So my server went down this weekend, hence I wasn’t able to post updates. Here’s what you’ve missed. I’ll update the PDF when I get a chance. I’ve passed the 45,000 word mark… Almost there!
Chapter 23: The Knot
Joel felt disoriented. Where was he? He glanced around the small, dimly-lit room in which he found himself, trying to remember how he’d gotten there. Light streamed in from a lone window to his left. Outside, the lush Sumatran jungle glistened with morning dew. But he didn’t remember this place from his travels. Where was he?
Standing up unsteadily, he looked down the length of room, searching for the exit. He found none. The room was of a short width, about 15 feet, but immensely long; it stretched out infinitesimally both in front and behind him. The only perceptible light was from the window beside him, and he suck his head out, peering around the landscape for signs of civilization.
The jungle stretched out for miles below him, and looking out either side of the window revealed a plain exterior that stretched out at least as far as the dark interior did. The building he was in was on a long plateau; looking down, he realized that there would be no escaping through the window. The plateau abruptly ended at the edge of the building and dropped straight down 30 or 40 meters. So much for that plan, he thought.
He stepped back into the dim inside of the building. Looking to his left, he now noticed a dim flicker of light. “Hello? Is anyone there?” his voice echoed eerily down the length of the room, but he received no response.
The flicker of light seemed to grow stronger, so he began to walk towards it. The light from the window faded behind him as he moved on, and he struggled to see anything around him. The light ahead seemed to be much steadier now, so he continued towards it, driven by burning curiosity and a strong desire to determine how he was going to get out of the room. Surely the source of the light would hold some answers for him.
He blinked his eyes in the darkness, attempting to force them to adjust to the near pitch-blackness of his surroundings, and when he opened them again, he noticed a window, similar, if not identical, to the one he had passed some time back. It hadn’t been there before… had it? How could he have missed it? He ran up to it and looked out of it towards the jungle and to either side of the building. The view was the same as before; the precipice below him, the plain smooth sides of the building on either side, stretching out towards infinity.
The cool breeze was refreshing against his skin, moistened by perspiration from his short hike through the stuffy interior of the building. He inhaled deeply, letting the clear, humid air clear his lungs and his mind. How he loved that feeling! The clear, warm air – such simple pleasures that you simply couldn’t get back home in the city.
He reluctantly remove his head from the window and continued his journey through the long room. The window’s light faded behind him, but then, unexpectedly, another appeared in front of him. The pattern continued as he journeyed endlessly on.
The flickering light grew more steady, but seemed to increase in size almost imperceptibly. It occurred to Joel unexpectedly that perhaps he wasn’t moving forward at all; the lack of substantial increase in the apparent size of the light source ahead was less than encouraging. Somehow, though, he felt that that light held the answer to his escape, so he pressed on towards it, despite his doubts.
He continued on for what seemed like miles. Window after window appeared and disappeared as he journeyed, but he ignored them, intent on making it to the light, to the answer.
Then, without warning, as the windows had appeared, he blinked and he was there. The light was coming from a solitary candle sitting on a low table. Behind the table, deep in the shadows, sat an elderly man with a strange looking cloth draped over his shoulder and in his lap. His features were barely visible in the candlelight, and Joel stepped closer to examine him.
His long grey hair was unkempt and hung in long strings around his head, further sheltering his face from Joel’s prying eyes. The man gazed intently at the cloth in his lap, and Joel noticed his fingers working with expert precision and the utmost care on the loose thin strings that spidered out from the cloth. To the man’s left, Joel saw a roll of finished cloth – the man was weaving it himself.
The pattern was intricate, and the thin strings the man handled shone with a sparkle that Joel had never seen before. He was overcome with a desire to touch the cloth, and he knelt down and placed his hand gently on the roll. It was tremendously soft, and seemed to radiate a soft warmth as well as a gentle shine. Joel longed to take the cloth and wrap himself in it’s comforting warmth, but he was interrupted by the man’s quiet voice.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” Joel started at the sound. He removed his hand from the cloth quickly and looked at the man. He did not look up; his gaze remained inextricably fastened to the work in front of him.
Joel gazed, transfixed, as the man reached back to the roll of cloth that Joel had though finished and pulled a loose thread from the center of the roll. He pulled it slowly and surely towards his lap; the thread seemed to grow longer and longer as necessary until it reached his lap, where, with quick indecipherable flicks of the wrist, he tied it to the strands he had been presently working on.
A small smile crossed his face as he completed the knotting of the collection of thin strings, and pushed the multicolored mass towards the nearly completed line of cloth he held in his lap, guiding it slowly along the black wire-like string to which they were all bound.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he spoke again, still not breaking his steadfast gaze.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how I got here…” Joel responded unsteadily. The man frowned as he grasped another two threads and tied a simple knot, binding them together.
