[ . ]
I am a very successfully unhappy person.
I feel emotion, don’t get me wrong. I feel a great sadness when innocent people are unfairly treated to an early exit from this world. Though, let’s face it. None of us are truly innocent of everything. Regardless, no one should be sent out of this existence for a crime far less worthy of such punishment than something else, and that makes me sad.
But when confronted with this somehow common occurrence, I find myself also feeling a pit of anger boiling up knowing that someone has managed to evade the justice they so deserve for an action far more deserving of it than others. Those scum of society deserve the punishment they actively laugh at not having to serve, even if someone has to work around the law in order to pick up what the courts managed to drop.
Unsurprisingly, that manages to bring on a flood of disappointment and shame, knowing that there are people in the world far less funded by the American government, thus the American people, that can and have to do what the law lacks the guts to.
Everything needs to be proper, and everything needs to be clean. Everything needs to be dressed up from head to toe and look spick and span, and yet those clean-shaven faces of what’s wrong with society often dress to such a lavish degree because they hide a grimey truth far greater than those they look down upon. People that have done far worse than what others have been sent to the electric chair for, and yet convince themselves to believe that they can justify their actions are the people that need to be taken care of in order to allow change to begin taking its course.
I take great pleasure in knowing that there will be a day in which those people are taken care of by whomever it may be sporting the courage to do something about this injustice. And at this rate, it’s probably the only hope I have at finding true, unbridled happiness.
[ . ]
“He is truly a revolutionary individual, capable and able to do literally anything he needs to do in order to make things right, and see things return to order.”
Ass kissing at its upmost finest.
“Who would’ve known a man half my age would be running the show above me, huh?”
If the platinum gray hair wasn’t enough to get the point across, the subtle hostility and vigor of not being able to follow in his father’s footsteps due to my unforseen rise to the top sure helped move the needle along.
Following, or trying to follow in the footsteps of the late Jeremiah Duane was the end goal the now not-so-young Warren never realized was unable to be achieved purely by telling people what they wanted to hear.
When confronted with executives sold on the idea of removing VeroSoft Industries from public trading, Little Warren simply nodded his head and hoped for the best, only to find his reluctance to use the word “no” sending the company into ten years of crippling, near-insurmountable debt.
“When you can bring a company back from the grave of financial ruin before some people your age can figure out how how a 401k works, you tend to find yourself in high favor.”
There’s something you’re spot on about, Warren. When Good Ole’ Papa Duane looks down on you to such a degree that you’re not even redeemable enough to have dinner with the rest of the family, you know damn well there’s no chance you come anywhere near being the kind of man your father was.
You’ll never find his success, regardless of your last name. And you’ll never share his same level of accomplishments…
“I’d now like to welcome him to share the stage with me.”
… But you do share his love for making and distributing child pornography… And THAT, Warren… Is quite the example of grimey truth.
“Allow me to present, the Youngest CEO in VeroSoft Industries history, Mr. Joshua Lane!”
I hate bright lights, and I hate banquet halls. Yet here I am, in a banquet hall with a bold, ridiculously oversized spotlight aimed directly at my face.
Standing from my seat, the applause is more annoying than anything. All he said was my name and one characteristic about me, a characteristic that, may I remind you, isn’t even the most interesting characteristic to me, and the crowd erupted like the end of a good movie, attempting to shower the cast and crew with appreciation for the masterpiece they had a hand in crafting.
I’m far from a masterpiece, and this movie is nowhere near being over, despite how much I would like for it to be. But if doing this helps me accomplish what I desire to do, I’m willing to go with it and put on a smile I have too little experience to make look genuine.
“Thank you. It’s only fitting that the man who put us in the hole introduces us to the man that took us out of it!”
Crowd laughs, it’s the easiest bait. Like a worm in a pond over-populated with fish, you know everyone will bite if they can. Again, I’m willing to go with it. Especially if it helps me refund the unsubtle pedophile zinger from earlier.
Anger-infused smile plastered across his face like wallpaper, we all know he’s got a fire burning in the pit of his soul right now just as he knows he can’t piss off the man that signs his checks.
