Chapter Four

Posted: September 22, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     To Maddie it seemed like everyone around her leapt into action while she remained frozen, staring at the possibly dead body on the floor.

     He said it was a cold. And then, I already paid him in full.

     Marion stalked over to the fallen man and grabbed Chrissy by the arm, shaking her. “You think he’s dead? Is he breathing?”

     “I don’t know!” Chrissy’s eyes were wild, her voice high with panic. “He doesn’t have a pulse! I don’t feel anything!”

     “Well check him again!”

     Chrissy fumbled at the photographer’s neck with shaky hands. After a few seconds she shook her head. “Nothing.”

     “Somebody give me my purse.” Jack leapt up to do his mother’s bidding, his injuries seemingly forgotten. Marion snatched the bag from him and rummaged, cursing. “I must have left it in the car.”

     “Left what?” Maddie looked up, tearing her eyes away from the body with some effort. The stranger who had helped Jack was the one who had spoken. Maddie wondered who he was; maybe a cousin of Jack’s? Does it matter? Your photographer just died!

     “My cell phone.” Marion looked around the room. “Somebody give me theirs. We need to call 9-1-1.”

     Bill fumbled in his pockets, pulling out a handful of paper and a wad of tissues before finally finding his phone. He handed it over, then glanced back down at the pages still in his hand. He offered them to Maddie.

     “My speech.” He laughed suddenly, a barking laugh that made everyone whip around to look at him. “It was about that phrase, you know, ‘til death do you part’?” He laughed harder, tears rolling down his face. “I said – oh – I said you’d probably kill Jack!” He bent over, holding his stomach. “Oh my god. Oh my god, it’s not even funny!”

     Maddie felt a laugh of her own rising up and clamped down on it, hard. Bill was beside himself, collapsing into a chair as he continued giggling, and she knew, if he didn’t stop, he’d start screaming. He’d lost control.

     At that moment Blake returned, cup of water in hand but not, thankfully, with Father Davis in tow. He took in the scene and stopped dead in his tracks.

     “What the hell?!”

     Maddie’s mother grabbed the cup and, in one fluid movement that bespoke her name, turned, took a step forward and flung the contents in Bill’s face. His laughter abruptly stopped.

     “What’s going on?” Blake demanded. “How-”

     “Sshh!” Marion hissed. When he was silent she returned her attention to the phone. “Okay, yes, we have him on his back.” She listened. “Well, he was ill before he collapsed, what if it’s contagious?” Another pause, and she grimaced. “Okay. Hold on.”

     Looking at Chrissy, she said, “You have to do CPR. You could get sick, but the ambulance won’t be here for ten minutes.”

     Chrissy held up her hands as if to ward off a blow. “I don’t know CPR!”

     “It’s okay, they’ll tell me and I’ll tell you.” When Chrissy hesitated Marion snapped, “We can’t just leave him here.”

     Chrissy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and finally nodded. “Okay. Okay. Tell me what to do.”

     Marion listened again, then began to relay the operator’s instructions. As Chrissy wiped the blood from the photographer’s mouth and prepared to listen for a breath, Marion glanced over and caught Maddie’s eye. She covered the phone’s speaker with her hand.

     “This,” she told Maddie slowly, her voice cold, “Is what happens when you hire off of Craigslist.”

     Maddie closed her eyes, shutting out Marion’s accusing glare, and made no reply. She felt an arm creep around her waist; forgetting herself, she collapsed into the offered embrace.

     “She’s just upset,” Jack murmured into her ear. He squeezed her against his side, a one-armed hug. “None of this is your fault.”

     She turned her head and rested it on his chest, pretending, for just a moment, that everything was fine, that it was all the way it should be. She breathed deeply, allowing him to hold her – until the smell of Holly’s perfume again caught her attention. She jerked away.

     “Maddie.” Jack grabbed her arm, his face earnest. “Please.”

     She shook her head and stepped away, out of his grasp. When he moved to grab her again, the man who had helped him earlier got between them.

     “I wouldn’t.” His voice was low, his tone mild, but something in it gave Jack pause. He looked at the man’s face, then at Maddie, and turned away angrily.

     “Thank you,” Maddie said quietly. He gave her a curt nod. She started to ask for his name when a sudden flurry of activity around the photographer drew both of their attention.

     “Are you sure?” Marion was asking.

     “His hand moved! I saw it!”

     “He’s moving,” Marion said into the phone. “We think he’s m- no, yes, there! He’s moving!” She listened intently. To Chrissy she said, “Check his breathing again, see if you can feel it.”

