The evening rain had stopped, and the city air, still warm and humid, held the odor of damp concrete.
Katherine Alderson glanced at her watch and shifted in the car seat, her blouse and skirt sticking to her from the heat and humidity. 10:30. Cracking the window hadn’t helped at all. Parked across the road and down a block, she had waited an hour before the guy in the alley had been dropped off. Thin with long lanky hair, he stood shifting his weight back and forth as he smoked a cigarette. She had wanted to park closer but, at the last moment, thought it better to err on the side of caution. She had been watching him for half an hour now and no one had come to buy anything, not so much as a joint. Katherine wiped the beads of perspiration from her upper lip and wondered if she was wasting her time. Perhaps the lead was bullshit, but then what was the guy doing here? Waiting in the alley for a taxi? Meeting his girlfriend? She didn’t think so. No, the source had been good. Maybe business was poor tonight.
Katherine opened the flap of the case and pulled out her camera. She tried to calm the annoyance that she felt. She had been excited about tonight but it was turning out to be a disappointment. Until now, all her research had been at the office on her computer. If she was going to get noticed, really noticed, and she wanted to get noticed, it was time to be a real investigative reporter. She was starting to think this was a waste of time. She should have pawned it off on Jimmy. He would have jumped at the chance to help her.
Movement across the street drew her attention. Someone, a male, walked down the sidewalk towards her dealer. He appeared young, his gait relaxed and unhurried. She didn’t think that he could see her man tucked back in the alley. Not a residential area. No bars close by. A trill of excitement ran through her. This could be it! Katherine pulled the lens cap off and aimed at the newcomer. At the alley’s entrance he paused, then stepped towards her dealer. Success! She snapped a picture, then a second as they exchanged something. Check the shots. She flipped the camera to view and did so. In the dark, the distance was too far, the image grainy and useless. A taxi pulled to the curb some distance down the street. She raised an eye brow. More business? Maybe she hadn’t wasted her time after all.
The taxi driver climbed out of the cab, eased the door closed, and walked to the back of the car. He was stocky, a baseball cap pulled down low on shaggy dark hair. Opening the trunk, he reached in and pulled out a baseball bat. Katherine looked back at the dealer and his customer but the cabbie had parked far enough away that he hadn’t drawn their attention. She watched him gently close the trunk. Grasping the bat in his right hand, he held it up along the back of his arm so that it wasn’t visible, then walked down the sidewalk towards the pair, looking everywhere, as if searching for an address.
Katherine felt her pulse accelerate, uncertain of what was about to happen, but she knew it wasn’t going to be good. Ahead of the cabbie the two seemed to have concluded their business and the buyer, after glancing over his shoulder, walked away. Katherine unscrewed the lens and dropped it on the passenger seat of the car as she looked back at the dealer whom she had hoped to approach. Her eyes went wide. He was pinned against the wall by the cab driver, held by the throat, the bat raised threateningly in front of him.
Holy shit! This is more than I bargained for. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but the intent was obvious. Her heart started racing as she groped in the camera case to find the telephoto lens, unable to look away, riveted by what was happening. The dealer was helpless under the cab driver’s control. Any doubts about the man’s intentions disappeared when the bat swung downwards, the dealer’s strangled scream piercing the night. The cabbie held him upright against the wall, despite his crumpled leg. Katherine felt the adrenalin surge, frightened energy building until she might explode.
Across the street, money and small bags of white powder fell to the ground at their feet. The cabbie let the pusher slide down the wall. He turned and scanned the area, shadows from a street light contorting his face. Katherine threw back against the seat, fear holding her frozen. It’s okay, he didn’t see you. With her eyes glued to him, she reached into the camera case, digging furiously to the bottom. Come on, Alderson. It’s why you’re here. Where is it?
The cabbie pushed the money and drugs aside with his foot then kicked the cell phone towards the dealer. Slipping the bat under his armpit, he picked up the money and the white bags and walked to the street. His gait seemed to falter, the hand holding the drugs and money going to his chest. At the curb, he dropped the white packets down a storm drain then headed to the taxi.
