The Prize of Being Rich: A Short Story by Felisa Daskeo
“Something has to be done,” Robert Lardizabal said as he paced the floor. He gritted his teeth, clenched his fists turning his knuckles white. He stopped and took a swig of the finest wine that he always set aside for this distraught moment but it did not change anything. The problem is still there, slapping in front of his eyes and he could almost see the intensity of it. His muscles trembled and his mind was a total arena of confusion.
Bart and Rex watched as their master slid down the couch and stretched his legs. He covered his face with his hands and then leaned on the couch. Something has to be done, he thought aloud.
He sat straight and studied his men who have stopped drinking and are both listening intently to him
“Do you have any plans?” he asked them.
Bart and Rex looked at each other asking the same questions. Did they have any plans? There was silence as they let the words hang into the air, catching their awareness to the problem and sorting out things. But when they saw their master’s face, they know by then that an alert answer was needed.
“Boss,” Bart began. “Don’t worry. Trust us.”
Bart and Rex are the toughest men of Robert Lardizabal: the men whom he had entrusted his life as well as his daughter’s life: the men who do not hesitate to kill defending their master. Aside from that, they are the trusted and loyal ones. Robert had told them every detail of his life. They’re the only people who knew all his activities. They’re his trusted and faithful disciples who pampered him with every whim and the men who wouldn’t hesitate to face the dagger as long as it was for their master’s benefit. Robert had given his full trust in them. They had become his indispensable shield and weapon. He can walk the streets without fearing his life when they are around.
Rex twisted his wide mouth. “Hospital or morgue?” He had been so used to getting rid of obstacles when his boss is concerned that it was like only weeding a garden early in the morning.
Robert Lardizabal was silent for a while. The thought of his men getting rid of one more man was not something he invited that moment. As much as he wanted this problem solved as fast as it can, he has sound thoughts on the outcome. It was his daughter that he was worried about. He loves his daughter above anything else in this world and he couldn’t risk anything.
Robert Lardizabal heaved a muted sigh. Somehow as he was thinking of a solution to the problem, a little voice inside him was whispering something. He could sacrifice everything he has, even his wealth but he cannot bear seeing any negative impact this will do to his daughter.
“No. Don’t do anything foolish. Just give him a lesson but don’t overdo it.” He finally said.
The two men nodded their answer. The room fell silent. Only the humming of the air-conditioner blended with their harsh breathing. It was not an unusual scene. It almost looked like a rehearsed scene from an action movie. Robert turned to his men.
“Can I trust you?”
They didn’t need to answer. That statement had been repeated already a thousand times. They can never disobey their master who had given them a comfortable life.
At Sandra Lardizabal’s condominium, they were having a small party of three. Sandra blew a kiss to Kimberly who was seated opposite her and held the card up.
“Sandra lardizaba: only daughter of a multi-millionaire. Beautiful, lavishing, sophisticated young woman of the 21st century.” She smiled. “And,” she sighed, “married to Kevin Arañas, a handsome taxi driver”
Kimberly stared at Sandra. She was toying with her glass of champagne, the left hand holding the card of their wedding invitation. She looked like an innocent girl in her green jumper. Kimberly glanced at Kevin standing by the mini bar. He was staring absent-mindedly at the three glass tumblers on top of the mini-bar. He looked disturbed. Kimberly sometimes thought that Kevin was only a weapon that Sandra is using against his father to get what she wants. She feared for the life of Kevin. Even if the two get married; Robert Lardizabal could always get back her daughter. And Kevin? Perhaps he will be included in the long list of missing persons who were gone forever without a trace. Getting back to Sandra, Kimberly could see how Sandra felt that moment. With her flushed cheeks and glowing eyes; you would think Sandra got what she wanted. And Kevin who is innocent will be the pawn to offer.
“Are you sure you did the right thing, Sandra?” Kimberly said.
Sandra laughed and brushed away her hand. “Oh, come on, Kimberly. You’re my best friend for eight years. Why worry? Let Dad’s money answer for that. When was I punished for a wrong done?”
“But this is different. This is a serious matter.”
Sandra gave her friend a curt nod. “I know what I did.”
“I’m worried about your dad. He still doesn’t know.”
“Do you think dad doesn’t know? I’ve a feeling they’re already doing something right now. Dad is so keen to escape this matter. But I still want to surprise him. I’ll give him a doze of his own medicine and something he’ll never forget.”
