The past few hours have not exactly been the most alluring of hours for me.
If my COO bleeding out in the street amidst a sea of shocked civilians wasn’t bad enough, I haven’t heard from Eliza since that night. She hasn’t come to work, and in all fairness, no one has since everything went down.
It’s been two weeks. Not a peep from Devine, no sight of Jenn and Dale has been awfully quiet these last few weeks, which is probably in his best interest. I guess laying low would be the smart thing to do, but considering the recent string of trouble I’ve caused, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without trying to do something to clean it up.
The problem I have to face now is… How exactly do I do that?
“Hello, VeroSoft Industries CEO Joshua Lane’s desk, to whom am I speaking?”
Faint, muffled sounds of breathing begin to flow through the phone like industrial music. “Who am I speaking to?”
Without warning, the breathing in the background stops and silence ensues. Rather than question it further, Joshua simply sits in his chair and awaits a response, only for the line to be cut dead before any explanation can be made.
Pulling the phone away from his ear, Joshua looks on into the work space outside of his office door before slowly lowering the phone back into its holder. Rising from his chair, Josh begins slowly walking to the door and starts peering out.
Not a soul too suspicious, not a worker out of place.
Walking towards the secretary’s desk, Josh plays it off as nothing, putting his smile back on and letting his charm do the rest.
“Olivia, how have the past few weeks been?”
Staring up from the computer ahead of her, Olivia smiles and pans her undivided attention to Josh. “Excellent, Mr. Lane. Everyone’s been great. How about yourself?”
Ruffling through a jar of mints placed at the head of the desk, “Hanging in there. Trying to figure out where everything goes from this point on. Stupid cut out calls like those don’t really help matters, huh?”
Tilting her head, Olivia asks. “Cut out calls? When?”
Peeling open the plastic wrapper, Lane tosses the candy into his mouth before answering “Just a few seconds ago.”
“No one’s called for your extension today, at least not from my desk.”
“Oh. Really, huh? Well, I’m sorry to bring it up. Thanks for the mint, it’s appreciated!” Joshua says.
“Of course! And if there’s anything I can help with, just let me know.”
Olivia’s been picking up from where Jenn left off, and I’d be remise if I said she wasn’t handling the responsibility well. Though, it’s easy to overshadow Jenn at her own job. It’s through no fault of Jenn’s though… In her defense, it’s not exactly easy when the President of the company is constantly needing a few, we’ll call them strokes of good fortune.
To Liv’s credit, she’s one hell of a smart cookie. Two degrees from NYU is nothing to laugh at, but when the workforce is as cut throat as today’s world is, it’s hard to find something stable and permanent. Thus, VeroSoft finds itself pleasured to land someone more capable than both Warren and Alec combined on its staff… Even if they’re stapling her behind a phone and a paper shredder.
She’s got nothing to do with that call, I know that. She’s too new and, if we’re being honest here, doesn’t want to be here any more than I do. I know what my extension is, and unless they’ve sat behind that desk, no one else does.
No one waits for a CEO to be available just to call them and hang up in their face. There is something more to this, that’s both a gut instinct and an understand of how these kind of scenarios always happen to play out.
If I want to start cleaning up this mess I’ve made, this might be as good of a place to start as any.
“Hey, you’ve got Eliza. I didn’t answer, so I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me a message and maybe I’ll change my mind. Beep.”
“Hey E, its Josh again. I know corporate isn’t pressuring anyone back into the office yet with all this paranoia going around, but I still need you to pick up. Who knows what’s going on at this rate? I just… I just want to make sure you’re okay. Please, again… Call me back.”
I don’t know what E’s feeling right now. After what happened, I just started driving away until we got to her house. She didn’t say anything to me before she opened the door and walked off. I haven’t bothered trying to get up there yet because I don’t want to put her in a position where she has to face me in person when she’s not ready, especially when she’s not even ready to pick up the phone.
1 New Message:
Jenn: Thanks for checking. I’m all good. Crashing at Dalton’s place for now. He’s keeping the bottle away from me. I’ll talk to you soon.
