The chance was lost. It was close, but never so close that it could be taken, only close enough to see it. This was maybe the easiest range to observe the chance. Not so lofty and intangible as a fantasy and not so agonising as failure. It was the stance of an intellectual who could admire the chance but never be seduced by it. There was an enjoyment, stifled as it may be, but also there was no real comedown. But perhaps the intellectual’s shortcomings is through cynicism, an inability to engage with the chance. But maturity was recognising this and containing it. And moving on. Moving on was part of life and leaving the chance forever was death. Am I dead? Is this death? This vacancy? It’s not so bad. But I would enjoy that chance again.
“Pop?” a voice called out. “Pop! You’re awake! You’re alive. Thank God! Thank baby Jesus! Hell, thank Buddha buddy for all I care, mah poppa’s alive!”
Stevie’s vision was still blurry when he felt the awkward embrace. He still felt a vacuum of loss inside of him as he became aware of his new surroundings. The clarity of his dream evaporated like water on a hot stove as he took in the white decor, the ancient TV, the steady beeping – he was in hospital.
He looked at his embracer, “Phil?”
“Phil? Pop it’s me! Your boy, Sonny! Your Sonny boy, Pop! I can’t believe you’re OK. Doctors said ‘No chance, Sonny, no chance your Pop’s gonna make it’, but I said ‘No!’ coz I knew you was tougher than them. I knew it Pop!”
Phil looked down at Stevie with a eye-twinkling sincerity. He tilted his head and Stevie caught on, “Sonny,” he said weakly, the air coarse in his lungs.
“Oh Pop, you remember me!” Stevie went into a coughing fit, the pain was excruciating.
“Sonny,” a female voice spoke, “I know you’re excited that your dad is awake but we will need to do some tests. Could you step back a moment?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m just so happy right now!” Phil gave the nurse a hug.
She laughed, “OK, OK let me treat your father before he falls asleep again.” Phil released his new embracee and when the nurse turned her back on him he made an aggressive thrusting gesture towards her with his waist that only Stevie could see. “Mr Sombrero I am just going to do some checks on you. You have a concussion. I need you to try remember what happened.”
Stevie closed his eyes and saw the Citadel agent’s face with glass sticking out. He remembered the shotgun and the car and Phil stamping down on the agent’s head.
“I don’t remember anything,” he said, again coughing.
“That’s OK, Mr Sombrero, your son has given us some details of the car crash.” The nurse shone a light into Stevie’s eyes. “Maybe I’ll ask an easier question. What is your full name?”
Stevie hesitated. Behind the nurse Phil was performing a chain of unintelligible gestures that made him look like a one-man band who had lost his instruments. “My name is-” Stevie forced himself to cough from deep in his chest. The pain was horrendous and the forced him into a real coughing fit. He turned over in agony, clutching his stomach and gasping for air.
The nurse was massaging his back and it helped him regain control. “Try not to talk, Mr Sombrero, you have a severe chest infection. I shouldn’t have pushed you so early. You need to rest. You have your son here with you to help.” She smiled kindly and turned to Phil who had to quickly snap out of a juvenile dick sucking gesture before she caught him. “Sonny, if he coughs like that again just massage his back like I did and if it goes on press this yellow button here.”
“Thank you, Nurse Salina,” Phil said a childish sincerity, “You’ve been ever so kind to us so far.” He gave her another hug, holding on for an uncomfortable amount of time. When she was finally released, Salina smiled and left the two alone.
“We gotta get the fuck out of here.” Stevie said.
“Sure as shit we do.”
“How long was I out?”
“A few hours. We’ve only been here an hour or so.”
“Cops will be here soon. Or worse. The car?”
“Parked it around the block and dragged your ass in. Dramatic shit right?”
“Good. We can’t go back to it. I told Taylor to call it in stolen-” Stevie paused and fought the urge to cough, “And thanks.”
“Thank you. You’re the one who glassed that fucker.”
Stevie twisted a smile out of his grimace. “Sombrero?” he asked.
“Sonny Sombrero. Mum was from the latin lands but she parted ways, rest her sweet little heart. But not before you married her and took her name to become Randy Cole Sombrero!” Phil smiled, clearly satisfied with himself. “Can’t trace a man who gave up his own name.”
“Supplies,” Stevie grunted. “Go ask the nurse what antibiotics I’m on. Tell her I occasionally react to penicillin. Find them in the storage and take a few boxes. I’ll need to shake this chest infection before it kills me.”
Phil’s eyes lit up, “We should get some morphine as well!” Stevie gave a parental look to his alibial son. “I mean for you of course. You’ve been hooked on the shit for days.”
“This is just saline for my concussion,” Stevie replied, “What do you mean ‘days’?” He looked out the window and noticed it was broad daylight – the fight had taken place at 9pm; it should be midnight.
