Reeve Stockwell sat in the driver's seat of Mick Daniel's car. He ran his hands over the fine leather, poked and prodded the stereo until he found a station with Taylor Swift, and searched for a full five minutes until he found the headlights.
The car was a thing of beauty. Stockwell was going to enjoy this.
He'd never drive a car like this again.
Tomorrow he probably wouldn't have a job.
He hit the gas.
He damn near sent himself through the windshield.
He hit the brakes.
He almost broke his own neck.
"Easy does it," he whispered.
He hadn't driven anything other than Ethel, his ancient piece of crap with two mismatched doors and a bad muffler, for over a decade.
"Come to Daddy," he whispered, and the car took off like a shot. He managed to make it out of the parking lot without killing anyone - himself included - and then he headed toward the hospital.
Stockwell realized, upon arriving, that he had no idea how to find Larry Dale. He parked the car, deposited the keys into the right hand pocket of his Sears trousers, and strolled toward the hospital. He was pretty sure Daniels was in the morgue, but where was Larry Dale?
With little effort, and no trouble, Stockwell found the Information desk. He had no idea what to ask.
A volunteer, whose age appeared to be somewhere between seventy and two hundred, sat behind the desk. "May I help you, sir?"
"I'm pretty sure my boss is dead somewhere in the hospital," Stockwell said.
"I beg your pardon?" the old woman asked.
"My boss came in in an ambulance. I'm pretty sure he didn't make it. I have his car. I'm not sure what to do with it."
"What to do with what?" the woman asked.
"The car," Stockwell replied.
"We don't service cars," the woman said.
"What?" Stockwell asked.
"We take care of people, not cars. You should take your car to that old fella on Route 89, out near the miniature golf place that burned down last year. Think his name's Ray. He fixes cars. Boy, my grandson cried and cried thinking about the burning clown. Sunk the ball right in his nose couple of years back."
Stockwell just stared at the woman. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked.
"What the hell are you talking about?" the woman asked, flinching at her own use of profanity. "I'm sorry," she whispered far too loudly. "We're encouraged not to swear."
"I don't mind," Stockwell said.
"What were we talking about?" the woman asked.
"My dead boss," Stockwell whispered.
The volunteer looked shocked. "What's his name?"
"Mick Daniels," Reeve Stockwell replied. "Is there a visitor's area near the morgue?"
"You wanna visit your dead boss?" the woman asked.
"No. I'm looking for Larry Dale," Stockwell explained.
"Is he dead, too?" the woman asked.
"He wasn't about thirty minutes ago," Stockwell said.
"Stockwell?" Larry Dale hollered across the lobby.
"Dale. What's the good word?" Stockwell crossed the lobby and shook the fixer's hand. The volunteer was cleaning her glasses and whistling a Frank Sinatra song. Stockwell was grateful to no longer require her assistance.
"He's in the Emergency Room," Larry Dale said.
"They don't have a morgue?" Stockwell asked.
"They do, but they prefer to only use it for dead folks," Dale explained.
"He's alive?" Stockwell said incredulously.
"He is. He is tough as nails, that Mick Daniels. He'll be mighty messed up for a while, probably wanna spend a little time down south, maybe Disney, and I reckon he'll retire, but he's as alive as we are."
"I was sure he was dead," Stockwell said.
"Nope. Not dead," Larry Dale assured.
"We're all getting fired," Stockwell moaned, taking a seat on an ugly blue chair.
"Probably not. He said he doesn't remember anything after we left the Corporate office yesterday morning."
"That's a relief," Stockwell said.
"Yeah, for me, too. I slept with the guy last night. I don't mind if he blocks that out," Larry Dale said, and Stockwell blushed.
"Really? I thought you had a wife."
"She'd understand," Larry Dale said and Stockwell shook his head. "Sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
"Jeez. I guess," Stockwell said. He was itching to leave, but didn't want to return to the store until he was sure Mitchell was gone. He didn't want to go home, because he'd have to explain to his wife why he was probably going to get fired, and she'd probably kill him. He couldn't stay at the hospital, because he couldn't handle any more talk about Daniels' miraculous survival, Dale's understanding wife, or anyone's escapades at some seedy motel.
Maybe he'd try to see Daniels.
Maybe he'd try to smother him with a pillow.
"I'm gonna go outside and call my wife," Larry Dale said. "We'd planned to be home tonight."
"I may head in to see Mr. Daniels," Stockwell said.
"Good idea," Larry Dale said animatedly. "Perhaps you could help him with his memory."
"On second thought...."
"I was just messin' with you," Larry Dale said, punching Stockwell lightly in the arm, which nearly sent Reeve toppling over. "Boss got hit so hard he won't ever remember what happened. He thinks we got into a car accident."
"We very nearly did," Reeve Stockwell mumbled.
"Okay. I'm going to go call my Sweet Pea. You tell the boss I said 'hey'," Larry Dale said with a wave.
Reeve Stockwell strolled to the Emergency Room entrance. A triage nurse sat fiddling with a smart phone.
"Can I help you?" she asked, without looking up.
"I'm looking for Mick Daniels."
"You a relative?"
"I'm his brother," Stockwell said.
"Room 14. Your sister's already here."
"Thanks," Stockwell mumbled. He approached the double doors and they swung open. The ER was ablaze with fluorescent lights, and a flutter of activity. Room 14 was halfway down on the left. The door was ajar. The room, dark.
Stockwell stepped inside.
Daniels eyes were closed.
Stockwell took another step.
Something moved in the corner.
"Hello?" Stockwell said, his voice wavering. The figure was small in stature and clad in black.
The Grim Reaper?
A man could hope.
"Good evening, Mr. Stockwell," a woman's voice said. The voice was smooth. Polished. Professional.
"Who are you?" Stockwell asked. He knew it wasn't his sister.
She was in Chicago with newborn triplets and a wicked case of hemorrhoids.
"You don't remember me?" the woman asked. The voice was almost familiar but Stockwell just couldn't place it.
"Obviously not," Stockwell replied.
"Want a hint?" the voice nearly purred.