Staggering wild-eyed through the same fucking hallway, armed with a nightstick and two scalpels, footsteps from the direction of the Doctor’s auction room, choice between staircase and another corridor turning inwards to
“Bharadwaj! Where the fuck are you going?” But your friend already halfway to the first floor. Footsteps getting nearer, louder.
“Vrinda could be captive here,” his voice receding whap-whap up the stairs. “They had enough thugs to force our hand. Maybe they got her, too.”
“God, I fucking hope not,” you follow him, thinking of blue chords and the thumbs of the keyboardist. Up and then down. “Where’d they grab you?”
“Boxie’s boat. This morning.” The banister streaked red by the ruins of his left index. “Horrid bloody process, man. Bad, bad trip. Or rather: trips.”
“Whaddaya mean?” Surfacing with a burst of rapid blinks. A third-floor corridor. The lights brighter, the general decor a bit warmer.
More the sort of place people would go voluntarily.
“It comes and goes, man,” Bharadwaj stopping next to a large one-off room with Inventory printed on the door in block letters, “but the trip don’t stop. Some shit about concentration in the bloodstream.” Padlock protesting against nightstick. A dull crack. “The Doctor jerked off some medical jargon I didn’t understand. Crashed four times before you found me.”
“You mean four episodes?” He rummages through a large filing cabinet that says U-Z. You bust the lock on a makeshift walk-in closet. A hundred used scrubs and a wall-rack covered with scuffed shoes. You find your boots and toss him his.
“That how it works? I couldn’t even tell shit wasn’t real at first.” He overturns the cabinet and stands in the middle of room, panting. You spot your sooty trouser leg poking from a large bin. “I been here before, Jimmy. She kept asking if I was messing with harder stuff, and I never told her they’d tossed me around four rehabs before she found me. Told her to stay the fuck out of my shit, instead. Maybe I should be in prison.”
“Come on, man. Don’t be like that.” Your shirt shredded to strips. Your wallet missing cash and card and inner partition. “We’ll save her and clear your name. What are third acts for, anyway? Plus – I dunno – the stakes here seem more life and death than the coke. Which – let’s face it – wasn’t even yours, right?”
“Not what they caught me with.” He doesn’t meet your eye. “Met this dolled-up singing Goth m’fucker the week before. Was helping him score a giant bushel of weed. I think he mighta spiked my meds during the lead-up, somehow.”
You wonder if you have time for a long expositional give-and-take about campus myths and birdshit.
Footsteps in the corridor decide it for you.
“You should take this, man,” you try to give him the picture of Vrinda you stole from his landlord, “You need it more than I do.”
“Um, no offense, Jimmy,” he gives you a strange look while adjusting his grip on the nightstick, “But we ain’t giving up that easy.”
Then the footsteps reach the other end of the door and you raise both scalpels and he raises an eyebrow and you nod in unison and then he is running towards the door and you follow him to an almost certain
Fading into an amble down a tree-lined avenue, next to Jimmy driving Gwen Stacy at an even 30km/h, helmetless, eyes cloudy but hands firm on handlebar.
Swaddled behind him in a makeshift sheet harness – Manavi. Weakened by chemo and almost wraithlike as she holds him.
You remember how her hands felt. Warm but frail, the wristbones smooth and pronounced as pebbles.
She slips her hand under his shirt at the next redlight. “You can go a bit faster, you know.”
“What, and end your wonderful run at second base?” Her hand engulfed whole by his, so much more easily than before. His eyes cloudier.
“Hey, Snivels McGee. Where we going?”
“The Ridge, ma’am.”
“And why are we going to the Ridge?”
“To conduct a fi- to conduct a walking tour of the spots we have desecrated over the years.”
“Yes,” her fingers tighten around his thumb. “And also to get through your dumb noggin that this is what young people do. Someday soon the world will hit us over the head with its games, and you will have to start worrying about the future. But not right now, Jimmy. Right now you go out there and you live and love and get your stupid heart broken again. There is still time.”
“If you’re breaking up with me I’m gonna have to ask you to disembark.”
They laugh. You laugh. They kiss. You laugh. Someone whistles. You laugh. An impromptu symphony of indignant honks. You laugh, and the horn section laughs, on the sly.
The evening sun drips like a blob of red paint at the edge of the sky.
Then just as the light turns green she stops trying to give him a hickie and says softly, almost to herself, “remember me as I was.”
Nobody laughs after that.
