I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.19

The Hawking Mansion, comfortably snuggled in the far outskirts of Midgar, overlooked one of the most magnificent gardens ever seen. This impressive house, with beautifully stained windows and a pea-green brass gate, betrayed great signs of aristocratic taste. Large bay windows bulged between the marble columns that extended high up to the roof. In addition, green ivy leaves crawled over parts of the mansion, adding to its magical charm.

As night finally devoured the sky, a pearly round moon hung itself high above the beautiful mansion. Silence crept around the majestic garden, shushing any kind of disruptive noise. But while this death-like stillness hovered outside the mansion, a bright, warm light flickered through one of the upper windows inside. Occasionally, an obscure shadow peeked through the curtains, then reluctantly retreated back.

Silence ruled the garden supreme until a black, shiny car ruthlessly shattered the tranquility into oblivion. It noisily invaded the garden, zooming over the cobblestone path. As the car neared the mansion, it gradually slowed down until finally halting at the large brass gate.

Davoren, who had been the driver, immediately alighted the black car to open the door for President ShinRa. At the same time, Vincent dismounted with the little child sleeping soundly between his arms. Because his cold face had frightened the boy to silence, Vincent had been unanimously chosen to manage the child in the car. The boy soon had soon fallen asleep in the Turk's lap, exhausted with all his previous crying.

Vincent refused to comment when the President had called the spectacle "cute".

After gently nudging the sleeping child, Vincent set him on his two little feet, making sure the boy held onto his precious teddy bear. The sleepy boy blinked in silent wonder at the giant mansion, then stared way up at this tower of a Turk who had brought him here. Vincent watched the child closely least he would try to "misbehave". The child, of course, dared not even move a muscle under the Turk's keen, cold eyes.

President ShinRa clumsily hopped out of the car, brushing the sleeve of his elegant suit. As he selected a cigar from his golden case, his piggish eyes happened to spot a black figure in the lit window above. However, this mysterious shadow soon disappeared again.

Davoren silently lit the cigar for the President, then marched up to the huge brass gate. He only banged the heavy door-knocker once before a thin, drawn butler emerged through the gateway. He scanned the three guests insolently, giving Vincent a dirty look in particular (maybe because he happened to be nearest to the child). Without a word, the servant admitted them into the mansion, and slammed the gate shut again.

The butler led the three visitors through the grand marble hall, and directly up the broad steps to Mr. Hawking's study room. Every object in this impressive hallway expressed elegant taste: a huge, brown vase embellished in gold occupied one entire corner, while various exotic plants and expensive oil paintings adorned the creamy-white stone walls. Thick velvet curtains heavily draped the large window at the landing of the staircase. Indeed, Mr. Hawking was well known for his fondness of classic antiques.

President ShinRa could not help but whistle in genuine admiration.

"What a beautiful mansion! Hawking sure has exquisite taste, eh Chuckles?" he laughed, addressing the stiff butler infront of him.

The indignant servant immediately turned to answer the President, but the cold look on both Turks strongly discouraged him. Instead, he conducted these unwanted guests to the study room as quickly as possible. Vincent dragged the child along in an iron grip, even though he knew fully well the little boy wouldn't dream of escape.

They finally reached the study room at the end of the hallway. The butler opened the stout oak doors for the visitors, giving each man a scornful look as he entered, then closed the doors after them.

The guests stepped into a spacious, square room, with a large bay window exactly opposite the door. Two stately bookshelves stretched along the two walls, interrupted occasionally by a bronze statue or a beautiful painting. A majestic mahogany desk occupied the end of the room, demanding the admiration of all beholders. The three men found Mr. Hawking seated at this ornate desk, with nervous fingers twiddling anxiously.

His grey eyes flared up furiously as President ShinRa swaggered into the room, followed by his two tall bodyguards. Vincent lingered a few steps behind the President with the child loosely held in his hand. Davoren stood directly infront of the heavy oak doors to bar any "uninvited" guests from intruding into this private meeting.

Both Turks had assumed a hard, business-like air, while ShinRa smiled and puffed coolly at his cigar. One would have thought he were Hawking's best friend.

"Good evening, Mr. Hawking," greeted the ShinRa President amicably, "I was just telling your butler what a fine house you got here."

"Bastard!!" roared Mr. Hawking at the top of his lungs. He sprang up to his feet and slammed the desk with both fists, "What have you done with my son, you despicable..."

"Tsk! Language, Mr. Hawking!" The President scolded playfully as he shook his fat finger, "You shouldn't swear infront of little children. They're so impressionable."

