”Imagination is the ruler of darkness, twisting and racking one’s mind until it succumbs to the will of the master.” – H.C. Townes
Detectives Burns and McDonald step out of an SUV and walk toward a front door.
Burns gives his partner a glance.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?”
McDonald had been recovering from a cardiac event suffered several weeks back, but was pushing himself back into duty due to his extreme stubbornness.
“I’m fine”, he replied. “A little weak but not bad. It’ll be alright.”
They reach the door and knock. A woman of around 40 opens the door.
Burns smiles. “Mrs. Watts? I’m Agent Burns. This is Agent McDonald. We’re with the FBI.”
As Burns speaks, McDonald takes out his credentials. As he raises them, the woman quickly reaches to stop him.
McDonald lowers his credentials, frowning in concern.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
She opens the door fully. “Just get inside. Please.”
They step in. She nervously scans the street as she closes the door. Burns and McDonald watch.
McDonald steps forward. “We’re trying to determine whether your husband and daughter are missing.”
She sighs, worriedly.
Burns steps forward now. “Mrs. Watts?”
She looks through the window, to the street.
“The man who called said he was watching me.”
McDonald and Burns glance at each other, and McDonald finally looks back at her. “So, someone has abducted them?”
She nods. “He said if he saw anyone from the police or FBI step foot in my house, he’d kill Craig and Jane.”
She seems frazzled, worried, with bags under her eyes that suggest not much sleep lately. A look of panic is in her eyes.
A beat. McDonald and Burns process as she says…
“You just got my family murdered.”
A few moments later, they are sitting in the woman’s living room. Burns holds up a tablet with a video queued upon it. A grainy videotape. A badly beaten man kneels against a plain white wall. His feet and hands are bound. A man in a hood, sunglasses drawn down over his face, approaches. He puts a gun to the back of the man’s head. Fires. He falls.
Mrs. Watts watches, shaken, along with Burns and McDonald.
Burns sighs. “That’s the victim from the park.”
Watts looks at both of them, the worry on her face deepening with each passing moment.
“The man on the phone told me he had Craig and Jane and he’d kill them if I brought in the police. He said if I needed proof, I should check my front porch. When I opened the door, this tablet was there, just like this, with the video ready to play.”
“He’s careful,” McDonald says. “There’s nothing to distinguish him or his location.”
Burns looks back down at the video, the final still frame paused on the screen.
“Did he give any other instructions?”
She shakes her head negatively. “He said he’d call with more.”
McDonald takes the tablet from his partner and stands to his feet.
“I’ll have the tape analyzed. We’ll also need access to your phone records to see if we can determine where he called from.”
She looks to one, then to the other. “Do you think he’s watching? Is he going to kill them?”
Burns thinks her question over, then shakes his head no.
“This video was shot from a tripod which means he probably doesn’t have a partner. It would be almost impossible to hold your family prisoner and do surveillance on you simultaneously.”
She winces. “And he’s done this before? Why didn’t someone come forward later to say what happened?”
McDonald looks at her. “The first time was a single father and his daughter. The second time, he brought them home and also killed the wife. He doesn’t leave anyone with knowledge alive.”
A beat as she processes this.
Burns puts his hand on her arm, reassuring her. “We’re gonna need you to write down names of anyone who might even possibly know your husband and daughter’s routine.”
She nods, and McDonald speaks up.
“We’ll post agents here with you to keep you safe.”
She nods again, and Burns moves, guiding McDonald away toward the door.
”At this house, lie at my mercy, mine enemies.” – William Shakespeare
Two days later.
San Francisco Police Department.
The video from the tablet is on a screen hanging on the wall, frozen just after the execution of the bound man. Detectives Irwin and Jandrill are standing, watching. Burns enters the room and walks to them.
Irwin shakes his head. “We’ve been over every frame. There’s no way to distinguish where it was shot.”
Burns turns his head, looks up at the screen for a moment, then back at Jandrill.
“What about the call to the house?”
Jandrill shakes her head. “He used a disposable cell.”
A moment passes, and Burns looks up at them.
“Tell the detectives we’re ready to give the profile.”
“Where’s Dillard?” Jandrill replies.
Burns looks back at her.
“We think the perp most likely spent time in prison. If he’s local, that’s San Quentin. With his level of organization and his obsession with these specific dates, there’s a chance someone who’s still inside might recognize him from the profile.”
Irwin stands, listening, then his eyes light up.
Burns looks up, cautiously, knowing what is coming.
“Jeffrey James Roberts… he was held at San Quentin during his federal trial because his final murders were here in the Bay Area. That’s where this guy crossed paths with him.”
