Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chapter 35

“Last chance, Jared. Through that gate, there is no turning back.” Johnny said.

“Keep driving. There isn’t any other option.” I responded.

Johnny sighed. He really didn’t want to do this, but he was committed to it. He pulled into the lot slowly, looking for the security check-in. Our plan was to have Johnny try and talk his way in, distracting the guard while I slipped behind the small building. The chances of them letting Johnny in were slim, but I needed him to occupy their attention more than I needed anything else. There would be another smaller check-in, but hopefully the second guard would come help the first guard get rid of Johnny. I told Johnny to be as ignorant and obnoxious as possible.

“All right then. Good luck, Jared. I’ll try and get in, but I doubt I’ll be able to. I’ll meet you right back here. Watch your ass.”

“You too. Thanks again, Johnny.” I said as I opened the door. I strapped on my backpack, filled to the brim with the toys of my trade.

We were out of view from the first security check, about a hundred yards away. I slid around the back of the car and walked to the perimeter of the outer fence. The outer gate led to a smaller, more enclosed lot. The smaller lot was an L-shape, leading in to the L-shaped building beyond the second security check. I gave Johnny a signal to move ahead, and started to shadow him against the silhouette of the fence and the building beyond. Johnny slowly pulled forward, going slow enough that I could keep up but not slow enough to draw much attention. The guard stepped out of the small building as Johnny pulled up. That was my opportunity. As quietly as I could, I started to climb the small fence. Johnny began talking loudly, trying to cover the noise.

“I have this friend and he has the Fever. I need the drugs to give to him so he doesn’t die! Do you want him to die? You selfish bastard! How can you do this? You are a monster. You ass! Let me in! I demand to speak with your boss! Where’s Trystix? I want your name! Then I’ll have your job!” Johnny was yelling. Damn, he was good at being an idiot.

“Sir, please calm down. Sir. Sir. SIR!” The guard said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small radio. “Brenton, I need some backup here.”

Damn it. Now I had to duck back behind the small building until Brenton got there. There was nothing but daylight between the first and second check-in. I heard a golf cart rolling down the asphalt towards myself and the small building and Johnny. As Brenton rolled up, Johnny started talking louder.

“Damn you all! You arrogant self-centered rent-a-cops! You are all the same! I bet your friends have all the Fever pills they want. You are hoarding it all! I just know it!”

“Sir, you need to leave. Please back out and go home. You can get the drugs from the vendors or drug stores like everyone else. I hear they’re lowering the price, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Brenton was saying.

“I will not! I demand to speak with your superiors! I demand it! You make the drugs here, so why can’t I buy them here? I have money! Don‘t you like money?”

I smiled as I sneaked around the corner and past the two guards, who were beginning to get frustrated. I could tell they were agitated, and they would probably start using force if needed. That would be all the time Johnny could give me, so I began to run as soon as I was out of earshot. I passed the second check-in and stole Brenton’s key chain, still hanging in the small office. I slipped over the fence again but managed to cut myself on the way down. A small stream of blood was running down my arm, but I had to keep moving. The building was close now, just another fifty yards away. I could see the cameras rotating this way and that. I timed the two by the front door, and I’d have about a three second window to slip between them and into the doorway. I would have another five seconds to get inside, which meant I’d have to have the key ready. I flipped it between my fingers and counted; one. Two. Three. I ran fast enough to just make it beneath the cameras. The key slid into the lock, and I was inside.

Veritas was a large L-shaped building, as I mentioned before. It had long hallways, deep basements, and absolutely no color. Everything was a sterile white, from the walls to the laminate flooring. It was like walking through a hospital. I could see the entire floor level, which was mostly storage and extra offices. The store rooms were past the bend at the other end of the room, but I wanted to poke around for a bit first. I didn’t see anyone around, but I knew there were about twenty people on shift. I’d rather they didn’t know I was there just yet. I walked slowly, checking each office for any signs of life. My heart began beating faster in anticipation. It hadn’t been long since my last burn, but it felt like it had been a decade since I felt the flames on my cheek.

As I moved slowly through the corridor, I began to hear voices. Not the ones in my head; actual voices. The employees were apparently having a meeting in one of the rooms at the end of this section. The door stood open, letting their voices echo down the empty corridor. As I got closer, I swore I recognized one of the voices. It was deep and harsh, and had an odd cadence to it. The voice would rise and fall with whatever he was saying, though I had trouble understanding every word. Curiosity was starting to get the best of me. I slunk down the hall, careful to stay out of view of the open door. There was a small dark office just to the left of the conference room, so I made my way toward it. I could smell something odd, something like sulfur. The familiar voice was getting louder again, but this time I could make it out.

“How dare you fools work for criminals! You make money off of death! I’ve lost my two best friends and my mother to this damn disease, and you devils make profit on it! Why should I let you live?”

Oh, shit. It was KJ. Not good. I crept into the dark office and listened carefully.

“Please…take the money in the vault. Take all the pills you want. Don’t kill us. You don’t want to be a criminal do you? You don’t have to do it this way.” Someone said.

“I already am a criminal! I am Nemesis!” KJ shouted back.

I was instantly irritated. He wasn’t Nemesis…That’d be me…I’m pretty sure that’s copyright infringement…

“You..? Seriously?” The other voice said. Suddenly, everyone laughed. Somehow, I doubted KJ thought it was funny. I heard a small click, then a gunshot. Then another. Followed by six more, each gunshot preceded by a gasp or scream and a plea to let them live. KJ had no mercy, and didn’t say another word. The silence that followed was deafening. I guess KJ remembered to take the safety off.

I heard footsteps leaving the room next door. I waited a moment, then looked around the corner. KJ was to the bend in the hallway, headed towards the supply rooms. I crept into the small conference room and froze. There was a line of eight people in white coats tied together with zip-ties. There was blood everywhere. Every single person had a bullet hole in their head. I was thunderstruck by the violence and precision with which they were slaughtered. I’m not definitely not the most mentally-stable person, but even I was sickened by the massacre. It didn't have to be done like this...

I peered around the corner, making sure the coast was clear. I moved swiftly down the corridor, trying to gain a little ground. I was going to have to improvise a little, now that I knew KJ was here. I had to accomplish my objective, but I couldn’t let KJ draw attention here too early. If he made too much noise, I’d have Chicago PD to deal with. I got to the bend in the hall but stopped before rounding the corner. I leaned up against the wall, listening. I could hear KJ yelling, but I couldn’t quite figure out where he was. The next room was filled with machines and conveyor belts, counting out pills and sorting them in to bottles. It smelled like a hospital, like the entire room was dropped into a bucket of bleach.

I slowly crept around the corner, ducking down behind machines as I entered so as not to be seen. KJ was far to the right, hidden behind a particularly noisy machine. I saw a few men in white coats lying face down on the floor. They were breathing, which was a good sign. Off to the left was a stairwell leading up to a single office. The single window in the office had the blinds pulled, which I found odd. You’d think the supervisor would want to watch over his query. That gave me an idea.

I moved quickly towards the stairwell and the office. I was sure there would be security cameras and monitors in there, which would show every inch of the facility. That meant I could get a head count as well as figure out what KJ was doing. I didn’t know if anyone was in there, but it would be worth the risk. The trick would be getting up the stairs without being spotted. It was right out in the open, and one lucky glance would ruin the surprise. KJ didn't seem like he was in the mood for a surprise, either. I stopped just before the stairs, listening for any kind of sign I’d been seen. The coast was clear. I hunched down and slunk up the stairs.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 34

“It’s on, Jared. Come on in, pull up a chair.” Johnny called to me.

“Coming…You got anymore Cokes back here?” I answered. My only response was a quiet chuckle from the other room.

Johnny and I had just finished up at the diner an hour earlier. It had gone smoothly; no interruptions or distractions. We broke in through a back window, but didn’t stay long enough for anyone to notice. I slid inside and poured some gasoline on box after box of legal files and manila envelopes. I still have no idea why Trystix would keep these case files from decades past, especially when he didn’t do any of the work himself. Nostalgia, I guess. I was in and out in a matter of minutes, taking only enough time to breathe in the fumes of my revenge. Again, I signed my masterpiece in the parking lot. All of Chicago would be saying my name by the end of the night.

The night before with Johnny had been a long one. He was convinced that since he was dying he had no right to sentence anyone else to death, even if it was indirectly. He said he was already dying and that I would just be expediting the process, especially after what we were about to do. He was truly heartbroken, crestfallen, and unbelievably stubborn. I begged him to reconsider what he called a sympathetic ending to a horrifying deed. We argued back and forth about it, but I knew he wouldn’t change his mind. Eventually, I sighed resignation. I promised him I would send him on his final journey after we hit Veritas Chicago.

Johnny had more than lived up to his word, willing or not. He drove us to the diner in his own car, kept a sharp lookout; he even paid for the gasoline we used to roast the place. He was pale and shaking when I got back in the car, but he wasn’t soft. He was resolved to this course of action, knowing the end was in sight. I looked at him as we drove back to his home, thinking how much I regretted involving him in this…He was my friend, but he was also my conscience since Olivia and Lena had died. Sad, sad days we were living in.

He had lived a relatively long life, but it had been a lonely one. He had been married for a time, but his work and need to succeed had robbed him of even the blue-collar lifestyle. I knew he felt horrible with his sickness, but he didn’t utter a single complaint. Not one. I could tell he was tired; so very tired. But as tired as he was, he had a little bounce in his step when we got back to his little home. I wasn’t the only one who loved sticking it to Trystix. He plugged his old TV in, dusted it off, and waited patiently for the news to come on. I walked back into the room, seeing him smiling on the couch.

“Another arson attack on a Trysticorp building, this time a mile west of Tryst Tower. There is no word on Mr. Trystix nor any of his employees as of yet. It seems the arsonist has a pattern that police are zeroing in on, but they are still asking for anyone who might have information on this Nemesis…” The reporter was saying.

“They already have you figured, Jared. At least, they think they do.” Johnny muttered, half to himself.

“Nah. They know what we want them to know.” I replied.

“Any chance you’ve changed your mind about Veritas?” He asked.

“Sorry, Johnny. I know you really don’t want to do this.”

“Are you sure there isn’t another way? One that doesn’t put the nail in a thousand coffins?”

“Not this time, old friend. Not that I can think of. I’m open to suggestions.”

“Leave town. Try Florida. Find a girl. Have kids. Live the life I never did.” He said. I started laughing. Johnny gave me a confused look.

“Can you imagine how screwed up my kid would be? Not to mention the lunatic who would fall in love with me…” I said between laughs. Johnny started laughing in spite of himself, shaking his head.

“You have two very valid points there…But at least he’d come by the crazy honestly.” His smile faded. “When‘s the final act?”

“Tomorrow night, if you’re ready.” I said, suddenly very serious.

