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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9. Codename Hollow

 The Baron’s base of operations was actually an antique shop in Steely Hollow market. It was a great façade, he could easily establish contact with potential clients without raising any suspicions. Unlike fictional stories, where assassinations orders are given by codes through newspapers or letters carried by flying pigeons, the process is much simpler than you might think.

Assassination orders were first passed to The Baron, who creates the contracts that will be assigned to the appropriate assassin available. Each contract has a difficulty level. ‘F,’ being the lowest, going up to ‘A,’ which is the highest difficulty - only ever given to professional assassins. The more difficult the contract is, the faster you can climb the ranks, increasing the reward fee.

 However, some fictional stereotypes exist for a reason. Money should not, under any circumstance, be stored in banks. Instead, The Baron stores the money you earn with him in a room, almost like the safe of a real bank. Constantly earning interest from The Baron’s lucrative business, trading information with potential clients, you don’t have to worry about the government investigating or freezing your account.

Assassins are also bound by what we call ‘The Golden Horns’:

‘No assassin shall interfere with another assassin’s contract.’

‘Members of the board shall not be harmed under any circumstances.’

Members of the board include The Baron and higher ranks. This means that assassins are free to kill anyone else, even other assassins, as long as they are not tied to any contract.

In the event that an assassin is suspected of breaching the rules, a group called The Overseers will emerge to investigate. Given the evidence, the assassin may be labeled rogue. In this case, an expert assassin shall be assigned to take care of him or, in dire situations where a serious breach is made, the convicted member shall be excommunicated: a worldwide contract shall be made under his name. With nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and hunters at every corner, their life becomes a living hell.

I was inside The Baron’s shop for the first time.

 “Now, you should pick a code name for yourself," said The Baron, sitting behind an old wooden desk with a gold antique scale on top.

Our real names should not be revealed to other assassins, or mentioned in a contract. It was hard for me to pick. I never had thought that I would ever need such a thing. For me, names didn’t matter. But, if I had to pick one, I should have chosen something that reflects my personality.

“Hollow. Let my codename be Hollow.”

“Hollow it is then. And now for the final touch.”

He stood up and held a hot steel rod that he had prepared earlier before I arrived.

“Take off your shirt and hold your left arm high. And kid, better bite well on your teeth. This is going to hurt like hell.”

“Son of a….” Under my armpit, he marked me with a serial number. The hot steel prong to sear each number into my skin, igniting every cell in my body with pain. I felt like I was being purified. I welcomed the pain as if it was already part of me, making me even stronger. I was reborn, and my new birth date was 1959X0047.

Sweating all over, I used my shirt to dry myself up, and then shook it up before putting it on. The Baron laid down the steel rod, and stood in front of me, holding my face with both hands. His eyes glued into mine. I felt like I was imprisoned inside his gaze.

“Trust nothing but your aim, believe no one but yourself. Be as silent as the dead, and let the dead speak of your accomplishments. With a vision as clear as crystal, seek the one and only light. Hollow - for that is your name, let the Illuminati guide you on your way,” The Baron’s voice echoed in my ears.

“That’s it? No ceremonies? No blood rituals, or dudes with black dresses chanting in a strange language? I have to say, I am kind of disappointed.”

“Stop whining. What are you? Six years old?”

Now, I was ready. However, the hardest part has yet to come. The waiting phase.

***

 August came, and with it a new contract.

After one month of serving customers and washing dishes in restaurants, I felt as if I was sinking in the sea of society. Imagine your eyes being exposed to the same injustice acts every day, and all you can do is watch as the soul those oppressed being sucked up from their bodies slowly and painfully. Mafia families and politicians enslaving people hearts and will to satisfy their needs. Money, women, men, kids, they want them all. If they want money, they charge taxes on shops in the neighborhood. If a woman or man caught their eyes, nothing can stop them from taking them as their own property.

