Shanghai, Nowhere – May 2016

 

After.

A slight calm, like the dreamy first light of a hangover, tugged at his mind, threatening to make itself known. An arm shifted in his lap as consciousness stirred him. His shirt, stiff with dry sweat, blood and every other bodily fluid, peeled eagerly from his skin as he shuffled in his seat.

A foot, propped lifelessly up on the chair opposite where he was slumped, slid slowly from the seat and awkwardly slapped against the bare concrete.

He woke.

Finn saw the darkness in front of him and felt his hands blessedly free. In an instant he ripped the hood from his head and inhaled as if starving for oxygen. The air was cold and he shrieked quickly in his panic.

Gasping in fright he frantically looked around for his captors. There was no one, nothing amongst the dim of his surroundings. But they had been here. He had heard them. He had felt them. A great many people had surrounded him, mocking him. And now there was nothing but him and these two lonely chairs. He checked his wrists where the restraints had torn away the skin.

They’re gone. They left me behind.

Finn felt a sudden relief, and it manifested in a desperate, unstoppable cry. He pushed forward and let out a passionate bawl, a cry not for help, but to extend the weight of his reprieve. He breathed deeply, feeling the air refuel him. His lungs hurt like hell, as if he’d inhaled an entire house fire.

It’s over. It’s fucking over. I’m actually alive.

And into the gloom he whispered, “Thank you.”

All at once the pain in his knee flooded his senses. He lurched himself forward, grasping the crudely stapled wound with both hands. Cringing through the pain, the pathetic, broken lawyer, still wearing the ill-fitting navy suit, now torn, ruined with the various tortures they had inflicted upon him, tried to stand. He failed, realising his other foot was still bound to the leg of the chair on which he sat.

With a groan he leant over to untie it. As he tugged at the ropes he saw the fingers without nails, covered in dried blood and fresh pus. He flinched, but kept pulling at the ropes.

One step at a time.

He couldn’t help it. He looked at the soggy, bloodied ends of his fingers.

“Oh fuck me”, he said, his stomach doing back flips.

Just get up. Get out. Fucking run. Hobble, if you must. Untie yourself and just run. Mend your wounds later. Get out now!

He pitched forward and staggered to his feet. Slowly he stumbled towards the bright rectangle of light in the darkness.

Daylight stung his eyes as he pushed through the heavy metal doors. They scraped over the concrete, shattering the quiet of the countryside. Finn startled for a minute, sure that his racket would send a group of guards running towards him.

Yet nothing disturbed him as he staggered out onto the property. Behind him, the great structure looked barely held together, just sheets of steel pinned to rotting planks, thirty feet high at least. The gravel of the long driveway that seemed to run all the way to the nearest road crunched beneath his feet.

The quiet around him was almost too perfect, and if it weren’t for the blood pumping in his ears it would have been dead silent. No birds. Nothing in earshot whatsoever. He closed his eyes absorbed like a drug the crushing silence of absence.

And then he remembered.

A hand slapped against his suit jacket, where the hidden pocket was. He felt nothing. No slight bump beneath the fabric. No slight wrinkle as he thumbed at it.

Oh fuck. He pulled open his jacket. Ignoring the pain he stuffed a hand into the pocket. There was nothing there.

Finn felt a slight panic, but he was too exhausted to truly comprehend the consequences of what he had lost. He stuffed a hand in every other pocket of his suit jacket, his pants.

They took it. Was that what all this was about?

He had to do something. Fretfully he looked around, deciding the path to the road was too obvious. Something about it worried him. It didn’t feel right.

And then he spied the tiny sign. A tiny blue triangle carved into a stump that indicated a walking track. He could see from where he stood that the path cut through dense trees and shrubs, perhaps leading to a camping site. A perfect place to get a car.

Finn took one more look back at the structure, looking for anything that might help him figure out where this place was, then he set his scarred, half-numb feet into the dirt. The leaves crunched beneath him as he scurried like a rat out into the woods.

During.

Finn woke, terror striking him, his desperation immediate and pitiable. He pulled his limbs in any direction, but nothing moved. Everything was black. His body was cold, his face hot from his own breath. The smell of rust and oil and sweat hung in the air.

