Jack restrained Walter to a stainless-steel chair, ropes tied taut, and a gag in his mouth. Thumbing through a dossier of medical and police reports, the usual suspects emerged.

Busted teeth.


Dislocated joints.

Multiple broken bones.

Against the advice of Mr. Wilson, Jack insisted on wearing suits. It wasn’t a suited profession, but Jack was a professional and he didn’t feel comfortable in anything else. And while these weren’t his usual Wall Street grade, they served their function. And there was something cold and uncaring about a stoic face in a throwaway suit staring down a subject.

Jack snapped on a pair of latex gloves and clutched a wrench in his hand. “You don’t know me, but I know you.” He started untying the gag. “I prefer silence, so unless spoken to, please keep it that way. We understand?”

Walter nodded.

Jack leaned in, his eyes penetrating Walter’s. “You need to listen. The sooner you accept—”

“Fuck you, faggot. I ain’t—”

Jack slammed the wrench into Walter’s left kneecap. The bone crunched and Walter wailed. “You—you—fuckin’ faggot!”

“You know, I never understood homophobia.” Jack backed up, wiping the wrench with a towel. “My father called me that before I got the belt. When I did time in San Quentin, also a slur liberally thrown around.” Jack rubbed his chin. “Never understood it.”

Walter’s leg twitched and he painted the floor with the remaining Evan William’s Bourbon. Vomit caked his chin. “Who da fuck are ya?”

Jack snapped on a fresh pair of latex gloves. “Well, that’s one item off the list.”

“I’ve done nothin’ to ya.” Walter said. He gritted his teeth and his breath quickened. “Money? I have none. So if you wanna to rob me? Yer shit outta luck. Ransom? Nobody—”

“You talk a lot.” Jack cocked his head. “Walter, c’mon now. You really don’t know why I’m here?”

Walter spat in Jack’s direction. “Fuck you.”

Jack pulled up a chair. Another mark he’d have to break like a stallion. It was never easy. They always fought. They always begged. For once, couldn’t the mark just accept their fate?

Jack loosened his tie. “I’m the man who’s going to show you how it feels.” Jack motioned to an array of instruments on a stainless-steel table. “How it feels to be weak. To be powerless.” He motioned to the tarpaulin covered wall. “You’ll sustain substantial physical trauma. You need to be prepared for that.”

Walter’s forearms tightened against the restraints. “Why? Tell me—”

“Struggling only makes this worse,” Jack said. “Your body, mind, and maybe even soul will break. I don’t particularly like telling you all this, but my employer insists on it.” Jack paused. “There’s no reasoning your way out of this.”

Walter clenched his teeth and hatred filled his eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“Walter, I’m a dispassionate man. I neither love nor hate you. Truth be told, I feel nothing for you.”

“I’ll stop drinking.”

“Walter, Walter, Walter.” Jack filled a syringe with adrenaline. “We both know that’s not true.”

“I’ll go back to marriage counseling. I’ll quit drinking. I swear to fuckin’ Christ! I’ll start—”

“This will go a lot easier if you just accept what’s about to happen.”

“Fuck you!”

“My employer believes in transparency. That’s a kindness he insists I visit upon you.” Jack’s cold eyes penetrated Walter’s. “A kindness you refused to grant your wife.” Jack held up each instrument. “You’ll know what’s about to come, and when you feel like passing out, and you will, adrenaline will keep you with me.”

“Yer outta yer fuckin’ mind,” Walter said. “Why? Tell me why, goddamn you!”

Jack examined the first medical report. He’d studied each report meticulously, but the sheer size of each file lent itself to memory lapses. “Concussion? That won’t do right now.” He turned the page in the hopes of something more manageable. “You pushed her down the stairs, right? Well, that’s risky, but I say we give it a shot. What do you say, Walter?”

“I’m’a fuckin’ kill ya. Yer a dead motherfucka!”

“The noise grates on my ears. I don’t want to remove your tongue.”

“Just stop, please!”

