The mall was packed as usual, but Liam didn't care. It was always packed at back-to-school time. There were a bunch of punks around, but there always were. But it would be over soon. All he had to do was shell out a few thousand dollars on clothes for his stunning daughter, and she would be off to Harvard. It was truly beautiful what money could do. Of course, things always hadn't always been this way.
"Here, dad," Natasha said. "You can wait out here if you want." They stood in front of Saks Fifth.
He smiled at his baby. "Okay, sounds good to me. Here, take this," he said, pulling a Platinum card out of his fat wallet. "They shouldn't give you any trouble, but if they do just come and get me."
Natasha smiled up at her father and gave him a quick kiss. "Thanks, dad. You're the best."
"You just remember that when you're a famous actress," he joked, but she was already gone.
Liam looked around at the people milling around. He saw a bench situated right outside the store, with a bunch of teenage punks slouched across it. Standing just to the side of it was an elderly woman, obviously hoping for a chance to sit down.
"Hey!" Liam barked, walking up to the group. "Take it somewhere else," he ordered.
The teens looked at him in astonishment until one laughed. "Fuck you, pops. This here is a free country."
Anger boiled up in Liam and without thought he grabbed the youth by his collar and yanked him up. Liam was not a small man and pulling the teen close to his face left the foul mouthed youngster with his toes of his sneakers barely touching the ground.
"You really think this is a free country? You think I won't pound you?" the large man growled. He could smell the grease, cheap cologne and fear coming off the kid.
"Have no doubt, I'll beat the shit out of you and all your friends right here, and nuthin' will happen to me, you know why? Cause I got more money than God. And you know what that means? It means I can do what the fuck I want, any fucking time. Now you apologize to this lady here for not offering her a seat and then you and your loser friends beat it."
The teenage boys' eyes were all wide with astonishment. No one talked this way to kids anymore because all they had to do was cry to a cop and someone was going to jail and probably looking at a lawsuit.
But this was different. This dude was huge and there was no doubt that if they did not comply, and comply quickly, that they were going to get their asses whipped.
Liam spun the boy roughly so that he was facing the elderly lady.
"I'm sorry," he said sullenly, looking at the ground. "We should have offered you a seat."
"Well, thank you," she smiled.
Around them, a crowd had formed and as the boys beat a hasty retreat, they began to clap.
Liam was used to it. He was a winner. Wherever he went things went his way. He was known in all the best circles, from Hollywood to Washington. Liam was a winner. He smiled and helped the woman to the bench. As the crowd broke up, he took a seat as well.
"Thank you so much, young man," the elderly lady said, gratefully.
"Think nothing of it," he responded calmly. "It used to be that children respected their elders. When I was young, if we sassed off to someone older we got a smack. So, no one sassed off. Now everyone is afraid of lawsuits and getting in trouble for assault. It's ridiculous!" he growled. Just thinking about it was making him angrier.
"Oh, I agree. There is just no respect anymore."
"That's it. You hit the nail on the head. No respect. And no motivation, either. Used to be that kids wanted to make something of themselves, to get an education, find a good job and then raise a family. I don't know what kids are thinking now."
"Well, I think that is true to a certain extent, but there are still a lot of good kids out there." she countered. "More good than bad, I would say."
Liam gave the lady a harsh look. It was not wise to disagree with Liam. "Then we differ on our opinions, I see."
"Oh, my. Will you look at the time? I am sorry to say that I must be off."
Liam laughed at the cliché. "Perhaps that is for the best."
As the elder woman beat a hasty retreat, Liam scanned the crowd with disdain. The world was just filled with loser, fags and liberals. He felt the familiar rage building inside him. If more people were just like him. Oh, hell! What a world it would be.
But it hadn't always been that way for Liam. When he had come back from Vietnam he had been a mess. Right off the plane he had started drinking, and he hadn't put down the bottle for over a year. He had been drafted, forced to fight in a country he didn't give two shits about, and then dumped in New York with nothing.
He hadn't drunk or drugged in Vietnam, it was just too dangerous. He had been terrified the entire time, and when he got home, he had been even more scared. Before he could even get his bearings he was homeless, broke and a heroin junky.
