Clarissa's life changes forever one fateful Monday afternoon...
|14th January, 2030
I hate Mondays. I know everybody says that but this particular Monday could beat anybody else's monotonous Mondays down pat. I dreaded Sunday nights because it meant I had to go to bed early so I could wake up early the following morning. Slavery may be illegal however, it didn't explain the daily grind humankind had enslaved themselves to.
My alarm goes off at 6 AM and I haul myself out of bed and use the bathroom. Then in the kitchen I have a glass of chilled water from the fridge before returning to my bedroom to get dressed. Next, it's back in kitchen for a glass of juice and a multivitamin tablet. Lastly, I return to the bathroom to clean my teeth and tie my hair back before rushing out the door to catch the 6.40 AM train into the city.
I live in the western suburbs of Sydney and I'm just one little fish caught in the tide of many. Many of my fellow commuters are wearing suits and nearly all are playing some sort of game on their mobile phones. I didn't wear a suit to work, I wore 'smart casual'. I hate my job and I wonder how the formally dressed people feel about their occupations. They're obviously paid more than me and I bet they all have mortgages and car loans to pay off.
Who am I to judge? Good question. My name is Clarissa Downing although my friends call me CD. I'm thirty-four years old and I work part time in a call centre for a health insurance company. I'm 160 centimetres tall and I have dark brown eyes and long, frizzy red hair. I'm not skinny which makes clothes shopping a pain because I have to rifle through the racks for a size 18 but I refuse to go on a diet. If I tried to lose weight it would mean cutting back on alcohol and eating things like cheese and chocolate. I realized I couldn't give up these things at the end of my last relationship two years ago to a man who did want me to, so I gave him up instead.
I alight from the train at Town Hall Station and make my way through the bustling crowds underneath the Queen Victoria Building. I liked walking through the QVB because I pass the Lush shop on my way and inhale their intoxicating aromas coming from their soaps and 'Bath Bombs'. Then on Market Street I use a pedestrian crossing to reach York Street where my work is situated. But before I go into the building, I use the street-level cafe where I buy a large decaf latte and a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast. Next, I take my coffee and croissant inside an elevator to go up to my floor.
While holding onto my breakfast in one hand, my other rifles through my handbag to pull out my security tag. By the time I've reached my level, I'm armed and ready to officially start my day. The hours I work are Monday to Friday 8 AM to 1 PM. I greet my workmates sitting either side of me and I turn on my computer and log into my phone. My comrades in customer service seem nice but because the call centre is so busy, we have little time to chat.
At 7.59 AM I clutched my crucifix which hung around my neck and murmured my usual prayer, "please don't let me get any complaint calls today", before the first call comes in. But I don't know what went wrong or if God was tired of hearing me say it, but most of my calls were complaint calls. Why didn't their policy cover this or that? Why did they have to pay an excess or gap? What were they covered for exactly? The morning dragged on and on, with people threatening to close their accounts and be insured elsewhere.
By the time it was one o'clock I practically bolted out the door. I just had to go home. I had to get out of the city and away from people. I didn't want to talk to another living soul. I put on my headphones, turned the music up high on my mobile phone and went straight to Town Hall station.
Typical for an Australian summer, the temperature in the city was thirty degrees Celsius and out west it was thirty-five. The air-conditioned train stopped at my station and when I alighted, it was like stepping into an oven. But I consoled myself home was just a five minute walk away and it would be cooler inside with a fan on. Plus, the idea of a glass of chilled Lambrusco tempted my taste buds.
Now this was when everything changed and my life was turned upside down and my monotonous Monday went from the real to the surreal...
My mobile phone paused my music to alert me that I just received a text message.
DO NOT GO HOME.
I looked down at the screen and blinked in disbelief, but I kept walking. I was paying partial attention to where I was going as I examined the message. It didn't show a mobile number that the message came from which was weird. All I could see were three really strange symbols. Then I got a second message from the same sender.
THIS IS NOT A PRANK. YOU CANNOT GO HOME. YOU ARE IN DANGER.
This made me stop walking and I stood there on the spot, staring at these words.
WHO ARE YOU? - I replied.
I waited for a few moments and then I got my answer.
I AM CENTRAL. I AM MONITORING YOUR TIME LINE. YOU MUST LIVE.
"Ha!" I scoffed. It must be a joke. I bet it's one my old friends from university who now works in I.T. set this up.
I shook my head, took off my headphones and put them as well as my phone back inside my handbag and kept walking.
Soon, I was strolling down my concrete driveway to the external security door of my block of units. Using my keys, I unlocked it and started heading up the stairs to my home on the second floor. But my steps slowed when I heard something strange.
It sounded like two men arguing then I heard something heavy fall to the floor and a breaking sound.
"She's not here! This is a waste of time! You said she'd be here!"
"It's not my fault she's not here, you idiot! She should've been home from work by now!"
Silently, I crept up another set of stairs but I stopped short before reaching my floor and I craned my neck. I could tell my front door was open by the light in the stairwell coming from my living room windows. The two men must have broken in and were now in my unit.
I'm being burgled...! Hang on, they broke into my home and they're waiting for me?! What do I do?
Shocked, I almost cried out, "oh my God!" but my hand whipped up and covered my mouth just in time. Then I turned around and ran down the stairs, back out of the external security door and stopped on the street, where cars were parked and there were people walking by. I was surrounded by people so I thought I'd be safe. I was looking for safety in numbers, or in the very least the people could be witnesses.
I pulled out my mobile phone and dialled 000 before gushing out to the emergency operator:
"There are two men in my unit! They broke into my unit! They're in there now, trashing my unit! I overheard them say they were waiting for me and - and - and I just came home from work and found them there!"
