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Friday Flash Fiction – Friday Flash -The Mausoleum of Hope and Desire – Part 5 – Vanitas and Vendetta

Friday Flash Fiction – Friday Flash -The Mausoleum of Hope and Desire – Part 5 – Vanitas and Vendetta

“You know the most interesting thing about doing something terrible? After a few days, you can’t even remember it.” – Tom Ripley, played by John Malkovich in “Ripley’s Game”

He reclined in the hot soothing spa bath, sipping the remnants of a bottle of vintage Pol Roger champagne. A Tor Oriental spiced cigarette graced the fierceness of his mouth, that now looked as if it had been carved into a thoughtfully malign scar by a talented cosmetic surgeon with a dark sense of humour.

Though usually inscrutable, his thoughts were etched on his face and could now be detected by anyone with a modest insight into psychology. The steam from the spa provided sufficient camouflage to protect the enigma that had always been part of his character. He was changing internally, plotting, working out his options.

Ram Khatt had gone through the majority of the seven deadly sins, added at least two more to the list, and had assumed many different roles and characters throughout his eventful life. This new one was forming in the ordered chaos of his mind. A bon mot shaped itself in the linguistic centres of his brain.

It was now time for him to assume the sprezzatura of an assassin, a vigilante of vengeance stalking the corridors of the Orient Express, seeking retribution for the despicable act of his mother’s murder.

The word was apt. It had been defined in Renaissance Italy by Castiglione and described a studied nonchalance, a capability for doing something that made it look easy but had required considerable planning and practice. He knew he did not have long to make his plans, and limited options for perfecting his technique, but the desire for vengeance prowled his mind just as a panther might stalk its prey, and he knew it could never be sated until Nick Graham’s body had been disinvested of its soul.

He’d never taken a life before. He had no doubt that he could do it. His only question was whether he might develop a taste for it.

He trawled his memories, something he rarely had cause to do so as he was so often reinventing himself. He normally preferred the uncertainty and potential excitement of the moment, living in the present as opposed to pointless ruminations on the dead past or speculation on the rapidly aborting future. But something clawed at his mind, feelings that had long been repressed, the absence of which had tainted every friendship or relationship that he’d experienced in his adult life.

He remembered her, possibly the only person he’d ever loved.

She was called Firenza, a fiery haired woman of Italian extraction, who, at the height of her career, was known as the Scarlet Woman or the Whore of Babylon to her ever-increasing portfolio of clients. He shuddered at the terms that had graced her profession, but also remembered the warmth of her green eyes and the smile on her face as she cradled him in her arms.

She was never married to his father, Harry Visconti. Harry did his best to look after the young Ram Khatt, but was not what you would call an ideal role model, unless you counted card sharping, pimping and drug dealing as key attributes that a young man should aspire to develop.

Ram Khatt also remembered how Harry would sometimes wake up screaming in the dark mornings, the nightmare scenes of war playing across the rapidly disintegrating theatre of his mind. PTSD had not been recognised as a medical condition at that time, so with no government help or benefits forthcoming, Harry had to be very creative how he made his money.

That capability had certainly been passed down to his bright, if sometimes misguided progeny.

The happy family atmosphere took a nosedive when Firenza developed a taste for narcotics and Harry, in his misguided love, started to supply the mother of his son.

And so Firenza spiralled into depression and drug addiction. Her traditional client base proved unwilling to pay for her in that state, and so she was forced to leave the relatively safe haven of the bordello, falling into the clutches of Nick Graham, a pimp working at the lower levels of whoredom.

As her addictions increased, she descended, as if taking an elevator down into Dante’s Inferno, to a lower level of clientele. “There’s always a market for a whore, always someone willing to pay”, echoed Nick as a constant refrain. She ended up dying of a heroin overdose. Harry Visconti had long left her and the terminally disillusioned Ram Khatt had started to travel around this time.

Firenza had always been a fatalist. She saw the skull beneath the skin. This was not because she had X-Ray vision as Ram Khatt had once joked. It was part of her nature, her epigenetic and psychological code; she saw the skull all time.

What she failed to see, regrettably, was that she was looking at her own reflection.

