Michael screamed in vain at the driver in front of him. His barrage of tightly strung insults bounced off the window and around the sealed, air conditioned, car and went unheard by the others locked in the death snarl of the nine car pile up. Michael hadn’t hit anyone, but was within a few cars of the accident. The Cadillac was snugly boxed in on all sides, so packed in he couldn’t get his doors open.
He should never have left at the same time as Tina, but they were almost out of junk and he had already proved his ineptitude at acquiring the stuff.
Frustrated and panicking, Michael checked his watch for the twelfth time and it still refused to halt. John would be coming down soon and Michael was nowhere near the old hotel. Close to hysterics, he began to lay on the horn.
Directly in front of him, a man in the pickup truck climbed through his window and jumped into the bed of his truck. He wasn’t a tall man, but his shoulders, exposed by his wife-beater tee shirt, showed him to be a powerful man. He came towards Michael’s car, and began pounding on the hood with his fists.
Michael took his hand off the horn and rolled down the window prepared to engage in a verbal battle. Before he could say word one, the man slid down between the cars and shouted in Michael’s open window.
“Shut the fuck up asshole! You lay off the fucking horn or I’m going to fucking grease my bearings with your ass!” The veins in the man’s forehead and neck were swollen like inner tubes.
Michael caught a flood of profanities rushing up in his defense and chose to put the window up instead. He cursed the Senator that had drawn him away from John. He’d let all his political activities go when the trial had started. An aide, who done more than a little filing for the Senator, was threatening to expose everything if he wasn’t paid for his previous efforts. Michael had argued this kind of shit happened all the time. That was when the Senator admitted the aide was a man and their were reported to be pictures.
Michael was going to blow the whole thing off. Then he reminded himself he had three unknown trials to face. It might be very useful to have the Senator on a string.
The first impulse Michael had was to just kill the little prick, but that could lead to more problems. He’d gotten away with it once, but if he made a habit of it, people were going to start to talk and Michael needed to know if he’d made any contingencies in case of his death. He went to the bank and drew out a half a million dollars from one of his slush funds. Then he went to see the former aide.
When Michael knocked on the door the man had taken his time looking through the peephole and had opened the door with the chain still on.
“Yes.” He said nervously. His foot braced against the bottom corner of the door. He knew Michael, and had always been a little afraid of him.
Michael was surprised to see it was Chuck. He was a gym fanatic and bored everyone with tales of his sexual exploits. Thinking about it more carefully he realized that’s they way most of the closet cases were.
“You know who I am.” Michael kept his voice even.
“Yes.” Chuck seemed to actually shake. “Of course.”
“I’m here on behalf of our mutual friend.” Michael waited. Chuck didn’t move. “You going to let me in?”
Michael could see Chuck didn’t want to be alone with him and would have made him laugh if he wasn’t playing the attitude game, but he was in a hurry. Chuck closed the door, unfastened the chain, and let Michael in.
Michael went into the dinning room and set his brief case on the table. Chuck followed him in.
“Sit.” Michael said without looking at Chuck. Chuck sat at the table.
He leaned close to Chuck and whispered. “Do you have bugs?” Chuck’s eyebrows twitched in confusion, then he understood and shook his head. Michael pulled on a pair of black deer skin gloves. Chuck watched the action with attention of a boy seeing a woman undress for the first time. Michael looked at him then turned away. An ancient disco song was coming from the living room. Michael went in and cranked it up. Returning to the dining room, he sat next to Chuck. Chuck kept his focus on the position of those gloves.
“Can you hear me?” Michael whispered. Chuck leaned forward and nodded. “I have a half a million dollars for you.” Chuck squirmed. Michael opened his briefcase and showed the money to Chuck. “I believe you have some pictures for me.”
Chuck got up careful not to turn away from Michael. He reached under the china cabinet and pealed off a manila envelope and brought it to Michael. Michael grabbed Chuck’s wrist and twisted it behind his back. He slipped his other hand into his pocket and took out a stainless steel lock-blade. He opened it with his thumb and rested it against Chuck’s throat and whispered.
“I wanted to kill you, just for the fun of doing it, but the Senator’s a little squeamish. I’m going to ask you a question and I don’t want you to piss me off. Do you understand?” Chuck nodded. Michael bit the blade into his neck. “Are you sure you understand?” Chuck nodded again.
“Where are the rest of the pictures.”
“I don’t…” Michael jerked the blade.
“I told you not to piss me off.”
“In the bedroom.” Chuck gasped.
