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Crystal Dice: Fortune City, #1
Crystal Dice: Fortune City, #1
Crystal Dice: Fortune City, #1
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Crystal Dice: Fortune City, #1

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Welcome to Fortune City, a world ruled by luck, in which Alexander Berkel has received the worst of the defects: being a jinx.

One autumn afternoon in the year thirteen, Alexander Berkel, a jinx who tries to avoid the dangers that his condition entails, receives an unexpected order from the mysterious Heptagon Organization, the quasi-clandestine entity that watches over and protects luck in the world.

Several people in poor neighborhoods have died from consuming a substance in powder form that is sold as a drug, nicknamed "saffron." If Alexander locates the person responsible for these events, he will discover the identity of his biological family, who abandoned him as a child in an orphanage.

During the investigation of the "saffron case," Alexander will meet various allies and enemies. He will decipher the ins and outs of philosophy, genetics, and religion. He will meet love with a young woman very different from him. But will he manage to evade the influence of the seven dogmas that rule luck in the world?

IdiomaEnglish
Fecha de lanzamiento26 may 2021
ISBN9781667401874
Crystal Dice: Fortune City, #1
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    Vista previa del libro

    Crystal Dice - David F. Cañaveral

    DEDICATION

    This one’s for Ángel,

    who was the first inhabitant of Fortune City.

    QUOTATION (SERIES)

    Call it nature, fate, fortune; all these are names of the one and selfsame God.

    Seneca (4 BC – AD 65)

    Roman philosopher and politician

    QUOTATION (BOOK)

    God doesn't play dice with the world.

    Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

    German physicist

    ––––––––

    Not only does God play dice with the universe: he sometimes casts them where they can't be seen.

    Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018)

    British physicist

    MAP (1)

    MAP (2)

    CHAPTER I: The first dogma

    1

    Fortune City is arcane, mysterious, legendary, and alluring. It is a city of contrast, utopia, and dystopia, discordant and disparate. It is the image of a world ruled by luck.

    The architecture rises towards a hazy and glittering sky. The neoclassical is interspersed with reminiscences of other times. The avenues are wide, and the streets are narrow. The mythology is profuse and imposing; clocks are rare but solemn. The city extends without end. There are no horizons and no limits.

    The sunset transforms lively and authentic days into neon, dreamlike and sinuous nights. There are dark twists and turns, places for enigma, abodes for secrets. The neighborhoods are in opposition. On the rich side, a proverbial parchment hides suspiciously. On the poor side, a black cat seeks love and sustenance. Somewhere, someone dies.

    In the fall of the thirteenth year, dark red stains litter the fingertips of some forgotten wretches from Fortune City.

    ––––––––

    2

    A slow, monotonous, and persistent drip woke Alexander, who opened his eyes with a start. He sucked in a deep breath of air. He had just regained consciousness, and he wondered if that drip was water, sweat, or blood.

    He was sitting in an uncomfortable metal chair. Everything hurt, especially his head. His neck felt stiff from the bad posture he had been in. He tried to move but quickly realized that he was tied to the back of that chair, held by what seemed to be some kind of nylon tie-down, and his feet had been immobilized with duct tape. He was trapped.

    He took a quick look at the place where he was being held captive. It was a windowless room with concrete walls, dirty floors, and high ceilings. It gave the impression of being a workshop that had not been used for a long time. The bare walls were damp. He was almost in the center of the room. He counted two doors: one on the front wall and one to his right. He saw drums and metal plates leaning against the side walls. Behind him, he caught a glimpse of a low-rise faucet, although he realized that this was not the one that was leaking. The drip came from a long spout at the bottom. Old tools hung from a panel above it. The only light came from a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, as well as the beam of the lightbulb attached to a miner's helmet on the counter.

    On that countertop, Alexander noticed a singular object reflecting the light from the miner's helmet. It was cubic and small, with a bluish, crystalline appearance and white dots on all six faces. He thought that it could be a dice.

    The discovery of that dice caught his attention because of the inappropriateness in a place like that. It also reminded him of something important. He looked down, reassuring himself that his amulet hadn't been taken from him. The small four-leaf clover, carved from dark wood, hung as always around his neck, and rested on the light hair on his chest.

    Other than that, he didn't think anything had been stolen from him. In any case, he checked his clothes. He was wearing his thick black boots, dark jeans, belt with the giant silver buckle, and his faithful leather jacket open over a white shirt in which he could see some brown stains from the blood that coagulated on his face around his nose and lips. There was a bitter metallic taste in his mouth. And, as well as the head and neck contusions, his hands, wrists, and knees also hurt.

