(This is the final installment of a macabre short story. You might wish to read the previous five chapters beginning here before continuing.)
Merriweather turned and pointed an extended finger at him as he drew nearer. When he began to speak, Cash paused, overcome with confusion.
...."Mr. Cash, only by your confession can your mortal soul be saved," the man said.
....It was the same voice he had heard before. Then the voice had been disembodied, clear and distinct, but not attached to a living person. He'd ignored the voice before, writing it off as some guilt that he might have absorbed from the emotions of the others. It might have even been some primal residue of what was once his own soul.
...."The demons you fear are of your own making. You are your own demon incarnate."
Merriweather was glaring defiantly at the space that Cash was occupying. Somehow, it mattered not how, but the man could see him.
....This angered Cash.
With renewed determination, Cash propelled himself forward and into Merriweather's body. The man resisted, it seemed that every cell in the man's body was fighting his presence. As the struggle for possession continued, Cash realized that it wasn't Merriweather who was being besieged. It was him.
....Cash didn't want to accept it, but he wasn't invading the man's body. He was being drawn into it. It was Cash who suddenly felt violated. The unexpected turn of events was not in his plans. He was in control. The thought of being manipulated like a puppet sickened him.
...."It has to end, Cash. You must face the truth," the voice resounded.
....He tried to respond, but could not. He projected his thoughts to those thoughts that held him captive. It was to no avail. He could neither shut out the voice nor ignore it.
...."Think back, Cash. Think back to that night at your ex-wife's apartment," the voice commanded. "Remember your reaction when you found Johnson's shield on that table. Remember the rage that consumed you."
....Cash did not want to hear a recount of that night. He knew what went down. He didn't need to be reminded.
...."You were in a blind state of betrayal. The badge, still clutched in your hand, was a convenient weapon," the voice seemed to pause for a moment for Cash's reaction. "You must remember how she struggled when you slashed her face with its sharp edge."
....His voice resonated like thunder. "Of course I remember! She was still breathing and screaming when I picked her up..." His thoughts trailed off for a few seconds and he relaxed against the force holding him. "I picked her up and threw her through the window to the street below."
Cash was sobbing uncontrollably. He wanted to wipe his eyes but he couldn't lift his arm. His thoughts shouted at Merriweather, "How could you know what really happened that night?"
...."I was there, Cash. I witnessed the whole thing," Merriweather said.
....Cash struggled to catch his breath. The man's hold on him was getting stronger. The revelation caught him off guard. It hadn't occurred to him that someone else might have been in the apartment that night. It was only by the growing anger within him that Cash found the will to keep trying to free himself from Merriweather's grasp on his thoughts.
...."You see, Cash. It was I who planted Johnson's shield there. We knew you'd find it sooner or later."
....If Cash could've wrapped his fingers around the man's throat, he would've squeezed the life out of him then and there, just to watch him die. Merriweather could sense Cash's animosity, but was unphased. He was enjoying watching him suffer.
...."You had it all wrong, Cash. I was tapping your wife, not Johnson!" Again he paused for the desired effect.
....Cash had been looking for answers, but not to questions he hadn't been asking. He hadn't counted on hearing that he wasn't in control, or that he hadn't been in control all along.
...."You know the rest, Cash. All you have to do is admit it to yourself."
A flood of images began to stream through his mind. He remembered how his fellow officers had avoided him whenever possible after his wife's death. Sure, they'd covered up his involvement. They'd even found a patsy to take the fall. They had looked after him, but wouldn't socialize with him since that night. They'd had no problem lining their own pockets on his extortion income though.
....He'd sworn to himself that someday, somehow he would get even with the lot of them. In his mind, it hadn't mattered that he had been sleeping with his partner's wife, but he could not tolerate the thought of Johnson with his wife. Johnson was to be the first to get his comeuppance. He'd have dealt with the others later.
The drug bust had been in the planning stages for several weeks. They had been strategically postioned around the warehouse waiting for the signal to move in on the unsuspecting gang members. Cash had realized that it was a perfect setting to put his revenge plans into play. When he'd thrown the empty bottle, one of the gang members had been spooked and had opened fire. Although there was confusion during the ensuing fire fight, Cash had managed to get Johnson in his gun sights. He would've been an unfortunate casualty. Cash had thought it out carefully; the non-issue pistol he was carrying would later be found on the warehouse floor.
....Out of nowhere a figure suddenly appeared before him. Before he could act, there was a sharp pain in his chest. As he lay there barely coherent, the shooter approached and stood over him. It was Sharon Gates!
His mind had snapped back to the present as the image of his lover dissipated with the warehouse in the background. He felt numb, unable to move.
...."The woman learned about your affair with Johnson's wife, Cash. You weren't the only angry person out there seeking revenge." Merriweather's voice was not welcome before, and Cash certainly didn't need to hear it then. Still, he was compelled to listen. "Miss Gates was only too glad to turn State's evidence against you. Our other witness was willing to talk as long as we kept the wine flowing with a weekly check." The voice paused to add to Cash's angry demeanor. " It's most unfortunate that neither of them made it to the trial."
....Cash's thoughts exploded from his tortured mind, "You're mad! You can't take a dead man to trial!"
...."Dead?" the voice taunted. "You're not dead, Cash. Not yet. You're very much alive."
....So driven by anger and denial, Cash somehow found the strength to will Merriweather's very being to melt and in turn to be absorbed by his thoughts. The man's screams gave new hope to him. So what, he thought to himself, if things were different than he'd remembered them? The new facts, even if they were unacceptable, didn't matter now that he was so close to attaining his goals. There was only one loose end ... Monahan.
Monahan's gaze was upon him. Cash sneered defiantly at the man. He was close enough to grab. He lunged violently at him. He could barely move his fingers.
....Cash turned pale with a stunned awareness. He could see his fingers moving. He was fascinated as he watched them move one by one and then stop at his command. What madness was this? Where was he?
....He was suddenly weak and felt faint. Behind his hands there were leather straps holding them fast to the arm of a chair. He blinked his eyes and was surrounded by a sterile room, tubes attached to his body. He blinked again and was sitting in a court room. He was showing no emotion as the jury's verdicts came back: guilty of conspiracy, and guilty of murder in the first degree.
....He blinked once more and could see Monahan behind a large window. Standing next to him was Mrs. Johnson. Were they holding hands? He lunged to jump through the glass at them. Still he could not move. Now a strap was holding his head in place. They were forcing something into his mouth. Until then, he'd never known what it was like to be afraid. He was terrified. There was a wetness below. Shit! He'd pissed himself.
....The room drew dark as they pulled a hood over his head. It was just as well, he didn't wish any of those bastards to see him weeping. They weren't going to see his lips tremble with fear. They weren't about to see his eyes bulge in terror. He vowed that he'd make them pay for this injustice. He'd come back once before, and he would come back again!
Cash knew all about Hell. The seconds that passed since they'd placed the hood over his head were Hell. The whispered voices around him were Hell. The adjustments as they checked and rechecked each strap and wire were Hell.
....That voice in the background that sounded like Merriweather was Hell. His words were Hell.
...."May God have mercy on your eternal soul."
A fire like no fire he had ever known or felt coursed through his body. Every nerve seemed to leap, arcing through every inch of his burning tissue. Once again he felt himself being drawn. He was unable to resist its pull. There was no light ahead....
....Only darkness. Finally ... there was sleep.