That night, as I stood in front of the door that would lead to the Windigo Lodge conference room, I felt unsure as to what could possibly happen once inside. My boss was unpredictable, my friends -slash- peers were just as erratic, and any attempt to gauge how dire the situation could be, would prove incalculable.
I was walking into a cluster fuck..
For the first time in a long time I felt ill prepared for a meeting, with nothing to say or contribute with all eyes on me, only this time, here I was wishing I was mister cellophane again. It still didn’t seem real that these people, THESE specific people, could believe I would kill Pastel, yet most of them look at me guilty.
Jynx walked in with Yurika and they sat down, behind them were his imposing companions standing in formation, it was almost set up like our own conference room back home so people took their usual seating. There was also the familiar sense of Judgment Day tease that made you feel like this might be it for you, the end, the finale of it all.
Because seriously, did I really trust a man like Jynx Ellison enough, with my livelihood on the line?
This wasn’t just losing a job, this was the possibility of going down as a murderer.. my life would be over.
“I’ve decided to cut this year’s trip short, once again. We’ve had reports of a massive storm heading this way, so we will be evacuating all personnel tomorrow at noon. There is also the unfortunate incident of a death amongst our ranks, an irreplaceable Media and Branding Consultant, as well as our acting Chief of Human Resources, Pastel Pinkett.” He looked down to his hands where he was holding a paper, and I realize he was reading the info off a cue card, he turn to Yurika puzzled. “Was he kin to Jada? because I know the Smith’s, I’d have to drop that condolence basket off in person.”
“A shame, in that case we’ll match the insurance payout for the beneficiary and hope they don’t try to sue for more, I would hate to destroy a man’s family after he already lost his life. Which is exactly why we’re here today.” Jynx replied as he survey the room, his emerald gold eyes catching the light, in a burning intensity. “Fact is, I know one of you did it, and I know who is responsible for it all. The question is what to do about it, how do we handle this situation? My mother liked to say, you always have options, it’s the one thing you always have. So what option do I have? Let’s go around the room..”
“You need to make the obvious choice, alert to the authorities that Cydnee murdered Pastel.” Cedric replied, calling me out as he stare me down from across the room, it was clear we must have never, ever, been friends. “He has a always been a jealous individual, and was probably jealous of Pastel’s popularity, Cydnee is the type of person that would kill to be so loved.. It’s an open and shut case, lock him up, throw away the key.”
A look came over Jynx’s face, Yurika ignored it like it was a common occurrence, so did his companions. I almost wanted to ask if he’d had a stroke, but he return to normal before I could find nerve to open my mouth.
“That is the worst idea, I’d be an idiot to do that, sure it’s an obvious choice but my plans, as well as my multi billion dollar company would crumble. Plus, despite how many of you feel, I need all of you to quickly and effectively come to terms with the fact, Cydnee Tyson is not gonna go down for this murder. So.. anyone else want to give it a try? I’m going around the room till we get a winner.”
“You could call the authorities on the real killer, since you say you know who did it, that would solve everything, it’s the proper thing to do.”
“I’ve already looked into that, too many risks, and I wouldn’t have had to have this meeting Grayson, but yes, it would be the most pious, prim, and proper solution, let’s find an option that satisfies the spirit of that whole moral integrity thing, yet we make it to work explicitly in our favor.”
“So the needs of Arkham come before the life of another person?” Shaw interjected, bringing a stern gaze of suspicion upon himself from Jynx, the man was already distrustful of people at this point.
“So what choice have you?”
“You seem like the type of person that could cover all this up, why not just do that.”
“I’m the type of person to do a lot of things Mr McCreed, if any of my ideas would present a viable path for the best of Arkhams future I wouldn’t be asking you fools, but as fate would have it, one of you know the way.”
“”I say we allow the authorities to investigate, let them draw their own conclusions, I know Zachari and I are accounted for.” Karishma said sidling up to him, as he sat next to her looking a nervous wreck barely holding it together, he wasn’t dealing well with all this talk of death and murder, neither was I.
