Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chapter 15

After the usual ‘I’m not really dead’ conversation with Johnny, I was able to get a hold of a spare set of keys to almost every room in Tryst Tower. Johnny was as surprised as Walter, but later decided that he should have known all along. He said I was like a cockroach; you can’t just step on one and expect it to die. I always liked Johnny, and we had a nice visit as he filled me in on all the rumors going around the Tower. The going word at the time right before he left was that Olivia and Trystix were having some serious marital trouble. Trystix didn’t want word of it getting out to the public, so he fired anyone who even mentioned it. Then he fired anyone who had heard the rumors. Hence, Johnny was unemployed and full of bitterness.

I hopped on my bike and rode down some familiar streets. I drove past my old stomping grounds; down familiar streets and new buildings being built…Buildings owned by Trystix. Buildings I made possible through flame or deceit. I remembered the heat from the fires on my skin; remembered the sound of walls crumbling. It felt good to revisit some of my finest achievements, but it had a slightly bitter aftertaste. I had practiced my art for a tyrant. I didn’t care at the time, but it felt wrong to know that I’d helped him. It made me angry. Just more fuel for the fire in me I guess.

After the past few days, I’d set up the main structure of my plan. It would start slowly; I’d hack in to the security system and watch the cameras for a week or two. That meant I’d have to meet with Stu and have the awkward ‘I’m not dead’ conversation. I’d probably crash at his house during that time, watching and noting every security check-in and get to know when the guards made their rounds. Then I’d pick a guard, have Stu take him out for drinks, then borrow his uniform. I’d have to keep him tied up somewhere until I finished my mission. Walter offered to watch over him, and gave me his opinion on who would be the best option. Unfortunately, most of the guards were a lot bigger than me. I’d have to do some serious tucking and pinning for the uniform to look professional enough.

Stu said he’d try to get me a Class A keycard for now, then copy the unfortunate guard’s backstage pass once we abducted him. I had Johnny’s spare set of keys, so I should have complete access to every room I’d need to get into. Unfortunately, he didn’t have keys to Trystix’s safe or filing cabinets. That wouldn’t really be a problem for me. Picking locks or breaking them is something I’d always been good at. Johnny also told me about the service stairs at key points in the building, in case I needed a quick getaway.

After I got in, I would do the guard’s usual rounds, while Stu would loop the security tapes, making it look like I was just walking around doing my job for at least two hours. I would then get to my old apartment, and call Liv from my personal phone line. Johnny said Trystix never shut it down as a boon to Liv…Something like lighting a candle for the dead I guess. Whatever. Trystix would do anything to make Liv think he was actually something like human.

The wild card to my entire plan was Liv. I’d have to convince her to leave Trystix, leave Chicago, and return to Seattle with me, not to mention the part that I was still alive. I wouldn’t have much time to plead my case, but hopefully I could find some way to convince her…Maybe the fact that Alex Ryder was actually Raiden would make a difference. I didn’t really know what I’d say, but I figured I’d know in the moment. For now I would just sit back and watch the cameras.

After about a week of minimal sleep and microwave pizzas, I had picked my man. His name was Vic. He was a shorter, stockier man than I had first thought. He walked very proud most of the time; a cocky grin constantly on his face. He seemed very happy to be an authority in the most powerful man in the nation’s home. He continuously checked that his gun was clear in its holster, not that he’d ever needed to use it. The security measures were so regulated that the guards rarely saw more than a few people with picket signs outside the building. Vic was a loner, like myself. He didn’t really interact with anyone else in the building. He came in a few minutes early, and usually left a few minutes early as well. He seemed to think he transcended most of the rules. No wonder Trystix hired him.

What I didn’t know was where he lived. He had started a little after Stu had been fired, so Stu had no access to his personnel file. I’d have to improvise; follow him home or something. Not really a problem. It gave me a chance to leave Stu’s house for a night. I decided I would probably need something a little less conspicuous than my motorcycle, so Walter let me borrow his tan Toyota. There isn’t much more inconspicuous than a neutral-colored Toyota.

Following someone without them knowing they’re being followed is tricky at best. You have to be careful not to follow too close, but stay within visual range. It’s a balancing act. Lucky for me, Vic was oblivious to everything beyond his gun in the holster on his hip. To be honest, driving the clutch in the Toyota was the hard part. I ran a few red lights to keep up, but Vic’s convertible was pretty easy to spot if I fell too far behind. We drove threw suburban Chicago for a little more than half an hour, almost all the way back to Stu’s. What a waste of gas.

We turned a corner and instantly were stopped at a light. And then someone threw a wrench in the mix. No, literally. Someone threw a wrench out of a window. It slammed into the side of Vic’s car. You know those dings you can just hammer out of your car door? This did not leave one of those dings. It left the other kind…The kind that makes cocky security guards pull over and get all huffy.

Vic had turned crimson before the wrench even hit his car. He was irate. He stormed out of his car and started toward the door of the apartment. He began pounding on the door, screaming for someone to come out and either fix his car or give him the money to fix it. This was going to get complicated. I pulled around the next street and crept back to watch.

A young couple came out fairly quickly and yelled right back at Vic. Something about not waking the neighbors unless you want the neighbors to kick your teeth in. Apparently, the young man was in the middle of breaking up with his girlfriend, who threw the wrench. He told Vic to get steppin’ or there would be trouble. Vic took offense, puffed out his chest, and shoved the young man. Oh, Vic. Bad move. The young man clocked him and he crumpled like a dry leaf. The young man then started kicking him in the torso and head. I couldn’t have my cover in a hospital, so I ran up to the scuffle.

“Hey, bro. Cut it out man. It’s this moron’s bad. Sorry we interrupted. I’ll get his ass off your porch.” I said.
“Who the hell are you?” He asked between kicks.
“I’m his…parole officer. He stole my suit. I’m taking him downtown.”
“Yeah, you better. But I’m gonna kick his teeth in first!” He responded with another kick. His girlfriend began pulling him back, to which he shoved her down. I may burn things for a living, but I can’t stand domestic violence.
“Enough, man. Enough.” I tried to sound cool and collected.
“Mind your own business, pig!” He yelled back. The girl began crying.
“There’s no reason for that. Cool your jets, man. She didn’t do anything.”
“She got in my business! She deserves that and more! I’ll teach her better. You better leave, pig. You’re bugging me.” He turned around and started away.

Self-control, as you may have noticed, is not my strong-suit. I grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. I ducked, expecting the sucker punch, and hit him with a left to the solar plexus, followed by an uppercut. The boy collapsed next to the girl, who screamed. She pulled out a cell phone and ran in the house, leaving her boyfriend on the steps.

“Who…who’re…uhh…” Vic muttered. I punched him.
“Shut up. You’ve just gotten us in trouble. Time to go.” I put his arm around one of my shoulders and carried him to the Toyota.

Vic’s car was going to be a problem, so I took out his keys and tossed them onto the porch next to the young man. I figured I owed him something for the headache when he woke up. I doubted he’d say the car wasn’t his. Either way, he had no idea who either Vic nor myself were. In the distance, I could hear a siren. Not good. I climbed into the Toyota and started driving. Vic laid against the window, tongue hanging out. I was really starting to hate this guy.

We never made it to Vic’s house, due to the wrench incident, so I was just going to have to take him now. I had planned everything out; it was supposed to start a week from then. Well, you can’t plan stupidity. I didn’t really have anywhere I could take the imbecile except Stu’s, so I drove in that direction.

“No…sir…Mr…Trystix…I haven’t…heard…anything…Sh…She’s beautiful and lo….loves you…sir.” Vic mumbled. I laughed. Good to see Trystix was still insecure. It was almost time to exploit those insecurities. Just a few more loose ends…

Chapter 14

The hardest thing about being dead is definitely convincing people that you’re not really dead. I ran into this problem head-on. I made a few stops on my way back north. The first stop was at Walter Jensen’s home. Walter had been an accountant for years for Trystix while I had been there. Apparently something had changed. The usually tidy Walter was asleep on a couch when I got there, with an empty bottle in his hand and pizza boxes everywhere. It looked like he hadn’t left his small home in weeks…Except to get pizza.

Walter had been an extremely valuable employee to Trystix. His numbers were always on, and his numbers were always good. He came to work early, left late, and even worked holidays. He wore nice suits, was always clean-cut and trim, and was always just a small twitch from a smile. His kind demeanor was completely genuine. The heavy-set, shaggy-haired man on the couch was definitely not who I remembered. He was obviously lonely and depressed. He had a wife, but rarely saw her. Judging from all the empty picture frames around the apartment, I’d say she had left him. Apparently, Walter had lost a lot lately. Like his common sense; the door wasn’t even locked, and this was Chicago.

