I actually wrote this chapter a long time ago, but it was half finished. Thanks to my reviewers for being persistent; it pushed me to finally finish writing this chapter. Hopefully I will upload more chapters.

Chapter 18

It took Daiyu an hour to arrive in New York City, the area she had spent her earliest childhood in. It was unnecessary to get to upstate from there, but the young woman wanted to visit the place she had grown up in. She wanted to know how much the city changed, and if her building was still standing. As Daiyu passed by a few trees that were barricaded in small tree containments, she forgot how much greenery the city lacked. The surrounding was much different from the nature she got accustomed to seeing in New Jersey.

Luckily, there were usually parking spots in the morning of Chinatown. It was 7 AM, and the streets weren't filled with people yet. Daiyu parked the car in a street that was a few blocks away from her old home. As she stepped out of the car, the cool morning breeze tousled her black hair. Even though she felt welcome returning to the city, Daiyu at the same time felt wistful and detached. The distant memory of her childhood hovered over her like a gray cloud that was saturated with painful memories. There were pleasant memories with her childhood friend, Chenglei, but few were with her mother.

Daiyucrossed the street and continued to walk up the block. Her mother was already dead. The young woman wondered why she still mourned for her mother's death after she died even though she hated her when she was little. Well, it doesn't matter anymore, Daiyu thought shaking her head at the flooding memories. That was the past.

Turning right on the corner of the block, Daiyu spotted the gift shop with the red-painted door. Surprisingly, the store still existed after all those years. People barely bought anything from the deserted store, but perhaps things had changed. Daiyu grinned as she moved her hand towards her pants' pocket. She remembered stealing the maneki neko keychain from the store, and now, she always carried it in her pocket for good luck.

In the distance, what she expected to be her building was a large Chinese bakery with a glassed door and two large windows with taped menus. It seemed the bakery store that used to be by her home had expanded in size. It was ironic that the evidence of that havoc day was gone and long replaced by the bakery. Daiyu hesitated for a few seconds to approach the store. Maybe I'll get something to eat on the way, she thought dryly and pushed the glassed door open.

The familiar smell of sweet baked goods flaunted her nose. Daiyu almost had forgotten how a bakery smelled like. The store was mostly empty except the two drowsy-looking young women that seemingly dragged themselves to work in the morning. They stood by the cash registers aimlessly and appeared a few years older than the assassin.

"How may I help you?" one of the young women asked. Although she was tired, she tried to smile widely. Her long black hair was tied back into a ponytail, and her salmon pink lipstick made her pale complexion stand out. Dark blue, rimmed glasses half-covered her eye bags, and a long sleeve white shirt was half hidden behind her long black apron.

"Umm…" Daiyu mumbled, "I'm just looking around."

The young woman nodded and left her alone. Daiyu browsed the store for a couple of minutes and decided to buy a strawberry mouse, pineapple bun, and triangular sandwich. Daiyu mainly picked the mousse and sandwich because it reminded of her early times with Itzal. This would be enough food to last on her drive to the hotel in Lake Placid. After she received change from her five dollar bill, Daiyu decided to strike up a conversation to dig information about the bakery.

"When did this store open?" Daiyu asked.

Her question woke up the young woman. Fixing her glasses, she shrugged. "I'm not really sure… I just started working here last year." She glanced at the other woman across from her. "Julia, do you know when this store opened?"

Julia was dressed in the same manner with her hair up except she didn't wear glasses or lipstick. "I know it was a long time ago. I don't know the exact date, but the store next door expanded after a year when there was a building here that burned down."

Forcing herself to frown, Daiyu pretended to be horrified. "Wow, that's terrible. How many people died?"

Julia pondered for a few seconds. "The third floor burned down, and the fire made its way to the second floor. I guess a lot of people died, but there was also someone that got killed."

"The police never found the murderer," the other woman said, receiving Daiyu's attention. "I doubt they'll ever find him. I don't like the idea of a murderer still running loose here."

Him? Daiyu wanted to laugh. It was typical to think of murderers as men. If only the woman knew that she was talking right in front of the murderer. Her questions answered, Daiyu thanked the two young women. Right when she was about to carry her food out of the bakery, Julia's voice stopped her.

"Just don't tell anyone who goes here about it," she said discreetly. "I know it happened a long time ago, but we don't want to scare off any of our customers."

Daiyu nodded understandingly and left the bakery, knowing that she would not even be back.

At 12:50 PM, the assassin arrived at her hotel in Lake Placid. Luckily, there wasn't traffic earlier in the morning, and Daiyu only stopped at the gas station once to use the restroom.

The hotel was nicer than she expected. Her room had a tribal brown feel to it, and there was a king-sized bed and an armchair adjacent to it. Across the large white bed was the television which Daiyu didn't have much use for. Although there was a television in the cabin, Itzal and Daiyu barely watched it. It was only convenient for weather forecasts and local news; otherwise, her mentor discouraged her for watching it for entertainment. There was also a door that led to the bathroom.

