Art had no idea what Johnny was talking about and didn’t know what to say to that. So, they rode in silence for a bit.
“So, what does my company have to do with all of this?” he finally asked. “Is my boss and the board of directors involved in this. I suppose I’m the dumb peon they sent off to be the scapegoat and get left holding the bag if something goes wrong when everything is said and done.”
Johnny smiled at him. “No, Art. There is something very special about you. You were chosen for a reason, but not by me. Someone much higher up that sees the bigger picture. I’m the peon that got sent to bring you into the fold.”
Art let that sink in for a moment. He glanced back at the car that was tailing them.
“What gave you such a sudden change of heart then?” he asked. “What did you find out?”
Johnny scowled at him.
“Give it a rest, Art!” he growled menacingly. “Right now, this is all on me. You still have a choice. I don’t. The only thing I can do is play my cards the best I know how and wait to see how things turn out. But trust me when I say that the less you know, the better. If I tell you something, then it’s all on you, and you won’t have a choice in the matter. Just wait until tomorrow and hear them out. After that, you can make your own decision.”
Art crossed his arms and pouted. The suspense was killing him. He had always hated waiting for things. One of his colleagues knew it and loved to irritate him with it. She sent him a message telling him that she had something really important to say to him that could only be in person. He finally caught on that she was doing it purposely. So, she told everyone at the office, and they all started doing it just to mess with his head. He learned to blow it off after a while, but it still bugged him to no end. Art could feel that this was going to be a long night. He would probably lay awake all night mulling it over and wondering what it could be.
“Something’s up,” Johnny said.
Art sat up and looked behind them, but the car that had been following them was no longer there.
“It’s here beside us,” Johnny said and motioned with his head.
The black SUV was pulling up alongside them two lanes over. There was very little traffic on the highway. It was late, and almost everyone was probably home sleeping on a Thursday night. Art looked at the clock on the dash. The numbers glowed 11:45 and a soft blue hue that blended in with the other lights on the dashboard and reflected off the interior of the car.
Johnny had sped up, but the other car continued to keep up with them. They were slowly pulling ahead of him. Art tried to peer through the windows, but the glass was tinted. All he could see was their reflection.
“Guess we’re too boring. They’ve given up and decided to head home for the night.” Art said.
Johnny shook his head. “Nah! They’re up to something. These guys have been at this now for too long.”
“Why don’t you call 911?” Art asked. “Everyone in America calls 911 when they are having an emergency.”
The burly man chuckled from the other side of the car. “You actually have to be in an emergency to call 911. What are we gonna tell the operator?”
Art didn’t reply, so Johnny continued.
“Hello. Yes. I’d like to report another car that’s driving along beside me a couple of lanes over. Could you please dispatch a police cruiser to pull them over so we can find out who they are, and an ambulance just in case they try to harm us. Sheesh, Art. You’ve been watching too many movies, man! Get a life.”
Art grinned at the thought. “Yeah, it does sound kind of funny when you put it like that,” he said.
“You know. You’re all right, Art.” Johnny said. “I was really upset when Tony sent me down to Brazil to look you up. I thought it was going to be a wild goose chase that wouldn’t amount to much. But you surprised me.”
Art beamed. “Thanks, I never did get much recognition from anyone at my company. So, it’s nice to hear you say that.”
“You know, after I left Brazil, going back was the last thing I wanted to do,” Johnny said. “I was fed up with the corruption and the bureaucracy. But when I found you, I was really pleased. You remind me a lot of myself. Well, the way I used to be before I got caught up in all this mess. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the way things used to be.”
“How’s that?” Art asked. He kept his eye on the car still following along beside them.
“Ah! I don’t know how to describe it exactly.” Johnny replied. “It’s hard to express and put it into words. I guess things were simpler then. Choices were easier then. Well, I could still make my own choices. Now, I don’t get to make them anymore.”
“Do what we say, or else we’ll kill your wife,” Art murmured.
Johnny nodded. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a good life. A very good life to put it mildly. I’ve done things I never dreamed of growing up. But it all came a cost. I knew it when I joined. So, I’m not complaining.”
