Rehab: Part 4

6.

The next day at work, just before lunch, Sherry handed Carol a single, manila file folder. She, Ed, and Chuck had a luncheon to attend with a District Attorney’s assistant, Carol relegated to manning the fort for the rest of the day. Sherry instantly put a finger to her lips, mouthed the words “after we’re gone.”

As soon as the office-door closed, Carol threw open the folder to several packets of papers, some stapled, others paper-clipped together. The top page had an FBI seal, an “Investigate Act” request number to one side, and a name beneath it; Anthony Phillip DePaul.

Carol’s eyes widened. Sherry had somehow managed to make a request through the FBI on the Investigative Act– the same one used to dredge up attorney-client meetings in public places– and not only had it approved, but received it in less than a day. There were detailed histories on everything about DePaul; medical records, grade transcripts, licenses, registrations, and virtually everything else Carol could imagine.

She instantly suspected Sherry’s old boyfriend, Mike; a Detective at OPD and a rather well-connected sleuth. It was no doubt he’d immediately requested and received everything available to DePaul from the FBI, probably as a personal favor to Sherry. She had no misconceptions that her own record had likely been reviewed. It was now a rather standard, if not corrupt, practice for trial lawyers to obtain opponent records from people they knew on the inside. Most did so with the hope of building a better trial, learning their adversaries tactics and devising strategies to counter them personally.

She thumbed through the first packet of papers, DePaul’s medical records, then set it aside for a moment to focus on a series of business contracts. Oakton’s city seal was emblazoned in gold and tamped into the pages from a notary, identified in the contracts. Next, were a series of contracts signed over from Allen to DePaul construction. Evidently the latter had made at least one right move; in acquiring Allen, he’d also acquired thirty-eight million dollars worth of building deals it had taken on just before it began to fail. No doubt they were guaranteed to him as per the company’s buy-out. Though it was useless, it nourished her hopes for evidence of foul-play, anything that would explain the intensity of her disgust for the man.

She set the second stack atop the first, revealed high-school and college transcripts beneath it. Evidently DePaul had attended, then dropped out of, Oakton State University across town. Oddly enough, he had no previous employment history. The thirty-five year old man had probably gone from being paid under the table to head of his own company. The image of a multimillion dollar construction guru came later, however it had formed.

She cast aside the third stack of papers, flipped through what had been paper-clipped together. It amounted to roughly thirty pages of printed text documents and digital scans of business news articles. She’d seen all of the latter before, the former largely DMV and credit-card records.

That was it; all there was to the file. She sank in her chair, more dejected than ever. A sickly sense of loss and shame coursed through her. She’d invaded this man’s privacy, questioned his integrity, all for selfish reasons, and there was nothing here. She could go through his medical records with a fine tooth comb, but what was the point? What was she even looking for? How could doctor’s visits, or childhood ailments keep her from falling into debilitating fits each time she saw the man?

She sat silent for a long moment, her eyes fixed past the disheveled desk. Her short stare broke with a sigh, her body and mind drained. The fax suddenly rang, startled her as it began to print out several pages.

She shook her head, her nerves frayed, “Kathy’s right. I’m just projecting.”

The fax machine printed ceaselessly. Pages spilled off the table, onto the floor. Carol rolled her eyes, pushed herself up to collect them, then shuffled them into a stack. The fax machine ceased and the room quieted once more. She set the pages aside to re-fill the fax’s paper, completed the menial task only to return with the pages to her desk, engage in another bout of tedium as she re-arranged the skewed pages into order.

Before she could sit, the office phone rang. She began the usual, formal greeting but Sherry cut her off midway through, “Did a fax just come in?”

“Yeah, easily thirty-to-forty pages thick. What the hell’s in it?”

“Check the cover page.”

She sifted for the last page printed, “To Sherry; Hope this helps. Your frie-”

“That’s all I needed,” Sherry said. “It’s for you– Evans’ file. I hoped it would come in earlier, but maybe it’ll help. I gotta go hun, I’m supposed to be in the bathroom. Let me know if you find anything.”

The phone cut out. Carol set it back on its receiver, slowly retook her seat. She began to thumb through familiar pages. She’d seen Evans’ file during his trial, had committed much of it to memory for the sake of a proper prosecution. How could this help? What more could Sherry have hoped to gain from the fax? How were stacks of papers going to help her get over an illness? What she needed was to look in the bastard’s eyes through the bars of a cell, or from behind transparent plexiglass, stare him down until his heart exploded. She wanted his obituary, not his biography.

An inexplicable rage built within her. For a moment she thought she might scream. She closed her eyes to breathe deep, did her best to calm herself. She was rarely ever so quick to anger, and in its wake, shame tingled in her chest. Her shoulders sank with adrenaline that waned.

She shoved both dossiers into her briefcase, resolved to leave any further investigation until after work. Something so heavy, combined with being cooped up in the office wouldn’t be healthy no matter the eventual outcome. It was several hours before she’d settled on the couch at home, flipped on the television for noise, then retrieved the dossiers.

