This week, we read the last chunk of The Problematic Virtue, and I lecture everyone about mailing lists.
Megan stared intently at the photo of Brian sitting in his car. Walker took an interest. “You know him,” she said.
“Yes, that’s Brian Connelly. He’s Alex Britton’s roommate.”
“What does he do for Derek?”
Megan looked at the picture again, and made a decision. She removed any trace of human emotion from her expression. “He’s not involved. He and Wiles used to be friends, but not anymore.”
Walker looked a little confused, or maybe suspicious. “Really?”
“Yeah. Brian’s a good guy. He’s not involved, as far as I can tell.”
Miguel came back down the stairs of the apartment, with the shotgun in one hand, Wiles’ pistol in the other, and Alex’s pistol in his belt. He hid the shotgun inside his jacket, not that it would matter; the blasts had been so loud, people would have been able to hear them a block away.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw Brian slumped by the fence next to the construction site. Brian didn’t see him. Miguel resisted the urge to approach his friend; to help him up, to explain every foul, selfish thing he’d done and apologize for all the pain and suffering he’d caused Brian over the last few years. If he could explain what happened to Jimmy, then maybe that would be enough.
It’s my fault he is dead, but I fixed it, Brian. I fixed it.
He couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had no time. He had mere minutes to get out on the highway or the cops would be on him. Brian should be safe, as he had done nothing wrong. Everyone involved in Jimmy’s death was now gone. Maybe he couldn’t tell Brian right now, or ever, but he could take some relief in that fact. It was over.
In a Denver office, seated in a high-back lumbar-support chair, an exhausted young man loosened his tie as the workday drew to a close. Unbuttoning the restrictive collar of his shirt, he breathed a sigh of relief. He clicked the send-receive button on his Outlook program one last time for the day, and retrieved two new emails. Both from HR: one asking him to confirm his upcoming time off, and the other reminding him to sign the company’s updated sexual harassment policy statement. He marked them both for follow-up. That could wait until tomorrow.
“What’s up, playa?”
Cliff was leaning into his office, wearing a grin. “Hey Cliff,” the young man said.
“Me and Tom and some of the sales guys are going to hit up Maloney’s. Tom landed the Steiner account so we are going to go out and get shit-tay.” Cliff checked his watch. “It’s now Beer O’ Clock and you, sir, are invited.”
“Can’t tonight, Cliff. I have some errands I have to run after work.”
“Maggie from Accounting is going to be there,” Cliff said. “I saw the googly-eyes you two were giving each other at the company picnic.”
“That’s tempting, but I can’t. Next time, I promise.”
“Alrightey then, your loss,” Cliff said. “Maybe I’ll be the one doing body shots out of her belly button when she’s all good and liquored up.” Cliff pantomimed slurping, and then gave the young man the finger-point double-gun. “Taker ‘er easy, champ. I’ll catch you tomorrow.”
Cliff was oblivious that Maggie had been the young man’s girlfriend for a month. They had kept it quiet around the office. “Good luck with that, Cliff. Have a good time, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The young man began the process of shutting down his computer but then a random thought struck him and he opened a browser window. He searched for “CU psychology doctorate program” and scanned through a selection of websites until he found one that listed the current doctoral candidates. His finger hovered above the mouse, just before clicking. Dangerous ground. He had lived for an eternity without thinking of her, but his prospective errand tonight had him reminiscing about old times.
He clicked the link and browsed the website, and there he found her. Megan Lang. Lang. No picture displayed with the name, just two words in a list of candidates, but those two words told him everything he wanted to know. Conflicted feelings moved through him so he closed the web browser before temptation made him research any further.
He shut down the computer, gathered his briefcase, and took the elevator to the parking garage. He clicked the remote on his keychain to unlock the car, and as he opened the door, that familiar anxiety crept upon him. Maybe cyber-stalking Megan had not been a good idea. Sometimes he traveled on the path to closure on that chapter, but other times he remained trapped there in that old Boulder apartment, staring down a gun or watching the life drain out of Derek Wiles.
Megan, Miguel, Wiles, Jimmy, and Alex all took turned appearing in his mind as he started his car and drove out onto the highway. He thought about Miguel, in court in his county orange, his hands joined at the wrist by clinking handcuffs while standing trial for murder. He thought about Miguel’s unwavering resolve to accept complete responsibility for everything that had happened that night, and how Miguel had barely spoken during the trial, only murmuring occasionally about how sorry he was. The young man thought about the subsequent chaos after the process uncovered a mountain of information about Miguel’s and Wiles’ gang affiliation, including involvement in the deaths of Ray Aguilar, Thomas Castellano, and a flood of others. He thought about the day when he and his parents learned that Ray Aguilar had murdered Jimmy.
The young man exited Highway 71 into the main parking lot at Limon Correctional Facility just as the sun retreated behind the mountains to the west. He proceeded through the guard station, then to the smaller parking lot next to the gate. A glance at his watch told him that he had time to spare. After opening the glove compartment, he retrieved a stick of gum, and then wasted a few minutes organizing the contents of his back seat while daydreaming about Maggie.
He thought about Wiles, and what he had asked minutes before Alex shot him. Do you think your definition of loyalty is the only one that matters? The young man had spent many an evening over the last few years considering the possible answers to that question.
Most of all, he thought about the fact that he had never been personally brought up on charges in relation to dealing drugs. At the time, the lawyers told him that the District Attorney must not have had sufficient evidence. Later (because he had never been in court at the time as she had), he learned that the prosecution’s star witness had been Megan herself. He assumed that she had protected him, for there could be no other explanation as to why people like Mitchell and Ben sat in prison while he remained a free man. He had to take this serendipitous break to be the gift of a second chance.
A loud buzzing preceded movement of the giant chain link gate. The links of the fence clanked and pinged as the wheels underneath glided along the track. He looked at a lone traveler, carrying only a large backpack, who waited beyond the line. The young man exited his car and leaned against the passenger door, ready to greet the person from the other side of the fence.
The traveler, his formerly shaved head now fully returned to blond, gave one last look at the prison before moving on. He walked to the young man and stopped, then took in a deep breath of non-prison air. “Thanks for picking me up,” the traveler said, loosening the straps of his backpack.
“It’s good to see you again,” the young man said. He helped load the backpack into the trunk, opened the car door, and then the young man and the traveler exited the prison parking lot, to return to the free world together.