Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chapter 22

For the first time in his whole life, Regan Trystix was speechless. He looked unsure, rattled even. He stared at me, then looked at Olivia, then to BlackJack. BlackJack just shrugged. BlackJack still glistened…Trystix then looked back at me, cocking his head a little to the side. Then he surprised me; he started laughing. He laughed and snorted and wheezed. It took him a good minute to get himself under control.

“Haha…I get it now. You are jealous. You wish you were the king of the world! You wish you were me! You are trying to steal my life! But you got caught! You don‘t deserve all of this! You don‘t deserve any of this!” He waved his arms around like he controlled the sky itself. He spun in a slow circle, arms raised in victory.

“Yes, yes, I do…I wish I was a fat and entitled bastard who was so absorbed in his own world that he didn’t realize his own daughter had the Red Rose Fever.” I said, getting the reaction I wanted. Trystix’s eyes widened as his reality slapped him in the face, and BlackJack proceeded to slap me in the face.

That was exactly what I had hoped for from the giant. I had worked enough of the ropes loose enough that his massive blow hit me with enough force to free me. A concrete rooftop landing wasn’t ideal, but I was loose. Trystix hadn’t moved since I had delivered the deathblow to our conversation. BlackJack roared and started towards me. I shuffled backwards toward the door and away from my sister. BlackJack closed the distance quickly, picking me up by the collar of my shirt and tossing me like a rag doll back towards Trystix.

“Boss! Boss! What you want, man?”

Trystix had sunk to the ground, staring blankly. It looked like his world had just caved in. It probably had. BlackJack looked unsure but continued to press towards me. I scooted away and finally gained my feet. BlackJack was on me fast, blasting me with another left across the side of my face. I hit the ground hard yet again, feeling the slick substance again on my cheek. Just then, Olivia awoke.

She coughed a little, leaving a trace of blood on her swollen bottom lip. She tried to open her eyes, the blue only showing through on the left side. She moaned and tried to move. She swung on her little swingset-from-hell. She moaned again and coughed. Trystix, finally awakening from his shock, looked down at her apathetically. Without a wasted moment, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small knife. He rose slowly to his feet; his jaw was set. He started towards Liv.

“No!” I stumbled towards my sister, trying to save her. Liv turned her head in my direction.
“Ja-Jared? Do you- do you smell it? Like mom…”
“Sorry, boy…Your sister’s gotta fly. You‘re next.” BlackJack said from right behind me.

BlackJack had closed the distance on me and picked me up in a bear hug. I thought every bone in my body was going to break from his vice-like grip. I struggled against his arms, trying to catch a stray breath. He had me fast against his grizzly-bear chest. He smelled so familiar…Something I knew well…He turned me towards Trystix and my sister. What had Olivia meant…like mom…Baby oil! My mother had used it as a cheap perfume before going on dates. She used it to try and firm up her skin and make her arms look slim and muscular as well. Something my grandma had taught her I guess. I just loved it because it was flammable…

Trystix had started cutting the rope above Liv’s left wrist. His eyes looked glazed over. It seemed he was in some kind of trance, his movements awkward and unfocused. The blade didn’t look all that sharp, but it was getting the job done. He slipped once, gashing my sister’s wrist. Liv screamed in pain. This was getting bad. With my arms pinned to my sides I was helpless. I had to get free! I struggled to kick BlackJack, anything to gain freedom. I wasn’t getting anywhere until I felt a small weight hit my leg during my fighting. My soul! My life! I kicked again, this time with just enough force to bounce the gold lighter into my hand.

“Stop that! You’re turn’s coming!” BlackJack’s voice rumbled.

I couldn’t help but grin as I flipped open my lighter, igniting the tank top soaked from beneath by the baby oil. Apparently, BlackJack had a vanity problem. He must have liked the sleek look of his own musculature from the oil, and he must have used an awful lot of it each day. BlackJack screamed, dropping me to the concrete again. He started flapping his arms at his burning shirt, spreading the small flames to his massive arms. The smell of burning hair and flesh mixed with the smell of blood in the afternoon sun. The giant finally dropped to the ground, trying to smother the flames. He began rolling his massive body towards the open skylight and my sister. His screams were terrifying as he barreled towards Trystix and Olivia. But I was deaf to him; all I heard was my twin sister.

“Please, Regan. Think of our daughter. Just let me go. It’s ok that you hurt me…Just let me go…” Olivia said, crying softly.

Trystix didn’t even change expressions; he had made it through the rope around Liv’s left wrist and moved to the right. He began cutting again, ignoring my sister’s pleas to let her go. This time he seemed more focused, cutting through quickly. Olivia screamed as she swung backwards into the skylight, hanging by her ankles. Liv could do nothing but dangle there, helpless. The job half-finished, Trystix stood and glanced in the direction of BlackJack’s screams. Finally, he noticed the burning torpedo that was BlackJack almost upon him. He gasped and took a step back. His step was half an inch too far; his left foot slipped over the edge.

Trystix’s arms flailed, trying to regain his balance. Trystix’s weight worked against him, and gravity took over. The knife went flying; his miserable frame disappeared from view, all except his left arm. Somehow, by some stroke of luck, he managed to grab the edge. I’ve always said he was a bastard, but he was a lucky bastard. My human firework BlackJack careened over the side of the skylight, just missing Trystix. He fell like a star to the empty stone floor beneath. I’ll never forget the sound of that much flesh slamming into the floor. The very foundation of Tryst Tower shook. I walked around the chasm, picking my way carefully.

“Jared! Jared! Please! Save me! Don’t let me die!” Trystix screamed, white with terror.
“Screw you. I hope you can fly, Dumbo.” I said as I walked past him.
“Jared, come back! Jared!”

I picked up my pace and dropped to my knees on the other side, just above Liv. The poor girl was beyond hysterical, screaming bloody murder. I can’t say I would have acted differently if the roles were reversed. She hadn’t seen Trystix stumble, but I bet she heard BlackJack take his tumble. She didn’t even know if I was alive. I reached down, trying to grab anything to pull her up by. Lifting her by her legs probably wouldn’t work, and I’d risk her slipping or the ropes could break. I needed her arm, her hand…something I could get a little leverage with. If I could get her arms over the edge, she could help pull herself out.

“Liv! Liv! It’s Jared! I can’t pull you up like this. You’ve got to stop thrashing, and I need you to try and reach up to me! I won’t let you fall!”

“Jared! Jared!” She screamed and continued to fight.

“Liv! Just reach up! Reach! I won‘t let go!”

Finally, on some level, she heard me. She was still crying and screaming, but she tried to reach towards me. I sprawled out on my belly so she wouldn’t pull me down, and tried to grab her hand. After a few tries and curses, I finally caught her left wrist. Unfortunately, that was the wrist Trystix had cut. She screamed in agony but didn’t let go. Her wrist was slick with blood, but I had a pretty good grip. She brought her other hand over to my arm and I pulled. It took every ounce of strength I had left, but I pulled her over the edge of the gaping maw. She just lay there, crying like her life was over. In some aspects, it was. She would be leaving Chicago and everything she’d ever known once we found Lena.

Trystix, by some stroke of luck, was still holding on. He had managed to get his other arm over the edge and was kicking his legs. I guess all that food caught up to him. He had too much girth and not enough strength to improve his situation. He kicked and kicked, straining for a small boost of energy. His hands were white with the effort of trying to lift his enormous frame. Where was BlackJack when he needed him…Oh yeah…at the bottom of the abyss. Trystix was still screaming my name, asking for mercy. His voice was hoarse and broken; his pleas falling on deaf ears.

I almost felt bad for him, hanging there helplessly. Then I heard my sister crying, trying to untie the ropes at her ankles. The blood from the gash on her wrist was making the process difficult. I reached over and help her release herself. No, Trystix deserved no mercy from me. Like I had said earlier, he was the monster. And a monster like him was unworthy of my sympathy. He had tried to kill me, my sister, and hadn’t done a thing to cure his own daughter from a rampaging virus. He didn’t even seem like he knew…Odd, considering it was his safe with his blood being tested.