“Good. I’m so tired, Jared. I don’t think I’ve got much more than that left in the old tank anyway.”

“You could still retire, Johnny. We don’t have to do it your way.”

“Yeah, I think we do. I couldn’t live with myself; I can’t live with myself. I won’t live with myself. All of those innocent people…”

“I’m sure we’ll find a cure for the fever soon; with or without Trystix. They might even have one now.”

“Jared, please. If either one of us believed a grain of that bullshit you just told me, neither one of us would be about to do what we are about to do. You’re forcing his hand; I get that. He has too strong of an appearance with the public; you’re going to taint it. You’re going to destroy him and make the rest of the world see him for the piece of garbage he is. That I agree with. But we are about destroy thousands of dollars worth of drugs that could help treat the people who get the fever, overpriced or not. It won’t cure them, sure…but it makes them feel like they are doing something to treat it. We are destroying peace of mind, Jared. You are forcing either Trystix or Raiden or maybe both to make a move. You are also signing off on the deaths of everyone who gets the fever during the time of hesitation that either or both will take to make that move. You can call evil good and good evil, but it’s still good and evil. It doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong thing for the right reason; it’s still wrong.”

He was really torn up; I should have been. I hesitated.

“It’s necessary. I’m not saying it’s good; I’m not saying it’s right. I can’t even tell you that I want to do it. But this is war, John. I can’t let what I have to do change because some people will get hurt. I intend to hurt a lot more people before I’m done. This is about bringing Trystix to his knees so I can take his head off. The world will see that Nemesis can strike anywhere at anytime without mercy. When they see that Trystix can’t stop me in the heart of his own city, no one will want him to be in power. Then, and only then, he will not be a martyr. I can’t let him become a hero, Johnny! Even if I have to be the villain in this story! He will fall, then he will die! It’s not right, I know. Let’s just say it’s the right kind of wrong.” I said.

I looked up into Johnny’s eyes. Tears were flowing down his cheeks. He looked old, older than I’d ever seen him.

“I love you, Jared. I know you think you are doing what you have to do. And I agree with ninety percent of it. But all those people…children…” His voice failed him.

“I know, old friend. I know. I think the Devil himself is shaking at what we’re about to do. I know I have a special place in Hell reserved for me and me alone. Know this; I intend to earn that spot, so I can have a good seat to see what he does to Trystix. I’ll suffer endlessly, as long as I know he suffers that much more. Think of all the people he could have saved had he given us the research I know he’s done on the Fever. Think of all the children he has put to death, including his own daughter! What we do is just a drop of water in the ocean of what he has done. He has to pay for his sins! I’m his executioner, Johnny!”

“May God have mercy for your good intentions…or at least not smite me for them.” Johnny said quietly, still choking with tears.

“I don’t think God wants anything to do with this.” I said.

With that, I left Johnny to his thoughts. I went to the back bedroom and laid down on the small bed. I lay there staring for hours. Was Johnny right? Was this worth what I was about to do? Was this the only course of action I could take? Was there some unexplored route to the same end? Was destroying Chicago’s supply of Fever drugs the only move I had left to put the Black King in checkmate?

Yes. My endgame was near. And Trystix, with any luck, wouldn’t live long enough to finish the summer. Then the real chess match would begin.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Another Apology

Hey guys,

Just thought I'd take a moment to thank you for your patience. I haven't posted in forever, but I've still been writing. I'll try and do better. I am grateful that you still have interest in my work, and know that there is plenty more coming. Buckle up! I hope to finish Jared's story in the next month or two, and the fireworks are just getting started!

S.

Chapter 33


“Oh shit. What’d you do now?” Johnny said as he opened the door.

I smiled grimly and shook my head. Johnny moved aside and I stepped into his home. I walked to a couch and slumped down in it, staring at the old TV across from me. I was surprised to see it covered in dust. Apparently, Johnny’s plan to watch it til he died hadn’t come to fruition.

“Well, you might as well spill. I thought I’d seen the last of you back at the hotel.”

“I would have loved to leave it there, Johnny. I really would have, except something’s come up.”

“With you, something always does. It’s good to see you, Jared. What’s going on?”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the flyer, handing it to Johnny. Johnny looked at it a moment, then started laughing.

“That’s a terrible picture of you!”

“Tell me about it.” I smiled in spite of myself.

“I wondered how long it would take him to admit you weren’t dead. What’s wrong? You’re careful. I doubt anyone will find you.” Johnny said.

“True, except I added three people to my plan. Two are dead; the other is MIA. I think he might sell me out. He could use the money.”

“Any chance he won’t?”

“Yeah. He’s been fighting against Trystix’s high prices on the fever drugs. I guess I found the honorable kind of criminals.”

“Sounds like it’s a pretty good chance he won’t sell you out. If he knows what you’re up to, then he’d be better served to help you out.” Leave it to Johnny to give a killer the benefit of the doubt.

“True, but I have doubts. He’s not the most courageous man I’ve ever met.”

“So you came here to hide, then?”

“I came because if he sells me out, the hotel is the first place they’d look. He knows when I’m hitting the old diner, and he knows the other target as well. I’m unsure if I should change my plans or go through with them as planned. He might not do any damage, but he could definitely get me killed if he wanted to. You’re the last person I know in Chicago that I don’t want to put a bullet in.”

“Sounds like I’ve got one last rodeo before I retire, after all.” Johnny said grimly.

“I can’t ask that of you. I just need to think.”

“You are great at what you do, Jared. But changing your plans at the drop of a hat is a big flaw in your design. You have to think this through. You’re going to need a lookout. You’re going to need a wheelman. You’ve got to get the job done smoothly this time. I know how you work; I know how you think. Admit it; you need me.”

I looked in his eyes and saw his determination. Not only was he right, but he was willing to risk everything to see this through. He was a good friend. Probably the last one I’ve ever had. I mulled it over for another moment, then nodded. Again, Johnny wore his sad smile.
“I could use the help.”

“All right then. I know about the diner…what’s your other target?” He asked.

“You’re not gonna like it. But I don’t think there is a better way to stick it to Trystix before I take him myself.”

“Oh no. This is gonna get ugly, then?” Johnny asked, looking concerned.

“Bowling shoe ugly…I’m going after his Veritas facility.” I watched as the blood drained from his face.

“Holy shit! Are you insane?” Johnny screamed.

“I’ve been called that. Trystix has risen his prices sky-high for the fever drugs, making money off of people dying. Raiden’s busting his ass trying to find a cure, but I don’t think he has all the pieces yet. Beyond that, I think Trystix already has the cure. I think he’s sitting on it! He’s had the fever for ages and is somehow still alive! He could save everyone, and yet he hesitates because he is making money off the damn disease. You know I don’t like killing, Johnny. Even accidentally. But I figure that if his product is gone, he’ll be forced to find a new golden goose. I’d bet my life Trystix will try and minimize the damage that we cause, blame his problems on someone else until he can swoop in and save the day. The damage will already be done."
"No one will trust him to handle the cure after what we do. Raiden will find a way to get a hold of it, and I guarantee he’ll distribute it without trying to make a buck on it. Raiden will know Trystix can’t protect the stock and do everything and anything he has to do to get his hands on the cure. When he sees Trystix can’t protect the product, he can’t protect his people. That forces Raiden to pull out of Chicago and eventually out of his business deal with Trystix. If he does, the people will turn on Trystix for not being able to keep the drugs safe or provide a cure. They’ll want to go to the West to get the cure cheaper. Even if Trystix provides a cure, he will fall out of power. Then, when I’ve taken everything else from him, I take his life.” I'd practiced this part of the speech on the way over.

“Jared, I don’t know…How can you do this to the people of Chicago? You’re signing a death sentence for them!”

“No, Trystix did. He signed it the second he decided making money was more important than saving lives. He has a cure. I know he does; he’s had the fever for a while and he’s still kicking. He isn’t taking the drugs; he knows they only slow the fever. Everyone who gets the Red Rose Fever dies. Except him. How else could that happen?”

“Jared, you can’t do this. You can’t leave things to chance like this. You know destroying his stock will make the price even higher! Supply and demand, Jared. If the supply is gone, demand goes up. Chicago will suffer! When demand goes up, prices soar. You know that!” Johnny looked hysterical.

“I told you that you weren’t going to like it. But it has to happen, Johnny. Nothing else will hurt him this bad. Trysticorp will be alone, no Veritas involved. Trysticorp has to fall, not just Trystix. I have to break his back, Johnny. As long as people adore Trystix, he will be a martyr. I have to make him an enemy.”

“How do you know it will work? What if it makes him stronger in their eyes?”

“I don’t know that it will work. I can’t guarantee that. But this is the only way people can see what he truly is. It’s the only thing that would hurt him bad enough. Everyone who crosses him ends up dead or dying, fever or not. We aren’t the only ones who see that! We need all of Chicago and the East to see what a selfish bastard he is! I have to cripple him! If Trystix falls, Raiden’s stock goes up. He’ll have a shot at becoming the hero. I don’t know what will happen first, but Trystix is going down, one way or another.”

“This is madness, Jared. This isn’t right…It’s just…It’s insane. It’s inhuman. It’s not ok. It’s not right. All those people…”

“I know, old friend. I know. I understand if you don’t want to be a part of it. Think it over. Give it some thought. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow. But remember, I can’t be ruled by emotion. You and Raiden taught me that. This is war. There are no other options. There is no other way. Not without making Trystix a martyr.”

We sat in silence for a while, staring at the dusty old TV. Neither of us looked at each other; neither of us did anything. Finally, Johnny sighed and stood up. He went into his kitchen, returning with a bottle of tequila and a bottle of Coke. He said nothing as he handed me the Coke and poured himself some tequila. He took three shots before he said a word.
“All right. I’m in. On one condition…” He said.

“Name it.”

“After we do this…” He took another shot of tequila. “…I want you to put a bullet in my head.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chapter 32

I flew down the streets like a bat out of Hell. I couldn’t shake the smile from my face, and the smoke rising in the rearview mirror made me start laughing again. It wouldn’t be long before I heard a chorus of sirens, but there was no chance of saving Trystix’s precious treasure chest of cars. It wouldn’t make a difference to me if they could save the building; the smoke damage alone would ruin it for Trystix. I found it ironic that I had falsely sold insurance for Trystix, and now he needed it in the worst way. I started laughing all over again.

It didn’t take long to get to Stu’s abandoned home. It was boarded up and locked down tight. There was a small real estate sign out front, but no one would be buying it. KJ and Lance were sitting on the roof of the truck they had borrowed from Trystix, looking at the pillar of smoke rising in the south of the city. They looked extremely serious, extremely tense. They both looked at me like I was a maniac. Too true, I suppose, but they hadn’t lived my life. They’d never understand the joy I got out of sticking it to Trystix. I climbed out of the Jeep and nodded towards Stu’s former residence.

