An Original Short Thriller
A chair creaked back and forth malevolently through the hum of a mumbled mantra. The contents of the seat repeated itself evenly between each breath its echoes setting the darkness ablaze.
The man behind the murmuring sat stock-still through the creaking office chair. And though no light illuminated the space, his eyes seemed to smolder through the dark remaining unmoved from some unseen object.
“Power, power, power I feel power power power.”
This went on for what seemed hours until the night shook itself awake, lifting in time to release the first rays of the sun yawning over the horizon and threatening to leak in from behind drawn curtains.
In the growing glow, the man’s striking features took on a life of their own, his unflinching gaze never leaving the golden nameplate now manifesting in the growing deep blues of early morning.
Mr. Richards, it read,
Co-founder and CEO
The hatred being leveled through his unflinching glare might have melted the plaque rising to meet his eyes and reflect his own threat back to him from beneath the engraved label bearing the title he’d recently rid himself of. He fought the upper lip threatening to lift into a crook of disdain, don’t give away anything... not even privately, good habits form there first… the mantra expanded…
Mr. Richards had a problem and when problems occurred for Alistair Richards the world might as well cease to exist around him. Unless it happened to be offering the problematic item’s head on a silver platter he wouldn’t be impressed by it. He’d worked to hard for the hounds to have found him in the beginnings of his solo enterprise.
The mantra fell silent at 4:11 AM, had he bothered to check the clock, he’d have realized the silence had gone on for another hour at the hand of his calculating mind. At 5:11 AM to the second, Alistair took a deep breath in, smoothing over his brown locks swiftly as he stood with purpose. He’d mulled long enough, it was time to enact the conclusions he’d formed.
Never leave anything important and undone to anyone else. He barreled through his agitation, bound to end his session with clarity. There’s no such thing as chance, just pawns with bad management… he concluded.
“Too good to be true, I knew better.” He growled outwardly.
The vein in his temple pulsated visibly through the hall mirror as he walked past.
Alistair had known better than to leave his stature to anyone. His image was his greatest creation, the shining score that blinded most to the less desirable traits he exuded. Above all things, he challenged himself to always find a way to speak the truth, even if it meant tweaking the overall story a bit…
But this specific problem had gone on for long enough, he would bury the tell-tale heart once and for all so he could move full cylinder away from the scene and on with his life.
“Power, Power, Power I feel Power Power Power.” He countered the anger encapsulating it into a neat string of organized words.
He pronounced each meticulously, and again for good measure, bearing down on the energy building beneath them until he no longer felt as if he were drowning in the rage but rather walking atop it.
“Power Power Power.”
Do you really feel power Alistair?
The fondue sentiment seethed into his mind like a silken line ready to entangle and strangle through the reflection he’d found himself staring back at.
shaking hands slipped through his hair, his fingers slowly restricted into clumps exposing the white of his strained scalp beneath. He pulled harder threatening to pull the strands from their roots.
“Power power power I feel…” he stopped repeating midway, and listened through the sleep-deprived ears of a man burdened and at the brink of one too many secrets, the effects settling into a subtle paranoia threatening to make its home between his eyes…
For just a moment, everything was quiet, the hall surrounding his reflection basked in warm hues of the orange rushing to join in with the lightning blue, and yet all Mr. Richards could see at the moment was red. He shook his head furiously, rattling the day-old tie around his neck, as it began to feel more symbolic of a corporate noose by the second. He stopped shaking himself long enough to look into the mirror once more. Nothing. The voice had run quiet…
coward… Alistair snarled inward.
“WHERE ARE YOU, YOU SON OF A...” Alistair stumbled forward as he screamed into the morning light. He ended in a growl as he used the iron grip, still clenched around his soft curls, to toss his head around a few more times to be sure it didn’t come back.
Something smashed to the floor further down the hallway snapping Alistair from his madness only to see it still perfectly in place.
“I know you are here…” He choked in the suddenly abundant spittle flooding his scotch dried mouth, met only with silence…
“AAH!” he screamed thrusting his head against the wall before retracting his hands from their place at either side of his scalp…
Imagine what the bullet must have felt like… his wicked mind hissed.
“I can’t do it… I can’t.” His defeated statement was met with silence.
Alistair glanced into the glass of a framed picture, expecting to see something other than his own refracted shadow poised in his direction, staring out at him. but again, as soon as it had shown itself the phantom was gone.
His throbbing temples echoed chaotically sending his hand out to the wall for balance as the spirit of will power gave way to exhaustion. His body shuttered as if some cosmic shock-collar had gone off to remind him he didn’t hold the remote yet. He clenched his fist, and pounded it against the solid frame… The situation wouldn’t be handled until he’d taken care of it himself… this morning… His heart began to flutter hopefully over the looming relief. Just make it through the day… Fix the final squeaky wheel. bury the heart…
He wiped clammy palms over his dark gray slacks, taking in a purposeful breath… The static building between the fabric and his warming skin gave rise to a dull buzz he could almost hear as his mind faded into the flash of recent events. Muffled voices yelling directives and the sudden kick to his chest. A hand wandered to the origin of the phantom pain, rubbing the square of bare skin still bearing the light burn left by the electric patches the paramedics placed.
The twang in his side rose a red flag reminder, it was time to change the seething bandage hidden beneath his rip day old suit, coffee first. He watched the shoulders of his silhouette loosen through the picture frame catching up light from the gathering dawn.
he released the breath he’d been holding in a rapid burst followed by a tapering stream. It was over, for now, the Vengeance was gone. Whether it had been bravery or desperation that had sprung him free from the terrors of the previous night no one but Mr. Richards could ever know.
