The fat man exited the car and took a hard step up to the sidewalk. He was breathing heavily; the excessive weight was making life difficult, but it wasn’t what would kill him: not in the end. Mist covered the streets in a hazy glow. Each step was a new adventure in pain. Sweat formed in beads on his forehead as he climbed the flagstone to the main entrance of Saint Anthony’s Church. He grasped the metal handrail and shot a quick look at his watch: the watch that Father Francis had given him: 2:00 am. Normally, the old church would not be open for any business at this hour but the good Father Francis O’neal would never turn away his favorite parishioner; his only son.
Back in seminary, Francis William O’neal was on the fast track. He had a plan: Bishop in ten years with an appointment to the Vatican, then Cardinal before 50. That would’ve been an impressive accomplishment had it not been for the prostitute he visited in Rome. Ashamed, he sought comfort in his God. His fast track to the Vatican was gone. He told no one of his indiscretion and settled on an old church on the north side of Chicago. Two years later; on a vacation to Rome, he was surprised with a gift: a son. Still a prostitute and a drug addict; the mother wanted nothing to do with the child. Francis felt a slight amount of his shame melt away as he secreted the boy back to the states to live in obscurity with his sister’s family.
30 years later, Francis’s son entered his father’s parish for the last time: wheezing and coughing; barely able to keep himself upright. He was greeted at the heavy wooden door by the priest who worriedly ushered him inside. The two embraced.
“Timothy my boy, what’s happened to you?”
The priest looked on as his son squeezed his hefty frame into a pew to rest. His cheeks were flush and he was unable to get hold of his breathing. Retrieving a cold towel from a nearby restroom, Francis wiped the sweat from his son’s face.
“I’m sorry Papa,” he said. “I had nowhere else to go.”
“No need. My door is always open for you. You know that.”
“Papa…” He took a deep breath and reached into the breast pocket of his coat. “I don’t have much time. Where is sister Lucille?”
“Gone home; long ago. What’s this about, Tim?”
Timothy O’neal straightened his 400 pound frame as best he could. From the pocket he pulled out a slip of paper and held it tight in his hands.
“Would you like something to eat?”
“No thank you Papa. Listen,”
“Perhaps a cup of tea then or maybe -”
“Dad listen to me!” Timothy yelled. “I’m dying Papa. I don’t have much time left and I’m not sure how far behind me they are so you need to be quiet and listen.”
“Are you sick?” The priest asked. “Who’s behind you?”
Francis listened as his one and only son told him a story so incredible that it was not to be believed. Every five minutes Timothy looked up at the clock then back at the main entrance that he had his father bolt shut. His breathing became more and more labored and he tasted something metallic rising in his throat. It was beginning.
“How can you believe such nonsense Timothy? Certainly this is a joke. How can this be true?”
“It’s true Papa. I’ve seen it myself.”
There was a bang on the front door and Timothy struggled out of the pew. He loosened his tie and limped towards the rectory. He knew of a secret exit out the back that many were unaware of.
“Papa, please. Hide that. Put it somewhere safe. I have to go. If they find me here they will kill you.” Francis stood frozen at the words of his beloved son. Another bang and the door burst open. Timothy ran back to save his father but he was too late. He looked on as the red blossom on his fathers chest spread over his nightshirt. A tall man dressed entirely in black stood over the priest. Timothy heard the killer speak in muffled Latin. He kneeled down and blessed him. Timothy could not believe his eyes. The man who had just shot and killed his father was delivering the last rites. Timothy crossed himself and looked up at the man with the gun.
“What did you tell him, fat boy?” The man spoke through a neoprene mask. Timothy couldn’t answer. “It matters not. Your priest is dead, and soon you will be too.” The man pressed the muzzle of the gun to the priests forehead and fired. He stood, crossed himself, and strolled right out the front door like having a walk through a flower garden.
The Priest’s son fell to his knees. It was true, he had had nowhere else to go. But now his father was dead, and God would never forgive him for putting one of his own in danger. But hadn’t he sacrificed enough to bring him this information? He felt the bitterness rise in his throat and he knew that he hadn’t much time left. With his strength fading, he pulled out his phone and created a text message. He clicked the send button then dropped to the floor. The poison he unknowingly drank hours before had done it’s job.
I arrived at St. Martin’s Princess Julianna National Airport at an unheard of 9:22 am. According to Davis, my loyal assistant and armchair private investigator, I was to meet a man named Peter Worth. Allegedly, this Peter fellow had information for me regarding my wife. Unaccustomed as I was to shady deals and the cloak & dagger comings and goings of the underworld; I reluctantly agreed and was duly provided with a photograph of Peter and told by my man, Davis to wait. So wait I did. I was apparently very good at it. So good in fact that I rather enjoyed the time that I was bidding. I acquired a villa in Orange Grove with a breathtaking view of the Caribbean. My father would’ve considered it rather pricey but it was of no matter to me. If I was to wait then I would wait in the manner that I’ve come accustomed to: style and comfort.
I was informed that contact would be made within a week of my arrival, when Mr. Worth felt safe enough to approach me. Wouldn’t you know it; one week turned into three. Weeks turned into months and I found myself in the middle of the summer tourist season. Davis assured me that Peter Worth was on the island and that it was possible he knew the whereabouts of my estranged wife, Maggie. I gave in to my situation with a deep resolute sigh. I had become settled in my new surroundings. It was rather simple to be so distracted and complacent in such a beautiful setting.
At one of the many charming duty-free establishments, I purchased a handsome bicycle and chose to forgo the rental sedan. Among the many other purchases that day was a smart pair of high-definition binoculars. I wished to view the entire island; either from the bicycle or from the terrace at Villa Ronaldo.
