Eddie Mara and the Knights of the 99
William de Rham
William de Rham
Born and raised in New York City, William de Rham is a graduate of Georgetown University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. His short fiction has appeared in Chrysalis Reader, RiverSedge, Neonbeam, The Battered Suitcase, Ascent Aspirations, Boston Literary Magazine, and the anthology Late-Night River Lights, among other publications. He lives in Maine.
Eddie Mara hit the Portland city limit and raced the motorbike he dreaded up Congress Street. He'd sworn to Stacy he wouldn't be late for the Starbuck's meeting with her folks to plan their wedding.
"You know how Dad is about tardiness," she'd warned last night in that low, thrilling voice he wanted in his ears forever. Then she'd dropped it even deeper, in mocking imitation. "It's the first refuge of the disrespectful and the disorganized."
Eddie had laughed at the mimicry, but took the warning to heart. Last thing he needed was J. Thompson Fillmore, Esquire thinking him flaky or uncouth—not now he'd finally said yes to the marriage. Bad enough to show up on this beat-to-hell bike in a scuffed-up leather jacket. Not exactly the model of sober rectitude, and certainly no way to convince the head of Maine's best law firm to hire him right out of law school. But he'd had no choice.
He checked the Timex strapped over the jacket's cuff. 3:52. He could still make it—if only he could remember Stacy's shortcut.
There! Frost Street! He'd seen it almost too late.
Throwing a glance over his shoulder, he forced himself to twist the throttle and lean hard-left to cut across two lanes. Gravity sped him downhill. His tired hands and arms ached as he bounced over train tracks. He gunned the Honda Rebel's small 234 cc engine back up the hill, only to round a curve and skid to a halt behind traffic waiting for the light at Stevens Avenue.
"Come on," he urged behind the dark face shield of the dinged-up Bell helmet he'd bought with the bike.
As if answering, the left-arrow turned green. The line inched forward. Car after car turned. He was accelerating, hopeful, just looking left for his own turn when the light blinked yellow and the Taurus in front of him stopped.
"God da—" he started to swear, then swallowed it. Planting his feet, he braced against the handlebars and seethed over how he would have been here an hour ago if his housemate Chuck hadn't reneged on lending him his Saab at the last minute, leaving Eddie no time to find another car, or even a bus, forcing him onto his 70-75 m.p.h. Rebel that scared the shi—tar out of him to shag his ass 90 frigid miles up I-95. God, how he hated this bike!
"Easy, Eddie, take it easy. Last thing you need is to show up all pissed—ticked off. Or splattered like a bug on someone's windshield. Just remember, the bike costs lots less than a car. And clean up the language. Couth, remember?"
All around him, sturdy single-family homes sat on small, well-tended lawns under oaks and maples just beginning to green. So unlike the hard Dorchester streets he'd grown up on in Boston. Normally, Portland's streets acted on him like a tonic, relaxing him, inviting him to feel safe and secure. But not today.
Shaking his hands to relieve the ache, he anxiously studied the crossing traffic. No one slowed for a yellow. Five, maybe ten cars passed. Again he shot out his wrist. 3:55.
"Please?" he whispered to the God of Traffic Lights.
A lone silver BMW station wagon came down Stevens and braked for a yellow.
"Yes!" Eddie cheered, readying to take off. As if to say thank you, he looked to the Beamer's driver.
And instantly was charmed. What a pretty lady, said the soft, child-like voice inside him that he hardly ever heard. Her hair's as white as Ma's, but not straight or all chopped up. It's soft and fluffy, like a summer cloud. And she's plump and comfortable, with rosy cheeks—a little like a Mrs. Claus—not thin and sallow from work and worry and smoking.
I hope Stacy and I look like that when we're her age—that I can give us all the stuff that lets people look that good. Jeez, look at that car. And those diamonds sparkling on that wedding finger—
The car behind him honked. The Taurus ahead was finishing its left. He started his own turn, keeping it slow, shifting focus between the road ahead and the woman.
Something's not right, he thought. Why's she look so . . . so . . .?"
