The Ryders’ Riddance

I would like to start with an apology for not having touched this blog for an unacceptable duration of time. All this while, I hid behind an excuse of being busy working on something much bigger than a short-story.

Since the last seven years, I have battled against a bucketful of self-doubt, a dollop of laziness, several handfuls of procrastination and the nerve-shattering contender of all: fear. Fear of judgement, fear of failure and fear of having wasted my time. Not head on, but slowly and steadily, I allowed my perseverance to take over, which put every contender to sleep eventually.

And through these enriching struggles of working & reworking & reworking yet again, I have compiled a Crime Fiction novel.

If I know you, or if I know about you, then I want you to know that you have been a major influencer in helping me shape a series of stories and plots and sub-plots into singular novel, which I am going to call ‘The Ryders’ Riddance‘.

I have felt not unlike how the legendary author Stephen King says,

The journey of writing is like sailing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub; there is plenty of time for self-doubt.

My journey on this bathtub is approaching the shore and this 120,000+ word-novel is coming your way.

I pray for your continued support and your well-wishes, now, after the publishing of the book, and beyond, for this is only the beginning.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Yours truly.

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A Cry of Deliverance

Deploying tools of insensitivity, succumbing to the easier way out, the society today stands proof to the fact that not everyone is alike – some put the cart after the horse, some before.

“I am going to break your bones when I see you next,” a shrill voice pierced through the slum as a crone voiced her anger at me for drenching her in a water balloon.

“What does it matter to you,” I provoked her. “It is already raining, what harm can a water balloon do to you, aunty?” I resumed laughing and chortling, only to have it interrupted by a loud crackling sound of a threatening thunder from kilometres away. It was scary and I was sure that it was God’s punishment for my misbehavior. I felt proud to remember the lessons my father teaches me about the God.

The old lady ambling without an umbrella had vanished in between the narrow passages of the slums, when I had my eyes back on the courtyard, two floors under.

My thoughts circled back to the time. It was 10 PM already. At least that is what his beaten wristwatch displayed. I honestly could not yet tell apart minutes from hours. I wonder how adults do it. At times, I find it amusing to assume that they are simply making up words with numbers. Past fifteen, quarter, etc.

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and I sprang back to life. Mom and Dad got out of their rooms and hurried to the door. I played my classic act of keeping my eyes shut next to the window. So far, it has successfully fooled them into believing that I was fast asleep. However, the beans are spilled when I am not able to get up for school in the morning. And, tomorrow is the first day! Wonder who it is and I wonder why neither mom nor dad has thrown metaphorical rocks at me!

The knock on the tattered door was louder than the regular creaky knocks that our regular intruder – winds. It was only a few months ago since I began to tell apart from a breeze and a human knock. Saves me a lot of trouble now, believe me. 

This knock had inspired my parents very differently. An odd hour. They know I was awake and they were not surprised at a visitor this late. They must be expecting someone. As a matter of fact they looked happier; dad more than mom. Mom had a dull undertone of sadness that I could see through her false pretense of delight. A man in a dress as white as milk, a skull cap on par with his dress in colour and a voice thick as the swooshes of wind outside brought a glow to the house, which was subsumed by an even powerful glow of the tube lights. 

He was welcomed, greeted with water, and refused any offers of food and sweets. He kept looking at me with a friendly stare, but he received back none until my parents introduced him to me. 

“Ashraf, he is a very close friend of mine. He is the one who has helped your father through all the difficulties that your father was going through in the past few months.”

I pondered on it for a while and although too late, it wasn’t too little for it to dawn upon me that my parents seemed jollier than the usual quarrels that they used to have. 

“Does that mean that you will not hit my mom anymore?”

Embarrassed, my father did own up his sins and bravely confronted them. “Yes, beta. I will never hurt anybody ever again.” Tears welled up in his eyes, which made me feel little inside, a feeling that I could not describe so well. 