“You have them on a thumb drive, a disk?” Chuck nodded carefully.” Get every thing.” Michael let Chuck go. Chuck took a step towards the bedroom. “Where’s the bug?” Chuck pointed to the china cabinet. “Get the pictures.” Michael said in a normal tone. He opened all the drawers of the cabinet. The bottom drawer had digital recorder. There was a hole drilled in the drawer, with a microphone slid in. There was also a micro SD card with the senator’s name on the case. The microphone was stuck in the hole, so Michael unplugged it from the recorder and slid the recorder and SD card in his pocket.
When Chuck came back he had the money stacked on the table. He took the new envelope and put it with the first set of pictures in his briefcase.
“Sit.” Chuck sat at the table, his right hand poised to touch the money, but not moving. Michael fixed his eyes on that hand. “This is my money, not the parties. You are making this deal with me. Do you understand me?” Chuck nodded and Michael drove the knife through Chuck’s hand, pinning it to the table. Chuck, well, screamed.
“You have a half a million dollars. I suggest you start over, somewhere else. If you ever cause me a problem again I will kill you and I will take great pleasure in it. Do you understand what that means.” Chuck was crying and could only nod his answer. “It’s going to be very creative and take a long time.” Michael pulled the knife out of Chuck’s hand and wiped the blade on Chuck’s shoulder. Chuck pulled his hand to his chest and pressured the wound with his uninjured hand.
“So we understand each other.” Chucked nodded again. Michael folded the knife and put it in his pocket. “Good. I don’t expect we’ll ever be crossing paths again. So…” Michael smiled. “By Felicia.” Michael laughed to himself at using Chad’s phrase. He thought he used it right. It seemed very fitting for the situation. Chuck had certainly given him a strange look when he said it. ‘See’ he thought to himself ‘I can stay with the times.’
The incident had relieved a lot of Michael’s stress and frustration and taken less than two hours. He was happy to the point of giddy, when he had seen the road ahead turn into a parking lot.
Michael closed his eyes. Another fifteen minutes had dripped eternally by. He could no longer endure sitting in the car. Taking his briefcase from the back seat, he let down his passenger window and crawled out onto the car beside of him. He jumped from hood to hood, over the next two cars, until he reached the emergency lane of the interstate. Ignoring the blasphemies of the drivers he’d offended, Michael pulled off his tie and bound it to his briefcase for a sling. Looping it over his neck he quickly scaled the twelve foot access fence, dropped to the other side, and began to run.
They’d been able to keep John fixed for a week, never allowing him completely back to reality. Now too much time had past, John was going to be crashing.
A cab drove by and Michael chased it for three blocks, catching it at the light. He grabbed the door handle, and pulled, his arm suffering a heavy jolt when the door didn’t open. Wincing from the pain in his elbow, he rapped his knuckles on the window to get the drivers attention.
The cab driver lazily turned his head around and looked at Michael. He cocked his thumb and pointed up. Looking at the roof of the cab, Michael saw the off duty light. Michael started screaming as the light changed. The driver responded by smiling, giving a mocking wave with his finger tips as he pulled off.
Consumed by fury, Michael’s eyes darted quickly around the sidewalk. Without thinking he set down his briefcase, picked up a chunk of broken cement and hurled it with the strength of his frustration. The cab had gone almost a full block when the piece of city rubble hit its back window. Michael watched as the glass exploded. The cab screeched to a halt. Michael could see the cab driver staring out the hole where his window had been. The remaining glass hung loosely as if it were shiny fabric framing the driver’s face. Michael had been stunned when he’d seen how far the rock had flown. The expression of rage, on the cab driver’s face, snapped Michael away from the shock.
The man’s face was enlivened with rage as he turned and threw the car into reverse. The tires smoked from the extreme acceleration. Michael suddenly realized the cab driver intended to run him down and leaped to the curb just in time to avoid being hit.
The cab came to a halt and the driver jumped out carrying a 2 foot length of pipe. The man was about six feet and heavy, close to three hundred pounds. He slapped the pipe repeatedly in his, bear sized, palm, building up his anger and steam. Michael stood his ground and stared him down.
“So you want to party do you asshole!” The man hissed through his clenched teeth. “I’m game, let’s play!” He said, charging at Michael as if he was powered by his cab’s V-eight.
Being much more agile, Michael easily side stepped him, cupped his fists together, and brought them down between the cabbies shoulders. Michael heard a snap, the man fell limp, his weapon rolling to one side. Michael reached down quickly and picked it up, but there was no need, the man didn’t move.
