Days of Vengeance
The note read: “Dear Frank, I know you killed your wife, and I can prove it. You are a reasonable person. I’m sure you don’t want to go to prison. All I need is a $20,000 loan. Please think about my request very carefully.”
But before this, the last six years had been wiped from his memory.
Then there were darkness and dreams...
Owl. Owl. Owl? This word flickered at the edge of his mind for a few seconds and then vanished. Frank somehow knew that it was not the word he’d been trying to recall. His very life depended upon this important word buried deep inside his memory, and he had to fish it out as soon as possible if he didn’t want the one-legged man and his people to cut his throat. He had no idea who the one-legged man was. Sometimes he doubted this man actually existed.
The word sounded similar to ‘owl.’
He would give it another shot later. Right now, he would like to focus on something else. Those dreams. Yeah, on those amazingly vivid dreams.
Frank had been having bizarre dreams while he was in a coma. When he regained his consciousness, he did not remember their contents. As a matter of fact, he was not even sure he’d had any dreams at all.
Very hard. Really damn hard! It was so hard to open his eyes. To unglue his eyelids, which, as he had begun to suspect, must have been sewn together, otherwise how could one explain the fact that he had been trying to put them in motion for ten minutes now (or maybe ten days), and they had not budged one bit?
Then two flashes of recollection lit up his mind. First, Frank remembered that there was a steel-plated safe holding a body the one-legged man’s people would love to get back. He had no clue where he’d hidden it. Within seconds, this memory disappeared into the ether.
The second flash was one of those strange dreams.
Frank remembered seeing a man who stood by the bathroom door, collecting his thoughts. The man clasped a nine-inch long knife in his right hand, but Frank knew he was nursing a hope that he would not have to use it. Strangle... He would prefer to strangle her.
Frank could also see a woman in the bathroom. She was in the shower cabin, carefully rubbing soap on her shoulders, forearms, and breasts, firm jets of hot water massaging her back, her hands sliding smoothly on the soft lather. The man wrapped his fingers around the knob, turned and pulled it, swore at himself—this door opens inward, idiot!—and then began pushing the door slowly until the gap became wide enough for him to see the woman.
The woman’s progress was easy to observe since the bathroom fans had been doing a great job of venting most of the steam out. The man asked himself if he should wait until she finished showering. The answer was no.
The woman turned around towards the showerhead and remained in this position for a while as the water rinsed the front of her body. Then she grabbed the shampoo bottle and squeezed some of its contents into her palm. She seemed preoccupied with the task at hand and would have hardly noticed if someone had sneaked into the room, especially with all that mist on the shower door. After gently lathering the top of her hair, the woman poured more shampoo into her palm and applied it to her hair in the back.
The man gathered his courage and finally stepped over the threshold. He quickly shut the door behind him so as to prevent the draft of cold air from breaking into the bathroom and thus alerting the woman. Frank still couldn’t discern both the man’s and the woman’s faces—they were the only blurry spots in this vivid dream—but at the same time he had a feeling he knew these people very well. The man stood mere feet away from the shower cabin, watching his target massage the shampoo into her scalp. He was excited she didn’t see him enter the room. Lucky for him, the woman usually closed her eyes when lathering up her hair, which meant he had the surprise factor on his side, just like he’d hoped. Now there was a chance he wouldn’t have to hear her ear-piercing scream after all.
With a pleased smile, the woman breathed in the hot steam, letting it warm up her nasal passage and lungs, as her hands slowly moved from her forehead to the back of her head, her fingers digging into the shampoo foam in circular motions. She obviously enjoyed taking shower.
Hiding the knife behind his back, the man made the first step towards the cabin. Through the water jet noise, he heard the woman start humming some tune, and he froze for a second to shake off the momentary doubt that he would be unable to yank that bitch out and accomplish what he had planned. She’d better shut up and quit distracting him! He inhaled through his nose and exhaled through his mouth and quickly calmed down.
The tune reproduced by the woman was Dancing Queen by ABBA. Like millions of other people, the woman loved singing in the shower, where there were no critics or gawkers.
