Chapter 3

Neil picked up the newspaper beside his bed and glanced at the date. It dawned on him that it had been nearly two weeks since his heated exchange with Tom and the beginning of his recovery. He thought of Tom for a moment. In the last two weeks, he was glad to see that his friend was starting to show signs of his old self. He was visiting less frequently and started to have his playful immature personality back. Just as Neil went to open the newspaper, Tom walked in.

“Tom! I was just thinking about you!” Neil explained.

“How’s the recovery?”

Tom looked even healthier than the last time they spoke. Neil’s face practically hurt from smiling. He was happy to see his friend in an unburdened state. He gave some thought to Tom’s question for a second before he spoke.

“The recovery is ongoing. It’s not easy, but I’m in a better place. I’ve been hearing that I’ve been making good progress, but I’m still not sure, you know? Apparently I’m getting to where I should be physically, but there’s still the mental.” Neil felt uncomfortable still, so he changed the topic. “So, what brings you here on a weekday morning? I’d have imagined you’d be at work right now.”

“Well, that’s kind of why I’m here”

Neil picked up on the fact that Tom was staring at his own feet. Neil had seen this before, all too often, when the two of them worked together. He started piecing together the scenario. His blood felt as it if would boil. Abruptly, almost reflexively, Neil threw his hands up and raised his voice. “Absolutely not,” he spat “There is no way I’m going to help you out of some bind at work.”

“I know. And I feel so bad for asking, but there’s something I’m stuck on – it’s not looking so good and everyone’s losing their patience with me, with the project. I’ve been asked to come here and speak with you.”

“You were asked?” Neil felt his head spin. There was a sting of disappointment making him feel queasy. “Who asked you?”

“I did.”

Neil turned his head towards the doorway of the hospital room and caught a glimpse of the man behind the voice. The smell of shoe polish directed Neil’s eyes down to the floor, where he found himself staring at a set of expensive leather shoes. Between the leather and that smell of polish, Neil was reminded of the steering wheel in his old car. His mind drifted back to the accident for a second, causing his stomach to get even more upset. Feeling his breathing quicken, Neil tried to push that image out of his head by forcing himself to stop staring at the shoes. His eyes shot up, quickly passing the three piece charcoal suit, scanning the man’s bald head before stopping on his intense eyes. The man was John Conrad, CEO of AET. The picture was starting to come together.

“You have no business in this room,” barked Neil “if you don’t leave now, I make no promises about your personal safety.”

Conrad took a step back and laughed. He turned to Tom. “You hardly look strong enough to make any threats or promises. Hey, could we please have a second?” Tom looked at the ground and nodded apologetically. Neil noticed Tom attempting to make eye contact. Betrayed, Neil turned his head away from Tom, focusing on Conrad. Tom walked around Neil’s bed, stepping behind Conrad and out the door. He mumbled as he left, but Neil was too angry to pay attention. Conrad quietly closed the door and stepped towards Neil.

“Neil, my boy, how have you been?”

“I’m not your boy, Conrad. You really need to leave.” Neil could feel a headache starting right at the base of his skull. “You’re not welcome here.”

“Just who do you think you’re speaking with?” Asked Conrad, unfazed. “I’ve come here to talk to you and I’m not leaving until we have a nice chat.”

“Sure Conrad, sure. Let’s have a chat. Let’s drag it all out. Where should we start? How about AET. Let’s start there. Let’s talk about how your company bought the company I created. Let’s talk about how I was this close to developing clean energy. Let’s talk about how AET used patent trolling and IP law technicalities to terminate my research. Worse yet, let’s talk about how you guys started to adapt my research to design weapon systems. Are you ready to talk about that?”

“It’s a global defense initiative. Isn’t that just as valuable to a common good?”

“I’ve looked at your track record. I’ve watched you escalate conflicts to prop up the bottom line.”

“You’ve brought up these concerns before.”

“And you suspended me!” Neil could feel his pulse in his neck. His headache pulsed with every beat of his heart. “I spoke my conscience and you suspended me and I took a trip and my wife died. It’s all your fault, you know!”

“You could have quit.”

“No, I couldn’t have. I had a kid on the way. I saw what was happening to the people who were leaving. You blackballed them. None of they were getting jobs, you poisoned their careers somehow.”

“That’s how business works, you stupid kid,” snarled Conrad. He bared his teeth, speaking with such fervor that Neil could feel his breath between every word. Neil felt intimidated by Conrad’s intensity. He could feel himself recoiling – almost slinking submissively into the hospital bed as he continued speaking. “I’m not running a fucking charity. You want money, you work for me. You want to compete, I fucking crush you.”

Conrad looked at the hospital equipment. He grabbed one of the machines and rolled it toward himself. He fiddled with it for a second or two before locking his eyes on Neil’s. Neil felt uncomfortable. This man had always rubbed him the wrong way, but he never realized just how much of a psychopath he was. Conrad began to speak again.

