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November 28, 2022

After Life 22

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty-two: Emergency

"I don't want to be in Hell, Desai," Roj told him. "I never wanted to be away from God forever."

"This is known, Roj. But you do have to see yourself behind all the things you clutched to your soul in your physical life. As your adage says, 'You can't take it with you when you go.'"

"Okay, I guess. I still feel like I took a beating, though. Is it always going to hurt this much?"

Desai suddenly shimmered with his way of laughing. "You know the answer I must give you."

"Right. You don't see the future, so you don't know. But you're amused, and I suppose I should take that as a sign of hope. What a way to end a day!"

"Roj, it is not a day. It has been three days since you have been to dinner with Max."

"What? That can't be, I was just talking to Gerry a little while ago ... " Roj mentally counted on her non-corporeal fingers. "Well, that's annoying. I don't know how I missed the passing of time, at least not by that much. What's happening down there? I mean, with the precinct and Garrison and Mr. Smelly Duchamps?"

"Garrison is very angry about his ruined carpet, but is taking your message to heart. He believes that it is Duchamps' tail who set the money on fire. Duchamps has left town, only intending to visit to seek revenge and a way to open up the trade again, though he still keeps his office in Modesto. Hennessey has taken two sick days because of uncontrollable diarrhea."

"And Matt?"

"They have someone with him around the clock, making sure all he does is drink, Roj. They are trying to kill him and make it seem like suicide."

"Three days? He should be dead by now, by alcoholic poisoning!"

"Well, he pukes, because he is dehydrated, and so the alcohol does not stay in him long enough to kill him. And when he can drink from the glass they give him, they add a sleep medication to make him drowsy and confused again."

"Oh, great. Uhh, and you couldn't have told me this and snapped me out of my introspective daze to help him?" Roj leaped off the moon and swooped back to Earth, back to Modesto, back to Matt.

"Your introspective daze, as you call it, was of more importance."

Roj turned to Desai in fury, but he was gone.

How could anything be more important than Matt, especially her stupid self-image? Nothing was, nothing! She dove into his apartment like an arrow, finding Matt once again asleep in the unchanged bed. Stains soiled the side of the sheets by his bedside table, discolored the little carpet on that side of the bed. There was a full highball glass of pure whiskey on the table. Once again, Hammer was in attendance, sitting in the living room half of the front of the apartment, a perfumed hanky near her nose, watching television.

Matt himself was looking very thin, very pale. He's not going to last much longer like this, Roj thought.

Hammer was in plainclothes, but did not wear a shoulder holster tonight. Foolishly, she left her sidearm in her satchel purse, simply inviting Roj's mayhem. The purse lay on a small table near the telephone, out of sight of a woman watching TV. Out came the gun, and Hammer's badge, and the newly made key to the apartment, as easy as picking apples from a tree in August. Roj put the artifacts in the shadow of a trash can beside the front door of the apartment, went outside through the wall, and pounded on the apartment door with every effort of her will.

Hammer, of course, seeing no one through the peephole, flung open the door to the limit of the chain to see who was challenging her vigil.

Roj floated her gun, the key, and badge out of the apartment over her head, timing it perfectly to hover above her head until she had scanned back and forth, and only zipping out completely when Hammer had turned to go back inside. Roj stowed the weapon, the key, and the badge by the stairs, in an alcove for a fire extinguisher.

Back inside the apartment, Hammer was pacing and cursing. The door was once again locked, the deadbolt thrown. Matt was still unconscious.

"Is this where I make Hammer believe in the supernatural?" Roj wondered.

"No," Desai said by her ear (or what would have been her ear had said ear not been blown all over Matt and the furniture and wall of the precinct lounge), "it is not your job to make Hammer a believer. She must come to that on her own."

"I'm not going to let her kill Matt," Roj stated bluntly.

"Use Matt's phone and call 9-1-1. It is unlikely to be the rest of the police force who show up first. They will come along late, knowing Hammer is here."

"You're brilliant, Desai. It's like you're some kind of ... angel!"


Ignoring his reprimanding tone, she slipped Hammer's new Blackberry out of her purse while Hammer was in the process of listening at the front door for further violations. She carried it off to the filthy bathroom, stuffed it in the cupboard under the towels. "Desai, is there any way you could please distract Hammer while I dial?"

