“Always Remember The Rules” by D. Daniel Brian

Short Story: Always Remember the Rules

By D. Daniel Brian


Rule Number One: stay cool.

He lived and died by that rule; of all the rules in existence, it was the one Primo Moretti considered the most significant. It’s what separated life and death.

Primo squinted up at the bright sky; the sun blazed down on his olive skin. Autumn couldn’t get here fast enough, he thought. He loathed the warm weather, but it was the humidity he despised the most.

He ran a hand through his dark hair as he entered the diner on 23rd at Livingston. It was empty, save for a few patrons tucked in a booth and an older man seated at the counter—a large corned beef sandwich resting in front of him.

The cool air from the vents felt good. He scanned the room and walked toward the back, an area typically reserved for social functions as well as private parties, and found the man he was searching for—alone at one of the tables sipping a cup of coffee.

The man brought the rim of the cup to his thin lips, peered over it, and said, “Have a seat.”

Primo pulled the chair out and sat across from him. A heavy silence settled between them, the only sounds emanating from the area were several men laughing in the kitchen located in the rear.

“You got another job?” Primo asked.

“You want a coffee or something?”

Primo waved it off. “No thanks.”

“The cheesecake is good,” the man offered. “Or are you still watching your weight?”

“Maybe some other time.”

The large man across from Primo shrugged his shoulders and took another sip of his beverage. He was broad-shouldered, his hair almost white, and had the bluest eyes Primo had ever witnessed.

“You look good.”

“Thank you, Hector,” Primo said.

“I mean it.”

One of the servers changed a tablecloth in the far corner, out of listening range. Primo watched as Hector drummed his fingers on the table. He couldn’t imagine sipping coffee on a day like this, where the temperatures were rumored to reach one hundred degrees. But even dressed in a crisp white shirt and dark blue tie, not a bead of sweat shone on Hector’s forehead.

Stay cool.

“How have you been?” Hector asked.

“Good, I guess.”

Hector nodded.

Primo hated the small talk, but he knew that’s how Hector was. He didn’t like to cut right to the chase.

“When was your last job?” Hector said.

“Six weeks ago,” Primo said.

“That’s right.” He took another sip and lifted the cup in the air, signaling for a refill.

“Money-wise you seem to be doing all right, I assume.” One of the servers appeared and topped off his cup.

“It’s not too bad,” Primo said.

“Then again, you really didn’t have a use for a lot of money. What do you do with all you earn, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I send it home,” he said, “to my family.”

Hector leaned back in his chair. “Is that right? You’re a good son.”

“My parents are dead. I send it to my sister.”

“In Greece?”


“She’s lucky to have a brother like you,” Hector said.

“Can I have a glass of water?”

“Sure,” he said and snapped his fingers.

A moment later a server placed a tall glass on the table. Primo took a sip, the cold drink feeling good as it passed his lips. Primo set the glass down and looked at Hector. “I want out.”

Hector stopped drumming his fingers. “You want out?”


“Why, may I ask?”

“I just do. I’m tired. I want another kind of life. Maybe get married one day, have children.”

Hector laughed. “Who’s putting these ideas in your head, Primo? You…married with children? Think about what you’re saying.”

Primo felt angered by his response, but he held back his feelings.

“I have thought about it,” he said. “It’s what I want.”

“Whom have you been talking to?”

“No one.”

“This doesn’t sound like the Primo I know.”

“It’s how I feel now,” he said.

Hector grinned. “Is there a woman? Huh?”

Primo shook his head. “There’s no woman.”

Hector turned his head. Primo could almost see the cogs turning within his mind. He returned his focus on Primo.

“What are you going to do? What kind of work will you be doing? You don’t know anything else.”

“Maybe,” he said. “I want to go back to Greece.”

“What kind of life will you have there? I pulled you out of there, remember?” Primo detected a tiny hint of resentment in his voice. “I brought you here and gave you an opportunity to make something of yourself.”

“And I did,” Primo said. “Now, I’ve grown tired and want something different.”

Hector’s hand slammed down on the table, rattling the coffee cup. “Something different? You want something different?”

Primo glanced down. “Yes, a change.”

“How I wished you’d understand,” he said.

They sat in silence for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a couple of minutes.

