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19


It was a beautiful morning on a beautiful island in paradise. It was still early and only relatively hot so I reconsidered my previous opinion and upgraded the status of Tutuila back to heavenly! I was out on my balcony on the third floor with a cup of coffee in my hand, welcoming the rising sun, and enjoying the fresh ocean air.

It’s weird how people tend to believe that everything changes in their life if they simply change their residence. I felt as if I were starting a new life here with all my mistakes left in the dismal past. I was a new Murphy—a positive one, full of energy, and willing to think before acting; rather than acting before thinking as I used to do back in Greenland.

I took a long sip of my coffee and dreamily looked around, happy and full of thrilling new emotions. The ocean waves were splashing not far away from my hotel and the noise of the airport couldn’t be heard on this side of the building. There was a notable laziness in the air and nobody was hurrying. There was no rush or heavy traffic, and I could hear the birds singing, which felt unwonted to me. Indigenous people were sitting on the benches and idling just like tourists. Some of them clearly couldn’t make both ends meet and they were miserable-looking, but no one worried about such things here. In my motherland, a person would have been stuck at home—neurotic and paranoid—if they were jobless and they wouldn’t even dare call their friends because of the feeling of being a loser. Here, it was obviously a blessing to have nothing to do and no one cared about the future.

I put the cup on the balcony’s ledge and looked down at the street. The area in front of my hotel was peaceful and dormant and there was a slight smell of urine, mixed with the usual sweetness of the tropical air. I had detected the weird “odor” of the town the previous day at the airport, and at first, I had thought it was some particular toilet but weirdly enough the smell didn’t vary from place to place. In the end, I had to presume they had general issues with toilets here on the island. It was as if all of Pago Pago was soaked in it! Nevertheless, the smell wasn’t that obtrusive and it didn’t bother me much. I was far away from Greenland and the Chinese and that was all that mattered!

Besides the weird smell, there was another interesting thing about this place, which I noticed soon. When I leaned over the balcony’s railing in order to absorb more of the sluggish atmosphere of the town, I saw a burning house not far away from me. It was a little way down the street, and just as it had happened at the airport, nobody was paying any attention to it. People seemed totally indifferent as if a burning house was nothing more to them than a singing bird in a tree. I looked at it for a while and eventually, I presumed they had fire issues on the island too. Just then, when I was nearly falling off the balcony for leaning too much, the telephone in my room unexpectedly rang. It was probably the guy from the reception desk because nobody else knew I was here, and I stood back up and went inside to answer it.

“Good morning, Mr. Mellrow! I hope you slept well in our lovely hotel!” A soft and pleasant girl’s voice came through the receiver—the guys on the reception had obviously switched this morning. “Could you please come down for a moment? There is a person in the lobby who wants to see you!”

“Who wants to see me?” I asked puzzled and foreboding suspicion immediately started to crawl up my spine.

“It’s Inspector Gzundis from the police. Please, come!”

The girl put down the phone.

I stayed still for a moment with the receiver still tightly pressed against my ear. I didn’t want to move, as if somehow this would protect me from further trouble. Then I suddenly felt the world collapsing around me. It was the end of all my hopes for a new life and leaving my mistakes in the dismal past! My first reaction was to jump down from the balcony and crawl with my broken legs all the way to the airport to take an airplane to the dark side of the Moon. The Moon was almost four hundred thousand kilometers away, however, and it wasn’t much of a plan. And besides, living in constant fear was not exactly an escape! Maybe, I just had to surrender instead and go straight to jail. At least, I’d have spared myself the struggle and would live a simpler life there without empty illusions.

A few moments later, completely devastated, I put down the receiver and looked around the room for one last time. It seemed so nice and quiet with the magnificent view to the ocean in the distance and the four palm trees in front of my balcony. I hadn’t even got to enjoy all this for a complete day! For a brief moment, the idea of running away grasped my mind again but then I went back to the simplicity of jail life. There was simply no point in hiding and I knew it. I sighed heavily and went to the door.