Unable to act, I felt like a powerless old man. Every night after coming back home, the moment I shut my eyes, a strange sensation rises up from my stomach and stuck right in the middle of my throat. Guilt was suffocating me. Deep down, I knew I could make a different. I just wanted a platform that would to get on top of the world. And that platform was the Illuminati. Climbing the ranks isn’t easy. I knew I had to spill blood and bone just to make a tiny wave in a vast ocean. That’s why that morning when I received that phone call from The Baron, I felt rejuvenated.

I went down to his shop first thing after dropping Elizabeth at work. And there it was waiting for me, my first official contract.

 “So, what do you have for me?” My hands shaking from excitement. 

“Detective Arthur Bale, thirty five years old, married to Nicole Kroger, two kids. Clean history so far, but recently he was offered the position of captain. He refused in order to complete a case he was currently working on.” The Baron laid down Arthur’s file in front of me on the desk.

“Let me guess, the client doesn’t want this case to be cracked,” I speculated.

“Exactly, but be careful, killing a police detective in cold blood means that the whole country will have their eyes fixed on you. This needs to look like a suicide. The client had also requested that you destroy any evidence you find in his house. And one more thing, it should be taken care of on Christmas Eve,” his finger was tapping on the desk.

“Christmas Eve? Why?”

“The client needs to tie up some loose ends before he dies, so that no one suspects him.”

I had promised Elizabeth that we would spend Christmas together. Unlike Eli, I wasn’t the religious type. I didn’t believe in anything but myself. But leaving Eli alone that day was not an option. I was determined to complete the job in time to get back to her, which meant that I had to take down my target before 9:00 p.m. It was far from ideal, but I had to pull it off, somehow.

***

The next morning, I was walking Eli to work, when she reminded me, “Hey Logan, don’t forget to buy the stuff on the list I gave you.”

“Okay, do you want anything special for Christmas this year?” I asked, holding down her hand while walking down the street.

“Well, fix my kitchen sink, and kill the new couple next door, and I will the happiest girl in the neighborhood! God they are so loud! Always fighting with each other, it’s like a cat married a mouse,” she said, tapping with her stick on the ground with her left hand.

“I can help you with the sink, at least. That should make you half happy I guess?”

Only if she knew what I really do for a living.

 “Oh right, before I forget - I’m going to invite Ms. Anderson to join us on Christmas. She always spends it alone, and I feel bad for her."

 Well, that might be my way out.

"Alright then, so if anything came up and I couldn’t come, you would not be alone,” I was trying to draw my way out, or so I thought.

“No way, you’re not going to be with us? I won’t let you! Even if they called you to work, I will personally speak with your manager and talk him out of it!” She yelled, stopping in her tracks.

 “Okay! Okay! Cool it a bit, will you? One day you’ll pop a vein with that temper. I will try to be there on time, I promise.”

I dropped her off, and went back home. I kept a wavy blonde wig in the trunk alongside my ALGHA sunglasses and a blue jumpsuit. I put them on and went to Arthur’s home.

After reading Arthur’s file, I had found out that my target was a slave to his routine, which made him pleasantly predictable. First, he would always get coffee at 7:50 a.m. from the same shop. He would pull up to work at 8:15 a.m., he’d leave between 6:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., returning home at 7:30 p.m.

On the weekends, he spent most of his time with his family. He had a girl and a boy, and his wife was a kindergarten teacher. After some digging around, I found out that he was investigating the murder of a prostitute, Darlin Shmidt.

Darlin was found dead in an alleyway, her death had been declared a suicide. The report said that she had thrown herself from the roof of a building, but Arthur didn’t believe it, as Darlin’s body was covered with wounds - as if she was tortured by someone. This someone was Brian Erickson, the son of the rich and powerful George Erickson. To the public, he was the owner and CEO of Erickson Restaurants, but behind closed doors, he trafficked women from foreign countries into prostitution. This ‘suicide’ victim was one of them.