The fear dwindled with the returning daylight, wisping into senselessness the same way a bad dream tends too upon its victims’ release. Alistair chuckled wistfully, brushed the last of it away with the beads of sweat that had gathered over his brow, leaving their demons to wander the lonely halls until his return.
There was no time for nonsense, not now…
He shook his head and straightened his posture, loosening the tie burning an imprint to his neck like a brand. As he felt it releasing its hold, a sly smile began to play at the edges of his lips.
I beat It… The thought stuck a final pin in his decent, again avoiding the swirling pit by the skin of his teeth, I won this round. The wily conclusion swelled, allowing his normal self-possession to sweep in through the punctured fabric spun by the shadows. Once again, delivering his attention toward the day to come. He looked around the space as he listened to the automatic coffee pot sputtering to life from the other room.
A bird was chirping its good mornings just beyond his open kitchen window aggravating his building composure.
Noise, noise… noise…
How is anyone to do anything with all this, noise… he raged behind his clenched jaw.
Teeth Snarling from behind their fleshy holsters “Take me for a fool,” he called out to an empty house. “you don’t know what I’m capable of. I am capable of anything, you will never get me.” He left the poisonous mantra to hiss in the hallway growing behind him and disappear with his shadow as he crossed over the threshold of the warm morning pouring through the open kitchen window. Without missing a beat Alistair made his way to the stand that always contained his Mercedes key FOB. All the while mindlessly repeating his daily reminders…
Routine is golden… Good to stick with gold if you want more of it… if it works, it’s not broken, if it’s not broken leave it alone and tend to the bigger pictures no one else pays any attention too. The world wouldn’t turn without you… The compulsive thoughts echoed out at him. A mask to the cloak and dagger he had hidden beneath the sudden gain of composure.
The smile on his face had turned wicked as he approached the stand, the sounds bombarding him from the building morning beyond the open window inspiring him to pull open the top drawer, exposing the brand new, soon to be regifted hand weapon resting within its open mouth.
The sinister smile deepened… as he imagined the circumstances of his receiving the unregistered gift. He chuckled at the brilliance of it all coming together as it had... His giggled hysteria hiccuped throughout the room, drowning out the chirp of birds welcoming the day. If he hadn’t been so small minded none of this would have happened…
Alistair leaned himself against the top of the small cabinet. The irony of its original owner being his recently departed business partner wasn’t lost on him, It would all be taken care of soon. He frowned through the intention as if to force the imagery of it happening. he sighed, pushing off the surface of the stand.
Alistair shook his mind free of the familiar face taking form… he refused the haunt with purpose. Today would be the day it would all come together… As long as he could keep out the noise.
Again the Red-breast robin took up its chorus from the bushes. The friendly tune was simply another manifestation of the dreaded noise… pointless squawking… he sneered, just like everyone else, the thought concurred as he looked over the elegant piece, his mind continued to wonder, just making noise, saying pointless things, full of pointless lies and pointless desires… living for nothing because they aren’t willing to put anything in to get what they want…
Noise, noise, noise! The word repeated itself as if justified, There’s no such thing as bigger pictures in small minds… they are too busy revolving the drain of impulses, waiting for death to swallow them whole. Henry had gone down that road the moment their company had shown any promise. fool got what he had coming.
He saw himself lifting the weapon with purpose, fully aware of what he was about to do, real men innovate, adapt, overcome… he was a dog, a mangy mutt set on maintaining standards, no vision…
A sarcastic grunt of laughter followed after as he glanced again to the open window, admiring the sharp contrast between the cold inside of his modern kitchen against the bright green of the bushes. All the while searching its lavish skirt for the noisy unseen guest.
The coffee pot offered a finale of hiccups as molten liquid hissed from its hopper, marking the end of a cycle and the beginning of his time on the clock. A trickle of exhaustion and relief made it past the building annoyance toward his unwelcome companion… He’d made it over the finish line, his tired body could be set straight with a hot cup of caffeine, a cold shower, and a couple lines to reset equilibrium and put him back under full control.
A good nights sleep would be a real treat but he still had to earn it, he concluded. As if on impulse another of his statutes rose, You never rest when loose ends are left… why would this be any different?… The question followed in its wake… It’s also true the stakes have never been higher.
Alistair played with the trigger over the musing. He imagined the final pieces falling into place an absentminded finger flinching against the triggers pit as if testing the safety’s integrity under pressure too…
“Here tweety bird” He mocked, “tweet, tweet, tweety bird.” the song drifted weightless through the open window his sightless eyes were trained to. they’d pinned themselves to the bushes, untethering their use from the dark thoughts rushing in calculated torrents beneath.
He was far, far away… his happy place, thirty miles and fifty-six stories to be exact. In a place that had only been a seed in his mind twenty years before, had culminated into an empire. he saw himself overlooking the view he’d strategized his way into… from its heart, the large, deep grey office that called to him at every moment. His happy place had become an obsession and the reason behind everything he’d ever done. Each plot he unearthed had interwoven and twisted itself into the very roots of his existence.
He moved closer to the open window of the kitchen, imagined the windows on all sides of his office offering to expose the city below to the two leather chairs standing against each other for the affection of the custom mahogany desk standing as judge between them. her bias only clear to the side she afforded a majestic skyline view too.
“It’s mine…” He demanded, I earned it.” He repeated the conviction crumbling the fingers of his free hand into white-knuckled coils of dammed rage. No one else could imagine the things he’d done to get to it, the sacrifices he’d offered in pursuit of it.
This game of Clue had reached a boiling point and was bound to blow its lid or fall together by the end of the day. Of the two choices, only one was an option as far as Alistair was concerned, no matter the cost.
