Midnight caffeine infusions always seem like a good idea at the time, but somehow that rarely turns out to be the case. I’m on time to work the next day, but it’s a near thing, and my morning hygiene consists of slapping myself in the face with a wet washcloth in an attempt to both wake up and clean up at the same time. Fortunately, Matt’s on duty today and not B-Rock, so at least I don’t have to deal with passive-aggressive comments. I look fine, anyway — certainly better than I did after being hit by the car.
Although I suppose it’s hard to write someone up for looking unprofessional if the problem is that they were in a hit-and-run. I bet Edgar would have done it, though. Or at least given me a verbal warning not to let it happen again.
Matt, on the other hand, smiles with what appears to be genuine friendliness and says, “Looks like you had a late night!”
“Yeah, a little bit,” I say, then remember that this is something that at least potentially concerns him. “Oh! Uh, I think maybe one of the robbers from the other night was in here the other day? Like, scoping the place out or something. He talked to me, but I didn’t know it was him, and I don’t know what he wanted.”
Matt nods. “One of the officers called me this morning and said that you’d spoken to him. He sent me a picture in case I’d seen him hanging around or following me, but I’m glad to say that he didn’t look familiar, so I don’t think he’s out for revenge.”
Easy for you to say, I think. Some of my disbelief must show on my face, because Matt continues, “Still, he said that they’d be bringing him in today, since they’ve apparently got his prints on the gun, so it’s a good thing you spotted him. I wonder why they didn’t bring him in earlier?”
“Apparently they thought he was dead in a car wreck?”
“Shouldn’t they have dental records to confirm that sort of thing?” asks Matt.
“Huh. Yeah, I don’t know. Are teeth flammable?”
Matt laughs. “Well, I’ll be thinking about that while I’m working the grill today.”
A couple of hours into the workday, my phone buzzes with a text. After a couple of minutes, it buzzes again, then several more times in rapid succession. Curious about what’s going on, I find a minute to sneak away and check my phone, where I see several texts from Brian:
had a rough night last night
Check me out
Following that text is a selfie of Brian, his eyes closed and head lolled over the back of a chair for comedic effect. The sizable black eyes he has are no joking matter, though, nor are the split lip or bleeding ear. He looks like he’s lost a fight or two since I left him at By the Beans last night.
“Man, what happened?” I text back, then pocket the phone and return to the counter before anyone remarks on my absence. Brian’s clearly waiting for my reply, though, because my phone buzzes again right after I get back. It’s killing me not to look, but there’s a family walking in through the door, and there’s no way I can check my phone in front of them without getting a serious reprimand.
They order with painful slowness while my phone continues to vibrate silently in my pocket, demanding attention. I dutifully take their order and direct them off to the waiting area. Then, after scanning the parking lot and seeing no arriving cars, I knock a dozen napkins from the counter onto the floor at my feet. As I crouch down to pick them up, I pull my phone from my pocket and thumb open the texts. Smooth as can be!
got jumped leaving the coffee shop
Think I’m seeing double haha
this is important
“@ work,” I send, trying to minimize my motions, but over my shoulder I see Matt with an eyebrow raised. I guess my maneuver wasn’t that smooth after all. I mouth “sorry” to him and put my phone away, only to have it buzz insistently as several more texts come in.
This is starting to frustrate me. Brian works in a hospital; if it’s something serious, it’s not like he needs me to tell him where to get help. I want to hear his story, but he knows I’m not supposed to be messing around with my phone on the job.
Frankly, this level of inconsideration isn’t like him. Maybe they put him on some sort of pain killer with weird side effects. Depending on the drug, it can cause anything from rage to incontinence to hysterical laughter. A drug that makes you act socially clueless toward your friends doesn’t feel like it’s outside the realm of possibility.
I’ve got a break in less than an hour, anyway, and whatever Brian’s got going on can wait at least that long. Brian seems to have come to his senses, since after the most recent flurry there’s only one more text, maybe ten minutes later, which I figure is probably just an apology of some sort.
