I am out.
This little game Vic and Syd have concocted, in which we terrorize people and weaponize pigmentation, is not something I’m willing to partake in any longer.
At least, that’s what I assure myself approaching the turn from the Boulevard onto Lord Street, my car groaning every step of the way.
Come on baby, you got this, I tell her, praying I won’t need a tow truck in the next 24 hours. Or a casket.
The lights are on in the glass windows that run around the building beneath the roof’s trim, but the air is quieter, and detrimentally so.
I am out, I remind myself, consequences be damned. If they can’t accept that fact without putting a bullet in me, I’ll be dead. If they can, I get to walk away.
Inside the warehouse, the stage has been replaced with a set of long folding tables and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of computer equipment. Several men of varying roughness, age and size talk amongst themselves in groups. A short, balding man in a checkered shirt with wiry spectacles and a bad limp floats between groups, asking questions in a hushed voice, getting his answer.
In a far corner, I recognize my friends Larry and Barney from the night before, playing a game of cards and looking bored and resentful.
In the middle of it all, naturally, is Vic. His back to me, calm still radiates from him, as he observes his operation for signs of weakness. The man in the checkered shirt limps over to him and whispers something in Vic’s ear.
The man sees me, and we lock eyes over Vic’s shoulder. He is gaunt and wiry, his lips pale and teeth behind them stunted and stained. He squints, piercing my whole existence with his stare. He talks fast but too low for me to hear. I can only tell when his expression changes that he’s alerted his boss to my intrusion.
Vic turns to face me. Back in his suit, he has become a different person from the one that had me deliver drugs only yesterday afternoon.
“Peter!” he exclaims, approaching me with a huge grin on his face. He enthusiastically shakes my hand. “So glad you made it.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulder and guides me toward the tables and his new friends. Larry and I share a gaze. He nods like we’ve known each other for years. Barney and I share a similar moment.
“Gentlemen,” Vic says to the others, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Peter York, and he will be working with us indefinitely.”
Don’t speak for me yet, Viktor Quinn.
“My friends,” he says, “the future is bright. For years, we have heard about recessions being the reasons we can’t progress. Failed bipartisanship is the logic behind all the moral larceny we endure, apparently. We know what it really is, don’t we?” He pauses, but knows we won’t steal the revelation from him.
Except for Larry, who does.
“Women!” he guffaws, looking at Barney who vigorously shakes his head in return, trying to escape immediate association with the joke.
Vic’s cheery disposition vanishes. All eyes are on Larry, the poor bastard with a big mouth, finally realizing what poor timing the comedic gods gave him.
“The fuck did you say, Ronald?”
I liked my name for him better.
“Uh, nothing, boss.”
Vic reaches for the inside of his blazer and unholsters a silver pistol. He waves it in the air as he speaks.
“Did you come from a woman, Ronald? Do you not have a mother?”
“Sure do, boss.”
“And sisters? Do you have them? Daughter too, if I recall correctly?”
“All of the above, boss,” Larry replies.
“What about you, Andre?” Vic asks Barney. Come to think of it, he does look like an Andre. “Got kids?”
“No, sir,” Barney concedes, “Live with my old lady. She’s old, and well, I don’t get out a lot.”
“Well,” Vic says, “then I guess that decides it.” He raises his pistol and fires three rounds into Barney. One in the stomach, one in the chest, a final one in the head.
The sounds happen in quick succession. No one blinks but me, eardrums ringing. Larry, instead, screams as Barney convulses against the bullets buried in his organs, but the man dies too quick to understand. His full weight collapses to the floor where the rest of him crumples like a paper ball.
“Now,” Vic tells a sobbing Larry, “I hope that will teach you to respect women more, Ronald. Set a good example for your children going forward, or Andre here died for fuck all. Now- get this piece of shit out of here. And someone call his mother. Send her flowers, too. Poor woman has nobody left.”
My eyes can’t tear themselves from Barney’s broken form, bleeding out on the floor of a Lord Street warehouse. Television always made shootings seem so much cleaner.
“You okay?” Vic asks me. “Peter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I am rage, but have no more strength than a whisper.
“You killed him.”
He shares a look with his colleagues, who give us the room, shuffling out the red metal door in single file.
Larry drags Barney’s corpse across the floor, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The dude is adrenaline at the moment, grunting and heaving to get as far away from here as possible, maybe to run home to his girl and hold onto her for dear life.
When the door closes behind him, Vic and I are alone. He stands with hands in his suit’s pockets, as I try to avoid meeting his dead eyes.
“I can’t do this, Viktor,” I say. The image of Barney’s life leaving him, followed by Vic holding the gun at eye level (pop, pop, pop) play in my head on an infinite loop. “This is not my fight.”
Vic smiles, as if he has both heard me and the same argument from people all his life. It all rolls off him.
“I want to show you something, Peter.” He drifts to the farthest table, where a black laptop is hooked up to a projector. “Get the lights, would you? Back wall.”
I oblige him, wishing I had traded places with Larry. Burying an overweight bodyguard in the middle of fucking nowhere seems much more bearable than this.
The projector whirs to life, lighting up a square block of light on the darkened wall. A map of the United States, devoid of state lines, drenches our faces in blue glare.
