The Soak, страница 1
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
© 2017 Patrick McLean. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Brash Books, LLC
12120 State Line #253,
Leawood, Kansas 66209
PART ONE: MEAN OLD MAN
PART TWO: TAKING UP THE GUN
PART THREE: FROM VICTORY, DEFEAT
PART FOUR: GIRL VERSUS BOYS
PART FIVE: AN END TO IT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MEAN OLD MAN
Three months after
“Hey, the dead guy woke up.”
These were not words Hobbs had expected to hear. He had not expected to hear anything ever again. He was supposed to be dead, and he felt as if he were.
He opened his eyes and regretted it. He saw that he was in a windowless room like a hospital room, but dirtier and more lived in. There was a mirror on the other side of the room, and in it he could see a skull draped in skin peering over the edge of the plastic footboard. He was used to being on the far side of sixty, but that thing floating in the mirror looked to be on the far side of death. He turned away from himself and winced at the pain of it.
In the bed to his right was a fat, round-faced, old man with an idiot’s leer and an oxygen tube in his nose. To his left was the door. Hobbs had no urge to punch the door.
“Hi there, roomie, have a nice nap?”
Hobbs didn’t answer. He leaned to the left and tried to get out of bed. Pain and nausea overcame him. “Water,” he said. Then he lay back on the bed, drained.
He closed his eyes and heard his roommate say, “They don’t really have room service here.”
Then he passed out.
The next time he woke up, someone was shaking his shoulder. “C’mon, buddy. Wake up there.”
Hobbs opened his eyes. A young man in shabby clothing presented some credentials and said, “I’m Mr. Upshaw, the social worker assigned to your case. What’s your name?”
Hobbs asked, “What am I doing here? What is this place?”
“This is the Clover Street Senior Living Facility, if you call this living.” He flipped through his paperwork. “You were found wadded up behind a Dumpster, with two gunshot wounds, about an inch and a half away from death. You were treated, but when they couldn’t get you out of a coma—or find anybody to claim you—they parked you here. Shady Acres. That’s all I got. What’s your side?” The man closed his mouth and looked at Hobbs. Hobbs wondered if this was his strong-arm technique.
Hobbs reached for the plastic pitcher of water on the night-stand and drank from it. When he had drained it, he set it back down, trying not to let his hand shake. He sighed.
“Nothing?” said the social worker. “You give me nothing? What did I drive all the way out here for?”
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Really? That’s your story? You mean amnesia, like in a bad TV show?”
Hobbs looked at him.
“You wake up from a coma that nobody thought you would come out of—”
“I was prayin’ for him. I knew Jesus wouldn’t let him down,” interjected the roommate.
The social worker continued, having had lots of practice ignoring crazy people, “—so I’d say you’ve got something worth living for. Something pretty important. Not the kind of thing you forget. Looks like somebody tried to kill you. And mister, you’re old. You look so old, that if I had a beef with you, I’d just let time settle the score. But somebody wanted you dead in a hurry. You want to tell me anything about that? About why you want to live so bad?”
Hobbs stared at the social worker. He said, “Livin’? You come lay down in this bed and you tell me that the view doesn’t look like hell.”
The roommate piped up again. “Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and ye need not fear even the Fires of Hell.” As he recited this verse from Imbeciles 21:13, spit flew from his lips with the words fear and fires.
Hobbs said, “See?”
He closed his eyes and heard the social worker say, “I can’t help you if you don’t help me. And the cops don’t want to help you at all.”
Hobbs fell asleep. The next time he woke up, the social worker was gone.
Over the next week, a little of his strength returned. But when he used his wheelchair as a walker, he felt as if someone had smashed a pint glass and stitched it into his stomach.
“Easy, friend,” said the roommate, taking his eyes off the TV to watch Hobbs struggle. “It’s a rest home, after all.”
Every time Hobbs lay back down in the bed, he was afraid he would never be able to get out again.
By the end of the second week, Hobbs felt well enough to reconnoiter. No cops had shown up to question him, and why should they? As far as they knew he was just another John Doe. A nobody. They didn’t know who he was, where he had been, or what he had done. They’d gotten his prints, but that wouldn’t get them anywhere. Maybe they’d get a juvie hit from California all those years ago, but that was under another name, and he doubted those prints would be in any computer. He marveled to think it, but that was the last time anybody had put the pinch on him.
By the time anybody got around to checking up on him, he would already be gone. The only question was how.
First Hobbs tried to walk out. Glimpses out the dirty windows revealed that he was on the fourth or fifth floor of whatever building he was in. The doors to the stairwells were locked and alarmed. But it didn’t matter. He couldn’t manage five flights of stairs in his condition.
