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To a man who understands the rigours of friendship,
When he was dying, there in the street, the ambulance still on its way, he started crying.
The cop who'd shot him, kneeling next to him now on the quiet back street, felt embarrassed for him. The cop hoped when his own time came, he didn't start blubbering. Pretty goddamned embarrassing with all these people around.
Anyway, what was this sonofabitch crying about? He was the one who'd escaped from a mental hospital named Hastings House and then brutally stabbed three teenage girls.
But the killer started to sob, and hold his stomach where the cop had shot him. Blood bubbled in the corner of the man's mouth.
And so the cop, cursing, said, "Hold on; you'll make it."
But the man knew different, of course. And so did the crowd of poor black people who'd gathered shoeless in the ninety-degree midnight of the ghetto. Some teenagers had bottles of wine stuffed inside greasy paper bags. Others toked openly on joints. One plump young woman breastfed a tiny, shiny black infant.
The man looked up at the cop and said, with great effort, "I didn't kill them."
The cop couldn't help it He sneered. "Somebody saw you, man. You went right into the women's toilet and grabbed that teenage girl. And an old woman saw you."
"It was me physically. But spiritually it was somebody else."
It was me physically but it wasn't me spiritually. Right. These fkers always had some crazy story.
And the stench; this foul, greasy odour the man gave off. What was the smell anyway?
"Feel my stomach," the dying man said.
"Feel my stomach."
"Please." And the man weakly took the cop's hand and guided it to a place just below his sternum.
And goddamn. The cop felt it.
Something twisting inside the man's stomach. Something alive. Coiling and uncoiling.
The cop jerked his hand back as if he'd been burned.
"He dead, ain't he?" a young boy said peeping down into the mans face.
The cop looked up at the kid and scowled. "You go stand back on the kerb, you hear me?"
But the kid kept leaning over and peeping down at the man. Blood bubbled from the man's nostrils and mouth and dripped from his chin.
The cop just kept staring at the man's stomach right above the wound.
Something was fucking in there. Moving.
"He dead," the kid said again, but he finally moved back to the kerb.
By the time the ambulance came the man's stomach was still and the cop would be damned if he'd say anything about it to the ambulance attendants or the man from the Medical Examiner's.
He had felt something moving in there. No shit. Honest.
The cop didn't want to end up at Hastings House himself.
Tuesday, April 25
A male nurse named Claiborne was the first person to notice that a patient named Dobyns was missing. Claiborne was on the third floor of Hastings House to deliver 100 mg of Thorazine to a delusional patient who had been somewhat violent earlier in the day.
The time was 9:02 P.M.
Claiborne's first assumption was that Dobyns had gone one of two places: the TV room (several of the patients had expressed an interest in HBO's presentation this evening of Chariots of Fire) or the library Before his somewhat lengthy stay here, Dobyns had been an English professor at a local college. While the library didn't offer a sophisticated reader much to choose from-the selection ran heavily to romances, mysteries that emphasised puzzles instead of character, science fiction that was mostly about an intergalactic lawman named Rick Starman, and westerns in which the horses were at least as smart as the people-even patients as cosmopolitan as Dobyns found the library a nice place to sit and relax. Only when you noticed the bars on the windows was the effect spoiled somewhat.
Dobyns proved to be neither place.
The time was 9:08 P.M.
Claiborne had one more place to check before he allowed himself the luxury of anything remotely resembling panic.
Claiborne had lately noticed Dobyns going into the chapel from time to time. A nondenominational nook where religious items from all the major faiths but Hindu could be found, the chapel afforded patients total silence and solace. There was even a small stained glass window high on the west wall.
Dobyns was not in the chapel.
The time was 9:12 P.M.
Two hours previous, Security Chief Andy Todd had been readying himself for the short drive home and his first nondietary meal in three months (he had been taking medication for high blood pressure) when his office phone rang and one of his men had informed him that today's violent and ongoing rainstorm had played hell with some of the security lights that sat on metal poles above the electrified fencing. (Todd had spent his first ten years in security working upstate at the prison; he was right at home at Hastings.)
"The goddamn sonofabitchin' job" as he had called it to himself had taken till now to finish (three electricians at God-only-knew how much per hour had clung to the metal poles like drowning men to life rafts getting the lights to work again) and had left him damp and rumpled in the process. Andy Todd was a man who liked to look sharp in the khaki, army-style uniform he had chosen for himself (his men had similar uniforms but theirs lacked bold brass buttons and the absolutely meaningless but quite impressive insignia Todd wore on his right arm).
He was just leaving when the phone rang.
"Andy, it's Claiborne."
"Hi, Jeff. 'Fraid I'm in kind of a hurry. I'm two hours late for dinner and you know how the missus gets." Actually, Todd noted, Jeff Claiborne couldn't tell you diddlysquat about anybody's missus. He was manly enough but gay, and while that didn't bother Todd all that much (he had a brother he suspected was the same way), it didn't exactly make Claiborne an expert on women. "How can I help you?"
"I think we may have a problem."
"What kind of problem?"
Claiborne paused. "We've got a patient missing."
Oh, dear sweet suffering Jesus, Todd thought, the image of roast beef (nice fatty roast beef) and mashed potatoes with lots of gravy and a big helping of pumpkin pie fading sadly from his mind. "What floor?"
"Right," Claiborne said. "That's what I was thinking."
Dobyns was a genuine crazy. He had managed to spook the entire staff.
Now he was missing.
At this rate, Andy Todd was going to get off his medicine for high blood pressure around the year 2347.
"I'll be right up," Todd said.
"Sorry about your dinner."
"Thanks," Todd said, thinking once more about guys like Claiborne and his brother.