Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Two Guns - Chapter 4 - No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Sharon failed to sleep.

At first she thought it was due to the bed sheets. The sheets were indeed quite thick, fit for the winter, but with the adequate central heating, she'd managed to drench the entire bed in sweat after a couple of minutes. This, in turn, made the bed uncomfortably cold and damp, so she climbed out and let it sit for a few minutes while she turned down the thermostat. Then she noticed that her pajamas were sweaty, too, which was a decidedly suboptimal situation. She thought about the noise showering would make and decided against it; instead, she stripped down, klutzed out of her dirty clothes, and stumbled into the bathroom where she toweled the sweat off. When she got back into the bedroom, she still felt hot, so she walked over to the window and opened it.

This was a bad idea on a few different levels, not the least of which was her nakedness; however, when she did slam the window shut seconds later, it wasn't out of modesty, but because she'd just received a full-on blast of cold air - her yelp of dulled surprise only serving to draw more attention to her little show. In desperation, she hobbled to the couch, grabbed the discarded towel and wrapped herself in it.

It's amazing how much discomfort the human body can put up with, if you don't think about it too hard. If you do, however...oy veh.

The suitcase lost the next fight as she almost tore it apart, searching for new clothes. She was just about at the panties + socks stage when there was a knock at the door. Again, her not-rested mind proved to be a disadvantage when she walked over and opened it, still immodestly clothed.

"DT, I...wah!" Mark managed to say before averting his gaze, almost recoiling away - going by the theory that any response less extreme would be wide open to being interpreted as taking advantage of the situation.
"What? Oh, that. Hang on." Mark kept his back turned while Sharon went back into the room and wrapped herself in the towel. "There, all better."

He turned around to face her.

"See?" she said, helpfully gesturing toward her chest. "No more breasts."

A reflexive glance downwards at the ahem less than perfect flatness of the towel led Mark to vehemently disagree internally, even if all that made it past his social filter was a disapproving glance.

"I didn't hear you shower," he said.
"I wasn't showering."
"Yeah, that makes sense, how could you? I mean, you had your panties on and -" Sharon gave him the look - "I'm just going to stop this sentence here."
"Is this going to be awkward now?"

Mark took a deep breath, buried his face in his left hand and finally turned around again, noting that this wasn't a discussion worth having.

"I wanted to ask if you're okay. I heard a sound."
"Yeah, I'm fine. So you can't sleep either?"
"I'm leaving. Got another pickup."
"I guess I'm safe here."
"That's the plan."

Sharon bit her lip.

"Yeah, if you're going out, can you stop by somewhere and grab a pack of smokes for me?"


Mark's lack of sleep almost got the better of him; he slumped into his seat at the JFK International Arrivals Building and nearly dozed off. With histrenchcoat bunched up into a support for his lower back, he was as far down in the bucket seat as the rigid construction would allow, his arms folded in front of his chest to fight off the cold. The announcements were a relentless barrage of needless trivia and bad news, but Mark had learned to tune out sound and listen for what he wanted to hear.

"Attention," the announcement came with all the subtlety of a planet killer asteroid. "Avianca Flight 218 from Bogotá has arrived."

Mark eased himself out of the seat; he wasn't firing on all cylinders, and the trenchcoat added to his grungy look. He slipped back into it and did his best to straighten it out, but it still looked like it could use a good iron. That was how Mark felt, in general - bunched up, abused and barely presentable.

All that changed when he saw her ten minutes later.

She didn't come running for him, because she couldn't; a flight attendant was pushing the girl in her wheelchair through the terminal, only aiming for Mark when he waved and closed the distance. The girl was beaming with a bright smile; when Mark closed in, she stood up - careful not to overtax her weak legs - and gave Mark a heartfelt hug, which he returned with just as much emotion.

"Hey, kiddo," he said. "Missed you."
"Missed you, too," Alexandra Ingues said; they kept their embrace while the flight attendant walked off, his job fulfilled. Finally, Alexandra let go and slowly settled back down.
"How's the knee?" Mark asked.
"Better. Can we go now?"
"Oh, right."

Almost startled, Mark walked behind her, grabbed the wheelchair and started pushing, aiming for the exit.