Alec’s place has been, as you can imagine, sanctioned off as a crime scene. So while it’s a good thing to know that Jenn’s got an old friend to keep her safe, it’s quite disturbing to know that a place with as many dirty secrets as Alec’s condo is practically omitting radio silence from its interior.
No news about anything of note found, nothing about the living room or hallway being suspicious. It’s like the floor safe and locked door didn’t even exist. And in reality, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was actively scrubbed away from public knowledge.
One problem at a time, Josh… You can try to figure out what was in that room later, but for now, you need to figure out who called you earlier.
Dialing a number on his phone, Josh lifts it to his ear and waits.
“VeroSoft Technical Department, how may I assist you?”
Taking a seat in the orange leather chair at the end of his apartment, Josh watches the city life down below from his apartment window. “Yes, hi. I’m Joshua Lane, the VeroSoft CEO in floor eighteen of the Manhattan office building, extension 877. I was calling to request a copy of my call log from today, is there any way you can get that emailed to me?”
“Just give me a second to plug your information, sir. I’ll be right with you.”
After a few brief moments, the woman returns. “Hello, Mr. Lane. We’ve confirmed your extension and we’ll be forwarding you a list of your call logs from earlier today at your registered company email shortly. Is there anything else I can do for you tonight?”
“No that will be all, thank you.”
“It’s our pleasure. The only way from here is forward, you have a lovely evening!”
That damn slogan. Vomit in literary form.
After a few moments, an email appears on Josh’s phone, bringing with it the entirety of the calls sent and received from his office phone earlier. All numbers are ordinary and offer complete information aside from one, with an unregistered number delivered from Queens, New York.
Queens? Who the hell could be calling me from Queens? Why the hell would anyone from Queens be calling me? Whatever the reason, I have a lead. Now the actual work has to be done.
What to do with it.
When you’re the Steve Jobs of the data security world, you happen to find yourself able to just stumble into whatever you want. Dinner with an A-List celebrity too contrived to notice their obnoxious habits but don’t want anyone calling you out for it? Sure, Joshua Lane is your guy. Do you want a plaque placed outside of the busiest train station in the state? Well, for a small loan of a million dollars, we’ll get that going for you right away, Mr. Lane!
Want a pop-up show in some lecture hall less than twenty-four hours in advance that just so happens to be located in satan’s butthole? Well then, Mr. Lane… Queens, New York is ready for you!
It’s not that I hate Queens, I actually quite like being surrounded by misery and the stench of rotten beer, it’s sort of soothing. But the city doesn’t exactly do itself any favors… Poor public transportation systems, stereotypical New Yorkers around every corner, and above all else, the goddamn New York Mets.
Did I mention embarrassing? Because… I should have.
1 New Message:
Unknown ID: Didn’t take you long to come looking for me, did it? Too bad you stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of my fellow basement dwellers. See you tonight, Lane.
Whoever it is trying to get under my skin most likely realizes by now that my level of amusement in trying to piece together this new puzzle far outweighs my fear.
Could this be one of the Pipeline family’s better henchmen playing around with his dinner before he eats it? Sure.
But that risk… Not knowing exactly what fate lies in my path is…
Almost poetic. And I find that quite enthralling.
“Hot dog! Get a dog right here!”
Off to the side of the busy Queens street, a man with a dog by his side eagerly tries to get people to fall in love with his fresh product.
Noticing, Josh steps onto the crosswalk and removes his glasses, lowering them to his hip before requesting the mans finest.
“Holy smokes, you’re Joshua Lane!”
Smiling and dipping his head to the ground, “I am, that’s true.”
Putting together the pup, the cook begins piling on topping after topping. “What’re you doin’ in Queens? Don’t you got better places to be?”
Eyes locked on the surprisingly good looking dog, “I would, but I’ve got some business to tend to here. Figured I’d get a bite to eat before hitting the to-do list.”