“This isn’t right…”
“Again, I don’t really know how I got here. If you could just…”
The man interrupted before Joel could continue, “You’ll need to go…”
Joel sighed, perplexed. Was the man not hearing him, or was he simply ignoring him? “Well, if you’d just tell me how to get out, I’d gladly leave. Could you tell me where the exit is?”
The man continued staring at his lap, a look of utter vexation on his face. He pulled one of the threads from the collection that laid in front of him. As he pulled on it, the end broke unexpectedly off, and the man held in his hand a single thread unattached to the others. He raised his eyebrows and furrowed his brow. “This isn’t right.”
Joel was confused. The man seemed o be totally ignoring everything he had to say, totally engrossed in his own work. “What are you doing?” he asked. Perhaps a direct approach would be more effective.
“Knots,” the man mumbled under his breath. Was it a response, or the verbalization of a random thought by a crazy old man? It was clear to Joel that the man was tying knots – he didn’t need to be schooled in the obvious, he needed to be told how to get out of this endless room.
“Hmmm, yes, I’ll have to fix this…” the man continued mumbling under his breath. “What to do… What to do?” Joel sympathized. He also wondered what he should do.
Unexpectedly, the man started smiling down at the mass of threads. He grasped one of them by the end and pulled it up in front of his face, peering into the swirling colors and light that seemed to emanate from it.
Joel was enthralled by the string – what kind of cloth was it? As he peered more closely at the thread, he noticed pictures reflecting on the man’s face and the surrounding walls. The candlelight projected through the thread was producing swirling images all around. Upon closer inspection, Joel noticed himself in the pictures, which, he now noticed, were actually moving. They had a home video quality to them; the colors were washed out, the overall picture grainy, but his own image was unmistakable.
There he was at his sixth birthday party, when Afton Matthews had hit him after he called her a doodoo-head. In another, he was arguing with Sara over their breakup, pleading with her to reconsider. Then he was at St. Ig’s presenting his solution to the Math Club’s weekly mathematical brain twister, soaking in the incredulous looks of the other students at his mental faculties. And then, in another, he was lying in his hospital bed, doctors swarming over him, his parents standing outside, peering in the window frantically.
What was going on? He glanced back down at the man, who now held a small pair of scissors open, prepared to cut the thread at it’s base, severing it’s connection to the rest of the cloth. “Wait, what are you doing?” Joel cried out as the man deftly snipped the thread free.
“I’m sorry… this has to be done,” the man spoke softly. Joel felt a sudden emptiness overcome him, and he collapsed to his knees. Joel felt as if his body was disintegrating; he was wasting away rapidly. The pictures faded as the man moved the now solitary thread away from the candlelight.
Joel fell prostrate on the floor and struggled to turn, facing the man. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, aware that his own voice was uncharacteristically low and raspy.
The man picked up the thread he had previously examined, and, apparently finding what he was looking for, took the newly cut thread and tied them together in a complicated knot, then fastened them to another thin black thread that protruded out of the cloth, using an even more intricate joint.
Joel tried to cry out again, but no sound came. The man smiled broadly at his work. “There, that should do it.” Joel continued his attempts to cry out as everything disappeared from view.
“What happened?” Doctor Ross said as he entered the room.
“I don’t know,” Heather responded fearfully. “He just went into cardiac arrest – there was no forewarning. He was awake and talking, then this!”
“OK.” The doctor looked at the instruments along Joel’s bedside, then examined his chart quickly. Nothing seemed to fit. Two orderly’s wheeled in a portable defibrillator and heather ripped open the hospital gown covering Joel’s chest.
The doctor barked almost incomprehensible orders and the nurses and orderlies scrambled to fulfill them. As the defibrillator’s cold metal leads were placed on his chest, Joel shot up in his bed, shouting maniacally, “What are you doing?”
The hospital staff froze in confusion and amazement. Joel grabbed Heather’s arm tightly and looked fiercely into her eyes. “I have to go.”
Chapter 24: Search
“Holly, I don’t see him anywhere. We’ve been up and down every street I can think of and he’s just not here.”
“Well, we have to find him, Ned. We have to.”
Ned was frustrated. All Holly could say was “We have to find him,” but she had no ideas as to how to go about doing just that. She just wanted to continue driving around in circles until they stumbled upon him. At first, Ned had humored her, but he was now convinced they weren’t going to find Ernie this way. He wasn’t ready to give up – quite the opposite, in fact – but he wanted to go back to St. Ives and talk to Rhonda, and see if she had any ideas as to his whereabouts. Perhaps she knew some of the places Ernie went when he didn’t stay at St. Ives.
But Holly would hear none of it. She refused to go back to St. Ives with him; she wanted to stay out on the street – the whole night if they had to – to find Ernie. Ned was puzzled by her complete reluctance to go to St. Ives. She was not entirely without reason or logic, even in her excited state of mind, but she refused to even entertain the idea, no matter how many times he mentioned it.
