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.