"Alright ma'am, where are you now?" she asked.
"I'm standing on the street outside my block of units. Please hurry!"
"What's your address?" she asked next.
"30 Princess Street, Westmill."
"A police car has been dispatched and will be there shortly," she said calmly. "Are you injured or is anyone on the scene hurt?"
"No - no - but they said they were waiting for me!"
"What's your name please?"
"CD - no - I mean Clarissa Downing."
"We have a police patrol on their way to you Clarissa."
"Thank you but please tell them to hurry."
"They'll be there shortly, I've told them this is an emergency," she said calmly.
They did arrive shortly, with the siren blaring and the lights flashing and other cars parting on the roads to let them pass.
I stood on the side of my driveway, waving my arms like an idiot and watched as the police car pulled up and two officers climbed out.
"Are you Clarissa Downing?" the male officer asked.
"Yes I am, I live in the unit around the back of the building," I told them.
"Can you show us?" the female officer requested.
I led them down the driveway and to the external security door where I used my key to let them in before following them inside.
"What floor do you live on?" the female officer queried.
"Stay here and we'll see if they're gone," the male officer ordered.
I watched the two people in the blue uniforms climb the stairs then I listened intently once they disappeared from view.
A minute went by until I heard the male officer call out, "You can come up now."
Anxiously, I rushed upstairs to see the state my home was in however as soon as I entered, I froze.
My place was a mess! In the living room, the TV had been knocked off the stand and laid broken on the floor, along with my Blu-Ray player and Media box. My Blu-Ray DVDs had been pulled off my shelves and were scattered all over the floor. Even two chairs from the dining table set had been knocked over.
Then I spied via my bedroom doorway that my closet doors were open and I went to have a look. There, I found many of my clothes had been thrown to the floor and my drawers were open and had been rifled in, as if someone were looking for something. Worst of all, my laptop had been knocked off my desk and had been trampled on as it lay broken on the carpeted floor.
"Is there anything missing?" the female officer asked as she came in.
I didn't know what to say... I looked around at the damage that had been done as my eyes filled with tears.
"Miss Downing?" the male officer also entered my bedroom. "Is there anything missing?"
"It's all been trashed," my voice broke as I spoke. "My life has been trashed. Why would they do such a thing?"
"Have you any enemies that you can think of who would do this?" the female officer asked.
Slowly, I shook my head as my hot tears streaked down my face.
Eventually I said, "The two men who were in my unit, I didn't recognize their voices."
"Alright," the female officer pulled out her electronic pad. "Tell us exactly what happened when you arrived home."
"Um," I sniffed as I wiped my cheeks. "I got this weird text message telling me not to come home otherwise I'd be in danger. Then on my way up the stairs I heard voices coming from my unit and they were angry that I wasn't home yet."
"What exactly did the voices say?" the male officer came to stand beside his partner.
"Can you show us the text message?" the female officer requested.
Firstly, I took my phone out of my handbag which I was still carrying on my shoulder and showed her the messages then I repeated the conversation I heard to his benefit.
"She's not here! This is a waste of time! You said she'd be here! It's not my fault she's not here, you idiot! She should've been home from work by now!"
I watched his eyes widen then I saw him exchange glances with his co-worker.
"So they do know you then," he decided.
"Like I said before, I didn't recognize their voices," I shrugged helplessly.
"It sounds like they expected you to be home and this was a personal attack," she said seriously. "Do you have a friend or family member you can stay with tonight?"
"I don't know... I guess so," I managed out.
"Well, first of all we'll need to get Forensics here to see if they can pick up any fingerprints or DNA from the intruders," he organized as he took his mobile phone off his belt.
"What about my broken front door?" I looked at him.
"You can call a Locksmith to come and fix the door while Forensics gather evidence," she said.
Numbly, I took my phone back from her and dialled the number for the Real Estate who I rented from. I told them what happened and thank goodness, they said they'd have someone over immediately. Then I called my best friend Kerry and told her what I'd come home to. I asked if I could stay with her that evening and she instantly said yes. She also said that she'd drive over and take me back to her place once the Locksmith and Forensics had finished.
As the three of us waited for the Forensics team, the female officer whom I learned was Constable Carter; took a photo on her phone of the strange symbols that the warning messages were from. Then she sent the photo to the police station she worked at, to be analysed. Her partner, Constable Young asked me more questions if I had any enemies and all I could do was shake my head.
"I mean, there are a couple of people from university I don't talk to anymore, but I doubt they'd do this." I answered.
"It's interesting that nothing has been stolen, so it doesn't mean it's some random break-in," he speculated.
"Actually..." I moved towards my closet and rifled around the top shelf, under old clothes I was going to give away to charity, "...thank God! It's still here!"
Constable Young watched as I held a small external hard drive in the palm of my hand.
"At least one good thing today has happened," I said. "The backup of my photos and music and writing has survived!"
"Do you think this was what the intruders wanted?" he eyed the technology closely.
"I don't think so, who'd want to steal my photos or music or my writing?" I gave a funny look.
"What do you write?" he asked next.
"Oh, poetry and political articles," I shrugged. "Nothing much."
"No, not really," I shrugged a second time. "I've won one or two poetry competitions and a few of my articles have ended up on a couple of political sites online, but that's it."
"What kind of sites?" he continued his questioning.
"I'm a member of a group that wants to create drone rights."
"Drone rights?" he arched an eyebrow. "For what kind of drones and for what kind of rights?"
"All kinds of drones; military drones, domestic drones, industrial drones," I said. "I started - well, I mean we started - a petition to put forward drone rights. So many of these drones are being abused and nobody seems to care."
"So instead of using a military drone to find landmines you'd put a human being in their place instead?" he asked, as his eyes narrowed.
