"WHAP WHAP WHAP-" a hand smashes the snooze button. One blue eye half opens and tries to adjust to the hazy sun piercing the blinds. Johnny's headache hasn't hit him yet. He goes to sit up . . . ah, there it is. Johnny dives right back to his pillow.
"Fu-!" he mumbles into it.
He reopens his eyes to see he's got five minutes left.
Five more minutes. He tells himself.
"WORK IS CALLING. WORK IS CALLING. PICK UP YOUR PHONE BECAUSE WORK IS CALLING." no response; not even a blink.
"WORK IS CALLING. WORK IS CALLING. PICK UP YOUR PHONE BECAUSE WORK IS CALLING" Johnny's eyelid twitches, but that's as far as it gets.
"WORK IS CALLING. WORK IS CALLING. PICK UP YOUR PHONE BECAUSE WORK IS CALL-" Johnny swipes his screen and denies the call.
"BEE-BEE-BEEP!" honks outside. In a fevered frenzy his blankets fly off the front of his bed and he flicks a slit in his blinds to see the good old County Ward Transfer vananxiously humming out front.
"BEE-BEE-BEEP!" syncs up with "WORK IS CALLING. WORK IS CALLING. PICK UP YOUR PHONE BECAUSE WORK IS-"
"Yeah, I'm out the door!" he shouts and ends the call.
His pants zip, his belt buckles, and his shirt buttons. The stairs echo the banging and creaking of panicked boots racing down them. The front door's glass nearly shatters from a thunderous slam.A Warm Reception
"You downloaded those stupid ringtones specifically to know who's calling you. Why didn't you answer? You made us both look bad."
"I was asleep and by the time I realized what was up I thought the time spent yelling at me for being late would just make me later."
"Are you drunk? It's 9:30. I don't know why they let you hibernate at home when the rest of us have to sleep in the station bunks."
"My insomnia isn't as bad in my bed-"
"Oh cry me a river, Jack Daniels. Shooting whiskey is what helps your insomnia. Whatever, you better get your ass in gear because the cops just nabbed Danny D. Glover earlier and we have to transfer him."
"Who?" Johnny huffs trying to keep pace with Kenny.
"How clueless can you be in one day, man?" All Johnny can do is grind his teeth.
"They finally caught the guy who skinned those four strippers on the subway last year." Johnny's eyes flash wide open and all the dispatcher calls and coworker horror stories come rushing back to him.
Danny D. Glover, or Danny D. as notoriety and increased mention shortened it to, was the tongue and cheek serial killer nickname parodying the Hollywood actor and the medical term for when a bunch of skin is torn from its underlying tissue. Danny D. left four bald, muscly messes in the subway last year that used to be half-way decent looking exotic dancers. He was never caught before because he had peculiar style and impeccable timing. He didn't do anything in the subway so it was never caught on camera and he did it in the dead of night when no one need travel. He would do his thing somewhere else then roll their bodies wrapped in a sheet down the stairs leading in. The sheet would unravel, leaving their limbs to flap and flail all the way down. Those porous concrete stairs still haven't let go of the stains. Danny D's deeds are as much part of the city now as the commemorative bricks that were first lain in its establishment. Now, after all this time, they caught him.
"But did they really?" Johnny tilts his head.
"Yea, bro. I couldn't make this up." Kenny snarls. "I cannot wait for him to get in this van; it's gonna be a bumpy ride." Johnny rolls his eyes in response.
Kenny is a happily married man who supplements his marriage's inequities by being a regular at The Dog & Bone gentleman's club. So you could say this killer struck him kind of close to home. Finally the highway exit approaches and the wheels slow to a stop.
"So who is he?" Johnny wants to know; having missed the briefing and being picked up en route to their current assignment.
"Can't honestly say, bro." Kenny spouts off. "You should have showed up for work."
"Smooth talking, asshole, but I know you didn't listen. You rarely do unless it's an address." Johnny hisses.
"Because who always drives? ME." Kenny squeezes the steering wheel. "I'm the one who raced to pick your booze-binged brain up so we could get this done and save you from getting fired!" Awkward silence fills the van like smoke and chokes them both. Johnny angles himself towards the window away from Kenny. A sudden sleep overtakes him and his head bobs with the potholes.Showtime
BUMP! An abrupt stop sends Johnny's head against the window.
"Wake up, sleeping beauty. We're here." Kenny barks with a slam of his door. Johnny's eyes flicker open and slowly processes the light. I really need some water. His eyes adjust and he notices the neon Emergency Room sign and the media crowd blocking the main sign so it just reads General Hospital. No better place to be then. He thought it kind of ironic that the sign read that way because this whole situation was definitely going to be drama; too bad he had no idea.
