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[FM17] Hans Kaiser- Baldness Über Alles!

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90'- We finally have our goal, but it's looking like it might be too late. We've pushed forward well after their second goal, and we've been rewarded through Leonardo de Souza, who takes a defensive header in stride and squeezes in a goal at Alessandro Plizzari's near post from a tricky angle. We're back in it, but do we have enough time to find another? We have three minutes of added time to find out.
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11 hours ago, Fer Fuchs Ake said:

Brutal, man :(

What now for Hans?

Nothing too rosy, I'm afraid.

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On 11/11/2018 at 14:26, oriole01 said:

Nothing too rosy, I'm afraid.

So, it'll be more of an orchid kind of thing...?

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Image result for salta argentinaImage result for salta argentinaImage result for salta streetImage result for crocodile farm
Salta, Argentina
Chapter Tres- La Reunión
Sorry it took so long to write this. Motivation can be a problem sometimes.
Early morning. February 10, 2018.

The sun had gone down hours ago, but José Antonio Mendoza was still sweating like it was noon. As he walked down a quiet Salta street in the dark, he was flooded with a combination of nostalgia and anger. These streets had made him. So much of his early life had been spent either at his cramped, crowded apartment, as a student in the underfunded public schools, as an employee in many, many small businesses, and of course at the football fields, where he had gotten his career off the mark. But he had also never wanted to come back to them. It was in this city that the very fabric of being was permanently changed. It was where he had been bitten by an enigmatic crocodile shark, and made to suffer consequences far greater than the immediate physical pain. The shark had implanted something terrible within him, something José had fought very hard to control and suppress. For years, he had succeeded. Even in his lowest moments, he had kept his darkest instincts at bay. Now, something had changed. Something had happened to him that was tipping the scales in the shark's favor. Something that had brought him back here, after decades away. That something was football management.

It was a mistake from the beginning. José's family, having known about his condition for years, but not its origin, warned him strongly against taking up a management job, reasoning that the position would put unnecessary stress upon him that could trigger a relapse. José would insist, however, as he didn't want his football career to end. Playing the game had given him so much purpose and positive energy that he was more worried about things going wrong if he didn't stay involved in the game. So he took the job at Primera Division side Aldosivi- one of his former clubs- based in the seaside city of Mar del Plata. Managing a top-tier team as your first job isn't usually a good idea, and José found that out the hard way. The first season was decent, as they finished 20th place out of 30. Nothing special, but it went about as well as he could have expected. But the dreaded "second-season syndrome" made itself known the next year, and Aldosivi went on an awful run of form that led to José's sacking shortly after the new year, for a combination of the results, poor club morale, and a series of bizarre, threatening Twitter screeds under the name of "Ernesto 'Che' Tiburón" that were discovered to be his. Since then, he had been struggling to cope with his emotions. Part of him felt freed from a stressful endeavor, but the other part of him was bitter and vengeful. He was now in the sort of limbo he was worried about before he took the job. In the month since he had been fired, he had already lost a lot more than his employment. His apartment, which he could no longer realistically afford. His girlfriend, who he had hit in a mental lapse during an argument about finances. His Lamborghini Huracan, which he had totalled while taking a joyride on the NR3. Even his Versace tiger tuxedo- which had set him back 150,000 pesos- was gone, stolen while he was out on the lash. Worst of all, he was losing something far more important: his internal stability. He could feel things changing, in a way they hadn't changed since he was bitten. As he walked down the street, the few people he saw didn't look like people anymore. They were like poorly-rendered holograms, flickering in and out of his vision. It took a lot of strength to stay focused and keep walking. Any failure to do that, and there was no telling what the shark could do.

When he reaches his destination, a bar on the outskirts of the city, he can't help but shake his head. It was a total dive. A ****hole. A herpes trap. He couldn't believe he was about to step foot in it, but that's exactly what he did. As he opens the door, the dark, smoky rhythm of Snake Eyes' 'Trouble' comes to his ears. There were only a few people- or rather holograms for José- left in the taproom. That made sense. It was 2:42 AM, with the doors set to close at 3:00, and this was no in-demand bar. They were blurry to his eyes, but José could tell what sort of people were left at this hour. Chopper-riding, drug-addicted, possibly criminal degenerates, smoking up a storm and drinking without any restraint. But he had nothing to fear from them. He walks up to the counter and sits down right in the middle of two of them, both tattooed behemoths with enormous cigars in their mouths. José knew they were giving him unsavory looks, but he couldn't see and didn't care. They would learn a lesson if they tried to give him any trouble. He orders a drink, a Cuervo, from the bartender, and takes it down in a gulp. Then another. And another. After his third, he asks the bartender a question. He didn't come here just to drink. He was looking for someone. The bartender points him to an open door back by the jukebox. José thanks him, then heads over to the door. Beyond the entrance is a rickety set of stairs, leading down to the basement. He slowly descends them, taking care not to fall. The lower he goes, the darker it gets. By the time he's at the bottom, he can hardly see his own hands in front of his face. He moves one hand over to the nearest wall, looking for a light switch. Instead, he finds spider webs and something wet. Pulling his hand back, he takes his phone out and activates the flashlight. He pans it around the basement, revealing shelves of filled boxes, cases of liquor, and in the far left corner, what looked like a mattress. He walks towards it, and finds the living space of someone who was clearly in dire straits. There was the mattress itself, which was filthy, soggy, and likely infested with vermin. There were dozens of empty, broken bottles on the floor, as well as bags of junk food. There was a bong, cigarette packs, and needles strewn across the top of a tiny nightstand. Beneath those were dirty magazines, cash, and an old revolver. This was a stereotypical scene, like something you'd see in any junkie's "bedroom". What set this disgusting corner apart from the other disgusting corners, though, was the speaker and electric guitar next to the nightstand. Unlike everything else, these were in great shape. They looked so out of place that José figured they must have been stolen. He reaches over to pick up the guitar. It was red and black, with jagged edges that looked as if they'd been sharpened at the grindstone. Just as he strums his first note, the lights turn on. He hadn't heard anyone coming down the stairs, but José turns around to the sight of the person he was here for. Unlike everyone else that night, this person was someone he could see crystal-clear. Indeed, after over twenty years apart, this person he saw was Zezé Santiago.

He looks horrible. There are scars all over his once child-like face. His jet-black hair was now more like salt and pepper. It's also wild and long, stretching halfway down his back in a frizzy mess. His beard is equally unkempt- it wasn't far off Duck Dynasty level. He's thin to a ghastly degree, and José can perceive a slight twitch in his arms, legs, and neck. Though he had seen Zezé at some rather low points before they grew apart, he could never have expected him to sink this far down.
"Oh my god." The words rolled slowly off Zezé's tongue.
"I should say the same."
"I thought you would never come back."
"I didn't want to."
"Why are you here, then?"
"Nowhere else to go."
Zezé stops for a few moments, thinking of what he wants to say.
"How did you find me?"
"Asked around. Took some work."
"Well... I wish you hadn't found me like this."
"Yeah, this is pretty bad, Zezé."
"I know. But this is the best I can do."
"********. It's not. You're what, 43 years old? You should be doing a lot better than this."
Zezé doesn't respond to that.
"Come on, let's talk. Not in this bar." José continues. "I don't want to spend another second in here."
Zezé remains taciturn, but gently nods his head in agreement. The two wounded companions slowly walk up the stairs, and leave the herpes trap just as it is about to snap shut. Both of them wished they'd never have to come back.

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"Do you understand, Zezé?"
"I do."
"Good. I'll see you in a few days."
José and Zezé part ways. They had spent the past two hours catching up on a park bench in the Plaza 9 de Julio park, which was normally a tourist trap in the daytime, but was quiet and peaceful in the wee hours of the morning, as it was now. Neither of them held back when telling their stories. They poured out all their elations and frustrations over the past twenty years. Although their lives had taken remarkably different paths since then, there was still a lot of common ground between them at that moment. They had both been broken down by the system. They were both wayward and aimless. At the moment, neither had anywhere other than Salta to go. José, however, was the only one determined to change that. Ever since he had stepped foot in Salta, he had been forming a plan... or rather, a part of him had been forming it. If he wanted to get out of this arid hellscape again, the shark reasoned, he would have to burn it to the ground. Though he had the power to do just about anything on his own, José needed Zezé by his side. Each side of him had their own reason why. For the José that had previously existed, he wanted to help his friend out of his plight. To break him out of the cycle of drugs, desperation, and poverty, even though he was responsible for his descent into it. To get him back on his feet, and see him become the great friend and big brother figure he used to be once more. The other José had less noble intentions. He doubted that they would be caught, but if they were, Zezé would have to be the one to take the fall. Through some online research, José had found a lengthy arrest record in Zezé's name. They were all relatively minor transgressions: loitering, trespassing, petty larceny, drug charges, physical altercations. That was good. It would be easier for him to graduate to bigger things. Much easier.

Both Josés had had to think about what exactly "burn it to the ground" would mean in relation to Salta. Actual burning wouldn't make much sense; the city was already hot as hell. No, what needed to happen was retribution. Taking back from a city that had taken so much. One that destroyed his best friend. One that would have destroyed him in the past if he had stayed, and would do the same now if he wasted any time getting out. The first step of that journey? Robbing that bastard Benito for everything he had.
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Midnight. February 13, 2018.

The most curious thing about a desert is how cold it gets at night. What had been a suffocating pressure cooker of heat earlier in the day had become a bone-chilling black mass once the sun went down, seeing the residents of Salta exchange their air conditioners and short sleeves for sweaters and blankets. The desert is indeed where Benito's Crocodile Ranch is located now, as the area it had once called home on the edge of the city had grown up, driving up rent prices and forcing Benito out into the mountains. That was all well and good for his soon-to-be assailants; there would be no witnesses. As he drives his father's 1973 Ford F100 pickup towards the ranch, José starts to feel an impending sense of dread. Was he really ready to step foot in this place- the place where he had been forever scarred- again? Even if it wasn't in the same physical location as before, it was going to be mighty difficult to persevere through the trauma that would inevitably be returning to him. When he looked to his side, though, he knew his answer was yes. He had gone too far to quit. Any pain he would feel at the ranch would be erased by the pleasure of tearing it down. Zezé, wearing all-black clothing and a balaclava, was sat in the passenger seat, brandishing his fearsome guitar as a potentially deadly weapon. He had his real deadly weapon, too, the good lad. José remembers his purposes for bringing him along, and presses harder on the gas pedal. Time to do this.

The truck rolls to a stop on the side of the empty RN51 highway, about a hundred meters south of its destination. José, sporting a thick black leather jacket that served as a winter coat but requiring nothing in his hands to assist him apart from a large bag, cuts the ignition and hops out, with Zezé following. They advance forward in the silent darkness, with only their condensed breath and a faint multicolored light emanating from up the road visible to their eyes. The light becomes brighter as they approach, revealing a brash neon sign indicating that they had indeed arrived at Benito's Crocodile Ranch. José doesn't bother to look at it, but Zezé is entranced by it. He lingers beneath it, the sign casting bright hues of yellow, green, and orange upon his face. He looked like he was in a desert version of Tokyo. José, who had zero patience for dilly-dallying or sentiment, barks out an order to keep moving, and Zezé somewhat reluctantly shuffles forward. The driveway was a long dirt road, extending deep into a valley between two barren peaks rising up on either side of it. A common observer would probably consider this an eerie scene. Nothing about this was hospitable. But José was no common observer; he felt nothing apart from his hunger for revenge. At the end of the driveway are three small pueblo-style buildings, large empty cages, and the enclosure, a massive windowless dome with only one door in or out. It looked the exact same as it used to; one thing you couldn't call Benito was inconsistent. This fact was concurrently acknowledged by Zezé, who pointed at the farthest of the three buildings and mumbled "Office".
"That's where I'm going, Zezé. Do you remember where you're going?"
"Yeah."
"Good. Be careful now. Stick to the plan and we'll be fine."
"Alright."
With that, José and Zezé separate, the former moving briskly towards the dimly-lit office and the latter slowly pacing towards the enclosure. José could sense a bit of hesitation and uncertainty on Zezé's part, but he wasn't worried. This was just a trial run of sorts. If Zezé did what was required of him, that was all well and good. If he didn't, José knew plenty of ways to make him.

