Neon Codex

Where digital meets classical.

Writer's Workshop Short Story: The Ring

Hi there. It’s been another two weeks and therefore another writer’s workshop has been held with Brandon and Lauren at the Coronado. This week I have something special for you, and by that I mean something fairly long and involved that probably won’t translate terribly well to the micro-attention span of the internet.

However I have some faith that there may be a fan or two of short fiction and deeply psychologically involved literature out there, so I give you “The Ring”!

We did another situation and object based prompt.

The situation was “a CEO acting childish”, which my selective memory recalled as “acting erratically”, but it still kind of works, I guess, at stretch anyway. Because the character is totally motivated by his childhood and adolescent trauma. And the object was “a tarnished silver ring”.

Now let me warn you guys in advance, it is indeed a doozy, particularly by online standards. It’s 22 pages long, according to Google docs, 11 point Arial, regular spacing, and 12,921 words.

Also the content may be a bit rough around the edges for some.

In a nutshell, it’s about a gay Jewish CEO who comes into conflict with modern day Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. There’s definitely some language and situations in here that may be hard for some, so I’ll give you that one warning.

I’m not huge on content warnings, but there you go.

Also one of the main inspirations, behind most of what I do, is Fyodor Dostoevsky. So there’s a lot of examination of the protagonist’s neuroses and past trauma, and how it influences his behavior, so it might come off dense if you’re not into that. Another influence, which didn’t even occur to me was seeded in the thing until it was near done, was Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It definitely has a very similar structure and progression. A character who exists in a sort of greedy morally bankrupt world, in this context corporate America, and sinks deeper and deeper into a sort of Hell until he’s face to face with an embodiment of pure evil.

I suspect Mishima probably played a role as an influence in this as well.

Anyway! Without much further ado, here you go. I’d apologize for the long intro, but let’s face it, it’s 22 goddamned pages, if you’re willing to make that time investment a few measly paragraphs by way of an introduction aren’t gonna be the straws that break the camel’s back.

Also I’ve definitely done a little editing, but I did just finish it at around 3 o’clock today, so this is very much still a first draft. Enjoy…

The Ring

Mitchell Kandinsky paused in the empty conference room, half listening to the voice on the other end of the phone, and looked at his Apple watch. He had ten minutes before he needed to leave. He cradled the iPhone between his face and shoulder, as he unscrewed the cap of his Fiji water and took a sip.

"You've located it though, Maurice, correct?" he asked, after he swallowed.

His skin was a fraction of a degree hotter than usual and his hand had a slight tremor. He was nervous, nothing ever made him nervous. He had to suppress a sigh as he listened to Maurice's long rambling explanation. If Maurice was any more than a mere security consultant, a member of the marketing or outreach team maybe, he'd tutor him in his communication skills. He thought he might anyway, if the opportunity ever arose. If one really wants to find work that challenges his/her comfort zone in a dynamic 21st century workplace, it is essential to possess good, concise communication skills.

"Okay." Mitchell said firmly, but non-confrontationally, "I have the essentials, Maurice. Thank you."

He looked at his Apple watch again.

"We can confer at a later time and go over the finer details of the thing." he directed the conversation and let Maurice draw on his own that it was time to bring it to a close, "Super, Maurice. Super. You're a highly valued team asset."

He would have called Maurice a highly valued team member, but technically this was not true. Maurice was being hired out as a consultant, so he was an asset. It's important to be positive and affirming, using first names in as much as possible, but remaining transparent and honest in matters of an employee or associate's station in the grand scheme of things.

Mitchell hung up and put the phone back in his pocket. His skin was still warm and he definitely had the shakes. This was in spite of his morning yoga. He was doing an intermittent water fast as well, but that wasn't anything unusual. His body was very used to being in Ketosis by this point. He knew he had to steady himself before the address, so he left the conference room and went down the hall to his private office.

He walked into the corner office, with the view that looked out over downtown Los Angeles from 43 floors up. He thought the view of Los Angeles from above was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen, from high up, above the noise and the hot vehicles and the all the shuffling bodies. Above all of the rest of America, with its flat featureless fields and small cow-poke towns between the two coasts. Some nights, when he was at work late, which was most nights, he would turn off all of the lights in his office for a few minutes and gaze out across the city. He watched the teeming city lights that stretched all across the valley, from the beaches to the mountains, and listened to his Synthwave playlist on Spotify with a few bars of Xanax slowly burning in his system. He needed to do things like this every once in awhile, to alleviate the pressure. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure what would happen. Whatever it was, it simply wasn’t an option.

The office itself was very clean, very functional, with a minimalist modern design sense and carefully manicured bonsai trees, one on the glass and chrome coffee table and the other on his desk. He walked to the other side of his desk and opened the drawer. He took out his bottle of Xanax, taking two and washing them down with his Fiji water. He sank into his comfortable desk chair—with an aluminum base and frame, Austrian leather upholstery, and thick memory-foam cushions for lumbar and lower-back support—for a few minutes, trying to will himself to not begin perspiring before the drug took effect. He didn't want sweat spots soaking through on his undershirt when he delivered his speech.

As he sat in his office and stared across the cool air-conditioned space, his mind tapering off somewhere between the view of the city through the window and the monochromatic color scheme of the office—alternating, black and white, black and white—he recognized the feeling, the source of the anxiety. From some deep suppressed recess of his mind;the feeling was guilt, shame, something that he promised himself he would never feel. Not since he was bullied as a teenager in his hometown for being gay. Something that motivational figures with strong leadership and team building skills never succumbed to, so that they could shoulder the weight of their companies successfully, the weight of entire worlds. They needed to be single-minded, focused, and dedicated, but open to change to anticipate and match the moods of the greater market. And just as soon as he acknowledged it, the fear was washed away in waves of gentle calm and narcotic serenity.

The panic dulled in a numb blissfulness, the thoughts merely floating on the surface of consciousness; shame, guilt, these were now just meaningless words with no weight, drifting across his mind. And as any lifestyle guru he'd studied under would tell him, according to mindfulness practices, to Zen Buddhism, these will go away if you simply stop paying attention to them.

His keynote address was scheduled for 20 minutes in the convention center down the street from his office. On the short end of things, but he would leave them dazzled. People always left dazzled when you took something in the present and related it to an idea from the past, from antiquity if possible, lending a sense of authority by way of pure edification. People respect tradition, it allows them to store their faith in something pre-existing, something bigger than they are. That was a quote he had posted on Instagram, over a publicity still of himself, from a podcast interview he had done yesterday: "The past has already done the work for you, so why not tread the path that's already been laid?"

The picture was of him in a suit; no tie, the top two buttons on the white undershirt undone, his rainbow bracelet just peeking out from under the sleeve, slouching, but not too much, casual but professional, with a broad smile as though conversing and laughing. He had that look in about 15 takes with a professional photographer he had hired, but they did 30 for safety. He had written down that line before the interview and tried to work it into the conversation, which wasn't difficult. He was good at managing the flow of his interactions with people, which is a very important skill. One which he talked about in his addresses, when working with others on a group project and it's necessary to assert leadership subtlety or protect your team members from their own less-than marketable ideas.

He felt confident, he had gone out to Barnes and Noble and bought The Republic, a very deep and searching philosophy book. Plato wrote a lot of philosophy books, like Osho or Tony Robbins. Less practical than Gary Vaynerchuk, but it's important to remember that profitable ideas can come from things that don't appear, on the surface at least, to have a market. He read the first few introductory pages and really, really got what Plato was trying to do with it, then skimmed through the middle a bit. He decided maybe it would be best to dedicate an hour of his schedule to reading about Plato and his works on Wikipedia and subreddits, so he did the work, the work is very important, but he wasn't too close to it. That's very important as well, you can’t be overly attached.

