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.

Chapter 5

The scene was perfect; a still December evening, all too quiet. There was a bite to the winter air, just enough to want to stay inside and watch the Bears play the Packers with a warm blanket and a cup of something warm. Apparently, normal people enjoy that kind of thing. I have never cared for football, or any hot drinks, or anything warm and fuzzy. That was more of a Liv thing; she was at home with her husband doing that very thing. I wonder if she realized where I was at the moment.
The blocks surrounding Tryst Tower were mostly old commercial buildings and abandoned apartment buildings. Trystix had spent much of the last year trying to buy out the owners of these buildings, but they held to the titles like it was their last breath. They had said no amount of money would be enough to buy there memories. Funny sentiment for someone who lives miles away and never visits the old dump.
The familiar smell of gasoline filled my nostrils as I finished the first coat of paint on my masterpiece. Although the owners of this particular estate wouldn’t sell, they were happy to support a young man trying to start a local insurance company for the ‘historic’ places in Chicago. That had been my first job for Trystix, actually. A fine piece of acting if I say so myself. But it had not been without a cost; I vowed after that day to never again wear a suit that involved a pink tie. The blue pinstriped suit had been plenty, but he had to throw in the pink silk tie. The people had thought it cute, and it had worked to my advantage. I told them that there is ‘too much outside ownership’ in the insurance world. They liked the idea of a homegrown agency, and were even kind enough to give me an extra hundred bucks to get it started. Too bad I forgot to tell them Trystix was the one ‘starting’ it. If anything happened to the place, the insurance company would give a lump sum for the property, and would therefore purchase it out from under them without them even noticing. Not bad for my first sale.
I took a final walk around the empty building, looking for anything that might spring the surprise too early. Trystix didn’t want there to be any chance of saving the place, once my project was displayed for the world to see. My dark clothes felt so much better than that stupid suit…I’d have to talk to Trystix about that. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my life, my soul. The gold lighter even sparkled in the moonlight. I struck a spark, gave the flame a look like only a true love could, and lit the small rag I had found in a closet. I held it up and watched it a moment. Somehow, life felt better without a conscience. I threw it on the gasoline trail behind me. The path of liquid ignited in to living flames with a whoosh. I turned and walked in to the night with a smile.
As I approached the Tower, I took in just how big it was. I couldn’t believe how one man needed a place so big for his law firm. He could have used something a tenth of the size to the same advantage. But Trystix was a man of status; he wouldn’t settle for being like everyone else. I had to respect the man for that. As I walked closer, I again saw the image of the Tower I had the first time I’d ever laid eyes on it; a beautiful obelisk of flame. Like a pillar to the heavens, pointing the way to Hell. In the distance, I could hear the sound of sirens. Too bad they were about ten minutes too late. Again, I had to smile.
I rode the elevator to my apartment, watching the smoke start to rise around the first target. The dark night hid most of the smoke, but the light from the blaze was dazzling. I spun my lighter around in my hand until I felt the familiar skull-and-crossbones. I climbed out of the elevator and threw my lighter on my new end table, next to the ash tray I’d never use. I started to take off my clothing, folding it as I went. I grabbed the old suitcase I had used to carry my materials as an insurance agent and gently set them inside, next to the suit with the pink tie. I carried the luggage to my garbage chute. Trystix said there was an incinerator in the basement, that all evidence of my being present at the old hotel should be destroyed. He didn’t mention the suit, but I took the initiative to get rid of the hideous waste of fabric. I imagined the pink tie engulfed in the fire and chuckled. I pushed the suitcase down into the chute.
“Is it done?” came a familiar voice from the direction of my chair by the fireplace.
“Yeah, you could say that. It’s a shame I won’t get to watch it though. It was my best work in a long time.”
“Good! All the hard work has paid off!”
“Yep. Mine. Not yours. Your hands are clean, just like you wanted. Three points of origin, starting in the basement, a burning bottle through the first and second story windows, the evidence on its way to the burner downstairs, and my favorite chair waiting…”
“You mean this chair? Really? Naked?” Trystix looked confused.
“That would be the one. Mind moving?” I was not being confusing.
“Yeah, but don’t you want to change in to clean clothes first? So we can talk?”
“I’m comfortable enough, except you’re still in my chair. By the way, you should probably get rid of all those suits in my closet. I kind of hate them. Black would be fine.” I said.
“Oh…uhh…all right.” He rose from the chair. “I thought you would have noticed me sitting there earlier.”