Alistair rotated the revolver from side to side, inspecting the laser engraved initials at its grip.
“Tweeterdee Tweeterdee” The Robin poked its head from between two larger branches extending unseen into the core of its lush coat. Almost as absently as he’d rotated the sleek extension, he lifted it level, holding it with a businessman’s grip he closed an eye. His wicked thoughts choked his finger just further, as he pretended to pull the trigger.
Feathers exploded into the air as the weapon kicked up in his unpracticed. The scene erupted into a flurry of movement as others of its kind flew the coop. Down feathers burst from their source like organic confetti.
Alistair blinked away the shock, bringing his eyes back into focus as echoes of the loud crack faded from his house. His breathing began to slow once his heart beat less quickly, and as the two again found their own rhythms, he burst into a fit of laughter. The night’s terrors further behind him in the wake of the bird’s sacrifice.
He watched downy feathers flitter in weightless spirals toward the floor. After watching in mesmerized thoughtfulness, he grunted.
“To think, I almost scratched my head with the damn thing a second ago.” He mumbled through an incredulous smile. Any normal human being may have been shaken, but not he, Mr. Richards soaked in the familiar rush. The smile he’d established solidified into a series of angular feature that screamed confidence.
“Damn right I feel it.” His murmured arrogantly.
He took in a deep, satisfied breath and switch the safety on, before replacing it, appreciating the sudden silence.
As he left his kitchen to prepare for the busy morning to come, steaming mug in hand he glanced at the full to bursting liquor cabinet gracing the inner wall of the kitchen. The warm glow radiating from its glass display window amplified the caramel prisms of his prized scotch and whiskey collections.
one, in particular, came to mind as he passed by it, a wolfish grin spread through his body as he made his way up the warmed stone steps to his master bath.
If all goes to plan, it might be the perfect occasion for your gift… he tossed the thought sarcastically over his shoulder, leaving it to meet him later in the evening, once he’d resolved this whole situation… dissolved the final pieces evidence and tie up the final loose strings. Then we can toast to me… he pulled one of many black towels from its place, ready to be reborn for the day.
The elevator’s mouth shot open as if it were happy to be rid of its current occupant.
the cluster of penguins waiting outside of it nearly lept out of the way to make room for the man facing them through the gaping mouth. Mr. Richards barely acknowledge the attention shown as they slid apart to make a path between themselves so he could pass through, untouched, just the way he liked it.
Alistair cracked a smug smile as he left them in his wake, readjusting his impeccable tie.
“Good morning Mr. Richards,” A perfectly trimmed receptionist stood to greet him warmly… evenly, just the way he liked it.
“Your 8 O’clock is already in the waiting area sir.” Alistair smiled pleasantly, throwing her a bone. At the bell, she sat gracefully into the luxurious desk chair without her tight ponytail so much as swooshing. She pinned her eyes dutifully to the screen to sort through the details of his life and ensure the unfolding plots for weeks to come would run seamlessly, along with three others, just like her.
Alistair walked tall through the main area, commanding attention as he passed the small offices at the mouth of Lanzcorp headquarters. He strode importantly through the cubicle farm spitting out endless information and results worth trading. The static buzz of conversations fell silent in his wake, giving way to waves of whispers once he’d passed.
After leaving the lively common behind him he made his way over the final stretch between he and his safe haven, without so much as a glance at the eyes following him.
Alistair had more important things to do than acknowledge the admiration of those whose checks he signed. That was attention enough in his ledger. He pulled a key card from his slacks and grazed the lock pad to the right side of his door. He drank in the relief of putting something between he and them…
Once the light went green he pulled at the latch intuitively and he disappeared behind the heavy door.
A silent relief surged as conversation again took charge, it’s dull rumble climbed into a constant lively thundering. As the keypad turned to red, the office caught fire erupting with instantaneous movement, as the lavish office arena returned to its normal buzzing.
The view from his office was unimaginable, an empire built in the clouds of his mind. Alistair set his briefcase neatly beside his desk and took a seat momentarily clearing his mind over a deep breath.
Power Power Power I feel…
The mantra surfaced, rubbing against his consciousness as if to prove it was ever present, at the hand of constant practice and sustained willpower it had been stored in the back of his mind…
A smile drifted over his countenance, pouring out from between his arced fingertips as he stared at the thick portal standing between he and his first victim of the day.
A wicked picture twinkled in his eye as Alistair imagined the conversation he was about to have. He continued the mantra quietly, under his breath, closing his eyes, he allowed himself to sink into the vision manifesting beneath it. The seat at the other end of the desk appeared across the black slate he’d cleared over his mind.
There was a problem, and Mr. Richards was going to fix it, that meant making sacrifices. He saw a shark circling slowly around the silhouette of a man now hovering over the rich leather.
A flash of his red-breasted houseguest burst into his quiet place before he forcefully returned his focus to the palette containing the chair. Sticks had been stacked around it in his absence, they glistened in the spotlight highlighting the importance… He could almost smell the gasoline as he lit the match and tossed it into the pile. He watched the blaze eat through the leather upholstery hungrily casting smoke over the shadow of a figure writhing beneath the flames. Sacrifices must be made… burn the ones who are less likely to squeak… never, waste time at the knees, go for the throat… so to speak… to name a few rules of thumb in the circles he swam with.
He propped his sharp elbows on the desk bringing their extensions together with an arch of fingertips as he disappeared into his mental image, words appeared beneath it. Problems are meant to be fixed.
Pointless noise put in the proper places to silence it.
Traitors… burnt, turned into the examples they’ve begged their way into one betrayal at a time.
Spiders, Squashed before their webs are spread through to pollute the space…
He finished the thought passionately.
