The Fourth Guy

Submitted into Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about another day in a heatwave. ... view prompt



The midnight black asphalt glimmers with ground-up pieces of seashells making constellations. The sun softened road feels like a rubberized mat as if I am on the run-up to a floor exercise in a gymnastics event. There is a blue lake about a quarter-mile ahead, shimmering in the still air. I was running hard, beating my body into submission, trying to master it. I had gotten slower, not because I had gotten older, but because I had gotten fatter. I never get to the lake. Like most dreams, it is tantalizing, always a quarter-mile away, as if I were bewitched by Voldemort in a Harry Potter fantasyland. It was a mirage, like most childhood dreams, a reflection of the cloudless sky, but it advanced me towards my real objective, unseen and only known in part. The sky was Doctor John blue and IRS merciless, the sun a mocker and tormentor, having murdered every cloud in the hours just after dawn. Muscles flexed and relaxed with every stride, pounds of fat jiggling like jelly, mocking my will, taunting my inner self. My true self was bursting to break out of my protoplasmic encasement of lipids like “David” breaking out of the raw slab from which Michelangelo birthed him.

This was Jacksonville, Florida. If it were a normal place, North of the seventh level of hell, sweat would pour off and cool a person down the way God designed it. If it were just hot like Arizona, sweat would evaporate so quickly one could not feel wet and dehydration would come for those not hypervigilant. This was Florida, where sweat poured off you and poured on you faster, where the humidity was so dense it made every stride a step through a paper barrier. Everyone in South Philly is dying to retire in Florida, everyone who lives in Florida is just dying --- hates it, crocodiles, tourist overcrowding, too hot to go outside, the bitching never ends. 

Finally, water, real water, my goal, the Saint John’s River, and a breeze. The breeze still doesn’t cool me, but I know it’s there because it initiates my gag reflex, like when I go over the Girard Bridge near the Philly airport. It is a breeze as humid as pissing in the wind, smelling of the constantly farting marshes. I pass by several people, obviously natives. I flew down from Philly, where it is winter and fifteen degrees below zero, with snow on the ground. It is hot and humid, but the natives are all wearing jackets. Some have toboggan hats. Two have mittens. This is surreal. A heatwave is to what you are accustomed to. I was a man on fire, but someone who lives in hell bathes in the flames and feels like it’s a cool bath. It reminded me of the preacher story about the frogs happily swimming in the pot, as you gradually heated the water, cooking them for lunch. The preacher talked of complacency, the slippery slope on the wide path that leads to destruction. In my case, the slippery slope of blizzards leads to a body that will not conform to my will.

I exit my living Salvador Dali diorama of a burning man passing cold people in the seventh level of hell and runoff in search of the hundredth level of hell. The last I see of the cold people they are looking cold in their winter regalia as I run by in gym shorts, no shirt, and a cloud of sweat. They looked at me like I was the strange one. Maybe I was. Only those with cut abs are permitted to run shirtless in Florida. Screw’em if they can’t take a joke. 

There is a heatwave up ahead in the hundredth level of hell. I am a criminal. I seek to end that heatwave. Some judge me because I seek to end it in a way where I profit from it. There is no power stronger than self-interest. If I can trailblaze the way to making money at ending it, others will copy me, and it will end. I call myself an honest criminal because I have my own moral code that does not conform to the laws of the land.

 There is no sun in the one-hundredth level of hell. It is an Inferno yet there is no light. The smell of the marshes of Florida is like fresh cut flowers compared to its stench. It is hotter and more humid than Florida. It is a sealed metal can, packed with people, in a special sauce made of urine and feces. It is twenty degrees hotter than the outside temperature. There is no ventilation. The harvesters of the human sardine’s plan on and expect half of the human sardines to die. They are okay with it for many reasons. The strongest of their products have survived. They have a good healthy product and have culled the weak. The survivors will naturally be more compliant, viewing what they have planned for them as heaven, as the fiftieth level of hell looks like heaven when you are on the one hundredth.

