Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
From “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
~ 23 ~
In Your Pocket
Nick had a very hard time sitting on the kitchen chair as they waited for Howie to finish his shower. The energy it took to stay in an upright position was a bit much for him and he was actually afraid he might pass out. Tim noticing this was quick to move him to the couch where he stayed until D finally came out clean but far from refreshed. In that time, Nick thought about his life and his mortality. He knew he was dying, he felt it and he tried to come to terms with it. He had tried everything in his power to make it out of there but it wasn’t meant to be. He gave it the good fight and lost.
Nick Carter, 33 years old and newly engaged was going to die in the cabin of a madman. Maybe one day they’d find his body, maybe one day Lauren would actually be able to mourn his loss instead of being hopeful that he’d be found.
All those news stories about missing people he had ignored while eating and joking. They served as nothing more than background noise. A man suddenly disappears while jogging, his wife and kids left with no answers. A girl gone missing on her way to the movies, never to be seen or heard from again. All things he had heard while playing video games or talking on the phone about the dumbest things ever, he never gave a second thought to. Now the same was going to happen to him. He would be the one they would mention on TV as being lost, while people talked about sports and drank their beers. Lauren would be the one they’d cut to holding his picture and crying as moms were vacuuming and feeding their kids. Nick Carter, 33 years old, just gone…
The others would know the situation (if they survive this themselves) and they would explain how he was abducted, but that’s all anyone would know about and in time, like all those other people, he would just end up being an unsolved mystery that would occasionally appear on the news or a special about celebrity tragic ends and disappearances.
He had glanced over at Howie at that point as he was ushered over to the table. Of course, the same exact fate would befall his friend. With two small children, a wife and a ton of family that loved and adored him, he had so much more to lose and that’s when Nick decided that any fight he had at all was going to go towards helping Howie get out of this mess. There was no reason why the two of them should be faces on milk cartons. If he could convince Howie to get out of there, his death would at least mean something and then he could give Lauren and anyone else who cared, some peace of mind.
That was the thought that ran through his head during Tim’s birthday meal. Nick once again was forced to sit at the table but he couldn’t eat a thing. Mainly he just didn’t have the energy to chew but he wasn’t the least bit hungry and doubted anything he ate would stay down for long anyway. Howie kept giving him concerned glances as Tim urged him to try some pizza because he was missing out. It was delicious blah blah blah. By the time the birthday cake was placed on the table, Nick could barely keep his eyes open. He found if he concentrated on one thing, focused all his attention into one place, he could get himself through without passing out. He chose to stare at Howie’s wedding ring. It was probably creeping his friend out, but he didn’t care. He had to remember that to be able to help D get back to his wife; he had to be strong and hold on a little while longer.
After dinner, Tim had carried Nick back into the bedroom after changing the muddy sheets and replacing them with brand new ones. He then left a new tee shirt and brand new pair of sweats for him as well. He bought both Howie and Nick the same outfit. They matched. “Howie and I are going to talk some, while you change.” He then winked and closed the door.
Nick knew he wasn’t going to be able to dress himself, even though he wanted nothing more than to get out of the clothes he was wearing. Instead he lay down and stared up at the ceiling, trying to figure out a plan to get Howie out of the cabin. He knew it was going to be hard to convince his friend to leave him behind, but if he did it once, he could do it again. He just needed the emotional strength to be able to pull it off.
“Nicky, wake up…” He felt a gentle tug pull him awake. He hadn’t realized he dosed off but when he opened his eyes, he saw the concerned face of Howie staring back at him.
“Remember, I’m not going to let you sleep.”
Nick nodded but couldn’t find his voice. That was the other thing that was concerning him, he was finding it harder to speak. The energy and breath it was taking to formulate words was getting too hard for him. Howie noticed the shirt and sweats still lying on the bed, “You need some help getting out of those clothes?”
He nodded at his friend who gingerly helped him to a sitting position and helped him change. Nick tried to ignore the wince Howie made when he saw his stomach for a second time. And the tears that came down his cheek when Nick didn’t feel Howie accidentally hit his leg because he didn’t have any feeling in them anymore. “You’re much easier to dress than my boys.” He joked as he gave his friend a loving pat on the head and led him down to a half sitting position with the aide of lots of pillows.
“Thanks…” Nick smiled at his friend and felt such a swell of love at that moment. He wasn’t sure what he would do if Howie wasn’t with him. He didn’t want to die alone, but he had to. He couldn’t let D stay for his own selfish reasons.
He never had much growing up and then once it was given to him, once he got the taste of getting whatever you want whenever you want, he went overboard with the notion and became an incredibly spoiled and selfish brat. In his early years with the band, if he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, he would almost throw a fit like that girl in Willy Wonka.