This research he did on Plato would inform the very crux of his speech. And he really thought it was going to blow everyone away, especially now that the Xanax had kicked in and he felt calm and carefree.

And more than anything else his audience would of course be wowed by the ever-present fact that he was a prodigy. A 21 year old CEO who got his start when he was 15, organizing a service in his community to recycle and resell used technology. When he was 18, with the unfortunate passing of his mother, which a fact that is featured in his bio, he was galvanized to move to Los Angeles and begin his own start-up company, an SEO digital marketing firm. Finally breaking free of his past outside of Reno, Nevada and entering a higher playing field, with a more goal-oriented sort of person, with defined skill-sets and an interest in making money, in being motivated and inspired. It felt good.

While he waited in the green room before the address, he browsed the internet on his phone. He was reading about alternative media, how distrust in largely partisan mainstream institutions had given rise to free-agencies, some of which, like Roland Junger, who ran American Blitzkrieg out of Las Vegas, harbored radical views. He read in depth about Junger, about his attempts to clean up the image of American White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis. He preferred the Alt-Right designation. With Jewish lineage, and as a gay man, Mitchell couldn’t help but to be irked by Junger, but nonetheless thought his PR game was on point. Junger had such a hold on his audience that he literally seemed to have them inside of some sort of bubble. Mitchell had cross-referenced many of the sources for different of the items that appeared on the Blitzkrieg website and podcast, and they had been widely confirmed as false. However Junger’s audience still believed them, still bought into them very willingly, and simply ignored any information to the contrary. No matter how overwhelming the facts were.

Mitchell, in spite of himself, was fascinated by this. The idea that content could have such sway over a consumer, that their entire worldview is shaped by it. That your product becomes an essential need. And during these times, in which things were very politically charged, it was an excellent business move. Of course Mitchell had shaped his company to reflect his values, and the standard industry values of the time, in that it was company policy, much like Google or Twitter, to drop clients that are found to engage in hate speech or bigotry. He refused to budge on this, especially after his experiences as a teenager. He saw it as his duty, to himself and others like him. However he wondered if there weren’t things in the essential strategy of American Blitzkrieg and Roland Junger that could be incorporated into his own business model.

If one could only see past all of the difficult parts.

Today’s foray into alternative media was unusual for Mitchell. Usually with any spare minutes he had, Mitchell would be checking social media and updating it, fortifying his presence online. Otherwise he'd be doing work—the grind never stops. And when it did he would feel a profound sense of anxiety, not like the anxiety before in his office, this was different. This was the knowledge that he was wasting valuable time. Productivity, productivity, productivity. That's the name of the game.

That's why he went vegan when he was 19 and when his body was unable to sustain the diet, around 20, he switched to a carnivore diet. He would eat almost exclusively red meat cooked in tallow, which he ordered in bulk from Amazon, with some very selectively chosen steamed greens. But absolutely no carbs, grains are the enemy. He wanted to reap the full cognitive benefits, to maximize his ability to work. When he slowed, or took too many breaks, he had a creeping feeling which he couldn't quite articulate. It was a feeling that went back to all the things the homophobic bullies would say to him back in his home town, all those words. And this feeling he needed to push himself as hard as humanly possible to prove that he was better than they were.

He remembered one weekend, not too long ago, when his boyfriend David was in New York, that he did almost nothing. He responded to phone calls and messages from work of course, but other than that he just sat on his couch and binge-watched The Crown. He even had a cheat day from his carnivore diet and picked up a Double-Double with Animal Fries from In-n-Out. But it was at about 2 PM on the second day, that he received the text from David,"Just landed in LAX babe, be home soon" and he felt a sudden swell of panic, a feeling that started in his stomach and quickly rose up into his chest.

He looked around, at the crumpled fast food wrappers on his coffee table, the paused Netflix menu on his 4K flat-screen TV—S02 E06 Vergangenheit, each episode at about 45 minutes in length and he'd watched 15 and a half of them. A feeling of worthlessness began pushing in on the fringes of his conscious awareness and he scrambled to clean up and get to work, to have the apartment totally spotless and to be fully engaged in something by the time David got home. About 45 minutes later, when David finally got in, he saw Mitchell plugging away on his MacBook Pro, headphones on and ambient beta-wave tracks helping him focus, and he just smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

Later that night, in bed, David told him, "You’re amazing. I've never met anyone with so much dedication." And at they slept together that night, Mitchell laid awake beside David and held him extra tight, he watched his face in the dark as he snored. If David knew what Mitchell had really been doing all weekend, and the day came that Mitchell's luck turned and he lost everything, would David leave him all alone? Alone like he'd been for most of his life, first with his sexuality, and then after he came out, isolated from those around him, first friends and then distant relations and family.

And in his mother, before she passed, there was the briefest flicker of disappointment in her eyes when he told her. The knowledge that she would never, by any natural means, the means that she was used to, have a grandchild. And after it past, a shadow of regret, she told him that she loved him and was proud of him. He didn't think about it, the shadow, that flicker in her eyes, he ignored it and only thought about how happy she was to send him off into the world, to let him be himself in his own way. She came to see it as something special and only in the very back of his mind, practically unconsciously, did he ever wonder if it was in the way she might think a handicapped child was special. Who could go off into the world and live and be independent, but never procreate, as was the design of the generations before him, all funneling down into this boy who was different.

He remembers he once overheard her, whispering in the next room to one of his aunt on the phone, “Do you think it could be because his father isn’t around?”

No, he wouldn't think about that, he would only exude positivity, inspiration, and most of all productivity. This is what people respond to, this is how you sell yourself and your ideas. So he would remain positive in every bit as much as he could, even when after the speech was over, he would get in his car and go home, pack his things, tell David he would be back day after next and drive to Las Vegas. He would remain positive.

An assistant cracked the door and popped his head into the green room. He had a headset on and a clipboard underneath his arm, “They’re getting ready to intro you, Mr. Kandinsky.”

Mitchell nodded and floated out of the room, following the assistant down the hall towards the backstage area, his head buzzing in a warm stupor.

Mitchell remembers staring at the tarnished silver wedding band several years before, when he was 18, on the table of the hospital cafeteria next his styrofoam cup of coffee. It was so small, he had never realized how thin his great grandmother's fingers had been. They were so twisted with arthritis when he knew her, the joints swollen so that she couldn't wear any jewelry on her hands. It was early in the morning, close to 4 AM, the band gleamed under the dull fluorescent lights—the silver and the 14 karat diamond. And on the inside of the band was his great grandfather's engraved insignia, very small, so you almost couldn't see it. He had run a successful jeweling business and raised a family in Krakow, before the war began. Mitchell set his index finger down in the loop and slowly dragged it back and forth across the table, deep bags underneath his vacant eyes. A disconnect had formed in him in the months his mother had been sick. Now she wasn’t sick anymore, she wasn’t disappointed and she wasn’t proud. She wasn’t anything anymore.

He picked it up between his thumb and index finger and began spinning it like a top on the surface of the table. And after a moment, he stopped. Letting it spin and spin and then wobble and finally fall flat, back onto the surface of the table. He simply stared at it then.

The band had been made specially by her father for her engagement. She had swallowed it on her way to Dachau and then buried it beneath the bunkhouse she was forced to live in with over a hundred other Jews. She dug it up and swallowed it again, when she was separated from her husband and small son and transferred to Auschwitz, where she buried it again, this time next to the outhouse. When the American army arrived to liberate the camps, she had made it, her son had made it, but her husband had not. She decided after this that Europe was no longer any place for Jews like her, so she emigrated to America, where her rescuers had come from, with her son and remaining brothers and sisters. She endured hardships in America, in the years it took her to get on her feet, first working in a typing pool and then as a private secretary to a law firm to support her and her child, but she would never sell the ring. No matter how much it was worth, no matter how much more it came to be worth as years past. It was the only piece of her family's legacy that still remained, the only thing that survived the camps.