Outside in the corridor, I walked to the stairs and descended as slowly as possible, as if I had been sentenced to death. In the lobby, the receptionist met me with a happy smile on her face and I got the feeling she thought I had won the lottery! She was a beautiful Indian girl with long dark hair and black, shiny eyes. She was wearing a sari.

“Over there, Mr. Mellrow!” she waved a hand exuberantly. “Through the door!”

I turned my head sourly and looked at where she was pointing. There was a glass door on my left, and beyond it, after three small steps, I could see a large hall furnished with beige corner couches and small glass-topped tables in front of each. Along one of the walls, there were a counter and shelves with many bottles. The place was the lobby bar, which I had wanted but missed to visit when I arrived. I had hoped to try it on a far more pleasurable occasion but that was lost now. With a sinking heart, I walked toward the door and opened it, and then I stopped, confounded. The two hot chicks I had seen at the airport—the brunet and the blonde—were sitting patiently on one of the couches, their eyes fixed on me. I nervously looked around but there was no one else in the bar—not even a bartender.

“One of them has to be Inspector Gzundis then!” I thought with a weird sense of anticipation. I had suddenly started thinking that this island was truly heaven after all.

“Good morning, Mr. Mellrow! I’m inspector Gzundis; Peularia Gzundis.” The blonde stood up and held out her hand when I walked over to her. She was in her early thirties, not very tall, with soft features and clean, pale skin. Her bluish-gray eyes were thoughtful and piercing, and her lips—thin and resolute. She wore casual khaki trousers with a dark-blue flower-patterned blouse, which was slightly transparent. She looked beautiful.

I eagerly grabbed her hand. Her skin was silky but the handshake was firm; the scent of white orchid and kiwi gently touched my nostrils. Then I turned my head to her company.

“This is my assistant, Nereidi,” Gzundis introduced her.

The assistant was quite the opposite type. She was a tall and skinny girl—barely twenty, with a dreamy look on her face. She was an Indian but her eyes sparkled green and playful and her skin was fairly light. She wore a long yellow dress with patches of various pastel colors here and there. The fabric was very soft and delicate.

The girl was just looking at me; she said nothing.

“I would like to ask you a few questions, Mr. Mellrow, if you don’t mind,” Gzundis informed me after we sat down.

I rested on the corner segment of the couch to the right of them. “Shoot! I have nothing to hide!” I said, trying to sound cheerful, but because of my nervousness, my voice came out coarse and secretive like the tone of the Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge in the dark medieval ages.

“I would like to know the purpose of your trip down here?” Peularia shot her first question right away, intruding on my privacy without any discomfort—just like anyone else on this island. I kind of expected it.

“Well, it’s business!” I followed the pattern I had established at the airport.

“Which is?” she insisted.

I frowned and looked at her, mildly annoyed. The customs officer hadn’t done that!

“Look, Mr. Mellrow!” The inspector interrupted my answer and saved me the effort of coming up with a plausible lie quickly. “Just so you don’t think I’m being rude, I’m gonna tell you that I’m aware you’re a PI and you come from Greenland where you are considered to be a witness to a case of murder. I’m also aware you were not supposed to leave the country, but you did. I’d just like to know why!”

She was looking at me calmly, but her gaze was firm. Her eyes didn’t blink when they met mine.

“Well, in this case, you know more than I hoped you would.” I tried to match my tone to the serenity of her voice but it turned out to be harder than I thought. I wanted to buy some time but unfortunately, my voice was unstable and I couldn’t control it very well. “Who told you this?”

“So?” She didn’t take the bait.

“Well…you are…right to a point,” I went on and wondered what I was even trying to say. “I came to…clarify some side-aspects of the…case I’m working on.”

“Are they related to the murder case, these side-aspects?”

“Well, partly,” I mumbled, perfectly aware that I had no rights to commit any investigations here. “My case turned out to be too complicated and I believe the persons involved may have come here. I had to check it up, you know, so I could finish back in Greenland.”

