Sean felt rough wood as he gripped the door frame. Sweat streamed down his face and back. He blinked and tried to focus. He had to keep his wits about him.
What the fuck had happened? The circles in the center of his dark, almond-shaped eyes were as large as peas. Everything inside and outside his mind was still blurred, weird wonky. Blood trickled from his upper left thigh. He looked down at the V-shaped triangle seeping down his jeans and marveled that he felt no pain.
“Too fucking surreal,” he thought, as his chest thumped like a metronome on overdrive. Then he noticed a black, shiny piece of metal on the floor next to his boots. His foot jerked out lightning-fast and sent the gun sliding across the pinewood floor where it crashed against the brick fireplace. As soon as he’d kicked the gun away, his left thigh started to throb just above his knee.
He must be in shock. The sharp tang of blood assaulted his nostrils. Enough of this zombified crap, Sean thought. Get it together. He walked over and sat on a chair to assess his damages. If the intruder had weathered half a dozen skull thuds against the crapper, Sean decided had better stay sane.
He took the steak knife from the cutlery drawer. It slipped easily up his left jean pant leg, ripped the threads and revealed a long bloody gash, but no round, dark-red dimple anywhere in his flesh. Sean grabbed a clean dish towel, wrapped it, and tied it tight with some string from the steak drawer. He pulled on the fridge’s ice dispenser and caught some cubes in a coffee mug, wrapped the ice in another dish rag and plonked it on top of his wound.
His muscles seared and throbbed. They cried for a beer from the fridge. Or better, the half bottle of Johnny Walker hidden in the back of the breadbox. Shit, Sean recalled, he still had a bottle of bourbon hidden in the top kitchen cupboard.
He held his head in his hands and slumped down on the kitchen table. He started to laugh and cry.
“Jesus Christ,” he babbled to no one. “Call the cops, that’s what you do.”
Sean turned and reached for the cell phone in the back of his jeans pocket. Then he remembered a snippet somewhere among the images spinning around his shell-shocked brain that drowned out the thud-throb pain in his leg. The man had called him by name. How did he know him?
“Am I stoned?” he wondered.
It sure seems as if, he thought. One minute he was at the keyboard in his studio. Then some crazy fucker had come up from behind and Sean felt the barrel of a handgun poking into the back of his skull.
Now he was surveying the wreckage that fiasco left behind.
“Fuck me,” he said out loud.
He went over the last half an hour again and again. How the hell did the crazy bastard get inside? The cabin was snowed in. Outside, one of the worst blizzards in decades raged. Sean caught his breath. He struggled to recall details from the blurred playback loop where he danced for his life with a madman with a Joker’s grim who reeked of whiskey and his gun.
Sean had fought back like a badger. A Cajun Troika two-step tussle had landed them both at the bottom of the basement stairs. But then he was dragged back up the steps. At the top, Sean pulled the bull-moose head butt his brother taught him when he was 12 and both men lurched forward down the hall, collapsing just past the bathroom door.
His opponent stood up still, dazed, swaying back and forth just a bit. It looked as if he might keel over again. Sean reached out and shoved him in the gut. The bugger stumbled and fell backward into the bathroom.
Then Sean had heard the popcorn-pop of a gun and felt a searing pain in his shin. He’d lurched forward in an adrenaline rush until he found the gunman’s fleshy face in his hands. Then he’d rammed that fucked up head over and over, up and down against the toilet. The sick thud of the flesh and bone again the porcelain rim made him want to heave.
He sat, and it echoed over and over in his head.
Eventually, Sean had retreated to the hall outside the bathroom leaving the crazy-person lump slumped inside. Sean watched his leg bleed out on the pine floorboards. He prayed the man in the bathroom would not be resurrected for some time. Yet he did not want him dead.
Sean lifted his five-foot, 10-inch, wiry frame and hobbled over to the kitchen cupboard. He pulled out a small crowbar. Tool in hand, he scrabbled back to the bathroom door and shoved it through the outside door handle until the bathroom was wedged shut. He slid back down to the floor and leaned against the wall. He realized he was crying.
Outside the fierce winter wind crackled like ice and fire. Snowdrifts and a mountain of white enveloped the cabin.
He had no idea how much time had really passed. Ten minutes. An hour? More time passed before Sean caught sight of the gun gleaming red beside the fireplace. He walked over and picked it up. It felt cold and grim in his hand. Drops of red followed him, peppering the floorboards. Then he ped over to the side door. He opened it to throw the black metal weapon into the white blizzard. Cascades of wet white fell inward and landed in wet pools. He watched the red drops from his leg change from opaque crimson to pale red. When he finally went back to the kitchen, Sean realized the gun was still in his hand.
Do something dickhead, his rational mind ordered. You have to call the cops, he thought. But something specific about the blurry fight-dance still swirling through his shell-shocked brain stopped him. Then he got it. The face of the man now locked inside his bathroom was very, very familiar.
Who was he? Sean knew the man, he was certain.
He’d seen that face many times in pictures, and online. Now Sean was sure. The fucker who just attacked him was a ringer for a man whose face he’d seen scores of times and once in concert. Gareth Brand. Superstar.
Sean remembered something he’d read in the trade news a few days back. He grabbed the recycling bin and fished out the paper.
“Country Legend Gareth Brand reported in rehab,” the headline read.
“Brand’s staff was tight-lipped about the details of his sudden disappearance from his latest tour days earlier,” it began.
Sean hobbled over to his computer, booted it up and did a search.
Besides rehab, several online tabloids were speculating Brand was dead or in jail. Sean scanned through the music/fan blogs and realized how out of touch he’d been, locked away in the cabin for weeks, writing music. As far as he could tell, no one had seen Brand since a concert in Philadelphia weeks back.
No one until now, anyway. It was a sinking, scary feeling. Sometime soon Sean knew he had to find the guts to walk back into that bathroom and find out if he’d killed his idol.