Patricia fingered a cigarette, Alec fiddled with his digital recorder and Prince circulated air through a machine while a portable stereo played the Grateful Dead.
“Favorite band?” Patricia asked, pointing at it.
Alec had formatted the recorder once at home and was working on clearing it a second time in between long glances at Prince for any signs of consciousness.
“No,” he sighed, “Prince despised Jerry Garcia. Any mention of the band would set him off enough to go out in the back yard and start smashing dishes with a hammer. I told the doctor that it had a much better chance of waking him up than anything he actually enjoyed listening to.”
The readout on the recorder flashed six zeros. Alec leaned back in his chair while the stereo played its jangling payload across the flat of Prince’s head.
“Are you still on break?”
“Yes,” she said with some hesitation, “I’m … on lunch.”
“Not going to smoke?”
“I’m afraid if I do, I’ll miss something.”
“Do we have reception in here?”
“Every room should,” Patricia nodded. He relaxed a bit and they sat in silence as the band faded out then started up again.
“What was his book about?” Patricia said.
Alec looked at her, mouth half-cocked.
“Not planning on reading it anytime soon? That’s honestly a comfort coming from his nurse.”
Patricia tried to smile,
“Since there’s nothing else to do while we wait?”
“On the surface, it’s about a man who wants to commit suicide because he’s doomed to die anyway.”
“Go on?” urged Patricia, as Alec had stopped and was staring at Prince.
“Well … he believes he has terminal cancer, this man. It’s not fully diagnosed, but he’s convinced of it. He doesn’t have much to live for: his mother is senile and his father abandoned him a long time ago. So he begins to write up a list of all the things he wants to do before he dies so that he can scratch them off. Once he receives positive test results he sets out to accomplish them.”
“What kinds of things?”
“He starts small. He plants flowers at the grave of his brother. He takes his cat to the ocean so it can swim, because … his cat likes to swim. He tells a long-time friend of his that he loves her, and she rejects his love. After that final act he’s found out that he’s accomplished everything on his list … the book is written in installments of his goals, in short chapters. In his acts of finality he’s discovered a sort of catharsis that he never was able to achieve without indulging in self-satisfying … pre-humous acts. Especially that final act of admission. He finds the grave of the father that abandoned him, buried in a graveyard near an air strip, and a plan begins to form in his mind. So he-“
Alec’s phone went off. The number was that of Anne Brickbuilder. When he answered it he had a hard time hearing her due to the commotion in the background.
“Where are you?”
“Rubrick’s abattoir. One minute, I’ll get out of this noise.”
The noise intensified then dwindled. Alec recognized within it the shuffling of papers.
“What’re you doing there?”
“Saving your ass, if everything goes well. I’m waiting for the meeting I’ve arranged with Rubrick, which ended up being more annoying and painful than converting to Judaism. I’m pretty sure the only reason you were ever allowed into his office was that he was afraid you knew something he does. Whatever that thing is, I’m here to find it out. How is Prince?”
Alec glanced at his prone form being bathed in Garcia.
“Inconclusive, but I’m doing my best. When is Rubrick ushering you in?”
“Ten minutes. I estimate half an hour in all reality. He knows who I am and doesn’t want me here. Hold on, I’ll call you back.”
“Your lawyer?” Patricia asked, to which Alec nodded. She urged him to continue telling her about his book.
“Anyway, he finds himself robbing a bank one day. He gets away with it, escapes, stashes the money. Everything is snowballing, his momentum just keeps increasing. After that he travels to Beverly Hills so that he can try to sleep with as many A-list celebrities as possible. He succeeds with two, fails with the rest. He sets the Hard Rock Cafe on fire and drives his car off of the LA turnpike into the MSNBC broadcasting building. When he wakes up in a hospital under police custody he escapes, he’s caught up in the fever of his own fatalism and decides he needs to combine his three most potent desires into a finishing-touch suicide attempt. So, he bribes an air show employee to play the Backstreet Boys’ song “Larger Than Life” at a demonstration at a certain hour. He hijacks a plane mid-flight, has it land, evacuates all passengers, takes the pilot with him and has him fly to an unreasonably high altitude. He demands that the pilot lock them into a zero-gravity dive and to play the same song in the airplane at maximum volume over the intercom. The pilot bails, and he rams the plane nose-first screaming into his father’s grave.”
Patricia sat blinking for a moment.
“That’s the ending?”
“Yes,” Alec said.
“That’s a terrible ending.”
Shrugging, Alec sat back with phone in hand. Moments later, it rang.
“Is it time yet?”
“His bippy little secretary just told me I’d have to wait no less than ten, now.”
