Apex Universe

Chronicles - Chapter 7

PHOENIX BELMONT

by Fernando Kornijezuk

His parents had moved from Iran to Phoenix, in the United States, when he was still just a brat. The promise of a better life for them and their eight children was too good to pass up, and when the opportunity arose, they left everything behind to try their luck in the land of Captain America. His father got work with a construction company and his mother was a cook in a restaurant. Money was scarce, but life was better. As the youngest son, his biggest problem had been teaching his name to his new classmates at the public school: Abdul Aziz Al-Mukarrama.

When Abdul grew hair on his armpits, his father took him to work with him on a new construction site in Nevada. There, he built his longshoreman's body and his colleagues nicknamed him Phoenix. This made it easier to call him at meal time. Everyone liked the spice his mother sent with him. Years later, it was in Vegas that he fell in love, married, and then divorced a circus performer. He was French, and Abdul became Phoenix Belmont – his partner's last name. The romance lasted just a bit over one circus presentation, but eventually the artist took his acts to other audiences. Phoenix suffered, cried, prayed, let the rage dissipate, grew stronger, and decided to keep his new name – an homage to the one who would always own his heart.

Eventually, his boss transferred Phoenix to the truck division. He left Vegas and went to Salt Lake City and then Denver. His work ethic made him the leader of his division. His skill at the wheel made him the first choice for the toughest challenges, be it snow, storms, or cliffs. Deep down, Phoenix felt that Allah the Great always protected him. As if something greater was waiting for him on the path of his fate.

Even though his peers recognized him as a good leader, Belmont always took care to separate his public life from his private life – his sexuality, origin, and religion. Rarely did anyone visit his rented room on the second floor of a roadside motel – and never at that time of night. He had just shaved and was about to lie down when he heard the knocks on the door. He put on a white shirt and a pair of jeans hanging from his chair and, barefoot, went to see who it was.

When he opened the door, a woman dressed in a black burka gazed at him. Her large green eyes were a fine contrast to her dark skin.

- Salaam Aleikum, Abdul Aziz – she said in a firm but gentle voice.

- Alaikum As-Salaam – he answered automatically, surprised at the mention of his childhood name. Did he know her?

She gestured with her hand, indicating she would like to come in. Phoenix held the door open, then closed it behind her. She stood in the doorway and quickly passed her gaze over the place until she spotted a small, round, wooden table in the corner of the room. Lightly, she pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, resting her crossed hands on her thighs. Belmont was not used to having anyone over and he had only water in his apartment. He picked up a couple of glass cups from the hotel, took the cold bottle from the small fridge, and served them both. He pulled back the other chair and sat down, watching his visitor.

- I'm sorry – he began – but have we met?

She stared into Phoenix's eyes, and the answer soon came.

- Yes, but maybe you don’t remember me. Our families traveled here from Iran in the same ship, the “Salvation”. My name is Sanaz.

Sanaz was not a name that rang any bells, but the mention of the Salvation made him travel back in time. Memories of the trip with his family, along with so many other people squeezed in the bottom of the ship, had always haunted his worst nightmares. Many did not survive that trip. Those memories made him instinctively get up and hug the woman in front of him.

They talked for a while. He asked about Sanaz and her family and told her about his life. In turn, she answered all his questions, but always with a slight hint of concern about the time she spent there, as if she was ready to flee at any moment. After a funny story about his father, Phoenix finally felt comfortable asking her what had brought her to him that night.

Her eyes filled with tears. She took his hands and began telling her story.

- I need help, Abdul. Help that only a brother in heart and mind like you can give me. My son, Arash, got involved with very bad people and they caught him. But I got the money they wanted to give my son back. I don’t want to go alone to make the payment tomorrow night... and I'm afraid to go there alone. What they could do to me... Would you go with me, as my bodyguard?

The lighthearted conversation had taken a heavy turn. Words were exchanged until almost dawn. Phoenix asked her about everything. Arash’s age, what he had done. Who these people were and how they had appeared in their lives. Why no one else could help her. She answered everything between one tear and the next. However, the last question was the one that made him decide.

- Why me? he finally said.

 

She sighed and looked longingly at him, at his feet, at the bedroom, at the glass of water in front of her.

 

- Because, Abdul, I have nothing else. Everything I have is right here. You are my only memory that still lives, apart from Arash. You are my only hope.

At that moment, Phoenix felt that he could – no, that he had – to do something. Maybe it was the sign for which he had been looking. He agreed to help her. When the sun’s first rays came out, they planned the next steps together, though perhaps it was actually more of him agreeing with her ideas than anything else.

On the way to his job, in the seat next to him, in his truck, was the big black bag with the Nike logo that Sanaz had left there. “Take it,” she had said. “The money will be safer with you than with me. I will look for it at the end of the day, at the exit of the power plant, and we will go rescue my son together.”

It was only a long time later that Phoenix realized that during the conversation, he had never said that he was working at the Denver Power Plant, and was responsible for supplying nearly half the country with energy. He did not even bother to look at the bag’s contents.

She stepped into the big black sedan that was waiting for her and quickly closed the door. The car began inching forward as the man in the dark gray suit and languid features gazed at her. First, she took off the burka, tearing it apart. Then she threw all the costumes and props out of the window. Finally, she took off her makeup using a small remover the other passenger offered. She smiled and spoke in her British accent:

- The last piece of the puzzle has been placed. He will take the package into the power plant, I'm sure of it. Warn the others, my love, warn the others. Today will be a great day. The lion will roar.

The slender man sitting beside her merely smiled and repeated: - The lion will roar.

The driver's voice came next.

 

- Madame, are we still going to need the French package in the trunk?

The woman casually responded as if this was no longer a concern.

 

- No. It was not necessary. Take care of it and make him disappear.

 

Many years had passed since the day the GOTA bombings changed the world. Phoenix Belmont kept a mental count every day since then. He grew thinner, isolated himself, and rarely got a full night's sleep. He thought about that day, every day. A mixture of desire for revenge and shame for having been used, for helping cause the largest terrorist attack ever seen. For a long time, he wished he had died when the bomb in his truck exploded. If only he hadn´t accepted his colleague´s invitation that day to skip some work hours and go to a nearby bar to watch the World Cup final.

He never shared that story.

 

When the invitation to become a K-Truck Racer came, he received from Allah the tool he needed to set his investigations in motion, his personal plan of revenge. Maybe some damned Corporation had information about GOTA, or about Sanaz.

 

He would never forget those green eyes.

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