Well, I suppose it’s the holiday season so I should give you guys something particularly special this week. This story is going to be slightly different than the others, in particular because of it’s length. At the moment, the story is 15,000 words which is twice as long as the longest story I’ve previously posted. 15,000 is pushing pretty close to a full on Novella, which in the future I might come back and flush the story out a bit more to pump it over 20,000 words. For the time being, I wanted to share what I had with ya’ll, so what I’m going to do is post another section of the story every other day with the finale coming on the 25th, aka Christmas Day. So here ya go, remember, I love hearing from you guys. Tell me if you like the story, tell me you hate the story, tell me the characters names are dumb, or that all my characters sit around looking at each other too much.. doesn’t matter what you have to say, I’d love to hear it!
“That bad, huh? How much time ya got left?”
It’s not polite to ask a man how much time he’s got left. A social faux pas if you will. But when you spend as much time on a barstool as I do, you allow for a certain amount of faux pas’ery.
“23 hours.” I said raising my glass of beer in salute to the stranger before pouring the remainder down my perpetually chapped throat. The numbers on my forearm didn’t seem to like that, as they counted down another hour. “Scratch that, 22 hours.” I said wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
So much for social faux pas’.
“Wow, don’t you have some, I don’t know, some family you’d rather be with?” the stranger said obviously regretting his decision to engage with a man balanced so precariously upon his chair.
“All the family I got, all the family I need, is right here… Ain’t that right, Joe?”
Joe looked up from behind the bar as he made sure the inside of a glass was squeaky clean. “’Til the day you die, Tom.”
“What more could you ask for?” I said sliding my empty glass across the bar top. “Joe, help ease my transition into the afterlife with another glass, would ya?”
“Good God, man. You only have 22 hours to live and you’re wasting it away on booze?”
“How long you got?” I said kicking the bar stool to the ground behind me as I stood up a tad too quickly.
“I uh…um, I got…”
“Calm down, I’m not gonna take it from ya. I just wanna know how long you got?”
The man offered a quick glance down at his forearm as if he didn’t already have the number memorized. You could always tell the ones that had their number memorized. I suppose some people just care more about that sort of thing than others.
“I got, uh… another 63 years.” He said.
“Well, I won’t be around to continue this conversation in 63 years, but when ya get there, in that final week, those final days, you’ll understand why I’m here, in a bar, alone. Cause in the end, all the family and friends in the world won’t make a shit of a difference. Make no mistake, when death comes beckoning with a spindly ass finger pointed your way, you will die, and you will die alone, no sense in fighting it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll continue this party at home, alone, where the company is a little less self-righteous” I said brushing into the man as I walked past.
“What’s his problem?” I heard the man ask Joe.
Joe in his infinite wisdom had it pegged, “That poor son-of-a-bitch lost his reason for living.”
Good old, Joe. I might actually miss him when I die.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of the alarm on my wrist giving me the twelve hour heads up. Almost to the homestretch I thought as I rolled off the couch cradled in the soiled clothes from the night before. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I reflexively reached for my toothbrush. The bristles stared back at me as we studied one other and considered the futility of the act I was about to perform. Nevertheless, I pulled out the tube of toothpaste and lathered up the brush.
If you’re gonna die, might as well do it with fresh breath. I think my Mom told me that once.
There are some benefits to knowing when you’re gonna die. For most people, it gives them a sense of control over their final day. Some people like to throw parties and go out with a bang. Others will sit all day and analyze every inconsequential moment of their life in search for meaning. Everybody wants to believe their life had purpose.
I used to be like that. I even had a purpose, once. Putting bad guys away and putting food on the table for my two lovely ladies. If I ever did anything worth a damn, it was all thanks to those two angels. But their gone now, my wife’s clock ran up long before mine, and my daughter, well… doesn’t matter if I had all the time in the world left, she’d never talk to me again. I don’t blame her, though.
Tom, you have a visitor.
They program the voices in these houses to sound human, to sound familiar. I think I’d prefer them to sound like what they are, a machine. It’s creepy thinking there is another person in the house, living in the walls.
“Not today, Jane. Tell them to come back tomorrow.”
Tom, you don’t have a tomorrow.
“Now you tell me.” I said plopping back down on the couch in front of the television. I wonder if it’d be possible to calculate how many hours of my life I’ve lost to that damn box. Probably more than I’ve lost to drinking and smoking combined, that’s for sure.
Tom, your visitor refuses to leave. She says it is very urgent. She says it is about Diana.
Those words were like a slap to the face with a wet towel.
“Who’s out there, Jane?”
Of course, who else could it possibly be on today of all days? “Send her in, Jane.”
I listened as the pneumatic locks slid apart, releasing the door to swing freely.
“Jesus, Tom. What’ve you done with the place?” Raines said as I watched her dance through the debris in her high heels. “Ever heard of a garbage compacter?”
“Yeah, just never thought to use one, seemed like a waste of precious time.”
