Story by Luke Foster
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
There’s blackness. Then I’m stumbling down the street. So much to drink. Then another gap. Then I see a guy. He says something. I say something. I don’t remember what it is.
Blackness again. I’m walking faster. Don’t want to be seen don’t want to be seen don’t want to be seen. The guy is gone. Someone shouts. Is it the guy?
I’m farther up the street. I’m missing some minutes. Ten? Fifteen? I step off the sidewalk and between two buildings. I put my hands on my knees and breathe deeply. I don’t want to throw up. I’m going to throw up. If I throw up, they’ll know where I am. I swallow hard and close my eyes and rub my hand across my chin as I take a deep breath. The scratchiness of my stubble focuses me. I can throw up later. I’ll throw up later and when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be less hungover but for now, I have to keep it in please just keep it in.
Blackness again. Didn’t throw up. Still in the shadows between the two buildings. One’s a storage unit. Other’s a mechanic. Both are closed. No one’s gonna see me here. That’s important for some reason. Afraid to be seen. Why?
Police cars fly past. Sirens pierce my ear. Flashing red and blue lights making me woozy again.
A crime. Someone committed a crime. Someone committed a crime and oh God I think I witnessed it. I gotta get out of here gotta get somewhere safe don’t want anyone to see me until I’m sober and know what I’m doing and who I’m running from.
I lurch toward the back of the buildings and out onto the street on the other side. The world goes black again and I’m three blocks away. Roads are empty. Usually are this late. The bars are a street over. Anyone out would be there, drinking or watching the cop cars.
Anyone else see what I saw? The man. The man I saw. The man who shouted as I walked away. He must have seen something. Or maybe he was the victim. What did he say? Was he shouting at me? Warning someone? What happened when I blacked out?
A blink and I’m kneeling at the corner of a parking garage. No streetlights here. No one can see me. Try to keep quiet as I finally puke up the three beers and four shots from earlier that night.
Shouldn’t do shots. Always feel like death in the morning. But someone was buying a round and asked me if I wanted one and I couldn’t say no. Wouldn’t be polite. Also, you always save money when someone else buys you a drink. One shot then two and three and four and then I had to go. Clint the bartender is my friend and I don’t want to get sloppy drunk and embarrass him. That’s not okay.
Most of my seven drinks are soaking into the dirt in front of me. Pretty sure none of it splattered on me. I wipe my mouth with my hand. Really need water. Or a Gatorade. Or both.
Pull out my phone to call an Uber but the screen is black. Dammit, did the battery die again? Goes quickly these days. Thought I charged it before I left but it must not’ve been enough.
Crap. Need to get home and figure out what the hell is going on and what to do next and I can’t even call a stupid Uber. Then I look up. Left my car at this garage.
I walk up to the roof. Always park on the roof. Car’s alone. I get in and sit in the silence and darkness for a minute. Then I crawl into the back.
Wasn’t to drive. Never drive drunk. Not worth the risk. I have a hatchback, and the trunk is large enough for me. I curl up and pull the thin, vinyl cover over me so no one looking in will see me and I almost instantly fall asleep.
— ♦♦♦ —
It’s hot and my head kills. I open my eyes and instantly shut them when the morning sun blasts right through the back window and into my eyes. The vinyl does little to keep any unwanted light out. I close my eyes and try to force the pounding in my head into silence as I try to think.
I was walking from the Old Gold River, a favorite bar of mine. I had finished the fourth shot and I was feeling pretty fuzzy. I knew if I stuck around, I might say or do something embarassing. I certainly didn’t want to throw up in the bar. I walked out and turned right, following the sidewalk away from the main cluster of bars towards… I’m not sure. Probably getting some air before I called it a night.
I… I’m not sure exactly what I did. I know I was walking. I know I saw a guy. He was… I dunno, thirty? Forty? It was dark. Next thing I remember I’m farther up the road, walking fast. I… was I upset? I seemed freaked out about something. Or was I? Am I just remembering it that way? I remember seeing the cop cars and thinking I had seen a crime. I was super upset about that.
Think back, think back, think back. There was a shout before I was in the alley. Who was shouting? What happened between there and between the buildings?
