Chapter 4 – Deliverance

I have always fancied myself to be pragmatic. Alright, I loved a woman, but I did not think with my heart much. My brain does all the thinking for me.  That is something I have always been proud of; this thing about me pleased me. But general life situations did not prepare you for this level of existential crisis.

I mean, an average human being has an expectancy of fifty years. I am twenty two now, assuming there were a dozen such “missions”; I would lose twelve years of my life just like that. My situation had escalated in ridiculousness in under a day. No, for sure my life till now hadn’t prepared me for this.

I remembered how my mother would always say “Ryan, life isn’t a bed of roses, you’d have to go through a few thorns to get to the rose, and then it would be worth it”. That is all well and good, but this wasn’t a thorn. This was a field of broken shards of glass I have to walk through.

Pragmatism dictates I keep this to myself, man up and face this. But I wasn’t so sure anymore. I felt the urge to talk to Anne about it.

“That is up to you, Ryan. It is your choice, make it count” Christopher had said when I had asked him just before leaving the chapel. My conversation with him had answered a few questions, but had raised a few more. He had told me to meet him in the late afternoon yard time, in case I had anything further I wanted to talk about. But he did urge me to quickly wrap my head around this, whatever it is.

If I am being honest to myself, I do want to confide in Anne; after all she is a historian, it does make sense. Also, she was also willingly or not a part of this, so keeping her out of this is something I wouldn’t be able to keep up for long. On the other hand, telling her would make her worry and bring her squarely in harm’s way and that is something I would want to avoid. It was like a war was waging inside of me and neither side had enough ammo to win.

I was sitting on the work bench on the yard staring into nothing in particular lost in my thoughts when another inmate walked towards me. I remembered his face. He was one of the henchmen of a bigshot in here. I thought he’d move past me and go on with his business; in fact I was counting on it. But of course, the luck I’d been having these past couple of days, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted a piece of me.

As I had feared, he stopped in front of me. He looked down. This guy is black, well built and looked like he could lift me with just a hand. I couldn’t quite remember his name though. In a gritty voice that seemed battle-worn, he said “The boss wants a word with you, get up and come with me”

Now I have watched enough movies to realise there was no way that this would be a good thing. But when a guy twice your size calls you out, I fail to see a way out. But at the off chance this guy was a talker, I asked “What happened? What did I do?”

Nothing about his posture changed. He was like this cyborg lackey that any mob boss would dream of having. “The boss wants to talk to you. Get up, move your ass” He said, with a little more force in his voice.

I did not need to be told twice, or rather thrice. I got up and followed him, head down. I did not fare well against bullies. I hate getting into pointless fights. The fights that I get into however land me in fascinating prisons. I sighed deeply and continued to follow the big guy.

Francis. Yes, that was his name. He was sent to solitary for punching someone so hard, he was out cold for 3 days. I remember hearing people talk about him. Whatever he was, I am sure he enjoyed violence.

The yard, in a prison was an area long and wide enough to give enough “play-space” to inmates. It is like an equivalent of a school playground, except in here there were killers and felons. One end of the ground had electric barbed wire, a few big fences made of hard metal meshes and barbed wire. This went on for a few hundred meters and then it squared up in the edges. In intervals there were outposts manned by guards who were extra alert during yard time. On the other side, the prison walls loomed over us, with its oat grey colour and general air of boredom and exasperating gloom.

Guards were stationed in regular distances on this side as well. Guards had guns with tranquilizers loaded in them. I remember them using it on Francis the other day. He’d been in frenzy. Even after getting the shot, he’d taken some time to fall.

This yard area was like a map with territories marked in them. There were three major powers at work in the prison underworld here. The one Francis worked for was Robert Whittaker. Here for multiple convictions, he is more dangerous than most people here. He wasn’t about brawn, but more about the brain. Apparently he was one of the bigger criminal master minds out there. Apparently, he had deep connections in various organizations over the world. Rumour had it that he wasn’t caught but he in fact turned himself in a couple of years ago.  This had me wondering what someone like him would want with me. I guess I was about to find out.

The other two bosses were out on the yard too, there was a big invisible bifurcation between the “territories” and the electricity in the air clearly indicated a delicate balance which once disturbed would surely send this place into an uproar. I wondered how these people rose to being such powerful men, what was their motivation?

While I was pondering this, Francis suddenly came to a halt, and I walked face first into him. I stumbled and fell back; how strong was this guy? “Hey man, what the heck?” I exclaimed, rubbing my forehead.

“We are here” Francis said. He then moved and placed himself behind me and stood there staring at me.

I quickly got up and looked around.

There he was, Mr. Whittaker; one of the big three in this prison. This was my first time meeting him, but on the first glance of an untrained eye, he wasn’t what a mob boss could be pictured as. He was a six feet tall Caucasian man with an army cut hair and clean shaven chin. You could have mistaken him for an investment banker, were he not wearing prison attire.

He wore a smile on his face. His smile however, did not reach his eye. He was confident. Well of course he was; he owns a lot of people in this prison. Power makes people confident.

“I believe we’ve never met before, Mr. Ryan” he said extending his hand towards me.

I took his hand, shook it and said as carefully and respectfully as I could “yes Mr. Whittaker, it’s a pleasure.”

