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The Apathy Bomb

By Spencer Kimble

Copyright 2017 Spencer Kimble


Bookend 1

A middle-aged Yazidi man sat cross-legged as he languidly tore pieces of flat bread, occasionally dipping it in hummus between bites as he sipped strong coffee. The bleating of sheep, their chewing, and their footsteps were all the sounds he could hear, other than the telltale whispering of a leaves rustling in a light breeze. The sheep wandered around him browsing on the sparse grass near the boulder he used as a seat. The serenity was a welcome change from the horrendous war and strife which had recently engulfed the region, his home. As he glanced to the sky, he only saw few streaks of cirrus clouds. The sun was rising. The sky was transitioning from the dull grey of early morning into the orange of dawn, and then finally, the brilliant azure sky greeted him as the sun tracked higher into the sky. It looked like it was going to be a nice day. He exulted in the beauty and relative safety saying a soft prayer to God in thanks.

Ara thought about his home in Ninevah. There had been such horrific violence and tragedies; atrocities were still being discovered daily. He had recently lost so many friends and family; he was just thankful to be alive, free, and to return to the relative safety he had enjoyed for so long while simply tending his flock of sheep. The militants had been defeated and driven away. Ara and his remaining friends and family were working diligently to rebuild their lives and rebuild a new normality.

With his breakfast finished, he slurped the last of his coffee loudly as he greeted a neighbor who asked for him to watch his sheep as well so that he could help rebuild another neighbor’s house. Ara agreed happily. His friend thanked him and made his way into the village. As he walked away, a loud thunderclap roared across the sky off to the west. Ara instinctively slid off the boulder in the opposite direction seeking cover. He glanced down the path to the village and saw several people lying on the ground, glancing skyward in fear. He looked too. There was a billowy, white, and quite unnatural cloud that had formed in the sky to the west. Ara watched as this unnatural cloud rapidly dissipated. His brow furrowed as he frowned at this event. What did this ominous event portend?




Chapter 1


An old, rusted Datsun 240z pulled up in front of a bar. At one point in time it was probably blue. By that point in time was more of an off-blue. The sign on the front of the bar read “The Watering Hole.” It was in an upscale strip mall in the foothills above town slotted between a super market and an expensive coffee stop. The once-blue car’s brakes squeaked somewhat as they slowed the rattling jalopy to a stop. A door-shaped piece of dross opened and out stepped an equally dilapidated man, his pant’s cuffs tattered, his once-nice, and pressed shirt frayed at the ends of the sleeves. He was short and balding, though that process had nearly completed. He slowly exited the rusted rattletrap and wandered towards the entrance. A cold autumn breeze made him pull his jacket collar up over his exposed neck reflexively against the cold. The same breeze that made him pull his collar over his neck carried debris with it into the bar: dried brown leaves, wrappers from various sundries, an old cigarette pack, and this disheveled little man.

As he entered the bar, he scanned the patrons. He spotted his subject and turned towards him. A man sat at the bar enjoying the music coming from the jukebox. He wore an old Dallas Cowboys hat which had been worn so long, that it had sweat and dirt stains throughout. He was drumming his hands on the bar as he puffed on a cigarette. His head bopped to the music as the bill of the cap alternated between obscuring his face and showing it. He didn’t see the small; disheveled man approach him. “I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have beee-en...” he sang, slapping his hands on the bar to the beat.

“I love this song,” the little man said as he pulled a seat next to him.

The other man barely reacted as the shorter gentleman said this. He reached out and slapped him on the back, “Hey, bro Me too,” he agreed.

“I never liked that line very much, honestly.”

“Which one?”

“About being a traveler of time and space. I traveled both time and space when I walked across the bar to sit down. It’s just not very profound when you stop to think about it.”

“Damn it, Drew!” the larger man groaned as he stopped drumming on the bar and began complaining, waiving his hands about dramatically as he thought about the implications. “You just ruined it for me!” he groaned.

“I’m sorry,” Andrew lied with a slight grin. “Hey Gene! Can I get a shot and...”

“... a beer.” a man who’d reached the end of what we generally consider middle age, finished his request for him as he began pouring the shot. “Hey Drew.” he cheerfully greeted the little disheveled man as a smile beamed out from his wrinkled face.

“Hey Rusty. How was work?” Andrew asked as he downed the shot of bourbon and began rapidly draining his beer glass.

“I dunno,” he replied. “I didn’t go.”

“What? Why not?” Andrew asked, perplexed. “Is anything wrong?”

“Nope,” Rusty laughed as he exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke. “I took the day off, man. I make them a shit-ton of money. I take a day off whenever I want and they better not say anything.”

A tall, thin black man approached the two as they sat at the bar. “What do you sell anyway, Rusty?” the man’s deep baritone asked.

Andrew caught Gene’s eye by pointing to the bar, indicating that he was in need of refreshed drinks. Gene obliged, coming over to refill the shot and beer. “No,” Andrew said as he put his hand over the beer glass. “Could you make that a pitcher of beer?” he asked as he heard his other friend approach.

