Jun P. Espina         15 min read
Written on July 18, 2022
[Note: Short Story. General Fiction. Everything is invented.] FICTION
Deicon Leiko woke up at five in the morning, turned to his unfinished memos and those documents spread on his table, waiting for his time-consuming reading and signature. His opulent study area on his modern estate in Miami, Florida, had become a source of irritation. Like a river of never-ending paperwork, sensitive files poured over his table. Coffee’s calming aroma, which had drifted under his nose, could no longer make him grin. He was only forty years old and bored with his billionaire existence.
To lift his depressed spirits, he tried partying and having fun with attractive ladies, but this only made him feel worse and more remorseful toward his beloved French wife, Esme.
One day, a Christian friend named Rafed (a former Muslim) invited him to attend a Bible study class, but he just shook his head and said, “Not my cup of tea.”
After Rafed left him, his wife, Esme, who felt pity for her husband’s undisciplined and gloomy life, advised him to attend Rafed’s class, even just once.
“Honey,” said Esme, “remember that Rafed was a former devout Muslim.”
“I know,” Deicon got annoyed and sarcastic. “And your God changed him from a terror-minded guy to a loving person.”
“And today,” Esme worried about her husband’s atheism, “he works hard for free to help spread the Christian faith in our churches.”
Despite Deicon’s immoral lifestyle, he loved Esme more than all his girls combined, whom he dubbed as nothing but a bunch of gold diggers.
But when Esme challenged him to face his unfaithfulness biblically, he would attack Esme’s Christian God with every accusation he learned from the atheists’ websites. “Christianity dismisses science.” That was Deicon’s familiar punchline.
“You should be a Christian like me, Deicon. All you will lose is your wife one day.”
“I’m sorry, my dear,” replied Deicon. “My father’s a business scientist, and my mother, a Darwinist college professor. And you knew that already.”
“Yes, but did they make you a moral husband?”
“Both of them kicked God out of our house a long time ago,” Deicon said proudly. “We worship at the altar of study and hard work, and the result is money, tons of money in our bank! Aren’t you happy with that?”
The next morning, Esme asked permission to visit her parents in Paris for two weeks, together with Rafael, their only child.
“Honey, your worship of the almighty dollar can never make the three of us truly happy. I need some fresh air away from your money universe, so please let me go.”
“No, I cannot allow you to go elsewhere without me,” Deicon reacted. “When did I allow you to get close to your ex?”
“To my parents, I said. What’s the problem with you, Deicon? I’m not faithless like you. I’m a believer, and you have known me for over ten years now!”
“Esme, I love you so much.” Deicon wanted Esme to feel she had won. He wished to put a stop to his wife’s furious accusations and soul-crushing indictment of his wrongdoing.
“With all the girls around you—am I still a part of your busy life?” Anger welled up in Esme’s chest. She turned and stalked away, disappearing into the poolside of their mansion house.
Deicon stayed home that day as he tried to ease Esme’s rage.
“What should I do to sweeten up my wife? Where’s my atheism now that my wife is not interested in my wealth anymore?”
Deicon needs help or he will become more confused than his young wife. So, he scoured the Web and asked for some help from the atheists’ online forums.
“Bro. Deicon,” replied one atheist, “Christians are judgmental people. Get out of that toxic relationship ASAP.”
“Deicon,” wrote another atheist to him, “Christianity sucks. I’d been a Christian before, but I was never happy with that faultfinding faith system. Leave your old wife; young girls are not a problem if you have a deep pocket.”
The online atheist community did not give Deicon something to keep his family together. And it was not what he wanted. He loved Esme so much and did not want to hear any divorce-your-wife advice again. So, he called up Rafed.
“Rafed, brother, what’s your Christian advice?” Rafed was his best friend, his former bodyguard for many years.
“Well, if you truly love them, show it to them—bring them to tourist destinations anywhere in the world.”
“Thanks, my friend,” Deicon said, hanging up the phone.
Deicon Leiko was the richest man in the city of close to half a million people. He had a dozen attendants and kitchen staff in his enormous mansion, and thousands of employees worked for his global business empire.
One day, while traveling to Southeast Asia with his wife, Esme, and their only son, Rafael, his private plane collided with migratory birds.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the pilot radioed the control tower.
“Brace for impact. We gonna have to ditch on a marshland.”
“Lord, help us,” Esme prayed aloud while embracing Rafael. Deicon wanted to pray, but he did not have a God to pray to. He ground his teeth like he could wrestle the inevitable with his inner strength.
