Gone for Good Page 5

The apartment wasn’t big, just one bedroom. I padded toward the living room and peeked in. Sheila was there. She sat on the windowsill and looked down toward the street. I stared at her back, the swan neck, the wonderful shoulders, the way her hair flowed down the white skin, and again I felt the stir. Our relationship was still on the border of the early throes, the gee-it’s-great-to-be-alive love where you can’t get enough of each other, that wonderful run-across-the-park-to-see-her stomach-flutter that you know, know, would soon darken into something richer and deeper.

I’d been in love only once before. And that was a very long time ago.

“Hey,” I said.

She turned just a little, but it was enough. There were tears on her cheeks. I could see them sliding down in the moonlight. She didn’t make a sound—no cries or sobs or hitching chest. Just the tears. I stayed in the doorway and wondered what I should do.


On our second date, Sheila performed a card trick. It involved my picking two cards, putting them in the middle of the deck while she turned her head, and her throwing the entire deck save my two cards onto the floor. She smiled widely after performing this feat, holding up the two cards for my inspection. I smiled back. It was—how to put this?—goofy. Sheila was indeed goofy. She liked card tricks and cherry Kool-Aid and boy bands. She sang opera and read voraciously and cried at Hallmark commercials. She could do a mean imitation of Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns, though her Smithers and Apu were on the weak side. And most of all, Sheila loved to dance. She loved to close her eyes and put her head on my shoulder and fade away.

“I’m sorry, Will,” Sheila said without turning around.

“For what?” I said.

She kept her eyes on the view. “Go back to bed. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I wanted to stay or offer up words of comfort. I didn’t. She wasn’t reachable right now. Something had pulled her away. Words or action would be either superfluous or harmful. At least, that was what I told myself. So I made a huge mistake. I went back to bed and waited.

But Sheila never came back.


Las Vegas, Nevada

Morty Meyer was in bed, dead asleep on his back, when he felt the gun muzzle against his forehead.

“Wake up,” a voice said.

Morty’s eyes went wide. The bedroom was dark. He tried to raise his head, but the gun held him down. His gaze slid toward the illuminated clock-radio on the night table. But there was no clock there. He hadn’t owned one in years, now that he thought about it. Not since Leah died. Not since he’d sold the four-bedroom colonial.

“Hey, I’m good for it,” Morty said. “You guys know that.”

“Get up.”

The man moved the gun away. Morty lifted his head. With his eyes adjusting, he could make out a scarf over the man’s face. Morty remembered the radio program The Shadow from his childhood. “What do you want?”

“I need your help, Morty.”

“We know each other?”

“Get up.”

Morty obeyed. He swung his legs out of bed. When he stood, his head reeled in protest. He staggered, caught in that place where the drunk-buzz is winding down and the hangover is gathering strength like an oncoming storm.

“Where’s your medical bag?” the man asked.

Relief flooded Morty’s veins. So that was what this was about. Morty looked for a wound, but it was too dark. “You?” he asked.

“No. She’s in the basement.”


Morty reached under the bed and pulled out his leather medical bag. It was old and worn. His initials, once shiny in gold leaf, were gone now. The zipper didn’t close all the way. Leah had bought it when he’d graduated from Columbia University’s medical school more than forty years before. He’d been an internist in Great Neck for the three decades following that. He and Leah had raised three boys. Now here he was, approaching seventy, living in a one-bedroom dump and owing money and favors to pretty much everyone.

Gambling. That’d been Morty’s addiction of choice. For years, he’d been something of a functioning gambleholic, fraternizing with those particular inner demons yet keeping them on the fringe. Eventually, however, the demons caught up to him. They always do. Some had claimed that Leah had been a facilitator. Maybe that was true. But once she died, there was no reason to fight anymore. He let the demons claw in and do their worst.

Morty had lost everything, including his medical license. He moved out west to this shithole. He gambled pretty much every night. His boys—all grown and with families—didn’t call him anymore. They blamed him for their mother’s death. They said that he’d aged Leah before her time. They were probably right.

“Hurry,” the man said.


They started down the basement stairs. Morty could see the light was on. This building, his crappy new abode, used to be a funeral home. Morty rented a bedroom on the ground floor. That gave him use of the basement—where the bodies used to be stored and embalmed.

In the basement’s back corner, a rusted playground slide ran down from the back parking lot. That was how they used to bring the bodies down—park-’n-slide. The walls were blanketed with tiles, though many were crumbling from years of neglect. You had to use a pair of pliers to get the water running. Most of the cabinet doors were gone. The death stench still hovered, an old ghost refusing to leave.

The injured woman was lying on a steel table. Morty could see right away that this didn’t look good. He turned back to the Shadow.

“Help her,” he said.

Morty didn’t like the timbre of the man’s voice. There was anger there, yes, but the overriding emotion was naked desperation, his voice more a plea than anything else. “She doesn’t look good,” Morty said.

The man pressed the gun against Morty’s chest. “If she dies, you die.”

Morty swallowed. Clear enough. He moved toward her. Over the years, he’d treated plenty of men down here—but this would be the first woman. That was how Morty made his quasi-living. Stitch and run. If you go to an emergency room with a bullet or stab wound, the doctor on duty had a legal obligation to report it. So they came instead to Morty’s makeshift hospital.

He flashed back to the triage lessons of medical school. The ABCs, if you will. Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Her breaths were raspy and filled with spittle.

“You did this to her?”

The man did not reply.

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