Predatory

[Originally Published in Sex and Murder Magazine Issue 11 (Summer 2010)]

The yellow Crown Victoria with the unlit sign on the roof pulls up as Raul walks out of the convenience store with his gun raised, his satchel sliding down his shoulder. For years now, Raul’s carried around the bag (the satchel, he corrects the boys who hang out at Carlos’s crib on 8th street), found in a secondhand thrift shop over on 4th street. It was the first place he ever robbed, the only time in his career he’d ever gone on a run without scoping the place out first, and he remembers it more than all the other times because of the fucking exhilaration he felt when it went down. One of the best highs he’s had to this day. Ever since, he’s been trying to get that feeling back, that initial gut-clenching, head-bursting rush. The feeling that day, he’d described to the boys, had been like sprinting to the toilet and sitting down just in time to let out a massive case of the shits; like that first, grinning moment before your asshole starts to burn. But today, with his satchel and his gun, he’s less frenetic than he was back then. This isn’t just fun anymore, its work. And Raul’s become very efficient at his job.

Raul hears footsteps behind him and swirls around towards the convenience store, catching a glimpse of the Asian man that owns the place as he ducks back behind the counter.

“See, that’s the problem with you fucking chinks,” Raul yells. “You’re fucking sneaky bastards. That’s why nobody but your own kind likes you. ‘Cause you coming up in our backyard, taking our jobs, our money, and smile the whole time you doing it. Put everybody in your family but your grandmother to work just so you can get ahead.” Raul shakes his head. “Fucking commie bastar—get the fuck back.” Raul throws his arm up and points the gun at the front window of the shop, where the owner’s head’s poked above the counter again, and pulls the trigger. The report cracks through the air, sending echoes up the block and bouncing off the buildings. The window cracks then shatters and pellets fall to the ground as Raul laughs. “I fucking told you,” he says, looking around. “Sneaky bastards.”

A warbled cry comes from inside as the owner’s face pops up where the window was seconds earlier, his forehead creased with anxiety and anger. Raul laughs again and turns, looking up and down the street before seeing the taxi at the curb in front of him. Raul considers. He usually just walks away from these situations, heads to his spot on Jackson Ave to lay low until things cool off. It doesn’t pay to run from the scene like a madman. That’s exactly what the cops look for after a job, guys running and waving guns in the air like fucking homing beacons. No, Raul’s smarter than that. He tucks his gun away, draws the strap of his satchel over his head and diagonally across his chest, then heads home. Like a yuppie on his way to an appointment at Starbucks, walking briskly but not rushing because he’s early, ahead of the game.

But Raul feels daring today, and he damn sure doesn’t feel like walking. The satchel’s heavy as all hell with all the shit he got from the chink’s shop. He’s betting most of the weight’s coming from that fucking statue he got with the cash out of the safe under the counter. He would’ve tossed it but he figured, since it was locked up tight, chink man had to be hiding it for a reason. It looked to be made of wood when he first saw it but now he thinks it feels more like steel, or maybe gold. Whatever it is, walking home with it’s gonna be a pain in the ass. And the taxi’s already here; no sense in wasting a free ride. So Raul hops over to the back door of the cab, pulling it open and throwing himself inside.

“Go,” he says gruffly, pulling the magazine out of his nine millimeter and checking the rounds. Five. One less than he left his apartment with. A year ago, there’d been ten, and each expended bullet had been put through a window like the one he’d just shot out. Raul doesn’t know what it is with windows, but seeing them shatter makes him feel like he’s in an action movie, which he loves. He’s never had to actually shoot anybody, probably never will. Most people are so frightened by just seeing a gun that they usually shut up and follow directions. Even the hero-types never really amount to anything worthy of a rumble. Most of them are quicker to piss themselves and shamefully grab their limp dicks when a bullet shatters all the glass around their heads. And Raul laughs at them, at the instant male reaction to danger: grab your nuts, as if a hand can stop a bullet from destroying the family jewels. He understands it, despite the absurdity: balls are the only things that really matter anyways. Cohones. Raul takes pride in his, walks around them when he’s on the streets, gives them room to breathe. They’re his insurance policy, the reason nobody fucks with him. It’s all about how you portray yourself that matters. Like when he was a kid and somebody (doesn’t remember who) told him that he’s not supposed to run from attacking dogs. They smell fear, get excited by it, attack harder. Humans are just big ass canines when you get down to it.