But this was getting ridiculous. They weren’t getting anywhere, and something had to be done. “Holly, I am going to St. Ives to talk to Rhonda.”
“Ned,” Holly protested. “I don’t want to go to St. Ives. He’s probably just around the next alley… Come on, let’s check.”
She wasn’t going to get her way this time. “No. I am going to St. Ives, I’m going to talk to Rhonda, and then we’ll decide what to do.” He spoke definitively, and Holly turned her head and stared listlessly out the window at the passing grayness of the outside.
She remained quiet throughout the rest of the drive, and Ned wondered if he had permanently damaged their friendship. Still, it had to be done. Their goal had to be to find Ernie, not to merely look for him.
As the looming stone structure of St. Ives came into view, Holly turned her head away from the window and looked straight ahead. Her eyes closed as she bent down at the waist, placing her hands under her thighs and whimpering softly.
It occurred to Ned, as he sat there observing her, how like his youngest daughter she was acting. When his youngest didn’t get her way, she would often sit down, wrap her arms around her body, and pout. Ned shook his head. The difference between a three-year-old and a twenty-year-old weren’t that great after all.
He pulled the van to a stop along the side of the nearly empty street and prepared to get out, but as he opened the door, he noticed Holly was crying again softly. He closed thee driver side door again and touched her shoulder gently.
“What’s wrong, Holly?” Her body shook convulsively as her tears overwhelmed her. Ned kept his hand on her shoulder, and she gradually became calmer and stopped shaking so much.
She pulled her head up from it’s position on her forearm and looked at Ned, an expression of despair and immense pain on her face. “You know how I told you I grew up in McAllister Park ?” she asked.
Ned nodded. They had had this conversation. She had told him she was born and raised right here in this neighborhood. “Well, that’s not exactly true,” she continued. I did spend a lot of time here when I was younger, but I was really raised in a nice house out in the northwest suburbs.
“But when I was 8, my parents were in a car accident and both of them were killed – I told you that; that is true. And I did get put in a foster home, like I told you. Well, I actually got put in three or four different foster homes. I didn’t adjust well to my parents’ death, and I was a real wild child.
“When I was 16, I ran away fro my fourth foster family. I had planned to move out west and build myself a new life out there, but I only made it as far as McAllister Park .” She laughed hollowly. Ned looked intently at her and listened.
“Well, the neighborhood wasn’t too good, even back then, and things were tough for me. I lived on the street, but being a woman, and a young one at that, I dealt with a lot of shit. A kind old woman – Elsie was her name, I think – brought me here, to St. Ives, one especially cold night, and I liked it. It seemed to be perfect. Everyone was very friendly, they seemed to have plenty of food, and there were warm beds.
“I especially liked John, the director of the shelter. He would sit and tell me great stories, and he always listened to me when I talked. I honestly thought I was in heaven. I thought I could get back on my feet, then I could finish my trip out to California . Things were going to work out.
“I stayed there – or here, I guess – for a few days, and everything was fine. But then I began to notice John touching my shoulder while I ate, or rubbing his leg on mine while he sat next to me at mealtimes. He seemed to go out of his way to find me, and he often asked me to come see him in his office. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have considered that a big deal, but the way he was touching me was making me feel extremely uncomfortable, so I always found an excuse, thankfully.” She paused, and Ned wondered if perhaps she wouldn’t be able to or want to continue.
“It’s all right if you don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
“No… I need to tell someone.” She took a deep breath, then continued. “Usually we were in rooms with at least another woman, but one night, the woman who I’d been staying with didn’t come back for the evening, so I was in the little room alone. John came in late that night. I was asleep, and the next thing I knew, I had a pillow over my head and somebody was groping at my panties. I tried to scream, but the pillow covered it, and made it hard to breathe…” She broke off, and Ned put his hand back on her shoulder. She continued haltingly, tears welling up in her eyes again.
“I don’t really know what happened – I think I tried to block it out. He was on top of me… raping me… and I couldn’t do anything. He took off the pillow because he ‘wanted to see my beautiful eyes,’ but even then I couldn’t do anything. Mentally, I wanted to scream and shout and twist and turn and scratch, but no matter what my brain said, my body just sat there. I can still remember the smell of the soup in the room, the muffled sound of the washing machines down the hall, the feeling as he…” She broke off again, and Ned strengthened his grip on her shoulder, hugging her shuddering body to him.
There they sat in silence for what seemed like hours, until Holly finally pushed herself away from him. “I’m sorry… but even now I can’t bear the thought of that place. I didn’t stay long after that night. John said if I ever told anybody, no one would believe me. I guess he’s gone now, but the memory’s still with me…”
Ned nodded. It made so much more sense now. He hated himself for bringing her here, when she had asked – begged, even! – him not to. He hated himself for recommending on a daily basis that she volunteer here, reminding her each day of that terrible experience. What an idiot he’d been!
