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Fatal Fugazi

Of all the fascinating things I've experienced in my long life, I suppose I could’ve chosen to share any number of entertaining tales. But I’ve decided to share this one because it affected me the most. Its outcome still perplexes me. And before the details are forgotten and the story is lost or becomes compromised, I feel an urgent need to record the events while they remain fresh in my memory.

The following account doesn't really have a hero, and there are no car chases, motorcycle stunts, horse races, airplanes, or explosions. I don’t believe there’s a need to spice the narrative up with such frills. The following story contains only the elements that made it memorable to me in the first place.

I hope that what follows will be effective in making it memorable for you, the reader, as well.

Because there is no perfect place to begin this story, I think the perfect place to begin is the place where I have chosen to begin…

I saw him again in an art gallery. It was nothing special, that gallery, no famous collection in any major world center or anything, just an interesting little building, housing a well-appointed selection of pieces in a small but nice city somewhere off the overly beaten path.

It had been at least a year since the last time I’d laid eyes on him, and now, seeing him again, I was unpleasantly surprised. Surprised, and anxious. He was alone, as usual, and looking very much like he always did: dapper but modest, professional but relaxed, and comfortable in his own skin.

I imagined then, catching a glimpse of him from the back of the room, that he was unaware of my presence. I suppose I should’ve known better. I probably did, but I’m easily fooled when I want to be, even by myself. Especially by myself.

 

I left the gallery, somewhat apprehensively satisfied with my assumed cleverness. I’d managed to avoid him for almost a year this time, and I believed I still had the upper hand.

I was to enjoy the illusion of my cleverness for some time.

However, I must now admit, to my eternal regret, that after all my years in the game, I fell prey to ego, and it blinded me to what has become almost painfully obvious in hindsight. For one of only a small number of times in my existence, I believed I was infallible. My resulting carelessness was a product of such stupidity.

Carelessness is not conducive to longevity in my area of expertise.

I’ve always lived a bit of a double (if not triple) life. Most of my friends and associates have little or no idea of what most of my time consists of, and I like it that way. I find people with no secrets very boring. I don’t generally keep company for very long with those who eagerly share their deepest and darkest. I prefer the challenge of having to work for such information.

There have been a few occasions when, after I’d made it unmistakably clear that behaviour of the sort repels me, certain individuals, in various states of either intoxication or emotional vulnerability, have felt some selfish impulse to reveal every mundane detail about their sad little lives to me, incorrectly believing I cared.

My annoyed reaction in many of these cases was to share the most sensitive and damning bits of that information in the most public ways possible. And, without blatantly incriminating myself in the process, I generally succeed in doing so, very effectively.

I believe that when people insist on unloading distasteful personal baggage onto others, even after receiving clear and repeated signals to refrain from doing so, such rudeness indicates that they have no regard for personal boundaries. That, or they desperately need attention from whoever will hear them. Or both. I’ve always felt it was my duty to ensure that such a lack of consideration be met with grave consequences.

I sincerely hope the lessons were learned. Mum’s the word; an air of mystique and strength attracts interesting people and desirable situations; full disclosure to near-strangers begets treachery and sorrow.

Already I digress. It’s certainly a trait of which I am often guilty, but I do my best to keep these digressions within the bounds of whatever tale I happen to be telling.

After surreptitiously extricating myself from the museum and the character I took some satisfaction in avoiding, I joined a new lady friend and a few of her associates for some lunch and a drink or two. I’d chosen the place. It was one of my favourite spots in the city—in the world, actually—and well deserving of its considerable reputation. And that reputation was expensive. But I rarely paid the tab for any of these get-togethers, so what did I care?

One of the perks of being mysterious is that people are forever willing to pay for the pleasure of attempting to figure you out, even if you appear wealthy. Especially if you appear wealthy, I’ve come to believe. The more money you have, or appear to have, the less you need. Just ask a movie star or a successful musician, a professional footballer or a race-car driver.