Buddy snoozed on the couch’s far-end, his nose whistling from atop the dopey look of sleep on his muzzle. His feet occasionally bucked here and there, no doubt from a dream of chasing tails and cars. Carol leaned the briefcase against the sofa’s bottom, laid the folders open on either side of her. She drew from the right; Evans’ files. The police reports listed priors and current charges beneath the smug sneer that haunted her. His cold, brown eyes were like black holes against the fiery star-light of his orange, prison jumpsuit. A curdle of bile burst in her stomach at his face.

She read over the information without taking it in; Name; Zachary Evans, DOB; August 30th, 1985. Sex, Male. Occupation; head of Three Star Entertainment. It was all old news to her, even the medical documents; blood type B negative, height; six-three, weight; 230lbs.

She’d seen it for the months preceding the trial, then months longer during it. The next pages were boiler-plate doctor’s forms signed by the patient, an E.R. slip from when Evans had broken his arm ten or more years ago on a ski-trip in Colorado, and photocopied x-rays of pins in his arm.

It was all an exercise in review, completely useless for her aims. She wanted to find out where Evans was, go there and face him. She needed to know why DePaul afflicted her as he did, that for certain the two men weren’t the same person. She knew she should drop it, go no further, but her concerns for her own health made her reckless, impulsive.

She set the papers down, rose for the bathroom and lingered before the mirror for a moment. Her eyes were haggard, baggy. Purple, sleepless circles had formed above more wrinkles than usual. She looked tired enough to sleep away a weekend, felt it too. She needed rest, tranquility, but couldn’t seem to find it. A deep well of uneasiness had been broached within her, a pump of concerns and fears installed with an automated trigger that only flood her with stress. The nagging threat of another episode merely kept her awaiting it to come, her mind and body skiddish, prepared to be ravaged.

She exhaled a long, tense breath, turned off the tap to dry her hands. The slow walk back to the living room ended with a sideways crane of her neck as she groaned.

“Damn it, Buddy!”

The hound had spread out in his sleep during her absence, managed to crumple a packet of papers. He’d even dug in a pair of nails for good measure She hurried forward. Her feet echoed, startled Buddy awake. Shredded paper signaled the sundering of the packet.

Shit!

She rushed the couch, threw the last of the papers off to save them. He looked around, confused. She groaned obscenities, caused Buddy to hide his head in a corner of the couch. She swept the last of the papers to the furthest end of the couch while Buddy whimpered in his hovel.

“It’s okay, pup,” she sighed with a pat on the head. He whimpered again as she gently lifted his back paws to retrieve the scraps of paper, set them on the floor with the others and lift the stack all at once.

A torn section of DePaul’s medical records caught her eye. It sat atop Evans’, overlaid almost perfectly. Her vision narrowed as if another episode were about about to overtake her. Instead, her eyes focused. The bottom page read out; Name; Zachary Evans, DOB; August 30th, 1985. Sex, Male. Occupation; head of Three Star Entertainment. Then, replaced by DePaul’s torn scrap; blood type B negative, height; six-three, weight; 230lbs.

There could be no doubt, the two were identical.

What the hell?

She stared at the pages; maybe her mind was playing a trick on her. A double, then a triple take confirmed it. Maybe she’d shuffled the papers, gotten two copies– but no, she knew she hadn’t. One had been given to her by Sherry, the other faxed by Mike.

There was no disputing it now. More questions, millions entwined with a thousand new fears and concerns, but it was undeniable; Anthony DePaul was Zachary Evans.

Her heart ran hurdles. Her mind filled with images of the two, tried fit the pieces of the puzzle together: It couldn’t be Evans, he was still carrying in the rehab facility, part of a six-year program. The length of was non-negotiable. That was the compromise the courts had made against the direct opposition of twenty-year sentences that drained the taxpayer, overcrowded the prisons. Six years was the bare minimum before a rehabilitated criminal was reassessed. If they didn’t seem to be genuinely changed, they remained in rehab for as long as it took. There was no chance for an appeal, and no bargains to be made. That was the way it worked. What it was designed for, and what Evans had been given.

But DePaul was to Evans. The medical records couldn’t lie. They had to be correct or it might kill the man. Carol had no misconceptions about the rest, she’d seen the corrupted system first-hand. Everything else about DePaul could be falsified or forged. What Evans would have likely counted on was the lack of interest in comparing these two, radically unaffiliated men’s medical files. It was a billion to one that anyone would even possess both of them, let alone actively search for a connection between them.

With the revelation, it appeared all of the puzzle’s pieces now lay before her. She need only to fit them together, but there was only one person that could help her finish the puzzle.

Rehab: Part 3

5.

Carol projected herself over the running tap to reach the speaker setting on her cell-phone, “I don’t know, but it wasn’t good. It was like… a drug overdose.”

“You know you can tell me if you’re using, Carrie,” Kathy said carefully.

“Damn it Kathy, I’m not on drugs!” She snapped. She pounded a fist against the sink, caused the phone to jump, flip mid-air beside her. It landed face-down.

Kathy hesitated, “Alright, I’m sorry Carrie. It’s just… there’s not much I can tell you. It sounds like text-book splitting.”

“What?”

Kathy explained as Carol ran cool water over her face, “Splitting’s a term for black and white thinking. Black and white thinking’s characterized by a lack of color to one’s perspective– when one believes all that is there is what they see and think they know. For instance, in black and white thinking one would say there are only two possible answers to any question; right or wrong. However, in colored thinking, there are three or more possible answers, but someone splitting will do their damnedest to whittle the options answers down to two– the black or the white.”