“I’m sorry,” he spoke quietly. “I shouldn’t have made you come here.”
Holly smiled wistfully. “Honestly, it feels kind of nice to finally tell someone – someone who believes me that it happened – someone that cares. So don’t beat yourself up over it. You couldn’t have known.” She looked out the window at the large stone building.
“Well, since we’re here, you might as well go in and talk to Rhonda.”
Ned nodded and opened the driver door, stepping into the bitter cold of the night. When he entered St. Ives, he found Rhonda in the kitchen, on the telephone.
“Missin’ for 24 hours? Hell, he might be dead in 24 hours! There’s nothin’ can be done? OK. Thank you.” She hung up the phone angrily. “Can’t report someone missin’ ‘til they’ve been missin’ 24 hours. Now that’s just stupid!”
She looked up, noticing Ned in the kitchen doorway. “Oh, sorry ‘bout that… what can I do for ye?” Ned walked in and explained the whole story of their search to her as she prepared them both a cup of tea.
“Wal, I’ve been feelin’ a little strange myself – this isn’t the firs’ time Ernie hasn’t come back, but this time it seems different. I mean, he was out last night, and I know that he wouldn’t let it happen two days in a row – he knows I’d lay into him for dat.” She sighed and took another sip of her tea. “But da police say dey can’t do anything yet. You say you’ve looked through all the streets and alleys ‘round here?”
Ned nodded. Holly had insisted that they leave no stone uncovered. “Wal, I don’t know then. I hope he’s all right. Give me your number. If I hear anything or he shows up, I’ll give you a call.”
Ned wrote his number on the pad she handed him, thanked her for the tea, and headed back out in the cold towards the van. Holly was staring anxiously out of the window at the stone building as he approached.
“Did she have any ideas?” she asked as Ned closed the door and started the engine.
“No, but she said she’d call us if she heard anything or he appeared there.” Holly looked disappointed, and Ned couldn’t blame her. He had hoped Rhonda would have some ideas as well.
“Where are you going?” Holly asked, as Ned turned back towards their main search area instead of going straight back towards his home.
“Well, I figured we owed it to Ernie to check one more time. Maybe we missed something.” Holly smiled.
The roads were as empty as they’d been during their previous search, and there was still no sign of Ernie along any of the streets or the narrow alleyways. They were disappointed, but neither of them had really expected to find anything. They were both tired – it was time to call it a night and hope for new developments in the morning.
“Ned, do you see that?” Holly asked, pointing up ahead at a shiny glint on the street curb.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know… Probably a plastic bag or a hubcap or something.”
“Stop for a sec.”
Ned obeyed and jumped as Holly threw the passenger door open and hopped out, running towards the glint up ahead. She returned a few seconds later, excited. “Look, Ned!” she exclaimed, thrusting the object in her hand at Ned’s face. It was Ernie’s Walkman.
Chapter 25: Fight
When Mike came to he was alone in a small maintenance closet. He was no longer tied to the chair, but the appearance of freedom was short lived. The door to the closet was closed, and a quick test revealed it was locked as well.
He sat down on the floor and waited, rubbing the back of his head gingerly. He felt the telltale rough surface of the scab on the back of his skull where the previous blows had broken the skin. His head was really taking a beating today. Between the bouts of unconsciousness earlier in the day – had that just been this morning? – and the more recent knocks given him by Angelo’s goons, it was a wonder he was still standing.
He was standing, though, unsteadily. He leaned against the door, balancing himself, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass. The swirling of his brain cells slowly stopped, and he began to feel like his old self again.
The slightly muffled sound of cheering could be heard beyond the door. He strained his hearing to focus on the sound, to pick up any specific sound that might tell him something about what Angelo had in mind.
A man was speaking, his voice Angelo didn’t recognize.
“Well, folks, we have a very special event tonight. You know, normally we try to encourage audience participation during the “battle,” as we like to call it…” The crowd cheered again, louder than before.
The man continued, speaking loudly over the din of the crowd. “But… BUT tonight, we have something special planned. I’d like to tell you about Mike – he’s a guy just like you. He had a job downtown, he had a nice house, a nice wife – things were great. But this morning, Mike got fired from his job…” The crowd booed.
“When he got home, he found his wife in bed with another man.” The crowd booed even more loudly, and Mike discerned several insults flying from their mouths. “That bitch!” “Whore!” “Cunt!”
“But Mike didn’t sit back and take that shit, no! He fought back! He picked up a baseball bat and beat the fucking shit out of that adulterous bastard, and did a nasty number on his wife, too!” The crowd cheered maniacally and some even clapped. Mike felt pretty good. He had done the right thing, after all. What else could he have done? Finally he was getting some recognition for the hard work he’d put in, for the talent that he had nurtured and developed over countless years.
