Chapter 18


My instinct was to jerk free of the tubes and restraints, but I couldn't remember the last time an instinct had done me any good. I didn't have the strength anyway.

I pried open my eyes. It didn't help. Everything was a uniform blur. I blinked a few times, shook my head. My eyesight began to clear. The hospital room took shape around me. I had a tube in my arm and another in my nose. My hands were tied to the railings of the hospital bed. A thick bandage kept my left hand together. The hospital room looked like any other. I was alone. I let my head fall back on the pillow.

Marcie came into the room, saw my eyes open, and gasped. "That's just typical. I sit in here for five hours, and then you wake up the two minutes I go for a root beer."

I smiled weakly. "Hello." I was damn glad to see her, and my heart did a little flip-flop. She came closer, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I'm glad you're here," I said.

She smiled, put her hand on my arm.

I tugged at the restraints around my wrists. "Get these off, will you?"

"The doctor said-"


"Oh, fine." She untied me.

I scratched my ear. Relief.

"Don't pick at it." She frowned.

"It itches." I'd never have back the chunk of earlobe I'd lost in the warehouse shootout. I didn't think I'd miss it. But my ear was wrapped awkwardly in gauze, and it itched like hell.

She shook her head at my hand. "That's a shame. Now your head isn't symmetrical." She touched my wounded hand lightly. "Hey, do you know what stigmata are?"

"Something you get in your eye."

She snorted.

I took a look at my hand. Sooner or later, I'd have to take a peek under the bandage, but I wasn't eager. It seemed to ache in a dull, distant sort of way, and I suddenly understood I must've been full of dope, or it would've hurt a lot more. No wonder I'd been out cold. I mentioned this with a laugh to Marcie.

"Laugh it up, hotshot," said Marcie. "Painkillers aren't the only reason. You lost a lot of blood. When your friend called, I checked out of the hotel and drove straight here. You'd already finished surgery. I brought you something to cheer you up." She placed a stuffed rodent on the sheet over my chest. It looked at me cross-eyed, its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. Lunacy.

"You thought a retarded rat would cheer me up?"

"It's a chinchilla. And it's supposed to be whimsical."

"Sorry. I love it. Really."

"Smartass. At least you're regaining your senses."

The memory came flooding back. Jimmy had arranged a doctor, and by the time he'd raced me to the hospital in the moving van, I was out of my head and drenched in my own blood. It was all fuzzy after that, a patchwork of memories involving doctors and nurses and people shining lights in my eyes, people who wanted blood and urine and whatever else they could get. Before I went under, I told Jimmy to call Marcie at the Hilton.

"Baby, thanks for coming." Had I said that already?

"Wild horses and all that." She ran a finger down the tube that led to my arm. "Want me to hook this to a bottle of Chivas?"

"I don't think I should mix it with the dope." I was a little worried. I didn't handle narcotics well. God knew what I might do or say.

She turned serious, not a lot, not too somber. She just altered her tone enough to get my attention. "You were lucky, Charlie. It's just your hand. The doctor says you'll be able to use it again after physical therapy."


Marcie was too supportive to harass me in my condition, but the look etched on her face said I was a dumbass. Considering the tubes in my nose and arm, I couldn't really argue. I wanted to tell her again it would all be over soon, but I wasn't sure even I believed that anymore. This sort of hospital visit had been one of the reasons she'd packed her bags. I mentally vowed to make it all up to her.

But at the moment, all I could do was lie there and soak in juice from a tube. I shouldn't have worried. Marcie was strong in the way that women who've been kicked around are strong, and there would come a time when she'd kick my ass for putting her through this. But not now, not while I was flat on my back.

She asked, "Can I get you anything?"

"Maybe a magazine."

"What do you want?"

"I don't know. A National Geographic."

"You got it. There's a Books-a-Million near here. Anything else?"

"I'm okay. Maybe flip on the TV before you leave."

She flipped on the TV to a shampoo commercial. "Any particular channel?"

