Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 34

“It’s on, Jared. Come on in, pull up a chair.” Johnny called to me.

“Coming…You got anymore Cokes back here?” I answered. My only response was a quiet chuckle from the other room.

Johnny and I had just finished up at the diner an hour earlier. It had gone smoothly; no interruptions or distractions. We broke in through a back window, but didn’t stay long enough for anyone to notice. I slid inside and poured some gasoline on box after box of legal files and manila envelopes. I still have no idea why Trystix would keep these case files from decades past, especially when he didn’t do any of the work himself. Nostalgia, I guess. I was in and out in a matter of minutes, taking only enough time to breathe in the fumes of my revenge. Again, I signed my masterpiece in the parking lot. All of Chicago would be saying my name by the end of the night.

The night before with Johnny had been a long one. He was convinced that since he was dying he had no right to sentence anyone else to death, even if it was indirectly. He said he was already dying and that I would just be expediting the process, especially after what we were about to do. He was truly heartbroken, crestfallen, and unbelievably stubborn. I begged him to reconsider what he called a sympathetic ending to a horrifying deed. We argued back and forth about it, but I knew he wouldn’t change his mind. Eventually, I sighed resignation. I promised him I would send him on his final journey after we hit Veritas Chicago.

Johnny had more than lived up to his word, willing or not. He drove us to the diner in his own car, kept a sharp lookout; he even paid for the gasoline we used to roast the place. He was pale and shaking when I got back in the car, but he wasn’t soft. He was resolved to this course of action, knowing the end was in sight. I looked at him as we drove back to his home, thinking how much I regretted involving him in this…He was my friend, but he was also my conscience since Olivia and Lena had died. Sad, sad days we were living in.

He had lived a relatively long life, but it had been a lonely one. He had been married for a time, but his work and need to succeed had robbed him of even the blue-collar lifestyle. I knew he felt horrible with his sickness, but he didn’t utter a single complaint. Not one. I could tell he was tired; so very tired. But as tired as he was, he had a little bounce in his step when we got back to his little home. I wasn’t the only one who loved sticking it to Trystix. He plugged his old TV in, dusted it off, and waited patiently for the news to come on. I walked back into the room, seeing him smiling on the couch.

“Another arson attack on a Trysticorp building, this time a mile west of Tryst Tower. There is no word on Mr. Trystix nor any of his employees as of yet. It seems the arsonist has a pattern that police are zeroing in on, but they are still asking for anyone who might have information on this Nemesis…” The reporter was saying.

“They already have you figured, Jared. At least, they think they do.” Johnny muttered, half to himself.

“Nah. They know what we want them to know.” I replied.

“Any chance you’ve changed your mind about Veritas?” He asked.

“Sorry, Johnny. I know you really don’t want to do this.”

“Are you sure there isn’t another way? One that doesn’t put the nail in a thousand coffins?”

“Not this time, old friend. Not that I can think of. I’m open to suggestions.”

“Leave town. Try Florida. Find a girl. Have kids. Live the life I never did.” He said. I started laughing. Johnny gave me a confused look.

“Can you imagine how screwed up my kid would be? Not to mention the lunatic who would fall in love with me…” I said between laughs. Johnny started laughing in spite of himself, shaking his head.

“You have two very valid points there…But at least he’d come by the crazy honestly.” His smile faded. “When‘s the final act?”

“Tomorrow night, if you’re ready.” I said, suddenly very serious.

“Good. I’m so tired, Jared. I don’t think I’ve got much more than that left in the old tank anyway.”

“You could still retire, Johnny. We don’t have to do it your way.”

“Yeah, I think we do. I couldn’t live with myself; I can’t live with myself. I won’t live with myself. All of those innocent people…”

“I’m sure we’ll find a cure for the fever soon; with or without Trystix. They might even have one now.”

“Jared, please. If either one of us believed a grain of that bullshit you just told me, neither one of us would be about to do what we are about to do. You’re forcing his hand; I get that. He has too strong of an appearance with the public; you’re going to taint it. You’re going to destroy him and make the rest of the world see him for the piece of garbage he is. That I agree with. But we are about destroy thousands of dollars worth of drugs that could help treat the people who get the fever, overpriced or not. It won’t cure them, sure…but it makes them feel like they are doing something to treat it. We are destroying peace of mind, Jared. You are forcing either Trystix or Raiden or maybe both to make a move. You are also signing off on the deaths of everyone who gets the fever during the time of hesitation that either or both will take to make that move. You can call evil good and good evil, but it’s still good and evil. It doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong thing for the right reason; it’s still wrong.”

