by C. Coleman
Evan could feel the blue and red lights X-ray his teeth as he shielded his eyes from them. He explained to the officer, for the third time, how the lump of oozing dark blood and strange angles in front of them had been a business suit flying off the fifth story a few minutes ago. No he didn’t know him. No he didn’t know why no one else had noticed the jumper. No he didn’t hear anything other than THUMP. Yes he’d almost had a heart attack when it landed at his feet. The hippopotamus-esque officer capped his pen and scowled, nodding to Evan as he turned away.
Evan imagined he had been given the paper coffee cup and white shoulder blanket the traumatized are given in cop shows and scurried under the drizzle to his new apartment, eyes blinking out rain as he watched the darkening sky for more human meteors.
Inside, he allowed himself five shaky breaths, but only took three. This wasn’t new. He had a way with errant corpses, like he coaxed them away from their souls just by existing. Some people found four leaf clovers, he had this. People were always dying around him; it was just the way it was.
He scanned the empty rooms, wondering who the dead man had been and if it was too late to get the rest of his stuff out of his storage unit. He let those thoughts go as soon as his back end hit the couch; it had been too long of a day as is.
The following morning’s paper gave him the pause the hurtling corpse had failed to. Yes, it was on the front page, but so was an orange crayon scrawl saying:
The article didn’t mention him and the only person he had said his name to since his move was the whiskery cop. Somehow Evan couldn’t imagine the man owning crayons and if he did, he certainly couldn’t hold one with his glazed ham hands. He folded the paper and tossed it into the trash. No time for whatever that is.
He had been relieved to find this was not one of those farmer’s market cities and slipped through the comfortably grim after church crowd on his way to the bank. He was suddenly aware of a slinking behind him as he turned down an empty street, but all he could see was the thickening fog as he looked over his shoulder. He picked his pace up as storm clouds stitched up the sun. Goose bumps were settling over his shoulders like a Superman cape but He didn’t feel very heroic as he ducked his way down the street, scared of what was probably the echo of his own sneakers.
His ankle twisted on a flesh filled puddle and he went down hard on the concrete. Struggling up to his knees, Evan caught the smell of spongy punctured skin and the sound of feet that hadn’t been toppled. Evan was quickly knocked back off his knees, with his teeth grinding into the pavement. He sucked his breath in hard enough to move a few kernels of gravel as a human sized weight covered his back and fingers twisted into his hair. Evan managed to shove his face to the side, saving his teeth but getting his cheek shredded into little stripes of blood. His tongue was catching in his swelling throat. Say something.
“Take what you want!”
The hand with control of his head slammed it hard and Evan felt the whole world flare and tilt as a second hand slipped into his back pocket. He couldn’t be sure, he had a lot going on, but it wasn’t the pocket with his wallet and yet the hand didn’t go anywhere else. His jacket was then ripped off him, wrenching his shoulder into the back of his neck. The fingers released his hair and in the following second knees dug into his back, rubbing his ribs against each other and the ground. Somehow he knew it would be pointless to move his head, so he left it were it was, bleeding against the pavement. It was pulled upwards again, and Evan prepared for the final slam. He tried to force his life to pass before him but all he could see was his blood stains on the ground and how much he didn’t want to end by being crashed against them. This final sight disappeared as his jacket was tied around his face.
He inhaled as the weight left his back, filling his lungs with cotton. The rain was picking up but he could still hear his attacker’s retreating footsteps under the drops and realized he was alone again. Several hot breaths escaped his mouth to hover outside it, trapped by the cloth around his head. He reached up with shaking fingers to untie his jacket, letting it fall in his lap as he pulled himself into a sitting position.
He reached up to rub his burning cheek, but pulled his hand away as it slid across a swath of pulsing blood. Sniffling in fear, he realized there was the scent of two separate blood types in the air. His eyes swiveled back to where he first tripped.
