Part 20 – a lifetime together

Lone Wolf News would like to warn viewers about the graphic and disturbing nature of the following exclusive report.

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According to anonymous sources, military officials have secured surveillance video recorded inside and outside Pleasantview police headquarters the morning of Ronald Maxwell, Jr’s shooting death. Media relations for Area 15 in Stragetown declined to comment regarding eyewitness accounts placing armed Area 15 military personnel inside the SimCity capital building where Governor Taxmoore’s main offices reside. The Governor’s camp released a statement condemning the “illegal” raid of a public, governmental facility and promised to bring the full weight of justice to bear against those involved.

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Wolf News has been given exclusive access to a short, no-audio excerpt from the surveillance video – which does appear to confirm the claim that several heavily armed individuals entered and killed all but one of the occupants inside Pleasantview police headquarters. Chief of Police, Warren Gilscarbo was the only survivor. His daughter, Skyler Gilscarbo, is seen here using her cell phone seconds before being brutally gunned down. In this same video capture, Mr. Maxwell is clearly visible at the far end of the office, speaking casually with another officer. Military officials are presently seeking out individuals who attacked the precinct. Given the involvement of Area 15, there has been some speculation that the attack was carried out by a foreign military or terrorist cell.

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Shortly after footage of the massacre was secured by our network, government officials released a statement acknowledging rumors that Alfonzo Taxmoore had abruptly resigned from office. Vice-Governor Jones later issued an executive pardon, effectively shielding Taxmoore from any criminal burden associated with the tragic event. The Vice-Governor went on to say the move was not an admission of any wrong-doing, but a necessary measure to guard against what she called, “a racially and politically motivated slave-hunt”. She further stated that her office will continue pursuing criminal murder charges against Warren Gilscarbo for the shooting death of Mr. Maxewll despite dissemination of the illegally obtained surveillance video. She vowed to do everything in her power to prevent the video from being entered into evidence during Gilscarbo’s murder trial.

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In a statement directly opposing Vice Governor Jones, military officials have ruled out any civil criminal charges against Gilscarbo. According to sources, his presence in Pleasantview was ordered by military officials, possibly at the behest of the Leader of the Free World herself; and may have been working on a classified operation for Area 15 at the time of the shooting. Military officials, the Federal Investigative Bureau, and the LOTFW have all declined to comment.

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Murder – the act of knowingly, willingly, and purposefully ending the life of another living human.

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Skyler’s recording of her own death has provided a chilling backdrop for the personal reconstruction project between Van and Benita. Van repeatedly watched Skyler die a meaningless and violent death before Benita finally stopped him. Had Skyler lived a few moments longer, Benita is certain she would have completed a proposal that would have reunited her with Van. Skyler will never be given the opportunity, however. She was interrupted by the act of her murder. The disturbing experience has left Benita feeling emotionally barren. She had learned about Marcus’ death after calling a friend of his from their church. The news had been devastating. Van was not afforded the courtesy of hearing the news being gently broken to him, however. Instead, he was greeted with a beautiful and loving overture to a possible lifelong future together with Skyler…only to sit helplessly and watch her die a few seconds later. It is an unenviable tragedy that will likely be forever carved into his psyche.

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Both the video and the phone had been collected by Jamie Paraski and hand-delivered to Area 15, where Warren continues to recover from his injuries. Benita does not fully understand why the military would expend so much time, energy, and resources for a local police officer. Benita gave the phone to them regardless, fully cognizant of the dangerous standoff it was likely to create between two arms of the same governmental body. Given Benita’s state of mind at the time, however, it was still wholly inadequate compared to the perceived damage she had personally wrought.

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The weeks immediately following Benita’s dinner date with Van at the bistro find the estranged couple struggling to produce answers to impossible questions. They draw strength from the one common belief they still share, that they are connected by an uncommonly tensile bond; one that should not be so readily abandoned. To imply the nature of Benita and Van’s relationship is unbreakable, however, would be inaccurate at best. The simple truth is that the bond has become so dangerously fractured, that any further damage would threaten to sever it irreparably.

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They work to salvage their friendship first. There are no attempts to hide or conceal any issue containing pertinence or substance from the other. It is simply how they have always done things. She is flattered, though somewhat dumbstruck when she learns that Van had remained faithful through Skyler’s many attempted seductions. Knowing this adds complexity to her own admission that she had chosen to end her celibacy with Marcus. Benita still openly grieves Marcus’ death. They tackle these challenges together. Some of them are simple bumps. Other challenges represent steep, vertical climbs they both must be willing to scale in order to move past. It is no simple, pedestrian effort.

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Benita’s recurring nightmare about Skyler and the seagulls also continues to cause her distress. She shares the contents of her dream with Van. Though it is always awkward and difficult for him to hear, he listens through each recurrence and offers his sincere concern for her state of mind. She feels personally accountable for the deaths of Ann, Marcus, and Skyler. In Benita’s estimation, they would all be alive today had she agreed to return with Ann to the hotel after the banquet. When this line of thinking first surfaces, it devolves into a heated exchange of speculations which threatens to derail their momentum and undo weeks of difficult work. Tearful and resigned apologies prevail afterward, and they share their first kiss since Benita’s return. More importantly, they agree to avoid any further “what-if” scenarios regarding the deaths.

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As weeks become months, Benita and Van manage to overcome the most difficult challenges. Although these things represent a repairing of the damage done to their relationship, the journey has not been all gloom and despair. To the contrary, the vast majority of the time they spend together is joyful and uplifting for both of them. There are times when emotions erupt and they must pause to deal with the threat. As more time passes, however, those instances begin to grow farther and farther apart. On the one-year anniversary of Skyler’s death, they conduct an intimate candle-light vigil for their lost companions on the beach behind Van’s house. No words are needed for them to understand a milestone signifying closure has been reached. They have each grown and matured, and their friendship has evolved into something more complex and abstract.

