I confess a nostalgia in writing this story for today. Anyone who has read my books knew these short stories would eventually have to include some favorites of mine. Writing this scene — and that is really more what it is, a scene from a book I will never write but I can see and feel the whole book right now — writing this scene was like visiting an old friend after a long absence.
Oh, and I also had a good time writing lyrics to songs in a genre I know nothing about.
We will be back at it tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday with more free COVID Captivity Chronicles. No gimmicks. No paywalls. No newsletter signups. Just outstanding content. Of Course, if you like what you read, we do have these books you can buy . . .
Until then, Enjoy!
A Butch Gregory Short Story
By Jamie D. Greening
Wyoming Wallace couldn’t help noticing the outstanding legs walking so close to his face. It pleased him even further when the beautiful face attached to the outstanding body carried by those legs stopped right in front of his seat: 22A. “Sir, there are only six passengers on this flight, so we’re gonna seat you in first class.” She beckoned him with her finger, “Follow me.”
“I’d follow you anywhere,” he mumbled. She turned around and smiled. He didn’t know if she heard him or was being polite. He hoped she heard.
“You can sit here in aisle four. Would you like something to drink?”
“Whiskey. Neat.” Wyoming stretched out his legs. The flight across the Pacific was packed because it was the only one in the next two weeks. A little comfort felt good.
The flight attendant returned with a tumbler generously filled. He thought she lingered a bit longer than was necessary, as if wanting him to make a move, even if it was small talk. Wyoming wanted to, but he didn’t have time for that. Not on this flight. It still flattered him though. At thirty-seven years old, he still had it.
The plane landed thirty minutes early.
The mood inside the airport was a strange mix of normalcy and fatalism. It still surprised Wyoming how much the world had changed. And how fast. The first wave of COVID in the spring of 2020 spawned the phenomena of social distancing and restrictions upon gatherings. That worked, for a time. Now humanity was up to its proverbial eyeballs in wave two of the virus. The second wave hit with a hard iron punch, made worse by foolish political mechanizations to downplay the risk. Society abandoned social distancing. People returned to normal lifestyles, like flying, picnics, church, and visiting sick people in the hospital. They accepted the fatalism of doom: there was nothing to be done but wait for your turn to get sick, so why bother. Behavioral scientists called it the COVID-19 Catch-22. It was a no-win situation. Everyone would get it eventually. Why make the time between miserable. If you die, you die. A compilation hip-hop album in the winter of 2021 by the title 19-22 shortened the lingo for the common vernacular. People soon referred to the disease itself as the 19-22. As if on cue with his thoughts, the canned music in the corridor played the title song.
The cough, the chills—the pain in the head
19-22 make you wish you were dead
Blame Fauci, China, Trump or Milan
Kiss yo mama bye, cuz humanity is gone
Wyoming didn’t delay. He’d cleared customs in Los Angeles, and only had his carry on. He was headed south on I-5 before the plane’s captain had gotten out of the bathroom. His black Jeep darted around sedans and vans. Time was important. For the last two years, time was all that mattered.
He was fifteen minutes from Tacoma General Hospital when a black Hummer and a gray Chevy Silverado matched his speed. The Hummer took a position to his left and the Silverado squatted in front of him. The window on the passenger side of the Hummer rolled down. A young buck with a Fu Manchu pointed for him to exit.
Wyoming did not recognize the man, but he knew who had sent him. He had no intention of stopping. To stop would mean death, probably for him, and certainly for Lucy. That wasn’t happening, not on Wyoming Wallace’s watch.
He smiled at the Hummer, as if to obey and waved forward to distract. He reached into the bag beside him in the Jeep and pulled out his .45. He almost forgot to roll down his own window. When he did, he fired the pistol toward the man in the window. The bullet exploded into his skull throwing blood and brain all over the leather interior. The Hummer screeched, lurched across the far lane, and collided into a series of road construction barrels before smashing into an unoccupied Washington State Department of Transportation pickup truck.
Wyoming swerved to the right lane and shot his pistol twice at the right rear tire of the Silverado, causing a blowout. He sped past the truck and put the pedal down.
He parked on the curb in front of the hospital’s main door. “You can’t park there,” shouted a security officer.
“Sure, I can,” Wyoming snorted as he walked by him. “I just did.”
“I’ll have you towed.” The guard said.
“Go ahead. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last,” Wyoming zipped by.