"I'll just watch whatever comes on here," I said.

"See you later, hon. Try not to freak out the nurses." She kissed my forehead and left.

The commercial ended, and a show called The View came on. Four mouthy broads started yakking it up. God, help me. At the end of the segment, the announcer said, "Coming up next: Know your vagina."

Holy shit.

I fished around desperately for the remote control, but it was nowhere in sight. I hit the nurse call button.

"Yes?" came a crisp voice.

"Drugs," I croaked into the intercom.

I felt stronger after my nap. A nurse came in with some Tupperware and demanded urine.

"I can't move," I said. I could still feel the painkillers coursing through my veins with giddy potency. "I hate to ask, but could you put that between my legs?"

Without comment, the nurse pulled back the covers. When she saw the chinchilla perched on my crotch, she half screamed before slapping a hand over her mouth.

I giggled like an idiot.

"Hilarious," she said, holding out the plastic jug within easy reach. "I see we're feeling better. Now how about a specimen?"

"I don't feel very productive right now."

"I understand," she said reasonably. "I'll come back with the catheter."

"Wait!" I waved her over. "Give me the jug. I already got enough tubes sticking in me."

She handed it over and said she'd be back for it in a little bit. I put it under the sheet and wedged it between my legs. I was feeling some pressure to perform. If I didn't squeeze out a little high-test... well, I'd rather have another bullet in the other hand. I positioned myself and grunted. Nothing. I grunted harder. More nothing.

Jimmy walked in. "Hey, Charlie-boy. Sheesh! You don't look so good."

"Yeah... I... uhhhh." A couple of sad dribbles into the jug. I felt a cold sweat break out over my eyebrows and behind my ears. I was bone dry.

Jimmy frowned. "You want me to call a nurse?"


"You're turning all red."


"But you look like you're gonna fucking rupture-"

"Uhhh. Arhh!" I got off a couple of good squirts and brought out the jug. The nurse must've had her piss-radar on, because that's when she walked in.

I handed her the jug, and she held it up to the light with disdain. Jimmy scooted in next to her, so he could squint at my piss for himself.

"Sheesh, Charlie-boy, if you were a horse, they'd shoot you."

The nurse swirled it around in the jug, still examining it closely.

Jimmy said, "Sniff the cork, why don't you?"

She scowled and left.

Jimmy shook his head. "If that's how you look when you're taking a leak, I'd hate to be around when you're dropping a log."

"Don't worry. You're not invited."

Jimmy produced a toilet bag from under the bed and dropped it on my lap. "I thought you'd need a few things. Toothbrush, whatever. Maybe one or two other useful things."

I unzipped the leather bag and looked in. Jimmy had smuggled in my.38 revolver, and some extra shells rolled around the bottom of the bag. Good. I'd been feeling a little naked. I zipped the bag back up and tucked the whole package under my pillow.

"Thanks, Jimmy."

"The rest of your stuff's in the trunk of Marcie's car. She's nice, Charlie. You done good."


He looked at the door, then spoke in a hushed tone. "We checked you into the hospital as Ian Janus. Marcie thought of the name." He shrugged. "The doctor's name is Garrity. I had to slip him some big bills, so you owe me, but Stan's used him before when we needed to keep something on the QT. Our story is you had a mishap with a power tool out in the workshop."

I nodded. "Good." Doctors and hospitals were required by law to notify the police when anybody stumbled in with a bullet wound.

"We had to grease two of the nurses too," said Jimmy. "I think they've worked with the doctor before. Still, you're not gonna want to stick around here too long."

"I'm way ahead of you. As soon as I can walk okay, I'm out of here."

"The doc said he'd be along in a few minutes. He should okay you to check out."


Jimmy held up a paper sack where I could see it, then set it down next to my bed. We looked at each other a minute. I waited for him to start.

"Like I said, we found it," said Jimmy. "I couldn't have done it without you."

I wondered what the hell he was talking about, so I asked, "What the hell are you talking about?"

