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February 26, 2024

After Life 23

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty-three: What Do You Wish?

Roj sat on Matt's bed despondently the morning after he had been moved to intensive care. The hissing of the oxygen was faint, as faint as the sound of his breathing. The light was subdued here, and the nurses quiet as they checked for improvement in his heartbeat, his temperature.

His cheekbones were more pronounced, though the growth of black beard hairs made his chin and jaws seem fuller. He'd always been clean-shaven while she had been alive with him. The dark fur made him look like an animal, somehow. A thin and endangered species.

We should have had a little argument about a beard. I would have told him it made him look like the Wolfman, and he would have gotten all huffy and man-proud, and said it was his face and he could do as he wanted with it. I would have given him the eye and said, "Oh, really?" and he would have bolted for the bathroom, and the shaving cream.

"What did we have, Matt? Four months? Four months to get to know each other, start to like each other, love each other, want to spend the rest of our lives together? And here the rest of our lives together was only two months long. I suppose I could have let you die, then we'd be together again ... "

"But you wouldn't be," Desai said, sitting on the windowsill behind the curtains.

"We'd both be dead, so why wouldn't we be together?"

"He would not know how to find you."

"I'm with him! I'd find him!"

There was no reply from behind the navy blue curtain that kept the room darkened. It was typical of Desai to take off or refuse to talk -- it was his way of getting the last word, so to speak. You can't argue with someone who isn't there or won't reply.

Grumpily, Roj went to the nurses' station, found Matt's name and status on a form that listed all the current patients in ICU. She poked at a pen on the deserted desk, and it rolled. I can touch it! she thought with elation. Grabbing a post-note, she scribbled on it in pen "No Visitors!" and signed an illegible name to it, stuck it on the chart beside Matt's name and room number.

It had occurred to her that one of his buddies from the force could come to "visit" Matt, and carry a syringe of some poison to kill him off -- and then amended the thought because she didn't think any of those weasels would be willing to risk their lives or careers by actually carrying out a murder, at least more of a murder than providing a drunken man one last lethal glass of whiskey with which to kill himself. No, that was what Max and his people had been for, and might yet be again. And so what if Max got one of his junkies to risk all and slip in, pretend to be a friend of Matt's, and kill him while he slept? The precinct police might be known, but there were a lot of anonymous faces in this city who could shoot his IV full of heroin and send him off the face of the world.

Sitting on his bed and lamenting wasn't getting anything done, not for her, not for Matt. "Please, God, let Matt's guardian angel watch over him, and keep him from harm," she prayed. "He's helpless without you."

Leaving him sleeping, she went back to her place of death.

Roj stopped on the roof of the precinct building to check to see if the bag of meth was still there. It was, and a strangely comforting feeling washed over her, as though she was becoming aware of the world again, finding familiar things. The events of Matt's hospitalization were so bizarre that she did not want to think of them for a few moments. The betrayal, the illness, the obvious lies to try to cover up (which seemed at this point to have done the job) were all so sickeningly unlikely that she felt dazed by them. At least she knew how the bag of meth had been carried to the rooftop hiding place.

She dropped through the building to Garrison's office. He was there, filling out paperwork to replace his badge. It was fairly pointless paperwork, considering that he was the boss and he was the one who approved or disapproved requests. There was nothing interesting with Garrison.

Again she fell through the walls to the main office, and stopped by Hammer's desk. Although technically she was on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the use of her weapon, Hammer was also filling out forms, one of which was an explanation of why she said she wasn't to blame for shooting out Matt's door, as one of Matt's neighbors found her sidearm beside the fire extinguisher at midnight, when he came out onto the porch hallway to shoo away a noisy cat. That form is going right into the shredder as soon as possible, Roj informed her silently. You tried to kill Matt. No excuse makes up for that.

Hennessey was back at his desk, looking drawn. The tangled web of deceit and ill-doing was playing havoc with his health, specifically his intestines, which gurgled ominously every few minutes. His shoulders sagged, as no officer's body should. He was beaten, Roj realized. He had nowhere left to go. Garrison would have known by now of Hennessey's meeting with Max ... no wait, would he? Would Hennessey have gone to Garrison and told him that Max Duchamps was bypassing him? Unlikely. And to whom would he go on the force? Hammer? Hammer would be so glad to tattle on him and take his place and be a player that his head would spin at how fast it would happen.

Costaine was gone, gone completely -- his name plate had been removed from his desk. Was he in Sydney? Maybe an alligator would eat him for his punishment in being part of the drug running. Alligators were a big problem in Australia, or were those crocodiles?

Nothing was happening in the precinct. Roj hovered above the desks, feeling unnecessary.

Now what? Neither Garrison nor Hammer can move without being watched. Matt is relatively safe -- if none of Duchamps' crew move on him. The last money bribe went up in smoke and its remains are in the next county up the road, so the boys on the force are aware that someone, somewhere knows what's happening, and they're going to back away from this operation. Garrison included, as he thinks he was betrayed by Max's thugs.

"Matt is awake," Desai said to Roj, appearing before her.

She shot to his hospital room.

He was, indeed, awake. His pale blue eyes blazed as he looked from doctor to nurse on either side of his bed. "Where the hell am I?" he asked in a weak and raspy voice.

"You're in Memorial Hospital. What is the last thing you remember?"

His eyes narrowed. "I went to 'Cold One' for a drink."

"Do you remember the date?"

"No. Did I have a head trauma?"

"No," the doctor answered. "You were so drunk you nearly died. How did you get home from the bar?"

