I lay in the fetal position, bleeding from various places. The other two men who grabbed me are Steve and Jack. They were the other two orderlies involved in my shoulder incident. Mallory had launched an investigation into the three of them. I don’t know what it turned up, but I imagine quite a bit from the pummeling I am receiving.
Steve kicks my stomach while Jack simultaneously kicks my kidneys. I believe they have broken ribs, as every inhalation and exhalation hurts. Todd leers down at me, and with a raise of his hand, the assault stops.
I look up at him, but he is hazy. The blood from my head wound runs into my left eye, and I try to blink away. Todd puts his heavy boot down on my left hand and applies all his weight. The bones crunch and crack. My mouth opens in a silent scream as he grinds from side to side. Tears of pain run down my cheeks as he lifts his foot off my pulsing hand.
Todd checks my pockets and finds my medication. I always carry it with me. He tsks, and the other two laugh. Todd’s eyes and smile are full of malice.
“Awww, looney tunes, you don’t need this shit,” Todd says as he dumps the content out.
The three of them gleefully smash my pills into a fine powder before one of them deals me the final blow to my temple, sending me into unconsciousness. I hang suspended in the darkness, and there is something inherently comfortable and familiar about it.
When I wake, I am in a hospital bed, bandaged up with machines beeping. I stare directly into Mallory’s heart-stopping sea-green eyes. Her eyes are red-rimmed. She has been crying. She smiles, leans in, and kisses me.
“I am going to fucking nail them to the goddamn wall, so help me God. They will wish they were never fucking born!” Mallory growls.
“Have they been caught yet?” I ask.
“No, the fugitive task force is out hunting for them right now,” Mallory says as she grabs my right hand.
She kisses it and holds it close to her. I have never seen anyone look concerned and pissed off at the same time, but she wears it immaculately.
“Knock, knock,” a man calls from the doorway.
Bill walks into the room. We stare at him, and Mallory squeezes my hand tightly. The gesture tells me he has come to take her away to LA to bring back that rapper. I wonder how many days I was unconscious?
“How are you doing, Tommy?” Bill asks.
“You think I look bad? You should have seen the other guy. Seriously, he was a brute,” I say.
Everyone laughs at my bad joke, and I crack a painful smile. Bill nods and gives me an apologetic look as his attention turns to Mallory. Mallory nods and squeezes my hand again.
“Forgive me, Tommy, but I am going to have to steal Mal from you. The cab is downstairs. You get better,” Bill says.
“Thanks, Bill,” I say.
Bill smiles, nods, and exits.
“I don’t really want to go, but duty calls,” Mallory says, looking into my eyes.
I smile. “Go do that voodoo you do so well. I will be here when you get back.”
She smiles, leans in, and kisses me.
“I will see you in a couple of days. Your mom and your brother, Pat, are coming to grab you. Your dad is at our place getting everything ready. Got to dash. I love you,” Mallory says.
“I love you, too,” I say as she scoots out the door.
The room is silent but only for a moment as my cell on the nightstand next to me rings. I pick it up and answer it.
“Hey, yea, Tom,” Ben, my publisher, says, “calling to tell you to get well soon. Wait until we get those sons of bitches in court and Mal eats them alive!”
I chuckle even though it hurts my ribs to do so.
“I feel sorry for them already. How are you, Ben?” I ask.
“Me? I can’t complain. Well, I could, but no one would listen. I called to check up on you. It’s crazy, pardon me for saying so, that you get released from the hospital only to go back into the hospital. Thank God drugs and booze weren’t involved, the PR department would be working overtime,” Ben says.
“Crazy times, indeed, my friend. I would like to start the edits on book one of The Man from Grenin as soon as possible. Then I can email the remaining four books in the series. Throw myself into work to feel normal and take my mind off what just happened,” I say.
“Well, we have all five books, Tom. Mal sent them while you were away getting better. I think she figured once you were out, you would want to focus on work and getting yourself back out there. It’s a fantastic series, by the way. I am thrilled about it,” Ben says.
“That sounds like her,” I say and look up to see Pat standing in the doorway. “I got to go. I am getting released, and my ride is here.”
“All right, we will talk soon. Ciao, buddy boy,” Ben says and hangs up.
