Minotaur: Eighth Chapter (Sunil Sharma)

Minotaur (Sunil Sharma)

Chapter 8

In a crowded, dusty street in a seedy section of Cairo, lived the ancient Oracle. Nobody knew her age. She was a wrinkled old woman of around 100. Her face was like a death mask, body shriveled up but eyes were very sharp and penetrating. These are the x-ray eyes! Thought Caesar. The woman sat erect and stiff, despite her age. Her thin veined hands were steady and rough. Incense smoke filled the tiny room. Two dim lights lent a sinister look to the room, almost bare and clinical, except a prayer mat where the visitors were required to sit cross-legged. The woman sat on a high-backed chair. A male stood quietly behind her. There was no fan. The windows were heavily shuttered up. The air was damp and stinky. The house was on the third floor of an old building in a crowded market. The narrow staircase leading to the house was dimly-lit and steps uneven. The Ancient Oracle rarely saw visitors. Caesar had pulled some strings in the right places. The Oracle had finally agreed. Caesar had flown in disguise to Cairo two days before and checked in the Hotel Nile in downtown. Eva Hassan had flown with him. She wanted to see pyramids once again in the setting sun. They had registered as Mrs. And Mr. tom fielding, two graying American tourists. Caesar had dressed himself casually in rumpled cotton trousers and a white cotton shirt with two pockets. A straw hat covered his head. Dark goggles covered his tanned strong face. The deeply-lined forehead and a strong jaw-line made him look royal in the mixed crowd of tourists and natives.

Tall Eva Hassan wore a pant suit, a wide-brimmed hat and designer goggles. She looked elegant and charming. The pair walked down the crowded market, savoring the oriental spices and goods laid out in the shops. Bedouin, a famous coffee shop, they sat down and drank coffee. Caesar smoked hookah and surveyed the scene. Arabs, many thickset and dressed in jeans and T-shirts, lounged in the bamboo chairs, smoking hookah and drinking coffee. Outside, the air was hot and acrid. Then he saw Ibrahim. His contact. He was heavy set. His hair was copped. He had a long nose and darting eyes. Caesar waved at him. Ibrahim came over and plopped down in the cane chair. He was sweating hard. “Salam.”

Caesar nodded.

“How are you, Mr. fielding?”

“I am fine. How are you?”

“Sweating.” And he laughed. He was wearing a thick gold chain around his thick neck. The right hand fingers were bejeweled. Small rings studded with diamonds.

“How is your stay?”

“Good.”

“Hotel Nile is good. Americans prefer it.”

“Suits our budget”, said Caesar.

The staff knew Ibrahim well. They nodded at him and brought him hookah and black coffee.

“The appointment is fixed tomorrow afternoon. I had to persuade the old lady.”

“Good. I will be there.”

At ten thousand dollars, the Oracle could not have said no.

“Please be there. At 3 p.m. sharp.”

“Sure”.

After five minutes, Ibrahim left, collecting his five thousand dollars in a white envelope.

“Who is he?”

“A fixer.”

They sat there for sometime and then left.

Next day, at 3 p.m., Caesar was ushered in alone in the room. Ibrahim waited in the outer room. The old lady suddenly entered the semi-dark room from a side door. She sat down on her chair. A male appeared and stood behind her. She sat there for sometime and then made the eye contact.

The steady penetrating eyes looked at him and held his unwavering gaze.

A chill passed down his spine. Caesar shivered.

 The eyes x-rayed a past buried deep inside his chest. He tried to hold her fierce gaze, failed and averted his eyes. Beads of sweat broke out on his broad forehead.

He felt an overwhelming presence of some mysterious power greater than himself in that almost bare white room. The way Egyptians would have felt in the presence of a pharaoh.

Abruptly, the Oracle started shaking very badly. Strange physical transformation took place. Her body rocked violently, eyes took on a glassy expression, and voice grew husky. The lights dimmed and went out. The room became dark and still.

“Come here, my child”, the husky voice muscle-packed, well-toned body.