A hand holding a large Bowie knife snaked from the dark passenger compartment behind her. As a khaki-sleeved arm encircled her neck and the shiny blade flashed in the sun, a bomb went off in Eddie's chest.
"What the—?" he cried, twisting for another look.
His balance started going. For a second, he was sure he was going down. But he made himself relax into the turn.
"Hell was that?" he whispered once he'd gotten back control.
But he knew. He'd been so close and the knife had been huge.
The opposite traffic was a solid line, except for a small gap ahead. Almost before he knew it, he'd slowed, then gunned it. Tires screeched and horns blared as the orange taxi missed him by inches. He ran up a driveway, wheeled around, and tore back onto Stevens.
"This is stupid, Eddie, really stupid," he muttered. "You're gonna get killed. Call the cops. Now!"
He slapped his pockets for his old flip phone, but couldn't feel its bulk. Steering one-handed, he delved into each one. Nothing. Had he thrown it in the knapsack bungee-chorded to the seat behind him?
In his head he saw the phone recharging in the kitchen, and he groaned. He'd plugged it in the minute he got home from class. Then Chuck pulled the rug out from under him with the Saab and, rushing to get on the road, he'd forgotten it.
He looked for the Beamer. A silver wagon waited at the next light, about to turn onto Congress. But was it her? He sped to catch up. Definitely a BMW. It made the turn and he followed. If he could just get alongside and look in the side window, he'd see if it was her.
He rode the broken white lines between traffic to draw parallel with the wagon. Now he knew why the back passenger compartment had seemed so dark. The side and back windows were tinted as black as his own face plate.
His only shot was to pull ahead and try to see through the windshield with one of his rear-views. He gunned it, slipped into her lane, looked in his mirror, and found her gone. Whipping around, he saw the wagon climbing the entrance ramp to Interstate 295-North. There was nothing he could do. He was trapped going east. He'd lost her for good.
The Denny's on Congress rushed to meet him—the one he made Stacy take him to Sunday mornings before going up to her parents' Freeport home for brunch—and he remembered: There's another on-ramp! On the other side of the parking lot!
He hit the brakes, leaned hard-left, raced across the lot, crossed a street without even looking, and ran up the ramp as fast as the bike would go. Parallel to the interstate, searching for the Beamer, he missed the Yield sign. A tractor-trailer made him pay, thundering by, almost slamming him to the ground. As he swerved, he knew he was dead.
But somehow the bike righted and suddenly he was running fast and straight.
"FUCK AM I DOING?" he yelled. His heart hammered. His chest felt crushed. "Get off, Eddie. There's the exit. Take it. Now!"
He scanned ahead for the Beamer. The exit rushed past.
I-295 was filled with commuters starting the weekend. So many cars were wagons, so many silver or gray. Right-lane traffic was going about 60; the left about 80, too fast for the Rebel. But if he was ever going to find her, he had to get ahead.
He twisted the throttle to its stop and rode the center line.
"Dumb, Eddie, really dumb!"
Swiveling his head, searching, he sped past cars to the right and slowly lost ground to those on the left. He prayed no one suddenly changed lanes.
"Dumbass! Hell didn't you get her license plate?"
Was there anything else about the car? Something, maybe, but what?
The bumper sticker, he thought, a white dog bone that said: "My Corgi's smarter than your honor student!" And almost as soon as he thought of it, he saw it—on the silver wagon maybe five cars up in the right lane. He cut his speed and fell into line about ten cars back, figuring he'd have plenty of time to see her exit.
But she didn't, not in Falmouth or Freeport or Brunswick. By the time they reached some place called Topsham, the needle on his fuel gauge showed less than a quarter tank. His range was maybe 175 miles, and if his math was right, he'd ridden 110 or 120 since filling up in New Hampshire. How much further would she go?
He followed her onto U.S. 1, another long, gray ribbon. He had no idea where he was now. Stacy's parents' Freeport home was the farthest north he'd ever been. He ran through forest, past lakes and rivers. The sky was blue and the waters sparkled; but tall trees mostly blocked the dwindling sun and the land wore drab winter colors: jagged-rock-gray, pine-green, earth-black, and mud-brown.
