City Intersection, Chapter Ten – Zero Dollars

My, it’s been a while. One reason I think I haven’t been writing as much recently is that I’m working through a rather grueling grammar class. Good textbook, horrible design of the class. And lots of not-fun writing.

Glad to be getting back to this story though. It’s been forever. This chapter is “dedicated” to my friend Connor, by the way. To the point where he got a little insert in the story. He’s getting better, but still not in great shape.

Obviously, music for this post is the new album Humanz by Gorillaz. Been awaiting this one for a long time. It’s had a pretty mixed reception, but I’ve loved it.\

~

The van had a distinct smell. The kind of smell I knew Nathan, Alexis, and Jason no longer had any sense of, a smell that permeated them and anywhere they stayed.
It wasn’t a bad smell, it was just… distinct.
The morphine had mostly faded by then, although it hadn’t really been long enough to truly be gone. I think all that had happened since then, overdosing, running for my life, having an emotional realization that came out of nowhere… It had just kind of jolted me out of the effects.
I was just left with this slightly surreal, depersonalized feeling, although I couldn’t really say if that was from the morphine itself or just… God, so many things had happened since I came here. I felt like I was trapped in this physical psychosis that had taken over the world.
And I really needed that goddamn ketamine. I had asked Hannah for it on the way to the van, I had tried getting Nathan to get it from her, I had even tried sneaking it out of her pocket, but to no avail. Even though we hadn’t known each other for long, and not even closely at that, she seemed to have developed a rather parental, protective role over me. And honestly, I wasn’t sure that I disliked it.
Aside from the ketamine deprivation, of course. I knew I hated that.
I had a can of Dr. Pepper and some Pringles in the van. I hadn’t had either in years, as far as I could tell, and it seemed like it had been a while before I had eaten anything whatsoever. I felt hungry initially, but after a couple chips my appetite was completely gone. Goddamn drugs. Those Pringles were so good, too.
I kinda spaced out in the van. The others were talking about a plan or something, but I just sat there and listened without comprehending.
My phone rang, and took me by surprise. Things like phones didn’t seem to fit here, they were a relic from the outside world, and I was honestly surprised that I was able to get reception here.
I answered it.
“How much have you unloaded so far?”
That voice. That heavy, menacing voice. I still didn’t know who he was, but I knew who was on the other side. I felt my throat constrict and my heartbeat increase. The others in the van stopped their conversation and looked at me.
“A lot.”
“How much?”
“About… two kilos?”
“That’s not a lot.”
“It’s a lot for this little piece-of-shit town.”
“Listen, don’t give me that shit. Unload it all, get all the cash, and come back. Those are your orders and, as you know, you have no choice in obeying them.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Also, you might get a call from Jerry. Keep your goddamn phone on, I’ve tried calling you several times.”
So the reception was bad, then. He hung up and the others continued looking at me, clearly waiting for an explanation.
“My boss,” I said. They understood but didn’t respond and simply went back to their conversation.
Jerry. I couldn’t place a name to the face, as always, but I felt like I knew who it was. A coworker, but we were on relatively good terms. Why the hell would Jerry be calling me?
I returned to my pseudo-conscious state, listening to everyone else’s conversation without comprehending it, my mind an empty slate aside from occasional thoughts rolling across it like spare tumbleweeds. Was this what it was like to be sober? Eternally cold, unfeeling,
Actually, no. No, this was… This was almost like being on ketamine, actually. Perhaps my continual use had just locked me into a dissociated, depersonalized, unthinking state? Or maybe, since ketamine had become the norm, the levels of this in sobreity were just elevated and accentuated for me now? Would it ever leave? How long had it been since the call?
My phone rang again. A different voice, I wouldn’t have had a clue who it was if I hadn’t been primed for it.
“Jerry?”
“Yeah. Lawrence. Connor is in the hospital.”
A name I recognized, actually. A good friend of mine, we had known each other for a long time. Maybe he predated the drugs and that’s why I remembered him.
“What happened?”
“Gun exploded. Shrapnel went through his skull and embedded in his brain.”
“Fuck.”
“They got it out, but had to remove some of his brain in the process and, unsurprisingly, his brain was dangerously swollen.”
“How is he now?”
“Not good. He hasn’t regained consciousness, and at this point they’re keeping him under to hopefully let him heal a bit before he comes back. If he does.”
“Shit.”
“He’s not doing well, Lawrence. Sounds like they’re going to have to decide soon.”
“To pull the plug?”
“Yeah. I’ll let you know what happens.”
“All right.”
“And Lawrence.”
“Yeah?”
“I’m sorry, man.”
He hung up.
I knew I should feel something. I strove to feel something. Maybe it was just the drugs – or lack thereof – or maybe it was something else. Maybe I could just excuse it with my apparent amnesia. But I still felt guilty for it.
“You okay?” Nathan asked, looking at me. Hannah stared as well, and seemed more concerned than he.
“Yeah. Just… Someone I know.”
They took the hint that I didn’t want to get into it and dropped the topic. They resumed their conversation but it was soon over.
“Alright, let’s go,” Hannah said to me, pulling open the van’s sliding door.
“What?”
“Let’s go.”
Apparently they had assumed that I was listening to the conversation and knew what was going on. Instead of giving away my position, I just played along, got out of the van and followed Hannah to her car.