Finally Katherine’s hand closed on the lens. She sensed movement at the wall; saw that the pusher was calling someone on his cell. Inside the taxi, the man just sat there, his face hidden by the darkness and the baseball cap. “What the hell are you waiting for?” She couldn’t see what he was doing inside the cab. What if he did see me and is calling for more people?
The engine of the taxi turned over and the car started to pull away triggering her to action, but she fumbled the lens as she fought to set it in place in the dark. Successful, she pulled the camera up, aimed at the cab, the shutter snapping furiously. It sounded loud in her ears, as if it would give her away, but she held the button down, training it on the license plate, hoping to capture it despite the distance and the shadows. Then the taxi was gone around the corner.
Katherine lowered the camera to her lap, aware of her pounding heart. A nervous laugh escaped her. She closed her eyes, enveloped by the silence, the relief overwhelming. He hadn’t seen her. Raising a hand to her forehead, she wiped away the perspiration, studying the dealer she had hoped to interview. Not much chance of that now...unless I’m the good citizen rushing to help an injured man. It could work. She looked at him again, still rattled by the cabbie and what he had done. What she had seen him do so easily. Come on, stop stalling. Do it now. She moved the camera to the passenger seat then pulled it back, chewing on her lip. The guy with the bat’s the real story. Maybe he’s competition. No! Maybe he’s the father of someone the dealer sold drugs to. She liked that better. It gave him a reason, of sorts, for the violence. It would make a great human angle to the series she was working on, if she had got his license plate. She flipped the camera to view and thumbed the button. Nothing. She checked the next one. It too was black. Not possible. “Come on, it’s not that dark!” Again and again, nothing. “What the… shit!” She had left the lens cap on.
Katherine threw the camera down on the seat. “Damn it!” She looked again to the dealer. “Alright, I guess you’ll have to do.” She pulled a small digital recorder from her purse, set it to automatic and replaced it. Unconsciously she checked her hair in the mirror. With a deep breath, she pulled on the door handle as a car squealed to a stop across the street. She froze. Oh, shit, he did call someone! Peering through the dark, she saw three men climb out of the car. She pushed against the seat back again. These three weren’t like the tall scrawny guy lying injured on the ground. With their bulging muscles they looked all business. One of them stood looking around, checking the buildings and cars. Fear squeezed the breath from her. He was still looking around, now focused in her direction. She remained frozen…until he began to walk slowly towards her car.
Katherine turned the ignition key and jerked the lever into drive. She tromped on the pedal and the car squealed away from the curb doing a u-turn. She kept her foot down for two blocks before she dared look back. The street behind her was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, she turned at the next corner, again at the next, and kept going. It didn’t hurt to be too careful. She relaxed in the seat then sat upright again, tension returning. Sure, but what if he got my license plate?
* * *
Patrick Corman clutched the steering wheel, trying to keep the taxi from colliding with the traffic around him. With every block he travelled, the pain in the centre of his chest grew worse. Sweat trickled down his face. He had to get to the nearest hospital or clinic. Vaguely he recalled one on Hedley. His heart was racing, fluttering, the irregular palpitations crippling his control of the cab. A driver’s horn blared as he weaved into the left lane, almost clipping a car. He hunched over the wheel, using it for support as he searched for the clinic he hoped was just ahead. Now he couldn’t catch his breath, the dizziness growing stronger, his vision blurred.
He almost missed it. It was a plain white brick building, set close to the street like all the others. A small brass sign over the doors read The Living Research Clinic. He pulled up in front, struggled out of the cab, and walked unsteadily to the doors. One slid aside. Beyond another set was a counter with a receptionist. The second set of doors opened and he staggered through. Pain squeezed his chest making speech almost impossible. “Heart…my heart…” He clutched the counter, holding on until finally the room swam and he passed out.
* * *
Patrick woke up in a pale yellow room, the too bright florescent light above him harsh on his eyes. Monitors and machines surrounded him. One beeped rhythmically, the numbers on the screen changing back and forth as they monitored his pulse and blood pressure. His brown t-shirt had been cut open, electrodes attached to his chest. He reached up with an unsteady hand and adjusted the clear plastic oxygen mask that covered his mouth and nose. There wasn’t any pain in his chest and the tingling in his hands had stopped.