He was so cold and tired. He'd been riding forever. He'd started during what seemed a beautiful spring afternoon. But he'd forgotten that 60-70 M.P.H. makes 50 degrees feel like a razor 30. His gloves and jacket had no lining. Too many washes had thinned his good cords. All his skin felt chapped and raw.
All he wanted was to stop. But he couldn't. If he lost sight of her, he'd have no way of getting her help. He couldn't imagine just letting her go, just throwing up his hands and saying, "fuck it." He knew he couldn't live with the knowledge that he'd had the chance to help someone and quit. He prayed for a cop—had been praying for one ever since this whole thing started—but got no answer.
He knew he was blowing everything: the wedding, the chance to work for Stacy's dad's firm. Stacy's dad never had wanted him for a son-in-law.
"You're not right for her," he'd said last Christmas when they'd gone into his study so Eddie could ask for Stacy's hand. "Don't get me wrong, what you've done is admirable, considering everything you've faced—no father in the picture, growing up in that $10.00-an-hour motel where your mother—what's she do again?"
"Right. Admirable, all you've done—college, law school while interning for Judge Ford down in Portsmouth, bartending to try to keep ahead of that mountain of debt you must owe."
Eddie had maintained a polite smile as the anxious feeling he got whenever he thought of the debt crawled through his bowels.
"But I couldn't give you a job even if I wanted. The firm's hiring committee considers only candidates in the top 20% at a top-20 law school."
"But I'm in the top 10% at UNH—"
"I knew it!" Fillmore had crowed. "You're here for a job, not Stacy!"
"That's not true! I love Stacy. It's just when you said top 20%, I thought you thought I hadn't—"
"If you're not here looking for a job, why care what I think about your grades?"
"It's true. We talked about maybe you'd hire me. Portland's where Stacy wants to live. She grew up here. You're here, and all her friends and family. She feels safe here. She wants our kids growing up here."
"Then she should marry someone from our world here."
"But we love each other."
"You'll get over it. Now, I think maybe you should go back to that motel in Dorchester. I hate to think of your mother alone on Christmas."
Eddie had gone back, and taken Stacy, which her dad never expected. Nor had he expected her to keep nagging him about Eddie and how he was going to be a brilliant lawyer, which he could check with Judge Ford, and how, if he didn't give Eddie a chance, he'd be ruining both their lives.
Finally, Fillmore caved on the wedding—and on the job. Last night Stacy said her dad was going to offer him a summer associate's position which might become permanent if he did well and passed the bar.
But now he'd blown it.
Forest turned to farmland. When the heck would they stop? His gas needle rested on E. They hadn't passed a station in miles. He followed the Beamer past barns and silos. Thunderheads towered in front of him. His stomach clenched at the thought of riding in the rain, especially at the start when the first drops mixed with oil in the road to make it like ice. A fall would cost him broken bones, plus a ton of skin.
The first drop plinked against his visor, then another, and another. He slowed. The wagon grew smaller. It turned onto another road, this one through forest. Drizzle turned to downpour, soaking Eddie. Icy rivulets streamed down his neck. He fought against his first shiver as he took the turn ever so carefully. Relief filled him when he didn't fall.
The road was empty, dark, and full of turns. At times it rained and blew so hard he had to slow to 20. His clothes weighed a ton, as if he'd just dragged himself out of an icy pool. He didn't see or hear another soul, not even a light or a car or the bark of a dog. Just the wind and the rain and the Rebel's growl and the now uncontrollable Morse code chatter of his teeth.
"Eddie, man," he whispered. "You gotta knock this off. Gonna give yourself hypothermia. People die in weather like this."
"Yeah? So what the HELL am I supposed to do?" he yelled.
Oh, smart! Mature! Shout at the wind! That'll do lots of good. Stop panicking. Think what you need. You need . . . you need . . . a gas station. They'll tell you where you are and call the police and help you get dry and warm and maybe fed. When the cops show, tell them everything you know. Then get back to Portland and beg Fillmore for mercy.
"That's good. That's a plan. Like Ma's always saying, as long as you got a plan everything'll—"
The Rebel's engine died.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" he screamed to the sky.
