The sleek one-hundred-foot yacht, the Don Juan, had just set sail from St. Tropez, casting itself out into the ever expansive, ever crystallizing-blue water. The Don Juan was a magnificent specimen—even in the elegant St. Tropez harbour, where millionaires, billionaires flexed their fragile egos. Even then, the Don Juan stood out among its rivals. Even the locals – used to such massive phalluses – stopped to gawk and gape.
And at sea, the fishing boats, tug boats, cruise boats, sail boats, and motor boats all tried to snuggle up along the smooth white hull, sparkling angelic-like in the water.
The Don Juan had thirty stunningly furnished rooms including a fully stocked wine cellar, a gym (complete with swimming pool and sauna) a concert hall, an entertainment room with a pinball machine and a forty-foot television, a study room and a plethora of bedrooms and bathrooms. Each room was a marvel in architecture, both modern and ancient. Golden trim, marble counters, ornate carvings inhabited each room. There was rumoured (although never authenticated) to be a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Heated floors, platinum-plated appliances, brass-knobbed cabinets were all included. One could invite thirty friends aboard and invariably not meet any of them for the entire voyage.
The Don Juan sailed out of the dozy, jutting harbour. Its large tremulous engine purred casually, taking the passengers and crew past the quaint, lyrical houses with red-bricked spherical rooftops; past a slender church steeple; past a cream-coloured, pencil-thin lighthouse, blinking lethargically; and past a dozen or so other yachts –which no doubt carried at least a dozen or so snobbish celebrities, likely hailing from either the entertainment or sports business. The Don Juan past all these things and travelled morosely down the white coastline for several nautical miles before hitting the open water and then there was nothing but a curving, wispy-blue horizon seemingly stretching on indefinitely.
The heat hit a sweltering forty degrees. The sun, steady and oppressive in the flat white sky, cast stumpy and meek shadows onto the deck. Sometimes there was a light, flimsy breeze that brushed across the boat and temporarily cooled the passengers.
“What was he in, now? The Last Wind?” one blonde asked the other. In fact, there were three blondes all together, and they were all lying in the pool trying to cool off, having discarded their bikinis long ago. With the blondes there was a rather uncouth-looking man with thick bulging chest hair, about forty-five, his short hairy arms encompassed two of the blondes.
“What is it with the French?” the second blonde said. She was curvy with a plum-coloured complexion.
“I thought I saw him back there—you know that actor, what’s-his-name?”
The second blonde looked around apathetically, scanning the deck. “All I want is a refill on my fucking drink.”
In their hands they all had apple martinis, bright and phosphorous drinks.
“Maybe you need to give him fallatio? It’s the only thing the French understand.”
When there was a concealment of giggles the second blonde threw a small fit. “You guys think you’re all so smart!”
“Ask the waiter. He’ll tell you.”
“Didn’t he play a navy captain in something? I definitely would perform fallatio on him.”
Sitting on a lawn chair, beside the hot tube was a pale-skinned brunette. She, was slightly chubby and big-busted and had on a white bikini. She was desperately trying to shut out the inane talk around her, but it was incredibly hard to do—especially since the man with the curly chest hairs kept unintentionally splashing her with water. She raised her sunglasses and gave the man a cold stare, which went unheeded and so she let out an audible sigh, shoved her sunglasses down on her nose again and sat back in the lawn chair, looking up at the clear blue sky.
“What did you say you did again?”
The man blinked rapidly, looking around, as if unsure if the question was directed at him. “Me? I’m a geologist.”
“Geologist? Sounds sexy.”
The brunette smiled at how ridiculous and absurd she sounded. Geology were anything but sexy. But nevertheless one of the blondes rubbed her breasts up against the man’s arm. The brunette closed her eyes, not believing what she was seeing. She should never have agreed to go with them. What she really needed was another drink.
“It’s hard work—being a geologist.”
The man shifted a little and kicked up another spray of water which hit the brunette again.
“Takes a hell of a lot of school and you have to fly to all these terrible places—mostly too hot or too cold. I spend half of my time in the Middle East and the other half in the frigging North Pole.”
“I would like the Middle East—all those beaches,” the plum-coloured blonde said.
“There’s no beaches in the Middle East,” one of the other girls said.