In St. Martin, there is a small café; inland off Browers Road, which many of the tourists are unaware of. I came across it some time ago on a bike trip through the village: a charming little charcuterie with window boxes and fresh table linens. I was greeted with the widest smile from the prettiest girl I had ever seen. Her hair was the darkest shade of caramel, with eyes surprisingly blue. The grape colored apron that adorned her graceful waist was stained with powdered sugar, but her smile required no respite from the morning’s sugary offerings. It was given freely; and it soon came to be mine, or that I had hoped for such. When she spoke, her subtly infused French accent quickened my pulse.
Every morning since, I would sit on the terrace overlooking the mysterious Caribbean and drink cup after cup of the worst tasting coffee imaginable: a meager sacrifice to be worthy of her audience. I would have drunk a tripe milkshake for the mere witness of her smile.
The morning prior to yesterday was no different. I paid for my mug of sludge, took my usual seat in the warmth of the morning sun and waited for my daily smile. On this particular day however, I received a bonus for my trouble: a note; in the form of a torn piece of notebook paper fastened to my cup with clear adhesive tape. I grinned childishly, surely it was her phone number, or at the very least the number of a local medicine man that was sure to find success in restoring my taste buds.
When I opened the correspondence, I was shocked; shocked to find nothing that I had hoped for and shocked to find everything that I hadn’t.
Monsieur, aidez -moi s’il vous plaît. Ils vont me tuer.
Mister, please help me. They’re going to kill me.
I was uncertain of what to do with this knowledge. Perhaps this was a situation best suited for the Dirty Harry type. I strolled in to the shop and perused the menu; I was in fact, famished. Whether I was to save the young lady’s life or not, I hadn’t planned on doing it on an empty stomach. There was a sudden vibration emanating from the pocket of my cargo shorts; my cell phone. It was Davis. Only a week later then he had promised to call. I swiped the screen and answered – hoping not to cause the poor girl any unwarranted trouble. As I spoke, she listened, all the while pretending to wipe down the front counter. I made a quick assessment and saw no one threatening her.
“Davis, where on earth have you been?” The voice that answered was not Davis. In fact it didn’t even sound human. It was distorted and extraordinarily out of sorts. Clearly this was meant to disguise the caller’s identity. What the caller – this Davis imposter said to me sent an icy chill up my spine.
“Mr. Campbell.” It was not a question. “Do you see the young girl behind the counter.”
I stood up. Whoever this was, they could see into the café. They could see me. Frantically I searched the establishent’s ceiling for a camera but found none.
“Come now,” still holding out that it could all be a joke on my behalf. “Who is this?”
“Answer the question Mr. Campbell.”
“Yes, of course I see the girl. Who the damn hell is this?” I watched the girl as she continued to wipe down the counter tops.
“In a few moments Mr. Campbell, she will lead you out of the café where you will get in her car and take her to your villa. Once inside, she will provide you with the information you seek about your wife. What you must do next is very important. Do you understand Mr. Campbell?”
“Yes.” It was almost a whisper.
“Under the left pillow of your bed is a gun.”
“No there isn’t.”
“There is now.”
I sat back down and raised the cup of cold mud to my lips in an unsuccessful attempt to appear nonchalant. My palms were sweaty. My face flushed. And I could feel my heart race. Had I become so complacent that I let my guard down? I had been waiting for him but he had been watching me all along.
“Who is this, please?” There was a short silence then an intake of air.
“Who I am is not important Mr. Campbell but if you’d like, you may refer to me as Peter Worth.”
“Where’s Maggie?” I screamed. “What have you done with my wife?”
“I will continue Mr. Campbell. As I have said; once you have the information, you are to take the gun and shoot her: twice in the head if you please Mr. Campbell. There can be no loose ends I’m afraid. Once the girl is dead, place the money under the nightstand and leave. You will then be contacted with further instructions”
The café began to spin as if held to some axis. I knew not if I were brave enough to do this. But Maggie – I missed my wife. It had been four long years since she disappeared. I would do anything to have her back. Wouldn’t I? I glared at the lovely girl behind the counter; requesting assistance. Nervously, she glanced behind her once, then again. Certain that she wasn’t being watched she stepped lively out and lead me into the warm afternoon sun. In just a matter of moments, my life had once again changed.
The girl, whose name I had yet to learn, led me by my arm and I was forced to leave my bicycle there at the café. Once in her car I provided directions to Villa Ronaldo. There was an explosion and the car swerved – nearly busting through the guardrail protecting would-be drivers from the rocky cliff and the inevitable doom of the ocean.
“Friends of yours?” I asked.
“Who is he?”
“It doesn’t matter right now.” She explained. “I have to get off the island.”
“Before we do anything we’re going to the Villa to sort this mess out.”
Of course she protested but it was no use. She needed my help. And I needed whatever information she had about Maggie. Not quite an hour ago I would’ve defiled this young creature with my body. Now I was being made to end her life. Perhaps I could do both.
At the front gate, I punched in the security code and we were inside Villa Ronaldo. I felt safe, and yet she appeared anxious. How could such a lovely young woman get caught up in such a thing as kidnapping? I would learn soon enough wouldn’t I?
The drive through the front courtyard was short, only a half mile – adorned with the finest landscaping available. At the door, she attempted to drive away but I was anticipating such a lame move.
“Why are we here?” She asked.
“I told you, we need to sort things out.”
I opened the front door and noticed that she was instantly amazed at the beauty of my home away from home.
“Can I get you anything? Tea, coffee?”
“No thank you?” She stepped into the kitchen.
“Do you need to clean up?” She was still wrapped in the grape apron. She shook her head and I proceeded to pour myself a drink; whiskey I believe. After a long pull, I let the smooth malt warm my throat then set the tumbler down and waited.