“I want to go in for a bit; make sure I didn’t leave anything here that could be useful. You’ve both done well. KJ, stay and keep watch, will you?” I said, making my way towards the familiar door. Lance fell into step with me when KJ nodded.

I grabbed hold of the uppermost board and yanked. It creaked, but it had been nailed in tight. I moved to the side and looked at Lance. He had already reached up to the opposite side. On the count of three we pulled. The board gave way, and we used the same method for each of the next few planks blocking our path. I tried the door handle; naturally it was locked. I reared back and kicked right next to the lock. The door didn’t even put up a fight, giving way on the first kick. I stepped through the open door.

Dust had settled over everything like a gossamer blanket. There were still old pizza boxes on the floor, and the chair we had tied Vic to stood undisturbed. I didn’t even pause to look around much, heading to the small bedroom I had spent my time in. This room had changed a bit. There was a small cardboard box on the desk with an assortment of notebooks, headphones, blueprints, cash, and a small revolver. There was a note written on the box from Johnny.

Jared,

Thought you might need these. I’m sure you can figure out what to do with them. I don’t need protection anymore. Stay human, old friend.
JM

“What does all that mean? Who’s Jared? Who’s JM?” Lance looked really confused.

“Neither one matters. Not anymore…The supplies do, though. Put them in my Jeep, would you?” I answered.

Lance moved quickly and took the box outside. I shuffled through the desk, looking for anything else that might be useful. Johnny had been thorough; he had organized everything I needed into the box. I smiled at how well he knew my thought process and shook my head. I left the bedroom for the kitchen. I walked to the sink, opening the small cupboard beneath it. There was a bottle of industrial cleaner and paint thinner…neither quantity enough for a decent fire. I was going to have to get creative. I scolded myself for not bringing some extra gasoline from the warehouse with me. I emptied the bottles around the room, careful not to mix them. If you didn’t know, mixing volatile chemicals can produce fumes that are toxic. The only thing I wanted to be toxic at this point was the fear inside of Trystix when he realized what was coming.

I left the kitchen and walked back outside. Lance was talking with KJ, who was listening intently. I didn’t say a word to either of them. I opened the door to their small pickup and looked inside. I swore silently again at myself for lack of forethought.

“What you need, Devil?” KJ asked.

“An accelerant. Got anything handy?” I asked.

“Nah, not really. You want me to go find something?” He asked.

“No. Why don’t you two just sit on your asses and talk about my real name some more?” I said, raising an eyebrow.

The color drained from Lance’s face as he shifted uncomfortably. KJ looked at the ground. I shook my head and pushed past them and went back in the house. I started looking for something to break down the wood boards around the building. It wouldn’t be quick, but the wood was as good a fuel as I would need. I found a sledgehammer in a closet and started swinging. I broke through a few tables and chairs, arranging each of the fragments into an optimal position for a fire. I was going to have to start a bunch of little fires and hope it spread fast enough to consume the building. I heard a chopping noise behind me. I turned to look, and saw Lance hacking at some furniture with a crowbar. KJ was making his way into the house with a hatchet.

“We’re trying, Jared. Just point us in the right direction.” Lance said between swings. I couldn’t help but cringe at all the noise he was making, but nodded my approval.

“Instead of hacking with the crowbar, you might try using the hook-end to pull the boards off the walls. Then have KJ cut them. You’ll save time. And for the record, you should probably forget that name.” I said. Again, Lance blushed, but this time he smiled stupidly.

We worked for about half an hour, breaking and rearranging furniture. Lance had stumbled across a bottle of vodka somewhere, and had poured a little here and there between sneaking drinks. He wasn’t smart, but he worked hard at it. He finished off the bottle and through it into the kitchen. I looked at both he and KJ, and KJ understood what came next. He clapped Lance on the back and helped him back out to the truck. Lance was a little bit tipsy; apparently, he didn’t handle alcohol well. Ask me if I was surprised.

I crumpled up some news paper and pulled out my lighter for the second time. I took a breath and said a final goodbye to my old friend Stu. I lit the paper and tossed it into the kitchen onto a pile of vodka-soaked boards. It smoldered a bit, starting to smoke. I moved quickly throughout the house, igniting pile after pile. I only had a moment to get to each one, but this wasn’t my first rodeo.

It took only a few minutes for the smoke to begin to thicken so much I had to leave. The house would go up in seconds. I stumbled through the front door, smiling as I did. I slammed it shut, hoping to hide the blaze from view until it was too late. I was still grinning as I regained my bearings. I looked up, my eyes still burning from the smoke, trying to find KJ and Lance.

The pickup was gone, but I wasn’t completely abandoned. Lance was laying in the gravel driveway, probably unconscious from his ‘sneaking’ of the vodka. I walked over to him and kicked him lightly. He didn’t move. I leaned down, shaking him. Where had KJ gone? Why did he leave Lance? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t have time to worry now.

“Come on, man. Wake up. We gotta go. Get up!” I said, shaking him harder. He didn’t move. I sighed submissively, shaking my head again. I rolled him onto his back, intending to pull him up. Let’s just say he wasn’t going anywhere. His eyes were wide open in surprise, and he had a bullet hole in his forehead. A small pool of blood had formed in the gravel where he lay. There was a paper tucked in his shirt; a small flyer that had the word “Wanted” printed boldly across the top.

I opened the flyer and was greeted by a look into my own eyes. The flyer was a sketch of me, and it had my name printed across the bottom. I picked it up, leaving my dead companion on his back. It was creased with age, so this wasn’t a new development. To be honest, I thought these things only existed in old cowboy movies. I guess I was wrong.

Then it hit me; this wasn’t a new development. Damn. Somehow I’d become Chicago’s most wanted, even before I had taken out the warehouse. Well, I guess I’d always been an outlaw. Now, it was official. But the least they could have done was get a decent picture of me…

I swore again as I dragged Lance’s lifeless body towards the burning building. He was a lot heavier than he looked. I was beginning to get sick of getting rid of dead bodies. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why KJ would turn on Lance like this. They seemed to be such good friends…Oh well. I kicked open the door to Stu’s house and ducked inside, dragging Lance into the living room. It was a cold and callous thing to do, but I couldn’t leave a body in the driveway. Lance wouldn’t mind.

The smoke was thick and suffocating. You’d think I’d be in a hurry to get out of the smoke; my eyes burned from the dark, greasy ghost of smoke in the air. My lungs were beginning to ache from breathing it in, but still I was in no hurry to leave. I walked slowly, making sure my work had been flawless. I felt satisfied, and finally stepped through the front door again. I left Lance to his own devices. Something told me he wasn’t in any hurry to leave either; not with a bullet in his head.

As I walked to the Jeep, my thoughts again wandered to KJ and his motivation to kill his friend. More importantly, why would he help me halfway and then bail? And why would he kill Lance? Why not take him along? Then it hit me; the flyer. They had seemed like they arguing when I had interrupted them earlier. Maybe KJ didn’t want to associate with a fugitive. He may have been freaked out by the fact that every cop in the Windy City wanted my head. Can’t say I blamed him there. But why shoot Lance? Maybe Lance wanted to stay and help and KJ wanted to leave. Maybe KJ was colder than I suspected…

Damn it. KJ knew where I was headed and when I was planning on heading there. If he had motivation to cash in on the reward on my head, he would have the knowledge of where I would be and when I would be there. Not good. Not only that, but I couldn’t really go back to the hotel. All I had was the Jeep now…I would have to improvise a little. The box Johnny had left for me was in the small pickup that KJ left in, so I was out on some supplies that could have helped my plans for the next two targets. KJ had thrown a monkey wrench into my schedule. I needed to go somewhere to sort it out and revamp my timing. And there was only one place I could go.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chapter 31

We buried Riv the next day in a small grave behind the hotel. Lance cried, KJ just looked pissed off. No one said much, but there wasn’t much to say anyway. They both wanted revenge. I couldn’t blame them. They deserved it. If they both played by my rules, on my time, they would get what they craved, what they deserved. And so would I.

KJ filled in a few more of the details on what they had done to get Trystix’s attention and therefore his retribution. KJ, Riv, and Lance had all worked for Trystix briefly in some capacity, but they’d all been fired once Lena had been diagnosed with the fever. Trystix called them street trash and blamed them for getting her sick, which made no sense. They had never even met Lena. The trio was a little disgruntled about it, so they decided they would try and rebel against Trysticorp. They would try and help the other “street trash.” On top of all of that, KJ’s mom had previously had the Red Rose Fever. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to afford any medication due to the escalated prices of Trysticorp’s street vendors. A second misfortune: none of the other 'street trash' would help fight against Trystix.

KJ had found their guns in the attic of his mother’s house after she died. The only one with any experience shooting guns was Riv, and something told me that he wouldn’t be shooting anything anytime soon. They barely knew how to load them, but they were willing to wave them in people’s faces to try and intimidate them to get what they wanted. That’s what they had done to the vendor, followed by a few punches to the face and stomach. That wasn’t good enough in the real world; like I had told KJ the day I met them, the guns work better when the safety isn’t on. They were terrified to actually kill something, which meant to me that they shouldn’t be involved in this kind of thing. But I did tell them that I would help them get revenge, and I aimed to fulfill that promise. I may be a criminal, but I still keep my word.

I spent a lot of time with KJ for the next couple of days. I filled him in on who I was (vaguely) and what I was doing and, more importantly, why I was doing it. He listened intently, absorbing the information quickly. I showed him the map I’d made and asked him for his input on the targets. He may not be a weapon of war, but he was sharp. He was also angry, which helped fuel him to the cause. He suggested that he and Lance take one of my targets on the same day I took one of the others, causing more and more chaos all at once. I loved that idea, but I didn’t have a lot of faith in he or Lance.

“Are you sure he’ll be solid?” I asked again, for about the thousandth time.

“Devil, he may be dumb, but he’s as mad as an alligator getting a root canal. He’s a good driver too, if we had a car…”

“Yeah, about that…I think it’s time I borrow one from Trystix.”

“Really, Devil. And how do you plan on that?”

“I have the code to the building he stores his cars in.” I said with a grin. KJ smiled.

“Oh, you’re a bad one, Devil. You think he can spare two?”

“No, I don’t think he can. But he’s going to.” I smiled again. KJ laughed.

“When?”

“Tonight. Get ready. Get Lance ready, too.”

I released KJ to do what he needed to do before our breaking-and-entering that evening. I told him to have Lance and himself ready in three hours. He would need some bolt cutters, pliers, and his guns. I reached into my backpack and pulled out my dark clothes and a lighter. I checked to make sure my gun was loaded, though I hoped I wouldn’t need it. I pulled out the hunting knife and put it in my pocket. I took a breath, trying to steel my nerves to what was coming. I was excited, thrilled even, but I was a little nervous to have to worry about having partners. I’ve never been much of a team player. And I don’t share my art with just anyone. If they got in the way, they were disposable to me.

