Every Halftime Show Needs a Malfunction
“How about now?”
Shawn squinted. “Um... I'm getting... beige. No... no, more like a... taupe?”
His father hadn't put a great deal of energy into his exasperation. In fact, he likely hadn't even rolled his eyes. If anything, he'd just sounded bored. Well, bored or tired; which was hard to determine without seeing his face.
And that was essentially, basically, exactly the problem.
There was a squeak – rubber sole on tile – and Shawn felt fingertips push gently against his jaw as his face was tilted up. He hoped nobody saw his flinch – quickly disguised by a shoulder twist. There was the slightest click to his right.
“Hmm...” Air and the acid sour odor of vending machine coffee flushed across his nose. The stink he could manage, but the weird baby softness of fingertips tapping across his cheekbone was edging over the creepy line that hovered somewhere between Tiny Tim and Lyle Lovett.
“Well?” Henry was still sticking to one word commentary it seemed. At least, this time, Shawn wasn't the one expected to explain himself.
More rubber squeaking as Gropey turned to give Henry a look that perfectly blended reproach and exasperation. Dad might have an advantage on any given day on any average street but this was Belic's house and if a throw down was in order, Shawn was certain the old doc could take...
The fingertips scurried over his opposite cheek and there was no way to disguise his flinch this time. Okay so maybe the doc wasn't giving Henry a western stare down. Which he'd have known if he could actually see. Of course, if he could see, he wouldn't be wincing from the clammy digits pushing and pulling his face – as if a different angle would somehow magically give him his sight.
The squishy hands finally let him go and Shawn couldn't help but rub his cheek against his shoulder. He hoped it was subtle. Actually he didn't care if it was subtle – he had the damp residue of Doctor Baby Hands on his face for the love of David Bowie.
His father moved closer to his left side. The reek of Stetson and fishy sweat was unmistakable. “One of Shawn's physical therapists thought it might be something called Riddich Phenomenon...”
“Woooah... dad...” Shawn lifted a finger to halt the big word flood from exploding past the levee and further destroying the brutally abused curvature of his brain. “You're saying I can see in the dark?”
“Shawn, that would be Riddik Phenomenon.” Gus on his right – his voice giving direction and a jump through the skin that thankfully Shawn managed to keep to himself. He covered it by snatching his hand towards the rustle of neatly pressed shirt and slacks; managing, by luck, to grip an earlobe. Immediately his fingers were smacked away.
“Dude, your fingers are clammy!”
Shawn could hear frantic activity followed by the sharp smell of rubbing alcohol as his best buddy in the universe made hasty movements to clean the Shawn cooties from his skin. Well that was slightly offensive. “Seriously, man? I'm pretty sure I don't have rotor rooter virus.”
“It's Rotavirus and I know you know that!”
“I know you know that!” Shawn parroted in a mocking nasal. Swiping out again, he struck another hit against meaty buttocks. However, his building whoop of victory was cut short when the yelp that emerged had the distinct white man tone of his clutchy physician.
“Shawn!” His dad grabbed his wrist to prevent further molesting.
“Oops?” Heat skimmed up the back of his neck.
Apparently recovering from the poorly aimed butt punch, Belic once more returned his sweaty digits to their preferred roost – Shawn's cheekbone. No way to disguise his flinch this time, Shawn was more bothered by the fact that the hand remained attached to his face like the slimy pod larva from Alien than he was by the fact that he'd shied away from the touch like a virgin bride getting her first lap dance from a plus sized stripper at her bachelorette party. And could he babble any harder? Without actually speaking? Great, now his headache was coming back.
The doctor's hands began mapping the new valley on the back of Shawn's head as he picked back up on the dropped conversation from earlier.
“First of all, everyone likes to think they're an expert. Your therapist may be qualified to advise you on leg stretches, but he doesn't know squat about brain trauma. Riddoch phenomenon is caused by lesions on the occipital lobe but will generally clear up with in a few minutes to a matter of hours. However, that isn't the same in your case. Your vision loss was brought about by the trauma from the gunshot wound.”
No really a bombshell of a reveal.
Belic was finally leaving Shawn's head alone – his soft soled shoes slapping their way to the left as he spoke. “As I've explained before, your vision could recover with time, but there's also a chance it may not. When you were shot, bone fragments damaged portions of you cerebrum – the part of your brain that controls everything from your emotions to regulating your body temperature. It also controls your vision. In this case I can honestly say we you were very lucky that the damage wasn't more extensive.”
Shawn could have said something about how lucky he felt but Belic had barely paused before he resumed speaking.
“The bullet also damaged a portion of your right hemisphere before becoming lodged at the base of your cerebellum. As you know, this is the reason behind your headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of fine motor control. The best thing you can do for yourself is to continue working with your physical therapist.”
Joe “Six Pack Abs” Josephson – another one of the hands on breed of healers. Also not a fan of the names “Jo-Jo”, “Joe Banana”, or “Mighty Joe Young”. They'd finally settled on J.J. After a lengthy discussion of appropriate monikers.
“And,” Belic added while Shawn was busy picturing his therapist as a cross between Vin Deisel and Donkey Kong, “I really want to encourage you to start considering some of the disability options I mentioned to you on your last visit.”
