Reggie, leaned against the tired brick wall, his knee kicked out, resting one foot on the wall. The brick was smudged with the diesel soot from passing buses and trucks on their way to the warehouses in the area. He appeared relaxed, but his body was tense. His eyes down cast and shifting from side to side, watching. He sighed and checked his phone. His pigeon was fifteen minutes late. When he saw the black Cadillac come down the street, he smiled. Michael pulled up to the curb, and let the window down. Reggie strutted up to the car and tried the door; it was locked.
“Hey my man, let me in.” He said putting on his best perturbed face.
“What’s the deal?” Michael asked, making no move to unlock the door.
“The deal is, we need to take a little ride, so your boss man can take his ride.” Reggie replied. Michael pressed the button on his armrest to unlock the door and Reggie got in.
“Straight for now. I’ll tell you when to turn.” Michael put the car in drive and pulled away from the curve.
“How much did you get?” Michael glanced quickly at the man, looking for any sign of threat.
“I didn’t get any yet, my friend. Were going to the factory, and you can get all you want.” Reggie raised his hand like a preacher, but avoided eye contact with Michael.
“Is it good? I don’t want junk that’s been walked on by every one in the neighborhood.”
“Be cool man. It’s Brown Sugar and you might want to tell your boy to take it easy on the first pop, till he know if he can handl’ it. Take a right at the next block.” The turn took them into an alley scarcely wide enough for the Cadillac because of the junk scatter along the sides of the alley. Michael slowed the car down to maneuver around the trash.
“Up there, pull right into the building, all the way to the back.”
The warehouse apparently had been abandoned for some time. There were heaps of garbage and old packing crates strewn about and evidence that people had, or were, living in the building. Scorched walls and support columns showed that fires had been built numerous times throughout the warehouse. Rats froze momentarily, at the interuption of the car, then scurried away to avoid being hit.
“Over there man, by the windows.” Large factory style windows lined the wall at the far end of the building. They were opaque from grime. Several of the panes were broken, allowing shafts of brighter light to cut across the floating dust.
“Now what?” Michael said, putting the car in park, but leaving the motor running.
“We get out and wait. When the man sees everything is cool and nobody else shows up, he comes down and deals. He’s not too hot on first time customers. Especially ones asking for bulk. You dig?”
“Especially a cracker.” Michael said, finishing Reggie’s statement.
“Cracker? Man how old are you?” The man chuckled heartily. “My dad used that word. Don’t sweat my man’s racial tastes. He’s like Dirty Harry, don’t like no one, yellow, black, or white. Ain’t nobody precious in this boys sight. We need to get out of the car man, or he ain’t never gonna come down.” Reggie could see Michael didn’t like the idea. “You can leave your car running, we just got to get out of the car.” This suited Reggie’s plan fine. A little extra background noise to cover for James.
The first smell that caught Michael as he stepped from the car was stale human urine. The second was the more subtle mold and dry rot that was slowly eating the building. He watched Reggie come around the front of the car, but his eyes were behind Michael. Michael noticed the change in attitude, then heard the slide pulled on a pistol. He turned and saw James and heard a second slide. He looked back, and saw Reggie advancing on him with a Beretta.
Michael looked at the gun. “Nice gun.”
“Okay, cracker…” Reggie said, using Michael’s word sarcastically, “Let’s open you up and see how much money you got!”
“You don’t know who you’re fucking with! You touch me and you die!” Michael knew he didn’t have long. The car was still between him and the new man that wasn’t going to last. Reggie had a clear shot at him and he wasn’t more than ten feet away.
“I know who I’m talking to, some fool that thinks his big talk is worth a shit!” Reggie’s overconfidence was obvious in the way the his wrist rolled waving the barrel of the gun. When he glanced over at James for a second, Michael made his play. His combat instructor had trained him in this exact move, but it was going to hurt hitting cement instead of dirt. Michael pulled the Glock from his waistband at the same moment he kicked his feet out and dropped to the floor. He fired once just before hitting.
The shot went wild, but still caught the outside of Reggie’s bicep. The second he took looking down at his arm was all Michael needed to regain his aim. He sat on the floor, both hands on his gun and put a round in the center of Reggie’s chest. In the seconds that followed, Reggie looked at Michael, confused by what had happened. He looked down at the red spreading across his chest then crumpled to the ground like all his strings had been cut.
Michael didn’t have time to think about it, because the second man had started shooting and he was trying to hit Michael shooting under the car. Michael rolled behind the tire to protect himself. James had stopped shooting and he risked a glance around the front of the tire. The shot ricocheted of the floor inches from his face. In the second he had to look, he saw that James was behind one of the smoked painted support pillars, on one knee, gun out waiting for a shot. He was stuck behind the tire.
