The dusting of snow had layered the road to Chuckie’s with a puffy white coat. Ronnie drove through the streets as if it was just another drive. In the back, Darryl tried to regain his composure as his friend continued to bleed through the hole in his pants from where a bullet had passed not an hour before. This was beyond his scope of first care education, he thought. A lot of blood was on the driveway and floor of the van and Chuckie’s panicked face had transitioned from a furious red to a translucent white. All the while, Darryl attempted to plan his exit.
But his brain refused to cooperate. He couldn’t shake the visage of the doctor and his wife lifelessly slumped to the floor, and the cold, dead look in Ronnie’s eyes after he had pulled the trigger. These were the highest stakes Darryl had ever played for in his life, and he felt more and more frustration knowing that he was struggling to handle the pressure. It felt like his mind snake trying to eat itself. He closed his eyes, trying to emulate a trick in sports that had helped him long ago.
Darryl counted, one, two, three, four, taking a deep breath each number, focusing only on the breaths. His largest breath was at ten, then opened his eyes wide. On the ground lay a bag of pills. Their reward for this mess. The amber bottles full of blue pills peeked out of the bag. He read the childproof labeled lids that kept them closed. The second bag sat beside Ronnie in the passenger seat. Chuckie him seemed asleep, the only evidence he remained alive was the rise and fall of his chest. He needed help, and he needed it fast.
“Chuck needs help. He’s lost a lot of blood.” Darryl felt nervous.
“I know, we’re almost back. I’ve got tools to help him at the apartment.”
“You can fix this?” Darryl had no formal training, but he doubted Ronnie had bags of Chuckie’s blood type at the apartment.
“I learned a trick or two in the pen. I can at least hold him over until we get our bearings straight, then we can get him to the hospital. We just need 30 minutes there to unload the Oxy and get change cars. We’ll get him there.” Ronnie seemed calm for someone whose nephew had almost bled out in the backseat. Darryl thought he should be the one assuring Ronnie, imagining trying to tell a member of his family to hang on while a son actively died in the back seat. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe again with less success.
They gently pulled into the parking lot. The snow had ceased, and the clear, early morning sky of winter sparkled with stars. Darryl rolled out with the duffle bag over his shoulder and made his way to Chuckie’s side, opening the door. Chuckie was sleeping and his white face scared Darryl, who was unsure he’d last a half hour.
“Help me with this, Ronnie.” Darryl had jumped inside and got under Chuckie’s left shoulder. Ronnie waited outside the van and shouldered the weight as Darryl lowered him out of the door. They carried him together, entering the complex. Darryl leaned forward and opened the door, sidestepping with Ronnie to get through one at a time. They made their way to the door of Chuckie’s apartment.
They entered with the familiar smell of stale marijuana reaching their nostrils. With pace, they moved to the couch and sat Chuckie down. He was unresponsive and fell backwards into the couch.
“Ronnie, I don’t think he can wait 30. We need to get him there now.”
“He’s gonna make it. I’ve got an idea.” Ronnie pulled a pill bottle from the duffle bag and cracked it open. He took 2 blue pills and placed them on the table, which he scanned and picked up the plastic bags that Chuckie used to deal weed in. The two pills went in the bag, which he sealed, then stomped on repeatedly. Once finished, he slapped Chuckie, hard. Chuckie’s eyes blinked open, and he sleepily looked around, confused.
“That’s the plan? We’re going to snort Oxy until we get to the hospital? He’s going to die, man!” Darryl hated the shrill sound of his voice. He started thinking of ways to disarm Ronnie, whose gun was still visible in his waistband. Ronnie was cognizant of Darryl’s eyes and shot him a hostile look. Ronnie knew the score. Darryl did too.
“I told you I have the tools. Better some anesthetic than none.” Ronnie poured out half the crushed pill, now white, in front of Ronnie.
“Go ahead kid, this is gonna make it better.” Ronnie said. Chuckie seemed at ease as he leaned forward and put his nose to the table. He never had too much will power. Darryl knew he didn’t have a chance whenever wounded, maybe mortally. He had been told what he needed to do his whole life, and that was manifesting itself completely in front of Darryl.
