THE SACRED IMPOSTOR
COPYRIGHT ©2012 J R Lankford
All rights reserved
Coral Anders approached the building's glass doors, her red hair tossed by the wind, her hips gently swaying under a feathered sleeveless dress. An uncharacteristic New York Indian Summer had delayed October's fall leaves. Regretting she'd have to accustom herself to the sound of cabs honking instead of water lapping against a boat and the smell of garbage in Manhattan on hot afternoons instead of sea water, she reached for the bronze door handle of the Fifth Avenue building where Theomund Brown, her former employer, had lived since she'd known him. In her hand she clasped the newspaper with the headline announcing his death, "American Billionaire Dead In Italy."
An unfamiliar face appeared, a man dressed in the uniform of the building's doormen.
"May I help you, señorita?"
Señorita? She couldn't recall hearing a doorman speak Spanish in New York. "I'm here to see … to locate Luis," she said. "He was Theomund Brown's butler? Brown lived in the penthouse?"
"Sí, el señor Luis. He lives in the penthouse still."
Coral hid her surprise.
"And your name?" the new doorman asked.
"Coral. He knows me. Just call up."
"Ahorita mismo, Señorita Coral," the man said and ushered her into the marble lobby. As he disappeared to call upstairs, Coral sank onto the upholstered bench where she'd first flirted with Sam Duffy who'd been the doorman at the time-two centuries ago, or so it felt. Now Sam was in Italy with Maggie and her son.
The new doorman returned. "Señor Luis will see you," he said. He called the penthouse elevator and waited for it to come. When it did, he punched a code on the keypad and held the door until she entered.
The door closed and in the expensive car's silent ascent, Coral wondered what it meant that Luis, the butler, lived in the penthouse still. Theomund had been dead more than a month.
The car stopped. The doors opened.
There was Luis, transformed. Instead of the nondescript suits he used to wear, he had on boots, black pants, and a traditional Guayabera linen shirt like those she'd seen in Acapulco. He'd abandoned his American hairstyle and slicked his hair back from his face, accenting chiseled features and a frank gaze-not an intimidating one like Theo's had been, but penetrating nonetheless. In his left hand he held a red leather pouch sporting a woven black and white abstract design. She saw the hilt of an ornate silver dagger.
Never before had she thought of Luis as foreign. Now there was no doubt he was an arresting Latino male in his element, as well as his prime.
"Aztec?" she said, pointing at the pouch.
"Mexica to be precise," he said in disdain and offered his hand. "Hello, Coral."
"Hello, Luis," she replied and took his hand, noting his grasp was as cool as ever. "Were you going to stab someone?"
He appraised her with a slow smile that would put no one at ease. "This is an antique I have sought for a long time. It just arrived."
"Oh. Congratulations. Well, I tried to phone, but the number I used for Theo is disconnected. I was hoping you still have my diamond bracelet that broke when I was here. Theo put it in his desk and said he'd have it fixed."
"Yes, it is here. We have other business as well. Come in. I'm glad to see you."
Coral wondered what business he meant.
Head slightly bowed, a man waited at the library door as they approached. He wore a loose white shirt over simple pants. Luis nodded to him and the man left on silent feet shod in what resembled black espadrilles.
Luis entered the library that had belonged to Theomund Brown, sat in his former boss's high-backed chair and, motioning Coral to a leather couch, lifted his booted feet to the surface of the rare American chestnut desk.
Coral knew what to do when in doubt. She flashed a seductive smile. "Well, things have changed, I see."
"I am no longer the butler here."
"That's certainly plain."
She turned away, feigning disinterest in him in favor of the new artwork on the walls. Gone were Theomund's photos of his dad at Africa's Tsumeb mine, the richest ever found. They'd been replaced by what looked to Coral like a replica of an ancient Aztec calendar. Round and studded with gemstones, predominately red ones, she recognized the grinning face of the blond Aztec sun god at its center, its tongue an obsidian knife demanding sacrifice.
There were images of jaguars and eagles that might have come from Aztec temples. In one corner, a post supported a leather saddle, intricately embroidered, studded with silver, its seat cushioned in lamb's wool. Fit for a conquistador, it cost thousands of dollars if it cost a cent. What was going on?
"May I ask what you are now, if not a butler?"
The loose-shirted attendant entered and, bowing, placed a tray before Luis on the desk.
"Gracias," said Luis and lowered his boots to the floor. He stood, poured a drink in a glass, and handed it to Coral. As she took it, Luis said, "I am Theomund Brown's heir."
Her eyes widened. "Didn't Theo have a sister?"
"He gave her money before he died. Theomund would never leave an empire like this to a … I shall be kind and call her a scatterbrain."
