Finally, another chapter of our dear Karen. This story is taking longer to finish than a Rockstar game.
There are another couple of talky chapters, unfortunately, and then we'll get back to the *action*.
CHAPTER 27: Pain from the Past (Part 17): Brazilian Getaway Special / Cleanup Day
I was rapt with attention, as Karen’s long saga of revenge and escape in Brazil continued – perhaps, finally, turning to a slightly more hopeful note. It made me feel relieved, inside, after the all the close calls she had told me about, so far.
Karen continued, “With the tour books in hand, we didn’t need to go to the Terroil station. Instead, we walked to the edge of the pharmacy building, around to the shady side, and Max opened the Sergipe book. I took the bag with the other two books from him, and dropped them in my fancy shopping bag.
“Standing there and thumbing through it to the Aracaju section, we quickly saw that about two thirds of the book consisted of ads for tour services, international hotel franchises, and the bigger tourist traps, with pretty pictures of people having fun. Funny, Aracaju didn’t seem to look quite that good, in real life.
“I wanted to be obscure, to keep to the small, local hotels, no security cameras, cash up front, and ideally with a back door or separate room entrances, so Max could let me in unseen by front desk hotel management, after getting us a room. So we found the city map pages, the hotel section, which had numbered locations on the maps, corresponding to hotel listings, and we looked for the one and two-star places.
“There were a lot of choices for cheap hotels and pousadas. We decided to head for a cluster of mostly one-stars, about a kilometer from us, heading away from the city center, but still in the dense commercial grid of Aracaju.
“Originally, I had thought that we could blend in better in a crowded, diverse, beach resort area, but the beach was too far from here. To get there, we’d be walking by ourselves, no other peds around, along roads outside the commercial district, including a long bridge, nowhere to run or hide.
“I didn’t want a cop to drive by, stop, and ask us where we’re coming from and where we’re going – cops have an instinct for noticing people out of place, and nothing better to do than engage them. Max agreed, no walk to the beach.
“We decided (well, *I* decided) to get to the hotel first, and get a room. Once I had snuck in, then Max could go forage for breakfast and lunch, while I combed the tour books for bus or rail lines, to figure out the lowest profile way to go north.
“When we got near the cluster of pousadas, as my usual tactic, I stayed back, a block away, sitting on the stoop of a business that was closed, leaning back against the metal roll-down door, hat hiding my face, while Max went on ahead and checked out the hotel properties.
“He took the Sergipe book with him, so I started looking at the other two tour books, to find possibilities for places to travel to, and stay, in cities north, assuming that we would catch a red eye bus out of here tonight.
“After about 20 minutes, Max came back. He’d found one small two-story hotel, a long skinny building with only a short frontage on the street. Most businesses are laid out like this, in the dense part of the city. It had a sidewalk gate leading back to the rooms, which all had separate external entrances; excellent!
“Max said he didn’t see any security cameras around the sidewalk in front of the hotel, or in the slim walkway leading back to the room doors. That was perfect for me. He had reserved and paid for a room there, so we were good to go. This hotel was a two-star. We'd be living large.
“Max also noted that a couple of the other hotels that he checked had parking stalls in back, with associated rear entrances, so this was also promising future knowledge for me, knowing I might be able to bypass the front desk at hotels with rear parking like this.
“Then Max showed me something interesting, a little advert booklet that a street kid had handed him, outside one of the hotels he checked out. It was full of ads for the local ‘love motels.’ Names like ‘Pouosada Free Love,’ ‘Sweet Love Inn - R$25 1 hora,’ ‘Pousada Luxúria,’ ‘Motel Amore Mio,’ and ‘Le Fetiche.’
[Editor’s note: Hey, these places are real. All of them.] Google Street View:
“I was surprised how many of these love motels there were, spread out all over the Aracaju map. The motel graphics mostly had sexy themes. Pictures showed that the rooms in some of the motels had mirrored walls, and dance poles beside the bed.
“Apparently, it was a thriving area of the local economy, but at first I didn’t find these in the Sergipe tour book. Turned out they were in the motel section, and they had the notation, Adult-only.
“Max said, smiling cynically, ‘I guess the kid handing out these booklets targeted me, because I looked like a lone American male tourist. He probably thought I was on the prowl for a quickie with one of the local girls.’