He was really torn up; I should have been. I hesitated.

“It’s necessary. I’m not saying it’s good; I’m not saying it’s right. I can’t even tell you that I want to do it. But this is war, John. I can’t let what I have to do change because some people will get hurt. I intend to hurt a lot more people before I’m done. This is about bringing Trystix to his knees so I can take his head off. The world will see that Nemesis can strike anywhere at anytime without mercy. When they see that Trystix can’t stop me in the heart of his own city, no one will want him to be in power. Then, and only then, he will not be a martyr. I can’t let him become a hero, Johnny! Even if I have to be the villain in this story! He will fall, then he will die! It’s not right, I know. Let’s just say it’s the right kind of wrong.” I said.

I looked up into Johnny’s eyes. Tears were flowing down his cheeks. He looked old, older than I’d ever seen him.

“I love you, Jared. I know you think you are doing what you have to do. And I agree with ninety percent of it. But all those people…children…” His voice failed him.

“I know, old friend. I know. I think the Devil himself is shaking at what we’re about to do. I know I have a special place in Hell reserved for me and me alone. Know this; I intend to earn that spot, so I can have a good seat to see what he does to Trystix. I’ll suffer endlessly, as long as I know he suffers that much more. Think of all the people he could have saved had he given us the research I know he’s done on the Fever. Think of all the children he has put to death, including his own daughter! What we do is just a drop of water in the ocean of what he has done. He has to pay for his sins! I’m his executioner, Johnny!”

“May God have mercy for your good intentions…or at least not smite me for them.” Johnny said quietly, still choking with tears.

“I don’t think God wants anything to do with this.” I said.

With that, I left Johnny to his thoughts. I went to the back bedroom and laid down on the small bed. I lay there staring for hours. Was Johnny right? Was this worth what I was about to do? Was this the only course of action I could take? Was there some unexplored route to the same end? Was destroying Chicago’s supply of Fever drugs the only move I had left to put the Black King in checkmate?

Yes. My endgame was near. And Trystix, with any luck, wouldn’t live long enough to finish the summer. Then the real chess match would begin.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Another Apology

Hey guys,

Just thought I'd take a moment to thank you for your patience. I haven't posted in forever, but I've still been writing. I'll try and do better. I am grateful that you still have interest in my work, and know that there is plenty more coming. Buckle up! I hope to finish Jared's story in the next month or two, and the fireworks are just getting started!


Chapter 33

“Oh shit. What’d you do now?” Johnny said as he opened the door.

I smiled grimly and shook my head. Johnny moved aside and I stepped into his home. I walked to a couch and slumped down in it, staring at the old TV across from me. I was surprised to see it covered in dust. Apparently, Johnny’s plan to watch it til he died hadn’t come to fruition.

“Well, you might as well spill. I thought I’d seen the last of you back at the hotel.”

“I would have loved to leave it there, Johnny. I really would have, except something’s come up.”

“With you, something always does. It’s good to see you, Jared. What’s going on?”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the flyer, handing it to Johnny. Johnny looked at it a moment, then started laughing.

“That’s a terrible picture of you!”

“Tell me about it.” I smiled in spite of myself.

“I wondered how long it would take him to admit you weren’t dead. What’s wrong? You’re careful. I doubt anyone will find you.” Johnny said.

“True, except I added three people to my plan. Two are dead; the other is MIA. I think he might sell me out. He could use the money.”

“Any chance he won’t?”

“Yeah. He’s been fighting against Trystix’s high prices on the fever drugs. I guess I found the honorable kind of criminals.”

“Sounds like it’s a pretty good chance he won’t sell you out. If he knows what you’re up to, then he’d be better served to help you out.” Leave it to Johnny to give a killer the benefit of the doubt.

“True, but I have doubts. He’s not the most courageous man I’ve ever met.”

“So you came here to hide, then?”

“I came because if he sells me out, the hotel is the first place they’d look. He knows when I’m hitting the old diner, and he knows the other target as well. I’m unsure if I should change my plans or go through with them as planned. He might not do any damage, but he could definitely get me killed if he wanted to. You’re the last person I know in Chicago that I don’t want to put a bullet in.”

“Sounds like I’ve got one last rodeo before I retire, after all.” Johnny said grimly.

“I can’t ask that of you. I just need to think.”