A snap of a door handle later, and José was in the office. It too was exactly how he remembered it. Along the hardened adobe walls hung all sorts of traditional Argentine items, from a quena flute to ponchos to a pato ring. José was quite sure Benito had never used these things; he just showed them to impress the minuscule number of guests he had. There were also numerous crocodile skulls, skins, and stuffed heads all over the place. Years ago, this office had unsettled José. Now, he had nothing to fear from it. He hoists himself over the tiny "reception" table, and advances toward the doorway behind it, which guarded Benito's personal quarters. He knew Benito had heard him and was waiting for him, but that wasn't of concern. He had no need for stealth; his powers ensured brute force was all that was required. As soon as he breaks his second door handle of the evening and barges into the adjacent room, his former employer lunges at him from the side with a gaucho's facón dagger. But José had already eliminated the danger. Benito's outstretched arm stays in place, all its impetus dispelled. José grabs the blade out of his hand and smashes it into pieces with his feet. It is now that a visibly flabbergasted Benito begins to recognize his burglar. The shock he felt at having his motion suspended now mixes with disbelief and anger as he processed the fact that he was under siege by one of his former employees. More specifically, it was 'la pequeña perra', to whom he had always delegated the most dangerous and disgusting of tasks. He tried to vocalize this, but he couldn't. José had shut him down and shut him up. He is the one to speak instead.
"It's nice to see you too, Benito. I bet you never expected to see your... tell me, what was the nickname again?"
He looks at Benito, mocking his inability to give a response.
"Ah, of course. It was 'la pequeña perra'. Wonder who that is now, huh?"
Another self-indulgent glance at Benito, followed by a chuckle.
"I can do anything I want to you, you know. Or don't you? I suppose you never found out what happened after that hideous creature ****ed up my face. Well, it ****ed up more than that, actually. It molded part of me in its image. I suffered in silence for years, but guess what? I overcame it. I banished that shark to the deepest depths of hell. But it's come back now, and I've had to start asking questions. And the one I kept coming back to, and the one that's brought me to this landfill you pass off as a business, is simple: if the shark is back, and I'm done trying to stop it, why don't I try it out? This thing gives me power. I have abilities- or talents, as I prefer to call them- that one could only dream of. Why don't I use them? This life has taken so much from me, so why don't I start taking back? I've answered all these questions, Benito, and I've decided that it's only right to bring it back to where it all started. You're the one who created this. You were an awful boss. You were more like a dictator, really, making me clean crocodile **** and trim your goddamn hedges day and night, when you knew damn well that my family needed me at home. Whenever something wasn't to your utmost satisfaction, you beat and humiliated Zezé and I, just like with your wife and children. Thank god they got out of Salta before you made it their resting place. And of course, to top it all off, you're the one responsible for that shark coming here and biting me. Now, out of the kindness of my heart, I used to forgive you for ruining my life, but the shark thinks differently. He's not just a part of me anymore. We are one and the same, and I ****ing love it."
Just then, alarms start to blare outside. And not just any alarms. The alarms. The ones that Benito prayed would never go off. His eyes widen to a level only seen in those at peak levels of human terror. If he could speak, he would be begging for mercy. But there was none to be found here.
 José was exceedingly proud of Zezé for having done his job, but he was also a tad bit disappointed. He had wanted to rant for just a little bit longer. It was time to leave now, but not before he gave the poor bastard his parting words.
"Ah, I forgot to mention I wasn't alone. Zezé's here too, and he's done exactly what's been asked of him. We'll be leaving now, but you won't. You're going to have other company instead. I can't imagine you've treated the crocodiles too well over the years. Something tells me they'll have more than a few grievances to air with you."
José guffaws violently, then says, "Goodbye, Benito."
He unleashes a swift strike to the old man's temple, then releases him from his hold. He drops to the floor, unconscious. Before leaving, he finds the safe underneath Benito's bed, forces it open, and takes Benito's money, jewels, and flintlock pistol- his only other means of self-defense- putting them in the bag. As soon as he comes out of the building, the alarms grow louder to his ears. Thank goodness there was no one else around to hear them. The enclosure was engulfed in red light, the single door open. Reptiles were pouring out, scattering in all directions. José was confident that at least a few of them were hungry and would come to the office for a meal before escaping to the freedom of the Río Rosario. His work- the only work he had ever enjoyed in this place- complete, he leaves the ranch for what would be the final time. Oh boy, did that feel good.

Having followed his instructions perfectly, Zezé was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck when José returned to it. However, one glance inside indicates that Zezé, had not, in fact, completely followed instructions. He wasn't instructed to steal anything- that was José's job- but he had what appeared to be two garments draped over his legs. José opens the driver's door, hops in, then shuts it, placing the bag of valuables by his feet. He takes a few moments before speaking.
"Zezé?"
"Yes?"
"What do you have there? I told you not to take anything."

José glances over at his friend. He expected Zezé to be afraid, but the look on his face seemed assured that he had done the right thing.
"I know... but you said you were taking valuable things. I found these in a storage closet in the enclosure, and I thought they might be valuable to us."
José disagrees, shaking his head and raising his voice.
"What are you talking about? They're clothes, right? Why the **** do we need clothes?"
"Not just any clothes. They're costumes."
"Costumes? For what?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure why Benito had them... but they're of a shark and a crocodile. I thought we could use some disguises for future jobs... you know, the ones with more... risk attached."
It wasn't a bad idea, José thought. It couldn't hurt to add an extra layer of protection, no matter how assured he was of his 'talents'. Plus, having an air of mystery would serve them well once they were further along in the shark's plans. Once they were out of Salta, most likely.
"Alright, show me what they look like."
Zezé unfurls them and holds them up, revealing a grey shark with a mischievous grin and terrifying beady black eyes, and a green-and-yellow crocodile with dozens of jagged, nasty teeth and the signature slit eyes.
"Hmm... the shark needs a paint job. But it's not a bad idea, Zezé. You've gone above and beyond here. I'm really ****ing proud of you."
Zezé smiles beneath the balaclava, provoking a laugh from his (now literal) partner in crime.
"Take that thing off! You look ridiculous!"
"Should've told me that earlier, amigo!"
They're both laughing now, as José starts the truck and they begin to drive off into the cold night. Tonight's job was done, but their new journey was just beginning.

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May 2018.

Three months later, and José and Zezé had conquered Salta, just as planned. The amount of jobs, as well as their income, had ballooned quickly. After Benito's demise was confirmed by a gruesome account in the newspapers the next week, they went from robbing stores and small homes to banks and mansions. They had been shot at and nearly caught numerous times, but they only saw these as thrills, and as reasons to keep going. They were unstoppable, and every thug and cop in the city knew it. They had too much talent... they were the talent men. That was what they were called now, and José's name was no longer José when he was 'working'. It was Che, after his fake Twitter profile at Aldosivi, and of course the Latin hero himself. The costumes had worked well; they had created a brand of sorts, that everyone in Salta knew to respect. Che had painted his once-grey shark green and yellow, both to match Zezé, and because they were Aldosivi's colors. As painful as his sacking there had been, he couldn't betray them in his heart. In fact, he was ready to continue his football career... in a different way. He and Zezé's immense reputation in Salta had already carried outside of the city and country. In international criminal circles, they were like wonderkids... or maybe world class late bloomers, considering they were actually in their early forties. The kinds of offers they had received were truly exciting. They had been tipped to join heist crews and other powerful gangs in London, Paris, São Paulo, Mexico City, Tokyo, New York, and LA. But one special offer stood taller than all of those. They had received a call from a man named Mr. X, who claimed to be a close confidante of Hans Kaiser, bald maniac and Borussia Dortmund manager. According to X, Kaiser wanted someone who could help them 'Visigoth' their rivals, in a totally literal sense. After doing some research on the tribesmen who sacked Rome, the talent men decided that they had sufficient talent for such a job, and they accepted the offer. They would require hefty pay, of course- some of the things those Visigoths did were downright nasty- but they were ready to take the huge step up. To skip rungs on the ladder of criminal enterprise, and head straight to the top. They were going to become legends- no, gods- under the glorious Kaiser, whose ambition and eccentricity was exactly what they were looking for in a boss. When the time came to leave Salta and head to Germany to set up shop and meet their new commander, José felt nothing but a sense of triumph. He had beaten Salta. He had made it his *****, to be precise. And now he was going to leave it and never, ever come back. He had achieved his goals in no time, and with a swaggering ease. He had bought back everything he lost, including the car and tuxedo, he had broken Zezé out of his destitution, and personally, he was happier than he had ever been. And all he had needed to do was lean into the shark. To tap into its power, and let it take control. The old José was now buried in the same cerebral pit that the shark had been marinating in for twenty-five years, and he had no chance of coming out any time soon. It was time for the new José, or Che, as the shark preferred, to shine. The talent men's heads were shaved, and their tandem chants of "Baldness Über Alles" and "Los! Los! Los!" had been mastered. Revolution time, amigos.


This concludes the "Salta, Argentina" trilogy.

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Das Ende
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Yes, after 22 months of bald fraudulence, the end has come. Last fall, I promised that Hans Kaiser and company would receive a proper ending to their stories. Now, many months later, I am finally here to fulfill that promise. I hope the long wait has treated you well, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy this epic (and very fraudulent) conclusion to Hans Kaiser- Baldness Über Alles
Los! Los! Los!
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Image result for interpol logo

EMAIL TRANSCRIPTS
Timestamp: 27 May 2022. 7:31 CET.
From: Jürgen Stock, Secretary General
To: Meng Hongwei, President
Subject: The Convergence
-

Image result for it's happening gif
-

Timestamp: 27 May 2022. 7:54 CET.
From: Meng Hongwei, President
To: Jürgen Stock, Secretary General
Subject: RE: The Convergence

-
Yes, Jürgen, it is indeed "happening". Our agent is in the field, ready to strike. We have been waiting years for this. It is time to get it done.

P.S. If you ever use that GIF again, I'm sending you back to Europol!
-

Timestamp: 27 May 2022. 8:01 CET.
From: Jürgen Stock, Secretary General
To: Meng Hongwei, President
Subject: RE: RE: The Convergence
-

I'm sorry, sir. I apologize for my lack of professionalism. Please don't send me back to Europol.
-

END DOCUMENT

Edited by oriole01

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Eins
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Jan Breydelstadion. Bruges, Belgium. May 27, 2022. 8:23 PM.
“Come on, you can do this. This is the last time you’ll have to face them.”
As Hans Kaiser stares down his bald, bearded, and bespectacled figure in the mirror, flickers of doubt and regret encroach upon what had previously been a sense of surety and finality that followed his decision to resign from Club Brugge. He had made a promise to himself that if the club failed to secure European football, he would leave, and that was what had happened. But now, ahead of his final press conference as Brugge manager in which he was to publicly announce his resignation, he was having second thoughts. He wasn’t being forced to do this; he could have stayed on for another season. The squad’s potential was still there, and he was certain he could do better than he had in the season just gone by. It was one thing to tell yourself you were going to quit, but it was another to actually do it. There wasn’t really any going back at this point, though. The chairman’s introductory spiel was nearly over, and he was going to have to go out and face the media jackals in just a few moments’ time, surely to face some uncomfortable questions about his motives and his future. 

His future. He had been thinking about that a lot over the past few days. Was he going to keep going in his management journey elsewhere, or was it time to take a break? After multiple conversations with his wife Sophie, who he had indeed grown rather distant from since he began his management career, he was trending towards the latter. Football had taken a lot from Hans. His senses of safety and privacy were completely gone, possibly never to return. He had missed key moments in his sons’ lives, who were now in their teens and in need of guidance more than ever. He had several profound scars from his various brushes with death that were more than likely going to be permanent. A long-time therapy patient, Hans was able to keep the traumas from overwhelming him, but he was prone to reliving them if the conditions were similar enough to those during the event in question. Jungles, mine shafts, high windows, people in animal costumes, and dwarves were all things that he wasn’t ever going to be comfortable near again. All of these traumas had occurred whilst he was involved in football, which was a clear enough pattern for Hans to identify. After all these years, he thought, he was finally ready to take some time off. Ready to fully commit to his responsibilities at home, ready to make a good living in a less stressful environment, and most importantly, ready to try and heal his wounds, relax, and enjoy the finer things in life for a while, only to return to the footballing scene if he felt absolutely sure he could handle it. In an effort to stomp out those pesky flickers of last-ditch hesitation, Hans cycles back through all of these reasons in his mind.
“Come on… you’re doing the right thing. Just gotta get through this and it’ll all be over.” He assures himself out loud, gently massaging his forehead to soothe the headaches he had been feeling all day. He quickly rehearses his statement one more time, then exits his dressing room and waits for his signal to come onstage.
“I now turn your attention to Hans Kaiser, who has an important announcement to make.”

Hans appears from the hall to the side of the conference desk, gives a cursory wave to the audience, and takes his seat. The seat’s smooth leather finish conforms to his body, giving him comfort and confidence. The man who had poured all his heart, soul, and bald pate into football was finally ready to be free of it, at least for the foreseeable future. It was a choice he never could have envisioned himself making, and although Hans had made a host of poor choices in his management career, this one only felt right.
But football wasn’t quite finished with him yet. It had one more trick up its sleeve- right where the monkey would usually be hiding- and this was the nastiest one yet. Grab some popcorn.

Edited by oriole01

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Zwei
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Credit due to Martin McDonagh, again. That goes for the rest of the story too.
As Hans Kaiser takes his seat and begins the speech that will end with the announcement of his resignation, two men in the rear of the crowd clink glasses of champagne in celebration. This speech was the cherry on top of what had been a massive success for Carlo Ancelotti’s second-favorite pair of “risk managers”, and it had taken far shorter than they had expected. They were prepared to be stuck in for at least two years, but Brendan and Colin had forced Kaiser- and soon, they hoped, themselves- out of Bruges in just under twelve months. Thanks to their system of bugs, contacts with rival Belgian managers, and Hans’ lack of discretion under the influence of alcohol, things had gone swimmingly, and they fully expected to return to Ancelotti’s new domain of the Nou Camp with their reputation restored. They had reason to believe this, too. Not only had Hans personally confided in them that he was set to resign when they spoke on the phone the night before, but he had also strongly suggested that he was going to remove himself from the footballing picture altogether, which was a step further than they or even Carlo had expected. Surely, their boss would be delighted with them. He had to be. No matter how flashy and “talented” those boys in the costumes were, there was no way Carlo could overlook the men who had sunk his foremost rival. They were going to be back on top, they were certain of it. Then Brendan’s phone rings. To their delight, it’s the boss himself, who they’d been unable to reach the previous night. Not wanting to wait another second to share the good news, Brendan moves to an empty corner of the room as fast as he can so he can be better heard, then answers.
“Hello, boss! It’s great to hear from you.”
“Likewise.”
“Listen, we’ve got some really, really good news for you that we think you’re gonna be absolutely chuffed with.”
“Really? Go on.”
“We’re here at the Breydelstadion, where Kaiser’s giving a press conference to announce his resignation! And not only that, but when we talked to him last night, he said he was quitting football! Can you believe it?”
“Of course I can, Brendan. I already know about all that.”
Brendan’s brow furrows in confusion. The excitement in his voice changes to bewilderment.
“Erm… what? How? We couldn’t get a hold of you last night or today, boss. We would’ve told you even sooner.”
There is a pause on Carlo’s end. When he breaks the silence, however, there is also a change in his voice to be found. It’s clipped and harsh now. Brendan had heard Carlo’s voice shift to this sort of tone many times over the years, but this was one occasion where he certainly didn’t expect it.
“Wiretap. I’ve had Che and Zezé listening in to all your phone calls and bugs for the last year.”
“What? Why would you do that? I… thought you still had at least a little bit of confidence in us, boss.”
Carlo laughs on the other end of the line.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Brendan. That ship sailed in Swaziland.”
Brendan’s confusion was now disbelief and heartbreak.
“Boss… I don’t know what to say.” His voice breaks briefly, but he collects himself. “What happened in Swaziland was a bad, bad deal, we know, and we deserved to be punished for it, absolutely. But we’ve done everything you wanted here, and more. I mean, Kaiser is finished! Surely even you couldn’t have seen that coming, boss. What else must we do to show you that we deserve our place back at the table?”
“Ah, you see Brendan, don’t get me wrong, you’ve done some good work here, but I don’t think you realize the full scope of this situation. This assignment was not your way back in, I’m afraid. It’s your way out. I just wanted to give you one more good memory- a sense of worth and accomplishment- before our partnership gets… terminated… to put it one way. I appreciate the work you’ve done for me over all these years, Brendan, but you and the young one are no longer needed. I have all the ‘talent’ I require.”
The disbelief and heartbreak were now anger.
“You’re firing us!? After all we’ve done?”
“Not exactly. You know I’d prefer to, but that wouldn’t exactly be a safe decision, would it?”
“What then? Reassigning us somewhere worse? The lad hates Bruges, so I don’t know if you can.”
“Not that either, my friend. You’re a smart man, you should be able to figure this out.”
Now it was panic. Brendan sets the phone down on the floor for a few moments, struggling to compose himself. His diabetic heart was pounding at a rate it wasn’t meant to, and he had to practice a breathing exercise he had learned early in his risk management career to avoid suffering a heart attack right then and there. When he manages to pick the phone up again, he is somewhat relieved that Carlo is still on the line.
“They’re… they’re here in Bruges, aren’t they?” Brendan chokes out, his voice faltering.
“Yes. In fact, I believe they’re on the floor above you right now.”
“Please… please just spare the lad. Let him go and take me. He’s got too much ahead of him in life. I know he’s made mistakes, but he isn’t ready for this.”
“I’m sorry, Brendan. I’m afraid I can’t do that. Just being under my employ means he already knows too much.”
Tears begin to well in Brendan’s eyes.
“No… please, you can’t.”
“I can. You know I’ve always been a man who does what he needs to do. I wish this had gone another way, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to say my goodbyes now.”
In that moment, Brendan decided to do away with the employer-employee, subordinate mentality. They had been dishonored, disrespected, taken advantage of, and now ordered to be killed by Carlo, who didn’t seem truly bothered by any of it.
“You don’t have to do it, you son of a *****. You want to kill us? Fine. But don’t think we’re about to take it lying down.”
Carlo softly chuckles.
“I can’t imagine you would, Brendan. You’re a good man, a strong man. I’ll miss you. Ciao.”
The line cuts out. Brendan, the trajectory of his life having changed so much since before the phone had rang, shuffles back through the crowd towards the only person he had left on his side. Hans’ speech was nearing its end, and Colin was ready to explode in euphoria when the bald one would finally say the all-important words that would confirm their success once and for all. But that didn’t matter one bit now. As soon as he reaches him, Brendan grabs hold of his younger companion’s arm, pulling him in close so that no one else could hear what was about to be said.
“What’s up, geezer?”
“Colin.” the older man whispered, his bulging grey eyes staring right into his counterpart’s. “Get your gun.”