“Fracking fluid, mostly,” Rusty answered the thin black man with the deep baritone voice as he watched Andrew order a pitcher. “We sell all sorts of different chemicals through a subsidiary, too. I actually just got a new contract through one of those subsidiaries down on the military base last week. Oh man, what a commission that one was, with a contract renewed annually!” Rusty shook his head as he took a long puff from his cigarette.

“Yeah, are they hiring?” he asked.

“We don’t hire losers,” Rusty turned and looked into the man’s eyes.

“Fuck you, Rusty!” the man said and turned to leave.

“C’mon” Andrew said to James as he was about to leave, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Don’t listen to Rusty’s bullshit, man.” He turned to confront Rusty. “That’s not called for. It does nothing positive. At some point, I think you’ll realize that we’re all just a big brotherhood of man. You’re all my brothers, sisters, and cousins.” He expansively lectured his friend while motioning to Gene to get drinks as he pointed at his empty shot glass and a pitcher upturned on the inside of the bar.

“You really believe that don’t you?” Rusty asked him cynically.

“I do,” he said firmly.

“You know, Drew, if we’re all a brotherhood of man and we’re all related like you say...”

“Yeah?”

“Every time you’ve ever had sex, you’ve committed incest,” he laughed.

“Mmmmm,” Andrew groaned, unable to speak with beer in his mouth. “That’s disgusting. You um, you almost ruined the idea of sex for me there.”

“Good!” Rusty exclaimed “Now we’re even for Kashmir.” He changed the subject instantly “Hey, what took you so long tonight, anyway? You’re running an hour and a half late.”

“I worked a little late and then I almost got into an accident on the way here,” he answered.

“Whoa? What happened?”

“Well,” he began, “this really big pickup truck just cut me off on the highway. He drove me right off the road. I barely kept control of the car,” he explained. “I almost honked.”

“Almost?” Rusty asked. “What do you mean ‘almost’? I think I would have honked, at least!”

“I saw his bumper sticker,” Andrew explained as he drained another beer.

“So?” Rusty asked, exhaling a billowing cloud of smoke and putting out the remains of his cigarette. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“It read, ‘I wrestle bears,’” Andrew explained. “It was about that time that I started considering that I wasn’t in a very big hurry, the fact that we all pay taxes, and should share the road; I should let bygones be bygones and things like that.”

“You decided that after reading the bumper sticker,” Rusty laughed.

“Of course...” Andrew chuckled.

Rusty laughed at his friend’s discretion. “Oh, Oh!” Rusty got excited as he remembered something when he looked at his watch. “Hey, Gene! Can you turn the TV to the news? The six o’clock news is about to start!”

Andrew furrowed his brow in thought, “Since when do you care about the news?”

Gene retrieved the television remote from beneath the bar and changed the channel to the local news station and the six o’clock news that Rusty had requested.

In answer to Andrew’s question, Rusty pointed at the screen as he was busy lighting a new cigarette. “I don’t,” he finally answered after he lit his cigarette “Check her out,” he said.

Andrew looked up to the television screen to see quite a lovely young woman reading the news into the camera from her teleprompter. He didn’t recognize her and assumed she must be new. “Ah, I see,” Andrew said.

“Yup,” Rusty confirmed Andrew’s suspicion. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, probably,” Andrew answered miserably without looking back up at the television. “I’m sure I would have thought she was when I was still alive.”

“Meh, you’re not dead yet,” Rusty dismissed Andrew’s morose tone. “Man, would I like to meet her,” he thought aloud as he ogled her on the television screen.

“I think I’ll order another pitcher, you down for more?” Andrew asked Rusty.

“Nah man, I can’t keep up with you,” he said matter-of-factly as he put another cigarette out.

“James?” he asked his other friend.

“Thanks, but no. I think I’ve had enough. I better get going home anyway. I have shuttle duty,” James told him. “Take care, man,” James said, patting Andrew on the back as he left.

“Wait, what’s that?” Rusty asked.

James stopped. “Mostly?” he asked.

“Sure.” Rusty offered.

“I have to drive all the drunk officers and their wives home when they call,” he complained.

“Oh,” Rusty said miserably. “That sounds awful.”

“Actually it’s just boring, but I’ll be on duty until 3 am. I mostly just sit around and play video games waiting for it to end.”

“Damn!” Rusty lamented James’ predicament. “Alright man. I guess we’ll see you later,” he said as James took his leave. “So, what kept you late at work, anyways?” Rusty asked as he continued ogling the attractive young newscaster on the television.

“Oh, nothing much,” Andrew said shrugging. “I just had a bunch of the same old problems that had to be resolved. That sort of thing.”

“Like?” Rusty asked absent-mindedly as he was mentally undressing the newscaster.

“You know? Now that I think of it, one strange thing did happen today,” Andrew said pensively.

“Yeah?”

“A guy came to my window for his prescription and he didn’t see me.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, as he continued undressing her mentally.

“I mean he didn’t see me. He looked right through me like I didn’t exist.” Andrew said, a bit shaken. “It’s like I was just wallpaper. I think I might be turning into wallpaper.”