She would die before she gave it away.

And then there was Mitchell. How could he possibly be expected to connect to something like that? Something so extreme that happened so long ago, to someone he could barely remember? When he had met her she was old and decrepit, waiting out her days in a nursing home with her rheumatism, slowly withering away, year after year, until she finally passed when he was 9. He felt ashamed at first, because it made him feel so little, and then he felt angry that he was ashamed at all. Especially when he saw the little note that had fallen out of the envelope with the ring, scrawled on a folded piece of yellowed lined paper by his mother, years ago, before she knew that he was gay.

It said, "This is for you Mitchell. Give this to the nice girl you love when you propose to her. Love you, always and forever, kisses, Mom."

He had contacted someone the next day. Just for an appraisal.

Mitchell scaled the set of stairs on stage left and walked out onto the long stage, passing in front of a big curving LED screen set behind it. It was a glowing blue digital display, swirling with all sorts of graphic effects and logos that looked nebulous and abstracted out of the corner of his eye. He looked out and smiled into the audience stretching far back into the dark auditorium, the glow of uplifted phones illuminating individual faces in the crowd.

He liked that, he felt like it gave him something to connect to.

Mitchell waited for applause to die down, he looked appropriately gracious and then began speaking. It's important to pace back and forth on stage in a very calculated manner as a keynote speaker, the body in motion will stimulate the audience as they listen to the words and you can then use your movements to cultivate certain responses. Mitchell did this as he went through the talk. This didn’t mean breaking contact with the audience though, you must always face them. And more important than this was to express your ideas with your hands, to animate them and subtly play the emotions of the audience like a conductor with his orchestra.

In hand gestures, Mitchell was careful not to do the Clinton thumb, an alternative to the pointing—pointing, which is too direct and specific a gesture and ultimately potentially threatening—in which the fingers are closed like a soft fist and the thumb rests on top of the index finger, the speaker motions towards the audience with the hand, which if the name didn't already make it obvious, was made popular by Bill Clinton during his time in office in the '90s. If it wasn't recognizable enough after Clinton, it fully ran its course during the Obama presidency.

He didn’t do this. Aside from the exposure it had gained in the terms of multiple presidents, it was too soft, too measured a gesture. He didn’t have time to gently massage his ideas into the hearts and minds of his audience, he liked something bigger, with more flare. So he liked to do sweeping movements with his arms as he talked, the hands held together and then moving outwards as the ideas got bigger and bigger. The fingers spread and hands moving through the air, in an almost undulating rhythmic fashion.

This technique carried the audience along with his ideas, it made them apart of his momentum. So by the time he delivered the lynch-pin, the button on his speech, “In this modern era we now live through technologies, the market is our direction, our moral compass…” he let it simmer, hanging on a long pause, “We don’t have the same focus on meaning, on ethics or poetics; like Plato did, like Aristotle or Socrates. So keynote speakers are to modern American society as philosophers were to Ancient Greek society. What we do, investors, here in this room, is the new philosophy." the audience would erupt into a rapturous applause.

As they clapped and cheered for him, Mitchell stood there, with all of those eyes on him, all of the adoration, basking in it with a gleaming white smile and yet feeling the onset of subtle waves of terror.

Mitchell got the shakes again when the Xanax wore off, so after the keynote address was over he stopped at In-n-Out and gorged himself. He ordered two Double-Doubles with everything, Animal Fries, and a Chocolate Shake. As he scarfed all of that bread and grease down in his parked Audi, he imagined himself becoming one of those flabby gay men dancing under the fog and laser lights of a West Hollywood nightclub in a sweaty tank-top that clings to his swaying gut. The thought stung him sharply with a feeling of total disgust and he kept eating, even faster, even sloppier.

He had been keeping up a very regular work-out regimen since before he even owned his company, as far back as high school.

It had been after his first boyfriend, when he was 16, his name was Greg Lutz. His family was Mormon, he was on the Varsity Track team and he was deeply in the closet. They used to see each other in secret after his practices at the High School track stadium and it went on for about three months. Some of his best memories of High School were of sneaking out in the middle of the night and Greg picking him up in his grey Challenger. The only places that were open in their small suburban town at that hour were fast-food restaurants—Johnny Rocket's, Jack-in-the-Box, Taco Bell, and In-n-Out—and when they weren't at one of those, they'd go hang out in a public park long after hours. In the dark, when no one else was around, it was the only time they could walk holding hands like they were a real couple. Towards the end, he could tell Greg was getting more and more distant, more uncomfortable with Mitchell and himself. He was from the very beginning, but it got so that he was completely detached, rigid.

It all climaxed when he told Mitchell in his car one night, very solemnly, parked in front of Mitchell's house to drop him off, staring straight ahead into the shrubs lit by the spread of his headlights, "Maybe it is wrong. Maybe if I just try hard enough..." and he trailed off. Mitchell tried to reassure him that it wasn’t wrong and that what they had was special, but Greg seemed numb to it, deadened somehow.

Next time he met Greg after practice he was jumped by 5 members of the Varsity Track team, called a "disgusting faggot" and given a black eye. He had his mom sign him up for a nearby 24-Hour Fitness that night and from that point on he started going every day after school.

He was never fat, even back then, he just hated the idea of feeling pathetic, of his weakness being apparent in his physical body. At first he ran on the treadmill, day after day, not really knowing what else to do and feeling self-conscious being there. But when he worked up the nerve, he started using machines.

Now it was yoga six days a week, cycling five, and free weights three, for no less than an hour to hour-and-a-half of his daily schedule. Sometimes he had difficulty reconciling the time he spent working out with work-work, with the grind, wasted time was wasted money. But he knew that a healthy body made a healthy mind and his quality of work would diminish if he wasn't physically healthy. And as physically healthy as humanly possible. Maybe that's why this felt so good; the grease, the carbs, the ice cream. To intentionally act in a way which was illogical, and which completely flew in the face of the entire structure with which he had organized his adult life.

He finished both burgers, popped open the lid of the carton full of animal fries, and began shoveling them into his mouth with the plastic fork, dripping with melted cheese, onions, and thousand island dressing. He imagined his whole life, all of the pressures, all of the expectations, the entire rigid schematic, as a thick waxy blob of lard sitting on a metal cooktop, slowly melting into an ooze as the dial is turned and heat is applied.

This is what it was to be irrational, to act with reckless abandon. To cave all of the pressures of existence in around him and bury himself in the dark, where there were no expectations.

Mitchell pulled into the garage of his building near the Venice boardwalk, they were high-end luxury apartments close to the beach. He felt in the mix there, with a finger not only on the financial pulse of the city but also the artistic one. Sometimes he walked down to the beach and checked out the different street acts; the vendors, the artists, the musicians. It was important, not only to him but to his image. This generation placed a great deal of value on artistic impulse, experience, even more so than gross-capital at times. It was a phase, he knew, a cultural flash that would pass, but it was nice feeling somehow connected to it. The idea of innovating from within this tactile independently structured place, where ideas felt special and unique.

Of course, what a lot of people don't realize is, there comes a time when you need to turn a profit on things. You can't just venerate a fleeting impulse, a single moment in time, almost religiously. Everything changes, everything moves, and you need to solidify your position in life with something real, something you’ve built.