“There gotta be. There’s water isn’t there?”
“There’s no water—that’s why they call it the Middle East. Middle of the east.”
The geologist frowned faintly. “It’s all a fucking desert. Nothing but fucking heat and you have to wear these long stupid robes.” He then looked slyly sideways at his topless companions. “No skinny dipping aloud there.”
One of the blondes giggled shrilly and ran her fingers down the back of the geologist. The brunette just wished they would fuck off to the bedroom and have their orgy, and leave her alone on the deck. But no such luck.
The geologist was short, had an egg shaped head, wispy brown hair with a large circular shiny bald spot and a radish-coloured complexion. He saw the world through dull, uninteresting eyes. At social gatherings, he stood in the corner sipping spiked punch alone simply because he was the type of man who others habitually avoided simply instinctually from other monotonous past experiences with such people.
Maybe it was for that reason the geologist embellished the amount of travel he actually did. Most of the he sat in a glass walled office in downtown Calgary, staring apathetically over large computer-generated maps, carefully plotting computer simulations and examining rock samples—always, always looking for fresh places to drill, new black veins to open up. Places to bleed dry.
“It’s not like here,” the geologist said, casting his eyes over the white-capped water. “It’s perfect here. Really the cradle of the Earth. Perfect blue water, perfect blue sky.”
The geologist was lucky. He was rich beyond anything he could have imagined—certainly beyond anything a geologist had the right to be. Here he was with three topless babes – sure their tits so inflated with silicone they probably felt more like squeeze toys than actual breast – but the geologist probably liked it that way. Probably played to his psychosexual child development or something.
A modest-looking, stereotypical French waiter appeared from the stairwell. He was dressed in a white tuxedo, white shoe, white bowtie.
“Fucking finally,” one of the blondes whispered under her breath.
The three blondes waved their glasses at him. He took them with the dignity of being Parisian trained and placed them on his tray.
“Five more please,” the geologist said.
The waiter nodded and turned to go but the brunette stopped him. “Just some water for me.”
“Why don’t you have a drink for once in your life,” the geologist said.
“I do drink—I just don’t feel like it, that’s all.”
“It will do you some good, you know.”
“I’ve had enough.”
“Are you any fun? I mean at all?”
The brunette didn’t respond, instead she applied her attention to her forearms, inspecting her pinkish skin. Evidently, her concentrated effort to tan had taken a tragic turn and only increased her agitation.
“It’s so hard being chivalrous today.”
The blondes giggled and pressed closer to the geologist who tilted his head back, the tepid pool water lap up against his hairy arms and hairy chest.
“So you work with rocks and stuff?”
The geologist nodded. “There are three basic types—”
But before he could finish he was rudely cut off by the brunette. “Nobody cares about your fucking rocks, Peter!”
The geologist opened his mouth but hesitated. He wasn’t use to confrontation and he looked at the three blondes as if asking what he should do. Thinking it was one thing but voicing it was another matter. He then turned back to the brunette. “You don’t have to talk to people like that, you know.”
The brunette propped herself up and stared at the geologist with large watery-blue eyes. “I can fucking do what I want. It’s my fucking boat!”
Just then the waiter interrupted them again and handed the brunette a satellite phone.
“For you, madam Drashkov.”
Andrea Drashkov frowned, her eyes still piercing the geologist. “I should fucking kick you off,” she said before taking the phone.
The geologist turned his attention back to the blondes who were frowning at him. One whispered to the other and there was a giggle.
“I thought this was your boat?” Drashkov heard one of the girls say, and for the first time she felt like smiling.
She turned her attention to the phone.
“Hey, it’s David.” He sounded worried.
“Is there a problem?”
“Well, you could say that.”
Drashkov sighed irritably. “You know I like things blunt—it’s the Russian in me.”
“You know our site Lot 47?”
“Of course.” Drashkov listened, gripping the edge of her chair. Her knuckles went white, her whole body rigid, halfway out.
“It seems there was a mistake.”
“God sake’s David, just tell me.”
“Well . . . There’s no oil there at all.”
“None at all?”
There was a long silence. Drashkov was suddenly aware she was holding her breath.
“Certainly not what we told the stockholders.”
“No, I mean shit. What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to hold a press conference in the next week.”