“That’s what you’re trying to warn me about,” Art asked again.
“Sheesh, Art! Stop fishing for answers to questions you don’t want to be asking. The less you know, the better. And I really don’t know all the details, but I do know they have a very specific plan for you personally. And I like you. You’re a good guy just like I used to be. I don’t want to see you get hurt or have to make the decisions that I’m having to make now.”
Art sighed and threw his head back against the car seat. “It sure would help to know what you are talking about.”
He looked over at Johnny who just grinned back at him. That cheeky boyish grin Art just wanted to punch.
“How did your wife die? Somebody shoot her?” Art asked.
Johnny frowned and looked back at the road. “Elliot said they were told to process it as a heart attack.”
“What do you mean they were told?” Art asked. “Aren’t the police investigating this thing. Don’t you want to know how she died? What they did to her?”
He glanced at the black SUV still driving along beside them and then back at Johnny. The man took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
“I told you that the police are involved. Nobody is going to investigate it. They told me that it was painless and she didn’t feel a thing when they called me back at the office. That’s all I want to know.”
“Seriously? That’s all you want to know?” Art demanded. “Are you kidding me. What kind of sick people are you dealing with?”
Johnny shrugged. “You take the deal, this is the kind of people you’ll be getting involved with.”
“Fine,” he said in exasperation. “I’ll hear what they have to say, turn them down, and then fly back to my little run-down apartment in Brazil. Does that make you happy?”
Johnny didn’t say anything.
“I say we find out who did this, and we take them down. Show them who they’re messing with. Bunch of gringoes think they can push us around.”
He chuckled wryly and looked at Johnny. There was a bad curve, so Johnny kept his eyes on the road.
“If only it were that easy,” Johnny muttered under his breath.
Art was still looking at Johnny when he noticed the car beside them jerk away from them and then back in their direction. At first, he thought it was because of the curve. Maybe they had overcorrected. But they didn’t stop when they reached the middle lane. They kept right on coming.
“Look out, Johnny! The truck!” Art shouted and pointed at the truck.
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.”
“You’re out of your league, Art. You shouldn’t be here. You don’t have a clue as to what you’re getting yourself into. That’s all I can say until the negotiations are over. Just hear them out and turn them down. Better yet, make an excuse that you’ve gotta go home. Tell them your kid is sick, or that you got a better offer. Anything.”
Art started to laugh. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked? “You worked so long and hard to get me over here. Flew down to Brazil personally to convince us to work together. And now I’m here.”
“I know. Blast it.” Johnny almost shouted, then lowered his voice to a whisper. “But you shouldn’t close this deal with LocrylTech. They’re not who you think they are.”
Johnny’s phone rang. He paused to look at it and stood up as if to take it. The man changed his mind and muted the call.
“I met someone after I came back from that trip. I learned things that I wished I hadn’t, but I don’t have a way out. So, as a friend, I’m warning you not close this deal with us.”
Johnny’s phone rang again. He muted it immediately and turned to look out the window. Art was shocked. This was the exact opposite of what he had expected Johnny to tell him. He thought he would have to slow Johnny down and keep the guy from pushing him to signing the contract yet tonight.
Art felt angry. Cheated. Gypped.
“Tell me what’s going on, Johnny.” Art demanded. “I can’t just walk away from this now. I’ll lose face over it. I begged, borrowed, and stole money to bring this project together. I groveled and cajoled my workmates, partners, and superiors into believing this was the best move for our company. And I did it at your insistence. Because you convinced me that this was the best thing for both of us.”
“You’re a big boy, Art. You can do whatever you want. It’s your call. But as a friend, I’m giving you advance notice, so I sleep better in the future. If you realize later that you got screwed over, don’t come whining to me about it. Tomorrow, I’m going to come in here and negotiate the best deal I can for my boss. I won’t give this conversation a second thought.”
Johnny’s phone rang for the third time. He jerked it out of his pocket and answered it this time.
“Yeah! What do you want?” Johnny spat into the phone.
