Henry grabbed at the man’s arms, struggling to pry him off. He felt his ribcage groan as the man leaned harder.
“I’m gonna gut you, little fish. You hear me? Imma slice you open!”
The man reached up a hand, holding Henry’s face. His fingers dug into the flesh around Henry’s jaw. In the gloom of the garage, the whites of his eyes seemed to glow, bugging out of his head with fervor. Henry tried to call out, but all that emerged was a groan.
“Don’t make a sound!”
As one of his fingers traced over Henry’s lips, Henry opened up his mouth and bit down, hard. The man yowled, trying to extract his hand. But beneath the vice of his teeth, the skin ripped, and the foul taste of his flesh mingled with fresh blood. The man took his arm off Henry’s neck and bashed him, hard, against the side of the head. Henry fell.
He landed on his shoulder, his jaw aching as the fingers were torn from his mouth. A foot came flying at him, and Henry curled up, but not before he caught it in the chest. A pang of breath expelled from him, cracking painfully. He rolled away, coming up against the wall. The man continued kicking him, even with Henry’s back turned.
The kicking stopped for a beat, and he heard the men’s step come towards him. Henry flipped onto his back, kicking up instinctively. His heel caught the man right in the nose. The noise that rang throughout the parking garage was a wet, hollow crinkling. As the man stumbled backwards, wheezing in surprise, Henry pushed himself hurriedly to his feet. Using his entire body, he tackled the man, running him into the nearest pillar. His body slapped against the concrete resoundingly. The man slumped down, throwing his arms up to deflect the next blow. Henry stepped back a moment, and then kicked him, right in the balls.
With an eerie groan, the man crashed onto his side, curling into a fetal position. His nose had become a new, gaping orifice, a fountain steadily spewing blood. Henry couldn’t even recognize the structure of it beneath all that red.
Henry stood, out of breath, wheezy and hardly able to remain upright. He touched at the back of his head. Blood came away on his fingertips. He ran his tongue over his sore teeth and tasted more.
He knelt down beside the man, huffing. The man threw his hands up, shielding himself. One-handedly, he tried to crawl away. Henry stood and walked a little closer to him, stepping on the man’s ankle. The man howled.
“Who are you?” Henry panted.
There was no response. The man turned around, grasping at Henry’s foot, digging his nails into his ankle as he tried to pry Henry away. Henry kicked him in the head.
“Who are you?”
The man clutched at his mottled face. Henry bent down again, sinking onto his haunches, staring the man in the eye. Through all the red and wet, his eyes were just as wide and white.
“F-f-f-fuck you,” he spat, his teeth trembling over his fat, swollen lip. He drooled blood onto the floor.
Henry grabbed him by the root of his salt-and-pepper hair, pulling his face up to look at him. His muscles trembled with the effort. He could feel his face contorting with rage.
“Fuck you. Who the fuck do you think you are? Are you a Saint? Huh?”
He yanked up sharply on the man’s hair. He squealed. Henry pulled a little tighter. The man began to laugh, coughing on the blood that trickled past his lips.
“It doesn’t matter what I am,” he wheezed. “I’ll be reborn soon. We’ll all be reborn.”
Henry stared down at him, as the man began to laugh, an ill feeling crawling through his bones. He let go of the man’s hair, letting his face plop against the pavement. His lips twisted sourly.
“Who are you?” he repeated.
The man just kept on laughing. He faded into a giggle, glanced up at Henry, and then began to howl hilariously once again.
“Who are you?” Henry seethed. The man did not stop. He stared directly ahead, his eyes bulging further and further from his skull, his pupils the size of pinheads. His whole body shook with laugher. Henry gritted his teeth. He placed his foot on the side of the man’s head, his arms and hands shaking. His body strained from the impulse to step down, and step hard.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
“Ask me again! A little louder! Maybe then I’ll answer!”
Henry didn’t know what to do. He took his foot off the man, realizing how much weight he was putting on his head. He fell onto his knees again, grabbing the man by the chin.
“Stop it! Stop laughing!”
“You’ll laugh! You’ll all laugh too, when it happens. We’re all going to get a second chance. And it’s just the beginning! Can you imagine the possibilities? The evolution!”
