The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Four, Part One . . . The Mine

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the-mine

 

      Chapter Thirty-Four

 

       THE MINE

 

                                             Going home, going home

                                             I’m just going home

                                             Quiet light, some still day

                                             I’m just going home

 

                                             There’s no break, There’s no end

                                             Just a living on

                                             Wide awake, with a smile

                                             Going on and on

 

                                             Going home, going home

                                             I’m just going home

                                             It’s not far, just close by

                                             Through an open door

 

                                              I am going home

                                              I’m just going home

 

                                                                               Going Home

                                                                                Annie Haslam

 

Quiet. And darkness. Not quiet, as much as an absence of sound. Not dark, as much as an absence of light. I floated—and, for the lack of a better word—rotated, in the void. Just myself, and my thoughts. And yet I did not know how I had thoughts. I had no body, no brain, no eyes or ears. And yet I could hear, and see—with my spirit. I waited for a brilliant light. I waited for a tunnel, or my stairway into heaven. Or even a descent into hell. I waited for the voice or welcome of those dear souls of my life that had gone before. Or perhaps the unwelcomed embrace of beings of the underworld.

But there was absolutely nothing.

Just me. Slowly rotating in blackest space. But then again, not even space. Space is a thing. Here there was nothing. No thing.

Only, again for lack of a better word—void.

I had no fear. No hunger or thirst.

Just my thoughts—and my life memories. I went over and over them in my mind, or more precisely, in my spirit.

Minutes turned into hours, hours into days. Days and weeks and months into decades. Centuries. Eons. And still I rotated in the void—thinking. Remembering. The good. The bad.

Everything. Every single little tiny thing. Every breath of my life. Every word. Every pain. Every sorrow. Every joy. Every comment. I saw the faces of those I had uplifted. Of those I had hurt. Of those I had helped up.

And those I had disappointed and let down. Lots of those. Almost an endless succession.

And at the end—my own.

I thought that this was my personal hell. My own personal punishment. To float forever in the black and the void, remembering.

And then I was back.

And I was on the floor. I could feel the solid surface under me. At least my clothes were completely dry. I guess after a half a million years or so, they should have been.

I looked up, and into the face of an angel. The face of the woman I loved.

Maggie peered down at me through the metal slats of a hospital bed. She spoke. When she did, I knew I was really home.

“You don’t look so good,” she said.

“You’re one to talk,” I replied. “At least I’m not the person in a hospital bed.”

“From the way you look, you should be,” she responded.

Having just returned from one eternity, I was ready for another—with this good lady.

I smiled. She smiled back.

“Did you kill him?” she asked.

“Yeah. I killed him.”

“You get hurt?”

“Not where it shows.”

“The bomb?”

“Exploded—somewhere. Somewhen. Not here.”

“Thank you, Johnny.”

“Welcome, Maggie. How bad did they get you?”

“I lost half a rib on my right side, and about half a pound of flesh the hard way. All said, I’d rather have just gone on a diet. Gonna have a nice scar for you to have to look at, Johnny.”

“It’ll just make you sexier,” I grinned.

I slowly got to my feet and kissed her gently on the lips.

“The others?”

“Howard’s out of surgery. Shattered knee, but he’s already bitching about not being able to get out of bed to pee. He’ll be okay, Johnny—but it’s going to take some time. Officer Weeks was hurt worse. He’s out of surgery too, but he’s in critical. Maybe a day or two before the jury is in on him. Touch and go until then. He’ll probably never be a cop again.”

“If he lives, Maggie, he’ll never need to be. He’ll have a job with me until the end of time. That’s if he wants one, of course.”

“Thanks, love. I think that’ll make a big difference for him. Sweet kid.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “How long was I away anyhow?”

“Maybe twelve, fourteen hours, Johnny. Don’t you know for sure?”

“Seemed a little longer for me, Maggie,” I hedged.

“How’d you get back?”

Tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t try to cover them. “I came back to the last thing I thought of before the bomb went off.”

“What was that, Johnny?”

“You,” I replied.

Now her eyes filled with tears too. For once, I was happy that I was the cause.

It was time to ask the big question. I dreaded the answer. I steeled myself.

