ch 2, p 3, Sergei's Awakening
In the bathroom he filled the sink with hot water. Dazedly he watched the water pour from the faucet, swirl round the edges of the bowl, and form bubbles that frothed up from the bottom until the water was turned off. The surface became still and glass-like and reflected the image of his face staring down upon the glassy stillness. Seeing his reflection produced a rudimentary form of consciousness; the shimmering reflection showed that he existed, that he wasn't merely a collection of thoughts and sensations, that somewhere within the chaos of his senses somewhere existed an identity and memory. Gazing into the water he thought of his nephew and started mumbling his name as the steam rose over his face and fogged over the bathroom mirror. Billy. . . my little Billy, he repeated in the steam. The medication made his mind numb, somehow empty inside, as if stuffed with cotton balls; and he kept mumbling. Poor Billy. My poor, poor, poor Billy. What do we do now, Billy? My Billy Boy. What do we do now? The thought that echoed back at him as he conjured Billy's name was that he needed to disappear into the anonymous crowds of downtown KC, if he wanted to survive the night. People want you dead. Leave. Get out of Kansas City . Billy, my sweet, sweet, Billy.
Careful not to fall, he braced the sink and then reached for a wash cloth and started polishing the fogged-over mirror. Gradually his face and body became visible. The mirror showed the black threads sewn into his stomach and chest where he had been slashed with a knife eight days ago. Since then he's been hospitalized. Then he submerged his hands into the water and splashed his face in an attempt to dispel the dizziness.
A sound came from somewhere outside the bathroom. The sound alarmed him. His face, wet and dripping, lifted straight up from the sink. He looked toward the door expecting that it would crash down.
"Sergei? Are you in there? Are you all right?"
The voice had a high, lovely, feminine tone, which he recognized. The voice belonged to Monica, the nurse. Again, she asked: "Sergei?"
"Yes?" he answered.
"Are you all right?"
He emerged from the bathroom seconds later. She was standing in his room, next to his bed, wearing a nurse's uniform. After plunging his face into the towel, and rubbing vigorously, he handed her the towel. He was not in the mood to hear her grievances over his restroom habits.
"You're supposed to call me when you need to go to the restroom," she reprimanded.
"I didn't want to trouble you."
"You should not be out of bed in the first place."
"I feel fine, leave me be," he said, and moved toward the bed grimacing from the pain. "Are those men still in the hallway?" he asked.
"They've been there for over an hour."
Hearing this caused his throat to swell in fear. Laying in bed, he rested his head on the pillow and stared at the cold drizzle beading on the window. The room was basked in shadows of raindrops. The raindrops were streaking down the saturated panels of glass, at which he stared. His instincts told him, if he didn't escape out that window then the men in the hall would break into the room and push the pillow over his face while he slept. Beyond the window was a rusted fire escape.
"That was a very heroic thing for you to do," said the nurse. "And I'm proud. Not everyone would have the courage to do what you've done."
"Me, heroic?" he asked.
The nurse was giving him a sponge bath. All he did was lie there, half-awake. The wash cloth felt warm and damp over his shoulders, and he released an unconscious shutter of contentment.
"I don't think I'm all that heroic," he said in dim, drugged voice, lying flat on his stomach.
"I said I'm no hero."
To his colleagues in Kansas City , Sergei was a womanizing alcoholic--- certainly not anyone's hero; defiant perhaps, courageous, unafraid to take on controversial subject matter, but he didn't think being an aggressive businessman was heroic. To some he was a sellout. His dalliances with the government infrastructure, and the corrupt politicians therein, netted him tremendous profits in various illegal activities occurring within Kansas City , drug money and laundering mostly. But he didn't think that made him brave, either. He never used drugs, never directly dealt it or sold it, and stayed as far away as possible from the drug underworld. Heroin was, to him, a stunt---an act of bravado like gambling or race car driving, not a lifestyle.
Tides and tides of beingness washed over the length of his body, drawing him irresistibly deeper into the liquid-floating sensation of a shallow, half-conscious sleep; and it was a sleep filled with dreams. Mental images appeared and disappeared around him, ebbed and flowed through his mind like floating specters dimly glowing within a transparent mind-substance. He dreamt of the alley, of the thunder and lightning, and of the Italians kicking him and stabbing him in the alley, and of himself lying there, beaten to the point where he was oblivious to the pain. There was divine silence in the oblivion. He was dying in the alley that night. And dying, he found, was the easiest, most natural, most cowardly thing he had ever done. It was fighting death that was heroic.
