The Hollow and The Saint

"The world we live in is no different from Hell; there are those who are tortured by the fire, there are demons who carry out orders, and then, of course, there is the devil himself. Well, I plan on turning hell into heaven."

Wounded, heartbroken with a hollow void filling down his soul, Logan Hayz is lying down on the ground, in front of him the corpse of his son, with a bullet stuck in his skull painting such beauty on his face. A bullet fired from the same Glock pistol Logan is holding in his right hand. Blood covering his left mechanical arm giving it an exquisite look with the rust of steel. Water drops touching down his flabby skin, in one eye he can see the past along with all the hardships and sufferings he had to endure to achieve his ultimate dream of creating the perfect world. In the other, he saw the reason he pursued that dream, Elizabeth Rose, his long-lost beloved.


Cover by INFINITE_EXHO

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13. A Sinking Ship

They say that all card games depend on luck, with the exception of one: Poker. That all depends on wits and nerves.

"I fold."

"Damn it… I fold," said two awful looking, well-dressed gentlemen.

Only two left: she and I. We were about to show hands all in. At this point in the game, most people are squirming with the tension, but not me.

"What do you know, a full house? Thank god," said Terry, who had folded just moments ago.

I was sure of my win, even before the cards were dealt. How did I know, you ask? Well, there is one sacred, unspoken rule of poker: it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.

Back at The Doctor’s mansion, William the butler had taught me how to swiftly switch cards without anyone noticing. All you need is a dimly lit room, some drunk men in suits, and... A beautiful woman. All was exactly as William had shown me, except this woman was no mere dealer, she was in the thick of it, playing alongside us.

"Congratulations, you played us all splendidly," she said.

I wonder if she saw me switching the cards. She can’t prove anything.

"They were all distracted by a sparkling treasure lighting up the room," I responded, looking straight into her eyes.

"What? Don't tell me it’s that necklace of mine that you just won? My father bought it for me two days ago. I didn't like it anyway."

"Oh no, this treasure is a much rarer beauty. It glows with a gold that eclipses the sun, and is set with two dazzling sapphires. I could swear I can feel them enchanting me as I gaze deeper and deeper… And just below them is another jewel, a spectacular red ruby, the perfect size, the perfect shape, absolutely irresistible…”

 She smiled, and something about her expression changed as she looked at me, her eyes fixed on mine.

"What a wonderful way with words you have. You play with them like a true poet. But, if you think of me as a prize to be won in a card game, you are awfully mistaken," she angrily snatched her purse from the table. She was about to leave.

"Then if I told you that I am an assassin working for the most dangerous organization in the world, what would you think?" She stopped in her tracks and turned around.

"Well, now that would be interesting! What's your name?"

"My name is Robert McClain," I stood up, I stretched my hand right hand.

She shook my hand. Her touch was not warm nor cold, but right in between. "I’m Miranda. Come, Robert, let’s take a tour together. This yacht is too big for a woman like me to walk alone."

Miranda Taylor, twenty-four years old, had graduated from law school with a perfect score, and had a keen eye for art. She was single, and most importantly, the daughter of the most infamous smuggler in the country Mr. Johnathan Taylor. She was a smart woman with a beautiful, deceiving look in her eyes, and believe me, that's a dangerous combination.

***

There were only rich people aboard, all in tailored suits and bespoke designer dresses.

I can smell the wine from here.

It was so good that I was almost drunk on its scent. One glass of it must cost a fortune. All this spoiled luxury, and she didn't bat an eye. That look in her eyes kind of reminded me of The Doctor - emotionless, cold and empty.

"See that fat moron over there with the gold necklace hanging down his chest? He used to be a waiter in a restaurant belonging to the Italian mafia. Now that they’re gone and the Russians have taken over, they’re smuggling girls abroad and he’s started a brothel. He only deals with high-ranking officials and rich men. Don't get too close though, his breath smells like rotten eggs. I guess there are some things so bad that even money can’t fix them," she laughs under her breath.

We walked over to the bar, and sat down.

"Look at that hag with the purple dress. She used to be a good singer back in the day, but time hasn’t done her any favors. Now her voice is like tires on concrete. They only invited her for old time’s sake. What a pity."

She ordered a martini with a twist.

"What do you want?" She asked, sitting so close to me, about four inches separating us.

"No thanks, I’ve got all I need right here," I said, gazing into her eyes.

"Suit yourself. Be careful not to get drunk just looking," a smile loomed on her face.

Then, she looked the other way.

"That couple over there has been married for almost twenty-five years. Don't they seem like two love-birds when they’re holding hands? Well, they hate each other’s guts. They’re separated now, but they still pretend to be the perfect couple in public. The truth is, she’s sleeping with her bodyguard, and he, on the other hand, is having an affair with her sister."

 She was enjoying revealing all of these people's secrets.

"Why are you telling me all this?"

"I wanted to see if any of this would surprise you, but you didn't even flinch. Now tell me, why are you here? Who invited you?” She was suddenly very serious. “You don't seem like these boring, rich drones."

"The truth is, I am an entertainer. I was invited to keep people… well, entertained."

"So... you are not an assassin from a dangerous organization?" She teased.

"Well, this is my cover."

She was beginning to lose interest in me, and I knew I had to try harder to impress her. I stood up.

"Where are you going? Bored already?"

"I want to let you know how I feel, but I promise, you won't be out of my sight."

And so, I made my way towards my truest friend, the piano. I sat down and started playing. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 2 op 18 in c minor, one of my favorites.

Rachmaninov composed it after falling into a deep depression, which he channeled into his music. The opening movement begins with a series of bell-like tolls, building tension, and eventually reaching climax in the introduction of the main theme.

