Read The Dislocated Man, Part One Online

Authors: Larry Donnell,Tim Greaton

The Dislocated Man, Part One (3 page)

Though he missed his mother, he was glad she
wouldn’t learn
he had mutilated himself again.
Just the t
hought of it had horrified her. Jack’s sister
, Stacy,
had
insisted
it
was the main reason
their mother
started attending church again. He thought it was probably more because
she
had the
hots
for
the parish minister, but he never said that to Stacy. Better she believe their mother was as pure as she pretended
to be
.

He watched cars, buildings and street lights
on both sides of them
replaced by a dark expanse of water.
They passed over
the Mississippi.

Hannah, please be okay!

Derrick turned south on Washington Avenue. The traffic was heavy but not nearly as bad as the thruways that time of night.


Hennepin’s
only a couple of blocks ahead
,
” Derrick said, but he need not have bothered because they could see flashing lights from two police cruisers that were allowing Washington Avenue traffic through but weren’t allowing anyone to turn right. Derrick maneuvered his full-size car to the right lane. When they got close enough, he unrolled the passenger side window and pulled up next to the policewoman on duty.

Jack wanted to speak, but the sight of the flashing lights had made him sick to his stomach. It was all he could do to keep the liquid contents of his stomach in place.

You have to be okay, Babe.

Derrick leaned toward the open window.

“My friend here, Jack Werth, received a call from Sergeant Abbott a few minutes ago. We understand Mrs. Werth was in the back of a cab that was in an accident.”

Jack recognized the instant look of pity on the policewoman’s face.

He wanted to reach out the window and punch her in the mouth. What did she know? Hannah was a strong woman. They had been through a lot together. Hannah had been through a lot. This was nothing. Even if Jack had to stay home for a few weeks or a month to nurse a few broken—

A sob escaped his lips.

Derrick placed a thick hand across his forearm.

“Your hand again
,

h
e said gently.

Jack looked down to see his fingers digging into the open wounds on his palm. Now
a
ware, he could feel raw nerves screaming for him to stop.

Better me than her.

He nodded and pulled his fingernails away then reached into the glove compartment for more napkins. He pressed several against his palm and pushed the sticky red ones into a bag on the floor.

The policewoman grabbed her radio.

“I’m going to radio ahead and see if the emergency personnel can clear a lane for you.
It’s quite a mess at the
we
st end of the street, though, so you might have to walk the last block or two, depending on where she is.”

Jack forced himself to look at the woman. Twenty years earlier she might have been attractive, but too many seasons on the police force had left her with fifty pounds of extra donut weight and worry lines that came from years of navigating other people’s grief. He wiped away the tears and tried to formulate a smile
but managed only
a confused scowl.

“Hannah.” He took a breath and forced his mouth to say the words. “My wife, is she going to be al
l
right?”

The police woman pursed her lips and stared at Jack for a few seconds before she looked in at Derrick.

“Pull ahead and wait at the emergency barrier. I’ll have the officers move it so you can pass. Be careful. There are a lot of victims.”

She turned to Jack and gave him a weak smile.

He refused to interpret that look. Without voicing
his
anger, he rolled
up
the window and stared straight ahead. She didn’t know anything. None of them knew anything. Hannah was fine. Look what she’d been through with the seizures. Even the doctors said she was a walking miracle.

“Let’s go see my wife
,

h
e snapped.

If the policewoman radioed ahead, you couldn’t have told by them. Derrick was forced to slalom around six different emergency barriers, and each time they had to stop so Derrick could explain why they were there. Jack refused to say anything and would have jumped out of the car and raced to the end of the stalled street, but given all the commotion the police would
surely
have stopped him.
Besides,
there was no way he could have gone through explanation after explanation, the way Derrick had been forced to. The man may have been a shitty boss, but Jack was thankful for his help.

Muting out the latest police conversation, Jack stared at the chaotic scene around
them
. Hennepin Avenue, normally bustling with evening restaurant goers, was filled with shivering gawkers lin
ing
either side of the avenue, all with eyes straining west to see what was going on. Dozens of police officers milled about, talking intermittently with passersby and directing
official traffic past the barriers. Several emergency vehicles passed Derrick’s Chrysler and made their way west
toward a cluster of emergency lights that flashed like an ever-repeating explosion a dozen blocks
further
down.

Derrick, make them hurry!

