The other pictures were of times spent in this same secluded lodge. It was a place that seemed to be removed from time. A sanctuary the ruler could disappear to without his extensive entourage and security detail.
The other photos were of the American Ceasar with a loosened collar grinning with abandon at the head front and center of a group picture. Standing just behind him with her hand on his shoulder slightly turned away from the camera was the reason he kept coming back here.
She had luscious dark red hair that draped itself over her shoulders and emerald eyes highlighted by mascara. One of her long smooth legs revealed itself from the slip in her ebony dress. The long limb stretched itself in front of the General’s leg. She was a lover that gave him an experience unparalleled by anything else he might recall. It was always passionate but always just as brief. The days after their encounters were always hazy. He’d become desperate to find her again, but even with the immense resources of the state has disposal, he was never able to, and eventually, she’d fade into the background of his subconscious like a dream only to reemerge just as abruptly when he found himself in the lodge.
He’d met her just a week before the day he decided to lead his mechanized legions through the capital. With the precarious situation, he was in, he couldn’t afford to show any sign of doubt. His co-conspirators might lose confidence and turn him over to save themselves. The closer the time came, the deeper into paranoia he fell. His plan could have been foiled at any time. From moment to moment, he had no idea if the MPs were coming to take him away. His sleep was restless and broken. He was constantly being jolted awake by any sound, no matter how innocuous. He decided to self-medicate and numb the growing anxiety with scotch and a sliver of Xanax. That was the first night he’d ever walked into that lodge.
When he sat at the table, decades of dormant memories fading deeper and deeper away sharpened into clarity. She was both congenial and very aloof. This was viewed as a challenge by the unshakable ostentatious General. The officer broke in the first few hours. No matter what he said, she just didn’t seem engaged. The General, on the verge of launching his own coup, in fact, the very first of its kind in the country's history, considered himself a fascinating man. Try as he might, he could not get her to ask him any questions about himself.
He was about to accept defeat right before she suggested they go back to his place. No matter how hard he tried, he could only conjure up flashes from his sexual encounters with her. His memories are fragmented by a need to forget pleasures so unparalleled they’re an instant addiction.
She was just as distant afterward. Meanwhile, Gladstone had spent a good detail of time on the intricacies of this plan he was putting in place.
“Uh-huh, sounds cool,” she said ambivalently. “Well, I will be honest,” she said as she lit a slender cigarette. “I’m kind of a fickle girl, so I’ve met quite a few very accomplished men, but I can’t say any of them had military dictator of the United States on his resume.”
She slid her legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve got to go,” she said flatly. She slid out of bed and started gathering up her clothes.
“I might be busy for the new couple of weeks after I get into the White House but do you think we can do this again once I free up?”
She pulled her tight dress back over her body and instantly looked as good as she did last night. “Call me when you’ve moved in, she said as she walked out the door.
He’d run into her again over the years. Each time he found her more alluring than the last, he put forth more effort to get some reassurance that they would meet again. Every photo together coincided with the triumphs of the American Emporer. He stabilized the borders, reannexed the regions that had succeeded, and pacified the cities. The delicate empire he had glued back together shattered in his hands. In just a few months, the self-proclaimed Marshall of the United States watched decades of work be undone. The opportunistic forces of disorder seemed to be keenly aware the Marshall’s tenure was coming to an end. The response from the anemic ruler was weak and ineffectual. The world watched as he fought the hopeless battle to hang on to his dissolving legacy.
He sensed that same weariness everywhere he went. He was a marked man, people. They were cold to him as if they knew he would soon be irrelevant. Life had passed by, and now he could only watch helplessly as his underlings slowly moved out the floor from under his feet. The purges provided temporary catharsis, but it was a futile effort. He knew no matter how many he killed, he would never kill the one that would replace him.
He shuddered and inhaled deeply. The sorrow rose like a frost in his chest before falling back down his stomach, where he smothered it with his last gulp of scotch. He went to stand up, but his legs were stiff and sore. He planted his feet and forced himself up. He leaned on the table and waited for a minute while the blood rushed back down his legs. That’s when she glided through the door.
The skirt on her black dress had gotten significantly shorter and hugged her slender frame even tighter. Nothing on her moved when she walked. She held in place perfectly. She was naturally graceful, and even her walk over to the bar was like watching a ballet to the nervous old man.
She sat at the bar, ordered a drink, and started tapping away on a sleek white smartphone. He waited to see if she’d notice him, but she didn’t. He shuffled over to her and sat in the seat next to her’s, and she still didn’t acknowledge him.
“You’re looking good,” he tried to say in a sultry tone. “I can’t believe it, but you haven’t changed a bit,” he marveled.
“Oh, hi,” she said, glancing up from her screen.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“Fine,” she said, her eyes indifferently still focused on the screen.
“It’s been a while,” he said warmly.
With an audible groan and a roll of the eyes, she got up from her chair. “Look, it was really nice running into you, but I gotta run. I’m meeting someone,” she said as if it didn’t matter.
“Oh,” he replied. “I understand,” he said, trying to suppress his disappointment.
A tall man in a black suit came through the doors. A smile stretched across her face. She gave a friendly goodbye to the bartender and rushed to embrace him. His angular face was obscured by dark glasses. He held her close to him and peered over her shoulder at the ailing old commander. He lowered his glasses revealing eyes that were a cold abyss. He smiled with gleaming white teeth that were sharpened into razors. The sharply dressed monstrosity gave him a sense of deja vu. He knew who this incarnation of death was, but he felt helpless to confront him. He put back up his shades and waved as he walked with her out the door.
That was the last time he ever saw her. As she was running off with the shark-eyed specter. Like everything else from his triumphant years at the pinnacle of power, time took her away from him. It was over. He looked back up at the photos of him above the bar and realized it was men like that the world was made for, not the ones watching the last grains of sand funneling through the hourglass. He thought he had made the world turn, but the eternal cycles would go uninterrupted without him. Once a man with a status not far below god, he was just another soul waiting to pass on into the obscurity of oblivion.