“Walter. Walter. Hey man, wake up.” I shook him as I spoke.
“No, Mr. Trystix. I haven’t finished the write-up yet. I’ll have it on your desk first thing tomorrow.” His speech was slurred. Alcohol will do that to you, I guess.
“I’m not Trystix.” Walter opened one eye, then closed it. Suddenly, both eyes shot open.
“Holy shi-…Jared? Jared? You’re dead!”
“You could say that…But I’m here nonetheless.”
“Are you a ghost? Am I haunted? Oh no…I’m dead! Are you my angel?”
“No. No, I’m not an angel. I’m really here. I’m real.”
“Oh man. I’ve really been drinking too much.”
See what I mean about convincing people you’re not dead?
“C’mon, Walter. Sit up. I need to talk to you.”
“Sure. Sure. I’ll just sit right up and talk to a ghost. I’m definitely not insane.”
“What happened to you? Why aren’t you at work?”
Walter spat.
“Gotta have a job to go to work, Jared.”
“You got fired? Why?” I asked.
Trystix decided I knew too much. At least, that’s what I think. He gave me some bogus ‘budget cut’ excuse.”
“And your wife?” His face darkened at the mention of his wife.
“Left about a year ago, right before I lost the job. Just happy for my severance checks.”
“Wow. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“She said I’d left her the minute I started working for Trystix. She’s right you know. I never treated her right.”
“Walter, I need your help. You say you got fired because you knew too much? That’s exactly why I need you. How’d you like to help a dead man get even with Trystix.”
Walter smiled.
“Definitely. I just hope you’re not the vodka talking.”
I rolled my eyes.
“You know more about Trystix’s finances than anyone. How was he doing before you left? Financially, I mean?”
“As well as ever. Somehow, that bastard found a way to profit from the damn virus. It might have something to do with that Raiden guy. I bet he’s involved.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Pharmaceuticals have dropped in price, yet Trystix is still making money from his stock in them. Raiden has to be manipulating the output of the drugs, otherwise there would be no way to profit from it. It just doesn’t make sense unless someone is fabricating the numbers.”
“Interesting. Could Trystix be doing it somehow?” This was a curious perspective.
Trystix is smart, brilliant even. But I don’t think he has that much stock in Raiden’s company. It would have to be someone who has control in Raiden’s camp. I just assumed it would be Raiden himself.”
“Could be, I guess. I was under a different impression of Raiden’s involvement. Definitely worth looking into though. Where does Trystix keep his records?”
“In a filing cabinet, in your old apartment. On top of the rug, covering up your death threat.”
I laughed.
“Death threat, huh? Is that how he took it?”
“He was scared to death of you. That’s why he gave you all that money. Hoping to buy you off. I always thought it convenient that you died a night later.”
“More than convenient. Planned. It was murder. But here I am, the walking dead.”
“Well, I imagine he’ll get his now, eh?”
“Only if you can tell me how to get in to the Tower unnoticed.”
“Easy. A keycard. I can help you. He fired some security personnel, too. You remember Big Stu?”
“Big Stu? Why’d he fire him?” Big Stuart Jones was next on my list of people to find.
“Stu told him he needed a raise if he was going to be working the twelve-hour shifts and doing the overtime. Trystix had even made him take his work home with him. He was making security clearances and watching the cameras at home. Trystix didn’t like the idea, so he sent him home early. Then Trystix cut his salary, then his hours, then just fired him. Stu lost his home, his car, everything. I guarantee he’d help settle the score.”
“Poor Stu. So you think he’d still have the right tech to get me in?”
“Absolutely. I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“Great, Walt. But he can’t know I’m alive. Not yet. The fewer that know the better.”
“Fine.” Walter had a mischievous glint in his eye.
“You gonna kill him, Jared? Trystix, I mean.”
“Yeah, but not yet. He has some pipers to pay first. One more thing…Think I could crash here tonight? I haven’t had time to find a hotel yet. I’ve been…busy.”
“What’s the matter, Jared? No grave to crawl back into?”

Walter had always had a great sense of humor. He nodded and led me back to a spare bedroom. There were papers and calculators everywhere. Looks like Stu wasn’t the only one taking work home. Walter brushed off a dusty couch, grabbed a blanket, then excused himself to find a pillow. I told him I appreciated the hospitality. I went out to my bike and grabbed my things. I reached into my bag and pulled out the small black box. I squeezed the latch and opened it. The gun sat on top, the bullets off to the side. I pulled it out and set it aside. My lock pick set was next, then the picture of Liv. I held the picture in my hands for a moment. I missed her. I missed my niece. But I’d see them soon. Finally, I pulled out a small yellow notepad from the bottom.

I had worked on my plan at the few stops I took on my way to Chicago. I checked off Walter and Stu’s names on my list. This took care of finding the records and the security issues; that left identification and getting the money and bonds out. The next name on my list was Johnny Michaels. Johnny had been a janitor and knew every nook and cranny of Tryst Tower. I’d have to find him tomorrow. The last name was the most important one; Olivia Donovan Trystix.

Chapter 13

I’ve always been a big fan of the idea of karma; the idea that our actions lead to reactions which always come full circle. I love the idea of everything being connected, that everything we do matters. I’d like to think that our intentions make a difference. Like I said, I’d like to think that way. I like the idea of karma. But I don’t necessarily believe in it. I thought a lot about it on my way to Chicago. I decided that karma is an interesting concept, but it’s also an easy excuse for why things happen. Our actions may never react in a circular pattern, but I do believe in the laws of physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction unless acted upon by greater force. For Trystix, I was that greater force.

I would start small; find a hole in the wall to observe from and a place to work out of. That would be the easy part. The next few steps is where it would get tricky. I decided to spend some time with a phone book. I had a few names to look up, but mostly, I just needed to know they were still in Chicago. I sat in a little pizza place in the western quarter of the Second City and thumbed through the white pages. Too many people have cell phones these days, which makes phone numbers difficult. In the end though, they have to live somewhere. The last name I looked up was more out of curiosity than necessity; Allister Shane. I dialed from a cell phone Raiden gave me. An elderly, yet gentle-sounding woman answered.

“Hello? Hello?”
“Oh my, Angel? Is that you?”
“Yes, this is Angel. Who’s this? Do I know you?”
“You do…well, you did…Uh…I am a friend of Jared…Jared Donovan.”
“Jared? You knew Jared?”
“Yes. I knew him.”
“Is he..? Is he really dead?”
“Yeah…Plane crash. Really sad…He…wanted me to…to thank you. For believing in him.”
“My dear boy…What has the world done to you?”
“Excuse me?”
“Jared, I know your voice. I have been waiting to hear your voice for the last seven years. They’re saying you’re dead! Why do they think that? You sound pretty alive to me?”
“I was on that plane. The one that crashed. Angel, is Allister there?”
“Damn. I need some help. I need to come see him. I left something in the apartment you made for me. I’ll be by later, but you can’t tell anyone I’m alive. Angel, this is very important. No one can know. Ok?”
“All right, Jared. But you should clean up that mouth. No need to curse.”
Ok, Angel. Sorry.” I laughed.
“You always were a funny one, Jared. I want you to know something. I always believed you were innocent of that fire. Allister never did, but I did. If you need anything, you’ll let me know?”
“Absolutely. Thanks, Angel.”

I finished my pizza, and hopped back on my bike. I was really going to miss the bike when I was done in Chicago. It wouldn’t do to transport such valuable materials on a motorcycle…They deserved better. I arrived to Angel and Allister’s around sunset. The place looked exactly the same. Something felt different though. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My question was answered quickly after I got there though. The sound of a shotgun fired into the air will do that.

“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you too, Allister.”
“Wipe the damn smile off your face, boy. I should shoot you dead where you stand.”
“I’ve told you before; I didn’t start that fire.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t know why I should with a delinquent like you. What do you want?”
“I left something important in my room.”
“It’s been seven years you idiot! What makes you think you still have a room?”
“You don’t like change. You don’t change anything unless you have to. It’s a lesson plumbing taught you. You taught it to me.”
“Get lost. Never come here again.” He loaded another round.
“Seriously, Allister, all I need is five minutes.”
“You’ve got about two seconds before I blow your head off for trespassing.”
“Allister! Be civil!” Angel screeched from the doorstep.
“Stay inside, Angel. I’ll get rid of this vagrant.”
“Allister Douglas Shane! Lower that weapon!”

You learn real quick that when Angel Shane says ‘now’, it means yesterday before she woke up. Allister lowered the gun and scowled. Angel walked down the steps and crossed the yard. She threw her arms around me and kissed my cheek.

“Well, I’m glad you came when you did. I’m afraid he would have put me down faster than he’d squash a cockroach.” I said
“He huffs and puffs, but he’s just a big softy underneath. What can we do for you, Jared?”
“Just let me in the old room for a minute or two. I have some…things I need to get.”
“Oh…Those things.”
“Allister, will you go get the box under the stairs? The one with the gun, the fake driver’s license, the picture of his sister, and the lock pick set?”
Not good. Not good.
“If it gets him out of here. His presence sickens me.” Allister stormed into the house in huff. He stopped at the door, and turned around. He gave me a very direct look, and set the gun against the house.
“I expect this has something to do with your sister?” Angel asked.
“Yeah. How’d you guess?”
“She’s the only thing you feel for enough to go to war for. That’s what you’re doing right? Going to war?”
“You could say that.”

Allister came back out, carrying a small black box with a broken lock. I had broken the lock years ago trying to open the box with a screwdriver in a moment of desperation. It had opened the box, but it also put a catch in the lock, so you had to squeeze the sides to get it to open. I had thought all of these items would be safe from the public eye forever. My father’s gun, my fake ID, my lock picks…Tools of a misspent youth I guess. I was impressed that Angel knew the entire contents of my little box. I thought I was the only one who knew the trick to get it open. Angel was an amazing woman.

“Now leave. Never come back. Far as I’m concerned you’re dead. You will be if you come back.”
“Thank you. You have no idea how sorry I am it’s come to this for us, Allister. Thank you for all your lessons.”
“Get lost. If you ever call again, I’ll tell everyone I know you’re alive.”
“Point taken. Goodbye.”
Angel came in for another hug and kissed my cheek.
“You’ll be careful, won’t you? Don’t get yourself killed…again…” She asked with a hint of a smile.
“I’ll try my best. Goodbye, Angel.”
“Goodbye, young man.” She stifled a sob and walked to the house.

I got on my bike and stuffed the box into a saddlebag. I had a busy night ahead of me. I wheeled around and headed back to the north, towards the looming Tryst Tower.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chapter 12

The Red Rose Fever hit the states hard. It started in the east, in Georgia I think. No one knows the actual origin, but it has been speculated to have started down in the South. It spread like wildfire, consuming Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, seemingly all at once. It burned strong through the north in a matter of months. Then it hit New York. The Big Apple was burning. Panic hit the streets. People began dying, and no one seemed to know what was causing it. Then it spread through the hospitals. Doctors, nurses, inpatients, outpatients, even ambulance drivers became infected. Children, soccer moms, grandfathers, taxi drivers; everyone was vulnerable.