The nurse wrung the washcloth over a dish of hot water. He knew the water was hot because he had awoken and now saw white tufts of steam rising from the dish and from the washcloth which she twisted in her hands. They were beautiful hands. She had shoulder-length blond hair, wide child bearing hips and eyes that had a terrific way of re-establishing his contact with reality. They were big doll eyes.
"These drugs are something else," he said.
"Are you queasy?"
He yawned and smiled dazedly, rather embarrassed by his nudity. The feeling of defenselessness humbled him. Shyly he reached for a newspaper lying on the bed stand. The nurse gave him the agitated look of a school mistress.
"What are you doing, Sergei?"
"I'm checking out the news, sweet heart. Calm down."
"You can read the paper when you're well. Put it down."
Across the top of the local news section was the headline: KC Business Man Attacked by Gang. A feeling of dread came over him. The date on the newspaper was February 10---two weeks ago.
"Who left this newspaper here?"
"One of your relatives. He thought you might want to read it. He thought it might help you retain some of the memory you lost."
"How long has it been laying there?"
"The whole time, since you've been here."
Sergei was in disbelief. "You're kidding. And I just now saw it?"
The nurse smiled beautifully. "You've been a very sick boy, Sergei. We nearly lost you, not once, but many times. You've been in and out of surgery five times. No one thought you would live, Sergei. Nobody. You're a miracle. An angel must be looking over you."
"You're my only angel, sweet heart." He bunched up the newspaper and tossed it against the wall. "There's nothing angels or God could do to protect me. Eventually they'll. . . they'll. . . and I'll be there all over again."
"What do you mean? Where will you be?"
"The place I visited in the alley."
There was a look of vacancy on his face. The near-death experience was vivid in his memory and the feeling of death still seemed to permeate his senses and everything he looked upon. He saw death in the dreadful emptiness of room. He saw it in the cold raindrops beading on the window, in the dank smell of ammonia in the air, in the bits of dust on the window sill. It was the meaninglessness of existence, filling Space like an airless, choking, noxious gas wrenching the lungs.
Nervously he sat up in bed. She was about to shut off the light.
"Don't leave Monica."
"What is it?" she asked, her hand underneath the lamp shade.
"I'm sorry for being difficult."
"You don't have to be sorry, Sergei."
"But I am. You've been good to me."
She sat next to him in bed. The uniform conformed tightly to her hips, giving him a shock of pleasure, an instantaneous glow. He said:
"I have a place in the Bahamas , and it's on the ocean, and I thought it would be nice to have you around. You're awful nice. I have to get out town, Monica, or else I'm done for. I have to go tonight."
"I'm sure you understand by now, why." He took her hand gently into the warmth of his hand and kissed her above the wrist. The limpness of her fingers told him that she was unalarmed. "There's no staying in Kansas City anymore," he went on. "Tonight I'm checking into the Constantine Hotel . I'll be checked-in under the name, Frank White. Tomorrow I'll be gone forever."
Surprisingly she said she would come. Before turning off the lights she said, "I'll see you tonight."
The lights went out.
"Yes?" she answered, outlined in the doorway.
"Tell no one. It's important that you don't."
"My lips are sealed. Good night."
After the nurse closed the door, and the room was thrown into darkness, he turned his head to the side; his cheek flush against the pillow, he listened to the wind blowing the drizzle against the window, and watched the beads of water growing fat and sliding down the glass. There were places in the Bahamas where life went on as if time stood still and where it would be a great pleasure to have somebody laying next to him on the white corral beaches. In Nassau , he had a bank account with enough money for a life time of sunsets, two life times. He threw the cover aside and grabbed the bed frame in order to resist the light headedness that came from rising too quickly to his feet. With luck, he thought, I'll make it to Nassau in forty-eight hours. The account he had set up there was under a false identity and held the money that he had saved for his retirement, drug money which had trickled down from a sophisticated safety deposit arrangement he had set up within the Swiss banking system. The money was un-traceable.
Across from the bed was a dresser. He got dressed in a black suit, disregarding that the jacket was wrinkled and that it was not a tie that he particularly liked.
Then he raised his leg over the sill and climbed through the window. The temperature hovered above freezing. It was still drizzling outside and his trench coat repelled the cool, mist-infused breeze blowing through the fire escape; ice cold beads of water pattered against his skull. After closing the window he descended the ladder straight down for two stories; the wet, iron rails cold against his palms and numbing his fingers by the time he reached the bottom.
