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An excerpt from my unpublished ebook Vox Publica
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.
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.