Edited by oriole01

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“In conclusion, my time in this beautiful city has been challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable, brief yet unforgettable. It was a great decision to come to this place, but unfortunately, I have decided that I must leave it, for many reasons which I do not feel ready to discuss right now. I hereby resign my position as Club Brugge manager, effective immediately. Thank you, and good night.”
That was it. The words had been said, and Hans was ready to go. He knew the media and fans weren’t expecting him to resign, and as soon as he stood up out of his chair, dozens of cameras clicked, voices chattered, and questions presented themselves. Hans wasn’t interested in the slightest, so he started walking towards the exits, where his car would be waiting to drive home. However, the chairman quickly moves in front of him, blocking his path. Hans thinks he’s just going to give him a parting handshake or hug, but for some reason, the old man’s hands were trembling, an action he was unsuccessfully trying to conceal. He accidentally drops his microphone on the ground, and as he picks it up, his entire body begins to shake.
“H-h-h-hold on there, Mr. Kaiser! We’d like you to… to s-s-s-stay for the un-v-v-v-veiling of our new m-m-manager.”
New manager? What? Hans had only notified the club of his resignation the previous night, just hours after the final whistle of the Lokeren match. There was no way they could have hired a new manager in that time. Something felt off, a feeling which was accentuated by whatever the hell was causing the chairman to sound like a broken Speak and Spell. “I’d really rather not, sir. I’m eager to move on.”
“P-please. I i-insist.” The chairman extends his arms out from his sides, walking towards Hans as if to shepherd him back to the stage.
“Okay…”
“Please, take your s-seat again.”
Hans reluctantly complies. He wanted nothing more than to leave now, but he wasn’t trying to cause yet another scene in what would likely be his last public appearance for a long time. He would just have to take one for the team here. The chairman then turns back to the audience and speaks again.
“L-ladies and g-g-g-gentlemen, p-p-please welcome your new Club Brugge m-m-m-manager, S-S-Slavomir H-H-Horny!”
This had to be a joke, Hans thought. Slavomir Horny? Was that even a real name? It sounds like a Czech **** star’s name, not one of a football manager. But surely enough, a middle-aged man by that name enters the room, grinning from ear to ear and waving to the crowd. Immediately Hans and everyone else notice how huge the man is. He’s nearly seven feet tall, with the body of a bull and the facial features of a cliff face. His footsteps echo throughout the room, making his presence even more imposing. He takes his place next to the chairman, who reaches up to put his twitching arm around his shoulder.
“I acknowledge s-some of you may not have h-heard of Mr. H-Horny before, b-but t-trust me, he is the r-r-right person for the job. He has l-led AS Trenčín to an appearance in the Europa League k-knockout stages, and m-most recently he has been the m-m-manager of the S-Slovak national team with g-great success! We couldn’t be more h-h-h-honored to have him as our new m-m-man.”
“And I could not be more honored myself to manage this great club!” Slavomir’s voice booms. “Let’s not forget, though, that I’m replacing a great manager whom I personally look up to. Bring it in, Hans!”
Horny turns back towards Hans, gesturing for him to come to the front of the stage. Though internally fuming that he was already being replaced without notice and being forced to take part in the new man’s coronation, Hans sucks it up and reluctantly walks towards the two men up front. Now standing between Slavomir and the chairman, he looks at the audience, who have perplexed looks on their faces. They hadn’t seen anything like this before. What happened next definitely wasn’t something they’d seen before either.
“One m-more r-round of applause for this man before he d-d-departs!”
The audience claps softly. The new manager sticks out his enormous hand to shake the old one’s, which Hans halfheartedly accepts. He’s got a vice-like grip, and it stings. As soon as the clapping dies down, Hans tries to pull back, but Slavomir wasn’t letting go. “Why isn’t he letting go of my hand?” Hans thought. “He’s not… horny, is he?”
He looks up into the eyes of the mountain of a man before him. They no longer look warm and friendly, instead they’re cold and emotionless. The next thing Hans knows, he’s on the floor, his hands pinned behind his back. He hears the sound of jangling metal behind him, which he could only assume were coming from handcuffs. He’s correct. The cuffs click into place around his wrists as Slavomir begins to speak.
“Hans Gerhard Kaiser, on behalf of Belgian Federal Police, BPOL, and Interpol, I am placing you under arrest for conspiracy to commit terrorism and more importantly, footballing fraudulence. You will have the option to be tried by a jury of your peers upon your extradition to Germany. You're going to come with me now. Thank you, Mr. Verhaeghe, for your cooperation."
As the undercover agent hauls Hans up to his feet, the now-disgraced manager looks at his former chairman in dismay. The meek frown on the old man's face suggests he feels sorry for him.
"I'm s-s-so s-s-sorry, Hans. I didn't h-have m-much of a c-c-c-choice. I'm g-g-going to lie d-d-down now." He promptly exits the room, leaving just Hans, Slavomir, and the crowd of journalists, who are both utterly stunned and utterly delighted at the same time. If just the news of Hans resigning was enough to crank out the headlines before, then this would surely make them all rich now. The sheer amount of cameras flashing are a nightmare for Hans' eyes, but the barrage of white light is shattered by two blazing beams of red, which illuminate his captor's face like Rudolph in a darkroom. Slavomir, however, is preoccupied with something on his phone, and doesn't notice. Through squinted eyes, Hans follows the red lights upward until he identifies their origin. In the center of the room, there has been a small hole cut in the ceiling, from which the two red lights and two accompanying black objects were sticking out of. It only took Hans a few seconds to understand what was happening. Though he hardly believed it, he knew what he had to do next. Immediately, he repositions himself to face his captor, who he could now see was texting one of his colleagues on his phone.
"Erm… Mr. Horny." He intones quietly, trying not to panic. Slavomir's eyes shift down to him in annoyance.
"What is it?"
"Please look up, slowly."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because you have two snipers zeroed in on your head right now."
Slavomir lowers the phone to his waist, and Hans watches as his eyes pan up to the ceiling. They widen considerably as he does, and the phone drops straight to the floor, right next to Hans’ feet. He frantically waves his arms in the air, crossing them like an air traffic controller directing a plane to stop. His efforts have no effect. Two wicked cracks slice through the air, and the human sequoia is felled to the floor, twin bullet wounds in his forehead. The crowd erupts in horrified screams, everyone scrambling for the exits. Hans, in shock and already reliving the memory of his brush with death in the mine shafts of Gelsenkirchen, sinks to the floor, hands on his head. It couldn’t be happening again, could it? His past life had reared its ugly head once more, just when he thought he was about to get as far away from it as possible. He didn’t want to believe it was happening, but the dead Interpol agent lying next to him suggested otherwise. At least, that was what he was led to believe until he looked at the phone screen in front of him. He had noticed Slavomir texting someone before he was shot. That someone was not who Hans expected. At the top of the screen, the name “Ursa Miner (2.0)” appears, accompanied by a picture of a man in a bear costume. He begins to read the correspondence, which is in heavily coded terms, but he doesn’t get to finish. He’s interrupted by two men standing before him, the same two men who had personally assured him they would never cross paths again. The talent men never were good at keeping promises, though.
“Hello, Mr. Kaiser.” Che greets him gleefully. “We’re here to take you home.”
Zezé’s guitar smashes across his head in a flash, and a familiar darkness arrives yet again.

Edited by oriole01

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9:15 PM.
Brendan and Colin weren’t going to waste any time counting their lucky stars. Somehow, they had come out of the Breydelstadion alive. They were just as shocked as anyone when the massive Interpol agent named Horny showed up on the stage, but they were a million times thankful for his presence. Slavomir’s appearance and subsequent murder was the perfect distraction they needed to get the hell out the press room that would certainly have been the site of their demise had things gone a different way. Simply following the panicked crowd out the door, they had burst onto the streets of Bruges in desperate need of a way out and short on good ideas how. They didn’t have much time until the talent men would come in search of them, but they had enough to get on the same page and come up with a plan of action. They were going to have to get as far away from Bruges as quickly as possible, and the only viable way to do that was to catch a train out of the country. They had made their way by taxi to the train station less than five kilometers away and bought two tickets to London on a train that they had to sprint through the entire station complex to catch in time. It had been only twenty minutes since they left the stadium, but it had felt like hours. Now, finally in a position where they could afford to take a few breaths, the two fugitives find themselves unable to do anything other than talk to each other. They were truly all each other had left.
“I just can’t believe it.” Colin remarks solemnly. “After all we’ve done… it just doesn’t make sense.”
“Listen lad, I’m not going to try to get inside the boss’ head. After that last conversation… Christ above, I don’t think I want to. He’s changed, that’s for certain. He wasn’t always this way. The boss I once knew never would’ve hired those freaks in the first place, much less try to send his most loyal charges to a farm in the country in favor of them. All we can do now is fight for ourselves, I’m afraid.”
“What are we gonna do when we get off this train, Brendan?”
“Well, I might have some connections in London. Old friends, old colleagues, the like. If we can get the right people around us, by the time they find us again, we’ll be prepared to take them down.”
“Mate… how the **** are we going to take them down? You said it yourself back when we first got here… they’re unstoppable.”
“I never said they were unstoppable, Colin. I don’t wish to believe our universe has given that kind of power to anyone but God himself. Hell, I might be wrong, who really knows? But we’re going to have to try.”
“Yeah,” Colin mutters, “We’ll just have to try.”
A few silent moments pass. Brendan rests his head against the cabin window, watching as the cityscape recedes further below the horizon as the train zips along the track.
“Listen, Colin.”
Their eyes lock once more, Colin’s thick black eyebrows raised in anticipation.
“Yeah?”
“I just want you to know… I’m thankful I’ve got you by my side, mate. I…I don't know what I’d do without ya.”
“Oh, mate.”
Colin wasn’t one to show emotion too often, but Brendan can already see the tears forming in his eyes. He turns his face away, attempting to wipe them off.
“When I look at you, lad, I’m reminded of my own son. At least, what he was like before he passed. I know we’re just supposed to be partners, but I can’t help but look out for you, just like I tried to do for him. I want you to get out of this life, Colin. You’ve got too much ahead of you to die this young. So when I was talking to the boss on the phone, I… I begged him to take my life instead of yours. I would gladly give it up if it meant you got to take your own path, to be free, to have a good life, have things I never had. I tried to tell him these things, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“You didn’t have to do that, Brendan.”
“I didn’t, but I wanted to. It’s been an honor to work with you, Colin, and I’m glad it’s going to continue. We’re going to do this together.”
“It’s been an honor to work with you, too, Brendan. This train could derail right now and I’d be happy knowing we’d be going together.”
He shouldn’t have said that. The next thing they hear is the screeching of the train’s brakes, followed by a loud snap. Suddenly, they’re thrown out of their seats and across the cabin, smashing into the walls. That was only the beginning of it. The train still moving at high velocity, it shoots through a field adjacent to the tracks and rolls over several times before it crashes into the Gent-Bruges canal, hurling both of them through windows and into the water. He really, really shouldn’t have said that.
Brendan emerges from the murky water, his lungs imploring air. When he regains his breath, he calls out into the darkness, searching for his partner.
“Colin!”
“Brendan! Help me!”
“Where are you!?”
He doesn’t get a response back. He swims urgently forward, taking his chances that this was the right way. He can’t see anything; all the lights on the train must have gone out during the crash. After swimming a few meters, he hears something break through the water. He reaches his hand out and meets it. It’s Colin. He pulls hard, and the young man’s head and neck come up through the water.
“Brendan…” He coughs violently, dirty water flying out of his mouth.
“Don’t say anything, Colin. I’m gonna get you out of here.”
Grabbing hold of his friend, Brendan labors towards the shore slowly but surely. He was never much of a swimmer, but the situation assured he did everything right. The water gets progressively shallower as they approach the edge, where Brendan heaves Colin up over a wall and onto the grass above the canal. Colin, still coughing and sputtering, lies flat on his back, exhausted. Brendan follows him up and collapses next to him. After a few minutes, they’re able to sit up. They still can’t see anything in the water; it’s too dark and there was nothing to illuminate it.
“Brendan, I was trying to tell you something in the water.”
“What’s that?”
“Before the crash… I saw red lights outside.”
Brendan raises his hands to his head and presses his fingers against his forehead.
“Are you saying…”
“Yeah, I am.”
“No, they couldn’t have. This is just one awful stroke of luck.”
“It is not. And we did.” A third voice interjects. The risk managers turn around to find their replacements standing behind them. Those same red lights that had haunted them all night shone brightly, blazing out from the talent men’s eyes.
“Ah, feck.” Brendan gets out before he’s smacked upside the head by Zezé’s guitar. He falls to the grass, groaning in pain before Che shuts him up.
“You bastard!” Colin yells, jolting up to his feet and drawing his gun before Che quite literally puts him in his place and begins to speak.
“Now, I think it would be much better if train crash killed you both. Quicker, faster, less mess. Unfortunately, Mr. Colin, you and Mr. Potato Head survived. Not for first time tonight either. You are quite annoying, Mr. Colin. You will not accept the fate we so kindly bring to you. So I regret to inform you that this is personal.”
He produces a Mini-Uzi machine pistol, aiming it straight at Colin’s motionless head. But then his phone rings, and he lowers the gun slightly.
"Quién es, Zezé?”
“El jefe, amigo.”
Che produces the phone from the shark costume’s back pocket with his free hand and brings it up to his ear.
“Hello, boss.”
“Yes, they are right here.”
“I see.”
“I will.”
He puts the phone away, then leans in to Zezé’s ear and relays the conversation through a Latin whisper. He turns back to his would-be victims.
“You are two lucky leprechauns. The boss change his mind. You’re coming with us now.”
Colin can tell Che was extremely disappointed to make that announcement. Zezé confiscates both their weapons, then Che frees them from his cerebral hold. They start walking through the field, which was empty save for burning scraps of metal. As they walk, a faint white light in the distance becomes increasingly less faint and distant. It’s a black van, parked on the side of an empty farm road. The talent men had picked the perfect place to crash the train; there was no one around to see them. Zezé slides open the van’s side door, forcing Brendan and Colin in at gunpoint. The door slides shut, and the van starts to move into the night. It’s very dark in the windowless rear of the van, but the risk managers can sense they aren’t alone. Colin reaches his hand out to his left side and feels the shoulder of another person next to him. He moves his hand up to where their face should be, but in place of that is a burlap sack. Colin finds the bottom of the sack and slowly pulls it up to reveal their fellow captive’s face. Immediately, he regrets that decision. It’s an unconscious, heavily bruised Hans Kaiser.
“Ah, feck.” Brendan mumbles for the second time that night.

