My escape caused a couple of governments to get their knickers in a twist. My hosts were, of course, properly distraught over the news. Quite panicked, actually, as they bloody well should have been. They had expected the pleasure of my company for ten years and they were cheated out of a bit more than eight of them and they were still scratching their heads over how it happened. Two of their own had helped me escape. Two long-time employees, too. Well, the female screw who had had her way with me many times and had directed me down the vent, had only been on the prisons for a couple of years, hired by the Firm to hook on with the screws in case she might one day prove useful.
On the other hand, the assistant warden had once had a promising career in keeping blokes locked up, but she had gotten into some trouble with her bookie and the Firm offered a way out of that trouble. On the plus side, though, The Chairman takes care of his people and I was told, correctly as it turned out, that the assistant warden was underground and still serving the Firm.
Because my escape was an inside job everyone in the prison bureau was on the hop, too, because nobody knew if there were any remaining Firm comrades still locked up or on staff. Most comrades themselves had some zero clue and we suspect only The Chairman knows for sure and, naturally, he was reserving that information for himself.
It was hardly as if I was Crown Enemy Number One, though. I‘d attempted to extort some money from a bloke who couldn’t keep his tallywacker in his Y-fronts. Big wow. The fact some people went through some moderate trouble to get me out was a bit of a bother, but after a few days of cursory searching the constables went on to more important things, though there were some posters of me in official buildings for a spell. Bully for them. The snapshot of me was me as I really am, a countenance never seen in public. Good luck with that. The flyer did add I just might be in disguise, which did the amateur detectives out there some zero good.
It helped that pattern baldness had set in because it is a lot easier to make it look like you have hair than it is to make yourself look like you don’t. So I might have hair or I might have some hair or I might not have any hair at all. Likely I would be taller than the height listed and I may well look a lot older. Be careful if I am hunched over using a cane, too, because the cane is a lethal weapon. I am not making that up.
Still, though, I spent virtually every moment of the first couple of weeks in a Firm safe house and the first couple of days there were spent in the secret room, just to make double sure. The room wasn’t too big, but it was comfortably furnished with a bed, a desk and a chair and an easy chair, all first class. There was also access to the escape tunnel just in case. No reason to risk it.
The secret room was in the event the very worst happened. Our safe houses were safe. It was in an average neighborhood with a spacious lot large enough so we weren’t bothered by too friendly neighbors – and could see oncomers – but busy enough so comings and goings were generally unnoticed. Rumor had it this was where The Chairman grew up, but The Chairman being The Chairman he didn’t blab about himself so no one knows for sure.
Of course, the government of the country whose Games I‘d help muck up wasn’t taking this well, either. They had been counting on getting their paws on me. They didn’t have a case. We do our work well at the Firm, but they were intent on making one because they had some footage of someone who was about my size but he didn’t really look like me. Kind of did, but kind of didn’t either.
Here’s what happened at the Games. I don’t know why I didn’t mention this earlier.
The Firm was hired by some malcontents to spread some good cheer at the every-four-years sporting festival. Actually, it’s every two years because they alternate between winter and summer sports. It was left to the Firm to determine exactly what good cheer to spread, consistent with the client’s guidelines, mainly cause some, though not too much, mayhem, with not too many bodies to be counted.
Events like this offer plenty of easy targets especially if you don’t care about expending a comrade or two. This is true even, especially, during world-class events when security is bumped up a bit. The Firm is for hire, however and none of us are about to go on suicide missions no matter how many vestal virgins await us. Especially true in my case because once you’ve had a go with Rachel and Monica good luck being enticed by any number of vestal virgins don’t you know.
Still, though, municipal utilities like water supplies and power grids, as well as public transportation offered tantalizing, almost turnkey, possibilities. Backpacks could easily be left in a public place. A well-placed sniper could have some fun, though we were mindful of the client’s low body count mandate.
We invaded several weeks beforehand. There were a half-dozen of us or so. We stayed in different hotels and changed hotels from time to time so no one could say hey, these guys were here for a month before the event happened. Rarely were more than a couple of us seen together in public. We met in a safe house The Chairman had secured, though for the first few days all we did was wander around, cameras in hand like proper tourists, seeing what we could see.
