Author: Doug Cudmore
Format: eBook ( ePub / .mobi – Kindle), Paperback
write a report, “How the Green Pages can cash in on geographic technology,”
which had been sitting for three months in Bryce’s office.
small, sandy career island that was eroding away; your only options would be
dive into the ocean and hope there was another, larger island somewhere just
past the horizon. Or to stay and hope the waves stopped rising. And you were
the type to grab a palm tree and pray.
Friday, save for a sneak next door for a foot-long Tuna Supreme from Senor Sub,
with a Coke and Doritos to aid the gentle expansion of your midsection. And
finally, after the last AAAA Auto Service ad was laid down, you’d take the
commute in reverse, back to your semi-slice of heaven.
deep, deep inside the brain of Steve Janson.
that door, though, you could try Steve’s heart. Because, like usual, you’d see
Sally Janson sitting at your little dinner table. She would be sipping a diet
iced tea and battling an iPad Sudoku in her pale green scrubs, but as you
crossed the threshold she’d get up to meet you in your home’s tiny entryway.
She would have had one hell of a day – hauling the kicking person inside her
was enough for any woman in this late-summer heat, but she, god bless her,
would have found the time to hit Target, grab another carful of unidentified
baby gear for you to assemble, and then, as her feet swelled, would have got
groceries and done the dishes. And still, when you arrived, she’d rock herself
up, walk over and give that kiss. You’d kiss her back and ask, “How was your
day?”, smell the clean of her sandy brown hair and, lately, feel the growing
bulge of her six-month belly as she pressed against you. Then you’d gulp down
the night’s meal together before it was time for her night shift as a
paediatrics nurse at Metroburgh West General. You’d give her another good,
solid kiss goodbye, not just lips this time, and she would head out the door.
plus the off-nights together and holidays as they came, you’d get inside the
heart of Steve Janson.
until 6:30 crashed down again.
Steve’s lower intestine, gall bladder and fist-sized chunk of the liver, you’d
need to be that bullet.
actually Sally Janson would have the idea, which she would repeat so often that
it became Steve’s idea, as well – that he was going to be around for a long,
long time, if not for himself then for her and your son or daughter. And so, to
battle his days of inactivity broken by short bursts of glucose and cheese,
Steve would have to exercise.
p.m., Steve would slam his home’s ill-fitting front door and perform a quick
succession of knee bends and hamstring stretches. He would feel fresh, strong –
he liked the idea, if not the practice, of late-night summertime runs – so he
would take the three porch stairs in one leap, tune into Songza and take the
first, too-fast strides of the evening. “The Sign” would blast through the
headphones; Sally had left the playlist set on “Early ‘90s Bubblegum”. He would
stop, scroll quickly to something more masculine before his ears were hooked,
but by the time he found “Jock Anthems”, Ace of Base would have taken over.
He’d head down the block to “Life is demanding/without understanding.”
strides, Steve’s body would, per usual, start to despise him, a hatred that
only grew for the first 10 minutes of each work-out. One of two things always
happened after he warmed up: Either he would be ready to push, and his legs
would kick, his heart would settle into its familiar pace and the world would
float by; or he would not, at which point a pallid film would form across his
forehead, his legs would sputter, and he would use the emergency $5 in his
pocket to hunt for snacks.
the start, option two was the almost guaranteed winner on Friday nights,
leaving him searching for something salty at the local Sav-N-Lo.
He would walk through automatic sliding doors, and the sweat he’d worked up
would evaporate as the heat was replaced by perfume-laced mid-sized-box air.
Steve would walk down Aisle 4, Oral Care and Shaving Supplies, until he reached
the pharmacist’s counter at the back. He’d turn right, passing a thick-bearded
man with an ER’s worth of home medical supplies crammed into his shopping cart.
He’d arrive at the snack aisle, pause in front of the Doritos, trying to decide
between Cool Ranch and Zesty Cheese.
coil silently in a handgun, tucked inside a windbreaker pocket, hung on the
frame of a more drunk than angry young man riding shotgun in a Black 2001 Honda
Accord pulling into the Sav-N-Lo parking lot. You and your gun would sit cozy
as your owner and his two associates hopped from the car, threw black
balaclavas over their heads and strutted through those sliding doors. Then
you’d be running and, as you approached the check-outs, you’d be thrust toward
the ceiling, shining in the fluorescent light as your owner yelled:
cool, nobody gets hurt.”
freeze, and slow-motion-drop the fiery orange package he’d selected. He’d
think, “What the hell am I supposed to do in this situation?”
gimme your fuckin’ wallets and purses, ahright? Quick-Quick-QUICK!” your
owner’s friend Jack would yell, pulling out canvas bags and tossing them on the
treadmills of the two storefront checkouts. “Get with the fuckin’ program!” The
panicked clutch of customers nearby, and the two dowdy checkout ladies in their
pale blue Sav-N-Lo pinnies, would start to comply.
middle age, with large round bifocals and shining burgundy hair, the one
clutching an InStyle, would not get with the fuckin’ program. She would
defiantly refuse to release her floral-print handbag. There were pictures of
loved ones in there. They weren’t going anywhere.
whip out a pistol and get involved.