The West was starting to get nervous. Raiden tried to keep things calm, but failed miserably. The airlines began cancelling flights to and from the East. Families were split up. People began assembling and picketing outside airports and bus stations. Military help was called in to break them up. People began rioting and trying to force the issue. The militia responded in kind. People were killed. More rioting. More problems. Police brutality was escalating. Arrests were frequent. Violence was even more so. The small amount of unity that Trystix and Raiden had inspired was falling apart. People were turning on each other. So ended the American Dream.

It was only a matter of time before both the virus and people started getting through the barricades and quarantines. Soldiers got sick, but didn’t mention it to anyone. Before long, the rioting died out, but the protests still took place via the internet from undisclosed locations. It’s amazing to me how many people know how to post things on the internet but not how to move out of their parents’ basement and earn their own money. Food for thought.

Life in Seattle was fairly slow. I spent most of my time in the complex by the waterfront, inside the gates. Raiden didn’t seem to have much work for me at this point, so I spent a lot of time in the gym in the basement or watching bad TV shows. Raiden paced and fretted endlessly in his office; I could hardly blame him. Here was a man who owned half the country, let alone several health care groups, and he couldn’t even seem to keep his own city virus-free. A lot of blame fell on him, but most of the blame was from himself. He was buckling under the weight of the world, which he took by his own choice. We talked periodically about solutions. I wasn’t much help. He was convinced he was the nation’s salvation, but he couldn’t figure out how to save it. I tried talking sense into him, only to be told to stop being negative. He truly believed he could save everyone.

Weeks went by with no solution. I swear Raiden grew gray hairs overnight. He was so different from Trystix. Trystix always seemed to be trying to benefit himself; Raiden wanted to help everyone else. He was spending thousands on research and testing. He drastically cut prices on fever-reducing pain-killers and started giving out hand sanitizer like candy. I was impressed by his generosity, but disgusted by his counterpart.
In the East, Trystix sat in his tower, in his office, and no one was allowed to visit him directly. No one who worked in Tryst Tower ever left the building. Everything brought in to the tower, including food, was sanitized by ultra-violet light rays and run through insane amounts of tests. Everyone ouside the tower seemed to be ignored. Chicago was suffering, and Trystix didn’t seem to care.

The fever was about the only thing the media covered. They tried to inspire hope based on the slowing in the West. They encouraged everyone to wash their hands and avoid unnecessary human contact. They coined the name of the virus The Red Rose Fever not long after it started. People had about a month to live once the symptoms showed up.

Like I said previously, the virus itself was not unlike ailments the world had seen before, but it didn’t respond to the normal treatments. I’m no scientist, but from what I understand, that’s not a good thing. Apparently, some viruses mutate over time, which makes them more difficult to treat. The fever seemed to be keyed to a certain genotype; a very common one. I heard that on the TV and radio on a nightly basis. Man, I hate TV.

The nation was constantly reminded of the symptoms; an extremely high fever, chapped lips, dehydration, excruciating headaches, loss of sensation in the hands and feet, and ultimately, the skin would begin to wilt and peel off. Death was close after the molting began…usually no more than a day or two. Research showed that most deaths occurred about a month after the symptoms started. Once the media announced the expiration date, hospitals overflowed with people thinking they had the fever. Unfortunately, this caused more people to be exposed to the virus and therefore caused more cases almost overnight.

Raiden was losing a lot of sleep and a lot of money faster than anyone ever expected. His financial advisors tried to convince him to re-raise the price on the fever-reduction pills, based on “supply and demand”, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew how badly the people needed the help, and he refused to lock himself away from the world. He started going out in to the city, which was way out of character, and trying to help in any way he could. The media began calling him a true humanitarian, and people began to look to him for guidance. Hell, I think I even bought into it. He was very good with the media, and was even better with children. Unfortunately, his finances and good deeds weren’t enough to stop the virus. You can’t convince a virus to stop because children are dying. You can’t bargain with one to stop in a little while. You can’t tell a virus what to do. There is no arguing with death.

It eventually dawned on me while I was watching Trystix on the news, trying to convince the world that he “was doing everything he could” to stop the spread of the virus in Chicago. Keep in mind this was also an interview done over a webcam. I really should figure out computers someday…Anyway, it got me thinking. If Trystix really wanted to convince people, he needed a big demonstration. As much as I hated him, the nation needed him. I brought my idea to Raiden, who seemed to think it would be a great help. He complimented me on helping my fellow man. I told him I just wanted to get back to burning things. He gave me a grim smile.

The next evening, Raiden set up a phone meeting with Trystix in his office by the waterfront. I was invited to listen in, along with many advisors to Raiden. He cautioned me to keep my silence, so Trystix wouldn’t know I was still alive. I agreed, and sat next to the suit of armor in the corner. Raiden turned on the speakerphone and dialed. I recognized the number he dialed; Trystix’s direct line. My anger ignited the second Trystix picked up the phone.

“Micah, what do you want?”
“Regan, we need to talk. Actually, I need to talk. You need to listen. An advisor of mine,” Raiden gave me an appreciative nod and smile, “had an excellent idea, but it requires cooperation on your part. This virus is out of control. Do you agree?”
“Of course I agree, you idiot. I have people picketing outside my office on a daily basis. I can’t get rid of them.”
“Did you try helping them? Did you offer them any help?”
“I offered them a free ride in a police car if they didn’t leave.”
“Regan, have you done anything for them lately? Does Chicago even know you exist anymore aside from your web casts?”
“Screw you, Raiden. Just because I’m not out there shaking hands and kissing babies doesn’t mean I’m not helping. I’ve sent out ambulances full of painkillers and fever-reducers. I marked up the price a bit based on supply-and-demand, but the pills are quite affordable now. Thanks for lowering your prices by the way.”
“You son of a bitch! Are you kidding me? You aren’t doing anything but riding my coattails!”

Now, wasn’t this interesting. Two of the most powerful men on the earth, fighting like schoolgirls. I can’t say it was too surprising. I knew they were exceptionally different, and Trystix definitely was under Raiden’s skin. I guess I had always thought they were at least civil with each other. But they seemed to be at each other’s throats. I knew why. My sister. My niece. The family Raiden had dreamed of. The family Trystix sold Raiden out for. The reason I was killed. At least, the reason Trystix tried to kill me.

“Oh please, Micah. You just wish you had a tower to work from.”
“Seriously, Regan! Grow up! You have done nothing! The nation needs you! The world needs you!”
“What do you want, really? Get to the point. As much as I love our chats, I have a lonely wife and a daughter who needs her father more than you need someone to bitch to.”
Ouch. That definitely stung Raiden. I saw the pain in his eyes as Trystix referred to Olivia and Lena. I doubt he even noticed the quip at the end of the sentence.
“We need your help, Trystix. You and you alone have the financial means and connections we need to find a cure for this sickness. I know you don’t like me, but you have to help our people. We need a cure. Your swooping in would look great to the public, and I think we both could use that.”
“Running out of good-boy money, huh? Need someone else to sell your bullshit, eh?”
“Why are you such an idiot?”
“Why are you such a coward?”
“Coward? Cow…What do you even mean by that?”
“Why don’t you come to Chicago and ask me face-to-face, man-to-man?”
“If I have to I will.”
“Please. Don’t even try to act like you have any real substance to you. You aren’t even close to the man I am.”
“No, actually I agree with you there. I would have to gain a couple hundred pounds to be the man you are.”

That one made me smile.

“I will not bail you out Raiden. I will not help you. You are doing plenty for both of us.”
“You’re going to let people die? You’re going to make yourself nothing more than a king without a kingdom. A man without his people.”
“Actually, I’m about to make the best business decision of my life. I’m going to let you bury yourself.”
“You’re a monster.”
“You’re a dead man. Enjoy the virus, whenever you catch it. I’m going to stay here in my tower and let you rot. Then, when you are gone, I’ll turn you into a hero, a martyr. I’ll fund the research, find the cure, and you’ll be long gone. Then, I’ll be a lock for president. Then all will be as it should be. Maybe I‘ll build you a statue.”
“You have got to be kidding! You are using a national crisis as a means to more power? Screw you, Trystix. You are no better than dirt you built your castle out of.”
“Goodbye, Raiden.” The sound of phone hanging up followed in close succession. Raiden slammed the phone down, then grabbed the phone and threw it against the wall. Advisors cringed and shrunk to the corners. Raiden, red-faced and irate, cast a steely look across the room.
“Get out. All of you.” They ran like mice. I stayed.
“Told you it wouldn’t work.” I said.
“At a time like this, when the world is on the verge of collapse, you want me to pat you on the back? You want me to be happy that the idea you came up with, the idea that only you didn’t believe in, ended up not working after all? Are you serious? Are you sure you want to test me right now?”
“You were convinced Trystix was a reasonable man. I know better. I told you that. I may have come up with the idea, but I never thought it’d ever come to anything. You can’t expect an egocentric person to set his own happy little bubble aside for ‘the greater good’ or whatever. Now we move to the second phase.”
“Which is?”
“A roadtrip to Chicago. Mine. Alone.”
“What? You only told me about…phase one I guess you’d call it. What are you up to?”
“He’s not the only one with power in that building. I know a few people. Important people. Ones who would be all-too interested in his removal from power. Also, a few people close to his bank accounts and other assets.”
“You have to give me more than that. I have kept you around because you swore you’d be useful. Tell me what you’re doing.”
“Seriously, my man, you don’t want to know.”
“Damn it! Tell me what the hell you are doing before I throw you out too!”
“You really need to settle down a bit.”

Raiden about ripped his desk in half after I said that. Everything on the desk was on the floor in an instant. It probably sounded like really expensive rich-guy stuff breaking. He was in my face before I could move an inch. I could hear hushed whispers outside the office frantically asking each other what they should do.

“What the hell gives you the right to tell me that?”
“Daddy, calm down. You’re scaring the children. Time to trust me, Raiden. I had to have it this way. You can’t fake raw emotion. You’ve played your part, now let me play mine. Get me to Chicago, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Am I going to have to cover something up? Like an assassination of the one man who can help fund the research I need?” I smiled.
“No…Not yet at least. His time will come. I have something else in mind. Robbing him of his happy place is my intent, not his death. I will need a way home, too. And I won’t be coming home alone.”