Lifting his arm, he glanced for his watch but it was missing. The clock on the wall read eleven thirty. Less than an hour. He took a deep breath, then another, oxygen flooding his lungs. That was a bad one. Stupid to attack the dealer. But he couldn’t help himself. The anger had hit him in the stomach, a hot knife blade of memory. It had been all he could do not to floor the cab and drive at the two who had been oblivious to just another city taxi.
Movement at the bedside him drew his eyes to a white coat. Patrick thought the man had a kind face, a real doctor face, full of care and compassion. Below thinning brown hair, gold rimmed glasses glinted in the light as he smiled. Another younger, more serious looking doctor stood behind him
“Well, Mr. Corman. I don’t imagine that was much fun. I’m Doctor Givin. This is Doctor Wallis. I think you have probably had more than a few episodes like that.”
“Yeah, you’re right, doc.” His voice was muffled through the oxygen mask. “That one was about the worst of ‘em though. Except for the heart attack. That wasn’t fun either.”
The doctor smiled again. “How do you feel now?”
Patrick paused, considering. “You know, not bad.”
“How long since they diagnosed you with ARVD?”
“Been five years now.”
“The MRI shows a lot of fibro-fatty infiltration of the right ventricle.”
“Yeah. “Fraid you’re not telling me nothin’ I don’t know already.”
“Yes, I’m sure. From the medication we found in your pocket and the blood test, I see that you’re on Sotalol and Metoprolol. It would seem those medications aren’t doing a very good job at controlling your ventricular arrhythmias.”
“They work. “Afraid I got carried away and overdid it tonight. Too much activity.”
“Yes, not too smart to do that with your condition. We put you on oxygen right away, did a quick blood test, electrocardiogram and MRI. You’re lucky. The rest and oxygen have brought you around. No heart attack this time.”
Patrick smiled. “Well that’s good news ain’t it.”
“Yes it is, Mr. Corman.” He paused and looked at the chart he was holding. “How long ago was the heart attack?”
“About a year. Yeah, a year this August.”
“From the ECG, it looks like quite a bit of damage was done.”
“Yeah, so they tell me.”
“I assume you are on a waiting list for a transplant.”
“Yeah, but they say it’s gonna be hard to find a match, cuz of my blood and tissue type. Okay if I sit up? I feel okay now.”
“Certainly, but let’s elevate the head of the bed. We’ll start with that.” He motioned to Doctor Wallis who held a button until Patrick was sitting upright. Givin looked at the chart again. “I’m going to run another couple of tests to gather a little more information before-”
“Look, doc, no offense, but I’m leavin’ now. Like I said, I feel okay and between you and me, I probably can’t afford what you already did, never mind more tests.” Patrick pulled off one of the sticky electrodes. It left a circular pink blotch on his pale skin.
“Really, Mr. Corman, I think-”
“Doc,” Patrick said patiently as he continued to pull off the electrodes, “if you just tell someone to bring me the bill for what you did, I’ll get goin’, okay?”
Givin was silent as he studied Patrick. “Alright, Mr. Corman. We are short staffed tonight. We have your address and will mail it to you. However I wish you would allow us to give you further care.”
“Well doc, you know how many people died last year waiting for a donor heart? I do. Over eight hundred. So, unless you can give me a new heart today, I don’t think there’s much you can do for me.”
“As you wish, Mr. Corman, but it really is against our advice. Please wait here until we have a nurse bring you the release paper work and assist you from the building.”
As they left the room, Patrick swung his legs sideways until he was sitting on the edge of the bed. A wave of dizziness swept over him, but he waited it out before he stood and dropped the tangle of wires and electrodes on the mattress.
The night was still warm and sticky when twenty minutes later he popped the taxi’s trunk. He shrugged out of the cut t-shirt and pulled another brown one from the gym bag. Ignoring the stares and whispered conversation of a young couple who strolled by on the sidewalk, he slipped the shirt over his head then finger combed his black hair. Pulling the parking ticket from the window, he eased into the taxi, dropped the ticket on the seat and started the car. I’m tired, but no pain. I’ll take it. The doctor had warned him against driving so soon after the attack, but Patrick had shrugged him off with a wry smile and a shake of his head. Like so many people, Givin had no concept of what some had to do to pay the bills. To stay alive.