“In all seriousness. This company is more than I can give it credit for, and this year has proven more so than any before that we’re still capable of so much more.”
If I have to be forced to put on a suit and act proper, I’ll be honest… VeroSoft isn’t a bad place to be stuck in. I’ll give credit where credit is due to be given, five central-locations in five major American markets isn’t exactly the worst case scenario. Don’t even get me started on the salaries… Those numbers… They take care of a lot of unneeded stress.
I know it sounds like I’m in love with this place, but I’m not. Truly, I’m not. There is a ton wrong with society, and a good portion of that ton hides behind our walls. But with every place in the world I could land in consideration… This wasn’t the roughest landing I could have crashed into.
“The market for technological advancements has never been more open than it is now, and the perception of it has never been stronger. The world we have chosen to set our feet into has unlimited room to grow going forward, and so does VeroSoft.”
“The only way to go from here is forward, and going forward… We’ll only get better.”
A round of applause… Not as meaningful when the mention of someone’s name sets it off, but still holds weight regardless. At least I know I didn’t alienate anyone, so there’s a plus. It’s always nice to be able to easily gauge the impact you’re leaving.
“Well, look at you!”
I never expect to turn around and like what I end up seeing, but… I almost never expect to turn around to you…
“Quite the raving speech you gave up there Mr. Short and Sweet. What was your inspiration?”
Ah, yes… Miss Eliza Bradburry, the only person I have failed to find out enough about to understand whether or not they are the good or the bad that society offers…
And I don’t think I mind… At least, not just yet.
“Making sure the stupid fucking spotlight shined on my back instead of in my eyes was a good starting point.”
I don’t usually like cursing… It doesn’t scream professionalism. But with you, I feel comfortable not knowing what purpose you offer the world. It’s nothing bordering on attraction, don’t be mistaken… But just as there’s a beauty in disappearing into the middle of everything, there’s equal beauty in finding stability in beds with the sharpest of nails.
“You’re quite the looker without hunks of plastic covering your eyes, so I’m in the camp of guessing that’s a fair inspiration to have. If only I could’ve found you sooner.”
Is that… Flirtation? I mean, I know I have more money than I care to admit, but were the past nine months that you’ve been here just been the initial steps in getting yourself closer to it? Is that the kind of person you are, Eliza? Have I figured you out? Have I unintentionally cracked the code to the way you live your-
“Too bad I don’t like dick”
“Do you need a ride, Eliza?”
Joking around with you is fun. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have many people I can feel some sort of free around, so you’re refreshing. The more time I spend with you, however, has just made me think about what your secrets are more and more. It makes me think about myself and what I am.
Why do I claim to be fine with not knowing who you are, only to try harder to figure it out than I have with anyone else? I mean, Warren brings folders of young kids set up in precarious positions into work every day on a flash drive. All it takes is one little glance to know what kind of sick bastard you’re dealing with when around him. But you’re a different story, Eliza. You’re gorgeous. You’re successful. You’re alluring to the point where you can entrap anyone into a conversation for hours and they wouldn’t once mind. You’ve declined dates from men all around the office, and the same applies to the women. No one has seen your home, no one knows your family, and I’m sure there are people that don’t even think your name is Eliza.
Why am I so fascinated, yet so complacent around you, E?
“I’m alright, but I appreciate the offer. I’ll see you on Monday, though?”
Of course you’d decline, I wouldn’t expect anything less. To offer, though… It’s at least courteous.
Maybe. I might be a little busy to say the least.
“Great, talk to you soon.”
Watching you walk away is like heaven. Legs of a goddess and yet arms waving at your sides exuding confidence in every stride. You’re a combination of ferocity in charismatic bliss and the human form of lust. It drives me crazy that I can’t figure out who you are, and yet it’s easier for me to sit back and accept it than to dig for the truth.
Maybe not knowing everything about you gives me the ability to be free so much so to the point that losing that ability would strip myself of one of the only outlets I have to vent… Or even truly exist for that matter.
That voice makes my skin crawl, but knowing that yours sags like watery paint slowly gliding down drywall makes it a little more bearable.
“Way to upstage me, earlier… It was quite the crowd pleaser!”
