Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Visiting Rights

The epilogue of Web in our anthology The Secrets That We Keep.


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Pinned.

It was now his life. A completely different reality that’s unlike how everything used to be.

Shackled.

Unable to do anything but wait while the world carried on with its usual business. 

Stuck.

Robert hated every single bit of this existence.

These three words swirled in his head every single day as he lay on the hospital bed, with one wrist cuffed to the metal bar on his flank. He was brought here immediately after getting kneecapped by his former mentor with a sledgehammer. The details after that excruciating moment were fuzzy at best as he was anesthetized after the cops brought him to the emergency room. When he opened his eyes, he was already cuffed in one of the private wards, his injured leg wrapped in a cast which pulsed in pain every now and then.

Robert lost track of time, no thanks to the lack of a wall clock in the room. He didn’t know how many days or weeks or even months have passed. The TV mounted on the wall didn’t work, so he was forced to waste countless hours staring at the ceiling or at the closed window panes as it was illuminated by the sun’s rays or bathed by moonlight.

The nurse visited at random intervals to bring him food, to check on his condition, to give him sponge baths, and to help him go to the toilet. Whenever she entered, Robert thought of swiping the keys of the handcuffs from her pocket, but his broken leg rendered such plans as nothing but fantasies.

As the doors swung open when the nurse entered, Robert got a glimpse of the outside world for a few seconds. The only thing he saw was the wooden door of the private room across where he was confined, nothing more. Sometimes, he had a glimpse of little kids running in the hallway or people visiting the patient in the other room, carrying a basket of fruit or a bouquet.

During this mind-numbing confine, he was given all the time in the world to think about his actions, particularly the one where he chose to be greedy. Whenever the kids in the hallway laughed or played, he was reminded of that fateful night where he treated Jason like a package that was to be delivered and obviously never to be seen again.

All for the sake of money.

Robert believed that his injury was punishment for his avarice, though back then he thought that he was just doing everything he could to get a new lease in life. The payment he could’ve received from the kidnapping was more than enough for him to move to a new city, find a decent job, and live a normal life. More importantly, it could’ve ensured that the money he sent to his family in the province was no longer earned from crime.

Now, he was no longer able to work and send much-needed cash to his mother as he was surely bound for imprisonment soon. He was now in an inescapable situation, trapped inside a room with a door that didn’t have a lock he could pick.

Better yet, he was stuck in a web he himself spun.  He was both the spider and the fly.

Robert entertained these thoughts as he lay on the bed one cold night, with the rain pouring hard outside which filled the silent air with a comforting ambiance. Thunder growled from the distance as the intermittent bolts of lightning briefly lit the darkness of the room. 

Something clicked on the door. Robert didn’t bother looking, it must be the nurse. She did forget to pick up the meal tray on the side table this afternoon.

The door closed.

Another click followed. It was locked.

This made Robert turn his head.

His eyes shot wide open.

-----

Every fiber on his body quaked and froze, not because of the cold but due to what stood in front of him.

Robert amassed all of whatever strength he had left and prepared himself for the inevitable. He was filled with both fear and fury as he knew that he was a loose end, yet he wanted to break free from his cuffs and go down fighting even though it was impossible.

So he had no other choice but to stare with clenched teeth, anticipating whatever it is that might come next.

The man stepped next to his bed, an index finger pressed on his lips. Robert noticed the glint of lockpicks wrapped in the man’s other gloved fist.

“I know that you want to scream your lungs out, to get the attention of everyone that your mentor is here,” the bald man said.

Robert pursed his mouth. That was what he was planning to do. Someone had to know the truth about who this bastard really was.

“Who would believe you though? Do you even have a shred of proof?”

“I’ll tell them everything. I’ll tell them that—“

The man interrupted, “That what? I taught you? Introduced you to the website? Think about it, Thompson, there’s nothing you can come up with.”

Robert felt the realization sink into his core. The room didn’t even have a CCTV camera that could’ve recorded everything this man said. There was absolutely no evidence to back up his claims. He had nothing else to do but to lay on the bed as he was driven to a corner with no moves left.

“Besides, I was not to blame in your recent crime. I wasn’t the one who told you to kidnap Jason. I never told you to break our code.”

The man grabbed a stool and sat next to the bed, meaty arms folded across his chest. The grey three-quarter sleeve he wore was drenched by rainwater, making the fabric press against his chiseled physique. Looking at him, he was more of a bouncer than a burglar.

“Why are you here then?” Robert asked.

His mentor sighed, “I realized that I did somehow have a fault in your fiasco.”

Robert raised both of his eyebrows. He didn’t expect those words to come out of the man’s mouth.

“Kat and Jason now live in my house as the kid is too afraid to return to their apartment. He was traumatized by what you did. Now, he couldn’t be left alone anymore. He always wanted someone he knew to be a few steps away from him. Hell, he doesn’t even want to brush his teeth all by his lonesome. I thought he got over it after that incident, but later on he suddenly  became blue and as the days passed he slipped into this downward spiral.”