"Come on, let's GO!" Kenny hollers.
Johnny shoves the van door wide open and stomps to the ground. He gives it the same solid close Kenny did. Kenny's glare displays he took it personally. Good. Their shared aggression incidentally causes them to walk in a loud cadence and draws the attention of the hospital staff and police officers on the way to their target's bed.
"So why's he here? Did they shoot him?" Johnny inquires.
"Nah, just grazed and tazed him a couple times." Kenny dismisses. "He got way less than he deserved." Johnny just rolls his eyes again.
It's not that this guy wasn't a piece of shit; he did murder mostly innocent women after all. It's just ridiculous how invested Kenny was and for all the wrong reasons. None of that mattered, though; at least not anymore. A dangerous person is off the streets and he was going to go away for a long time. Knowing he was going to look at this guy before most people and be the one to take him on his last tour before Hell was pretty gratifying. Johnny suddenly stood up straight and set his shoulders back. He puffed up his chest a bit, had a slight smirk, and made eye contact and nodded with every white coat, scrub, and badge he came across; like he was the hero.
As they turned the corner, Johnny knew what was coming because he's walked this route dozens of times before transporting rogues and patients alike. Yet, something about today was different. His pulse quickened, his stomach tightened, and a slight sweat collected on his hairline. The anticipation and wonder of what this monster might look like collided head on with the fear and astonishment that a villain of this caliber was within a few yards distance. None of his previous job experience or knowledge of serial killers passed could prepare him for what he would see.The Grand Reveal
CLUNK. A single heartbeat explodes in Johnny's chest when he sets sight on his charge. The levy breaks on his forehead and the sweat floods freely. A million pins prick his lungs and let the air out. His body shutters forward as it fights to stop. Muffled sounds that would resemble his name in another life are thrown at his ears, but they don't break through. This can't be his life. The sounds are drowned out by the overwhelming amount of stimuli that's assaulting his senses. His brain is consumed by a traffic jam of thoughts. Thoughts that fight to move forward and make sense, but are halted in their disbelief. Finally, a jostling hand on his shoulder breaks the ice.
"Johnny!" is the sound formulated by Kenny's penetrating holler.
The heat of shock has now dropped and normal body temperatures slowly creep back as Johnny locks eyes with Kenny's bringing him back to Earth. A false calm overtakes him as he nervously laughs thinking he had just seen a ghost. That ghost returns to haunt him as Johnny follows Kenny's right index finger lurching forward to point back at their charge.
This physical form was all too familiar. It was too unassuming; non-threatening. It was thin, tight-shouldered, and lanky. Topped with brown shaggy hair, a weak mustache above the lips, and a bit of a baby face. This was no estranged monster; this was Mitch Little. Mitch looked Johnny for a quick, stinging second before sinking to the floor in a cold gaze. Kenny pulled Johnny by the arm to grab their guy and get back to the van. Johnny floated forward with empty, hollow steps. His eyes sunk to their charge's chest as if to dehumanize him. As if separating the face from the body would make the realization easier to metabolize. Grabbing him by one side while Kenny grabbed the other, they motioned him forward. The last time Johnny had touched Mitch was when they had their arms slung around each other singing classic alternative hits in Ronny's garage at the Halloween party. Johnny kept quiet trying to grasp the polar opposite circumstances between these two encounters. He knew the rest of the trip would bring more memories and sharp contrasts.
Johnny wasn't that much bigger than Mitch and neither was Kenny, yet it felt like they were moving a mannequin through the hospital. Mitch's posture and pose was so rigid. It seemed as if he was footless as he crossed the floor. A real monster wouldn't be this cooperative; he's putty in our hands. Johnny assured himself. Though the Devil's advocate whispered nasty nothings into his ear that he couldn't block out. Or is it because he knows me?Road Trip Down Memory Lane
The van was set up very much like an ambulance: two seats in the front for the driver and a passenger and an open back with a seat along the wall behind each of them. The middle was open for a gurney. Since Mitch was in fine enough physical condition they sat him behind Kenny's seat and handcuffed him to the railing. Standard procedure dictated that someone had to be back there with the charge and Johnny was dreading that duty.
"Hey man, do you have any gum? My mouth is dry." Johnny stuttered with an even pitch.
"I'm not surprised since you didn't have time for a drink this morning." Kenny scoffed as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver strip. When Johnny's hand touched his during the exchange, he was repulsed by his clammy digits.
