Cold Turkey

By Rocket

Episode 9.17

Part Four


 

Christmas Eve


The girl looked down, stroking the knitted front of the sweater. When she spoke, her voice was small.

“I got it off a dead man…”

“NO!” Nikki’s hands flew to her mouth. Andy and Sam each put an arm around her as she sagged. Mo, nearest the door, took the junkie by the elbow and steered her outside, pulling the door shut behind them. MacGyver hesitated, torn between looking after Nikki and finding out more about Matthew. At a nod from Sam, he turned and slipped out of the room. Looking up and down the hallway, he spotted Mo and the nurse sitting with the junkie at a small table. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but shut it again as Mo raised one gloved finger.

“This is Trudy and she is very, very high.” Mo frowned at the girl, who seemed fascinated by the ceiling. “Pacing up and down, asking her stuff and waving your arms around isn’t going to make her remember things any faster, so if you want to help, sit down and just listen.” Mo shoved a chair towards MacGyver with one booted foot and turned back to Trudy. Trudy took a deep breath and her eyes focussed, returning from somewhere very far away.

“Tell us about the sweater Trudy.” The nurse prompted.

“Sweater…” Trudy looked down, then back up, her eyes scared. “He was dead!”

“How dead?” Mo ignored MacGyver and the nurse as they turned to stare. “Today-dead or long-time-dead?”

“Oh.” Trudy blinked, trying to think past the psychedelic parade in her head. “Today-dead. Christmas eve dead.” She giggled and her gaze slid away. “We wish you a merry Christmas,” She sang softly.

“Was he stiff or bendy?” Mo patted Trudy on the cheek. “Stay with me, OK honey?”

“Bendy. Like a big doll!” Trudy made puppet movements with her arms, then sighed.

“Then either he’s dead and he’s been that way since soon after he left here, or she’s mistaken and he’s still alive.” The nurse murmured to MacGyver, who shook his head in confusion. “Rigor mortis doesn’t last forever.” The nurse turned back to Trudy, missing MacGyver’s stricken expression.

“Did he make any noises?” Mo took Trudy’s hand and squeezed her fingers.

“No, no sound. Sssh…” Trudy freed her hand and put her finger to her lips. “But when I borrowed his sweater…” She sat upright, momentarily present. “I didn’t steal it! I only borrowed it because I was colder than him!” She blinked slowly and subsided again. “But after I borrowed it, he was all shivery.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “All shivery.”

Mo stared at MacGyver and mouthed ‘He ain’t dead!’, jabbing a finger at the Trudy – the girl – she was wrong! Matthew wasn’t dead, he was alive!”

“Do we know where Matthew was?” MacGyver watched the nurse lead Trudy away.

“Eh… Not so much.” Mo shrugged. “We got a pretty good idea of the area because Trudy buys from Copperhead Joe too, but after that?” The scarves rose and fell in a shrug.

“Let’s take a look at the map again, see what we can piece together.” MacGyver took the map from Doc and spread it out again on the desk. “OK, Mo – shoot.”

“Well. She came out of Del’s and headed for the big dog.” Mo sniffed, looking around the group.

“I know!” Kelly raised a hand. It’s across from the police station. It’s a burger stand shaped like a giant hotdog.”

“OK, good.” MacGyver moved his finger on the map. “What else?”

“She walked through the rainbows, and then she fell down in them.” Mo leaned forward to study the map.

“Garage.” Mel nodded. “Took my car there once, they got oil all over the sidewalk outside.” He glanced at Kelly. “Oil on a wet sidewalk makes rainbow patterns.

Slippery too.” He pointed to a spot further south. “Here.”

“Right.” MacGyver slid his finger across the paper. “Next?”

“She walked past the sideways house, but not as far as the black hole.” Mo scratched and shrugged. “Hell if I know…”

“Anyone?” MacGyver looked around, but no-one spoke up. “OK, it’s a start. Let’s start at the garage and split up to search around there. Mel, you’re leading. Everyone ready?”

