Ambulance

 

The streets were packed, as they always were right around noon. The bike lanes were in use, though not as heavily as city planners had advertised. Most of the people stuck in traffic looked at them as wasted space. A vein that could be bleeding off a little more traffic. Brakes squeaked and engines idled. The air reached its midday dilution of exhaust. The wail of a siren broke through the cyclic rumble of traffic.

"Are you kidding me?"

"What?"

"Why do you always have to do it? Can't you just wait like everybody else?"

"First of all, you know I can't stop. Second. Well, just relax and enjoy the ride."

"You're a control freak."

"Look who's talking."

"What I'm proposing is not control. It's... it's... it's, patience. It's going with the flow. We're not even going to save that much time."

"Look, I've got the magic whistle and I'm going to use it." With that, he laid on the wailer at the already frantically moving cars ahead. They bunched up into the bike lane to let the screaming ambulance pass. Jason began to laugh and slap the dash board. Dominique shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. By the time they made it through the intersection, the cars on the other side had had enough time to react and there was a mostly clear path. They cleared another intersection and headed for the next.

"You're good with pizza, right?" Jason asked.

"That's fine. I don't care anymore."

"Oh come on, don't be like that." Jason couldn't stop smiling. As he looked to Dominique for approval, he veered and almost clipped a pickup truck. The dually tires in the rear chirped as they took the next right. The ambulance pulled into a shopping plaza and turned off the lights and sirens. Jason steered around to the rear of the complex and slowly drove around back. He puttered past the back doors and loading docks for each business. At the other end, he pulled up along side the north wall of the plaza. It wasn't an actual parking spot, but it was out of sight. Plus, cops never really messed with a little creative parking for a fellow first responder. They did it too. Jason locked up the rig.

The two men made their way down the sidewalk that lined the store fronts, enjoying the shade. Dominique wore a sour look on his face. Jason swung his arms and his husky carriage swayed as he strolled. A pleased smirk .

Inside the restaurant, the two took their place in line. Without conversation they began the incremental crawl toward the register. An inch or two at a time. Jason stepped ahead when they finally got there and ordered three slices of sausage and onion, with a large drink. Dominique didn't see what he liked, so he asked if they were going to have any more of the Greek style pizza. Misty, behind the register checked and let him know it would be a five minute wait. He ordered two slices and a cup for water.

The only seating was across from the soda dispenser and near the bathroom. The odor of ocean breeze urinal cake mixed with bodily funk, breathed out with each open and close of the door. At the table, Jason set down his drink and napkins. Dominique followed with his water. Jason held his phone in both hands. Neck slouched down as if the screen created a gravitational pull. Dominique looked around at the people. He didn't know what to make of them. People. They seemed such a lost and fleeting species. In the back of his mind, he had to acknowledge that he was one too. He didn't feel like he was better than others, at least he didn't think so. Just different. Separate. Okay, maybe better in some cases. He looked at his partner, with the dumb glazed look on his face.

Over the intercom came the words, 'three-seventeen'. Dominique was three-eighteen. He said nothing. The intercom called the same number again, repeating it twice this time. Jason still didn't move. Dominique smirked at how lost his co-worker seemed to be. Finally Jason, set down his phone and looked up. "Dude, my faction just got decimated. That's gonna take forever to rebuild."

"That doesn't sound too bad. A decimation is only a reduction by ten percent, so you really aren't that bad off."

"You know what I mean."

"I do. That's why I'm trying to help you use a more correct term. How about destroy or demolish, if you want to stick with the letter D."

"Do you ever stop being like this? Why don't you sign up to play? Forget about being uptight for like five minutes. We can team up and watch each others backs. You're into vide games, right?"

"I play video games, yes. On a video game console, not a phone."

"It's the same shit."

"Not even close. That's like saying, 'Hey you play chess, wanna come shoot marbles?' I'll stick with chess."

"You're such a prick." Jason said with a grin. "You need to chill out. Get laid or something."

"If being correct and having standards makes me a prick, then go ahead and hand me my mushroom crown."

"Ugh, dude I'm getting ready to eat here. I don't need that visual in my head."

Dominique sat silent, satisfied with himself. The intercom clicked to life again, 'three-seventeen and three-eighteen'. The attendant repeated both numbers again.

