Elimination, Part Two
A "Luminations" Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
"They tried to pierce your heart with a Morgul-knife which remains in the wound. If they had succeeded, you would have become like they are only weaker and under their command. You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When I go to bed at night, I set the alarm clock on my dresser to go off forty minutes before I need to be out of bed, and for forty minutes each morning I play tag with the snooze button, drifting back into my dreams only to be jolted out of them by the oldies station on the radio. It isn't my usual radio station, but the local rock station decided they'd rather have a couple of idiots talking all morning than play music. So it's the oldies station out of Boston that provides the musical selection for my little dance. I hit the button, sink back into darkness, then jerk awake to a new song, over and over.
What I was experiencing, lying in a pool of my own blood on the floor of Belle's apartment in Framingham, wasn't too different from my morning routine.
There was no music, though. No Frankie Valli or Jay and the Americans. Just a background static of pain that would break into a scream in my head or my gut and I'd jerk awake to catch little glimpses of the ceiling and fragments of Belle's panicked voice as she paced back and forth.
"Where are you?"
The vibration from her step shot pain through my side. The darkness closed in again. Snooze button. Another ten minutes.
"…not dead. No. No, I'm sure. She's just out of it. I stopped the bleeding like you told me."
Back awake. The patch of carpet under me felt cold and wet. Ten more minutes.
"…going to do with her. You're not…"
The lights were all dim in the apartment, or else I wasn't seeing right. I was still thinking of the snooze alarm, although I didn't think it was really ten minutes passing. But then, I was having trouble figuring out time.
"Just hurry up and get here!" Belle slammed her cell phone shut. I heard her pacing closer, her steps heavy for someone her size, purposeful. I reacted to the threat of her approach, trying to curl defensively and bring my hands up in front of me. My wrists were tied behind my back. I'd only just noticed that. My attempt to move sent a wave of pain up and down my side and I faded back out.
The knock on the door was strong and purposeful like Belle's stride, and the sound of it woke me up for good. I remembered not to move this time. Instead I tried to regain some awareness of my body. One arm was completely numb. Belle had tied my wrists behind my back with cords. I'd had my weight leaning on that arm and had gone to pins and needles from the circulation being cut off. There was something sticky on my side, tape or bandage. She'd dressed the stab wound. I couldn't get a look at it from the position I was lying in.
I could see Belle moving to answer the door. She'd been on the phone with Christina Kenney, Chester Hall's old enemy. The one I was supposed to be spying on. The one I was supposed to keep clear of because she was very, very bad news. The one who'd been telling Belle on the phone to make sure I didn't bleed to death because she had other plans for me.
This is not fucking happening to me. The attempt at denial was short lived. I hurt too much. Belle was opening the door to let Christina in and then she was gonna watch while the bitch did whatever she wanted to me.
Belle managed half a scream. I didn't see what hit her, but she went down hard. The force of the blow knocked her back across the living room floor so she landed on her ass almost right in front of me. I twisted to try to see better, but that just brought the pain, and I was fighting just to keep from blacking out again. All I could see was a pair of sneakers, Converse Chuck Taylors in girlie pink, black sweatpants, and the business end of a baseball bat that got pulled out of view and then slammed back down, hitting Belle in the stomach. Belle curled up into a fetal position, whimpering.
The person with the bat knelt down. I could see a grey hoodie, and strands of red hair sticking out from behind a ski mask.
She put a hand on my shoulder. I pulled back away from her.
"Oh, for the love of… Look, it's okay." She spoke through the mask between short rapid breaths.
I was still trying to move to protect myself somehow. I thought Belle had left my legs free, but discovered when I tried to shift them that she'd simply tied my shoes together by the laces.
The girl gave a frustrated sigh at my efforts. Her hand reached up and pulled off the ski mask. She was small and thin. Built like Belle. Pale, red hair, freckles. Sixteen or seventeen, maybe, and wearing a goofy grin when her face came into view.