I run along the river, past the port of Jacksonville, doing my recon. I stop as if to rest. I observe. I am a criminal with mad skills, but I am not Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne is not Jason Bourne, without stuntmen and multiple takes. Not even the best can come out on top in every physical confrontation the way it is portrayed in the movies. Jack Reacher’s favorite move is a head butt. I’ve seen guys try a perfectly executed headbutt and due to the uncontrollable randomness of the universe end up knocking themselves out. Whenever I get pompous and think to use some of the mad skills, learned from Navy Seals when I was a computer nerd specialist on their team, I watch Jackie Chan movie bloopers at the end of every movie.

I am an engineer, and a project manager by day, criminal by night. I bankroll my startup activities through card counting at casinos, mostly around the Midwest where the stakes are too low to expect anyone with my talents. They consider me a criminal, only because I win. Casinos that cheat grandma out of her savings call me a cheater. What a world. I make real money when I win at my criminal activities.

Finally, I see it. I have a plan. I know how to monetize this. I know how to win. I run back to my hotel.

The water in Florida sucks. I try to take a cold shower, but the coldest it gets is about 80-degree water that tastes like chlorinated cow dung. I had the room’s temperature set at 65 degrees, the lowest it would go. It was about 78 degrees.

I made my calls, put my plan in action for the next day, and tried to sleep in hell, wondering why people wanted to come to this godforsaken place. The fact that it is growing so fast is a monument to the stupidity of man. I am done with the Northeast. I am moving to Indiana. No hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, crocodiles, sharks, forest fires, volcanoes, tsunamis, or liberals; I can load up the RV and visit the tourist traps in the offseason when they aren’t having a crisis, and there are for sure fewer idiots in the whole spacious beautiful state of Indiana than in the continuous sewer that is New York City, because there are fewer people in the whole state than in Gotham.

The limousine picked me up promptly at 7 am. I was pimped out in a four thousand Armani dollar suit, light gray, black shirt, gray tie, hat. I had been taking runs through the port for a week. I knew the routine.

I had the limo driver pull up right where the limo had pulled up every prior Wednesday and would probably arrive in an hour.

“Eh, your early, you know?” He looked at me. “Who are you! I only do business with Alfonse.”

Two men approached me, one from Nassar’s left, the other from Nassar’s right.

The one on the left pulled out a pistol and held it gangster style, upside down, pointing it at me.

“You in the wrong place Holmes.”

I laughed out loud.

“I know your name, Nassar. I’m from South Philly. Alfonse is so low he could crawl under a pregnant ant. I am taking over.” I threw a gym bag at his feet. It was open. You could see the bundles of cash in it.

The guy who couldn’t hold a gun was close enough that it wouldn’t matter. The other guy circled around behind me, between me and the limo.

I didn’t let it bother me. I was a gambler and a project manager. I learned at a young age that attitude is everything.

“Alfonse already paid me.” Said Nassar. “No Nassar, he did a wire transfer to your bosses in Dubai, who will pay you on Friday. You take the money; you give me the merchandise. When Alfonse shows up in an hour, tell him about me. Give him this.” I handed him a card with my name and phone number on it.

“You end up richer, off the books. Your bosses in Dubai end up with a bidding war. Everybody is happy.”

“Everybody is happy except Alfonse,” he said.

It takes a remarkably thin story to convince someone of what they desperately want to believe. Nassar was in deep with gambling debts. Alfonse treated him like an underling.

“Let’s see the merchandise.” He opened a container nearby. The heat coming from it was overwhelming. It smelled like rotting flesh because it was rotting flesh. Inside the container were 50 bodies and 25 souls. Half had died. I choked back my revulsion, struggling to stay in character.

“Doesn’t it hurt your profits?” I slipped out of character and said, “Doesn’t it bother you?”

Nassar smiled. “Do you know what I did before this gig? I was an evolutionary anthropologist. I have a Ph.D. from your American University of Pennsylvania. I am advancing the species. I am part of taking mankind to the next level in human evolution.”

“Bullshit,” I said. “Why wouldn’t you be teaching college somewhere?”

Nassar smiled. “I teach sometimes. I am on sabbatical. This is my fieldwork. What the lost ark was to Indiana Jones, this is to me. I debated your Ken Ham and proved evolution is true. You must have heard of me.”