He heard the roll of the thunder. A dark sky. Lightening struck, illuminating a barren, ruined amphitheatre, the steps going up to the top. The hills loomed phantom-like in the background. The rains came down quickly, without any warning, in thick torrents. The deserted ruins echoed with the ominous thunder and sound of the falling gray rains. The white lightening clearly highlighted the desolation of the place where once the gladiators fought their bloody mortal battles before a mass of blood-thirsty hungry spectators and caged hungry tigers. The gladiators sprang up from the centuries-old dusty arena and a deafening roar of approval went up.

The swords shone in the fierce sunlight of a hostile Roman sky. Fighters fought courageously; the hysterical crowds went berserk; the lions roared. The fallen gladiators were killed in the bloody sport. And fed to the lions and tigers. The civilized and democratic Romans, happy and satisfied and gloating, left for a night of revelry. The roar, the din died down, everything disappeared fast. The thunder clapped. The lightening struck.

And he saw the assassin in the trench coat and black hat. Standing in the pelting rains. Raindrops dripping. A solitary imposing figure. Framed against a dark threatening sky. A powerful wind ripped part his tilting hat. The lightening struck again. He saw Death smiling. It was hideous, the face. The kind of Reaper thing portrayed in the medieval European art. the gaping skull, hollow-eyed, grinning idiotically, without a nose. The assassin took aim and shot in the driving hard rain. The flashes of the lightening kept the gloomy scene intermittently lit up.

Then, everything else disappeared, as fast as it had come.

Then he saw Cesar, Julius Caesar, coming as a hero in the triumphal procession. The crowds were shouting, excited by this colorful spectacle of a triumphant Roman returning from Egypt. The air was thick with excitement. Crowds were everywhere. Entire City had become one single unit. Welded together by this pageant of power and wealth. The slaves were walking down. Downcast beaten. Julius Caesar was smiling happily and waving. The great conqueror of a land foreign and an alien queen was finally returning at the head of the long procession. The day was clear, skies clear blue and sunlight was drenching the scene in a soft warm light.

The Idea of March…. Julius Caesar being attacked by a bunch of friends attacked viciously and stabled repeatedly… You, too Brutus…

And suddenly everything disappeared.

Constantine Caesar was badly shaken by the visions.

“Have you seen what I see?”

The husky voice asked.

“Yes.”

“Anything you want to hear?”

“Tell my future.”

The voice, almost male and deep, croaked.

“Future was revealed to you.”

“Is it correct?” Caesar asked voice unsteady.

“The seeds of tomorrow lie in present. As the past lies buried in the present.”

“What should I do?”

The voice paused. The room was still dark. Beads of sweat trickled down his spine. He had woken up from a tormenting nightmare.

“Confront your fears. Get them before they get you.”

The Oracle dismissed him.

Almost disoriented, Constantine Caesar stood up and left.

Ibrahim was waiting patiently. The late afternoon light and the din of the market assaulted his sense. Caesar took some time to refocus on the present. They started walking, among the crowd, towards the waiting taxis. “So?” asked Ibrahim. He was sweating profusely. “Has she ever gone wrong?” asked Caesar. “Never .as far as I know.” The oppressive heat was terrible. The old bazaar was coming alive- gradually.

“Why is she called an Oracle?”

“Well, Mr. fielding, why some people are called Oracles?”

“Hmm…. They can see things we cannot, I guess.”

Ibrahim stood up suddenly, in the middle of the souk, forcing Caesar to stop midway. He reached for his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes. He offered his guests one. They lit up. Then they resumed their short walk to the kerb, for the idling taxis.

“You got the value for your dollars?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the Oracle gets powerful vision. All have come true. Even kings and president seek her advice.”

“Is it?” Caesar said, in mock surprise.

“Yes. Many African dictators, French ministers, even Yankee tycoons. She does not come cheap.”

Caesar took a long drag. The lazy Oriental traffic passed by. He was some tourists. Americans. Searching the orient for its mysteries. In the background stood the Grand Mosque, its minarets glinting in the light.

“You are right. Forecasting is a big business. It has become a global brand.” “Yes. There is a global clientele for such gifted folks. Everybody wants their future read, told. It is a race against fate.”

“You are pretty impressive, Mr. Ibrahim.”