“Right.” She said stopping shy of the couch as she eyed it with obvious disapproval. Raines knelt to pick up a piece of newspaper off the ground. Folding it in half, she laid it on top of the coffee table before lowering her weight down gingerly. “Listen, we have to talk.”
“I’m dying, Raines. What’s too talk about?”
Her eyes bored a hole straight through me as she said, “Malcom Nettin.”
That got my attention real quick. The man who kills your wife and steals her remaining time is bound to illicit that reaction in most warm blooded creatures. “What about him?” I said not even trying to dull the edge in my voice.
“He’s out, Tom.” She said holding my stare as if I’d crumble to pieces if she ever let it go. “Broke out last night from ICDC.”
My heart was pounding so loud it made my ears hurt as I leaned forward. “How is he not already dead?” I said the words slowly so as to be sure I didn’t stutter or stumble across them. “He’s been in there for almost ten years. If I recall, prisoners are only given five.”
“We don’t know, Tom. He must have been trading something in exchange for other inmate’s time.”
“What could he possibly have to offer in exchange for years off another man’s life?”
“Tom, you of all people know what it’s like to live in a prison. Maybe not one made of brick and mortar, but a prison nonetheless. What would you do to get out early?” she said letting her eyes fall to the flashing numbers on my arm.
Damn, she always was the smart one, couldn’t have asked for a better partner in that way.
“So I appreciate you telling me all this, but what do you want me to do about it?” I said turning my palms to the ceiling so she could read the numbers ticking away on my forearm nice and clear. “In a couple of hours, I’m gonna be back with my wife, free of all this.”
“I just thought you might want to know is all, thought you might want to help.” She said wiping her palms against her pant legs as she stood up. “Guess I was wrong.”
I watched her retrace her steps through the mess and clutter as she headed for the door. She was right of course. I did want to help. No, that’s not quite accurate. Helping them meant finding Malcom and putting him back in prison where he could continue siphoning years off gang bangers and street scrum, and the tax dollars of hard working citizens would continue to provide for the plush lifestyle afforded by the International Corrections Bureau.
Nah, I wanted to help myself, and in that way there would be only one satisfactory outcome: I would be the one to put Malcolm Netten’s death clock down to zero.
“Hold up, just a sec, lemme grab my jacket,” I said pushing myself away from the gravitational pull of the couch.
“You know it’s almost a hundred degrees outside, right?”
“Can never be too careful.” I said throwing my arm into the sleeve of my familiar old leather jacket. “Wouldn’t want to catch a cold.”
“Walter, cue up the video from the Malcolm’s escape from ICDC.” Raines said.
“Does he have clearance to be here?” the little man said gesturing towards me with his chin.
I studied him with what can only be described as cool disregard, or at least that’s what I was going for, as I leaned against the far wall of the lab.
“He’s with me, Walter, that’s all the clearance you need.” Raines bent over so her face was mere inches from the lab technicians. “Understood?” Bless his heart, he did his best to stare unflinchingly back, but Raines is a woman used to getting her way.
“Fine.” Walter said resigned as he broke away from the staring contest to look up at the large computer monitor that ran the expanse of the wall in front of him. “It’ll be just a second.”
“Make it quick, we’re on a tight deadline.” Raines said glancing back at me.
“Aren’t we all?” Walter said as his fingers flew across the holographic keyboard being projected inches in front of his hands.
“Some deadlines are a tighter than others.” I said placing a slender stick of nicotine between my lips.
“Do you really think that’s such a good idea right now, Tom?” Raines said placing a hand against her hip as she shot me a look of pure hell fire. Diana used to have that look mastered. I wonder if that’s something woman practice.
“He can’t light that in here. This is a non-smoking area.” Walter said rolling his chair to the opposite side of the room as he covered his mouth with a sleeve.
“Calm down, ladies. I wasn’t gonna light it. Just an oral fixation, is all.” I said placing the cigarette back in the pack. “There, ya happy?”
“It’s not polite to risk other people’s lives for your filthy habit.” Walter said as the keyboard reappeared before him as he placed his hands back together.
“Oh dear, where were my manners?”
“What the hell is he doing here?”
Ah, crap. I knew that voice. I didn’t even need to turn to see who spoke the words.
“Captain, he may be able to help us in finding Malcolm Netten.” Raines said as she quickly, and quite smartly, put herself between me and the Captain.
“Even if I thought that was true, which I do not, there is a snowballs chance in hell that I’d let him back on this case.” Captain Marin said as the throbbing vein in his forehead traced a feint line down his temple. “I want him out of here, and he is to have no further contact with this case, am I making myself clear, Detective Raines?”
For her part, Raines stood her ground like a prize winning bull. She’s stubborn as all hell, but in the end she’s a stickler for the rules, and I could see the writing on the wall.
“Yes, Si…” she almost had the words fully out when a young man dudded up to the gills in his uniform came bursting in the room.
“Captain Marin, you have a call.”
“Take a message.” Marin said as he tried to kill me with his eyes. “I am in the middle of something.
