In The Waiting Room
That's what I've come down to: Don't die.
I started with God. I said every prayer I know. I said the rosary probably two and a half times--without beads I get lost--and winced at every "now and at the hour of our death".
There's no priest. God will listen anyway, but he'd want a priest, if he's dying. I tried to say so to BA.
"He don't need no priest, fool!"
Fool... Such a little word, so nothing, so much. We had a priest when I was a boy, an Irish priest, who used to call people amadan. Like BA, he sometimes meant it as an endearment, but sometimes it cut like a knife. With BA, it's more a club, but...
"Why doesn't he need a priest?" I wanted to ask. "Does he not need one because you don't like priests? Or does he not need one because he's dying in a state of grace? Or is he not dying?"
You can see it makes a difference.
But looking into those angry dark eyes I didn't dare say anything else. I just went back to the corner where I'd been sitting by myself and prayed.
If Johnny had been there then, I'd have talked to him. But he wasn't. I knew he was here, somewhere. Figured he was arguing his way into wherever they had Face. He could pass as Face's father, after all. I think he's really a few years too young, but who can tell? Murdock might pass as his brother, if he wanted to. BA and me: no way Jose.
Just as well. I don't feel fraternal.
And just as well Johnny wasn't here then. He might have been as mad as BA about it. Might see getting a priest as giving up. I don't know him. Not really. Not any of them, really.
He doesn't need a priest, in that he'll go to Hell if we fail to provide him with one. I don't believe that. That would be on us, if it was on anyone. But I think he'd want one.
If he were dying.
He won't go to Hell anyway. Wouldn't. He may not be in a technical state of grace, but he's a good man. Does his best. Believes in God. That's all that matters, in the end. Not what the Church says. What God thinks.
The Church can be wrong, after all. Has been, often. Is and hasn't admitted it yet. God knew the earth goes around the sun before the Popes admitted it, and God knows the world isn't six thousand years old, and God never approved of slavery. The Church isn't God.
We talked about that, that night in Monte Carlo, with the lights out and the rain sheeting down the windows and bouncing off the balcony, cards mostly forgotten on the table, talked about being Catholic and doing things the Church doesn't approve of. The actual word "gay" didn't come up, but he knows I am, it's obvious. And it's obvious it doesn't bother him, knowing that. If we hadn't been in the field, I might have... but we were. So I just talked. And listened to him talk.
But I admit that when he let me drive to Georgetown tonight, I was starting to think maybe, just maybe, tonight I would say something. It started so well. And it ended so badly. And so quickly, I don't even know exactly what happened. And neither did Murdock. And isn't that the hell of a thing?
It started so simply. Murdock wanted us all to come eat at the restaurant he's working at. He got turned down by BA and Johnny, but Face and I came. We did wonder about the restaurant; after all, they'd hired Murdock to wait table. But anything's better than watching the Redskins with BA. He's really a Bears fan, but he roots for the Skins. And he hates it if you root against his team.
Hates it if I do, anyway.
Not that I'm a Cowboys fan, either; how can you like Dallas? But even if it's not LA (no more Rams and I never could like the Raiders), I'd end up pulling for whoever's playing the Redskins. And that wouldn't be good even if was only Johnny and his girlfriend. Not exactly what Stockwell had in mind, I bet, but... With BA there? Not the right time to hate the Redskins.
I did think of asking him what if they were called the Niggers. But that would involve explaining about my abuelita Yazzie and Hastiin Chee and how my aunt on my father's side always said we had Azetc, or maybe Mayan, blood, and mainly having an actual conversation without him just killing me. So I never have. But getting out was a good idea.
And Face? I know there are a couple of colleges he's interested in, but mainly he likes sports for the social content. So he didn't mind leaving. He kind of liked having Murdock beg him to come. They'd been sniping at each other since Monte Carlo. Since before... it was nice Murdock was coming back to wanting him around.
Don't die, and I'll kidnap Murdock if you want him. Just don't die.