“Little Albert—could they save him?”

Maggie smiled a little. It gave me hope.

“Why don’t you take a short trip, Johnny. One floor down. Room 311. Meet your godson.”

I let out the breath I had been holding. “Thanks, Maggie. I’ll see you in a few.”

“Take your time, big-guy. I’m not going anywhere.”

I walked to the door and paused. “I love you, half-rib.”

“I love you too, singe-face,” she replied. I touched my cheek with a finger. She was right. I had picked up a bit of a sunburn some darned place.

I made my way to the end of the hall and started down the stairway. It seemed to go on and on, and I wobbled a bit as I exited the stairwell and made my way toward room 311, slightly sick to my stomach. Halfway there, I could see Matt walking around outside in the hallway.

He had a small bundle in his arms.

baby-footprints

He saw me coming and a slow smile crossed his face. “You look like hell,” he said.

“Shut up and let me hold my godson,” I said.

Matt passed him over. He was a beautiful kid, combining the good looks of both of his parents. He smiled up at me. It was a good start.

“I’m sorry, Matt.”

“Sorry for what, Johnny—saving the world?”

“For getting Linh killed. I loved that girl like she was my own flesh and blood.”

“I know you did, Johnny. She loved you too. What would you have to say to her, Johnny? If she were standing right here next to you.”

I choked up slightly and my voice cracked a little. “I’d tell her what I wished I had while she was still alive. I’d tell her that she was the finest human being that I ever knew in my life. I’d tell her how sorry I am that’s she’s gone, and I’d tell her that I’ll miss her for all the rest of my days on earth. That’s what I’d tell her.”

Matt grinned wider. A voice spoke behind me.

“Thanks, big-guy. I’m gonna remember you said that.”

I spun around, nearly dropping little Albert as I did so. Linh stood before me, grinning, dressed rather fetchingly in a floppy hospital gown, and pulling an IV line on a rolling stand along with her.

Matt quickly grabbed the kid. “Better let me take over again, Johnny.”

I enveloped Linh in my arms. I hugged her. Very long, but not very hard. Finally, I turned her loose and took a step back.

“How is it possible?” I asked.

“A lady saved my life,” she said. “A sweet little middle-aged lady security guard out at the airport by the name of Katy, that loaned her bullet-proof vest to Howard for me to use.”

“I knew about that,” I said. “But it wasn’t enough. It was just a little light-weight vest, rated for maybe four or five common non-magnum handgun rounds. It would never have stopped those high-powered rifle loads. I saw them hit you. I saw you go down, Linh. I knew you were dead when you hit the ground.”

“It was close, Johnny. Those three rifle rounds in the chest knocked me out good, and caused little Albert’s early birth. But they didn’t go through the vest. It saved our lives.”

“How?”

“Mithril, Johnny—or at least Katy’s version of it. She never really did trust her little light-weight vest to save her life if it came to it, and she didn’t want to wear a heavier one, so she simply sewed another couple of panels of Kevlar onto the back. Right over the heart area—just in case.”

“And that was enough?” I asked wonderingly.

“No, it still wouldn’t have been enough,” Linh said. “But Moradi’s men wanted to do more than just kill a few American lawmakers. They wanted to make a big bloody statement. They wanted to make a real mess. They were shooting hollow-pointed rifle ammo. That’s why Howard’s leg was shattered so badly, and why Weeks is in such bad shape from his chest wounds.”

“Anyway, the tips of the bullets began to deform when they hit the first layer of Kevlar; just enough to tip them. And that was enough to stop them when they plowed into the panels sewed into the back of the vest. They came in sideways. Plenty enough remaining energy to knock me on my butt, but not enough to exit the back of the vest. Katy saved my life.”

“A miracle,” I said.

“Any way you slice it,” she agreed. She held out her hand, palm open. She was holding the three flattened rifle rounds.

“I’d like to show you the bruises these things left, Johnny. But I can’t. I’m a married woman now you know,” she whispered.

I smiled and hugged her again. And again, I hugged her long. My stomach tightened suddenly, and again I felt an odd sensation of sickness—deep in the pit of my stomach. I winced.

“You look like hell, Johnny. You okay?” she said.