Henry reeled back. He fell sideways, sitting, staring, propped up by one hand.
“What did you just say?”
The man came flying at him with an unearthly yowl. Henry was thrown back onto the floor, his arms held up in front of his face, keeping the man at bay. Blood slobbered all over his face.
“It’s okay!” he screamed, grasping at Henry’s hands. “Stop! Stop it! Just let it happen!”
Henry threw him off. He rolled onto his side, coming to his feet. The man stood on his knees, waving at Henry with a lazy hand.
“Throw them over to me now,” he said. His eyes were just behind Henry. Henry didn’t dare to look away. The man grinned toothily. “Give ‘em here. And I promise I won’t touch you again.”
Suddenly Henry remembered. The backpack was just behind him. By the elevator shaft. The man’s eyes looked over Henry hungrily.
“You’re hindering progress. Wasting my time. I should gut you for that. Maybe I –!”
An enormous bang echoed throughout the parking garage. The two of them flinched. Henry stared wildly around the place a moment, looking for the source, the silence frozen. Then he looked at the man. He was holding onto his head, as though in pain, but now he took his hands away, his eyes crossing, and as he fell, Henry saw the raw, red crater standing out between his brows. His body flopped wetly onto the ground. Behind him, at the other end of the garage, a man stood, a gun in hand. Henry gawked vacantly, until he saw the group of men behind him, climbing through the open window, charging forward.
In the dim, moonless light, Henry saw who it was. The man from earlier – the man with the pocket knife.
Henry turned on heel so sharply he almost slipped. He made for the stairway, but then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the backpack where he had dropped it. He veered left, snatched it up, and tore into the stairwell. The harsh echoes of the shouting men behind him battered so heavily against the cavernous walls of the garage that it sounded as if they were right on top of him.
Henry bounded up the stairs, the backpack swinging from his hand, taking the steps two at a time. He rounded the corner, made it to the second landing. He could hear footsteps joining him on the stairs, approaching fast. He saw, through a doorway, the next level of the parking garage, but he kept on going up. His breath was fast, hyperventilating, and he threw his body forward.
As he leapt up, his foot slipped, and twisted beneath him. He cried out, arms flailing, reaching for something to grab onto. His hand missed the railing. His face cracked against the steps. Pain lashed through his body. It all went black.
A hand grabbed him roughly by the back of his hoodie, tugging him back. His body hung limply, his muscles not responding. They dragged him down the steps, lifted him to his feet. An arm encircled his throat and he began to writhe.
“NO! NO! LET GO OF ME!”
Someone clapped a hand to his mouth, smothering his nose as well. He screamed, the noise emerging muffled, to the background of laughing, jeering, and shouting.
“Fuck him up!” someone was shouting. “Fuck him up!”
As his legs, laced with throbbing agony, bumped onto the next landing as they carried him down, someone smashed him up against the wall, pressing his face against the peeling concrete.
“Is this what prison is like, friend?” someone shouted into his ear.
The lot of them laughed.
“Throw him down! Throw him down to me!”
The man that held him grasped him by the hair and arms, hauling him across the landing. Henry could see a horde of faces surrounding him, grinning, laughing, spitting. The man holding him pressed him against the stair rail, forcing him to look down the gap between the flights of stairs. All the way at the bottom, the boy from earlier stood, the one Donahue had bitten, grinning widely, his arms outstretched towards him. Henry screamed, but the words were smothered by another hand.
“I’ll catch you!” the boy called up. “I’ll catch you!”
“Send him down!”
Henry felt his heart drop, his mouth clamped around some man’s dirty finger, who did not care how hard he bit down.
“Not from here! Go down a little more, just one flight!”
“Boss asked for a man, not a pancake!”
They heaved him down the next set of stairs, and pushed him up against the edge. Someone picked up his feet, someone lifted his arms, until he was sitting precariously on the edge, nothing but open air at his back. He tried to squirm, to tug his way free, but at the edge of the drop, his muscles were frozen stiff. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the boy down below, still smiling, his dark eyes crinkling with pleasure.