Beneath his polyester cloak Finn could sense his captors milling around. Though they were quiet, their presence choked the air like smoke from burning rubber. He snorted when he felt the gag pulling at the corners of his mouth. He wanted to vomit.

“Her ferg?” he questioned, his words mangled by dirty cloth. The taste of grease graced his tongue.

“Oh look who’s awake finally,” said a disembodied voice from across the room. The voice was gruff, British, and somehow familiar.

Finn attempted to ask his question again and thought better of it. They’d gagged him for a reason, and he wasn’t ready to push his luck. What the fuck was going on? How did he get here?

Someone approached him. Finn could sense the man had a furious presence. He pictured a muscle-bound bouncer in a way-too-tight tank top hilariously punching a man into the ground with a single swing. His mind teased him with an image of Popeye the Sailor Man, which did nothing to assuage his fear. He groaned as the taste of grease-soaked rag turned his stomach.

“Don’t try to talk, lovely,” said British.

Finn breathed heavily. The cloak was heavy, stifling. The fabric didn’t breathe at all, and he was feeling the lack of oxygen.

A chair was dragged along the floor towards him. The sound of steel dragged across concrete echoed around him. A man sat down opposite him. Finn could feel him close. Even this blind he could feel the people moving about in the air.

Finn’s heavy breathing slowed to a crawl as he felt his captor moved close to him. The reek of his sweat and the heat from the man’s face was toxic. Even blind, gagged, enveloped in cloth, the stench of the man was chilling. Finn thought this was what the sulphur in hell must smell like, as the creatures hunted you in the night.

British sniffed him, like a dog sniffing a telephone pole, in short, heavy snorts. Finn recoiled, but could barely move. The man exhaled a satisfied, weary breath across his face. Finn held his own, expecting something to happen.

A quick slap whipped across his face.

Finn yelped through the gag, the callous attack unexpected. British laughed, and further away he heard others laugh too. He tried to distinguish all the unique voices, but couldn’t decipher their numbers.

Another open hand slapped his other cheek. He cried out again. He couldn’t understand, couldn’t breathe. He wanted to wake from this nightmare. He cried out again, closing his eyes, pushing them shut with all the force he could summon.

Make it stop, make it stop, wake me up, he pleaded silently into the blackness.

A fist slammed into his jaw. The initial coldness of the assault briefly dazed him. A sort of faintness overwhelmed his senses for a minute, and then the taste of blood and metal flooded into his mouth. His dislocated jaw, throbbing, rose to greet his brain, grinning with a new brand of pain.

Finn cried out again through the rags in his mouth, into the darkness of the bag over his head. He coughed. It felt good to do something, even if it hurt. He coughed again and again. British laughed, poking his forehead with a single finger in hard pointed jabs. British said nothing, but Finn imagined him smiling as he did it. He coughed until he thought he might puke.

Then the man’s hand gripped his throat and held it closed. All the air escaped him. The effect was immediate. Finn’s eyes bulged under the force of the man’s grip. The blood flooded his temples and he thought for a moment his brain might just start oozing out his ears. The pain, contained within this airless, noiseless void, was unbearable within the grasp of this man clearly schooled in the art of torture. In this silent space Finn could not shout, cough, cry or retch. He was held there in a wordless agony for what seemed an eternity.

And then he let go.

Finn inhaled through his filthy gag deeper than he’d ever breathed before. His lungs poisoned him and his throat was swollen and painful. But before he could regain his breath completely, a fist struck his temple and everything went dark.

* * *

He woke, slowly this time. Tiny vibrations from every direction filled the room with a slight, not unpleasant white noise. The pain had not yet wormed its way in. They were quiet. Perhaps they had forgotten him.

“You ever heard of the Judas Cradle?” asked British.

Finn dropped his head in hopelessness. For a moment the thick silence reminded him of the waking of a dream. He picked up his frantic breath right where he left off. He tugged at the bindings on his wrist and felt them become tighter as he struggled.

“I suppose it’s named after that biblical fellow, wouldn’t you guess?” he stated plainly, clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice. “You know what happened to him, right?”

Finnigan made no attempt at responding.

“Judas Cradle,” he went on. “Medieval torture device. Awful thing it was. But then, all the good stuff comes from medieval times, don’t you know?”