Olivia was still shaking, but had regained her composure. Her eyes were swollen, lips cracked and bleeding. Her breath came in shuddering gasps, rapid and uneven. But she was alive, and that wasn’t lost on her. She was stubborn, and she was not going to lie down forever. She bit her lip, trying not to moan in pain, as she tried to stand. I bent down and helped her gain her feet. She looked up at me, starting to cry again. She reached up and put her arms around my neck. I gently put my arms around her, cooing softly in her ear that it was ok…that it was over.

“Not yet, it isn’t.” She said in a very serious voice. She let go of me and turned towards her demon husband.

She bent over and picked something up. She continued to the edge, something metal glinting in her hand. The knife! She intended to finish what Trystix had started. Liv’s gaze hadn’t moved from Trystix since she had let go of me. She was shaking like a leaf in a strong breeze, but there was nothing in this world that was going to stop her. Believe me. I know that look. It’s the same one I wore on my face. I had no intention of stopping her.

“You…you…bastard! You did this! It’s your fault!” Olivia screamed down at Trystix.
“No, don’t! I love you! Please, help me up? We’ll figure it out? Ok? Please, angel. Help me? I love you!” Trystix pled with his wife.
“ Shut up! You don’t love me! We’ve played that game! You can’t keep talking your way out! You can’t keep buying me off with empty promises! I hate you! And I’m not your angel! I‘m the Angel of Death!” Liv reached her right hand to the sky, lost in her blood rage.

Time stood still, my sister about to take the life of her husband. It felt like something from Shakespeare…Poetic, even. The sun in the west was blazing off the shining knife in her hand; the fire visible in her one visible eye. I stood frozen, staring at a shade of myself about to do the unthinkable. I could stop her, I thought…I could save her the pain of taking another’s life…But I just watched. I heard a fluttering behind me, like a thousand birds flying by at once. But not even a thousand birds flying by at once would rob me of witnessing my sister’s justice…from witnessing my vengeance.

Thunder broke the silence, powerful enough to take the breath from my lungs. The sky was clear, but the sound was deafening. The resolve faded from my sister’s face; the knife tumbled from her grasp. A fresh spot of blood appeared on the left side of her chest, just below her heart. Olivia slumped to the ground, collapsing on to her side. It was then, and only then, that time unfroze. There, standing behind her with a smoking gun, was Vic. He had a small contingent of men with guns behind him to boot. He looked at me and smiled, as cocky as ever. He pointed his gun, aimed at my heart.

The sound of birds behind me erupted with the sound of gunfire. A small black helicopter had descended on to the roof about two-hundred yards behind us. A giant ‘R’ emblazoned the side of the chopper, meaning it belonged to one man. A tall man was running towards us, shooting an automatic in Vic’s direction. He was flanked by three others, all wearing black sporting big guns. Within seconds, Vic and his men were riddled with more holes than a pin cushion.

“Jared! Jared! Get your sister! I have help in the chopper!” Raiden yelled.

I ran to my sister and scooped her up into my arms. We ran to the chopper, leaving Trystix to Fate’s discretion. Raiden helped me lift Liv into the chopper, her face ashen. I climbed in next to her, holding her hand. Raiden’s team quickly closed in, concerned looks all around. One took her pulse and shook his head. He looked to Raiden, who quickly slumped against the side of the chopper. We lifted off, leaving Chicago far behind. But we couldn’t leave reality with it…My sister, shot through the chest, was dying.

“Jared…I’m…I’m sorry…I…” Olivia whispered.
“Liv…It’s ok. It’ll be ok…” I said, choking on tears. They streamed down my cheeks freely, my heart breaking inside my chest.
“Please…Help Lena?”
“Of couse, Liv. I will find a way to save her. I’ll save her…For you…Please, Liv…Stay..?”
“Jared…I…love…I…thank you…” Olivia said. Her eyes closed, a final tear making it’s way down her pale cheek.
And with that final tear, she drew her final breath. And with it, Olivia Donovan, my beloved sister, was gone.

Chapter 21

I’m not sure how much time passed between getting leveled by Trystix’s goon and when I woke up, but it had been long enough. I had a monster headache, and it took a moment or two to make my vision stop spinning. The sun was shining right in my eyes, now off to the west. It had been midmorning when I’d arrived, so I figured I’d been out a few hours or so. My thoughts were thick; I had a hard time processing what had happened. I tried to shake out the cobwebs. I had been trying to escape the ‘war room’ with the blood samples and the lighter. An alarm had tripped; did I set it off? It all happened so fast…

I realized then that I was on the roof of Tryst Tower. I could see a few buildings spread out over the city, but Tryst Tower was by far the tallest one in the area. For that matter, it was taller than about every building I’d ever seen. I tried to lift my arms and check if I still had the 9mm in my pocket. I could barely shrug my shoulders. I was tied to something; probably a vent of some kind. I could hardly move, but I could feel the gun had been removed. Amazingly enough, my gold lighter was still in my front pocket. Interesting. I looked around, shivering from the cold Chicago breeze. It appeared I was alone. No Trystix, no goons…The breeze carried a familiar scent of expensive perfume past me, mixed with something else. Blood...Liv! She had to be behind me somewhere. I tried to turn and look, but I was locked down tight.

“Liv! Liv!” I called to her. There was no answer. I heard a door open and then slam shut.
“Liv! Are you there?” I called again.
“She can’t hear you. She’s had a…busy morning.” I knew that voice. Trystix.
“What did you do to her you son of a bitch? I swear I’ll kill you…” I was beyond angry.
“Empty threat. You can’t even stand up. What are you going to do? Spit at me?”
“Come here and lets find out.”

Crack. Something solid hit me in the back of the head…Spots clouded my already spinning vision. My head throbbed where I was struck, but it just made me angrier. My heart was starting to beat out of my chest. I was breathing heavy. The only thing I wanted in that moment was my fist in Trystix’s face.

“Now, now! Let’s be civil, Jared! You’re awfully animated for a dead man…How did you survive the plane, anyway? What have you been up to? I feel like we never talk anymore.”
“You tried to kill me, remember?”
“Me? Really…You think it was me? I wish I could take the credit for that. Except if it were me setting you up, you wouldn’t be alive to have this conversation. You’ve been had, Jared. You’ve been taken for a fool again. You really should be more careful who you trust.”
“Bullshit. It was you. It had to be you.”
“Sorry, old boy. Not me. Not this time, at least.”
“Then who? No one else wanted me dead!”
“I beg to differ. I have a lot of former property owners who would love to meet you again…Which brings me to Mr. Jackson. Come on down BlackJack!” Trystix wasn’t much of a gameshow host. I heard another door open and close, and a shadow fell over the sun. It was like someone had flipped a switch and turned it out.

Mr. Jackson, or BlackJack as Trystix had called him, could have been mistaken for a tree. He was the biggest man I’d ever seen; close to seven feet tall, easily over four-hundred pounds. Not like Trystix though. Trystix was a fat man in a small expensive suit. BlackJack was a giant in a black tank top and camoflauge pants. This man looked like he was cut from granite. He had muscles in places I don’t think I even have places. His head was shaved bald, and every inch of his massive body was covered in tattoos. His ebony skin glistened in the sun with sweat. He was wearing sunglasses too, but I could feel BlackJack’s eyes on me.

“Too bad you can’t find someone big enough for a piggy-back, Trystix. You’d snap this little calf like a twig.”

BlackJack brought his left hand down across my face. Ouch. It felt like I got hit by a frying pan. I coughed and spit out blood and probably a few teeth. His punch left something slick on my cheek. I figured it was probably my own blood.

“Show respect to the boss, you little bitch.” BlackJack said. His voice sounded like a tuba in an empty room, resonating the very air around him when he spoke. Trystix came around from behind me and stood by the mammoth, grinning ear to ear.

“You probably don’t recognize him, but Mr. Jackson knows you. After you left Chicago, I sought him out. He is the godson of one of your victims. His godfather starved to death after you burned his business to the ground. His godmother is in a mental hospital. He lost everything. But I saw potential in him. I knew he could be useful. Like you, a number of years ago…But you see, Jared, BlackJack is what you never were; unquestionably loyal. He has no ulterior motives. He obeys me exclusively. I pay him well, and he does what I ask. His godmother is taken care of and provided for, and he takes care of me. He’s my personal pitbull. He doesn’t have to light everything on fire to get a job done. One look at him and no one questions anything I want done. Ever.”
“That’s probably because they don’t want to smell his breath anymore. Seriously, Trystix. Stop feeding your ‘pitbull’ your own bullshit.”