My tourist comrade for this evolution was Mauricio. Now, I have noted that I am so nondescript and utterly unmemorable I could fit in anywhere except, perhaps, The Congo. Mauricio could fit in there, too.
He had dark skin and curly hair that were African, but his facial features were European. He was a mite taller than me, was trim and walked with a grace I completely lacked. Like most in the Firm, he talked little about himself and like everybody in the Firm, I didn’t ask. We both had a facility for languages and mainly we talked in Moroccan Arabic, a language that may well have been his native tongue and that I seldom got to trot out. Mauricio’s accent was distinctive, but good luck identifying it. It wasn’t American or British, that’s about all I could gather.
The Chairman doesn’t pass out awards and neither Mauricio or I require the affirmation that comes from receiving credit, but it was us that came up with the light rail idea. It came almost at the end of our day. The Games were rather spread out and we had spent most of it at some outlying sites, walking around, noticing what there was to be noticed, and filing it away. There were some decent prospects and as we boarded the train to head back in we were confident we’d have some useful things to report.
When we go to the transfer station I suggested we stay on and head towards the main stadium, just for funsies, as Monica likes to say. Mauricio smiled eagerly, making it seem like it was the greatest idea in the long, illustrious history of stuff like this.
We knew better than to talk on the train, which was not empty, but we looked at each other and nodded knowingly a couple of times. When we got off at the main stadium we had notes to compare.
Mauricio noted the train had little security, passengers weren’t screened and bags weren’t checked, hardly a surprise for big-city mass transit, but worth noting nonetheless, and I pointed out the storage bins both above and below the seats, meaning a bag left there was not likely to be noticed. At meeting that night we noted this and The Chairman, while he didn’t immediately proclaim our genius, put it on the shortlist. There were a lot of other suggestions, too, and the Chairman was open to all of them, and by the end of the week the Chairman had narrowed them down to a dozen or so projects that were, as he liked to say, in play.
We weren’t hired for twelve mayhems, however, only one, and with little difficulty The Chairman pared down the list. We were not fanatics hell-bent on destruction, so some of the bolder plans, like kidnap and behead the most famous athletes, were eliminated early. The plan had to be relatively simple with a low risk of capture with the minimal death toll the customer wanted.
In the end The Chairman decided on our plan to upend a light railway track. The client merely wanted to make the point that the quadrennial revels were happening at their pleasure and they did not require tons of rubble. This caused no small amount of consternation amongst those elements in the Firm that wanted to kill large numbers of people but we pride ourselves on customer service here at the Firm and we didn’t want to disappoint. Nor did we want to do more than we were paid for. The Chairman had quoted a fee for a mischief and not all-out terror and that is what we were going to deliver.
The practice for this evolution was immense. There were dozens, perhaps even a hundred, of run-throughs. Once we decided on what and how we all went and took the train from assorted stops to the explosion point, both for timing and to determine what would be the less suspicious. We got off before the explosion point, at the explosion point and, just to see what we’d find out, after the explosion point. We did it at varying times of the day, too. Our orders from The Chairman were to notice everything.
The client specified the incident happen in the middle of the Games so we had some time to kill before Go Day so we played the tourist. Most went and watched some prelim football matches, but I watched some other things that were easier tickets to get. Saw me some team handball, popular in this part of the world, and baseball, a sport I‘ve never understood, plus some field hockey, which I really enjoyed. They deserved bigger crowds than they got.
Not having many people at these events was both good and bad. Good because you see it unbothered and up close. But I was envious. I got to see greatness at the end of my arm and I realized I had no greatness in me.
These people had purposes for their lives. I whored out girls, collected ransoms and now, this.
They were striving. I merely wanted to do something more interesting than living in a crummy flat with a drunk, loud wife and snotty kids.
They woke up every morning and answered to something inside them that commanded them to go and become their very best.
I woke up every morning asking only to be contrary.
Some of the athletes I was watching would have medals to show for their life’s efforts, something tangible that declared their life’s work had paid off. My best has never been needed for anything, except perhaps recognizing the type of (young) woman the rich and royal would pay good money to hop in the sack with.