I entertain myself for the next hour by making up stories about what the texts say. My assumption is that they’re an explanation of his injuries, but since I can’t think of any reasonable way for him to have gotten beaten up, I make up unreasonable ones. Brian got in a fight with the server at By the Beans. Brian was texting while walking and smacked into the back of his own ambulance. Brian opened a can labeled “Mixed Nuts” and took spring snakes right to both eyes.
When I finally get a chance to read the texts, though, all of the humor drains out of me. I stand stock-still, staring at my phone while the words sink in:
then you’d better leave work
or I’ll kill him
This is followed by another picture of Brian, still with his body draped uncomfortably over a wooden chair, but taken from far enough away that it’s clear that the camera is being held by someone else. Also, his arms are visible in this shot, taped to the chair.
The texts below the picture read:
4417 Somersland Rd
don’t do anything stupid
See you by 1
It’s already past 12:30. I can still make it there in time, but I’m literally going to have to run. I race back out to find Matt.
“Matt! I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I need to leave right now. Family emergency!” I say, waving my phone at him as if that explains anything.
Matt frowns. “Dan, this isn’t really okay.”
“I know, I’m so sorry, do whatever you need to. It’s not your fault, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go,” I babble, backing toward the break room. Matt shakes his head but doesn’t stop me, and I turn and sprint for the exit.
I can’t sustain the sprint for long, but the knowledge that my friend is being held by potential killers keeps me running at a faster-than-normal pace, at least. My plan to get into shape after my broken foot healed has been spottily executed at best, but even the intermittent efforts I put in help me here. I’m puffing and pouring sweat, but I’m still going.
My thoughts whirl as I run. Should I call the police? No, these guys’ll kill Brian if I do. But if I don’t, they’ll probably kill me, then kill him afterward anyway. I need them there to back me up. Maybe I can call as I get there? But what if Vince has someone watching the outside?
I’m forced to stop to wait for traffic at a busy street corner, so I take the opportunity to screenshot the text conversation and message it to Officer Peterson, along with a single word: “Help.” This is probably not as good an idea as just calling 911, but I feel like he’ll handle the situation better than some generic cop. I don’t think I could accurately explain what’s going on while I’m running for my friend’s life, anyway, and I don’t have time to stop. It’s 12:50, and I’ve still got the better part of a mile to go, with several more major streets to cross.
At 12:58, I hammer on the rusted door of the warehouse at 4417 Somersland. My shirt is soaked through with sweat and I’m panting for breath, hunched over with my left hand braced on my knee as I hit the door again with my right fist.
“I’m here!” I gasp in between breaths. “I’m here.”
The door swings open and Vince Amano stands inside, gun in hand, smiling maliciously. “You look terrible, Dan! Come inside where we can talk.”
I straighten up and step into the building, immediately scanning the area for any threats. So it’s sort of embarrassing that I’m promptly clobbered across the back of the neck with something heavy. I’m driven to my knees, staring stupidly at the blood and sweat streaming off of my face to patter on the concrete floor. Then the beating starts in earnest, vicious kicks into my sides and bats whacking over my back, and I instinctively curl up with my arms over my face.
The suddenness and brutality of the attack, combined with my exhaustion, put me purely on the defensive at first, but as soon as I think about stopping them instead of just protecting myself, the fire rises up. I smell charred wood and hear one of them curse as a bat clatters to the ground.
The blows stop almost immediately as my attackers back away, but before I can get to my feet, Vince says, “Dan, I have a gun to your friend’s head right now. If you make a single motion — anything beyond lifting your head from the ground — I will end his life immediately. Tell me you understand me.”
I raise my head painfully and look across the poorly-lit warehouse. Brian’s there, taped to the chair as I’d seen him earlier, but awake now. Next to him is Vince, gun in hand as promised. But next to me, a length of pipe in his hand, is also Vince. And on the other side, near a smoking baseball bat on the ground, is Vince.
“Do you understand, Dan?” the far Vince repeats.
“Yeah,” I croak out. But I really, really don’t.