I walked downstairs, contemplating what had just transpired. Raiden knew it was coming; he had probably had that speech ready for a week. I was a little confused by it, but I was also impressed that he knew me well enough to know I would demand my freedom. Raiden was exceptionally intelligent; I’ll give him that. That also made him a very dangerous and capable enemy. I was interested to see what he had prepared for me. I was also ready to have a word with my old buddy Johnny.
I exited the building without even realizing it. A bright red car with an anxious looking Johnny was parked just outside the gate. Johnny was pacing like a caged lion. He was looking at the ground in front of him as he walked, talking to himself. He was wearing a leather jacket and jeans, and he looked like he’d aged ten years since I’d last seen him. His eyes were heavy from lack of sleep, and his face was racked with new wrinkles. He looked up when he heard me coming, the color draining from his haggard face. He feigned a smile and raised his hands.
“I promise; no needles this time.” He joked. I scowled at him, never slowing my pace.
“Jared, come on man. I had to do it! I had to! Forgive and forget, right?”
“Right. No harm done, Johnny. Not yet, anyway.” And then I punched him right in the nose. His head whipped back, and blood streamed down from his nostrils.
“Damn it, Jared!” Johnny held his hands to his now-broken nose.
“I’ll tell you this, old friend. I might understand why you did what you did, but I will not forgive you for it. Never, ever, EVER, do anything like that again. Next time, I’ll do more than break your nose.”
“Understood. Man, you been boxing or something? Damn! That’s one hell of a jab you’ve got.”
I walked past him and got into the passenger seat. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a handkerchief before getting in the driver’s seat. He started the car and we were off. If you don’t know, the trip from Seattle to Chicago is about two-thousand miles, give or take. Johnny liked to drive fast, but it was still going to take us a few days to get there. I decided to try and be civil. Maybe I could find out what my two kings had been up to.
“So how long have you been working with Raiden?” I asked.
“A couple years now. He contacted me when I was still working with Trystix. He offered me a job; he just wanted me to watch over the Windy City and tell him if anything interesting happened. Initially, I told him thanks but no thanks. He said he understood, but he promised me Trystix would screw me one day. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s pretty good at predicting how people will react to things. It wasn’t even a week before I got fired from Trysticorp. I called Raiden, and the rest is history.”
“He’s really annoying when he does that.” I said. Johnny laughed.
“Tell me about it! The man just gets how people think. He has a good feel for the pulse of human emotion, I guess.”
“So what has been going on in Chicago? I know you’ve been out there for the last while.”
“Pretty interesting actually. Trystix has the entire East rallied up behind him now. Everyone feels sorry for him. The people are all throwing money at him now, trying to help fund the search for the cure. I hear he has the fever himself. I just don’t understand why he isn’t sick…probably something genetic…Anyway, people have stopped picketing outside Tryst Tower. Now they picket outside hospitals, demanding results. It’s like someone flipped a switch! They love Trystix, now. I’ve spent some time trying to find out if he’s made any progress, but I can’t get a straight answer. Apparently, he’s dumped a ton of money into the research. The only thing to come from it so far is a higher demand for a cure. More and more people in the East are dying everyday. The cities have started cremating the bodies out of fear that they still carry the sickness.”
“And what of Raiden’s work? Has he had any more success?” I asked.
“Not really. The public unrest seems to be shifting towards him. I’ve warned him as such. He is convinced that those blood packets you found were the key to it. He hasn’t been spending as much time among the people either. I think the public sees it as him giving up.”
“I doubt he’s giving up. He’s too damn stubborn.”
“I know! But I don’t think they see it that way…What exactly are you planning to do in Chicago anyway, Jared?”
“Tie up some loose ends. Cause some civil unrest. Let Trystix know I’m not finished with him yet. And then, I will finish him.”
Johnny gave me a sad look.
“I’m sorry about your sister and your niece, man.”
“Save it. They’re gone.”
“You should grieve a little. Don’t let the wounds go untended, you know?”
“Let it go, Johnny. They’re gone.”
“I said LET IT GO!” I shouted. Johnny shook his head and kept driving.
We drove in silence for what was probably hours. The road stretched on for an eternity, and the hum of the engine lulled me to sleep at some point. I leaned against the window and slept restlessly. After the sun went down, I awoke sharply. Johnny was still staring at the road. He looked over briefly and gave me a sad smile. His nose was swollen and he had a black eye, but I could still tell life had aged him a bit since I last saw him.
“What’s wrong with you, Johnny?”
“What do you mean?”
“You look like you got hit by a truck. And I’m not talking about the nose…” I said. He smiled grimly.
“I’m all right. I’m good.”
“Johnny, it’s a long drive to Chicago. Don’t play games with me.”
Johnny kept staring at the road ahead of him as he pondered how to respond. He thought for a long moment before responding.
“Cancer. The bad kind. I don’t have too long, Jared. This is my last job for Raiden. My last job, period. I’m driving you to Chicago, and then I’m done. Raiden bought me a big TV, so I don‘t think I‘ll be too bored. I can live the rest of my life in peace, watching bad soap operas and complaining about the weather.”
“Wow. Suddenly, I feel really bad for clocking you.” I said. Johnny just laughed, interrupted momentarily by a coughing fit.
“Did you see the bag of toys he sent with you?” Johnny gestured towards the backseat.
I looked back behind my seat and saw what he meant. There was a black backpack sitting on the seat. I reached back and brought it up front. I unzipped it and smiled. The first thing I saw was a small handgun. I pulled it out and set it on my lap. Beneath that was a box of bullets, a hunting knife, lighter fluid, a pack of lighters, a box of matches, flashlights, and about a thousand dollars in small bills. There was also a lock pick, wire cutters, and some gloves. Best of all, there was a bottle of Mountain Dew. I smiled to myself; Raiden knew me well. I put the items back in the bag. I zipped it shut and put it in the backseat again.
“Well?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t see any snow.” I said.
“What? What do you mean?”
“It’s like Christmas, but I don’t see any snow.”
Johnny and I both laughed, continuing on our long trek to the Windy City.