Shawn pushed out his upper lip with his tongue. “What, you mean like sign language?”
“Shawn, sign language is for deaf people.”
“I said it's for deaf people!”
He snickered right up until Gus slugged him in the kneecap. “Dude, really?” Shawn jabbed towards the scent of scalp oil and landed a solid smack to a bicep that had been begging for a Charley horse.
Gus yelped before bouncing back with his own heater to Shawn's thigh. “You really wanna play? Bring it!”
“Boys...” Henry wasn't sounding exceptionally amused but Shawn was man enough... sore enough... to admit he was grateful for the towel throwing that ended the round. His body was still achy from the wild llama that had stampeded him so he was okay with letting Gus have the cheap win.
Besides, his dad had moved between them and Shawn's attempt at punching around him ended with a fatherly grunt when the crushing roundhouse took out his kidney.
He didn't expect the chuckle. “Well, it could have been worse. I could have been facing you.”
His face felt red hot for the sixth time that morning. And yet, at the same time, he was having a hell of a time fighting giggles. It didn't matter what anyone said; crotch shots, even implied ones, were always that funny.
Shawn heard soft steps moving away followed by running water and splashing as his gropey doc washed his hands. Would it be too much to ask for him to get the same treatment for his scalp? Gross, he could actually feel the greasy fingerprints trudging across his skin.
Beneath his dad's simple plea for clarification, Shawn could hear Gus's approval, “you know that's right...” practically seductive – a dangerous weapon finding no takers in the company of four hetero-inclined males regardless of Shawn's own varied crushes that knew no gender if it involved action heroes, Billy Zane, or British accents.
“On the way here, you asked me where I wanted to go for lunch. Los Arroyos.”
Another sultry moan from Gus led to a two handed gesture in the general direction of his famished buddy. “See? Even Gus wants to go.” Of course Gus wanted to go – going being the whole point. Once the suggestion of Para Los Ninos was on the table the time remaining for poking, prodding, and possibly inserting had been dropped to a limit of seconds.
It took only five seconds to confirm that they were done here. What did Shawn need with eyes when his dad's sigh of capitulation was strong enough to ruffle the baby fine hair struggling to cover his perfectly shaped dome?
“Awesome!” Jumping off the edge of the paper covered exam bed, Shawn knew he'd just missed a collision with something that may have hurt when Gus hissed and his father snatched out to wrap both hands around his biceps.
“Here, I should have moved that...” The doc brushed past them as he spoke, and then Shawn heard something heavy dragging towards the corner of the room.
Spreading a smile and hoping his cheeks weren't twitching, Shawn eased out of the tight grip and slapped a hand on his father's back.
He'd been waiting to speak to his lawyer for about forty minutes. The drive from the city wouldn't normally take so long, but his court appointed council hadn't made an effort to hide his feelings about his client. Anything the condemned man had to say would be pointless. He had been convicted well before the start of the trial. But that was okay. He'd accepted this outcome long before he'd even met his partner.
He'd been fifteen years old the first time someone had put a weapon in his hands. An M16; standard issue for GIs after the M14s had been taken out of circulation in the mid-sixties. He'd been too young – should never have made it in. But greed for fresh troops in that latter days of the war meant a starry eyed kid from Chicago, juiced up on a romantic notion of battle and no parents to tell him otherwise, had little trouble enlisting. There were more casualties than the dead in those years.
The first time he'd killed, he'd been one week into his sixteenth year. The enemy, the boy, had been lucky if he'd seen twelve years old. Afterward, there had barely been time to wipe the vomit from his mouth before he'd been forced to fire again. And again. And again.
By the time he'd turned eighteen, he'd no longer thought about the faces he'd seen in his sights. He'd actually felt a thrill when the conditions were just right – when the air was still. An exhale of breath, tighten his finger down in smooth increments...
“Hey, I know you! You're Garth Longmore!”
His intent had been to kill. From pulling his weapon to the squeezing of the trigger. He'd never experienced much for flashbacks since his discharge, but in that moment he'd smelled rotting vegetation – had felt the downpour soaking through his uniform.
Gunpowder, sharp and hot-sweet. The boy had been on the ground, then. He'd been alive.
He wasn't a soldier any longer. He had a choice whether or not to kill.
He'd been given a second chance.
A second chance.
The man who had been his partner had never killed before. His parents were still alive and the only war he'd seen had been in movies on television. He'd never known the weight of mass murder. But now... now he knew the guilt of trying to take a life. The last conversation the two men had had together, Rollins had admitted that he never should have done what he had. He'd been panicked and had said that the reason he'd chosen to shoot the kid had been to protect his partner. He'd said that with remorse so heavy his voice had shook. One mistake and it would destroy the rest of his life.
Metal on metal turned his eyes to the bars of the holding cell. His lawyer was there; a thick boned man with too much weight on his frame. The ring on his finger still rested again one of the bars.
“You wanted to meet with me?”
MacQuarrie stood from his bunk, his arms hanging down at his sides.
He knew he was never getting out, but he'd made his peace with that. He'd committed atrocities with the blessing of his superiors. But the sin had still been his own. Paying for that with his freedom was just and fair but it was only part of what was due. He had another debt as well.
Now it was time to pay them both.