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.