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Hath No Fury


Copyright 2019 Pejman Gerone Poh

Published by Pejman Gerone Poh at Smashwords



Cover by Ed Mattinian

www.mattinian.com


Smashwords Edition License Notes

This book remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.





Table of Contents

Acknowledgements


Prologue


Chapter One


Chapter Two


Chapter Three


Chapter Four


Chapter Five


Chapter Six


Chapter Seven


Chapter Eight


Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten


Epilogue


About the Author


Connect with Pejman Poh

Acknowledgements

This story was originally written on reddit for a writing prompt titled, “During a bank robbery you're surprised when the criminals seem to recognize you and retreat in fear. Only later do you learn that your high school sweet-heart now runs a global crime syndicate and has you placed on a ‘No Harm’ list. You decide to pay them a visit after all these years.”

I had been writing under various online pseudonyms for years, never very confident in my writing abilities, writing mostly for fun. The overwhelmingly positive response I received from this story has convinced me to continue writing and I am thankful for all the support I’ve received, namely to the random redditors who commented on my story every week, my family who helped me brainstorm ideas for the storyline, and whoever is reading this right now.

Prologue

I remember the bead of sweat drip down my brow as I knelt in front of the bank robber, my hands on my head, an extremely vulnerable position. He fumbled with my wallet as he tried to pull out my ID, his panicked expression visible through the strange looking ski mask.

"Oh shit oh shit-"

"What is it? Calm the hell down T."

"It's him, it-it's Warren!"

"No it can't-, what? THE Warren?"

"Yes THE Warren, we're sorry sir. We didn't know you were in here!" the shaking man in the ski mask told me.

"Honest mistake sir," the other bank robber yelled as he grabbed the half-filled sack of valuables off the counter and ran towards the door, "have a nice day!"

I'd not understood then. But it would justify a lot of events that had been happening in the past few years. Small subtle things like preferential treatment at a coffee place or how my friends kept telling me how lucky I was that I would always get the first job offer or apartment I applied for. I'd always chalked it up to good fortune, ‘the man above looking out for me’ my friends would joke. But this event. The robber calling me "THE Warren", meant that, to their group or at least to someone, I was important. Important enough for bank robbers to run out of a building in fear.

And as I stood among the dressed in black, each man and woman walked past me with grieving faces. They told me how much my mother meant to them and how sorry they were. They each shared a happy moment for me to hold onto, to think about the better times. Despite the stories, I sat there. Watching the grave digger shovel more and more dirt onto her coffin. Soon there was no-one left but myself and the digger.

I broke down into tears, sobbing into my palms like a little boy. I wailed and wailed thinking about all the moments I had with her, and all the moments I wouldn't. I heaved with each cry and let out what I had tried so strongly to hold in. To give the appearance of strength. But I was weak. I was helpless. I let her die. I should've pushed harder. You see she didn't die of old age. She didn't die in a tragic car accident. She died of Methemoglobinemia. A chemical called Aniline seeping into the water pipes from a nearby factory repeatedly poisoned my mother for years.

"I'm sorry," a voice said calmly behind me. I was startled and released my sticky hands from my face. The gravedigger was gone, the grave still only half full. I tried to recompose myself before turning around to face the voice. But when I turned, I saw her. Ira. The girl I once loved. Once. We had split up right before college in a less-than-friendly fashion. I don't even remember what the fight was about, but she had struck me. It didn't really hurt physically, and I tried to assure her that I could forgive it, but she was distraught. She said nobody had ever made her feel that way and left.

But there she stood, looking the way she did the day we split up. I sat there motionless, the scent of freshly dug soil lingering in the air. She turned and walked away. And I didn't follow.

After a few days, I wasn't even sure it happened. Perhaps it was just a stress-induced imagination? But she stayed in my mind, with every lucky green traffic light to fortunate parking space. Every fast download, she came into my mind. Admittedly it was a strange leap of logic. But two strange things had occurred within such a short time frame and it was inevitable that my brain would try to link the two. Was she involved with that bank robbery? Was she the reason I was called "THE Warren"?

I was bent over my desk, paper scattered across the surface. Like a full-blown conspiracy theorist, I had strings connecting pages and photographs stuck on a cork board, trying to link all the people that held back the regulations to make the water safe. I had most of the links, but it was overwhelming me. There were so many people involved, from government officials to safety inspectors. All of them in on it in some way. In this moment my mother would've come in with a glass of tea, patting me on the shoulder to tell me that I shouldn't work so hard. That I would work myself into an early grave. But her ghost faded away as I yearned for that pat on the shoulder. I looked up to the board in anger and saw the photos of the men and women who denied me the rest of her life.

I screamed. I screamed to release the frustration, I screamed and wished that they could hear my pain. I screamed and screamed only to be interrupted by a knock on my door. Looking through the peephole, I saw "Joe's Pizza Palace" written on the teenager's hat.

"I have a delivery for a Mr. Warren?" the pizza boy yelled from the other side of the door before giving it another knock. I opened the door.

"Ah Warren right?" he asked, handing me the pizza.

"I didn't order a pizza?" I mentioned, still taking the pizza in hand because it was a pizza and I wasn't going to say no.

"It says right here, Warren, 25 Clay Street, pepperoni and pineapples with extra pineapples," he said, pointing at the receipt, "I won't judge you for the pineapples, everyone has their dirty little secret. Have a nice day!" the boy said with a smile before turning and walking away.

"W-Wait, I haven't paid for this yet," I yelled across my front yard.

