The squat ginger man stands before me. I have studied him from afar for a long time but, up until now, have not had the opportunity to inspect the smaller intricacies of his demeanour. He possesses an unflinching stare. I return the gaze and note the algae colour of his eyes. They maintain a crystal quality but are muddied by darker patches of green like the murky waters of an untreated swimming pool. He is more intimidating than his photo suggests but at the same time, more vulnerable. That bone-white skin seems frailer. Through a lens it almost appeared shiny, in front of me, it seems brittle. The furrowed brow seems to be a permanent feature – something I noticed yesterday. He is a man who wears his problems like a heavy cape and it is no surprise to see his shoulders in perpetual motion for something must be done to fight their natural slump. Despite the frenetic actions, his speech is stunted, punctuated only by the odd grunt. I listen, intrigued by his growling spurts.
“…just try and stay out of the way. I don’t particularly think you’ll be needed… but we don’t want stupid precautions to turn into wild panic…”
A shorter, even squatter woman marches into the entrance hall. The similarities are striking. He shares his mother’s fiery hair, her wide eyes, and even the rounded button nose. Her skin however, cannot stand the blistering heat. It bears pink-red blotches as if someone cut up her son’s Hawaiian shirt and plastered the pieces of fabric all over her face. There is a pudginess to the complexion not present in the man and although they are both fat, his features are somehow handsomely gaunt whilst hers are simply grotesque. She scans me from head to foot before turning to her son.
“Thank God you decided to get someone in. He looks good but we should get some more. You can never be too careful…”
Her voice is screechy – far removed from her son’s – and I, a man who has seen countless horrors and heard their awful sounds, cannot help but flinch as this whining siren disrupts the air.
“Hush mother, just hush. I’ve never known a woman to be so paranoid.”
“It pays to be prepared.”
“It does when it’s not your money you’re paying with.”
The stub of a woman lets out a shriek and within but a few moments is a shaking mass of tears. Her voice becomes even more intolerable.
“Would you leave your own mother destitute and unprotected? The wolves are coming and here you are fighting with the very person who raised you! Don’t you forget –”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. We’ve been through worse… the journey to get here… you say it pays to be prepared and I say it pays not to panic… but look at you… hopeless wreck of a…”
The quarrelling pair enters another room, dismissive in the manner they do not dismiss me. This is my job. It pays to be invisible. I travel a lot – the exotic, the cold – but never have I been in such a bizarre situation. The file tells me that this man, Leandro Nicosia, has slaughtered thousands of Jews, killed anyone who stood in Mussolini’s way, and revelled in a war now five years later the world has barely recovered from. He is one of the most despised men on this planet hiding in the deep bowels of South America and despite this, I am nothing but bemused with his situation.
This is a wretched job. Nonetheless, it is mine to do. I am not planning to stay for too long but already, within a few hours, the strange domesticity of the villa, combined with the maddening heat, is testing my patience. I sit in the kitchen and watch the mother coat herself and the counters in flour as she bakes. The frantic cook licks her lips as her steaming creation comes out of the oven. The smell is sweet but artificial. It wafts over to me and I gag on its perfume. The natural odours of the jungle are stifling and yet I still long to go back to the nausea of yesterday, if only to escape this sugary torment. My only comfort – the sleek, barely covered lines of the lounger – slinks into the bakery unaffected by the concoction of smells. The mother, even whiter than usual with powder and flour, eyes up the tanned, slender figure.
“Have a slice of cake. It’s lemon. Fresh.” The voice’s squeakiness cannot hide its venom.
“No thank you. My figure…”
She brushes her midriff as if those long, elegant nails are shaving off an extra inch of non-existent flab. I watch the old woman size up her younger rival. Her schemes are as clear to me as they are inside her head. One day the arrogant model will fatten up so the maternal influence on Leandro Nicosia will be that much stronger than any wielded in the bedroom. Both women leave; the not-so-subtle schemer through one door, the mistress through another.
I am left with a servant of sorts, one Mr. Marshall. If I need anything, I am to call on him. But I never see him do any work. He simply dawdles. His huge frame, slathered in creases of fat, waddles over to the now abandoned cake. As he chuckles, I catch a glimpse of rotting teeth. His vast collection of fillings glitters with caked on granules of sugar.
“Well, if they’re not going to have any…”
He shovels a piece down his throat, oblivious to any sensation but sweetness and the partial satisfaction of hunger. I look down, eager to avoid the feast and check my gun. Despite my current feelings, I do not intend to use it.