    Then the guy in the red pants made his appearance. He entered through the door in front of Alexander. He leaned against the counter. He exhibited an attitude that seemed cocky but in which you could capture a certain discomfort. He was in his twenties, younger than Alexander, handsome, somewhat arrogant, but not large. His shirt was tattered.

    The guy looked at Alexander. He held his gaze. And the guy asked:

    Who are you?

    Alexander was unmoved. He did not open his mouth but looked at him intently.

    Why were you watching me? The one with the red pants questioned again.

    Alexander persisted in his calm demeanor. The guy approached him.

    You don't know what you're getting into, he noted. He was trying to intimidate him.

    You don't know, Alexander snapped at that moment.

    This unexpected reply upset the young man, who stared at Alexander in momentary astonishment. Although, without a doubt, what disturbed him the most were the half-smile that Alexander gave him and the words that he spoke slowly and coldly:

    You're trying your luck.

    With a new unease in his mood, the guy walked back to the counter. His movements showed his hesitation.

    Alexander still heard that drip. He wondered how he got there. The most immediate memories seemed locked in his mind.

    The guy in the red pants turned the miner's helmet towards him. And the beam from his lightbulb hit Alexander square in the eyes. It blinded him like a Sun he couldn't run from.

    ––––––––

    3

    The day is very bright. The Sun seems to bathe the entire world in a blinding, radiant light that burns. Everything is red, orange, and yellow. Somewhere, you can hear the flow of a stream.

    Alexander is a boy. He must be four or five years old, no more. He doesn't care about the heat or the sweat or that scorching morning light. At that age, very few things can afflict you. He is dedicated to running and playing.

    He is in a cereal field. He jogs through the endless, identical rows of corn. The plantation is taller than the kid. He laughs and smiles, no longer aware of the stream. He hears a cricket singing as he walks to the farmhouse.

    Suddenly, he stops. He thinks he heard something. But then, a silence arises, a silence that bothers him. Suddenly, an adult hand takes him by the shoulder and turns him towards it. The boy freaks out and gasps.

    ––––––––

    4

    Despite all the things he wanted to remember, those that he might never conjure up, he knew he would never forget the first time he saw her. Well, that was the beginning of it all.

    It was Monday, the day of the Moon, which already showed the crescent of it. He was on the corner of Skylights Street and Fabriko Avenue. The afternoon, although it was already the first weeks of autumn, still possessed the color and temperature of the past summer. The cars circulated on the four lanes of each road. The workers returned to their homes. The walkers were lost in thought. They stepped on the leaves of the trees that began to fill the gray and square cobblestone floor. From somewhere came the sound of someone playing a melody on the piano.

    Alexander had stopped next to a newsstand, standing in front of an uncrowded bakery and a business premises that had not prospered. He recognized the colors of a humble women's clothing store across the street, whose pink decor he had never liked. There was a broken trash can. Fabriko's tram line had just passed. Tied to a lamppost, a plump white dog was waiting for its owner.

    A dark, luxurious car had doubled up in front of him. He seemed to notice that the driver was pointing at him. The back door opened. And she appeared.

    She was wearing a summer dress, narrow and delicate, which hugged her stylized and girlish figure, with a light background and an oriental-inspired floral pattern. The clarity of her skin seemed to radiate the light of the evening sun. The slightest breeze moved the bangs from her smooth, long, dark hair. She walked up to him, and Alexander was enchanted by the pink of her thin lips and unfathomable black of her eyes.

    Alexander Berkel? She asked with a soft voice and a shy smile.

    Without taking his eyes off her, he could only nod silently, captivated by the encounter.

    She didn't say anything else as she reached out her hand. She was holding a letter-sized envelope which Alexander took. Many times later, he would think about how close his hands had come to brushing against her fingers. But that never happened.

    The young woman smiled. He thought he saw how her eyes flashed an unequaled light. It was an instant that might as well have lasted forever but soon ended. She turned, went back to the car, and drove off. He was left alone.

    After a minute of gawking, Alexander brought his attention to the envelope in his hand for the first time. He was surprised to discover his name written in careful handwriting on the front. He turned it over and found a gray, heptagonal seal sealing the back of it. He touched the seven vertices of that polygon.

    ––––––––

    5

    Three days after that meeting between Skylights and Fabriko, another afternoon in early October, Alexander found the heptagon to which that sealed envelope led.

