He realized early on he was giving away the game when he approached her as he did, but he needed to. She was…a diversion.
And, an assignment.
The case—assigned to him as an afterthought, forgotten in the mix of all things tempestuous—was another in a collection of oddities happening presently. It captivated and consumed him. All the evidence fragmentary and muddled purposely to obscure a larger mystery. He spent too many days, months…was it a year now? Or more? His superiors didn’t bother with him. They were concerned with everything failing around them, the country, and the world while securing their own house without regards to the collective injustices ongoing. Some were. The majority though? They didn’t even bother. A cudgel to feed the liege. They acclimated to that around them, normalizing, and profiting; ultimately leveraging for their own appetites; deriving power from the crowned head that turned the many into the sovereignty of one and his ostentatiously stupid brood. It was all still so surrealistic that to even think more elaborately about it was to reject its very existence. The core of human thought surrendered to the unknowns so bizarre in reality that fiction couldn’t even do the narrative justice—or could it? He found himself tumbling unheeded into that rabbit hole every once in a while when he stumbled upon the truth of it all—ejected from the abstract of existing into the nightmarish reality of living.
Brody was the golden boy given the golden ticket by a rich, powerful father, family, and class determined to dole out destiny at their whims, be it by cruelty or egotism or obsession. Oftentimes one complemented the other. Intelligence didn’t normally factor into this equation in these sordid situations where privilege schemed; alas, the spate of wit flowed freely and often corruptly within. Be it a warning though: Never conflate intelligence with wealth—the former has nothing to do with the latter. By experience, he knew this; with maturity, he acknowledged this; in power, he embodied this.
Determined to survive the venal and pernicious family and class he was born into, he took the pledge but finagled and subverted. Knowing there was nothing he could possibly do to stop what was happening, he adapted and engineered what little he could for himself and those he deemed worthy. Of the many passages he calculated, this one fixed; of the many powerful players on the board, the game was established and executed without preamble. This was a controlled burn and a project with many tasks—far too many tasks for him to thwart by himself. He could try. Hours later, that long rambling, merciless thought exhausted him until he restored energy and began anew.
He toiled in the shadows under the cover of awareness as much as he could into a languishing flight of whatever. Be it what may, he was determined to find his own corner of this unburnished world to hone—something recognizable with fairness and justice.
Some things did not change: 2+2=4; √555 = 23.558437978779; the Earth rotated around the sun; Einstein’s theory of relativity still applied; and as temperatures grew, ice melted, seas rose. None of these things were proven false or alternatively altered to fit rank deeds and fill data depositories and blockchains of cryptocurrency—at least not legitimately.
Patterns in the chaos established his course. He followed it willingly, like breadcrumbs. Those breadcrumbs led him to her.
He dismissed her previously as average and solitary as she was. Certainly not unique—not on a cursory scan. There was something there though that caught his attention. He dismissed it until he couldn’t then wondered if he was using his job to stalk this woman. The shock of that sent him sideways and… concerned him. He could then see clearly how, given his power in a law enforcement capacity, that many people—statistically men—abused that power over those without. He went back and reevaluated the evidence, his approach to it, and her, not once but twelve times, which took him that much longer to come to the conclusions he had.
In a post #MeToo world and unlike some fragile egos, Brody celebrated the progress—what little there was. Regardless of the path his country and the world had taken, he was determined to improve upon that which had already begun long ago through many revolutions and the untold horrors of victims silenced. He didn’t want to be a part of the problem; he wanted to fight for those most vulnerable. The question was how in a world where the moral compass of those in power had gone astray much more than usual.
Or was it always like this? And that’s why the world burned?
Mindless noise haunted him on many occasions, especially around his dad and the like. He wanted none of it; yet, it persisted; meditation and mindfulness helped along with the other; self-awareness weakened that noise, never defeating it; seeds of antipathy and discontent mushroomed, and he tested that noise willingly to see how powerful it was ultimately muzzling it in concern.
Concern or cowardice?
Regardless, he acted his part as much as he was capable. The broody son of a billionaire was known for his cold introspective silent nature versus his good ole boy amiable side. He used it to his advantage. Being an enigmatic asshole was his armor and one he didn’t wanna lose. Being on the spectrum was a remarkable advantage—sometimes. That self-awareness foiled any attempt to suffocate the ever internalized obsessive exploration of his callous intriguing character that seeped through thanks to his upbringing at the hands of his thorny and fascinating father who suffered from that same predisposition.
The nature versus nurture implications were visited upon him every day of his life.
