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Always on My Mind

by Roberto Sanhueza

Matt spotted the stranger as soon as he came in.

He stood at the door, a little hesitant at first, but finally he seemed to make up his mind and searched for a table in a quiet corner.

Matt knew the type and he smiled to himself. Grabbing a couple of beer mugs he went over. “Hi! Name’s Matt. Care for a beer and some company?”

The stranger looked up and Matt noticed his haggard face and troubled eyes. “No... I mean, no but... ah, hell. I’m not gay, you know. I’m straight as they come.”

Matt’s smile didn’t falter a bit, he knew the type. “Then, what are you doing in a gay bar? Trying to see how the other half lives?”

The stranger seemed about to burst out an angry answer, but Matt’s smile was disarming. “Oh shucks! Have a seat. I could use some company, if you care to listen to a stranger’s tale.”

“Oh, I’d love to!”

“But first, do something for me, please. Would you please look out the door and see if there’s a black van parked on the street?”

Matt considered for an instant sending the stranger all the way to hell and back, but shrugged instead and walked to the door. He was kinda cute. “No, no black van anywhere.”

The stranger relaxed visibly and sipped from the mug Matt had brought. He looked at Matt and smiled. “I’m really not gay. I’m here because the doctor knows I’m not, and he won’t look for me here. Not so soon anyway.”

He looked even more miserable when he added, “The doc knows a lot about me.”

“Who’s the doctor?”

“He’s that high-fallutin’ surgeon you must have seen on the tube. The one whose wife got killed by a burglar last year. Well, I’m the burglar.”

Matt backed up instinctively.

“No, don’t be afraid, I don’t go around killing people just like that. It was an accident!”

The stranger sipped again. Matt had a fascinated look in his eyes; he was interested in spite of himself.

“I broke into their fancy, expensive house when I knew he wasn’t there. They feel so safe behind their alarms and fierce dogs. It was really easy to take care of those rottweilers. You know how?”

Matt said no, shaking his head. Somehow he had the feeling he didn’t really want to know how.

“You just get some sausages, split ’em, and put some ground-up light bulbs inside. Throw ’em to the dogs over the fence and they’ll be dead in about half an hour.”

Matt recoiled in fascinated horror.

The stranger didn’t seem to notice and went on. “Once I was rid of the dogs and the alarm, I broke into the house. I thought it was empty, but she was there, and she caught me from behind when I was working on their wall safe.

“I heard her moving in the last second as she was swinging a baseball bat over my head and I got it on my shoulder instead. I think she broke my collarbone.

“The pain was awful, and I hit her with my screwdriver without even thinking about it. It went through her throat, and she dropped, making a horrible gurgling sound.”

The stranger shuddered and drank some more beer. His face was pure pain. “I lay there, my shoulder aching like hell and dizzy from the pain, and then I realized she wasn’t moving and a dark blot was spreading beneath her head.

“I panicked and forgot about the safe and the whole burglary, I just wanted out of there, fast!”

The stranger stopped his tale and looked at Matt. “Am I boring you?”

Matt just swallowed hard and managed to shake his head. “Oh no! Please go on!”

“Well, I pulled out the screwdriver, picked up my gear and ran to the door. I was wearing rubber gloves so I didn’t have to worry about fingerprints, but really, in that moment I didn’t care. I just wanted out. Out and as far away as possible from that spreading blot.

“I opened the main door and bumped into her husband coming in. I think we were both equally surprised at seeing each other, but I was the one who knew what was going on, and I took advantage of it. I hit him on the head with my tool bag before he could say anything, and he dropped without a sound.

“In about half an hour I was back at my place, nursing my sore shoulder, and in about two days the cops were there too, looking for me. They took me to the precinct and made me stand in line with other guys. You know the drill.

“Doc was there too and he was supposed to identify the guy who had killed his wife. That is, identify me, but he didn’t.”

The stranger remained silent for a long time and Matt shifted on his seat, searching for something to say, but the stranger went on like he hadn’t stopped at all. “He recognized me, I’m sure, but he didn’t say a word. He just shook his head and turned to Lieutenant Sanchez and said. ‘No, Lieutenant, none of these’.

“Now, as cops go, Sanchez is no fool and he smelled a rat. He had high hopes of nailing me. ‘You sure, Doctor? We can have another go at them if you want’.

“‘No need to, Lieutenant. He’s not there’.

“And that was that. They let me go, to everybody’s surprise, the cops’ and mine.

“That night, as I was gathering some stuff to leave on a long vacation, Doc came over with three heavies.

“I didn’t stand a chance and they threw me inside a black van like some potato bag. What? Yeah, the same van I told you to look for.

“When I came to, Doc was standing in front of me.

“Funny thing he was wearing those operating robes that aren’t white anymore, but any other color you can think of, and I was lying on a surgical bed.

“Entirely immobilized, I should add.

“Doc smiled sweetly and said ‘Hi’.

“I tried to speak but then I realized I had duct tape over my mouth.

“Then I tried to scream, but I couldn’t do that, either.

“‘You know’, said Doc, ‘The brain can’t actually feel anything, which is a pity; you won’t feel the pain I would like you to feel. But I hope my cutting through your scalp and your skull will be an experience you will treasure in the future’.

“I passed out when he was starting to saw my forehead bone.” The stranger shivered and gulped some more beer.

Matt found he was shivering as well.

“He put something inside my head. Something inside my brain, and then stitched me back together.”

He pointed to his forehead, and Matt noticed for the first time the slightest thin white line there.

“The hallucinations started three days after the heavies dropped me back in my place. I was lying on my bed, trying not to die, when I saw her standing there, with my screwdriver going through her neck. She walked to me and I screamed, and screamed some more as I tried to get away from her. Before I passed out, I saw through my window the black van, parked outside.”

Matt let his breath out, which he didn’t know he had been holding.

“I never saw Doc again, but he’s surely seen me. Wherever I go, he makes sure I see his dead wife in front of me. I don’t know how he does it, but he always finds me.”

There followed an awkward pause, only broken by the stranger’s jitters and his constant looks to the door.

“Why are you telling me all this?” Matt asked after a while. “What if I go to the Police and tell them about you?”

The stranger looked Matt in the eyes and he saw the deepest desperation there. “I kinda hope you do. I can’t get anywhere near the cops. He won’t let me. In fact, this is the first time I’ve been able to tell the whole story to somebody. He’s always stopped me before... I’d much rather be in jail, where he can’t reach me.”

“Maybe you’ve got a GPS chip inside your head, you know, a tracker.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think it’s something so simple...” The stranger stopped talking in mid-sentence and jerked up from his chair.

Beer mugs fell from the table as the stranger trembled and waved frantically. “GET AWAY FROM ME! GO AWAY!!!”

The stranger seemed taken by a seizure and he shivered spasmodically, showing the white of his eyes and screaming all the while.

Matt started screaming too, scared to death by the stranger’s outburst.

As the regulars began to crowd around, all of a sudden the stranger stopped screaming. He ran for the door and disappeared in the dark street, wildly waving in the air.

Matt followed him out only to see him going around the corner. He never noticed the black van quietly going the other way.

Copyright © 2007 by Roberto Sanhueza

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