* * *
Patrick pulled his taxi in front of the Cherry West bar and scanned the doorway. He shoved the cab into park, and checked the time. He would give it ten. See if he couldn’t pick up someone quickly. He felt tired and unsettled after the incident. Movement at the bar door caught his attention. He watched two guys exit, gauging their physicality, their dress, anything for a clue that would give him an edge. They spotted the blue and white cab, headed towards him, their gait loose. Drunks. Wonderful, warm big tippers or pain in the ass sons of bitches. The taller one pulled open the back door and they climbed in.
“Hey guys, where ya going?” Patrick asked, leaning an elbow on the seat back, speaking through the Plexiglas partition.
Mr. Tall studied the identity card fixed to the back of the driver’s seat. “Hey, Patrick. Take us to The Hunt Club, because the night has just begun.”
“Hunt Club it is,” he said as he started the meter and pulled away.
Patrick listened to the conversation in the back seat, trying to decide if they were worth more than cab fare. The drinking would help with a sale. He needed more than a few sales in the next couple of days to make up for the shortfall this month. In the mirror he watched them to determine who would be the easiest mark. Mr. Short ‘n Curly was the most enthusiastic, babbling non-stop about their conquests tonight. He was the one.
Up ahead, Patrick saw the line of patrons outside The Hunt Club and cruised by it before pulling over to the curb.
“Hey, you passed it.”
“I know guys, but I’ve got something you might be interested in. Just take a minute.”
“Look, we’re just interested in some more beer and getting laid,” said Mr. Tall. Some other time, eh? We gotta get in that line ‘fore it gets any longer. What’d we owe you?”
“Tell you what. Give me a minute of your time and I’ll get you in the front door, forget about the line. Either of you guys gamers?”
“Yeah. Why?” asked Short ‘n Curly.
Patrick smiled. “Have you tried Young Soldiers or Alien Storm yet?
“I wish. They’re not out yet. I heard not till Christmas,” said Short ‘n Curly. A sly look came over his face. “Unless of course we can find a pirated one.”
Okay, reel them in.
“Let’s see what we can do,” said Patrick as he climbed out and walked to the rear of the cab. His passengers followed and watched as he popped the trunk. The two peered inside. On the trunk floor, beside the gym bag, was a baseball bat and glove.
“I thought you were selling videogames, not baseball equipment?” said Mr. Tall.
“That’s right.” Patrick unzipped the gym bag and pulled out a half dozen games. “Here you go guys. Brand new, still in the wrappers.”
“Hey look, Jimmy,” said Short ‘n Curly. He wasn’t kidding! His eyes shifted to Patrick. “You sure these are real?”
“The real deal, not copies. Fifty bucks a piece. I can give you two for eighty. Cash only. I don’t accept Visa or Mastercard.” He smiled. A little humor never hurt.
The two inspected the games, checking the wrappers and whispering together. “We’ll give you sixty bucks for the two,” said Mr. Tall.
“Nope. Two for ninety. Take it or leave it.”
“What the…You said two for eighty.”
“Yeah, I did, but time is money, and you’re wasting my time. Now its two for ninety, a good deal, as both of you know. You can’t get them anywhere else for months. As you know. What’s it going to be?”
“I told you, you idiot!” said Short ‘n Curly to Mr. Tall. “Give him the money.”
Mr. Tall fished out four twenties and a ten and handed it to Patrick.
Patrick folded the money and looked back at them. “Cab fare came to twelve seventy-five.”
Short and Curly frowned but dug into his pocket and handed Patrick a ten and a five.
“Shall I consider the two and a quarter a tip?”
Short and curly stared at him. “Sure, what the hell. Hey, what about getting us past those lines?”
Patrick grinned at them. “Sure thing, just give me a second to shut the cab off and I’ll be right with you. Slipping inside, he closed the car door and dropped the transmission into drive. Patrick watched the antics of the two in the rear view mirror as he pulled away. Now if he could unload the other eighteen games in the next week, he’d have the month’s rent for Jenny. If they didn’t sell, he’d get the money, one way or the other.
