I opened my eyes because there was someone talking near my head. Right in my ear, actually. As soon as I did it, I wished that I hadn’t. I closed them again.
“Mr. McKay, I saw you open your eyes. I know you’re awake.” I knew I had heard the voice before, but I couldn’t place it. Then I recognized the smell of piss and sickness, remembered where I was, and recognized the voice immediately.
“What’s up, Dr. Hillbilly?” I wasn’t sure if I had ever heard his real name. If I had, it hadn’t impressed me much, because I didn’t have a clue what it was. I knew he was a doctor that had originally moved to the city from Texas, and I knew that every time I ended up in the hospital, this guy ended up hanging around my bed, giving me shit.
“Hey, I’m not supposed to be here! I was just bringing in Steve the Magnificent.” I tried to sit up, but that required me sitting up, which sort of required opening my eyes, and I didn’t want to do that at all. “Am I dead?”
I know, it’s a silly question, but sometimes you just have to ask.
“Not yet,” he said, trying to pry one of my eyelids open. “But if you keep at this lifestyle, I’m sure you will be soon.”
I opened my eyes, and they were still there, at the foot of my bed.
“Hey, do you see them?” I whispered.
“The people a the foot of my bed.”
He turned and looked at Arnie and Dorothy. Arnie was still dressed up in his Drunkard gear, and Dorothy was wearing what looked like a set of bright pink scrubs. They both looked caught somewhere in between huge grins and looks of apprehension.
“Yeah, I see them. You’re the one that’s suffered head trauma—I should be asking you questions like that.”
“Who’s Arnie, old chum?”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I always come to visit you when you’re in the hospital.”
“Practically a hobby at this point,” the doctor mumbled, shining his stupid little light into my eye again, and looking skeptically at something in there. “Look up at the ceiling.”
I looked up a the ceiling. “I thought you guys were dead.”
“Heroes never die,” Arnie said.
“Arn- Drunkard, I’ve told you—we aren’t heroes.”
“If you’re going to keep saying that, you need to stop acting like it,” Doctor Texas said.
“I don’t need any help from you, thanks,” I told him.
“If you don’t want my help, quit passing out in my hospital.”
“I didn’t pass out—I went to sleep in the visitor’s lounge.”
“No, you dozed off for a little, and then you tried to leave, tripped over a gurney, knocked your head on the floor, and as soon as we checked to make sure you were okay, you passed out.”
I remembered tripping over a gurney and all that, I had just assumed that the memory was one that was resurfacing from some drunken murkiness. That happens a lot when you drink as much as I do—memories just float up out of nowhere and plant themselves in your head. Since they have no context, your mind just sort of sticks them wherever. It usually doesn’t concern me too much, unless I start wondering about the statute of limitations in the court of law, and where these memories fit in relation to all that.
“Plus, when there’s some guy all covered in blood, the people here tend to think he might have a problem.”
“I would think that people everywhere tend to think there’s a problem when they see some guy covered in blood.”
He just shrugged. “Listen, you’re as fine as you’re going to get living like this. I’m going to skip over all of my usual warnings, because you just ignore them. But consider yourself warned, okay?”
“Quit drinking, quit eating so much, and for the love of life, quit smoking. Got it.”
He shook his head and left the room.
“What’s up, Dorothy? I didn’t know you worked here.”
She looked down at her scrubs and giggled. “No, silly—they just gave these to me because my clothes were all wet.”
“Ah.” I stared at them both for a few moments, but they just kept looking at me, grinning. “Why are you two looking at me like that?”
“You’re a hero, man!” Arnie said, and rushed over to my bedside. Like a damned puppy, man, I swear. I hate puppies.
“Shut up with all that, man. How come you aren’t dead, anyway?”
“You took all the hits, man. I dove over the edge, used my special grappling hook, and swung to Dorothy’s rescue.” The special grappling hook is the one that no matter where you pint it, it always homes in on the Portmobile. It’s got a really thin, really strong line that has a super-powerful electromagnet on the end, so as long as you want it stuck the car, you’re in business. “I shot it as I dove, and it worked like a charm. I grabbed her in mid-air, man, it was totally awesome, just like Batman.”
“How come you didn’t come back to help me, then?”
“Well, one thing that me and Batman don’t have in common is huge muscles. I was able to keep us from hitting the ground, and I was able to hold onto Dorothy, but-”
“You couldn’t climb back up, could you?”
“When we get home, I’m going to equip it with some sort of motor, so that next time I’ll be able to get back to the action.”
“Hopefully there won’t be a next time.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“And I always mean it. So then what happened?”
“Then we just hung around until the police showed up and helped us down. They called the ambulance for Dorothy, and we’ve been here ever since.”
