AN: Um, hi, remember me? Yeah, it's been a while. To put it simple, I've been away. You don't want to hear the complex version.
My thanks to the few who reviewed. On with it.
Disclaimer: I own a Xbox 360! Huzzah! But, I don't own Tales of Symphonia. Whaaaaaaa!
Ch. 4: The Rotten Fruit of A Good Man's Labor
Years go by, and many things change. Friends come, and go. Old family members die and new ones are born. You go from rock bottom straight to the top, and then hit rock bottom again. You have nothing, then everything, then you have nothing again. Lloyd Aurion has seen all of this. He has gained and lost many things that are important to him, but the greatest things in his life have yet to be taken from him. Here is the turning point of his story. Here is the end of all that is good…
A beautiful day, Lloyd decided that's what today was. A perfectly beautiful day for Ryan's first day of school. The clear blue sky overhead with a few small puffs of cloud showed no sign of rain, and there was nothing that could go wrong. Everything seemed right… except for what Regal said the other night at the diner.
"Why is it that just after the economy boomed, we start having all of these shortages?" he asked.
"Probably 'cause when Varhley died, all of the contracts he had died with him," Lloyd reasoned.
"Well why didn't Zelos make new contracts? It's not that difficult," he pressed.
"If the news is right, the nations are probably buying all of the foods and medical supplies so they have supplies for their troops at war," Sheena answered.
"Or maybe Zelos is stockpiling everything that the boats bring in-"
Lloyd smashed down on the brakes, just in time to stop, only inches away from a little girl playing in the street.
"Sorry about that, forgot to keep my eyes open," Lloyd said to the young boy, sitting in his back seat. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm okay," Ryan replied, slightly shaken. A beautiful young boy, only five years old and already brighter than the sun. His black hair was messed about, partially covering his dark brown eyes. Lloyd still couldn't believe that Sheena had actually made him wear that little blue suit with matching shorts to his first day at school.
"I'd better be more careful, I may have nearly hit your future wife!" Lloyd said with a hint of mock horror.
"Eww!" Ryan screwed his face into a very disgusted look that only a child could make. "That's gross, Dad. No way I'm marrying a girl! They're gross!"
"Is your mother gross also?" Lloyd asked.
"No, she's my mom," Ryan objected harshly.
"Another five years and you'll like girls, mark my words," Lloyd smiled.
"No way!" Ryan said with complete absolution.
"We'll see," Lloyd said. "Now, let's see if we can get you to school without any more mishap."
A few minutes later, Lloyd had dropped Ryan off at his new school and had driven to the money tower and was already up to the top floor.
"G'morning, Jen," Lloyd said to the receptionist.
"Good morning Mr. Aurion, just drop off Ryan for his first day?" Jen asked.
"Yep, is Zelos in?" Lloyd asked.
"Just a moment," she replied, then switching on the speaker phone, she said, "Sir, Mr. Aurion is here."
"Send him in," Zelos's voice came back clearly.
A few moments later, Lloyd was sitting on one of Zelos's comfortable sofas, sipping on some very good whiskey.
"So then," Zelos said, sitting down across from him, "what does my favorite informant have for me today?"
"Not much," Lloyd admitted. "I've only heard a few small rumors, nothing good, mostly speculations, and one of them borders on conspiracy theory."
"Well then, let's start at the more possible ones," Zelos said.
"I've heard of some new gang in the area." Lloyd started. "They like to hang around the docks. They haven't been crazy enough to attack you directly, but anyone else going in that area doesn't get out."
"Have you seen them?" Zelos asked.
"No, I stay away from the docks, but I do get pretty close to where their territory is supposed to be."
"I'll send a few people down that way, see what's going on," Zelos assured him. Then getting up and walking out to the window, he continued. "What else is there?"
"Not much that could be important," Lloyd replied.
"What about the conspiracy theory you were talking about?"
"It's a really stupid one, but since you've asked," Lloyd said. "I've heard that you're responsible for all of the shortages that we see. Everyone knows that boats still come to the city on a regular basis, but the shelves at the markets are next to bare. Supposedly, you have your people at the docks store everything in warehouses down there, and hoard it all to keep the people under your thumb. And then to make absolutely certain that no one on the outside hears about it, you keep us from leaving, by keeping out the passenger ships."
"That is a pretty bad conspiracy," Zelos laughed. "Where'd you get it?"
"From Regal," Lloyd chuckled. "He may be a good chef, but I don't think he's alright in the head."
"Sir," Jen's voice came over the speakerphone, "Mr. Murray is here to see you."
"Tell him to have a seat, I'll be with him shortly," Zelos replied into the speakerphone. Then back to Lloyd, "As much as I'd like to laugh at Regal's questionable sanity with you, I'm afraid that I have a very important associate waiting for me. Can you show yourself out?"
"Of course," Lloyd said. "See you later, Zelos!"
As Lloyd walked out, he looked at the man sitting off to his right. A relatively short man, not very tall at least, in a very professional suit, Mr. Murray looked like the kind of person who didn't leave any detail unnoticed. Lloyd continued to the elevator, and the doors closed.
After Lloyd left, Zelos sat back down in his chair and took in a calming breath. Mr. Murray was here. He always gave Zelos the creeps, but he was damn good at his job.
After settling himself in, he pressed the button next to the speakerphone and said, "Jen, send in Mr. Murray now, please."
Mr. Murray walked into the room quietly, taking in everything at a glance. He sat himself down across from Zelos, pulled out a picture, and presented it to Zelos.
Zelos looked at the picture with disgust. Yes, Mr. Murray was good at his job, but Zelos didn't need to see how good he was.