Your purse,” he’d yell.
grandkids … ”
pistol would make solid, fleshy contact with her skull. “I said give me your purse, bitch.” Jack would laugh, stoop
over her unconscious body, grab the handbag, toss it in his sack.
owner would aim you down for a second. The plan was, as had been discussed at
length during the drive here, that the guns were for show. Taking out old
ladies was not part of the plan. But your owner couldn’t argue niceties when
the shit was going down.
would start to scream, looking at the small pool of blood, but – “Shut the fuck
up!” – her screams would turn to panicked whimpers. “Anybody else get any
ideas, this is what we got for y’all. Now give us our money!”
the tills and the pockets of those standing nearby. And then you and your gun
would wave at the onlookers, make sure no one got close as your owner and his
other accomplice, the non-angry one who was high as hell and just there for the
laughs, backed toward the exit. But that pistolwhipping would have riled Jack
up. He would be an aisle into the store now, well within sight of the
still-frozen Steve, yelling and demanding more money.
dude?” he would yell at the homeless man. Jack would smash the shopping cart
over, sending gauze, syringes, ibuprofen everywhere; a roll of medical tape
would scoot past Steve’s running shoes. “I said what. The fuck. You lookin’ at.
straighter, taller, and calmly ask, “What are you doing?”
in here, terrorizing people? Do you know how violence ends, my good man? Do
you? Because it doesn’t end well.” Then the old man would grab a clutch of
bills from inside his jacket pocket, toss them at Lou. “There, sir, is your
half-second. He’d flinch toward the old man with his gun, stop, move to pick up
the scattered tens and twenties at his feet. But just as quickly his anger
would trump his greed, and he’d slam the butt of his gun into the side of
another head. “Fuck you,” he’d yell,
as blood splayed off the temple of the old man, who crumpled to his knees. “Fuck you.” And the robber would raise
his pistol for one last smack.
later, he wouldn’t be able to tell you why, exactly, against three armed men.
But he sprinted to his right, in an impossible attempt to save a life.
out the front door by now, on his way to freedom, hoping his damn accomplice
inside would be out in the 60 seconds left before the police likely arrived.
But then he would see some guy, 5’10” or so, black hair and running gear that
only drew attention to his small mound of belly, bursting toward your
associate. And your trigger would be pulled.
air, spinning at a speed imperceptible to the jaw-dropped cashiers. You’d shoot
past the magazine covers (People had “Teen Moms of Denver star shares exclusive
baby pics”; the Star went with “Darren left me: Teen Mom Post-Partum
Heartache”); past the Archie Double Digests; past the salted and unsalted nuts;
you’d pass down the aisle, burst into the back of a package of Classic Lays,
shatter through dozens of greasy chips, and at almost the same instant explode
through the front of the yellow bag.
intestine, gall bladder and a baseball-sized chunk of the liver of Steve Janson.
shrapnel, you’d hear “Oh fuck, oh fuck bro” and the sound of sneakers running,
and the rev of the black Accord disappearing into the Metroburgh night.
and, through the thick haze of shock, would rasp the words to nobody nearby:
“Tell Sally I love her.” And he would start to feel the warmth of the death’s
his toppled cart, his smooth hands would hoist the fading Steve Janson into its
basket, and the two of them, and you, would sprint into the darkness of the
Sav-N-Lo Mart parking lot.
squeal of tires and the flash of headlights shoved him back into consciousness,
Steve bolted upright.
for his shredded belly, to stanch the deadly flow of blood, to reach in, search
for the bullet, dig it out. But he couldn’t free his hands; they were pinned to
his body, tightly wound in something. He couldn’t tell.
mind battled to make sense of the situation, his eyes struggled into focus.
Everything was black, save one piercing white light overhead. Its glow flipped
left to right as Steve rocked in a bid to free his arms and stop the life from
pouring from his gunshot wound.
kind of few seconds that seem like forever, he worked both arms free and shot
his hands to the bullet hole just above his navel. His fingers prepared to
grope intestine and organ; instead, they hit skin. Soft, nacho-fed, lightly
haired skin. His digits looked for that fatal gap that must be somewhere …
there … on his torso … up … left … right … but found nothing unusual except
for a thin, inch-long cut just below his bottom left rib.
certain he had just been shot. Or fairly sure, though he now lacked evidence.