All I had to show for me life was a lot of illegally earned money. Although a lot of money and a luxury life was nice. I am not complaining. I’ve a bit of contrarian in me and this is the bed I made for myself.
But they had things I’ll never have, worthwhile things I could never buy, no matter how many palace beds my girls slid into. They got up every morning knowing how they were to spend their day and then went out and did it. I got up every morning and whored girls out and planned mischiefs at their Games. Part of me wanted to plan something against them, I was already tactical so it would have been easy, but that would have done some zero good. One, nobody was paying me to do that and, two, it wasn’t their fault my only real success for my term on this planet was not getting caught. I’d done nothing me Pappy could be proud of though, honestly, all he did was work and drink and bicker with Mum, so it wasn’t likely he’d know something to be proud of if he ever saw it.
It was not much for a son to be proud of, either.
The event went as planned. Our comrades took their packs on the train, left them in the bins under the seat and disembarked a couple of stops before the explosion point. The packs exploded on schedule in the middle of the night. The train and the desired portion of the track was destroyed. The Games were disrupted and some events postponed for a couple of days. Five people who probably should have been in bed at that hour died. The whole continent lost their mind and seemingly went on lockdown, though we left town undetected.
I also saw Monica before the Games. Now closer to middle age than youth, she was as beautiful and vibrant as ever, still the planet’s preferred courtesan, a role she seemed to both be aware of and relish.
I was me. A balding, middle-aged man, still trim, mind you, and distinguished, wealthy and cultured. There were no disguises with Monica.
We both needed each other. I needed her to feel human. Most days I didn’t really care about feeling human. Most days I was content to accept the life I‘d constructed for meself. It wasn’t for everybody, which was good because lives everybody else lives are boring, an utter drudgery to be avoided.
Maybe I’d done well and maybe I hadn’t and I was at a point in my life where the final sums, while still a bit off from being tallied, were beginning to interest me.
On the one hand, I had a fortune and here I was in one of the great cities of the world spending fun times in and out of bed with a woman desired by the rich and royal the world over, not to mention me.
On the other hand, my only real experience was taking money from people.
Monica, for all the money and splendor the immense pleasure of her company got her, enjoyed our occasional holiday that showed to herself she had value outside of being desired and paid for. She needed to know our laughs were genuine and our interest in each other real. I was a fun, necessary interlude from the splendor of her year’s labors. But that’s all I was, though, an interlude, an occasional breath of fresh air.
We took some modest precautions. I had been a criminal for a long time and I still had yet to be nicked and I was hardly on Her Majesty’s most wanted list but we took them anyway. Furthermore, our contacts inside the constables – and the Firm had one or two – didn’t let on that either of us was being paid attention to.
But certainly, Monica was on the constable’s radar. They knew who the courtesans were. They didn’t particularly care because they are hardly going to roust the odd heir apparent, tycoon or archbishop, but they knew. It was unlikely they were following her or me but one of the things The Chairman preaches every hour on the hour is take care of what you can control because there is enough you can’t control and sometimes that will muck you up.
We were probably in the clear but probably isn’t good enough in the rackets. You have to know.
Hide in plain sight.
I reserved a suitable suite at a suitable downtown hotel under one of my 5,000 aliases. We could have gone someplace off the beaten path but there we would have stood out like sore thumbs and you learn that outside of hiding in a cave it is sometimes more practical to hide in plain sight. Downtown, with the city already packed for the upcoming Games, no one would bother us, with any kind of luck, even bad.
Monica’s only proper traveling papers were under her real name, but that was no big deal. Once she was in country she went under a modest disguise, too. She has a wonderful capacity for looking much older and a gray wig and the removal of her makeup probably made her look like her mother. She checked into a hotel under an alias, walked out in disguise and just like I taught her took a cab here and there to make sure she was loose, then took a cab to our hotel.
It was our first time seeing each other in a while, a couple of years, at least. We had a lot to catch up on and, typical of her gender, she wanted every possible detail of how I collected ransoms. It sounded rather exciting to her.