Finn began to panic. Of course they were going to torture him. He knew it was coming, yet the small part of himself that still believed he was going to be ok tried urgently to convince him otherwise. Still he had no idea what he was supposed to give them. What did they want? Maybe they didn’t want anything. Maybe they’d just been paid to hurt him.

“Catholics always have the sickest minds,” British hissed. “Literally the sickest bunch of medieval fucks you’ll ever run across. They invented all the goodies.”

Finn looked left and right. In both directions there was artless, interminable darkness. Nothing to latch on to. The bag clung to his face with his sweat and blood. He shook his head like a crazy person.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” British said, dismissing him. Finn’s pain turned to anger. He thrashed briefly, but his anger abandoned him. Panic hijacked his brain.

British kept talking while the lawyer continue to look up, down, left, right, anywhere but at his would-be torturer. He desperately needed to find a way out of this.

“Think of a pyramid,” British continued. “And then think about the point of it, the very point, stuck right up your bunghole!”

He laughed, hysterically. Clearly the concept of bungholes was of a font of extraordinary humour for him. Off to the left somewhere, another voice laughed. The other was much quieter, but no less sinister.

British calmed himself, then continued, “But imagine the pyramid is, I dunno, six foot tall, four foot across. It’s sitting on the floor, and you’re strung up above it.”

The humour had left the man’s voice. Finn, unable to not picture it in his mind, blind and half senseless as he was, began to understand. In his little dark space, imagination was all he had. British seemed to be enjoying his growing discomfort.

“And then, little by little, every day…” British continued, “they pull you down just a little… bit… further…”

Finn’s blood ran cold. He stopped moving as he felt British moving towards him. British whispered, “Wanna try?”

Finn began to fret even more as his mind unwillingly constructed the scene in his head. He flinched at the thought of it. Did they really have such a thing here? Was he just trying to distress him? He couldn’t tell. He couldn’t see the man’s eyes. He wanted to look the man in the eyes and show him how much hate he had for him. But the darkness prevailed, as always, and Finn’s mind began to dismiss any calmness it might have endeavored to afford him.

Keep it together keep it together keep it to-fucking-gether.

British exclaimed, but without humour, “Nervous he is! It doesn’t seem our boy here feels much like being spit-roasted by the world’s shittest dildo!”

He laughed, and the others joined in. Finn began to shake and rock in his chair. Trying to stop himself, he began to moan in pain. He wanted to stop himself, but he couldn’t. His mind had taken the fear and begun to collapse on itself. His psyche tore itself apart with dungeons and darkness and medieval horrors. British seemed unaware or uncaring of his quickly unraveling sanity.

And suddenly the man was face to covered face with him, a hand clasped firmly to the back of his neck. Finn stopped rocking and moaning. He quit breathing, fearing the stink of the man and what happen to him if he inhaled his filthy odour.

British whispered, his hushed growl like a wolf about to strike at his prey. “Who’s got the time for such nonsense?” he asked. His face was so close to Finnigan’s, somehow inviting a strange, terrifying intimacy. He wanted none of it. British whispered again, “My ways are little more… traditional.”

A closed fist suddenly smashed into Finn’s face. Barely registering it, a cry of shock escaped him, muffled by the rags. British did not laugh this time. There was no laughing around him, no talk, and no idle chatter. Everything was quiet. Everything was focused on himself. Finn wanted to scream, but his jaw seemed stuck in some unusual way, as if a gear bent out of place.

Another fist hit his face, high up on the forehead. The dizzying strike flooded his eyes with tears.

Harder, he thought. Just knock me out. Put me to sleep.

But it didn’t matter how hard he hoped. British knew exactly how hard to hit to cause just the right amount of pain without triggering unconsciousness.

Finn sobbed as the pain spiked through his temples. For an indeterminable time there was no sound. Finn steeled himself for another assault. He sat, sobbing into the hood that suffocated him.

British took his throat again, squeezing even harder than last time. Air escaped him, and once again he felt the veins in his face bulge and tear as he fought for breath. This time, however, his mind gave up, and he sunk into blissful sleep.

* * *

Again he woke, silently. Sensing no one nearby, he listened. The pain from his jaw began throbbing hard. He tried to listen through it for anything he could use. The shuffle of a foot, the scratching of an itch. The most timid sounds could tell you what the floor was made of, what cut of cloth they were wearing. He listened for everything in its tiny detail.