I take a deep breath and roll on my back. It’s stuffy in here. I’m soaked in sweat and my legs are stiff from being in the fetal position all night. I open the cover and roll over the back seat. I take a minute to let my heaving stomach settle, then I crawl into the front seat. I put the chair back slightly and roll down the window, taking a deep breath of the cool air. It feels good against my face. The rest of me still feels disgusting. I’m going to need a shower soon. I’m glad it’s Saturday and don’t have to go to work. I wouldn’t drink this much on a weeknight, anyway, but still.
I close my eyes again. I witnessed a crime. I’m certain of that. I hustled from somewhere while someone shouted and I hid in the shadows. I didn’t want to be seen. I was afraid to be seen. There were police cars, but no fire trucks. Was there an ambulance? Did I mistake one for a police car? I try to think. I can’t. They were going too fast and their lights were all a blur. I kept going the other way, too. But why?
I think about it more, straining my brain to think through the staccato rhythm behind my eyes. The guy I saw said something. Was he mad? Afraid? One of the two. He definitely said something. I remember his voice. And then… dammit, I wish I could remember what happened after that. He shouted, though. Or was that somebody else? Yeah, yeah, I think it might have been. That must be why I was running. That second guy was the criminal and he saw me see him. Did he do something to the first guy?
Okay, think. I see the first guy, and he’s upset about something. I stumble past him and keep going. Then I hear something. I must have turned around in that little blackout and seen the second guy do something to the first guy. Then he saw me and I had to get out of there fast. Why didn’t he come after me? Was there another witness? Someone did call the cops. Heck, maybe I did.
I take out my phone to see if maybe I can find something on the news, and another memory comes back. That’s right, my phone is dead. It’s why I slept here. I reach for my charger and my shoulders slump. It’s not here. I took it out of my car when I was cleaning it before I went out and forgot to put it back. That eliminates me as the guy who called the cops, which means at least one other person probably did see what happened.
I’m getting nowhere here. I need to go home and charge my phone and see what the news has to say. Maybe something there will jog my memory.
I stop on the way home and get a Gatorade, which I consume without coming up for air. I’m gonna need a second one soon. The convenience store clerk has the radio on, but not to a news channel. He’s listening to a nineties pop station. No help there. I briefly think about buying a charger, but I decide I don’t need to spend fifteen dollars to charge my phone for ten minutes.
I drive home, grateful I didn’t lose my sunglasses. The pounding in my head has started to lighten up. It’ll be gone by the time I get a second Gatorade and maybe some food. I think about stopping, but decide it’s more important to get my phone charged first.
I pull into my parking lot and suck in a quick breath. Two guys are standing at my door. Both are white guys. The taller of the two is wearing a leather jacket despite the warmth. He’s wearing jeans and some sturdy-looking boots. The other guy is wearing a spring jacket, but the same jeans and boots. He’s looking at something on his phone, and as he holds it out so his buddy can see, his jacket shifts and I see a gun on his waist.
Holy crap. I don’t need to be a genius to figure out what two armed guys want with me. What the freaking hell did I see last night?
Without slowing down I continue past my building toward the parking lot’s back exit. My whole body trembles. I need to get out of here as fast as possible. I drive to a nearby shopping plaza and park my car among those owned by the people opening the stores. If those guys know where I live, they probably know what I drive, so I have to ditch my car, pronto. If they do find it here, they’ll hopefully waste more time trying to figure out where I’m shopping.
I walk across the parking lot toward a Jack in the Box at the edge of the parking lot, hoping I don’t look too conspicuous. I shake like a leaf. The parking lot is empty and I still feel like every eye is on me.
I enter the restaurant. I really shouldn’t stop this close to home, but I need a clear head if I’m going to stay alive.
Alive. Heh. How insane is this? Last night my biggest worry was forgetting about my crappy job for a couple of hours, not running from killers because I saw something I can’t remember.
I order my usual breakfast sandwich and a Powerade and take them to a corner booth. As I eat, I wrack my brain, trying to force memories of the previous evening to the surface.
I remember the shots. I definitely remember those. Everything started getting fuzzy after that. I walked out. There was a man. Then I was hustling away, afraid I’d be seen. Nothing I don’t already know. Dammit.