The Arab laughed. He shook hands and said, “I observe people and listen. Good luck. Do whatever she asked you to. Bye.”

“Yes, I will”, thought Caesar.

The news had clearly disappointment her. But she had recovered very fast. The subtle change was noticed. They were lying stark naked in the suite. It was late night. After lovemaking, Caesar had told Eva about the change in plans. They were not going to Paris day after tomorrow, as planned. They were now going to Rome.

“Why?” she had asked.

“I have some business there.”

“I should go alone?”

“Yes.”

“Then you will join me at Hilton after two days.”

“That is right.”

“Why?”

“I have some business to finish here.”

She did not say anything. He could feel her unsaid nervousness, disappointment and, even helplessness. She became very quiet. Lost. A wall seemed to have developed suddenly between their naked bodies.

“You- disappointment?”

“No, no.. I was a bit upset”, she said. A bit hurriedly, too hurriedly, he thought. Then she snuggled up to him and started playing with his nipples. He ruffled her rich mane. “You angry?” she asked, innocently.

“Why should I?”

She looked at him. He looked back. Then she sat up, her breasts swinging.

“Can I ask you one question?”

He eyed her. Then said, “Go ahead.”

“Why are you so insecure? All the time?”

He smiled and propped himself in the pillows, face cupped in his broad hands. “Am I so transparent?” she said softly, “Yes. A man is. To his wife or mistress. He can never hide his true self from his woman.” Caesar laughed and then sat back. “All that stuff intuition. Sixth sense. Woman sense. “She was serious. “I mean it.” He looked at her, face serious, “tell me more- about you.” Her eyes searched him. For clues. There were none. His face was the usual mask of inscrutability. Nothing there. Eyes devoid of feeling. Just neutral.

“I find you often, kind of very strange. Remote. Aloof.”

“Chasing my own demons?”

“True.”

“Honey, those with demons have no option but to chase them, always. Otherwise, the demons will gobble them up. As simple as that.” “You have already left behind your past.”

“I have. The only problem is, the past has not left me behind. It always catches up.”

She stared at him. Then dropped her gaze. “Why are you so paranoid?”

“What?” he exclaimed, really surprised.

“You see enemies where they do not exist. It is not good for you, for any guy. Especially, for a leader.”

Caesar was struck by her sincerity, the sincerity of a woman’s heart. He stroked her back. Then softened up.

“Eva.”

“Yes, my dear.”

Caesar pulled her towards him and kissed her lightly. She glowed.

“I will tell you one thing.”

“I am ready, my Sultan.”

He laughed, pleased.

“I never married. Never got the time. I was sucked into a vortex. I slept with many women. But I could never settle down in a stable marriage. No heir. No family. I was devoted to my cause. My country. I made mistakes. We all do.”

“I know”, she whispered.

“Then I got deposed. Booted out. I just survived. The same plagues visited me on this island also. Naturally, old fears, old anxieties return.”

“I understand.”

Caesar kept quiet. “Statecraft is not very different from mafia. You have to be ruthless, in order to remain at the top. Call it like that. Darwin called it survival of the fittest. Some call it a jungle. Apt descriptions.”

He looked at her again.

“As long as power is going to be exercised by a lucky minority, the privileged few, the imbalance will always be unsatisfactory for the majority. A few cannot rule over the majority for very long. The majority are bound to rise up one day or the other. The man at the top, caught precisely at that moment, is going to be the first victim. Louis of France, you remember?”

“Yes.” She said quietly.

“It is very much like the golden bough. You are there defending it with a sword. Then somebody comes and beheads you.”

“So, these are your demons?”

“Yes. Leaders, charismatic leaders, often die violent deaths. Their charisma often attracts equal hatred. A fanatic assassin then kills that leader.”

“And, what about leader in democracy?”

“Democracy?” he laughed. “It is all sham. Another name for the rule of a few over the many. These second-rung leaders fade away and die pathetically.”

“How?”

“These ordinary leaders cannot last their days outside the charmed circles of power. They die unsung and obscure.”

“Is there no escape?”

