The ceiling of the hotel room was very boring. It was plain white, though slightly textured. Nothing much to look at, but I had been staring at it for hours. I was lying flat on my back on one of the two queen beds. I had a towel wrapped around my waist covering my “tighty-whities”. I also still had the wrap around my chest, though there was a slice through it.
In fact there were several cuts and slices on different parts of my body. The biggest and ugliest ran from my rib cage beneath my right breast almost straight down to my pelvises. It wasn’t very deep, and luckily the arc of the man’s arm followed the inward curve of my abdomen so it wasn’t much deeper in the middle than at the ends. Still, it hurt. John cleaned and disinfected the wound, and then had used some type of liquid bandage on it. He also taped it, but said the tape was just there to hold the skin in place until the liquid hardened.
There were maybe a dozen or more other little cuts and slices. Perhaps the next worse one was on my foot were Mr. Blackeye sliced me as he accidentally thrust the knife into his own chest.
The wounds weren’t the reason I was just lying there, staring at the blank ceiling. It was everything else that had happened.
But something inside of me told me it was time to get up.
I rolled myself off of the bed and grabbed a sandwich and a juice bottle. Although it had been hours since I was last sick, my mouth still tasted of vomit. A few chugs of juice helped. The bites of sandwich did too, easing my stomach instead of making it more nauseous, as I had feared.
“You feeling better?” John asked. He was sitting at the little desk, playing with his phone. My guess was that it was some type of secret agent play, like reporting back to headquarters or something.
I nodded. I still wasn’t talkative.
“You know when I told you that I had killed so many people that it didn’t faze me anymore than swatting a fly?” I nodded. He hadn’t used those words, but I knew what he was talking about. I also remember that it was Ben who had said it. “Well, I lied. You never get over it. Never.”
I nodded. He had said something like that in the car as we ripped through Indiana fields on our way to the outskirts of Gary. At that time he also said all of the smiles and back slapping after killing people was a Hollywood invention, that real people had real feelings. I continued to eat.
“I wish I could tell you about the first time I had to, uhm, take some one out.”
“When you first killed someone,” I said. I knew my voice was hard.
“Yes. The first time I killed someone, took a life. A human life. It is Top Secret, so I can’t tell you details, but I can say that I had a lot of support. I had a lot of counseling. I still have nightmares. It really helps to remind yourself that it was you or them. Those guys in the bathroom would have killed you. Same with the car drivers. Their mission was to leave you lying in cold blood. Would they have felt bad? Most likely, unless they were sociopaths, but that wouldn’t have made any difference to you when you were dead.”
I continued to eat. I was hungry. I grabbed an apple.
“As I said, that helps, but it isn’t enough. It’s better when you help someone else. It doesn’t feel as selfish. Those five people that I shot today? It was so much easier to make those shots knowing that if I hesitated, that you’d be dead. I did not hesitate.”
“Yeah. If you did, you never would have found the attaché.” I didn’t mean to sound so sarcastic. Or did I?
“Attaché?” He looked genuinely confused for a moment, but then his face changed. He understood. “Oh, that. I’m sorry, I can’t answer that question, because you wouldn’t believe anything I said. I’m sorry. I’m trying to help. I’m not a psychologist or councilor, but I am smart enough to know you need support. Someone to say that you’re not a bad person. You’re not, but do you believe a word I say?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t even really look at him. I just finished my sandwich and apple.
I stood up and walked towards the bathroom, then stopped and turned to him.
“Will there be any issues with the stuff you put on my wounds if I take a shower?” I asked. He shook his head. “How about if I soak in the tub for an hour?” He shook his head again. “I hope you’ve peed and brushed your teeth. I might be a while.” He nodded.
I turned back towards the bathroom and reached back to take the wrap off. It wouldn’t come easily.
Knowing my problem, John stood up and walked over to me. He undid the back of the warp. “Hold on a second,” he said when done. I held the wrap place as I waited, keeping myself covered.
He grabbed something out of one of the duffels and tossed it to me. It was a pair of lady’s briefs, which I knew would be my size, and an overlarge T-shirt.
“I hope you let me wrap you tomorrow. I won’t force you, but you’ll still travel as Billy. For tonight, you can be Margret and wear something a little more comfortable.”
Once in the bathroom, I undressed what little I had on and got into the shower. I scrubbed my body from head to toe, but even when I was done, I still stood under the running water. It felt good. I had felt dirty, and not just the sweat and grime of the day and the bit of exercise I had gotten in that rest area bathroom. It was a moral dirt. But the water rinsed it off, cleaned me inside and out. I finally turned it off, but I wasn’t done. I drew a hot bath.
I soaked for a while, thinking of my day. I began to resemble a giant raisin, but I continued to soak. I was beginning to find peace with myself. John was right, if I hadn’t acted, they would have killed me. I had to do it.
There was another thought that rose up in me. I had acted alone, without help. John didn’t come in to rescue me, guns blazing. I had used my own skills to take out the three men. They were skilled. I am sure they had killed before. If I hadn’t had the boxing, gymnastics, ballet and martial arts, I would have been a casualty. Even with those skills, there was something else, something I had to find myself. Strength. I was losing the fight until I completely trusted myself. Once I did, I was able to take them out.
I thought about the cars. I am sure that my first shot had done the job with both cars. I remember John, actually Ben at the time, using a single shot to stop the cars following us in Canada. The next time, I would be able to do the same. I would then have seven shots left, plenty to take the guys out who had escaped the cars. I really hadn’t needed John there, either. He only had to rescue me because I hadn’t trusted myself enough.
There was something powerful about this realization. I didn’t even think it funny that I had thought “the next time”. I knew there would be a next time, and that I could take care of myself.
Never again in my life would I be the “damsel in distress”. I was my own knight in shining armor.
With that, I was done with my bath. I unplugged the tub and the old Margret ran down the drain with the water.
John hadn’t waited up, he was sleeping in one of the beds. I started to move the duffels off of the other bed, but stopped and looked at him. There was something about him. It wasn’t that he was a man, far from it. There was nothing even remotely sexual in my thoughts. It was something about being human and needing to be close to a warm, breathing human.
I slid under the covers next to John. He didn’t wake. I turned over, facing away from him, but I could still feel him, his warmth and the movement of his breathing. It wasn’t long before I fell asleep. I don’t think I woke once all night.
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