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
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
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