Fatal Introductions Chapter 25 ( The end)

There had to be a way out of this life.  Yancey had worn a trail in the hallway in front of his young son’s room.  He had prayed for guidance, that path just lead to more bodies.  The darkness hid the paint on the walls except around his son’s room.  A nightlight cast a bit of illumination.

Yancey would stop here before departing every time.  Hearing the soft breath of his greatest legacy put the violence in perspective.  Maybe the guidance was meant to make the world a better place for the next generation.  A chill ran through him, or even worse maybe the family curse.

“He will pay the price for your deeds.”  The wife’s soft whisper reminded him of the true cost.  “When word gets out of your deeds he will wear the mark of your sins in his signature.”

“If there was a choice, do you think this is the path I would have chosen?”

“It does not matter if you decided to walk this path, it is done.  There is no way to avoid the repercussions.  Your damnation will be carried forward by your flesh and blood, and your wife.  Do you not care for us?”

“Every prayer uttered is for my forgiveness, and for your happiness and absolution.”  The retort was quick with hints of displeasure.

“What about your victims?  Does their blood not deserve your prayers?

“No innocent blood has touched my hand.”

“You do not get to judge that.”

“What if I am the instrument used to deliver that judgment?”  Yancey grabbed his blade and headed out.  The urges can only be held at bay for so long before they take control.

***

“The sheriff’s department handles prisoner transfers.  You have other duties sergeant.”

Clemmons was not going to be dismissed.  This prisoner had been linked to too much of the paperwork on Clemmons desk.  “There is no way I am not going to be the one that closes the door on his cell.  He has poisoned my home.”

“I understand but it is not your role.”

“Look, there are enough deaths from this guy.  He found a way to avoid punishment for this long.  I owe an old friend the assurance he will not find another escape.”

“You take things too personal.”

“This is my home.  You are not from here you wouldn’t understand.”

“That is a common theme from cities like this.  If you aren’t from there you won’t understand.”  The Lieutenant hated being told this.  Yes, he was there because it was an opportunity, but he still felt he did all he could to protect the city.  “This is my home now too, I took the pledge to defend this city just like you did.”

Clemmons could only look down on the speckled floor.  His eyes looking along the gold separation of tiles for answers.  There were none.  The veteran sergeant needed to find a way to convey his concerns.  “Antonio struck close to home.  He took advantage of those who were down on their luck.”

“They still broke the law.  They will all have to come to terms with their punishment.”

“I feel his punishment should be more severe.  Too much suffering had opened the door for men like him.  Promising a fast buck, fishing with a bait that seemed too hard to pass up. You have never lived in a place where poverty is an upgrade in your finances, have you?”

“No matter how bad it gets I still obeyed the law.” The officer tried to hide the smugness in his response.

“You never ran into a man like our prisoner.  Perhaps you were never desperate enough or angry enough but I grew up with people who came around looking for those exact things.”

“Are you justifying it?”  The lieutenant held back a chuckle.

“Not at all.  Everyone knows the risk.  We enforce the laws, and I will do so without internal quarrel.”  Clemmons was adamant in his dedication.  “Those laws were designed to protect our community.  Maybe some of those laws need to be rewritten or more added to protect people from getting that desperate.”

“You sound like you should be a politician.”

“Nope, I do my part to take care of people by removing threats like our prisoner.  I would like for once to know the right one is paying the price for his deeds.  I was just thinking out loud.  We all need to look at our actions from time to time to figure out what some solutions would be.”

“Fine, this is your show, I will cover your shifts.  Just don’t give the deputy too much gruff.”

***

boxcar

The whole city was littered with train tracks.  The skeletal reminders of the once thriving industrial base.  Slowly the manufacturing body decayed leaving these iron bones.  Trains still passed through, but no longer had a need to stop.  The factories left empty no longer had goods to load.

Yancey waited at a road crossing.  He had to get the car to stop.  One threat was too great.  Opening the demon to corrupt more spirits and opening bodies for more demons was not a welcome proposition.  He had a purpose to stop the dark spirit before it reached the grounds to feed.  Everything seemed so clear this time.  He knew it would be his last kill.

Hiding behind an empty boxcar, Yancey would trigger the crossing gates.  When the car stopped it would give him time to move quickly and eliminate the victim.  He took out his last Bible.  Flipping through the pages, it became obvious what should be marked.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

After the lake and the creature Yancey could only discern as a demon, he no longer questioned the urges.  He just held faith he would be judged favorably.  Prayers were uttered that his son would not suffer for his deeds.

Whispering as traffic passed through the crossing.  “This must be done no sin goes unpunished.”  When the car passed and it was not the target he let out a sigh of relief.

The task would have to be done.  A problem would be doing it in front of two law enforcement officers.  It would take a quick strike.  But could he get away?

A thought struck the assassin for the first time.  How did he know there would be two innocents with the target?

How did he always know?

Who was pulling his path toward the victims?

Before getting lost in thought, the Sheriff’s car came down the road toward the crossing.  Flashing red lights meant the car would stop and Yancey would begin.  Tracks did not delay his movement.  For the cross bar had finished dropping and the car stopped, Yancy was there.

On clean thrust the metal of his blade pierce the rear passenger side door.  The blade parted Antonio’s skin releasing the blood within.

***

Clemmons felt the car shake upon impact.  He turned to catch the two burning eyes of their prisoner.  The blood was secondary.  Clemmons coiled back out of instinct.  He was facing pure evil.

Antonio lunged forward to the police, breaking down the barrier easily.  Dark augmentations made it little effort for the body.  The sheriff’s deputy paid the price for the demon’s pain.

The sergeant could not get to his gun fast enough.  Muscle memory met fear as Clemmons struggled to free it from the holster.  The weapon was free of the restraint.  Clemmons raised it high ready to put to several rounds into the abomination in front of him.

He was too late.  The creature tore through the neck of the deputy.

Antonio thrashed as the smell of gun powder filled the car.  Clemmons had lost count how many times he pulled the trigger.  He kept depressing the trigger well after the pistol had run out of ammunition.  Blood flew the creature writhed but did not stop.  It tried to climb out of the car away from its assailants.  The new wounds did not deter from it.

Antonio was free.

***

Yancey could not get in the vehicle fast enough to save the deputy.  The door ripped off the car with ease.  It was too slow.  The target was out of reach.  The policeman was still pulling the trigger when a last-ditch lunge was made.  It wasn’t fast enough.

Antonio swung hard knocking Clemmons against the car door.  The force rendered him unconscious.  And smashed the door open.  Protecting the two innocents was no longer possible.  Eternal battle had claimed more.

Yancey paused.  A complete understanding of his purpose was revealed.  The torment of not knowing why the urges called for blood ended.  With the past revealed, there could be only one future.  All of it ended here tonight.

“I am here to banish you back from the pits that spawned you.”

Voices came from everywhere except the flicking forked tongue.  “This isn’t your victory.  The mortals choose us, time and time again. You can slay me but it will not change what goes on here.  I will find a new shell, or they will replace me.  Even if we are not here they will choose the easy route for their actions.  Hatred is too strong, greed is too strong, lust is too powerful.  In the end, you kill me so they can choose and they still choose what I wanted.”

“In the end.”  He mocked the voices.  “In the end, it is still their choice. The test is still in place. They decided how they will respond.  They decide which path to follow. Which is what it has always been about their choice on how they deal with adversity.”

“And by not forcing them down a path, we win.”

“You cannot force morality, when you do it is no longer morals.  It is subjugation.”  The conversation allowed Yancey to get closer.  The metal blade pulled from the car was lowered out of sight.

“I am sorry but I do not have time for this debate.”  Antonio started to turn. “You will never see what I am saying.  I am thankful for that, but it is a waste of my time.”

The flashing red lights reflected of the metal blade.  It sung through the air its hymn of death.  Removing Antonio’s head from his body.  The head rolled to the ground, the body collapsed to its knees after.

Shadowy tendrils reached out from the severed neck.  Encircling the removed head, they drug it across the ground toward the kneeling body.  When it was within reach hands were clamped around its ears and it was positioned back to its neck.

“I told you I would send you back to the pits.”

“And we told you, that you would fail.”

The blade swung again answering the taunt.  Slicing the body.  Blood coated everywhere.  It glistened in the night sky.  The body tried to stammer to its feet.  It was a losing endeavor.  One more strike and the leg was severed.

Yancey leaned down to the body opening the Bible to his marked passage.  Something else caught his attention, perhaps words to help those struggling.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  Setting the Passage open at the head of the fallen demon.  The final strike was made.

The faith placed in the book pinned the dark spirt and would not allow it to heal the body it inhabited.  It was the first time Yancey understood why he always placed them on his victims.  He felt less like a psychopath and more like a guardian.

Worry followed quickly.  Were there really that many of these dark creatures about?  What if he were not successful and the demon made it the prison, how many souls on the verge of salvation would be lost?

One step away from the body, Yancey watched the burning in the eyes fade.  The shadows receded.  The threat was over.  With his new understanding, it would be possible to continue.  That was when he heard Clemmons pistol click to lock the hammer.

“Freeze you are under arrest.”

Yancey had been caught, placing the Bible linked him to the other deaths.  He could tell the officer was still trying to figure out what was going on.  There were questions, so many questions.  He was visibly shaking as he placed the cuffs on Yancey.  Even the Miranda rights were full of broken sentences.

“What happened here?”

“Your prisoner was killing the deputy and trying to escape when I arrived.  Not sure how he got free.  You shot him before you were knocked out.  I made it here and dispatched him.”  Each word was shrouded in his soothing tone.  He could see the officer believe everything.  The nervous movements stopped and Clemmons uttered a silent prayer of thanks.

“Well I guess it takes a crook to stop a crook.”

“Something like that.”  Yancey could not tell the truth.  No one would believe him.  “Don’t you want to let me go officer, I did save your life.”

“You killed a man, right there.”  Pointing with a nod of his head, Clemmons presented the evidence.

“He was an evil man.”

“Every man good or bad deserves equal rights within the law.  My job is not to decide, I will make note of how you helped me.  But there is a body and we have been looking for you for a long time.”

A nod replaced any further words.  It was his last murder.  Thoughts rested on his son and wife.  They would pay the price for his deeds.  He wondered if his purpose would be passed on.  When he was locked away who would carry on.  If he was sentenced to death, what would happen to his family.

His free will had been taken away to protect that of others.  As he was taken to the jail, the city was awaking to another day.  More choices awaited the citizens.  Yancey wondered how many would use their opportunities to do right and how many would go to waste?

***

 

 Thank You Rick Rupert for the amazing photographs ( RupertRick@gmail.com)

Fatal Introductions Chapter 24

crossroad (2)

The distinction of being the best hospital in the area was lost in the fact; they were the only hospital in the area.  The city had no competition for its sick or dying. Sterile smelling cleaner permeated the halls and the clothes of anyone who spent a long time there.  It was a place of healing not a front for a large corporation.  The good and bad that went with that was on full display in its halls.

The building was just down the street from where the officer had grew to the man he was.  He had watched too many family and friends suffer and die in this building.  After each one the shrinking family would take the walk home.  The crossroads to his home would always remind him of the decisions everyone makes.  When he was young it would take two or three light changes for everyone to cross.  Before he left for the academy the group only needed one.