Jason looked down at his receipt. "How the hell are ours ready at the same time?"

"They called yours like three times already. A few minutes ago."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"You were sitting right here. Two feet from where I'm sitting. I figured you were just waiting 'til you were done with whatever it was you were doing." Dominique fought back a smile.

"Man, I hate you."

They brought their pizza back to the table. Jason started eating right away. He complained that it wasn't hot enough. He blamed Dominique for ruining his lunch. He complained about the smell coming from the bathroom. Dominique left his pizza alone and nodded sarcastically while Jason continued to rant.

"Why aren't you eating?" Jason asked, incredulous.

"I'm letting it cool off. I don't like it piping hot."

"Why are you so weird? Who doesn't like hot pizza."

"Me."

The two finished and piled their trash onto one of the trays. Dominique stacked the empty tray beneath and dumped them at the trash bin. Jason brushed off his uniform and checked to see if he had dropped anything that left a stain. As soon as they stepped outside, Jason lit a cigarette. A man wearing a fine gray suit looked on with a disapproving glare. A few other people, who were ambling around the door, moved away from the smoker. He took a few drags from the cigarette before the two began to stroll back down to the end of the complex. Dominique heard Jason getting short of breath as they walked. Dominique offered no conversation, but turned when he heard something behind them. The man in the suit was walking a distance back, talking on a cell phone.

At the ambulance, the two stood at the rear of it while Jason finished his cigarette. He spit while he rolled pea gravel beneath the soles of his boots. His partner stood with hands in pockets. They didn't speak. After spending so much time together, it was difficult to hatch new conversation. Just then, footsteps dropped from the sidewalk, obscured by the ambulance. The man in the suit, no longer on his phone, rounded the corner to join them. The two looked at each other, then at the man.

"Hey fellas, how's it going?" The man asked jovially.

"Fine." Replied Dominique.

"What do you want?" Replied Jason.

"A moment of your time. Looks like you have it to spare." The man motioned to the cigarette.

"And, you are?" Jason said, drawing out the last word.

"Oh, yes, forgive me. I'm Franklin Mills, Attorney." He pointed at Jason and then Dominique. "It's a pleasure meeting you Mr. Maddox and Mr. Jones."

"Again, what do you want?" Jason asked, as he dropped and crushed his cigarette.

"Well, I'm curious, did your call get cancelled?"

"What call?"

"I watched you blowing through traffic with your lights and sirens. I pulled over for you, but followed once you passed. Wanted to see what was going on. Then I watched you pull in here and just moments later, you were getting lunch."

Dominique groaned. Jason turned to his partner and told him, through clenched teeth. "Shut up."

Franklin continued. "I was a little disappointed there was nothing to see. So I'm curious, did your call get cancelled or were you just trying to get through traffic?"

"Why don't you just go back, get some pizza, and mind your own fucking affairs?"

"And miss out on this opportunity? I would be a fool."

"So what, are you going to call the cops on us?"

"Ha. No, that would be petty. They probably wouldn't even cite you. Just dress you down a little. Plus, I don't really enjoy the draw out statement taking process."

"Then what?"

"I would call your employer. Look at that, they put the phone number right on the back here." Franklin took a picture of the back of the ambulance with his phone.

"Look dude, you're starting to piss me off."

"You know, there is something I want." He reached into his blazer and came out with a glossy black business card, pinched between two fingers. He held it up as if he was displaying a rare artifact.

"I don't want your stupid card, man."

"If you two flunkies want to keep your jobs, I need something in return. You to call me anytime there is a serious injury. Any kind of accident is great, violent attacks, even self inflicted stuff. The more grievous, the better. Collect some names and basic info, then send it my way."

Jason began to laugh. "You're kidding right?"

"I'm actually not."

"First of all, we could get fired for something like that. Secondly, you're a douchebag and I really don't want to help you."

"Look here you little shit." Franklin cleared his throat and composed himself. "Look, you don't think you're going to get fired for your emergency lunch scam? I'm going to highlight and amplify every public trust you betrayed and every public safety risk you created. You won't just skate away from this."

"It'll be a reprimand, maybe a temporary suspension. We're unionized."

"How nice for you, but you're wrong. I've fought to keep twerps like you their jobs. I know what it'll take to get your asses fired."