“The Internet is an amazing thing. To think that sixty years ago, the fastest way to relay information across great distances was Morse code. It took minutes to transmit a full sentence to the other side of the planet. Telephones existed, sure, but they weren’t what they are now.
“That this smorgasbord of ideas and free speech exists is an act of God, Peter. A wonder of science. That it has passed to us peasants is the seed of revolution.
“Jihad embraced it. Russia embraced it. Meanwhile, our own government seeks to curtail it at every turn. But that’s because every revolution requires a spark.”
“So if I’m reading this right, you’re going to kill people?”
Viktor laughs. “Nothing so extreme. If heads roll, it will only be because the greater good compels it. We act merely as an intermediary, Peter.”
“I still don’t understand, then.”
“Put it this way. In 1955, if someone had killed your whole family, this guy’s family and maybe some other dude’s clan- enough to force people to care about a serial killer, that is- and the government did, I don’t know, fuck all about it? That seems to be the standard reaction they have to anything, so why not?
“Let’s say…this was happening everywhere, in little towns across our great nation. Just for the sake of argument, how long do you think it would take to mobilize nationwide in 1955?”
I shrug. “Days?”
“Fucking weeks, Pete. Weeks. Communication was still in the Stone Age. It’s a wonder anything got done at all, unless you were Uncle Sam himself.”
“Now you’re the one speaking Morse Code, Vic. Can we get to whatever fucking point you have?”
Vic is pacing back and forth now. His hands have grand gestures for every grandiose statement, a unique mask to terrify me for every ounce of conviction he carries.
“We live in an age where I can tell the Internet, ‘Hey, fuckwads. These poor saps are taking your livelihood, eating up your hard-earned tax dollars and living on your food stamps. Let’s get together and show this country we don’t tolerate it!’ How long do you think it would take to get angry people into the streets?”
Viktor answers his own question.
“Seconds. Minutes. A fucking hour at most.”
“So we’re protesting, then?” I ask, trying not to look at the trail of blood by the door.
“I prefer ‘asserting our position’, personally,” Vic replies, “People are weak. They spend so much time worrying about the consequences of acting, they forget to consider the ones where they don’t act in their own best interest. And that is the definition of fallacy, Peter. There are people who would let the rapists and murderers into your house, because they think these people can be saved.”
“You know they’re not all killers and rapists,” I tell him.
“Guilt by association, Pete.”
“Vic, that would be like saying the Westboro United Church speaks for all Christians. I mean,” I say, wishing my internal dialogue was less unhinged by witnessing murder. “Protest all you want, but you’re thirty-two. I’m twenty-eight. We’ve both lived in this country long enough to know the government doesn’t serve us.”
“See,” Vic says, continuing to pace back and forth between the grey folding tables, “this is where I know you’ve misunderstood. We’re not pussy-footing outside an abortion clinic, Peter. We are manufacturing change.”
There’s that phrase again.
“Here’s what I don’t get. What I’m struggling so hard to reconcile, Vic,” I say, “What in the fucking world are you getting out of this shit? You look like an Irishman trying to be made in the mob. You have more military-grade equipment here than my crazy cousin Kirk has guns in Utah, man. I don’t see you as a politician anytime soon. So what the hell are you getting out of this?”
Viktor stops pacing, looking around his feet and then back up at me. “Do you know why Adolf Hitler was so…accepted, Peter? We glorify him as some sort of monster, but he really was a simple man. He spoke to people like you and I, the feudal servants of society who had lost everything to dynasty. They started a war, people like us waged it on their behalf. And for that, they lost everything they had.
“National identity. Their money. Standard of living. Hitler fucking took that, that fire, and carved their anger into an instrument of vengeance.”
He also murdered six million people for their ethnicity. At least, I hope Viktor can acknowledge that.
“You ask me what I want, Peter?” Vic says, lighting a cigarette from the breast pocket of his stone-coloured suit. “I am no fucking prophet. But surely, this is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us. To be overrun with the vermin, see our ‘Promised Land” infected? America was supposed to be our gateway of opportunity, wasn’t it? A key to prosperity. Instead, it’s become a cesspool of shit-skinned equality.”
He resumes pacing. Inhaling. Exhaling, words spewed from his mouth like smoke.
“My father, his name was Harry. He was a good man, once. But the drink got into him, and he became something else entirely. A shroud of himself. Black, like the darkest night, and yet, with just enough light left to want to save him.”
Exhale, waxing monoxide.
“That man took every sense of purpose from me, except making sure he didn’t kill my mother. And when he died, ironically, I felt more lost than ever. In and out of prison, stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down.
“My point is, Peter. I finally have a purpose. I speak the words that so many want to say themselves, but for whatever reason, haven’t. Because the other side? They want us all to have thin skin like them and bow before these third world peasants? You call them liberals. I call them insects; a swarm of nuisance that is ruining this beautiful nation.
“We are Americans,” he says. “When our home is threatened, it is upon us to protect it. And seeing how no one else in this God-forsaken country seems to be willing to lead the charge, I will. You and Syd are my lieutenants, and the people will be our army.
“Against that,” he smiles, “and the Internet in our hands, what chance does a government stand?”
© Nicholas Gagnier