It was in downtown Washington, blocks from the White House. Nearby was a cellar bar called the Hung Jury, a dingy place I had entered once or twice to celebrate minor promotions. There was an alcove in the alley big enough for a large cardboard box and there I would find shelter when the time came to be irrevocably on my own. I knew this eventuality would come to pass, had no doubt about my future as a homeless drunk. Strangely, there was a degree of peace to this certainty, as there is whenever one reaches the acceptance that things really are hopeless, that no miracle will save the sinner. We are all, I thought at the time, on a predestined path, and that I had found mine relatively early was a blessing of sorts. This was more than two decades ago.
Colin peered at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, raised an arm, smashed the glass. It exploded around his fist, bright shards showered the floor tiles, broke again and scattered. He held his hand up, saw glass splinters embedded in his knuckles, felt no pain. He watched drops of blood form there, turn into rivulets that pooled between his fingers and ran down to his wrist and forearm.
He stood there for a very long time and the blood fell to the floor, no more than a trickle of dirty red between his shoes. He imagined the blood flowing out of his friend’s body and wondered if it was the exact same color. He turned on the cold water tap, ran his hand beneath it until it regained sensation, a vague indistinct pain that failed to focus his anger.
The phone rang and Colin walked to the living room, picked it up without thinking. He heard Mamadou’s rich West African voice. “Colin? Are you all right?”
Colin shook his head.
“Colin? Are you there?”
Colin nodded twice, whispered, “Yes.”
“There’s something you should know, something I didn’t have time to tell you before. When we were in the Zulu’s house...”
Colin cut him off. “No. There’s something you should know.” He sat, switched hands on the phone, felt sticky liquid across his palm. “When we left him, Joe was alive. You forced us to leave and we could have saved him. One or two more minutes and--”
Mamadou’s voice hardened. “We didn’t have one or two more minutes.”
“That’s not true. We’ll never know that.”
“The police took its time coming. You counted on that, factored it in. We could have taken him to a hospital.”
“And said what, Colin? Explained it how?”
Colin felt a weight against the back of his eyes. “I don’t know. It wouldn’t have mattered.”
“Upset?” The word struck Colin as ridiculous. He felt the relief of anger sweep him, sensed the flight of reason. He said, “We’re murderers.” And hung up.