Accurate strikes drove the nail deep into its target. Years of skilled labor made the movement almost instinct. Mindless muscle memory allowed Harold time to think about his next move. He had made one minor sabotage strike that had gone mostly unnoticed. Yes, he had cost his former employer money, however he had not attracted the negative media attention he craved. The minor repair of some furniture was not a major issue. It gave him time to go over his thoughts.
Sienna and their budding relationship were going to be keys to the next step. The morals Harold possessed made it hard to use someone. Misleading the woman was a necessary evil. Jess left him when he lost his job. The other reasons she left were inconsequential to the loss of his job in Harold’s mind. Romancing Sienna may lead him to some moments of fun. Long terms plans were not in their future. If the suitor had his say, she did not have to know that fact.
He had already planned on a victimless crime. His schemes were not ready to be discovered by a police force. The police were biased for the rich when he thought of them. Violence and injury would have to wait. Funds would have to be raised before they went violent. Lawyers and soldiers would have to be hired. Those affected by the economy were good followers. Out-of-work minions had no problem with the bloodless tasks. The hard work would have to be done by those who did not have the same ethical obligations. Family men, who were just trying to change their part of the world, had ethics. Ethics might have been real or imagined by Harold. They were still an obstacle to the need for bloodshed. No true revolution had been without violence and sacrifice. Harold wanted the sacrifice to be with the executives of this world. They were same executives that sacrificed family welfare and income for bottom lines and profit margins. For once, they needed to be the ones who made the sacrifice.
Lawyers would provide him a route through legal forests. They were the pathfinders who could find loopholes to allow crimes to pass without punishment. They were essential to keeping the movement from serving major time in detention. The attraction of client confidentiality meant he would not have to hide his intentions, save for the vilest of plans. The mastermind felt he would be protected.
Professional soldiers meant former military and police. Former armed professionals who discovered the profit they could make using their unique skills. Those who could pull the trigger or detonate an explosive without second thought cost more than lawyers. They were essential; they were the knights and rooks of his game. Harold would utilize them when the time came. Soldiers would bring terror to his enemies. Terror and fear would bring others into the fold to pressure the real targets. This was not time for that, yet.
There were steps that had to be taken, steps where he slowly moved into his true intentions. Patience was not his virtue but it was a needed commodity. He would have to let things develop. Impatience would alert those who would bring him down.
The text message caught him off guard as he was unaccustomed to receiving anything over the phone. No one really had a need for him in their life. He was too embarrassed to show his face around his kids. His ex wife was always complaining about the lack of support checks. Harold held no job, thus no real income. There was a strong sense of shame, soon all that would be gone. He was doing something to change his means.
Sienna’s message gave his plan more of a chance. When they talked earlier Harold found out she was working a double shift. Double shifts lead to tired eyes. Harold wanted to appear to be her shining knight. Even the innocent inquiry about how his day was going, was a door opening. Communication meant he was gaining her trust. Trust could be used to progress his own agenda. The greater goal meant he did not have to have sympathy for Sienna if things went wrong. There had to be acceptable sacrifice. A family to feed and her own bills to pay was not the mastermind’s concern. She chooses to keep working for that company even with the public layoffs and moving of jobs overseas. She seemed innocent and some would even say sweet, unfortunately she made poor choices. Choices have consequences.
Several texts were exchanged between the two of them as he worked his way into her trust. A mention of how coffee was horrible there and how good some coffee from a local coffee shop would be. The hope was that he would pick up on the hint. Fulfilling his earlier promise would make Harold standout. Truth was she did not mind the coffee, mostly because she made it, but she wanted quality company. The chance to lure over a potential suitor would test his commitment to a developing relationship.
This was the opening he had hoped to achieve. A chance to gain access to the camera layout seemed to be worth the trip. Today might be about building trust. It was all part of a grander plan. His plan was coming together.
Bars were a perfect place for Antonio to fulfill his role. The place was a lot higher quality than he usually quenched his thirst. Tall plants kept the corners company. Lights were kept at a brighter setting than his usual bar. Perhaps, they were kept bright because the patrons did not have a desire to hide from themselves and their demons. Happiness was not something Antonio was used to in a bar.
