The sun was shining brightly in the noontime sky as Jack Clark pulled his BMW Z8 convertible out of the hotel parking lot and onto the main road. Driving through the city, he noticed how empty the streets were. A few pedestrians were walking between buildings, but other than that nobody was on the streets. There were even few cars on the road. Jack hit the throttle and headed out of town.
Cassais had been founded primarily as a fishing town. During the years after the Napoleonic Wars when France was first starting to bring out its own Industrial Revolution, big business took over Cassais and started using it as a fishing port. On the shores of the Mediterranean, warehouses and docks were built. Soon, fishing boats were coming in from all across the Mediterranean: Italy, Greece, Spain, Corsica, and even Egypt. Cassais was a bustling port of call, and the city was thriving.
By the mid-1800's, Cassais had a thriving economy that was based mainly on its excellent ports and plentiful supply of workers. But the advantageous French businessmen that had first put their riches into the city's ports soon turned their attention to other money-bringers—vacation spots. The French Riviera was quickly becoming a favorite spot of international travelers, and the need for vacation spots brought on the need for tourist attractions. Besides the picturesque seaside resorts that were soon erected on the shores of Cassais, the town became a bustling tourist spot as well. The first tourist attraction, based on the popularity of Monte-Carlo in Monaco, was the casino of Cassais. Soon other tourist attractions began to pop up all over the small town of Cassais.
But by the time of the Franco-Prussian War, just as Cassais began to make more money than it ever had before, the tide of war turned on the profiting French city. Inner turmoil and the threat of civil war played havoc with the city's economy. Heavy taxes and a floundering economy lead to the shutdown of many ports and docks, and soon the French aristocrats and millionaires that had once frequented Cassais's sandy shores were few and far between. The overall slip of the French currency lead to bankruptcy of local businessmen and the closing down of many local businesses, including the casino, which, at that time, had been controlled by several wealthy local patrons in conjunction with le Banque de Cassais.
Soon, the once-thriving city became a virtual ghost town. The shore side villas that had once been the toast of the town now looked like deserted shanties; the streets, once crowded with tourists purchasing wares along the wide avenues, were empty. Vagabonds and tramps made their homes in the decaying former sidewalk shops and boutiques. The docks grew old and musty with rust and algae, as they remained dormant.
Perhaps the most saddening fact of the slide of Cassais was evident in l'Hotel de Cassais, also known as l'Hotel de Roi. The majestic edifice—"the Hotel of Kings," as its name denoted—had been erected during the most successful years of Cassais' history. The opulent building had taken a year and a half to build and had cost over ten thousand francs, which, at the time, had been quite a hefty sum. Pure marble was bought for the floors; gold trim and Persian carpets were purchased and send into Cassais to adorn every room. A staff of seventy-five was brought in from the finest Parisian hotels and inns to attend to the guests that would frequent the hotel. Each weekend, huge galas would be held in the hotel's grand ballroom. For those rich enough to afford the hotel, they would spend their stay in luxury.
From the balcony on the roof of the hotel, one could look out and see the entire city of Cassais, from its crowded streets to its crystal-clear ocean waters. It had been said that the sight, especially at night, was one of the most beautiful in all of France.
But, as the city of Cassais finally slipped into failure, the hotel was abandoned and forgotten; its regal furnishings and lavish decorations became the property of petty thieves and bandits. As it grew old, and ivy and weeds began to overtake the gorgeous property, its view of the city turned into one of desolation and misery.
Jack Clark had been aware of all this information before he even set one foot inside the city. The dossier provided by his officials at the CIA had given him a good—albeit gloomy—picture of the hopelessness that became the motto of the city of Cassais during the early and mid-1900's. Its virtually boundless resources remained untapped even after France began to regroup and recover during the first two World Wars. In the mid-1940's, the city had been rumored as a possible command sector for the French Resistance due to its proximity to waterways and its relative insignificance. One of the soldiers that traveled there to join up with the French Resistance, a certain Jan-Luc Voituer, was so impressed and overwhelmed with the city—despite its underdeveloped resources as a port-of-call—that, after the war was over, he returned to the city to try and revitalize it. The city, which was then home to a total population of seventy-nine, including the local mayor and his small staff, was glad to hear that a businessman was once again interested in the city. But, try as he might, Voituer was unable to keep up a business, even in a city that had little-to-no internal industrial competition.
The city continued to lay in depravity until just a few years before now. In the mid-1990's, a major businessman known as Max Kreigler announced that he would be relocating his company's corporate headquarters to Cassais. Kreigler Technologies, the man's self-named company that had been headquartered in Paris beforehand, would move to Cassais sometime later that year. It was a bold move; international economic specialists deemed the decision 'risky' and 'unorthodox'. They were sure that Kreigler, who had at that time been a struggling young businessman, would quickly turn his prosperous little conglomerate into a major disaster.