This, the robbery stuff, is all just one step on Raul’s ladder of success anyways. The gun’s a tool, one he’ll give up soon enough when he moves to the next rung on the ladder and starts investing in that mounting pyramid scheme his cousin down in Jersey’s got going on. If he gets in at the top early, he’ll rake in enough dough to make knock-off jobs like this chink’s shop seem like child’s play. No sir, Raul will not be small time forever. He’s seen what sticking with the pinch local hits do in the long run. He’s been lucky so far, but like his Uncle Ron used to always say: luck’s a tricky bitch, always running out on you.

Raul looks out of the car window and the convenience store is still there, the owner peeking at him through the front door. Raul glances at the taxi driver, a man with a baseball cap on, a full head of wavy brown hair flowing from beneath. Raul grinds his teeth and leans forward, looking in the rearview mirror and trying to see if he can glimpse the man’s eyes, get him to start moving with one of his patented menacing looks. He made a little teenage chink boy piss his pants a few weeks ago with one of those looks. The boy had tried to puff his chest out and play the hard ass, so Raul put his gun to the kids head, leaned in and let the boy smell his breath. Things went smoothly from there. Staring at the driver now though, he can’t see anything. He grunts.

“Did you hear me brother?”

The driver remains quiet.

“Go,” Raul says again. “Drive.”

The car remains still and Raul hears the peal of police sirens in the distance. Sweat breaks out on his collar and he jerks a hand up, slaps at his neck, at the prickly feeling that hits him right below his hairline. Raul doesn’t like being nervous, and this cabbie is making his face twitch like a crackhead in withdrawal.

“Look brother,” he says. “I ain’t got no time for heroes.” He looks out the back window of the car. “Just get me away from here and I’ll break you off a little extra. Just a couple of blocks east is all I need.”

The driver remains silent, the car remaining idle. Raul cracks his neck and sits forward, trying again, unsuccessfully, to get a glimpse of the man’s face.

“You deaf?” he asks. “They hiring deaf fucks to drive cabs now?” A fit of rage bursts into his veins and he punches the back of the driver’s seat, the whole chair vibrating in its frame. “Drive!”

The man doesn’t move, doesn’t shudder, doesn’t even seem to breathe. Raul glances out the window again at the owner, who’s finally gotten up the nerve to come outside, speaking inaudibly. He points in the direction of the sirens then back at Raul, his eyes squinted to even smaller slits than they already are. Raul feels a moment of helplessness and can’t handle it, isn’t used to the feeling and never wants to be. So he does exactly what he does every time he goes on a run, right before he walks into whatever place it is he’s jacking: he lets the anger consume him. The anger that’s been so easily accessible for as long as he can remember. It’s like a video game when he does it, like Super Mario Brothers when they grab one of those mushrooms or the flower and suddenly they’re bigger and more badass than ever. Raul turns back to the driver, swiftly sliding the bullet clip, which he’s been clutching in his fist, back into the gun and pulling the hammer back with an echoing clack. He points the gun at the back of the driver’s head.

“I’m gonna give you two choices,” he says. “One: you drive, I pay you, and you go on your merry fucking way. The other: I blow your fucking head off and drive the taxi my damn self. Or maybe I walk, just for the fuck of it, so I don’t have to deal with moving the body, you know?” He pushes the gun into the brown, wavy hair, into the driver’s skull. “What’s it going to be partner?”

The driver’s head leans slightly to the left a bit, towards the window, still pointed straight ahead. Raul tries one more time to see his face, his eyes, catching only a glimpse of the brim of the hat in the rearview mirror up front.