Sometimes, when he met people from that world, they made fun of him, as a man in a monkey suit, someone with money and a glossy finish. One time some local Democratic Socialists had even covered his car in sticky notes, with questions written on them like: "Do you think children would rather be in sweatshops than in schools?", "Do all of your employees live as large as you?" and "Who watches the watchmen?"

Apparently this gesture had actually been meant for Jeff Bezos's car, who was parked in the same lot and attending the same tech conference that day in Malibu as a special guest speaker. But before Mitchell knew this, he still smiled, in spite of himself, and had a laugh at people's' ingenuity. It was nice to see that others were actively engaged in something, that they cared enough to go out and do things, even if it was just to orchestrate pranks such as these. Perhaps one day all of their energies could be turned towards something constructive.

Even with his affection for it, this being in the mix, with the masses, with the crowds, the people, he expected it would reveal itself in time to be a young man's game—fun but eventually everyone has to grow up. He pined for a house in Beverly Hills, near all of the celebrities and industry people. He'd had this conception, from a very early age, that if he was close to people who were vibrant and beautiful, he'd somehow become that himself. Just as a byproduct of being in that environment, as if by osmosis. Maybe when he finally got his place in Beverly Hills—he imagined a big house, with luxury sports cars in his garage and a giant pool, where he could throw parties with DJ's and invite all of the friends he would have—he could finally stop working so hard, he could slow down.

Because maybe he would feel that he deserved these things by then.

He stopped at the valet both and put the car in park, leaving the door open as he got out and the keys in the console for the valet. But before he let the valet into his car, who came rushing out of the booth in a light jog, he posted an inspirational video on Instagram with his recently washed Audi. The valet stood off to the side at first, trying to stay out of frame but Mitchell pulled him in and gave him some exposure with his followers—going so far as to tag this gentleman, Patrice, with @atyomommashouse25, hoping in turn it would help his amateur DJ career.

He told his followers he was living the dream and with hard work and dedication they could do the very same. He put his expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses back on, before he started recording, and then took them off in a dramatic gesture for the camera. He showed them the car, the apartment building, and told them to listen for the sounds of the beach in the distance—to give an idea of the real estate value. He even opened his wallet and showed them the hundreds inside. This was all to maintain an outward image of normalcy, people expected these kinds of things from him. This was so that nothing appeared out of place when he left the next morning.

Though, unfortunately, in the context of the video, he at one point showed the interior of his car through the open driver's side door, and then proceeded to slam it shut for dramatic effect. The keys, including the one to the apartment, were locked inside with the engine on when he did and they had to wait for David to come back from his office, almost an hour later, and go up to the apartment to get the spare for the car so he could unlock it.

This part was not recorded.

Mitchell had bought a gun.

A .22 caliber snub-nosed revolver he had purchased from the Cabela’s in Pasadena. He walked through the front doors with a white baseball cap on, pulled down over his face, and wearing a pair of dark aviators, so that no one would recognize him. As CEO of his company he had made large cash donations to gun control lobbies after the school shootings in Parkland, just before the video dropped for This is America by Childish Gambino. His CFO and PR Director had both thought it would be a good move, particularly as the student protestors picked up steam in the media. And it had turned out to be, they had a definite uptick in business and web traffic after that. So if anyone saw him there, buying a gun, it could seriously threaten the company.

He purchased the weapon from a homey older gentleman, whose name tag said, “Rod”.

“I’m looking for a pistol.” Mitchell muttered to the salesperson from across the counter, which was a glass case filled with different handguns, “Do you have any suggestions?”

“Depends.” Rod said, placing his hands in a relaxed way on top of the case, “What are you looking to use it for? Hunting? Home defense?”

Mitchell paused. If he said home defense maybe Rod would get suspicious. He didn’t want him thinking that he had any intention at all of turning the gun on a person, even if the context in which he would do so was innocent.

“Hunting.” Mitchell blurted out.

“Okay.” Rod nodded, “What do you plan on hunting? ‘Cause if you’re after anything like a deer, or an elk, you’re better off with a rifle.”

Mitchell’s forehead began sweating, “Coyotes.” he mumbled quickly.

“Coyotes?” Rod asked, a look of uncertainty flashing across his bespectacled eyes.

“Yeah. Uh-huh..” Mitchell began, “I’m, uhm, well it’s a little of both, defense and hunting. I have a problem with them, out near where I live. And I have small animals and children, so I wanna be able to defend my yard against them.”

“Okay.” Rod said, now understanding, “Well you won’t need anything too big for that. Hell, the noise alone will probably be enough to scare them off. So let me direct your attention to this little puppy here…”

The puppy, that he later held it in his hands; shining, metallic, and deadly. He sat in the bathroom, on the toilet with the lid down. The door was locked and David was asleep in the next room. Mitchell was very quiet, almost afraid to breathe too loudly. He stared at the gun and then looked up into the mirror in front of him; his pale face, his fear-stricken eyes. He stood up and took it in one hand, aiming it at his reflection, imagining that with one pull of the trigger he could kill the fear he saw in his eyes. That if he focused enough on that reflection, in its weakness, all of its uncertainty, he could destroy the person he saw and create a new one.

“Okay--” he began to whisper, but he wavered, and paused.

He lowered the gun and looked down at his feet, standing on the cool bathroom tile. He collected himself and took a deep breath, shaking out his nerves. And he lifted the gun again, aiming at his reflection in the mirror once more, trying to visualize confidence, determination. He locked eyes with his reflection, coldly, and fixed his gaze there. He imagined he was a righteous vigilante in a Hollywood movie.

“Okay, listen you fuck.” he said quietly, “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

He took a couple more deep breaths, lowering the gun, and then he started all over again. He repeated in the mirror, with the gun raised, “Okay, listen you fuck. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” And he continued like this, for an hour or so, rehearsing all of his lines, so that when the moment finally came he would be unwavering and ready.

Mitchell had left his iPhone and Apple watch at home, turned off and hidden away in a drawer where David wouldn't find them. All he had with him was a prepaid flip-phone and a TAG Heuer wristwatch he'd received from his family, for what was supposed to be his Bar Mitzvah but turned out to be loose gathering of relatives in his mother's house. This was mostly for appearances sake, to convince the more orthodox members of the family that they were still practicing.

He glanced at it on his wrist as he grasped the steering wheel, driving down Interstate 15.

He had shook David awake gently, at around 5 AM and told him that he was leaving to visit some relatives in Reno, that there was a minor family emergency and he’d be back the day after next. David murmured something and Mitchell leaned in and kissed him and said goodbye.

The car he had rented using his dead mother’s name, something much cheaper and less conspicuous, a white Lexus.

He had a plan, after a fashion, but if you had asked him at that moment what it was, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you.

It was when he reached Victorville, early in the morning, near sunrise, that the reality of things began to set in. Or what little reality he was willing receive, like an eye cracking partially open, no more than a slit, or if the sun, which was just beginning to rise, came up barely above the horizon and then stopped. He needed to stay focused on the task he had set for himself, but to not think about it too much, so that he didn't lose his nerve. Bravery, he decided, real conviction, must arise almost totally from ignorance. And this is where he lived then, in the permanent half-light of a day that wouldn't quite dawn.

It reminded him of a story from the Torah, that he had heard at some point in the single year that he'd spent in Hebrew school as a child. In it Joshua prays to God to stop the sun from moving in the sky, so that the Israelites would have more time to prepare for battle, in their war against some other tribe whose name escaped him. He sometimes thought back to this story, as an adult, as a CEO, and thought about how days weren't long enough and how nice it would be to stop the sun like that to work more. He thought about it almost cynically, dryly, like a child’s dream, but somewhere deep inside he wanted to believe it was possible to shape reality like that, to have a wish so desperate, something that he felt he needed in order to survive, granted.