“How could you do this to me? How could you not tell me?”
Drashkov violently got out of the chair, seemingly flinging her body upwards and stormed across the deck and down the stairs.
“Does she really own the boat?” One of the blondes asked again. “I thought you did.”
“Shut up for a fucking moment!” Drashkov snapped.
She felt like he was having heat stroke. She was suddenly dehydrated. Why hadn’t the waiter brought her any water yet? She looked around. The sun’s intense rays suddenly became intolerable.
David Melville said something.
“I said, I suggest you be there. Aren’t you listening to anything I say?”
“It’s kind of fucking hard, David. You know, being in France on my first fucking vacation in six years! And you just had to phone me up and tell me this?”
David Melville suddenly became quiet, so quiet Drashkov thought she had lost the connection.
“David, you still there?”
“I’m sorry, Andrea. I honestly thought . . .”
“I don’t care what you honestly thought.”
“I’m trying to put things right.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” Drashkov said again.
“Look, I’ve got to go. I’ve got a meeting in a couple of minutes,” Melville said.
“Who have you told?”
“Told? Nobody yet—just you. I’m going to try and keep a lid on this until the press conference.”
“You think you can do that?”
“Look, Andrea, I have to go,” he said. “My appointment is here.
“Okay,” Drashkov said, hanging up.
Drashkov looked around agitatedly. The geologist tried to get out of the pool, untangle himself from the blondes, who were still looking at him, confusion deep-rooted on their faces. He finally managed to pull himself up. Water tripped from his body, splotching the deck.
Drashkov started to pace. Despite the heat, she suddenly felt a chill to the bone. She started to shiver a little and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. Goosebumps appeared on her forearms. She turned to find Peter Hopkins staring at her, a quizzical look on his face.
She couldn’t face him and his harem and so she abruptly turned and went downstairs. But, unfortunately for her, Hopkins, not bothering to towel off, followed her. She didn’t want to even look at him. She wanted to be alone, to have time to think. She had to pack, call her pilot . . . the next couple of days would be critical.
She went down a long hallway with oak floors which smelled of silver polish, French artwork on each side. His damp footsteps followed her like a faithful pet. Suddenly she turned.
Peter Hopkins stood there, mute, a look of horror seemed plasticized on his face.
“Who knew?” Drashkov asked again.
“Does it really matter?” Hopkins managed to squeeze out.
“Of course it fucking matters.”
Hopkins paused again.
“Why come clean now? I mean why fucking now?”
Hopkins leaned his head against the wall. He looked like he was about to pass out.
She scowled at him with every facial muscle. Her legs jutted out, her roundish hips extended. Her white flesh seemed illuminating in the tampered hallway. “How could you?”
“It wasn’t my idea.”
“Nothing is your idea.”
“We just wanted to buy some time, you know . . . until we could find some oil.”
“But Lot 47 is totally dry. Lot 47 is what the investors expect.”
“As long as we find it somewhere.”
“You’re all wet. Get a fucking towel!”
“What are you going to do?”
“You’re a coward, a real true-blue coward, you know that, don’t you?”
“Andrea, what are you going to do now?”
Drashkov opened the door a little wider. Her body was a little more relaxed. She took a deep breath, bowing her head. “You ever play cards, Paul?”
“Andrea, you’re not making any sense.”
Drashkov looked at Hopkins. She seemed haunted “You ever stack the cards on top of each other. Build a pyramid? That’s what we’ve done, Paul. We’ve built a fragile pyramid. And it’s all about to collapse.”
“What are you talking about?”
Drashkov spread her arms out. “The boat for one. I can’t keep it.”
“What did David tell you?”
“He lied . . . you lied.”
Hopkins smiled sadly, pathetically. “I think David is planning for you to take the fall.”
A wave of nausea swept over Drashkov. She had to close her eyes and reached out and held onto the doorframe.
“He told me to fake the samples. He was so positive there was oil . . . . he didn’t want the investors to vanish. He just needed more time to prove it . . . that was all.”
“You believed him?”
Hopkins shrugged. He felt far away. Drashkov’s voice just an echo inside of his head.
“Did he threaten you? Threaten to fire you? You have any other secrets I should know about?”
Hopkins shook his head.
“Anything a judge might find sympathetic? You might want to think about it now.”