Hector leaned forward again in the chair, his tie pressed against the edge of the table. “I’ve got one last job for you, then.”

Primo’s pulse quickened. One last job? Perhaps he was coming to terms with Primo’s decision.

“What is it?”

“It’s different. Not the usual job, you see.”

“Is it local?”


Hector reached under the table and produced a manila folder. He slipped on a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket and opened the file.

“It pays a considerable amount more.”

“Tell me,” Primo said.

Hector took a quick sip of the coffee and cleared his throat. “There’s a child—”


Hector glanced up at him. “Yes.”

“That’s the target?”

“We don’t ask questions, Primo.”

“The policy is no women or children,” he said.

“Don’t you think I know the goddamn policy?”

The words hung in the air like a foul stench.

“A child, Hector?”

“Listen to me, you fool. I don’t like it any more than you do, but they must have their reasons. They’ve selected us for the job and I’ve selected you.”

Primo turned away. A child? It went against his beliefs. He couldn’t harm a child.

“No,” he said.

“They’re doubling our usual take on this,” Hector said.

“I can’t. Tell them no.”

Hector chuckled. “Tell them ‘no’? Are you out of your fucking skull? You don’t say no to these people, just as you don’t say no to me.”

A cold chill traveled down Primo’s spine. “Are you threatening me, Hector?”

“Listen and listen good: these aren’t threats. All right? The job must get done.”

“I can’t harm a child,” Primo said.

“Like I mentioned before, they have their reasons…”

“What could a child have possibly done?” Primo asked.

“We are not to ask questions. We do the job. We get paid. End of story.”

End of story. If only it was that simple.

“Here, I’ve made copies of the file.” He slid it across the table. Primo peered down at it. “They want it done within a week.”

A week?

“Just think: you’ll be done with this life and entering a new one in only seven days. Just like you wanted.”

Just like I wanted? This is not what I wanted.


Rule Number Two: get to know your target well—learn everything you can about them. The more knowledge you possess, the better chance you have of succeeding in your mission.

Primo’s studio apartment was located on the west side overlooking Central Park. It was tiny, but it fit him well. He pulled a Diet Pepsi from his refrigerator, and plopped down on the leather settee with the folder on his lap.

The target was an eight-year-old boy of Egyptian descent with dark, piercing eyes. The small black and white photograph was clipped to a series of papers that contained several layers of detailed information regarding the boy. Primo couldn’t get his eyes off the photograph.

What could he have possibly done to deserve this? He thought, bringing the can to his lips. The boy appeared so innocent; a tiny smile played at the corner of his mouth.

An innocent child.

According to the dossier, the target was born Ahmed Khalil Mohammed in Cairo. His mother was a physician and his father worked as a diplomat. They were due to arrive in the City tomorrow. The boy had been privately tutored and was fluent in three languages. Primo gazed down at the boy’s large eyes. What was it they said about children with big eyes? Something about intelligence?

They wanted the job done within a week. He would arrive tomorrow, landing at LaGuardia. The file stated they’d be checking into the Ritz; the boy’s father was due to appear at the U.N. the following day. Primo was sure the family would be heavily protected, as most diplomats were when they traveled.

Primo closed the file and sighed, still having reservations about the job. Taking the life of a child was more than he bargained for. He didn’t see a way out, aware of the ramifications if he didn’t complete the task.

The phone rang.

Primo lifted the cordless receiver from the end table. “Hello.”

“Primo?” It was his sister.

“Adriana?” He detected urgency in her voice.

“There are men here.”


“What kind of men?” he asked.

“The kind that will instill great pain to your lovely sister if you don’t go through with the job,” said the grave voice on the other end of the line.

“Who is this?”

“That’s not what’s important right now,” he said. “Adriana will be fine…as long as you do the right thing.”

The line went dead.

Son of a bitch. They’d sent a couple of thugs to baby-sit Adriana, just to ensure he would go through with it.

He dialed Hector’s number, who picked up after three rings.

“Did you send some men to my sister’s place?”

“Did I what?” Hector sounded confused. “Send ‘men’?”

“Yes. They are at my sister’s house, in Greece, right now. You sent them to watch her.”

“We shouldn’t be speaking on the phone like this,” Hector said. “It’s not really smart.”

