Image Courtesy of Henry Marlon. Shared via a Creative Commons license.
“Can I offer you anything else, Ms. De Souza?”
“No thank you, Paula. How much longer will he be?”
“Ummm, he say he coming now, he just now finishing up.”
Liar. Celeste watched the housekeeper retreat from the balcony. There was no use fretting. Housekeeper and guest both knew that Raul would appear whenever he was ready. Not a moment before. If Daddy was still alive, she would not have had to tolerate this rudeness. When she was growing up, people went out of their way not to offend them. She first discovered this when she was about seven, when Stephanie refused to invite her to her birthday party.
She thought they were friends. It was bad enough that she did not invite her, but to call Daddy a criminal — that was just too much.
“What exactly did she say?”
She remembered Mummy coaxing her to blow her nose into a soft white towel. Her snat came first followed by Stephanie’s words.
“She said that her Mummy said that Daddy is a criminal who belong in jail.”
Looking at her mother as they sat on her purple bedspread, Celeste waited. Waited for her to call Mrs. Rawlins and buff her, for her to reassure her that Daddy would not go to jail. Instead she said: “Some people like to talk about things they know nothing about. You still want to go to this party?”
Of course she did.
“I will take care of it. Just don’t tell your father what happened: It would upset him.”
A few days later Stephanie invited her to the party. When Celeste arrived Mrs. Rawlins fussed over her so much that she felt that it was her birthday instead. Yes, being a de Souza made life easier. Especially in this country where all that mattered wasn’t who you knew but who knew you.
Raul, however, did not care about that. Almost half an hour had passed after her arrival and here she was, still waiting for him to join her for their meeting. A small but forceful reminder that she was now under obligation. That was all being a de Souza meant to the Trujillo Cartel.
She continued sipping from the glass of Perrier. Fat droplets of water rolled off the glass landing on the white pantsuit that she had selected for the meeting. She crossed her legs to hide the watermark.
Raul emerged from the house barefoot, dressed in a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He sauntered towards her with his arms extended, but she did not rise to meet his embrace. Nevertheless, she was enveloped by the scent of sandalwood when he bent to kiss her on the cheek. No apologies for keeping her waiting. There was no need for him to be polite.
He settled himself across from her. He looked relaxed. This would be a cordial chat. He always discussed business in roundabout way. His words always possessed subtle subtext. As he began speaking, Celeste switched on her mental subtitles.
“You remembered we expecting a shipment Friday.”
“Yes, everything is arranged. I will be handling the clearance personally.”
(We expect no less from you.)
“What about the plans for the regional expansion?”
“We’re still working on some minor logistics. I’m meeting with my team tomorrow, but so far everything looks promising.”
“Is there is anything we can do to help speed up the process?”
(If there is anything standing in our way, let me know so I can deal with it.)
“No, everything is under control.”
(Because we find you’re taking too long and we may be forced to take our business elsewhere.)
“Yes, Raul. Everything is in place.”
“Good, good. Any luck with Garcia?”
(Just checking to see where your focus lies)
“Errol’s taking care of that.”
“Nice. Well, Paula has prepared her famous paella. Would you stay for lunch?”
“No, Raul. I’m sorry, but I really ought to be getting back to the office.” She hoped he understood her subtext: that he had wasted enough of her time.
Celeste felt her other cell phone vibrate against her hip. She knew who was calling. Only one person had this number. After shutting the office door behind her, she took the call. Marcia, her secretary, was always trying to eavesdrop.
She walked to the window and listened without interrupting. As he relayed the news, she surveyed the uneven stacks of ochre containers along the port. The water looked dead. Not the Photoshopped azure ripples seen on the official tourist websites, but an expanse of murky stillness. The glass shielded her from the stench of fermented rot, which rose from the stagnant waters. It welcomed visitors and natives to the façade of high-rise development of the capital city; her city, Port of Spain.
“Ok. Pick me up at half eight.”
“Celeste, girl, this don’t make no sense. Let the men do it. Or I could do it. Why you want to this eh? What is your real reason?”
“The same reason Garcia had when he killed Adam.”
“And what reason is that?”
“You could ask him before I shoot him tonight.”
Chuckling, he continued: “Miss lady, this is not the same as shooting a piece of paper at the range you know. I see big men freeze when is time to pull the trigger.” She had listened to several versions of the same speech for months. Maybe this would be last time she would have to hear it.
