Arthur took out the file from the closet and opened it. There was an old newspaper cutting dated 21st April 1980;the headlines ran ‘Gas leak kills hundred’. There were pictures of a hospital filled with ailing men, women and children and the factory from where the poison had leaked out. He was amongst the thousands affected by the terrible disaster years ago. He remembered how they had all woken up in the middle of the night with their throats burning and suffocating in the pitch black summer night. He remembered the look on his father’s face and his mother’s shrieks. He remembered people running bewildered along the streets clutching their faces and necks. He remembered the old men and children lying lifeless on the streets.The paper counted the death toll at five thousands but the reality was far from that. More than nine thousand people in the city were dead that night and another twenty thousands affected, many of whom would go on to die eventually. It had almost been thirty six years since that night but the memories still haunted him. It had left a mark on everyone ; he owed his own asthma problems to that mishap.
Arthur flipped the page. He found another newspaper cutting , not as old as the other one but it evoked the same range of emotions. It was about the court case culmination against the accused of the gas leak case. Arthur looked at those words and gritted his teeth. The court had ordered a three year sentence to those involved in the incident. Three years. A mere three years for ruining the lives of more than twenty thousand people. Three years for causing deaths of thousands, and more importantly, three years for causing the death of his parents. He closed the file, lest the words strangle him to death.
The doorbell rang. He took his customary asthma spray and went to answer the call. A man walked in, closed the door, bolted it and seated himself on the sofa. Arthur took his own seat infront of him.
“So why did you call me sir?” The man asked.
“Because it’s about time” Arthur replied. After loosing his parents, he had found himself an orphanage. He had lived his remaining childhood and teen years there. He had joined the protests and movements against the Wilkins Industries along with many of his fellow orphan friends. Arthur had met this man in the orphanage.
“It’s time we act upon our plans”.
The man nodded.
“Remember, we do this not only for that night but for the world as a whole”. It wasn’t difficult to get more men like him and when they had formed the group, their objective was punishing those involved in the gas leak. But over the years, they had all agreed on doing something more. Something that will prevent this from happening again. So they had decided they would target the industries that degrade the environment.
“You know your first target” He said. “Give him a choice first”
“And if he doesn’t heed to the threats?” the man asked.
Arthur picked up his spray, pressed the pump , took a deep breath and whispered “Kill him”.
It had been two year since they had reopened the Wilkins’s industries. Alex, being the owner of the company had called for a meeting day after tomorrow of the board of directors to asses the growth in the previous years. He sat in his cabin with a paper in his hand. Although, he was now the owner and did not need to, he visited the office daily for a brief period of time. “Let the workers see who they work for” His father used to say “Let them see their head working, it would further motivate them”. Mr Horas Wilkins was a role model for all business men.
What would he think about this though? He held a paper in his hand. In the centre of the white page , written in bold black letters was “Quit the company. Else you’ll die. You have two days to decide”. He panicked when he first read the letter, but he came to the conclusion that it was just a joke. He had found it on his desk under a pile of files. One of his colleagues must be playing a prank on him. He meant to punish him, if found. The offices were almost empty now; just the janitors cleaning away the day’s mess. He liked to linger on after everyone had left, he liked the silence and the emptiness the rooms had to offer.
He thought about the meeting due two days later. Two years had passed since the reopening and the company had grown by leaps and bounds. Father would have been proud, he thought. He had to rebuild the industry after his father’s death. He was the owner of the Wilkins’s industries then, when the disaster had occured. He always used to say “I had nothing to do with the accident, it was a management fault”. But the public thought otherwise; they had pelted him with inquisitions and stoned his house. He was greeted with scorns and abuses wherever he went, for some thing he could not have done anything about. He was the owner, how and why would he intentionally do something like that ? His father had succumbed to a heart attack while the court case was still in progress, partly from the stress he had to endure ever since the gas leak accident.