"Um," the boy looked back down at the receipt, "No it says here that you paid online already," he yelled back as he reached his car door, the "Joe's Pizza Palace" car topper blocking his face. He paused and leaned to the side looking at me again past the topper. "Or at least, somebody did," he mentioned with an innocent smile before getting in the car and driving away.

Pepperoni and pineapples were my favorite.

I walked back into my living room and placed the pizza down, opening the box expecting a message written inside. Of course, there was none. Why would there be? I took a slice and walked up to the corkboard of faces. I stood there chewing, trying to think of my approach tomorrow. I had planned to go to the zoning official's office and get some answers. I had a rough plan about how I was going to get in front of the man but it was still rough.

Looking back down at the pizza, I tried to shake it off as crazy. But the feeling was there, and any idiot could see the connections. But it was crazy.

"Tomorrow," I yelled to nobody in the room, "I am going to the zoning official's board to speak to Harold Weinbrecht about the unattended seeping of Aniline into the water supply system." And of course, nobody replied.


~~~~


The morning was cold and crisp. My lips were cracked from the dryness of the air and the scarf draped across my face wasn't helping. I reached the zoning office first thing in the morning and was greeted with a long line at the security check. Metal detectors and x-ray scanners separated everyone from the rest of the office and at the pace everything was moving, it was probably going to take an hour before I would get in.

"He's with me," a man in a business suit told the security guard as he waved a card in the guard’s face and pointed at me. The guard escorted me out of the line and bypassed the security check entirely. I was confused and turned to thank the man, but he didn't even come through the gate himself, simply turning and leaving the same way he came. Puzzled but determined, I continued down the hall and stopped at an intersection of signs. There were over a dozen signs pointing in different directions for this and that office.

"That way young man," a raspy voice said from my side. I turned to see an elderly woman with a warm smile pointing to my left.

"Oh, I'm here to see the-"

"Yes yes, it is that way," she reconfirmed with a smile.

"Thanks..." I stuttered out before she turned and started helping other people. I walked down the corridor and sure enough, "ZONING BOARD" was written on the doors in bold letters. I entered and found a door titled "Mr. Weinbrecht's Office" written on one of those sliding black name placards that you would normally find on a school principal's office. As I was about to enter the door, a man in an extremely well fitted suit pushed past me and walked straight in. He didn't look older than 25 and as I followed him into the room, he walked straight for the secretary.

"Hey there, you're Ms. Potter, right?" he asked, leaning over her desk.

"Uh, why yes, how can I help you?" she replied, clearly flustered by the man's good looks.

"I'm sorry, where are my manners, I'm Adam, I'm a huge fan of your work."

"My work?"

"Yes, at the Parkview gallery, your art is absolutely gorgeous," he mentioned so casually. Even I stood still, infatuated with how smooth he was.

"Oh my, I well, it's nothing really just a hobby," she replied with a tinge of a southern bell accent. She had broken all eye contact at this point, her cheeks flushed red.

"Your piece titled just 'Flower vase' really spoke to me! I thought the contrast of colours were delightful. Kinda like how you are Ms. Potter, if you don't mind me sayin'," he said with another smile. He turned to me and subtlety motioned for me to move past them.

"Oh my gosh haha," the secretary swooned as Adam pulled at her chin to focus on him and not me.

"Let me tell you-" his voice trailed off as I walked into the director's office. The large man behind the desk looked up from his desk and adjusted his spectacles trying to identify me. His face looked exactly the same as the photo I had pinned up on my cork board.

"Yes? Who are you?"

"Mr. Weinbrecht, my name is Mr. Warren, I am here to talk about zoning area R3."

"Well this is unprecedented,” he huffed. “You're lucky the appointment I was going to have was cancelled this morning. You may approach me," he motioned towards his desk as his head turned back towards his papers. He stunk of evil and I didn't care if that was just my already negative bias of the man. I began explaining to him how Aniline was seeping into the water for the entire district and that lack of safety regulations led to my mother's death. The heavy-set man huffed and puffed at the end of every sentence and looked dismissive.

"Do you have any evidence that this chemical came from the factory?"

"Well the chemical Aniline is used in rubber processing and the factory is a rubber-"

"So, you have circumstantial evidence then," the man dismissed. Turning his head back to his papers. "You may leave."

I sat there dumbfounded, a rage boiling inside me. It wasn't hard to see how this man helped kill my mother. It wasn't hard to see how this man didn't even care.

"Thank you for your time Mr. Weinbrecht," I said as I got up to leave. The man replied with a yet another huff. As I walked out of his office, I saw the secretary still engaged in conversation with the young man. I looked him in the eye, anger written all over my face. He returned my stare and subtlety looked back at Weinbrecht's office before looking back at me. I nodded. He nodded back and returned to his conversation with the fawning secretary.

Two days later Weinbrecht's office declared that they would begin a full investigation into the poisoning of the water supply by the chemical Aniline. Three days after that, Weinbrecht was stabbed over 40 times. The media claimed it was a home invasion gone wrong.

I returned to my cork board and pulled Weinbrecht's photo off the wall. I took a step back and took in the whole board again. There were still so many faces left. And my anger was not sated. I would have my revenge, and Ira would be my wrath.


****


Chapter One

A man died because I nodded. A part of my brain was still telling me that this was all my imagination, that all of this was pure coincidence because the alternative was pure insanity. The alternative was that some organisation was secretly helping me all the way up to carrying out an assassination. And somehow, in some shape or form, my ex-girlfriend was involved. My fondness for pepperoni and extra pineapples was only known by two people. My mother. And Ira. And only one of the two were still alive.

I looked back at my cork board. A few strings and arrows pointing at an empty spot where Harold Weinbrecht once sat. With an investigation now officially beginning, I would have to begin planning around it. Not only did I want to help the investigation, but I had to make sure that the same people responsible for the leak weren't in any way in charge of it.

