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The abrupt rain only added to the drama. The sudden deluge in the near arctic weather collided painfully with my already blood-soaked bare skin. The massive, muscular hands held a firm grip on both my arms, and sometime over the last thirty minutes enduring their clasp, I had given up my fruitless resistance. In front of me lay a single bucket of frigid water undoubtedly ready for use in my foe’s next devilish interrogation technique.
He paced back and forth within arms reach of me, as if taunting me and daring me to take a swipe at him. As much as I wanted to do just that, the ogres holding me back would cause me even more pain then they already had. I didn’t even know his real name. On the streets of Paris, his headquarters for the hell born crap he performed, he was known simply as Ali. An assassin that had just recently crashed onto Interpol’s radar, with only two confirmed murders under his belt, but had already established his own reputation as the foremost killer for hire.
And now he had a business proposition for my employers at Interpol.
“You must understand, Mr. Hayward,” Ali repeated for at least the twelfth time, his Middle Eastern accent resonating across the rooftop of the Parisian apartment building, “what I am asking for is not hard to fetch for me. You are the best agent Interpol has. A couple questions and our business will be done.”
The assassin had apparently hit a rough patch in his juvenile career, and was asking for access to Interpol’s vast Intel database, which, of course, I just happened to have access to. Man, I hate my job.
I kept my mouth clamped shut, as I had interrogation tactic after tactic, torture method after method. I was not going to crack.
Ali snapped his long fingers.
His minions’ hands abruptly pushed my body forward, and the next thing I knew, I couldn’t breathe. My face instantly felt numb. My entire body began quivering wildly. I felt frozen.
The two ogres held me underwater in the nearly frozen bucket for what seemed like a lifetime. I felt my strength fading. Finally, they lifted me up and out of the arctic nightmare, and into another, perhaps worse nightmare.
Ali had since moved toward a large edifice covered in a tarp.
He removed the green canopy, and my heart sank to my stomach as I took in what I was seeing.
Held upside down and strapped to a large wheel was my son, Gordon.
“You rotten mongrel!” I screamed, my British vocabulary shining brightly. “Let him go!”
“Then give me what I want!”
I was stuck. What was I supposed to do? Simply give him access to one of the world’s largest Intel databases, practically giving him permission to pick and choose his next targets? What should I do?
But then I saw my son’s face.
He was obviously unconscious, since he had not responded to any of the previous acts, but I could almost see him begging for me not to hand over anything to the assassin. But I could not resist. I loved my son far too much to see him in his current state.
I reached into my pocket, which they had surprisingly not emptied, and produced my ring of keys. I quickly jerked off one of them, and was barely able to mutter, “This gives you access to the safe house on Rue de Braque. Apartment 4B. Now let my son go!”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Hayward, but I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Without saying another word, he removed a Glock from a holster on his waist, chambered a round, and aimed it directly at my son’s head. I pleaded for mercy, but a heartless assassin knows no such word. I prayed to every god I could think of that Ali would not pull the trigger.
But he did anyway.
PART ONE – THE CALL
Fifteen Years Later…
I was abruptly jolted back into reality when I heard a digital female voice come rumbling over the intercom system of the Metro cab I was seated in.
“George Cinq,” the voice relayed throughout the train.
I had been daydreaming again. Thinking of the day that my beloved son Edward was removed from this earth at the hands of a merciless assassin. Oh God, how I hated that man. There was not a single day that passed where I didn’t think of putting a Glock round in his head. Dishing out the same punishment he gave to my son. The only difference was, my son deserved no such death.
I emerged from the steps leading out of the George V Metro stop with a bag holding a baguette, as well as some other essentials I was in need of around the house. I walked down the Champs-Elyseés, the famed Arc de Triomphe towering several miles down the street, a walk I was well familiar with. I had taken up a job at Interpol, the prestigious international police agency, that landed me in Paris, although I’m British, and I never left. I loved everything about it.
Everything except that one apartment building, which gave me such feelings of hate inside, I do my best to avoid it every day.
Finally, I arrived at my apartment building. A golden plaque positioned next to the door read, DR. ROBERT HAYWARD: ENQUÊTE PRIVÉE. Although my French has improved throughout the years, I still require a pause to translate the plaque dedicated to my namesake.