Rusty couldn’t contain his laughter. His face was buried in his hands, he shook his head back and forth. “Ha! You’ve been wallpaper for years!” he exclaimed as tears welled in his eyes.

“Damn!” Andrew swore.

“Yeah,” Rusty laughed.

“You know? One of my coworkers keeps calling me ‘Stewart’ too”

“What?” Rusty asked.

“Stewart,” he repeated.

“That’s weird. What did you do about it?” Rusty asked

“Do?” Andrew asked him, perplexed as he stirred his beer with his left index finger.

“Yeah,” Rusty laughed. “What did you do about it? Didn’t you correct him?”

“Nah,” Andrew moaned morosely. “That seems like a lot of hassle...”

Rusty was having difficulty containing his laughter such that he could make speech understandable. “So you just let him keep calling you that?”

“Pretty much...”

“You know what, Drew?”

“Huh?”

“Wallpaper,” Rusty said matter-of-factly.

“Damn.”

“Stewart!?!?” Rusty asked again, still surprised.

“Yup,” Andrew nodded shrugging.

“That’s the name of a guy who buys second-hand underwear.”

Andrew thought for a moment, furrowing his brow, “Well, I buy mine new.”

“Good man!” Rusty shouted, clapping his hand on his friend’s back. “Me too. I just don’t wear ‘em.”

Rusty lit a new cigarette and took a long drag before exhaling a billowing cloud of white smoke.

“I... didn’t need or want to know that. You know, those things will kill you,” Andrew told him, pointing at the newly lit cigarette.

“These?” he asked, displaying his cigarette in one hand and pack in the other. Rusty looked down at the bar in front of Andrew. There were several empty shot glasses. “You’re telling me that?!? Good lord, look who’s talking, you hypocrite,” he responded pointing at the empty drink glasses.

“They will,” Andrew stood resolute.

“So what?!?” Rusty challenged him. “All they do is cut off the last few shitty years at the end,” he said shaking his head. “I don’t want to be around for those anyway. What am I supposed to do? Sit impotent in some Goddamned nursing home in my own shit and piss that no one will clean while waiting for a bunch of people who won’t come to visit me? No thanks.”

“Well...” Andrew began his thought, “maybe you’ll change your mind before the end,” Then he took another shot of bourbon and began drinking a new beer.

“Yeah? Maybe you will, too,” Rusty said, pointing at the empty glasses again. “Hey, bro. I need to get going. Are you Ok? Do you need anything?”

“Nah, man. I’m fine,” he replied.

With that, Rusty grabbed his coat and put it on. He said his goodbyes to Andrew and Gene and took his leave for the evening. Andrew continued drinking for a while. His inebriation grew as the remaining patrons made their ways out the door and made for their respective homes.

“Hey, Drew,” Gene said to Andrew.

“Is... it that time?” he asked unsteadily. He didn’t even look at the clock for himself. He just took Gene’s word for it. He gathered his coat and walked to the front door with Gene. Gene locked up and set the alarm.

“Are you OK to get home, Drew?” Gene asked kindly.

“Nya.. No. uh. No thanks,” Andrew finally stammered out. “I... I’m fine.”

“If you say so,” Gene said. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Be safe.”

“Yes, sir,” Andrew replied. “Thanks, Gene.” he managed to express his gratitude. Andrew pulled his coat around him as a cold autumn breeze blew away his warmth and circled dead leaves about his ankles. He started to walk at a brisk pace due to the cold weather and made his way home those two blocks quickly as he climbed the hill, weaving under the street lights. He climbed the stairs to his townhouse, went inside, sat down on his couch, fell over and promptly lost consciousness.




Chapter 2


Andrew slept as the sunlight flitted through the cracks of the window blinds. Pinpoints of light slowly crossed his face shining in his eyes. His eyelids blotted out much of the light, but the intensity of the orange light woke him anyway. He was still fully clothed and he went to the restroom to wash the taste of vomit from his mouth. Andrew checked the time and decided to start getting ready for work. He took a shower and shaved, all the while his head ached with blinding pain. He sat down for his breakfast: a cup of coffee, ibuprofen, and a newspaper. He drank the coffee, took the ibuprofen and read his newspaper. He read a story about a local convenience store being robbed... with a hammer. He shrugged, decided that was more than enough news and headed out the front door.

The morning light shone down on the mountainside where Andrew lived. He walked the few blocks downhill to the shopping center where his car was parked in front of the now-closed bar from the previous night. He sat down and turned the ignition key. The old car rumbled, shuddered and roared to life as he pumped the gas pedal. He rubbed his cold hands together for warmth as the car was itself, warming. He grabbed a lighter from the passenger seat and lit a cheap cigar. As he drove along, he periodically knocked the ashes from the tip over the floor of the passenger seat, under which was a two foot diameter hole in the floorboards of the car. The ashes fell through and promptly disappeared.