Grabbing him by the shoulder, Michael turned him over. The man’s eyes stared unseeing at Michael. Blood leaked from his mouth, without leaning down to feel for a pulse Michael knew he was dead.
Rubbing his neck, Michael looked up at the cab and back down at the prostrate form before him. Remembering John, he jumped into the cab and started the motor, pulled it up beside the man and popped the trunk with the dash release. The cab gave a jolt as the lid opened.
Moving quickly, Michael took hold of the man, and threw him in the trunk. He was amazed at how easily he performed the task. The man seemed to weigh no more than a child. The thought vanished as his urgency returned and he slammed the trunk shut. Grabbing his briefcase, he moved swiftly behind the wheel and drove off.
He thought about John as he drove. The Tina move had worked well, but had it’s drawbacks. Whenever Michael showed up John would make it clear he wanted Tina. The animosity had been growing steadily and several times a day Michael would have to freeze his actions to keep from slapping John stupid. Tina had go back to Circleville to get the smack. It was long trip, but she was getting enough so that it wouldn’t be a problem any more. She wouldn’t be back until late that night, he was going to have to handle this on his own.
John was going to be learning the truth right about now. It hurt not to take your medicine. Maybe it had been long enough. Maybe John would just beg for his shot. Michael continued to torture himself for the entire trip. He cursed at the lights slowing his progress, but in a stolen cab with a corpse in the trunk, he couldn’t exactly go around driving like The Fast and the Furious.
After what seemed like three days strapped to a chair listening to Pat Robertson, he pulled up in front of the ratty old hotel. He started to get out and thought about the cab being spotted. Not wanting to take the time to ditch it, he pulled into the driveway, and parked in the lot behind the building. He sprinted to the door and ran up the stairs.
He fumbled with the keys and dropped them. Cursing, as if it had caused him physical pain, he snatched them up and with exaggerated effort managed to unlock the door and get it open.
Bursting into the room, his eyes searched the apartment. At first he didn’t see John, then he heard a whimper and moved further into the room. John had been blocked from sight by the big unfolded recliner, he was balled up in the corner like a baby. Michael went to him quickly and helped him into the chair.
John stared up with his sullen sightless eyes. Michael could see the tear stains on John’s face and the accusation in his expression.
“Where were you? Why did you let this happen to me?” John asked, with obvious pain and effort.
“I’m sorry I’m late John. There was an accident. I had to leave my car on…” Michael tried to reply but John cut him off.
“You always knew this would happen to me. You knew!” John said with an impeaching tone. “How could you do this to me? What kind of man are you?”
“John, if you just give me a minute, I’ll set things right.” Michael replied, feeling helpless, and strangely guilty.
“Get out!” was John’s firm reply.
“John, just let me fix you an injection, you’ll be all right.” Michael said pleading.
“So I can get more dependent on your poison.” John bit his lip. “You scum! Do you think because I’m blind that I’m a complete fool. Get out of my home, and take your filthy bribes with you.” John had absolute resolve and the determination to maintain it. Michael knew he wasn’t going to crack John’s shell.
“John,” Michael said, trying to muster another useless attempt to persuade him.
“Out! Damn you! Out!” John said pointing in the direction of the door.
No more words would come through Michael’s mouth. He tried in vain to say something else, but he knew he’d lost this battle. He looked around the room, he eyes fell on the record player, realizing gifts wouldn’t help anymore. His mind was blank. With his shoulders slumped and his new found strength gone, he listlessly walked to the door. He turned for one last glance at John then closed the door behind him.
Michael plodded slowly down the stairs, one painful step at a time. ‘How could he have let this happen?’ he thought, staring down at the worn, and stained carpet. ‘I, I had him, he was mine for the taking. How could I have been so stupid?’. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and took a long thoughtful look out the back door at the cab he had commandeered.
“I’ll have to do something with that.” He said trying to put his mind on something else. He dragged himself to the cab and got in. It took him several moments of concentration to gain enough energy to turn the key. The only place he could think to go, was the warehouse, where he had his encounter with Reggie.
The entrance was no longer open. Michael got out and pulled the rusty, galvanized, door open. It complained loudly at the disturbance, screeching as it slid on its ungreased rust laden rollers. The piercing sound ground against Michael’s frazzled nerves, making him uncontrollably grind his teeth. The stale air carried the strong pungent smell of death. No one had found Reggie and his partner yet.
Returning to the cab, Michael flopped down on the seat and put the car into gear. He drove to the middle of the warehouse stopped, turned off the motor and popped the trunk.