Carol shut off the tap, lifted a towel from the counter to pat her face dry, “Okay, I think I see where you’re going. But how’s it relate?”

“Well if you’re splitting, this guy you ran into will instantly either look like the… other guy, or not. Those are the only possible answers when splitting, but in truth, nobody’s that one-dimensional.”

Carol sighed, braced herself against the counter to stretch, “I don’t think that’s it Kath, I just… don’t. It seems too simple. For that matter, why would the reaction be so violent? I mean, I’m not that judgmental, am I?”

Kathy agreed, “No you’re right, you aren’t. At least not normally, anyhow. But the fact is Carrie, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s a defense mechanism triggered by trauma. You could have begun experiencing it unconsciously when the trial ended– you said yourself you felt like you’d failed those girls, failed yourself. Splitting’s caused by questioning your self worth. I can only imagine the blow you took from that.”

Carol gave a slow shake of her head, and a heavy exhale, “I don’t know. It’s too cut and dry, and I’d have figured you’d seen something like that by now, wouldn’t you?”

Kathy’s wavering certainty was a resounding “No,” but she expounded evasively, “The truth is, I’m getting older, Carrie. I’m not as observant as I once was. Plus, we’re friends. Those personal feelings make proper analysis impossible. It’s part of the reason we’re taught not to become emotionally involved with our clients.”

Carol frowned, swiveled to lean back against the sink and stare at her feet, “I figured you’d say something like that.”

“That’s the problem then,” Kathy admitted.

Carol’s eyes trailed along the floor to Buddy, his body melted into the tile. He gave a sigh as Carol crossed her arms, “As a professional, but also as a friend, what would you suggest?”

There was an audible wince over the phone, as though Kathy reeled at the thought of making a suggestion in this situation. She continued with a firm forward motion, “As a professional, I’d say you need to see a friend of mine, but I’m not sure he’d really be able to help with this problem.”

“It’s probably worth a shot,” Carol admitted graciously. “And as a friend, what would you say?”

Kathy was more forthcoming this time, her tension gone, “As your friend, I’d say you have two options; Let it go, or find out as much as possible about this guy, see if maybe it’s your woman’s intuition acting up. I mean, we have instincts for a reason, and this seems like instinct kicking in. You’ve had extensive, first-hand experience with wackos. Check him out. Maybe he’s another one.”

Carol sighed. She was exhausted, but relieved that the episode had passed. Her body no longer shook, and there was only a faint taste of bile left in her mouth.

“I’ll do that Kathy, see what I can dig up. Maybe then I can let it go. Thanks.”

Carol spent the next twelve hours scouring the internet. She read through dozens of business articles, watched double as many press videos and news reels. Each of them highlighted DePaul or his company’s quick rise to wealth and glory. Evidently, the company was competing for the fastest growing commercial construction business ever. Guinness and their books were already on it, with roughly half the articles she found speculating that DePaul would go down in the record books as one of the greatest businessmen ever. Strangely enough however, the most distant article she found came from a year ago, almost to the day in fact.

The local newspaper brief relayed the company’s particulars, highlighted DePaul’s extraordinary fortune and connections. At its inception, DePaul contracting was given several development contracts for local high-rises. Carol suspected corrupt government officials, but there was no evidence in the articles. Even so, if there was foul play involved in the money, there was no doubt it would extend elsewhere. Such was the nature of these types of people and deals.

It was on a natural instinct that she called Sherry. They needed to meet outside of work, discuss things. Sherry promised to oblige the next afternoon while Carol spent the better part of the night and morning researching both DePaul and her own illness. She found little else on either subject, slowly became frustrated, and calmed herself the only way she could think to; a walk with Buddy around the neighborhood.

The second time around the length of the block, the conversation with Kathy returned to the forefront of her mind. Was she splitting? Was everything so black and white that this random stranger had become the target of her unconscious ire? Was it really likely she’d become the victim of a mental illness that had been left unchecked, manifested physically?

It was possible, but still felt too cut and dry for her. She and Kathy had spent years dealing with her initial trauma and resentment of men after her own, vile experience. Though they’d only briefly touched on her feelings of failure after the trial, she’d taken solace in the fact that she’d done her best; it was the system that had failed, not her. She’d done all she could within her own power and within reason.

She made a mental note to look into the bastard after she spoke to Sherry. Opening old wounds may not be the best thing right now, but maybe it would help. Perhaps it was like a broken bone that hadn’t healed properly, required another breakage to be reset so it might return to its former, pain-free shape. As it was, the proverbial bone still seethed pain from time to time, her current reactions its residual throb otherwise drowned by the adrenaline of her fast-paced life.

When she and Buddy returned home, they found Sherry waiting on the front-porch. Carol apologized, but Sherry gave a dismissive wave; she hadn’t heard Buddy bark, suspected they were on their walk. Free of his leash, Buddy nearly tackled Sherry as he leapt at her, nuzzled her torso and arms, and almost knocked her over with pleas for love and attention. She giggled, kissed the side of his muzzle, and received a good once-over on the face with his tongue. He dropped back to his feet trotted off circle the yard.