The man lifts a gloved hand and flips on the meter next to the steering wheel and the car rumbles slightly, pulling off from the curb. Raul lowers his gun and the satisfied smile reappears on his face as he flips the gun’s safety switch on and glances back at the chink on the sidewalk. His smile fades a little when the the shop owner gives him a faint smile and wave, but then the taxi turns a corner and the man’s gone. Raul sticks the gun in his pant’s waist, throwing his shirt over the butt of it and shaking the whole ordeal off. He grabs his satchel.

“I knew you was a smart fella,” he says. “You don’t want to go and get involved in none of this anyways, let me tell you. It ain’t worth the stress sometimes. Sometimes I just feel like quitting. Then I remember why I started in the first place. You’ll see though, I’ll make it worth your while. Wait, you’ll see.”

The man remains silent and Raul shrugs.

“Don’t mind the silence,” he says, opening the bag. “Helps me count anyways.”

Raul takes a moment to affectionately brush a hand across the satchel. He uses it less for its practicality and more because he likes to have something he can call a “satchel.” It reminds him of the cowboys, frontiersmen, the original Americans. He would have excelled back then, he knows it. He almost feels like he’s been transplanted from that time to this modern society, coming to this life of rules and limits from a life without either. Raul likes nothing more than to feel that, deep inside of him, one of those cowboys sits ready to kill.

He dumps everything out of the bag, the statue bouncing onto the seat, its shiny jeweled eyes staring up at him, captivating him. It’s an animal thing, ancient, creepy, with eyes made out of what looks to be sapphire. A long, curved tongue hangs out of its wide, shark-toothed mouth, leering up at Raul. The tip of the tongue is flat, as if mashed in by a mallet, and on the flat part a tiny face is embedded. The face is stained a dark gray, somber holes where the eyes and mouth should be. The thing is creepy, and Raul’s glad he won’t have to keep it for long. He thinks the boys might know a few people who deal with rich folks who collect shit like this. He figures it might have to spend a night in his apartment, two at the most, no more. Then it’ll be converted to cash and added to his treasures. And if it doesn’t sell, he’ll dump it in the first trash bin he sees and be rid of it and its chinkiness forever.

            Raul rifles through everything else from the bag, separating a few paper clips and receipts from the rest of the treasure he got from the convenience store register. He began referring to the fruits of his labor as treasure a few months ago, to keep things interesting. And he is a pirate as much as he is a cowboy, the gun at his side not much different from a sword. They’re all the same characters to him. Raul’s the pirating cowboy of the 21st century. He loved those stories back in grade school, the swashbucklers and horse-riding fugitives. They stopped telling them when he hit middle school, around the time he decided that school had done all it could for him and dropped out. He spent the next few years drifting, trying out different scenes for himself, a few small time runs: muggings in the alley with his switchblade, pick pocketing in the subway, that one time he almost slit a dude’s throat for not letting go of his briefcase. Nothing big, not until he got enough to buy the gun from that street dealer. Things seemed to fit together after that, and he just went with the flow.

“Not doing too bad either,” he says out loud. “If I do say so myself.”

The driver remains silent and hangs a left at a stop sign. Raul counts the money, straightening each bill on top of the last as if laying bricks. When he’s done, he holds up a little over five hundred dollars, fanning himself with the cash then wiping his forehead with a twenty and chuckling. He folds the cash and shoves the whole wad and the statue back into his satchel, which holds nothing else but a bottle of aspirin. He gets headaches sometimes, usually when something is out of whack in the overall scheme of things. But not now. Now, he’s too excited to be aching. He still gets enough of the rush when he’s on the job to feed the need, his blood pulsing through his head, his neck, his chest, everything on fire.

            “Alright brother,” he says, pulling the gun out again. “Round here’s good.”

The driver remains silent, the engine of the cab rumbling along. Raul sighs and edges towards the driver’s seat as he glances out the car window, his jaw immediately dropping open. Outside, the unfamiliar terrain surrounding the taxi draws him away from the driver and over to the window. He stares, eyes flitting around, closes them tight and prays that he’s having some sort of vision. When he opens his eyes again though, the dead, grassy plain outside the cab is still there, brown and empty of any sign of life whatsoever.

