The man took his daily stroll down the long, brick driveway to collect his mail under the low-lying, sporadically misting grey clouds. Awaiting him as he thoughtlessly opened the mailbox was a single letter. The man reached for it, stopped suddenly before he could grasp it and recoiled ever so slightly. The envelope had a stamped insignia in the upper left that was very familiar to him. There was no return address, but there was no need for such a thing. Anyone in the world would know the origins of the letter, and the origin was a large part of his life for a long period of time. It had left him, he felt, rather than he leaving it. For them to reach back out to him, now, rendered him confused and a bit startled as to their purpose and intentions.
He looked to his right, to his left, ahead, and to his rear – everything seemed in place. He took one corner of the envelope and tore downwards, pulling out a letter folded in three. He unfolded the embroidered stationary that someone had taken the time out to handwrite the message, a rarity in today’s world, and read it. He nervously looked back up, as if to survey his surroundings again, and looked back down at the letter and read it twice more before putting the letter in the inside left pocket. A meticulous man normally, he seemed to not remember letting the torn envelope fall to the ground and leaving it there to eventually be swept away with the late autumn winds that swirled and peaked as it pleased.
* * * * *
Usually, when he drove his car, he set the radio at a low enough volume to provide a gentle soundtrack to his excursions. This time, immediately after starting his car, he turned the volume dial down completely. He never rushed; nothing in his life held enough importance to require that his absolute attention and focus be shifted forward in such an expeditious manner. Thus he was quite startled to look down at his speedometer and find himself traveling at nearly double the posted speed limit. He subconsciously tapped his fingers and palms nervously on the steering wheel as his mind raced. What does he want? Why now?
He hadn't seen or spoken to him in over eight months, and he left on acrimonious terms, so the apparent, proverbial extension of an olive branch on this random Tuesday morning seems a bit out of place considering the current circumstances. Twenty minutes and multiple turns later, he steered his car onto the narrow pathway that led visitors past the stately stone wall and gate to the sprawling estate tucked well behind the cover of trees fronting the quiet street.
* * * * *
He walked up the stone steps toward two large, ornate wooden doors. On the left door, there was a cast-iron door knocker depicting an angel holding her hands out and palms up, as if offering salvation to all those who chose to go through her gate. The right door was adorned with one of the same material, but instead was a devilish, horned face, its empty eyes staring past those who stood before it with its mouth agape and snake-like tongue with the familiar split at the end extending outward. He reached and grabbed the ring fastened at the base of the angel and rapped it against the heavy door six times. Fifteen seconds that felt like five minutes passed before the door opened; there stood a tall man adorned with grey hair and glasses. The man smiled.
"Stewart," the host said, "it’s been awhile since we last met."
"It has. It most certainly…has."
Stewart let the sentence slide away at the end, struggling to come up with any other meaningful response. Here he was, urgently requested to make an appearance, and that’s all the man had to say to him after such a long time away? He took an awkward gulp and looked back at the man who had been looking into his eyes, smiling, but before he was able to collect his thoughts and ask what the purpose of the meeting was, the host spoke up.
"I have some tea on the pot. Please, come inside. We’ll go into my office."
Stewart didn't bother to take his shoes off as he walked inside the house. He knew that having to put them back on in a rushed, panic-filled moment would take precious seconds away from departure. The host walked in front of him and, as they rounded past the living room, gave instructions to the butler standing near the kitchen that he wanted the tea delivered in a couple minutes to the office where he and his guest would be convening. The butler nodded and walked back into the kitchen, and the host walked a few more steps, stood next to the doorway leading to the office and extended his hand welcoming Stewart into the wood paneled room.
The host took his customary chair behind the desk while Stewart sought refuge in one of the two chairs on the opposite side of the large cherry desk. Pictures of past triumphs sat on the lacquered top in an orderly fashion next to photos of his family and close friends. Stewart noticed one of the pictures was of the two of them, smiling with arms around each others’ shoulders, taken in happier times when calls or letters wouldn't be met with hidden agendas or intentions.