“You are great at what you do, Jared. But changing your plans at the drop of a hat is a big flaw in your design. You have to think this through. You’re going to need a lookout. You’re going to need a wheelman. You’ve got to get the job done smoothly this time. I know how you work; I know how you think. Admit it; you need me.”

I looked in his eyes and saw his determination. Not only was he right, but he was willing to risk everything to see this through. He was a good friend. Probably the last one I’ve ever had. I mulled it over for another moment, then nodded. Again, Johnny wore his sad smile.
“I could use the help.”

“All right then. I know about the diner…what’s your other target?” He asked.

“You’re not gonna like it. But I don’t think there is a better way to stick it to Trystix before I take him myself.”

“Oh no. This is gonna get ugly, then?” Johnny asked, looking concerned.

“Bowling shoe ugly…I’m going after his Veritas facility.” I watched as the blood drained from his face.

“Holy shit! Are you insane?” Johnny screamed.

“I’ve been called that. Trystix has risen his prices sky-high for the fever drugs, making money off of people dying. Raiden’s busting his ass trying to find a cure, but I don’t think he has all the pieces yet. Beyond that, I think Trystix already has the cure. I think he’s sitting on it! He’s had the fever for ages and is somehow still alive! He could save everyone, and yet he hesitates because he is making money off the damn disease. You know I don’t like killing, Johnny. Even accidentally. But I figure that if his product is gone, he’ll be forced to find a new golden goose. I’d bet my life Trystix will try and minimize the damage that we cause, blame his problems on someone else until he can swoop in and save the day. The damage will already be done."
"No one will trust him to handle the cure after what we do. Raiden will find a way to get a hold of it, and I guarantee he’ll distribute it without trying to make a buck on it. Raiden will know Trystix can’t protect the stock and do everything and anything he has to do to get his hands on the cure. When he sees Trystix can’t protect the product, he can’t protect his people. That forces Raiden to pull out of Chicago and eventually out of his business deal with Trystix. If he does, the people will turn on Trystix for not being able to keep the drugs safe or provide a cure. They’ll want to go to the West to get the cure cheaper. Even if Trystix provides a cure, he will fall out of power. Then, when I’ve taken everything else from him, I take his life.” I'd practiced this part of the speech on the way over.

“Jared, I don’t know…How can you do this to the people of Chicago? You’re signing a death sentence for them!”

“No, Trystix did. He signed it the second he decided making money was more important than saving lives. He has a cure. I know he does; he’s had the fever for a while and he’s still kicking. He isn’t taking the drugs; he knows they only slow the fever. Everyone who gets the Red Rose Fever dies. Except him. How else could that happen?”

“Jared, you can’t do this. You can’t leave things to chance like this. You know destroying his stock will make the price even higher! Supply and demand, Jared. If the supply is gone, demand goes up. Chicago will suffer! When demand goes up, prices soar. You know that!” Johnny looked hysterical.

“I told you that you weren’t going to like it. But it has to happen, Johnny. Nothing else will hurt him this bad. Trysticorp will be alone, no Veritas involved. Trysticorp has to fall, not just Trystix. I have to break his back, Johnny. As long as people adore Trystix, he will be a martyr. I have to make him an enemy.”

“How do you know it will work? What if it makes him stronger in their eyes?”

“I don’t know that it will work. I can’t guarantee that. But this is the only way people can see what he truly is. It’s the only thing that would hurt him bad enough. Everyone who crosses him ends up dead or dying, fever or not. We aren’t the only ones who see that! We need all of Chicago and the East to see what a selfish bastard he is! I have to cripple him! If Trystix falls, Raiden’s stock goes up. He’ll have a shot at becoming the hero. I don’t know what will happen first, but Trystix is going down, one way or another.”

“This is madness, Jared. This isn’t right…It’s just…It’s insane. It’s inhuman. It’s not ok. It’s not right. All those people…”

“I know, old friend. I know. I understand if you don’t want to be a part of it. Think it over. Give it some thought. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow. But remember, I can’t be ruled by emotion. You and Raiden taught me that. This is war. There are no other options. There is no other way. Not without making Trystix a martyr.”

We sat in silence for a while, staring at the dusty old TV. Neither of us looked at each other; neither of us did anything. Finally, Johnny sighed and stood up. He went into his kitchen, returning with a bottle of tequila and a bottle of Coke. He said nothing as he handed me the Coke and poured himself some tequila. He took three shots before he said a word.
“All right. I’m in. On one condition…” He said.

