The Medusa File

By James R. Stevenson All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

Hong Kong

Harvey had arranged to meet Briggs at the Pacific Coffee on Lyndhurst Terrace in Central. There was still almost a week of holidays left before school resumed and Briggs had invited Harvey to spend a couple of nights with him at his parents home out in Sai Kung. Locals referred to Sai Kung as Hong Kong’s back garden. Harvey had been out there quite a few times and loved the village life in this green oasis. If he ever had to pick a place to live in Hong Kong, he knew this was it.

As a rule, students spent weekends and holidays with their parents but due to Harvey’s circumstances he was allowed to stay on campus by special permission arranged by his guardian, Clive Atkinson. There was a minimal staff on campus during these times and Harvey found the place to be quite lonely. The upside was he had plenty of time for studies and Mr. Atkinson was quite lenient with how he came and went. He had full use of the athletic facilities and often spent time on the weekends in Stanley but when a friend invited him for a sleepover he jumped at the chance. When he walked into Pacific Coffee he found his friend sitting on a burgundy couch leafing through an HK magazine and drinking a cappuccino.

“Hey Briggs, What’s up?”

“Harvey! Good to see you,” Briggs stood up and they shook hands. “Tell me, how was Japan?”

“Japan was unreal, you’re not going to believe the stories I have for you. I’ll tell you all about it but first I want to hear how your weekend at the Sevens went.”

“Oh man, we had a blast there. I met up with Kev, Badger and some of the other guys from the team in the South Stand. We painted our bodies blue, wore tight white leggings and went as Smurfs. That place was a party zone for the whole weekend. And the costumes were amazing, you would have loved it. There was a huge group dressed up as military dictators, there were toy story soldiers, Mr. Men characters, a foxy group of girls dressed as wonder woman, and some dudes dressed up like snow white. But the best were the girls. There were sexy dancers and cheerleaders. At one point, I was frisked by a chick dressed as a cop wearing high heels and fish net stockings.” Briggs was enthusiastic as he told Harvey the details about his weekend at the rugby Sevens.

“Did she arrest you for concealing dangerous goods?” Harvey said with a grin.

“No,” Briggs replied with a chuckle. “But we did meet up later in Lan Kwai Fung. Now that place was absolutely going off. The streets overflowed with people in costume.”

“I bet you stayed out all night partying with the guys but tell me more about the Sevens. I read that Fiji played awesome and stole the show from the All Blacks.”

“Those guys can really run with the ball and they are huge, I’d hate to have to play against them. They played with a lot of heart and deserved to win the cup. I’m also happy with the way Canada played. They ended up winning their division and taking the shield trophy. Nice one from my countrymen, eh? Next year they will be promoted to play with the top Sevens teams in the World Series. I tell you, Sevens rugby is getting exciting and starting to catch on globally. Harvey, we have to go to the South Stand next year. It’s a real experience to dress up and go to the Sevens.”

“If I’m in town I’ll definitely go with you but after we graduate this year we’ll be going our separate ways. Life is going to change for us,” said Harvey.

Briggs’ enthusiasm waned a little when he considered that the chapter of their life at St. Stephens would soon come to an end. Most of his friends would probably be leaving Hong Kong to study abroad, himself included.

“Yeah, you’re right. Whether I end up studying in Canada or somewhere else, I’ll come back and stay with my parents for Easter break and hopefully that will coincide with the Sevens tournament. If you come back to Hong Kong, you’ve got a place to stay.”

“Thanks Briggs, sounds like a plan.”

“Now tell me about Japan. Did you get some decent skiing in?” asked Briggs.

“It was pretty amazing but not as amazing as this.” Harvey looked around the coffee shop and decided it was safe to pull the gold chain around his neck out from under his shirt to show Briggs the ring attached to it.

“What do you think of this baby?”

“Wow, looks expensive. Where’d you get it?” asked Briggs.

Harvey tucked his chain back under his shirt. He didn’t need to draw any unwanted attention to himself.

“Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ll tell you all about it on our way to Sai Kung. I’m dying to have some of your dad’s famous burgers on the barbie.”

Osaka, Japan

From outward appearances, Hiyoshi Noda looked to be unassuming and mild mannered. He was single and in his early forties. His neighbours in the community where he lived in Osaka knew him to be polite and friendly. He didn’t pry too much into their personal lives and didn’t follow the local gossip that many others engaged in avidly.