A part of me considered him an angel already. The boisterous days and querulous nights, the sounds of which travelled through half the slum attracted gossip and back-biting to a level which was hard for me to handle. While some kids in the slum made fun of me, elders cheered me up and sent undue pampers, which I could barely digest. Apart from my difficulties, my mother used to get beaten so much. My mother hid behind several excuses. Her most favourite one was that she slipped and fell in the kitchen. She thought of it as an excellent excuse, and I let her believe it.

If someone comes home saying that he resolved all of this, then he is angel to me. I dreamed of playing normally with the kids again, without being the centre of the bullying. 

And my dream was then interrupted by another pleasant surprise from a man, an angel whom I saw first only a few minutes ago. A gift. I quickly unwrapped the pink foil sheathing the gift underneath, while his thick voice spoke. 

“It’s for your first day in school, son.”

I jumped in joy as I saw a new school bag. I used the one that my brother used to for three years, which he had used for over many years – I can’t remember how old he is than me. This bag was a brand new, pure black bag with cartoons over it. I remember some cartoons from Sumi’s TV, but can’t recall others. It didn’t even matter. I’d be happy for this bag even if it had no cartoon on it. 

My mom I saw was in tears again, perhaps the tears of joy or perhaps the tears of seeing me joyful, I didn’t look deep enough for I allowed myself some moments of refined happiness. 

I hugged the new man who’d come in our house and thanked him hard. I was then asked to go inside the bedroom and that my mom and dad would come soon. Having handed over the remote control of my happiness in their hands, I agreed to go to bed immediately and thus began my presence game. 

“Is this the only way, Bhai? Is there no other way to find peace and heaven?” I heard my dad speaking softly with the visitor. The rain had stopped and winds gave way for words to flow from our living room to the bedroom. 

“If not this, there is no other way. God is forgiving, and it asks for very little. You’re doomed to this fate for it is what He wants from you. My sermons never fail to stress on the fact that God gives ten in return for one. With your jewel so precious, you’ll be soon rid of debts, will have a house of your own and also a car. You’ll have more kids.”

At this point I got bored of their talks. I wished they would rather discuss about more gifts for me. 

Early morning, I woke up with a surprising zest and energy that my dad had not seen before he said. 

“Will I please take the new bag today?” I begged. I was told that I look cute when I say please. So, I said it until he gave up his shield and agreed for it. 

“Of course you can, beta. It’s for you only. And it’s all packed with your books and tiffin. Go, get fresh.”

Like an obedient one, I hurriedly got dressed, mom combed my hair flat on my little skull and I put on the bag. Had we had some money, which I think this angel will give us someday, we’ll buy a camera to take my picture with this new bag. 

“How do I look mom? I think I look very good. See, I assure you that all the kids in the school are going to be so awed.”

My mom knelt down and hugged me for quite long, tears again in her eyes. “You’re the blessed one, Ashraf. May God look after you.”

“You too, mom.” I said in a kind of a hurry that one would have who wants to eagerly show off his new school bag to the world. 

Dad dropped at school. While I had forgotten, he reminded me of his promise. “Beta, remember my promise? Believe me, it will come true today itself.”

I simply had a very hard time trying to contain the rush of happiness within me. I got a bag yesterday and will get to see my brother too after so long. “I will return his old used bag to Shasha today. But I’ll never give this new one to him.”

My father laughed a little on my childishness and that is the last I saw him for the moment. School bell rang and all kids fresh with memories from summer vacations found it hard to focus on the studies. 

When I pulled up my bag to take out the books, I saw that the bag didn’t have any books at all. It had a strange box. Curiously, I pulled it out gently and I fell asleep. I do remember harsh cries and heat radiating through my head and body, but I remember it faintly. I tried to check if my new bag was okay, but what he saw barely looked like his school anymore. Where his classroom walls were white, now there was a dancing fusion of yellow and orange. Where I remembered my friends seated in excitement and new school clothes, I then saw undisciplined order of enflamed wood and broken furniture. 

I was feeling an odd sort of a pain, and especially since my bag wasn’t in sight, I cried. I remember falling in a deep slumber before I was done crying. 