I looked up the names of the people in the investigatory board and saw Harold Weinbrecht's name still on the list. I stifled a grin. It seemed like whoever was maintaining the list hadn't read the news recently.

Alongside him were a few names that I didn't recognise, save for one. Clarice Smith. Referencing back to my cork board, I saw her face smiling proudly back at me. Clarice was the liaison between the zoning board and corporations. She would've been in charge of handling all communications between Indar Rubber, the rubber factory that was seeping Aniline into the water supply, and Weinbrecht.

I didn't know the extent to which the organisation was helping me. Perhaps Weinbrecht was the last thing they were going to do for me. I didn't know if I could rely on them moving forward and I had to account for that. If I planned for none of their help, then any help they did provide would be a bonus.

I needed to deal with Clarice. With her on the investigation, it was never going to move forward. However, I was conflicted on exactly how I wanted to deal with her. After meeting Weinbrecht, hearing of his death only put a smile on my face. But Weinbrecht was the living stereotype of evil. I needed to meet Clarice if I was going to decide how to proceed with this.

"Hello, is this Miss Clarice Smith?" I asked into the phone, pacing back and forth across my living room floor.

"Yes, speaking," a female voice responded on the other side.

"Hi, yes, I am calling concerning the investigation into the Aniline seepage in district R3."

"And what specifically?" she asked.

"I was wondering if we could arrange a meeting, I have a few questions I need to ask you personally. "

The phone fell quiet. I stopped my pacing, the floorboard creaking beneath my foot being the last sound before the eerie silence took over.

"All public inquiries must reach a consensus amongst the district before they can be addressed," she finally replied in a flat tone.

"A consensus amongst the district? What does that mean?"

"It means sir, that any questions must be supported by at least one thousand district verified citizen signatures. Then we will address the inquiry."

"What?" I replied in disbelief. What she was asking for were signatures from nearly 20% of the district's population. "Why does a question require a such a large public consensus?"

"Because we don't have time to answer every question the public has. As long as the public clearly demonstrate that this is a question they want answered, we will be happy to answer any question you have."

"You want me to get a thousand signatures from a population of five thousand? All to ask you a question? Do you realise how big of an undertaking you are asking of me?"

"It is not for me to say sir; did you have any other questions?"

I gripped the top of my sofa. Her nonchalant attitude was destroying my calm demeanour. Of course she wasn't going to make this easy. Of course I would have to fight this. But fight it I would.

"Fine, I'll get you your thousand signatures. Then you'll have no choice but to answer to me," I ended as I hung up. It was a slight slip up in my wording. I didn't mean to add the extra ‘to’ in ‘answer to me’. Yet a part of me let it happen anyway.

I decided to plan my approach. First, I needed an actual question that people would support me asking. One that was easy enough to explain but would still interest the public enough to want an answer for themselves. I walked back over to my desk and leaned over my notepad.

"The general public's inquiry into the-" the word escaped me for a moment, "fitness?"

I couldn't think of how to word it in a simple yet fleshed out way.

"People vs-" no this wasn't a court case. I spent a couple more minutes formulating my thoughts.

"Inquiry into possible conflicts of interest by Clarice Smith on the investigatory board," I mulled it over once through and decided it would have to do. I still needed to actually reach out to people. That was going to be the hard part.

Printing posters and flyers, I detailed the role Clarice Smith had in the construction of Indar Rubber's factory and decided to get the message onto the streets. Beginning the next morning, I headed out, posters in hand, stapling the call for signatures onto every street lamp and tree. Each house I visited took nearly 15 minutes of my time as I explained what the signatures were for. Most people were content to ignore the issue, refusing to give their signature.

By lunch time I had collected only ten signatures, my pile of posters almost depleted. Through aching feet and strained back I persevered, walking from door to door in a dizzying pattern of front lawns and door bells. The noises and speech beginning to blend into one, with each house beginning to look and feel exactly the same as the previous one.

By 5pm I was depleted of energy, but still I pushed on. Every rejection stung more and more, and I didn't understand why so many people were happy to just live with the problem. I began taking it personally as each person who rejected the petition became complicit in allowing things like this to happen.

At 9pm I collapsed onto my sofa, the last flyers in my hand falling to the ground in a heap, the posters long since gone. I had collected 40 signatures. 4% of the way to the goal. I was completely demoralised and stuffed my head into a couch cushion before giving out a short but concise shout of frustration.

Turning myself over, I laid on my back and stared at the ceiling. I took a deep breath and listened to the same eerie silence as the day before, when Clarice paused before her answer. The deafening silence of inner thought.

I needed their help. I didn't want to admit it but without them, I would never get the signatures, I would never reach Clarice and I would never get the closure for which I so desperately yearned.

I needed that closure.

"I need your help," I said out loud, before closing my eyes.

After what felt like only moments later, I woke to a ringing telephone. Lazily pulling out my smartphone from my pocket, I saw a number I didn't recognise.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Mr. Warren? My name is Tim Wright, I'm with Vantage Media Consulting, I will be your personal contact for any questions you may have."

"Vantage Media?"

"Yes, the social media marketing firm you hired today. Your assistant has already finalised the payments with us and we can begin working right away!"

"Right, yes of course," I said as the doorbell rang, "excuse me one moment."

Holding the phone against my chest, I walked over to the door and peered through the peep hole. "Joe's Pizza Palace" was written on the boy's hat.


****


Chapter Two

"It's all about the image and presentation," Tim told me while the waitress poured the hot coffee into my mug.

"Your current question, 'Inquiry into possible conflicts blargh'. It's boring. It puts people to sleep before they get to the end of the sentence. You want to run a campaign. You basically are. You want to get a thousand votes and people need to believe in you," Tim continued as I took a sip from the steaming coffee, retracting my lips as the heat seared them.