I spent some time thinking about my sister. It was her birthday too, after all. I hadn’t been that close to her, but she was still my sister. I thought of my niece and holding her in my arms. Suddenly, I knew I was ready. I was about to wage war on the man who’d killed them both. And he deserved nothing less. My resolve hardened, my focus was now on a beautiful disaster.

KJ and Lance knocked on my door a few hours later, looking scared to death. They looked like the part, dressed all in black. Lance was carrying a small black tool bag. I don’t think he’d smiled once since Riv had been killed. I looked into the eyes of my recruits, hoping that they would live long enough to have a taste of vengeance.

“The plan is simple; get in, get a couple cars, and get out. Nothing fancy, hopefully no human contact. But I’ve got to know you’ve got it in you to take care of business if it comes up. If you hesitate, you’ll die. If we run in to someone, knock them out if you can. If not, shoot to kill. Do not hesitate. Ever. We only get one shot at this. Understood?” I said.

“What are we going to do once we have the cars?” Lance said.

“Drive like Hell itself is chasing you. KJ, guide Lance to Stu’s. We’re starting it off with a bang tonight. We’ll meet there. That‘s when the fun begins. Now, let’s get started. We’ve got a bit of a walk.”

We started out heading east towards the warehouse. None of us said much, just kept our heads down while walking quietly. Seconds passed, feeling more like days. Cars passed us on the street frequently at first, but the closer we got to our destination the became more sparse. Trystix didn’t want to attract attention to his warehouse, so he put it in a low traffic area. I can’t say I blamed him, but that only played into our advantage on this night.

We finally got to the outer fence of the warehouse and stopped. I turned to my companions, ready to give orders. Lance was way ahead of me. He pulled out the bolt cutters from his bag and began snipping at the fence. I raised an eyebrow and looked at KJ, who just smiled and shook his head. Lance made quick work of the outer fence, pulling back a small section that we could crawl through. I nodded approval to him, then slithered through the opening. KJ and Lance followed. We walked to the main entrance and I punched in the code. Amazingly enough, it still worked! I couldn’t believe that a man like Trystix could be so involved with himself that he’d forget such serious security breaches. The door swung open, and we stepped through. It almost seemed too easy.

Everything looked as it had before, with the addition of the squad car I had borrowed previously. A window was kicked out, which explained how Vic had escaped and made it to the rooftop in time to kill my sister. I walked past the car, lightly touching the side of the vehicle. There was a huge dent in the driver’s door from where I had slammed it into the owner of the car. I wondered why Vic didn’t take this car to Tryst Tower. That would have made sense…Vic really wasn’t the smartest person, I guess. I scoffed and continued towards the car I wanted.

I had known the exact vehicle I wanted to take the second I had decided to steal one; a Jeep. I had always wanted one, and there was a black one with my name on it at the far end of the garage. I made my way toward it as KJ and Lance looked around in awe. I opened the door to the Jeep, smiling as I did. The smile disappeared rather quickly.

“Freeze! You are all under arrest!” A man in a police uniform was sitting in the passenger seat with a gun pointed in my face. He kept the barrel trained on my face, and his safety was DEFINITELY off. Go figure that when I try to have a little style it ends up biting me in the ass.

“All right, man. You got us.” I said as I raised my hands above my head. With a fleeting glance, I saw KJ duck behind a car and pulled out his gun. I couldn’t see Lance anywhere.

“Don’t say a word! Don’t say a word!” He said as he crawled across the seat and stood before me. He looked familiar somehow…

“All right, officer. Calm down. You’re in charge.” I said.

“Damn right! Damn right! Turn around!” I did as I was told. This was not going the way I’d planned it. “Now, hold still and put your hands behind your back!”

“I can’t hold still if I’m putting my hands behind my back.” I said. Then I felt a crack on the back of my skull. I started seeing spots in my vision, like little stars falling from the ceiling.

“Keep your damn mouth shut while I tie this…” He said. Wait a minute…Did he say tie?

“Lost your cuffs, eh? Back to the stone age I guess.” Crack. Again, I was seeing stars. He tied my wrists together with what felt like rope or twine, then hit me again.

“Call your boys in. You cost me my job, now I’m taking you in on citizen’s arrest. Mr. Trystix will give me a medal for this.”

“Sorry man, but I don’t know you.” I said.

“No? Look at that squad car that has my body dented into it. Remember me now?”

Then it clicked. This was the same cop, or former cop I should say, that I had attacked and stolen his car. Now it made sense. Another loose end…

“Oh, I get it. How’s the hip by the way?” I asked. Then another crack. Only this time it wasn’t me. The cop went down, grabbing at his leg. I turned around to see Lance with a tire iron. He struck my captor from again behind the knee,, then on his spine. The cop went limp.

“Friend of yours?” Lance asked me.

“Let’s just say I’ve left a loose end or two. I’m not perfect, either. I just don’t know how he knew we’d be here.”

“Well, let’s not repeat the same mistakes.” said KJ, who had started walking toward us. He raised his gun slightly, aimed at the former officer’s head. Bang.

I was a little taken back by what had just happened. I hadn’t expected much from either of these two, let alone something so soulless, but they’d both become cold enough to do what was necessary. I don’t love blood on my shoes, but I don’t love being arrested by a washed-up cop either. I looked at each of them with a very serious expression.

“If we get caught, we’re all getting crucified for this.” I said.

“We know.” Lance said.

“Good. Let’s give them a reason to try and stop us then. Lance, can you cut me out? Then put our friend in the squad car. KJ, find some gasoline. We’re going to start our party a little early. I’m a little worried how it is that our little friend knew we were coming. I’ll try and find some towels, then we’ll soak them in the gas. Then we’ll bring the noise. Lance, move this Jeep and your car out of here when you finish with Officer Dead.”

KJ and Lance went to their tasks quickly and efficiently. There was a pile of old shop rags near the front of the warehouse. I grabbed a couple bottles of oil and an extra can of gasoline and brought them near the squad car. I dipped the towels in the gasoline and oils then placed them on strategic cars in the garage. I walked around and opened the gas tanks on the motorcycles, dumping some of the contents on the floor. This place was going to burn, and it would burn fast. KJ and Lance finished moving our vehicles, then looked to me for more instructions.

“Get out. It’s about to get very, very hot in here. Drive to Stu’s. I’ll meet you there. I can’t be worried about you two while I do this.”

“You sure, Devil? We could help..?” KJ asked.

“No. Go. Go now. Now!” I yelled. They did as they were told.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the lighter. It was time, finally. Still, I hesitated. Something felt like it was missing…Then I realized it; this looked too random. I walked to a desk in a corner and grabbed a bottle of flourescent spray paint. I walked outside and wrote a small message on the parking area.

Nemesis has returned. This is my city. This is my vengeance. This is only the beginning. It’s time to balance the scales.

Smiling, I tucked the spray paint into my pocket and went back inside. Then, the lighter returned to my hand like it had a mind of its own. Needless to say, it was nirvana. I lit a small towel and threw it towards the squad car. Within seconds, the entire room was ablaze. The smoke was intoxicating. I stood there a moment, feeling the heat beneath my skin. My entire being wanted to stay and be consumed by the fire, to feel the heat ignite my soul, but my work wasn’t done yet. I turned and ran as fast as I could towards the road beyond the fence. A few seconds more passed, and then the fireworks started. Windows blew out, raining glass everywhere. Gas tanks started exploding. The entire warehouse erupted into an inferno of oily black smoke and orange flames. One explosion knocked me off my feet, sending me sprawling across the concrete. I got up and brushed myself off, laughing. I started walking towards the Jeep parked just outside the fence. I smiled the entire walk.

I hadn’t had this much fun in ages.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chapter 30

I spent the next few days organizing plans. The first thing that I had to do before I could lay siege to the Second City was to get a car. Like Johnny had said, I wasn’t far from Trystix’s warehouse where I had left Vic during my first visit to Chicago. I could take my pick of vehicles whenever it occurred to me to do so, but I could hold off until my plans were solid. I had to choose my targets first. I had to hit Trystix where it hurt; I had to make sure he knew what was coming, and that he could do nothing to stop it. I borrowed a map of the city from KJ and taped it up on the wall of my room. I drew a circle around Tryst Tower, nearly right in the center of the map. I spent hours staring at the map, trying to pick the perfect targets that would make sure Trystix knew it was me that was raising Hell itself.

Based on that philosophy, I came up with a battle plan. I would start the party with Stu’s house, then the warehouse (minus my pick of vehicle, of course), then an abandoned diner Trystix used for his paper records. It was humorous to me that he still had those paper records of his legal career. He had more money than the rest of the city combined, and he held on to his past case files that meant absolutely nothing to anyone else. I’d always known he was a touch odd, but this blew my mind. Aside from the warehouse, Stu’s, and the diner, I still had one target left. This target was going to make some people very angry. It might even incite a riot if I was lucky.

The beauty of this plan was location; each building was little more than a mile to the south, east, north, and west, respectively, of Tryst Tower. If Trystix was paying attention, which he would be, he would suspect the next target to be to the west. He would be correct; but he wouldn’t know when. I would spread the timing out among the three buildings, with at least three days between each. I would take the fourth building only two days after the third to throw him off any sense of pattern. Now I just had to decide on which building to take within that radius.

KJ, Riv, and Lance kept their end of the deal; they stayed out of my way. I’d see them in the halls sometimes, but the only one who was even remotely friendly was Lance. He was short, blonde, and stupid. He always had a goofy grin on his face, like he knew something that no one else did. He would laugh to himself a lot, amused at something only he thought was funny. I had no idea why KJ would put up with this kid. He wasn’t bright, he wasn’t big, and I doubt he even knew the difference between right and left. Regardless, KJ and Riv kept him around for something. He wouldn’t be much of a criminal, but they still kept him close. I wondered to myself if he was some kind of savant; a genius at something…but I doubted it. I started thinking he must be related to Riv somehow. That made more sense; the only idiots one keeps company with are idiots that you are related to.

I was beginning to feel confident in my new environment; I had everything I needed. I had a room, privacy, and access to every critical point of my plan I wanted to hit. I was close…so very close…Absolution and redemption were on my doorstep. I spent about five days plotting and calculating when to attack. My birthday was approaching, just a week away. I figured that would be the perfect day for the first strike. I waited patiently, trying not to count the minutes until the moment I could finally start. Everything had aligned perfectly. That, in and of itself, should have tipped me off that something was wrong.

I was in a deep sleep one night, dreaming of a beautiful disaster. I saw a building, completely nondescript, completely consumed in flames. My body and soul were aching with the need to make my dreams come true. I woke with a smile and a laugh, telling myself my time was coming. I turned over in my bed, content to return to my dreams. Outside my window, I heard footsteps, followed by a powerful engine revving and tires squealing. This wasn’t unusual for Chicago, but it was unusual for this area and time of night.