A blast of wind carrying a wall of water slammed into him.
He started to laugh, then couldn't stop, not until the shivers made him mumble, "Time for a new plan."
He pushed the bike to the side of the road and rested it on its stand. As rain hissed off the hot engine, he jumped and flapped his arms around his torso to get warm. As he beat at himself, he sought to get his bearings.
He stood atop a hill overlooking a valley bordering a now-black ocean. The road ran past houses set on large tracts near the water. All were dark, except one where a golden glow flickered from the sea-side frontage and a halogen lamp at the back shined on a silver wagon.
Still shivering, keeping his helmet on so at least his head would stay dry, he set off for the house. Just as he reached the driveway, he tripped over something and sprawled face-first into the turf. Pain exploded as his knee slammed into metal. Clutching it, he rolled onto his back and bit his lip to keep from crying out. Icy water seeped up his back as he waited for the pain to dull. He stood cautiously. The knee throbbed but bore his weight.
A Coldwell-Banker "For Sale" sign marked "SOLD" lay at his feet.
The house sat on a hillock twenty yards away across open land. He stepped onto the gravel driveway. The crunch of his boot sounded like a gunshot. He froze, expecting alarms and blazing lights. But there was only wind and rain. He took off for the back corner of the house. Passing the car, he saw the Corgi decal.
The top of the hillock had been leveled into a plateau extending ten feet from the house. Then the ground sloped steeply down to flat land where small birches grew. Eddie stood under the eaves. Rivers streaming off the roof beat a muddy trench into the ground. He looked down the side. All the windows were curtained and dark, except at the end where golden light shimmered.
He made for it, careful to keep his head down. Two bay windows formed the front corner of the house, each about four feet off the ground. He crouched to keep his head under the sill. He hoped, when he raised it, his black helmet and shield would keep him invisible in the night.
He started to stand, then slid back down. Now he felt like a peeping tom. What if he'd misread everything? What if this was simply an old married couple who'd bought a new home and were christening it with some kinky kidnap fantasy? What if they were rolling around bare-assed in front of a roaring fire?
"Then, you'll have trashed a really great future for a really cheap thrill," he whispered. "So go!"
Slowly, he rose and looked through the window.
The large living room with a dead fire place was empty, except for her. Lit only by a kerosene lamp, she sat naked in a wooden chair, her hands and feet bound to its arms and legs with silver tape. Flab hung in folds. A black scarf blinded her. Her white hair was wild and tangled. More silver tape gagged her. Her head was thrown back and moved from side to side, as if she were trying to smell or hear what she could not see. Blood oozed from a gash on the side of her neck and glistened down her shoulder. The diamond ring on her finger glittered.
Behind her, a white sheet hung from the ceiling. Something had been spray-painted onto it, but from his vantage point, Eddie couldn't tell what. An unlit work lamp and a video camera connected to a laptop stood in front of her. The lantern rested on a short stairway just beyond the camera. In its light lay a cell phone, a roll of duct tape, and the Bowie knife.
From the top of the stairs, a work boot stepped into view, then another, then dirty blue-jeaned legs, then the whole man: white, stocky with a belly; the rest of him was dressed in a flannel shirt, soiled khaki barn coat, and orange "Kubota Tractors" ball cap. He'd not tried to hide his pale, fleshy face or the bitterness that pinched his eyes and mouth, or the revolver in his belt.
At his feet, the phone lit up and played its ringtone which to Eddie—who could hear it only faintly through the glass—sounded like that old 1930's song, "Happy Days Are Here Again."
The man answered. He did not speak, but looked at the woman and listened. Determination tightened his face. Ending the call, he turned on the work lamp and the camera. The light was so bright the woman jerked her head away. The man checked the camera's focus, took off his cap, put on a black ski mask with mouth and eye holes, picked up the knife, and walked over to the woman. She shrank in the chair, but balled her taped-down hands into fists.
Clenching the knife between his teeth, the man grabbed her left hand, pulled out the finger with the diamond ring, and held it down against the arm of the chair. He set the knife's blade against the finger, between her fist knuckle and the ring.