DR. ROBERT HAYWARD: PRIVATE INVESTIGATION.
After Gordon’s murder, life became my enemy. No matter how hard I tried, I saw Ali pointing a gun at my son in my dreams every night. I quit Interpol. I felt like I couldn’t continue on with any sort of job. Finally, I began to recover. I returned to normal dreams. I stopped seeing Gordon walking the streets of Paris. I finally moved on. But I didn’t feel strong enough to return to Interpol. So I founded my own private eye firm, right in my apartment building.
I reached my hand up and entered the number sequence that unlocked the massive iron double entry doors to my apartment building and stepped in. The soles of my black dress shoes clicked along as I passed the glass doors leading into my firm’s office, walked under a large chandelier and across the marble-floored lobby to the stainless steel elevator at the far end. A loud ding announced the cab’s arrival and ten seconds later, I was entering my small Parisian apartment.
The apartment followed the basics of Parisian architecture. The floors were made of an old-looking wood, and all of the windows had a pane resembling a large plus sign, also made of wood. It was sparsely furnished, a sofa here, a desk there, but of course, I was the only occupant of the home. I threw my coat onto an old chair in the foyer and walked over to the desk in the far end of the living room to the left of the foyer.
As if on queue, the instant I sat down the phone on my desk began its loud, repetitive ring.
Still startled, I picked up the receiver. “Jason Heyward, puis-je demander qui j'ai le plaisir de parler à? “ May I ask who I have the pleasure of speaking to?
Unexpected to me, the caller on the end simply chuckled ominously. “Hello, Mr. Hayward. It’s been a while.”
My heart sank to my stomach. It’s been a while. Indeed it has. Fifteen painful years. I wanted to reach my hand into the phone and strangle the mongrel on the other end. I knew exactly who it was.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Hayward?” Ali began. “From what I can hear, it seems you’ve lost your tongue.”
“You,” was all I was able to spit through my clenched teeth.
“Mr. Hayward, I’m hurt,” he responded in mock sentiment. “That is no way to treat an old friend.”
“You are no such thing. Do you realize how much pain you have caused me? Oh God, I wish I could kill you right now!”
“Well, listen, my friend. I just happen to be back in Paris on business, and I would like to speak with you. Isn’t it great?”
“Why, so I could finally have the chance to blow your head of your shoulders?”
“Now, now, Mr. Hayward. No need to be violent. Anyway, Pont Neuf. Four o’clock exactly. Just two old friends remembering the old days.”
Ali hung up.
I looked at my watch. 15:37. I had less than an hour until I met with my son’s killer. And I had no intention of missing him. But one question tugged at my mind.
Why had the assassin even requested me to meet him? A setup? Maybe. At this point, I really didn’t care. I just wanted one last opportunity to kill Ali.
I walked into the foyer to grab my jacket and head out, but as I was about to do so, I realized that if it was a setup, I was as good as dead weaponless. So I set my jacket down on the foyer’s chair and ran down a short hallway and into my bedroom through a door on the right of the corridor.
Hastily, I stepped over to a dresser in the corner of the small room. I pulled out the very bottom drawer, set aside a coupe pairs of socks and underwear, and retrieved a small black box. I threw it onto my bed and opened it.
Inside was the Interpol-issued Heckler & Koch USP I used during the old days. It was held in gray moldable foam. I gripped the foam and pulled it up, revealing the hidden compartment under the USP. In another slab of foam were two fully loaded 15-round magazines, compatible with the handgun I held in my hand. Perhaps it wasn’t the most well known pistol out there, but in a close-range situation, nobody really gave a crap.
Now I was ready to go meet with Ali.
PART TWO – BLAST FROM THE PAST
Thirty minutes later, I stood huddled into my warm coat, flaps up, on the famed Parisian Pont Neuf. Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge in Paris, its construction ending in 1607. Over four hundred years later, it was the meeting place between me and one heck of an old demon.
I checked my watch. 16:07. Ali was late. I, the old man, had beaten the world-class assassin to our meeting place. Just two old friends remembering the old days. The assassin’s words ringed back and forth in my mind. I grasped the H&K in my pocket. The cold the metal stabbed my bare hands, but I had every intention of using it as soon as I saw my son’s murderer.
