When Pete Dixon first arrived at the newly built Carson Williams Villa, he found the 33-bedroom Spanish Colonial unsettling.
It was monstrous in its beauty.
Thick navy blue walls accented by blinding white moulding and pilasters. Two precise rows of wrought iron balustrades, each one guarding a pair of rich mahogany French doors.
These balconies, like twenty half-lidded eyes, stared out into Old Finds Bight, as if luring wandering lost yachtsmen to their deaths.
To the inaugural residents, Carson Williams Villa was paradise. A lonely place at the edge of the world where you could slip into a life of simple, quiet charm filled with bourbon, idleness and guilt-free trysts.
Carson Williams represented the ideal endgame for millionaires, reclusive authors and eccentric geniuses, free of the friction of daily life. A well protected vacuum where men and women of exceeding creative intelligence could finally work in peace. It was isolated, hidden and far away. You would need to drive a good hour or two if you needed anything. God forbid groceries. Or an emergency.
(Essentials were delivered each week to the front gates of the villa’s courtyard on Monday at 6 A.M. in an unmarked white van from an unknown source.)
But there was a catch to all this for the residents of Carson Williams. The well-defended sequestration came with a price and it was this: You couldn’t leave the villa under any circumstances.
The moment you stepped across the threshold into its soaring atrium, you were under the villa’s spell. You received the gift of immortality. You may now live until the very end of time as God intended, but your view of the world was restricted to Old Finds Bight forever.
But if you stuck just one toe, finger or any other extremity outside its invisible borders, you died instantly. Eternal life, eternal youth and eternal wealth can be yours, as long as you stayed inside the walls of Carson Williams.
That was the price.
And that was why to Pete Dixon, it was eternal damnation. He was not rich, nor artistic, nor smart by any means. He was a simple man with simple tastes and a simple goal. To sacrifice his soul, here at Carson Williams, and toil for the rest of his life until his dying breath so that future generations of the Dixon family would never suffer the same abject poverty that struck Pete’s childhood.
Pete Dixon would be an eternal butler at Carson Williams. After minimal living expenses, Pete’s remainder income would go into the Dixon Family Trust. For the first fifty years, it wouldn’t amount to much, but by the time Pete’s unborn great-grandchildren came to be, they would inherit a small fortune.
It was a long game. A very long one.
And for over two hundred years, this worked just fine. Pete Dixon served the immortal residents of Carson Williams (who over decades of isolation, slowly and surely became more eccentric, antisocial and strange), and he was for what it was worth, at peace with his self-imposed life sentence.
Once in a while, he surfed the Internet and found his descendants. Many had reached a wonderful middle-class American dream. Others became men of fame and influence. Some became musicians, actors and filmmakers. They all received a mysterious monthly stipend and were committed to a vow of silence by Pete’s power of attorney, a seventh-generation lawyer from a firm with one client: Carson Williams.
And this was just fine for Pete Dixon. This was exactly what he had signed on for and got. A simple life as a butler who took care of his family.
But then it happened. The day the enchantment over Carson Williams (possibly) broke.
It was a warm, sunny Spring Thursday morning in the Keys. The two dozen residents were breakfasting outside in its private inner courtyard, while Pete Dixon stood erect by the kitchen door eyeing for anyone who may need him.
Breakfast was quinoa salad with avocados, mint leaves, pomegranate and crawfish served with freshly squeezed orange juice. Whole grain toast spread with freshly churned butter was optional.
All was going as usual, as it had been for over two centuries, when Tony Thiel keeled over at the breakfast table, choking on crawfish or something rather, gasping in fits for several long minutes without a soul lifting a finger to aid him.
It became an unbearable ordeal for the orderlies. Everyone panicked. Nobody acted. And Pete Dixon, worst of all, assigned to Mr. Thiel, seemed nonplussed.
At first, Pete was surprised by his immobility. Why didn’t he pick himself up, moved quickly to the man and performed the Heimlich maneuver? What shocked Pete was when he found his shoulders shrugging at the bug-eyed looks.
But even more unsettling was an intrusive thought that suddenly appeared in full bloom in his mind. They’re not supposed to die here at Carson Williams. That’s why they’re here. I don’t know first aid. And if the enchantment is broken, it’s not my fault. I mean, what am I supposed to do? He’ll cough it out and we’ll all move on. That’s it. We’re fine.
Now, to be fair, nothing in Pete’s centuries of service could have prepared him for this one singular moment, an actual near-death experience at Carson Williams. But that didn’t excuse his sudden apathy and rude thoughts.
In a flash, Pete Dixon imagined the Grim Reaper visiting the privileged residents of Carson Williams. He pictured the black robed figure rubbing his skeletal hands together, grinding bone against bone, chuckling menacingly. Time to take this overdue soul, Death would say. No more games. No more magic. No more loopholes. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. One more soul for me.
However, Tony Thiel wasn’t exactly dying, simply choking and growing blue in the face. He struggled beautifully as if every crucial moment was his last, like a glorious finale to a Mahler symphony.
It was entrancing watching Mr. Thiel, 18th century railroad tycoon, real estate mogul, forever stuck at the age of 72 fighting for his unlife against the small marine animal lodged in his throat, blocking his windpipe, but not killing him.
He had the tenacity of a bulldog. Or a self-made man (which he was). Either way, it was entertaining.
Two orderlies, John and Alice, with strained necks, shot a glance at Pete, then back the struggling hulk of human mass on the tessellated marble, then back at Pete. Do something! They screamed with their eyes. He’s dying! He’s your patient!
Pete shrugged again. He’ll live. It’s Carson Williams.
And then the unthinkable happened.
With that second shrug, Mr. Thiel, resident #012, taken in on January 29, 1789, attempted to suck in breath once more, but unable to, fell over and died. Or seemed to.
Pete took a few steps forward to Tony Thiel’s body. He nonchalantly lifted the man’s left arm up, studied the hand as if there were a secret map tattooed on it, than promptly dropped it.
It made a satisfying “plop” of flesh hitting something hard and smooth.
With that one action, Pete announced to his fellow colleagues, “Yep, he’s dead.” ☣