Moments later he was staring back into the watery eyes of Officer Hippo-cop-tamus. This time he really was given a paper coffee cup, but it tasted like plastic dirt dissolved in eye drops and wasn’t even warm enough to warrant holding. He tossed it into the street while the officer scowled over the second body he had found in Evan’s radius. How lucky he was that there had been an anonymous witness to the attack was not lost on Evan.
“I wish I could close his mouth, but I have to leave him as is until all the evidence is gathered.”
Evan wasn’t sure why the officer had told him that, but joined him in watching rain fill up the body’s terrified gape. The few sips of coffee he had taken roiled in his stomach as the droplets pattered the man’s ripped raincoat, rinsing slugs of black blood out of the jagged rubber. It occurred to Evan that his pocket was still heavy.
He slipped his hand inside it and his wallet, bulging with the checks he had been going to cash, met his hand eagerly. Confused, he switched his hand to the other pocket, cold reaching through his protective clothing as he realized nothing had been taken, but something had been left. He slid the paper out slowly, mindful of the rain and Officer Cop-tamus.
You: 1 Me: 1
Evan rubbed his eyes against the glare of the same orange crayon from the morning paper. His pulse faltered as the cop cleared his throat.
“So he didn’t take anything?”
Slowly Evan shook his head, aware the cop had seen that he was holding something. He tried to fold the note casually.
“That’s not a standard mugging then, is it? Maybe he thought you were someone else, maybe connected to whoever this guy was.” He jerked a meaty thumb towards their silent, bloodless company. “Our witness said he stabbed this guy and then back tracked, like he was waiting for someone. Wrong place, wrong time, eh? Again, in two days…”
Evan refused to wilt under the sweaty lidded stare, but the suspicion in Coptamus’s voice sent the note deep into his back pocket.
Evan shrugged, resulting in a loud pop that echoed up the street as his abused shoulder fell back into its socket.
“I do think he thinks I’m someone else.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“Well, no, but… nothing else makes sense.”
“So, what’d you put in your pocket?”
Evan stiffened, reevaluating Coptamus. He decided even if he wasn’t as stupid as he looked, no cop needs to see what looks like the results of a murder competition involving him.
“Grocery list,” he murmured.
Coptamus agreed to release him back into his day and turned his puffy face towards the slowly drowning corpse on the ground.
After his bank stop, Evan found himself writing a list of pros and cons of staying in this city on a diner napkin, cursing as his pen ripped holes in the grease spots from his grilled cheese. His glass slipped out of his oily hand and soaked the floor beneath him with cola and shattered glass. Reddening, he grabbed a stack of napkins and disappeared beneath his table, glad there was only one other lonely eater in the place.
Slid up against the back of the booth, hardened gum combing his hair, Evan muttered to the wad of napkins that were now spreading more soda than they were absorbing. Several feet away from him came the screech of a pushed back chair, and some horrendous coughing. Flu season, he thought angrily, holding his breath while the fit rolled on nearby. He exhaled the second it stopped, only to suck the same monoxide mouthful back in as a patchy bald face smacked against the tile inches from his own, half melted bread dripping out of a pink mouth.
Stunned, Evan let his wet hand fuse against the sugared floor as the jingle of an opening door pulled his attention away from the blank face. There was the sound of furious breathing and then footsteps retreating back out the door. Someone had seen the body. Evan had a nasty feeling it was whoever was leaving him little crayon notes. The waiter began to scream.
Evan threaded his way through the row of tables on hands and knees, unseen by the hysterical college boy as he slipped towards the back door. He hadn’t paid his bill, but Evan was reasonably assured he could’ve sued the place for trauma.
He couldn’t find any warmth in his gloves as he padded down the winter street. His unfortunate magnetism for death had never been this rapid before. Chewing his lip till it bled wasn’t helping either, but it kept him focused as the sirens vomited blue over the whole block. Several cars were heading to the diner and several more were speeding up the street, where Evan was headed.
The lights festered like ants in cracked plaster in the parking lot Evan was coming up to. He squinted hard on a dropped form on the cracked pavement. Thirty feet fell quickly under his quiet sneakers and he was upon the scene, breath frosting as a body bag slid towards the mass on the ground. His ankles solidified and he faltered, unable to get closer. He realized no one had seen him; he could just slip away.