Looking up at the umbrella, “Walt Dogs? I have a hunch your name might be Walt.”
Chuckling with his head shaking, “Nah, my pops was. Mine’s Fred. Dad ran the cart right outside Shea for a few years ‘til I took over. He got sick and passed a few years before Citi Field opened. Figured I’d carve out a legacy with a new place, but the same cart, y’know?”
Josh keeps looking at the man, not responding until Fred asks another question. “How ‘bout your pops? He get you into that software jumbo?”
“No, no he wasn’t really there when I was younger” Josh says, taking in a deep breath. “It’s kind of a fifty-fifty chance they are now-a-days, huh?”
Looking long off at the ground as a few people begin to start walking towards the stand, Josh continues. “I had to figure out on my own. Do things the way they felt right to me. And now I sit behind a desk all day and have a team of workers do everything for me, so how’s that for useless?”
As both men laugh, Fred begins shaking his head. “Nah, you ain’t useless.”
Tilting his head without response, Josh watches as Fred explains. “People like you and me got all the time they need on their hands. They don’t gotta answer to nobody… It makes you think you’re untouchable. But when we got all this time, we do a lot of self-reflectin’. When you look in the mirror too long, you start thinkin’ ‘bout more bad than good. Let me promise you, you’re better than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes people have bad thoughts because they don’t know what they got going on, everything’s all muddled. It happens for a reason.”
“What reason is that?”
Placing the final toppings on the dog before handing it to Josh, Fred responds. “Bad thoughts are like a poker hand. You see it before everyone else so you can figure out your chances without the pressure of everyone else knowin’ that. Once you do, you play your hand hopin’ the odds go in your favor. It’s all luck… You’ve had plenty of that so far, so don’t sell yourself short, sport.”
Smiling through a grin, Josh retrieves a few hundred dollar bills from his pocket and places them in the tip jar before shaking Fred’s hand and walking off. As a crowd of people swarm Fred’s stand like flies to a trap, Josh takes a bite of the dog and continues on.
“Hey, you’ve got Eliza. I didn’t answer, so I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me a message and maybe I’ll change my mind. Beep.”
“E, it’s Josh again. Listen, I don’t know whether you’re getting these or not, but I’m hoping you are. If you’re listening to these, I’ll be coming over to your place tonight to check in. I know you can handle yourself and everything, but I just want to make sure you’re doing okay and are safe. If you’re not hearing these… Well, I get it.”
I know Eliza’s got plenty of strength to overcome anything, but watching your boss being butchered in the middle of the street is the kind of shit that scars people for the remainder of their lives. E’s got plenty of time in this world, so the more she can get over everything going on, the sooner she can get back to being herself.
I don’t want to be putting her in an...
I don’t want to be getting off track from what I need to be getting to the bottom of.
“Joshua Lane speaking.”
“Yeah, no shit. I’m not mistaking a money-bloated CEO for a pizza joint.”
Okay, our mystery man has a bit of an attitude.
“Who are you and why are you fixated on me?”
As faint laughing resonates from the phone lines, the skin on Josh’s arms begins to rise and the uneasy tension in the room begins to swirl like foam on the surface of a hot cup of coffee.
“Is it not obvious enough? You’ve pissed off New York’s mafia underbelly and have unleashed a level of carnage that this town hasn’t seen since the thirties. It’s truly quite fascinating in all honesty.”
Breaking the tension, filling the void with anger, Josh responds. “Who are you?”
After a few breaths on the other line, Josh grows impatient and yells the question a second time.
“You will know in due time. But since you’re a guy pretty receptive to analogies… Consider me your guardian angel.”
“My guardian angel?” Josh asks, the man responds. “The one guy with enough eyes in the streets to direct you on the path you need to be on in order to fix this mess you’ve stirred, or I suppose in your words, clean it up.”
“What do you want?” Josh asks, his voice growing calmer but his tone remaining harsh, like the cold blades of a razor wire fence.