Since I can’t remember what he or I said, I instead try to figure out who he was. I think around everything that happened and a memory starts to pull to the surface. He was in his thirties like I first thought. White guy. About my height. Brown hair. No idea what color his eyes were. I think I’ve seen him in the neighborhood a few times. Does he frequent the same bars I do? Maybe. He was wearing… he was wearing a dark t-shirt, like something any of a thousand guys might wear when going out. No help there.
My food gone, I crumple up the refuse and throw it in the garbage. I walk out of the Jack in the Box and up the road toward a bus stop. I check my wallet. Sixteen dollars. I really hope that’s enough to ride the bus. I’ve never done it before. I never needed to.
I look at the other waiting people. A mom and her six-year-old, and a guy either just starting or just finishing a shift at work. Up the street, a man shambles towards us. I tense up. I try to stare at him without actually turning in his direction. It’s harder than it seems. He looks like a homeless man. His clothes are shabby and don’t look like they’ve been washed in a while. I turn in the other direction, looking for the bus and hoping I don’t look like someone in trouble.
“Excuse me, my brother?”
I leap up and almost yelp. I turn to face the homeless man, who looks a little sheepish.
“Sorry, my man,” he says. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I got a call last night that my mom is really sick, and I gotta get to her place, but I just lost my job and all I need is like ten dollars for bus fare and…”
The man keeps rambling. Ten dollars for the bus? I almost panic. One ticket will wipe me out almost completely. Then I realize he’s just giving me a story I’ve heard a hundred times before. If I wasn’t so freaked out, I would’ve seen right through his horseshit. I pull out my wallet and give him a dollar.
“Thanks, my brother,” he says. I give him a nod and he wanders over to the others, who make their polite excuses. Now I’m wondering if I made a mistake. A homeless man wouldn’t remember the hundreds of people who say no to him every day, but he might remember the guy who gave him a dollar at the bus stop. For the briefest of seconds, I toy with the idea of asking for it back, then realize how insane that would be in the best of circumstances.
The arriving bus makes the decision for me. I step on, pay the driver, and settle down to let the bus take me wherever it’s going to take me.
The food and drink have cleared my head, so I look out the window and try to think some more. I focus on last night’s surroundings. I was on the street outside the Old Gold. Not right outside, but a little way down the road, where the construction crews are ripping up one side of the street and the convenience stores catering to a late-night crowd line the other. I was on the side with the construction. It’s the same side as the Old Gold and I usually don’t cross the street until I have to.
Were there any sounds I can remember? People walking, cars driving, music playing? I may have heard a car and some people. Any other night I would’ve chalked it up as an Uber, but now I wonder if it wasn’t the people that caused all the shouting.
Someone takes the seat on the bus next to me, and I stiffen. I glance over, but it’s just an old woman reading a paperback book that looks as old as she does. I relax again. The company of an old woman is almost as good a disguise as an actual disguise.
When I recall the point where I’m hustling away from whatever I saw, I’m on the same side of the road. The construction site is behind me. Do I still hear the car? Maybe? Do I want to still hear the car? Who shouted? The guy in the t-shirt or the people I can’t remember?
The construction site borders a Jiffy Lube, which is next to a car wash, which is next to the storage unit I hid next to last night. That meant that whatever happened, happened in just a few minutes. Do I remember seeing the Jiffy Lube? Or the car wash? No. I wasn’t really looking for either. I had my eyes straight on the sidewalk ahead of me.
I remember I had my eyes straight on the sidewalk ahead of me.
Yes, a memory is back! I smile to myself. It’s barely a memory, but it’s a start. The old woman glances up at me, then looks back down at her book. She doesn’t look suspicious yet, but I better not start laughing to myself, too.
If I can remember passing the Jiffy Lube, I might be able to remember something else. I simulate walking backward in my brain. I’m between the storage unit and the mechanic. I step between the two buildings to hide. I’m on the sidewalk. I’m walking as fast as I can while trying to remain unnoticed. I’m in front of the car wash. I’m in front of the Jiffy Lube. I’m at the construction site where… where…
I get a sick feeling in my stomach that has nothing to do with last night’s booze. Part of me remembers something, and the thought of it makes me want to puke. It must have been an ugly crime.