Liam shook his head at the memories. But they didn't bother him now, the memories. They had made him the man he was. The whole time there, at the end, was vague, and he could never quite remember what had happened, but he had had an epiphany, that was for sure.
One day he simply decided that enough was enough. He was done crying about the injustices done to him, and did something about it instead. He pulled himself up by the bootstraps, as they used to say. He had gotten a job and simply marched to the top. Once he decided to do it, it was easy.
Determination. With it you could accomplish anything. That is what Liam had learned. Now he was the head of and majority stock holder of Hard-Metal, and was driven in a Limo wherever he went. He had a beautiful wife, dumb but beautiful, and two good kids. They were no Liam, but they were pretty good. Natasha would be fine. He would buy her a Harvard diploma and then she could marry some rich guy of Liam's choosing.
Liam Jr. was a different story. He could be a pain in the ass, but worse than that was his lack of determination. Liam had the feeling his son thought he might just skate through life on his dad's money. Well, that kid had another thing coming.
Liam smiled as he watched his daughter exit the store with loads of bags. She was a beauty, he had to admit. More beautiful than her mother. Much more. Youth was so attractive. Sometimes he wished...
"Watch, it bitch!"
Liam could not believe his eyes and for just a second he was stunned into inaction. A teen had run into his daughter and knocked her down, bags flying about. The young man and his two friends looked down at his prostrate daughter and snickered.
"Hey, babe, you want to make it up to me?"
"Son, you have made a big mistake."
"What the . . . ?" the boy began as he was roughly grabbed by the collar. He was unable to finish his outraged sentence when a massive ham-like fist, sporting a tearing gold ring smashed into his mouth, breaking teeth.
Before the pain could even register, another rage fueled blast crashed into his face making an audible snap in his cheekbone. The boy's sight when from red to grey and then to blissful black as he lost consciousness.
Another, youth, eyes unbelieving asked, "Are you fucking crazy?"
Before the last word had time to echo, Liam was upon him, pounding away.
The third youth ran, rather that chance a thrashing.
Liam was kicking the youth in the head with thousand dollar loafers, when his daughter grabbed his shoulder. "Dad, stop, please! You're killing them."
Instincts taking over, Liam turned on his daughter like a cat, fist cocked. He saw who it was and logically he understood the situation, but part of him, a growing part, wanted to beat her down, too. Beat her down and . . .
"Dad, everyone is looking!" she cried.
"Let them look!" he screamed back, staring around wildly. "What?" he yelled at the astonished crowd. "This," he gestured to the bloodied teens, "is justice. Does it bother you? Fuck you all. You're all cattle. You don't even matter. Move it, Natasha. The car is waiting."
An older man who had probably at one time been pretty stout stepped forward. "You're not going anywhere, buddy. You got to wait for the cops."
Liam slapped away the man's hand, and without though pushed him, hard. He stumbled and fell to the ground. Liam stepped forward dangerously and reached into his Armani coat.
"Here's my card," he said coldly, and flipped the card at the prostrate man. "The police will know where to find me."
"Mr. Benet? There are a couple of police men here to see you." Janet, Liam's secretaries voice relayed an irritability that she always felt when the police decided to harass her boss.
"It's okay, Janet." he responded smoothly. "Give me five minutes and then send them in."
The police came to his 30th floor penthouse office a lot. With money and power came lots of complaints. Liam didn't mind. It never came to anything and many times he was able to spread out a few ‘Benjamins' and put a cop or two in his pocket. That never hurt.
Liam was sitting in his leather chair, looking out his window at the great view. It was clear today and he could easily see the Brooklyn Bridge, and that was saying something. He heard his inner door buzz and turned.
A frown briefly crossed his face. There were two patrolmen. That was normal, but there also was a detective. That was not.
"What's up?" he asked, unceremoniously.
"Mr. Benet?" the detective asked. He was young, probably in his thirties, and it looked like he was in great shape. Not like Liam, but still . . .
"Get to the point," Liam growled.
"I am here to place you under arrest for the assault of Tim and Greg Brown."
"No," Liam said laughing. "It was self-defense. They attacked my daughter. I only used minimal force to stop them."