    It was strange that he had never noticed it before. It was on Sageco Avenue, near Cornucopia Square, in the Centro neighborhood. This, like the Confectionery, was the most prosperous and shining part of the city. There, neoclassical architecture characterized the great hallmarks of the city. The roads, neat and pristine, with splendid vegetation, were full of details ideal for good photographs. The boutiques were the most prized. The passers-by, elegant and diligent, walked at a brisk pace. At the same time, the bustle of traffic was such a familiar background noise that it went unnoticed.

    The building was clad in polished gray Grandite. It was vast, plain, and square in shape, with seven rows of discrete, identical windows running along its height, which, Alexander was not surprised to find, reached seven storeys in a very uniform arrangement. Its appearance was sober and modern. It may well have been the location of an official body, but there were no related flags or badges. He saw that emblem, the same one that he found on the envelope that the black-eyed girl had given him: on one side of the sturdy double copper doors, open at that moment, the thick wall reproduced a perfect heptagon. Intrigued, he touched the seven vertices of that polygon.

    Still somewhat hesitant, given the impression of being the only person on the entire avenue capable of seeing that building, Alexander stepped over the threshold. After a small archway, he found himself in a wide, deserted hall with immaculate, classically decorated decor. Before him, there was a staircase that, in two lateral sections, led up to a landing, in the center of which he found an elevator door. On both side walls, next to the stairways, niches had been made. There, he observed two marble sculptures: a reproduction of the Greek goddess Pallas Athena and another of Myron's famous Discobolus. The ceiling was adorned with plaster.

    A modern object whose technology broke with the decoration of the lobby claimed his attention. It was a small security camera placed above the elevator door. It consisted of a red pilot light that was on, and it was focused on him. Alexander felt like he was being watched, something that he did not like. At that moment, the pilot light blinked for a couple of seconds, and then the elevator door opened. Despite the scale of the situation, Alexander climbed one of the flights of stairs and entered it. The door closed and, before he could press a button, the climb began. Then the elevator stopped on the fourth floor.

    He stepped out into the middle of a long corridor that stretched left and right. There was a simple table in front of him, which could have been some kind of vacant security checkpoint. Several doors, all closed, were on either side of the corridor, which continued at right angles to each end. The walls were light and neutral. The result, despite the lack of windows to the outside, was not distressing. Everything, including the lighting, was artificial yet sophisticated and professional. There was no one around.

    The annoying situation was about to consume his patience when Alexander heard the clicking of heels approaching him. Seconds later, a woman turned the right-hand corner of the hallway and headed toward him.

    The woman was in her early thirties. Her figure and presence were seductive and striking, given her mulatto skin, jet black hair, feline features, and feminine curves. The iris of her eyes was a honey color. She had full and sensual lips. She was dressed in a suit jacket, which flattered her and accentuated an elegant and attractive appearance. Alexander noticed her cleavage, which revealed two lush, plump breasts. And his eyes ran down her sleek, young legs until he spotted a firm rear.

    Observing this woman's attractiveness, Alexander remembered the thin lips and black eyes of the girl in her oriental dress. But soon, he returned to focus on the honey-colored eyes of the person he now had in front of him. He suspected that she was studying his outfit. Since he was going to the center's financial and professional zone, he had put on some dark pants, with an ordinary jacket and a white shirt. He had tried to exude simplicity and distinction. He had even gelled his hair a bit. The string of his amulet peeked out a little over the top button of his shirt, which was unbuttoned. However, this was not the real version of him. And she, that woman, might be aware of the deception.

    Alexander Berkel? She spoke at last.

    That's me, he answered. Who are you? And what am I doing here?

    Alexander's questions, while being polite, did not hide his discontent at such an unusual encounter.

    My name is Selena Myers, she introduced herself and gave him a warm smile. Her pronunciation was neat. Her attitude was devoid of shyness or hesitation. She didn't flinch at Alexander's anger. I am the director of research for the Heptagon Organization. And you are here to be interviewed regarding a possible job. I am glad that you received our letter regarding the summons correctly.

    Yeah, I got that subpoena, Alexander said, still unhappy. Selena nodded and started walking in the same direction she had come from. Annoyed by this behavior, Alexander protested without moving from his position: Wait, first I demand to know what the Heptagon Organization is. I've never heard of it.

    Selena paused for a moment and gave him an expressionless glance. Then she continued on her way. She talked as she walked, and she forced Alexander to follow her.

