*chirp chirp chirp*
Waking from her sleep, Eliza is faced with the blinding sight of the sun aimed directly at her eyes through the cover-less open window of her bedroom wall. The natural alarm clock serves as a wake up notice to the newly raven-haired lady, who rises from the soft fabric sheets of her bed to the warm hardwood floor beneath.
Warm robe now adorned and fuzzy slippers now slipped on, Eliza walks over to the connected bathroom and looks into the mirror, watching her new black hair fall out of her bun and over her shoulders, Eliza reaches out towards the mirror and pulls it open, revealing her toothbrush and toothpaste before being taken in hand.
This is the kind of life I used to imagine having as a kid. Not as a retreat from society, but as my permanent residence on the outskirts of the chaotic mess that the society inhabited. It was the most peaceful thing I could imagine having, which gave it the perfect separation from the actual hell I was infesting.
It’s wonderful. Truly the most scenic beauty one could afford. Nothing more than what nature intended around it, and nothing less than spectacular.
But despite the beauty I surround myself with being so out of place from the life I’ve always known, I still find it difficult to let go of the life I’m temporarily, or possibly permanently removed from. The anarchy of digging past the surface level to uncover a dark truth to someone they had no intention of anyone ever finding.
When you dig into someone else’s mind, however, you end up becoming so enamored with what you see that you end up questioning your own motives and actions. The ability to grow self-aware in the spots that you never wanted to be aware of becomes infuriating. That furious rage you uncover within yourself is only made worse when you’re just as bad as the people you’re digging for dirt on.
The fury didn’t just begin when I started working, though. It started the night Lieutenant Devine broke into my house and informed me that the people I had been associating myself with were just as dangerous as the people I had always revered. The night he told me that you were just using me to get what you wanted. To get the information you needed to do supposedly heinous acts. I didn’t want to believe him when he told me that you were a dangerous man. I didn’t want to believe that our friendship or bond, one that I was truly falling for in one respect or another, was based off of misplaced trust and such foul usage.
Retreating from her bedroom bathroom and into the hallway, Eliza aims directly for the room at the end, pulling for the doorknob and entering the secretive den-like space. Closing the door behind her, she places a coffee pot in the machine it belongs to and starts a brew, sitting in the desk chair beside it and looking directly at an ice-white wall, caked in pictures and writings all centering around Joshua Lane, Lieutenant Devine, Warren Duane, Alec Cerine and others.
But then I started piecing everything together. Then I started to read between the blurred lines I now had the ability to see. That’s when it all started making sense.
Pulling the pot from the coffee machine, Eliza pours herself a cup of straight-black coffee, placing it to her lips and kicking her feet up on a cushion sofa directly ahead of her.
I don’t know what you were using that information to do yet, Josh. And I don’t know whether or not you’re a monster. Honestly, I don’t know if I should care. But I know you were using that information. And in doing so, I know you were using me. But that’s okay…
Standing from her chair, Eliza walks over to the drywall and removes a thumbtack from a plastic container stash before pinning it into the wall over a picture of Warren Duane’s crime scene, right beside a picture of a hiking trip with Josh and other office workers, where Josh brandishes a knife closely resembling that of a police sketch of what Duane’s murder weapon was supposed to look like.
Because I was using you, too.
I’m used to being lied to. I’m in charge of a globally recognized company, it kind of comes as part of the job, but I never expect it to be used as a scare tactic.
It’s bad enough that Devine heads up the the strongest force in New York, but now I’m certain he heads up the strongest influence of power in the Pipeline, or at least stands up there alongside them.
No one ever really sees the Pipeline, it’s all just people that are outspoken about their association but never the group in general. They’re all hidden away, tucked into little pockets of the city doing the jobs they’re meant to do. Marijuana growth and distribution, whilst not legal, isn’t enough for law enforcement to get involved… I guess I know there’s a reason for that now… It also ensures the Pipeline keeps a heavy influence over the people using their product.
No one asks questions about the Pipeline, good or bad, because there are no questions to ask. They give you something, you take it, and you move on. Repeat the process, nothing more and nothing less.
Human trafficking, believe it or not, is pretty easy to get away with when no one is asking questions.