Her death changed Ram Khatt forever. He had repressed the memory and come up with a series of ornate and detailed personal back-stories that he would rehearse internally and present to anyone who listened. Not once would he tell the truth of his earlier years.

“If you have to have a past, you might as well make it multiple option,” was his philosophy, another aphorism most shamelessly appropriated, this time from Alan Moore.

What weapon should he use, or would his bare hands be more efficacious? Did he want to get up close and personal, strangling the life out of his opponent, or would he prefer a degree of distance from the act, his normal modus operandi for so many things he did in life?

Drying himself with a series of dark blue silk towels, his mind processed the question. No answer presented itself, so he shrugged his shoulders and lit another cigarette. Everything seemed to hang on chaos, uncertainty and chance. A bon mot half formed in his mind then frustratingly evaporated. An oath passed his lips, then a saturnine smile played on his features as he dressed, arranged his hair, cultivated his smile and strolled to the bar.

She wore Armani jeans and a white Valentino t-shirt that accented her tanned skin; he sported a light blue bespoke linen suit and yellow silk shirt. Their physicality immediately betrayed their slightly formal verbal courtship and any keen observer of human nature would have guessed their mutual objectives immediately.

They drank martinis, dry and dirty, and then took their seats at the lavishly appointed hotel restaurant. They ate lightly of local cheeses, meats, fruits, bread, fresh figs and yoghurt, accompanied by a flagon of Polish Vodka and a bottle of Quevris Rkatsieli. Strong Turkish coffee completed the meal, along with cigarettes and Raki laced with ice, known locally as Lion’s Milk due to its cloudy appearance.

Clearly sleep was not their mutual priority.

His conversation lacked its normal effervescent sparkle and, although he managed a decent line of banter, his normal wit and élan annoyingly eluded him. His mind was preoccupied with feelings of vendetta and vengeance. If she noticed this, Freddie chose not to comment. Instead she studied him, peered into his eyes as if to dissect his soul, to discover what lurked behind that studied charm. There was attractiveness presented to her, clearly, but a sense of distance that she wondered could ever be breached.

Suddenly Ram Khatt’s appearance changed. She noted a harshness to the features that flashed in a moment, a narrowing of the eyes, a curving of the mouth that terrified and attracted her at the same time. She wondered what was going on in his mind, as his eyes followed the man passing their table. Who was he, and what did her dining companion have in mind for him? She would find out, she was fascinated, wanting to be drawn into his world, whatever the consequences for both of them.

“Hey,’ she said, “someone walk over your grave?”

The pleasant contours of his features reasserted themselves, but there was still a harshness glinting in his eyes. He smiled.

“Maybe the reverse.”

As the evening wore on and they danced at a local nightclub, something of the old Ram Khatt returned. A sequence of sparling bon mots and the dance of seductive flattery weaved its magic. And as inevitably as a stone causes ripples on the calm surface of a pond, they ended up together in her bed. Much as it may intrigue the reader as to what happened between them, discretion is our mantra du jour on these matters.

As the morning light illuminated the dust that danced in the stifling air of her apartment in the old town, Ram Khatt kissed her and looked at her with a degree of inquisitiveness.

“How well do you know this city?”

“Pretty well,” she said. “It’s the type of place you can get anything you want, with no questions asked”.

“Interesting,” said Ram Khatt. “And where might I procure a garrotte and a revolver?”

She stretched and lit a cigarette. Many strange requests had been made of her throughout the course of her life. She shrugged her shoulders.

“May I enquire for what purpose?”

He took her in his arms and looked deeply into her eyes, his fingers ruffling her closely cropped hair. Could he trust her? A wry smile wrote itself across his mouth.

As they sat over breakfast of fresh figs, yoghurt, coffee and cigarettes, he gradually unfolded the tale. His description was short, cold and accurate, told as you might present a documentary film, and he answered her questions with a forthright honesty that one would not normally associate with him.

“A vendetta,” she said. There was more than a hint of excitement and the anticipation of forbidden pleasures in her voice. “A genuine Greek tragedy. Have you worked out where and how you‘re going to kill him?”

“Not yet. The opportunity will present itself. It should be easy enough to dispose of the body by throwing it out of the train. Perhaps in a nice scenic locale to boost the tourist trade?”

“You need an assistant,” she laughed. “I’m coming with you.”

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