BY SCOTT H. URBAN
About the author
He parked his car a block away from Easton's clinic so that the engine wouldn't alert anyone to his presence. He pulled his hat low and patted his coat pocket to make sure the gun was inside. He stepped out of the car cautiously, scanning the streets for anyone who might be watching him.
He walked up to the clinic. It was located in a renovated older home. He couldn't see any lights burning, but that didn't mean there couldn't be people in interior rooms. This was where Phillip Easton and Roger McCutcheon had practiced family medicine together--until Roger had been murdered. Now it's up to me to figure out who killed this body I'm wearing, Bleak thought.
The entrance was locked. Had Patty lied to him? Perhaps Phillip was out playing cards with his friends? Glass panes were set in the upper half of the door. He wrapped the lower part of his coat around the butt of his gun and broke one of the panes. He tried to do it quietly, but the shattering glass was still loud. He looked around, wondering if someone would run to investigate. Then he reached inside and unlocked the door.
It was dark inside, but Roger's body seemed to know its way around. Perhaps all the years of working at the clinic had become imprinted in some fashion in Roger's very being. He skirted the check-in counter and went through a door toward the examination rooms at the back of the building. He went quietly and quickly up and down the hall, opening the doors. All of the rooms were empty. But the last door didn't open onto an examination room--behind it was a short hall. Bleak frowned. It didn't seem to be in a section of the clinic where he'd expect to find a passageway. Underneath the door at the end of the short corridor, he could see light.
Pay dirt. Bleak pulled the gun out of his pocket.
Bleak put his ear to the door. He could hear voices talking back and forth, but he couldn't make out what they were saying. His senses, already dull to begin with, were deteriorating rapidly. This body was falling apart.
He turned the knob and leaped in the room. He held the gun in a firing stance. "No one moves!" he shouted.
A macabre scene met his eyes. He was in a medium-sized surgical theater and recovery room. The slightly older man in a white lab coat had to be Phillip Easton. He was bald and running to fat. He was unwrapping bandages from around the head of another man whose features could not yet be seen. It looked like something out of that frightening James Whale movie Frankenstein.
What in the world's going on?
"What the devil!" Phillip Easton shouted. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"What's this monkey business?" barked the patient in a gruff voice. He reached up and roughly yanked the white gauze off his face. Bleak didn't recognize him.
"Quiet!" Bleak shouted. "I said no one moves!"
"Oh, good Lord." Easton was staring at Bleak. "That voice . . . that face . . . Roger . . . but you're dead!" For a moment, Bleak thought the doctor might vomit all over the floor.
"Yes, dead," said Bleak. "Is that because you murdered Roger McCutcheon?"
"Doc, who is this walkin' freak show?" the patient demanded.
"Quiet, Spike!" hissed Easton. "Shut up!"
Spike Salvatore, the racketeer the cops were looking for! So that's what was happening here! Phillip Easton was running a lucrative little side business in facial reconstruction. An hour under the knife, a day or two of recuperation, and a criminal could escape town and set up shop in another part of the country, all unknown to the authorities.
"No more talking!" Bleak said, waving the gun. "Both of you put your hands on your head!" Easton did so right away; Spike, sneering, reluctantly complied. Spike looked like he could take Bleak apart with his bare hands--and no doubt he wanted to do so at this point.
"I'm beginning to put it together now," Bleak said. "Easton, you and Roger shared a nice little family practice together. But it didn't bring in enough money to keep your wife satisfied. She always wanted more. So you started a little illicit business on the side, didn't you? You put the word out that, for the right price, you'd change around a guy's face so the cops wouldn't recognize him. Spike here can walk out of town, and no one'll take notice."
Easton's mouth was going up and down, as if he'd forgotten how to make words.
"Roger," he finally gasped, "that's true--but I purposely kept you out of it! I didn't want to involve you. If I got caught, you could deny that you knew anything about it. It's true; the money was good, and most of it went to Patty. I know she's not the woman for me, Roger; but I can't help it. I know she's been with other men, but that's not the point. I do love her. . ."
"But then I found out about your operation here. You were afraid I'd blow the whistle, and you had to get rid of me before I could tell the cops, right?"
Easton shook his head frantically. "No! That's not it at all! Roger, as far as I know, you never did discover this room. I always kept it locked during the day, and you never had access to it. I wouldn't have killed you!"
"'Scuse me, pal," said the burly mobster. "I don't mean to interrupt this lovely stroll down memory lane, but I've got to get outta here. I been cooped up in this room for days, and there ain't much difference between it and a cell. I've got stuff I need to take care of, so either shoot me, or let me go."
"You're not going anywhere, Salvatore," said Bleak.
At that moment, Spike's right hand, which had been positioned behind Easton's head, whipped down between his legs and came up with a .45 handgun. An explosive crack resounded in small surgery. Bleak was smashed back against the wall. Anyone else would have been immediately killed, but Bleak bounced forward, brought up his own gun, took a bead on Spike Salvatore, and fired--
Just as Spike grabbed Easton and tugged the doctor in front of him.
Bleak's bullet tore through the side of Phillip Easton's neck and then Spike Salvatore's left eye. The surgery reverberated with the echoes of gunfire. A gory red spray spread across the wall behind Spike, who fell back on the examination table where he'd been sitting. Easton grabbed at his neck and sank to the floor, blood gushing down his shoulder.
"Roger," he managed to get out. "I--didn't kill you..."
Dead. All of us, dead. Even I get to return to death, now that I've carried out the vengeance of The One Who Commands. Bleak wondered what he ought to do at this point--walk back to Roger McCutcheon's grave?--when he sensed the presence of another person standing behind him.
"Well, well. Look at the mess you've made."
Bleak turned to find himself staring at the business end of yet another gun.
Table of Contents
Bleak Lives is copyright Scott H. Urban. It may not be copied or
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