The sleeping child had never known fear or pain, not the kind that Sluger Dragoș had known. He brushed his withered, scarred hands across her forehead and whispered,
“One day, you will stop loving me, too.”
His words didn’t stir Andrada at all. Dragoș looked at his wristwatch, adjusted her blanket, and left the room, turning out the light. The tranquil look his sleeping angel gave him his own sense of lightness. It disarmed him only long enough to last the descent down the stairway. His real sons were away at university. He paused next to the inner wall of the hall-way and looked at one of the framed photographs of him and Liviu, his eldest, bravest and the one who resembled him the most. Liviu was 14 in that picture, and had just won a Chess championship. Next to that was another picture, this one of the three of them — Dragoș, Liviu, and Ionut, standing over a wolf that they had hunted down and shot one summer long ago on vacation. These scenes comforted him, enough to breathe in and open the door into the courtyard.
There, on the other side of the gate, waiting for him, stood the son his wife, Madalina, his sons, and his daughter do not and shall never know about.
“Sluger,” Mr. Bufniţă — the butler — softly called. Though he attempted to not break the silence, the moment had already shattered.
“Can’t this fucking wait?” snarled Dragoș. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts so the interruption angered him.
“The young man is back again. The one that claims he —“
“Yes, I know very well who he claims to be.”
“Turn him away again, sir?”
“He has no business here, interrupting me, coming here. If he says he needs to come in, tell him the gas station back in the town has a bathroom he can use.”
“Your will be done, sir.”
The night unfurled over the manor. Dragoș hardly slept. Visitors rarely dared to enter the manor. Even rarer were ones that claimed to be related to him. He awoke at 3 or 4 in the morning and could not go back to sleep though he tired and merely thrashed about in his giant bed. Upon finally throwing back the covers and leaving his sleeping wife in their bedroom, he went downstairs. The servants’ quarters were still for the day had not yet begun.
But the butler was awake. Bufniţă was sensitive to the most minute sounds and movement all throughout the manor. This helped him remain employed.
“Căde is still outside, Sluger.”
“Turn him away.”
“You turned him away last night, sir.”
“Then I’ll turn him away this morning, and tonight, and tomorrow, and until he stops showing up.”
“He said he wouldn’t go away.”
“It was only last winter that I paid him to leave. What does he want now?”
“He refused to tell me and said he will only speak with you.”
“Dealing with people is why I pay you, Bufniţă.”
“I know, Sluger. Just let me suggest, this one time, you –”
But Strigă Bufniţă was interrupted by Sluger Dragoș. Dragoș’ stare said what the silence didn’t: not to question him.
“I am going to drive to town. And when I am back I will speak with Căde, and if it is something you could have dealt with for me, I will put your head out back with the rest.”
The butler stood there with his mouth open. He racked his brain for a response but couldn’t come up with anything in time.
“You are dismissed, Bufniţă.”
Strigă Bufniţă turned to walk away after expressing his thanks. After this, the majordomo retreated through the hallway to return to his quarters. Majordomo Bufniţă was the only member of the domestic staff that resided within Castle Dragoș itself. Sluger Dragoș remained in place without watching the majordomo leave. The majordomo also happened to be the only member of the staff that he fully trusted.
Dragoș went out the door on the side and passed through the easterly garden. This one, one of four that surround Manor Dragoș on each side, was populated with plants that rarely flower. Dragoș stopped to admire their thorns before continuing on to the garage, which now housed his expensive Italian cars but had long ago served as a stable for the horses one of his ancestors rode upon. It had a tunnel that allowed him to leave without being seen by his visitor at the main gate.
Dragoș drove his second favorite car for a few miles.
He passed the town whose inhabitants fear him.
He passed through the forest he had razed for coffin wood.
Eventually, he stopped at the prison he built and owns. The rarely used parking spot with his name stenciled inside it waited for him. Inside the prison, a pasty and ill-looking warden greeted Dragoș as soon as he entered the reception area.
“Sluger! You so rarely visit us! Is everything all right?” asked the warden nervously.
“I wish to see who is on the docket.”
The warden breathed a sigh of relief. The buttons on his uniform looked as though they would burst at any moment.
“Right this way,” he said.
Dragoș followed the warden into the pit and the pair made their way to the office of records. Another warden, an even sicklier looking one, sat behind the desk with a filthy mug sitting atop a stack of papers. His eyes lit up and he immediately leapt to his feet upon seeing Dragoș enter the room. The first warden took his leave without announcing a word.
“It is good to see you. You rarely visit the pit. How may we assist you?”
“I need some hands to help me with something rather sensitive. Let me see the docket.”
“Well, I am afraid no one is scheduled for execution any time soon.”
“Then let me see who you have in solitary confinement.”
“Ah, of course.”
The men walked through a long corridor of steel doors. The prisoners had not begun waking up and being rowdy and the staff of wardens merely lingered in the pit. Each, as he noticed Dragoș, greeted him happily. It was rare that anyone came to visit — friends and family of the prisoners here were either inside as well, or dead, or just didn’t care anymore.
“There are three that have been causing problems. One because he is too strong, one because he rats on all the others, and the last is just too stupid.”
“Perfect,” replied Dragoș. “Have them released into my custody tonight.”
Dragoș and the warden continued walking until not another soul could see or hear them conversing.
“Where will we bring them?”
“The front gate of my mansion.”
“What about the paperwork?”
“Make it look like an escape. They won’t last long outside the walls anyways.”
Dragoș took out a wad of cash and handed it to the warden.
“This will be discrete, as you know.”
“Only we know.”
The warden smiled, and thought of feeding his family better this year, and thought of the new clothes he would buy himself.