A u g u s t   2 0 0 4

Guest Writer

Maybe that was something to be proud of
Nine-tenths of the law
by Edward Morris Jr

he man had been fettered, and broken his chains. None had the strength to subdue him. He cried out night and day in the tombs and in the mountains, and slashed himself with stones.

"When the man caught sight of Jesus, he ran and made homage to Him, and cried out: 'What have I to do with Thee, O Son of God?'

"And Jesus said: 'Come out, thou unclean spirit. What is thy name?'

"And the man said: 'Our name is Legion' and begged Jesus not to cast the spirit out.

"Now a great herd of swine fed at the foot of the mountain. And the unclean spirits begged Jesus to release them into the swine. Jesus permitted them. And the swine rushed off the cliff and into the sea."

– Mark 5:4-14

No exorcist.

No exorcism.


I hear them digging and know that it is not the two boys who took off with the real loot and left their comrade out to dry.

Their comrade, the young indio, is the first to strike our clay jar with his shovel, prying round the edge of the plastic crate above us. Though the men he is with are hard men in suits with guns, the boy is sore afraid.

Had we lungs, a mouth, a voice, we would tell him that what is in the plastic box is nothing but Terazol, in packages of the same color as the stuff these men pay dearly to sell on the street. When the hard men who have driven him here open the box, they will kill the boy for deceiving them, for dragging them out to this ash-heap behind the graveyard for naught. His comrades have sold him out.

But the boy is too full of the other drug, the one he thinks he will find, to care.

As he lifts out the crate, he alone does not complain about the strange and noisome stench. His nostrils burn with the few short snorts the men gave him to boost his spirits in the back seat of the Mercedes. The buyers in their overcoats know their business. This one is a club kid and can be kept on a short leash of powdered dreams.

We can read all their thoughts with need for neither effort ... nor footnotes.

This is an old, old graveyard, older even than the upper layer and the standing stones they use for burial markers. This ground was almost full when the Mason-men put us here, in a steel box that has rusted into flakes from nearly three centuries of groundwater.

The Masons were sore afraid, too, when they bound us, casting their rites over our jar long into the night as they riveted us into the box. We could smell their burning tallow, so unlike our cleaner fires. We could hear the ancient tongues their elders sang to keep us in.

But even their elders were rich men in powdered wigs and waistcoats, who cared for nothing but their own pomp and circumstance and screwed up the vowels of incantations that were old when Hammurabi first put his laws on clay tablets. The Philadelphia Freemasons thought they knew their business and did not hold with papistry. There would be no exorcist, they decided by unanimous vote behind closed doors. No exorcism.

The young indio is receptive. We can smell the ketamine dripping down the back of his throat, trickling into his brain through the nasal mucosa. It tastes to him of cat piss, formaldehyde, industrial gases and ozone and uncontrolled hallucination.

He is shivering, sweating in his plastic coat. It has not yet begun to rain, but the air is still and humid and promises a storm. He sets the crate of boosted veterinary fool's gold down on the grass, standing in the hole that is chest-deep for him.

We make him speak the backward spell with the correct vowels from inside the smeary bubble of his own personal hole, the K-hole that catches and holds the user for hours on the other side of the looking glass. There can be no turning back now.

This is delicious. We hiss into coalescence from the place where his shovel broke through this
rich burial mound, the place where we have grown for a long, long time.

Overhead, through a tear in the clouds, the white eye of the moon looks on all unblinking.

We hang in the air, micro fibers of papyrus dust. The boy does not see.

And then he inhales.

Spring was always the time when we received sacrifices. No exorcist now. No exorcism. Soon the new people will learn our ways.

he skies over the northern ring of Center City Philadelphia ground on into the amazing cobalt blue they achieve a few hours before dawn and twilight. All physical laws seemed temporarily suspended in that spooky eclipse-like glow.