Darryl heard the quick inhalation and watched as Chuckie’s eyes rolled back and he fell back into the cushion on the back of the couch. His eyes stayed closed and his breathing slowed even more.
“He won’t make it out of this. You’re going to kill him.” Darryl tried to keep his voice even, watching as the life left his friend.
“He’s going to be fine. We’re going to fix him up here in a second. The other half of this,” He picked up the plastic bag with the powder, “is for you and I.”
Ronnie’s eyes burnt a hole through Darryl. He had done his share of drugs, but he had never done this before. The last thing he wanted was to be impaired as he tried to survive tonight, alive and not incarcerated.
But that might not be an option.
“I’m not giving you an option, pal; you’ll do half of this with me.” Ronnie put his hand on the gun in his waistband. “And you’ll go first.”
Darryl swallowed. He saw no exit. Ronnie had maneuvered himself between the door and Darryl without him even realizing. Darryl wanted to scream; Ronnie had stayed one step ahead of him every moment of the night. He felt embarrassed and stupid.
Darryl sat on the couch beside the barely breathing Chuckie and leaned forward and rested his eyes on the white powder. Maybe it would help him focus, Darryl thought. He had little choice and thought his current line of thinking to be much too optimistic. He put his nose to the table and sniffed as hard as he could.
Reclined back, his brain felt like it was running at half power; Darryl let the feeling take him deep inside himself for a moment. He pictured himself, leaned back, and eyes closed, but he couldn’t open his own eyes, his body paralyzed. He heard, what felt like miles away, the sound of Ronnie taking the last bit of the crushed pill. Darryl’s mind roamed for a moment. He thought of the poppy farms in the Middle East. For a moment, he was driving a combine in the fields, and, after a long, hot day, he climbed down and kissed his wife. The purple syrup from the plant stained his shoes, and he headed inside for a hot meal. Darryl felt his mouth smiling at the thought of food.
His brain shouted at him from a distance. Come back, Darryl. He tried to focus. He could hear the shoes across Chuckie’s kitchen. He tried to open his eyes to see what was coming.
Come back, Darryl.
He wanted to drift back into reverie, but the part of his brain in the present was screaming. He tried as hard as he could to open his eyes. Darryl found he could not. He felt as though he was banging on the walls inside his own head. Straining, he could hear shoes on the living room carpet.
Come back, Darryl. His eyes opened.
He saw Ronnie across the living room, pillow in hand. Darryl’s mind, like a sloth, tried to put together the picture he was seeing. He felt as though his brain was trying to run through a floor of molasses. His eyes found their way to Ronnie’s other hand. It looked like a tool, something silver. Was he going to cut the bullet out of Chuckie? As he came closer, it came together for Darryl.
It was a knife.
With time flowing at half speed and unable to move, Darryl watched as Ronnie swiftly put the pillow over his nephew’s face. Holding it there with his forearm, Ronnie stabbed Chuckie viciously with the knife in the chest. Darryl tried to scream but found his jaw locked shut, and he could not open his mouth. Chuckie made no noise as the rise and fall of his chest stopped.
Darryl tried again to move. His mind moved, but his body remained still. He had 15 seconds to free himself or he’d meet the same end as his friend.
Ronnie smiled at Darryl, whose face couldn’t move to respond. “I’ve been waiting to do you the entire time I’ve known you.” He spit on the ground. “I hate your eyes. I think I’ll close them forever.” Darryl screamed internally. Ronnie lifted the pillow over his face.
Darryl, with his last bit of will power, freed himself from his internal prison as he felt his leg raise and kick Ronnie in the groin. He rose from the couch and, ungainly, tried to run forward, knocking over the table. He fell to the carpeted floor. He looked back to see Ronnie coming to his feet, holding himself between the legs.
“I wouldn’t have made this hurt, kid, but now you’re going to wish you were dead.” He pounced forward, trying to plunge his knife into Darryl as he searched for his coordination on the floor. He rolled out of the way and the knife lodged itself in the floor beside his head. Darryl threw a wild elbow and caught Ronnie in the head. Ronnie recoiled and rolled over towards the couch.
