The last tiger was dead. That was going to be the sum total of his legacy: a handful of dead tigers. Not even a lot. Just a handful.
He still had a couple of cigars left. He struck a match from the sandpaper roughage of his stubble and warmed the end of the fat cuban he had been saving for a significant occasion. Perhaps the first time he fed an intelligence agent to his menagerie of evil animals; perhaps the first time he set off with a rifle under his arm, ready to hunt tourists foolish enough to holiday on his island’s beaches. It had stayed at the bottom of the humidor, alone and untouched, and now he tasted it, the smoke tasted like smoke and it burned away just the same as all the others. The smoky tendrils worked their way under his eyepatch and made his empty eye socket itch, but he puffed away all the same.
He looked down from the balcony rail that ran along the lid of his giant eye, down at his silly little island. There was a ripple of wind ruffling the jungle canopy, and the waves were softly licking at the beach but, apart from that, the only activity on the island was down at the harbour. The boat was leaving; the evil cooks, the evil janitors, the evil guy who cleaned the car, they were all sailing away, arms full of whatever wasn’t nailed down or hadn’t already been claimed. He watch the boat go, crawling towards the distance, until it turned over the horizon and was gone. He flicked what remained of his cigar over the railing. He watched the small red dot fall away into the trees. It reminded him of something, many years before. He turned and walked away.
The clack of his footsteps echoed off the marble floors and reverberated around the high ceilings of his hollowed-out mountain. It was just so big. Even when it had been ringing with the cackles of scientists, the snarls of tigers or the thrum of three dozen muttering henchmen, it had always seemed so big, that it might never be filled.
“Are you positive you want it carved to look like your head?” Claude-Pierre had asked, with his nervous, twitching nose and his wispy, pencil moustache.
“Yes of course.” he said, fixing him with a glare from his single working eye. “Why?”
“Well, we can hollow it out of course, if you insist. It’s just … carving the entire mountain to look like your head, well it really does complicate things.”
“Money’s no object,” he said cooly, feeding slices of cucumber to the cruel-looking pheasant perched on his shoulder.
“We do have a secondhand mountain already head-carved? Can I interest you in that?”
“Whose head is it?”
Claude-Pierre consulted a folder full of papers.
“I believe it’s Mr Malevolus. Been lying empty since he was bankrupted after that whole blimp thing.”
“And why would I want to live in the cranial quarters of that loathsome has-been?”
“The amount of work, the number of contractors required, makes keeping the whole thing a secret-”
“Oh we’ll kill them.” he said, smiling thinly at Claude-Pierre. “I thought that was understood. No no, dear boy, we kill everyone involved as soon as construction complete.”
“Erm…” said Claude-Pierre, a single bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. “Everyone?”
He patted Claude-Pierre on the shoulder, and walked away.
Now look at it. Money used to be no object. He laughed bitterly when he thought of all the times he said that so flippantly, had thrown money around like he had invented it, so confident that he would soon be holding the world at hazard. Diamonds, rubies, precious gems, they would all be … well …
He had sold the pheasant first. He wanted her to have a good, evil home, and now he wondered if anyone would buy his giant head secondhand. But after all, who would want to live in the cranial quarters of a loathsome has-been?
He walked alone through the mountain. He passed through the Throne Room, now demoted to Room since his jester had pried the throne from the floor driven off with it tied to the roof of his Audi. He wandered through the menagerie, and thought of the evil elephants, malicious giraffes and prick zebras he had once dreamed of caring for, reduced now to just a handful of dead tigers. He stood at the small pile of cats and whispered “Beatrice, Carl, Edward, Bishop Fluff, Electra… My pets, I’m so sorry.”
He wandered into the operations centre, the giant rock-walled maxichamber at the heart of the mountain. He was going to hold the lives of millions in his hands from here. Everything was gone; the telescreens, the consoles and monitors, his harem of bikini vixens that he paid to just hang around and lie on things. All that remained was the skeleton of Claude Pierre he kept in a cage by the door, and the portrait. It was huge, stretching from the ceiling to the floor and he stood in the shadow of it, dwarfed by his own image. There he was, painted in oils, eating the globe like an apple. It was a good likeness.
“To the worst of times” he whispered into the empty room.
“The worst of times!” his friends had roared back, clinking their champagne flutes. A dead politician lay on the conference table, bunting hung from the digital map on the wall and waiters were scurrying to and fro serving evil canapés to his guests.
“It’s beautiful, dear,” said the Countess De Morte through a mouthful of saffron-spiced salmon. “So looming and…
“Confident!” chimed in Dr Judge, wiping splashes of Rioja from his labcoat lapels with the fluffy tip of his wig curls. “My diagnosis: Guilty!… on possession of style.”
“Oh most indubitably” chortled The Viscount. “I say, who is that rag-tag in the cage over yonder?”
“My designer” he’d replied, leaning in, beckoning his circle of friends to him with a wicked grin. “He was finishing up, asked me ‘is that the last of the permanent fixtures?’ I said ‘Not quite’, pulled the lever he’d only bloody installed, down came the cage.”
“Oh you devil-porker” said Bill Murder. “Over-charge you, eh?”
“As if I don’t know how much it costs to carve a bloody mountain!”
Oh, how they had evil laughed. They had casually thrown battered quail parcels to the tigers, who’d batted them around with their noses before chomping them whole. The entire league had been in attendance to christen the super in his supervillain, and it had all gone to his giant hollowed-out head.