Raiden happened to be one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, emotion was ruling his reason. It took him a few minutes to comprehend what I had just told him. When it did, he backed down, and a hint of a smile crossed his lips.

“I told you to trust me, Raiden. I hate him as much or more than you appear to, and I want him to be as fractured and broken as he left me. He stripped my world from me, then tried to kill me. I have similar intentions, but I plan to draw it out a bit. Apparently his humanity has lessened even more since I left.”
“He has to pay, Jared. But at least let me fly you out there in my personal jet. Just to be sure you get there in a timely fashion.”
“You can’t rush this, Micah. Let me do this on my time. Spend yours doing what you have been. The nation believes in you, and so do I. Just try not to get sick while I’m gone. And I really would rather drive…The sky seems to have issues with me. Must be something to do with burning the ozone layer or something.”
“You are an odd one, my friend. Anything; anything at all, just ask.”
“A fast bike. A Harley would work. I travel light. But I‘ll need a car in Chicago ready to leave on a moment’s notice. ”
“Sure. But what are you going to do? Rob him in his own home? He never leaves.”
“Better. He’s going to be robbed by a ghost. He won’t know what hit him. Then that ghost will leave him a message. Then he will be the one who’s haunted.”

Chapter 11

Seattle is a nice place if you don’t mind the rain. Granted, it doesn’t rain as much as everyone seems to think, but I grew up in Utah. If it rains more than a couple times every few months, it’s rare. Seattle actually doesn’t get as much rain as Atlanta or Washington D.C. per year, but it sure seems that it gets more. It’s the perfect place for tortured souls who like to walk in the rain. Like myself. Like Raiden.

My suspicions had grown a lot since the plane crash, but I knew it would be a bad idea to blame Raiden for Trystix’s sins. He had done nothing to me, and he deserved a chance to prove himself an ally. He owned several health care groups for hell’s sake. I arrived in the Emerald City late one evening via Greyhound bus. I think my patronage to airlines officially ended the day I woke up in a hospital bed. As I got off the bus, I took in the smell of the city. The salty breeze from the ocean was a new and pleasant scent. I could smell the fresh fish from around the corner. I could smell fresh coffee from the Starbucks across the street. I stood on the street corner and took it all in. No reason to rush new experiences.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the business card Trystix had left for me three long months ago. I reread the brief note, and the familiar dark thoughts clouded my brain. Trystix would pay. The only question in my mind was if Raiden had a price to pay as well, or if he would help me find justice. Only one way to find out. I knew that Raiden owned a lot of property throughout the Seattle area from previous discussions I’d had with Trystix, so there was no real way to know where Raiden lived. For all I knew he spent time in all of the residential areas he owned. I decided the most logical place to start would be his corporate office by the waterfront. Unfortunately, there are a lot of waterfronts in Seattle. The idea of overlooking the ocean from the workplace was definitely a nice touch. It seems the half-owner of the United States had a bit of a romantic streak. Tomorrow I’d pay him a visit. Now I needed to find somewhere to spend the night and a map of the city.

I walked up and down the streets of the Emerald City awhile, taking it all in. I saw a few smaller motels, but decided to keep walking. I had nowhere to be, and I’d never been this near to the coast before. Coast cities are like a different world when compared to the Midwest. I kept walking towards a particularly tall white building to the north. As I got closer, I saw a large ornate ‘R’ on the side of the building. I smiled. I would be staying the night in one of Raiden’s own buildings. As I got closer, The Gateway Hotel seemed like the perfect place to work out of, if not for just a little while.

The hotel was like something out of a dream. Highly polished tile floors, beautiful paintings, and high-end furniture decorated the room. There were fluted pillars holding up the massive interior structure. There looked to be about fifty stories to the building. A beautiful glass ceiling let in the sunshine on a good day and a nice view of lightning on others. I looked at all the different kinds of people scurrying about. The Gateway was busy, but not overly crowded. I quickly found a map in the gift shop, then walked up to the front counter to get a room. The rooms were a little pricey, but money wasn’t going to be much of an issue for me.

Trystix paid me well, and I have never been one to trust just one bank with all my money. Something about not putting all my eggs in the same basket. I had four different accounts under four different names, not to mention credit cards. Trystix had also supplied me with several different social security numbers, just in case I needed anything for ’business purposes.’ Before Trystix had come along, I had also spent time in prison. During that time, I didn’t spend any money that had been in my possession. The beauty of spending time in prison is your accounts still accrue interest. Not only that, but I never used any of my own money when I was working for Trystix. I still had a corporate credit card from Trysticorp. Trystix gave them out like party favors, so he wouldn’t question the usage much. Just one more way he would pay for his sins.
I checked in to a top floor room, mostly so I could enjoy the ride in the glass elevator. My room was decadent, furnished with silk sheets and feather pillows. To be honest, I was a lot more excited about the cable TV than the queen-sized bed. I spent most of the night watching some fights and bad cop shows. I drifted off to sleep laughing at the stupidity of most criminals. If only they knew how to cover their tracks. My time with Trystix had definitely honed my skills. Tomorrow, I would find out if Raiden had need of those skills.

The next morning, I took a taxi out to Veritas Incorporated; Raiden’s main office. I was surprised to see it was in a gated complex. My driver told me he could only take me to the gate. You either had to have a security clearance, or be able to convince the gate rent-a-cop you had reason to be there. I told the taxi to just drop me off. As he flipped around and drove off, I took the easy way in; I scaled the gate. The guard came out of his booth all red-faced and angry.

“You there! Stop! You can’t come in without clearance! This isn’t your mother’s house, boy!” he huffed.
“Oh really? You look an awful lot like her.” I said as I began walking up the road to the building.
“Now, listen!” He grabbed my arm and spun me around. “You can’t be here. Don’t make me call security.”
“Oh, how cute. You don’t consider yourself security? Are you the mother hen then? Just sit in your roost and lay eggs, do you?”
“That’s it! You little twit! I’ll show you lay an egg. You’ll have plenty of time to do that in prison for trespassing!”

My response was a knee to his gut and a right hook to the temple; a nice little combo I had seen on TV the night before. He was down for the count. I hooked under his arms and dragged him back to his little henhouse. I borrowed his keycard, just in case. I thought about taking his gun, but thought better of it. It would be easier to look like I belonged than to try and force my way in. I had to meet Raiden, and there would definitely be more security features here than just a rent-a-cop.

As I got to the front door, a bunch of guys with guns drawn were flooding down the stairs. Apparently, my mother hen gatekeeper was not as happy with our scuffle as I was. I stopped, thinking that I wouldn’t be going much further anyway. The main lobby was gorgeous. Fountains, art, and marble tile were strewn about eloquently throughout the room. The guards were like a blue and black stain on such beauty.

“Hands up asshole!” one said.
“Get down on the ground!” yelled another.
“Now, guys…Seriously! Make up your mind! One of you wants my hands up and another wants me on the floor. I can’t do both. If you want I can rub my stomach and pat my head, maybe even sing a Madonna song for you. You boys look like you like Madonna. ‘Like a Virgin’ anyone?”

Then the hands-up guy hit me with the butt of his gun. The world went black. I felt myself being dragged up some stairs. I could feel the bruises forming on my shins. Those were going to hurt later. Eventually, I started coming to. I was laying on a lush red carpet in the biggest office I’d ever seen. Black furniture, leather probably, decorated the massive room. Again, white marble floors, art, even a suit of armor were decorating this masterpiece. Now, to business.

“Who the hell are you?” said a voice I vaguely recognized. “What makes you think you have a right to be in my building? How did you get through the gate?”
“Well, well. Raiden I presume.” He was wearing a crimson suit, looking as tall and imposing as he ever did on television.
“WHO ARE YOU!?!” he yelled at me.
“Now, now. Let’s not get huffy. You wouldn’t want to ruin our relationship already would you? As for the gate, it’s not very hard to climb, and your little gatekeeper couldn’t stop Kermit the Frog. We have a mutual…er…friend. He sent me to you in case you had any…obstacles…you needed help with.”
“I should have you killed! Or sent to prison for trespassing! But…you look familiar. Do I know you?”
“Been to prison actually. The showering kind of sucks, but not too bad. That’s where Trystix found me.”
“Trystix…who are you?”
“Really? You don’t know me? You weren’t expecting a problem solver? Someone to burn away your opposition?”
“He said he had someone I might be able to find use for, but that was months ago…Who…You got a name?”
“Yeah. I used to be known as Jared Donovan. Unfortunately, Jared Donovan was murdered. By Trystix. Died with a hundred and fifty other people in a plane crash a few months back. I am the John Doe who walked away from it. You can call me Nemesis.”
“Murdered? You think Trystix had something to do with it? He’s claiming it was a terrorist cell opposing our purchase of the States.”
“Please. He was trying to remove a liability. I burnt twenty-three buildings to the ground for him. I could ruin him. He knew this, so he set me up to look a criminal to my sister and niece. He sold me out. He took what was left of humanity from me and then tried to kill me on that plane. He needs to pay. I will make him pay. I came to you, Raiden, because I think you are an ambitious man. I think you aren’t happy with just the West. Believe me, Trystix isn’t content with just the East. I’m sure he’s already trying to find a way to weed you out. You’ve met him. Tell me I’m wrong. I can help you. I want to help you. All I ask is you leave Trystix alone. He’s mine.”
“Leave us.” The guards filed out slowly but without incident. Raiden turned back to me. “Why should I trust you. You sound psychotic.”
“I am psychotic. I have nothing left to lose. All I live for is vengeance.”
“I don’t get it. Trystix is a good man. A little slippery, but he has good intentions.”
“His good intentions almost got me killed. Terrorists my ass. He is the terrorist. I can’t prove it, but I guarantee he was behind it.”
“Then why is he heralding you a hero?”
“Because he’s married to my sister. She loves the person he killed. I’m sure it’s to try and help her cope.”
“Olivia? Olivia Donovan is your sister?”
“You know her? How?”
“I am in love with her that’s how! I used to work for Trystix. She was my assistant right when she started. Then he transferred me out here and then fired me. I made my own empire with his severance checks, and sent letter after letter to Liv, trying to get her to come out here. She never responded. I thought she just gave up on me.”
“You aren’t Raiden are you….at least, that’s not your original name…You are…You’re Alex Ryder, aren’t you?”
“How do you know that name?”
“Liv loved you. She wrote me while I was in prison about you. Trystix made it seem you disappeared and took nothing with you…that you abandoned her. She was pretty upset even still.”
“That son of a bitch…”
“How could you still consider him a good person after that? And how does he not know who you really are?”
“A lot of plastic surgery. With my first million, I had my face redone. I thought Liv hated me because she never responded, so I decided to become Micah Raiden instead of Alex Ryder. Much like you, I consider Ryder as dead as you consider Jared Donovan. I have always enjoyed the name Raiden. I also enjoy that Trystix has no idea who he’s partners with. It’s been my personal joke for the last few years. It seems we have a lot in common, my friend.”
“So quickly you consider me a friend? You told me how good you think Trystix is, and now you tell me how little you like him. I don‘t get it. Why did you defend him, and now you tell me you have latent anger towards him.”
“Jared, let me teach you something…Never show all your cards to someone you just met. I just met you, but I know Olivia better than probably anyone. I trust her with my life. That snake transferred me away and got rid of me so he could be with her. You cannot even imagine the feelings I have towards that man. I relate to you for the same reasons. I feel betrayed. I feel that I’m a victim of terrorism too, just not in the same degree as yourself. Anyone with that much anger towards Trystix could only be an ally. We’re going to get along just fine Jared…Just fine.”
“Jared’s dead, Raiden. It’s Nemesis now.”