Carol led them into the house, and offered Sherry a drink, “Rum?”

“Sure. Gotta’ be five o’clock somewhere.”

The bottle clanged with others, slid from beneath the sink as Carol produced two glasses from a cupboard, followed Sherry out the back door and to the table. They sat, mixed rum with cola, and talked for a long while. Ed and his oddly compulsive behavior were the first ass-ends of jokes. Then, Ed’s long time friend, Chuck, the other senior partner in the firm. He was, in fact, just as odd and obsessively compulsive as Ed. As usual, they joked about locking them alone in a messy room filled with countless, strewn files; Sherry gave it fifteen minutes before the room was clean. Carol, more realistic, said twenty-five.

Eventually, the sun began to set, engaged the solar lighting around the deck’s edges that faded in with time. As the day wound down, so did the bottle of rum, but only at its end did Sherry finally have the courage to ask what had been wrong. Carol wasn’t one to miss work, even when sick. At the very least, she would come in until Ed or Chuck sent her home for fear of catching her illness.

Carol hesitated to search for words until everything spilled from her at once; from the initial resentment of the trial, to the episode in the street and the next in the house. She elaborated on her conversation with Kathy, and her frustration at DePaul’s spotless public record.

Sherry listened with careful interest and intrigue until Carol broke down into sobs. She wept with a high, nasally voice, distraught by the toll things were taking. Sherry fell to her knees, beside Carol’s chair, shushed and comforted her.

Buddy’s near-constant whimpers went silent when Carol wiped her eyes, sniffled, “I’m sorry.”

Sherry’s voice was high, sympathetic, “For what?”

“My blubbering. You know I’m not–”

“Don’t be sorry, Carrie. I’m your friend, that’s what I’m here for. Besides, I wouldn’t’ve asked if I weren’t concerned. You’re allowed to be upset. Hell, I’d probably have put myself in the hospital by now. I just… I don’t know what to do. Is there anything I can do?”

Carol wiped her eyes again, looked Sherry over. The question’s sincerity was poised on her limp brows, Carol obliged to answer. She exhaled a thick breath, “ I don’t know.”

“Come on, you’ve gotta’ have something worked out Carrie. I know you well enough to know that. You’ve got something planned, right?”

She thought about it for a moment; did she have a plan? Could she really breach an innocent man’s privacy? Was she really prepared to take this to that level, re-open that old wound? Could it really help her sickness? She wasn’t sure of anything, save that she had to learn more about DePaul.

She finally spoke again, her eyes and face still wet. Determination inflected in the edges of her voice, “I was thinking about looking into Evans.” She wiped her face with a trembling hand, “Maybe check into the rehab facility.” Sherry nodded her onward. She sighed, “According to the Sheriff’s department, the success rate of their programs are outstanding with little-to-no repeat offenders. Maybe it’ll help to make sure he’s there– still serving his time.”

Sherry nodded, rose to retake her seat. Carol leaned forward, rubbed her temples, drained the last of her glass, then relaxed back into the chair. She stared up at the stars, barely visible through Oakton’s smog and light-pollution.

Her gaze fall back to the solar lights that lined the deck, and Sherry finally broke the silence. “I’ll help you, Carrie. Whatever you need.”

“No, it’s alright. I can’t ask you–”

“You didn’t. I decided on my own. I’m helping you with this. The last thing I need right now’s for something to happen to you. I mean, how the hell would I deal with Ed and Chuck on my own?”

Carol managed a small laugh. Buddy gave a solitary bark that echoed through the night. Even so, the momentary happiness was soon swallowed by that ill-foreboding in Carol’s gut.

Rehab: Part 2

3.

A year passed with little incident. Sherry’s graduation and promotion to Junior partner added her full-time into the fold, while Carol’s once, unshakable faith in the system continued to degrade at its usual rate. By now it seemed nearly non-existent, and whenever the subject of that fateful trial was broached, Ed became passive, quiet, still unable to look her in the eye without the aide of copious amounts of alcohol. His guilt became static in their relationship, something he tried to compensate for with large bonuses, pay raises, and her choice of clientele.

Her usual, Wednesday routine to see Kathy remained unchanged, and today the street near her home-office was especially busy. In the early afternoon of the spring’s mild-warmth saw the annual shift from heavy, winter gear to T-shirts, light jackets, even a pair of shorts or two. As a result, most of the block of pancaked, bi-level homes had signs of activity in or around them. Even Oakton’s Street Department had awakened from its winter slumber, began to fill the potholes along the road. The grizzled men in their work clothes and bright, fluorescent green vests clustered along the avenue only a few dozen yards from Kathy’s door

Carol flashed her card at the cabby’s electronic eye as usual, stepped out from the car. A jogger collided with her, toppled her to the ground as the cab pulled away. He recovered, apologized profusely. She did the same, gathered her things without a look.

He scooped up papers, straightened them atop folders, “Sorry. Sorry. Forgive me please, I wasn’t paying attention.”

Carol managed a chuckle, “It’s alright. I wasn’t either.”

He handed his pile over to her, he huffed a flustered breath, “You’re alright, right? You’re not hurt.”

She took the pages, thanked him with a look, “No, I’m fine.”

He smiled wide with perfect, white teeth, as he stepped to one side, “Sorry again.”