“Ready for a tumble down the stairs?”

Walter banged his head against the chair’s back. Snot dripped down his nose, mixing with tears.

“Okay then. A fall down the stairs it is.”


Three years ago, Jack sat in Mr. Wilson’s office, its walls adorned with oil paintings depicting the great battles of Agincourt, Thermophylae, and Custer’s Last Stand. A bear-skinned rug lined the floor, a fire raging in the fireplace. A minibar with bottles of finely aged scotch.

Once a simple accountant, his wife’s life insurance policy afforded him a life only few can dream of. Jack’s research revealed Linda Wilson had been gunned down in a gang hit gone wrong. The gang had a legion of lawyers, everyone involved walked, and Mr. Wilson vanished for years. Jack from records from 1963-1997, then a gap. From 2002-present, he’s officially listed as a stockbroker.

He offered Jack a glass of single malt scotch from the Isle of Jura. Only ten bottles remained and Mr. Wilson owned three of them. And while Jack frowned upon such vices, preferring a clear head to such carnal pleasures, he made an exception for Mr. Wilson’s exquisite selection.

Mr. Wilson’s wheelchair creaked as he made his way behind the desk. “Thanks for meeting with me.”

“I never properly—”

Mr. Wilson raised his hand. “No need to thank me, Jack. You’re doing well now. It’s been, what, a year since your last perversion? Keeping your transgressions at bay?”

“Yes sir.”

“I’m proud of you.” Mr. Wilson smiled. “I truly am. You are my greatest success. A model citizen.” He lit a cigar and reams of smoke filled the room. “I bet you’re wondering why I summoned you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I have a problem.” he said, grabbing his legs, a twisted look crept over his face. “I can’t continue my work. You’re smart enough to deduce why.”

Jack swirled the scotch. “You need me to carry on the Empathy Protocol?”

“Jack,” he said, “you’d agree my work is important, right?”

He nodded.

“If only I could show you the results of the others. Maybe in time. But for now, indulge me in a test?”


“I’m sure you’ll pass. For a man of your proclivities, this should be a cakewalk.”

“Listen, Mr. Wilson,” Jack said. “I’m grateful for everything you did for me. I really am. But I—”

“Jack.” Mr. Wilson’s eyes penetrated Jack’s. “I made your despicable history disappear, remember? The Jack of All Trades is, for all intents and purposes, dead. You’re a new man with a new beginning. Do you know why?”

Mr. Wilson refilled both glasses. “You believe in reformation and redemption?”

“Partly.” Mr. Wilson inched closer to Jack. “Some folks are lost. They need a certain kind of care only my program can provide. Nothing else works. Therapy fails. The courts fail. The fabric of society is not equipped to deal with the people we do.” Mr. Wilson paused. “I’m not a vigilante. And you won’t be, either. It’s not salvation. It’s transformation.”

Jack slammed the drink. “But why me? Out of the dozens of—”

“You have a special temperament. You just needed sensitivity to pain as a conduit to empathy. You have within you the ability to carry on my work.”

“Mr. Wilson, I—”

“Test case. No pressure, just a test case. We start with how you’d handle a simple thief and we go from there. Humor me?” Mr. Wilson threw Jack a thick roll of hundreds. “And you’ll be well compensated, and sure beats the lumber mill, no? Don’t you want to wear a perfectly tailored Brioni suit again? Drink only the finest of wines? Dine at the finest restaurants?” Mr. Wilson puffed on his cigar. “And who knows, perhaps even find yourself a decent woman?”

“That sounds sublime.”

“Use your skills for good, and that life can be yours again, Jack.” Mr. Wilson snubbed the cigar into the gold-plated ashtray. “When in doubt, ask yourself: do you really think you’d be where you are without me? Without how I transformed you?”

“No sir.”

“Then let’s pay it forward.” Mr. Wilson smiled, pushing a button revealing the treatment room Jack had suffered in. “And Jack, you’ll have all the resources needed. Medical staff, paid off law enforcement, judges and lawyers, and a remote facility to carry out the Protocol. You’re with me and that means you’ll be safe.”

