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(from The Night Show, Vol. 1: The Great American Night)



The sound of that flat-line is like a starter’s pistol. The first one to notice, in this world, is the wife. She’s the only one in the room when the body arrests, screaming for the nurses, the doctors, the Holy Hand of God.

            In the hallway, the White Suit enters from the stairwell and goes into battle.

            The wife is hysterical. She is gripping her husband’s hand, pumping the will to live through his fingertips. The White Suit can feel it, too. It’s like wine from the ether. It almost distracts him from the task he is here to perform. That other is here, somewhere on this floor. He has two to three minutes before brain damage will make the point moot. Three nurses and a surgeon with a crash cart pass through his body, in the hallway, as though he is not there, and White Suit pauses at the doorway of the sick room to see whether there is any point in moving further.

            Inside, there is more than one corpse; the live one simply hasn’t realized it yet. The wife is going too, even if she does have three more decades ahead of her. Too much of her spirit will never recover from this. There’s another husband down one avenue, as well as another child—a daughter, this time—but there’s a bottle of Demerol down the other. There’s a third possible outcome, but it depended on what the White Suit found in this room. First evidence is good. The White Suit enters the room to make his final decision.

            He lays a hand on the dead man’s ankle and takes measure of the sounds he hears: children laughing, rain, the whisper of highway passing under rolling wheels, fireworks, a snippet from a movie (the theme song from Raiders of the Lost Ark, he believes), and the crack of the bat at Wrigley Field. The cardiologist is pounding on the guy’s chest. One of the nurses turns just in time to catch the fainting wife.

            White Suit draws his sidearm and leaves the room. Later, the dying man will make the same mistake as all near-deaths, swearing to the validity of the “white light.” White Suit and his tailor have always found this amusing. The patients in the hallway stand in stone silence, hearing the wail of the wife cut short, the thumping on the man’s chest. Only White Suit hears the advance of the other, the one in the Black Suit, bearing down on him from above. He descends through the ceiling without disturbing so much as a single panel or fluorescent tube-light, landing squarely on White Suit’s shoulders. Both plunge through the floor to the mental ward on Level 3.

            White recovers with admirable grace in mid-air, twisting so that Black Suit is the one who breaks their fall. He stands over his winded opponent and takes a bead on the demon’s forehead. Above, through the undisturbed ceiling, he hears a single beep and a controlled enthusiasm in the shout of the cardiologist. It is all the distraction the Black Suit requires.

            White’s arm is propelled back over his head, and he feels the sidearm leave his hand. The Black Suit’s next kick is higher, and catches White under the chin, lifting him back and off his white leather boots. He lands almost sixty feet away. The other has a Samurai sword, and holds it out before him, two-fisted, waiting. White finds his feet again and tries to strategize, even though his eyes won’t stop rolling in his head.

            “Are you here for me?”

            White shoots a glance at the speaker, standing behind him. They are in the day room of the Detox and Mental Health wing, and the one who can see him is of the latter persuasion. There are many milling about, but only one of them sees. It’s a rarity, but every once in awhile, vision is still mistaken for lunacy.

            He feels the air separating and side steps the blade coming down toward his shoulder. “Not this time, Mr. Walkins. You’ve got a while yet.” White Suit lifts away, through the ceiling, and comes up behind the nurse’s station in cardiology. Black Suit comes up into the sick room with the dead man and his unconscious wife.

            On Level 3, Walkins watches them go, and then goes to his room to pack. The ward is voluntary, and Walkins sees no further reason to stay.

            White focuses his powers of listening on only one source, for the moment ignoring his opponent. He waits for the beep again, signs of a pulse, and a single one of these calls out to him, nearly halfway across the span of the building, like a lighthouse beacon. Another, the third, follows it, including the one he heard from the level below.

            This one’s going to make it.

White Suit closes the distance between himself and Black Suit in less time than it would take the human eye to blink. Without ruffling the curtains, he and the other pass through the windows without breaking the glass. A graze of the sword tears White Suit’s arm, but no blood flows from the wound. There is no blood in White Suit’s body to lose. If you’ll permit me one pun, gravity holds no weight with their bodies, either. They struggle suspended by nothing more than the air outside the hospital, four stories above the emergency room entrance. Below them, two paramedics are lifting the one who didn’t survive the ride out of the back of the ambulance. Automobile accident, chest collapsed. It is the White Suit’s second appointment of the day, right on time. “Take that one,” he tells the demon in his grasp. “Leave me this one. Neither of us will be the worse for wear.”

“That’s not the way this works. Why should I settle for half a success?”

In the room, clear as a bell even out here, White Suit hears the fourth beep.

“I’ll give him to you, with brain damage. You walk away from the car accident victim, and the gunshot wound coming in the next hour.”

Gunshot wound? Results for cuts in intelligence funding. White Suit considers it. “Give me the one in there with no brain damage. You already have the car accident victim. I’ll give you a ten-second grace period on the gunshot before I intervene.”

“I don’t know—”

“What about the earthquake next week? I’ll give you a fifteen-second head-start there, too.”

“Why do you want this one so bad?”

“I don’t.” Over the demon’s shoulder, he can see one of the nurses trying to revive the wife. Inside, beep five, six … a cheer goes up from the nurses and cardiologist.

“Fine. Whatever.” Black sheathes his sword and drops abruptly out of the battle.

White Suit takes a final glance through the billowing curtains, at the man who was dying, and the woman who brought him back.

He is like a pro-bono attorney, and so is the one in the Black Suit. Sometimes it’s better to bargain than to spend too much time on one case.

Still, some victories taste sweeter. 






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