Coral didn't miss a beat. She tilted her head, dimpled, blinked, and swept her eyelashes up in an expression that said, you're just too wonderful for words as her mind screamed, Why the hell did you do that, Theo? The New York County probate records would be her next stop.
Giving no sign of her distress, her lips cooed and she breathed, "Oooooo. Congratulations, Luis. You're just the man for it, too."
Her target was Luis's vanity, not his manhood, which she'd always doubted. Now she wasn't so sure.
Whenever she came to visit Theo's clients over the years, Luis would coldly inspect her hair and makeup, her nails, her half-naked body. At Theo's bidding, Luis sometimes watched through hidden cameras to assess her performance with the men. Never once had he seemed moved by her or what he saw.
Strange, because even now that she was almost forty, men still became tongue-tied-fell all over themselves-in her presence. Good men, bad men, rich and poor, young and old, American and foreign. That's why Theomund Brown had paid her a quarter million a year, plus bonuses.
Now Brown was dead. She was there when it happened, saw who pushed him to his death, and she wasn't really sorry. All Coral would miss were the salary checks.
"You're curious about the will, I assume." Luis said.
Coral shifted, feeling uneasy. "Well, lover, perhaps you were, but I already know I'm in it."
As soon as the Italian politzia cleared her to leave the country, she'd called Brown's lawyers and been assured her inheritance would keep until she arrived-such as it was. Disturbing phrase. She'd brought Brown's yacht from Italy on the slow route around the Mediterranean that he'd originally planned-treating herself to three last glorious weeks of freedom on Theo's dime. She'd caught a flight home from Gibraltar, leaving the crew to sail the yacht across the Atlantic to Long Island Sound. She already had an appointment with the lawyers later today to find out what such as it was meant.
He laughed. "I too already knew."
It made sense when Coral thought about it. After Sam's betrayal, Brown had relied on Luis more and more. He was smart and frighteningly loyal-probably would have shot someone if Theo ordered him to, but Theo kept the dirty work far afield.
"For your sake," Luis continued, "I hope you have saved some of your money over the years, if you plan to continue with tu vida de princesita."
"My princess life? You never spoke Spanish before, Luis, why now? And you don't know how I live."
"It was never to my advantage to speak my native tongue before and I do know how you live."
"How would that be?"
"Beyond your means."
She decided to moan cutely-like a little girl. It was true. From her quarter million salary she hadn't saved a dime and, except for regular donations to a women's shelter, she'd spent it all on herself, running up massive bills at Bergdorf and Harry Winston's. Sometimes Brown paid them off as a bonus.
"Do you understand finances?" Luis asked, pulling the silver dagger from its pouch. She decided he looked like a Mexican drug lord: romantic and dangerous.
"What do you mean?"
"How much would Theomund have had to leave you if he wanted you to continue living as you do?"
Coral wiggled her eyebrows up. "A lot, I guess. Why do you ask?"
"Let's make it simple. Pretend there is no such thing as inflation, that America rescues itself from economic suicide and the stock market obliges you by resuming its average rise of eleven percent a year. Each month, you take out one twelfth of your previous income."
"Okay, if you say so."
"How much would you need to invest, today, to do this until, let's say, you are eighty-five years old?"
"I'll bite. How much?"
"Roughly two and a half million dollars."
"Is that right? You did that in your head?"
"No, I looked it up."
She sought his eyes. "Why?"
"Of course, the stock market is fitful, inflation exists and you Americans have turned governing into a blood sport. It would be safer to start with more."
Coral unfolded herself from the sofa and stood, brushing at her pale dress, its soft draped top accenting her cleavage. When she put her hands on her hips and swayed over to the desk, the cream-and-brown-feathered skirt drifted, revealing her legs as she walked. Luis stood, smiling at her in an unfriendly way. She knew better than to put herself at a man's mercy without having a hold over him-his mind, his heart, his cock, something.
"Let me guess," she said, placing her hand on an eagle statue on his desk. "Theomund didn't leave me much of anything, but you, amiguito mio, want to help me out." She was grateful Theo had made her learn Spanish; glad she had the sense to dress for this visit, just in case.
Coral reached over and flicked the fringe on his Aztec knife pouch. It was time to test her instincts about this man. "What are you up to, Luis? Living in some kind of fantasy? Are you Mexican? Mexican-American? Why are you dressed like a gaucho in a museum?"
"The gaucho is South American. I am Mexican."
"What are all these jaguars and eagles on the goddamned wall?"
He caught her waving hand, looked into her eyes, and tightened his grip.
"Show some respect when you talk to me."
"Oh yeah?" Following her instincts, Coral raised her voice. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Moctezuma!" Luis growled and slung her arm away. He sat down, thumping his boots up on the desk.
Coral kept her balance. "What?"
"My name is Luis Tepiltzin Moctezuma."