    This is due to the attention that the Organization pays to keep itself in a prudent and vigilant background. The Heptagon Organization has offices around the world. Our headquarters are here, in Fortune City. Of course, we are a perfectly legal body but foreign to any government or institution, national or international. The purpose of the Organization is to know, monitor, and protect luck in the world.

    They had already turned the corner. They were in a similar continuation of the same corridor when Alexander heard that last sentence. As he did so, he stopped short.

    I don't believe in luck, he said with apparent severity.

    At that statement, Selena stopped as well. With feigned amazement, she fixed a penetrating gaze on Alexander. And, in a low voice, she commented:

    How ironic! How ironic that someone like you denies the force that governs the world.

    Then, Alexander's eyes showed a special glow. A silent alarm had just gone off inside him. He deduced that Selena knew very intimate things about him.

    She smiled confidently, and as if she had guessed his thoughts, she added:

    'We are professionals, Mr. Berkel. Of course, we have investigated you."

    Selena took a couple of steps towards a door to the left of her, turned the knob, and indicated with a gesture:

    Join me, please.

    She walked through the door. Alexander stayed in the hall for a few more seconds. He reflected on Selena Myers, a woman who caused him an indefinable rejection, but, at the same time, she brimmed with seduction to which he could not be indifferent. Her honey-colored eyes and her curves could almost make him forget the quiet gaze of the young woman with the envelope.

    He entered a simple square room. At the back was a large window, protected by a blind, through which natural light came in, perhaps from an interior patio. The room's furniture consisted of a desk with a chair on each side, a row of upper and lower cabinets with a worktop, and a floor lamp.

    Selena had already sat behind the desk and, with her hand, invited Alexander to take a seat opposite her. He did as she asked.

    The Organization has a professional assignment to do with you, which we'll talk about later, the woman explained. But first, I need to fill out a series of forms about you. Likewise, I inform you that, if you give consent, in addition to the questions, I would like to take a blood sample from you.

    A sample of my blood? What for?

    Again, as if she hadn't even heard Alexander's question, Selena got to her feet, walked over to the row of cabinets, and began preparing a metal tray with various utensils: needle, syringe, cotton swabs, a pot of hydrogen peroxide, etc. As she worked, she continued:

    'Luck rules the world, Mr. Berkel. You, more than anyone, should not doubt it. It weaves through all aspects of our lives. However, few people are aware of its domain. The existence of the Heptagon Organization is, for most, as unknown as the very influence of luck on humanity. Our work must be precise and discreet, almost unofficial."

    And if the Organization revolves around luck, Alexander interrupted defiantly; he wanted to delve into what Selena knew about him; Why would they contact someone like me to offer me a job?

    Selena abandoned her concentration for a moment, pondered, looked at him, and said:

    Because someone like you will be the ideal person for that job.

    Selena finished the arrangement of the tray, which she placed on her desk, next to Alexander. She stood there, close to him, while she continued:

    Around luck, there is a philosophy, a metaphysics. It is the result of centuries of research and compilations. It is the great pillar of the Organization's functions: knowing luck. There is also mythology, which some call religion. But the Organization has only scientific, not superstitious, interest in it. And finally, there is the genetics of luck. Do you know what the degree of luck is?

    No, Alexander replied in a relatively dry tone. I don't think you're telling the truth, Selena replied, with a deep sigh, let me explain. We all have a degree of luck. It is a kind of level of luck for each person. You are born with it, and it never changes. It is calculated on a scale of one to seven based on genetic, biochemical, environmental factors. The Organization thoroughly studies everyone with whom it establishes relationships. And with someone like you, extra precautions should be considered. Do you understand now about the blood sample? You must give me your consent to do so. Otherwise, we will leave it.

    What do I get in exchange for all this?

    Money, among other rewards.

    With some grudging grin, Alexander took off his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt's left wrist, and rested his arm on the table, ready for Selena to poke him. Beside him, she rolled up his shirt sleeves past the bend in his elbow. As he did so, her fingers ran over Alexander's beefy, veiny arm for a few moments. And, in a tone of voice that now seemed less professional and more intimate, she questioned:

    How old are you?

    Thirty-four.

    Selena slowly felt Alexander's skin. She was looking for a good vein. He looked into her eyes. And she added:

    I couldn't find your date of birth in any registry. Why is that?

    I do not know.

    You don't know? Selena asked, surprised by his response.

    No, Alexander agreed. I'm adopted. I don't know what day I was born.

