The hangover was bad, but not nearly as rough as a few of the ones Michael had on the inside (That hooch could be brutal). He scraped himself out of bed, went to the sink, looked at his reflection in the mirror. Boy, he thought, you really look like shit. His eyes were bloodshot and sunk in. His head felt like it was filled with lead shot. You’re supposed to look for work today, he thought. Then he began to laugh.
The previous day, after an hour and a half, trapped in the maze of the shitiest public transportation system in the world, Michael got off bus twenty-two, just up the block from Our Lady of Fatima, the half-way house he was supposed to be reporting to. Having just been released from a penitentiary, he had no job, no money to speak of, no nothing really. So, the half-way house was to give him a roof over his head while he got on his feet. Just thinking of the name of the place, Our Lady of Fatima, was enough to make Michael almost jump for fucking glee when he stepped off the bus and saw the liquor store right there on the corner waiting for him. It even had a red carpet and everything – although dirty as all hell. He ducked inside, quickly chose a tall, cheap bottle of rum over a small, expensive one, then ducked back out, tucking the brown sack covered bottle down the front of his pants. He was well over the legal drinking age, but he assumed that the good folks at Our Lady of the Really Tight Brown Eye frowned upon fun in any form. So, his fun would have to be smuggled in. Lucky for him, he had a little experience in that arena.
He made it past the stern lady at the check-in desk with minimal issues. She asked for his release papers and how much money he had left. He was relieved that she hadn’t asked for his state identification card or other bullshit like that. But, he also knew that she knew he didn’t have any of that crap. Not yet at least. The prison cashed him out with the eight hundred and change he had left on his books from his inside job. He wasn’t much for Cup-O-Soups and Pop-Tarts, so he managed to save quite a bit over his three and a half years. There was the other job, of course, but the wages from that job were already spent on the outside. Stern Lady made copies of his paperwork, told him she set up an appointment at the Department of Motor Vehicles on the following Thursday and he was not to miss it. Michael nodded, indicating that he sure as shit didn’t intend to. Then she handed him a gold plated key with a number four engraved on the handle and pointed up a long hallway.
“Just that way,” she said. “By the stairs.” Michael tilted his head to her. Told her to have a pleasant evening.
The first thing Michael notice when he entered his room wasn’t the television from nineteen seventy-something. It wasn’t the stained shag orange-brown carpet or the rainbow curtains either. It was the old man, naked except for his baggy tighty-whities, sitting at the edge of one of a pair of identical twin beds, clipping his toenails. Michael let out a long sigh.
“Just get sprung?” The old man asked, still clipping. He grimaced, grabbed his large toe. Michael figured he went just a little too deep on that one. “Shit!” The old man hopped up, began limping around the small room. “Shit, shit, shit!”
“Yeah,” Michael said. He didn’t move from the door.
“Where’d they hold you?” The old man asked. He was walking better now – barely pacing.
“Folsom,” Michael said.
“Old or new?”
“Does it matter?”
“No,” the old man said. “No, I guess it don’t. “You got a name?”
“Yeah,” Michael said.
“Ah…” the old man said. “Ain’t sticking around long, huh? That’s okay. I’m Cherry.” Michael raised his eyebrows. “Don’t ask,” Cherry said. “It’s a fucked up story. Got that name in the Nam. Anyways – I’d shake your hand, but seeing as I got feet all over mine and you look like you’d rather be using yours to choke someone, we can just say howdy and call it that.”
“Sounds good,” Michael said.
“You thirsty?” Cherry asked. “Hey, you want something to drink?” A small refrigerator sat plugged into a wall socket by the rainbow curtains. Cherry scampered over to it and Michael shielded his eyes from the sight of the brown stain that rain down the back of the old man’s otherwise white underwear.
“I’m good,” Michael said. Cherry opened the refrigerator, retrieved a can of cola, returned to the previous position at the edge of his bed. He opened the can, took a long swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of a wrinkled hairy arm.
“Well,” he said, holding the can out towards Michael, who was still standing by the doorway, “welcome home!”
