Steve paced around the cathedral tower, his olive rubber soled boots kicked on the ancient stone floors. He was high up, very high up. His body trembled in fear but his heart raced in excitement. Steve leaned up against the stone barrier and looked down. He raised his arms and imagined himself floating in mid-air and sighed. The cool wind blew across his shaved head and he looked over his shoulder. ‘Harris! Harris! You can see everything from up here!’
Harris was slumped up against the wall, his dark body was tightly covered in hemp and he didn’t mutter a word.
Steve continued.’Look! There is a courtyard.’ Steve was ecstatic as he always was whenever he went on these little trips with Harris. Steve always wore his fatigued pants, black shirt and tanned hunters vest. Steve dropped his duffel bag and pulled out a small pair of binoculars from the side pocket. He pressed the binoculars against his eyes and looked down at the courtyard. ‘Children…children are playing everywhere.’ Steve chuckled.
A group of German tourists with their tomato-red faces bumped Steve. He smiled at the tourists and walked along the perimeter. Steve was looking everywhere except up at the sky. His skin baked under the bright sun.
‘Here by the courtyard? Maybe over there overlooking the town center?’ Steve turned towards Harris. He was still not moving. ‘What do you think Harris?’
Steve stumbled upon Harris during his first ever trip to Africa. The life of an accountant did not agree with Steve. After manipulating the fortune of so many people during the recent crisis he had enough in his bank account to go on several of these trips.
Steve loved to read adventure books, and he especially adored ancient stories of Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn and may other great adventures. He always fantasized about embarking on a self-dictated quest. Steve did not want to be like most who did nothing more than stay in exotic hotels and shopped for trinkets on the wayside.
‘The life of an adventurer!’ Steve often screamed. The unlikely pair moved on from Africa to Europe. They spent time in the Serengeti, Morocco, Egypt and London. Along the way they met different people on their own little adventures.
Now they were in Orleans, France the city of Jean d’ Arc.
Steve wanted to feel the atmosphere of the past, the chieftains, kings, warriors and knights. Above all he wanted danger.
Steve was grateful to Harris, they have known each other for three years now and they were inseparable. Through thick and thin Harris was always there to help out Steve no matter the situation.
‘Look over there!’ Steve pointed wildly with his binoculars. ‘It is the city centre. Let’s stay here and our friend can wait for us.’ Steve panted. He rummaged through his duffel bag once more and this time he pulled out a silver flask. Steve took a swig of brandy in the flask and calmed down. He extended his hand and offered the flask to Harris.
Harris didn’t move an inch.
‘More for me.’ Harry said cheerily.
Down below amongst the crowded streets, a man and woman tried to find their way to the centre. The man was a student in an Ivy-League school, the girl was his girlfriend. They met at a mixer and never separated.
The girl was lean with no curves. Her auburn hair was tied in a ponytail and she wore spectacles that were round as her face. She smiled at the young man. ‘We’re in France baby!’ She planted a sloppy kiss on him and hugged him tight.
Beads of sweat rolled out under the man’s baseball cap and he smiled. The man was wearing a loose-fitting black tank top, white cotton shorts and some rubber slippers. ‘So Marie.’ The man lifted his cap and wiped the sweat from his forehead. ‘Where do we go? This is your city isn’t it?’
Marie was still giddy that Oscar brought her to France. ‘I don’t know. Marie unzipped her little yellow backpack. The backpack was sewn with patches of cartoon characters. Patrick the Starfish, Dora the Explorer and her favourite, DeeDee from Dexter’s Laboratory. ‘Let me look at the guide.’ Marie pulled out a thin booklet that unfolded into a large map.
Oscar stared at Marie. ‘I thought you’re from here?’
Marie looked up and adjusted her glasses. ‘I am not from here pumpkin! My grandmother was from here.’ She pressed her finger on Oscar’s nose. ‘Do you know your way around the Dominican hmmm?’
Oscar sighed. ‘For the last time. I am from Puerto Rico!’
Marie stuck out her tongue and scanned the map.
‘Can we at least find a place to cool down?’ Oscar asked.
Marie nodded and traced her fingers at the map. She looked around and hummed.
At the city centre an elderly man was snapping pictures of Jean d’ Arc. The statue shone like an emerald under the clear blue sky. ‘Beautiful! Simply beautiful.’ Muttered Salvatore Ponzio, ‘Ponzie’ to his friends. Ponzie was a retired Policeman and avid history buff. He travelled on the highway to France by car via Torino in Italy. His car was a rental. A Fiat Punto, Italian of course. He would not like it any other way.
Ponzie pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. The sun was blistering hot, but there was a soothing wind that blew from his right. He hung his camera around his neck and moved closer to the statue. There was a plaque and he tried to read the inscription at the statue-base. The engraving was faded over the years and he could only manage to recognize a few characters. This only impressed him even more.