“Then he added, equally unseriously, ‘But hey, if you want to stay at a motel where the customers can be assured their visits will be discrete, here you go.’ We both laughed, but he had a real point.
“I hoped that we would be leaving Aracaju tonight, so I wouldn’t need this booklet, but these love motels might be something to look for, in Recife. Their rooms and amenities actually looked fairly upscale. I guessed they served honeymooners and tourist couples, as well as couples who would only know each other for an hour.
“We walked to the hotel that Max had booked, and passed quickly through the street gate, back to the room entrances, like a tourist couple, nobody paying attention to us. The gate, which required Max’s key to open, wasn’t quite in line of sight of the front desk, so I didn’t have to sneak in later. I just stayed close and behind him, away from the direction of the hotel office.
“As soon as we got in the room, I asked Max about going to get lunch, and ‘drinks, plenty of drinks.’ I was really feeling both thirsty and hungry now. Thankfully, the pain pills were kicking in, starting to dull the edge of my various aches. I tried to move my neck. It was getting stiff, hurting in every direction; the damaged muscles and strained ligaments were swelling. The pain pills could only do so much.
“The curtains to the one window in the front of the room were already closed. They weren’t total blackout, but regular fabric, letting in the noonday sunlight, which cheered up the feeling of the small room. With the bright light on the outside, I’d be able to see any movement near our door, in silhouette or shadow, but people outside couldn’t see through, into the dimmer room. Ideal.
“Max agreed to be my special room service gofer for today, and we sat on the bed for a few minutes, looking at the tour book for some guidance on nearby restaurants. We found a couple of them quickly. I just told Max, whatever he’s getting for his lunch, just double it. ‘And bring a few bottles of water, please, … and cervaja,’ I added.
“I paused for a few seconds, deliberating with myself, and then I decided to ask for even more. Trying to give him a smile that would sort of indicate that it was just optional, I said, ‘If you can find a bag of ice at a market, Max, that would really be grand.’ Max smiled back at me. He knew that an ice cold beer was just what I needed now.
“Before Max went out, I thought to ask him if he could find a dumpster to get rid of my hoodie and cargo pants, before we got caught with them. As he took them out of his duffel bag, dust and sand shook off them, onto the bedspread.
“Then he thought for a minute, and said, ‘I’d rather not get rid of these near a place we’ve stayed. I’m going to wait until we head out, and I’ll find a trash can or a dumpster on some random street along the way. I’m assuming that lunch is your priority, right now?’
“’Definitely,’ I answered, smiling, ‘*and* the cervaja,’ as Max stuffed the clothes back in his bag."
"Max left his duffel bag on the bed, but I had no interest in snooping through it, and no reason to. I had other priorities, anyway. As soon as I was alone, sitting on the edge of the bed in the quiet of the room, I was aware of myself, of the state of my body.
“Besides the pungent scent of gunpowder on my hands, I could tell that I was sticky and sweaty and smelling of body odor, all over. The odor was worse than you get from simple sports activities, like running, or volleyball, or playing tennis. The life-threatening stress, the consequent secretion of adrenaline and cortisol, creates another component of odor. I could smell it and taste it.
“My palms were still red and a bit tingly, from squeezing the Sanchez handgrips and levers so tightly, yesterday. I slipped off my shoes. Sand fell out, and stuck to my skin. My feet hurt, and they smelled, too. We’d done a lot of walking. All my muscles felt fatigued. Overall, physically, I felt spent, and wrecked.
"I looked more closely at the back of my hands and realized that I was dusty and dirty, like the hoodie and the cargo pants. I could feel the dust now, on my neck, my face and in my hair, salt and sweat and dust and sand. I took off my sun hat and tossed it to the center of the bed. My hair probably was a tangled, sweaty mess. I didn’t even want to look in the mirror.
“I decided that I’d wait to check out the Sergipe bus lines, until I got cleaned up. Then Max and I could discuss it, and figure out our timeline. For now, I just wanted to get clean.
“I walked into the little bathroom and started running the water in the glass-doored shower, hoping that there would be some warm water. I peeled off all my clothes – and ‘peeled’ was the right verb, because they were all sticking to me.
“After a little while, the water actually got hot. I set the shower to a nice, comfy lukewarm temperature, just a little warmer than the tropical ocean, and I got under the spray, naked and free, letting it flow over my face and hair, and down my body. It felt so good. It was more than a shower – it felt like washing off the last 24 hours of fear and desperation.