Alex put that letter in his pocket and went out. The heat wasn’t as sweltering as in the day but still caused discomfort. He began transpiring soon after coming out of the building, the humidity was very high. His car stood there in the parking lot and Paxter sat at the wheels, as ever. He opened the door and sat in. Paxter had joined his service an year ago and had grown very dependable. He remembered how he was once involved in a minor accident on the road and the first thing Paxter did was turn around and ask “Are you hurt?”. Although he was just his driver, he treated him with respect. His father had said to him once when he was a little brat and had bullied a waiter at a restaurant “If you want to judge someone’s humility, see how he behaves to his inferior, not his superior”. Alex had lost his mother at an early age, his father had meant the world to him.
He took out the letter and examined it again. Quit or you die. Why would someone want me dead ? He had expected a resistance by the people when he had reopened the industry and the crowd had lived up to it. But it soon passed and there had been no problems since then. Could this really be about it? Or is it a joke? By the time he reached home, he was quite certain it was a prank.
He was made to rethink the next day. He found another letter with the same contents buried in his files. He opened up his laptop and was checking his mail when he noticed the white paper underneath all his files. He called for his secretary Maria.
“Did you see anyone enter my cabin today?”. It was midday, she must have seen someone place the paper there. Or did she keep it there ?
“Only the janitors, sir” She replied. Maria had been Alex’s secretary even before his father’s death, she couldn’t have been involved in this.
“Are you sure you saw no one else ?” Alex looked straight into Maria’s eyes.
“No sir no one else”. And she did not flinch. She’s not lying, he thought. It had to be one of the cleaners then.
“Did you note who cleaned my cabin?”
“No” Was all she said.
“Okay, you can go”. Maria walked out of the cabin, as graceful as a swan.
I’ll go check the cleaning staff myself. And if this turns out to be joke, there will be severe punishment.
He returned his attentions to the laptop and the mails. Being the owner of a major industry, you could always expect some work related mails. There was a message from a certain ‘greaterGood’ username, he did not recognize it. He opened the mail. It was plain white page and carried pictures showing a factory dumping it’s waste into a lake and a chimney releasing black gases in the sky. Below the pictured were written stats related to the amount of water and air pollution his manufactories made. On the bottom was the sentence ‘Quit, or else die. One day remains’. Fear shot through Alex like a bullet out of a gun. He could scarcely believe what he had seen. Someone had laboured to get those numbers about pollution; surely, it couldn’t be a joke. Someone wanted him out of his own firm, someone wanted him dead.
It was only then the severity of the situation hit him. He was being asked to resign and leave his company for good. The company his father had built from the scratch, the company which was the only memoir he had of his him. He had often daydreamed about how he would spearhead the growth of Wilkin’s industry to such height that no other industry could ever hope to achieve. He was being asked to give up on that dream, the only one he had seen since he could remember. “No, I must not. I can’t” he thought. “But what if I remain and get killed?” He sat there with the two threats he had received in his hands. He kept looking at them as if the solution would present itself. I will not quit, but then I’ll die. What if I quit and still get killed ? He thought and thought over it untill his mind reverberated with only two words: Quit or Die.
Finally, he stood up and made his way out of the room. Maria was tapping at her keyboard.
“I’m going out. Call me only if it’s emergency. Anything else can wait”
“Anything?” She asked.
“Anything” he replied.
Alex walked towards the janitor room. I must find out who dropped the letter. It was almost lunch time and most of his employers had gone for lunch. He crossed Peter’s office ; he sat there with his eyes fixed on his monitor. Peter was stout of height but his ambitions were sky high. Could Peter do this sort of a thing? He had never shied away from competition and he would surelt benefit from Ales’d death. And besides, Alex had humiliated him ago a few days ago infront of half the office. Could he be taking a revenge on him? But did Peter have the stomach for murder ? So many questions and so few answers. He kept walking as he passed the cabins of Victoria, Derek, Asha and Kepler. The janitor room was located at the far end of the corridor secluded from the rest of the rooms. He found two men clad in blues that marked them as cleaners.