Yes, his daddy issues plagued him. He gave up long ago trying to please a man whose expectations far exceeded anything Brody could ever hope to accomplish and deliver. Yet, like every person, there was a kid buried deep within him that yearned for that paternal-like love and acceptance—one without the iron tethers of legacy that chained him to a pernicious system he wanted nothing to do with. He chose to stay and handle that system from within even as it eroded and grew into something intolerable and uncontrollable around him. He soon found out that molding that system was like herding cats; it was a slow process; immensely so—like evolution; and the regresses persisted. As the system became weaker, he grew stronger—an illusion more yawning even to him. Here he was though once again pushing off, dangling without a wire, attempting to pull away. And she was the magnet that lured him and his iron chain away.
Would she break it or reinforce it? Or would he simply fall into oblivion? Like his father?
His mother—Annabelle, the center of the Blake family—died in a tragic, mysterious accident when Brody was five. His childhood went from golden to gothic in the span of a day.
Wracked with grief felt too clichéd, nor did if feel powerful enough to convey the pain that decimated his father. What Brody witnessed was the annihilation of self through loss and the reassemblage of something distant—something abandoned, alien, struggling unsuccessfully to hang on to a ghost of hope and emotion where scant remained. The indelible memory of his father’s sobs immediately after Annabelle’s death for months afterward still haunted Brody, like the ghost of his mother, or Broderick’s hope and any emotion he held briefly thereafter. On the night the sobs ended, Brody recalled entering Broderick’s den. As the elder Blake stared out the window into the sea and horizon, Brody crawled into his father’s lap. His short little arms hugged his father so very hard. Returning the hug, his father then proceeded to tell Brody stories about Annabelle for hours until the five year old fell asleep in his arms. Brody woke later in bed with his father at his bedside staring down at him; a mask of anguish and terror, much like how Broderick looked as Annabelle’s coffin slid into the fires of cremation. Broderick then quit Brody’s room where he returned rarely over the course of his childhood. The silence distended after; his father’s eyes as vacant as his exchanges; words and touches fleeting; hope and emotion all but lost.
Over the years, Brody occasionally glimpsed the shadow of the man his father used to be in moments ephemeral. An aggregate of skin and bones and brain without sentiment, the genuine article of the original cremated and scattered in the ocean along with his mother. Left behind was an abandoned boy who lost himself in an obsession of books and a search for knowledge, chained to what little hope remained, waiting for that oblivion to overtake him as it did his father.
His empathy—gained mostly from his mother; intensified from that grief, along with his father and the many books that filled that empty well of abandonment—represented a significant part of his character and life whereby he felt morally obligated to extend to the most vulnerable; justified even to those who were not.
Oftentimes, a bit too much.
Was there ever too much empathy? His answer changed on any given hour and day. Ask him again tomorrow or the next day and the answer changed regularly. It was a grey, fluid, non-binary answer; one he compared to his feelings about people in general.
Employed by Lucretia Summers, Layne Gregory was not your typical middle-aged woman. Single, childless, college dropout, the paperwork said Personal Assistant and did not detail what duties that comprised. A background check revealed nothing new and the mystery of average became something more unknown as she was not the least bit average. The tingling in his gut told him subterfuge was afoot. He knew to follow that instinct. Intuition and reason triggered—tangled like code embedded.
Then he met her—interacted with her. He found her… challenging in an alluring, analytic manner and not in an aberrant sense, but yes, indeed a weird, flaky sort of personality; philosophically cogent and meandering in a way he couldn’t quite unravel—much unlike she unraveled him so skillfully. He wanted to explore her. Completely, not literally—perhaps literally; definitely literally. Hopping and skipping from each subject, she lured him toward those primal instincts he thought he shed long ago—professionally, at least.
The way her lip bowed at the top—a soft pale pink, like taffy; not too pink, just right. The coffee-colored freckles on her arms that peppered across her frosty pale skin, and the one that sat at the center of her carotid that he imagined nipping playfully but seductively on while whispering erotically to her in bed as his hands roamed her body. The way her crocodile green eyes slid over him undressing him to his bones, delving into his psyche attempting to flush out the man beneath, in order to what? Play? Or eat? Maybe both? He hoped.
He wanted her. From the minute he first saw her live in action—her movements fluid and sly; her voice like a portal elsewhere to someplace sublime and without struggle, he wanted her. It was… unusual for him, this feeling. He was never one of those rich frat boys that had lines of conquests. Solitude and books were his friends as much as society hated it—attempting to mold him into something he wasn’t. Then there was the other things—the things his father knew but refused to concede. Brody didn’t care and pursued his truth regardless, unwavering in the face of his father’s criticisms. She recognized it immediately. It heightened the attraction making it even more intense, unsettling him further.
Did she see the other thing? The shadow that followed him? That pulled down on him? Did she see the chains? Did she see the oblivion that hovered beneath him waiting to engulf him?
When that lunch conversation ended, he extended an opening to her; an opening she evaded. After which they ate the rest of their meal in another of those comforting silences of contemplation he rarely had with people. Upon finishing, she stood, leaned over and whispered: “So it begins.” Then walked away.
© 2020 Alex Shea/Pamela Gay Mullins