So when you’re able to get away with doing whatever you want under the guise of operating an underground mafia-like group in favor with the public and untouchable by police that know they’re better off with your influence than without, but are still fed up with how much you get away with under your breath, you end up thinking that you’re untouchable. Invincible.
So what’s killing a successful department head in her own home, in cold blood, on a weeknight, more than another day’s work?
Let me tell you, Devine. You won’t get away with it. Those clothes you were carrying in your hands? The fact that you were the first on the scene staking out a problem no one knew about, undercover, and under raps doesn’t fly with me.
I’ll kill you, Devine. Eliza’s death will not be in vain.
The sound bouncing off the hardwood office doors surprises Josh, who cracks his knee on the bottom of his desk in response, shouting in the process.
“Are you alright!?” Jennifer asks, forcing the door open in response to the shout. “I’m fine!” Josh responds, grabbing at his knee.
“What are you doing here?” Josh asks, waving his hand to grant permission to Jenn to enter and close the door behind her.
Looking around the room, Jenn slowly walks in. “What’s wrong?” Josh asks, taking notice of Jennifer’s unusual mannerisms.
“There’s camera or mics anywhere in here, right?” Jenn asks, being met with a shaking head from Josh. Taking a seat in front of his desk, Jenn slides a flash drive and a key with the tag “B274” tied to it. “What’s this?” Josh asks, sliding it the rest of the way into his hands. On the flash drive, only the manufacturing name appears on the front, and the coded fraction ‘for ½’ appears in white-out on the back.
“Alec told me to give it to you. He said it would be important.” Jennifer answers, confusing Josh.
“Alec’s dead, Jenn” Josh responds, prompting Jenn to shake her head rapidly.
“Before he died. Months ago.”
“What are you talking about, Jenn?” Josh responds, playing around with the switch on the red and black flash drive. “He said you were the only person he trusted with it” Jenn responds.
“He said you were the only person that he knew wasn’t involved in something dangerous, and that if he died, he wanted you to have it and do whatever you felt was necessary with it.”
Looking back to Jenn, Josh responds. “Are you drunk?” Tilting her head back in frustration, Jenn flips Josh the middle finger. “No. I’m just freaked out because I didn’t think he was in any actual danger. I thought he just playing a game and trying to be all scary and shit. But when the cops told me he was stabbed in the street, I knew something was up. I didn’t want to believe it, so I’ve spent the past few weeks just trying to forget about it… But I can’t get it out of my head. What if he got killed because of this thing, Josh?”
On the verge of tears, Jenn remains in her seat as Josh stands from behind his desk and rushes over to comfort her. “Okay, okay” Josh responds, pulling her head into his chest as he rests on his left knee. “Okay, you need to work with me here, Jenn. Can you do that?” Josh asks. Regaining her composure, Jenn nods and catches her breath.
“What do you know about this stuff, Jenn?” Talking through gaps of breath, Jenn answers. “The key is to a storage locker in Buffalo. Alec said he kept portfolios for work hidden there so no one would stumble around and find out confidential reports for the company. They’d be safe and out of the way. I don’t know what’s on the flash drive, though. He just told me to keep it in my nightstand in case something happened to the stuff in Buffalo.”
Portfolios? Company portfolios? I’m not typically one for favoring the electronic advancements we find the world offering every other day at this rate, but I’m part of the 99.9% of VeroSoft workers that have thrown the paper-route out the window.
When I first got the chance, I shredded every financial document I was allowed to and dumped them out of the breakroom window. I’m a literal guy, what can I say?
Keeping paper copies of portfolios in a locker that could be auctioned off the second you miss out on a few payments, especially ones that Alec’s saying are incredibly important is so out of left field that it’s bathing in the bird fountain.
It’s off, and it’s off by a mile and a half.
“Just promise me something, okay?” Jenn asks, Josh meeting her in the eyes. “Tell me whatever it is that you find. I don’t care how hard to swallow it is, I just need to make sure I knew the person I wa-” Jennifer says, cutting herself off as tears begin to roll down her eyes like a rock down a hill.
“The person I was falling in love with.”