Maybe that was just something that had entered his heat-stroked brain after too
many wind sprints … no. He didn’t do those anymore. And he was bound, by
something, left in the dark. If that much had happened, he had likely been
shot. Probably. He concluded that, if he didn’t want to get probably shot or
bound again, he’d need to get out of here.
another big hit of air – the oxygen blended with sinus-pinching taste of
anaesthetic and a rusty hint of blood, making him nauseous even as it cleared
his brain. He gasped again – each one tasted better – and looked at that light.
Its glow turned from formless orb to floating ball to the familiar form of
Metroburgh municipal streetlight. Steve followed its pole to the ground – his
stare caught onto a string of decorative porch lights as they disappeared down
a street in the background – and to the black ground below.
was a streetlight here, he thought. What else? His eyes couldn’t make that out
yet, and his legs didn’t have the strength to explore.
instead, his eyes teamed with his fingers to determine the identity of the
restraint: A simple cotton sheet, soft, warming but industrially rough, like
you’d find on a low-rent hospital bed, light yellow with pink and white stripes
across the top. It had been swaddled around his torso and upper legs; it still
bound his calves tight. It felt fresh, clean, except for the part that had once
been around his belly but now drooped to the side. That was crusted with
something dark, like a giant scab. Blood? His fingernails scraped; he brought a
sample up to his nose. Yes, blood. Dried. A lot. Steve’s brain panicked again
and his hand shot back to his belly; no, still just soft pink flesh and tiny
Steve’s brain provided a fresh reason for concern – why was his hand hitting
skin? Why not the sweat-wicking runwear Sally bought him last birthday? He
looked quickly down, making his head swim again; once he recovered, he got an
eyeful of his full, naked self, upper thigh straight on up. He grabbed the
folds of blanket off the bench and covered his shame.
panic had a thick overlay of creepy. Steve’s mind shot back through the last
few items in his memory. Running. Snack food. Yelling. Gunshot. No “getting
naked” on the list. Dear god, what had he, or somebody, done in the interim, he
wrapped the blanket folds around him, ensuring all important bits were covered,
Steve forced himself to concentrate. He was shot. Or not. But most likely. Just
not wounded. But wrapped. In something bloody. And he was naked. Where?
Horizontal brown boards. A bench a park most likely. He looked to the horizon
again and objects finally started to clarify … the sturdy steel A of a
swingset… a couple of baby swings hanging down … a big red corkscrew slide
… by his bare feet, which he now determined were sitting on sand, a broken
pink Fisher-Price play kitchen, stacked high with filthy toy pots and pans,
buckets and shovels … a worn yellow Tonka truck … a couple of Frisbees that
had been converted into digging devices.
this spot. Bryan W. McCain, Sr. Urban Play Parkette, tucked away two blocks
from his semi. He was close to home. Thank god. Still, he was in a playground.
At night. Naked. Except, of course, for a blanket covered in dry blood.
give me another pull, asshole.”
down, man … … … alright, here you go.”
that’s the shit. Got this from some hopped-up Moldovan dude downtown, bro.”
jumped to his feet, momentarily dropping his blanket. The mumbled conversation
of two hoodied just-past-teens hit his ears; it sounded as though they were
right next to him. He swung his stuttering gaze 360 degrees, until he spotted
them approaching; they were still a good quarter-block away, though, passing
under the last streetlight before the parkette. Their smoke wafted up, hung in
himself an impromptu diaper, bunching the blanket around his groin, and darted
for the hedge at the parkette’s south end. He crouched between its evergreen prickles
and the seven-foot security fence behind, tied the blanket in place. Then he
crouched further, into a ball, and waited.
Stumph, just off his shift at GasMart, and his cousin Nick DeBergh, not
currently working nor interested in the concept, slouched into the parkette and
dropped onto the bench Steve had occupied just seconds ago. They enjoyed a
nice, long joint and the inane conversation that it brought – cars they’d never
drive, lingerie models they’d never screw. After five minutes, Nick, his 259
pounds living on the border between husky and obese, was taking one long last
pull when something caught his eye.
light glimmered off a big, light yellow form behind the bushes.
nudged Lucas, whose sallow cheeks and sunken eyes gave an outpatient
impression, nearly knocking him onto the ground. “Bro,” he said, pointing,
“What is that?”
the bushes, bro.” Nick got up, pulled down the bottom of his Area 51 t-shirt so
his belly was covered. “Check it out. Looks like … a dude in a diaper!”
yeah,” Lucas said, laughing a deep, ganja-laced laugh. “Hey Diaper Dude!” he
called. “What’s in the bushes?”
could now see he was hardly hidden. He was cornered, though; the two men stood
between him and the parkette’s gate, and as they strolled toward him his escape
route was slowly, stumblingly cut off.