Nancy Lexington was coated in cold sweat. Her stomach felt like a basketball that had been pumped up until it was as hard as polished marble. Her gag reflex was on coffee break and her throat was raw from howling into a pillow. Nancy was about that close to destroying anything that communicated with her, but probably would have just given up and broken down weeping instead.

She'd been up half the night, miserable, listening to the collected works of Billie Holiday. The CD had been too scratched to sell.

At some point that night, practically dreaming awake, Nancy had made a plate of scrambled eggs
that now sat desiccating before her on the table, pushed away in favor of a white form with a
smaller green one stapled to the front.

Nancy did not look at the small pile of shattered pipette glass against the wall by her front door, or the aspirin-and-drywall ruin of little rocks she had ground beneath the heel of her sneaker until even the last $20 piece was worthless, unsmokable paste.

Those shattered shards were all she had left of Curtis, and good riddance. Let him take off with that little prison-bitch Gerrone from upstairs, him with his Lee nails and his bad looks at her all the time. She'd sweep Curtis' leavings up off the floor and take them out with the trash when she
got her head all the way back.

Two years was too long and more for this shit. And she was not moving back to her mom's on Olney Avenue. She'd never admit that her mom was right when she said any man that hits a woman can't hit a man. Curtis had proved that in all sorts of ways, but Nancy was too old to be back at Big Mama's house.

There was no place to go but up, no matter what. Her two-timing boyfriend had never put a ring on her finger any damn way. He'd been married to his pipe before he even met her.

"God dammit, why the fuck I make eggs?" Nancy asked herself with a sorrowful laugh. Her voice was a parched croak, sounding country in her own ears. "Ain't s'pozed to eat right before they give you the gas."

Nancy boardinghouse-reached across the table for her purse that sat at Curtis' empty place. A snubby end of purple Max Factor lipstick fell out onto the rattan placemat as she fished out a cigarette and found a book of matches on the way.

Now that she thought about it, they'd probably give her the Twilight Sleep if they were going to be doing both of the root canals at once. She hoped. That wouldn't mess with her too much. They'd done that when they yanked her wisdom teeth and she'd walked out. But she'd been 23, long before the glass dick and the damage done.

The damn dental van at United had been so busy last time they just looked her over and told her to come back next week since she didn't have abscesses yet. Crackhead, the hygienist's eyes had said when the young sister saw the pipe-burn on Nancy's lip on the way out of the van. Nancy picked up the lipstick. She'd cover up the burn scar this time.

The cigarette tasted terrible. Nancy had been wheezy all that morning. When she let out a fusillade of coughs, a chunk of black stuff flew out of her throat and landed on the carpet. Great.

The Goodwill clock on the opposite wall above the TV read 5:45. She had an hour and change to get in gear and pray for the best.

She'd outlasted the nightly Broadway Hotel beer-bash she always heard through the walls, sat up past every scream and squeak and busted bottle until the last man standing fell over.

Her birdlike left hand picked up the pen where she'd put it beside her placemat. Both hands were fluttering. Part of her still wondered if she could do this.

A little over a year ago, when she'd been caught in some bad crossfire going to cop a vial, a judge had given her the nudge into a month of Narcotics Anonymous. Nancy had skated through the mandatories (and oh, how Curtis had laughed at her) ... but she remembered one of the speakers at a candlelight meeting talking about the first 24 hours being the hardest.

After today, well ... Nancy didn't know about NA just yet. All she knew was that she couldn't go get her teeth worked on with anything in her system. And she couldn't bear the pain of either bad tooth one minute longer. It was like having a ten-penny nail stuck in both sides of her face.

If she could kick for 24 hours, Nancy reasoned ... maybe her body could see its way clear to kicking longer. She'd abide. If those clinic dentists didn't like what they saw in the 'hood, they could go back to crown-and-cap detail in Aston.

"Where we at?" she asked herself blithely, looking down at the green slip that was first up on deck. Oh, good. They'd probably only squeeze her for a $5 copay with this little beauty stapled on the front. Like those old heads in NA had said, every little bit helps.