He disappeared instantly, and then a scraping sound could be heard on the wall outside the apartment, like a cat sharpening its claws on the side of the door. Hammer eased the door open, keeping the chain lock attached to the door. A cat left off using its claws and dropped to all fours. It meowed at Hammer. "Get out of here, dammit!" She told the cat, but the cat didn't leave -- instead it arched its back as though it were being petted, and went to the far side of the door to scrape its claws again.

Roj took Matt's cordless phone into the bathroom and called 9-1-1. When a woman's voice answered, Roj poked the "5" button three times rapidly, then three times more slowly, then three times rapidly again. While Hammer tried to kick the cat without opening the door the whole way, Roj sent the morse code SOS three times. Then she floated the handset out and put it among the mold-encrusted dishes on Matt's tiny kitchen counter. I hope someone understands Morse code -- the SOS thing is pretty common, even if only as a joke. They should be able to trace the call to this location, especially if it was left on for incriminating noise to be heard. Now for some incriminating noise ...

Roj met Desai out on the open porch of the apartment building. "I want to shoot the lock off the door, but I don't want to miss the locks or hit Matt or Hammer, or any of the neighbors for that matter. The sound of gunshots should put some speed on the 9-1-1 center."

"Along with Hammer's voice -- though she is a policewoman, and has been trained to just hit the floor in silence."

"Okay, I'll knock some dishes onto the floor, too, that ought to make her sputter. Only ... I'm not good with trajectories. I can shoot this pistol point blank at the locks, but it's the angle that worries me." Roj slipped the safety off.

"I will help with the aim."

Roj pointed the weapon at the key lock and fired, then at the dead bolt where it was attached to the door, then at the spot where the chain lock should be. Desai used his angelic fingers to adjust the barrel of the pistol at each shot. Roj swiftly returned the gun to its hiding place, and heard Desai kick open the door.

"Was door-kicking part of the plan?" Roj asked the angel.

"It is noise. Hammer did indeed hit the floor and is even now searching her purse for her side arm, in silence."

"Yeah, she's a real pro. You can tell by the way she protects people in her community. She's behind the kitchen counter -- I don't want her to find the handset of the phone. I'm going to drop a vase off the top of the shelves to the floor behind her. Matt's sister put his aunt up to giving him that vase, and he hates it. Now it will serve a good cause." As Hammer crouched in silence in the dark kitchen area, Roj tipped the vase so that it shattered on the sink.

"God damn it!" Hammer shouted, scrambling to the other side of the kitchen, crouching to remain out of sight of the door. "Who's there? What the hell is this?"

Roj turned to Desai. "That's good, isn't it?"

"It should attract attention, yes."

Hammer was still wallowing behind the recliner in the TV room, fumbling with the upended contents of her purse, searching for her badge and side arm, when the lights and sirens pulled into the apartment complex. She was warily on her feet when the men in firefighters' suits pounded on the shattered door to Matt's apartment. She composed her clothes and went to the door, rattled, but willing to play out her own scenario. "What's the problem?" she asked, feigning innocence.

"Matt Trapester lives here?" boomed the near fireman, in full regalia.

"Why yes, but there's no emergency. I don't know why you're here."

An EMT shoved by the fireman. "Right. Where is Matt Trapester? His phone sent a 9-1-1 call."

"What call? He's back there, drunk out of his skull as usual, after coming home from the bar, so I don't know what this is about. I'm his co-worker, Charlene Hammer -- from the Modesto Police Department. I just stopped by to watch over him while he sleeps off his latest drunk. You read about him and his girlfriend in the paper, I'm sure."

"No, Miss, I sure didn't," said the short EMT with a weightlifter's build. "Can you just show us where he is, or get out of the way so that we can find him?"

While Hammer continued to rummage for her badge, in the couch cushions, under the chairs, and tried to figure out a reason for her gun to be gone, the EMT went into Matt's room, found him barely breathing, saw the stains on the side of the sheets and the carpet, and the full glass of whiskey by the bed. "We got an alcohol overdose here!" he shouted. "Louie, get your camera!"

"Camera?" Hammer gasped, her face white.

"Yeah, camera. We're fed up with malpractice and negligence lawsuits. This crew documents it all."

EMT's swarmed into the room, checking Matt's vitals, taking pictures of the state of the room and how Matt appeared, pale and thin and limp. The short one lifted him, almost tenderly, as a mother puts a child to bed, onto a stretcher just as a police unit arrived on site.

