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A suspense filled tale of action, adventure, pursuit… and a manuscript.Alba is a translator who thinks she has a boring job in Madrid, until she receives a translation assignment that will change everything…
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Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson
Written By Inés Galiano
Copyright © 2015 Inés Galiano
All rights reserved
Distributed by Babelcube, Inc.
Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson
“Babelcube Books” and “Babelcube” are trademarks of Babelcube Inc.
I am finding it difficult to believe everything that has happened to me in so few days. I have to write it down, in as much detail as possible, and as quickly as possible, because I don’t have much time. I need to get away from this place, but first I must put it in writing so that someone may know my story. Perhaps it might help. Perhaps, some day, I will be able to go back. Perhaps, some day, justice will be served.
I work in a publishing house translating novels. It isn’t the best job in the world, spending the entire day in amongst piles of papers, but I like it. I have always enjoyed reading, and now I get paid for it. I normally translate from English, although I have also translated a few French novels. They are only novels, entertainment; the sort of things in which you don’t expect to find what I found.
Normally, I work from home, but we do have an office where we can meet up. That Monday, we were scheduled for a meeting in the afternoon. We had an urgent order for a children’s book: some companies offer the rights to several publishing houses, and so that sets up a race against the clock. Management wanted us to leave all other projects to one side and dedicate ourselves fully to this book, and we had until the Friday to present the draft. As such, I went home, left my laptop ready to go on my desk, and then went to bed.
On the Tuesday morning I turned on the computer and, before doing anything else, I checked my email. They had actually sent the book via email, though that was not normal- the publishing houses usually give us a hard copy of the novel, so as to avoid any leaks, but I just attributed it to a lack of time. I began reading it, but my surprise grew with each passing page: this was a story about a soldier in a war, dealing with feelings of guilt, so I sent a message to the publisher, and received an answer explaining that they had made a mistake with the genre, but that the manuscript itself was correct. On Wednesday, I was able to begin the translation, and by dawn on Friday I had finished it. I sent it by email and went to bed, finally relaxed, not knowing that the book that I should have translated was still in my post box, and that I had now involved myself in something that was out of my reach.
When I got up on Sunday, I had no intention of going out anywhere, but as I ate breakfast, the phone rang. The number was withheld, and they hung up when I answered, but I gave it no importance: not that time, nor the next three times that they rang that morning. It was at noon when there came a knock on the door. As I was not expecting anybody, I approached it very slowly, and silently, until I could look through the spy-hole, but there was nobody there. I thought about my neighbours; about the two little boys in the building, who were always playing in the hallway, and did not worry about it.
I checked my email often, hoping for a reply from the office, but the message that I received was not from there, it was from Jake Fisherman. I checked it several times, incredulous, but it could not be anybody else.
I had known Jake years earlier in New York, where I took my Masters in International Relations. Back in those days, my dream was to work as an interpreter in some important organisation, like almost every other person on that course. On the one hand, there were those who had studied law or political sciences, who wanted to become big personalities; on the other, there were the students coming from the economic branch who wanted to be their advisers; and, finally, there was us, the ones who had studied languages, and who would carry out the job of making everybody able to understand each other, but we all aspired towards finding work with the UN in one form or another.
Jake was in my class that year. He came from the political branch, and had grand and revolutionary ideas about changing the world and society. He was a young man from California, who lived in a small flat shared with four other students in Manhattan, and worked in a restaurant at night in order to pay the bills. But despite working many hours, it was never enough to cover all of his costs. Even though he was an intelligent guy, he did not perform well in his studies, and his main problem was his incapacity to contain himself whenever a tutor was talking about something in class that he considered unjust, which subsequently led him to prolonged discussions that did nothing to endear him to them. The tutors saw him as an alarmist, and considered those interruptions as intentional and lacking in respect. But Jake could not contain himself, and dreamed of the idea of convincing the whole of society with his arguments. Besides, he was not a very good student; not only did he not have much free time, he was also incapable of sitting for hours memorising things. If something did not grab his attention, he could not study it. When there was a topic that interested him, however, he could spend days gathering information, searching for related news, reading books and magazines about it. He would get to the point where he spent every available minute talking about it, repeating everything he had learned, until, in every single class, we would all invariably end up discussing the topic.
The truth is that he had a gift for public speaking; he was capable of arguing anything, and you did not have the option of contradicting him. It was on more than one occasion that this great knack of his came to his rescue. He was accustomed to getting away with things, and capable of manipulating each and every one of us on a whim. He would convince us to go to parties when we had no intention of going; he would make us give more money than we would have to charitable collections; and he would make us feel bad if we did not attend the rallies and demonstrations that he organised in favour of a cause that seemed opportune to him at that time. I always thought he would have made a good politician.
However, money was his weak point. Basically, he did not have any, and whatever he did have he spent immediately or lost playing poker. His flatmates got more and more involved in the game, and the debt. He worked flat out, but it all counted for nothing. On several occasions, they threatened him, to get him to repay the money he owed, and he was saved by his verbal hot air. But the last time that I saw him, his gift of the gab did not work.
It was at the end of the course, during a rally that he had organised in front of the magistrate’s court, over a case of legislative injustice. There we were all gathered, classmates from the Masters, his work colleagues, his flatmates, people from the neighbourhood, and even the odd tutor. To sum up; everyone he had managed to convince by means of repeating to us, more times than were necessary, the need for us to attend the rally, and the reasons were by no means few.
