July 1, 1986, 7:29 P.M.
“Accidents happen in my line of work.”
I see Roland’s face contort in a mix of fear and anger an instant before the car hits me. Some instinct pushes me toward the sidewalk, but too late. I’m flung into the street like a piñata. A surprised, pissed-off piñata who swallowed her gum and bit her tongue.
“Hey! You asshole!” Roland shouts at the car as it speeds off. He runs to my side. “Reno, you okay?”
I’m fine, but the car knocked the wind out of me and I can’t answer. I nod as I struggle to force air into my lungs. Although I only got a glimpse of the driver’s face, I’m pretty sure it was one of Zhukov’s men. All of those fucking Russians specialize in the same stupid dismissive arrogance, especially toward women. But why try to kill me in particular? Maybe just professional opportunism? Or maybe he’s just a dick. Probably both.
“Don’t move,” Roland says. “Something could have ruptured or broken. I’ll bring the car around and get you to the ER.”
I want to protest that it’s just a glancing blow, no need for a doctor. But he’s already gone and I realize that I’ve been sitting on the curb for a while now. Maybe a concussion? Roland drives up and helps me into the backseat, where I gaze at the upholstery for a moment before passing out.
Roland hits the first speed bump near the hospital a little hard, bouncing me off the backseat. I sit up, feeling a bit woozy but not too bad.
“Sorry,” Roland says.
“Hey, I feel okay. Let’s just skip the whole hospital thing.”
But he won’t be dissuaded. Fifteen minutes later, we’re in a tiny exam room.
“Doctors always make you wait,” I say to Roland.
Slouched in a small vinyl chair, Roland cracks his knuckles, his old fighter scars flashing in the fluorescent light. “It establishes authority and hierarchy.”
I puff air from my cheeks. “I’m going to make Zhukov pay.”
“Somebody’ll probably do it for you. I don’t think he has many friends. Besides, he mostly missed you. Could be a lot worse.”
I twist my neck over my shoulder and try to gauge the severity of the mottled bruise spreading down my side. It could be worse. I could be dead. So yeah, could be a lot worse.
“Modesty check,” coughs Roland.
I pull up the idiotic paper gown that hospitals always make you wear and glare at Roland. “Pervert.”
“I’m going to shoot Zhukov.”
Roland yawns. “You already said that. And you don’t know he was responsible.”
“It was him. And he’s not getting another chance.”
“You can’t always be Missy Badass,” he snorts. “You should adopt a new outlook. You know, find peace and serenity within yourself.”
Roland closes his eyes and sighs. “This is what I’m talking about. Your attitude doesn’t invite serenity. It kicks serenity in the nuts. And serenity doesn’t like getting kicked in the nuts.”
I laugh. Roland always makes me laugh. “Next chance I get, I’ll give serenity a blowjob. Happy?”
Roland balls his hands into big fists. “Not really. I could use some Percs…” He opens a scarred eyelid and peers at me. “You think you could convince the doctor to give you something?”
“You should stay away from that shit. No good for you.”
He grimaces and flexes his hands again. “They ache.”
“Quit punching people.”
“That’s my job.”
“Let’s get out of here,” I say. “I don’t want to be late for Victor.” My boss hates it when we’re late. I slide off the table. The cold tiles kiss my bare feet and send a shiver through my body.
“Just stay put, sunshine. I’ll find out what’s taking so long.”
Before I can reply, the door swings open. A doctor enters the room with a chart under one hand. Squinting through a pair of thick glasses, he peers at the chart. “Reynosa Villarrubia?”
“Call me Reno,” I say, reluctantly sitting back down on the table.
He nods. “I’m Dr. Barrington. Sorry to have kept you waiting. The labs are running a little behind today.” He squints briefly at Roland and then gently runs his hand along my spine. His hands are warm and soft. They feel nice, like he actually cares. And he might. He seems like a guy who would care. “It looks like you had a bit of an accident, hmm?”
“Yeah, something like that.” I smell mint on his breath. Baby fat still rounds his jaw. He looks like he doesn’t even shave yet.
Barrington hums to himself as he presses and pulls on my shoulder, occasionally inquiring whether I feel any sharp pain. “While your shoulder suffers from some deep bruising, it should heal without any complications,” he says. He adjusts his glasses and adds, “But we have other matters to discuss.”
I frown, raise my arm, and stretch. “Like you said, Doc, it feels a little sore but not broken.” I take a deep breath and no pain flares.
Barrington turns to Roland. “I need to talk with Miss Villarrubia privately.” He gestures to the door. “Do you mind?”
Roland gives me a bemused look. “Don’t hide the pain, Miss Villarrubia. Not good for you. I’ll call Victor, let him know we’ll be a little late.” He stands up with a wince. “Get something so you can sleep,” he adds before sauntering out of the room.
Barrington closes the door behind him and removes the x-rays from the envelope. He slaps them onto a light panel on the wall and turns off the overhead light. The ghostly luminescence of my bones fill the room.
Eyes hollow and dark in the dim light, he faces me. “Your x-rays show a pattern of abuse and injury. I can see numerous signs of old fractures.” In a gentle, sweet tone that makes me like him even more he says, “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens again.”
I shiver in the cool air and hug my paper gown. “Accidents happen in my line of work.”
“What your boyfriend is doing to you is wrong. You’re not to blame. There are people who can help you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You survived this time, but in most cases domestic abuse eventually leads to injuries serious enough to cripple or even kill.” He removes a business card from his coat pocket and extends it to me. “Please call the number on this card. They will provide you safe shelter and counseling.”
I finally understand. “Doc, nobody’s beating me and I’m not dating anybody.” I jerk a thumb in the direction of the door. “Especially not that guy.” I pick up my blouse and begin to squirm into it beneath the gown.
Dr. Barrington holds up his hand. “I need to report this.” His eyes abruptly shoot to the ceiling as I give up using the gown as cover and just rip the shitty little thing off and throw it to the floor. Patience is not one of my virtues. I’m barely on speaking terms with polite or classy.
“At least take the card in case you change your mind.”
I ignore the card and pull on my jeans. “I’ll try to be more careful.” But I can’t help glancing at the x-ray. The splintered webbing of healed fractures are stark white against the pale gray, reminders that I hadn’t been careful enough in the past. Just as I hadn’t been tonight…
As I finish dressing, I try to ease the pained expression on Barrington’s round, soft face. “It’s not domestic abuse, Doc. And I can take care of myself.” I push by him and let the door close behind me.