"Look, Princess. I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
And somehow, that was all it took to convince me she was on my side.
"Aren't you… short for a stormtrooper?" I whispered, even managing a little bit of a smile.
She moved around behind me and started working on getting me loose.
"You're Nancy Mateo," she said. "Sorry if this is gonna be not so gentle. Christina Kenney is like ten minutes from here max, and I don't think we wanna be here when she arrives."
Her nails pinched the skin on my wrists as she tugged at the knots to free me.
"Yeah. We've got mutual friends, Nancy. I'm Katy McCormick. I used to work for Chester Hall."
Katy's Toyota hybrid had new-car smell, and a push-button starter that looked like the power button on a computer.
"Graduation gift." She shrugged. "Rich parents. What can I say? At least we won't need to stop for gas."
I had leaned on Katy as we made slow progress out the back door to where she'd parked. I was slowing us down terribly, and I hated every step of it. My legs weren't working right and I couldn't stay focused. At least I managed to retrieve the rune pendant from the kitchen counter where Belle had put it down when she'd taken it back from me. The other rune was tucked in my pocket. She hadn't had a chance to look for that one.
While I was retrieving the rune, Katy was taking something out of the heating vent in Belle's kitchen, making sure she was out of Belle's line of sight when she did it. Belle was moving a bit at this point, but she was either too hurt or too scared to make any trouble for us.
We crossed the back parking lot. The wind had picked up and my eyes couldn't make much out in the darkness. It was an overcast night with an October chill that brushed against my skin, making me aware of my own feverish body heat. I'm a lot bigger than Katy and I was afraid if I fell I'd drag her down and hurt her, but it never happened.
The car slid out of the parking space on electric power, beeping a warning to us that Katy hadn't turned on the headlights. An SUV sat idling at the curb in front of Belle's condo. I could make out a silhouette at the door, but she never turned our way.
Katy grinned. "Did I mention it's quiet in addition to being eco-friendly?"
Ten minutes later we were driving north on I-495, and Katy had on a hands-free cell phone mic, and she was dialing a number. She'd told me she knew where she could get help.
"Hi, Mr. Horner? This is Katy… Katy McCormick. I'm in trouble. I have someone who needs medical help and we need it to be on a no questions asked basis."
I still was still fading in and out. I missed some conversation, and I missed when we crossed the New Hampshire border.
Somewhere around Nashua we pulled off the highway and Katy followed her GPS system to a neighborhood health clinic in a suburban strip mall. The lights in the place were out and Katy shut down the car and reached over and gave my hand a little squeeze.
"Hang in there, okay? We just need to wait a few minutes."
I felt like I finally had time to think.
"Did Chess send you?" I asked.
Katy shook her head. "Chester Hall canned my ass almost a year ago. Then he pulled a disappearing act. I'm in this for me."
A car pulled into the lot and parked beside us. I instinctively reached for the door handle. Katy motioned to wait. I noticed her finger move to the ignition button.
Two men got out of the car and Katy relaxed a little when she saw them.
"We're okay," she said. "That's Jake Horner. He's a PI. He taught Chester Hall the business. And the guy with him is a doctor."
Jake Horner and Doctor Kingsley were both older gentlemen, and from the way they spoke, they'd been friends, enemies, and associates over many years.
"This isn't like the days when you could just walk in expecting me to pull a bullet out of you and then look the other way while you lied to the police, Jacob. For one thing, all of my equipment has to be accounted for. Every drug, every goddamned cotton ball has its own paper trail."
Jake held the door as Katy helped me into the darkened clinic. They got me into an examination room before they put a light on.
"Just don't forget you owe me, Doc," Horner was saying. "You want help covering up, you'll get it. It's no problem. Let's just make sure the lady is gonna be okay, right?"
Being out of the cold seemed to strengthen the doctor's resolve. He turned his attention to me, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my arm and then grabbing a clipboard from the counter.
"All right, Miss…"
"Nancy." I spoke before I thought about whether to use my name.
