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Author's note: This is my first longer piece, and I tried to incorporate some real issues, hence the oil and drug problems. I hope that I will be able to get constructive criticism for this slightly rushed piece.
The sun blazes on the horizon, a fireball of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Light emanates from the sphere and floods the vast skies, creating a stunning mirage that blinds me. As the sun continues its slow descent, a few early stars twinkle in the now darkening sky. With the stars comes dusk, and with dusk comes the moon, shining with a beauty quite unlike anything else in the world. I look up and find myself intrigued by the fact that the sun has set much more quickly than normal nights, and the darkness has more completely and thoroughly enveloped the world tonight, making the stars twinkle even more brightly than usual. I hear the footsteps behind me, but do not turn, instead taking a sip from my glass of wine and breathing deeply, seeing my frosty breath dissipate into the chill night air. Jonathan silently takes a seat next to me and pours himself a glass of wine. He follows my gaze and stares up at the sky. He takes a sip of wine and shakes his head with worry.
“Alphonse, are you sure that you’re happy with this decision? I feel that it may not be the best choice” John says, setting down his glass and clasping his hands together. For the first time that night, I tear my eyes away from the enthralling night sky and look at him.
“Am I happy? Tell me, John. What does it mean to be happy? What is happiness?” I don’t leave his gaze. He looks at me evenly for a few moments and then responds.
“Happiness is love. Happiness means to be with the people you love and the moments you share with them that define your life.” He opens his mouth as if to say more, but hesitates and shuts it again. I avert my eyes and delicately sip my wine.
“That, my friend, is where we differ. Happiness is not determined by the moments and people in our life, but rather the choices that we make in life. Happiness is a gift that all of us hunger for, but that few of us truly ever find.” I pause to look at my old mentor, and see that his eyebrows are raised. I smile subtly. “I am one of those few people, John. Money, power, and intellect. Those are the three components of happiness; and the love that you so admirably speak of… is nonexistent.” I finish my glass and set it down on the table with a slight chink.
“If choices are what define us and what lead to true happiness and power, then shouldn’t you think more about this choice? And I’m sorry to say it, Alphonse, but you’re wrong. Don’t let your power and money get to your head. I’ve seen many talented and intelligent men ruined by their own greed, overconfidence, and cockiness” Jonathan warns me. I laugh quietly to myself.
“Jonathan, my friend, I have no Achilles Heel. I am unstoppable for the very reason that you are weak. Sentiment. The importance you place on family and love has turned you soft, John. Pity. You used to be great.” I smile coldly at him. He looks surprised and slightly angry.
“Keep in mind that I was the one who took you in, trained you, and made you the successful man you are today. You have no right to speak to me in that manner.” He tries to keep it out of his voice, but I can tell Jonathan is hurt and frustrated. I laugh on the outside, but my eyes are as cold as ice.
“My dear friend, I‘d have thought you’d know me by now. I don’t play to get even. I play to win. And I do what needs to be done to win. I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t require your services any longer, John. You’ve taught me all that you know, and your knowledge has been exhausted. Now, if you would be so kind as to leave the premises?” I chuckle and pour myself another glass of wine. The surprise on John’s face has now turned to utter shock.
“You wouldn’t… you can’t! Y- You need me, Alphonse!” The paunchy, mustached man pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and dries away the sweat away from his face and neck. I take another sip of wine and stare at the pathetic old man, no longer smiling. I survey Jonathan with contempt and disregard. Slowly, I slip the gun out from my pocket and look at it fondly. As if on cue, a beam of moonlight illuminates our seats on the balcony and I gaze at John, my eyes cunning and calculating. I lean my head closer to his, making sure the gun is in full sight.
“I don’t need anyone.” I raise my gun and confidently shoot it, hitting the vase behind John and shattering it into a thousand jagged little pieces, some of which cut into Jonathan’s back. John gets up so fast that his chair falls to the floor, causing a rattle that resonates through the night. He winces and shuffles away. When he is at the door, he turns and speaks one more time.
“You’ll regret this, Al. I swear you’ll regret it.” With that, he storms off, blood dripping from his back and leaving three distinct stains on the otherwise impeccable white carpet of my room. I smile and set my gun down, taking another sip of wine.
I wake in my chair out on the balcony, but now with a beam of fresh sunlight hitting my face. I blink a few times to shake the drowsiness from my eyes, and then rise to meet the beautiful morning. I have grown used to the dry and stale feel of Saudi Arabia, and have even come to appreciate it. I listen to the birds chirping, and smile at the rough, ugly noises they make. I hear the familiar screech as the vulture swoops down and snatches up the defenseless bulbul. I hear things that I really don’t hear, like the snakes and lizards scuttling in the grass which is so rare in Saudi Arabia. I see things that are beyond my line of vision, like the wolves chasing down the hares through the dusty plains. Five years of living in this sandy, forlorn place have given me the most knowledge possible of this country, and also an oxymoronic type of feeling for it. I despise it with everything I have in me, but I wouldn’t call any other place home.
Stretching my arms, I walk into my large bedroom from the balcony. The doors to the balcony take up the bulk of the east wall; so light streams in and sets the room on fire, brightening the deep maroon walls. A dark colored wood bookshelf covers one of the smaller walls, and is the only piece of furniture in the room that is actually functional. The rest of the furniture is old and ornamental, strictly for show. Even the grand four-poster bed is out of use, since I sleep out on the balcony most of the time. Despite the disuse of my furniture, it still remains in top condition and shape because of the many maids and workers that also live in this huge house. A large closet is a major feature of the wall opposite the balcony, and the bright white carpet has been corrupted by three shockingly red stains. John’s blood.