Age claimed very few of the lost members.  Cancer was at the top of the list of the main culprit.  Slowly that number was being replaced by overdoses.  Clemmons knew it weighed heavily in his decision to follow his career path.  That intersection had to be crossed for far too many in his life.

A strong community lived down these roads.  The strong community that produced him.  A few poisoned the reputation and scared away public investment.  The lack of investment forced those who crossed the intersection to bond.  Officer Clemmons was a cop because someone needed to end the scaring away of others.  The city did not end at his stoplight.  Good strong people were entitled to same pride as the rest.  The sergeant would see to that.

***

Clemmons had a swagger of confidence as he headed down the hall.  He always had a confident step when he was in public.  He wanted to portray to those around him that a police officer was there, they were safe.  The veteran officer was there on a business trip.  The secondary purpose of showing police presence in the late hours was always on his mind.  A stern smile was his way of portraying that, he had learned it from his mentor.

Unfortunately, the hospital was a familiar stopping spot for him.  As a cruel twist, it seemed every time they had to interview a witness that was unconscious, they had awoke on his shift.  It became a long standing joke at the department, today was no different.  One of the victims of the last warehouse fire had survived, and hopefully, could provide answers for the one who did not.

Sienna’s room was full of as many balloons as there were machines monitoring her.  Hand drawn get well cards delivered by relatives from her children and nieces.  She looked as though her body was broken as bad as her heart.  She had put her trust and love into a man.  Harold ended up not being the hero of her movie, riding in and saving the day.  The single mother had broken a rule of her own making.  She had put her trust into someone before they had truly proven their worth.  The punishment for breaking that rule placed her in the hospital bed, facing an uncertain future.  Sienna had survived only to be facing the consequences of her decision.  The fire had not burnt her but the man she thought she loved did.

The movement of the shadows in her room preceded the entry of the cop.  She had seen him before. Her line of work had crossed their paths before.  The life of a third shift security guard meant calling in alarms and trespassing that lead to the call with local officers. Clemmons seemed to be the poor officer trapped on the late shift anytime she called.  The lights popped on, assaulting her eyes that were not accustomed to any level of light yet.  She shuttered her eye lids in instinct, taking in the brightness in small doses coping with the new environment.

“Sorry to disturb your rest. We need to find some answers to the fire.”  Clemmons liked getting straight to the point. The idea of wasting time with small talk was not part of his personal skills.  He concluded if someone was going to lie to them then giving them a moment to analyze him was time wasted and only strengthened their attempt.

“I wasn’t resting.”  Her eyes squinted to meet him in full view.  “After I awoke and realized the circumstances of my accident, I doubt I ever rest again.”

“That’s what we need to talk about.”  Calming words were part of the job.  They also lead to building the trust needed to discover information.

“I figured it wasn’t to ask me to the Policeman’s ball.”  She chuckled with a nod to her legs.  “Doubt I will be doing any dancing anytime soon.” Sienna’s voice trailed off into disappointment, “or ever.”

“Sorry for your condition.”  Clemmons apology lacked any true sincerity, as he believed strongly that people reaped what they sowed.  “That kind of leads into my first question, what exactly were you doing at the fire?”

“Being a dumb woman in love, I guess.”  Her voice did not change from the disappointment as the site of her mangled form had maintained residence in her thoughts.  “I thought I could save Harold but he was gone before I even crossed the door wasn’t he?”

Clemmons knew better than to reply to the question.  Despite her connection to the arson she had suffered enough. A halo of self disappointment would prolong her recover.  “Ma’am, do you know what he was doing in the warehouse to be in the fire?”

“I have no clue.”  The patient shook her head in disbelief that the whole thing was happening.  She thought he was a gem but could not find a justifiable reason he would have been in the building.  The single mother also could not believe she would put her kids at risk of losing another parent in their life.  It was even worse. It was over something like a man not smart enough to stay away from danger.  “He always seemed like a good man to me.  He was a gentleman even though he was down on his luck.”

“Care to elaborate?” Clemmons felt he was gaining more of the story.

“Well he had worked in the plant until it was cheaper for the labor to be done overseas.  He lost a lot, he never told me exactly what, but he seemed to put a lot of value in it.”  Her words hit Clemmons immediately as a man who wanted revenge on the company, the fire made sense.  The interrogator could also see that she was repressing that logic.  People tend to downplay the actions and acts of those they love and he was not there to create emotional turmoil only gather the facts, and hopefully find more clues to the one who trapped the arsonist. “It is kind of a shame his employment ended before mine began.  We may have been able to have lunch breaks together.”

“Can we stay on subject?”  Personal interjections of emotion separated Clemmons from the truth.  He despised when people played the ‘what if’ game in front of him.  They always got the train of thought off track.

“Well he was a little bitter when he talks about it but not to the point I was concerned.  I thought it was venting, but now, I just don’t know.  Now, I know I should have seen the signs, but he seemed so good at the time.”  Sienna was lost in remembrance of dates and time they had together.  She could not believe he was dead.  It was even harder to fathom the thought he had caused the inferno that not only claimed him from her, but also claimed her health.  “I would be willing to bet it was his friend Antonio who pushed him toward it.”

“What is Antonio’s last name?” Sienna was staring off as she thought of Harold’s friends and where she first noticed him.  Bringing the witness back on topic Clemmons could see he was losing her, and still had so much to find out.

“That man was no good.” Sienna was the one who gave his description to the police. She knew he had confessed to murders and would not be around to bother anyone.  The thought he corrupted Harold and robbed her of a future with him meant there was more reason to hate him. “But I never learned his last name.”

“Do you know how Harold knew the camera layout?”  Clemmons did not want to accuse the patient of a wrong doing but there was evidence that would suggest it.  He had not read the woman her rights, some accusations would have to wait.

The question struck her more than the falling debris of the fire.  Sienna knew she had broken the rules when she brought him back to the control center.  She did not realize until this moment, that perhaps, he was not being a good boyfriend, that perhaps, he was using her.  Answering the question honestly, would be an admission of guilt and lead to her termination.  Termination meant no benefits, no medical leave or insurance.  The patient knew she was not returning right away to work. It would be easier to be on medical leave than it would to be fired for negligence.  She hated being used and the reality of what he did was becoming clearer.  She thought he truly was falling for her. The reality was he was playing her in his game of revenge.

Clemmons could see the look of betrayal poison her optimistic look on life.  He knew she was going to either respond as a scorned woman, or be silent in the shame of falling for a game from a player.  The officer prayed to himself that shame would not be at the forefront.  He needed the truth and she was the shortcut to it.  As a good interrogator, he needed her focus to remain on the task at hand, “do you remember ever bringing him in and showing him the camera monitors?”

The voice of Clemmons was loud enough to awaken her from her moment of lost thought and shame.  It had all been a ruse.  She had been hunted online and became prey for something worse than a predator.  Every conversation, every cup of coffee, had all been part of a ploy just because of where she worked.  Shame was being worked into anger and despair. The scorned woman realized that any target for vengeance she may have had, died in the fire.  Her voice grew flat with anger as that one question put into perspective what had happened.  “No, I would never risk my job for a man.”

“So, you are saying, all those times he signed in as a visitor to see you never let him past the lobby?”  The veteran officer could sense when someone was lying to him.  It was obvious in this situation. He could see the change in her expression.  She displayed the look of a shamed woman, and his experience was that meant someone did her wrong.  He carefully slid the visitor log onto the tray in front of her.

“I know who visited me!”  She did not have to look down at the log to know he had been to her work.  Harold spent a lot of time in the office.  She thought he was being attentive and caring.  The man needed access to the monitors, loving from her was just a bonus for him.  “I told you he never saw a damn monitor!”

She was growing furious.  She did not even want to look at the cop in her room.  He had been on her bad side the moment he started the questions.  The hall, even at this late hour, was a hustle of nurses, doctors, and orderlies conducting their routines and serving their duties.  A nurse in particular was monitoring the exchange.  The woman was familiar to her but she could not place from where.  She had seen her before but where was that?  The woman seemed lost in her notepad taking notes with a funny pen.  It looked like a quill pen.  The woman had a job to do and yet she was focused entirely on the room and the questioning of the cop to her in the bed.  With her temper rising, she probably was triggering some alarm at the nurses’ station that alerted the nurse.  The pen though, it was odd to her. Drawing her attention, it became difficult to think of a reason why someone would have chosen to write with such an archaic tool instead of a modern pen.  She had lost thought of Clemmons in the room and focused entirely on the nurse.

Sienna was at a crossroad.  The nurse reminded her that there was a choice that had to be made.  Lying was the road she had chosen.  There was another option, she could tell everything she knew.  It would mean unemployment but honesty.  Honesty would not feed her kids.

“You are sure?”  Clemmons was losing her and could sense it.  He glanced out to the hall which had taken away her focus for the moment. Expecting to see something there himself.  The normal hospital routine was nothing that mesmerizing to him.

“Yeah I am sure.”  She broke her gaze from the nurse to the officer standing before her.  Her answer was missing the venom from earlier.    She had lost that anger while trying to place why the woman was there and where she had seen her before.

“Fine, we will move on.”  Clemmons was growing impatient with the blatant lie the woman was hiding behind. “When you arrived were the doors blocked?”  He was losing patience and had hoped the change of direction in questioning would help calm him down.  Losing his temper would only make the questions turn to accusations.  He knew she was guilty of letting him into the control room, but it was the only thing she was guilty of.  “Were the doors blocked when you arrived?”

“I don’t remember. I was in a rush to save him and everything else was a blur.”  She wanted to dismiss him as soon as possible and get back to the woman in the hallway with her distracting presence.  She looked back from the cop to see if the woman was still watching.  Glancing back to the hall, she noticed the nurse had moved on.  Her blood pressure must have calmed down and the nurse was not longer needed.

“You do not remember pallets or anything in the way? Or perhaps someone was running from the scene that may have put them there?”  Clemmons did not believe in things that appeared supernatural. He figured there was a logical or technical explanation to what was happening.  All he needed was for her to remember one clue from the events that occurred prior to her entrance to the fire.  He needed a clue.

“I am sorry I just cannot remember anything.”  She moved her head to the pillow.  “Now if you are done with me officer I need to rest.”  She was starting to pull up her covers trying to make everything go away.

He placed the precinct contact information onto a side table. Propping the card next to a plastic glass for water, he nodded to Sienna and headed out of the room. “If anything comes back to you please contact us.  I am Clemmons. They will get a hold of me when you call.”  He left with a step of frustration as he departed the room.  The veteran officer left with no more answers than he had he arrived with.

***

old farmhouse

“We let it ride for now.”  Burning eyes hid in the dark room.

Decades of rumors of a haunting meant the group could meet in the old barn without fear of interruption. It was time to regroup.  The dark forces were not losing, they were risking exposure.  Life and decisions would shift from their favor if mortals knew of their existence.  Their purpose would be impossible to fulfill.

“The enemy has to be silenced.  If our schemes are to be silenced then he and his kin need to be removed as well.  There is no guarantee they will not speak up and shift the dynamic.”

Thousands of voices spoke from the darkness.  As more burning eyes joined the conversation.

“No, they will not go public, even if they know their purpose.  Which I doubt they do.  They are to ensure an even unbiased battlefield.  Going public would change that dynamic.”

“Then we wait for what?”

“We wait to allow the mortals to eliminate our enemy with their laws.  Mankind has always been an unwitting ally that way.”

