Authors: Chuck Logan
For Aunt Betty and Aunt Louise, the Siegrist twins
The temperature at which substances possess minimal energy, equal to –273.15 degrees C or –459.67 degrees F.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
was a reassuring sound that brought him back like the sing-along bouncing ball. . .
Broker was used to
sleeping alone because his wife was in the army and, except for her pregnancy and a short maternity leave. . .
“So, what do you
think?” Broker jerked a thumb at the low clouds.
Milt gave a dare-danger howl as he and Allen sculled in place. . .
The ice water shattered his blood into red pins and needles.
Numb, Milt gawked into
the storm. Allen stared at his trembling, useless surgeon’s hands.
The storm left behind
gloomy flurries that stuck to their faces, melting and trickling down their cheeks.
Allen rode a police
cruiser into town from the east as the blizzard moved in from the west.
“Next stop’s the dock,”
the pilot yelled. “I put her down upwind to try and drift into the sucker. . .”
Milt lay in the ER
room cubbyhole draped in a floral-patterned hospital smock with an IV. . .
Booop . . . Booop . . . Booop.
“Shit! Call a code. He’s arrested in here!” Amy yelled. . .
It was still snowing.
But softer now, almost out of respect. “Stop signs, huh,” mulled Dave Iker.
Amy was not alone.
Two snowmobile jocks, mistaking her troubled, fixed stare for an intoxicated cripple. . .
If ever a name destroyed sleep. He lurched up, ducked. . .
It’s all shadows now.
Sinking. Velvet suffocation.
“I don’t suppose anybody
brought in the other canoe, did they? I’d hate for it to sit out there all winter.
Directory assistance listed the
number of Stovall and Hensen Associates in Timberry, a suburb east of the Twin Cities.
Jolene Sommer hung up
the phone and paused for a moment with her palm on the plastic receiver. . .
He’d grown up fascinated
with the war-soaked fiction of Hemingway, James Jones, and Norman Mailer. . .
Allen, almost jaunty, swung
a black satchel bag in his left hand. It was an old-fashioned doctor’s bag. . .
When Amy wheeled into
the parking lot, Broker, antsy, was pacing at the end of the boat dock puffing on a cigar.
The Buddhists say—
the mind is a monkey chasing its tail, suffering and desire going round and round.
Broker had always taken
back roads and harvest fields for granted, but now he saw that Washington County. . .
Broker was not one
So the sudden flash of Sommer’s startling acetylene eyes jolted. . .
After breakfast Amy took
off on her shopping errand and Broker had some time to kill before his coffee. . .
Broker drove east on
I-94 and tried to see Jolene as a lush who was one drink away from insanity and death.
Hank toured hells he
had known—Detroit got him ready for the hill, in the hammer shop at Huron Forge and Machine.
Most of the wood
was split and stacked when Earl stepped onto the deck outside Hank’s room and waved at Jolene.
Earl looked funny with
shards of computer glass dusted in his hair and his eyebrows, so Jolene left him sputtering. . .
Amy’s shopping bags were
stacked on the mud porch and she met him at the door. Before he could open his mouth. . .
The constellation Orion tilted
on the horizon like a sideswiped road sign, and Broker was driving way too fast. . .
Jesus, it was a
dump. A dump on Arcade on the east side of St. Paul where the mooks went to watch women get naked. . .
Something shook him and
he opened his eyes.
Jolene slept through the
alarm and missed turning Hank three times. Now, as a thin spoke of sunlight eased. . .
J.T. and his family
left for Iowa before dawn, towing the trailer full of ostriches.
Amy left a note
tacked on the door:
WENT FOR A RUN
. Her bags were stacked on the porch, ready to go.
Broker’s nickname in the world of snitches. . .
After a solitary dinner
in an overcrowded restaurant, Allen got away from people and drove toward his town house. . .
After getting Earl admitted
to the emergency room at Timberry Trails, Broker used a pay phone in the waiting room. . .
Jolene savored Broker’s brief
phone message as she ate a quick Healthy Choice microwave dinner.
Broker was speeding down
the back roads again. “Remember, Allen Falken has a way of showing up over there,” he said.
Allen had been kneed
in the stomach once, coming down from a rebound in high school ball.
Earl had just lost
an argument with a nurse about trading his Percocet prescription up to morphine. . .
They’d folded down the
rear seat and put in a futon mattress and blankets. Broker lashed Hank’s wheelchair to the rack. . .
He was moving in
the back of a car and it was all black outside the boxy windows. Not far away he sensed terrific cold.
Amy had screamed, “Look out,”
but the man had already stepped across the doorway and struck Broker from behind.
Jolene had remained mostly
quiet. Now she turned and studied Allen’s face, which looked haggard. . .
Hank was resolved to
go out on his kind of play; he’d bet it all on one gesture. Either he’d get the needle or a response.
Jesus, what a night
for cold-blooded murder.
Allen and Earl stood talking about how they were going to do. . .
There was this sleep-ocean
and he was sinking to the bottom, down in the dark where he bumped into fish without eyes. . .
She had grabbed Hank’s
legs and hauled him unceremoniously off the daybed, through the kitchen. . .
The closest phone was at the lodge.
Annie’s truck headlights streaked down the driveway. . .