“Sir, the caller, it’s Malcolm Netten.” Well I’ll be damned if I ever heard words that shut the Captain up faster.
Captain Marin turned to the phone beside Walter’s computer. “What line?”
“Line one, sir.”
“Walter, how long will you need to get a lock?”
“A minute, sir.” Walter said as his fingers appeared to be doing the hundred yard sprint on his keyboard.
“This is Captain Marin of the Time Crime Division. “ he said matter-of-factly.
That vein on the side of the Captains head grew a little less feint, and his face grew a little more red, as he pulled the phone from his ear. “He wants to talk to you.” He said holding the phone out to me. The scowl on the Captains face made me feel the anger he felt was equal to my confusion as I took the phone from his outstretched hand.
“This is Tom Mandel.” I said. “I guess it’s silly to ask if you remember me?”
“Oh, Detective Mandel, how could I ever forget the man who cost me the last 9 years, 212 days, 13 hours, and 5 minutes of my life? But don’t worry; I’m not one to hold a grudge. How’s the family?”
I knew he’d try to rattle me, and he definitely came out swinging for the fences. My knuckle popped as I squeezed the phone tighter between my fingers as I imagined my hands around that snakes throat. “Do us both a favor and just turn yourself in. I caught you once, I’ll do it again.”
“Ah, yes you did, but was it in time? I wonder if this time you’ll be more fortunate? I see here you only have 10 more hours with us. Pity. I’m afraid 10 hours will just not be enough for even the great Detective Mandel to bring me back to justice.”
“We’ll see.” I said eyeing the computer monitor overhead as the numbers on Walter’s trace counted down. Only ten more seconds, smart guy, and then you are all mine.
“I want a worthy opponent, Detective Mandel. These past 9 years I plotted, and I waited, for the day when I would be able to challenge you to a rematch. I quite underestimated your tenacity the first time around. Though here we are, you are a husk of your former self, if I do say so. Where’s the sport in beating a man who has already beaten himself?”
Got ya. I thought as the countdown on the tracer hit zero.
“If you’re plan is to talk me to death, you’re doin’ a great job.” I said looking down to Walter for the thumbs up. The look of confusion across his face as he shook his head no lacked the effect of filling me with confidence.
“You didn’t honestly think it was going to be that easy, did you Detective Mandel?”
“A man can hope, can’t he?”
“Indeed, I suppose hope is the only thing a man in your position really has to latch onto at a time like this. So allow me to even the playing field, just a little. Do me a favor, and look down to your Life Tracker, I want to give you a present.”
My forearm tickled like an army of ants were crawling over it as the numbers on my arm starting going up before stopping at 72 hours.
“Three days, Detective Mandel. That’s my gift to you. Three days to find me and stop me.”
“Stop you from what? What’ve you been scheming up in that cracked brain of yours?”
“Oh, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. You’ll be finding that out soon enough.” Malcolm said letting the words linger in the air as he toyed with me like a cat with a piece of string. “Now, I understand the complication of motivating an individual such as you.”
“You’re pretending like you know me pretty well, Malc. You took something from me, and I took something from you. I’m content to call it even, so stop trying to pull me into your sadistic little game.” I said wondering if anybody actually believed what I was saying.
“I was afraid you’d say that, and that just will not do, Detective. You beat me once, and you will give me the chance for redemption. Of that, I am certain. Otherwise those days I lent you will have gone to waste. You wouldn’t want to do that, now would you?”
“Why should I care?”
“Because, Detective, those three days I gave you, I got from your wife.”
A shot of pure adrenaline to the heart would probably have hurt less than hearing I was living on the time meant for my Diana. My legs turned to rubber beneath me as I put out a hand too steady myself. Raines was quick on her heels and grabbed my arm to steady me.
“You’re a sick bastard, Malcolm. And I promise you, this time, I’m going to kill you.”
“Now that’s the fighting spirit, Detective. Let the game begin.” Malcolm said as the line turned to fuzz.
I was vaguely aware of the room spinning as I dropped the phone to the ground.
“What the hell happened to the trace, Walter?” Captain Marin said pounding his fist against the desktop causing a jar of pens to topple over, spilling its contents to the floor.
“I don’t know, sir. He had it pinging off towers all over the world. The final trace put him in the center of the Atlantic Ocean.”
“You.” Marin said turning to me. “You’re done here. I don’t care what that psychopath said, my word is final and you are not on this case. Go crawl back under that rock of yours and kindly do me the favor of dying out of my sight, and out of my mind.”
“Listen, Jerry.” I said standing over him. “I want to be here even less than you want me here, of that you can be sure. But this is personal, and I got nothing to lose. You can either let me help in whatever way I’m able too, or you can get the hell outta my way. Either way, I’m gonna find that piece of garbage and do what we should’ve done a long time ago.”
“And what exactly is that?” Marin said taking half a step back.
“I’m gonna put a bullet between his eyes.”
© 2012 Anthony Vicino