With her eyes still shut, the woman stepped closer to the showerhead, allowing the water to rinse her hair. As the shampoo lather streamed down her naked body, she kept humming Dancing Queen, while running her fingers through her locks. She was enveloped in puffs of steam, the water noise drowned every other sound in the bathroom; oblivious to the world outside the foggy shower door, she didn’t see the man approach the cabin.
The memory expired as abruptly as it had come to his mind. A few seconds later, he only had a vague idea of what the dream had been about. And the memory of the one-legged man had vanished completely.
So, one, two, three. He was summoning his strength. Summoning his strength. He had to open his eyes. And here was the light. His eyelids finally opened. Focusing, and...
A woman's face. Perhaps, he should go to the bathroom and wash his face and brush his teeth. He also did not want to be late for work. By the way, where did he work?
“Mister Fowler,” the woman said in a low voice, putting her warm palm on his hand.
Lying in bed was pleasant. The woman’s palm was very warm, as if it had rested on a hot towel for a while before landing on his hand. He had no desire to get up. It felt as though he had grown into the bed, become part of it. The woman was apparently kind. Kind as a mother.
He moved his lips apart and forgot to register how difficult this action was because all of his attention was drawn to the face of the kind woman clasping his hand. His right hand. Or was it his left hand? Damn, which hand was she holding?
“Mister Fowler, if you can hear me, move your right thumb.” A pause. “Move any finger if you can hear me, Mister Fowler. Hang on a second. I'm going to get the doctor.”
Yes, sure, he could hear her. He moved (or so it seemed to him) his right index finger. Yes, it was the index finger on the hand the woman was squeezing. He wagged it with sufficient amplitude so that the woman would easily notice the movement.
“Hang—” the woman fell silent after seeing his finger twitch, which meant he had actually moved it. “Very good, Mister Fowler. I'll get the doctor.”
As she rose from the chair, she poured a pleasant sweet smell over him—everything coming from this woman was pleasant. Then she left the room, her heels knocking softly on the floor. Or maybe it wasn’t her heels. Now he wasn’t even sure he had heard the knocking.
Knocking? And what about breakfast? Or was it time for lunch?
“Hello,” he whispered. He realized it had been a whisper and wanted to believe he had intended to whisper that word, but in reality he had been going to shout it. The sad fact was his vocal folds were not up to the task at the moment. Right now he sounded like a punctured balloon.
You might as well just keep silent, buddy, considering that your voice is so faint. It’s as if you are afraid of waking up a little child. Yeah, keep silent, man, don't make people laugh.
After the last thought had fully formed in his mind, there was another fleeting memory flash—the final half of the dream.
He opened the shower cabin door. The woman was applying conditioner to her hair and was completely absorbed in this task when he grabbed her by her left arm. To his surprise, she didn't scream. He attempted to step inside the cabin, but the woman managed to push him out. However, it was too early for the woman to celebrate because he pulled her out of the shower as he stumbled back.
He lost his balance, they fell down on the floor, and he began to strangle her, holding her torso tightly with his left arm and crushing her throat with his right forearm. The woman was kicking, wiggling, and scratching his arms as she tried to writhe out of his grip. They rolled over, and the woman found herself on top of him, but it didn’t help her one bit. His grasp remained firm and his arm kept blocking the air from entering the woman’s windpipe.
He throttled her for a minute or two as she wheezed and squirmed like an epileptic. At last, she fell silent and her body went limp. He breathed in the steam coming out of the shower, shook the woman up, checking if she was actually dead, and finally let her out of his hold.
When he rose, his hands were trembling and his legs were giving way, as if he had just run five miles without a break. Damn, it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes since he had dragged the woman out of the shower cabin, but it felt as though a whole day had passed. Thankfully, everything was fine. Everything was fine! Now he could relax and maybe go to a bar later tonight; he had done the deed and earned a few hours of leisure time.
He had never thought it would turn out so simple. Not complicated, at any rate. He wiped sweat from his forehead, nearly scratching his nose with the knife, which thankfully hadn’t had a chance to cut human flesh tonight. He didn’t want bloodshed; blood tended to splash every which way, and he would hate to throw away the fairly new shirt he was wearing.