“I want things to work out for the both of us. I want to make sure I can count on you to not get arrested, and I want to make sure whatever it is that you do benefits me just as much as it does for you. Clear?”
“No, not really clear dickhead” Josh responds, the vigor in his tone now showing. “Christ, not much a suit has against name calling, huh?”
“I ain’t a…” Josh says, being cut off by the man on the other line now matching his tone. “You ain’t a suit. Blah blah blah, I’ve heard it a million times before. You certainly don’t like being called a suit, but I guess it’s not enough to not actually act like one, huh?”
Swallowing a wad of spit stuck in his throat, Josh asks, “How do I know that I can trust you?”
After a break of subtle laughter on the other end, the man responds. “Because we both know a plethora of things that no one else does. For example, why it’s suspicious that Devine’s not in contact with you as much as you think he probably should be.”
Taking a sip of water, the man continues. “Let me be clear. He knows you had something to do with Warren’s murder, but he hasn’t figured out that your hands were more than just directing traffic. He’s been diving into your daily life, and while you may not know it, he’s been watching you from afar for days.”
Playing along with little else to work with, Josh asks. “Okay, what else?”
“There’s the spirit. Devine’s got a few guys undercover at your conference tonight, so choose your words carefully. Duck out the back door and have your driver pull around to the east-side fire exit. He’ll take your north-bound past a gray subaru, take a look in the front seat and you’ll see Devine right beside you. I guess it’s a good thing you splurged on those heavy-tinted windows.”
“How do I know that I can trust you?”
Smiling, leaning forward at his desk, the man responds. “Once you see Devine, you’ll know how much I’m capable of knowing… And doing for that matter.”
After a pause, the man concludes. “I’ve got business to attend to right now so I’m afraid our conversation will have to be put on hold, Mr. Lane. When you get back into Manhattan, you’ll hear from me again. Talk to you soon, Mr. Lane.”
Before responding, the call drops and Josh is left alone in the middle of the hotel lobby with his bag of clothes. Around him are normal people living their lives as they would any other day, but Josh is left constricted by the reality that everywhere around him lays the eyes of some omnipotent entity, trying to disguise control as care.
Kill a mafia boss with a gold mine of child porn to his family name and get the only man other than myself he answers to pulverized in the street. If that wasn’t enough, I’m sure this indoctrination to whatever religion could be created out of this will be enough to satisfy anyone of their rigid desires to get the most out of life.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are pleased to welcome to the stage, the CEO of VeroSoft Industries, Mr. Joshua Elroy Lane!”
Once more, name equals sufficient applause. Never gets old… Just stale and redundant.
“Thank you, Mrs Kelvin for the warm welcome. And thank you Queens for the wonderful reception.”
These shoes hurt and I want a shot of whiskey, but at least the spotlight isn’t blinding me with every blink.
“When I started working in this field, I never assumed I’d find myself earning millions every year and being planted on the cover of magazine after magazine before I even turned 26. But the world works quickly, and it passes by without you even getting the chance to notice it. If you’re not careful, every bit of the world you see will pass you by like roadkill and before you know it, you’ll be looking at the hub of everything from the outside, wishing you had been more attentive.”
These conferences hurt for more than one reason. The most notable is the fact that it always feels like I’m speaking as someone else. I never think of anything further than what I perceive it to be when I’m off on my own, but when I’m this character on a stage, I take every angle into consideration.
The bigger reason is the fact that I’m a more complete person when I’m pretending to be the man I that hate looking at in the mirror than when I’m the man I tell myself I’m proud of being. That’s a bigger kick in the nuts than literally anything else.
“But I think there needs to be something said about what truly goes on in the daily life of a company executive. We don’t look at that central hub of everything passing us by alone. We have teams of engineers, script writers, service responders and tons more than pretty much make me expendable. I earn millions every year just sitting on my ass as other people do the work for me, while I get all the credit.”
Pushing the boundaries of what I can get away with is the most enthralling victory I get. Having the chance to blur the lines between the two faces I put on and managing to work another day the way I did the last in spite of that makes everything worth it. If I need to choose my words carefully, I may as well do it my way.