    This seemed to annoy Selena, who, sulkily, threw the needle on top of her metal tray and declared:

    In that case, the blood test is useless, Selena declared. With no date of birth, the degree of luck can hardly be determined. Wow! Follow me, she ordered.

    Alexander buttoned his shirt again, picked up his jacket, and stepped out after her.

    They went up to the fifth floor in another elevator. There was the office of Selena herself. The plaque on her door credited her, in effect, as the director of research for the Heptagon Organization. The place was spacious. The windows, which faced Sageco Avenue, ran along an entire wall. To one side of the door were several bookcases with filing cabinets and books of various kinds and thicknesses, along with two armchairs arranged around a circular coffee table. On the other side was the desk, with two chairs in front, as well as a very comfortable-looking armchair. Behind the desk, books and various ornaments were displayed, in addition to the framed titles of Selena. On the other walls, several framed maps were visible, which is why Alexander wondered if geography was one of the woman's hobbies.

    Selena sat in her chair. Again, she gestured for him to take a seat. On the desk, she had two folders, one maroon, and one light blue. She flipped through the light blue dossier, which contained several documents. Meanwhile, Alexander glanced over at some of the books on the shelf behind her. He has found titles like Treatise on the Seven Dogmas or History and Legend of the Book of Days.

    Selena looked up from her reading, took a deep breath, and began the interview.

    You do not know your date of birth? She repeated.

    Correct.

    You don't remember your biological family?

    Correct.

    Alexander sulked again. These were subjects that he did not like to talk about.

    Yes, that agrees with my information. Then, Selena began to recite the information that she had in her light blue dossier, where Alexander discovered his name written on the cover. 

    You were born in 1979, on an impossible date to specify, since you were abandoned in an orphanage around the age of six. During your puberty, you were adopted by a man, Hector Berkel. Hector was the father of a biological daughter named Irene. He gave you his last name. And I imagine he guided you. He died in 2008, according to the police report. Irene's mother died in childbirth. You have practically no academic curriculum. And your working life is as irregular as it is diverse. You do not have a clear profession or trade. I suppose it will be difficult for someone with your handicap to get a good stable job. You remain single, and no children are known to you. Selena looked up once more and asked, Is everything correct?

    Alexander's jaw dropped for several seconds. He stared at Selena in equal parts, astonished and offended. When he reacted, he tried to contain his anger.

    How dare you? He demanded.

    Selena clasped her hands and rested them serenely on the desk. She was unmoved by Alexander's anger.

    What do you mean? She replied.

    I mean, you send me a cryptic message to come to the headquarters of an organization I've never heard of and investigate me without my consent.

    Selena leaned back a little on her seat. She remained calm and in control.

    'I have already told you, Mr. Berkel, that we are professionals. In any case, apart from having our methods of knowing, all that I have just said can easily be found in many public records. She took a breath before admitting: What the Organization has investigated on its own is what is related to your... condition; or curse, rather. I'm going to offer you a job."

    What is it about?

    We want you to investigate something.

    Investigate what? Explain yourself.

    Selena handed him the other folder, a maroon dossier. On the cover of this one read, in handwritten capital letters, Saffron case.

    Worrying events are happening in Fortune City. What we want is for you to find out the cause and authorship of them. You will not have heard anything about these events. Neither the people nor the media have noticed them. Victims die unnoticed.

    Wait, said Alexander, deaths?

    Yes, deaths. During the summer, several people, less than a dozen, have died in unclear circumstances. A dangerous substance is circulating in the city that is sold as a drug. This substance, in powder form, leaves reddish spots on the fingertips, like those of the saffron spice, hence the name of the case. Those victims come from working-class and poor neighborhoods. The majority were drug addicts, people without resources; that is, the type of person whose death does not attract attention.

    You want me to find out who is responsible for these deaths?

    Exactly. We want you to act as a private detective for us.

    I do not get it. Why me? Aren't the police involved?

    Selena leaned forward. She looked determinedly at Alexander as if she were going to explain something crucial to him that was, however, obvious to her.

    Mr. Berkel, what we entrust you to do is not only to locate the person in charge and discover his motivations but to use your unwanted gift to undermine his luck.

    Immediately, Alexander's gestures expressed his reluctance and discomfort.

    Mr. Berkel, Selena insisted, understand that we cannot allow someone to take advantage of their fate in such a harmful way, perpetrate these criminal acts and get away with them. The Organization watches over and protects the good of luck in the world.

