Cold stagnant air filled Daniel Montague’s lungs; the chill of the December wind batted at his face. In front of him lie the raging waters of the Mississippi River, the thundering rapids eager to erase his existence on this planet. Behind him the glow of blue and red lights danced a malevolent ballet across the moonless sky. The sounds of sirens had all but disappeared from Daniel’s ears and he could now hear the insects and other creatures of the night scurrying through the nearby underbrush. His feet sank into the filthy mud of the river bank as the night came in and out of focus.
How could he have been so careless? Trust was something you could never earn yet somehow he had let his guard down. His guard, the blanket that had kept him safe for so many years keeping any and all at an arms distance. His hands trembled as he brought them to his face burying his eyes deep into his weathered palms. It wasn’t fear he felt though he was far removed from that, this was pure anger. He knew better and like that old saying goes “you fool me once shame on you, you fool me twice and I’ll kill you.” But here he stood, here at the end of it all and his only regret lay in the thought that for all his perfect planning something had been overlooked.
Not more than a year ago he first set foot on this exact river bank and would continue to do so for many sleepless nights since. Funny that now this sacred place of thought would mark the end. He closed his eyes and envisioned how it all began. Slowly the smell of damp earth in the night air started to fade. The flickering of lights vanished and he found himself staring at a clock.
Twelve AM. Many have seen this numerical denomination countless times but none were as intimate with it as Daniel. The little General Electric alarm signaled the start of a new day but for Daniel there was no break where one ended and the other began. Funny he thought how the glow of the flashing numbers accented her red hair, the green blinking light keeping a metered pace with his hands. He reached out and stroked her hair with his free hand moving it out of her face. The night was still except the cats fighting in the alley, but in that room the spirit of New Orleans came to life. Daniel had to move fast, he worked his instruments like a magician taking hold of her tattered flesh. Damn she bled a lot he thought as he stared at his crimson colored gloves. Her body lay lifeless on the table, void of any expression or knowledge of what had been done to her. Daniel grinned, marveling at his work relishing the masterpiece he had created. He stepped away looking down on her and blinked, but his eyes remained closed a bit too long and he felt himself drifting away.
Suddenly the door burst open and a short stubby fat man waddled in. “One hell of a job Daniel, those are some nice ones.” Victor elated while burying the remainder of his ham sandwich into the bottomless pit the rest of us know as a mouth. Daniel sprung awake opening his eyes to the burning lights of the operating room. “Time to wake her up,” he jolted as he prodded at her breast with his index finger.
After hours plastic surgery had become all the rage in New Orleans. It was an ideal place for those who sought more discretion and the perfect business for an anal former combat doctor suffering from sleep insomnia. Daniel had opened his practice nearly 10 years ago and had raked in profits ever since. Victor, his partner in crime, had come on after the second year and although an excellent surgeon his vice of groping his patients made him an eager candidate for what the industry affectionately called “night slashers.”
When he wasn’t in surgery Daniel would sit watching the digital numbers of his General Electric alarm clock mold into one another. He had learned that sleep was an overpriced commodity and it would come when it came. Hours melted into days, days into weeks until Daniel didn’t know where the dreams stopped and reality began. They say sleep insomnia is a disease, but for Daniel it was a blessing. He had been used to harnessing his emotions and conjuring up calmness with mortars going off around him or waiting days motionless for the perfect shot so combating the effects of sleep deprivation seemed like an easy enough task. Sixteen days on average, sixteen nights with nothing more than an hour of sleep and sometimes the occasional nap during his drive into work or mid conversation with one of his patients at the office. Once upon a time Daniel had tried to control his problem, tried to bring some type of order to his life. When that failed miserably he learned to embrace his condition and as the French say “laissez faire.”
“If you don’t get tips with these Cindy they need to set that shithole on fire.”
“Do you really need to hold them like that,” she said as she peered down on Victor.
“Oh yes I have to make sure they set correctly, you don’t want them uneven.” Daniel just shook his head and stared away. The price you pay he thought. Victor’s 500k allowed him to expand the office and take on more clients, not to mention take some of the workload off of him. But did he really need to feel up every single patient?
“Victor I think we’re good here.” Victor smirked then removed his hands from Cindy’s breast giving her a devilish wink.
“Yep Cindy all is well, you can go ahead and put your shirt on.” It was now 2 am and Daniel was preparing to close up the office.
“You know Vic you can be a serious pig sometimes.”