“You should try to run now. I’m calling my boys and you gonna die slow if they get here.” James aimed the gun out with one hand and took his phone out with the other.
Then he heard a second gun that was didn’t belong to James. It fired twice and the hand cannon was deafening compared to the 9mm shots.
“You can come out now Michael.” Michael recognized her voice and pulled himself up and saw Tina, standing over James.
Michael’s ears were ringing, the echo had be hellacious, he couldn’t have been more confused. Seeing Tina step through the cloud of smoke, left by her 44 magnum, did nothing to improve things.
“Tina? What the hell?” Michael looked down at James and then Tina. She was looking down at the corpse.
“Michael, for the fucking grades you got in school, you’ve got the common sense of a stump.” Tina looked up at Michael and took the plugs out of her ears and stuck them in the top pocket of her flannel shirt. She chewed absently on her gum as she opened the cylinder and pulled out the spent shells and put them in her front jean pocket. She replaced the rounds and slapped the cylinder back into place.
“How… where… What are you doing here?” Michael’s voice lacked it’s usual confidence.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you.” Tina looked around to see if there was anything else to worry about and then stuck the revolver in the waistband at the back of her jeans and fluffed her shirt over it.
“How did you find me?” Michael tried to clear his ears with his pinky finger.
“Michael, you’re easier to follow than a blind moose in a china factory. You don’t exactly blend around here, but my 20 year old Chevy sedan is invisible.”
Before Michael could ask another question Chad appeared mid-stride, as if he had stepped through an invisible door, and walked up to second man’s body. He squatted down and looked at the dead man. The top of his head was gone and there was a huge hole in his chest.
“Damn girl, you shoot him with an RPG?” Chad looked up at her from his squatting position.
“44, hollow points.” Tina said with a slight smile looking at Chad.
“Damn, girl, you my new Bae.” Chad smiled and gave Tina a salacious once over with his eyes.
Tina shook her head. “Before all else. That mean you’re willing to die for me boy?”
Chad laughed, but didn’t answer the question. He turned toward Michael. “Good thing she showed up to save your ass. Outside the rules for me to do anything, I thought this was going to be the shortest Trial ever.”
“I had it under control.” Michael said looking down at his own gun.
“Ha! He had you pinned down. He was a pretty decent shot and you had to cross some open ground to get away from this car and the second his homeboys got here they were going to flank your ass.” It was Chad’s turn to shake his head.
“I was going to drive out of here. The car is still running.”
“Yeah, can you shut it off.” Tina said, pinching her nose. “Starting to get bad in here.”
“Yeah it’s getting all Bao-ding, in here.” Chad said nodding his head with an exaggeration that included his shoulders.
Michael and Tina both looked at Chad quizzically. Tina asked.
“What the hell is Bao-ding?” Tina asked already annoyed by the coming answer.
“Baoding, Hebei, most polluted city in China.” Chad looked back and forth between Tina and Michael, who looked no more informed than they had been. “It’s time to get Woke people. Planet’s dying. Some say Xingtai, is worse, but I already tweeted my slang, and my hashtag is trending. Plus it sounds like foreboding.”
Tina closed her eyes and rubbed her fingers over her forehead. “How did you get this job?”
“Because duh” Chad said puffing up his chest. “I am up to date. I know what’s going on. This boomer…” Chad pointed at Michael. “Is locked in his own universe. He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Though I got to say the way you took out Reggie was on fleek.”
Michael reached into the car and shut it off. “You’ve been here the whole time and you did nothing?” His anger showed clearly.
“Against the rules, bro.” Chad crossed over to look at Reggie sprawled on the cement.
Michael looked at Tina. She rolled her eyes. She was having none of Chad. With the shock starting to ebb, Michael realized that Tina had not been the least surprised by Chad’s appearance.
“Do you two know each other?” Michael asked, eyes darting between them, trying to pick something up.
“Know of, would be a better way to put it.” Chad said still looking at Reggie. Then he looked at Michael with more malice than Michael would have thought him capable of.
“You are the worst one yet.” Michael notice his voice was suddenly devoid of it’s normal, annoying, vocal fry. “At least the others had some humility through the first trials. You haven’t won a single power yet and…” Chad turned away in disgust.
Tina had been walking over to Michael. She put her arms around him. “Don’t give my Bae such a hard time.” She smiled and kissed him. Chad froze and watched. “He’ll figure it out, won’t you Michael.”