“No, not so much,” I answered. “Would you mind if I borrowed your husband for a few minutes, Linh?”

“Not at all, Johnny. I’m not supposed to be out of bed anyhow.”

“Thanks, Linh.”

Matt took my cue and walked a short distance down the hall with me. We found a dark and quiet corner near the waiting room and faced each other.

“Where’s Shahida?”

“At the bureau. Tying up loose ends. She said she was probably the only junior agent in bureau history to put out an APB on a sitting president.”

“I don’t doubt it. I wish she was here.”

“Why?”

“To watch things here.”

“I can watch things here. Faris, Watkins and Wiggins are trying to round up bad guys.”

“You’re lying to me, watchmaker.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. I kind of have a special insight into things like that these days. You’re planning a little trip, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe, hell. I remember what you were doing when you decided to rejoin our little group in Detroit. Now you’re going back to finish it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, Johnny. I left my father, grandfather, and a half-crazy grandson back on that mountain. It’s time I went back and finished the thing we were all up there for.”

“And you’re going alone.” I said it as a statement of fact.

“Yeah, Johnny. I’ll be going alone. I’m ending what happened up there, so long ago. I’m ending it tonight—one way or the other. I’ve got a wife and a new son. I don’t especially want to see my boy and the woman I love grow older than I am—again. I had enough of that the first time around. I’ll end this curse, and grow old together with Linh, or I’ll leave her a widow.”

“And your son fatherless?”

“Yes, if need be. I won’t go through it all again, Johnny. I won’t.”

“I’m going with you, Matt.”

“Why?”

“You have to ask?”

“Yeah.”

“Because I’m your friend—that’s why.”

“Then be a friend and stay and watch over my family—tonight, tomorrow, and in the years to come if need be.”

“I’m going to be with you to bring you back to your family.”

“Dead or alive?”

“Yeah, watchmaker, exactly—dead or alive.”

He hesitated a few seconds. “Okay. All right. I guess that’s what friends are for.”

“We need to go tonight, Matt. We need to go now.”

“Why?

“Because—well, let’s just say—I’ve got some issues going on.”

“What kind of issues, Johnny?”

“I’m sick. Maybe real sick. Like maybe I don’t have a lot of time.”

“You dying, Johnny?”

“Maybe. Don’t know for sure, Matt. And that’s the plain truth.”

“What happened?”

“I killed Moradi, and I killed him hard. But his bomb went off—a long way away from here. I was up close and personal with it for a nano-second or so though when it did. Long enough to give me a little case of sunburn as you can see, and long enough I think, to give me some radiation poisoning as well.”

Matt’s eyes bore into my own. “We need to get you checked into the hospital, Johnny.”

“Yeah, but not tonight. You can check me in tomorrow. Assuming either one of us is still alive, that is.”

“Yes. Assuming, that.”

“We can’t run off either and just suppose that we can get back before they wake up. We may not come back at all. We need to tell them that it’s not quite over yet. We need to make them understand there’s a final chapter.”

“I’ll talk to mine, Johnny. You talk to yours.”

“Meet you at the front door in fifteen minutes, Matt?”

“Yeah, Johnny. That’ll do. It’s time, isn’t it, Johnny? You said we would get to this point, back when we formed our partnership. The day when all things would be made right. And here we are.”

“Yes, Matt. Here we are. Same as always. I look out for you, and you look out for me. It’s what friends are for.”

He nodded in agreement. “See you in fifteen,” he said.

“See you in fifteen,” I repeated.

We parted company. He walked down the hall toward Linh’s room. I headed back up the stairs. They seemed to wave a bit and move under my feet. My stomach heaved again. I knew I should be in the hospital. Didn’t really know if they could do anything for me or not, but I knew I wasn’t going to find out this night. This night I was going with my friend. Back to the place of his death. Back to where it had all began.

Back to the mine.

This night I was going to bring him back home, one way or another. A free man. A man liberated of an age-old curse. A free man—or a dead one. One would come back with me.

We met back at the front door in fifteen.

And then we stepped outside together—into the night.

 

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Thanks for reading. Back in a few days with the conclusion of Chapter Thirty-Four of THE RECKONING.

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