We leave the hospital, and the next six weeks of my recovery are excruciating as my ribs heal. Despite this, the world moves on. The Big Daddy H trial that Mallory is working on has become national news, and there are many press conferences. My work on my fantasy series, The Grenin series, goes well as I work with Aisling, my editor, Gwen, my agent, and of course, Ben to get the books out. Steve and Jack were arrested, but Todd is still missing.
My ribs have recovered, but my left hand is still in a cast. I will need physical therapy once it is out. Now that I am feeling better, it is time to face some of my internal demons. I had found my twin brother, Henry, after he committed suicide. He hadn’t left a note, and the unanswered questions tore me up. I stopped taking my meds, convinced that I could still talk and see Henry, which was what got me sent to the hospital in the first place.
Henry had owned a candy store on Michigan Avenue. It had become quite well known for its unique flavors. They had become so popular that he’d started shipping them internationally. I have decided to sell the business, and the Mars candy company has made me a great offer. I am going down to the shop one last time. I need to say goodbye.
I find Mallory asleep on our couch as I go to leave. I put a blanket over her and softly kiss her cheek.
I arrive at closing time and, as I enter, the door chimes go off. The manager knows me and doesn’t question why I am here. She just leaves me the keys so I can lock up when I leave.
I am standing there with my back to the door, taking in the place when the chime goes off again. I turn and see a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl in a yellow sweater. She smiles sweetly at me, and I smile back.
“Are you closed?” she asks.
“Not yet, young lady. What can I get you?” I ask as I make my way around the counter.
She places her order, and I can see her excitement as I fill the bag with her choices. She has not stopped smiling at me. I feel as if I know her from somewhere. I ring her up, and she eagerly pays me.
“Thank you!” she exclaims as she heads for the door.
I notice her sweater is ripped in the back, a chunk of it missing as if something had torn it off. She looks over her shoulder, still smiling at me as she leaves. My body breaks out in gooseflesh as a chill engulfs me. The world shimmers, and as a wave of what feels like unreality hits me, a hand comes from behind and rests on my shoulder. I freeze as I am the only one in the store, or should be. I look at the white-skinned hand with blue fingernails. I turn my head slowly and stare into the pale face of an elderly man, and my gut drops.
He opens his blue lips and asks, “Did they turn the gas off yet?”
I let out a small gasp and turn to run, but a little brown-haired girl stands in the way. She opens her mouth and pukes on my shoes.
“I am feeling much better now,” she says with vomit still hanging from her lips.
I cry out as the smell of charred meat fills my nose, and another hand violently grabs my other shoulder. I turn my head and see what I think is a severely burned man with a rope around his neck.
“Why they do this to me?! Why they do this to me?!” he yells.
I dive over the counter to escape whatever these things are. My medication must be failing. The prescription amount must not be right. I am having another break from reality. I land on my face as the room begins to fill with more and more of these phantoms. All of them yell things at me, their voices overlapping. I look under the counter to find a gaunt-faced boy staring at me.
“I am so hungry, Mommy. I am sorry. I promise I will be good,” he tells me.
I scream and look away, only to see a woman in her nightgown and bathrobe standing over me. Her wrists are slashed open and bleeding profusely.
“I escaped you! I escaped you!” she screams.
I begin to scoot away, moving backward on my hands and ass as the spectators surround me, screaming at me, asking me questions. It is a cacophony of the damned! The moment the thought passes through my mind, they all fall silent. They stand at attention, looking at the door. I slowly move my hand backward, and it lands in a puddle of water. Something drips behind me. I swallow hard as I turn my head to look. I almost shriek. It’s Henry, but something is wrong. Henry doesn’t have black and gold-flecked eyes, but this Henry does. He is soaking wet with a hundred stab wounds to his chest. I scoot back through the water, not taking my eyes off of him.
He slowly turns, watching my every move. This is the worst ghost yet. I am going to be locked in the nuthouse forever after this trip off the deep edge. Looney tunes, that’s me. The not Henry speaks with Henry’s voice.
“I am feeling much better now, Thanner. So much better. Thank you.”
Who the hell is Thanner!? As all the shades continue to look at the door, I bump into what they are looking at. I freeze and let out a long shaky breath as I slowly turn to look. I look up at a black-cloaked figure. It is the Grim fucking Reaper with his scythe and a pair of unfurled black wings. I am paralyzed, unable to look away from him as he pulls his hood away.
My mouth hangs agape. He is wearing my face. The only difference is the eyes, his look like chunks of obsidian. My paralysis breaks, and I begin to scream.