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9:42 PM.
The talent men had thought it was going to be easier than this. Their job was supposed to take a few minutes. Now, it’s pushing into its second hour. They’re frustrated, tired, and ready for it to end. Thankfully, it looked like they were in the home stretch. The van drives along an empty rural road just miles away from Oostende-Brugge International Airport, where a plane would be waiting to take their captives to a place where they’d never cause any inconvenience again. They had definitely been an inconvenience that night. Getting Kaiser was easy enough- he was never one to put up much meaningful resistance- but the Irishmen had been a different matter. They had escaped the stadium thanks to that damned Interpol agent, the first of many they had ended the lives of that night. As soon as they left the stadium to give chase, they’d been confronted by law enforcement of all stripes. Belgian Federal Police, Europol, Interpol… it didn’t matter which badge they wore; they met the bullet all the same. Once they had caused each and every agency that had pursued them to stand down in lieu of certain death, they went after their prey. Much like a real shark, Che’s senses were strong. However, the magnitude of that strength was more like that of a thousand sharks. He could smell Brendan, Colin, and everything around them from more than twenty miles away. He knew everything down to the manufacturer of the seat cushions on the train they were riding within seconds. They had hopped in the van and caught up with the train within an hour, and were even able to get ahead of it during a stop so they could find a quiet place to end its transit. It took a lot of Che’s power to derail a train, but it wasn’t his first time doing so. It actually took him by surprise when he still sensed their heartbeats after the crash; Che wasn’t used to anything less than complete success. When the time came to finish the job, he was more than eager to put their former colleagues to bed. They were like crickets who he had finally cornered, ready to smash them to bits. So when Carlo called with a change of plan, asking that they be kept alive, there was quite a bit of disappointment on Che’s part. Hence the frustration that filled his mind at the present moment. Frustration that he took out on the driver of the van, Bayern Munich manager Rui Vitoria.
“I feel like snail, Mr. Vitoria. Faster! Vamos!”
“You want me to speed? That would draw attention.”
“Attention from who?”
“Are you forgetting you have about a dozen law enforcement agencies after you right now? We have to be careful.”
“Are you forgetting that I don’t care? I have already shown the policia who is boss. If they wanting to try again, so be it.”
“Listen, not everyone has superpowers, man. If the police start shooting at us, I’m toast.”
“You will not be toast.”
“I will very much be toast. I’m not going to die because you can’t have a little bit of patience.”
“Is that what Vietnamese used to say?”
“You’ve got to stop quoting that movie, Che. You can’t even say the lines right, and I’m Portuguese, for ****’s sake, not a Yankee.”
Che pauses, trying not to let his latent anger become visible. He fails to do so.
“Let me drive.”
“What?”
“Let. Me. Drive.”
“From the way you’re acting right now, I have a feeling we’ll all end up dead if I let you do that.”
“Do not make me use my talents.”
“Are you ****ing serious? How does Carlo even employ a maniac like you?”
Those are the last words Vitoria is able to get out before Che freezes him. He pushes him out of the way and takes the wheel, but those few seconds between the switch in drivers are enough to send them into the opposite lane, where another vehicle has appeared on the horizon and is heading straight towards them. Che swings the wheel hard to the right and brings the van back into the correct lane, but the other vehicle follows them. Che swings the wheel again, and again they’re shadowed. Now that they’re within a hundred meters of each other, Che can clearly make out the other vehicle. It’s all too familiar. He’s too late to stop the crash, however. Before he can summon the strength to freeze the refurbished 30s-era Maybach, its wheels have already shattered the van’s windshield. The two vehicles have smashed into each other at full force, sending each one flying through the air backward and setting the outside of the van on fire. They land within ten yards of each other, about five times that distance away from where the collision occurred. Che frees himself from behind the van’s battered, burning door, spilling onto the pavement below. Vitoria is slumped over the wheel, alive but unconscious and severely injured. Zezé is trapped between his seat and the van’s roof, which had gone concave. Che helps him out, though he immediately drops to the ground in anguish. His leg has been slashed open, blood soaking his crocodile costume. Before Che can do anything about the wound, however, shots ring out from behind the Maybach. They miss, but not by much. Che grabs hold of Zezé and gets him to cover behind the van. He then enters the van through the back door, where Brendan, Colin, and Hans were all lying unconscious from the smoke. That was good, Che thought. He could focus on the threat at hand without worrying about losing their precious cargo. He makes his way to a storage cabinet which acted as their armory. They had two sniper rifles, which they had used to take out Slavomir, two Mini Uzis, a shotgun, and all three of their captives’ pistols. However, they were running low on ammunition following their fight with the cops. They would have to make every shot count.
Che hands Zezé one of the Mini Uzis and Colin’s pistol.
“Can you fight?” He asks in their native tongue.
“I can. It hurts, but I can.”
“Okay. On me.”
They advance out of their cover and into the open. For the first time, the talent men get a long, hard look at their attackers. They had no idea why the Smurfs were after them; they were supposed to be allies. The bear and the lion stare back at them, assault rifles drawn and pickaxes slung across their backs. The Maybach had come off better in the crash- it still looked operable- but Markus Weinzierl was in poor shape, his body covered in cuts and burns. His hair, which he had worn long ever since his days as Schalke manager as a counter to baldness, was soaked with blood from a gash on his head. He limps out of the car, hands to his head to put pressure on the wound. Zezé raises his Uzi to shoot, but Che stops him.
“Wait,” he whispers, “I want to understand why first.”
“Mr. Weinzierl!” He calls out. “What’s happening here?”
“YOU KILLED OUR MAN!” Weinzierl shouts back, his voice breaking from a combination of pain and rage.
“What do you speak about? We have done no such thing.”
“That Interpol agent… he was ours! He was undercover!”
“Wait… the man named Horny? He was yours?”
“Yes! He tried to call you off by waving to you!”
“Why did you not tell us!?”
“We did!”
“No, you did not!”
“We passed the message onto your boss. We made an agreement he would be the one to take Kaiser, not you.”
“We received no message, Mr. Weinzierl. We did what we believed was necessary at that time.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better!?”
“Well… I thought it would.”
“You know what… die null muß stehen! OPEN FIRE!” Weinzierl commands his talent men before he dives for cover. Che takes his cue to put the freeze on the two of them, but it doesn’t work. He has no idea why; his powers had never failed him before. What he knew for certain, though, was that it was a fair fight now. Bullets spray from both sides, ripping up the already-wrecked vehicles and turning the quiet country road they stood upon into a warzone. The talent men had already killed the men who had occupied the bear and lion costumes previously; they should have been able to do so again. This time, though, something was different. Every shot seemed to be going miles off target, much like a Villa-era Heskey. Every shot from their adversaries was coming dangerously close to hitting. Each attempt to freeze the bullets flying at them or the people shooting them Che made failed. For the first time in years, the talent men were vulnerable. The thought of losing actually crossed their minds. It only became more prevalent when they ran out of ammunition. With bullets still whizzing by, the talent men, unarmed and powerless, make a decision that, prior to that night, they would have considered utterly crazy.
“We’re going to surrender.” Che tells Zezé as they hunker down behind the van’s wreckage.
“What?”
“Don’t worry, I have a plan that… might work. Follow my lead.”
They wait for a break in the opposing fire, then come out from behind the van with their hands up. Che kneels down on the pavement right in front of the burning van, with Zezé following suit. Schalke’s talent men come out from behind the Maybach, guns drawn.
“Lie face down on the ground.” The lion commands the shark and crocodile. Che had no qualms about complying; his plan involved them being on the ground anyway. Zezé follows his lead.
“Good. Now stay there while we tell you a story.”
Even better.
“Three years ago, you two killed the men in these costumes at our midnight reckoning. They were supposed to kill the man in the back of that van, be rid of him forever. But no, you two came with your fancy powers and your machine guns, and you saved his bacon. You killed over 300 of our brothers and sisters that night. The two that are about to be taken are nothing in comparison. No one will miss you, no one will remember you for anything other than the scum that you are. As our predecessors said that night, we are the ones who shall deliver justice when no one else has the courage. This is not just for brother Slavomir, this is for everyone who wears Schalke blue. Die null muß stehen!” The bear and lion aim their guns directly at their rivals’ heads, primed to shoot. Then there’s an explosion… but it’s not the guns. 
The heat is searing and extremely painful. It feels like Hephaestus himself has unleashed his fiery wrath upon the talent men, but thankfully, the actual impact subsides quickly. When Che opens his eyes and looks behind him, he sees that the lower half of his costume is gone, replaced by third-degree burns covering his legs. The van is reduced to almost nothing, but thankfully Rui Vitoria had managed to regain consciousness and escape before the explosion. He lies on the side of the road in a state of shock. When Che turns around, a smile spreads across his face. The bear and lion are no more, utterly burnt to a crisp. Their bodies are unrecognizable; only small remnants of their costumes remain. They watch as Weinzierl appears from behind the Maybach, realizes what had happened, and wastes not a second to get back in the car and flee in the opposite direction. For a moment, Che thinks everything has gone right, until he remembers his captives. They had to be gone… there was no way they could have survived the explosion. Suddenly, his mind descends into a state of disarray. Their deaths would be unacceptable to Carlo, for he had ordered them to be brought to him alive. Fighting through the pain of the burns, he rushes over to the rubble of the van. Expecting to find the gruesome confirmation of their failure, Che instead finds nothing. They weren’t there. Somehow, they must have regained consciousness in time and found a way to escape to one of the villages nearby. He tries to pick up their scent, but nothing comes to him. His all-important talents had disappeared. For the first time since Che’s criminal career had begun, he’d be doing his business without the help of the shark. God, if that didn’t feel terrifying.
Che helps Zezé up, grabs their defeated opponents’ weapons, and together they soldier forward into the Belgian night once more.

