Lin Page 13
The cell phone in C.J.'s pocket rumbles in vibrator mode for an instant before the ring tone goes off, and the instant is stretched out in his mind, as if he is someone else watching himself. He has heard of animals whose nerves shut off upon encroachment of almost certain death -- a single moan, a dignified readying of the body for the end. Maybe something similar here, either that or he unconsciously finds the humor in the moment, which is all the same thing anyway, either you laugh at your impending doom or slide into ready-made shock, or both.

The ring tone is Faye Wong, and this time the song is the opening to "Angel": brush-stroke snare drums and chiming guitars. Too late (but he knew he would be too late), he reaches down to his pants pocket where the phone is, his hand caked with mud and who knows what else. By the time his rigid fingers are around the phone, the man towers above him, his legs pillars in the near-

dark. C.J. coughs. Scrambling to get on his feet, he begins: Excuse me

The man's foot closes the distance between the ground and C.J.'s face. The dirt at the bottom of the shoe makes contact before the rest, and the sting of it in his eyes is like a blessing. Dark goes white and he flops over on his side, hands instinctively shielding his face. Now the foot is working him at the midsection, right in the solar plexus, and his hands drift down there to block the blow. Back to the face again. Already dizzy with pain, he almost groans Make up your mind! Hands are grasping at his shoulder, clutching skin as well as shirt, and he yelps. The man's face is inches away. No, too dark, can't make him out.

Who are you? the man grunts.

I fell asleep, C.J. says through a mouth metallic with