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Theirs had been a childhood love; innocent and pure, and devoid of the complications that come attached with adult interactions. Having become adults themselves, however, adult interactions seem virtually unavoidable. It happens on a Saturday morning, without much fanfare or an elaborate courtship. Benita arrives at Van’s house early for a day at the beach. Weather forecasters had been calling for sunny skies all week. Isla Paradiso itself seems eager to defy any such predictability, however, as foul weather persists throughout the afternoon. Neither Van nor Benita seem to take much notice, however, as they have become lovingly immersed in their own paradise with thunderstorms.

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They rest facing each other afterward, with Van recalling the various times he had proposed marriage in the past. He could never quite figure out what he was doing wrong. They laugh together remembering the hundred times, or thereabouts, he’d received her father’s blessing. The problem all along is that he had fallen into the dangerous assumption that pre-destination had kicked in, effectively closing on the “happily ever after” deal between him and Benita. He was barely an adult and was crazy in love with her. But sadly, he had taken Benita for granted. The honest truth is that he was wholly unprepared for marriage and family, and the surrendering of self such a thing requires. After Benita left for SimCity, each new day uncovered another one of her characteristics he had neglected to acknowledge and appreciate. Van holds Benita’s gaze for a long time before continuing, then soberly apologizes. Benita hugs him tightly in recognition of his reparative confession.

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As Van continues, Benita listens breathlessly; enjoying the feeling of her bare skin against his while blushing with the realization that he is no longer simply her best friend. Van voices an inability to profess his actual feelings, given they contain something words cannot communicate. He’d still like to give it a try, however. Van quietly and thoughtfully expresses that he has loved her from the moment they first made eye contact as children. Recalling the two halves of a seashell they’d found a long time ago, he reaffirms his belief that they complete each other. It is a spontaneous and unexpected affair with no engagement ring or bended knee. After a kiss and a soft embrace, Benita tearfully expresses her mutual love, observing how they were both lost without each other. She can think of nothing more meaningful, beautiful, and perfect right now, then the idea of a lifetime together with him.

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Benita moves into Van’s home shortly after the engagement. Every night following, Van has had to comfort her after being awoken by night terrors. She had hoped the nightmare would have gone away now that they’ve put the past behind them. Unfortunately, it has only become worse. Van does what he can to ease her anxiety and frustration, but she continues to wake each morning before sunrise, gasping with horror.

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It is early, one morning when Van finds Benita wretching in the bathroom. She had just recently begun experiencing bouts of nausea. They’ve both lost sleep; Benita for obvious reasons, and Van for staying awake to comfort her until the worst nausea passes. Their activities together have been entirely unobstructed, so it comes as no surprise to him when she gently informs him that she is pregnant. She seems genuinely happy about the outcome, though something seems to be preventing her from experiencing the full measure of joy typically associated with expectant motherhood. When he asks her about it, she admits that her dream has become more gruesome than ever before, and in ways that are too graphic to repeat.

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Pregnancy does little to slow Benita’s tireless work ethic. Just as Louis had observed after Natalia’s birthday, Benita has become single-minded, if not obsessed, with uncovering the nature of the museum documents bearing the Gonçalves name. She has quietly constructed an attack strategy to obtain artifacts from the private museum and discover what significance the documents may hold. This strategy involves a small network of judges, lawyers, and politicians who not only oppose former Governor Taxmoore, but who also possess evidence directly connecting his activities in Isla Paradiso with the existence of the suspicious, if not illegal, private collection.

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As the weeks progress, Benita’s pregnancy begins to show. The announcement to her family is awkward and quickly turns to the topic of marriage. Benita shares that she and Van have temporarily sidelined the conversation. She has decided to run for Mayor and does not want wedding plans to become a distraction to her political campaign. Van has committed his full support to her aspirations, with the understanding that Benita will again be working many hours and may have to travel soon after the baby is born. Benita’s parents voice their concern that marriage and career are not mutually exclusive. She and Van could be married by Padre Nuno before the sun sets. Benita holds firm, however.

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The childhood connection she and Van shared was beautiful. She allowed that friendship to become poisoned by a dangerous and hate-filled provocateur. She welcomed it, in fact. Benita is not blind to the fact that she has pushed Van aside more times than she is able to count.  Guilt continues to weigh heavily on her conscience and is compounded by the fact that she has done nothing to acknowledge the inequity while continuing to push him away. Despite all this, she is happier now than she has ever been. Her intimacy with Van is more satisfying and fulfilling than anything she could have imagined. The cost of this happiness has been astronomically high, however. She is still deeply troubled by the ease with which she fell under Alfonzo Taxmoore’s thrall. Is she afraid the same will happen with Van? Will she lose her sense of self and become, simply, “Van’s wife”?

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Perhaps it is only her maternal instincts emerging; but silently, somewhere in the back of Benita’s mind, she is very afraid. Taxmoore has been backed into a corner, which is precisely when animals are most dangerous. Keeping Van and her child safe has now become a priority over anything else, including her career – and marriage. Benita listened to Skyler’s recording enough times to know, without a doubt, that Joan Mosely was personally responsible for the deaths of all those people in Pleasantview. Benita’s contacts in SimCity have recently lost track of Joan; which means she has possibly gone into hiding …or hunting. The woman was terrifying before the attack. Now, there just simply are no words to describe what Benita feels, short of the resolve that she would willingly surrender her own life before allowing any harm to come to Van or her child. A wave anxious nausea washes over Benita, but it has nothing to do with pregnancy. She replays the nightmare which has haunted her for more than a year and a sickening irony emerges in her mind.

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In the nightmare, Benita kills them both.

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