“Why not here?”


“Why not use your facility?”

Mr. Wilson roared. “In the middle of Manhattan? Are you nuts? No, no, no. Getting this guy here was hard enough. The cost of business is too high here anyway.” Mr. Wilson paused. “But in Kansas City? Cheaper. I’m offering you the keys to my kingdom, Jack. What say you?”

Jack shook Mr. Wilson’s hand. “Pay it forward.”


Walter howled in pain, crunched up at the bottom of the stairs, quivering in the corner. His left tibia poked through the skin. A gash on his head seeped blood into his eyes.

Walter clutched his leg. “Need’a fuckin’ ambulance!”

Jack knelt beside him. “A broken leg is a non-lethal injury.”

Jack paged through the dossier again. Sometimes Jack wished he could feel empathy, compassion, any hedonic emotions. Or perhaps just feel something. The dossier, with its lurid descriptions and cheap pictures, read like a phonebook. Just records. Nothing more.

“This list is extensive.” Jack dabbed sweat from his forehead. “More so than I’m accustomed. Medical professionals might be necessary.”

Walter closed his blood-filled eyes. “When does it stop?”

“Depends on your constitution. Days. Weeks. Months,” Jack said. “All depends on you and how fast I can burn through this list.” Jack strapped Walter back to the chair. “It’ll be a while, I’m afraid.”

Jack retrieved pliers from the table. “Looks like in a fit of rage, you knocked out Maria’s two front teeth.”

“Da fuck.” Walter said. “Ya got da wrong fuckin’ guy.” Heaving his head back, he cried out, “I ain’t da best husband. I get it. I do. I really do. But I neva, and I mean neva, touch’d her.”


“I drink! Yes, I like the sauce. I yell and scream and call her names. Name’s no woman should eva be called. But I never touched her!” Blood and sweat mixed, soaking his shirt. Walter leaned forward, eyes bulging out. “I neva, and I do mean never laid one fuckin’ finga’ on her!”

“Walter, what did we talk about? It’s best if you—”

“I’ve learned my lesson. I swear ta fuckin’ Christ.” Walter hung his head. His chest beat faster. “I’ll try rehab again. Give AA another go. I’ll make it right. I already confessed to everything I did. You got me stone cold. Lying to you would be foolish. I may be a lot’a things, but right now? I ain’t no fuckin’ fool.” He paused. “I’m a shit husband. A shit fatha. I’m shit all around. I know—”

Jack wagged the pliers at him. “I don’t like being lied to, Walter. Lying has consequences, like everything in life.” He set the pliers down and grabbed a socket wrench. “This will hurt, but since I’m a nice guy, I’ll give you a few minutes to prepare.”


Blood gushed from Walter’s nose and he spat teeth on the floor. Hunched over, he spilled more vomit.

“Why? Fuckin’ why?” Walter said, eyes half open.

He grabbed the adrenaline and slammed it into Walter’s heart. Jack removed his shirt and tie, revealing elongated scars up his abdomen and back. A makeshift tattoo RAPIST carved into his abdomen. “I know what it’s like.”

Walter spit up more blood. “Rapist, eh? Sick fuck.”

“I’m no better than you. I have no pretense otherwise.” Jack put his shirt and tie back on. “And you’re right, you never raped your wife.” He knelt down beside Walter, bringing a water bottle to his lips. “Which is good, because you’ll never have to feel an unlubricated 12’’ dildo rammed up your rectum. Rammed so hard you couldn’t sit for weeks. So hard, part of your intestines came out and doctors wondered whether you’d need a colostomy bag.”


“The man who did this to me?”

Walter nodded, finishing the water.

Jack shrugged. “Transformation. Salvation. Redemption. Everyone can be redeemed in his eyes, Walter.”