“Is that so? That would mean the footage of I have of you making out with Grayson on social media, taken Live in the same time frame Pastel had to have been murdered, all of that would be just my imagination, is that right?”
“How long do you think that convenient little alibi is gonna hold up under a detailed federal investigation?”
“I did say we were rekindling and reconciling our relationship, we met up that night and we stayed together, I swear.”
“A swear from you is comical, integrity isn’t why I hired you darling, so moving on.. Famous, my guy, I know you got something for me?”
“In order to fully access the options, we need to know more about the actual murder, only the murderer can tell us that.”
“From what I understand, this appears to be an accident or some sort of freak occurrence, any further details leaking would be detrimental to the company, fatal even, I can not allow that..”
“An accident? His neck looked as if he was strangled, what kind of damn accident is that?” I asked in outburst, more emotionally than intended, Jynx only frowned at me.
“One that, if misinterpreted, could be found liable by Arkham and bring it crumbling to the ground, THAT is not an option for us. It seems one of our future medical applications was.. let’s use the word ‘compromised’, Pastel was somehow given a sample and had an adverse reaction to it. The person you all feel committed a murder, has a valid claim for self defence, our next step is to figure out how we move forward in the best interest of Arkham.”
“What was he given and why did he have to die for it?” Aemous asked of Jynx, poignantly zeroing in on the source of the problem, someone had plotted for Pastel to die, and very possibly, for it to look like I had killed him.
“Pastel was given a very early trial version of our ReGen serum, it was never tested on humans and highly unstable in our lab studies on primates and marsupials, he was victim to unforeseen complications.”
“Who had clearance to access the trial samples of the serum? The system has firewalls in place like it’s the Fort Knox of Hell.” Shaw brought up validly, as I went over the list in my head, I could see Jynx was doing the same but he reverted back to the awkward trance.
He opened his eyes and looked to Cedric, who opened his mouth wide in shock, it was only then had I notice him sweating. Could he have callous nerve to try to set me up again? But this was for murder, it was on another level of revenge, one I can admittedly say I wasn’t prepared to battle on.
“Before this goes any further, Yurika please make sure to email everyone in this room right now, a copy of the Non Disclosure Agreements, the ones they signed on their date of hire.”
“I’m two steps ahead of you.” She replied to Jynx, without even looking up from her tablet, there was a timely round of buzzing and chirping from people’s phones. “I’ve also gone ahead and pulled up the recording, you can start it when you’re ready.”
“Recording?! Other than Karishma, who is dumb enough to get caught on camera doing anything out here in the wilderness?” Grayson asked to no one in particular, but it was the first question on most of our minds, I was about to go crazy if my friends murder was recorded for us to see.
“I’m about to throw up..” I mutter under my breath, nearly getting up out of my seat as this type of conversation was making me nauseous
Aemous put a hand to my back soothingly, as he was seated right next to me, and I couldn’t help but notice Shaw’s face sour from across us. He furrowed those dark full brows, and looked to the head of the table with a neutral expression, as he challenged Jynx once again on the most acute moral route to the solution of this tragic predicament.
“You have a recording of the actual murder? That means the only option is to release it to authorities.”
“All of you, stop jumping to conclusions.. as I said things aren’t as simple as you think, allow me to..” Jynx was about to finish his explanation, but Zachari burst out out crying, he look to Karishma and Cedric who were shaking their heads at him scoldingly.
“It was me, It was me, I did it! But he just wouldn’t stop, he wouldn’t stop, so I had to do it.. I had to make him stop.”
He crumbled into Dr Jhedav’s arms, as she hugged him to her breast, consoling him as if he didn’t just admit to killing one of our colleagues with his bare hands. I know it was hard for him to deal with the humiliation he received the other night, but that didn’t explain all of this, nor could he rely on his disability as a crutch, this was murder.
“Are we just going to let him get away with this, he just admitted to it?” I asked, turning to Jynx, this man I admire and aspire to become one day, for the first time, honestly disappointed with him.
“As I said, the circumstances aren’t that simple, Yuri please play the tape.”