He scoots over to the other side of the car and looks out of the opposite window, hoping to see something different. Nothing but dead grass. Through the back window he can’t even see the buildings that make up the city skyline.

“Hey, man,” he yells, his grip tightening on the gun. “What’re you trying to pull?”

The driver remains silent.

“I ain’t playing around,” he says darkly, raising his arms and leveling the gun at the back of the driver’s head. “This ain’t the city. I don’t know what the fuck you’re trying to pull, but I’m not with it today.”

Nothing.

Raul’s heart pumps steel through his veins and a pounding starts in his head that is immediately unnerving. He wants the bottle of aspirin in his satchel and curses the driver for making him need the pills today. He never needs them on days he goes on runs, this is the first. It’s another reason he loves going on them so much. They relax him, ease his mind.

But now, instead of being relaxed, he’s sitting here tense in the backseat of this cab with his gun pointed at the back of a man’s head. He’s never shot anybody before, never had a reason to. He’s always thought trigger-happy cowboys are just masking their fear with a deadly show, just like those damn kids who run from dogs, jumping fences and hopping on cars. That’s why they always get caught. Which worries Raul, because he’s scared shitless right now, no denying that, the gun trembling slightly in his hand as he presses the tip to the back of the driver’s head. And he can almost bet that the driver smells his fear and is feeding off of it.

But what the driver doesn’t realize is Raul’s a predator too, a motherfucking smooth criminal, as much of a carnivore as this man in the driver’s seat seems to be, and intelligent enough to know that one predator always has to come out on top. Alpha male syndrome at its finest. When one beast comes upon another of its kind, somebody’s got to do some bowing. And Raul isn’t the submissive type.

“You got three seconds brother,” Raul says, flipping the safety off and pulling the hammer back on the gun, the second time he’s had to do that in a matter of five, maybe ten minutes. He glances furtively out the window, at the dead grass. The sky’s darkened all of a sudden, the sun moving away from them as if running from the entire situation. Raul closes his eyes and wills his hand steady. “Three seconds you son of a bitch. Either take me back to the city or I pull the trigger.”

The driver doesn’t budge.

“One.”

No movement, just a pair of gloved hands on the steering wheel, stationary. It doesn’t even look like he’s steering, they’re so still.

“Two.”

Raul clenches his jaw, tightens his grip on the gun, and lets the anger wash over him again.

“Three.”

Raul pulls the trigger and a blast rocks the car, throwing him backwards. The front window of the cab explodes, leaving cracked and spider-webbed shards of glass in the lining of the car’s frame as the discharged bullet practically disintegrates the back of the driver’s head. Raul lets out a short, muffled yelp that sounds a little like someone trying to breathe through collapsed lungs. His gun drops out of his hand and to the floor of the backseat, and Raul stares at it, confused. He’s pushing himself up when the car suddenly comes to a screeching halt and he flies forward, his head bouncing off the back of the passenger seat.

Raul looks over to the driver, expecting him to be slumped against the steering wheel, blood and brain matter dripping from the steering wheel and dashboard and the spider webs of glass where the windshield used to be. But the driver’s head remains in the same position, turned a little away from Raul and seemingly looking out the window, as if staring at the sky and contemplating what to do next. His hands remain locked on the steering wheel and, as Raul moves back a little, he sees the hole in the back of the man’s head, surrounded by hair, baseball cap gone. Raul glances down again at the gun under the passenger seat and wonders how the hell a fucking nine millimeter managed to do a shotgun’s worth of damage. He stares through the bullet hole at the grassy plain outside and the shattered windshield  and the steering wheel, bits and pieces of white bone and skin sprinkled across the entire dashboard.

But no blood. No blood at all. And, as Raul stares, wide-eyed, the driver’s head turns slowly towards him.