“Please stop,” tears rolled down his face and his forearms tightened. “I know I deserve more. I do. Mercy? I’ll give Maria everything. Anything.” As snot caked with blood around Walter’s lips he could barely speak. “Just…Just…fuck—” He hung his head. “End it.”

“Maria’s dead and you know that,” Jack said. “Your persistent lying baffles me.”

“No! She’s with her mother. Left me two weeks ago. I was going to fight the divorce, but now I—”

Jack’s lips curled. “Walter, what did—”

“Stop!” Walter pleaded. “I can’t…I just can’t.”

“We continue.”


Jack and Mr. Wilson returned from the treatment room. Jack stripped off his bloody rags and entered the adjacent shower. Over the last few months, Mr. Wilson had been more a second father than a mentor.

Jack looked in the mirror searching for something he knew not what. All the rules. All the arbitrary controls Mr. Wilson put on him made the whole endeavor lackluster. Like eating an unseasoned stake or working a 9-to-5 job.

“You’re learning.” Mr. Wilson said.

“Do I get a contract now?” Jack said, buttoning up his shirt.

“When I’m confident of your control.”

“I’ve followed all your commands. I’ve upheld all the principles of the Empathy Protocol. I haven’t harmed a single innocent. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t—”

“You go overboard, Jack.” Mr. Wilson gestured to the basket of bloody rags. “Control is key. With proper control, we wouldn’t have had to do three blood transfusions.” Mr. Wilson shook his head. “You’re sloppy and you still lack control.”

Jack finished looping his tie. “I only inflict on the subject—”

“Marcus Jackson.”


“His name, goddamn it!” Mr. Wilson said. “Marcus Jackson. 34. Killed his wife and the jury found him not guilty. He’s not just a subject. He’s not an object, Jack. He’s a person. And you like knives too much.” Mr. Wilson wiped sweat from his brow. “The woman he robbed—Janice Brown—was stabbed once. Why did you stab him three times? He stabbed her once, Jack! Once!”

“Of course, Mr. Wilson. I apologize.”

“You say that now,” Mr. Wilson said. “This is why you’re not quite ready. When a knife is in play, I see your urges.” Mr. Wilson poured himself a glass of scotch from the bar. He didn’t offer Jack any. “You’re a capable man. But you’re not ready.”

Jack finished buttoning his suit. “I’m ready. I’m in control. I think it best you let me—”

Mr. Wilson rolled up to him. “I may have made your files go away, but don’t think that with the snap of a finger I couldn’t easily wire them to the police. You want The Jack of All Trades to remain dead? You do what I say, when I say, and how I say.” Mr. Wilson’s lip curled. “We clear?”

Jack threw on a fake smile and adjusted his tie. “Of course, Mr. Wilson.” He paused. “I suppose I get a little anxious. I just believe in what you do so strongly.”

Mr. Wilson sighed. “I know, Jack. I know.”

“I am ready.”

“No, but you will be,” Mr. Wilson said. “When I say you are.”


Jack scratched his head. “You had a boy, no?”

Walter nodded.

Had a boy. Past tense.”

Walter sobbed.

“The medical report says he died from blood pressure in the skull.”

“I went to Church,” Walter said. “I confessed! I confessed!” Blood dripped down his chin. “I disowned him when he said he was gay. But I neva touched em. Not eva. So he got in a car—”

Jack backhanded him. “What did I say about lying?”

“I’m not lying! I never struck the boy. I didn’t approve of his lifestyle. And yes, I disowned him. And yes, I fucked up. But I swear to fuckin’ Christ I never hit em.”

“You might believe your own lies, Walter,” Jack said. “I guess that’s your prerogative. Well, God may forgive, and who knows, perhaps paradise will be yours. But in my employer’s book, a few Hail Marys don’t cut it.” Jack picked up a baseball bat. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I can’t have you die on me. But you did kill your son from blunt force trauma to the head.” He shoved the report in Walter’s face. “It’s all right here. So why argue?”