When I woke up a few hours after, I ran and I ran very fast to my mom because I could not wait to tell her about what happened with me. As strange as it was, I was free of pain and my mom needs to know or else she will cry again. Probably she was already crying. And she was!

I approached her. “Mom, look I am here. My bag, my clothes, it’s all here. I am all fine.”

Dad tried to calm her down too, but she kept crying harder and harder. I spoke louder. My voice passed through her. I was confused. I touched her cheek because I knew that was always calmed her down. But my hand went through her body. I could not touch her. I could not be heard. I started to sob and I sobbed hard and heavy. 

Dad spoke to her. “The sacrifice was necessary!” He shouted. “It was necessary. We will now be free from all our miseries. This is God’s will and he is now going to be so happy with his brother, playing together once again in His paradise, His heaven.”

The Hues of Death

The sunlight perforated through the large window that dominated the wall behind his plush leather chair. The humble wooden desk was the only thing in his room that did not comply with the decadence that he had inculcated in his lifestyle. It was not his house, anyway, he always thought, and gave in. A son of the mountains, he had survived the harshness of the savage beauty the mountains had to offer in the Alpine Europe. Facing minimal competition, Jimmy Kew had an easy way into the world until he stepped first in the warmer and a venal part of the globe – Gellet.
Air-conditioning was a must if he had to serve as the Branch Head of a major Multi-National bank, located in Gellet. How he ended up in India still throws him into a state of pondering. Pondering ceases when an illegitimate wealthy bastard comes across his way, to make use of Jimmy’s special services. Struggling to settle at an optimal room temperature, he nudged the Air conditioner every few minutes. However, today, he did not. The room was freezing – cold enough to enable a snow leopard feel comfortable. The only thing colder than the room was Jimmy himself. Dead.
In another part of the city, a real estate agent shut down his office, and examined his new possession in sheer privacy. In midst of the ruckus of the city that bore a population more than that of several countries, and away from the banal misappropriation of funds within the company, right now, he was in a state of zen. He admired wealth like many admired virtues, but he was shy to make a garish display of it. It was best for his profession to look modest. He wore a shabby black suit that fit him not, for it was borrowed from his cousin, starkly opposite in appearance. A face that the world related with humblest of raiment had today chosen an extra-ordinary selection, owing to the rules of the venue he had to attend. “Mr. Harman, you are looking stunning”, is what he heard all day, but he cared least to offer them an explanation to it. He knew that most of the people surrounding him were sycophants, who loved his money more than him. Of what use is money, if you can count it till the last penny? He quickly undressed his suit, unbuttoned his shirt and stared at the marvel that was now under his possession. He understood nothing of it, but he knew how much he paid for it. The overwhelming excitement that stirred a storm within made it harder for him to breathe. It must be the damned tie, he thought. His head started to get lighter, the more he kept his eyes open, so he decided to shut them down. Dizziness took charge. In a span of a few excruciating moments, he found himself lying on the floor of his office, with the shutters down, and the noise of the city drowning his feeble cries for help. This is why I never wear a tie.
Elsewhere in the outskirts of Gellet was someone who wore a suit by choice, and loved it to the skin. High heels that brought up her overall fashion quotient clacked across the hallway as she entered a house – no, a mansion, that lay its foundation on the pile of money stained by the blood and sweat of hundreds and thousands of honest men and women. Who’s fault is that if they consider this living anything but a competition for survival? It was her birthday, and the mansion was swarmed by dozens of men, decorating the walls and the floor and the ceiling and the pictures and the tapestries and the windows. The lady who led the decoration team briefed Mrs. Sharma of the idea that she is putting life into. Resha Sharma was pleased, or so her expression warranted. “You are sweating, Mrs. Sharma.”
“Oh, am I?” Surprised, she ached to reach for her napkin. At the acquisition of which, she ached to bring it up to her face and wipe the sweat off. At the completion of which, she ached to maintain her balance. At the failure of which, she ached to breathe. Succumbing to it, she ached to survive. Failure hit her like a truck. Dead.
“Three dead and counting, Mr. Freemont. Third one was found two days later, when his office shutter was forced open.”
“I hear you, Willy.” Svent Freemont had just returned from a long vacation that the Agency had forced on him. “You need to have a break or we might run a risk of being driven crazy.”
“I feel a little rusty with the practice, I admit. Would you be kind enough to brief me on the details of the deceased while we drive?”
Svent was filled in on the details. “What did you say the third one was doing in his office when he was found dead?”
“It appears that he was looking at a painting.”