“Most times,” Victor snorted. “Look if we make them, they are partly ours so we have every right to fully inspect our work. They’re paying for a premium product here; I’m just providing good customer service.” Victor could draw a parallel to good customer service with anything he did. Like when he was caught cheating on his wife with her sister. At the divorce hearing he told the judge that it would’ve been cruel for him to deprive the rest of her family the service she so delightfully enjoyed.
“I’m off to the bar around the corner, wanna join me for a quick one or does the parole officer have your balls tonight?”
“Give me a break Vic, you know I rule that house with an iron fist, give me ten and I’ll meet you there.”
Victor smiled and then scurried out of the door like an overfed hamster that’d seen more food. Daniel continued to pack his things and then headed to the garage downstairs. As he stepped outside the sharp tinge of the bitter wind stung his face. It was a cold day in January, much colder than it should be. The air so frozen that nothing seemed to move. Daniel had to resist the urge to turn tail and head back into the warmth of the building.
His office was located in a dilapidated part of New Orleans and the garage which sat far below sea level had a weathered look with algae green walls from the last flood. There was a strong smell of musk in the air and if it weren’t for the six figure cars in the garage you’d think the place condemned. Daniels oxford shoes pierced the eerie silence of the garage as they echoed through the emptiness. A few of his more loyal customers, the rats that resided in the garage scurried off into the dark corners. His arm swung gently as he strode down the cement walkway.
He looked ahead to his car and leaning on it stood a man. A tall thin man dressed in a dark gray suit with a beige trench coat over it. The man stood motionless, his weathered face dark and mysterious was cascaded by the shadows. His jaw was clenched tight and an L shaped scar ran down the left side of his cheek. He stood with his hands in his pocket and looked as if he had been waiting Daniels return. Daniel paused and squinted trying to discern the face of the mysterious man but the shadows kept him well hidden. Moving closer Daniel spoke, “Office is closed sir we open at 6pm tomorrow.” The man let out an unmistakable laugh and Daniel stopped in his tracks. “Tom, Tom Naph is that you?” The man stepped from out of the shadows and they both burst into furious laughter.
“You almost shit yourself Danny boy.”
“Yeah you fruity bastard, this isn’t exactly the place you wanna be accosted by some stranger. How the hell have you been jeez it’s been way too long?”
“I’ve been doing, had an office over in Houston for a while but we closed down. That’s kind of why I’m here. I stopped by the house and Monica told me I could find you here.”
“So, what’s going on, everything ok?”
“Well the office didn’t exactly close down voluntarily, business has been rough and I’m kind of in a tough spot. I hate to ask you this but if I can stay with you for -”
“Anything you need Tom, no need to even ask.” Daniel cut him off. “Now that, that’s over lets head to the bar I’m supposed to be meeting Vic there, maybe you can put him in headlock like you used to do Davies.”
Tom chuckled, “If he’s anything like Davies I may have to put him through a window. I really appreciate this though; I just need time to get back on my feet.”
“Don’t mention it; you’re like a brother to me. Now what about that drink”
“Eh, I’d love to but I need to head back to the hotel grab the rest of my stuff and check out, can I just meet you at the house in say two hours?”
“Not a problem, rain check then?”
“You got it.”
Tom gave him a giant bear hug and being the larger of the two lifted him off his feet nearly crushing his ribs.
“Calm down there big guy.” Daniel whimpered.
“Ha, guess the married life has made you weak.” They both laughed. “So I’ll see you in a few then.”
“Sure thing and hey no funny stuff with the wife.”
“Only if she promises to keep her hands to herself, you know she’s been eyeing me since college.”
“You wish asshole.” Daniel shouted as he slowly raised his middle finger.
Tom smirked then began to walk off and was quickly consumed by the shadows. Daniel turned and started putting his things into his car. “Tom Naph,” he chuckled. “Who would’ve thought?” Tom and Daniel had been roommates all through college and med school. It was on Tom’s suggestion that they both joined the military and volunteer for special operations. Tom was even supposed to be the best man at Daniel and Monica’s wedding but an extreme case of pneumonia kept him from that. For some reason or another he always missed big events.
When Daniel arrived at the little pub around the corner it was already apparent that Victor had consumed a few too many drinks. He was encircled with a large group of women explaining how through his able hands they could have the body they’ve always dreamed of. The group of ladies had obviously had a little too much as well as they allowed him to go in turns guessing their exact cup size, weight and other measurements by fondling their breasts.