a small disclaimer

I have been working on this story for quite a while now, and have all kinds of ideas and notes for The Nemesis Diary strewn about my home office and my computer. I just wanted to inform everyone that, yes, I am posting as I finish each chapter, and yes, I am editing it myself. I have a really bad habit of writing in the 3:00 A.M. realm, so sometimes things get jumbled or I leave out a word. I apologize from the bottom of my heart for this, seeing as I have been known to get a little 'red pen happy.' I just wanted to let you all know (all 3 readers I have) that I have a plan. When I finish Nemesis, I will repost all the chapters after a thorough combing and cleaning of the story. It will be error free (hopefully) and not give me anxiety from the grammatical shenanigans. Thanks for reading, and please keep doing so. I appreciate any and all input, and if you think you know someone who might enjoy the story, please send them over. Thanks again,

Steve Barrington

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter 10

There aren’t very many things to like about airports; they’re crowded, they’re noisy, there are all sorts of little children touching things…It’s just not very appealing to the senses. I had never liked them, not since my one trip to one when I was ten. We were going to see my grandparents in San Fransisco, which never happened. They called my mother right before we got to the Salt Lake Airport, claiming they had ‘an emergency come up.’ My mother didn’t take the news well, but she put on a happy face and took Liv and I to the little pizza place just inside the monstrosity. I was ten, and yet even I was too scared to touch anything.
I knew I’d never be able to ship my bike across the country with me, so I gave it to a homeless man on the side of the road. I left him with a hundred bucks and a full tank, and he gave me the most sincere thank you of my lifetime. I know that doesn’t sound much like me, but I’d had one hell of a week. Maybe it was time to turn over a new leaf. Big mistake. I walked the rest of the way, my bag slung over my shoulder and my thoughts lost to darkness.
As I walked in, I saw everything in the Chicago Airport I remembered about the one in Salt Lake, only about ten times dirtier. A couple decades of financial decay and layoffs will do that to a place. I looked around, thinking how little I wanted to fly ten-thousand feet above the ground. At least I could run somewhere on the ground. I saw my reflection in one of the huge mirrors along the edges of the huge room. I looked about as green as moss on the bottom of the ocean. I handed the clerk my ticket, and she somehow managed to smile at me.
“First time flyer?” she asked.
“Yep. First time thinker?” I responded. She gasped and gave me a very rude look.
“Gate 13. Last gate on your left, asshole.”
I laughed to myself as I walked to Gate 13. I knew I was being a jerk, but I had just lost everything good in my life for the millionth time. I checked my pockets to make sure I had my money and wallet (empty, mind you) and my one picture of Lena. If it was the last thing I did, I’d see her again. My little niece meant doing anything, working for anyone, becoming anything they wanted me to be, so long as I got one more Lena hug. Someday. Someday…
When the obnoxious public servant announced boarding for Seattle, I had a very bad feeling. To this day, I don’t know what it was, but something was off. I shook it off as nerves and got in line. My legs were shakey, palms were sweaty, and my mind was racing. What could Raiden possibly need me for? He seemed like a man who would have someone for any problem that arose a lot earlier in his candidacy for world domination. I was interested to finally meet the man, but I was very skeptical nonetheless.
I squeezed my way down the aisles, trying to get to my seat in the back. At least Trystix had put me away from the general public in the back of the plane. I guess you could call it a last favor. I had an extremely hard time feeling grateful. I sat down and closed my eyes. In a few hours, I would be in Washington. I would be ready to start my new life…again…
It took a while, but the plane took off. I tried to relax and enjoy a Coke along the way. Unfortunately, being a mile above the rest of the world doesn’t make it easy to enjoy the simple things. I tried counting the people in the plane, but I could never get an accurate count. I kept getting distracted when the flight attendants asked if I needed anything. It took all of my self-control not to punch them in the face and ask for some quiet time. As a matter of fact, I think I was about to when the world turned upside down.
For some reason I’ll never know, the plane lurched forward. Lights started flashing, people started screaming, the whole nine yards. Stuff started flying out of the compartments; carts flew down the aisles, splashing Cokes and alcohol all over the place. It was incredibly annoying. I grabbed hold of my armrests, made sure I was buckled in, and screamed like a little girl. Go ahead. Judge me. Let’s see you hold your tongue when you’re plummeting to a fire death. Needless to say, I was going down in flames.
The next few minutes felt like hours, hours like days, days like years. I don’t remember the crash, just the flashing lights and the body bags. I don’t know how I survived, but I knew I was not in very good shape. I was gently put in a neck brace and ushered in to an ambulance for a fun ride to the hospital. Let me tell you this; if you have a choice, skip the plane crash. You feel like hell afterwards. I was told I was unconscious for almost a week after my little ride to Hell and back. I awoke to an obnoxious beeping sound that apparently meant my heart was beating, and a TV special to benefit the victims of Flight 689. Kind of the American public, or should I say, the United States of Trystix and Raiden, to pay my hospital bill. I found some humor in that, but the laughing hurt like hell.
Doctors and nurses kept coming in and checking on me, asking if there John Doe needed anything. They had me on so many medicines and painkillers I couldn’t really understand what they were asking. Let me reemphasize something; I hate feeling out of control, and neither drugs nor alcohol have never appealed to me. This made it doubly difficult to stay in bed. I caught up on my soap operas though.
It took me almost two months from the crash to finally get the OK to check out of the white hell known as a hospital in Colorado Springs. I had been lucky enough not to sustain much more than a few fractured ribs and some dislocated vertebrae. The blackouts I seemed to keep having are what kept me in the hospital as long as I was. The doctors were worried about brain damage. I found that amusing, seeing as I thought of myself as damaged before the fiery end to Flight 689. I turned on the TV as I was gathering my things and preparing to leave. Somehow, someway, my bomber jacket had survived with all of my money and possessions in tact. I guess I still had some luck left.
I was looking at my picture of Lena, a little charred and bent from the wreck, when I heard Trystix’s voice on the TV. He was talking about the crash like it was something he actually gave a damn about. I knew his fake sympathy voice all too well; he used it on my sister enough.
“What happened to those brave souls should never be forgotten. This act of cowardice from my enemies will not go unpunished. I know who you are, and you will pay. You are the Nemesis of this great nation.” He now had my undivided attention. He continued:
“Although he was only my brother by marriage, the death of Jared Donovan will always burn in my soul as an act of terrorism against my family. He, along with the other hundred-fifty passengers, are national heroes. We will remember you, brother.”
Now this was interesting…Trystix thought I was dead…That meant Raiden wouldn’t be expecting me anymore…Unless they were behind it. Trystix had said I was a liability, and I had basically carved a death threat for him in his own tower. The more I thought of it, the more it made sense. It got me out of his way, and yet appeased Liv with closure. Brilliant in a way, except it had one fatal flaw; I wasn’t dead. I would not die. Punishment was still coming for Trystix. I now had the gift of being a spirit, a ghost, and I could make him pay without mercy. But I still thought I would check out Raiden. Perhaps he had a small investment in my death as well. Only time would tell, and now Jared Donovan could rest forever. Nemesis had risen.