Until that moment, Nereidi had just been sitting with her left leg crossed over her right one and her hands peacefully resting in her lap. All the while, she was looking dreamily at me with her head slightly tilted to the side like a little girl. Now, her right hand slowly moved and rested over Peularia’s left hand, grabbing her fingers. A moment later, the girl’s fingers started gently kneading those of her boss.

“Then it means you’ve come here to investigate the murder!” Miss Gzundis deduced from my loose explanation, while showing no reaction to what her assistant was doing.

“I came…to check up…if they had come here, just as I said,” I corrected her because I knew she wouldn’t be pleased to hear the real answer. “I didn’t mean to investigate anything; my permit’s not…valid here!”

I sharply stopped because I was a bit distracted. As I spoke, I tried to make sense of the situation without it being too obvious. My mind was full of suspicions and it was clear now that during my flight, I had been closely watched. Although I guessed the airport system in Greenland might be somehow connected to the main database of GBI, I doubted that down here, they had access to it. And yet, she knew! It all indicated that either the authorities in Greenland had contacted the local police or the latter had some other sources of information.

“You know, Miss Gzundis, I’d really like to ask you something. May I?” I rushed ahead of the inspector’s next question because this thought was not leaving me alone. Nereidi who had her playful eyes still on me, tilted her head to the other side, and she gave me a faint, barely noticeable smile as I said this. I saw it just out of the corner of my eye; she changed her expression for a very brief moment.

“Of course!” Peularia invited me gently.

“Please tell me who told you I was here? It’s important because I suspect I had been followed.”

Gzundis kept looking at me for a while and she affectionately squeezed her assistant’s fingers in her hand. “Our island is quite small, Mr. Mellrow,” she explained after that. “It’s not like Greenland, and sometimes you don’t even need to seek information here. Sometimes, it just comes to you.”

“No, I believe you but…I only arrived yesterday evening! And yet, you know everything! You even knew the hotel I’d checked into!”

The inspector smiled meaningfully and Nereidi’s eyes rapidly ping-ponged between Peularia and me in order to see our expressions. There was a notable air of muted adoration in her eyes when she looked at her boss. She was a really strange and quiet girl, and her reaction showed me clearly that she was not deaf—maybe she just couldn’t speak.

“To be honest, I was tipped about your coming,” Gzundis admitted after a short pause, and her words immediately confirmed my fears. “I received an anonymous phone call yesterday.”

“Anonymous?” I raised my eyebrows. The Indian’s eyes kept on dancing between us. “Do you always take anonymous phone calls seriously here?”

“Not always,” Peularia explained calmly. “Just in this case. They said a murder suspect was going to try to escape charges in Greenland. This is a serious felony and since this is the closest hotel to the airport and the possible first choice for a man who comes without prearranging, I just came to check it out. Wouldn’t an inspector in Greenland do the same thing in this situation?”

Gzundis’ assistant smiled and she slowly turned her head toward her boss, leaning it down. Her lips almost touched the inspector’s shoulder, but just a millimeter before the contact, she turned her head toward me instead and rested her cheek there. Then she nestled her slender body into Peularia’s side like a little kitty. The scent of white orchid and vanilla brushed my face again, just as it had at the airport.

“So you’re turning me in now?” I asked, almost embarrassed by the Indian’s intimate gesture.

“Turning you in for what?” Peularia asked. “Nobody has wanted me to do so and besides, if you ask me, your involvement in the murder case is dubious. No, I just wanna make sure you’re not going to make my day busy!”

“You see, I’m not here seeking trouble, Miss Gzundis,” I said thoughtfully, having a really hard time focusing on the conversation. Nereidi was still looking fixedly at me, as she kicked off her sandals, and slowly folded her right leg under her left thigh up on the sofa. The edge of her dress rode up, revealing her gorgeous legs and the dress itself showed no underwear hems. “I can see you have a good deal of them anyway!”

Peularia looked at me puzzled, still showing no reaction to her assistant’s naughty cuddling. The luck of reaction, however, meant she was accepting it and it was weird because I was watching them!

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, I have witnessed two explosions in less that twelve hours—one at the airport yesterday and one a little way down the street this morning. They were some houses and the second one is still burning I guess—you may have seen it on your way here!”