* * * *
 

Matthew stared at the upturned box, hearing it call to him. He screwed his eyes shut and stuffed his fingers in his ears, but he couldn’t block it out.
“No…” His voice was a desperate whisper. “No…”

* * * *
 

“OK, keep a lookout for anything that could be a sideways house.” MacGyver put the pickup in gear and followed Sam and Mama Lorraine away from the garage.

“Whatever that is.” Nikki wiped condensation off the window with her sleeve and stared out. They drove down the shabby streets. Boarded-up windows and grimy neon signs slid past the truck windows, anonymous figures hurried along in the gloom between the tall buildings.

“Half this street looks like it should be condemned!” Nikki blew on her hands to warm them, not taking her eyes off the street.

“I reckon the buildings are pretty much holding each other up!” MacGyver leaned forwards, looking at an old wall leaning heavily against the building next to it.

“Yeah…” Nikki frowned. “Could that be what she meant by ‘sideways’?”

“Maybe.” MacGyver brought the pickup to a halt. “How about that one?”

“Right!” Nikki opened the pickup’s door, standing on the step to get a better view.

The building at the end of the row leaned crazily against some stout poles. Its roof met the building next to it at a sharp angle, and cracks ran down the height of the brickwork. Rusty railings separated it from the street, bent and twisted.

“Trudy went past the sideways house.” MacGyver waited for Nikki to come back inside the truck before moving off again.

“But she saw him before she got to the black hole.” Nikki sighed and shrugged.

“I might have found it.” MacGyver flicked the headlights onto full beam, the light shining off a ‘road closed’ barrier at the end of the street. Beyond, in the gathering dusk, a sinkhole had torn a gaping hole across half the road.

“We must be close!” Nikki turned to MacGyver, hope in her eyes. “Pull over!”

MacGyver parked the pickup in a space behind a dumpster. Handing Nikki a flashlight, he got out and stepped over the low fence into the yard of the first building.

They shouted themselves hoarse calling for Matthew.

The first building proved empty, just a shell with something green and foul-smelling coating the walls. In the second, they disturbed three junkies and the largest cockroaches Nikki had ever seen. In the third, Nikki almost fell through the floor when the rotted boards collapsed under her weight.

* * * *
 

Matthew’s eyes snapped open. He must have fallen asleep because he’d dreamed he heard Nikki calling his name. He sighed, feeling tears prick. Nikki couldn’t be here, she didn’t know where he was. Matthew scowled, angry with himself for getting in yet another mess. This time, even he didn’t know where he was.

Hearing a man shout, he turned in the direction of the voice. Had the man shouted his name? He unplugged his fingers from his ears and listened.

“MATTHEW!” The man’s voice, nearer this time.

“MATTHEW!” Matthew drew in a great, wailing breath as he recognised Nikki’s voice. He heard Nikki cough, then shout again. “MATTHEW!”

“HERE, NIKKI! I’M HERE!” Matthew stood on wobbly legs.

“MATTHEW! KEEP SHOUTING!” The man’s voice again, and a thud as someone threw their weight against the door Matthew could see through the holes in the ceiling above him.

“NIKKI!” Matthew could hear her calling back to him, and saw the door shudder as she kicked it. There was a pause, then a splintering crash as Nikki and a tall man burst through the door and stumbled into the room above him. Nikki gasped as she saw the gaping hole in the floor, and the man threw himself to the side to avoid falling down it. His weight made the floor shake as he landed, dust sifting down through the cold air.

“Nikki, stay back.” The man got to his knees and moved closer to the hole, lying down to peer over the edge. “Matthew, right?” He grinned down and Matthew nodded.

“Pleased to meet you. You stay there a minute, while I figure out a way to get you up here, OK?” There was a brief conversation that Matthew didn’t catch, then the man poked his head over the edge of the hole again.

“Can you see anything down there? Can you tell me what’s in the room with you?” The man turned, said something to Nikki and Matthew heard her walk back across the room. Matthew looked around, noticing for the first time that he was alone.

“I see a cloth. Um… And a door leaning on the wall.” He squinted up through the dusty air.

“OK, good.” The man leaned all the way down the hole, looking into the room. “Is there anything you could rest the door on, make yourself a kind of a step? You’re too far down for us to reach and pull you out.”

“Oh. Um…” Matthew looked around. “No.”