“I had promised to help you when you did say you wanted to take over the business. And I did, though I knew full well that your father didn’t want this for you.”
“You acting as if we had a choice, Errol. If I didn’t take over we would have both been dead or living like some rats looking over our shoulder for the rest of our lives. Garcia wanted to wipe us out. He didn’t delegate when he kill Adam on the Avenue, so I would deal with him myself.”
There was no rebuttal. She ended the call. From the decanter on side board, she poured herself a drink. The rum quelled the chill in her stomach — a chill reminiscent of rain-fly wings brushing against her skin. Where did they find him? They were hunting him for so long. Did he put up a fight? Errol had a point: There was really no need for her to kill him herself. But she wanted to.
There was work to do. She settled herself behind her father’s desk, her favourite hiding place when she was a little girl. She really ought to redecorate, make the space her own. The cream coloured walls, accented by dark wood furnishings and leather seats, were probably Mummy’s idea of what her husband’s office should look like. She must have spent hours choosing the Persian rug. Daddy’s picture in the foyer should be taken down as well. It felt like a good idea at the time. After all, he was the founder of the company. But now it was sending the wrong message. The picture was the same one used in the full page obituary:
“Celebrating the life of Gerard De Souza. 1942 – 2013.” CEO of the De Souza Group of Companies, Founder of the De Souza Trust for Underprivileged Children and the De Souza Foundation for the Creative Arts. Of course, a few details were omitted. Drug Lord, Money Launderer, Crime Boss. Husband of Marie De Souza (Deceased,) Father of Celeste De Souza and Adam De Souza (Deceased). Adam did not get an obituary. Instead he got a front-page headline: “Son of Business Magnate Gunned Down.”
Adam had returned after four years abroad. Neither of them noticed that a car had slowed down next to them as they walked down Ariapita Avenue after dinner that night. She only noticed the gun pointing out of the back window after the first shot rang out. He slumped to the ground after the second. The third pierced her right arm. To this day that was all she remembered. There was a knock on the door and Stephen entered. She forgot that he had asked to see her this afternoon.
“Have a seat.”
He folded himself into the leather seat which deflated noisily under his weight. She pretended to be focused on the reports before her. After a few moments she faced him. She was irritated by the way his bald round head seemed to rest unsupported on his hunched shoulders. He was constantly peering over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. She straightened her back and awaited his assault.
“I see that we are still discussing the plans to expand regionally at tomorrow’s meeting. I have to remind you that I believe that such a move is not advisable given the group’s current financial position.”
“Yes, Stephen, I am well aware of your thoughts on the matter. You stated them quite clearly in your earlier report.”
“Your father would have agreed.”
“Well, Stephen, this time it took you less than a minute to bring up my father. You must be in hurry today.”
He held her gaze over the desk. The deposed heir apparent versus the self-appointed queen. She watched him as he tried to control the bitterness spreading across his face. It was the same look he had when she had showed him the pictures with the male prostitute. That day she explained how she looked forward to his full support, now that she was company head. Caged animals can be dangerous. She hoped she wouldn’t have to take up Raul’s offer and have him put down. Her hands could only hold so much blood.
“I’m just doing my duty towards you and your father’s legacy”
“And I appreciate that. We will discuss it further at tomorrow’s meeting.”
“No, there would be no discussion: I’m sure you just intended to crack your whip and make everybody fall in line.”
She allowed his outburst to hang in the air between them.
“Stephen, as CEO, of course I expect my wishes to be carried out. If this is a problem you may want to start considering your options.” It was a gentle reminder. He rose and Celeste watched the chair slowly return to its original state as he left the office without uttering another word. She then reached for the phone.
“Marcia, get Brian on the line.” She had to remind him to pick up the girls from school.
Celeste made her way to the black SUV parked on the curb. As she opened the door Errol flicked his half-finished cigarette out of the window, the orange tip fading into the asphalt.
“Those things will kill you.”
“I hope so.”
The glow from the streetlight highlighted the lines the years had etched into his dark face. He stopped dyeing his hair, so a salt-and-pepper halo now framed his face. Her father had depended on him in all matters, just as she did now.
“So you doing this.”
“Yes Errol, everything already in motion, the people waiting on us, and you done late already. It is quarter past nine. We cannot cancel now.” He started the car and pulled into the traffic heading east on Wrightson Road. After a few minutes his cell phone rang.
“Ok, we almost reach” was his only contribution to the conversation.