“I don’t think so,” Michael said. He stepped from the doorway, approached the older man, who was in the middle of taking another drink of cola. Cherry watched as Michael tower ever higher over him over the top of the can. The expression of fear on his face was unmistakable. Michael reached into his pocket, slowly pulled out a wad of bills. “You have your State I.D. yet?” Michael asked. Cherry nodded. “Good.” Michael said. He counted out three hundred dollars, handed them to the old man. “If you can be ready to leave in five minutes, I’ll give you an extra fifty. Cherry was ready in three.
The extra money, the side money, the not exactly legal money Michael earned while inside went to three different sources on the outside – neither of which were his ex-wife. Not directly, at least. The first was to a man named Chuy. That’s all. No last name, no middle. Just Chuy and a contact number. When a knock came on his door at exactly eight o’clock, he knew who it was. He’d never once heard Chuy’s voice in three years. He’d never once saw the man’s face. When he opened the door, he wasn’t surprised to find his purchases, packaged in a black duffle large enough to stow two dead bodies in. Phase one was complete. On to phase two. He dug the bottle of rum out of his pants.
About half-way through the bottle (it was somewhere around midnight) he left a message for source number two again. It was the third message in three hours. Source number two actually took the bulk of Michael’s earnings. Information can be very expensive. The particular source in question was among the best in the business. Apparently so busy he felt he didn’t have to respond to a client’s phone calls, Michael thought. He felt rage well up inside at that thought, almost smashed the half empty bottle against the bedroom wall, then decided against it. If he did that, he wouldn’t be able to drink it. It was the last hurrah, after all. They didn’t have rum where he was going. The pre-paid phone was just one of the many items in his goodie-bag. He had them all spread out on his bed. After multiple inventories and functions checks, he decided that perhaps, just one more check was in order. That’s the last thing he remembered. When he woke the following morning, hung over to fucking hell, Cherry was still gone – which was a great turn of events since now all of the goodies from the bag were splayed across the floor. It seems that when drunk off his ass Michael decides he wants to go to sleep, he just sweeps everything out of his way and lays the fuck down. Considering some of the items, he was thankful he at least had retained enough good sense to clear the mattress. It could’ve been all bad if he hadn’t.
He filled the sink with cold water, dunked his face for a few seconds. Stared at himself in the mirror. Then he dunked his face again. You got the rum, he thought. Couldn’t spring for some fucking aspirin? Maybe some razors?
Head pretty much waterlogged, he returned to the bed, dug through the covers until he found the phone.
“Dick,” he said when he saw that nobody tried to call. He tossed the phone to the side, then stared down at the items littered around the floor. With a grunt, he knelt, grabbed each end of the large duffle, and held it open wide while he shoved the items back inside. When he finished, he zipped it tight, ensuring to leave his clothing for the day folded on the bed, a set of keys on top. He checked the time on the phone. It was getting close to noon. Good ole Cherry probably wouldn’t be gone for much longer. Even the most liberal motels made you check out by eleven or twelve. He looked down at the stack of clothes, then began to get undressed. Five minutes later, just as Michael was finishing tucking in the skin-tight black shirt into the black pants, his phone rang. He answered, praying that the person on the other end had earned every cent of what Michael paid him.
At exactly sixteen-thirty-three hours and thirty-two seconds, Colonel Samuel Greensborough left the State Military department the same way he always did, out the southeast exit, right next to where the smoking hut was located. Everything was as it always was, which was always just how he liked it. The door closed behind him. He heard the familiar and not only just a little satisfying clicking sound as the electronic door-lock reengaged on the door behind him. About half-way to the immaculate mirror-polished Mercedes that he parked in the same stall every day, he pressed the unlock button on his key-fob, heard the car horn beep. He grinned. He loved it when things matched up just right. It was always a good sign. When just one thing didn’t. It wasn’t good at all. It was a sure sign that the day was about to take a turn for the worse. It became what he referred to as a, “Red Light Day.” He would hit every red light on the way home. Every bozo on the road would cut him off, then slow down to a crawl. And if, God forbid, there was an accident, of course it would be exactly one darn car in front of him. Of course, dinner would be burned all to heck. Then, just to top off the evening, the cable or the internet would go out – probably both. He didn’t like red light days.
When he got to his car, two doors opened at exactly the same time, the driver side door, and the passenger side door. Colonel Greensborough didn’t notice that his green light day had just flipped to red until he sat behind the wheel and the passenger side door closed. He turned to the masked person sitting next to him in the passenger seat – looked down at a gun pointed at his ribs, then back at the masked face. Oddly enough, his shocked mind thought nothing at about what color day it may or may not be turning into at that moment. What he thought was: Ain’t this some shit? How can the same thing happen to the same person twice?
