I'm So Sorry
After the informal exchange with Jade, Mack now understood the value of watching his back more carefully. At any given moment, something abysmal could occur, and that thought made him feel threatened.
He wandered out of the medical center still in his ragged attire as he proceeded to hail a taxi cab.
The last thing he wanted to do was put himself in harm's way. Perhaps the soundest place was his hotel room, but he had no desire of taking the risk of finding complete refuge there only to have it uncovered by the adversary.
Mack settled into the back seat of the yellow vehicle, but he did not specify a destination for the driver.
He had no target location nor was he concerned about where he was headed. He merely sought to be occupied in that moment, despite the fare he would have to pay up by the end of the extensive drive.
Mack removed his phone from the front pocket of his slacks, and he astonishingly discovered it in good condition, notwithstanding the impact from the explosion earlier. The minor cracks were not enough to obscure what projected onto the phone screen.
He also found it to be completely functional as he went on to check his messages. It came as a surprise to Mack when his niece's caller ID emerged into his view.
"Hi, sweetheart." Mack began, leaning back in his cab seat. He had no particular clue why Brie would be calling him casually, but he was glad when she did. After the morning he suffered, he was willing to talk to someone he knew he could be honest with.
"Hi, Uncle Mack." There was silence as he listened to Brie clear her throat and take a deep breath.
"Brie, is everything alright?" Mack could make out the misery and anxiety in her voice. It could've been the outcome of anything from work to life in general, but at that instant, he wasn't certain about anything.
"I just needed to say I'm sorry about everything. I thought that if I could keep you out of this, everything would be fine. It's not fair to you."
"Brie, slow down." He had never heard his niece sound so terrified. Whatever was taking place, he unquestionably knew that it was something significant if she was to ever allow her rough exterior to be broken down. "What's going on?"
"I never meant for any of this to happen, Uncle Mack. It's all my fault."
Mack froze, not knowing how to react to those last four words. To what was she expressing regret for?
Before Mack could fabricate a response, he heard the other line expire.
"Brie? Brie?!" Of course, there was no use calling out to the stillness. Mack attempted to contact Brie once again, but there was no response.
How was he supposed to interpret that? A confession. What was her part in all of this? She had to be connected. That was no accidental call.
The drive from New York City to Brie's residence in Southampton was over an hour, and that was not including the tolls. He had to make an effort to get there before anything was to happen to her.
Before Mack could make the choice to set a destination for the driver, his phone vibrated.
There was a moment of reluctance as time slowed for him. His heart pounded against his chest. He tried to keep himself poised, but he was prepared for the worst. When he snapped back to reality, he became aware that the caller ID read, "Donnie".
There was no hesitation to take the call once he discovered who was reaching out to him. He grasped the cellular device up to his ear, but he did not initiate a response.
"Hey, buddy," the voice on the other line commenced in a low tone.
Mack did not reply to his former friend. He swallowed once as he struggled to control whatever emotions he had to keep bottled up inside, thinking about his niece.
"C'mon, buddy. You usually have a lot to tell me when you've been gone for so long," Donnie continued. His voice was calm, but it contained a malicious quality. That was an essence Mack had never associated with Donnie. Until now.
"What the hell did you do?" Mack fought to keep his feelings under wraps in order to not draw any attention from the driver. The lesser the situation was made public, the better.
"I'm truly sorry, Mack."
Donnie's statement couldn't have been more disingenuous, and Mack became aware of it immediately. It was as though Donnie didn't even try to pretend he was concerned.
"Look, Mack. You don't answer my calls, you don't return my calls, and you don't contact me. Did you think I would just let you off that easily?"
"What are you really up to? Because that girl you wanted me to locate is dead." Mack covered up for Jade. She was right about the hazardous conditions he was getting himself into. Now it was his actuality.
"I know that's not true."
"Donnie, I want answers and I want them now."
There was a break in conversation, and Mack took advantage of it to collect his thoughts. This was real, and this was going to be something substantial.
"I'm sorry it had to be this way, Mack."
And Donnie was gone. Mack sat motionless with the phone still up to his ear. Eventually, he lowered it, still envisaging Donnie's last declaration.