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Sechs
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Leffinge, Belgium. 10:16 PM.
“Wake up, mate!”
“We know you’re in there!”
“Come on, Hans!’
As Hans Kaiser regains consciousness, the last people he expected to see in front of him and yelling his name were his neighbors. As soon as his eyes open, Brendan and Colin breathe a sigh of relief, hugging him like a soldier come home from duty would his children.
“What…” Hans chokes out against the crushing force of Brendan’s bear hug. When they relent, he manages to compose himself and speak clearly. “What happened? Where am I?”
“Well, what happened is you were knocked over the head by your old employees, had a burlap sack thrown over your head, thrown in a van which crashed, and then we got you the hell out of there before it exploded. As for where we are, we’re not really sure. We’re still in Belgium, I think.” Colin responds matter-of-factly, as if nothing about what he had just said was unusual.
Hans blinks several times.
“Erm… alright, I remember getting knocked over the head. But nothing after that makes any sense. How the hell do you guys know about Che and Zezé? And how the hell did you manage to not get yourselves killed by them?”
“Well… um…” Colin falters.
“Colin, just tell him.”
Colin sighs.
“Okay Hans, we’ve got a bit of a confession to make. Not the kind you make to a priest, either.”
“Yes?” Hans had no idea where this was going.
“We’re not who we say we are. Well, I mean, we sort of are. Our names are Brendan and Colin, and risk management is a creative name for our job title, but we’re not just two average joes. We’ve worked for Carlo Ancelotti for years, and he assigned us a job to spy on and sabotage you. For your entire tenure as Club Brugge manager, we fed rival managers your game plan beforehand.”
“You’ve got to be ****ing kidding me.” Hans rises to his feet and attempts to walk away, but Brendan stops him.
“Hans, trust me, you’re in no position to walk away. I fully understand that this is going to be tough for you to hear, and you’ve a right to be upset, but you have to listen to us.”
“Why should I listen to a single word you have to say? I can’t believe you have the audacity to think I would.”
“Because chances are, those talent boys of yours are coming after us right now, and they’re not gonna be happy. They’re gonna lead us to slaughter.”
“What do you mean, us? What have your coworkers got against you?”
“Carlo wants us out. He wants the talent boys to completely replace us, and he’s trying to take out the trash. He wants us to suffer just as much as you. We’re on the same team here, Hans.”
Hans remains stubborn.
“You know what? I don’t care. They can find us, they can kill us. I’m starting to think death is preferable to this life I have. One where even leaving my enemies be and trying to live my own life gets me into just as much trouble as the opposite. They kill innocent
people because of me wherever I go, whatever I do. There’s nothing I can do to avoid them. If they kill me, at least I’ll finally be free.”
“That’s no way to think, mate.”
“Yeah, that’s out of order, mate.” Colin chimes in.
“Don’t ****ing call me ‘mate’! Anyone who comes into my home, gets me drunk, steals my secrets and sells them to the highest bidder for that vermin of a boss you have, is not my mate!” Hans is on the verge of losing it.
“Hans, please. Don’t think none of it was genuine. We’re real people, too. We enjoyed your company, just as you enjoyed ours. The other things we did were strictly business.” Brendan affirms, trying to mitigate the situation.
“That’s exactly what Che and Zezé would say every time they did something awful to me. If you think your tricks are working, you’re mistaken.”
“Hans…”
“I’m done talking to you. I’m going to wait here and let them at me. If what you say is true, at least you two will be going down with me.”
“Hans, you have a family. Don’t you want to see them again?”
“Yeah, but… they’re not going to want to see me now, are they? They’ll have heard about my arrest.”
“You’re a missing man who saw someone shot dead right in front of you! I think they’ll be much more concerned that you’re alive and safe right now. If you want to see them again, you need to help us.”
He had a good point.
“Fine… what do you need?” Hans gives in reluctantly, his love for his family too strong.
“We have to get out of here as soon as possible, and as far away as possible. There must be someone you can call that you trust?”
“Well… there is one person. Before tonight I thought I could trust you two, but he’s the only one now.”
“Have you got a phone?”
“Yeah. Give me a minute.”
Hans locates his phone in his back pocket, but in the process realizes his gun is gone.
“Where’s my gun?”
“They took it. Took ours as well. If they show up, we’re defenseless.”
“Damn right.” Hans mutters as he dials a number into his phone. He holds it up to his ear as it rings and then answers.
“Boss?” comes Fabian Schulz’s confused but relieved voice on the other end, “Where the hell are you? No one’s seen you for an hour, at least!”
“Fabian, I’m not in Bruges. I’m in…” Hans opens Google Maps and confirms his location. “Leffinge, near the airport. Che and Zezé are after me again, the bastards. I need you to get a car and come pick me up as soon as possible. We’ll talk then. Understood?”
“Ah, Jesus… yeah, I’ve got you, boss. I’ll get the Huracan from your garage. That thing goes fast, doesn’t it?”
“You know it does, Fabian. I’ll be waiting by the church. Bye.”
“Bye.”
The line cuts out, and Hans simply plops down on the cobblestone pavement in front of Leffinge’s sole church- a traditional Brabantine Gothic a stone’s throw from the Plassendale-Nieuwpoort Canal- ready for whichever fate was about to find him. Brendan and Colin sit a few meters away from him, ensuring a degree of separation.
“I assume Fabian’s coming then?” Brendan ventures.
“He is.”
“That’s good. Do you want to talk about this?”
“Brendan,” Hans replies, his eyes focused firmly on the night sky above him, “I’m done talking, if you don’t mind.”
Brendan nods his head, and the three men fall silent, their only course of action to sit and wait beneath the twinkling stars.
 
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They heard it before they saw it. The rumble of the V10 engine was unmistakable, as well as the squeal of the tires against the cobblestones, as Hans Kaiser’s Lamborghini Huracan comes to a stop in front of the church. Hans gets up off the ground and moves in front of the driver’s window. The tinted window rolls down to reveal the scarred face of Fabian Schulz, who had quite impressively covered the fifteen-mile distance between Bruges and Leffinge in less than ten minutes. Thank goodness for the speed on that thing, Hans thought. He gestures to Brendan and Colin to get in the car, and together they take their seats in the back, with Hans going around the front and hopping in the passenger seat.
“Thank you, Fabian. I’m glad I can trust you.” Hans quickly flashes a look back to his neighbors, who simply take the dig on the chin. There was no time to bicker now.
“Of course, boss.” Fabian responds as a formality, but there was a perplexed look on his face. “But I’ve got to ask, who are these two in the back?”
“They’re my neighbors.”
“Your neighbors? Why are they-”
“It’s a long story that will have to be told another time. Right now, we have to figure out what our next move is.”
“Well, you need to get out of here, right? You said those zoo animals are after you again, no?”
“Yes, but we need to be deliberate in where we go. We can’t just go anywhere- the police are still after us, don’t forget... we need to go somewhere safe.”
Brendan leans forward between the driver’s and passenger’s seat.
“If I may suggest something, me and the lad were on a train to London not too long ago. I have old connections there that would take us in.”
Hans shakes his head.
“The Chunnel is a major security checkpoint, especially after Brexit. We’d have to get some low-rate ferry there, and I’m not confident of our survival chances out on the open sea with those two after us.”
“Yeah, fair point.”
“We can’t be going anywhere where there’s going to be a police presence. It also needs to be somewhere where we have people that we can trust… oh.” Hans pauses, an idea having formed in his head. “I’ve got it.”
“What is it?” Fabian and the risk managers ask simultaneously, on the edge of their seats.
Hans simply cracks a wry smile and utters, “Dortmund.”
“I… don’t know how I didn’t think of that.” Fabian laments, shaking his head in self-disappointment.
“It’s about four hours from here, but it’s the best place I can think of. Germany’s in the Schengen Area, which means there’s no border checkpoint. I still have people on my side there that could keep us safe from Che and Zezé, or at least put up a fight against them. Johann and his Ultras, Captain Moller… they’re solid guys. We can do it. Are we in agreement?”
The other three men in the car voice their satisfaction with the plan. Fabian punches the address of the Signal Iduna Park into his GPS, then sets the car into motion, heading south towards the E40 highway which would take them as far as Ghent. Hans watches as the needle on the Huracan’s speedometer rises to 65 kilometers per hour, then 100 kilometers per hour, then 160, then 200, then 250… and finally back to zero, all in a matter of seconds. The brakes are applied so swiftly that everyone in the car is jolted out of their seat, Colin slamming into the roof and Hans’ bald head violently smacking off the dashboard. Disoriented and nursing what might have been a concussion, Hans takes a few moments to gather himself before he looks out the windshield to process the situation. They had only gone a quarter of a mile; they were now just meters away from the canal at the edge of town. It’s dark out, but what the Huracan’s headlights illuminate in the road makes Hans’ heart both jump and sink within instants. He clasps his hands around Fabian’s shoulders, shaking him like a rattle. He was barely conscious and bleeding; his head had taken a knock off the steering wheel before the airbag could deploy.
“Fabian! Can you hear me? Foot on the gas, now!”
“I... I can’t. There’s someone in the road. Er… two people… I think.” A disoriented Fabian mumbles, hardly able to get out the words.
“It doesn’t matter! Drive!”
It was too late. The next thing Hans hears is the window next to him shattering to pieces. The next thing he feels is a familiar whack on the head. It doesn’t incapacitate him this time, but he falls across Fabian’s lap, his head screaming in agony. He feels himself being grabbed and thrown out of the car, then dragged across the ground. His skin is torn by pavement, then dug into by sharp grass. The air smells of something unspeakably foul, yet all too known to Hans. Before, he had described it as something like motor oil or tar. Now he could only imagine it was what hell smelled like. When he’s finally free, Hans’ eyes reluctantly open to find all three of his companions lying on the ground next to him on the grass in front of the canal. Panicked, he rushes to Fabian, the closest, and puts his finger to his neck. He’s still alive, a fact further corroborated by a voice to his left.
“He fine, Mr. Kaiser, for now. I do not decide which one of you I want to kill yet.”
When Hans turns to face Che, he immediately is taken aback. He looks terrible. The bottom half of his costume is gone, leaving just a pair of hole-riddled jeans beneath, his bronze-colored legs bloodied and charred with awful burns. But on the upper half of his body, the same old shark persevered, the green and yellow paint of its head and chest now interspersed with the same barbecued blackness present on his legs and pants. He looked stuck somewhere between man and beast, but a cruel killer all the same. Next to him is a man who he doesn’t recognize at first, but the jagged guitar next to him indicated that it must have been Zezé. He’s a man of about 50, his jet-black hair running down to his shoulders in waves, his thick, bushy beard a mix of black and grey. Something was wrong with him though. He’s wincing in pain, and Hans can tell he’s not standing fully upright. When he looks down to Zezé’s legs, there’s indeed a problem… they’re soaked with blood, the green and yellow fabric of his now-destroyed crocodile costume used in an attempt to dress his wound, but with little effect. He might well have been dying, but the Škorpion carbine in his hands suggested he was ready to take a life of his own if need be. Che’s weapon was identical, the black finish matching that of the color in the shark's eyes. As Fabian, Brendan, and Colin regain their bearings, Che begins to speak in a tone of wickedness, which despite all his equally wicked acts over the years, was new to Hans. He was always calm and collected, but now he was clearly angered, pacing around in a straight line, moving back and forth between the four men before him.
“What about death you want to avoid, hmm? Why you keep escaping me? Do you really think something better in these pathetic lives of yours worth the escape to? There’s nothing at all! Mr. Kaiser, you are failure, nearly man, fraud. Mr. Telleus wouldn’t even try to redeem you. Leprechauns, you are Irish version of us, and by that, I mean poor and stupid as potato! You never hold candle to our talent, so what’s your point in living? Drink Guinness, look for pot of gold? No, I see none. Bodyguard. You work for Mr. Kaiser, that is terrible enough in itself. You not even your own man. None of you deserve life, but I shall only kill one. The boss say he want you all alive, but when I explain to him what I go through on this night, I think he will understand why one of you will not live. The rest of you will go to place where you will beg for their fate. I consider it mercy, to the one I kill tonight. Act of love. It will be the luckiest thing that shall ever happen to you, to die at hands of a man with my talent! Who want to be the lucky one?”
He pauses in front of Brendan, staring right into his eyes, which are rigid and serious, not giving Che an ounce of the fear that he craved. The same couldn’t be said of his partner next to him, who was visibly shaking, his dark eyebrows twitching. Fabian seemed zoned out, hardly there. He didn’t belong here; he was only supposed to drive them away. If he dies, Hans thought, he could never live with himself. Hans himself has his trembling hands covering his eyes in shame. Before, he had tricked himself into believing he’d be perfectly fine with this happening. Now that it was, he regretted ever believing so. His heart pumps like an oil main, the space between beats nonexistent. When Che speaks again, it goes even faster.
“I suppose it is Irish who are lucky, right?”
The gunshot hardly registers. Neither do Colin’s screams, nor the sound of his older, sand-haired partner plunging into the canal. Hans is already gone, in a different place. One where he’d been many times before, but never once enjoyed his stay. The same place he’d been in the Congo, in the mines, lying on the ground outside his office. There was no definition to it, no color, no shape. It was blank as the slate he thought he had when he arrived in Belgium. That had been a lie. That slate was pitch black now, but in that moment, so did the images before him. Hans is snapped out of the blank space, forced to cough, for his eyes and mouth are assaulted by the toxic sting of coal dust. It had appeared out of nowhere, but it had enveloped everything. He could no longer see Fabian nor Colin, Che nor Zezé. He sinks to the ground to try to take in as little of it as possible, burying his head into the earth and closing his eyes. It takes a few more moments to subside, and when it does, Hans is greeted with a scene even more shocking than he could have predicted. Somehow, a man had appeared out of thin air, standing meters away from him. And not just any man. A man who had terrified the living daylights out of him the few times he had seen him, someone so unpredictable and bizarre that his very presence was enough to chill him to the bone. Wearing a blue miner’s outfit, holding a long hunting knife with the Ukrainian trident engraved in the handle to Zezé’s neck, and his angular face smattered black with coal, was none other than the former head Smurf, Sergiy Rebrov. Their only previous conversation had been brief, yet ended with some of the most disturbing words Hans had heard in his life before he had simply disappeared before his eyes. Rebrov repeated those words now, but quietly, almost in a whisper, directing them towards a coughing, doubled over Che.
“It will rain, and then it will pour. Like blood from the crocodile’s throat, if you don’t do what I tell you.”
“You…” Che coughs with dreadful power, interrupting his response. “You do not tell a talent man what to do.”
“I do.” Rebrov states simply, showing no deference. “You drop gun and hand over Kaiser, or he dies. I will not say this again.”
“You have no idea of my talent… no idea what I can do.”
“But you can’t, can you?”
He was right. Che’s power was gone, and had been since the crash. The shark accepts this fact, possibly for the first time in its life acknowledging weakness.
“How do you know?”
“We have our own talents. What happened to you is not accident. We do our research, find your weakness. You cross us, so you get what you deserve. And you definitely don’t deserve to decide Kaiser’s fate now.”
Che takes a few moments to process this, but a smile returns to his face soon enough.
“Well… Mr. Rebrov, this does not change fact you have brought knife to gun fight.”
“Indeed, I have. I like this kind of killing more. The way I see it, you have one shot. Are you willing to deal with the consequences if you kill him with this shot instead of me?”
“That will not happen, Mr. Rebrov.”
Che raises his Škorpion to chest height, aimed straight at Rebrov’s head, which was partially obscured by Zezé’s, for the Ukrainian was positioned behind the Argentine, one hand holding him in a headlock and the other pressing the knife into the soft part of his neck. Zezé looks oddly calm, at peace. He isn’t panicking. He stands still, not interested in fighting his captor.
“Shoot, Che.” He delivers calmly. “You won’t miss. You never miss.”
Suddenly, Che’s firing arm, which was motionless as a Grenadier Guard before, now starts to waver. He closes his eyes, the muscles around them straining. Hans had never seen him hesitate, but something in his mind must have been getting to him. Hans could tell there was some sort of internal conflict going on, likely between two different people. One who loved his friend, and couldn’t possibly imagine a scenario in which he was responsible for his death, and one that couldn’t possibly imagine a scenario where he failed, where nothing was more important than getting the job done.
The Škorpion’s mechanical report indicates which side won. Che opens his eyes and watches as the man in blue drops to the ground, killed instantly from a shot to the head. For one precious moment, he believes that he’s won. That every foe, expected or unexpected, had been defeated, and they had finally succeeded. He smiles at Zezé, but he doesn’t smile back. His eyes roll back into his head, and he crumples to his knees. That’s when Che realizes his grave error. He can see the blood pouring from his friend’s shoulder. The bullet had gone straight through it, and then into Rebrov. Che rushes over to him, but he’s already collapsed to the ground before he can get there. Individually, the gash on his leg and being shot through the shoulder likely wouldn’t have killed him, but the combination of the two ensured he wouldn’t survive. Che turns him over onto his back, placing his hands on his face. For the first time in years, there are tears in the shark’s eyes, and they drip down onto Zezé’s haggard face, which was quickly growing pale.
“Lo siento, Lo siento, Lo siento.” Che chokes out, unable to bring himself to say anything else. Zezé’s eyes remain rolled back into his head, his bodily functions shutting down from loss of blood. His body begins to shake violently, as if he were possessed, and then it goes still, never to move again.
Hans isn’t sure how much time passes, but no one dares to move. Colin, near catatonic, lies down on the edge of the canal of which his former partner sat at the bottom. He’s curled up in a ball like a traumatized armadillo. Fabian, unable to process the events that had unfolded, sits quietly on the ground, eyes unmoving, staring into nothingness. Che rests his head on Zezé’s body, his crying having subsided and his guilt having truly set in. He is just as rigid as the other two. Hans is the only one with enough strength to stand, and stand is all he does. He looks at the star-studded night sky again, wondering how something so beautiful could be the backdrop for something so awful. There is no sound apart from chirping birds, who Hans considered exceptionally fortunate to have no understanding of what had happened on the ground below them. All Hans had at the moment were his thoughts, but so deep in them was he that he didn’t notice Che moving towards him, only registering his presence once their faces are just inches apart. It was no longer a shark before him. The costume is completely gone now, leaving only the man underneath, a handsome man of about 45 years, his sweat-drenched dark hair falling over his face and wearing a black tank top in addition to the battered jeans. Hans immediately flinches, expecting Che to take out his wrath on him, but his eyes show a different side entirely. The one that had lost the battle on his decision to shoot, and the one that had lost nearly every battle for the past four years. One that Hans had indeed only seen once, when he came to his office in Dortmund in search of help returning to Argentina. He suspected that this side had no intention of harming him, so he puts his arm around the man’s shoulder, and they walk to the edge of the canal together. They sit down on the bank, starting a conversation that neither knew exactly how to navigate.
“I’m... not speaking to Che, am I?” Hans asks.
“No, you’re not.”
His accent was now considerably weaker, Hans noticed.
“That’s good.”
“No, it’s not.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means he’s still in me.”
“Well, are you sure that he’s going to come back?”
“He will, eventually. And I can’t risk that happening ever again.”
“What are you going to do about that?”
“What I should have done a long time ago. What I should have done as soon as that shark bit me. But I was selfish, and look where it’s brought me.”
Hans doesn’t know how to respond.
“I… ”
“Don’t say anything. I just ask that you stand up, take your friends, and leave. There are certain principles that you must stick to, Mr. Kaiser, and I plan to stick to them, for once. Try and forget that I ever existed.”
“Che- er, José, this isn’t the only way.”
“GET OUT!” José yells as he points the gun at him, his entire body shaking.
Hans, seeing no other option, raises his hands to communicate nonaggression, slowly rises to his feet, and walks over to Fabian, picking him up off the ground and taking him in one arm, then to Colin, who initially resists, but eventually allows Hans to take him in his other arm. Together, the three men, each of them broken, scarred, and exhausted in more ways than one, slowly shuffle across the patch of grass in which their lives were once again forever changed and start to walk back to the town. When Hans hears the final gunshot in the distance, he knows it’s over. An end to all the violence that had consumed his life and never truly let go. It was the only thing his brain could process at the moment; everything else was a jumbled mess. He was done. There was no coming back from this. When they reach the church again, Hans knows what he has to do. He guides his two companions inside, who immediately lie down on the pews, near collapse from exhaustion. Hans then goes back outside, sitting on the same cobblestones he had before. He takes his phone out of his pocket, dials 112, and presses call.
“Federal Police. What’s your emergency?” A woman’s voice comes from the other end.
“This is Hans Kaiser. I’m in Leffinge. I’ll be in front of the church.” He pauses for a moment, then continues. “The two men in the costumes, they’re dead. You’re safe to come.”
“Thank you. They’ll be on their way.”
Hans hangs up and puts the phone away. He sighs, closes his eyes, and leaves himself to his thoughts. Right now, they are all he has.
 
