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An excerpt from my unpublished ebook Vox Publica

Updated on February 15, 2013

A phone call in the dead of night awakens a man sleeping soundly. Rubbing his eyes, he rolls over in his bed and reaches for the phone to pick it up.

“Hello” he spoke groggily into the old fashioned handset.

“Hello, Charles. I have something for you. Meet me tomorrow in the diner at 7:00 AM for breakfast. Come hungry.” the man on the other end states in a flat voice.

“Fine” He sets the phone back into its cradle, and rolls back over to return to sleep. Sleep comes, but not quite as easily as earlier in the evening. He tosses and turns for a bit, before finally drifting off into a dream filled slumber. Dreams of a much earlier time in history, a time when crimes were met head on, often with dramatic results. To the time of gladiators, and matches to the death: to the time of Rome during the height of the Roman Empire. To the Amphitheatrum Flavium, otherwise known as the Collosseum.

The dream begins with him as a gladiator, walking into the brightly lit arena. As he walks from the darkness beneath the stadium he first hears the roar of the crowd, anticipating his arrival. He is one of the premier secutors of the arena, and his opponent today is a criminal. This person has been found guilty of a crime against the city of Rome, and has been condemned to die on the sands of the arena. The condemned man stands terrified, awaiting his executioner.

He comes.

The gladiator, known and loved by the mob, is Tercanius Lucius and is called by all The Wolf of Rome. He was, at one time, a slave bound for death on the sands. But against all odds, he survived, then thrived and eventually won his freedom by defeating the longtime champion Murcellius. The battle had lasted some time, before Lucius closed with Murcellius and in a whirlwind of sword strokes, caved in the defense of the champion and ran him through there in the arena. The crowd, or mob if you cared to know, had cried out to the Emperor for the Rudis, the symbolic Wooden Sword of Freedom. In a moment of mercy, the Emperor had granted it, and Lucius became a freed man. In the months and years since that epic battle, he had won many more battles on the sands of the arena, always pitted against criminals of the state.

The crowd roared even louder as he made his way out of the shadows. Raising his sword, he walked around the circumference, smiling and greeting those who loved him. By the time he had completed his walk, he had arrived in front of the Emperor’s box. Standing tall and proud, he once more raised his sword, and cried out the mantra of the gladiator. “Ave, Caesar! Nos morituri te salutamas!” “Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!” With that, he turned to face the condemned.

The man stood shaking, quivering with fear. Lucius closed on him, holding his gladius low and in front of him at the ready. When he was within ten feet, he yelled and lunged at the man. He made his sword clang off of the man’s, so it appeared as though the condemned had parried with him. An experienced gladiator, and he was one of the best, could cause a terrified man to appear somewhat competent, so as to cause the mob to continue to be engaged, and the outcome to be in doubt. But the reality was it was never in doubt.

Another lunge and parry, and a quick slide along the sword led to a cut along the man’s side. It looked worse than it was, and bled freely. First blood was his. He smiled at the man, and the condemned knew the end was near. Then in a flurry of strokes and counter strokes, he forced the man around and back against the wall directly beneath the Emperor’s box, causing the Emperor to stand and look over the edge to witness what was occurring. Lucius enjoyed this position, as it caused the condemned to be against the wall, and unable to move to defend himself. Lucius also knew that this position prevented almost everybody from witnessing just how poorly the man could defend himself, yet he could prolong his life sufficient time to cause the mob to cry out with excitement.

Finally, he stepped back to allow the condemned to draw a ragged breath. Then, with a yell, Lucius raised his sword in a salute, and lunged forward, knocking aside the weak defense and stabbing straight into the heart of the criminal. Pinning him against the wooden wall, he held him up for a brief moment, then removed the sword and allowed the now dead man to slump to the ground. Before he removed the sword, he made sure to rub his body against the dying man’s, in order to cover his body with blood for the mob to see. As he stepped back, he appeared to tiredly raise his sword, brandishing it aloft for a few seconds to acknowledge the crowd’s adoration, and the Emperor’s applause. His body, coated with the dead man’s blood and his own sweat, glistened in the sun for all to see. He dropped the sword down to waist level, and turned to make his way back to the vast underground area of the arena, content that he dispatched a criminal in a manner which brought joy to the masses, and a few sesterces to his pocket. Once underground, he allowed the slaves there to wash the sticky blood from his body, and relaxed to their ministrations and a rubdown. As he lay there, he fell into a light sleep.