Poor taste in men, sure. I don’t even know if that’s debatable or not. Not a great selection you made there, Jenn… But your reason is noble. You want to make sure the person you were falling for was every bit the man you thought he was… Either you’re blind or just have really low standards. Whatever it is, you’ve got my word.
“Whatever I find out, you’ll be the first to know as long as it doesn’t make more of a mess than we already have, okay?” Josh says, “I promise.”
Smiling, Jenn shuts her eyes and nods, burying her head into Josh’s chest again.
First things first… Let’s go to Buffalo.
What will happen, will happen. I never question that for a second. Of course, some people can sneak their way around it with more ease than others, but what remains the same is that what people deserve is what they’ll get, whether that’s in this life or another.
If you put yourself in the line of danger in order to make sure people are caught for their crimes, that’s perfectly fine with me. But when you leap over that line, one so finely dug into the sand, and you take the position of judge and jury into your hands too, that’s when you become less human and more monster to me,
Once you’ve taken it upon yourself to try these disgusting stains of society, you’ve already taken over the role of executioner. You’ve already made up in your mind whether or not you’ll sentence them as guilty or innocent. You don’t just change in a moment, and there’s nothing they can say to get you to respond any differently.
How can I ever look you in the eyes and not see a monster, Josh? It makes sense, what you did, and maybe even why you did it… But I can’t figure out how I could not see it all this time.
I was feeling something for you. What it was I have no clue. But I know that I was feeling something. Now I just feel empty. I couldn’t see a man capable of murdering someone else, someone he knew, in cold blood.
And I almost fell for you. Swept off my feet by a cold sociopath masquerading as a tactical, charming break from the chaotic norm.
I couldn’t see the monster you truly were.
And it sucks.
Nothing but snow or drug addicts for miles… And every corner you round it seems like the national past time is leaping through plastic beer pong tables.
Are we sure this isn’t some discarded part of Canada they left us all those years ago and just… never said anything? If you told me this was really just Montreal’s cousin, I’d believe you, no questions asked.
I guess that makes it perfectly out of the way. The last place anyone would ever expect you to be hiding something.
*Screech* The wheels of the town car squelch as the tires come to a halt. “I’ll be waiting right here for you, Mr. Lane” The driver calls back, prompting Josh to exit the vehicle and walk up to the main gate.
Putting in a code written on the back of the paper attached to the keys, “554476” proves to be the magical number as the large, metal gate slowly grinds open as the world of giant metal buckets becomes Josh’s personal playground for the time being.
Turning the corner.
B101. Getting closer.
Walking down the passageway to circumstantial shock, Josh walks past container after container before finally coming to the end of the rows, finally stumbling across container B274.
Placing the key in and freeing the chambers inside, Josh removes the lock from the metal door and enters the unit.
Is there a lightswitch or something?
Fumbling around the wall, Josh finally comes across a switch, flipping it to power on a massive spotlight at the corner of the space, revealing a workshop spanning three containers wide, having bust down the walls to two units beside it, containing drawer after drawer and desk after desk, with one singular laptop on top of a table in the center of the room.
I swear, any steps further inside and you might as well expect to find me on the FBI’s watchlist. This place is crammed with bin after bin of information, stacked to the top with one paper after another. There’s no end to the documentation in sight! This place could contain every confidential report in U.S history in it and you’d still have room to fit eighty-thousand copies of the Declaration of Independence in here!
Taking notice of the laptop, Josh walks up and removes the flash drive from his pocket and cautiously takes a seat. Sliding the flash drive in, Josh powers on the computer and logs in.
The passcode unlocks the computer, revealing an interface crowded to the brim with folder after folder, all of which named only by numbers.
5342, 6739, 1120, 4588.
How the fuck am I going to use any of this?
Finally, after scouring through every folder on the screen, he finds only one without any numbers or mysterious code to it. One named, simply, “Josh.”
I’m about to get sucked straight through this computer screen and into another dimension, aren’t I? This is how a story about breaking the space time continuum opens isn’t it? My life is a fragile example of human errors, huh? This is how it happens, right?
“Fuck it” Josh mutters under his breath, pressing the icon on the screen and loading up a singular word document titled “Confidential - Josh.”
