Home > My Favorites > Day Seventy-nine: Ancio’s House

Day Seventy-nine: Ancio’s House

Ancio ran like the end of the world was behind him. A spike of pain shot up into his legs every time his feet smacked against the asphalt, but he couldn’t slow down. The older boys would catch up. They would want what they were owed, and more importantly, they would want what he had taken from them.

His breath burned in his lungs as he skidded around a corner. Any thoughts that he might lose them here, in the oldest part of Corsair City, was futile – this was their home as much as his, and they knew it as well as he did. Even if it had been night instead of noon, his odds would have been slender. The best he could hope for was to get far enough ahead, or to keep them running long enough for them to give up. The way things were going, he had little chance either way.

As he ran, he gripped the notebook tightly in his left hand. This was what they really wanted. Ancio never carried enough money to really be more than a small fish, someone to bully just to prove that you could. But this time he had gotten their attention. This was what would lead the Half-Moon Gang on a chase across the city, and would probably put Ancio in the hospital. At best.

He didn’t mean to take it, of course. It was a chance. A tiny crime of opportunity, right there in front of him, what was he supposed to do? It had been sticking out of Mackenaugh’s back pocket, the little green book that he carried with him everywhere he went. He recorded every transaction, every beating, every shakedown in that book. Before he let his boys beat the hell out of you, he’d check to see if you were a “repeat customer.” It was rock-solid evidence against him, and Ancio had it in his sweating hands as he ran.

You’d think he’d be more careful, Ancio thought, and if he’d had enough breath in him, he would have laughed.

As he ran, he tried to imagine the city in his head, figure out where he was. He passed a tall and imposing brick building, the Broadmoore Hospital. He slowed down a little. He could go in there, a public place, where they probably wouldn’t be able to beat him to death in front of all the doctors and nurses and everyone. Or he could keep running.

“Nowhere to go, you little shit!” Mackenaugh’s voice bounced off the buildings, and Ancio’s decision was made for him. He bolted for the front doors of the hospital. When he burst into the waiting area, all heads turned to glare at him. Nurses and patients alike gave him a good, long look before returning to filling out forms and waiting for the doctor.

Ancio took a couple of great, heaving breaths to try and calm down as he stepped towards an empty seat, the green notebook still gripped in his hand. He slumped into the chair, his chest still heaving, and tried to ignore the young mother next to him, holding a baby that was being all too quiet. She stared at him, and she probably had good reason. He was a skinny, dirty teenager, who was sweating all over himself and probably stank. She probably thought he was some kind of street child, and she wasn’t far off.

He wanted to turn to her and tell her that he was okay, not some kind of crazy homeless kid, but he didn’t get the chance. The front doors flew open, and there was Mackenaugh, wild-eyed and dripping with sweat and breathing just as heavily as Ancio had been. His two lieutenants, big guys who weren’t afraid of getting hurt, stood behind him and filled the door. He scanned the room, and he lit up when he saw Ancio. “Get him!” he howled, and the three of them started to barrel through the crowd.

Ancio had just enough time to see them knock down a burly nurse before he was on his feet and running. The crowd in the waiting room was shouting and screaming, but no one was interested in getting in Mackenaugh’s way. Ancio flew through a pair of swinging double doors, dodged a young man walking with an IV bag on a pole, and bolted for the end of the corridor.

The hospital was a labyrinth of staircases and hallways and carefully segregated wards, filled with people going about the business of healing, or barring that, dying quietly. He took stairs two at a time and tied to listen for the sound of his pursuers, but the echoes in the hallways made it impossible to know where they were coming from. He hit the fourth floor, the geriatric wing, and took off down a hallway, hoping to find a janitor’s closet or someplace to curl up and vanish in for a while.

He made a hard right, and Mackenaugh was about twenty feet away, his face red and glistening. He really shouldn’t be running, Ancio thought. Mackenaugh was heavy and going soft early for someone who wasn’t even twenty yet. He did his best work as an organizer of violence, not its perpetrator, but the theft of his notebook must have been enough to get him moving. He tried to scream at Ancio, but it just came out was a wheeze. Ancio ran anyway. he turned around, hoping to get to a stairwell, but stopped short.

The two lieutenants had showed up behind him, more able to inflict pain than their boss was. They didn’t look happy about having been led on a rat-run through the hospital, and were ready to do some damage. They advanced on Ancio, who pressed his back up against a door to a patient’s room. He glanced through the glass window and saw that there wouldn’t be any place to hide in there either – just a bed and a few machines, a big window four floors above the concrete sidewalk.

“Gimme the book,” Mackenaugh said. “Gimme the book. And maybe. We won’t kill you.” He swallowed, hard. “Maybe. We’ll let. These people. Fix you up.” His voice was harsh and dry, but he seemed to decide that he didn’t need it anymore. He just held out his hand.

Ancio grabbed the doorknob behind him. It wouldn’t turn. He knew it didn’t matter – they’d just follow him into the hospital room and kill him there.

“One. Last. Chance,” Mackenaugh said, holding out a hand. His lieutenants cracked their knuckles in unison, which might have been funny in another place and time.

“I give you the notebook, you’ll let me go?” Ancio asked, trying the doorknob again.

Mackenaugh shook his head. “You give me the notebook. We’ll beat the hell out of you. Instead of killing you.”

He jiggled the knob and thought he felt some give. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“Oh, fer fuck’s sake.” Mackenaugh waved to his lieutenants. They reached for Ancio, who pressed hard against the door.

It opened. He fell through.

When he looked up, the two big guys were just staring past him, stopped dead in their tracks, so he jumped up and slammed the door in their faces. Ancio leaned against the door, holding it against the moment when they would break through it or force it open. His hands were splayed out against the polished wood and his arms were rigid with tension.

After a very long moment, he realized that no one was trying to open the door against him. He opened his eyes and looked up. The door, which he could have sworn was a thin metal door with a window in it, was now a towering piece of wood, sparsely carved and nearly glowing in the dim light. The floor under his feet was tiled in dark, earthen red instead of pale yellow linoleum.

He spun around, his back to the door, and then slid all the way to the floor. What he had expected to be a small, dingy hospital room was now the front hallway to a house. The hallway was big enough to suggest a certain grandness to the rest of the house, but not overwhelmingly so. There were comfortable-looking shoes in a rack next to the door, with an umbrella and a dog leash. A mirror in a chipped gilded frame hung at the foot of stairs that went up a little and then turned to the right, with a faded runner going down the middle. There were photographs and small paintings on the walls, a couple of plants hanging from the ceiling as well as plain and simple ceiling lamps, and doors leading off to the right and straight ahead. The hall smelled of coffee and wood polish and years upon years of residency.

The door to the right opened, and Ancio tried to find somewhere to hide. There didn’t seem to be a closet or anything big enough to hide him, so he curled up as small as he could.

A man walked through the door, wearing pajamas and a faded robe, eating pudding out of a cup. He looked to be in his middle years, a little tired, but more for having just woken up than anything else. He took a couple of steps into the hall, had another spoonful of pudding, and looked down at Ancio. He licked the spoon and dropped it into the cup.

“So,” he said. “What took you so long?”

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