Survive Absolute Zero: The U.S. Army Guide
was a reassuring sound that brought him back like the sing-along bouncing ball; if he were safe at home the sound might be the soft cricket in the clothes dryer downstairs signaling that the load was through. If only life had not speeded up
. . .
But it had, and now they’d put the pain on mute, along with everything else—the up, the down, the light—and they’d set him adrift in the dark with nothing but the beep. So he tried to scan along but the rhythm kept slipping away. Which figured, because he’d been thrown out of high school band—alto sax—on account of he couldn’t keep the beat.
Then he coughed and sparks lit up a corner of his mind, enough to get him oriented and he knew that he was waking up, and he understood that the dogged beep was the pulse of his heart hooked to a machine.
Which meant he was still here.
He was alive and laid out flat on his back with his eyes shut tight and he didn’t have the strength to open them, so he’d just lay back for now, all alone in the dark, waiting for the lights to come up.
Surfacing, he flashed on chemical nondreams and artificial sleep. His lips were gummed together, and when he parted them a parched numbness puffed his mouth and his throat and it felt like he’d been French-kissed by the creature in Sigourney Weaver’s
Then a sharp electric pincer prodded his right wrist four times
and made his fingers jump.
Now he was being moved because he felt the stale hospital air slide over his face, and he heard splashes of sound like underwater voices that became clearer until distinct words spilled down and trickled on his face.
“Train of four,” the first female voice said.
“Doesn’t that hurt now that he’s coming around?” a second female voice asked.
“This guy, with his neck; I want to make sure he’s back before we medicate for pain.”
Then they splashed away and there was more motion and then they came back.
“He’s breathing well, sats are good, rhythm is good.”
“Okay, let’s rouse him, get him to raise his head, squeeze a finger, swallow. And wait for the eyelids; the littlest muscles are always the last to come back. Who’s got the Narc keys?”
“Got them right here. I’ve got everything today.”
“Sign out twenty-five milligrams of Demerol and give it IV.”
The voices faded, the shapes acquired edges, then fluttered away, and tile-lined the walls and was dotted with stainless steel, and it all shimmered in and out of focus. Latex fingers carried a slender plastic syringe with green markings across his vision. A fluorescent light hovered overhead, and from its center materialized the face of a blue-gowned young woman with white-blond hair. She had serious gray eyes and copper freckles on her cheeks and she smiled.
He enjoyed the colors of her face and her hair. He found them vital, feline. He thought: a happy lynx.
“Hello there,” said the happy lynx. “Can you squeeze my finger?”
He squeezed the cool finger in his hand.
“Good,” she said. “Now can you raise your head?”
A stiff sensation laced tight up his middle and warned him not to move, but he made the effort and got his head up a little. Which was a mistake. Oh, wow.
“Take it easy.” The nurse patted his forearm with long, cool fingers. “You’ve got a few stitches in your belly.”
Pain jogged his memory and he tried to talk but no spit came. All he managed to get out was a single cotton word: “ ’peration.”
“That’s right. You’ve had an emergency operation that went just fine and now you’re in the recovery room,” she said.
“High,” he said slowly, finding some spit.
“No. Stone . . .” He took a breath, wheezed, “Grog . . .”
“Yep, we gave you something. We’re about to give you some more of the good stuff.”
“Hi,” he said.
“Right. Stoned, huh?” she said.
“No. Hel . . . lo. You’re . . . pret . . . pretty.” His eyes probed around on the front of her blue tunic and focused on the laminated picture ID alligator-clipped to her pocket, and he read the printed title: Amy Skoda CRNA. “You’re pret . . . ty, Amy,” he said.
“Thank you, and you’re lucky to be alive.”
He blinked at the blue shapes circling around him. “Where?”
“It’s all right now. You’re in a hospital.”
He nodded and the beep speeded up and he caught a panic flash of jagged black sky coming down, and frigid gray water rising up in ranks of whitecaps. He swallowed and muttered, “Storm.”
Amy nodded. “Mister, you’ve had quite an adventure.”
But she disappeared and the question hung unanswered. He waited and waited as it all slowed and went dim. Then the blue shapes above him startled and retreated. He heard shouts.
“Heads up, gang! We got another one!”
“C’mon, they need help.”
The blue commotion surged away.
A hand appeared and held up a syringe. This syringe was thicker, a dull gray plastic, not skinny like the other. It moved up and out of sight.
“There you go,” a voice said—a different voice. “It should be better now.”
Jesus God. No. Ow. Not better. They’d jacked him back into the storm. Black waves flooded from his arm, into his chest, drowning him on the inside. His lungs . . .
“Oh, fuck, oh, no,” said the voice, backing away.
Hey, come back . . .
. . .
He felt his thoughts seep away like the last bubbles of oxygen escaping his brain. And the commotion in the hall faded off and all he heard was the bleat of the heart monitor until it slipped off key:
Beep beep . . . boop.
And he lost the goddamn beat . . .
And his eyes took one last picture of muscles undulating down his arms, and just like he thought, the relentless waves from the storm had followed him right into this hospital room and were rolling under his skin.
Then he just—stopped. Nothing. Nothing erasing him line by line.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Oh shit! Call a code. He’s arrested in here.”