“Name it.”

“After we do this…” He took another shot of tequila. “…I want you to put a bullet in my head.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chapter 32

I flew down the streets like a bat out of Hell. I couldn’t shake the smile from my face, and the smoke rising in the rearview mirror made me start laughing again. It wouldn’t be long before I heard a chorus of sirens, but there was no chance of saving Trystix’s precious treasure chest of cars. It wouldn’t make a difference to me if they could save the building; the smoke damage alone would ruin it for Trystix. I found it ironic that I had falsely sold insurance for Trystix, and now he needed it in the worst way. I started laughing all over again.

It didn’t take long to get to Stu’s abandoned home. It was boarded up and locked down tight. There was a small real estate sign out front, but no one would be buying it. KJ and Lance were sitting on the roof of the truck they had borrowed from Trystix, looking at the pillar of smoke rising in the south of the city. They looked extremely serious, extremely tense. They both looked at me like I was a maniac. Too true, I suppose, but they hadn’t lived my life. They’d never understand the joy I got out of sticking it to Trystix. I climbed out of the Jeep and nodded towards Stu’s former residence.

“I want to go in for a bit; make sure I didn’t leave anything here that could be useful. You’ve both done well. KJ, stay and keep watch, will you?” I said, making my way towards the familiar door. Lance fell into step with me when KJ nodded.

I grabbed hold of the uppermost board and yanked. It creaked, but it had been nailed in tight. I moved to the side and looked at Lance. He had already reached up to the opposite side. On the count of three we pulled. The board gave way, and we used the same method for each of the next few planks blocking our path. I tried the door handle; naturally it was locked. I reared back and kicked right next to the lock. The door didn’t even put up a fight, giving way on the first kick. I stepped through the open door.

Dust had settled over everything like a gossamer blanket. There were still old pizza boxes on the floor, and the chair we had tied Vic to stood undisturbed. I didn’t even pause to look around much, heading to the small bedroom I had spent my time in. This room had changed a bit. There was a small cardboard box on the desk with an assortment of notebooks, headphones, blueprints, cash, and a small revolver. There was a note written on the box from Johnny.


Thought you might need these. I’m sure you can figure out what to do with them. I don’t need protection anymore. Stay human, old friend.

“What does all that mean? Who’s Jared? Who’s JM?” Lance looked really confused.

“Neither one matters. Not anymore…The supplies do, though. Put them in my Jeep, would you?” I answered.

Lance moved quickly and took the box outside. I shuffled through the desk, looking for anything else that might be useful. Johnny had been thorough; he had organized everything I needed into the box. I smiled at how well he knew my thought process and shook my head. I left the bedroom for the kitchen. I walked to the sink, opening the small cupboard beneath it. There was a bottle of industrial cleaner and paint thinner…neither quantity enough for a decent fire. I was going to have to get creative. I scolded myself for not bringing some extra gasoline from the warehouse with me. I emptied the bottles around the room, careful not to mix them. If you didn’t know, mixing volatile chemicals can produce fumes that are toxic. The only thing I wanted to be toxic at this point was the fear inside of Trystix when he realized what was coming.

I left the kitchen and walked back outside. Lance was talking with KJ, who was listening intently. I didn’t say a word to either of them. I opened the door to their small pickup and looked inside. I swore silently again at myself for lack of forethought.

“What you need, Devil?” KJ asked.

“An accelerant. Got anything handy?” I asked.

“Nah, not really. You want me to go find something?” He asked.

“No. Why don’t you two just sit on your asses and talk about my real name some more?” I said, raising an eyebrow.

The color drained from Lance’s face as he shifted uncomfortably. KJ looked at the ground. I shook my head and pushed past them and went back in the house. I started looking for something to break down the wood boards around the building. It wouldn’t be quick, but the wood was as good a fuel as I would need. I found a sledgehammer in a closet and started swinging. I broke through a few tables and chairs, arranging each of the fragments into an optimal position for a fire. I was going to have to start a bunch of little fires and hope it spread fast enough to consume the building. I heard a chopping noise behind me. I turned to look, and saw Lance hacking at some furniture with a crowbar. KJ was making his way into the house with a hatchet.

“We’re trying, Jared. Just point us in the right direction.” Lance said between swings. I couldn’t help but cringe at all the noise he was making, but nodded my approval.

“Instead of hacking with the crowbar, you might try using the hook-end to pull the boards off the walls. Then have KJ cut them. You’ll save time. And for the record, you should probably forget that name.” I said. Again, Lance blushed, but this time he smiled stupidly.