After a few seconds, their pilot made an emergency marshland landing in a remote place occupied by Muslim separatist rebels.
The pilot got injured and became unconscious.
Deicon crawled to open the plane’s door. Esme gripped Rafael’s hand, and they followed him. As water flowed in, Deicon stepped out of the aircraft and planted his feet into the mud of around two feet thick. He carried Rafael to his shoulders and held Esme’s right arm.
The left wing of Deicon’s plane hit a tree and fire then engulfed the aircraft. The captain died inside.
A dense forest surrounded the marshland, which was somewhere in Borneo, and was 2000 feet above sea level. Difficult-to-navigate, mountainous terrain bound this marsh, which was around 10 square kilometers in size. Mudfish have populated the marsh in large numbers like untouched species and a crown of fog covered the woodland. But Deicon’s family was so terrified that not even the splendor of nature could lift their spirits.
As they reached the edge of the marsh, Deicon turned to observe the place and saw armed men and a dozen horses.
“Don’t shoot,” Deicon threw his hands up and pleaded in a piteous voice, as over ten savage-looking men aimed their firearms at them. Rafael, a ten-year-old boy, panicked as his mom embraced him, also panicking.
“Tie them up,” ordered Fahmin, the right-hand leader of the armed group.
“Bring them to the camp.”
Seeing that the plane was burning, Fahmin said something like “leave it there,” but Deicon could not understand his language.
Ahzab, the leader of the rebel group in the village known as Ahlul-Bayt (literally “people of the house”), which is about 200 kilometers from the nearest metropolis, looked into the crash and surmised that Deicon and his wife were foreign spies working for the government while posing as vacationers.
Deicon attempted to bribe Ahzab, who was still recovering from gunfire wounds sustained during a battle with government soldiers, but the former had little hard cash on him because he relied on his ATM card. There were just the intimidating bearded tough men who called themselves the Ahlul-Bayt Liberation Fighters (or ALF) up there, with no ATM or other sign of civilization.
The next day, Ahzab, who stammered a lot, pointed his finger toward Rafael and said stuff they couldn’t comprehend.
“The Commander wanted to execute your kid first. You’re a threat to us. You’ll take over our mudfish trade, he said,” the interpreter sighed.
Deicon considered all possibilities to escape, while they imprisoned Esme and Rafael in a separate cell. His hands were cold and clammy as he thought of Rafael’s upcoming execution. He thought how defenseless he was despite his vast wealth.
Awni, the interpreter, served as a cook in the camp. He was a former chef at a tourist resort in Borneo, a Christian Indonesian who pretended to be Muslim to join ALF after stabbing a fellow chef to death.
“Brother Awni, help me save my son.” Raw panic was in Deicon’s voice. “I’ll pay you $5,000,000 with a check.”
But Awni just turned his back and never answered Deicon a word.
In his desperation, Deicon thought of Rafed, his Muslim friend who had been converted to the Christian faith.
“Lord Jesus,” Deicon prayed for the first time (imitating his wife’s prayer during mealtimes), “please help my entire family get out of this place, safe and alive.”
Surprised by Deicon’s offer, Awni informed Commander Ahzab that their captives could be very rich people. So, Ahzab spoke with Deicon again.
“Hand me your watch, ring, and cellphone. I won’t kill your son if you’ll purchase for us high-powered guns, a modern communication system, and needed ammunition.”
“Sir,” Deicon trembled, “I’ll give you all your requests, but please, release my wife and son. I will stay here until my promises are fulfilled. I also need my cellphone.”
“No,” replied Ahzab. “You’ve got a beautiful wife. Let her stay here while you fulfill your promise.”
Esme was a beautiful Frenchwoman who married the billionaire Deicon Leiko, an American when she was twenty years old (and Deicon, thirty).
After learning that Deicon is a super-wealthy guy, Commander Ahzab allowed his captives a little freedom to roam around the camp together.
Awni, the cook, became friendly with Deicon and his family.
“Sir,” Awni spoke with Deicon secretly, “tonight is the 50th birthday of our commander. I’ll be busy during the day, but if you’ll double the money, I’ll help you escape at early dawn tomorrow.”
Awni desired to return to his farm in Indonesia, so he thought of Deicon’s money.
Awni handed a sketch to Deicon early in the afternoon that pointed to a riverbank two kilometers away from the east of the marshland. The commander stationed two timber rafts there for the rebels’ use.
“My friend, take this sketch and give me the check,” said Awni.
“I cannot do that, Awni,” said Deicon. “I’ve never experienced rafting, and it’s riskier than staying here unless you want to join us.”