“No! No!” Walter pleaded. “It wasn’t my fault. Drunk driver! Bad fuckin’ luck! In all yer reports, surely it mentions that. It has to!”

Jack plugged in the drill. “I’m going to crack your skull, then drill a hole to drain the blood.”

“Please,” Walter sobbed. “I—I—I’m begging.”

Jack leaned closer. “There’s nothing—and I mean nothing—you can say to change what’s about to happen.”

“Fuck you then!” Walter spat blood in Jack’s face. “Suck my dick, faggot!”

“Alright then,” Jack said, cranking the bat behind ready for a pitch. “Here. We. Go.”


Jack phoned one of Mr. Wilson’s private doctors and two nurses. All three were busted selling oxycodone on the side. And when Mr. Wilson made the charges disappear, he demanded favors. If they complied, they would stay out of prison and keep their medical licenses.

“Patch him up. Keep him alive.” Jack said.

“Sir,” the doctor said, “this man needs to go to a hospital. He can’t—”

“I said keep him alive.”

The doctor grimaced. “If he dies—”

“It’s on me.” Jack put on a fresh shirt and tie. “We’ve already been through this many times.”

The doctor sighed and the nurses turned pale upon inspecting Walter.

“And stay close,” Jack said. “Retrieve him when I’m finished.”


Jack and Mr. Wilson shared a park bench overlooking a duck pond. Mr. Wilson liked the fresh air and had a special fondness for birds. He chucked pieces of bread into water and watched as ducks swarmed.

Jack sat silent. He wasn’t fond of ducks nor of the months of worthless training he’d endured. He resented the petty thieves. The small-time bank robbers. And most of all, the thin envelopes. He was sick of eating noodles each night and living in an apartment full of loud music and domestic violence.

“I couldn’t be prouder.” Mr. Wilson handed him the address to the new facility. “You’ll get a contract tomorrow.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Mr. Wilson slipped a card to Kansas City’s Houndstooth in Jack’s pocket. “A gift. Get the finest suit you can find.” Mr. Wilson winked. “The finer things in life are coming your way.”

“Thank you again,” Jack said. “I’ll await further instructions.”

Mr. Wilson extended his hand and Jack gripped it. “We pay it forward, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”


Having went too hard on Walter, Jack couldn’t complete everything on the list. With another shot of adrenaline, Walter could probably sustain more trauma, but too much adrenaline would make his heart explode.

Jack paged through the medical reports in search of one final trauma.

“Your wife,” Jack said. “Says here she’s blind.”

“Yeah,” Walter mumbled. “From…from…birth.”

“That’s interesting.” Jack said, tossing the file aside. “Says here she lost her sight shortly after marrying you.”

Walter spit. “Fuckin’ lie! You got the wrong motherfucker.”

“Walter, Walter,” Jack said. “We talked about lying.”

Walter’s breathing and muscles relaxed. He closed his eyes. “Okay…okay…okay.”

“Surrender is a good thing. Resignation to your fate. It’s freeing, isn’t it? I’m told it’s like a religious experience. Is it like a religious experience, Walter?”

Walter laughed. “Yeah, sure, you bet.”

Jack grabbed a grapefruit spoon. “You see, Walter, here’s what the doctors think happened. They think you struck her so hard in the head she went blind. Medical and police reports are inconclusive, though they indicate damage to the occipital lobe. And of course, she wouldn’t press charges.” Jack sterilized the spoon. “They never do press charges, do they, Walter?”

“I ain’t no fuckin’ liar. Call her mother. I’ll give you the fuckin’ number.” Walter paused and took a deep breath, tears pouring from his eyes. “Call, please?”



Mr. Wilson met Jack in the hospital entrance. “Shall we talk in the waiting room?

“Cup of coffee?” Jack asked.

“Much appreciated.”

Jack handed Mr. Wilson the cup and wheeled him into the waiting room. “Only half the $20K’s been wired.”

“You didn’t finish the job.”