Unfazed by the blood marks, I walk slowly to a tall wooden chair next to the bed and sit down. It creaks but holds my weight, and I sit there for a few moments, pondering my encounter with John last night. In hindsight, it was a bit foolish of me to cast him off like that, but I convince myself that I was in the right when my train of thought is derailed by a knock on the door. “Come in,” I say. I glance at my watch to see that it is very early in the morning, and then I look up to await my visitor. Alfred enters the room carrying two heavy trays in on hand. Closing the door gracefully behind him, he approaches me.
“Sir, how are you today? Would you like your breakfast out on the balcony?” Alfred speaks quickly and with clarity, leaving no room for doubt. He was simply that kind of person; no-nonsense and brutally efficient.
“Out on the balcony will do, Al. Thanks,” I respond, smiling. Alfred is one of only two people who I truly trust. The tall, thin man has been my friend and associate since my childhood, when he was a butler to my family. When my parents died, he revealed that he was my Godfather, and he has been by my side ever since. I get up from my chair and follow him back outside, where he is setting the table where John and I conversed last night. The two glasses are still there, one of them full and sparkling in the sunlight. The other, mine, is drained and looks empty and void. Before I can dwell on them any longer, Alfred takes the glasses away. I sit down and we begin eating.
Breakfast passes in silence. Days like this are unusual, since I confide in Alfred all the time and he listens conscientiously. But today, we both seem at a loss for words. Towards the end, Alfred removes some photos from the depths of his pinstriped coat and hands them to me. “Your uncle asked me to give these to you.” I raise my eyebrows and accept the gift. There are two pictures. The first is a smart photo of me as a high school student standing together with my Uncle John out in the hallway with my Valedictorian Plaque held between us. The picture sparks my memory not because of the wide smiles on our faces or the happiness that we used to share, but because of the memory of that accursed school. I will never forget it, with its dirty halls, smelly food, stupid teachers, and annoying students. None of them realized my intellect or how ignorant they really were. While other kids thought of their social lives or how to perform well in school, I was thinking of my future and how I would amass the money that I so badly hungered for, even back then. And suddenly, I’m transported back to a certain walk home from school. It was here where I discovered my destiny.
I walk slowly down the street, breathing in the fresh scent of fall and deliberately crunching the yellow and red leaves underfoot. The day is warm and slightly breezy, perfect for game day. I can still hear the stupid sports teams yelling from this far away. Maybe it was soccer, maybe it was football. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. It was pointless, an invention to create social distinctions in high school. I can feel the weight of my homework bearing down on my back and I grumble to myself. Homework was another senseless institution, simply serving as busy work for students to complete. Most kids succumbed to this brainwash, but I made sure that I didn’t pay too much attention to homework. As I continue my long trek along the strip of woods separating the school from the suburbs, I suddenly hear voices coming from quite nearby. I stop and prick my ears, keenly listening for the voices again. Sure enough, they are coming from the woods. I look around furtively and sneak closer until I am at the edge of the forest. Through the wilderness, I spot a group of people leaning against trees and sitting on logs. All of them hold cigarettes and are whispering amiably while breathing in and out heavily. I make a move to get closer, but a twig snaps under my foot. I freeze and hold my breath, but the damage is done. One of the guys in the group sees me and grins maliciously. He beckons for me to come closer. I don’t know what comes over me, but I walk closer until I am within speaking distance.
“Want a smoke?” The same boy who beckoned me over holds out a cigarette similar to the one in between his lips. I nervously look from the cigarette to the boy to the group all around staring at me and finally back to the boy. I am about to politely decline, but I get an idea. I overcome the knot in my stomach and take the cigarette with a slightly shaking hand. The boy smiles slyly at the rest of his friends and lights the cigarette. I gulp down my fear and put the cigarette in my mouth. Instantly, I splutter and cough ferociously. Everyone around erupts into laughter, and their rapture emboldens me. I confidently put the cigarette back into my mouth, this time managing to copy what the rest are doing. They look at me, clearly impressed. I take this chance to ask my question.
“How much did you pay for a pack of these?” I stare the leader right in the face. He smiles and responds easily.
“Thirteen bucks. We usually have weed, but it’s getting too expensive. Twenty goddam dollars for a few joints!” The boy looks irritated and his lackeys mumble in agreement. But by the time they can ask me for the reason for my question, I am gone, racing down the street back home. I know my career.
“Sir, are you okay? What are you thinking of?” Alfred looks worried. I look back up at him, saved from my nostalgia.
“Huh? Oh, yes. I’m fine,” I say, smiling. “I was just thinking about what got me into this whole drug trafficking business.” Alfred smiles back. He knows the story. After that encounter in the woods so many years ago, I had devoted myself to learning all there was to know about drugs and the business. I’d also strove to find connections that could introduce me into the highly dangerous business. But ultimately, it was the school and its wealth of druggies that enlightened me and showed me my path. I look back down at the photos in my hands. I rip the one at the school into four pieces and let them float away into the wind. John was an even bigger fool than I’d known if he thought he could get to me with a petty photo. The next one is a depiction of me and John standing in the middle of the desert with a small mountain behind us. His eyes are bright and squinted against the sand, but mine have started to develop the iciness that occupies them now. I grin at the memory of this photo, which marked a new chapter in my life. I show the picture to Alfred and wait for his reaction. He gives me one of his rare smiles.
“I must say, I thought you were crazy when you first told me about your idea.” He neatly wipes his mouth with his napkin and places it on the table again. He proceeds to take a hearty swig from his glass of wine, surprising me. Alfred is usually not a big drinker. Today, however, he seems to be thirsty for it. After draining his glass, he nods at mine, enticing me to drink it. However, there is something about the motion that makes me shake my head slightly and change the subject.