“A just society. Which is a chimera. All of us are doomed. You have to be tough. If you are not, then death awaits…”

She hugged him and locked her lips with his. “Let us change the subject. Come on, I am hungry”, she said.

They met again as planned. Caesar checked in the Hilton in the late morning. He was aloof and quiet, preoccupied. Eva was also withdrawn. Early March had set in. the city shone in the bright light. They lunched together, talking little. The he said, “evening we go to visit the amphitheatre. Be ready.” Then he went out, without any word. Eva waited for long and finally dozed off.

Late evening sun, an orange disk, bathed the Colosseum in golden light. Emperors Vespasian and Titus had gifted this great architectural marvel to the world. Completed in AD82, Rome’s imperial amphitheatre could seat 50,000 Romans. They came here to watch the gladiators’ spectacular fights. Eva Hassan and Caesar were thoroughly enjoying the ruins, majestic but forlorn, where once sat huge crowds watching people fight to death. Eva Hassan took pictures. Very few tourists were there by now. The dusk was gathering fast. It lent an eerie feel to the place. A kind of crying desolation that evenings generally bring to historic places. A kind of loneliness that can be awfully frightening for a city-dweller. The massive structure that had dominated mere mortals for centuries soon grew silent, echoing with a howling sharp wind. The sky had turned ominously dark. He felt mesmerized by the sheer monumentality of the old building. History seeped through its pores. A powerful cold wind buffeted his bare broad face. It made an eerie sound in the deserted corridors, sweeping the rusted passages with increased violence, adding to the desolation of centuries lying curled up in damp neglected corners. Then he felt the sudden absence. Eva Hassan was not with him. He looked around. There was no trace of her. He waited for ten minutes. Then felt alarmed. He shouted her name. His voice came back in the vast ruins like an empty beggar on a lonely road. He shouted and shouted. Then he began desperate search for the missing. The wind had grown stronger by now. It rushed in, hissing like a released she-demon. Darkness was making his frantic search difficult in that ruined vast space. He felt quite panicky.

Then the distant thunder rolled in and clouds obscured the early moon. And then, abruptly, it started raining.

He was desperate. Rain drenched him completely.

“Hullo, Caesar?”

The lightening struck just then. The dazzling white light revealed a figure in a trench coat. A tall, lean figure almost his height stepped from the shadows, hands deep in trench coat.

“Hullo, Mark?”

They stood facing each other. Mark stood three steps above Constantine Caesar.

“I promised we will meet again.”

“Yes, said Caesar. “I could figure it all out.”

“We never doubted your intelligence.”

“And I never doubted your perseverance.”

They stood there, partly swallowed in the gloomy shadows, hit by driving rain.

“So you survived the attempt, Mark?”

“Yes. It was my double. I learnt it from you.”

Caesar laughed. “Somehow, the way you staged your death left some lingering doubts. I pondered over the way you faked death. So simple. No resistance. It was intriguing. It did not fit with your profile at all. Then the bombings, the messages, the bull as a symbol…….Well, it all added up.”

Mark Livingstone, raised from the dead, loomed large over Constantine Caesar. His expression was grim, face set, eyes cold. The years in the cold had certainly taken a toll. He looked lean and fir, but gaunt and possessed. The trench coat added a touch of the unreal to his tall frame. The rain poured down his hat and trench coat that flapped in the strong wind. They stood like that, two lonely equally-matched figures, locked in a deadly stand-off.

My counter-foil. Thought Caesar.

The new flash of lightening ripped apart the gloomy leaking sky. The colosseum echoed with the thunder that came rolling down and shook the empty ruins where the gladiators once fought bitterly…..

Caesar could hear their pitched battles and cries of the wounded and the fallen fighters while the blood-thirsty crowds shrieked and went wild… he could feel History at that moment.

“Yes, Caesar”, Mark said in a clear voice. “I thought I should confront you suddenly. Then, appalled by your brutalities, I decided to warn you, through the symbol of Minotaur, the poster that you found. I was leaving a trial consciously. I wanted to fight a worthy forewarned adversary.”

“I appreciate your sense of heroism.”

“You are a fine man who went wrong later.”