A stinging pain hit his forehead and moved down his body. He tensed and jumped in his seat, almost tipping over. A hand took hold of his forehead and forced his neck to crane back. His face, still covered, faced up to what he could only imagine was a cold concrete ceiling and their horrible faces.

A hand gripped his hair and pulled his hair back, holding him still as a steady stream of ice cold water battered against the cloth hood over his face. Finnigan gasped for breath, water stunting his desperate gasps for air. His lungs flooded with water and he suddenly needed to cough as hard as he could. But there was no reprieve. The water kept coming, and air came only in tiny, desperate bursts. He choked and he whimpered. He cried for mercy that would not come soon. So this is what being water-boarded feels like, he thought, sickly amused.

They let go of him suddenly. He leant a far forward in his chair as he could and coughed as hard as he could. As he repeatedly retched, desperate to expel the water from his lungs, the men walked away chuckling. British seemed not among them.

* * *

He woke with a shock. The pain on his face told him immediately that he’d been forced awake, almost certainly by the hand of British.

Finnigan breathed quickly, forcing his breath to slow, to compose himself. He heard the familiar graze of a chair as British sat opposite him.

“I think it’s about time we had a little chat,” said the man.

British reached under the black veil and pulled down the gag. The hood remained on, leaving him still in the darkness. Finn closed his mouth for the first time in days, perhaps weeks. He couldn’t tell. Time had abandoned him here. He took several great, deep breaths and then began to cry. British gave no response, instead just letting him do what he needed to do to keep going for another few minutes.

“What…” Finn began, his labored breathing stopping his words short. “What do you want from me?” he asked slowly, dragging out each word.

British laughed at him. Finn coughed, leaned forward and let the drool slide from his lips and down his chin. He made no response, his silence urging him on.

“It’s not what we want from you,” British pondered in his slow, breathy drawl. “It’s about what… hmm. How to put it? It’s about what you… being here… means to us.”

He emphasized the ‘us’, and when he did, the others, the unknown phantoms in the room, murmured in agreement.

Finn squinted, his face contorting in confusion, before realising that they wouldn’t be able to see the confused expression on his face. He couldn’t help himself.

“You fucking what, mate?”

The closed fist of British hit him dead centre of the face. His nose bent, but didn’t break. The pain struck him, but this hit felt more like a half-attempted drunken pub brawl punch. A stylised way of shutting an idiot up. It was clearly nothing compared to what he knew the man could do.

“Don’t make me put that rag back in your gob,” he threated, sneering. The murmuring of the others continued. Finn breathed loudly a few times, assenting with his silence.

“Allow me to be more… convoluted,” he started. “You see, back home in the old 19th century the poor people, well they decided they didn’t like sea work anymore. Too long away, too much risk, shitty food, cold and wet, all that. They didn’t have enough sailors for their ships. So the less reputable-like folk, well… they just stole a few poor souls off the street. Drunkards, mostly. But really anyone who wouldn’t be terribly missed, and they put ‘em to work on the ships!”

Footsteps were coming towards them from somewhere far away. Ascending quickly, there was something else. Whoever was coming was carrying something. Finn began to worry immediately.

“Get them drunk, sign them up for a voyage and boom!” British exclaimed. Finn jumped with the volume of his howl.

“Cheap labour! Couldn’t get out of it! Contract law, you see,” British laughed. “Leave the ship, go directly to jail. It was even legislated by the government. Abandon your job, get locked up! Perfect hiring strategy if you ask me.”

Finn felt British lean away from him. In the darkness he saw the face of a man about to get to the point.

“Get got?” he said with a smile. “And you’d been Shanghaied.”

The unknown footsteps stopped close to him and a he heard a case, something metallic, perhaps a crate or a toolbox, being sat down on the floor near him.

“Ahh, finally!” British exclaimed, seemingly giddy with delight. The sound of tools being rattled around made Finn’s stomach sink.

“You like that story?” he asked the lawyer.

“Sure, why not?” Finn replied, he eyes darting around, following all the little sounds, trying to figure out what was now happening around him.

“The point, my lovely,” said British softly amongst the sound of clattering tools, “is that… you’re here… with us. Not because of what you can do, or what you can give us. But because… we own you and your lot. So quit fucking trying to stop me!”

