As one began the gravel approach to the home of the US congressman and businessman and musical genius, one had little choice but to admire the careful arrangement of the flowerbeds and hedgerows, the sparkle of the small lake and the gleaming cruiser at the quay, as well as the facade of the mansion itself as it approached from behind the greenery. It was quite a place, they said, although the owner seldom threw open the doors and invited in the cream of New York society, a la Jay Gatsby, and in fact rarely spent more than a few days out of the month actually living in his charming abode. He was that sort of man; shaped and moulded and influenced entirely by his work, whether that was as the founder and majority shareholder in the military firm KBC (based as it was down in Arizona), or as the trusted and likeable US congressman, always a name high on the list of those to invite to the charity galas, celebrity-enthused premieres and fancy dinners.
In spite of this, the home of the businessman-cum-congressman was supposed to be quite spectacular on the inside, or so you heard. It was thought that the owner had had installed an Olympic-sized swimming pool for when the lake froze in winter, a laboratory and extended basement where the founder of KBC could try out a few of his own little experiments and a classical music hall, the like of which existed nowhere else in New York, where the pianist could play concert after concert to audiences totalling no-one. There was even an aquarium installed in the walls of the mansion’s ground floor, which if you believed the rumours contained enough fish to rival Sea World. Perhaps then, the owner did not watch too many movies, or else was too busy with his business that he did not pick up on the nickname of ‘Dr. No’ that he had swiftly acquired. He had no time for such people, these days. Business and politics and music had always come first, in his mind.
They could never know just how similar he in fact really was to the Bond villain. Such information was strictly confidential, away from the streets.
On this particular occasion, Tommy Terrell was the one in question walking up the gravel approach, admiring the foliage and the vistas. Young men of Terrell’s ilk so seldom saw such sights as these, growing up in the Bronx, living from day to day knowing that the elimination of one foe just made space for another to replace him. It was when you were allowed entrance to this world of the rich and famous that you began to see ways out for yourself. And maybe your family too, one day.
Tommy Terrell thought this as he took in the hedges and the cruiser and the flowerbeds and the frontage of the mansion and it was all he could do not to laugh. The day a black man from the Bronx laid claim to a fortune akin to that of Dr. No’s was probably someone else’s idea of the Rapture. The two just didn’t mix. The Bronx had its own protocol and regulations. You got by and looked out for number one. You dealt drugs, but only to facilitate getting by. You kept a handgun, but only to facilitate dealing drugs. Terrell was not naive and was not a fool. The naive fools were shot or in jail. He had a clean slate.
Could the same be said for his conscience? He forced himself to clamp down on this thought as he drew closer to the great doors. Did the necessary measures to ‘get by’ legitimise the taking of property that did not belong to him? Yes, they did, on the basis that the owner of the property was a naive fool, and thereby dead. And what was a cache worth shy of ten thousand bucks to the great Dr. No? The man probably paid that out in income tax every month. But still, something in the risk he had taken made Terrell uneasy. You didn’t get this rich by playing by the rules. The name ‘Dr. No’ had to come from somewhere, right? Not just from the Asian features and the fish-tanks. And when you got this rich, you started to make the rules yourself. And God have mercy on anyone who broke them.
On the other hand, he mused, as he ascended the marble steps, ten thousand would get him out of the Bronx for good. He was no spendthrift waster, and had saved enough and sweated enough over this escape. The stolen cache was the welcome boost he needed to get this show on the road. So why was he here? Because Vinny Alessandro was a naive fool; read ‘dead.’ That meant his job was up for grabs, didn’t it? Why else would Dr. No ask him here in person?
Tommy Terrell’s hand paused an inch from the intercom button. He was wrong; he was a fool indeed! Here he was harbouring plans for escape, when really the gold-mine was about to be offered to him on a plate. Getting out of the Bronx had always been the big idea, but running it? There were so many bad apples he could toss that the excitement welled inside him, like he were a kid again and his mom was giving him gumballs.
Vinny Alessandro, Terrell’s old boss, had taken the fall for the hit going wrong and the cache going missing. It would be some time before the cops got his body out of the Hudson. By which time, Dr. No would probably be running the country, and Terrell would have enough money to hide anywhere he pleased. It didn’t bother him. It was time he saw some of the world anyway.
So it was in this state of glorious anticipation that Tommy Terrell hit the buzzer and the voice of a manservant invited him inside, the bolts in the door crunching as they were unlocked. He advanced into a hall bigger than his house and the one next to it combined. The air was sweet with polish and distant chlorine. Instantly, his eyes were drawn to the exotic colours and shapes of the aquarium, which surrounded the hall. The incandescence of the blue held him in a kind of stasis. Usually, the only time he saw fish was when it was fried for sandwiches at McDonalds. The manservant approached and accepted his coat; the thin leather-jacket he always wore, but that might as well have been a blazer for the care with which it was taken. He was led up the stairs, one flight, two flights, all the time his sneakers squeaking on the stone. He was shown the door and left alone.
