The tracking device, poised on the end of a short blow-dart, did not flash a green light or do anything to otherwise draw attention to itself. It was embedded in the rubber lip of the back of Walters shoe, just an inconspicuous bump, no bigger than a pencil eraser. The Assassin had placed it with a perfect shot from two tables away at the small cafe where Walter had enjoyed his coffee every morning for the last 10 years.
Walter was tall and richly dressed in an impressive suit, gray blending handsomely into his well trimmed beard and trendy hairstyle. He was obviously very well off, monetarily.
Completely unaware of the new passenger riding on his Italian leather shoe, Walter stood and paid for his caffe ristretto and pastry. He turned on his heel, left an impressive tip on the small outdoor table and began walking up the busy metropolitan street. He did not notice the other man look up from his newspaper briefly, eyes narrowed and following Walter as he made his exit.
Usually the sort of person with a skip in his step and a smile on his face, today Walter was quiet and lost in thought, his brow furrowing under his designer horn-rimmed glasses. Today was important and Walter needed to remain sharp. He was going to present his proposal to the Counsel in less than twenty minutes and he needed to gather his thoughts. He didn't even notice the city bus, emblazoned with a large banner of Walters own face smiling down on him, as it passed raucously. He continued shuffling his feet, oblivious to the world around him.
It was a good proposal. This would be Walter's best yet, if he could just get the Counsel to express approval of his plan. Walter's thoughts were immersed in the subtle steps, twists and turns, in the story of domination and corruption that he was weaving. It was going to be glorious. Power was neither created or destroyed, it simply changed hands. Walter had found the perfect formula to make sure it changed into the right hands. He had contingencies on his contingencies and had looked at the plot from every angle and from the eyes of every chess piece on the board. He had truly thought of everything.
"Are you ready, Walter?" a voice called to him just as he turned left into a blind alleyway.
Walter turned around and saw another man, overweight with a balding head and a great bushy beard, glasses slipping down the alpine slope of his greasy nose. "I'm not sure I'll ever be completely ready until it's execution to be honest, Albert," Walter said, looking down at his feet. "My nerves just aren't what they used to be."
"That's just the way, isn't it?" Albert said, gesturing with his chin, "it doesn't seem to matter that your face is plastered on every bus in the city, the nerves never really go away, do they?"
"Oh," Walter said softly, remembering the buses, "I had forgotten..."
"Well, the more noticeable you are, the more you need to be impressive." Albert laughed, slapping Walters shoulder and hoisting his spacious pants at the same time. Walter gave him a weak smile. He thought briefly that he was going to throw up, but the moment quickly passed. "I guess we had better get down there," Albert said, gesturing down the alley with a meaty hand.
"Quite," Walter said.
The alleyway was dark and moist despite the bright, sunny morning they were having. Boxes and trash bins lined up against the walls and spilled over into the walk-way with reckless abandon, cats could be heard moving around but Walter didn't see any. At least he hoped they were cats. He had been going down into the Lair for five years now, ever since joining the Counsel of World-Builders, and it gave him the chills every time. It excited him to be a part of such an ancient and illustrious organization. Apparently the great Benjamin Franklin had been a brother at one time, supposedly. Walter smiled at the thought. And the fact that the Lair was hidden in the basement of this National Monument, unbeknownst to the general population. He was born for this. He would change the world one person at a time. But still, the alley was creepy.
Albert walked forward toward the wall, a stain of unknown origin under his very expensive shoes, and reached up to grab a rusty looking old fashioned gas lamp. It swung forward and the wall slowly opened with a mechanical click. Lights came on, one after the other in sequence, illuminating a circular stone staircase that was well worn from years of use. On the wall opposite the lights were wooden pegs carrying black cloaks with large hoods. Albert and Walter each reached out and grabbed one, throwing the billowing cape around their shoulders and fastening them at the neck. Albert smiled at Walter and pulled his hood up over his head. Walter did the same.
They descended the slick stairs carefully, Albert in the lead. As they went what seemed like miles under the city streets, but was probably only a couple of stories, they began to hear chanting. It was a soft whisper at first but soon grew loud in a wave-like crescendo. The stairs ended abruptly and the pair were met with an impressively large oak door with gleaming brass handles. Walter took a breath, collecting himself.
"Are you ready, friend?" Albert said, showing those brilliantly white teeth.
"...as I'll ever be," Walter replied, pulling open the door.
The chanting went on as Walter walked authoritatively into the room, his head held high and Albert close on his heels. "Ut ædificem et mundos" sang a group of robed individuals who were circled around a large raised dais on which stood an intricate alter, complete with a burning fire in the middle. The figures held their hands in the air, as if they were "feeling the holy spirit" in a Pentecostal church, and began to chant louder and faster. Walter stood at the edge of the circle, waiting patiently.
All at once the chanting stopped and the room was silent. A man stepped forward, face shrouded in darkness, his nose barely peeking out from the void. "Brother Walter," he boomed, "have you prepared your proposal for the counsel?"
Walter stepped up to the dais, the circle of people breaking to let him through. He reached into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out a handful of dust and raised it high for the group to see. "I have prepared the proposal" he cried, his voice also booming. He threw the dust into the fire and it roared to life, burning high toward the vaulted ceiling of the Lair, flashing in brilliant greens, oranges and reds before dying back down to normal.
The other man spoke again, "Brother Albert, you are his second?"
Albert stepped up beside Walter on the dais and cleared his throat, "Yes Counsel."
"And you understand that his failure will also become your failure?" The man said solemnly.
"Yes Counsel." Albert said.
