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.