“I can’t even…” Chad returned to his practiced persona. “You’re Thirsty for this guy? You know you two, that’s kind of gross, right?”
Tina smiled. “Nothing you wouldn’t jump at.”
Chad shook his head slowly. “True that.”
Michael couldn’t figure out what the two of them were talking about and was already feeling put in his place, so he gave their little back and forth a pass and moved on. “I could have handled this.”
“You thought you could handle it. Father?” Chad shook his head. “Is this to be our governor over earth? You can’t even make a simple drug deal without getting yourself killed. I was really looking forward to this assignment. Your predecessors have all been competent and eager to learn. I thought I’d be guiding, not baby sitting!”
Michael didn’t answer. He was embarrassed, he knew he come close to being taken out.
“Enough of this, what is it that you need some of the brown stuff for your trial?”
Michael nodded and said “Yes.” quietly.
“Can you handle this?” Michael realized Chad was speaking to Tina. Tina nodded. “Good. I have to get going, before that bitch shows up and calls me for interference. Try to at least stay alive Michael. Remember, fail and we just have to wait. For you…” Chad frowned and raised his eyebrows. “The stakes are a little higher.”
“I know.” Michael said looking down, and feeling more than a twinge of fear. “Chad?”
“You said, “I have not yet won a single power. What did you mean?”
“If you don’t succeed with the first trial it won’t matter, so don’t worry about it. Concentrate on what you’ve got to do now. If by some miracle you succeed, I’ll explain it to you then.” He slapped Michael across the face without preamble, smiled and vanished in a dramatic puff of smoke. “Stay alert!” The voice came from no where.
Michael looked at Tina.
“I think it’s about time to make our exit.” Tina said, looking around the warehouse.
“What about them?” Michael felt uncharacteristically unsure of himself, pointing at the corpses.
“What about them? They couldn’t match those hollow points to this forty-four if they watched me pull the trigger. Yours They could probably match, but who’s going to look. No one’s morning these losers.” Tina got in the driver’s side of the car and changed the radio station until she found a retro 90s station. Michael got into the car and closed his door.
“I wish they had a punk rock station. That was my music.” She turned in the seat and looked at Michael. “Well, Michael, you think you can go the distance?” Tina smiled.
Michael looked at the radio, the words of the song penetrated his mind. Cake was sing about the rat race. “He didn’t win.” Michael turned to Tina. “The guy in the song.”
“That’s because he left his girl at home and she let him.” Tina patted Michael on the thigh and put the car in drive. “I’m not that girl.” Spinning the wheel with the palm of her hand, she gunned the motor, flipping the rear end around on squealing tires. She went through the exit and down the alley at four times the speed Michael had come in at. Michael held onto the door and the seat until they were on the street.
“Who the hell are you?” Michael said, easing his grip on the leather.
“I’m Tina. Remember the girl you periodically fuck when you happen by town, or I stop by D.C.”
“I know who the fuck you are, but who the fuck are you?” Michael said with swelling anger.
“I’ll give you a hint. You’re older than me, but we have the same birthday…” Tina smiled, glancing at Michael as she made a turn. “And we have one other big common denominator.”
“Father.” Michael stared out the window. His eyes as wide as they would open.
“BINGO! The boy’s blazing the snail’s trail.”
“You’re my sister! That’s why Chad said it was gross?”
“Half.” She laughed a Michael’s slack jaw. “Get over it Michael. You’re not the first Republican to bone his sister.” Tina put on a southern accent. “You were ma fust and only dear brotha.” Tina laughed again. “Besides dad makes a new body every time, it’s not like we share DNA. You must have noticed the blood that first weekend.”
“I thought you were menstruating.” Michael eyes darted around frantically as though he were looking for his sanity on the dash. It wasn’t there.
“Admit it Michael, I’m the best you ever had.” Tina pulled into a hotel and parked in front of a room. She turned off the car a scooted over to Michael. “This is our room.”
“I need to get…”
“I know you need things, but so do I. I’m going to help you Michael. It’s going to cost you though.” She pinched his cheek and shook it back and forth. “I want you to bury that face right between my aching thighs. Then give me everything…” Tina grabbed Michael’s crotch. “This little fella’s got.” Tina gave him a hard kiss, probing his mouth with her tongue. Michael pulled away and slapped her.
“I don’t like your tongue penetrating my mouth.”
Blood spilled over Tina’s lip when she grinned. “How’d you like my tongue penetrating your ass?” Michael didn’t answer. “Come on Michael. Come indulge me in a little incest. Then I’ll go get your drugs for you.”