I take a deep breath to settle my stomach. I hate this. I hate not knowing what happened. Not for the first time in my life and almost certainly not for the last, I tell myself I need to lay off the alcohol for a while. Seriously, this time. I’ve lost patches of memory before, but never this bad or for something so serious.
I reach for my phone to figure out how long I’ve been on the bus, stopping when I once again remember that it doesn’t have a charge. I look out the window and see the bus has taken me in the rough direction of where I was last night. That’s when I hear them whispering.
I look to my left. Two women in their twenties who themselves look like they had a rough night last night alternate between staring at their phones and trying not to stare at me. I feel the hairs on my neck rise up. The two guys at my apartment were one thing, but now this? How far does these people’s web extend? I know I sound paranoid and crazy as I think it, but I don’t care. As soon as the bus pulls to the next stop I stand and, without looking at the two women, I disembark.
I step to the side of the road and pretend to look at my dead phone while I try and see if anyone else is following me. No one seems to notice or care that I’m there. Good.
I pocket my phone and walk towards the Old Gold River. I’m coming from the opposite direction from last night, so if anyone is scoping out the crime scene hoping to see me again, they’ll be out of luck. Still, the bar might be my best bet for solving this mystery.
I enter. Clint sometimes forgets to lock the door when he arrives every morning. The bar is empty, as you’d expect it would be at 9 a.m. Empty of customers, anyway. Clint is behind the bar, running tallies from the night before. It’s the first thing he likes to do every morning. He once told me he always does the math better when his brain is freshest.
Clint looks up at me and does a double-take. I almost do, too. He certainly doesn’t look fresh today. Black bags ring his eyes. His hair’s a mess. I’m pretty sure he’s wearing the same shirt he had on last night.
“Hey, Clint,” I say.
“Dennis?” Clint asks. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’ve had a really… a really weird night,” I say. “Something bad happened last night.”
“Yeah, I know,” Clint says.
“What you don’t know is I think I saw it,” I say. “The problem is, I don’t remember what it might have been?”
“You think you saw it?” Clint asks. He looks incredulous.
“Yeah,” I said. “Remember those shots I took? Well, I was kinda blacking out when I left. I remember patches, but not everything. Only now some guys are trying to kill me because they think I saw whatever it is they did, but Clint, I swear I have no idea what happened.”
“Some guys are trying to kill you?” Clint repeats. He pours himself a cup of coffee as he does.
“Yeah,” I say. “A big guy in a leather jacket and a smaller guy in a regular spring coat. The smaller guy has a gun. The big guy probably does, too. They were both at my apartment this morning. I’m just glad I wasn’t there.”
“Where’d you stay last night?” he asks.
“I slept in my car,” I say. I have no time to be embarrassed. Besides, Clint probably suspects I’ve done something like that at least once or twice. “I’m glad I did. I’d probably be dead now if I had gone home.”
“Dennis,” Clint asks before he takes a long sip of coffee. “What do you think happened?”
“Dude, I promise you I don’t know,” I say. “I’ve been racking my brain for hours trying to remember something, but all I can remember is a shout and me running from whatever I saw.”
Clint doesn’t say anything for a long moment. He just looks at his coffee. Finally, he sets it down and pours me a glass of water.
“You’ve been out all night, huh,” he says as he sets the glass in front of me. “Even sleeping in your car, you must be exhausted. Catch your breath while we figure out what happens next.”
“What if they show up here?” I ask. “I’m pretty sure they had someone on the bus tailing me.”
“I’ll lock up,” he says, then walks to the front and does just that. As he walks back, he takes his phone out of his pocket and looks at it.
“One of my distributors,” he says. “I gotta take this. Be back in a sec.”
Clint walks into the back office and shuts the door. I sip my water and think. I can’t stay here all day. It won’t take those thugs long to figure out I was here last night if they haven’t already. The longer I’m here, the more Clint’s in danger.
I look in my wallet again. Eleven dollars. Not enough cash to get me out of town. Do I risk using a credit card? It’s insane to think these people might be tracking it, but I wouldn’t have thought they’d send those girls after me. I’m just glad they’re so shitty at tailing people.