"No, if I had my way there wouldn't be any landmines at all."
"Hmm," he frowned and then he wandered out of my bedroom and over to his partner in the living room. "I think I've discovered the motive for this attack."
"Yes?" Constable Carter looked up from her mobile phone.
"Notice it's mainly technology in this place that's been damaged?" he waved his arm towards my broken entertainment equipment.
"Yes," she gave a nod.
"It's because our victim here is a drone-hugger."
"Excuse me?" she arched an eyebrow.
"Hey!" I objected.
"Clarissa here is a member of that political group that was on the news a few weeks ago campaigning for drone rights." Constable Young declared.
"So, what's wrong with that?" I fired up. "Are you saying that I deserved to be broken into because I spoke up against cruelty towards drones?"
"I'm saying it's probably what painted that target on your back," he returned. "Have you received any threatening emails or phone calls?"
"No," I shook my head.
"You're saying that your political group didn't get one unhappy comment about your movement?"
"Of course our website gets negative comments," I conceded, "but my picture isn't on the website, let alone my address; so how was I targeted? I'm a nobody."
Constable Young opened his mouth to say something else when his partner spoke first.
"These symbols that the warning text messages came from, they shouldn't exist."
"Hmm?" he leaned in to see what she was seeing on her mobile phone screen.
"The sergeant forwarded the picture of the symbols I took to the Federal Police. They'd never seen something like that before so they forwarded it to the FBI. They hadn't seen anything like this either so they sent it to Interpol. Nobody has seen these symbols in use before and they're saying they can't track where the text messages come from."
"That's strange," he said, with a baffled expression on his face.
Again, he looked like he was going to say something more when the three of us were interrupted by my intercom chiming, indicating someone was downstairs and waiting to be let in.
At the same time, Constable Carter's mobile phone beeped and she opened her new text message.
"It's Forensics, they've arrived," she announced.
It was a good thing that Forensics arrived before the Locksmith because they tested the front door for finger prints and DNA first. Then the Locksmith arrived and fixed the broken locks as Forensics took samples from my broken equipment in the living room before moving into my bedroom. As they were taking the last of the samples, my front door was fixed and my best friend arrived.
"CD, are you OK?" Kerry asked as I collapsed into her arms.
"I'm having the worst day!" I cried out. "A shitty day at work and a shittier day at home."
"What happened?" she pulled back so she could examine my face.
I rattled off to her what I'd told the police as she listened intently.
"So they were waiting for you to come home?" she asked, surprised.
"I don't know who they were but Constable Young thinks it's probably somebody I pissed off with that website I told you about, 'Rights For Drones'."
"Oh no," she gave me another hug. "So you'll spend tonight at my place?"
"If that's OK with you?" I checked, while I wiped my wet face.
"I called Pat on my way here and he's fine with it," she meant her husband, who was also an old university friend. "Let's pack some things and we'll leave as soon as the police do."
As soon as Forensics had finished with my bedroom, we went inside and pulled out an overnight bag and put some things together.
"Miss Downing?" a female Forensics officer came in. "We need to take your finger prints and a sample of your DNA so we can differentiate it to the intruders."
"Of course," I acquiesced.
I pressed the fingers of my right hand into her scanner then the fingers on my left hand before opening my mouth and letting her take a swab with a long cotton bud.
"Thank you," she turned and left.
"Let's just hope they come up with something," Kerry said. "Now, have you packed your toiletries?"
Kerry and I departed at the same time as Forensics and the Police left my unit.
"Are the police going to leave a car at your place in case the intruders come back?" she asked.
"They didn't say they would," I said, flatly.
"Nice police force we have," she said sarcastically, as she started her ignition.
I didn't say anything, I kept my mouth shut as she drove us back to her place. But I did take out my mobile phone and checked for any new messages. In all the bedlam that had taken place, I hadn't heard the fourth message from my mystery messenger that came in.
IT WILL BE SAFE FOR YOU TO SPEND THE NIGHT WITH YOUR FRIENDS. YOUR ATTACKERS DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THEM. STAY THERE UNTIL INSTRUCTED OTHERWISE.
My throat constricted as I read those words and I didn't show them to Kerry until she'd pulled up in her driveway and turned off the ignition.
"Who the bloody hell is this guy?" she looked up from my phone.
"I don't know," I shrugged yet again. "But he must be one of the good guys if he's trying to protect me."
Together, we climbed out of her car then she turned around and used her remote key to lock the vehicle before we headed inside her house.
"Aunty CD! Aunty CD! Aunty CD!"
As soon as we walked through her front door I was swamped by her two little boys looking for hugs.
"Hallo my little terrors!" I hugged them both at the same time. "Have you been good?"
"No more and no less since the last time you saw them," Pat came up to plant a kiss on my cheek. "Are you alright? Do the police know who did it?"
"Forensics came up with a few fingerprints and the police interviewed my neighbours," I told him. "But nothing so far."
"CD hasn't had a drink all day and I told her we should have a bottle of wine left over from our barbecue last month." Kerry said to her husband.
"I think we can manage that," he said jovially. "I'll fetch the bottle."
"Thank you both, you're life savers!" I let out a loud sigh of relief.
Being at the Thomson's house turned out to be a miracle in disguise; earlier, I had been trying to run away from people but after what happened this afternoon, company was heavenly. I sat on their couch, nursing a glass of wine, watching the boys play on the Xbox as their parents were in the kitchen making dinner. My overnight bag and handbag were in their guest bedroom but I kept my phone by my side in case any more strange text messages arrived.
It turned out to be a good thing I did, as the day just got stranger.