They arrived at Mr. Harman’s office. “If not whatever that killed him, cholesterol would have grappled him down, sooner or later,” remarked Willy, finding comfort in blurting silly comments around Svent. Noticing Svent’s expression, Willy slid back into the usual discomfort.
“Why is the painting on the floor?” Freemont began his investigation with the employees that Mr. Harman had working there. The actual painting was cleared away by forensics as evidence.
“It is new, sir. I have never seen this painting before.” The others resounded the comment, and it satisfied Svent’s judgement that the painting was out of place, anyway. Rich, elegant, but out of place. It would rather be well-suited in a plush apartment or anything bigger.

At the mansion of Mrs. Sharma, the decoration was halted, and the mood swayed sharply from joy to despair.
“Where was Mrs. Sharma earlier today?” Willy led the investigation upon Freemont’s order.
A crying lady, her mother, responded, “She had taken off from her work today because it was her birthday.” Sobbing incessantly, the decoration lady picked up from there. “She had told me that she would not be home before lunch, as she had to attend an important event in the south of the city. However, she had dropped this from her purse today. Maybe this is where she had gone today.” The lady handed out a business card.
“Gellet Art Gallery. That is indeed in the south of the city. Thank you.”

Svent had formed an assumption, that would be confirmed only after learning about the death of the third person – Mr. Kew.
His body lay cold as ice on the chair, his face lying on the desk, screaming silently that he did not want to die.
“It is cold up here.”
“We did not touch anything in the room, except that we tried to bring Mr. Kew to life.” An employee at the bank responded. “And we failed,” he said, sinking his head into his chest.
“Was he in the office the entire day?” inquired Svent.
“He is hardly in the office. He is usually with clients or other business meetings.”
“Where was he earlier today?”
Mr. Kew’s secretary sped off to his desk, punched his nervous keys on the computer, fumbling to press the right ones, to open Mr. Kew’s appointment schedule. “It is blank.”
“How is Mr. Kew’s interest in paintings?”
“Oh, excessive. You’d fail to find a piece of wall in his apartment at Malabar Hills! It is covered with paintings – elegant ones at that.”
Svent smiled.