Seems like he's done pretty good for himself, Jack Clark smirked as he continued down the road that led out of the city. The city was now quite impressive, but it surely had not always been that way. Kreigler had faced a great challenge when he reinvigorated the economy of the struggling city. First, he constructed his new corporate headquarters, forcing him to rehire within the area. In less than ten months, the corporate headquarters had more than doubled worldwide production profits. New advertising methods and cheaper labor allowed Kreigler's technology conglomerate to make more of a profit while at the same time cutting internal costs. Eighteen months into the move from Paris, Kreigler Technologies was forced to build a new production office in Cassais, creating an even stronger workforce within the city. This act alone rejuvenated the working populace inside the city. Since Kreigler's takeover, people had been moving back into the city. With help from the local government, Kreigler himself offered to rebuild several of the decaying neighborhoods to make room for the newcomers. The people who worked for him viewed him as a hero.
Jack could totally understand why. He seemed like such a great human being—kind, generous, the quintessential humanitarian. Eventually, he would move away from his own business and branch out into more areas of industry within the city. Having already improved the disused docks and ports to ship out his own wares throughout the Mediterranean, Kreigler began to focus on fixing internal problems within the city. Working in coordination with the local French municipal council that governed the city, Kreigler worked to improve the banking systems of the city, along with the civic departments. He instituted a school for higher education twenty miles north of the city, and erected a public library within the city limits. Finally, he reopened l'Hotel de Cassais and the Casino de Cassais.
The Casino had brought back more tourists to the city. Cassais had once again become the elegant tourist attraction it had once been. New employment opportunities lead to a swell of great economic growth within the city. Cassais had finally reverted to the glorious city of its past.
Jack Clark finally pulled his BMW onto a small rest stop along the side of the road. The road that led out of Cassais had led him down a mountainside towards the seaside. His trip had lasted less than twenty minutes, but had given him enough time to reflect on the mission at hand—on Kreigler, on Cassais, on the casino, on the terrorists the businessman was funding. What would tempt him to do such a thing? was the question that had been burning through Jack's mind. Soon, he would find out. Soon this would all be over.
Jack looked out over the side of the cliff he was now sitting on. Less than one hundred feet down, and about another five hundred feet towards the south, Jack could see the edifice he was looking for.
Now, within his view, was Kreigler's villa.
The building—actually, complex was probably a better word to describe it—sat just above the shoreline on a slope. Large boulders and a high wall guarded anyone from climbing up towards the building. The complex itself was a light sandstone building with a tiled roof. Towers and balconies allowed the occupants of the villa to oversee the compound. The grounds were spectacular, as far as Jack could tell. The costal Riviera's warm climate allowed for a plethora of vegetation, including the palm tree; many of these tropical plants dominated the landscape surrounding the villa. From his vantage, Jack could spy a swimming pool.
The place itself seemed impressive and somewhat domineering. Jack looked closer, and could see an armed man standing in one of the towers. Armed guards? Jack wondered. Was this guy really that paranoid?
Suddenly, a red Ferrari shot away from the complex through the hidden driveway near the rear. It raced across the road, top down. Jack could see the young woman in the driver's seat, her long black hair flowing in the breeze. The secret agent wondered who she was.
He scanned his memory for information regarding Kreigler's personal life. Was there a woman? he tried to remember. An image from the previous night flashed in his mind.
The girl from the restaurant!
Of course, Jack thought. Kreigler had been with a black-haired girl the other night at the restaurant in the casino. He couldn't remember her name—if he had known it beforehand. He would be interested to know whether or not Aubergine would be aware of the young lady.
Turning the engine back on a performing a tight U-turn back onto the mountainous road, Jack Clark hit the accelerator and headed back into Cassais to prepare for his dinner appointment.
~ ● ~
Less than a hundred feet above where Jack Clark sat watching Kreigler's home, on a rocky ledge jutting out from the mountainside, a figure lay on its stomach, a sniper's rifle cradled in its arms. The figure watched the secret agent as he surveyed the 'enemy' and their hideout. What a fool, thought the figure with the sniper's rifle.
Soon, Jack Clark would be dead.
But not now. The figure watched as the car's engine revved and Jack Clark pulled his fancy BMW out of the small stop on the side of the road. The car returned in the direction it had come, back towards Cassais.
Back towards death, the sniper thought.
~ ● ~
Jack Clark was heading back up the mountainside that would eventually return him to Cassais when he caught his first real glimpse of the woman in the red Ferrari. He had seen her for only a moment when she pulled out of Kreigler's villa; he had seen her briefly before at the restaurant in the casino. Now he had a chance to see her relatively up-close.
The car zoomed up behind Jack's BMW, its engine purring and the bright sun reflecting off its red chassis. The woman sat behind the driver's seat, her long black hair flying in the breeze behind her. She wore a pair of stylish sunglasses that seemed to perfectly match the chic Ferrari she drove. Her outfit was fashionable, and she wore a silk scarf around her neck. Her soft white skin was lightly tanned, in a way Jack found very attractive.
The secret agent watched the woman's approach from his rear-view mirror. She seemed to be smiling as she edged closer to Jack's rear bumper, tailgating him as he headed up the road. Suddenly, as Jack cut into an outside turn, the Ferrari cut inside him, he horn blaring as she raced around, waving and smiling.
So you want to play, do you? Jack smirked as he pushed the BMW up into fourth gear and hit the gas.
