Gary was dead and Jim was on his way. He lay there, waiting for the end of his life, listening to the retreating footsteps of his killers and reflecting on how exactly he’d gotten here, on the dirty floor of some quack scientist’s laboratory.
“Is this linoleum?” Jim may or may not have said aloud. He didn’t think he could have, but then again, what did he know? Dead people didn’t write books and he seriously doubted those people who had clinically died could be trusted. Seriously, if you couldn’t trust the eyewitness account of someone who was drunk, how could you trust the account of someone whose brain was oxygen-deprived for a long period of time?
Wait, where was he again? Oh yeah, how had he gotten on this floor? Jim dialed back his memory to this morning. He’d gotten up at 6:15 like he did every morning. Mel, his fiancée, was already up, and he had a sneaky sensation she’d been exercising. Jim loathed physical exertion, but through cajoling and the promising and delivering of sex, she’d gotten him to drop two dozen pounds or so.
He’d gone to work and dealt with an employee who’d been making the work environment uncomfortable. She was a lesbian, not that her sexuality was the issue, but she liked to talk about her latest conquests and detail exactly what she’d done to them. Maybe her sexuality had been of an issue and Jim had covered the company by explaining to all the employees that talking about their sex lives could be interpreted as sexual harassment.
After work he’d run into Gary. In hindsight, he should have literally run into Gary. Maybe then they wouldn’t both be lying on the floor dying. Jim sighed. Oh well, it had been a good life. And by good he meant decent. And decent was just the word you used in place of awful when you really didn’t want to open up and say it out loud, but just pass through the pleasantries to slug through the day.
It had been… a life. He could leave it at that.
“I call this one BTTF,” Doctor Knochenmus said. Gary had said everyone called him Dr. K for short and he seemed cool enough, especially considering the giant fatty he’d just put to his lips to partake of.
“Buttfa?” Gary asked, a big smile on his face as he waited his turn. Jim wasn’t sure exactly how he’d gotten here. He remembered his friend sitting on the hood of his Fiesta as he’d left work like a scene out of some eighties movie, arms folded across his chest. That probably had more to do with the cold and his complete lack of a jacket than anything else. Jim remembered them getting in his car and the rest had been like a vague fog clouding his memory until somehow they had wound up here.
Wherever here was. Gary had a knack for talking him into things.
Gary finished a long spliff before passing it to him. It slid so easily into Jim’s hand, he remembered the feel, the smell, and was seconds away from taking a puff when he asked, “So why is it called B…”
“Back to the Future,” the ‘doctor’ finished for him. “Because it takes you back in time, man. You see your whole life flash before your eyes.” The much older man nodded and smiled as if that particular sensation would be enjoyable to everybody. Not that Jim’s childhood had been the worst, but he didn’t feel like taking this particular trip down memory lane. He handed the joint back to the doctor.
“No thanks? Who is this man, man? G, you said he was cool.” The doctor was looking at Gary with half a scowl. Gary gave Jim a sideward glance, a look of disappointment on his face.
“He is cool.” Gary slid the joint from the doctor’s hand. “He’s just under stress at work. Right, Jim?”
“No. Actually, everything at work is going pretty good.” That made both Gary and the doctor frown.
“If this is your best friend, then your best friend is a total square.”
Jim didn’t know if he was supposed to take offense to such an ancient insult and stayed silent. The doctor continued staring at him.
“Give me that,” Dr. K snatched the joint back from Gary. He took a long hit, held it, then leveled his gaze on Gary. “You didn’t bring Five-O to my operation, did you?” Dr. K was easily thirty years older than them, skinny, and looked like he had never been in a fight in his life, but the look in his eyes told Jim he could be dangerous.
“No, man.” Gary laughed nervously. “I told you, he’s my best friend. I’ve known him since second grade. He’s in AA.” That last part seemed really tacked on to Jim’s ears, a lie that could be spotted a mile off, but the doctor’s expression brightened.
“Aw, geez, why didn’t you tell me that?” He slapped Gary’s shoulder and stubbed the joint out on the table, blowing the smoke high over his head and waving at it with a free hand. “Uh, congratulations,” he said, dropping the dooby in his pocket and grabbing Jim’s hand for a stiff, awkward shake. The three of them all looked at one another, no one knowing what to say.