Andrew wound his dilapidated car down the canyon road and made his way onto the highway as the traffic from the morning commute clogged the lanes with a hurried blur of steel, glass, and blaring horns. On the west side of the highway were towering foothills and to the east of the highway was the army base sitting on a flat plain, the sun was gleaming low in the sky of the morning bathed them in a surreal light, making it all look like a diorama. The highway slid between them and he navigated the traffic to an entrance of the army base. Andrew turned onto the base and pulled his car into the guard post. The car had virtually no exhaust system. It was idling loudly as the guard stepped toward the driver side door of the car.

“Sir!” the guard stood erect and shouted over the din of the jalopy. “Can you shut this thing down?” he asked, pointing at the hood of the car.

Andrew turned the car off. “Here you are, specialist,” he said, handing his identification to the guard. “You’ve got a busy day,” he said, looking around at all the traffic at the gate.

“Yessir,” the specialist responded, returning his identification. “There’s a lot of construction on the south side of the base. Watch out for all the truck traffic it’s bringing in, sir,” he informed Andrew and waved him by.

“Oh, thanks specialist,” Andrew replied. He nodded to the guard and went through the gate.

He drove his way across the base a couple miles past a golf course full of officers, to a big hospital and parked his car in the expansive parking lot far from the building. He took another puff from his cigar and tossed it through a gaping hole in the floor boards of the passenger side of the car. He walked into the emergency department and quietly glided past guards, nurses, doctors and patients unnoticed. He turned down a dark corridor, climbed a flight of stairs in a service corridor, and turned a corner entering the main body of the hospital. He then made his way to the pharmacy.

The business of the pharmacy was in full swing when he entered. The workers hurried as they prepared prescriptions, manned phones, and saw patients. There was a clattering of pills as they poured from auto-dispensing hoppers landing in vials or counting trays and ringing phones filled the air. Andrew made his nauseated way through the manic activity unnoticed and he sat at an unattended window at a long line of windows stationed along a long wall. He logged into the computer and opened the metal door to his window. He pressed his call button and began seeing patients.

A young man in pixelated fatigues rose dutifully when number 431 was called by the lilting, if austere computerized voice. He looked above the window at the wall confirming that he was at the correct window before lowering his gaze. Andrew sat perfectly still and the young man looked right past him.

“I’m right here,” Andrew informed him.

“Oh,” the young man responded, a bit startled as he looked down, finally noticing Andrew. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t see you there. I think the doctor wrote me a prescription.”

“Don’t worry sergeant, it happens all the time...” Andrew replied noting the three striped chevron on the man’s chest, indicating his rank as a sergeant, and addressed how he had failed to notice Andrew’s presence. Andrew patiently explained to the young man what the medication was, what it was generally used for, what it was being used for in his case, a few warnings about serious side effects, and then explained the most likely side effects he could expect. The soldier thanked him, took his prescription, and left.

Andrew continued this process for a few more patients before a disembodied voice entered his ear from his right.

“Drew?” it asked.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, I didn’t even notice you come in,” it said. “Good morning.”

“Oh, good morning Kurt-nel,” he said, referring to his friend with a portmanteau combining his name ‘Kurt’ and the ending to ‘colonel’ as Kurt was a retired colonel. “How are you today?” he asked as he turned towards him. Kurt’s face was framed with deep laugh lines and crow’s feet. His glasses were perched on his nose. His mustache and soul patch surrounded his smiling mouth.

“I’m actually doing really well today.” Kurt said with a beaming smile on his face. A patient came to his window and his attention turned to serving him. Kurt noticed Andrew’s friend, the psychiatrist Dr. Lusik trying to get Andrew’s attention in the waiting room.

“Hey Drew, Dave is out there,” he pointed into the waiting room where Dr. Lusik was pointing at his watch and held up a single finger. Andrew nodded and Dave waved and left.

They each saw a few more patients while trying to continue their fragmented conversation. “So what’s so good anyway, Kurtnel?” Andrew asked his usually morose friend.

“My daughter just moved out here. I’m pretty excited. It sure is good to spend some time with her,” he said, still smiling broadly.

“Is that where you were the last couple weeks?”

“Yeah,” Kurt confirmed Andrew’s suspicion. “We moved her out here from Boston a few weeks back. I spent the last couple weeks helping her settle in and trying to catch up. It seems like I was always deployed when she was a girl,” he lamented “and by the time she grew up, her mother and I had split. I just never got to spend as much time with her as I would have liked. It’s been nice.”

“What brings her out here?” Andrew asked.

Kurt scowled erasing his beaming smile for a moment. “Well...” he grumbled “she had a really good job to come here for, but she just backed out of it and took another... crummy job,” Kurt complained.

“What does she do?” Andrew asked in between seeing patients as fragmented conversations such as that are frequent in pharmacies.

“She’s working as a journalist right now,” he grumbled.

“What’s wrong with that?” Andrew asked.

“With being a journalist?” Kurt asked. “There’s nothing wrong with that per se, it’s just that she’s quite overqualified and it’s not really in her area of study.”

“Yeah,” Andrew asked as he filed prescriptions. “How so?”

“Well, I’ve never met a reporter with a doctorate in biochemical engineering, chemistry, and biochemistry. That’s not even to mention her post-doctoral work, fellowships, and published papers. She doesn’t have a degree in journalism... or communications or anything of that sort.”