Before he could stop himself, Eddie was beating on the glass, yelling, "Hey! Hey! Over here! Look over here!"
Startled, the man dropped the knife. His hand went for the gun. Eddie dove to the ground. The window exploded. Glass rained.
RUN! the voice in Eddie's head shouted.
He planted his hands to launch himself. Glass sliced into his palms. As he pushed off with his leg, his foot slipped and his knee dug into the shard-littered ground. He gasped.
Above him, the gun cracked. Terrific force slammed him face-first into the turf. Stunned, he rolled and slid down the muddy incline, ending at the bottom, on his back, with his feet pointed at the house. Through his muck-covered shield, Eddie saw the man standing in the bright light, framed by the shattered window, taking careful aim.
MOVE! Eddie threw himself into a roll.
The gunshot and the mud next to his head exploded almost together.
He finished the roll, leapt up, and took off for the darkness, back towards the road. Three steps later, something clothes-lined him at the shins and he somersaulted to land spread-eagled on his back. His wrist struck a rock. His Timex shattered and he felt his hand go numb.
GET UP! RUN!
He'd landed next to a thin birch sapling anchored by guy wires, one of which had tripped him. He levered himself up off his elbows, but his helmet struck another guy and his head bounced back to the turf.
Where is he? Must be aiming for another shot.
Eddie looked back, expecting to see the man in the window. But he'd already climbed through and was sliding down the hill, coming right for him. He'd taken off the ski mask. Rage made his face a terror.
"Ya fucka, ya work for the one!" he screamed.
Eddie grabbed a guy to pull himself up. His weight was too much. The birch and all its wires collapsed on top of him. He flailed to escape, knowing the man was only feet away. His arms flapped, like when he used to make snow angels, and his wrist struck another rock.
His almost-numb hand closed around it, grasped, and pulled. The size of a baseball, it came out of the mud with a sucking sound. He did not check his motion, but let the rock fly at the man pointing for a kill shot.
It'll never hit. You can't throw worth—
The man cried out, then toppled. As he hit the ground, his arm flopped towards the shore and the gun fired. The bullet flew out to sea.
That's only four shots, Eddie. He's got to have more. Quick! Before he recovers, get this tree off you.
Seconds later, Eddie stood over the man whose eyes were closed, but whose chest rose and fell as blood poured from his nose. Eddie saw the pistol near his outstretched hand. He snatched it up and stuck it in his own waist band.
He gulped for air. His heart raced and his head spun and for a moment, he thought he'd be sick. It was still raining hard. Eddie yanked off his helmet. Cold water sluiced through his hair. He leaned back, opened his mouth, and drank.
The man groaned. Eddie turned to see him beginning to sit up. Eddie walked over and clocked him with his helmet. The man fell back into the mud, unconscious again.
"What do you say we tie you up? Save the old Bell any more wear and tear."
Eddie inspected the helmet by the bright light pouring through the window. The glancing bullet had carved a furrow into the top.
He remembered the roll of duct tape on the stairs. Using the Bell to knock the remaining glass out of the window frame, he climbed through. The woman still sat naked, bound, and gagged. As she turned her head towards him, he heard a muffled cry.
"It's okay," he said. "You're safe. No one's going to hurt you. I'm going to tie this guy up and be back to cut you loose."
Eddie grabbed the tape and returned to the unconscious man. He taped his ankles and knees together, rolled him onto his stomach, taped his hands behind his back, and left him in the freezing rain.
"Okay, I'm back," he said, climbing through the window. "I'm Eddie. Eddie Mara."
He looked away from the woman, cringing at her vulnerability, his eyes searching for something to cover her. He saw the sheet hanging behind her. Now he could read it: "FEAR THE 99." Ripping it down, he draped it over her shoulders. At his first touch, she thrashed.
"Easy. I'm not here to hurt you. You're safe, I promise. Now, I'm going to take off the blindfold."
As he gently lifted away the black scarf, she shut her eyes tight against the work lamp's harsh, hot light.
"Now the tape."