“Why didn’t you come to rescue me, you jackass?”
“Man, I couldn’t. Your fanny pack—where I have the tracking beacon—got burned to shit. We had no idea where you were, and I didn’t even know where to begin looking. I figured that if I waited at the hospital, you’d be showing up sooner or later.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Better than waiting at the morgue.” He had a good point, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “Anyways, what happened with you?”
I told him the story, which—although it had seemed terrifying and eternal to me—turned out to be pretty short and boring when I told it out loud. “What happened to Steve the Magnificent?”
“Dude’s completely botched,” Arnie said sadly. “They messed him up good. You’re not so hot, either.”
“The doc said I was fine, except for the usual shit.”
“They almost killed you, man. Those bolts of electricity? Really bad for the heart, as it turns out.”
“Big surprise. So is he still alive? Steve the Magnificent?”
“Yeah, he’s stable. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to him, though. I mean, he’s got a broken leg, some broken ribs, and his arm is shattered in like three places.”
“Yeah,” Arnie said, empathetically.
Me, I wasn’t being empathetic. I was being realistic. The guy had saved my life, I figured. Something like that, you have to pay back, you know? I did the math right quick, and figured that I owed him about ten bucks—running around in a fluorescent yellow body suit getting fried by bad guys and fighting for breath the entire time because you’re so damned hefty, I don’t figure that’s worth much.
“We should let him stay with us,” I said, regretting it before the first word was out of my mouth.
Arnie stared at me, shocked. Dorothy was looking out the window.
“Are you…how much medication are they giving you?”
“Too much, probably. The guy saved me from certain death, I think. They were going to stick shit into my spine, man. Paralyze me forever.”
“Yeah…but…Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a great idea. It just doesn’t seem like something you would say.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Maybe I should wait to tell him, until you’re free of the drugs they’re pumping you full of.”
“No, don’t do that—I might change my mind. And I really owe this guy.”
“All right.” Arnie left the room. Dorothy turned from the window and looked at me.
“What’s up, Dorothy?”
“My sister’s wrong about you.”
“Your sister’s wrong about a lot of things, I bet, but I think she’s tagged me right on. I don’t really have any morals, no values, no stance on anything. If I had any beliefs, I wouldn’t stand up for them, because I don’t really feel that anything is worth it. What else was she saying about me?”
“She says you swear too much.”
“She’s right about that, too.” I thought briefly about adding on a swear word, just to make a point, but I think that joke has been played out. “I swear all the time. Because I enjoy it.”
“And I think she said that you lead our youth to Satan.”
“What? I don’t even know where Satan lives. And I regard the youth as a lost cause—I’m not leading those bastards anywhere.”
“See, then? She’s not right about you.”
“Whatever. Why are we even talking about this, again?”
“I think you’re a good man.”
“You think that because you haven’t been taking your medication. Although I appreciate the fact that you called me a man, even though I run around in that fluorescent yel—hey, what happened to my suit, anyways?”
“It’s gone, now. You showed up practically naked, it was so burned up and torn.”
“That’s a happy thought.”
“When you passed out, the doctors stripped you down and burned it. That nice doctor, that’s where he was going when he saw us in the lobby—to the incinerator. He recognized Arnie and told us which room you were in.”
“Great. What am I supposed to wear when I go out tonight?”
“You can’t go out tonight! You’re in the hospital!”
“Yeah, I hear ya, but they’re really strict about that. Unless I’m really messed up, I have to go out.”
“Tell me about it.”
“A nice boy like you, having to-”
“No way are you moving in with us.”
“What?” She tried to look confused, but she knew exactly what I was talking about.
“The guy saved my life—anything short of that, and I would send him right back onto the streets without a second thought. You? You have a place to stay already, you didn’t save my life, and you’re not young enough to trade me sex for room and board.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the fact that I’m a jerk—not a nice guy. Kissing up to me doesn’t work, because I know you’re lying, and being nice to me doesn’t work because I don’t like nice people.”
She just looked at me. “Hm.” She went back and looked out the window. “I got my medication, you know. The Drunkard went and refilled my prescription for me while we were waiting for you to wake up.”
“He told me how you acted all hard and mean, but about how deep down you were really a nice guy. I never saw it.”
She turned around, smiling. “No, silly—I mean I never saw the hard and mean part. Now I do.”
“Well, that will do.” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, really.
“But I still think you’re a nice guy.”
“You’re wrong. And you still aren’t moving in.”
“Get over it, Howie. I’m not trying to manipulate you.”
“Okay, then. Glad we settled that.”
“Yes. Besides, Arnie already told me I could move in—my room is the second one on the left, second floor.” She smiled, sweet, grandmotherly, and vindictive in that way that only victorious women can be, and then she left the room.