"Are you gonna be alright back there? I can pull over and you can drive."
"No, no I'll be fine. I'll be fine." dryly crawls out of Johnny's mouth as Mitch coldly stares him down. Johnny darts his eyes to the back doors and slowly lowers them to the floor.
"Do you think I did it, Johnny?" Mitch's words shattered reality. It's one thing to be transporting a friend in your line of work. It's another for this same friend to allegedly be a notorious serial killer, but to hear him speak was crushing.
"Look at me, Johnny." no response. "Fair enough. This is hard for me too. It would make it easier on both of us if you just answered my question. If not to me, then to yourself. Sort out the facts in your mind then come to a conclus-"
"Facts! What facts? I don't have any facts. Facts flew out the window the moment I saw you at the hospital." The van swerves to the left suddenly and Mitch's head crashes against the wall behind him.
"I swerve when I'm distracted. Don't distract me, creep, or it's gonna be a bumpy ride." Kenny shouts.
"Relax, Kenny, it's fine." Johnny sets his eyes to the floor and returns to his thoughts. After a few minutes he looks up at Mitch, "My question for you, between us, as former friends, did you do it?"
"You know I can't answer that without legal representation present."
"Cut the crap, Mitch. In case you haven't noticed, I'm having a hard time dealing with this. I need to know what's what."
"Every man is his own judge. It's up to you to decide if I'm innocent or guilty."
"I don't want to talk philosophy, Mitch." Johnny sighs, "I want to talk facts. The facts, as I understand them, are: we met through my childhood friend and your co-worker, Ronny Ceto, during one his fires just over a year ago. We hung out multiple times over the course of last year; always because of Ronny. I thought you were a pretty cool dude. We had plenty of laughs. The last time I saw you was Ronny's infamous Halloween party where we were so trashed that we were leaning on each other belting out alternative rock hits off of Ronny's playlist. Then the holidays came up and we haven't seen each other for a while. Then, I overdid it with Ronny last night and woke up late for work this morning. I was told that the city's most wanted, Danny D., was caught and that I would be moving him. Then I see your face where some creep's should be. Those are the 'facts' that I have, but there's some serious logic issues going on here. Like, logically, I don't know how a good time guy like the Mitch I recently called a friend could be sneaking off in his spare time to mutilate women then throw them down in the subway for everyone to see. Seriously, how fucked up are you? Are you stupid? What kind of sick exhibitionist are you? Okay, you're a serial killer secretly, but why free up the bodies? Isn't getting your fix of domination and death enough? You offer your victims up to the public and police willy nilly. Where does that work into the equation?" Mitch now is the one looking at the floor. "Are those the facts you had in mind, Mitch? Danny? Whoever you are."
"So that means you think I did it?" Mitch mumbles.
"You were caught trying to drug a dancer! There's another fact for you." Kenny interrupts. Mitch whips his head toward him and scowls.
"But is it really enough to convict?" Mitch rebuddles.
"When you fit it in with the rest of the puzzle." Johnny steps in. "The police put you with us for a reason, Mitch."
"Public ease." Mitch blurts. "They just want to soothe the public's weary minds."
"Why you then?"
"Facebook." Johnny snorts in a chuckle to respond. "No, seriously, Johnny. They screen Facebook profiles for somebody who is interested in this kind of stuff and they rally a campaign against him. I post horror movie memes and serial killer factoids all the time. I made myself an easy target."
"That's quite the conspiracy theory."
"They've wrongly imprisoned people before, Johnny. Remember The West Memphis Three? The heavy metal teenagers who were tried and convicted of murder in Memphis, Tennessee back in '94?" Johnny shrugs. "Well just because their Bible Belt community didn't like what they were into they compiled a case against them saying they murdered three young boys for a Satanic ritual and won. They were just released in 2010 based on new evidence and pleas."
"Well, if they falsely convict someone then the real killer walks around a free man to kill again."
"Not quite. The killer in that case never allegedly killed again. If you do believe that then you better believe that he's smart enough to see it as an opportunity to blow town and start somewhere else. He won't do it the same way either. He'll murder in a new way so he seems like someone new on the scene."
"That's not how murderers work, Mitch. I know you're into that, so you should know. They like to do things specific ways because that's what 'works' for them. That's what gets them off."
"You said Danny is an exhibitionist. That means he's a showoff; theatrical. He just wants his work to be seen, recognized, feared."
"I knew you knew about psychopaths, but you really know. You're not putting my suspicions at ease. You're talking like you know from experience."