Now, for all his earlier confidence, he was terrified. He had to keep his cool. He had to show that he did not panic. He had been in tight spots before, but the big house was getting to him. He tried to clear his throat and slow his heartbeat without making any noise, as the seconds ticked by.
Inside the room sat Kim Ban-Chong, the man behind the nickname. He was a pleasant enough looking man; Korean, of indeterminate age, poised and elegant. His profile came into focus as he looked up from the ledger he had been checking to watch a spot on the wall. Had he possessed x-ray vision, he would have been looking directly at Tommy Terrell out in the corridor. It was at this point that an observer might notice there to be more to Kim than what met the eye. Way more.
For as long as he could remember (and he remembered a hell of a long way back), he had been special. At first, his instincts were kept to himself, largely as a result of him growing up an orphan in Seoul, after his parents were killed in the communist North. He had known little of them, but enough that they were honest and, for all intents and purposes, not in any measureable way alike to the offspring they had spawned. He forgave them for leaving him behind and alone, because they had bestowed upon him more gifts than most parents managed in a lifetime of careful and attentive parenting. Not gifts that you could touch and hang on your wall, but that you felt and experienced and lived with. He had never been studied by specialists, or had his IQ measured; nothing that allowed him to be poked and watched and wound up like a clockwork toy. But his own self-awareness informed him each day that he stood apart from everyone else. He had come upon the word one day at the orphanage, determinedly reading as he always did, and it told him that sometimes humans did just turn out that way, and that there were cases of others who were like him, though not the same. Never the same.
They said that human beings only really used ten per cent of their brain, although recent research also stated that this was a falsehood, but were it to be used as a point of comparison, Kim estimated that he probably used fourteen per cent of his.
The correct term for it, he had learned, after the displacing of several misnomers, was ‘savant syndrome;’ a bi-product of his autism and of his brain’s hunger for or obsession with detail. But for all his research, Kim had found nothing that accounted for all of his abilities, although each individual one was documented and considered a symptom of savantism. You just weren’t supposed to have all of them. And you were supposed to be an ‘idiot.’
Yet he had no need for calendars. No need for memory cues. No need for sheet music. And, definitively, no need for a calculator. Autistics with savantism were considered rare, but Kim Ban-Chong was unique. And his IQ? It was above average.
So he knew exactly where Tommy Terrell was standing. He knew exactly what he was thinking about and why he was scared. And his mind was made up. He placed a sheaf in the ledger to keep his place, although he remembered the page number and column and digit he had got up to anyway, and crossed the room silkily to open the door. Light spilled in from the landing.
“Thomas? Thomas Terrell? Thanks for coming so quickly. Please, will you join me?” Kim ushered the young man from the Bronx into his office and closed the door, shutting out the light. It was semi-dark in the room. He always preferred it that way.
“What’s up, doc?” Terrell asked coolly, as they were seated.
“Oh, not much, Mr. Terrell. I just wanted to apologise about this unfortunate business with Mr. Alessandro. It’s difficult when you work with someone for so long to see them leave your enterprise, but it’s worse when they let you down. You worked closest with him down in the Bronx, Thomas, and I felt we should have a talk to straighten out the details. You’ve heard how I like details, yes? Who knew you were coming here, by the way?”
“I did, sir. My momma thinks I’m at the store, and my brother’s out of town.”
“Ah, so Vincent did at least brief you on the standards I expect. Well done. Now, to business. I understand that once the subject of our most recent business proposition was removed from the business, his possessions which should naturally pass to us were not fully accounted for. I’ve been checking over the books. You’ll get used to that; I like to look at all the numbers, to check that the universe adds up. Now, I suspected for a while that things have not been as they should be, but having checked the numbers, I noticed no discrepancies. Why do you suppose I would get these bad feelings, Thomas?”
“It’s a mystery to me, doc. So the numbers all added up?”
“Everything’s where it should be. Accounts are up to date. But I fear something is missing. It was these fears that resulted in this unfortunate business with Vincent.”
“Well, let me see now…” Terrell feigned serious thought a moment, rubbing away at his stubble, “So you suspects something, but can’t quite see it. The numbers all add up, but the answer is wrong. Which, logic dictates, must mean that the numbers you were given are wrong. Vinny submitted the takings, am I right?”
Kim Ban-Chong smiled at this, and steepled his hands.