The elevators were in the center of the floor, behind a door that the
The coffee tasted like burnt piss. The food, regardless of the color, all had the same pasty texture and the same vague after-taste of stale oatmeal.
He watched the security door from the cafeteria area for two days before he tried to make it through to the elevators. He was still using the wheelchair as a walker, but it was an act. He didn’t feel whole, but he thought he could move without it. He hadn’t tested how far, but he was certain he was getting better.
So when a white-haired inmate stood up, pulled her shirt over her head, and started screaming about “secret Martian niggers” coming to rape her, it was just the distraction he was looking for. The staff rushed to contain her, including the nurse from the front desk.
When she passed, Hobbs got up a little too quickly. There was a twinge in his stomach, and a sharp pain. He broke out in a sweat, but pressed on. One foot in front of the other, quickly, but not looking as if he was in a hurry. He walked directly to the nurses’ station, without looking back.
Inside, he rifled through several of the drawers, looking for a magnetic pass card, but came up empty. Then he took a chance and leaned down to peer under the desk. As his head swam, he saw the well-worn button that opened the magnetic lock on the main door. He stood up again, and held on to the counter as the floor pitched underneath him. Maybe he had been too ambitious. Jesus Christ, bending over without passing out was an ambition now?
He stood there trying not to throw up. The underpaid, over-worked Jamaican nurse appeared in the doorway.
“What are you doin’ in here?”
“I was scared,” he said, shocked to find that it was true. He had never thought about getting old—well, maybe old, but never infirm. He was a little over sixty and had thought he had years before he needed to worry about being out of breath while climbing stairs, or about turning forgetful or anything like that. But here he was, surrounded by the walking dead, old before his time. Needing to save himself and unable.
He knew men didn’t cry, but right now he had the urge.
“Don’t let the crazy woman worry you none, handsome,” said the nurse, seeing the distress on Hobbs’s face. “She just a mean ol’ wo-man.”
“You really a Martian?” Hobbs asked with a wan smile. She chuckled and shooed him away.
That night, after lights-out, Hobbs got out of bed and opened the room door. He looked out into the hallway.
The roommate said, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that. Mr. Ray is on tonight. You don’t want to mess with Mr. Ray. He hurts you if you don’t behave.”
“Go back to sleep,” said Hobbs.
“He that seeketh evil, it shall come unto him,” said the roommate, adding, “Proverbs,” as an apology and explanation all in one.
Hobbs thought, Even when you don’t seeketh, evil comes anyway.
Mr. Ray was a night nurse with something to prove, a bully of the worst kind, who preyed on the defenselessness of the elderly. A lot of people in here weren’t even lucid enough to remember that they should be afraid of him.
A few days ago Mr. Ray had introduced himself by coming down on Hobbs. Hobbs had been watching the shift change at the end of the day, and shuffled into the nurses’ station to get a cup of coffee.
“Yo, grandpa. The hell you think you’re doing?” Mr. Ray barked.
Hobbs didn’t look at him. He knew that baiting this guy was a bad idea, but he didn’t care. He’d been here too long and was going stir-crazy. Besides, what was this clown going to do? Inside, this bully nurse had to be a coward.
Hobbs grabbed a cup in a shaky hand and poured some coffee. When he turned, there was Mr. Ray, red faced and sputtering. Hobbs took a sip and looked at him.
He saw the slap coming, but couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the way. Mr. Ray’s meaty palm slammed into Hobbs’s ear and the side of his face. As Hobbs clung to the counter and struggled to keep his feet underneath him, the ringing started in his ears.
Mr. Ray looked down at where coffee was splattered on his scrubs. The wet stains called attention to the fact that the big man was running to fat as if it were a race he meant to win. The pressure built inside Mr. Ray and his face grew redder. He leaned in to Hobbs and spoke quickly and softly. Hobbs turned his deaf ear to him, hoping that the ringing would drown out this guy’s bullshit. It didn’t.
“Old man, you know who I am? I am Mister Ray. You try that shit again, I will slap the wrinkles off of you. Now get back to your room while I am still in a charitable frame of mind.”
Hobbs had to hold a hand to the wound in his leg to straighten up. To weakness and shakiness he now added a sharp pain. With effort Hobbs stood and looked Mr. Ray in the eye. The nurse was mad, but not mad enough. Not yet. Over his shoulder he saw the head nurse coming back from her rounds. Maybe this would be the play. Or, at least, the play before the play.
Hobbs spit in Mr. Ray’s face.
It almost got Mr. Ray to pop. But he was a smart, institutional bully. He wiped the spit off his face just as the nurse supervisor said, “What’s going on here?”