“WOW!” Andrew said as his head spun around to look at Kurt, sincerely impressed. His eyes widened with surprise at the level of education Kurt’s daughter had. “She’s pretty smart. You must be very proud...”

“...Of her accomplishments? I am for sure,” he smiled. “The brains didn’t come from me though, be sure of that!”

“She does sound overqualified,” Andrew agreed. He checked the clock and decided it was a good time to take a quick break. “Hey, man. Do you want a cup of coffee?” he asked Kurt. “I’m heading over to the chapel,” he informed Kurt. He went to the chapel most days to brew a cup of tea or coffee and usually he got an extra cup or coffee or two for Kurt and Deb if they so pleased.

“Deb, do you want me to grab you a cup of coffee, too?” he asked politely.

“Yes, please,” she smiled at him. Her mobility was obviously impaired with a large and bulky walking boot wrapped around her foot and extending up to the knee she had to wear for a time after foot surgery.

Andrew nodded that he would. He rose and left the pharmacy making his way to the chapel. He filed past young soldiers and their families, old retired soldiers and their war brides and past the grief stricken as he entered the chapel. The chapel provided him and his colleagues with a pleasant space in which they could get coffee, tea and frequently, the good company of the spiritual guides who worked within. There were always a few pastors, priests or reverends to attend to the spiritual needs of the soldiers in the hospital.

As Andrew steeped his tea, he prepared two cups of coffee as well. A woman, her young son and two fatigued officers entered the chapel office near Andrew. The woman was obviously distraught with grief, her boy looked dazed. One of the men in fatigues took the woman into his office with her son. He never saw them again. The other man in fatigues turned to Andrew and leaned over to see Andrew’s face as he looked down at the tea he was making.

“Drew?” the man asked him, leaning over to look up to meet Andrew’s gaze with his kind eyes and weathered face. “Is that you?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” he answered without looking up. After a moment he looked up and recognized the man.

“How are you doing?” the man asked- not in passing, but probing and compassionately.

“I, uh... I’m getting by, John,” Andrew responded slowly after a long pause but, with a perfunctory response that didn’t fool John for a moment.

The once-cheerful face turned much more somber as he noticed Andrew’s mood and appearance. Deep care-lines sunk into the old pastor’s brow and around his mouth. His eyebrows lowered to their usual location and the sadness and heartbreak of a career in counseling grieving people became clearly evident on his face. His concern got the better of him and he asked Andrew “Can we go talk for a minute in private?”

Andrew physically convulsed as if struck heavily. “Oh, I dunno...” he tried to escape the situation.

“Please? It would mean a lot to me,” the pastor pled.

“Yes sir,” Andrew’s voice cracked as he agreed to that which he so desperately wanted to avoid that morning.

John guided Andrew from the office into the dimly lit chapel. There were lines of pews, a lectern on a raised dais and a large backlit cross behind the lectern. No one was in the chapel. There were no services being held, no souls receiving guidance in there at this time. They had the room to themselves. John sat on the first pew and turned to face Andrew.

“So, how are you really doing?” John asked gently, but assertively. “Are you getting by?”

Andrew collapsed heavily onto the other end of the pew. “I... I dunno, John,” he said pathetically, tears rimming his red, sunken eyes. “I... I’m trying,” he explained with great effort.

John looked at his wrinkled clothing, tattered at the cuffs of the wrists and ankles. His hair, what there was left on his bald head was too long and unkempt. Deep, dark circles were under his tear-filled eyes as he looked up at John. “Try harder,” John said with a smile. “You look terrible.”

“I... I will,” Andrew stammered in response.

“You’re still drinking... and too much.”

“Yeah,” Andrew’s muffled voice replied, hunched over with his face buried in his hands. His hands were buried, face and all in his lap.

“I know you’ve been through some hard times, Drew. I want you to know that I believe that God doesn’t ask that anyone bear a burden they cannot,” he said gently, trying to reassure Andrew. “There is always a reason.”

Andrew winced and turned away. “Don’t...” he warned as the bile rose within him.

John continued, “I would like you to work on trying to find something to live for, Drew. God has a plan for everyone, you know. He needs you for something. I can tell when He has chosen someone for a task. God has a plan for you.” he said, dramatically pointing his finger at Andrew.

Andrew lifted his head from his hands, his face was twisted into a grimace of rage. “A plan?” he asked derisively. “You know, I had a plan!” he shouted angrily throwing his pen across the room. “I had a family!” he yelled “What about my plans? What about my family?” he screamed the question, pointing to himself. “You know, your God didn’t give two shits about my plans!” he stood stabbing an accusing finger beyond the lectern at the cross, the subject of his present fury. “Fuck him!” he cried out “and to hell with his plans!” The tears were streaming down his cheeks as the usually reserved little man moved around aggressively flailing his arms and shouting angrily to accentuate his point. He composed himself at length, pushing his the palms of his hands into his eyes wiping away the tears. He straightened himself and tussled his hair. “No, John,” he replied with an astonishing amount of calm, “There is nothing he can ask of me after taking everything from me,” he said coolly as he cleaned the lenses of his glasses. “I have nothing left of myself to give to him.... or for him. The whole world can fucking burn for all I care... and it can take me with it.”

