Chapter 3: Private Justice

“The burn on his back is permanent. We treated it with antibiotic ointment and bandaged it to protect it. He’ll need to wash it and bandage it twice a day, but allow it time to breathe to heal. He has a fractured rib, which will need time to heal on its own. The most severe of his injuries was the gunshot wound to his arm. The other concern is his face. The swelling will go down, but until he can get that left eye open, we won’t know the extent of the damage to his retina. We don’t anticipate there being any vision deficiencies.”

“I can see fine,” Keitaro said.

The doctor and the detective looked toward the hospital bed.

“Good morning, Keitaro. I’m Doctor Featherton.” The middle-aged doctor with reddish hair and glasses stood off to the left.

“I’m Detective Danillo.” The robust detective crossed his arms at the end of the bed.

From the guest chair on Keitaro’s right, Victor tilted his head back to show off the collar. “I’m still attached.”

Keitaro pushed himself up. All at once, pain overwhelmed and paralyzed him. He moaned and rested so the agony could subtly diminish. Trying to lean on his left hand to prop himself up made him remember the bullet that ripped through his bicep. He rocked to the left to sit straight, and the fractured rib thrashed through his entire torso.

“Easy now.” Doctor Featherton approached the bedside. “On a scale of one to ten—one being none and ten being the worst of your life—how much pain are you in?”

Having ten cotton balls shoved into his cheek and a five-pound eye patch over his left eye best described Keitaro’s physical discomfort. Add on top of that the excruciating, continuous pain of having moved every injured part of his body simultaneously and Keitaro reached, “Twelve.”

“Twelve?”

“Feels like Hiroshima in my head,” Keitaro said.

“Your painkillers should start kicking in any minute. You were just administered your scheduled dose about eight minutes ago.” Doctor Featherton removed the light from the wall. “All right. Follow the light for me.”

Keitaro did.

“That eye seems responsive and in-tact,” Doctor Featherton said.

The coarse fabric of the sling strap rubbed against Keitaro’s neck. He adjusted the strap more comfortably and heard jingling. Around his wrist he noticed the silver necromancer chain created a bracelet with a dangling link. He touched the single hanging link and the phantom chain manifested like a cord connecting him to Victor.

“Missing something?” Detective Danillo said.

Keitaro released the links and the phantom chain vanished.

“Missing a watch?” Detective Danillo said.

“Phone and car keys,” Keitaro said.

“Your phone and keys are there.” Detective Danillo pointed to the bedside table. “Can you tell me what happened to you last night?”

“I was mugged,” Keitaro said.

“So, Keitaro, you suffered several injuries in your mugging,” Doctor Featherton said. “Did you hear me tell the detective what those were?”

Keitaro nodded.

“Do you have any questions about what I’ve said?”

“Is there anything keeping me from being discharged?”

“Honestly, there’s nothing more the hospital can do as far as treatment,” Doctor Featherton said. “Your folder lists no emergency contacts or next of kin.”

“If I can stay until evening, that would be appreciated.”

“Of course. Nurse Margo will bring you an ice pack for the swelling on your face. Other than that, I’ll write you a prescription for pain, and you can be on your way when you’re ready.” Doctor Featherton snapped his folder closed, hugged it to his chest and nodded to the detective on his way out of the room.

Danillo rolled the stool to Keitaro’s bedside and took a seat. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re valuable enough for witness protection.”

Keitaro rested his head back on the pillow.

Danillo waved a slim folder. “You up to answering a few questions?”

Keitaro responded with silence.

“Not in any way are you a suspect or under arrest at this time. This questioning is to identify a suspect behind your…’mugging’. Do you understand that?” Danillo said.

Keitaro nodded once.

“Good. Now. You left work at approximately eleven fifteen last night, is that correct?”

Keitaro nodded again.

“That’s when the 9-1-1 call was placed. A co-worker of yours claimed you were shot and being jumped and then that you were being taken. Can you tell me about that?”