No portfolios or whatever Jenny told you I have here. I need you to read the following very carefully.
I know you don’t like me. I get it, trust me, I do. I don’t like myself either… That’s kind of why I’ve been married so often. It isn’t easy to love someone else when you can hardly love yourself.
Regardless of how you feel about me, I need you to know that what you see isn’t the full story. There are plenty of things that I do that seem irrational, and if you’re reading this, it’s because I trust you enough to know the truth in case the irrational shit catches up with me.
I know enough about you, sorry for digging too far, to know that you’ve done some fucked up things. I want you to know that I don’t hold any of it against you. When people have money and power, they can weasel their way out of anything they please… Other than death. You’re doing things no judicial system has the balls to do, that’s why I trust you with this information.
Read this carefully. I’m NOT a part of the Pipeline family. Am I close to them? Yeah, I have to be. Everything you see around you, y’know those cabinets full of papers and documents? Yeah… Dirt. Dirt that I’ve been able to save up by being on the inside.
I know I’ll get trapped inside soon enough, but at least you have this to fall back on when I’m not here. Every number has a code to crack. Where do they lead?
They’re false leads.
Once you’ve read this, delete this document and the folder it’s in, and leave everything else the way that it is. It’s a ploy. Look up, over the desk, at the counter right next to the light. There’s a cabinet right above the radio.
Looking up from the laptop, Josh notices the desk exactly as described.
It’s got another flash drive.
It’s the only thing in this entire room with information that actually matters towards anything.
Standing from the chair and aiming for the cabinet, Josh pulls open the door and grabs at a gun-shaped flash drive. Pulling it from the cabinet and placing it in his pocket, Josh aims to return to the desk, only for a gunshot to ring off in the distance, freezing him in place.
Two more shots ring off, forcing Josh to quickly rush back to the computer.
Good luck, Josh.
The statement concludes, and Josh deletes both the document and the folder before hurrying for the metal door.
Bursting from the container without bothering to place the lock back on, Josh rushes for the front gate, placing in the code to open it and hurries for his town car. Pausing for a moment, just looking at the car, Josh notices the passengers window blown out, shattered glass lining the ground.
Slowly approaching the car, Josh leans forward, looking through the passengers window to find his driver dead, one bullet to the head and two slugs to the chest. Eyes widened from the shock, Josh inches back cautiously, hoping the further back he goes, the farther from the truth he’ll be.
“I- I-” Josh tries to speak, only for his vision to go from hazy to black momentarily, as a loud and resounding thud resonates from the impact of something cracking him over the back of the head. Stirring and dazed on the sandy, gravel ground, Josh clutches at the back of his head and rolls over onto his back, watching as Lieutenant Devine clutches at a rock with a devilish smile across his face.
“Hey Joshy boy! Care to have a little… One on one?”
Still thrown for a loop, Josh lays on the verge of unconsciousness as Devine swing down the rock once more, missing by a few inches as Josh rolls off to the side.
Staggering to get back to his feet, Josh clutches at the hood of the town car for support, only for another attempted shot from Devine to force Josh to collapse back to the ground, the crushing blow of the rock against the mirror of the car’s door shattering more glass, this time all over Josh.
Crawling away from his assailant, Josh watches on, desperately trying to figure out ways to defend himself as he continues to watch Devine inch closer towards him, crushing the tiny pebbles beneath his feet, still retaining the disorientating grin.
“I’m sorry it had to be this way, Josh. I know you never really expected this…”
Taking a sigh of relief, Devine puckers his lips and nods to himself.
“Warren was a bad man… That… That I’ll agree with you on” Devine says, chuckling to himself with the rock still clutched in his shaking hand. “But come on, youngest CEO in VeroSoft Industries history!” Devine says, sarcastically listing Josh’ achievements as if they were cannon fodder. “You didn’t really expect there to be a human trafficking ring in the undergrounds of the big apple without a little bit of help, did you?”
“You’re scum!” Josh shouts, crawling to the chainlink fencing along the border, grabbing onto the link behind himself to continue clutching at whatever hope remains of standing a fighting chance against a man armed with a rock. “You’re bound for what you deserve!” Josh shouts, stopping Devine in his tracks.
