"You've got a visitor, Findley." The voice came through the barred window. There was a clatter of keys and a squealing as the guard unlocked the door. Scraping the ground, the huge door swung open to reveal the mental hospital guard. He confidently stepped into the cell.
The tall, distinguished-looking resident appeared not to belong in such a bleak room. His back was to the door and he gazed longingly out the barred window. Turning to face the guard, a smooth voice asked, "Who would be so good as to call on me?"
"I don't know who'd want to visit the likes of you, Findley. He just said he was an old friend of yours." An eyebrow raised on the finely chiseled face. The guard started to squirm a bit under the penetrating gaze of the man. He looked at the floor and then seemed to catch himself slipping into fear. With anger in his voice, he asked, "You coming or not?"
Howard Findley envisioned the faces of his business partners and acquaintances, searching for the most likely visitor. Most he considered improbable, and many were impossible as they were dead. Well, then again. he thought to himself. Death did not mean what it used to, in Gomorra.
Findley did not like to go into a meeting unprepared, and whoever his visitor was, they had the momentary upper hand. He knew that he could gain something from any visitor, and he decided to see the surprise guest. He gave a small nod to the impatient guard and stepped toward the doorway.
A bit nervously, the guard led Howard down the hall, through another large door, and let him into the visiting room. "You've got ten minutes."
The visitor stood with his back to the doorway and turned slowly when Findley entered. A manic look crossed Findley's face as he recognized.
"Nash Bilton. You traitorous son of a--"
Nash cut him off. "It's good to see you too, Howard. I must say I love your new office."
A cocky smile crossed the rugged face as Nash enjoyed own little joke. He stepped quickly to the table and straddled a wooden chair. "How's business, Findley? I'm sure you're fully appreciating the luxury of your accommodations, hmm?"
"Business," he spat the word. A manic glint flashed in his eyes as he spouted, "That is all that keeps me going in here, you cowardly bastard. When I get out of here, I'll show those backstabbing buffoons how Sweetrock Mining does business! Do you know what they call me in here, Bilton? Hofi! The loons are too stupid to pronounce my whole name! They degrade me with an abbreviation like 'Hofi'! It sounds like a common Indian!" There was a pause while Howard seemed to regain his composure. He began again, "I heard you were dead, and I was glad to get the news. I can't say I'm pleased that it was an exaggeration."
"I see that your manners haven't improved since your confinement. Maybe we could call the guard back in here and he can teach you how to talk to your superiors?" The threat was an empty one, but Findley didn't know that.
"What do you want, Bilton?"
"Ah. Now we get down to business. What I want is simple: your money. Isn't that what everyone always wanted from you? Tell me, 'Hofi,' where's your secret stash?" There was a pause. Nash didn't expect an answer. "There's a rumor around that you stashed a good deal of ghost rock and other valuables in a secret place before you were thrown in here. Where'd you squirrel it away? Bill and I need to get at it."
"Even if I did have a hidden cache, why would I ever reveal its location? Especially to the likes of you."
"It's simple, Findley. We'll split it with you fifty-fifty. What do you say?"
"Why you, Bilton? I wouldn't trust you with my worst enemy's child. I could hire any one of hundreds of people to retrieve my belongings. I could even trust a few of them."
"Yes, but it's me that you want to tell, Howard. You see Ghost Rock Fever has a funny effect on people. From what I hear, you will do just about anything to get your hands on it." With these words, Nash produced three dark lumps from his coat pocket.
Back in the damp and moldy cell, Howard Findley sat staring. Spread out before him on his bed, were three dark, faintly greenish, lumps of rock. The maniacal mumbling that came from his lips was unnoticed by him as he admired his treasure for hours.
"Xemo! Xemo, you crackpot, get over here!" The open courtyard was unusually empty for this time of day. Most of the hospital's patients had chosen to stay indoors including the paranoid Mr. Derek. The turban-clad diviner approached fearfully. Although the patients all ridiculed Findley, he also knew that they feared him. They were not so far gone as to be stupid, after all.
"What do you want, Hofi?" The Amazing Xemo asked tentatively.
"I want out of here. I want to resume my rightful place as the head of Sweetrock in Gomorra. I want rivers to run red with the blood of my betrayers. But first thing's first."
"Do you mean you want to try to escape?"
"Yes, but not try, Xemo. I want to succeed."
"You're mad, Hofi! It's impossible! We have no weapons! No plan!"
A wicked smile crossed the insane face of Howard Findley. "We're all mad here, Xemo. However, I do have a plan, and I have these." He reached into his pocket and withdrew his hand, revealing two chunks of Ghost Rock. "I believe you could make something to help me out of these. Am I wrong?"
Xemo's eyes widened. He stared hard at the ghost rock for a long while before finally answering, "If I could get jars and a few ingredients from the kitchens, I could make fire and smoke elixirs. Maybe that could help us cause enough of a distraction for us to get out..."
"Two weeks. Maybe three."
"Make it a week."
"Alright, but I'll need your help."
The two patients at the Gomorra Mental Hospital made the most of the next few days. Findley used connections that he didn't even know he had to get all manner of exotic ingredients for Xemo. Xemo stayed in his room most all of the time, secretly brewing powerful mixes. He hid his activities from the guards with incredible skill. When the fateful day arrived, the two met in the open courtyard after lunch. Howard was almost giddy with anticipation. He could feel his fingers clenching around Max Baine's throat as he greeted Xemo.
"Are they ready?"
"Yes. As long as the ingredients were good, they'll serve their purpose." Xemo pulled back his shit to reveal two thin jars that rested in the waistline of his pants.
"Give me the fire. You keep the smoke and use it when I tell you."
"Right," Xemo answered, handing over the jar.
The open courtyard had multiple entrances into the hospital and the only gate that led out of the compound. The two conspirators walked confidently and casually towards the gate. The young guard at the gate called out to them as he saw them approaching. "Slow down there, fellas. What can I do for you?"
"Burn for me," Howard muttered.
"Come again?" the guard asked. Findley quickly tossed the vial and it shattered upon the side of the guard's head. If Xemo's potion worked, the guard would burst into flames upon impact. Needless to say, it didn't work.
Anger flashed on the face of the wounded man and he drew the cudgel at his belt. As he approached the two would-be escapees, the reddish liquid from the jar oozed down the side of his guard's face.
"The smoke, Xemo! Use the smoke!" Howard shouted. Panicking, Xemo tossed the smoke vial onto the ground before the guard. It shattered upon impact, but what rose was a small cloud of green that did little to obscure anyone's view.
As the angry guard closed in on Howard, he back-paddled. "Xemo, you idiot! What the hell kind of scientist are you?" Howard panicked and turned. As he began to run, he felt a heavy object collide with the back of his head. Howard Findley fell into a broken heap. The furious guard turned toward Xemo. He didn't put up a fight.
His consciousness returned slowly, pouring slowly into his mind like ooze. His eyes fluttered briefly, opening to reveal the ceiling of his cell. Howard tried to sit up and found his arms constricted. A straightjacket wrapped around him. He wondered how long he'd been unconscious.
The door scraped open and his doctor came in. He carried a folder and sat upon the single stool in the cell. Flipping through the folder, he made disapproving noises. When he looked up, he asked, "What on earth possessed you, Howard? You had been doing so well! What happened? Why did you try to escape?" Howard ignored all these questions. Finally he heard one that struck a nerve, "Why in the name of all that's holy, were you carrying a lump of green-painted coal in your pocket?"
His face clenched and he cried out the answer to all of the doctor's questions: "BILTON!"