I felt my eyelids grow heavy as I lay in the narrow hospital bed trying to think things through, believing my hospitalization to be the last best time to strategize my next steps. I had taken Canfield’s advice to heart and vowed to start being more calculating. Allowing the decisions of others to bat me around like a pinball was dangerous. As my cough eased, I forgot about the IV silently dripping medications into my body. A subtle sensation of heaviness stealthily invaded my limbs and spread until I had to fight to keep my eyes open.
I got as far as deciding to retrieve my belongings, the gun and the items I had stowed away when I felt my eyes sliding closed. The welcoming, restful darkness was rushing up to envelop me when an all too familiar voice had me sitting bolt upright, at full alert. It was Manny! I lurched out of bed and a painful tug at my hand reminded me that I was still tethered to an IV pole. I used it to steady my steps and quickly retrieved my bag of clothes from the closet across from my bed, before ducking into the bathroom.
I had just enough time to close the door and lock it before he came bustling in with the nurse at his heels. I could hear her steps rushing in behind his. The small exertion of walking across the room into the bathroom made me start coughing again. The sound of his gruff voice sent my heart into overdrive. What the hell is he doing here? I pressed my ear to the door and heard the same level of curiosity in the nurse’s voice.
“How do you know Tammy?”
“Oh, we been knowing each other since grade school.”
“Funny, you seem older than her.”
“I didn’t say we was in the same class now did I? Where she at anyway?”
“She must be in the bathroom. Let me just check on her.”
I knew a knock at the door was coming but it still startled me. I didn’t realize that I was backing away from the door until the commode struck the backs of my knees and I plopped onto the closed lid. My eyes drifted down to the shadow her feet cast in the slit where the door met the floor.
“Tammy? Are you alright? There’s someone out here who is rather insistent upon seeing you. Mr…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I didn’t offer one. You can go now. Me and Tammy got some personal business to discuss.”
“I can’t allow you to stay very long. Tammy needs her rest.”
“Is that right? If I decide to stay all night, who gonna make me leave? You? Mmm, you kind of feisty ain’t you? I like ’em spicy.”
I couldn’t catch his next words from my perch on the toilet. They must have been filthy because her indignation came through loud and clear. I imagined him leaning in and whispering in her ear. Manny’s laugh was throaty. He blew her a wet kiss and I heard her beat a hasty retreat.
“Where you going baby? It was just getting good,” he called after her.
Manny’s chuckle sounded nasty. An unbidden recollection of his leering eyes sent a shiver down my spine. He suddenly rapped on the bathroom door. I jumped again and watched his shadow pool under the door as he leaned towards it.
“Tammy? You don’t know me but we got a mutual friend. You was helping my boy Anthony out with a little job today. What the hell happened over there? I ain’t seen him since he left to go do the job hours ago. We was supposed to meet up.”
He paused, waiting for me to fill him in. I gave in to the cough tickling the back of my throat and prolonged it to buy myself time to think. What can I say that won’t raise more questions? I intentionally mumbled something incoherently.
Marko’s reply sounded frustrated,” What you say? What you doing in there anyway taking a dump? I went looking for Anthony when he didn’t show. I found his car but he wasn’t nowhere to be found and the damn house was all blazed up. Where the hell is Anthony?”
I was saved from having to respond by the hospital’s security officer. Old Manny must have really creeped out that nurse. The officer ignored his explanations and herded him out. I heaved a sigh of relief. That settled it, I had to get out of the hospital posthaste. The nurse returned and refused to stop hovering at the door until I allowed her to help me back to bed. She didn’t even bat an eye when she saw that I had all my clothes with me in the bathroom, assuring me that she would try to leave too with someone that frightening at her door. She asked prying questions about my relationship with Manny and then nodded approvingly when I said I had no idea who he was.
“We get weirdos in here all the time trying to prey on our patients. He probably works for some ambulance chasing lawyer trying to drum up business.”
I waited until after the oncoming night shift of nurses completed their first rounds, before pulling out my IV and getting dressed in the bathroom. It wasn’t difficult to slip outside while staff scurried around responding to call lights and phoning physicians. I was crossing the parking lot on the way to the bus stop when Manny shouted at me. I panicked and started to run. Coughing nearly doubled me over but the sound of his pursuing footsteps spurred me on.