Finn cried, his hope escaping him in a single exhalation. British leaned towards him, once again taunting him with this horrible forced closeness, and whispered into Finn’s ear, “Maybe just learn to enjoy it.”

Finn’s cracked and began to sob as he realised that something awful was coming.

“You know what I like?” asked British, softly. Finn didn’t chance a response. He continued his heavy breathing, hoping at least to make himself hyperventilate and delay whatever they were planning. He panted within the darkness and humidity of the little dark prison that engulfed his head.

“Woodwork,” he said in a drawl. “Honest labour. Wood. Nails. Glue. Sandpaper. Perfect lines. Exact angles. Hard work. Real work. Not this debate class for grown-ups you call a profession.”

Finn wanted to yell and yell again, anything and everything. He wanted to lose his mind and start thrashing, flailing, screaming. He breathed harder than ever, exhaling more than he took in. Let it happen let me die let them die end this end this now!

“And if you keep your tools with you?” British asked to no one in particular. “Well, you can just grab the nearest log or branch and get working, if you’ve got some time to kill. Works well out here to take care of the boredom, you know?”

Finn’s breath became a pathetic, desperate panting as the sound of metal rubbing against metal echoed through the room.

Fuck fuck fuck.

“And you know what’s great about woodworking tools?” he asked. Finn was silent in dread.

“They work on just about anything.”

Finn felt a cold line of steel press into the soft, squishy part of his knee just below the cap. It was a gentle touch, yet he felt that behind that slight, feathered finger was a furious anger waiting to be born.

“What is that?” Finn asked quickly.

“That is pain,” replied British, slowly in a drawl.

“Oh,” Finn said, with a sad inevitability. “That again.”

He could sense British staring at him. The questions hung in the air. Questions that seemingly would never be answered. Finn silently implored him, weak with anguish.

“Just ask me,” Finn begged. His voice was weak. “Anything. What do you want to know? Just ask me, please. I’ll give you anything. Anything. Just ask. Anything at all…”

The begging continued in Finn’s mind, but he knew his words would have no effect. He steeled himself for the pain, clenching his teeth and squeezing his eyes closed as hard as he could.

British was so close to his blind self that he could smell his putrid breath as he breathed his next words. He whispered his words like a sadist readying himself to please the masochist.

“It’s not you who can save you,” British whispered softly into his ear.

British hammered the chisel and buried it in his knee. Cartilage was severed and sinew tore as the thick steel blade sliced through his flesh and embedded itself in the hard bone.

Finn screamed silently for a moment as the pain besieged him. His eyes, even in the total darkness, flashed in a wild, fiery white glare, as the pain overcame him. He drew in a deep breath and screamed out loud. His bawl was quickly muffled as his mouth was stuffed full again with filthy cloth. It did little to stifle his horrible screeching.

Behind the awful sound, British laughed at him, and all his minions joined in the animalistic, feral mirth. His pain was their amusement. On this killing floor he was their entertainment. In that awful moment he believed that his nightmare would never end. He would stay here, beaten and neglected, day after day, until he cried his own mind into oblivion.

* * *

For the next week and a day he drifted between awake and asleep. All of his time passed in darkness. The concept of days and nights blurred and eventually became alien and terrifying. Here was no time and no reason. The pain in his knee stayed constant; they had left the chisel sticking out of the bone. If he struggled, the pain spiked and was unbearable. So he sat, motionless, slowly going numb all over. Still he sweat and bled, seeping from the tiny wounds on his chest and arms that he couldn’t even remember getting. He shed tears silently whenever the pain overwhelmed him. For a time it was quiet as he skated, alone and unbalanced, around the rim of the nightmare.

* * *

Finn woke, just barely, in a haze of discomfort and dehydration. In the hushed quiet of the cool night he could sense people sleeping. Their slow breathing filled the air with a dawdling ebb and flow. The torture had stopped for now. Other matters, more important to his captors, seemed to be afoot.

His whole body squealed in pain, yet all around him was quiet. He fought his mind and commanded it to quell the noise in his head. The silent screaming that clouded his thoughts. Slowly he calmed them down.

He listened.

