It started with a simple enough gesture, a wink. Winks are harmless when cast by the right eye. And, at the time, he never thought anything of it; the way she looked at him from the other side of the dinner table, the way she held their embraces just a few seconds longer than expected. Thinking about it now makes him want to vomit, and he does. The anxiety spills out in a pathetic splat onto the concrete. The street is silent and empty, but to Tom it feels like the whole world just watched him upheave.
Tom never wanted to commit murder; in fact, he never really meant to hurt anybody. He was the victim here, dammit. Not this dead guy. But they had pushed him.
Staring into the pile of vomit on the sidewalk beside a freshly mangled body, he thinks fondly on the kind of person he is, the kind of guy who pays his taxes three months in advance,signals for other drivers, and spends time with his mother every weekend. Every single action he made was done with a tremendous sense of family. “We are all in this together.” Sure, he ate fried food, stayed out late, drank, even smoked on occasion; he did those things, but hurting people certainly never crossed his mind. Until now.
We find Tom with a serious problem on his hands: my blood. It was never his plan to push me out in front of the Riverfront Parking Shuttle, but something went terribly wrong with Tom. Maybe it was when she winked at me in between sips of Cabernet from across the dining room table at Christmas? Now I look upward, without the ability to even blink, let alone wink,dead look in the eye and a cemented air of disdain forever on my face.
My name is Colin, and I’m pretty heavy to carry. I’m also Tom’s brother, and he can tell just by picking me up that several of my ribs are broken. They shift and slide in his grasp,making it almost impossible to keep a firm hold on my lifeless corpse as he half-drags, half-carries me down the street. We’re in the middle of a busy city, just down the road from an intersection that sits at the bulkhead of a nearby river. At the moment the roads are void of life.No cars. No people. Just us. Just me and my brother.
Lifting his shirtsleeve to his face to wipe away the strained asparagus now mixing with the ruby red liquid slowly dripping from my neck, nose and mouth, Tom sniffs his nose and looks around.
No one but the bus driver has seen him, and even that he can’t be sure of. His car is parked only a block away and the decision to transport the body, my body, is made.
A soft orange light hues our progress from the streetlamps above as we strafe along the cracked crags and once-complete sidewalk slabs toward the crossing. Tom keeps an eye to the roads, every so often glancing down at me to see if maybe it was just an act; worried I might leap to my feet and take off running. But I know.
As we move I try to bleed as much as possible. There’s a noticeable trail flowing out behind us like liquid breadcrumbs, and I can tell Tom notices. I bought him the shirt he’swearing. That was three years ago. Maybe I can bleed even more profusely to completely ruin it,I begin to wonder. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Tom wear it. He casts furtive glances and a frenzied grimace back at the damp concrete now laced with my DNA. And then his eyes return and take to the streets.
Although nothing is around and no one is near, the night welcomes us like a petulant child. I can feel his heart pounding in his chest as we approach the intersection. His car sits lonely only half a block down the alley. A quick, right turn and Tom is home free. I can almost feel the rising sense of liberation in his stride. The closer we get, the faster we move.
Something in the bushes suddenly catches his attention and he nearly drops me onto the asphalt.
“Who’s that?” He calls out. But no one answers.
He looks down at me to find the smile I died with. My eyes are closed, and there’s an odd sort of calm about me, especially for a person that was thrown in front of a bus no more than 10 minutes prior.
Tom looks at his watch, but it’s stopped ticking-right around the same time the clock stopped ticking for me. I bought him that watch. It matches the one I own. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him wear it.
I would never go so far as to say she wasn’t the love of my life, but she was my wife and I could tell Tom fancied her. Tom always fancied everything I owned. It had been that way ever since we were kids. I bought a car; Tom had to have the newer and better model in a flashier color. I was the first in my family to go to college; Tom got into a private school and graduated with honors at the top of his class. He had money, he had success, but what he didn’t have was Erika. And I did.
The whinny of a supped-up engine roars in the distance and spooks my brother as we turn down the brick-road alley. He nearly drops me, and my legs scrape the concrete as we make the turn. The walls of the buildings surrounding us blend in with the red-stone on the street in the iridescent orange glow. If it wasn’t for the sky, we’d have no way of knowing which way was out.
Up ahead in the near distance, Tom spies his car sitting next to a sign that says No Parking. There’s a fresh ticket sticking out from under his passenger-side window wiper and he curses into the night sky. The uneven brick makes it hard for him to keep his balance with my body sitting as awkwardly as it is in his arms. My plan to bleed out was a success and now it has accumulated on my clothing so thick I’m one giant, slippery mess. Tom hangs on long enough to make it to the rear of his vehicle and then drops my body like a bag of dirty laundry onto the road with sickening thump.
He pauses for a moment after he has me propped up to catch his breath and eyes me over.I can see frightened tears welling in his eyes that glisten momentarily in the light from an overhanging flood lamp, which he quickly wipes away and conceals with a deep breath.
And then I feel the car move, and my soaked-through shirt nearly causes me to slide right off the bumper.
A large pool of blood is forming in my lap. Although I can’t smell it, I know the metallic stain of blood is heavy upon the thick, summer air. It’s the smell of death, a smell this alley has probably known all too well.
Tom has taken a seat on the hood of his car and is staring off toward the crossroads. He sits there for several minutes and does not move. He’s just sitting there and sitting there, and all the while I’m just lying here and lying here. The ground is cold and wet and I suddenly wish to know what that is like.
Then I hear a soft chatter. Tom is on his cellphone speaking rapidly but in a low tone.The phone call is brief and soon there is only silence again, and the soft din of traffic.