Rummaging through the trunk, Michael found an old T-shirt. He used it to wipe his finger prints off the car and the pipe the cab driver had threatened him with. He dropped the pipe in the trunk and closed the lid, using the shirt as a glove. He looked at the scene. Michael’s body closet. Of course the bodies would not show any connection. When eventually found what would the cops think of this? Who cares.
Michael turned to leave and his father was standing behind him. They looked at each other for more than a minute. Apollyon couldn’t read Michael’s thoughts, because nothing was really there. He was numb. Then Apollyon realized he was prepared to die.
“I would have never seen you as a quitter, Michael.” Michael thought he actually heard something akin to compassion in his father’s voice.
“You haven’t come for me?” Michael failed at trying to firm up his posture.
“No. I won’t come for you; it will just happen.” Apollyon looked over Michael’s shoulder. “Quite a collection you’ve got going here.”
Michael laughed in that Jack Nicholson, I’m getting ready to crack and axe my family, sort of way. He regained his composure and looked at his father.
“It floats. Right now, you’ve got maybe an hour, but that is subject to you doing something about the situation. There’s still a tiny spark left in you. If you give up completely it will just happen.” They stood in silence again. Apollyon watching his son. Michael studying the concrete. “They towed your car.” Apollyon said for no reason.
Michael grunted a chuckle, without taking his eyes off the floor. He looked up slowly.
“If I’ve got an hour, it’s not over.”
“I don’t suppose you could time warp Tina back here?”
“Sorry.” Apollyon shook his head. “I can’t interfere.”
“Why are you here?”
“You’re my son. I wanted to see you… in case you didn’t make it.”
“You don’t know the outcome?”
“All the lines were busy on the Psychic Friends Network.” Apollyon smiled. “They must be having a special today.”
Michael laughed. “What would they tell me, if I asked for advice?”
“The same thing they tell everybody else. Figure it out for yourself.”
Michael thought it over and nodded. “I’ve got to get going.”
Michael shook his father’s hand. “I’ll see you later.”
Apollyon smiled, paused, then spoke. “You just added a half an hour.
Michael did not hurry back to John’s apartment. He did keep an eye on his watch and when he traded off hands, to carry his briefcase, he noticed his palms were wet. He searched his mind. He knew the answer was in there. It was just around a curve, he couldn’t quite see around. It festered like a pimple that was too deep to have a head. Instead of pinching at it, he walked and thought of nothing and let it rise.
Going up the stairs to John’s room, he looked at his watch one last time. He had forty-five minutes, unless something had changed. Standing with his hand poised for a minute, he got his breathing under control and gave the door a sharp rap. Not hearing an answer, he knocked again. When John still didn’t respond, Michael took out his keys and let himself in.
John was asleep on his bed, there were several empty wine bottles on the floor and night stand. A flash of fear shot through Michael, he might be too drunk to talk. He looked at his watch, thirty nine minutes.
Michael crossed the room toward John and gave him a shake. John moaned and Michael shook him again. Complaining through the mist of sleep John rolled over.
“Who is it?” John asked, not opening his useless eyes and pulling his blanket up around his neck.
“It’s Dr. Bernstien.” Michael answered, keeping his tone indifferent. “I’ve come to get the things. I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“You’re taking the stuff?” Through John’s drunkenness came a note of anxiety. “After what you put me through, you’re going to take everything back.”
“That was the deal. You told me yourself to take it back.”
“Do you know how bad I feel because of you?” John sat up in his bed and exposed his blank eyes as though he could see Michael.
“I’m sorry John, I tried to warn you.”
“Warn me, you wooed me is more like it.” John’s anger caused his voice to rise to a harsh croak.
“I made it clear, the drug had side effects. You’ve wasted enough of my time, John. Tina and I will just have to move onto another test subject.”
“Tina?” John’s voice cracked like a teenager.
“Of course. She’ll naturally have to come with me.” Michael was sweating from every pour. Keeping his voice level was taking a Herculean effort.
“I’m nothing but a test subject to you.” Spit followed John’s words.
“Not to be callous, John, but exactly why should I think of you any other way?” Michael felt his guts caving in like he was in a car crusher. “I researched you and you accepted the deal.”
“Tina will still come to see me. She cares about me.”
Michael wanted to laugh, but canned it. He couldn’t quite swallow the thought of Tina being a caring anything. He was glad John couldn’t see him supporting himself on the counter. It was getting difficult to focus. Should he mock John’s belief that Tina cared about him, or exploit it.