“What’s your angle?”
“Well, I’ve got a feint that I dug out of an old case from-“
Patricia was pulling on Alec’s sleeve. Prince’s mouth was moving.
“I can’t just hold on fuck,” Alec blathered. He slammed the phone into Patricia’s hand and said “Tell her what’s happening” and fell to his knees beside his friend, who was making gasping sounds from around his tube. With a sharp breath Patricia hung the phone up, threw it aside and ran out of the room. With great care Alec pulled back the tape on Prince’s mouthpiece and tried to give him room to speak.
“Fuh-fu-fuck,” Prince began to gasp, “Motherfuhhhhhhhhh …”
“It’s okay it’s okay,” muttered Alec as he held Prince’s head in his hands, “Prince, Prince. Hey. Prince. I’m here. Prince.”
“Fff-hhhhhucking bearded fuuuuckhh.”
Alec unplugged the stereo and then turned back to Prince whose breaths were ragged, as if he had forgotten how to take in air. Alec put his hand to Prince’s chest and helped shove air out with every breath and prayed Prince would draw it back in each time. After a few tries Prince had caught himself on a tentative rhythm and was saying something under his breath over and over. Droll poured from his mouth as he tried to speak.
“Hey, hey, c’mon, hey brother. Hey. Hey.”
“I wrote it,” Prince gasped out.
“Yeah, yeah you did. You wrote it,” Alec didn’t realize he was crying, “You wrote it all. Can you … brother, Prince, man, just … say my name. It’s Alec. If you can hear my name it’s Alec. It’s Mr. Careful himself. Just say my name. Alec.”
“Alec,” wheezed Prince, “Alec. I wrote it all.”
“Prince, I know this makes no sense … Prince. You gotta listen to me. Say my name if you understand.”
“My name oh FUCKING HELL,” Alec turned his head to spit, unable to keep himself from sobbing. After a few moments he turned back, wheezing to breathe as much as Prince.
“P-prince, you did. You wrote it. Now … I have this recorder here.”
“Alec. Wrote it. I wrote it.”
“Yes. Now, you gotta … s-say into this thing-“
The doctor had arrived with Patricia and another nurse who quickly surrounded him and began to pull open drawers. Their voices made background noise as he continued,
“S-say into it tt-that the book … that it belongs to me. You g-g-otta say it like- like ‘say my name’ you gotta say that the book is ‘Mr. Careful’s book.’ Can you do that? C’mon, just … here,” he offered the microphone to Prince. He couldn’t look at him with his eyelids flickering and his mouth pasted with spit, he just stuck the microphone to his face and begged him to speak.
“I wrote it in … Microsoft Word.”
“No, not that. Say that the book belongs to me MAN COME ON,” Alec slapped his knee, clenched his hands, stroked Prince’s forehead and felt his face contorting into a vacuum.
“Microsoft … Word. I wrote it in Micro-“
The cardiogram began to beep like mad. Prince was no longer breathing but choking.
“No, the b-book you gotta say who it belongs to Alec Careful-“
In mid-sentence Alec was pulled away from Prince by the doctor who was shouting “in God’s name the IV.” Alec dragged himself by his hands clutching the bedspread towards Prince whose mouth was making words that he couldn’t hear over the clatter and urgency of the other bodies in the room. Patricia was administering a shot while the second nurse forced Alec’s hands away. Her and the doctor interposed themselves between him and Prince as the phone rang and rang and rang into Alec’s ear. He grabbed it and on hands and knees crawled to the doorway where he crouched into a ball. The cardiogram was making a horrible sound, completely atonal and without rhythm. The doctors were rushing around Prince trying to do something with some wires but they were moving in slow motion. Someone took Alec by the shoulders and pulled him on his ass out the door into the hallway where he watched the door slam shut and he was surrounded by staring eyes. The phone was still ringing but he couldn’t answer it until the door opened again and Patricia came outside with a hollow look on her face, cast Alec a mournful glance and then left down the hallway without saying a word to him.
Still huddled in a ball, Alec pressed his thumb to the phone and Anne’s voice came crackling through,
“I’ve been calling over and over again! I’m almost in the door! I just need to ask you one-“
There was a silence on the line for a moment before she said the words out loud, stunned, “He’s dead?”
As Prince sat and wept in the hallway, the words ‘He’s dead” echoed through the phone line starting with the voice of Rubrick’s insipid secretary and slowly growing into a wild cheer that rang throughout the hallways of the publisher’s office. The sounds of celebration that roared through the phone line were cut off all at once when Anne hung up the phone and Alec found himself alone on the floor of the hospital.