* * *
Katherine sat on a stool in the small bar a block from the newspaper office. Half of her rye and ginger was gone and her nerves had settled. She had driven around past the same police station, checking the rear view mirror for any trace of someone following her, but no one had. Sitting here now, safe, a small rush of excitement ran through her as she thought about her brush with danger. She took another sip of her drink and shook back he shoulder length brown hair, the thrill of excitement now welcomed. Funny how when you’re safe it was exciting, she thought. She wasn’t about to fool herself. It was damn scary when it was happening. She watched condensation run down the outside of the glass from under her fingers. At first she was going to go back to the office, but she couldn’t get a drink there.
She thought back to the street, the vision of the taxi driver pinning the dealer to the wall, swinging the bat. She wondered what kind of person could do that so, so… casually. She shivered when she pictured the new arrivals and the man had started to walk towards her car. That was something that she had never considered. There was more to being an investigative reporter than she realized. She would be more careful next time. Talk to a couple of the older reporters on staff.
She looked at her watch. It was getting late. Jake would be home by now. Suddenly she had a strong urge to get home to him. The intensity of the thought surprised her, but that’s what she needed tonight.
* * *
Patrick parked outside Patel All-Nite Variety and relaxed into the seat as he studied the front door. No one had entered or left the store in five minutes. Through the glass and bars he could see the counter and the man behind it. He was East Indian, probably forty. He left the counter and went in back through a beaded doorway. Okay, nice and easy. No more excitement tonight. Patrick slipped out of the cab and was at the door in four steps. The bell rang as he entered. He turned quickly, flipped the open sign to closed, slid the deadbolt home and stepped to the counter as the man returned.
“Yes, may I help you?” the proprietor asked.
“Yeah. You Patel?”
“Yes. Excuse me, but I don’t know you.”
“No you don’t, but you know a friend of mine who did some work for you. Some electrical. He asked me to stop by and pick up the cash.” Patrick’s voice was relaxed and friendly, suggesting he would do the man a favor and deliver the money for him. But an arm’s length away across the counter he watched the man closely for any signs of movement.
“No, I’m not paying him. He does poor work. Very poor. Nothing works.”
“Well, my friend says he tested everything before he left. You were happy with what he did, now he wants to get paid.”
Patrick’s hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of shirt, pulling the man into the counter. Patel’s eyes went wide and he froze.
“My friend has a wife and kids. He needs the money. Now.” His voice was low, almost a growl.
“I don’t have that much money here.” Patrick heard the fear in the man’s voice.
“How much is in the till?” He continued to hold the man’s shirt but allowed him to reach over and open the drawer. “Pull out the twenties and tens.”
Patel pulled them out and dropped them on the counter.
“Under the drawer. Let’s see what’s there.”
Patel awkwardly pulled the tray free to expose three fifty dollar bills. He put the tray on the counter and then placed the fifties with the other money. Sweat beaded his face. Patrick studied the money.
“That’s a start. You’re going to need the small bills to make change the rest of the night. You keep the tens, I’ll take the twenties and the fifties.” He glanced at Patel’s watch. “And I’ll take the watch.”
Patel looked at the watch, then at Patrick before he removed it with shaking hands. He placed it on the counter. “Please, take it and go,” he said weakly.
“Okay. Now, no one’s been hurt. That’s a good thing, eh? So I let go of your shirt, you stay cool, I pick up the money and watch and leave. Got it?” Patel nodded slowly. A single drop of sweat hung on the end of his nose. Patrick released his grip, his eyes pinning Patel like a bug to a specimen board. He collected the money and watch. “You want the watch back?” The man looked at him and nodded his head slowly in confusion. Patrick backed away from the counter to the door.
“Next time a guy does an honest day’s work for you don’t screw him out of his money. It ain’t right. Understand?” Patel nodded again. Patrick turned, slid the deadbolt open, flipped the sign over and slipped outside. The door eased closed behind him with a little bump. Shoving the watch and money into his pocket, he hurried to the car. The engine caught and he accelerated away.
Patrick leaned back in the seat, and cruised slowly down Kiplan, breathing deeply and regularly, monitoring his heart. He took a pull on the bottle of water beside him and wiped his mouth with the back of a hand. His cell rang and he picked up.
“Where the hell you been, Corman?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yeah, sorry Bobby. I dropped off this little old biddy who needed help with her groceries, then her frickin’ cat gets out the door. By the time I catch the cat, I see my tire’s flat. I changed it. When I drop off this fare I’m gonna get it fixed. What a crappy night. Slow too for a Friday. Not much happening.”