“Don’t let ‘im fall on his head!”
Someone laughed. Just as he got his mouth free, just as he screamed, they hoisted him over the edge and he fell, his arms scraping at the concrete surrounding him. As he plummeted, the smiling boy stepped back, out of the way, and the floor reached up to greet him.
Lights flashed before his eyes. He was enveloped in numbness, and a distant ringing in his ears. He couldn’t move – not his arms, his legs. The air was suspended in his throat.
Faces leered over his face, laughing, glowering, scowling, pulling sharply at him, and then, like a razor-blade being slashed against his flesh, the pain was ripped open, all along his spine, and his mouth hung open, in an aching, soundless scream. His head hung back as they dragged him away, pillars of concrete flashing across his vision. The ringing built up, until it pierced his ears, and his body fell from their hands as they were stuffing him through the window.
Then, only then, did the insidious black envelop him.
Henry awoke to the sound of a knife, sticking sharply into wood, thrown again, and again, and again into the thick surface of a table. He moved his hands, breathing shallowly, to wipe at his face, and found them trapped. He was sitting upright in a chair, his head slumped onto his chest. His feet were tied to the chair legs, his hands bound to the backrest. He yanked at his binds, and the movement sent a white hot pang throughout his body.
A rusty, squealing groan escaped his mouth.
“Wake up, sunshine.”
Someone kicked him in the leg, rocking the chair backwards. His head was thrown back. A hand grabbed him roughly by the hair, keeping him from falling. He blinked, clusters of lights flickering before his eyes, in and out of focus. It was a dingy room, with bright lights glaring down at him from above and from the side. A face bowed down in front of him, diseased, mottled, and yellow-eyed. It spat in his face.
A guttural guffaw filled up his ears, sounding wet and rough. Henry tried to turn his face away, but the person behind him held his head in place, putting a hand around his jaw to steady him.
The person who stood before him leered down at him, between slivers of swollen, spongy flesh. His entire face was a mottled mess of skin, bloated and inflamed in some patches, sunken in others, oozing with blood and horrid pustules. His eyes were bloodshot and yellowed with jaundice. His teeth were black at the roots as he grimaced.
He reached forward and grabbed Henry by the chin. He could felt the man’s calloused, puffy flesh against his skin.
“Take a good long look, Martin,” the man hissed, shaking Henry’s face. He turned his own head from side to side, for Henry to see. “Do you like what you’re seeing? Is it FUNNY TO YOU?”
He threw Henry’s head back, and the entire chair toppled this time. His head cracked back against the hard floor. When he blinked his eyes open again, his chair was being righted by another man with a thin, young face, and long black hair. He glanced over Henry carelessly and took his place standing behind him once again.
As Henry shook his head, trying to reclaim sensation, he saw the wooden table standing just beside him. Besides the knife that was buried into it, nearly hilt-deep, an array of other instruments were spread out across it – knives, bone saws, dental equipment, a blowtorch, a chisel. He slumped back against the chair, straining in his bonds, his breath quickening.
“An eye for an eye, old boy.”
The disfigured man slapped him on the cheek. Henry looked at him sideways, wide eyed. The man winked at him, but it looked more like a grimace.
Henry sucked in his breath.
“D-don’t,” he wheezed. He sunk down further in his chair, wriggling his wrists around in their bondages. The zip-ties dug into his skin.
“You’ll live with it, you son of a bitch,” the man growled, fingering the knife embedded into the table. “Just like I did.”
Henry blinked up at him, eyes stinging.
MacAwley gave him a manic, black-toothed grin.
“You little fucker.”
He ripped up the knife and walked towards him. Henry tried his best to remain very still. But his whole body was shaking. Alby rested the flat of the knife, very gently against Henry’s chest. He glared piercingly into Henry’s eyes.
“Where is Xavier?”
Henry blinked at him vacantly, taking a sharp inhale of breathe.
In one fluid movement, Alby sliced down, ripping skin and clothing all in single stroke. Henry began to scream, biting down his tongue. Alby tore at his shirt with his hands, until his bruised chest was exposed. He laid the knife over Henry’s heart. The cool metal bit into his sweating skin. He felt warm blood trickle down his navel, but the pain dissipated faster than expected, going numb.