“I looked down at the water going into the drain, and I could see some of the dirt and dust that was washed off. Good thing I hadn’t gone in any stores – I probably would have looked like a dirty, overaged street urchin, or some sort of druggie or transient, and they would have been all over me, watching for shoplifting. What a way to get remembered, by witnesses. That would have been bad.
“Then I thought, it’s not going to be any good, slipping back into those clammy, sweaty clothes. I reached out of the shower and emptied the pockets of my jeans, of my wallet, passport, and my cell phone, which I hadn’t turned on since I used it to threaten the kids. I considered whether I should ditch the phone, but some vague Agency intuition told me that, in a last ditch situation, I might need to use some of the special apps.
“I brought all the clothes into the shower with me, including the canvas sneakers, saturating them with water, and wringing everything out, a few times. More dust and sand went down the drain, until finally, it was just clean water.
“Then I dropped the wads of wet clothes on the toilet seat, and suddenly realized how long they would take to air out and dry. Hadn’t thought that through, completely. I couldn’t go outside the hotel and lay them in the sun, while stark naked; that’d be another good way to get remembered. And it would dumb opsec to wear the cargo pants and hoodie outside – it would reconnect me to the scenes of my crimes.
"In terms of covering myself up, before Max came back, I wondered if the bath towel were going to be big enough to cover myself with, for the next few hours. Maybe I’d have to use the bedsheet.
“For now, though, I just wanted to stay in the shower of warm water. I closed my eyes. It felt like being in a gentle, warm, tropical rain. I didn’t want to leave this comfort.
“I massaged my forearms, feeling the dull pain shooting through them, from the impact against the steering wheel, when I crashed the car under the bridge. Then I wanted to massage my legs, loosen them up a bit. I really had used my muscles in unaccustomed ways, riding the BMX bike, and thrashing the Sanchez.
“After doing that, I set down in the shower, cross-legged, naked, kneading my thumbs into my heels and the balls of my feet. It felt so good. David used to do that for me, and then he’d play with my toes. The warm water running over my feet, as I rubbed the tingling and ache out of them, felt exquisite.
“Then I just scooted back, on my butt, to where I could lean my head back against the tile, without my neck hurting. Still sitting cross-legged, in an easy yoga position, I rested my hands palms-up, on my knees, the water hitting my breasts, arms, stomach and thighs, in a pleasant way. So relaxing.
"I closed my eyes again, losing myself. With the sound and the feel and the smell of the water, my thoughts drifted back to the last time I took a shower with David. It was so beautiful, so perfect, so pure, so right. So much love, so much fun. As I smiled at the memory, I felt a wave of sorrow start to come up, that almost broke into a sob, but I consciously pulled myself away from it, so I could just relax.
“I was almost too physically tired to cry, to knot up my guts once again, and this warm, cleansing environment was making me feel tranquil, optimistic. I didn’t want to ruin the feeling.
“Moreover, I realized, this time, that I should let the happy memories of David and me remain happy, and revel in them, rather than give in to grief, and let myself fall to pieces each time. That’s just the self-induced guilt of the survivor – unnecessary, and self-destructive.
“It was a minor revelation, I could tell, that was going to help me get through this. I actually felt good, for a moment, even though there were many reasons I shouldn’t.
“I could tell that, taken to the extreme, I could almost make myself believe that these happy memories were still real life, and I started to feel the tiniest upwelling, inside, of the sense of the power and confidence that David and I shared so deeply.
“I knew then, this is the way it should be. David would live in me, and I would still have our shared, special bond, to give me confidence and strength. I would have to practice it, to make it a reflexive habit, but I knew now, that it would be possible. Then I must have descended into sleep, thinking of David.
“I was awakened by a sharp, loud rapping on the glass wall of the shower. Max was back. I might have heard him say – or shout – my name a couple of times, but I thought it was just in dreamland, not real.
“‘Hey!!” he shouted. Now I heard it for sure. Max asked,‘You OK?’ like he had when I zoned out in the sun, a couple of hours before. Like last time, there was uncertainty in his voice, but now there was an edge.
"I had left the shower door open, when I put out the wet clothes. The water splashing off the tiles, and off my body, had made a puddle on the bathroom floor. I opened my eyes and slowly looked up, guarding my neck against pain.