“Hey Daniel, over here. That’s my counterpart ladies, but hands off he’s married, you’re all mine.” Victor waved furiously like he was trying to swat a fly. Daniel sat down and ordered a glass of bourbon. “So guess who showed up at the office after you left?”
“You lucky bastard, Cindy came back for some one on one huh.” Daniel eyed him for a moment and then drained the glass of bourbon.
“You know Vic; you’re a lawsuit waiting to happen.” He shook his head and ordered another drink. “Anyway like I was saying, Tom Naph stopped by.”
“Tom, your old roommate Tom?” Victor started to giggle. “So I finally get to meet your life’s inspiration. Didn’t you say he was nuts, I thought he tried to kill someone?” Daniel started to laugh.
“It was a practical joke that got carried away; who knew the guy had a heart condition.”
“So what is he doing down here anyway?”
“His practice closed down, he’ll be staying with us for a while.”
“Oh no, did the warden approve this?”
“Don’t be an ass Vic.”
“Ok, Ok, but check out the set on this brunette. She had em done over at Glazer’s office. That farsighted bastard, looks like there’s a good 300cc difference between each one. Oh now honey, don’t cry we can definitely fix that.”
Victor loved to brag about his skills at shaping the female body. Sad thing was he was pretty damn good. There’s nothing worse than a conceited bastard that was actually right. “Somebody get this broad a drink so she can drown her sorrows.”
Daniel had just downed another glass of bourbon when he was doused by the misdirected cup of Guinness. He looked up to find a rather burly man wearing a filthy white tank top with sprinkles of chest hair protruding out standing over Victor comforting the lady with the misshapen breasts.
“Get your fat ass up and let’s take this outside.”
“It’s ok Doug.” The lady whimpered attempting to quail the situation.
Victor laughed and threw several twenty dollar bills onto the table. “Yeah Doug it’s ok, why don’t you sit down and have a drink sir.” He patted the man on his shoulder and then turned to continue speaking to Daniel. “So how long is Tom gonna be here?”
Honor insulted and respect taken Doug was left with no choice but to do the most drastic thing possible. While Victor sat jabbering to Daniel, Doug grabbed a half empty bottle of Smirnoff raised it high overhead and in one swift motion brought it crashing down towards Victor’s balding head. Daniel jumped up at speed only matched by wild animals and grabbed Doug’s wrist and wrestled the bottle away from him. “What the hell,” Daniel shoved him back. “Are you crazy asshole?”
Doug stood there blank faced as if he was contemplating whether Victor was worth killing or not. Then his eyes slowly met Daniels and the glare that was returned had no hint of pleasant intentions. Gone was the plastic surgeon but there stood the man who had taken so many lives during his military days. Possibly stunned by how fast Daniel had got to his feet, or how imposing he looked standing between them Doug decided not to act. He backed away a few feet fuming, then pointing at Victor he spat “Next time buddy.” Then he spun around grabbing the lady by the arm and marched out of the door.
“Whew close one Dan, thought I was gonna have to rough somebody up.” Victor grabbed another glass and began to gulp the amber colored liquid
“Just just go home Vic.” Daniel said stern faced as he pointed at the door. Victor gave him a compunctious look then stood slowly and scurried out of the bar into the cold night. Daniel put his face in his hands and let out a long sigh. He hadn’t lost his temper like that in a while and although Victor probably deserved it, if anyone was gonna kick his friends ass it would be him. This Doug fellow was out of line and if he had not chosen the high road Daniel would have been sure to show him the error of his ways.
Leaning his head back Daniel yawned and stretched then brought his head to rest on his hands. Damn Victor and his big mouth he thought, somebodies gonna kill that guy. He slowly felt himself drifting away and soon the sounds of the bar disappeared and all was silent.
“Sir, Sir!” Daniel jumped up and looked around the empty bar. “We’re closing. Figured I’d let you sleep some of it off, but you’re the last one here.” Chuck the ailing bartender surveyed Daniel as he cleaned off a mug. “You okay, I can call you a taxi.”
“Sorry about that, I’m fine” Daniel muttered. He reached in his wallet and pulled out a few bills and left them on the bar. Then clumsily stood to his feet and headed to the door. The bar was now completely empty but the smell of cigarettes and liquor was still in the air. The jukebox hummed along playing some obscure Harry Connick Jr. tune and a glass of ale still sat on the pool table. Daniel swung open the shabby wooden door and as he stepped outside he was almost knocked over by a tall slender man dressed in jeans and a ball cap.
“Tom? What are you doing here?”