Michael thought, the old man could wait another day. He was always sitting in the park, by ten o’clock. She wasn’t a real sister. What did he have to loose? His soul? He could certainly use the stress relief. She wasn’t right about being the best. Maybe the most athletic and inventive, but not the best.
Tina was already out of the car. “You coming?” She raised her eyebrows up and down.
Michael got out of the car and followed Tina inside.
Lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, Michael touched his penis. It recoiled from the touch. Tina was taking a shower and showed no tiredness from the last fourteen hours of fucking and napping that had all but killed Michael. She came out toweling her hair and Michael marveled at the firm perfection of her body.
“You look good, for a woman your age.”
“I look good for a nineteen year old. You think forty is some kind of death warrant?”
“It is to some women.”
“Women who put their men ahead of their own interest.”
“But you’re supporting me.”
“For my own interest.” Tina sat on the bed, crossing her legs and opening a baggy in her lap to roll a joint. She was fast and had it lit in the time it would have taken Michael to sprinkle pot on the paper. She took a couple of deep puffs and handed it to Michael. He took a heavy hit and passed it back.
Michael looked at the neatly trimmed pubic triangle and perfect thighs. Incredibly he felt a shot of arousal. “So what’s your function?” Michael asked blowing out smoke. “Have you got an older sister burning some where?”
“Nope.” Tina handed the joint back to Michael and smoke spilled out her mouth as she spoke. “I’m an experimental loop hole.” She smiled and took the joint back from Michael. “The first of my kind.” Tina pulled the sheets off Michael and traced her fingers over his chest until he responded. “See there weren’t any rules about him having another child that could interact with you as long they are completely human.” Tina leaned over and set the joint in the ashtray. “I don’t have any special powers and you’re allowed to get assistance, from other mortals, if they give it freely.” Tina sandwiched his leg with her thighs and ground her hips against him. He could feel her wetness.
She touched Michael’s cock and it gave a little leap forward. “I talked to the guy I get my pot from. He’s supposed to call me back in a couple of hours about the H. So we’ve got some time to kill.” She turned and straddled Michael. “Whatever shall we do while were waiting?”
John opened his eyes suddenly, moving them back and forth in the constant darkness of his world. He reached to the bedside table and felt the face of his clock; it was early for him to be so awake. Not that it made a difference what time John got up, or went to bed. His life was nothing more than an existence. A sad life, holding no promise, or hope, he might as well been selling life insurance.
He threw his feet down on the floor and sat up on the edge of the bed. He began every morning in the exact same way. He’d squeeze his eyes shut and say a prayer, concentrating with all of his faith. Afterwards, he’d open his eyes wide, trying to see around the room. Finally his head would sag, he’d take a deep sigh and wonder if today, God might let him die.
When your visual life consists of reliving the site you had the first ten years of life over and over again, in your mind and dreams, you truly come to crave the sight of a new horizon, any new horizon. John resigned to the fate of another day, and stood up from the bed.
Every morning was precisely the same. John walked across the room and flicked on the TV to the morning evangelist. Someone gave the television to John when the screen cracked, the sound still worked fine. He went to the kitchen and put the tea kettle on the stove. Then he sat down by the TV and listened for the kettle’s whistle.
When the water was ready, he poured it into two cups, one with instant oatmeal, the other with instant coffee. He realized the coffee was running low and wondered why his assistance check hadn’t come yet.
Forgetting the check, he sat down by the TV. After a while he tired of the television and turned it off. Around nine thirty, he picked up his cane, a cut off broom stick, and headed for the front of the hotel, to listen to the people and the traffic go by. He was left alone, because everyone knew he didn’t have anything to steal. He skillfully noted the sounds of the street. When the Cadillac pulled up to the curve, he looked up as if he could see Michael as he stepped from the car and approach him. This startled Michael for a moment until he bent over and waved his hand in front of John’s face. There was no recognition in John’s empty eyes.
“You just come by to wave, or can I help you?” John asked, having sensed the hand waving over his face.
“Well truthfully sir, I hope we can help each other. My name is Dr. Bernstien, friends call me Michael.”
“You can call me John. What is it I can do for you, Dr. Bernstien?”
“If you wouldn’t consider it too personal, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your loss of sight.”
“Any particular reason you want to ask me?”
“Yes there is. Do you mind if I sit down with you?”
“Not my bench.” John said, turning his head away from Michael as if looking at something more interesting.
Michael used the pause to collect his thoughts. The sharp confident edge, he’d used to cut his way through life, had been seriously dulled in the last few days. Now he was moving with a high degree of caution. He sat down, rested his forearms on his knees, and tapped his fingers together.