The perfect teeth forced a flash of memory from the distant trial, super imposed the perfect, white-teeth of that snake that had slithered away over the man’s. Her stomach lurched. The man apologized, oblivious, and excused himself to jog away. She muttered an garbled pleasantry. Turn autonomously to track him from Kathy’s property to the next. He continued without a look back, but the image blasted a shiver of ice through Carol’s spine. The man’s face disappeared into the overlaid image of the sick, sadistic smile from the courtroom.

Carol swallowed hard, dizzied and sweating. She swayed in a turn for the door, planted each step to it with a deliberate gait to keep upright. Her hand slapped the doorbell as her stomach upturned and her legs wobbled. Kathy opened the door with a casual smile that soured at her pale green pallor. She urged Carol in, guided her away from the door. The foyer and office morphed into one another through vertigo-laden vision. The world gyrated, swirled around her. Her heart raced, panicked, chest tightened, incapable of drawing breathing. A vise had ensnared it, forced it nearer her back.

She was only vaguely aware of Kathy ushering her to the couch. A cool breeze blew from an open window, coursed over cold-sweat that lined Carol’s body, caused a shudder that worsened the vertigo. A distant wind-chime clanged through the air, muffled by a haze of black infected by colors that swirled around it.

Time ceased to have meaning, only seeming to start again once the wind returned to her lungs over the indistinct sound of Kathy’s voice. A warm hand pressed at her forehead and cheeks, while the vertigo began to recede. She managed enough to ask for water, was obliged without question. Her mind focused enough to relay that she had laid down on the couch, was staring up at Kathy’s textured ceiling.

What the hell just happened?

She mentally retraced her steps, found the source of the spell at the man’s face. Dark eyes, not unattractive, but somehow irredeemably repulsive.

Kathy appeared with water, “Sip it, or you’ll make yourself more sick.”

Carol muttered a weak “thank you,” as she sat up to sip from the glass. The ill feelings swirled within her, their cause unknown.

It was a few moments of deep, slow breath’s later that Kathy finally sensed she could speak, “You’re not high are you?”

Carol’s brow furrowed, “What? No. Why would you even–”

“If you are it’s okay, but I have to–”

“I’m not high, Kathy. I don’t…” Carol took a breath. “I don’t know what the hell happened.”

“It’s okay, Carrie, I believe you. But you know if you ever feel you need that you can–” She cut herself off from the glare on Carol’s face. “Oh alright. What’s wrong then?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know.”

“Symptoms?” Kathy asked, formally.

“Vertigo, shortness of breath, sour stomach– but it all came on so fast, I thought I was going to faint.”

“You nearly did. What d’you think caused it?”

She sighed with a shake of her head, “Like I said, it happened so fast.”

“Could be a hypoglycemic episode. How’s your diet been lately?”

“It’s not that– you know how I careful I am with my health,” She sipped a few times from the water glass, “Antacids?”

“I’ll get ’em.” She rushed off once more, returned with a pair of chalky tablets. She handed them over, re-took her seat, “Retrace your steps. Walk me through the few minutes before it started.”

Carol drank from the glass, swallowed and sighed, “I was at the office, took a cab over like usual, and was fine until some guy bumped into me on the street.”

“Think he dosed you with something, somehow?” She asked, concerned.

“No, nothing like that. I was fine until…”

She trailed off: Could it really be true? No. It couldn’t. It was her imagination playing tricks on her. After all, the one year anniversary of the trial was this week, and it had been heavy in her mind.

Kathy interrupted her thoughts, “Until?”

“Well, it was… odd,” she said over thoughtful stare. “He was nice enough. Polite, but… something about his eyes. They were… familiar. And his smile– full of perfect teeth.”

Kathy joked, “Sounds like a looker to me. Maybe it was love at first sight.”

“No. He repulsed me– to my core. He reminded me of– well, of that sonuvabitch that got away last year.”

Kathy’s humor disintegrated, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

She hesitated a moment, then sighed, “Honestly Carrie, this sounds like you’re ascribing your… distaste for that particular man onto others with his features.” Carol eyed her skeptically. Kathy explained, “It’s not uncommon. A lot of ex-wives could tell you that– “’I’ll never date a man with brown hair again, or never marry another green-eyed man.” Men do it too, “I’ll never let another blonde into my bed again.” Anyway, trust me when I say it’s more common than you think.”

Carol wasn’t satisfied, but gave a slow, defeated sigh, “I don’t know, maybe. I mean, you’re probably right, but it just didn’t feel that way. It… felt like I was looking into those same cold eyes, getting that sadistic smile bared at me again, just like that day in court… when they gave him Rehab.”

Kathy was sympathetic, but there was a rigidity to her tone that said her opinion was fixed, “But it was his eyes and smile that did it, right? Not the rest of him?”

She shook her head, “No.”

“Did he resemble the… other man in any other way?”

Another shake of her head, and a sigh, “No, not that I could tell.”

Kathy grimaced, “Then it’s probably like I said, and you’re putting too much thought into it. Just relax, and sip that water.”

Carol gave an absent nod, took another drink. Her stomach had finally begun to settle, but an eerie foreboding frothed beneath the fine layer of antacids. She pinched at the corners of her eyes, forced back the memories of that sadist’s smile in the mockery of a court-room.