The street was bright and in the brightness the precipitation seemed less mist-like. The individual drops looked like molten silver flashing through the headlights. Being among the pedestrians and automobiles produced the inconspicuous feeling of being lost in the crowds. No one appeared to be following him. He pushed up his collar and distanced himself from the hospital before haling a cab.
Upon returning to his apartment he found that it had been ransacked; the tables overturned, art-work smashed and lying on the floor; the furniture ripped; and as a final humility, somebody had defecated on his bed. He threw a sheet over the mattress, and then retreated into a walk-in closet. Underneath a shoe rack was a Smith and Wesson and box of hallow point bullets. He lowered the gun into the front pocked of his trench coat and left the apartment without hope of returning.
On his way to the Constantine Hotel he encountered city workers repairing a broken water main on Main Street ; the men were wearing hard hats, luminous in the high intensity flood lights. A jack hammer operator was breaking up the concrete shell, and a back hoe was excavating the earth into a dump truck. The street was muddy and the traffic reduced to two lanes. Sergei was on the sidewalk and was carrying a suitcase that contained papers, a change of cloths, and some valuables. Still he could not dispel the feeling of emptiness. His eyes were ominous, encircled in black, hallow. Earlier, while he was in the hospital, the medication helped him cope with the waves of depression that would come over him; but now, the medication was wearing off. People and things looked strange. Space itself looked different; it looked energy-filled, part mental, part physical. For a brief moment the backhoe created the hallucinatory image in his mind of being a giant, steel, Praying Mantis; the segmented arms reached into the dead, cold ground. The loud metal-armored machines all conveyed themselves to his senses as if they were giant, apocalyptic insects.
Further down on Main Street was the hotel. The room that he was given was spacious, shag carpeted, and smelled of fresh bed linen and air freshener. After securing the dead bolt, he went over toward the bed and dialed room service. On the bed was his .44 magnum; its weight dimpled a pillow. When room service answered he struggled to remember the false name under which he was registered.
"This is. . . Frank White, room 312. Send me up a snack of some kind. A ham sandwich will do."
"It comes with lettuce, mayonnaise and tomatoes."
"That'll do. Add a half-pint of McCormick's to my order, no a full pint. Have the concierge knock two times before leaving the order outside my door."
"I look dreadful and don't want anyone coming in my room."
The Praying Mantis hallucination had overwhelmed his nerves, and his hand was shaking when he hung up the phone. Pale and disheveled, he removed his trench coat then went into the bathroom and ran the tap. On the marble countertop lay his toiletry supplies including a blue bottle of hair dye, a plastic comb, a toothbrush and a razor; the content inside the blue bottle smelled pungent and made him wince after he smelled it. Steam rose from the sink. He did not know what he would do to occupy himself once he arrived in the Bahamas ---snorkel perhaps, boat, fish, swim. He also dreamt of writing. Maybe sports journalism. Maybe politics. But then, as quickly as this thought came, he realized it was not possible; he was no longer knowledgeable in these areas; he had spent the last decade focused almost entirely on sex and money. The reality came to him: I have nothing to write about anymore. I'm a rotten nihilist.
Sergei thoroughly soaked his hair in the warm water and, with his finger tips, worked the dye deep into his roots; the suds were brown and his eyes watered from the fumes. An hour later he was nearly un-recognizable. He emerged from the bathroom, clean shaven, his mustache gone; his hair dyed a dark brown. As a final touch to his disguise he clothed himself in non-descript garments: tacky Bermuda shorts, a floral safari shirt, brand new penny loafers, knee length socks, sunglasses in the pocket. He felt ridiculous seeing his reflection in the mirror. He looked like an American tourist. Scoffing at himself, he sat on the edge of the bed. The sheets were frazzled, the room dark and the curtains rolling in the breeze blowing through the window. He disliked his new name; sounded too pedestrian. He could not picture himself, a Frank White in Bermuda shorts, strolling along the beach with a nurse named Monica. The image produced a wave of depression.
Two hard wraps came from the door, most likely room service; in case it wasn't, however, he reached for the .44. It felt heavy but well-balanced in his hand. Squinting through the peephole, he kept the muzzle pointed at the floor. The convex swell to the leans magnified the tray and the four-legged stand on which it stood.
