Written by Nada Hemida
Previously on Long Live The King: Episode 2 – Strike A Deal
The heavy rain pouring down on me makes me grunt, but I don’t mind it since it only conceals me even more. As with every case, I’ve been following my client, trying to find holes in their story.
You know what’s going to be the death of everyone? Routine. With routine, it’s easy for anyone to know your every move and predict the next. My targets always make it so easy for me to catch them by surprise, to end them swiftly. That’s why I would never commit to a routine. That’s why I don’t believe in organizing or arranging schedules.
What that man, Seif, told me three nights ago is still echoing in my head. He’s lying to you. But that’s impossible. I’ve checked. I’ve pulled all the strings to find a single lie, but there isn’t. Karim does work in Science and Tech. He has been working there for the past decade. It’s peculiar that someone as ordinary as Karim needs a bodyguard, but anyone with money in their pockets has one these days, if they want to stay alive.
I watch from a nearby rooftop as Karim leaves the building for his lunch break, Sarwat following him into his car. For the past three days, I have watched Sarwat follow Karim around at every moment – from driving him to work, to following him inside, and to going to lunch. Why Sarwat is everywhere he goes is a question I haven’t been able to answer. I haven’t been able to watch them from inside the company since Karim’s office is literally underground. And they have security like none I’ve ever dealt with. I could infiltrate it, of course, but I haven’t found enough reason to do so.
As scheduled, they both come out for lunch at two o’clock, at the café across the street or the shawarma place around the corner. Karim always clocks back in at three, then leaves by eight. After accompanying Karim home and making sure the six security guards he already has at home are on their posts, Sarwat then goes back home, sometimes to change then go to a bar and pick up a woman he’ll spend his money on for the night.
After Karim’s car drives away, I decide that’s enough investigating for a day. I jump off the rooftop, landing on a balcony a storey down, then continue my way down to the ground the same way. As I land, a stray cat scurries and a teenage couple suddenly turn and walk the other way. I wonder for a second if there will ever be a time when Egypt doesn’t find threats around every corner, but I quickly shake the thought out of my mind and head home.
I find Fadel in his wing, having lunch for, probably, the fourth time. I’m disappointed that he hasn’t felt me behind him yet; I’m always trying to teach him that he should have eyes in the back of his head.
“Hey, asshole,” I say and take a couple of fries off his plate.
“Hey, psycho,” he replies. When I reach for another French fry, he smacks my hand away. “Don’t touch my food,” he warns.
I laugh then plop down beside him. I sigh, wanting to go back down to get some food but feeling too lazy to get off the couch.
“Long day?” he asks. We haven’t seen each other since last night. I wake up earlier than he does, and for the past few days, I’ve only seen him for a couple of minutes before going to bed.
“Yeah,” I say, staring at the ceiling.
“Found anything?” he asks again.
“No,” I say in annoyance. Maybe Seif lied, I think to myself, just to throw me off. It’s not like I found evidence to prove him right!
“Then quit it, Nour,” Fadel says with an edgy tone. “I don’t get why you have to poke holes into your clients’ stories, even when they don’t have a reason to lie. It’s just a waste of time.”
“No,” I snap, sitting up and glaring at him, “It’s not a waste of time, Fadel, because only those who are stupid should believe someone who’s searching for a killer. Because if I don’t do this, innocent people might die.”
He falls silent and looks away almost shamefully. And I know why – it’s because my words ring a bell.
Five years ago, I was hired to kill Fadel. He was a poor sixteen-year-old boy who had just landed a job as a hospital janitor. That’s an accomplishment where we come from, because in Egypt, you either live on the streets or live as royalty. Being a janitor could at least pay him the cost of a meal every day. What I was told: Fadel was nothing but a criminal, and has threatened to kill the hospital manager if he didn’t pay him more money. My client, the manager, asked me to get rid of him. He had told me his fear, “If I fire the boy or ignore his threat, he’ll likely kill me. If I give him the money, he’ll only ask for more.”
I understood, but knew something was off. After only a day, I discovered that Fadel had witnessed the hospital’s crimes more than once. The bastards had been cutting off patients’ life support because they couldn’t afford the housing that many ill and dying need. The manager was afraid that Fadel would reach out to the media to tell them about it or blackmail him for money.
So I did what was right. I offered my house as sanctuary for Fadel while I plotted against the manager, knowing that he would have sent another assassin after Fadel if I hadn’t gotten the job done. I killed the manager, and made sure they hired a better one. In order for the hospital to stay on the right path, I have been supporting them with some money each month.
Fadel and I have been living together since, as friends. And occasionally, some of our old friends would stay with us. Some strangers sometime feel indebted to us because of our kind acts and beg of us to cook or clean or take care of our garden in payment. I guess that, in our twisted world, killing has become a good deed. I don’t feel bad for the people I have killed; I shouldn’t. Every single one of them deserved it, but ridding the world of them doesn’t give me a halo either.
“I’m sorry,” Fadel says after a long moment. “I -” he started then sighed. “I just hate this, Nour,” he says and turns to me, his eyes full of concern and desperation. “I just wish that someday we’d turn our backs on all of this,” he begs, “that someday we’ll sleep without a gun under our pillows.”
I gulp and turn away. I’ve always hated dwelling on these thoughts. “That’s how life is, Fadel,” I say, shrugging, “There are certain things we can’t undo or run away from, even if they destroy us every day, in order to stay alive.”
He nods, then pulls me to him in a hug. “I love you, you know,” he says, “even when you eat my food without asking.”
I laugh, pushing him away playfully. When I look at him, I see the bright smile he’d had ever since we met, not once being dulled by reality. He’s one of the lucky ones, not living through pain and grief like most of us have.
When I finally get up to grab some dinner, he asks me offhandedly, his eyes on the TV, “What makes you so sure the client lied to you anyway?”
I pause for a moment, realizing that I hadn’t told Fadel about the lone man who overheard our conversation and deemed it all lies. I shrug and say, “Just a hunch.” A second later, I add, “You know what, Fadel, there’s something I gotta do,” I grab my shoes and jacket, “I’ll be back.”
“Get something to eat first!” he yells as I run down the stairs.
“Okay, mom!” I yell back, and a flying flip-flop meets the wall in front of me. I can’t help but laugh.