“Do you believe they will still participate that way?”

“Mortals are content living their life in a fog.  They hide everything.  The only time they truly seek answers is when they cannot explain something or need to assign guilt.”

“Antonio knows that all too well.”

“Antonio was successful so his mission was changed.”

“Do we all face that fate?  Rewarded by being imprisoned.”

Over a dozen sets of eyes all shifted to look at their leader.  The voices masking their true numbers, or identity.  The dark lords expected their servants to be subordinate to their assigned leader.  Loyalty was assumed, not enforced.  If another set of eyes was able to overthrow the general, no one would doubt that dark spirit deserved the role.

“The alternative is much worse, or do you need reminded?”

 

Photo Credit to Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com)

 

only one chapter left if anyone has any input good or bad let me know

 

Fatal Introductions Chapter 23

chapter 23 factory

Harold followed a strangely serpentine path as he left the parked truck.  Parking his truck some distance away to avoid the attention of the cameras.  The path was mapped out.  Harold knew the timing that he had to follow to accomplish his task.  The corporation did not spend a lot of money to watch over a pallet warehouse. The cameras were probably piloted from another site. The programmed route held in a different location than Sienna’s work station.  It was common practice for companies to upgrade in a high production area.  If the cameras were still good they would move them to replace older cameras in a less desirable location.  This worked to Harold’s advantage as the cameras were exposed. The saboteur was easily able to follow their scanning path.

The bomb fit snugly under his coat, and reminded him of its presence, as it pressed into his side.  Reminded him of all the planning, all the espionage, all the work that had gone into making tonight successful, he knew would be worth the effort.  This was going to be his calling card for the time being, an act big enough to draw attention for possible recruits to know their capabilities.  This was war and he needed soldiers.  As the bomb rubbed back and forth against his ribs he grew more and more excited.

The dock doors were all full of trailers limiting the area of his entrance to the service door that the painters used.  That spot would work giving him access to a catalyst for his fires.  Many of the chemicals stored in the room were hazardous and flammable but were excellent at removing old paint.  The faster the fire blazed the less chance it could be stopped in a timely manner, especially if the inventory of tires there, caught the flame.  Harold knew his path and all the stops he would have to make.

Before entering, the first stop would be at the fire suppressant valve.  He had to place it in the closed position or water would flood down on any blaze saving the company millions.  That could not be allowed, they had to pay.  Turning the wheel to close the water supply from the pipes would take care of that.  He chuckled as he looked down after completing the task to see cigarette butts all around the pipe.  The irony that the fire suppressant was also the smoking spot for the workers, hit a funny spot in him.

The lock was barely strong enough to be called a lock as he easily bypassed it.  It was buildings like this one that made it easy for him to commit his acts of sabotage.  Grabbing a few cans of the flammable chemicals, he knew the path he needed to take to get to the heart of the building undetected.  He set up a few pallets to create a pyramid into which he would place his sarcophagus of destruction.   Opening the can of chemicals, he made trails throughout the building leading to the stockpiled wooden pallets.

Thankful there was so much flammable substance in the building; it would help Harold create a strong fire.  The terrorist muttered something about a cleansing fire was needed to free the company of the wrong it had committed.  Harold took a moment to reflect on how badly the company treated him.  He had given them hours upon hours of sweat and struggle.  Harold enjoyed his job. The end was too bitter to forgive the injustice he suffered.  The Human Resource representatives told the family man he would have no trouble finding work.  It was a shame that they lied to appease him.   Shortly after unemployment, his life fell apart.  This fire would make amends for all the wrong they had created in his life.

A revolution is never one simple act. Harold could not attempt a coup on big business without taking the right steps. First was damage, hit their pockets. Next was exposing their political connections.   They had their puppets for protection of their own reputation and interests that kept the people at bay.  Simple exposition eliminated that protection.  Last he could go for the kill.  Harold felt a bit smug in fighting the true power of corporations that others did not see.  Instead of going after the puppets first, he would knock out the back bone first.  Cutting the strings, the puppet will fall.  That meant taking the means of their influence away by costing the corporations money.

The moment was now. His blood pumped and heart raced as he set the timer.  The plan only needed a few minutes to get out before the explosion would happen.  A few minutes where it no longer mattered what he had planned. A few minutes it would be done.  The act would be complete and his vengeance would get an appetizer.

There no longer was a question for the safety of others.  Any worker caught in the crossfire was an acceptable casualty.  They obviously were aiding the enemy.  That included Sienna.

***

Antonio had done his job ensuring that a fresh body would be there for the taking.  He had friends who needed the flesh to escape the pits of torment.  Harold had followed every step on his descent.  He just needed Antonio to corrupt him.

Awaiting in the warehouse, was the dark spirit of a tormentor.  When Harold arrived, he would commit his last bit of damnation.  The remaining spirit would no longer be guarded by the soul.  The shell that remained would be easy to occupy.

The wait would not take long.  Anger caused death.  Anger in the guise of vengeance easily snuck into the psyche of any individual.  A small slight, an unwanted change in life, were just the opportunity it would need.

***

A pull Yancey could not describe was guiding his every step.  It took him off the beaten path that his evening walks usually took.  The walks had been more calming to make sure he gained complete control over his actions before going home to his wife and son.  There would be no control today.  Today there would be violence.

The doors swung outward.  Yancey was a bit in luck.  It would be easy to trap whatever forces he needed to stop inside the factory.  A few items would need to be found to pin the door shut.

Something was inside that could not be allowed out.  If it was allowed out, Yancey’s life would be a failure.  The city was already suffering.  Releasing the force held within the warehouse would be inviting a wolf into the flock of sheep.

In the grass was a posted sign marking where the workers should assemble in case of an emergency.  Buried deep in the ground and weighed down with cement created a bit of trouble for Yancey.  Straining muscles were able to overcome the death grip the ground had placed.  The dirt gave way.

The groove of the metal pole fit snugly under the door’s handle.  With a strong kick, he replanted the opposite end of the post in the ground.  The angle would not allow the door to budge.  Satisfied that one door was blocked, it was time to cover the other doorways.

All other exits were covered.  Every dock door had a trailer in front of it.  The other doors appeared to be locked.  Only the front entrance was left.  A stack of pallets could be drug over.  The inner strength of Yancey made the movement a simple task.

Once in place a nudge toppled them over blocking the front door from allowing an escape.  Yancey’s task was complete.  The urges had passed.  Once again, he had gambled and walked away a free man.  Now it was time to cash in on that freedom and go be a father and husband.  Until he was pushed into action again.

***

Harold was making his way back to the door where he had entered. Curiosity about what the explosion would look like made him want to stay but common sense told him to get out.  He knew it would be a grand explosion.  Maybe even a grand spectacle equivalent of a firework display for the onlookers.  He thought if he got out in time he could see the display from a good vantage point far away from the blame.  He wanted them to pay but did not want prison term because of it.

They were to blame for what was happening.  Harold was simply carrying out justice.  The terrorist had suffered much hardship already. It was their turn to do the same.  He had gone through too much planning for this event to fail.  It was now time to get revenge.  A grand explosion followed by an enormous fire. It was the perfect disaster in his mind.

Reaching the door, avoiding camera detection, he was home free.  He needed to get out within the next minute to get to safety.  The victorious self proclaimed champion pushed hard against the door.  Harold already tasted the victory of the act.  He could see the accounting lines suffer another set back from this win.  Maybe even a few more investors losing interest and they would drop the stock.  The door would not budge.

The saboteur pushed harder ramming his full force against it.  The door would not budge. It would slightly crack open but would not move more than a half of inch.  It did not even allow any view of the outside.  Panic slipped into his mind.  The panic took away logical thought as he felt the timer expending all safe time.  Survival was on his mind now nothing else.  Stepping back, the panic made him kick with all his might.  The door would not budge.

There was another door.  He could rush to get there but it would expose him to the cameras.  Cameras were the least of his worries.  He wanted to live.  There was still so much work to do. The company had to pay for much suffering.  How could that be possible if he was dead?   The time was running out, there was no time to slither through the aisles of pallets he had to get out.  The adrenaline rush he would appreciate later. He felt a strength he had never experienced before.  The danger of being trapped in his doing was growing as the moments passed.  He was frantic.

Reaching the front door he pushed with all his might.  The door would not budge.  He stepped back kicking it hard.  The door would not budge.  Panic stricken, fueled by the adrenaline set in motion, he kicked over and over.  Placing all his weight with the blow of each kick, the door would not budge.

Ear shattering in the echo from the metal walls of the structure, the explosion detonated.   The moment stood still when he first heard the fuse reach its end.  The fire ignited the combustible chemicals and took no pause to ignite the dry wooden pallets.  The temperature instantly soared.  Even at the distance, the climb in heat instantly scorched.  Harold could no longer feel the cold air inside the building.

Smoke hit the roof of the building before descending. It began to engulf him and choke away his breathing.  There were cracks in the walls and doors, not enough to vent out the darkness.  He was losing his strength and mental awareness.  The heat pounded against his flesh causing beads of sweat to pour down.  He was not used to the intense heat and it was making him pay.  The flames were not going to kill him the after effects of the blaze was going to be his demise.

A second explosion rocked the metal walls completely crushing his ear drums.  The fire had reached the paint room and the chemicals that were stored there.  He was successful, Harold assessed.  The fire was quickly accomplishing its task.  The blaze would not be easily contained and the fire suppression could not stop it.  Fire suppression he thought with a grimace would have saved him.  He wished he would not have shut off the sprinklers.  There was no plan for this.  Flexibility that was not present was needed.

***

Alarms snatched Sienna from her complacent boredom.  She had never heard them activated before. She had read all about the alarm system of the plants.  Scanning over the camera system to see where the fire was located, or if it was another failed wiring issue.  The failed wire was common in other alarms but she had never heard this alarm before.  Panic froze her reaction for a few minutes. The security guard had never planned for this kind of excitement.  Hopefully, no one was hurt in the process.

The black and white of the camera monitor cast a strange glow.  She could recognize something was going on but hated how low the quality of the image was on screen. Watching the fixed position camera of the front entrance to one of the storage facilities, it was definitely a fire.  The black and white screen could display that.  Sienna did not need a color photo to know what burning looked like.

She paused for a moment when she had seen the movement.  The facility was supposed to be empty.  Why was there someone there?  The middle aged woman screamed in panic to her supervisor.  Disrupting him from the usual wasting of time, he made into a nightly ritual.  The moving body was in pain, her motherly instincts could tell by its movements.  She was drawn to him for some reason.  Sienna was so enthralled that she could not look away even to call the fire department.

“What is it this time?”  The grogginess in his throat revealed he had been sleeping away in his office.

Sienna could just gasp as she started to realize who the person was.

“SIENNA!” Trying to snap her from her panic was an impossible task.  Her supervisor left the panic stricken guard to do what he knew had to be done in this situation.  The sprinklers failed and he had to get the fire department.

How could the man she had been seeing for the last three weeks now become trapped in this fire?  She loved him perhaps, no she knew.  Three weeks of him were enough to change her mind about finding someone to share happiness.  Now the cruel twist of fate had placed him in the fire.  Who could have done this to him? Harold was supposed to be at home sleeping.  He said he had a big day ahead.  She thought that meant he had a job interview.

