I woke up the next morning with a terrible headache, my head felt like it was being hit by the forces of nature. My eyes felt heavy and limbs felt really weak, I was not drunk on liquor, but I was drunk on guilt and the horrible stench of confusion. Was this what Cain had hoped to achieve, the Horus’ asset a pile of tiredness and wretchedness?
The pillows were discarded on the floor from my restless turning; the cover was on my body like loose tissue. I turned to my reading table and watched the images fly by in a slideshow, the gore was still beyond anything I have seen on television or the Web.
I could not spend the whole day moping around, I needed to talk to someone and fast. I picked up my phone and called Derek, he was the only one I knew enough to ask these questions; Cain was not approachable nor was Sylvester. I also wanted to confirm the stand of Derek on this matter, so he was my best and only chance at solace.
“Hello, Derek,” I said when he picked up the call; he seemed to have been waiting for the call because he picked up the call after the first ring.
“Hey there, Michael. I suppose you now know the full truth?” he asked with a somber tone.
I sighed into the receiver and said, “Yes.”
“I am right outside your house,” he said.
“You are where?” I was shocked when I heard that, Derek knew everything.
“Give me a few minutes,” he said and hung up.
I quickly changed my clothes and went downstairs to meet Derek in the sitting room. Derek was not looking great, he looked terrible with his red eyes and stained shirt, he must have been drinking.
He sat down quietly and just stared at the glassware in the middle of the room, he did not say anything, just completely lost in thoughts. I sat down beside him and stared with him, both of us lost completely in our own world.
“Whatever you saw in the flash drive is the absolute truth,” he finally broke the silence.
“Have you ever killed anyone, Derek?” I asked.
“No. One thing I have held sacred is to hurt a person only in self-defense, or in rare cases to threaten a person, but I have never killed a person,” he declared.
“I trust you, Derek, but I cannot live like this, I cannot pretend these things are not happening,” I replied, my head held in my hands.
“I know, Michael. I hate this life so much. Every day I feel like I am dying each day, my heart ripping into thousand pieces when I have to watch those people get hurt by my actions,” Derek sobbed. His face was buried in his hands and his shoulders shook furiously.
“Then why do you do these things? Why?” I shouted in anger. If he had been honest with me from the start, if they all had told me what I was getting into, what my life was becoming, I would never have walked into it.
“I have no option but to survive in this world, I owe Sylvester a whole lot after he took me in.”
“You should have told me!”
“I cannot! It is protocol and I had to follow it too.”
None of us said anything. I knew Derek was bound by the principle of the job he chose, and he was committed to it because of the favor he owed Sylvester, but I could not help but feel I was different, he could have made an exemption with me. I needed someone to blame for my ordeal, I was not ready to take responsibility and Derek was the right person to blame.
I could have asked more questions, I could have investigated more or maybe talked to Mr. Fredrick about everything. The quick wealth was clearly a trap, and I turned a blind eye to it, I was to be blamed and not Derek. He did his best to steer me clear of the horror and kept my innocence with his teaching.
I felt bad about seeing Derek cry, he had never done this before, not even when he lied about Cain, his eyes were dried and expression the same. But now the strong man was a weeping mess and it was all because of me, which did not sit well with me.
“I am sorry, Derek. I chose to blame you for everything and that was shitty of me,” I said finally.
“It is okay to feel that way and I don’t hate you for it.”
“I want to quit, Derek,” I announced. My tone was firm and it was decided.
Derek raised his head and stared at me, his face was sad and he looked pitiful. “You can’t,” was all he said.
“Why can’t I?”
“The underworld is not like other jobs out there, you just don’t quit and move on. There are secrets you know that could be dangerous if the world found out,” he replied.
“I don’t care!”
“Well, I care and I care about you. The only way out of the underworld is death.”
I just stared at him speechlessly, my mind went blank when it registered the word ‘death’. I did not want to die young, I had so much to achieve, and the promises I made to Victoria needed to be fulfilled.
“So it all comes down to death,” I said with a melancholic feeling.
“We just have to live with the rules and everything would be okay.”
“I can’t be the cause of the of people’s misfortunes. I can’t make kids go through what I went through, or what happened to you,” I replied.
“You have to do it, Michael. I gotta go,” he said and he left, the sadness leaving with him, and numbness retained its throne in my house.
“Save us!” voices echoed.
“You are the cause of our death, save us!”
“Save us, Michael, save us,”
I sat in an iron chair, my wrists bound with ropes, a teenage girl in front of me and she was tied to a bedpost. Her legs were wide open and her face designed with cuts and bruises, tears fell from her eyes, and her mouth gagged with a cloth. Suddenly a man walked in, he was naked, his manhood was erect and ready for the destruction it was about to inflict. I struggled against my binds, trying hard to turn the man’s attention to me and leave the poor girl alone, but it was useless.
The man continued to walk to where the girl slept; his predatory look was enough to make a grown woman worry and enough to make me know the girl was in danger.
The scene changed to a locked cell filled with weeping children, Lily was among them with her little doll. She was curled at a corner crying for her mother and my heart ached for her. The cell door opened and a man entered; he picked one of the children, and then hit the child across the face when the boy resisted the aggressive jailer.
“Shut up!” the man shouted and all the children quieted down.
“Don’t hurt me, sir,” the boy begged, wrestling his wrist from the forceful grip of the man.
“Soon, you would be in a home fitting for you, just don’t fight me, boy.”
“Take me home to my mama,” the boy cried.
It took another hit across the face to make the boy understand that the man was beyond reasoning with. He could not do anything but watch himself get taken away and sold to the highest bidder.