Warren, if I needed someone to tell me the crowd was receptive to the repetitive sludge I was spewing like a sewer grate, I surely wouldn’t trust someone of your intellect. I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to find a way to get a crowd to laugh even if it hit you over the head.
“Yeah, wonderful speech up there! Really sent the investors home happy!”
And I see you brought Sir Fuckwad along with you! Not many people can be caught committing tax fraud multiple times and still find a way to be promoted to President of VeroSoft Industries, but you Mr. Alec Cerine are the exception to that formerly crucial rule. Well done you vindictive bastard, well fucking done.
“I’m appreciative, Alec”
“You have no clue how happy that makes me”
“Happy enough to grab a drink out a LeMirage?”
Never in my life have I wanted to punch someone in the face and run in the opposite direction than I do now. Drinking with an elderly pedophile and a near-middle aged misogynist at near one o’clock in the morning is just about at the bottom of my bucket list.
“I would, but we’ve all been drinking all night. It’s only a matter of a drink or two before the night becomes a blur”
And by that, I mean take the hint and save yourself the trouble.
“I have no problem with that”
Of course you don’t, Warren. Of course you don’t.
“If it keeps me from being yelled at by the wife, then neither do I!”
Which one, Alec? The fifth or sixth one? Or maybe you went back to the third again, I’ve simply lost track.
If you can’t take the hint, I’ll hand it to you outright. I don’t want to go anywhere near you unless work forces me to.
“I’d love to”
God fucking damnit, wrong fucking words, Josh… Wrong fucking words.
The smell of privilege coats the walls of this upper class establishment like a damp rag. I’m starting to understand why this place is called ‘LaMirage’... Everyone sitting here hides a dark underbelly with a wealthy front. They wear masks to hide the fact that they’re irredeemable, but only they are too oblivious, or perhaps too stubborn to accept the fact that no matter the lies they tell themselves, they’ll never amount to anything good, let alone what they desire to become.
“So you find yourself at a crossroads having to choose between doing what’s good or doing what’s less than favorable. If the good action damages all you’ve come to love, and the unfavorable action only serves as the sacrifice you have to make to ensure everything works in the way it was planned to, why sacrifice all you’ve worked for just to spare your morale a kick below the belt?”
How fitting of you, Alec. A man that’s been married more times than the moon has been explored, and has sacrificed more livelihoods than reality television has ruined for the smallest of rewards is giving me a lecture of the importance, or lack thereof, of the human morale. How weak.
“Strong words, Alec.”
He’s been looking at me all night long, staring daggers into my soul knowing that I notice. All night long, he’s known and he doesn’t care. He’s trying to tell me that he’s either figured me out, or he’s close to doing so. The problem is, there’s nothing to figure out about me. I’m an open book, I just keep the pages contained within my mind. I don’t like sharing them. It’s too much for the world to deal with.
“What do you do outside of work, Josh?”
What makes your so interested, Warren? Why do you care what my out-of-suit activities are? You sit there, smugly sipping away at aged bourbon younger than yourself acting like you are. No one believes that you do, but I’m sold on the idea that you’re somehow too self-centered to be self-aware enough to notice it. Let’s see if it’s possible to get through to you.”
“I’m sure we can all agree that’s nothing you care to hear about, Warren.”
“Pretty much” he says, hysterically laughing through sips as Alec and Josh join in, though less emphatically.
Swing and a miss.
“How about you and Eliza, Josh?”
Well that’s a foul ball to the face I never saw coming.
He’s brandishing this sadistic smile, almost like he could get off of this if he were alone.
“You and Eliza. You’re always hanging around each other… And it’s not so secretive that neither of you have a significant other to, let’s just say, maneuver around.”
I’d rather not use that terminology, keep it to yourself.
“We’re acquaintances. Nothing emotional. Nothing physical. Nothing more than conversational.”
Hmph, maybe Warren and I can get on the same page every now and then after all.
“No one sneaks around to have a conversation the way you guys do.”
“Warren’s right, everyone knows how many eyes are on that chick. You’re residing in a special place for her. She’s dropping everything just to talk to you.”