I waited ten more minutes in the cold until finally a man approached me from behind. I whipped around at the sudden ruffle of clothing just in time to see the bearded man wrap something around my face, attached to a small metal can of some sort.
“Hold on tight,” he said as both of our bodies flew over the edge of the bridge.
We both fell. And fell. And fell. Until finally I met the harsh embrace of the arctic waters of the Seine. I tried not to breathe. Ali had tricked me. I should have known better than to come to his false meeting. I held my breath until I could no longer. But I had to open my mouth now or then.
I decided to get it over with. I inhaled deeply, my lungs desperate for air, but fully expecting a flood of the Seine’s green waters. But none came. Instead, I continued to breathe. I opened my eyes. In the midst of the freezing green expanse beyond, I could see the man who had pushed me over the edge of the bridge. Then I finally realized what the thing the man had swiped across my face before plunging into the Seine. He had put a diving mask on my face.
The can full of oxygen tugged at the mask, floating the water just above me. The man waved his hand as if saying, Come with me, and began swimming the other way, further into unknown beyond.
Against my better judgment, I grabbed my oxygen tank and followed him.
Five minutes later, my body shivering from the cold, I emerged from the Seine. I was hauled up onto the deck of one of the boats lining the river. My mask was removed, and I took in my surroundings. But the only thing I really took in was the devil in front of me.
“Hello, Mr. Hayward,” Ali said before swinging a hard right hook into my temple.
I emerged from my pain-induced sleep an unknown amount of time later. But I was no longer on the boat. Instead I was exactly where I had avoided for fifteen years. In the distance the Eiffel Tower dominated the Paris skyline. And at the edge of the apartment’s rooftop sat a large round plank of wood, undoubtedly never touched since the worst day of my life.
“What events that took place on this very rooftop!” Ali celebrated. “Right, Mr. Hayward?”
“I guess you can say that,” I barely muttered. “Why am I here, assassin?”
Ali paused, gazing out at the Parisian skyline. “You are here, Mr. Hayward, because of what you did fifteen years ago. How you ruined my career and my life.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. “How I ruined your career and your life! If I remember correctly, you put a bullet in my son’s head at this very spot.”
Ali chuckled. “Ah, what memories.”
For some odd reason, Ali had called off his goons and had left me unbound. The assassin was so cocky. He didn’t believe I could do some damage to him. Of course, my H&K had been removed from my coat pocket, so I was weaponless once again. For the moment being, there was no way to get my shot at Ali. So I played along.
I stood from the chair I was seated in and asked, “Once again, assassin, why have you brought me here?”
Swiftly, Ali took two steps towards me and landed a kick straight into my gut, slamming me back into the chair. “You are here because the key you gave me was no good. You are here so I can dish what you gave me back to you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I went to your little apartment on Rue de Braque. I went there and tried to unlock the door into 4B. But guess what? It didn’t work. And as I was trying to get in, one of your colleagues came in and saved the day! I was locked up on two counts of murder. Stupid Frenchies only gave me fifteen years. So now, I’m back and as hell-bent as ever.” He paused as he pulled a ring of brass knuckles from his pocket. “And you’re coming with me, old man.”
The first uppercut slammed hard into my jaw, and the chair tipped back along with me. The second uppercut was even more painful and came just as I began to stand up. I could feel a warm liquid easing its way down my neck into my shirt. Next, a hook slammed into my left cheek, and I hit the ground again. But before I could get up this time, Ali was on top of me, pinning me to the ground.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I’ll make this as slow as possible.”
Another hook slammed into my cheek. Then another. On the third hook, I heard a sharp crack as my cheekbone snapped. That’s when I decided that enough was enough. As Ali’s arm began to swing in an effort to land a fourth, probably lethal, hook, I grabbed his wrist and pressed my fingers into the muscle of his arm. Ali screamed out in pain before I let go and slammed my own fist into his face.
Ali got up and turned around, then his eyes grew wide with amazement, and then came anger. He knew he’d been defeated.
After I had hit Ali in my only punch, I reached down to the Glock holstered around his waist and removed it as I launched him off of my body. Now, I had chambered a round and had it aimed directly at Ali.
He laughed. “You don’t really think you will shoot me, do you?”
“This is for Gordon.”
One sharp crack echoed through Paris.