The Dictator was exiled to a small island in the Pacific, somewhere between Hawaii and Australia. The parallels to a famous, short, French dictator were obvious. But The Dictator, Our Dictator, stopped reading that biography around the halfway point.
“Why’d you stop reading?” I asked him under a blistering South Pacific sun.
I was writing a magazine article - a human interest piece commissioned by a now-defunct periodical - designed, I guess, to humanize him, my editor thinking, surely, exile must have done him some good.
“He’d just won a great victory,” he told me. He took a drink of lemonade. He smoothed his beautiful hair with one, heavily-jeweled hand. “It was very well done. He did very, very well. And you know what? I’d learned all I needed to know about him.”
“I have a gift,” he continued. “I know people. I really do. And I knew when I read of his victory, his great victory, very well-earned, I knew it then, I knew…”
He trails off as a very beautiful woman, very tall, exceptionally tan, approaches and puts her hand on his shoulder.
“I found your sock,” she says in a heavy, foreign accent. “I didn’t think I would find it, but then I looked again and...wow! There it was.”
“Wow!” he says.
The Dictator shifts his focus to me. “Did you hear that? She found my sock!”
“Fantastic,” I say.
“I thought it might be lost,” the woman says to me. “But then I found it. Later. At a different time.”
“That’s very good,” he says. “Very, very good.”
He pats her backside and she slinks off down steps behind the infinity pool, so that it appears she’s disappeared into the ocean.
The Dictator and I sit on the back porch with the ocean and a sweating carafe of lemonade as our only distractions. The house is all open white doors that hope to corral what’s left of the breeze after the heavy humid air shakes it down. There’s a television the size of a wall playing old Scooby Doo cartoons in the living room, and through our conversation the bizarre patois of slobbering Scooby bookends any silence found in our conversation.
The Dictator has had work done on his hair, his face, his hands, but peculiarly not his body. His paunch is a personal TV dinner tray under his button up white shirt. The shirt is too small and has somehow collected crumbs, though we haven’t eaten anything since sitting down. He’s wearing white linen pants. His tan is fluorescent even under an afternoon sun. He once joked, with his counterpart of some vaguely European, nuclear-powered dynasty, that, “If they turn the lights out on me I’d glow like a fucking night light,” and even now, years later, when you look at him you believe it.
“That’s what they don’t understand,” he says unprompted. “That’s the thing about guys like me!”
I wait for him to supply some context to his outburst, but he waits for me to respond. He does this all the time. It’s like he’s been interrupted by silence and he holds it against you, and more importantly, he wants you to know that he holds it against you. In conversation with The Dictator, you are responsible for the uncouth interjections of silence, so get used to it.
“How has your life changed since you’ve been exiled?” I ask him.
“Oh, I love it,” he says. “Look around. I’ve done very, very well here. Did you see that woman earlier?”
“You know I did.”
“That woman,” he leans in to whisper, “that woman is a treasure. I found her here. She was buried in the holds of an old Spanish galleon, The Conquistador, that’s wrecked a few miles that way.”
He points towards the open ocean but locks his eyes on mine.
“Under lock and key,” he continues. “17th century. Hundreds...hundreds of years she’s been there waiting for a guy like me to dig her up. Centuries. I went down there myself. My good friend, Billy, the director - you’ve heard of him - he has a submersible. A submarine. It has claws, and I went down there myself. And I tell you what, pal, I saw her down there shining like a billion Spanish coins, and that’s what she does...she lights up my life.”
He leans back and takes another sip of lemonade. I know he’s joking but his eyes don’t seem to agree. It strikes me, seriously for the first time in years, that perhaps he’s had a break from reality. In the beginning, of course, it was easy to think that way. He made it easy. It was his greatest trick. The Devil and The Dictator...
“The finest trick of the devil,” he says to me, somehow (no... surely not) reading my mind, “is to persuade you that he does not exist.”
The Dictator sits back in his chair, satisfied. “Shakespeare.”
I grin. “I think it was Charles Baudelaire,” I say. “French. Nineteenth Century. He was a poet.”
“Baudelaire,” I say.
“Right,” he says. “He might have said it. Technically, he might have said it. But it was Shakespeare that came up with it. Will Shakespeare. Greatest writer the world has ever known. Smart guy. Very, very smart guy.”
In certain circles, particularly circles of The Revolution, there once floated tales of arguments and consequences; a word cloud of disappearance, strangulation, poison, torture - all orbiting The Dictator, sucked in by that gravity of Power.
I keep my mouth shut about Baudelaire and Shakespeare.
“You see those boats out there?” he asks me, pointing towards anchored yachts not far off the coast of his island. “I’ll let you in on a secret.”
He leans in and whispers, “One day. Soon. Someday soon. Very soon. Those boats are going to take me back home. Back to my people. Back to where I belong. And when I get there, I’m going to do very, very well. Because they love me. They really do. It’s easy to see.”
“This,” he gestures to everything - the lemonade, the house, the ocean - “It’s rigged. Really. They know it, you know it, I know it. Everyone knows it.”
He leans back in his chair, and takes a long drink of his lemonade. “Jesus, fuck.”
After I leave his island, but before this story goes to print, The Dictator is found dead in his bath. The official causes are au naturel, but the country whispers, “Poison,” and then, even softer, “Lemonade? Really?”