The party soured in the early hours of the morning. He had been standing in his eye, staring at the jungle, the dark canopy lightened to a midnight blue by the swollen moon overhead. Birds were calling to each other below, tiny pitched squawks appearing and disappearing in the air like ripples on a pond. His bloodlust was quiet, his pride briefly sated; he felt so simply contented in his giant mountain face, when suddenly a reverberate crash of metal behind him caught him by surprise. He turned to see:
“Mr Malevolus. Forgive me, I didn’t know you were there.”
The man was drunk, and the starch had all but left his ringmaster’s moustache. He’d lost his signature top hat some while back and his combover had come undone, thin hair swaying about in the wind with as much bandy instability as his gait. He’d knocked over a night-table and was stumbling his way across the room. Malevolus walked right up to him, so close that the smell of expensive schnapps on his breath was a near-solid.
“Course you didn’t,” he slurred, his words bleeding into each other to create one single unbroken sound. “Didn’t know I was coming – didn’t – cause I didn’t, didn’t get nothing through the post, eh?”
“An oversight of course, I will first-class you the gullet of the man responsible. Shall we walk back to-”
Malevolus grabbed his arm, tight. For an old flamboyant circus fool, he still had a grip on him.
“Didn’t fancy my island then? Too small? Eh?”
“This is hardly-”
“You don’t think you won’t, that you … just live forever? It’ll change. Computers, theeintner- inter – internet. The rules – you think I can’t cause trouble?”
“Let go of my arm, man. What’s wrong with you?”
“Cause – I can still cause trouble. Maybe I’ll cause trouble for you, eh?”
Malevolus pulled him close to his chest. They were cheek to cheek and he whispered in his ear:
“Know what happens when a young pup bites an old lion?”
“Oh yes” he replied, taking Malevolus under the armpit, lifting him was a surge of strength and toppling him over the railing. The old fool was so drunk he didn’t even realise he was falling until the moment before he hit the ground.
He watched him fall from the railing, straightened his eye patch, and returned to the operations centre.
The bottom had fallen out over the next few years. All the terrorism was cyber now, hacking and downloads and whatnot. He didn’t have any bloody hackers; what ever happened to stealing entire embassies out of the ground using lots of helicopters, building earthquake machines, or snatching rockets out of the sky using bigger rockets? Why the bloody hell were the most powerful men in the world a few paunchy mouth-breathers sitting behind computer code in small rooms?
No one dispatched spies to his midnight poker games with tiny cameras hidden in their cufflinks, no one climbed through his air vents, gassed his men with knockout agents or killed him after a pithy rejoinder. He wouldn’t have minded dying in such a way, it was all this pointless living that drained him slowly.
The time he had attempted to launch a missile into the heart of a metropolitan capital, it was remotely deactivated by some desk worm with a hard drive.
“The countdown’s been aborted!” shrieked Professor Tötenmord, his senior scientitian.
“What?!” he’d responded. “We have an intruder? Eagle Squad, lock us down. Hawks, sweep the compound. Finally, some -”
“Nein, nein, NEIN” squealed the professor, tugging at his erratic white hair. “They’re in our systems! Where are our firewalls?!”
“What the bloody hell is a firewall? I have a fire pit?!”
“Mein Gott! They’ve wiping our database!”
“WHAT’S A FIREWALL?!”
The computer people hacked his accounts, freezing funds at will. After he yielded and bought ‘servers’, they just flooded them with ‘trojans’. He’d never felt so lonely, so dwindling, so much like a small red dot, fading away into the trees.
He was staring up at his portrait, wondering if there was some way to unhook it, take it with him when he left, when he realised he was not alone. Stood at the top of the stairs that led from the operations centre to the front entrance in his giant mouth was a young woman. Her hair was short and scruffy, and she couldn’t have been more than 25, if that. She had her hands in her pockets, a film reference on her t-shirt and she’d done something awful to her earlobes. She would have seemed no different to any other pavement youth had it not been for her eye patch. It was metal, attached to her socket without elastic, simply held there. It had a small green light in one corner that blinked intermittently.
“Nice place,” said the interloper. “I’ll take it”
“This is my bloody mountain!” he responded, loudly. He opened his mouth to shout for ‘Guards!’ but deflated immediately. They were all alone.
“Name’s Lucy” she said, pulling a thin metal tablet from her back pocket. Lucy tapped on the screen a few times, drew a circle with her index finger, tapped again and the lights in the operations centre bloomed brighter.
“What are you doing?” he started. “How the-” but the young scruff wasn’t listening, tapping more buttons, and suddenly a grotesque scratch of guitars, drums and throat-singing sounded from the mountain’s speaker systems.
“This is my mountain!” he screamed, enraged now, more at his inability to be heard over the din than the youngun’s cheek. She tapped her tablet again. The music shut off. The silence was somehow louder than the noise that had preceded it.
“Only’ll need a few alterations to the mountain. Shouldn’t look too too different,” Lucy said, tapping her own eye patch. “Much cheaper. Gotta watch the pennies.”
“But -” he said, limply. “But this is -”
“All that’s left is your suicide” she continued, producing something that looking like a taser, covered in wires, patched with gold metal. It sparked and hummed. “How high would you say that balcony of yours is?”
He watched the green light from Lucy’s eye patch get smaller and smaller as he fell from the railing; an old lion, king of nothing but dead tigers. He had laughed and laughed and eaten and drank. He had toasted himself, made so many promises, concocted so many evil dreams, and through it all, he hadn’t known that he’d been falling. Not until the moment before he hit the ground.