Gzundis’ face suddenly relaxed.

“Oh, someone must have been making mona again. Don’t worry about it! It happens all the time!”

Now, it was my turn to look puzzled.

“Mona is the local word for ammonia,” the inspector explained. “The indigenous people try to obtain it in numerous ways; most of them—dangerous and absurd. Greenspace’s to blame. They’re buying up the stuff and it galvanizes the poor men.”

“Buying up ammonia? But why?” I asked intrigued, suddenly remembering how Menelaus himself had started buying up chemical factories around the globe.

“How would I know this? It’s just their business. They have a facility on the island of Ofu and the entire region is crazy about it. Almost every household has some kind of installation but the process of producing is rarely successful. It often ends up with terrible explosions and smells terribly too, which you may have already noticed!”

Gzundis’ left hand unexpectedly moved behind her assistant’s back and she embraced her gently, with her fingers caressing the girl’s shoulder. The latter pressed her body still closer to Peularia’s and moved her other leg on the seat, folding it up beside her bottom and putting me in quite an awkward situation. Her intimate zone was right in front of my eyes now but I couldn’t look there because both the women had their eyes on me! The scene reminded me of how this entire story had started in the first place—back in my office in Greenland. At the same time, I desperately wanted to initiate a talk about the facility on Ofu but I didn’t know how to do it without appearing suspicious.

“So how long are you staying on Tutuila, Mr. Mellrow?” the inspector asked me after a second, giving me a reason to keep my eyes on her face. Her tone was calm and pacifying and I started to feel hopeful regarding her intentions.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” I answered and turned my body more to the left so I wouldn’t be tempted to look at Nereidi’s lap. “It won’t be for too long, I guess. I just need to check on these guys because I have a reason to believe they’ve come to hide here.”

“And what are you going to do when the checking is over?”

“Nothing. I’m going back to Greenland to close the case.”

“You mean the murder case?”

“No, I can’t close that. It’s police business!”

“So what are you going to close then?” Miss Gzundis’ eyes fixed searchingly on mine and they suddenly looked cold. With Nereidi’s head on her shoulder, it felt really weird.

“I don’t think you understand,” I cautiously explained. “My presence at the crime scene in Greenland was purely accidental. The murdered guys were not my case; I just got involved in it all while investigating something different. But then it happened, and now I think the people who were my case may have something to do with the crime. So I’m not investigating the murder per se but the possible connection of my clients to it. One of the murdered guys was very rich and he had started a huge business project on the island of Olosega—I’m sure you’ve heard of it!”

“It sounds to me as though you’re investigating the murder after all!” Gzundis said harshly and shook her head.

“No. I just wanna know if they had motives to commit the crime. It’d help me get out of the stupid situation I’ve gotten into back in Greenland because of this case. That’s all! Then I can close my case with them and leave everything to the police.”

“Because if you do intend to investigate a murder here, Mr. Mellrow,” the inspector ignored my explanation, looking coldly at me, “you should know you cannot do it over my head, which means by the way, you won’t do it ever! You can bring yourself a lot of trouble if you don’t abide. I hope you’re perfectly aware of this!”

Nereidi slowly raised her head and looked at Peularia with deep reverence. Her eyes were big and full of veneration. She smoothly stretched her neck and this time her lips lightly touched her boss’ neck. Then she drew back. The girl was literally moving in slow motion.

“I’m aware of that, Miss Gzundis,” I said, hypnotized.

The inspector kept studying me with her eyes, and all the while, her fingers were caressing Nereidi’s shoulder. Then she suddenly drew her hand back, preparing to stand up.

“Okay, Mr. Mellrow! I think that’s enough for now. If you think there’s anything you need to tell me during your stay here, or if you need help, please, don’t hesitate to call me.” She took a business card out of her purse and put it on the glass-topped table between us. I looked at it. “Any time!” she added.

