Continued from here — please also note this is the last post for NaNoWriMo, but is far from the conclusion of the story. I will have a overall recapitulation and reflection post on the story tomorrow. If you have been reading along through now, thanks very much indeed.
Bill Wadlegh felt like it was time to knock some sense into his neighbor, or at least get him out of the rut he was in. It was getting far enough along.
He’d had words with Josie earlier that evening, when the two of them passed each other in the hallway. She was on her way out, off to do her work, and Bill thought she’d seen better days. Some part of him might once have been sentimental about her tears, most of him thought it was a sham.
“He hit you again?” Bill wasn’t one to mince words, and he’d already heard from Black Dick – he still couldn’t believe he had actually started to use the name in earnest, maybe it was just something about how it was suiting his mood more and more – about past incidents.
Josie barely paused. “No, if you must know. Would you let me pass?”
Bill shuffled aside with a snort. “Certainly, your ladyship. Are you always so polite when you’re out on the streets?”
“More than you,” she shot back, moving down the staircase.
Bill had shaken his head at that. Trouble, that’s what that woman was, and why Black Dick hadn’t just finally done something about it made him wonder.
He’d retired to his room for a while until he heard a stumbling next door and reemerged into the hallway to knock at Black Dick’s door. “Hey, it’s Bill. You in there?”
“Hold on.” The voice was muffled, almost strangled, and when the door opened, Bill was honestly surprised at the staring look of his neighbor, the beads of sweat on his brow.
“Jesus, you look like hell.” Bill stepped in without ceremony or invitation – he felt the need for talk and conversation and dammit, he was going to get some from Black Dick no matter the state he was in. Probably even help him some.
Bill settled into one of the chairs while the other stood near the window, looking out. “Sorry, Bill,” he said, seeming to scan the road, “I’ve had a lot more on my mind lately.”
“You didn’t need to tell me that. And you don’t need me to tell you that part of it is your woman. Thought you were better than most of the trash in this neighborhood. Now you’re just like them or turning into them. What type of idiot are you becoming? Dammit I told you—”
“Not NOW, Bill.” Bill was taken aback not only by the intensity of the other’s words but the burning anger evident on his face, in his eyes. He found himself without words momentarily.
“All right. I said the wrong thing. But what’s with you?”
To Bill, Black Dick suddenly seemed to be two people at once, a tired, hunted person and an angry animal. He moved to where Bill sat and took the other remaining chair. “Nothing. I just know I need to be ready. That’s all.”
“Ready for what?”
“My number’s almost up. I know this. I’m going to make sure that when it happens I’m ready for it.”
Bill’s look had to have been a confused one; he would have liked to have seen a mirror to verify it. “Your number. What the hell are you talking about? You rob someone again and now they’re after you? Steal someone’s woman? Schultz after you?”
“I tried telling you once, and you wouldn’t listen, or didn’t want to. But I’m telling you now.”
Bill felt his patience going. Whatever his neighbor was going on about wasn’t something that interested him beyond the informational, and there wasn’t anything he was learning. “Well, tell me some other time when you make sense.” He rose from the chair.
Bill whirled to see William standing in the doorway. “Well, if it isn’t the precious prince, or whatever the hell you are?”
Bill was annoyed to see that William not only did not react to this, but seemed to be almost happy for some reason, walking slowly into the room with a strange smile on his face. What’s with him now? Of all the people to show up. Well, he and his brother can have one of their arguments.
He turned to give a final thought to Black Dick but his farewell died on his lips when he saw that the other was starting to laugh, in a choking fashion.
“Well, that would make sense, wouldn’t it. That would make perfect sense.” Black Dick rose from his chair, facing William and seeming to totally ignore Bill, watching with a cold frown. “That you would be the one at the door this time.”
William’s smile broadened. “I would never not be at the door, Richard, if I chose to come by. Where else would I enter from? I am glad to see that you are here, you realize, it’s a very important thing I have to share with you.”
“Very important, I’m sure. Let me tell you something very important right now – that coat you’re wearing? That’s mine. Mine and I’ve been looking for it for weeks now. And here you are wearing it, well that means you stole it from me. Came by here and stole it!”
“I would never have done such a thing, Richard, and it does grieve me to hear you make this complaint. I really think you are not understanding the situation, in fact I came here to thank you for keeping it in good care for a while when you took it from me.”
“Took it from you? Is that what you think, you mealy-mouthed complainer, you damned liar. This was always mine and it was you that stole it from here.”
“Richard I did not come here for an argument.”
“You’re going to get one and worse!”