“Hundreds and thousands of incredibly smart and strategic people far more capable than myself are truly what makes VeroSoft run smoothly and efficiently. They are the ones that keep VeroSoft moving in one direction… Forward.”
It may seem ingenuine, and perhaps it’s pandering. But, credit should be given to where credit is due. I’ll still be looked at as a hero and a visionary regardless of what I say now, but at least I’ll have acknowledged the work of people that probably need a boost more than anything else.
“I look at people for what they truly are. All around New York, the most powerful people have dark and often times ugly secrets that they don’t want anyone to know, and it’s cost me a few friends of mine along the way, especially over the past few weeks.”
I may be giving credit to where it’s due, but avoiding suspicion surely helps my cause, right? It’s a pill worth having to swallow.
“People living life on the edge end up finding themselves victim to the risk they’re always seeming to play with. It’s just the way that life works. But rather than pretend like that’s uncommon and unknown, I’d rather be open about it. When you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned every once in a while until you stumble your way into an inferno. When you can afford gallons of water to extinguish the flames, it helps. But the trouble never finds a way to go away. I know what I’m surrounded with, and rather than look at it as inherently bad or evil, I look at it hoping for the best. Hoping that the dark truths that some people hide aren’t reflective of themselves, but the situation they are surrounded with and grow up in. It makes things easier to understand. And sometimes… We need things to show themselves like we’re kids. Make things easy so we’re better adjusted to the challenges everything else shuffles in our paths.”
Taking a pause, looking out into the crowd, speechless and anxiously awaiting his next words, Josh takes a deep breath. “Challenges make us better. It made me the man that I am today, and it made VeroSoft the industry-shifter that it’s symbolized for being. You have to take a chance every once in a while to elicit a response. When you listen to that response, you can begin to change for the better. Understand what you’re working with more fluently. Understand who, and what, you’re trying to be.”
Looking around the room before fighting a tear from his eye, Josh concludes. “You can’t change the way the world spins. But you damn sure can create enough of a change to influence its tilt. You don’t need to bite off more than you can chew to change the world. You just need to know what you’re biting into.”
Applause erupts, and Josh watches out at the crowd, speechless with a thousand thoughts fluttering through his head until he notices a man in a dark gray suit stand from his seat and walk to the doors.
“Sir” Josh calls out from the crowd, forcing the man in the suit to change directions, staring on at Josh at the head of the stage, attention fixated on the man in the crisp black suit and pearly-white tie.
“Got somewhere to be?” Josh asks, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head, challenging the man to return to his seat.
“Family emergency. Kid’s sick.”
“Wow” Josh responds, tucking his hands into his pockets and lowering his tone of voice. “Hundreds of dollars spent for nothing, wouldn’t you say?” A few moments go by with the crowd too confused to say anything, only watching along as the conversation drops like a feather from a pillow. “Hope your kid gets better, man. I would hate to have you skip out on me again.”
Sensing hostility and piecing together the all too-uncomfortable puzzle, the man smirks and acknowledges his appreciation for Josh’ best wishes before walking off in silence, adjusting his suit jacket over his chest and biting his lip in aggravated fashion.
“Now” Josh says, turning back to the audience, lifting one hand out of his pocket and raising it into the air, posing with it balanced steadily amidst the tension-flooded air. “Where were we?”
“Great show, Mr. Lane. Thank you so much for coming out here!” The stage attendant says, shaking Josh’s hand rapidly. “Easy there, killer. I’m still just a regular person, shake my hand as you would anyone else.”
The shaking decreases, but Josh remains noticing the sweat of the palm of the attendants hand. “Getting there, you’ll work on it.” Turning from the stage attendant to greet the remainder of the event hall staff, Josh is pulled aside and handed an envelope, sealed and stamped from an undisclosed location. Walking aside, Joshua heads back for his dressing room and closes the door behind him. Opening it, Joshua finds pictures of a home and a bag of hair placed in a shoe box in the closet of the prior mentioned home. At the bottom of the envelope is a letter, folded over and over again and taped to the bottom.