He was looking good. The blue jeans were a statement to Murdock: 'you can get me down here but I won't dress up for you'. The crisp shirt and good jacket were a statement to the world, maybe, or maybe just to himself: 'I won't look bad for anybody.' And when exactly did I learn to read him so well? I was looking good myself, if I say so myself. This shirt's a good color for me. This jacket...
It used to be one of my favorites. Steel grey, wear it with the sleeves pushed up and a bright shirt...
Johnny gave me my jacket when I finally got here. It's shot.
It's ruined. They wrapped it around him when they moved him to the van to bring him here, and it's all over blood. I'm hoping it was from his shirt, not that he was still bleeding. I'm hoping.
My fingers hurt from holding that jacket. Even as crazed as Johnny has to be he noticed that. I'm betting he's remembering what he told me, back at the beginning. I wasn't even thinking about that, just all that blood. "Listen, Frankie," he said.
I just looked at him.
"Don't blame yourself for any of this. It's not your fault. Things just... go wrong sometimes."
"Yeah," BA put in, stopping his pacing for a minute. He was probably remembering his addition, that if somebody died because of me I wouldn't have to worry about what would happen when I got back, because I wouldn't. Murdock had talked to them both when he got here and I hadn't been wanted. Now they both were visibly remembering I was there. At least they weren't clobbering me.
Though a little distraction would have been welcome.
"Yeah," BA said. "Murdock said you done everything you should have."
"It was Face's call, and Murdock's when it went bad. Don't blame yourself."
"I'm not." And I wasn't. It hadn't occurred to me, actually. "I wasn't sure they were robbers, but then Murdock works here, and the Metro Crime Section isn't on my reading list; maybe that was their MO, buy dinner then stick up the place instead of paying for it..." I was talking too much, again. I managed to stop.
Johnny just shook his head. "You assumed Face and Murdock knew what they were doing. It's not a bad assumption, but in future you'll know it's not always warranted."
"In future?" I said and stopped this time before my mouth ran away with me.
"Face is going to make it," he said with apparently unshakeable certainty.
And a year ago I'd have bought it, Johnny saying something so surely. Before I learned how much of the time he's just winging it. Before I knew who he was.
God knows, I didn't know anything when I went off with them the first time. I wanted... what did I want? To impress Johnny, that was a big part of it. I know, what we were doing wasn't Art, but we were making movies. And Johnny was a good connection into the world of C budget science fiction, which is the most fun I've ever had in my life. So I wanted to get him owing me. And the gorgeous blond didn't hurt... Sex is the next most fun I'd ever had.
Though I never made the attempt. It was never the right time, and then...
Though falling in love with him has changed everything.
Even if Stockwell hadn't got me by the short hairs...
I wonder what Pop would say?
I wonder what he's thinking right now. I wonder if he talks about me much. Or at all. I know he knows I'm not dead, but still that's the story. I wonder if he wishes I was or if my falling in love like this would make him wish it if the shame of me being a felon and maybe a traitor isn't enough already. I know he hasn't told the family I'm not. Tony knows, knew, but he can keep secrets, God knows he's proved that. Aunt Teresa... she'll keep one for Pop, especially one as bad as this. But the others? I wonder exactly what they've all been told, if there's a grave someplace with my name on it.
With his name on it...
Don't die. Keep that fucking grave a lie.
I never meant to fall in love. Not with him. All I wanted was to keep my head above water, survive long enough to be able to go home, and never, ever get anywhere any more dangerous than a location shot in Sonora or Sinaloa. I was scared. All the time, even in Langley. I used to lie awake at night and wonder why I crossed Stockwell in the first place, why I helped Murdock get them out.
I couldn't have lived with myself happily if I hadn't, of course, but at least I'd have lived.
And now it's him shot. Him bleeding to death on the kitchen floor. Him cold and in pain.
It was supposed to be me.
They all seemed so sure-footed all the time. So in control no matter what. Even when I learned to see how madly they were all improvising some times, they even did that like masters.
