Edmund stared at Marc through the open rear doors of the Ford. This kid is gonna drive me to drink, he thought to himself. He smiled. It was a small, sad grin that his features barely registered before returning to their natural, cynical cast.
“Too late.”, he muttered.
Edmund walked gingerly across the van’s cargo area, conscious of the broken glass his thrown bottle had caused. The spilled beer only added to the treachery of the trip. His socks were instantly sodden and he began to wonder if giving Marc his shoes had been such a great choice. Edmund eased out of the back of the van with the care of a man accustomed to being drunk by three in the afternoon. His beer soaked socks met the hot asphalt with a nearly audible sizzle.
“God Damn that’s hot!”, he cried and immediately began hurrying toward the Circle K’s entrance in a strange, tip-toeing, duck walk, accentuating each step with an angrily hissed, “Shit!!”.
Mac watched him as he lumbered by, temporarily overcome with a such a sense of the surreal that he forgot, for a moment, how badly he needed to use the bathroom. His bladder was a bit more pragmatic and with a wild laugh he followed Edmund, quickly closing the distance between them.
He realized that for the first time, in a long time, he felt pretty fucking good.
Marc fell into step beside Edmund and resisted and insane urge to grab hold of his hand as they entered the Circle K. Instead he followed the doctor to the counter, where a morbidly obese cashier, with more than a passing resemblance to Divine, looked up from her copy of Us magazine just long enough to convey to them , with a worn sigh and rolled eyes, exactly how much she hated her job.
She arched an eyebrow that took a minimum of forty minutes a day to create and, with as much disdain as she could muster, wondered aloud, “Can I help you?”
“Where is your restroom…”, asked Edmund, scanning the woman’s ample breast for a name tag. He spotted it up by her left shoulder and finished his question with, “…Charlotte?”
The woman grunted and waved a red nailed hand, festooned with turquoise rings, toward the back of the store. The activity caused her upper arm fat to undulate in such an alarming manner that Marc had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. Charlotte returned her attention to the magazine on the counter.
Marc banged through the bathroom’s door first. He raced across the room to the urinals and barely cleared himself from his sweats before the flow started. He was vaguely aware of Edmund coming in behind him and entering one of the stalls.
“Goddamn Eddie!”, he exclaimed. “Is there anything better than finally taking a piss you’ve been holding forever?”
Edmund snorted from the stall and let loose with a huge, trumpeting, beer fart.
“There might be”, he laughed.
Marc grinned as he shook off and fixed his sweats. “Tell me something Edmund”, he asked, “What happened back at Teresa? I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time and I don’t just mean not having the flu. I feel like I could take on an army and have a fucking ball doing it. You said you killed me to cure me but I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt in my life.”
There was nothing but silence from the stall for a time and then Campion quietly answered. “I did kill you Bucky. I killed you one cell at a time and then brought you back the same way. It didn’t just root out the flu virus in you, it rooted out everything in you that didn’t belong.” He paused for a moment to continue his business at hand. “I didn’t just find a cure for the flu. I found a cure for every illness that has ever plagued mankind.” Edmund’s voice began to rise as it had in the van, just before he smashed the beer bottle apart. “I saved the fucking world and they THANK ME BY TRYING TO FUCKING KILL ME!!!” The bathroom reverberated with the sound of him beating the inside walls of the stall as he ranted. Marc suddenly felt an urgent need to be anywhere but this bathroom.
There was a short period of silence and then Edmund’s voice returned. This time sounding both amused and embarrassed. “You, uh, don’t happen to see any toilet paper out there do you Bucky?”
Marc stood frozen in place, the feeling of unreality washing over him again. Then the laughter hit. It started as a snort and quickly progressed into a tear wrenching fit that, had he not grabbed a sink for support, would have driven him to the ground. He would have probably stood there laughing until nothing was left of him but a quivering mound of giggles and sweatpants.
Before things were able to get to that point there was a loud banging on the door and Charlotte’s blue eye shadowed, baptist voice shouted, “What are you two doin’ in there? You can take that queer shit back out on the road! I got the cops on their way!”