He worked as a courier for a small company that offered an exclusive service to a select clientele of some of the larger and more prestigious firms in the region. You would be forgiven for assuming that Hiyoshi kept to himself but you’d be wrong. He made it his business to trade in secrets, to pay attention to the actions of big players in the city and for a price he was willing to share the information he learned with the few people who knew of his specialty for discovering secrets and inside information.

One of his specialties was to approach the secretaries of the firms he visited as a courier and engage them in a friendly chat. He had a knack for steering conversations towards questions about their bosses. He could be quite charming when he wanted and would casually ask what their bosses were like, did they treat them fairly, did they take them out sometimes, which bars they liked to frequent, did their bosses have girlfriends or mistresses, what were they doing on the weekend and so forth. Over a period of months he would be able to build up a profile of many of the senior executives who worked in the Kansai area. He would learn who was nervous because of a big pending deal, or who spent lavish amounts at restaurants on a mistress at the company’s expense, he even sometimes learned when a company was considering a merger or acquisition and would trade this information for considerable profit with some investor contacts he maintained.

One of the offices he frequented as a courier was the Yamaguchi Group, an energy company with interests throughout the Far East but headquartered in Osaka. When he had an important delivery for Yamaguchi, he would openly flirt with Suki, the secretary for the chairman’s office. He had been teasing her to go out on a date with him. It was through her that he learned that Hiro Yamaguchi had made arrangements for a meeting at a private teahouse in the Gion district of Kyoto. He pried her with questions about her boss’s upcoming visit to Gion, suggesting it was a rendezvous with a lover, and had learned it was a meeting with Mr. Sato, Yamaguchi’s trusted assistant.

Hiyoshi was familiar with Sato, in fact he was one of the few people who knew of his penchant for gaining information and sometimes consulted him. But Hiyoshi knew someone else who would be pleased to find out about the Gion meeting, someone who had asked him to keep a discreet eye on the movements of Yamaguchi, a man who seldom made public appearances. This person would reward him handsomely to learn of Yamaguchi’s meeting in Gion with Sato.

When Hiyoshi had gone to the small village near Mount Atago to tell Kenji Watanabe of the upcoming meeting at the teahouse, he spotted something that intrigued him. From a distance he had noticed a ring on one of Kenji’s fingers. There seemed to be something special about it. He thought he noticed a slight red reflection from the sunlight hitting it. For some reason when he saw the ring he instantly remembered seeing Hiro Yamaguchi wearing another exquisite ring when he had seen him outside his boardroom. It struck him that the two rings looked similar.

Hadn’t he seen Yamaguchi’s ring reflect light as well?

Something else gave him pause to reflect on the ring, when Kenji noticed Hiyoshi approaching him he slipped the ring off his finger and pocketed it. But before he had put it away, Hiyoshi was able to notice the ring was beautiful and his sharp eyes could discern that it was similar to the one Yamaguchi had worn. The ring appeared to be made from a blend of metals. Most people wouldn’t have noticed anything at all but Hiyoshi made it his habit to be keenly observant. Although his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, he could recall someone once asking him about a special ring.

Kenji had been very eager to learn of the coming meeting between Yamaguchi and Sato. Hiyoshi had no idea why the man was so interested in this information but that didn’t matter to him, as long as he was well paid for his information. An idea had popped into Hiyoshi’s head when he had spoken with Kenji. He thought that if he mentioned the special ring he noticed on Yamaguchi that this may draw Kenji out to speak about his own ring or better yet, show it to him. Kenji was indeed keen to learn everything Hiyoshi could tell him about the ring he had seen Yamaguchi wearing, but the young man didn’t make any mention of his. Hiyoshi did note with pleasure, that he was paid handsomely for the information he provided, more than usual.

After his meeting with Kenji, he had spent the journey home puzzling over the ring he had seen and tried to remember who had asked him about a special ring in the past. As he searched through the compartments of his mind like opening and closing a great file cabinet, it finally came to him.

Many years ago someone had asked him if he had ever heard of two special rings made by a great sword maker, one of them reflected red in the light, the other blue. Then it struck him. It had been Sato who had asked him and he had been adamant that if Hiyoshi learnt anything in connection to rings matching their description that he should immediately find Sato and tell him.

Upon returning to Osaka he had learned that Sato was away in Fukuoka on business. Hiyoshi had made arrangements to meet up with him there. He had no problem with calling in sick so he could spend the day travelling. He also had no problem with betraying the confidence of Kenji and telling Sato his observations. He saw the teahouse rendezvous in Kyoto and the information about Kenji’s ring as two different transactions each separate from the other. Hiyoshi prided himself on trading in secrets and the deepest secrets he kept to himself.

