Previously: Part 1
Everyone was off in little clusters while the lights of an ambulance, several cop cars, and – for reasons that William couldn’t quite sort out – a fire truck cascaded the area with their own technicolor light show of national hues. Men and women in uniforms were asking questions, writing things down on note pads, stopping occasionally to talk into their coms and get half-cryptic messages back from some disembodied entity that was likely sitting in an office somewhere drinking burnt coffee.
“So, no one had ever seen him before,” the officer asked.
“No clue,” William answered impassively while he shrugged and readjusted the shock blanket they gave him as a consolation prize for sacrificing his shirt. “I mean, I know I’d never seen him.”
“You come to this bar often?”
“So, you a doctor or nurse or something?”
“Nah,” William said with a small yawn, “seen a lot of episodes of that show House, though.”
The officer gave him a hard look – the corner of his mouth tightening. “That man is probably going to die tonight.”
“Yeah, I kinda got that.”
The officer sighed. “You know if he happened to have anything else on him? Identification? Wallet? Maybe a watch or something that might have his name on it?”
“Not that I remember. Like I said before, came in in a panic, holding his stomach. Started rambling. Grabbed me by my shirt and said something about how ‘you can’t see it’ or something like that and then he dropped. I sat there and waited for you guys to show up.”
“Right,” the officer said as he wrote some more notes. “Well, Mister Rowe,” the officer fished out a card and handed it over, “here’s the number for the station if you can remember anything else.”
“You got a ride home?”
“Walked. Only had two drinks.”
“Walk safe then.” The officer clicked his pen too many times to pull the roller back inside of it and secured it on his notepad and walked into the curtain of flashing lights. Others were still recounting the night’s events. Some of them would probably be bringing this story up for years – some anecdotal highlight of that one night where life went sideways and they saw madness crashing through their world. They’d spin the details a little bit. They always do.
William walked away from the bar and around a corner to where he’d parked his car, got in, rolled his head around like he was getting an imaginary kink out of his neck, and then headed home.
Before the multi-story wonderland that was his upper-middle-class apartment complex, he parked his car and took a few deep breaths.
Is the universe just fucking with me, or something?
He half-expected a bird to come crashing into his windshield and die on impact in answer to his question. A nice, resounding, “Why, yes, William. I am.”
He pocketed his keys and walked inside, forgoing the elevator that always seemed to be the slower method of travel, and heading up the stairs to luxurious apartment 2B. He felt the small touch of anxiety pinch his stomach as he pulled out his keys and unlocked the deadbolt, then the knob, and then he swung the door inward.
Inside, he tossed his shock blanket to the side and grabbed a fresh shirt, got a glass of water and pulled the wallet out of his side pocket.
“Zachary Harold Schwartz. Age forty-three. 920 Ballentine.” He flipped the man’s I.D. around. “Huh. Organ donor. Irony.”
The remaining contents were largely underwhelming. A punch card for a coffee place, only one punch away from a free cup; thirty-seven dollars in cash; an American Express credit card; insurance card; and a plane ticket to someplace called Cape Wane.
William pocketed the important stuff, put some others in the drawer in his kitchen where he kept flashlight batteries, tape, and all the odd screws and wooden pegs that remained whenever he assembled the occasional desk or side table.
When the knock came, his stomach tightened.
He didn’t need to look out the peephole, but he did it anyway. Some part of his mind wanted to believe that maybe it was Mrs. Jenkins from down the hall asking if he’d seed those suspicious people outside the building, or maybe a delivery person who had such severe dyslexia that they somehow ended up at his door.
Instead, he saw Mike standing out there with his face pushed forward like, if he tried hard enough, he would be able to see through the opposite side of the lens.
With a sigh of resignation, William opened the door.
“Well hey, Willy,” he said, “you mind if I come in? You don’t mind, right?”
William did, in fact, mind, but he also knew it wasn’t really a question just as much as he knew that Mike was aware of how much it bothered William to be called Willy.
He walked into the room while William was offering the words, “No, course not,” to the empty space where Mike had previously been – words offered with all the sincerity of a stripper telling the drunk man with the fat billfold that she was also a big fan of stamp collecting.
Mike sat down with the grace of a fat dog on William’s love seat and looked around in that weird way he always did – like he was expecting to see something that was supposed to be there but never was.
“Shit, Willy, sorry to swing by so late. You don’t mind, right?”
William, in fact, did mind.
“No,” he lied, “no bigs.”