Hopkins snapped his eyes open. “A judge?”
“Yes a judge. You do realize you’re going to jail, don’t you?”
Drashkov turned and disappeared into her room, but Hopkins, with surprising quickness, squeezed in before Drashkov could close the door on him. Drashkov’s room was large and ornately decorated, a king-size bed dominated it.
“You mind? I need to get changed,” Drashkov said. “And you’re dripping water all over my hardwood floors.”
“You think this is a coincidence?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean to tell you while we’re on vacation? Halfway around the world?”
Drashkov put a hand on her hip. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I think he intends us to take the fall for this.”
“He said he’s going to have the news conference next week.”
“Bullshit next week. I bet he’s having it right now,” Hopkins said.
Drashkov put a hand to her temple, considering this. Perhaps Hopkins wasn’t as stupid as he looked. Melville has the conference, fingers his vice-president and head geologist and pleads his own ignorance. . . his word against theirs.
“What do we do?” Hopkins asked.
“I’m going back to Calgary.”
“Okay, I’ll go with you.”
“No, I can’t be seen with you.”
Drashkov pressed the intercom by the door and momentarily a voice answered. She ordered the helicopter to be readied.
“You can’t leave me.”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
Drashkov went to her closet and took out two large suitcases and started to throw all her clothes in, helter-skelter. “You think I pity you?”
“Please . . . we need to be together on this.”
Drashkov shook her head. “I can’t trust you.”
“Don’t’ you see? The damage has already been done.”
Instead of answering, Drashkov gingerly took Hopkins by the shoulder (not really wanting to touch his hairy body) and pushed him out the door, locking him out.
Hopkins pounded on the door, but Drashkov ignored him. She sat down on the bed, suddenly feeling emotionally exhausted. She waited until Hopkins gave up and she heard him trudge slowly down the hallway, presumably to his own room.
With great effort she stood up, the blood rushed to her head, and she had to steady herself by leaning up against the bedpost. She slipped out of her bikini and opened her closet. There she had a dizzying display of clothes, none of which she had ever worn before. She stood there just looking at all the clothes, momentarily confused of where they had all come from. But then she remembered she had ordered them all before her trip. She picked a navy-blue business suit and a white blouse which she carefully laid on her bed. She looked at it critically, picking off a few pieces of lint before she slipped it on.
She looked at herself in the mirror one last time before going to the helicopter pad. She looked tired and her pale skin had turned a tint of lobster red. She cursed her Russian heritage. Then without looking back at her room she walked out and up the stairs.
The pilot shifted the throttle and suddenly there was a violent surge of sound and shaking. Then an almost religious sensation as the helicopter lifted and Drashkov, for a moment, felt weightless, suspended in nothingness, just above the boat, her boat. God could have spoken to her in that moment and she would have done anything, believed everything. Then the feeling passed and she looked down as her super yacht, her beauty passed away from her. She was sure she would never see it again.
Drashkov looked at the sea and sighed heavily. She felt tired. She pressed her fingertips against the cool window, stretching out her fingers wide. Four hundred million—almost half a billion dollars on that boat. And for what? She had gotten half a vacation from it. She tilted her head slightly, looking at the gold-tinted shoreline and the white frothy surf, crashing, sputtering, spewing in torment its wet underbelly. The creamy beaches stretch deep and long into the horizon.
As the helicopter skilled low and hard across the water, she could make out hundreds of swimmers, surfers, sun tanners; red-and-white sun umbrellas clumped together like cattle. As Drashkov watched, it seemed a little surreal, a little like some animated movie where the director moves the little clay figures one by one.
An hour and twenty minutes later, they landed in Nice. Drashkov took out her cell phone and held it loosely between her fingers. She felt a great temptation to call her broker and sell everything. She thought back to what Peter Hopkins had told her. Perhaps it was a trap, a ploy to get her to appear guilty.
She thought back to her time with the company. David Melville had personally headhunted her from Chevron. He had told her his little company, Nerno Energy stood to make a shitload of money. It had. He hadn’t exaggerated in the least.
She could hear him speaking already. How could his chief financial officer not know? Certainly she was in big trouble.
