By C. Fong Hsiung
The mobile phone buzzes.
Jason grabs a pillow and covers his ears. The buzzing continues. With a groan he gropes the bedside table. “Shaun’s going to pay for this,” he thinks. Aloud he says, “This had better be good, Shaun.”
He hears a hysterical cackle. Shaun says in a high-pitched voice, “Jay, it’s your brother. Please come here quick.”
“What did Tony do this time?”
“Please Jay, just come over. Tony…uh… he’s been stabbed.”
Jason swears as he grabs his trousers and t-shirt. A few minutes later, tires screeching and thoughts racing as fast as his car, he wonders what his brother and Shaun have been up to. More than once, he’d asked Tony to move back with him and to dump that scumbag roommate of his. But there was no reasoning with Tony.
The problem with Tony, Jason muses, is that he flaunts big brother’s tough-guy reputation like an annoying invitation to the gangs in the hood. More than once, Jason has bailed Tony out of trouble. He sighs as he parks his car, swings his feet out on the asphalt—still soft from the day’s heat—and enters the brownstone low-rise.
Jason holds his nose as he rides the decrepit elevator. The smell of stale urine and unnamed other odors assault his nostrils. When the door groans open, he gasps and gulps a breath of air—not much better; his lungs are on fire.
He pounds his fist on one of the doors. The third thump lands on air as Shaun flings it wide and stands in front of him with disheveled hair, shirt torn at the right shoulder, and dried blood smeared on his chest.
Shaun blubbers, “Jay, it’s that shit-face, Rick, wait till I get my hands on him. He’s a dead man.”
Jason shoves past Shaun kicking aside a pile of dirty clothes on the floor as he heads straight for the couch. He cringes at the sight of his brother lying unmoving, face swollen and bloody. Bloods seeps through makeshift bandages—strips from a t-shirt—around Tony’s chest and stomach. Jason touches Tony’s neck. No pulse here…wait, there’s a faint beat. “Shaun, call 911 right now. Tony has to go to the hospital.”
“The cops will be all over us if we take him in,” Shaun whines.
Jason grabs Shawn’s shirt and growls, “He’s going to die if he doesn’t get treatment.”
“Uh…I…the cops will ask all kinds of questions”
“Do you think I care? My brother needs medical attention right now.”
Tony groans. Jason kneels down beside his brother and gazes into the pain-glazed eyes. “Tony, hang in there. Don’t try to talk. We’ll get you to the hospital.”
“I…I’m so sorry, Jay,” Tony whispers.
Jason squeezes Tony’s cold and clammy hands. “Shh…everything will be fine.”
Tony’s fingers tense up and then slacken. He expels a deep sigh like air escaping a punctured tire. Jason quells an anguished sob. “No, Tony, no. Please hang on.” He shakes the limp and lifeless hands. “Damn you, stay with me.”
“Jay, the ambulance is on the way,” Shaun says as he pockets his phone.
“Too late, Tony’s gone.”
“This can’t be happening. He can’t die,” Shaun whimpers and crumples into a chair. He wipes his eyes and nose with the back of his wrist.
Rage sears through Jason. “Who did you say did this to Tony?”
“That fuck-face, Rick, and his cronies. They were taunting us. Tony and I, we didn’t want anything to do with them, we were walking home from the bar. You know that Doberman Rick has? He let him loose on us. It went for Tony first, but Tony had a knife on him and he drove it into the dog. I swear if he didn’t do that then the dog would have killed him.”
Jason grits his teeth and tenses his jaws.
Shaun continues, “When Rick saw that Tony had killed his dog, he became crazy. Him and his buddies surrounded us. There were just two of us to six of them. At some point I blacked out because my head hit a rock. When I came to, I saw Rick wiping a knife on Tony’s clothes, and then he ran. Tony was just lying there moaning. There was no way he could walk home, so I got us a cab.”
“You didn’t think to ask the cab to take Tony to the hospital?” Jason glowers as Shaun sinks lower in the chair.
“The hospital will call the cops and then they’ll be sniffing all over the place. Rick and his gang will kill us if we went to the cops.”
“Tony’s dead. Do you think I care what the cops or Rick and his buddies do? Rick’s going to pay for this.”
Terror shines in Shaun’s eyes. “What’re you going to do, Jay?”
Jason formulates a vague plan in his head—he has no desire to discuss it with Shaun. “I don’t know yet. Let’s just say that I’m going to have a chat with Rick. When the paramedics arrive, you deal with them.”
“Let me come with you and help you do whatever you’re going to do. I feel responsible for this.”
“Yeah, you should feel bad, but you’re in no shape to deal with anything tonight.”
“Be careful, Rick is a cunning son-of-a-bitch.”
“Don’t worry about me. You take care of yourself.”
Like an alley cat Jason makes his way to Rick’s apartment. His sneakers make no sound on the pavement when he passes a sleeping vagrant. He arrives at his destination faster than he anticipated. He fingers the weapon in his pant pocket as he studies the building—an old five-storey low-rise with balconies stacked one over the other. Intruders weren’t a major concern when it was built many moons ago. A light is glowing in Rick’s second-floor apartment.
Jason’s gaze sweeps all around him. A car slows down at a stop sign about a hundred yards behind him, and then moves on. He grabs a window sill, climbs up and propels his body toward Rick’s balcony. As he hangs at the bottom of the balcony, he hoists himself up and then wraps his legs around the metal railing. Once his feet land on concrete, he unsheathes his dagger. He creeps to the side of the door, peering and listening. Other than Rick who seems to be lying on the couch dozing in front of the TV, Jason doesn’t see anyone else. He tests the screen door. It slides open.
Weapon in one hand hidden behind his back, Jason skulks toward his sleeping prey. He draws a deep breath and then raises his dagger arm. Rick’s eyes open wide. His mouth gapes, “What the fuck…”
Jason throws a punch on Rick’s face and follows it with a knee to the stomach. He pins Rick down with his free hand and a knee and then brandishes the dagger. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?” Jason growls.
Rick’s pupils dilate and he chokes, “Please don’t hurt me.”
“You should have thought of that when you killed my brother with a knife, and now I’m going to do the same to you,”
“I swear I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“Yeah, that’s what they all say.”
Rick yells, “Help—”
Jason punches him again and covers Rick’s mouth with his hand. “You should have stayed away from Tony like I asked you to, you slimy coward. You pick on others only when you’ve got your posse with you. Where are they now?”
Rick mumbles something incoherent. His face contorts and his eyes dart wildly. Jason raises the dagger positioning it for the perfect kill. He has been visualizing this moment ever since he said goodbye to his brother. Now he will exact his revenge. He hesitates. Despite his tough-guy reputation, he has never killed another human being.
Rick heaves and pushes with what seems like superhuman strength. Jason loses his balance—only for a moment—and then he drives the sharp blade down with full force. He feels the cold hard steel penetrate warm soft tissue. Bile surges up toward his throat. “What am I doing?” he thinks as nausea almost overpowers him. He stops pushing the weapon.
Rick struggles to free his hands as his legs thrash and jerk. Jason releases his grip on his victim and he tries to stand up. A muffled sound reverberates in the room. Jason turns his head around in dazed dread. The stench of smoke and gunpowder wafts up toward him.
Rick starts to laugh hysterically, but the laughter dies as quickly as it started. Jason’s confusion turns to horror and disbelief as his gaze travels down. He sees a smoking gun in Rick’s lifeless hands. From his own stomach, blood drips down to his dagger seeping into Rick’s shirt. Blending the blood of the victim and the victor—victory now a bitter pill stuck in Jason’s throat.
Death does not discriminate.