“I’m a specialist, involved in research revolving around induced blindness.”
“What do you mean by induced blindness?” John ask, suddenly curious.
“Let me ask you this. Were you always blind?” Michael kept his voice neutral. Trying to get a sense of the man.
“No, when I was ten, I was in a car accident and nobody care about no seat belts back then. I went through the windshield. I got better, but I couldn’t see any more.” John’s voice became childlike as he spoke. “Been to a lot of doctors. Told me my eyes had a stroke, because of my face hitting the windshield. How your eyes have a stroke?”
Michael was already looking it up on his phone. “Well, I’ll try to explain it to you.” Michael said reading quickly. “The blunt trauma to you face caused a loss of blood flow to your retina, optic nerve, or both.” Michael looked away from the phone to John.
“Did they try to treat it?” Michael asked feigning concern.
“My face was all wrapped up. They had me drugged up and I wasn’t conscious for most of the time.” John tightened his hands on his cane. “I told them I thought it was dark. White doctor, he didn’t seem to care much. Then, once they’d unwrapped my eyes, he said there was nothing to be done.”
“That’s terrible.” Michael responded, adjusting his line as he would have to whatever John had said. “But to my point you weren’t blind at birth. That’s the type of blindness I was asking about. Trauma, a loss of blood flow in your case, induced your blindness. The research I’m doing is to stimulate optic nerves that have been damaged by disease or some sort of physical trauma.”
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful doctor, but I’ve been to all the specialists medicare will pay for. They all say nothing can be done.” John spoke as if Michael were a naive child.
“I assure you John, no Doctor has offered you what I have to offer. This drug that I’ve…”
“Just a minute, Doc,” John cut in. “Before you get to fillin’ my head with all kinds of promises about how you can help me. Let me tell you I ain’t got no money.”
Michael let out a short polite laugh. “No, no John, I’m afraid I’ve confused you. I’m not selling anything. There’s no cost involved here. In fact I’m going to pay you.”
“You’re going to pay me? Why? I don’t understand.” John was getting lost. At first he’d been glad to have someone sit down and talk, but something about the man made him nervous.
“I said, I was in research. I’m completely privately funded. There are however, some problems. That’s why I’ve come to you, to offer a proposition. If you like the idea, great, if you don’t, then I just move on.”
“What do you mean by problems?” John focused on the position of Michael’s voice.
“Security is one of my company’s foremost concerns. As you might well imagine, a drug of this nature would be worth a great deal. This is why I have to operate with such secrecy.” This made something click in John’s mind.
“If it’s so secret how come you’re telling me? And how did you come to pick me in the first place?” John gripped his cane as though he were ready to pole vault from his seat.
“The company screened a list of candidates we received from social services. As far as what I’ve told you, there’s nothing you could do with the information. You don’t know my company’s name, and you wouldn’t until the test is over. In addition, if you do agree to the plan, I will administer each injection myself. There wouldn’t be anything left behind that you could sell to a competitor for examination.”
John nodded his head that seemed to make sense. “What kind of problems could this cause me?” Michael paused before answering, this is where his plan was in trouble, getting John to take the drug voluntarily and still warn him of the dangers.
“The drug hasn’t been approved by the FDA for this use, that’s the second reason for secrecy. We’re trying to get a jump on our European competitors. The drug may also have intense physical side effects, an injection will most likely cause you to vomit in the beginning. It could also cause withdrawal problems when the test is complete.” Michael felt he was on a weak perch, he decided to risk everything, and go for shock tactics.
“To be perfectly frank with you John, you were chosen for more reasons than just how your blindness occurred. The drug won’t kill you as long as it’s properly administered which is why I will be giving you each injection, but it has its dangers. As hardhearted as it may sound, we picked candidates whom we thought would be most likely to take the risk.”
The pain began behind John eyes, and drove down like a javelin through his heart. He was disposable, that’s why they’d chosen him. They’d gone over a list of candidates, and he was the most worthless. The one who had nothing to live for, who might agree to a dangerous experiment on the chance he might be able to see again.
“Disposable.” John muttered.
“Pardon me?” Michael said, leaning close to John. John could smell his after shave. He didn’t know what kind it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t Old Spice or Brute 33. This guy didn’t give a rats nest in hell about him. John realized if the drug were perfected, he would surely never get a chance to take it. He was just a big white mouse. One this company hoped was desperate enough to grab any line of hope thrown.
“You said you were going to pay me.” John said gritting his teeth a little.