As though responding to his
silent
plea, Derrick opened the driver
’s
door and slid heavily into his seat. His eyes shot to Jack’s hand, which was still innocently gripping several napkins.

“How bad?”
Jack managed to croak. Too quickly, he was coming down from his scotch mountain into a valley of horror and despair. His entire body trembled with fear.

Derrick shook his head, vigorously.

“I don’t know, Jack, but it doesn’t sound good. Someone said a bus hit a bunch of cars before flipping over. Maybe you should call some family.”

Jack squeezed the napkins and felt a tiny bit of calm flowing from the pain in his wound. Hannah was a strong woman, a superwoman. She would get through this. They both would. He shook his head.

Two blue-uniformed officers moved the wooden barrier out of their way. A third officer waved them through. Grimly, Derrick put his car in drive and crept down the road that was beginning to look like a scene from the
Mad Max
movie. The entire right half of the street seemed to have been sideswiped by a military tank. Hunks of glass, colored plastic and reflective stoplight lenses littered the street. Dozens of cars were etched with deep dents and creases that in many cases stripped the paint down to the sheet metal. Broken side mirrors
and moldings
hung like cracked branches from what used to be door panels all along the wreckage.

Jack
urgently scanned the scene for some sign of a Yellow Cab but they hadn’t yet passed one. He fought the urge to dig his nails directly into his wound.

Please be okay. Please be okay.


That bus
driver must have passed out or something
,” Derrick
said then glanced toward his passenger and fell silent
.

Jack couldn’t think logically. His mind was filled with terrible images of Hannah lying cut and broken someplace without him. He knew she would hang on; she would never leave the kids, him—but he couldn’t expect her to wait forever. She needed him. Now!

Derrick’s Chrysler jerked to a stop at yet another barrier.

Jack knew he couldn’t sit for another second. Before Derrick could say or do anything, he flew out of the car and started jogging toward the flashing lights that were still two blocks away.

“Jack, wait!” he heard Derrick yell, but that didn’t slow the sound of Jack’s dress shoes slapping the pavement. He leapt over an open briefcase and strewn papers. A short Latino cop tried to stop him, but Jack stepped easily to the right between two wrecked cars and sprinted along the crowded sidewalk. He had to squeeze past a cluster of people surrounding a man with a red-stained rag pressed to his head.
A dozen cars past that, he saw a bloody child’s shoe on the roof of a green wreck.
Thankfully, he didn’t see the flesh and blood victim.

Up ahead in the distance, he could see swatches of bright yellow.

His heart pounding with fear, Jack ran faster and wished he hadn’t been wearing his monkey suit. With his Nike Free Runs instead of leather dress shoes, he would already have been there. He passed a cluster of six ambulances in the street. Each had one or more victims on rolling stretchers. He scanned for blond hair. Hannah wasn’t there. Judging from several of the EMT’s frantic motions, things weren’t going too well for a number of the victims. Suddenly, a group of four police officers converged on the sidewalk ahead of him. Jack would have darted left, back into the street, but a massive tour bus lay on its side across the entirety of the four-lane road.

As Jack came to a stop, his eyes shot past the policemen to see an upended Yellow Cab half a block ahead. Two ambulances partially blocked his view but he could see one of the front doors had been torn off. It lay on the sidewalk several feet away.

“No!” Jack screamed.

Several pairs of hands grabbed his arms and shoulders.

“We can’t let you pass
,
” the tallest of the policemen said. His deep voice and craggy face were reminiscent of Morgan Freeman.

Jack couldn’t take his eyes off the cab wreckage. Two EMTs were reaching into the back through broken windows. There was a small lump of hair near the torn-off
front
door opening. Since Hannah never wore fur, it seemed likely that the cabby had worn a wig or maybe that a small animal had been caught up in the collision. Jack saw several dark pools on the sidewalk and immediately had a bad feeling about the driver, but he refused to believe Hannah—

“I’m coming, baby!”

His chest pumping like a bellows, he tried to push past the human police barrier. Every cell in his body needed to get to Hannah.

Please be okay!

“I’m sorry
,

t
he deep-voiced policeman said. “We can’t allow the public any closer. Do you live in the area?”

“My wife is in that cab!” Jack screamed. His eyes were glued to the emergency technician who frantically darted to
the nearest
ambulance to fetch an armload of supplies before running back to the cab.