The door to the closet opened unexpectedly, and Angelo stood there, backed by two large sullen-looking men. He looked Mike up and down, and smiled cryptically.
“Looking good, Mike. Have you heard what they’re saying about you? Mike, I’m telling you, this is the place for you. The guys here love you! Listen to ‘em!” He motioned down the hall where the sound of the crowd grew louder again. “Now let’s go and show ‘em why you’re king shit of fuck mountain.”
Mike hated Angelo, but the sound of that crowd was incredibly enticing. They were now shouting his name. “Mike… Mike… Mike…”
“You really want to see him? You want to see him fight some degenerate bastard?” The crowd cheered even more, and the chant of his name grew more powerful. Mike felt good. They wanted him. They needed him. The rage from the day’s events came rushing back, and he smashed his fist against the closet door impulsively.
“That’s right,” Angelo smirked. “Tap into that anger. You have a right to, after what those bastards have done to you. Go show ‘em all why you’re a bad- ass motherfucker.” Angelo stepped aside and motioned down the hall. Mike hadn’t heard him. He was focused on the chanting from the crowd.
He followed the noise into the large room. There must have been hundreds of men there, all shouting for him. The announcer glanced over his shoulder, and seeing Mike behind him, turned back to the raucous crowd and announced his arrival.
“Here he is, Mike Turner!” The crowd shouted in frenzied excitement, and Mike stepped forward confidently. He didn’t feel like himself – he felt more powerful. He felt like a hulking menace, a “bad-ass motherfucker,” as Angelo had termed it, and he was going to give these fans a show.
He stepped out in the center clearing and the announcer stepped back, allowing the circle of excited faces to close around him. Mike looked around at the faces. The men were mostly dressed in suits, and all looked to be about 30 or 40 years old. Their faces were tired, but a maniacal frenzy shone in their eyes, and they cheered, clapped and shouted as Mike raised his right hand above his head, fist closed defiantly. They were not unlike him – they were his peers. And he commanded their respect. Every man in that room wanted to be him at that moment, and the ceaseless applause confirmed it.
He turned around 360 degrees, hand still in the air, letting each and every member of the crowd survey their new god. Their look of awe was magnificently boosting his ego, and any qualms he had about participating in something Angelo had suggested and sanctioned were now only distant considerations. He had killed a man, and tonight, he’d kill another.
Much more than at any other point in his life, Mike knew that this was his destiny. This was his purpose, his reason for existence. Everything up until this night was preparation – the shaping of his temper, his nightly boxing workout to funnel away the constant anger he felt, the events of the past day – they had all prepared him to find himself. And when all was revealed, there was no sign of Mike Turner, the man. There was only Mike Turner, the _animal _.
He was primal, he was brutal, he was everything that Angelo had said he was. And this was his arena – his home. This battleground was the place where he would complete the transformation. But to do that, he would need an opponent. Where was the man these joker’s had found to fight him?
He wheeled around, searching for the man he would soon kill. The crowd parted, and a man was pushed roughly into the right side of the circle. He stood there unsteadily, peering out from behind thick glasses.
This was the man they had selected for Mike to fight? This was him, this scared, shaking man with geeky glasses? For a moment, Mike felt slighted. As psychotically driven as he was, he probably could kill a man twice his size, maybe even ten men, and they had found this little bastard.
The crowd’s shouting and cheering would not let him object, however; he’d have to fight the man, no matter how small or insignificant he was. This fight would be easy. He’d win their favor, then they’d send him someone greater, someone more powerful to fight the next time. But this man would need to be killed, of that Mike was certain.
Ernie was confused. He had been unconscious until his abductors had pulled him out of the car trunk and waved some strange-smelling stuff in front of his nose. They had pulled him roughly into some building and held him firmly in a small hallway. He could hear loud shouting ahead.
Then, without warning, the two men holding him pushed through a mass of bodies and threw him out into a large circle, facing another man who paced in a frenzy around the outside of the circle, his fist raised above his head.
His glasses were foggy from the warm humidity in the building, but he dared not remove them to wipe them off. He was frightened beyond reason, and he didn’t want to risk the blindness that would come with the removal of his glasses. He had to be able to see everything.
The man across from him lowered his arm when he noticed Ernie. His eyes were crazed and bloodthirsty, and Ernie got the distinct impression from his look that he was not in the mood to make friends.
The man sidestepped towards him slowly. Ernie was unsure what to do, but he didn’t want to get in the man’s way. All he wanted to do was get away. He turned and tried to get out through mass of bodies that now blocked the path through which he had entered the circle, but the men there laughed and grabbed him pushing him back into the center.