“Your father will not forgive you for that.”
“I know. That’s why I did the worst thing I thought to awaken his senses.”
“What if he’ll get Kevin?”
Sandra was silent. Without meaning to, she winced and leaned on the pink sofa. She carelessly dropped the wedding invitation on the marbled floor and closed her eyes. She wanted to escape the reality that she had created. Kevin could be in danger, that’s for sure. In her haste to seal everything and have Kevin she hadn’t thought of the consequences of her action.
Oh, my God! Sandra panicked. Her nerves were starting to get numbed. She couldn’t think of a solution to the chaos she had carelessly spread around her and Kevin. She hadn’t thought of the negative impact her plan could do to Kevin. She just chose Kevin because she loved him but getting him in trouble was never integrated in her plan.
No, she couldn’t let that happen to him. Not to the man he loved more than her life.
Sandra sat straight and eyed Kimberly who has balled her fists and started pounding her crossed knees. She too was as nervous as hell.
“Kim, could you do me a favor?” Sandra begged. “Please call dad. Tell him I’m very ill and I need to talk to him.”
“No, you don’t need to do that!” A big voice came from the back. Kimberly shuddered at the sight of the two bulks blocking the back door. Sandra was calm. She’s used to these men. She strode to where they stood and gave them her winning smile. She could be a brat too but at times when she needed some favor, she could be an angel.
“Want a drink? Come on, let’s drink.” She swayed in front of the men who had let themselves in and were watching Kevin who was holding the glass tumbler.
Bart pushed Sandra aside.
Kevin hasn’t met these men yet but Sandra had been updating him with every activity these men had religiously been doing for his father. These two men are both evil and angel depending on the situation they are in. This moment, they looked like men about to grab an enemy and shove to the gas chamber.
The crashing on the marbled floor alerted the men and with two long strides, one of the men was already on Kevin grabbing him by the arms and preventing him to make another move. But Kevin didn’t move nor utter a word. His mind almost blocked out and he couldn’t think of anything to do but to stare at them and stay where he was.
As for Sandra who was used to getting what she wanted and so used to these men, she calmly stood before them.
“Is it my father’s wish to see the man I love get hurt? If he is responsible for this move then let me call him and I would gladly and willingly set free Kevin. But don’t ever dare touch him.” Bart quickly set free Kevin’s arms and with his one hand opened his cell phone while everybody watched in silence.
Bart finally said, “Okay, you have to talk to your father.”
Sandra pulled Kevin with her and grabbed the phone. She didn’t greet her father. It was useless. “Dad, what are these people doing here? Could you send them out before I’ll make a scene here?”
Robert clenched his fist. Damn, he thought. He had expected everything to go on smoothly as planned. He counted one to ten trying to calm down. He never raised his voice to his daughter.
“Sandra, please listen. This is not the time to lose your temper. I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted to make sure you are safe and doing fine.” Robert was out of words. He couldn’t say honestly what he wanted to happen.
Sandra could almost hear his dad’s breathing. She didn’t believe him. She knew her dad was only trying to appease her. Her mind swirled. She thought of how he had reared her since her mom died. She would have loved the way her father raised her. She was provided everything a daughter could ask for. All the finer things were always easily within her grasp. But she has never heard his dad say, Are you fine? Are you happy? Instead, she memorized the single statement from his father, “How much do you need?
In his dad’s world, money is everything that mattered. Sandra bit her lips. If only her mother was still alive, things would have been different. But her mother died when she was only four and from then on, she was left to the care of the yayas and the maids. Her father never married but he had buried himself in his work, making more money and building a business empire. And Sandra was left as if without a father at her side. Sometimes, Sandra prefers to be poor with a loving family rather than having everything in life but very unhappy.
Sandra never felt real happiness. She would gladly exchange her wealth for happiness. And then she met Kevin, a taxi driver who picked her up when her car broke. He changed her world into a wonderland.
No, they could never touch Kevin. They could never take away Kevin from me, she thought. She stared at the receiver she was holding. Her knuckles had turned white.
“Dad, please. I want to talk to you now. Please get these men out of here. We have to talk.”
