I spent the next week locked in my room, waiting patiently for Raiden to return. For some reason, he spent most of that week in Chicago, staying inside of Tryst Tower of all places. Apparently, Raiden and Trystix were negotiating. For what? I don’t really know. They had no love lost between them, and yet they appeared as friends. But I could see through their façade. I saw the cracks in the porcelain. They despised each other. Almost as much as Trystix and I did. But my time would come. In the meantime I had to stay in control.
I paced around my room like a caged lion. I was lost in thoughts for hours, maybe even days at a time. My first problem was being locked in this room. My second was convincing Raiden that I was in control of my passions. Third would be escaping his watchful eye. Then would be returning to Chicago. And lastly, how could I get to Trystix? And then escape? Every fiber of my being ached for redemption; for my sister, for my niece, and for my self. He should have died that day on the roof, and yet he managed to hang on. This time I’d cut his fingers off one by one if I had to. He was finished. He would not be surviving round two.
Twice a day, one of Raiden’s butlers would bring me food. They brought me meals fit for a king, several courses deep. I enjoyed the smell and it sated my hunger, but little else. I’m sure it was good, but I was so lost inside of myself that I don’t recall ever tasting it. To be honest, I would have killed for a Mountain Dew and a candy bar. I didn’t need steak or chicken for every meal. That wasn‘t my style. I would take pizza or a burger over it any day. Raiden’s butler seemed particularly anxious every time he entered my room. He would linger by the door until I finished, and then bolt out of the room as quick as he could. He had a guard just outside the door, just in case. I thought it was kind of funny, honestly. They didn’t need to take such precautions. I wasn’t ready. Yet.
The butler would try his luck at small talk periodically, but I ignored him. I didn’t say a word to him for days. I continued pacing and pondering, trying to formulate a plan. Preferably one without too many casualties. I’d killed three men, two of which would have killed me without a second thought. The other was an accident, all those years ago. Despite the one blemish, I still had blood on my hands. I didn’t enjoy taking the lives of Trystix‘s guard or BlackJack, but they were necessary at the time. I hoped to slip away from Seattle without notice when the time was right. I didn’t want to stain my hands with any of Raiden’s blood or any of his men’s. Or Johnny’s if he was still in town. When I left Seattle, there was only one man whose blood I wanted on my hands.
One day, about a week into my imprisonment, there was a knock at my door. I found this amusing considering I couldn’t open the door. It was meant out of respect. Raiden. I rolled my eyes and told him to enter. The giant of a man opened the door and stepped in. He was wearing a sky-blue suit and a long red tie over a ruffled white shirt. He looked at me, a concerned look on his face. I stared at him a moment, then started laughing. He furrowed his brow and tipped his head to the side.
“What’s so funny?” He asked.
“You look ridiculous.” I managed between laughing fits.
“What do you mean?”
“You look like a seven-foot Uncle Sam.” I was almost hysterical at this point. Raiden blushed and smiled in spite of himself.
“Nice to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Jared. Are you well?”
“About as well as you’d think. I’ve been locked up in here with little to do but count the ceiling tiles. One-thousand-fifty if you were wondering.”
“Why didn’t you just turn on the TV? I’m sure something was on that you’d like…maybe boxing?” Raiden grinned at me.
I will be completely honest; I had forgotten the TV was even in the room. The thought to turn it on had never even crossed my mind.
“Nah. I’d have to look at your ugly face too often.” I said. Raiden laughed.
“I hope you don’t harbor ill will towards me for this, Jared. You put me in a bad position, and I couldn’t let you return to Chicago before the dust cleared a bit. Trystix is convinced that I’m hiding you, which I am, but he has no proof to the point. He has offered me a lot of money for your head.”
“Well, I am rather pretty. And you say I’m the one who struggles being human. What did you say?”
“I told him I had no idea where you were.”
“Interesting. His money could finance your research into the virus, and you still turned it down.”
“That’s what friends do. I hope you can forgive me for all of this. I was just trying to protect you. From yourself. Did you have any side effects from the drug?”
“One hell of a headache. And I was dizzy. Really dizzy. Nightmares too.”
“Really? Interesting…Anything else?”
“Anger. Lots of it.” I’m relatively sure that my eyes were burning a hole through his skull at this point.
“Jared, I…I truly apologize. Johnny followed my instruction. I knew you’d want to return to Chicago. I couldn’t let you.”
“Yeah, I remember your note.”
“I am sorry, my friend.”
“Friends don’t drug each other, Raiden.”
“How would you have dealt with it then?” He snapped.
I thought about his question a moment, gazing into his eyes. The intensity in them was impressive. Looks like I’m not the only at the mercy of my emotions.
“How were your negotiations with my sister’s killer?”
“Ah.” He nodded his head at my deflection. “Now we spar then? Fine. Trystix has been holed up in his tower ever since the funeral. I understand he has snipers watching all points of access to the building around the clock. Johnny thinks he has undercover security walking around the interior structure as well. There is absolutely no way of getting inside that building now. Therefore, it is not prudent to allow you to return to Chicago. Not now, at least.”