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Hans had already felt handcuffs clicking around his wrists once that night, which to him now felt like a week’s worth of nights all in one. This time, he doesn’t put up any fight. He, Fabian, and Colin are escorted together into the back of a black BFP van, which also wasn’t a first for him on that night. Neither was looking up at the stars, which he was able to get one last glance at before the van’s door slid shut. In that moment, Hans saw something that nearly brought him to smile, even among all the trauma. Something in the stars he hadn’t seen for a long time. A constellation, by the name of Leo. He was looking down on him after all.
The van rolls off into the night, leaving behind a town in which Hans had seen yet another set of images which he would never forget, as much as he would try to. Sunrise would bring a new day. It couldn’t come soon enough.

Edited by oriole01

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Sieben
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The Belfry of Bruges. 11:25 PM.
The man in the bell tower watches as the smoke from his cigar drifts away into the warm night air, hanging in suspension over the brown roofs of Bruges’ medieval buildings before it disappears. Carlo Ancelotti was very much wishing he could disappear with it. He tosses the cigar to the stone floor beneath him, stomping it with unnecessary force to snuff it out. Not far from the crushed stogie lie the remains of Carlo’s cellphone, destroyed in a similar manner shortly after Rui Vitoria’s call informing him of his plan’s collapse. Looking back out upon the quiet cityscape below him, he contemplates exactly how things had gone wrong. His plan was supposed to be executed swiftly and simply, with no complications. The talent men were to kidnap Hans at the end of his speech, put him in a van that would go the airport, where a hired plane would have flown him to Bayern and Schalke’s joint base in Parc National des Virunga, the same place in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where Hans had been held as a prisoner nearly 25 years before. Together, they had spent two years and millions of euros constructing a massive prison where Kaiser would spend the rest of his life, as a final retaliation for all the trouble he had caused. The idea of Hans leaving football wasn't satisfying enough for Carlo; he didn't deserve a moment's happiness again, on a pitch or off it. He needed to be completely destroyed. In his mind, his plan represented a perfect justice, which would ensure he would never have to worry about the bald one ever again.
But thanks to a misunderstanding, bad luck, and a clash of Bayern and Schalke’s pride and egos, absolutely nothing had gone to plan. It was a Challenger disaster of a plot; it had all blown up in spectacular fashion, before it could even really get off the ground. Everyone Carlo had depended on had either failed him or turned on him, even the two men who had never once failed before. He wanted to be enraged, to take out his frustration and sense of failure on something, anything at all, really. But there was nothing left for him to punish; everything had already been lost. So now, alone near the top of an 83-meter-high tower, Carlo simply stands and watches the night slowly roll on, unable to think of any other course of action. At least it was a beautiful, peaceful night, he thought. That couldn’t be taken from him, right?
It could. Carlo tries not to process the sounds he hears next, to numb his brain to them, but they persist nonetheless. After a few moments, he allows himself to fully accept what they were, and what they meant for him. The blaring of sirens grow ever louder and closer to Carlo, up until the point where he can see almost a dozen police vehicles emerging from the streets below. Cars, SUVs, and vans squeal to a halt in the market square, hordes of officers pouring out of them and forming a uniformed phalanx at the bottom of the tower. They too must have received word of the talent men’s demise, and had come to clean up the scraps. Carlo can see a megaphone pass through the crowd of officers to one in the front, who must have been their captain. The man switches it on and speaks.
“Carlo Ancelotti, this is the Belgian Federal Police speaking! We order that you come down from this tower at once and surrender! If you do not comply within five minutes, we will send a team of armed officers up to arrest you on the spot! It’s a long climb, so we’d very much prefer that that doesn’t happen! Do you understand?”
“Of course, officers! I’ll be headed right down!” Carlo raises his voice in response.
“Thank you very much!”
Carlo smirks. These cops were pansies, just like any other in Western Europe. They weren’t going to be prepared for what would happen next. He had already made up his mind on what that was going to be; he had decided as soon as the police had arrived. There was no chance in hell a man of his pedigree, a man of his class, a man of his immense winning reputation, could go to prison for his actions. It simply wasn’t an option. That left only one option on the table, one that most people would be terrified to take, but not Carlo Ancelotti. He was never one to hesitate to do what he needed to do, and he wasn’t going to start now. He steps away from the belfry’s open window and removes his grey pinstripe suit and matching fedora. Taking them off reminds him of how differently the night could have gone; he was planning to dine in the Congo that night in those clothes, preferably with Hans Kaiser tied to a chair on the opposite side. The Congo was where this was all supposed to end. Instead, the end had come in the land of its former colonizer. The irony wasn’t lost on Carlo, but he wasn’t worried about anything other than what he felt he had to do. Now stripped down to an untucked white dress shirt and grey slacks, Carlo returns to the window and calls out once more to the square below, “I’m coming down now!”
There was no response from the police this time. That was fine, Carlo reasoned. They were about to have a lot to respond to. With that, he steps up onto the window ledge, takes a deep breath, and jumps.
Carlo didn’t want his eyes to open. He had taken a quite extreme measure to ensure that they never would again, and yet, infuriatingly, they do. He’s lying on the ground, which is what he had intended, but he hadn’t intended to stay alive. He can’t feel anything; his entire body is numb. All he can see at the moment are the cobblestones beneath him, for he was lying face first upon them. He can hear voices above him, but his brain is in such a state of disarray that he can’t pick up anything they’re saying. With each passing moment, a terrible urge makes itself more and more abundant in Carlo's mind as his senses start to come back to him. He had to look. He attempts to flip himself over by pushing his arms against the pavement, but in a moment of horror, he realizes his arms are no longer there. Neither are his legs. The next thing he feels are multiple sets of hands upon him, doing for him what he had just attempted. Carlo now lies on his back, able to see around him. All four of his severed, horrifically mangled limbs lie spread across the ground, leaving just a head, neck, and torso to comprise him. Blood is everywhere, spraying out of the meaty chasms where his limbs had once been and painting the cobblestones a scarlet so rich it would have made any artist envious. What’s left of Carlo vomits copiously, then blissfully loses consciousness as a cavalcade of paramedics and police load him into an ambulance, which promptly speeds off in a direction that would only bring more disaster upon the Italian, whose long reign as a  member of European football’s royalty was now over, to be replaced by a lifetime of pauperism in incarceration. If Carlo were still conscious and of able mind, he might have pondered how exactly things had reached this point. After all, he hadn’t always been a ruthless, paranoid crime lord. Up until a certain point in the recent past, he had hardly been more than a shrewd football manager with an ego. Something had triggered a reaction, a shift from balance to chaos, a slow descent into madness. Over the years, Hans Kaiser had mellowed out, his overzealous fire slowly extinguished as the traumas and regrets piled up before him. Carlo Ancelotti had done the opposite, only becoming hungrier for power and control even as his actions became more and more corrupt. As in most matters of psychology, it would be impossible to claim just one moment as responsible for such a change; such processes are far more nuanced than that. However, if a watershed moment were to be identified, it would most likely be found back in the year 2018, when in his first meeting with his future employees, Carlo was transported to a place of abject horror that had both haunted him and enthralled him. The dark power it had shown him had burrowed into his soul and stayed there, giving him nightmares nightly but also feeding him a desire to harness it. Outwardly, he had showed nothing but contempt for the two men who had changed him, but inwardly, he knew he needed them to feed his cravings. He did everything in his power to bring them to his side, just to get a taste of the sort of immense talent they had, to truly understand what the darkness meant. He should have realized sooner that that was a grave mistake. Instead, it had taken a complete collapse of his empire and the loss of all of his limbs to come to such a realization.
Better late than never.