He sat down on the brim of the tub and listened to noises in the room and in the hallway. A chill ran down his spine when he thought that his life would be over if someone caught him here, next to the corpse, with a knife in his hand. But, you see, he had remembered to properly lock the front door, and the privacy of his rendezvous with the dead woman was guaranteed.
He touched the edge of the blade with his left thumb and grinned. Everything was fine, the job had been done; he could get some rest now.
He breathed out sharply as if marking the end of the venture he had just undertaken, poked the woman’s body with the tip of his right foot—she was dead as a rock—and got up. He was happy he hadn’t had to use the knife; this realization came to him as he walked to the shower cabin to turn off the water. We should save water, dear friends; otherwise our planet is doomed.
Then he left the bathroom. And displayed a remarkable psychic ability by lingering by the open door for a few seconds: the woman moved.
Yes, she moved, turned her face to the door. She looked dazed and upset as if she’d been woken up by a street noise at four o'clock in the morning, right before the culmination of a fabulous dream. She didn't see the man lurking at the entrance as she touched her neck and rose slowly.
The sight of the naked woman struggling to her feet, with a sulky expression on her face, fascinated the man. Somehow this picture seemed a bit surrealistic to him: a hundred and thirty pounds of naked flesh (adorned with beautifully shaped breasts shaking in unison and a neat patch of trimmed pubic hair) standing in the middle of a semi-steamy bathroom. Someone with a perverted mind could come up with a really weird caption for this image.
The man braced himself and ran back into the bathroom. ‘I'm like a projectile,’ he thought, ramming into the woman and pushing her towards the tub.
One more thought: he would have to use a weapon. With this idea in his mind, he stretched forward his right hand, which was gripping the knife as firmly as a vice. The blade slowed down for a moment as it pierced the skin and then proceeded deeper into the rib cage of the woman, who was sliding into the tub after hitting the wall, her legs spread widely apart, the back of her head cracked and bleeding. When the man yanked the knife out of her body, the woman squirmed and crashed down to the bottom of the tub, twisted in an awkward manner.
He plunged the knife into the woman’s chest, aiming for the heart, kept the blade inside for a few seconds, afraid that his victim would recover if he withdrew too soon, and then pulled the knife out. He stabbed the woman two more times, each additional cut within inches of the original one. Now the woman was dead, or they would have to rewrite all books on penetrating trauma. A perforated stomach, a gutted (hopefully) heart, and a fractured skull—he had no doubt the woman had kicked the bucket. He had killed her at last.
After examining the face and the hands of the corpse, he pulled a towel from the bar and began wiping the blood off the knife. Of course, he could wash the knife under the faucet, but there was a reason he didn’t want to do it. As he finished cleaning the blade, he noticed that there was blood on his palms. For a second, he was frightened he had inadvertently cut himself. He quickly wiped his hands and was relieved to find that his hands were fine. He dropped the stained towel on the woman’s body and fixed his eyes on a dark brown fleshy stain the size of a quarter on the wall above the tub. A narrow translucent streak of blood was coming down from the stain all the way to the brim of the tub. He had a hunch the stain was a piece of the woman's brain.
Damn, it had to be her brain! It had splashed out of her skull—like a piece of flesh out of a crushed melon—and was the best gift for the man, who was impatiently twirling the knife now. Yes, she was dead, there could be no doubt about it. She was dead at last.
He caught himself thinking that he didn't feel the specialness of the moment at all, that the situation lacked solemnity, which ought to be present in something very few people had done.
No, it didn’t feel special.
He froze and listened to his senses, which, as though by order, started the roll call: he was hot because the air in the room was still far from cooling down; his thigh muscles were aching a little—he had overstrained them when he’d been wrestling this bitch; the smell of the steam, heavy and enveloping, distressed him; his buttocks felt uncomfortable resting upon the brim of the tub; thick beads of sweat were rolling down his forehead, and he probably looked like a marathon runner at the end of the run. He was thirsty. He rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. A few moments later, he decided he wasn’t thirsty; however, he could use some fresh air. The smell of the steam was irritating him because it was clouding his brain.