This cycle had become his favorite part of the business. Keeping order, making peace, and harnessing situations that seem out of hand.
When you’ve built the empire, it isn’t a thumb you worry over, at the top, if you created a kingdom of sorts, from scratch, A smile spread again beneath closed lids, doesn’t that essentially make you a god?… of sorts he added as an afterthought before taking a deep breath.
In any case, Alistair could observe, without question he was the thumb others in his industry had decided to line up and squeeze beneath, willingly.
He toyed with the idea, letting his eyes roll to the back of his head to check on the burning chair while breathing in deeply, still there. He smiled as he rested his head back on the leather.
His expression full of distant mischief as a buzzing sounded from beneath his massive desk, breaking his reverie.
The receiver on his desk flashed in unison in case he hadn’t felt the vibration above his outer right thigh. He tapped the button and waited for the assailant to state their purpose.
“Mr. Richards, do you want me to send Mr. Kaiser back?”
Alistair showed teeth through his pyramid of fingers, tapping the pointers together thoughtfully. “Please do, be especially kind to him Liddy, hint at a corner office would you?”
“I will personally deliver him sir.”
He tapped the button once more restoring silence to his domain. Like any good business shark Alistair could smell weakness from a mile away. Unlike some, he never missed an opportunity to remind those he employed of his omnipotence, that no one was irreplaceable, no one beside him that is.
There was a light tap at the door. Mr. Richards adjusted his magnificent, dark tinted titanium nameplate before pushing the button concealed beneath his desk.
The oak door opened to the face of a well-stroked ego in a nearly fitted suit. It’s untailored dimensions off just slightly enough to put a man of true taste in a state of agitation. Alistair resisted the revulsion threatening to display itself openly.
The pretty receptionist smiled at Alistair. The wink he offered back was almost indistinguishable, but she caught it like a bone before turning away. She closed the door behind Alistair’s unsuspecting victim.
Drake Kaiser had worked for Lanzcorp since the beginning. As a senior executive adviser, he knew more about the inner workings than most other employees combined.
At one point he may have been seen as an asset, but workspace whispers had reached Alistair’s ears. The chatter of traded secrets and under the table deals had lost more than a few moments of quiet for Mr. Richards.
It simply wouldn’t do to let the gossip go unpunished.
Drake made his way to the opposite side of the desk. He sat hard into the leather armchair further obscuring Alistair’s view.
An obstacle to be dealt with. Alistair smiled at the illusion through his fingers.
“I like what you’ve done with the place Al!” Drake said comfortably… too comfortably. His eyes dash over the space between them as he closed the gap. To ready to be impressed… Alistair smiled in a show of politeness beneath rose the arrogant thought, I couldn’t have chosen better.
“Hasn’t changed much since the last time I was in here.” Drake looked around, pretending to notice differences, details that didn’t exist. Alistair’s eyes never strayed from the target reminding him more by the moment why he disliked the man, he tried too hard, if it’s meant to be, it happens organically.
“Sounds like you’ve got some big things on the agenda!” Drake continued, “The water-cooler crowd’s talking about acquisitions of some sort, all kinds of crazy things! That’s going to be a huge workload on your shoulders.” His voice conveyed insincere concern sprinkled in personal interests.
Alistair’s smile widened. This was going more perfectly than he had planned.
“Is that what they are saying?” Alistair offered politely, leaving room for more juicy details to leak in.
“I figured that’s why you called me in here, maybe you were interested in what they were saying, or…” Drake paused importantly, his voice full of expectation. “I mean I understand it’s already quite a load you’re carrying, especially now that Harry is out of the picture.”
Alistair found his word choice interesting. Drake’s thirsty attempt turned Alistair’s stomach. Mr. Richards watched his unconvincing display. He disliked the mangy dog more every time he bothered to open his mouth. Alistair was convinced he’d made a right choice, this man wore his weakness on his sleeve and would leak its contents for a price, Drake Kaiser was no better than the fleabag he’d called a partner.
“It’s a shame what happened to him,” he offered a grunt of surprise, “at least you made it out alive,” He looked Alistair meaningfully in the eyes for a pause, “No one can believe how quickly you recovered.” He added quickly. “We’re all really happy about that by the way.”
“Mmm.” Alistair nodded his head thoughtfully, looking past Mr. Kaiser. He allowed his eyes to play with the scenery, building the anticipation. In the moments fading between them, he had to wonder how he’d surrounded himself with such pitiful, helpless creatures.
Anyone willing to roll over on their back, to expose themselves so quickly, repulsed him. His upper lip twitched, threatening to betray his disgust.
Yes, now is good, get this over with quickly, no hitches, we have scotch to toast over… the killer instinct instructing from just beneath the amused smile twitching to the surface, the moment was nigh.
“Mr. Kaiser, you’ve worked for me for quite some time.” Alistair offered with mock interest but Drake ate every word eagerly, “almost fifteen years,”
The scapegoat fell right into the trap, grabbing up the baiting statement without so much as chewing it over before spitting his careless response in the presence of a man who would pay for silences to be kept, a man who valued quiet lips. As far as Alistair was concerned the stupid beast of labor deserved it…
“Fifteen years…” Alistair repeated softly, he tapped his lips with his pointer fingers, still joined at the tips. The danger in his tone went missed by the man nearly bouncing in his seat before him.
Drake had his sights set on a raise, his mind was nowhere near the loop Alistair was about to take him through.
“Your yearly review landed on my desk at the beginning of the week, Mr. Kaiser.” He leaned forward, leveling Drake with a stare. “But before I tell you what I think, I would like to hear your analysis.”