Caesar laughed. “Thanks for the judgment.”

“No, I mean it. I read everything on you. I followed you from a distance. You did a lot for your country. Your intentions were good. Then power went to your head. You could never stand any opposition. You killed everything- so that you could cling to power. Then the people threw you out. Afterwards you raped my people and island. There nothing, no checks and balances, nothing of the sort you find in developed countries, and you announce yourself a king. And kill everybody, without any scruple…conscience… that pained me a lot…”

“If you are here for a lesson in ethics and morality, then we should head for the nearest bar and chat over whisky.”

Mark eyed him coldly. “No. I just wanted to be even. I wanted to talk to you for last many months. The way you want to talk to your worst enemy before bumping him off.”

“You are wrong there!” said a hoarse voice. Mark Livingstone slightly turned around, his hand whipping out pistol. A short and squat man had materialized from the wet, shivering shadows being whipped by the Constantine rain. A very wet and terrified Eva Hassan was also dragged behind him by another man. “Drop your gun, Mark”, Caesar said. “If you do not, your baby mole dies.”

Mark Livingstone looked at the beautiful woman being dragged in the driving rain. He looked uncertain for few seconds. Again the tall and lanky man surveyed the scene. Then he took a lingering last look and then dropped his gun. The squat man picked it up, pocketed it with his free left hand, searched Mark thoroughly and then pointed his gun at the enemy of his master. Caesar spoke softly.

“Sorry, mark. It was a trap laid down by me. You simply walked in. shows you are not a born killer. No sensitive contemplative man ever is. Toughness comes from within.”

Mark Livingstone said nothing. He stood defiant.

“I had this gut feeling- lately I would say- I was being compromised. The needle turned towards this bitch, I ran and reran the circumstances under which we met. Confirmation came half-an-hour ago. I had deliberately changed my plans. I told we are going to Rome. I said that to check her loyalty…”

Eva Hassan, by now standing, looked blank, as if thunderstruck.

“I sent her two days before. Then I joined her. A private eye hired by me followed her movements closely.”

Eva Hassan balanced. Mark stood stock still. Caesar’s voice had that hollow sound, a sound that terrified people close to him, a kind of raving sound heard in a nut house. Caesar appeared lonely and forlorn. A man cheated. He paused and then said in a clinical voice, “She made three calls from a public booth. Then, next afternoon, she met you in a small restaurant. Every action on camera. Clicked by the dick. My fears got confirmed. You were in disguise. I was not very sure about you. An old doddering bewhiskered man talking to his favorite niece- that kind of set-up. Then I told her about our visit to the Colosseum in the evening. I slipped out. She made a call from the hotel. The clerk was of course bribed. He gave me the number. The phone was already bugged, you know.” He looked at Eva an spat, cold eyes glittering. “We heard the conversation. The number was also traced. Registered in the name of a local body, some old land lady who rents out room’s to visiting tourists- that kind of crap. I felt betrayed. I had come to like her. This bitch. She cheated me badly.”

They listened in the pounding rain. Caesar added, “I respect you, mark. I always respect worthy adversaries who are equal to me and very brave. But you are not a born killer. Circumstances were different for you. I come from a totally different background. History caught me at a moment that was- almost revolutionary. Caught me in the crucible. Cataclysmic change. I just happened to be there. Your were different from mine. A peaceful island where you lived as a white king. The benign face of colonialism.”

Mark moved. The squat man hit him with the gun. Blood started pouring down from Mark’s head.

“You are terribly lonely person, Caesar. Lonely and wretchedly alone. Fleeing from the ghosts of the past”, Mark said.

“I pity you, Caesar.”

Caesar said nothing.

“You are also insane. Your burden is double. A disgraced leader. A lonely soul. An insane man.”

“Go on. You have only few minutes left.”

“A man gets insane if he no longer listens to his conscience. When he allows to silence dissidence. When he murders democracy. When he carries blood of innocents.”

“Kill him.” Barked Caesar, a raw nerve touched.

“Wait.”

“Why? Afraid of your death? Or want to say Prayers?”

“No. Leave this woman. You have enmity with me. She is innocent.”