How many stock options did she have? If she sold them all now and then Melville had his press conference she would be charged with insider trading. But how much was it worth? A billion dollars? She was in France after all. The sun always high in the sky, always a dominate glow. Home seemed so far away. Why should she go back? Go back to snowy, blizzard-laden Calgary. She had enough money to disappear for life. Hide out in Asia maybe, or South America. Become one of those Amazon babes.
She stretched her jaw out, looking at her phone, in the middle of the tarmac. No, she decided. She would get on the plane.
She scanned at the menu. Everything was so heavy . . . pork chops . . . steak . . . fettuccini alfredo. She eventually settled on just a Cesar salad and afterwards she leaned back in her seat and tried to enjoy the ride, settle down, maybe catch a couple hours of sleep.
She landed in the evening when the colours seemed more brilliant, more saturated from the chilliness. She half expected a frenzy of reporters to greet her but she past security and the greeting area without any problems. She stopped at the taxi stand and looked back towards the people waiting. The whole picture seemed only half there, transient.
The driver helped her with her bags and Drashkov got into the back. They entered downtown in about thirty minutes. She looked morosely out at the skyscrapers and buildings which seemed to sort of hover above the ground, clustered together all metal and glass. She couldn’t feel the humanity in them; it was all just meaningless structures in the dusk—cold and apathetic towards her. She shivered uncontrollably, feeling a foreboding sense of destiny, almost as if she knew what would come next.
And as soon as she thought it, her phone rang. It startled her. She picked it up from out of her purse and looked at the number on the screen. Thank God, it was David Melville. . . only it wasn’t.
“David? . . . David? . . . Are you there?”
Then she heard something. It was the quiet, distant sound of someone sobbing. She listened. The sound almost hypnotised her.
“Who is this?”
“Who is this? Can you hear me?” Drashkov was becoming impatient.
Finally the crying stopped and a soft voice said, “It’s Georgia, Mrs. Drashkov.”
“Georgia? Could you put Mr. Melville—what’s the matter?”
“Georgia? Everything okay?”
“Something terrible has happened.”
“It’s Mr. Melville . . . I don’t know how to say it.”
“What about him?”
“Passed? Passed what?”
Georgia Lancroft started to cry again, heavily this time, without restraint.
“He’s dead, Mrs. Drashkov.”
Drashkov felt as if her entire body had slipped from its skin and was now just a big blob of material on the floor. She felt sick. Her hands, her fingers all went numb and she saw – rather than felt – her phone drop to the floor. She immediately bent forward to pick it up but she had a hard time grasping it; she knocked it with her foot before grasping it again; it fell again and only on her third try did she manage to stimulate her hand enough to have a firm hold on the phone.
“Georgia. . . Georgia, you still there?”
The crying reaffirmed that she was.
“Georgia, what happened?”
“With Mr. Melville?”
“Yes, with Mr. Melville.”
The sensors in her body had only returned slightly. She felt dizzy, lightheaded. She closed her eyes. No, this wasn’t happening, she thought. It can’t be. I will wake up and still be sun tanning on the Rivera. I’ve had sunstroke . . . yes that’s it. I’m just dehydrated . . . that’s all. This is all just some crazy hallucination. She felt the urge to laugh. She opened her eyes.
“Georgia . . . what happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Georgia, this is important. Just tell me everything you know.”
“Just compose yourself. Take your time.”
“Is everything alright?” It was the driver and Drashkov was suddenly very aware of her surroundings. She was in the back of a cab.
“Georgia, just a minute.” She took the phone away from her ear. “Can you let me out right here?”
“Yes, just pull over.”
The driver nodded and pulled over to the curb and Drashkov got out. The driver helped her with her bags.
“You sure you’re okay?” the driver said. “You look pale.”
It took ever muscle in Drashkov’s face to smile as she dug around in her purse to find her wallet.
“Just a little bad news.”
The driver studied Drashkov carefully. “Okay.”
With shaking fingertips, Drashkov pulled out a hundred and gave it to the driver who held it up to the light as if it was a fake. He then folded the bill and put it in his wallet and gave Drashkov change. Drashkov took her change and then handed the driver twenty dollars.
“A tip,” she said, turning quickly around, picking up her suitcases and walking down the street. She could feel the eyes of the driver on her all the way down the block. She was sure he would sell his story to the six o’clock news. But it didn’t matter.