“Come with me,” Dr. K said. “I want to show you something.” This was just how Jim wanted to spend his Friday night. Oh no, not at home with his beautiful fiancée for wing-ding and movie night, it was much more engaging here with Gary and Dr. Weed. He was going to have to think of a better one than that later.
All that sarcasm swimming around in his head and yet Jim still went with them. Dr. K led them out of the office and past several lab stations all littered with various types of equipment. Everything after a beaker and Bunsen burner was beyond Jim’s ability to identify, leaving him to ponder at the various colored liquids and lab equipment he saw.
At the back of this room was a thick plastic curtain. Dr. K parted it, leading them through. It was freezing in here and Jim found it hard to believe that just a yellowed, translucent curtain could keep all the cold air in this space. Curls of refrigerated mist poured from vents overhead.
“You guys want to see something really cool?” Dr. K was beaming at them, puffs of white smoke coming out of his mouth with each word, seemingly unaware how cold it was in here. Jim looked around and saw tall racks with small labeled vials in small, foam-cushioned holders. Dr. K picked up a cup that had steam drifting out of the top and Jim wondered how it could be hot still. Then he noticed the cup itself. It looked like it was ceramic, some shade of orange and the handle didn’t appear to be connected to the cup in any way. Jim looked where it should’ve touched at the top and at the bottom, wondering if there was some sort of clear plastic.
“Do you like my cup?”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “How do you do that? Magnets?”
“Nope. Force fields. This cup is all ceramic.” He took a big sip and sat it back down. “Anyway. Here’s the thing I wanted you to see.” Dr. K sat in an armless office chair and picked up a beat up blue and white cooler sitting in another office chair in front of a draft table. He set it in his lap, sitting back and drumming his fingers on the sides. Jim thought he hadn’t looked any more like a mad scientist than in that moment.
“So…” Gary began. “What’s in the cooler?” Dr. K slowly turned in his chair and settled his eyes on him.
“The future and end of all war. Want a hit?”
“Hell yeah,” Gary said. Dr. K flashed his yellowed and crooked teeth and sat forward. He slid the top back and steam from the dry ice inside drifted out and poured over the sides.
“Is that stuff safe?” Jim asked.
“Of course it’s safe,” Dr. K said. “I invented it!” Jim took a step backward and watched as the doctor reached inside and pulled out a small semi-translucent brown container. “It actually doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all. It just looks cooler. I’m gonna present it to my customers tonight.”
“On a Friday night?” Jim made a face. “Shouldn’t you do that during normal business hours?” He began to wonder about the ‘doctor’s’ credentials. His lab was on 7 Mile on the East side, the building looked abandoned and he was meeting with ‘customers’ after six o’clock. “What did you invent for your customer?” he asked, standing securely behind Gary.
“An anti-death pill.” Dr. K’s face beamed.
“And you’re just gonna let us have some of it?”
“I made extra. Besides, how much fun can it be if you can’t share it with friends?”
“Puff-puff-give, big bro,” Gary said, taking the small container from Dr. K. He began wrestling with the top, twisting to no avail. After a minute, he looked at Jim and held it up.
“Jim for the assist?”
Jim eyed the container in his friend’s hand. He didn’t want to touch it. More than ever, he really did not want to be here. But he’d never made a habit out of saying no to his best friend and squirmed at the thought of doing so now. Jim took the container and unscrewed it.
Nestled inside were five black pills atop a bed of cotton about the size of bullets.
“These aren’t suppositories, are they?” he asked, trying to make a joke. Dr. K’s face screwed up in disgust and he took the pills back.
“For a period of forty-eight hours after you swallow this pill you are effectively dead. Just like Jesus!”
“Jesus?” Gary asked. “What do you mean?”
“Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday.”
“I know my Bible. Jesus was dead for three days. Luke 24, verse 7.”
Dr. K looked at Gary with a wary look. “How many days between Friday and Sunday. Count on your fingers.”
Gary held up a hand and began to count. “Friday… Saturday… Sunday. Three.”
“You don’t count Friday. From Friday to Saturday is one day. And from Saturday to Sunday is two days.” He held up his hand with a peace sign. “Two.”
“Yeah, but Friday is one whole day. Saturday is one whole day. Sunday is one whole day. One plus one plus one is three.”
“No. You don’t count the days. You count between the days. One plus one is two. Two. Besides, it’s not like he was crucified at midnight Friday and rose at 11:59 Sunday.”
“Yeah, but if I’m Friday, you’re Saturday, and Jim is Sunday there’s three of us. That makes three days.”
