He stumbled from the darkness, through the heavy stone doors, and into the tiled marble floor, his legs trembling from the steep climb, his shoulder still aching from where the branch had struck him. He was more exhausted than he had ever been before...but as he swiveled his head to view the vast room he had just stepped into, with its glittering gold pillars and marble dome ceiling that stretched to the sky...he felt a feeling of immense ecstasy and relief wash over him...for he was, at last, in the place that could change his life forever.
Destitution was the rule of his life, the one constant condition that dictated him more than anything else...but it had not always been so. And what lay ahead of him promised to shatter that rule...to make him richer than his wildest dreams...even before he had fallen from his pedestal...
It was his dreams that had brought the man into the building in which he stood. It was his dreams that had brought the man to the verge of riches beyond measure. The man was once a historian, a teller of the story of humankind. He had been searching for this building all his life. Back then, his interest in the building had been academic. The building was one of the last pieces in the puzzle that explained the fall of one of the world's most powerful empires. The riches in the building could go to museums, for all he cared - it was the history that mattered to him. And using the history, he had gotten close to the building...so close...
But then, it was all taken from him.
Since then, since his life had been completely and utterly destroyed, there was only one thought that consumed his mind -revenge. And he would get it the only way he could - by finding the building - and using the riches to destroy the man who had taken everything from him. But it had seemed that the search was hopeless - penniless, without a team of researchers to help him, the search for the tomb had been futile. But then, it had appeared to him. The heavens above had shined down on him, the Gods had shown him the way. In his dreams, it had appeared to him - there it was, above the Busento River, where the legends had said it was all along...
The man stepped deeper into the dome, with every step feeling his chest heave with a sharp intake of breath. His muscles were tight and tense not only with excitement but also with fear. for the gods had not only shown him great treasure in the tomb – but also great danger. He reached into his back pocket, feeling for the smooth metallic handle of a revolver. The man remembered when he found the very idea of carrying a weapon revolting - but for revenge he would do anything.
The man slid through the marble floor, nearing the other side of the dome. That was where the treasure was in – in the pitch-dark room that lay across the atrium. The man had gone there in his dream – he had seen the room, filled with ancient coins, gold, silver, and jewels, fragments of marble pillar, and other spoils of war – and in the middle – the tomb where the king who destroyed Rome was laid to rest.
Clutching an enormous Swiss suitcase meant to store the treasure in his hand, the man moved closer to the dark room. He was almost there…just a few more steps…he could almost reach it…
But then he stopped.
The clicking of a handgun echoed through the chamber. The man whipped around, dropping the suitcase and fumbling for his revolver, but it was too late. The barrel of a handgun was staring down at him. A woman’s voice spoke coolly to him.
“Drop the gun.”
The man slowly bent down, lowering the gun to the floor.
He had failed.
The woman carrying the handgun walked across the room, pointing it at the man in front of her. The climb up the sheer cliff had been tiring, but the man across the room seemed to be in a worse state than she was.
The woman hand been sent here by a long-time client of the name Francois Edgar Benoit. Benoit was known to the world as the living version of the Monopoly man, but by the choice few who worked for him, he was known as a man who would do anything necessary to get what he wanted. And what Benoit wanted more than anything was art and history. More than his seven businesses, what Benoit wanted to be known for was as a champion of art and culture. And to achieve that image, he did what any man unreasonable as himself would do – he stole credit for archeological finds from archeologists. Sometimes he bribed, other times he killed; the degree of his investment and involvement depended on his interest in the subject. And so, when Benoit found the find that interested him more than any other, he was all in. A brilliant young historian was close to finding the tomb of King Alaric I, the Visigoth ruler who had ended the Roman Empire. The woman did not know what Benoit had done to the historian, but she did know that Benoit had stepped in too early. The historian had not pinpointed the treasure’s location, and the tomb remained hidden. But Benoit was still eager to get his hands on the tomb. So, he waited for the historian to come back, driven by revenge, and to try to claim the treasure for himself. And the plan worked, thought the woman. There he is, like a mouse trying to pry cheese from a mousetrap.
“You don’t want to do this.”, the man said, his voice trembling with anger. The man was gaunt yet very handsome, with what was perhaps once piercing brown eyes that were now dimmed with years of living in hell.
“On the contrary, sir, I do.”, the woman smirked. She was now only a few feet away from the man, her gun trained at the man’s forehead. “You see, I’m getting paid a lot for this.”
“Paid?”, the man rasped. “Nothing compared to what lies in front of you. The treasure in that room can make you richer than the man who is paying you to kill me.”
In the reflection of the man’s brown eyes, the woman could see the flash of greed appearing on her face. She quickly changed her expression, undesiring of the man seeing her reaction to the statement. “And why should I believe you?”
“You don’t have to.”, the man replied. “See for yourself.”
The woman let out a sigh. In truth, she hated the job of harming others – but it was her best skillset, and she needed the money. With the treasure, she would not need to work again. Keeping her gun pointed at the man, the woman stepped around him, and backed towards the dark room. Pulling a flashlight from her pocket, the woman looked into the room. She felt every bone in her body freeze with shock. No. It could not be. She whipped her gun towards the inside of the dark room, but it was too late. The searchlights of several rifles were boring down towards her, illuminating the portly face of a very familiar client. Francois Benoit.