"Cops can make these types of deductions, too, Johnny. No one suspects them of anything." Johnny shakes his head and looks away. "What possible reason could I have to do this? My background is as normal as yours. I have two parents who are still married. I never suffered any type of abuse or bullying. I don't suffer from any mental illnesses. I have no reason to kill anyone. I don't even have anger issues."
"The thing about fucked up people is they don't have to have a reason. They're just fucked up." Johnny stabs.
"So you believe it's nature that prevails over nurture. That within twisted individuals might lurk some twisted fragment of DNA that alters my perception of good and evil."
"No, I believe they know the difference between good and evil, yet they do it anyways."
"Do you really think I'm that kind of guy, Johnny?" another stab to Johnny's mental state. It's true that he isn't sold on any conviction yet. This front of aggression is the only thing holding him together in this situation. Realistically, he still can't conceive that Mitch actually did this. Danny D. is definitely the guy capable of it, but Mitch just couldn't be. Mitch was always the one buying rounds at the bar, loaning you money if you were in a pinch, taking jokes as well as he could send them. Plus, the guy worked two jobs. There's no way he would have time to do what Danny D. did.
"I don't what to believe, Mitch. It's not for me to decide. Regardless of what you say, I'm not the judge and I'm not the jury. My opinion is irrelevant. I want to be able to turn on the TV one day and see that you've been found undoubtedly innocent and go back to hanging out with you at Ronny's. Until then I just have to do my job and get you to the psych ward so they can run their tests."
"But you're opinion does matter, Johnny. What you just said answered my question; you don't think I did it. You can help me, Johnny."
"How can I help you? The most I can do is be subpoenaed as a character witness."
"Yes, that's true, but a little further down the line than I'm talking about. When we get to hospital you can distract your friend there, turn your head, and never see me again."
"What?" Johnny let's out in a hushed whisper. "You are insane. I just told you I'm not completely convinced of your innocence. Not to mention that doing that would cost me my job."
"A job you hate?" Johnny's lips rumble as if to speak, "You don't have to say anything. I can tell you can't stand that guy. I've never heard you speak highly of this job and the stress it brings you. Anyways, it can look like I escaped. There will be no fault. Just a runaway psycho would overpowered you two." Johnny moves to speak again, "That's what the news will say. I'm not actually a psycho."
The scariest thing about this suggestion is it's not the first time it was brought up to Johnny today. He was thinking it moments ago when he reflected on Mitch's personality. He could tell Kenny to pull over because it's an emergency. Then he could knock him out with the tire jack. Mitch could give him a few punches for bruises. Then that would be it. What if Mitch was right about the real killer being on the streets. His friend taking the fall for a monster so that it could move somewhere and do it again. The injustice made his flesh boil. He twiddled the fingers in his clenched fists.
There was also the possible injustice that could be caused by him letting the real killer go. He was letting his personal feelings get in the way. Serial killers have friends and family too. They have no idea of what's going on until they're loved one is caught. It's not up to me. It's not up to me. The droning mantra Johnny recites in his brain to drown out his thoughts.Wait, I have an idea.Rest Stop and Think About It
"I can help you, Mitch."
"Oh Johnny, I knew you'd come through. I've thought it out . . ."
"No, not like that. I'll help prove your innocence. I'll do my investigative work. I'll even call that one private eye I see advertised on TV."
"Clancy Clooney? That old-school noir shmuck? He's gotta be in his seventies now. That'll never work Johnny."
"Well, it's the best I can offer."
"Hey, Johnny I gotta stop to take a piss." Kenny blurts.
"What?" Johnny's heart drops. "Can't it wait?"
"You know how rush hour is through this part of town in the morning. We're gonna be stuck in it for a good hour. I won't even wash my hands. I'll be in and out."
"But-" the van is pulling into a gas station. "Kenny, I'll report you for this."
"And I'll tell them you're back there sympathizing with the prisoner." Gravity pulls Johnny's jaw weighs down and opens his mouth. "Yeah, I heard all of your little chatter back there. Don't think of trying anything because I'll stop it as soon as you try and start. I'm going to call the station as soon as I get out of this van." This quickly dispels any consideration Johnny had for the idea. The van door shuts.
"Don't let him scare you, Johnny. Now's our chance!"
"Are you kidding me? I might lose my job over our conversation alone."