“Did you?”

“Of course not, you idiot,” he said. “What do you take me for?”

Silence. Primo waited, taking in his words, the vibration and tone of his voice. From what he could tell, he was telling the truth.

“Then it was them,” Primo said.

“You now realize the seriousness of what lies before you,” Hector said.

Primo hung up.

The men were professionals. He knew that as long as he fulfilled his end of the bargain, his sister would remain safe.


Primo sat parked behind the wheel of a leased Buick Lucerne, watching the boy and his family climb into a dark sedan with tinted windows. It then pulled away from the airport’s curb.

Thirty minutes later they arrived at the Ritz. As the boy descended from the vehicle, he peered up at the buildings, taking in the beauty of his surroundings. He clutched his mother’s hand as he followed his father’s lead. They disappeared into the lobby. Primo glanced at his watch to see that it was two-thirty-five.

He leaned back in the seat and waited. They would settle in and make a few calls. Perhaps an hour or so later, they’d reappear for dinner, or to take in the sights of the City. He was a patient man and part of his job entailed him to do a lot of waiting. Under different circumstances, he didn’t mind it, but these weren’t the case. His thoughts drifted to his sister. He knew she was scared, but soon it’d be over. A life for a life. He couldn’t let them harm his sister. She was all he had.

With his eyes almost closed, Primo was drifting off to sleep when a blaring horn startled him. He snapped his eyes open, sat up, and peered across the street. There was no sign of the boy or his parents. He rubbed his face and popped a mint into his mouth.

Soon, the boy’s father slipped out of the hotel and the same dark sedan pulled up in front. The uniformed driver got out, opened the rear passenger door for him and sped away, blending in with the rest of traffic.


The boy was alone with his mother, with the exception of one or more security personnel. It was inevitable that they’d appear soon. Any woman left alone in the City would get the urge to go shopping. No one wanted to be cooped up in a hotel room for any extended period, no matter how swank it was. It was just a matter of time.

An hour and ten minutes later, there they stood, in front of the hotel, the doorman flagging a cab on their behalf. A large man dressed in a dark suit accompanied them. Primo turned the key, revved the engine and prepared to follow them.

They came to a stop at Tiffany’s. The boy’s hand was still wrapped around his mother’s as they entered the store.

Primo wanted to do this quick and easy. He would take out the security guy, and then aim the gun on the child. The important thing was to get away fast, not allow for any opportunity to crop up where someone could play hero. With all the chaos, he imagined it would be difficult for anyone to positively ID him. At least, he hoped that was the case.

The moment that Primo thought about exiting his car, the boy, his mother and their bodyguard wandered out of Tiffany’s, and back into the sedan that awaited them in front.

He followed them back to the hotel. Dammit! A lost opportunity. Why’d they return so quickly? Primo would just have to wait again.

Soon darkness would prevail, the glare of the sun subsiding as it slipped below the horizon. He’d been waiting almost four hours. From the glove box, he produced a small baggie that contained several crackers. He bit into one and washed it down with a warm diet cola.

The boy appeared outside. He held the hand of the bodyguard as they waited for the sedan to pull up. His mother must have remained behind. Primo wondered where they were off to.

He saw the bodyguard glance at his watch, a tiny cell phone glued to his ear. Primo started the ignition and waited.

The sedan pulled up to the curb and he watched the boy get into the backseat as the bodyguard took the seat up front. Moments later, Primo was tailing the sedan yet again. Primo noticed they were leaving the City and heading toward Long Island. Why were they going there? And why wasn’t his mother with him?

The sedan stopped in front of a small home with weathered clapboards and a rusty chain link fence surrounding the property, the windows dark. After the driver opened the door for the frightened looking boy, he stepped out.

Primo cut the lights on the car. He was back far enough not to be detected, but close enough to see what was going on.

The bodyguard grabbed the boy by the neck and led him roughly toward the house. This came as a surprise to Primo. It seemed odd that the man supposedly paid to protect the family would behave in such a manner toward the child.

The sedan made a three point turn and came toward Primo. He ducked until the vehicle passed.