"Maybe we should just go." Dominique said hesitantly.

"Dude, I'll handle this. Just stay quiet." Jason said without looking away from the lawyer. "Alright fuck face, what's in it for us if we help you?"

"Jason, I'm really not comfortable wi..." Dominique whined before Jason interrupted. "QUIET." To Franklin he continued. "So what is it?"

"I'll be honest, the longer I stand here, the less I like you guys. Your a dick and he's a pussy. You make a great couple, but I'm not sure I want to deal with either of you again. You had your chance."

Without warning, there was the sound boots scraping against the asphalt. Jason shuffled his feet as he drew his arm back. There was a blur of movement as he hopped forward and threw everything he had behind a right cross. Franklin sidestepped and pushed off of the swinging shoulder, sending Jason tumbling into the wall. He recovered and spun around, bouncing like an amateur boxer.

"Now you're really fucked. I've practiced Aikido since college."

Jason spit on the ground. "I don't give shit about any of that fancy shit." With that, he started throwing little jabs to probe the older man. His sloppy footwork created an obnoxious symphony of grinding and scrapes.

Franklin had his hands up about chest level. He casually moved position and swung his shoulders to get his head out of the way of the incoming shots. Nothing landed. He saw the frustration build with each missed swing. It was exactly the effect he'd hoped for. Angry people make bad decisions. He smiled and reached out to deflect a close jab. After each dodge, he tossed in a quick insult.

Jason said nothing in response. He breathed heavily though his mouth and focused on trying to find an opening. When he saw the the slimy fuck reach out to block a punch, he knew that was his only shot. He opened his clenched fist and rolled his wrist around to grab hold of the man's suit jacket. Waisting no time, he yanked and threw his free arm around the man's chest. His arms met and he sunk in a bear hug. He buried his face into the trapped shoulder and squeezed with all he had. "Get his legs." Jason grunted.

Franklin panicked. The death grip was overwhelming. Just a second ago he was in control and then, something happened. It was quick and he didn't have the luxury of time to think about it. There was no breath left in him. Barely any would come in. He tried to curse at the dirty beast that had him wrapped up, but only groans and wheezes escaped.

The two, joined at the torso, jerked wildly. Dominique looked on, dumbfounded. How did this all happen? Just minutes ago he was eating pizza and out of nowhere, this. Snarls and grunts filled the air, bouncing off the parked ambulance and cinder block wall. It felt like a dream. A scary, thrilling dream. His heart raced. All senses were at their peak. Each so strong they bled into each other. It was grizzly to watch the two struggle. He thought he heard something. A plea. Then he realized it was his partner. "Take out the legs, man. What are you doing? Help. Me. Out. Here." Dominique stepped in and started to crouch down. When he reached out to grab at Franklin's legs, he was met by the sharp heel of a black leather dress shoe. "Just kick them, damn it. Kick his legs." Just like soccer, he thought. He stepped back and then stepped in with a sweeping shin kick. Dominique's black boot connected with a thud and one leg flew up before the other.

Holy shit, Jason thought, the little puss actually came through. Instantly he felt the force of the man's weight shift, pulling him down with it. Moments slowed into ponderable chunks of time. The two, wrapped into one, were going down. In a flash, Jason realized something was wrong. They were too close to the ambulance, but it was too late. Trapped in elastic suspension, he felt as if he were watching the scene unfold. Powerless to do anything about it. He heard the solid thunk, as Franklin's head smashed against the reinforced bumper. His own head slammed into the lawyer's, compounding the blow. A wine colored streak colored the black painted steal. Jason felt him go limp. As they hit the ground, he let go and scurried to his feet. Hunched over, his trembling hands gripped his knees as he tried to catch his breath. He glanced at his partner to find him looking pale and blank. Jason began to dry heave.

Dominique looked down at the unconscious man. He landed laterally, with his head cocked at a weird angle. Just then, he noticed a twitch. Then another. The man's arms and legs went stiff and shot out to the front. His head thrust backward as the whole of him began convulse. Dominique looked at Jason, who was wheezing and gagging. There were smears of blood on his partner's face and thick strings of saliva hung from his gaped mouth. He saw the concern in Jason's eyes as they watched the man jerk on the ground.