When Raul sees the man’s face, he screams and lunges to pick his gun up from the floor of the backseat. The scream is devoid of all masculinity, and in the back of his head he’s dismayed to hear such a feminine sound coming from his mouth. He’s always thought he was the type to maintain his testosterone level in all situations. But, with those electric blue dots of light where the man’s eyes should be and that wide, long-toothed, raw and pink grin, Raul screams like a little girl wearing ballerina shoes and standing on a chair, pointing at a spider on the floor. The driver’s skin hangs off bone, revealing his skull beneath, the bullet hole in the skin of his forehead stretching wide, yawing as the man-skeleton opens its mouth, opens the permanent grin, and exposes a black hole into the back of its throat, as tongue-less and dark as the sky that surrounds them. It lets out a hissing breath that carries a stench like dead roadkill rotting in the sun on the highway, like the man-skeleton’s held its breath since the day the man it used to be died and is now letting it out, all the decades of decay filling the car like smoke from a brush fire.

Raul turns and struggles with the door handle, jiggling it back and forth until something cold and hard touches his shoulder and he screams again, a bloodcurdling shriek, and throws the door open, falling out with his satchel tucked into his lap and his gun molded into his palm. He turns to the car and throws his gun hand up, feeling the rough grass under his empty hand, madly scooting backwards about ten feet before coming to a stop. His breath is ragged and he tries to steady his convulsing gun hand, keep it pointed at the car. He wills it to be as sturdy as it was moments earlier when he shot the man-thing, right before he—it—turned around and acted like a bullet hadn’t just gone straight through its head.

Raul points his gun at the car, the headlights blazing into the distance and illuminating nothing but air. The engine idles and water drips from beneath the car and the inside is too shadowy to see anything but the faint glow of the interior dome light. Raul’s hands shake and he tries to steady them and keep the gun pointed at the car just in case the demented driver decides he’s going to get out. Raul doesn’t care if the thing survived a point blank shot to the head, it’s going to have to withstand four more if it wants to get to him. He imagines a bunch of scenarios, the happiest of which sees him blowing the damned thing away and stealing its car, leaving the grotesque body out here in the dead grass to finish rotting. As he thinks this, the back door of the cab suddenly slams closed on its own. The engine revs once and kicks into gear, the tires peeling as the car flips a u-turn and speeds back in the direction it came from. Raul follows it with his gun until it’s nothing more than a speck, a star in the distance, then drops the weapon and begins to hyperventilate. He sits gasping and staring at the starless sky then his stomach lurches a little, then a lot. He keels over and hacks and coughs, heaving until his eyes are watery and red, saliva and bile dripping from his lips. His head pounding, eyes blurry, legs numb, he nevertheless feels better now that the cab is gone. He has no idea where he is and, looking around, he is able to catch nothing but the slightest hint of the road shining in the moonlight.

Raul dusts himself off and grabs his gun from the ground, moving to pick up his satchel. He manages a small chuckle that sounds more like a cough, but he knows in his mind that it’s a chuckle and that’s all that matters. He’s decided, very suddenly, that the driver was an apparition, a release of mental stress, a fucking hero-type masking himself as a ghoul. The unexplained parts of it all Raul can ignore, he believes, and he attempts to throw the entire situation into the back of his mind, finding the task surprisingly easy. He’s never been a mind dweller though, and something tells him that trying to figure out what just happened will drive him insane. Besides, he has other things to worry about. Like how the hell he’s going to get home. He walks back to the road and looks in both directions, searching for headlights, taillights, any sign of life whatsoever.

The growls come suddenly, very unexpectedly as he is searching the road. They seem to come from all directions at once and he jumps, raising his gun and pointing it across the road at nothing.

“Who’s there?” he yells, his voice hoarse. He clears his throat and yells again, louder, “Don’t fuck with me. I swear to God I’m not in the mood,” then thinks about it and closes his eyes and curses under his breath. The growls didn’t come from a human, he’s sure of that. Which means all he’s just done by yelling is further give away his position to something that couldn’t answer him anyways. He drops his satchel and backs up to where the grass is a little higher and ducks down in a patch, waiting, looking across the road and searching for movement. He hears the growl again a moment later, closer this time. He stays put, his hand moist and hot against the gun. His satchel sits next to the road and he wishes he didn’t drop it so far away but he doesn’t want to risk trying to get it and being seen before he sees whatever it is that’s out there first. So he waits, forcing his breaths to come out quietly and evenly. When the growl comes again, air catches in his throat as he realizes the sound’s coming from behind him. And there’s more than just one growl. He turns quickly, bringing the gun out ahead of him and focusing his sights on four pairs of red eyes emerging from the darkness.