Saying that, President ShinRa stepped aside to let Mr. Hawking see his precious son. On spotting his father, the poor child shrieked "Daddy!". But before he could dash to his father, Vincent snagged his collar forcefully to hold him back. Davoren fixed his gaze on the struggling child who screamed in fear, yet said nothing.

Vincent stared coldly down at the little boy squirm around in his tight grip. He did not speak either.

"Now now!" ShinRa laughed at the pitiful child, "You mustn't interrupt when grown-ups are busy talking! That's very rude!"

"Let him go!! I demand you release him now!!" thundered Mr. Hawking, much enraged by the rough treatment of his son.

President ShinRa, with his cigar stuck between his twisted lips, eyed this incensed man contemptuously. The child's cried grew louder until Vincent cut him short with a sharp twist of the collar. The boy choked between sobs, but dared not scream anymore.

"You 'demand'?" ShinRa echoed mockingly, "Pardon me if I beg to differ, Sir. It's the other way around: I demand, *YOU* obey."

A heavy silence filled the room for a moment. It obviously took Mr.. Hawking a great deal of restraint to soothe his raging emotions. His anxious eyes continuously returned to his son, then shot up to Vincent's cold face. They silently implored the Turk to be more gentle with his beloved son.

But Vincent still kept a tight grip around the boy's collar.

"What..what do you want?" Mr. Hawking finally muttered. He turned to ShinRa with clenched fists and angry eyes.

"Compensation for the damage of my Reactor," he stated, puffing a full cloud of filthy smoke into his enemy's face.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Sir."

"Oh! I'm sorry!" cried ShinRa sarcastically. He even smacked his puffy cheek in feigned embarrassment, "Lord mercy! I must have mistook you for ANOTHER Hawking who hired some shit-heads to disrupt my Reactor!"

"Sir!" Hawking retorted indignantly, "If you go so far as to accuse me of hiring some terrorists to 'disrupt' your Reactor, then I assure you, I haven't.."

"We have several documentations which are solid proof your involvement, Sir," Vincent interjected in a factual tone, "The documents clearly account the sum of money paid to the terrorists. In addition, they specifically enumerate the guns and ammunition supplied to those same men by your company."

Hawking was dumbstruck.

"Furthermore, Sir," continued Davoren instead, "We have numerous witnesses linking your agents to the terrorists. Finally, reliable sources indicate those terrorists had disrupted the ShinRa Reactor under your direct orders."

Mr. Hawking gaped at the two men, crushed by the accumulation of evidence against him. His alarmed eyes darted from Vincent to Davoren in search of pity. But neither Turk would involve himself in this discourse, and stared coldly back at the crushed man. Their sole purpose had been to state the evidence.

"See, it's not a question of whether you did it or not, Hawking," sneered ShinRa triumphantly, "It's rather how much compensation will you pay me. Do you understand, or do you want them to repeat all that again?"

Hawking turned his head proudly to ShinRa, still too dignified to admit his involvement. The child stared tearfully at his "Daddy", but the grip on his collar barely allowed him to breathe let alone cry out. The two Turks kept their cool eyes riveted on the two presidents, awaiting any further orders.

"If I pay you, will you release my son?" Hawking muttered through grit teeth. His eyes flared up angrily at President ShinRa's pudgy face.

"Well, it depends. How much WILL you pay?"

Hawking paused a moment, then stated, "Ten million gil."

The President frowned at the generous sum, then began to waddle around the room, followed by the eyes of all those present.

"Now, lemme see," he thought aloud, "Your thugs barge into my Reactor, threaten to kill my employees, including my best scientist, unless I shut it down. Not only that, they endanger the lives of my Turks."

President ShinRa stopped at a marble bust of Mr. Hawking placed on a low silver column. His mean eyes studied the sculpture with evident interest. He then puffed smoke in its white face, and tapped his dirty cigar over its head.

"Of course," the President resumed, "they end up destroying my furnace, a pressure gasket, pipes, and a whole list of other things that's gonna cost me a fortune to repair! You can bet your sweet patootie it will, Mac!!"

He marched straight up to Mr. Hawking, his repulsive, bloated face fuming with increasing rage.

"And finally, one of your shitty goons fell into my mako reservoir and clogged up the main drain! What fun we had fishing out his carcass And you offer me a measly ten million gil for ALL that?! I make 100 times that in one day!!"

Mr. Hawking's eyes tensed in alarm. Sweat trickled down his wrinkled forehead. He had expected ShinRa to be quite pleased with the sum.

"Now, if you really want to compensate me, Hawking," ShinRa said after he had calmed himself, "Give me your company, and watch me crush it infront of your eyes."

Hawking's mouth dropped in astonishment at the outrageous proposal.

"WHAT?!!!" he shouted, wild with rage.

