"The general has arrived in town and will be here shortly; you must've done something terrible," said the man in the white suit, who was the caretaker of that old structure which had never witnessed death since it was built in the early 1840s.

The accused looked at the dirty wall clock on his right; it was ten minutes past the sixteenth hour of that day. He was observing the man in the white suit since morning, and every time he entered the room he noticed something new. The first thing he noticed was a gold ring on the fore finger of his left hand which he kept on twisting with the other hand. He knew his story too well for it was a symbol of loyalty in the organization, but just to break the monotony and the white-suited man's silence he asked, "Are you married?” The man was in a haste but on hearing the question he stopped and spared a glance towards the accused while replying gravely, “Your concern right now should be your integrity," and walked into one of the many rooms with the same haste. Each time he observed something new – the white suit that had a tiny red speck on the end of his right sleeve, the intrinsic smile along with an innate sadness, and the most intriguing detail was an inch of a knife sheath peeking from the bottom of his blazer.

Earlier that day, the same man in the white suit had told him that no one, not even the general, was permitted to carry any sort of weapon in the general's haven, and everything from a needle to a sword was thrown in the sea outside the right wall of the old sepia construction which resembled a British anchorage for small ships. He stopped the man in white suit again, held his right sleeve just above the red speck and said, "Your secret is peeking through the bottom of your blazer." The man in the suit gulped down his anger and freed his sleeve with a jerk that was a threat in itself. Suppressed rage laced his words as he replied, "The only man allowed to carry metal here is me. Do it again and I'll unsheathe it for the first time in this haven."

The accused    smiled at the man and mocked him, "Just don't shave my head like yours with it." The man in the suit ignored the offence and walked out in a shivered haste to the room in which the general was supposed to arrive. He noticed the blow that the exchange had given to the ego of the man in white; however the accused was aware of what the man was capable of. A healthy dose of fear along with his survivor instincts made him keep his mouth shut.   He looked at the clock whose metal hands were eaten by rust, it was one minute past the eighteenth hour of the day, when the same bald man in white suit waved at him from the entrance of the room which was on the right end of the corridor. "Come here you saucy bitch, general's here after all."

His racing heart was about to betray his pretence at calmness, but years of killing had made him resilient enough to control it.  He walked through the corridor with a poise of a man who knows that he has lived the best years of his life and now is the time for all his debts to be paid, the only difference was that the best days of his life were not yet over and it was too early to pay the debts. While crossing the room the bald white-suited man gave him a nod that seemed to contain more respect than pity. He threatened him in a hushed voice, "He doesn't carry a weapon because the fire exit on the floor at the other end of the corridor which opens towards the sea is enough to drown a man", to which the accused replied, "You died years ago but unlike you, I'll die with integrity”. The general was sitting on the leather-bound chair which was so new that the mild odour of tannic acid along with the  musty smell of the  wooden window panes filled the room.  Four of his attendants were standing behind him while the man in the white suit stood at the door, and the entire building was surrounded by men with guns and swords from the three sides. The general was short and stout, but had an imposing aura of terror and silence around him, his face was stiff and long, his skin was tanned due to the time he spent on the beach the previous day, and his hair was  properly combed backwards. After five minutes of staring into the eyes of the accused, the general spoke in his grave husky voice tormented by years of cigarette smoke: "Do you repent your actions?" The accused was staring back into the eyes of the general while proclaiming, "You want me to, but I don't." The general smiled and rose up from the chair, gave a pat or two on the back of his dark blue trouser, then put his right hand on the shoulder of the accused who stood before him and said, "We get paid to kill as per their desire, not ours." The accused removed the general’s hand from his shoulder and said, "It was his fourteenth birthday." The general waved at the man in the white suit to stand beside him, "I have never seen a man with such a guilt-prone conscience than this fellow here, even though he has killed children.”  The general broke into a boisterous laughter and continued, "His own children, in the same white suit."

The accused looked at the man in the white suit who, for the first time didn't dare to look him in the eye, then looked at the general and said, "It's a shame that he still carries the flag of his loyalty towards you on his brow even after everything  you have made him do. Thank your Lord that you allow only one man to carry metal in this rusty haven, or I would've killed you right here with my bare hands for what you have done to this bald man and others like him." The general's brow was suddenly painted with the deep lines of terror and shock since the dagger under the bald man's blazer was beyond his knowledge, but in order to maintain his haunting aura in the room he gave a forced laugh and said, "I thank my Lord that it is me. You were not leaving alive anyway." Saying so he started to reach towards the right side of his belt. Just then the man in the white suit unsheathed the metal in a blink of an eye and placed it on the general's neck touching his jugular vein and roared in his heavy voice, "Move and you will see red all over the floor." It was then that the general repented the one greatest mistake that he had made by making his entire haven weapon proof. The man in the white suit continued with ages of pain dripping through his voice, "Now I have nothing to lose, general." He said calmly and in one clean swipe of the knife the general started to gush out blood. The bald white-suited man was killed while killing the four attendants of the general, enough time for the accused to make a run for his life. “Thank you”, the man in the white suit called out to the accused before taking his last breath. The accused knew that the haven was surrounded by men with guns from the three sides and with water from the fourth. It took him a moment to remember the words of that white-suited man about the fire exit which opens towards the sea, but it would take hours of swimming before he could even see the shore.  There was no other choice and his logic was waging a losing battle to insanity before being utterly defeated. Insanity reared its head victoriously and made him swim for four hours to save himself.  When he started searching for the man who paid for the death of that fourteen-year-old kid, he found out that it was the same man in the white suit that paid for it, and it was that day that the general had the last laugh.


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Abdul Razzaq

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