Crack. Another shot to the side of my head. Ok, then. BlackJack’s right hand was as strong as his left. Good to know. I spat out another line of blood. Again, something slick was on my cheek. It smelled familiar…like a kitchen. Odd.

“Jared, you should really watch what you say. Your mouth has always gotten you in trouble.”
“Yeah? What else is new?”
“Defiant even now, eh? Please, just shut up for a minute. You wouldn’t want your dear sister to die prematurely now, would you?”

Damn it. Liv. I had almost forgotten about her, lost in my hatred of Trystix and the distraction of BlackJack beating my face in. I looked around, but I was extremely limited in my bindings.

“Where is she?”
“Just…hanging around…Ha!” Trystix laughed at his own private joke. “Get him up, Jack. Let him see his sister.”

BlackJack untied a few of the ropes around me and lifted me to my feet with one arm. His left. He must be left-handed. Note to self. He spun me around enough to see where Trystix was looking. He wasn’t gentle about it either…My breath caught in my throat as my eyes finally found Olivia.

There, over a broken skylight, was my sister. She was dangling above certain death. Each wrist and ankle was tied to a support at a corner of the skylight. There was about a foot of slack in each binding, meaning she would swing ominously if she shifted her weight at all. That wouldn’t be a problem; she was out cold. There was about a hundred feet of airspace between her and the floor far below. She was suspended over a room that looked to be empty. I had no idea which room it was…Anyway, she was bleeding from her right ear, and her right eye had swollen shut. Her clothes were dirty and torn. Bruises were all over her body. She’d been roughed up, and badly. She was still breathing, but not by much. I started shaking with rage.

“For Hell’s sake, she’s your wife, man! The mother of your daughter!” I screamed.
“Correction: was my wife. She is about to become my ex-wife, whenever I decide to cut the ropes. Which do you think I should choose, Jared? Since, after all, you are my little survivor. Should I have her drop head-first and break her neck, or should I let her break her legs and suffer? Hmmm…Decisions decisions…”

Trystix started walking towards the open skylight, grinning ear to ear. He stooped down, staring at my sister’s broken body. I always hated the way he looked at her.

“It’s a pity, really. I didn’t want to have to kill her. She was just gorgeous before she had Lena. Almost as pretty as my current girl…not the one before that, though…But man! She was so beautiful back then! But, as they say, you can’t outrun time. Time caught up to her. Looks like she didn’t run fast enough. She really got fat once you left, didn’t she?”

“Really? You, of all people, with a fat joke?” I asked. Crack. Oh yeah…BlackJack…and there was that smell again! What was it?

My mind was running a million miles an hour. I had a world of problems, the most pressing being bound to the air-conditioning vent. Then I had to deal with BlackJack. Then Trystix was there. Then I had to untie my sister. Then I had a hundred and fifty floors to descend. Then I had to get out of Chicago. One thing at a time.

“What did she do to deserve this, Trystix? Let her go. Play your games with the real problem here; me.” I said in a quiet voice. I started feeling out the ropes that had me restrained. Maybe it had a flaw…

“Ha! What fun would that be? She was going to leave with you! She needs to be punished! Betrayal isn’t something that I can forgive! Lena doesn’t need her mother any more than I do. Lena has me. Olivia has served her purpose. She can stay up here and starve for all I care. Besides that, I love to watch you squirm. You actually look a little bit human right now! The monster has a soul after all! Come on. Play ball, Jared. Beg me. Beg me to save her. Beg like the dog you are.” Trystix was really enjoying this.

During his tirade, I found a small loop in the ropes binding me to the vent. It might be nothing, but it gave me a shot at escaping. I could have just pulled on it quickly and hoped for the best, but that didn’t help Olivia. If it were nothing but an aberration Trystix would see me trying to get away and do something to hold me back. Not to mention BlackJack.

“Trystix, she isn’t the problem. She was trying to save her daughter. Liv was just trying to give Lena a better shot at living, considering you signed her death sentence.”
“What are you talking about? Foolish boy, you haven’t even been here long enough to know anything. I’ve seen your entire plan since the moment you came in the maintenance entrance this morning. I‘ve had a few new security measures installed since you left. Just in case.”

“For a man who thinks he knows everything you sure are full of shit, Trystix. You should know better than anyone that you are killing your daughter. She’s dying. I‘m not the monster here; you are.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chapter 20

We walked back to the Turtle, keeping quiet but moving swiftly. I pushed the button to the second-highest floor and leaned back against the elevator wall. Somehow, my niece had been exposed. That meant she had been exposed by someone living in the tower. Liv wasn’t sick; at least, not yet. That left Trystix. If he had the virus, he surely had something to treat it with. That was probably why he never left the Tower lately. He wouldn’t want anyone to know. He had probably exiled Liv to that apartment with Lena. He wouldn’t have told Liv he was sick; probably just let her think he was angry. I doubt he even knew his daughter was about to die. If he were sick, he’d have the treatment close at hand. That meant his ‘war room.’ I needed inside his office badly.

The short ride up a handful of floors lasted an eternity. I was lost inside my own head. The darkness from Liv’s revelation deepened, threatening to consume my reason. What was my reason? I was there to help Raiden, to find out how far Trystix had delved into curing the Red Rose Fever. I was there for an altruistic purpose…No. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I had come to Chicago to rescue my sister and my niece. Everything else was just convenient to aiding my initial motive. Raiden was right to want to know all of my plans. I had deceived even myself.

I held my niece close, feeling the heat that consumed her little body. I looked down at her face, trying to see any signs of the fever’s progression. Though she was burning up, she still shivered. I cradled her closer, noticing for the first time a small silver chain around her neck. I lightly touched the necklace. What an interesting trinket for an eight year old girl…I softly pulled up the length of it and found a small key hanging from the bottom. The key showed signs of wear and age. I smiled. Trystix was smart; brilliant even. But he loved this child as much as I did. He had even trusted her enough with a key he had use for. I didn’t know exactly what it went to, but it was obviously something he used often. And he never spent as much time with Lena as he did in his office.

Liv cried softly, collapsed against the side of the elevator. She played with a strand of her hair that hung around her neck. As I started to unclasp the necklace, she looked up. She watched me take the necklace and gave me an inquisitive look. Her penetrating eyes said more than words ever could. I knew exactly what she was thinking.

“I’ll give it back, Liv.” I said. She stared at me a moment, nodded, and went back to crying.

Finally, the elevator creaked to a stop. Time to act. The corridor was nothing but a long hallway ending with a left turn and two massive doors that led to a small study in the back of the office. Beyond the study was a short hallway, continuing to angle left towards the main office where Trystix worked. Trystix had a large desk against the far wall of the main office, well out of the way of any of his staff. They could take this entry in and out of the ‘war room’, all without coming in the general vicinity of Trystix himself. They could enter and exit and be out of his sight within a matter of minutes. I shook my head at the thought. He had no respect for his staff, but he did keep food on their tables.

Liv looked up again when the elevator chimed, realizing the time for crying was over. She slowly stood and reached out to take her daughter. I knew I needed to hurry, but handing my niece to my sister felt like the last important thing I would ever do. I hesitated, looking into my sister’s eyes. They were wet with tears, but set with determination. She gave me a nod and moved to take Lena. I gently placed her in her mother’s arms, not wanting to do what I had come to do. I wanted to forget everything about Trystix and Raiden and run away with my sister and niece. Reluctantly, I turned to walk down the corridor.

“I’ll be all right. Just keep the door open. We‘ll need to move fast when I have what I need. We‘ll take the Turtle down to your library, and then take the main lift from there. That way if we‘re followed we might be able to shake them.” I turned and started on my way.

“Wait. In my purse…the front pocket…You might need it.”

I reached down into my sister’s purse and grabbed the first thing my fingers touched. The 9mm pistol. Good thinking, sis.

“When did you get this, Liv?”
“Right after you left. I thought I might…need it…for protection.”
“Thanks…even if it was to protect you from me.” I said with a sad smile. Olivia’s eyes went to the floor. I placed the revolver in my back pocket, hoping I wouldn’t need it.

