Ashes to Ashes – 5 – The Villain

Warren Richards stood up suddenly, leaping toward the other man, bringing his face within inches of Jack’s. In one long hissing breath, he articulated:

“Do you understand the consequences of what you’re talking about?”

“I have to try!” Jack answered passionately.

Warren could not believe what he was hearing. They had achieved so much together, sacrificed so much. They were finally in a position to profit from their hard work, and here was his oldest friend in the world talking about throwing it all away. He had to convince him to change his mind.

“We’ve known each other for eleven years,” said Warren slowly after a long pause, “I’d like to think we trust each other. So please trust me when I say don’t do this! You can’t stop it! You’ll be throwing your life away for nothing! You’re wrong!”

“NO! Not today!” Jack shouted back in desperation. “Maybe I’ve been wrong my entire life, maybe I’ll never be the man I thought I was, maybe I am a fool, but I am not wrong. Not this time, Warren, not this time,” then he added more softly, “I have to do this… or die trying.”

As he spoke, Jack’s eyes began to glass over. He walked to the window, and stared out at the night sky.

Warren remained standing where he was, staring at his friend’s back. They stood in silence. Then, Warren turned and walked toward the door. He halted before stepping into the corridor. He knew that their friendship was over. It was one more sacrifice he had to make on his road to success. After everything that had already happened, nothing could be allowed to stand in the way. Not one friendship. Not even one life.

“Then you’ll die alone,” Warren’s voice trembled with emotion as he spoke. With that, he walked out, slamming the door shut behind him.

He walked down the hall and into the elevator, his anger quickly overcoming his sadness. He pulled his phone out of his pocket as he walked out of the elevator and stabbed the screen. He put the phone to his ear, walked out of the building and started down the street.

“Yes?” asked a stern female voice on the other end of the line.

“We have a problem,” Warren explained, his tone matter-of-fact. “Our mutual friend is having a crisis of conscience.”

“What?” replied the voice in cold fury.

“He plans to take action soon. Knowing him, it will be tomorrow.”

There was no answer for long enough to make Warren wonder if he had lost the connection. He glanced at his phone to check the signal strength before the voice resumed in a rush.

“I’ll deal with him,” she said with finality and Warren knew what that meant. “What about the assistant?”

“What about her?” he asked, unsure of the implications.

“How is her conscience?” she replied, irritated.

“I don’t know.”

“Find out,” answered the voice. “We may have to deal with her too.”

The call ended abruptly. Warren looked at his phone thoughtfully for a few moments then thumbed through his contacts and placed another call.

“Hello?” came a soft, feminine voice.

“Judy!” Warren greeted her with artificial enthusiasm.

“Nice to hear from you, what’s up?”

“We haven’t talked in a while,” he continued, doing his best to pour on the charm. “I thought we should get together. Catch up.”

He held his breath, not sure how else to comply with his orders if this approach didn’t pan out.

“Sure!” Judy replied happily, prompting Warren to let out a long breath.

“Great! How about the coffee place next to your work? Tomorrow, 6PM?”

“Uh… yeah, sure. I’m free tomorrow,” she answered.

“Great! See you soon!”

“Yeah! Bye!”

Warren wrote the details of his arrangement with Judy in a text message, which he sent off just before hailing a passing cab. He stared absent-mindedly out of the window on the ride to his own apartment. He felt betrayed. He was relieved that a plan was already in motion to control any fallout, but his anger still simmered in the back of his mind.

By the time he reached home and got into bed, he had mastered his emotions. He wasn’t about to risk everything he had worked to achieve for the sake of sentimentality.

The following day was surprisingly normal. He kept eyeing his phone, expecting something to happen, but nothing did. He wondered if his former friend had changed his mind. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer. He tried calling Jack’s mobile phone, but his call went straight to voicemail. He tried calling his office number next.

“Hi Judy, it’s Warren. Is he in?” he asked abruptly as Judy answered the phone.

“I’ll check, just a minute,” she said, putting the call on hold.

Warren tapped his finger on the back of his phone impatiently. Jack was clearly in the office, and nothing remarkable had happened yet. Was that a good sign? Did it mean anything at all?

“I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting,” Judy replied at length.

“Listen Judy, it’s important. I really need to talk to him, it’s urgent.”

“I’m sorry, I really can’t interrupt him. He has a very busy schedule today, why don’t you try reaching him tomorrow? Or maybe I could take a message and give it to him later.”

He knew he was being avoided. He gradually accepted there was nothing he could do about it, unless Jack decided to change his mind.

“Alright, make sure he gets this message as soon as possible. Tell him… ah, just tell him to call me alright?”

“No problem, I’ll tell him.”

“Good. So, we still on for later?”

“I’m looking forward to it, Warren,” she answered softly.

“Great, so am I,” he replied and hung up.

The rest of the day passed quickly, as usual, and he headed out to meet Judy, according to plan. Arriving at the coffee shop,  he checked the time and found that he was a bit early. He decided to wait outside. The downpour worsened, but he didn’t mind. The weather suited his conflicted mood.

He suddenly heard the crash of breaking glass in the distance. He craned his neck to see where it had come from, but a moment later, his phone buzzed and he pulled it from his pocket. The text message was painfully brief.

It’s over.

He had no doubt what it meant. Jack had obviously gone through with his idiotic plan. What had possessed him to think that he could get away with exposing his research, he would never understand. Everyone knew the company went to great lengths to protect itself. Some genius. Such wasted potential.

As his thoughts swirled, he looked up and vaguely noticed a beautiful, young blonde woman across the street. It was only when she waved that he snapped back to the present and recognized her. She smiled, and walked toward him. He waved back and waited for her. She came up to the street, looked quickly to either side and waved again as she began to cross. Warren inadvertently glanced down the street. Suddenly, a screech of tires heralded a black sedan speeding straight for her. The driver seemed to notice her at the last instant and slammed on the brakes. The car slid on the wet asphalt and slammed into her, sending her rolling off the hood and onto the road. Havoc broke loose. The black sedan drove away at full speed, as crowds of people gathered around Judy as she lay unmoving.

Warren ran across the street, pushed his way through the onlookers and dropped to his knees next to her. He shouted her name, but she did not respond. He fumbled for her wrist and checked for a pulse. Her wrist was slippery with water and he couldn’t get a proper grip. A moment later, a stranger shoved him out of the way.

“Move! I’m a doctor!” she proclaimed.

Warren backed away, watching with concern as the doctor worked. He overheard a few people nearby speaking on their phones to emergency dispatchers. He felt his phone buzz again and numbly pulled it out. He had a new message from the same number.

Vacate the area.

He looked around, wondering which one of the unrecognized faces was on the same payroll as him, or whether the observer was watching from elsewhere. It made no difference. He turned, pulling his collar up against the rain and walked away as casually as he could manage. He didn’t like seeing Judy get hurt, but in the end, that didn’t matter.

Nothing could stop them now.

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