* * * * *
Sitting behind his desk, Arsene grabbed a paper sitting in a neatly organized, small pile that rested askew on top of a magazine that only peeked out the words Club International at the very top, hiding the rest of the cover, and read it again as if it were the first time seeing the words. Stewart nervously tapped his fingers on his armrests and attempted a few times to quickly glance at what he was reading. Arsene set the paper down, turned it so it faced Stewart, and slid it towards him.
"It is rare, these days, for me to catch up on what people said about me or the club," Arsene spoke, deliberately. "I know you understand my daily, weekly and monthly constraints for all things non-Arsenal related; the only thing I do, each and every day, is to make sure the squad and the staff I’ve assembled around it perform at their very best capabilities. I have but very little time to worry about manners outside of my control, including people’s opinions of me or the club that entrusts their livelihood. So imagine my surprise when Uncle Bouldy tacked a few articles to my office door at Colney, with some choice passages highlighted."
Stewart picked up the piece of paper, a printout of an online article wherein he claimed that Arsene shouldn't be trusted to spend Arsenal’s money this past summer. As he was scanning over the printout, Arsene slid over the remaining papers from the stack. Each of them was an article in which Stewart ruthlessly attacked Arsene’s credibility, influence and managerial acumen.
Arsene said, as Stewart thumbed through the printouts, "I don’t really believe that you feel that Phil Parkinson, Bradford’s coach, is a better manager than me. Or that I’m a dictator, Stewart. I don’t really believe that you think that."
"Arsene, if you give me a chance to explain," Stewart exhaled, before being cut off.
"Further, Stewart," Arsene coldly continued, "while it’s true that I have the full backing of the board and Stan Kroenke, I think you’re smart enough to understand that I don’t have the ability to sway or, in your words, ‘brainwash’ them, the fans and the press. I’m but a manager with an expiration date, capable of being expunged at the whims of the caretakers of this fine club that I’m so proud to be a part of. The club will live on long past any one of us are around and I’m here to simple ensure that continuation. However, forced dictation of how the club operates? I hope you’re saying this as a way to continue a public profile and you personally don’t feel this way about me."
Stewart struggled to find the right mix of words that would help defuse this awkward, escalating confrontation.
"We had many great times together, Arsene," Stewart blurted out, stuttering on half the words coming from his mouth. "But I’m not the Arsenal employee that you remember; I’m part of the media and with that come different responsibilities."
Arsene smiled, almost chuckling. "Quite different."
He continued. "I’m well aware of media criticism, if only because I've been at the club for nearly twenty years. Many of the members of the press are allowed within arms-length of the inner workings at Arsenal, but there’s a sharp cut-off point from their knowledge of me and the club and what really happens behind our closed doors.
"Stewart, as a former player and co-commentator of Arsenal TV, you are one of the very few in the press who understands the inner workings, the events that transpire away from all others’ eyes. Of all people who level these sorts of accusations, these sorts of criticisms – knowing my achievements, longevity and history – I’m most disappointed that the person is you."
* * * * *
Arsene stood up from his desk chair and walked around to the back of the office as Stewart remained sitting, struggling for words. If he brought me to his house to discuss these matters, Stewart thought, what are his intentions for such a one-off meeting? He shifted his body to the right to see what Arsene was doing and, as he did, he saw him open up a cabinet drawer, pull a Desert Eagle .50 caliber and chamber a round from the magazine. His face turned pale white at the sight of Arsene Wenger lifting up such an enormous weapon in his right hand. The same Arsene Wenger who would put his arm around his shoulder and lend an ear whenever times were rough back when he was with the club was suddenly sizing him up with one of the biggest handguns ever made.
Arsene studied the side of the blue steel of the gun closely, then said "A wise man once said ‘I take things like honor and loyalty seriously. It’s more important to me than any materialistic thing or any fame I could have.’"
"I...I agree, Arsene," Stewart stammered out, "is that a Churchill quote?"
"No. Lloyd Banks; G-Unit."
"He’s little bit good hip hop artist and street philosopher from Queens, New York. I've closely studied all of his work."
"Oh, uh. I would have never guessed that from you, Arsene."
"I know, because I tend to keep a certain side of me private and out of view from others."Arsene then held up the gun and trained the laser sight square between Stewart’s eyes.
