A desperate father makes increasingly bad choices in order to save a loved one.
|The smell of gunpowder polluted the jewelry store. Jason distantly heard the proprietor screaming her head off.
The young woman dressed in slacks and a scarlet blouse, almost the color of the blood gushing from the hole in her neck gaped at Jason with a look of astonishment.
The woman crumpled to the floor.
The proprietor screamed again.
Jason scooped the jewels into the bag and left.
Outside it was a quiet early evening, and there was no sign that anyone had heard the shot. He hurried to his stolen car, tearing off the ski mask as he went, the heavy bag banging against his leg.
Oh my god, Gracie, what did I do?
The pit of his stomach churned as he slipped the car into drive. He tried the shove the thoughts from his mind, tried to remember why he was doing this.
Gracie, I’m doing this for you. I can pay for your transplant. Now all they have to do is find you a heart!
Jason drove a meandering path away from the scene of the crime and made his way into the city, where his Uncle Warren lived. Warren would be able to fence the jewels on short notice. Warren could take care of everything.
Jason shut his eyes tightly, his breath coming fast. He forced his eyes open and pounded on the dash board so hard it cracked.
I didn’t mean to shoot! The gun just went off!
How many killers had said the same thing? How many had so pleaded to a judge? Jason knew what he would say if he were sitting in judgment. He drove deeper into the city. Nothing mattered any more. Nothing but getting the jewels to Uncle Warren.
He heard sirens in the distance. They were not coming his way.
Jason pulled up in front of a discolored brown apartment building with several boarded up windows. He leaped out and ran to the door. He buzzed the appropriate button.
“Uncle Warren, It’s me! I’ve got the stuff. You gotta let me in now!”
And I still call him “Uncle” Warren, like I’m a goddam kid or something.
The lock on the cage-like front door clicked, and Jason was through and running up the stairs. The slender form of Uncle Warren stood in the doorway of his run-down apartment wearing a tank top and boxers. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth.
“What the hell, Jason? I thought you weren’t doing this until-“
Jason shoved past him and threw the bag onto the threadbare couch. His senses were assaulted by the smell of stale cigarette smoke and cheap whiskey.
“Fence it right now, Uncle Warren.”
Uncle Warren went to the bag and opened it. He whistled.
“Not bad!” he exclaimed, looking over the stolen goods with a practiced eye.
“Can you fence it tonight?”
Warren’s eyes widened.
“This stuff is still hot! You know I can’t move it for a few weeks!”
“I need this now!”
“I could do it tonight, but I’ll only be able to get about fifteen cents on the dollar.”
“That should be enough.”
Warren set the bag down.
“Why do you smell like gunpowder? What happened, Jase?”
Jason sat on the couch and buried his head in his hands. The sobs finally came, quick dry heaves which shook his big frame and made the bag of jewels on the couch jump.
“It went bad, Warren! I don’t know how, but it went bad!”
“Aw, Jesus Jase. Is someone dead?”
“I think so. It just happened so fast!”
Jason felt disgust creep up on top of the grief like bile at the excuse.
Uncle Warren slowly sat next to Jason and put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ve done a little b-bit of time, but I can’t do a stretch for murder, Uncle Warren!” Jason said through the sobs.
“Relax, Jase. Did anybody see your face?”
“I-I wore a mask.”
“Good! And did you dump your ride?”
Jason suddenly stood, the blood draining from his face. Uncle Warren scowled. He hurried to the window and looked out.
“Is that it? Is that your ride from the job?” he growled.
“Oh shit, Warren. I wasn’t thinking straight-“
“The cops are probably looking for that car right now! Get rid of it!”
Jason looked at the bag, with its precious cargo faintly glittering in the dim light.
“Don’t worry about that.” Uncle Warren grasped Jason by his shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I will take care of Gracie, I promise. But you need to get rid of that car!”
As Jason pulled away from the building, he could still hear sirens in the distance. He entered the state highway, heading toward the quarry with its deep pool of water. The car would disappear forever beneath the surface.
As the last light faded from the sky, Jason’s thoughts drifted back to the willowy blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl lying in a bed back at his house. She lay dying of the same sickness that had taken his wife, Sofie. Her fragile heart could almost shatter like glass.
I did it all for you, Gracie.
He tried to console himself, tried to think about Gracie’s face. Tried to think about Sofie. Instead he saw a brunette in a red blouse, a look of incomprehension at what Jason’s gun had just done to her throat. The blood was as red as the parka he was still wearing.
I’m sorry. If Gracie didn’t need me, I’d turn myself in.
He almost convinced himself that this was the truth when the red-and-blue lights lit up in his rearview mirror.
He stomped on the accelerator. The lights receded, then began catching up again. A dirt road beckoned from the side, and he swerved the car onto it.