The woman I was meeting for lunch was one of those financially pampered but emotionally neglected heiress types. Her subtle, innate sense of self-importance was not something she could be entirely blamed for. Much of it was clearly due to her being constantly fawned over by the men and women in her social circles. They were forever trying to gain favour with her and gain access to her bedroom or bank account. Often at the expense of their own dignity.

It’s probably also true that much of her superior air was the direct result of family members filling her head with that sense of entitlement you find in certain elitist circles.

However, despite her few minor shortcomings, I quite enjoyed her company. She was more than educated enough to maintain stimulating conversation, sophisticated enough to interact with on a level where we were quickly more than just casual associates, and she had yet to show any sign or intention of devolving into the realm of the base and boring monkeys I had no patience for or interest in. She also had a sense of humour that rivalled any. Plus, I was fairly certain she wanted me more than I wanted her, which, to me, was essential.

What I think I liked most about her was how unwilling she was to share any personal information. Extracting anything from her was laborious and painstaking. She had a very natural and disarming way of deflecting any inquiries about herself with a sort of graceful, elite sarcasm, something I had never before encountered to such a degree in anyone.

She was a genius at redirecting attention away from herself and onto others. It could be redirected at me, a server in a café or restaurant, or someone passing on the street; sometimes even a pet or a pigeon. Nothing was immune. She was truly a wizard of social interaction. If she was not always the director of the conversation in every circle, it was because she chose not to be.

I think I was slightly enamoured. Intrigued, at the very least.

She also had an undefinable, enticing darkness dancing behind the brilliantly-crafted facade she chose to portray. A darkness that I found irresistible.

Usually, I was able to diagnose such things within minutes, but she was so good at presenting whatever persona she felt was useful to her at any given moment that it took me longer than usual to confirm my suspicions. I had no doubt, though, after one of our outings, that there existed something sinister within the soul of this enigmatic woman.

After confirming this, I endeavoured to get as close to the source of her darkness as I could and engineer a drastic change in her life.

The previously mentioned get-together went extremely well, and after what seemed like an eternity of expensive lunches and five-star dinners, she finally invited me to her home. We'd been out for dinner yet again, but I’d paid for a change.

 

After we left the restaurant, she turned and asked me if I would be interested in seeing where she lived.

I assumed she was beginning to let her guard down slightly, and must be developing some sort of affection for me. Just what I’d been hoping for. Of course I accepted the invitation, but not before ensuring that she was certain it was because she truly wanted to invite me over, and was not in any way due to some sense of obligation.

After sweetly tearing my noble intentions to shreds, she assured me that I would never see the inside of her home if it wasn’t what she desired. And I believed her. So off we went.

Her place was what you might expect of someone like her, and it wasn’t. It was elegant, expensive, and filled with antique furniture and the best of everything. It had tall ceilings, marble counters, and arched doorways. It was classy and timeless.

 

There were books everywhere, which was not much of a surprise, but there were almost no electronics, something I thought just about everyone of this age had way too much of. She did, however, have a small-ish television set that was attached to the latest video game console. It seemed as though that was the only purpose for the TV.

The modest setup sat in a dimly lit space with no other obvious purpose; a lonely little distraction station set against a faded white wall in an otherwise empty room.

An old but comfortable-looking plain chair faced the television, accompanied by a plain side table. But the strongest visual imprint in my memory of that room was a very inviting-looking red plush blanket hanging over the back of the comfy chair. The way the blanket hung, and how the bottom piled itself casually on the floor below, made it look like a motionless little waterfall of blood in the dark.

I had not anticipated that room as being a part of her personality. I don’t know why it surprised me so much, but it did.

Two other things stood out: A fish named Melville, and a crow whose name I never learned. The fish was just a fish, I suppose. I just didn’t see my new friend as the fish type. But the crow? Who has a pet crow? And he was not a kept crow. No clipped wings, no cage, no restraints whatsoever. And there was always a window left open for him to come and go as he pleased, which he did. He didn’t get into anything he wasn’t welcome to, and he made no mess anywhere. It was truly one of the most unique relationships I’d ever witnessed.