The text message Mack received that morning at Intelligentsia was formulated in virtually the exact same way.
Did Donnie set all of this up himself?
The hospital's dynamic shifted as it was soundless rather than hysterical from earlier in the day. The workday had concluded for Jade, and it was time for her to finally clock out and head home.
This routine was unchanging for her by now, but she couldn't refrain from thinking about how things had been before any of this was even conceivable.
She thought about Mack and what he was experiencing, and she couldn't evade dredging up her past, even if it made her feel sick.
"Ready to go home, doctor?" It was typical that the receptionist by the front would wish her a good night as she strolled out every evening.
"It's been a long day." She rotated around and flashed a smile while still inching towards the exit.
"Alright, have a good night."
Jade directed her attention back towards the doors. All she could think about was returning to her humble abode and calling it a day. After everything the day produced, she deserved it.
"Oh, doctor. I almost forgot," the receptionist shouted to Jade right before she stepped out the door. "Someone left you a message a few minutes ago. She said her name was Brianna Marshall?"
Jade's eyes widened immediately as the name reverberated in her head. It was one that she was exceptionally familiar with but hadn't heard in a very long time.
She made her way back to the receptionist's counter to take a mental note of everything that the message contained. It had to be imperative for the reason that someone she knew so personally had gotten in touch with her in a very spontaneous manner.
Before the voice even articulated anything, there was a cough.
"Jade, I know this is all unexpected, but I really needed to touch bases you."
Jade took a deep breath at the sound of the voice as her eyes began to fill with tears. It had been incredibly long since she had listened to the sound of something she was so accustomed to. To keep the attention off of her, she stood facing away from the receptionist to shield her vulnerability from sight.
"There's something going on with Donnie. I think he's manipulating my Uncle Mack for something that has to do with you."
Jade could hear Brie sniffle as her own emotions continued to arise from within. By now, she had to make an immense effort stay composed.
"Please just watch your back, and keep yourself safe. And keep my uncle safe and sound. By now, he's already too far in to turn back."
There was a slam in the atmosphere as she heard her old friend start to hurry her words. Before she was aware of it, she perceived Brie's cry for help. Lastly, a gunshot echoed in her ears, and the message was over.
Now, she saw the connection. Mack never brought up the fact that he had a niece, but Jade never questioned him about his situation. Why had she been so petrified? Her actions could've helped save Brie's life.
Ten o'clock AM had arrived, but Mack was still lounging in the hotel bed, in spite of everything. Not a night had gone by where he had gotten a good night's rest since he had touched down in the city that never sleeps. It certainly lived up to its name, but its connotation was more optimistic than what Mack's situation brought on.
Now everything was turning out to be clearer and clearer as it all just seemed to click. He had to return to the hospital and talk to Jade. She would know what to do, he thought. At least that's what he made himself believe.
But the most unanticipated element of the entire misfortune was Donnie. Mack had been so irrational to confide in someone who was capable of deceiving him, and he still hadn't stopped speculating why. It's not like he could've known, but he figured with military experience under his belt, he could've identified this probable betrayal straightaway.
But he didn't. Donnie disregarded their longtime friendship for something Mack wasn't even sure was going on. The man he had faith in like he would his own brother had misled him, and he wasn't going to take it nonchalantly.
Mack brought his hand up to his left rib cage and felt the bruise left behind by the explosion the morning before. He had lived through discomfort that was much worse than the cuts and bruises from the steam pipe burst, but the scars were more personal to him this time around.
Because the sole reason that explosion occurred was because of him.
Jade was seated in the break room of the medical center with a clipboard in front of her, drumming her pen as she fixed her eyes into space, pondering yesterday's events.
Mack had to make a reappearance at the hospital sooner or later because now she had a good enough reason to fill him in.
How could she had been so senseless to let something like this fly over her head? She didn't want to believe that situations were beginning to arise once again, but whether she wanted them to or not, it was inevitable.
There was a faint conversation coming from outside the room as Jade now turned her attention towards the halls. Surely, she got her wish.
The receptionist had turned up to the room, standing by the entrance to give Jade a heads-up of the presence of a visitor. "Doctor Paul, John Mackenzie is here to speak with you."