Burns nods. “And hopefully, we can get some information from someone else he crossed paths with.”
“So why the fascination?” Jandrill responds. “Why is he so obsessed with Roberts’ crimes?”
“Because,” Burns replies. “He wants the same thing that Roberts wants.”
A beat in silence as they stand there.
“Revenge for living.”
”It is well if you go in for revenge to make it as complete as possible.” – Robert Barr
I have to say, I’m a little bit surprised and caught off guard, Mr. Cornfield. I thought you were all about ‘rasslin. When I was a kid, I had to accompany my washed-out uncle to the orthopedic surgeon every other Tuesday as he tried to save what was left of his knee ligaments, and every time, there were scores of people with joint problems, pulled or torn ligaments, tendons, and more. But in all the times I went to that office, even if I put them all together, I never saw as many crutches as I just saw from you.
I’m gonna whisper something here, so pay close attention.
I’m not actually surprised at all.
And while you’re paying such close attention, let’s talk about all of the attention you apparently paid to Conor Fuse, hmm? Because he already did the Hannibal Lecture jab, only he did it better. You’re following a script, one written by everyone who has come before you, only to fail. The difference between you and your boy, and Conor Fuse, is that he actually wins matches and earns championships. You think writing off who and what I am will get you a win in the squared circle, but so far all you are is a parrot with a Southern accent. Polly want some originality with that cracker?
I will apologize for using big fancy words and boring you with intelligence. I’m sure the headache it gave you to read words more sophisticated than ‘flatulence’ was nearly unbearable. OH SHEEEIT RABBIT!! THAT WAS FIRE!. Better lose yourself in this moment, Jimmy.
Never ever let it go.
I don’t think I’ll let you have another.
Since you like to talk about wrestling so much, let’s talk about it.
How’s your boy been doing in the ring in High Octane? Hmm? You begged, bartered, and stole your way to… what again? The HOW World Tag Team Championships. How did that work out? Not much of a selling point for you and your boy. Four matches in. A couple of tag team losses, followed by a carnival barker handing your boy a championship belt without actually earning it? Because I’ve been wrestling, in tag team matches, or defending my title on every single show since I won, since I earned this belt, back in October. How much more do you really want to talk about what goes on in the ring? Because I’ve been taking out everyone set in front of me for almost six months now. Maybe you should stick to the old school ‘rasslin stuff and stop trying to get under my skin with these garden variety one-liners. Ooooooh, clever wordplay! Whatever will I do? Oh, I don’t know, maybe break some of the bones in your face, or turn your big mute friend into a eunuch to amuse myself. The possibilities are endless.
So sorry… that was more murder talk wasn’t it? James gettin’ a headache and need a big boy nap to recover?
What do you think, that secretly I’m a stuck-up frat boy offended by your insults? I’m some fat cat who took joy in committing some crimes because I didn’t get enough attention from daddy?
I know precisely what I am.
My rage is derived from eyes so sharp they see through the idiocy being passed off as sophistication. Under the cloak of universal themes and terms that every standard school bully perfects, madness ensues, being readily welcomed by those whose mind’s eye questions nothing.
What I am surprised about is, you aren’t as smart as I thought you were. I gave you too much credit before. I complimented you. I complimented the big man. I thought you had some sense. And I thought he had the same thirst that I have.
I get it. You’re not impressed. You don’t buy any of this. You don’t care. You aren’t intimidated. Tale as old as time. But that’s only because you and the Beast there haven’t thought this all the way through. That, or you really are a stupid person. So condescending, for no reason.
I have more flaws, more faults, and more sins than common sense can comprehend; and the condescension in this sentence ‘consequents’ in more to end it. Your routine, it’s a dance, and it really needs to stop. And I really wish that people who support someone like you understood how dumb they are being considered – not how dumb they look ‘cause then it becomes ‘why are you so concerned what people think of us?’ That’s not the point. But no, they don’t get it and neither do you. You think that to stick your fist in the air and yell certain slogans and wisecracks makes you somebody of higher wisdom and makes you a person continuing the struggle to get back the sweet science, the good ol’ days of professional wrestling. No. And now you want to challenge me in a game of revenge? Do you imagine that the poisonous spittle of five hundred little men of your sort, hoisted onto each other’s shoulders, could even drool down onto the tips of my boots? You say all this pointless shit. You can coat that shit in sugar, but it’s still shit.
And you’ve vastly misplayed your hand here, James.