“Who cleaned my office in the morning?” he asked.
Both men scratched their heads.
“I think it was David” one of them said
“Yeah it was him” The other one spoke out suddenly.
“Where is he now?” He asked
“He called sick and went home” the man said.
Called sick, went home. Damn it.
“Why what happened sir?” The other one asked.
“Never mind, let me know the moment he comes back” Alex said and walked out.
He took out his cell phone and made the call.
“Any news of him quitting? he asked
“No” The man replied.
“It seems we have to do it then, are you ready?”
“Of Course sir, I am all set”
“Very well, our quest starts tomorrow. Get yourself good sleep child”
“Yes sir” And the line went dead.
His entire teen years he had seeked revenge for his parent’s death and yet what will be done tomorrow could scarcely be called as revenge. But then again, it isn’t about revenge anymore is it ?
Arthur remembered how it had all started, how the group ‘The Greater Good’ came to be. It was but such an ordinary thing that got the idea in his head. Most people search for inspiration in magnificence whence they should really be looking in simplicity. He had watched and read about the growing pollution and degrading of the planet more than many times, it struck him that day that something should be done. The men with power were oblivious to the threats the industries posed on earth, it was up to the common men to right the wrong. With time, this idea grew into an obsession and he started recruiting men promising them revenge for the gas leak tragedy to get them to join him. And when he had enough, slowly he injected his vision of a better world into his fellow brothers. He made them look beyond their payback and made them understand the gravity of the situation, he gave them a picture of the future, cleaner and more habitable. He made them understand their cause which was simple, to make the world a better place.
He had found it difficult to sleep last night. After leaving his office, he had gone straight to the police station with the threat letters and they had agreed to send a couple of men in case there was an assassination attempt. The police wanted Alex to stay indoors untill this matter was cleared, but he had insisted otherwise. “You’ll make enemies no matter what you do son. It’s how you face them that will define you ” His father’s words rang in his head.
The first thing he did in the morning was to check his email, there were no threats there at least. He dressed up, had breakfast and called for Paxter who drove him to his office. The two policemen were waiting for him at the entrance. They had not donned their uniform, Alex noticed.
“Good day Alex. I’m Officer Hernandez. Nice to meet you”
Alex shook hands with them.
“Thank you officers, I appreciate your presence” Alex said.
He left the men there and made his way towards his cabin. Maria was seated at the front desk.
“Did anyone call in yesterday?” he asked.
“No one sir” Maria replied.
Alex nodded and entered his cubicle. He rummaged about the files on his table for another threat, but there wasn’t any. No mails and no threat letters and I’ve got two policemen down looking for danger. So far so good. He was beginning to ponder if all this was in fact just a jape.
After two long years, it was time for an assessment of Wilkins Industry. There he stood at the end of the long table with men and women on either side of him. There was Bernard Tate, Sophia Greene, Alfred Meyer, Adam Benette and Henry Moore amongst the board members. Many of them had served his father and he wondered if they bore contempt for him or his son. He could not stop himself from thinking about the threats and he suspected about every person sitting in the room with him. Sophia was the youngest and one of the best at her position. He had grown pretty fond of her but never tried to talk about his feelings. He did not like the idea of being involved in a relationship with his employee. Henry Moore was his father’s most trusted man but he seemed to have lost his wits with Mr Wilkins’s death.
“Good morning ladies and gents”
So the meeting started and proceeded with no interruptions, no stupid assassinations. They talked about Wilkins’s production and supply , of their growth ,of their assets and liabilities, of their marketing and loads of other stuff. It was midday by the time they got over with it. Alex returned back to his cabin and got himself a coffee. There is nothing that a warm cup of coffee can’t fix; he drank it as he brooded over the happenings of the meeting. If only father would have been there to see me. He finished his cup and asked Maria to call Paxter, he had decided to return home, just in case the threats prove to be real.