Svent and Willy headed towards the Gellet Art Gallery, and observed the dismantling of the exhibition that attracted the affluent parties from across the country for the 5-hour event.
The gate-keeper opened his eyes wide at the sight of men in suits and revolvers in their holsters. He ran off to alert the owner of the gallery – Mr. Eliah D’souza. Before the owner could be told about the guests, the detectives were at his door, widening the gate-keeper’s eyes further. Willy thought that his eyes might just pop out if he were to be shocked again.
“I am sorry to bring you some bad news, Mr. D’Souza,” uttered Svent as he approached his Eliah’s desk.
“Call me Eliah, please. And what might that news be?” Eliah gestured at the chairs, and the detectives took the seats. Eliah gestured the gate-keeper to find the door.
Willy pulled out three photographs, and placed them neatly under the owner’s nose. The owner studied the photos carefully.
“What about it?” Not a line or a crease on the aging face of the owner gave way for suspicion.
“Well, we are told that these people had visited the art exhibition early today. And, like you can see, they are lifeless. To cut to the chase, we are here to find out how you defend your innocence, Eliah.”
The assault was direct. Willy observed this to be one of the techniques how guilty criminals could be broken. But here, Svent was of the intention to smash the criminal.
“Defend my innocence?” Eliah laughed mockingly. “I own seven other galleries all across the country. I look after the dealings of millions in cash every single day. Do you know how taxing it gets, Mr. Freemont?”
Silence prevailed. Willy felt the weight from under, now rising on their back.
“I guessed not. If you believe that I am going to spare my time to defend myself over what appears to be a mere co-incidence, then you are mistaken, my sirs.”
“I understand,” Svent remarked, absolutely unsatisfied by the performance. “If you think that we are going to spare our time to dig the culprit out, then apparently, you are are not.” The detectives stood up, greeted superficially.
“One last thing, Eliah. We’d like to meet the artist whose paintings the victims were looking for, please.”
Eliah pulled up a card from his drawer, and allowed the detectives to take leave. “A junior artist, but a highly revolutionary one at that. His paintings are attempting to bring the unethically rich and the wealthy to their knees. Like the Stanleys and the Bradleys and also the McKennys. He was a goddamn minister, who was painted in red. It is marvellous, but he is a junior, still unsure of his footing. He seems to have taken a much bolder move, this time. Go fetch him.”
Willy moved ahead, cursing under his breath, only to find that Svent had taken a smaller pace. Svent was in the gallery, exchanging serious gestures with the gate-keeper, whose eyes seemed to have gotten smaller, and friendlier. Nodding their heads an inch, they moved away.
Svent responded to the curious eyes of Willy that were not able to form the question, with mere smirk.
“The artist goes by the name of Bastian LeMac,” said Willy, with anxiety in his voice. “But, he made a casual welcome to us.”
“Hmm,” responded Svent with a natural coolness, unaffected by the tidings.
“Sir, shall we not question him?”
“What for?”
“He could be the one who killed the victims!” Willy was flabbergasted, thinking that Svent was still in his holiday mood.
“The forensics had called,” Svent replied dispassionately. “They have assigned the cause of the murder to a substance that starts with a letter E. I cared not to remember the fashionable names these scientists give them. Upon a very small research, I found out that this substance is light, almost transparent, and has characteristics of oil.”
“Which could be applied on the paintings, to mimic the features of the oil!”
“Yes, my dear Willy. Now you tell me. Why would a junior artist who is struggling for earning his living want to risk his career and his life, while being at a loss to an ability to escape?”
Willy grunted under his breath. Why does this have to be so complicated sometimes? “Who is it, then? The gate-keeper? The owner? An extra-ordinarily co-incidental suicides?”
Svent smiled. “What is it exactly that you write in your notes? Come, let us go.”

At the art gallery, surrounded by the police, Eliah D’Souza had nowhere to go. His confident and charming appearance had allowed him to go through the scanner undetected once he thought, but he was wrong as pineapple on pizza.
“But sir, how?” Willy at a loss of idea. Although there were as few as these many possible culprits, Willy missed it. “Did the gate-keeper tell you something that I don’t know?”
“The gate-keeper made sure that Eliah was not to leave the gallery. What did Eliah respond when we asked for the painter whose paintings the victims were looking for?”
“The name of the artist.”
“Exactly! If he deals in millions like he said today, and that also across the entire country, how would he readily know which person was looking for which paintings in particular?”
Wide-eyed Willy remarked it as genius. “He had not taken even a minute to ponder over the name. Eliah plotted against the artist! But why?”
“Not our job to find out, I suppose. But I believe that Eliah might be the next rich that Bastian would have thrashed under his paintings.”

1 of the 11

In relation to my earlier story, “The Boss”

https://muffledquail.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-boss/

 

The meadows were lush green, freshly kissed by the morning dew, leaving behind a glow that pleased Lenny’s senses. The sun had taken a break from a long, heralded assault throughout the year, and had given way to the cool breeze that carried the congenial rains on its back.

The visibility had taken a hit, the hills on the far end of the picturesque sight had vanished behind the thick curtain of rains, embellishing the view from his window, remarkably better. Lenny liked the hills, but he liked the misty curtain and the magical sleight of water and sun and wind even better. The other side of the coin got darker as the front got better. Tony and Alena did not permit him to go out into the world, deemed to be dangerous, that could swallow him up leaving no trace behind. Lenny obeyed their stringency until he was not young anymore, and developed a brain of his own.