STAYING WITH YOUR FRIENDS IS ONLY A TEMPORARY SOLUTION. I HAVE TRANSFERRED FUNDS INTO YOUR BANK ACCOUNT SO YOU CAN AFFORD TO TRAVEL. I WILL MONITOR YOUR ENEMIES MOVEMENTS TO KEEP YOU AHEAD OF THEM AT ALL TIMES.
In disbelief, I stared long and hard at the words before I stood up and went into the kitchen.
"Hey, I just got another message from my mystery man," I announced to my hosts.
"What does it say this time?" Kerry put aside the large spoon she was stirring the Bolognese sauce with.
She and Pat came to stand either side of me so they could see the screen properly and he read the message aloud.
Afterwards, he queried, "Have you checked your bank account?"
"Um, no," I faltered. "How would he/she or they know my bank details?"
"Check it anyway," he prompted.
I opened up the internet on my phone and logged into my bank's website.
"Holy crap!" was my response.
"What the fuck?!" Pat exclaimed.
"Is this for real?!" Kerry took a step back in surprise.
All three pairs of eyes blinked and then blinked again at the amount that was showing as my bank balance... $1,345,886.63
"Daddy said the 'F' word!" the boys in the living room called out.
"Er, yeah, sorry kids, I'll put a dollar in the swear jar," Pat managed back before he stared at me gob smacked.
Slowly, I shook my head in shock, "This can't be real."
"Go through your transaction history and see when it was deposited and by who," Kerry thought up.
So I did, I scrolled down the screen and saw the funds were deposited today but it didn't really tell me who by. All the information for the transaction said was 'SwissNationalTrust'. So I logged out of internet banking and I dialled the number for my bank. I had to put in my access number and phone pin before I could speak to someone.
"Yeah, hi, I'd like to query a deposit that was made into my account today please," I told the lady on the phone. "Can you tell me who deposited the large sum of money into my account?"
"Yes Ms Downing," she said chirpily. "It was transferred electronically from an overseas account."
"Does it say whose account?"
"I can't see whose account the funds came from, just that it was transferred by a financial institution called Swiss National Savings and Trust."
"But you can't tell me who in that company transferred the funds to me?" I pressed on.
"No we can't, Ms Downing," she verified. "You weren't expecting these funds?"
"No I wasn't."
"If the money was transferred to the incorrect account, I recommend not touching the funds until you have more information," she advised.
"Yeah, OK, thanks," I said flatly then I hung up.
Pat and Kerry stood there in their kitchen looking on expectantly.
"It was transferred from a financial institution called the Swiss National Savings and Trust," I announced.
Instantly, Pat pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and he Googled the name.
"It's an actual company," he declared, reading off his screen. "They're located in Switzerland."
"Do you know anyone in Switzerland?" Kerry asked.
"Are you going to call them and see if they sent you the funds?" Pat asked next.
I readied the dial feature on my phone, "What's the number?"
Pat read out the number which I dialled, including the country code, and we waited.
"Hi, my name is Clarissa Downing and I just had money transferred to my account in Australia from your company and I'd like to know who it's from." I spoke to the female who answered.
Kerry and Pat appeared to have completely forgotten about cooking dinner as they waited to hear if my elevation to being a millionaire was legitimate.
The lady I'd spoken to transferred me to another person. I said the exact same thing to the new guy who said he'd have to transfer me again. Finally, the third person I was transferred to had more information for me.
"You're name is Clarissa Downing?" he checked.
"Yes, that's right."
"Hallo Ms Downing, my name is Peter Chur," he introduced himself with a thick accent. "And you're querying why our company transferred money to you?"
"I need to ask you some security questions please Ms Downing to determine I'm speaking to the right person," he began. "Can you please give me your address and date of birth?"
"My address is 30 Princess Street, Westmill, New South Wales, 2145, Australia." I spun off. "My date of birth is the 2nd of August, 1996."
"Thank you," he said and I heard him type on a keyboard in the background. "Ah yes, the money we transferred to your Australian bank account was an instalment from your Trust Fund."
"What Trust Fund?" I pulled a face at my audience. "I don't have any Trust Funds."
"This account was electronically opened on the day of your birth by a third party who put you down as the beneficiary. They also stipulated that all instalments from the account would be paid to you on a monthly basis, starting from the 14th January, 2030."
My mouth fell open, "Oh."
"What did they say?" Pat asked.
"Can you tell me who the third party is?" I asked next.
"It's not in the name of an individual, but it looks like a company name," he said, as he hit a few new commands into his computer. "The only name I can see is 'Central'."
"Central...?" I echoed. "It says Central?"
"That is correct."
"OK," I struggled to pull myself together. "Um, is there a contact number or an address for Central?"
"I'm afraid we have strict instructions not to disclose that information."
"Not even to the beneficiary?" I asked, cross. "What kind of bank is this?"
"We are not an ordinary bank, Ms Downing, we cater to an elite group of people and corporations."
"OK," I frowned as I used my free hand to rub my forehead in confusion. "So there's no way I can get in touch with this Central?"
"We don't get in touch with Central, Central gets in touch with us," he said coolly.
I groaned, "I know the feeling."
"Was there anything else I can assist you with today, Ms Downing?"
"Um, no, I don't think so..." I ran out of things to ask, "...thanks for your help."
"I can send you an email with my contact details so next time you can get in touch with me directly, if you like?" he offered.
"Yes please," I agreed, "my email address is -"
"CD1996@yahoo.com," he interrupted.
"Yeah, that's it," I uttered out, as the surprises kept rolling in. "How did you know it?"
"It's in your contact details."
"But you can't give me Central's email address?"
"That is correct," he said simply. "The instructions we have is to pay your instalments to your Australian bank account on a monthly basis starting from today."
I laughed out my disbelief at what was happening, "So next month I'm going to get another million dollars?"