“Max was standing there, one hand gripping the open glass door, looking down at me with an alarmed and quizzical expression, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, as water continued to spray down on my body.
“Still coming out of sleep, I smiled lazily at him. An awkward moment – for Max, anyway. I could tell that he wanted to avert his eyes, out of embarrassment or decency, to avoid looking at my nakedness, but at the same time, he needed to evaluate the expression on my face, to see if I were OK, or if I had clocked out altogether.
“Still smiling, I said to him, ‘You don’t have to make a show of trying to look away, Max. It’s OK. I’ve been seen naked and much worse, in every position, from every angle, by strange men – and women – that would turn your stomach. I’ve got no false modesty, for clean, simple nudity.’
“I let that sink in, then added, ‘Really, Max, don’t worry about it. I’m just sitting here, wet and warm, and feeling good.’
“Max replied, with a touch of concern modulating his voice, “When I first came in here, you were unresponsive. Jesus Christ, I thought you’d slit your wrists. Look!’ He pointed down, toward my legs.
“I looked down. Bloody water had pooled in the region confined by my legs, with tendrils of blood in the water, going down the drain. My period had started.
“I responded, ‘No, just my period. I guess it came on earlier than I thought it would. I’m OK, Max.’
“He’d realized this, soon enough, when he’d figured out that my skin still had some pallor – all my blood hadn’t gone down the drain, yet, anyway. But after a moment, he added, ‘You sure you’re alright? Now you seem almost *too* happy. Did you drop some kind of pills?’
“Looking back up at Max, I sighed, and answered, ‘Just trying to make the best of the situation. I was thinking of a happy memory with David, and I realized that it’s OK to be happy, not sad, when I think of that. Help me up.’
“I held my hand up, for him to take. He effortlessly pulled me to my feet, from my cross-legged sitting position. Blood-streaked water swirled and spread out in the shower, and dripped from my legs. Déjà vu to three nights ago, when I was watching David’s lifeblood swirl down the shower drain, in the dim light of the blockhouse. But I kept it together. I’ve seen my period blood in the shower before – it’s a woman thing.
"I turned around to let the shower spray wash the bloody water off my butt, and then got my face and hair into the spray of water one more time. I turned off the water, shaking myself off, being careful not to move my neck. Meanwhile, Max was standing there, probably still wondering what the hell was going on with me.
“’Can you hand me a bath towel, Max?’ I asked. He had already started to turn, to get one off the towel rack. I took the towel from him and dried off, while he went back into the other room. I could tell that talking face-to-face, to a dripping wet, naked girl, in some kind of strange, displaced emotional state, was not the most comfortable social situation for him.
“I added, speaking loudly enough for him to hear me in the other room, “Can you get me the tampons, Max? My bag is beside the bed.’
“’Already got them, he called back, ‘Here you go.’ He appeared in the doorway and reached out to hand the package of tampons to me.
“I could tell that he had already created a virtual ‘decency barrier’ for himself, at the open bathroom door, a psychological way for him to feel like he was not invading my intimate space.
"‘Compared to the disgusting, creepy scum I had dealt with in the undercover life I had led for the Agency, Max’s naïve sense of decency and respect were so poignant. A real boy scout. As I took the package, he flashed a tiny smile at me, quickly turned, and went back in the other room.
“I inserted one of the tampons, and splashed a little more water on my thighs, to rinse off any remaining blood. After drying myself, I used the towel to sop up the puddle of splashed water on the floor.
“The remaining, dry bath towel wasn’t going to be wide enough to cover me; I’d still be either topless or bottomless, if I tried to wrap it around myself. Probably would be a bit distracting for Max. I came out of the bathroom, still naked, giving myself a final gentle dry-off of my hair with a hand towel, and I said to Max, ‘I think I’m going to have to use the one of the bedsheets to cover up, for now.’
“Max turned and looked at me again, for an instant, and did an involuntary double-take at the tampon string dangling out of my vagina, but he recovered immediately, and then he moved the take-out he had gotten, along with his duffel bag and my hat, off the bed, over to the dresser.
“Max pulled the bedspread and sheets off the bed, and I came over and took the top sheet from him, doubling it over and figuring out how to fold it around myself and tuck it in, under my arms. It worked OK, looking kind of like a really bulky, ill-fitting, strapless sundress. For a fashionless, pregnant woman. Oh, well, you improvise, and you get what you get.