Diaper Dude!” Nick called, delighted at his discovery. “What you doin’ in
hey guys,” Steve responded with an understated wave. “How’s it going?”
Lucas was curious. “Are you one of those dudes who dresses up like a baby and
have some chick change your diaper?”
nothing like that —”
Lucas’s face turned angry. “Yeah, what the fuck, bro. Doesn’t your niece play
at this park?”
not-quite-teens now walked more quickly toward Steve’s failed hideout.
“Yeah, fuck, dude, Brytney plays here all the time. Hey, get the fuck out
here, pervy Diaper Dude!” Nick demanded.
stood, put his hands out to the side in a plea. “Look guys, I –” But there was
no point in trying to reason. Lucas ran the last 10 steps left between himself
and Steve, pulling out a small pocket knife as he did and saying, “Let’s fuck
this dude up.”
out of options; couldn’t reason, couldn’t run, couldn’t do much damage against
a loser with knife. But in the last millisecond before his torso took its
second blow of the night, an electric surge shot through Steve’s legs, while
another hit his brain. And he jumped, up, back and, with unknown energy
exploding from his quads, he cleared the fence behind him with room to spare,
just as the knife sliced the space where he had stood a half-second before.
down in the ankle-deep sod of the unkempt backyard behind the fence and, in
disbelief, stared Lucas in the eye, this time with the safety of a seven-foot
sheet of metal diamonds between them. “What the fuck?” Lucas said.
as fast as he’d cleared the fence, Steve came to his senses, turned, ran. He
needed to get home, back to safety, he couldn’t take the streets and risk the
neighbours spotting him. But with this bizarre new strength coursing through
his legs, apparently allowing him to clear fences in single leaps, he could
take the back route. So he sprinted across the first, dark, 24-foot-wide back
yard and hurdled with ease over the five-foot privacy fence at the other side.
Stuck the landing. Good, he thought, now there were two fences between himself
and the stoners. He could take time to gather his thoughts. Until the motion-sensor
light snapped on and the Chihuahua
in the rear window began a piercing yip.
hurled himself over the next fence, again with ease, but this time crashed down
on an above-ground pool; the sound of his body hitting the water was loud
enough, but coupled with the clatter of the now-collapsing structure, and the
whoosh as gallons of water poured into the yard, it was enough to stir more
neighbours. Backyard lights flicked on almost instantly up and down the block;
any second now, annoyed homeowners would come out with their dogs or cats or
cut through the rushing water, he realized he just needed to cross one more
yard and he would hit the back alley that dissected his block, leading straight
to his backyard. As the demolished-pool owner slid his screen door open, Steve
cleared another fence. And again he stuck the landing, onto an upturned rake.
yelled the pool owner as Steve disappeared.
yelled the owner of the final yard, who was sitting on his candlelit deck,
enjoying a glass of chilled Cabernet with his wife’s best friend.
yelled the wife’s best friend.
it,” yelled Steve as two rake prongs shot into his bare right foot. He leapt
over the last fence with such force that he topped it with five feet to spare,
and, with the alley on the other side being blessedly empty, he turned right,
toward home, and broke into sprint, a dead sprint, faster than he’d ever
sprinted before. Then it occurred to him that his bleeding right foot would
leave a track leading to his own backyard. So he broke into a hop, a dead hop,
faster than he’d ever hopped before, to the safety of his own gate.
arrived at the back of his house, Steve realized his key was exactly wherever
his running clothes now resided. So he picked up a fist-sized rock from Sally’s
decorative garden and, as quietly as possible, punched it through a glass pane
on his door. He reached through the resulting hole, slicing the side of his
hand in the process, and turned the knob from the inside. Then he pushed the
door open and allowed himself the sweet, agony-filled relief of a collapse on
his kitchen’s cold tile floor. He lay there for 10 minutes at least, panting
and seething with the sharp pains in his foot and hand, and flinching,
convinced he’d be caught, as he heard a smatter of neighbours searching the
never came knocking. And so, when his will returned, Steve sat up to survey his
damaged body, slid over to the cupboards and pulled out tea towels, wrapping
them around his wounds. After a minute or two of applying pressure, he
staggered to his feet and, leaning on the faux-marble countertop, tried to
think of what he could possibly do next. As he looked around the room, trying
to settle on a course of action, he noticed the voicemail light flashing on the
kitchen phone; he grabbed the cordless receiver, thinking maybe an answer
resided there, in the receiver.
voice told him he had four. Unheard. Messages.