Alistair picked a custom gold pen from the thick mahogany desk, tapping it slowly, twice for emphasis.
“What… I, think?” Drake seemed puzzled.
“Yes, Mr. Kaiser, what you think”
“Well, of course, I think I’ve been nothing short of a rockstar. I guess, my numbers are up, I’m taking on more responsibility daily.” He paused to straighten his posture and adjust his tie.
“I mean I think I can handle a…” Drake stopped himself before continuing more professionally. “I can handle more responsibility though Alistair.”
“Mr. Richards is just fine.” Drake frowned slightly.
“Oh, Mr. Richards, right.” He chuckled nervously, suddenly unsure of his prior convictions.
The anticipation thickened, leaving raw nerves at its edges, primed, waiting to be severed and left in shock.
Patience, Alistair reminded himself. Soon you will blast the little rat, just wait and hang him up in the noose he makes for himself.
Alistair stood and pushed his chair from behind him in one fluid motion.
“Names are a funny thing, don’t you think, Mr. Kaiser.” Alistair walked to the glass window extending from ceiling to floor. He paused, looking out over the city so far below the busy little pedestrians he so loathed making his way around daily scampered like ants, in and out of their various hills to do the bidding of each their own queens. hive minds in the making, he came too from the thought frowning.
Drake hesitated. “I agree, they can be pretty entertaining.”
Point in case, Alistair grimaced, stepping toward the window purposefully, as if to blind the building annoyance, he took a breath to be grateful for outlines, and mental images that kept him on track… The benefits of organizations people like Drake could never appreciate since they’d never see them as anything more than a chore. unaware of their heritage…
“Entertaining? That’s an unusual way to define it.” He began, “How would you develop that statement?”
The room seemed instantly colder, as Alistair blocked the sun, absorbing the light and leaving Drake to the shadow he cast.
Drake pulled at his tie, feeling claustrophobic in the realization that this meeting wasn’t going the way he’d planned it. He offered a nervous laugh and nothing more.
“Do you find yours entertaining Mr. Kaiser?” Alistair’s voice was void of emotion, cold. As distant as the clouds forming over the waterfront beyond the building skyline.
“It means Emperor, or king or something like that.” Drake stammered, unsure of where the conversation was heading be tried to take control, adding quickly. “In German, I think.” The sweat beaded at his temples, as he rubbed his icy cold hands against the leather armrests.
“Do you feel like an emperor, Mr. Kaiser?” Alistair closed his eyes breathing in deeply, resurfacing with a wicked smile.
“It’s just my last name, I dunno, I guess I never really thought about it much.” Drakes unease elevated to anxiety.
“See, that’s entertaining to me.” Alistair hissed, his voice trailing, “One of two things you are given at birth, and you’ve wasted it by not fulling appreciating it to this point. So tell me, if you can’t take yours seriously, why would I trust anymore of mine to you.” He finished thoughtfully.
“I’m sorry, Al…” Drake’s voice cracked slightly with nerves. “Mr. Richards, did I do something? Does this have to do with my yearly review?”
Alistair barrelled forward without acknowledging the question, “My name holds Germanic roots to Mr. Kaiser. It means Brave Power or one who holds its likeness, I remind myself of it daily.” Alistair turned. “And look what it has done to return the favor.”
He smiled wickedly, moving slowly to the back of Drake’s chair, circling the waters.
“Do you think it’s a good fit for me, Mr. Kaiser?”
“Of course I do! You are the most powerful man in the city,” He stammered, “that goes without saying.”
Drakes adulation only fed the hungry beast rearing its ugly head, threatening to consume them both. The open wounds of an insecure man, who’d spent his life under any thumb rising above him.
“Mmm.” Alistair made his way to the front of the desk to overshadow his current victim. The final unwitting pawn in his ultimate power play. If he fired Mr. Kaiser… It would prove no one was safe to those left, while at the same time ridding him of the only person capable of putting the pieces together. It didn’t matter to him whether or not Drake was guilty of the crimes whispered through the veins of his office… as far as Mr. Richards was concerned it was strictly business and this man unfortunate enough to be an easy target.
Alistair leaned back against his desk.
“You didn’t mention the fact that you’ve been a very busy man, Mr. Kaiser.” Alistair began again. “I’ve heard some interesting ‘water cooler conversations’ lately as well.”
Drake cocked his head, relaying his confusion.
“Sounds like you’ve been living quite the double life.” Alistair’s face was about as telling as a two-way mirror from the wrong side of the glass.
“Sycophantic banter isn’t your only specialization, apparently.” He flung a hand disparagingly between them, “I am surprised that your real skills went unnoticed by me for so long.” Alistair placed his hands on the desk, leveling Drake with a look of believable disgust.
“Mr. Richards, I have no idea what you are talking about. Real skills?” Drake shifted in his seat, flushed with discomfort over the looming humiliation.
The truth was, he had always admired Mr. Richards ruthless abilities and unmatched focus. He’d never imagined they’d be leveled against himself. After years of loyal service, how could Alistair think so little of him?
Alistair laughed cruelly.
“Kaiser, I have handled people like you my entire life, my empire is built on vision-less parasites, feeding their way to the top, or as close as they can get, desperate to have what I have.” Alistair spread his hands all-encompassing.
“Never satisfied but too weak and spineless to make what they want reality, so you try the back door, just in case it’s unlocked.”
His teeth showed mercilessly as he drove his version of things home. “and then try to take it.” He swiped out a suggestive hand before releasing it into a decisive finger, “but you don’t realize that lined up behind you are a hundred other little insects, ready to crawl into your spot, fill space.”