The washed-out gray oval of her face grew sad and wistful. She reached over to tap the long ash on her cigarette into the ashtray. En route, she managed to knock over the whole spike of bills by the napkin-holder. "PAST DUE: NANCY J. LEXINGTON, 1630 N. 4TH AVE. #69 BROADWAY HOTEL" spilled in endless repetition across the table.

On the other side of the room, the cracked-open window showed a panorama of cherry blossoms. Oncoming rain began to ratta-tat-tat on the crumbling sidewalk. Little wet whirlwinds of petals sucked and swirled through the cool pre-dawn breeze.

Strangely enough, the air felt like Philly was coming into a run of tolerably good weather. Over and above this sick skin she'd just begun trying to shed, her body was telling her to wait.

Pretty soon, every cell whispered, there would be bright sunlight through green leaves, folks washing their cars outside, good music blaring from every window and barbecue grills going in
every backyard.

In the false dawn, Nancy could see her reflection in the glass. Her forearms had lost a lot of meat. Her cheekbones showed too much. But her hair and clothes were clean. Though her eyes kept going out of focus, she saw a grim determination in them.

She'd learned that determination when she was seven. She was pleased to see it resurfacing ... even if she did look to herself like a stick-lady drawn in sidewalk chalk. Her face was kind and unhappy, her eyes full of pain.

Something told her that today was going to be the longest day of her life.

The street breathed sweet air in at her, cutting through the fug of the apartment with the wet green taste of possibility. As soon as the sun came up, the air would get still and muggy enough to swim through. By the end of the day, Nancy knew she'd have to shower off the clinging subway stench that lingered long in all those poisoned corridors north of downtown.

Her neighborhood had its fair share of drunken trash, addicts and little gangbanger kids that liked to shoot each other full of holes on Friday and Saturday nights. But Olney Avenue, where she'd grown up, made this part of town look like Amish Country.

The weird blue glow of the sky began to fade down a bit, broken up only by the bright
incandescence of houseboat lights far away along the river past Delaware Avenue, suture lines of headlights beyond that coming in along 311 from the burbs.

This part of Philly was nothing like Olney, where any seven-year-old girl walking to choir practice could be–

Nancy looked around, scenting the wind. Something was different.

Down on the sidewalk, running footsteps pounded the pavement now, heading in her direction.
Nancy leaned toward the window. A car was burning up Fourth and gaining fast.

The raver kid running up the walk about 50 yards away had a broad, bespectacled, youthful face hardened by long late hours in the wrong spot. He looked like he was still feeling it from the night before. There was blood running down his forehead. He was not having much luck growing a mustache.

His was a face full of piercings and raw terror, missing one lens of his glasses. He wore a black vinyl coat. His big puffy sneakers pistoned up and down. He was screaming as he ran.

Nancy's withdrawal-sharpened senses saw all this with perfect, prescient clarity. She saw the big black Mercedes 500SL sedan charge after him, jump the curb and tear ass over the sidewalk, taking out recycling bins and trash cans en route.

Her neighbor, the running kid, made a deer-sized dent in the Benzo's grill and was launched into the air. He landed with a wet snap on the stoop of the Broadway and rolled down the steps, landing on the sidewalk in the overdose posture Nancy knew from all the old junkies in her building, flat on his belly with his arms out.

Shaking uncontrollably, she ran to her front door, out through the hall and down the steps in the cool morning, toward the bloody heap of her neighbor. She looked up and saw the little light illuminating the license plate of the Mercedes as it backed up, peeled out and laid rubber toward Broad Street in a storm of petals and trash. Getting the license number was the last easy thing that happened to her for quite a while.

Nancy knelt beside the Sotomayor kid from apartment 72, but quickly thought better of putting
his head in her lap. What she had taken for a cut on his forehead was a split in the skin that went
a long way back. The more Nancy looked at it, the less she wanted to.