Somewhere across the room a lonely beep-boop played from some tinny, ancient speaker. The pathetic sound, bit-crushed through the obviously inferior tech, made it barely audible. It seemed to be searching for something, but finding nothing. He imagined a room overflowing with surveillance equipment, or the cockpit of an airplane overflowing with instruments and big buttons to push. He imagined dark displays with green text and spinning radar scanners, streams of text and fuzzy satellite images. In front of the displays, silent people in khaki and black caps strapped with machine guns watched and waited.

Of course, nothing he could imagine could he observe. Since the moment the bright city lights vanished into darkness he had not seen a thing.

But in the darkness all he could do was imagine, visualize. He could not continue to envision the horrors that were coming for him should his brain leap out of his skull. He waited anxiously for that accent again and the man behind it. British, he’d called him. Horror incarnate, coming to hurt him, for reasons baffling. So he imagined the place around him. As he put together all his gathered sensory information it became more real, though later he would come to accept that perhaps all was just an illusion, created in his head, to cope with the madness.

Something about the continuous noise appealed to him though, and the longer he listened the more he realized it was a pattern. Morse code, he thought at first. He listened quietly, putting the sounds together in his head. Binary code. Numbers. Letters. A sequence. Finn learned them, repeated them over and over again to himself, whispering silently into the dark. He slept again, woke again, repeating the numbers over and over. He would not forget them. Do not forget them.

He woke a day later, but no one came when he whimpered for water. Hours dragged on, feeling like days, and every so often someone would tip water over his face. It was a shock, as the water was ice cold every time. Finn licked the water desperately from his lips, tilting his head to angle the droplets towards his tongue. A block of cheese or a knob of bread was stuffed into his mouth at intervals uncertain. He passed out. He slept. He lulled between unconsciousness and death. He cried softly, until a hand slapped across his face and yelled at him to be silent. And so it went on. Until he heard the voice of British once again.

* * *

He awoke to the sound of his own screaming. A singular, pointed, searing pain at the end of his index finger, as if something was tearing at his nails. Quickly he realised that that was exactly what it was. Pliers pulled at his nail, ripping up from side to side. A hand gripped his wrist, wrenching it in the opposite direction. The skin beneath the tight grip burned like fire. He screamed again, unbelievingly, still unable to see. Somehow, not being able to see was even worse. It felt like his whole finger was about to come free of his hand. Tendons stretched and tore, fragment by painful fragment, with awful precision. Finn cried and cursed, screaming at them to stop. When the nail was finally ripped from his finger, the pain was impossible, and his consciousness gave up.

* * *

Hours later he woke again. The next finger was in the grip of the pliers. This time he had no mind to scream. He hadn’t the energy to fight back, to struggle. Finnigan collapsed in the chair, wordlessly, soundlessly, and let his mind drift into the eternal dark.

He had submitted.

* * *

One day, after what seemed like a life span had passed, the voice of British was gone. Curiously, and without reason, all the voices were gone. The footsteps and the shuffling and the moving of crates faded. Seemingly endless time passed before the lawyer, broken as he was.

Finn stayed awake long enough to listen to the blessed silence. He slept when his body would not let him stay awake any longer. And when he woke each time he tugged gently at his restraints. They held fast. His mind pressed on, fighting to survive. They no longer fed him, nor did they dump water on his head. In time, the familiar beep-boop, that strange pattern of numbers, was gone. And then the voices were gone too. And then, mercifully, there was quiet again.

As his tenure in the awful place waned, the nights grew colder and as quiet as death.

Before.

The lock snapped open under the force of the letter opener.

“How about that?” Finn noted with genuine surprise. He’d seen this trick on TV too many times to believe that anything was that simple. But the lock gave way and the drawer simply slid open, quietly revealing its secrets.

These “secrets” were mostly chocolate wrappers, but given his employer’s overly hyperactive and anxious nature it didn’t seem surprising that he was on a constant sugar rush.

Finn rifled through the foil wrappers and tore out the folders lying neatly at the base of the drawer. A small stack, made to look so insignificant they’d be missed in a robbery. Finn knew the old man too well.

He dropped them on the desk, sliding the thin, slick paper envelopes one by one, looking for anything telling. He knew what he was after, but had no idea what it might look like.

Hand written, of course. No one would keep a proper record of this stuff. Certainly not a digital record.