In some ways his prayers were answered, his reality had become fixed around a singular obsession in a slow-working cognitive dissonance that began months ago, when he received Junger's first note. And this was his longest day, in which time and rationality stopped, mercifully, as if a divine gift, so he could carry out his purpose.

He stopped for gas at a Mobil station off the I-15 and as he pumped the gas, he watched the sun creeping up in the west. It was getting brighter, in Nevada he knew the desert sunlight would be harsh. He locked the handle of the pump, so it kept running, and he slid into his car on the driver's side. He grabbed his sunglasses from the overhead compartment and put them on. He paused for a moment and looked around, the station was empty but for a car parked in front, probably the clerk’s, who stood idly behind the counter.

He opened his dash compartment and studied the .22 snub-nosed revolver. There was a box of ammo stowed away next to it. It occurred to him then, for the first time, that he had never fired a gun in his life and he had put this entire plan into motion without even thinking about that. All he had imagined was aiming it in Junger’s face and striking fear into the thing that so terrified him and consumed his nights for the past month. He didn’t even know what he would do after he threatened him with the gun, he wasn’t sure that he’d fire it, or if he had any intention of shooting Roland Junger in the first place.

He just wanted it to stop. The unspoken threat that Junger has issued him with his note, “Let’s meet sometime, I have something that belongs to you. -Roland Junger”

It was a physical note, dictated over the phone to his secretary. Junger hadn’t been harassing him or even contacting him that often, he’d only reached out twice, but the effects of any contact at all, and the reality it highlighted, simmered inside of Mitchell Kandinsky. It was like a smoldering mass of coal right in the pit of his stomach, that he could only excise from his body if he went and faced the man, if he made him stop.

“Don’t you want it back? -RJ” the second note, signed with mere initials, like a nickname, as if they were on a familiar basis. Because despite all of Mitchell’s appointments and meetings and projects, Junger knew he would remember him. He knew that Mitchell knew what it meant.

He hated Junger, despite admiring his strategies, his practices, because of the shame and guilt he sowed in Mitchell’s soul.

He looked at it a moment longer and then trembled with a start when he heard the sudden click of the pump, as his gas-tank reached capacity, and in a knee-jerk reaction he slammed the compartment shut. His eyes darted around the station, still empty, there was nothing but the tired looking cashier inside, partially visible behind a display of Slim Jims and 5-Hour Energy drinks, and the distant sound of passing traffic cutting across the air on the highway.

He felt sick by the time he had reached Las Vegas, the city didn’t help. Before he had gotten out of the desert, he had had pull over. His face clammy and stomach turning, he scrambled towards the passenger side door, climbing over the console, and he opened it, just barely making it to spill the two Double-Doubles, the shake, and Animal Fries across the pavement. He gagged and coughed, spitting the pieces of regurgitated fast food out; clumps of soggy acidic bread and a cheesy thousand-island dressing colored stew of half-digested pulp.

The city didn’t help, as he trudged through the bumper-to-bumper traffic, from one end to the other—Roland Junger’s radio-station and media headquarters was on the northern side, out in the desert. The entire city was bustling with human and vehicular traffic, and there were billboards and advertisements on every square inch of available surface. Everything was so monolithic, so shiny and glossed; MGM Grand, Excalibur Hotel and Casino, The LINQ, Harrah’s, Caesars Palace. He saw people stumbling down the streets with giant plastic chalices full of alcohol, simmering and drunk in the hot Nevada sunlight. Everything was geared towards spending and making money, it was pure consumerism and he should’ve been impressed. He should have been taking notes.

But he just felt sick and his environment was slowly pressing in on him, from all sides; the grand casino facades, the glowing signs, the ads for prostitutes on the sides of passing trucks, the centrifugal spiral of logos falling into the empty hole of his head like a cyclone of glowing empty information.

He stopped at one of the lights, glad to have a moment to get his bearings straight, to wipe the sweat from his face. And as he paused there, he gazed out his window, into the moving crowds, a lone figure stood on a street corner, hugging a massive cross and called into the oblivious crowd with a megaphone. The man with his cross looked almost delirious, his body skinny and withered, face sunburned with a baseball cap loosely hanging off the back of his head. His hand limply held the megaphone in front of his face and he called into the sea of humanity shuddering, ebbing and flowing, from one street light, one side walk, in a tumultuous shift of bodies, to another.

Mitchell cracked his window slightly and listened to him cry into the megaphone, “Give! Give! Give!” he cried, “Pastor Rodrigo Paulo Suzuki needs a private jet to spread the gospel to the four-corners of the earth! Yes, Lord! A private jet!” there was a feedback in the megaphone from his yelling into it, it would drift away from his face in his exhaustion and then he’d pull it back in when he realized, righting himself with a shrill screech, “A whole fleet of private jets! Yes, Lord! Give to the Infinite Life Church fund today to support the holiest of the holy, that will move our Prophet across the sky in First Class luxury! Yes, Jesus says to live in abundance, to spread the wealth and make wealth! Yes, Jesus! Praise God! Praise the American dollar!”

Mitchel rolled his window back up and, with a dead expression, continued on his way when the light turned green.

Las Vegas spat him out through the Northside, via the I-15, back into the hot desert, and it was almost a relief by then. Until he remembered again what he had set out to do, and the knot tightened in his stomach all over. He drove some 20 minutes into the desert, flanked at either side by smoothly undulating hills and vaguely mountainous terrain, towards a place called Dry Lake, and he turned right into a cattle guard and onto private property.

There were surveillance cameras posted just beyond it and a “No Trespassing” sign, pock-marked with buckshot had been displayed on the fence. Just before the sign and the cameras and a barbed-wire cattle fence partitioning the wide span of property in either direction, there was a nice clean white sign posted, with bold black letters displayed for the road. As Mitchell passed it he read, “Home of the American Blitzkrieg Broadcasting and Media LLC.” with a subtitle beneath that, “Welcoming all Patriots and True Countrymen to the Fight for True American Blood and American Soil.” And he saw a logo, it was a death’s head, wearing a Nazi stormtrooper helmet, with red, white, and blue stars and stripes in its eyes. The symbology was mostly lost on Mitchell; the fact that the death’s head was a repurposed SS symbol, for one, and that the helmet was that of a Nazi soldier was only vaguely recognizable to him from the Call of Duty games. But something about the stars and stripes inside of the skull’s eyes gave him an uncomfortable feeling, it stirred something, like a sense of dread, deep inside. Like taking all of those childhood memories, of running with sparklers in his driveway under the bright crackling of Fourth of July fireworks in the sky while his mom snapped pictures and laughed, learning about America in school and how it was fair and true, the good guy in a world of bad guys, and then seeing all of that innocence, all of that knowledge that things were right in the universe, reflected in the eyes of death.

He pulled in, past the cattle guard, and parked the car, as he was instructed to do, near a flagpole in the middle of a roundabout at the beginning of a long dirt road. He killed the engine and waited, glancing up at the flapping American flag at the top of the pole, getting battered by dust and a wind which was just picking up. And he watched a dust devil circulate, mesmerizingly just off the road, at first loose and disparate, rising and falling, then tightening up into a small cyclone before dispersing and falling again to the ground to the withered yellow shrubs and sun-baked rocks. He thought about the desert, about the landscape, its teeming with animals and all of these weather conditions that interlocked in this strange equilibrium. It didn’t take any thought or action or striving to do so, they simply followed their instincts and the world balanced itself. There was love, there was nurturing, but there was also gruesome violence, one thing eating another.