Drake listened, there was nothing else he could do, he felt powerless to the hand fate seemed to be dealing from left field, the blow had knocked him off guard. The dread building in the pit of his stomach threatened to up-heave his breakfast as he struggled to string things together.
“You know how the business works Drake, we’ve been together in this for fifteen good years, as you mentioned. So let’s cut to the chase shall we?” He pushed himself from the edge of the desk and made his way to the seat behind it. “So, how much did they offer you for my secrets? A corner office with bigger windows, thirty pieces of silver?”
Suddenly Drake understood. “Wait, you think I gave away company secrets?!” hearing the words he still couldn’t believe his ears.
“It doesn’t matter what I think Mr. Kaiser, we are in the middle of a continental shift. One that Harry couldn’t see happening, and I need a united front.”
Alistair tapped his golden pen on a neat stack of papers. He offered an insincere shrug. It wasn’t out of character for him to be calloused, but Drake had never seen him completely absent of guilt, he seemed to be enjoying the moment.
This wasn’t the same man who’d hired him as a bushy-tailed consultant nearly fifteen years before.
Something had changed, Drake felt the blood drain from his head, recirculating to his gut, where it churned angrily for a moment. He was convinced he would lose his two eggs and coffee. In the end, his conviction not to make things worse won. Drake bravely swallowed the bile rising into his throat.
“So, you know what happens now right?” Alistair leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk, landing his hands together at the tips once more.
Drake opened his mouth in protest but Alistair’s expression convinced him otherwise, he lowered his head in stunned defeat. No longer able to offer resistance, he rose, a broken roasted man.
By the time Alistair pulled into his personal drive, it was well after twilight. He parked the car and stayed put, scanning over the dark modern windows glimmering against the light from above. Eventually, he opened the car door, ready to make his way to the front of the hollow entryway, all the while watching the upper bedroom window in anticipation.
His eye twitched as his inner demons revved themselves up. He half-expected to see the long dark shadow that had plagued his dreams for some months. Staring down at him with the promise of stolen sleep.
The night he’d last seen Harry was the eve of everything being tasteless, but this final act had sealed the entire deed, leaving the long game in his review mirror, soon to be forgotten. In that time between sleep had useless to him. The dreams it brought had made him rue the precious few moments he was able to steal back had left him feeling betrayed by the same traits that had made him. To top it all off what should have felt like a victory now had him fumbling with his keys and swearing under his breath.
His jaw went ridged as he walked evenly toward the front steps. He’d tied the final visible loose end and still, he felt as though he were holding his breath over something. just waiting… which could only mean one thing… Unconsciously, he’d missed something, he clenched his fist, forcing the notion away the best way he knew how.
Power Power Power I feel Power…
Each repetition drew him upward, elevating him to a higher playing field for as long as he could hold the thought hostage. He pulled at the memory of a time when he had felt nothing but potent vigor.
The first to surface was one he knew well, the mental image was cast in a golden glow, similar to that of the liquor cabinet calling his name…
The moment was shared with Henry, much younger than he is now, A wicked smile twitched… God rest his soul…
Alistair took the garden walkway on impulse as if the extra space might convince him to brave the house he’d been co-occupying with ghosts. He placed hands at either side of his head as his feet carried him loyally over the slender path. He rubbed their palms against his temples as he clung to the mental picture manifesting. The color of it held promises of relief if he could manage to bring it back into focus.
He stopped in front of a large pine desperately searching the gathering darkness for hope only to find shadows. Phantoms tossed about by the tree boughs above him. The wind howled in all around him together they taunted tossing his unbuttoned jacket about.
His fists were building beneath the glinting cufflinks, revealing a desire for the quiet he was beginning to fear he might never find again. Suddenly he began flailing about, wriggling, fighting against his outer covering, finally thrusting the fine sportcoat to the ground, he stamped at it once, then countless times before kicking it viciously onto the pine he’d stopped beside, he watched it drape itself messily over the dark spines and released a roar in tune with a distant thundering.
A blanket of light flashed over the low hanging clouds gathering covertly over the spontaneous gusts of wind. Alistair lowered his eyes from the clouds, catching his breath as a thought more ominous than the building scene lifted from beneath.
Had the price of his empire been peace of mind? He hadn’t prepared for that kind of cost. His eyes were glued to the rocks surrounding the shady base of the shivering pine tree. Together they’d taken on a deeper shade in the fast approaching night.
Alistair looked over the horizon toward the prize he knew would be there waiting for him in the morning, as long as he could make it through the night. he squinted, it was my reason for everything…
I created this thing… No one else saw what I could see, not even Henry…
Always trying to stand between me and it’s perfection… He could see light pollution more clearly over the skyline as his vision adjusted into the distance.
He closed them, pollution… he breathed in, it’s everywhere, he thought, repulsed. Just then, inspiration struck him between the eyes with that as a backdrop he watched the memory pour out like the room temp. whiskey they were drizzling over a single cracking ice cube laughing as it tossed sloppily from the upper rim to the desktop they were both half-seated upon.
They’d begun with such promise, the tone fritzed like a loose bulb, his former partner presented him with a gift wrapped in gold paper, tied with a bow beside.
Alistair closed his eyes, allowing the imagination behind them to wander over the liquor cabinet waiting at the other side of the door, all there was left to do, was to offer a proper toast to his success… He could already see the warm glow of the display, revealing the gleam of its prized centerpiece.
His followed the path he’d trod a thousand times as naturally as his mind had again taken up its normal chorus.
“Power Power Power I feel Power Power Power.”
but did he really? The question still taunted him. It was true, he felt potential but at its root power without control is as empty as a ball in the hand of a foolish slacker… Alistair knew this to be true. Brute rage expended on meaningless arguments would amount to nothing the same way that business deals that come from ambition alone are often nails in the coffin. He would need to seal the moment with a good omen, one of luck and prosperity. That’s it, he thought more lightly, his target only moments away.
