It's better for you than half the stuff you THINK is good for you.

Finale, Part II – 24 August 2014

This is the second part of the finale to “Matchstick.”

 

The cop stood up and faced Linwood. “I want you to know that there’s no hard feelings here. You just chose to enter the wrong profession, is all.” He stuck the syringe into the vial and drew up a bit of the liquid inside, removing the air after he had done so.

He moved in front of Linwood and pushed a foot into his chest, pinning him to the loveseat. The first injection the cop had given him was wearing off and Linwood tried to squirm out from underneath his shoe, groaning with the effort.

The cop frowned at Linwood’s feeble attempt to escape. He took his foot away, and when Linwood reflexively sprang forward to take a breath he caught his throat in a vice grip. Holding Linwood’s head back he injected a bit of the drug into his chest, just below the skin. He waited until he felt Linwood’s tensed body relax, before placing the syringe back on the table and straddling Linwood’s lap.

“This,” the cop said, showing the syringe to Linwood, “is lidocaine. The magic of this stuff is it keeps you from feeling pain, but won’t knock you out. A demonstration.” The cop drew a finger across Linwood’s chest with a light touch, then raked the scalpel blade across the same place. Almost at once blood beaded along the cut and began to run down his torso. Linwood looked down, panicked, but just as the cop had said he felt nothing.

Arlotta handed over the threaded needle, and the cop proceeded to sew the slice closed. “This is how it’s going to be, until you slowly bleed to death or I get bored and kill you, whichever comes first,” he said as he worked. “After that we’ll work on your friend over there, and then the troublemaker in the trunk’ll be next. This’ll be an interesting few days, won’t it, baby?” Arlotta smiled in response. “Get another one ready,” he told her. Jamieson groaned loudly just then, catching the cop’s attention.

“And you,” the cop said to Jamieson. He cut the thread with the scalpel, and rose from Linwood’s lap to walk around the table. “I have to say, you’re tougher than you look, Mister Hippie,” the cop taunted. Jamieson lay on his back on the floor where the cop had dropped him. His right hand was balled into a fist.

“It’s always like this with the younger ones,” the cop said to the room. “The drive to live is still strong by this point, so you fight, and fight, and fight. Right up until the bitter end. It’s all very romantic, but…” He stooped over Jamieson’s face, and pulled his head up off the floor. “Everybody breaks.” He dropped his head to the floor with a thump, and stood to retrieve the bloody scalpel. In doing so he shifted the pile of items on the small coffee table, and moved the gun closer to the edge.

“I wonder…” the cop trailed off as he wiped the blood off the blade and onto Jamieson’s shirt. “I wonder how much pain you can take before you pass out. 

“T… try me a—an’ see, motherfucker,” Jamieson hissed back.

“That’s the plan, granola man.” The cop laughed out loud, then stooped again to cut Jamieson’s shirt free. He gave him three deep slices, on his chest. He drew the scalpel blade across his skin slowly, made sure that the blade passed through the skin, into the muscle. Jamieson grunted and hyperventilated in trying to handle the pain.

Though Linwood’s vision was obscured by the stuff on the table and the drugs in his system he knew at once Jamieson hadn’t been anesthetized. He could feel the first drug the cop injected him with being overtaken by adrenaline, still pumping through his veins.

The cop stood again, swapping the scalpel for the bottle of rum from the table. He went over to Jamieson’s body and poured out half of what was in the bottle over Jamieson’s cuts, and onto the carpet beside him. He groaned at first, but it soon gave way to wailing. After swallowing what remained the cop walked into the kitchen and came back with a salt shaker.

“You know that adage about rubbing salt into wounds?” the cop said to Jamieson as he uncapped the shaker and poured a pile of salt into his hand. “I wonder how true it is. Maybe you should test it out for me.” He knelt over Jamieson’s body, poured the salt over his cuts, and rubbed it into them with a palm and lots of pressure.

Jamieson turned white in trying to swallow the pain this time. It wasn’t long before he began to sweat and his body began to convulse, and soon after that he screamed as loudly as he dared. The cop smiled. “A myth confirmed, perhaps.” He stood and wiped the sweat from his face with the back of a blood-stained hand.

Linwood listened to Jamieson’s agonized cries slowly fade as his muscles tried to obey his brain’s commands. He watched as the cop and Arlotta made preparations for the next round to torture.

“Interesting, isn’t it?” the cop asked him, rising from the chair. “seeing how a serial killer operates. But it’s so much more than simply taking a life. There’s the ritual, the preparation, the hunt—many, many parts to a most glorious whole.” He picked up the syringe again.

Fu—fuck that,” Linwood whispered. He furrowed his brow in trying to get his larynx to work properly. “You c—can say what… ever you want, but—” His sentence was cut off as the cop punched him across the jaw again.

“Why do you insist on contradicting me at every turn?” the cop asked as he sat on Linwood’s lap again. “Chalk it up to the recklessness of youth, I suppose.” He put four fingers underneath Linwood’s head and jerked it upward. He forced himself to stay still as the cop injected more of the local anesthetic midway between his chin and throat.

“Yes, that’ll do. Maybe afterward I’ll rip these stitches out and take your tongue. It’s been entertaining me all night. And I’m sure Arlotta enjoyed it, too,” he added, smirking at her. “Come here baby, and hold his head back.”