In desperation, Deacon’s voice became strained. “It’s difficult to cash in a large sum, so let’s flee together.”
“Give me two hours,” Awni left.
Awni’s close friends in the rebel camp are all unhappy with Commander Ahzab’s inability to pay them big bucks. So, ten rebels joined in the escape plot on the condition of equal sharing with Awni’s heavy bribe.
But at around 11:30 p.m., Commander Ahzab called for Esme to his room as his “birthday gift.”
Awni informed Deicon about Esme in Ahzab’s heavily guarded room. While they were preparing for their escape, he didn’t know what to do to save his beloved wife. He felt his blood rushing like one suffering from hypertension.
“Lord God, the God of Rafed, please forgive my unbelief, please save my wife from Ahzab and help us escape from the camp alive and safe.” It was the second time Deicon prayed to the Christian God of his friend Rafed.
He asked Awni for a knife, then crawled toward Ahzab’s hut. The ALF (of over 100 members) planted marijuana in their occupied territory as part of their money-making scheme aside from extortion, the sales of mudfish from the wetland, and local taxation (or revolutionary tax—as they call it). They smoked marijuana heavily that night as part of their merriment since Ahzab banned liquor inside the camp.
When Deicon got closer to Ahzab’s door, one guard, though groggy, ordered him to identify himself. Deicon, however, who had spent years practicing martial arts, quickly attacked the guard with his kitchen knife out of worry for Esme’s safety.
He pushed the door as he heard a commotion inside, but another guard came and sent Deicon down with a heavy rifle butt, smashing his head.
Esme burst through the door and impulsively kicked the guard. The dopey lookout fell by Deicon’s side. Before crawling (along with his wife) to their prearranged meeting spot with Awni—a large acacia tree, over 200 meters from the camp—Deicon stabbed the lower left of the guard’s body, close to the kidney.
At two o’clock in the early dawn, everyone was already at the acacia tree except Awni. Deicon’s heart hammered in his chest as he couldn’t find Rafael in the group.
“Lord God,” he prayed repeatedly.
After a little while, Deicon noticed someone crawling toward them. He ran toward the noise under the cover of darkness, alerting everyone. Esme followed her husband slowly. In a few seconds, they saw Awni holding Rafael’s arm.
Deicon and Esme embraced and kissed Rafael, and then, together with Awni’s friends, they hiked downhill until they reached the riverbank.
“How did you escape?” Deicon asked his wife.
“Remember my karate training and the bullet wounds of Ahzab,” Esme whispered. “Did you also forget my Christian God?”
Deicon remained silent as he was thanking Esme’s God in his heart.
Deicon’s escape squad left Ahlul-Bayt village at around 2:10 a.m. They all took a seat in the two rafts, while Awni, their cook and interpreter, served as their sailing captain. But in less than an hour, they heard gunshots and an order to stop. It was Fahmin’s voice, the right-hand man of Ahzab. They used horses to overtake them.
“The captive woman almost killed the commander,” Fahmin roared to justify his order to fire at Deicon’s squad.
“What did you do to Ahzab?” Deicon asked Esme, who was already lying on her stomach while pushing Rafael’s head down.
The armed rebels who joined with Deicon returned fire, but when Awni learned about their squad member being hit, he ordered everyone to jump into the water. “Swim to safety,” he shouted.
After a while, Awni and his friends surrendered to Fahmin, while they recaptured Deicon.
Esme and Rafael went missing, and the rebels hogtied Deicon to a tree long before the sun rose.
Commander Ahzab was still comatose when they reached the camp, and it burnt the anger of Fahmin to Deicon. He ordered Deicon to be punched and tortured. Tears rolled down Deicon’s cheeks while he was bruised, in pain, and cold.
“Esme . . . Rafael,” he groaned.
At 8 a.m., the rebels resumed the beating of Deicon, and did not give him food. Awni interfered, but Ahzab woke up and ordered Awni killed that day for betraying ALF.
As Fahmin tied up Awni by Deicon’s side, the latter advised Awni to argue that they needed him to get his money as their interpreter.
“Brother,” Awni spoke to Fahmin, “this American owned the plane that crashed. He’s very rich and only I can speak English in our camp.”
“Don’t kill me, you need me,” Awni pleaded.
Fahmin reported the new info he had got to Ahzab, so the latter published the capture of Deicon on Facebook and demanded a ransom of 100 million dollars.
Rafed learned of the capture of his friend, so he mobilized the top executives of Deicon’s business empire and ordered a swift rescue operation.