As they headed east along the highway, Celeste tried to distract herself by planning for the week ahead. So it’s half past nine now. This should take about an hour and a half, so I should be home a little after eleven. Brian might still be up. The girls should be sleeping. Don’t forget that the babysitter had called to say she had an appointment Thursday, so I would have to pick them up from preschool. She took out her phone to set a reminder. Thursday. Daddy died on a Thursday.
Errol lowered the headlights as he turned off the main road and onto a gravel path between the canes. They were now in Wallerfield. Her hand moved to the place where she was shot. A tattoo of her brother’s name now covered the scar. As the vehicle came to halt, Celeste looked out the window into the dimly lit darkness.
“Now listen to me. I have Sheldon as back-up. You wouldn’t see him, but he here in case things go sour. These fellas we meeting are freelancers: They don’t owe us any allegiance.”
“We would have to walk a bit.”
“You could’ve told me that before; I would’ve brought flats.”
She steupsed as she climbed out of the SUV, trying to maintain her balance on the loose stones.
“Don’t worry: is not too far ahead.”
“All right, all right.”
Celeste took her black nine-millimetre pistol from her handbag. She deftly turned off the safety and slid a bullet into the chamber with a satisfying click. She was ready to kill a man. She watched Errol take a duffel bag from the back seat and put it over his shoulder. He closed the door but left the engine running. Drawing his gun he checked the magazine and then led the way forward.
She gripped the gun as she fell in step behind him, trying to match her breathing to his even gait. Didn’t they say that Garcia was impossible to bring down? Yet here she was tramping to his execution. Ahead she saw the shadowy outline of two men standing next to the side of the abandoned warehouse. But as she approached her stomach clenched with worry when she did not see a third figure.
“Where Garcia?” she asked when they got closer.
“Dead.” came the reply from the one of the men
“What you mean dead?” she shouted.
Errol raised his hand to calm her. He continued: “When you called you said you had him alive.”
“So you is de Souza daughter,” he continued when she did not reply. “Well he dead now. He did try to make a run for it. We had no choice, we had to shoot him right here or he woulda get away. But the main thing is that he dead. We sorry about the lil’ inconvenience, so we willing to shave a five grand from the price.”
“Where is the body?”
“Look it across there.”
A shrouded figure was lying on the ground. By the time she got there Errol had already pulled the sheet away and shone his flashlight over the face of the dead man. It was Garcia, dead, with a large wound at the side of his neck where his blood had already started to congeal.
Celeste looked down at the body. The anticipated feelings of triumph and relief did not come.
“Where the rest of blood,” her voice carried a tinge of defeat.
“If you shoot him here, on this spot, there should be a pool of blood. Not so? Half the man neck gone.”
She almost missed the split second glance between the two men. Errol remained quiet as he lit another cigarette. They really thought she wouldn’t notice.
“Burn the body. Errol make sure they do it properly. The money is in the bag.” She began to walk away; Brian might still be up by the time she got home.
It was not yet midnight when Celeste entered her home in Cascade. She placed the keys on the table in the hallway and continued towards the living room. Brian was sprawled on the couch asleep with the TV on for company. She sat on the armrest and watched his slight paunch rise and fall with each breath. She always envied his ability to sleep without worry. He stirred when she turned off the TV.
“Aye, you home. You get through with everything?”
Celeste was startled for a moment until she remembered that she had told him that she was working late on a special project.
“Yes, I did. All done. How are the twins?”
“Sleeping. They wanted to wait up for you so I had to bribe them to go to bed. They have your head for business already.”
He did not notice her hollow laughter, the effort it took from her to listen as he talked about his day. She wondered if she could tell him about what she was really doing all those late nights. She was certain that he would take the girls and leave.
“Come, you’re not listening to me; you’re tired,” he said, and she gratefully allowed herself to be led upstairs to their bedroom.
H. K. Williams is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago. In 2014 she was mentored by Earl Lovelace as an apprentice of the Mentoring with the Masters Programme, which was facilitated by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. After successfully completing the programme she was invited by Monique Roffey to join her writers’ lab in Belmont, where she is currently working on producing a collection of short stories. Her story “Election Night Fever” was featured in Voicing our Vision, a short-story anthology published by the Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago in 2013. She is currently looking forward to the publication of her short story “Cascadura” in New World, Old Ways an upcoming Peekash anthology of Speculative Fiction later this year.