He and Alby stared at one another. He breathed heavily, his body taut with terror.
“Where is Xavier?”
Henry’s arms were shaking so badly, the chair shuddered underneath him.
“I n-n-never m-met –”
Alby slashed sideways, making a cross across Henry’s chest. Henry held the scream behind his teeth, moaning in anguish. He began breathing faster, twisting his hands around in his binds.
Alby threw the bloodied knife back down on the table with a clatter.
“Don’t worry,” he snarled, his voice a grating rumble, the sound of muscles straining.
Henry watched, trembling, as his fingers traced over all the instruments on the table.
“You’re in good hands.”
“Alby,” Henry spat, his voice cracking. “Please wait. I don’t work for Xavier, I didn’t, I don’t –”
“I’m going to fix you up, just like I did me.”
He picked up the blowtorch.
Henry’s whole body arched back in protest. He tried to inch the chair backwards, but the other man in the room put his hand on the back of his chair, holding him in place.
“Alby, stop. Stop, please! It’s my brother, Alby, you remember Stephen?”
Alby was stepping towards him, slowly, dragging it out, running his hands over the blowtorch, as though he didn’t know where the ignition button was.
“Alby, I swear to God, I didn’t know what I was giving you. I hadn’t seen it before last night!”
He sunk down onto his haunches, in front of Henry, grinning lopsidedly, his mouth looking like a big, red slash, filled with bits of shrapnel. Henry squirmed, his words beginning to fade into huffs of desperate, sobbing breaths.
“I swear to you. I swear to you. I’m not lying, I’m telling you –”
Alby lit the torch and Henry sucked in a breath. He could feel the heat from the flame blowing up, caressing his bare skin.
“Please,” he managed to get out. And then Alby placed the flame against the open wound, tracing it against the hard red line he had created only a few seconds ago. He followed up the line, sticking his tongue out thoughtfully as he worked, the sound of Henry’s yowling screams filling up the room, until the entire cross was covered. Then he killed the flame.
Henry closed his eyes. The room swayed all around him, pitching, threatening to throw him under. He felt Alby’s swollen fingers drag across the side of his cheek, raw with tears, like an animal pawing at him.
“Where is Xavier?”
There was a long beat of silence. Alby’s putrid breath beat onto his face, a smell of putrefaction that made Henry’s stomach heave. He lurched forward, and sick spewed from between his lips. Alby leaped back, grimacing.
Henry gulped, his breath sharp and punctuated. He spat bile from his tongue. His head sagged forward, the rim of his vision going dim.
“How are you alive?” he murmured.
He heard a snap, and then a hand grabbed him by the back of his head again, forcing him to look up. Henry could feel himself going cross-eyed.
“Didn’t pan out the way you wanted to, did it?” Alby spat.
“I didn’t… plan…”
Alby smacked him in the chest. Henry cried out, gasping in pain, bright lights splashing in front of his eyes. Blood and sick drooled from his lips.
“So… stop,” he wheezed, sucking in hard breaths.
“Where is Xavier?”
“I dun… I don’t know.”
Alby punched him in the gut. It rocked Henry so hard, it knocked the chair back again, only this time it rebounded off of the guy behind him, and crashed sideways onto the floor.
Henry laid with his cheek pressed to the ground, breathing in dust and dirt. Shadows flashed before his eyes, foreboding unconsciousness. Alby’s foot stepped into his line of sight.
“I know… I know…,” he slurred.
His hair was yanked up again. It was Alby, glowering into his face.
“I know… I know whose… who might know…”
Henry swallowed thickly, wetting his throat.
“Ask… ask Stephen, please. Stephen knows.”
Alby just shook his head. His fingers still gnarled into Henry’s short hair, he tried to raise him from the ground. But his fingers slipped and Henry fell again, and it all went dark. He heard Alby swearing somewhere above him. Spit dribbled down his chin, his mouth hanging agape. There was pain woven into every fiber of his body. He felt like his was flesh was throbbing, like his figure had evolved in one, massive, injured heartbeat.
