Bicky moaned and squeezed his leg above the wound.
“But you said he killed her,” Gil said.
“He did,” Jerry replied. “He just wasn’t in the room at the time.
“He’s already lost a lot of blood, Jerry. If he dies…” Hart stood up. Jerry fired the gun into the floor near his feet. Hart started then froze in place.
“Sit down and don’t ask me again. Sit down and let me finish my story,” Jerry said, waving the gun at Hart. “Sit down!” Hart sat.
“I was about to cross the street to my own car. I wasn’t really comfortable spying on Sonia.” Bicky snorted and Jerry fixed him with a vaporizing glare. “I had to jump back behind the house when the other car came. This one belonged to your mother-in-law.”
“What? Did the whole world visit that night?” Hart said sarcastically.
Jerry’s impatience released itself in a huff. “May I continue – please?!” Hart snorted and looked away.
“Pay attention,” Jerry said. “Because you never get a second chance.”
Hart rubbed his face as if deciding something, and turned back to Jerry.
“I went back to the kitchen window. Good thing your neighbors aren’t close by, because the girls were screaming at each other. Seems Kitty also wanted that report.”
Hart chuckled once, then twice.
“Go ahead, laugh,” Jerry said. “It’s ridiculous, right? Everyone running around like chickens for a few inches of paper. But it’s true.”
Bicky moaned in pain and passed out, his head hitting the floor with a thud.
“Oh! Can’t have that.” Jerry walked over and kicked Bicky in the injured right leg.
Bicky roused, bellowing.
“This is the best part, Boss. Don’t fall asleep now.”
Tears streamed down Bicky’s cheeks. With great effort, he propped himself up on one elbow. His head lolled against the cool stainless steel siding of the TDU.
Jerry knelt down and patted Bicky on the cheek. He grabbed Bicky under the chin and rolled his face from side to side. “It’ll all be over soon, Boss. Don’t worry. I promise.” He gave Bicky another smug pat and returned to his seat.
“He’s fading,” Jerry said. “We better jump to the end.”
Bicky sputtered and began convulsing as if freezing.
“Jerry, please…” Hart said, watching his father-in-law.
“Hey kid, that machine throws off a lot of heat, right?” Jerry asked. Gil nodded.
“Go open the door. It’ll be better than a blanket.”
Gil grabbed his water bottle, walked over and held it to Bicky s lips. Bicky tried to drink, but with his shaking, spilled half a swallow out the sides of his mouth.
“Hey, Florence Nightingale, I didn’t say do that.”
Gil set the bottle down next to Bicky, pushed back the outside grate, and slid open the door of the TDU. A blast of heat burst up and out and Gil recoiled from it. He walked back to his seat and threw an impetuous glare at Jerry as he did so.
“Ah, whatever. I guess it’s good to show a little compassion to your enemies now and again. Keep ‘em close. That’s what I say. You’re a good kid.” Gil held Jerry’s eye, but said nothing.
“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Kitty wanted the report, too. To bargain with him,” Jerry nodded toward Bicky, “for her freedom. That night, she finally told Sonia the truth. It was a secret she’d kept for thirty-two years. Nobody knew. Not even me. I got it all after the fact these last few months,” he said to Hart, “or I probably would’ve told her.” Jerry nodded as if in agreement with himself. “She didn’t believe it. Called Kitty a liar. I gotta think it wasn’t because of me, per say, but just the shock of it.”
Jerry furrowed his brow and stared at the back wall of the barn, his voice taking on a somnambulistic quality: “I should have walked in then and stopped it… all that pent up emotion flying out like machine gun fire. Kitty hit her. She didn’t mean to. I just don’t think she realized the toll all those years had taken on her. On them. I mean, if she wouldn’t have had Sonia, she would’ve never stayed in the first place. I would’ve seen to that.”
Jerry cleared his throat as if to dislodge the memory. He shook his head. “Sonia went nuts. I never saw her like that. She threw her tea cup at her mother. Kitty put her arm up – it was still steaming – and it broke all over the floor. Tea and shards of glass everywhere.” Jerry snorted defiantly. “She got a couple nice second degree burns on her arm because of it. Next thing I know she’s running from the house and I’m running after her.”
“What about Sonia?” Hart’s voice was cracked and tinny.
“I didn’t see her fall. Cause if I did, I would’ve gone back. She was crazy with rage. I think she slipped on the wet floor, maybe banged her head on the counter. I heard a noise, but I thought she just threw something else.
“You didn’t go back to see if she was okay?” Hart was on his feet.
“I couldn’t. I had to go after Kitty.”
Hart lunged for Jerry who was unprepared for the attack. He toppled Jerry from the stool and the gun clattered to the floor. Gil reached to pick it up, but Jerry’s foot kicked it away along with Gil’s hand in the process. Gil winced and dropped to the floor holding one hand in another.