I jerked awake, my eyes wide open and filled with fear. Sweat dripped down my skin and soaked the bed, the shirt I wore felt like it was drenched in rain. My heart hammered against my rib-cage, the room reeked of fear—my fear.
The dreams I was having were getting worse by the day, each time with more horrifying detail than the previous one. I’d had terrible dreams ever since my interaction with Derek, my nights were plagued with dreams of children weeping and women screaming, gunshots and sound of men’s crazed laughter, voices always begging me to save them, to come and rescue them, and each time I was tied to a chair or watching from the sideline.
I would not be getting any sleep tonight, just like I had not been getting in the last few days. I lay in the stench of my desperation and cried to myself, it was the only thing I could do, the only thing that seemed to ease the painful guilt.
Victoria had called many times, wanting to talk to me, but each time I had refused to pick her calls. Derek had called too, even visited me at home, but I did not let him in. I did not want to see anyone for these few days; I wanted to be left alone with my issues.
I had prowled my house like an animal, my filthy smell clinging to the furniture in the house. The house was in disarray, plates in the sink were unwashed, dust stained the chairs and tables in the house, heaps of dirty clothes were left on the floor, unwashed from negligence.
If Victoria was to see me now, she would have thrown a fit; she was my only sun at this dark point of my life. I could not let her see me like this, nor could I allow myself continue to live like this. I had to act fast. I might have convinced Derek that I was not going to quit the underworld, but I was going to do it, I had to do it.
I was running out of positive memories, with my nights tormented by screams and my days saw me brooding about everything; I had to get away.
Suddenly I heard my phone ring. I picked it up and saw it was a call from Victoria, I picked it up and placed it against my ear.
“Michael, where have you been?” she asked with worry in her tone. “Michael, talk to me. What is going on?” she asked again when I said nothing.
“I am fine, love.”
“Oh, Michael, I have been worried about you. You were not picking your calls, nor those of Derek.”
“I just wanted to be left alone,” I said. There was no need to worry the light in my dark tunnel.
“I am coming to see you,” she announced.
“No, I will come see you, dress up nice for me, love.”
“Okay, I will be expecting you soon.”
I arrived at Victoria’s apartment to find her waiting outside for me. I got out of the car and went to her, pulling her into a firm embrace. My head rested on her shoulder, taking in the sweet scent of her perfume. It was nice having her in my arms again, I’d left her alone after the attack and not for once did I check up on her.
She hugged me back, patting my back. We stayed there for a long time, just enjoying the company of each other and basking in the warm feeling of being with the one’s love; it could take away all our problems and doubts.
Standing under the clear dark sky it looked like we were long lost lovers finally meeting after so long, and it was not far from the real story. I was the soldier who went to war, and Victoria was the soldier’s wife, patiently waiting for her young lover to return to her.
The underworld was a war zone, filled with the deaths of comrades and enemies alike, I was the new recruit sent to the forefront due to the shortage of manpower, it was by luck that I could peacefully come home to my loving Victoria. In the war, the recruit would make enemies of his own, and allies also, such was the balance of life.
“Let’s go out on a date, right now,” I said and she shuddered from the vibration generated at my vocal cords.
“Anything you want, babe,” she replied.
“Anywhere you want to go to?”
“I don’t care, so long as it is with you.”
I hailed a taxi that took us to the first place that came to mind—Central park. It was not closer to her apartment, but it was the place everything started and the place I felt more connected with than any other locations in Area 2. What was Central park to me? It was the place I took the decision to leave Area 2, the place I met Derek, the place I took as my solace when I needed to escape my dislike for Chico’s. Central Park was the beginning of my ordeal—and probably the end of it all.
Soon, we found ourselves in the empty park, the colored lights from the fountain painting the pool an ocean blue, the various lamp posts situated around created a soft glow on the pathway to light the way through this familiar oasis.
Our hands were joined together as we walked around, enjoying the blessing of nature in this landscape. The gentle breeze was blowing our worries away through our pores, sending reassuring caresses that came with knowing that we had each other. I had Victoria for support and she had me for support; what more could I ask for? She had to know the one thing I never had the courage to say.
I looked at her and she had the most beautiful smile on her face, which made her face light up like that of an angel, the glow of the lamp post was the final touch to make her a goddess in a hoodie and denim. “I gotta tell you something, Victoria,” I stated, breaking that perfect moment that could be our last.
“Sure, Michael, I am all ears.”
“Remember when you asked about my job and I told you I worked in a company with Derek?”
“Yeah, which I am sure was a lie,” she responded with a matter-of-fact tone.
“It was not a lie and it was not totally true.” I was stalling, I was scared and insecure.
She was patient and looked at me, encouraging me to go on; she knew I was stalling and she was not in a hurry to force it out.
“I work for Derek, but not in a company. I work as a field agent, I work for the Underworld, a mafia group—call it whatever you like,”
“Oh my God, Michael. I suspected it was something illegal, but this—”
“I am going to quit,” I cut her short; I had a guess of what was going to follow her ‘but’.
“I am shocked Michael, but I am not going to judge you for it. I love you and I am so proud you want to quit,” she said instead and it was all I needed to know, that she still loved me and would be with me.
“I am guessing Derek knows, right?”
“Maybe, but he does not want to believe I can leave. He says the only way out is my death.” Victoria gasped. “I am quitting regardless of what happens, I just want to be sure I have you with me always, even when I am poor,” I teased.
“I am with you every step of the way.”
I can live to fight another day, maybe this time not as a recruit, but a veteran and I sure would be kicking some asses. First, I had to prove to Sylvester and Cain that they made the wrong choices about me. I was not so simple-minded that I would forget my conscience, and I was not someone’s dog.
I, Mike Divine, was a person of freedom and I had the courage to fight for it, or I would die fighting.
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