[Edge1.1.4] Dead Men Tell No Tales
Johnny and Art rode in silence. Johnny had offered to have someone take Art to his hotel, but he refused. He wanted to go with his friend. It was the least he could do after his awful behavior earlier.
Art sat in the seat with his arms crossed. He looked down and noticed a small stain on his shirt. He licked his thumb and tried to wipe it clean. All he ended up doing was smudging the stain in even more and making it larger. He gave up and watched the light posts whizzing by along the highway. The skyline with the large, dark buildings loomed ominously against the night sky. It was completely different from the small city he had flown in from.
Everything seemed so strange and different here. That was to be expected he supposed. Different cultures, different people, different ways of doing things. Johnny was the only familiar person that he knew here. It would take some time to adapt and adjust to life. Sure, there were good things in this city. He could make a good life here. But there would be things that he would miss back home. If he decided to take the deal that is. After Johnny’s warning, he wasn’t sure what to think anymore.
What had brought about this sudden change in attitude? Just a few months earlier Johnny had used all of his persuasive powers and techniques to convince Art to help him close this deal. Why had Johnny chosen him in the first place?
Art turned to look at Johnny. He wanted to ask him, but the burly man seemed deep in thought. It was strange that he didn’t seem to be grieving like Art expected a man would after just having found out that his wife was dead.
“We’ve got company,” Johnny said breaking the silence in the car.
He looked in the review mirror signaling where to look. Art turned around and saw a pair of headlights a short way behind them. He looked back at Johnny.
“You’re paranoid, Johnny. It’s just another car out on the road. They’re all around us.” he said indicating the headlights in the other lanes. Johnny shook his head.
“They’ve been following us since we left the office. And it’s not the first time I’ve seen this car. They’ve been tailing me for the past few days.”
“So, call the cops,” Art suggested.
“Look, Art. You know what I told you earlier. And you know my wife is dead. Things are gonna get ugly. I don’t want you to get hurt. If anything happens to me, don’t trust the cops. They’re involved in this mess too.”
“What are you talking about, man,” Art replied with a twinge of nervousness in his voice.
Johnny didn’t reply. They were coming up on an exit. He slowed briefly to let a car pass on the right. Johnny threw the car across four lanes to make the turnoff. Art grabbed onto the dashboard in front of him.
“See. They’re still on our tail.” Johnny said.
Art looked back. The car was still there.
“So, who is it and what do they want?” Art demanded to know.
Johnny just shook his head. “It’s complicated. And truthfully, I don’t even know myself. I’m just picking up bits and pieces here and there, and trying to put the pieces together still.”
They drove on in silence for a while. The only sound was the humming of the wheels and the air blowing from the air conditioner. Art suddenly felt very cold. He reached out and turned the vent away from himself. He closed it for good measure. He looked back. The car was still tailing them.
When he got home tonight, he was going to make a note to himself in his journal to never be greedy again. Just keep his head down and do his job. What had he been thinking when he fell for Johnny’s promises of easy money and introduced the man to his boss?
He could have been home right now, stretched out on the couch playing his favorite video game. Had his girlfriend over for a nice supper and wine. Just a normal night like any other. But here he was on the other side of the equator being tailed with a guy he only met one other time in his life. He shook his head in the darkness.
They were on the outskirts of the city, and there were no longer light posts along the side of the road. Art looked back. The car was still there, but it had fallen back farther.
“Are you sure we should be here?” Art asked. “It’s kind of deserted. Shouldn’t we head to someplace that’s a little more populated.”
Johnny smiled and shook his head. “They’ve been there for a few days. I don’t think they’ll try anything. Besides, they already got what they wanted. They killed my wife, so I don’t think they’ll do anything to me.”
They came up to a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Johnny turned on his blinker and pulled into the parking lot.
“Where are we?” Art asked.
“City morgue,” Johnny replied.
Art looked out the rear of the side window towards the road. The car that had been tailing them slowed down but didn’t pull in. It drove by slowly and kept on going.