Robert sent the men home then drove to Ayala to Sandra’s condo. She was crying when she let him in. It took Robert all his strength to keep himself from breaking down when he saw Kevin with Sandra. How could Sandra love this man, he thought. He wasn’t even what you call handsome in his assessment. Sandra has revolved around the world of all the finer things in life. She had met hundreds of men who got the looks and the money. Was Sandra trying to punish him?
Sandra held Kevin’s hand. “Dad, I want you to meet Kevin Arañas.” The introduction was too formal. Robert acknowledged it by merely nodding his head and studying the young man. Kevin was hesitant, too nervous and sweating at the first encounter with the most powerful man he ever met in his life. He felt weak and couldn’t utter a word. But then he said hello in a small, inaudible voice. There was total silence that followed and then Sandra looked at Kevin.
“Could you excuse me? I want to talk to dad.”
Robert sat tensely and held on to the armrest of the chair. He looked at his daughter. How grown up she looked and sounded. Only a few days ago, his daughter was a picture so young and vulnerable. She wanted a Barbie Doll, a jumpsuit and sneakers. She only wanted something to wear and use. And now, here she is telling him to talk. And what would be the outcome?
Sandra led the way to the inner cubicle that she had turned into a small office. Her computer is there, her other gadgets were neatly stacked inside the glass covered cabinets. Robert looked around and felt so at home. It was his first time after several months to visit his daughter’s condo and now he is looking at a huge change in her daughter. The place was neat, almost perfectly set and arranged. It was so different when Sandra was living with him in the mansion when her room was a mess because she didn’t like her maids meddling with her possessions. Looking around once more, he heaved a sigh of relief. Now, he could make some alterations in his judgment of his daughter. Perhaps it’s time to set her free from the comforts of his arms.
He looked into her daughter’s eyes. They have become intelligent eyes.
Sandra clasped her fingers. “Dad, I’m really sorry. I was so afraid you will take him away from me. That’s the reason why I didn’t tell you of our plan to marry.”
Robert winced. Her words stuck deep into his heart. He could feel the pain in her daughter’s voice. My God, he thought. What have I done to my daughter? And I almost took away her happiness. The room seemed to have suddenly opened and closed again on him. The thought of him cutting off his daughter’s life if the men had taken Kevin almost made him breathless. He gave a heavy sigh and with one swift move caught his daughter in his arms and cried.
“Sandra, do you really love him?” He managed to say in between sobs.
Sandra felt herself melt into his dad’s warm embrace. It was the first time he had felt the real love of his father. She wanted to make him feel how much she loved him too but it wouldn’t do if she will sacrifice the love of her life. Kevin will not become a sacrificial lamb if only to prove how much she loved his father.
She struggled free of her father’s embrace. She knew that whatever decision she makes now; it will not be Kevin who will go.
Sandra has seen her dad in all kinds of situations but this time it was different. She mustered all her strength to face whatever punishment she gets from her father except Kevin being taken away from her.
“Dad, I love Kevin that much to sacrifice everything I have for him. If you take him away from me, my life would then be useless.” The sobs of his father became a loud cry as he grasped Sandra’s hands and he cried like a little boy in front of his mother who punished him.
Sandra felt herself stiffen. She didn’t like to cry with her father. She wanted him to feel the pain that she would endure when he will take Kevin away from her. Why is his dad crying? Why so loud and pained. Was it because he felt that he lost in the battle? He has always won. Business wise, he was the master of everything. He had conquered all businesses and built an empire nobody could equal. Deep inside Sandra’s heart, the wealth that his father had lavishly clothed her was not enough to make her happy. She wanted more than material things. She wanted something that money cannot buy. A happiness that no amount of money can buy and that is what she felt when she met Kevin. If she dies protecting Kevin from her father’s vicious hands, she would be more than happy dying for the man she loves.
Robert knew that this is coming. His daughter is so like her mother. She always fought to win and she always knew where she stood. Robert wiped his eyes and looked into his daughter’s face. How matured she had turned. And how tough. He couldn’t even see traces of guilt or any pain in her face. She has managed to hide any emotions that will make her lost the battle she is in.
Robert resigned and managed to keep a steady voice this time.
“What would people think? Our families and friends? They are all expecting a man fit for you marching the aisle to the altar.”