Phil hesitated, apprehensive in his reply, “Well yeah you’ve been out for a while, dude.”
“How long?!” Stevie barked, choking back a fierce urge to cough.
“Well the bar incident was two nights ago. We got here round 2am the night before last. You almost died in that car trip but we had to get away from the scene. I figured they won’t check any hospitals 6 hours from that shithole bar.”
“But they’ll find us!”
“I fought the law, man, it’s all good. I hid the car under some bridge after I scoped out the hospital. Left it there and carried you here. Told the cops you crashed it and that I couldn’t remember the license plate number. Must have left your wallet in the car, and the keys, too. They go to find it but it’s been stolen. Shame that. Plus I don’t have a driver’s license so that came in handy for once. Off the grid, you know.”
“That’s a bullshit story.”
“Kept them happy. I had to cry and sob a little to help change the subject to my dying daddy. I even managed to get a date with Nurse Salina for that effort. But you’re right we need to bail before the cops come back.”
“It’s not the cops I’m worried about. Go grab the meds; I’ll get dressed.” Stevie sat up, labouring from the minor effort. He removed the monitor patches and the drip from his arm. He looked closer at the bag. Phil was right: it was morphine. But that didn’t explain why his chest felt like it had been cut open. He removed the pillow case from his pillow and stuffed the painkiller inside. He also stored his breakfast juice and jelly. He had just put his jeans on under his hospital gown when Phil re-entered the room.
“Time to leave Pops, really time to leave very soon.” He said in a nervous tone.
“Well Nurse Salina said not to get you into a panic, but there are a two men out there dressed in suits very reminiscent of our departed friend.”
“Citadel fucking robots!” Phil hissed. He tossed the meds in the pillow case, drew the curtains fully open and began working at the window latch. “This shit is fucking ancient!” Phil stepped back and began kicking at the latch with his flip flops. “Fuck, if you’re gonna become a fugitive make sure you wear sneakers.” He kicked again and the latch gave way, opening a slight gash on Phil’s ankle in the follow through. “Cunt!”
Stevie helped him lift the old wooden frame and was first to climb out, his chest ached almost unbearably. Phil followed, reaching back into the room to pull the curtains closed again.
The pair ran, to the extent that Stevie could run, to the carpark and stopped at a small blue hatchback. Phil produced a set of keys and unlocked the vehicle. “Salina wanted my phone number,” he smiled , hopping into the driver’s seat. Stevie hopped in the passenger. “Shame that her phone was in her car while she worked, but who wouldn’t trust good old Sonny Sombrero?” he turned car on, “Fuck.”
“I can’t drive manual. Goddammit Salina, why must you be more man than I?”
“You’re fucking kidding,” Stevie growled. He looked back at the window some 200m from where they had exited the hospital and saw two suited men emerge from the billowing curtains. The car stalled in an awkward jolt.
“Fuck!” Phil started the car again. He revved it high and they stalled again, bouncing forward half a metre. “Who the fuck would invent a car like this?!”
“Phil!” Stevie said in a stern calm voice, “just do as I say. Push the clutch in and shift to first.” He waited as Phil slowly followed instruction all the while keeping an eye on the agents as they ran towards them. “Rev softly and slowly release the clutch until the gear catches and we move forward. Don’t release it the whole way.” The car began to stutter forward. It grazed the adjacent station wagon as Phil tried to accelerate. “Now accelerate a little more, push the clutch in and release the accelerator.” Phil did as told and revved high then low as Stevie pulled the stick to second gear. “Now accelerate and release softly again!” Phil bumped another car as the hopped and stuttered.
They were now facing directly at the agents. The two men reached for their weapons and Phil gunned the accelerator like a drag race. He glanced one of the agents who fell to the ground before skidding around more parked cars and heading for the exit.
The back window shattered as the second agent fired his weapon. Phil kept accelerating towards the stop sign. The car bounced hard on the speed hump and Phil swung left to make the turn onto the main road, still revving the engine into the red.
“Clutch. No accelerator!” Stevie yelled and Phil released the car of its burden and Stevie shifted straight to fourth. “Go!”
The car bounced and stuttered away from the chasing agent. He raised his gun but the distance was too great and he lowered it again. They were safe.
Stevie felt a horrendous pain in his chest. He looked at his hospital gown and there was a large red patch at the centre of his chest. He checked underneath and there was a bloodied bandage covering a wound. “What the fuck?” he said.
“They had to cut you open and suck that fluid from your lungs.” Phil shouted, his voice still geared to panic, “I told you, man, you nearly died in that car.”
Stevie took a deep breath and grimaced through the pain, a flash of his dream came back to him, his second chance. “Let’s just hope I don’t die in this one.”