He repeated his mantra over again for good measure and pulled his keys from their place in his sport coat. As he pulled them from the pockets’ holster, his fingers did a funny thing. They fumbled, stumbling over each other while allowing their contents to fall to the ground in a sloppy bundle attached by a ring at their center.
Alistair bit his tongue, barring in the blazing commentary behind pinching teeth. He bent down to grab them and on his way back up his eyes found what they’d been looking for. Just beyond the main living room was a shadow, darker than the others, so dark it almost seemed light, like a flashlight in the daytime, only at the opposite side of the spectrum.
He stood frozen for a moment.
“Power Power Power I feel Power Power Power.” he repeated, daring to defy the paralyzing notion extending from the phantom.
When he blinked the shadow had disappeared, and with it the irrational fear it bred. Like a bad dream, Alistair blinked through the vision, substituting rationalizations until together they stuck. He didn’t have time for regret, or whatever this was. He had loose ends to tie up, aged celebratory scotch and superstitions to be had and toasted and sipped over.
He thrust a key into its matching hole and twisted to shift the lock. Suddenly convinced that Satan was just another name for fear. Show none and you will receive none. Mr. Richards burst in through the door and flipped on the entry light.
“Honey, I’m home!” He snarled, heading toward the kitchen for a rocks glass to calm the agitation still slicing through his voice.
The house remained deadly silent as Alistair Richards found his way through the expansive parlor, switching on lights as he went. He didn’t waste time looking for his unwelcome house guest, he simply pretended not to care one way or another. He should have known, anything with an ego half his size might find more offense in being ignored.
He found the kitchen exactly how he’d left it. Clean, efficient, and cold.
Just the way he liked it… the thought crossed as a single down feather drifted listlessly over the counter space, again reminding him of the morning’s dark comedic relief
Alistair released the clasped latch of the glass cabinet doors, unleashing a rich glow of crystal against caramel as it swung open.
Without hesitation, he reached for the gifted bottle of 50 year, Suntory Yamazaki. He took it with his rocks glass to the deep gray granite island in the center of the kitchen. Just as he was circling back for an ice cube a gust of wind blew in through the open window, the chill and suddenness of it caught him off guard.
Mr. Richards frowned. He never left the window open…
You’ve also never shot a bird from one directly outside of your kitchen either, he smiled at the intuition… get ahold of yourself, he finished, walking quickly to the sink to reach for the open window latch. For just a moment, Alistair paused, considering the coincidence of it all.
In a moment of clarity, everything was beginning to add up. Harry, the revolver, the bird reduced to feathers, Drake Kaiser reduced to a groveling rat convinced of his own assumed guilt and desperate, willing to do whatever it took to gain back confidence that had never been there in the first place.
A breeze gently played with his locks, bringing with it a sound… shrill noises. The sharp tones rustled from the bushes more than one and all in unison with one another. He turned on the light closest to the sink, illuminating the brush. There was a nest. Alistair squinted into the dwindling light.
“Well I’ll be damned.” He said incredulously. “Momma bird had hatchlings.”
The small piece of humanity Alistair had tucked away, tugged at his rotting conscience, inducing a pang of guilt.
You wouldn’t flinch over another man’s cold body, but for the loss of a few baby birds? The intuition dug at him.
Alistair’s answering laughter carried through the kitchen. He was thinking of the confetti of feathers, the irony of a life, for a life, and suddenly felt better. He’d been chosen, we’d won…
“You are already DEAD.” The sinister voice filled every inch of his mind, ending in a terrifying cackle. Alistair froze. The noxious quiet consumed the room.
He shakily dropped a cube into the crystal rocks glass determined to follow through with the ritual he’d begun. He opened the bottle unceremoniously and lifted it to his lips, wetting his suddenly dry mouth while taking in a third of the high-end scotch without the ceremonial glass. All a part of the gift, from Harry after their first year of partnership.
“Save it for a special occasion, partner.” The conversation echoed through his memory so violently, he could almost feel the accompanying pats offered his back. He threw the bottle back again, taking slug after slug in. He would take the day tomorrow, recenter himself and shelf this detestable state once and for all, purge himself of it in the safety of his own home.
The Intention was cut short with the sharp jab causing a shock of pain to rush between his lips, abruptly followed by the taste of betrayal. Betrayal and blood..
Damn bottle, Alistair managed to spit the last swallow into his rocks glass, unable to stomach the unexpected metallic flavor.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, noticing a moment too late that the caramel colored liquid was now tinted deep red void of the natural caramel coloring. The sleeve of his Burberry button down shirt was stained by a streak of red as well.
He brought a hand to his lip and pulled it away.
“What the hell?”
Alistair tore away a piece of paper towel and bunched, shoving the wad aggressively to his lips, muttering under his breath all the way as he stumbled to the off-kitchen powder room. Inspecting the damage through the dim lucency, not bothering with the light. There was a large slash of broken skin sliced over his upper lip.
“Where the f…” His voice trailed off as he caught the drop of blood trickling down his chin, threatening his already ruined shirt.
He had to get control, his power was meaningless, unless he held both components in balance with one another.
Alistair looked closer at his reflection. The gash was deep, but not deep enough to worry over. A little baking soda to stop the bleeding and the scotch would disinfect it. That wasn’t what caught his attention, upon further inspection he found himself staring into an abyss of cold blue, his pupils seemed to be all but gone.