A
cavernous maw of realization began to push its way to the forefront of his thoughts.

“Hannah!”

“Sir, how do you know your wife was involved in the scene?”

Jack shook his head as one of the EMTs drew what he recognized as Hannah’s sweater from the back window of the cab. The white material was now mostly stained dark maroon. Suddenly, no words seemed adequate. He had to see, to get to her. He had to—

“We-we got a call from….”

Jack glanced back to see Derrick’s bulk surging up to them. Though the temperature was barely above fifty degrees, Derrick was drenched in sweat. His triple chins jiggled as he stomped and coughed to catch his breath. A siren went off as one of the many ambulances pulled away from the overturned bus beside them.

“…from Sergeant Abbott
,

Derrick
finished. “He asked Jack Werth to meet him here.
His wife…Hannah
Werth
…was involved in this accident.”

The deep
-
voiced man reached for the mic
rophone
that hung like a child’s toy from his massive shoulder.

“Sergeant Abbott. We’ve got a Jack Werth here, says he was supposed to meet you.”

Jack tried again to push past the policemen. His eyes were glued to the overturned cab. The EMT’s were still working through the rear and back windows but seemed somehow less urgent.

Save her, goddamn it. Save her!

The radio crackled.

“This is Sergeant Abbott. Please escort Mr. Werth to the Yellow Cab on the corner of 8
th
. The emergency techs have been unable to extricate his wife as
of
yet.”

“Copy that
,

t
he deep-
voiced policeman said.

All sound stopped for Jack when one of the EMTs pulled away from the cab, yanked off his helmet and threw it onto the sidewalk.

“No!” Jack screamed.

 

* * *

 

 

B
right light ripped a slash across the gray sky, and through
that opening
hurled a flailing female figure.

“Jack!”
came
the shriek a
s
the
body arced and fell to the ashen ground with a thump. The impact sent a plume of gray dust spewing thirty feet into the air. The gash in the sky had not even started to shrink when the man leapt up from his deck chair and hopped over the railing. He could hear the woman’s muffled screams and strode toward the new columns of gray haze that rose as she struggled to climb out of the shallow grave her fall had created.

“Jack, I’m here! I’m not dead. Jack!”

With a last flicker of sunlight, the gash closed and left his
d
emesne
in muted shades of gray, but not before it had filled his future with promise. He wanted to laugh at the sounds of her screams breaking
what had seemed to be eons of
oppressive silence. This was almost too delightful.

The yellow-orange glow of his imagined s
un
now seemed dim as a flashlight but he didn’t care. Soon enough, he would walk in the
true
light. The boundary of gray ash was at least a mile ahead and below him at the edge of the rolling hills that approximated the terrain he had grown up with. Behind him
sat a semblance of
his childhood home, a modest three-bedroom ranch his father had only managed to keep by working two full-time janitorial jobs. His mother
’s confinement to
a wheelchai
r ever since he could remember was one
of the main reasons he had enjoyed so much
childhood
freedom
, freedom
he had used
t
o his full advantage…until that fateful day.

He glanced to his left where the hills rolled out to form a staggered line
against
a tall evergreen forest in the distance. In the real world, there had been a path through those woods, but here it made no difference. Here, a walkway would open wherever he desired
to walk out that way
.

“Jack, I’m here. I’m waiting for you!”

He would have told her she was wasting her breath, would have told her that fighting the inevitable would simply add to his enjoyment, but hearing her say that name gave him an almost electric thrill.

“Jack, I’m here. Jack!”

His eyes
focused on the
bleached white tree that grew up like a bone sentinel at the
border between his land and hers.
Of all the constructions in his underworld, it was the one thing he hated and the one thing he intended to change once he clawed his way back to the real world.
E
ven if it meant that his childhood forest had to burn for weeks on end, that tree would fall.

As his hills sloped down toward the
ashlands
, he
contemplated the planning and unrelenting sustained effort that had fin
ally brought him to this crossroad.
It had
taken him two decades to learn how to
turn his tortured visions into actions in the real world, and even then it
had only been a tiny thing that turned the tide
.

Hannah’s pills.

He smiled.

