Chapter 77 – Stunning performance.
Paul’s gaze was incredibly determined, and that resolute and unwavering determination emitted an incredible radiance. No longer in a state of panic, fear, hesitation, or despair, it seemed as if all the chaotic thoughts were instantly severed, and the decisiveness of resolute action had an unstoppable momentum.
“My name is Paul Conroy, a US citizen from Hastings, Michigan. I am a truck driver for CTR Company, and I was kidnapped somewhere in Iraq.”
Rodrigo’s ears heard a cold and resolute voice, causing a slight tremor in his heart. That voice had no hesitation and it concealed a sense of embracing death with determination. Despite the calm tone, it conveyed a desolate feeling of being prepared to die together. Rodrigo couldn’t help but shiver, recalling Paul’s despair just now—his colleague’s life was hanging by a thread, but at least there was a glimmer of hope for survival, while he was trapped in a coffin under the desert, in complete darkness, unable to do anything but wait foolishly.
Him, or his colleague. This was a moral tug of war. The ongoing video recording was his choice.
Rodrigo shivered once again, involuntarily biting down on his lips. The the near-choking sullenness tightly gripped his heart, rendering him from being able to make a sound.
“I need one million dollars, before 9 p.m. Baghdad time tonight. Otherwise, I will die buried underground. They told me that as long as they receive the money…” The voice had no fluctuations whatsoever, as if even the most basic emotions had vanished. The coldness made Rodrigo’s bones start to emit chills, as if he was submerged in icy seawater during the piercing cold winter, feeling the temperature gradually dissipating from his blood.
“Bang!” The sudden sound startled Rodrigo, almost causing him to jump up. He saw Paul tightly clenching his right hand into a fist and striking the ground fiercely. That fierce and brutal posture erupted and vanished in an instant, followed by a calm recovery. Paul focused on the camera, speaking calmly and composedly, “They said they will release me as long as they receive the money.”
Rodrigo looked at Paul in astonishment, completely unaware of what was happening. After being dazed for a moment, he finally realized that perhaps the flashlight had malfunctioned or the glow stick wasn’t bright enough, so Paul was adjusting the lighting to ensure sufficient brightness for the video.
Originally, it was just a small accident, but Paul’s concise and powerful action erupted with a fierce intensity. This are Paul’s true feelings at this moment, aren’t they? He is not a saint or a great man. He doesn’t have the resolve to sacrifice himself for righteousness or the nobility of saving all beings. He only made a difficult decision in a critical situation. If possible, he doesn’t want to die. He wants to continue living. But… the energy that burst out in that instant released all the anger, unwillingness, bitterness, and cruelty deep within his heart.
That simple action has stirred up a storm in Rodrigo’s mind.
“No money, and I will die here.” Paul continued recording as if nothing had happened just now. “These threats are all real and will be carried out.” His voice revealed a subtle tremor, an imperceptible quiver from his soul that concealed his helplessness and his desire to survive.
He stared blankly at the camera, his deep brown eyes fluttering gently behind thick eyelashes, fragile and delicate like butterfly wings. His lips moved slightly, as if he wanted to say something, but ultimately swallowed it back. He pressed the button, ending the recording.
Regaining his composure, he operated his cell phone and sent the video, then stayed motionless in place, holding the same pose for a moment as time seemed to have stopped.
Rodrigo hesitated for a moment, unsure if the performance had ended or if he should make a sound or something. However, at this moment, a faint smile appeared at the corner of Paul’s mouth.
It was a warm smile, as if a ray of warm sunshine had spilled over the snow-capped mountains.
The smile paused for a moment and then bloomed again suddenly, accompanied by a low laughter that spun in his chest, like distant thunder on the horizon, faint yet easily capturing everyone’s attention. Within that smile, bitterness, helplessness, absurdity, and oppression reflected an indescribable anger—after reaching the pinnacle of anger, it transformed into powerlessness. All the strength in his body was drained along with his spine, leaving him completely limp. Besides the hollow laughter, he couldn’t make any other reaction.
The smile receded, finally disappearing into the desolation at the corner of his mouth. His eyelids slowly drooped, extinguishing the last glimmer of light in his eyes. His shoulders suddenly deflated and relaxed, and the tension that wasn’t felt just a moment ago surged forth, making the air tighten involuntarily. Then, he closed his eyes, gently resting his face on the sofa. His shoulders, arms, and torso all released their tension, and exhaustion washed over him like a tide. All the pain, all the torment, all the confusion, accompanied by the disappearance of the noise, fell silent.