‘What history!’ Ponzie looked up. ‘What a fine lady!’ He released a flying kiss to the statue. ‘Bellissima!’
Ponzie’s pocket rang and he pulled out a thick the candy-barred phone. The scratched LED screen reminded him of an appointment. ‘Meet Steve at cafe.’ Ponzie looked at the time. He had five minutes to spare. Ponzie finished with two more snaps and packed-up his camera.
Two figures stood still. Their heads were still throbbing from a drunken stupor the previous night. ‘Patrick I can’t do this man. My head is still spinning.’ Bob slumped and sat on the cobble stoned courtyard with his legs extended.
Patrick was taller of the two and he was scanning around the courtyard looking through a small square he made with his hands. ‘Come on bro.’ Patrick walked over to Bob and helped him up on his feet. ‘We gotta! That is why we came here. Where is your sense of professionalism?’
Bob was nauseous. He looked on the cobbled streets and he swore that it was dancing the Irish jig. ‘Dude.’ Was the only reply he could muster.
‘This is perfect for the first scene don’t you think?’
‘Uhmm ok.’ Bob humped over and held his locked knees in place.
Patrick spoke with a slight slur. He joined his thumbs and forefingers and moved it from the street and gradually moved up to the trees and low rise building.
The courtyard was quiet compared to the city center. It was the perfect spot to introduce their film. ‘Creme Brulee.’ Was story written by two avid independent filmmakers, Patrick and Bob. The film was scripted as a documentary of the trying lives of pastry chefs. The difficulties of adhering to tradition or boldly exploring their own concoctions.
‘I don’t know about the cathedral Patrick.’ Bob pushed two fingers against his lips and shook his head. ‘Does it have to keep on spinning like that?’
Patrick looked at the cathedral, and then he looked at Bob. Bob was breathing hard and his knees were wobbling. ‘I think we need to take a break.’ Patrick picked up his bag. ‘Come let’s have something to drink.’
Bob stared at Patrick. ‘Water?’
Patrick smiled, showing his shiny white teeth. ‘Sure that too.’
The cafe bustled with thirsty men and half-starved women. Outside at a small table, two young men finish a beer and sprite concoction. It was unorthodox yet quite refreshing drink given the weather.
Ponzie walked over to the table. The men have left and the table was in disarray. Three chairs surrounded the yellow and blue table. Ponzie laid down his camera and motioned for the waiter. ‘Un’acqua.’ Ponzie spoke.
The waiter stood still with and unflinching gaze. Ponzie recognized his mistake. ‘L’une eau.’
‘Gaz?’ The waiter asked.
‘Non gaz. Merci.’ Replied Ponzie.
With a deft move the waiter cleared the table and walked to the bar.
Ponzie noticed something peculiar that came his way. There were two men. A stout fellow was limping and his friend was helping him walk. Ponzie wondered why no one was helping them. He then noticed something on the taller man’s side. It was a very bulky bag and on it was a tripod and camera. ‘Fellow historians!’ Ponzie waved at the two men.
The city center was bustling with people looking for a cafe or at sights with maps in tow. This was indeed the season of tourists and a place such as Orleans always drew a big crowd.
Appearing from the crowd was the dynamic duo of Patrick and Bob.
Bob leaned on Patrick for support and he continued groaning, this time he was holding his stomach.
Patrick and Bob hitched a ride on a bus full of college students and drank until the early hours of the morning. Backpacking around France was Patrick’s idea. Bob on the other hand wanted to get all of his information off the internet before filming.
Patrick and Bob stood at the cafe entrance looking for a place to sit. Tables inside were all occupied by sunburnt tourists keeping in the shade. Outside the more adventurous or rather the more desperate bore the scorching heat.
Bob looked at an old man sitting alone by a table. ‘Dude. Dude! What is that guy doing?’
The old man continued waving and shouting. This time he changed his language. ‘Hello my friends! Come! Come!’
Patrick watched the old man. He was now standing up and continued his waving and shouting in intonated English. ‘Bob. You know that guy?’
Bob replied. ‘Nope but there are empty seats.’
Patrick and Bob limped over to the old man’s table and introduce themselves.
They drank some water and ate some sweet pastry.
The old man introduced himself as Ponzie and inquired about the camera that Patrick and Bob were carrying.
Patrick explained to Ponzie about their film project.
‘Both of you are famous filmmaker si?’ Ponzie asked. ‘I am honoured!’
Bob gorged on the pastry and his energy returned. His head cleared up and he replied. ‘No. No. Mr. Ponzie. We are just amateurs.’
Ponzie raised his hand. ‘But you have to start somewhere No?’ He pulled out a wallet and slipped his fingers inside. ‘Here consider this my investment. I am a producer now si?’ Ponzie slid a ten euro note across the table.
Patrick frowned. ‘Yes Mr. Ponzie. You are a producer now.’