We grouped around the door, whilst he went from one side to the other handing out informative leaflets, and the moment any worker left or entered the building, he grabbed the megaphone and encouraged everyone to sing the slogan he had created for the occasion.
We had been there for a good half an hour when a black van with tinted windows stopped just to the side of us. Jake thought that it would be some big cheese going to the tribunal, and he approached them to say a few things. However, the ones who came out were two large, heavyset men who threw him to the ground and pinned him there as they warned him that he had only one week to return the money. Somebody called the police, but before they could arrive, the van had already left.
The rally dissipated, and the campaign was cancelled, since Jake was sent to the hospital and there was nobody handy to take his place. He remained in the hospital for five days, and some of us went to visit him. He refused to discuss what had happened, and he also refused to accept money from anybody. He told us that he had already found a solution.
The rest of us returned to the course, and began preparing for the exams, which were now close. Jake did not attend classes the following week, nor the week after that; somebody called him, but he was not answering his telephone, and he was no longer in the hospital, either. We had received no news of him at all until the day before the exams started, when a classmate who had been closer to him told us that he had gone to Jake’s flat the previous afternoon, and that his flatmates had told him the following: Jake had returned home the night after leaving the hospital, murmuring things and not wanting to talk to anybody. The morning after, they had found his bedroom empty. Jake had left whilst they were all sleeping, and had taken all of his own things, along with a few other things that weren’t. They were pretty angry with him, and they had done nothing to deserve such treatment. In fact, if he turned up, they were going to charge him, they said.
This whole story circulated from mouth to mouth throughout the classes, the number of assailants at the rally increasing each time, along with the number of days spent in the hospital, and the amount of money owed, as usually happens. Some said that he had robbed his flatmates in order to go to another city; others said the thugs had gone looking for him at his home, leaving a string of injuries in their wake; and there were even those who said that his own flatmates had bumped him off, hiring the two men from the van to do the job, so as not to arouse suspicions.
I didn’t know what to believe any more, although I have always thought that he really did flee with the money to another city to escape his problems. I don’t know if he was successful in that specifically, but he certainly did disappear. We heard nothing more about him after that, and what with the exam period, along with the subsequent return to our respective homes, we all ended up forgetting about the matter.
It was upon seeing the name of the sender of the email when I remembered this for the first time in years. It was not possible that it could be the same Jake from the Masters in International Relations. I did not know how he was able to find me in Madrid, or find out my email address. But I did not know anybody else with that name. I opened the message, and found only a single line:
They’re watching you.
Initially, I was shocked, but I immediately convinced myself that it was just a tiresome joke, and I marked it as spam. I continued with my Sunday as I had originally planned, although now with anxiety. I could not avoid looking every so often at the computer screen, in search of new messages telling me that it was all a joke to sell me some burglar alarm.
I did not sleep well that night, and it was apparent in my face when I woke up on the Monday morning. I got dressed and left the house. I told myself that there was no sense in being so paranoid, but even so, I looked back down every street I walked along. I arrived at the metro station, and boarded the multi-coloured carriage at 8.00a.m. It was full of people, and they all seemed to be looking at me. When we finally arrived at my stop, I got off and left almost at a run. Seeing the doors to the office was like a little relief.
Upon entering, I found a notice on my desk: there was an urgent meeting at 8.30a.m. I went directly to the boss’ office and entered in silence, so as not to draw attention to my late arrival. I took my place at the large table in the centre of the office and tried to follow the thread of the conversation.
‘...so that the cover can suggest to the potential customers who see it in the bookshops that it’s a good buy. Besides, we’re waiting until the reviews are out in the papers next week so we can include them on the cover if they’re positive. Any questions? Good, then from this point onwards you will dedicate your time to proofreading it. I don’t want a single misprint this time, understood?’
That meant that they had given us the edition for the Spanish version, which was good news. I had, however, missed the most important detail of who the official translator would be.
‘Good, now you may leave. Esteban, I want that synopsis ready by tomorrow. See you then. Yes. Ah, Alba, stay here for a moment. I believe you owe me an explanation. Did you think you could go off and have a week of holiday or that this project had nothing to do with you?’
I did not understand, I told him; I had worked endlessly the whole week. It was impossible that the message I sent had not reached him. How had I not sent him the correct one? Impossible, I thought. I had only received one email that day; I could not have confused it with anything else.
‘I sent David to personally place it in your post-box. I doubt that he would have given you the wrong one. And even so, that does not explain where the translation you sent me went.’
In my post-box? In the post-box in my hallway? I started to feel nauseous. I had not looked in it for several days, and the translation had arrived by email. I hurried out of the office as I murmured something about urgently needing to go to the bathroom. What on Earth was it that I had translated then? Something about an army base in California. That had nothing to do with a children’s story... But then, who had sent me the other text?
I left the building; I needed some air. Jake’s message would not stop echoing throughout my head. I called Rosa, the woman who worked in the reception area for my building. I told her that I needed her to check for me if there was a package in my post-box. Indeed, there was a large envelope full of sheets of paper...
I thought that it had been a misunderstanding, and it made me angry to have spent several days working for nothing. However, I could not shake that uneasy feeling in my stomach. It was then that I noticed a man standing on the pavement across the street, dressed entirely in black and wearing sunglasses. He was watching me. I went back into the building, this time going straight to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I’m such an idiot, I thought. I’m like a little girl. Wearing those smart sunglasses, that man could have been looking anywhere; and why was he going to be looking at me whilst I spoke on the telephone? A distant voice resonated through my mind: he’s watching you.
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