Art watched him intently trying to make sense of this who conversation. He couldn’t hear what the other person was saying, but he noticed a twinge of shock and horror flicker across Johnny’s face.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jonny muttered. “I really am.”
He turned back and looked at Art. Then he walked into a small room and closed the door behind him for some privacy.
Art stood up and walked to the window. This was so frustrating. He had come here with a whole different set of expectations. He had planned to take the deal no matter what they offered. Or at least what he had thought they were going to offer.
He had crunched numbers with his team. Their lowest expectations for an offer were still wild beyond their wildest dreams. And all of their projections were based on numbers that Johnny had fed them. These weren’t just random numbers that they had pulled out of their head.
And now, the guy was telling him just to forget the whole thing and walk away. That was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. He was ready to spit nails.
Art walked over to the door that Johnny had closed and knocked on it. He didn’t answer, so Art twisted the knob. It was locked.
He banged harder.
“C’mon, Johnnyboy,” he shouted. “It’s late, and I need to get going.”
Art couldn’t believe he had caught three flights to cross the continent only to be brushed off like this. He knew it might cost him this deal, but he was going to give Johnny a piece of his mind.
“Friendly advice, my eye!” Art hissed under his breath as he pounded on the door.
Art gave the door a few kicks for good measure.
“You planned this all along, didn’t you Johnny,” he shouted. “Got our hopes up. Strung us along. Learned all our secrets and weak points. Now, you’re gonna stick it to us. Slap all the negatives together to get the price down. You’re gonna pay us peanuts just because you know our company is in the red and won’t survive another six months.”
Johnny opened the door slowly and stepped into the room. He didn’t look up.
“Have the decency to look me in the eye you worthless scumbag. I trusted you. Then you go and pull a fast one on me like this. You got some nerve. I hope you and your stupid company can’t resell our business and go broke too.”
Johnny finally looked up at him. He looked numb as if the things Art was saying weren’t registering properly.
“What are you talking about, Art?” he said. “You’ve got this all wrong. They’re gonna make you a great offer that you can’t refuse. It’s more than triple the best projections I gave you. Nobody is trying to rip you off.”
Art stood there dumbfounded. The whole world seemed to shrink around him. He so wished there was a hole he could crawl into and bury himself.
“I’m sorry, Johnny,” he finally managed to stammer out. “I just assumed that…”
“It’s okay,” Johnny said. He reached out a long arm and patted Art on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not at liberty to tell you anything more than that. Someday you’ll understand. My recommendation as a friend remains the same. Turn this deal down and go home.”
“Well, uh, thanks for the warning.” Art stammered again. “I’ll take it into consideration.”
“Okay,” Johnny said. “That’s good.”
His friend turned around and started to walk away. Art remembered he still didn’t know where he was supposed to stay or where he was supposed to go after this. And why was Johnny acting so strangely?
“Um. Where are you going, Johnny?” he asked.
Johnny paused at the door and turned around.
“To the morgue,” he said glumly. “They called to tell me that my wife is dead.”
“Hey, Art! Good to see you again. Welcome to the city that never sleeps.”
“Thanks, Johnny! Good to see you too. Sorry for the delay though.” Art replied.
“Nah! C’mon. Don’t mention it.” Johnny said. “I know it wasn’t your fault. I’m just happy you’re finally here. We’ve been trying to make this happen for a long time now.
Art smiled back at the large, burly man with the pointed nose who was almost twice his size. He had only met Johnny once before, but he already felt like an old friend. There was a relaxed, open vibe that surrounded Johnny and made it really easy for Art to connect with him.
Johnny had the gift of gab and knew how to shoot the breeze without boring you out of your mind. And he was also an excellent listener. He knew how to talk people to draw them out of their shells. But Johnny also knew when to shut up to make them feel understood and appreciated.
Art attributed the first part to Johnny’s upbringing in Brazil. Almost everyone there seemed to be born with that warm, friendly vibe. But the second part about him being a good listener was a completely different story. He could tell that was a talent that Johnny cultivated very purposefully.
His new friend was extremely intuitive which spooked Art initially. He felt like the burly man could read his mind. But after talking with him for a bit, Art realized that the man was cold reading him.