“Alright, Corman, I don’t want your life story. Make sure you change the tire back. Don’t leave that donut on. You hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you Bobby. Gotta go. Let my ride off.” Patrick hung up. “Weasle.”
He took a deep breath, and glanced at his watch. Eleven forty-five. Time to head back. Tomorrow he’d stop in at a pawn shop and get some cash for the watch. He was too tired tonight, but he’d check what it was worth now. Eldridge was a nighthawk. He stopped, shut off the meter and took the amount from his pocket to pay for the nonexistent trip. It would help make up for the chunk of time he spent in the clinic. He’d get a receipt for a tire repair from Gary tomorrow. Bobby was a ball breaker. He would expect a receipt, and no driver would pay for the repair out of pocket. Patrick pulled out the watch and money he had taken from the store owner. With the three fifties and the twenties, he had three ten, plus the watch. He picked up his phone again and punched in a number. It rang twice.
“Patrick, my man.” The voice was that of a baritone, complete with the suggestion of a southern accent. Patrick was convinced he put it on as part of his business image. “How you doin’, bro?”
“Hey, Eldridge. I’m good, how ‘bout you?”
“Doin’ good. So good. What can I do for you?”
“You know anything ‘bout watches?”
“You know I knows something ‘bout everything. You got one you want to unload?”
“Nah, I just need to get an idea of what something like this is worth. It looks like it’s worth money, but hell, they all look good today. Might be a knockoff for all I know.”
“What kind is it?”
“Says it’s a Movado.”
“Gold, black face. No numbers on it?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Good, ain’t I? I told you I knows something ‘bout everythin’. If it’s the real deal, then it’s worth ‘bout eight hundred new. If it’s the real deal. Sure you don’t want to part with it? I’ll give you top dollar.”
“Nah, thanks, Eldridge, not this time.”
“Okay my man, it’s all good. But if you change your mind, you call me back.”
“No problem. Thanks.” Patrick looked at the watch again. Eight hundred bucks. Why the hell would you have eight hundred bucks hangin’ off your wrist? He shook his head, started the taxi and headed back to the dispatch garage.
* * *
Patrick returned the cab to the compound and caught the bus outside the taxi dispatch center. The baseball cap sat on the back of his head, the gym bag beside him, the aluminum bat standing upright loosely supported in his hands. Sitting sideways on the nearly deserted bus, he struggled to stay awake, breathing deeply and regularly, the ride to his street a blur of road noise and lurching stops and starts that rocked him back and forth. Closed eyes reopened with each jarring pothole. He ignored the crude conversation of two teenage girls, in short skirts and black eye make-up across the aisle. It was with sigh of relief that he finally pulled the cord and exited at his stop.
He walked along Chelsey Avenue, past closet sized restaurants with their tempting five dollar specials and coffee shops perched on the roadside. Neon lights and loud music beckoned patrons into the open-door variety stores. Seated on white plastic chairs under beer brand umbrellas, the night hawks’ conversation grew louder as the evening lengthened.
He turned down Lucca Street, navigating the walk, avoiding the tree roots that had cracked and heaved the aged concrete. Many of the tightly packed brick houses lining the dead end street had been turned into duplexes or triplexes to help cover the cost of living. A yellow dumpster filled the front yard of the house beside his, a variety of lathe, plaster and smashed kitchen cupboards peeking over the top. He turned onto the narrow sidewalk that led to his ground floor apartment.
On the front porch, Patrick pulled the mail from his box and stepped into the short hallway. He coaxed the lock open with the worn key, entered and set the gym bag and bat by the entrance, groaning as he pried off his trainers. A tasseled floor lamp dimly lit the living room and a pile of bike parts that surrounded a pieced together Corman original. In the tiny kitchen he left the money, mail, pager and two vials of pills on the table then entered the bedroom at the rear of the apartment.