“I did actually. Right when I came in.”
“And you still went ahead and took off all of your clothes? No problem, just like that…”
“I can tell you haven’t spent much time in prison. I don’t have shame anymore. Shame is an emotion; I thought you wanted your monster without them.”
“You aren’t a monster, Jared. You are doing them a favor. You are saving people from themselves.”
“Seems more like selling fake insurance to people and then lighting up their property.”
“That’s the true value in it, Jared. You are giving them a gift; a beautiful disaster that, in the end, will help them afford their wildest dreams. You are only breaking their chains of dependency on the past.”
“A beautiful disaster…I like that…But don’t try and make a saint of me yet. There are four more disasters coming, and they will not be beautiful. It’s going to get suspicious. It’s going to get messy.”
“We’ll make sure no one is in the buildings, Jared. I told you, don’t worry about that part.”
“I mean that the phantom insurance agent will be someone people will look for, maybe even blame. How do you expect to steal the other four titles?”
“You leave that to me. I have a few leads on more loop holes in the real estate department. Within a year, we’ll own it all.”
“Bureaucrat. How about you just let me paint you a masterpiece? The city could burn in a day.”
“Bureaucracy has its uses, like keeping you out of jail. I need you, Jared. I have much more for you to do than play the fourth of July on a nightly basis. There is a greater cause here. I can’t lose my right hand because of being in a rush.”
“The rush didn’t stop you from knocking up my sister.”
“True, but that wasn’t just my effort; she was there too.” Trystix gave me the smile I picture a snake would have.
“Fine. Have it your way. When do I start on the other four?”
“Tomorrow if you want. Get some rest. Packers won…again…Oh yes. Turn on the news when you get a minute.”
Sometimes I hated that man. Everything always seemed to come back to my sister and my niece. I may have been losing my mind, deranged even. But she was still my sister, and the way Trystix talked about her, joked about her when she wasn’t around, just didn’t seem right. Someday I’d find out what she saw in him, other than the nice paycheck. He wasn’t good looking, but he was an amazing salesman. Lawyers are good at making you believe what they want you to.
I reached over and grabbed the remote to my house-warming gift; an extremely large big-screen TV. I flipped to the late night news to hear the end of a story on a ‘random act of gang violence.’ Apparently, some local gang-bangers decided they didn’t like the Sixth Street Hotel, so they set fire to the building with gasoline. The video footage was breathtaking. The roof had just started to cave in. The news anchor said the building was a total loss for the owners, and that she hoped they had insurance. It was then my turn for the smile of a serpent.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chapter 4

“I thought you’d never ask…” Trystix motioned to William, who walked towards the door.
After what was no more than a moment, in walked my sister Olivia, and out went any lingering tension from just a few short minutes before her entrance. It had been a long time since I’d seen her, but I instantly felt the spark of familiarity. We had always had a strange connection; always seemed to know when the other was close. She looked older, wiser perhaps. But she looked well. I doubt she expected to see me again, let alone sprawled on a chair looking like a savage. They weren’t real picky what my hair and beard looked like in prison.
She wore a crimson dress, probably silk from the look of it. Her long curly hair bounced with every step; her piercing blue eyes taking in her long lost brother. She wore more jewelry than I’d ever seen in one place before. But what drew my eyes most was the enormous diamond on her left ring finger. Apparently the last year had been good to her.
Olivia wore the smile that made her famous in high school. She slowed to a stop in front of me and reached out her arms for a hug. She didn’t even change expressions when I looked confused. She laughed and pulled me up and in to her arms. She smelled the same as always; light, sweet, and a little like cherries.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Jared. I mean it! I’ve missed you so much.” Liv sounded choked up.
“I’ve missed you too. Liv, what are you doing here? I thought you were working for some law firm.”
“Oh silly boy! Don’t you know where you are? You are at the top of Tryst Tower…As in Trysticorp, the law firm I used to work.” Liv winked at Trystix.
“Trysticorp! That was the name! I was having a meaningful conversation with my cell about that last night. I haven’t been able to think of it since I got your package. Thanks by the way.”
“You‘re welcome. I‘m glad Regan brought you here. Has he shown you your room yet?”
“Honey! Don’t ruin my surprise! We’ve been talking business.” Trystix interrupted with a pained look.
“Oh sorry! I thought you were done. Are you excited to be a dedicated nine-to-fiver, J?” she asked.