His breathing sounded like a vacuum cleaner full of pudding. His tight necklace of steel beads had snapped, and now hung from the collar of that impractical coat like the pull-chain on a lamp. Nancy's screaming, detoxing mind could not get around the fact that this was all really happening

"Manny," she whispered hoarsely. Her throat was racked. She would have killed for a glass of
orange juice or something.

Here she was, again unable to stop crying. He was a good kid. No matter what he'd gotten himself
into, Manny's was the door she'd knock on if she needed a lightbulb changed or she was too spun to go to the store for smokes.

He didn't deserve the shitty hand of cards he'd just been dealt. She would do what she could to keep him in the game. At this hour of the morning in Philly, there were worse things to lose than your shirt.

Nancy sighed, took Manny's glasses off and hung the left earpiece around her collar, pushing it
down to stay. With one too-long cuff of her black sweater, she began mopping the blood out of his eyes.

The occupants of the Broadway Hotel came galumphing down by turns to gawk from behind the front door in their housecoats and slippers. Crazy John, who lived down in the basement, was wrapped only in a moleskin blanket and carrying a large stuffed dog.

Nancy looked up at the movement behind the glass, took a deep breath ... and found a drill-sargeant scream:


That got them moving, anyway.

The blood seemed to be burning her fingers. She felt Manny's pulse going dit-dit, dit-DIT, DIT, dit-dit, DIT, beneath her hand where it rested on his neck. Felt like two pulses.

Her eyes blurred. Something passed between them. The world was all white for a moment.

Nancy's own lights came back on. Manny was looking up at her. His olive-skinned face had gone
a nasty yellow-gray. She could see the twin pulses warring with each other in the veins at his
temples. His eyes were wild, trying to roll back into his head.

It began to rain harder now, the drops coming all at once. Nancy took in the size of Manny's pupils, both dilated, although the left one was a bit smaller. On his chin was blood in the slick of drool that the rain was slowly washing away. The blood from where his head had split was running pink onto the sidewalk.

"Exorcist," Manny gabbled. "Exorcism. " His voice was an inhuman, dissonant chord from the lower throat. "Kill it. Destroy it. It's ... it's up to you now, Nance. It ... I'm ..."

"You still feelin' it," Nancy murmured. "You gonna be fine, papi. You just stay with me, till they–"

"NO." Manny tried to roar. Incredibly, his right hand was grasping her baggy sweater. "You don't understand. It–"

Nancy was trying not to cry again. She held it in with all she had. "Breathe real deep, Manny. Don't try to talk. We'll get it all straightened out later. Stay wit' me. You gonna need alla' ya strength."

The front of the Broadway became a wash of red-and-blue lights. They'd turned their sirens off,
this early. Nancy did not even look up.

Manny's cracked lips were twitching. The blood running from the split in his head looked black in the lights.

"I don't know what it is," he whispered. "But maybe ... ukkk ..."

His eyes rolled back in his head, but he was still breathing. Nancy would not let go of his hand, even with the squirm of the extra pulse.

Ten yards down an ambulance jumped the curb, throatily idling at a safe distance as two EMTs
boiled out of the cab. Nancy looked to her left at the two squad cars in the street. One was Philly
PD. One was from Temple University.

She would ride up to the hospital with Manny. She was about to drop from the pain in her teeth and the shakes that tore through her, but it was the very least she could do.

emple University Hospital was a rambling fortress rising out of the early ghetto dawn. In the
ER waiting room, behind the smaller doors, Jerry Springer's Flying Circus was already on in
early reruns, keeping time with the coffeepots. The other door, the big revolving one reserved only for foot traffic if your initials were EMT, was still spinning from when they'd run Manny in and right up through to the trauma center.

An old Cambodian man was slumped and snoring in a chair in the corner, a copy of Vanity Fair still held open in one hand. Two little black girls were playing jacks on the floor beside the card table full of magazines in the center of the room. Every now and then their mama would tell them to pipe down.