Chapter 9

The days that followed were like a hurricane; fast, furious, almost violent in nature. Reporters and cameras flocked to Tryst Tower, all in hopes of getting a look at the nation’s newest savior. Trystix enjoyed the attention, and constantly gave empowering speeches in the main lobby of the building. He was on every channel at least once a day, promising salvation. People wanted to know who he was, how he lived, and who was a part of his life. They shot periodic interviews with Liv, but not nearly as often as they filmed Trystix playing with his little girl. I, of course, was not involved in any filming or other forms of photography. Trystix said he wouldn’t want me to get recognized by any of his former ‘clients.’
Through all of this, I began to think about the details of what had just happened. I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of money Trystix had procured in a matter of days. A half-trillion dollars is a lot of money, even for someone like him. Maybe he’d been stashing money in a mattress somewhere. I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected some form deceit was involved. There almost always was with Trystix. Then again, I’d never been much of a trusting person, so maybe I was just being paranoid. Maybe.
I was forced to stay in my apartment for the majority of the next month or so. It was incredibly irritating. I hadn’t been that bored since I was in prison. Hell, for that matter, it was probably worse. At least in prison I didn’t have to listen to Trystix babble on and on about ‘progress’ or other pretty little theories his press team told him to say. Worse still, I couldn’t spend time with Lena.
However, I was extremely intrigued by this Micah Raiden. When Trystix wasn’t on TV, Raiden was. He was a very tall man; probably the tallest I’d ever seen. He wore a suit everywhere, usually a shade of green or blue. His blue eyes had a cool threat to them, almost like a wolf staring down his prey. He had short blonde hair, a strong-set jaw, and an enormous and goofy-looking smile. He spoke confidently about his relationship with Trystix and the plans they had for the nation. Where Trystix had grown to fortune in a law firm and investing in real estate, he apparently earned his money in electric power and health care. He didn’t have a family, very much a lone wolf in most respects. That could be why I enjoyed watching and listening to him. I could relate to that. But, at the same time, he had his own mystique and charisma about him. He was likable; like an old friend. He really had a way with his words. Where Trystix was smooth and slippery like a salesman, Raiden was eloquent and soft-spoken. I almost believed him when he said they had a plan that would benefit everyone. Almost.
It was odd to me that Raiden never left his mansion in Seattle. Though Trystix didn’t like to leave his home base either, he did travel a bit. It was peculiar that they didn’t ever stand for a picture together or appear on TV together. Something to solidify their business arrangement. But Raiden stayed in the west, and Trystix spent most of his time in his ‘war room’ he had been secretly building on the thirteenth floor of Tryst Tower. Apparently, Raiden and Trystix didn’t want to share the spotlight with each other.
Liv came to visit me one evening, looking like she was on the brink of a breakdown. Her eyes were puffy, like she hadn’t stopped crying in days. She had a very empty look in her eyes, as if her soul had left her body like a snake sheds its skin. She was carrying a small black portfolio tight against her chest. From the look of it, she was dead-set on something.
“What have you done, Jared?”
“Nice to see you too, sis. What do you mean?”
“I know what you’ve been doing all this time. I know about the buildings; all of them. I know about the man who died.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Uh-oh. This was not going to end well.
“Don’t lie to me! What is wrong with you? You’ve been to rehab! You’ve been to prison! Regan took a chance on you because you were my brother! How could you? How can you even get up in the morning? How can you even look at yourself in the mirror? How could you?” She was crying hysterically by this time.
“It’s all in this file! Regan left it out on his desk, and Lena found it and brought it to me. She thought it was a story!”
“Let me see it.”
I think it bothered her that I barely changed demeanor despite her anger. She scowled at me, then finally handed it to me. I opened it up, looking at everything at once. There was a log of addresses and times kept on one page, looking an awful lot like my handwriting. I’ve never been one to plan ahead, let alone write anything down. I had never even thought of writing down my plans like this, so that was definitely odd. Another page had a layout of streetlights, another had blueprints of all the buildings that I had destroyed. There were even more pages full of incriminating evidence, but I had never seen any of it before. I had no idea where any of this had come from, and my confusion and suspicion continued growing as I flipped through the file. Honestly, if I had had any of that information when I had set the fires, I could have been much more efficient. Apparently, I was being set up for something.
“Liv, I swear I have never seen any of this. I don’t know where this came from, or why Trystix would have something like this. Maybe he was just looking at the blueprints to try and get a feel for the building before he bought it. This is nothing I have ever seen before.”
“So you are saying you had nothing to do with the fires?” She didn’t believe a word I said.
“Liv! I told you have never seen any of this! Do you seriously think I’m that stupid? That I would risk going back to prison? That I would give up everything you and Trystix have given me? That I would risk my relationship with Lena?”
“I don’t know, Jared. But something is wrong. Something is very wrong. Regan never told me about his plans to buy the East. He never tells me anything anymore. And now you’re lying to me! I can’t stand it! There is something going on and I think you are in on it. Why else would he come see you in the middle of the night all the time? What, exactly, do you do for him, Jared? What is your real job?” She was still not convinced.
“I have been working down the street as a real estate assistant. He set me up with one of his lawyers named Noah Smith. It’s terrible, for the record.”
“Jared…I don’t believe it. You really did set those fires!”
“What? You have got to be kidding me! I’ve worked there for almost five years!”
“Noah Smith died from a stroke shortly after I moved here. He was my supervisor when I started working for Regan.”
“What…no…you don’t believe…Are you serious?” She nodded. She looked like her heart had just stopped beating.
“Jared, I want you to leave. I don’t want you in my home or anywhere near my daughter. I won’t tell anyone what you’ve done. It would break our mother’s heart to know the truth of what her son has become. I want you gone.”
“You…I…what? You can’t make me just leave everything! I can‘t leave!”
“Everything you have here is a lie. You’ve been lying to me from the start, haven’t you? My daughter needs good role models like Regan to grow up around. He knew what you were up to. He found you out, didn‘t he?”
I ignored her question. I couldn’t break the news to her that her beloved husband was the source of all of this. Apparently, it didn’t occur to her that I wasn’t the only monster living in her home. It hadn’t dawned on her that Trystix was the one who set me up with my fake job in the first place. Somehow, she had decided I was the only one at fault. But something wouldn’t let me tell her the truth.
“Just leave, Jared. I’ll cover for you. Take the file. Take all the money Regan paid you. Take your clothes, your motorcycle, whatever you need. Just go.” She started to cry as she turned and walked away.
“Just go. I don‘t want you in my home anymore. I love you, but I am so disappointed with you.”
I spent the remainder of the night packing. I wondered how all of this came about. I couldn’t figure out how Trystix had managed to mimic my handwriting, nail down exact dates and times, let alone find the blueprints to buildings older than Trystix himself. As I was packing my bomber jacket, I noticed something sticking out of one of the pockets. I opened it, and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a check for ten-thousand dollars from Trystix in it, along with a business card for Micah Raiden. I pulled out the card and turned it over.


Sorry how things have turned out. You are a liability to me now. Go see Raiden. He is expecting you. He has need of your ’skills’. There is a plane ticket to Seattle taped under your bed. Good luck. Never return to Chicago.


I read it over a few times. This confirmed my suspicions that Trystix hadn’t just left the file on his desk for no reason. My anger rose to a near fever-pitch. He would pay for this. He had just taken Lena out of my life. He had just stolen my small piece of sanity from me. I shoved the money in my pocket and threw the letter and business card on my bed. I collected the last of my things and headed out to the elevator. I stopped midway across the room, and slowly looked back at my latest residence. I took out my lighter, my soul, and set it down on a table next to my favorite chair. I decided I’d leave a message just for Trystix.
I reached in my bag and pulled out a small knife. I dropped to the floor and began carving my farewell to my sister’s husband.

You have made a mistake. You have set fire to a bridge that should never burn. Know this; you have a price to pay.

Your Nemesis

I wiped the sweat from my brow and walked to the elevator. As I descended down the hundreds of floors, I again imagined the tower on fire. I smiled to myself, as I walked to where I parked my motorcycle. I strapped my bag on the back, and rode off in to the night. The world may be struggling, but my world had just ended. I would have vengeance. But it would be on my time. I began thinking that perhaps Raiden wasn’t happy with just the West. Trystix had to pay for his sins.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chapter 8

The next few years passed without much event, at least as far as Trystix, Olivia, and I were concerned. The tower became our little bubble inside the world as we watched Lena grow from a precious infant to beautiful little girl. She looked like her mother, full of life and a happy smile on her small face. Her hair grew long and curly, just like Liv’s, and she had more energy than a hummingbird. During this wonderful time, I began to bond with my niece. I spent the extra parts of my day playing games with the little girl. Lena had become more to me than even my golden lighter; she was proof that there was still some shred of Jared Donovan left inside the monster Trystix created.
This is not to say I stopped working for Trystix, however. As more opposition arose, more buildings burned. Suspicions continuously turned on Trystix, but they could never be proven beyond mere speculation. Like his plan originally dictated, I became more or less a ghost, a notion, even a boogeyman to some. My work became less extravagant as the city of Chicago became more or less Trystix’s personal playground. Except for that Trystix rarely left his office, and his playground was full of starving women and children.
The United States had been struggling as a nation since I was little, but I had never thought much of it until those years. The war debts still hadn’t been paid off. The great brains of the nation couldn’t come up with a way to pay it, save borrowing from other nations. The government, trying to buy its way out of debt, spent more and more on ‘buy-outs’ and ‘bail-outs,’ only to end up even worse off than before. For some reason, the government felt buying out all health-care and financial institutions would somehow result in profit. It blew my mind that Trystix had managed to become a billionaire during this horrific nightmare. But the politicians didn’t have the luck, charisma, or the boogeyman to do their work for them. They had their own small-minded agendas, and that’s what caused the Break.
The Break is the name we gave the day when the government announced it’s failure, therefore announcing their hope was lost. They said they had a few outside sources who needed their money, and they’d pushed their debts too far. The countries we borrowed from were in dire need of their money as well, and we had none to give. They announced that the banks could offer no salvation. They said that the nation was going under. Leave it to a politician to announce the end of the world as we know it.
Trystix came to me one night as I was playing blocks with Lena on the floor. She loved building things and knocking them down, giggling. Ever since she could pick the blocks up, knocking the little buildings over that we made was her favorite activity. I could definitely relate to that.
“Can we talk a bit, Jared?” he asked.
“Sure. Talk.”
“Privately, maybe?” Trystix didn’t usually avoid talking business in front of his four year old daughter.
“I guess.” As I got up, I messed up Lena’s hair. She looked up with her meanest scowl she could muster, only to start giggling when I smiled at her.
We walked to his office and he shut the door. This was definitely going to be an interesting discussion.
“Jared, are you happy?”
“What the hell? Since when does anyone’s happiness matter to you aside from your own?”
“Come now, Jared. Bear with me. Are you happy?”
“I guess. Stuff burns, and I play with Lena. I have money, a motorcycle, access to anything I want. Not bad I guess.”
“Does that mean you are?”
“Trystix, just spit it out. What are you getting at?”
“I’m upgrading. Would you mind taking care of my house while I’m gone?”
“Upgrading? What do you mean?”
“I can’t talk about it now…Will you watch the tower?”
“It’s not going anywhere, boss. But you know I don’t like secrets. What’s going on?” He only smiled.
“Buckle up, Jared. Life will never be the same after tomorrow.” With that, he rose from his chair. As he walked away, he started chuckling to himself. He was always doing that…Quite annoying really.
The next morning, I heard the elevator door open. Trystix was supposedly long gone on his little adventure, so I found it interesting that I had a visitor. I hard small feet thunder across my hardwood floor. I smiled, knowing who had come for a visit. My bedroom door flew open and Lena jumped onto my bed.
“Uncle J, Uncle J! Wake up!” She then started jumping on the bed, laughing the whole time.
“What is it, little one? Why so much energy this morning?”
“Daddy is the king of the world! It’s so cool!”
“What? What do you mean, Lena?”
“On TV! You should watch!”
Olivia came in my room just then, looking like she hadn’t slept in a week. With Lena, it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t think I tornado could wear the kid out.
“What’s she talking about, Liv?”
“Like she said, turn on the TV.” She looked somewhat sad on top of the exhaustion. I did as she said, and, sure enough, Trystix was on every channel. He was holding one of those enormous checks, signed to the United States Treasury. He was in the middle of a speech, stating he was only doing his part to help the nation.
“My purchase of the Eastern United States, and my partner Micah’s of the West, will only last until we have the nation back on its feet. We seek no glory, no power, no envy; we just want the nation to stay together, and the only debt the United States should have is to itself. With this check for five-hundred billion dollars, plus another five-hundred billion in stocks and bonds in Trysticorp, the nation will rise again and become the world’s foremost power. Through my corporation, and the cooperation of Pandora of the West, we will overcome! We will seal this Break!” His speech was followed by a thunderous ovation by the surrounding crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
I was dumbstruck. Trystix had just purchased the eastern half of the United States of America. I had no idea how he pulled this off, nor did I know who Micah was. I didn’t enjoy the idea of him having partners that I didn’t know. I really didn’t like his having secret partners who now would own the other half of the nation. Apparently, he had some deal worked out to ‘help’ the nation, along with Trystix. This sounded awfully dangerous to me. In a matter of twenty-four hours, Trystix had the nation in the palm of his hand. Like Lena said, Trystix was now king of the world.