Rodrigo could hear the sound of his heart breaking, not out of sympathy, but out of helplessness. He watched helplessly as Paul did everything he could to save another life, risking his own existence, suppressing his survival instinct deep within his soul. The weight of that suppression pressed heavily on his heart making it too cruel to continue watching.
Even without Renly’s words, Rodrigo knew that the performance ended. He finally understood the meaning of the so-called “two parts.”
The first part was fear, panic, and despair in the face of a desperate situation. The second part was the collision between the will to survive and reality. Paul was just an ordinary person, one among millions of common people. He had his own problems and made his own choices, but in the midst of a life-or-death crisis, each of his choices, each of his decisions defined his life. He wasn’t a good person nor a bad person; he was just an ordinary person struggling in life.
However, he became a victim of war—or rather, a sacrificial lamb in the game of government interests, a small shrimp in the midst of the fight between whales. The burden he carried was the plight of society as a whole: they were paying the price for the decisions of the government and the elite class. How could Paul’s frail shoulders bear such weight?
So, he failed.
Suddenly, Rodrigo recalled the ending of the movie “Buried.” Paul was truly buried alive. All signs of life and hope were brutally cut off.
“Are you okay?” “Are you alright?” “Is something wrong at home?” “Do you need me to call the police?” “Is it serious?”
The jumbled voices disturbed Rodrigo’s thoughts, making it difficult to grasp the situation due to the overwhelming emotions. When he saw the concerned crowd in front of him, he couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening.
“It’s you, right? You’re the mastermind behind this, aren’t you? Tell me, what are you plotting?” Suddenly, someone forcefully pushed Rodrigo’s shoulder, catching him off guard and leaving him at a loss for words.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Renly’s voice came from the midst of the crowd. He stood up again and smiled at the unfamiliar faces. “I’m really okay. It was just a performance.” The commotion settled slightly, and Renly briefly explained, “I’m an actor, and he’s a director. I was auditioning. So, I’m fine, and my family is fine too.”
The young people looked at each other in astonishment.
The previous situation looked incredibly real and cruel, like a tsunami hiding beneath calm waters, threatening to shatter at any moment. They couldn’t help but hold their breath, fearing that any slight movement could lead to irreversible consequences. The intense pounding of their hearts plunged everyone into panic.
Now they were being told that it was all just a performance?
“Is it true or not?” Immediately came the voices of skepticism. A blond girl who looked like a college student widened her eyes in disbelief and said, “Are you joking? Everything that just happened was fake? Jesus Christ, I was scared to death, thinking your wife had been kidnapped or something.”
Renly turned his head to look at disheveled Rodrigo, who was in a state of disarray, as a tall and muscular figure grabbed Rodrigo by the collar, lifting him off the ground. His face was filled with a menacing expression as he stared at Renly, with a hint of doubt in his eyes. It seemed like he was still worried that Renly was being forced to say such things under duress.
“Look at me, I’m fine, and my future wife…she should be fine too.” Renly’s humorous tone slightly eased the tension. “I am an actor, and the situation just now was merely a part of the performance.” Renly shrugged. “I will take your reactions as positive feedback. It means my acting was successful, right?”
“Guys, guys, I can testify to that.” The front desk staff of the youth hostel also approached. “Rodrigo is indeed a director, and he has been staying here for two weeks. As for this person…” The staff pointed at Renly. “Don’t you all recognize him? He is indeed an actor, the rich young boy from ‘The Pacific.'”
Everyone exchanged glances, and finally, someone reacted, “Yes, yes, I knew he looked familiar. He’s that Sledgehammer!”
“Eugene ‘Sledgehammer’ Sledge?” Another person chimed in, and among the eight people present, two recognized Renly. That is truly rare, considering this is just a youth hostel where the guests are generally young and mostly foreigners, which made this even more remarkable.
Renly spread his hands and nodded. “That’s me.”
After receiving confirmation, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and began expressing their admiration. “Oh my God, your acting was truly amazing!” “What kind of movie is this? My heart almost gave out!” “I can’t believe it, I really can’t!”…
“Uh… excuse me, can you let go of me now?” Rodrigo patted the strong man’s arm, wearing a sad expression on his face.
T/N – After 100 years a new chapter is out, I really am fast in pumping out chapters, don’t you agree?
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