Victor Dardanus leaned back in his overstuffed black leather chair and puffed on a Cuban cigar. From his window he could see the Eiffel Tower shimmer like a diamond-studded gown. ‘It must be midnight,’ he said out loud to no one. The sumptuous room was nearly dark except for the street light that drifted through the grand French windows.
Victor took another short puff and tugged at his silk blue dinner jacket. He patted his rotund belly and felt his girth beneath the custom-made suit. Violin music drifted through the corridor and he could just make out his wife’s high-pitched laughter. He smiled and murmured, ‘Fifty years of marriage and she still lights up my life.’
He scanned the mahogany walls filled with awards and gifts from African presidents. Even in the dim light his eyes fell upon his most prized medal, the Order of St. Gregory the Great, a knighthood bestowed upon a Roman Catholic in recognition of personal service to the Pope and Church. He was addicted to this moment of shooting pleasure that surged though his veins and filled him with giddy delight.
Fifty years ago, he was a messenger boy. The eldest of seven, he was forced to support his impoverished immigrant parents. It was not easy competing for shillings with the other poor Africans. He came home roughed up and bullied. But no one could intimidate Victor now. The side of his mouth curled in sly satisfaction. He was worth billions and more powerful than anyone would ever know.
The intoxicating smoky scent encircled his head and as if in a trance, his fat fingers searched for the crucifix hidden beneath his shirt. His talisman, his protection to ward off evil, and though it was a sin, he believed fervently that it brought him luck.
Music and laughter wafted through the door he had left slightly ajar. He should join his guests but the satisfaction of being alone was luscious. “Why not enjoy? You deserve it,” he said decisively. It had been a good day. The company’s stock was rising, the merger had been successful, and he had signed the agreement to purchase a hotel chain, even the scheme to get his son off of drugs had been successful. By this time next year, his billions would double maybe triple. Next year Victor Dardanus would be a household name!
Worming its way into his consciousness was a mournful ring that became more and more insistent. Rudely aroused from the delicious daydreams, he grappled for the telephone receiver. “Odd, no one uses a landline these days,” he growled. Then, he remembered that he was expecting a call from the head of state security.
“Monsieur président, we lost him! He is no longer in our custody,” the official stuttered. “Everything was going as planned, everyone had received their gifts and knew what to do. But he disappeared!”
Victor’s face puffed up like a balloon. “You imbeciles! You idiots!” he bellowed.
“Monsieur, monsieur, we arrested him and brought him to the station but somehow, he left and no one saw him.’ Victor tore open his shirt and gripped his crucifix. He took a deep breath, “Tell me from the beginning,” he said coldly and forcefully.
In a low and hesitant voice, the official began, “We arrested him this morning immediately when he disembarked from the airplane. We questioned him and arrested him for suspicion of trafficking drugs. We brought him to the station just as we planned, to threaten and scare him. We think he was tipped off. He didn’t seem frightened or in a hurry to call anyone.”
‘When was this?” demanded Victor.
‘We didn’t want to tell you because we thought we would find ……”
“Answer my question, when?”
“Monsieur, umm, two days ago. He’s disappeared without a trace.
Victor slammed down the receiver and threw the phone across the room. “Imbeciles!” His mind raced, his fingers searched for the contact numbers … director-general of the police, armed forces, sécurité extérieure…
“Two days, and not a word. My son, my son, someone has kidnapped my son!” he cried out in pain. “They will demand a huge ransom!”
At that exact moment he was acutely aware of an eerie hush that came over the house. The music and laughter from the downstairs lounge ceased. Sweat broke out across his nose and he raced to his desk, fumbled with the key and opened a lower drawer to pull out a gun.
The agony of naked reality made him woozy and he struggled for sanity. He heard a scream and then muffled footsteps swiftly ascending the staircase. He held his gun level toward the door, his finger on the trigger. In that second, he hesitated. The door swung open and haloed by light from the hallway, stood his son. Dressed in a silk blue dinner jacket, his shirt opened to show black, curly hair on his youthful chest.
Victor saw himself.
He slid the gun on desktop and reached out to embrace his son. Victor saw the boy’s pitiful smile and immediately felt annoyed. His son was pathetically weak and he hated weakness. The boy began to cry. He reached out for Victor just like a child. It made him sick to his stomach.
They came face to face. Victor’s nostrils flared and he raised his fist as his son’s hand wrapped around Victor’s neck. With a violent tug, his son wrenched the crucifix from his father’s neck and grabbed the gun from the desk. He held it hard against his father’s temple. Rage invaded every part of Victor’s body and he lunged for the talisman. His son dangled the crucifix above his father’s head, laughing hysterically.
A searing sound shot through Victor’s ears. He stumbled backwards holding his head unable to see. As he fell to the floor, a flicker of gold cut through his vision. “My cross!” he wailed. Victor’s fingers stretched for the crucifix clutching at the air; his arm fell with a thud against a dark form. He turned his head and saw the crucifix laying across his son’s dead brown eyes.
Any resemblance of characters or story to real events is purely coincidental. All rights reserved by Lesley Lababidi. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.