Officers Hernandez and Shane stood right where he had seen them in the morning.
“Did you guys find anything?” Alex asked.
“No” Both replied together.
“Very well, I’m going back”
“It will be best if one of us go with you” Shane said
Alex didn’t see anything wrong with that.
“Sure, I’d like that”
It was Hernandez who came forward with him. They sat inside and Paxter started driving. It was definitely a joke, it’s midday and I did not quit and I still live , he thought. He couldn’t get the threats out of his mind no matter how hard he tried. He had had an almost sleepless night, so he found it easy to doze off as the car sped towards home.
He woke with a sudden jerk that sent him out of his seat.
“What happened?” He asked.
Hernandez was clueless. It was Paxter who spoke.
“Seems like something wrong with the car, Imma go check out”
Paxter cornered the car on the road, turned off the ignition and went out to inspect. Alex looked around to find where they were, he did not recognize the place, it was desolate with no houses or markets for long leagues. Somtimes, Paxter took a different route to avoid traffic. Hewas under the hood looking for the problem. He came back few minutes later and switched the engine on. It was getting hot inside so he switched the AC on and went out again.
The air smelled a little weird then and his throat started to itch. The AC was on but he started feeling breathless, like someone was clutching his throat. He scratched his inner ear, he had read that scratching that part of the ear would get the itching of the throat out. He had tried it several times earlier and it had worked, but not then. Suddenly he felt the car jerk forward, except that it did not. Is it an earthquake ? His breathlessness increased and his head started spinning like a top. He saw Hernandez in a similar state. Both men realized then that something was wrong. Alex’s hand went to the window button, he pressed the trigger hard but the glass stayed put. He had started feeling nauseous. He reached for the door, but the door did not budge. He found it hard to breathe and felt himself descending to darkness. He saw Hernandez slump on the seat beside him. What the hell is happening ? He turned white with fear. The threat, it was no joke, I’m dying. No, I must fight , I can’t die now. No. No. He felt himself drifting away, away into the deep sleep. He gathered all his energy and called out for Paxter. But Paxter did not move, he stood there at the front of the car, he watched, he smiled.
Arthur’s phone rang. He had been waiting for this call forever.
“Hello sir”. He was delighted to hear Paxter’s voice.
“Is it done?” Arthur asked
“Yes. But there was a slight inconvenience. A policeman had come along him. He had to die too”
“Okay. Did you make sure that they’re dead?”
“The door’s locked and I dare not enter now. I’ve called Vince, he’d be coming any moment now with his winch”
“Okay, keep me informed”
“Sure.” And he put down his phone.
A policeman died. He did not die a worthless death though, he died for a noble cause. He was martyred. And so what if a few people die? The world, in the end will be a better place. The death of Alex Wilkins in itself won’t change much but it’s the beginning. The journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step, indeed.
He opened his closet and took out a big fat diary. He picked up his pen and began writing. ‘Alex Wilkins’ he wrote at the top of the first page. Who he was, why he had to be killed and how he was killed. It was Paxter’s suggestion that they kill them like they were made to suffer on that night thirty six years ago. Everyone had agreed on the decision but no one could come up with anything. It was Arthur who told them how.
The breakdown of the car and the place was all pre-planned. When Paxter had first gone to ‘inspect the car’ he put a little something in the car’s AC compressor. But he couldn’t have done it with the engine on so he had to turn it off before placing the poison. He had gone back and switched on the ignition and therefore switching on the ac. While he did nothing behind the raised hood, the poison slowly entered into the system of the two men. Paxter had rendered the electrical window button useless and the child lock was on. By the time they realized what was happening, the poison had gone too deep inside them and they were not able to reach for and open the front two doors. They had died clutching their throats in horror, just like those that had died due to the gas leak.
Arthur turned the diary to it’s last page. There were names written from top to bottom. He stroked out the first name, closed the diary and put it back into the closet. Whatever we do, It’s all for the greater good.