The moment just before sunrise is easily the most beautiful time of the day. At no point in the day is it any quieter, nor is there a time when the world feels quite so still. Still to the point where one must wonder if time truly has stopped and we are all caught in an eternal loop where the pre dawn hours are here to stay. The stars were nearly all but gone, fading into the dark back drop that remained night for the time being, already making way for the sun that was waiting for its turn in the sky.
Yet then again, maybe time had stopped afterall, or at least just for the man that sat alone on the MTA, chin touching his chest. The train car jostled as it was pulled along the tracks, signs and lamp posts quickly going past the window behind him. The thought of purgatory crept into his slow working brain, the product of hallucinations brought on by blood loss and pain. Trapped in his dying body, forever riding in the subway car, alone, looked over and forgotten. That would be his afterlife.
The blackness swept over his vision so quickly it caused the hallucinations to disappear just long enough for logic to rise to the surface. As quickly as he seemed to have lost it, his mind was back. Vincent's mind. And just like the poet Dylan Thomas, he would not go gentle into that good night. Not yet. Though his mind was there, death was still treading far too close for comfort. He blinked hard to fight back the darkness crawling into his vision. His lung was punctured and possibly even collapsed. He would die within hours without surgery of some sort, that is if unconsciousness from blood loss didn't take him out first.
The slow movement of his hand to his belt was like moving a block of lead, controlling any of his digits became akin to brain surgery. But he could feel the small cellphone there, somewhere. Finally he'd corralled the metallic object into his lap and pressed speed dial. An emergency number he had only used once nearly five years ago. If the recipient of his phone call hadn't moved or changed his number there was a chance of survival.
The voice on the other end came out in a quick bark with an odd lilt that could only belong to one person. Mustering up all his strength, Vincent lifted the phone as close as he could to his mouth. He could barely lift it past his chest.
His tongue rolled around in his dry mouth a second before he found his voice. "Vincent." He said into the receiver. The voice on the other end paused and began to shout somewhat angrily into the phone. His tired mind could barely comprehend the man's words. "It's Vincent." He tried to shout back, instead it came out disheveled and with a few droplets of blood that now trickled out the corner of his mouth. "I need help..."
As far as he could tell the voice now carried a worried tone, a sign that the man had remembered him afterall. Without caring about what the man had actually said, he continued. "MTA. Next stop..." His eyes blurred as he tried to make sense of the digital readout above the doors. "Alameda Street..." A few more droplets of blood spilled over his lips, hitting the phone. Another wave of darkness. Another attempt at blinking it away. "Shot, in the chest..." He said.
The darkness crept into his vision again and this time there was no fighting it back.
The next thing Vincent was aware of, was arms, three or four, picking him up and pulling him to his feet. His head fell back and his eyes attempted to open. All he could see was the dark sky and hints of red shooting through it. All was still and all was quiet. The most beautiful time of the day.
"Walk with me, Vincent. God damnit." The voice of the arms said, muttering under his breath.
Desperately Vincent tried to do his best to make his feet obey, and walk along the asphalt. But his body no longer felt like his own. Now he was a victim. If the world truly was survival of the fittest, mother nature was trying her best to blot him out of existence.
His mind worked in fragments. A moment ago he'd been half carried, have dragged across asphalt while the pre-dawn quiet fell around him. Now he was in the back seat of a car, laying across crumpled papers and fast food containers that smelled of mold. Lying on his back he watched the lampposts go by. One by one illuminating his body and the crimson that stained his front. Occasionally he heard police sirens and thought he saw the red tint of lights. He probably imagined the later. The gentle beat of drums followed by the unmistakable cry of a trumpet from Miles Davis whispering through the speakers made his vision clear for a moment, and forced him to once again find his voice.
"Turn the radio off." He said.
The silhouette of the man at the wheel moved to look behind him. "The radio isn't on, Vincent."
Once again his awareness became spotty and before he knew it he felt himself being carved into while a mask of sorts pumped air into his body. Shouts soon followed and sleep claimed him like a heavy blanket. Then finally he awoke.
His throat was dry and his mouth even drier. Vincent's tongue felt like sandpaper as it attempted to wet his lips. A few hard blinks and the cold, dark room came in clear. He was naked and covered with a stained sheet on a makeshift hospital bed. Tight bandages wrapped around his chest. Breathing too deep caused him to feel like his body was going to split in half, so he kept his breaths small and quick.
"I almost died didn't I?" Vincent said to the man he sensed resting out of sight.
"Yes. You woke up twice during the surgery. " The man's English accent was thick and tone matter of fact. "You kept asking if you were dead or dying." Vincent could hear the man take a drag off a cigarette, and see a wisp of smoke float through the air as he exhaled. "It's just like you to feel as if the world is ending when you don't have control of something."
Vincent's eyes darted around, scanning the room. It was sparsely furnished, seeming more like a basement than anything. There was one light bulb hanging in the center of the ceiling. Being so close to it somehow made the walls ten times darker than they actually were. "How long have I been asleep?"
"A day and a half. And don't say I should've woke you. Trust me when I say you needed the rest." He moved, or so Vincent was willing to assume when he heard the sound of chair legs against the cement floor. The man slowly came into view, coming from behind and rounding the bed, ending up near his sheet covered legs.
He was middle aged, older than Vincent by a handful of years though his hair was just now beginning to show flickers of gray around his ears. Thin wire glasses set perfectly on his sharp nose, giving him a rather distinguished look. It was the cigarette he brought up to his lips that ruined it. That and the fact that in place of his pinky and index finger were two small nubs.
"And recovery?" Vincent asked. "How long will that take?"
"Oh by all means. Don't thank us." The man shot back. The word 'us' forced Vincent to turn his head and look past him, toward the half open door to see a young girl in scrubs sticking to the shadows. The single light in the room made the studs in her lips and ears shine. Vincent could barely make it out but he was willing to assume she had violet highlights running through her jet black hair. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been ten, child-like, and loud. Now she'd become a withdrawn teenager as well as her father's second hand. A hand he was in desperate need of these days.
"Thank you, Nigel. Constance."
"Its Stacey now." She said softly, not moving from the doorway. "Just Stacey."
"Recovery. How long?" He asked again.
"A good month." Nigel said in a rush of smoke. "I've got some drugs for you to take the edge off the pain. Needle or pill. You can choose."
"Neither." He said testing the limits of his movements by rubbing the tiredness from his face with both hands. The pain nearly caused him to vomit but he hid it well. "I don't want anything that'll fog my brain. I've been out of it for long enough."
"How long have you been in L.A.? Usually I keep my ear to the ground with these sorts of things. I figure I would've gotten word that you were in town."
"It was only a day. Was supposed to be in and out. Five jobs. Just like before. I guess its safe to say there was a kink in my plans. Only accomplished four."
Nigel let his cigarette dangle from his thin lips and pulled the sheet down to Vincent's stomach. Constance, or Stacey as she was called now, shrunk back into whatever lie beyond the door. "So you failed." He mumbled. The cigarette looked as if it could fall at any moment, skill or rather the over practice of a bad habit, kept it in place. He pressed on Vincent's chest and it took all of his control not bring his fist up and catch Nigel right in the throat. "And who shot you?"
"A cab driver."