Friday, September 30, 2011

A Twist Of Noir 685 - Chris Deal

REAPER MAN - CHRIS DEAL

The parking deck wasn't warm, but it provided enough of a barrier from the cold winds blowing down Charlotte’s streets so I could have one last smoke before I went up. My fingers shook as I held the cigarette to my lips, but with the influx of smoke they relaxed, stayed still for a few heart beats. Up on the sixth floor, in the Coronary Care Unit, Rask's heart was giving him trouble. V-tach, last I heard. Still irregular after the attack. He didn't call me until he was stable, a day after he entered the hospital. Over the phone his voice was tinged with whiskey sours. When he said what he wanted from me, I nodded even though he couldn't see it. He took my silence for the acquiescence it was. Whatever he wanted, I’d do.

The thing about hospitals is that you can walk around most parts like a ghost, not even an afterthought to the staff, if you wear the right disguise. Before getting in the car I dressed up as a concerned son. Shaved the week's worth of growth along my jaw and put on a thrift-store suit. Ran a few fingers though my hair to give it a look of concern. I walked through the labyrinthine corridors holding the bouquet of flowers like it was the most important thing in the world. From the parking deck, you took an elevator down to the first level, then into the hospital right by the cafeteria, past the atrium. Take a left there and you find the public elevators. Go up to the sixth floor and follow the signs until you reach Mecca.

Going through the halls, all the doors to the patient’s rooms were open. Many beds were empty. Just up the hall from Rask’s room an old woman, thin bones pressing against the skin, lay in her bed, the machines keeping her alive. Her eyes caught mine, two small embers embedded in her skull, fighting against the Reaper Man who was stalking her. I took a step inside and put a hand to her burning forehead. She smiled toothlessly and fell asleep. I wasn’t her Reaper.

I stood outside of Rask’s room for several minutes, memorializing the visual cacophony, the fire doors and mirrors at every corner, multicolored signs warning for quiet. There weren’t any cops hanging around his door. A tiny nurse with curly brown hair pulled back over her scrubs stood behind me and I watched her watching me in the glass of his door. She didn't say anything, just watched. After the illusion of a son grieving for his father's health was complete, I went in.

Rask looked like seven layers of shit compressed together. His body was covered with tubes that pricked through his skin, connecting him to the machinery that loomed over his bed. He saw me and nodded. Every few moments the machine would let out a harsh note that coincided with a painful beat in his chest.

“Thanks for doing this, kid,” he said. His voice was quiet, smothered by his closeness to death.

“Was it bad?”

“A complete mother fucker. If I’ve taught you one thing, take care of yourself.”

“I will.”

“Thank you. You going to be good?”

“I’ll survive.”

“Makes one of us, at least. Keep doing the good work for me, as long as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

I handed the bouquet to him and he caught my hand in his, squeezing tight, the skin cold and dry, before he picked through the flowers and found what I smuggled hidden inside: a syringe, perfectly empty.

He pulled back the plunger, filling it with air.

“Want me to do that?”

“Hell, I’ve killed more than enough people in my day, might as well go out by my own hand. If I see anyone on the other side, hope they’ll understand.”

I let him do it in peace. Walking back to the elevator, the tiny nurse ran past me to his room, a look of panic in her eyes. The job was done. Brushing away tears, I knew the disguise wasn’t necessary.

4 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

' Ran a few fingers though my hair to give it a look of concern.' It's these sort of details that make Chris Deal's writing so good. Great piece.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Very impressive. Felt like I was walking the halls myself. The old lady part was a great touch. The latest round of stories, and many others would make a great TV (cable of course) series of 1/2 hour vignettes

ajhayes2 said...

"I wasn't her reaper" is crazy good. Comfort in one hand, death in the other and a heart full of sadness in between. Most gentle hit I ever read. Cool.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Deal always delivers. We know just enough about these characters and nothing more -- that kind of patience makes for great fiction.

And AJ's right -- "I wasn't her reaper" -- gave me chills.