I was disgusted, but I needed to keep him talking as his henchmen hosed down the living, handed them a brown bag meal, and loaded them onto a bus. “What do you mean?”

“Do you know why the NBA and NFL are mostly African Americans? People like me! They were blessed to be culled by slave traders who brought them to America. The very weak died on the boats. The weak were weeded out in the cotton fields. Margaret Sanger turned abortion into a social engineering process to weed out the stupid, by sterilizing and aborting their babies. I am doing this same favor for these people. I am their father, the father of a future master race! “

I had an answer for Nassar, but not now. The bus was ready to go. I gave the limo instructions to follow the bus. I opted to drive the bus and leave his driver behind.

My answer to Nassar came when Alfonse showed up.

It wasn’t too far to the Christian mission that helps people like those I rescued, along with a duffle bag full of cash. It was so close I could hear the explosion, as the bomb in the duffle bag exploded. If I did it right, it would have taken out Alfonse too. Welcome to the real hell, Alfonse, and Nassar. You have evolved into what you richly deserve. Say hello to Darwin and Hitler for me.

I didn’t care about the money that had been blown up. I had hacked Alfonse. It was house money, as I had withdrawn it from his account when I had emptied it. I had also emptied out Nassar. I was largely responsible for his gambling debts. I had spoofed his online gambling site. It is said that the currency of business is trust. America is built on a fine infrastructure of laws that build trust. Human trafficking is a business, outside of that infrastructure. Law enforcement fails so often to stop them because they must obey the law. I am an honest criminal. I make my living by destroying that trust and taking my cut.

I took one more run on my favorite route before blowing town and exiting hell. It was appropriate that Meatloaf was playing on my headphones. “Like a bat out of hell, I’ll be gone when the morning comes”

The smoke billowed. It was a conflagration of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and black SUVs. There were several other containers. Disappointed at no news vans, I made a quick anonymous call from my blue tooth headphones, angry that I had to slow down to a trot to do it.

I strained to regain my pace. Sweat poured on and poured off me. I had worn a shirt today, having gotten too much sun the day before. It was saturated and felt like it weighed ten pounds. I contemplated throwing it into the river.

I had killed today. I had broken the law. I had profited from illegal enterprises, with an enterprise of my own. I had violated several cybersecurity laws. Do the ends justify the means?

My route circled me back past another view of the port. The news vans were there now. Several other containers had been opened, and many more people were rescued.

Do the ends justify the means? Was Malcolm X right, by any means necessary?

No, the ends do not justify the means. Malcolm X was a terrorist. Rioters are terrorists. Every man has a decision to make about the morality of his actions. He can’t delegate that to his priest, his boss, or his government. If you see a wrong, and you can do something about it, and you don’t do anything—you are aiding and abetting. When I stand before God, I will answer for killing Nassar and Alfonso. If I didn’t kill them, if I stayed in my nice suburban life and went on as if human trafficking didn’t exist, I would answer for the lives of those people in the container. Inaction is a decision.

I thought of the people I had not saved, the people who were mere data to me as I cased their operation and developed my plan. I wondered where they were now. They were probably being abused as sex slaves, but more content to be on the fiftieth level of hell than the one hundredth. They may even wear toboggans and mittens when it's in the ’80s. I had failed them. I had made a profit. I had disrupted future operations. I had lost souls in the weeks of planning. What about them? Maybe they were the fault of the police, who ignored my tip those weeks ago?

I wish when Jesus had told the parable of the talents, he had told about the fourth guy. I’m never the third guy, the one who buries his talent in the sand in fear and decides to do nothing. Often, I’m the first or second guy who doubles it like the guy with the ten talents and five talents. What about when I’m the guy who fails like I failed the people who died? Or when I am the one who failed to do it inside the lines of the Pharisees in the temple of government? What about when I’m the fourth guy, the one who invests his talent and loses it? How do you unscramble an egg?  

August 07, 2020 16:55

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Evalina Williams
17:25 Aug 13, 2020

Makes you stop and think and any time something can do that it is good.


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Caleb Basquill
18:10 Aug 08, 2020

Best one yet. Your writing was amazing you're really improving.


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