The first cop on scene, an Officer Bowen, held her arm, breezing her past the female Temple cop on door security. "She's with me." He gave Nancy a knowing look. "She's clean."

"Only just." Nancy mumbled, trying her hardest to smile.

"You're the boss, D, I mean Mike." The young lady cop scrutinized Nancy and shrugged. Nancy wanted to stick out her tongue.

Bowen led her to a set of big double doors just past the waiting room and, without looking, keyed in an access code on a phone pad beside the left-hand door.

Beyond the door, Nancy saw an old piper lying in an ER bed, ringed in filmy white curtains. He looked like she felt. The next bed over, she could hear what sounded like last rites being administered in Spanish or Portuguese. Those curtains were shut.

She glanced to her left as they approached the nurses' station. A wiry male RN was juggling seven clipboards and talking on the phone. His slicked-back hair gleamed like plastic. His eyes were dark pools. Nancy could smell his clove chewing gum from where she stood. When the nurse saw Bowen, he hit the Hold button and dropped everything with a clatter.

"They stabilized him." The man's Cockney accent was so thick it was hard for Nancy to understand. "They're waitin' for you up on two."

"Be up in a minute," Bowen said tersely, glancing at Nancy. The nurse nodded and went back to his clipboards. Bowen paused a few steps back down the little hallway.

"Let's go get some breakfast in the caf," he suggested. "You feel like eatin' yet?"

"Bleh." Nancy moved aside as a fussy-looking little doctor bulled past them.

"How about a glass of OJ?" he asked. "You'll thank me. Anyway, I haven't eaten yet. Let's go."

She looked at him with dumb gratitude. Bowen paused for a moment.

"I don't know how you're doing it," he said. "Most people don't just up and decide to kick."

"It's early." Her eyes bored into his like magnifying glasses full of the sun. "We'll see."

Mike Bowen was struck, completely at the wrong time, by Nancy's beauty. If she put on 20 pounds and got some good sleep, he reckoned, she'd be peeling men off with a putty knife. But
he could never have told her that. He was on duty.

"There's some stuff I still don't get," he said softly. "Maybe you can help."

Bowen still wore the uniform when he had to put the soft touch on a witness, or deal with people from the neighborhood at all, for that matter. He'd been bumped up to homicide detective the year before.

In large part, what had gotten the ball rolling for his career was a hot tip from one Nancy Lexington, who had informed on a dealer, known around Girard only as the Jamaican, in exchange for a suspended sentence. Six men had lain screaming through throatfuls of their own blood on the floor of the Jamaican's warehouse that morning. Nancy had been able to ID the shooters.

The Jamaican had been strictly small-time, one link in a much larger chain ... but then again, Bowen had just been a foot soldier back then. Nancy had grabbed him off the street after the AKs began to blaze, terrified for her life. The judge had sent her to a month of NA for possession of crack cocaine. The captain had begun looking at Bowen in a very different light.

Bowen shook himself. "Did Mr. Sotomayor ... Manny ... have any enemies you know about, like

Nancy was leaning against the wall to steady herself. "Naw, naw." Her head was spinning, and her stomach wanted to hit Stop and Eject. "Nigga ... used to flip, like, dime sacks of weed to his boys,
but he just stayed in, mos' ... most of the time. Never saw–" She took a deep, gasping breath.
"Never saw nobody do nothing there but go in or out."

Now the adrenaline rush catches up with her, Bowen thought distantly. He took her arm again.

"Do you know what ketamine is?" he asked. When she did not immediately respond, he went on.

"Cat tranquilizer. In humans, it makes LSD look like Kool-Aid. The club kids around here seem to
like to OD on that shit. There are about three rotating rings of people in Philly that boost it out of vets' offices. At gunpoint. Jackin' up veterinarians." He shook his head and hissed.