Water splashed onto his face. He was sitting upright again, still bound. He slumped his head to one side, squinting up at Alby out of the corner of his eye. Alby held one of the vials between his thumb and forefinger, the backpack swinging from his other hand.
“You remember this, don’t you?”
He laughed, peering down into Henry’s pale, sweating face. With his thumbnail, he began to dig at the cork stoppering the vial, as though he meant to pop it open. Henry squirmed a little in his seat, watching the amber liquid slosh inside its tube. The other man behind him began to cough.
“Would be a shame, wouldn’t it, if I poured this down your throat?”
Alby reached out towards him, and Henry bent his head away, jamming his lips tightly together. Dropping the backpack, Alby grabbed him by the jaw and tried to force his fingers into Henry’s mouth.
Still coughing, the man approached from somewhere behind and wrapped an arm around Henry’s head, trapping it like a vice. Henry began to squirm earnestly, his mouth clenched. Alby began to paw at his lips and chin with his swollen, slick fingers, and Henry could feel the man’s skin sloughing off as he pawed at him.
“Hold still, dammit!”
Alby punched him hard, in the chest, and Henry inhaled sharply in pain. Alby seized onto his teeth, holding them apart. As Henry continued to writhe, he flicked the vial open. A smell hit the air, rotten and foul, or perhaps it was only Alby’s breathing, panting hotly down Henry’s neck.
“Where is he? Where is Xavier?”
Henry shook his head, tears springing from his eyes. Alby pressed the rim of the vial against Henry’s bottom lip.
“NO, NO… I dunno! He wid Stephen, wid my broder, pwease!” Henry screamed around Alby’s fingers.
His head shook in Julio’s arms as the man coughed, hard and wet. Alby leered over Henry. He raised the vial against Henry’s teeth.
Something wet splattered across Henry’s face, sticking onto his eyelids, and he cried out. He blinked his eyes open. Alby was still holding the vial in his hand. There was blood spotting his face and shirt, fresh, that had not been there before. Henry craned his head back, looking directly up at Julio.
The man held his palm out, nursing a puddle of blood. It gushed down his nose, dripping onto Henry’s forehead.
“Sir?” he asked, staring at Alby fearfully.
“What the FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!” Alby shrieked.
Julio began to convulse, his skin to ripple with contusions and pink swelling. Henry leaned forward and spat, feeling like the blood had gotten into his mouth.
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Alby screeched. He walked forward and grabbed Julio by the shoulders, shaking him violently.
The door burst in. Something came whizzing through, banging metallically off the wall, and then the room was full of smoke. Henry sucked in a mouthful and began to cough horrendously. Many gruff voices began shouting, all at once, and men entered the room, clad in black and Kevlar, toting guns.
“DOWN ON THE GROUND, DOWN ON THE GROUND!”
Alby emitted a guttural roar, flinging the open vial at the police officers that streamed through the door.
“NO!” Henry screamed.
The vial broke against the door. The officers took their positions, their guns aimed at Alby.
“FUCKERS! I’LL FUCK YOU UP! I’LL FUCK YOU ALL UP!”
He went for the table with the weapons on it.
“SIR, STAND AWAY FROM THE –!”
Alby swiped the bone saw off the table and whipped it around so fast, Henry hardly had time to realize it was swinging towards his own throat.
There was a loud gunshot. Henry flinched. When he looked up, Alby was still standing there, pawing at his chest. The room remained inert, and then another shot was fired. It caught him square between the eyes, and he fell back.
“DOWN! I SAID LAY DOWN!”
One of the officers were already approaching Julio, who was curled up in a fetal position on the ground, coughing up blood and bile. Another one approached Henry, though he could hardly see the man through the gas and his dimming vision. He was wearing goggles over his eyes.
“Are you tied up, sir? Can you stand?”
The entire room exploded. Henry saw Alby leap up into the air, charging at the officers at the door. His body hung suspended, battered about by the crossfire of bullets, his arms flailing, kept in mid-motion. Henry felt something pierce him through the chest and cried out. Alby’s howling consumed the room.