I sat up, waiting to hear anything more. I didn’t hear anymore cars, but there was an odd noise in the main foyer below my room. Thud. Thud. Thud. Scrape. Scrape. Thud. I swore, not wanting to get up and check on Lance sleepwalking again. Thud. Thud. Scrape. Scrape. Thud. Thud. This was beginning to annoy me. I got out of my bed and pulled a shirt over my head. Thud. Thud. Thud. I walked over to my door, anger fueling the movements. This wasn’t new; Lance had wandered into my room in the middle of the night once, scaring the hell out of me. Sleepwalking is an odd thing. Just before I opened the door, the noises stopped with an abruptness that stopped me cold.

I don’t know to this day why, but something told me this wasn’t Lance sleepwalking. I hesitated, then walked back to my bed. I reached under my pillow and pulled out the pistol Raiden had packed for me, made sure it was loaded, and returned to my door. I took a deep breath, letting long seconds pass. I slowly turned the knob, and quietly opened the door. I slid through the doorway, enveloping myself in the darkness of the hallway. I crept towards the stairs, taking slow and measured steps. Everything was still. The front door stood ajar, but that was typical. The chair where had been keeping watch was empty; this was not typical. He rarely slept, and when he did it was in the early afternoons. But Riv was nowhere to be seen. I made my way down the steps, my eyes darting from side to side. Nothing seemed amiss except the lack of Riv in his chair.

After what seemed like a million stairs and thirteen hours, I had descended to the foyer floor. I was starting to think I was just paranoid until the noises started again, closer this time. Thud. Thud. Scrape. Scrape. It was off to my left, but I couldn’t see anything but shadows. I crept to the wall and hit the light switch. I turned and saw Riv collapsed on the floor. He was bloody and broken, trying to crawl across the hardwood. His eyes were swollen shut, and he had a deep gash across his throat. He wasn’t making any progress except for hitting his hand on the floor, his fingernails clawing into it. I could tell just by looking at him he didn’t have long.

“Riv. Riv. It’s me. What happened, man?” I asked him, not knowing why. I knew he couldn’t respond. He coughed and sputtered something unintelligible. He gestured across the room to the opposite wall, and that said plenty. He coughed again, then went still. On the wall, spray painted in red, was a message. But it wasn’t for me.

With his blood, clean your wounds. Then get out of my town. Resistance will only bring more blood. One down, two to go.

Wonderful. My roommates had enemies too.

KJ! Lance! Get down here!” I yelled, lowering my gun.

It took a moment, but I heard some banging around upstairs. KJ came crashing out of his room with a gun in hand.

“What the hell, Devil! What could you-…Oh shit.” He said as he came down the stairs.

Lance came bumbling out next, falling down the stairs. He shook it off, smiled his idiot smile, then finally noticed the body and the message. He crawled over to Riv and held his head in his hands. He then started crying. Poor kid. I turned back to KJ, who hadn’t moved a muscle since he saw the writing on the wall. Then, KJ lost it. He screamed and started firing his gun at the wall. He fired all six rounds, but kept pulling the trigger. He was shaking and sweating, screaming and cursing. He finally sank to the ground, his face in his hands.

“You mind telling me what the hell you got yourselves into?” I said. KJ stopped trembling and looked up at me.

“Riv’s dead, you moron! That’s what’s up! Mind your own business!” He yelled.

“No shit. I’m the one that found him. You mind telling me why he’s dead?” I asked, trying to stay in control.

“He’s dead because he got killed!” KJ was almost hysterical.

This was going well. Riv had been killed, Lance was crying, and KJ was shooting his gun and stating the obvious. I sighed and turned to go up the stairs and go back to bed. KJ grabbed my leg and held me fast.

“We are trying to get the price of medicine back down. So we took one of the trucks Trystix has his boys selling them in and trashed it. We poured the pills out in the street and roughed up the driver. We told him to tell Trystix that Chicago is gonna fight back. We told him to tell Trystix the Resistance is coming. We were careful, man. We were careful. No one saw. Nobody.” KJ said. He was shaking his head in disbelief.

“Actually, someone did. Your driver. He is what real criminals call a witness. You should have killed him and painted the message on the street with his face.”

“We ain’t criminals, man! Come on! We ain’t killin’ nobody!” He said, looking at me like I’d told him to kiss a rattlesnake.

“You’re an idiot, KJ! You’re trying to fight Trystix without playing by his rules! He’s ruined or killed more people than you can imagine and you fight back with kid gloves! What were you thinking?” I was blown away by the stupidity.

“We just want everyone to have a fair shot, man! That’s all! Just trying to help the city…” He broke down and started crying.

I shook my head, unable to comprehend what could have driven these three men to try and fight back against Trystix. They hadn’t thought it through, hadn’t covered their tracks, and now one of them was dead. I didn’t have time to waste on amateurs, but they had call for vengeance now, too. Maybe I could use them…

“KJ, you didn’t play the game right. They either know who you are or knew where to find you. Either way, you guys screwed up. You got Riv killed and you could’ve gotten me killed, too. I’m not ok with that. But I know how you feel; I’ve been in your position. As a matter of fact, I’m still trying to even the scales. You boys want revenge, right?” I looked at KJ first, then Lance, who had finally stopped crying. They looked at each other a moment, then they both nodded. “All right then. I’ll write you in to my game. But if either one of you screws up, I’m the one who’s going to kill you.”

Chapter 29

I learned a long time ago that intentions matter. It doesn’t matter much if they are good or bad; they all end up the same way. I heard somewhere that good intentions pave the road to Hell. I took to that a long time ago, but I had only just realized that the ill intentions are ground up in the gravel of that same road. And let me tell you, I had some dark intentions in mind for my visit to Chicago. Hell wouldn’t hold a candle to what I was about to do. I think Johnny knew it, too. Periodically, he would look at me, sigh, then shake his head. It’s a funny feeling to be judged by someone who helped put you under house arrest. But Johnny had found his way out of this chess game. Lucky bastard.

We arrived in Chicago two days later, tired and craving anything but a cheap hamburger. But there would be time for rest and food later; I had preliminary work to do. Similarly to my previous trip to the Windy City, I had to find a base camp to operate from. Johnny said Stu’s house would still work, but I figured Trystix would have eyes on it by now. My old buddy Vic would have mentioned it before he became target practice for Raiden and his men that day on the rooftop. I had to be somewhere close to the Tower, but far enough away that I wouldn’t attract notice. Not yet, anyway. I would do it right this time, or I would die trying.

Johnny suggested a hotel about half a mile away from the Tower. Better yet, it was inside the district that Trystix owned. It made for a nice little place to work from that was right under his nose. I was hesitant at first, until Johnny mentioned the owners of the hotel were a ‘cash-only business.’ That had underground crime written all over it. Either that, or some sort of resistance group. It didn’t really matter to me which. Either group meant I would find a way to fit in. I’d never had trouble fitting in with the other scum of the earth. I would be fine among the creatures of the night. Any enemy of the city would be a friend of mine, well-intentioned or not, so long as they stayed out of my way. I told Johnny to head in that direction.

“I’m gonna need a car, Johnny. Maybe not right away, but eventually.” I said.

“I know, I know. I thought about that. Why don’t you just borrow one from Trystix?” He said.

“What do you mean?” I could tell he had something good in mind.

“Well, his little museum is only a couple blocks from the hotel. I don’t know if he ever changed his system over there. He might not have had time yet, with the funerals and all.”

I flinched at Johnny’s words, but didn’t acknowledge the pain they brought me.

“I hadn’t thought of that. I like the way you’re thinking, Johnny. Use his own wheels and let him pay for the ride. Not bad.” I smiled at Johnny. He gave me a sad smile in return.

“It’s all right, you know. To be torn up inside. To be angry. To feel pain. To be human. ”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend. I’m not human anymore. I can‘t afford that luxury. Your boy Raiden taught me that.”

“I never condoned it, you know. You’re only a man, Jared. He can’t make you into anything you don’t want to be. You can turn back; you don’t have to do this.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, old friend. I don’t have to do this; I need to do this. I owe it to my sister, to my niece. Trystix is corrupt and you know it. He deserves everything I am bringing him and more. This is my salvation; I don’t want to be human if I have to let his sins go unpunished. Humanity, morality, a conscience; I don’t want any of it anymore.”

“I believe you. That’s what scares the hell out of me. There’s the hotel; there, on the corner.” He sighed again and pointed.

The hotel looked like it was abandoned. It was only a two-story building, painted a rusted red color. It was run down, beat up, and looked like it was barely standing. No cars were parked in the small lot outside of it, and no people were visible around the building. I looked to the upper floors, at the broken windows covered by a piece of wood and steel grating. If it came down to it, there would be no daring window escapes. No big deal; I wouldn’t need one. I didn’t plan on being tracked down before my job was done anyway. The building was decrepit, but it would fill the need I had. I looked over at Johnny with an eyebrow raised and smiled.

“You chose the worst place in town for me, didn’t you?” I asked, trying not to laugh.

“I thought you’d feel at home here. You and the other vermin.” He chuckled. He pulled into the vacant parking lot and stopped. He looked over at me and grinned again. “You’re a good man, Jared. Don’t forget that. Whether you want it or not, you’re still human. Do what you’ve got to do, but remember yourself. I’ll never forget that look on your face when I first saw you playing with your niece. Hold on to that. And I hope you send that bastard Trystix to Hell. I’ll be watching for the fireworks.”

I looked him in the eyes a moment, then reached across the car and hugged him. He was surprised by the gesture; for that matter, so was I.

“I hate your guts, you know.” I said.

“I know, Jared. Goodbye, my friend.” He returned.

I reached into the back seat and grabbed the backpack Raiden had sent for me. I climbed out of the car, waving one last time to Johnny as he drove away. I turned towards my new home and walked towards the small wooden door. It swung open before I could reach it, and I had three men with guns aimed at my face as a welcoming party.

“Wrong address, friend. Beat it.” One of the men said. He was a little bigger than the other two, his dark skin covering a broad structure of muscle and bad leather clothes. He looked angry at my trespassing, but I’m used to that kind of look.

“Are you sure? I’m usually so good at these things...Maybe you can get your gun out of my face and show me where the real grownups are..? I said.

“Oh really. All right, Small-Time Big-Mouth. I’ll point you in the right direction. After I put a bullet in your head.” He said. His two buddies laughed. This was going well. I’m so good at making friends, aren’t I? I smiled and walked directly in front of him and put my forehead up to the barrel of his pistol.

“Cute. Real cute. A tiny man with a gun talks like he has the guts to do it. Come on, then. I dare you. Show me you’re a man; show me you’re a badass. Do it, cowboy.” I said.

