CH 3: Ghosts of Havana

The wine cellar's dim light cast long shadows across the face of the man Dorian hadn't seen in over three decades. Time had etched deep lines around his eyes and mouth, but the resemblance was undeniable. This was the face Dorian saw every morning in the mirror, aged by years and hardship.

"Dad?" Dorian's hand remained on his Beretta, uncertainty warring with a lifetime of questions.

Carlos Batiste stepped forward, his hands raised placatingly. "It's been a long time, son. I know you have questions—"

"Questions?" Dorian's laugh was sharp, bitter. "That's one hell of an understatement. Where the fuck have you been for the last thirty years?"

"Hiding," Carlos replied, his accent a blend of Cuban streets and American espionage training. "Trying to keep you and your mother safe."

Dorian's grip on his gun tightened. "Safe from what?"

Carlos glanced nervously at the cellar door. "We don't have much time. I've been using this cellar as a dead drop for years. It's why your inventory never adds up."

The pieces started falling into place in Dorian's mind. The missing bottles, the discrepancies that his staff could never explain. "You've been stealing from me?"

"Borrowing," Carlos corrected. "And leaving valuable information in return. Information that's kept a lot of people alive."

Before Dorian could respond, a noise from above made both men freeze. Footsteps, too many and too purposeful to be hotel staff.

Carlos's face drained of color. "They've found me. We need to move, now!"

"Who's found you?" Dorian demanded, but Carlos was already in motion, pulling bottles from a seemingly random shelf.

The cellar door burst open. Three men in dark clothing entered, weapons drawn. Dorian recognized the cold professionalism in their eyes – these weren't common thugs.

"CIA?" Dorian asked, ducking behind a wine rack as bullets splintered wood around them.

Carlos grunted, twisting a bottle. A section of the wall swung open, revealing a hidden passage. "Worse. Cuban intelligence. Move!"

Instinct took over. Dorian laid down covering fire, his Beretta barking in the confined space. He backed into the passage, Carlos right behind him. The wall swung shut just as one of the attackers reached it, muffling a cry of frustration.

The passage was narrow and dank, clearly unused for years. They moved quickly, guided by the beam of Carlos's flashlight.

"How long have you known about this?" Dorian asked between breaths.

"Since before you were born," Carlos replied. "Your hotel sits on layers of history, son. And secrets."

They emerged into a back alley, the sounds of French Quarter revelry a stark contrast to the danger they'd just escaped. Sirens wailed in the distance, growing closer.

Carlos turned to Dorian, his face grave. He pressed a small USB drive into Dorian's hand. "Everything you need to know is on here. But be careful who you trust with it. Your mother, the police, even that puta you've been seeing – anyone could be compromised."

"Vivian? What does she have to do with this?"

Carlos's eyes softened. "You really are my son. Always thinking with your heart first." He squeezed Dorian's shoulder. "Meet me tomorrow at noon. Café du Monde. Come alone."

Before Dorian could protest, Carlos melted into the shadows of the alley, leaving Dorian alone with the weight of the USB drive in his palm and a thousand new questions crowding his mind.

The journey back to his penthouse was a blur. Dorian's training kept him alert for tails or ambushes, but his thoughts were a chaotic whirlwind. His father, alive. Cuban intelligence. Secret passages and dead drops in his own hotel.

As the elevator doors opened to his suite, Dorian's hand instinctively went to his Beretta. But the only threat that greeted him was Vivian, curled up on his sofa, concern etched on her beautiful face.

"Dorian! Where have you been? I've been worried sick!" She rose, moving to embrace him.

Dorian accepted her hug, but part of him remained guarded. His father's warning echoed in his mind: "Be careful who you trust."

"Sorry," he murmured into her hair. "Business emergency. Everything's fine now."

Vivian pulled back, studying his face. "Are you sure? You look like you've seen a ghost."

'If only you knew,' Dorian thought. Aloud, he said, "I'm just tired. It's been a long night."

"Do you want me to stay?" Vivian's offer was tempting, her body warm against his.

Dorian hesitated, torn between desire and caution. "Not tonight," he said finally. "I have an early meeting tomorrow."

Disappointment flickered across Vivian's face, quickly replaced by understanding. "Of course. Call me tomorrow?"

After she left, Dorian poured himself a generous measure of bourbon and sank into his chair. The USB drive sat on the table before him, a small object that somehow weighed as heavy as the world.

He stared at it, the untouched bourbon forgotten in his hand. In that small piece of technology lay answers to questions he'd had his entire life. But those answers came with a price – the comfortable ignorance of his past was gone, replaced by danger and uncertainty.

As the first light of dawn crept across the New Orleans skyline, Dorian Batiste sat alone, caught between the ghosts of his father's past and the uncertain shadows of his own future.

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