It was early evening and Hiyoshi was walking through bustling Dotonbori District on his way to a ‘date’ with one of the ladies who worked for a large financial organisation. He had heard the company was involved in a merger deal and wanted to find out the particulars.

He was walking along the canal when he felt a strong hand grab onto his upper arm from behind. He turned around and saw someone he had not been expecting. Worry initially flashed across his face, he quickly tried to smile but the fleeting look of shock had not been lost on the man confronting him.

“Sato-san! It’s a surprise to see you. I trust that information I gave you the last time we met served you well.”

He noticed that Sato didn’t release his arm, in fact he seemed to increase the pressure of his grip.

“There was nobody there. We didn’t find anything.”

“That’s not my fault. The information was good when I gave it to you. Watanabe had the ring,” Hiyoshi answered back.

“It almost seemed that someone tipped him off that we were coming. Do you know Kenji Watanabe?”

Alarm started to ripple through Hiyoshi’s body.

“No, of course not,” he sputtered out. He calmed himself thinking he could talk his way out of the situation.

“You know I’m very discreet with my information.” Hiyoshi kept his voice even as he tried to hide the lie but his eyes widened with concern.

“Do I, Hiyoshi? I’m not sure if I do.” A cruel thin smile formed on Sato’s face. “Come on, we are going to have a little talk.”

“But I was just on my way to meet someone. It’s very important. Can we meet later?” A sound of desperation could be heard as Hiyoshi spoke.

“Don’t worry, Hiyoshi. I won’t take up too much of your precious time. We’ll just have a chat amongst friends.”

Sato led him to a waiting black Mercedes and shoved him into the back seat and then got in beside him.

Hong Kong

The rest of the holiday went by surprisingly quickly for Harvey. Classes had started back and they were focusing on revision and preparation for the A level exams they would take next month in May. Everybody was in study mode and spending their free time in the library or at their desk in their dorm room. Harvey wasn’t feeling the pressure to study, since he had spent the last few days of the holiday doing just that. It was early evening and he was returning from Stanley Market with a large brown parcel under his arm.

“Hey Briggs! Are you working hard or hardly working?”

Briggs looked up from the text he was reading at his desk. “Huh? Oh hey Harvey, we missed you at dinner.”

“I took pity on my stomach and skipped it, I went into Stanley instead. I had to pick up this,” said Harvey as he removed the brown paper from his parcel.

“What did you get?”

“A copy of an engraving by a German artist called Durer. This guy is really cool. He made the original five hundred years ago and the detail is absolutely amazing. Take a look.” Harvey held up the framed black and white print for Briggs to see. “You see this guy with the wings?”

“Kind of depressed looking, isn’t he?” replied Briggs.

“To me he looks frustrated and reminds me of the feeling I sometimes get when cramming for exams, trying to recall what was taught and wondering what will be on the exam. Kind of like you when I just walked in,” Harvey said with a smirk.

“You think I look like this dude?”

“Maybe you should dress like him next year for the Sevens,” Harvey said with a laugh. “But the reason I like this print is the number-gram in the top right corner. This is called a magic square.” Harvey pointed out the large square divided into a smaller set of squares four by four with the numbers from one to sixteen arranged in them. “You know how much I love to do sudokus. This is the ultimate sudoku. If you add the four numbers in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally they all add up to the same number.”

Briggs checked this for himself. “You’re right, they add up to thirty-four. That’s pretty cool.”

“Even if you take the four corners and add them up you get the same number, same thing for the four in the centre and the quadrants on the sides. He even has the year he painted it using the two bottom numbers in the middle. It is absolute genius and I’ve always been impressed by its perfect mathematics. I thought I would hang it up in our room to inspire us for our maths final.”

Briggs had something important to tell Harvey and when he did, it came out awkwardly. “I saw Emma with Skye Lars today.”

“And?” inquired Harvey wondering what the big deal was. “They were probably studying. I think they take a few classes together.”

“Sara told me they were dating but I didn’t believe her until I saw them holding hands coming from the library.” Briggs replied.

This got Harvey’s attention.

“They were holding hands?” His voice was louder than he intended as he incredulously spat the words out.

“Yep, I had to have a double take to make sure it really was her. What could she possibly see in that weasel?”

Harvey calmed his nerves. Inwardly he felt despair wash over him but he didn’t want to betray his feelings in front of his friend.

“Not the best choice for her but it’s a free world. I kind of feel sorry for the guy. He’s probably really fallen for her and knowing Emma she’ll move on after a few dates. I give it two weeks tops.”