Back in his room, Charles awoke feeling refreshed. A shower and shave, and he dressed for the day. Humming to himself he gathered his things and left to walk the short distance to the diner the voice had spoken of. Quaint and old fashioned, it was in line with his life. He eschewed some of the more modern technologies, such as cell phones, computers, and things such as these. His was a much simpler life rooted in a much simpler time. Entering the diner, he promptly ordered breakfast: two eggs over easy, two strips of bacon, with an order of pancakes. Not heart healthy by today’s standards, but what the hell. We all died sometime; what matters is how you live. His breakfasts were a part of his life he chose to not shortchange. He ate what he chose, and worked off the effects of the food by running and lifting. Not dieting, just life fitness such as those who came before him lived. Eat hard, work hard, play harder.

He was eating his breakfast when a tall man dressed entirely in grey entered the diner. The man removed his sunglasses and looked around, as though he was searching for something or someone. The man seated at the table looked up and grunted to himself in amusement. This always happened: the other man pretending to not know where he was sitting. He always sat in the same booth. There was no hiding, no attempt to confuse. Direct, that was his method; direct and to the point.

Finally, the grey man took note of him. Making his way over, he motioned to the waitress to come and take his order, and sat down uninvited.

“Won’t you have some breakfast with me?” he asked the grey man, while sipping his coffee. Black, no sugar, no cream. He detested the trendy morning drinks, such as café’ au lait, iced coffee, and espresso.

The grey man shook his head and turned to speak to the waitress who had appeared at the table. She was smiling, and asked for his order. He ordered a triple espresso, and then dismissed her out of hand. Turning his attention to the man seated across from him, he began.

“I have need of your services. Payment will be the usual, delivered into your account by the end of the business day. The person of interest is on this note.” Here he slid a small business card across the table to the man. “Expectation of service completed is by the end of the week. Thank you, Charles, for your assistance in this matter.” He paused as the waitress brought his cup. He took it from her and shot it down his throat, ignoring the burning as it traveled downward. Setting the cup back on her tray, he watched as she walked away, and then said “This particular individual is a nasty person. Do not dally with him.”

Charles took the last bite of egg, looking the grey man directly in his eyes and chewing casually before answering “I never do.”

The grey man nodded and stood to leave. Without a backward glance, he walked away. Charles took his last bite and sat back to sip at the remnants of his coffee. It was cooling, and soon would be beyond his level of taste. He set the cup back down and reached over to pick up the card. Turning it over, he saw a name. Miles Alexander. Slipping the card into his jacket pocket, he sat back and thought. Where had he seen that name before? A moment’s search in his memory was all it took to recall that Miles had been a pedophile who had been arrested two years back. A very wealthy and very powerful man, he had hired only the best attorney money could buy. The defense attorney had dragged the case out for a long time, and the witnesses had eventually decided not to cooperate with the prosecuting attorney. They found that the supposed victims had received a monetary settlement which encouraged them to drop the case. Charles sighed, thinking how often situations such as this occurred, where the rich purchased their freedom for pennies on the dollar with those unfortunate enough not to have the willpower to say no. In this situation, it seemed the families of those victims had wanted this all behind them, and were only too happy to settle for the measly amount offered them. But, the case had reached his employer, and this unknown person had decided to put their two cents worth in and contacted him. He was their solution to the world’s problems, and he was very good at dispensing a solution.

Some years back, he had worked for one of the government’s alphabet departments. CIA, FBI, NSA, they all played the same game, and had people such as him on their payroll: people who were good at getting rid of a problem quickly and quietly. After his twenty years of service, he had been deemed too old and retired at full benefits. Boredom had set in, and after a while he began to freelance for himself. He would read about some injustice in the city, and decide to do something about it. More often than not, he secured the individual in a secluded location and dispatched them quietly.

He recalled when he had explained himself to those convicted in the court of Charles and sentenced by same. He felt something; some duty to allow them the opportunity to understand why he was there; why they had been selected for elimination. No more. Now, it was simply select, secure, eliminate. No words, no listening to their groveling, their posturing, their offers of wealth untold. His ears were as closed as his mind was to their words. Once he had secured them, it was a simple sight down a short barrel, a flex of his index finger, and he would walk away from the remnants of a life that had been spent harming and destroying others while wasting their own. If possible, this was his preferred method of dispatch. Of course, the situation did not always lend itself to this method; sometimes, it had been a quick elimination and move on. He would perform a quick study of the person, make a decision, and take care of business. Then, he would be gone like a vapor, never to be seen again.