    Alexander considered the situation for long seconds. Then he asked:

    Why would I take the case, Miss Myers?

    Selena smiled with some malice and replied:

    For the reward.

    Which is?

    Apart from a sufficiently generous sum of money to live a good season in peace, also something that you yearn for above anything else.

    What?

    Your identity.

    ––––––––

    6

    Later, Alexander left that office, located on the fifth floor of the Heptagon Organization headquarters, stunned by everything that had just happened and the discoveries he had made. He carried the saffron case dossier with him.

    He was walking so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't realize he wasn't going in the right direction. It took him a while to hear the male voice calling behind him:

    Alexander Berkel.

    He turned around. A few steps away, he saw a man in his sixties. Tall in stature, his figure was broad and strong, though not obese. His thick hair was gray, and his clean-shaven face already showed some nevertheless elegant lines. He wore discreet-rimmed glasses, behind which were eyes with a grayish iris. He wore a simple but distinguished suit. His smiling gesture seemed friendly.

    The gray-haired man walked up to him and extended his hand as he introduced himself:

    My name is Ismael Wagner. I am the Director-General of the Organization.

    Alexander looked at the hand Ismael held out to him. He had called him by his name, so clearly knew who he was, so Alexander did not understand why he had offered his hand. People who knew him tended not to take that chance. Alexander hesitated how to respond. However, he thought that if he was the CEO of an organization whose raison d'être was Luck, he should know what he was doing. So Alexander shook his hand.

    Nice to meet you, he nodded politely.

    After the squeeze, Ismael pointed to a door that was a few meters from them. He turned to him and said:

    Come on, follow me. I'll show you the way back. This building can be a bit of a maze if you don't know it, in many ways.

    Through that door, they reached the landing of the stairs that connected the floors of the building. They started to go down.

    I am aware of the job you have been offered, Ismael said. If you accept the offer, he added, glancing at the maroon dossier Alexander was carrying, I must beg you to exercise extreme caution and not forget the first dogma of Luck.

    I don't believe in those superstitions, said Alexander, somewhat grimly, continuing down the stairs.

    You don't? Ismael replied. They had reached another landing, around the third floor. Ismael stopped and looked at Alexander serenely. But still, I suspect you know the saying. And he recited: Luck is neither created nor destroyed. For that is his inviolable nature, no other. Never forget that, Alexander.

    They went through a door and found themselves on the landing of another staircase, in the corner of what must have been the inner courtyard that shed light into the room in which Selena had been about to take the blood sample. It was four or five stories high. The ceiling had several translucent glass skylights, through which the evening light filtered. He could see the windows with blinds in the interior rooms of the building. The decoration was reminiscent of the first lobby, with white, ivory tones and a classic style. They were at the top of a flight of stairs. Other equal sections ran irregularly along the square-plan patio walls and communicated it with the different floors. With different lengths and origins, the arrangement of so many stairs reminded Alexander of Escher's famous painting.

    Down in the center of the courtyard, raised on a pedestal, was a beautiful sculpture. Made of marble, almost three meters high, it represented the Roman goddess Fortune. Beside her, Alexander saw a group of people talking.

    Ismael stopped there and spoke to Alexander:

    Come down here. It will not be difficult for you to find an exit. And don't forget, don't deny your destiny. Luck rules the world, he concluded thoughtfully.

    While saying those words, Alexander got the impression that Ismael was eyeing the crowd of people below. He looked in that direction and thought he saw how the CEO's gaze had met for a moment with that of one of the members of that group, a man with a refined suit and combed hair that was familiar to him, although, at that time, he couldn't make out who it was.

    Ismael left the way they had come. Alexander descended a straight staircase to the base of the inner courtyard. He looked around and managed to glimpse a barely distinguishable white door in a corner. He started to cross the courtyard when, to his amazement, the man who had earlier caught his attention separated from the group and addressed him.

    At that moment, Alexander realized who this man with the expensive suit and neat haircut was. It was Ricardo Varone, someone whose face everyone in Fortune City recognized: he was the mayor. He would be in his fifties.

    He was the image of a charismatic and photogenic politician, although Alexander was too lacking in such qualities to care. Neither the artificial tan of his complexion nor the gleaming white of his teeth convinced him.

    Alexander Berkel, said the mayor, who approached him with a stern gesture.

    Yes, good afternoon, he hesitated. He was not used to dealing with the city's highest personalities, even less so that they knew his full name. He was also

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