"Yeah," the detective answered without mirth. "Unfortunately, we have about five or six witnesses that say different. Also, unfortunately for you, Tim and Greg Brown are the sons of Senator William Brown. U.S. Senator Brown."
Liam frowned. "Well, I can see where that would be problematic. I'll tell you what. I will have my lawyer head down to your office this afternoon. He will bring seven affidavits of people that can corroborate my story. That should take care of it."
"Not this time," the detective replied quickly in his no-nonsense voice. "We are here to arrest you. You will be taken to the station and booked for battery. I understand that you are powerful and I am sure you will be out on bail in less than an hour, but regardless, you are still under arrest and you are still coming with us."
Liam considered his alternatives. These guys weren't playing around, he could tell. If he refused they would try to cuff him, and if that happened he and his security would probably end up killing them. He had killed lots of people. Mostly in Vietnam but a few here in New York too, before he had turned his life around.
When Liam had first returned home from the war, he could not get the killings out of his head. He had been one of a group of soldiers, just like many groups, that didn't do things by the book. They took some liberties with the non-combative natives and in some cases whole villages were slaughtered.
At the time, it had just seemed so natural. Death was all around, everywhere. Oh sure, there had been GIs that were all high and mighty and were opposed to the loose interpretation of the rules of engagement. They didn't last long, not in platoons like Liam's, anyway.
But when he got home, those villagers and especially the children began to haunt him. It wasn't just post war regrets. They were really haunting him. He would see them in his sleep, so real, so solid, and so angry. Then he began to see them in their faces in those around him, while he was awake. That is when the real drug and alcohol abuse started. Getting so stoned that he passed out helped to keep those ghosts away.
That was the point when Liam went really underground. He slept during the day, and at night he stole and robbed to get the stuff he needed. He stayed away from people, as much as possible, so that he didn't have to look into their faces. If people got too close, well, he would just let them have it.
Oh, well. It wouldn't be the first time he had been arrested.
"So, I assume we won't need handcuffs."
"Bad news, Liam." Not a lot of people got to call Liam by his first name anymore, but Barry Steinway, his long-time attorney, was one of them. They had been through too much. Steinway was one of the first people Liam had brought into his inner circle. He had served him faithfully for years."
"How bad can it be? You got me bailed right?"
"'Course. Let's go." He held open the door to the interrogation room. "There is gonna be a bail hearing in a couple of days, and brother, we are gonna be hard pressed to keep you out."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Liam asked angrily. He stormed out, ahead of Steinway, flipping the bird to the entire squad room as he stomped out the front doors. As he had expected, his limo was parked right out front.
"One of them Brown boys died," his attorney explained as he followed Liam into the vehicle.
"You got to be fucking shitting me," Liam bellowed. "I didn't beat them kids that bad."
"They got eye-witnesses that say they saw you kicking him in the head. His skull was fractured."
"Aw, that's bullshit." Liam said unconcerned. "It had to be an existing condition or something. No one gonna pin that on me."
"Well, that is what we are work with but man, the DA is out for blood. The senator is going to make trouble, too."
"Fuck that old fucking bastard," Liam jeered, but in his mind a kernel of fear began to grow.
"I'm gonna do my best to do just that, but I want you to understand the severity of this problems."
"Okay, I get it. But I just want you to remember that those punks knocked down my daughter. I was just protecting my investment."
"I understand, boss. I will put every resource I have one this."
Liam grunted. "See that you do."
"Janet! What the fuck is this?" Liam came storming out of his office later that day, shaking a sheaf of papers madly about. "This is a joke, right?"
"If it is a joke, somebody is going to pay," she said in her rough, no-nonsense voice. Janet was not your token beautiful bimbo type. She was older but in great physical shape, and her mind was a steel trap. Liam counted on her just as much as he counted on Steinway. He had told her that she could call him by his first name, but she wouldn't have any part of it.
"It was delivered by courier today. I don't know, Mr. Benet. I have a call into Mr. Gregory, but he hasn't responded. It looks official."
"Fuck yeah, it looks official. I think that bastard is trying to take my company."