If I’d been intrigued by this woman before visiting her home, I was now truly hooked.

That night went exceptionally well, and afterwards she began inviting me over quite often. I occasionally invited her to the hotel room I’d been living in, but her place was infinitely more interesting. Most of our time not spent out on the town was spent there.

Things were developing in exactly the way I’d wanted them to from the beginning. Better even. It was almost as though our relationship followed a script I could’ve written myself. I remember thinking more than once that it was a bit odd how seamless and perfectly convenient everything was.

In retrospect, everything that took place during that particular time now seems weird, surreal, and distant. My recollections of events are like those grainy, flashback videos you see in the movies. Videos of bell-bottomed, disco-ball summers long past; of long-haired kids riding banana-seat bikes through friendly suburban streets, waving at the smiling neighbours and happily cruising through swirling clouds of butterflies.

I regret not focusing intently enough on the details of that period to realize that something was amiss. Looking back on it now, I should have been aware that nothing was as it had ever been in previous, similar circumstances. Not even close. There was always something a little off about every situation.

I had fallen for this woman in some way, and my usually razor-like awareness had been dulled to the point of apathetic complacency. Contentment has a way of disarming us all, and I was no exception.

Then, one evening while we were at my hotel, he appeared again, the one from the art gallery. I had let my guard down, become careless, and had all but forgotten about him. But he had clearly not forgotten about me.

It was at this point that I realized the sighting many weeks earlier at the gallery had not been accidental. He'd intentionally let me think I’d gotten the better of him so it would be easier for him to watch me. Very clever. Knowing that he was in the city, I had in fact increased my awareness, but, clearly, not by enough.

How many times had I given him the slip only to have him find me again? He was the most tenacious one yet. All of my previous attempts to get rid of him had failed miserably. That hadn’t happened before he came along, and it had become more than a little unnerving.

Something I didn’t immediately notice at the time he made his most unwelcome appearance was what must have been the simultaneous appearance of that unnervingly strange, nameless crow. A detail that may have triggered something had I been more conscious of my surroundings. But I wasn’t.

I did register a flicker of recognition in the eyes of my lady friend on his arrival, though. You know that look someone gets when they see a person they’re familiar with enough to look at them like they’re not a stranger, but not a friend or member of the family? It was that kind of look. Where did she recognize him from? It didn’t make sense.

The timing of this recent appearance by my most unwelcome associate could not have been completely coincidental. Or even marginally coincidental. When he knew I was working on a project and was nearing the end, he generally stuck as close as his intelligence and my mistakes would let him. He had obviously clued in to what my intentions were as far as this woman was concerned, and he intended to sabotage my plans.

In recent years, he was far more successful at thwarting my schemes than I was at executing them. He had grown to know me very well.

Over the course of the relationship with my lady friend, I’d used nearly all of the considerable tools I’d developed over my many years to insidiously crawl into her heart and mind. Or so I believed. After slipping past her defences, I diagnosed her as a very strong but surprisingly vulnerable person. She was clearly tough, but certainly someone I could manipulate. However, during the course of my mission, I had unwittingly let her slip past my defences as well.

The night my plans unravelled, I had her out on my hotel balcony, intending to coerce her into climbing the fire escape to the roof before throwing herself off of the building to her death. That was the end goal of my project.

I’d spent months getting her to open her jaded soul enough that I could slither my way into her heart, drag her deepest weaknesses and fears into the light, under a guise of concern or maybe even love, and use those weaknesses against her in a way that led to her suicide. It was quite an exciting little challenge. Then I would disappear like a puff of smoke and move on to bigger and more terrible things.

I’d been doing this sort of thing for centuries, at least, maybe more than centuries by then. I was very good at it, and I enjoyed preying upon the weaknesses of these ridiculous humans. Yes, sowing chaos and discord and leading as many of these fundamentally flawed beings as I could to their grim deaths gave me great satisfaction.

Generally, my targets were more influential than my lady friend, but I was on a bit of a holiday from my usual work when she fell into my lap, and I quickly became entranced by her.

