Eleni got to the cleaning lady’s apartment within 20 minutes. It was an apartment complex of newly built condos in Chateauguay, exactly like the ones that were rising all over Montréal and its South Shore. Probably her father had some financial stake in those apartment complexes, thought Eleni. Aristotle did business with everybody, and he had shares and contracts with building companies, real estate companies, suppliers and so many other business interests. The man had tentacles everywhere and one could never underestimate his reach. After all, he built his financial empire over half a century, after arriving in Montreal, from Greece with his parents at the age of 12. He quit school at 14 and started working, making deals, friends, and enemies as he went along. Now, well into his seventies, he had more enemies than friends as people felt his reach and power were dwindling. Yet, Eleni knew better than to discount her father’s power.
Eleni and Jazz parked on street over and they walked towards the building. They both walked with a normal pace, with their faces down so that the cameras wouldn’t be able to recognize them, should something happen. They got to the entrance and looked at the names on the buzzer. Eleni recognized Eric’s mother’s name. She had heard it a thousand times over the years.
“Are we simply going to ask her to buzz us in?”, said Jazz. She looked at him and he could tell she was unsure.
“At this point, we know what she did, and I have a feeling she is expecting us.”
“Only one way to find out”, replied Jazz.
Eleni buzzed apartment 55 and waited. She buzzed a second time and the door opened. They entered the elevator and went to the fifth floor. Eleni took a deep breath and knocked on apartment 55. She heard a woman’s voice say, “It’s open, come in”. She looked at Jazz, for some reassurance but he seemed even more uneasy than she was. Against her will, she opened the door and they stepped inside.
The apartment was simply furnished. There was a dining table, a sofa, two armchairs, a big tv, and the kitchen was on the left side of the apartment. It was squeaky clean and that was to be expected. After all, Eleni remembered Claudette, had been cleaning houses among other jobs, from the moment she set foot in Montreal, more than 25 years ago.
“Welcome, Eleni. I have been expecting you.”
Claudette was sitting in one of the armchairs, next to the sliding door that gave access to the balcony. She was wearing a gray pantsuit and black adidas sneakers, which struck Eleni as unusual.
“You and Jazz can have a seat, if you’d like”, she added after a few seconds. Eleni looked at Jazz, whose jaw had dropped to the floor. Eleni looked back at Claudette, whose face was totally stolid. She couldn’t read any type of movement or emotion on Claudette’s face and that simple fact greatly annoyed her. Jazz bent his knees so he could sit down but Eleni shook her head and gave him a severe look which made him stand up again.
“Claudette, where is my brother?”
“You will never find him.”
“What? What do you mean?”
It was Jazz who found his voice. Eleni couldn’t speak. She looked at Claudette, to find the smallest sign of a bluff, of a tremor in her face, anything. Claudette’s face was emotionless, stoic. Eleni looked at Jazz and she could see the confusion in his face. She looked back at Claudette. There was nothing. Just a woman sitting in a chair, legs crossed with her hands on her thighs.
“What did you do to my brother?”, finally asked Eleni, with a voice filled with fear.
“What do you mean nothing? You just said we will never find him!”, said Jazz with a face that couldn’t hide his own fear. He looked at Eleni and she seemed even more lost and scared.
“Before you say or do anything, look behind me, in the corner and then look behind you, above the door.”
There were two high tech cameras, obviously recording everything they said and did from the moment they entered the room. Eleni and Jazz looked at each other but they couldn’t reassure each other. They were in a situation they couldn’t control. Suddenly, all the money and power Eleni’s family wielded was useless, and they were at Claudette’s mercy. In that instant, in that room, Claudette had all the power, and she knew it. Despite being she was in charge, Claudette didn’t smile nor show any satisfaction.
“Eleni, darling…Could you call your father, please?”