Before long, my breath was coming in ragged gasps which forced me to slacken my pace. We were entering the business district which was already shuttered for the night. Manny’s fingers suddenly closed around my right arm. I looked around frantically, but the sidewalk was deserted. He began pulling me down a gangway between two buildings. I resisted and succeeded only in further pissing him off. As soon as we were in the alley, he hit me so hard that I saw stars.
“Don’t you ever run from me again. When I call, you better come running to me.”
Nearly knocking me senseless failed to satiate his anger, so he began choking me. I tried to pry away his crushing hands but they were like steel bands. I must have started to black out because I caught his next words in mid sentence.
“…know where Anthony is.”
My lips began to move but his hands were cutting off the sound. He released me and I coughed so violently that I vomited, leaning one hand against the side of a building for support. Manny stopped my dry heaving by grabbing a handful of my hair and yanking me upright. His eyes met mine and he seemed pleased by the agony which must have been etched on my face as I struggled to fill my lungs.
“Where is he?”
“Bullshit, he would never leave a job undone. You were part of that job. He can’t collect ’till you’re dead. ”
“No, I mean he’s dead.”
Manny’s eyes widened with shock that quickly turned into rage. I instinctively took a step back, knowing that he would take it out on me. The hands were suddenly back at my throat. I didn’t try to fight him, knowing that in my weakened state, I had no hope of matching his brute strength. He pushed me up against the wall and I drooped like a rag doll, giving in to the blackness stealing across my field of vision. All at once, Manny released me with a shove that sent me sprawling forward onto the ground. I rolled over and winced at my painfully skinned arms.
“Did you kill him? Tell me the truth.”
“No…no, Canfield shot him.”
“You’re lying! You killed him just like you killed my boy Dom.”
I lay still, gasping for breath and uselessly prayed under my breath that he would go away and leave me alone. My eyes were closed when he dealt a vicious kick to my ribs. The explosion of pain in my side made me cry out involuntarily. I looked up at Manny standing over me and was repulsed by the arousal gleaming in his black button eyes. It was the same look I saw in Dom’s eyes as he assaulted me.
The old me would have been petrified laying there alone and helpless with a violent predator bending over me. I felt no fear. My anger had been ignited and was beginning to simmer. I lay there memorizing his face. One way or another, I would get away from that freak of nature and then, when he least expected it I’d even the score.
First things first, I had needed to find a weapon. The handles of Tammy’s purse had somehow wrapped themselves around my arm, restricting movement and reminding me of its presence. Maybe there’s something in it that I can use to get him off me. It was already open. Manny began unbuttoning his belt buckle and I had to force myself to lay still, willing myself not to allow the thought of sexual assault to make me frantic. It wouldn’t be wise to try checking the purse until he was completely distracted. Otherwise, he would take it away from me. I looked around and there was nothing else within reach.
Manny pulled the belt free of his pants and straddled my stomach. He put the belt around my neck and with one hand began twisting the belt around his meaty hand. I had to move quickly before I lost consciousness again. Clumsily, I used one hand to move the purse down my arm until I could get my hand inside and frantically pawed through its contents.
Two times, I latched onto what felt like a pen and cast it aside searching for a knife. As my eyesight blurred, I resigned myself to using the pen, hoping it at least had a sharp nib. Without looking, I thumbed off the lid, wrestled my hand out of the purse and jammed the tip of the pen into his leg with my thumb on the button to keep the nib extended. Manny yelled and fell backwards off of me with the pen still sticking out of his leg.
“What the fuck did you stab me with you…what is this, a pen? It’s a damn insulin pen!”
I inhaled deeply and coughed. When my eyesight came back into focus, I could see the vial on the insulin pen was empty. Headlights flashed at the end of the alley and moved towards us ahead of the hulking shadow of a delivery truck. Manny turned his head and I used the distraction as an opportunity to run and hide, crawling and then scrambling to my feet. Frantically, I ran into darkened doorways and rattled the handles of one locked door after another until to my amazement, a door opened.