“Drew, I’m really sorry I caused you distress. Please, understand that wasn’t my intention today,” John said with a look of distress on his face.

Andrew nodded, but said nothing as emotion was still welling strongly within. He tamped it down.

“I understand your anger. I wish you would reconsider...”

“...I have,” he cut John off abruptly and left the chapel to return to work.

Andrew returned to the pharmacy slowly. He further composed himself during the short trip. As he walked to his work station, he gave Deb a cup of coffee and gave Kurt his cup. Kurt was in the midst of finishing a conversation with an old sergeant.

“So Uncle Sugar told you what?” the sergeant asked him.

“That I was only 60% disabled from sciatica and a slipped disc. So, I guess I’m gonna keep working for now despite the fact that I lose feeling in my leg all the time.”

“That’s all ate up,” the sergeant told him.

“It’s a soup sandwich, for sure.” Kurt agreed.

Andrew cocked his head to the side and stood perplexed, as always by a vernacular he found almost entirely inscrutable.

“Sometimes Uncle Sugar is the biggest Blue Falcon,” he lamented. “Well thanks for everything, Kurt.”

“You bet, sergeant,” he replied with a solemn salute.

Andrew shook the confusion from his head. He understood every word they said, yet had no idea what they had just been talking about.

The older sergeant returned the salute out of respect, took his medications and his leave. Andrew took his seat at his window and called up his next patient. He explained the medications to the patient and noticed James waving to him from the waiting room. James came to the side of the waiting room and held his ticket so that Andrew could see it. Andrew finished counseling the soldier and an electronic woman’s voice floated over the waiting room, beckoning the number 527 to window 6 where Andrew sat. James came to the window immediately.

“Hey, Drew. Thanks for calling me up man. I don’t really know about these other pharmacists,” James told him looking at Andrew’s coworkers suspiciously.

“Any time, man. Any time,” Andrew assured him. “You know you don’t have to take a number anymore. We have a program for you guys now for this,” Andrew explained. “And all these guys are great in here. We’re here to help, man. I swear.”

“Yeah,” James nodded. “I know, I know. I just don’t want people to know I’m in the program. It’s not their business, you know?”

“I know, I know but, you guys can just come to this far window and we’ll take care of you. Don’t wait in line like normal soldiers, Ok?”

“Yes, sir,” James responded nodding his understanding.

“Let’s see what we have in here for you,” Andrew said as he started searching through the new prescription orders for James. “Dr. Lusik changed your antidepressant again.”

“Yeah,” James said. “I dunno, man. Nothing seems to be working,” he lamented, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands as he leaned heavily on the counter. “Shit sucks.”

Andrew leaned away from the computer monitor and leaned in towards James. “Don’t worry, man. We’re just going to keep working at it, alright?”

“Yes, sir,” James responded, nodding. “Have you talked to Dr. Lusik lately.”

“We had lunch yesterday. We’re doing lunch here in a bit. We do most days. It looks like he increased the dose of your anxiety medication, too,” he answered without looking up from the computer monitor.

James nodded again saying, “Yeah, that’s what we talked about. That sounds right. You know Drew, Dr. Lusik really seemed down today. It’s like he was sad or really lost in thought when I saw him this morning. He wasn’t himself.”

Andrew cocked his head to the side trying to interpret what could be bothering Dave, but digested the information wordlessly, He spent several minutes explaining the side effects James may experience. “So, the old antidepressant needs to be slowly tapered off. It can cause unpleasant withdrawal effects. I don’t want you to experience that. When you get down to a half tablet every other day, do that for a week or so and then stop it completely. Ok?” he circled dates on a calendar for the month indicating which days he should taper the old medication and when to start the new one.

James examined the calendar closely. “That’s it? That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Nah,” Andrew replied. “If you have any problems or questions, just pop in here or you can give me a call. We’ll get this sorted out.”

“Hey, Drew?” James asked.

“Yeah.”

“Is this stuff gonna work?”

Andrew grew more solemn, his expression became more grim. “Hey man, we can’t fix everything. We can’t cure everything. Sometimes all we can do is our best, right? Just... cope until things get better,” Andrew tried to encourage his friend. “We’ll try this regimen for now and all we can do is go forward from here and if it doesn’t work, we will figure out what will.”

James listened to Andrew’s advice and thought a moment. “Alright, thanks man. I know you and Dr. Lusik are doing all you can for me. I appreciate it.”

“Hang in there. You have my phone number?” Andrew asked.

“Let me just make sure,” James said as he looked through his phone. “Yeah, I’ve got you right here,” he showed the phone to Andrew.

“Good. Don’t be shy if you need anything,” Andrew told him.

“Ok,” James said, nodding. He managed a weak smile, “Thanks, Drew. As hard as all this has been, I’m glad you and Dr Lusik have been here for me. You guys are life-savers.”

