Chapter Thirteen: A Lesson in Dying Part D
I’ve never seen a dead body in this much detail before. What I mean is… I’ve killed. Of course I have, and so has Mello. But when you’re in a situation where you’re forced to kill someone, you don’t then stick around. You shoot them and run. You don’t see them lying in a pool of their own blood, vacant eyes staring up to the ceiling, hands stretched out by their sides to grasp at nothing. You don’t see the bullet wound, the mess it makes of their body. You don’t see death.
I feel sick. Somehow, I was working these cases like they were just a game. Like I could pick up my DS and play Phoenix Wright and it would just be exactly the same, and there was no harm done if we took our time or got things wrong first time around. But now I realise - this is life, not a game. This is serious. If we don’t work quickly enough, people die. They don’t get up again afterwards, we don’t get to replay the level, they just die and then they’re gone forever. Because of us. Because we weren’t good enough.
It’s… my fault, isn’t it? If I had helped Mello, instead of staying in my room all night, if we could have worked together, we could have stopped this. He might still be alive instead of looking up with those empty eyes, and spilling over the floor. Mello takes a step towards him, his leather boots just a few centimetres from getting coated in the blood. He squats down, and closes William Pitts’ eyes, and stands up again. He looks at me, and without a word we both turn and leave.
Outside, the Krane brothers are already locked inside the vans and all of their cronies have been disarmed and shut away. A forensics expert passes us as we leave, followed by a photographer and two cops carrying an empty body bag. Mello goes to stand next to the car, and a detective claps him on the back and shakes his hand. Mello barely looks at him. I trail after him, standing awkwardly a few steps away, feeling like the biggest failure the world has ever seen. A few moments pass.
Mello turns all of a sudden, and viciously kicks a rock away from the car, his face contorted in anger. “FUCK!” He screams, fuming, shaking, as birds take off in surprise from the bushes nearby.
We get back in the car, and drive to Penelope Primrose’s house.
Waiting outside the door, my fingers are twitching and my toes tapping, unable to stay still, almost wishing that no one will answer. Matt is beside me, reassuringly still, not playing anything or smoking anything, with his goggles up on his forehead instead of over his eyes. I feel his fingers brush against the back of my hand, and glance at him as he glances at me. We share this moment of dread, and then the door opens.
Penelope looks more fragile than ever; the cold wind outside stirs her hair back from her face as she steps out, wrapping a woollen cardigan closer around her tiny shoulders.
“What is it? Did you find him?” She asks quickly, breathlessly, the first kindling of hope in her eyes turning almost immediately to fear. Neither of us can answer her. It must be written on our faces.
“Penelope…” I try to start, my voice cracked and weak, and so hard to force from my throat.
“No…” She whispers, her eyes fixed on mine, searching for an answer. “No, he… no! He can’t be… g… gone…”
“I’m sorry.” I whisper back, not finding the strength for anything more, as tears fall down her perfect face and she drops to her knees. Matt steps forward, calling into the house for anyone who is there, and kneels to put his hands on her shoulders. It all passes like a mist in front of me. I barely know what’s happening any more. I can’t believe we let her down.
An older woman comes from within the house and supports her, lifting her up and guiding her inside, nodding to us her silent thanks. The door closes softly behind them, and we’ve just broken someone’s heart.
Getting home is a blur. Matt drives. I can’t. All I’m thinking of is the people I’ve killed, the Mafia family that I blew up, the people who just got in the way. I used to shoot first, think later. Did they have families waiting for them? Did they have wives, girlfriends, fiancées, who cried when they didn’t come home? Did they have children? Did I only succeed in creating more like myself, fatherless children with nothing but a legacy of blood to live up to? Did I destroy lives the way Ronaldo Krane just did?
But… in the same situation… would I change, knowing the consequences? Could I let myself be shot and die, so that I wouldn’t have to take someone else’s life? And the answer… the answer is no, I couldn’t. even if I had a chance to live my whole life over again, I wouldn’t change. I would still shoot first and think later, if at all, because when all is said and done it’s too hard to think about the fact that you just took the life of another human being. To think of them as enemies, or useless pawns, or simply obstacles, is so much easier. And that’s why I’m still alive today.
When we get home we drift around for a few hours, not really doing anything. I eat half a chocolate bar and then leave it in the kitchen, forgotten, and read the same sentence in a book twenty times before I realise I don’t know what it says, and stare into the distance for at least half an hour. Matt switches games consoles on and off, and lets a cigarette burn down to a stub before even putting it in his mouth.
We find ourselves in the kitchen together, as the evening gets darker, sitting on stools around the island, doing nothing. I toy with the chocolate bar I left behind earlier. The foil creases and tears easily.
The phone rings, loudly and rudely, cutting into the silence with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. I pick it up wearily, and answer. It’s the local police chief.
“It’s about the case you two were working on. The Krane brothers.”
“Is there enough evidence?”
“Oh, plenty, I doubt they’ll see the light of day for thirty years. It’s not them I’m calling about. It’s… Miss Primrose, the girl who hired you.”
“She killed herself this afternoon. There was a note saying she wanted to join Pitts in the next life. I thought you would like to know.”
After a moment of silence, I find my voice.
“Thank you, superintendent.”
“Don’t blame yourself. Get some rest.”
I hang up, and look at Matt, who had been leaning towards the phone.
“Did you hear?”
He nods, and I look up at the ceiling, full of grief and fury and shame, wishing we could have saved her.
“I’m sorry.” I say, looking back at him. “For yesterday. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t think.”
“Me too.” He replies, and his eyes are already spilling over. I try to hold my own tears in, but the sight of his sends me over the edge. Closing the gap between us, Matt pulls me off my stool and into a hug, wrapping his arms around my waist and burying his face in my shoulder to cry. All I can do is hold him back, pulling him closer and wrapping my own arms around his shoulders, supporting him as the sobs wrack his body. I’m crying, too, but quietly, the water just slipping down my face on it’s own, like rain, like I’m back in that shower in Japan again.
“It’s not your fault.” I murmur into Matt’s ear. “It’s not. I promise it’s not.”
He grips tighter, as if to hold on to that thought, to the hope that someone isn’t dead because of him. And it really isn’t his fault. I know it isn’t, because it’s mine. I’m the one who slapped him, and pointed a gun at him, and told him to go. I’m the reason we couldn’t work together. I’m the destructive force that caused the death of William Pitts. Matt is innocent.
Pulling away slightly, not crying so much any more, Matt looks up at me and, fighting back more tears, gives me my own words from what feels like a long time ago: “Can we sleep?”
Nodding, I move away from the island, keeping one arm around him, and that night, while the rain outside patters on the windowpane and two people lie dead, we sleep bound together by pain, in the same bed, holding onto each other, not bothering to change into our sleeping clothes.
By morning the rain has finished, and LA shines under a new sun, and we awake to find ourselves still together, still alive.