The two men struggled, punching, kicking, biting, clawing, rolling up, around and over each other. Bicky crawled toward the center of the floor toward the gun, a painful, slow propulsion. With each inch forward he risked being trampled by the fighters, first a finger, then an arm, and finally his leg, the last of which caused him to lose consciousness for half a minute, passing out where he lay. Gil watched the fight in relative safety from his position in the corner, holding his injured hand, his body following every punch and kick.
Hart’s pent up anger launched him like a heat-seeking missile and he pounded Jerry inexorably with the full fury of it, but anger is not a thrifty shopper and after spewing it all over the room, Hart spent himself, leaving Jerry with the edge. Several minutes later, Hart sat in a heap in front of the TDU, with a black eye, blood dripping from his nose, and a variety of scrapes and gashes that would be telling their story for days to come. Jerry emerged with a gash over his right eyebrow which bled profusely, a broken pinky finger, jutting out in an unnatural position, and the gun. Both men had given and received more than a few blows to the stomach and now prodded their tender mid-sections. Jerry spat out some blood, turned to Hart, and pulled the trigger. It grazed Hart’s elbow. Hart howled and cradled the injured arm.
“Now you sit,” Jerry said to Hart. Blood oozed from the cut above his eyebrow, dripping into his eye. He blinked it away, but it was pervasive.
“I am sitting,” Hart spat back. Jerry raised the gun again, but Gil grabbed a rag and shoved it in his free hand. The gesture grounded Jerry who retreated by lowering his gun. He wiped at the wound before nodding at Gil to take his seat on the hammock, then walked over and dropped the bloodstained rag in front of Hart.
Hart ignored it, ripped off a sleeve of his shirt, and bandaged his elbow. He was sweating, given his injury, and that the temperature in the barn had risen considerably since the door to the TDU had been opened.
Jerry walked over and peered inside to the wide, gaping mouth of the giant stainless steel tank below. “How far down’s that thing go?”
“About two stories,” Gil said.
“Probably what hell looks like.” Jerry took a step back and wiped at his brow. “You can’t build this machine. It’ll ruin the only good thing we got left to us.”
“What are you talking about?” Hart said.
“It’ll kill the oil industry. Akanabi’s stock price’ll go way down and my money’ll be worthless.” Jerry whirled around to face Hart. “Kitty left me all her money, you know.” Jerry smiled sardonically at Bicky who was trying to stand up.
Bicky grabbed the stool for balance, but fell back down with a sickening “oaaaaw.”
“And you know what I’m doing with it, Boss? Huh? Turning a profit, you say? Noooo. I’m giving it all to the environment just like she wanted. And it’ll be in our names. Together on the same legal document. Like a marriage license. Together forever in history.”
“I didn’t care what she did with her money, Jerry. I never did.”
“Hhmph,” Jerry grunted.
“I just wanted…” Bicky’s voice splintered like wood . . .“her.” Bicky took a faltering step up, his weight bearing on one leg, his arm leaning on the stool for support. “And the baby.”
“My baby,” Jerry growled. “Did you know that, Boss? That Sonia was my baby?” Jerry wiped at the dripping blood now mixed with tears that cascaded down the side of his face. “We may not have always known it, but we belonged to each other,” Jerry gushed.
A strange gurgling noise arose from deep in Bicky’s throat. He doubled over, first coughing, then hacking, then vomiting. When he was finished he stood taller.
As the fire in the TDU diminished the available oxygen in the room, Bicky began a slow march toward Jerry, stopping intermittently to suck in a raspy, labored breath. He leaned against one of the barn’s dozen posts for support. “I don’t know…what I knew. I just wanted…” Bicky grabbed his stomach and started hacking again. His pant leg, now a dark, saturated red, was plastered against him, the pain drawing him down from the inside. Bicky leaned against a post while gravity, always one to side with a downward spiral, forced him to crumple.
“Kitty said she had always been petrified you’d find out who it was. That’s why she never told me.”
“This is a bunch of crap,” Hart barked in disgust. “Bicky, set him straight, please.”
“Doesn’t he wish. Tell him, Boss. Tell him how you tried and tried to get her pregnant.”
“Shut up.” Bicky said. He pulled himself up by inches. He grabbed the post with both hands and pushed off, a ship leaving port.
“Finally went and got checked out by a fertility doc a few years after Sonia was born. Check the records for Mason Coleman.”
“Shut up!” Bicky hollered.
“It was Bicky’s brother’s name. The one that died. He used it as an alias. Didn’t want the highbrow Houstonians finding out that the great Bicky Coleman’s sperm don’t swim too well. When d’you figure it out, boss? When she left me all the money?”
“Shut…Up!” Bicky roared. He collapsed in a spasm, clutching his leg.
Hart rolled to the side, ready to stand, but Jerry motioned him back with a wave of the gun. Hart ignored him, pulling himself up into a crouching position.
Jerry fired a bullet inches from Hart’s face. There was barely a sound, just the friction in the air as it passed, and Hart fell onto his haunches. With one big breath, Gil sucked in his fear and covered his mouth.