Jason, still wheezing and fighting for breath, spit on the ground. He turned to Dominique and huffed. "What... the fuck... are you waiting for?"

"What?" Dominique replied, flustered.

"Get the gurney."

A switch flipped and the lost look fell from Dominique's face. He stepped over the body and grabbed the handle for the rear hatch. "Unlock the freakin' door."

"Stop saying 'freakin', choir boy." Jason fished around in his pocket. He pulled out a key fob and began mashing the unlock button. The tail lights flashed and the mechanism thumped inside the doors. A dull click repeated for each unnecessary push of the button.

Dominique threw open the rear doors and called to Jason. "Give me a hand here." He took down the mechanism holding the gurney in place.

The two rolled and lifted it from the back. Each held onto the extending legs so they didn't fall and cause further damage to the patient. They set it down with the legs still collapsed. Dominique hopped in and grabbed a neck brace while Jason cradled the patients head. The two stabilized the neck with the brace and then carefully lifted the man onto the padded bed. They each worked to fasten straps around his torso, hips, and legs.

"Better restrain his hands too." Jason said. "I'm going to check his airway."

"Why his hands?" Dominique asked. He felt stupid as soon as the words left his mouth. "Oh yeah."

Jason shook his head at the comment. "The tongue seems to be staying put. Pulse is strong. Let's get him in." They locked out the legs on the gurney and collapsed them back down as they loaded it. Dominique took his place on the bench seat next to the patient. "Hand me down some of those wipes." When he got them, he started wiping clean his face and hands. It was then he realized he hadn't put on gloves. "Hope our guy Frank here doesn't have the HIV." He said as he wiggled his bare fingers in front of his face."

"Aww shit." Dominique said. "Toss those back up here."

He handed back the wipes and leaned down to clean the blood from the bumper. "You ready?"

"Yeah, let's go."

Jason closed the rear hatch doors and double checked them. When he came around the side of the vehicle, he saw something which pulled his focus. A small black bubble hung beneath the eave, covering the walkway. He looked down and instantly realized the futility of hiding his face. There was no way to know which direction it was pointing, or how many directions. Could it have picked up everything? Nothing at all? Maybe it was a dummy. The latter was unlikely. None of them were problems he could solve just then, if at all. He got in and fired up the rig. He called to the back, "We're taking off."

The ambulance lurched forward and then evened out the speed. The pivoting tires chirped short bursts as they ground against the rough blacktop. Even without the sirens, people stepped aside and waited to cross out of deference. A hidden worry about the possibility of themselves being a passenger someday. Someday, something tragic might happen to them if they don't pay their respect to the first responder talisman. Behold the polished chrome and glossy bright colors. A secular presentation of their Sunday best.

"Did you start a line yet?"

"Of course."

"He still twitching?"

"Some. Not as bad as before, but I'm not sure if that's just the restraints."

"Drop some diazepam in the line."

"It's too soon. I'm still not even sure if it's a concussive convulsion or an actual seizure."

"We're not exactly on protocol here buddy. It won't hurt either way and he'll be much more suggestible when, er, if he comes to."

"What do you mean if?"

"Dude, were you paying attention the last five minutes? I'm just saying it's probably pretty bad." There was a long silence. "Have you thought about an osmotic for the swelling? I think we carry Mannitol."

"No way, man. The doctor's going to make that call."

"What doctor?"

"What do mean what doctor?"

"We ain't going to the ER. We can't."

"Then where the hell are we going to go?"

"I don't know." He shouted. "I'm figuring it out. Just push the valium and the osmo." Jason's words softened as their gravity pulled him in.

"Dude, we have to go back. We have to."

"We can't." He snapped.

"Why not?" Dominique sounded desperate.

"What if he dies? Huh? Even worse, what if he lives? He'll talk. Forget about fired, that's fucking prison time, bro. Not me."

"Then what?"

"If he wakes up. We talk sense to him. Get an agreement out of him, not to say anything."

"If he dies?"

Road noise was the only sound until Jason replied. "We get rid of him."

"Are you freaking insane?"

"You're insane if you think I'm going to prison."