You smile your smarmy grin thinking that you’re so clever with your choice of match. But let me break this down for you a little bit since you have trouble paying attention to pretty much everything that’s been written or said about me.
If I murder you and your protege’ in this match, I will spend the rest of my life in a solitary cell, never to see the sunlight again, never to feel the cool breeze on my face, forever left to rot and to languish in my own misery.
If I don’t murder you and your protege’, if I beat him, cleanly, and shake his hand afterward like two honorable men, I will spend the rest of my life in a solitary cell, never to see the sunlight again, never to feel the cool breeze on my face, forever left to rot and to languish in my own misery.
If I do any number of possible things in between those extremes, the outcome is the exact same thing.
My crimes are too numerous, and I am not redeemable. Never was. I was always going to be this. It’s time you accept this as I have. Freedom has never been placed on my table.
Why am I here, then? I’m gonna take the mystery out of this because all I can tell you is that I don’t exactly know just yet. All I know is, one day I was alone in my cell, the same as I had been for ten years straight. Then a rather large Wahl of a man showed up with a stack of paperwork to give to the warden, and suddenly I was escorted to another, still solitary and dreary cell, only with a little more security. And then, I was given a choice. I made that choice, and here I am. I don’t know why. You’d have to ask Him why. But I can promise you this…
Threatening me with prison time is like threatening your boy Genosyde with having to wear a mask if he loses. He’s already doing that anyway, right? What would he have to lose?
The answer is nothing.
I shouldn’t be giving you advice, but you really shouldn’t take your biggest shot by applying logic to someone like me. Rules are for weaklings. I am bound by nothing.
Sadly, the natural world is not short of people who believe that rattling off a bunch of cutesy little jokes incessantly makes them appear clever, whereas most of us know instinctively that this suggests insecurity at best, but possible social and sexual dysfunction as well. If somebody corrects you sternly by using an obtuse name for something, they probably know neither human nature nor any other kind very profoundly.
I’m used to being a piece of shit, Cornfield. I have no delusions. I am what you see. But things change, you know? We, who were reduced to eating on the sidewalk, were suddenly elevated in status by misery. We were suddenly the aristocrats and they the beggar. It flattered us. We were superbly above them and the comedy gave us a delusion of high self-respect. In a while, the magnanimity of the rich would complete the picture. We would feed our scraps to the poor.
Like how they’re feeding the two of you to me.
But nothing could assuage the unconscious fury of my new and tragic understanding, my sense of having been cheated, my fear, for, however I look at it, I cannot find a fit object for my disgust and despair, and so I attack everything in my way with an equal and infinite passion.
The truth is, you don’t need to do anything at all to get me riled up. Wrath and fury are my natural states, and that’s always been the problem. That’s why my life descended into a cesspool of apathy and horror, while you roll up the sleeves on your fancy dress shirt.
My father was a mid-level phone company manager who treated my mother at best like an incompetent employee. At worst? He never beat her, but his pure, inarticulate fury would fill the house for days, weeks at a time, making the air humid, hard to breathe, my father stalking around with his lower jaw jutting out, giving him the look of a wounded, vengeful boxer, grinding his teeth so loud you could hear it across the room. I’m sure he told himself, ‘I never hit her.’ I’m sure because of this technicality he never saw himself as an abuser. But he turned our family life into an endless road trip with bad directions and a rage-clenched driver, a vacation that never got a chance to be fun.
Like most men, my father was neither all good nor all bad. It is just that when he was bad, gentler people saw him in a disturbing fury. People, a lot of them, don’t understand fury. They understand the anger and even hatred, but fury is one of those old words that have gone out of style. He understood it. It rode his shoulder like a pet bird.
That is my mission statement, Mr. Cornfield.
That is my legacy.
So forgive me if I’m not moved by your simple need for revenge. Forgive me if the prospect of your business going under doesn’t stir my heartstrings and make me cower in fear or question my recent choices. Forgive me if I don’t give one damn about your piddly-ass problems. These are the problems of a child. It’s a bad joke.
Michael Oliver Best can do what he wants, it won’t change anything. I can be king or I can be locked up. At this point, my life doesn’t matter to me anymore, but I will punish those who care too much, people like you, people who hold close to the beauty of life and what it can be, and let things like business dealings motivate them.
I draw on something much greater to fuel my rage. Your infinitesimal infantile wit has no effect on me.
By dread things, I am compelled. I know that. I see the trap closing. I know what I am. But while life is in me I will not stop this violence. No. Who understands? Leave me be, let me go, do not soothe me. This is a knot no one can untie. There will be no rest, there is no retrieval. No number exists for griefs like these.