“Exactly so, Mr. Terrell. And so I’ve been thinking. What with you dealing with Vincent so efficiently and understanding the situation here, how would you like to take his place? You know me now and you’ll sure know well enough not to do what Vince did! There’s a payrise involved anyway, so you wouldn’t need to worry about money. I feel we just need to put this unpleasant business behind us and start afresh. I get a good feeling from you, Thomas, and I feel we can work together. What do you say? I need someone out there who knows the Bronx.”
“Well, doc, I sure as hell know those streets. You got yourself a deal.” Tommy Terrell shook the man’s hand, his heartbeat reaching a crescendo in his chest.
“It’s settled. You know, Thomas, I do believe I will miss Vincent. Don’t get me wrong, my orders were for him to be removed from the operation and you dealt with the matter swiftly, of which I approve. But there was a charm about him, you know. Though he never understood my love of the numbers. His lack of respect for that was his downfall, it seems.”
“It would certainly seem so, doc.” Terrell hesitated. “Uh, what should I call you now that we’re working together? Dr. No seems a little ungracious…”
“Ha! It sure would be. My name is Kim Ban-Chong. Just call me Mr. Kim.”
“Hey, I know that name,” Terrell exclaimed, on an adrenaline rush, “You’re a senator or something, right? God, I knew just no street crook from the Bronx owned this place!”
“You’re right again, Thomas,” Kim said, with a smile, “I’m just a congressman actually, though I do plan to run for Senator.”
“Wow,” Terrell went on, “So, forgive me for asking, Mr. Kim, but why are you still in this game? Hell, I don’t see that you need the money, or to be dealing with punks like Vinny!”
The smile widened. “Because I like the game, Mr. Terrell. I’m good at it. And I always like to scout out the best people. Men such as yourself, who have grafted and deserve a chance at something better. I find plenty in this enterprise. As many as I find in my other businesses, actually. You’d be surprised. Guys like you and Vinny can be just as useful as students out of MIT or Yale. Because it is all a game, and games have many pieces.” Now Kim stood and leaned sideways against his desk, glancing briefly at his fingernails.
“Well, I’ll be damned. I think I’m going to enjoy working for such a big-shot! You know, you ain’t so bad as those punks who call you ‘Dr. No’ make out. We done here now, Mr. Kim? My alibi won’t hold up much longer.”
“Sure. I’ll let you go now.”
And without warning the floor opened up beneath Terrell where he sat and he was ejected with a yell into a deep pool some way below. He went under instantly, caught out by the shock and sudden fall. He just got an eyeful of blue before he surfaced, coughing and spluttering.
“What the hell?!”
“Mr. Terrell, I did just have one last thing I needed to discuss with you.” The voice came from somewhere above him, but Terrell could not see the hole through which he had dropped. “Now, poor Vincent was never very good with the numbers and it was always inevitable that there were going to be some mistakes as a result. But ten thousand of them. I cannot accept that. It was either move him or remove him, and there was nowhere useful to which he could be moved. He, at least, was honest.
“There’s no way he could have come up with the scam to submit the wrong numbers as the right ones. For one thing, he wouldn’t have dared. He knew that I learned the net worth of all associates, and that I would be ready when the time came to accept three caches worth ten thousand dollars from Mr. Temper. Imagine my surprise when only twenty thousand was written down. Only you and Vinny had access to the cache. And since I removed Vinny, I chose to move you.”
“Move me the hell out of here! What is this?!” Terrell spluttered and went under the deep water briefly. That wasn’t right. Had something tugged at his legs?
“I will leave it up to you to decide which of you got the fairer deal. I imagine your long-term association with Vinny meant he got it clean; out like a light before he even noticed, and taken for a swim in the Hudson. You, on the other hand, may be less fortunate. Have you ever seen a Tiger Shark before, Mr. Terrell?”
The panicking man in the water convulsed as something rough and grey brushed past him beneath the surface. Around him, the iridescence of the water was being soaked up by a grey cloud. More shapes passed close by. There was a further tug at his trouser-leg.
“A Tiger Shark is comparatively small when compared to a Great White or a big Mako, Thomas. In fact, a solitary fish would probably hesitate to attack a human, on the basis that a human is quite a big animal. On the other hand, the tigers after which the shark is named are vicious, solitary hunters, usually angered by the presence of other big predators. Humans, for one. Oh, and other Tiger Sharks. I think there’s thirty in this tank…”
Tommy Terrell’s screams were sudden and deafening and they didn’t stop for some time. Kim covered them with some classical music, which he enjoyed in his office a while, until there came a knock on the door. He opened it himself once more, and received his manservant and a contractor from the local pet store.
“I’ve just come about feeding the fish, sir. It’s Tuesday.”
Kim smiled again and dismissed his manservant with a nod, before inviting the other man to be seated.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Greg. I think they’ll be okay for another week.”