“Yes, but you’re counting the days wrong. Today is Friday. In twenty-four hours it will be Saturday. In forty-eight hours it will be Sunday.” Jim was watching the exchange between his best friend and the crazy doctor. Dr. K looked at him. “Help a brother out here?”
“My name is Paul. That’s between y’all.”
“Never mind.” Dr. K waved him off. “The pill works for forty-eight hours. Then you come back to life.”
“So he’d just be a corpse for two days?” Jim asked. “What fun is that?”
“No. You would have full cognitive and motor function. Your nervous system would shut down and autonomic function would cease.”
“That means you’d stop breathing,” Jim said.
“Amongst other things.” Dr. K nodded. “Your heart would stop, your bowels, your breathing. You would have to blink intentionally.”
“Cool.” Gary nodded.
“No, that is not cool,” Jim said. “Look. Dr. K, thanks, but we’re not interested.”
Something in the doctor’s lab coat pocket beeped. He had opened his mouth to say something, but looked in his pocket and pulled out what looked like a hybrid between a walkie-talkie and a cell phone.
“Hello?” The man listened a moment, nodded, then said, “I’ll be right there.”
Dr. K looked at them and said, “My customers are particularly early.” He held up a finger as he left the room. “Stay right there. I’ll be right back.” He came back immediately and grabbed the cooler, closing the lid. Then he was gone again.
“All right, I’d say this place has to have some sort of rear exit. I suggest we find it.”
Gary looked at them. “Why are you in such a rush to leave? Dr. K’s cool, he wants us to try his anti-death pill.” Gary held up the container. “He forgot this.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “Okay, on the off chance he isn’t goofing on us, what do you think the odds are that an anti-death pill works? This guy’s a quack, a snake oil salesman. The only legit drug he has in the whole place is probably weed.”
“What happened to you, man? You used to be the boldest of us all.”
“Is that why you brought me here? Because you thought I was so bold I’d be dumb enough to take unknown drugs off a complete stranger?”
“Nah, man. He’s not a complete stranger. I vouch for him. Like I vouched for you. That used to be enough.”
“Yeah, it used to be. Back when I didn’t mind getting kicked out of school or getting sent to Boot Camp. I grew up, Gary. Just because you vouch for him doesn’t make him legit. Do you know what compounds are in those pills?” Jim pointed to the open container the doctor had left in the room with them.
“Do you know that you won’t drop dead the second you pop one of those in your mouth? Do you know?”
“No. I don’t know.”
“And do you know if this doctor actually went to an accredited university and attained an actual PhD in any of the sciences?”
Gary’s mouth was a grim line. “Okay, Matlock, I get the picture.”
“No, you don’t. If he came back in here with more drugs you would happily take them. What do you know about this guy? Where did you meet him?”
“He redid some siding on my dad’s house.”
Jim barked out a laugh. “So the scientist you would take drugs from also works on houses on the side?”
“He found him on Angie’s list.”
Jim narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Are you doing this on purpose?”
“Being dumb. Is this intentional? Are you looking for me to be the voice of reason? You asked what happened to me, but what happened to you? How are you this naïve?”
“Wait a minute. Stop. I brought you here because you’re my best friend. Dr. K is a good friend of mine too. However we met. And no, I don’t know everything about him, but I trust him. We’ve hung out. Like you and I used to. I miss you, man. And I thought it would be cool for us to just get out and do something together. Ever since you and Mel—”
“Are you going to start that again? Leave my fiancée out of it. She has nothing to do with why we don’t hang out.”
“Right. Because you are so into dog shows.”
“This again? This again?” Jim growled and shook his fists in the air. “You know, when you’re in a relationship with someone you care about, sometimes you do things you don’t necessarily want to do. It’s called compromise. She does it for me. And another thing, when was the last time you—”
Jim was cut off by the sound of a gunshot. They both looked in the direction of the plastic curtain and when he looked at his friend again, they were both clinching each other’s shirts.
“That was a gunshot,” Gary whispered as if Jim didn’t know that. “A Beretta M9.” Okay, that he didn’t know.
“How do you know that?”
Instead of answering, Gary pulled him down until they were both crouching.
“Whoever it is, they’re coming this way.” Jim couldn’t hear anything except the constant hum of fluorescent lights in the other room and the insistent hammering of his heart. He tried to look through the plastic curtains, but they were only clear enough to let light through so he could see generalized, globulus shapes, not gun-toting psychopaths.
