I hate car chases, thought the balaclava-clad man sitting behind the wheel of a rented BMW as he careened through the streets of Istanbul. The ancient city, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun, passed by in a blur.
Enzo Ricci white-knuckled the steering wheel as he darted between cars, vans, and trucks, occasionally swerving into oncoming traffic to keep pace with his target: a black Mercedes just a few cars ahead. He did not care what he had to do; the man driving that Mercedes would be dead before the sun had set.
It had been quite a long time since he had been involved in a car chase or any kind of chase for that matter. Enzo Ricci had once been one of the most feared contract killers in the world. Now, he consistently found himself being overlooked. Not because of anything he had done. But because of what he couldn't do: defeat Father Time. He was getting old, and everyone knew it.
Suddenly, the roar of a motorcycle engine caused Ricci to glance at his rearview mirror. A Turkish police officer had pulled up behind him, lights flashing. Ricci reached down and put a hand on his SIG P230 with suppressor attached—the exact firearm he had used during his time in the Sicilian mafia—preparing to reach back and blow out the back window. Then he had a better idea.
Ricci let the BMW drift to the left, the driver-side tires crossing the median into oncoming traffic. Then he slammed on the brakes. The cop swerved to avoid rear-ending Ricci and came alongside him. Before he could react, Ricci yanked the steering wheel to the right and smashed into the motorcycle. Ricci watched through his rearview mirror as the police officer flew through the air, hit the pavement, and slid at least fifteen feet. He didn't move.
Ricci definitely still had it. He was old and supposed to be living a life of luxury on some private island. But he couldn't seem to give this up. He couldn't seem to stop killing. He had fulfilled contracts on every continent except Antarctica, killing politicians, generals, drug lords, and more. He had had his fill of excitement, violence, alcohol, and women. He had done almost everything he had ever wanted to. Almost.
The man in the Mercedes ahead was supposed to be his final kill. He was the one that always somehow got away. He was Ricci's perpetual thorn in the flesh.
Ricci, rid of the police, for now, gunned the engine again and took off down the street. He was having trouble catching the Mercedes, which seemed to be just as quick as the BMW. Then fate struck.
A box truck, oblivious to the two sports cars racing in his direction, slowly pulled out of a hidden alleyway into the street. The driver of the Mercedes pulled his e-brake and tried to swerve around the truck but his effort was futile. There was a deafening crash as the Mercedes plowed into the truck. With little time to react, Ricci hit the brakes but still smashed into the back of the Mercedes. Every window was blown out in a hail of glass and the airbags deployed.
Ricci instantly began feeling for injuries. His skin was burning from the deployment of the airbags, and his left shoulder was killing him, but he was alive and didn't feel anything serious. Gripping his pistol, he kicked open his door and dove behind the engine block of the BMW. He had his eyes on the driver's door of the Mercedes, but it didn't open. Cautiously, Ricci moved in a crouch toward the Mercedes. Maybe the collision had knocked his man unconscious—or killed him.
All around, people were screaming, and alarms were blaring, but Ricci had tunnel vision. He was focused on that front seat. He froze. It was empty. Suddenly, gunfire erupted to his right. Ricci tried to dive to the ground, but two of the rounds found their marks, ripping through his right bicep and left thigh. He dropped his pistol as he fell and rolled to take cover behind the Mercedes.
And then he appeared. Walking slowly around the back of the BMW, holstering his pistol as he drew closer.
"Enzo Ricci, I presume," the man said as he walked up and reached down to remove Ricci's balaclava.
"Don't touch me," Ricci spat. He hated this man with a passion. Stefan Koch was what Ricci had once been. Slick, polished, and good-looking. And young. At only twenty-nine, he had already established himself as one of the best contract killers in the business. And therein lay the problem. It was jealousy, brought on by insecurity, that drove Ricci's hatred of this man—this boy—who thought he could usurp his throne. Ricci refused to give up his kingdom, no matter how old he was.
"I wondered when we would meet again." Koch stroked his stubbled chin, then ran a hand through his hair that somehow looked simultaneously unkempt and styled. He wore a tailored dark green sport coat with navy khakis and brown loafers. A slight bulge underneath his jacket signaled where his gun was holstered. "Where did we last meet? Karachi? Or was it Manila? No, no, it was London. Yes, you tried to stab me outside of a cafe, if I remember correctly. It looks like your arm healed up. Well…was healed up."
Ricci said nothing. The pain in his right arm and left leg was excruciating. Like a dozen red-hot pokers being driven underneath his skin. He was losing a lot of blood and could feel darkness pulling at the edges of his consciousness.
"Maybe, I should finish you now," Koch said, pulling a butterfly knife seemingly out of thin air. He twirled it absentmindedly; the setting sun glinted off the unbelievably sharp blade. "Natural selection and all. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes." Koch crouched down and the smell of his cologne instantly made Ricci nauseous. "Everything is changing, old man. What did I tell you last time?"
Ricci didn't respond. He was fading fast.
"Well?" Koch said, his relaxed demeanor quickly replaced by a fury that frightened Ricci. And not much frightened Enzo Ricci. Not much at all.
Koch placed the tip of his knife against Ricci's throat, drawing a single drop of blood.
"'To mess with me is to play a stupid game.'" Ricci said, repeating what Koch had, indeed, said the last time they had met.
"A very stupid game," Koch corrected. He leaned in closer so that his mouth was mere inches from Ricci's ear. "I'm done with this game. I've made my money. I have more important things to attend to. You are nothing to me. You're a has-been, Ricci. A has-been. Everything is changing, old man."
Koch suddenly stood. A police car was pulling up. "Give up this stupid game. Or else."
And just like that, Koch was gone. And then everything went black.
One year later.