“Well I probably was crazy,” I laugh. “Trust me, I don’t like it here one bit. If I had any other choice, I’d be sitting in a fantastic mansion on some beach in Mexico.” It’s true. I hate Saudi Arabia. It’s much too boring for my liking. But in this day and age, when the world is on the brink of war, oil is everything. And given my ambitious nature, I couldn’t let the opportunity to seize and monopolize the oil industry pass. So five years ago, after building up enough money to fall back on if I somehow failed, I came here, to Saudi Arabia, to begin my quest for complete control of the world’s petroleum. It was certainly difficult, because when I first arrived, it was a warzone, with a dozen factions at least competing for the oil in the Middle East. But in the end, it was this challenge and this difficulty that kept me sane, safe from the madness that conquered most of my other competitors. Life is a boring game without some obstacles. Now, five years after the moment I first stepped foot in this disgusting country, I am finally close to attaining my seemingly impossible goal. This lifetime in an alien world has by no means been pleasurable, but it has been necessary to allow for the springing of a plan that will launch me into the highest position possible. Now all that needs to be done is to pull the trigger. We both laugh companionably. Then he speaks again.
“So you’ll leave today?”
“Yes. I have to keep my empire safe.”
“Where are you going to find him?” Alfred sits back in his chair and eyes me curiously. A bit too curiously. We have been so busy for the past few days that he hardly knows the specifics of my plan. It has been an abrupt one, since my intelligence only told me of the vital piece of information I needed a few days ago.
“A quaint coffee shop in Italy. It’s a very incognito visit. Apparently he has business to attend to with the Prime Minister, but that’s all I know.”
“Is it in Rome? Venice?” Again, Alfred makes quite a show out of pouring himself some more wine and sipping it fancily. I don’t drink my wine, but rather glance at it dubiously.
“Hmm? Oh, no, no. Much too obvious. I forget what the town is called. It’s not major, but it’s still a large city. Nadia knows everything.”
“And how can you be sure that your information is accurate and not faulty? If I were you, I’d trust no one. You have many enemies.”
“The only people I trust more than my intelligence are you and Nadia. Besides, when has my intelligence ever failed me? I could have easily died dozens of times out in the field, but I never did. Because my intelligence is that good,” I answer with a settling tone. Alfred is about to say something, but is unable to do so, for he is thoroughly convinced. He smiles at my talent.
“Well make sure you exercise your abilities effectively. This won’t be an easy task. This man is sure to have a much more developed mind than most other people you’ve spoken with and manipulated.” While Alfred gives me an unnecessary pep talk, I check my watch and alarmingly find that it will soon be time for me to depart.
“Don’t worry, Al. I’m a people person,” I say with a devilish smile before getting up and walking away, my wine glass still full.
Two hours and a hot bath later, I am ready to go. Before I step out of the house, where Alfred is waiting, I go to the kitchen and find Matilda, the head chef. I walk over to her and she looks at me curiously.
“What can I do for you?” she asks. I breathe deeply, for a fleeting second doubting what I am about to do. But I lean closer to her and whisper a command in her ear. Her eyes widen and she stares at me disbelievingly. “Are you sure?”
“I’m quite sure. Make sure it’s all of it. And make sure none of you touches one bit of it while I’m gone, ok? The only person who should be touching it is him. Got it?” She nods uncertainly and I pull a wad of money from my back pocket. I hand it to her. “Don’t let me down.” She is still in shock as I hurry away.
I step out of the house to meet Alfred. I am wearing old, worn-out sneakers, sweat pants, and an old thermal. Alfred, unaffected by the heat beating down on the plains, is wearing his usual suit and bow tie. We both carry loaded guns, just in case one of my oil competitors happens to be around and is thinking of trying to kill us off. With us is one of my numerous servants. He carries my bag. The reason my people are so loyal to me is because of the huge sums of money I pay each and every one of them. They are all poor and need the cash I give them to support themselves and often times families. We set off through the dry plains, stomping over shrubs and dust. The plane is a mile away, and we must leave at exactly ten o’clock. I check my watch. 9:40.
“Nadia’s going to be pissed,” I say to Alfred.
“I’ll just blame you,” he jokes. We both laugh, but since we really are afraid of Nadia, we speed up. When we arrive at the jet after jogging at a steady pace, it is 9:55 and we are covered in sand and dust and sweat. Nadia, a ravishing and daring young woman, is standing next to the plane, which is already running. She is tapping her foot and when she spots us, anger flashes in her eyes. Alfred actually steps behind me and gives me a little shove forward. I remind myself to kill him later on and smile weakly at Nadia, the other person who I actually trust. She looks grimly back at me and snatches my bag from our carrier, who looks like he’s about to wet his pants. Tossing my bag into the plane, she turns back to me.
“Get in,” she says. “We need to leave right away if we’re going to be on time.” With that, she jogs up the walkway and into the plane. I look at Al in relief.
“See you soon,” I say to Al. He nods and steps away. I follow Nadia into the plane and almost immediately the pilot starts the liftoff. Nadia is sitting in the seat in front of me and has already buckled in and is ready to fly. I swallow and close my eyes. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I know, I am being shaken awake by Nadia. She is wearing scanty shorts that are a bit too short and a top that is a bit too revealing. She is also my assassin, and one of my childhood friends. I’ve known her ever since high school and she was the only one who understood me, who connected with me. So we stuck together, and we’ve never really been apart for too long. Since her family is very poor and she has an uncanny talent for murder and stealth, I pay her to be my killer. It works well, since everyone’s happy; she can support her family, and I can have probably the best murderer in the world. Plus, we are very good friends, so everything is perfect. She sits in the seat next to me.
“I think it’s best that we review the plan once more,” she suggests. Typical. Nadia is extremely cautious and a true perfectionist and I know that she will be looking to pull off this job effortlessly and without hassle.
“Yeah, good idea. Where’s the plane going to land?” I scratch my eyes and back while yawning.
“Well the plane’s going to land about three miles away from the city, and we should be landing at around 1:30 local time. Then we jog to the city, getting there at anywhere from 1:50 to 2:10.”
“Wait… Aren’t we going to be sweaty and gross after that?” She looks at me for a few moments, thinking.