He looked around for something to defend himself with. Maybe he could use the chair. Gary would probably be no help, he’d never been good with thinking on his feet in school. It was up to Jim to save them now.
“Where the hell are you going?” he asked as Gary duck walked to the curtains and peered out.
After about thirty seconds he pulled his head back and looked at Jim. “Two guys in weird robes, one armed.”
And? Jim wanted to say. He wasn’t foolish enough to think they hadn’t just killed Dr. K and neither was he about to go charging out there to get his own head blown off.
Gary reached for the container and Jim reflexively snatched it away.
“Now is not the time to get high.”
“Give those to me.” He made a gimme gesture with his fingers. Jim decided this would be his last stand. If he had never stood up to his friend before, now was the perfect time. He wasn’t going to let his last moments be lost in a drug-induced stupor. They would face the end together and do it sober.
Gary got up on his knees, crawled over to Jim and with his pointed index finger, poked him somewhere in the chest. The pain was explosive and paralyzing and Jim yipped as his friend plucked the container from his grasp, reached inside, and took out a black pill, popping it in his mouth without a second thought. He tossed his head back and dry-swallowed before reaching in and taking out another.
“N-n-no,” he managed to say through gritted teeth.
“Look, I’m only doing this because I love you.” Gary reached toward Jim’s face, the pill pinched between thumb and forefinger. Even though his chest throbbed Jim intentionally turned his head at the last moment, swinging his face back in an attempt to knock the pill from Gary’s fingers. The maneuver worked, sending the pill skittering beneath some sort of skinny black machine. Gary reached after it, cursed, then fished out another from the container.
“Hold still,” he said, palming the top of Jim’s head, holding another pill.
“No. I don’t want that!” Jim was screaming, but he didn’t care. They were going to die and he wanted it to be on his terms. He tried to get a hand up, but Gary pinned it down with his knee. More pain, this time he felt like his forearm would break Gary leaned so hard on it. “No!” Jim howled and closed his mouth too late as Gary shoved the pill between his lips.
He kept his teeth clenched, pushing the pill away with his mouth. Jim had managed to kick over both swivel chairs, enough noise to surely bring the gunmen. He could feel the pill begin to mix with his saliva, a warm, metallic taste seeping between his teeth.
Then Gary leaned off him.
“Whoa,” he said, staring at Jim. He stood, turned and dived through the plastic curtains. Immediately, someone began shooting, at least some of the bullets striking the threshold and curtains themselves, making them part and billow.
“Gary, no!” Jim said, his pain forgotten as he got to his feet. They were killing his best friend and he had to stop them. He stood and charged through, seeing one robed man staring down at Gary’s prone body, the other looking at him as he was sliding another clip into the gun. He pulled back on the slide thingy and Jim roared as he charged him, arms raised like a rabid gorilla, intent on smashing the man’s head in even if he did shoot.
The man danced back a few steps, firing in Jim’s direction. Vials and beakers exploded around him and Jim tripped over his feet as, landing hard on his face. He tried to get up but he found he couldn’t move his arms or legs. He blinked as something warm began to spread beneath him.
This is it, he thought. This is what dying feels like.
Jim’s vision fuzzed over, but he never lost consciousness. He didn’t feel like he was dying, merely waiting. For what he didn’t know. Maybe a guy in a black robe with a scythe, maybe an angel, maybe he wasn’t supposed to go anywhere and he’d just remain here, in his own dead body like that episode of the Twilight Zone. Wait, that was the Twilight Zone, wasn’t it? Maybe one of those knock-offs, he couldn’t be sure, but it was a good one. The dude was all, ‘Don’t cut me open, bro, I’m not dead!’ and ‘Look at my finger! Look at my finger! I can wiggle my finger!’
Gary saw that one too. Me, him, and what’s-her-name…
Jim continued cycling through random thoughts as he waited for his mind to spin down and shut off. He had to be dying because nothing hurt. If he were just badly wounded he’d be writhing in agony. No, he had to be dying. He just hoped he’d be presentable enough for an open casket. Something he could float over and as his mother stood before his body he could wag a finger and say, ‘See? I told you!’ although what he’d told her in particular escaped him at the moment.
Jim had been lying on the floor dead for maybe ten minutes when he decided to stop waiting and get up. He’d begun drumming his fingers on the floor and finally popped his head up on his chin and looked around. Gary was sitting up, looking at him, a blank expression on his face.