“Nine-to-what?” Trystix winked at me and held a finger in front of his lips. “Oh…Yeah sis sounds great…”
“Oh good! I’ll get to see you all the time!”
“So does that mean my…uh…desk is near yours?” I asked.
“No silly! I don’t work anymore. Regan is a good husband and doesn’t want me to work anymore. Not since I got pregnant.”
“What? Pregnant? Wait…husband? Who’s Regan? You’ve got me turned around sis…What’s going on?”
“Well, last I talked to you, I had just started as a legal consultant. Alex, the vice president, took an interest in me and gave me a promotion. I worked hard, but the hours were long and I wasn’t sleeping much. He put me on paid vacation for two weeks, to try and catch up. I fought him on it, but he insisted. I took the time, but when I came back, he was gone.”
“He just stopped coming to work one day. Strangest thing I’d ever seen; his things are still in the same place as when he left. It’s been months since anyone has seen or heard from him. Not even a peep.” Trystix added.
“Yeah, isn’t that weird?” Olivia asked with a mystified look in her eyes.
“Yeah sis that’s weird…Pregnant, married, and who is Regan?”
“Oh! Sorry. Regan is right there!” She pointed to Trystix. Wasn’t this something. She didn’t want to get involved with someone in her professional life, and now she was married to the CEO. I put together that Alex was Alex Ryder from her letter. The Alex Ryder she had an attraction to but didn‘t want to be involved with because of his station. And now she was married to his boss. Interesting.
“When Alex didn’t turn up, Regan took me on as his assistant so I wouldn’t lose my job. He and I just hit it off I guess. We got married in the spring, and now our baby girl is due in the spring right around our anniversary. It’s been a whirlwind kind of year! What about you? How are you doing?”
“Liv, I’ve been in prison. I don’t think my ‘friendship’ with the guards is going anywhere near a church for a long time…”
“Jared! Still no manners? What would mom say?”
“Very little. She’s in a box in Ohio.”
Trystix came up and put his arm around my sister. For some reason that didn’t feel right with me.
“Let’s show you to your room, Jared. You will think about my offer, then?”
“Yeah…I’ll definitely think on it.” Apparently there was a lot more to consider, with Liv so close to Trystix, not to mention my niece on the way.
Trystix walked towards the elevator, Liv and William in tow. I brought up the rear, still thinking about Liv and her baby. This was not what I had in mind when I got in to that limo. Trystix pushed a button to the floor just below, and the whisper-quiet elevator began its decent. The doors opened to a slightly less furnished, slightly less exotic penthouse. It had similar features; the floor, the desk in the corner, and the fireplace. But I immediately noticed the windows. I reminded myself to ask about that.
“What do you think, my boy? Not bad, eh?” Trystix asked.
“It’s really…really…”
“Big!” Liv finished.
We walked through the living area towards the back of the room. Behind two large double doors was the bedroom, furnished with a queen size bed and a beautiful cedar dresser. The room had a closet filled with suits and clothes tailored for someone my size. Unfortunately, the colors were a little…bright.
“I took the liberty of filling up your wardrobe for you. I wanted you to look professional. I can schedule an appointment with our stylist if you like.” Trystix offered.
“I don’t know what to say. Thank you…” was all I could get out.
“Thank me by saying yes. Think on it.”
After a bit more small talk, Trystix, Liv, and William left my floor to attend to some ‘personal business.’ I laid down on my bed, considering all that was before me. A stranger had offered me a job, bailed me out of prison, given me my own place, and asked me to become a monster in less than twenty-four hours. Then I find out he married and impregnated my sister. This was definitely a man who knew what he wanted and was used to getting it. But could I unleash the darkness inside of me, all for substantial gain? Could I destroy lives for someone, just so my employer’s hands stay clean?
Death is an interesting thing. We all die, in one way or another. Sometimes it’s time that catches us, sometimes it’s an accident, and sometimes people get killed. But one way or another, when someone’s time is up, there is no negotiating with death. I was faced with a decision; one part of me must die. I must forever embrace the darkness inside of me and be rid of a conscience, or I had to walk away from my new home, my sister, money, and apparently anything I could ask for. I would be alone forever, but no one would get hurt because I was following orders. Trystix had me in a tough spot.

Chapter 3

We all make mistakes; some big, some small. I happen to have made a continent’s worth on my own. But none of those compare to the one I made that day. I decided to trust the stranger in a nice suit. I waited through the night, stirring over the decision in my head. I figured anywhere is better than prison, and I might as well make some money to pay off my debts.