The love of her life in danger meant Sienna had to get there.  The facility was not far from their location.  She could be there in moments by car.  He was her future.  Why was his ending?  Without thought, she left her post, and ran to her car.  Sliding into the driver seat of her vehicle, she did not take the time to adjust the seat belt.  Sienna sped off.  She had to get there. Sienna did not have time to explain herself or even question why she was doing it.  Her supervisor wouldn’t understand that the victim was her man.

She sped past the lights and any possible hiding spot for a police officer.  Who could have done this to him? He was a good man.  There is no way he would have done this act.  He was down on his luck but not an arsonist.  She pulled her against the safety pole of the building, right in front of the tumbled stack of pallets.  No wonder he could not escape the door had been blocked.

With strength the single mother was unaware of, she moved quickly pulling pallet after pallet aside.  The sirens made a bare appearance in the back ground.  One of the advantages to being in a city was the proximity of rescue services and their response time.  She did not even shut off her car.  She had to get to him.  There were so many pallets. The smoke was oozing out of the cracks of the slight opening in the door as well as the few holes in the wall.  The heat was intense and for the first time since her panic state she could feel it beat against her skin.

Pulling the door open, she felt it slam hard against the stopper on the exit.  Smoke gushed out, escaping to the fresh night air.  The inflow of oxygen fueled the ferocity of the flames.  She felt it expand though she was not sure if it could get any hotter. Covering her mouth with her sleeve, realizing for the first time she departed without her coat, Sienna fought her way in.  Crouching low, she pleaded in prayer to discover her man.

The building creaked as the thin metal expanded in the heat.  She knew the sounds of the inside area was a warning of impending disaster.  The single mother whispered a prayer, and turned back to the fresh air to shield her eyes.

Sienna could see that the reporter had already arrived at the scene and was taking notes.  The quill pen should have been put down.   She should be inside helping.  She understood that reporters needed to remain neutral but this was life and death.  Why would she get so close anyway?  There was no time for the discussion or the mental debate, she had to either flee or save Harold.

Sienna made her decision quickly and without thought.  It was reassuring her reaction.  Reassuring that she must truly love him, she hated finding out this way.  The building creaked more as she frantically searched, trying to remember from the monitor where she had seen him last.  Sienna needed to be near him to have a chance to get him out.  The smoke was blinding her, filling her eyes with smoke and causing them to tear.  She then saw Harold’s shirt sleeve and knew she found him.

Bending to him she moved her arm to lift his head. Raising it slightly off the ground Sienna begged that would give her a sign of life.  He remained motionless.  The building creaked and growled at a faster rate.  The heat was intense penetrating her pores and establishing its presence deep against her bones.  She shook the limp form of his body, demanding to know her love still had to be alive.  Sienna cursed if he was gone, fate would have pulled a cruel trick on her.

A sharp pain struck her back, her vision blurred.  The beam had come from the ceiling, gaining speed from gravity as it fell landing hard on her back.  She could hear the firemen clamoring from their engines to get the hose in place but they could not stop the destruction that had begun.  The flashing of consciousness she had, was of the deep pain along her back.  The smoke allowed the piercing red and yellow strobing lights to pass through.  She admired their beauty as the shock of not being able to move set it. She crumpled under the weight of the beam her head landing on to rest upon Harold’s chest.  The heartbeat absent she realized she had lost him.

***

Clemmons hated this type of work.  It would be hours on his feet keeping curious people away from the area while work had to be done.  The firefighters were scattered around but seemed to do enough to slow the burn to a controllable state.  Something did not sit well with the Sergeant, with all the trouble caused by the owning company’s former employees Clemmons need to see if there was any insight.

“Hey Bud!”  He caught the closest one to him in his trap of interrogation. “Do you got a second?”

“Whatcha need officer?”  The man was clearly busy but had recognized Clemmons from earlier call.

“What does this look like? An accident? Wiring issue? Or a bum kicking over a burn barrel?”

“None of the above.”

“How do you know?”

“We found a couple of bodies inside.  One holding on to life the other smelled of gasoline.”

“Do you think he started the fire?”  A break would be great, the rise in crime had become unnerving.  Too many new graves being dug.

“You will need a séance to ask him.”

Now another new grave would have to be placed as well.  “wonder why he could not get out if he caused the fire?  Or maybe he was set up.”

“Out back someone pinned the door shut, strangest thing ever.”  The fireman pointed off past the trailers, in case the police officer wanted to go see it for himself.

The direction caught something else in Clemmons eyes.  Another entrance the firefighters were using to control the blaze.  “The door up here was it blocked when you guys got here?”  The patrol sergeant needed to put the pieces together.

“I wasn’t first on the scene but I am sure the ones that were had to move those pallets.” Pointing to a haphazardly stack of pallets on the side of the door.

It all began to be clear to him now.  The security guard had to be clean, the arsonist got trapped inside.  The real question was who knocked over the barrel in the back to block the door there? Who moved the pallets in the way to block this exit?  Did they know there was an arsonist inside?

***

The tormentor waited in vain for a body that never appeared.  When a living mortal arrived, her soul was too strong.  The mother had sacrificed all for her family, and kept the faith things would get better.  That faith had cracks in it at the loss of her love, but not enough to allow the demon in.

A tormentor’s existence in the pits of Hell is one of the punisher not punished.  For the time being it would abandon life on the surface.  There were spirits to feed off in the fire.  Not as gratifying as torturing and draining a mortal going through tests, but still enough to keep the demons alive.

With the desperation rampant in the city, it would not be long for another shell to become open for him on earth.

 

Photo Credit Rick Rupert (rupertrick@gmail.com)

 

Fatal Introductions Chapter 21

           chapter 21 factory

         The moment Sienna had signed up for the internet dating site she had encountered her share of less desirable men.  She was tired of kissing frogs.  Harold seemed to be passing all the tests she put in front of him.  He did not have a job but he did find a way to make an income.  He seemed smarter than his past would dictate.  Harold was always a gentleman.  She ventured the thought of bringing him home to her kids.  That test would help her see if that would scare him off.  The single mother never introduced her kids to a date.  She did not want to create any confusion in their lives. They had already gone through so much strife.

            Work was a boring night with the challenge of fighting off sleep.  Armed with her cup of coffee and the radio on music loud enough to help her stay awake the security guard faced her shift. Sienna kept her attention on the monitors.  Her eyes had watched the lack of action for so long she had grown complacent.  All of the officers were convinced nothing would ever happen.  She did not think that the pallets or crates would break into a dance number, though secretly she craved it. Not even a mouse or bird would be in the area on the cameras.  The lack of activity gave her plenty of time to think about Harold.  He had his faults but was growing on her.  Besides, faults were what made someone an individual.  At least the man knew how to treat her.

            She had invited him to the office but was unsure if he would come.  Knowing it was against regulations, she would have to cross that bridge when she came to it.  It was a regulation written by someone who never had to do third shift.  The night shift was lonely. Her supervisor was never suffering through it with her.  He was using the very liberal computer policy to keep himself entertained. 

            Watching the monitors, she had seen an image of someone.  This was new to her, as her mind craved the activity.  Sienna zoomed in to the image of a woman looking directly at the camera.  The thought she had seen this woman before but, could not place where. The woman must have been passed in some background of an activity she and her kids had been attending.  What was she doing in the warehouse though?  What was she writing with? It appeared to be an old style quill pen.  That was odd.  Sienna had heard of new supervisors taking inventory when a shift ended, she was not aware of any new supervisor.

            Turning away for a moment, she called her supervisor in to verify and see what to do next.  She finally had something to report in her log.  Finally, there was something to break the monotony.  Turning back the woman was gone. She switched through camera to camera to find her, but to no avail.  When her supervisor arrived, she could not show him the image of the woman.

            “Rewind the tape let’s see what the system caught.”  He appeared to be as craving the excitement as she was.  He did not give her credit for finding it, and that annoyed her a bit.  The system he thought was more important than the people who ran it. 

            Sienna rewound the recording back to where the image should have been visible.  Still the guard could not find it.  The computer did not even register movement in the system.  She was becoming worried that she had just cried wolf.  It did not take much not to be believed in the future. 

            “I think you have had too much coffee or can see ghosts.”  He said with a mocking laugh.  “Call me or ghostbusters if you see it again.”  He departed not giving her a chance to explain the incident further.

            The single mother hated being taken for granted. This job made her hate more than others.  She knew what she had seen.  It was clear. So where did it go?  She reviewed the footage over and over. Sienna’s eyes still did not find it.  She thought for sure she was losing her mind.    She was lost in thought for a moment.  The moment and the thought passed, just in time for Sienna to notice Harold chiming the visitor bell at the lobby. The memory of the woman had passed. 

            Dressed in what she had grown to realize were his good clothes.  He held two cups of coffee from the fancy coffee chain down the street.  Under his arm, was tucked a rolled up brown paper bag.  Tired eyes needed company; she needed a break from the mindless numbing of the monitors.  There he stood her prince-charming-to-be.

            Harold waited patiently for what seemed like an eternity for Sienna to come out.  He had hoped it would be her at least.  He knew she was not the only officer who worked that shift.  He had to gain access to the monitors. Too much time had already been spent waiting.  He had to strike again before it was dismissed from the timeline. 

            She greeted him at the doors with a hug and a kiss.  Harold was barely an active participant.  Single for too long, Sienna was slightly disappointed that their kiss was not more passionate.  Harold had other things on his mind besides romance.  There was a plan. He still needed to gather the intelligence.  She had a plan as well. She still needed to gather her information.  The kiss was not spectacular. Sienna felt he was probably out of practice. That could be fixed.

            Parts of Sienna wished it was a real date as she guided them into the break room.  She was excited that he had brought her something.  It was minor in the grand scheme of things. The experience she had in romance taught her little acts of kindness lead to bigger and better presents.  She was just glad to be spending time with him. That feeling was even happier when he pulled out a chair for her.  She was not used to this type of treatment.  Finally, she knew what it meant to be treated like a lady. 

            The conversation became long and without any major revelations but it was still conversation.  Soon her break time expired; her company would have to depart.  She thought for a moment.  Perhaps, it did not have to end this way.  Perhaps she could get him to stay and maybe with time permitting, get another shot at making that kiss right.

            “Do you have some place to be?”  She asked him with slight puppy dog eyes attempting to appeal to his sense of sympathy.

            “Not really, just sleep, and time with you trumps that every time.” A coy smile crossed his face.

            “I am not supposed to do this, but if you promise not to touch anything or tell anyone you were there, I don’t see the harm.”  Sienna weighed his facial expression to see if there was any sign of distrust.  There was always a fear he would try to flee. 

            “I can behave.”  He passed a wink in her direction as he completed his statement, “can you?”

***

            One of the worst parts of his job was to tell parents of a lost child.  Clemmons went out of his way not to have this discussion with a stranger.  Tonight, it would not be a stranger’s door he was knocking on.  The young boy found murdered at the bar was from the burly veteran officer’s street.  Taking his hat off his head, Clemmons gathered his breath.  Short but hard rasping on the blue painted wood door meant the time to gather his nerves had expired.  Four knocks had to be repeated again until Clemmons noticed a light turn on in the front room. 

            Wrapped in her robe, the mother of the latest victim opened the door.  The last time the woman had opened the door for Clemmons it was to go to homecoming so long ago.  Memories of that night were much more pleasant than this would be.  Delores was about to join a sad sisterhood. Clemmons did not want to be the one to send her the invitation.  The compassion and empathy it would require; he knew he would be the one for the job.