“You’re too generous, I give it a week, and it could give us an edge in the final football match of the year if he ends up a broken man from the ordeal,” said Briggs with a smile.

“One thing’s for sure, there’s no way he’s sitting at our table in the school cafeteria. That would be too much to suffer. Can you imagine having to chat with him?” said Harvey.

He was already starting to feel better with the disparaging comments he and Briggs were sharing about Skye.

“Okay, enough talk about our ‘buddy’ Skye, we need to hit the books. Ready to be enlightened by logarithms and differentiation equations?” asked Harvey.

“Oh man, there’s no way I’m going to get through the A-Level maths exam,” moaned Briggs.

“Don’t worry bud, I’ve got your back. You have the best tutor at St. Stephens in your corner. The bar I’m setting for you is to get a B grade.”

Briggs hadn’t noticed that Harvey’s shoes were covered in mud when he had returned back to their room. Harvey didn’t feel the need to tell his friend that Stanley wasn’t the only place he had visited that afternoon.

The two young friends worked together studying until just before midnight. It was a pattern they expected to repeat over the next few weeks as they prepared for their final exams. Their whole academic career over the last six years was coming under the microscope and they felt the full weight of the pressure the exams brought. They kept their spirits up with the reward of freedom they would have once it was all over.

Unfortunately, they didn’t know their study regiment was going to suffer a sharp interruption in the next few days.

Amsterdam

The café at the end of the quiet street was deserted of both customers and staff with the exception of three men who sat at a table near the back of the restaurant. They sat there engaged in conversation as they waited for the fourth man to arrive. The three of them shared one thing in common, secrets. They also all wore the same signet ring, it had a red symbol on a black background. The symbol was of the Chinese character for middle, a red line bisecting the outline of a red square.

One of the men, who sat facing the door, checked the time on his watch and then exchanged a glance with the other two. He was quite a large man who filled out his grey suit but his size was not from being fat but rather quite muscular and tall. He was completely bald and the most prominent feature on his face was his large aquiline nose. The man spoke.

“Before Jon Malak arrives let’s talk about the next phase of our agenda.”

“You mean phase three?” The man who asked looked to be of Chinese descent. He had closely cropped black hair and wore a black silk shirt with a traditional Chinese collar. The kind you couldn’t wear a necktie with.

“Yes, you’re right Mr. Fang, phase three. This will be a delicate operation but the result will spread terror across the globe,” the bald man replied.

“Tell us more,” encouraged the Chinese man called Fang.

“The world thinks terrorism is on the wane now that Osama Bin Laden is dead but they’re wrong. We will fund and foster a new breed of terrorist, an Islamic group that seeks statehood. These will be hard core fundamentalists who will make the other jihadist groups look weak.”

“How can they form a nation state?” asked the third man in their group. This man was olive skinned and spoke with a latin accent.

“They will carve it out from those fragile countries in the Middle East,” said the bald man.

“Syria is ripe for civil war,” offered the man with the latin accent.

“That’s a possibility,” replied the bald man. “This terrorist group will be dramatic. There will be war, destruction, displays of public execution. A guerrilla war will be unleashed that will shock the Western world.”

The front door of the restaurant opened and in walked a tall man with a short crop of ginger hair. The three men at the table stopped talking.

The tall man with red hair quietly closed the door behind him and locked it before walking over to join the group of men. The man chose to stand in front of them rather than sit down at the table and join them. He was pretty sure this was going to be a quick meeting.

The bald man in the grey suit spoke.

“Mr. Malak, we’ve been waiting for you. What news do you bring?”

Jon Malak, the man with the red hair, chose to ignore the remark about being late. It was his job as chief of security for The Group to set the meeting in a secure place and ensure absolute privacy. He also had to ensure the complete credibility of his information and sources before he reported. If he was a little late because he wanted to ensure the café was secure to his satisfaction then so be it.

Jon looked at all three men and then began talking. “Gentlemen, I believe we have a problem with our Japanese asset.” Jon noticed that his comment got the attention of the three men as he had expected.

The bald man nodded his head at Jon and spoke. “You have our full attention. Please continue.”

“It seems our friend in Japan is unnecessarily exposing himself and that could in turn draw attention to us.”

The bald man looked at Jon and held his gaze. “Are you absolutely certain?” he asked.