“I am in control. She was part of the conspiracy. She goes with you. I am not taking chances. Say your last prayers. Bye.”

Caesar left abruptly. Two gun shots echoed, muffled by the rains.

The Zulu mercenaries had done a neat job.

Two days later Constantine Caesar was back- where he belonged.

He was sitting in his office. The March sun was streaming from the French windows. The mid-morning was quiet. The island was calm. A soft breeze was blowing in. the vast office was decorated in European style. Book cases were lined against the walls. A thick red carpet covered the wooden floor. Behind the vast mahogany table in the corner, away from the French windows, sat the emperor on a high-backed chair. The table was bare except a couple of telephones. Two Labradors lay stretched out beside the table. Outside, it was pleasantly cold. The date palm trees could be seen in the background-swaying like drunks.

“You called me, Sire?”

Caesar nodded. “Come in.”

Chameleon entered and bowed politely.

“Please, take a seat.” Caesar gestured towards the far-off plush sofa, at the other end of the office. Chameleon obeyed. He sat down expectantly on the edge, calm and composed. A pretty European secretary- a new trophy- entered with two mugs of hot coffee from the side door. She put down the cups on the center table and withdrew. Efficient and unobtrusive as they go.

Caesar stood up, crossed over, and sat down on the adjacent sofa. Unusual. Thought Chameleon.

“Everything under control?” Caesar asked.

“Yes, Sire.”

“Drink your coffee, please.”

They finished coffee silently. Caesar was very quiet.

“Chameleon?”

“Sire.”

“Why you wanted me dead?”

“What?” the little man’s jaws fell open.

Caesar clamped his gaze upon the face of his visitor. As usual, his eyes were hypnotic, the eyes of a man who had ruled over millions. None could hold that powerful gaze for even a second. Chameleon did not try to look back. “You were my trusted aid. You wanted me killed. Why?”

“I think you are mistaken…”

Caesar said nothing. “Go ahead.”

“I never wanted you killed. Why should I?”

Game is up. You were under surveillance for last six months. I sent you to Paris on a pleasure vacation. My eyes followed you there. Everything was done very professionally, of course. There you met a person who faintly resembled Mark Livingstone.”

Chameleon went a shade pale. Cesar noticed it.

 “I trusted my life with you. Promoted you as the chief of my security. I came to like you. And here are you. Betrayed me to a total stranger. Acted like Brutus, ha!”

Chameleon went totally pale. Caesar had never seen the assassin so frail and nervous. Fear!

Finally Chameleon spoke. “Yes. I wanted you murdered.”

“Why?”

Chameleon had recovered fast. He spoke slowly, haltingly, in a far-off voice, face white.

“Why I wanted you killed? Simple…. You are a man I saw closely…. Transformed. Transformed into an ugly monster.”

Caesar said nothing. He looked remote. Like a bored man watching long, predictable ritual, a rerun of events hauntingly familiar, and therefore, terribly banal.

“Why? Here is the why. You raped my young pretty wife. You saw her in a ball dance at your palace. A young pretty 20-something, innocent woman you took a fancy for. Called her to your palatial bedroom and ravished her. A secret camera filmed the rape. Then you blackmailed her. The poor thing got raped repeatedly by you. She was awfully terrified.”

Caesar spoke, voice impersonal. “I never rape. Women offer themselves to me. They always find me irresistible. She found you rather uncouth and repulsive.”

Chameleon laughed derisively.

“She told me everything. While I worked outside the country, doing your dirty work of bumping off the inconvenient opponents, you fucked my precious wife. You threatened to kill me. One night she explained everything. She felt so guilty and responsible. Blamed herself, her beauty, her luck. Said it was all her fault. Next day she committed suicide.”

Caesar was unmoved. His stare was icy.

“I just felt helpless. I saw her body being fished out of the cold river. January fog had enveloped the whole town. The trees stood white. The river looked heartless, unforgiving, and cruel. Her body was recovered after a long search operation. I cried for the first time. I could not do anything against you……”

Caesar stood up and strolled down to the French windows. Sun streamed down in a pure cascade o gentle white. Cold wind blew in. a very peaceful island scene.