I begin to think of what my wife must have felt when I shot her. Could it have been like the smack of the bus against my unsuspecting body; the bullet that tore through her forehead carrying the same impact as a 15-ton public bus speeding down a deserted city street? A thick spray of blood splattered a couple of photographs hanging on the far wall as the bullet exited the back of her head. They were pictures of us, when we were happy. She had lied about Tom, and I had caught them in the act. He got away. She was not so lucky.
Now Tom’s face is in his hands and a few hard sobs can be heard over the low commotion of the distant traffic. We’re waiting for something, but I’m not sure what. Tom checks his watch a couple times and then gets up from the hood of the car and begins to pace back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He stops periodically to wipe his eyes or scratch at his forehead, but continues to pace.
He’s thinking of a plan!
But what on Earth could he be thinking ? I wonder. Doesn’t he know he’s a dead man?
They’ll fry him for this. I’m sure of it.
No more than a few seconds after I began entertaining Tom’s trial does a low rumble rise and echo and fill the street. It’s the unmistakable growl of a Harley Davidson, and the owner drives with purpose. Soon enough, an all-black bike with chrome finish pulls up in front of the Volkswagen. Tom is the picture of casual surprise.
A scrawny, unassuming man wearing cheap sunglasses and an old bandana hops off the bike. His features are hard and worn.
They say a few quiet words to each other and look back at the car every now and then.
Another noise suddenly fills my ears, sirens.
Tom and Harley take note of the noise immediately and it appears to stir motivation in both men.
The sound of the motorcycle fires up again, and I can hear its roar approaching.
When he dismounts, Tom’s chest is heaving and sweat rolls in thick droplets down his forehead. He’s also wearing more blood than when I last saw him, but the same panic and terror wells in his eyes.He moves runs over to where I’m propped up against the back end of his car. He grips his head and whines as his eyes search every square inch of the alley. Something isn’t right. The police haven’t given chase. The sirens in the street remain the same frequency and pitch,although a new slew of sirens can be heard rising from the west.
My skin is now a pale shade of what it used to be and my lips are turning blue. One of my eyes has rolled back, leaving only the whites visible.
About a month before, I had approached Tom about sleeping with my wife. I suspected something going on between them about a year beforehand, but couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I instantly recognized Tom’s car parked next to my wife’s in the driveway when she was supposedly out with friends. They didn’t even try to hide it. At first I just sat in my car with the engine on and the lights off pondering whether or not I should burst through the door and put them both out of their misery or just walk away and never return. I eventually chose to just peak through the window, and sure enough, there was Erika sitting on top of Tom with her bare legs wrapped around his waist.
Two minutes later, the bastard begged and pleaded for forgiveness like a small child might for a toy after having it taken away. He cries now, as he cried then.
As he approaches, my brother slips momentarily on the puddle of blood around me. For a second it looks as if he is bending down to pick me up. When he regains his balance, he does.His efforts, however, are slowed due to my sopping clothes. Tom can’t get a right handle on me. His hands slide and slip all over my cold, wet frame. I begin to wonder if this is how my wife felt.
He grunts and groans with each attempt to pick my corpse up off the ground. The plan she has for me, I know not, but his efforts are highly amusing and grow more frantic as the wailing in the west begins to catch up with us.
“Come on, come on! Son of a bitch!”
Through gritted teeth and a nostril symphony of breath he begins pulling at my legs. My head hits the redbrick hard as I slide down the back of his car, which reveals a long, red streak smeared across the bumper, and a fresh pool begins to form where my head now rests.
Everything is saturated by the humidity in the air. The cold smell of death lingers on the wet atmosphere like soup in a damp cloth. It’s electric, and I can almost see it fuse with Tom’s fear.
Tom hesitates and the man calls out again in a much more declarative manner.“Do it now!”
And then a very funny image comes to mind. It’s my junior year of college, and I’m about four months from graduation. I’ve been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. I tried to kill myself. Tom was the only one in our family who came to visit me. While in the hospital, he promised he’d always look after me.
Perhaps, in the case of Erika, he looked after me a little too well. And tonight he threw me in front of a bus.
Everything begins to fade. Several more shots ring out that sound like fingers flicking tin foil faintly in the distance. Time lapses indistinctly after they stop. Sometime later, I find myself propped up and almost feel as though I’m in Tom’s arms. The groping and prodding at my ribs feels more like a massage; yes, they’re definitely his fingers. Then something loud slams and I hear a car engine choke to life. Sirens wail loudly all around us now. The world suddenly gains motion and takes a hard turn. Now another hard turn. My face presses forcefully up against thin plastic covered in cheap fabric. I realize I’m in the trunk, and we’re racing down Central Parkway toward the river. The sirens give chase, but they never catch us. Everything is momentarily suspended like the split second when the elevator first drops; there is no up and there is no down.When the car regains a sense of gravity, we smack a fluid surface with enough force to pop the trunk and I tumble out into the black dark of the river.
As I toss and turn in the river’s silent currents, Tom’s body floats lazily into view. He, too, is now lifeless. A new trail of blood not of my own diffuses its way over toward my floating and suspended corpse; a few last bubbles of air birth from his lungs. His eyes are bulged, and his neck bleeding. The blood looks like giant, spiral fingers reaching through the water. What little blood I have left in me now mixes with Tom’s but refuses to fully blend with the river’s waters.
Overhead, the muffled sound of sirens approaches the river bank. Underwater they almost sound like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons.
Just before everything completely fades away, Tom tells me he never meant to hurt me and that he’s sorry. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him apologize, and it’s the last thing he says before he tells me he loves me and always will.