“Yes, I am. He is pursuing his own personal agenda. This on its own wouldn’t be cause for concern but his actions have become reckless in the past couple of weeks. There was an incident at a teahouse in Kyoto and at a ski resort in Japan. Luckily, the authorities were not able to capture anyone and apparently have no leads in the case. But all the same, I think our Japanese asset has become compromised. The last thing we want is for any leakage of our existence to come out.”

“Okay, Jon. We know you to be absolutely thorough and place the security of the group above all else,” said the bald man. “We can’t risk anyone finding out about us. I don’t need to remind everyone about the incident in Hong Kong a few years ago with Travis Ashton that nearly exposed us.”

Jon’s eyes blinked and he felt his heart skip a beat upon hearing the Hong Kong incident mentioned. He had been left in the dark about that operation and he had been less than pleased with the outcome.

The Chinese man, Fang, nodded his head and spoke. “Yes, that Englishman was too close to discovering us. We’ve always strictly maintained our secrecy.”

Before he had walked into the café, Jon had already known what the outcome from the meeting would be. It was obvious what had to be done. The group had worked too hard and had an agenda to stick to. They couldn’t risk upsetting their plans.

“Gentlemen, I think we all know what needs to be done. It is time to call The Cleaner.”

The three men sitting at the table nodded their heads in agreement.

“I’ll make a call to our asset in New York to take care of the problem,” said Jon and then he calmly turned around and left the restaurant.

New York

The man with the clear blue eyes and green baseball cap jogging through Central Park didn’t have a name — he was simply known as ‘The Cleaner’ to those who knew him. He did have an alias which he used at his Fifth Avenue residence and when he traveled, but for the most part he kept to himself and didn’t maintain any friendships.

He worked out every day, keeping his body a well maintained machine ready for action whenever his services were called upon. His routine included an early morning jog around the reservoir in Central Park on a circuit he would complete twice. He relished the cool morning April air which he inhaled deep into his lungs as he started his second lap around the water.

Those who employed his skills knew him to be cold hearted and brutal. This was an image he was glad to maintain but he was not a dull individual. He actually had a keen intellect and would often visit the galleries and museums located throughout Manhattan to view the cultural exhibits. As he ran, he enjoyed looking at the cherry blossom trees along the path that were starting to flower.

If you were to see him you probably wouldn’t give him a second glance as his features didn’t make him stand out. He wasn’t particularly handsome nor did he appear to be a thug or brute. In fact, he looked quite ordinary, a clean-cut and fit man in his mid-thirties, out for some morning exercise. The only thing that hinted at his dark past was the tattoo on his forearm. It was a dagger with a red eyed serpent coiled around it. He saw it as a disadvantage now as it was something that could be used to identify him, but he had decided not to have it removed by laser, as it was still a poignant reminder of the youth gang he was part of on the mean streets of Sarajevo during the war.

As he ran, he let his mind drift back to those hard times. His parents had been killed by a Serbian soldier right before his eyes. He had barely been able to escape but the soldier had briefly paused as he looked at him before pulling the trigger. Later he would regard this as an amateur move but at the time it had been enough to allow him to dive for cover and run away.

After his parents were murdered he had become numb and felt all emotion drain from his body. The world that had been before the war was gone forever, replaced by a new world that was cold, hard and full of mean spirited people. He had to become one of them if he was to survive. It had been easy for him to join up with a youth gang especially when they saw how brutal and dangerous he could be when one of their members challenged him on the street. That was a day when he surprised himself with the ferocious brutality he was capable of.

He had been scavenging for food during the fading light of day as twilight turned to dusk. He dared not go out into the open during the day for fear of being shot by a sniper. A childhood friend of his who had lived across the street from him had suffered this fate only the month before. He knew where a neighbour kept some apples and potatoes in his cellar and had silently snuck in and taken a handful. He hadn’t been greedy and only took enough to satisfy his hunger and hopefully not enough to be missed by the owner, as he planned to visit the cellar again in a few days.

He was sitting on the curb of the street eating an apple in the shadow of an abandoned house when he heard a jeering voice from behind. He turned to find a gang of six boys standing behind him and one of them, a brute of a boy with blond hair and who was taller and bigger than himself, was demanding he hand over his food. He ignored the boy and took another bite of his apple.

The blond haired boy swung out his leg and kicked him in the side of the head sending him sprawling into the street. His head was ringing with pain but he blocked it out as he felt a surge of adrenaline rocket through his body. He picked up a fist-sized rock with his left hand and stood up to confront the bigger boy. The boy threw a right crossing punch at him but he stepped back to avoid it. As the boy’s right arm passed by, he left his right side unprotected. He saw an opportunity and pounced on the blond haired boy. He smashed the rock he had into the face of his attacker, opening up a gash on the boy’s right cheek which instantly began seeping blood. The boy put up his hands to protect his head. The next blow with the rock landed on the boy’s forearm causing the boy to let out a yelp like a wounded animal.