I could tell her little, of course, which hurt her. Here I was the only man she saw because she truly wanted to and I couldn’t share anything and because she was hurt she noted petulantly I probably wasn’t at the Games on holiday which she immediately regretted and, of course, I told her nothing. I didn’t deny it, though. Monica was the only one I could be even partially honest with. There was no reason to pretend. She knew I was a criminal, just like she knew she was, in essence, a whore. There were no masks with us.
Monica was leading a fairy tale life. She had long said it was only head and she was going to get laid anyway, so all the better to profit off it. It was better than putting her long-forgotten degree to work for her.
We talked about our families. She still kept in touch with her mother. Her father was long dead. I no longer had any regular news about my family. From time to time, a letter from Sis would make its way to me, forwarded to the cottage. All she did was rant at me. I stopped meaning a thing to her once I started making quid off her. She had married and had five kids and I gathered she was generally living the life our folks lived. I once sent her some money, over a year’s pay for her, and that really pissed her off. She knew it was ill-gotten, though that didn’t stop her from depositing the cashier’s check don’t you know.
She also said some of the birds I had whored out in our younger days were not leading the charmed life of Monica. A couple were dead and some were on their way to dead and they blamed me. Oh well. They liked the tenners they made when the choice was between making tenners and not making tenners, between being able to afford bangers and mash not being able to afford bangers and mash. I read her letter with about the same emotion I read the weather report.
Though older than she used to be and seeing only a few preferred clients now, Monica was still the elite’s favoured courtesan, regularly showing up at palaces and Wimbledon and award show red carpets. A lot of the world had seen the photo of an Oscar-winning gentleman holding the result of every dream he’d ever had with Monica on his arm. She looked radiant, as always and gave the impression she was present backstage with Oscar winners as a matter of course. She matter-of-factly reported that within an hour after making his acceptance speech he had an is-that-all-there-is air about him and she left him in the wee morning hours stoned, trying to get the top-of-the-world feeling back again. It was not the only time over the years Monica had reported the famous, wealthy and royal were just as screwed up and dysfunctional as everyone else.
Monica said she planned to keep up this life for a few more years. She enjoyed the luxury, of course, and really didn’t have anything to retire to. If she did leave the game all she would be doing is traveling to luxury hotels and getting laid periodically, which is what she was doing now so she might as well get others to foot the bill for her frolics.
Besides, she liked being the center of attention and she liked the control having men pay her for her company and body gave her over these men. Some might think since she was on the payroll the men were in control but don’t kid yourself. They wanted and needed her and were willing to pay an awful lot of money for the privilege and pleasure of possessing her for whatever length of time they paid for. She could say no anytime and leave them to their boring, royal and wealthy lives, their state dinners, their boring wives and ungrateful kids. From palaces to boardrooms to private jets, control was hers. She was the one being desired and paid for and that made her Monica supreme.
Meanwhile, I collected kidnap ransoms and ran the odd extortion. On the other hand, Monica was here because she wanted to be with me, perhaps the only person she wanted to be with who didn’t pay her.
We only ventured outside a couple of times. It was a pain in the bum because I insisted on disguises. I had to. I could not even let a one-in-a-million chance happen.
Control what you can control.
For her part, Monica thought it was great fun, too, so the couple of times we did go out we looked nothing like ourselves. Of course, I could be everyone and no one, but Monica did a great job of looking like me mum. I had some make-up skills in this regard. It took some time, but it worked splendidly and twice we were able to go and enjoy the 5-star dining we’ve always enjoyed.
Mostly, though, we stayed in the suite. We talked, drank champagne, ate well and had some goes at it.
Eventually, it was time to part. We both had to get back to work. Her client was arriving the following day and I had to get back to the Firm. We said goodbye in the suite, after lunch, her eyes betraying the breezy goodbye she offered while a stake was driven through me heart. I wanted to warn her to stay away from a certain train in the middle of a certain night but I couldn’t do that to my comrades at the Firm. Besides, the chances of Monica being on a public train with her client at the hour were about as likely as planetary alignment, so I didn’t worry about it.