“Well that doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“You’re not the one who has to talk with the Secretary of State of the United States! You’ll just be there in case something happens,” I argue.
“Ok, ok. He’s not going to be in the coffee shop until around four o’clock anyway, so we can find a place to shower and change after we get there. We’ll improvise.”
“Improvise?! So you mean you haven’t taken this into account?” I ask, genuinely worried.
“Al, just don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it. Now what are we going to do after we get in? Are you going to go right up and sit next to him?” I smile at Nadia’s occasional stupidity.
“No, of course not! We have to get seats back to back and far away from him so that we can talk to one another without making it seem like we’re talking to one another. I’m hoping that he’ll go to the bathroom at one point so I can follow him there and talk with him in complete private.”
“The guard’s definitely going to be right outside watching,” she points out.
“Yes, I know. That’s where you come in. If our friend does go to the bathroom, then you’re going to seduce the guard—“
“Wait, what?!” She gives me a dramatic look I smile at. “I’m going to seduce the guard?!”
“Yeah,” I respond, smirking slightly and seizing the chance to poke fun at her. “I take it that’s why you’ve dressed so… scarcely?”
“Oh, shut up. Fine. What’s next?” She slaps me and I feign pain before continuing.
“Well with the guard out of the way, I should be able to safely speak with the Secretary. I’ll do my thing, and I’ll arrange for a more formal meeting. He should be completely and utterly convinced after my conversation with him. You’ll keep the guard busy in the meantime and then we’ll both get the hell out of there. Sound good?”
“Well… It sounds kind of simple,” she points out, giving me a hesitant look.
“I will admit that it is simple, but what could go wrong? We don’t need to make it overly complicated, since there’ll only be around one guard there, max two. We’ll be in and out, trust me.” And since I know she trusts me, I know that the plan will continue. She nods, like I knew she would.
“We’ll be landing pretty soon. You should probably get some beauty sleep.” She winks at me and my heart flutters. As I watch her get up and walk back to her seat elegantly, I convince myself that it’s just lust and close my eyes, knowing that the next time I open my eyes, it’ll be show time.
. We look around, desperately hoping two smelly, filthy, and sweaty hobos can find a place to shower and change. The city is big and bustling, but nothing nearly as gargantuan and crowded as Rome or Venice or Florence. The streets are filled with people walking, talking, and enjoying the warm weather while it lasts. Street vendors call out to pedestrians who rush hurriedly on by, not even glancing at the cheap goods on sale. The cobblestone roads bring a flare of antiquity and traditionalism to the otherwise modern city; huge buildings tower over lush green parks and elaborate fountains where children and adults alike play with lively merriment. And in the midst of all this sunshine and gaiety, Nadia and I walk with our grimy bags slung over our shoulders and our eyes open.
“We should have landed closer to the city,” I grumble, readjusting my bag so that the strap doesn’t dig uncomfortably into my neck.
“Oh, shut up already! Just find a place to go!” She snaps back before blowing a strand of hair from her face.
“Why me? I thought you said you had this whole thing planned out!” I raise my voice by the slightest degree, but it is enough to set her off like a rocket.
“Why don’t you try taking matters into your own hands instead of pinning everything on me? Just because I said I had it all under control, doesn’t mean I can’t use a little help! You’re so inconsiderate. Do you know where you’d be without me right now? Nowhere! And I don’t get any help! You just laze about drinking wine and sleeping all day! Ugh!” She storms away, walking quickly down the road without any apparent intention of looking back to see if I’m following.
“Women,” I mumble, and run off after her, catching up with her outside an extravagant and expensive-looking hotel. “Listen, Nadia. Wait!” I catch her shoulder and stop her. She turns to face me, fire still left untended in her beautiful eyes. “Ok, I’m sorry for not helping you. Let’s just put all that behind us and focus, please? Come on, we can stay here a little while,” I console her, motioning toward the hotel. She sighs, exasperated, but gives me a smile.
“Ok. And I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I guess I’m just a bit nervous.”
“Don’t worry. It’s normal. I’m nervous too,” I say, giving her a charming smile and a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. I follow her into the hotel lobby, and place two thousand dollars cash on the counter before the suit-and-tie-clad clerk can voice his complaints. He looks surprised, but isn’t stupid enough to deny so much money. He fumbles in his pocket for the keys and hands me one. “Is this the best room?” I say intimidatingly. He nods fervently, backing away a little in fear. It’s only after I walk toward the elevator when he picks up the money eagerly and starts arguing with the doorman over who gets to keep it.
In a few minutes, I unlock the door to a beautiful suite. It is huge and painted a soft chocolate brown. The gorgeous mahogany wood of the furniture and the plush, cozy mattress on the king size bed has Nadia in hysterics as she hops right up onto the bed and just lays there, smiling. I grin as well, and turn on the lights, which illuminate the whole room magnificently. I also check out the bathroom, which is at the pinnacle of comfort and style. After checking it out, I turn around and plant myself in a warm armchair.
“You want to go first or…” I can tell that Nadia really wants to take a shower, so I allow her to go in first. She literally squeals, and I can’t blame her. There’s nothing this nice in our house in Saudi Arabia, so it must be exciting.
“Make it fast,” I remember to say, but I’m sure she hasn’t heard me. After half an hour, Nadia walks out of the bathroom a different person. She now dons a very snug red t-shirt and black jeans, along with regular sneakers. Her beautiful brown hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, and even though she wears no makeup, she is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever laid eyes on, with smooth, soft skin and eyes like jewels. I quickly avert my eyes and close my mouth. I can feel her eyes and smile boring into me, so I grab my bag and disappear into the bathroom. I turn on the water and take a fast shower. I get out and thoroughly dry myself before dressing myself in a dapper black velvet blazer over a deep maroon dress shirt. I pull on fancy dress pants and a shiny pair of mysterious black shoes. I look in the mirror and am faced with a dilemma when I see my long, unkempt hair. “S***,” I mumble to myself. “Forgot that damn haircut!” I grab a brush and hastily drag it over my head until my hair looks acceptable. I step out of the bathroom and check the clock sitting on the nightstand next to the bed.
