The body was burning on top of the roof of the Austonian. The flames lapping up around the body the way flames hug a piece of coal: it looks as if it’s barely touching it, yet it begins to turn a darker shade of black and begins to turn to ash under the flames. I stood, if you could even call it standing, watching the body. My knees bent and my arms resting over them in shock. I probably looked like a scared dwarf to the six other people in the room. I had talked to this person, this man now turning into ash, on the phone less than an hour ago and now he was gone. The smoke drifted through an open glass sky light above. I noticed that we were actually still inside, but the canopy covering the entire top of the building was made entirely of glass. I watched the flames travel towards the early morning sky. The city of Austin was waking up. I could see the sunrise coming over the river near downtown. I slouched there, in complete awe (was it even awe at the time?) in my pointed, tanned leather shoes and my brown leather jacket over a black button up. A night clubbing, making connections, finalizing deals; and now I was looking at a dead body, wondering what would come next.
“This is going to get cleaned up,” Says a woman. “We called the right people and they’re on their way. I want to make sure that the alibi we go with is going to stick if we have to talk to any lawyers.”
Someone else starts talking and I’m already tuning the conversation out. One of the men looks at me strangely and my vision begins to blur. Maybe I was crying at the time. I’m told to take a Xanex and I’m whisked away into a limo heading somewhere. I stare out the window, wondering what I have done and…
I’m awake. The alarm on my phone buzzes incessantly in my ear, like a hornet trapped inside a thin mason jar. I look up at the ceiling and remember about the meeting with Molly tonight. I had gone to bed at around noon and had slept for almost seven hours. Those were the hours most of my clients kept anyway and I wasn’t complaining; especially if they didn’t care about me wanting to meet them at restaurants or the hotel lobby of wherever I decided to stay that night. I was in a pretty shitty situation that no one needed to know about. Let them draw any conclusions that they want to. I was still an independent contractor, working mostly with the law firm that my parents ran. Their work was starting to make the news. Not about them specifically, but those in “the business” knew what was really going on, so they probably understood why I wanted to distance myself from the whole thing. However, I had other reasons for being away from the scandal that was beginning to take shape in the Metro and State section of the Austin-American Statesmen. I wanted to be discrete; I wanted to be away from people I knew; and this was as close as I was going to get.
While the city itself tried to keep its soul intact, I was trying to disappear. Austin, like most ‘recession-proof’ cities, was going through a rather painful expansion. New faces, new enclaves, new businesses, all of these were things that helped me keep a low profile in the aftermath. In the end, night club promotion and P.I work were the only steady paychecks where you could drift through being remembered and forgotten in a span of anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I had lost my soul already and now I was trying to be anonymous. I couldn’t go home or visit the usual corporate offices during the day, afraid that a reporter or someone that I knew would be there waiting. Nightmares of thin, black clad, covert assassins killing me in my hotel room woke me in my sweat soaked sheets in rented rooms all over the city. My mother and father were still working behind the scenes; covering up what had really happened, but I had since stopped coming to meetings. I couldn’t be a part of the charade anymore. I had allowed myself to be caught up a dark, political realm that I couldn’t begin to understand. To my parent’s credit, they tried to keep me in the dark as much as possible, but their handlers had other ideas. People like my parents were hard to find; and I suppose it made sense to bring me in and be trained in a job that could bring in a large salary, but couldn’t be revealed or talked about to friends or acquaintances. This time, though, I had had enough and had decided to go rogue; but leaving the city was too risky. I couldn’t completely leave the reservation. Not unless I wanted to see my mother and father in the local obituaries. Whether they deserved it or not didn’t matter. It’d only serve as another boil on the already festering body that was my guilty conscience. I didn’t whistle blow, I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t go to the local news stations. I stayed hidden. My parents handlers, despite me up and disappearing, didn’t seem to mind the arrangement (though I’m sure my mother and father took great pains to assure them that I wasn’t a threat), but the ‘family business’ was back to being a two-person operation now and no one was happy.
You can find the other chapters here on the Austin By Night page.
Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser