LUCK

 
  
Part 1

I never saw any snow when I was growing up. I remember my mother talking about making snowmen when she was a girl, living up in the mountains, up north. It wasn't till I was in the service, before I went overseas, that I saw my first snowfall. It wasn't what I expected. Colder, wetter, not as pretty as the pictures I'd seen.

Not too happy with snow right now, either. Got snow all over me, from being rolled down the hill. Cold. Not pretty when you're covered with it.

We never went north to visit my mother's relatives. She never would say why. She never said anything to me or Norma, as far as I know, about her family. It was like she didn't have any, except for us two.

I'm glad she didn't take me somewhere like she did Norma. I wondered sometimes, later, why she found a safe place for Norma and not me, but I was glad she kept me with her. Even now, I'm glad, even though I don't know where Norma is, even though I was there that night, even though I had nightmares for years. I'm glad she had somebody with her that cared whether she lived or died. Otherwise she woulda been alone.

Talking about being alone……I can't even hear any cars from where I'm laying, and I know there has to be a road up the slope from me somewhere. Otherwise, how did they get me here? I tried to keep track of where we were going, but I passed out before we got here.

Can't see it, but it has to be there. Now if I can just figure out how to get myself back up there. I don't know, I feel stupider than usual…..kinda dopey……maybe too much perfume from the tailpipe there in the trunk.

Lynn found that picture of my mother and some other women. She said my mother had to have family somewhere, look at all the people in this picture-who else are they, if not family? She's smarter than me---I was so caught up in the idea of my old man having family I didn't know anything about, that I never even thought about my mother's family.

"And if I were a mother, who would I give my child to, if not my sister? Or my cousin? Or someone I knew I could trust. She might even have taken your sister to your grandmother."

Grandmother. Something I never had. One of those things you've heard of, you know other people have them, but you don't.

That's what started this whole thing. Looking for family. Looking for Norma.

First thing to do's decide how bad I'm hurt. Leg hurts like a sonuvabitch, a little ways up from the ankle. That's something I can reach, even hog-tied like I am.

Damn, damn, damn. That was a bad idea. Gotta be broken-just trying to get my hand around it's enough to make me puke. I haven't been here too long, though; it's evidently a fresh break, otherwise it'd be numb. Broken bones do that for a while----when the numbness wears off later is when you're in trouble.

OK, nothing I can do about the leg. Not yet.

Gonna be dark in a little while.

This clump of saplings and brush I'm stuck in looks to be about 30 feet up from a small river. The top of the slope, at least what I can see, is about, oh, 60 feet up. Not too far if I could walk. Or even crawl. But with my hands and feet tied together behind me, it might take me a while to get up there.

I already worked at trying to get the twine off my wrists and ankles for hours before they loaded me in the trunk of their car and brought me out here, so I doubt if I can get it before the sun goes down. Maybe if it gets good and wet, it'll stretch. I suppose I could let myself roll the rest of the way down the slope into the river, that'd get it wet, but it also might get me dead. And I'm not ready for that yet. I might have to go that way, at some point, if I can't figure a way outta this mess…..but not yet.

Found the name of the town my mother was born in on my birth certificate. Figured I'd start there. Lynn didn't come with me 'cause she had an appointment with Dr. Graham and she was pretty sure he was gonna give her good news. I was, too.

She was sick every morning for about a week, and just happy as a clam about it. Said she felt different. Said she even knew which time it was that did the trick. I don't know about that, but she looked different to me, too. She looked ill when she was puking, of course, but otherwise, she looked……like a different light was shining outta her face when she smiled. That sounds really dumb, doesn't it? Don't know how else to describe it.

Anyway, I was gonna wait, and she said, no, I should go, and she would tell me when I got back, and we could celebrate. Doc says third time's the charm; he says he's got it figured out, knows what to do. So we're planning on this one.

She probably started to worry the first night I didn't call. Dammit.

Trying to push with my good foot. Catch hold with my hands to keep from sliding back. Be easier if I had shoes on. I hope water from the snow melting underneath me is soaking into the twine, 'cause I'm not getting very far. Outta the brush-that's good-but then not as much to hold on to. Broken leg getting numb-that's good-but I'm probably making it worse with all the wiggling around I'm doing.

Half an hour, I look back and I've only come about 4 feet. And it looks like I'm leaving a blood trail. Don't think about that………

At this rate it's gonna take me all night to get to the top of the rise I can see. Better keep at it.

Snow melting and running into my eyes. Can't get it with my shoulder. 'Course my shoulder's wet, too. The fuckers coulda left me my shirt. I guess they figured I wouldn't need it.

The sun's going down. Rest a minute…….

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Dammit. No idea how long I've been asleep. Full dark. Too cloudy to see the moon. The snow seems to have stopped. Pretty cold.

Stiff. My leg hurts more now. Hard to move up the rise at all, I keep bumping it.

Wanted Lynn to meet my mother. No, dammit, that's not right. Come on, Wendell, wake up. Wanted Lynn……hell, I don't know what I want, except maybe to be warm. That'd be good.

The snow is melted underneath me, the weeds are icy, slippery. Or maybe I just can't hold on as well. Keep going anyway…..

The town I went to first, Linden, where my mother was supposed to have been born, was pretty little. Nobody there by her maiden name, Fance, but I found an old-timer who remembered the family. He said they all moved to a place 60 miles away about 1915. Arrowhead. So I went there.

I was gonna tell Lynn about that when I called her. After I got a room for the night. After I checked out some of the leads I got from the county seat, after I looked up some addresses. After I knocked on some doors.

I got to talking to the fella at the filling station after I got my motel room. He told me to ask old Miss Berkleheimer-Thorpe at the drugstore. Lived in Arrowhead all her life, knew everything about everybody, and would tell what she knew.

Miss B. was tickled pink to have somebody new to talk to, I guess, and I spent two hours in the drugstore drinking sodas and listening to the history of Arrowhead. An unimaginative name, it turns out. There's a deposit of flint nearby and lots of pieces that may or may not be genuine arrowheads and knives turn up in the soil all the time.

Some people say the Indians that used to live around here came to this particular place for religious ceremonies and that their spirits watch over the pure of heart. Uh-huh.

Some people figure they came here just because they needed flint.

Miss B. knew where my family used to live and gave me three addresses. She said she didn't know where my particular branch of the family went, but the people living in the houses were relatives and might have some information. At least I could ask. And then go to the courthouse tomorrow to see what I could find out there.

I only got to knock on one door. And I saw something I shouldn'ta seen, and here I am. It took a little longer than that, to get out here in the middle of nowhere without a shirt or shoes, in the snow, in the dark……..but basically that's it. Not even something I shoulda done different. Nothing I coulda seen coming. Just dumb luck.

Seems like I've been pushing and holding on for a helluva long time. Can't really see how far away I am from where I started. Getting colder. Hard to hang on when you're shaking…….

Think one of my hands isn't working as good as the other one anymore……can't feel it. I'm telling it what to do, but I don't know if it's doing it. Maybe that's where the blood was coming from. Maybe I pulled the twine around that one too tight trying to get loose. Maybe I'm bleeding from under the twine, not where I thought. Think so. I know how that feels. I remember. Thought maybe I could forget about that. What is it when the same things happen to you over and over again? Fate?

Wake up, Wendell.

Slipping. Slipping. Dammit. Sliding, scraping past the brush, probably where I was to begin with, and on past……Oh, God, my leg, oh, Jesus………

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OK. Up against something, a rock, maybe. Be still. Stop shaking. Don't puke. Get your breath. Be still…….

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I'll never get up the slope. Can't. Can't. Not now……..

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"What are you gonna do with him?" she asked. She'd walked in like she owned the place. The guys knew her.

"That's up to Tony."

"If you're just gonna get rid of him, anyway……can I have him?"

"Hey, I don't care…..but you're gonna have to ask Tony." Big Nose was cleaning his gun. "He's Tony's." He didn't look at her.

She walked up behind him and ran one finger along his ear. He batted at her hand, ducked. "Leave me alone, Arliss, it ain't up to me." She giggled.

She walked over to where I was tied up on the chair. "You know, it's getting hard to find men that like what I like." I could see she was making them uncomfortable. She was pretty, black hair, dark red dress that wouldn'ta fit anybody else; but none of them were looking at her. One fella across the room shook his head, and said, "Jeez," under his breath.

She bent down, looked right in my eyes, put her finger in the cleft in my chin………

Unbuttoned my shirt, pulled my undershirt out of my pants.

"Arliss, you better wait and see what Tony says."

"I don't care," she said. "You boys got any scissors?"

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Wake up, Wendell. Never gonna make it up to the road. Think of something else.

Been awake for most of the last three days, except for these little naps here in the snow, and a coupla times when I was unconscious for a while. Tony wouldn't believe I'm just a big stupid nobody that knocked on his door by mistake. Kept asking me things, kept not believing me. Then he left the room, and Blonde Hair put dibs on my jacket. That's when I knew I was done for.

Maybe if I'd been wearing one of my old brown jackets, insteada one of the new ones Lynn picked out, I wouldn't be freezing to death out here in my skin. Lucky nobody was the right size for my pants, I guess. Yeah, lucky.

Don't know why they didn't just shoot me.

Can't tell if the twine is wet enough to stretch---should be, but I don't feel any give. Can't feel much at all in my hands or feet. No way to tell if they're numb from the cold or from the lack of circulation. Or both.

Off in the distance somewhere, dogs barking, baying at the moon, I suppose, or chasing something; lots of 'em.

The rock I'm laying against has a couple of sharp points. Maybe if I scoot up, till I can get my hands, and the cords around them, next to the rock, I can saw at the twine. Works in the movies.

In the movies, the rock doesn't move. In this case, it does. And I'm going with it……

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Now, I'm really bleeding……fuck……don't know what stuck me, but something did. At least I didn't go all the way with the damn rock. The splash is nice and loud. I don't wanna do that.

The clouds are moving toward…..the west, I think. The moon's coming out. And the stars. Gonna clear off. Gonna get colder……

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"If you're just gonna get rid of him, anyway……can I have him?"

"No," Tony said. "You make too big a mess. I won't have that here."

Tony walked away. Arliss pouted. "If I don't make a mess, can I have him?"

He stopped. "No blood. You got me? No nothing on my floor. No mess."

"I'll just take him out to the shed. Then we won't mess up anything in here."

"No. He stays in here till we get rid of him."

She turned around and looked at me. "I'm going to have to think of something fun to do with you……….."

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Lynn seemed to think we started the baby when we went on the trip to Galveston. She's got a cousin who just struck oil, and he invited everybody down for a celebration. There was a barbeque, and lots of beer, and dancing. I didn't drink much beer, and I don't dance. Lynn, on the other hand, spent most of the night on the piazza, dancing with everybody that came along. By the time I got her back to our room, she was floating. I don't think she was drunk, just laughing, chattering, dancing some more---it was fun to watch her. It made me smile. I thought probably she'd fall asleep right away as soon as I got her settled down enough to go to bed. I was wrong. She didn't fall asleep till almost sunup, and I like to think I wore her out. She sure as hell wore me out.

Maybe she's right; maybe that's when it was. I hope so.

What the hell am I doing? Laying here in the dark waiting to freeze to death…..I wish I was smarter, maybe I could think of a way outta this jam. Can see a little better now, some shadows over to the left, maybe crevices that would be warmer than out here in the open. If I roll………

Ah, God, not a good idea. Not a good idea.…....but I don't have any other ideas. OK. Get my breath. Maybe I can stand it a couple more times…..

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Breathe. Breathe. Shit….sliding……….falling…………

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At least I'm not splashing. And I'm not gonna slide anymore 'cause I'm on the hardpack mud right next to the water. But it's fucking cold…….I can see the moon glinting on the ice in the river……The muscles in my back are cramping, from the cold, from the shaking and shivering………

Come on, Wendell, get away from the water…..into the shadows, in between the roots of a big tree, like great big fingers scooping up the mud. Still fucking cold. Too cold.

I can see my breath out in front of me; I'm breathing too hard, air's too cold; gotta slow down. Can feel the warm blood oozing outta my side turn cold and freeze.

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Glad I married Lynn. She was so happy. It was just a small ceremony, at the Rev's house instead of in the church, and there were only a few people there; but Lynn's face when the Rev said, "I now pronounce you man and wife," was worth everything. Everything. I'm glad I got to see that. Was even worth having to tell Richard……what an asshole. Wanted to wring his neck.

Don't think this is gonna work out. Too stupid to figure out what to do. Too cold to last until morning.

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"Hey, Arliss, don't go ruining that jacket, that's mine," Blonde Hair said.

"Come and take it off him, then," she said. "Take his shirt, too. It goes with the jacket. Nobody want his pants?"

Arliss seemed to be fascinated with my chin. She kept touching it, first with one finger, then another.

"You know, you boys are just as dull as dirt. Here you have a man, tied hand and foot, absolutely powerless. You could do anything you want to him. Anything. And there's nothing he can do about it. You could do anything, and get away with it. And you boys are playing cards. Cleaning your gun. What a bunch of lumps."

She settled herself on my knees. "Just thinking about the possibilities makes me feel all fluttery inside….Can't you guys find me a pair of scissors?"

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Wake up, Wendell. Don't go to sleep. Too cold to sleep. Off to the right, I hear a noise. Sort of a rumble,…..like a growl, maybe. And then, just for a second, a couple of eyes reflect the moonlight. Hear sniffing.

"OK, you sonuvabitch, whoever you are, you think this is gonna be easy, don't you?" I know there are wolves up in these mountains. Bobcats, puma, coyotes, bears. The clouds move a little more and I can see the outline. Not a bear.

A tail swishing back and forth. Not a bobcat, then. I can hear it panting. Sniffing. It makes kind of a hunh, hunh noise. It moves into the moonlight. A cat. Big; pacing back and forth.

"Yeah, you know I'm here. Thinking about dinner? You wanna eat me, you can start with the ropes on my arms and legs. Then we'll see."

It paces. It doesn't come any closer, it doesn't go away. Paces. Back and forth.

Nose up in the air. Smelling me. I think it came from above…..probably following the blood, now waiting to see how much trouble I'm gonna be. Stops pacing, eyes in the moonlight, looking at me.

"Giving me time to think about it, huh? Stop licking your chops." She's listening to me. Maybe it's stupid to talk to her, but I don't think it's gonna make any difference, she already knows I'm here…….and as long as I'm still talking, I'm not dead……

It's so fucking cold. I'm shaking, my voice is shaking, wonder if the cat understands about freezing to death. Maybe she's just waiting until I'm frozen, then I won't be any trouble at all.

She sits down on her haunches, then after a minute, lays down on the snowy ground, and watches me. Yeah. She's just waiting. I heard once that wild animals like pumas and coyotes don't attack people unless they're starving. She must be right on the edge, pretty damn hungry, but not sure if she's hungry enough.

"Hey, cat! What're you waiting for? What you want me to do?" Don't know if she can hear me. Too cold to yell. Cats can hear good though. I can just barely hear those dogs again, but her ears prick forward, she hears 'em just fine. So I know she's listening to me.

The puma's making those "hunh, hunh" noises again…..she looks at me, I can see her eyes…..and now she's licking her paws, cleaning herself. Purring. She's purring. Jesus.

"Yeah, you got all the time in the world." Looking around again. The bank I fell off of is steeper than the one I slid down. Can't even fool myself I can get up there again. No place to go except along the river, and no reason to go that way. The twine's probably as wet as it's gonna get, and it's not giving any. No nearby cabin with a light in the window, like there would be in a movie, even if I could crawl to one. Hell, if there was one, my luck it'd be on the other side of the river.

Luck. Bad luck's about all I've had the past couple days. The first door I knocked on in the lovely little town of Arrowhead was the one with the bad guys behind it. If I'd waited a little longer before I did that, there wouldn't been anything for me to see, and I coulda walked away just as ignorant as when I knocked. If I'd waited until the next day, Arliss wouldn'ta been there at all…..

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"Aren't we having fun, now?" Arliss smiled at me. "You don't have to be quiet, you know, honey. The boys can't hear you. I think it's odd they always leave just when we really start to have fun."

"Untie my hands, bitch, and I'll show you fun." I was panting, sweating, bleeding.

She giggled. "Oh, at last! Mmm, I do like your voice. It sounds so…..feral."

It's not too likely I'm gonna get outta this alive, but if I do, I'm gonna look Arliss up. We'll see if she still likes "feral" when I'm done with her.

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I've had lots of good luck in my life. Meeting Officer Beckmann was good luck. He looked out for me those years of bouncing around in foster homes. Took me into his own house once in a while. Sometimes just for dinner when I was hungry. Once to stay for a few days when I got thrown out on the street.

Lucky not to get killed when I was in the service.

Lucky to become a policeman myself. I liked it and it suited me.

Hell, not getting gassed by the exhaust fumes on the way out here probably counts as good luck. Not sure about that. Mighta been easier that way.

'Course, meeting Lynn would be the big piece a' luck.

And it was just luck I didn't die when Capt. Smith shot me. Good luck Lynn decided to bring me to Bisbee with her. OK, that wasn't totally luck. Lynn brought me with her because of who she is.

I do feel lucky to be there, though. Lucky to have a place and a job and people who will come get you when you need a ride. Those things are important.

I could probably think of some more. Lots of lucky things.

Maybe I used all my good luck up. Maybe we gotta go the other way now to make it even.

"Hey, cat." I'm not watching her. My eyes are closed. I know she's still there, I can hear her, licking, cleaning herself. "Is that what this is? Bad luck catching up with me, all at once……" The purring is making me sleepy.

I feel like I should still be trying to do something, even though there's nothing to do. I feel like I shouldn't give up. If I could think of something, I'd do it.

The wind's coming up. Blowing moisture off the river, making it into ice before it gets to me. Nice.

At least Lynn will be OK. Got people in Bisbee to look out for her. Fix the faucets for her, that kinda thing. Richard'll do that.

Fuckin' Richard…….

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Needed somebody else to be a witness at the wedding. Patty was gonna be there---she knew we weren't already married. Ed knew, too, but neither one of us suggested him. I think too much of the past woulda come in on his coattails. You can't escape it, we knew that, but you don't have to have it staring you in the face on your wedding day.

The Rev knew, but he couldn't be the minister and a witness, too.

We went to Richard's one night after supper. I asked him if he'd come outside with me. We sat in my car. Kinda stupid, I coulda asked him while we were in the house, comfortable, but I didn't wanna do it there. Wanted to be in the dark. Don't know why.

It was hard to do. I was nervous. Never know what people are gonna think about stuff like this. And I liked Richard.

Took a deep breath, told him straight out Lynn and I were getting married, and that I was asking him to stand up with me.

He was quiet for a long time. A real long time. And he's not a quiet person. I figured he didn't wanna do it, and didn't know how to say no.

"It's OK, you don't have to. Don't worry about it. I gotta ask you to keep it a secret though."

"You gotta be kidding me," he said. "You know I can't do that. This is too good."

That surprised me. "…..If you tell anybody, we'll have to move away."

He grinned. "This little bit a' news is gonna keep me in apple pie for weeks. You don't know how much I appreciate---"

"Get outta my car." He's kind of a jerk sometimes, but I thought we were friends. Guess I got it wrong.

He didn't move. "You can't expect me not to tell---"

"Get the fuck outta my car!" I gave him a shove, toward the door. "If you don't wanna help me out, fine, but you could at least keep your mouth shut."

He looked surprised. "Bud, you know me---"

I don't know if he kept talking. I got outta the car, walked around to the other side, and yanked the door open.

"Get out."

"Bud, dammit, will you hang on a minute---"

"Fuck you." I grabbed his shirt and hauled him out.

I didn't see it coming at all.

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Stay awake. Don't sleep. I go to sleep now, I'm not gonna wake up.

One good thing about the cold is, I'm not bleeding like I would be if I was warm and cozy. I don't know how bad I'm hurt. I was bleeding some already when they brought me out here. Even though Tony told Arliss not to make a mess.

Which is better, bleeding to death or freezing to death? I've heard freezing to death is actually kinda nice. Don't know how they know that. Anybody that's frozen to death can't tell 'em how it was.

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Arliss was glad to see Tony when he came back in the room later. She had her dress off, and she was starting to get mad at me, I guess 'cause I wasn't playing right. For some reason hurting and bleeding just don't get me excited.

"You didn't make a mess on my floor, did you?" he said. She didn't answer him, just hopped up on the table with the gun oil and the cleaning brushes, and let him know what she wanted and where she wanted it. Can't blame the man for not turning her down, I guess. I don't think he realized Arliss had her head turned looking at me while he was obliging her. Or maybe he didn't care. Or maybe they did this all the time. Who knows?

"Can I keep him? Think how much fun we could have if I could keep him."

There was a part of me that wasn't unhappy when he said no.

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The cat stands up. Sniffs the air, and sneezes, and looks at me again. Slowly she pads in my direction.

"I'm not frozen yet, cat. I'm still here." She stops when she hears my voice. I can't see her very well, but I realize that for some reason I've been thinking of it as a female. Maybe the size of the head. Or the paws. Or just a feeling.

She breathes open-mouthed at me, and comes a few steps closer.

"It's not time yet, tabby." Her ears prick forward. "Soon, probably, but not yet. You've got plenty a' time, don't you? Be a pal. Don't eat me till I can't feel it, OK?"

She sits down where she is and watches me, listens to me.

"Good kitty. Just sit there and keep me company."

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I didn't see it coming at all.

Richard slammed his knee between my legs as he came up outta the car, and then again when I let go of him. I went down on all fours, well, threes-one hand was clamped over the parts that hurt the most---couldn't breathe, couldn't see for a minute…..

"You gotta promise not to kill me, otherwise I'm gonna let you have it again," Richard said. "I like you, Bud, but I saw what you did to Donny, and I'm not gonna be on the receiving end. OK?"

Couldn't talk, either.

"I'm gonna count to three, then I'm gonna bash you."

"OK." I wasn't sure he'd be able to hear that, so I nodded my head.

"Promise not to kill me."

"Sure."

"OK."

It was a couple minutes before I could stand up, still felt kinda shaky. Richard's stronger than he looks. Rubbed the gravel off my knees.

"Jesus Christ, Richard. I just wanted you to get outta the car."

"Oh. Well, you looked mad. I figured I was gonna die."

"Yeah, I always kill guys that decide they're not friends of mine anymore. So how long do I have before you start cashing in on this juicy piece a' gossip?"

"Bud…...I was kidding you…….It was a joke. You know me, I'm always joking."

"Yeah, I'm laughing."

I leaned up against the car, breathing hard, waiting for it to ease a little more before I tried to sit down.

"Hey, Bud?" Richard said. "Can I still be at your wedding?"

Fuckin' Richard.

I thought his black eye went real well with his suit.

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My muscles are cramping from the cold, just about all of 'em, I think. Wonder how long it'll be before that starts to ease off. One of those situations where you don't wanna die, but on the other hand, you know it'll hurt less.

My buddy there has her head down on her paws. Wonder if she's sleeping. I'm gonna be asleep before too long. Getting pretty tough to keep my eyes open. But I'm not ready to give up yet, I guess. Not ready yet.

Wonder what it would take to be ready. Guess some people are ready when they go. Beckmann was, I think. I was overseas when he passed away. Cancer. Anderson told me later I should feel lucky I missed that; that it was pretty bad toward the end. I don't feel lucky. I wish I'd been there with him. Wanted to do something for him, like he did for me, and I never could 'cause I was just a kid. And you never think of the things you wanna say to people until it's too late.

Do I have something I shoulda said to Lynn? Something I never told her? I don't know. She knows things sometimes even though I don't say them. So I guess I don't tell her everything I should. I hope she knows anyway. I think she does.

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"Hey, lover," Arliss said. "Don't you want some, too?" She licked the blood off my collarbone and bit my ear. Her hand slid past my belt buckle. What she didn't find there made her mad, I guess. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

"You. Don't want ya. Crazy bitch."

Tony laughed. He grabbed Arliss before she stabbed me with the scissors.

"Too bad we gotta kill you," he said, shaking his head.

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Can't keep my eyes open. Don't know if I'm dying or if I'm just too tired to stay awake. Probably doesn't make a difference. Don't think I'm gonna be waking up.

Don't know what my pal's doing. Can't hear her.

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The night of the day of our wedding……it was twenty-two days after she lost the first baby…….no sex, but that was OK. We went to sleep in each other's arms. It was quiet. It was nice.

It meant more than I thought it would.

When the doc said we could have a wedding night, we did……..Liked that, too.

Gonna miss you, baby………

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Wanted to see the kid. Wanted to hold him or her……Her---maybe a little girl with blonde curls. Little pink dresses. Stuffed bunnies. Baby kisses……

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Not ready for this, dammit.

Not ready……..

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