     Chrissy leaned down again, positioning her ear over his mouth. Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath, waiting.

     After what felt to Maddie like hours, but must have really been twenty to thirty seconds, Chrissy shook her head and started to sit back up. “Nothing. Should I-”

     The photographer’s hand shot up, latching on to the side of Chrissy’s head. She’d turned her face as she was rising; when he pulled her down her mouth met his. It looked as though he was kissing her, grateful to have been saved. Relieved beyond measure, Maddie giggled at the sight.

     Then Chrissy started to scream.

     The sound was muffled at first; for a second Maddie thought it was a cry of outrage. Chrissy struggled, batting at the hand that held her hair, and tried to pull away. Blood poured from her mouth, and Maddie realized, with sudden horror, that the photographer wasn’t kissing her.

     He was biting her.

     A chunk of something hung from his lower lip; Maddie saw his tongue dart out and draw it into his mouth. He chewed frantically, snarling, before jerking Chrissy’s face back down.

     “Hey.” Blake took a step toward them. “Hey! Get off of her!”

     He rushed forward, grabbing Chrissy’s shoulders and pulling back. Her screams intensified as she moved away; her lower lip was caught between the photographer’s teeth. He clamped down, and there was another gush of blood. Chrissy’s scream turned to an agonized shriek.

     “Fucking help me!” Blake yelled.

     The other men rushed in. Bill grabbed the photographer’s hand, fighting to pry his fingers free of Chrissy’s hair. Jack joined Blake in pulling Chrissy back, all of them screaming for the man to let go.

     There was a sudden, nauseating rip, and the three flew backwards, landing in a heap. Grace pulled Chrissy off the pile, crooning at her as she dragged her across the floor. The girl’s screams had turned to guttural moans; as Grace pressed a shirt to the ruins of Chrissy’s face, even those stopped. She lay still and silent, her eyes dull with shock.

     “Where the fuck is the ambulance?!” Marion screamed into the phone.

     The photographer continued to struggle; he grabbed Bill’s leg as he tried to rise, clawing at his pants for leverage. Blake rolled and made a grab for the man’s feet; Jack pushed himself forward, using his weight to propel his body into the man’s chest, knocking him back down.

     “Stay down,” he said, starting to disentangle himself. “Just stay down, you son-of-a-b-”

     His words were cut off as the photographer raised his head, still snarling mindlessly, and sank his teeth into Jack’s chest.

     “No! No! No!” Marion screamed, her voice hysterical. “Get off! Get off of him! WE NEED HELP HERE!”

     She started toward them – to do what, Maddie couldn’t imagine – but was shoved aside. There was a flash of gold. What is that? Is that-

     The stranger brought the trophy down with a thud. Once. Twice. Three times.

     The photographer stilled.

     “Oh my god.” The sound of her own voice sounded foreign to her ears. She stared at the trophy, dangling from his hand; blood dripped from the heavy base. “What did you do?”

     He met her horrified gaze, then looked down, grimacing at the damage he’d wrought. He dropped the trophy and took a step back, wiping his hands on his pants.

     “Is he dead?” Grace leaned forward, over the girl she still held cradled in her lap. “Did you kill him? Is he dead?”

     “I sure hope so,” Marion snapped. She helped her son up and led him to a chair; she’d apparently given up on the 9-1-1 operator, as the phone was nowhere in sight. Removing her jacket, she wadded it up and pressed the pristine silk to Jack’s chest. White quickly turned to red.

     “Is anybody else hurt?”

     Bill pulled up his pant leg and grimaced. “He scratched me, but it’s not that bad. Stings.” He dropped the fabric and looked around. “What was that?”

     Before anyone could answer, the choir room doors burst open and a trio of paramedics hustled in.

     “It’s about goddamn time!”

     The lead medic faltered under Marion’s withering glare, but forged ahead bravely. Setting down his bag, he said, “You have an unconscious male, no pulse, no breath sounds.”

     “We had,” Marion said. She gestured toward the photographer’s body; the medic did a double-take at the man’s head and looked around in alarm.

     “What the hell did you people do?”

     “He went crazy,” Marion explained. She jerked her head in Chrissy’s direction; one of the other medics went immediately to her side, easing her out of Grace’s lap.

     “I thought he was unconscious!”

     “That girl right there did CPR, and he ate her fucking face.” Bill took a step toward the medic, a wild look back in his eye, then stumbled as he put weight on his injured leg. “She was helping him, and he bit her! He bit her face off!”

     The medic turned toward his partner, a skeptical look on his face that faded to one of confusion when the other man nodded. “We need to get her in the bus, Mike. It’s bad.”