It took thirty-two minutes toto lose sight of the city behind them. To the east was open range. The kind of place cattle roamed when they were still allowed to roam. Patches of stiff grass between half dead brush and scattered cacti. Coyotes ruled the land out there. Able to run swiftly and bound over most obstacles. Few predators stalk the coyote in the low land.

Dirt roads wind from the highway. Parched veins of hardpan, worn in from travel over the years. The veins terminate on nothing, usually. Sometimes a scenic view.

"How we doing back there?"

"His pulse is getting weaker. He's stopped shaking, but I don't know if that is progress or shutdown."

"Shit." Jason turned south from the highway and slowed down to better manage the rutted dirt road. He followed the path as it snaked around washes and stones too large to move. To the east he saw a bowl shaped depression and drove toward it. A berm encircled almost three-quarters of the space. Like a crater with a driveway cut from one edge. The inner area was smaller than a football field. He parked and stepped out. Broken glass and tarnished shell casings littered the ground. A quick survey told him they were well hidden, from the highway at least. If you can't see them, they can't see you. Jason opened the rear doors. "Alright, let's fix this."

"What in the hell do you think I've been trying to do?"

"Did you give the osmo?"

"A half dose."

"What the fuck? Give him the rest. Give him a full. If his brain is trying to push its way out, he's not going to make it."

Dominique shook his head, then complied. "Happy?"

"We can talk about happy later. How's the laceration doing?"

I've changed the dressing once. It seems to be controlled. The bandage isn't showing any saturation."

"What do you think about an anticoagulant? The last thing we need is this dude stroking out on us."

At his wits end, Dominique threw his head back. "I don't know." He paused. "I mean, he doesn't have any risk factors that I can tell. I just don't like going against the..."

"Dom, listen, this isn't a regular call. There is no protocol for this. It isn't a call. It's an exercise in life. Do we pass go or do we get fucked here?"

"Pretty sure that's Monopoly, not Life." Jason glared at the two cent comment. "I'm not against a dose of Heparin."

"Good, get that blood moving. Go ahead."

Dominique measured out a dose into a syringe. "So what did you mean, 'get rid of him'?"

"What do you think? Bury him most likely."

"We can't do that."

"Sure we can. What happened wasn't our fault. He came at us."

"It wasn't our fault. It was your fault. You just kept pushing. You can't just leave shit alone."

"You need to watch what the fuck you say."

"What, are you going to bury me too?"

"I don't know. What are you going to do if anybody asks about this? Huh?"

"Don't even start that shit."

"I'm serious. I will not go to prison because you want to get all fucking emotional about it. That asshole got himself into this mess. If he doesn't make it, that's on him."

"Dude, you need to go take a walk and clear your head. You aren't thinking straight."

"I'm good man. I'm staying right here."

"Then I'm going."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm going to go take a walk. Maybe there's something we're missing. Some way out of this. I just need some space to think. I'll be back." Dominique started to scoot his way out, even though Jason was blocking the way. "If you don't move, I'll just go out the front."

"Leave your phone."

"What?"

"Give me your phone. Go have your little stroll, but I'm not going to have you phoning a friend on me."

"You're freakin' nuts."

"I'm saving us."

Dominique fished out his phone and handed it over. Jason took it and stuffed it into a his cargo pocket, then moved out of the way. Dominique stepped out, barely looking at his partner. He walked toward the front of the rig. Roughly southwest. Jason told him to make sure not to get lost. Dominique held a thumb up above his right shoulder and kept walking.

Inside the rig, the air conditioning was barely overcoming the heat outside. The monitors attached to the man's chest beeped and flashed, somewhat out of rhythm. At a slower pace than it should in a healthy individual. There were fits of movement here and there. It wasn't clear what they meant. Jason reached out and slapped the man's face. Then again. Each time ordering the lawyer to wake up. Each time shifting the oxygen mask a little more out of place. No response. He then dug his knuckles into the man's sternum and ground them back and forth. He could't tell if it it made him squirm of if it was just the body moving under his hand. He turned around and looked through the cabinet containing all of the medications they carried on board. Romazicon was the best bet to revive him without causing anymore stress to his system. It would reverse the effects of the valium without the pendulum swing of an amphetamine. If there was anything left in him, this would bring it out. He pushed it directly into the line instead of waiting for the drip. Time was no friend to any of them. Tossing the needle into the sharps box, he waited. Within a minute there were incoherent moans and gasps for air. By the end of the next minute there were arm and head movements. Pulling against the restraints. Then the man squirmed, eyes open to slits. He mouthed the word, 'what' over and over.