“I momentarily went back in the bathroom and laid out the wet clothes flat on the bathroom floor, to start them drying. I noted that there was a hair dryer in a holder on the wall, and knew that I could use that later, to dry the clothes more quickly.
“I could also use the hair drier for my hair, but without a brush, I’d just have tangles locked in. Besides, lunch was priority one, now. I came back out to Max. He was extracting the take-out containers from their bags.
“‘Now I need a beer,’ I said, brightly.
"Max replied, ‘I put the beer and water in the fridge, stacked around the ice. The beer’s already cold.’ He nodded toward the mini-fridge, by the entrance to the room.
“I got my cold beer and we ate lunch, sitting on the bare mattress. He’d found some good local food. I was thirsty and ravenous. Since I didn’t have a brush, I just kept running my fingers through my hair periodically as it dried, to try to untangle it, but that probably wasn’t working too well.
“‘If I had a comb, I’d loan it to you,’ Max commented, as he lifted his baseball cap for a moment, ‘But I didn’t think I’d need one.’ He rubbed his shaved head, like he’d done before, and I laughed.
“As soon as we finished lunch, and after I had already drunk one of the bottles of water, I started on my second beer, and I got out the Sergipe book again, to check out the bus lines and hotels, going north, so I could plan out the routes and the timetables to get to Recife, and figure out where to stay on the way there.
“The schedules showed buses leaving Aracaju at 8:30 PM and 10:30 PM. I originally thought that the best we could do would be a red eye to Maceió, the next big city north, in Alagoas, but there were more options.
“The bus line leaving at 8:30 PM indeed went through Maceió, 5 hours north, but then it continued to Recife, in Pernambuco, another 5 hours or so. If we got off at Maceió, it would be in the middle of the night, nowhere to go, no one around. So Maceió was out; it didn’t seem like good cover.
“That left two choices to get to Recife. My decision quickly settled on taking the later bus, an express straight to Recife, where it would arrive at 8 AM, much better.
“Assuming we didn’t have any problem getting on the bus, or getting stopped at police checkpoints, this looked great for quickly getting a long way from the scenes of my crimes; only one overnight trip to Recife – sooner, and further, than I had expected.
“Even better, this later bus was a Leito, a sleeper, with beds. The price was twice as high as the Executive Line, which left earlier, but it just felt like a better idea to me. We could be rested for the next day.
“I had the R$ to cover the higher Leito price, for both Max and me, but a tiny tickle of concern flashed through my mind, about how long my finite stash of reals would last at this rate. I squelched the thought for now, lest it bring on my bigger concern about my non-existent long-term escape plan.
"I’d been thinking out loud about all this, chattering mostly to myself about the bus options. I think Max didn't feel like he needed to be a full-time participant in that process.
“He said, “Fine with me, whatever you decide to do. You can keep researching the bus and the hotels, and just let me know. I’ll pay for the bus tickets with dollars – it’s pigeon feed. Don’t worry about your finances.’
“I got Max back into the conversation, to plan the more immediate task of getting to the bus station. From the Aracaju map, it looked like about four kilometers of walking from our location, to the station.
“We’d probably want to walk there before it got dark, while there was still local pedestrian traffic. We looked at the grid of streets on the map and decided in some cases to stay on the smaller streets, to avoid stretches of wide highway-like boulevards with few businesses and few pedestrians, even though it meant a bit more walking.
“The logistics of actually getting on the bus were more important to me. Max said he would go in the station first, get tickets, and find out where the cameras were, so I could avoid them, and we could find the best shadowed place, to wait to board.
"We had about three more hours to stay in this hotel room, before checking out. Max said that he’d only gotten about four hours sleep on the bus last night, so his plan was to take a nap, in the one armchair here in the room. He said I was welcome to the bed. He left the rest of the tour book research to me.
“While Max slept, I went into the bathroom and used the hair drier to dry out my clothes. It took a long time, especially the jeans, and the hair dryer started smelling pretty hot, until it finally shut itself off. When it cooled down, I was able to use it again. After that, I knew to give it a break, a couple of times, when it got hot, and after a few more cycles, everything got dry enough.
“I finally got back into my bra, panties, shirt, jeans and sneakers, feeling clean all over, and much better. It felt like I was putting the ‘Karen kit’ back together. Ready to roll, now, with about an hour until it was time to leave this little safe space, and walk to the Aracaju bus station in the afternoon sun.