Let the race begin.
The Ferrari had already pulled at least three car-lengths away from Jack's BMW, but he knew he could catch up to the woman's car as they started up the incline. The incline ended in a sharp right-hand turn, which then lead into another incline as they traversed up the mountainside.
Jack hit the gas and was within half a car-length of the Ferrari when they went into the first turn. Cutting the wheel sharply to the right, Jack moved into the inside of the curve and pulled alongside the Ferrari as both cars maneuvered the curve.
Jack turned and looked at the woman in the Ferrari. Her mouth was wide open as she cut her own steering wheel. She—like Jack—knew that what he was doing was dangerous.
He made it out of the turn and pulled just inches in front of the Ferrari, pushing the accelerator as far as it would to prevent the Ferrari from rear-ending him. He rocketed ahead, looking up in his rear-view mirror to see the woman now frowning. What's wrong? Jack thought to himself. Don't like losing, eh?
He steadied his speed to sixty-five as he remained ahead of the Ferrari. He thought back to when he had come this way before. Another curve was up ahead, but then what? He tried to retrace his path, but couldn't remember. He had been focusing on Kreigler then, not the road.
The Ferrari was just a few feet behind Jack's BMW as they went into the second curve—and found themselves on a straightaway. The road eventually ended in another curve, this one less sharp; but for now, they were driving above the pull-off when Jack had been resting a few minutes before.
Up ahead, the secret agent spotted several rocks that guarded the left-hand side of the road. They would most likely prevent a car from rolling off the side of the road, but the secret agent doubted they would prevent a car from jack-knifing off the edge. There was, however, some space between the rocks and the road—just enough, Jack thought, for a car to try and slip through.
He groaned when he saw the Ferrari pulling into the space between his car and the rocks.
Jack tried to gas it, to put more room between his car and hers, but he was afraid of overheating his engine. "Be careful, be careful!" Jack whispered aloud to himself, watching the woman in his side-view mirror. The Ferrari's tires were just inches—no, millimeters—from scraping the rocks that bordered the road. Further ahead of them, the turn loomed ominously.
Jack knew if he didn't put space between them now that the Ferrari would not be able to make the turn. She would either hit the rocks and possibly flip right over them, or smash into him and cause both cars to flip. He touched the gas and pushed the gear shaft into the fifth gear. His engine revved and his sudden burst of speed pushed him forward into the turn.
The BMW shot ahead just far enough to prevent the Ferrari from crashing into it as both vehicles went into the turn. Jack's heart was thumping in his chest. She was taking this seriously—too seriously—but the thought of the race excited Jack. He smirked once again, thinking of how he had just narrowly escaped possible death. Looking back at her in the rear view mirror, he saw her slowly shaking her head, then throwing it back in laughter.
Boy, was she enjoying this, Jack thought to himself as both cars headed up the next incline. At the top of the next incline, the road would change to a downhill slope and start back into the city.
Jack watched the road ahead of him, then looked in his rear-view mirror and watched the woman. She was gaining on him, now less than a car-length away. As they reached the pinnacle of the next incline, the Ferrari pulled over into the other lane and shifted into fifth gear, pulling up alongside the BMW.
As Jack headed down the other side the of hill, he saw a vehicle approaching in the other lane: a tractor hauling a load of hay was slowly making its way up the hill towards the Ferrari that was zooming along in the other lane. The tractor was nearly at the top of the hill as the two cars—now driving side-by-side—approached it.
"Watch out!" Jack shouted, turning towards the Ferrari's driver. But the woman had already seen the approaching tractor; and she knew she would not be able to make it past the lumbering beast in time.
As the vehicle moved forward, the woman in the Ferrari had only seconds to react. The tractor driver saw the approaching car, but couldn't do anything about it. The woman yanked the steering wheel to the left, falling in line behind Jack's BMW as the tractor passed them, the driver yelling and cursing from his seat as the two cars flew by.
This is getting a little ridiculous, Jack thought as the two cars continued down the mountainside. They were still moving in a corkscrew fashion down the side of the mountain towards Cassais. Jack was now several car-lengths ahead of the Ferrari, but she was quickly catching up with him. She was determined to win this thing, Jack decided.
Jack waited until they had gone through the next curve to make his move. But this time, the Ferrari had caught up with him and the driver had nuzzled the car's nose just behind the BMW's rear bumper. If Jack even touched the brakes now, the Ferrari would slam into the rear of his car. The secret agent took the curve without accelerating too much, afraid cutting his wheel and accelerating at the same time would cause his car to spin out of control. Up ahead, Jack could see a spot where he could pull off. The race had gone far enough.
Steering to the other side of the road where he was able to pull off, Jack watched as the Ferrari zoomed by, the woman pulling off her sunglasses and turning to Jack as she flashed by. Jack smirked. "Ladies first," he quipped as she blew past him.
After the car had gone past him, Jack pulled his BMW back onto the road and checked the time. It was just after one o'clock in the afternoon. He would be back in Cassais soon, enjoying dinner with Aubergine and the British agents at one of the city's exquisite restaurants and forgetting all about his exciting ride down la route à Cassais.