A black dog with a lame paw limped fast through cold city streets last night. He trotted on a jagged line, rag tongue out, with eyes forward like he was staring at a wet, hot steak. My guess was a female was in heat. Male dogs have a three-mile scent range for females wafting their heat. It was just past 2 AM, and I was headed home from no-frills fried rice at the International District Sea Garden. The only thing I smelled wafting was the succulent seaweed grime of the Puget Sound at low tide. Seattle had been wrapped in fog for two days. Everything was soft and phantom. Walking up over the I-5 toward Capitol Hill, the orange Port of Seattle loading cranes came into view. Mute, shrouded leviathans, tipped with red-lit eyes. If they were scaffold dogs, 250 feet high, how far would their scent-range reach for titan mechanical bitches in heat? I wondered.
Then there was a gunshot.
A single, solid crack that ripped a cylinder through the calm of the fog like a pneumatic bolt pistol going through a cow’s brain at slaughter. The shot was loud enough to know it was way too close. I dropped, covered my head, and froze. A muffled sound hit the ground nearby. I crawled behind the nearest car. There were no other shots, no running footsteps, and no screeching cars or screams. Ten minutes I sat there, unmoving. Then, there was the sound of crying. I peeked over the car and scanned. The sound of crying grew. It might have been a mistake, but I walked toward it.
The crying was coming from a Porta Potty at a small construction site across the street. I approached staying low to the ground and cautious. The crying got louder. Pained female crying. I stood for a moment behind the Porta Potty. Do I open the door, or not? It read “VACANT,” so I knew it wasn’t locked. The person inside was obviously in pain, possibly dying. I couldn’t just walk away.
All I saw when I peered inside was hair and blood. Maroon-red blood. The body of a woman was slumped over. A black, pistol sat in the urinal. The girl was semiconscious and groaned when I picked her up. I carried her around to the side of the building that was being worked on, out of plain view, laid her down, called 911, and located where her bleeding was coming from.
A tidy, solitary bullet hole punctured the left side of her neck. I ripped off the bottom of my shirt and tied it around her. Tight enough to stop the bleeding, but not her breathing. Every couple of minutes she mumbled something, not in English. She looked about six feet tall, wiry, with brownish hair. She had a peacoat on and jeans. She never opened her eyes. Before the ambulance got there, I went back into the Porta Potty, emptied the gun’s bullets, wrapped the gun in toilet paper, and dropped it all into the rank stew of the shitter. There was a yellow and green duffle bag sitting there, and I grabbed it.
Waiting for the ambulance, she was stern and seemed ancient in her unconsciousness. Her hair was natty. Her cheekbones were sculpted, no makeup. Her lips full and massively chapped. She was dirty, tattered, and her white skin seemed too white. Was she Russian? She smelled like oil and BO. I listened to make sure she hadn't stopped breathing. On the wall behind and above us, was a messy, gold cursive graffiti tag that said, "Voila Motherfucker Tone."
The sirens arrived, and then the EMTs had her on a stretcher. Without thinking, I got in the ambulance with them. She had no ID on her, and I had no answers for who she was. At one point she opened her quivering mouth and strained to say, “Mano dayk my shis,” in an accent I’d never heard. Then she was out again. Quickly, we were at Harbor View ER, and she immediately went into surgery. I didn’t know her, but I knew I didn’t want her to die.
In the waiting room, a long-faced police officer with a peach-fuzz mustache named Lewis riddled me with procedural questions. He didn't believe I didn't know her. His mustache looked like a happy trail, below his nose instead of his belly button. I’d never owned a gun, and I had no prior felonies. My life’s largest crime was unpaid student loans. I’d had a disturbing-the-peace violation at the University of Georgia. But you’re supposed to get those there. Someone ran over my leg in a car after they’d had a fifth of bourbon, but I got the violation. Lewis had nothing he could charge me with. I told him I heard the gunshot and found her lying there.
An hour or so later, a nurse emerged saying she had stabilized. The bullet passed through muscle tissue, barely missing her carotid artery and her spine. She of no name was lucky to be alive, and I’d probably saved her life. The hospital wanted to keep her at least until the next day. There was no one I could call to tell. No one knew she was there. If she didn’t have any money and no way to pay, I’m sure they’d want her out as soon as possible.
Then I remembered her bag. Her duffle bag was still sitting where we waited for the ambulance. It was only a few blocks away from the hospital. I’m sure she’d want it. So much for a late-night stroll through the fog for some fried rice.
It was about 5 AM when I found the bag. Green and yellow, right where I left it. I felt weird opening it, but her wallet was probably in there with an ID. Maybe some answers as to who she was. No one else was around except the loading cranes in the distance, watching me. Inside, there was no wallet. No ID. No clothes. The bag was full of euros. Lots of euros. Stack after stack of purple-tinted 500s, bound in officially stamped ties. There were also some tampons, a near-empty plastic bottle of vodka, and four books, all in a Slavic language. Steinbeck’s The Pearl. Plath’s The Bell Jar. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and some sort of ledger book.