Daiyu didn't unpack her things and sat on the armchair near the window. While she finished eating her sandwich, she lightly pushed back the white curtains to gaze outside the window. The side of the hotel was facing back to the Adirondack Mountains which she had passed on the way. The majestic mountains surrounded by vast greenery didn't fail to take her breath away. It would be nice to visit there someday, but Daiyu knew it would never happen. Assassins never had time for such places.

Getting up to discard the empty, plastic sandwich container, Daiyu remembered to call Itzal. It took seconds to fish out her cell phone out from her plaid messenger bag which was buried somewhere with her Glock 19 and magazines. Daiyu waited several seconds for the call to pick up.

"You arrived at the hotel?" Itzal asked his voice blending in with the static. Daiyu had to strain her ears to hear him.

"Yeah," she replied. "I'm going to go to Saint Regis Falls in a few hours. It should probably take me an hour to get there."

Her mentor grunted in approval. "Remember to take your time observing Hayward's routine. Don't make a move yet until you feel confident about it."

"I know," Daiyu said. Remembering her black feline, she added, "By the way, don't forget to feed Charna dinner at 7 PM."

Itzal chuckled. "I won't forget. Focus your attention on the mission instead of the cat."

The assassin grinned and hung up on the cell phone. Glancing around the room for her suitcase, she had to take out the books and maps now. She needed to figure out the directions to get to Hayward's mansion.

Night was falling. The crescent moon shone brighter in the countryside, and there were already faint speckles of stars becoming visible at sunset. Daiyu had just finished eating dinner at a fancy restaurant; pricey but the food was worth it. Now, she had to drive to Hayward's mansion which was thirty minutes away.

By the time she passed several highways and turned into twisting roads, she was ten minutes away from the mansion according to her map. Daiyu parked the car inside the forest and got outside with a flashlight along extra batteries and the map, and of course, her plaid messenger bag strapped around her shoulder.

Daiyu quietly walked on the edges of the forest, hiding her presence among the trees and bushes. Her shape through the underbrush shifted like disappearing shadows to the road. With the flashlight, she was used to walking, stalking, and crawling in the forest or woods at night in her past assignments. However, that didn't mean that the assassin wasn't prone to certain obstacles.

Jamming her boot against a tree root, Daiyu nearly lost her balance. She cursed silently and continued walking straight in the forest that would lead her to the mansion. At least I didn't step on crap, she thought wryly. When the sight of the roofs and chimneys protruded out of the forest, Daiyu turned off her flashlight. She snaked her way out of the thin trees and headed out to the clearing.

As Daiyu expected, Hayward's three-story mansion was overprotected by a wrought iron fence that stretched on all four corners. The fence was approximately seven feet high, each of its twisting iron bars protruding like an arrow. Daiyu whistled lightly, knowing that it would be a risky climb unless she figured out another way to get passed the gate. The main entrance was locked and was probably automatically opened by computerized machines. Another thing Daiyu had to be careful of: security cameras. Only a few lights were on in the windows of the first floor.

Searching through the lawn with her eyes, the assassin looked for dogs. From her past missions, it was common for mansions to own dogs. Hopefully, Hayward did not own any. If so, that would not be a problem. All Daiyu would have to do was give sleeping treats to the dogs, and that would put them unconscious for about thirty minutes. It gave the assassin enough time to do the dirty work. That would take planning, however, and it was better off mansions did not have dogs at all. It was an ineffective way to the keep the mansion or owner safe. Only effective against amateur thieves or killers, Daiyu thought, picking up a palm-sized rock from the ground.

Hurling the rock over the fence, Daiyu ducked down behind the bush. Her heart thudded as her ears waited for a few seconds. No barking so far. She grabbed another rock and threw it over to the lawn. The mansion remained still and quiet.

Good, no dogs, Daiyu thought. It made her mission much easier.

Getting up, Daiyu slowly walked around the mansion's fence. As the assassin made her way to examine the mansion on all four sides, she thought how ridiculous mansions were. It was useless to own a home so big when one did not spend much time there. Daiyu also wondered if Hayward had a family like all of her past targets. If so, they would never see him again.

After several minutes, Daiyu soon reached the back of the mansion. The highest single window on the third floor was lit which the assassin assumed was Hayward's bedroom. It was covered by curtains, so she could not get a better look. She waited silently for a shadow to pass over the curtain. Long minutes had passed until darkness consumed the window.

He went to sleep, Daiyu thought. She fished her cell phone out of her messenger bag and checked the time. It read 10 PM. That was quite early for a bed time, but Hayward was probably getting up early in the morning. The assassin estimated he would be up by 6 AM if he slept for the average eight hours. Whatever amount of sleep he got, she would have to take note of it. This would allow her to know his routine when he went to bed or rose up. Slipping her cell phone back inside her bag, Daiyu returned to the front of the mansion. Tonight she would sleep in a tree and wait for Hayward to step out of his mansion.