The panic that set in her heart, made Eleni drop the phone she had been holding since she had exited her car. The sound it made when it hit the floor startled her and she let out a small cry, which in turn scared Jazz who stepped away laterally from Eleni. The whole scene was comical, but Claudette didn’t budge or say anything. She saw Eleni’s tremors and tears rolling down her cheeks. Before she would start sobbing, Claudette repeated her request, with a more serious tone. Eleni had no choice but to pick up her phone and call her father.
“Speaker phone please, darling.”
Eleni did as she was bid. The phone rang twice, and Aristotle’s voice echoed in Claudette’s apartment.
“Eleni, update me on the situation.”
“Hello, Aristotle”, simply said Claudette.
“Who is this? Eleni, am I on speaker phone?”, he replied with a palpable irritation in his voice. Claudette spoke before Eleni could say anything.
“It is Claudette, Aristotle. I think it is time we spoke.”
Silence followed, only interrupted by Jazz and Eleni finally sitting down after handing the phone to Claudette. She took the speaker phone off and got up. Eleni and Jazz felt as if life had left their respective bodies. Eleni started crying, as discreetly as possible.
“Mrs. Kana. I am all ears.”
“Allow me to step out on the balcony so we can talk without being interrupted. I trust you two will stay here. And remember…” and she pointed to both cameras. Eleni and Jazz simply sat there, flabbergasted, and afraid of what’s about to happen.
Claudette stepped outside and closed the sliding door behind her. She put the phone to her ear and started the conversation.
“Where is my son?”, asked immediately Aristotle, as if he knew it was time to talk.
“As I told your lovely daughter, you will never find him.”
Silence followed. Claudette could only hear breathing on the other side of the phone. She waited, knowing fully well she was in power at that moment.
“What does that mean exactly?”
Claudette chose to stay silent. She could tell Aristotle was becoming more nervous as the seconds went by.
“Mrs. Kana, answer me!”, Aristotle finally said, using his authoritative voice. For the first time since the day had started, Claudette smiled. She knew she had him. Silence followed again. Aristotle understood the position he was in, and he chose to stay silent. Claudette felt Aristotle’s powerlessness and she decided to capitalize on it.
“You have hurt my family in ways I cannot describe. Tonight, after all these years, things are about to change. You’re about to understand true loss.”
“Hurting my son isn’t going to undo what happened to your Josephine.”
The mention of her daughter’s name took Claudette aback. She took the phone off her ear and took a deep breath, while making sure Aristotle wouldn’t hear her.
“Don’t you say her name!”, she said, angry and trembling.
“I remember her…”
“Don’t try to play to play me. Do not mention her name again!”, she responded half screaming while interrupting him. She turned around and saw Jazz and Eleni staring at her.
“Whether you believe me or not…I remember everyone’s name. I remember every name, every date, everything about each of my son’s victims.”, continued Aristotle.
“Oh please, are you expecting some sort of sympathy or pity?”
“No, I am not.”
“Are you looking for forgiveness maybe? What is it you are looking for?”
“I am simply looking for my boy.”
“You will never find him.”
“Please, Mrs. Kana. Have some mercy. It’s my child, my little boy.”
Claudette heard Aristotle’s voice break and she held back her own tears. On some level, as a mother, she empathized with the prospect of knowing your child would get hurt intentionally. Yet, his son had hurt her daughter and taken away her innocence, her life, her dignity, her body, her sanity. That, she could never forgive. She ground her teeth, took a deep breath, and went back to the conversation.
“Your child hurt mine, in ways you would never understand.”
“I understand on some level.”
“Could you stop patronizing me? Next thing, you’re going to tell me you know how I feel”
Silence again, as if Aristotle was gathering his thoughts, or trying to think of a ruse to drag this conversation and perhaps convince her to stop her plan.
“No, I would never pretend I know how you feel. But I am sure you don’t know how I feel.”