“No shit. I wasn’t supposed to have reason to return after the first time. The plan was to fade away.”
“Yes, I’m aware. But you didn’t stick to the plan. You made up your own and pursued it without backup. You are lucky I kept in contact with Johnny. By all rights you should have been killed.”
“Where is Johnny now? I need to have a little chat with him about sticking needles in my neck.”
“Chicago. Keeping watch. Your chat will have to wait.”
“Fantastic. That way I can let the wound fester and hit him even harder than I had planned.”
Raiden shook his head and reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a large set of keys. He tossed them onto my bed and turned towards the door. I looked at them, then back at Raiden.
“Which key is it?”
“You are a smart man, Jared. Smart enough to single-handedly make an enemy of the entire Eastern States without any help from me. Smart enough to make me commit treason against my own country by protecting you. Your picture is already circulating through every police office in the nation. My guess would be that Trystix put a hit out on you, too. I’m sure an exercise in patience wouldn’t hurt you. It might even help you control your emotions a bit better. Know this; one of those keys frees you, but another injects the R5. Use reason and logic to find the correct key. Choose carefully. Good luck, my friend.”
I picked up the keys and examined them. There were about ten keys, each with a different color on the top.
“You know, Raiden, I really hate you right now.” I said without looking up.
“I know. But you’ll thank me one day.” He smiled and left the room, locking it behind him.
I sat down and pulled my ankle up to examine the mechanism. The key hole was small; almost comically small. I looked again at the keys in my hand, then back to the locked ankle bracelet. I tried the first key, a red one, with no success. I then tried the yellow and the blue keys. No dice. My temper started to flare. As I put a solid gold key into the lock, I started thinking. Why was he testing me? What purpose could this childish game serve? Raiden always had a motive. Was I really supposed to learn something here? All of these keys were too big! I was getting frustrated.
I tried each key until I was down to three; a bronze key, a black key, and a worn silver one. I looked at each of them carefully, trying to find a difference from the others. Maybe a magnetic trigger or a knock in the teeth of one of the keys could give it away. I wasn’t really in the mood for another nightmare-plagued nap, so I had to be sure before I tried another key. I spent about fifteen minutes looking for something to give away the right one. I had just about given up when a bell went off in my head. One of these keys was very familiar…The silver key was the one that I’d taken from Lena! The one that opened Trystix’s safe! That had to be it! I flipped back to the worn silver key and stared at it. There was a red spot on the side…blood. Probably my blood. I had it! This was the one! I brought the key to the lock and swore. Still too big! I screamed in frustration and threw the keys at the locked door across the room.
Needless to say, I was seriously angry at this point. I began pacing around the room, talking to myself. I cursed Raiden and his games, Trystix and his treachery, and myself for not finding the right key. I knew I had two left, but one of them would activate Raiden’s drug. I would rather be angry than unconscious at this point. I was shaking, and my self-control was slipping. I would have killed for something to burn! I eventually turned towards the door started pounding on it.
“Is this what you wanted? Is this the point? That I have no hope! That I have nothing? That I have no life beyond these walls!?! Did I figure out your game, yet?” I screamed and kept punching the oak doors.
My hands ached and started to bleed. I was at my breaking point, but the solid doors stood tall. Eventually I gave up, turning and sitting against the doors to my prison. These oak monsters were more menacing to me than the iron bars I had gotten used to in the past. I sat down right next to the keys. I picked them up, hoping I would find the one to activate the R5. My hands stopped searching when I found Lena’s key again. I looked at it closely, wishing I had my little niece in my arms. I stared at the red dot, not knowing why. I scratched at it with my thumb, only to find it wasn’t blood at all. It was just paint. Red paint. Why would Raiden mark a key this way? I hit my head against the door again, only to hit the edge of one of the locks. I swore and looked at the lock. It had a red dot on it, just like Lena’s key. The pieces were starting to fit together.
Then it hit me; the key wasn’t for my ankle bracelet at all. It was for the door. I jumped to my feet and slammed the key into the lock. It opened! I put the key into the other locks and each opened easier than the last. I smiled and threw the doors open. Raiden was sitting in a chair just outside. He looked at me like he could see my soul itself, then smiled and started clapping.
“Very good, Jared. You’ve earned your freedom.” I gave him a look that could have turned a normal man to stone.
“Freedom? Bull shit! This isn’t freedom! All you did was let me out of my room! If you want me to thank you then take this damn tracker with the R5 off of me!”
“Not so fast, my friend. You earned your way out of the cage, but that doesn’t mean you get off of the leash. You are still an animal. You are a wolf, Jared. And wolves, by nature, will do anything to survive. Anything. You passed your first test, but that doesn’t mean you are home free. Look at your hands; look how your own blood stains them. This is your curse; when ruled only by emotion, your hands are stained by your own blood. Prove to me you are in control. Prove to me that the blood on your hands is there from calculated risk, not reckless abandon. I can only show you the door; you alone have the key.”
“So I’m your pet now?”
“No. Trystix made you his pet. His animal. I’m going to make you into a weapon.”