A lime green dresser and single bed without a headboard filled the tiny room. Black Scottish thistles on yellow wallpaper pulled the walls in around him despite the brightness of the bare, hundred watt bulb. He tugged off his jeans, resting from the effort, then pulled off the brown t-shirt and threw it into the corner with the socks and underwear. In the bathroom, after shaving off the five o’clock shadow, he turned on the shower. The water pattered loudly on the shower curtain as he stared at the pale face with the dark shadows under his gray eyes. Startin’ to look like a damn raccoon. After showering, he pulled on another brown t-shirt and the worn jeans, and returned to the kitchen.
He set some water to boil and pulled a box of Kraft Dinner from many stacked in an overhead cabinet. With a glass of water, a pencil and a notebook like the ones he had used in elementary school, he sat at the table and opened the mail. He read the electrical bill, muttering when he saw the increase, flipped to the page in his notebook labeled ‘Electrical’, compared it to the figures for the past months, and resolutely added it. Moving on to the balance page, he entered the figure again. Patrick counted his tips and the money he had collected for the video games and entered it, working out the day’s total. He stared at the figure. It was going to be close, like every month, and now he would have the bill from the clinic when it came in. He slammed the cover of the notebook. There was always something.
Patrick stumbled out of the chair as the water for the macaroni boiled over. He slid the pot from the stove, wiped up with a dish towel and dumped the macaroni into the water. Sitting, he checked his pager again to ensure it was on. The fluttering in his chest returned and he reached for the vials. Every six hours. He was an hour early, but what the hell. He rose and stood at the stove, stirring the boiling pot, willing himself to stay calm until the pills took effect.
* * *
Patrick left the dirty dish in the sink, brushed his teeth then pulled one of the two kitchen chairs over to the bicycle held in place by the work bench. It was close to two am, but he knew he needed a distraction. Like many of the other bikes he had repaired, he had found this one abandoned in an alley, broken and cast off. In the evening he worked on them, using the spare parts from a dozen other cast-offs. It had started innocently enough when he had fixed the chain on a bike of one of the neighborhood kids. Then a broken pedal on another fatherless child’s bike until finally he was saving old bikes, one at a time. He did it to shut out the world; just him and a pile of parts that he had to fit together.
He fiddled with it for fifteen minutes, attaching a seat to the almost completed bike, then, after washing the dish and pot, made a cup of decaf coffee and returned to the living area. The television, sat quiet and dusty, the cable long since cancelled because of the expense. A worn green arm chair and a homemade bookshelf that sagged under the weight of their contents comprised the rest of his furniture. The floor to ceiling shelves were a wall of yellow, lined from top to bottom with nothing but National Geographic issues. He pulled one at random and sat. The older issues from the early 1900’s were his favorites, but he didn’t have many of those. This one was the January 1986 issue. On the cover was a painting of a cowboy, clutching his Stetson, his head thrown back, as he rode a bucking horse. The local library had been clearing them out and he had used the taxi to ferry them back to his apartment. When bringing them in, he had only carried a few at a time. The suckers were heavy.
Patrick sipped the coffee and opened the issue. Within ten minutes, he was asleep in the chair.
* * *
When Attorney General Kenneth Alderson stepped into the formal entrance of his Tudor home, Mrs. Burrows, his sturdy, gray-haired housekeeper for fifteen years, closed the leaded glass door and took his briefcase.
“Good evening, Mr. Alderson. I trust you had a good day, sir.”
“Yes, Mary, thank you.” Despite telling her dozens of times over the years to use his first name, she still insisted on calling him Sir.
She set the leather case on the black and white marble floor. “Then we’ve locked up some of the bad guys today, have we?” she asked, blue eyes sparkling, cheeks dimpling with her smile.
Alderson was tired and didn’t want to make conversation, but could never be short with Mrs. Burrows. “Yes, progress has been made. And how was your day, Mary?
“Oh, right as rain, sir.”
“Has Mrs. Alderson retired for the evening?”
“Yes, sir. Went up about an hour ago. Said she was going to read while she waited for you.”
“No, sir. All quiet on the Western Front.”
“Good. I’m going to retire then. It’s been a good day, but a long one. Good night.”
“Good night, sir.”