As he turned his head, his jaw met with the man’s fist, sending him sprawling to the floor. His glasses clattered on the concrete alongside him. The man towered over him menacingly, silently daring him to get up. Ernie didn’t want to, but the man’s fists were less damaging weapons than his feet, so against his will, he forced himself to stand again.
Mike had been right about his opponent. There was very little resistance. He had initially tried to turn and run, but the circle of fans had sportingly prevented that. Mike had taken the opportunity to run up behind him quickly, and planted his first punch squarely on the man’s jaw. It had been a clean punch, a powerful one, and the man had crumpled to the floor under his strength.
Mike grinned and stepped towards the man, raising his hand at the crowd again, proclaiming his strength. The man looked up fearfully, bleary-eyed without his glasses, tears streaming from his eyes.
Mike ignored him completely, and as the man struggled to stand again, on all fours, Mike planted a swift kick to his stomach, eliciting a gasp and low moan as the man went down again.
Mike diabolically repeated the cycle, following the man as he crawled around the circle, trying to find means of escape. Sometimes he’d let the man stand, then punch him down to the floor again, other times he’d kick viciously while the man stood moaning on the ground. Blood was now everywhere, and the sight of the maroon flow only increased the crowd’s agitation and Mike’s frenzy.
He was no longer himself. His sole purpose was to beat the pure existence out of this man. The crowd pulsated at every punch, every kick, and he drew power from their yells and shouted encouragement.
At one crowd member’s shouted suggestion, he kicked the man’s head, hard, while he lay on the ground. The neck whipped back with a satisfying crack, and the man’s body curled up, motionless. He made no attempt to rise this time. The crowd crooned approvingly.
Mike stood over the man’s limp, crumpled body, his bare muscled back glistening magnificently under the fluorescent lights of the warehouse. The circle of men chanted methodically. “Finish him… Finish him…” Mike looked up the faces around him. They were crying for finality, for annihilation, for blood, and he would give it to them. This was it. He had finally found it. This was his shining moment.
Chapter 26: Crash
“ Just where are we going, son?” Joel’s father seemed puzzled by his son’s strange request to leave the hospital and drive off somewhere, but he knew his son well enough to not ask too many questions; Joel wouldn’t flip out like he had about anything that wasn’t important.
Joel wished he could answer his dad, but he honestly didn’t know where they were going. He had woken up in the hospital with an uncontrollable urge to get up, leave the hospital, and drive somewhere, anywhere. His mother, not to mention the doctors, had all protested valiantly, but in the end his father, sensing the urgency that Joel was attempting to communicate, had volunteered to take his son where he felt he needed to go, and had successfully silenced the doctors.
But his faith in his son was thinning as they drove on aimlessly. Joel was unable to give any concrete information about their destination, instead giving last-second directions, forcing him to make hairpin turns and nearly flipping their old station wagon over several times. But the urgency on Joel’s face never wavered.
Joel looked intently out the window, waiting for the next spur of intuition that would prompt another turn. He thought back on the fading memory of the dream – is that what it was? – and of the man with the threads, weaving the cloth. What had it all meant? His father had told him that his heart had stopped suddenly in the hospital, for no apparent reason, but Joel felt fine now. In fact, the pain in his side was almost non-existent, though the bloody piece of gauze taped tightly to his side served as a reminder of his injury.
He had a suspicion that there was more to his dream than normal. Something about it felt final, like he was supposed to learn something from it. And the feeling of complete emptiness when the man had cut the thread… He glanced down as the memory of that feeling returned; no, there was no hole in his stomach, thank God.
He finally answered his father, “I don’t know, Dad.”
“I don’t know where we’re going.”
“Ummm, OK… Well, just try to give me a little more warning with the turns, all right?”
Joel smiled. His dad hated driving anything more than the speed limit; their breakneck speed and last minute turns could not be good for his nerves. “Thanks for doing this, Dad.”
His father smiled wryly. “Well, it’s not like you gave me much…”
“Right! Turn right!” Joel shouted suddenly, bracing himself against his seat as his father complied. The tires screeched angrily, and the drivers behind them honked as they screamed by, seemingly balanced on two wheels.
“…choice. It’s not like you gave me much choice,” his father continued haltingly as they bounced along the narrow side street Joel had directed them onto.
“Sorry,” Joel said sheepishly. He didn’t even really know why he had yelled to turn – it just sort of came out. Well, hopefully it would all make sense once they arrived at their destination, where ever it was.
Cobb and Ames were on their way to Delome when the call came in over the radio. “Unit 402… Cobb, Ames , you there?”
It was Foster. Ames picked up the radio transmitter and responded. “Yeah, Foster, we’re here. What’s up?”
“There’s some trouble over on Delome… You guys are headed there, right?”
“Yeah, we’re on our way right now.”