“Hey man, we just do what we can,” Andrew told him.

James reached across the counter and shook Andrew’s hand. “Thanks, man,” he said, his smile a little larger as he walked away.

Kurt looked over to Andrew questioningly. Andrew shrugged and gave him a grim look.

Dr. Lusik returned and Andrew checked the clock and saw it was time for lunch. “I’ll be back shortly,” he told Kurt.

Kurt just nodded.



“Is something bothering you, Dave,” Andrew finally asked after several wordless minutes sitting together in the cafeteria.

Dave had a forlorn look on his face. “You know Sergeant Donovan?”

“Yeah.”

Dave looked down at his untouched lunch. “He took his life last night. I was just informed this morning. It’s been a difficult day.”

“Oh no, that’s too bad,” Andrew said sympathetically as he wiped his mouth, finally realizing why Dave was so distraught.

His head still hung over his untouched lunch. “It’s worse... I lost my objectivity; I got too close. We had become friends,” Dave admitted. “He'd been over a few times. My wife and I even invited him for Thanksgiving... I guess he won’t be coming,” Dave lamented. He rubbed his face “I don’t even know why I bother sometimes...”

Andrew became very serious for a moment. “Dave, you do it because it’s meaningful, you do it because it’s important. What you do matters and there are few who are willing to do it.”

“Maybe I should just quit and start my own practice outside of here,” Dave moaned.

“I’ll open a pharmacy in there, too. We’ll both just leave this place,” he offered looking around. “Pharmacies make good money per square foot, you know. It’ll work,” he smiled, knowing he was goading Dave.

Dave smiled slightly, “I’d make a lot more money.”

“Me, too,” Andrew laughed as he looked up at Dave’s face. “But, you won’t do it. You won’t abandon your patients and neither will I. We help a lot of people.”

Dave nodded and started poking at his lunch. He took a bite, then another. “Thanks, Drew.”

“No problem,” he said as he got up to go back to work. “We’ll do lunch again,” he smiled at Dave.

Dave continued eating, still appearing lost in thought as Andrew left.



“Hey Kurt,” Andrew greeted Kurt as he returned from lunch.

Kurt continued entering prescription information as he asked Andrew “Hey, what are you doing this weekend.”

“Pfff. Nothing unusual.”

“Are you busy Saturday?” Kurt asked.

“Not really,” he admitted.

“Good!” he exclaimed. “Then you should be available to take Melinda out on a date.”

“Um,” Andrew stammered. “Kurt, I uh, no I don’t think I... This doesn’t seem like a good, um...” he continued his stammering “wait, who’s Melinda?”

“She’s my daughter,” he answered quickly. “Pick her up Saturday night at her place,” he examined Andrew a little more critically. “dress nice... 7:30 sharp,” he clarified his order while hastily writing her phone number and address on a scrap piece of paper which he handed to Andrew. “She just went through a bad divorce and could use some companionship...” he said turning to face Andrew, “so could you. Give her a call this evening after work. She’s normally done pretty late with work- somewhere around 8pm. You should be able to reach her then.”

“No, no, no. Kurt, this doesn’t...” Andrew tried to avoid the date.

“Did the pitch of my voice change? Did it’s tone raise at the end?” Kurt asked him angrily.

“Um, no,” Andrew responded in a state of absolute confusion.

“Then it wasn’t a question,” Kurt scowled. “You’re familiar with speech and the English language.”

“Uh, yeah. I think I am,” he said. “I thought I was...” he said more quietly to himself.

“Good! Then you can still tell the difference between a statement and a question.”

“Oh,” Andrew replied miserably. “Wait... wait a minute, Kurt. Is that a question?”

“No,” he shook his head.

“Hmm. Maybe not then,” Andrew said as his thoughts drifted away with his gaze. He sat wondering for a moment whether he really did understand language and whether or not he had misinterpreted so many interactions over the years. “No,” he said, shaking his head “I understand the English language,” he finally decided.

“Great. Make sure to call her tonight, then,” Kurt said abruptly. “She’s expecting you.”

Andrew looked at Kurt and feared sparking more fury from him. He thought about more protests. He tried to think of a few excuses, but the look on Kurt’s face told him that it would be met with more resistance and further commands which he feared he would be forced to obey. He acquiesced: “Yes sir. I’ll call her tonight when I’m done with work,” he said sheepishly, fearing what he had just agreed to.

“Good man,” Kurt said without looking at him. Kurt checked his watch and smiled saying “Oh. What a pleasant surprise, I was in early today. It’s time for me to go home already,” he commented happily. “Make sure and call her,” he commanded, sternly pointing his index finger towards Andrew’s face. “I’ll check in on the both of you later tonight.”

“Um, Ok. I’m late tonight, so I guess I’ll call her when I’m done,” he relented, completely defeated by Kurt’s force of character.