“I look at this hospital equipment and you know what I see? I see an investment. You see, when you crashed your shit car and killed your entire family, you fucked up big time. You’ve been in the hospital for the better part of what, six months now?” Conrad counted his fingers dramatically. “Yeah, six months. Do you think that you’ve been paying for all this care that whole time? Hell, every cent you had, and leasing your home and everything in it – shit, that didn’t even scratch the surface. Paid for a couple weeks at best. And the funerals? I’m sorry you missed them, they were beautiful.”

Neil snarled at Conrad. “Get out! GET OUT OF MY ROOM!”

Conrad smiled. “I don’t think so.” He handed a piece of paper to Neil. “See, that’s your hospital bill. And as of today, AET is done paying for your care. Funny thing. When I spoke to the lawyers today, they explained to me that someone on a suspension doesn’t actually get the benefit of our health coverage plan. So that’s what you owe us.”

Neil kept imagining himself lunging at Conrad’s throat. He didn’t even bother to look at the price tag on the paper. He couldn’t even bring himself to move. He could feel tears building in his eyes. His arms felt heavy. It was all he could do to just keep breathing. Neil opened his mouth to speak. His brain was spinning. He couldn’t find the words. Conrad smirked at Neil and sat there waiting. Neil finally put a couple words together.

“Fuck you, Conrad.” Neil crumpled up the paper. “I don’t care how much you think I owe you, I’m not coming to work for you. I can declare bankruptcy, I can do whatever it takes. I don’t care about my career anymore.”

“Go ahead. The lawyers tell me that we’ll have to exhume your wife and kid though. You might want some money for their subsequent reburial. There’s other factors to consider as well. I really could make your life miserable, bankrupt or not.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Wouldn’t I? Listen, Neil, the pretense is dropped. If you didn’t see it before, you’re seeing it now. We’ve established I’m a bastard. We’ve established I’m a horrible human being. And now you’re starting to see that I’m comfortable being this person. So, the way I see this, you have two options. Behind door number 1 is you, homeless, broke, destitute with poor mental health and two freshly exhumed corpses to deal with. And believe me, I’ll dig them up myself if I have to. Door number 2 is you deciding to be a man, finishing up one project you’ve never really liked and getting everything back – your home, your patents and continued therapy for that PTSD. Are you really going to fight me on this? You might think you have nothing to lose, but I’ll still beat you down.”

Neil looked down. He knew he had lost this battle. It felt like a scream was stuck in his chest, just waiting to get out, filling him with rage and pressure. His stomach still churned. His bed was cold - wet with sweat. He glanced at his still-clenched hands. They were so white they seemed dead. He exhaled and unclenched his hands.

“Fine.” He whispered. “One last project. Starting next week. Provided you can get them to release me from this hospital. They won’t let me leave. You get me out of here and I can be done with you as soon as possible. I don’t want to incur further charges and find myself further indebted to you. Deal? Good. Now get the hell out of my room.”

Conrad smiled a toothy grin. Neil imagined himself ripping out each of those teeth one by one. Conrad turned and left the room, closing the door behind himself. As soon as the door slammed, Neil reached down beside the hospital bed, fumbling for the call button. Just as he hit the button, he felt his stomach contents rush out of mouth. Hearing the call alarm going off, he felt himself start to shiver and convulse uncontrollably as the room started to spin and then darken. He heard a nurse scream something about a severe panic attack just as he passed out.

Neil wasn’t sure how long he had been out, or for that matter, how long he had been awake. He reasoned that his body must have been awake for a while, though he was only coming to his senses. The first thing he noticed were his dry eyes. Then, he felt the stiff neck. He blinked a few times until his eyes felt less scratchy. He couldn’t see much. Everything was blurry and the light in the room seemed dim and muted. His stomach had this uncertain feeling to it, somewhere between hungry and upset. He felt a bit out of sync in terms of reflexes, probably drugged. As he attempted to get out of this stunned state, he found his head bouncing between the accident and the exchange between him and Conrad over and over again in his head, looking for different outcomes in both situations. He had been trying to convince everyone he was OK, even himself, but he wasn’t ready for these fresh wounds to be opened again. At this moment, he realized he would probably not ever be OK again in his life. This bothered Neil and provided him with some grim satisfaction. He played the exchange between Conrad and himself one last time, and concluded he couldn’t have done anything differently. He thought of Tom for a second, and that made him furious. Neil was pretty betrayed by the whole thing. The thought of his friend caused his temperature to rise while he gritted his teeth reflexively. Still somewhat unaware of his surroundings, he stirred a bit and started to show signs of life. At that moment he heard a voice.

“So you’re awake?” spoke Tom

“I guess so.” rasped Neil. His throat was dry. He opened his eyes and the room came into focus. He grabbed a cup of water nearby. He pressed it to his lips. He noticed it didn’t feel very cold. He choked the lukewarm water down so he could continue to speak. It dawned on him that the person asking him was Tom and he immediately had to struggle to keep the water down. Tom started to speak.