"I walked." He thought a moment. "Yeah, now I remember. Anderson, that plain clothes asshole, was in my apartment. He said he was there to make sure I was safe, and poured me a nightcap. I wondered why that walking piece of shit would bother with me, and how he got in my apartment, but I wanted another drink."

"And after that?" the doctor persisted.

"I'm here. That's all. Why am I here, although I know I feel like crap?"

"You were an alcohol overdose."

"Hey, I know I was drinking a lot, but I wasn't OD'ing, dammit. I wasn't. I came home, went to bed, slept it off ... wait, but I didn't sleep it off. What the hell happened?"

"Do you know today's date?"

His brow furrowed, as much with irritation as with concentration. "No," he answered, after a few moments. He looked at his arms, his thinned arms with the bony wrists, and the IV rig that protruded from the back of his left hand. "You gonna tell me what happened to me?"

"We don't actually know. You spent three days upstairs here, after your poor girl was killed, but they sent you home. Are you going to tell us what happened to you?"

He shook his head, gently, as though it hurt. "Every day, I woke up in the afternoon, got showered, and then went over to Cold One until Mike the bartender sent me home. I couldn't stand it -- the air was pressing on me until I had to get out of the apartment or get crushed by it. I'd wake from a dream every day trying to scrape her brains off my face, thinking it was just a nightmare, only it wasn't, it was worse than any nightmare I ever had. I wish it was all just a dream, just an ugly nightmare, but then I wake up, and remember it was real, and every time, I feel like my heart's being ripped out of me." He lay back on the pillows. "I'm feeling all right, now, you know, if sort of weak. You could discharge me. I'm not going to OD. Could use a sandwich, maybe."

Nurse and doctor went to the counter on the opposite side of the room to mutter recommendations to each other, and scribble on charts. "It's good to hear that you're hungry," the nurse nodded over her shoulder.

There was a rap at the door. A man in a suit stood there, with a bouquet of flowers in his left hand and a magazine in his right pocket. "Hello, is Matt receiving visitors today? Oh, I should come back later when he isn't busy."

All eyes, living and spectral, turned to him.

Matt ripped the IV out of his hand with lightning speed and launched himself off the bed, hospital gown revealing his startlingly white butt, hospital gown sleeves revealing the right fist that pounded into the man's face in rapid punches. "You son of a bitch! Did you think I wouldn't remember you?" he cried. "You killed her! You were with that bastard that killed her!"

The doctor, the nurse, and several orderlies pulled him off the battered man with difficulty, and in the struggle, saw the gun that had slithered out of the fold of the magazine and across the floor. A nurse screamed from the desk in the hall, and hit her panic button, and one of the orderlies dived on the skittering pistol and ran with it back behind the nurses' desk.

"I'll kill you, you fucker!" shouted Matt, fighting the hospital staff. "I'll kill every single one of you bastards! That's a promise!"

His eyes, Roj observed, had become bloodshot. He's going to give himself a stroke. Matt, Matt, just live, will you?

Hospital security arrived and handcuffed the dazed man with the bloodied face, took into an evidence bag the loaded gun with its long silencer on the muzzle.

The orderlies and nurses muscled Matt back into his bed, and then secured him there, his arms and legs strapped to the bed frame. When he realized what they were doing, he raged incoherently, but to no avail.

"He needs to go to Psych," the doctor told one of the nurses. "Private room if we've got one. Otherwise he's going to have to stay in restraints. No visitors," he said, mopping his forehead with a square of paper toweling.

"That's what his chart said," the nurse chided him. "Only Guanillo said she didn't recognize the signature on the order, and so we should ignore it."

"I guess Guanillo needs to get her shit together, then," the doctor said, wiping sweat from the top of his bald head. "If the chart said 'No visitors', Security should have been screening people coming onto this floor."

The nurse eased a hypodermic needle into Matt's arm. He cursed her, but in moments his head relaxed on the pillow.

"Get him hooked back up with his IV, and get him upstairs. Wonder what the hell he did to get into this condition?"

"Do you think that man was coming to kill him?" the nurse asked, her eyes wide.

"Can't say for sure, but what kind of patient has someone come to visit him with a silencer on a pistol? Police will figure it out, though. But no visitors for this boy, from here on out."

"Yes, doctor."

Roj watched the doctor and nurses and orderlies go back to their rounds as though nothing much had happened. The visitor with the gun, whom Matt had remembered as the third turd involved in her direct murder, would be released into the custody of the Modesto police, which would mean nothing. "I'm betting that one of that crummy crew at my precinct will just return his gun to him, set him loose, dismissing any charges. They'll shrug and say nothing happened."

"Something has happened," Desai said. "Matt is being sent to the Sixth Floor. No visitors allowed, except for family. He is safe, as you wished."

"Wish, fish. I didn't want him strapped up in a nut-hole, Desai. I wanted him free and sane and back to his old self."

"He will never be his old self again. When he fell in love with you, it changed him. Your love changed both of you."

"Yeah? Guess my death changed both of us, too, and not for the better -- at least that's how it looks to me. Not a very funny joke to play on us." She held up an invisible hand in Desai's direction. "Don't even try to tell me it wasn't a cruel joke, either. If there's any good in broken hearts, I've yet to see what it could be." Fed up and done with figuring what she had to do next, Roj rocketed off to the stars once again.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-04-02
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
04:32:55 PM
A lot of action in this chapter! It was good to see Matt come alive and not be an inanimate body being discussed and plotted over. Also, a lot of further hints about the differences between living and the after life.I also am interested to see how Roj is going to adjust to the fact that she and Matt will never be together, even in the afterlife like I suspect she's been counting on, and how she is going to cope with the fact that they are separated for eternity.
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