Ponzie smiled. ‘Now eat my avid entertainers! It’s almost lunch time.’ He motioned the waiter for some menus. ‘I am meeting a friend of mine in a few minutes I am sure he won’t mind that I have some guests.’
The waiter arrives and distributes three large plastic cased menus with a brown border.
Bob nodded his head and opened the menu. He whispered to Patrick. ‘Do you understand what is on this thing?’
Patrick shook his head. ‘No. But just get the most expensive one. Looks like this guy is paying.’
They both chuckle and scan the menu.
‘Harris it’s time. Do you think he is there?’ Steve looks at his watch. It was noon and by now the centre would have been very crowded. This was also the time that tourists would spiral down the cathedral-tower leaving Steve and Harris alone.
Steve took out his phone and redialed the last number on his list. ‘Ponzie.’ The phone rang.
‘Ciao amici! Come stai?’ Ponzie spoke enthusiastically. ‘Where are you?’
‘Ponzie, my dear friend. I am on the way to the cafe, are you there already?’
‘Si. Si, I am sitting outside.’
‘Beautiful.’ Steve grinned.
‘Oh Steve, I have invited some friends. I hope that is not a problem.’
Steve looked through his binoculars and saw Ponzie with two scraggy young men. ‘No, that is not a problem. The more the merrier.’ Steve smiled and closed the phone.
‘What do you think Harris? Ponzie has two guys with him.
Harris just stared up at the sky.
‘It’s time Harris.’ Steve stowed his binoculars in the bag. ‘It’s time to end our vacation.’ He took one last swig of brandy and took shallow breaths. His shaky hands steadied and his eyes were fixed on the horizon.
Oscar and Marie walked hand-in-hand and passed the statue of Jean D’ Arc.
‘Is she your grandmother?’ Oscar asked squeezing Marie’s hand.
‘No! She is my great-grandmother.’ Marie replied playfully.
Oscar leaned close for a kiss.
Marie stopped him. ‘Not in the middle of the street!’ Oscar replied. ‘You kissed me earlier.’
Marie adjusted her glasses. ‘That was different.’ She continued. ‘Look! There is the cafe. Come let’s get something to eat.’ She pulled hard on Oscar’s arm. ‘If you behave I have a surprise for you.’ Marie winked and back-stepped before skipping alongside Oscar.
‘There Harris.’ Steve knelt and leaned against the barrier. ‘Do you see them?’ He pressed his eye on a telescopic lens. ‘The fat man seated with those two young men.’ Steve held and the butt of a long black rifle, the tight hemp cloth was now removed and Harris glistened under the shining sun.
Steve continued whispering to Harris once more. ‘Calm down buddy. Just a little to the left. The wind is strong so we have to be careful.’ Steve calmed adjusted his hand on the foregrip. ‘Who should go first?’ He scanned the three targets with his crosshair. Steve’s heart pounded and his eyes focussed. He took a deep breath and pulled on the trigger.
‘Bang!’ The loud noise screamed around the city centre. Pigeons that were feeding on crumbs scattered to the sky. Shock faced tourists ran around like headless chickens finding for cover.
In a moment of reflex Ponzie flipped his table with the cafe behind him. He screamed at Patrick and Bob. ‘Get down!’
Patrick and Bob trembled behind the wooden table and held tightly on the piece of bread they picked from the table.
Ponzie peeked from the side of the table. There was a flurry of images, people running around and doors shutting. The sound of metal clanging and glasses crashing dumbed his senses. He scanned the building and side streets and tried to make out some faces.
Ponzie wondered what happened to Steve. He pulled out his phone and dialled Steve’s number. The phone rang once, twice, thrice.
Steve’s voice crackled after the fourth ring. ‘Ponzie, where are you?’
‘Steve? Are you ok?’ Ponzie asked.
‘Steve I am at the cafe.’
‘I don’t see you Ponzie.’
‘Where are you? Don’t move! There is a murderer.’
‘Where are you Ponzie?’
‘I am sitting behind a table, taking shelter. Are you okay Steve?’
‘Ahhh… I see you now Ponzie.’
‘You see me? Where are you?’
‘Oscar?’ Marie held Oscar’s head. Her yellow backpack had been torn apart and a gaping wound opened up her stomach.
Oscar knelt beside Marie and cradled her limp body. ‘Baby! Oh God! Oh God! Help! Anybody please Help!’
Marie coughed and blood spurted from her mouth. ‘Oscar baby… I.’
Oscar held her tight. ‘Don’t speak. Save your energy.’
Marie touched Oscar’s face. The rough pricks of his beard tickled her hand. It would be the last sensation she would feel.
Oscar kissed her hand and tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘Oscar baby.’ Marie’s voice was hardly a whisper. She took a deep breath and winced in pain.
Marie held Oscar’s hand. ‘Oscar baby… I’m pregnant.’