“Oh, please call me Robert.” He said sitting back down. “Please come, sit here.” He said as he patted the space on the bench next to him.

I was somehow surprised. I had expected a worse sort of treatment. I was still wary as the person addressing me killed people for a living and had no need to treat me as an equal. He was a criminal boss whereas I am nobody. I wasn’t deluded enough to think otherwise. I sat down next to him and said “yes, Mr. Robert, what did you need me for?”

“Jumping right to the point eh? I like that. You see Ryan, people like me pride ourselves from getting whatever we want with whatever method needed from whoever it may be.” He paused as if seeing whether I had any comments. I had none so he continued “So I received a request to retrieve a talisman that looks very much like yours.” He pointed squarely at my chest where the talisman lay motionless and cold against my skin.

I looked at him like he’d found out some deep dark secret of mine. The fact that someone knew about the existence of this talisman and they wanted it; that would mean they knew about how it worked. Taking it from me would mean Anne would get visited at night and would be given the choices I am being given. That would spiral things out of control and things would get unsavoury.

Bracing myself with a confidence I didn’t feel inside, I said “this is just some cheap souvenir my girlfriend got back for me, what good would this do for you?” Anne gave this to me, good or bad, I intended to keep it.

“See, those kinds of questions is what I don’t generally like. I don’t care what it gets used for, maybe the person wanted a toy to gift his children, maybe he wanted a weird ornament, or maybe he has one of those tasteless fetishes. Not my problem. So, now if you would just give me that amulet, we could both go back to doing what we were doing.” He said still wearing his confident smile. This was a person who liked having power and liked to use it.

I was terrified. I couldn’t think of a way to keep my talisman and my bones both intact. I figured I’d reason with him. “Come now, Mr. Robert. I would want to keep this if possible. It was a gift from my girlfriend see, and I love her quite a lot. What would I say if she asks? Please be reasonable.” Even I realised how desperate and stupid I sounded, but I’d rather try.

Robert let out a laughter that rung clearly over the noise of the prisoners doing their daily yard activities. Their laughter brought me a fear that I never knew was possible. I felt feverish. For sure, the talisman might be the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

Then looking at me with a face that was devoid of the smile that adorned it a few minutes ago, Robert Whittaker said “Ryan. Ryan. Ryan. What gave you the idea you had a choice.” I shuddered at the déjà vu. Erebus had said the exact same thing. He continued “Don’t delude yourself; It would seem you cannot be reasoned with. Alright then; Francis, please relieve our friend of his neck ornament and send him back, will you?”

At his cue, Francis who had been standing nearby staring down at us all this while pounced with a speed disproportionate to his size. I tried to run away; he quickly caught up to me and landed a blow to my side. I bucked down, saliva and bile escaping my mouth. Then he lifted me up by my shoulder and reached towards my neck; towards the amulet.

This is where time stopped for me. Everything slowed down. All I could feel was pain and anger. Anger was slowly increasing in intensity. Everything was so frustrating. It was as if I was becoming a pedal for everyone to walk over. First Erebus pops in and slams me down with a preposterous request; oh wait, was it even a damn request? Do I even have a choice?

Soon after, here I was cowering under another person who in almost the same words shot me down and is taking away something I own. No. Not anymore; I couldn’t possibly live on like this.

I felt anger boiling inside me. Anger, frustration and exasperation piled up inside me, until I couldn’t bear the built up force. Suddenly the amulet started trembling and became hot. More hot that it had ever gotten before. Involuntarily, I raised my hand and my mouth formed the words “Ela, Stymphalides ornithes”, then I heard a bird’s feathers fluttering, then all power left me. I fell down.

All the pent up force inside me had all vanished. I was empty again. The amulet was cold again. There was a commotion around me. Everyone had gathered around Francis and me in a circle.

I looked up at the crowd; their expressions were varying from anger to surprise. I looked to my left, where Francis was laying holding onto his chest where there was a fresh wound. To my surprise, a feather was sticking out of it, a bronze looking feather that shone in the sun. He was groaning with pain, he was alive. The first one to recover from the shock was Robert. “Samuel help Francis up, and stop the bleeding. Richard, grab that bastard and bring him to me.”

Samuel did as he was told. Richard approached me, wary of any more surprises I might be holding, but I had none. Hell, I don’t even know how I did what I did to Francis. Richard reached towards me, I swat his hand away. I was spent, but I wasn’t giving in without a fight.

His strength however far outmatched mine, he reached towards me again. This time I threw a couple of punches. One of them landed on his groin. He grimaced with pain, but my punch wasn’t strong enough.

Unfortunately for me, Richard had realised that I didn’t have any more fancy moves. He threw a kick, which hit me on my gut; I fell down, clutching my stomach. Before I could recover, another kick hit me squarely on my chest. I coughed and wheezed, I was finding hard to breath. My eyes were beginning to form tears. The pain was unbearable.

He lifted me up; I was powerless, like a mannequin being lugged around. I was up in the air, dangling by his arms. A punch hit me across the shoulder, more pain; I was close to losing consciousness.

Richard was ready to throw a punch that was probably going to sick me for good, when he suddenly froze and fell forward. Soon after, I felt a prick on the back of my neck.

We both fell down. All was dark.

End of Chapter 4