He picked up in his peripheral vision a muscular man in a nice suit who started toward him as soon as he entered the atrium. Wyoming took advantage of the many mirrors in the hospital to confirm a man in a blue suit, white shirt, and a lavender tie was on his trail. What Wyoming didn’t notice was the other man watching him from the second level mezzanine.
Wyoming entered the elevator and pushed the button for ICU. The blue suit got in the elevator and pushed the second floor. When the elevator doors opened, the second man, wearing black trousers and a dark leather jacket stepped into the lift and punched Wyoming in the stomach as the second man hit the close-door button.
Wyoming doubled over. “I didn’t see that coming. I must not be focused.” The bulging blue suit grabbed him and held his arms behind his back.
“Apparently not,” said the second man in a thick Russian accent. “I hope you do see, however, there is no way out. Give it to us and we let you live. It is that simple. We don’t want any bloodshed. We have worked so well together in the past. We don’t want this present unpleasantness to disrupt our future.”
“I’m sorry,” Wyoming said. “I can’t do that.”
“I was afraid you would say such.”
Wyoming noticed the elevator wasn’t moving. He wondered how long it would stay before the hospital staff became suspicious. Half-hour? Half-a-day? It could go either way. He didn’t have time to wait.
“Well,” Wyoming said. “I am a little pigheaded. I get that from my mother’s side of the family.”
“I am impatient,” the second man said. “I get that from my father’s side of the family,” and with that he wailed on Wyoming with his left and right hands, striking him in the stomach and face. “Give it to us.”
Wyoming shouted, “Okay, okay.” He caught his breath. “I can tell you guys mean business. Free my hand and I’ll get it.” The dark leather jacket nodded to the blue suit, who then let go of Wyoming’s left hand. Wyoming reached into his denim jacket as if to extract what the men wanted, but instead he pulled out his knife from his belt. With one motion he slit the throat of the second man and then switched the angle of the knife in his hand as he brought it back behind him and shoved it into the kidneys of the bulging blue suit. It was one fluid motion that in hindsight, Wyoming recognized was inspired.
He pushed the button for ICU on the elevator and felt it kick back to life. He hoped no one would be waiting for it when it reached the floor. The mess he’d made would be a little hard to explain. He pushed the two dead men to the corner.
Fortunately, no one was waiting for the elevator. He made his way down the hallway
Lucy Gregory was in the fourth bed. Every room on the ICU wing was occupied with a COVID-19 patient. Every patient had a ventilator. The survival rate was only twenty percent once a patient went that severe. Wyoming looked at all the people, most of them his age or younger. The first wave took the older folks. This wave was taking everyone else.
Paul, Butch and Lucy’s youngest child, their only son, sat on a bench outside his mother’s room. “Where is your father?” Wyoming said as he approached.
“With mom,” Paul said. “He hasn’t left her. Not in days.”
“Sarah?” Wyoming said. Because of their dream experience, in what seemed like a lifetime ago, he felt a special connection to the young woman who was his friend and the Gregory’s oldest child.
“She is still in Seattle at the Army field hospital in Seahawks Stadium.” Paul scowled. “I asked her to come but she said she had unfinished business. She said Mom would be okay. She said you were coming with help.” Paul looked up, “Did you bring help?”
“We’ll see,” Wyoming said.
Butch sat in a chair next to his wife. He held her hand and was reading the Bible to her.
“Reading anything good?” Wyoming asked.
“Psalm 91,” Pastor Butch Gregory said. He looked up at his friend and began to quote:
You will not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Butch rose from his chair. The two hugged. Wyoming said, “My friend in Hong Kong told me to inject it into her arm like a booster shot.” He pulled a syringe from his inside pocket. “Four years ago, I would not have been able to board a plane with this.” He handed it to the pastor. “Security aint what it used to be.” A tired smile formed on his face. “The old man told me within six hours she will be breathing on her own. Tomorrow the fever will break. In two days, she will be well.”
“How can I trust this?” Butch said. “If this were a cure, a real cure, wouldn’t the whole world know about it? So many have died. So much has been lost.”
“Trust me, Reverend. It will work.” Wyoming wiped his bleeding lip with his thumb. “I don’t know why it is not available to everyone. There is a reason China has avoided the death rates the rest of the world has suffered. It started there, and they knew about it long before we did. They must have developed a cure.” Wyoming stepped to the other side of the hospital bed. “There are powerful people trying to keep this secret.”
Butch prayed, “O Lord of life and death, I commit this to you. You give and you take away. Please give me back my wife. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
He injected his wife then sat back down in the chair.