"That's correct," he said.
"Oh, of course," I tried to play along like this was a normal occurrence.
"Was there anything else I can assist you with today?" he brought this call to a close.
"No thanks, that's it."
"Good bye, Ms Downing."
I lowered the phone and looked on the people I'd known for the last fourteen years.
"I'm a millionaire," I said plainly.
"So this Central who's text messaging you is responsible for transferring money to your account?" Pat verified.
"The same Central who suggested you go travelling to stay safe?" Kerry stipulated.
"The very same," I said.
"Well, at least you can fly first class with a million dollars in your pocket and more millions to come," Pat laughed it off, like it was a joke.
"Where would you go?" Kerry asked.
"I've always wanted to look around the UK," I thought aloud. "Now I can do it."
"Now you can do it," Kerry repeated after me. "So are you going to quit your job?"
"Oh, my job," I shook my head a second time to clear the fog that had rolled in with all the shocks, stuns and surprises I'd had today. "I think I have to quit."
"I wish somebody would transfer a million dollars to my account and I could quit my job," Pat grumbled, as he turned back to the stove to stir the pasta.
"Me too," Kerry sighed, as she returned to her Bolognese sauce simmering away.
I watched the married couple stand at the stove and cook together before I picked up my phone and re-read all the messages Central had sent to me.
"Well, at least you don't have people trashing your home and trying to kill you." I said.
"Yeah, that's a plus." Pat said off-handed.
Dinner was delicious but I was quiet over the meal with the Thomson family. I was too worked up over what had happened today. I couldn't unwind properly, I was too tense.
After eating, the parents bathed their boys and put them to bed whereas I returned to the couch in the living room with my fourth glass of wine.
"That's the terrors taken care of," Kerry announced as she came in and collapsed on the couch beside. "Hey, is there anymore wine in that bottle?"
"Sorry, this is the last glass."
"Oh well, that's probably a good thing," she sighed as she relaxed back into her seat.
"What's a good thing?" Pat asked, as he came in and crashed on the couch opposite to us.
"That there's no more wine," Kerry sighed.
"Yeah, that probably is for the best," her husband mused.
Just then I had an idea and I turned in my seat so I was facing my friend.
"Hey, are you working tomorrow?"
"Yes I am," she looked my way. "Why?"
"I have an idea," I began.
"How would you like to make $50,000?" I propositioned. "It'll help with your mortgage."
"That would be nice..." she drawled, "...why do you want to give us $50,000?"
"If you call in sick tomorrow and run errands with me, I'll transfer the money to your account tonight."
Kerry exchanged a look with Pat and I could detect a silent communication between them. Pat shrugged and then Kerry shrugged. Lastly, she turned back my way.
"I could do that," she said. "What kind of errands?"
"I don't want to go home alone," I confessed. "I'd feel safer if you went with me and I can pick up my passport and pack a suitcase for my trip."
"OK, I can do that," she mused.
Just then my phone beeped indicating another text message had come in.
I RECOMMEND LEAVING SYDNEY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I ALSO RECOMMEND USING THE FUNDS AVAILABLE TO CHANGE YOUR APPEARANCE BY BUYING NEW CLOTHES AND ALTERING YOUR HAIR. YOUR NEW IDENTITY WILL BE ONE OF THE JET-SET. YOUR ENEMIES WILL NOT BE EXPECTING THAT.
"Oh my gosh," I sucked in my breath. "Here, read this."
I handed her my phone and she read what it said and lingered on it, as if she was thinking deeply.
"Ask this Central about your idea of going to the UK," she said after a moment.
I WANT TO FLY TO LONDON AS MY FIRST STOP, IS THAT OK?
"What did the message say?" Pat asked his wife.
As she told him, I received my reply.
YOU WILL BE SAFE IN LONDON AS LONG AS YOU FOLLOW MY INSTRUCTIONS.
Then I showed Kerry the answer to my question.
"OK, I've an idea," I addressed the couple. "Tomorrow, we go to my unit and pick up my passport. Then we drive into the city and do some shopping, like hit the big-name stores. I'll also go to the hairdresser. Then I stay with you tomorrow night and the following day I fly to the U.K."
Kerry exchanged glances with Pat once more before she addressed me.
"Alright, we can do that," she nodded.
"Really?" I looked from her to him. "Then I'll be out of your hair."
"And we'll be $50,000 richer," Pat smirked. "That'll help with paying the bills for a while."
"But can you afford to give us the money if you're supposed to be spending up big?" Kerry checked.
"I think so," I gave her a small smile. "If I can't budget when I have over a million dollars, I've got problems."
Before we retired that evening, we put our plans into place.
Kerry called another casual primary school teacher to advise she couldn't come in tomorrow and ask if they could teach in her stead. I too called my work then I called my parents to let them know what was happening. I must admit, the first call was a lot easier.
It felt exhilarating when I called my work hotline and left the following voice mail:
"Hi, this is Clarissa Downing. I'm calling to advise that I won't be able to make it into work tomorrow. Actually, I have to quit so I won't be in ever again. I'm sorry this is late notice but an emergency has come up and I have to fly overseas. OK, bye."
Then I made a call which wasn't so exhilarating... trying to explain to my parents why I quit my job and I'm flying around the world.
I asked my mother to put me on speaker so both she and my father could hear what I had to say. I told them about the break-in and my unit being trashed. I explained how the police and forensics interviewed me, the neighbours and how they didn't know who did it. Then I told them about the text messages and the money. That's when everything went downhill...
"You're going overseas because of a text message from a stranger?" Mum asked, incredulous.
"The same stranger which gave you money?" Dad asked, indignant.
"Clarissa, what did we teach you about talking to strangers?" she continued.
"Who is this Central?" he demanded.