"This isn't about me, I'm trying to ask a question to the investigatory board," I reasoned back, "I'm not trying to win a seat on the council."

"If you want people to support your cause, they have to support you," Tim took a moment for me to respond. I nodded my head to allow him to continue.

"Good, so we don't even need to start with a question for the investigatory board. We just need people to want to question the investigatory board. We need to start by getting people riled up. Say you're an average joe living in his house watching the same jeopardy re-run from last week. I ring the doorbell and piss you off. Now you've gotta get up and walk," Tim mimicked a walking gesture with his fingers from the left side of the diner's table to the right, "allllll the way from your couch to your front door. You're already gonna start the conversation with a negative tone."

I nodded in agreement. So far, he had a point.

"What we need to do is use that anger, and shift it to your target. The investigatory board. 'Hey there, sorry for bothering you, but we've got a problem.' This is good, forget that nonsense innocent Mormon crap. Make it sound like some punk kid knocked over his postbox. It will sound like a cause that he can actually help fix."

Tim wrote some notes down, seemed like he was figuring it out as we went along.

"Now that we've got his attention, and made it clear that we're not the problem, we try to trick his feeble mind onto your side. 'Have you been experiencing any fatigue recently? Any headaches? Backaches? If so you may be suffering symptoms of Aniline poisoning'," Tim smiled, "Everyone suffers headaches and backaches. Everyone thinks they're the only ones with pain. Fatigue is such a general term that they will almost definitely be feeling tired at some point," Tim waved away the waitress as she came around with the pot of coffee again.

"Now you've scared him. 'Oh shit, I AM being poisoned by Aniline! But what's Aniline?' he'll be wondering. Then, depending on the guy, you can use a bunch of different follow-up sentences. If the guy looks like he's a crackpot conspiracy theorist, whip something up about how the government is trying to poison him through his drinking water. If it's a soccer mom with 10 different essential oils on the cupboard behind her, tell her how the toxins are giving her kids autism."

Tim was a bit of a loose cannon. But he was apparently one of the top social media campaign managers in the state and he seemed to have people pinned down by their personality. I wonder if he knew what personality he was.

"I don't really want to mislead people. Aniline doesn't cause backaches," I responded.

"What's the lady's name? Claire? Clarice was it? Do you think she's fighting fair? A 20% coverage of the district is a ridiculous expectation. A few more people and the district becomes a swing state for presidential elections. We're going to need to use every trick in the book to get those signatures. Which leads on nicely to my other strategy. High school volunteers," Tim made a grand gesture with both arms as if he'd made a revelation, "think about an army of cute cheerleaders going around asking old dudes for their signatures all while being paid below minimum wage."

I sat in front of Tim as he readjusted the collar on his polo shirt. He continued to detail his methods of canvassing the entire district with door-to-door salesman tactics. "You don't have time to go to every door and give them your whole spiel. We've got more important things to do with your time. We need your image, your face, to become the resistance against the 'big bad board'," Tim dropped into a deeper voice for 'big bad board', mimicking the movement of a lumbering giant with his arms, "If we just get the people angry enough to demand answers, the board will just host a press conference full of empty buzzwords about how they are doing everything they can. We need the people to want you to stand up for them and ask the hard-hitting questions. Then you will get your private conversation."

And so began the campaign. Marching from house to house, and door to door, an army of canvassers and cheerleaders, using every trick in the book to get signatures, and more importantly, their spirit into my cause. Within hours I began receiving calls on my new campaign cell phone from both the young and elderly telling me how they support what I was fighting for and that they hope I can help save them. Save them. Like I was a superhero.

It didn't help that the photo shoot of heroic poses ended up on posters all across the district. They were placed in strategic positions, near traffic lights, crosswalks, places where people stop for a few moments before carrying on with their day.

"The government is poisoning us!" I cried to the crowd gathered at the rally grounds. The crowd replying with feverish boos.

"They don't care for us, and the investigatory board is corrupted. Corrupted by the very people who decided to choose money over our health!" I yelled enthusiastically into the megaphone. The booing intensified amidst the crowd, intentionally packed into a small place to increase discomfort, insults being thrown at the board.

"And there is one person to blame. Clarice. Smith."

With the final sentence, the boos transformed into rage. The screams for their heads, for somebody to do something, for me to do something, rose to a crescendo.

"You're a natural at this," Tim said into my ear piece, "look at those monsters, ready to shred any target at your behest," he remarked. I stood on the stage, the megaphone now to my side as I took in their fury. I let it fuel my own hatred and allowed myself to bask in their energy.

Two weeks later, almost half the district had signed the petition.

"Good afternoon, is this Mr. Warren?" a young voice asked softly on the other side of the line.

"Yes, speaking," I replied.

"Good afternoon sir, I am speaking on behalf of Ms. Smith of the investigatory board. She would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience," her, presumable, assistant asked. I smiled silently as I took a sip of brandy. The fan swirling above my head, filling my otherwise silent living room with its monotonous blades. The lights were still off, I never really had time to turn them on. I never felt the need to. It always felt like I was only going to be here temporarily.

"Sir?" the voice poked.

"This seems a bit premature. I have yet to submit the signatures to your office," I responded slyly. “Ms. Smith-“ the voice on the other end of the line cracked slightly in distress, “she insists on meeting you. The signatures will not be necessary."

"Are you sure? I can continue until I have covered the entire district?" I soaked in the fun.

"Yes, please Mr. Warren," the voice had practically begged.

"Very well, inform Ms. Smith that I will be in her office tomorrow morning," I ordered, not giving them a choice in time and date, forcing them to accommodate me.

"Oh ok si-"

"Excellent, I look forward to our meeting," I said before abruptly hanging up. The fan continued swirling and the condensation on my glass began pooling onto my fingertips. I took another sip of brandy.