The closest of the pairs materializes into a wolf the size of a bear. Raul stares, wide-eyed, the wolf’s back hunched and at least four feet above the ground. If it were to stand, it would reach six, easy. Its fur matted around its neck and body, it looks almost like a lion with a puffed up mane around its head, its nose big and black and twitching as its lips curl back. Yellow teeth glisten with spit in the moonlight, drops of saliva floating to the grass in the wind. The wolf’s tail stands stiff, jutting straight out and up in the air, almost like a scorpion’s tail, and its ears are perked straight out on either side of its head, one of them ragged, barely healed. It growls again, a low rumble that sounds like distant thunder, and the rest of his friends, equally as menacing, move up beside him. They aren’t as big as the leader, though they’re still huge. Raul finds it very unlikely he could take a wolf even half their size in hand to hand combat. Luckily, though, he’s packing a lot more than his hands.

Raul makes a split second decision and doesn’t hesitate. He imagines the four bullets in the gun, each one gleaming and ready to fulfill their purpose, points the weapon at the lead wolf’s head, and squeezes the trigger. The gun bucks violently in his grip and he swears he hears the bullet hit the giant wolf, curving a little around its snout and impacting its neck like a meteor strike. The wolf falls hard and Raul grins wildly, swiftly pointing the gun at the other three wolves, his cheeks twitching. All three stand their ground, staring at him with glowing, moonlit eyes. Raul decides he probably won’t even need to use all of the bullets, maybe one more just to show them he isn’t fucking around, which is perfect because those things aren’t cheap. He’s reminded of his satchel and really wants to get it and his aspirin and throw that damn statue as far as he can into the grass because he has this very strong feeling that it’s got something to do with all of this. But he doesn’t dare take his eyes off the other three wolves. Their leader is down and Raul knows wolves travel in packs, but hungry wolves might break formation if necessary. They’ll retreat soon though, he’s almost sure of it, can feel them staring at the gun knowingly. Then he can grab his satchel, dry swallow the aspirin and figure out how the hell he’s going to get back home.

Yet, the wolves don’t back off. In fact, one of them walks over nonchalantly and sniffs the giant leader, nudging him with its nose then standing up straight and staring at Raul, as if waiting. And, as Raul watches in horror, the giant wolf leader twitches a few times, shudders once, and slowly stands up. It shakes its head, as if shaking off a splash of water, the mane of fur around its neck rippling. It shakes as if nothing serious just happened, as if it just stopped raining. The follower wolf licks the leader’s bullet wound and the large wolf snaps at the smaller one then levels its eyes at Raul.

The growl it lets out this time is less like thunder, more like a swarm of bees in Raul’s ears. An angrier sound than before, hungrier. The other wolves’ growls follow a moment later.

Behind Raul, his satchel starts a faint glow that intensifies until the entire bag is a ball of orange light. Raul fires his gun three more times and then there is just the click of the hammer pulling back on nothing.

***

Pete’s about to walk out when the double doors burst open and a gurney rolls in. He sighs and looks up at the ceiling, cursing under his breath. Pamela, the intern from Brooklyn, pushes it over to him and then stops, staring and smacking gum in her mouth.

“What’s this?” Pete asks.

She glances at the gurney, the big lump under the white blanket, then back at Pete.

“A body,” she says, smacking the gum some more.

Smart-mouthed bitch, Pete thinks, and quickly shoves the thought out of his head, replacing it with that answer that Pamela just gave made me feel inadequate, but I’m not inadequate and she doesn’t mean it like that. Pete’s been taking anger management courses lately and that’s what they told him to do in situations like this: replace the angry thoughts with insightful ones. He thought it was stupid at first, but he’s got the hang of it now and it’s worked wonders. In the past, he would have thrown his clipboard at the young, undeserving girl just for making that comment. Then tomorrow he would have had to explain the scene to Frank Kilner, the department head, and that would have just been one more little mark on the board of “Pete’s Fuck-ups.” In the past, he wouldn’t care that all of that would happen either, because in the past he would be completely fucking plastered while he was here.