“How do I look?” I say. Nadia turns from her guns and walks over. She looks me up and down and then goes up on her tiptoes to straighten my shirt collar. With her face inches from mine, my heart leaps up into my throat as I feel her warm breath down my neck and her sweet aroma fills my nostrils.
“There,” she says, holding my shoulders tenderly and looking up at me. “Ready?”
“Yes,” I say. And maybe it’s the danger that we’re about to face, maybe it’s the way she looks, or maybe it’s just the unbreakable connection we share, but something makes me take her hand as we walk out of the room and out into the unforgiving streets.
Thousands of miles away, a man sits in a dark room, speaking with an accomplice.
“Has he arrived yet?” the man asks.
“Not yet.” The accomplice’s voice is raspy and deep, worsened by the bad connection. The man frowns and tugs at his bow tie, contemplating the prospects of his target’s escape.
“Don’t worry, Harry. He’ll show. I know he will. And when he does, make sure you accept his offer. We’ll want to give him a false sense of security. After that, I’ll take care of things here.”
“Do you have someone in place for the operations in the Americas?” Nicholas, the accomplice, asks.
“Yes, of course. Like I’ve told you before, he has many enemies. You, me, everyone.” The man takes a sip of his wine and smacks his lips. There is a pungent aftertaste in the wine today that he can’t really place.
“What happens after we make the deal with him?” asks Nicholas.
“I’ve arranged for a murder that will divert his attention and stall him. In that time, we can rendezvous and corner him. Understood?”
“Good. If all goes as planned, the United States of America will soon be the most powerful country in the nation. Good luck, Nicholas.” The man places the phone gently back down and takes another drink from his glass. He smiles crookedly and leans back in his seat, relishing his eminent victory.
Luckily, the coffee shop that the Secretary of State of the United States will be in is a high-class establishment, so we don’t look out of place with our formal clothing. We arrived here at around 3:45, and have been waiting ever since in a tense silence. We are sitting in adjacent booths, back to back. I check my watch anxiously. It reads 4:20. “Where are they?!” I whisper apprehensively to Nadia.
“Don’t worry. Be patient and they’ll be here.” She bites daintily at her biscuit and at that very moment, a tall, black man with a long black jacket, white t-shirt, and dark jeans walks in. I notice his bodybuilder physique and shadowy shades and immediately am sure that he is the guard we’ve been waiting for. I can tell that Nadia agrees because I can hear her soft cough among the babble of the coffee shop. The way the man surveys the shop, looking for potentially harmful people, only serves to reinforce my hunch. After deciding that everyone in the coffee house looks acceptable, the man sits by himself in the far corner of the shop. Not more than five minutes later, he walks in.
The man surprises me. He is surprisingly fit and even more surprisingly young; he doesn’t look older than thirty. His handsome, chiseled face and sandy blonde hair are a perfect fit for his vibrant golden eyes. The bespectacled young man is dressed in a casual shirt tucked into his dress pants, and I catch a glimpse of a gun tucked neatly away in his back pocket. He takes a seat one booth away from the black man, whose eyes have lingered on the young man’s face for but a second too long, revealing both of their identities. Now all that’s left to do is wait.
After the boy has ordered and just received his coffee, he rises and walks slowly past the guard towards what must be the bathroom. The guard gets up a few seconds later and inconspicuously follows. I lean back and say, “Nadia.”
“On it,” she says, and gets up, adjusting her shirt to make herself more appealing. With what I can only describe as excitement, she hurries off after the guard. I am itching to go in after them, but I give it a good two minutes before I, too, get up and rush to the bathroom. When I reach the narrow, dark corridor, there is no one standing there, so I assume that Nadia has succeeded. Concealing a grin, I walk into the men’s bathroom. I am extremely lucky, as the young Secretary of State is exiting a stall just as I walk in. I give him a friendly smile before going to the urinals. I can feel his eyes on me, and I can feel him look quickly away when I’m finished. I nonchalantly stride to the sinks and begin washing my hands. With the utmost of caution, I begin my craft.
“So what’s your name, young man?” My warm smile and inviting eyes oblige him to respond.
“Nicholas. And you?” He awkwardly smiles back at me.
“Alphonse.” I turn the water off and gaze at him, waiting for his reaction. This will show me how good their surveillance and intelligence really is. Nicholas stops in his tracks and his pupils contract.
“Al- Alphonse?” He stares at me and inches backward. So he knows.
“Yes. You seem to be afraid of that name… Any reason?” I don’t make a move closer, but instead loosen and toy with his mind.
“N-no.” He sneaks his hand quite obviously to his back pocket. I smile at him and take hold of his arm before he can acquire his weapon.
“Come, now. There’s no need to use that. Well let’s just cut to the chase, then, shall we? I am most definitely who you think I am. I’m Alphonse, the man who controls the massive drug trafficking operation that spreads over Mexico and most of Central and Latin America. Now I know that you and your country have been trying to hunt me down for years, to shut down my business. But I feel that you’re wrong in doing that. I’ll tell you why in a second, but firstly, I also know that your government is in serious need of petroleum. Oil. Am I correct?”
“Yes.” He nods. Since he seems to be back in control of himself, I relinquish my grip on his arm and place my own hands in my pockets.
“Good. I have invested greatly in a new endeavor over the past five years. I placed my drug functions in the Americas on the back burner so that I could go to Saudi Arabia and do some conquering. Right now, I have instituted a monopoly on the oil in the Middle East. That means that I have power over it. Subsequently, I have power over the whole world. Now, the reason that I’m here is to offer a proposition. The U.S. government knows about my actions in the Americas, and they’re close to shutting me down. But I have something you need. Oil. I’m saying that if you back off my possessions in Mexico, then I’ll supply the U.S. and nobody else with oil. How does that sound?” After I finish, Nicholas simply stares at me, a little dumbfounded. I’m afraid he’s been overwhelmed when he begins to nod.