~~~~


"This way Mr. Warren," the young secretary led me down the same hallway I had walked the first time I went to visit Weinbrecht. This time clad in my own fitted suit, I walked alongside Tim who somehow managed to look smug no matter the situation.

It was excusable in this case. The glances and tension in the air with every person we walked past was enough to force a smile out of me. I had become a celebrity almost overnight, crowds gathering to support my voice, the same crowd now stationed outside in the cold winter morning. Their cries still faintly audible even this far into the building, a designated hype man keeping the crowd’s energy alive. They, like everything, were part of a plan.

Out there I was a celebrity, but in here I was a thing to be feared apparently. As the secretary led us into a quiet part of the building, we walked up to a door with the same type of card on the door that Weinbrecht had, but this time for Clarice Smith.

"Mr. Warren is here," the secretary said into the slightly ajar door, her head leaning into the room.

"Send them in," a faint female voice said on the other side of the door.

"Ms. Smith will see you now," the secretary said as she stood to the side holding the door open for me.

"I'll be right out here," Tim whispered with a thumbs-up. I walked into the room with a subtle smile, my eyes not betraying my distrustful opinion of Clarice.

"Please, Mr. Warren, take a seat," Clarice pointed at one of two leather seats in front of her desk as she sat down herself. I unbuttoned my suit to avoid crumpling it as I sat down.

"Mr. Warren, you've made quite a stir," Clarice fidgeted as she shuffled some papers, seemingly at random, readjusting her seat position every few seconds, never seemingly comfortable.

"Indeed, all at your instruction of course," I jabbed.

"I understand you wanted to ask questions and learn about the Aniline poisoning,” I did not like this woman. She didn't respond to the jab.

”Firstly, I must assert that we are both on the same side here," Clarice said making eye contact for the first time since I walked into the room. A clearly practised sentence. I refused to allow her to sit comfortably.

"I understand clearly that the investigatory board is working in my interest. But I would not be sitting in front of you right now if I believed that you were," I stated bluntly as I stared at her, her own gaze painfully attempting to stay locked onto mine.

"I assume you've done your research," I continued, standing back up and pacing slowly back and forth in front of her desk, "you must know my mother died of Methemoglobinemia," I paused and looked at her, "Aniline poisoning," before continuing my pacing. I liked being dramatic.

"And just like the other 5000 people in this district, the poison was slow, subtle and came through the water. However, you know that. I wouldn't be here if I thought you didn't know," I stopped again, placing my right hand on the back of my leather chair.

"You were the corporate liaison for the zoning board 5 years ago when Indar Rubber received the lease for a factory on Clay Street correct?"

"Well, yes-"

"Weinbrecht made quite a pretty penny off the contract, and in return he pulled some strings to allow you to extend your backyard by another 15 yards into a neighbour’s legal property," I fell silent for a moment, focusing my eyes on hers once again, "and as Aniline began seeping into the water supply, Weinbrecht kept quiet, the bribes being far too lucrative. However, you didn't get anything. Not a penny. Yet you also stayed quiet."

The room fell silent as I analysed her pained expression. I was clearly hitting nerves and she seemed moments from shattering. I just needed one more push.

"15 yards, and my mother died. My question for you Clarice," calling her by her first name because she no longer deserved seniority in this conversation, "Is what did you get in return? What did Weinbrecht give you that you deemed so valuable to be worth more than my mother's life?"

Clarice was a mess. Her eyes straining to hold back tears, her jaw clearly tight.

"Give me my answer!" I roared across the table, dropping once again into silence, a silence far more pronounced after being contrasted against my rage.

"Nothing! I didn't get anything!" Clarice broke into tears, "Weinbrecht threatened to fire me and expose my property's zoning violations unless I kept silent. I swear! I didn't want to hurt anyone," Clarice finished as she began sobbing into a handkerchief, "it was just easier to do nothing, I'm sorry..." I stood back up straight, my strained face and tone lightening a bit at her confession. I couldn't help but feel pity for her.

I slowly moved the chair I held so tightly in my hands and sat back down facing her. Noting the less hostile tone, Clarice reduced her sobbing and looked back up at me.

"Have you seen the crowds outside?" I asked her. She nodded back.

"Have you seen how they rise and fall at my request?" She nodded, far more subtlety this time.

"Your reputation is already under questioning, all because of me. And if I walk out of this meeting today, unhappy with its conclusion, the crowd will know. They will be told how you personally were complicit in the poisoning of every member of that crowd including their children," I leaned in forward, placing my elbows on her desk. Clarice leaned back instinctively. Animalistic defences were kicking in.

"And if that crowd is riled up one more time. Your job, your very life will be destroyed, never to recover, do you understand what I am saying?" I waited for her response. After a moment, she nodded once more.