Flipping his greasy, slicked back hair away from his eyes, Devine laughs and shakes his head. “Probably. But I’ll make one thing sure... It won’t be at your hands.”
Lunging forward, Devine brings down the rock towards Josh again, only for Josh to finally get in some offense, lifting his foot in the air and sending it directly into Devine’s face, forcing him to drop the rock and grab at his nose, trying to stop the blood from pooling out of his nostrils.
With a chance for escape possible, Josh crawls desperately to the town car, watching on as Devine stands back to his feet and makes a dash for Josh.
Tackling the concussed man onto the hood of the car, Devine begins raining down one punch after another, bloodying Josh further with every punch. After a number of strikes, Josh lifts his knee up directly between the belt of the officer ahead of him, dropping him to his knees as Devine’s family jewels feel the effects.
Gaining enough strength to stand to his feet, Josh throws a final knee directly at the bridge of Devine’s nose, sending him to the ground in a heap as Josh staggers back to his feet, crawling around the hood of the car and into the drivers seat.
Pulling the driver’s body from the front seat, Josh collapses into the chair and turns the keys in the ignition, slamming the door beside him shut and putting the car in drive, heading off into the Buffalo night, leaving Devine in the dust.
However, pulling himself up into a seated position, Devine watches on as the car disappears over the lip of the road and beyond, laughing with a cold, chilling smile without words, just watching on as the dust in the air slowly falls back to the ground it was kicked up from.
It didn’t take me long to realize Devine’s plan was to fake my death and make it look like I was out of the way to Josh. Whether it was a tactic to prod at him or break him down, I haven’t figured out yet. But I know now what the woman was brought along for.
Devine looks at the people he associates himself with as expendable. The only reason he kept me alive was to use me as bait if he needed a last resort to get further to Josh.
I shouldn’t have believed Devine after I knew what he did… That poor girl. She may not have even wanted to get involved with the Pipeline, for whatever reason, she may have felt like it was her only option. And here we are, she’s dead and I’m alive because of that.
Even if it feels disgusting to say, as disgusting as any one thing can be sitting in a bubble bath with the news playing in the background can be, I’m glad I trusted Devine’s words.
Josh is a dangerous man, a dangerous man I should be lucky to have escaped the clutches of death from. But by some fucked up miracle…
Devine’s even worse.
I don’t know who deserves a fate worse than death more, I just know that if faced with the law, both men are capable enough of easing their way around corners to get off completely free.
“Breaking news tonight into the KVLR newsroom out of New York including VeroSoft Industries.”
Caught off guard by hearing the name of VeroSoft mentioned on local New Hampshire news, Eliza quickly climbs out of the bathtub and places on a towel, rushing into her bedroom to catch the TV.
“Chief Executive Officer of VeroSoft Joshua Lane has been taken to a hospital tonight following a police stop just outside of Buffalo.”
Holy fucking shit. There’s no goddamn way I’m actually watching everything responsible for the past year of my life unfold on local television all at once.
“Police say the company head, responsible for digging the company out of multiple filings for Bankruptcy was found badly wounded after driving his car into a ditch just outside of Buffalo, New York. Police say that Lane was behind the wheel of a 2014 Lincoln Navigator with blood splatters clearly visible in the front seat of the car. Lane suffered extensive head injuries resulting from the crash, and he is currently in stable condition.
I… I don’t know what to feel right now.
After all I’ve thought over the past few weeks, I should be feeling ecstatic that he’s gotten the punishment that he deserves… But…
But I can’t help but feel sick.
He looked after me and cared enough to leave me message after message trying to make sure I was alright. He’s helped Jenn countless times get home safely after a night of too much drinking at the bar. I know he’s done horrible, disgusting things, but a pit inside of me feels horrible knowing that somewhere inside of that… monster… A good man also got the same taste of medicine the bad man inside should have.
Why the fuck am I so torn over this? I should be happy. The fucker got what he deserved. It was only a matter of time before he got what was coming to him.
What the fuck is wrong with me? Why the fuck is this as much of a bad thing as it is good? Why is this a bad thing in any way at all? FUCK!