And for the first time in his entire life, he wondered whether free will actually existed. Or if every decision was some kind of instinct, following the whims of the greater market perhaps, an economic system like an abstracted food chain or web made of numbers and cash money. Every decision ever made was perhaps written and hard-wired into some higher instinct. It was an uncommon sort of thought to pass through his mind, he never considered things in that way. But perhaps the stress, the high tension and strangeness of this day, stretched his usually fixed and static process, his bias, towards some distant horizon. Maybe, he thought, he was who he was because he was like a hawk or a wolf, a larger predator, with fewer natural threats, however there were things bigger than him. There was the Amazon, the Apple, the Disney—lions and tigers and bears.

His train of thought was broken though, when he saw a black SUV coming down the dirt road towards him, trailing behind it a plume of dust. It appeared at first like a mirage on the simmering horizon, but slowly and surely actualized into a solid form. And as it neared his parked vehicle, without thinking, very much by instinct, he opened the car door and stepped out, to greet the vehicle.

The .22 was loaded and stuffed down the back of his pants, underneath his suit jacket.

The driver’s name was Dustin and, while Mitchell did not like to judge anyone else in this way, he was clearly mentally unbalanced on some level. It seemed like he had some kind of undiagnosed disorder, like ADD or ADHD. The entire time they drove down the dirt road, towards the headquarters, “The Compound” as Dustin kept calling it, he was rambling the whole time, over this Toby Keith song that was playing on the radio.

“You think it’s any kind of fucking coincidence that after Barack Hussein Obama got out of office, there was this sudden fucking surge in communist and socialist thought?” he paused for about two seconds, staring at Mitchell. Mitchell opened his mouth to speak, but then Dustin kept talking, “Wrong! Wrong, liberal fucking snowflake America! That was his plan all along. It’s the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and shit, and that document, I don’t care what the left-wing Fake News media tells you, has been verified. Yes. It has been verified. I mean it’s no coincidence that you’re in such a chief position out there in LA, the fucking Jew capital of America, am I right? You know all about it. Hollyweeeeeird. Shit. By the end of the 20’s they’ll have all our dicks chopped off and have us doing Estrogen treatments. For fucksake...She’s braaaaave. Caitlyn Jenner is brave! Wrong! Wrong again! He’s a dickless, balless man, and let me tell you, he’ll never feel anything like bravery again.” Dustin started laughing at that last crack and kept driving, shifting and rocking over all of the bumps in the road.

The country music was really beginning to grate on Mitchell.

“You know, Dustin.” Mitchell began, breaking in very slowly, with caution, “You really shouldn’t say things like that about people...You haven’t had to walk a mile in their shoes. You know?”

“Fuck her fucking shoes, man.” he immediately rattled out, “You catch me in fucking high-heels like that castrato weirdo, you fucking kill me, okay?” and he trailed off, muttering to himself, “Get that Red Pill you fucking pussy communist...”

Mitchell watched the passing desert as they drove, he did not know how to talk to this man. Nothing in his 21 years, in his time in business—interacting with people, networking, selling himself—prepared him for this kind of person. As they got closer to the Compound, where the station was, he began to notice movements of figures through the desert, there were people out there. All young men, he saw them jogging through the hills shirtless in what looked like military fatigue pants and combat boots, columns of them moving in formations. He watched for a minute, trying to make out their shapes. He was unnerved at first, but there was something alluring about the muscular sculpt of their bodies, gleaming with sweat, in the sunshine. Slightly older men, at the front of each formation, seemed to bark commands at their subordinates behind them. The hills were teeming with a strange kind of organization, a mass organized effort which appeared to be militarized in nature.

His focus was broken when he realized Dustin was talking to him again. “I asked you a question.” he said.

“What was that?” Mitchell turned towards him.

"Are you a communist?" the man rattled off, "You know the Leftist media is trying to turn us all into communists, right? That's the endgame. After Obama."

"Well..." Mitchell paused, again, unsure of how to respond at first, "I believe in adaptability, and limitations breeding ingenuity and innovation, so, uhm, if the markets swing that way, it's up to us all to adapt. You can't argue with popular demand. That's what the greatest figures in history did, they bobbed and weaved, pivoted with the curve-balls as they were thrown at them. And you know what? We still remember their names because of it."

Mitchell was very pleased with his answer, he felt like he was finally adapting to the situation. Using his know-how as a keynote speaker and business leader to navigate the situation.

"Are you fucking touched, guy?" Dustin nearly spat in his face, so incensed he stared directly at him and not the road ahead, "It's not popular demand if people are brainwashed, if people are fed fucking lies by nut jobs and political extremists. Fucking popular demand, I ain't adapting to shit you beta cuck motherfucker.”

Much to Mitchell’s immediate relief, Dustin looked back to the road. “Besides…” he said, “Our guy’s in there now. He’s giving us all the signals, man, he’s not outright saying it, but he’s gonna do right by us and put America first. You just wait, Jew fag.”

They past the rest of the drive in silence, though, as he stared out the window, Mitchell could feel Dustin simmering. He usually hated upsetting or triggering anyone, at any cost, because they were always business associates or clients, but at that moment Mitchell felt peacefully numb to Dustin’s emotions. It was liberating in a small way. He watched out the window as they approached the inner Compound, now visible down the road. And Mitchell saw the weapons, the nine-millimeter handguns and AK-47 assault rifles that were being fired at metal targets on ranges; the targets, which Mitchell didn’t completely recognize, but knew that he knew from somewhere, were the different stars assigned on patches during the holocaust. The ones that branded the Jews, the homosexuals, the communists, and there were a few original ones made special, with the words like “Black”, “Mexican”, and “Muslim” inscribed on them.

The crack of the distant weapons made Mitchell shudder, the fiery explosive reports of semi-automatics and automatics. Being fired with military precision and training. And yet, as the men kneeled and fired their assault rifles, he watched their bodies shudder, some in form-fitting leather uniforms fashioned after the Nazi stormtroopers and SS.

The sexual allure, combined with pure hate and deadly weaponry, crossed in Mitchell’s mind, and his libido, in the same unsettling way the death’s head with its stars and stripes did. But this was more carnal, more visceral and confusing, so the effect hit him right in his gut and twisted inside of it. It turned like as a sick feeling in his stomach and at the same time aroused him, ultimately leaving him horrified.

The SUV rolled to a stop outside of the Compound and Mitchell prepared himself for his final meeting with Junger. As he put the car in park and killed the engine, Dustin paused for a moment and then, after much thought and deliberation, he turned to Mitchell and blurted out, "Did you know that Gary Vaynerchuk was born in the Soviet Union?"

Finally, Dustin let him out of the SUV and led him into the station, which were a series of surprisingly large and elaborate buildings, given that they were in the middle of the desert. They were in the same fashion as a complex of medical or business offices, that you would find in the middle of any city—five or six stories each, made of concrete and steel with dimmed plate glass windows to counteract the desert sun—but they were simply dislocated by some 20 miles out in the middle of the desert. A very tall radio tower loomed above the entire installation, set just behind it, and there were outcroppings of new structures, just built and under construction, that looked like military barracks. There was also a sizeable area that looked to be some kind of motor-pool, which Jeeps were moving in and out of, men with grease-stained hands inside working away on the vehicles.

As they passed the motorpool, Dustin commented, “You can’t see it from here, but out back, a bit aways from the cell-tower, they’re breaking ground on a private airstrip soon.”

He left him to wait in a room just outside of Junger’s office, on the fifth floor of the broadcast station, while he finished up a previous appointment, but not before he cracked, “We’ve gotta search ya real quick before you see the big man...”

He then stared at Mitchell, who desperately tried to maintain composure, the .22 in the back of his pants sitting like a lead weight. And after a few seconds Dustin broke and laughed, “Naw, he’s not worried about you, sit the fuck down. You’d like that though, wouldn’t ya? Nah, I ain’t getting my hands anywhere near your circumcised cock Jew boy, don’t get excited.”