"Change your shorts, Johnny. That guy is a puffed chest who's full of hot air. He isn't going to call the station. He thinks he's got you under thumb. He doesn't, does he Johnny?" Johnny's eyebrow wrinkles. "That's what I thought." Mitch's feet are bouncing up and down. "Listen, if you do believe in that nature argument you were spouting off about earlier, which I don't think you do, do you want me to fry for something I can't help?"
"So are you saying you did it?"
"No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that regardless you gotta get me outta here, Johnny. We don't have any time to waste."
"Kenny will be back any second."
"No, no he won't. He's in there taking a shit. I can tell that guy's always got something up his ass. Plus all that protein powder he ingests will give him the runs. He wouldn't stop for a piss. He could wait an hour to piss. We don't have any time to spare, though. Let's go."
"So I let you out in the middle of a gas station parking lot?"
"No, no. Undo my handcuffs and we'll ambush him when he gets in. Then you can drive off somewhere and we'll struggle so you crash, I'll give you a few bruises, and I'll be out of town."
"The authorities will be on high alert. How will you make it out of the city?"
"At least give me a fighting chance, Johnny. That's all I'm asking for. I may not make it out, fine, but give me a shot at my life. I don't want it to be over yet. You believe that people get what's coming to them. If I am guilty then they'll get me or I'll get shot or something. I'll get what's coming to me. If I deserve to get away, I'll get away. I'll get what's coming to me."
Now it's crunch time. The fact that Johnny is even accepting any of this is making his head spin. This is the worst day ever. I got out of the academy and took this job to keep my head down and take orders; not make life or death decisions. The back door is pulled open from the outside, but nobody is there. Kenny swings around ready to fight.
"I had to surprise you two; in case you were planning on jumping me the moment I got back in my seat."
"Then wouldn't you opening up back here by yourself been that much worse of an idea?" Mitch chuckles. Kenny huffs then storms in the van shutting the doors behind him. He wrings Mitch's collar and pulls him as high off the seat as he can and cocks his fist back. Johnny wraps his arm under and around Kenny's into a half-Nelson. Kenny throws his weight backwards to knock Johnny against the wall. Mitch kicks up into Kenny's groin. Kenny writhes downwards and Mitch follows up with a kick to his torso followed by a flurry of stomps to his head against the other seat. STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
Kenny's laying on the floor of the van unconscious with blood leaking from his nose and his left ear. Johnny looks down and his eyes widen in horror. His eyes turn to Mitch.
"You know that guy was gonna beat the fuck outta me! I wasn't gonna take it. You're as much at fault here as I am."
Johnny snags the keys off Kenny's belt and hops in the driver's seat. He throws the van in drive and peels out of the gas station.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" he pounds the steering wheel in unison. He swerves as he wipes the copious sweat from his brow over and over again.
"Hey bud!" Mitch hops in the passenger seat. Kenny swerves way over into the other lane and Mitch grabs the wheel to correct him.
"The fuck are you doing? How did you get out of the cuffs?"
"They were lying on the floor after we duked it out back there. I can't go in there, man. I won't. Let's simulate the accident now."
"Are you fucking kidding-" Johnny's eye slams shut and his jaw cracks. The van squeels into the other lane again. He corrects it. Another punch cracks into his skull. Another. And another.
"That's how you want to play?" Johnny hooks a quick left into the empty oncoming highway exit.
"Are you crazy?" Mitch screams as he flails his fists toward Johnny.
"Either you tell me the truth or I'm driving head on into the biggest car I can find. Cars are coming quick and horns are blaring.
"You won't do it! You're not that kind of-" Johnny ducks out of a chicken match with an SUV at the last second.
"Won't I? I'm done, Mitch. Tell me: did you do it?" More cars are coming. Mitch grabs at the wheel as Johnny pushes him as far away as he can with his right arm.
"If you want another chance at life you'll tell me." Johnny yells. HONK! HONK! A semi-truck is on the horizon and approaching. It changes lanes and Johnny follows. They struggle and swerve.
"Johnny, I-" BEEP!
"I couldn't hear you! What?"
"Johnny! Move-" CRASH! Who's Left?
"The doctor says he'll be on life support for the rest of his life; he's a vegetable now. We're trying to contact his family to find out if he has a living will."
"He was thrown through the windshield during the crash. His skull split against the pavement. You're the only lucky one here, Mr. Smith. Your only injuries are the ones Mr. Little inflicted on you."
"Johnny and Mitch knew each other. Mitch was trying to convince Johnny of his innocence the whole ride over. He was really torn up about it. I knew the whole time, but I guess now Johnny will never know the truth about Mitch." Kenny looks over at a drooling, unconscious Johnny as his heart monitor bleeps away.