With my leather satchel under one arm I close my eyes and remind myself to stop smacking the peppermint Chiclet I’ve ground to dirt between my molars. The ten mils of Curare gives the syringe in my calloused hand a business-like weight. The damn guard has witnessed me do this to over a hundred others. Now he’s gonna experience the horror straight up.
Sons a bitches. I may have sold my sixty-year-old soul to the devil, but ain’t no company gonna be curator over it while I’m still living. And ain’t nobody laying a hand on my little Abby.
I catch myself grinding the spent gum between my molars again, wishing to God it was a different kind of chew. Casting a furtive glance around the basement-lab-recently-turned-death-chamber, my stomach curdles. Weeks of dried blood, human defecation and gunpowder have transformed it into a nightmare—a damned human travesty, and on Christmas Eve. Bullet holes pepper the heavily-plastered rock walls.
My last patient, if you can call the wretched things that, lies bleeding out while still bound in restraints. Her autonomic system twitches reflexively. I used the last of the morphine to sedate the whole lot of ‘em, thirty-eight souls. A damn drop in the bucket. Most of the victims aren’t even making it to the hospital, and why bother?
Come on. What the hell is he waiting for? The lab had been eerily quiet, void of moans and thrashing for several minutes. Pressed up against the chipped and peeling paint, I grip the satchel containing my medical notes—my letters to Dot—in one hand and an invitation straight to the gates of hell dripping from the other. With my shirt soaked through, suspenders irritating the skin beneath, my thoughts wander to the outside world, where they say it might snow.
I close my eyes and try to envision the intricate white flakes—anything to take my mind off the flickering electric lights and the stink of human gall. Instantly I see my Isabella, Abby cooing in her lap. The two of them represent my second chance. It’s a warm October day at our favorite picnic spot looking out over Gordon Valley, the last pleasant time we shared together. We rest our backs against the giant cedar elm, dawdling fingers in the dirt while interlacing them. It’s the same spot I proposed to both my wives.
Dammit, God. I done lost it all once. Ain’t that enough?
Finally a rustling comes from the hall. “Hey Doc. What’s going on in there?”
Why don’t you come and find out.
Footsteps. His shadow lengthens and then shortens on the far wall.
“Doc Quick—” I ease in behind him as he enters the room and find the fat of his haunch before he knows what’s coming. “What the—” He jerks away from the needle too late. “Doc?” He’s looking me in the eye now, trying to draw his pistol. Instead he lurches forward. I catch him, placing him gently on the floor—his eyes still riveted on mine. I don’t want him to knock his head on the tile and take the easy way out. Instead, for the next few minutes he’ll feel his heart stop and his lungs deflate as every muscle in his body stops responding while his mind’s still very much awake.
I toss the syringe and pick up my satchel before taking a final glance at the dying company goon. “Merry Christmas. Tell Beelzebub I’ll see him later.”
The temperature falls steadily as the freight elevator rises forty feet up from the hospital’s underbelly to the public level, and then past it. Manned by a skeleton crew on the eve of our Savior’s birth, the second floor of the facility is nearly empty. Within minutes I descend the stairwell and slip out the back door.
Wet with sweat and shivering, the first thing I do is rifle through my satchel until I find a replacement for what’s been frustrating me for the last twenty minutes. Flicking the exhausted clot from my mouth, I replace it with a fresh one before dropping the box of Chiclets in my trouser pocket next to the broken pocket watch that’s been with me through it all.
I take a deep breath and stare into the early evening darkness as the first flakes of snow drift gently to earth.