As I walked down the hall, Liv moved to hold the door to the elevator open. I moved slowly, hoping Trystix wouldn’t be in to work yet. He had a habit of sleeping in once in a while; I was hoping for a little luck. The safe I needed was near the middle of his office, just a few feet from Trystix’s desk. This was the same desk that Trystix did his webcasts from, so I was confident that Trystix had a private security camera somewhere in the office that only he and few others could monitor. He was paranoid; I could count on that. But it would take time to get someone there in time to stop me. Trystix wouldn’t trust just anyone to run security here. He would have someone close, but not close enough to know what went on inside his offices. They’d probably be armed. I figured that they’d respond quickly if called upon. My guess would be about two and a half minutes, give or take. Hopefully, I’d be long gone by then. I wouldn’t have to try and pick the safe now, and I knew what I was looking for.

I stopped at the double doors and put my ear to them. Silence. I reached slowly opened the door, watching and listening for any response from anything in the offices. Nothing. The lights were on, but no one was home. Literally. This made me nervous. Perhaps someone had only just left…Perhaps they never turned the lights off…Either way, I had to stay on guard. This was not the time for surprises.

I held to the inside wall as much as I could, moving past suits of armor and a random bookshelf here and there. My eyes flitted around the room in search of something amiss. The room was semi-circular; the bookshelves and other desks spread outward from Trystix’s own against the far wall. There was garbage everywhere. Judging by the amount of half-finished trays of food and empty wine glasses, I’d say Trystix spent an awful lot of time in here. He might have been fat, but he was a little bit on the picky side. He refused to eat anything that had gone cold, and was insistent that reheating it ruined the flavor. Thus, he wasted almost as much food as he ate. I kicked an empty pizza box out of my way and continued to the desk at the far wall.

The uneasiness I felt upon entering the room started to wane. Nothing seemed out of place; nothing looked planted. I hesitated, trying to find something out of place again. I didn’t think anyone but Liv and the nightshift security team had noticed my entrance into the Tower. I had stayed out of sight of most of the cameras, but not all of them. I just hoped my disguise was good enough to fool anyone who watched. I had been a bit worried that my friends from the security team in the janitor’s closet might awaken before I had come and gone, but everything seemed fine. I maneuvered my way ever closer.

Trystix’s desk was in chaos. Piles of dossiers and folders were strewn all over the oak desk. Pens, pencils, even crayons were everywhere. There was a set of keys off to the right side, buried under a few other papers. I pulled the keys out from under the stack of paper and examined them. They were all nondescript save one. It looked much like the one Lena had around her neck. I pulled Lena’s key from my pocket and compared it to the one I had just discovered. Identical, except Lena’s looked like it had seen more use. Why would that be? If he had a duplicate, why use Lena’s? Why even have a duplicate? Perhaps he feared she’d lose her necklace at some point. I accepted that as reasonable and took the duplicate key from Trystix’s collection.

I started rifling through the drawers of the desk, looking for anything incriminating or worth further examination. Apparently, Trystix had taken up smoking. I found three or four empty boxes of cigarettes and a few small lighters. That’s great, Trystix. Smoke around your eight-year-old daughter. That’s healthy. In another drawer, I found a map of the country as it was divided between Trystix and Raiden. It had a few stray notes on it, but nothing that was significant to me. Maybe it would mean something to Raiden. I folded it up and put it in a pocket. The rest of the contents of the desk were interesting, but not what I needed nor what I had come for. I closed it up and turned towards the safe.

Ahhh…Now I get it. The safe had a double lock on it. It required both keys to open it. Knowing my niece, she probably wanted to have the important key, the one that would open it, meaning Trystix probably let her turn it in the lock. That would explain the wear, and why he would let Lena into his office. I put both keys in, using Lena’s to turn the mechanism. I smiled as I imagined her excitement at opening something so important. The heavy safe door creaked, then opened. My breath caught in my throat.

There, on top of an all-too-familiar black file, was my soul. Not literally; just what I traded my soul to Trystix for. A small gold lighter with a skull and crossbones inlay. As I stared at it, memories rushed through my mind’s eye. Allister and Angel; prison; the homeless man I had killed in the Blanco fire; all of the people I had conned or their property I destroyed; Lena; Olivia sending me away; Raiden; everything. That lighter was mine. It belonged to me. I earned it. I sold my soul for it. But now, I would use the lighter to buy it back.

I reached out to take the lighter, until my eyes fell on something else that was interesting. Blood. Warm blood. Packets of it. Instead of the lighter, I grabbed one of the blood packs. It had Lena’s name written on it with a plus sign. I grabbed another, but this one had Trystix’s name on it. This pack had a minus sign. What the hell was he doing? I always thought that for blood to keep, it had to be refrigerated. This wasn’t. I kept digging through the pile of blood packs. They were all labeled with either Trystix’s name or Lena’s, a minus sign or a plus. This couldn’t be good. There was a small medical log beneath the blood with all kinds of graphs and tests. I couldn’t make sense of any of it. All I could tell was that Trystix was having his blood tested against Lena’s. She was confirmed for something and he was negative for something…It might be relevant to the fever, considering Lena had it. It had to be…I wondered if Trystix even knew…

I grabbed a plastic bag from the floor and put the log and one packet of each donor’s blood in it. I grabbed a small syringe from the bottom of the safe, and anything else that looked important. There were a few files with bank statements and other documents that Trystix probably wouldn’t want public. I stood to leave, but stopped. I turned and looked back at the open safe. My lighter laid on top of the file Lena had found and given to Liv that led to my initial exit from Chicago. I could use that information. Perhaps Raiden knew someone who could tell me who mimicked my handwriting or if it were printed somehow. I sighed and reached for the file and lighter.

And then all hell broke loose. Lights started flashing; alarms started shrieking. An extremely annoying voice came over a loud speaker; “Intruder alert. All available units to Mr. Trystix’s office. Intruder. Intruder.” Damn. Took too long I guess. I grabbed my lighter and file, stuffed them into my bag, shut the safe, and ran for the door. I moved quickly, not worrying about stealth anymore. I blasted through the little study and threw open the doors. Rounding the corner at full speed, I never saw it coming. I ran into something solid that knocked me flat. My vision spun as I hit the floor. My bag flew across the hallway. I laid on the floor, trying to shake out the cobwebs. My equilibrium started to balance, then something massive smashed my face into the floor.

“Thank you, Jackson. Bring that thieving worm to the elevator with the whore. We wouldn’t want anyone to see what I’m going to do to them. Grab the bag, too. The rest of you, get my daughter out of there. Take her upstairs.”

Chapter 19

I exhaled sharply, then slowly stood up and raised my hands above my head. I may be a badass, but even I can’t outrun a bullet. I could tell by the angle the gun was placed against my head that I was a little taller than whoever had me sneaked up on me. I also knew my oppressor was female; the voice had been hushed, but it was definitely feminine. I could also smell perfume…It smelled expensive.

“Don’t you move. You move and I blow your head off. Who are you? What do you want?”
“That was two questions. Which do you want me to answer?” I responded.
“…Jared?” The pressure of the gun to my head lightened.

A small hand slowly spun me around until I was face to face with my twin sister. She gasped and threw her arms around my neck. She started sniffling; I think she was crying. I slowly brought my arms up and cradled my sister. We stood there, just holding each other, for what felt like hours. I wish it had lasted that long. My sister and I had never had an amazing relationship. She was always the good twin; the good child. I was the disappointment. But as I held my sister, I felt the unbreakable bond to my twin that everyone always says exists between siblings.