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    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      Mr Archer, thanks for asking. I am doing fine, although yesterday's events happened so close to home. I feel so terrible for all of those who died and were injured. There are many great stories that come out of this, such as people helping one another, but it's bittersweet. I was on my way home (on the T) when it happened, and when we got to Arlington Station (one stop after where the bomb had gone off not long before we passed it), we were all told to get off the subway, and exit the station immediately. The explanation was that there was heavy police presence, but none of us had any idea what had happened. I went outside, and it wasn't until a man who had witnessed it came up to me and asked me if I was ok. He told me bombs had gone off, and I was in disbelief. I had a hard time finding out how to get to a familiar place, and the entire way I walked, I heard people talking about it. It was so surreal. It wasn't until I got home and watched the news that I found out the extent of what had happened. My day was basically done by that point, because it is hard to get on with normal life when tragedy strikes. I still can't believe it, and I am so sad for those people. I hope justice will be served, however that may be defined.

      Thanks for the prayers. I send mine to all of those that were affected. Our nation has a way of helping one another out during a crisis, so I'm sure everyone will help whoever can be helped.

      Thanks again, and have a good evening.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you, Kathryn. I am still working on it, but someday, someday...

      How are you faring up in Beantown? I have been to that beautiful city, and loved it, both in and around the city itself. What happened yesterday was deplorable. I send my prayers your way, and hope for a wonderful time ahead for you and yours.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I enjoyed the switch between the dream and the reality in the story. I also like how you used words to paint the scene in such a way that I can picture myself there. It was interesting. Thanks for sharing part of your story, and good luck developing it.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you again Vox. I will anxiously awaiting your creation. And yes, I do love Roman history. One of my favorite books (it's hard to get, but well worth it) is The Far Arena. It tells the tale of the premier gladiator of his time, and his subsequent fall. He ends up frozen (somewhat stretching the imagination, but fun) and awakes in modern Russia. It is an excellant read, especially for the details given about Rome and the arena. I highly recommend it. Another great read is Morituri, another gladiator book, but more believable in that it stays within the time of Rome.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 4 years ago

      I'm glad you'll be writing about his dreams, especially because they revolve around the arena in Rome (love Rome and its history :)) This important detail makes me forget the movie, no worries there! After reading the info you've revealed in the comment, I'd definitely be interested in reading your book. We both must take that advice from your British friend (I'm writing a novel, too :)) and go on exactly as he said a writer should. Voted up and shared.

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you Vox. The story is developing, and I have yet to do a full blown check on it. This is @ 20% of what I have so far. The storyline is more about Charles, and his vision of being a vigilante in today's world. His dreams (and there are more to be experienced) revolve around the arena in Rome. They coincide with his perceived cleansing the world of those he has deemed unworthy. His employer is someone who feels the same, and finances his efforts.

      Regarding the similarity between my storyline and a Van Damme movie, I cannot say. I have not seen this movie of his.

      The Grey Man and the expresso, you are correct. This person is an American, but one who has "elevated" himself in his eyes by an affectation of habits he perceives as being upper classs, but may or may not actually be able to pull it off.

      A British friend of mine, who once taught writing in England in years past, once told me that writing a story is a lot like being an archeologist. You uncover the story as you go along, piece by piece. It defines itself, you are simply the one who has been blessed (or cursed) to be the one uncovering it.

      I have not defined the direction I am going yet; rather I am allowing myself to be led, one section, one paragraph to the next. Thanks for the read, and the comment, and especially the critique. I truly appreciate it.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 4 years ago

      The summary of this hub invites people to give their feedback which is very valuable when you are working on a novel (or something else) - that's why I took the time to read this excerpt :)

      From what I've read, I can't say whether I'd be interested in reading the book because it reminds me of a movie I've seen recently starring Jean Claude van Damme. It was a good movie, but would I read a book with a similar plot? Depends on what you have in mind with the rest of the book.

      Charles is probably a professional killer (but a positive character), the story is probably about that criminal his employer contacted him about, but it may be about a totally different case. The breakfast scene evokes imagination - that's good. I like how the excerpt starts and the presentation of the dream Charles had that night. I expected a reflection of that dream in reality - maybe you plan to include it in the novel? It would be a nice introduction to Charles's subconsciousness and the impact reality has on his mind and personality.

      I was surprised that the grey man ordered a triple espresso - he's probably an American Italian because a "real" Italian would have three short espressos in a row and he'd have to pause more than once because of the waitress lingering around the table so much.

      You probably do the proof-reading more than once before the book is published, but I'd recommend correcting grammar and punctuation in this excerpt now when it's already published on HP. There aren't many mistakes and they are mostly minor ones, but they still caught my eye.

      I am interested in how the story will develop. If I knew it had an interesting plot and knowing your writing style (maybe a little dry, but perfect for a crimi novel), I'd probably read it :)