“Hey,” his friend said.
“Hey,” he said back. Gary didn’t look right, which made sense considering he was dead too. He sort of wavered like old monitors did after hitting the Degauss button, except in extremely slow motion. Then Jim realized it wasn’t just Gary, it was everything around them.
Maybe heaven was a laboratory.
“So what now?”
“I don’t know.” Gary went back to staring at his hand, turning it back and forth as if trying to remember which side was which. “Maybe we stay here a while, get high.”
“You already did that when you were living. Do you want to spend the rest of your afterlife high too?”
“You don’t? Hey, we’re dead. It’s not like drugs will kill us.”
Either that was a solid argument or Jim was still a little lightheaded from dying. “How do we get out of here? I mean, this is in Heaven, isn’t it?”
“Heaven? You think we’re that kind of dead?” Gary laughed. “You think you would go to Heaven?”
“Yeah. I’m a good person. I don’t steal. I don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to me. I put money in the kettle for the Salvation Army around Christmas.”
“There’s a lot of good people in Hell.” Gary shook his head and Jim could imagine the thoughts going through his dead brain. Gary had been raised in large part by his grandparents and his grandfather—well, his step grandfather—had been the pastor of their church. Even though he was non-practicing, Gary could run theological circles around most Christians.
“You think I’m going to Hell?”
“Well, I don’t know that you’re going to Hell.” He mumbled something Jim couldn’t hear.
“What was that? Gary, did you just mumble a Bible verse?”
“I… no… yeah.”
“And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
“But I’m not rich.”
“Parables, my man. Parables.”
Jim let it go. No, he didn’t.
“Gary, say I’m not going to Hell!”
“Fine.” Gary shrugged. “You’re not going to Hell.”
“What do you mean not that kind of dead?” he asked after a moment.
“Dr. K’s pills. They worked.”
“What do you mean they worked? The guy’s a quack!”
“A quack that saved your life.”
“After you put it in danger!”
Gary held out his arms and for the first time Jim noticed the three bullet holes strafing his body from just about his hip to the upper corner of his chest and a diagonal line.
“Oh my God. Gary, you’ve been shot!”
“Well, yeah. They shot you too, right?”
“That’s right. They did.” Jim sat up and patted himself down like he was looking for his keys, then he got into a crouch, looking around for the man who had shot them.
“Don’t worry about it. They’re gone.”
“What do you mean ‘don’t worry about it’? They tried to kill us!”
“And here we are not dead.”
“Well not for lack of trying.”
“Right. Because Dr. K’s pills worked.”
“Would you stop? You sound like Jack the Giant Slayer, talking about magic beans.”
“Then you agree I’m right then. Jack’s mother didn’t believe him, but he did really have magic beans.”
“That’s not my point. You sound like an insane person.”
“So what? The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m right even if I do sound crazy. Just look at me, I have three bullet holes in my body and I’m not even bleeding. How boss is that?” Gary said it like he thought that was cool, making Jim worry for his sanity even more. He didn’t know what the answer was but Jim was sure magical, death proof pills was not the answer. When he checked himself over thoroughly, not finding any gunshots, he realized he wasn’t dead after all.
“I’m not shot.”
Gary sat up straighter and focused on him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean they must have missed me. I’m not shot at all.”
“Let me see.” Gary pushed off the floor and crawled over. He put his hands through Jim’s hair, yanking and pulling for some reason.
Gary’s prodding really hadn’t hurt, but he was rough. He continued pinching and prodding and poking until he gotten down to Jim’s knees.
“You aren’t shot. I guess you bit the dick.”
“Then why did you fall down?”
“Because I tripped.”
“So you played dead. Smart.” There was a hint of sarcasm to that last word that Jim resented. He did actually run out in a display of solidarity. His intention had been to either save his best friend’s life or die along with him in the process. But something about him not being wounded at all and just lying there came off as cowardly. That burned just as much as Gary’s suspicion that he had done that very thing.
“Hey, I could have been shot.” Gary didn’t say anything. Jim was embarrassed he was actually trying to defend himself and decided to move on. “So what do we do now? I have the feeling calling the police probably isn’t the best idea.”
Gary nodded. “There’s enough weed in this building to send us to prison for the rest of our natural lives. I say we get out of here and maybe call the cops from a payphone.”
“Payphone? When was the last time you saw one of those?”