“One hundred dollars a week, plus the drug of course. You will have to follow my instructions, and stay in your apartment, where I, or my assistant, can monitor the affects and take care of you. I’ll also bring you food.”
“How long is this going to take?”
“Four, possibly six weeks. Two injections a day to start, then four, if that doesn’t work, six.”
“And you think I might be able to see again?” John asked, his voice shaking.
“It’s a possibility.” Michael said, then thought ‘Yes you foolish old man, your God may look on such a wretched sight and have pity on you. Reach down with his all mighty finger and heal you.’
“But there’s no guarantee.” John said, feeling very weak.
“Sorry John, there are no guarantees. You would be the first test subject.” Michael said, cool on the outside, excited on the inside, as he watched the crab nibble on his chicken back.
“I’ll have to think about it.” John said, really wanting to agree.
Michael stood up and took John’s hand to shake. “You do that John. I have some other candidates to speak to anyway.” He said in a friendly manner. “I’ll stop by and talk to you again tomorrow.” Michael was anxious to get away before John could ask any more questions. He wanted the idea to grow in him for a while, get it well planted in fertile soil.
Stopping for a moment before getting into his car, Michael turned back to John.
“Oh, John, it’s only fair that I tell you. The company is really pushing this project and we’re only taking a limited number of candidates. We’re doing the tests one at a time, so the first to agree with be the first treated.”
“Thank you Dr Bernstien.” John said, being polite, even though he felt like spitting. Reality had been laid out for him on a cold serving dish. He could eat from the scraps offered to him, or he could starve. He realized suddenly that he hated Dr. Bernstien for being the bearer of those scraps.
The warmth of the sun, without the light, drove the facts home, like the scream of a murdered child, strangled the night. He felt around in his pockets for his last few coins and bills he was saving until his check came. Counting them, he figured he had enough for a bottle of cheep wine, from the bodega on the corner.
It had been a long time since he’d indulged himself like that, over a year at least. Though the passing of calendar years meant little to John. Slowly, feeling the aches and tiredness of his age, he stood with his cane and tapped his way down to the store.
That night John sat up and listened to his television until he found itmore annoying than distracting and he turned it off. He had made up his mind that morning, but he had yet to admit it to himself. The idea of this company getting just what they wanted and profiting off his hardship was more than John could stand. But the chance to be able to see again. To see the sun come up in the morning, children playing, the colors of sprinkles on top of an ice cream sundae. What a miracle that would be.
“Dear God,” John said aloud. “I have prayed for many years you would return my sight and I’ve never lost faith for a moment. I always knew when I came to you, I’d be able to see everything and know why I was blind. Please tell me, is this how your miracles happen? Have you sent this man to use learned techniques to do your work?” John rocked back in his one luxury, a lazy boy chair someone from church had given him.
“I don’t like this man Bernstien. I don’t like making things easier for him. I wish his competition would find out what he was up to!” John sighed, trying to release the depression consuming him. “Then where would that leave me? With nothing. Just like I am now and just like I’d be if he’d never shown up. Only now it would be worse, I’d know I had a chance.” John’s thoughts continued to go back and forth, not really making any progress, until finally, he fell asleep in the recliner.
A little after eight, John stiffly crawled out of his chair. He poked the button on his TV, the sound of gospel music made his stomach turn. Normally it always gave him a burst of joy in the morning. This morning was different though, he was stiff, cranky and tired. The joyous hymns made him feel all the more retched. He thought about trying to find another channel. He had one of those digital antennas that was supposed to bring in all the channels in the area. But he didn’t think the boy who had been sent by the deacon, to put it on, did it right. This religious channel was the only one that didn’t keep popping in and out, so he just turned it off.
He tried lying down in bed for a while. It was obvious he was awake for the day. After a half hour of tossing he got up, washed his face, and changed his clothes. Getting matching clothes was never a problem. He only owned three pairs of old khaki work pants and a pile of second hand shirts from the mission store around the corner.
He put the tea kettle on the stove. When the water started to boil, he only filed one cup. The last thing he wanted to pass his lips was the bland, gooey, oatmeal of his morning routine. He also skipped his normal second cup of coffee after he realized it was all he had left.
Sitting in one of the two chairs at his kitchen table, he was struck by a wave of anxiety and depression. Fighting it off he called out to his God which served to calm him. Grateful for the comfort, he clasped his hands together and gave thanks.
“Lord, thank you for blessing me with your love. For it is true, I have nothing without you. Amen.” John tried to remember who he heard say that prayer first and couldn’t, but it was most likely his mother. It was another memory lost in habit.
After clearing his throat with a glass of water, John made his daily trek down to the front of the hotel.