"What if this is some scam?" she went on.
"Are you a hundred percent sure that this money is yours?" he asked, sternly.
"Yes Mum and Dad, I've gone through all of this tonight," I tried to reassure them. "At first I thought it was a joke when I received the message that I shouldn't go home, it's too dangerous. Then I found out whoever they were, they were right. I've also verified that these funds are mine when I called the bank in Switzerland. But all of this has happened and I'm going to fly to London in two days time."
"I think you should come home," Mum decided. "Don't fly to London, fly to Hervey Bay and we'll pick you up from the airport."
"No, Central prefers the idea that I go overseas." I returned. "Look Mum, the attackers knew where I lived. They probably could find me at your place too and that would put the two of you in danger."
They turned silent for a moment before Dad spoke next.
"Are you sure you've got enough money?"
"Yes Dad, I have got enough money. I'm a millionaire now. I could even give you and Mum some money."
"No, don't do that," he said quickly, "you'll need all the money you have if you're going to live a jet-set lifestyle. But you can call us if you become stranded in some foreign country."
"I mean it, if you get scared, call us. If you become broke, call us. If you're in danger, call us."
"I will Dad."
"We don't have a million dollars but we do have some savings that will be enough to fly you home."
"And let the police know where you're going."
"Stay in touch with us, alright Clarissa?" my mother spoke up.
"I will Mum," I promised, "you can follow my travels on Facebook. I'll post pictures and update my statuses on where I am."
"And don't contact that airy-fairy website about drone rights ever again," Dad said crankily. "They're the ones who put you in this mess."
"Dad, they're not the guilty ones," I objected. "Some rightwing nuts who abuse their drones and hate the idea that they deserve rights are to blame for attacking me."
"Just don't post any new articles on their website for a while," Mum said worriedly. "You may fan the flames and they could come after you again."
"Well I can't at the moment," I sighed, "not until I buy a new laptop."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that your laptop was trashed, sweetheart," she sighed too. "All of your lovely poetry...is it all gone?"
"No thank God, they didn't find my external hard drive hidden in the closet," I assured her. "So I've still got my writing and my photos and my music."
"That's a relief!" she said. "Why don't you work on your poetry instead of those articles while you're travelling? Seeing the sights could spur your creativity."
"We'll see," I said diplomatically.
The next morning Kerry woke me up. Then as she readied the boys for school, Pat and I took turns using the bathroom. He had to shower and shave before putting on his suit whereas all I had to do was wash my face and do my hair. Fortunately, I'd showered last night just before I went to bed.
After breakfast which was bowls of cereal for everyone, Pat drove off to work in his car and I climbed into Kerry's vehicle with the boys on the backseat. Kerry sat behind the wheel and reversed out of her driveway. We dropped the boys off at school before driving to my place. We arrived around 8.30 AM and I looked disheartened on the mess which was still there.
"How about we clean this place up a bit?" she suggested, after seeing my face.
Together, we carried my broken flat screen TV down the stairs and out of the building and over to the rubbish bin area. Next, I carried my Blu-Ray player and Media box out to the bins as well, as Kerry discarded my laptop. Then we tidied up my bedroom by putting away my clothes which were strewn about.
"Now, where's your passport?" she prompted.
I took it out of my bottom draw and put it in my handbag.
"Have you still got your external hard drive?" she checked.
"It's back at your place, in my overnight bag," I told her.
"Then let's drive into the city and go shopping," she took charge.
So that's what we did. On our way, I Googled where a shop called City Chic would be in the city and we decided that would be our first stop. I've always liked the clothes in this particular store but the only times I could afford to shop there was when there was a sale on.
We arrived at the City Chic store in Central Plaza around ten o'clock and while we were there, I think I set a new record for speed shopping. I tried on a couple of outfits and got Kerry's say on them, whether she thought they suited me or not. Otherwise, I just grabbed garments off the racks and told the sales girl to bring them up on her register.
I bought a whole new wardrobe at City Chic, from jeans to tops to jackets to dresses and lastly, lingerie. Poor Kerry ended up becoming my porter, as she helped me carry all of the shopping bags back to her car. I suggested we put them on the back seat and leave her boot free for when I bought my new suitcase.
Then we left the car park on George Street and parked instead in the parking station for the Queen Victoria Building. It was nearing midday so I shouted us lunch at one of the cafes in the building. Then we hit the shops again on our spending spree. I went to Lush and bought a block of soap, shampoo and conditioner as well as a moisturiser for my body. Then we left the QVB for the second round of shopping.
We found a Louis Vuitton store nearby where of course the clothing was all too small for me. So I ignored the clothes racks and bought a pair of sunglasses, an evening purse and a suitcase. I wheeled the suitcase out of the store and went to Gucci next. There I bought five pairs of shoes, a new handbag, a new purse and some leather gloves.
Again, we carried all of this shopping back to Kerry's car (except I wheeled the suitcase) and then we prepared to drive back out west.
We parked at Parramatta Westfield around about four o'clock and headed inside the shopping centre. But this time was different, we didn't go to any clothing stores, we went to the hairdresser's. I had my long, frizzy, red hair cut into a bob as well as blonde streaks put in. Kerry thought she'd use this opportunity to have her hair done herself as she said she needed a trim.
When my hairdresser had finished, Kerry and I looked into one of the large mirrors to examine the effects.
"Well, you do look different," she stated.
I examined my reflection critically. I hated cutting my hair short but I thought I had to follow Central's instructions for my safety. It felt strange to have my hair sitting just above my shoulders. One of my boyfriends had once complimented me that I looked like Botticelli’s Venus with my long, red curly hair and curvaceous figure. I guess those days are gone now. Well, the plump figure remained but the long, red hair was disposed of.