There was a beat of silence. Alby’s body was slumped on the floor, covered in a blanket of tear gas. His slouched spine and mottled arms were riddled with bullet holes, oozing red and white. All the guns remained trained on him. The only sound was of Julio’s groaning and retching, behind Henry’s chair.
Alby’s head lifted. He sat up, slowly, and from where Henry sat, he could see his rotted black grin.
A final shot was fired. Alby sank down onto the floor, going limp. Everyone held their breath.
Henry could hear his heartbeat in his ears. His breath was wheezing. The officer beside him turned back to him, his expression unreadable through his goggles .
“Got three men down! One dead, two injured.”
He looked down at Henry, putting a hand on his shoulder, as the other officers flowed into the room behind him, circling Alby’s fallen corpse. The officer shone a light into his eyes.
“What’s your name, sir?”
Henry could not force a noise out of his throat. It felt like something sharp, a jagged edge, was caught in it. He felt a twinge in his right breast. He looked down. Blood was gushing out of his chest, in one corner of Alby’s cross, as though someone had begun a very bloody game of tic-tac-toe.
Henry’s head slumped back, straining to look up into the face of the officer standing over him. Lights flickered overhead, some of the fluorescents shot out in the gunfight. More men crowded around his chair, as his vision faded in and out, and bright lights were thrown against his eyes. All the voices in the room were muffled. He felt his hands unbound. One of the officer took off their goggles, looking him in the eye, his lips mouthing questions, but Henry just stared back stupidly.
Beyond the door, over the heads of the police officers, Henry could see the hallway, filled with flashing red lights. A gurney was wheeled through the door. The officer in front of him, who kept shining things in his eyes, leaned over him, checking his head for injuries. Henry grabbed him by the vest and pulled him closer.
“Stop,” he wheezed. “You gotta… you gotta…”
The man pulled away, frowning. Henry was pointing weakly towards the door. His arm dropped by his side. There was a wet splotch against the plaster, trickling down, onto the mess of glass Alby had thrown. It stained the white paint amber, like a urine stain. But it was so much worse. Henry’s head dropped back, looking up into the faces of the officers who were untying him, attempting to get him to his feet.
“It’s gonna kill us all.”
Henry felt a hand smoothing over his forehead. He turned towards the touch, sighing roughly. Slowly, as though water were leaking steadily from his ears, sounds began to trickle in. A machine beeping. A great deal of voices, clamoring to be louder than one another. The tinny, too-loud sound of a walkie-talkie, firing off.
The light fell against the back of Henry’s eyes softly, blooming across his eyelids, like celluloid being lit aflame. Fingers brushed over his head tenderly, combing through his stiff, close-shaven hair.
It was a woman’s voice. Henry squinched his eyes together, fighting against the light. The fingers trailed across his face again, tickling his skin.
Henry blinked open his eyes drowsily. Carmen’s face hovered in front of him, bleary and covered in soft light. Her brow was creased with anxiety. He found the corners of his lips twitching with a smile. Her nose wrinkled up when she was stressed. Like Holden. When he opened his mouth to speak, only a moan escaped.
Carmen placed the back of her hand against his head. Henry closed his eyes, leaning into her touch once again. She looked up from him, her neck arching back to glance behind her.
“He’s hot again,” she said, a sternness creeping into her voice. Henry felt his lips tugging back down. Everything was very hazy and very pale.
“I would tell you to ask the nurse for some ice,” another voice intruded, a man’s. “But I doubt you’d get anyone. They’re all busy.”
Henry flopped his head onto the other side of his pillow, looking up out of the corner of his eye. Standing against the far wall, he saw the haggard, wearied face of Eric Saar, looking out into the hall. From where Henry lay, he could see it too, overcrowded and streaming with people in uniform – both police and hospital staff. There was hardly room to walk.
He heard Carmen sigh. He looked up at her. He reached up a hand.
His wrist caught. He tried again. Saar looked over.
“Is he waking up?”
With a groan, Henry looked down the length of his body. He was lying in a hospital bed, beneath a rough sheet, though he could see the gauze and bandages wound around his chest, under the blue shift. But when he tried to twist his left hand, he found that it was bound to the arm of the bed by a pair of handcuffs. He frowned severely down at them.