Head bowed, breathing hard through her nose, the woman looked up at him with narrowed eyes.
She's like a tied-up dog that doesn't know what's coming next, Eddie thought.
Ever so gently, he began peeling off the tape. She jerked her head away to finish the job, then spat a gob of frothy saliva onto the floor.
"Get me out of this fucking chair!"
Eddie stepped back.
"Come on!" she commanded. "Go get that knife and cut me out!"
Too stunned to reply, Eddie retrieved the blade and began slicing through the tape binding her wrists and ankles.
"Where is he?" she demanded.
"Outside. I tied him—"
"Piece of shit thinks he can do this to us? Ten million dollars? Where's he get off asking ten million dollars? Come on! Get this off."
As the knife zipped through the last of the tape, the woman heaved herself from the chair. The sheet fell off her shoulders. She did not try to snatch it up or hide her nakedness, but stamped to where her clothes lay muddled. Within seconds, she'd thrown on slacks and a blouse inside a sweater, leaving her underthings on the floor.
"Where'd he think we'd get it?" she fumed, pulling on a pointed-toe ankle boot. "From the bank my husband runs? Fucking BUM! Thinks he can cut me? Because we wouldn't keep him on as caretaker here? Thinks we owe him a fucking living—"
"Wait. This is your place?"
"Closed on it last week. Supposed to be our weekend-summer getaway. Scum out there? Name's Cowan. He took care of it for the sellers and wanted us to keep him on. At three hundred a week? We told him to pound it. Then he shows up this morning, sticks that gun in my face, and tells me to get my 'mangy twat' in the car and drive here." Her voice became a vicious hiss. "Kept digging into me with that knife, telling me he was going to slit my throat."
Eddie keyed 911 into the man's phone. "What's the address?" he asked. "So I can tell the cops."
"Screw 'em! I'll take care of this myself." Her broad hips and stubby legs propelled her up the stairs and through the front door.
"Wait," Eddie called, following. "Where are we?"
But she was way ahead, moving fast, headed straight for Cowan. The rain had slackened to a drizzle, but it was colder. The work lamp shining through the broken window and the garage's halogen spot made the night bright. Eddie could see the woman's breath slip-stream over her shoulder, like smoke from a locomotive.
Cowan was conscious now. He'd hoisted himself upright against one of the birches, his legs out straight, his hands still taped behind him.
"YOU FUCK!" she screamed. Kicking, she buried the toe of her boot in Cowan's solar plexus. His breath exploded with a "pahh" and he slumped to the side. The woman's foot lashed out again and Eddie heard a crunch as her heel slammed into his face. More blood flowed and Cowan choked.
"How's it feel? Huh? You trash!" She turned to kick again.
"Stop!" Eddie cried, grabbing her arm to pull her away.
But she was strong and shook him off.
"Let go! I'm gonna kill him. He was gonna kill me? Now I'm gonna kill him."
Eddie caught her and wrapped her in a hug. "Nobody's killing anyone. We're going to call the police and they're going to arrest him—"
"Rich cooz," Cowan wheezed, baring bloody teeth. "Wish I had killed ya. But not til I put ya on TV and chopped off that finga with all them sparklers so everybody knows we mean business and hubby'd wire the ten million where we told him. Once we got it, I was gonna enjoy slittin' your throat good and slow—cheat him, and you, just like ya been cheatin' us all these years. Just like all the other guys is gonna do. Take ya fuckin money, kill what ya love most, so's your kind ain't left with nuthin 'cept alone, just like ya left us."
"You hear this scum? He thinks we owe him—"
"YEAH, YA OWE ME!" Cowan roared. "Lobsta'ed for ya big shots all my life, so's ya can have ya fancy dinners down to Boston and New York. Every year harder. Gas, gear, and bait gone up. Limits and stocks gone down. More rules, more regs. Mortgaged my boat and then my house just to make expenses. Then ya fuckin' put the economy in the shitter—"
"I had nothing to do with—"
"—and decide ya don't want lobster no more so's prices'r so shot to shit it ain't worth goin' out. Then ya bank takes my boat and my house, and ya won't even give me work cutting grass and fixing things up. Wife leaves. Takes my boys cuz I can't provide. So fuck yeah, ya owe me! Lazy fuckin' whowa!"