            A screen door flew open as the robed woman clung tight to Clemmons.  She knew exactly why he was there.  There was no dance to go to this time.  When the initial shock wore off, she pushed him away and began to scream.  “You are not here!  This is not happening! Bring him home to me now! This is not happening!”  The police officer had heard that phrase over and over again his entire career.  There was no getting numb to it.  Secretly, he hoped he never would. 

            His large frame moved closer to her.  His arms engulfed her short but thick frame.  “Please come with me.”  Words to the mother formed with difficulty.  A difficulty Clemmons had never experienced before.  The sense he and his brethren were failing the city hit home with the death of the one young man.  He wanted to make a vow to prevent this from happening again.  The woman had just lost her youngest son.  Comfort was all he could provide to her.  “We are going to help you.”  Despite the internal turmoil, Clemmons kept a calm composure. 

            The two stood on that porch for a long time.  Frozen in grief both of them were afraid to move.  Clemmons took an oath to protect the city, and in turn his home.  He felt failure as he held the woman, a failure that had to be made right.

Fatal Introductions Chapter 20

monument

Six deaths were the record prior.  Clemmons had counted the current year’s deaths and they had eclipse the half dozen from a decade ago.  The area was becoming more desperate.  The blame was everywhere.  Less jobs, weather, alcohol, even those born out of town, all took a fair share of the blame. 

Walking the concrete path around the lake, Clemmons wanted to find his care.  It had slowly been lost.  So much happened in the city, but the lake in the center always pulled him.  He hoped it would help him find the reasons to keep the faith that he was making a difference.

The Biblical Butcher was still on the loose, now there was an arsonist.  The evidence was stacking against him.  It was hard being dedicated when you see so little good as a result of your vigilance.  It was a mile around the whole track.  A mile of thought before he returned to his cruiser.

The names confronted him.  All the city’s veterans were listed by the conflict they had fought.  It made him drop his head and wonder, did those who fell know the difference they were making?  The inspiring moment made him raise his head and smile.  He may not see it but he had to believe he had made a difference, just like the names on the monument.

A second inspiration confronted the veteran officer.  The morning sun was cresting the church across the street.  He wondered if the watching the churches immediately after a murder would yield results.  If the murderer was truly religious, he would feel a bit of guilt.  That guilt may lead him to seek forgiveness.  They could not ask the preachers and priests about confessions due to privacy restrictions, but they could see who was entering and exiting the churches.

There were more churches than there were officers so it would take a gamble.  As much as Clemmons wished there would not be another murder, the killer was heavily invested in the role.  More importantly evil never took a break.  Someone seeking divine justice would never find an end of targets as long as there was greed, lust, and something to be gained through sin.

Ending the murders would define if there was truly a difference being made.

 

***

bar 4

Harold was at home in his stool. His drinking partner’s face was flashed all over the muted television.  He could not hide the fear in his mug no matter how many times he lifted it to his lips.  Antonio was the only person that had been trusted with the entire plan.  Being the mastermind, Harold felt he was making all the decisions for both men.  Murders of others, were not in his plan or awareness.  His apprentice had placed all their work into danger.  Sienna, figuring out she was being used would be the ultimate problem this arrest would create.  Harold was enjoying the trust she had placed in him.  Things were progressing fast.  Antonio’s arrest could be a setback.

Drinking every opportunity, he began to worry was not solving the problem.  There was a real use for alcohol, to celebrate, or to relax. Harold used it to the extreme.  Antonio had always been there to keep him in check.  Now, he was unbound from any outside voice to activate his conscious. Slipping deeper and deeper into a pessimistic cloud that he had wasted the time invested on his revenge caused Harold to want more drink.  Low level lighting did not help brighten his mood either.  The corner bar was not exactly the best place to feel better.  Despite knowing that fact, Harold always ran to its embrace whenever he felt threatened.  Located on the edge of the industrial part of the city, and a part of the city that never seemed to benefit, no one in his circle of friends and family knew its location.  Rough clientele and rowdy nights made the former factory worker think the police were not too aware of its location either. 

Worn green felt adorned the top of the social highlight of the entire bar.  Most conversations happened at the pool table.  Sometimes for fun, sport, other times for money the table was the one place where patrons were not engrossed in their drinks and misery.  Like many other things in this neighborhood, Harold assumed the owner started this business with dreams of creating a highlight to the area. Maybe a live band played blues on the stage at one point.  Probably a local band at that, community was strong in this part of the city.  Snydertown felt the wave of hurt from the economy before the rest of the city.  The bar was just another victim of that. 

Harold was a proud owner of alcohol stamina.  The last decade of training allowed him to run up large tabs in places such as this. Where his liver could resist the poisoning effect of over consumption, his brain and judgment were never shielded. Even on mute the news was constantly covering Antonio’s story.  Not hearing the words of the young preppy anchor, made his partner assume the worst. Hard times to his small revolution were ahead.  Antonio was chosen because Harold felt he could manipulate him.  There was no doubt the police who were more persuasive would be able to get all the information he held.

“Good riddance,” a drinking companion, due to location on the bar, uttered as he watched the news.   It was apparent by his youth the young man had not been coming to the bar long.  Rocking in his stool and slowly drinking the rum in his glass, it was becoming clear to Harold that the kid was probably there on a fake identification.  No one really seemed to care.  Not the bar tender, not the bouncer, no patron paid him any attention.  Words that escaped his lips awakened Harold to his presence.  This kid did not know his partner.  Not even old enough to know what struggle was, Harold channeled all the rage that had been building into this kid.  How could someone not old enough to lose his family, job, and now best friend even comprehend?

Once a frosted mug, the chilled exterior had now become glass sweat.  It splashed the side of the young neighborhood kid cheek before impacting with a full force. A testament to fine craftsmanship, the mug did not break.  Where the bottom rim struck along the cheek it had loosened a tooth.  With no warning the young man was about to graduate from getting into a bar to his first bar fight. His head turned quickly to see Harold stumble off the bar stool. 

Three observers became active participants when Harold started approaching the kid.  Arms caught Harold and pulled him back.  He had caused enough of a disturbance to their mood for the day.  The bouncer made sure the assailant was not going anywhere.   Pulling him slightly off balance and off his feet, Harold could not advance.  Seeing a chance to take advantage of the situation the rookie bar fighter threw well placed punches into the man’s stomach.  Growing up the youngest surrounded by older brothers, punching was a skill he gained for survival. 

Harold doubled over at the hip to prevent his stomach from taking more shots.  The jerking of muscles caused the bouncer to lose his grip.  Harold fell to the ground, as the other two activated observers swarmed to the bouncer.  “He wants to be here let the kid prove he deserves to be.”

Free of the obstacle Harold gained his footing. Spreading his legs into a boxing style stance, he faced off on the initial target.  Harold was not a boxer but he had spent enough times drinking and watching fights.  Confidence in his observations was boosted by the beers.  Despite his wobbling and lack of a solid form, the drunk felt his stance was firm.  To the other observers, he was the typical drunk who thought he was a golden glove fighter.  “You can’t say anything about him.  You are not the man he is, nor will you ever be.” Small amounts of spittle chased the slurred words. 

Backed up to the green felt pool table the young man was not sure what to expect. He reached behind him and discovered the long cue.  Grasping it in both hands he turned to Harold to show the drunk he was armed.  Swinging to miss but showing he could reach the want to be boxer the kid wanted this over now.  He was by himself as some of the patrons were enjoying the show.  A beer and a fight were a pretty good evening. 

Harold lunged as the pool stick swung. Catching and redirecting the average height, slightly overweight man in the jaw.  Teeth were loosened as the kid returned the earlier favor.  When Harold landed it was to the left of his initial target spot.  Off balance as his feet met the ground Harold stumbled forward.  His upper body carried by momentum bent his figure in half, exposing his back.  The pool stick took full advantage of the easy target.  A bit of extra weight did not provide enough protection as the stick hit his lower spine.  Pain shot through him as he went to his knees.  Hands collapsed to the floor preventing the fight’s initiator from falling prone.   As his eyes lifted with his head Harold caught the break he needed. 

A few feet in front of him under the table of a lady there was an empty beer bottle.  Lurching his hand forward he wrapped his hand around the dark neck of the empty container.  Harold regained his feet despite his world swirling from drink and pain.  Stunned, the young kid stood there choking up his hands on the pool stick.  Harold took the break and shattered the bottle in his hand against the ladies table.  The pool stick was a good defense but the jagged shards of glass changed the dynamic of the fight.  A dynamic of death was added and quickly calculated by the kid. 

Harold moved closer slowly.  As long as the kid did not swing the make shift club he was going to move closer.  Being the prey the kid felt the closing of his stalker.  Feet did not have awareness as the young man backed away slowly.  Soon there was nowhere else to go.  He had placed himself into the corner.  There was no longer a place to run.  That panic caused the kid to swing.  He missed. 

Broken glass directed by the drunk struck out into the kid’s hand.  Drawing blood, a burning pain shot to each finger causing the stick to fall free.  He was now defenseless.  He was now pure prey.  A shriek of pain revealed the youth in the developing voice. The clanking of wood against the dirty orange tile floor alerted everyone the end was imminent. 

Harold glanced around the bar.  Every set of eyes were placed upon him, weighing his heart.  All the judging faces were easy to ignore, except the lone woman.  He had not noticed her all evening but there she sat, pulling away his attention.  Halfway staring at the events unfolding, her other half was focused on the paper she was writing upon.  Harold knew he had seen her before but could not place where.  The oddities of her presence and the choice of her quill pen should have been memorable.  Even with the alcohol in his system she should had stood out. His arm extended to pin the young man into the corner.  Despite his belief in not causing a death the broken glass in his hand went across the throat of the young kid.  Instantly spraying along the arm Harold was using to pin the now lifeless body, the blood made its mark.  Remorse ran quickly through the drunken man.  At the moment part of him died along with the kid. 

Fresh in its status as a corpse, the body hit the floor when a stunned Harold released it.  Looking around at the faces who were just as stunned as he was, it became obvious, he had to get away. Ducking his head to avoid anyone else being able to see his features, he rushed toward the door.  It was not hard to miss the absence of the woman taking notes.  The blood spilled must have scared her away.  It had definitely scared the one who caused it. 

Crossing the threshold of the door, Harold entered a new world.  Doubt his future would avoid blood was erased.  Irony hit him, as he did not even have to kill the kid that opposed him.  He was avenging a man’s reputation that he had opposed when it came to taking lives.  Antonio had finally gotten his way.  Harold would have to take lives.  Blood would be drawn by his hand.  He had to use better judgment next time to make sure it was justified.

***

Fatal Introductions Chapter 19

Hazy speed of his initial court hearing did not give Antonio much time to catch his breath.  Accusations of crimes he had not committed ended up on his charge sheet.  Antonio had rejected the deaths as his fault.  That did not matter.  Some eye witnesses placed the blame on his shoulders.  Now it was his assigned lawyer’s job to prove his innocence.  A trial date had been delayed. The lawyers from both sides needed time to make a solid case.  Since some of the charges were murders he would have to spend some time behind bars, awaiting the fight of his life.  Antonio knew exactly where his guilt stood.  He had no blood directly on his hands as stated in the charges.  Shock was still rumbling through his being. 