Trystix came back around noon the next day. He didn’t ask for a decision; just came smiling up to my cell with a guard behind him. The guard unlocked the door and motioned me out. I raised an eyebrow at Trystix as I walked through the door, but he just grinned wider. We walked in silence out of the prison.
My first taste of fresh air in fifteen months was tainted by the bite of winter air in my lungs. I have always hated the winter. I’m more of a stay-inside-unless-the-place-is-burning kind of guy. The grounds around the prison were mostly empty; I guess I’m not the only one who hates the cold. We kept walking around the corner to the drop-off area where a long black limousine and a scrawny little man in a funny hat waited.
“Jeeves.” I said with a half-smile and a nod of my head.
“It’s …uh…William, actually, sir…” he stammered. I smiled and shook my head.
He opened the door with a nervous smile, and I climbed in. Trystix had a bit of time trying to shift his girth through the door. I have to admit it was kind of funny; like watching a circular peg try and fit through a smaller square hole. He managed eventually, and laughed at himself. He mumbled something about his diet not working well enough, but I was already too interested in the pile of papers on the seat across from me. They looked an awful lot like legal records…
“Try not to look so worried, Jared. I had to get to know you somehow.” Trystix said. “You weren’t real talkative yesterday. Did the Tooth Fairy get square with you then?”
“Funny. And no, she stiffed me again. Then she hit me with her wand and warned me not to trust men in nice suits.”
Trystix laughed. “I wouldn’t trust a grown woman wearing a fairy costume if I were you.”
“You have a point, but prison does get a little boring without her.”
“Ha! Jared, my boy, we are going to get along smashingly!” he said as he patted my back.
“Tell me…Why did you bother with me. What do you think I can do for you?”
“Let’s just say I have need of your particular set of skills.” he gave me a devilish grin. Time to play dumb.
“I’m sure you could have found a janitor on the streets somewhere in the city. They deserve the work more than I do.”
“My boy, that isn’t the skill I’m looking for. I’ve done my research on you. I have connections with the Police department. A real shame no one has ever looked twice at you. You could have ruled the demolition world.”
“Is that what those are?” I said as I pointed to the neat stack of papers on the seat. “Research?”
“Very good. Yes actually. I thought I’d try and get to know you a bit before I showed you my home.”
“What’d you learn? Anything interesting I should know about? Looks like quite a read.”
“Ha! They could have written a novel on you my friend! Lots of wasted potential…I am not one to waste, so I chose to, shall we say, recycle?”
“Doing your part to keep America green eh? How responsible of you.”
We drove for about an hour towards Chicago. I imagine we drove slower due to the weather, but speed limits never really were my thing. Trystix was spouting off about his home on top of his tower in the city and how rich he was and how he was engaged to the most beautiful woman on earth. I started tuning him out midway between the prison parking lot and the first stoplight. My mind was on Olivia. I was wondering where she was working in the city, and, for that matter, if she was even still in the city. I knew she was a legal assistant or something; I just didn’t remember where.
As we finally arrived beneath the massive obelisk Trystix called home, I realized something. It dawned on me that, although I’d lived in the areas surrounding the Second City, I’d never actually been to Chicago. Wasn’t that interesting. The parking level was cool and dark; no reason to waste money on good lighting I guess. The limo stopped and the driver opened the door. Trystix stepped out and stretched.
“Nothing like the smell of the city in the winter eh?”
“Wouldn’t know actually. Never been in the city before. Smells like one of my mom’s old boyfriends.”
“Really? Fresh? Exciting? Full of life?” Trystix sure didn’t research my mom much.
“Stale. Depressing. And a little like a garbage truck.” was my response.
“Let’s head upstairs. I have a surprise for you.”
Jeeves…er…William got the elevator for us, and up we went. The elevator was completely transparent; you could see the entire city. I wondered who had to keep the glass clean, then realized that I wasn’t a janitor anymore. I had made my peace in prison that I was probably done with honest work. I took note of each floor as we went ever-upward. This place was a beautiful blaze waiting to happen.
After nearly a hundred and fifty floors, the elevator finally slowed to a stop. William and Trystix stepped out on to polished hardwood floors. Leather furniture, bear fur rugs, and priceless pieces of art decorated the lush penthouse. A beautiful grand piano sat by a highly polished suit of armor. A beautiful oak desk sat a small distance from the armor, stained a strange mix of red and black. Behind the desk was a massive throne-like chair. It had obviously been built for a larger man. A gold chandelier hung from the ceiling, though no lights were shining at the moment. A fire burned in a massive fireplace on the opposite wall, illuminating Trystix’s small palace. I found it interesting that there wasn’t a single window in the entire room. This high up must have a killer view of the city.