“You accuse me of things that you have also committed. Slept with the wives of so many people, including your own pals. “I never raped.”

“Ha. Ha. One cuckold’s rape is another man’s open flirtation. Women fall all over me. Power and masculinity make a deadly combination. Women hardly resist such a combination.”

They fell silent. Bird song could be heard in the background. Caesar stood there watching the tranquil scene. Then he returned and sat down behind hi shard-backed chair- the throne. “Go ahead.”

Chameleon stood up and started pacing up and down the carpeted floor. A condemned man who had nothing to fear now.

“You did not stop there. In fact, you never stopped. Raped married women. Young girls. In hotels, restaurants. Everywhere. Just a fiend. Insatiable. In search of new flesh. New sensations. Something new to arouse your dead soul. New pleasure. Fresh female bodies.”

He stopped pacing and faced the dictator. “Nobody could stop you. They were all afraid. Of you. Your army and police. Your mad ways. The country famished. You threw lavish parties. Spent fortune on your wardrobes. Raped the country as well.”

Caesar laughed loudly. “Then you decided to stop me. Take your sweet revenge. For raping your innocent wife. For her murder. What nonsense!”

Chameleon looked at him with contempt. “You are a shameless bastard.”

Caesar was amused. “Really? The fact is you could never satisfy your young bored wife. She was a nymph. You were just a hired killer.”

Chameleon stood rooted to the ground. Raging within.

“She told me… what a real man I was in bed. Biting her slim naked back. Biting her ear lobes. She went crazy. I could satisfy the woman in her. All her pent-up fantasies. Women need to be dominated in bed. I thrashed her, bit her small breasts….”

Chameleon snapped. “You son-of-a-bitch. You murderer. I will kill you, bastard.” He hurled himself at the table. Caesar pressed a button. On cue, his bodyguards rushed in and caught a panting, deranged attacker in their vice-like grip.

“Take him away. Shoot him. Feed him to vultures”, shouted Caesar.

“You are a living monster. A vampire. You kill friends, women, beloved, strangers. You have no shame. No conscience…”

The guards dragged him away. The dogs, already excited, barked furiously at the sudden melee. Caesar commanded them to sit down.

“Et tut, brute.” He exclaimed.

He took out a Havana and lit it up. The rich aroma of the cigar filled the vast room.

It was his way of relaxing after the completion of a successful operation. Henry VIII killed his perceived enemies. Stalin did that Nietzsche was the only philosopher who understood the true mindset of a superman and justified violence. That is why Hitler liked the German philosopher very much.

The leader has to kill- in order to survive. Be it Chengis Khan or Milosevic, they have to do it. If you do not, they will kill you. Che Guevara is one such example.

His mind wandered away. After some time, he played Mozart on the audio system. It always soothed his jumpy nerves.

His European secretary appeared.

“Coffee?”

He smiled his gentle smile. A smile that has always melted women.

“No thanks Jane. I need a woman like you. Very badly. It is ages since I have made love to a pretty woman like you.”

She blushed, her freckled thin face reddening.

“Come on. The emperor needs his empress. My new empress. I want to settle down. And raise a family. Can you give me a family?”

The young inexperienced middle class woman was already dazed. And willing. Caesar whirled her around. Lifted her up and gently took her to his master bedroom.

Twenty minutes later, gunshots echoed. Birds flew away, making a combined racket.

The naked woman beneath his heaving sweaty body shuddered by the report of the gunfire. “What happened, my lord?”

She said, eyes closed, half in ecstasy. “Oh nothing! They killed a wild animal on the island.”

It happened fast.

Caesar was reading a book. Tired, he got up from his throne and decided to take a walk on the grounds outside his office. He asked the two bodyguards to walk the dogs and then chain them up. The two bodyguards disappeared. It was mid-morning. The air was light and pleasant. The sun was not very hot. He strolled for twenty minutes. Then he started climbing the steps.

“Caesar!”

He spun around. And saw the ghost!

Buntu!