At his bequest, she used her tablet to cast the video onto the outdated smart tv on the wall, the screen cut on to reveal a feed from cameras situated around the kitchen of the Windigo Lodge. The date corresponded and time with the night of our arrival, during the middle of the Opening celebration.
We watched as three figures walked into the room, Zachari was clearly distraught, even more so than he is now, still crying on the other side of the table. Dr Jhedav was there as well, trying her best to console him but he was beside himself, the third person stood off to the side, nearly in the shadows, just watching the meltdown of a man broken.
▪▪▪ “I’m gonna fucking kill him!” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “Zach baby, calm down.. you’re being unreasonable.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “Fuck you, cheating slut, I wish I could get rid of all of you, wipe you from the face of the earth. I could do it, I swear I could.. they want me to go mad, that’s what they fucking want.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “We discussed you talking like that in public, get a hold of yourself Zachari Grannison, you got just what you always wanted, finally YOU are in control, we can take our goals and dreams to the next level. This is your show baby, it doesn’t matter who’s throwing the tomatoes.. don’t worry about that silly pink haired fairy.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “I think you should be very worried.” the figure in the shadows interrupted, and Cedric stepped forward into the light, like a devil from the depths of the shadows. “People like Pastel influence the people without the power and fancy job titles, he could undermine you at every step.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “Cedric, this is one time I want you to mind your business, he doesn’t need you messing with his head right now.” Karishma rebutted, trying to soothe the man now slamming his fist onto the wood counters with enough force to splinter it. ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “He is right, I fucked up even worse than when I attacked Cydnee over you, now I got the position he was a shoe in for, he’s my biggest intellectual rival in the company, the two of them are going to be gunning for my throat.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “Why not kill two birds with one stone, Karishma was telling me about your need for a human subject for the project you’re working on, she said you brought samples just in case Ellison put you on the spot. Why not make it worth your while and have legit data on a human subject, you said in the report there is no way it can actually kill anyone, so what’s the harm? You could give it to him as a gift to let bygones be bygones, but really it’s the Trojan horse to put that pink haired judy in his place, he chose his fate when he took Cyddie Boi’s side over mine.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “I also told you it made the rats in the last trial turn hyper aggressive, it could be too dangerous.. plus, there was a trend of hair falling out in patches, it was sick. I get you have this whole revenge plot going on but it’s overkill at this point, let it go bitch.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “Don’t listen to her Zachari, she hasn’t been wronged by these people like we have, she doesn’t really get it. Guys like Cydnee and Pastel, they ain’t gonna learn till they learn, and can’t learn unless you teach they ass.” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “You can listen to Cedric speak in circles again if you want to Zack, but remember where it got you last time you followed along with his schemes. I’m going to the room, I won’t have any part of the drama this time, I have my own future to think of.” ▪▪▪
Karishma walked off screen, apparently leaving the two alone in the kitchen, Cedric went over to the counter where a bottle of brandy sat and started to pour it into two glasses. When he handed the other man his drink, Zach looked confused and distraught, as he threw it back in one gulp.
▪▪▪ “I don’t think I want to do this Cedric, it sounds like too much, why don’t I just try to talk to him, isn’t that what decent people are supposed to do?” ▪▪▪
▪▪▪ “You don’t get by in this business by being a decent person, to get where you want to go and stay there, you have to be a beast, you have to be straight up savage.” ▪▪▪
Ced put his arm over Zachari’s shoulder and lead him from the room, pulling the poor guy close in what looked to be a ‘brotherly way’, but in my eyes it was more like a snake coiling around its prey.
The video cut abruptly, and there was a silent pause that filled the air like a siren for all of three seconds, before Cedric slammed his hand to the table.
“This whole thing is taken entirely out of context, we aren’t even on camera colluding to anything specific, what does this prove? All I see is a gullible incompetent man who took drunk talk too seriously.”
“I don’t know, I’d say it looks pretty damaging.” Jynx responded, his monotone voice had an eerie seriousness to it, leaving room for blame for the murder to spread quickly like a wildfire.