He wanted to go out, he wanted to sit under the sun, soak up the brightness and find out if he can fly like the Superman. He wanted to get drenched in the rain, and learn if he can grow tall and green like the trees that adorned the yard outside. He wanted to climb the mountains, to know if he can really see the world from the top of it. He wanted to get to the top of the Klate City Tower and find out if it is taller or shorter than those faraway hills. All the places he wanted to go were spread across the city – the city he had seen from the backseat of their car. Isolation, lonesomeness and solitude, if compensated with an optimistic environment within his house, would probably have helped his mental health, or that he believed. However, the dark side of the coin was darker for him.

The reason what brought them to a decision of living away from the world, eluded him. All he was told was that “it is not safe for you, out there.” A house, far from the crowd, far from the society allowed seclusion to seep into him, and it carried gloom along with it.

On his eleventh birthday, Lenny decided to pull up the creaky wooden plank from the centre of the floor in his room. He had done this several times before, but with a hollow objective. The plank was loosely fit, and he knew it. His parents had never noticed it, and Lenny did not bother to apprise them. This time, his desperation assigned an objective to lifting up the plank. A shovel from the garage struck the soil beneath, with a glorious ambition.

 

“I am doing my job.” Tony asserted in a blaring tone so loud, shattering the windows around him in the dining hall. An army of sweat beads started marching down his balding forehead as his head was shaking uncontrollably under the weight of the anger that he felt within him. His fingers had curled into a balled fist, so hard that it could have broken the wooden dining table beneath his hands. Alena was worried more for the table, than for the anger, and she owed the nonchalance to the frequency at which he used to be a bear with a sore head.

“Stop being up in arms about this article, Tony!” Alena was ready with a catalysing tone, aiming to moderate the rising temper. “It is the Boss you are writing about. As it is, he is unpopular for taking several lives! Why are you so stiff-necked about wanting our little Lenny dead?”

The army paraded in a straight line, dripping itself from the furrows of Tony’s forehead. He banged the table, blowing off a gasket upon the mentioning of their offspring. He stood up at the table, leaving the food half-eaten, and dug his hand in his pocket. He slammed a roll of colourful bills on the table. “Who do you think I bring this for? Your ugly face?”

“Stop yelling for crying out loud!” Alena spoke up with a repressed grunt, spending most of her vigour in suppressing the indignation. “You will scare Lenny!”

Moments passed by when nobody spoke. The air surrounding the two found rest. “Listen, Alena,” spoke Tony with a voice with an unimaginable tenderness. “I am a reporter for the GNV News. The best channel in the country. It is a new assignment, and I cannot produce conventional news. In order to make a name and rise up through the ranks, they expect golden eggs. If I am to bring them the commonplace news about robberies and rape, I will remain indistinguishable, and if I remain indistinguishable, who is to bring food on this table, and who is to bring money for Lenny’s tuition?

“The Boss has his hands in the nastiest of businesses, and the network that he has built in Klate is the reason why Lenny is locked up like this. We don’t let him go to school by himself. We don’t let him meet his friends, if he has been able to make any. We don’t let him be by himself anywhere, anytime. I mean, how could we, Alena? Do you think we want this life for our kid? Soon, he will be grown enough to leave us. Do you think I want him to face the world for the first time at that age and not now? Boss crawls up under my skin, and stings me hard! I hate that son of a bitch and I will take him down, and I have a lot of material against him. One publication, and he will be out of Klate. We will be free.”

Alena felt a pang of fury along with Tony, but she stayed calm. Fire does not fight fire. Water does. She admittedly nodded. His heart, his intent was her weakness, and she deliberately gave in. Another side of her worried if they were slightly too paranoid about Lenny’s safety. She was also bothered by the fact that Lenny stopped protesting against locking him up in the house. He will understand when the time comes, she told herself.

“You got to be safe, Tony. You got to be safe for Lenny, and for me. For us, please don’t poke the dormant snake. Kill it while it is asleep.”