“I’m sorry Henry,” Saar said, walking forward, standing at the food of his bed. His eyes were darkened with sorrow. “I have to leave them on.”
Henry blinked at him a moment. He glanced up at Carmen. She was worrying at her lip, peeling away the skin with her teeth. A walkie-talkie blared, out in the hallway. There were two police officers standing just outside Henry’s door, struggling to remain in place against the heavy tide of foot traffic. To his right, there was a curtain, screening off the rest of the room.
Henry cleared his throat, swallowing down phlegm and sharpness.
“Here,” Carmen said. She went to the doorway. Beside it was a water dispenser, with a load of small, paper cups. She filled one up and came over to him, helping him drink it. It burned his throat like whiskey on the way down. He released a harsh breath, coughing. He could feel the weight of Carmen’s hand on his arm. He looked up at her.
“Where’s…” He cleared his throat again. “Carmen? I mean… Holden.”
His lips felt thick, as though they had been stung. He could scarcely form a thought, or keep his eyelids all the way open. He could see Carmen frowning down at him.
“He’s at home, Henry,” she said. “With a sitter.” She sounded tired. Henry glanced at Saar and then back to her, shaking his head.
“No, no, no,” he said softly.
“I couldn’t bring him here, Henry. You don’t want him to see you like this.”
“No, no. It’s not safe. Not safe.”
It was Saar. He drew closer, twisting his long scarf between his hands. He was still wearing his winter coat, as though he had just gotten in. He looked down at him with concern.
“What’s not safe?” he asked.
“My brother,” Henry groaned. He tried to raise his voice, but his vocal chords picked up no more than a whisper. “He’s… he’s coming for me…”
Henry tugged again at his bound hand, forgetting momentarily that it was chained. Carmen turned to Saar sharply.
“Could I talk to him alone for a moment?” she asked him.
“I’m not allowed to close the door,” Saar said, his expression pained.
“I know,” Carmen said, nodding stiffly. “It’s fine.”
Saar looked hesitant. He went to join the other police officers by the door, looking out into the hallway awkwardly, trying to focus his attention elsewhere. Carmen turned back to Henry. She sat on the edge of his bed, looked down at him. A single curl fell in front of her face, right between her eyes. Henry reached up towards it, wanting to brush it aside. But his arm felt like lead.
“What is it?” Carmen asked, staring at his hand.
Henry let the arm fall.
“Nothing.” He ran a hand over his face, moaning quietly.
“We should talk more later,” Carmen said, talking partially to herself. Her eyes seemed to look into him and glaze right over at the same time. “You’re on so much morphine right now, you might not even remember this conversation later.”
“What conversation?” Henry asked groggily. Carmen sighed.
“What happened, Henry?” she asked.
Henry blinked up at her, his head full of fog.
“After you left my house. What happened?”
“After you left my…”
Carmen sighed again, putting a hand to her mouth in thought. Henry just stared up at her, breathing shallowly, entranced with the curls that framed her warm face.
“They found you at an old factory, down by the river.” Carmen stopped for a moment. Her eyes roved, glinting, over his body, bandaged and pink and raw. She swallowed. “Your boss, Alby MacAwley, was there. He was dead.”
Henry said nothing. He could only remember a few things in particular. Standing by the rental, looking up at the factory. Pushing chairs up against the elevator door. Alby had gone down in a hail of bullets. But he was certain he had dreamed that last part.
Her look was perplexed. She shook her head at him.
“To start…” She looked over at Saar and the officers at the door, then back at him with a puckered brow, seeming to change her mind. “How did you get hurt Henry?”
“Hmm…” Henry grunted thoughtfully, glancing Saar’s way. He could see the man sneaking looks back at them guiltily. He swallowed, licking his lips. He put a hand over his face, wiping off sweat. “I fell.”
Through his fingers, he could see that Carmen was disappointed. She seemed to be struggling. She took a breath.
“No Henry, after that.”