“She won’t come to see you any more, because I’ll fire her if she does and she needs this job. She supports her mother, who had a lot of medical bills and a sister who’s still in high school and I pay her far more than she’s going to get as a shift nurse and for her mother’s health insurance. No other job is going to do that.” Michael smiled. He could see John worried about Tina, even through his own blurry vision. “So no. She may care about you, but she cares about her family first.”
“John listen.” Michael continued, wanting to fall to his knees.
“Why? so you can offer me more false promises?”
“John.” Michael matched John’s voice. “Listen to me, I can give you what you want most.”
“You don’t even know what I want and you can’t give it to me anyway. Get out of here!” John dropped back onto the bed and turned his back to Michael, pulling the blankets partially over his head.
Something came over Michael. He was filled with rage. Suddenly he saw things with a different attitude. Who was this puny mortal to get in his way? His will was nothing. He followed a god that ignored his every need. Michael was a god who could respond.
“John,” Michael’s voice swelled with command. “It is very important that I complete my work.” Michael took a deep breath. “I do know what you want and I can give it to you as soon as my tests are complete.” Michael paused to dramatize his statement. “I will set you free.” Michael waited in silence for a moment. He checked his watch twenty seven minutes. “If that is what you truly want, once the test is complete.”
John lay perfectly still, his mind whirling around Michael’s words. That was what he truly wanted and he felt so bad without the medicine. Who knows how long he would go on like this? He did feel really good on the medication.
Michael noticed the room fade for a second. He was standing in a cave, then he was back in the room. He looked at his watch, twenty seven minutes. He stared for another minute before he realized, his watch had stopped. The walls began to wave, the floor felt as if it were rising and falling.
He shut his eyes and clinched his teeth. In his mind’s eye, he could still see the dragon standing before him drooling vomit and crying tears of blood. In his mind he screamed to drive the image away and he forced himself back into John’s room.
“John, it’s now or never. Make up your mind, or I’ll start over with another candidate. I’ll take everything I’ve given you. You’ll have nothing and your suffering isn’t over. A day will not pass when you won’t think about the drug and what it can do for you.” Michael could feel the pull, like hungry claws dragging from the reality of earth. “John make up your mind now!”
“Will it be quick? will I suffer?” John pleaded more than asked, as he reached up with his hand to find Michael for assurance.
“Yes, you will just go to sleep.” Michael fought to maintain his form as the transformation began to signal the end.
“Will Tina stay with me… until…”
John found Michael’s arm and held it. “I’ll do it, if your promise to set me free, I’ll let you keep giving me the drug.”
“All right.” Michael waited for the changes in his metabolism to reverse, instead they intensified.
“And…” John’s voice took a strange feeling of strength. “You have to take the drug with me, so you know what you’re doing to people.”
“That’s the deal.” John’s statement was absolute.
Michael could no longer control his facial muscles. They twitched in spasms of pain. His bone structure was changing “John…”
“And I’m going to check to make sure. You commit to that or no deal.” Slobber drooled over John’s lips as he spoke. Michael stared with eyes that were now golden, with reptilian pupils, into the intensity of John’s resolve and knew he had no choice.
“All right, John, I agree.” Michael felt the knot in his throat dissolve and felt his eyes shifting back to their human location. He pulled away from John and staggered from the twisting metamorphosis of his body. “I will prepare the injections.” Michael’s voice was raspy as he tried his now unfamiliar vocal cords, but he could already feel he was returning to normal.
John sat on the bed confused, he hadn’t understood why Dr. Bernstien had become so animated and urgent with his request to continue. It seemed out of character for him. There was something else, it could have been a large watch, or something, he didn’t think that Dr. Bernstien was the type disposed to wearing a bracelet. Maybe John had imagined it, though he was sure that he had felt large scales on the doctors wrist.
Michael sat down at the table with the two filled syringes. He looked at John, who looked like someone who hadn’t slept in ten years.
“Now what.” Michael asked.
“Give them to me.” John licked drool from the corner of his mouth and took the syringes from Michael. He covered them with his hands and mixed the up. “You first.”
Michael tied off his arm. John kept his finger tips on the syringe until Michael had completed the injection.
“If mine doesn’t work it’s over.” John said, but knew as soon as the fix hit his blood stream it would. His body breathed with joy at the touch of his sweat lady addiction.
It didn’t take long for Michael to jump up and chuck his guts into the sink. John laughed. His lover was treating him well.
“Welcome to my world, Dr. Bernstien.” John laughed again.