"Arsene, please don’t do this!" Stewart screamed. "My intentions were to never switch allegiances or undermine your position! It was all for the sake of punditry! You must understand this!"
"I do understand, Stewart," Arsene said. "I understand very well; remember, I speak four languages fluently and was able to convince Mesut Özil to come to Arsenal, in his native German language. I understand your native English language clearly, for I've been in this country for 17 years.
"Throughout life, one is always forced with decisions to make, with a positive or negative consequence as its outcome," Arsene slowly said, gun still trained on Stewart’s forehead. "Life’s journey and the path we all follow, individually, is a result of those previous decisions and their consequences and the end-product of those decisions is fate. Stewart, all of the decisions you've made in the past has resulted in you sitting here in my office with my Desert Eagle laser scope emitting a clean, crisp dot between your eyes.
"Some of the decisions have been positive, like our previous working relationship at Arsenal. Many a great decision was made on your end with rich, rewarding consequences that arose from those choices. However, some of the decisions you've made have resulted in negative consequences. A former boss of mine once told me that no matter what goes right or wrong in a professional relationship, it’s the responsibility of both parties to portray public civility, to forgo bitterness and to speak warmly about each other to people, even if you cannot stand the sight of their face. It’s the mark of maturity, of letting go and moving on to the next phase of your life. I’m afraid, Stewart, you've chosen to go down a different path. And for that, I must say, the decision you made has a negative consequence."
The reverberations of the explosion of the weapon could be heard throughout the estate; the butler paused, briefly, during his lunch preparations of the day to mentally assess the situation, but otherwise life continued on the grounds as any other normal Tuesday afternoon.
* * * * *
Arsene put the gun back in the drawer he retrieved it from, stepped over Stewart who was impeding his path to his desk chair, and grabbed the mobile phone from the top of his desk. He slowly, without any urgency, thumbed through his vast contact directory to locate the person he wanted to call. After a few seconds, he found the name and gave the number a call. The person on the other line answered.
"Hello, how are you?" Arsene said. After a pause, Arsene asked the man if he was able to come to his house in the next twenty or so minutes. He had to be at Colney to watch film of their next opponent and there was a little matter that needed cleaned up. The man told him he was in luck, that his calendar was free for the rest of the afternoon, and that he could be at his place in a short period of time.
"Good. I’ll see you in a few moments." Arsene ended the call, left the office and waited by the front door. Ten minutes later, a chauffeured, silver Bentley Azure T pulled up and the passenger stumbled out of the car and up to the front door. He didn't need to knock, since Arsene was standing at the open door, ready to greet him.
"You told me to give you a call if I ever needed your help." Arsene spoke in a calm manner. "Well, I've been told you know how to clean up the sort of situations that await you in my office."
"Hello, Mr. Wenger, my name ees Zee Fantastic," the man yelled, nearly at the top of his lungs, "and you already know zhat since I took phone of smart of yours and put my name as ‘Zee Fantastic’ when you spent time with stripper on lap zhat I bought you zhat one time at place called Zee Candy Store. What can I do for such man of rugged handsome?"
"I will take you to the office. There lies a man who walks no more. I've been told by others that you specialize in such cleanup matters." Arsene whispered to the man.
"Was eet Asshole Stan? He gossip like girl who have jabber jaw like blah blah blah Alisher ees so ugly his face make mule have stroke; Arsene, was eet him?"
"No, no. Rest assured, it wasn't him. I have my sources. And my sources tell me you’re the guy for the job. Tell me, what do you charge for such an undertaking?"
The rotund man laughed out loud and put his bear paw on Arsene’s shoulder. "For you, eet ees charge of free. For now, allow Yakov zee big car driver man to drive you to training so you can watch film and get squad in good shape to defeat enemy on pitch. I will take care of zee things inside and by time you get home zee matter will be wipe hands clean like zhis." The man rubbed his hands together as if to say things will be done in a very professional manner.
Arsene shook the fat guy’s hand and walked past him, towards the back passenger door of the enormous car. The driver held the door open for him, closed it after Arsene was comfortably in the back seat, and drove off down the long, winding driveway. The large, bowling-ball shaped man, wearing an ill-fitting suit, walked into the house and shut the door.