THE SCENE AT the top of the world was surreal. The light-keeper was on the walkway that surrounded the rotating light for the tallest lighthouse in the world. The lighthouse was atop a slender rock pillar, 175 feet above the crashing waves below. The angry Norwegian Sea was doing its best to topple the rock pillar, as it had done for the last nine hundred thousand years without success. The light-keeper was wrestling with someone or something as the howling gale raged around them.
He grappled with his unseen opponent. First an arm lock, then a head lock, both easily broken by the invisible adversary. The fighters struggled around the rotating light, with neither the light-keeper nor his invisible opponent gaining an advantage. But the light-keeper was weakening. Little by little, the specter was gaining the upper hand. Finally, the specter bashed the light-keeper with a blow that drove him to the walkway. Then the invisible opponent lifted the light-keeper over his head and tossed him over the walkway railing. The light-keeper could be heard screaming as he fell. The screaming stopped abruptly as he crashed onto the craggy rocks at the base of the lighthouse. The frigid sea would soon claim his body.
* * * *
THOSE PEOPLE WHO knew Aaron Jürgen could not decide if he was a good/bad guy or a bad/good guy. In business, he was ruthless, in his personal life he was gracious and generous. He was forty-eight years old and in excellent shape. He owned the gym that he worked out at. He was six feet, two inches tall, blonde hair, cobalt blue eyes, handsome and had a Mexican Riviera tan. A billionaire who shunned the limelight, he owned an incredible home in Beverly Hills in California, and an impressive Villa on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. His legal residence, for tax purposes, was an expensive condo in Monaco. His headquarters were in a twelve-story building in Century City, in Los Angeles, a building he owned. He loved women, but having been bitten by the marriage viper when younger, with venom still coursing through his veins, his attitude now concerning women was strictly economic. His accountants told him that a marriage and the inevitable divorce would cost him five hundred million dollars and unending pain. The average tenure of a billionaire’s marriage was three years and eight months.
Now, to avoid that dangerous pitfall, he rented a companion for a year. The cost, one million dollars if she remained faithful for one year. By that reckoning, he could rent a different wife for the next five hundred years for the cost of one marriage and a messy divorce. He was a rare self-made billionaire. He made his original fortune in diamonds and gold. His enemies claimed the diamonds were blood diamonds, but there was never any proof. With those early millions he diversified, his wealth now spread across the financial spectrum: oil, precious metals, soybeans, timber, manufacturing, government contracts and dozens more.
His current companion was six months into her contractual companionship. The unbreakable contract having been drawn up by Aaron’s legal firm, another of his many holdings. Her name was Nmande (pronounced N-mon-dee). She was twenty-five, five feet, eight inches tall and beyond beautiful. She was dark, her skin the color of a Brazil nut. Last year, before she met Aaron she was a struggling model, making only twenty-five thousand dollars. This year, with Aaron’s influence, she had already made four hundred thousand dollars and had bookings for over nine hundred thousand for the coming year. She signed with the most prestigious modeling agency, with offices in Los Angeles, Rome and Paris.
Being a super model, she was slender, with modest breasts and delicate features. Aaron spent two hundred thousand dollars on her wardrobe and no matter where they went she drew stares and photographers. She was Nuer, a tribe well known for beautiful women and warrior men. Many felt the beautiful women were the result of the wars between the Nuer and their Moslem enemies, giving the inevitable offspring the best of both cultures. She was originally from South Sudan and was Christian, making her a blood enemy of the Moslems to the north.
They were at his home in Beverly Hills in California. She asked Aaron, “You’re still not going to tell me where we’re going this weekend?”
“It’ll be a surprise, but it’ll also be memorable. Someplace you can tell your friends about.”
“Not even a hint?”
“Don’t use your charm on me. I want to keep it a secret.” Of all his one-year wives, she was the only one who could make him jump through hoops.
“And we’re taking four other couples?”
“A better phrasing would be that the four couples will be meeting us there.”
“Will I like the other women?”
“No, you’re everything that womanhood has to offer. The mould was broken after you were created. The only thing you’ll have in common is that they’re attractive, but not in the same class as you.”
“Have you ever met them?”
“No, only the husbands.”
“Hmm.” She pondered, “So you do business with the husbands?”
He nodded, “All four.”
“Will you soon own their businesses?”
He frowned slightly, “That may depend upon this weekend.”
On his ruthless side, he would start ordering from a profitable midsize company. He would slowly increase his orders until he was seventy-five or eighty percent of their sales. Without his orders, they would go under. He would suddenly stop ordering from them and then offer to purchase the business for pennies on the dollar. With his offer they had something, with bankruptcy they had nothing. To sweeten the offer, he would allow the owner to stay on as general manager, at a good salary.
“We’re taking your jet?” He owned a new Learjet 75.
“No, because of the range we’ll be traveling in an Embraer 650. It’ll be a long and boring flight, so bring a book.”
“Hmm,” her index finger to her lips. “Since the Lear has a range of 2500 miles, we’re either going to Europe or across the Pacific.”
“As smart as you are beautiful.”
“Will the other four couples be flying with us?”
“No, since they’re all from different cities, they’ll fly commercial.”
“And we’ll leave Thursday?”
He nodded, “That’ll give us time to be at our destination by noon on Friday.”
“Friday is the thirteenth, an ill omen.”
“Only if you’re superstitious.”
She asked, “What clothes should I take?” Since he was taking his expensive Nikon, she suspected that he would be taking photographs of her.
“Two kinds, warm, for the chill and anything that makes you even more beautiful.”
“Hmm, that eliminates crossing the Pacific.”
“South Sudan should never have let you leave. Their most beautiful woman and the smartest.”
She kissed his cheek, a reward for the compliment. She mused, “Slowly, but surely.”