“We all know Zach has a handicap when it comes to ‘context’ with his Social Asperger’s, Cedric was the mastermind behind it all, we can’t blame someone with the social IQ of a teenager to be responsible for the complex insidious ideas of a devious drama queen.” Karishma argued, quickly trying to make us forget about her lying earlier, yet her argument seem to have sound ground with the consensus of the room.
“Fuck you and ya wide split cunt, how dare you?! I’m not the one who said he wanted to kill somebody REPEATEDLY, and I’m pretty sure it’s clear I didn’t want Pastel to die, how could I know the basket case would freak?”
“Yo, you a real sick bastard Cedric, how could you do this kid like that. Even after you set me up, I still thought there was hope for you, but not after this.”
“Grayson, you’re nothing but a limp nine inch community dick, what gives you any gumption to use the lips that have sucked my asshole, to speak an ill word about me. I’ve fucked three interns with better dick in the mailroom, that could do your job twice as good for half the pay, and three times the satisfaction. So stay the hell out of this, I’m warning you.”
“You are so foul!” Dr. Jhedav interjected, while the rest of us sat back watching this episode of epic proportions, I didn’t know what to say or who to blame at this point.
“So is your pussy, Grayson told me so..”
“Okay, okay, let us bring some order to this, and Karishma sweetheart, it’s news to no one about the wretched smell you leave behind on the seats.” Yurika butt in, leaving the doctor slacked jawed at the shade, she turn to other person making an absolute fool of themselves. “As for you Cedric, I’d tone it down right now, this isn’t a good look for you, none of it is..”
“Let’s not talk about looks sis, not when everything about you, even all that makes you a woman, is man made.”
“That’s enough, calm the fuck down, and shut the hell up.” Jynx demanded, not even raising his voice, the words enough emphasis on their own to get Cedric to tighten up. “See, I knew you were a guttersnipe type of bitch when I hired you, it was entertaining and you knew how to run the numbers. Just because I have allowed you to carry on with your peers, don’t mistake your worth on a level to disrespect someone who represents my entire estate, I say we’ve heard enough from you. Famous, was this the insight into the murder you were looking for?”
“We have no option but putting the matter to a vote, was it a case of Roommate’s Revenge or the wrath of a Mad Scientist?”
“No! Don’t call me that! People just need to stop calling me that, stop it!” Zachari hollered in outburst, looking as if he’d jump over the desk to attack, but Dr Jhedav just pulled him closer to her.
“Sorry Zach, honestly.” Aemous apologised, seeing how deeply it affected him.
Jynx, once again, went into that weird trance, it was so odd to see someone so present but still far away someplace. With the twitch of an eye, he was back, a miniscule grin curling into a wicked smile. His eyes darted around the room, looking at each and every one of us, as if carefully crafting his words to suite each individual person.
“The only way we do this, is to decide who do we turn in to the authorities once we return home, it is up to everyone here to decide as all stories must corroborate.. one person, one vote.”
“Who are we to be judge and jury?” Shaw replied, once again being the single soul to be defiant to Jynx Ellison, rightfully questioning the moral grounds of what we were doing.
“Save it for the congregation pastor, you can forfeit your vote if you please but it’s happening, fate speaks on it. Everyone in this room has a vote, raise your hand if you want it to count.”
It was an odd request, one that received a few shocked looks from my side of the table, as Yurika chose to opt out with Shaw, and all four of Jynx Ellison’s alluring companions oddly ended up hands raised.
Cedric look nervously around the room, as if counting the votes he already had against him, his eyes fell on me and for only a moment, his gaze humbled. Karishma whisper in Zachari’s ear, calculating a tally of her own, she was always one against the odds yet always seem to end up on the right side of the board, whenever we’ve done a roll call vote before.
“I want eleven votes in this envelope, pass it around the room, and I want to see each one signed, sealed, delivered.” Jynx said, tossing it to the center of the table, boldly Karishma was the first to grab it.