“What the hell.” Mr. Richards blinked rapidly a few times, moving in closer, his vision went out of focus briefly as his stomach swirled. It’s just dark, he reasoned…
“You are already DEAD.” The phantom repeated itself before singing over the walls the echo of a new song, “Drink up ol’ boy, drink it till it’s gone it may be the last.” The refrain echoed off the walls, laced in a symphony of dark cackling that seemed to be coming from every direction.
Alistair hurled himself to the floor, violently wrenching the contents of his gut onto the closed toilet seat. The mostly-liquid contents ricocheted, exploding unnaturally red liquid in all directions.
“He is coming, he’s heading your way,” The evil echoes chorused over his mind.
“it will all be done soon, and all just to prove to you, even the mighty crumble, even you can be replaced.” It ended in a whisper as Alistairs heartbeat began to ring through his ears.
“Dead dead dead you are dead dead dead.” The malevolent Mantra mocked him following the frantic pounding of it.
In a fit of delirium, Alistair took up arms bravely.
“Who are you?” His lungs were suddenly on fire, a gurgle erupted from his throbbing throat as he finished the question.
A wicked laugh was the only return.
Alistair loosened his tie and stumbled to his feet.
“Who are you!” he demanded as blood bled down from his lips.
Silence. Alistair was a man who didn’t like to be ignored.
He stumbled out of the powder room and into the light of his kitchen dripping blood along with him as he realized the gash was deeper than he’d previously thought, through a cough, he shot a spatter of it across the island housing the last of the gift along with the untouched rocks glass meant for it.
Alistair couldn’t catch his breath, he sucked the air in through his blood covered mouth, old ailments forgotten in light of these new feelings. His vision came and went, blurred and heightened, flickering between him and reality as the pain was released to a state of alcohol and shock-induced numbness.
“Speak! I DEMAND IT!”
“I am here.” The phrase repeated itself terrifically from all directions.
The only sounds that followed her that of Alistairs shuffling, clumbsy steps as his legs threatened to fall out from beneath him.
“Do you feel it Alistair Richards…. Do you feel the power?”
The dark laughter rang through his ears. A light flashed through his open kitchen window, accompanied by the sound of a closing car door.
Alistair stumbled through the parlor madly, he felt his way toward the table holding his keys and yanked the drawer open.
“Do you feel it Richards?”
The voice was a mere whisper, a weapon on rapid fire, repeating time and again.
“Who are you?…” Alistair had the grip of the revolver he’d extracted blindly, pressed into his stomach, he felt as though he were melting from the inside out. He gasped, building his strength.
“He is here…” The dark voice growled.
There was a desperate knock at the door. Alistair stumbled backward, straining his bleary eyes toward the burnt orange glass of his front door in an attempt to see who offered the assault. Through the soft luminescence of the porch light stood a shadow, extending to the top of the elegant entryway, and beyond. It shifted slightly, raising something up.
“WHO ARE YOU! ANSWER ME!”
Mr. Richards was reeling through ringing ears and muffled noises beyond.
The shadow pounded against the door again.
Alistair Lifted the revolver with all of his might and tried to pull the trigger, when nothing happened he fumbled desperately with the safe.
“Do you feel like a Richards?” The dark voice’s sneer cut clearly through the chaos.
“SHOW YOURSELF!” Mr. Richards dry heaved deeply, firing blood and saliva from his mouth.
“WHO ARE YOU?!” His finger clenched the trigger hard. Smoke and lead discharged with a loud blast and the sound of shattering glass.
Fresh air blew in through the brand new opening, offering Alistair a moment of clarity as his wheezing breath began to slow.
Beyond the jagged remnants, where the shadow had once stood, a body slowly crumpled to the ground, one hand clutching his chest, the other weakly catching his fall. The man raised his head to meet Alistair’s eyes. Drake’s eyes watered holding contact as Mr. Richards stumbled to him.
He was trying to say something Alistair couldn’t understand. Drake reached his hand toward his back pocket, laboriously pulling from it a single picture, and offered it feebly outward toward his former boss.
“What do you want me to do?” Alistair asked, through a heavy wheeze. Drake fell to the ground and lay still. The night went completely silent, broken only by a soft breeze.
Alistair crawled forward reaching out to the picture through the pins and needles of broken glass shards as they scraped into his skin.
He retrieved it from Drake’s still warm fingertips, revealing a side of the man he’d never seen. A beautiful woman looking adoringly upward, a child no more than two in her arms, eyes caught on the woman in the same fashion, finger pointing upward in an attempt to touch her mother’s nose. Between them held with strong loving hands was a boy, no more than six, laughing into the camera.
“Hatch-lings.” The darkness hissed sardonically, sounding pleased and amused all at once.
“Who are you?” Alistair’s whisper carried through the still night, a defeated and broken man.
“I AM POWER.” The dark voice rang out.
The next few weeks were full of speculation, a man with a gun bearing the initials of a deceased partner. Another with motive shot through the chest on the doorstep , an open bottle of Malathion laced scotch. With no one left to answer the questions for themselves the stories spun and the potential grew.
The obvious fingers of treachery were left to point in whatever direction the imagination of the masses might dream of. While in its wake, a grieving wife, the most tragic loss of them all, a phantom of the woman she had been, left to believe her husband might be capable of anything but the goodness she’d known. Left with a million love stories untold, and countless sleepless nights to think of them. Had she known his venture to reclaim his rightful place, would have led to an untimely demise, she would have chosen to live an impoverished life full of love, than the one she was now forced to lead alone, caring for the only pieces she had left of her late husband.
A litany of vulturous media crews plagued the doorsteps of everyone who may have details, inside stories, driving the trauma as deep as the pockets who fueled them.
“A loveless power is vengeful and cruel.”