Matt opened his eyes to see Jason Albany sitting before him. Jason was playing a video game of some kind on his I-Phone. Shots and screams emanated from the device.
Matt could barely get the word out, “J…” It was dry and raspy, and Jason didn’t even look up. Matt tried again. “J!” he managed to shout in a hoarse voice.
Jason dropped the phone and rushed to Matt’s side. “Matt! O my God.”
“Where am I—“
“The hospital. You’re okay. You’re gonna be okay,” Jason said.
It was a hospital room. Bland colors. Whiff of formaldehyde. Television in the top corner of the room. “Can you get a doctor?” Matt asked.
“No!” Jason blurted. He appeared anxious but calmed quickly. “Here, have a drink of water.” Jason brought Matt a cup with a straw. Matt sucked heartily on the straw and seemed to feel better. Then he saw the tubes in his arm and tried to sit up. Pain!
“Please, J. Get a doctor.” Matt flopped back.
“Wait. I have to…I’ve been sitting here for the last three days and nights. I had to be the first one to talk to you.”
Matt didn’t understand at first, but it all came back to him like a slap in the face. Jackie O’s. Carmine. Chad. Guns. Bullets. Fists. And fire. Matt could see he was bandaged up. He felt weak, very weak.
“I was up at Michigan. My dad was pissed, but I convinced him I couldn’t stand delivering pizzas anymore and wanted to get ready for tryouts. The coach was really impressed actually. My dad flew up to get the car back, and just when he was about to leave we heard what happened at…that liquor store.” Jason stopped here.
“What did you hear?” Matt wanted to know. The pain subsided, replaced by fear. Fear that everything was now known and his life was over. Alive but dead.
“Only that Chad was dead and you were hurt but alive. The others were dead too and the whole place burned to the ground,” Jason said. He pulled up a chair next to Matt’s bed. His legs felt unsteady, and he had to sit down. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I drove back with my dad. I made him go without stopping. When we got back I went right to Coach Murray. I told him that we knew Mr. Martinelli had been involved with Billy and his father in some sort of gambling ring. We thought Chad was part of it too and that’s why he was at the liquor store that night. You went to help Chad, to try to get him out of it, and…you were the only one to come out alive. I had to tell you before the cops talk to you.” Jason went silent and looked at Matt, waiting to see how he would react.
Matt loved Jason as a friend and teammate, but he had never thought Jason was too smart. He didn’t think he was dumb either, but he always seemed to rely on others to lead him. He lost himself in his hobbies and sports and rarely excelled at school work. But this plan was inspired. It was horse shit through and through, but it was brilliant at the same time. “The cops?” Matt wondered.
“Coach took me to the police after I told him, and they grilled me,” Jason said.
“Did they believe you?” Matt asked.
“I think so,” he said. “They think Chad or Mr. M might have had something to do with Billy, but not you or me.”
“What about you? You got shot.” Matt remembered Jason’s frantic call.
Jason raised his right sleeve, his throwing arm. There was a small bandage there. “I treated it myself. It didn’t need stitches thank God. Feels okay. I can still throw good. No one will ever know.”
“You saved my ass, J,” Matt said, grateful more than Jason could know.
“You’ve done it for me so many times,” Jason told him. “Do you think you can remember how I laid it down? They’ll try to punch holes in it.”
Matt choked up. He couldn’t speak, only nodded. Jason put his hand on Matt’s. It wasn’t a time to be manly.
“I’m going to get the doctor now,” Jason said, rising. He made it to the door but then came back. “Matt, what did happen in that place…with Chad?”
Matt looked out the window, a lousy view of the hospital’s condenser. Pigeons were roosting on it. Probably shitting all over it. “When’s the funeral?” Matt asked.
“In a few days,” Jason replied. “Will you go?”
“You go. Say nice things about him. I don’t think I’ll be strong enough,” Matt said. “We probably shouldn’t talk for a long time.”
Jason appeared to regret this but accepted it. “Some senior year, huh?” he flashed a sad grin Matt’s way.
Matt gave him a wave, and Jason left the room. He called out to Jason that he had left his phone on the floor, but Jason had already disappeared to get the doctor. Matt could see the game Jason had been playing. It was on pause, but it had something to do with soldiers, men of honor. Fake heroes, Matt thought.
Matt stared at the ceiling. He heard voices in the corridor, the hum of hospital activity. He was alone with his thoughts, but he would only have a few minutes. He had to rehearse his story. The cavalry would be on its way but not necessarily to rescue him.
It seemed like everyone under the sun came to visit Matt over the next few days. Doctors and nurses to help him heal. The cops to fire a million questions at him (though a few told him off the record it was about time someone dusted Carmine; for the record, Matt did not acknowledge he killed anyone). Reporters probing high school football and sports gambling. Everyone on the team who had not gone off to college. Other friends and neighbors. Teachers. Matt’s parents and relatives. And of course Kitty.
It was Kitty who Matt wanted to see most. When she finally was able to be alone with him she knew. He wasn’t cheating and he loved her still, but it would have been impossible to talk to her about what was happening. She hugged him as best she could through all the tubes and dressings and began to cry. Matt cried, too, but for more reasons than Kitty would ever know.
Matt remained in the hospital for three weeks. He had two gun shot wounds, stitches on his head and a concussion from the blow, and minor burns and other scrapes. He missed the beginning of the semester at the University of Connecticut and would not be playing football the entire season. His scholarship was in jeopardy. His plans to bring his family out of its lowly position seemed to be on the point of failure.
He thought back to a year ago when he was getting ready for his senior year at Revere High. Hell week had begun and the team looked good going through first work outs. He had been dating Kitty a few months, and things were great. They slept together for the first time a few days before school began. Matt had been talking to the University of Connecticut coach, and he told Matt an athletic scholarship was definitely a possibility.
And then came Billy and Mr. Martinelli and Carmine and Chad and Jackie O’s Liquors. Revere was a tough town, but he had never seen any of this coming. It was an education few like him would ever have.