Chapter 26 – One Eyed Tom
Waiting for his budget bangers and mash in the Commercial Rooms, Tom flicked through a tabloid newspaper, keeping his eyes peeled for any news about the Elixiflu lawsuit.
The atmosphere at Elixium had been frenetic—employees were rushing around like a zombie apocalypse was coming. Shredding machines ran twenty-four hours a day, and they’d diverted him from his usual cleaning duties to empty the waste bins. Reuben told everyone the lawsuit was a storm in a teacup and they’d settle out-of-court. He was probably right. News coverage quickly died down and all the familiar outlets resumed their in-depth analysis of what the hottest celebrities were wearing this summer. Still, Tom had to consider the unthinkable. What would happen if Elixium collapsed? How would he score Metanox then?
To calm his nerves, he took out his bottle of Metanox and started fiddling with it, turning it over and over in his palm like a magic trick. Despite having secured a lifetime’s supply, his anxiety grew with every dose. For one heart-stopping moment, the bottle appeared to be leaking, but it was just moisture from the cold pint glass he’d been drinking from.
A waitress approached with his food. She cracked a pleasant smile when she saw him, but her eyes did not linger for politeness’ sake. Earlier, he’d studied himself in the gent’s mirror. At forty-three, he looked a good ten years older. He was gaunt with an unkempt beard and an eye patch. He’d lost his sight in the right eye after failing to attend appointments or use the antibiotics the ophthalmologist gave him. His other eye was bloodshot and bulging, as if trying to escape his sunken, sad-looking face. He’d become one of the city’s freaks. The skater kids at the Amphitheatre, who overcharged him for ten bags of weed, called him “One Eyed Tom”.
He grinned at the waitress with hateful pride, hoping his missing and rotten teeth would shock her. She didn’t flinch and placed the plate of food on the table with her delicate hands. No doubt a few more beers would dissolve what little remained of his self-respect, and he’d try his luck, maybe with the blonde girls in the corner.
Usually he told women he’d served in Afghanistan and a piece of shrapnel from a suicide bomb flew into his face, blinding him instantly. Only very drunk women would believe his story. However, this rarely translated into any action. Even desperate women turned away once they realised he was skint.
“Anything else for you?” asked the waitress.
Tom tucked into his food—processed crap, but warm and solid. He wondered how he stomached all those leftover takeaways and half-eaten sandwiches he fished out of bins when he lived on the street. Some days he couldn’t believe it actually happened. His memories felt unreal; hazy ill-formed nightmares or scenes from a film about some loser’s life.
A man entered the pub and approached him—tubby, early 50s, with a fuzzy red beard. Ignoring the free seats, the man sat down in front of him.
“Tom Toombs?” The man squinted, as if he wasn’t sure he had the right person.
“Do I know you?”
“We have met before,” said the man. “My name is Josh Palmer. Formerly Dr Joshua Palmer, Consultant Psychiatrist. I’ve been looking for you, Tom.”
Now he remembered. This was the psychiatrist he saw many years ago, by court order. Dave’s doctor.
“Looking for me? Why? There’s nothing wrong with my mental health.”
“I’m no longer a psychiatrist. I’m an investigative journalist. I’m sure you’ve seen Elixium Pharmaceuticals in the news at the moment. I helped the scandal go public. I have a contact who works for Elixium and—”
“Go away,” snapped Tom. “I’m not telling you anything.” Fuck talking to this shrink and risking his Metanox supply. He dropped his cutlery on the plate with a clatter and rose to leave, but Josh pulled at his coat sleeve.
“Then just listen. A whistle-blower sent me copies of Reuben Fenwick’s private emails. Fenwick mentions your name and something called Project Blue Butterfly.”
“My name? Why?”
“I’m not entirely sure. I know you previously managed clinical trials. This might sound crazy, but I think you may have been in a trial yourself without knowing it.”
“Leave me alone,” he said. In a rush, he knocked into a punter carrying three pint glasses. The guy spilled beer all over himself and swore at him, but Tom didn’t stop and hurried out of the pub.
Outside, while he waited for the bus, he took out his Metanox. The psychiatrist unnerved him; he needed a drop to calm himself. As he brought the bottle to his eye, a hand snatched it from him.
“Let me see that,” said a voice. It was Josh.
“Hey! Give it back!”
“What do you think this is?”
“It’s Metanox. And it’s mine. Give it back!”
“This,” said Josh, unscrewing the dropper, “is nothing but water.” He brought the bottle to his lips and downed the lot.
“No!” shouted Tom. “That was my property!” he seethed through gritted teeth. Now he was down to his emergency stash—the few droplets he’d ferreted away and kept at home. Would there be enough to last the month? He’d have to beg Reuben. Last time, when he’d dropped and smashed a bottle, Reuben gave him a fresh supply, but made it clear his benevolence was a one-off. He doubted he’d be so amenable this time, given the tense atmosphere at Elixium.