Chapter 7

“What have you done! You arrogant worm! What in the hell were you thinking? Everything we have worked for could fall apart because you couldn’t control yourself! You are nothing but a junkie looking for a fix! Your ‘need’ could cost us everything!” Trystix had turned a shade of purple by the time he finished his little tirade.
“What did you expect me to do? Sit and wait for you to decide when and where everything I do will happen? Hell no! You hired me to be a monster, to keep your hands clean! Let me do my job!” I responded with no less heat.
“A controlled monster! I’m trying to keep you from destroying yourself! If you are connected to any of the blazes, you go back to prison! I will not waste my time or money on getting you out again, brother-in-law or not!”
“I won’t be connected! I’m careful! I’ve burnt more of your wasted money than you spend on yourself sending the evidence to the burner!”
“Then at least tell me why I bother trying to talk sense into you, after all of this, and you feel guilty that some bum got hurt in your fiery wake?”
“Not hurt; killed! I…I don’t kill people. I am not a murderer!” I screamed.
“Oh, but you are now, my boy. And you can’t change it! You shouldn’t even want to! That only helps us! You say I need people to fear me? You’ve added to that smashingly. All your work benefits me, but no one can tie it to me. As long as you were as careful as you say…Otherwise you are on your own. You acted on your on volition; this is on you. But I guess I see your point. Cross a man in power, and bad things happen. They‘re the cause; you are the effect. Well done, my boy…By the way, Olivia went into labor tonight. You‘ll be an uncle by lunch time.” Trystix made his way to the elevator. He stopped a moment, then shook his head and laughed.
As he left my apartment, I realized how late it was. The sun would be up in a few hours. The sound of sirens had finally faded as they had realized they were too late. I didn’t know the full extent of the damage, but I knew it was at least a total loss of the Blanco building. The insulation alone would have ignited quickly; not to mention the chemical-soaked walls. I myself had only just made it out in time. I’m sure the news would be full of the details. I wonder if they’d even bother to mention the homeless man I’d…killed…
Accidents happen; no question about it. Some change little things, some change larger ones. Mine would change my whole life. I hated how I felt. I hated that, despite my best efforts, I’d become what Trystix intended all along. He had been right; I really hated admitting that. My sister was about to give life to someone, and I had just taken someone else’s.
Liv had the baby around noon the next morning. I decided I’d wait a while to see the baby. I hadn’t slept much that night, and I could hardly even look at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t shake the image of that man’s face. I felt like I had finally lost my last shred of humanity. In a way, I imagine that I did. I spent much of the day in my room staring at the walls, hoping they’d just come crashing down on top of me.
It was late in the evening when I heard the elevator doors open. Trystix came in, smiling ear to ear. He had a small camera with him. He walked across the room towards me. It felt wrong to see him smiling at this particular moment…Then again, he did just meet his baby girl. He wordlessly lifted up his camera and showed me pictures of my niece Lena. She was beautiful; she looked a lot like Liv and nothing like Trystix.
“Cute girl. Sure you had anything to do it?” I asked with a half smile.
“You better believe it! She looks just like me!” He chuckled and looked strangely, well, human. “You should go up and meet her, Jared. It would mean a lot to your sister.”
“I know. I thought I’d get cleaned up first…”
“Jared…How long have you been awake? Did you even sleep? You look like hell, kid.”
“I feel a little less than hell actually.”
“Jared, it was bound to happen eventually. Move on. It won’t be your only death. The road to the top is paved with the bones of the weak.”
“So life means that little to you? You just got a daughter, and if she were weak, she wouldn’t matter to you?”
“I didn’t say that. I just mean…never mind. Just take your time. But don’t get soft on me! We’ve got work to do!” With that, he left.
Some things we do in life have very little effect on the rest of the world. This felt like one of the big things that changes everything. But there was nothing I could do to change it. I decided the best thing I could do was try and leave it behind to burn with the rest of the evidence. I knew I couldn’t do it that easily, but it was a necessity for me to maintain my own sanity and keep myself from giving up. I had to keep going. I had to live my own life, not weep for some vagabond’s lack of one.
After I had showered, I went upstairs to Liv and Trystix’s room. For some reason, she had decided to have the baby at home. I guess when money isn’t an issue, the hospital can come to you. I stepped out of the elevator to an army of white coats. I couldn’t believe how many people it took to have a baby! Liv was on a bed that had been hastily constructed in the main room; Trystix was in a chair next to her. The baby was asleep in her arms. I walked over to her, trying to smile like everything was fine. She looked up from her beautiful child, and, with tears choking her voice, said “Jared! Look at her! Just look at her! She’s beautiful!”
“That’s because she looks like her mom.” I said, giving Trystix a very pointed look to emphasize my point.
“Did you see? Did you see her eyes? She has the hazel spot like you!” she said excitedly.
“What?! Really? Let me see!” Sure enough, the little girl and I shared the trait.
Liv lifted her out towards me. I took her, hesitant at first, but the warmth and beauty of new life overtook me. I couldn’t hold in a laugh and smile from the first real joy I’d felt in a long time. Holding Lena, life felt a little more special, a little more precious. I knew that I had to be around for this gift from the heavens, this small miracle. I may have just been her uncle, but this little girl was a reason for me to keep living. The memory of the murder I had committed just the night before paled from the joy this small bundle had given me.
Later that day, as I was preparing to leave, I heard some doctors talking about some new disease that had surfaced across the ocean in China. Apparently, it was some form of fever that would cook the victim to point their skin would flake off. I marveled at the thought, then laughed it off as the flu of the month. Something like that couldn’t reach us over in the United States, the most medically advanced nation in the world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chapter 6

