Joshua was lying on the bed like a vampire—eyes closed, face pallid in the lamplight, arms crossed on his chest, the blankets still tucked under him.
Blair had shed her jacket and hung it over the worn maroon chair. The car key sat on the bureau beside the TV. The bathroom door was closed, but Dodge could hear the white noise of the shower slithering through the thin walls.
He pinched the front of his shirt, stuck his nose in, and took a quick sniff. Sour sweat and the distant hint of Alpine Fresh anti-perspirant jabbed him in the nose and he jerked his head away. He definitely needed to clean up, and some new clothes wouldn’t hurt either. He’d been wearing these for two days.
Blair had packed some for Joshua, maybe there were more. He went over to the duffel bag and slid the zipper open. Inside was a toolkit, a bunch of instameals, a number of magazines for her weapon, a solid-state memory cube, six elastic-secured bundles of cashcards, and a plastic bag containing a black pullover shirt and trousers, identical to what Joshua was wearing.
As he pulled out a set of clothes, Blair padded barefoot from the bathroom in a white dress-shirt and flowing nylon cargo pants, with her wet hair in a ponytail, and holding her dirty clothes and holstered gun. Dodge hadn’t noticed the shower stop.
“Find what you needed?” Blair said.
“Clothes,” Dodge said, sheepish, looking down at the open bag. “I just wanted something to change into.” He held up the bundle.
Blair looked like she wanted to say more, but remained quiet, tossing her soiled ball of clothes into the corner by the sink.
“He had quite an evening, didn’t he?” Dodge said, nodding his head at Joshua.
Blair sat down on the bed and positioned her gun and holster on the nightstand. She leaned over to Joshua and pressed a finger against his neck, counting silently.
“He’s fine now,” she said, apparently satisfied with Joshua’s heart rate. “I don’t think there was any lasting damage done.”
She glared at Dodge as if ready to once again blame him for Joshua’s condition, but must have decided another round of arguing would be futile and restrained herself. “He seemed to be all right when he came to, but another episode like that could cause a permanent schizophrenic split.”
Good to her word, she was trying her best to be civil. Dodge sat down opposite her, cradling the fresh clothing against his chest. “Will he get better?”
Blair glanced at Dodge, then back to Joshua. “Joshua has lived an—intense—lifestyle. Years of drugs and alcohol. The constant stress. Saving the world isn’t something you do in your spare time. He’s had a number of episodes like the one you saw tonight. The doctors say the only thing that will help is rest. Which means forgetting Klaxon Overdrive forever.”
“Entropy wouldn’t go for that.”
“No,” Blair said. “They wouldn’t.”
“Well, we won’t let him out of our sight again then, okay?” And he meant it. For some reason, he was beginning to feel responsible for Joshua, as strange as that was. He hadn’t let himself feel responsible for anything or anyone but himself in years.
Blair studied Dodge intently for a moment. “Thank you,” she said.
She lay back on the bed next to Joshua and threw her arm over her face. Dodge wondered when Blair had slept last. She had probably been up even longer than he had.
“We’re going to get out of this, right?” Dodge asked.
Blair lifted her arm, opened one eye and smiled at him. “That’s the plan,” she said. “We’ll leave early tomorrow and Joshua and I will be off the continent by evening. Then you can drive yourself anywhere you want.”
Dodge smiled back and nodded. He believed, whatever happened, she wouldn’t let any harm come to the man she’d liberated from Entropy. As long as he stayed near Joshua, Dodge was pretty sure he’d get out of this in one piece too.
And he was going to get paid. It was a long-shot, but maybe Blair would sell the Godwave generator to him. He’d never need another pill again.
He tried not to stare at it as he got up and entered the bathroom. Once inside he locked the door, pulled off his shoes and stripped down, kicking his filthy clothes into the corner. That’s where they’d stay. He wasn’t putting them on again. Housekeeping could deal with them, if there was housekeeping in this place.
Blair and Joshua had already used the bath towels, so Dodge grabbed the two remaining hand towels from the chrome rack and set them on the back of the toilet. He faced the mirror on the back of the door and examined the mottled yellow and black bruise on his freckled shoulder, the four raised taser welts, and prodded the angry red lump on the side of his head. He looked terrible.
All of a sudden his entire body hurt. He dropped down onto the toilet seat—the thin plastic sagging under his weight—pushed the mold-tinged shower curtain aside and started the shower. Water trickled from the shower head. He pulled the knob all the way out and the flow increased to pin-thin rivulets. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.
Leaning back against the cold porcelain of the toilet, Dodge closed his eyes and let the deadening noise of the running water envelop him.
Len wouldn’t have believed what was happening.
The thought of his dead friend sent an unexpected wave of sorrow cresting over Dodge, a wave that rebounded in the depths of his stomach and engulfed him.
Dodge had been grieving, but only for the ragged holes that Len’s passing had left in the fabric of his life. The connections. The skills. The right-twist of dealing illegally that came so easily. Dodge had mourned the loss of his friend as it had pertained to the effects of his own life, not for Len himself.
His best friend. His only friend.
He had been preoccupied with his own safety, treating Len’s death as he would an highway detour or temporary beef shortage. He had never been able to deal with the tragedies in his life. He ran from them instead.
Hot tears seeped from his eyes, blossoming unexpectedly, the flood of emotion overwhelming. Len was dead, and he had been more concerned about the job, about the money. Dodge raked the back of his hand against his cheeks, furious with himself for letting his life get to the point where the death of his best friend was brushed off as an inconvenience.
Dodge jumped up from the toilet and stepped into the shower. He thrust his head under the spray, letting the lukewarm water cascade over him and rinse away the grime of the city that rode his body like a parasite, hoping the water would wash away the guilt as well.
His chest heaved as a sob escaped his lips. Dark spots danced in front of his eyes and he pressed them tight, as the water washed the tears away. The spray on his face and the swell of emotion transported him to a beach twenty years in the past, and he let the memory come.
It had been so hot that day. He’d been minding Nick, and they’d made a futuristic star base in the wet sand. Nick didn’t have any friends of his own. He had always been small, picked on.
Their space battle finished and the base destroyed, Nick had bounded into the ocean and ducked his sun-bleached hair under water to rinse away the sand and fight the intense Florida heat. He jumped up, pretending to be a dolphin, spurting salt water from his mouth. Dodge followed him in, and then they were two dolphins swimming together, leaving the shore behind. By the time Dodge realized how far they’d gotten from the beach, it was too late, the undertow too strong.
They never found Nick’s body. After the funeral they cremated a small casket containing only a stuffed bear. Dodge’s life never returned to normal.
He hadn’t thought about that day in years, not willingly, anyway. He wouldn’t let himself. Couldn’t bare to. But now that he had, it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected.
With the shower stinging his face, he couldn’t tell if he was still crying, but he felt a little better, his liquid insides a little more solid. He pressed his back against the tile, and slid down to the gritty floor of the tub. Water fell over his thighs, not washing away anything but dirt.
He closed his eyes as the water lulled him, then succumbed to the pull of ache and exhaustion, and fell asleep.