“Boss is no ordinary snake, Alena. He is a goddamn dragon.” Tony replied with a faint smile. “And he never sleeps.”

“You are not helping my anxiety.”

“Gun is in bedside drawer. Shoot that son of a bitch in his face, if it helps you.”

Lenny overheard the conversation, and quietly slid back into his room.

Months passed by. Night before the day when Tony planned to publish the article, a tingling sense of disquiet percolated his skin. A fusion of fear and ambition had rendered his heart shaking and his hands steady. “We are one day away from the news, Alena. One day.”

Alena was far more scared than Tony was, but his composure was contagious.

“I have booked the tickets for a faraway land. We will fly away tomorrow. Far, so far that the Boss will never be able to find us, in case he survives the media.”

Alena nodded, and reacted to the sound of the bell that chimed across every corner of the house. One man, in a dapper blue suit stood at the door, his tie a shimmering black, his shirt a sparkling white.

“What can I do for you?”

“Let us in.”

The cold voice delivered a chill to Alena, and the intruder barged in, making way for the man in a bright white suit, and a golden chain. The girth of the man was colossal, just able to walk in through the width of the door. His head was rich with hair, as white as the suit itself.

Boss.

He settled on the sofa, central to the room, facing the TV set directly. Tony protected Alena behind him, and stood at the corner of the room, next to the TV.

“What are you so afraid of, Mr. Neak? It seems like you did something wrong.” The chill in his voice was notably dreadful. Alena had Lenny in her mind, and she was shivering with fear – raw, pure, unadulterated fear. “Have you done anything wrong?”

Tony tried to pull out his phone from the trouser pocket.

“I presupposed you for a smarter person, Mr. Neak. You disappoint me.”

“What do you want?”

“You know well what I am here for. Your investigation is the reason I am here. In a way, you have invited me here, Mr. Neak. You called me here, today, among your beloved wife, your charming son. Would you not introduce me to them?”

“Dare you touch Lenny, you cold-hearted faggot!” The repressed anger blew up her top, and she verbally charged the Boss.

“Ooo, that anger! Don’t you find it attractive?” Boss asked his henchman, who loyally stood by his side.

“Not really, sir.”

“Then kill her.”

In a fraction of a second, a bullet split Alena’s head open, hot dark blood oozing out, running across her cold skin. She slumped onto the floor next to Tony, who stood there, helpless. He would have felt a burden of guilt, that his wife was dead, next to him, who had warned him of this, but his ambition had blinded his want for a safe and happy family. But, before the guilt began to settle in, another bullet spit cut through his chest, and another right next to the first one, and Tony’s eyes, wide and afraid, slowly saw only blackness – blackness of Boss’ filth.

“Which number were these?”

“10 and 11, sir,” the henchman replied.

“Good. I do not wish to make a 12 tonight. 11 kills a day is good. On target.”

The henchman took care of the bodies, as the Boss walked across the rooms, to find Lenny. Unlocking the door at the far end in the house, Lenny stood in the middle of the room, his hand steady as those hills he dreamt of. A gun held in his hands, pointed at the Boss, who laughed, and discredited Lenny of his ability to be able to pull the trigger.

“If you kill me little boy, a very evil man is outside, who is going to take you away and hurt you severely.”

“Only if he catches me, you bastard.”

The smile vanished off his face, and in a moment came a painful drill in his belly. His fingers that held the wound were stained with blood, that did not cease to stop. Another fire, and another blood leak.

“You’re my 1st of the 11,” Lenny spat. “And now, I am the Boss.” Lenny grunted, unleashing his wrath.

He pulled up the plank that he was standing on, and made way along the extremely narrow tunnels that he had carved over the months. Several bifurcations underneath had led the way to different places that he dreamed of going to. One to the meadows, one to the vicinity of the TV tower, one to the hills, and so on. He crawled towards his dreams, he crawled to stand up on those hills. He chose a path, that the pursuer could not find, and the Boss was still alive, except that he was younger, and driven by a disparate ambition.