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.”