The clientele was much different than his normal drinking companions. Being part of an upscale hotel meant very few patrons were locals. Drowning out the cloud that covered much of Northeast Ohio was not part of their needs. Not all of the area had a cloud just men like Antonio and Harold, semi-skilled workers who waved goodbye to their lifestyles. Antonio needed a drink to see past his cloud. Avoiding some like the killer of Glen, meant a different local. Bringing the cloud to downtown was the one way he could hide. He could see why the establishment had higher class drinkers. The leather on the bar stools was new. Mirrors behind the bar sparkled clean. Antonio looked around the bar hoping to bring some familiarity.
Striking up a conversation was a way to scout the possible targets. A way to gage the sobriety of his potential partners was in their words. Mischief pushed up against the calm in the bar. Antonio had no problem being the channeling force for it. Chaos that ensued from the channeled force provided hours of entertainment. After Glen’s death he could use some fun. Sometimes his bored schemes paid off, other times, they went bad. In a world of free will, the end could not be determined when he started his game.
It did not take long for Vincent to start bragging about his career. As a consultant, he made a decent amount giving advice on how companies could get more efficiency out of their employees. Bringing in the modern age of computers he made a case in their short conversation how soon everything would be automated. Automated workers never needed breaks, they could be programmed to do what the company needed, and they did not require much pay. Consulting would also have to change. The more he drank the more Vincent told Antonio how bright the future of his field would become. Vincent was never a production guy, he was always in sales. The point was driven home time and time again as he pointed out why he continued his bragging. If Harold was around, Antonio was convinced he would start beating the man senseless.
Whispered comments get louder when the sender is disturbed. To Antonio’s left, the man on the brown leather stool had enough of Vincent. It was apparent the two had not crossed paths before or Vincent’s arrogance would not have festered in the man. Vodka raised the man’s volume as he loosened his solid colored tie. Grey suit and the blue tie broadcasted to the world that Kurt was content without flash. Kurt had recently changed his employment due to his old job becoming automated, thanks to a consultant’s advice. The words Vincent spoke were adding fuel to Kurt’s fire.
Talking to Antonio brought out all the suppressed bravado Vincent held. It was not in his nature to strike up this type of conversation. He was on a business trip, humility with strangers was not necessary. The man in the bright colored collared shirt seemed to be enthralled. He kept feeding Antonio his story. In turn, Antonio’s attention was feeding his ego. Vincent could tell by the look on his face that his drinking companion was entranced by his life. “What it boils down to is we have to sell these corporate big wigs a product. It just so happens that I am an excellent salesman.”
“You mean con man.” Kurt had heard enough. As a rule of his life he should have left three empty glasses ago.
“Excuse me,” Vincent could not believe someone would compare his career to a crime. “I think, either you misheard me or have no idea the value we bring to a company. Either way I think you need to keep your nose out of my business. You aren’t even part of this conversation.” The more he spoke the more the words were slurred. Tempers started to rise.
“Why should I?” Spinning away from his glass, Kurt stumbled to his feet. The approach was slow but each step brought more anger and confidence. “You should really do your homework on where you drink. Do you know why people like you are hated in a town like this?”
Dark thick frame of his newly angered drinking companion, made Vincent shrink back. Being more a talker than a fighter meant he had to use his wits. In a case like this where he had already crossed a line with a man who was past clear thought it was best to avoid confrontation. “Look can’t we just enjoy our drinks? Tell you what, I will even cover yours.”
“You did not answer his question.” Antonio was changing sides. Easing out of his own barstool, he slipped behind Kurt. The large frame made the diminutive Antonio disappear from view. Kurt was going to get his answer. Shoving the Barstool out of the way he headed straight to Vincent. Antonio was making his way to the other customers. Drawing attention to the altercation, he polarized the other customers toward one of the two sides.
Knuckles stretched the skin at the point of their impact. At the moment, Vincent had represented every smug person who made Kurt’s life hard. The punishment was not going to be a simple tongue lashing. Screaming obscenities, the attacker was delivering a therapeutic beating of the more extravagant target. The red spots on Vincent’s tie soon had competing red blood spots. A busted lip meant the meeting in the morning would have a few awkward questions.
Two skinny arms of an onlooker wrapped around Kurt. In a sudden jerking motion, they removed him from bloodying Vincent further. With his arms restrained all Kurt could do was to deliver a few more strikes with his legs. His shin made contact on the thigh of the loud mouth. Kurt was too drunk, and the man pulling him back prevented a serious kick to be sent. A few others joined to help the pair of skinny arms as they dragged Kurt to the ground.