“I grabbed another beer, dropped a couple more preemptive pain pills, and then I sat on the floor, leaning against the bed, with the tour books, to finish planning for Recife.
“After seeing how the Sergipe tour book made it easy to find a suitable hotel here in Aracaju, it was straightforward to do the same thing for Recife, in the Pernambuco tour book. I quickly focused on the Recife hotel and motel section.
“Ideally, I’d like to find a hotel or motel in the beach resort area, but the problem is that the Recife intercity bus station was a few miles inland from the beach resorts, where I wanted to get to, to blend in. And since the overnight bus to Recife was a sleeper, and an express, I doubted that it would be making occasional stops for passengers to get off near their destination, like we had coming into Aracaju.
“So, it looked like I’d have to make the best of it, discretely getting off the bus and out of the bus station, without any security cams getting a full-face view of me. My hat would still be a key element of my opsec.
"The Recife section of the tour book showed a basic subway system, with a node at the bus station, and one leg heading toward the beach and resort areas. I’d have to decide if I could also dodge the cameras in the subway stations, or if we would have to find a path to walk. That seemed risky. Subway stations, like airports, are studded with security cameras.
“I flipped another page, and saw a reference to a metro bus system in Recife, that converges at the intercity bus station. One of the routes went to the beach, with multiple stops along the way, including bus stops on the long stretch of road along the beach. That looked like a much better approach than the subway. The beach businesses clearly wanted tourists to come from the main bus terminal, to spend their money.
“Some of the hotel ads in the book contained pictures of the beach area, and it looked like I imagined, lots of people, lots of tourists. The beachfront covered a large distance. I identified a few hotels as candidates, including one of the love motels. The love motels really did have the best looking rooms and accoutrements, for the price, consistently better than the other small, non-franchised hotels.
“The final choice of hotel would depend on whether I could get in and out, unseen by hotel staff. Max and I would have to walk along that boulevard, and inland a block or two, to check them out, but it didn’t look like it would be too much of a challenge, to find a suitable place to hide out, for a day."
"Finally, it was time. I dropped the last two bottles of water in my bag, then I gently woke Max, and we headed out. I slipped out of the street gate first, hopefully unseen by the front desk clerk, and walked on ahead, about half a block, while Max checked out, and returned the room key.
“He caught up with me, and we made our casual walk through late afternoon Aracaju, to the central bus station, lollygagging along like tourists, taking it slow so we didn’t get too sweaty, and waiting with other pedestrians at the crosswalks. My hat kept me feeling obscure and safe from cameras, along the way.
“After about 30 minutes, we crossed a small street or alley, going down a block that included a couple of industrial shops, that had already closed for the day. Outside the shops was a small dumpster, probably being used for construction waste. I looked at Max and he was thinking the same thing I was – this might be a good place to ditch my hoodie and cargo pants disguise.
“We stopped, turned around, and walked down the street to the dumpster. We did a thorough visual scan as we walked, and no one was around, and no cameras in sight, none expected. Max got my hoodie clothes out of his duffel bag and looked over the edge of the dumpster, to find the best place to toss them.
“He found a niche and stuffed them in, then moved some wood scraps and empty masonry bags to cover them up. That was that; one less clue that we were carrying with us. We looked around again to check if anyone saw us, and it still looked clear.
“On the way to the bus station, the best route included the boulevard we’d first turned onto, when we got off the bus. We’d passed the same farmácia, and we were coming up on the little store where the straw hats had been stacked outside. I suggested to Max that maybe he had a good idea, the first time we passed, to get one of the straw hats. It would let me vary my appearance a bit.
“A plan came to mind, for me to assemble a completely separate outfit, so I could seem to be a different person, as seen by traffic cams or security cams in different cities or different days. It was good opsec, to break up the possibility of correlation if some determined detective were really trying to track me down, from city to city.
"As we got closer to the store, I could see that the owner was closing up, bringing his tables and wares back inside for the evening. I asked Max to buy one of the hats. I stopped, before we got too close, so the store owner wouldn’t see Max and me together. I told Max I’d meet him at the next block, and I crossed the boulevard.
