Niall was facing a heavy handed investigation by police looking for charges to bring against him. He made the national papers bringing him all sorts of attention. Business proposals came flooding in. Criminals wanted his help to evade capture by faking their own death. He took the offers and the money, he hated the reprobates but thrilled in the challenge. He could reset the counter for mobsters who were grasping at threads with the fuzz at the door. He helped them disappear with all of the money or die and relieve themselves as kingpin with a clean new rap sheet. He became indispensable to the scumbags, with him on their side they were invincible. He’s admitted to me that those days were his worst mistake. Well placed ‘friends’ could only keep him safe for so long.
Niall despised reliance on anyone. The bullet proof glass was installed at his house, metal shutters blocked out the few rays of light he might have let in anyway. He became a surveillance enthusiast. I wondered why he trusted me with the knowledge that he’d bought up the houses either side of him and renovated them to accommodate escape routes. There were no doors between the adjoining buildings but thin walls that he could easily fight his way through if he had to. I smiled slightly wondering if he had considered the difficulty of fighting his way into a packed room should it become so. He answered the smirk by telling me that the space between the thin wall in his house and the other would accommodate excesses enough to facilitate his escape. The one, wooded front door was fronted with ornate metal caging and backed with an inner stronghold door. The police had not failed to notice the changes in his life, they had nothing on him but that didn’t stop them looking.
He would cancel our sessions sometimes and I’d ask why. He’d say I wouldn’t be safe with him. That didn’t mean he’d be any safer on his own. Sometimes he was shaking, not openly but trembling. On other occasions I saw the deep pool of thought behind his eyes. He might be staring beyond me at notes on the wall or further through it to some mechanism of escape. I saw a smile grow gradually over a number of weeks as the plan came together. He had the blueprints for a path to freedom but it would take him time to lay the foundations. Time was running out, death threats were catching fire in his sealed letterbox as fuel was poured through it. His sprinkler system saved him from those first weak attempts but he knew the situation would escalate.
His solution was quick and brutal. He advised his underworld friends to carry out blanket assassinations of their rivals. Several criminal empires were snuffed out in the first night. In a week he was down to the last clan of killers. By then they were beginning to realise the new territories would no more be theirs for long than the pulse they were born with. I was under no allusions as to what he’d done, he felt no remorse. He disappeared, sold the house and moved away. Our next and last sessions were held via video call. No one who knew who he was knew where he was.
Via the video calls he told me his life was comparatively quiet. I knew what he meant was he’d found a preferable noise. Interruptions to my electrical interactions with the world suggested that Niall had turned his attentions to virtual manipulation. A laptop and scanner were delivered to my house. They worked alongside his software as a decryption engine. I was told very forcefully never to use either in view of a window and to keep them out of sight to even my wife.
Niall had become slightly more legitimate in this new, shadowy incarnation. He told me he was working with European intelligence agencies to decipher coded messages that compromised national security. As payment he wound steal vast stores of money from their budgets. Some intelligence agencies set up separate accounts and let him take their money. Niall had no sense of the ungracious wrath that was coming for him. As much help as he was to them the intelligence agencies did not like feeling fools at Niall’s hand. They were biding their time and wondering who the mysterious thief and benefactor could be. His pen name to them was Lethe which could easily be taken to mean he had connections with Alaska.
The version Niall I had known was dead, I never called him that again. He was something more than I had known back then and it seems he knew all along who I was. Amidst news of upheaval in the near east I received a message printed on rice paper in food dye. I got married, it said, did you see that coming dad?