Claudette had to stop her hand from letting the phone go and fall 5 floors down. She couldn’t believe the man’s arrogance. Before she could interject, he went on.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have a son who is evil. By all accounts, and despite my own bias, I finally accepted my son is an evil person and he would always be. From what I hear, your own son has turned out great despite what my son did to your family. Costa…has been a disappointment of epic proportions. He is a criminal, a vain man, with a blinding arrogance, which always gets him into trouble. He brought nothing but shame, trouble, violence, and destruction to his family and to the world. He is a negative force in this world, but he is still MY SON! My first instinct is to protect him and that has brought its own sets of problems. But…no matter what he is…He is MY SON! He will always be. I must protect him even if I am fully aware of the destruction he has laid upon the world. I raised him, took care of him, showed him right from wrong, yet he chose to become a common criminal, a rapist, and a disappointment. Sometimes, as painful as it sounds, I wish he wasn’t alive to hurt other people. However, he is and will always be my son, my little boy, the cute kid I raised all these years. I am sure…as a parent, you would do everything in your power to protect your kids. I will do everything I can to protect mine.”
“I am sure you will. And I am ready for you this time. Last time I wasn’t but today I am.”
Claudette chuckled and she heard Aristotle clear his throat to hide how irritated and powerless he was. The man had delivered a speech worthy of an Oscar performance, but it wouldn’t do him any good. Not today, not after all these years and all this preparation.
“What do you mean last time you weren’t ready?”
“Well, last time, the mighty Aristotle, like Zeus would do in your precious Greek mythology, took care of everything. You had the best lawyers, who didn’t think twice about painting my little Josephine as a whore, or someone who was asking for it. I know everything today. Your son paid a small price compared to what he did to my little girl, and all the other families out there.”
“So, you have been planning this for a while…Interesting.”
Claudette didn’t want to give Aristotle more information than she needed to, but the cat was out of the bag at this point. That small confession wouldn’t change much about what was coming.
“Well, I couldn’t protect my daughter from your son.”
“That is true, and I could never apologize enough for the pain he caused to your family and especially your daughter.”
“You believe an apology is going to erase all these years of court appearances, therapy for my daughter, the pain she carries to this day and how the whole thing destroyed my family? You think your little speech is going to do anything here? Where is the powerful Aristotle, I have heard so much of? Where are your famous threats, sir? Where is that machismo? When are you going to threaten me so I can shake until I puke? Are you going to send your family attorney again to arrange a settlement so we could make this thing go away? What are you going to do today?”
“Today, I am just a father pleading for his son’s life.”
“Just know you will never find him, no matter what you do. And I know this conversation is being recorded. So, let me tell you that if something were to happen to me, my Eric or my Josephine, the Albatross file will find itself on social media.”
“Wait! What? How do you know about…?”
Claudette didn’t let him finish his sentence.
“You are getting old, Aristotle. People can smell it. People can see it and they are coming for you.”
Aristotle said nothing, probably because there was nothing to say. He kept breathing hard and Claudette was afraid he’d have a heart attack right there and then. She went on.
“I can ruin you, your family, your empire, and your world in ways you cannot even imagine. Make a move to hurt me or my family and I will tear down your world the way your son did mine.”
She could hear Aristotle breathing hard and in short bursts. Claudette couldn’t believe she had found the courage to go that far with this phone call, but it had been a long time coming. She had waited so many years to land the last blow. Moreover, she had played this scene in her mind hundreds of times the past few weeks. She wouldn’t back down now.
“I seem to remember a few members of your entourage were involved in the Albatross affair”, continued Claudette, “and your daughter played a part in that, right? She was a police officer after all. I wonder if she even knows what she actually did.”
“Please do not say anything to my daughter. Please do not involve her in this.”
“You involved her by not telling her what she was doing or who she was doing it for.”
“Mrs. Kana, please. Have some mercy. I cannot lose both my children in one night.”
“Now, you want mercy?”
“Your kids are still alive, aren’t they? Are you going to kill my son and have my daughter thrown in jail? Is that your idea of justice?”
“Justice…I was never interested in justice, Aristotle. Maybe a while ago I was. But today…I am after vengeance. I am after annihilation if it comes to that.”
“No, you are not. You think you know what annihilation is, but you don’t. You still have a family you love and care about. And as they say, death isn’t the worst the thing that can happen to someone.”