It was getting close to 6 PM when all the shops were shutting but we managed to dash into David Jones and buy make-up. I spent a lot on Chanel which made the sales staff happy. I bought facial moisturiser, foundation, facial powder, mascara, eye-liner, eye-shadow, two types of lipstick and a large toiletries bag to put everything into. Hell, I even bought two bottles of Chanel perfume, including the famous 'Chanel No. 5'.
As soon as we walked out of the store, the security guards pulled down the stores' shutters.
Feeling tired, we headed for her car where we climbed in and drove back to her place.
"Too bad we ran out of time, I was hoping to buy a new laptop today," I sighed, on our way home.
"Yeah well, we spent enough money today," she commented. "Buy a laptop when you're in London."
"Hmm, I guess so," I yawned. "Thanks for all your help today, Kerry."
"No worries," she answered. "I'm glad I could help. I just hope your new look keeps you safe."
"So do I," I said.
That evening was a busy one. While Pat made dinner which was basically reheating what we'd eaten the night before, Kerry helped me pack my new clothes, shoes and toiletries into my new suitcase. My mother always taught me to wash my new clothes before putting them on but unfortunately we didn't have time for that. So we simply snipped off the price tags that came with the clothes before packing them into the suitcase.
After dinner, Pat let me use his laptop so I could buy my ticket to London. I went on the Emirates website and purchased a Business Class seat for a flight which would depart at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. I paid for the flight using my credit card and then they emailed the confirmation to me.
After I printed out the confirmation email I booked my complimentary chauffer service through the airline. A car was coming to pick me up at 5 AM which meant I'd have to get up at 4.30 AM. With such an early start, I went to bed at 10 PM but not before saying goodbye to my hosts.
"Thank you for letting me crash for two nights," I said to Pat and Kerry.
"No problem," Pat smiled kindly. "Send us a postcard or two."
"Will do," I smiled back. "And thanks again Kerry for today."
"Keep in touch on Facebook so we know you're OK," she gave me a hug.
"I will," I squeezed her back.
Then she released me and I went into their bathroom to have my evening shower before bed.
I must confess I didn't get much sleep. I was too excited over the prospects of flying Business Class let alone flying to the UK. I'd always wanted to look around the old country where my favourite period dramas came from. I wondered if this was my chance to look over some of the grand houses and castles that spotted the landscape.
Precisely at 4.30 AM my mobile phone's alarm went off and sleepily I rolled over and turned it off.
Slowly, I sat upright and looked about the darkened, small guest room. My suitcase lay open on the floor and I put on a pair of stretchy, dark blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a pink jacket with gold zippers on the pockets. I also put on my new Gucci black boots which went just above the ankle.
Then I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and to do my hair. Instead of tying my hair back which was what I always used to do when it was long, I wore it out in its new hairstyle. I was tempted to put on some makeup but I decided it wouldn't be a good idea as I may not be able to reapply it on the plane.
Back inside the bedroom, I put my old clothes I wore yesterday into my overnight bag, along with my old toiletries bag. But I kept my old toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush and hair ties as I hadn't bought new ones of those yet. I left my old things in the room, in the overnight bag, for Kerry to put aside for me when I was next in Australia.
Once I was finished, I closed my suitcase and as quietly as I could so I wouldn't disturb anybody, I wheeled it out of the bedroom, down the small hallway and to the front door. I opened the door then I rolled my suitcase out onto the small front veranda before I turned around to close it again, making sure the lock latched behind me.
I wheeled the large suitcase which was quite heavy onto the driveway and checked my watch. The time read as 4.56 AM and it was exactly the time I wanted it to be. I didn't want the car to arrive while I was inside in case the driver drove up and rang the doorbell, disturbing the Thomson family.
So I stood by my suitcase and waited for my ride. I tried lifting up my large suitcase to guess the weight but I had to quickly put it down again since it was so heavy. Lucky the weight limit for Business Class was 40kg and the dimensions were larger than it was permitted in Economy.
At 5.05 AM a sleek, black car pulled up into the driveway and a man wearing a black suit climbed out.
"Good morning, you must be Ms Downing?" he greeted.
"I'm Jeff and I'll be your chauffer this morning," he smiled. "Let me take your suitcase for you."
I watched him wheel my heavy Louis Vuitton suitcase to the back of the vehicle where he popped open the boot and lifted the case into it like it weighed nothing. Then he closed the boot and walked over to the back door which was closest to me and opened it. There he stood, holding the door open, waiting for me to climb in.
"Oh, thank you," I smiled back at him and took my seat inside the car.
My new light pink, leather Gucci handbag sat on the seat beside and I had ample leg room, which was a nice change from the other cars I've rode in the back.
The chauffer climbed in and spoke to me before putting his key in the ignition.
"We'll have a smooth ride to the airport this morning, Ms Downing," he said. "And your flight should be departing on time."
"Thanks," I acknowledged.
Then the car started and he reversed out before driving off with me inside it.
During the drive, I put on my headphones and listened to some Trance music to help shake off the last of the grogginess. We cruised down the M4 into the city and I stared out the window at the passing scenery as dawn broke. Before we reached the city, my chauffer turned the car towards Mascot where the Domestic and International airports were. I'd seen the Domestic airport plenty of times from flying home for the holidays, but this would be my first time in the International terminal.
He stopped the car in the drop-off zone and quickly climbed out to open the door for me. I took off my headphones and put them and my phone back inside my handbag. Then I climbed out whereupon he closed the door for me too. Then I watched as he went to the rear of the vehicle, popped open the hood and deftly delivered my suitcase to my side.
"Emirates check-in should be just through those doors, Ms Downing, and I wish you a safe journey," he gave me one last grin.