“Reuben’s tricked you, Tom. From what I’ve seen, Project Blue Butterfly is about mind control. The emails call Metanox a placeholder. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s obvious they’ve got some sort of psychological control over you.”
“I need Metanox. I can’t live without it.”
Tom shook his head. Lies. He’d spent years getting high on the stuff. “That’s impossible.” But what if it were true?
“You saw me drink the lot. It’s water.”
No, thought Tom, hyperventilating. The shock of seeing his supply destroyed was causing perceptual distortions. The quack couldn’t have downed the whole bottle and still be standing. It must be an illusion.
I’m not thinking straight. The fucker is messing with my mind.
He shoved Josh with both his hands. “Get lost.”
“It’s the truth,” said Josh, standing his ground. “Fenwick is manipulating you.”
“Leave me alone.” You’re the manipulator. There’s no way it’s water. Yet a niggling doubt festered within. Didn’t Reuben set up a trap to test my loyalty years ago? Yes, Reuben delighted in playing mind games with his employees, but so what? The desire was too ingrained. Whatever Metanox was, it got him high, and that’s all he needed to know. Once he got back home, he’d take a few drops from his emergency supply and push these stupid doubts from his mind.
Tom walked away, planning to catch the bus at the next stop, but Josh kept following him.
“There’s something else we need to discuss. Venom Empire.”
“You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? They killed someone close to me. Look at these.” Josh strode ahead, blocking his path, and drew photos out, holding them up for Tom to see. Crime scene photos. Dead bodies. Tom raised his hand to shield his good eye. “Venom Empire killed these people for speaking out.”
“I’m not telling you anything, I can’t…” Tom froze, staring at a photo. “That girl. It’s…”
Isla. His heart melted seeing her face again. She looked exactly as he remembered her from the ’90s. An image flashed through his mind of a slender, young girl dancing in the smoky darkness of a drum and bass club. His eyes returned to the photo of her, deathly white, lying in a car-park looking like she’d overdosed. His heart ached.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Josh, his voice slow and calming.
Tom nodded, tears forming in his eyes.
“She didn’t take an overdose,” said Josh, “She was—”
“Murdered,” said Tom. He noticed in the picture, floating in a puddle beside Isla’s body, a Venom Empire flyer leering at him.
“I met with her. She loved you and wanted you two to run away together. I didn’t understand at the time, but she feared for her life. Tell me everything you know about Venom Empire, Tom. Is there a link with Elixium Pharmaceuticals?”
Tom nodded, his mind still reeling from the photograph. Though he knew Isla loved him, the former psychiatrist’s confirmation made him burst into tears. Josh approached, his arms open.
Tom wrestled him back. “Leave me alone for fuck’s sake.”
But Josh stood steadfast. His vision blurry with tears, Tom submitted and let Josh hold him. He let out a deep moan, a spasm of pain and suffering. His entire body quivered as he sobbed.
After a few moments, Josh released his grip and whispered to him. “Fenwick did this. He’s been screwing with your mind for a long time.”
“Don’t listen to him,” said a rasping voice—the Grandmaster. His tormentor had been quiet for years, but now roared in his ears. Tom collapsed by the side of the pavement, clutching his head. “He stole your supply!” yelled the Grandmaster. “Push him into the road, in front of a bus.”
But seeing Isla’s body broke the spell. Venom Empire and Reuben Fenwick killed her.
“The Grandmaster,” said Tom.
“Who’s the Grandmaster?”
“He’s a dead man. He’s telling me to kill you.”
“It’s a hallucination, Tom.” The psychiatrist reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of pills. “Last time we spoke, years ago, you mentioned hearing a voice. I wish I could treat you legitimately, but it’s safe, I assure you. Adceptizole is an anti-psychotic medication. It’ll stop the voice.”
Tom reached out and took the bottle of pills.
It’s going to be hard. It’s going to hurt like hell. But I’ll silence the Grandmaster and sober up. No matter how bad the withdrawal, he’d push through, thinking of Isla and plotting his revenge.
“Don’t do it,” shouted the Grandmaster. “Thomas!”
“Just try and stop me.”
He swallowed a tablet. Despite being manufactured by Elixium, he sensed they were poison to the Grandmaster. Then he handed the bottle back.
“Keep them,” said Josh. “You need to take one a day.”
“I know. But these are shit. I worked on the clinical trial back in the day. I’ll score some Novodryl on the dark web, they work much better.”
Josh frowned. Elixium probably funded most of his training, thought Tom. Like most doctors, he only knows what big pharma tells him.
He motioned for the photograph. Josh handed it to him. He stared at Isla’s body and felt his nostrils flaring and his cheeks burning red. “I’m going to kill Reuben Fenwick,” he fumed.
“Not just Fenwick,” said Josh. “We’re going to kill them all.”