Exit Wounds – I
At the head of the stairs on the top floor, only one bloody scalpel left, throbbing new welt just above your ear.
The sound of Bharadwaj yelling your name somewhere below, over and over and
“Where?” A head pokes into the stairwell two floors below. “You okay, man?”
“I think so.” You look around for clues. There is a man lying facedown in a pool of blood by your feet. You toe him in the gut and he groans. “Got a bleeder here. Think we were fighting or something.”
“Got him good, then?” clop-clop-clop rising in decibels before Bharadwaj up the stairs with a flashlight, one eye swelling shut, nightstick replaced by a large pistol. “These fuckers were packing some serious-” his circle of illumination passes your welt and travels to the ceiling “-mother of fuck.”
You follow the light.
The door behind you is scarred with half a dozen bulletholes pointing to the brick roof in a jagged line.
You scramble to check yourself for unexpected exit wounds.
Bharadwaj trains the pistol on the thug and flips him over with his foot.
There is a scalpel lodged beneath his shoulderblade and an assault rifle tucked under his limp arm. You pluck the latter gingerly, like a rotting tomato.
“These are the worst fucking henchmen I have ever seen.”
“And we have two guns,” says Bharadwaj, “We should-”
“Not two,” you interrupt him, “just the one.”
You remove the magazine from the rifle and crack it underfoot.
“What the fuck, man-”
“We both know it is easier to kill with guns that spit faster.” You toss the bleeding thug his new paperweight. “Are we killers, Bharadwaj?”
“I- well- no.” He looks down at his gun and then at you. “No, Jimmy, we’re not.”
“Then let’s try and save the big gun for scare tactics, yeah? Was the Doctor downstairs?”
“Just these idiots.”
“Great. I don’t think they know much. We could hit the other one until he spills something useful, but-”
“Yeah, he won’t be speaking anytime soon.” Bharadwaj scratches his head with the pistol. “I broke his hands with the nightstick. He’s pretty out of it.”
“See what I mean? Attention-deficit and brittle. It’s like these guys want to lose or something.”
“I sure hope the Doc feels like fighting.”
“He’s probably still downstairs trying to reassure a bunch of wannabe-terrorists they don’t know gunshots from popping corn.”
“Yeah, well,” he checks the magazine, “I got enough for a non-lethal demonstration.”
“Okay, look.” You stop leaning against the door for a moment. “My knees feel like they could go again at any moment. And I would like to believe there isn’t another badly-timed episode coming, but there is no way to tell.”
“Maybe run down and try to find the exit, man?”
“No. We leave together. And we take Vrinda if she happens to be here.” Up and then down. You resist the urge to puke on the heavy. “Just give me a moment to catch my breath, maybe save this arsewipe from bleeding out. Let me retrieve the other scalpel. Then we find out if the physician can heal his self.”
“Don’t get killed over Mr Can’t-Aim-Worth-Shit here.” He spares the bulletholes one last glance. “You’re a lucky bastich, Jimmy. See ya downstairs.”
You sink to your knees after he’s left. Your hands shake too damn much to hold the gun, let alone pull a blade from your leaky doormat.
There are no exit wounds on your body, but your mind insists on some sort of payment for dancing this close to the big sleep.
Funnily enough, you don’t mind.
So you drop the rifle.
“This could’ve been it, Manavi,” you whisper to no one. “We could’ve been done. This could’ve been it. I’m so sorry.”
The thug groans so you drop the carcass of the rifle on his head.
“All your fault,” you tell him.
He takes the hint and falls silent.
You take a few quick breaths, pull the scalpel, press his soiled kerchief into the gushing hole, and tie it with a strip of his shirttail before the shakes take you again.
You already know what the next flashback is going to tell you.
You also know you would rather jump off the roof than relive the worst fucking day of your life in the third person.
So you leave the silent thug in his pool of blood and stumble through the holey door, your knees knocking together but taking your weight, the night settling cold and windy around your shoulders like a frozen spiderweb.
There is a parapet at the edge but it barely grazes your shin.
It won’t prove an obstacle.
You wipe your eyes with the back of your hand, feel a thicker layer of blood replace the ordinary damp of your tears, and try to think of something apt to say before you return to not speaking for good.
“Nothing to be done,” you finally quote aloud.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Jimmy,” the Doctor announces ominously from the writhing mess of shadows beside the doorway, “we still have a lot to – wait, are you fucking crying?”