It was Howie who sat him down after a temper tantrum that sent all his other band mates scurrying in all directions just to get away from him. D bought him an ice cream and a Coke and then bluntly told him he was a selfish little brat who on his best day was unlikable and if he didn’t change his ways, none of the guys, including him, would want to have anything to do with him. Those words coming from anyone else would have elicited a punch to the face but Nick was so shocked at what Howie said, he just started bawling his eyes out. Not knowing what to do when he saw the fourteen year olds reaction, Howie just kept apologizing over and over again, but that little talk was enough to make Nick realize if he didn’t try to change at least a little he was going to lose them all and he loved them and needed them way too much to let that happen.
As he grew up he still had his fair share of selfish moments but that conversation he had with Howie will be one of those vivid memories he would always carry with him.
Nick took a few breaths and tried to formulate his words again, “Where’s…Tim.”
“He left to run an errand.”
It was as if God had answered his prayers. This would give Howie the window he needed to get out of there. Nick grabbed at Howie’s shirt as he leaned down to hear what Nick was trying to say. “You have to go.”
“Away…get out of here.” Nick swallowed hard a couple of times and motioned for Howie to sit beside him.
“Nicky, there’s nowhere to go. I’ve been out there we wouldn’t get very far.”
“No, not we…you.” He said as close to full voice as possible.
Howie shook his head, “Absolutely not.”
Nick took a few deep breaths as he tried to sound stronger and braver than he felt. “Listen to me…”
“Nicky, I know what you’re going to say and the answer is no.”
“I’m dying, Howie.”
“Shut up, you’re not dying.” But just watching Howie shift uncomfortably on the bed beside him said that he knew too. He knew but didn’t want to admit it.
“No!” Howie stood up and walked over to the window.
Nick wasn’t about to let it go, he had to get Howie out of there before Tim came back. “Go in the other direction, you might have an easier time finding someone.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“You have to; this might be your only chance.”
Howie turned around to face his friend and then slowly walked back and took a seat beside him, “Do you honestly think I would just leave you behind?”
“Howie…” Once again Nick was feeling very weak so he had to stop for a second before continuing, closing his eyes and trying to let the dizziness pass. “I don’t have a…I mean…you can do it. You can get us both help. You know I can’t go with you, you can’t carry me.”
“So, what are you waiting for?”
“D, you have to go now. You have no idea when he’ll be back, he could be on his way back now.”
Howie had a smile on his face as he stared down at his friend, “You know…when you were a little guy, listening to you talk about your parents used to break my heart.” Nick was confused and tried to interrupt him but D put his hand up before Nick said a word, “Shh….just listen for a second, okay?” Nick nodded, “You would come in with tears in your eyes and I knew you wanted nothing more than to tell me what was wrong.” Once again Nick nodded, “But I wouldn’t ever let you. I would instead pawn you off on Brian or push you to Kevin and leave…” He paused and took a deep breath. Nick wasn’t sure where his friend was going with this, “In all honesty it’s because I wanted to just be able to pick you up and put you in my pocket and make you safe. I couldn’t though, so it was easier not to know.” He wiped his own tears away, “I had accused you of being selfish once when you were a kid, you probably don’t remember that.”
Nick smiled and finally spoke, “I do…”
“Back then, I was just as selfish. You needed me and I wasn’t there for you. I’m really sorry.”
“Howie, you have to go…”
“No Nick, I don’t. I know what I have to do.” He stood up and moved to the window once again and while his back was still turned he continued, “The only way we are getting out of this is if I kill him.”
Hearing Howie say those words sent chills down Nick’s spine. “Howie…”
Upon hearing his name, Howie turned back to face his friend, walked back towards the bed but this time squatted down beside him, “It’s the only way, Nicky. Like you said, I can’t carry you. He’s too big for me and if I just knock him out or something, it wouldn’t buy us enough time to get out of here. It’s the only way we’re both getting out of this. It has to be done.”
“But, how?” Nick couldn’t find his words but not for lack of breath this time. “Would you even be able to do something like that?”
He grabbed Nick’s hand in his own, “I’m not sure…all I know is, I have to try.”
Nick tried to grasp Howie’s hand hard in his own but he was too weak and could barely close his fingers around his friend’s hand, “If you fail, he’ll kill you.”
“That’s why I won’t fail.” He moved from squatting and sat on the bed once again never letting go of Nick’s hand, “When I got loose, I used a fire poker because it was pointy. If I can manage to get my hands on that again and hit him as hard as I can, as soon as he comes in the door, I might be able to make him fall and then just…” He couldn’t even finish his thought. “It has to be done, there’s no other way.” He said this as if he was trying to convince himself.
“I have to and I need you to be strong for me, Nicky. I need you to try to fight, okay? I feel like you’re giving up and you can’t. I won’t have the courage to do this alone.”
Nick closed his eyes for a second, “What about poison? Maybe there’s something you can use under the sink?”
Howie nodded, “I didn’t think to look.”
“This way, you could say you made him coffee or something and then he’d drink it and…it might be easier than the other way.”
“Nothing about this is easy.” Howie said with so much sadness in his voice it made Nick’s heart break.
“You can still just go, Howie.”
Howie stood up and moved towards the unlocked bedroom door, “Not unless I can fit you in my pocket.” He said as he left to search the cabin for anything he could use to kill Tim.