We worked for about half an hour, breaking and rearranging furniture. Lance had stumbled across a bottle of vodka somewhere, and had poured a little here and there between sneaking drinks. He wasn’t smart, but he worked hard at it. He finished off the bottle and through it into the kitchen. I looked at both he and KJ, and KJ understood what came next. He clapped Lance on the back and helped him back out to the truck. Lance was a little bit tipsy; apparently, he didn’t handle alcohol well. Ask me if I was surprised.

I crumpled up some news paper and pulled out my lighter for the second time. I took a breath and said a final goodbye to my old friend Stu. I lit the paper and tossed it into the kitchen onto a pile of vodka-soaked boards. It smoldered a bit, starting to smoke. I moved quickly throughout the house, igniting pile after pile. I only had a moment to get to each one, but this wasn’t my first rodeo.

It took only a few minutes for the smoke to begin to thicken so much I had to leave. The house would go up in seconds. I stumbled through the front door, smiling as I did. I slammed it shut, hoping to hide the blaze from view until it was too late. I was still grinning as I regained my bearings. I looked up, my eyes still burning from the smoke, trying to find KJ and Lance.

The pickup was gone, but I wasn’t completely abandoned. Lance was laying in the gravel driveway, probably unconscious from his ‘sneaking’ of the vodka. I walked over to him and kicked him lightly. He didn’t move. I leaned down, shaking him. Where had KJ gone? Why did he leave Lance? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t have time to worry now.

“Come on, man. Wake up. We gotta go. Get up!” I said, shaking him harder. He didn’t move. I sighed submissively, shaking my head again. I rolled him onto his back, intending to pull him up. Let’s just say he wasn’t going anywhere. His eyes were wide open in surprise, and he had a bullet hole in his forehead. A small pool of blood had formed in the gravel where he lay. There was a paper tucked in his shirt; a small flyer that had the word “Wanted” printed boldly across the top.

I opened the flyer and was greeted by a look into my own eyes. The flyer was a sketch of me, and it had my name printed across the bottom. I picked it up, leaving my dead companion on his back. It was creased with age, so this wasn’t a new development. To be honest, I thought these things only existed in old cowboy movies. I guess I was wrong.

Then it hit me; this wasn’t a new development. Damn. Somehow I’d become Chicago’s most wanted, even before I had taken out the warehouse. Well, I guess I’d always been an outlaw. Now, it was official. But the least they could have done was get a decent picture of me…

I swore again as I dragged Lance’s lifeless body towards the burning building. He was a lot heavier than he looked. I was beginning to get sick of getting rid of dead bodies. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why KJ would turn on Lance like this. They seemed to be such good friends…Oh well. I kicked open the door to Stu’s house and ducked inside, dragging Lance into the living room. It was a cold and callous thing to do, but I couldn’t leave a body in the driveway. Lance wouldn’t mind.

The smoke was thick and suffocating. You’d think I’d be in a hurry to get out of the smoke; my eyes burned from the dark, greasy ghost of smoke in the air. My lungs were beginning to ache from breathing it in, but still I was in no hurry to leave. I walked slowly, making sure my work had been flawless. I felt satisfied, and finally stepped through the front door again. I left Lance to his own devices. Something told me he wasn’t in any hurry to leave either; not with a bullet in his head.

As I walked to the Jeep, my thoughts again wandered to KJ and his motivation to kill his friend. More importantly, why would he help me halfway and then bail? And why would he kill Lance? Why not take him along? Then it hit me; the flyer. They had seemed like they arguing when I had interrupted them earlier. Maybe KJ didn’t want to associate with a fugitive. He may have been freaked out by the fact that every cop in the Windy City wanted my head. Can’t say I blamed him there. But why shoot Lance? Maybe Lance wanted to stay and help and KJ wanted to leave. Maybe KJ was colder than I suspected…

Damn it. KJ knew where I was headed and when I was planning on heading there. If he had motivation to cash in on the reward on my head, he would have the knowledge of where I would be and when I would be there. Not good. Not only that, but I couldn’t really go back to the hotel. All I had was the Jeep now…I would have to improvise a little. The box Johnny had left for me was in the small pickup that KJ left in, so I was out on some supplies that could have helped my plans for the next two targets. KJ had thrown a monkey wrench into my schedule. I needed to go somewhere to sort it out and revamp my timing. And there was only one place I could go.