“Yes, yes. What you’re saying actually makes sense! But I have to convince everyone else back home, though. The president will have to be involved, and everything. So where should we meet again to go over the specifics?”
“How about in the United States?” I suggest.
“Ok, then. We’ll meet in New York City at the Empire State Building in exactly two weeks today. Ok?” he dictates.
“Fine,” I say, holding out my hand. “Pleasure doing business.”
“We’ll meet again very soon, my friend.”
I turn and walk away, and out of the bathroom. Back out in the coffee shop, I can’t spot Nadia until she walks in with the black guy, chattering away. She is really red in the face and her hair is tousled all over the place. This and the fine layer of dust on her clothing tell me she’s been busy while I’ve been working. As she moves back to her booth, I quickly collect her. Without a word, I lead her out of the din of the coffee shop. The last thing I hear is the Secretary of State’s distinctive voice conversing excitedly with a deep, hoarse voice that sends chills down my spine.
Nadia and I are staying the night in Italy, as planned. Something still tugs at the corners of my conscious, however, something that I can’t quite put my finger on… Maybe how the guard seemed to collapse so easily to Nadia, or how the deal seemed to be so incredibly easy, or how Nicholas actually listened to me when I told him not to use his gun. Whatever it was, something was filling me with a sense of foreboding. But I cast it aside as Nadia and I sat in the bed together, her head on my shoulder and my arm around her waist. We talk about everything; life, love, family, weapons, killing. We’ve been through it all before, but there’s something to be said about going through it all again. It serves as a reminder of our timeless friendship. Nadia yawns and scratches her eyes. She opens her mouth and says, “I’m getting—“
There is a brisk knock on the door and I’m up on my feet in seconds, with a lamp in my hand and my fists clenched. I hold Nadia back and creep towards the door. “Yes?”
“I’m Henry. Nadia’s cousin.” The voice on the other side of the door is slightly nasally and sounds hoarse. I look toward Nadia, who is standing by my side now, and open the door. A young man staggers in and sits on the bed. His face is red and tear-streaked. Judging from the bloodshot eyes and the bags underneath them, he certainly hasn’t slept in days, and has traveled some ways to arrive here. Nadia is immediately by his side, holding and comforting him. I sit awkwardly beside the two cousins.
“Henry? Henry, what’s wrong? Henry, please!” Nadia asks in earnest. She shakes the sad, sobbing figure a little until he begins to hiccup. I walk swiftly tot eh bathroom, get a glass of water, and hand it to him silently, wondering what he’s doing here at such a late time. Finally, after a long drink, the tears have subsided and Henry seems to have subsided. I put my finger on Nadia’s lips, telling her not to talk. Instead, I turn to Henry.
“Could you tell us what’s wrong, Henry? Why are you here?”
“I- She… They came in the middle of the night. None of us noticed, and when we did, none of us could stop them.” He bows his head and shakes it in a manner similar to a crazy person.
“But who? Who came? And what did they do? If you don’t tell us completely, we won’t be able to understand what’s happening, Henry.”
“We don’t know who they were, or why they came, or anything. There were simply two men that came in the dead of night… and killed Grandma.” He looks at Nadia slightly, as if afraid to do so. She looks so stricken that it startles me. “I’m sorry,” says Henry feebly. Nadia shakes her head, a slow motion at first but soon turning wild.
“No… No, no, no! Who, Henry?! Who did this?!” She’s yelling now, at the top of her lungs, and I look around frantically, wondering what the heck I could possibly do to calm her down. Henry looks downright frightened now, and I push him to the side lightly, so if Nadia makes any sudden movements Henry’s not hit. “No, no, no,” Nadia says to herself. A steady stream of tears runs down the face of the strongest person I know, and suddenly, her sorrow makes me want to cry, too. But it shouldn’t, should it? Why am I becoming so soft when nothing has happened to me? Nadia’s grandmother died. So what? And in the midst of this fresh problem, I find myself in mental turmoil. One part of me wants to tell Nadia to suck it up and deal with it. The new part, however, wants to hold her tight and tell her everything is going to be alright.
“Absolutely disgusting,” I mumble to myself. But before I can dwell on this new side of me any longer, Nadia is gripping my hand and staring me straight in the eye.
“We have to go to Venice. We have to get to where my grandma is,” she suggests. Actually, no. It’s not a suggestion. There is so much conviction in her voice that I’m sure it’s an order. But I protest anyway.
“Nadia, don’t be ridiculous. We can’t go to Venice now! We have to get back to Al. I think that someone may be working against us back home, and we need to get to Al so that we can figure this out!”
“Alphonse, my grandmother just died. I have to go there and find out what’s going on. I thought I could count on you to be there for me, but I guess not. Whether or not you go, I’m going to Venice, tonight.” She abruptly lets go of me and turns. “Henry, how’d you get here?”
“I took a train,” he says, hastily getting up to go with her.
“And how did you know that we were going to be here?” I interject.
“I called Saudi Arabia first, and an old man told me,” he says. I search his eyes and realize he’s telling the truth. But why would Alfred reveal where we were so easily? He must have known that it was someone safe to tell.
“Nadia, you can’t go alone. I’m coming. But we have to make it fast, ok? I’m really worried about things all of a sudden. Everything’s falling apart.” Her face is stone, but her eyes are clearly relieved as she hugs me tight. “Come on, we have to leave right away to get there as fast as possible. We’ll take our plane. Henry, did you come to the hotel on foot?”
“No, I rented a car. It’s still out front. Why?”
