GUERRA is the novel that I'm currently working on and am just about to finish the first draft. The story is set in a city dominated by pirate broadcasters and facist energy dictators in which media wars take place via memes and propaganda. Alex Guerra, a lone broadcaster who has recently split with his crew, becomes embroiled in a war with unknown forces after an ex-lover of his turns up dead.
Antonio opens the door and just stands there for a minute, his face as unreadable as it was the last time I had seen him, as unreadable as it was throughout my time with him.
"Alex," he says, finally, as if this is enough.
"I need to talk to you."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"This isn't about us. I need your help."
"Yeah," he says and I can't tell if it's a question or some sort of rejection.
He looks different. Thinner. He's wearing the plain black t-shirt and combat pants of his uniform. The muscles in his upper arms have softened.
"Only if you take that out."
He nods towards the in-ear headphone in my left ear currently tuned to a talking heads show on Channel Six discussing the recent riots in the favelas of the city's upper east side. I don't want to miss anything but I figure I can skip signals onto whatever he's receiving.
I go inside and the silence strikes me immediately.
The apartment's corridor is long and unlit and as he walks ahead of me there's something not quite right about the way he moves - not the militaristic stride that I remember. We enter his living room and I think of the night we both spiralled in from the streets outside, swept up on a mixture of varied amphetamines and collapsed onto the floor together.
"What's going on? Where are your TVs? Your radios?"
The room seems to have wasted away. Dust collects in the places where his receivers once sat, conspicuous gaps in the build up where equipment has obviously been recently moved.
"Look at you," Antonio says, a weary smile on his face. "Like a junky aching for a hit."
I frown and rub at my arms.
"I've got the tumours, Alex," he says simply, then slumps into an armchair of worn leather. His body armour, stamped with faded white SWAT lettering, lies beside him as if it were the disassembled parts of some fascist engine.
"Oh," I say, because there's nothing else that will fit. "How long have you..?"
"A few months. I was diagnosed not long after we ..."
"You can sit down," he tells me and I realise that I'm rocking from foot to foot, my attention flickering around the barren apartment, trying to find something to latch onto.
I lower myself onto the sofa opposite him.
"It won't hurt to go without a signal for a few minutes, Alex."
"I can see that."
"You're here about her, aren't you?"
It catches me off-guard. I'm finding it hard to concentrate without the flow of voices in my ear, without the constant loops of footage that are slipping past me.
"Roisin," I say, as if it were a reflex.
Antonio smiles awkwardly and I can see the skin around the base of his once-thick neck puckering. "You know your problem, Alex?"
I shake my head.
"Your problem is that you fall in love with everyone you meet."
There are a few pieces of art on the walls, some books on the shelves, but the only real point of interest in the room is the altar set up in one corner. Three red candles illuminate a collection of objects arranged on a glass plate, metal spokes emerging from the soft wax and intersecting to support a small star-shaped piece of metal. And laid upon that totem is a passport-sized photo of Antonio.
"I'm not on the front line anymore, Alex," he says as he watches me examine the altar. "They've got me behind a desk most of the time because I can't wear a comms radio."
"We still don't know if it's the signals that cause ... that the cause it. There are other theories - a virus, a plague, something the power companies are doing."
"Obfuscation, right? Isn't that what you told me that was called? Deliberately confusing people with extraneous facts and ideas in order to blot out a truth?" "I never thought you actually paid attention to what I was saying."
"What, you thought it was just the sex I was after?"
I dip my head, running my finger through the warm updraft coming from the candles' flames. "So you don't know anything about her death?"
"I didn't say that. I still see the reports."
Antonio breathes out. "You're still obsessed with her."
"I just want to know what happened."
"Listen to the broadcasts."
"I have. But I want to hear it from you. It doesn't make sense. She was never involved with any groups."
"Maybe you didn't know her as well as you think you did. Maybe it all happened after you were with her."
"So you have proof that she was involved with this BLAST group?"
"I didn't say that."
"So that information didn't come out of your precinct's investigation?"
"I haven't seen evidence that links her to them but then I don't see everything. But what I will tell you is that the body wasn't found, it was called in."
Antonio hesitates. "Man by the name of Ibrahim."
"You know him?"
"He's a Body Snatcher, Alex. Whether he found her himself or whether one of his people tipped him off we don't know but he ended up on the scene first. Claimed the body. He called us but not before contacting a pirate crew."
"That's you area more than mine. Something that he thought he could get money for, obviously."
"The blue plastic?"
Antonio shrugs. "As I said, not my area."
"If some crew was willing to pay for that information there must be something in it."
"A good story, that's all your type needs right?"
I ignore his bait. "What about this group? The Brigade for the Liberation of Animals in Suffering and Torture?"
"Seems cold as far as I can tell. Murray and a few of the others are continuing to look into it but it looks like it's been dormant ever since this guy Joshua Gambari, its founder and leader, was jailed fifteen years ago now. I don't know where that stuff is coming from Guerra but I don't think it's from us."
"So there's nothing to it?"
"I didn't say that. But there's been no reported activity from them ever since then. No acts of violence, no bombings, not even an angry letter to the Times editorial."
"So you can't confirm that she was a member of a group whom you can't confirm are even still in existence?"
"Like I said, this didn't come from us."
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