Okay, fine. I’ll admit that there is a chemistry that I have with Eliza that I don’t share with anyone else. I appreciate that chemistry, and I’m better for it. There’s nothing off limits besides the things that most acquaintances, dare I say friends, consider off limits. It’s a mutual respect for one another than any normal person has. Why should I be any different?
“There’s nothing going on between the two of us. I can guarantee you that.”
Warren’s nodding only further implies he doesn’t believe a lick of what I am saying, and Alec’s refusal to acknowledge my response by going back to sipping on his drink implies the same. I’m not getting anywhere in this conversation. I think it’s time to cut my losses and figure out a way to the front door and onwards.
“Well I think I’m about ready to call it a night and head out. Thanks for the drinks. I’ll see you in the office on Mo-”
Goddamnit, why can’t Warren stop trying to impede my progress to where I need to go?
“Where do you need to be so hurriedly at two in the morning? You’ve got no wife, no kids, and you’re always claiming to never sleep. What’ve you got to lose in having one more shot with us?”
Perhaps my consciousness, Warren? I know I’m not exactly your selected demographic, but I do know when I’m being bated in. Even if I have to be blunt and, quite honestly, a little suspicious… I know how to get myself out of a corner.
“It’s two in the morning, man. I’ve got things to do. And I would be remise if I said I didn’t like losing my Saturday’s over sleeping in.”
He’s not going to let me go that easily.
“What things to do? Fishing with the high school buddies?”
End the night on a laugh and duck and cover the questions.
“Yeah, it’s the perfect excuse to dump a few bodies beyond retrieval. Can’t lose that!”
Everyone’s laughing. Good. They’ll let me head home now.
“You have a good evening, gentlemen. I’ll see you bright and early next week!”
“Alright, Josh. Take care, drive safe.”
Bingo. I’ve swiped my card and opened the door to escape. Catch you on the other side, assholes.
Ugh, god. I forget what it was that made me decide a 5:30am start to my day, even on weekends, was a good idea, but I hate it for dooming me to a life of exhaustion and I hate myself even more for still going with it for all these years.
At least it makes sure my days aren’t wasted. And boy, oh boy…
1 NEW MESSAGE:
Eliza: Coffee, early bird?
Does it sure have its benefits… As rare as they may be.
Josh: See you in 20.
My apartment isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d expect me to find joy in returning to. Overpriced and right off a busy street, it’s New York’s perfect architectural stereotype. Surrounded by the lost souls tucked away behind bland and palateless ties, it’s just about the last place you’d expect to find me staying.
That’s both a very bad thing, and a very good thing.
It lets me walk a few paces around the street, and disappear into the middle of activity’s hub. It also lets me round the corner into a small, almost completely out of the way coffee shop where I typically find you waiting for me each Saturday morning.
Eliza and I, we don’t exactly have a professional or emotional relationship. There’s never been anything further than the occasional friendly flirt every now and then, but that doesn’t mean we’re the usual definition of friends. That word is a fairly strong one for me, but considering ‘acquaintance’ is pretty much the first step down in my eyes, I find comfort in calling you such.
She was the first person I ever found an interest in talking to. You remember those suits I’ve talked so much about hating? Wishing they’d fall into a giant blender and take those filthy actions to the grave with them?
“Coffee, black. No cream, no sugar. You sure you don’t want to put on a tie and join your other money-hungry besties out there?”
It’s safe to assume she feels the same way about them…
“I hear you went out drinking with the companies top gropers last night” she says, sipping from her drink before raising an eyebrow. “Care to explain?”
I take a sip of my coffee, matching her pose and lifting an eyebrow in her direction, flipping the tables like a backwards magician. “What explanation do you care for?”
There are a few things Ms. Eliza typically asks about…
“Any info on Jenn?”
Jennifer is one of them. A high school drop out turned stripper that Alec just happened to “stumble” upon one day and offer an internship to. After a few years of unpaid overtime, and by that I mean bruised knees and red elbows, she found herself informed enough to land a job as his secretary, and then the office’s secretary.
“Not as far as I’m aware. No mention of her at all last night.”
She slouches back into her seat, visibly upset at the lack of new information, only to return to leaning up against the table and taking another swig of her coffee.