Dust rose in his wake as he pushed the car as fast as he dared. In the fading light he made out a barely visible path to his left and pulled the car in. Dousing the lights, he waited. A few seconds later, three police cruisers whipped by, sirens screaming. Keeping his lights off, he pulled out and began driving back the way he came, cutting through the still-settling dust. Ahead he saw the rising glow of headlights accompanied by flashing red and blue.
Jason stopped and got out. Behind him, three cruisers still sped away from him. His escaped was blocked. He pondered his options, then opened his trunk and grabbed an old shirt from inside. He popped the cap to the fuel filler and stuffed the shirt in. Taking a road flare from the trunk he lit the shirt and watched it catch fire. He dropped the flare and ran from the road, leaping across the ditch before crossing the fields, just as the pursuing glow resolved itself into headlights.
Jason ran, ran and ran some more, until his lungs howled in agony. He stopped and fell to his knees, gasping. Behind him, he heard a thump as his car’s fuel tank went up like a roman candle. For a split second he saw his own shadow, lit up in a halo of orange and yellow by the fireball. He got back up and began making his way forward, not daring to look back.
Jason went at a fast walk, stumbling over rocks, logs and shrubs. He smelled the damp scent of wet vegetation. There was no moon to guide him, but he managed to keep the glow of the car fire behind him as he went. Branches and shrubs tore at his jeans, and treacherous boulders rose underfoot.
I just might make it, he thought. I’ll get out of here and get a new identity from Uncle Warren. Gracie will get her new heart and I will come back when she’s well. Everything’s gonna be fine.
The image of a brunette wearing a blood-soaked blouse intruded.
No! I can't do anything about that!
Jason gasped and quickened his pace, and a branch shrouded in darkness sent him sprawling. As he picked himself up, a sharp pain lanced through his ankle. He shook himself and limped onward, pushing into the darkness accompanied by pain and chased by ghosts. He wondered if his ankle would ever heal all the way after what he was putting it through. Every time he stopped, it throbbed in rhythm with his racing heart. When he started walking again, it threatened to explode in biting, grinding agony.
The darkness finally began to pale ahead of an exhausted Jason. He careened to a stop. His ankle now felt like it was encased in concrete. Though he didn’t dare to look at it, he could feel the leg of his jeans taut against the swelling.
The rising sun revealed a endless green fields and lush vegetation stretching in every direction. About a half a mile to the North was a large rock protruding from the earth, about the size of a two-story building.
Jason was considering his next move, when he heard the faint sound behind him, perhaps a mile distant. It was the sound of a baying hound.
Dogs! Are you kidding me?
He lurched forward again, then stopped, cursing his own stupidity.
This jacket! It’s as red as a warning sign! I might as well be wearing a beacon!
He quickly shed the bright red parka, and the cold immediately bit into his flesh through the thin black t-shirt he was wearing. He threw the parka into a nearby nest of brambles.
That’ll give the dogs something to think about!
Jason turned and made his way to the rock. He wanted a vantage point, a way to view his pursuers. His breath huffed out in clouds in the frigid air as he moved. The baying was noticeably louder when he reached the base of the rock. He grasped the mossy ridges and sucked in his breath. The rough surface was like ice. He began pulling himself up hand over hand, feet scrabbling for purchase against miniscule footholds. His gun slipped from his waistband and clattered to the ground. The rock shredded his t-shirt as he moved, then began shredding his skin as well. He kept moving upward inch by agonizing inch.
The sky had lightened, but low-hanging clouds cloaked the rising sun, when Jason reached the top, panting, bleeding and shivering. He could no longer hear the dogs, the sound having faded away to the south. His ankle was stiffening up and his fingers were frozen into claws. The coming day brought no warmth.
Jason sat and drew his legs in, trying to hoard his body heat, but the tendrils of cold seem to draw it away in a million different places. His shivering suddenly stopped. He no longer felt cold, but in fact, felt peaceful. The grey sky became friendly, almost inviting.
Gracie, I love you. Me and Sophie will see you again, but not for a long time, you hear?
Doctor Kwon entered the operating room and noted the condition of his patient. The girl lay peacefully on the operating table, her blond hair spilled out across the surface.
So young to be going through this. You deserve a life, he thought.
Kwon nodded at his anesthesiologist, Doctor Hansen.
“Is she ready?”
“Blood gasses are nominal. She’s good to go,” Hansen replied.
“Let’s get to work. Scalpel.”
The surgical assistant handed him a scalpel.
A nurse pressed play on the iPod which sat upon a nearby counter. A Beethoven sonata filled the operating room.
“Did you hear about where this heart came from?” Dr. Hansen asked, gesturing at the cooler. “There was a murder the other day, not five miles from here. A woman in a jewelry store. The news said a robbery gone bad.”
“Well, I guess some part of her will live on,” Dr. Kwon said, applying the scalpel. “Forceps.”
Outside, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the hospital grounds.
Word Count: 1998