"I have a couple of leads on Rodriguez," Alexandra said.
"You snooped around? From a hospital?"
"Physical therapy was boring. I snuck out."
"With a leg brace."
"Somebody taught me how to be quiet," she quipped, smiling.
"Daddy's gonna be proud of you, kiddo," Mark said. "And then he'll ground you until you're 25."
"If I'm gonna be grounded, can we get some ice cream?"
"Fuck yeah," Mark said as he pushed the chair through the exit, toward a waiting cab. "Let's get chocolate chip."
"A bucket?"
"Better get two, Vinnie's gonna want some, too."
"Hah. Is he ever gonna do that diet?"
"Beats me..."


Thinking that you're above addiction is just a different form of "It can't happen here!" - Sharon knew exactly, precisely, what the nicotine withdrawal and stress were doing to her, but she couldn't stop it.

That's not hunger, she told herself. You just want a smoke.

Going through this was exactly the reason why she'd wanted to quit, but it didn't help. Sharon was not a mystical kung-fu master totally at peace with her body - she had cravings, a serious chemical imbalance, and no amount of positive thinking would take that away. Back when she smoked regularly, it had never gotten this bad - but then, she'd never tried to seriously fight the need.

So she sat on the floor, wearing an old NYPD t-shirt and sweatpants from her rookie days. In one hand, she held a bottle of water from the minibar, and she sipped on it every minute or so, hoping to quiet the nerves in her mouth with some stimulation. Her other hand was busy being bent into a fist. Her fingernails dug into the meat of her palm, not nearly enough to break the skin but enough for a sweet little rush of discomfort to distract her.

It's all in your head, it's all in your head...

Technically, it wasn't. The chemical dependency was real. Sharon knew this. She was, however, doing her darnedest to convince herself otherwise. If it was just in her head, she thought, then it could be controlled. No, not controlled. Fought. Conquered. Vanquished.

Her room didn't feel safe. She was next door now, surrounded by guns. How is it that she had a problem they couldn't solve? Her mind focused on the "who & who" principle. Right corpse, right fall guy, you can do anything. Who would die to drive the nicotine from her body? Who would take the fall for her victory over the addiction?

What was that about mystical kung-fu masters?

Knock Knock

That was next door. There was no voice, so Sharon's free hand snaked out for the next gun - a Beretta.

"Sharon?" Mark called. "You there?"

Her hand recoiled from the gun, like a child might refrain from touching the cookie jar when called. Still feeling under the weather, she gathered herself from the ground, took a step forward and opened the door.

"I'm over here," she said; Mark's head craned around and shot her a sideways glance.
"What's wrong with your room?"
"I couldn't sleep. I thought breaking into this one would be fun."
"Do you have the smokes?"
"Uh, yeah. Here," he said, handing her the pack. "I got a couple more in the car."
"You're a saint." She ripped the plastic seal from the pack, cracked it open and fished out a cig with her mouth while she sat back down on the bunk. Like a seasoned pro back in the saddle, she effortlessly shuffled it to the side without using her fingers and look at Mark. "You got a light?"

Mark crouched down to her level, pulled a matchbook from his coat and lit one. Sharon nearly sucked the flame into her mouth through the cigarette, then grabbed it between her fingers and slowly exhaled with closed eyes.

"That's better," she said, opening her eyes to find herself still face to face with the hitman. "You don't smoke?"
"No. I plan to live forever."
"Should be easy...for a saint."
"You don't generally have living saints," Mark replied. "Takes ages to become a saint. First you die, then you're venerated, then you're blessed, then you're a saint."
"I don't know about the death part."
"It's been skipped before."
"Hm, then I guess I could venerate you a bit. But just a bit. I don't want to give you any ideas."
"And I don't want you to give me cancer, so how about not smoking where I plan to sleep?"

In response, she blew a dog of cigarette smoke in his face.

"One cigarette isn't going to kill you."
"That's what they say about bullets, too. Until the right one comes along."
"There are a lot of bullets in this room, Simmons. Which one's the right one?"

He didn't have a good answer for that; eventually, she got up, walked past him and onto the hallway. After a few steps, she stopped; he was standing in the doorway, waiting for her to say something, so she did.

"You took a while out there. I was worried."
"About me?"
"I can do the math. If you don't come back, then it's me next. So I guess it was mostly about me. But..."

She gave him a pleading look, like she genuinely didn't know what to say next.

"Good night, detective," he said with a pleasant smile, then closed the door.

Sharon took a last drag from the cigarette, then dropped the butt into the hallway's ash tray and went back to her room. Time to sleep.

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