I take another sip and look around the empty bar. It’s so different from last night. Last night was so loud and fun. I was talking to strangers and making friends and hopefully not doing anything too embarrassing. If only I hadn’t those shots. Or at least not more than one. I might’ve left early and missed everything that got me into this mess.
Movement outside the window catches my eye. I gasp. It’s Leather Jacket and Little Guy. They’re walking towards the front door.
Clint comes out of the backroom then. “Sorry about that, Dennis, but those dist…”
“Shhhhh!” I hiss. I point to the window. “They’re here! Those guys!”
“Already?” Clint asks.
“Somehow,” I say. “I gotta get out of here before they find me. Where’s your back door? I can sneak out and…”
“Dennis, Dennis,” Clint says. “You gotta stop running. You gotta… you gotta just stop and face what’s coming.”
I look at Clint. He has a sad look in his eyes, like everything he thought he knew was wrong and his world was never going to be the same again. And that’s when I know.
“Clint,” I say, barely able to keep the hurt out of my voice. “You sold me out?”
He reaches for my shoulder in a friendly way, but I shove his hand away.
“You son of a bitch,” I say, and I run for the back. Clint doesn’t try to stop me.
I’ve been behind the bar a few times – mostly to clear my head when I’ve had one or two more than planned – but I’ve always exited from the front. Still, I have a good idea where the door is supposed to be, so I save myself precious seconds that someone else might spend searching.
I burst through the door and into the mid-morning sunlight. I run as fast as I can, heedless of the churning in my stomach and the thudding in my head that’s threatening to return. I hear a voice behind me tell me to stop. I risk a glance over my shoulder. It’s Little Guy. He’s chasing me but his gun isn’t drawn. I don’t want to see what else he might do, though. I pour on the speed and sprint toward the building that shares a back alley with the bar. It’s an Italian restaurant, I think. A space wide enough for a delivery truck sits between it and its next-door neighbor. I make for it like a bat out of hell. I see a bus pull up in front of the restaurant. I don’t bother going for it. There’s no way it’ll move fast enough for me to get away.
I get to the street and keep running. A bike, maybe? I don’t want to steal a bike. I haven’t stolen anything in my life, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
I frantically look for something. Plenty of locked cars, plenty of those rental scooters, but no bikes. Not even one chained to a fence. It’s nothing like the movies, where there’s always something the hero can use to make their escape.
I risk a quick glance over my shoulder. Little Guy is keeping up, but he isn’t gaining any ground. I take a chance and make a quick left, running back the way I came toward the Old Gold and the street where this whole mess began. I have a clear shot for the road ahead of me. I put on extra speed and I’m almost there when something like a freight train collides with me and I go stumbling into a wall.
My shoulder smacks into the brick and my whole arm explodes into pain. I bounce off the wall, and the inertia from my run and from being knocked off balance sends me stumbling over my own feet. I sprawl in the dirt and gravel and cigarette butts of a hundred nighttime revelers. I shout in pain as I lift my arm and feel the burn of the air against my freshly torn skin.
Then somebody’s kneeling on me and yanking my arm backward. I shout in pain again. Someone stands in front of me. It’s Leather Jacket.
“Dennis Keegan,” he says, “You’re under arrest.”
— ♦♦♦ —
I’m sitting in a cold, gray interrogation room, the kind I’ve seen hundreds of times on TV and in the movies. I’ve never been in one before, though. I’ve certainly never been cuffed to a table.
The door opens. Leather Jacket and Little Guy enter. Little Guy is holding a laptop.
“Hello, Dennis,” Leather Jacket says. “I’m Detective Scott Grimm. This is my partner, Detective Jim Fontaine.”
“Hello,” I squeak out. I’m scared to death and I still have no idea why I’m here.
“How’s your arm?” Little Guy – Fontaine – asks. “Medic bandage you up all right?”
I nod and thank him.
“Before we get started, Dennis, I need to read you your Miranda Rights,” Grimm says. “You have the right to remain silent…”
“Miranda Rights?” I ask, terrified. “What’s going on?”
Grimm ignores me and keeps reading. When he’s done, he asks me if I understand my rights. I nod, still confused as hell and still so scared I’m about ready to crap myself.