That moment of bravery would have ended the fight if the bar was only on one side of the fight. The man separating the two was blindsided by a chair from the seating area near the bar. That assault with the chair was met with a spray of self defense spray from a frightened woman. Rubbing his eyes, the pale skinned lawyer here on business would have a new lawsuit when this was over. Sight was taken from him at the moment as the chemical dug deeper into his eyes. Stepping back away from the fight, he tripped over the body of the man who caught his chair. A loud thud announced that his back had hit the floor. Sharp pain originating from the middle of his back was the reward for trying to help.
Vincent took a breather from the pounding to regain his feet. Madness was the only word he could think of to describe his surroundings. In the few minutes of the fight, his lip was bloody, his silk tie was ruined, and the bruises on his face would ruin his meeting in the morning. Part of Vincent knew his arrogance stirred the pot, the other half of him felt those who threw the punches were jealous. It was not the best moment to have an internal philosophical debate as he dodged a thrown beer mug. Regaining his senses just long enough he took another strike as he spun into Kurt’s recovered fight. The initial spark of the maelstrom had been knocked out possibly for the entirety of the fight, but that did not halt the escalation.
Kurt was the next one to fall as the bartender took a club and struck him across the head. In twelve years there the small version of a bat had rested under the counter. Today, it made its public debut. Kurt probably wished it stayed hidden. A small trail of blood trickled from the point of impact. He would be the first casualty of the riot as it was developing.
Watching the man die turned a few spectators’ stomachs. A feeling of desperation and panic ran over the half dozen patrons who had backed away. News media made them very aware things like this become uncontrollable. Danger gave them a sense to get away as soon as possible. Exit doors were blocked by the melee but the group had to get out. Fear held them back. They were facing the dilemma of only two choices available to them: run or hide. They could fight. Other than survival, there was no cause stirring their loyalty. Kurt’s trail of blood started to pool at their feet as a warning of what was at stake if they joined the fight. Traveling business people did not ever expect to be in a bar fight in a hotel like this.
Antonio was amazed how quickly the fight escalated. He slipped in with the spectators when the chaos camouflaged his movement. Violence was not his strong suit. Antonio was also wearing his one good shirt, why risk getting blood on it. Life was meant to be lived he always told Harold when his friend seemed down. Why would he risk that by choosing a fight he had no loyalty to either cause? “We need to get out of here!” Excited words did not calm the woman next to him. She was only here to teach first aid to a local corporate branch. Tears streamed down her face as she screamed, adding to the tension.
Words and sounds rattled against another woman’s ear drums, causing her to fall on the ground. The danger hit home as one of the assailants fell on top of her. Being a victim of a wild haymaker from a fist that was twice the size of his did not give him a fighting chance. A tooth flew out of his twisting mouth as he fell back hard. The body of the cowering woman caught the brunt of the impact. With a snapping noise announcing the impact was absorbed in her neck. A limp body was now another obstacle as the once plentiful room was shrinking in the size of the conflict. When the fight was over the woman’s neck would get the proper attention. Right now however, she would have to wait. The terror unfolding around all of them, meant everyone not throwing or catching strikes would have to wait. Even the participants of the fight had forgotten how it started or what side they pledged allegiance. Two sets of empty staring eyes let the on lookers see their own futures if they could not escape.
Antonio’s group had lost another spectator. “We need to get out of here, now!” Nodding in fear, the group agreed. It would not be long before one of them joined the broken neck victim. A clear path to the door was not making the egress easier.
Screaming, the corporate trainer had been through enough. Dainty arms curled up over her head as she rushed out the door. A hurdle over one of the bodies was difficult in her skirt. Adrenaline made the task possible. Unknowingly trailblazing a path for the rest of them she made her way to the door. The night cold air never felt so much like freedom as it did at the moment. It only took a few more seconds for the others to start making their way out.
Most awaited the police arrivals, but not Antonio. He and Harold had too much time invested. Delaying for a police inquiry, did not seem to offer Antonio anything. A crash of breaking glass, offered the distraction he would need to get away. No one noticed him escape into the darkness. Once again, Antonio disappeared into the shadows in the city nightline.