“See, thing is, I called you earlier today and you didn’t answer. I was like, ‘hey, guy’s busy,’ ya know? So, not like I was worried or anything. But then I called again. What was it like,” Mike looked down at his watch as though knowing the current time was actually part of the information he was grasping for, “six or so? Seven? So I’m like, ‘Well, that’s weird,’ right? I mean, for a second there I’m thinking that maybe you’re dodging me or something.” As he said it, he even moved like he was a boxer bobbing and weaving to avoid phantom jabs.
“Now, Mr. Arnold,” Mike continued, “he starts thinking that maybe something’s goin’ on. Like, you’re not being straight with us. But I tell him, “Look, Willy’s a good guy. He’s gonna come through.’ I mean, you’re gonna come through, right, Willy?”
“Yeah,” William said hesitantly. “I mean…look, I always come through.”
“And see, that’s what I was tryin’ to tell him. I mean, I kind of puttin’ my own neck out there when I tell Mr. Arnold that he can trust you. I’m tryin’ to look out for you, Willy. You know that, right?”
“Yeah,” William said, “I know you are, Mike.”
“I mean,” Mike looked around the room again, “you don’t have it already, do you? Because, man, that would be fuckin’ great if you had it. Then I’m happy. Mr. Arnold, he’s happy. Everyone’s happy. And when everyone’s happy, you know what that means?”
“I…uh…” William stammered, “that…everyone’s…happy?”
“It means that I don’t have to come over here and break your fucking arm.”
William felt what he assumed was the equivalent of a black hole opening up in his stomach and then turning itself inside out. He swallowed hard and tried his best to not look like he was holding back the need to vomit.
Mike stood up and walked over to William and put his hand on his shoulder. “Jesus, Willy. I’m fuckin’ with you. Lighten’ the fuck up, huh?”
William gave him a half-hearted chuckle that might have sounded like a man who was now terrified for his own personal well-being.
“But anywho,” Mike continued, “just seemed weird is all. I call, you don’t answer. I call again…” he moved his head back and forth as he spoke…”no answer again.”
“If you’re about to tell me some great sob story you might want to make sure it’s something that’s either incredibly true or incredibly entertaining.”
“You know Ports?” William asked.
“Bar over there on uh…what the fuck is that? Winthorpe?”
“Yeah,” William said, “I stopped in for a second and some guy barrels in, blood pouring from his stomach like a fucking grenade went off in his stomach.”
“So he steal your fuckin’ phone or somethin?”
“What? No, just, bar went nuts. I was there for like two hours afterward talking to cops and paramedics about this guy I’d never even seen before. They finally tell me to fuck off, so I fuck off. Nerves still a bit on edge, I mean, this guy was out there, and just…Jesus, man, just a pool of fucking blood. So I got in my car and came here. Changed and you showed up.”
“Traumatic circumstances,” Mike said flatly.
“Look, shit’s gonna be on the news or in the paper if you don’t believe me.”
“I say I don’t believe you?”
“No, I just…I just mean. Look, shit just got weird tonight and I just lost my focus. Simple as that. You know I’m not exactly a blood and guts and guns guy.”
“No you’re not,” Mike said matter-of-factly.
He stood there for a while, quietly – his eyes fixed on William’s.
“Hey,” he said suddenly, causing William to jump slightly, “I call, you answer. And if you can’t answer, you call back. And you call back soonish, yeah?”
“Yeah,” William said sheepishly. “I know. Yeah. Absolutely.”
“Good,” Mike said as he patted William on the shoulder a few times. “I’m glad that’s sorted out. Glad there’s nothing to be worried about. I can go back and tell Mr. Arnold that Willy is as good as gold and that this Friday, when I come back here, Willy’s gonna have what he’s supposed to have because Willy comes through, right?”
“Yeah,” William nodded, struggling to maintain any semblance of eye contact.
“Good,” Mike said with a smile that was just as fake as it was threatening. “That’s all I wanted to hear. And now I’ve heard it.”
“Sorry, again,” William lied.
“Hey,” Mike spread his arms out as though he was really taking it all in stride, “no bigs, right? Misunderstanding. Probably the only time it’ll ever happen. You have a good night, okay?”
“Yeah, for sure. And, you too, Mike.”
Mike got to the door and opened it, stopped and turned around briefly. “Friday, Willy. Friday.”
And with that, he left and closed the door behind him.
William went to the kitchen and poured a small glass of whiskey and drank it down in one gulp. The fire in his throat was nothing compared to the pit in his stomach and the anxiety swelling in his chest. He poured another and drank it just as fast.
“Fuck,” he whispered to himself. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He took a big breath and another.
“Okay,” he said to himself, “okay, okay, okay.” He sat down and then stood back up. Paced around for a second and sat back down. His heart felt like it was filled with hummingbirds.
He went into his bedroom and reached into his pocket and looked at the plane ticket.
Good a place as any.