The moment I began playing, I could sense the crowd’s voices fading away, until eventually, all fell silent. Everyone was captivated. She was looking straight at me, her head resting on her right hand, with that deadly, striking look of hers. It was as though we were alone on the boat, just her gaze and my music. No one else mattered.

I finished playing, and the sounds of the crowd came flooding back to me as everyone clapped. Some of them even came to compliment me in person, but she came and whisked me away from them.

***

It was midnight, and we were at the back of the yacht, and we were alone. She was standing with her back to the ramp. She looked stunning in that blue dress, with those sparkling sapphire eyes of hers.

"Judging by your performance, I’d say you feel rather tense around me?"

"Hmmm, I guess so, you could put it that way, but I like that about you."

"What do you like exactly?"

"I like how you fascinate me, how alive you make me feel, and yet so vulnerable. It feels like I could die any moment."

She had a cigar in her hand, I moved towards her and lit it.

"You know, my mother used to play the piano for me every day. I would sit down and listen to her singing. She had an angelic voice. I was five years old at the time," she said, her eyes fixed on the moon.

"What about your father?"

"I didn't see him much. He was busy smuggling god knows what from god knows where. To this day, even after my mother passed away, he still doesn't have time for anyone," there was a bitter anger creeping into her voice. Her hands shaking after mentioning her father.

I took the necklace I’d won out of my pocket. She was staring at it. With full force, I threw it right into the middle of the ocean.

“What did you do that for?” She was shocked. “A true gentleman would have returned it to its rightful owner. You could have at least taken it, it’s worth a fortune, you know.”

“You told me that it was your father who bought it for you. That’s why I felt like throwing it.”

“You know, if you had given it back to me I would have left you on the spot. You’re insane, you know that?” she responded, as a smile spread across her face.

“You made me insane the first time your eyes met mine.”

She threw her cigar into the water and approached me, putting her arms around my waist.

"Doesn't that make you afraid? Feeling vulnerable around me?" She whispered into my ear.

"It makes me feel alive."

Her eyes were lost in the riddle of my gaze. It was the perfect opportunity.

***

We were in Miranda’s room. She was in the tub, which was full of water, and I was sitting beside her. She was beginning to wake up.

"How… did I get here?" She asked, disoriented and drowsy.

"Well, I drugged you using a sedative syringe, and you lost consciousness immediately. Then I dragged you to your room without being seen. It was easy, actually."

I grabbed my knife and cut her wrists wide open. The pain seemed to wake her up a little, but she was still too high to fight it.

"You know, the trick is to cut your wrists in the same direction as your veins. This way, it won't take long.”

"Why are you doing this?" She asked. Frightened.

"I told you, didn't I? I am an assassin, it's what I do for a living."

"Who… Who put you up to this?" She was shaking.

"Don't worry, you will get to know him. He will be joining you soon enough."

"But… Why?" She asked as her eyes welled up.

"Don't act like you don't know. You ruined all of your father's work, you handed important evidence to the FBI, and now they are all over your father's operations. You ended the Taylor smuggling empire. I know that you did it because it was him who killed your mother eighteen years ago. I could tell that the grudge was the fuel keeping you alive all these years."

She was losing consciousness again.

"He beat her to death with a candlestick… Can you believe that? He lied to me then… He told me that it was a burglar who killed her, but I saw it all that night. Whenever I had to look in his eyes I was disgusted to the core, till, I had to put up with it until the day… Until I could make him suffer like I did… Like my mother." she could barely get her words out.

"The contract stated that your death should look like a suicide, and that I wouldn't let you suffer. It also mentioned that I should deliver this message to you: 'Despite everything you've done, I - your father - still love you. I hope one day you will see the truth and understand that everything I have done was for just for you.’"

"Fuck you and fuck my father… Do you know something? I thought that we were alike… You and I... The hollowed couple… That's why I could never trust you… We are both rotten to the core… I feel sorry for her though… I hope she doesn't end up like me..." she whispered, cryptically.

"Her? Who do you mean? How did you know?!" I asked as my voice cracked. I was losing composer.

She passed away in a muddle of tears and blood. She was talking about Elizabeth; I guess she must have known that I had someone in my life. That's the person she was, she could see through anything. Yet she let me in, knowing that I was lying to her from the start. Maybe it was because she wanted to let go. After realizing her goal, she had nothing left to cling to in this rotten world.

I hope she finally finds peace.

However, my contract wasn't yet completed.

***

Two days later. Thunder was rumbling outside. It was raining, and I was standing right behind him. He was sitting at his desk reading ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.

"So you finally came. I assume you’ve completed the first half of the contract. Tell me, what did she say? Or you know what, I think I already know," he said once he noticed me.

"I have a question, why did you put a contract on yourself too?"

"A nosy assassin, aren't you? Well, I lost everything: my wife, my fortune, my status, and finally, my daughter. Maybe I lost Miranda a long time ago. I was trying to protect her when I killed her mother. She was having an affair with a private investigator, they were planning to take me down. I couldn't let my precious Miranda live another day with that bitch. I hung the PI with my belt. I didn't want to harm Franklyn, not at first, but she kept provoking me until I picked up a candlestick from the table and smashed her head in with it. But, Miranda was there, she saw everything. I was careless. It seems that I had only postponed the inevitable." I could hear the regret in his voice. I believed him.

"Where do you want me to do it?"

"No need, I will take care it of myself," he replied, frightened, yet determined.

He took the gun from the drawer, and shot himself in the head. It was done in merely two seconds. I guess his pride wouldn’t let him surrender to someone else after all.

That hole in the ship which was opened eighteen years ago, had let in the waters of hatred and vengeance, leaving it sinking deep into the depths of despair.

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