"What did you call me?"
"I called ya a lazy fuckin' whowa, cuz I seen ya layin up all day in that fancy house ya got in Portland, watching TV and yellin atchya maid, 'bring me lunch,' and 'where's my wine,' just waitin' for hubby to come home so's ya can do him right on the parlor sofa—"
Lunging for Eddie, the woman grabbed the pistol from his belt, then pushed off and backed away, keeping the gun pointed at him. Crouching, she held it steady two-handed, cocked the hammer, and swung it towards Cowan. Her face was merciless.
Jesus, Eddie thought, she's really going to do it. She's really going to—
He launched himself and struck her arm just as the gun fired. He heard the bullet tear at branches and ricochet off stone. Eddie looked back at her. Now her expression was hateful. She re-cocked the revolver and pointed it right at Eddie's head. A triumphant gleam lit her eyes.
Eddie's hand shot out. "Don't!" he started to plead.
But it was too late. She'd already pulled the trigger.
He woke up days later to sunlight streaming through a window and his Ma and Stacy looking down at him. He struggled to sit up, but his left side felt anchored. A heavy cast ran from his shoulder to his hand.
"Easy Eddie," Stacy soothed.
"Wh' am I?" he croaked. His throat felt dry and raw, his tongue too big for his mouth.
"I'll go get the doctah," his mother said, hurrying out the door.
"You're in the hospital," Stacy said. "You were shot and you've had a bad time, but everything's going to be okay."
"The doctor said it would. They've been giving you morphine, but now they want you off it. They'll give you something less potent to manage the pain. Your Mom and I'll be right here. And everyone's rooting for you. You should see all the cards and flowers people sent."
"Why?" The word was a huge effort. He felt so slow, like he was swimming through glue.
"Why? Eddie, you're a hero. The police, the FBI, the news people, they're all saying if it hadn't been for you, Celia Knox would be dead. Daddy's over the moon about you. As soon as you're ready, he and Ken Knox—that's Celia's husband—want to sit down and talk about your future. And everyone wants to interview you. Do you remember any of it? It must have been awful: Cowan shooting you like that."
Wasn't Cowan, he wanted to say. But he couldn't. He was already whirling back down to sleep.
He woke again a few hours later with his arm on fire. It stayed that way for days, making him writhe and groan through clenched teeth. Stacy and his Ma stayed with him, sponging his sweat-slick face, reading to him, watching TV with him, anything to take his mind off it. The Percocet, and then the Tylenol, helped.
TV and the papers put him fully in the picture. Celia Knox was the wife of Ken Knox, CEO of Knox Worldwide Bank and Trust, New England's largest bank. Dan Cowan abducted her intending to demand a $10,000,000.00 ransom. On the same day, the spouses of nine other business leaders were kidnapped. $10,000,000.00 was demanded for each.
Of all ten victims, Mrs Knox was the only one to come home alive. In every other case, even though the ransom was paid, the only thing returned was a note that said: "For years, you cheated us. Now, here's how we cheat you." Each note was signed "The Knights of the 99" and contained a postscript stating where to find the victim's remains.
Dan Cowan was being held without bond, charged not only with kidnapping and conspiracy, but attempted murder for shooting Eddie.
Eddie knew he should correct that false accusation. Law and justice demanded that Cowan pay only for his crimes, and that Celia Knox pay for hers. At least, that's how Eddie saw it. She'd maimed him and she should pay.
But Stacy kept talking about how much her father and Ken Knox wanted to help Eddie launch his future. And he couldn't afford to throw that away, could he? He needed time to figure it all out. So he said nothing to anyone.
Finally, the doctor pronounced Eddie ready for visitors. Stacy's dad was the first to arrive with Ken Knox in tow. J. Thomson Fillmore looked fresh-faced and eager. But the bald, portly Knox had greenish smudges under his eyes, as though he hadn't slept in days.