The next three buildings went much the same; apparently the gangs of Chicago were on a rampage. After the Sixth Street Hotel, Value Lock and Storage, AmpLift Incorporated, and The Edge Realty had all burned to the ground, I only had one target left. It happened to be the one Trystix wanted most; Blanco Chemical and Adhesive. It also happened to be enormous. Blanco C&A was also owned by outside investors from Boston. Thus it became a problem selling insurance to them as they were out of the city and all contact was done via phone calls or email.
As I predicted, Trystix had a way around the small issue of location. He decided he would fan the flames of gang violence and put a reward out to ‘obtain emotional closure’ for his new benefactors around the area if someone were to bring the culprits to justice. This put more and more police in the area, as well as the everyday window-watchers and their Polaroid cameras. At first thought, I was annoyed. He just seemed to be determined to make my job harder. He said that the inactivity would lull everyone in to thinking the violence was over. He assured me it would work out to benefit me in the end. I rolled my eyes and called him an amateur.
But, as time went on, I realized he was right. Like I predicted, everyone wanted to find the phantom insurance agent. The agent was somehow the bridge to Trystix, and people wanted his blood. Lucky me. Fortunately, he was dead and…well, burnt. This gave me the opportunity to become someone new. Trystix simply smiled when I told him I was ready for that makeover. I hated every moment in the stylist’s chair, but cutting off five inches of hair, dying it blonde, and a trip to a tanning bed really seemed to transform me. The waxing was unpleasant. Liv said it made me look ‘more professional.’ I told her to gag me with a fork.
My new look called for a new profession; something snappy. I became Noah Smith to everyone but Olivia and Trystix. Noah Smith was a small-time real estate lawyer. I hated pretending that I cared about all the ‘business’ Trystix drummed up for me. I spent most of the time drawing pictures on the small notebook meant for taking, well, notes. I said ‘uh-huh…’ and ‘interesting’ more times in ten minutes than I took breaths. Trystix told me I had to look legitimate, and to try and be nice. I would listen to various disputes over land, and then refer them to various people in Trystix’s company to handle the ‘big problems.’ I conveniently forgot to mention that the ‘big problem’ people worked for Trystix. Oops.
The means to an end…Kind of. I would have been happy to drop a nuke on the world after that first month or two. I was getting bored, which is not a good thing for the civilized population. I became short-tempered and impatient. I caught Trystix in an elevator after a particularly bad meeting with the former owners of the Sixth Street Hotel. They were furious that Trystix had ended up owning their property because of some punk in a suit selling them up the river. They wanted to know what they could do to get their property back, or if I‘d heard if they caught the snake in a pink tie. I told them I’d ‘have to consult the literature’ and that I’d get back to them. By the end of that meeting, I had plenty of pent-up rage for Trystix and his new tactics.
“So, how was your meeting with Sixth Street?” he asked.
“How do you think it was? The same as the rest except they weren’t even smart enough to know who was right in front of them!”
“Haha I bet that was fun! You can be anyone, Jared! Anyone!”
“Right now I just want to be out of this damn suit!”
“Ah, come on now! You look dashing!”
“I look ridiculous. I look like I should be on American Idol.”
“We both know you can’t sing, J. That would be ridiculous.”
“Thanks for your support. I’m sick of this Trystix! When can I finish this?”
“Finish what? We’ve just started, my boy.”
“What do you mean?”
“The timing has to be perfect. Do they think you are competent enough to fix this for them?”
“Hardly. They don’t think at all. They whine a lot though.”
“Jared, you have to make them think you truly care about them. Where did you leave it?”
“I told them that I had to consult the literature.” Trystix just laughed at that.
“You were paying attention to my lessons then!” He got nothing more than an eyebrow raise from me on that one.
“Jared, please. Hold on just a little longer. You’ve worked so hard for this. Don’t spoil it for yourself. This will be your Mona Lisa. The juice will be worth the squeeze. Give it time.”
The elevator came to a stop on the accounting floor. Trystix gave me a shoulder squeeze and exited. Needless to say, I was not impressed, amused, or in any mood to be patient. A friend from my past, the one who didn’t care for authority, paid my mind a visit. The devil on my shoulder asked for permission. I granted it. This night, the city would sleep in flames.
I made my way through the rest of my day, trying to contain my own excitement. Trystix didn’t understand the need he was stifling in me. My addiction, my drug, my demon, desperately needed to come out and play. Chaos is why I lived; destruction was the very essence of my soul. I was tired of playing by someone else’s rules. It was time to bathe in the ashes of Trystix’s rules.
As soon as I finished my day at the office, I decided to walk past the building on my way home to Tryst Tower. Call it reconnaissance. I surveyed every streetlight, every intersection, every detail. This was not my first rodeo. The people on the streets surrounding Blanco all seemed friendly, smiling at me often. As I mentally told them what I thought of them, I returned the smiles. As I approached the main entrance of Blanco, I noticed something peculiar. There was a bank foreclosure notice on the door. A few windows were broken a floor or two up, which was also different from the other bonfires. This was going to be easy. My hands began to shake.
As soon as I returned home, I instantly went to my closet for something comfortably black to change in to. The door was slightly askew due to something caught between the door and the framework. I opened my closet and an envelope dropped down. I opened it and read:


I know things are hard for you right now, but we are getting close…Very close. Hopefully this will hope tide you over.

Wasn’t that cute…Trystix was worried about me. How little he truly knew about me. I opened the closet a bit more and saw a beautiful leather bomber jacket with white trim. It definitely looked expensive. I took it down, tried it on, and looked in the mirror. This was definitely better than a pink tie…I grabbed a black t-shirt and jeans and opened the secret door in the back of my closet.
I reached in to gather the tools of my trade, my real profession, and couldn’t stop a smile on my face. I reached in and grabbed my lighter with the skull and crossbones, some black electrical tape, wire cutters, a bottle or two just in case, and a flask filled with lighter fluid. I grabbed a screwdriver just in case, and a flashlight for obvious reasons. I moved some things aside and grabbed a small black laptop bag, one that would go unnoticed in the business section. Except mine wouldn’t be holding any computers. I threw my tools inside and zipped it shut.
Trystix had meetings most nights, and, being a Monday, he wouldn’t be done until late. Perhaps that was where he belonged. That man could spend eternity in his office for all I cared. Liv wouldn’t be going anywhere. She was about ready to pop as it was; she was due in a week.
Waiting for nightfall is the most obnoxious part of arson. It just doesn’t seem as pretty in the day. I laid down on my bed to try and sleep the time away. Sleep was not in the mood to help me out. I turned on the television, hoping for something interesting. I stumbled on an interview with the police chief saying they believed the gang war had ended. They said the lack of action in recent memory encouraged that belief. Oh, the timing the police always have. I laughed a while due to the irony of what he had just said. Almost time. Time to play.
I lay there for an hour or two, until night fell on the Second City. This was going to be fun. I made my way through the parking lot to the street below. It was a little bit of a walk, so I took the opportunity to run most of it. Blanco C&A was waiting silently in the distance.
When I got there, I noticed a new broken window just to the left of the entrance. Interestingly enough it looked like someone had just thrown a rock through it. Either way, I didn’t really care. It was time for a barbecue, and I like mine extra crispy.
I made my way around the building to the back entrance. It had a rather large lock on it. That was fine with me. I found a fire escape on the building across the alley that served my purpose well enough. I climbed high enough to where I could lean over and break out a new window. I climbed in, careful to avoid any sharp edges. Police didn’t need my DNA popping up. I turned on my flashlight and started looking for my objective; a circuit breaker. It couldn’t be just a single floor breaker; it had to be one that provided power to most of the building. A floor or two above my entrance, I found one. As I poured some lighter fluid on the area surrounding, I decided to try something new this time. I poured some lighter fluid into a bottle, grabbed a rag for a fuse, stepped back a few steps, lit the rag, and threw the bottled inferno on to the breaker. The fluid ignited on the wires, causing the biggest spark I’d ever seen as it splashed onto the walls and fluid on the floor. The room erupted into flames. This was going to be beautiful; I was right in the middle of the building, so it would spread in all directions. There was still quite a bit of chemical residue around, so I assumed it wouldn’t be long until my little barbecue kicked off in a big way. I took the same stairs down that led me to this floor. I heard the initial whoosh flame catching flammable liquids. I laughed almost the whole way down to the main floor, passing the office section and turning away from the break area. Smoke was already seeping through the walls as wires and wooden pillars soaked in chemicals ignited. It was incredible! I was so intoxicated by the smell of smoke and the rush of the burn that I didn’t notice the wheelchair blocking the stairs on the second floor.
I hit the chair at the wrong angle, that was for sure. It launched me headfirst down the stairs. When I hit the landing, I felt something snap in my wrist. I swore as I pushed myself up to my feet. It was then that I noticed a bundle of rags in a corner. The bundle moved. There was someone living here! A man pushed a makeshift blanket aside and peered up at me with blue eyes. He had to be the ugliest, dirtiest man I’d ever seen. Despite the man’s lack of hygiene, I reached out and shook him.
“Hey! Wake up, man! Get up! You need to get out of here!”
“Mmm…go away…my…spot…” the man was largely unresponsive. He didn’t even seem to realize where he was.
“Listen, this place is burning down!”
“Go away…where’s my chair? Oh man you broke it!” he pointed to the chair I had just kicked as he yelled. Just then, the light fixtures overhead sparked and sputtered. Apparently my plan was working.
“Sorry…it was in the way…wait…come on man get up!”
“How do you want me to do that? I need my chair!” he pointed towards his feet. It was then that I noticed he had no legs from the knees down. I swore again silently. The building started creaking and I heard snapping from above. The offices were above this area, which meant there were desks up there…heavy ones.
I tried to pick the man up and move him, but he fought the whole way. He still didn’t seem to grasp that the building was about to burn to the ground. After a few hundred efforts, he started coughing up blood. I didn’t think I’d hurt him, but blood came out anyway. He still had enough gusto to keep pushing me away. Plaster and wood were splintering; the floors above were burning smashingly.
“Come on! Let me get you out of here!”
“Why….why won’t you leave…me…alone. I need a drink.” he mustered between coughs. It was then that I noticed all the bottles of alcohol, strewn about the man. He’d been drinking, and he’d been drinking a lot…Alcohol also burns well…this wasn’t going the way I planned.
“You’re going to die here!” he laughed and rolled over. He couldn’t care less about the flames, the heat, the smoke.
I, for one, was starting to choke on it. But I couldn’t let the man die. I looked around for a sheet or something I could tie him up in and lower him out a window. I couldn’t see anything in the area, so I turned to go down the stairs. I took no more than ten steps when I heard a terrible creaking and a loud snap. I whirled around and saw a desk fall through the ceiling directly on to my visitor. The concussion was deafening. Sparks flew everywhere, igniting the bottles of booze and consuming everything in the area. I scrambled back, looking for any signs of life from the man. All I could see was the flames and a pool of blood seeping across the floor.
I cried out in fury, punching the wall as I did. The wall broke immediately, and I was showered with sparks from the interior contents of the wall. The embers landed on my face and arms, burning my skin. I tried to brush them off as fast as I could, trying not to pay attention to the smell of burning flesh. I barely felt it then, but I knew I would later. I had to find a window, or another fire escape, or something. I found my destination fairly quickly; two stories down. I kicked out a window and climbed down on to a dumpster. I walked quickly around the building and back down a side street. The smoke in the area was horrific. The damage already done to the building in only a few minutes left me thunderstruck.
Sirens filled the air, adding to my sense of urgency. Policemen came from all directions toward Blanco. I kept walking, hands in my pockets, and tried to hide from any watchful eyes. Tears streamed down my face for the first time in nearly a decade. I looked back at my work, and watched the roof cave in. The flames were epic, but I found it hard to enjoy. I had just broken my own code. Though I tried to stop it, my actions had killed someone. This wasn’t about my addiction anymore; this was a definite problem. I had said I lost my soul, my emotions, long before this day. But now, I had blood on my hands. Not just blood; innocent blood. The familiar flame of passion for my work was gone. I was buried to my neck in the ashes of my sins.