Primo stepped out of the rental and walked slowly toward the house. It was situated behind several tall oak trees, partially obscuring it from view. A dog barked in the distance. He walked to the property next door and hopped the fence. Glancing up at the house, he saw his target inside. A single light appeared to be coming from the kitchen, but Primo couldn’t tell. He approached the rear door and checked the knob, twisting to find it unlocked. Primo removed his WA Berretta Elite IA with the red-dot laser and pushed the door open.

The back door led to the mudroom, where he could hear the man’s voice nearby. Primo stood in the doorway between the mudroom and the kitchen, the bodyguard’s back to him. He was barking orders at the child, shouting at him to take a seat while he called his father with his demands.


The boy suddenly noticed Primo, his large eyes darting away from the man in front of him. At that moment in time, Primo knew that the bodyguard realized they weren’t alone. He whipped around and brought his arm up, the gun blazing toward Primo as he slowly squeezed the trigger…

But Primo was too fast. The man took two quick shots to the chest; his body crumpled to the floor.

The boy shook with fear when Primo aimed the gun at him. “Are you alone?”

He nodded, his eyes two large, round ovals.

“Why were you brought here?”

The boy remained silent, his small frame shuddering.

“You can talk, can’t you?”

He swallowed hard. “Kidnapping.”


“Yes,” he stammered.

“They were going to collect a ransom for you?”


“What about your mother?” Primo asked.

The boy looked down. Tears spilled down his cheeks.

“Is she dead?”

The boy nodded again.

Dammit! What the hell was going on?

“Come with me,” Primo said.

The boy glanced up, his face a mask of confusion as Primo lowered his weapon.

“Let’s go.”


As Primo headed back into the City with the boy, he watched the kid stare vacantly out the passenger window, a million thoughts were probably racing through his mind. Primo couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him.

“You must be a very important young man,” Primo said. “Your own bodyguard tries to ransom you off, and then I was hired to kill you.”

The boy’s head snapped in his direction. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Why would someone want you dead?”

The boy turned back to the window.

“Where did you get your manners from?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged.

“I think you do know,” Primo answered. “Your mother’s dead now. Someone went to a lot of trouble to go to my sister’s house in Greece, threatening to kill her if I didn’t kill you. I want to know what’s going on and you’re going to tell me.”

The boy began to cry again. Primo had to remember that he was dealing with a scared child who had just lost his mother.

“Please don’t hurt me,” the boy stuttered through his tears.

Primo didn’t know how to respond. He remained silent for the duration of the trip. Fifteen minutes later, he glanced over at the boy and noticed that he’d fallen asleep.


Rule Number Three: never get emotionally involved with the target.

They went to Primo’s apartment where he sat the boy down on the couch, giving him a glass of water. Primo plopped down across from him, with the gun resting on his lap.

“I need to know why you’re a target,” Primo said.

The boy wiped his lips with the back of his hand and placed the glass down on the end table.

“They’ll eventually kill my father, too,” he said.


“Men like you.”


The boy sat back on the couch and looked away. Primo knew their conversation had ceased.

As Primo scanned the news for any word of the dead bodyguard’s discovery, he noticed that the boy had once again gone to sleep on the couch. He listened to his rhythmic breathing; his chest moved slowly up and down. Primo fetched a blanket from the hall closet and draped it over him.

As the night sky boasted stars, Primo thought of Adriana and the men that were in her home, watching her, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. He loathed them and the people they worked for.

There was nothing glamorous about what he did. It was a job, paying the bills, and giving Primo the luxury of sending much-needed funds to his sister. It provided him pleasure to do so; she would have done the same for him.

He noticed the boy stirring in his sleep, his eyes fluttering. He said something, but it was incoherent, the words twisted.

Never get emotionally involved with the target.

Never had a child for a target, he thought.

Primo and the boy arrived at Hector’s diner a little before nine-thirty in the morning.

“What the hell are you doing?” Hector asked.

“What does it look like?” Primo said.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?!”

Primo led the boy toward the back of the diner and motioned for him to have a seat. He grabbed Hector by the elbow and drew him away from the kid, out of earshot.

“His mother’s dead,” Primo said.


“His bodyguard killed her, so I killed the bodyguard.”

“Your job was to kill the boy,” Hector said.

“What’s going on? Why is this boy’s death so valuable?”