The EMT with the camera snapped shot after shot of Hammer greeting the uniform who came in the door.

"We want prints from this woman," the short EMT demanded. "Get 'em. Now."

"You don't need anything," Hammer snarled. "I'm one of his co-workers from the precinct."

"Prints!" shouted the short EMT. "Don't let her bolt!"

"You'll pay for this, you little shithead," Hammer whispered to him.

"EMT's pay for everything, Ma'am, all the time. It's part of our job."

Matt was packed into an ambulance, Hammer left in the company of the uniform to go to her own car, without having prints taken, and leaving the gun behind the fire extinguisher in the porch hallway, Roj flew Hammer's badge and the new key to Matt's apartment far over the city and into the Tuolumne River, which would cover the items with silt for the winter season, and then in the spring runoff months, drive them with its flooding down to the Delta before dribbling, after eons, into the Pacific Ocean.

"We've saved Matt again, at least temporarily, and Hammer would have her balls in a vise if she wasn't female," Roj noted with satisfaction as they perched on the roof of Memorial Hospital.

"A very unseemly turn of phrase."

"It is, isn't it? But then, she's been pretty unseemly herself, sitting there hoping he takes one drink too many and dies. There was no bottle on the bedside table, Desai, and no whiskey was spilled anywhere. Matt wasn't pouring himself drinks."

"I believe that the short Emergency Medical Technician saw that; it was he who called for photographs."

"Thank God he was there and not someone Hammer could have intimidated. He didn't take one bit of guff from her. I wish I had known him when I was alive."

"Yes and no. He is a strange and sinful little man, but when he is on call, he leaves all his failings behind, and gives thought only to helping save lives and doing what is right." Desai looked about the dark city, watching the lights move below. "Pray for him, that in seeking Good in his work, he may come to find God in the Good."

Roj dropped through the roof of the hospital to the emergency room, where Matt was still being monitored by several machines, still unconscious, still so pale. His befouled clothing was gone; his face wiped clean. However, the curly black hair was matted down, and dark, muddy looking patches surrounded his eyes. She reached out to touch his cheek, but her fingers went through him as though she ... as though she didn't exist. Trying again and again, something hurting so badly inside her, she became frantic. She grabbed at the chart on the end of her bed, but found no contact. Her hand went through the blankets on the bed, the jar of cottton swabs on the counter in the room. Roj shot back up to the roof, shouting for Desai.

"Something's wrong! I couldn't touch him! I couldn't move anything! What's going on?" she cried.

"I do not know why you have been able to move things at all since you died, unless the Most High willed it so. Disembodied souls have no innate power to move things."

"Gerry was surprised that I could move things. She can't, never could as a ghost, she said. But if I can't make stuff move, or feel it now, why was I able to, just this evening?" How can I bear it, not to be able to touch him any more? It was almost enough, just to feel his heart beat, even if he couldn't tell that I was there. "I just willed for contact with things, and it happened. It seemed easy -- "

Desai held up a digit to make a point. "This is the understanding you must accept. It is the Most High who wills. Not us, not those whose realm is the spirit. Humans will, or won't, as you might say, while they are fused spirit and flesh. They decide their own paths because the Most High allows them to do so, as you decided the paths of your life. But you do not will what is to be, in terms of your ability as a -- ghost. You are not completely human, being without your natural body of flesh. If you have been able to make contact with the physical world, it must be by the will of -- "

"Oh, right," Roj interrupted. "God wanted me to make faces at some kid on the street, that makes perfect sense."

"I am ignoring your sarcasm again. Did not that experience help you to learn that you could once again act in this world?"

Once again, Roj felt an agonizing, tearing sense of loss. "So just now, when I tried to touch Matt's face, and couldn't -- is that an experience to help me to learn that I'm not going to be able to do things in this world?"

Quietly, and with awareness of her sorrow, Desai answered her. "Yes."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-03-26
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
05:19:52 PM
I like the fact that Roj is beginning to understand what it is to be a disembodied spirit. As in all good plot devices, things are beginning to get hard for her, stiffer rules to abide by in order to make her journey, even if this is a journey that we on earth are convinced is an end rather than a beginning. As Roj experiences more resistance to her quest to save Matt, it seems to me she is learning lessons she never was aware of in her physical life before.
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