“I thought…I thought you were dead…The plane crash?” She stammered.
“Somehow, I lived through it. I didn’t think you’d want to see me, so I kept up the charade your husband arranged. I’ve been in Seattle with Raiden.”
“Charade? What do you mean? You think he tried…tried to..?
“Have me killed? Without a doubt.”
“But why? Were you blackmailing him?”
“Ha! Are you kidding me? Liv, you were the one who showed me I was a liability to him. Remember the file that Lena found? With all the dates and addresses? I told you I didn’t write them. I didn’t. Those were all jobs that I worked for Trystix, but the problem with it was that I never wrote anything down. Never. Somehow, he found a way to duplicate my handwriting and kept track of my comings and goings during the time I lived here. If I were gone, he wouldn’t have to answer for any of it. He could destroy it. He used it as an insurance policy to get rid of me and alienate me from you and Lena. He succeeded, except I didn’t die.”
“Jared…he’s still my husband…He’s still Lena’s father. He’s a good man.”
“Is it true he hits you?”
“Jared…he…” My sister turned her eyes to the floor and paled.
“Liv! Answer me. Does he hit you?”
“Only a few times, when he’s really angry. But he’s a good-”
“He’s not a good man! He’s an evil, arrogant, murderous son of a bitch!”
“You…you’re…wrong.” She started crying.
“Do you know he is waiting out this Red Rose virus? Did you know he won’t contribute to the research to cure it? Raiden’s out among the sick every damn day!”
“How can you trust Raiden so easily? How do you know he’s not just as evil?”
“Alex Ryder.”
“What? How do you know that name? He disappeared years ago.”
“When I was in prison, you wrote me a letter. You mentioned him. I know him. Rather well, actually. He goes by Micah Raiden now.”
“I work for Alex Ryder. I just call him Raiden, as does the rest of the world. He wants you to come to Seattle.”
“I can’t! I have to stay with Lena…She…needs…me…” She looked down at the sleeping bundle of Lena in her blankets.
“Liv, Raiden can take care of you both. He has a huge complex where she could play. You’d be safe.”
“Jared, you don’t understand. I have to stay here. Here. With her.”
“What the hell do you mean? We can leave. Now. That’s why I am here. I want to take you home. Today. Now.”
“I can’t…Lena’s…Lena’s sick….Really sick.”

I stood there a moment, confused and frustrated. I looked into Liv’s eyes, then down at my niece. It was only then that I noticed how much Lena was sweating. I guess I rationalized it was because she was by the fire. She was pale, but I had mistaken that for her natural skin tone. She was shaking, but the flickering from the fireplace had disguised the motion. Her lips were chapped. I realized she hadn’t moved nor had she been awakened by anything that happened since I got here. She was comatose.

“No…Damn it! No!” I whispered harshly.
“Yes. She has it, Jared. I can’t leave her. She needs to stay here. Unless you have something better to treat her..?"

I didn’t respond. I sank to the floor. How could this have happened? She had been locked in the Tower, just like Liv. How could she have been exposed to the Red Rose Virus? Security kept almost everyone out of these upper floors. The only reason I could get up here was because I knew my way through the building better than almost anyone. There shouldn’t have ever been a chance for her to be exposed. The only people she ever saw were Liv and Trystix.

“How long?” I asked.
“Jared, we have the best doctors in the world working on a cure for Lena.”
“How long does she have left?”
“Jared, please…”
“She hasn’t started wilting, so at least a couple weeks.”
“Then we have to hurry.”
“J, I can’t leave her.”
“We’re not going to. I’d rather risk getting sick myself carrying her than let her die in this God-forsaken tower.”
“He’s a good father, Jared.”
“Does he hit her, too?”
“Jared…he just has a hard time with his temper…”
“That settles it. Get up. Get your things. We’re leaving.”

Olivia flinched. Instantly, I regretted losing my cool. She said nothing, but walked over to a small dresser in the corner of the room. My eyes followed her, then I stooped down and cradled Lena in my arms. She stirred and murmured softly. It was like holding a small heater to my chest. I noticed bedding on a couch; looks like Liv had been sleeping down here instead of on the top floor with Trystix. Liv fidgeted with something in the corner, put something in her pocket, and shuffled back to stand next to me. She had started crying.

“Liv, I’m sorry. I just can’t let that monster hurt you anymore. Either of you. Raiden will take care of you.”

She didn’t answer; just nodded. She grabbed a few things from where Lena had lain and put them in her purse. I even saw the 9mm pistol she tried to hide. My angel sister had grown fangs. She hesitated a moment, then returned to stand beside me.

“What’s the plan, Jared?” she finally asked.

I had to think about it a moment. I needed any research information on Red Rose Fever for both Raiden and to help my niece. But I needed the records of my indiscretions from my old apartment almost as badly to find out how he set me up. Liv might have forgiven me, but I hadn’t forgiven Trystix for trying to kill me. The records were key to his cover-up. But I had to help Lena.

“I need to get in Trystix’s office, and then I get you out of here. Do you have access to his ‘war room?’
“Yes, but I’m not supposed to go in there. He barely lets Lena in there for his web-casts.”
“Fine. You’ll stay in the elevator and keep it open for me. I won’t be long.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chapter 18

One thing I learned from working with Regan Trystix is that every good plan has three things; a motive, a destination, and a back-up plan. I had the first two in spades. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. I’ve always been good at finding justification for the things I’ve done. I have no problem burning a hole in the ozone if I feel the end justifies the means. Trystix, on the other hand, over-thought things. He would obsess over small and trivial things like the timing of streetlights and which phase the moon would be in. I had never had need for things like this. Then again, I had never tried to take out a political figure and convince his wife and daughter to leave their home either.

My motive was easy; payback. Vengeance. An eye for an eye. He tried to have me killed, so I naturally wanted to take him out. He was obviously corrupt; he needed to be put down. The world would be better without him. The world also would have been better without me, but it obviously wasn’t my time. Trystix wasn’t going to be the one to take me out, but I would be the reaper of his entire world. This was the first moment that realized I was probably going to kill Trystix. It didn’t bother me much. Raiden would be annoyed I didn’t tell him the plan had changed, but I didn’t really feel like answering a million questions right before I put my life on the line for him…It just didn’t seem that important to me.

My destination was Tryst Tower, then Seattle. I knew the layout of the Tower better than about anyone during my stay there, and, barring any additions that may have been added, I probably still did. I had spent a long time studying the blueprints Stu and Johnny had acquired for me. I knew most of the maintenance routes, though not as well as I wanted to. I had hoped to have time to physically be in the building before I made my move on Trystix. But I didn’t have that kind of time anymore. This had to be done today. End of story.

The back-up plan is always the X-factor. I’ve never been good at sticking to anything solid for one reason; nothing ever goes the way you plan it. I’m much better at winging it than most people, seeing as I have a lot more experience planning and executing things like this than most. I wasn’t worried; I would be in and out before anyone knew different. The only thing I could rely on was my instincts.

As I sped towards Tryst Tower, I started thinking about Lena. She’d be almost eight years old now…I had missed valuable years with my niece, valuable time feeling human. I would have given anything to have that time back. I wondered if she still had the hazel flecks in her eye. I wonder if she still looked like her mother and I more than Trystix. Though he was her father, I was sure she’d look more like me than him. Aside from that, I planned to remove him from the picture. Lena would be upset, but I’d make it up to her, once I got her and her mother back to Seattle.

The drive wasn’t long from the warehouse; only a few miles. You could see the Tower looming in the distance from the warehouse. I drove steadily towards it, feeling confident. Though I didn’t have a whole lot of time, I felt safe. I felt at peace. Probably the calm before the storm. I’ve never been much of an optimist, but I was ready. I wished that I had my small gun, although I’d never used it. I hadn’t even shot it since I bought it years ago. It probably wouldn’t do me much good anyway. This was about stealth, not force. I needed to get in, find my sister and niece, and hope for an opportunity at Trystix. I couldn’t force the last part. I could only take advantage of it if the opportunity presented itself. I was ready.

I followed the road around the back of the enormous building. There was a small maintenance entrance with a parking lot for employees. To enter, you needed a keycard. Lucky for me, Vic kept his ID in his work uniform. I slid it through the reader, waited for the buzz that signaled acceptance, and slowly rolled into the small parking lot. I wouldn’t need the motorcycle when I was leaving. It’s hard enough riding with one passenger, let alone two. I hoped Liv would have access to a vehicle. If it came to it, I would just boost one from the inner parking structure. No big deal.

The parking lot was empty, save for two vehicles. Probably the night shift security team. If I remembered right, the shift change was around ten o’clock. They’d definitely report a suspicious motorcycle if they saw one, even at the end of their shift. That gave me an hour. That wasn’t even close to what I had planned on. I had been hoping for at least six hours to get the job done. I was going to have to work fast.

Trystix’s office was on the top floor. I couldn’t take the main elevator without greatly risking being seen before I wanted to be. I would have to take the service elevator, known to the security as “the Turtle.” As you can imagine, it was almost twice as slow as the main lift. It would pause at each floor for a count of five; no one really knew why. That meant to get to the top floor, the hundred-fiftieth for the record, would take me almost thirteen minutes. Thirteen up, and thirteen down. Twenty-six minutes wasted on a damn elevator. That gave me little more than a half-hour to get the files from Trystix’s office, find my sister, and escape the tower. I suppose I could add a minute or two to punch out Trystix.