I do what I do because I want to. That’s my only reward. I have no love and no remorse, no addictions and no regret. I exist for the sole purpose of orchestrating disharmony among humankind. I’ve done a lot of that. And there are many more just like me.

As far as I’m aware, we have no deity that drives us, no ancient dogma, or any mission to fulfil; we are not bound to, nor forced to strive towards attaining any ultimate goal. There is no grand plan.

We are mercenaries of misery with no obvious master, malevolent marionettes, dancing to our own Machiavellian tunes. Rogues. We lurk in the shadows of history, directing disasters and creating dictators, engineering holocausts, genocides, and agony, fostering greed and doubt, and feeding all manner of vice and woe.

We disguise ourselves in many ways, and the successful ones tend to find comfort zones that serve us well, and we stick with them. I am pestilence with panache. I create suffering in style. I’m chaos in tailored English and Italian suits, driving priceless automobiles and rubbing expensive elbows with those who later take the unforgivable, ageless blame for following my damnable direction. And I pay the price for none of it, because at the same time that I’m everywhere, I'm nowhere.

There are some rules, though. I can’t murder people directly. I have to convince them to commit harm to themselves or others. I’m not even able to operate a gun if it’s to hurt or kill a person. I can’t stab, poison, run over, or blow anyone up; that must be done entirely on their end.

My tools are knowledge and patience, and my strongest weapons are words. My fatally persuasive words. So much more powerful than the biggest things that go "bang" in all the arsenals of the fiercest nations on earth. Words have been the most instrumental catalysts for everything humans have accomplished or committed, and I’ve learned all I know from the creatures I love to destroy.

Although I cannot directly kill humans, I can be killed by them. I could be shot, hanged, stabbed, or pushed in front of a train. Take your pick. I’m considerably stronger than the average person, by quite a margin, and I can defend myself if attacked, but I can die, so imagine how crafty I would have to be to survive for centuries.

By whatever design that anything exists, it seems that balance is critical for every system in the universe, and the yin to my yang are beings like him. He was not the first assigned to me by whatever force directs such things. I think they choose to police us for reasons similar to why we choose to perpetuate what you may call "evil"; because they want to.

They can’t kill us, though, and we can’t kill them. It just doesn’t work that way. I tried once, long ago, and nothing happened. I don’t exactly remember why it didn’t work or what happened, but I came to my senses on a street corner by myself much later in the day, disoriented and confused. The target of my attempted murder surfaced not long after, in perfect health. Although, I did later convinced a magistrate I knew to have him falsely convicted of a capital crime.

At the execution, I stood calmly among the crowd of onlookers as we looked at each other across the filthy, screeching throng. I stared into his eyes and smiled sweetly as the guillotine dropped.

Shortly after that, I ruined the magistrate’s life and legacy by exposing our homosexual affair at a time and in a place where this was completely unacceptable. I had no reason to do it; I just wanted to.

 

Afterwards, I simply assumed a different identity and moved on. He had no such option, however, and committed suicide before the scandal went public. His bloated body was found by his young children and their aunty, hanging from a tree at the family villa.

 

That surely put a damper on their weekend at the lake.

Another interesting fact about the opposing symbiosis between us and them is that they are unable to directly save humans from us. They can’t just spill the beans and tell potential victims that they’re in mortal danger. And even if they could, who would believe them? They can only use their skills of persuasion to convince people to make their own best decisions.

So you can see how we live and die by playing a sort of chess match between each other, with humans as the pieces. It’s wonderful fun. Sometimes it's insanely frustrating or disappointing, but always fun. Especially when I win and ships full of people go down in the frozen night, or vast underground mines cave in on the heads of those toiling deep in the belly of the earth, or horrific, easily avoidable wars erupt and last for decades, scarring the souls of millions for generations to come. My personal favourite.