     “My son needs to go too,” Marion added. “He’s bleeding a lot.” Maddie saw that it was true – dark blood had saturated the makeshift compress and was oozing between Marion’s fingers. Jack’s face had gone as white as his mother’s outfit.

     Mike the Medic waved his other partner over to them, then looked around again. “Is anybody else bit?” They all shook their heads. He pointed at Bill, who was still teetering off-balance. “You. He bite your leg?”

     “No, just a scratch.” He lifted his pant leg again, showing the scratch that ran down the length of his shin. Maddie winced at the sight; it was puffy and angry-looking, like it was already infected.

     Mike directed Bill to sit and looked the wound over, probing the edges with a gloved hand. “It’s not deep enough for stitches, but we’ll get it cleaned up and look again. Stay right here.” He turned back to the others, his face suddenly cold and hard. “Now, I need to know who did that.”

     Against her will, Maddie found her eyes following the direction of his accusing finger. She realized with a jolt that, while the top of the dead man’s head was a smashed-in mess, the bottom half of his face was unmarred. A piece of Jack’s shirt was still clenched between his teeth.

     Stomach lurching, she turned her head away; a sob escaped her lips before she could stop it.

     Don’t cry, she told herself sternly. If you start, you won’t stop. Don’t. Cry.

     The silence stretched for several agonizing moments, no one wanting to be the one who got their rescuer in trouble, until finally the man himself stepped forward. “I did.”

     The medic nodded, jaw clenched. “You’ll have to talk to the police.”

     “Wait a minute!” Grace moved away from Chrissy, who was still being cared for on the floor. “They can’t arrest him! He had no choice!”

     “Ma’am-”

     “No.” Grace cut him off, glaring at the medic with such malice that he took a step back. “We called you. We called you for help and you didn’t come. You left us here.”

     Mike tried again. “Ma’am, we came as soon as we cou-”

     “You didn’t come!” Maddie stared at her, wide-eyed; she’d never heard Grace scream before. “You left us here with that – with that-” She groped fruitlessly for the word she wanted. “You left us here with that, and so he had no choice!”

     She turned, arms out, beseeching. “You had no choice, it’s not your fault Vinnie, it’s okay, you had no choice.” Sobbing now, she collapsed into the man’s arms.

     Maddie watched as the stranger – no, Vinnie – as Vinnie comforted her mom, stroking her hair and whispering to her. When she was quiet he looked up, catching Maddie’s confused look before turning his gaze back to the medic.

     “I did it,” he repeated, patting Grace’s back when she let out another sob. “I’ll talk to them.”

     The medic nodded, looking shell-shocked. Before he could say anything else more people poured into the room, men with two stretchers and bags of supplies. As they worked to load the injured and take them out, Maddie saw a woman hovering outside the open door. Marion strode past her, gripping Jack’s hand and pointedly ignoring the questions being thrown at her. Maddie tried to follow, but a hand grabbed her arm.

     “Please, Maddie.” Holly’s face was red, her cheeks tracked with tear-streaked mascara. “What happened? Where are they taking Jack?”

     Maddie stared at her, waiting for the anger to come back but feeling only exhaustion. “He was hurt,” she said shortly. She tried again to go, and again Holly stopped her.

     “Was it…was it you?” Her eyes searched Maddie’s face. “Did you…was it you?”

     Maddie sighed. “No. The photographer- I don’t know, he was sick, and then he went nuts. Jack tried to stop him, and he got really hurt. He’s bleeding.” She paused. “A lot. Chrissy too. I don’t think it’s good. Chrissy-” She paused again, aware that the quiver in her voice meant she was perilously close to breaking down. With tears in her eyes, she repeated, “I don’t think it’s good.”

     Crying in earnest, Holly grabbed her. She stood, arms stiff at her sides, as the other woman wept against her shoulder. Her gaze darted around, looking for help, but there was no one to rescue her now. She waited, wooden, until Holly finally pulled away.

     “I’m sorry,” Holly said, wiping her face. “I’m so sorry Maddie. It’s just-” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “It’s just that I love him. I love him so much. You know?”

     Maddie considered this for a moment, staring at her friend, who was looking back at her imploringly. There was only one thing she could think to do.

     Taking a deep breath of her own, she smiled sadly.

     And slapped the other girl across the face.

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Comments
  1. mxcoot says:

    Holy schnickeys can’t wait for chapter 5 next week.

  2. Thea says:

    Somehow I missed this chapter last week, whoops!

    I’m so glad the last line is EXACTLY what I wanted it to be.

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