Art knew about cold-reading because of his Aunt Georgina. She was a gypsy on his mother’s side of the family. Well, she was married to his mother’s brother. So, she wasn’t a blood relative.
Georgina had traveled with a circus. She made her money as a fortune teller before meeting his Uncle Marcos. She was a nice woman and very fond of Art. She always gave him candy and treated him like an adult even though he was only twelve at the time.
Uncle Marcos was a wealthy man and didn’t want his wife working. He said it offended him if she didn’t depend on him and let him support her. But that didn’t stop her from scrying or reading cards for people when he was out of the house.
Art was there once when his uncle came home and saw her putting her cards and crystal balls away. Marcos screamed at her about doing that devilish stuff under his roof. Art felt bad and tried to apologize to her for his Uncle’s behavior. But she just laughed it off.
Georgina had a bit too much to drink that day and confided to Art that she never got any secret info from angels or contacted the dead. She even confessed to him that she wasn’t a direct descendant of the Gypsies. It was just a persona she had taken on after joining the circus.
The Gypsy woman who traveled with the circus knew she was dying. So, the circus master had paid the old woman a healthy sum of money to teach Georgina to take over her work after she died.
Georgina explained to Art the basic principles of cold-reading that afternoon before passing out. He asked her about it later. But he could tell she was scared he would tell his uncle she wasn’t a real Gypsy and let everyone else know she was a hoax. So, she tried to blow it off. She never did talk to him about the cold-reading process again, but Art didn’t need much theory to understand how it worked.
Art was very observant and watched her like a hawk when she did her thing. He acted like he wasn’t interested. The boy would just sit around the house and pretend to read. She caught on to what he was doing after a while, but he had already gained her confidence by keeping his mouth shut.
Georgina eventually took him under her wing and consented to teach him more about the topic. He knew she never taught him much more than the basics though. And even then only if he asked about it. Art wouldn’t have called himself proficient in the use of cold-reading, but he knew how to recognize it when someone was using it. That’s how he knew what Johnny was doing after talking to him for a few minutes.
Art even brought up the topic of cold-reading during their first meeting. But Johnny acted like he didn’t know what Art was talking about. Art didn’t know if the burly man was lying to him, or if he was a natural who really didn’t know what the term meant.
But either way, Johnny was excellent at asking questions to extract information from people. That was his real power. Later in the conversation, he would feed back what people had told him in a slightly reworded way. It made them think he was able to read minds. There was more to the process than that of course. Things like reading body language, making educated guesses, and using vague words that could be interpreted different ways. Johnny did all of it even though he acted like he didn’t know anything about cold-reading.
The nice thing about Johnny though, was that he didn’t do it a weird, creepy manner. The man did it in a way that was so subtle that most people didn’t even realize what was going on. It had an almost hypnotic effect on people that made them want to tell Johnny their deepest, darkest, innermost secrets.
Art kept that thought in mind coming into these negotiations. He considered Johnny to be a nice guy, but he knew the man would act professionally in this situation. He would use any information Art gave him to help his boss gain the upper hand in the deal. That was why he had become so successful in such a short time after moving here from Brazil.
“Have a seat,” Johnny said. “We’ll keep this brief because of the hour. But I feel it’s important to give you an overview of what we’re looking at here. We’re on a deadline, so I need you focused. Then you can catch up on the details later over the next few days.”
Art sat down and looked around the room. It reeked of money. And not the gaudy kind of wealth that middle-class people liked to fling around to convince themselves they had made it in life. There was a classy elegance designed to make it look like they hadn’t spent as much as they did.
Art liked that. He considered it to be classy. That’s the way he wanted to be when he became rich someday. Nobody would have called Art tight-fisted or a miser. But he was frugal and didn’t waste any more than necessary. He was also big on saving up for the future. He ran a tight ship at home and never spent more than he made. He even had his bank account set up to automatically transfer thirty percent of his money into short, mid, and long-term savings accounts each month.