"Anyway, Manny tested positive for that. It looks like some kind of deal gone way, way wrong. I
was just wonderin' if he–"

Nancy was trying to listen, but all of a sudden everything just–

No exorcist. No exorcism. Our ticket out of the boneyard now lies brain-dead on an ICU bed, a
warm shell where we wait and blaze a trail ahead. Manuel's mother will soon pull the plug. The
doctors say it is the best thing. Perhaps another day.

We marked the woman and we will take her next. We are trying to make her ready. She is vomiting, vomiting, vomiting.

There are issues with the woman, areas in the gray matter that we are not yet quite able to sniff through and map. Too easy to get stuck in the soft, warm shell.

Too easy to fall into the holes.

The dead spots are no more than atoms of soft tissue, but it is too risky. We cannot yet get out and kill. We cannot yet destroy. We cannot yet feed.

But o bzbzbzbzbzbzzzzbzbzbzbzbzbzzzzzzzzzz are We HUNGRY ...


She looked up through the white to the sound of Mike Bowen's voice. She was sitting on the tile.
The English nurse was whistling as he mopped up the watery mess at her feet.

And her eyes–

The hospital hung under a black cloud that stopped at the door. A gurney squealed by farther down, draped in a black rubber sheet ... which flapped aside at one corner, showing a dead woman laid in the Dracula asana on a hidden bottom shelf.

Maria the Temple cop at the door looks like a pale parochial schoolgirl, but she once shot an unarmed perp and then tampered with the evidence. The perp had been her brother's best friend in high school. She was just getting him back for–

The sheet flapped back, but there was so much she could still see ... and hear ... All the pain and
drama of the hospital rang through Nancy's sad head like a speaker nearly ready to blow.

Jeremy Jeremy McLeod the RN with the mop We see all the way through the moonlighting bi playboy on suspension from Penn University for partying too hard. Jeremy Jeremy Jeremy took this job because he thinks he'll never find his Prince, his Princess, his ...

This was telepathy all at once and it made no sense. She suddenly felt a great pity for the old pipers on the street that held loud diatribes with others only they could see.

Old Mr. Anh, asleep in the waiting-room chair dressed like a woman to get out of the killing
fields, back when the Khmer Rouge used to stack skulls like frat-party beer cans after a hard
day's night. It wasn't out of desperation, either. Anh was just using what he knew from the street.

"I don't like these thoughts," Nancy muttered from the floor. "I gotta get me some new ones."
She clutched her forehead, closing her eyes.

Manny is brain-dead. Manny is brain-dead. The guy in the next bed that you saw used to beat
on his kids. None of them are coming to the funeral. Upstairs, on two, there's a crackhead, a
crackhead just like you, Nancy Jean, who is shot so full of holes he looks like–

Oh God, the pain in her teeth was white lightning. Nancy screamed when her head hit the floor
like a cue ball scratching on the eight.

Then the convulsion set in.

went to too much church to be in this damn fix. I know you all up in my head, now where
are you? I can sorta see you and–

Eww. You look like a stump on a neck, and ... oh. Look like ... almost ... hell, Mayan, like those murals Manny airbrushes on his walls. Can't imagine who went down south to bring yo ugly ass back home to mama.

But ... if you a centipede, then why does every single leg look like it got a–

Nancy, come out to play. We'll let you watch.

Ahh ... yes. Memory centers. This would be an excellent place to begin.

Seven I was seven and I was so scared that I could hardly speak–

Yes ... Yes ... What was it like? We would know.

Seven. Little black Mary Jane shoes with one busted buckle-strap, scuffing along the pavement of the lot behind Olney High auditorium. Some little reader in my old backpack: "Birds Fly, Bears Don't." Last year's pencil box rattles in the front pocket like maracas.

I'm five minutes early for where I'm goin'. Clarissa Peterson at practice said she'd put my braids back in for me if she can come over after and play Barbies. Mama said it was okay, and–

"Nancy, stay with us ... 200 mils Valproate, watch her ... Dammit, Jeremy, what the fuck is going on with the EEG? It looks like there are two pulses–"

Never mind that noise. Where were we?