“Because it’s going to be our ride,” I say as I open the door and lead them down the stairs and into the stale night. Darkness pervades even the brightest, purest crevices in the city and the moon offers no light, instead whimpering away in fear of the toxic pollution in the air. We reach the plane in top time, driving a hundred miles an hour in Henry’s rented truck.
“Damn,” I say as we get out of the car and run up to the small plane. “How are we going to pilot this thing?!”
“Actually,” Henry says quietly, “I know how to fly a plane.” He looks at us shyly.
“Yes!” I clap Henry on the back and he staggers forward a little, almost falling face first. But he regains his composure and soon enough we are in the air, flying to Venice, where I hope that Nadia will find what she’s looking for.
Half an hour later, we land in the pitch black about a mile outside of Venice. Nothing about the atmosphere suggests that anything is out of order, or that a murder has occurred, but we press forward, moving at a trot until reaching Venice. As we enter, the air grows colder and icier, and I find myself rubbing my hands together to generate warmth. I slant my eyes right and left, trying to catch sight of anything moving, but the night remains still. But as we keep moving, our footsteps rattling softly on the cobblestones, I hear something else, as well. A fourth pair of footsteps, fluctuating slightly from our own cyclic pattern. I spot an alley coming up that shoots off down a side road, and when we are parallel with it, my arms fly out to the sides, stopping Nadia and Henry in their tracks. One more footstep after we stop. That one footstep tells me.
We’ve been tricked.
I push Nadia and Henry into the alley and then dive in after them, landing and rolling onto my feet again. Gunshots rattle through the air, and the static intensity that existed up until now seems to explode. “GUNS, NOW!” I scream, and motion for the two to follow me. There are already men following us, and Nadia shoots accurately, hitting one in the stomach and the other in the hand, smacking his gun away. We run as fast as we can, and I let Henry take the lead. He leads us through indiscernible streets and is about to jump over a fence when a horrible thought finds its way into my head. What if he’s one of them? I grab him in midair and throw him down, swiftly pinning him down with my foot and pointing my gun at his head. Nadia turns and bumps into me.
“Al, what the hell are you doing? Let go of him!”
“Are you sure we can trust him?!” I shout frantically, looking over my shoulder and into the darkness beyond the fence. Henry struggles underneath me.
“Of course! He’s my cousin, let go of him! You’re going to get us killed!” The voices trailing us are growing louder. I remove my foot and help Henry up. We climb clumsily over the fence, Henry taking up the rear, just as the assassins turn the corner and start shooting. I hear Henry yelp and turn back so fast that the movement brings me to my knees.
“Henry! Henry, are you ok?” I scramble up and toss my gun aside so that I can pick up Henry, whose leg is pouring blood. I sprint for my life and Henry’s as bullets ricochet down the narrow alley and surround me. We burst into another open street, but I don’t stop. I see Nadia, a block down as shoots a man clean through the head and ducks, barely escaping a knife thrown with immense power. While Nadia is fighting, I bring Henry into the shadows and rip a length of cloth from my shirt. I locate his wound, an ugly one in his calf that is still oozing blood, and tie the fastest bandage I’ve ever had to put together. “I’ll be back,” I tell him before rushing off to help Nadia. I see a pipe protruding from behind a garbage dumpster and snatch it up while I’m running, since I left my gun behind.
I can see that Nadia is having some difficulty, not shooting anymore, but instead prancing around and backing away urgently, trying to avoid the stream of firepower coming at her. There must be no less than five men advancing on her, all with the same hungry look in their eyes. I sneak up on a thin, short, ratty man with overly large teeth and tap him on the shoulder. He turns and raises his gun, his eyes scared, but before he can so anything, his face is bashed in and he is on the ground bleeding. This brings all the attention to me, which is a big mistake, since Nadia takes the chance to empty the rest of her gun into the body of a monstrous man who can’t be shorter than six and a half feet tall. Because all the men are in close proximity, I’m able to rap one of them smartly on the back of their palm. He cries out in pain, but drops his gun. I swing to take his head off, but he instead drops and pulls my legs out from under me. I tumble into the dust and cough all while trying to get back up. Just as I’m rising, his thick boot smashes my head back down. Agony rips through my body and I release a muffled scream. I hear the man laugh wickedly and c*** his weapon. I breathe heavily, my vision blurs, and there is something hot and sticky on my nose. But I can just make out my pipe lying a few feet away. I think of how far I’ve come and decide that I’m not done quite yet. I grab the pipe and bring it crashing into the man’s crotch with a cruel speed. He collapses as I get up. I see Nadia coming towards me and walk toward her.
“Nadia. Nadia, are you ok?” I hold her shoulders more to support myself than anything else.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine.” Even though it is dark, I can still hear her crying and see her beautiful eyes.
“Nadia, don’t cry. We’re going to see your grandma right now. Ok? Everything will be fine.” I grasp her is a hug.
“You’re such and idiot,” she whispers in my ear. “I’m crying because I almost lost you.” I know it’s wrong because we probably just killed a few men, but I smile.
Looking at her grandmother in the light, I can see where Nadia got her beauty from. Bernadette, Nadia’s grandmother, looks so peaceful and pretty that it makes me wonder why anyone would ever want to harm her. My nose has stopped bleeding and Henry’s leg is healing nicely. Nadia sobs into my chest as I hold and soothe her. It’s just the four of us in the room, as the rest of the family is either asleep or with the rest of the city, investigating what happened earlier. It has been one hour since the end of the fight, and we really must be back in Saudi Arabia by this time. But as I tell Nadia that we have to leave, I contradict myself by yawning loudly.
“Take a nap,” Nadia tells me softly, and places an angel’s kiss on my cheek, putting me instantly to sleep.
When I wake, it is still dark. I check my watch groggily. One o’clock in the morning. Nadia snoozes on my chest, and I gently rouse her. She moans slightly and opens one eye.
“Time to go?” she says.
