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.”