Snippet from Spiral Into Darkness


Milwaukee, WI

            Vincent O’Laughlin was the youngest partner of the firm. Just four years out of grad school, he had skyrocketed up the food chain, leaving several dead bodies in his wake. Well, not really dead. Just dead in the firm. Three of the four went on to different advertising outfits, one in Minneapolis, one in Chicago, and one in Kansas City. The fourth was still unemployed, probably as much to do with his age as it was his lack of creativity.

            O’Laughlin rose up the ladder by capturing the Midwest Seed account, the Party Time USA account, and the Grand National Foods account, along with a nationally operated grocery store chain. And because of these acquisitions, his client list went from lackluster to golden, raking in money, accolades, and envy from the big boys in the advertising industry.

            With his blond hair, blue eyes, and a dimple when he smiled, Vincent was a natural at sales. But his greatest strength was as an art director, the title he held before he moved to partner. He was a visionary, and because of this talent, he still oversaw the four biggest accounts in the firm. He wined and dined the CEOs of those companies and corporations, and he was given the luxury of hand-picking the art directors and had final approval on all TV, radio, and print advertising on those four accounts. And now with a corner office and a full-time personal assistant, he sipped Evian and gazed out of his fourteenth-floor window overlooking Old World Third Street and the Milwaukee skyline, small as it was, and pondered where he would go from here.

            Billy Joel sang it, and Vincent believed it: New York State of Mind.

            With every breath, every pulse beat, his only goal was to make it as big in New York as he did in sleepy, little Milwaukee. The only goal he had. There wasn’t enough money or women to hold him in Milwaukee. Not even the 3700 square foot, lakeside condo in Whitefish Bay, a rich, upscale northern suburb of Milwaukee could contain him. His only focus was to get to New York and make his mark there, just as he had in Milwaukee.

            Vincent opened his briefcase and placed his checkbook, his wallet, three empty manila folders, a yellow pad of paper in a leather pad protector with his initials embossed in faux gold lettering, and a small calculator neatly inside. He didn’t actually have anything to take home, and he didn’t need a briefcase, especially one this expensive. But because he was now a partner, he thought the soft, brown leather briefcase gave him legitimacy. He felt it made him look important, just as the tailored Brooks Brothers cashmere suits, silk shirts, and the tan cashmere top coat and matching leather gloves did. The gloves didn’t keep his hands warm, but they looked good, and looks were everything.

The last thing Vincent did before leaving his office and turning off his light was to pick up the Kodak box holding his portfolio. He preferred a hard copy in addition to the disk and thumb drive. With the hard copy, he could sit across from someone and talk him or her through it. Vincent placed much confidence in his ability to talk someone into just about anything. So as a consequence and precaution, he carried it with him everywhere. It was his present life and the key to his next life. He used the Kodak Film box as a disguise because he couldn’t afford for anyone to know he kept his portfolio updated and ready. And he was so ready.

            Like he did each day after work, he took the stairs down fourteen flights instead of taking the elevator. He reasoned it was an inexpensive way to get a cardio workout in before he got to the gym. 

            After signing out at the front desk and wishing a good evening to the portly and elderly night security man, he paused at the door, buttoned up his top coat, clamped his portfolio under his arm, and then stepped into the sub-zero late afternoon.

            So cold, his nose hair froze. The dirty snow and ice that had melted in the early afternoon sun now crunched under the soles of his leather slip-ons. The shoes, like his gloves, looked good, but for all the warmth they provided, he may as well have been barefoot.

            Vincent emerged between two cars, dodged a bus, and jay-walked across the street and then jogged into the parking garage. He had parked his silver Lexus on the fourth floor. Because it was so cold, he took the elevator which had a faint cigarette and urine smell to it. He tried breathing through his mouth. It didn’t work because then he could taste it. The slow-moving elevator opened and he quick-walked toward his car. It was within sight at the far end of the garage. The only sound was his loafers echoing off the cement and cinder block walls. 

            The garage was dark. Two of the overhead lights were out, which made him curious. He remembered them working when he had arrived.

            He slowed down as he neared his car, tucked his portfolio under his arm, slipped off his glove and held it in his mouth and dug into his pocket for his key fob. 

            “Excuse me, sir.”

            The voice came from behind and to his left. 

            Startled, Vincent jumped and spun around, his heart rate ratcheting up twenty beats. The glove fell out of his mouth and he dropped the key fob.

            “Excuse me, sir. Are you Vincent O’Laughlin?”

            Vincent squinted into the shadow and took a step back, the safety of his car forgotten. The voice sounded middle-aged, curious and almost friendly, not at all threatening.

            “Who’s there?” Vincent said, angry this person caused him to drop his glove in a filthy puddle of melted snow and street grime.

            “Are you Vincent O’Laughlin?” the voice asked again.

            “Yes, I am. Who are you and what do you want?” Vincent asked. He didn’t like talking to someone he couldn’t see in the freezing, dark, and dirty garage.

            “That’s what I thought. It should never have happened. You shouldn’t have done it.”

            “Done what?”

            The muzzle flashed bright, the report loud, echoing off the concrete walls.

            The first shot had done the work, but the second shot was for fun.

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