Movement stirred in my periphery. I zipped the bag back up. It was the black limping dog again. He was coming back the other direction. Then I noticed the tag on the wall again, "Voila Motherfucker Tone."
I wasn’t going to wait at the hospital so I headed home. The walk back to my place with the bag was uneasy. The fog was denser. The sun would soon raise its pink head. I threw her vodka bottle in some bushes and started doing math. How much would a million euros in 500s weigh? How much would three million euros weigh? The bag weighed ten or fifteen pounds. What’s the exchange rate of the euro to the dollar? I didn’t want the bag in my apartment so when I got there, I went down into the basement and put it in a suitcase locked in my storage bin.
Before locking it up I did a closer count on the money. My rough tally came to about three million euros. Voila motherfucker. Then questions started raining down.
Why’d she shoot herself? Who was she? Was the money hers? Was it even real? No one in the world knew I had this bag. She doesn’t know what I look like. She never opened her eyes. I guess Lewis, the cop, did have my info though. And she would definitely contact me. Still, when she did, I could tell her I never saw a bag. I didn’t say anything about a bag to the cop. If the money was real, I could be on a beach in Costa Rica within a couple days. Or Puerto Rico? Or Belize? I wouldn’t want to throw around too many 500-euro bills though. I’d have to get some of that exchanged. I needed to lay low for a bit. Lewis the cop, was suspicious as it was. I’d also need to find a safer place for the bag.
Then I started thinking about her bullet hole. That little red pierced clip through her neck. Why did she shoot herself? I kept asking myself. Was it an accident? She seemed so hollow. Where was she from? Why did she have the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
At 6 AM, I laid down, coat and shoes still on. I took off my headphones. The album I had been listening to was finished. Miles Davis's Bitches Brew. These are the things that can happen in the span of an album such as this.
Three hours later I woke up. I looked out the window at the fog and something snapped. I was sick of being poor. I was going to take the money. I was fucking going to Belize. Three million euros will do. The sooner I left the better. Somebody would come looking for this money. For once I was going to play the game. I made coffee, packed a bag, got my passport, and called in sick. Then went down to the storage bin, put the euros in a backpack, and put her duffle in a plastic trash bag. I couldn’t get rid of her books though, so I left them in the storage bin.
Three buildings down from mine, I threw her duffle in a dumpster and forced myself not to think about her. Then I went to the bank and exchanged 5,000 euros. I didn’t want to raise any red flags. With $6,500 in my pocket, I got in taxi for the airport. A one-way ticket to Belize would soon be mine. Waves. Sand. Tide pools. Some form of tropical bungalow life for a while, with parrots. A third of the way to the airport, I started thinking about her bullet hole, and how much of an asshole I was for taking the money. Even if she herself was a thief, I had saved her life and felt connected to her because of it. Also, leaving the country so quick was suspicious as hell. Lewis would know something was up.
I had the taxi driver turn around and take me back to my apartment. I got her books out of the storage bin, put them in my backpack with the euros, and went to get a public storage unit on 12th. I wasn’t going to have that money or any sign of it in my possession. After getting a key, and locking it up, I went to the hospital to check on her. But she wasn’t in the room. They said she’d gotten out of the bed, put her clothes on, and was trying to leave. She’d stabilized but was really weak. Her blood pressure wasn’t fully back. Because she had no money, they were inclined to let her go. She needed to rest though.
Nurses had been speaking to her with the help of a doctor who knew some of her language. They told her that I had found her and saved her life, which she didn’t remember. She told them she had a place to go, but they could tell she had nowhere at all to go. Officer Lewis had questioned her, and she’d been sitting in one of the lobbies for a couple hours. They had to give her pants to wear because her jeans were covered in blood. The fog outside had turned to rain. The discharge nurse told her she could use the phone for local calls, but she hadn’t called anyone.
Her name was Vaiva. She was Lithuanian. I paid her bill with the cash I’d exchanged for, and they pointed to where she was sitting down the hall. She looked different sitting up and conscious, with a bandage around her neck and her hair in a bun. She was dilapidated, frayed, and long-legged, trying to hold back tears. She looked nervous and scared. The pants were huge on her. I walked over, sat next to her and introduced myself. I said, “I’m the one that found you last night. Would you like to get some food?”
When I said my name her eyes rapidly searched me over. She recognized my name from what the nurses told her. She had green eyes. They were tired and dazed because of pain medication. She didn’t say anything. I said, “I’m OK. I’m not a monster. I’d like to get you some food.” I know the Lithuanian word for food is maisto. I stood up, held out my arm to help her up, and said, “Maisto? We go? To Maisto.”
Vaiva sat for a second, sighed, and said quietly, “Okayeh. Maisto. Yese. Taip.” She didn’t take my arm for help when she stood up, looking me over again with green, bloodshot, rapidly moving eyes. I knew the only thing she was thinking about was whether or not I had the money. Then she said, “Cigarette better than food.”