Throughout my long and productive existence, I’ve developed many skills, and have anonymously accumulated much wealth and power. Not that any of it makes the slightest difference to me personally, but it has helped me gain access to influential people in powerful positions. And ruining them, or helping them ruin others, has ripple effects that spread far and wide, adversely affecting the well-being of humanity on a global level. Because, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

But then there I was, working on a small side-project, desperate to have a lovely, perfectly-flawed enigma of a woman end the promise of an exceptional future at my gentle suggestion.

At the point where I had her near what I’d planned to be her death, I’d momentarily lost my edge, and was unsure of how to deal with the inconvenient resurfacing of my old nemesis. I didn’t have to concern myself with the issue for very long, however, because my lady friend provided the best possible solution for dealing with that annoyance. And in such an unexpectedly characteristic way that as soon as it was done, her method seemed like the only natural one to apply.

When she saw him standing across from us on his hotel balcony, she walked into the living room, presumably to where she had left her handbag, and quickly stepped back outside with a silenced pistol in her hand. She then turned to face him across the space dividing the balconies, raised the pistol, and shot him between the eyes.

I was dumbfounded! It had been a long time since I had seen this kind of violence practiced so freely by women of the more "civilized" cultures.

At this point, her nameless crow friend flew out the door of my now-dead enemy’s hotel room and alighted on her shoulder. She and it seemed to exchange some information to which I was not privy. Not that I would’ve understood any of it even if I had been involved.

After the exchange, he hopped from her shoulder onto the black, metal railing that held the balcony’s glass panels in place, and sat there staring unblinkingly at me.

My lady friend turned to face me, and with a wicked-looking glint in her eye, asked me if I would like another drink. I certainly felt like I needed one but was momentarily unable to vocalize my desire. She seemed to understand, and went inside for a minute, returning with a glass of expensive port to soothe my shattered nerves.

I could sense something was hugely amiss, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

She’d been poisoning me all evening, and this port was the final nail in my coffin. Unfortunately for me, I realized it much too late.

She and the crow sat and calmly watched me until they were sure I had only the most basic motor functions left. Then she put the silenced pistol in my unresponsive hands and explained a few things.

She knew I’d been up to something for months now, and had played that to her liking, fooling me into believing exactly what she wanted me to. She somehow knew that I didn’t exist, and neither did my now-dead nemesis. She said she could see souls and knew we didn’t have them. Not like humans did. She then assured me that any investigation into our deaths would amount to nothing.

We would be a nameless, unsolved murder-suicide, probably forgotten before the year was out. She’d been busy engineering details behind the scenes for weeks now to make sure of it. Her and the crow.

She also said she’d killed many people in her short life, and planned on killing many more, but we were the only beings like us that she'd encountered so far, which made it exceptionally rewarding. She then thanked me for playing into her hands so willingly, but admitted some disappointment at the lack of challenge we’d presented.

The entire time she shared this information with me, she wore a flickering smile on her face. Not a malicious smile, but one denoting actual pleasure; a macabre happiness.

I had badly underestimated her and grossly overestimated myself, and now I was the victim of my fatal egoism and her psychopathic genius.

When I still had enough strength and control to speak, I asked her why.

She crouched down beside me, looked right into my eyes, and sweetly replied, "Because I want to."

It was at that point that I realized I was in love with her (which I’d never experienced before), and had been for some time.

Then she put on the huge, dark glasses, the wide-brimmed hat, and the giant, shapeless fur coat she wore every time she’d come to my place, turned away, and with a few languid steps, was swallowed up by the gently billowing curtains separating that balcony from everything I would never see again.

Before she left, she told me the poison would eventually induce a heart attack and I would die in severe pain.

Dying was very painful indeed, but it didn’t last long.

I was finally bested, after many centuries of dispensing misery and distress, at the hands of a young woman, who in her very short time on earth had become a master of her art, something that had taken me lifetimes to accomplish for myself. And she was better at her art than I was at mine.

I’d had a long and very accomplished existence, and was directly responsible for innumerable catastrophes and much suffering and death. I was rather proud of that. But the only hell I’ve suffered, even after everything I’m responsible for, is the hell of knowing I’ll likely never see her again.

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