Mr. Ray turned around, sweet as a Valentine’s Day card, and said, “Mr. Doe has gotten a little confused. I was just taking him back to his room.”
“This area is for staff only, Mr. Doe,” the nurse supervisor said, in the same tone of voice she would use for a three-year-old. Hobbs nodded.
Mr. Ray took Hobbs’s arm and guided him down the hall-way. As soon as they were out of earshot, Mr. Ray whispered. “You’re gonna pay for that, grandpa.”
“I don’t have any kids.”
“Shut your wrinkle hole. I’m gonna come for you, sometime in the middle of the night. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow night, maybe next week, but soon. I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, man. Sooner or later, maybe just slip a needle in your IV and give you a little something-something. Maybe just an air bubble the size of my dick, you know. Whatever it is, ain’t nobody gonna care. You wouldn’t be up in here if you had some people to care for you. Shit, nobody would. So who’s gonna investigate me? Who’s gonna care one ol’ cracka strokes out in the middle of the night?
“Beside, don’t nobody believe that John Doe bullshit. Wheeling you in here with a GSW in your gut and that withered-up ol’ leg. Who knows what bad shit you done? Maybe I be doing the world a favor. Maybe I be doing you a favor. Maybe the cops be the least of your worries, your former associates likewise, ’cause now you on the wrong side of Mr. Ray Ray.”
As he spoke, Mr. Ray squeezed Hobbs’s arm harder and harder. But when Mr. Ray looked for fear and pain on Hobbs’s face, he could find none.
“Don’t matter how tough you act. You know old people doze off, grandpa? You gotta sleep sometime,” Mr. Ray said, giving Hobbs a shove into his room that caused him to stagger and grab for the railing on the wall.
Mr. Ray raised his voice so it would carry all the way back to the nurses’ station. “You sleep tight, Mr. Doe.”
Hobbs staggered into the bathroom and closed the door. He lowered himself onto the toilet riser, an industrial steel-and-plastic contraption that lifted the toilet seat to a height that the infirm could more easily manage. It was old and yellowed and cracked. The plastic screeched under his weight as he sat down.
Hobbs sat there for a moment, catching his breath, then stood and dropped his pants. He checked the puckered scars to the right of his belly button and on the front of his left thigh. The doctors had said the leg wound was lucky. The bullet had gone in, grazed the bone, and passed through. Lucky? He felt as if someone had filled his hip joint with cold sand. And he was weak, so weak. He sat on the toilet again. He cursed as the plastic moved and pinched his ass. A millimeter of skin caught in a tiny crack on the side of the seat hurt so badly that it brought tears to his eyes.
Was this to be the end of it? The end of him? Was this the way he would go out? It had all been in hi
He reached down and grabbed the side of the aged plastic. With all the strength he could muster, he pulled up. He groaned, he strained, and then, with a crack, a long, sharp piece of plastic came free. He put the point against the wall and pressed. It bent, but didn’t break.
When he climbed back into bed, the roommate said, “I warned you not to mess with Mr. Ray.”
Four hours later he heard a faint jingling of keys. Mr. Ray was coming down the hallway. The man’s comfortable shoes made no sound, but the keys on his belt loop, softly clinking together, made just enough noise to give him away.
Hobbs had lain in his bed patiently, waiting as a professional does. Not waiting for something to happen, not even wanting something to happen, just watching and listening for what did happen.
Hobbs looked over and saw the wide eyes of the roommate looking at him. Hobbs said, “Turn the other cheek. Pretend to be asleep.” The roommate did not look away. Suit yourself, thought Hobbs. He heard Mr. Ray shutting the door of the room and trying to be quiet about it. Hobbs closed his eyes.
This was the hard part.
He heard the footsteps grow closer to the bed and fought a battle not to flinch from an imagined blow he couldn’t see. Hobbs needed the man close. Even though Mr. Ray was a fat, greasy shit, Hobbs was in no condition to run him down. He’d get one shot. If he could get him close.
He smelled bad cologne, and felt the man’s breath in his ear as he said, “I can kill you whenever I please, but not today.”
Hobbs opened his eyes.
Mr. Ray said, “Yeah, that’s right…”
Hobbs turned quickly in the bed and drove the plastic into Mr. Ray’s kidney. Ray’s face, an inch from his, lost all color. His mouth made a large, round circle, but no sound escaped. Mr. Ray tried to breathe in and failed. He clawed at the side of the bed and then collapsed in a heap along the wall.
Hobbs threw the bedclothes to the other side and regained his feet.
“You’re going to hell,” whispered the roommate.
Hobbs snapped the keycard off Mr. Ray’s belt with a brutal jerk. “Not tonight.”