“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.