"From this moment onwards," I said more relaxed as I stood back up, she was currently vulnerable and malleable, "you will be my voice inside the investigatory board. I will bring you charges, I will bring you evidence, I will bring you the heads of the people that decided to profit over poison. And you will be my executioner," I walked over to her window. My window. The crowd was just visible around the corner of the building. Their voices so faint in the distance.

"You will answer to me and by the end of this, if you did your job exactly as I required, I may keep what I know a secret, and you can keep your 15 yards," I walked over to her side of the desk, one hand in my pocket, I leaned over her. She was a broken character at this point. Completely subject to my will. And did I feel powerful.

"Do you understand Ms. Smith?"

Another nod. More rapid, submissive.

"Good," I pulled back, rebuttoning my suit as I prepared to leave, "I will be in contact in the next few days. You'd better be ready to answer the call; do you have any questions before I depart Ms. Smith?" I turned to look at her one more time as I reached the door.

"This- This all goes very high up the food chain," she squeaked out, her tiny form mostly hidden behind her desk at this point, "How do you plan to take them down?"

I smiled back at her as I opened the door, "I assure you Ms. Smith," I said as I turned to walk out of the room, pausing right in the doorway, "my friends are much higher."


****

Chapter Three

"What's his name again? Warren?"

"Yes sir."

"Hmph," the man in the tan suit grunted as he looked at his desk in idle concentration.

"Does he actually have any evidence?"

"Not that we know of sir."

"So why should I care?" The tan suit asked.

"Well, he's got a lot of support. And the investigatory board will have to comply to some degree."

"What the hell was this over again? A factory?"

"Yes sir. The rubber processing plant on Clay Street. He claims it is leaking chemicals into the neighbourhood's water supply."

"Hmph," the tan suit grunted again, "Let's ignore this for now and hope it fixes itself. If it gets any bigger, tell me."

"Yes sir," the assistant stepped out of the room.


~~~~


"I don't think so!" the man said, lying on his back, one arm raised in defence, "if it were the case I would've known!"

"Nah see that ain't gon' work. Not for me, probably not for Eddy either, do it Eddy?"

"Nah it ain't workin' fo' me," Eddy responded, waving his baseball bat like he was practising.

"Yeah see, Eddy don' like it none. So why dontcha get off ya sorry ass, and make it work fo' us?"

"I already told you. Those records are kept in the public office. I wouldn't be able to access them even if I wanted to!" the man's eyes darted between the fat and thin man.

"Hmm, see no I really don' think Eddy is gon' like that either, do ya Eddy?"

"Not one bit," the large man responded.

"Yeah see, he don' like it. And Eddy sure don' like it, when he don' like it."

"I don'," Eddy responded.

"I'll give you what I can give you! Just please! Leave my house and leave me alone!"

"You got three days to cough up the docs. Pull whateva strings you gotta pull. But you get us those docs and then," the thin man smiled and made a leaning back gesture, his arms spread open like he was revealing a new car model, "then we'll be fine and dandy."

"I'll do it, I'll do whatever I can!"

"Great, you happy wit dat Eddy?"

"Bright as sunshine," Eddy responded, never moving, always staring at the man on the ground. The baseball bat adding to his intimidation factor.

"See, ya made Eddy happy," the thin man smiled for an awkward amount of time, "great, lets go Eddy."


~~~~


"Gosh, you are just absolutely stunning when you smile, do you know that?" the young man in the well tailored grey suit said to the young woman.

"Oh stop!" the young woman responded with glee, "I bet you say that to all the transcribers you meet," she mumbled with a flirty smile.

"Only the pretty ones," he responded quickly as if he had it preloaded.

"You're just the worst!" she said, completely contradicting her sentence with her red cheeks.

"Good evening, may I take your orders?" the waiter said in an overly posh British accent.

"Oh yes, I will have the Lamb Salad with- Fregola? I'm not sure I pronounced that right," the young woman said anxiously. She looked at her date across the table who gave her a reassuring nod.

"And I will have the Pappardelle with Sea Urchin," the man added.

"Very good, and your drinks?" the waiter inquired again, leaning over to his side slightly as he drew out the end of the word 'drinks'.

"We will have the 1994 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru," the man said, much to the surprise of the young woman.

"Very good sir, will there be anything else?"

The young man gestured in questioning to the young woman across the table who gestured a 'no' back with a simple hand wave.

"That will be all right now," the young man said with a gentle smile. The waiter nodded and walked away.

"My, oh my you sure know your wines," the girl blushed for the third time.

"Well, you know," the young man shrugged, "what were we talking about?"

"You were asking me about my job."

"Ah yes, a transcriber, that sounds fascinating. You must have tremendous typing speed."

"Haha yeah, I get that a lot. It's more of a technique thing? You have to be able to create short formed words on the fly. That way you can keep up with conversations."

"I see, and do you just do freelance work or...?"

"Oh no, I actually work for a company. Indar Rubber, not sure if you've ever heard of them."

"No, can't say I have," the young man smiled before leaning in to hold her hand across the table. She blushed harder in response but managed to keep her composure.

"Oh, it's some random conglomerate. I just sit in their meetings and tap tap tap away on my keyboard. I'm sorry, this is a very boring subject!" the young woman blushed, pushing a strand of her hair behind her ear.