Johnny smiled at him and waited patiently as the secretaries finished laying out a small banquet of fruit and finger food. They poured Art and Johnny each a cup of juice, water, and coffee. It seemed a little over exaggerated considering the late hour, but maybe Johnny was just being thoughtful after his long journey here.
“I was in a meeting till just before you got arrived,” Johnny said with a boyish grin. “And I didn’t have time to eat supper. So, I asked Jane to stock up on something for us. I hope you’re hungry.”
“Thanks,” Art said as he reached out for a tart, green apple. Art realized he was hungrier than he thought because as he raised it to his mouth, he gleeked saliva all over it. He had learned to squirt a stream of saliva out of his mouth whenever he wanted to as a kid. But it had been years since he had done that.
He looked over at Johnny. The man had filled up his plate with food but hadn’t actually eaten anything. He was just pushing pieces of chicken through yellow rice leaving long stripes and strange symbols. It looked like the letter S inside of a circle split in half.
“What’s wrong, Johnny?” he asked. His friend looked up at him, and Art thought he was going to cry. Johnny swallowed hard and pushed back his plate.
I’m feeling so excited about this trip. I can’t believe it’s really happening. A few months back, this guy named Johnny contacted me out of the blue. Somehow, he knew about the project I’ve been working on and showed a real interest. He actually came down to visit me and wanted to learn about my company. After he left, we kept touch off and on although I never really thought much would come of it.
But then last week, he told me to pack my bags and sent me a passage with all expenses paid to America. This is such a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to travel abroad, and now that the opportunity is here I kind of nervous. I wish I had more time to prepare and get ready, but Johnny says that it’s very urgent.
I wonder what they want. They’ve spent a lot of money this trip, and Momma always warns us that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, I sure there will be strings attached. Momma said that they might make me a job offer, but I don’t think that’s it. I mean if that were the case, they would have approached me about it first or sent a headhunter after me.
I still think this is related to my project, although I’m not really sure why. I mean, we’re doing some pretty cool stuff, but it’s not really in line with what Johnny’s company does. I asked Johnny about it, but he wouldn’t really say much. He just said that he was doing what his boss told him to and that I would get more details when I arrived personally. It seemed like he was actually trying to talk me out of coming.
Johnny actually invited me to come last week, but I told him I wasn’t able to go on such short notice. I told him I could go this week though. So, he went on about it probably being too complicated and might not work out. I told him that it wasn’t a problem for me though. In the end, he changed the date on the ticket for me to come this week.
I still don’t understand why he didn’t ask me when I could go before buying me a passage. It’s pretty strange. Then he seemed upset when I said I couldn’t go on those dates. Anyway, I apologized, and he seemed cool with it by the time we got off the phone. But he still asked several times if I didn’t want to cancel my trip. So, weird. But he’s a really cool guy when all is said and done.
Anyway, my bags are packed, and I am ready to roll. I’ve already told Momma and everybody goodbye. My ride should be here in a few minutes. The app says it’s about three minutes away. So, I guess I’d better wrap this up and go downstairs.
This is gonna be a whirlwind trip, so I probably won’t have time to update my journal every day. But I will make sure to fill in all the details when I get back. Wish me luck. I got my fingers crossed.
I first met Art in an online community. We hit it off pretty quick. I’m not even sure why other than the fact that he was very persistent in trying to get my attention. I just thought he seemed really friendly.
In hindsight though, I often wonder if he was targeting me. Well, maybe not me specifically, but someone who could help him write this story for him.
That’s because Art felt his life was in danger. He was afraid that something bad was about to happen to him again. I say ‘again’ because as you’ll soon find out by reading his story, that his life was full of tragedy. I often wonder how someone could survive everything the poor guy went through.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Going back to how we met, Art mentioned that he had read one of my other books. He made a few nice comments about it to butter me up. Then he asked a few polite questions to get the conversation going.
From there, it seems like we talked about everything. Art was a really good listener and had a lot of interesting stories to tell himself. He made me feel like we were old friends right from the start.