Pits of torment made anything want to escape.  Even lowly beings, felt the despair of a place that served as a prison.  Those who made the decision to be there baffled him.  Trapping their souls through bad decisions was the consequence they freely chose.  Antonio was created in that world.  Having never known the luxury of free will, he could only look with envy.  Lords of the dark world had been sent to their own prison.  A major difference in what Antonio was facing and the prison in which they existed was the ability to send others to do the bidding.  Emotions of the damned spawned the creatures molded to their purpose by the dark overlord.   

War had been waged in the shadows and in quiet for longer than man had walked the Earth.  Those forces had been around long before humanity took the journey to sentience.  Free will was the weapon that Antonio and his colleagues tried manipulate for their master.   Their master had fallen from grace.  When he hit the realm of prison he swore to punish all the creations of his master.  Evolution made the need to change the demons and give them different purposes.  The mortal realm was created as proving grounds.  Free will determined the outcome of those tests.  To feed his purpose, the fallen favored son fed on the spirits of those who failed.  His appetite was unquenchable.  He desired every free soul killed and the spirits brought to him. 

To win the eternal war, the fallen one created the demons to subvert free will.  When he had gathered enough to field an army he would storm the land he was from which he was exiled.   It would be his poetic justice to turn the creations against their maker.   Hatred darkened the last bit of his light.  Even the slightest bit of faith or hope hurt.  A three pronged attack would shield him from those two things making it to his realm.  Each class of demons would do his bidding on the surface.  To protect the others, a strong breed would exist.  While under their protection the others would do their jobs of tormenting or corrupting.  A final type would exist to take advantage of the small amount of power that could be held on the mortal realm.  That power shifted fate lines to make deals happen. 

The warrior class was the first creation.  They were made strong enough to fight the Angels that threatened the others in the realm.  So strong, that the fallen one himself feared the possibility of them uprising and demanding control.  As a precaution he limited those created.  To assert his and the other dark lords dominance the created demons were kept in Hell tortured and kept submissive.  When they submitted completely to their masters, they were allowed to the surface world.  Some creations resisted and were destined never to leave.  Antonio was a quick convert to his side.  He understood he was at the low end of the creation hierarchy and he accepted his purpose. 

When the assignment out of Hell was earned a host body had to be found.  Souls were in the way of any demonic spirit taking a body.  Some attempted to despite the impending struggle.  A simple exorcism and show of faith would banish the demon back.  If a person used free will to choose greedy or harming others they would chip away at their soul.  Sometimes another demon assisted in that process.  Other times human nature made the decision to be selfish easily.  The bodies became unguarded.  When Angels roamed the world they would eliminate those unguarded bodies before they could play host to Satan’s spawn.  Those days seemed to be gone in the new world.  It was an open playground if a demon could earn his way out of the pits.

Failure meant a return to the torturing world.  Antonio and other corruptors task was simple.   Create the situation where the wrong decision seems to be the best decision.  All they had to do was open the door.  Harold took that option.  Marie and Judith took that option.  Many took the wrong option; Antonio had earned a long stay.  Nathanial was a tormentor. He gained strength through the suffering of mortals.  Often not willing to work in any organized fashion with the others they existed to visit Hell on mortals.  Tormenting souls to defeat hope and test faith.  This type also kept the same job when they returned to the fires that spawned their existence.  Making sure nothing ever had hope of escaping the cruelty of that sentence.  They were the only things that enjoyed their time in Hell.  Some of the longest tenured demonic forces existed to do one thing, getting a person to voluntarily commit their spirit to the flame was easier as greed rose.  In exchange for whatever worldly promise gained, the individual would take the place of the demon in the pits upon their death.  Demons of this type were usually smart witted. They constantly had to have promised spirits ready to take their place. Pleasant in appearance and charm they were created to gain the trust of humans.  When their last bargained person died they would have to return.  It created a need to get any deal possible even if it meant destroying one of their own.

Antonio had done extremely well up until his arrest.  Human justice meant he would not be convicted because in the charged offense, he was innocent.  Still it was a delay to what he needed to pursue. He had worked with the several dozen others in the city to make their jobs and existence easier.  It would take just one of them to help him out.  Laws of man were silly to those fighting a greater battle.  In fact, they helped by denying some from what they truly wanted to choose.  Free will does not always mean making the best choice for all concerned.  Antonio would go to his holding cell.  Perhaps he would be able to spread even more of his gift.  With his folded uniform and linen set tucked under his arm, Antonio proceeded with a bit of optimism.

What would become his home for the next few days was smaller than even his hole in the pits. He would share this hole with another.  Linen already covered the top bunk letting anyone know that it would be occupied.  In a way Antonio was happy.  It would give him a chance to prevent someone to make the decisions needed to save their spirit.  He held that outlook until the occupant returned from his smoke break in the outside area.

“I never would have dreamt I would see you again.”  Vincent’s words carried the guilt of the murder he had committed.  He was awaiting final sentencing as the facts did not take long to link together.  Riga mortis had not yet set in when the flashy salesman was proven guilty.  There was no fight in him, he did not even burden with a true lawyer.  He wanted the shadow of guilt gone.  All his hopes would lie on the sentencing.  Nothing up to this point lifted the dark cloud.  “You know you set me up.  I am the one who did the deed, but you set me up.”  Teeth gritted as the cloud needed to be shared.  Vincent took his end of the responsibility.  Now, his roommate needed to take his own.

“You chose to end that man’s life.”  Antonio could sense the tension and desperation in the man’s words.  He loved it.

“You escalated the situation to the point someone was going to die.”  Vincent’s temper rose quickly in the man’s words.  Accusations took the form of stated fact as they left his lips.

“You both only needed an excuse.”  Antonio answered flatly. 

“Maybe,” Vincent clenched his fist and finished the sentence.  The pain he had throughout the hasty trial was released into one final strike into Antonio’s jaw. “Maybe we both should have targeted you.”

The demon let out a small hiss as he stumbled against the bunks.  Impacting the side of his knee into the corner of the metal bed frame, he fell.  A sharp pain shot through his mortal body.  Finding the thin mattress with his rear, Antonio sat.  He weighed the situation.  All he would have to do was end this man.  If it were not for the obvious death on his hands, it would not take this much measuring. 

Decisions would have to wait as the lights shut down and a dark fog concealed any light from the windows.  It was pitch black.  Two small flames appeared beside Antonio.  The flames formed into two eyes creating a glow around the hooded face.  Bravado sprinted away from Vincent within an instant.  He was frozen in fear.  The dark cloud was no longer a metaphor, he was surrounded by it.  The handsome man in the cloak had to be the devil, here to punish him for all the crimes he had committed.  So much fear ran through the consultant that he was frozen from speech.  Mindlessly clawing at the back wall of the cell, he had to get away.

“I love that effect on people.”  Sinister smiles became illuminated from the burning eyes.  The cloaked figure was thoroughly entertained by the bloody nails on Vincent’s hand as he tried in vain to burrow away. Antonio had no problem revealing his true self in the darkness.  A second set of flame eyes watched in glee.  “We only have a moment.” 

“Are we escaping or doing this the way we have in the past by manipulating the system.  With no proof and no intent, I should be able to walk.”  The forked tongue flicked the air after his words. 

“Neither,” the answer was firm.  In an instant a single voice turned into many originating from the four walls of the cell.  Powered by the tormented, these beings used every ounce to gain access to the mortal world.  Damned voices spoke the demon’s words.  “Prison has become a place where many find religion.  Some even find a true salvation and rebuild their souls.  We are diverting you to the goal of assisting an end to that.” 

“So I am being sacrificed to the mortals?”   Discussing the topic took away from Vincent’s presence in the corner.  With his finger nails worn off and blood pouring down each tip, he gave up hope and began hyperventilating.  To meet the echo of voices he perceived as a threat, Antonio spoke with many as well. Deep male voices conveyed his aggression.

“You are not being sacrificed.  We have a new purpose for you. The mentor has chosen you specifically for this.”  Reassurance did not do anything to sway Antonio.  He felt perhaps a threat may.  “Do you really want us to release something to enforce this decision?”

Time to fold his bluffing hand had come around.  Antonio could not take on something created to orchestrate the maneuvers.  The voices fell submissive in his reply. “What do you need me to do?”

Vincent had passed out and missed the point where the lights returned.  Whatever had haunted his cell was gone.  Hope was betting on it was gone.  Regaining his footing, he noticed the seated Antonio was still present.  With fear in his voice Vincent searched for answers.  “What happened?  What are you?  What was that?”  He wanted to know yet feared the answer. 

“You don’t remember?”  Antonio said with a little pride.  “I know my punch knocked you out.  I did not realize it also wiped your memory clean. Maybe, it is the drugs you are on?”

“I know what I saw.  I am not even on drugs.” Vincent was adamant in his self defense.  Raising his hands to Antonio to show the dried blood along his fingers, Vincent entered a scared depraved state. “You did this to me, you and your friend!”

“Are we really going down this road again?”  Antonio was a bit smug in his answer.  “This is what got you knocked out the first time.”

Screams caught the attention of a guard.  He had made his way to the cell that held the two newly minted nemeses.  “Be silent!”  The command was even more firm than the voices Antonio had just mustered.  “What is going on?”

“I was just informing my friend here that I am going to confess.”  First to speak was usually the first believed.  Antonio learned that lesson long ago.  Leaning against the cell wall to whisper to the guard, “he is having an,” the fingers of Antonio made air quotes, “episode.”

The county deputy had a little more weight than when he was a new recruit.  He also carried a little more wisdom.  He knew to hear both sides of the story before rushing to judgment.  Knowing that not too many people became one of his guests by being honest, both sides needed to be heard. “Is that what happened?”

“Not even slightly,” Vincent slammed his body against the jail cell.  Bloodied hands wrapped tightly around the metal cell bar. “This man is not a man!”  The statement hit the other two with a bit of instant scoffing.  “When the power went out, he and his friend both came to haunt me.  Look at his eyes and tell me he is normal.  I have already been found guilty what else do the ghosts want, my blood?”  Frantic words did not convey sanity to the jailer. 

“We will get to that.” Hiding his ridicule was hard.  There had been no power outages that were known. Fortunately, he was a veteran. “What happened to your hands?”

“I don’t know!”  Words escaped Vincent’s mouth as desperate as he had become. “I am telling you they did this to me!” 

“Just tell me how then.”  Signaling for assistance the deputy knew when a drug addict was coming into a serious incident. 

“I don’t know!”  Vincent just needed someone to believe him.  The irony struck him that he could sell a lie anytime he wanted to, but getting someone to believe the truth, was not in his tool box.  “I just need you to believe me.”  Hope had left him.  When the assistance showed up it increased his struggle.  Three guards rushed the cell and pinned him to the ground.  “Why won’t you believe what I saw?”  He kept repeating those words as they wrestled him out the door and down the hall. 

When the struggling prisoner disappeared down the hall, the deputy returned to Antonio.  “Eh, he will be just fine. What were you saying before that unpleasantness?”

“I want to make a statement.”  Antonio portrayed the humility of someone making a guilty plea.  “Can you get me my lawyer?”