His smirk dissipated off his face, replaced by a look of concern and distress. He looked to his buddies, but they looked as lost as he was. He was sweating now; looking a little shaky. He hesitated another few seconds, then lowered his gun. His boys followed suit.

“You crazy, boy. You crazy.” He said, shaking his head. “What’s your name, devil?”

“Devil. I like that. Let’s go with Devil for now…You got room for the Devil in your little toy box, here?” I asked.

“That depends, Devil. What kind of hell can you raise? What kind of cash you got?” He asked.

“The green kind. All I want is a room. You can raise your own hell. I’ve got my business; all you need to know is that I’m bad company. You don’t want to know what I’m here to do.” I pulled out a wad of cash and threw it in his direction. It hit him in the chest and hit the ground, scattering everywhere. The big man was stunned, but his buddies stooped down and started gathering it.

“All right, Devil. I respect that. You mind yours; we mind ours. My name is KJ, that’s Riv and the little twerp there is Lance. You shout at one of us if you need something, Devil. But you mind your own business, yes? We’ll be friends, as long as you keep the dollars coming. Top of the stairs, to the right. You are a lucky fool I don’t kill you, man.”

“Oh, I know KJ. You wouldn’t freeze unless you meant to, right?” I smiled and winked at him, walking through the door. I continued up the stairs and stopped. I turned back and grinned down at KJ.
“By the way, that gun of yours works better when the safety’s off. Just a thought.”

Chapter 28

I walked downstairs, contemplating what had just transpired. Raiden knew it was coming; he had probably had that speech ready for a week. I was a little confused by it, but I was also impressed that he knew me well enough to know I would demand my freedom. Raiden was exceptionally intelligent; I’ll give him that. That also made him a very dangerous and capable enemy. I was interested to see what he had prepared for me. I was also ready to have a word with my old buddy Johnny.

I exited the building without even realizing it. A bright red car with an anxious looking Johnny was parked just outside the gate. Johnny was pacing like a caged lion. He was looking at the ground in front of him as he walked, talking to himself. He was wearing a leather jacket and jeans, and he looked like he’d aged ten years since I’d last seen him. His eyes were heavy from lack of sleep, and his face was racked with new wrinkles. He looked up when he heard me coming, the color draining from his haggard face. He feigned a smile and raised his hands.

“I promise; no needles this time.” He joked. I scowled at him, never slowing my pace.

“Jared, come on man. I had to do it! I had to! Forgive and forget, right?”

“Right. No harm done, Johnny. Not yet, anyway.” And then I punched him right in the nose. His head whipped back, and blood streamed down from his nostrils.

“Damn it, Jared!” Johnny held his hands to his now-broken nose.

“I’ll tell you this, old friend. I might understand why you did what you did, but I will not forgive you for it. Never, ever, EVER, do anything like that again. Next time, I’ll do more than break your nose.”

“Understood. Man, you been boxing or something? Damn! That’s one hell of a jab you’ve got.”

I walked past him and got into the passenger seat. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a handkerchief before getting in the driver’s seat. He started the car and we were off. If you don’t know, the trip from Seattle to Chicago is about two-thousand miles, give or take. Johnny liked to drive fast, but it was still going to take us a few days to get there. I decided to try and be civil. Maybe I could find out what my two kings had been up to.

“So how long have you been working with Raiden?” I asked.

“A couple years now. He contacted me when I was still working with Trystix. He offered me a job; he just wanted me to watch over the Windy City and tell him if anything interesting happened. Initially, I told him thanks but no thanks. He said he understood, but he promised me Trystix would screw me one day. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s pretty good at predicting how people will react to things. It wasn’t even a week before I got fired from Trysticorp. I called Raiden, and the rest is history.”

“He’s really annoying when he does that.” I said. Johnny laughed.

“Tell me about it! The man just gets how people think. He has a good feel for the pulse of human emotion, I guess.”

“So what has been going on in Chicago? I know you’ve been out there for the last while.”

“Pretty interesting actually. Trystix has the entire East rallied up behind him now. Everyone feels sorry for him. The people are all throwing money at him now, trying to help fund the search for the cure. I hear he has the fever himself. I just don’t understand why he isn’t sick…probably something genetic…Anyway, people have stopped picketing outside Tryst Tower. Now they picket outside hospitals, demanding results. It’s like someone flipped a switch! They love Trystix, now. I’ve spent some time trying to find out if he’s made any progress, but I can’t get a straight answer. Apparently, he’s dumped a ton of money into the research. The only thing to come from it so far is a higher demand for a cure. More and more people in the East are dying everyday. The cities have started cremating the bodies out of fear that they still carry the sickness.”

“And what of Raiden’s work? Has he had any more success?” I asked.

“Not really. The public unrest seems to be shifting towards him. I’ve warned him as such. He is convinced that those blood packets you found were the key to it. He hasn’t been spending as much time among the people either. I think the public sees it as him giving up.”
“I doubt he’s giving up. He’s too damn stubborn.”

“I know! But I don’t think they see it that way…What exactly are you planning to do in Chicago anyway, Jared?”

“Tie up some loose ends. Cause some civil unrest. Let Trystix know I’m not finished with him yet. And then, I will finish him.”

Johnny gave me a sad look.
“I’m sorry about your sister and your niece, man.”

“Save it. They’re gone.”

“You should grieve a little. Don’t let the wounds go untended, you know?”

“Let it go, Johnny. They’re gone.”

“Jared-”

“I said LET IT GO!” I shouted. Johnny shook his head and kept driving.

We drove in silence for what was probably hours. The road stretched on for an eternity, and the hum of the engine lulled me to sleep at some point. I leaned against the window and slept restlessly. After the sun went down, I awoke sharply. Johnny was still staring at the road. He looked over briefly and gave me a sad smile. His nose was swollen and he had a black eye, but I could still tell life had aged him a bit since I last saw him.

“What’s wrong with you, Johnny?”

“What do you mean?”

“You look like you got hit by a truck. And I’m not talking about the nose…” I said. He smiled grimly.

“I’m all right. I’m good.”

“Johnny, it’s a long drive to Chicago. Don’t play games with me.”

Johnny kept staring at the road ahead of him as he pondered how to respond. He thought for a long moment before responding.

“Cancer. The bad kind. I don’t have too long, Jared. This is my last job for Raiden. My last job, period. I’m driving you to Chicago, and then I’m done. Raiden bought me a big TV, so I don‘t think I‘ll be too bored. I can live the rest of my life in peace, watching bad soap operas and complaining about the weather.”

“Wow. Suddenly, I feel really bad for clocking you.” I said. Johnny just laughed, interrupted momentarily by a coughing fit.

“Did you see the bag of toys he sent with you?” Johnny gestured towards the backseat.

I looked back behind my seat and saw what he meant. There was a black backpack sitting on the seat. I reached back and brought it up front. I unzipped it and smiled. The first thing I saw was a small handgun. I pulled it out and set it on my lap. Beneath that was a box of bullets, a hunting knife, lighter fluid, a pack of lighters, a box of matches, flashlights, and about a thousand dollars in small bills. There was also a lock pick, wire cutters, and some gloves. Best of all, there was a bottle of Mountain Dew. I smiled to myself; Raiden knew me well. I put the items back in the bag. I zipped it shut and put it in the backseat again.

“Well?” Johnny asked.

“I don’t see any snow.” I said.

“What? What do you mean?”

“It’s like Christmas, but I don’t see any snow.”

Johnny and I both laughed, continuing on our long trek to the Windy City.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Update: PLEASE READ

In case you are wondering, Jared is still working towards his revenge. As a matter of fact, I have about 10 chapters ready to post that I haven't as of yet. I will get to why in a moment.

I recently took a small hiatus from everything creative (I.E. The Nemesis Diary, and recording some brand new songs) to focus on bettering my personal and professional life. I admit that I am, at times at least, a bit obsessive. The break was good for me, and I feel the small editing changes I've made to TND have made it a bit better. But something has been brought to my attention that I've had a hard time shaking; pretty much anyone could copy and paste the crap out of my story in its present condition.

I have decided to make The Nemesis Diary a private blog fairly soon, so as to alleviate my own fears as well as some people who have a love for my story. I am sorry if this is inconvenient, but I think it's necessary. I plan to publish it one day, and I don't intend to hit any speed bumps that I don't have to.

If you are interested in how the story ends or if you are just beginning to read, I would love to have you continue. Please either send me a text/email/blog comment saying you'd like to be invited to be a reader. I will be happy to oblige. I won't be changing it to private for a week or two, so people have a chance to see this notice, but please let me know ASAP.

Please know that I appreciate you reading my work. It means the world to me. Thanks guys!

S.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 27

The next day will forever be etched into my mind as the day the world ended. Not literally mind you, just my own personal world. I know I’ve talked of the death of Jared Donovan previously, but this was more of a universal situation. Not so much about me; more about the world in general. The first news story of the day was about Lena. Her small body had finally conceded to the Red Rose Fever. She had passed away quietly in her sleep. The news anchor, the same one from Olivia’s funeral, was in tears throughout the report. She couldn’t finish it without pausing to sob for a moment.. She talked about how hard it must be for Regan Trystix, to lose his wife and beloved daughter so close together. The camera then cut to Trystix seated in his chair in his office at the top of Tryst Tower.

“My friends; I am not myself on this day. I am a father who has lost his only child to a devastating disease. My world is gone. My life is hollow and desolate, empty and cold. I vow this day that I will find the cure for this vile sickness if it is the last thing I shall ever do!” Trystix said, tears running down his cheeks.

He looked almost human. His face was marred by lack of sleep and distress. He attempted to say more, but couldn’t through his tears. He slowly stood and walked away from the camera. Someone off camera said that there would be no public funeral this time around. Fade to black.

His show of emotion wasn’t lost on me; quite the opposite, actually. I too had tears running down my cheeks. My life felt desolate and cold. My thoughts were frozen; I could barely speak. Trystix and I had both shared a separate bond with Lena, and both of us had been shattered by the news of her death. The difference was that I blamed him for it, and he blamed the doctors. She was his responsibility. Yet Trystix himself had the fever, and he would not contribute anything but empty promises to cure it. He was the real killer, not the fever.

The sun’s light creeping through my window seemed a mockery to my niece’s death. The light itself had lost all of it’s luster; my world seemed nothing but black and white. I reached up and pulled down the blinds, returning my room to darkness. I sat on the floor and put my face in my hands. For the last time in my life, I wept. I can’t tell you how much time passed, but it seemed pointless to notice. The last shred of light, the last fragment of compassion, the final piece of humanity inside of me had been taken away. The pain I felt was excruciating. But it was a different kind of pain; it was a dark, cold, focused pain. I felt hopeless; helpless and hopeless. My body was wracked with agony, but my mind stayed fixed on a single thought; justice. My body seized and thrashed, but all I could think of was justice. And only one man had a price to pay. And he would pay dearly.