Michael waited until after ten to leave the hotel, he wanted to maintain a nonchalant attitude and appearance. Tina had also used him like a mechanical bull and he couldn’t even move until after nine. He parked the car across the street from the Hotel. John was sitting in his usual place, slumped over, resting his chin against the hand that held his cane. Michael was struck suddenly with a feeling of contempt and disgust.
“Why would my father want such a pathetic creature?”
“Big talk from a spoiled punk, who was given everything wrapped in linen and pinned with gold.” Michael turn quickly in his seat. Chad was stretched out in back of the car smoking a long, thin, wooden pipe that had a small metal tipped bowl at the end. A wispy line rose and spiraled to the ceiling of the car.
“Do you ever take that ridiculous beanie off your head?”
“I’m a slave to fashion.” Chad said without looking at Michael.
“What is that awful smell?” Michael said squinting his eyes to show disapproval.
“Opium, want to try some?” Chad said with a grin. Michael shook his head and faced forward in his seat. “Habit I picked up during my earthly days. Of course I don’t need it now, I can make myself feel anyway I want. I do it for the nostalgia.”
“I’d like to stay and reminisce, but I’ve got things to do. Why are you here?” Michael said with obvious displeasure. He was still wondering what would happen if he took a swing at Chad. He was still stinging from that slap.
“My, my, aren’t we the touchy one. Still a little ruffled because the little girl had to save your ass?” Chad replied, enjoying Michael’s display of anger.
“I would have handled them fine. I didn’t need either of you.”
“The struggle is real.” Chad said, patronizing Michael. “I bet you wet your pants when that cannon she carries went off.” Chad leaned forward. “You wet your pants Michael? I think that girl’s more of a man than you are. I got to tell you, I’m thirsty for that bitch.”
Michael ignored his comment. He knew Chad was needling him. “I repeat my question.” Michael was doing his best not to take the bait, but he couldn’t help clenching his teeth a little. “Is there some reason you’re holding me up?”
“I came to answer your question. The reason Pops wants such a miserable wretch, as you seem to think of him, is simple. His faith, pure, unquestioning, nonjudgmental, faith. Strong as it comes. Not like most of the so called Christians, who spend their lives hypocritically judging their neighbors, while justifying whatever they feel like doing to profit themselves. Hell those bastards bring in more souls than sloth and coveting combined. Dad doesn’t care about those souls, they’re worthless. But John over there…” Chad said sitting up and leaning against the front seat. “He’s the real McCoy. Yep, that’s a valuable piece of soul there.” Chad leaned back in the seat then continued.
“You’re not so bad yourself. Greed, lust, there’s a lot of fuel in you. We could probably get two hundred years of high octane out of your ego.” Chad burst into laughter. Michael twisted around ready to strike. Chad’s expression quickly became stern. “That wouldn’t be wise, I’m not one of your helpless school chums.”
The ache came back to Michael’s face where Chad had bitch slapped him. Pocketing the anger he felt made his stomach turn. His mind whispered an oath that some day Chad would pay. Chad’s laughter broke his concentration.
“Why are you laughing?” Michael said his cheeks blazing like a baby sitting in a wet diaper.
“At the thought of you making me pay, that’s a scream.”
“I didn’t say…”
“Of course you didn’t. It’s written in your eyes, bro. Don’t have to be physic to read that thought. Now stop worrying about nonsense and try to do this thing right. I’ll be watching.” Chad faded away, but his pipe stayed. “Bye Felicia”
Without Chad there to support the pipe it fell and the contents spilled onto the seat, and started to burn the leather. Michael cursed and reached back to brush it off the seat. He sat for a moment collecting his thoughts, he couldn’t understand why his father would send someone to torment him so.
Putting it out of his mind, he got out of the car and headed for John. “Good morning, John.”
“Dr. Bernstien?” John said hopefully.
“Yes it’s me, John. Have you had enough time to think over my proposal.” Michael sat down next to John.
“I guess so. Dr. Bernstien would you do something for me?” John leaned on his cane.
“Describe the hotel I live in.”
Not having really paid any attention to it before now, Michael had to look up and take a look. “It’s sort of a white/yellowish stucco. The plaster is cracked and there are some strings of faded flowers painted around the windows. I think the idea was to make it look Spanish because the roof has a row of red clay shingles on the facade. Why do you ask?”
“I ask every one, you’re the first person who’s told me the truth. Other people paint a wonderful picture or at least try to brighten it up a little. They don’t think that I might have asked someone else.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that you don’t care enough about me, to take the time to lie. Which actually makes me trust you more than not at all. What I do know is that you stand to gain more from your test than I do. I thought about it last night, and I have a few changes to the compensation.”