“Yeah, we really have to go. We’ll come back in a few days, when everything is sorted out with the plan. Sound good?” I stroke her hair and kiss her lightly, allowing my other to show himself. I scold myself mentally, but there’s nothing to be done. I am no longer who I once was. We rise from our large chair. Henry is still sleeping, so we try not to disturb him while we quietly walk out of the home. “Did you say bye to your family?”
“Yeah. We’ll be seeing them again soon, so it doesn’t matter.” We breathe in the fresh night air and intertwine our fingers joyfully. Words haven’t been necessary, since each of us already knows what the other has to say. After a fifteen minute walk to the plane, we find Nadia’s Uncle Frank waiting for us. He’ll get us to Saudi Arabia in a few hours, tops. I should be feeling afraid, cautious, and apprehensive, but strangely, I don’t feel any of these things. Instead, there’s a warm, tingly sensation flowing all throughout my body. It’s foreign, but enjoyable. I don’t quite know why, but time seems to slow down as we get off the plane, thank Frank, and reach our house at the break of dawn.
As we approach the front door, I take Nadia’s hand and the happiness I feel is overwhelming. We turn to face each other and I gaze at her, mesmerized. And there, in the middle of the desert, we kiss.
“I love you, Alphonse. You make me happy.” She says. I open my mouth to respond with another sappy, cheesy comment, but remember something at that moment. Happiness means to be with the people you love and the moments you share with them that define your life. The door creaks open and there stand John, Alfred, Nicholas, and the tall black man from the coffee shop. John smiles.
“Good morning, nephew.”
My blood turns to ice.
You’ll regret this, Al.
If I were you, I’d trust no one.
We’ll meet again very soon, my friend.
The poisoned wine that Alfred wanted me so badly to drink. The simplicity of the deal with Nicholas. The way the guard easily gave himself to Nadia. All part of a clever plot to beat me at my own game. Even that fool Nicholas was in on it. And as much as I hate to admit it, they’d done it. I was done, and now they would split up my territories for themselves.
“To think,” I say. “That the man who I trusted most would betray me. Despicable, Alfred. Luckily, I didn’t trust you either.” I smile while Alfred raises his eyebrows.
“Oh, really, Sir?” he says sarcastically. “How exactly do you plan on—“ His voice trails off as Alfred starts to sweat. John, Nicholas, and the guard all back away. Alfred falls roughly to his knees and begins to cough severely, spitting out blood and phlegm. I look on sadly, shaking my head. It is when Alfred looks up at me with watery, broken, pleading eyes I turn away and start crying. “Al,” he says weakly, his life leaving him. “How could you? I – How could you?”
“I’m sorry, Alfred. But it was much too obvious. You, of all people. I’m so sorry. I had to poison the wine. How could I not, when you yourself tried to polish me off with your own venom? I’m so sorry, Alfred. I love you, but it had to be done.” To my surprise, Alfred smiles at me and nods in approval while saying his last words before departure.
“I’m proud.” I smile and cry freely for a few minutes before hearing the click of a gun. I look up and see my very short future down the barrel of a gun.
“John, please put your gun away. You’ve obviously beaten me. But how? How did this conspiracy happen? I have to know.” I gingerly move John’s gun-bearing arm to the side. He reluctantly backs off a little. “Well?” I assert.
“Alfred and I had had relations and conversation for some time before John became involved. We architected the whole plan for me to meet with you in Italy, and then for you to return here after making a short detour in Venice.” Nicholas explains everything calmly.
“Wait, so killing my grandmother was just a part of your sick scheme?” Nadia’s eyes blaze and I hold her back, for the guard could probably pick her up and throw her a mile or two.
“Nadia, calm down. We can’t win this fight. Hopefully they’ll see that they can use someone like you.” I fix her with a glare before she can continue.
“As I was saying,” Nicholas continues, a bit more nervously this time. “When you abandoned John that night, he spoke of his anger with Alfred, who immediately reached out to him and offered him possession of your drug trafficking systems in the Americas after you were gone. Naturally, he agreed. And that’s really the story. Alfred was to have the oil here, John to have the drugs in Mexico, and we’d all be in collaboration. We didn’t anticipate you figuring out that there was a plot. Alfred was still supposed to be alive.” Nicholas finishes in a barely audible voice.
“But what I don’t understand,” I say again, “is how Alfred could just betray me like that. He was the one I trusted most!”
“What you failed to realize is that the greed, hatred, anger, and selfishness that is prevalent inside of you exists in all men. And Alfred was no different. Possessed by a chance to finally overshadow you and become rich beyond his wildest dreams. No one can resist temptation like that,” John says. I nod slowly.
“I see. Well played, John. But I cannot see how you’ve managed to defeat me. I thought I was unstoppable.” And then he says something that shatters me.
“There are two reasons. I’ve seen many talented and intelligent men ruined by their own greed, overconfidence, and cockiness. And you are one of them.” He gives me no mercy as he batters me. “And you have become weak for the very reason I have become strong. Sentiment. The importance you place on Nadia has turned you soft. Ah, what a pity. You used to be great.” He cackles and throws his head back like a madman.
“You’ll regret this, John. I swear you’ll regret it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. If you let power and anger consume you, you’re finished. I wish you luck.” I turn to Nadia and hold her shoulders, knowing that these last few seconds are all I have. “I’m so sorry that we couldn’t have more time together, Nadia. Just know that I will always love you, and I’ll be waiting for you.” One final kiss and then I’m back to reality. John already has his gun pointed. His crooked smile does not belong to Uncle John. It belongs to a monster. A monster not unlike myself. Hatred or love? Which is the emotion that led me to this untimely end? I begin to ponder it when three things happen very quickly. First, I hear the bang. Next, Nadia screams. And finally, I fall to the ground, a burning pain in my stomach. I’m intrigued to find that the sun has already set, and I’m staring up at a dark sky. But there are no stars in this sky. Only an angel’s heavenly eyes and a brief memory of what it means to feel love over hate.