"All with the usual quality of your work, I presume?" he asked, trying to sound unmoved by the sickening image.
"I made sure I wore gloves, had a suppressor, cleaned the knife when I was done with it, and even threw out my clothes. There were no witnesses, the target didn't even have time to scream. By the time I was done with my cleanup, you'd think he'd killed himself. Yessir, my usual quality."
"Good, you'll get the usual payment then," Zelos said calmly. "Also, I have a new target for you."
"One of my informants has recently heard that someone is dangerously close to guessing at my operations at the docks. He's so close that he would only have to look around the area to know that he's right. However, this man is an old friend of mine, and is therefore under my protection. You are not to kill him, not to even be seen by him."
"I thought you said you had a job," Mr. Murray said.
"And I do," Zelos replied calmly. "While he is under my protection, his wife is not. See to it that he gets the message to leave his current train of thought alone."
"So who's our lucky lady?" Mr. Murray asked.
"Her name is Alicia Bryant," Zelos said calmly. "Her husband works at a restaurant all day and for part of the night, but she's a stay at home wife. No children, neighbors working all day, no witnesses. Sound easy enough for you?"
It wasn't Mr. Murray's pictures that gave Zelos his creepy feelings, it was his smile. It was a crazy smile that screamed the pleasure he took in his work. Mr. Murray wore that smile now as he said, "Sounds like fun."
A few days later, Lloyd did the most foolish thing he'd done in years. He'd forgotten his lunch! Of all the silly things to forget! He'd prepared it the very night before and here he was now, forgetting it!
Being the type of person who couldn't work on an empty stomach, Lloyd left the crane early to get his lunch.
He was passing through a neighborhood where he knew that Regal and his wife lived, when he saw a curious sight. Briskly walking out of Regal's house was a not so tall man, in a suit, slipping a camera into his coat. The same man Lloyd had seen at Zelos's office mere days ago. Mr. Murray walked to the corner and kept going.
Lloyd didn't think much of it at first. Perhaps Mr. Murray was an old fashioned "door to door" salesman. But what seemed very odd was that the door to Regal's house remained opened. Again, Lloyd wasn't too worried. Maybe Mrs. Bryant was just being a little slow to the door. He decided that he would check again on his way back to work, just to be sure.
And that's exactly what he did. On his way back Lloyd slowed down as he got near Regal's house, and looked over… The door was still open.
Lloyd was more than worried now. No one in there right mind who had lived through Varhley would leave their front door open, just begging criminals to come in and steal what possessions they had. Lloyd parked his car, and ran up to the door. Not wanting to seem rude, or be mistaken as a thief, Lloyd knocked loudly before entering.
"Hello?" he called out. "Mrs. Bryant? Are you around here? It's Lloyd."
Everything seemed perfectly normal to Lloyd. Nothing was out of place, the entire entryway seemed to be well kept. Indeed there was no reason for him to be feeling the dread that he felt. Everything was just fine, but it was also silent.
As he went further in, there was a soft squeaking sound, coming from one of the rooms. Lloyd opened the door to where the squeaking was coming from. At first glance, it was a perfectly innocent scene. There, sleeping in a rocking, with the wind slowing pushing her back and forth, was Mrs. Bryant. As Lloyd approached her though, it became horribly clear that something was wrong.
It was indeed Mrs. Bryant sitting in the chair, but she wasn't asleep. She was dead. Her body had been stripped down, and cut, burned, and all around mutilated so much that Lloyd couldn't even begin to stop himself from throwing up on the carpet.
Finding a phone as quickly as he could, Lloyd called the police. "Hello," he said hurriedly, "There's been a murder."
When the police arrived, the entire area became a crime scene. They searched all over the place but they couldn't find anything. All they had was Lloyd, and he was a most cooperative witness. He was examined, cross-examined, and even allowed them to have his fingerprints. He only lied about one thing.
"Did you recognize this man at all?" he was asked.
"No," was all he bothered to say.
It wasn't that he didn't want them to find the killer, it was just that he didn't think they'd try very hard if they knew that the guy had connections with Zelos. Zelos owned the police, and he owned the city. He decided everything. The investigation wouldn't get very far if the investigators knew that they were likely to get on their owners bad side if they did a good job. However, the rewards could be great if they turned the blind eye.
After they were done questioning him, Lloyd was permitted to leave, and go back to work. All through the rest of that day Lloyd thought and thought. He didn't think about many things, just Zelos.
"Why did he have Mrs. Bryant killed?" he thought to himself, "It's not like she or Regal are any real threat to him. But, that conspiracy of Regal's is. But then, why bother? A little slander never hurt anyone… unless it's not slander. But if it's not slander, then it must be true! This is bad. What do I do? Do I confront Zelos? No, he could hurt Sheena… or Ryan. Do I try to run? I'm the only one who really knows about the road out, I could drive that. But, I can't just leave the people. I work the crane, I give hope. Without me, ships would pile up in the water and it'd be impossible to get other ships into port. I need a way to stop him. But I can't kill him. He was, is still my friend. Isn't he? But I still have to stop him. And I still must help the people."
AN: There you go. And for the record, yes, Lloyd is building himself up for one hell of a fall. And what about Regal? His wife just died folks. He is not going to be in the best mood. And how is Lloyd going to help the people when they either don't want help, or don't feel they need it? And we can't forget that Mr. Murray is somewhere out there. I might answer a few questions in the next chapter, Preparations For an Unorthodox Rescue or The End. I'm not sure which it will be. The next one will either be really short, or really long. Until then, please review. Laters!