“What about Warren?”
Letting out a sigh of frustration, I nod slowly. “What about him?”
I worried she would ask that. It’s not that I have any preference towards hiding the truth away from her, I just have no clue what she’d do if she were to find out what I know about Warren. I never like talking about anything new regarding him because I worry that I’ll say something hinting to what I already know, and that… That would work against me.
“Nothing you could sell” I respond. She doesn’t like that.
“Not sell…” She says. “Tip off.”
What I didn’t mention about Eliza is that she covets a different belief in how justice should work than mine. She believes that every soul stranded in the bodies of an evil person should be embarrassed to the highest degree, and forced to watch themselves lose everything they had slithered their ways into. The best way of accomplishing that? Anonymously tip off the press for a price and let society, relentless and cold, do the rest. She uses me for her own gain, and I’m fine with that.
I do the same.
“Do you know where he’ll be tonight?”
Crossing her leg, one over the other, she retrieves a piece of paper from her purse, sliding it over to my side of the table. “Fourth street. Right off Review. Right after 12.”
Plastered on the paper are text bubbles between Warren and a woman named Georgia. They’ve been trading messages for weeks now, trying to pinpoint a time to no avail. This is their first attempt to meet in person. That information… That information helps.
“And the girl?” I ask, making sure to note the fact that I’m down a question.
Sliding another envelope, Eliza watches me open it and shuffle through a few sheets of paper, all directly correlating to Georgia in one way or another.
“She’s looking for a pool, twelve-by-nine in dimension. Seems like a small pool, but to those their own.”
Eliza was smart and good, but she wasn’t thorough enough to know that a “pool” was code for library of pictures, and “twelve-by-nine” was code for nine through twelve year olds. In case you’re wondering, I know this because Warren doesn’t typically spend too much time trying to figure out a difficult way to code “selling child pornography.” All you have to do is look between the lines and figure out what he’s trying to say.
One day Eliza will start to piece the puzzle together. I’m just glad I get to use her brain to figure out my own shit now whilst I still can.
“Keep digging. You didn’t get me as much as I got you today, and you better believe I’ll remember that.”
I can’t help but smile.
“I know you will.”
She grabs her coat and makes towards the door.
“See you Friday, Josh.”
Okay, so if you haven’t figured it out already… “See you Monday” means “I’ll see you tomorrow” as we only say it on Friday. “See you Friday” means “See you at work.” Friday is Monday because the office is like the weekend, we have so many people doing our work for us that it’s really just a long off week every week. Monday is Saturday because that’s when the work truly begins. That’s when we take initiative for whatever reason we have in doing so.
I can never help but watch as she walks away. I’m a single man, what can I say? No restraints being used to tie me to one person, I’m more receptive when I see a nice pair of legs. Am I supposed to be ashamed? Well, maybe… But I’m not. I know everything there is to not know about Eliza other than her filthy secrets. The darkest depths one’s soul takes to indulge their diluted pleasures. I used to be okay with it, but I’m wondering if that’s bound to change the further involved I get with her, professionally or unprofessionally.
I want to be sure that I’m still okay with that. But I’m just not sure anymore, regardless of how often I tell myself that I am.
New York is a disgusting mess of busy bodies just aiming to do anything BUT work. The daylight shines a brighter light on just how sinister supposedly “normal people” are. But the nighttime? That’s an entirely untameable beast that truly brings out the vivid colors those nine-to-five try so desperately to fight from escaping.
Thank you and to hell with you at the same, miserable time, New York.
Finally, after what feels like an eon of internal dialogue reprimanding myself for choosing the life that I did, I see you strut across the street heading straight for the St. Luciano’s Grill and Tavern. Sultry red dress and silver, almost pristine high heels only lessened in value by the amount of hatred you have for wearing them that, by the way, is completely noticeable.
That disgust you have looks good on you, Georgia. Does your excuses have that affect too?
“Hey! Watch it!”
And there you are, Warren. Thanks for joining the party. You’re surprisingly on time for a man who looks like he’s had a few to drink. I guess you take it seriously when duty calls.
So do I.