And me? I was in way over my head and I knew it. I'd hear myself chattering away, running off at the mouth, being obnoxious, annoying all of them to one degree or another, and I couldn't help it. I talk when I'm nervous. I can't stop talking sometimes. And it didn't matter if I annoyed them, because they already didn't want me there. So I went ahead and let out my tension by talking.
'Cause I knew I was going to die.
It's not supposed to be him.
They're standing on the other side of the room, talking. It's too soft for me to hear, but I don't care. I don't think they're talking about me, anyway. They're talking about Face. And I wouldn't fit in with them. I don't know what they're talking about half the time anyway. More than that. If I had the control to stand up and walk, I'd move closer, though; I'd like to hear about him. But all I can do is sit here, my hands clenched on this jacket, and watch my mind run around in circles like a rabbit with coyotes after it. I'm so cold, too. So scared.
I've never been scared like this.
Johnny says he can tell the doctors are optimistic, even though they're not saying anything. He says he's gotten to know over the years.
Another skill I don't have, this one one I don't want: the ability to tell whether a doctor thinks someone you love will live or not. I don't want to learn that... don't want to do it often enough to learn it.
Though God knows I hope you're right, Johnny.
I wish I'd said something in Monte Carlo. I wish I'd said something months ago. All the reasons I didn't are still good, I know. Johnny would hate it. Hell, Face might not even want to hear it. And even if he did...
Hell, I know what it's like when it goes bad and you can't get away from the other person. Like him and Murdock lately, only worse. I know how bad it can get being on a location shoot somewhere with two people who used to be lovers and now can't stand the sight of each other. Cooped up in the house in Langley... It could be very bad. And I know which of us would have to go.
But I don't know if I can stand not trying any more.
Especially after tonight.
After seeing him get shot. Having his blood on my hands. Feeling his heart racing under my fingers, his skin growing colder. Listening to him... That was maybe the scariest. Because he whines a lot, Face, but only about minor things. He gets shot, he's usually quiet until he's safe and then he bitches. But tonight he was whimpering with the pain and trying not to.
"How bad is it?"
"I've seen worse accidents on the set."
And I have, once or twice. But with an ambulance standing by, medical assistance a minute away... never anything like this. And those blue eyes, cloudy with the pain, staring at me... he knew.
"Just keep breathing. That's it. Hang tough."
Just keep breathing. Hang tough. Don't die.
You've held on this long, and now you're here, in the hospital. Now is not the time to quit. Hang tough. Keep breathing. Don't die.
"I didn't see that guy."
We didn't either. We didn't either.
I know it was eating Murdock up inside that he got you shot. I don't know if he realized exactly how much you were reveling in his wanting you to help, his demanding it. After Monte Carlo. After Bancroft. After... after whatever is between you two...
But he held it together. He played the waiter. He took just the right amount of chances, was just inept enough, and all the time, all the damned time, he was planning. Sifting chances, looking at the possibilities. Doing something. I don't even know how he got BA and Johnny here. I couldn't think of anything. All I could do was sit there, eat pasta and drink coffee and taste nothing and annoy Joey just a little. Just enough to make him watch me more than Murdock. Nothing else. Nothing else. When BA came in, all pumped about that damned football game, when he sat right down at the table with me, I couldn't think of a single thing to do to let him know something was wrong. All I could do was what they wanted. Lie to BA. Lie well, I guess, though he wasn't really paying me any attention.
But somehow Murdock got through. And even though it all blew up in our faces, another of Johnny's plans going wrong, it was a flicker of hope. Because, of course, Johnny being Johnny, I knew while we were sitting there, waiting on the Attorney General, that he was dreaming up something else. Just like I knew no AG was walking through that door. I didn't know what Johnny was planning, anymore than I knew how long it would take What's his name to realize that they'd done more than show up because of me and Face. That they'd headed off the target.
They were together. Johnny had something planned, but I didn't know what. I was with them, but not part of them, alone with my anger and my fear.
And the helplessness. The awful helplessness, just sitting there while you were bleeding your life out behind a bar.
"How's he doin'?"
"He's been better."
I was scared. Oh, God, I was scared. When BA and I picked you up to move you I was afraid that would kill you right there. It didn't, but you weren't good. Not good at all. Cold, with a fast, fluttery pulse even I could tell was no good. And quiet. Too quiet... I was scared worse, really, than when you were dying on that cold kitchen floor, only a stranger with you, holding you together physically. Maybe that was easier on you, not having to put on your game face for us. Maybe it was harder, having to be alone.
I know how you hate to be alone. I don't know how I know it, or when exactly I knew it first, but I do.
And it hurts.
There, I admitted it. It hurts me.
Don't die. Don't die and I'll help. I promise.
Since no one else can.
Since no one else will.
Will you let me? I hope so. I want to, so much. I have to try. I have to.
For both of us. I think. I hope... I know.
Johnny's gone again, probably on the phone or badgering a nurse somewhere. BA's standing by the doors to the back like some big unmoving angry African god. Well, except for the Bears sweatshirt. Murdock's pacing around in little circles, talking to himself; every now and then he crosses BA's line of sight and they lock angry glares for a minute. Except probably not glares and not angry, at least not at each other. And I'm over here with a bloodstained jacket and God only knows what I look like... I'm sure we don't seem to be with each other.
Good thing we didn't seem like that tonight, I guess. Murdock managed to keep them from realizing he knew Face, up until Johnny showed up. I don't think the girl was sure, not really.
"Who are you guys?" she asked as they made us leave him alone in the kitchen, alone with her.
"I'm just a waiter," Murdock said.
I didn't answer. We were dead once they'd killed their man, all of us, even if they bought Murdock's 'just a waiter' line. But maybe they'd spend more time watching me than him. Except he tried to get the gun the old man kept by the register. Of course, What's his name thought that was funny. He wasn't paying enough attention to Murdock's eyes. He learned his mistake. I halfway wish I hadn't pulled Murdock off him. But dead men cause trouble... And Murdock wouldn't have let me pull him off if he hadn't known that was right.
I think Murdock was just letting go, after so long. So long being so cold, so controlled. God knows, I didn't like Joey. I'd really enjoyed macing him, and I'd enjoyed punching him out, too. But What's his name... if I'd had my hands on him I wouldn't have stopped, either.
Murdock had to hate him too.
Murdock got here later than me; he had to talk to the cops. He went back to the restaurant with them; he's gonna be a witness. That'll all work out good, though the old man and his daughter and that couple could do it. But it'll be good for the waiter to be there. Even if the other customers turn out to be probably criminals and take off it shouldn't hurt the case.
And I guess Stockwell will figure out how to get Face out of the hospital before the cops find him. Johnny doesn't seem worried about that, anyway. It'll probably be the Feds, anyhow, given that it was a hit on the Attorney General. Stockwell should have a field day, probably make us out to be undercover Secret Service or something.
Just as well we weren't there when the cops came, though. Johnny and BA taking Face here. Me and Murdock chasing that rogue cop...
Not that I thought that was necessary. Where was he going to go? That old man and the girl, they knew who he was. Knew his name. He couldn't run far. And chasing down a cop isn't high on my list of fun ways to spend Monday night... Plus, I wanted to go to the hospital. But Murdock said, "Let's grab that cop" and the next thing I know, I'm pounding down the pavement on his heels. Johnny would be glad to know it. His training paid off.
Back at the beginning he said to me, "If we lose someone because you can't do what you're told, that'll be my fault. For not training you well enough, and for not knowing your limits. But if we lose someone because you don't do what you're told... I'm not exactly sure what I'll do to you when we get back, but I know you won't like it. One little bit."
He didn't really have to tell me that, any more than BA had to add his two cents' worth. I knew it by then.
But he worked me hard, harder than anyone ever before. I'm not a real 'team' kinda guy. Never played a team sport. Never joined the army--never wanted to. Never wanted to work for one of the big effects companies. Have what they used to call in high school 'a problem with authority'. But I don't want to die. And now? Now when we're in the field I don't even think any more, I just follow orders.
I talk, of course, I don't seem to be able to keep my mouth shut. I annoy them. But I do what they say. It works.