Darryl bolted for the door, but a hand soon caught his pants leg and he fell. Ronnie crawled towards him and raised his knife upward. Darryl tried to roll, but the knife hadn’t missed him completely. He felt a searing pain as it dug into his side above his hip. He reflexively lashed out with the fist that collided with Ronnie’s angular face, lifting him off Darryl and onto the carpet.
Darryl scrambled to his feet and ripped open the door, stepping outside into the hallway. He attempted to shut the door, only to find Ronnie’s arm holding it open, knife in hand. Darryl snapped out of his high and saw an opportunity. Using his body, he held the door shut as he grabbed a hold of Ronnie’s hand. Using all his strength, he bent the hand backwards until he heard a snap. The knife dropped out of the hand with a broken wrist and Ronnie screamed in pain, withdrawing from the door. Darryl slammed the door shut and sprinted to his car.
He fumbled his keys around, panicked, until he finally found the correct one and placed it into the ignition. His car, cold from the winter night, had frost on the windshield. He turned the defroster to the highest setting, and hurriedly jumped out of the car and used his fingernails to peel the ice off, sending a shiver down his spine. He repeatedly looked towards the door of the complex, waiting for Ronnie to emerge with the gun.
With at least the driver’s side being visible, he got back into the driver’s seat. He shifted it into drive, and as he looked up, watched as the door opened and Ronnie exited the apartment, gun in his unbroken hand. Darryl stared stupidly for a moment as Ronnie wildly looked around the parking lot. Seeing Darryl’s car, he raised the pistol and fired.
The sound of glass shattering brought Darryl to his senses. He slammed on the gas pedal and with tires squealing, he put his head down to shield himself from gunfire and he drove past Ronnie and out of the parking lot. The fire continued until he had driven ten seconds, and then it relented. He sat back up and checked himself for wounds. The only one he could feel was the stab wound on his side. He grimaced as he saw 2 bullet holes in the headrest beside his face.
The feel of the wind whistling through the holes in his windshield made him aware of the entirety of his body. He noticed the weight hanging around his neck. He had never removed the duffel bag from his person the whole time.
He had 1.25 million dollars of Oxycodone slung around his neck.
He careened into the parking space in front of his trailer, coming dangerously close to Linda’s car. He stamped out, putting his hand to his side, and seeing blood made him even more anxious. A first aid kit waited in the bathroom. He had stitches and glue he could use there to fix up the wound. Scared he’d be a person of interest; he wouldn’t go to a hospital. He opened the door and stepped in.
She didn’t look up at first. “I waited up for you. I wanted to make sure you got home fine. I heard the roads got a little dicey in some spots and I think my cousin spun out on the interstate.”
He wished she were asleep. He would rather explain what happened tonight more in the morning than immediately after. With Ronnie still alive and the drugs around his neck, he needed to get her out of there. The thought of Ronnie coming around scared him. As much as he hated Darryl now, he couldn’t bear to think of what would happen to Linda if he found her alone and unaware.
“Honey.” He stopped. The molasses feeling in his mouth was back, and this time, drugs were not the cause. “I need you to leave. Something bad happened and you aren’t safe.”
She looked at him with a smile. “Get the hell out of here. Who are you? James Bond?” She smirked until she saw he was bleeding. “What happened Darryl? That looks awful.” She rose from the couch and came to Darryl.
“I can’t explain. The less I say, the better off you will be. Something awful happened tonight.” It finally sank in Chuckie died and he found himself a little choked up. “If you’re where I’m at, you’re in danger and you need to go.”
“What did you do, Darryl?” the smile had left her face. She was deadly serious.
He felt the heavy presence of her gaze and tried to look away. “The less I say, Linda, the better. You just need to go. I’ll be in touch.”
“Are you going to jail? Is someone after you?”
“I don’t know yet. I didn’t know it would go so bad. Please don’t make me say anymore.” He felt like a coward. He had never deserved her and felt doubly sure of it now.
“Darryl, I need you to look at me. I need you to tell the truth. What kind of trouble are you in? This is a problem that is bigger than just you.”
He looked at her, confused. He stared for a moment at her unflinching face. “What do you mean, bigger than just me? You can go stay at your mom’s house. I just have to figure this out.”
A tear rolled down her face, and she looked away from him. “Dare, I’m pregnant.”