"Please, nothing coming out of your mouth will ever be boring to me," the young man managed to glint his eyes against the ceiling lights.


~~~~


"I'm not sure how you got this information, but it's the bullseye we needed," Brian said over the phone, "get the information down in paper-form and we'll send it over to Clarice by post. That way it can be destroyed, no evidence."

"Do we have any guarantee she will destroy it?" I asked, leaning back in my desk chair, loosening my tie.

"It's in her interest as much as ours to not let this source go public. Plus, there's nothing tying the letter back to you. Just make sure you don't sign your name at the end," Brian laughed on the other end of the line.

"Thanks Brian," I smirked, "I'll see you around."

"Take care," he replied before hanging up. Where they managed to find a lawyer so willing to do 'less-than-legal' consultation was something I was curious about. Another question added onto the giant list I was building up in my head. The living room was quiet, as it always was, the lights off. The glow of the laptop illuminating my face. That, coupled with the dusk sunlight filtering, slant-wise, through the large front window, the room glowed with an orange illumination.

I cracked my fingers and got back to work.

“Ms. Smith,

Public Records office: A1724-H4582”

I copied the listings from the form on my desk that highlighted the transactions between Weinbrecht and Indar Rubber. The documentation was there, all the lies and deceit were well documented, but exposing it was the main issue. With Clarice Smith working for me however, it wouldn't be an impossible task. I continued writing,

“Make your case with these records. Terrence Hatcher must go down in handcuffs.”

I looked up at my cork board of faces. All the way at the top was Terrence. CEO of Indar Rubber. All lines led to him and I had reason to believe he made the deal personally with Weinbrecht. I looked at the man's face, chiselled like a sculpture. I assumed the photo I had was photoshopped for enhancement but there was no doubt his hair was done up to the last strand, his cheeks puffed with the exact amount of powder to not let it shine.

He wasn't the only target left, but he was the biggest. Getting him would mean I could get anyone. He was the CEO but he had dealings in at least a dozen other companies that I tracked. All probably linked through offshore accounts or some kind of tax haven. But I only needed one catch.

I looked the letter one time over and decided that it conveyed just enough information as necessary. I was putting a lot of faith in Clarice's abilities and that didn't sit well with me. I didn't know if I could trust her yet and that meant I needed a backup plan.

"I need Clarice Smith's illegal zoning documentation. The 15 yards," I said out loud to the living room. Naturally, nobody responded. But they were listening. I knew that much at this point. I thought back to Ira. She was appearing in my head more and more as this organisation kept providing. She had been at my mother's funeral. It was far too much of a coincidence. What role did she play in all this? Every second was a battle to just ask out loud into the room. To sate my curiosity. However now was not the time. There would be time later.

Within a few hours, the doorbell rang and I brought the pizza into my room. The pepperoni and pineapples were overshadowed by the big text written on the inside of the cover of the box.

S6823-R1952

The record number for Clarice's 15 yards. I returned to the letter and added an extra line.

“Just to make sure you keep your word: S6823-R1952”

I printed out the letter, folded it into an envelope and addressed it to Clarice. The orange envelope smelled of a post office, its texture that of new dry paper, unsettling to the skin. The same feeling when someone scratches a chalkboard. Shivers down your spine, palms sweating slightly.

I stood in my hallway looking out of my living room window. The sun had completely set at this point and the street lights illuminated the quiet road outside. With one hand in my pocket, I tapped the letter against my leg idly as I thought of the whole situation I was in. How I'd tripped and fallen head first into this entire system of blackmail and murder. Somebody had died because of me.

I watched as a man in a dark top and jeans walked past my window. The quiet always did this. The silence of my living room always forced inner reflection, thoughts on the bigger scale. Ira popped into my head again for a split second before I saw the man pull out an object from his pocket and hold it in my direction. The glass of my window cracked violently but held firm as two pops rang out. ‘Guns don’t sound like they do in the movies’ was the first thought that came to my mind.

I was completely frozen, standing still. What had just happened? It was too quick to even contemplate let alone get scared. I approached my window cautiously and noted the single bullet lodged in the glass. All of the cracks originating from that single bullet, like a street map of a metropolis. Looking past the cracks, I saw the man prone on the ground, face down. I looked up and down the street and noticed a van slowly pulling up the road from the right.

The van crawled down the road, its headlights disallowing any ability to see its occupants. I was about to move away from the window, for fear that this was the assassin's backup, before the headlights turned off and the van sped up to the curb where the man lay on the ground. Joe's Pizza Palace was written on the side of the van. The door slid open as two figures hopped out and silently lifted the body off the ground and loaded it into the van. One figure returned outside and sprayed the ground with some mist, like a weak power washer, before getting back into the van and driving off.

The orange letter was still in my hand, my tie still loose around my neck. Besides the large crack in my window, the street lights still illuminated the empty and quiet street, my ceiling fan still blowing slow and cool air onto my head. I finally realised the adrenaline shooting through my system as my body collectively reacted with one gigantic shiver.

Perhaps it was time to contact the organisation.


****


Chapter Four


"Damn, he's got some resolve."

"What'd you mean?"

"He just stood there. He got shot at and he barely flinched. Maybe the boss really does see something in this guy."

"I mean, he's been pretty successful so far," the man said slightly absentmindedly as he filled in a document on his second screen, "how's the bulletproof glass holding up?"

"Integrity seems fine. Seems Kapilan Tech wasn't lying about their quality."

"Only the best for Mr. Warren," the man said in a slightly raised and posh tone, casually turning back to his screen as he takes a sip from his coffee, "Sniper-1 this is Command, SITREP, over."

The radio stayed silent for a second before crackling into life, the ambient sounds of the night coming through the channel as static, "This is Sniper-1, all clear, over."

"Roger that Sniper-1," the controller responded before turning to the other man for an aside, raising his hand to cover his microphone even though he wasn't broadcasting, "send in the clean-up crew," he said before returning to his own radio channel, "QRF you're clear to move in for reconnaissa-"

"Extract him," she said standing behind them.

The man jumped slightly at the sound of her voice, "Oh- uh right away Ma'am," instinctively sitting more upright and closer to the screen, the man next to him also mimicking the reaction.

"QRF, disregard last message, move in for HVT extraction, how copy, over?"

The radio crackled back into life, this time a muffled voice replying, "This is QRF, read you Lima Charlie, we're moving in, over."

"Alright boys, prep for HVT extraction," the man riding shotgun said as he lowered the radio down into his lap.

"Command, out" the radio let out a final message, subdued by the sounds of magazines loading into guns, guns cocking and safeties being turned off. The van turned the street corner and closed in on the Warren residence.

"Standard procedure boys, get up a 360 perimeter on arrival, Rick and I will retrieve the HVT."