And Dustin walked out, leaving Mitchell to wait, to stare at the wall clock and stop himself from completely unraveling while he sat there. In the middle of a compound of full Neo-Nazis armed with machine guns and rifles, with all-terrain vehicles, while he waited to see their leader with a gun stuffed down the back of his pressed and recently dry-cleaned suit pants.

He glanced down at his wrist, to look at his watch, and realized he was still wearing his rainbow bracelet.

He waited for about a half hour before the door cracked and Roland Junger stood in it, graciously welcoming Mitchell into his office. Roland was professionally dressed in a nice grey suit, without a tie, a white undershirt with the top button undone. He sat casually behind his desk, seating Mitchell in a chair set a few feet in front of it. Roland had a light five o’clock shadow and salt-and-pepper greying hair, which was long but combed back casually. He smiled at Mitchell, who was seated uncomfortably in a plush leather chair. There was another man in the office, eyeing Mitchell intently, whom he didn’t expect, sitting likewise in another leather chair beside the desk. The man had been on the news in passing, here and there, speaking at different Alt-Right and White Supremacist rallies across the country.

His name was Simon Muller.

He wore a suit as well but a sharper one, black with pinstripes, his lapel adorned with an American flag and Nazi SS pin. His suit appeared to be fit to his form and yet was tailored to be flattering to his body, which admittedly seemed a bit slack with fluff around the edges. His skin was very pale and pasty, and his hair was neatly trimmed, almost shaved on the sides, and slicked back on the top. Mitchell couldn’t tell if he was a natural blonde, or if his hair had been very competently bleached.

And the way Muller stared at him suggested something more than professional interest, but this didn’t quite compute given where he was and who Muller was. Mitchell tried to ignore it, as something in the gaze felt like a violation, a barely concealed leering.

“It’s good to finally have you here, Mitchell.” Roland said, “This is my associate, who you may have heard of, Simon Muller.”

“Nice to meet you, Mitchell.” Muller grinned sharkly, speaking almost through his teeth.

“Hello.” Mitchell murmured, very uncharacteristically subdued for a first meeting.

“Comfortable, Mitchell?” Roland asked, casually slumped in his office chair, rotating idly, right and left in slow slight turns, all the while watching Mitchell, “Would you like a coffee maybe? A drink?”

“I’m okay.” Mitchell muttered lowly, “I don’t like to drink during business hours...or much at all anymore.”

Roland laughed and looked over to Muller, who returned his glance and smiled.

“Doesn’t like to drink.” Junger echoed, “Okay then. Well I’d like to thank you for finally coming down to see me, Mitchell. I knew we could help each other out, when I acquired what I did.”

Mitchell cut in, impulsively, “My consultant Maurice tells me you have the ring here, at the compound.”

“No sir.” Roland shook his head, “That’s a smaller piece. I keep it in a safety deposit box in Henderson.”

Mitchell was not prepared for this. “Oh…” he simply said, quietly.

“What a coincidence though, am I right?” he asked Mitchell, who didn’t know what to say, so he turned to Muller, “Isn’t it?”

“A coincidence indeed.” Muller said, a grin partially cracking again then disappearing, not looking way from Mitchell.

Mitchell shook his head, he didn’t know what to do. “What….” he began, trailing off, then began again while Junger watched him patiently, “What did you want to see me about?”

“I wanted to meet you.” Junger said, “I wanted to talk to you. You’re a part of history, Mitchell. Your great great grandfather was the head of one of the most prominent jewelry businesses in Krakow before the war. And then that business was seized by the Nazis, the only remaining piece was in your possession. Until of course…” he trailed off, flashing a smile at Mitchell.

“Until I sold it…” Mitchell said, staring at his feet, and then looking up at Junger, sighing, “To get the collateral for the loan I needed to start my firm.”

“Awkward, isn’t it?” Muller grinned, “Given your company’s progressive posturing?”

He spit the words ‘progressive’ and ‘posturing’ out like they were something rotten. Roland said nothing and watched Mitchell carefully.

Muller continued, “That you should sell something your great grandmother smuggled into Auschwitz in her stomach. That you’re here now, a corporate beacon for Social Justice, in the interior of a Neo-Nazi media compound.”

“Now, now…” Roland said waving his hand gently, “I don’t know that we need to phrase it so harshly, Simon. To use that word, ‘Nazi’. And threaten our associate here with crucifixion in the eyes of the media, the court of public opinion. I think we’ve all seen quite enough of that.”

Mitchell said nothing.

“I collect these things.” Roland said, sitting up in his chair and leaning towards his desk, “Holocaust artifacts. Pieces left over from the Third Reich. It’s important to remember, that it did happen, Mitchell. Because it did. Despite the fact that we may lend some exposure to those pesky denial conspiracies here, those absurd theories. We have to satisfy the customer, you understand.”

“Yes.” Mitchell perked up very slightly, finally able to relate, “Yes, I do.”

“You see I have a certain amount of appreciation for it. Just the incredible ingenuity of what happened. And you know, Mitchell, even in spite of your prejudice, which you can't help, you were born how you were born, right?—You didn't choose it. You must, strictly as a businessman of course, appreciate the structural ingenuity of it. The specific roles each person played in carrying the thing out, everyone playing to their own individual strength and really seizing thing together, with a clear idea of what their goal was. Their Final Solution. You have Adolf Eichmann, engineering the whole thing, plotting out the transit routes the trains would take. How to transport that many people from ghetto to camp. You’ve got Joseph Goebbels running the PR game, right? Sowing the seeds of Nazi ideology in the German population and doing a damned fine job of weaponizing passive civilians. I mean, honestly. Then of course you’ve got your Reinhard Heydrich, your Heinrich Himmler, all the way up to Hitler himself, who is overseeing the whole thing and put it into motion" Junger paused and smiled, “The CEO, if you will.”

Muller had a small pleasant laugh at that.

“I guess I never thought of it that way.” Mitchell said slowly, “It is impressive. As a pure plan, a strategy, if nothing else…”

“Exactly.” Junger said, “I knew you would come around. And, look, we might represent some of this stuff here, but we realize this is a different time. This is not Germany, this is not the 30’s and 40’s, things are different. Take you for instance, Mitchell…”

“Me?” Mitchell asked, puzzled.

“You’re a fag.” Junger said with a smile.

Mitchell saw Muller shudder slightly at the word, almost imperceptibly. But his discomfort was soon smoothed over with a general look of intensity in his eyes, a quiet forward determination.

“Uhm…” Mitchell began, “I don’t believe hate speech should be--”

“Calm down, Mitchell.” Junger put his hands up to reassure him, “No reason to get upset here, okay? I’m making a point. Back in Hitler’s day, he wanted to kill people like you. Gays. However it’s the modern age, you can’t really stop it, can you? Gay people are gonna be gay, it’s natural, it happens with wildlife too.”

Mitchell was dumbfounded.

“We just ask, simply, that it not be done so openly.” Junger said, “Because we don’t quite agree with it. And that’s fair right? You don’t walk outside with your dick hanging out, do you? And you don’t ream your boyfriends in the middle of the street, right?”

Mitchell opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted by Muller.

“I’ve found, in my methods, that a certain amount of homoeroticism can even be made useful. As it was in, say, Ancient Greece. Look at the Nazi uniforms, the classic fascist aesthetic; of control, domination, manifested in form-fitting uniforms with tight leather. It can be useful, to...direct the passions, the aimless aggressions, of men of a certain age.” Muller said.

