F.Paul Wilson

Fatal Error



Munir stood on the curb, facing Fifth Avenue with Central Park behind him. He unzipped his fly and tugged himself free. His reluctant member shriveled at the cold slap of the winter wind, as if shrinking from the sight of all these passing strangers.

At least he hoped they were strangers.

Please let no one who knows me pass by. Or, Allah forbid, a policeman.

He stretched its flabby length and urged his bladder to empty. That was what the madman had demanded of him, so that was what he had to do. He'd drunk two quarts of Gatorade in the past hour to ensure he'd be full to bursting, but he couldn't go. His sphincter was clamped shut as tightly as his jaw.

Off to his right the light at the corner turned red and the traffic slowed to a stop. A woman in a cab glanced at him through her window and started when she saw how he was exposing himself. Her lips tightened and she shook her head in disgust as she turned away. He could almost read her mind: A guy in a suit exposing himself on Fifth Avenue-the world's going to hell even faster than they say.

But it has become hell for me, Munir thought.

He saw her pull out a cell phone and punch in three numbers. That could only mean she was calling 911. But he had to stay and do this.

He closed his eyes to shut out the line of cars idling before him, tried to block out the tapping, scuffing footsteps of the shoppers and strollers on the sidewalk behind him as they hurried to and fro. But a child's voice broke through.

'Look, Mommy. What's that man-?'

'Don't look, honey,' said a woman's voice. 'It's just someone who's not right in the head.'

Tears became a pressure behind Munir's sealed eyelids. He bit back a sob of humiliation and tried to imagine himself in a private place, in his own bathroom, standing over the toilet. He forced himself to relax, and soon it came. As the warm liquid streamed out of him, the waiting sob burst free, propelled equally by shame and relief.

He did not have to shut off the flow. When he opened his eyes and saw the glistening, steaming puddle before him on the asphalt, saw the drivers and passengers and passersby staring, the stream dried up on its own.

I hope that is enough, he thought. Please let that be enough.

But he was not dealing with a sane man, and he had to please him. Please him or else…

He looked up and saw a young blond woman staring down at him from a third-floor window in a building across the street. Her repulsed expression mirrored his own feelings. Averting his eyes, he zipped up and fled down the sidewalk, all but tripping over his own feet as he ran.


'Gross,' Dawn said, turning away from the window to pace the consultation room. 'What is it with people?'

'Pardon?' Dr. Landsman looked up from where he sat behind his desk, scribbling in her chart. 'Did you say something?'

Dawn Pickering didn't want to talk about some creep peeing in the street, she wanted to talk about herself and her baby. She ran her hands over her swollen belly, bulging like a watermelon beneath her maternity top.

'Can't you… like… induce me or something?'

She'd been reading up on labor and delivery lately, and was so not looking forward to it. A cesarean would be totally better-knock her out and cut her open. She wouldn't feel a thing, but then she'd have a scar. Well, a scar was a small price to pay for simply waking up and having it all over.

Dr. Landsman shook his head. 'The baby's not ready yet.'

A balding, fiftyish guy, he'd just done a pelvic exam, followed by her umpteenth ultrasound. Then he'd left her and waited here in his office for her to dress and join him.

'Isn't the ultrasound supposed to give you a clue?'

'It is, and it says he's not ready yet. But it won't be long. Your cervix is soft. Your body's getting ready to deliver.'

'But I was totally due in January and here it is February.' She rubbed her cold hands together. 'Something's wrong. You can tell me.'

'Ten months is unusual, yes, but nothing's wrong.'

'Then why won't you ever let me see the ultrasounds?'

He did the scans himself instead of his tech, and never allowed anyone else in the room except Mr. Osala, her self-appointed guardian. The doctor had started giving her appointments on Mondays and Thursdays. Why? He had no office hours and no staff at all those days. Was that what he wanted? And during the ultrasounds, he always kept the monitor screen turned away from her. For some reason, he never seemed to tire of looking at her baby.

'You wouldn't understand what you were seeing.'

She resented that. She might be only eighteen-turning nineteen next month-but she was no dummy. She'd been accepted to Colgate and would be there right now if she hadn't screwed up her life.

'You could point things out to me.'

'The baby is fine. You feel him moving, don't you?'

'Like crazy.'

Some days she felt like she had a soccer camp inside her.

'Well then, I've told you he's a boy and you know he's healthy. What more do you need?'

'I need to see him.'

'I'm not sure I understand your eagerness to see a baby you're giving up for adoption upon delivery. A baby you tried to abort, if I remember correctly.'

She had nothing to say to that. She'd totally changed her mind about the abortion, but she was so not ready to raise a child-especially this child, considering who the father was. Someone else would give him a good home and raise him better than she ever could. No way she was ready for motherhood.

He pulled out an old-fashioned pocket watch and popped the lid.

'Your friend, Mister Osala, should be calling soon.'

'He's not my friend.'

'Well, he's very concerned about you and your baby.'

Maybe too concerned.

The design on the lid of his watch caught her eye. Following the lines made her eyes cross.

'That looks old.'

He smiled. 'It's been in the family for almost two hundred years.'

'What's that design? It's weird.'

'Hmm?' He glanced at it, then quickly pocketed it. 'Oh, that. Just a geometric curiosity.'

A phone rang. He dug out his cell and checked the display, then glanced up at her. 'It's him. Excuse me.'

'Sure.' She knew who it was. 'Don't forget to ask him how high.'

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