Arlotta rose from the loveseat and did what she was asked without a word, wrapping her forearm around Linwood’s forehead and eyes. Sweat beaded on his torso and face, anticipating the attack to come.

“Number thirty-six,” the cop said, slowly drawing a finger along the underside of Linwood’s chin. He found a spot just under his chin and touched the tip of the blade to it. “You got him, Arlotta?” When she nodded he pushed the scalpel trough Linwood’s skin. Blood leached out over his hand, and the blade in it, as a grin of satisfaction spread across his face. By reflex Linwood thrashed his arms to get free and connected with the side of the cop’s head.

“You… m—motherfucker!!” the cop screamed. He yanked the scalpel from Linwood’s chin and Arlotta let his head go. his eyes widened, his face turned beet-red, and his smile became a grimace. He raised the scalpel to slice Linwood across the face, just as the smell of sulfur and the hiss of a match head filled the living room. The cop whipped around to spot the source, and a beat later four loud pops echoed through the apartment.

The cop bellowed in anger, pain, and surprise as he moved toward Jamieson. As he fell across the table Linwood saw empty bullet casings through the cop’s feet, lying on a scorched section of carpet. Blood pooled between the cop’s shoes.

As he puzzled over the sight Jamieson, beaten, bloodied, and in considerable pain, slowly rose to his feet and picked up the empty Saturday night special. He didn’t say a word as he chambered a bullet, the last one.

“What the—” A fifth explosion burst through the apartment as he shot the cop in the forehead from point-blank range. 

For a beat Arlotta and Linwood stared at Jamieson, unable to process the previous ten seconds. Linwood recovered from the shock first, and after springing forward and snatching the scalpel from the cop’s hand threw his arm behind him, blindly slashing at Arlotta. He wobbled out of the chair, and turned to find her clutching at her stomach. A bloodstain grew out from under her palms, spreading across the T-shirt.

“You… y—you…” Linwood watched as Arlotta’s gaze shifted from her wound to his face, and back again. After a few seconds she fell on the loveseat, unconscious from heavy blood loss.

Linwood turned back to Jamieson. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute, before he spoke.

“You—you let ’em take your hat, man.”

Jamieson laughed painfully. “Nah. It’s in that room back there.” He chuckled again as Linwood cleaned and taped a wad of gauze to the wound beneath his chin.

“Ricky killed Dennis last night,” Linwood told him after he’d finished. 

“Yeah, that motherfucker told me already. He told me a lot of crazy shit tonight I didn’t know about.” Jamieson winced, and fell to his knees in pain.

“Jamieson!” Linwood rushed over to him. “Don’t worry, I gotcha.” He threw one of Jamieson’s arms over his shoulder, stood, and walked him over to the blood-free sofa. He took a look at the salted wound on his chest, then shuffled through the stuff on the table as Jamieson thanked him.

“That chick, she told me ’bout how you two met,” Jamieson told him. “How her husband was gonna kill you, an’ why he decided’ta track you instead. Given all that’s happened, I think a seven-point-five was more than generous for that bitch.”

Linwood laughed as he came back with gauze, tape, several rubbing-alcohol pads, a bottle of water, and a syringe full of something. “I—I’m sorry,” he told Jamieson as he knelt in front of the sofa.

“What for?”

“For noticin’ that your shitty hat was gone before thankin’ you for savin’ my life. Twice, now.” He opened the bottle of water and pored a bit of it over the raw wounds on Jamieson’s chest before giving him the rest of it. He laughed as Linwood held the gauze in place and taped it. “I can’t help but notice they took your fuckin’ hoodie too, jerk,” Jamieson said.

“Yeah, but still. The Islanders, man?” Linwood opened one of the pads and rubbed it near the wound on Jamieson’s chest. “It’s okay,” Linwood said as he flinched. “It’s only an antibiotic. I checked.” He gave Jamieson the injection.

“So, what’s the verdict?” Jamieson asked as he rose from the couch. “Should we go to the hospital, or what?”

“I’m pretty sure at least three bones in my face’re broken, so yeah, we better. We’ll tell them we got jumped.” He stood and walked over to his vomit-stained hoodie lying rumpled on the floor.

“I guess that’s that. Let’s get the fuck outta here, man.” Jamieson walked to the back of the apartment.

Linwood put the hoodie on, wincing with the pain. He looked around the living room again, and at the two bodies. His eyes lit upon the frogman watch. He hesitated, before giving into the urge to take it off the dead man’s wrist and pocket it.

 

Five minutes later the pair stood on the sidewalk, Jamieson in a freshly-pilfered T-shirt and leather jacket, and the Islanders cap. He studied his twisted eyeglass frames, deciding if they were worth salvaging, as Linwood searched his backpack for a cigarette. Their battered faces drew puzzling stares from passersby.

“Come on, man,” Jamieson said. He lit a bent cigarette and exhaled the smoke in irritation.

“Yeah, alright,” Linwood agreed, finding one and lighting it. He inhaled deeply, and exhaled in absolute relief. The pair started toward Penn Station, but after a half-dozen steps Linwood stopped. Between the now-empty tenement and the building next to it the turd-colored beat-up sedan was parked. Now, though, there were no sounds coming from the trunk.

“What?” Jamieson turned to find Linwood staring at the car.

“Nothin’,” Linwood answered. He looked at the trunk for a beat, then continued with Jamieson toward the station.

 

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