4.

At Kathy’s insistence, Carol called the office to take the rest of the day off. Sherry was less than enthusiastic, now stiffed with new paperwork for a defense they were working on. After being told of Carol’s episode– and promised a free night out– Sherry relented. Carol conveniently left out the episode’s trigger, but Sherry was satisfied all the same.

Carol hailed a cab back to her house, unlocked the door and entered the house to her slobbery Pit-bull Terrier, Buddy. He gave a few, deep barks, bounced excitedly and pawed at her legs. His tail wagged behind his torso that circled her path down the hall to the kitchen and two, French doors.

“Come on, Budd.”

He lagged behind her as the door opened. Then, a rush of spring air poked his muzzled and his ears perked up. He rocketed outside ahead of her. She followed him down the trio of steps to the patio-deck, sank into a patio chair to stare off while he made his rounds through the yard.

She tried to push the day’s events out of her mind, kicked up her feet to let the breeze flutter at her at cheeks and tousle her stray hairs. What the breeze didn’t cool, the afternoon sun kept warm. It was a welcome release from the harsh, gray cold that dominated Oakton’s winter months. Her eyelids parted to cotton-white clouds that she vaguely recalled as cumulus.

Buddy’s nails clacked in a trot along the wooden deck, startled her. He plopped onto his haunches beside her while his tongue dangled out the side of his mouth.

She leaned over, kissed the top of his head, “Good boy, Buddy.”

He gave her a lick, stood to lead him inside, and carry on with her normal, after-work routine. She filled Buddy’s bowls, washed her face, and changed to her street clothes to plop comfortably onto the couch, flip on the TV. The digital channels passed casually, stopped on Info-Corp’s News Network with the hope that Carol might see a favorable media fare to their case.

Like many others, this client was high-profile and a perpetrator of drunk-driving. The wealthy-retiree managed to hit a parked car before he careened into an intersection and oncoming traffic. His excessive speed twisted the van he hit into his sports car, left them as little more than useless hunks of steel and plastic. OFD had to cut both drivers from their vehicles; the man walked away with a few broken bones, but the woman was now in rehabilitative therapy with a broken back.

While the doctors said she would recover to walk again, it just so happened that she was sister-in-law to the mayor. It was ultimately impossible to avoid jail-time, especially given the forthcoming Mayoral election. On word of the crash, the Mayor’s campaign immediately shifted to a crackdown on drunk drivers to gain public support– never-mind the half-dozen murders each day, or the countless pick-pockets and other thefts.

The TV flashed commercials to a sigh from Carol. Buddy lumbered atop the couch, put his head on his paws to stare out at the flashing pictures on the screen.

“What are we gonna do with this world, Budd?” Carol said aloud. He whimpered, rolled sideways to expose his belly. She gave it a scratched, muttered, “I guess that’s a solution.”

Info-Corp’s jingle played as the news returned. The overtly charismatic man began his spiel at a moderate speed, never pausing for longer than it took to breathe. “Turning to local business news; today Allen contractors was bought out by DePaul contracting LLC. The emerging construction company seems to be an overnight success story for its owner Anthony DePaul.”

Carol looked up just in time to see a photographic expose of a man’s life. She watched on, entranced, the images chronicled the life of a familiar face– the one she had seen earlier in the street. His dark eyes and pearly-white smile burned into her retinas with the familiar rush of a curdled stomach. This time though, the sounds muffled seemed to highlight the televisions words.

“Anthony DePaul, thirty-eight, inherited a modest fortune from a dying relative,” The anchor said. Old, color photos of a young boy gave way to a young man, then finally, the adult man she’d met, “With a generous dose of foresight, DePaul put the money to good use in creating a construction company with a vision to change Oakton’s scenery.”

Carol’s head began to spin. The expose shuffled through images of office-buildings and construction equipment, “In just under two months DePaul Contracting saw profits in excess of three million dollars. DePaul publicly attributes this success to quote, “dumb luck and knowing the right people.” In the last nine months, the small construction company has grown by triple that, leading to the acquisition of Allen contractors after it had fallen on hard times. Mr. Depaul had this to say:”

Carol couldn’t move, or think, or even look away. She was gripped by pain, terror. Acid rose into her throat, the ivory-white teeth moved in a mockery of her pain while the dark eyes softly scanned the crowd of a press-conference.

“It is my esteemed pleasure,” DePaul said cheerfully. Carol’s insides rolled. “To make this company a part of the DePaul family. As promised, all employees will be held to their original contracts. As you know Allen is an old company, and a well respected name, and speaking as a laborer, I’d hate to see that name lost.” There was a pause, a break in the reel where it jumped to another question. “My intent is purely to help our weakened economy. It’s on all of us, as business owners and citizens, to ensure we keep jobs available and money coming in. In acquiring Allen, I hope to see that–”

Carol heard nothing more. She slumped forward, felt vomit rise. Buddy whimpered. Carol stumbled around the couch, sprinted with a hand over her mouth to the bathroom. The cold porcelain chilled her hands and face as she heaved in a stupor. The fire in her throat and pores reveled in a cold draft from the open door.