“Josh. It wasn’t easy, but it’s done. If you need anything else, I’ll be hard to find….
But not impossible. - D”
Disappearing act or not, as good as he is at it, Dale never fails to get the job done. Give him a task and what he wants for it and he’ll make sure you get out of him what you give.
Now, perhaps the question on anyone and everyone’s mind is “What does giving Officer Helms a bag of Warren Duane’s hair have to do with getting rid of the Pipeline Family issue?” And the answer to that is simple.
Officer Helms is one of Lt. Devine’s closest allies. He trusts him with whatever task he needs done, and Helms is to Devine much of what Dale is to the vigilante group that pursues him… A man you’re guaranteed will come through on what he says he’ll do.
Dale is reliable to us the same way that Officer Helms is to Lt. Devine, so if Helms goes down, whatever it is that Dale’s involvement in this matter is, will become much clearer than before. Whether he’s a small cog in the wheel or an imperative piece to the wheel itself, we’ll all find out as the dominoes start to crumble.
But that’s not good enough for me.
If I want this thorn in my side gone, I need to rip the root of the tree it came from out of the ground.
I don’t just need Officer Helms to go down, but I need him to take Lt. Devine down with him. So how do I do that? Well, I already did.
That car ride Devine gave me a few weeks back, the one I mentioned would come in handy? Well… It definitely did come in handy… Handy enough to discard of a murder weapon in such a way that it incriminates the person whose name is connected with the same date and time the car was out of police line.
What do you know? The same car was signed out by Lt. Devine for a vast number of hours before, after and immediately during the time Warren Duane was killed. How do i know this?
I need to keep some secrets to myself.
“Mr. Lane?” comes a voice from the entry to the dressing room, “Your car is ready” the voice says, ushering Josh out of the room and down a long, narrow and dark hallway into a back ally of the building. Turning the corner, Josh sees his town car waiting beside the entrance to a nearby nightclub, waiting for him.
“Thank you, I appreciate it” Josh says back to the man, who assures him of it being his pleasure before returning to the event hall. Entering the car, Josh sits in his regular seat, watching out the window as the car begins taking its regular route, and Josh watches Devine’s car, in the place the anonymous guardian angel said it would be, still watching to find Josh.
Slumping back into his seat, Josh pulls out his phone and turns it on, noticing a lack of notifications, more specifically a lack of notifications from both Eliza and the guardian angel.
After a few touches, Josh places the phone to his ear before awaiting a response.
“Hey, you’ve got Eliza. I didn’t answer, so I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me a message and maybe I’ll change my mind. Beep.”
“Hey E, I’m on my way out of Queens and heading to your place as we… As I speak. I hope you’re doing alright, as per usual. We don’t have to talk for too long if you don’t want to, I just really want to stop by and make sure you’re doing alright. Please, please call me back.”
Dropping the phone to his lap, Josh watches the town around him float by, and every man, woman and child becomes one with the world moving past him just the same as the buildings, cars and flashing lights. Just before pulling onto the first bridge out of Queens, a few blocks away from Citi Field, Josh looks outside of his window to see Fred and his gleaming hot dog cart serving a crowd of customers amidst the crowded Queens streets.
Smiling, Josh turns to face away from the window and watch the street ahead as the car begins its journey back home.
“I’m just not the biggest birthday guy, N. It’s just another day!” says Josh, wearing a smile of pride as a woman behind him extends her arms outwards, clutching onto a well wrapped gift box. “Please” The woman says, “I don’t need an excuse to give you a gift. It just so happened that one popped up!”
Turning back to the woman with a sarcastically defeated grin, Josh takes the box from the woman’s hand and begins unwrapped the silk red bow atop. Finally uncovering the box inside, Josh lifts the lid and retrieves a dark blue box, which he opens to reveal a watch with the words “The only direction is forward” engraved in its metal band.
