The wide-eyed man with lightning-struck grey hair in the next bed is dying. Just not fast enough for my liking.
Dementia has taken up residence in his skeletal head and is making full use of his vocal chords to make sure that everyone who enters our room knows it. If he asks me in that hoarse voice of his for a cigarette one more time I might just shove my IV down his throat and ask him if he needs a light.
The nurses say he’s a danger to himself, that the alarmed restraints are necessary at night to make sure he doesn’t fall out of bed or go wandering out a window or something. I don’t think they realize that, after the fourth time I was ripped kicking and screaming from my fragile slumber last night, I am now the biggest threat to his continued existence. If they don’t move one of us before tonight I can’t promise that he’ll live to see another sunrise.
Emma thought I was overreacting when she checked in on me after breakfast this morning. I told her to come back when he was awake.
“Are you real,” he asked her and Puppy when they arrived just before lunch, “or are you angels?”
Emma had started to smile but stopped and drew the curtains so fast they were nearly ripped from their hooks. I guess she saw him reaching for his crotch with that vacant look on his face. I couldn’t see from my vantage point if his green gown had been covering him properly or not and I thought it best not to ask.
“Is Moneypenny talking yet?” I asked once the three of us were properly ensconced.
“It’s Q,” she said with a roll of her eyes and a quick tuck of hair behind one ear, “and no, he still hasn’t said a word. The doctors, on the other hand, are asking some awkward questions about his injuries. Apparently your typical bombing victim doesn’t have missing teeth, a broken jaw, and mangled fingers. Or look like they haven’t eaten in days. We can’t stay here much longer Re… Jeremy.”
My name still sounded awkward on her tongue but it was getting better. I like listening for the improvements, the growing familiarity. Too bad the dropping of my nickname was brought about by a state-wide hunt for a terrorist organization bearing its handle and not for more… intimate reasons.
“Then we need a secure place to hide, to recover, to plan what comes next.” Talking is still an effort; I just feel so drained and my recovery is not as instant as I want it to be. As I need it to be. “Loki and his friends are out of the question, since I was naïve enough to lead Joel right to him.”
“We’re still not certain that No-Neck was working under Joel’s orders – he could have been a plant from the mayor or Grozny or… or who knows who else is involved in this complete cock-up!”
“Do you want to call him up and ask for his thoughts on the matter?”
“I can hardly do that since you stole my bloody phone!”
I’ll admit that I still felt a twinge of guilt for pick-pocketing her phone when she was walking me to the ambulance, but I couldn’t risk us being found through Joel’s little GPS tracking system. Especially not in the state we were in, with Sheriff J.W. Pepper and me barely breathing. I passed her phone, along with mine, to Puppy during the ride to the hospital and signaled for her to get rid of them.
I think she had a lot of fun with that little assignment - I’m pretty sure she left one hidden in the back of a cab, the second on a Greyhound that was heading cross-country, and the last… well, it certainly looked like she was trying to tell me that she tied it to a rat. But I might have misread that one.
“Look, the only advantage we have right now is that Joel has no idea what is happening - that bomb took care of any evidence of what happened in the mayor’s office and for all he knows we could have been caught inside. But you can be damn sure he’s looking for us and I’m not ready to be found just yet. So we need to find a sanctuary and we need to find out what’s on that CD.”
Puppy perked up at this point, flashed some quick hand signals, and cocked her head at each of us in turn. Emma looked frustrated by her inability to decode the movements so I pretended to be confused as well. I didn’t want her feeling more left out than she already was and the last thing I wanted was for her to turn to Joel for refuge.
“You know a spot for us to hideaway for awhile?” I asked.
“It can’t be with Dysnomia,” Emma said. “Grozny’s man saw her with us and she’s not exactly a hard face to forget.”
Puppy shook her head and brought her hands together, palms down and fingers interlaced. Index fingers rose to meet each other before toppling over into wiggling fingers.
“A church? You know a priest we can trust with our lives?” Doubt and hope collided with Emma’s words.
Puppy smiled brightly and disappeared through the curtains before I could even think to ask questions of my own.
“She certainly is a resourceful little thing,” Emma said as she eyed the gently swaying gap in our fortress. “You owe her your life - I had no idea where to take you. I thought we were going to lose you.”
“We each have our part to play,” I told her. “We’ll need to be gone by tonight - do you think you can talk your way into an early release for your computer friend?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she replied with a tight smile. “Negotiations is the role I’m trained to play, so I better take care of my end of things. Rest up; you’ll need all the strength you have if we’re going to see this through to the end.”
It’s dinner time now and neither have returned yet. I’m trying not to worry but the thought of being left on my own at this stage of the game is… terrifying. The matronly nurse deposits the tray of bland vegetables, grey mashed potatoes, and a piece of wood masquerading as a chicken breast on my lap and checks my pulse. Satisfied that I’m still alive, she marches from the room without a word.
My mouth is full of the viscous potatoes when Emma sweeps into the room. She’s changed into an urban camouflage outfit and is no less radiant for it. She stands smirking at me as I try to swallow for what feels like five minutes.
“What’s the word?” I ask at last.
“The words are good and plentiful,” she replies. “Q is talking.”