The old man woke up to gloved hands tightening around his neck.
Opening his eyes, he watched the orchestrator of his death looking down at him with a certain fervor. He wasn't certain if it was anger or some form of arousal. He tried to claw at the gloved hands wringing the life out of him, but the killer possessed an animalistic strength. Besides, the old man was not only pushing past seventy-five, but he wasn't someone who retained his youthful vigor. All he could do was look on in horror as his life expectancy dropped down from minutes to mere seconds.
When it seemed like the old man was about to die, Maitho heard a whisper. It spoke a name and seemed to reverberate all around him, like being in a room surrounded by speakers.
And at that point, Maitho was pulled out of the vision. Reality began to bleed into his awareness even though the remnants of the vision clung to his mind stubbornly. He felt disoriented, but from experience, he knew the sensation would pass soon. This had all happened to him before.
As Maitho lay there on this bed, he tugged the blanket that reached his waist, feeling the thin film of sweat soaking his shirt. He felt colder, but he wasn't certain if it was because of the sweat or the dream.
Rolling over to his bedside table, Maitho managed to take out his notebook. He fumbled a few times when looking for a pen. After flipping through a few pages with notes, doodles, signs, comments, and other information that only he could understand, he began to write the details of his vision on a clean page. He did not pay too much attention to his handwriting. He allowed the writing process to go into automation as he placed the memory of the vision into his conscious mind. He examined the vision while its details were still fresh in his memory, trusting his hands to write down information as intelligibly as possible. When he was done, he placed the pen in the inside margin and snapped the book shut.
Maitho looked at the bedside calendar. April 1st. He marked a giant 'X' across the date and looked at the 29 days he had left to accomplish his mission. How should he approach the problem? Should he just confront the man from his dreams, Jonathan Cray, and tell him that his life was in danger? As if that would accomplish anything. He remembered the time he had done that and was reported to the police. No, he needed a more subtle approach.
He looked at his bedside clock. Fifteen minutes past midnight. It was unlikely that he would find sleep. But perhaps he could try. It might work.
Maitho lay on his bed for ten minutes, trying to imagine nothing as he stared at the bland surface of his ceiling. It was an attempt to quieten his mind, but he found no success.
Realizing that sleep would be the last thing he would receive, Maitho got out of bed and walked over to the only desk in his small studio apartment. The size of the space he lived in looked like it could be the closet of some millionaire who needed space to keep his shoe collection; small and cozy. But while his apartment was not large, he made sure that he gave it a sense of order. The furnishings were sparse, and they included the desk, the bed, and a small refrigerator. Maitho found comfort in looking at a clean and tidy home. He had once read in a book that clutter can cause stress and is often a reflection of the state of the mind. While he wasn't certain if that theory was universal, it definitely had an effect on him. He felt more at peace when he noticed his environment organized.
The apartment had the illusion of looking spacious, even though it wasn't. He allowed a pot of leopard orchid (diuris pardina, his mind told him), placed on the sill of the only window in the apartment where the plant could receive the most sunshine. It was the the only item of decoration in the apartment. Although his window faced another apartment building, giving him a splendid view of old bricks, he figured that the plant should at least enjoy some sunlight. This was possible during noon, when the sun beamed it rays straight down and some of them managed to hit the plant.
His mind focused on his desk, which was part of a workstation that also featured a table lamp, and a four-year old MacBook. It was the Mac that Maitho powered up. While the machine whirred into existence, he took a glass tumbler from the kitchen cabinet, half-filled it with water and walked over to the plant. He stood there for half a minute, slowly pouring water into the pot.
It seems like the victim—highly likely an old man—in his vision will be part of a home invasion gone wrong, Maitho thought to himself. At least, that's what it seemed through the fog of images and the notes he had made in his book. Robberies are highly unpredictable. It could be a case of someone desperate enough to take advantage of a frail old man. Did the old man live alone? If he lived with others, then why was his life the only one in danger? Too many questions to answer immediately.
After washing the tumbler and replacing it in the cabinet, Maitho began to research Jonathan Cray.
For the next seventeen days, that was his sole purpose; to find out more about old man Cray. Thankfully, he had access to a whole repository of information. After all, Mr. Cray was a billionaire, owner of Farmakon, a major establishment in the pharmaceutical world. He also had a controlling interest in Mirmidon, one of the largest private security firms in the world. The man owned more than six villas that were accounted for and many more no one knew about. It was the collection of houses that Maitho was interested in.