“Drive,” The masked man said. That voice… Colonel Greensborough thought. Peering closer at the featureless white mask. He must be the dumbest man alive.
“Mike?” He said. Suddenly, the barrel of the gun was digging into the Colonel’s side. The masked man leaned over until his face was less than an inch from the Colonel’s.
“I said drive, Sam.”
Even though he made Colonel Sammy boy dump his phones out the car window a mile or so up the road, he figured they were already somehow being tracked. The man was, after all, part of the elite. Shit, he figured the fuckers had some kind of tracker bugged up the Colonel’s bung-hole. He was positive they were tracking the Colonel’s car. That’s why he had one waiting at the donut shop just up the block from the department. One quick switch-a-roo, and they were off and running again. The fuck-tards would have to use the ass-tracker on this one. Michel didn’t want to be found. At least, not until he was good and fucking ready.
Back in ’09, certain industrial parts of the city began to die. Back before Michael morphed into something other than a human fucking being, he would get mad about the decaying parts of the city. The dilapidating buildings. The fleeing business and failing economy. Post-morph, he was tickled fucking pink that he was able to purchase a whole two story building in an abandoned part of the city for less than twenty grand. Positively ecstatic that he was able to get the rest of the block by throwing in an extra ten. He studied the Colonel’s face as he directed the man to pull up behind the largest of the main abandoned buildings, park, and extinguish the lights. The Colonel (He couldn’t even think of him as a man anymore) had once been a friend. Now Michael was basking in his fear – absolutely getting high on it. The Colonel did as instructed, then sat in the dark car, shaking uncontrollably.
“Get out,” Michael said.
“What are we doing here, Michael?”
“Get out,” Michael repeated. “I won’t tell you again.” The Colonel slammed his palms against the steering wheel.
“Damn it, Michael! If you’d just tell me what you…” Michael cracked him on the head with the side of the gun. The Colonel let out a loud yelp, held his head with both hands.
“I’m going to count to three,” Michael said. But he didn’t have to. The Colonel opened the door, fell out of the car to the ground.
They entered through a set of double doors at the back of the building. The Colonel walked in first, Michael stepped in behind him, hoisting the large duffel. He told the Colonel to hold up a couple steps inside, then he tried the light-switch. When the lights came on, he breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was coming together. He led the Colonel down a hallway past a couple of, what appeared to have once been offices. At the end of the hall, a staircase led up to the second floor and darkness. The Colonel froze momentarily at the foot of the stairs, but Michael nudged him forward. The gun was pretty persuasive. At the top of the stairs, there was another row of light switches. Michael flipped them to the on position. They all worked. He thanked Chuy again for being so fucking awesome and continued onward. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for. The office was exactly as he had specified. Immaculately cleaned, fresh white paint, new white blinds, brand new steel table, matching chairs. He led the Colonel to the chair closest to the wall and sat him in it. Then he went to the window, peered out. He could see the entirety of the whole front side of the building. Perfect. The window to the outside was the only window, the inside walls had no windows at all. The door had been replaced by a solid steel one. He lugged the duffel onto the steel table, dug around inside it, then fetched out a set of hand-cuffs, which he used to connect the Colonel’s right wrist to the steel frame of the table.
“What do you want, Michael?” The Colonel asked when Michael return to the bag. Michael didn’t answer. Instead, he dug out what looked like a small welder of some type. He took it to the door, closed the door tight, then turned the machine on. He made three welds where the door latched connected. He knew it wouldn’t hold for long, but it could buy him valuable time if he needed it. Besides, its purpose wasn’t to keep assholes out, but to keep a certain asshole in. He didn’t want the Colonel braining him somehow and escaping. If the fucker somehow knocked him out, he wanted to be able to feed him his own nut-sack when he finally woke up.
“Is this because I testified?” The Colonel asked. “Michael, they made me do it. You know they did. I didn’t have a choice.”
