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...