Keitaro stared absently at the detective.

“No? Nothing?”

“Danillo is good people. You should talk to him,” Victor said.

“I picked you up outside a nightclub called the 13th Hour. It’s owned by a man named Cobrador. You recognize him?” Danillo held up a picture of Cobra.

Keitaro blinked at the picture.

“What are you doing?” Victor said.

“What about him?” Danillo held up a glossy picture of Victor.

Keitaro remained unchanged.

“These guys?” Pictures of Thiago and Gunner. “Look familiar?”

“He’s trying to help you,” Victor said.

Danillo sighed. “Look, kid, I need a name. I need something more than suspicion. I can’t go after the guys that did this if you don’t give me something to work with.”

Keitaro sipped from the cup of water at his bedside.

“Okay, let’s go this way then.” Danillo flipped a file open. “Kim Keitaro. You’re twenty-eight with no priors, no tickets, no criminal record. You work at the Roquefort. You own a house in uptown Auburn. You’ve got money in savings. Quite a bit actually, and none of it’s been touched since you were kidnapped, so I’m betting this attack wasn’t money-related.” Danillo flipped the folder closed on his index finger. “So you wanna tell me what it was about?”

Keitaro noted Danillo’s features. Slicked back black hair. Deep-set eyes under a strong brow. A thick, black goatee spreading up his cheeks. Wrinkles in his forehead from that constant tough-guy-no-bullshit expression. A blank black tee. A delicate tattoo of a white daisy on his dark tan forearm. Washed up blue jeans with combat boots.

“What do you want? A lawyer?” Danillo said.

“No.”

“No? Okay, then you gotta talk to me. Why were they after you? Tell me or I go digging. I’ll dig deep enough to find your skeletons.”

“Tell him what we did to you.” Victor approached the end of the bed. “Tell him Cobra cursed you. Tell him Gunner shot you. Tell him Cobra killed me. Tell him something!”

Keitaro’s eyes met Victor’s compassionately.

“I’m betting that you’ve got a skill Cobra wanted. He branded you as part of his nest. Some sort of initiation. What is it he wanted you to do?”

“It sounds crazy.” Victor laughed. “That’s why you’re not telling him. Because what Cobra wanted sounds insane. He wanted you because you can see dead people, and he wanted you to control those dead people with this.” Victor pulled on the collar.

“Look, they know where you work,” Danillo said. “Chances are they know where you live, too. Cobra will come after you for one of two reasons: to reclaim you as his property, or to kill you for insulting his authority. Either way, you keeping your mouth shut isn’t keeping you safe.”

“Cobra cursed me, and he’s going to regret it,” Keitaro said.

“So you do know him.”

“Only his name.”

Danillo rocked his head back and stroked his goatee. “Oh, I see. This is about private justice. You were wronged and you alone are going to make it right. Take the law into your own hands, huh?”
Keitaro shunned the detective for being snide.

“Let me just put into perspective what you’re involved in here. Cobradorin Spanish means ‘debt collector,’ and everybody owes him. You know how he claims his debts? Merciless torture and inhumane death. We’re not talking about a punk kid who gets high and plays with guns to look important. We’re talking about an unpredictable, well-armed drug addict with a basket full of snakes. He plays the right tune, they rise and strike.”

Keitaro remained emotionally unaffected, which Danillo read as fearlessness.

“I won’t let you kill him,” Danillo said.

“I’m not a killer,” Keitaro said.

“So what’s your plan then? You just gonna stir shit up and run like you did last night?”

“I’m gonna use my skill to take down his empire.”

“And you’re not gonna tell me what that skill is, huh?”

Keitaro said nothing.

“Digging it is.” Danillo pulled a business card out of his jacket and handed it to Keitaro. “In case you find the words I’m looking for.”

Danillo swung the hospital door closed behind himself.

Copyright © 2022 Danny Raye. All Rights Reserved.

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