Then she gave me her frugal smile and stood up, followed by Nereidi. They turned around and walked toward the door separate, but just before going out, the inspector reached out with her right arm and gently embraced her assistant again. I waited a few seconds and then followed them across the bar and the lobby. I went out on the street just in time to see their shining Ferrari picking up speed a little bit down the road. It zipped straight toward the burning house but turned in the intersection right before it.

I looked around, very confused. I hadn’t been questioned in such weird circumstances ever before. I literally didn’t know what to think about it. Yet, obviously, everything was weird here. It had been almost an hour since I first noticed the burning house and still no one cared about the accident. There were no fire trucks around, or police cars, or even a crowd of people! Since I felt encouraged by Inspector Gzundis’ reluctance to arrest me and I was also intrigued by the mona thing, I decided to take a walk to the house. After all, I was new on this island and maybe it was a good idea to mingle with local people and get to know their habits. It might prove useful in the future.

I slowly started down the street but meanwhile the temperature had risen significantly. Tutuila was quickly turning into hell again! Unlike earlier that morning, the weather was not walking friendly at all, and besides, the palm trees cast almost no shadows because it was noon. By the time I got to the house—about ten minutes later—I was already sorry about my decision. Then I walked to the fence and looked over, curious.

The house was a typical urban cottage with a concrete base and wooden structure above it. I couldn’t see any flames but dense clouds of smoke were coming out of the windows and in the small front yard, there was a black man sitting on the lawn. He looked disorientated with his face covered in soot. His hands were burnt. I cautiously asked him if he was okay but he looked at me so furiously that for a moment, I thought he had misunderstood my concern and taken it for a sexual claim on his mother! The few people who walked by didn’t pay any attention, and judging by their looks, I gathered it was quite useless to ask them to call a fire brigade or an ambulance.

I took out my cellphone and I had just started wondering how I could help the wretch, because he was obviously in shock, when I noticed a huge white limo slowly advancing toward us. It came from the direction of my hotel and I thought the guys inside might help me. They were obviously some bigshots and maybe they knew how to handle such a situation. In the next moment, I decisively stepped on the lane and vigorously waved my hands in the air. The limo slowed down and a quarter of a minute later, it pulled up at the curb a few meters ahead of me.

I hurriedly walked toward the driver’s door and since the vehicle was so long, it took me a good ten seconds to pass by the engine hood alone! When I reached there at last, two of the other doors on the same side suddenly flew open and three bearded guys in black suits stormed out, anxious to help me. They ran straight for me but to my surprise, grabbed me under my armpits instead, and started dragging me toward the limo. They treated me so roughly that I dropped my cellphone and when I tried to show them the wretch on the lawn and tell them he was the one who needed help, they showed me their positron guns and insisted that I was the one they needed. Then, before I knew it, they pushed me into the limo.

I looked around dazed when I found myself sitting on one of the two back seats of the car. Each of them was large enough to be a bed and in front of me—on the other seat—there was a man in a white suit who was looking at me. On my right, some eight-hundred-year-old yogi was irrevocably lost in a state of nirvana, sitting cross-legged with his eyes shut, and his skinny hands rested on his lap. He was entirely naked except for a pair of blue parachute-like shorts and a white turban with a peacock feather on the top of his head.

I slowly turned my eyes back to the man in the suit because I felt I could hardly start a conversation with this zombie. The man in the suit was a completely different persona. He was a tall Indian guy whose clothes, shoes, expensive watch on his left wrist, and emerald rings on both his middle fingers were probably worth half of Tutuila. He had his hair combed back and oiled and he wore sunglasses. There was a cold, sterile smile on his face.

“Hello, Mr. Mellrow!” he said with a notable British accent. His voice was soft and melodic. “Welcome to Tutuila!”

“Do I know you?” I asked him, irritated because I didn’t like the style of the man; particularly the way he invited people to talk to him!

“I doubt it,” he shook his head. “My name is Chandrakant Sengupta. I’d like to have a word with you if you don’t mind.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have minded if you had used a more conventional way of asking me!” I said. “I hate it when people point guns at me!”

“Oh, I’m sorry for that. Indeed! I was not quite sure if you’d agree!”