She drove through a section of the city I hadn’t been in before and parked in front of City Hall. We got out and headed toward the building, Hannah carrying a notebook. As we walked inside, she looked around and wrote a couple notes.
“You’re still working on the article?” I asked her.
“Yeah. I still have my job to do.”
“I guess.”
“And just imagine how incredible this story will be once it’s finished. It was just gonna be a little piece about a little-known town, but now what it’s become…”
“You work for a newspaper, right?”
“Yeah.”
“You think they’ll actually publish it?”
“Huh?”
“You don’t think it’s a bit… outlandish? I mean, fuck, I died.”
“Oh. Huh.”
“I mean, I think it should be, it’d definitely be an interesting story, but I don’t really know if they’d really do it or not.”
“Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”
We approached the receptionist’s desk. “You ready?” Hannah asked me.
“I guess,” I said, still not sure what we were doing.
“Could we speak to the mayor?” Hannah asked the receptionist. He looked at us strangely, then checked a calendar.
“He doesn’t have anything scheduled today,” he said. “What are you here for?”
“I’m a journalist, and came to write a piece about this little-known city. I was hoping to be able to interview him for part of it.”
At the word “journalist” the receptionist had turned to stare at Hannah, wide-eyed. A few other people milling about in the area stopped their movement and joined in the staring. Whether she didn’t notice it or was just ignoring it, I couldn’t tell, but Hannah didn’t respond.
“I think we’ll be able to arrange that,” the receptionist said after he had recovered. He pressed a button on his phone base and spoke into the microphone. “There’s someone here who would like to speak with you, sir.
“What are your names?” he asked.
“Hannah Lane.”
“Hannah Lane. And…”
“Lawrence Cantor.”
“Lawrence Cantor. Should I just have them wait out here until you’re ready, sir? Alright.”
He hung up and gestured toward a small refreshment area with chairs. “You can wait there until I let you in. Help yourself to the coffee and cookies.”
We walked over to the area and Hannah immediately began pouring a cup of coffee. “God, this is what I needed,” she said.
I looked warily at the coffee machine, but decided it was probably just as risky as drinking the water in this place. And at least I’d get a bit of caffeine to hopefully bring myself back into reality a bit.
We waited for about ten minutes, chatting occasionally about trivial subjects, before the receptionist told us we could head to the mayor’s office, telling us how to get there.
We followed his directions and knocked at the door he indicated. A “enter” returned from inside and Hannah opened the door.
“Frederick Simmons,” he said, standing up and extending his hand to shake both of ours, then waving to the seats in front of his desk. “What is it you wanted to talk about? I’m afraid I don’t have much time.”
Frederick looked like the epitome of a powerful leader. Strong jawline, expressive eyebrows, slightly dark circles under eyes that looked almost distant, listless, yet still very active.
“I’m a journalist from Boston,” Hannah said. “It seems no one has really heard of this town, er, city, before, and I was sent here to write a little piece about it.”
Frederick’s eyebrows raised. “I see,” he said, checking his watch. “I’m afraid I really must go, now, though.” He got up and began stacking some papers inside a briefcase.
“Will there be another time I can schedule to meet with you?” Hannah asked, slightly desperate. “Sometime in the next couple of days?”
“I’m afraid not. I am mayor, after all, I have a busy schedule. In fact, you just caught me at the tail end of one of the few short times of relatively quiet I’ve had this month. If you want, though… I have a meeting to drive to, might take half an hour or so. You two can come with me and interview me on the ride.”
Hannah looked at me, turned back to Frederick, and nodded. “That’s fine.”
“Well, follow along then,” he said, shutting the clasps on his briefcase and heading out the door. We followed suit, out of the building, and into a relatively high-end four-door car.
As he drove, I sat in the back seat and stared out the window, only vaguely aware of the questions Hannah was asking him, but oddly fixated on the sound of her pen on paper. A couple minutes later, he pulled off onto a dirt road, cutting through a heavily wooded area.
“It’s beautiful, here,” he said. “One reason I’ve never been able to leave. I like to ride down these side roads sometimes when I get the chance. Makes me able to forget my duties for a little while.”
I noticed that the trees were passing by my window in increasing speed. My body was being pushed into the seat from acceleration. I looked up to Frederick in concern.
Faster and faster he drove. Hannah and I looked at each other; neither of us really wanted to tell the mayor to slow down, but it was getting dangerous.
“Uh, sir, could you slow down a bit? I get… er, carsick.”
“What, this speed? No, this is how we go down these dirt roads. Adds to the joy of life,” he said lightly.
“Please slow down, man,” I said. “It’s getting to be a bit much.”
“Yes, please,” Hannah said.
Frederick remained silent. Hannah and I were white-knuckled, grasping onto anything we could reach, and we were approaching a turn. A turn, a turn… and he wasn’t turning. He held the steering wheel straight forward.
“Please!” Hannah yelled out one last time, as he raced off the edge and smashed into a large oak in front of us. Airbags went off, my head smashed against the back of Hannah’s seat, and Hannah was thrown through the windshield.
It was a few minutes before I came to. Frederick was gone, no evidence of him being there left behind. Even his briefcase was gone. I struggled my way out of the busted door and found Hannah lying in front of the car, her body mangled, covered in blood, and lifeless.

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