“Well pick it up. There’s somethin’ wrong over there. OC called and said they can’t raise either of the blue and whites on the radio, and Mrs. Riley, the old woman that had been calling to complain, called in and said that the noise was louder than it had ever been before. He said it sounded like a war was goin’ on over there. You’re the closest unit we’ve got, so step on it. We’re sending backup – be careful.”
“You’ve got it, Lieutenant.” Ames hung up the radio receiver and looked at Cobb. “Well, you heard her partner. Let’s go.” Cobb flipped on the siren and lights, and, as instructed, floored the accelerator.
Neither Joel nor his father even saw the other car zooming into the intersection. They had heard the siren approaching behind them, and had pulled as far as possible to the right as the cop car passed them, speeding into the intersection.
Joel’s father, monitoring the fla shing lights in his left-side mirror, had not noticed the red light in the Franklin – Niles intersection until it was too late. Suddenly the left side of station wagon crumpled with a magnificent screeching sound, and the world was spinning around them.
Joel felt weightless for a moment, then felt searing pain in his legs as they were crushed in a mass of metal. His head bounced viciously against the top of the station wagon as the huge vehicle spun out of control, and finally came to a scrapping stop, upside down on the far side of the intersection. Joel looked over at his father, whose head was slumped back against the headrest, cuts and scrapes on his face and neck. He wasn’t moving.
Cold air rushed in from the windows, now free of glass. Joel tried to speak, but everything was silent. His ears were ringing; he couldn’t hear anything; the entire world seemed to move in silent slow motion, like a Charlie Chaplin film at half speed.
He became aware of movement outside the car. Strange upside-down people came running towards the car. Faces peered in both windows, shouting something at him, but he couldn’t hear them above the ringing in his ears.
His unexplainable sense of purpose, which had driven him to rise from the hospital bed and brought his father out here along with him, was now gone. He just wanted to sleep. Couldn’t these people see he just wanted to rest? With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the faces and closed his eyes, beckoning sleep to come as his door opened and strong hands pulled him out of the car.
Cobb sat dazed in the driver seat of the car as it came to a stop, having completed a full 360 degree spin, facing the direction it had initially been headed. “Holy shit!” he said under his brea th. He looked over at Ames , who was clutching the dashboard with white-knuckled hands, a breathing hard and looking straight ahead, wide-eyed.
“Holy shit is right…” Ames responded, peeling his hands from the dashboard and looking back over his shoulder at the wreckage behind them. The blue fla shing lights cast at eerie glow over the whole scene.
Cars on either side of the intersection had stopped, doors hanging open as motorists stepped out and ran towards the vehicles to offer what assistance they could.
Cobb and Ames now had a dilemma. Ordinarily, their purpose would have been clear; they would have exited their vehicle and gone back to the scene of the accident, offering whatever help they could. But in this case, there was also a developing situation down on Del ome that also required their attention. It was not immediately clear what they should do, and in fact, either choice would no doubt leave them with a disciplinary inquiry.
Ames decided that the other motorists had the accident covered. Ames ' and Cobb’s presence would only add more confusion to the scene. He picked up the radio and motioned for the still-stunned Cobb to move on.
“Dispatch, this is unit 402, we’ve got an accident at the Franklin – Niles intersection. Looks pretty bad, send ambulances and road clearing equipment. Officers leaving the scene in pursuit of another possible crime.”
“Ten four, unit 402, ambulances are on their way.”
“Hope everybody’s all right,” Cobb muttered as he sped up again, continuing on towards the ind ustrial section of town.
“Not much else we could do. I have a feeling something is wrong with those blue and whites, and even if we’d stayed, the ambulances would have taken just as long to get there.”
“Yeah, I know, but it seems wrong to just leave them there, you know.”
“Yeah. Let’s hope whatever’s going on down here is worth it.”
**Chapter 27: Takedown **
Angelo had a problem. That bitch old woman from down the street had been calling the cops again, and not one, but two blue and whites were running along the street, looking for signs of trouble.
There was no way he could stop the fight now. The crowd was in too much of a frenzy, and Mike was doing a hell of a job beating this guy to a pulp. It was true magic, and if Angelo hadn’t been so preoccupied with dealing with the law enforcement threat, he would have enjoyed watching the fight himself.
But now, he stood pacing in front of four bound and gagged city cops, wondering what he should do. He had sent out several of his best men to grab the cops before they could call for backup, but he couldn’t be sure they had succeeded entirely, and even if they had, it wouldn’t be long until backup would show up anyway, since no one was responding to the radio calls.
Shit! Why tonight? Mike was giving them the show of a lifetime out there – he’d bring in at least double the normal attendance next week! But he’d probably have to stop the fight early. He couldn’t risk getting shut down at this point, and he had little doubt that more cops were on their way.
He motioned to the men who stood guard over the bound officers, and they all stepped out of the small closet room, closing and locking the door behind them.