“Do you like it?” The woman asks, just as Josh pulls from the box a note tied to the watch holder inside. “Josh, keep going. Love, Nora.”
Lifting his gaze from the watch to the woman, Josh lowers the box to his side before walking up to Nora and taking her in his arms, placing his chin on her shoulder and giving her a peck on the neck.
“I take that as a yes” Nora responds, earning a giggle out of Josh as he responds “I love you.”
Giving her a second peck on the cheek, Josh moves his head from Nora’s shoulder to look her in the eyes, only to stumble backwards in shock, falling to the ground. “NORA!” Josh screams, watching her face as her eyes turn a lifeless white and her skin grows pale. “NORA! NORA ANSWER ME!” Josh screams as the woman in front of him goes completely limp, her jaw falls open as her toothless gums take precedence.
Placing his hand to the ground, Josh attempts to slowly stand to his feet, inching closer to the woman with each breath before, slowly, the woman begins falling forward, inching closer to the ground alongside the sound of the creaking wood beneath her feet, responding to absence of pressure further and further until the woman finally falls completely over, toppling like a broken mannequin onto Josh, pinning him to the floor with authority.
Jumping awake in the backseat of his town car, Josh rubs his eyes quickly before reaching into his pocket and retrieving his phone, being met with the caller ID of “Unknown Caller.” Sliding his finger across the screen, Josh lifts the phone to his ears before raising the window of the divider between the front seat and the back.
“Hello” Josh says, scrambling to catch his breath.
“Believe me now?” The caller asks. Taking a sip of a drink in the background before the chimes of glass-on-glass ring throughout the phone like a bad headache.
“Fine, I’ll let my guard down a little bit. What do you want from me?” Josh asks, slouching into his seat and loosening his tie.
“I told you. I want to help you find a way to help me. Were you not paying attention, Josh?”
“What does that mean? What does me not getting caught by the police have to do with you getting what you want?” Josh asks, looking around outside the window as the dead of night surrounds him on the outskirts of Manhattan.
“Listen to me carefully and pay attention, Josh. You’ve got a hefty target on your back. I’m trying to make sure anyone with an arrow to shoot is sending them off with a broken bow, do you understand?”
“Not really, but I’m following you so far.”
Taking another sip, the man on the other line continues, resting his feet up on the glass countertop ahead of him as he does so. “The Lieutenant knows you’re involved in Warren Duane’s murder. The Lieutenant is close to figuring out that you were in Alec and Jenn’s apartment on the night Alec was murdered. The Lieutenant is beginning to convince Jenn that you had something to do with her boyfriend’s slaying. There is no longer a soul you can turn around to for help as long as you don’t have something to assure your innocence with. Let me make this one thing clear, whether it’s Jenn or the Lieutenant, people will start talking and the word will start to spread. So let me clarify this little piece of information to you Josh, when word begins to linger, people end up exploring into the past more than they would have before. And I’m fully aware that there are a few dark memories you have in your past that don’t take too much effort to unearth. So… Make of that information what you will.”
Breathing increasing in rapidity, Josh struggles to find the words to respond with before being cut off by the man on the other line.
“The only reason I’m morally alright with helping you is the fact that I know what you’re doing is backed by what you believe are good intentions. You’re not killing random people on the street, you’re killing bad people that would easily be able to buy their way out of the courtroom free men. You’re doing something that cannot be bought or bribed and rightfully so. I agree with what you’re doing, but I also know that when people do what you’re doing for a long enough time, the lines between what is morally good and bad to them begin blurring heavier and heavier until the line no longer exists. I’m not saying it’ll happen to you going forward, but I think we’re both open enough to understand the fact… Josh…
That it wouldn’t be the first time. At least, not for you.”
Eyes becoming watery, Josh shakes his head in disagreement.
“It didn’t happen like that” Josh says, only to find himself cut off from explaining further.