“I know that, dad. But it’s not important. This is my life and I’m happy to have finally found real happiness with Kevin. If you don’t mind, Kevin is who I want to be with for the rest of my life. It’s either you accept us or forget you have a daughter.” Sandra finalized. She wanted to cry. Losing her father wasn’t what she wanted but Kevin is also very important and if her father cannot accept him then it was time she freed her grasp of her gilded life.
Robert could say nothing. All his life, he had never dreamed of his daughter to be unhappy. Yet everything happened so fast and he’s so concerned about his family’s reputation. He wasn’t prepared to admit the situation. People will talk and he could almost hear everybody taunting him and telling him straight on his face how wrong he had raised his daughter. Yet, looking at his daughter’s face so wrought with seriousness and he knew that his daughter is hiding those pains inside her made him felt like a useless father who only thought of himself and his untainted reputation. Sacrifices? He had never sacrificed anything because other people around him were sacrificed for him. Sandra on the other hand was just a receiver of everything he worked for, never mind if things were taken by force or he and the people around him worked hard to earn it. Sandra was every reason he spent almost every minute of his life working and getting everything because he wanted everything for his daughter. Now, his daughter is making him choose between two things that never in his life did he expect to come. He is Robert Lardizabal and nothing could change that. But here in this room he felt like a mouse in a lion’s paw because it is his daughter who was talking.
Kevin was pacing the floor to and fro while Kimberly sat uneasily watching and counting the tick of the huge pink clock on the wall. How foolish of her to have done this, she thought. Sandra should have thought of Kevin first before deciding to push through with the marriage thing.
Kevin was sweating in the chilly room. He looked at the swinging clock and sat down opposite Kimberly. He was not so keen on the wedding plan when Sandra suggested it to him but it was Sandra who planned everything and he just agreed in the end even if he knew that things wouldn’t work if Robert Lardizabal learned about it. That piece of paper he signed with Sandra could turn only in the garbage bin once Sandra’s dad learned about it and the thought of it made Kevin shiver in the cold room.
“Kimberly, what am I going to do? I don’t want to lose her. Please help me.” He almost begged.
Kimberly looked at him with sympathy. She liked him too but they cannot intervene with the Lardizabals. Robert’s words are considered law. If only Sandra had listened to them. Kimberly has to say something to ease Kevin’s mind and provide him with little hope if you could consider the hopeless situation turning a miracle.
“Just calm down,” Kimberly said because it was the only right thing to say that moment. “Just wait ‘til they finish.”
“But I can’t stand losing her. And what if he will just take her home?” Kevin covered his face with his palms. He was already on the verge of crying.
“Don’t worry. I know Sandra. She could easily convince her dad. Just wait and see. You’ll live happily ever after.”
It was intended to be a joke to make the situation easier for Kevin but Kevin wasn’t in the mood for it. He just kept silent, too worried to think straight.
“Come on, Kimberly. I’m serious.”
Kimberly sighed. “We can’t make a plan without first waiting for Sandra to come out of that room. Kevin, I can’t think of anything.”
And then the door to the inner room suddenly opened and Sandra with his father finally came out. Sandra was sobbing, her dad keeping her to his side as if afraid to let go of her. But Robert’s face was serene and Kevin took that as a positive hint.
Kevin stood without saying a word. How easy it is to have asked God’s kindness and begged to be swallowed and gone forever but he should face life’s realities and face whatever punishment Robert Lardizabal will throw to him.
Robert released Sandra and went to face Kevin. It was the most awkward scene if it was a suspense story. Kevin was watching every move of the older man and preparing to ward off any blow that could land on him. But when the older man moved to him and they were only a few inches apart, the older man slowly stretched his hand to Kevin who was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do. His hand trembled as their palms met and everything was sealed. Robert hugged him and patted his back.
“Congratulations, Kevin. Please take care of Sandra, my boy.”
The sincerity in his words shocked Kevin and made him speechless. Instead of saying thank you and acknowledging how this iron-clad man easily accepted him, he felt a funny feeling creeping inside him that he couldn’t explain. He stood there just staring at nothing particular. He was dazed.
“I have nothing more to say. I hope both of you will be very happy. You have my blessings.” Robert’s eyes watered. He embraced Sandra tightly and kissed her then he left.
The sun slowly shrunk and darkness reigned but there’s a brighter sun to come out tomorrow, a brightness that shall never fade.
© 2018 Felisa Daskeo