His index finger gently fell on the folder second from the bottom. It’s slightly rough texture felt somehow different than the rest, as if someone intended it to be.

Finn snatched up the folder and slowly opened it. He saw crude pen lines and something else.

“Boo!”

Finn jumped, dropping the folder back on the desk where it neatly folded itself over. He felt his heart leap into his throat as he looked across the darkness to the open door. In the doorway stood one of his colleagues, Felix.

“Jesus fucking Christ, man!” Finn exclaimed, clutching his chest.

Felix chuckled to himself.

“Raiding the boss’s office?” Felix asked. “Are you actively seeking a quick death? I know a good bar that does a really mean-“

“I’m not raiding it, for fuck’s sake,” Finn replied, cutting him off. “I’m just collecting something he was meant to give me.” Felix could sense Finn’s lies, but didn’t push it.

Felix nodded, looking around, noting the darkness. “Uh huh,” he said quietly. Felix was a specialist in criminal defense, spending every other night hovering around the office. He could smell bullshit from the next state. He also knew when the bullshit was just what the situation required. In his quiet desperation to find the information he needed, Finn had neglected to check the records room for night owls like Felix.

“What are you doing here this late?” Finn asked.

“Deckard case,” Felix replied.

“Oh… that’s the millionaire that buried that body out behind his property.”

“Allegedly,” Felix correctly, a bullshit smile on his face.

Finn knew that smile. It was the classic lawyer’s grin. It said, we know our client is a piece of shit, but we’ll play along just for the money. Finn responded in kind, smiling his lawyer’s smile.

“Yeah, right,” he said. “Bit of that going around.”

Felix looked confused for a moment, the asked, “Huh?”

“Never mind.”

“Well I’ll leave you to it,” Felix said, moving away from the door. Finn stopped him.

“Felix!” he called. Felix reappeared. “I wasn’t here,” he added, matter-of-factly.

Felix watched him for a moment, then smiled a smile of understanding. Finn’s face was rigid and stern. He stared at his colleague with a seriousness that was impossible to misconstrue.

Felix nodded, and moved slowly away from the door. Finn watched the empty space beyond the door for a moment, then gently fingered open the folder on the desk again. He touched it gingerly, as if more than a slight touch would infect him with some disease.

Inside he saw what he had come for. All of it was written in pen, scrawled childishly in shorthand as if to distract the reader from its importance. But it was all there, every last detail.

And in the top corner, three initials.

C.L.M.

Finn reached for his matches. Just burn it now, his mind shouted at him.

But the crook in him stopped him short. This was the kind of blackmail that everyone in his position yearns for. He could have a billionaire’s family by the proverbial ball sack, if he wanted. There would never be another shred of evidence left out in the open like this ever again. Surely it was worth the risk to hang on to it. Maybe even to use it.

Still, he wanted to burn it. This single sheet of paper was like lead in his hands. It felt heavy, poisonous to the touch.

Keep it, he thought. Keep it safe. Just for now. Decide later.

Finn quickly folded the page and slid it into his jacket pocket. Behind the normal pocket he pried open the secret fold in the fabric, sliding the document behind it. He patted it upon his chest, feeling the familiar wrinkle of folded paper. Perfectly hidden. Safe.

Smiling slightly, he slid the draw shut, and inhaled deeply. As he walked towards the door he threw the letter opener on the side table by the whiskey glasses. There was no point being subtle. The old bastard would never realise.

Finn stared moving towards the exit, through corridors and open offices. As he walked he found himself getting colder. Something about the thing in his pocket felt like a curse. In the massive office before the lifts a feeling of dread overcame him. He stopped dead in the quiet of the abandoned space.

Outside on the street, a car alarm screamed for attention. Right behind him, in the dark, he felt a dark presence ghosting his own. As he stood in the seeming emptiness, under the overhead halogen lights as dazzling as the brightest day, he felt vulnerable. He felt scared. Beyond the giant windows of the high rise building the sky was black as the void. Even his reflection in the glass looked more pale than normal.

Finnigan Chase shivered, and found he could not move. He listened, silent for just a moment. Then he turned suddenly as the air moved behind him, and in the stark white phosphorescence of the office he saw his stalker’s blurry shadow appear seemingly from nowhere and descend upon his own.

Written by Matt Hood.

All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.

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