The suit fits. The cut is good, even on my small frame. I straighten my tie, cuffs and collar, and leave the apartment to head downtown. The sun is setting. I don't think about when I started carrying the gun. It's a small handgun, a Sig Sauer .22, tucked into the back waistband of my pants. The jacket hides it well enough.
I hate revolving doors. I skip the one on the front of the hotel, choosing instead to pass through the regular door to the left. The heels of my boots clack across the lobby's marble floor, uncomfortably loud. I make a b-line for the bar.
A man greets me as I walk in. Young, a bit overweight, his face soft, friendly. He's wearing black as well, the buttons of his shirt straining a bit. He motions to the seat next to him, we shake hands. I take a seat, and he waves the bartender over to get me a drink.
“Vodka and soda,” I say. “Lime.”
There are words. The round-faced man is talking without saying anything, like he's stalling. Grin and nod. He's waiting for something. For the first time since I came to this town, I start to question. I'm switching off of autopilot. I'm thinking. I'm waking up.
The bartender sets my drink in front of me. I flick the lime slice into the glass, give it a few fatal jabs with the stirrer, take a long sip and look up. I feel alert—keenly, overly aware of my surroundings. The black lacquer surface of the bar stretches in a soft curve to infinity in either direction. The conversations around me are background noise, piped in from some hidden radio. The air is still and heavy, as though everyone is holding their breath, waiting to breathe a collective sigh.
The bartender is watching me. I watch him back. The round-faced man still talks. His voice is soon swept away like the others, to be played in the distance, taken away from its source, dissociated. The room is warping around me, every atom being drawn up and focused into a single, shivering pinprick, thrusting towards one moment, one sound.
Breath held and released, not in a sigh but a scream. Glass breaks, chairs topple, men and women drop to crouches, throw their hands over their heads. I turn and my round-faced companion is nowhere to be found.
“I think it's time for me to go,” I say, to no one in particular, unnaturally calm. I've been expecting this. I slip the gun from my waistband, step out from my seat at the bar. My jacket hangs unbuttoned, the smooth white of my shirt a perfect target. Unknowingly, the prey exposes its vulnerable belly to the predator.
Another shot, deafeningly close, rings in my ears. Pain, and lots of it.
I'm pretty sure I've been shot. I've never been shot before, so I could be wrong. It feels like ice in my gut, the creep of something wet down my stomach. I can't bring myself to look down.
I stagger through the chaos and slump into an alcove along the wall. A man cuts the crowd, following me. He has a distinct air of undercover cop about him. The gun was a mistake. I try to slip off my jacket discretely, thinking I can maybe lose it and the Sig as I exit, but as I roll it off of my shoulders a crippling pain tears through me. I drop to one knee. The gun tumbles out of my hand and onto the floor with a conspicuous crash. I struggle with the jacket, now twisted in such a way that it effectively binds my arms behind me, and in a frozen moment I watch as a small gold tin slips from an interior pocket. Where did it come from? Is it mine? It doesn't look familiar—but nothing looks familiar anymore.
The case cracks open against the floor, and an almost implausible number of small white pills explode out, skittering across the polished tile. The gun, the pain, are forgotten as I lunge forward instinctively, sweeping my arms across the ground in a broad gesture of protection, corralling the tablets back into their home. Their presence is still a mystery, but in some part of my brain they make sense.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the maybe-cop's well worn loafers come down on my Sig. There's pain and dread in my stomach still, but they're now balanced by a beautiful, light-at-the-end-of the tunnel feeling of resignation, and I take my time collecting the gold case and its contents. I remove one pill for scrutiny before shutting the case and tucking it safely away, this time in the pocket of my pants.
The tiny letters cut into the surface of the pill register. I remember. They are a message only for me. Still kneeling, I drop the dose onto my tongue, swallowing hard, my mouth dry. I straighten my jacket. Everything is going to be okay.
The maybe-cop pockets my gun. He grabs my arm and drags me to my feet. I close my eyes and let him lead me.