The woman didn't move, which gave him reassurance as he was still skeptical about the success of his plan. For the final check-up, he felt the woman's carotid artery and was satisfied to find no pulse (it didn’t take an expert in carotid arteries to determine if an artery was dead). He heaved a sigh of relief, having realized that the hardest part was behind him. If he had managed to pull that off, he would be able to handle the remaining hurdles, of which there would be plenty in the next few hours.
He looked ten minutes back into the past, at the moment when he’d been strangling the woman. One thing worried him: had she pretended to be dead or had she genuinely blacked out? Had she tried to fool him? After pondering for a minute or so, he came to a conclusion that the woman had attempted to trick him and had almost succeeded at that. Yes, she was a cunning bitch. He would do the same thing under similar circumstances. Well, she should have played dead a bit longer.
His nostrils expanded in indignation, the air blowing out of his nose noisily. He turned to the corpse and knitted his brows. She had almost duped him!
Then the dream ended.
Sh-h-h-h-h-h... He listened to the dead silence that surrounded him and then suddenly realized that he was in somebody else’s house. He was not at home, that was the point. And he couldn't recall who he was visiting. Was it his friend’s place? It was certainly not his house; he had a larger bedroom, which also featured a charming brass chandelier. He didn’t remember what the chandelier looked like but was confident that it was there. How many lamps did his bedroom chandelier have? Six? Five? Seven? Its design was quite elaborate, if memory served him right. It was exquisite. Or was he imagining it? He could be wrong about the nitty-gritty details, but one thing was clear: there was some sort of lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling in his bedroom. The ceiling he was staring at right now sported an austere fluorescent lamp—actually, several of them. It could be a motel room. Do they have fluorescent lamps in motels? Or was it an office building?
That woman had said she was going to get the doctor, right? It would be safe to guess that he was in the hospital. Why was he in the hospital? There must be something wrong with him. He could be dying. Dying? This idea scared him, but he felt too exhausted to dwell on his fears at the moment. He was too tired to think about anything at all.
Was it possible to be too tired to think? Obviously, it was. He closed his eyes and quickly fell asleep.
An hour later—according to his internal clock, it was at least one hour—he heard a man's voice:
“Mister Fowler, can you hear me?”
He opened his eyes to make sure that the man was addressing him. He was right: the man in a white coat—he saw his chest and shoulders and managed to determine that the stranger was wearing a doctor’s coat—was looking at him with obvious curiosity and appeared to be speaking to him.
“Yes,” he muttered. He could keep silent, of course, since the man had asked a certain Mister Fowler and he had no idea who it was. However, out of politeness, he didn’t want to keep this man in limbo with regard to his ability to hear him. “Yes, I can hear you.”
The man exchanged glances with someone, probably with that woman who had been here an hour ago. Or maybe a day ago? Or had he seen her in one of his dreams?
By the way, what day was today? Saturday? Monday?
“Mister Fowler, I'm Doctor Raynolds,” said the man, studying his face. “How are you feeling? Do you have trouble talking?”
Dammit, something was wrong! Something was terribly wrong!
He hurried to send signals from his brain to every limb of his body, checking whether any part of him was paralyzed. He received encouraging results, but he didn’t know if he could trust them. He was able to feel his legs, his feet, his arms, and his hands. Evidently, all of his extremities were in their places. What was going on? What should he do now? Something had happened to him, but what was it?
He had to do something. He had already wasted too much time.
“Who are you?” he asked the man in the white coat. Responses began flowing in from all over his body—his thighs, his stomach, his shoulders, his crotch, his chest—providing him with more information about his condition. It seemed that at least ninety percent of his body was more or less intact, which certainly have him comfort. “What happened to me?”
A horrible, horrible thing happened, pal.
A spark of pain burst in the back of his head and started to stretch out its tentacles to his shoulders, chest, and feet, prickling his flesh along the way. Pain. He wanted to pull his head out of the cloud of pain, but was unable to do it.