Gary shrugged. “Gotta be one somewhere.” They helped each other up and Jim was surprised at how weak he felt on his feet. They held onto one another, walking back the way they’d come. Jim felt pretty certain the gunmen were gone but felt a growing sense of dread at the prospect of coming across Dr. K’s dead body.
“Yeah, I know, Jim. If you want to close your eyes—”
“—No-no. I’ll be fine. Just… hold my hand tighter?”
Gary hadn’t called him that since they were twelve after his grandfather had died. Throughout his childhood, Jim’s parents had had a habit of separating and leaving him with his father’s father while they sorted things out. Jim had spent probably a total of two years with him and had grown very close to his Oldpa and had been rocked to his core to find him dead when he’d come home from school one day. It had happened again. Gary had lived more than a mile away but Jim had run to his friend’s house, crying all the way.
“I want to go to Dr. K’s office,” Gary said.
“Why?” Jim sounded a little whinier than he would have liked.
“Notes. Anything that’ll tell us more about how that pill works.”
“I told you, that pill is crap. Don’t waste time—”
Gary let go of his hands and walked into Dr. K’s open office. Jim stood and watched as he rifled through papers that had already been spilled from drawers, stepping over mismatched metal cabinets that had been pulled down. One had a big dent in it and Jim wondered if that had already been there or if one of the gunmen had kicked it. He didn’t remember hearing anything like that, but maybe he’d passed out on the floor.
Jim went over those few moments after he’d tripped. The man in the robe who’d actually held the gun had fired on him several times, obviously missing with each shot. There hadn’t been anything in his path, but somehow Jim had tripped. Maybe he’d gotten his feet tangled, although he recalled making long, running strides so they should have been far apart. He wanted to go back to look for anything that may have been dropped on the floor, but couldn’t stand the thought of going backward. He would have to settle his curiosity with just his memory.
Gary came out of Dr. K’s office, a satisfied look on his face.
“Did you find it?”
“Yeah. A whole baggie.” Gary held up a gallon size Ziploc bag filled with pot.
“What about the papers?”
“Oh yeah!” Gary ducked back into the office and came back with a booklet of rolling papers.
“No, not that. The… the documents… about the pills!”
Gary turned and looked back in the office. “I can’t find anything in there. That office is a mess.” He walked ahead. Jim tried to mount an argument but found it impossible to both not believe the pills had actually held active ingredients of any kind and yell at Gary for not finding any information on said pills. He caught up just as they reached the front door.
“Okay, your car’s still there,” Gary said.
“Good, let’s go!”
“Hold it. Something isn’t right.”
“You said it yourself, they’re gone.”
“Yeah. And so is Dr. K’s body. If they killed him even.”
“So what does that have to do with my car?”
“They could have booby-trapped it. You know anybody with a tow truck you can trust?”
“Because we can’t call the police if your car is still out there.”
“I’m gonna go out. You stay here until I give the all clear.”
Jim wanted to say ‘wait’ but Gary had the door open and was in the middle of a tuck-n-roll before he could speak.
He came to his feet and rolled sideways, squarely into the floodlight in front of the building. Gary dived, disappearing on the other side of Jim’s Fiesta. Gary burst from behind the car in a sprint, zigzagging across the small parking lot before leaping over the fence into a line of hedges.
Jim waited for five minutes, looking out the small window. He was still unsure about outside, but felt an increasing amount of unease until he had to get out. He tried tuck-n-rolling like he’d seen Gary do, but managed to smash his forehead on the asphalt. It hadn’t hurt much—at all, actually—which he thought made sense considering it only trickled a little bit of blood. He followed Gary’s circuitous route, going around his car and ran a Z across the parking lot before climbing the fence and falling headfirst into the bushes.
Gary was sitting a few feet away, holding a foil wrapper filled with what looked like a rotten taco and eating hungrily from it.
“Gary,” Jim whispered loudly. “I thought you were going to give me the ‘hi’ sign when it was okay.”
“I never said that,” his friend said around a mouthful.
“Yeah, you did. You said you were going to tell me when it was clear.”
Gary took another bite then shook his head. After he’d finished whatever it was he was eating, he said. “I told you I’d give the all clear.”
“Well, when I made it out of the parking lot was me telling you. What was I supposed to do, walk all the way back and get you?”
For the second time, Jim found himself speechless. His friend had been the one to be brave while he had stayed back. He wasn’t really in a position to complain.