Clemmons would have never imagined a riot starting here. The silver lining was it was the beginning of his shift. There were two shifts worth of officers to respond, the shift change over was happening when the call went out. With issued riot gear, they all headed straight to the center of downtown. A rush of fear met his experience as it had been a long time since Clemmons even set eyes on his riot gear. Other than cleaning and maintenance, the gear had been in its storage locker for a few years. Day to day crime did not require the face shield and hand carried shield. Strapping on the extra padding, reminded Clemmons, he had packed on a few pounds since he last wore it.
It was going to be impossible for the responding police officers to arrest everyone. They formed their line facing the commotion. A few of the rioters peeled off from fighting each other. Police officers in the heat of the moment seemed like the perfect target. They were there expecting a riot. Drunken troublemakers had waited for this moment for a long time. Bravery mixed with the rush of violence as a group of three locals threw beer bottles against the shields of the police line. Small groups would be dealt with but the priority was arresting the leaders.
Cutting the head off would end the riot. Standing officers in the front line allowed the shift leaders to figure out who were instigating the crowd. Getting to those instigators was the first step in handling the situation, at least in theory. The practice had never been used by any current city police officer.
Times were tough, prior to today, things never escalated to this point. The kindling of tensions only needed a spark. Clemmons had watched the warning signs for months. Nothing ever developed from his suspicions or warnings to his bosses. Without substantial evidence, the only thing that could come from reports on the mood of the city was a heightened sense of awareness.
Advancing in step, the line moved toward the crowd. The sight alone sent many running. Tonight was meant to be a night to get a drink; they had no intention ending it in jail. The line moved forward getting close to the instigators. A trio of larger officers moved in and cuffed those identified. Pinning the instigator to the ground created the News some footage it would use later. Not helping the situation, were officers who enjoyed getting physical. Hiding a smile from the camera during detaining of victims would have helped the department. Public relations with the police never were reconciled with the public. The officers did their job and still looked like the villains. Clemmons hated that.
The majority of the crowd had been either arrested or ran home. Their fire was lit but the fight was not there. People wanted to burn off tension. That was the assumption when the crowd quickly dispersed. Plenty of injured people were left on the scene. Many were seriously injured leaving plenty of work for the paramedics.
Somehow, the veteran officer was in the bar with the two bodies where the activity all started. The sheet draped over both the dead kept them from the public eye. Their deaths were already burnt into the memories of the witnesses. Clemmons was applying a bandage over the head of a blood splattered covered man. It was obvious that his patient had seen too much already. Eyes of the fancy dressed man could not even focus on Clemmons as they were lost on one of the sheet covered bodies. “Did you know him?”
Vincent was still lost in the moment that Kurt was struck dead. All he wanted to do was to impress a few strangers and feed his ego. It had all gone wrong. All he had to do was answer the question with a bit of humility. Tempers would not have flared and spiraled out of control.
“Are you okay?” Clemmons took out a penlight. A head wound might be a sign of something not easily detected. Shining the light into each of Vincent’s pupils to verify the paramedic’s initial assessment Clemmons tried to keep him focused. “Can you answer me? Did you know him?”
Blinking as the light hit his pupil, Vincent was drawn from his better timed introspects. “Sorry,” shaking off the vague feeling of the calming of the situation. It was only yesterday that a rental car was waiting for him and he would drive for what he thought was a normal work day. “No, I did not know him. He is the one that made my face look like this but he did not deserve that.”
Clemmons heard a key phrase which might piece the whole night together. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“I was sitting there,” one hand held the bandage to his face as his left hand pointed to his bar stool. “I did not catch his name. Well, I was telling him what I did to earn my pay, when that guy,” the hand repositioned to point to Kurt’s body. “That guy came up and asked me a question. I did not answer him. I can smell a set up. Part of being good at my job is smelling a set up.” The humility of the self reflection was lost. “And I am good at my job. Anyway, I did not answer then this guy.” He pointed at the stool next to his. “He riles everything up. And now we are here.”
“Can you tell me what he looks like?” Clemmons was signaling for a detective with one hand and clarifying the bar stool with another.
Vincent was a bit drunk but he was still able to provide some clues. The clothing and grooming were different but Clemmons had heard the same physical description before. The veteran officer was painting a picture in his mind as Vincent described the man. A feeling he was forging an original work ran through his mind. He painted the same portrait of the man who was reported at the homeless shelter. It was a portrait of a man Clemmons felt he had to meet.