“Um…” Henry chuckled abruptly. He’d just begun to remember his encounter with the crazy man at the parking garage, with his big, bulging eyes. “He sliced me open,” he said, fighting down giggles. “Like a fish.”
He stopped laughing. He looked up at Carmen’s creased face.
“That wasn’t funny,” he noted.
Carmen leaned in close to him, until her mouth hovered by his ear, looking pleadingly into his eyes.
“But I thought you said he was dead,” she whispered.
Henry turned his head away, scowling up at the ceiling. It was pockmarked with black dots, either from mold or by design, Henry could not discern.
“I dunno. I thought he was too.”
Carmen stared at him, agape and exasperated.
“What does that mean?”
They both looked up. Saar was looking back into the room, almost seeming ashamed for interrupting.
“When you’re done, I’d like a moment with him too.”
Carmen nodded hurriedly, turning back to Henry. He stared up at her confused. She opened her mouth, then stopped herself, pressing her fist to her lips and thinking for another while. Then she shook her head.
“I’m going to ask you again when the drugs wear off,” she said, sighing wearily. “I’m sorry, you just woke up. I don’t know what I expected.”
Henry smiled at her sleepily.
“You don’t expect much,” he slurred.
Carmen stared down at him, her look curious, her eyes strangely wet. She cleared her throat uncomfortably.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
Henry attempted a shrug. His muscles barely responded. He gave a weak nod.
“Tired,” he croaked.
“That’s alright,” Carmen said, putting a hand to his forehead again. Henry sighed and closed his eyes. “Do you feel hot?”
“Are you in any pain?”
Henry shook his head. He was drifting off again. Carmen put a hand on the side of his face, tapping gently.
He peeked an eye open at her with a quiet groan.
“I know you’re tired, but I need you to stay awake a little longer. Saar wants to talk to you too.”
Carmen pulled away. Henry frowned, as her touch left his skin. There were wrinkles forming below her hairline, from too many years of worrying.
“Saar?” she called over her shoulder. Saar came walking in. She patted Henry on the shoulder. “Stay awake. Okay?”
“You’re leaving?” Henry asked, confused. “Already?”
“I’ll be right outside,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Stay away from Stephen,” he murmured, shaking his head. Carmen just looked confused and walked away, patting Saar on the arm too as she walked out.
“Hey there, Henry.”
He glanced up at Saar. He was putting on a smile. It seemed very painful for him to be doing so. As though he had frowning for so long, the muscles had become taut.
“Do you think we could talk for a bit? None of this is going on record… medicated, you’re not coherent enough to be interviewed… but I wanted to talk to you first, before… an interrogation happens.”
Henry just stared up at Saar blandly. Saar crossed his arms awkwardly, leaning against the wall beside Henry’s bed.
“Ah… I know this has to be rough on you Henry. I feel pretty badly about the whole thing, I only saw you a couple hours ago, and I knew you were having trouble… with the Saints.”
Saar was looking at Henry questioningly, as though seeking out cues for how to proceed. Henry blinked languidly, fighting against sleep, hearing the words, but not really listening to them.
“I need to… I want to ask you though, Henry, if that’s alright… if you’re okay with answering right now, I know you must be in a great deal of pain… do you know why… Alby MacAwley did that… why he tortured you.”
Henry shook his head meekly. He turned his head against his pillow, his eyes drifting closed.
“Hmm-mmm… he dinnit like me.”
“He didn’t like you?”
Saar looked a little frustrated as well. He swallowed, taking a moment to think.
“It… it had to be more than that, Henry. It’s… I mean to ask you before anyone else does, as a friend. What did he want? Was he trying to get something out of you? Information? Money? Goods?”
Saar looked at him worriedly, scratching at his sandy, greying hair.
“Yes to which of those things, Henry?”
Henry just stared up at him blankly. He’d already forgot the first thing that Saar had mentioned.
“You can tell me now, Henry, I’ll understand.”
Henry just shook his head softly, his eyes closed. He ran his unbound hand down his chest, feeling at the bandages that had been wound around his torso.
“I didn’t mean to,” he muttered to himself, sinking into sleep. “Honestly… I didn’t… they just keep dying .”