“Where were you last night, Dennis?” Fontaine asks.
“I was… I was at the Old Gold River Bar,” I say.
“Having a drink?” Grimm asks.
“Um, yeah,” I say.
“Maybe more than one? You seem like the kind of guy who’d like more than one.”
“I had… a couple,” I say cautiously.
“A couple?” Grimm laughs. “You have a funny definition of ‘a couple.’”
“You had seven,” Fontaine says, softer. “The manager showed us the receipts last night.”
Clint. What does he know that I don’t?
“Want to tell us what happened when you left the bar?” Grimm asks.
“I… I walked up the street,” I say. “You know I had a few more than I planned, so I wanted to get some air before calling an Uber.”
“What happened then?” Fontaine asks.
He already knows. He wants to see what I know.
“I saw some guy,” I say. “He said something to me, but I don’t remember what. The next thing I remember is I’m hustling away. I don’t remember what happened before then. My memory is a bit patchy then.”
“Very convenient,” Grimm says.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember anything. I don’t know what happened to that guy, or what I saw, or who did what to who! I don’t know why you or anyone else has been so desperate to find me today! I just don’t remember anything!”
Grimm and Fontaine look at each other for a moment. Grimm smirks, but Fontaine talks. “Dennis, I know you’re very scared and desperately trying to find a way out of this, but I gotta tell you: no jury in the world is going to accept, ‘I was blackout drunk’ as a defense against murder.”
My stomach sinks and my vision swims. I’m certain I’d fall on the floor if I wasn’t cuffed to the table.
“You finished your first shot and started hitting on a woman at the bar,” Fontaine says. “Whether you knew her boyfriend was there or you just didn’t care, it doesn’t matter. The manager, Clint DeWitt, says the guy got mad and tried to start a fight. The boyfriend – Tim Dunaway was his name, by the way – gets tossed. The girlfriend follows. DeWitt said you didn’t do more than smirk, but he warned you to be careful about hitting on anyone you might have an outside shot of sleeping with.”
I barely hear him.
“Murder?” I finally choke out. “No. No no no no no.”
Grimm picks up the story. “Three shots later, you stumble out. Some of the customers who were there last night said you shouted something and laughed. You thought you were funny, but they all seemed to think you were pretty obnoxious. Long story short, your drunk ass lurches up the road and you see Dunaway. He’s walking toward you and he gets mad again. Instead of giving him a chance to talk, or do anything, you shove him right down a dirt slope and into the open construction site.”
“Not murder,” I say. “Not murder. I’ve done some dumb things in my life, but I’m not a murderer. I’m not… I couldn’t… that’s not me.”
Fontaine opens the laptop. A video is cued. It’s surveillance footage from one of the stores across the street. Two people are in the video. One of them is me. You can’t mistake me. I’m still wearing the same clothes. The other guy is the guy I remember. The talker. The man I barely remember. He’s shouting something but I can’t hear what. It’s a silent video. Then the other guy in the video – me, I have to remember it’s me – pushes him. The angry guy stumbles backward and falls out of sight. The me on the camera puts his hands to his mouth. I’m clearly shocked. I look around and run away. The video ends.
Fontaine pushes the screen down. “Tim Dunaway was impaled by exposed rebar. It went right through his stomach. If that didn’t kill him, breaking his neck against exposed concrete certainly did.”
I don’t hear Fontaine. I don’t see him or Grimm. All I can see is the video. The scene plays out in my head with perfect clarity that my memories will never have. I drank too much. I started trouble. A guy wanted to fight me. I pushed him. I killed him. I ran away.
Finally, I remember one of the first things Grimm said to me when this conversation started.
“I want a lawyer,” I said.
I need a drink.
— ♦♦♦ —
The Bridgekeeper of Asaad By Jens Hieber , Art by Lee Dawn
Vesk’s world changed again the day he saw the skyships. It had been so long since any creature more cognitively advanced than a boondur had stepped onto his floating sky-island of Asaad. It wasn’t really his island, but as bridgekeeper for the only passage onto the suspended green drop, it had essentially been his domain for several centuries.
Now the humans had returned. And they didn’t need his bridge anymore.