He slipped my shirt up to examine the bandages on the right side of my stomach.
"Care to explain this at all?" the doctor asked.
Katy answered for me. "She brought her fists to a knife fight."
I winced when he removed the bandages, but his hands were gentle and slow as he examined the wound.
"You realize that under ideal circumstances you should have exploratory surgery."
This was all happening too fast. I didn't have time for this. He must have seen that in my face.
"Look, Miss Nancy, in a case like this one you are looking at the very real possibility of a perforated intestine. Fecal matter could have spilled into the body cavity and that could lead to infection and toxic sepsis."
"Ew! That's, like, really gross!"
Jake Horner and the doctor both shot rather nasty glares in Katy's direction.
"Sorry… Um… I'll be in the waiting room, okay?"
"Wait," I said. People needed to know. I gave Katy my phone number. Em should still be back at the apartment. I just hoped she hadn't decided to go over to Belle's place.
Katy went out to make the call and the doctor got back to work.
"Any other options?" I asked.
"Well, visual examination of the wound indicates that no internal organs were punctured. Relatively small size of the blade coupled with your body mass index and some good fortune."
I cracked a grin. "Basically, you're saying that being fat saved my life? I'm never turning down a second scoop of ice cream again as long as I live."
"Basically, Miss Nancy, I'm emphasizing the lucky part of all of this. I am still recommending exploratory laparoscopy, but it can be done at a facility in your town. If it comes back negative, it will be an easy outpatient procedure. Open a couple of ports and go in with a camera to have a look. And I should be able to put some paperwork together that will keep anyone from involving the police."
He turned to a cabinet and began to lay out supplies, explaining as he went.
"You are going to have a local injected anesthetic, then I'm going to stitch up the fatty tissue and seal the wound with this." He held up something that looked like a tiny toothpaste tube.
"Medical super-glue," he explained. "I'll write a prescription for a couple of antibiotics. Your friend can pick it up for you. I'm confident that Jake Horner knows a friendly pharmacist or two."
I slept for a couple of hours once the doctor was done working on me. Katy was there when I woke up and we talked a little bit.
She'd been tracking Christina Kenney for the better part of a year, with the help of a store room full of Chester Hall's surveillance gear. Apparently, he'd never retrieved the key to his office when he'd fired her and after he left town, Katy had been making herself right at home. She'd tracked Christina to Belle and bugged Belle's apartment.
She let me hear fragments of conversations between Belle and Christina that she had stored on her iPod.
"What about Nancy?" Belle asked once.
"She will be eliminated from the game when the time is right." I shuddered at that. It was said calmly, rationally, and without particular meaning or emotion.
Eventually Katy left me to get some more rest, and I thought long and hard lying on that cot in that windowless room about the fight I'd gotten myself into.
I kept trying to come up with a reason, one reason I could believe in to keep going. But instead I just thought of lost friendships, and of cherished friends whose lives I was risking. And for what? To Christina, I was a pawn in the game, ripe for elimination.
I drifted in and out of sleep, wrestling with these anxieties, only have the fears give way to exhaustion and the exhaustion give way to a new round of pain over and over.
When the door finally opened, I raised my head a little to ask Katy how she managed to keep going in spite of what we were up against.
It wasn't Katy. It was Darren Voort. His beat-up jacket was wet with the rain that must have started up during the early morning, and he was wearing the first of the three runes, the safe travel rune, around his neck.
He came to the side of the bed.
"God, Nancy, are you all right?"
I tried to think of a clever comeback. Drew a blank. Darren looked terribly frightened. For my sake?
"I'm fine, Darren. Really. I…"
His lips pressed against mine. Darren had never been too keen on words.
A moment passed and he pulled away from me, looking appalled, muttering an apology as he backed toward the door.
Thankfully, he didn't turn away. He could still read my lips when I called for him, no, when I ordered him to come back.
Our second kiss was gentler, quieter. I hadn't realized that finding my reason would prove to be so easy.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2007