Before I knew it, he was telling me all sorts of crazy stories about his past. I’ll tell you some of them in this book that you’re holding in your hands. As you’ll see for yourself, some of this stuff is pretty far out. So, of course, I didn’t believe him at first, like you probably won’t believe the stories he tells either. Which is quite alright. It’s a good story even if you read it as a complete work of fiction.
At first, I just listened out of politeness. I rolled my eyes a few times and tried to change the topic. But the guy was adamant about getting some of this stuff off his chest. He started naming names of real people. I couldn’t believe it.
Then he sent me copies of documents to prove it. I still didn’t believe it. So, Art pointed me to different resources online where much of this stuff is common knowledge. People discuss it, like you and I talk about the latest celebrity gossip.
It really weirded me out. I wasn’t sure how to take it. First, because he was very persuasive and convincing. But secondly, because he backed it all up with documented proof. Okay, well not all of it obviously. I do take that back because it would be an exaggeration. There were something things that he just told me without actually trying to prove it.
I don’t know if he didn’t have a way to prove it, or if he just never got around to showing it to me. But anyway, he showed me enough things to convince me he wasn’t just making this stuff up. Honestly, it really freaked me out.
You know how it is. Something tells you something. They go to get you something and get sidetracked along the way. Then they start telling you about something else, and one thing leads to another. Before you know it, you’ve talked about half-a-dozen other things and forgot what started that whole conversation in the first place.
Like I said, at first I just blew him off, but once I realized that Art was really serious, I started keeping notes to try to catch him if he lied or fudged some of the details. But he never once backpedaled or changed his story.
I don’t think he even met to tell me half the stuff he did. But Art ended up spilling the beans because he really wanted me to believe his story. And in the end, I think it was just such a relief for him to spill the beans and get some of that stuff off his chest.
Art sent ended up showing me his journals. The guy was meticulous about writing things down. He said it was a habit he got into back during High School. Sort of a way for him to cope with problems he was facing. That kind of stuff.
Anyway, to make the long story short, he felt someone was after him. Art wanted to make sure that all this information didn’t die with him. So, he made me promise I would publish it all online if anything should happen to him. I agreed mostly because of his insistence, but I didn’t really expect anything to happen to him.
Now, that conversation all took place over a year ago. We texted for a while. He kept sending me proof to his claims. Mostly things like pictures and videos. After a while, we started talking on the phone. We even did a few video conferences.
Of course, Art was always worried about security and made sure we talked on a secure network. He even sent me one of those little raspberry things that’s supposed to make impossible for ‘Big Brother’ to spy on you.
Not that I really think it’s that effective. I mean, if they want to keep tabs on you, they’ll find a way to do it. Personally, I think they create that kind of technology and distribute just to make us feel safe. But in the end, they have access to it all just the same. Know what I mean?
So, I don’t even go out of my way much to try and stay hidden. If anything, it just makes you look suspicious. Like you’re trying to hide something which would naturally make them curious and even more inclined to spy on you. But enough of that rant.
After a few weeks of chatting, Art seemed to have told me everything. Well, I’m sure there was more. I got the impression that he left a lot of things unsaid for whatever reason. I never really pushed him on anything he didn’t want to tell me. Maybe that’s why he ended up telling me everything he did. Like, if I had tried to push it, Art would have clammed up earlier.
It seemed like Art had gotten as much as he needed or was able to get off his chest at the time. We kept on chatting and sharing ideas about the topic of the group like normal people.
We were still good friends and talked every week, but just not about that stuff from his past. And over time, I just kind of pushed the whole thing out of my mind. Like, it was just too big and too crazy to process. I didn’t know what to do with that kind of information.
It’s not like anyone would have believed me anyway. I did try a few times. I would mention it out family and friends, but they just laughed at me. Or gave me worried looks like I needed serious mental help. So, I didn’t push it.
That’s actually the reason I’m publishing this as fiction now. I mean, c’mon? You won’t believe it either, which is okay. It’s still a great story. Right? I know you’re gonna love it if you can just suspend your belief long enough to get past all the things you currently believe right now.
So, whether you believe or not, isn’t the point. I know 99% of the people who read this book, won’t. And that’s okay. Maybe a few will. That’s okay too. I’m not out to prove anything. I’m just doing what Art asked and sharing his story.
