be the world’s number one arse hole. You did the right thing to run away. The police have a missing person’s report on you, but they’ve just changed its priority.” She’s stunned when she realises he’s convinced the police to not actively look for her. When she finishes her meal he takes her to the bus depot, and buys her a ticket to Carmel. While giving her some money he says, “Go to Carmel, the King lives just outside the town. Go there, seek an audience, and tell him your story. He’ll help you, I know he will.” He sees her to the bus, and waves her goodbye.
When the bus nears Carmel she becomes worried, the one thing her father did give her is a strong fear of authorities, and going to the highest of all authorities worries her a lot. At View Port, the last stop before Carmel, she gets off the bus. She’s had similar advice to see the king from several people, but he’s still the top authority, what if he sends her back to her father. The law supports her father, and that worries her more. She decides to find out more about the law and the king. She goes to the town library, and seeks out books on the laws. For over a week she sleeps under bushes in the town park, and spends her days in the library. The money the man gave her is stretched out by buying cheap food. Eventually it runs out, but not before she gets to know several children who visit the park each day. They often give her some of their food. These people are so friendly she’d like to stay here forever. Several days later most of the children are avoiding her now, and she doesn’t understand why.
A New Life
One day, seven weeks after her leaving home, a very young boy sits down on the park bench opposite her. Opening his bag he gets out two drinks and two packs of sandwiches. While handing her one set he says, “Here, eat.” She’s so hungry she doesn’t question his orders, and starts eating. Looking at her between bites of his own sandwich he says, “The others are avoiding you now because you stink. You really need a bath.” She looks at him with concern about his statement. “My name’s Gordie, when you’ve finished that you can either come with me and my sisters for a bath, or you can go over to the police station for one. You can no longer stay here unwashed, because you stink too much, and too many people are complaining about your smell.”
Nicola is very shocked by his forthright manner, but realises he’s probably correct, because it’s been over two weeks since she was able to have a bath or wash properly. And she’s unlikely to notice a gradual change in her personal aroma. When they finish eating she walks with him to the edge of the park, where they’re joined by a girl her age and a younger girl. The girls make a point of keeping upwind of Nicola while they walk across town. Close to the marina at the edge of town they reach a beach. Stopping, Gordie gets a girl’s swimsuit out of his bag, and hands it to Nicola. Pointing at a nearby toilet he says, “Go in there and get changed, because we’re having a swim to get rid of most of the stink before we go home to give you a proper bath.” She’s about to argue, but notices it’s now three to one odds, so she nods her agreement.
After she changes they walk down to the beach, where the others take off their clothes to show swimsuits underneath. All four go for a swim in the sea. The older girl is introduced as Isobelle, and she takes Nicola further out than the youngsters, to make sure she gets fully washed. Gordie is very tall for his age, but clearly younger than her and Isobelle. After half an hour they go ashore, and Isobelle provides an extra towel for Nicola to dry with. All their dirty clothes are stuffed into a plastic bag then put into Gordie’s bag. They wrap the towels around themselves, and head for a house at the base of the nearby cliff.
Entering the house they say hello to the old couple sitting in the front room, and walk through to the back of the house where the rear room is built into the rock cliff. Opening a door at the back of the house they step into an elevator. Gordie smiles at Nicola’s surprise while the elevator takes them up several stories. The elevator stops, and the doors open, a woman is standing there with a tape measure. She measures Nicola then sends them all to the showers. After showering with the two girls Nicola finds the woman waiting with some clothes for her to wear, they’re just her size. The woman takes Nicola and Isobelle to another room where Gordie is waiting.
Gordie turns to Nicola, and says, “Now tell us who you are, and why you ran away from home. No point trying to run again, because you can’t leave this floor unless one of us goes with you.” No one else seems surprised at the young boy’s straight forward manner. So she tells them her story.
When she’s finished the woman stands, and says, “It won’t take long to verify this.” She leaves, and the children chat. Ten minutes later the woman returns, “It all checks, the missing person’s report seems to have a picture that doesn’t look much like you, now! If you wish, you can stay here from now on, and go to the local school with Isobelle, since you two seem to get on so well.”
Although Nicola is getting used to the people north of the Darunch mountains being friendly, she never expected this. It’s too much, she’s so happy she sits there crying. Isobelle moves over, and gives her a hug while they just sit there until Nicola settles down.
Gordie says, “I think we can take that as a yes. I think it best we change your name to make it harder for your father to find you. May I suggest Victoria Nemo, Vicky for short.” Gordie had been listening to a talking book of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and checked out the name Nemo. It’s from Latin, meaning ‘no one,’ and it sounds nice as well. Nicola agrees. The next day Victoria ‘Vicky’ Nemo is registered at the View Port School. Vicky and Isobelle become so close they’re like alter egos, it’s hard to find one without the other nearby. Everyone acts as if Vicky is an adopted member of the family. Life is very good for Vicky.