“No problem.” The man disappeared and Matthew heard him dragging something across the floor above. “I’m going to drop these down the hole as carefully as I can. Stay out of the way, OK?” there was a scrape and a clank and the man lowered an oil drum down the hole, leaning so far that Matthew figured Nikki had to be holding his ankles. The drum bounced off the floor when it landed, and Matthew stood it on its end, holding on as a wave of dizziness overtook him. “Matthew? Matthew! You OK? Can you throw me the cloth?”

Matthew listed to the sound of cloth ripping, then stood out of the way as a chest of drawers was lowered next to the oil drum.

“Can you lay the door on top of those?” The man watched him do it, hanging upside down with his long hair making a shaggy halo around his head. “Good. Now climb up on it and catch this.” Matthew reached out, catching a makeshift rope knotted together from the old curtain, a knitted scarf and a length of cable.

“I’ve got it!” Matthew knotted the rope around his waist and took as firm a grip as he could, willing his cold hands to hold on. The man disappeared and Matthew felt a tug on the rope, followed by a curse he recognised as one of Nikki’s favourites and an almighty heave. For a moment he dangled above the floor, reminded with a rush of vertigo about his dream, and then strong hands were pulling him up through the hole in the floorboards.

“Matt, thank goodness!” Nikki swept him up in a hug, then stepped back and punched him hard on the shoulder. “You’re a scumbag, you know that?! You had me scared to death!” She hit him again, then hugged him, tears streaming down her face.

“Hi Matthew, I’m Mac.” The tall man smiled and held out a hand. “Come on, let’s get you back and share the good news!”

 

Christmas Day


Matthew, showered and dressed in clean clothes, watched Nikki putting up Christmas decorations. Santa Luisa Mission was full, and he was shy of talking to so many new people. The one in charge, Doc, was arguing about sandwiches with a brightly dressed woman wielding a ladle. Two bikers, an overage hippy and a young man who looked a lot like MacGyver were heling with the decorations. A bubbly girl and a massive person wearing several coats were organising a group of homeless people into singing carols. The large room was warm, steamy where the radiators were being used to dry coats and gloves, and the noise was incredible. Matthew was glad to fade into the background and jumped when MacGyver sat down beside him. For a moment MacGyver watched the room too, taking in the scene.

“You’ll get used to it’” He grinned. “It’s a bit much to begin with, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Matthew nodded, hunching down inside his sweatshirt and pulling the sleeves over his hands.

“Why’d you run like that?” Matthew glanced sideways at MacGyver’s question, but saw only concern in the brown eyes.

“Um…” Matthew looked down at his feet. “I just needed to be on my own, you know? I know everyone’s trying to help me, and I’m grateful, but… Just too many people. And I wanted to sort myself out without relying on everyone else yet again.” He sighed. “Guess that didn’t work out the way I planned.”

“Uh huh.” MacGyver studies Matthew. “You use?”

“No!” Matthew’s answer was quick and sure. “No, I’m staying clean this time.”

“Glad to hear it.” MacGyver stood up. “You gonna stay with Nikki for a while?”

“Yeah.” Matthew looked across at Nikki, stringing tinsel along the tops of the windows. “She’s been so good to me. I don’t want to give her any more trouble, you know?” He shook his head. “I haven’t even got her a Christmas present. What kind of brother am I?”

“I think she’ll forgive you.” MacGyver smiled down at Matthew. “The best Christmas present you can give her is to stay clean. Look her in the eye, tell her you’re going to do it and mean it, OK?”

“OK Mac, I will.” Matthew smiled back and stood up, holding out his hand. “Thank you, MacGyver, and Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Matt.” Bypassing the hand, MacGyver pulled the boy into a hug, then released him and gave him a gentle push towards Nikki. He watched Matthew cross the room, and speak to Nikki. She listened carefully, then ruffled his hair and kissed his cheek.

“Merry Christmas, Mac.” Doc handed MacGyver a cup of cocoa and a cookie. “I think he’ll make it this time, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” MacGyver blew on his cocoa, watching Matthew pick up a length of tinsel and hold it out to Sam. “I think he’ll be just fine. Merry Christmas, Doc.”

The End

 

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