“I'm Doctor Raynolds. You're in the hospital,” said the man in the white coat, smiling. His face suddenly went out of focus; an unrestrained anxiety overwhelmed Frank and continued to grow and solidify. “You’ve been in a car crash, Mister Fowler. It happened two days ago.”
Yes, finally some light had been shed! Now it all made sense: he had been in an accident and ended up in the hospital.
Damn, his mind was slipping away through a crack in his head. It was moving fast; he had to catch it. He couldn’t afford to lose it.
He exerted himself to drive away the pain and clutch at his runaway mind. The pain resisted, and all his attempts to get rid of it failed in the end. It stayed inside his head, torso, and arms, but, fortunately, it was less intense than before. But he did succeed in keeping his mind from falling into the abyss, which was a good enough consolation to him.
“How are you feeling, Mister Fowler?” asked Raynolds. “Is anything bothering you right now?”
It was strange—when the doctor had asked if anything was bothering him, the pain vanished like the flame blown off a candle. Smart pain. It was hiding from the doctor.
“No. I’m feeling... okay,” muttered the man named Fowler. “What accident?”
Accident. Accident... Where had it happened? People die in accidents. And lose arms or legs. And die. Yes, they die.
He didn’t want to die. He had realized with an amazing clarity that he desperately wanted to live.
“You were in a car accident on Interstate 90 a few days ago,” said Raynolds. “Thankfully, you've sustained no life-threatening injuries. As for the head trauma, we’ve already taken care of it.” He flashed a radiant smile, and this time the man named Fowler saw his smile, which abated his anxiety a bit. “You're in a good shape, Mister Fowler. You are recovering, trust me.” The doctor’s hand lowered on the right hand of the man in bed.
“What exactly happened to me? Is anything broken? Am I paralyzed?”
“You’ve had a brain concussion and a minor skull fracture. Your body has been bruised, but no bones are broken. And from what I’ve observed so far, there are no signs of paralysis. You are on your way to recovery, Mister Fowler. Everything's going to be fine.”
Wife. His wife.
What about his wife? A wife? And what day was it? Monday?
“Are you feeling any pain, Mister Fowler?”
Head. Head... Hurt. No, it didn’t hurt. And his wife? And daughter? What daughter?
Or son? Did he have a son?
“What happened to me?” he muttered, vaguely realizing that he had already asked this question. He was staring at Raynolds' chin since looking in the doctor’s eyes somehow made him uneasy.
Wife. Daughter. Or son? Car accident? Why now? Why him?
“You lost control of your car and crashed into a highway wall on Interstate 90. You were the only person in the car. No one else was hurt in that crash.” Raynolds smiled again, providing him with one more dose of confidence that everything would be fine. “You're in the Buffalo city hospital, Mister Fowler. Would you like to see your relatives?”
Relatives. Relatives, relatives, relatives—an echo rolled across his mind. Did he want to see his relatives? What relatives?
“Your sister-in-law was here.” Raynolds looked at the woman standing to the left of Fowler.
A nurse. It must be a nurse, the man in bed thought.
“On Monday,” the woman prompted.
“Yes, she was here on Monday.” Raynolds nodded. “And your brother visited you, too.” He glanced at the nurse, perhaps checking if she had anything to add.
Sister-in-law was here. What sister-in-law? How the hell had he gotten in that damn car crash? Was it the universe’s way of saying ‘fuck you’ to him? Why now? Why him?
“You are going to be fine, Frank.”
He was going to be fine. Hopefully, it wasn’t just a stock phrase meant to calm him down. He felt almost no pain now. The pain remained cunning and kept hiding whenever the doctor was present.
People lose arms and legs in car accidents. They become crippled for the rest of their lives. What else could you lose in a car crash? Ears? Teeth?
He closed his eyes and pondered the fact that thinking could be very hard. He felt as if he were running up a down escalator. Now it was time to stop resisting and fall asleep. He should fall asleep. There was no need for him to keep racking his brain.
Wife. Daughter. Sister-in-law.
What was his name again?