Art would have been nice.
But if no art is in our future; destruction then.
The justice I have received, I shall give back.
Forgive me for what I’m about to do to him.
I’d hoped for more.
”You do not know me for sure, yet you feel yourself better than me. But if you ever deliberately provoke me, in a way trying to hurt me, I’m so worried that you will die, or be injured with a heart full of revenge. The kind of revenge which you will never be able to fully retaliate, a revenge that will only add to the next innocent victims… in between you and me.” – Toba Beta
Best Arena Parking Lot.
Six Days Before March to Glory.
Just inside the trailer containing the cell of Jeffrey James Roberts, 4th Wahl sits at a desk, bored, reading a magazine laid on the table in front of him.
A phone sits on the corner of the desk, and he raises his head as it rings. He takes the cordless handset and holds it to his ear.
“And what about Roberts?”
“I guess that’s true. Alright, I’ll be there in a minute.”
With that, the big man places the phone back on the charging unit and heads out the door, leaving the trailer as quietly as a mouse. Ten seconds pass, and the door to the trailer opens, but it isn’t 4th Wahl. A man around six-foot-one steps inside. He’s wearing a baseball cap with dark sunglasses over his eyes and something resembling black electrical tape covering a cuff over his mouth. He wears jeans, a long brown duster coat, and gloves on each hand.
The man looks around the room, then turns to his left and walks toward the door between the foyer and the prisoner area. Walking through he scans the room again and holds his look in the direction of the hallway leading to the cells.
Walking slowly but purposefully, he makes his way down the hall, his shoes making heavy sounds under each footfall.
As he approaches the last cell, his pace slows and he turns his head toward the occupant.
Jeffrey James Roberts is standing in the middle of the cell, hands clasped in front, a slight smile on his face.
The two men hold a stare until finally, Roberts blinks.
“You must be my old huntsman friend. I see you received my correspondence.”
The man responds, but a voice modulator hides his true voice.
“I’ve been doing your work, just like I said I would.”
“Yes,” Roberts replies. “And now you’re here.”
The man walks several paces further down the hall.
“We all are.”
Roberts looks back at him, letting the words hang in the air, and slowly, his smile turns into a devilish grin.
“How wonderful. Soon we’ll be ready. Remember… my last night in solitary, before sending me off my good ol’ home state of Florida? They threw me into that hole, with nothing but the night sky above me to look at beyond cold, dark walls. I sat there, staring up at the sky and dreaming of stars. Now, I look down and plot flames.”
The man holds still. “I remember.”
Roberts tilts his head slightly.
“All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of these plots. Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers’ plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children’s games. We edge nearer death every time we plot. It is like a contract that all must sign, the plotters as well as those who are the targets of the plot. To gain our ultimate revenge, my friend, I’ve come to learn, it is not impulsive, reactionary, or blind. It’s calculating, patient, and observant. And if it’s going to work – the timing must be perfect.”
The man just stares back at him, saying nothing, not moving at all.
“You’ve been doing so well. You have your next instructions, I expect?”
The man nods. “I do.”
“Good,” Roberts says. “When you fear nothing, you have nothing to fear.”
The man nods again. “Nothing to fear.”
Roberts smiles as the man turns to walk away, then himself turns and sits, cross-legged on the floor facing the back wall, and he sways.
”When all else fails, complicate matters.” – Aaron Allston
The man from before steps out of the trailer, his face still concealed and he walks down the short temporary steps leading to the parking lot pavement. He turns his head to the right, then completes the turn and heads alongside Roberts’ trailer around the corner and toward the building.
A large, more extravagant trailer is staged there, and on the very bottom left corner of it, in unmistakable #97Red, are the initials “M.O.B.”
He walks over to the small stage platform forming the landing for the trailer, and opens his duster, pulling a tablet from an inside pocket, and placing it on the platform in front of the door.
On top, a small post-it note.
“Sending my Best.”
There’s the sound of someone walking, so he turns his head back in the direction from which he came and sees 4th Wahl returning toward Jeffrey’s trailer. The man hides just behind the platform, enough to prevent his being seen, and waits as 4th Wahl rounds a corner, and he listens as the big man stomps up the steps and re-enters the trailer.
His job done, the man stands back to his feet and walks away at a steady pace in the opposite direction, out into the parking lot. A large crowd is gathered, a fan event for March to Glory.
He walks in the direction of the crowd, pulls the hat and voice modulator cuff from his face, stuffing it into the pocket inside his duster, and his short-cropped brown hair waves slightly in the breeze. His back to us, he slows his pace and steps into the throng.