The man steps onto the elevator with a morning newspaper tucked under his arm, coffee in hand. The doors close. The elevator moves. He finishes his drink. The wait begins. This is his last job.
He has no doubt his quarry will be here. The mark never misses a Thursday. Unfortunately, this Thursday it is raining and the mark is also extremely forgetful.
The early coffee plagues the man’s bladder. At noon he can stand it no longer and barrels into the bathroom, almost knocking over the janitor. “Hey!” The artificial ceiling light flickers. He doesn’t see the wet floor sign. . . .
Days later the Sun slants thru the blinds at the optimum angle to awaken him. He blinks, groaning wearily. Where am I? he wonders and tries to sit up. The machine next to him beeps faster. There are tubes strung into and around him like some sort of sickly Christmas tree. Different fluids slide and ripple thru his bloodstream. He’s woozy.
The accelerated tone brings a doctor and nurse who straggle in languidly, as if amused. The smiling nurse hefts the drip bag.
“Way he’s sucking this stuff down we should buy stock.”
The doctor grabs the chart off the foot of the bed and looks down his nose at her as he flips it open.
“Nurse, do you recall our discussion about professionalism in the workplace?” he rolls a page over.
“Yes, of course doctor. But isn’t laughter said to be the best medicine?”
She fluffs the man’s pillow.
“Am I right?”
Never taking his eyes off the doc, he answers “I’ve always felt there was a strange humor to be found in the world. Like take this for example. This is funny.”
The doctor looks up. “Excuse me?”
The man lurches to his feet and snags the nurse, stifling her scream.
“Where were you today, Doc? Not at the apartment building with your whore. I was there. You never showed.” he inches closer to his clothes, folded neatly on a chair.
The doctor is frozen, unsure of what to do. Scared. “Who are you?”
Out of a jacket the man dumps something that looks like a tiny hairdryer. He raises the device up next to the woman’s head.
“My name is not important. Neither is your answer, I suppose.”
“Oh God, please don - -“
There's a flash. The woman is gone.
The doctor drops the clipboard and lunges wildly for the hallway! The man, a little slow due to the medication, misses the flailing physician’s coat by inches. He rambles awkwardly after him.
His paper shod feet make sharp little whisking sounds in the deserted hallway. There’s no one else in here, he thinks. Why is there no one else in here? Where is everybody?
The man stops, darting suspicious eyes behind him. If nobody else is in here, who’s whispering?
“Where ya going, Doc?” he squeezes off a wild shot, exploding a ceiling light. The busted light sparks.
From down the hall the doctor peeks out of a room. A blast from the weapon tears into the door jam.
“No, no wait! Wait a minute!” The doctor holds out his jacket on an umbrella and waves it about. “Don’t shoot!”
“I was there, Doc! You always go there on Thursdays. I figured I’d do it in the elevator. Quick, clean, zap and done. But no,” he fires again. The energy rips a hole in the wall. “you weren’t there! So it’s gonna have to be here Doc!”
“I’m already dead! We’re already dead!”
“What are you talking about?” he spits.
The doctor pokes his head out “We. . .” he motions back-and-forth. “are dead!”
“Bullshit.” the man whispers. Or was that behind him?
Drawing on his coat the doc slowly stands and steps out. He leans on the umbrella like a cane and tilts his head.
“You don’t remember.”
“Doc, I don’t have– “
“Your very soul is a stake! You must remember.”
The man gazes at the floor a long time without blinking. He shakes his head suddenly.
“It’s not my soul you should worry about.” he fires!
The doctor is thrown off his feet by a subdued blast.
“What the hell?” the man taps his weapon on a handrail screwed to the wall. “Never done that before.”
Glancing up he sees the doctor rise, a little shaken, and yank the umbrella closed.
“Too bad. We had such high hopes for you.” he brushes off his shoulder. “Security.”
“You’re crazy, doc. There ain’t no one else- -” Something grabs him from behind, by the throat and lifts.
He reacts, prying at the encircling intruder. a slimy suction-cupped thing constricts. He chokes, dropping the weapon so he can use both hands.
The doctor neatly scoops the weapon before it hits the floor. He turns it over in his hands.
“Remarkable.” aiming behind him, he squeezes. A flash destroys that end of the hall.
The man’s hands fall. His eyes roll back. He’s turning purple.
“Ease up a little; you’ll have him forever you know.”
The thing loosens, and reluctantly lowers the man to his feet. He coughs, sucking at the air.
“What the hell is this thing? Get it offa me!” he raises his hands again.
“I wouldn’t do that. Security reacts quite efficiently to violence.” the doctor moves behind a nurse’s station and sits. He places the weapon on the desk, his umbrella across his knees and spins in the chair, head back.
“Where am I?” the prisoner asks.
The doc stops spinning and gazes at him a minute.
“Between worlds. There’s no exact coordinates or street address or anything like that. This place,” he gestures around him. “exists only for us. In our imagination maybe.”
“But you said we were dead, I don’t - -“
“Understand? Neither did I when you first sent me here.” The doctor stands, walking towards the blasted egress.
“I sent you? No, I was supposed to kill you!”
“And you did. Haven’t you been listening?” the doc stops at the end of the demolished hall. A light is approaching from far off in the ether.
“The nurse you ‘killed’ was my guide. That’s who’s coming to get me.” he points out the hole at the nearing light.
The man sees the weapon on the corner of the desk in his periphery. He takes a cautious, testing step. The thing tightens but allows him to move.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” the doctor calls.
Another step. The man shakes his head.
“No?” Doc shouts.
The light is closing. Another step. Doc turns.
“I forgot my umbrella! It was raining, don’t you remember? I was on the way out when my lovely wife called me back. If I hadn’t been delayed those few minutes I would’ve ran into you on the elevator as you so prudently planned and we would have arrived separately to this place. I would never have been in the bathroom when you rushed in and fell.”
The blue light fills the hall conjuring tall shadows and silhouettes. The doctor is a thinning shade.
“Actually, it’s quite funny. Can’t you piece together what happened? No? Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to ponder.”
The man moves quickly knowing he’ll have only seconds to pull and shoot. The gross noose tightens, whipping his head back viciously. The shot goes awry. The doctor laughs heartily.