Todd looked Trace Harding over. He had no choice but to take the man at his word that this wasn’t some performance piece. That the man in front of Todd was not, and had never heard of Mickey Rourke.
Which led to some questions on its own. Had Harding ever been out of his bedroom? Did he not have a TV, or anyone who could look at him?
Todd cut off that line of thinking. If there was one thing Harding didn’t look like, it was a man who would put up with any bullshit. As Todd gave serious thought to his situation, what Harding said hit him.
“The same reason I am?” Why was he here? Sure, he wanted to see if Dave was okay, to maybe help if he could, but wasn’t there something inside of him, some nagging feeling that had gotten his hackles up?
“There’s no time,” Harding said. “The resonance is fading. Can’t you tell that?” Todd didn’t understand, but Harding pressed on, not expecting an answer. “Listen. Just do as I do.”
Harding reached his left hand toward the spot that had made Todd dizzy. As he did, Todd noticed a slight increase in the air pressure. And he could feel, if not hear, a thrumming, a sort of… Well, he was stealing Harding’s word, but it felt like a resonance. It kicked up in … what? Tone? Intensity? It did kick whatever it was up a notch as Harding reached inside his jean jacket and gestured with his left hand. The resonance increased even more, and then cut out.
Trace Harding was standing in front of Todd, fidgeting under his jacket, arm outstretched; Trace Harding was gone, leaving Todd gaping at the seam that had sucked the man up.
Stephen leaned against the wall of the shopping mall, breathing heavily. He was almost positive that he was at Southgate mall, but he was having a hard time seeing clearly. He could feel the blood trickling down his leg.
Closing his eyes, Stephen sank to the ground and tried to focus on getting his breathing under control. At the same time, he fought off the lure of unconsciousness. Where was everyone? Shouldn’t people be shopping, or at least loitering?
Shifting in an attempt to get more comfortable brought a stabbing pain, and Stephen lurched over, grunting. Realizing his face was pressed into a puddle, Stephen straightened, grunted again at the pain of sitting up, then gave up trying to get comfortable. This wasn’t a good place to rest.
Uselessly, his thoughts turned to his cell phone, left in a drawer at his desk, across the river. He’d been thinking of how to make it back there, or to a place to shower and change, and put this day behind him, but — and he stifled a laugh at the thought, fearing how much that would hurt — he realized that the hole in his middle would ruin any clothes he changed into, anyway. What he needed was an ambulance and a hospital. Or, at the least, a needle and some good, strong thread.
Stephen realized he was slipping into delirium and shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.
Obviously, something had to be done for the bleeding. So, he took off his jacket — the grey tweed one he had for casual outings on the weekend — and ripped his shirt open.
Wincing, Stephen saw that the wound was gaping. Blood wasn’t gushing, but the trickle was persistent. In agony, he pulled the shirt off — gingerly, so gingerly. He had to lean away from the wall to pull it off all the way, which pulled at the wound, sending a fresh supply of blood welling out. Balling up his shirt and hoping for a clean spot, Stephen gritted his teeth and pressed the shirt into the wound. He held it there, tightly, as long as he could.
“What the fuck, man?”
Stephen opened his eyes. He’d dozed off. A figure, a man from the voice, was approaching furtively. The man stopped a safe distance away.
“I’m the mayor,” Stephen said. It came out more as a gurgle than a statement.
“You fucking guys can’t sleep around here, man. You fuckin’ hobos are the reason my employees won’t take the trash out. This ain’t my job.” Stephen could hear the sounds of trash cans being emptied.
“Sure, they’re all hot chicks, so I say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’ Hard to argue with you bums sleeping here.”
“What time is it?” Stephen managed.”
“What time is it? Fuck you time is what time it is.”
The man turned and started walking away.
“Time you fucking left. I got one more trash-run at closing. I’m bringing my phone. If you’re still here, I’m calling the cops.”
“I’m the mayor…” Stephen tried to be firm, but he was fading. Better if this guy called the police. But Stephen couldn’t hold on to that.
“And I manage the Wok Box. Who gives a shit?” the manager yelled over his shoulder before disappearing around the corner.
To Stephen’s bleary sight, a figure appeared out of nowhere. Thinking it was the manager again, he said, “Call the cops.”
“You look like shit,” the man said. His voice sounded like rocks being dragged across cement. Stephen squinted, but the sight just wouldn’t resolve itself.
“You sound familiar,” Stephen said.
The man grabbed for Stephen’s jacket and then reached for the mayor’s face. Stephen tried to wince back defensively, but there wasn’t that much left to give. When the man’s hands left his face, Stephen realized that he was now wearing his glasses. When had he taken them off?
He slumped back, recognizing the man across from him.
“Mickey Rourke?” Stephen said, his head bumping against the wall of the Wok Box.
Trace Harding stared at him.
“I have it,” Stephen said, regaining a little of himself. He vaguely remembered the light tan of a nearby house as he pried at the siding of… What was it? Was it a blue house? A pink house? He remembered the siding came away, and Stephen had been able to tuck the papers away. He hoped that there hadn’t been too much blood at that point. It would be a near dead-giveaway.
“Where?” Harding’s voice lost all conversational tone and hardened to a command.
Stephen tried to shuffle backwards, but there was nowhere for him to go.
“You promised me help.” He removed his left hand from the wound and gestured to himself. “Where were you when this happened? How am I going to get out of this?”
Harding looked over his shoulder then back at the mayor.
“Help should be on the way. I’m working on it.” Harding seemed almost apologetic.
“You’re despicable, Harding. Does he know not to trust you? Tell him, from me, not to trust you.”
All sympathy left Harding’s face then.
“Where is it? Give me the pages?”
“You owe me something, first,” Stephen glared back. “You’d take the pages and be gone. They were a little insurance policy, so why would I help you first? Go. Send help. Keep your word and I’ll get you the pages.”
With a disgusted grunt and a shake of his head, Trace Harding reached under his jacket and stretched out his hand; Trace Harding was gone. Stephen closed his eyes and relaxed back, hitting his head against the wall of the Wok Box again.