“Wrong move, Vassentha.”
The man watched with horror as the bullets ripped into the woman, and as she thudded against the floor. As rifles were re-loaded, footsteps of several black-clad operatives stepped out through the door of the dark room and into the light. Behind them, out stepped a hefty man with a bulging gut. The man’s heart filled with cold, dark, hate upon seeing the hefty figure. That man – Francois Benoit – was the man who had given him a fate worse than death. The truth was the building had appeared in the man’s dreams several times before – but he had not been driven to act. But it had been this night – when he had woken up at 3 am in a cold sweat after the face of Francois Benoit had appeared in his dreams – when he had been prompted into action. He had driven through the foggy darkness from his home in Cosenza, scaling the cliff with the anger that had fueled him. The anger that had come from grief…
Francois Benoit stared smugly at the man, unconcerned by the revolver pointed at his face. Instead, he spoke casually, like a dinner party host addressing his guest. “Evening, Vittorio.”
The man felt a strange disconnection to the name; it had not been said, nor had he been said, in the past ten years since Benoit had destroyed him. Nevertheless, he kept the gun trained on the portly leader, keeping his operatives from lifting their rifles.
“How are you here?”, the man asked, his voice trembling with rage.
“How am I here?”, Benoit smirked. “Vittorio, you see, I was always here. Though-”, Benoit motioned to the body of the woman who had held him at gunpoint, “-not everybody who works from me knows it, I am not completely useless at archeology. I picked up where you left off. I found the tomb.”
“Then why wait for me to come to it?”, Benoit interrogated, the curiosity overcoming his urge to kill the man. “And how did you know I was coming?”
“The answer, my dear Vittorio, lies in one simple fact – I know you. I made a mistake in breaking you – perhaps it was too cruel – but its fatal flaw was that it did not eliminate my problem, it simply made it worse. I simply created a broken man out for revenge. Even if I had broken you enough to stop you then, you being alive was still a threat. And since I could not find you, I had to wait for you to find me. My faithful servants watch the road to the tomb every night. Your car is one of the only possessions you have left – and it is hard to forget.”
The man felt his insides flatten with horror and regret. He had been walking into a trap…Benoit knew he was coming all along…he was waiting for him…
“And so, my dear Vittorio, as much as I enjoyed our time together, I am afraid it has come to an end.” Benoit motioned towards his mercenaries, who – to the man’s horror – were now pointing their rifles towards him. “I want you to know – I have no malice towards you, my friend. This is strictly business. And may you rest in peace…with your wife and children.”
The man had no time to fire at Benoit, he only had time to duck behind a marble pillar as gunfire rained towards him. Breathing heavily, he extended his arm so that his revolver could fire around the pillar and fired once, twice, three times. He could hear the bullets ricocheting around the dome, and could hear the scream that confirmed that he had hit someone…he could only hope it was Benoit…
The operatives fanned out, following Benoit’s barking commands…so he was not dead…and their line of fire began to get dangerously close to his chest. The man knew he had no escape…if he moved away from the pillar, he had no cover…and soon, even the pillar would cease to shield him. He desperately fired into the line of operatives, hitting another…but his bullets were running low now. He had only two remaining. An mercenary jumped towards him, and he fired…there was only one bullet now. Another mercenary sprang towards him from the other side of the pillar, punching him across the jaw…the man swept his feet under hers, sending her crashing to the ground…and used the final bullet in his revolver to finish her off. The operatives now surrounded him, their guns aiming in a path that led directly to his heart. The man lunged at the operative, but it was too late. The gunshots sounded, and bullets ripped through his chest. Pain unlike any other coursed through his body. The operatives stood around him, their guns at their sides.
“Goodbye, Vittorio.”, came the voice. It seemed far away, yet he could see the hazy figure of Benoit standing over him. But, to Benoit’s shock, the last expression on the man’s face was not of horror, nor rage. It was a smirk. For though he did not get what he wanted, he had one last trick up his sleeve. It was a final revenge, a desperate effort to lose the battle but win the war against the man who had killed his family, who had taken a once-sane man and broken him.
And as the last strands of life left him…the man stared at the figure above him…and prayed to the skies that he would face justice.
Francois Benoit stood over the dead man, a wave of relief washing over him. The deed was done. He was safe. He looked up to his operatives, and was about to give the order to leave, when the piecing two-tone sirens bored into the night. Benoit could hear the car doors opening, and the polizia officers stepping out. A harsh voice spoke through a megaphone.
“Fermare. You are under arrest for the murder of Vittorio Ricardo and his family.”
As the polizia burst through the door, Benoit lifted his hands into the air. His entire face was red with rage.
“H-how?”, he sputtered.
An officer pointed to an object on the floor. A battered android that lay at Vittorio’s side. A number was dialed, and the screen indicated that the call had been going on for a long time, perhaps since his operative Vassentha had entered into the room. Benoit felt his jaw drop to the floor.
He had entered the building trying to tie a loose end but would exit it a captured criminal. He had won the battle but lost the war. As the polizia clicked handcuffs around his wrists, he thought bitterly. Well played, Vittorio. Well played.