“I don’t care how it happened, Josh. What matters is that it did happen. And it’s because of what happened that you realized just how corrupted the justice system truly was. It wasn’t alright and you decided that it needed to pay, or at the very least, the people that gamed the system needed to. So whatever reason was present for why everything unfolded in the way that it did, it was what it was. There’s no traveling around that now, Josh.”
Trembling, Josh gathers his breath and calms himself down, asking calmly “What do I do.”
“I’ll tell you right now… Very few people are truly as they appear. Good kids have some dark traumas and rude people have some broken souls, it’s just the way the world spins. But, as you said, there are things you can do to influence its tilt. What you’re doing is something that most people see as divisive, but I’m on the side that looks at it as morally right. People that deserve to be punished aren’t getting what they deserve, and that’s not right. Someone needs to give them the justice they deserve, even if they have to sneak around and bend the rules a little bit. I want the same thing that you want, Josh. The only difference between you and I is the fact that you’re the one getting your hands dirty. As long as you stay out of prison, we both get to watch the people that deserve punishment get what’s coming to them. So with that being said, are you willing to work with me or not?”
This guy, whomever he is, he’s got power and he’s got connections. I’m not someone that refuses to acknowledge when someone’s got the upper hand over me, I just never say it aloud. If that is HONESTLY all he wants, then perhaps staying on his good side would be within my best interest.
“Fine. Don’t screw me over, and I’ll keep to what I need to keep to.”
Silence fills the line, the lack of dialogue lingers until it turns from ominous to dreadful, finally the man on the other line breaks the dread like a sharp knife through a line of rope. “Good. I’ll be in touch. Don’t get yourself in trouble.”
The line cuts off suddenly, and Josh lowers the phone to his lap, staring at his phone screen before it fades off to black. Returning to his regular position, Josh settles down and returns to facing the window, noticing the city he’s become all too comfortable with begin surrounding him like a swarm of bees to a garden of vibrant flowers.
“Any chance you can keep the motor running? I don’t think I’ll be long” Josh says, earning a thumbs up from the driver ahead, anticipating a short stay at Eliza’s. Through the winding, remorseless backroads of quiet New York, trees in the dark forest begin illuminating in a subtle blue and red, flashing with the lights ahead as the town car carrying Josh begins slowly inching by one police car after another.
The calm drive begins one of surprise and confusion, as the number of red-and-blue flashing cars increases the closer to Eliza’s home that the town car gets. One after another, patrol cars line the small, quiet backroads like ominous paper dolls until the car is stopped suddenly halfway up the final hill to the home.
Pulling the release of the door, sending the heavy metal seal flying open with force, Josh climbs out of the backseat and faces the top of the hill, flooded with police cars and the officers that drive them. Out of the blue, an officer comes up behind Josh and taps him on the shoulder as a second begins talking with Josh’s driver.
“What’s going on?” Josh turns to ask the officer, a puzzled look covers his face like a blanket in the dead of winter. “I can’t disclose anything to you or anyone else yet sir, I’m going to need to ask you to leave unless you have business here” the officer responds, attempting to nicely inform Josh that he needs to leave. “I’m Josh Lane. I work for VeroSoft, this is my subordinates house. Is she okay?” The officer attempts to respond, only for a second officer to walk over to the now anxious Josh with a calm manner.
“Sir, you said this was your employee’s house?” The officer asks, prompting Josh to turn to him and respond in kind.
“Sir, I regret to inform you that a body has been found inside the home earlier today. We have not identified the individual’s remains yet, but if you can tell us anything about the person that owns the home, it would be appreciated.”
Stunned into silence, Josh stands staring blankly at the officer, who continues to try for whatever he can get out of Josh, “I know this is difficult, but we’re already on borrowed time. Anything would help.”
Turning his attention from the officer to the house ahead, Josh notices Lieutenant Devine walk down Eliza’s front steps with her shoes and jacket in bags, enraging Josh, remaining stood in silence, fuming with anger, unresponsive as his eyes narrow, and his top teeth burrow into his bottom lip.