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An Inter(pol)lude
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ACCESS TO THIS PHONE TRANSCRIPT REQUIRES AN INTERPOL SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVEL OF SENIOR OFFICER OR HIGHER. ANY UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE DISINTEGRATION.
The following conversation took place on 29 MAY 2022 at 19:23 CET. The participants were HONGWEI, MENG (President) and STOCK, JÜRGEN (Secretary General)
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[Connection established]
HONGWEI: Secure line?
STOCK: It is, sir.
HONGWEI: Excellent. Before I continue, Jürgen, I’d like to congratulate you on behalf of the rest of the executives on the success of Operation Unholy Trinity. All of our targets are either deceased or in the custody of the appropriate law enforcement agency. Your individual efforts on this operation- highlighted by your decision to implement the Python Approach- have been exemplary… it’ll be a model to follow for future investigations.
STOCK: Thank you, sir. I appreciate your praise.
HONGWEI: You’re welcome. Now, I hear from my secretary that you’re ready to share your findings down there in the Congo with me?
STOCK: Indeed I am, sir. Over the past two days, we have assessed the entirety of this compound. We have concluded that the plans were very much in place to use it as a prison for Hans Kaiser for an indefinite period of time, possibly for the rest of his life. We have seized thousands of documents from the compound which we believe would be admissible as evidence in the trials of Carlo Ancelotti, Rui Vitoria, Markus Weinzierl, and others. It’s looking like a big win here, boss.
HONGWEI: Excellent, thank you. Can you give me an idea of what the interior of the prison was like?
STOCK: Well, that’s definitely the part I didn’t want to have to get into, sir. It’s quite shocking what they were intending to do to Kaiser in here. Are you sure you want to know about this now?
HONGWEI: Please, go on.
STOCK: Of course. It appears they were planning to force Kaiser to sell hair care products for them, under the false guise of a startup men’s cosmetics company. They hired a whole commercial production crew. They had an entire room of wigs, toupees, fake eyebrows, anything related to artificial hair you could imagine. There were also plans to eventually give him full facial reconstructive surgery to look exactly like Carlo Ancelotti, improperly-executed hair transplants included. Lastly, they hired local gangsters to pose as soldiers of the insurgency group known as PLFFEC, the same one that held him captive in the 90s. They would be there as his “babysitters” whenever Bayern and Schalke’s operatives would be on other duties. They rebuilt the animal cages, codified an entire sport called “Grenade Fetch”, and built a torture dungeon for when they were bored. It would have been hell for the man, there’s no doubt.
HONGWEI: Wow… I’m very glad that we’ve been able to break this operation up. It may have to go down as one of our best accomplishments in recent years.
STOCK: I’m glad, too. It’s been more than stressful, you know, having to use the Python Approach and all. Our two mystery targets prevented us from acting as soon as we could. We had to wait for the Convergence, as it was our best shot to apprehend as many of our targets as we could. Yes, we lost a lot of men in the initial confrontation outside the stadium, but we sat back and eventually got what we wanted. Now that they’re out of the picture, the world’s a much better place.
HONGWEI: Well… actually, there’s something I wanted to mention to you about them. Something’s come up while you’ve been down there.
STOCK: What’s that, sir?
HONGWEI: Keep in mind, what I’m about to tell you is strictly between the two of us, and it won’t be mentioned in the official reports. One of our mystery men, the one who wore the crocodile costume, was found dead at the scene in Leffinge, identified as an Argentine national named José ‘Zezé’ Santiago, wanted for a string of crimes back in Argentina in addition to what we already know about here in Europe. But his partner, the one who wore the shark costume, of whom we could only find out a first name, also José, and a nickname, “Che”, wasn’t there. Every eyewitness account we’ve received, from Kaiser, his bodyguard, and the surviving Irishman, place him there at the scene; Kaiser claims he heard but didn’t see him shoot himself. No one knows his full name; we’ve got nothing to go on at the moment, apart from one thing.
STOCK: What’s that?
HONGWEI: We found a trail of blood leading away from the site where “Che” supposedly committed suicide, leading back into the village, up until a certain point on the street, where a car was later reported stolen in that same spot.
STOCK: A trail of blood? Surely we could do a read on it and check our database for matches?
HONGWEI: If it were human blood, absolutely. But this was shark’s blood.
STOCK: Pardon my French, sir, but… what the ****?
HONGWEI: I’ve got no idea, Jürgen. We’ll just have to file it away in evidence for the time being and see if anyone… or anything… comes forward. As far as Interpol is concerned, the man is dead. We don’t need the media knowing we’ve let a professional killer slip away.
STOCK: Definitely not. I’ll make sure this stays between us.
HONGWEI: You know I wouldn’t expect anything less. You’ll be disintegrated if you do, don’t forget!
[uneasy laughter from STOCK, followed by a pause]
STOCK: Sir, there’s one more order of business.
HONGWEI: Yes?
STOCK: After much consideration, my team and I have decided that it’s best to burn the complex to the ground. We don’t have any use for it, despite its impressive design. Of course, I’ll need your permission to do so. May I execute a controlled combustion?
HONGWEI: You may. It’ll be a most fitting end to this successful investigation.
STOCK: Brilliant, thank you, sir. I’ll get onto it now. See you soon.
HONGWEI: I’ll see you soon as well. Goodbye, Jürgen.
STOCK: Cheers.
[Connection terminated]

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END DOCUMENT

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Acht
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Oostende-Bruges International Airport. May 28, 2022. 5:51 AM.
A man opens his eyes. The first thing he feels is cool moisture soothing his face, then the gentle brush of freshly-trimmed grass. He quickly identifies the moisture as morning dew, which is hanging off the edges of the blades. As he attempts to rise to his feet, he immediately loses his balance and falls back into the grass, the dew wetting his clothes. That was understandable, he thought. He hadn't been in control for a long time. He exercises more caution on his second attempt, rising slowly but surely to succeed. Now, the man is able to fully take in his surroundings. He is standing in the middle of an empty field, the grass painted gold by the rising sun. In the distance are some nondescript white buildings he had never seen before, spread out wide across the horizon. The temperature was perfect, not too warm, not too cold. People who wake up on the ground having no idea where they are tend to be in poor situations, but the man couldn't have felt better in that moment. His head felt clear, free from restraint. Despite having been asleep moments ago, both his mind and body are already firing on all cylinders, newfound energy coursing through him. His lungs gladly take in fresh air, having breathed a foul pollution for years prior. So pleased he is to be free, that he breaks out into a wide grin and raises his arms high above him. That's when the pain hits. The back of his mouth feels like it's being drilled into by an insane dentist, causing the man to sink back to his knees. He reaches back into the affected area, desperate to identify what had interrupted his moment of triumph. When he realizes what it is, his eyes bulge. In place of the soft wall of muscle at the rear of his mouth is a crater nearly an inch deep. It's a serious wound, but it already felt like it was healing. Though it hurt to the touch and was still stinging, he was surprised to find no blood on his finger when he pulled it back out of his mouth. The man had no memories for years; he had no idea how the wound had gotten there. What he did know, however, was that it didn't matter. Nothing in his past mattered anymore. He was back, and back for good. He had felt it as soon as he had woken up. He would feel it for the rest of his life. The darkness that had existed in him before was gone, never to return. He was more than willing to move on. To do that, he had to go home first, to rebuild his life in a comfortable environment. He could sense that he wasn’t home at the moment. There were certain intangible feelings he always had when he was. No, he was still in Europe somewhere, he had to be. His most recent memory took place at an office building in western Germany; he doubted he had gone too far from there. There was only one way to find out exactly where he was. The man rises back to his feet through the aching of his wound, and steps forward to take the only path available to him at the moment: towards the buildings. After about a mile of labored walking, he reaches a rusted-out fence that blocks his way forward. It’s high and supported by barbed wire at the top, but he knew he could scale it. Then, just as he curls his hands around around the steel, his eardrums are shredded by the loudest noise he has ever heard in his life. His head jolts upward in both awe and terror as a massive Boeing 787 Dreamliner sails just ten meters above his head, then travels for another few moments before touching down with a loud screech on what must have been a runway. It only took a second for the man to connect the dots. The white buildings, he realizes, must be part of an airport. Once again the uncomfortable grin returns; he’s already where he needs to be.

He turns back in the other direction, trekking through the field for miles until he eventually finds a road and flags down a taxi. After he’s directed the driver to take him to the airport entrance, he takes his seat in the back, where he notices for the first time that there’s something in the right pocket of his tattered jeans. He removes from them a wallet containing his old but still valid driver’s license, passport, and credit cards. The thought that he would need these things to get home hadn’t even crossed his mind until now, and he’s beyond glad that they are. Though he still has to ask himself how they could have gotten there. When he opens the wallet’s coin pocket, he finds his answer. Within this compartment is a small, folded note. He extracts it, unfolds it, and reads the message inside.
“You need these. Safe travel. Enjoy rest of your life. -C”
For the rest of the taxi ride, the man stares at the note, pondering what exact circumstances could have prompted its writing. It’s only after he enters the airport terminal and books a flight home that he believes he has his answer. As soon as he does, he finds the nearest recycle bin and drops the paper inside. He has no use for the note or the entity who wrote it anymore. Just a few paces from the recycle bin is a small desk occupied by a security agent, which the man strides up to so he can have his documents examined. The agent, a tired-looking, bespectacled man in his thirties, gives a cursory glance at the man’s papers before inquiring “Could you state your full flightpath for me, sir?”
“Well, let’s see. From here to Barcelona, then from there to Buenos Aires, and lastly from there to Salta.”
“That’s correct.” The agent states quickly, wanting to get through his protocol as quickly as possible. “And could you tell me your name, please?”
“José Antonio Mendoza.”
“Correct again. I assume you’re travelling alone?”
“Indeed, I am.”
José couldn’t have been happier to make that statement.
“Alright, Mr. Mendoza. You’re all set. Get in line for the security check. Enjoy your flight.”
José passes through the remaining security measures without incident. Five hours later, his first flight of four on his journey takes off. It would be a long way home, but it would be more than worth it. When this was all said and done, José Antonio Mendoza would finally attain the first drop of freedom of his adult life. And he would keep it. He wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked, or going to prison, or losing control again. After all, this was an innocent man. He couldn’t be expected to pay for the sins of someone who, although he had shared the same body, was so completely different. That someone’s name was Che, and he was dead now, his suffering in the depths of hell just beginning. José Antonio Mendoza, on the other hand, had suffered more than enough.

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Neun
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Visiting Room, Stammheim Prison. Stuttgart, Germany. January 12, 2023.
“Goodbye, Hansi. I pray that when you leave this place, you will find some peace in your life.”
Sophie Klein stands up from her chair, her braided golden hair briefly falling across her eyes as she does. She’s the most beautiful woman Hans Kaiser has ever known. Their love, their marriage, and their life together with their sons had contained some of the best moments of Hans’ life. But as she turns around and leaves the room, he knew that there would be no more of those moments. After he left this prison, he would never be able to contact or see her again, unless he wanted to head straight back. Of course he didn’t want their divorce to happen. He didn’t want her to sell all their properties, readopt her maiden name, and move to New York City (her reasoning being “they care much less about football in America, it’ll be easier for me to remain anonymous”) with their sons, who would not be allowed to see their father again until after his release, if they even wanted to at all. He certainly didn’t want to learn that while they were living in Bruges, she had been aware of and condoned Brendan and Colin’s siphoning of information from him in the hopes he would quit football management, which had succeeded. All of these things hurt, in many ways. They made him feel disappointed, dejected, and worthless. But at the same time, he absolutely understood why these things were happening to him, and that he was the only one to blame for them. Why on earth would Sophie, or any self-respecting woman, for that matter, choose to stay married to a man who had done what he had? It would be pointless to get angry at anyone else at what was happening apart from himself. But he was done with anger. It hadn’t gotten him anywhere good in life; it had only brought him here in the end. Before he had entered management, he had had a life anyone would’ve wanted. A happy, healthy wife and children, plenty of money, multiple lavish homes, and name recognition from his days as a player. Why wasn’t that enough? Why did he let his ego and poor choices ruin all of it? Had he simply been a normal manager with normal ambitions, none of this would have happened. But no, he was so hell-bent on becoming a legend, a larger-than-life figure, a king, that he had been blinded by power before he could even attain anything that he wanted. Had he not been so impatient and so careless as to wish for the “help” of someone who could expedite his rise to the top by any means necessary, his path would never have crossed with Che and Zezé’s. But cross they did, and a few harrowing years later, here he was in prison, serving a ten-year sentence for a crime he never would have been involved in had they never met. He had made things easier on everyone and avoided a media circus trial by pleading guilty to aiding and abetting a terrorist plot. He had no objections to the charge; it was his idea to release coal dust at Schalke’s stadium, even if it was never his intention to hurt anyone. Thankfully, he wasn’t charged with fraud, which surely would have added a few years to his sentence. Interpol agents had informed him that the charge of “footballing fraudulence” brought on by Slavomir Horny- whose real name was Miroslav Hornik, a Bratislava-born police officer and Schalke Ultra who had used his Interpol status to his advantage- during his arrest was very much a personal jab, prompted by his previously-undiscovered secret allegiance with the Ultras, and they had apologized for his role in the Belgian fiasco. They had also told him what would have been in store for him had Carlo Ancelotti’s plan for him on that night succeeded. Hans couldn’t believe how little Carlo’s hate for him had receded since he was sacked from Dortmund. He certainly figured Carlo would have forgotten about him, but his absence seemed to make the man hate him even more, to drive him to absolute madness. From what they had told him, though, karma had caught up with him indeed, or rather, what was left of him. But Hans knew he couldn’t waste time thinking about his old enemy. He had to think about himself. Though prison was no picnic- German authorities had picked one of the highest-security, toughest prisons in the country to send him to- he would at least have plenty of time to rehabilitate himself over the next ten years, to spend some serious time reflecting on what had brought him here, what he would do to pass the time here, and what exactly he would make of himself when he left here. He knew that changes had to be made, but not yet which specific ones he would have to make. Football had been all that he’d known before now; he’d been involved in the game since he could walk. He had indeed been planning to leave it before the affair in Belgium, but that plan had very much depended on his family’s love and support. Now that that was gone, he had to come up with something else, something more individualized. For years before, his identity had revolved around his baldness. For a while, it was a great idea; he had turned what most men considered a weakness into a strength. It had allowed him to retain his self-confidence, build his personal brand, and even raise millions of dollars for cancer research. But it had also facilitated his descent into the criminal underworld and brought him here. Baldness was no longer the way forward. What if…
In that moment, Hans has a thought so compelling that he has to restrain it immediately. Already, he was getting too far ahead of himself. He was barely seven months into his sentence here; he couldn’t be having ideas this big yet. He needed to think about it a lot more, to seriously decide what was best for him. This was a ten-year process, not a minute-long one. For the most part, his attentions would have to be turned to surviving this prison. There were surely some Bayern and Schalke fans here… he had to keep safe and make some friends. As a guard escorts him from the visiting room and back to his cell, he files his thought away deep in the recesses of his mind, right alongside all sorts of joys and atrocities long past. He would come back to it, in time. He had ten years of breaking rocks to get through first.

black-divider-md.png.2ef810ba615a8105411a55d369a2c0cc.png
Dawn. June 11, 2032.
As Hans Kaiser walks out the front gates of Stammheim Prison, he understandably has to take a few moments to gain his bearings. It had been a decade since he had been a free man. In that time, over a billion people had been born. Half a billion had died. Technology had advanced. Scientific discoveries had been made. Dozens of new fads and new styles had come and gone. Governments had been overthrown, wars had been fought, and societies had changed. There was going to be a lot to take in out there. But no matter what the outside world had in store for him, Hans had a plan that he was going to stick to, one that wasn’t too dissimilar from the one he had initially thought of back in the first months of his sentence. It had come from his heart, and though it had come to him quickly and without warning, he knew it was best for him after ten years of consideration. In order to fulfill that plan, however, there was something he needed to do first. From a payphone in the prison’s parking lot, he calls a taxi to take him to Stuttgart Airport, where he would soon be en route to Düsseldorf. He knew of someone there who would be able to help him get to where he needed to be. What he was about to do would take some getting used to, but Hans was sure it was worth it. He hadn’t spent a decade in prison just to make more mistakes. That wasn’t what prison was for, right?