She wanted to crawl into the tub, ball up and die. The pain in her stomach and throat forced her eyes shut and clenched against tears that squeezed out. Panic gripped her. Her mind ran hurdles along a gauntlet of hypochondria; she was being drugged, poisoned, slowly gassed or…

Something was wrong. She knew it, felt it, but couldn’t place it. The expose replayed in her mind, triggered a final, dry heave. She gave a loud sob, her tears streams along her pale cheeks. Buddy appeared, barked in alarm. The expose refused to stop. It played a dozen times at high speeds, followed by her episode in the street. Violent shakes seized her arms and legs. Her head snapped from side to side, neck twisted and writhed with attempts to throw the images from her mind.

Without volition, her fists balled. Her knuckles whitened. The images began to superimpose atop one another. With a mounting speed, the man’s face followed childhood to manhood, ended with a grip of unassailable fear as a final, translucent overlay of a second-man’s face appeared. The features were distinctive, similar; a protruding brow, boyish cheeks, dark hair, and full white teeth. Worst of all, were the cold, dark eyes whose orbits perfectly matched those of the other man.

The second man was Zachary Evans, the killer she’d failed to prosecute, the same one given Rehab in place of life-long prison cell or a deserved death sentence. There were obvious differences– chin, nose, hairline, each one thinner. Somehow though, Carol knew; they were the same man.

She crumpled to the floor, exhausted, stared up at her ceiling. Buddy’s hot breaths against the floor were the only sounds audible. Even so, she didn’t notice it. Her mind was too focused, too preoccupied with piecing together the puzzle before her. Her stomach and throat burned from acid, limbs ached from residual tremors that vibrated her body.

Why was this happening? What did these two men have in common? Was it really Evans or was Kathy right; had she displaced hatred for one man onto another? No. No, it couldn’t be that simple. She couldn’t put it all together yet, pieces of the puzzle were still hidden, but it couldn’t be another man. She knew it wasn’t. So what was happening? Were Evans and DePaul really the same person? How?

She didn’t know the answers to her question, but she knew she had to find them. These two episodes had been radically different. The first was bad enough, but the second was like a textbook cocaine overdose. If the last two episodes’ progressions were any inclination of what she could continue to expect, the next one could very well kill her.

Bacatta, Michigan; Where Old Meets New

Bacatta, Michigan

“Where Old Meets New”

Bacatta, a city in the lower peninsula of Michigan, sits less than a hundred miles Northeast of the Indiana-Illinois-Michigan border. Originally inhabited by the Pottawatomi Tribe until the Treaty of Chicago, the land was formally annexed with the rest of the Michigan Territory between August 1821 and March 1822. The still-juvenile US government negotiated with the Pottawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa tribes to seize it and the rest of the groups’ land and force them South along the Trail of Death.

In 1830, nearby Detroit and Grand Rapids’ growing demand for both lumber and agriculture saw the initial formation of Bacatta County. What was little more than a few, massive plots of plains and even greater forests, were quickly cleared and felled to create usable farmland. While the lumber-industry eventually secured itself elsewhere, the empty land it had left behind made for wide, open fields through-out Bacatta County’s borders. By 1835, when Bacatta was officially designated a settlement, the few land-holders there had already sown fields for half a decade. The possibility of high-profits from major tracts of sow-able land incentivized others to the county. The first settlers’ numbers were soon doubled.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Bacatta’s municipal government had been established in a small, central plot of land between the largest farms on little more than a dirt path. This trodden grassland later became the first, official seat of Bacatta’s government; little more than a few, rickety shacks of mud and fresh pinewood. However, after the downward spiral of the Great Depression, and the resultant, upward rise thereafter, a decades-long industrial-revolution took place. By the middle of the 40’s, industry had taken residence in Bacatta, helped the town expand to those few, unfortunate souls’ land the Depression had claimed.

Not long after, agricultural equipment manufacturing became the town’s mainstay. For the first decade, growth was unprecedented. To support the County and town, more and more land was bought, built on. The rickety shacks turned to brick and mortar buildings, dirt-roads to gravel and asphalt, and settlers to villagers and citizens. While World War II ground the growth to a halt as Bacatta’s multiple, machine-run factories were seized for the war-effort, employment rose sharply. However, the town’s return to normal operations after the war left many unemployed.

Despite this, Bacatta continued to grow. Still more land was purchased from its tillers. Towering pines were felled in swaths, used to build homes and businesses along the stretches of reaped plains that formed its center. Unfortunately, Bacatta’s dwindling farmland also shrank its available pool of farmers, wounding the industry that helped to build it. By the early 70’s, the town’s growth had plateaued and only a single, industrial company remained: Agri-Plus had survived the onslaught by exporting goods across the country, making deals with various, distant hardware and department stores, and offering discounts to local farmers to drive up its reputation.

Though Bacatta began to shift from an industrial economy to a more diverse, functional one, it remained incapable of long-term survival without drastic change. Unemployment crept ever-upward. Homelessness infected small areas of the town, built-up since the war. Civic leaders scurried for answers, solutions, and Bacatta Times’ headlines ranted about a nigh-end to the town.