Michael pulled the bag down to the floor, began pulling items from it, putting them on the table. The Colonel’s expression appeared a bit confused when he saw the bolt-cutters, box-cutters, and machete, but he looked absolutely horrified when Michael pulled out the blow-torch, salt packets, zip-ties, and ball-gag. His red light day was about to turn into a full four alarm fucking night. The last items Michael pulled out was an AR-15 rifle, a few full magazines, and a manila folder. There was some loose boxes of rounds as well that he dumped on the floor. He set the rifle by the window, then organized the items on the table using some schedule he stored in his own head while the Colonel looked on in horror. He had the machete, the blow-torch, a few zip-ties, and the folder to one side of the table and the other items on the other. When he was done, he sat down in the chair opposite the Colonel, fished a cigarette from his shirt pocket, lit it.
“Michael,” The Colonel said. Michael took a drag off the cigarette, stared across the table at his captive, exhaled. “Michael, you know I had no choice.”
“I know,” Michael said. He pulled another drag – exhaled. “And this, ain’t about that.”
“Then what’s it about?” The Colonel asked. “Why’d you take me, Michael? Why’d you take me the first time?” Michael looked up at the ceiling, took another drag off the cigarette, exhaled. Then another. “Michael! What do you want from me?”
“I want to ask you a question.” Michael said, still looking the ceiling. The Colonel laughed.
“What?” he said. “A what? Michael, you could’ve done that back at the department! You could’ve done that on the darn phone!” Michael’s gaze fell back to the Colonel’s face, his expression rock hard.
“No,” he said, “I couldn’t. “Not this question.” The chair squealed loud as he pushed it back and stood. Then he dropped the cigarette to the floor, stamped it out. “I had to bring you here to ask my question, Colonel because – well because I may have to ask you hard.”
“Hard?” The Colonel said. Michael walked around to the side of the table, leaned forward a little, then nodded towards the items he organized on the table-top. Confusion lifted from the Colonel’s eyes and he began to shake his head violently. “Oh, no Michael. You don’t need to do that.”
“We’ll see,’ Michael said. He looked down at the table, grabbing his chin as if trying to decide which method of persuasion he was going to test out first. Then, he smiled, picked up the manila envelope, opened it, looked inside, then closed it again. “Are you ready for my question, Colonel?”
“Call me Sam, Michael, huh. I mean – come on! We’ve known each other for ten years.”
“Colonel!” Michael said. “Are you ready for my question?”
“Shoot! Okay, Michael. Play your games. Go ahead.”
“Where is my daughter?” Michael asked.
The Colonel could not have appeared more shocked if Michael had rode up on a unicorn and asked him for directions to Jesus’s dance party in Hell.
“Come again?” The Colonel said. “Your daughter? Is that what all this ruckus is about, Michael? Did you get it in your mind that I have something to do with that poor girl’s disappearance?”
“So, you’re not going to tell me.” Michael said. It wasn’t a question. He held up the folder. “Perhaps this will persuade you.” The Colonel stared at the folder.
“What you got there?” he asked. “Proof I cheated on my taxes? Pictures of me stealing the Lindbergh baby? You got me, Michael. I’m DB Cooper.”
“I’m not sure joking around with me is something you want to be fucking doing right now,” Michael said. “If this folder doesn’t work, I’ll have to start asking you hard. You won’t be laughing then, you fucking backstabbing scumbag.” The Colonel must’ve saw the venom in Michael’s eyes because he shut the hell up real quick. He held his free hand up.
“I’m sorry, Michael,” he said. “Sarcasm is one way I deal with stress. I truly apologize. Please – show me your proof. Then, we’ll talk.”
“I’ll show you my proof,” Michael responded. Then you’ll talk. Or I’ll take you apart, piece by fucking piece.” He tossed folder down. It slid and came to rest just on the right side of the table. The Colonel raised an eyebrow. “What?” Michael said. “You want me to read the fucking thing for you too?” The Colonel sighed, turned his weight in his chair, then stretched his free arm across the table until his fingers found the edge of the envelope. He smiled stupidly as he began sliding the envelope back to him. His smile turned to an expression of petrified horror when, seemingly at the speed of light, Michael appeared at the other end of the table, one hand pinning the Colonel’s wrist hard against the cold steel, the other hand raising the machete high into the air.
“Michael, please, don’t!” The Colonel shouted.
“Now I have to ask you hard,” Michael said. The machete swung downward and the Colonel’s screams echoed between vacant buildings of a deserted industrial city block.
To be continued…
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