*buzz buzz buzz*
Ringing off the hook, Josh’s phone goes off in his pocket, refusing to stop until the badly wounded man finally reaches into his pocket to retrieve it.
“What!?” Josh shouts.
“Listen to me carefully, Josh…” The man on the other line says, prompting Josh to scream suddenly.
“What the FUCK could you want now, puppet boy!?”
“Stop the car, Josh” The man responds on the other end of the phone line, only for Josh to press his foot to the pedal, flooring the car higher and higher in speed until it reaches its highest acceleration.
“Josh. You need to listen to me. Your car is-” The man attempts to plead with the mentally incoherent man speeding behind the wheel. “Shut the FUCK UP! Okay! Okay!? I’m not having your bullshit right now! This ain’t the motherfucking time! I came too close to death, and I ain’t putting up with your shit!”
“Josh, Devine planted something on you! He expected you to live! That was the goddamn plan!” The man shouts, angering Josh further.
“BULLSHIT!” Josh screams, turning around to look at the backseat, noticing a plastic baggie tucked underneath one of the cushions.
“Stop the car, Josh!” The man on the other end says. “I can’t-” Josh says, beginning to lose focus as the road ahead begins to blur. “I can’t st-” Josh says, still trying to get the right words out between the sounds of the road turning into a garbled mess as his brain fails to process his surroundings.
“Josh” A faint voice calls out, “Josh” it calls out once more.
Still fading in and out, Josh struggles to keep consciousness before he feels a hand from off to the side graze his arm, running down the length before finally reaching his neck. Turning towards the passenger seat, Josh’s vision finally clears for a moment.
“Nora” Josh calls, seeing the beautiful woman smile at him. “Hi” Josh says, smile over his face as Nora begins to caress his cheek. “Hey darling… I’m happy to see you” Nora says, bringing a tear to Josh’s eyes. “Honey, what’s wrong? You’re… You’re bleeding” Nora says, gently placing her hand over the gash in the back of Josh’s head. “What happened?” Nora asks, forcing Josh speechless.
“I… I was a- I was attacked.” Tilting her head and taking josh’s into her hands, Nora inches closer, locking eyes with the distraught man behind the wheel of the speeding car. “Why?”
Struggling to keep his words, Josh smiles at Nora’s touch. “I- I did… A bad thing” Josh says, quivering as the hair on his skin begins to rise. “Why?” Nora asks faintly, lip shaking. “I- I had to” Josh responds, forcing Nora to close her eyes. “No. No no no. Don’t pull that deadeye shit again, please! Please, I can’t handle it anymore!” Josh screams, pleading for Nora not to open her eyes.
“I need you to see what you’re doing, Josh. I need to open my eyes to see it with you” Nora responds, raising her eyes to Josh’s and opening her eyelids as Josh screams in horror in anticipation.
Normal. Nora’s eyes are normal. Their regular self in all of their glory. Nora’s eyes are the way they always have been.
“You didn’t do the eye thing” Josh says,, relieved. Nora smiles, placing her hand to Josh’s cheeks. “Why? I’m not the one dying” Nora responds, turning her head to face the rear-view mirror.
Slowly inching his head forward, Josh’s face grows stiff and his body grows cold as the hairs on his body continue to stand. Closer and closer Josh inches towards the mirror before locking eyes with himself, his reflection sporting eyes of lifeless crisp-white.
Screaming in horror, Josh loses control of his car, trying to keep straight before Nora turns his head back towards hers, locking eyes with him. “It’s time, Josh” she says, repeating his name over and over as the car veers out of control.
Nora says, watching the man lose control of the wheel as his car goes into a slide.
Nora says, watching Josh struggle with the metal skeleton around him as the car begins drifting down a hill.
A muffled voice in the background says as the wheels of the car rise from the ground and the vehicle goes into a violent dive.
The man on the other line of the phone screams out as Josh’s vision returns just in time to see himself plummeting towards earth before everything goes black, and the vehicle shatters and spins and contorts violently as the buzzing on the other end of the phone surrounds Josh, the only thing breaking the eternal black he is consumed by.