The Past Arrives
In mid August, 2002 ten year old Gordie is walking across the park in View Port’s main shopping area when he notices a man lurking on the edge of the square. Walking into the offices of View Port Internet (VPI) he speaks to the receptionist, and points the man out to her. She calls the police. An officer is soon seen to confront the man, speak to him, radio to headquarters, speak to him again, and let him go on his way. The policeman walks to the VPI office, and thanks them for alerting them to him, because he’s a rather unsavoury character from Dareena. The man looked vaguely familiar to Gordie, and the fact he’s from Dareena makes him ask if the man is Roberto Ruiz. Giving Gordie a strange look the officer admits it is, and he asks how he knew that. Gordie explains, “The man looks familiar, and the only unsavoury person from Dareena I know of is Roberto, but I’ve only seen a photo that’s several years old.” The officer nods, and goes on about his business while he wonders why and where Gordie would’ve seen Ricardo’s picture. Gordie sits, and thinks. There’s only one reason for Roberto to be in town, he’s after Vicky, Gordie’s informally adopted sister.
Gordie uses his mobile phone to ring his mother, and informs her of the incident. She makes some inquiries. She calls him back with the information Vicky’s mother’s parents died last year, and left her mother a sizeable fortune. Her mother argued with Roberto, signed the fortune over to a trust fund for Vicky, then told the police all she knew about Roberto’s criminal activities plus those of his brothers. The brothers had Angela killed. The police have the evidence on them doing that, they’ve been tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and are waiting on an appeal to the King. Gordie thanks her. He suggests Vicky should be ill, and miss school for a few days; his mother agrees with him.
Leaving the VPI office Gordie goes looking for Roberto. He finds him hiding at the entrance to an alley on the other side of the square. Gordie takes up a position to watch him. An hour later Roberto walks toward the edge of town, and Gordie follows him to a caravan hidden in trees about eight hundred metres outside of town. Roberto is greeted by a woman of Mexican descent. Gordie takes a photo of them with the camera in his mobile phone.
Gordie goes home, and shows the photo to his mother. She runs a check through the clan security system. The woman is Tequi Sanchez, the woman Roberto took up with when Angela went to prison.
A little after sunset that night Gordie dresses in warm, dark grey clothing, and sneaks out of Far View, the clan residence to avoid having his security team go with him. At Roberto’s caravan he takes a recorder out of his bag, and attaches a condenser microphone to the window of the main section. He plugs in an earpiece, and listens to their talking while he records it. Very little of interest is being said, so he lies down. Twenty minutes later a car drives up, and its lights shine on his hiding place when it drives around the caravan. The occupants don’t see Gordie, because he’s lying down, so he merges with the grass and the general shadows. Three men get out of the car to walk into the caravan. Roberto greets two by name, and is introduced to the third. The men want to know why Roberto wishes to see them.
Roberto explains about his need to get control of his daughter, and to see to it she provides him with an income until she turns twenty-one. At which point she needs to die without writing a will so he can inherit the extensive estate which she inherited from his dead wife, Angela. The men again asks why they’re here, and what’s in it for them. He explains a friend had seen his daughter in View Port, so he came here. He saw her briefly yesterday, but was unable to get to her. However, when he can he’ll kidnap her to hand her over to the men. They’re to use her as a child star in their illegal porn films in any way they want, rape or whatever, so long as she stays alive until a few months after her twenty-first birthday, and they pay him well for her ‘employment.’ One of the men objects to this, and starts to leave. The others take him prisoner, and tie him up while they tell him they’re sorry he didn’t work out as their new film director. However, they’ll still make a profit by using him as a male star in a snuff film.
The men ask Roberto why he doesn’t care about his daughter. He explains he’s infertile, and Nicola was born after his girlfriend got pregnant at a party. He’d got her drunk, and a friend paid him to have unprotected sex with Angela while she was drunk. So she’s not his daughter, but she can be his meal ticket. After some more discussion the men agree to a price for Nicola to be their new girl star. They leave the caravan, and carry their prisoner to the car, dumping him in the trunk. One stands by the car lighting a cigarette while the other goes back to speak to Roberto about delivery arrangements.
Leaving the recorder on the ground Gordie unplugs his earpiece, stands, and walks around to the back of the caravan. Standing in the shadow of the caravan the bright moonlight gives him a clear view of the man at the car from behind. Taking out a finger knife he throws it at the man, a perfect throw. The man drops like a stone. The knife’s buried to the hilt in the back of his neck, severing his spinal column. Gordie darts over, and withdraws the knife. Rolling the man over he can see the look of horror on the man’s face when he realises he’s dying, and can’t do a thing about it. Gordie takes the pistol out of the man’s belt, and turns toward the caravan entrance. He squats down, and waits.