Trystix elbowed me in the ribs and smiled a ‘don’t you wish you were me’ grin. He proceeded over to the fireplace and placed a log from a neat pile on the already large blaze. I walked through the room, ending at a large leather recliner across from the fireplace. I sat down, without much more than a sidelong glance at the obviously expensive decorations. There was a slight smell of cinnamon in the air.
“So what do you think?” asked Trystix as I stretched out on his own personal throne.
“Comfy. Not bad…Of course, I am used to six foot cell that smells like death.”
“Not anymore, my boy. You get to live the high life now, assuming you take me up on my offer.”
“Speaking of which, you still haven’t told me why you got me out. You mentioned my past, and I’m obviously in your debt. What exactly do you have in mind?” I had to know the price of my freedom.
“Well, Jared, I have some problems. I want to expand my business. I have people in the surrounding residential areas who are hell-bent on ruining my plans…Petitions and the like…They still believe in democracy I guess. I was hoping you could make my problems…go away…”
“I don’t know what you read, but I didn’t kill anyone. I’ve never killed anyone. I’ll never kill anyone.”
“Yes, yes I know. It was all just a big accident…wasn’t it?” He was beginning to irritate me.
“First of all, I didn’t set that fire. I was set up! Secondly, I’m not a killer!”
“Are you sure? Have you ever tried? Haven’t you ever said ‘I’ll kill you!’ and secretly, quietly, you wondered what it would be like?”
“I..!…I…I don’t know…I just…I’m tired of this. What do you want from me? Tell me your price, Trystix. Tell me what it is you want!”
“Play ball Jared. Answer me. Have you ever thought about killing? About murder? Someone accidentally on purpose meeting their maker? Or even the death penalty…Have you ever wondered what it was like to throw the switch and end someone? What about being the doctor who pulls the plug on a dying patient? Pyromania is indeed a legitimate and frightening gift. But I think there is more to you then that. I think you are a very disturbed individual. I think you have something more, a private darkness you haven’t shared with anyone. Something beneath the surface; a principle you are scared to live by, yet one you cannot deny. Tell me about your Dark Passenger, Jared. Tell me about the real beast you have inside of you.”
“…Why…tell me why you think that…” was the only answer I could muster.
“Really? You don’t believe me? Let me first point something out; you brought up murder. Never once did I say you would kill anyone. That means you are already half-way there. Secondly, I know more about you than you think.”
“What do you think you…never mind that! Tell me why on earth you want me to be your ‘problem solver’.”
“Because you aren’t stupid Jared! Because you don’t regret anything you’ve done! You have never apologized once for any of the fires you set! You don’t think like the average person, Jared. All you’ve done, all you’ll ever do, will be because you decided it was justified…or the beast inside of you wouldn’t push it on you. I’m not saying you are psychotic; I’m saying you have a gift. I’m saying you have the ability to do anything, as long as certain criteria are met. I want to know what that criteria is. You’ve been to therapy; you’ve been to rehab. It did nothing for you! Nothing! Do you know why? Because you knew what had to be done to get out of it. You are a survivor, Jared. All I want to do is encourage you to unite the survivor with the monster. I want you to be a loose cannon. I want you to be unleashed. I am the one you need. I am the only one you need. I will give you anything you need or want, desire or wish. It’s yours. All you have to do is help me with a few problems. You will become my shadow, a wraith. You will be a ghost. All you have to do is say yes.”
I was dumbfounded. This man knew me better than I knew myself. What he had been saying made sense; dark, evil sense, but sense nonetheless. I had definitely considered the darkness inside of me. Prison gives you plenty of time to consider these things. To hear someone else recognize it, perhaps even understand it was breathtaking. I’d always wondered if I was the only one who thought and felt this way. I also had wondered how I felt these urges and Liv hadn’t…Liv…
“You say I can have anything? Anything I want, whenever I want?” I asked.
“Name it. I’ll have it to you before you can get flame on your new lighter.”
“I want to see my sister…What lighter?” Trystix reached in his pocket, and pulled something out. He tossed it to me; a solid gold lighter with a skull and crossbones engraved. The price of my soul fit in the palm of my hand; wasn‘t that something...