“Well, here I am even without my consent. What’s so urgent?” I almost hissed, because the presence of the mummy by my side was making me extremely nervous. I had the feeling he would burst any minute and snakes were going to come out of his body like in a horror movie!

“Nothing’s urgent, in fact,” the guy smiled again. “I’d just like to know the actual reason for your coming here, that’s all!”

I looked at him surprised. I had been on the island for only a day and two people had already asked me why I was here. I felt like some Bollywood star!

“The actual reason for my coming?” I said wearily. “Can’t I be just a tourist?”

“No, you can’t be just a tourist! I think you know you don’t look like one!” the Indian said seriously now.

“Well, I am!” I insisted.

The guy slowly leaned toward me and I saw my reflection swimming across his sunglasses. Then he said, in a very low and threatening tone, “I’m perfectly aware who you are, Mr. Mellrow, and I’m aware about everything you’ve been doing in Greenland. I don’t care about your business there but I need to know the true reason for you coming down here, and I’ll know it with or without your cooperation. Now, in order to cut this stupid conversation, I should tell you that a particular clan of the Chinese mafia wants you very badly and I could easily transfer your body to them. Believe me, I prefer not to but that depends entirely on you!”

For a moment, I stayed still and I was afraid even to breathe. His mentioning the Chinese mafia and my body in the same sentence, made me want to cry. When I had arrived here, I thought I was on a different planet, far enough away not to have to hear these words combined anymore; but I had been wrong. Clearly, whoever had tipped Miss Gzundis about my arrival had extended their helpful advising services to Mr. Sengupta too! I wondered who it might have been and my first assumption was Bobby Bjornson. She had worked here in the past and she probably knew many people around, especially Indians!

“You see, I wanted to check up on someone,” I said nervously because the guy was obviously not joking. I was in quite a tricky situation because I didn’t know anything about him or his knowledge about Menelaus’s murder. I could easily misstep while lying in such a situation!

“And that is?” Sengupta asked curtly.

“You wouldn’t know the man, I guess,” I replied vaguely and tried to avoid looking at him. The sunglasses were making me uneasy. “It’s not like he’s a resident actually.”

My new “friend” showed no reaction at first but it was more than obvious I was getting on his nerves. Then he smoothly raised his right hand with his fingers folded and the middle one—slightly above the others. All the while, he was watching me tensely and the ring was just a millimeter away from the glass window, on the other side of which his thugs stood ready. The gesture suddenly made me more talkative.

“Well, his name’s Ernesto Chavez. Have you heard of him?” I asked, seemingly nonchalant, but it was just an act. In fact, I was a bag of nerves and I was sweating intensely despite the car’s air-conditioning.

“What about him?” Sengupta ignored my question without moving, which I took for another threat, until I noticed he was not looking at me anymore. He had his eyes on the “mummy” now. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the yogi nod his head “yes” and I realized Sengupta was using him as a lie detector. That’s why the zombie was sitting by my side actually—so his boss could see his signs. By what means the mummy was detecting the truth, however, I couldn’t even imagine.

“The guy’s cooking a deal with the Chinese for smuggling huge amounts of rhino horns into Greenland,” I continued after a second, improvising hideously because I had to give the guy something. With the weird prophet beside me, it was a risky move but because of my nervousness, the bullshit Bjornson had fed me was the first thing that flashed across my mind. “Some environmental people are very concerned about the animals and the extent of the whole deal, you know. They hired me to dig into it.”

“In Samoa there’re no rhinoceroses, Mr. Mellrow! I’m sure you know that perfectly!” Sengupta drew his hand slightly away from the window.

“Of course! I know! There’s a facility on the island of Ofu, however, and I’m sure you know who it belongs to. And it’s close enough to Chinasia! The guy uses it as a shunting yard—buying up ammonia from the Chins and delivering other stuff to them. By the way, the price of the rhino horns has quadrupled lately! Did you know that?”

The cuckoo on my right discretely gave his boss another muted “yes” and I sighed with internal relief when I saw his gesture. He still sat with his eyes shut and his legs crossed. He looked so exotic!