I quietly slid into the building, checking around each corner as I made my way to the Turtle. The corridor was very plain, mostly white and gray. Trystix was to cheap to ever have the place properly lit, so there were a lot of shadows throughout the hallways. It was quite a depressing place.

The Turtle also required keycard, so I kept it in my hand as I moved silently through the dark employee’s entranceway. I knew my way through this area better than most. I had spent a lot of time in these dimly lit halls when I was working for Trystix. I had used this very same route each time I returned from solving Trystix’s problems. I rounded the last corner and swore. I arrived by the lift just in time to see the doors start opening. I dove back around the corner into the shadows as the night shift security team stepped out of the elevator. They must have gotten off early. Damn.

“Trystix is really upset today, man. Did you hear the way he was screaming at his bitch?” one said.

“What’d she do this time? I swear he’s gonna kill her one day.” the other responded.

“No kidding. I think if she kept her yap shut he wouldn’t have to keep knocking her around. If she doesn’t behave she can’t be on TV.”

“I know! You’d think she’d be smarter than that. I bet he only keeps her around for that dynamite body of hers.”

Needless to say, I’d heard enough. I don’t know if I was more upset that Trystix had hit Liv or that these two men thought it was funny. Either way, I was irate. Reason flew out the window, and a cold malice replaced it. I stayed in the shadows, mostly concealed. As the first walked around the corner, the smaller of the two, I stuck my foot out and tripped him. He yelped as he hit the cold tile floor. His partner tried to run to the alarm on the wall back the way he’d come by the Turtle. I whipped around the corner and dove at his legs. He went down. He crashed headlong into the stone wall with a sickening thud. He didn’t move after that.

The first guard, regaining his senses, had started back to his feet. Before he could regain his balance, I was on him. We wrestled for a moment or two. I was lucky; I had a good thirty pounds on him. I eventually took him to the floor and slammed his head to the floor. It knocked him out cold. I took his gun; you never know when you’ll need one during a tense moment. Better yet, it was fully loaded.

I couldn’t have bodies cluttering up the hall, so I dragged the unconscious guard into a janitor’s closet. I tied him up with an extension cord and put tape over his mouth. His buddy wasn’t going to be so easy to hide. He hadn’t moved since he hit the wall. There was blood on the wall and on the floor where he lay. I took off his shirt and tried to mop it up. Contrary to popular belief, shirts are not the most absorbent things in the world. I more or less just spread his blood across the floor. I swore again and dragged his body into the closet with his partner. I’d have to move even faster now.

I walked back to the Turtle and pushed the call button. It didn’t dawn on me until I had been in the elevator and gone up twenty floors that I had just killed another human being. I hadn’t meant to; only to knock him out and keep him from pushing the panic button on the alarm system. Accident or not, I was officially a murderer. Great.

The Turtle kept climbing and climbing. I sat down on the floor in the elevator and waited. Minute by agonizing minute went by. I was losing time and I was losing it fast. I was behind schedule. I had to move faster. I had to speed things up. But the damn elevator stayed the same slow, painful speed. I stood up and started pacing. Then I got an idea; I didn’t need to take it all the way to Trystix’s office. I just needed to get high enough that I wasn’t in view of the main security feeds. I would get off on the one-hundred-twentieth floor and take the emergency stairs the rest of the way. It would be harder, and I’d be winded, but it might save me some time in the end.

Finally, after the longest eleven minutes of my life, the doors opened to a small room. There were no lights on, but a fire burned in a fireplace in the corner of the room. There was a little bundle in front of it. Something small, something not moving, something wrapped up tight. It looked almost like a pile of blankets. Everything in the world stood still as I slowly got off the elevator. The stairs were outside the small apartment, and down the hall past Olivia’s private library. I had no choice but to walk past the light of the fire.

I moved very swiftly yet quietly; I could move like a cool breeze when I needed to. I had found need to during my work with Trystix. People and dogs don’t usually like it when you burn their house to the ground. I kept my eyes on the heap of fabric, though it never moved. I made it around the light of the fireplace when I heard a small sigh. I froze in my tracks, and my eyes leapt to the heap on the floor. It moved. Something was under the blankets. I saw a wisp of dark hair and pale skin. My breath was caught in my throat. Lena. I knew I should move on and get the files first. I should talk to Liv. I should be on my way out in a matter of moments. But this was my niece. My humanity. I had to see her.

I sneaked back over to the pile of blankets. I crouched down next to her, and moved the top cover down just a little. My beautiful niece lay fast asleep not a foot away from me. I couldn’t believe how much she’d grown. She looked just like her mother did at eight years old. I could see a ghost of a smile on her lips, and she sighed again. It was a moment that will always be locked in my mind. I hovered there, frozen in time. I didn’t hear anything but the sound of my precious niece breathing. I didn’t care about anything else. Forget Trystix. Forget Raiden. This was all I needed.

As I sat motionless watching my niece, my guard went down. Every survival instinct faded. I became lost as I watched my sleeping niece. Normally, I would have heard someone approaching me from behind long before they were breathing down my neck, but I was distracted. I heard a small click, then felt the barrel of a gun pressed into the back of my head.

“Stand up. Get away from her. Now.”

Chapter 17

You may have noticed that I have some slight problems controlling my temper. What happened next could only be described as a nuclear conniption fit.

“What? How the hell did that happen?” I screamed at Johnny, not waiting for his response as I pushed past him into the small home. If he answered, I ignored him.

The front room was an absolute mess. Furniture was overturned; shards of glass were strewn on the floor. I picked my way carefully through the chaos, trying to get to the couch where Stu’s body rested. I never should have left. I should have been a big boy and dealt with my nightmares like normal people…however they do it. I screamed in frustration as I saw the ligature marks around Stu’s neck. Vic must have used a cord or rope to kill my friend. This did not bode well for Vic. I would see to it personally that he paid a heavy price for his treachery. Granted, I did abduct him. But I didn’t kill him. Yet.

“I’m sorry, Jared. I know you and Stu had become pretty good friends over the last few weeks.” Johnny looked heartbroken.

“Did you see where he went?” I managed to get out through gritted teeth.

“Pretty sure he went east. My head was spinning from his right hook, but I’m pretty sure…”

“Give me your keys.”


“Don’t screw with me! Give me your damn keys!” I screamed. He sighed and reached into his pocket. He tossed me the keys.

“Get out of town, Johnny. Things are gonna get bad. Really bad. Really, really, soon.” I said as I left.

“Jared, don’t do something you will regret.” He warned. He knew what I was thinking. But there was nothing that could stop me.

I peeled out as I sped down the east road. Johnny had a little red Volkswagen that was probably as old as me, but I didn’t need a brand new car for what I had in mind. All of the logic in the world couldn’t convince me to turn back now and cut my losses. Every primal instinct inside of me had kicked in. I would find Vic. I had to find Vic. Not because it was the smart thing to do so my cover wasn’t blown, but because he had killed someone I had begun to consider family. In the animal kingdom, each protects his own. And at our core, each of us are still one thing; animals. No amount of emotion, money, fancy cars, or number of girlfriends could ever change it. In the end, we’re all just animals. And I was a great white shark who just sensed blood in the water. In the end, I was the predator. And Vic was about to become my prey.

It occurred to me that I didn’t ask Johnny how long it had been since Vic left. To be honest, it didn’t matter much to me. All that mattered was catching him. I knew the general area he lived in, but I didn’t know exactly where. The fastest way on foot would be the road I was currently driving on. I couldn’t imagine Vic being much of a track star, so I knew I had to be gaining on him.

Guilt settled in again as I sped down the rarely busy street. I never should have left. Then again, had I stayed in bed, Vic could have killed me too. But I still felt responsible for Stu’s death. I felt horrible. I felt vulnerable. There had been a breach in the security of all my planning, and the results had already been disastrous. I had to patch the breach. I had to fix this, but I knew that I could never bring Stu back. That brought back the anger. I sped up.