“I can’t speak to that.” Junger said, “But I’ve seen it work. Young men of fighting age need a little poking and prodding, maybe they need to be told to hide certain things so a little rage can whip them up into fighting shape. Their sexuality become weaponized. And just like that, a weakness becomes a strength which fuels you. I’m sure you know all about that, don’t you, Mitchell? I hear you take a strong stance against bullying due to your experiences in school.”

Mitchell felt sick. But he wanted to hear the rest of what Junger had to say. He simply nodded.

“Young men have very few narratives to choose from these days, you’re meant to be one thing or the other. And the options aren’t even very clear. If you are respectful and sincere, people will tell you to man up, to take charge.”

“Yes.” Mitchell said, absently.

“Then when you finally do that, people will tell you it’s toxic masculinity, to be ashamed of taking initiative, of having incentive. And you wanna know the truth, Mitchell?”

Mitchell nodded, his stomach turning, but his quiet gaze fixed expectantly on Junger.

“These people hate themselves, that’s why they wanna diminish your success, Hell, our success. I get it too. They’re beta males, less than, that means they live entirely by default, never have to make a move that will be analyzed or risk criticism. They just live the same way they and their family has lived for decades, generations. And then when they see you come along, or me, or Simon, they see something that goes against the grain of that pattern. Someone that has willed himself into being and they at first feel inadequacy, and then fear, and then they get angry at you, they hate you for it. Well I’ll tell you one thing, Mitchell. I refuse to feel shame for who I am, I will not be guilted or bullied by my detractors.”

Junger paused, took a breath, calmed and continued, "We might not see eye to eye politically, Mitchell. But it's good to have friends, don't you think? Even if you don't completely agree with everything they have to say, it's still good to have people who will help you out based on your mutual interests."

“It’s networking.” Mitchell said.

“Indeed it is.” Junger said, “You may think me extreme, Mitchell. But if a man is trying to get something done he must go to extreme ends these days. People need to be poked and prodded out of their malaise, their fucking trance. With their devices, their entertainment.”

“People can be very stupid, they can react to things they don’t understand. And then they go on to do nothing with their lives.” Mitchell offered, almost suddenly.

“Exactly.” Junger said, “Now you’ve got determination, Mitchell. I like that. I don’t even mind that you’ve got that iron stuffed down the back of your pants. I don’t feel threatened at all.”

Mitchell’s heart sank. He felt like he was going to die and the room began to feel like it was spinning, wobbling off kilter.

“Could I see it?”

Mitchell’s lips quivered, “W-What?”

“Your gun.” he said.

Mitchell’s hand shook and he stood up, pulling it out from the back of his pants. With a shaking hand he set it on Junger’s desk. Junger picked it up and examined it.

“.22, snub-nose...” Junger said, holding it and then looked up at Mitchell, standing frozen in front of his desk, “It’s a pea-shooter. You should go with a .357, especially if you mean to do any serious damage.”

Mitchell could see Muller grinning ecstatically out of the corner of his eye.

“If you wanna really make sure you get your man…” Junger mused, he flipped the gun so he handed it back to Mitchell, respectfully with grip first, “You’ve got balls coming down here. So I decided I’m just gonna give you your grandma’s ring back, no strings attached, no money. I told the people down in Henderson. Just go and get it.”

Mitchell took the gun back, his hand still shaking.

Junger smiled, “A gift, from one friend to another. Given you came down here like this, and I’m not gonna say a word to anybody, even though I got you on camera, coming up the drive, walking through my buildings, with a gun in my office. Maybe we can help each other out one day. You’ve got a lot of influence with a lot of people, Mitch.”

Mitchell shook and took a few steps back, he turned and looked at Muller who was openly leering at him now, like a predator.

Mitchell sat in his car in the parking lot of the bank in Henderson, which was on the bottom southeast end of Vegas. Once again he stared at his grandmother’s tarnished silver ring, sitting in the palm of his hand. This one tiny object represented the entire foundation of his company. He studied it, with reverence and terror. He got it all, the thing that all of this was built on, he got it back for nothing and yet it cost him everything.

What would he do now?

He took out the small prepaid flip phone and he called David.

“Hello?”

Mitchell was silent for a moment, his lip quivered.

“Hello? Mitchell, is that you, baby?”

“Y-Yes.” he murmured.

“Baby, where are you?” David said, “I’ve been so worried.”

And with that Mitchell burst into tears and began sobbing uncontrollably.

He gripped the ring tightly in his hand and squeezed it as tears streamed down his face. What outpoured from him then was the result of years, years of tension and pressure, bottled up and now released.

“I-I…” he sniffed and gasped, “I just wanna be good enough, I want to be loved by s-s-somebody, that’s all…”

He sobbed, barely listening to David: “Baby, it’s okay. I love you.”

“A-And I want all of it to go away…” he cried, mucus now dripping down his face, “I want this whole life to go away.”

He dropped the phone from his face, David’s increasingly worried voice trailing down to the car’s floorboard and fading away by the brake pedal. He kept the ring in his hand and grabbed the steering wheel, rocking back and forth as he cried and cried and cried, visibly shaking the car from the outside.

The 14-Karat diamond cut into the palm of his hand so that it bled.

He dimly remembered something from high school, as he sat in his office the next week. He was openly smoking a marijuana infused cigarette, having sent an office boy down to the dispensary a few blocks over. A box of pepperoni pizza ordered from Dominos sat open on his desk, where his tablet or computer should have been, as he worked. He hadn’t shaved since he returned from Las Vegas and he really didn’t bother to get dressed for work either, sitting at his nice office chair in a bathrobe and pajama bottoms, with a pair of slippers.

A note was posted outside of his office, on the door that read, “I don’t care what it is. Fuck off and leave me alone. -Mitch Kaddish”

He remembered that there was another boy in his grade, Junior year, one of the other openly gay kids. There were only a few and everyone knew who they were. Some of them came out, out of pure frustration, and others couldn't possibly hide it.

The boy’s name was Alexander Kwan, Mitchell remembered he was bullied pretty aggressively, particularly by the football team. He ended up hanging himself in his parent's garage with an orange extension cord. The next morning the teachers broke the news of what had happened to their classes.

Mitchell remembered sitting in 1st Period Physics, his teacher trying not to cry as she told them. She apologized and said she had no idea what could make someone so young want to do a thing like that. Immediately the students began blame shifting among themselves, purging their consciences, "I was never mean to him. I know some people were, but I never even talked to him." and they finally resolved, after much panicked discussion, "You know Craig Harris used to bully him all the time. It was really bad."

"Yeah.” a girl in his class replied, “That's right. I had him and Craig in 3rd period Spanish."

People created a distance.

They wanted to believe that it was isolated, that this was an aberration and it couldn’t happen to just anyone. And most importantly, that they were not personally responsible.

This is how the business world would treat Mitchell Kandinsky, as he purposely tanked his company and let the entire wretched thing collapse. In glee he sat in his office, smoking his weed and eating his pizza in his pajamas, as the phones rang off the hook.

He had stepped onto a stage, the previous night, at his very next keynote address after Vegas, and told everyone what he really thought and watched the stocks tumble ever downwards. He told them that he’d actually read Plato, like legitimately read it, and you know what? This shallow artificial bullshit business world isn’t fit to sniff his shit.

Roland Junger had no control over him now.

His money and his life had no control over him now.

Those words people used to call him in school, those hateful words, were diffused and dead. It was all over and he was free to do whatever he wanted now.

He had a nice sized savings, from all of the crap he’d put himself through for the past 3 years, so he thought maybe he’d use it. To do some traveling all across the country, to see beautiful distant countries and just live. Maybe buy a small houseboat to live on, on the pier, where he could smoke all the weed and eat all of the pizza he wanted.

And when that got old, he’d find something else to do. He was, after all, just a kid.