Sengupta stayed silent for half a minute, pondering my words. The thumb of his right hand was slowly turning the ring around his middle finger. I considered it a positive gesture of trust. Then he looked at me again.

“You know what’s weird, Mr. Mellrow?” he said. “I don’t actually want to believe you because it all sounds so ridiculous but at the same time, this’s so him indeed! This is the style of this clown, Chavez!”

“Tell me about it!” I unleashed myself, encouraged by the sudden friendliness in his tone. “I too didn’t believe it at first but then another person confirmed the story, although it differed slightly. They said it was South African swallows that were being smuggled.”

The psychic confirmed.

“What an extravagant idea it is!” Sengupta briefly glanced at his helper. “And what are the environmental people expecting from you?”

“They want to fan a scandal, pushing him out of business!”

“And how far did you go with your digging?”

“Not so far in fact. I just arrived, you know!” For the sake of the “mummy”, I quickly tried to convince myself that I knew nothing.

Sengupta kept looking at me thoughtfully for almost a minute, but he didn’t utter a word. He just let me enjoy my stupid reflection in his sunglasses. I was sitting there feeling pretty nervous because I couldn’t see his eyes, and besides, the thugs outside seemed impatient. I didn’t have the slightest idea if the Indian believed me or not—he was a shrewd bastard and he might have been playing a game with me. Eventually, he opened his mouth again.

“Now listen to me, Mr. Mellrow,” he began, his voice even and cold. “I’m not a fan of Chavez as you can probably see for yourself. I think this guy is bad for the business here. I mean his hilarious trade initiatives are too quirky, and attract too much attention; your arrival is the proof of it! Nevertheless, I wouldn’t start a war about it because the situation is going to become even worse.”

He suddenly stopped to see if I was following him. I said nothing.

“I think it’s not a very bright idea for you to poke your nose into this particular guy’s business,” soon he went on, “but I wouldn’t meddle if you’re unreasonable enough to do so. I just want to make myself clear enough regarding the one thing I won’t tolerate in any way if you try it: that is, if you start poking your nose into my business. You always have to keep this in mind, Mr. Mellrow! That’s all I want you to know! Do you understand?”

He stopped again, looking at me tensely. At least I thought he was looking at me behind the sunglasses! I started sweating anew and I had no idea if he expected any declaration or promise from me or whether he was just making his point, which is probably why I asked, “Why would I be interested in your business, Mr. Sengupta? Are you killing rare species too?”

It was actually an extremely reckless thing to do. It was a true madness! I intended it as a joke but I’d made a massive blunder—it usually happens when I’m too nervous. The guy didn’t say anything for almost a minute. His face was strained and his lips—thin. Either he thought my joke was stupid or he simply had no sense of humor. In any case, his expression made me want to throw up.

“No, I’m only killing people!” he said icily at last and his hand sharply rose again to knock on the window. The hair on my neck bristled. The door promptly yanked open and the thugs violently pulled me outside onto the street, pushing me roughly down on the sidewalk. Three pairs of feet danced around me, making me expect some brutal kicks in the chest and kidneys, and then, all of a sudden, they vanished.

“Just watch your step!” I heard Sengupta’s harsh voice above my head as the shaded glass was rolled up. The limo slowly set off and moved down the street, turning right at the next intersection. I didn’t even try to move. I remained lying on the ground, as I looked after the vehicle, confused.

When the car had disappeared, I slowly stood up and glanced at the burning house. It was still burning but the wretch on the lawn had gone. My cellphone had disappeared too. I kept walking up and down the sidewalk, looking for it but it was definitely missing. In the end, I turned a couple of times around, desperately. No one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me and nobody even came to ask me if I was okay. People on the island were obviously too tolerant of violence and assaults.

In such an oppressive mood, after a few minutes, I decided it was best for me to go back to my hotel and stop “mingling” with people or trying to help anyone on Tutuila, at least for today. I had already met both the police and the gangsters here and I was well ahead of my schedule. It was enough for now!


©2016 S.T. Fargo
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Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 19 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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