"Let him in. Thank you." Jade exhaled for the worst was to come. She looked straight yet again in her chair and cupped one side of her face with her hand, leaning on it.
Outside at the desk, Mack had been provided with the authorization to cross the threshold. He was guided to the break room by the receptionist. Once they got there, he sent her off, exhibiting his gratitude.
Mack planted his body by the doorframe, observing Jade from the distance. She currently had her hands over her forehead, eyeing downwards. From where he stood, he could comprehend that she was trembling as tears streamed down her face and settled on the table top.
"Please tell me you know something," Mack instigated.
Jade slid her hands down and folded them as one, tilting forward before rotating towards Mack with a critical expression.
"I should've let you know the second you got here. I'm sorry," Jade apologized. She was seated across from Mack as the environment became occupied with people filtering in and out of the room.
Mack had his arms crossed and rested on the top of the table, concentrating on the irrelevant indentations and conspicuous discoloration it put on display.
"He called me yesterday. Donnie." Mack countered, but his mind never abandoned the thought of Brie being gone. He didn't believe it. He had to be certain. "Did he make contact with you?"
Stillness, as the chatter of those around them dominated. There was a great deal the both of them needed to say, but they had no knowledge of how to convey such thoughts.
"He set you up. Your alleged best friend." Jade now made eye contact with Mack, and he did the same.
"I know. 'But why would he' is my question."
"It does make you suspect why someone you have known for almost 30 years would throw it all away just like that."
Mack took a deep breath, considering the point Jade had. It was apparent that those years represented nothing for Donnie. Even if they once did, what finally threw him off the edge?
"So now you're aware of my story. I want to know yours," Mack stated. He had spilled out his position to Jade, and now he anticipated her to do the same.
"I wouldn't even know where to begin." Jade sat back in her seat, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
"How do you know Donnie Tesla?" Mack took into account that this was one of the first questions he had asked her. Now it was time to acquire a response.
"Once upon a time, I was a happy child with loving parents and a respectable life. Then all of a sudden, they pass with no explanation of any kind. The cops told me it was a car accident, but I still think it's bullshit. I went my own way, met someone who gave me a life, and here I am."
"How long ago was that?"
"Ten years ago. I thought I was doing wonderful because I was seventeen and already living the good life, but things just went downwards."
Mack discerned Jade's body language, and he could tell that she was uncomfortable. Not by his company but by her own history. It was concise, the way she spoke of it, but he could understand that it was a dark time.
"This is all too familiar to you, isn't it?" Mack asked, locking his gaze with hers. He had to be confident that his words were getting through to her this time around.
"Yeah. He used me too. Donnie was like a father to me, but I guess that didn't really matter to him."
Mack turned his awareness back down to the table top because he sensed that the next topic would present difficulties for him to remain collected. "Did she die in peace?"
"Brie. Did she die in peace?"
Jade hesitated from delivering a response. She exhaled once before speaking. "Do you want a lie or the truth?"
Mack stalled time before figuring out which one he assumed he would accept better. It wasn't long before he established that it would kill him to listen to either one.
"I tried tracing back the call, but the number was heavily scrambled," Jade informed. "I'm sorry for your loss. Brie was like a sister to me."
Why didn't Brie ever tell Mack that she was acquainted with Donnie? Why did she allow herself to get into so much trouble? These were all inquiries Mack couldn't explain himself.
"I can't believe that. Not without evidence." Mack couldn't just take Jade's word for Brie's death. Not that he thought she was being dishonest. He just had to be positive.
"Well, what are you going to do?"
Before Mack could provide a reply, somebody by the door summoned for Jade.
"Doctor, we need you up in the ICU."
Jade sent the messenger away before gradually standing up from her chair.
"I know a place where we can talk. Meet me at Red Rooster in Harlem tonight after rush hour," Jade instigated. "I know the guy who owns the place, and the entire neighborhood is off the grid."
Jade began taking off, but before she could take a step out of the door, Mack had one last thing to say.
"Thank you, Jade."
"Thank you, Mack," She responded, brushing the hair on the left side of her head back behind her ear, revealing a cartilage piercing of the notorious hummingbird once again. With a closing smile, she traveled back upstairs.