“Just take it slow. Don’t drink too fast. I have a lot to say, and I can see you’re angry. Let me start by saying I’m sorry for all of this.”

Neil finished the water and looked angrily at Tom. Neil could feel his pulse speeding up again. He forced himself to hold it together, from a rage perspective, but he realized that the drugs probably have a part to play in this.

Tom spoke again before Neil could respond. “Again, I am so sorry.” Neil still maintained his composure. Tom quickly continued. “I should have told you when you started showing signs of recovery.”

“Told me what?” Neil attempted to process everything, but there was still a rush of emotions. He was way too confused and drugged to do anything but let Tom continue.

“Conrad’s been blackmailing me – um – blackmailing us. After the accident, I took a more pragmatic stance like you. I didn’t want to work on these projects. But, I’ve been forced to work on them. If I work on the projects he asks, no matter how terrible they are, I get to take whatever time I need to be here and help out. On top of that, he threatened to cut off your medical funding. I’ve been forced to help.”

Neil noticed the tears starting in Tom’s eyes. Now, more than ever he realized the significant personal cost his close friend had to bear. He felt sick to his stomach, and so embarrassed, both for feeling betrayed and for being weak enough to let things go this far for his friend. He wanted to chastise his friend for keeping him out of the loop, but it just became all too clear how much effort protecting him from this must have consumed. He nodded and offered a few words of encouragement. “Tom, it’s OK. You’re not the asshole here. Conrad is. I am. You’re the only person here who doesn’t bear any of the fault.”

“Until now, I could protect you from it. I could manage it, but I’m developing something and I just can’t get it. I just can’t make either concept work. People at the lab – big shots and higher ups are collectively losing their shit. It’s making Conrad look terrible, which he hates.”

Neil nodded and took a while to think of how to proceed. He knew he was not healthy enough to leave. He realized he was lying, he was telling the psych team what they wanted to hear. It didn’t bother him until he realized that he was also lying to Tom. Neil got a guilty feeling after considering that. He considered sharing everything with Tom, but he didn’t know how to go about it. “One step at a time,” he thought to himself, “for now, let’s make a plan.”

“Like I told Conrad, if he wants my help, he’s going to have to spring me from here.”

“Spring you? You just had a major panic attack. Are you really sure that’s a good idea?” asked Tom?

“No. I’m not sure. But it doesn’t seem to be an option. So let’s look at the more concrete aspects of the plan. Would you mind taking me out of here? Once you do so, where will I be staying?”

Neil couldn’t help but notice that just as the word “stay” left his mouth, Tom looked away. He took a guess at what was on his friends’ mind. “Hey, it’s not a big deal. Once he gets me out of here early, I’ll continue doing well. I’m aware how fragile I can be. I promise to continue to show up for therapy. I won’t relapse.”

Neil frowned as he spoke that sentence aloud. He just relapsed. He’s not doing well right now. He knows that he’s not ready for everything.

“It’s not that.” Replied Tom.

“What then? What’s worrying you?”

“You’re going to have to crash at my place. I leased your house for a year.” Neil smiled and let out a bit of a laugh. Tom’s eyes betrayed his confusion, but soon he took Neil’s cue, smiled and relaxed. Tom had to ask. “Well, what’s so funny?”

“Conrad mentioned that when he was threatening me. Plus, I can’t stay in that home. If I’m being honest, there’s nothing here to remind me of my family, my life before and I still get set off almost daily, so being somewhere filled with all those memories - that would not be a safe place. I’m almost relieved that option is off the table. I was so worried about how to bring the subject up. I was so worried it would be a hard sell to stay with you. I think I’ll need the support.”

“Alright, but there’s a bit more.”

Neil tensed up. Never, in the history of time had something good followed that ominous sentence. “Well, spit it out, Tom, what’s the worst part?”

“I leased your place to your Dad.”

Neil felt his throat tighten. His father was not a pleasant man. This was not a welcome development at all.

<- Previous chapter
Next chapter ->



Richard Belzile said...

Still from before I made note.. Nothing to see, I'm afraid...

Anonymous said...

Never play more money than have the ability to|you possibly can} afford to lose and by no means underestimate the dangers of gambling addiction — even when you play fun slot machine games for free. And if you really feel things may be getting out of arms, search skilled assist. As you perceive now, betting more money helps to win more on on-line slots...however it also put your slot machine strategy in danger and makes you threat to lose all of your bankroll so much sooner. The strategy for means to|tips on how to} improve your possibilities to win a spin on penny slots lies behind making bets which 솔카지노 might be} bigger than $0.01 because of|as a end result of} these bets usually don't unlock bonus rounds.

Post a Comment


I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

Richard Belzile and, 2015-2018.

All rights reserved. This book/blog content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.