“I got done early decided to head down. Everything ok in there? I heard some guy come out earlier with a lady talking about smashing somebody’s face.”
“Earlier, that had to be an hour ago.” Daniel eyed him inquisitively.
“Well yeah,” Tom smirked and patted him on the back. “I was gonna head in and check it out, but then some nice ladies came out right after him and they needed an um escort to their car.” Tom seemed to have a knack or really an addiction for locating the sleaziest women, and although not a bad looking guy he never seemed to pass at an opportunity.
Daniel sighed and shook his head. “An escort huh, well everything was fine, just Victor up to his usual. How long have you been here?”
“About two hours, well here as in the parking lot,” Tom smiled.
Daniel suddenly realized how much time had passed as he looked around noting that they were the only two on the street. Every business except the bar they were standing in front of had turned their lights off and the only noise aside from them was the frigid wind as it blew through the alleyways.
“Let’s get out of here, I’m sure I’m gonna catch hell from Monica.”
Daniel and Tom started the half mile hike to his car in silence as their teeth chattered from the bitter cold. The empty streets were like dark hallways cascaded in the thick fog that had begun to blow in from the shore. They moved like shadows nothing more than apparitions gliding through the cool mist. The gelid outside was a complete contrast to the scene playing in Daniels head as he thought about the convivial summers he enjoyed as a child growing up in the big easy. He couldn’t help but feel complete awe at times for how truly beautiful a city New Orleans was. It had a real renaissance feeling about it with the old Victorian homes and the bustling crowd that flooded the streets daily. He felt like the Great Gatsby standing atop the world ready to take on anything.
As Daniel absent mindedly trotted down the cobbled streets his feet hit a wet spot and before he could react he found himself on his back staring up at a smiling Tom. “Balance not what it used to be huh?” Tom offered him a hand and helped him to his feet.
“Thanks, shit that hurt.” Daniel complained while rubbing the back of his head.
“Danny, what’s that on your back, are you bleeding?”
“What, no I’m fine I slipped in something.” Daniel turned his shirt so he could see the back which was covered in a thick red liquid. “That’s not my blood.” He looked down to the street and saw a trail coming from a dumpster behind one of the convenience stores. “It looks like it’s coming from that dumpster over there.” Daniel looked around and the streets were still empty. He thought he could see people in the shadows but it was just his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He paused for a moment and then started walking towards the dumpster.
“Danny!” Tom shouted. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“One sec, I wanna see what this is.”
“Are you stupid man, leave that shit alone.” Daniel was nearing the back of the conveineince store and could see a large trash bag leaning against the dumpster. He cautiously approached it as Tom shouted obscenities at him trying bring his attention to the ominous look of the area. The dumpster was partially open and pizza boxes and soda cans spewed from the top. The back of the convenience store was dimly lit and a few kicked over trash cans littered the ground around the bag. The bag itself was lumpy and he could tell from the outline that something large was in it. Daniel eyed the bag cautiously but his curiosity was overwhelming. He reached out to grab the bag blocking out Tom’s warnings to leave.
“Dr. Montague,” said a booming voice approaching from the other side of the store.
Daniel spun around looking to his right poised to attack. “Sheriff Lawson. Jesus you scared me, good thing you’re here though.” Daniel said with an air or relief. “Tom it’s the sheriff.”
“Who the hell are you screaming to?” Sheriff Lawson edged closer.
That’s my friend Tom.” Daniel said as he motioned towards the front of the store.
Sheriff Lawson turned with a puzzled look on his face and then nodded. “But what the hell are you doing out here Daniel.”
“Well Tom and I were headed home from pub and I slipped and well it’s fucking blood, coming from this bag over here.” The Sheriff gazed down with an alarmed guise on his face.
“Step back let me take a look” He approached the bag and gave it a poke with the toe of his shoe. He surveyed the area around it waiting for something to happen. This was one of those moments when the sheriff didn’t quite like being the sheriff. He looked over to Daniel who gave him a look that he perceived to mean “well you’re the guy with the gun.” Then reluctantly he knelt down and started to untie the bag. It was large thick black trash bag, the kind that contractors use. He untied the first one to find that there was another bag tied together inside. The Sherriff’s hands started to quiver has he untied the last bag. He slowly opened it and peered inside.
“Holy shit,” the sheriff fell back with a look of absolute revulsion and vomited on the cobbled street. The smell coming from the bag was enough to make someone tear their nose off. Daniel glimpsed inside and though he was a doctor he immediately became queasy.
“What kind of bastard would do this?” The sheriff uttered.