However, only one of his properties was in the same town as Maitho's.
Maitho would also keep watch on Cray's house as he conducted his research. He had never saved a billionaire before, so he had to be a lot more careful not to draw attention to himself.
It was the eighteenth day of the month. Maitho was now seated in a luxury rental sedan whose purchase had punched a huge hole in his expenses. But it had to be done. He was in an expensive neighborhood and driving around in a cheap vehicle would attract attention.
He was attired in a navy blue pant and navy blue jacket snuggly hugging a white shirt. He was parked a couple of houses away from Cray's ultramodern city house. The upstairs window blinds were wide open and the yellow light flooded onto the street, overpowering the illumination of the streetlamp outside. Modern houses flanked both sides of the Cray residence, but none could match the grandeur and architecture of Jonathan Cray's abode.
Perhaps that is what it's like to be the retired owner of one of the largest pharmaceuticals in the world, thought Maitho.
He opened the glove compartment and took out his Taser, the only weapon he ever employed. He wondered if he was capable of using a real gun. It would definitely make things easier. After all, he was dealing with robbers and killers frequently. But Maitho never found strength in brutality, even though it could make his job much easier. He hoped that he would never employ violence. He knew that by being a pacifist, he was holding on to an idealistic view of the world. It definitely did not fit scenarios where he had to deal with the darker side of human nature, such as the situation that could occur tonight. Or dealing with those who were capable of dealing a generous helping of violence themselves. Still, Maitho had decided that he would try to stick to non-violent methods for as long as possible.
He then pulled out a mask and held it in his free hand.
An hour later, the last lights of the Cray residence were switched off. Maitho gripped his Taser and waited, watching the main gate. If anyone were planning anything, they would make their move within the next hour.
He was not wrong.
Maitho saw two shapes, a man and a woman, cross the street towards the Cray residence. The woman wore a black dress and the man sported a black two-piece suit. The ruse was perfect. A passerby would look at them and spot a couple returning from an event where only the wealthy were invited. Certainly not something that would be out-of-place in a neighborhood such as this. In fact, the couple did not try to hide their movements or look suspicious. They looked like they belonged.
The woman—with a skin tone that bordered on paleness—had her arm hooked around the elbow of the man, who was himself medium built with an dark-olive complexion.
Maitho watched the attackers of Jonathan Cray walk up to the main gate. The woman walked up to a keypad embedded in the wall next to the gate and punched in some numbers. Within seconds, the man had opened the gate and the two intruders were inside.
That was certainly odd. How did they know the gate code?
Maitho watched the intruders walk confidently up to the main door. The man reached inside his suit and took out a device; his mobile phone. He switched it on and a warm blue light illuminated his face. He seemed to type something for a few seconds, after which he turned off the screen and placed the phone back into his jacket.
Maitho wondered what that was about.
He received his answer a dozen or so seconds later. The light switched on in one of the rooms in the lower floor, followed by the opening of the main door. The intruders entered the house and the door closed behind them.
It seemed like someone within the household was in on tonight's nefarious affair. Maitho brushed aside the thought. Without much information, all he could do was make guesses. He pulled on the mask and took a few deep breaths. He stepped out of his car and zipped up his jacket.
He stuck to the shadows as much as he could. It was more so that he might not be spotted by any of the neighbors, although he wondered just how effectively the darkness could hide him. Probably not that much.
Maitho's steps were steady, his sneakers making little noise as he neared the front gate. He looked left and right, hoping there wasn't anyone else around. He tried to make out any movement through the windows, but most of them were blocked by curtains or the rooms were too dark to make out any shapes. When he was close to the house's stone fence, he crouched behind the stone wall. He realized that he would look suspicious to anyone who peered out from their windows from the neighboring houses. But he was concerned more about the occupants of the Cray residence.
Maitho took a peek at the first floor of the Cray residence. The lights were back on in the room facing the street.
The events of his vision will happen soon.
Without waiting another second, Maitho walked over to the gate and tried opening it. Locked.
Well, no other choice then. He vaulted over the gate and landed on stone steps.
That was when he heard the shout from the upper floor room. "Who are you people? What are you doing here?"