The streets were mostly empty, save a few people walking on the sidewalks. I would definitely be able to see someone running as fast as they could in the opposite direction. I flew down the road like a bat out of hell. I was so lost inside my own head I didn’t notice the police car behind me until he turned on his siren. I knew I was speeding, but I hadn’t realized I was going about forty over the limit. This was about to get complicated. I pulled over slowly. There wasn’t much chance of winning a high-speed chase with a police cruiser in the Volkswagen. But I was sure I was gaining on Vic, and I knew I couldn’t afford the wasted time of getting a ticket. For Hell’s sake I didn’t even have an Illinois license.

It was then that I noticed something odd; the cop had someone riding in the front seat of his car. Someone who looked nervous. Someone who was breathing really hard. Someone who looked very familiar. Vic. Interesting turn of events.

The cop climbed out of the car, walking the way all cops do when they know they get to give a big ticket. I don’t know why, but they really seem to enjoy giving the big ones. I had received my share from practicing my art of arson. I could see the gun at his hip, unbuttoned in its holster. He didn’t seem too concerned with the unassuming VW in front of him. But he didn’t know he had just pulled over a shark. A shark who smelled blood. This was going to be the day that I got a very large bounty put on my head. This was also the day a dear friend of mine died, and his assailant was no more than thirty feet behind me, completely unaware of me. This was definitely going to bite me in the ass, but I could feel Stu’s blood screaming at me from the little house I had left miles behind. Vengeance was coming.

As the officer sauntered over, I counted to ten. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I should forget it, eat the ticket, and follow the cop to wherever Vic wanted to go. Logic and reason pointed that way, but my anger was beyond logic. Self-control had left about an hour ago, and the only thing I could think of was Stu. I should have been there. But I wasn’t. Now he was dead. At the count of three I was ready to drop my anger. By six, I wanted blood again. It didn’t take me much longer to slowly start to open the door, without opening it too far. Just enough so I could kick it into that smug bastard cop’s face when he got close enough.

He seemed to sense something was wrong, as he slowed his gait. I held still, even held my breath, hoping he would just consider it nerves or paranoia. He hesitated, looking back at the squad car. I figured he was probably thinking about calling for backup. I sighed and tipped my head into the hand not holding the door. I tried as hard as I could to feign submission, ready to accept my fine like a man. It worked, to my amazement. I heard his shoes scuff the asphalt as he resumed his walk. I could see the light from his flashlight now. He’d be here in about five more steps. Four, three, two, one…He tapped on the window, shining his light in my face. I slowly started unrolling the window. He started bending down to look into the car. He didn’t get a good look.

As soon as I knew he couldn’t react in time, I opened the door as fast as I could. I threw my shoulder into the door for added impact. The officer went sprawling. I caught him square in the chest, knocking him and his stupid light to the ground. I bounded out of the car and was on top of the officer almost before he hit the ground. I punched him in the jaw twice, slid the gun from the holster, and took off towards his car. I’m guessing here, but I don’t think cops normally leave their cars running. This cop was apparently an idiot. All the better for me. I got to the car in time to see Vic try to dive across the front seat and try to lock the door. He looked petrified. And he should be. I got the door open just in time.

“Well hey there, Vic. Remember me?” I asked. He shriveled back to his seat.

“Please…I don’t know you…I didn‘t do anything to you…Don’t hurt me! What do you want?” He pleaded.

“Keep your mouth shut!” I climbed in the car, pointed the gun in his face, shifted into drive, and peeled out down the road. The cop was still down.

Vic was white as a ghost as I floored it down the empty streets. He didn’t have the guts to try anything at high-speed, so I took the gun out of his face. I whipped around the corner and headed towards the Chicago River. When I lived in Chicago, I used to spend a lot of time looking over the river, which was only a five minute drive from Tryst Tower. That was the other reason I headed towards this particular river. I had some plans that had just jumped up a few days on the calendar. Vic was panicking now. He probably kept begging to be let go, but I couldn’t hear him. I was lost in a blood rage. Vic was mine, and his fate would soon be with the fishes. Trystix would be next. I smiled gravely, and flipped on the siren. Might as well live it up while I had the opportunity.

The river was soon in sight. I found a semi-secluded area and slammed on the breaks. For some reason, traffic was slow in this part of town in the mornings. I never really found out why.
“Get out. I want you to walk to the edge of the river. If you run, I’ll put a bullet in your head so fast you’ll be dead before anyone hears the gun. Move.” I said.

Vic nervously shuffled out of the car, keeping his head down, looking rather pathetic. I could respect that. A man who had now been kidnapped twice by the same man probably knew he was at my mercy. I watched him a moment, then got out of the squad car. The police probably had some form of GPS, so I had to make this quick.

“I need your uniform, Vicky. Take it off.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I said so, and I’m the one with the gun.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“Probably. But for now, I need you to take off your uniform.”

“If you’re going to kill me anyway, why should I?” Ok. He needed some motivation.

“Because I can keep you alive a very, very, long time if you don’t.”

He moved quickly, stripping down to a dirty white tank top and boxers that looked like a shower curtain. He folded his uniform carefully, then placed it on the hood of the car.

“Thank you. Now it’s your turn, Vic. Turn around and walk to the edge of the river.”

“Wha-…Please! Don’t kill me!” He slowly turned and walked to the water.

I’ll be honest. I really, REALLY, wanted to blow his brains out. But for some reason, be it his pathetic countenance or perhaps a small case of humanity in myself, I decided not to. But I couldn’t let him know that. Not yet. I quietly released the magazine into my hand and slipped it into my pocket. I checked the safety, making sure it was on. I had use for the gun, just not the usual one. I took my time getting over to where Vic stood, shaking like a leaf, looking out over the water.

“Vic. You killed one of my friends. You punched out another one. Give me one reason I shouldn’t blow your head off. It better be a damn good one. Consider me your judge, jury, but mostly an executioner.”

“I…I…I have a family.”

“Don’t lie to me! I’ve been following you for a month! DO NOT TEST ME!” I yelled as I kicked the back of his left knee. He buckled and slammed to the ground.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” He was crying now. How pathetic.

“Get up. This is your last chance. Tell me why this world will be better with you in it.”

“I…I don’t know. I’m a security guard. I’m not important. I just keep Mr. Trystix safe. That’s all. He needs protection. I could…c-c-could protect…you?”

I stared at him for what must have been an eternity in his mind. It was a good minute at least. I scoffed in disgust. He unraveled and shrank back to the dirt. I guess he took my small expression as a bad sign. Fool.

“GET UP!” I yelled.

“Just do it! Just shoot me! I can’t take this anymore. Do it!” He stayed down in the fetal position.

“I’m not going to kill you, idiot!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone stop crying so fast. He looked up at me with confusion. Nonetheless, he slowly stood.

“That cop is going to be looking for me. Do you know what that means, Vicky?” He shook his head. “It means all traces of me have to be gone. That means this gun, my clothes, the car, and, most importantly, you…”

“But you said you weren’t going to kill me!” He looked nervous again.

“I’m not going to.” I said, then cracked him in the side of the head with the gun. He was out cold.

I picked up his limp carcass and threw him in the backseat of the squad car. I went to the front of the car and changed into his outfit. A little tight, but it fit all right. My old clothes had to go, so I threw them into the icy depths of the Chicago River. I couldn’t guarantee they would stay there forever; hopefully just long enough for me to take care of Trystix and escape the Windy City. Now I had to take care of the car and my old buddy Vic.

I climbed into the driver seat and started the car. I put it in gear and peeled out of the small enclave. There isn’t a whole lot of places you can ditch a cop car inconspicuously, so I decided I’d have to improvise. I had to get out of view of the public eye, but I still needed to be close enough to the city so as to be able to get to Tryst Tower quickly. I stuck mainly to the side streets that are rarely used before the workday begins, thinking quickly and driving faster. Soon, I was driving through the old industrial district that I had scared people in to selling to Trystix a few years prior. I found the building I was looking for; an old warehouse Trystix used for his personal collection of classic cars. It was extremely large, yet kind of withdrawn from the rest of the buildings. It fit his arrogance and selfishness perfectly. Arrogance and pride would contribute to his downfall.

There was no gate, but the security system to get inside the warehouse was top of the line. I know; I picked it out. I got out of the car and walked to the door. It wasn’t locked with a key; the only way in was to know the right combination of six numbers. He couldn’t think of a good one, so I suggested his daughter’s birthday. Bingo. I slid open the big door and quickly opened up the big gate. I jumped back in the car, and drove inside.