"If ShinRa Inc. becomes a monopoly," the ShinRa President explained sternly,"I could make more money than your puny brain can ever dream of. I'll be so busy counting my new profits, I just might forget this nasty incident. So, what will it be, old man? Is it a deal?"

Mr. Hawking broke away with a violent oath. He stormed up to his desk, then suddenly turned around to face the three hateful guests. Though he addressed ShinRa, his wild eyes focused right on Vincent's face, as if daring him to harm his son.

"My company was built by generations of Hawkings!" he thundered indignantly, "I will not hand over my company to a young, miserable upstart like YOU, Sir! Nor will I surrender the toil of my grandfathers for your grubby hands to wreck and make money off!! I do not regret what I did to your disgusting Reactor! You're nothing but a greedy, money-minded pig only concerned with your petty profits!! Rot in Hell!!"

Both Turks exchanged a significant look, but immediately fixed their cold eyes back on their President. President ShinRa stared at his enemy, much impressed with his passionate outburst. He even flung his cigar on the carpet, and clapped his "grubby" hands in mocked admiration.

Vincent narrowed his bright eyes, expecting some upcoming command any minute.

"Nice speech, Hawking. I'm touched, really!" President Shinra applauded with an evil grin. He suddenly stopped, and scoffed at the proud man.

"Vincent," the President ordered coldly, "shoot the kid."

Davoren gave a violent start on hearing the command.

Vincent immediately yanked the small child off his feet by the collar and held him at eye-level. The boy struggled wildly for air amidst choked sobs until Vincent pressed the cold muzzle of his gun against his little head. The child instantly froze solid, his bleary eyes staring straight at his horrified father. He could not breathe anymore.

"STOP!! WH..WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!!" cried Mr.Hawking in alarm. His wild eyes darted between President ShinRa and Vincent, "LEAVE HIM ALONE!! HE'S JUST A BABY!!!"

The ShinRa President gave Vincent a meaningful look, then waddled over to the petrified Hawking. Vincent felt the child's body grow heavy, but still kept the gun at his small head. Davoren stared intently at Vincent from behind.

"You can't have your cake and eat it, Mr. Hawking," sneered ShinRa contemptuously, "It's either your company OR your son."

"HAVE YOU NO CONSCIENCE, MAN??!!" cried the anguished Mr. Hawking, looking straight at Vincent in horror, "HAVE YOU NO HEART??!! YOU CAN'T SHOOT A CHILD!! YOU CAN'T!!!!"

Vincent stared stoically back at the poor man. He did not flinch.

"Of course he can!" ShinRa answered, "I pay him to shoot whoever I want shot!! You think he'll give a SHIT if he kills a little brat?! Go on, Vincent! Shoot him!!"

"NO!! NO!! STOP!!!!"

Mr. Hawking collapsed to his trembling knees, his grey eyes flooding with tears. The President looked down at his enemy's shaking body, then gave both Turks a triumphant wink. Neither man winced a muscle, or opened his mouth.

"T..take my company if you want it, ShinRa!!" Hawking cried, burying his ashen face in both hands, "Take my house...take my life if that's what you want!! But please..PLEASE..don't..don't harm my son!!"

The pathetic man could not say anymore. He broke down into violent sobs, mumbling broken sentences to the three guests. The President let the man weep for a full minute, then decided to "finish him off".

"You're lucky your son put me in such a good mood, Hawking," he began amicably, "I was going to suck you dry then just kill your son after I was done."

Mr. Hawking shot up his head in disbelief. It had never occurred to him this despicable man would have extorted him to that extent. He was speechless.

"But, I'm afraid your son has entertained me too greatly for me to kill him," the President laughed. Suddenly, he cut himself short, and stared ominously down at Mr. Hawking, "Don't mess with me, old man, or next time you won't find me in such a good mood."

The stunned Mr. Hawking shivered violently at the threatening tone. The President raised one brow as if to say "Understood?", then marched towards the oak doors, saying, "Expect a visit from my lawyers about all the paper work. Pleasure doing business with you, Sir. Toodles!"

Davoren immediately opened the door for the victorious President, then followed him out of the study room. Without a word, Vincent dropped the half-dead child to the ground. He watched him totter away to his sobbing father, gasping and choking all the way. Mr. Hawking instantly embraced his precious son with all his might. He was completely broken.

The child, who understood nothing, peeked over his father's shoulder to look at his tormentor. His small, round eyes gaped in wonder at Vincent's tall figure and cold expression.

However, Vincent only thrust his gun into its holster as he marched out of the room. He did not bother looking back at the stunned, little child he would have killed.

And his heart felt nothing.

-End of Chp.19