Ahzab released Awni and ordered him to feed Deicon with mudfish, the staple diet of the rebels. He was so absorbed with Deicon’s ransom that he should feed him and keep him safe.
“Sir, eat, help yourself. I’ll help you escape again tonight,” whispers Awni.
“Give me a knife so I can cut off the rope on my wrist,” Deicon said.
“Yes,” Awni said. “I’ll also give you an empty plastic water container to serve as your drifter, to help you swim fast downstream. You’ll find a small town, named Almusamak, thirty kilometers away. After burning this place at 8 tonight, I’ll follow you. Let’s meet at Almusamak.”
“Agreed,” Deicon nodded.
At exactly 8 p.m., a ball of fire burned the ALF hideout. Over 100 armed men scrambled to put out the fire, while Deicon ran fast toward the riverbank. He heard gunshots but didn’t mind them.
Meanwhile, while Awni crawled away from the burning camp, one of his friends noticed and shot him. They hated Awni for leaving them this time and not sharing with them Deicon’s bribe after their comrade almost got killed during their first attempt to escape.
Using horses, Fahmin and his men followed the river, hoping to spot Deicon’s flashlight on his forehead.
Sensing the armed rebels at the side of the river, Deicon turned off his flashlight and hid under a fallen tree. Bullets flew above his head, and one hit his left arm. He tore his shirt and bandaged his wound to stop the bleeding.
At around 3 a.m., he swam downstream again and reached the small town, Almusamak, at around six in the morning. His wound ached, but he didn’t care.
He felt heavy in the chest as he swam through the icy river currents. “Rafael, Esme, where are you? You still around?” His jaw trembled as his tears streamed down his face like rain. “Oh God, oh God, help us see each other again.”
At 5 a.m., Deicon saw street lights at a distance, so he stopped by the bridge and observed his surroundings. He saw a timber raft moored opposite him.
“Maybe Rafael and Esme are still around,” Deicon speculated.
Two men who sat on a huge rock by the raft waved their hands and motioned for Deicon to wait for them.
“You must be Mr. Deicon Leiko,” said the taller guy.
“Yes, I am.”
“We’ve been waiting for you all night since mayor ordered to protect you from Fahmin. I’ve got a hat and dark shades for you. Wear them and let’s move fast.”
“Who are you?” Deacon wrinkled his brow.
“Why did you waste time on me?” An unsettling feeling began welling inside Deicon.
“Because you’re all over Facebook, Sir, since Ahzab demanded 100 million dollars for your ransom.”
“Ransom? You knew me?” Deicon struggled against his anger.
“Yes, we know reporters from CNN, the Washington Post, and other global media are already in our little Almusamak to cover your story.”
“Have you heard about my wife and son?”
“No, we don’t,” the officer lied.
Esme had already bribed the Chief of Police with 50 thousand dollars to save Deicon from Ahzab.
“Fahmin promised our mayor a 50/50 share of your ransom. We’re assigned to recapture you, but we don’t follow our mayor.”
The mayor was a close friend of Commander Ahzab. And he was corrupt.
“We followed our Chief. You’re in good hands.”
They brought Deicon to a secluded place, and the Chief of Police ordered that he should not face the media.
They kept Deicon in a locked room guarded by two police officers. The rotting smell of dead rats made him even more tense, and the food he was served made him sick to his stomach, twisting his gut like a wave on the rocks.
He was dubbed “the billionaire from Miami,” but no one cares about his wet clothes, which he wore for days, and how they stole and humiliated a super-rich person’s affluence and ease.
Esme and Rafael were inside a shopping store near the police station in Almusamak.
“Mommy, buy me food. I’m sick of Muslim fish.”
Two police officers followed them everywhere they went. The Chief of Police felt he could make tons of money by protecting the Leiko family, instead of allowing the mayor to watch over them.
When Fahmin ambushed them during their first escape led by Awni, Esme and Rafael hid in the woods nearby and waited until sunrise to resume their journey using the same raft. Without a flashlight, their night rafting could be very dangerous.
When Awni ordered that all should jump into the water, Esme’s hand was still nuzzling Rafael’s head on the raft’s floor because of the gunshots. Esme held her son’s arm while they swam to the riverbank.
Upon reaching the little town of Almusamak, Rafael gave his mom his waterproof cellphone and the credit card that Esme had put inside his wallet. Esme withdrew some money, bribed the Chief of Police, and then bought some clothes to prepare for Rafed’s arrival since he contacted her after learning of their plane crash on Facebook and the mainstream media.
