The Streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti
JAKJAK, THE CHAUFFEUR, PEERED through the windshield of the black Mercedes sedan, looking for danger. Haiti could be a bad place after dark. Killings, kidnappings, and armed robbery were common. Police protection was almost nonexistent in Port-au-Prince. Not only was Jakjak a driver, but he was also his employer’s bodyguard.
It had been more than four years since the terrible earthquake had destroyed the country, but massive piles of rubble remained. Jakjak dodged broken stones that had spilled onto the road from the high rows of demolished cement blocks lining the streets, and then suddenly a black cat jumped out in front of the Mercedes.
Jakjak stomped on the brakes but heard the thump of the animal striking the bottom of the car. Slamming to a halt, he looked back to see the dead cat lying in the middle of the road. His heart beat faster and he began to sweat. His mother had warned him of this. She was a Mambo, a Vodoun priestess with strong powers. According to Jakjak’s religion—Petro Vodou—the spirit embodied in black cats, Iwa, grew angry and vindictive to those who brought him harm.
Jakjak felt through his black suit coat to reassure himself that his .45 was in the holster strapped to his chest. He was a young thirty-eight, muscular from his daily workouts with heavy weights, and imposing at six-foot-two and 220 pounds.
But killing the cat had made his large hands shake.
Jakjak turned to the three men in the back seat. “Mal se nan lé a. Evil is in the air. We must turn back.”
Julien Duran answered, “No, Jakjak. Drive on.”
“Please, sir. Listen to me. No good will come of tonight’s meeting. I feel the spirit of the cat on me. We have angered him.”
Duran cleared his throat. At forty-eight, Duran was tall and thin, with prematurely gray hair. He wore a white suit, white tie with a diamond stickpin, and a heavily starched white shirt with gold cuff links and mother-of-pearl inlays. Jakjak had worked for him for twenty years, since Duran had returned from his economics studies at Yale, and law school at the University of Virginia. After only two years in a prestigious law firm in Port-au-Prince, Duran had been offered a government job as Assistant Minister of Finance, where his work gained him frequent promotions. In 2010, after the quake, he reached the top. He was made Minister of Finance.
Duran, sitting in the back of the Mercedes between his two assistant ministers, leaned toward his driver and said, “Jakjak, I respect your beliefs, but regardless of what your intuition tells you, I must go to this meeting. Charles Roche is a billionaire. I can’t keep him waiting.”
“Men lé a. But the hour ... Hooligans now rule the streets at night. The spirits say we are in danger.”
Duran folded his arms as he sat back. “Tonight, Roche is choosing between giving financial aid to Haiti or Chile for earthquake damages. I don’t want Chile to be the one to take his money.”
A few minutes later, the Mercedes cruised past the once opulent building of the Ministry of Finance. The white columns and mahogany doors had all been bulldozed after the great building had stood for months as an uninhabited ghost structure. The marble and white cement that was once a palace now lay in ruins.
Jakjak continued a short way and then parked in front of the temporary housing units that were still used from time to time as offices for the Ministry. Piles of debris covered most of the parking spaces, so Jakjak was forced to park the Mercedes a good distance away. In the aftermath of the quake, the Minister and his two assistants were used to this kind of thing. Jakjak got out, briskly opened the car doors for his passengers, and then he escorted Duran and his two assistants to the office.
The visiting group consisted of three officials and two bodyguards. They were waiting at the door of the main temporary building. Jakjak unlocked it and ushered them in.
One of the bodyguards saw Jakjak’s .45 bulging against his coat and stopped him at the door. “No guns.”
Jakjak placed his hand over his gun. “Non, Mesye. I won’t give up my gun.”
“Then no meeting.”
Duran went to Jakjak’s side. “Check these men for weapons and then wait outside.”
The five visitors raised their hands as Jakjak patted them down.
Jakjak turned to Duran. “I cannot leave you.”
“I’ll be fine. Stay in the car. I’ll be out shortly.”
As the other men made their way to the conference room, Jakjak returned to the Mercedes. But his hands began to shake. He closed his eyes. He saw the cat’s eyes; they were in the face of the devil.
The introductions were brief. The central figure was a lawyer Duran had known for years, Virgil Baccus. Baccus was the attorney for billionaire Charles Roche. He was a portly man who practiced law in St. John and often worked with foreign clients. After shaking Duran’s hand, Baccus took his seat. Duran’s heart beat fast as he thought about Baccus. He had a reputation for representing men who created their wealth by embezzling corporate funds.
To Baccus’ right was a six-foot, muscular man dressed in black; to his left was another tall, muscular man, also dressed in a black suit. The two bodyguards stood by the door. Duran recognized all the men as being from St. John and St. Croix.
Baccus spoke up immediately. “Well, I have good news. Mr. Roche has already decided to give his money to your country. I bring a check from him for five hundred million dollars.”
Baccus removed a check from an envelope and handed it to Duran.
Duran looked at the check and smiled. At the conference table were his assistants, Antoine Gabriel and Hugon Cheval. Both were small and thin. Gabriel wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses. Both men were dressed in black suits and black ties.
Duran showed the check to Gabriel and Cheval. Both smiled and nodded their heads in appreciation.
Duran turned to Baccus. “Please extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Roche. This will be incredibly helpful in rebuilding Haiti.”
“Indeed.” As they stood and shook hands, Baccus said, “Mr. Roche would appreciate the check being deposited right away so we can begin to allot money for building projects here on your island.”
Duran withdrew his hand. “We?”
“Yes. My client of course expects to have a say in the distribution of his generous gift.”
Baccus handed a ten-page contract to Duran.
Duran put on reading glasses and spread the papers in front of his men. His smile turned to a frown. Cheval pointed to an item on page one and shook his head. Gabriel pointed to two lines and then a third. Duran put his finger on a paragraph on another page. The three men raised their heads and locked eyes with Baccus.
Duran, looking over his glasses, asked, “Is this some sort of joke? You’re proposing we have your client serve on the board, my board, and have veto powers over everything, including my authority?”
“That seems only fair. My client has good insights into the needs of your country. He pledges to restore Haiti to an even better state than it was before the quake. But he must be in charge of the relief effort.”
“We’ll gladly accept his money, but I’ll never agree to turning over control of the funds to outsiders,” Duran said.
“You have twenty-four hours to sign these papers, or else we will withdraw all our funds.”
“We don’t need more time. My associates and I are in agreement. The answer is no. This meeting is over.”
The two bodyguards moved quickly from the door, just as Baccus broke open his briefcase. Passing by, single file, the guards reached in and removed two, tiny, .22-caliber pistols, each fitted with a silencer as hefty as a beer can.
Baccus spoke. “That is unfortunate. However, there is still time to change your vote to our favor.” He looked coldly at Duran’s assistants. “Mr. Gabriel?”
Gabriel trembled as one of the guards raised his custom-fitted gun to the terrified man’s head.
But Gabriel’s answer was firm. “No.”
Glenn Shepard’s first novel, Surge, was written while he was still a surgical resident at Vanderbilt. In the following years he wrote The Hart Virus, a one-thousand-page epic about the AIDS crisis, as well as three other novels. In 2012, he created “Dr. Scott James,” his Fugitive-like action-hero, and began publishing a series. The first volume of the Dr. Scott James series was The Missile Game, followed shortly afterward by The Zombie Game. The third of the series, The Ebola Game, is due out in December, 2015. Though the books contain many of the same characters, they don’t have to be read in order. Each can be read as a stand-alone.
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