Edited by oriole01

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The Surviving Characters- June 2032
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Before we move on to the final chapter of our story, I'd like to provide an update on some of our characters, ten years later.
Carlo Ancelotti:
Carlo is currently serving multiple life sentences in a maximum-security prison in Sassari, Sardinia, Italy. He was convicted of over 150 crimes, ranging from several different types of fraud to kidnapping and directing dozens of murders. In prison, he was able to bribe his way into obtaining four bionic limbs, which were installed by a criminally insane doctor in the middle of the night. Though he is now 73 years old and quite obviously no longer as fleet of foot as he used to be, Carlo has joined an Italian faction of “The Iron Fist”, who are slowly but surely planning an escape.

José Antonio Mendoza:
José has found peace in Salta. He works as a mental health counselor for at-risk youth in the city, having obtained his medical degrees at the National University of Salta in 2027. He is now married with children. Interpol have never discovered his true identity.

Markus Weinzierl:
Markus is currently halfway through a 20-year prison sentence in a medium-security prison in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany following convictions for racketeering and six types of fraud. He was captured in the Maybach on a highway near the German border by BFP officers, who determined that he was attempting to escape to his stronghold in Gelsenkirchen. In prison, he was forced to shave his long hair off as soon as he arrived, which has been continually enforced, and has now lost the ability to grow any new hair, rendering him bald until he will be able to seek treatment upon his release in 2042.

Rui Vitoria:
Rui Vitoria now lives a quiet life in Alverca do Ribatejo, Portugal, which is his hometown. Following his arrest in Leffinge, Vitoria faced charges of aiding and abetting three kidnappings, but was able to avoid prison time by testifying against Carlo Ancelotti. He served under house arrest for a year, followed by another two years of mandatory community service. His contract as Bayern manager was immediately terminated, and he has been unable to find work as a manager since. Instead, he takes care of his aging parents and works for a sports consultancy firm. Quite a quiet life indeed.

Colin:
Colin is an interesting case. He was set to undergo trial for 50 murders while working as a blunder-prone hitman, his biggest mistake coming when he shot the entire Swazi royal family by accident in 2021. However, all charges against him were suddenly thrown out by Interpol due to a still-unexplained “breach in investigation security” that allowed Colin to walk free. For the past decade, he has worked as a deckhand on a cargo ship based in Tromsø, Norway that delivers supplies to Greenland every month. When he’s not on the ship, Colin operates a bar in Tromsø called “Brendan’s Irish Pub”, which was recently ranked fourth-best in the city. Cheers.

Sophie, Oliver, and Sven Klein:
Sophie and her sons have made a life for themselves in New York City, with Sophie working as a corporate manager for Nile (the extremely powerful successor to Amazon) and her sons, now adults, both playing as professional footballers for New York City FC while simultaneously working as a street art duo in Brooklyn. Sophie has remarried to a Nile executive, whom she lives happily with in a Manhattan penthouse. Oliver and Sven have never been able to locate their father after his release from prison, though they are still trying to find him to this day.

Fabian Schulz:
Fabian was arrested following the events in Leffinge, but he was not found to have any criminal involvement in those events, nor was there any proof of criminality during his time as Hans Kaiser’s personal bodyguard at Borussia Dortmund and Club Brugge. He was, however, placed in a two-year witness protection program in Paamiut, Greenland. With little to do in Paamiut, Fabian became a [REDACTED], and has since continued his career as a [REDACTED] outside of Greenland. Recently, he was hired as the [REDACTED] of [REDACTED], and rumor has it that he is trying to [HEAVILY REDACTED].

The Rest:
Johann is still in charge of the Ultras at Dortmund, who have returned to a more traditional role under manager Roger Schmidt. He feels guilty about bringing the talent men to Hans, especially considering everything that happened afterward, but still believes it was the right thing to do at the time. Captain Tim Moller still serves as the Dortmund mascot Emma, though his stint as commander of Hans Kaiser’s army only lasted as long as Hans did at the club. More recently, when Bayern Munich’s mascot Berni did a community outreach photo op at a local timber mill, a possessed Moller drove all the way to Bavaria in costume to savagely beat him in broad daylight at a children’s fan day. Though Bayern were furious, they did not press charges. Dortmund chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke still has a fear of forks, and therefore eats everything with either a spoon or his bare hands. Julian Emmerdahl, now in his twenties, has mostly recovered from his traumatic experiences as a boy, though he has had to move out of the Ruhr because he has severe post-traumatic stress whenever he sees or smells coal. He now lives in Hamburg, where he works as a baker. Jürgen Klopp, Owen Hargreaves, and Lothar Matthäus have become one of the best commentary teams in Europe, second only to Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Legend has it that Bart Verhaeghe, Club Brugge’s chairman, is still trying to calm down. Lastly, Leo is still looking down upon Hans, somewhere.

In Memoriam:
Leo (1993-1998)
Benito (1954-2018)
Jan Oberhauser (1979-2018)
Ursa Miner 1.0 (1988-2019)
Blau Löwe 1.0 (1990-2019)
Ike the Midget (1985-2020)
The Swazi Royal Family (2021)
Miroslav Hornik AKA Slavomir Horny (1980-2022)
A ****ton of cops (2022)
Ursa Miner 2.0 (1991-2022)
Blau Löwe 2.0 (1993-2022)
Brendan (1964-2022)
Sergiy Rebrov (1974-2022)
José “Zezé” Santiago (1975-2022)
“Che” (1993-2022)
RIP.

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Zehn
Image result for endingenRelated imageRelated image
Endingen, Germany. The future.
Daniel Werner sits comfortably on his leather sofa, sipping jasmine tea and reading Philip K. Dick’s "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said". The electric tones of LCD Soundsystem’s "Sound of Silver" on vinyl echo throughout his home, an old cottage house situated in the forest on the edge of town. Every morning, Daniel would ride his bike into Endingen’s town center, where he worked as the proprietor of the town’s only record store. He was very much living an antiquated life in this futuristic world, but small towns like these had- for the most part- stayed the same as they were in decades past. It was perfect for Daniel; he was someone who preferred things to be static at this stage of his life. His past life had oft been characterized as a life in flux, which had only brought him a world of trouble. In that past life, he had gone by the name of Hans Kaiser. For a few hectic years, that name had been among the foremost in the footballing world. Then it was heavily tarnished, possibly irreparably, by a terrorism charge and a decade in prison. The name no longer fit the man who had once worn it with pride; a change had only felt right once he was released from confinement. Daniel hadn’t stopped the changes there, either.

As proof of this, Daniel runs his fingers through his smooth, close-cropped grey hair. He had had it for years now, ever since his release from prison. Immediately after he had been let out, he had gone to Düsseldorf, where in the deep recesses of a five-star hotel he had found the clinic of Dr. Malte Villnow, a renowned surgeon who Jürgen Klopp had recommended long ago as a top choice for hair transplants. The doctor had done for Daniel just as he had done for Klopp, and he couldn't have been happier with the results. It had made him an entirely different man, mentally as well as physically. Confident that Hans Kaiser was a man of the past, Daniel had taken a new lease on life with his hair, which it didn't take long to realize he had dearly missed. Back here in his hometown, he had found happiness. He had made new friends, opened his own business, made a new home, and even found love again, though nothing permanent. The best part? No one knew he was Hans Kaiser. The hair, combined with his aging features, gave him plausible deniability every time someone could have sworn they'd seen him somewhere before. For all intents and purposes, Hans Kaiser was a dead man, his faults and sins confined to Wikipedia pages and long-stale headlines. The outside world had simply forgotten about him, his release from prison essentially signifying the end of his entertainment value to the media and the general public. But despite all this, there were still people out there close to Daniel who knew of his true fate. People who only knew of him as Hans Kaiser, and whose memories of him were very much synonymous with that name. In that moment, one of those people knocks on Daniel's front door.

Daniel stands up, putting down his tea and novel, and moves towards his mahogany wooden door. He didn't often receive unannounced visitors; his house was purposefully off the beaten path. He knew that whoever was here must have a reason to see him. If these were his management days, he would answer the door with a gun in his back pocket. He was beyond that now. If someone was here with malicious intent, he would do nothing to stop them. As he slowly opens the door and recognizes his visitor, all suspicion evaporates. The man before him was someone he wished he had never fallen out of contact with, someone who he had thought about reconnecting with numerous times since his release, but never found the confidence to. After all, he had been a busy man over these past couple of decades. His rise to the forefront of world football as a manager had been utterly surreal, but a joy to watch all the same. But in the end, Hans realized, he probably shouldn't have been too surprised to see him: this was his hometown too, the place where they had become great friends long ago.
"Hey, Hans." Fabian Schulz says joyously, a smile already spreading across his scarred but still youthful face. "I've got an offer that you might want to hear."
Hans Kaiser smiles back.

This concludes Hans Kaiser- Baldness Über Alles.
Thanks for reading.

Edited by oriole01

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Auf Wiedersehen

Well, that's all I've got. It's been a heck of a ride over these past (nearly) two years, one that I never could've predicted when I started this save. This save was originally supposed to be a rebound of sorts, following some difficult spells I had on other saves, but it ended up turning into my favorite save ever, the most fun I've had on FM and these forums, and the greatest story I've ever written. Though there were certainly some struggles- both on the pitch and in my own personal motivation to play and write- this thread was more than worth all the effort, especially now that it's come to this moment where I've finally wrapped it all up and can sit back and relax. It took me a long time to write this conclusion, mostly because I wanted to get it absolutely right, so that it could match the body of work before it. It took way longer than I thought it would, but I was never in doubt that I would get around to completing it eventually. I had made a promise, and I made sure I kept it. I know that many years from now, I'll look back on this thread and be glad that I did. Writing this has helped inspire me to become a sports journalist, which starting this fall I'll be attempting to major in in college. Writing about the game I love has been an absolute blast, and I think that the material here serves as decent proof that I can ;). So this thread was not only important to my past and present; it'll be important to my future as well.

Of course, this thread would hardly be what it is without those who read and engaged with it, especially those who have stuck with the thread from the very beginning. Special thanks are in order for @Fer Fuchs Ake@ManUtd1@BoxToBox, and @kidthekid, who certainly fit that description for their consistent support over the past two years, and in the case of @BoxToBox and @Fer Fuchs Ake specifically, helped me work through the creation of the story and made it better for us all to read. Your help was invaluable, and I'm forever in your gratitude for it. Another quick thank you to anyone else who may have voted for this thread for Best FM Story (which it won!) or Best Retro Thread at last year's FMCU Awards, winning Best Story was definitely my favorite individual moment on FMCU so far.

I should also point out my influences and inspirations in a number of areas. Firstly, my largest FMCU influences are @ManUtd1- whose fantastic "Nearly Men" threads served as the basis for my monthly updates, season reviews, squad reviews, and an overall tendency for storytelling- and @Fer Fuchs Ake, whose brilliant thread last year gave me plenty of narrative ideas, including the ten-year recap we just saw in the conclusion. My foremost writing influence would probably be Anthony Horowitz, (the guy who wrote the Alex Rider books) as the way he described things in those novels always stuck with me, and it's something I use subtly throughout the course of the story. My foremost artistic influence would be David Lynch, who I credited multiple times throughout the narrative as a true inspiration. Let's just say the character of Che would be much less interesting if I hadn't been a massive Twin Peaks fan :D. Lastly, my biggest inspiration in general would be my dad, who always took an interest in my writing of this and who I must credit with a lot more in my life than just rough ideas. Ich liebe dich, mann.

In the extremely unlikely event that they ever read this thread, I'd like to use this space to personally apologize to Carlo Ancelotti, Markus Weinzierl, Sergiy Rebrov, Rui Vitoria, and any other real person who may have been portrayed undesirably in this story. I mean absolutely no ill will by your portrayals in this story; I just wanted to create a bizarro world where every manager was part of a corrupt underworld and you guys just happened to be managers of rival clubs in the game. I'm sure you're all great people, and I hope I've not offended you too much!

One more thing I'd like to say: I don't believe we've quite seen the last of Hans Kaiser yet. There's no doubt that the "Baldness Über Alles" story is over, but as you can see from Chapter Zehn, he could potentially become involved in a new, entirely different story. This story will be told in my next thread, Fabian Schulz's Semi-Structured Scandinavian Sojourn (working title), which you can expect to see starting in the next few weeks. I'm definitely excited to start afresh, as despite how awesome writing this story was, it has definitely held me back in terms of FM. I've hardly gotten into FM19, but in my new thread I'll be aiming to change that, whilst still providing the sort of entertainment you saw here. Can't wait to do it all again.
Until we see each other again. Danke schon, und gute nacht!

Cheers,
bitner
oriole

Edited by oriole01

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tenor.gif

What a story this has been. Definitely one of my favourite threads to read on FMCU over the past nearly two years and well deserving of its Best Story award. Good luck on the next one. :thup:

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tips-hat-gif-3.gif

Congrats on finishing up this utter monster of a thread, and I'm glad to have had some small part to play in it.

Bloody well done, that man!

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The Iron Fist?

dggWmMI.gif

But seriously this was awesome. One I'll never forget.

Edited by kidthekid

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giphy.gif?cid=790b76115d00776b776d475459

I have no words.  Brilliant stuff, all around.

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On 11/06/2019 at 00:41, Deisler26 said:

giphy.gif

On 11/06/2019 at 08:30, Fer Fuchs Ake said:

tenor.gif

What a story this has been. Definitely one of my favourite threads to read on FMCU over the past nearly two years and well deserving of its Best Story award. Good luck on the next one. :thup:

On 11/06/2019 at 15:58, BoxToBox said:

tips-hat-gif-3.gif

Congrats on finishing up this utter monster of a thread, and I'm glad to have had some small part to play in it.

Bloody well done, that man!

On 11/06/2019 at 16:19, kidthekid said:

The Iron Fist?

dggWmMI.gif

But seriously this was awesome. One I'll never forget.

On 11/06/2019 at 23:56, ManUtd1 said:

giphy.gif?cid=790b76115d00776b776d475459

I have no words.  Brilliant stuff, all around.

Related image

Thank you to all. This story was as much for you as much as it was for me, and I'm truly delighted that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Onto the next one now, where I hope you'll all join me again. Los!

Edited by oriole01
Figured I might as well have a gif too

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