"I don't understand how he could, Mr. Benet. Mr. Gregory is a . . . a nobody. A computer tech, for God's sake."
"Well, he is a bit more than that, but I think the point is, that he had access to information and accounts, and so he thinks he can leverage the company. I knew we shouldn't have gone public."
"But you have the great majority of the shares and you are the President of the Board of Directors."
"Well, this fucking thing says different." He shook his head. "How could that little fuck have called a board meeting? I just don't get it. Get Steinway on the phone, will ya?"
"I've already called him five times. He is not returning calls for some reason."
"Did he have court after he picked me up?"
"Not that I know of."
"Well, keep trying. I have a splitting headache. I am gonna head home for a while. Call me the minute you hear anything."
"I will, Mr. Benet. And don't worry. I know who the head of this company is."
"Everybody does, Janet. It's just that they need a little reminder once in a while."
Soon the city was left behind for the greener pastures of home. Liam lived among the rich and powerful and he loved it. His was one of the biggest mansions around and everyone knew it. Everyone knew that he had come from nothing. And now he was number one.
Sometimes, Liam was even amazed himself about how far he had come. Was it really possible that he had pulled himself out of the dumpster and made millions? Part of his past was hazy. Drugs and alcohol had had him by the balls for a long time. But he had stopped. One day the obsession was just gone and it was like he could see and amazingly bright golden path in his head that lead to success. He had followed that path and never looked back.
But lately, the path had become hazy and difficult to see. He had been so angry lately, that it was becoming harder to think. Maybe he needed a vacation.
Liam's hope for a peaceful evening was thrown a curve when he found four moving vans in the circular drive, in various states of load.
"What the fuck was this now," he muttered as he exited the limo and marched to the front door. Standing there, directing moving men was his wife, Amanda. Once she had been a real looker. The most beautiful girl he had ever seen. And she fell for him like a ton of bricks. She had been right beside him on the way to the top, looking beautiful and keeping her mouth shut. The perfect wife.
But now it looked like she was doing some late redecorating and Liam was not happy. What he needed right now was peace and quiet.
"Amanda!" he hollered, pounding up the marble steps. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?" She had never undertaken a project of this size without consulting Liam first. She wouldn't dare.
"Oh, Liam. I was hoping to be done before you got here. I am moving out. I already have a place in the city. The kids are there now."
"We don't need a place in the city," he responded, not understanding.
"I am moving, Liam. I. Not you. I am leaving you."
Liam looked at her in disbelief. This couldn't be happening. She had never talked to him this way before. Never.
"This is a joke right?" He spun looking around. "Is there a camera somewhere? If you are pulling one on me, you are in for it!" he laughed.
"It's no joke, Liam. I want a divorce. I am taking my shit. You can keep the house, well, for as long as you can make the payments. Probably, not long."
"Amanda, you are taking this too far. I am starting to get pissed."
"Well, you are probably going to get more pissed soon. I have allowed Gregory to use my stock to leverage you out. I knew you had been dropping stock here and there to support your heard of whores, so when the time was right, we pounced. It is just a matter of days before the SEC steps in. After that, you are off to prison." She smiled.
Liam saw red. Everything she said was possible and he had known he was in a precarious situation for a long time. But this? Betrayal?
"You fucking bitch," he said almost calmly and he advanced to kill his wife.
"You think I'm stupid, Liam? He saw two of the movers step up behind her and he felt the presence of another behind him. They weren't just movers. She had hired bully boys. "I am walking out of here and there is nothing you can do about it. You have treated me like property since we met and I cannot count the times you ruffed me up. No more. I am out of here and you can fucking rot," she spit.
Liam had been in this position many times. Surrounded, outnumbered. People trying to take his shit, his life. No more.
"Is that what you think?" he asked calmly as he pulled a .38 out of his coat. "I think you might be wrong."
Boom! A shot rang out through the peaceful night. One of the men standing beside his wife put a hand to his chest. He only had time to look up in disbelief before he fell.
Boom! Before anyone could move, Liam shot the second man. Just as he expected, he heard the guy behind him beating a hasty retreat. Smart guy.
"Now," he said calmly, stepping up to his wife. "What were you saying?"