“She wanted you to believe it was yours, but after awhile you knew better, right. You just didn’t know who, huh? Well, me neither.” Jerry grunted and shined his gun on his pant leg.
Bicky crawled to the next post and laid his head against it, catching his breath.
“You coming after me, Boss?” Jerry said, humor mixed with malice. “Well come on then. I promise not to shoot you.”
Bicky rose and took a slow, halting step, and then another, his face contorting in pain with each one. “This machine…will….be…built. With or… without you,” he wheezed. “It’s time…has come. You won’t…stop it.” He cleared the debris from his throat and spit on the ground.
“Watch me.” Jerry’s face contorted and he raised the gun to Bicky’s chest; Bicky continued his funeral march.
Jerry growled and squeezed the trigger. The bullet lodged in Bicky’s forearm. A shot of blood squirted out. Bicky grunted, more than screamed – as if all the screams already had previous engagements – and stood, eyes closed, swaying in the middle of the room. He pitched forward, but latched onto a beam forestalling the crash. He panted like a dog, trying to steady himself before walking, slow and stiff toward his nemesis, a plane locked on auto pilot, unable to alter its course. Jerry may have had the gun, but Bicky had the upper hand.
“Why didn’t you let her go?” Jerry said, the years of anger and longing, bubbling up to the surface like a spring.
Bicky stood within inches of Jerry now. The two men glowered at each other, breathing in rage, breathing out hate.
“I did. She didn’t want to.”
“You lying sack of….” Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s heart, but Bicky just smiled, unsteady on his feet, yet undeterred, his ragged breath flowing more easily as adrenaline started a quick trot through his body.
“She said you wouldn’t let her go. That you’d disown Sonia if she left you. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up with no father and no money.”
Bicky shook his head. “You were her father. You had money. Not as much as me, granted, but you could have provided for…”
“But I didn’t know!” Jerry screamed.
“Stop it. Just stop it!” Gil yelled, and covered his ears. Jerry whirled to face the boy, raised his gun and shot him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and came out the other side. Gil hit the floor without uttering a sound; his eyes rolled back in his head and his lids fluttered.
“Noooo!” Bicky grabbed onto Jerry for balance and the two men began an awkward choreography. “Damn you,” Bicky yelled, a strangled curse. He tried striking Jerry with his fist, but Jerry deflected the hit. Each held fast to the other’s arm, pushing, pulling, a scant few feet from the miracle machine, as exhaustion and heat coaxed the sweat from their pores.
“You could have let us go?” Jerry sobbed. “Why didn’t you…?”
Bicky glanced over at Gil who was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Hart crawled to him and checked his vital signs. Jerry and Bicky struggled, edging ever closer to the open door of the TDU. Inside, the fire raged without apology at thirteen hundred degrees Farenheit.
“Gil,” Hart said. “Gil. Can you hear me?”
“Maybe the time just wasn’t right, Jerry. Unlike now.”
Bicky broke free of Jerry’s grip, and with all the force remaining in his battered body, shoved him.
Gravity stepped in again, bolstered by its cousin, Entropy, and Jerry started to fall. But like a magnet, or a mirror that reflects what we truly are, Jerry pulled to him that which was most like him: Jerry and Bicky plunged over the small lip of the TDU together. Jerry only had time to scream once, falling as he was at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second, an angst-ridden, shrilly noise that reverberated in the barn even after the men had bottomed out.
Hart shuddered. The flames danced, then roared, eating all the remaining sound in the room until there was nothing left but silence.
“Gil? Are you alright?” Hart squeezed Gil’s hand. “Gil?”
Gil opened his eyes and blinked at Hart. “Am I dead?”
“No, but once the shock wears off, you’ll wish you were.” He knelt down at Gil’s side and wrapped his good arm around Gil’s boyish, angular shoulders.
Gil hid, rabbit-like in the crook of Hart’s arm, scanning the room, assessing the casualties. “One hundred and two,” he said, a muffled observation.
“One hundred and two what?” Hart asked.
“One hundred and two uses.”
Hart laughed once and squeezed Gil, crushing him to his chest. He tore off the remaining sleeve of his shirt and wrapped Gil’s shoulder.
Gil flinched. Sweat had plastered his hair to his scalp so that he looked like a preformed plastic Ken doll. His complexion was the color of ash. Tears fell in careless, random fashion down Gil’s cheeks and Hart felt the steel grip on his heart loosen. He squeezed Gil again and brushed back his hair. Hart staggered over to the TDU, slid the door closed, but didn’t look inside.
“Kori can take us to the hospital,” Gil said.
“I’m surprised she hasn’t been out her yet, with all the noise.” Hart said, helping Gil up.
“She’s a heavy sleeper,” Gil said.
Hart laughed for real this time and threw his good arm around Gil’s good shoulder. “Can you walk?” Hart asked. They breathed in tandem, heavy and erratic. Gil nodded and they walked to the door, a pair of contestants in a three-legged race.
to be continued. . .