"Thank you Eddie," Knox began hoarsely. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I owe you everything. Celia's my everything, you see . . . and I . . . I don't know where I'd be without her." His eyes filled and he looked away. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually . . . It's just that this has all been . . ."
"It's okay, Ken," Fillmore said. "Eddie understands. You sit and I'll—"
"No," Knox said harshly. "If I'm going deeper into Eddie's debt, I'll be the one to ask." He turned his back on Fillmore to face Eddie. "Look, son, we know Celia shot you. She told us. And she's so sorry. You can't imagine how sorry. She was just so terrified. She never would have done anything like that if she hadn't been so frightened."
Eddie remembered how Celia Knox looked going after Cowan. How hate, not fear, had driven her.
"But she hasn't been arrested, has she?" Eddie prompted.
"No, she told the police Cowan shot you," Knox admitted uneasily.
"And what did Cowan say?"
"Nothing," said Fillmore. "He's not talking. Claims he's a 'prisoner of war,' if you can believe that malarkey."
"And you want me to back her story?"
Knox nodded, staring at the floor.
"To lie for you? Falsely accuse a man? Perjure myself in court, if it went that far? Violate my oath as an attorney?"
"Relax, Eddie, you haven't taken that oath yet," Fillmore counseled.
"And you think that makes a difference?" Eddie asked softly.
"The thing is," Knox pleaded, "if they learned the truth, I'd lose her—probably for good, considering our ages. I couldn't . . . I don't think I could bear . . . Forty years we've been together . . . I just . . . I just . . . love her so."
Knox's voice kept cracking. Tears finally spilled. All Eddie could think was: My God, he looks just how I'd feel if I ever lost Stacy.
"Look, here's what I'm willing to do," Knox said in a rush. "Fillmore says you want to work for him, but there's a problem because your background's not good enough for his precious firm. Want to know the truth, I've known this guy and his firm from around Portland for years and it's them that aren't good enough for you.
"But I understand why you want what you want. When you love someone . . . Anyway, here's my offer. I told Fillmore I'll give him all the bank's business if he hires you and assigns you exclusively to us and puts you on the fast track to partnership. As long as you stay with him, the bank'll stay. If you leave, the bank'll come with you. That way he can't screw you over and everybody gets what they want. You and your gal have a great life together. Fillmore gets a big client. And I . . . we . . ."
"That's quite an offer," Eddie said, realizing all his dreams had come true. All he had to do was tell one little lie.
"Sure is," Fillmore said. "Now, the U.S. Attorney himself is waiting downstairs. This thing's gotten so much play, everyone wants in on the act. I said you're still too weak to give a full statement. But he wants to get something on the record. Just a few questions. Let me go tell him you're ready."
"I guess," Eddie said. His chest felt squeezed. His underarms were sopping.
Fillmore ushered Knox out the door and came back minutes later with the U.S. Attorney. A tall, stoop-shouldered man with blood-hound eyes, he brought a stenographer and two F.B.I. agents who arranged themselves around the bed.
"Mr. Mara, I'm Martin Gould. First, let me congratulate you on a job well done in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I see you've been following the news," he said, pointing to the stack of magazines and newspapers on a chair. "I take it you know about these Knights and what they've done."
"What they're alleged to have done," said Eddie.
"Ah yes, I'd forgotten you're a law student. I stand corrected. Alleged to have done."
"The thing I don't get is: Who are these Knights? Where did they come from?"
"We don't know. We think they met through the OCCUPY movement. But we can't be sure, not unless Cowan talks. That's why we want to charge him with everything we can, so we'll have something to bargain with. The more time we threaten him with, the more incentive he'll have to trade what he knows.
"I don't have a lot to ask today, seeing as you're still recovering. We'll do a more comprehensive statement later. All I want to know, or confirm really, is: Who shot you? Can you describe him?"
Eddie Mara knew he stood before two doors. Through one lay everything: a dream job and a grand life with Stacy with all the money they, and his Ma, would ever need.
There was no telling what he'd find through the other—except no job, lots of enmity, and maybe a good night's sleep.
Oh, Eddie, he thought mournfully as he opened his mouth to answer, you are so dumb. So very, very dumb.