Jason looked at him. Growing impatient, he shouted at the patient. "Hey."

At that, Franklin opened his eyes and tried to turn his head. The brace limited how much he could turn. It was clear the moment he saw Jason's face. "You." He hissed with palpable disdain. "What the? Where are we? Are we almost there?"

"Look, we need to talk. You understand my words?"

"Yeah. I hear you, but I don't care I need a doctor." His speech was sluggish but clear enough.

"Me and my buddy, we saved your life back there. We can get you to a doctor. First, we need to discuss a few things."

"What things?"

"That was uncalled for the way you came at us like that, back at the parking lot. But, I'm a forgiving man. I can look the other way very easily, with some assurances."

"What are you talking about?"

"Simply your cooperation."

"That it?"

"No, it's not."

"Then get to it."

"If we let you go, I want a signed form stating that you were at fault for what happened. You admit to instigating it. That you won't pursue any kind of legal action against us. You good with that?"

"Oh, fuck you. First you attack me, now you're holding me hostage. It's never going to happen."

"Don't be irrational. We have the upper hand here."

"How's this for rational? For the next seven to ten years, you and your little buddy are going to get passed around the shower room like a couple of fuck toys."

"You just don't know when to stop, do you?"

"Why should I. You can't do anything to me that's not going to rack up more time for you in prison. Think about it. You may as well stop while you're ahead. Just accept what you've done and own up to it. And you know, maybe you'll luck out and get a lenient judge."

"Or maybe I'll skip the judge and put you in the ground."

"You don't have it in you. You're just a soft little man that likes to talk big. And just in case your simple mind hasn't considered it, that parking lot probably has a dozen cameras in it. Maybe more."

Just then, he felt vulnerable. Not in control. He hated the feeling. His heart sank and his face grew warmer. He had to pull it all back into place. The rig lightly rocked as a gust of wind passed through the bowl where they were parked. The silence lingered and it was difficult to judge how long it remained undisturbed.

"There you go." Franklin said. "Give it some serious thought. In fact give it some thought on our way to the hospital. You know I need attention or I won't make it. That's not going to go well for you with the judge."

Jason said nothing, just tapped his foot on the floor. He stared straight ahead. His hands clasped together in front of him. For a moment he wished his Dom would return. Dom was good as a distraction, if nothing else. Then he realized a distraction wouldn't help anything. He needed action, not diversion. Jason looked at the lawyer.

Franklin met his look. "There you go. I think you're starting to come around. Just accept it and move on."

"You're sure you won't change your mind?"

"I wouldn't be worth my weight if I did."

"You're probably right." Jason almost whispered. He turned and grabbed a couple new gloves from the box behind him. With slow and deliberate movement he folded the fingers in on the palms. The blue nitrile gloves on his hands stuck to the empties, but he patiently work past it. When he finished, they were stacked in a neat square. There was no longer confusion on Jason's face. It was replaced by acceptance. He reached toward his patient and set the square down over the man's mouth. Suddenly, Franklin's head shot up. Jason pushed down against the folded gloves. Muffled screams escaped from beneath the gloves and hand. With his other hand, he pinched off the patient's nose and helped hold the head down. The screams and moans turned into attempts at speech. Something with two syllables repeated. Repeated. Repeated. Jason thought he was saying 'Okay. Okay', though he couldn't be sure. It didn't matter. It was too late.

Franklin's face grew pink. His eyes toggled between clamped shut and open wide. When open, they were tear filled and beyond bloodshot. If you ran a fingertip across one of them you might feel the ridges of bulging veins. The man's chest and shoulder's jerked beneath the nylon straps. The struggle used more of the limited oxygen in his blood and simultaneously made the awareness of it more agonizing. The pinkness of his skin became ruddy and littered with pale blotches. Contours of raised veins pushed out from his temples and neck.

Gradually, the jerking became muted. The attempts to thrash around grew weaker and then altogether abandoned. The still glowing eyes relaxed and the light ran out of them. After one final twitch, the body went completely slack.

