by Jasper Solt
The cigarette smoke curled around the man’s grey felt hat and into the harsh light of the bare bulb lighting the room. Through the nicotine haze, only the flickering fires of the man’s pupils were visible as he contemplated, silently, the unopened silver briefcase before him. The darkness in the basement thickened the tension in the air; Godiva felt a warm thread of sweat trail down his temple. The underground must and strong, pervasive sweetness of cocoa lingered on his tongue as he breathed.
“So, you mean to say this is it?” The man obscured by smoke began, in a strong Italian accent. “The thing we’ve been looking for for 17 years?”
Godiva swallowed, throat taut. “Y-yes, sir,” he stuttered, suddenly noticing how starchy his linen shirt felt in the muggy heat, and how, if he had somehow failed in his mission, he had less than an hour to live. He glanced towards the two towering bodyguards lurking behind their boss’s velvet chair and quickly looked away again as their faces evolved into snarls.
Slowly, the man leaned forward, his forehead parting the smoke as Moses parted the red sea. His manicured hands reached out to the briefcase and, with a palpable click, he opened it.
The man’s stonelike face broke into a smile. “Well, well, well. You’ve proved your usefulness once again, Godiva. The family is lucky to have you.”
The man in his smoky cocoon gently raised a single bar of chocolate out of the briefcase. Its flawless surface shone like a diamond in the glaring light, and for several moments there was complete silence as the four men were forced to catch their breaths. Its umber depths were so absolute Godiva believed one could get lost in its velvety, cocoa surface.
“The prized brick of Manila,” the man said, chuckling. “First crafted in 1889 for the Duke of Milan, with an alchemical formula designed to keep it fresh for millennia. It’s considered the world’s most perfect bar of chocolate. And now, its secret is in our hands.”
Chuckling and shaking his head, the man replaced the bar and gently shut the briefcase. “Godiva, today you have done a great service for the Chocolate Mafia.”
Godiva let out a sigh and felt the heaviness of adrenaline rushing away from his body. He wanted to laugh, but feared to do so in this man’s presence.
“Yes, you have done us a great service,” the man repeated, sitting back into his velvet chair, sinking into the darkness. “Which is why it pains me so much to do what I am going to do next.”
The man’s hand emerged from the smoke and snapped, once. Both bodyguards moved to either side of Godiva and lifted him off the ground, each by one arm.
“Wha—what are you doing?!” Godiva cried, beginning to struggle. In response each bodyguard only held Godiva tighter. “I did what you asked! I’ve never failed you! Please, you have to let me live!” Godiva was like an unbroken horse: eyes bulging, legs pinwheeling, lips flapping, desperate to find an escape from his inevitable fate.
“You know too much. Clichéd, I know, but true.” The man sighed, removing his cigarette and blowing its foul-smelling smoke into Godiva’s face. “And I can’t let anyone be a threat to my Toblerone empire. Not even you.” Replacing his cigarette between his cracked lips, he waved his hand, saying, “Take him to the Fonduer.”
The man kicked up his feet on the table, listening to the sound of Godiva’s screams as he was dragged away, smoke curling in a halo around him, mixing the aroma of nicotine with that of chocolate.