CH 4: Cafe Conspiracies

Dorian jolted awake, his neck stiff from sleeping in the chair. Sunlight streamed through the penthouse windows, and for a moment, he was disoriented. The events of the previous night came rushing back as his eyes fell on the USB drive still sitting on the table.

"Shit," he muttered, glancing at his watch. He'd overslept.

As he rushed to shower and change, his phone rang. It was Marcus, his head of security.

"Mr. Batiste, about last night's disturbance in the wine cellar—"

"Not now, Marcus," Dorian cut him off. "I'll deal with it later. Have the car ready in 10 minutes."

"Yes, sir," Marcus replied, his tone professional despite the abrupt dismissal.

The June heat hit Dorian like a wall as he stepped out of the hotel. The temperature was already pushing 90 degrees, and it wasn't even noon. The air shimmered above the pavement, promising another sweltering New Orleans day.

Dorian slipped into the back of the waiting Mercedes, the cool air conditioning a blessed relief. "Café du Monde," he instructed the driver. "And make it quick."

The car weaved through the busy French Quarter streets. Despite the heat, tourists thronged the sidewalks, their cameras clicking incessantly at the colorful buildings and street performers. As they turned onto Decatur Street, Jackson Square came into view, its lush greenery a stark contrast to the surrounding concrete and wrought iron.

Café du Monde appeared ahead, its green and white awning a familiar landmark. The scent of coffee and beignets wafted through the air, mingling with the muggy heat. Dorian's eyes scanned the crowded tourist spot for his father.

Instead, he spotted Vivian at a nearby table, her attention focused on her cell phone. She was tapping away furiously, pausing occasionally to glance around as if expecting someone.

As Dorian debated whether to confront Vivian, his father appeared, looking nervous and disheveled.

"Hijo," Carlos's voice was low, urgent. "This way."

They settled at a table, Carlos looking considerably more disheveled than the night before. A waiter approached, and Dorian ordered for both of them, including his coffee with three sugars and one cream.

As Dorian methodically stirred his coffee, Carlos's eyes softened. "Just like your mother," he murmured. "She always did have a sweet tooth."

The moment of familiarity passed quickly. Carlos leaned in, his voice barely above a whisper. "I don't have much time. What I did in Cuba... it was more than just intelligence gathering. We were trying to destabilize Castro's regime."

Dorian sipped his coffee, letting the sweetness wash over his tongue. "And it went wrong?"

Carlos nodded grimly. "Very wrong. People died, Dorian. Good people. And now, after all these years, it's coming back to haunt us."

Suddenly, Carlos tensed, his eyes fixed on a point beyond Dorian's shoulder. "The key I gave you last night," he said hurriedly, "it opens a safety deposit box at the Iberia Bank. Everything you need to know is there." He stood abruptly. "I'm sorry, son. I have to go."

Before Dorian could protest, Carlos was gone, lost in the crowd of tourists and locals. Frustrated, Dorian turned his attention back to where he'd seen Vivian. Her table was empty.

Acting on instinct, Dorian left some cash on the table and followed. He caught a glimpse of her rounding a corner into a less crowded street of the French Quarter. Keeping his distance, he watched as she met with a man he didn't recognize. Their body language was tense, their conversation clearly heated despite the low volume.

As Dorian edged closer, straining to hear, a strong hand gripped his arm, yanking him into an alley. He reacted instantly, his military training kicking in as he twisted, ready to strike.

"Qué tal, chico? Todavía metiéndote en problemas?" The scarred face of Ramirez grinned at him, though the smile didn't reach his eyes.

Dorian relaxed slightly, but kept his guard up. "What do you want, Ramirez?"

"To keep you alive, pendejo," Ramirez growled. "You're in way over your head here."

"Then help me understand," Dorian countered. "What's really going on?"

Ramirez's eyes flicked to the street where Vivian had been. "Esa mujer, Vivian? No es lo que parece. Ten cuidado, or you'll end up like your old man - running and hiding for the rest of your life."

"What do you know about Vivian?" Dorian demanded, but Ramirez was already backing away.

"Watch your back, Batiste," Ramirez called as he disappeared down the alley. "And don't trust anyone."

Dorian made his way back to The Crescent, his mind whirling. In his suite, he sat heavily at his desk, the USB drive seeming to mock him. As he reached for it, he muttered to himself, "En qué lío me he metido?"

With a deep breath, he plugged in the drive. Whatever secrets it held, he was finally ready to face them. The screen flickered to life, and Dorian began to read, unaware that his world was about to change forever.

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