And tonight was in the field, though it wasn't a mission. God knows what Stockwell will say. He'll probably find a way to make this our fault. Obviously, best case scenario, we can't do anything for a while...
At least no one else is hurt. And Murdock didn't get himself shot by that cop. That's mainly why I kept on following him. I'd had to pull him off What's his name or he'd have killed him. And he might lose it with the cop, too. Even if he didn't, attacking a cop in Georgetown might not be the best idea in the world.
At least he's legit. When the other cops showed up he could answer all their questions, being the honest citizen. I faded away; I expect half the onlookers figured me to be illegal. I doubt anybody mentioned me. I don't know what that couple will tell them about us, or the old guy and the girl...
It'll probably all work out.
Right now I don't care.
Just don't die.
And I've noticed I'm not praying to God any more. I'm talking to you, Face. Templeton. I'm begging you.
Because you're what my Santana grandmother called "more willful than God." It's up to you.
You gotta want to stay. You love living too much. Too much. God, I hope too much is enough.
Think of all the things you'll miss. Sex. French restaurants. Good clothes. Movies. Driving. No more Vette. No more cruising down a good, long, two-lane road with just enough curves in it, wind in your hair, going. Just going.
Though it's a good thing you didn't drive tonight. My poor Cutlass... remember how you said it was probably the safest car in the neighborhood? Trashing my classic? Johnny really trashed it. Poor Baby's a burnt-out write-off.
I do wonder if Johnny would have crashed your Vette into that wall as easily as he did my Cutlass. Not that I'm complaining. Car. Jacket. Heart. I don't own anything I wouldn't throw on the flames of Hell, personally, to save your life.
And I know I'm not alone. I know they would, too. But it's not the same. Not the same at all. And I'm daring to think maybe, just maybe, it's not enough.
I know you're close to them. You love them, like brothers. Like family, anyway. And they you; I've heard BA call you "li'l brother" when you aren't around to hear it. I know your shared past had bonded you together, unbreakably so. And I know I don't share that.
What I don't know is, would you be friends if the past were different? What if you hadn't been arrested? If you'd been cleared? Would you have stayed in the army, Templeton Peck, once the war was over? Would the peacetime army have put up with you? If you had, and it had, would it have left you all together? Would a black sergeant and a young white lieutenant have stayed friends? Would a lieutenant and a colonel have stayed friends?
Would you even like them if you didn't have to? If you had the choice?
Visiting the VA... you'd have done that, I bet. But would it have mattered, like it does now, if it does matter now, the way you want it to, I mean. If I'm right, I mean...
You and I, we have a lot in common, really. Not like what you have in common with them, what I can never be part of, what has made you what you are. But other, maybe more important, deeper things. Things that maybe mean you'd like me anyway.
Things like, we're both from LA. We both miss it, a lot. Sure, something in me liked Arizona, that spare, uncluttered beauty, that uncompromising but honest desert, but I didn't stay there. And it's LA I've always wanted to get back to. You, too. LA, LA, that sprawling and misnamed city of the angels--all the heaven we need, though. Don't be thinking about the other one.
And like we're both raised Catholic, with more allegiance to the Church than we sometimes like because it got us young, and because we do love God. Like, we both talk a lot because we're afraid of the silence, of what it will show if we don't distract other people. Like, we both dream of owning a boat someday...
Don't die and I'll find a way to get you a boat.
Maybe bribery will work? I'll give you anything you want.
Just don't die.
That's what it comes down to, Templeton: Don't die.
I don't pretend to know what's going to happen. What Stockwell can do. What he will do. How long it will be till you can work again--how long he'll add to our sentences 'cause you're down. What Johnny will do. What Murdock will do. He cares, but... But it doesn't matter, Templeton. It doesn't matter. Stay here, don't die, and I promise I will tell you, and make you believe me. I promise to let you know. You don't have to accept it but... If you do, I promise to be here. I won't let you be alone any more. I swear it by all the saints, by Mary clement and loving, Heavenly Queen, Mary who loves us all.
I love you.
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