From the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s the plateau trended downward. The trickle of new-arrivals to dried up, effectively bolstered rumors of the city’s inevitable demise. Bacatta’s already sparsely populated lands watched its inhabitants turn away one-by-one, seek work and new-lives elsewhere. Then, in 1986, Pharmaceutical Solutions arrived with a promise to help bolster the economy. Abbreviated Pharma-Sol, the company set up shop to manufacture and research medicinal drugs near the center of town. Its thousands of vacant positions offered refuge for those hurt by the economic downturn. Various incentives, tax-breaks, and closed-door deals, bribed Pharma-Sol to use its third-party realty and rental corporations to purchase and lord over the land as its benefactor.

Despite these often-seedy deals, Bacatta once more boomed. The sudden growth caused waves whose effects would be felt for decades, but not all of them were positive waves. The next decades left certain, characteristic scars on the land and people, both figurative and literal. The proverbial knife had come down during the ’90s and forever scored the beautiful face of the town.

The cut first pierced skin with an influenza epidemic that spread through the town and outlying areas, crippled Bacatta’s earning power. As per their supposed goodwill, Pharma-Sol responded with a variety of high-priced vaccines to safe-guard the still-healthy. It was hailed as the proverbial, armored-mask against the knife. In truth, Bacatta’s government and health-care providers were given no choice but to pour their last resources into Pharma-Sol’s vaccines. The subsequent, massive financial debts to State, Federal, and Private lenders only further worsened the town’s economy.

Mere months after the fiscal catastrophe, and spurned by an anonymous tip, the FBI began to comb through Pharma-Sol’s operations. The mask it seemed, had been little more than a poorly-applied placebo. Already concerned with the possibility of foul-play, the FBI used the death of one of Pharma-Sol’s head researchers as motive to sleuth through its records, employees, and dealings. The wound left behind was only fully revealed once court transcripts were publicized. Media-fueled lynch-mobs appeared in protest, outraged by the revelation of a conspiracy and scandal that spelled disaster for both Pharma-Sol and Bacatta.

As evidenced by both court testimonies, and recovered information, the aforementioned researcher had been ordered murdered by Pharma-Sol’s CEO, and Board of Directors. The killer was never caught. However, many parties testified openly, assured the court that the man’s death-warrant had been signed by his discovery of the influenza epidemic as a hoax– one engineered by Pharma-Sol’s executives to increase quarterly profits.

In less than a month the scandal shuttered the company. Its CEO and Board of Directors were either jailed, executed, or committed suicide in fear of the repercussions. Investor confidence dissolved overnight. The company’s veinous tendrils, that had snaked beneath all of Bacatta’s economy to nourish it with fluid, green life, withered and died. Bacatta declared bankruptcy months later, and Pharma-Sol’s assets were seized as evidence, and either dismantled or auctioned off for small, Federal gains.

Unemployment, debt, and homelessness quickly ran rampant. Until the early 2000s, large swaths of the town were abandoned, eventually splitting it into two parts; Old Bacatta, and New Bacatta. Though more recent restoration efforts helped to revitalize Old Bacatta, those years saw its red and white-brick buildings tarnished with the dust and grit of a seedy underbelly. The once-strong town remained largely abandoned until early 2004, when Biological-Conventions (aka Bio-Con) opened its doors.

Bio-Con’s CEO, Ronald Jorgeson, a former Navy SEAL turned businessman, unfurled his own tendrils through-out the town and surrounding County. Through Bio-Con’s third party subsidiaries, he purchased, renovated, and reconditioned the land, and continued urban development that had been stalled for more than twenty years. In short, he fought to breathe new life into the city. With Bio-Con’s reputation, soaring stock-prices, and Jorgeson’s own, personal promise to resurrect Bacatta, investor confidence leaned sharply in his favor. Like Pharma-Sol, the supposed pharmaceutical company had brought jobs, hope, and direly-needed money to the near-dead town. However, unlike Pharma-Sol, Jorgeson used effective, economic stimuli to help the town regain its footing and blossom into a full-fledged city.

With his land holdings and subsidiary contractors, Jorgeson built office-buildings, shops, and suburbs, then leased them out or sold them off for low-ball offers to encourage emigration. Through a series of donations and arranged task-forces, Bacatta’s Police Departments were bolstered, began to chase the less-desirable elements out. As Bio-Con grew, Bacatta outpaced it by a wide margin. A new population, attracted largely by the increase in employment security, education, and public safety, formed a cosmopolitan city whose sole industry was diversity itself. In less than a decade, the town that had gasped for air, breathed, once more invigorated.

With most of the gang activity and vagrancy driven from town, the landscape reformed. In only a few, short years after Bio-Con’s initial appearance, large tracts of abandoned buildings were bulldozed, demolished for new, tan-concrete boutiques, shops, and parlors that sprang up through the center of its uptown district. Downtown, municipal and private office-buildings rose behind the height of North Main Street, its rear-half long-since the sole home of the city’s government.

Though certain areas of farmland, and former-businesses, remain abandoned along its outskirts, Bacatta has once more risen from the ashes. With wise investment and cautious remembrance, Civic leaders continue to secure Bacatta’s future. Its people live mostly happy, healthy lives, completely oblivious to its largely sordid history and shadowy benefactors. And, as per its motto, “Where Old Meets New;” Bacatta is where an old world and an new one converge to ensure a long, healthy life for an assuredly interesting future.