Everyone was a crook in Almusamak’s government. The two police officers who waited for Deicon overnight thought they could make money by helping their most treasured prisoner.
“Sir,” said the officer who can speak English, “we want to help you ‘coz our chief is interested in your ransom. Like mayor. They shot Awni, your friend. We help you, not for free—it’s dangerous.”
“Thank you, but I’m not leaving this place without my wife and son.”
“Okay. If you don’t need us . . ..” The police officer gestured to walk away.
“Wait, please tell me about my wife. I saw the timber raft near the bridge. My wife and son are here, waiting for me.”
“How much you give for this information?” the officer asked.
“Five thousand dollars.”
“When will you give the money?”
“As soon as my wife and son appeared at this place.”
“Agreed.” The two officers left Deicon, and in their excitement, they left his room unlocked.
“What shall I do? My room is open; shall I escape?” Deicon recalled his father’s science and deification of learning, and his mother’s “work hard, always work hard” principle, but he felt they were useless when what he needs is God and His supernatural intervention.
“Money is not almighty, after all,” Deicon gasped.
Esme, who covered herself with sirung, a colorful Bornean hat made of rattan and bamboo, a headscarf, and dark shades, was still shopping when a police officer approached her and asked, “Ma’am, how much will give me if I bring you, kid to your husband?”
Esme tightened her lips as she was suspicious about everything and every one after Ahzab’s demand for her husband’s ransom trended on Facebook.
“This guy wants to rob me,” she thought.
“Are you serious?” Esme asked.
He handed over his cellphone. “Your husband pic.”
Esme’s eyes widened in disbelief. She embraced Rafael and said, “Thank You, Jesus . . . your dad is here.”
But her son didn’t move; he shivered with cold sweat. “What happened to you, sweetheart?”
“I felt bad, mom, I wanted to.”
It was Rafael’s last words before he collapsed. His scarce and strange meals in the wilderness hurt his gut. The police rushed them to the hospital instead of presenting them to Deicon.
“Sir, your son in hospital. Here’s towel, cover yourself—let’s go there, fast.”
Deicon crinkled his eyes in disbelief.
They drove to the hospital.
“Daddy,” Rafael shouted. The doctor gave him sodium bicarbonate, and it helped him to recover quickly.
Overjoyed, Esme leaped toward Deicon, kissed and embraced him, then screamed as she could hardly contain her joy. “Thank You, Jesus, thank You, Lord.”
Deicon hugged and kissed his beloved wife and son as happiness overtook him. “It’s not about money, after all. It’s about faith in Jesus,” Deicon thought. “Money moves people, but not events.”
The doctor discharged them quickly from the hospital with the help of the officers. On their way out, a man approached Deicon, held his arm, and said, “Sir, I’ll be dead in a few days.”
It was Awni.
As they were fleeing Almusamak before the press could find them, Deicon offered the police officers money to help them escape from Borneo.
Esme’s phone rang, while Deicon was busy collecting the officers’ bank account numbers.
“Who’s that, honey?”
“Rafed. Our helicopter’s waiting, ten kilometers north of this town’s national highway,” Esme replied.
“Okay, let’s move. We’ll use your ambulance to avoid detection.”
“Okay, Sir,” replied the taller officer.
“I’ll transfer ten thousand dollars to your accounts. Is that cool?” Deicon asked.
The two officers grinned and nodded. “Yeah.”
Three days after their escape and successful travel back to the U.S., Deicon got up early, did his morning exercise, and took a bath.
“Honey, today is a Sunday. I want to attend your church.” Deicon looked well-groomed and hummed the hymn, Amazing Grace, as he combed his hair.
“Tears flowed down Esme’s cheeks, saying, “Good job, honey, good job.” She hugged and kissed Deicon and rushed to the kitchen to check if their breakfast was ready. She couldn’t think of a time she’d ever been happier as the potent aroma of a delectable meal welcomed her.
“Good morning, Ma’am. Your breakfast is ready,” Awni grinned and bowed his head. He couldn’t hide his joy in serving as Deicon’s chef in the U.S.
Less than a week after they returned to their large estate in Florida, Deicon had already sacked ten highly educated and attractive executives from his corporate empire.
“Why did you sack your best people en masse?” Esme asked.
“They were the gold diggers,” Deicon replied.
“Ah, almost a dozen girls, ha?”
“Honey, you can now visit your parents if you want to,” Deicon said.
“Why was my wealthy husband’s decree suddenly changed?”
“Because love is not jealous,” Deicon grinned, sounding biblical. “Ahzab did not change me. Christ did.”