“OK, here’s what I want you to do… Go around quietly to the outside of the fight circle and let people know cops are on their way. It won’t take long for word to get around. People’ll start clearin’ out on their own. I’m getting’ out of here.”
“What about the guy?” one of the men asked, motioning towards the arena where Mike stood hunched over, delivering vicious blows to Ernie’s back and skull.
“Leave ‘im. We don’t have time to deal with ‘im right now.” It was a pity, really, since Mike had already shown such promise, but Angelo didn’t have much choice at this point. Mike was crazed – out of his mind – right now. It would take him too long to cool down enough to be lucid. Angelo couldn’t take the risk of being anywhere near here when the cops showed up.
His men ran off to follow his directions, and he turned, Marty close behind, towards the door where his car waited outside. He shot one glance back towards the arena, where Mike’s latest maneuver elicited another scream of approval from the frenzied crowd. _What a shame. _
As Cobb and Ames made the final turn towards the industrial section, they noticed several cars moving quickly towards the highway, headed the opposite direction. “Looks like we missed the party,” Ames commented, taking note of the frantic, frightened look on the face of one of the drivers as he passed by.
“Not quite,” Cobb responded. “Look.” He pointed ahead to a warehouse on the left side of the street. Faint light streamed from the windows, and men in business suits and loose ties poured out of the doors, scrambling over each other towards lots on either side of the building, where their cars sat, obscured behind overgrown weeds and shrubbery.
“Well, somethin’s been goin’ on,” Ames commented, drawing his gun from his waist and preparing to jump out of the car at a moment’s notice.
“I’m going to pull up to the back,” Cobb said, turning the steering wheel expertly to the left. “There’s no way we’re gonna take all these guys by ourselves. Let’s go in the back and see if we can find out what’s going on. There’s gotta be somethin’ going on in there.”
Ames nodded as he checked the barrel on his gun again. He was ready.
Cobb pulled the car to a screeching halt and the detectives threw both doors open, pumped out, and ran to the back door, one on either side of it, backs pressed against the wall. Ames nodded, and Cobb turned and kicked the door in with a crash. Ames followed him into the building, gun held ahead of him at the ready.
They moved quickly through the small labyrinth of office and maintenance rooms, checking for anyone or anything, but no one was there.
They eventually came to the small hallway which led to the main area of the warehouse. Light crept under the closed double doors leading into the room, and from their position they could hear echoic footsteps a man shouting. “Wait! Where are you going? What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get back here! You’re missing the fuckin’ grand finale!”
They stepped through the heavy doors and saw a man, bare-chested, covered in a sheen of perspiration and grit, standing over a bloody mess of a man, a crazed look in his eyes, shouting at the opposite side of the room, where the swinging doors indicated the last of the spectators had recently departed.
Mike’s audience was gone. Out of the corner of his eye, he had seen the exodus begin. Someone had yelled, “The cops are coming!” With that, the entire room had turned into a stampede of suits, each one heading for the door as fast as he could.
Mike was surprised and annoyed that they were such pussies. The cops? What could they do to him? He was fuckin’ invincible! He could take a whole army of cops on himself, none of the men would have to worry at all – he could protect them.
He shouted at them to stay, to watch his finale, to observe his final crushing of the man beneath his foot, but his words fell on deaf ears. When the last of the men passed through the double doors to the cold night outside, he became aware of movement behind him.
“Freeze! Po lice!” He turned and eyed the two men warily. Were they serious? This was who’d been sent to take him on? They leveled their guns on him and repeated their warnings.
Mike looked down at the mess below him. He had done quite a job. Angelo had been right when he had called him an artist. The blood smeared across the cold, dusty concrete from his opponent’s escape attempts did remind him of a Jackson Pollack work.
He leveled his eyes with the two police officers in front of him. They continued to yell at him, but he ignored them. He was invincible, right? Fuck them! They’d pay, just like everyone else had.
With that thought he screamed his battle cry and ran towards them, sweat, blood, and dirt sliding off of him and landing in miniature puddles on the floor behind him. He was an ancient warrior, an animal, the personification of rage, brutality incarnate. None would stand in his way.
The first bullet struck him on his right side, and threw him slightly off balance, but the second bullet struck his left side, restoring his balance. Was this the best they could do? He barreled on, until the third, fourth, and fifth bullets whizzed through his chest. He was vaguely aware of the small explosions of blood that erupted as they pierced his skin, and he faltered. His mind willed his legs to continue their motion, their support of his body, but they refused.
He fell on the floor in front of the detectives, sliding forward as far as the force of his momentum would carry him, and ended in a heap of crumpled humanity at the feet of the detectives.
His chest heaved, and he willed himself to rise up, to destroy these bastards, but his body refused, and he exhaled once in final defeat before his body ceased to move at all.