Chérubin at Hotel Rastelli
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Then came a voice. “Sylvere.” The voice sounded again. “Sylvere.”
He opened his eyes. The voice came from the other side of the closed sliding-glass door.
Sylvere was awake now.
The voice belonged to Chérubin. Sylvere looked to his right at the blue numbers of the digital readout covering the face of the clock on the nightstand. “It’s almost 3:30,” Sylvere whispered, realizing he had slept for more than two hours. “I’ll be right there,” he said loudly, projecting his voice toward the closed door. He stood up from the bed inside his suite in Hotel Rastelli. He noticed he still wore all his clothes. Walking toward the door, covered by a thick, red curtain, Sylvere realized the afternoon would soon turn to evening and a fancy party at 7:00pm.
“Can you meet me in the bar downstairs in half an hour?” Chérubin asked as soon as Sylvere opened the door. Chérubin held two parcels, one in each hand, which he extended toward the older man. Accepting the parcels, Sylvere noticed one contained a bottle of water and some orange juice, the other plastic bags full of cheeses, fruits, and nuts. Chérubin disappeared.
Sylvere drank the orange juice and ate some of the cheeses and nuts. Then he entered the bathroom. As he took a shower in preparation for going downstairs to meet Chérubin, he recalled the scene at the museum in Leuven and the subsequent car ride to Tervuren.
Melba had disappeared after escorting Sylvere to a Mercedes parked on the narrow, cobble-stone street in front of the museum. Parked behind his vehicle had been a second one, an exact replica of the first. Next to the open back door of the first car, a man had stood at attention, keeping his eyes locked on each of Sylvere’s movements. When Sylvere had lowered his body onto the back seat of the first car, the man had watched and waited. But he hadn’t waited long. Approaching the open back door, one of the German bodyguards had handed Anna’s laptop computer to Sylvere.
The man standing next to the back door of Sylvere’s car had gone around the front of the vehicle, sat behind its steering wheel, and started its engine. As the driver pulled the large vehicle away from the museum, Sylvere, sitting by himself in the back seat, opened the computer. In a long series of images from the scene at Ronald’s medical clinic in Rutshuru in the immediate aftermath of the attack which had left his friend, Ronald, dead and his friend’s daughter, Claudette, clinging to her life, Sylvere saw from different angles many bodies, including the body of his friend. After viewing half of the 50 images, Sylvere closed the computer, but not before recognizing a large, menacing figure present in five images.
Now Sylvere, as he emerged from the bathroom and began to dress next to the bed, saw Quentin bending over the lifeless body of Ronald. Descending in the elevator from the rooftop deck to the third floor of Hotel Rastelli, Sylvere realized his friend had died a slow death.
“What had Ronald done to deserve such pain?” Sylvere asked, tears forming in his eyes. He pounded once on the elevator door. The sound filled the small space.
When Sylvere entered the bar on the third floor, he saw Chérubin standing on the opposite side of the room next to the floor-to-ceiling window with its view of the street below. Chérubin noticed Sylvere at the same time. The two men sat down at a table next to the window. Only three other tables in the bar were occupied. On the street corner below, a German bodyguard, one of Anna’s men, stood watch. The bartender placed two tall glasses of beer on the table in front of Chérubin and Sylvere. The bartender left.
“I assume you saw the photos,” Chérubin said. He looked out the window. His gaze moved across rows of rooftops toward a forest outside town. Abruptly, he reached over, picked up one of the tall glasses of beer, and took a long drink. “Ronald was my father,” he said then. He still didn’t look at Sylvere. Sylvere didn’t respond. He couldn’t look at the other man either.