Smiling, the deputy wondered if they should put anyone awaiting a murder charge in a cell with a lunatic.  He could revolutionize the judicial system with the act.  The detectives had failed to get a confession but not even an hour into the holding cell, this man was confessing.  “Before I waste their time on this fine evening, would you care telling me what it is that you want to tell him?”

Ohio still had the death penalty.  If he gambled with his innocence, there was only a slim chance he would be convicted.  Rewarding that slim chance with the number of murder he was charged with committing would surely mean his end.  Death of the body meant he could not do the mission the mentor had chosen for him.  A deal could be made however.   He could plead guilty in exchange for a promise to get life in prison instead of death.  Deals such as that were common. It would not take much effort.  The only problem he would face was being immortal in this realm.  A life sentence could outlast the prison.  Someone would eventually notice after he had served the equivalent of several life sentences.  His mentor would find a solution when that time came.  If he was obedient they would keep him in this realm and avoid the real prison of Hell.  “Tell him I want to make a deal.”Street view

Fatal Introductions Chapter 18

Barberton grill 1

Every relationship starts getting serious.  One of the key indicators was to meet each other’s friends.  Harold was up first.  He had planned to gain even more trust from Sienna by introducing Antonio to her at a bar.  The laid back meeting place was to help things go right and drown out if things went wrong.  Antonio always seemed to be at home in a bar.  Sienna was not a bar person but Harold would be there for her.  Besides she had the night off.  A night where Sienna could unwind was rare, and she was going to enjoy it. 

The relationship was a fake.  Harold knew he had to make it real in appearance.  Trust was the only way to gain access to the camera monitors.  As minor as it seemed, the building he was targeting was essential for shipping the inventory all over the country.  It would also be another fire that a public relations guru could not make disappear without explanation.

Following the first fire, a company spokesman immediately reacted.  Successfully diverting the blame for leaving the building in a state where it could catch fire.  The focus was shifted to the heroics of the police force saving the homeless man from death.  A well funded legal team ensured the investigation did not ruin the company name.  Harold hated watching the company act like they had the politicians in their pocket.  He wondered if they did.  The effort and risk he took yielded no rewards.  The next target had to be located in a highly populated area.  It would have to be a blaze that was not simply extinguished.  The fire would be fueled by the inventory to create a sore the company could not easily explain away.  Black smoke from burning rubber would beacon all eyes to the company that ruined his life.

Sienna would be a casualty of the financial fallout.  He had grown attached to her but not enough to keep from reaching his goal.  Any act he did and was caught doing would be traced back to her.  Perception was reality in the court of public opinion.  The sentence would be handed down to her family.  It was a sacrifice Harold was willing to make.  He felt the least he could do was to take her out to a nice dinner and drinks.  When this was all over he may even want to date her without ulterior motives.  Surely she could understand the need for such a sacrifice, Harold justified. 

Sienna had dressed like a real person she thought.  It was a chance for her to get out in a dress.  The fit was a little bit snugger since last time she wore it.  Quite some time had passed since she was able to justify wearing date clothes.  If it was not going to be tonight, what major event would have to happen for her to pull them out of her closet?  Debating with herself had become one of Sienna’s past times.  The usual answer was the least attractive one.  Tonight, she was bucking the trend.  She was choosing to feel the most attractive.  The kids were with a babysitter so tonight it was time to have real adult fun.  Harold had brought that back into her life.  She did not want to say anything and chase him away, even though, she was falling for him.  It had been so long since she reached this point with anyone, that it scared her on how he would react. 

Antonio was running a bit late, giving Harold time to show his getaway place to his date.  Times where she would send him a message were answered from this very bar he said almost proudly.  He did not include the part where it was the safe haven after Jess left him.  Calling the regulars and bartender by name and getting a return of the salutation, made Harold appear to be important.  He at least felt that way.  It was nice to see her guy was popular.  Part of the single mother wished it was not in a bar.  Confidence was not lacking from him here though.  That part impressed her. 

Bar scenes were abandoned far into her past, Sienna barely remembered them.  She whispered a joke to Harold she figured it would be a man who drove her back to one.  Shared laughs were part of the bonding of their relationship.  It had been a long time since she allowed her guard down enough to risk forming that bond.  Even her children were noticing the change in her demeanor.  The smile she carried had been permanent for the last few times she had talked with him.  It had been awhile since she had called herself anyone’s girlfriend. Harold was going to change that.

Drinks flowed as the wait for Antonio drug on.  Her rule of a two drink maximum had already been broken.  The words started flowing more as the wall of niceties were drowned away.  The volume of her voice was getting loud enough to compete with the growing background noise of the jukebox.  Smiling was a new constant as the jokes between her and Harold revealed a genuine chemistry.  Then in one quick flashback the laughter was cut.  Memories from work rarely were happy.  The memory of the slender but somewhat tall man approaching the table was a work memory.  Fears were realized when Harold rose to greet him.

“Antonio, this is the woman who has been stealing my time.”  Harold announced proudly as he pointed toward Sienna.  Those words created a nightmare scenario.  Antonio was the man, who more than likely was the murderer from the other day.  She had already given his description to the police.  Part of her wondered if she should sneak away and call the police. 

“Nice to meet you Sienna,” Antonio presented his hand for the greeting.  Holding it in place awaiting the seated woman, Harold’s friend wanted to make a good first impression.  Her tension was not hard for him to sense.  One of Antonio’s natural gifts was to understand other’s feelings with a few hints.  A few drunken nights Harold told him he missed his calling.  The occupations he stated how it would help ranged from poker ace to psychologist.  “Harold has told me so much about you.”

Reluctantly Sienna offered her hand back.  Her line of work must have already been known if Harold mentioned much about her.  “Nice to meet you, too,” the tone was a little more flat than his greeting.  Acting was never her strong suit.  Her kids made sure she was well aware of that fact.

“Do I know you?”  The bit of familiarity struck Antonio quickly.  He knew exactly where he had seen the security guard before.  Several times their paths seemed to cross. one in recent enough memory where she would remember.  “I swear you look familiar.”  Tension had developed the moment their eyes met.  Antonio was just adding to it by bringing the question up. 

“I agree you do look a bit familiar.  Do you work at Stanley?”  Sienna caught the misdirection of tension and shifted it back to him.  She knew he was not an employee, but mentioning where she had seen him might make him uncomfortable.  She honestly wanted the tension to reside entirely with their dinner companion.  A confession of why he was at the location of the murder might give her clarity on what to tell Harold.

“I used to.” Anger mixed into the answer.  “Moved on to better things,” Antonio was trying to make himself sound better.  He had experienced the judgment of people when they heard of a lost job.  Pride was struck when they cast their eyes.  The reasons for the job loss never seemed to matter.  Unemployment was a status that people immediately inserted into a stranger’s character. 

Tension doubled in the air as Antonio took his seat.  It almost knocked Harold over.  Girlfriend and friend were the two assets of his life.  Both the plan and the cover relied on the two sitting at the table.  Harold would have to cut the tension to save the separate relationships.  “Sienna works for their central security.”  Fake pride was a smokescreen to subdue her.  Antonio would follow his lead he hoped.  There was too much at stake for him to chase her away. 

“Must be a nice job,” Antonio picked up on Harold’s lead.  “When I worked there we never ran into them, but we knew they were there.”  Wounded pride shrank.  “I have to admit it is work I could not do.  Staring at the same screen for hours would put me to sleep.”

“There are days.” Harold interrupted her intent.  For the sake of the evening she would move forward with the conversation.  Wary that she might be having dinner with a killer Sienna kept her guard up.  No matter what she was doing she would keep a watchful eye on their dinner guest.  “You learn to make a game of it, craving every little movement.”

“I bet.”  It was not hard to see that Harold’s romantic interest was not going to trust him.  All the sidekick could do was to play the small talk game.  It may be a form of communication, but all he was doing was making noise with the other two.  Antonio wondered which of his acts of defiance was caught on camera. 

Her patrol revealed Antonio’s victim.  Media went wild when the police reported the body.  Sienna kept her mouth shut about what she had seen.  The attention on the News would put a spotlight on her that she did not want.  Harold was the only person she had informed.  One thing she did not mention was a description of the man she witnessed fleeing.  If she had discussed that with him this meeting might have never take place.  Their relationship might not be strong enough yet for her to cause legal problems for his friends.  As much as Sienna wanted to do the right thing Harold might be her future.

“What was that murdered body found on your guy’s property all about?”  Antonio wanted to play off what he did know.  There were few brief moments he could recall about that night.  After the news announcement there was a bit of wonder if Harold had anything to do with it.  Antonio was well aware of Harold’s stance on taking a life, but part of him wondered if he had broken that yet.  They had a mission and some of his partner’s convictions were getting in the way. Still, there was a moment where Harold had ventured away by himself.

Sienna could not believe the guy she had just met was fishing for inside information.  The report she gave the cops was not public knowledge as far as she was concerned.  There was a line she did not want to cross and become one of ‘those’ girlfriends, but Harold’s friend was not winning her over.  “I was actually stuck behind the cameras that night.  No one tells me anything.” 

Harold chimed in.   He knew they were there that night and caught a break by not going through with their plans.  “Don’t worry. I am sure with all the hassle that would ensue; you got a break not hearing anything.”

Conversations can provide entertainment or information.  They can carry reassurances or humor.  The trio’s talk was nervous attempt at killing time.  The laughs were few and far between.  Forced interest was a prevalent cloud.  Antonio had started off on a bad side of Sienna and did nothing to change her opinion.  Interrogating the security guard, provided no real information for Antonio.  It was a waste of an evening. 

Sliding his chair away from the table, Antonio prepared to depart.  “The evening has been fun, but I am afraid, I am getting too old to stay up much later.  You two have fun and be safe.”  He was younger than Harold but Antonio was well aware of his status.  The longer the third wheel stayed the longer his friend had to entertain him.  Nothing was truly gained for him from the meeting. He had plans of his own that required his focus and energy.

“Are you sure you have to go?”  Feigned concern would earn Sienna points.  She liked Harold.  His friend’s approval meant nothing in the grand scheme.  She invested a lot into this relationship.  Faking sympathy for someone he cared about was not that much more of an investment.

“I am afraid I must.”  Maybe Harold was deceived but Antonio knew the ploy she was playing.  He was not wanted there.  They needed her as an unknowing accomplice. Money was running low. An outside motivation from personal justice was driving Antonio.  Harold had not yet reached the level of desperation where he could partner with Antonio’s other schemes.  The forces out in the city were darker than his blue collar life could currently comprehend.  Antonio was ready to be a tutor. The student was not yet ready to accept the lesson. Slamming his last twenty dollar bill on the table, “you two have a drink on me as payment for the company.” 

Harold rose to his feet.  “I appreciate it. Are you sure you cannot stay?”  Sienna was not happy in the delay.  The option had already been presented and turned down.  She just wanted him gone. She craved have alone time with her possible love.

“Really, you two have a good night.  I will look you up tomorrow man.”  The departure was a game.  Sienna had played it well.  She displayed a care for his friend’s company when there wasn’t any.  He knew Harold was smart enough to see it as well.  A final verdict Antonio issued was that Sienna would be no problem to their plans. 

As his friend departed through the door, Harold returned his attention to his date.  She was anxious and ready to ambush him with all the questions she had been holding back.  “How long have you two been friends?”  The opening question was pretty harmless.  It would take a little stealth to work up to the actions of the other night. 