He looked into the boy’s wide open eyes and saw wildness in them and something else which he recognised as fear. The big boy landed a left uppercut into his stomach knocking the wind out of him. He staggered back and struggled to keep his balance and not fall. Being knocked to the ground now would be fatal. The blond haired boy followed with a right hook which narrowly missed his head. As the punch glanced by he used his left arm and pushed with all his strength against the boy’s passing body to throw him off balance. At the same time he brought up his right arm and struck the side of the boy’s head with the rock. The boy let out a scream as he fell to the ground.

There was no room for hesitation in this new life on the streets. Within an instant he was on top of the blonde haired boy raining down blow after blow with the rock. It took a moment to register that the boy had stopped screaming and that his head was completely smashed in. He stood up and looked at the lifeless body.

He was fourteen years old and had just killed for the first time.

He also realised that it was surprisingly quiet on the street. He looked around to see the other boys silently looking at him. There was neither revulsion nor anger on their faces only blank expressions.

An older boy who turned out to be the leader of the gang stepped forward. “You just killed our gang’s enforcer. It seems we have an opening in our group. Do you want to join us?”

He thought about it as he looked at the boys. He knew there was strength and security in numbers especially when living on the street.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Great, my name is Milo. What’s your name?” the leader asked as he extended his hand out to shake.

“No name,” he replied as he shook Milo’s hand. This was a new life with new rules and he would need a new identity to survive. The book of his past life had closed, never to be reopened again.

“You don’t have a name? That’s a bit odd, but it doesn’t matter as we mostly use nicknames anyway and it won’t be long before we come up with one for you,” replied Milo.

Shortly after, they started calling him ‘the cleaner’. He quickly established himself as the enforcer of the gang but the other boys soon realised they should only involve him in confrontations as an absolute last resort. This was because when he started a fight it often ended in the death of who he was fighting. His reputation for being a lethal killer spread and many living on the street soon began to fear him. When the gang encountered a difficult situation they would call on him to come and clean it up and that’s how they came up with his name.

The four year siege of the city by the Serbian army had been long and painful. Many in the city had starved to death. There hadn’t been any electricity or running water in the city since the siege had started and food was scarce. What surplus food was available was either hoarded or traded on the black market. The modus operandi for his gang was to lie in wait for groups of people who were either coming or going to one of the night markets in the city where people would barter their goods. Usually they would shake the people down for food. As the months passed and the siege intensified, fewer people would travel to the black markets preferring to fortify their home and trade on the street where they lived with their neighbours. The easy prey disappeared and those that did travel through the city at night were often armed.

One evening when they hadn’t eaten for a couple of days and were feeling desperate they confronted a lone man along a dark alley. The man pulled out a 9 mm Glock pistol and shot one of the boys. The rest scattered like rats but not The Cleaner. He had been lying in wait in the shadow of a pillar with a stiletto knife. When the man passed him he sunk the blade deep into the man’s back, piercing his lung from behind. He was surprised at how quick the man drew his last breath. Armed with the gun, the gang found it easier once again to rob people in their struggle to survive.

When the siege was finally lifted and the city was liberated he was eighteen years old. Milo, the gang’s leader, had been killed a few months earlier before the end of the war. He took on Milo’s identity, still not wanting to embrace his former self before the war. He had forsaken that identity and knew that the path back to it was forever closed.

He joined the Bosnian army and showed a strong aptitude for hand to hand combat and marksmanship. After five years in the army he left with an honourable discharge and went freelance. At first he worked as a mercenary and was hired for his skills to take part in operations in Africa and the Middle East. He preferred to work alone and moved into the specialised field of assassination. He proved to be particularly adept at this and worked for a small and exclusive list of clients. Over the years, his client list had been reduced to one employer, who kept him on retainer, which more than paid his living expenses and provided a comfortable life.

As he ran along the path around the reservoir admiring the pink cherry blossoms he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket stirring him out of his reminiscence. He always carried this phone on him but rarely used it. It was the main way for his employer to contact him. He opened the message and read the name it contained. That was all he needed. He cut his run short as he didn’t want to delay making his preparations. He did some quick calculations in his head. He guessed that he would be flying out of JFK airport before noon.

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