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Hustle

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“I want you to have this” Ekrem’s voice seemed to bring Jared out of his reverie. He was holding out the shield. Was this a joke?

Jared’s heart was beating so fast he was afraid Ekrem could hear it.

“Ekrem, I-”, he started.

Professor Alpan smiled and pointed his Kumpir-filled fork at the shield. “I showed him your sketch. He couldn’t believe you’d created that with a lousy piece of charcoal”

“I saw the amount of detail in that drawing and it showed how much you really loved that piece. And when I saw it, I thought to myself, ‘I have hidden this shield in the back of the store for so many years because I felt attached to it somehow’ I know it’s just a replica, but you’ve been like a son to me this past year and I want you to have it” The sheer amount of sincerity in the old man’s voice shook Jared to the core. Here he was - his mark - and he was just giving the treasure up to him. Giving what would have been the treasure anyway. Could Jared have just gotten the shield as a gift and saved the remnants of his soul instead of stealing it? The thought made him cringe.

But this was no time to be getting soft. He pushed Serkan to well up a little at the wave of emotions surrounding him, gave Ekrem a big hug and accepted the replica he had planted just minutes ago. All he had to do now was walk out.

“I can’t say anything that will reflect what I feel, so I will settle for silence. I must take leave now, I promised to call my mother tonight” The lies had a way of weaving themselves into everything he said now. This is what it was like to be a professional liar.

He shook Alpan’s hand in farewell and stepped out the door, shield in hand.

***

All of his belongings were neatly packed and the apartment already cleaned out. Given that it was situated in a prime location, his landlady had setup showings for the place the moment he was to clear out. Always one to travel light, he left behind everything he didn't need with him on the private aircraft that was waiting for him at the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport and set about changing his appearance one more time for the second half of the mission.

Narek Ayanian came from Armenian royalty. Standing a little over six feet, with long dark hair, a goatee, hazel eyes, and a handsome tan, he was a man who liked to keep tidy, and paired oxfords with his bespoke Italian suits. Jared slicked his own hair back and affixed Narek’s hair on, slipped elevator soles into the shoes he had bought this morning, packed up the hair color kit from the bathroom, and rolled his suitcase out. He turned the key in the apartment lock and slipped it inside the mail slit as he made his way to the street in a hurry. Despite the fact that he had hired the pilot and chartered the plane that could wait for as long as he would care to pay for it, he knew he couldn’t be late for the meeting with the Swiss buyer. From the brief encounters Jared had had with the man, he could tell he wasn’t someone who would look upon tardiness as a favorable quality in anyone he did business with.

Although the foot traffic increased tenfold during the summer, the taxi cabs seemed to always all be occupied. It was either the influx of foreigners, or some people just couldn’t stand the heat. Narek was starting to sweat in his pseudo-expensive suit. After 10 minutes or so, he managed to flag one down. He wrenched open the door, calling out the directions to the driver as he got in. But as he tried to settle in, he couldn’t shake off the feeling of anxiety. All these years of swapping out identities and he had never felt so uncomfortable. It’s not that Narek was too foreign, it’s that Jared felt like a different person inside of him. Almost like he was still part-Serkan. A fake identity, no matter how realistic, was difficult enough to occupy on its own let alone a fake identity occupying another. He tried to calm himself down by closing his eyes and focusing on his breathing.

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