The trusted lieutenant of the white Harara. Caesar had encountered two years ago on the island. Buntu who had boldly faced the invaders and stood up to Caesar. Both Gorilla and Caesar had interrogated the native Harara to know about the whereabouts of Mark who had fled the island in most unheroic way. They had tried to extract the information from Buntu but in vain. The courageous man refused to buckle down. He had given the bare facts of his leader’s disappearance: the spider monkey had alerted a vigilant white Harara who had made his escape. Where?

Nobody knew.

Gorilla wanted to kill the short native. Caesar had turned it down. He did not want to antagonize the local tribe at that point of time. They had left him for dead. Buntu was no palpable threat to the fresh occupiers, so thought Cesar at that time. They were heavily armed. The hi-tech arsenal was enough to wipe away the entire island. The arrows-n-javelins of the tribals were no match to the sophisticated guns and bombs of the invaders. Buntu was a mere minor figure. An aborigine. A relic of the past. Totally irrelevant. The real threat was Mark Livingstone- the benign face of the Western colonialism. The true leader of the natives. Therefore, Caesar had allowed him to live on the margins, this little native.

Pursue the leader. Lieutenant are insignificant. Their appeal flows from the charisma of the Leader. Their existence is dependent upon their leader only. They are second-rate men living in the shadows of a great man. Neutralize the Hero and these insignificant men are automatically neutralized.

So Buntu was allowed to live, made ineffective and useless, in the absence of his leader.

That proved the costly mistake for Caesar.

“You?” Caesar said, stunned.

“Yes. Buntu. The true heir, the true leader of the locals. Say your prayers.”

Buntu aimed his revolver at Caesar’s legs. “Your time is up!”

The insignificant little aborigine shot the alien master, the usurper, the colonizer, in his legs. Caesar collapsed. The guards came running, weapons drawn. “Drop your guns, or your master dies”, said the challenger, voice clear and authoritative, posture defiant. The short squat figure looked totally odd in the vast palatial building. A solitary, fearless figure dwarfed by the huge palace of the badly injured occupier, now fallen. They dropped down from the trees that bordered the periphery of the sprawling gardens. They wore war paint and the green camouflage that allowed them to blend well with natural surroundings. The band of natives disarmed the guards and shoved them to the basement of the palace. Meanwhile Buntu kept the gun trained on the heart of the bleeding Caesar. Entire operation was over within few seconds. Idea of March! Beware!

Julius Caesar being attacked before the Senate steps by a group of attackers.

Beware of the ghost!

The Oracle at Cairo had predicted at the end of the meeting. A warning that had puzzled the seeker of the future that time. He had tried to figure it out. Then had forgotten the ghost part totally. Already he had confronted his fears and neutralized his visible enemies. And in the process, forgotten about minor characters. He had gotten indifferent on this day. His enemies were eliminated. He was safe. Very mush like Delphi’s Oracle, the forecast had come to stay.

Constantine Caesar, former doctor who became president of more than 50 million people of New land, and, later on, the emperor of an island in South-Pacific Ocean, lay dying before his office, in a farcical replay of history. He realized the futility of all this power chasing. You cannot tamper future. The seeds of future lie in today! An individual cannot change his ordained destiny. What is predicted cannot be altered by the individual.

Somebody had once remarked, all dictators are born to self-destruct. Some got deposed. Some got shot. Some faded away, assigned to the dustbin of History. They never died happily.

“I take over this island of ours, reclaim it again, in the name of the people of the island our beloved Hararas.” Buntu cried out loudly and clearly. “Long live our new king, one of our own.” The Hararas shouted, tears streaming down their sunken cheeks. They had won the precious freedom, at last.

Buntu took aim and shot Constantine Caesar neatly in heart. At that time, Caesar was thinking of his family, parents and a happy childhood, all buried deep in recesses of his mind. He herd sweet piano being played by his dear pale-faced thin sweet mama many years ago in a distant time and place now lost forever…when he was so happy frolicking in the sun-dappled courtyards of a vast mansion, chasing squirrels and frogs and running like wind in countryside followed by his muscular dad on a bike, cheering the kid as most dads do everywhere…then trembling fogs rolled down and blurred and obscured everything in its trail in that grey fleeting changing landscape .. then his mind became blank…..


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