Enzo Ricci was alone. He strolled slowly down one of St. Andrew's gorgeous beaches, the soft white sand under his bare feet and a chilly breeze on his face. Home to pristine beaches that faded into crystal-clear azure water, St. Andrew's was a place as close to paradise as Ricci had ever visited.
It was night. A full moon hung in the dark sky, its soft glow lighting Ricci's path. It had been a year since Ricci's attempted kill of Stefan Koch had gone horribly wrong, and he had been left bleeding out on the street in Istanbul. An ambulance had picked him up and taken him to a nearby hospital where the doctors nearly lost him twice. Maybe it would have been better that way, Ricci thought.
After his release from the hospital following an extensive and lengthy recovery, Turkish authorities finally charged him with attempted vehicular homicide and sundry other crimes. He had promptly sneaked out of the country, adrift and unsure what to do with himself. For a few months, he crisscrossed the globe, getting drunk at bars and clubs the world over. Multiple times he had considered suicide, and he once even put a gun to his head. But he couldn't do it. He had always thought of suicide as the coward's way out.
But one thing was finally clear. He was old. He was a "has-been." His glory days were over. After leaving Turkey, Ricci destroyed every phone and laptop he owned, erasing all of his contacts and leaving his current and potential clients with no way to contact him. His days as a contract killer were over.
Ricci kicked some sand as he continued to make his way north on the beach. He was lost in thoughts of the good old days. Born to a lower-class family on the island of Sicily, Ricci had found himself entangled in the criminal underworld at a young age. He began as merely a gopher for a moderately powerful Sicilian crime boss. However, his talents quickly set him apart. Soon, he was second-in-command to the most powerful mafioso in Sicily.
However, his life all came crashing down when his boss was killed in a shootout with the polizia. Ricci, himself, barely escaped being captured and, with nothing left for him on the island, joined the French Foreign Legion. He quickly established himself there as well and began to rise through the ranks. Ultimately disgruntled with his superiors, Ricci left to start his own "business" as a paid assassin.
He had thrived until Father Time caught up with him. He was the real killer.
Ricci turned off the beach and began climbing a steep hill covered in beachgrass and other foliage. A small, darkened beach house came into view. Still barefoot, Ricci reached the top of the hill and walked toward the wooden deck of the house. Climbing the two steps to the backdoor, Ricci stopped and turned around, taking in the sight of the Atlantic Ocean. In the darkness, it was hard to discern where the horizon stopped and the sky began. Just as it is hard to discern when youth ends and old age begins. Ricci thought, then rolled his eyes at himself. No need to get poetic.
Slipping his hand into the right pocket of his shorts, Ricci removed a single key and inserted it into the lock. The door, greased with some WD-40, swung noiselessly open. Ricci pulled a penlight from the chest pocket of his polo and began to shine it around. He didn't have a plan at this point. He just knew Stefan Koch had to die. He could only be free if Koch was dead.
Ricci moved noiselessly through the kitchen and into a hallway lined with photographs of Koch and a pretty blonde woman. The same woman Ricci had stolen the key from. The two of them at the beach. The two of them in Dubai. The two of them getting married. Before, the pictures might have infuriated Ricci. He had never had a woman to call his own and here was Koch in a seemingly happy marriage. But it seemed as if Ricci had lost all ability to be angry. He couldn't really feel anything anymore.
Ricci arrived at the end of the hallway and the door he knew led to the master bedroom. He reached down and pulled his SIG P230 from the waistband of his shorts. He wasn't sure what to do next. Should he go in and just start shooting? If Koch was asleep, should he wake him up so that he went into the afterlife knowing precisely who killed him? This was so unlike Ricci; he always had everything planned to the minute. Not this time.
Suddenly, he heard a click and a line of soft, yellow light appeared at the bottom of the door. He heard some rustling like someone getting out of bed and then another sound he couldn't quite place.
Now or never. Ricci flung open the bedroom door and burst into the room, his pistol trained on the far wall where the bed was situated. He froze. Koch was sitting up, dressed in only a t-shirt and boxers. Next to him, sound asleep, was the woman, her blonde hair splayed all over the pillows. And Koch was holding something. Something that was making an awful lot of noise.
It was a baby.
For a split second, Ricci saw fear and then surprise flash across Koch's face. Then his face took on another emotion. Was that relief? "Ricci? What a surprise."
The smug answer nearly did it. Ricci's finger twitched, but something about the scene kept him from pulling the trigger. Maybe it was the woman. Maybe it was the baby. But he couldn't do it. Finally, after all these years, he had the man unarmed and in his sights. A single pull of the trigger and a bullet would rip through the young man's skull, ending this chase once and for all.
The woman stirred and began to sit up. When she noticed Ricci, she let out a sharp scream that sent the baby into another crying fit. "Who is that?" She yelled.
"Shh," Koch said, giving his wife a soft peck on the forehead. "It's okay, babe." He then began rocking the baby. After about thirty seconds, he looked up and the two killers locked eyes. "Well, Ricci. Do what you came to do. You found me. You win."
Ricci was still holding the pistol up. He could kill every one of them in a matter of seconds if he wanted to. But he didn't want to anymore. He had lost all of his will to kill.
Koch had what Ricci had dreamed of. A beautiful wife. A baby. A place to settle down. A life. That's what Ricci had been chasing. Life. By taking it from others, he had thought he could give it to himself. But he was wrong. So wrong.
Ricci slowly dropped his arms and holstered the gun. Without a word, he turned and began to walk towards the door. Suddenly, two gunshots rang out. The wife was screaming. The baby was crying. The smell of gunpowder was thick in the small room.
Koch carefully put the baby back into the crib and walked over to Ricci's body. The two bullets had entered the back of his head and blown out the front of his face.
Koch stood over his defeated stalker, the man who had put fear into the hearts of so many around the world. And he sighed. "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”