“I told you: we don’t ask questions—”

Primo produced his gun, the end of the barrel pressed against Hector’s forehead. For the first time, Primo had the luxury of witnessing him sweat.

“What are you going to do? Shoot me? Huh?”

“If I have to,” he said.

“Please, don’t make me laugh.”

“Tell me about the boy.”

“You’re relentless,” Hector said.

The boy watched, frozen.

Hector’s cell phone rang four times before he said, “Maybe I should get that.”


Hector’s hand went to his inner coat pocket and fished out the cell phone.

“Hello.” He waited a moment, glanced at Primo and held out the phone. “For you.”

Primo took it out of his hand. The barrel still remained concentrated on Hector’s forehead.

“We’re watching your every move,” the voice on the other end said. “Dispose of the target or I place a call to the men who have been quite smitten with your sister.”

“Fuck you,” Primo said. “You touch my sister and you’re dead. Mark my words.”


He threw the phone across the room, shattering it to pieces.

“You’re a stupid man,” Hector said. “You think these guys are playing around?”

“If you don’t tell me why they want this boy dead, I’m going to decorate this room with your brains.”

“What’s it to you, Primo?” he said. “You do the job and move on. Both you and your sister live to tell the tale.”

He pressed the barrel further into Hector’s flesh; a red indentation began to appear from the force.


“What happens then…after I tell you? Are you going to finish the job so we can get paid?”

“Is everything about money to you, Hector?”

“Don’t get sentimental on me,” he said. “You’re a killer. You’ve taken human life without thinking twice.”

“So what? This is different,” Primo said.

This is a child for Christ’s sake.

Stay cool…always remember the rules.

Fuck the rules.

Hector noticed something in Primo’s eyes, something that seemed to have grown lifeless and still.

“Wait!” Hector said and cleared his throat. He looked over at the child seated on the edge of the chair, tears streaming down his face.

“Tell me,” Primo urged.

“The boy is not what you think.”


“He is on a mission himself, aren’t you?”

The boy looked up.

“What’re you talking about?” Primo asked.

“Why don’t you tell him?” Hector aimed his question at the child.

“Tell me what,” Primo said.

“Tell him what you are.”

“I want to see my father,” the boy said.

“Never,” Hector roared.

Primo grabbed a fistful of Hector’s hair and yanked his head back. “You better tell me now. I’m losing my patience.”

“The boy is a terrorist,” Hector said.

He let the words sink in, gauging Primo’s reaction.

Primo backed away from him. “I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand,” Hector said. “His father has groomed him, isn’t that right?”

“Leave me alone,” the boy said.

“That’s right,” Hector said. “Today at the U.N. he would have strapped on a bomb powerful enough to take out the Israeli Prime Minister and other members of his cabinet. Who would have suspected a young boy like him?”

Primo looked at the angelic face of the child. Could Hector be telling the truth, or was this some sort of trick?

“Now you know,” he said. “If you don’t kill him, they will certainly kill your sister and come after you.”

Son of a bitch, he thought as his mind raced. Think, think, think!

“So the bodyguard hadn’t kidnapped you,” Primo said. “He was trying to stop you.”

A tiny smile flickered at the corner of the boy’s mouth. “He was a Mossad agent, of that I am sure.”

Primo continued, “And you killed your own mother.”

“It was part of the plan as per my father’s orders. She was for the peace accord. She went against everything we’ve lived and died for.”

Primo was stunned. His entire body was numb and the gun in his hand felt like it weighed a thousand pounds.

He raised the pistol at the boy.

“I’m not scared,” the child said, standing up, back straight, chin high. “I will be with Allah. There are many more behind me waiting for their moment of glory.”

Primo closed his eyes and thought how wonderful it would be to see his sister again. ■

  • Daniel Brian is the author of several non-fiction {true crime} books, including “Henry,” a book {adapted to film script} based on the exploits of Henry Lee Lucas, one of the most vicious serial killers in American history.

He has also interviewed many celebrities within the independent film industry, as well as many authors within the Christian fiction and non-fiction genres and many true crime writers, including James Elroy, John Gilmore, Stephen Singular, Christopher Berry Dee, and former FBI undercover agent Bob Hamer.

He lives in Southern Indiana where he is now semi-retired, and spends his spare time writing, reading, and investigating more mysteries.

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