Yep! Unfortunately, it’s been just over a week since I last heard from Art. That’s pretty unusual for him. Like I said before, the man is meticulous to a fault. The longest I ever went without hearing from him was three days. But that was because there was a storm in his area that wiped out power in the whole city.
I was able to contact a mutual friend who lived an hour or so away who was able to confirm that ol’ Art was alive and kickin’ still. But this time around, no one’s seen or heard from him. That would be suspicious in and of itself, but several other things happened recently that are unlikely to be a coincidence.
First, he felt like he was being trailed again. Art told me a few days prior that he felt like this time something was really going to happen to him. Secondly, there were other people staying with him, and sources tell me that they have disappeared as well. And finally, I checked in on the servers where Art kept his journal and documentation. Everything was gone. The hard drives wiped clean. It’s almost as if Art never even existed.
That’s the real reason that I’m writing this story now. Art did ask me to wait a month before publishing his journals and documentation. But if the people after him really were keeping tabs on Art, then they know about me. Which means that I might not make it until the end of the month.
I don’t know if I’m going to publish this just yet. I may wait to see how it all plays out here. But if you are reading this, there is a good chance that something happened to me too. I’m considering the idea of leaving this file scheduled to publish automatically at a future date.
As long as I’m okay, I can just reset the date and keep pushing it forward. But, if something happens to me. It will show up eventually which is probably how you got your hands on it and started reading it now.
I’m sorry, I no longer have the official documents to show you. But I will add footnotes and links to resources to things that are already known. You can look them up if you feel so inclined. If not, that’s okay too.
Otherwise, you can just read about Art’s journey like you would any other piece of fiction and still enjoy it. Because it really is great. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee or whatever your beverage of choice is. Then kick back and enjoy the ride.
Update #1: As I wrote the story, I remembered Art sent me portions of his journal way back in our first conversations when he was trying to prove he wasn’t crazy. I was able to dig back through my account and salvage some of the very first files he sent me on that particular platform.
Update #2: Please stop asking for the name of the online community where we originally met. I have changed the names of people and places to protect Art’s identity as well as any of the other people involved.
I’m currently writing a series of stories I’m calling ‘Edge of the Universe‘. I’m super excited about this. I’ve been planning and outlining this series for a couple of years now, and finally pulled the trigger. Episode 1 is written at 34,710 (about 110 pages). You can read it here.
“When an international technology company, offers a naive young scientist billions of dollars for his technology to splice DNA, Art thinks he’s made it and is living the life of his dreams. But when jealous colleagues, greedy corporations, and corrupt politicians get whiff of its true potential, Art will have to do whatever it takes to keep his invention from falling into the wrong hands.”
I’m so excited to finally be writing this that I can barely sleep at night. My mind just keeps coming up with new plot twists and cool details.
“I finished both and really liked the details where Art is making the deal. Wouldn’t being an instant billionaire ROCK? Looking forward to more :)” – @FijiMermaid89 on Twitter
I’m shooting to write about 10 episodes for season 1 of Edge of the Universe which would be about 300,000 words (5 novels). I’m hoping to complete this over the summer.
I’ll be uploading the Edge of the Universe stories to Gumroad for now. I have it priced at $2.99 for the entire season, but you have the option to pay whatever you want to. Once it’s written, I plan on uploading it to Kindle Unlimited.
I’m also adding extra stories and behind the scene details up on Patreon as I write. I wrote a couple of thousand words that I just realized last night won’t be published in the book. They are nice extra details about a day in Art’s life when he first meets Tony’s daughter, but don’t necessarily need to be published.
I realized that I need to jump the story forward a bit, and don’t want to bog readers down from the flow and pacing. So, I’ll add it in as a bonus chapter for anyone who’s interested in extra reading and details.
I’ll also be writing a quick, short story for April to explain her backstory with Johnny and why Tony thought she was dead. It should be available this week on Patreon as well.
So, read Edge of the Universe and the extras to follow along with Art on his journey in this modern-day myth.