Johnny parked near the door in the empty parking lot.
“Where is everyone?” Art asked.
“The dead don’t drive,” Johnny said with a wry grin.
His cynism surprised Art. Here his wife was dead, and Johnny was cracking jokes like it was just another day on the job. But he grinned anyway.
They walked to the door, and Johnny stopped him before they entered.
“Look, Art. I just thought of something. I don’t think they’ll do anything to me because they’re just trying to scare me into keeping my mouth shut. But they might try to get to you. So, we’ve got to be careful.”
Art had his hand on the doorknob, and a bolt of cold fear shot through him. He froze for an instant.
“What, like they’re gonna kill me?” Art asked.
“Nah, I don’t think so. They’ll assume your just here to close the deal for your company. But they might think I told you something, and try to get it out of you. The less you’re around me, the better. After we get out of here, I’ll take you straight to your hotel.”
They went in and met with the undertaker. Art didn’t like him from the start. He picked up some really weird vibes off the guy. Art was frustrated that he couldn’t put his finger on what it was exactly.
“Hey, Elliot. Good to see you,” Johnny said as he shook his hand.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Johnny.” the undertaker said. “Berta was a wonderful woman, and we’re all going to miss her greatly.”
“Thanks, Elliot,” Johnny replied. “She was, but that’s just part of life. Right? Two hundred and fifty thousand people die every single day. Have her parents been here yet.”
Johnny’s callousness shocked Art. He could tell that it shocked Elliot too.
“Yes, they came earlier and already identified her body. Her father already signed the paperwork.” Elliot replied. “The deputy tried calling you, but we couldn’t get a hold of you. So, there’s nothing you need to do. Would you like to see her?
Johnny nodded and followed Elliot down the hall. Art started walking with them, but Johnny stopped him.
“It’s okay, Art,” he said. “You can stay here. I’d like a moment alone with my wife.”
Art nodded. He noticed the twitch in Johnny’s cheeks and around his eyes as the grieving man tried to control his emotions. He realized the callousness and coarse joking were simply his way of dealing with the pain he was going through. Art walked over to one of the hard, white plastic chairs lined up against the wall.
The room was mostly dark except for a lone bulb that hung down from the center of the ceiling cast long shadows against the wall in all directions. Art sat quietly in the stillness. There was a spooky feel to the place. It would be a great location to film a practical joke on someone. He grinned at the thought.
Johnny wasn’t gone long. He soon came out whistling a slow, melancholy tune. Art stood up to greet him. Johnny didn’t acknowledge him there. He just walked past Art to the door. Art walked behind him in silence. He wanted to say something to comfort his friend but knew that his empty words wouldn’t mean much.
They got into the car and drove in silence. Art glanced back a few times but didn’t notice the car tailing them. He felt relieved. But then he gave one final glance back and noticed it was there again. Johnny smiled at him and chuckled.
“You thought they were gone,” he said. “They’re never gone. They sometimes take a while to show up, but they are always there. I think they want me to know they are following us.”
“Why are you so calm about all this?” Art asked. “I mean they killed your wife for crying out loud. How can you act so normal.”
Johnny pursed his lips and breathed out a loud, long sigh.
“Art, what if everything you were taught about the world and life around you was a hoax. A carefully cultivated hoax to keep you from questioning things. A hoax that was carefully designed to keep you and your loved ones in line.”
Art rolled his eyes. “So, how you’re going to get all philosophical on me. You’ve discovered the truth and found out about some conspiracy theory that you want to expose. Now the evil Illuminati villains and an Italian godfather want to whack you off.”
“No, you’re wrong about me discovering the conspiracy,” Johnny replied. “I didn’t stumble into it.”
He turned to Art and gave him a long, hard look. Johnny looked back at the road and pursed his lips.
“I’m part of the group that orchestrated the hoax. Well, I didn’t actually orchestrate it myself, but I do help keep it running. So, I’m just as guilty as the rest of them.”