Twenty-one years ago,
chance and a wretched, pathetic soul had sent
events s
kewing in the wrong direction
but finally th
e
pendulum
of justice
was
s
winging back.
Soon
, there would be
an earthshattering
restitution
like the world had never known.
And, as with Hannah’s death, it had all begun with that one tiny event: w
ouldn’t Jack be surprised when he found the small prescription bottle tucked away in his own jacket pocket? And the knowledge that he had in some way been responsible for the death of his wife—oh, the irony and the upcoming pain it would produce were priceless.

His body ach
ing
with
the effort of
recent efforts,
he regretted the need for the
long walk to Hannah’s impact site.
Before he reache
d the gray border between his land and hers, he knelt down and
waited for the patch of grass in front of him to disintegrate so that he could
jam his
fingers
into the warm ash. As he pulled
his hand away
, a thick walking stick formed
in his grip
.
Goosebumps spread across his shoulders at
th
e
prospect of
fetching her
back to his
side of the realm
.
H
ere, she would be certain to tell him everything he needed to know.
He smiled thinly at the prospect.

Leaning on his new walking stick, he stepped over the border into her, as yet, unformed
nether
.

“Jack!”
s
he screamed.

He moved quickly through the shifting dunes and fell into soft areas twice. Was it possible she was starting to understand how the
nether
worked? He shook off the thought.
Either way, she would be his soon enough.

“Jack, please come get me!”
s
he called out, her voice clear and unmuffled.

He stopped and stared in her direction. Only a few hundred feet ahead, he
saw
her soot-covered face
become visible
as she pulled herself out of the ashen hole
. But then she
collapsed
face first from the effort
.

“Thank you, Hannah,” he said.

N
ow he wouldn’t have to climb down to get her.

Not having actually spoken to anyone in decades, he
had been
wonder
ing
what he might say to keep her calm long enough to capture her, but when she didn’t get back up or roll over to look at him, he
knew
his fortunes were running high. A predatory smile split his face.

She was unconscious.

Knowing
the risk he took
travers
ing
his
demesne to
hers,
he
hurried
toward her. The less time he spent on her ash the better. Dust billowed up
from his
pistoning
feet.

Am I ready for this?

He knew he was. It was time to right a terrible wrong. It was time he took back what was his and throttled the man who had wrested his life away. Ignoring the tiny vines of ash that kept wrapping around his ankles, he
strode forward determined.
Hannah stirred and
lifted her head to
him. He
increased his pace
. It was impossible to know how her mind would interpret him. He had to stop her.

She screamed.

Knowing that at any moment she could start
having
visions from her life
,
a
nd knowing that
her ash would
turn those
visions
into muted likenesses, he rushed forward. She could not be allowed to control her
nether
!

“You’re
D
eath! Oh my god
,
I'm dead
!

He surged forward.

Her body shook from fear as she scrambled to her feet. Gray dust swirled like cemetery fog around her. A tire rose up from the ash.

Soon.

She backed away
,
but he darted around the tire and lunged for her.

“I’m so sorry, Jack
!

s
he trilled. “You have to be strong. Death...”

She trailed off and
for the first time seemed to notice her
shifting
surroundings.

Fearing he was too late, he paused
realizing
she saw him as some form of grim reaper.

How right she is
, but maybe I
can seem less threatening?

“Hannah, it’s okay,

h
e said calmly
,
smoothly
. Of course,
it was impossible to know exactly what she would hear. This was after all her
nether
. “I’m here to help.”

“Stay away from me!”

Suddenly
,
half of a car rose from the ash
, i
ts front end smashed flat from
an
impact.

He danced around it and paused three feet from her.

“Hannah, don’t you recognize me
?

Her eyes were swollen with grief, profound loss and the
fresh realization
of death.

“Who?”

“You know
,

h
e said gently, sweetly, taking a step forward.

“No. No I don’t.”
She shook her head. “Are you here to guide me to whatever comes next?”

That
hesitation was all he needed. Like a rattlesnake, he snapped forward and smashed
his walking
stick against the side of her head with all he had.

She fell to her knees and
feebly
lifted her arms
in defense.

How could she think she had any chance of standing against him?
He lashed out and kicked her in the head, ribs and face. The last blow sent her flat on her back moaning. He lifted his
walking
stick well over his head.
It swelled with his rage.

“Are you the Devil?”
s
he
croaked
.

“I might as well be
,” he bellowed, driving the message home with
the
crack of wood against skull.

 

End Part One

Be sure to see

“The Dislocated Man,
Part Two

coming
September 2012

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