He frowned at me, then lowered his voice. "The stash, Hookman. The cash. I told you. We found it. All of it. The whole enchilada. That's why Beggar's men were guarding the place."


"You've done your part," said Jimmy. "So while you were in surgery, I went back and dumped all the lighters and tennis shoes out of the moving van. All those cardboard boxes were filled with cash. Ones, twenties, fives, hundreds. It's all mixed up. A big mess, but don't worry. You rest, and I'll sort it out."

I couldn't believe it. Jimmy's Flying Dutchman stash of money had been real. But what about Stan? I asked Jimmy if he'd seen anything of the old man.

"Not a clue, buddy. Sorry."

I'd figured as much.

"Listen, Charlie. I think we need to face reality. Either Stan's run for the hills a long time ago already or..." He trailed off. We both knew the other option.

"I need to get back to Jimmy Jr.," said Jimmy. "Maria's probably drinking all my liquor, and God knows what all's happened since I been gone. And I got to get some things in order before the shit hits the fan. I just wanted to check in before I split."

"I appreciate everything, Jimmy. Get back to your kid."

He pointed at me and winked again, then was gone.

I settled back into my pillow, wondering what to do with myself. My hand was sore, but not quite enough to call the nurse for drugs, although I wanted some. The TV was off. I still couldn't find the remote control.

When the doctor finally showed up, my hand was throbbing so badly, I thought my eyes would pop. The doctor had a nurse in tow- the same one who'd made off with my urine- and he looked at what I presumed was my chart, grunting and wrinkling his brow like he was reading VCR recording instructions.

"Well, well, Mr. Janus, how's the hand?"

"Like it should be replaced with a hook."

"Don't worry. I'll prescribe some painkillers." He patted the pockets of his lab coat. "Nurse, fetch me a prescription pad please."

She left.

"Listen, are you feeling okay, or what?" Doctor Garrity's composure faltered. "I mean, are you okay to check out? Do you feel up to it?"

"Yeah. Is there a problem?"

He grimaced. "Let's just say next shift will look at things a little closer. We don't want any hard questions. At least, I don't."

"Right. What about the hand?"

"You'll need to get your local doctor to check on it in about a week. Eventually the stitches will have to come out. The ear too. I hope you'll find somebody that won't feel the need to call me and follow up."

"I know the drill."

"I have some things to tell you. To help you get the hand back into shape after it's healed. It might never be exactly as it used to be, but you'll get use out of it again."


He asked, "Do you need me to call you a taxi after we check you out?"

"Somebody's coming to get me."

I popped two of the painkillers. Marcie pointed her Volvo toward Ma's house, and I dozed off in about three seconds flat. I woke up when we stopped for gas. I offered to pump.

"I'll pump it," she said. "You don't even know what planet you're on."

"I told you I'm not good with drugs."

It was well after dinner when we arrived at Ma's house. My car was in the driveway, and Marcie told me Jimmy had arranged it.

"What are we doing here?"

"Charlie, you said to come here." A hint of exasperation.

I didn't remember telling her that, but my hand felt okay.

I checked the mail on the way in. There was one envelope. I put it in my jacket pocket for later.

"I'll get the bags," said Marcie.

"Leave them for later."

We went inside, and I stood there in the hall, looking around and wondering what to do next.

Marcie touched my shoulder lightly. "Charlie?"

"Go get the hotel room again. Watch out nobody's following you."


"I'm going to do some things here."


"I'll be along. I just need to tie up some loose ends."

"Okay." She looked at me funny. "Are you okay? Can you drive?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Maybe.

She kissed me, and I remembered she was there in time to kiss back and make it convincing. It was hard to listen to her. My head wanted to think about something else. It just wasn't sure what yet.

I stood and watched her pull away in the Volvo, waved. Back in the house, I made coffee and settled into Dad's chair. The house was dead silent. My hand throbbed a relentless rhythm in time with my heartbeat.

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