"Thank you, Jeff," I nodded then I wheeled my suitcase inside.
Absent minded, I started to head towards the large Economy section when I remembered no, I'm flying Business Class. I headed to that smaller section which had a much shorter line and I didn't have to wait long to be served. I pulled out the print-out of my e-ticket along with my passport and presented them to the man behind the counter.
He took the documents from me as I struggled to put my heavy suitcase onto the conveyor belt which also weighed your luggage.
"Good morning, Ms Downing," he smiled. "Welcome to Emirates Business Class, I'm pleased to advise that your flight will be departing on time today."
"That's good," I replied. "Is my suitcase under 40kg or do I need to pay extra?"
"Your suitcase weighs 38kg so it's under our baggage limit," he answered. "Here's your ticket and your passport as well as your boarding passes."
I took the documents as he checked my baggage then it disappeared along the conveyor belt.
"Boarding will commence at 0730 hours and you're invited to use the Emirates Lounge as you wait for your flight," he finished up.
"The Emirates Lounge?" I echoed.
"Yes, if you head towards the boarding gates, you'll see the entrance," he said.
Next, I headed towards the security section where they scanned you and your carry-on luggage for anything dangerous. Then I headed towards the boarding gates, ignoring the food court. I spotted the Emirates Lounge and went inside.
"Good morning," a hostess at the front desk greeted. "Could I see your boarding pass please?"
"Sure, here it is," I handed it to her.
"Welcome to the Emirates Lounge, Ms Downing," she smiled. "Your flight should be boarding in an hour."
"Thank you," I smiled in return as I took back my boarding pass.
I went inside the lounge, unsure of what to expect and boy was I surprised at the luxuries before me.
There were hot and cold drinks available and alcoholic ones as well, let alone two buffets; one for cold food and one for hot food. But I decided not to eat anything, even if I was feeling hungry, because I'd eat on the plane. So I headed towards the hot drinks and made myself a latte using the coffee machine.
I carried my coffee which was in a cup with a saucer, over to a seat which was in a quiet area of the lounge. I sat before a window as I sipped my beverage while watching the huge aircraft come and go. When I finished my drink, I pulled my phone out of my handbag and went onto Facebook. There I posted as my status that I was at Sydney International Airport on my way to London.
Just then my phone beeped that I had another text message:
I HAVE MADE A RESERVATION FOR YOU TO STAY AT THE METROPOLITAN HOTEL FOR 7 DAYS.
Startled, I suddenly sat upright like someone had just thrown cold water over me.
Accommodation in London...of course! How could I be so stupid? In all the rush yesterday, shopping and organising...I'd forgotten to book a hotel! What would have happened if I'd arrived in London with my heavy suitcase but nowhere to stay? I texted back to my mysterious saviour:
THANK YOU, I COMPLETELY FORGOT!
Central replied with:
THE FUNDS TO PAY FOR YOUR HOTEL IN LONDON WAS TAKEN FROM YOUR CREDIT CARD.
I didn't mind, I'd transferred a $100,000 to my credit card last night when I wanted to pay for my flights. But I did wonder how Central knew my credit card details. With everything else it knew about me, I wasn't surprised. But at least it gave me the heads-up on this transaction so I won't be surprised when I see it on my credit card bill.
At last at 7.20 AM they announced my flight number was to begin boarding soon. I'd had a second latte by this time but I was still hungry. I couldn't wait to be on the plane and eating something delicious for breakfast.
I noticed when I stood up to leave the Lounge quite a lot of other people got up, too. A group of us left together and headed for the gate. It felt strange being surrounded, but I said to myself, "safety in numbers".
We got to the gate and discovered there was nowhere to sit as all the seats were taken, no doubt by the many passengers travelling in Economy. However, we didn't have to wait long. Soon there was an announcement that First Class passengers were to board. A quarter of the group I'd arrived with went to the boarding gate, holding onto their boarding passes and passports. After they had all embarked, there was a second announcement that Business Class passengers were next.
Yay! That's me! This is it!
I tried to hold my composure as I lined up with the rest of my group. I took out my boarding pass and passport from my handbag and as we lined up, I felt everyone who was sitting down, eye me off. It was as if they were thinking, "What makes you so special?" I wanted to blurt out, "Look, this is my first time in Business Class and I'm in disguise, otherwise I'm just a nobody," but of course I didn't.
The Emirates staff members scanned our boarding passes one by one and we proceeded to walk down the air bridge to the doors on the plane. I followed the man walking in front when we came to a section of the air bridge where you either went left or right. He went right which meant so did I and standing inside the aircraft door was a Flight Attendant.
I gave her my boarding pass to check which she returned with a warm smile.
"Welcome on board, Ms Downing," she said. "Walk this way for Business Class and your window seat will be on the left hand side of the plane."
"My window seat?" I echoed.
"Yes, your seat is 12A which is a window seat," she looked puzzled at my surprise.
"It's just that when I booked last night, all the window seats were taken," I stumbled out. "I thought I had an aisle seat."
"I'm afraid your ticket is for a window seat and the Business Class section is completely booked, so we wouldn't be able to move you to an aisle seat," she said awkwardly.
Just then my phone beeped out I had a text message and I thought I should read it immediately with what was happening.
I CHANGED YOUR SEAT ALLOCATION TO A WINDOW SEAT BECAUSE I KNEW THIS IS WHAT YOU PREFERRED.
As soon as I read that, I lowered my phone so she couldn't see it.
"Thank you," I smiled back. "A window seat would be heavenly."
She nodded and I walked by her to reach the Business Class cabin, leaving her to greet the next passenger behind me.
But when I walked into the Business Class cabin, I think I caused another spectacle when I uttered out, "Oh my gosh!"