Marc, who had fallen silent when she first banged on the door, burst into fresh gales of laughter followed by Edmund, who began laughing so hard that each “ha” forced a small fart from him. This was too much for Marc and he collapsed on the filthy bathroom floor, clutching his midsection.
Edmund regained his composure first and once again requested some toilet paper. Marc rose slowly from the floor, distastefully aware of the numerous wet spots on his clothes. He checked two stalls before he found a roll and placed it in Campion’s blindly groping hand sticking out from under the cubicle’s door. With an echoing flush, Edmund emerged a moment later.
“Time to go Bucky.”, was all he said as he walked across the bathroom and out the door.
Aren’t you gonna wash your hands Eddie?, he thought to himself with a smirk and followed Edmund out.
When they emerged Marc was surprised to see that the store was deserted. He thought for a moment and realized that besides Charlotte there hadn’t been anyone in the store when they walked in either. A feeling of unease began to worm it’s way into his guts. Edmund grabbed his shoulder as they walked past the counter, toward the front door, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Hang on a second. I…“, Campion paused. “We need some more beer.”
Edmund turned toward the store’s coolers, making a beeline for the twenty-four packs. On the way, his right hip made contact with an aisle display of tortilla chips and salsa, sending the entire thing crashing to the floor. He skirted the red, crunchy, mess, mindful of his stocking feet, and grabbed a cold pack from icebox.
Marc watched Edmund as he made his way back to the counter. His initial twinge of unease had grown into a sense of foreboding so strong that he wanted to scream.
“Eddie!”, he cried. “Hurry the fuck up. Something’s not right.”
Campion nodded and hurried to the front. He pulled a twenty from his pocket and threw it on the counter.
“Keep the change Charlotte!”, he yelled. “We’re out!”
Edmund looked at Marc, his normally Buddhist features set in hard, scared lines.
“Let’s go.”, he said and headed out the front door, his beer in tow.
He feels it too., Marc thought and followed Campion outside into the blinding New Mexican afternoon.
They made their way quickly across the lot. Driver was standing at ease by the open rear doors of the Econ-O-Line. Upon seeing the two men he immediately snapped to attention and shouted. “Sir! The vehicle is fueled and ready for travel, Sir!”
Edmund sighed and looked at Marc. “Bucky, I have a carton of cigarettes in the glove compartment. Could you grab me a couple of packs before we take off? It’s gonna be a long ride.”
Marc nodded and headed around to the front of the van. Edmund threw the beer into the back and leapt up to follow. When his stockinged foot hit the rear bumper it slipped and Campion fell face first toward the floor of the Econ-O-Line, his knees striking the hot asphalt jarringly enough to make him bite his tongue. He felt something hot and wet splash onto his back and suddenly Driver’s weight was upon him. A second later he heard the shot.
Driver began to scream.
Edmund struggled out from under the private’s weight. He grabbed Driver by the back of his shirt and began to drag him up into the back of the van, he was distantly aware of the blood that seemed to be pouring from the man like a faucet. He was more concerned with the next shot finding him.
“Start the van Marc!”, he shouted over Drivers gurgling screams, “We need to fucking roll!”
The Econ-O-Line roared to life. Edmund heaved the wounded private into the back of the van and dove in behind him. He felt something whisper past his ear like an angry hornet. A fist sized hole appeared in one of the cabinets mounted to the inside wall of the cargo area.
“GO!!!”, he screamed. “GO! GO! GO! FUCKING GO!!!”
Driver began to vomit from what had recently been a functioning mouth. Edmund grabbed hold of him once again and manhandled him up onto the bed that Marc had only just recently occupied. The Ford lurched forward as Marc jammed the throttle to the floor. Edmund was thrown on his back. Another hole materialized halfway up the passenger side of the metal partition that separated the cab of the van from the cargo area.
“What the fuck was that?!?”, Marc hollered. “What the fuck is going on Edmund?!?”
“Just drive!”, Edmund yelled back. Driver had finished puking for the time being and went back to crying out his thick, wet lamentations. “Find the fucking interstate and head East! Don’t stop for anything!”