"Liam," she said, fearfully. "Okay, I was wrong. Look,look!" she said excitedly. "We can say these guys were breaking in! It was self-defense. I will back you up! Nobody has to know. And . . . and I can get my stock back. I will just give it to you. The company will be yours forever!"
She was pleading for her life, spewing whatever came into her head in an attempt to save her rotten life. Liam had seen this before too. Hundreds of times. It never worked.
"Goodbye my love," he whispered.
"No! She screamed, holding up her hands. Liam's bullet actually went through both of her hands and into her head. He was a great shot.
"Well," he said as he stepped gingerly over the bodies and blood, into his home. "I guess I am gonna have some serious explaining to do." He was already dreaming up the scheme to get himself out of this. Well, they had threatened him. It was his word against theirs, and they were dead.
"Oh, my. What a mess."
Liam spun, gun up, to find a small, incredibly skinny man in the most immaculate suit standing just outside the door.
"What the . . . ?" Liam exclaimed. A witness. Now he was going to have to kills someone else.
"Where are your manners, Liam? Please, invite me in."
Liam was used to hard decisions. He raised the gun, took a bead and fired.
Nothing happened. The gun just made a click. He fired again. Still nothing. He wasn't out of bullets. He could see them in the chambers!
"What the hell." he cried.
"Indeed. Please, let's step inside where we can talk. I would hate to bother your neighbors.
Liam felt himself being pushed, gently, like sliding on the slickest ice. He was moving backward, effortlessly, as if in a dream.
He laughed. "That's it! I'm dreaming. Jesus, what a dream!"
"I am afraid Jesus has nothing to do with you and me, and believe you are in a dream if you like. It changes nothing." The small man stepped into Liam's home.
"Who are you?" Now Liam was scared. This was way too real to be a dream. Maybe he was locked up in a room somewhere. Maybe he had never recovered from Vietnam.
"Oh, you recovered, alright. With my help. I am your business partner. You don't remember me, I see."
"Business partner . . . ?" Liam was lost.
"Indeed. We met when you were at a very low point in your life. You were going to commit suicide if I am not mistaken. I told you what I had to offer and you accepted. All I asked in return was your soul."
"My soul? You're saying you're the devil."
"Oh, hurray! It's coming back now. Yes indeed, I purchased your soul."
"No. No! This is ridiculous! I would remember that. The devil isn't even real! I did this myself."
"Oh, come. Of course you don't remember. No one ever does, or they would do something about it. Just like any contract, mine have loopholes through which one could slip. A condition of the contract is that you do not remember it! Isn't that delightfully bright? Surely you have questioned just how you could have risen so high so fast. It was . . . well, it was impossible. Without help."
"So, you are here to take my soul to hell?"
The small man through back his head and laughed. "Oh, my goodness, no! You are still alive. I don't kill people! No, I am here basically, well, let's call a spade a spade. I am here to revel in the destruction and also, maybe to gloat, but just a bit."
Liam's mind began to slowly unravel and he remembered now, sitting in an alley with a piece of glass, about to slit his wrists. He had seen this man before.
"But why? Why not let me just live out as I was, if you are not going to take me now. Why is all this happening?"
"Ah, there indeed is the rub. I would have let you live it out. You do a fine job of corrupting those around you and they are easy pickings. Yes, no doubt. I would have let you live to one-hundred as king of the hill."
"Then why?" Liam gestured to the dead bodies on the floor.
"Well, you know Mr. Gregory, of course. Oh, this is so delightful! He sold his soul to have your life! Can you believe it? Priceless. He is in bed with your daughter right now. Tomorrow he takes your company. And he will remember none of our agreement, until it is too late."
"No." Liam shook his head. "No, this can't be happening. I can get out of this."
Sirens cut through the night, coming up quick.
"Not this time, Liam. It's prison for you. Oh but don't fear," she said compassionately. "You will be killed before you have even served a month. Lots of enemies, you have. Yes, you and I will meet again, very soon."
The cops found a blood-bath at the mansion of Mr. Liam Benet. He said inside, smoking gun still in his hand. He offered no resistance.
In court his only response to his public defender and the judge was, "The devil made me do it."