“Sir,” Jack said. “Walter Moyer’s went into shock. Your own doctors say—”

“I know,” Mr. Wilson said. “But you went too hard on him. You’re regressing again.” He rubbed his forehead and sipped coffee. “A case like his takes time. You know this. How did you fuck this up? You did so well with the others.”

“Regardless,” Jack rested his hand on Mr. Wilson’s shoulders. “Our business is complete. I want my other 10K.”

“Money’s short right now. Poor investments. I ca—”

Jack tightened his grip. “Poor investments? Someone hack your account, perhaps?”

Mr. Wilson scrunched his eyebrows. “Yeah, why?”

“For 837 days, you denied me. Controlled me. Talked down to The Jack of All Trades.”

Blood drained from Mr. Wilson’s face. “I see.”

“I’m a patient man, contrary to your uniformed opinions.” Jack grabbed Mr. Wilson’s hand putting it to his chest. “Feel that? Feel my heart? During your torture, and even now, it never surprised you my heart rate never went above 85 BPM?” He crossed his legs and cocked his head. “Did you really think you’d get the better of The Jack of All Trades? The man who makes Ted Bundy look like an amateur?”

Mr. Wilson sighed. “Okay. Okay. Okay. I get it. I won’t beg for mercy, because I know it’ll do no good.” Mr. Wilson polished his coffee and tossed the cup aside. “Take my assets. Spare me, and we go our separate ways.”

“You know I don’t leave witnesses,” Jack said. “And your assets are already mine. They’ll be put to good use.”

“My gut said the Empathy Protocol wouldn’t work on a guy like—” Mr. Wilson hunched over and clutched his chest. “You—you—motherfucker!”

“Chest pains?” Jack smirked. “Left arm going numb? Struggling to breath? Coffee taste a little strange?” Jack curled his lip and adjusted his tie. “I’ve waited a long time for this moment. And now, here we are.”


“Just listen, because I’m dying to tell you this.” Jack said. “I have $200K in reserve, even after the payouts. Where did the other $500K go, you ask?” Jack leaned in, his hand wrapped around Mr. Wilson’s throat. “Your people work for me now. The medical staff. The crooked cops. The judges. All of them. And they were surprisingly cheap. Like you, like everyone on this planet, you people come cheap. Morality’s mask oh so easy to remove with the right lubrication.” Jack peered into Mr. Wilson’s eyes. “The Jack of All Trades is back in business.”


“You know, I think I’ll pay your lovely daughter a visit. She’s a delicious little thing.” Jack’s penis engorged with blood and his grip tightened around Mr. Wilson’s throat. “The fun I shall have.”

“Don’t…fuck you!” Mr. Wilson choked out. “You’ll burn…you’ll burn…in hell for this!”

Jack shrugged. “I doubt it. I’m smarter than you. Smarter than the cops and the fools you employ.” Jack released his grip and left the dossier on the seat beside him. “Oh! Last thing. All evidence of our arrangements points to you. After all, you made me a ghost.” He leaned in. “I even got the secret files you had on me. Perhaps they’ve been modified. Perhaps you’re the Jack of All Trades.

Mr. Wilson’s eyes bulged. “Just leave…my…daughter alone.”

Jack threw Mr. Wilson out of his wheelchair. “Enjoy your heart attack.”


Jack exited the waiting room to the sound of two gossiping nurses hovering around Walter’s room.

“Whoever did this,” the blonde said, “a monster. There’s no other word. I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

“I knew this man, you know.” The older one shook her head. “Damn shame. Dr. Anderson doesn’t think he’ll ever come out of coma.”


“He was a good family man. Pillar of the community. Sure, he had issues. Drank too much. On and off the wagon. His wife left him a few weeks ago. Couldn’t take it, I guess.”

“Damn shame. I heard Walter Meyers even volunteered at—”

“Walter Meyers?” Jack asked. The nurses turned and he inspected the blonde again.

“Yeah, did you know him?” The blonde asked.

“Only briefly.” Jack turned toward the exit. “Hope they catch the bastard.”