This bar is loud and obnoxious, and this jean jacket I’m using in hopes of blending in is doing nothing for the circulation of blood in my arms. But if this is my existence for the next hour or so, it’s worth it just to further understand what it is that needs to be done to make sure you earn the justice you so actively deserve.
“Water on the rocks” I say confidently to the bartender, who looks out of place behind the bar. He knows how to do his job, but he’s not in uniform like the rest. To make matters stranger, he’s almost unable to detach his eyes from the same target I’m unable to detach ears from.
Is he? Almost certainly… There’s our first true piece of intel about Georgia… Smart enough to bring back up. Assure herself she’s not walking into a trap without a key. Smart woman. Any smarter than myself?
“It’s all here. Every model of every request. Slim, blonde, symmetrical and unsearchable. All here.”
There’s another piece of vital information. It seems that Warren has found his victims of the “Missing Persons” variety. Much easier to keep tabs on him, at least.
“I want section I, N, Y, O, R. How long?”
“Pick up, $250. Transport, $1.5”
Pick up? Transport? Shit, those numbers aren’t below six digits. This isn’t a child pornography ring at all.
“Transport. Six days.”
This… This is a human trafficking ring!
“When and where?”
Retrieving a cloth and wiping the ends of the folder she just held in her hand, the woman replies, “Long Island dock. Gate 14. Just after midnight.”
Shaking hands, the woman heads off with the bartender having just served me taking off out the back door of the establishment. After a few minutes, Warren stands from his seat and begins towards the exit of the building. This… This is far more dangerous than I had ever expected to get involved with.
But it’s not like I’m a stranger to the idea of getting in over my head.
Oh, Warren. How many times have you done this? How many times have you gotten away with things like this? How many people have you sent to a life of hell, or, dare I assume, their graves? You… You must be stopped.
Thankfully, you prefer alleyways as your method of being unseen. You think hiding behind the darkest shadows of New York’s streets is beneficial towards disappearing into your true passion. It’s the same as when I actively pursue someone finding the justice they deserve to suffer at the hands of in hopes of it finding me true happiness.
Well, Warren… if alleyways help you disappear as much as bringing people to justice helps me become happy… I’ve got some news for you… It never helps.
The gravel beneath your feet is like dropping a bowling ball on glass in an echo chamber, alerting everything that you’re stepping on sensitive material.
1 NEW MESSAGE:
Eliza: Any luck?
You’re anxious. Every sound heard for miles brings you closer to paranoia… And it should. It’s a good thing there’s a dumpster for me to hide behind the second you turn around in a burst like you just did.
Another step beneath your feet has you on the edge. Your worried expression brings me great satisfaction. However, it’s not enough.
Your frustration with every pebble beneath your feet sounding louder than the last brings me great pleasure. However, it’s not enough.
Your disappointment that each pebble crunching beneath your weight makes your brilliant plan to escape into silence crumble with it brings me great humor. However, it’s not enough....
Your deathly, thousand-yard stare when you know you’re not alone…
Your white eyes as you feel everything including your tortured soul breaking it’s shackles...
Your gasps for air as you try to imagine whether what’s happening is real or just another figment of your paranoia…
Your hands shaking with uncontrollable adrenaline as your legs give way beneath you…
Your body crashing against the ground as the cold asphalt beneath you begins being covered in warm, thick liquid...
Your desperate pleas to speak as your breath becomes too minimal to resemble words…
The blood leaving your body and the punctures of the blade in my hands imbedding itself within your chest, forcing you to brath your final breaths, and move your final movements…
That is as close to enough as I can get.
And there you are. Laid out on the ground in the middle of a New York alleyway you would never find yourself near under any other circumstances. Bloodied and dead at the hands of… At the hands of me.
An evil, disgusting villain. Vindictive to the end and a failure hidden behind the silk-like sheets of a family name is finally rid of in the most appropriate way. And now, you know…
Now you know why it’s never enough. Because no one, regardless of who is telling the story, is spared from hiding a dark secret.
No one is safe from having to understand what it’s like in the real world behind the mirage.
Behind the upper-class equivalent of a mask.
I, am Joshua Lane. And… That… Is my… Grimey truth.