It was rumored that Arthur had found a key piece of evidence linking the Erickson’s to Darlin’s murder, but this was consistently denied by lieutenant Harper, who was already in George's pocket. Nonetheless, Arthur didn’t give up - he wanted to publicly expose the Erickson’s. That’s where I came in, shutting down Arthur - for good this time.

***

The assassin’s first rule - ‘shoot to kill’. His second rule - ‘know your environment’. And by environment we mean the crime scene, which was the detective’s home. That was the best choice, considering I had to get rid of the evidence inside the house. Was it the best though? I don’t think so. Not on that night.

I rented a Ford E83W green Van for a day. It was perfect for my disguise. I parked outside Arthur’s home located in Trinity town, which was only fifty miles away from Steely Hollow. It was your typical suburban house. A beautiful garden outside with a lot of focus on green grass which has been nicely taken care of. A small wooden hut to the left of the house. If I had to guess, it was reserved for lawn tools.

I knocked on the door.

“Howdy, how can I help you young man?” Arthur’s wife kept the door half open. She matched the description perfectly. Curly black hair, medium height, around two hundred pounds. But most important of all, a bright smile.

“Howdy misses Bale. My name is Dexter Miles, I work for the special town government. I don’t know if you have heard, but recently we’ve been getting reports about several fires in homes around the town. With Christmas Eve on the way, we decided to check on all the houses in town to make sure you have the required safety measures against these fires,” I said, holding a clipboard in my hand with a pen.

“Oh my, that’s awful. Did you found out what’s causing these fires?”

“Most of the times it’s the electricity cables in the walls. Sometimes they make contact creating a flammable spark. Or maybe it’s the oven, gas leaks are quite nasty, the whole house may explode. That’s why I need to make the necessary checks.”

“Of course dear, come on in,” she opened the door wider, her left hand directed towards the inside for me to come in.

From the inside, the house felt homely. From the flowery orange wallpaper that made you feel like it was still fall, to the warm brown carpets, from the simple yet cozy furniture illuminated by the bright fire, to the black and white family pictures. It was a typical family house.

Now I must memorize my way around the house.

To the right of the entrance is the living room. Going straight ahead leads to the kitchen. I marched ahead. Only to stumble on a closed door to my left.

“Maam, what is that room?” I asked stopping midway.

“That’s my husband’s office. He is a detective. Arthur likes to be alone while piecing the puzzle together. That’s why he sometime confines himself inside this room,” she was standing in front of me.

This is it!

“Can you open it?”

“Sorry, but I am afraid I can’t. Only Arthur has the key, and he keeps it with him all the time.”

It seems I have to a way in, later.

“Is it hard? I mean being the wife of a detective means you have to do all the heavy work, especially with two kids around.”

Fuck! I shouldn’t have mentioned the kids, she’ll ask how I knew about them. I hope she doesn’t notice.

“It’s hard, I will tell you that. Not because he isn’t around times of sickness and on most of the family events, but because Arthur is Arthur. Don’t get me wrong, he is the sweetest man in the world, but also an honest man to the core. He doesn’t know when to turn a blind eye, even though his superiors tells him to numerous times. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah I get it. Politician kind of things.”

She didn’t notice. That was close for comfort.

“Ah, sorry to bother you with the details. You must be a busy man. What do you want to check on exactly?”

“I will check on the oven, then I will be out of your hair.”

In my mind, the plan was set. All that has left was the execution.

***

It was 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Exactly one week has passed since my last visit to Arthur’s home. I was lying in wait in the bushes in his garden, like a hunter waiting patiently for his prey. He was late.

Maybe he’s buying presents for his kids. At this rate, I will be late for Elizabeth’s dinner.

Only half an hour left. My patience was running out, not to mention that the evening police patrols would soon be all over the streets.

Unlike my with the Kojiro contract, this time I was tense. It wasn’t failure that I was worried about. It was something entirely different. And the worst part was that I didn’t knew what it was.

I heard a car stopping. It was Arthur, coming out of his car. I took a deep breath, tightened my grip, my eyes fixed on the target, I was ready to strike.

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