She started writing a name down with no hesitation, tearing the page from her work issue utility pad, everyone else followed suite with more caution and thought. By the time it had gotten to me, I had gone over everything in my mind a hundred times, should I place blame with the puppeteer or the puppet?
My gaze fell to Shaw, he was so comfortable in his non compliance, but it was a choice that was right for him, not me. There was a need inside, to bring forth some kind of justice for Pastel’s death by any means necessary, accountable parties had to face punishment. Pastel had chosen me over Cedric, and was probably one of the few people to have even done that, when given the choice.
I wrote a name down, with my eyes closed, hoping I could hide from myself and remain neutral. In vain it would prove to be, and I knew my choice would haunt me in retrospect, as I reluctantly submit the note with my name scribbled across the top. When the envelope return to Jynx’s hands, he wrote down a vote of his own, signing his name with deliberate arching penmanship.
“Now that the hard parts over, let’s get this over with.. Cydnee, I’d like you to read out the results for us please, one by one, none of you get to hide.”
My hand was shaking as I reach for the envelope, Mr Ellison just smiling at me as he pass it over, then sinking back into his chair. He closed his eyes as if he were about to take a nap, leaving me the job of calling out the execution papers. My fingers went numb as I pulled out the first vote, it was Karishma’s.
“Dr. Jhedav has found Cedric to be responsible for the murder. One vote, Cedric.”
“You Bitch.” He spat coldly to Karishma, from across the table, but I wasn’t going to allow this to become a three ring circus.
“Please, no comments until the votes are read in full.. the next vote, is from Zachari.”
I opened up his oddly folded note, and my eyes grew wide in shocked confusion, he had voted for himself. When I reveal this to the room, Karishma looked at him in a rage while kicking him under the table, Cedric could only smile confidently.
“This one is from Grayson, and he’s decided that Cedric takes the blame.”
The two former lovers stare at each other in quiet contempt, this time Dr Jhedav had the Cheshire grin, and Cedric’s seem to falter.
“That’s puts Cedric at two and Zachari with one, next vote belongs to Cedric, and at this point we know quite well who he voted for.”
No one was smiling anymore, nor was there any of the pleasure I thought there would be in such a relatively safe position, I just hoped to God I made the right decision. I pulled out the next vote but it had no name to, just an odd symbol, almost as if it were another language.
“This one doesn’t have a name, so I assume it’s one of Mr Ellison’s associates, this person has voted for Dr Grannison, leaving us with a tally of three to two.”
“That is not fair! How could you let them have a say in things of such importance, given their origins one would assume they can barely even understand? What makes them so qualified?” Karishma interrupted, clearly forgetting my request for silence, added to the fact she addressed Mr Ellison directly like she knew these men personally.
For the most part, Jynx Ellison’s four companions were an enigma to people, no one bothered to look into who they were, we just knew they were impeccably beautiful and explicitly off limits, simply to be Art in motion.
“I’m going to ignore the insulting tone of your inquiry Doctor, and remind you that Arkham has private shareholders, I’d caution you to let it go and accept the hand fate has dealt you. You can continue Cydnee, she won’t be interrupting again.”
“Thank you, Mr Ellison, the next two votes are also from our shareholders, and anonymously they voted for Zachari as well.”
Karishma and Zach looked defeated, while I cautiously started to feel better about my vote, guilt washing away as this was looking like it was decided before it started.
“The last anonymous vote, has deferred from the group and found Cedric at fault, that brings us to five over three.” I pulled out a note with Famous elegantly scripted in the top right corner, I expected him to go along with the status quo, he had the most objective mind out of anyone I knew, it was a revelation to me when I read his vote aloud. “Famous has found Cedric responsible for the death of Pastel Pinkett.”
“Now is when this gets interesting..” Jynx mused, from his seat, leaning forward on the desk. “Cydnee, save yourself the trouble, I’ll tell everybody who I voted for myself. I’ll cushion the blow by mentioning, I made this decision on merit and a better future for us all. ‘The gift what comes is built upon today’, my grandmother used to say that, you don’t know how right she was.. Cedric, I wish you well on your journey.”