Sally. “Hey, hon. Just heard from downstairs that some guy was shot at the
Sav-N-Lo. I know you were being a good boy and running, but give me a call back
at the desk, okay?”
Sally, a touch more panicked. “Hon, just thought I’d hear back from you by now.
Guess you’ve gone for a long one. Good for you. Call back, okay?”
Sally, really scared. “Steve, please call, okay? Someone just said they heard
some runner might have got hurt, but they didn’t bring anyone in. Why don’t you
take your stupid phone with you? Call me right now, okay?”
Sally, on the edge of tears, five minutes ago. “Steve, I’m really scared, okay?
I was asking around now, no-one knows anything … call me, okay? C-” Steve
deleted the last message before it played out and dialled the maternity ward.
the rumpled sheet half-clinging to his waistline, and stared at the wreck of
himself in the mirror above the kitchen sink. As the rings progressed, so did
this thought process – from “Poor Sally” to “Maybe she’ll know someone who can
help me” to “What am I going to tell her? That I woke up naked in a park and
just ran through our neighbours’ yards?”
West Maternity.” A too-familiar nurse spoke on the other end of the line.
speak to Sally Janson, please.”
god. Sally’s worried sick,” his wife’s best work friend replied with her usual
agitation. “She was just heading home to check on you, I’ll see if I can catch
her.” The line clicked, then filled with Latin-tinged classical guitar.
waited, watching his reflection as the flamenco magic filled his right ear, and
discovered the line he had felt on his abdomen just minutes ago was gone.
Steve, is that you?”
hon-” and he noted, just above the non-cutline, a scrap of paper, safetypinned
to the top of the blanket near the top of his left thigh, something he’d missed
in the madness of the night.
fine –” on the paper, the hand-scrawled message read “Call me. 701-565-7232.”
701 … North Dakota.
buzzed in the background. “Oh, I was so worried. Where were you?” she accused
with just-relieved terror. “I called and called. The police said that some
runner had been shot, and you never answered the phone, and I …”
children’s park, with him blacked out and maybe eyewitnesses, to
something or anything …
they never found anyone, and I thought maybe you’d just crawled off somewhere,
and …” sobs.
wasn’t a lying man, at least not with the people that counted. Once the lies
started in a relationship, they never stopped, he’d learned from a rather nasty
college girlfriend. But there wasn’t another choice right now. He just needed a
small one; he’d figure a way back to the truth later on.
I’m sorry. I am so sorry. I just bailed on the run and crashed upstairs. I must
have slept through all your calls. Really, are you okay?”
said in a smaller voice now. “Don’t ever do that again. Okay? You sleep with a
phone on the pillow.”
I’m so embarrassed,” she said, wiping a mix of tears and eyeliner from her
cheek with the back of her hand.
hon. Do you need me to come over? Get you a decaf?”
Really, don’t come down here. I just need to get back to work. Be up when I get
it. Love you.”
too. And keep that phone on your pillow. Asshole.” Vulgarity meant the fear was
pancakes for when you get home.”
doin’, honey?” Martina asked.
really,” Sally replied, grabbing a tissue from the nursing station. “I feel so
Sal. He needs to grow up and treat you right.”
just a man,” Sally replied. She let out a sigh and forced herself to her feet,
headed out for a night of towelling down birthing mothers and soothing birthing
looked back at himself. God, he would need a better story by the end of Sally’s
shift. First, he’d have to explain the wounds … speaking of which, the pain
was gone now, all praise endorphins. He unwrapped the tea towel from his hand –
not only was the pain gone, the gash was, too. He unwrapped the towel from his
foot. No rake holes, either.
skewered, sliced body was fine. Not just fine. Perfect. He glanced around the
kitchen to make sure the wounds had been real, that this wasn’t just a
hallucination formed by the leftover vapours of whatever had left him
unconscious. But there were still the bloody towels, the bloody sheet, the
broken window. Those were real. And, if he was going to keep Sally from asking
any more questions, he would have to dispose of them.
the sweaty, blood-crusted blanket was trashbagged, he unpinned the note, walked
the strange message upstairs, slipped into his pyjamas, and tucked it amidst
the nail clippers and spare change and unread novels in his bedside table.
pulled it out for one last look. 701. North Dakota. Add that to
the top of the night’s pile of what-the-hells.
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