Raiden left me alone that entire day. No one disturbed my torment; I don’t think anyone dared. I was left to grieve in my own way, in my own time. The desire for food and water, for space and fresh air had been lost in my anguish. I laid on the floor, thinking of nothing but my niece and my need for justice. I shivered, but I wasn’t cold. I was dying. My humanity was leaking out through the tears from my eyes. My soul was being ripped from inside me; tear by tear, thread by thread. My mind was purging my body of any and every form of human weakness. Emotions would be of no more use to me. Justice was the only thing left to live for.

And then it stopped. My tears dried, my shivering halted, and my mind shifted. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The tangled mess inside my head began to straighten itself and flow like a waterfall. My dreams from the drug Raiden gave me weeks before resurfaced, and again I saw the two worlds. Again, I saw King Nothing, standing high above his world of emptiness. He was nothing but a king who had lost all of his pawns. And then I finally understood what my mind had been telling me. I scrambled to my feet and burst through my bedroom doors. Raiden’s staff took one look at me, then took cover. I was a tornado tearing through their respective trailer parks.

It didn’t take me long to reach Raiden’s office. I didn’t even hesitate to knock; I just walked in. Raiden was behind his desk with a few of his advisors seated across from him. They all turned and gawked at the man who had the audacity to enter unannounced. The disdain drained from their faces almost as quickly as their blood. They stared at me wide-eyed.

“All of you. Out. Now.” I said in a calm, albeit strained voice.

“As he said, gentlemen. Please, excuse us a moment. We’ll reconvene soon. Jared has something he’d like to tell me.” Raiden said with a grim smile. His staff filed out quickly. He watched them leave and followed them to the door, locking it behind him. “All right, Jared. Let‘s have it.”

“I’m done playing games with you, Raiden. Everything I was, everything I knew, everything I am now is nothing but a game of chess! I’ve played the pawn, I’ve killed the knights, and my queen has been taken. My sister and my niece were nothing but a means to an end to everyone but me. Trystix used them as political leverage and power over me; you used them as gasoline on the flame of my hatred for Trystix. You used them, hoping to gain advantage on Trystix through my siege on his tower. It probably worked. They’ve become martyrs of your power struggle. Now, they both are gone. They were taken from me, and I will never hold either of them in my arms again. I will never again hear my niece laugh, nor will I ever be able to protect my sister from the things that go bump in the night. Every ounce of humanity inside of me was tied to them. Every ounce! Now, that humanity is buried with them in Chicago! My love for them was used to manipulate me, to control me. I will not be played that way again! I will not be played in that way now! I will never forgive you or Trystix for what you’ve done. I am not your pawn to be used as you see fit! I will find justice or I will die trying! So, listen very carefully; unlock the tracker on my ankle. If you don‘t, I will find a way. And when I do, I will burn this castle to the ground. And you, my king, will be among the ashes.”

Raiden listened intently, nodding at varying points in my tirade. He never broke his glance, nor did he shy away from my anger. He simply listened, hanging on each word. He looked almost as if he had been expecting this. He waited for me to finish, cleared his throat, and then began to chuckle. He started laughing! Needless to say, I was a little thunderstruck.

“Jared, Jared, Jared…It has taken you this long to fit the pieces together. Finally, the wolf feels his leash. And I hope it lights your world aflame that I pulled your strings! I hope you want my head on a platter! Because if you don’t, you don’t truly understand what that tracking device has done for you! I made you a prisoner, an animal, just like Trystix did! I manipulated you, just as he did! I used you in almost the same fashion, but now I also am going to set you free! Please don’t misunderstand my gesture; I don’t expect you to forgive me, Jared. I’m not innocent. I’ve used you, and I know it. But it’s your time, now. Take your leash. Take back everything we’ve done to you! Take back every drop of life this world has taken from you! Light the world on fire! Don’t you see? I don’t want you to be a caged animal anymore! You are better than this!”

He reached in his coat pocket, pulling a long silver chain with a key attached to it. He threw it to me, and I caught it. It was Lena’s chain, but the key was different. It had a skull engraved into the face of the key, with the word “Nemesis” laced around it like ivy.

“It’s time for you to forget about Jared Donovan. The only emotion you’ll ever need is that hate that you feel in your chest right now. And that one emotion keeps you from being an animal; that emotion makes you a weapon. Animals have nothing but instinct; weapons have a defined purpose. Jared Donovan is dead. He died amongst his tears earlier this night. I expect to hear your name on the lips of the entire world for what you do next. Cast off your shackles, my friend. There is a car downstairs waiting for you. It has everything you’ll need, plus Johnny to make sure you arrive safely.”

“Arrive? And where am I going now?” I asked, my rage subdued momentarily. I was blown away that he would own his role in my manipulation. But he’d obviously been expecting this.
“Chicago. Trystix wants to play hero, now that he has the world’s attention. He wants to be the saving grace to this fever. He has the means to do it, too. But I’ve always thought that every hero needs a villain. Every savior needs a nemesis. Good luck, my friend.” He walked to the door, unlocked it, but hesitated before opening it. “I expect you’ll come back to the Emerald City one day. There is still a balance owed between us, I’m sure. Even I am not immune to justice. But know this, Nemesis; every chess player has a few tricks up his sleeve. Go. Find your Black King and take his crown. But as you move against him, remember still that the White King fortifies his kingdom. Good luck.” And he was gone.

I placed the ornate key into the locked shackle around my ankle. It opened without hesitation. I picked it up and put it on Raiden’s desk. No reason to make a mess, I suppose. I hadn’t expected Raiden’s reaction. Somehow, he knew that I’d demand my freedom. He had told me to forsake my emotions, but hoped I would still be fueled by at least one. Trystix was a snake, but now I knew Raiden to be a mongoose. The two were evenly matched, though neither gained ground on each other. Neither could take action, only move their respective pieces. And now, Raiden had put a volatile weapon into play. I was the weapon. But he knew that I would turn on him one day, knew that I’d seek recompense for his part in all of this. He was definitely right on that part. But he wanted me to take Trystix first. I was fine with that. But there was only one resolution to this chess game they’d put me in…

Checkmate.

Chapter 26

Storms in Seattle are unlike anything you’ve ever seen unless you have actually been to the Emerald City. The wind blows, the sky falls, and the ocean devours the coastline like a rabid beast. Such it was on this day as I walked around the inner complex of Veritas Incorporated. I could go anywhere on the property; just not past the gates. I could even walk along the beach if I wanted. I guess Raiden didn’t worry about me swimming away. Can’t say he needed to; I hate swimming. I prefer to watch the fury of the ocean more than I like getting swallowed by it. This is what I was doing on this day, watching the waves. I enjoyed the violence of the sea; somehow the chaos made me feel at home. I almost didn’t notice the rain.

I heard someone calling my name, but I paid it no attention. If they wanted me than they could come to me. The footsteps drew closer at a brisk pace. The person was taller than average, judging by the length of stride. More than likely it would be Raiden. He knew where to find me if I wasn’t inside. He slowed his pace, coming up beside me.

“Think you could have picked a spot with some cover from the rain?” He asked.

“Then people would think their company was actually welcome. What do you want?”

“Now, Jared. Let’s not be hostile. How are you feeling today?”

“What are you, blind? I’m standing alone in the middle of a storm by an ocean that would just as soon swallow the world as pay me any mind. In other words, I am feeling peachy.”

“I know you hate this, but you need it. You need to slow down, Jared. Get your mind back in control. I need you in the game. I need you in control. This is the best thing for you right now.”

“Tell that to my niece in Chicago. The one that you are supposedly trying to help. The one that started wilting last night.”

“What? How did you hear that? That’s news to me…” Raiden looked genuinely concerned.

“I watched the news.”

“Really? I wouldn’t think that Trystix would let that kind of thing leak to the media.”

“He wouldn’t. He fired her personal doctor yesterday, and the good doctor decided to spill some secrets. Apparently, Trystix also has the fever. He’s had it for months. But he doesn’t show any symptoms, nor does he let it slow him down. The doctor thinks he might have something in his genetics that keeps it from progressing. The doctor also thinks Trystix was close to some sort of cure, but was angry the doctor couldn’t save Lena. He said he just ran out of time.”

“And so staring at the sea makes you feel better?”

“Doesn’t make me feel worse.”

“I’m sorry, my friend.” He sounded completely honest.

“I don’t need your sympathy.” I was starting to get irritated with this conversation.

“I know, but still I give it willingly. I can’t imagine how that feels; to lose your sister and your niece so close together.”

“Lena’s not dead yet.”

“It won’t be long. If she’s wilting, the fever will take her soon. You should be glad she won’t suffer much longer.”

I flinched at the thought, as if I’d been stabbed in the heart. I turned and looked Raiden in the eyes.
“Is there a reason you came out here? Or did you just really feel the need to piss me off?”

“She’s dying, Jared. You should accept it. It is her fate; nothing can change it. I’m sorry, but that is the reality of it.”

“Thanks. I appreciate the reality check. You’re a dick.” I'd officially had enough from Raiden.

I turned to walk away, only to have Raiden grab my shoulder and stop me. His grip was firm, authoritative. But at the same time, it was sympathetic. He looked into my eyes for a moment, sadness written on his face. I could see the wheels turning in his head; he did have another motivation for braving the storm. His nearly perfect face showed lines of worry and concern, and yet he still looked youthful and ambitious. I wondered for a moment what those ambitions had to do with me.

“Jared, I’m not trying to be cold. I feel for you. My heart bleeds for you. But you mustn’t let this cloud your thoughts. If you let your emotions rule your mind, you will never have your vengeance. Your justice. Use this pain as an accelerant to your ambition. The time is drawing near. I trust you will be ready when you are called upon?” Man, Raiden was irritating today...

“And what, exactly, do you have in mind for me to do? Play this waiting game for another month?”

“No, my friend." He said. "Not a month. Another week, perhaps.”

“ A week. Fine. And I still don’t get to know what it is you have in mind?”

“You’ll know when the time is right. Trust me. It will be worth your patience.”

With that statement, Raiden turned and started walking back to the complex. He had a swagger about him these days. Had I not wanted to strangle him for what he’d said about my niece, I may have been impressed with his resolve. He had a plan. One he felt was worth keeping to himself. One he continually was testing me for. One that he was proud of. He had hinted time and time again that I would have my vengeance, but only when the time was right. He was testing my patience, and he knew how much I hated waiting. Perhaps this was part of his game; making sure I was patient enough not to go rogue again. I wasn’t planning on it, but then again, I hadn’t planned on it the first time.

Raiden always seemed to know what he was doing, and he probably knew how pissed off he was making me. He knew the buttons to push to irritate me, but he only did it when he had reason. Lena was dying; there wasn’t anything either of us could do about it. Trystix having the fever didn’t surprise me much; I’d already guessed at that. But having to watch that little girl wither away could take him faster than his own sickness. He would be emotional, irrational even. Perhaps that was Raiden’s game; to wait for Trystix to make a stupid, illogical decision fueled by his grief. Then he could capitalize on it. It was a good plan. It was callous and inhuman, but it was solid. Raiden was truly made of stone.