“Wait, there’s eleven votes? it’s a tie..”
My stomach dropped as his gaze came to me, it was followed by every other eye in the room expectantly, yet I choked up when it came time to speak. I had procrastinated to avoid my own guilt and here it was, that I would be final say to cast judgement.
“Don’t look so sulky Cedric, what do you think is in this envelope? What kind of person do you know him to be, you two grew up together, am I right? Best friends for years, colleagues for the last four, when was it you started to consider him a rival? When did good ole Cyddie Boi become competition in your eyes? Little did you know, I can read people, read them like the good book, sometimes as if I wrote it myself.”
“You don’t know anything about me but gossip around the workplace, and I doubt you stay up on the latest salacious news concerning the internal fraternizations of your employees, Mr Ellison. I’ve also never felt threatened by Cydnee, EVER, and that’s the fact of that.”
“Was it when he got the attention from all the men? Or how about when he glowed up, and decided to buy himself some nice things? There was also that stabbing pang of jealousy when he got some praise in the workplace a couple weeks back, that could be it?”
“With all due respect as my employer, you sound insane.”
“No, no, no, it goes deeper than that, farther back. He excelled in school over you, that was when you had the suspicion he was better than you, superior to your mediocre abilities. Though sadly, that’s not quite it either, I’m trying to find the source.” Jynx seem to squint his eyes as if to look deeper, and he focused in on Cedric hard, zeroing in. “I think I see a boy, one to have lived a very short life. Yes, that it, the story gets better, he eventually chose you but he still always wanted him, yet.. you only wanted the wise one because he covet someone else before you, that’s a shame. Now here we are presently, to witness as you ruined your life over a boy, fueled by jealousy and insecurities. How does that even feel, to finally reap what you sow?”
Cedric was sitting there uncharacteristically silent, eyes wet with stubborn tears defiant to fall, his brows furrowed and his eyes darkened. I sat there reeling from the words exchanged between these two, so much making sense, connections between events I can now finally see after years.
“Why would Cydnee not take the chance to seek revenge, exercise his new found power to teach you lesson that you ain’t gonna learn till you learn?”
“He knows me, he knows I’m not a monster, I don’t kill people.”
“No, you just set them up for murder.” I responded swiftly, getting heated at the audacity of him to still think he knew anything about me, Jynx was right, I was a brand new Cydnee Tyson.
“Would you like to liberate yourself Cyd? How about you tell him the verdict.. show him how much he knows you, as the final vote and tie breaker, you hold the fate of these two men in your hands.”
I look at Zachari, who seem to be sullen and detached from the conversation, looking more far away than Jynx during his spaced out trance. Flashes of memories scroll by, most notably of how he had bullied me for the last couple years as Karishma’s side kick, the ridicule and constant degrading was enough to bring me to the edge, I could still feel the blows from when he attacked me in my office, outraged at what he thought was my collusion in his fiance’s affair. I couldn’t have never expected Zachari to find me to be one of his rivals, nor could I have imagined this unchained rage within him to be bubbling beneath the surface, he was always cool and calm despite any social or behavioral handicap.
Then there was Cedric, the best friend I thought I had, but would come to learn he considered me the bane of his existence. He was jealous, threatened, and insecure about his place in the world next to me. That was probably why he always tried his best to stand in front of me, hoping if he cast his shadow large enough over me, no one would notice what he, himself, was greatly lacking. Cedric Everly has had a covert mission in life, to make me feel as low as he does, and it would all start with Solomon.
Both of these men were responsible for the ‘accident, but who should go down for it when one committed the actual murder and the other more than likely planned the event that made it happen?
There was no way to be as resolutely non participation as Shaw, or as objective and unbiased as Aemous, nor did I have the luxury of scheming calculation like Jynx Ellison, who always seemed to be three steps ahead of everything. I was beholden to seeking justice for Pastel, I had to do right by him and hope for the best, I prayed God would forgive me later.
“Cedric, I find you responsible for the death of Pastel Pinkett.”