He brought the tray inside the room, set it on the dresser, and quickly closed the door all within a matter of moments. Underneath the lid was a sandwich---a ham, lettuce and tomato sandwich made from a fresh-baked roll that was light brown on top. The sandwich was for Monica, if or when she arrived. He grabbed the bottle and read the label. McCormick's. Established in 1856. Weston , Missouri . Charcoal mellow whiskey. He paced the room, simultaneously holding the .44 and swigging from the bottle. The effect was instantaneous. The soothing warmth in his stomach became a sudden lightness in his head. Maybe, he thought, the Chiefs have a chance next year. Playoffs. Wonder if Monica likes football. She'd make a good wife; pretty, obedient, demure, easy-to-please, bright . The door was being knocked and he was thinking: I'm going to make her the god-damned happiest woman in the world. I'm changing. I'm going to be happy being Frank White.
The bottle was empty. He tossed it into the trashcan then went over towards the door and squinted through the peephole. It was her. Through the peephole's convex swell he observed the cheap red dress she was wearing along with the matching pair of high heal shoes; her middle class simplicity was endearing, though a little irritating. Through the peephole it became apparent to him that she had been crying; her eyelashes were moist, curled above her blue eyes, conveying an image of helplessness. Her helplessness ruined him.
He swung open the door and swept her into his arms; and as they kissed, lovingly, softly, fluidly, he felt he could be Frank White forever and ever.
"I'm glad as hell you made it," he said. "I didn't know if you would show up or not."
"I'm afraid," she said in his embrace.
"Don't be afraid, sweet. Everything will be all right. I'll make sure of that."
"I quit my job. Everything I have is in a suitcase," which she lowered onto the floor. Tears streamed down her cheek, yet she was smiling. "You look silly, Sergei."
"It's my disguise."
"You cut off your mustache. It's gone. I loved it. Oh, why did you cut if off?"
"It'll grow back, sweety. That's kind of how things work with hair. It keeps growing."
Again she molded into his arms, and again they melted into each other, and again he lavished in the warmth and softness he felt through the fabric of her dress. Behind her was the open door. He reached for it, but she was desperate and hysterical, joyful and sad, and before he could close the door she clutched his arm.
"I feel lost and afraid," she said as he wiped her tears.
"Don't be afraid, sweet. In twelve hours we'll be set up in a hotel. We can buy you new cloths and pretty dresses. You're going to be the happiest woman on earth."
"This morning I had my own life, and now, now I'm nothing."
"You're nothing. I'm nothing. We're both nothings. Everyone is nothing. The universe is nothingnessess. Me and you will face it together, us against the Nothing."
"But am I doing the right thing?"
"Sure you are. Trust me, sweet. Trust me."
"You do love me, don't you?"
"For certain," he said.
"Tell me you love me."
"I love you, I love you. Everything will be fine," he kept telling her. "Everything will be all right."
"I love you, Sergei."
"I love you to, sweet, and everything will work out like pie."
After that her body fell away. That's what it felt like, to him. There was a sneezing bang, at the same time an exploding flash, and her body became heavy in his arms, too heavy to support, and she slid through his arms and fell straight down flat on her posterior. Then she rolled over on her side ---a bullet hole plunged through the back of her head. It was apparent by the way her eyes remained open that she was dead.
It was a gunman who shot her. The gunman had appeared at the door's threshold bearing a .357 pistol; extending from the barrel, the silencer had muted the shot fired into a sneeze of air. The man, a middle aged Mexican with close-cropped hair, kicked the door closed without lowering the piece.
Nothing came from Sergei's lips, even though his mouth was ajar. He felt paralyzed. Such was the horror of looking down the muzzle that everything else was an abstraction. His throat swelled. All he managed to say was: "I didn't mean it," his voice helpless and desperate. "I, I, I, wasn't thinking straight when I snitched."
The Mexican was expressionless. When he cocked the gun Sergei jerked his head to the side expecting a blast of heat and fire to explode into his face.
"In my briefcase I have 50, 000 dollars!"
He slackened his arm, so that the gun was aimed above and not at Sergei's head.
"Huh? What you say?"
"50,000! Please don't shoot! You can have it all!"
"Yes, 50,000! It's in my briefcase!"
The gunman lowered the muzzle back into Sergei's face, adding: "Listen very carefully, hombre. Where's the briefcase?"
"I have it here."
"Here, right here, here in the room."
Sergei backpedaled toward the middle of the room with his hands up, careful not to make any sudden movements. All things ended in nothingness. No matter how long I live, he thought, no matter how much I accomplish, re-absorption is eminent. Yet he wanted to live. He did not want to extinguish his existence. Quickly he reached for his .44 magnum, which lay behind him on the bed; it was sunk deep within the hotel pillow. The Mexican opened the suitcase when Sergei grabbed the .44 and fired. The gun recoiled as only a .44 can recoil, with a deafening wallop. Blood and brain painted the wall.