“Like what?” Michael said, leaning close to John.
“I want three hundred dollars a week.” This sentence came out like a bubble of gas, all at once.
“That’s pretty steep John. This test is expensive as it is. I don’t know…” Michael would have given him three thousand dollars a week, it didn’t matter to him, but he had to maintain his cover.
“Stop feeding me corn. I know that you could probably afford a lot more than that.”
“All right, John.” Michael said smiling. “No other candidates have agreed yet. In the interest of moving forward I think I can handle that.”
“That’s not all. I want a record player. One of those kinds with the radio built into it and gospel music records and maybe some records of old radio shows.” John’s heart was racing, afraid that he might ask too much and loose everything.
“I think I can handle that. Though records of the radio shows, might be kind of hard to find. How about some audio books” Michael said, chuckling softly to himself. “You sure you wouldn’t rather have a compact disk?”
“Don’t know how to work no compact disc.”
“Never mind, I’ll find you a record player.”
John took this as a sign that he wasn’t in trouble with his demands. “You said you’d bring my food. I want take out food from some good places not just fast food.”
“You drive a hard bargain, John. Is there anything else?” John’s hand waved around in the air until it found Michael’s arm. His grip closed tightly, and he pulled Michael close to him.
“You gotta take care of me if, if, anything happens!” John said urgently.
“Don’t worry John, if you cooperate I’ll take care of you.” Michael said as his lips curled into a hideous grin.
“No, I mean you have to take care of me!”
Michael studied the old man’s face until he had figured out what he was saying. “I’ll take care of it, John. Are you ready to get started?”
“Right now?” John coughed on the words.
“Right now. I just have to get my briefcase out of the car.” Michael replied rising from his seat. “I brought you a bag of goodies as well. You’ll have let me know what you like, for next time.”
“OK.” John whispered.
Michael got his briefcase and the bag of snacks he’d gotten. They went upstairs together. Up in the apartment, John sat nervously at the table while Michael opened his briefcase.
“I want you to sign this.” Michael said putting the paper in front of John.
“What is it?”
“It states that you are taking the drug voluntarily and that you are aware of the possible side effects.”
“How do I know you’ll hold up your end of the bargain?”
“Call your bank, they’ll tell you that six hundred dollars was deposited in your bank this morning. That was hundred dollars a week for six weeks. Naturally I’ll put in the additional funds per our new agreement this afternoon and if it takes longer I’ll add more. The next time I come I’ll bring you the record player and I’ll bring you food every time I come. Twice a day to start with.”
“You already put the money in the bank?” This made John more nervous than he’d felt yet.
“I was confident we could work out something.”
“Where do I sign?” John felt depressed knowing Michael had such confidence. Michael held his hand on the spot and John slowly printed his name. Grabbing hold of Michael’s jacket, John said desperately, “Anything happens, you got to make things right!”
“Don’t worry John. I pay my debts.” Michael said sternly, putting the paper back into his brief case. Then he took out a palm sized butane torch, lit it, and set it down on the table with the nozzle twisted so that the flare was straight up.
“What are you doing?” John asked hearing the activity.
“I’m preparing you first injection.” Michael said, placing a wire stand over the flame. He placed a Pyrex beaker on the stand, using an eye dropper he put a small amount of water into the beaker. Referring to the chart, Tina had drawn up for him, he measured out the correct dose of the brown powder.
When the liquid was clear, he removed it from the heat and opened a fresh syringe. After poking the syringe into one of the tiny compressed cotton filter balls, he put the tip of the syringe in the liquid, and slowly, carefully, drew the liquid up through the needle.
“Role up your sleeve John.” John reluctantly complied, methodically rolling up his sleeve and staring at his arm as if he could already see it. Michael came over and tied John’s arm off and watched for a rising vein. Picking one he tapped the syringe and forced a drop of liquid out the tip of the needle and pressed it against John’s skin. John raised his free hand to stop Michael.
“You’re going to take care of me!” He said trembling with fear.
“Don’t worry,” Michael said, with a smile John couldn’t see and never would. “I’ll take care of you John.” Michael said, pushing the needle through John’s skin and drawing back some blood. “I’ll take good care of you.” Satisfied he had a good vein, he drove his thumb down evenly on the plunger until it was empty and stepped back to look at his handy work. He noticed John’s face flush and drops of sweat were forming on his forehead.
“Now John, that wasn’t so bad was it?” John didn’t answer, he sat back waiting for something to happen. He didn’t have to wait long.