I looked out over the heaving waves. The storm in the real world was nothing compared to the storm in my soul. I shivered a little; standing in the rain could make one get a little cold. But I would have to be a lot more cold than this if I wanted my vengeance. I had fill my veins with ice, otherwise I would be nothing but a fugitive. I steadied my thoughts, strengthened my resolve. I would be ready. I would be prepared. Raiden wanted me to be a weapon, not an animal. It was then that I decided that I would be both. But I wouldn’t bare my teeth until the right moment. And when that moment came, there would be no one that could stop me. Raiden wasn’t the only one with a mind for this game.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chapter 25

I spent the next week locked in my room, waiting patiently for Raiden to return. For some reason, he spent most of that week in Chicago, staying inside of Tryst Tower of all places. Apparently, Raiden and Trystix were negotiating. For what? I don’t really know. They had no love lost between them, and yet they appeared as friends. But I could see through their fa├žade. I saw the cracks in the porcelain. They despised each other. Almost as much as Trystix and I did. But my time would come. In the meantime I had to stay in control.

I paced around my room like a caged lion. I was lost in thoughts for hours, maybe even days at a time. My first problem was being locked in this room. My second was convincing Raiden that I was in control of my passions. Third would be escaping his watchful eye. Then would be returning to Chicago. And lastly, how could I get to Trystix? And then escape? Every fiber of my being ached for redemption; for my sister, for my niece, and for my self. He should have died that day on the roof, and yet he managed to hang on. This time I’d cut his fingers off one by one if I had to. He was finished. He would not be surviving round two.

Twice a day, one of Raiden’s butlers would bring me food. They brought me meals fit for a king, several courses deep. I enjoyed the smell and it sated my hunger, but little else. I’m sure it was good, but I was so lost inside of myself that I don’t recall ever tasting it. To be honest, I would have killed for a Mountain Dew and a candy bar. I didn’t need steak or chicken for every meal. That wasn‘t my style. I would take pizza or a burger over it any day. Raiden’s butler seemed particularly anxious every time he entered my room. He would linger by the door until I finished, and then bolt out of the room as quick as he could. He had a guard just outside the door, just in case. I thought it was kind of funny, honestly. They didn’t need to take such precautions. I wasn’t ready. Yet.

The butler would try his luck at small talk periodically, but I ignored him. I didn’t say a word to him for days. I continued pacing and pondering, trying to formulate a plan. Preferably one without too many casualties. I’d killed three men, two of which would have killed me without a second thought. The other was an accident, all those years ago. Despite the one blemish, I still had blood on my hands. I didn’t enjoy taking the lives of Trystix‘s guard or BlackJack, but they were necessary at the time. I hoped to slip away from Seattle without notice when the time was right. I didn’t want to stain my hands with any of Raiden’s blood or any of his men’s. Or Johnny’s if he was still in town. When I left Seattle, there was only one man whose blood I wanted on my hands.

One day, about a week into my imprisonment, there was a knock at my door. I found this amusing considering I couldn’t open the door. It was meant out of respect. Raiden. I rolled my eyes and told him to enter. The giant of a man opened the door and stepped in. He was wearing a sky-blue suit and a long red tie over a ruffled white shirt. He looked at me, a concerned look on his face. I stared at him a moment, then started laughing. He furrowed his brow and tipped his head to the side.

“What’s so funny?” He asked.

“You look ridiculous.” I managed between laughing fits.

“What do you mean?”

“You look like a seven-foot Uncle Sam.” I was almost hysterical at this point. Raiden blushed and smiled in spite of himself.

“Nice to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Jared. Are you well?”

“About as well as you’d think. I’ve been locked up in here with little to do but count the ceiling tiles. One-thousand-fifty if you were wondering.”

“Why didn’t you just turn on the TV? I’m sure something was on that you’d like…maybe boxing?” Raiden grinned at me.

I will be completely honest; I had forgotten the TV was even in the room. The thought to turn it on had never even crossed my mind.

“Nah. I’d have to look at your ugly face too often.” I said. Raiden laughed.

“I hope you don’t harbor ill will towards me for this, Jared. You put me in a bad position, and I couldn’t let you return to Chicago before the dust cleared a bit. Trystix is convinced that I’m hiding you, which I am, but he has no proof to the point. He has offered me a lot of money for your head.”

“Well, I am rather pretty. And you say I’m the one who struggles being human. What did you say?”

“I told him I had no idea where you were.”

“Interesting. His money could finance your research into the virus, and you still turned it down.”

“That’s what friends do. I hope you can forgive me for all of this. I was just trying to protect you. From yourself. Did you have any side effects from the drug?”

“One hell of a headache. And I was dizzy. Really dizzy. Nightmares too.”

“Really? Interesting…Anything else?”

“Anger. Lots of it.” I’m relatively sure that my eyes were burning a hole through his skull at this point.

“Jared, I…I truly apologize. Johnny followed my instruction. I knew you’d want to return to Chicago. I couldn’t let you.”

“Yeah, I remember your note.”

“I am sorry, my friend.”

“Friends don’t drug each other, Raiden.”

“How would you have dealt with it then?” He snapped.

I thought about his question a moment, gazing into his eyes. The intensity in them was impressive. Looks like I’m not the only at the mercy of my emotions.

“How were your negotiations with my sister’s killer?”

“Ah.” He nodded his head at my deflection. “Now we spar then? Fine. Trystix has been holed up in his tower ever since the funeral. I understand he has snipers watching all points of access to the building around the clock. Johnny thinks he has undercover security walking around the interior structure as well. There is absolutely no way of getting inside that building now. Therefore, it is not prudent to allow you to return to Chicago. Not now, at least.”

“No shit. I wasn’t supposed to have reason to return after the first time. The plan was to fade away.”

“Yes, I’m aware. But you didn’t stick to the plan. You made up your own and pursued it without backup. You are lucky I kept in contact with Johnny. By all rights you should have been killed.”
“Where is Johnny now? I need to have a little chat with him about sticking needles in my neck.”
“Chicago. Keeping watch. Your chat will have to wait.”

“Fantastic. That way I can let the wound fester and hit him even harder than I had planned.”

Raiden shook his head and reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a large set of keys. He tossed them onto my bed and turned towards the door. I looked at them, then back at Raiden.

“Which key is it?”

“You are a smart man, Jared. Smart enough to single-handedly make an enemy of the entire Eastern States without any help from me. Smart enough to make me commit treason against my own country by protecting you. Your picture is already circulating through every police office in the nation. My guess would be that Trystix put a hit out on you, too. I’m sure an exercise in patience wouldn’t hurt you. It might even help you control your emotions a bit better. Know this; one of those keys frees you, but another injects the R5. Use reason and logic to find the correct key. Choose carefully. Good luck, my friend.”

I picked up the keys and examined them. There were about ten keys, each with a different color on the top.

“You know, Raiden, I really hate you right now.” I said without looking up.

“I know. But you’ll thank me one day.” He smiled and left the room, locking it behind him.

I sat down and pulled my ankle up to examine the mechanism. The key hole was small; almost comically small. I looked again at the keys in my hand, then back to the locked ankle bracelet. I tried the first key, a red one, with no success. I then tried the yellow and the blue keys. No dice. My temper started to flare. As I put a solid gold key into the lock, I started thinking. Why was he testing me? What purpose could this childish game serve? Raiden always had a motive. Was I really supposed to learn something here? All of these keys were too big! I was getting frustrated.

I tried each key until I was down to three; a bronze key, a black key, and a worn silver one. I looked at each of them carefully, trying to find a difference from the others. Maybe a magnetic trigger or a knock in the teeth of one of the keys could give it away. I wasn’t really in the mood for another nightmare-plagued nap, so I had to be sure before I tried another key. I spent about fifteen minutes looking for something to give away the right one. I had just about given up when a bell went off in my head. One of these keys was very familiar…The silver key was the one that I’d taken from Lena! The one that opened Trystix’s safe! That had to be it! I flipped back to the worn silver key and stared at it. There was a red spot on the side…blood. Probably my blood. I had it! This was the one! I brought the key to the lock and swore. Still too big! I screamed in frustration and threw the keys at the locked door across the room.

Needless to say, I was seriously angry at this point. I began pacing around the room, talking to myself. I cursed Raiden and his games, Trystix and his treachery, and myself for not finding the right key. I knew I had two left, but one of them would activate Raiden’s drug. I would rather be angry than unconscious at this point. I was shaking, and my self-control was slipping. I would have killed for something to burn! I eventually turned towards the door started pounding on it.

“Is this what you wanted? Is this the point? That I have no hope! That I have nothing? That I have no life beyond these walls!?! Did I figure out your game, yet?” I screamed and kept punching the oak doors.

My hands ached and started to bleed. I was at my breaking point, but the solid doors stood tall. Eventually I gave up, turning and sitting against the doors to my prison. These oak monsters were more menacing to me than the iron bars I had gotten used to in the past. I sat down right next to the keys. I picked them up, hoping I would find the one to activate the R5. My hands stopped searching when I found Lena’s key again. I looked at it closely, wishing I had my little niece in my arms. I stared at the red dot, not knowing why. I scratched at it with my thumb, only to find it wasn’t blood at all. It was just paint. Red paint. Why would Raiden mark a key this way? I hit my head against the door again, only to hit the edge of one of the locks. I swore and looked at the lock. It had a red dot on it, just like Lena’s key. The pieces were starting to fit together.

Then it hit me; the key wasn’t for my ankle bracelet at all. It was for the door. I jumped to my feet and slammed the key into the lock. It opened! I put the key into the other locks and each opened easier than the last. I smiled and threw the doors open. Raiden was sitting in a chair just outside. He looked at me like he could see my soul itself, then smiled and started clapping.

“Very good, Jared. You’ve earned your freedom.” I gave him a look that could have turned a normal man to stone.

“Freedom? Bull shit! This isn’t freedom! All you did was let me out of my room! If you want me to thank you then take this damn tracker with the R5 off of me!”

“Not so fast, my friend. You earned your way out of the cage, but that doesn’t mean you get off of the leash. You are still an animal. You are a wolf, Jared. And wolves, by nature, will do anything to survive. Anything. You passed your first test, but that doesn’t mean you are home free. Look at your hands; look how your own blood stains them. This is your curse; when ruled only by emotion, your hands are stained by your own blood. Prove to me you are in control. Prove to me that the blood on your hands is there from calculated risk, not reckless abandon. I can only show you the door; you alone have the key.”

“So I’m your pet now?”

“No. Trystix made you his pet. His animal. I’m going to make you into a weapon.”