“Finally, a threat from Aristotle.”
“No, my dear, I am simply talking facts.”
“Good. Before you choose to try and hurt me, you better remember that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to someone or their family.”
Claudette heard Aristotle take a deep breath. She took one herself, wondering if she had gone too far, wondering how far she was willing to go. Finally, Aristotle found the strength to speak.
“You may believe I will simply sit idly by and let you destroy my world. I might. I am living the twilight years of my life and whatever I built could easily be taken away. But if you think I will not lift a finger to defend my children and destroy whoever is coming after them, then Mrs. Kana, you are downplaying the resolve of a parent. I pity you and whoever helped you plan this.”
“Who said I had help?”
“I know you had help. No one can do this alone. And trust me…If something happens to my daughter…” and his voice trailed off.
“Cat got your tongue all of a sudden? You were in the middle of a threat if I am not mistaken.”
“I said all I had to say, Mrs. Kana.”
The last sentence sent a chill down Claudette’s spine. Suddenly, she got reminded of who she was talking to, and she hoped the plan would work. When there are so many moving parts, something is bound to happen and threaten the integrity of the whole plan.
“Aristotle, the next move is yours. Tonight, you could lose more than you think. And if you play with me, I will have no problem pulling the plug and burn your world to the ground, the way you did mine.”
She unceremoniously hung up and put the phone in her pocket. Her hands were trembling, she was sweating, and she felt as if her heart would jump out of her chest. She reached in her jacket pocket, opened the small bottle, and took two pills. She had to be mindful of her blood pressure. Having a stroke wasn’t on the schedule. The night had just begun and more needed to be done to ruin Aristotle and his whole goddamn family.
Claudette gathered her thoughts and her breathing. She stepped in and handed the phone to Eleni. She could see how the young woman was shaken but she paid her no mind. Claudette sat back on her armchair and looked at Jazz and Eleni. She didn’t say anything.
“Mrs. Kana, where is my brother?”
“What part of “you will never see him again” confused you, Eleni?”
“Ma’am. Please. I beg you…Please…Costa is…”
“Fragile? Unstable mentally? Suffers from depression? Or is it bipolar disorder he suffers from? I don’t quite remember, darling. That’s what the family lawyer said in court a while back, right?”
Eleni couldn’t help but look down. They both knew how the lawyer played with all these medical terms to try and exculpate his client.
“Well, whatever he is, whatever he did, it ends tonight.”
“Did you kill him?”
“Do you see any blood on me or a dead body here?”
“Ma’am, please, do not mock me.”
“I shouldn’t mock you after everything your family put my family through? Tell me Eleni, how should I treat you? With reverence? Respect? Or should I welcome you with open arms? Please tell me…How should I act here?”
Eleni chose silence again. Claudette watched Jazz who couldn’t have been more nervous.
“I am concerned about my brother, that is all.”
“You don’t have to be anymore, darling.”
Claudette put her hand in the inside of her jacket and pulled out a phone. She typed something and Eleni’s phone vibrated. Once again, she got startled and she let out another cry, which made Jazz jump in his seat. Eleni looked at her phone and then at Claudette.
“Go to this address.”
“Is my brother there?”
Claudette ignored her question and crossed her legs. She saw the desperation in Eleni’s eyes and felt sorry for her in a way. After all, family was everything to Greeks.
“Go to that address, darling.”
“Is my brother there?”, she asked again, practically shouting.
“Let’s go Eleni! Let’s go!”, said Jazz and he dragged her outside the apartment forcibly. Eleni looked at Claudette one last time and before she exited the apartment, she threw some insults in Greek. Claudette didn’t budge and Jazz closed the door.
Claudette got up and went to the bathroom. She threw up in the toilet and she did once again. She cleaned herself up and she made a call.
“They are on their way, Sylvie. You got 30 minutes max.”
“It might not be enough.”
“You know what to do.”, and she hung up.
TO BE CONTINUED