“A few minutes later, and a block away, I crossed back over and met up with Max. He’d succeeded in getting one of the straw hats, rounded on top, with a continuous weave that curved down at the edge, thankfully looking like a woman’s gardening hat, rather than an old farmer’s flat-brimmed, hay-baling, oxen-plowing, tobacco-chewing hat.
“Max handed the hat to me, saying, ‘This was a steal, at only R$15. He was glad to make a sale.’ He smiled and added, ‘This is getting to be a pattern, buying hats for you.’ I dropped the hat in my shopping bag.
“As we continued walking, I replied, ‘You’re getting really good at this, Max. I’ve thought it through, now – I’m going to get a sundress and some flipflops in Recife, so I’ll have a completely different outfit, real touristy-looking. Good opsec.’
“Max laughed, ‘Wait a minute; I’m not going to be trying on dresses for you, to see how they look in the mirror. I’ve got limits.’
“’It’s OK, Max, I’ll buy the other things for the outfit, after we get to Recife,’ I said. ‘By then, I’ll feel like I’m far enough away that it’s unlikely the police would be able to follow the trail and chance upon random shop clerks to get my description.’ I added, ‘Don’t worry; your shopping days are almost over.’
"Another two kilometers to go. The pedestrian traffic was thinning, but it felt like we were still fitting in, casually walking along. Finally, when we got within sight of the bus station, I stayed back and loitered. looking in the barred windows of a closed shop, and Max went on to check out the layout of the station, and get the Leito tickets, as we planned.
“He came back pretty quickly and said the camera coverage wasn’t going to be a problem. As expected, there were security cams in the main building, but he only saw one camera outside, placed high and near the station building. It’s only purpose was to monitor the bus traffic in the loading area, which consisted of a couple of curbside platforms, about three bus lengths long, having steel I-beam columns supporting a high, artfully curved, corrugated metal roof, for the sun and the weather.
“Max and I walked over to the edge of the loading area, outside the fence, and looked in. There were benches at the far edge of the loading zone where we could sit, generally away from other passengers leaving and arriving on the earlier buses.
“Getting inside the fence without going into the bus station was not going to be a problem – the purpose of the fence just kept pedestrian traffic from mixing into the loading zone, not to force the passengers through the main building. And by the time the late bus would be boarding, I didn’t expect there would be too many other passengers waiting. It looked good, to a fugitive wanting to remain anonymous and out of sight.
“Max noted that it was still going to be three hours until boarding time, and we should get something to eat before starting the overnight bus trip. We backtracked a few blocks, and found a suitable restaurant, still open for dinner. Max went in and got takeout, while I stayed back, as usual.
“We ducked into an alley I had scoped out in the meantime, and we ate dinner from the cardboard cartons, leaning against the wall of a closed business, out of sight of the main street, behind a delivery truck that looked like it wouldn’t be going anywhere until morning. The fugitive life. Nobody bothered us, as the sky and the alley darkened into nighttime.
"With about 40 minutes to go, we headed back to the bus station, and Max led the way into the far end of the embark area, keeping us away from the cameras at the building entrance. We sat on a bench, and I kept my head down, reading, or pretending to read, one of the tour books. The light was almost too dim for actual reading.
“When boarding time came, I had my passport in my pocket, ready to get it out if asked, as I showed my ticket. No problem this time – the ticket clerk didn’t even ask to see the passport. That was a big relief. I kept my hat on and my head down, again, hopefully not looking too suspicious. The driver wasn’t on the bus yet, so he wasn’t there to get a close look at me, either.
“We headed to the sleeper bunks near the back of the bus. I dropped my bag in one of the top bunks, and I continued on down the aisle to the toilet, to get rid of some of the water and beer I’d consumed in the afternoon.
“I came back as Max was fitting himself into the bunk below mine, setting up his duffel bag as a pillow. A few of the other passengers were in the aisle, but they were concentrating on getting themselves comfortable for the trip, and no one paid attention to me. I slid Max’s curtain shut, after giving him a quick goodnight smile, and then I crawled into the upper bunk, took off my hat, and closed my curtain.
"The bus was idling, as the driver turned out the aisle lights, so people could sleep. With my curtain shut, I slipped off all of my clothes, except my panties, so I’d be comfortable for the night. I clicked off my dome light in the bunk, and slid under the blanket, in the darkness. The steady thrum of the idling engine was already lulling me to sleep. I vaguely remembered the bus lurching into motion, starting its journey north. On my way, again."