Alderson loosened his tie as he walked to the elevator behind the grand staircase that spiraled to the second floor. The progression of Jessica’s Multiple Sclerosis had necessitated the renovation, the elevator having been installed several years earlier. He used it himself sometimes on those long days when he was worn out and didn’t want the challenge of the long flight of stairs. It carried him quietly to the second floor. As he entered their bedroom, Alderson looked at his wife of thirty-five years. Her blonde hair was pinned up for sleeping, reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. Jessica looked up from her book, lowered it and looked over the top of her reading glasses before removing them. The graceful face smiled a welcome.
“Mr. Alderson, you are late.” She patted the bed.
He dropped his tie on a chair, crossed the room and moved the wheelchair over before easing his tall frame onto the bed beside her. Leaning forward, he planted a light kiss on her cheek. “How’s the book?”
“Oh, it’s alright. Nothing to write home about, but readable. How was your day?”
“Good. Long, but good.”
“Coming to bed?”
“Yes. Just going to shower first.”
“You look tired dear. Have a quick one and we’ll get you right to sleep. We’ll save the bedroom excitement for tomorrow.”
He smiled at her, stroked her cheek then rose. “Yes, I think that might be a good idea.”
* * *
Katherine had awakened after only an hour’s sleep, unable to control the fevered need of her aroused body. In her dream, a dark figure, his face hidden, crowded her against a stone wall. He didn’t touch her but he was so close that she could see the dark stubble of his unshaven face. She felt the heat radiate from him carrying the scent of his body, a sweet mix of sun warmed skin and sweat. She inhaled deeply, drawing his essence in, searching for his eyes in the dark. A hand squeezed her breast and she had awakened with a start, panting. Wet. She had lain there, waiting for her state of arousal to pass, recalling the details. She understood why she had had the dream. Even the drinking had not eased the incredible tension she felt ever since she had escaped from those men. Ever since she had watched the taxi driver do whatever he wanted.
She looked down again at Jake, helpless beneath her. Sitting astride her husband, eyes closed, Katherine arched her back, increasing the pressure with every stroke. Jake’s groans only encouraged her. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before, and certainly not with Jake. She was panting now, her movements rough and forceful, everything focused on that one inflamed spot. Leaning forward, she placed her hands on his chest, slowly withdrawing from him.
“No, no don’t stop,” Jake whispered, his voice breathless as he reached for her.
His desperate plea fanned her lust. She leaned back, slid down onto him, and lost control. Her moans of pleasure mingled with his, her climax so intense it shocked her. She ignored his series of impassioned cries and didn’t stop until her need was sated. Exhausted, she fell forward onto his chest and lie still, her tension and energy spent. Below her, she could feel Jake’s racing heartbeat gradually slow, his breathing coming under control as he gently rubbed her bare back.
“I don’t know what came over you, or what that was all about, but I’m thinking I like it,” he said, stroking the back of her neck. When she didn’t say anything, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.
It only made her feel all the more guilty.
* * *
Dr. Carl Fanco closed the door to his office, sat down behind the desk and stared at the phone. There had been lots of pressure for the last six months to find a match. Tonight, when Givin had brought the results, that had happened. He reached for the phone. A lot of money had been promised to the one who found the right match. His employer had been getting desperate. The tests weren’t conclusive, but from what he had seen, it was as close as they could damn well hope for. He found the number he had never used and punched it in, unconsciously holding his breath, thinking of the reward. When the voice came on the other end of the line, Fanco could hear the excitement and hope in the single word, ‘Yes?’
“It’s Dr. Fanco, sir. We have a match. He walked in today. A ninety-five per cent match. It couldn’t be more perfect. His heart is shot. He needs a transplant, and damn quick.”
“What’s the name?”
“Corman, sir. Patrick Corman. Forty years old. Except for the heart, otherwise in good shape. The tests-”
“Send his personal information and the results to me immediately.” The line went dead. Fanco stared at the phone in his hand, and hung it up. He leaned back in the chair. Wallis knew a little of what was going on and had helped so he would give him a cut. Not much, but enough to keep him quiet. He smiled and thought about what he would do with the money
* * *
On the other end of the line, Fanco’s employer made the phone call immediately. When it was answered, the instructions were curt. “The name’s Patrick Corman. I’ll text his address. I want to know everything about him by this time tomorrow. Set the plan in motion, the contingency plan as well.” He hung up and breathed a sigh of relief, perhaps the first in a year. Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
* * *