But A.A. did for that part of the problem what anger management is doing now.

Instead of retaliating, Pete smiles at the girl and nods. She stares at him blankly.

“Any paperwork?” he asks.

“Under the blanket,” she says, nodding at the gurney. “You gotta finish it. Found a man-purse on him too, Frank says you gotta bag him and tag him. Prelim x-rays show it was a brain aneurysm.”

“Where’d they find him?” Pete asks, pulling back the blanket. The man is young, a few years younger than Pete at least, maybe thirty. Far into the throes of rigor mortis, his mouth hangs open in a silent scream, his eyes taped shut. Pete shivers.

“In a ditch about five miles past the bridge.” She smacks her mouth loudly on the gum she’s got in there, and Pete thinks If that bitch doesn’t stop smacking that fucking gum I’m gonna—He pauses, closes his eyes for a second, then thinks that annoys me. But she’s leaving in a second so I can deal with it for now.

The girl doesn’t seem to notice the internal conflict. Which is good, Pete thinks. That signifies control on his part.

“They found a gun on him,” she says. “A bunch of cash in the bag and a little statue. Thinking he might’ve robbed somebody. Frank’s gonna hold the stuff until NYPD picks it up on their run.”

“Is that so?” Pete says disjointedly. He’s staring at the man’s face.

“Anyways,” the girl says, suddenly bored. “Later.”

Pete watches her leave then looks back at the body, sighs again and wheels the gurney over to the examination table.

A few hours later Pete throws the book bag he uses over his shoulders and walks out the door again, this time with the paperwork for the John Doe under his arm. He stops by Frank’s office to drop the papers off but nobody’s there, and Pete stands in the office, clenching and unclenching his fists and taking deep breaths. He thinks the next time I see that motherfucker, I’m gonna take his fucking five hundred dollar gold pen and shove it up his—then he  manages to get slight control of himself, long enough to think Frank pawned that John Doe off on me when he knew I had somewhere to be, then he left himself. And that makes me feel betrayed.

Pete takes a deep breath and walks over to his boss’s desk, dropping the paperwork on top of a stack of envelopes. He’s about to walk out when he glimpses something from the corner of his eye. He glances at the office door to make sure nobody’s coming then goes behind the desk and picks up what caught his eye, what the girl earlier deemed a “man-purse.” He thinks to himself as he holds it, I feel betrayed by my boss and therefore I’m going to actively make myself feel better by satisfying my curiosity and looking in this bag. He opens the bag and inside is a wad of cash, marked as evidence and wrapped in plastic. Next to it, also wrapped in plastic and marked, are a bottle of aspirin and a small statue that’s surprisingly heavy when Pete pulls it out. The eyes are some kind of jewel and the thing is ugly as hell but it captures Pete for some reason and, before he can think about what he’s doing, he finds himself shoving the thing in his own bag and walking out of the office, down the stairs, and out the front door of the hospital.

Outside it’s raining and Pete decides to leave his bike on the rack in front of ER and catch a cab home. He runs to the curb and holds up a hand, hoping today’s his lucky day and that he catches a taxi quick. The rain pelting on his head, he thinks when I get home I’m going to shower and head to Anne’s house and have a good evening, and the fact that I’m standing out in the rain after working four hours past the end of my shift won’t even matter. As he’s thinking this, a taxi pulls up and Pete smiles. In the cab he wipes water from his face and pulls off his book bag, pulling out the statue and examining it. Truly creepy, the double faces and jeweled eyes. He’ll have to show it to Anne. She’ll get a kick out of it.

He remembers the taxi driver and looks up at him, a long haired man wearing a baseball cap and black, leather gloves.

“Sorry,” Pete says. “Lexington and 53rd. And please, as quick as possible. I’m in a hurry.”

The gloved hands tighten their grip on the steering wheel as the car edges away from the curb.