The Lost Son, Eric Leclere
      A short story ...

 

 

‘Oh dear...’ he said with a last sigh, and Lombard knew he’d died when he saw his bloody hands slowly slide to the ground.

He lit a cigarette and stood peering at what was now Martin’s corpse. The wound beneath his right shoulder had begun to burn. It struck him that Martin’s coat was dark green, that like most people with red hair, or Titian red hair, Martin had worn green. It was of no significance, but the thought floated around his head for a moment, until it drifted away, and he felt the strength drain from his body. He wanted to leave the room, to get away from the bloody scene at his feet, but something kept him there, something about Martin’s body. It would come to him. He knew it would come to him. But there was no point in trying to force it. This too he knew. So he stayed there, cleared his head, and immediately found himself thinking about another corpse, in another kitchen, in Paris, ten years or so earlier. Then too he’d stood alone with a dead man. The kitchen had been more modest than this one though, reeking of stale alcohol and mouldy foodstuffs, and the man, unlike Martin, had died sitting on a chair. He was a murder suspect, had shot himself through the mouth with a rifle as Lombard stood outside his front door waiting to ask him a few questions. On hearing the gun blast, he’d broken into the flat, found him dead at his kitchen table. He’d left a suicide note, just one line:
Men only avenge slight injuries, never serious ones.
It was as good as a confession. The story was sad, grim and simple. The man was a self-employed computer programmer who’d developed a computer game of some kind or another in his spare time. The project had occupied him for nearly two years. He lived alone and, being of humble means, had joined forces with a more affluent, business-minded acquaintance when the time had come to try promoting his creation. His new partner had advised him to steer clear of the computer game industry, convinced him it would be more profitable for them to produce and market the game themselves, and assured him he could raise the funds required to set things up. They’d signed a contract between them which was drawn up in such a way that, for an agreed fee, the game’s inventor could be made to surrender all rights and claims to his creation while retaining the right to a percentage of any net profits resulting from the sale of the game in perpetuity. The buy out fee was, relative to his income, quite substantial, or in any case substantial enough for him to trust he needn’t worry about being ripped-off, and besides he was assured that such a contractual buy out clause was standard practice, that without it, it would prove impossible to attract investors and that it would, and could, only be exercised as a kind of safeguard in the unlikely event that he might one day, on a whim or as the result of a dispute, decide to bring the whole enterprise to a stop. The argument that his new partner together with potential investors required this sort of guarantee before risking their time and money in a speculative venture had seemed reasonable enough. All the more so as he had also been made to understand that financiers looked warily on poor unknown inventors who they considered eccentrics and individualists who, clever and original as they may be, could not be relied upon to appreciate the realities of the commercial world. As a poor inventor conscious of his own business illiteracy, he had not so much understood as wholeheartedly agreed with this point of view. And so, he’d entrusted his game and his future prosperity to his new partner’s care. Only, six months later nothing much had happened, his partner had stopped returning his calls and in the end had taken the time to write explaining he was too busy to deal with their project and would get in touch when things changed. He waited a few more months, but eventually ran out of patience and lost faith in the other man’s ability or will to champion his game, and informed him that he regarded their partnership dissolved and intended to sound out games companies. Within a week he’d received a cheque together with a solicitor’s letter by which he was notified of his partner’s decision to exercise his buy out option. This action, he was informed, was necessary for the long-term good of the project, and his partner hoped he would understand and wanted him to know that he was most grateful for his contribution to their work. On the face of it there was nothing sinister or unseemly about the man’s decision to buy him out; his game hadn’t made any headway, he wasn’t sure it ever would and, after nearly a year of waiting in vain for something to happen, the idea of cashing in the buy out cheque was tempting and seemed the wise thing to do. As to the future, if his ex-partner was ever to make good, there would also be his percentage of the net profits. He could have taken the money, probably would have, but the word ‘contribution’ had stuck. It was his game. It was two years of his life, two years of work carried out on faith alone. To no avail, he had returned the cheque, protested and approached solicitors, but the contract was binding and, choosing the lesser of two evils, he’d resigned himself to taking his buy out fee and using it to devise a new game. He never completed it. Within a few months, his old game had appeared in the stores, renamed, partially redesigned, licensed to an established corporation and accredited to his ex-partner along with another person he’d never heard of. Later still, it had begun to sell world-wide. By then, he’d taken to drinking which, as it turned out, signalled the onset of a mental breakdown which had led him to purchase the rifle with which he’d killed first his ex-partner’s wife and child and, later on, himself. Sometime between his game appearing in the stores and his suicide, he’d tried and failed to legally reinstate his name as its creator, and as for his percentage of the net profits from sales in perpetuity, he found out that net profit was but an abstract concept which, as administered by his ex-partner’s creative accountant, meant he would never receive any money, however many games were sold.
The day that he had stepped into the dead man’s kitchen, Lombard knew next to nothing about any of this. He found out later, in a detailed newspaper article in which, he remembered, the journalist had speculated at some length as to the man’s thinking in sparing his ex-partner but killing the man’s wife and child. The same journalist had then found it necessary to conclude his article by declaring it ironic that a man naive – or was the word foolish? – enough to sign away his work to an acquaintance should have died quoting Machiavelli.
It had been news to Lombard, and to his colleagues, that the man’s one line note about avenging injuries was not original. In any event, they’d failed to share the journalist’s sense of irony. Nor had they found it necessary to speculate on the man’s thinking in murdering the ex-partner’s loved ones. It was fairly obvious. And not very ironic either. It was just sad, grim and...
He frowned. It was Martin’s tattoo, the Star of David across his chest. A thin thread from Martin’s tattoo spun a web that linked Leonard, the old Spitzes and Friedman...

 



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