She had to rest when she turned the corner. She looked around. The streets were empty and cold and full of blue light. She sat on her suitcase, her breathing still raced. She didn’t know how long she sat there, not even aware of the strange looks she was getting. After awhile she pulled out her cell phone and dialled the office number.
“Georgia, it’s Andrea. . . tell me what happened.”
“He . . . just jumped . . . out of his office window.”
Georgia sounded like she was about to burst into tears again. “Just jumped. . . . he . . . just . . . jumped.”
Drashkov tried to think but her head was spinning. She wished she had some aspirin or something. “Did . . . he tell you anything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did he say anything . . . anything at all? . . . About the company maybe?”
“He told me to go home and then he said something strange . . . he said he was going to put things right—I didn’t ask what things. . . What things did he mean?”
Drashkov sighed, putting her hand up to her temple. Her head was beginning to spin again. “I don’t know . . . Did he leave a note or anything?”
She prayed for a note. It would go a long way to proving her innocence.
“I don’t know—maybe. I don’t think so. The police have everything.”
Drashkov took a deep breath and held it. A sudden malicious thought occurred to her. “Georgia . . . You sure . . . you absolutely sure it was suicide? He wasn’t . . . you know . . . pushed or anything?”
The suggestion made Lancroft go into semi-hysterics. “What are you saying? You think he was murdered? Somebody murdered him?”
“Well, he did manage to anger a lot of people,” Drashkov said cautiously.
“Anger people? Who did he anger?”
“Not a lot of people know yet.”
“Mrs. Drashkov . . . he did something really bad, didn’t he?”
“Yes . . . Georgia . . . he did.”
“I knew it. . . I knew something was wrong.”
“He told you?”
“No . . . I could see it in his eyes. The last time . . . his eyes—I don’t know.” “Okay . . . okay.” Despite the cold, Drashkov could fee a distinct sweat build up on her neck. She closed her eyes for a moment. What to do? What to do? What to do? The darkness behind her eyelids was thick, potent. What was there to do? Melville was dead . . . killed . . . murdered . . . who knew? Who would believe her? No . . . he must have left something. Some sort of proof. He wouldn’t let her rot in prison, would he? No, she had nothing to do with it. It was all Paul Hopkins’ fault. That little ugly hairy runt, she cursed.
She was jolted aware by something. . . It was Georgia Lancroft’s voice.
“What was that?”
“Tell me what I should do, Mrs. Drashkov. I’m not as smart as you. . . and you know what’s going on . . . I will do anything you tell me.”
Drashkov opened her mouth but closed it quickly, sucking in a deep breath through her nostrils, feeling it burn all the way down her throat. She looked down the street where there was a large cement mixture cumbersomely turning the corner; she looked at the cars, newly minted, machine made as they accelerated down the street; she looked up at the beastly metallic structures, slightly ghastly in the blue light and the yellow light. She looked—everything had a faded, washed-over look, like she was peering at something in a murky puddle or through a thin curtain. She felt like one great wind storm would blow and blow everything away, the whole thing into oblivion.
“Just stay put,” she said, finally. “I will come get you. Don’t say anything to anybody—especially any reporters who might be snooping around.”
Drashkov hung up. It took a great effort for her to rise from her suitcases. Her legs were shaky and weak. She grabbed her suitcases and her handbag and started to walk towards the office. How far was she? She looked around for a taxi then a bus stop. Perhaps she could take the bus. It was almost humorous and she felt a strange urge to laugh. When was the last time she had taken the bus? University?
She stopped suddenly. She thought of Melville, of the coroner examining his crushed, broken body. Poked and prodded. The thought was all too much for her.
She somehow managed to find a taxi and before she knew what she was saying, he told him to take her to the airport. As the driver got onto the highway she realized she was making one of the biggest decisions in her life. She would never be the same, her life was forever altered. She had no qualms with leaving her beautiful life as it was. She would have the memories—and the stories. And after all, she had grown up with her family in a single-bedroom apartment with two drunken semi-employed parents. She could return to the old ways just as easily.
She didn’t know where she would go; only she had to get away from the city, away from Calgary away from Melville, away from the company.
When she got out of the cab, she made one last call. This one was long distance to Switzerland.