So I’m still here, wherever this place is. Today I spent a couple of hours in the common room – that’s what they call it, but it’s not a room, not really, more like an arboretum. It’s a towering space with a glass roof that lets in the sun. I’ve never seen light this clear before. It’s like there’s no air pollution, no smog, none of the crap we’re all used to seeing, living in, breathing. There are more kinds of trees here than I can even begin to recognize, and there’s fruit on some of them – apples, bananas, peaches, plums, and some exotic fruits I’ve never seen before, in freaky-ass hues of brilliant pink and neon green. They encourage us to pick as much fruit as we want to eat, and there’s a spring with cold, clear water that tastes better than Perrier or Evian. I’m not kidding. If somebody had never tasted water in his life, and he woke up on that very first morning and tasted this, he’d say ‘yeah, I think I’ll call this stuff ‘water’.’
I keep telling them I need to call my office. Francine is gonna wonder where I am and I’ve got that McLaren case day after tomorrow – big lawsuit there, ever since old man McLaren slipped on that wet floor at Walgreen’s. I know Walgreen’s hired Benson – hah! Incompetent asshole. If he doesn’t show up drunk, I’m gonna buy myself a lottery ticket. Then there’s that Kesselman kid, the drug rap. That’ll be open-and-shut. Cha-ching! Ladies and gentlemen, please leave a generous donation in the collection plate as you leave. And I gotta call Ken back, see if I can talk him down from the fifteen years he wanted for the Lorbers. I mean, ‘tax evasion’ is a nasty set of words. I prefer “innocent oversight.”
I…I haven’t seen Jamie yet. Don’t get me wrong, worrying over that kid doesn’t exactly keep me up nights – I’m just wondering how he’s doing, you understand. Twenty eight years old, you think he’d be able to keep his ducks in a row, but not Jamie. How many times have I had to pull his chestnuts out of the fire? I ask you. The kid owes me. It’s just weird that I haven’t seen him around, especially now that I’m starting to get a handle on my situation. The old guy who comes to see me, he said his name was Joe. Used to be a cop, back in the day, which just goes to show you my instincts are still bang on the money. “How do you like your new digs?” he asked. We were sitting in the arboretum together. I was trying to do a crossword puzzles but my concentration is mostly shot these days. Maybe it’s something to do with the accident. “This place must be a step up for an ambulance chaser like you. Where’d you live before?”
“I had my own apartment.”
“Right, yeah, I remember. Over that Chinese place, what was the street? Off the Strip, if I recall.”
I always get the feeling when I’m talking to him that he recalls everything just fine. He’s just messing with me.
“It was a fine Korean restaurant,” I said, “in East Las Vegas.” Even I know this is bullshit. There’s nothing ‘fine’ in East Las.
“And they let you live,” he said, laughing in that pain-in-the-ass way he has that’s beginning to annoy the shit out of me, “just a stupid gringo ambulance chaser. You musta done okay for yourself, fixing parking tickets for all the little abuelitas. Picking up a little slip-and-fall business here and there, maybe a few skeevy divorce cases.” His small blue eyes bore into me like lasers, like ice-colored old man lasers. This bastard misses nothing. “You got to be a pretty important guero, laundering money for the Latino gangs.”
“I never said I was auditioning for sainthood.” Who the hell let this guy in? And how much longer do I have to listen to him?
“But then you screwed up.” He peers at me like I’m an insect under glass. “Got yourself killed.”
“I had a car accident. As you can see, I’m perfectly well and healthy.”
“You sure it was an accident?” he asks. And then he tells me: the pickup truck that swerved at the last minute to drive me off the road? Deliberate. “Somebody wanted you dead,” he says, “and here you are.”
This, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is bullshit. I am not dead. I can hear and feel and think. I could get up out of this wheelchair right this minute if I wanted to and walk the hell out of here.
“You are alive,” Joe says. “You’re more alive now than you’ve ever been. You’ve been given a second chance, Ash. The question is: what are you gonna do with it?”