The Counsel Master pulled down his hood revealing the weary face of man in his eighties. Deep wrinkles scarred his face and his hair was all but non-existent. The rest of the Counsel also pulled their hoods down to reveal a circle of men and women. Some younger faces peeked out of the crowd looking excited just to be there, but most of the congregation were older and sagely. "Your request has been granted. Proceed," the Counsel Master said quietly, stepping back to give Walter the floor.
Walter stood tall on the dais and cleared his throat before beginning his presentation. He had spent hours memorizing it in the mirror at home. "Imagine a world," he began, gesturing his hands theatrically, "where the leaders of the known world are but puppets in the hands of the dark shadows behind the curtain..." the crowd gasped. "Imagine we could build our own army of soldiers who are stronger and faster than the status quo, soldiers who follow orders immediately with no question, don't run from the battlefield and don't," he paused for effect here, "even need to sleep." He smiled at the circle of robed figures. "Then you're imagining the Dominus Chip. A tiny microchip with integration pins that are less than a micrometer across and are mobile, malleable and intelligent enough to weave in and out of dendrites, the branches of a brain cell, with state of the art artificial intelligence. This revolutionary chip will make puppets of the people who can not be bought, change soldiers from the inside out by altering D.N.A sequencing and creating the perfect army. This chip is the key to unlocking the One World Government..."
Walter had more to say, but he was cut short. From the dark of the lair came a loud hissing sound, almost like pressing the release valve on a tank of compressed air, but somewhat louder. Walter dropped like a ton of bricks to the floor, rolled down the one step of the dais and lay still at the foot of Albert. There was complete silence in the large room, everyone staring Walters lifeless body strewn haphazardly on the floor, eyes wide open, a dark red vortex bubbled and ran over in his left socket.
The hissing sound was the Assassins silenced Browning 22 caliber pistol firing a perfect round directly into the eye-socket of Walter mid-sentence. He had had enough. This was some kind of conspiracy he just walked into and suddenly he felt like something had to be done. He was being paid to kill Walter and he had completed his task. Now he was going to kill the rest of the room for free. The silence continued for another couple of seconds. The dust that had been disrupted by Walter's fall hung thick in the air, as if time had been suspended. Then:
"What was that?" a woman shrieked, attempting to hide behind her other caped associates. All at once, a general panic ensued. Albert pulled the woman out from behind him and fell backward. Robes scattered to the left and right, looking for some kind of exit, but there was only one. The Assassin, almost as if to keep the sheep in their pen, materialized out of the darkness like some kind of creature of the night, his black trench coat billowing behind him like the wings of a bat. He was tall and athletically thin. Aside from his pistol, he had two more strapped to his thighs and a few knives hung on his belt. The Counsel realized there was no escape. Just a large room made of stone and a gun that stood like a destroyed bridge between The Counsel and the exit.
"You people are sick," he spat at them, holding his gun aloft. They all herded to the opposite end of the Lair, as much distance as they could put between themselves and that weapon. He thought he could actually hear Albert sweating. "I heard the whole thing," he said, waving the gun around with a practiced nonchalance. "I'll be the first to admit that I am a very bad man. I definitely put money over the lives of people most of the time. But your plan for, what? Global domination? It's just plain evil..." he pulled back the slide on the 22.
"Wait," Albert whined, sounding very much like a pig trapped in a corner and facing an axe, "what do you mean our plan for global domination?"
The Hitman paused. "Weren't you..." he stuttered, "just talking about an evil plot?" They looked at him as if he were crazy. The words even sounded silly as they left his mouth and, just now, he couldn't believe he had said them. The mixture of confusion and pure abject terror on their faces filled the assassin with a doubt he did not have a few seconds ago.
"Goodness no," Albert spat, sweat pouring from his considerably large brow, there was a collection of it gathering underneath his breast in a line so dark, the Assassin could see it despite the low light condition. "Walter w-w was..." he stammered, "just desc-ribing the... the new plot to his new novel."
"His what?" The Assassin wailed, bringing the barrel of the gun to bear directly at the portly man.
"Yes! Yes, oh god... please don't kill me..." He started to cry. "His book, I swear. His last one went number one," he said through the tears, "he even has his face on the city buses."
This made the Assassin stop. He had seen the buses. He had just assumed Walter was a politician or a world leader or something like that. To be honest, those were 100 percent of his marks anyway, why would he think this would be any different. His face scrunched in disbelief.
"No, he's not an author, he's gotta be..." He stopped, all signs of authority and confidence gone. The crowd of robed people shivered quietly, most eyes trained on the barrel of the weapon nervously. He spoke suddenly again, making nearly all of them flinch in the firelight, "But you're called The Counsel of World-Builders, surely..." He stopped again, lost in thought.
But he had proof, he realized. He started patting his billowing trenchcoat, which appeared to be made of ninety percent pockets and finally pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was the information sheet about his target. "See, I have the proof here. It says," he swallowed hard staring at the paper in disbelief. "It says... he was to be killed for killing off my clients favorite character..." He looked dejected. "You're all writers, really?"
"Yes, " Albert choked out, his jowls quivering in fright, "this is" he panted, "just a group of writers."
"Well," said the Assassin sheepishly. "You know you're really weird right? All this pomp and circumstance. Who makes a secret society for writers? Whats next, the World Fraternity of Knitting?"
"It was better than meeting in the pub," said Albert.
The Assassin looked at the room, long and hard. There was another loud crack, smoke billowed from the Hitman's feet and he disappeared from the room like a spirit in the night. Albert gave one final whine, pee'd a little, and passed out.