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.”