The big boy is Ronnie Bagwell. He's 12. The other one is some little short sawed-off shit I don't even know. Ronnie drinkin' from a bottle thas almost as big as he is, back there where the janitors used to burn they trash and–


This cell cluster is all wrong. The dopamine receptors are fried. The tissue looks like–


"Where you goin?" Ronnie ax me, but he ain't really ax, he just–

Scream scream scream scream pull back We must pull back there's a really big gaping fucking hole here and we can't–

Little sawed-off mutha fukka can't wait to get he pants off, but mama done tole me where you spozed to kick boys when they can't get they heads around the N nor the O–

(In her mind, little Nancy worms one hand loose under the dumpster, rares back and swings the joint of steel pipe and never stops at all ...)

The first time I hit him, he hit the brick wall, back there behind the auditorium. I get up and it's straight teeth and fingernails. I pull his hair and he has him a ten-course lunch of pavement. Part of a tooth goes flying. Ronnie grabs my arm, I shove back and knock him down. And then I hit him with the pipe, too. Half-pint ain't goin' nowhere. I be screamin' so damn loud in the end it's the Temple cops that pull me off Ronnie–

No no no no no no no this ancient brick auditorium wall pulls us down it pulls us down, this
blackened crease, this old asphalt desert that will never fully heal.

We did not know. We did not know please please please three wishes please. We will do anything–

Got you in a bear-trap, you bastard.


xorcist. Exorcism. No issue. Vomiting and vomiting and vomiting.

Jeremy the nurse pulled the formerly clean bedpan back from just under Nancy's face. Not a lot had come up this time, even less than in the hall.

"That's the way, love." He looked dumbly grateful as he began to loosen her restraints. "More
room outside than in, right-right?" As he spoke, he was watching her eyelids flutter open. Nancy's
pulse was good and strong and regular now. Her EEG wave was no longer playing chicken with itself.

Doctor Meyer stood waiting. The anticonvulsants had taken hold. Her chart from United had listed no previous history of seizure disorders. The doctor had never seen crack withdrawal like this and he'd been at Temple 14 years.

Nancy could not speak, but she felt as if some great threat had passed.

There was a scuffle at the door. An older nurse, female, reluctantly moved aside for Detective

"Can she talk?" Bowen sounded extremely agitated. Nancy's head on her too-skinny neck followed the sound of his voice like a flower following the sun.

"Manny's conscious," Bowen called over to her. "He said to tell you thanks."

Nancy peered at the doorway. Something was up.

Without a word of warning ... Nancy's mom bulled past Bowen like a Bradley tank in a black dress.

"Oh my baby!" Mama was bawling as she put the vase full of lilies at the bedside table, keeping a respectful distance. "Your boy here said they gone give you a citation for bravery, for what you done did."

Mama Lexington glanced at the young detective, who was looking at the floor. Nancy knew that
look on her mama's face, talkin' 'bout matchmaker make me a match ...

"Mama, you made ya makeup run." Nancy croaked. "I ain't dead. Take a chair an' ... set a while."

Nancy's throat was much more raw now, she knew, from when they had intubated her airway
to keep it open. She could not have spoken above a whisper if she'd wanted to.

But inside, she had to laugh, after all of this. Bowen would never, never know, Nancy thought ... but Manny might.

The agony in her teeth had ended up saving not just one life that morning, but two. No demon could ever live through withdrawal, let alone recovery.

She knew she would fall down and get back up a few times yet. But for the first time since she was seven, Nancy had stood up for herself. Maybe that was something to be proud of.

She closed her eyes for a moment, hoping that the voices were gone from her head.

In that thick hospital silence ... Nancy Jean Lexington smelled the ruttish reek of wild hogs, and heard the vast, awesome thunder of the Mediterranean booming on timeless shores.

For Lauryn Hill. E-mail Edward at locutuspdx@yahoo.com, and don't miss his previous work.

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