A couple hours later, it was Andrew’s turn to take his leave of work for the evening. He left the hospital and walked slowly to his decrepit Z. He absent-mindedly kicked a rock in frustration. It skittered across the parking lot hitting his car leaving a small dent. He started the rattle-trap and the engine gave Andrew a little more of the life it had left to take him back toward his home to The Watering Hole. He wound his way up the highway past the picturesque mountains, now hiding the sun rather than greeting it as it had in the morning. The mountains cast long shadows over the entire city as he pulled in front of the bar, got out and went inside. He looked around but couldn’t find Rusty. He saw James and decided to go sit with him and have a few drinks.

“Hey, James. Have you seen Rusty tonight?”

“Nah, man. He hasn’t been in tonight,” James’ deep baritone rumbled back. “You could call him,” he offered helpfully.

Andrew looked at James a moment and considered the option. “Huh, that’s weird. Oh well, no worries. I guess I’ll just see him tomorrow,” he decided.

Andrew ordered a pitcher of beer to share with James and shots of bourbon for himself. He spent much of the next hour agonizing over calling Melinda. It was definitely something he didn’t really want to pursue, but something he decided he had better or face Kurt’s wrath, which he absolutely didn’t want to experience. He pulled the scrap of paper from his pocket on which Kurt had written her contact information. Andrew was cursing himself for acting so servile with Kurt and for Kurt’s fine penmanship which was so easy to read. A lump rose in his throat as his anxiety arose within. His hand began to shake as he pulled out his phone and dialed.

“Hello?” a perky female voice responded. It was a familiar voice despite the fact that he knew he had never met her. Andrew had heard it somewhere before, he was sure of it. He searched his memory, but couldn’t come up with the source of the familiarity. “Hello?!” the familiar voice repeated.

“Uh, Hi,” Andrew managed to squeak out.

“Is this Andrew?” she asked.

“Hi- uh, yeah,” he wrestled with his tongue and larynx to communicate. James couldn’t stifle his laugh at the lack of confidence and the overall ineptitude he witnessed of Andrew trying, unsuccessfully, to communicate with a woman. “Your Dad...” he began, but she interrupted him promptly,

“Oh good,” she forcefully interrupted, speaking right over him. “Dad said you would call, though I thought you would have made the effort a bit earlier,” she lamented. “Come by about 7:30 tomorrow night. I know of a great restaurant. I’ll get us reservations.”

He thought he had enough reservations for both of them already. “I’m um, sorry,” he said. “I worked late.” He provided a lame excuse for a topic she had apparently, already passed. “I thought you just moved here. How do you know about a good restaurant?”

“It’s an Italian place up on the north side of town,” she explained. “I’ve been there once with Dad. It was great. We should go there,” she insisted.

“Yeah, sure,” Andrew placated her, realizing it was probably an easier way to deal with her as he had long ago decided it was with her father.

“Great!” she said, sounding genuinely excited. “I’ll see you tomorrow night. I’m really looking forward to meeting you. Dad says so much about you.”

Andrew pondered her words unsure of how to respond. “...I’ll see you then,” he said after a pause.

“What was that?” James asked him, still laughing at how inept he had been on the telephone.

“I got roped into asking some homely critter out on a date,” Andrew complained.

“How did that happen?”

“You know? I’m not even sure,” he said shaking his head in confusion. “It all happened so fast. They all talk so fast,” he said, barely realizing he was responding to James. “My coworker roped me into taking his daughter out.”

“Does she sound good looking?” James asked.

“You can sound good looking?”

“Oh, yeah man. Some women just sound sexy.”

“Yeah, I guess she sounded pretty. I guess that’s something, considering it’s a blind date.”

James couldn’t contain his glee at what he perceived as Andrew’s great misfortune. “Man, it’s a blind date? Ha ha. Those never work out well. You didn’t see a picture or anything?” he managed to say with great effort, still laughing at Andrew. After checking the time, he rose and took his coat. “Hey, man. I gotta get going,” he said.

“Ok,” Andrew said. “But, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call me.”

“Ok, Drew. Thanks man. I’m sorry I laughed at you. You know I appreciate your help, right man?” he said patting him on the shoulder as he passed him on his way out, though he kept laughing.

Andrew just nodded. He was far too miserable to bother getting annoyed at his friend. “Any time,” he offered James as he left. He sat drinking for the rest of the evening alone, waiting for Rusty to come by. He never did. Andrew helped Gene close the bar and stumbled up the hill to his home. He stumbled through the front door, collapsed, and never really discerned when his reverie turned into sleep.




Chapter 3


Andrew’s sweaty hands shook erratically and nervously as he attempted once again, to tie a half-windsor knot. After multiple attempts, he got the knot how he wanted it and his clammy hands slid the knot to his throat. The silken noose secure, he looked up at the clock and cringed at how close it was to the appointed time. He checked himself in the mirror. He shrugged having decided that this was as good as it gets. He left his home, got in his car, and started to drive across town to Melinda’s house.

A chill hung in the air as Andrew left his house and saw that his car wasn’t there. His car was a few blocks away at the bar he realized, and he made the short hike down the hill to it. Crisp, dry, brown leaves whirled in the wake of the Z as he drove across town, leaving them swirling in the invisible eddies of air behind it. And though the wind gave the leaves urgency, that urgency did not extend to Andrew. He didn’t hurry.


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