Bill had heard enough and didn’t give a damn about his neighbor, his brother and their damned coat. He coughed loudly and said, “If you two damn fools want to get worked up over this, then I’ll be going.” He didn’t wait for a response, shutting the door behind him as he left and went back to his room.
Idiots. He sat in his own chair and looked out of his window, pointedly not concentrating on the muffled but audibly angrier conversation through the shared wall. Instead he thought about the usual flow of the street and the garbage on it, another night’s worth of drunk liars and those who deservedly took advantage of them.
Everyone of them thinking they’re hard done by, everyone of them thinking that the only person in the world with a complaint that means something is theirs. Everyone of them a liar and a thief and a whore or a whoreson.
More stumbling sounds came from next door and Bill wondered who threw the first punch. Damned if it was William but maybe he finally remembered he was a man.
He then heard their door slam open and a cry from Black Dick.
“My God! Oh my God!”
Bill frowned. Well now what?
He lay slumped in the back of the police carriage.
They hadn’t wasted time when they had broken into the room. The shouting and questions came at him so quickly he’d barely had the sense to spit out a response or two, if that. Whatever feeling of control he prided himself on with the police had gone and when the first blow had hit him he had crumpled to the floor. Somehow he only just remembered being hustled down to the street and into the carriage.
“Where did they take his brother?”
One of the policemen climbed into the carriage and sat across from him. “All right, we’re going to go visit your brother. You’d better hope he’s still alive.” He chuckled. “Then again I suppose you wanted him dead, so maybe you got your wish.”
He looked dully at the man and wanted a gun, a knife, anything to wipe that smile off his face and change his talk permanently.
No, that was the whole point and problem. That’s why he was where he was right now. That’s why William was in the hospital.
He was asked questions and answered them flatly, staring beyond the policeman’s shoulder. Whatever it was being asked – name, kin, all that. He found himself thinking while he was talking, trying to remember what had happened. He remembered his neighbor leaving, he remembered the argument heating up more with William, he remembered…
He felt a cold chill in his head, running down his neck and spine.
He wanted now to forget again and realized he couldn’t.
The policeman had asked him a question twice now, he realized. He refocused his attention.
“You heard me, Dick whatever-your-name-is. You say you’d left the room and you’d left your brother and your neighbor in there alone?”
He blinked. He had said that? He swallowed.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
The policeman looked at him coolly. “And you came back and your brother was there on the floor and your neighbor was gone.”
A snort in response. “Well you just keep saying that. You’ll find a better lie maybe.”
He was angry but now mostly with himself. What kind of idiot thing had he been babbling? Now he’d been saying this? It’s be shown for the lie it was easily enough, and now Bill would have plenty of reasons to turn against him if anything came of this. He only hoped his contempt for William would outweigh that.
“And before you left the first time you said you’d been having an argument with your brother about a coat, and somehow the knife came out and was just lying around.”
He closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe he had said all this and now that it was being read back to him…but still it was better than the truth. More acceptable even as a lie.
“Damn, you are a cold customer. Well maybe making you face your brother will change a bit of this story.”
He said nothing in response and waited until the carriage pulled up at the Receiving Hospital. He was bundled out of the carriage and walked into the hospital, the policeman joined by two of his fellows. He looked down and idly wondered when he’d had the handcuffs placed on him, not remembering this at all.
Another figure waited for them outside a door. “Heya boys. This is the brother?”
“Yep, and you wouldn’t believe what he’s been saying, Chief.” He rapidly told the story to the older man, whose expression did not change.
“Hmph. Well, bring him in, let’s see what he says now.”
The door was opened and he saw William lying on a bed, a doctor and two nurses attending him. The light was fairly dim but he could see the bandages around William’s torso drawn tightly, the dark stain that had leaked through the gauze.
The police chief walked him over to the bedside. William was breathing – he thanked God for that – but apparently asleep or unconscious. He suddenly felt nauseous, then groaned and hung his head. What had he done, what had he been forced to make to do?
“Can we wake him up?” The chief was speaking to the doctor.
“He’s not likely to survive much longer but do what you must.”
The chief leaned over the bed and gently said, “William, can you hear me?”
William’s eyes opened slightly and stared at the other man. He swallowed. “Yes, officer, I can hear you.”
“Your brother is here.” The chief stepped back to let the other step forward.
“William…my god, William…they’re assuming the worst. They’re saying I stabbed you. They’ve taken me for it.”
William stared at him, then slowly turned his head away. He stared back at William and realized he had no idea what he was going to say in response, if anything.
“No, no you didn’t do it. It’s all a mistake.”
He felt the silence that followed more than heard it.