Silently, he turned from the lights, his spine tightening as he heard someone call out that he found an orange crayon near the body. He pulled his hood up and walked faster, mentally adding crayons to the con side of the list he’d left in a dripping heap under his table.
He knew the killer had his address since he had left the first score card on the morning paper there, but where else could he go? He could go back to the fluorescent parking lot and hope he had the prowess to explain his situation without accidentally incriminating himself, or he could stay up all night, sitting on his pillow and turning his lamp on with every creak or cat yowl or knife wound. He swallowed a groan and flipped his directions, walking resentfully back towards Coptamus and his less mustached companions with his hand crumpling his scorecard, pulsing sweat into the paper fibers with every delayed heart beat.
Several pairs of eyes that belonged to badges and guns swiveled towards him. Coptamus voiced his suspicion with an earthy grunt.
“Figured you couldn’t be far,” he muttered, tapping his belt so his handcuffs jangled.
Evan stammered and held his hands up, the little square of paper flapping under his thumb in the wind.
“I might be able to explain.”
Before Evan could get the first word out, a wild growl fizzled across the ground, scattering the suspicious eyes across the night. The cops drew their guns, straining to see the shadow slicing through the rotating lights as Coptamus strode towards Evan, chewing on his cheek like it was a fat wad of bubble gum.
“What in the Hell is going on here?”
Evan didn’t respond; he was transfixed by the flickering blue silhouette sliding up behind Coptamus.
“Brantford, get down!” Screamed one of the younger cops as a bullet stretched itself through all the fat on Coptamus’s neck. The massive officer pitched forward on to Evan, who shrieked and shoved him away. Brantford hit the ground heavily, revealing the man behind him, who jumped quickly behind Evan as the other officers crowded him.
“You’re cheating,” the man hissed, sprouting goose bumps on Evan’s face as the words made contact. “No talking to cops.”
“Who are you?” Evan breathed the words out gently, afraid they would cut on their way out.
“The winner, so far,” his breath was hot and salty on Evan’s frozen face. “If you want the running total including the guy in the raincoat I got before I left you the score card, the fat cop, and our little camper in the bag, that’s three for me against your two.” He had pulled Evan into hostage position, rooting the remaining cops to their brash and useless ready positions. “You were in first for a while though. Good competition makes it fun.”
Evan’s eyes stung in the cold as they flew wide as the man continued. “Don’t come here starting a new match and then not follow the rules though. I don’t mind so much, but we just got a new member and three is too many to go off book.”
Evan was dragged several feet until the searching lights no longer lapped at their feet, and then his captor swam back out into the dark. He was released.
Evan’s lungs heaved as he ran towards the cops. He brushed off one of their hands on his shoulder to stuff the outdated scorecard into it.
“What is this? What did he say to you?” The hand owner asked.
“I’ll explain somewhere safe, ok?”
The young cop nodded and gestured to one of the patrol cars as two of his fellows took off after Evan’s tormentor. “I’m taking this guy to the station,” he called out, “you guys take care of this.” He nodded sadly at the planet sized body of Brantford and pulled Evan’s door open.
Evan’s shaking lessened as the door closed him off from the madness; smooth-faced blue stars spinning around Brantford like a frazzled constellation as they tried to break from his gravity to aim their guns closer to the edge of the lights. His breath was almost normal as they eased away from the curb and he realized this was a second chance to make an impression with the police force. He pulled in several breaths and turned towards the pink hands on the wheel, letting the words he needed to say simmer inside for a moment.
The static coming over the radio was so distant to Evan that he couldn’t understand why the officer seemed concerned by it. Slowly he realized it was detailing another murder in the area, thought to be attributed to a woman fleeing the scene, and in the officer’s concentration he slid the hood of the patrol car through one of his colleagues. The uniformed body buckled and released all its pulsing arteries against Evan’s side of the windshield.
Tied, Evan thought miserably.