Jason left his hands in place for some time after movement ceased. Partly, to be sure. Partly to give himself time to process what just happened. A living thing just became inert. It didn't seem real. It seemed like he had just woken from a coma. There was only a fuzzy idea of what came before. Everything looked familiar and the same, but a different version. He was the same, but everything else had changed. He finally let go. He unfolded the gloves and pulled the ones he wore from around his hands. They went into his pocket. For the first time, he noticed all the monitors were reading flat. The steady lifeless tone took captive the silence. Groping at the buttons, one of them finally made it cease.

From the tip of the nose downward, color began to leave. The whole of the man, without movement, unless moved by an outside force. The still open eyes, braced in a state of panic, began to lose the red glow. The lips were fixed in a concentrated sneer. The way a blues guitar player becomes so focused on the chords that his face channels the pain of the tune.

The clunk of the door handle being pulled from outside startled him. He relaxed his shoulders when he turned to see his partner poking his head in. The open door felt like a gateway back to some world that was foreign. A portal back from where he had spent his recent eternity. Dust and light poured in to welcome him back. The look of confusion on his partner's face was troubling.

"Why are the monitors off?"

Though Jason looked right at him, some time passed before the words registered. "Huh?" He asked, unsure of what else to say.

"The monitors, they're blank. Check the plug."

Without thinking, he started talking. "I turned them off."

"Well turn them back on, he needs to be monitored."

"He's gone."

"What do you mean?"

Jason knew he should jab back with a snarky comment, but couldn't find one. "Just that. He didn't make it."

"Well, what the hell happened?"

"I was worried about the pulse so I gave him a dose of Romaz. And it worked, for a little bit. He started talking and asking questions. Then, he seized up and went flat. I tried to revive him, but nothing worked."

Dominique clenched his mouth and shifted his pursed lips back and forth. "We're screwed."

"No we aren't. It's going to be fine"

"Did you even try to save him? I mean really try?"

"Dude. I can't even believe you'd ask me that."

"It seems to have been your number one solution so far."

"Don't even go there with me. This is his fault. He made his choice. He got himself here. I'm not going to feel bad for him."

"Listen to yourself. You are so messed up."

"We can talk about this shit later. Right now, we need to get rid of him."

"No." Dominique shook his head. "We can't. We have to own up to it. If we tell them what happened, it'll be okay. Maybe we won't get that much time. We'll show remorse and fess up, they 'll go easy on us."

"We aren't telling anyone about this. Never. Ever."

"I'm out, man. I'm done with this."

"I'm burying one body today. I'll bury two if I have to." Dominique stared at Jason, waiting for the punchline. He waited silently for the part about geting carried away. How he didn't mean it. He might have waited forever if Jason hadn't spoken up. "What's it going to be?"

"I hate you, man. You're a piece of crap." Dominique said, with a rumble in his throat.

"Well?"

"This is your show, psycho."

Jason climbed into the driver seat and backed out of the bowl. He followed the dirt road further into the desert. He didn't know where he was going, or what he was looking for, other than the right place. Neither spoke as the rig bounced though ruts and rattled over washboards. Finally, he stopped. Out the passenger side was the porous shell of a medium sized saguaro cactus. It lay on its side, uprooted. The turned up arms form little wooden cages. A

The two unstrapped the body from the gurney. At first they argued over using it to get roll the body away from the road. They eventually agreed the ground was too sandy with too many rocks and ruts for the wheels to do any good. Dominique hooked his arms under the stiffening corpse's armpits. Jason put an ankle under each of his arms and they lumbered away from the still running ambulance. They had to stop several times to rest. When the shiny carriage of their rig was about the size of a postage stamp, they called it good enough.

"Check him and his pockets for a cell, wallet, jewelry, anything we don't want left behind. I'm going to go get the shovel."

"I'm afraid to ask, but have you done this before?"

"Nope. Just watch a lot of TV."

"Can you bring back some water too?"

"Sure." Jason walked with heavy feet back to the rig.

"Pick up your feet. We don't want to leave a trail out here."

Jason held a thumbs up over his head as he walked away. He exaggerated each step, pulling his knees up until his thighs hit his gut. Swirls of dust kicked up with erratic bursts of wind. The gusts whistled as they pushed through patches of stubborn brush.