Harold had been ready.  The spotlight had clearly hit him the moment the two people left in his world met.  “We have been friends for over a decade, ever since I taught him how to steal a pop from the machine at our old work place.”  Bragging about ripping off his former and her current company, made Harold feel a little empowered.  He spent the next few minutes relaying the story, and how stingy the break room machines were.  Even after they had been paid, they still had to be shaken to pay out their end of the bargain.

A long detailed explanation did not dissuade her from her goal.  After a few more harmless questions she struck straight to the point.  “Did you hang out with him a few nights ago?”  The thought of the murder and Antonio at the scene, made her pray Harold had not been involved.   

Immediately a fear that they had been spotted and identified put Harold at unease.  If she placed him at the place of a potential crime, he would never be able to use her.  The access Sienna’s job provided him would be closed off.  All the effort placed in earning the trust would be wasted.  “No,” hiding the defensive tone was hard. “I told you I was home and went straight to bed.”  Showing her the text messages they exchanged that night as proof.

The bar seemed to enclose on Harold as he felt the sudden judgment.   If he failed to convince her, all was going to be lost.  Something in particular seemed to draw a judging look on him.  It was a face he swore he had seen before but could not place where.  The woman was enjoying her drink as she was writing notes with her quill pen.  He had to be drunk Harold justified.  No one used quill pens anymore.  He had to deflect the questions back to Sienna.  Whatever she knew he had to dig out, He wanted to confront and disarm it.  “Why what did he do?”  Ignorance played in his tone.   Pride was taken in the ability to portray a clueless man, when it came to these types of conversations.  Jess had helped him perfect the art when they were married.

“I am just curious.”  Sienna was not as good as playing ignorant.  Telling her partner that his friend was a murderer would place a strain on their future.  Still she wondered if he would be strong enough to handle the truth.  Truth would eventually come out.  Would she be punished for hiding it from him?

“There is more to it isn’t there?”  Harold felt compelled to call out her lie.  It would be the only way to get to what she truly knew.  “You have seen him before with your work haven’t you?” 

Saying anything would have been the way to avoid this confrontation.  She lacked the foresight to know that.  The struggle in her mind was larger than she perceived it would be.  How much would be lost if she spoke the truth?  How much respect would she lose?  The fear of going back to being alone was trumping all other emotions.  She did not want to lose her man.  The bar was full of women who would gladly take him off her hands.  One particular woman caught Sienna’s eyes, the reddish haired woman with that stupid pen.  The woman’s face was familiar, and even though the city was pretty big, familiar faces crossed paths often.  Still Sienna could not place where.  The intrigue did not take her prisoner as she turned to her man.  “I was curious how much time you two spend together.”

***

A sight that was not common enough for the rest of the worker’s at the shelter, was the young college girls on the serving line. The two girls were both owners of flawless faces, painted more for a night out than serving the poor.  Their hair must have taken hours of time. Men who had been without real food for days were more distracted by the two girls then they were finally beating starvation.  Holidays brought an influx of volunteers but not usually during this time of year.  There were no holidays close enough to guilt the young, obviously rich girls to the shelter.  They were either doing the act out of kindness or because it was to be closer to someone else in the volunteer staff.  Antonio could sense things like that at any distance.  It was a common act with people their age.

The shorter blonde was visibly unhappy to be there.  She looked to be out of her element by not being in charge.  It added to her discomfort.  Not to the point however where she would be a suitable candidate to recruit.  He needed desperation.  The darker haired companion invading a coworker’s personal space would never let her leave anyway.  While the two young girls were pleasant to his eyes, they were not conducive to his plans.  

Long bench seating provided an excuse to slam his tray and body down next to someone and start a conversation.  Antonio could almost smell desperation levels on anyone.  What got in his way were personal morals the person may have.  He felt his job in finding the right partner, was to find someone who he could persuade away from those moral obstructions.  He prided himself on never being stopped by those morals.  Some targets took longer than others. 

Part of the free meal that was received was hearing a sermon.  For most it was a small price to pay for a meal that was not from a dumpster.  Antonio used the sermons to gauge his potential targets by how well they were paying attention.  He wanted someone who was either too intent or too disinterested.  Too intent meant they were at a point where they had hit rock bottom if he could reach them they would be easy to manipulate.  He could use one last crime as a means to a better life.  If the target was not interested, it was due to the belief they did not think the sermon applied to them.  Their luck had been down for so long that they no longer believed anyone was looking out for them.  It was sort of a game to him to find the right ones. 

Judith and Marie could not be more opposite than the two girls in the serving line.  Both had experienced real life.  Scars of wisdom had covered their faces.  Their hair had dulled a little bit from the time they were the serving line girl’s age.  The roads life had lead them on, ultimately, ended up in this shelter.  Misery bonds friends quickly, and the two had become inseparable, even though they were opposites.

Marie was listening intent to the sermon.  Each word drilled a permanent look of attention on her face.  Latching onto the message as if it were meant entirely for her, she had become a focus of Antonio.  He was immediately sold on the duo when he noticed the disdain Judith recoiled with every moment she heard a word over the slurping of her soup.

Antonio became the snake moving silently weaving through the forest of people.  Sitting across from the women they immediately had the sense not to talk to him.  His words came out so seductive to changing their lives, they had no choice but to listen.  “How would you like to change your lives for good?”

***

store streets

Marie sighed a bit of relief as she was finally brave enough to fund her redemption.  Each handful placed into the bag was a step closer to climbing out of the gutter.  It amazed the former clerk that a store would keep this much cash at its location.  The other troubling part was that for as much money that was kept on location, there was no real security in place.  It was the blessing she had hoped and prayed for all those times.  The ease of the moment assured her conscious that this was meant to be. 

Judith did not believe in the answered prayer theory.  She bought into the naïve owner theory.  It amazed her that such carelessness would have been taken in handling someone’s assets.  Having never spent much time around a business that produced money she could only speculate one would take better care.  The small store had existed only a short time, and from what she could tell, its main item was lottery tickets.  No inventory seemed to be that attractive even to slip in a pocket.  The target made the older woman feel insecure about the safety and ease of the cash.  Feeling the store had another purpose, could not be easily dismissed.  Despite Antonio’s explanation of immigrant owners Judith had been around long enough to know something was not right.

Shadows seemed to have become Antonio’s comfort zone.  While the women did the work, he hid in them.  Even an easy mark needed a lookout to make sure schemes went smoothly.  Whether the scheme was to turn a good natured woman into a thief or a good hearted man into a murderer, it always helped if there was no interference.  Antonio was there to prevent the interference of wealth changing hands.  The women’s lives would be changed forever after this.  It would not hurt that he got a boost from it as well.  Bringing Harold down this path seemed impossible but he was not going to give up.  Profit was to be made now that the doors had been opened.  Greed had a way of trumping desperation.  Antonio was leading the desperate away from their shadows. 

Whipping the money into the bag at a faster pace, Judith felt the growing sense of impending doom.  They had to hurry and get the deed done quickly.  She had a trust in Antonio but it was not enough to overthrow her growing suspicion.  Something was going to happen, even though they had taken precautions, it would not be enough to deter the bad.  Every change of light, every flicker of a bulb on the flashlights grew the unnerving feeling.  It was becoming well fed at the buffet of Judith’s worry.  The creaking in the floor originated at Marie’s feet.  The money was not going into the bag fast enough.

A hand flew up quickly from Antonio.  He needed all the movement to stop as a familiar feeling had crossed him.  New accomplishes did not catch the signal right away.  Annoyance replaced the worry for a moment as he repeated the action.  Finally, the rookies to crime caught the meaning.  Their muscles tensed as all movement stopped.  Sound of each breath magnified.  A threat to his profit and safety had made itself known. 

Painted glass flew as it shattered.  The projectiles sliced the skin of Antonio’s cheek.  Pain did not follow the trickles of his blood.  A warning gave him enough time to lower his head out of the brick’s way.  It was a distraction to the trio as soon after the soft thud of six shots chased in the open window.  A suppressed flash meant the gunman was not a minor thug.  Familiar noises can trigger memories, this time it triggered another robbery gone bad.  The party that looked over the other shop a few streets down apparently also watched over this place.  Silenced pistol shots had created a memory that Antonio had hoped never to repeat.  To his dismay, he was reliving that moment now. 

Concern for his two minions disappeared the second the window shattered.  Escaping became his only purpose.  Survival outweighed the need to keep the two women alive.  He knew he made the right decision when his legs pushed him past the two slumping bodies.  He almost tripped over Judith.  Painful desperation had caused her hand to lurch forward.  She had survived on the street for a long time. Sadly, she was going to die when she tried to leave it. 

The groans of pain from Marie let Antonio know both women were still alive.  Two deaths would not be added to his tally today.  Their passing truly would not have bothered him.  Real damage would come if it became his reputation that partnering with him would lead to certain death.  Bleeding to death may be in their future that blood would not be on his hands.  The crime’s lookout could live with knowing that.  A quick kick of his leg freed him from Judith’s dying clutch. 

Springing to his feet Antonio once again was upright.  Silenced shots no longer were a threat as the flashing of sirens replaced them.  Silent alarms must have informed a monitoring company that the store was being robbed.  Whoever was the guardian of these neighborhoods would have to wait for his justice later.  The police were calling dibs on bringing Antonio in. 

Reaching the back door, he noticed the familiar red and blue lights shine through the cracks around the door frame.  He had no choice he would have to find a place to hide.  An opportunity to escape would have to present itself.  Antonio felt too important to go down by a petty break in and robbery. 

Clemmons was the first one in the door. Within a breath behind him followed his back up.  With weapons raised, their arms crossed with flashlights to make the light parallel to the barrels.  Nerves stayed focused as the possibility of an armed bandit became a real possibility.  Two bodies with non lethal shots in their shoulders were on the floor.  Writhing in pain on the floor in a growing pool of blood, it was not hard to know they were part of the original crime gone wrong.  The lack of a gun meant there was at least one other person to find. 

Nights like tonight made time go by fast for the officers.  A bit of adrenaline hit Clemmons when he noticed the two women.  Robberies were one thing but the area seemed to have more than its share of bodies the last few days.  Securing the scene was a priority. They could get paramedics in to look at the women’s injuries as soon as it was safe.  Each minute the search took lowered the women’s chances for survival a percentage.

Ever since the first statement about Antonio that the veteran officer took he had painted an appearance in his mind.  Vision of what the man’s appearance would be had occupied Clemmons.  When the flashlight shined on the hiding man, Clemmons knew he had met the man.  There was no real place for him to hide; Antonio had hoped the injured women would have distracted the officers.  Any delay in the police search would have created the cloak Antonio could use to make his escape.  That cloak never shrouded the look out.

“Get on the ground and keep your hands visible.”  The stories had created a bias Clemmons could not hide.  He could not blame bad decisions on the man who was getting in the prone position in front of him.  It was very clear that Antonio was a catalyst. 

Judith looked at Marie.  The women had gone this route to get out of the gutter.  They had placed a lot of trust in Antonio’s promise that he would get them out of the shelter.  Neither woman could have imagined they would replace the shelter or street with prison.   She let out a painful grunt as she had a moment of clarity that the recruiter to the life of crime kept his promise.

 

Thanks to Rick Rupert for the excellent photography for this chapter.  Contact him at Rupertrick@gmail.com to inquire about his work.