He continued, “He no longer uses the computer. Instead, he prefers to stare off into space, sometimes while whimpering or rubbing his neck, probably the area where you sedated him. He sometimes plays with his toys or reads a book, but only for a few minutes until he stops and watches the walls or the skies until he gets tired.”

 “Shit,” Robert muttered under his breath.

“I thought that, had I not set you on this path, then this wouldn’t happen to Jason. Had I not trained you and let you become a thief. Or maybe, had I not left you to run on your own. Had I kept watch and stayed with you.”

The man paused for a few breaths. Robert wanted to interject, to tell that his mentor was indeed the one to blame.

The man continued, “That’s what I’m going to do now. To avoid such unfortunate circumstances in the future, I vowed that I would not let the next Treasure Hunter be—“

This time, Robert did not stop himself from interrupting, “What the fuck? Are you still continuing the heists?”

“I am indeed. In fact, I’m already grooming the new recruit, a talented burglar who’s also a jack of all trades. I learned from what happened with you and Jason, and that’s why I am taking precautionary measures. Such an unfortunate circumstance will not happen anymore.”

“How can you live with this while seeing Jason suffer because of what we’ve done?” Robert asked.

“I can’t let go of the site that easily, you know. I wish I could explain it all to you but, let’s just say that some things are better left in the dark for the good of us all.”

Robert shook his head in utter disbelief towards what the hypocrite just said. If only his leg wasn’t broken, he wanted to get up and beat this pretender to death.

The revelation did give him one card to play. An ace up his sleeve that could very well take this bastard with him down to hell when the time comes.

The man spoke, “If you’re thinking that you’ll tell the authorities about the website and link it to me, then I’m afraid that I’m also here to quash that fantasy of yours.”

Robert pretended to be unfazed by this maneuver.

“Let me ask you something first, Thompson--- err--- Robert Rivera. I’ll use your real name as this question is very much personal… Answer me this: when did your mother visit you?”

The question was like a sucker punch to the gut that exhaled every bit of air in Robert’s lungs. He remained frozen in bed, unable to say anything, paralyzed by the painful truth. No one, not even a single relative, paid him a visit. Perhaps they were too shocked by his crime which was surely all over the Internet and the news on TV. Perhaps they now abandoned him, ashamed of having a criminal who shared their blood.

Discarded. Forgotten. Left to rot.

“Well?” the man asked with one eyebrow raised.

Robert sniffed and closed his eyes, not wanting to let a tear drop and give this man satisfaction in seeing him in his absolute weakest. But the pain was becoming too much to bear, swelling in his core that now reached critical mass.

He waited for his family every day, hoping at least one of them would drop by. Maybe Robbie and Ryan would step into the room with his mother. Maybe they’ll give him a hug, tell him that it’s alright, that he won’t be alone in this fight. Maybe they’ll still accept him despite of what he did.

But no… Only the nurse came.

And this man.

The tears finally trailed down his cheeks.

“You don’t have anyone left,” the man voiced what Robert’s head whispered.

Robert’s voice began to break as he spoke, “Where are you going with this?!”

The man rested his arms on the handles on the bed, “I know that you’re the one your family relies on for money. I also know that you’re worried about your nephews, that you love them so much. Trust me, I know how it feels to be depended on, yet at the same time being treated like shit. To be the provider, yet also being no better than a worm.”

He opened his palms as he continued, “I can arrange something for them since I do have a fault in this tragic turn of events. I can help them financially, get your nephews through their studies, and help your mother with the expenses. I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’ll think of some kind of way to send them money. Make them see that it came from you.”

“You’re trying to buy my silence,” Robert’s voice was weak, but the man surely heard him.

“Two birds with one stone, Robert. Makes you think about what you’ll get if you decide to rat me and the website out. At least here, we’re both paying for our crimes. Hell, we’re both limp, don’t know if you noticed that.”

Robert sniffled, “At least you have a family to come home to. You’re not trapped in this sorry excuse of a room, and you’re most certainly not bound for a jail cell.”

The man reached for Robert’s arm and gave it a pat, “I can pull some strings. Move you to a better room. And when you finally start your time behind bars, I’ll ensure that you’ll get a decent cell. It’ll mean a lot since you’ll be looking at a life sentence.”

Robert turned away from his mentor and stared at the window panes. 

He was defeated. He had no more cards to play. His life was now set on a course, his fate set on stone.

And he was going to be all alone.

The man stood up with a faint groan, “I always fulfill my promises, don’t you worry about that. Once I find a way on how to send those kids money, I’ll come back to you and show you proof. Looks like I’ll be your frequent visitor from now on.”

Robert still refused to look at the man. He hated this charity-slash-mockery-slash-bribery. He never asked for this, even if it was for the sake of the two eggheads.

The man limped towards the door but, before he opened it, he patted his thigh, “Oh, by the way, do you remember the story why I got this nasty limp?”

“You fell off a roof which led to you recruiting me,” Robert answered without looking.

The man snorted, “Ever thought of other reasons aside from that? Especially now that we’re related in many ways.”

Robert turned to look at his mentor.

But the man was gone.

The doorknob locked with a click.

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