When he returned, he handed over the water, set his own bottle down, then got to digging. Dominique gulped half of the bottle at once and then set his down, next to the pile of belongings. He stood there awkwardly as his partner dug. The whoosh, scrape, and patter of each shovelful settled into a rhythm. It didn't seem appropriate to interrupt with conversation.

Covered in sweat and dust, Jason stopped. The hole was roughly the length and width of the body, but less than a foot deep. He dropped the shovel and went for his water. 'You're up.' was all he said. It was the most quiet he had been all day.

Dominique picked up the shovel. He looked at Jason for a moment. "Did you really try to save him? I mean, really?"

Jason said nothing. He sat down and took quick swigs of water. His partner dug. Neither knew how long they had been there. It seemed like an unessential detail.

Dominique dug the rest of the way. It wasn't quite three feet deep when they called it good enough. Both men carried themselves like they wanted to be inside the hole and buried as well. They rolled what used to be Franklin into the grave. The arms were so stiffly out to the sides, they had to stomp them down into the grave. Jason told Dominique to start pushing the soil in with his boots while he worked the shovel.

Both of them stomped over the top to pack it back down. With only nods and gestures between them, they headed back to the only constant they had. Neither knew how long they would still have it after the day. It wasn't okay to just go of the net for half the day. They would have some serious explaining to do. Dominique offered to drive. Jason said nothing.

"What do you want to do with all of his shit?" Jason asked.

"We need to dump it somewhere. I say take it to a trash can somewhere close to the pizza place. If it is found, it won't be out here."

They remained quiet for the duration of the dirt road. As they were about to turn onto the paved road, the two looked at each other. Neither wanted to say a word. Both knew they had to get something straight.

"So what do we say?" Dominique started.

"Fuck man, I don't know where to start. My circuits are shot."

"They're going to ask where we were. We can say we saw some red and blues headed east and we followed them to be in a good spot when the call came."

"I don't know, man."

"Hear me out. So we follow them and lose sight. We keep going, hoping we eventually catch up, but never do. By the time we realize how we aren't going to catch up or maybe we missed their turn, we don't know where we are. When we are ready to turn back. Then, I think I see some lights down a dirt road. So we follow."

"This is getting complicated real fast."

"Feel free to offer your own ideas at any time. It needs to be complicated enough that they won't look into it and simple enough to believe."

"Fine. Go ahead."

"We follow the dirt road, and still don't see anything. We finally decide to call it off and head back. While we are turning the unit around, we hit a soft spot and the rear tires sink. We try rocking it back and forth but it digs in deeper. We then have to dig out enough clearance underneath to get out. This explains why we look like crap."

"Why wouldn't we just call for a tow?"

"That's easy. Following lights without a call is bad form. Probably against policy too. Also, you're an arrogant prick that can't admit mistakes. You're so stubborn, you'd rather bust your ass in the heat than call for help. I'd even throw in that we didn't have signal or radio reception."

"You know what? Asshole. You can go fuck yourself. I'm not saying any of that shit about myself."

"That's the beauty, they all know you so you don't have to explain it. It's built in."

"You better watch yourself Dom. I ain't gonna let you talk to me like that."

Dominique looked over at his partner, then back to the road. Guiding out of the corner of his eye, he reached across the center console. He plucked the blue nitrile gloves from Jason's shirt pocket. He held them up, then threw them in his partner's face. "You might want to watch yourself. I watched through the back window."

Jason swallowed. "So what?"

"So, I'm not afraid to go to prison. You are. Plus, It's likely I could't cut a plea deal for my testimony."

"You wouldn't."

"You just go ahead and try me, you fat piece of shit." Jason's eyes went wide. Then he tuned to the window beside him and stared out. Dominique let the silence hang before he started back in. "Okay, tell me what you remember of what we're going to say."

"Huh?"

"If this is going to work, we have to practice, we have to be clear, and we have to be on the same page. So, let's hear what you've got."

Dominique listened as his partner stumbled through the series of events. The first pass was awful. It was out of order and too abbreviated. He repeated it again and made Jason do the same. It felt dumb. There wasn't much time left to come up with something new. They drove to catch up with the sun, which was on its way down. Both of their faces shone orange as they rehearsed their upcoming performance.