The warehouse was gigantic. Corvettes, GTOs, Mustangs, BMWs, Lamborghinis, and motorcycles of all makes and models were parked in staggered lines along the inner floor. The upper portion of the building was filled to the brim with bookshelves. Honestly, it looked like Trystix had a library up there. I’d never spent much time up there. I was a little more concerned with the cars and motorcycles. You’d think with a collection of books that big or all those gorgeous cars Trystix might spend a lot of time here. Truthfully, I doubt he’d been here in years. Dust covered everything. This was the perfect place to abandon the squad car. The best part was you needed the code to get in and out. Vic wouldn’t have that. He’d be here a while after I’m gone. I felt fine with that; he could eat rats if he had to.

I climbed out of the car and moved to the back seat. Vic was still out cold. Might as well let him sleep. He could figure out the rest. I shut the door and had a good laugh at the thought of Vic trying to get out of the cop car. The beauty of those cars is they are locked from outside of the car. He’d have to kick out a window or break through the cage separating the front from the back. Good luck, Vic.

I said my goodbyes, shut the door, and made my way towards the entrance. I wasn’t leaving yet; that’s where the motorcycles were. I picked out a bright red Harley and opened the saddlebag. Trystix always kept the keys there. I started it up, revved the engine a few times, and slowly wheeled out into the small lot in the front of the building. I stopped and took one last look at the massive collection of classics, blemished only by an older police car. I half-smiled, disgusted by the blatant arrogance of one man. I slammed the door shut. Soon I’d shove his arrogance down his throat.

Chapter 16

Stu was furious. After mumbling something about a “security breach,” he turned a shade of purple and couldn’t get out a single intelligible objection. He was incensed even further when I made a smart comment about his looking like a grape. I figured he’d be mad, but there really wasn’t any other option. Vic had to be contained; he was a loose cannon. I had nowhere else I could take him, and Stu knew that. I told him we’d move up the plan to the end of that week, hoping that four days would be enough time to get ready. I didn’t want it that way, but like I said, we had no other option.

Stu and I put Vic in a chair and tied him up. Vic didn’t even make a peep. Somehow, he went from unconscious to asleep on the drive over. We found a fifth of vodka in one of his pockets, so we figured he probably would sneak a drink from time to time while he was working. That didn’t surprise me much, and Stu looked like he needed a drink anyway. I tossed him the little bottle and he smiled. Drinking was something Stu was good at. We left Vic in the bedroom I was sleeping in and went to the living room to finish our plans.

I called Johnny over to hammer out some details. The big problem in front of us was the weekly press conference on Saturday night. I’d have to be in the building before the camera crews, and find a place to hide until late into the night. Then, I needed a solid escape route after I did what I came to do. Lastly, I would need some way to convince my sister to leave Chicago. That was definitely the trickiest piece of the puzzle. Johnny thought I should drug her somehow. I was convinced that I could persuade her to leave. Stu agreed and disagreed with both of us. That makes no sense, but you have to know Stu. He had a way of putting things that felt supportive and destructive at the same time. We adjourned and called it a night.

Sleep is a funny thing. Sometimes it feels like you could sleep until the end of time. Sometimes you wake up even more tired than when you went to bed. This night was one of the latter. My dreams are often shadowy and dark; this one was full of panic and flames. I couldn’t tell you what I was dreaming about, but it must have been terrifying. I woke with a gasp, sweating and panting. It felt like my blood was gasoline, and my dreams were the match. My whole body felt consumed in a violent and pervasive heat. I was shaking; trembling from some unknown force. I couldn’t shake off the dream, even though I couldn’t remember it. I needed some air. I got up, put on my shoes, and left out the front door.

I walked for what felt like miles. I kept going, despite the fact the sun would be up in an hour or two. I didn’t think much of it. I spent my time inside my head, trying to figure out what my dream was about. It had occurred to me that I don’t dream often, but they are usually pretty vivid when I do. I talked to therapists growing up about them, but they just wanted to put me on pills. My mother insisted I take them, for her. I pretended to, for her sake, but spit them out when she wasn’t looking. I started ignoring my dreams, started pretending I didn’t have them. Eventually, I forgot about them. Stopped having them even. At least to the point that I didn’t remember enough of them. But this dream, on this night, was different. It felt different. It made me sick to think about, and sicker to ignore.

Then it hit me; I’m an addict. I have a sickness. A devil on my shoulder. And it had been a long, long time since I had paid it any mind. I smiled to myself when I realized how simple the problem was. I was going through withdrawals. I was no better than the junkies on the corner, dying for a fix of some pill or drug. The only difference between them and myself was the drug of choice. They need their cocaine or alcohol fix; I needed a small inferno.

I didn’t have any of my gear with me; just the desire. I looked around for an easy target. This would be as good a chance as any to scratch the itch. I found a quiet alley, with a garbage can fireplace still burning. I looked around for anyone who might be in the wrong place at the right time. I don’t care for accidental deaths. I don’t need another on my conscience. I saw a dumpster, just a few feet from the small fire. Perfect. The metal dumpsters are prime for small blazes. They contain the spread of fire well, and often contain very flammable materials inside. You wouldn’t believe how many times a dumpster in my old neighborhood would house my small masterpieces. My record for one dumpster was thirteen. I smiled at the memory.

I walked towards the garbage can, slowly at first. My need began to burn even hotter. I could barely think. I was aching for it. The gasoline in my blood began to burn again; hotter and faster than before. I almost started running. I got to the makeshift fireplace, lifted it, and dumped the fiery contents into the dumpster. Anticipation ripped through my body. I was dying for it to ignite. Nothing happened. Imagine lighting the biggest firework on the Fourth of July, only to have it fizzle and burn out before any of the colors shoot into the air.

My glee disappeared. My anger ignited. I began breathing heavily. I started shaking. My blood was at fever pitch at this point. My inner demon was furious. I looked in the dumpster, which was smoking and smoldering, but not burning. I wanted flames and I got smoke. And a putrid dumpster smell. I guess I forgot about the smell of rotten food. I began pacing, looking for something to stoke the fire. I couldn’t handle failure at this point, not after I had already started. The need burned through me like a hot knife through butter. My mind was screaming. I started getting dizzy. My equilibrium shifted, and I lost my balance. I fell face first on the asphalt.

One could argue I had an epiphany at this point; I was a slave to arson. What a shocker. Addiction was rampant in my family, and it dawned on me how ironic my life was at this point. Here I was, free of alcohol and or foreign substances, realizing I was addicted something even worse. I smiled bitterly as I rose from the asphalt. As I shook my head, trying to regain control of my senses, another smell hit me. A familiar, intoxicating scent. Lighter fluid.

During my plunge to the ground, I had knocked over a brown paper bag. In that bag was a small bottle of instant ecstasy. Alcohol. Not the drinking kind. The extra-flammable kind. I had knocked it over just enough to crack the lid, thereby leaking a bit out of the bottle. Talk about irony. My demon retook control of me, and threw the bag into the dumpster. The rush of flame was instantaneous. Satisfaction. I smiled as I left the alley to watch from a safe distance. I didn’t need to suffocate in smoke to appreciate my work. I took a sharp left out of the alley, looping around a cross-street and coming back almost a block away. The smoke streamed into the sky. People had started noticing the fire, but no one dared get too close. The fire trucks got there fairly fast, but I knew they wouldn’t bother saving the dumpster unless the fire threatened to spread to the buildings surrounding it. Even still, they put it out far too soon for me.

I walked home as the sun began to rise, feeling guilty. Not guilty. Ashamed. I had completely lost control of myself. I had given up my freedom to my addiction. And right when I had the opportunity to get up and walk away, I found the lighter fluid and lost myself again. Some epiphany. Feeling ashamed, I walked back to Stu’s filled with self-loathing. I was so lost in myself, I didn’t see Johnny until I was almost to the doorstep.

“We have a problem, Jared.” Johnny said. Not only did he scare me half to death, but he said it in such a way that I felt a chill go up my spine. Then I noticed the black eye he was sporting.

“Where’s Stu?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

“Vic’s gone. He somehow got out of the ropes. I came over to check on Stu; relieve him of his watch on Vic. I found Vic strangling him. I pulled him off and he clocked me. He was way too fast. When I came to I checked on Stu…He’s dead, Jared.”