No Better Deal
Death does not make deals.
Warren understood, and knew that midnight wishes and self-improvement promises got you nothing. But just the same he made them, at least until he knew they would not matter, because that’s what you do when you have nothing left to offer, and Warren had that in spades.
Every day he entered the side door, through the smokers hiding there, and lifted a hand to the ward nurses, who no longer made him sign in. They sometimes watched him pass, and a couple even smiled, but that only made him sad, their close-lipped pity, and often he kept his head down. At the room things were always the same- the human smell, but not quite clean, and silence. No television, no second occupied bed, no visitors. Only the body on the bed, a wafer of bone and flesh under covers carefully thin.
And Warren would walk, his one big boot scuffing, until the body appeared before his gaze, and the hand would be right there, so veined, so pale, so still. He could touch it if he wanted, the nurses had told him many times, and he could speak aloud too, but mostly he just stood, his shoulders a scoop of sorrow. He stared until he had to blink, and then he watched the face, in case it twitched while his lids were down, but he never saw it move.
Once he’d been observing when a nurse strode right in with a bucket full of suds. Tender wisps of steam left the water as she set it on the table near the bed and Warren was glad, happy to see baths happened here, and were pretty much the same. But then the nurse drew back the sheet and turned to him, and asked if he wanted to help by holding, and Warren’s head went airy, and he saw grey at the edges of his eyes, and he had to leave the room. He never came at that hour again.
Warren avoided home. He drove or walked until daylight petered out at the blocky skyline, and dark let him raise his head, and see clear again, and move like he had mass. Night brought out blackness in people, the pungent stench of their sin, and in it Warren wallowed, just to know he wasn’t alone.
“It’s been almost six months, Graham. Six months.” The Lieutenant shook his head as he spoke. “Are you aware that there’s very little chance that Lewis will wake up fine, or wake up at all?”
Warren pushed his back into the plastic webbing of the chair and looked at the far corner of the Lieutenant’s desk where paper bulged like white tongues from a stack of files. He couldn’t make his mouth provide an answer.
“Look. Graham. We know how you feel, having a partner go down like Lewis did, but the whole department suffers when something like this happens, and I know some of the guys are worried the way you’ve been acting lately, that maybe we’ve lost you too.”
Warren took in a breath that wasn’t quite even. He forced his unfocused gaze to the Lieutenant’s face. “Tell everyone I need just a little longer. Then I’ll be good. Back to normal. Really.”
Elevated brows indicated his supervisor’s doubts, but the Lieutenant issued only an abbreviated sigh. “You have another week. I can only have so many of these kinds of conversations with you Graham, before decisions get taken out of my hands.” He tipped his head in the direction of the Captain’s office to make his point.
Already Warren was standing, his long frame drooping over the Lieutenant’s desk like a fern. He nodded before exiting to put glass and wallboard behind him, and succumbed to pure concrete under the stiff soles of his shoes. He thought about the Lieutenant’s words as his walk brought him right to the familiar side door. His supervisor might have cut him some slack but he would not find such leniency elsewhere. Death did not make deals.
The guy at Warren’s desk was an officer he barely knew, yet the man grabbed his shoulder like a longtime pal.
“That is fucking great, man. You got to feel better knowing that son-of-a-bitch got taken out by one of ours, right? Fucking justice, man.” The young cop gave one last ‘hell yeah’ jerk of his head and moved off into the crowd surrounding Warren and Lewis’s workspace. Warren’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing and though he’d made it inaudible he could still see the winking bank of orange lights.
Engulfed and suffocated was how Warren felt with the veritable mob of personnel congratulating him, and each other, on the killing of the drug-embroiled criminal who’d almost slaughtered his partner. Warren wanted to get out, be free of enthusiasm, and when he finally put his hands on the wheel of a department car, he headed straight for the hospital.
The nurses could see a difference. They stopped as Warren stalked by, and several followed behind him, as though netted in his wake. When Warren bulled into Lewis’s room the nurse adjusting his IV froze, took one look at Warren’s face, and padded out the door.
Warren’s thighs hit the bed. He grabbed Lewis’s placid fingers in his, and let out a sob, which sent hands to the mouths of the nurses gathered at the door.
“We got him, Gian. We shot the bastard dead.”
Sunlight gushed, pouring in over the bed where Lewis lay, his back and head propped, a tray across his lap. He took a bite of hospital sandwich and chewed it slow, and winked at Warren with one exaggerated drop of lid.
“Now that’s what I call food.”
Warren smirked despite his pounding headache, and the nurse behind him giggled, as most did when Lewis spoke. He’d always been a hit with gals and even skeletal and pasty he still emitted charm.
“A good appetite will get you out of here sooner, Mr. Lewis, so you just keep up the good work.”
Another smile and a scribble on the chart and she was gone, leaving Warren and Lewis alone to partake of gorgeous sun and gravid conversation.
“Can you believe the bellezas working here? And I look like morgue meat.” Lewis rolled his eyes with mock injustice but Warren had to struggle against the tightness in his neck.
He cleared his throat. “Listen, Gian. About that night, the shooting, I want to—”
“No pareja.” Lewis held up a finger. “Do not talk about that. You and I know that bad shit happens in this job. That’s all there is to say.”
Warren could tell by Lewis’s steady stare that explanation wasn’t needed, but not apologizing filled Warren with impotent heat, and made him hollow inside. He recalled Lewis waking, and giving his hand a feeble squeeze, and though the doctors said it was probably just an involuntary reaction to rising from coma, Warren didn’t believe that was all. Not given that Lewis opened his eyes minutes after Warren’s report of the department settling a score.
“I heard,” said Warren, working to speak without a wave of emotion. “They’re talking about letting you out of here by the end of the week.”
“Many thanks to God, too, because the department’s covering only some bills, and if I don’t get out of here soon, I won’t have any money left. Then how am I going to buy treats for las damas?”
Typical Lewis, thought Warren as he blinked against the sun’s painful glare, making fun of dire financial straits when it probably gave him nightmares. He didn’t know who’d been telling Lewis he was on the hook for enormous bills while he lay recovering in bed, but he did know whoever it was deserved a kick to the solar plexus.
“Seriously, will you be able to manage? Can your family help at all?”
Lewis chomped diligently on his crust but Warren saw the fear in his dark eyes.
“Mi mama, she has nothing. Not with Ronald gone.” Lewis shrugged with one shoulder, eyes down. “I don’t know about Lena. Maybe a little.”
Warren knew Lewis’s Columbian sister not at all, had learned simply that their real father died when Lewis was tiny, and that his mom married a British man who’d adopted them, but by now had passed as well. If Warren had no one, then Lewis was only a step above.
“Don’t worry, Gian. I think I have you covered,” he heard himself say, and even as Lewis lifted his chin, the plan birthed in his mind. Extended seconds of silence bloomed.
“What do you say pareja?” Lewis stared with the expression of someone uncomfortably close to hope and Warren grinned, his knowledge of absolution complete.
“You know me and money, pal. I don’t ever spend and now this situation, well, let me just say I can’t think of a better way to use it. So, like I said. I got you covered.”
Warren could look at Lewis’s eyes with a smile, yet turned away when they began to fill, and when his friend gripped his forearm Warren shook his head and rose. Promising to be back, he made his way out and for the first time leaving the hospital, Warren stood tall.
He hadn’t told the truth, and didn’t plan to, but once the tumor mauled his brain and his simple will was read, his partner would understand. He walked a while then, one foot dragging, his smile upturned to the sun. He felt light as a bird then, and happy as he could be, because while death didn’t make deals, it couldn’t do a damn thing about superior bargains on the side.