~~~~


Within minutes another van pulled up to the house. This time far less inconspicuous than the last one. This one was pure black with its windows completely tinted, it moved quickly and parked right in front of my door. I assumed it wasn't hostile since it wasn't being shot at by whatever sniper shot the, now dead, hitman.

I watched as the van opened up and people spilled out from every door. A few of the masked men stood in a circle around the van, watching multiple angles while two of the masked men ran up to my door and knocked rather violently. If they wanted to kill me, they could've. They weren't here to hurt me. So I answered the door.

"Mr. Warren, we're here to take you to safety," the tallest man said with a slight sense of urgency. I could sense his urge to just pull me out of the doorway and into the van, but his body language showed that he was very deliberately stopping himself from crossing the door frame. The man next to him held a small submachine gun of some kind and seemed to be looking into my house rather than at me.

"I understand, let's go," there was no need to question them, not out here. They were clearly extremely alert and on guard. They would probably just blow off any questions for the sake of urgency. I could ask the questions later. The men turned around and walked me to the van at a brisk pace.

It was strange walking outside in this situation. I felt the coldness of the outside air as soon as I stepped out and despite the amount of people in my vicinity, it was quiet. Like just another day in my neighbourhood. Not two minutes ago was a man shot and killed right in front of my house. Yet the sereneness of a quiet suburb was juxtaposed heavily against the tense men pointing guns in every direction.

I walked up to the van and the side door slid open. Within seconds, everyone had mechanically piled back into the van. The stench inside the van smelt of humidity and oil. It wasn't necessarily a bad smell, but the air was thick. Probably due to number of bodies stuck together in close proximity.

"Sir do we bag him?" a quiet voice asked into his headset, clearly meaning to be private.

"Are you kidding? He's highest clearance," the man riding shotgun answered loudly, the driver only acknowledging with a nod and starting the van. Despite the fragile look of the van, it started smoothly and quietly. The interior, at least the driver's portion of it, looked modern, with built in GPS and everything. It was unexpected to say the least.

"Who are you people?" I asked the man sitting across me. He stayed silent, opting instead to look awkwardly at the man sitting next to me. The awkwardness lingered in the air and normally I would feel obligated to rephrase the question. But in this case, I stayed silent. Call it a power move but the silence only put the stress of answering the question on them.

"We're not authorised to speak with you sir," a man at the back of the van finally answered. The mask muffled his voice, which at first glance appeared to just be a ski mask. However, on closer inspection, there seemed to be some plastic integrated into the mouth area of the mask.

"Is anyone in this van authorised?" I asked aloud, this time directing my voice towards the driver. More awkward silence.

"Your questions will be answered sir, all in good time," the same man answered again. I had gotten all I could get out of them and just sat back instead, unsure where to direct my eyes with people all around me. From the little I could see out of the front windows, it seemed to be an industrial area that we were pulling up to. Seemed pretty cliché. The van stopped at some kind of sheltered loading bay and the men silently exited, far more relaxed than the previous time.

I stepped out of the van and watched my first breath form a white cloud out into the cold air. The general voiceless grunts seemed to be walking off into one direction but the other two, the ones who had approached my door, guided me in to the building. I was guided through a series of indistinguishable hallways, only filled with lights and doors, all of which were closed. After what seemed like a geometrically impossible number of turns, the final door opened to a gigantic interior space. I looked up in awe at the size of it all.

Inside were a few raised metal platforms with stairs and, between every space, on both the ground and the raised platforms, were computers. Rows and rows of computers, each with their own operator. People walking back and forth along the rows, some on the phone, others urgently rushing through this and that door. The men walked me to a raised position overlooking the entire area. It itself did not have any computers or electronics, only appearing to serve as a platform to watch the floor. The platform led back into the interior hallway area of the building, with a single door ending the platform.

I watched the busy floor move like a movie scene for a stock market. Some of the people down there had almost 15 monitors, stacked three monitors tall. It was messy yet organised. Chaotic yet controlled.

"Wha-" I turned to ask before noticing the two men were gone, nearly at the bottom of the steps they had led me up.

"David." A female voice said behind me. A voice that instantly calmed me. A voice I was conditioned to derive joy from. I turned around and saw her.

"Ira." I answered. She was really a part of all this. It was unbelievable yet there she stood. I saw her long hair still draped down to her shoulders, her eyes still piercing in their gaze. She was still the slender framed girl that I once crushed over. "I haven't heard my first name in a long time."

"Apologies, Mr. Warren."

She still had her wit. Her most attractive feature. She approached me slowly, and for a moment, perhaps naively, thought she was coming in for a kiss, but instead she turned towards the floor of the 'stock market'. "What do you think?" she asked.

"It's... incredible. What is it?"

"Eyes and ears, everywhere."

I understood.

"Is my living room on one of those screens?"


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