“Any day now,” said Victor, trying to diffuse the tension. When Eli didn’t move, didn’t humor him with even a hollow smile, Victor reached over to the toilet, where his laptop rested on the closed lid. He opened a music program and clicked play, flooding the small tiled room with the heavy base of a rock song.
“You better turn that shit down when you’re searching for a pulse,” said Eli.
And then he closed his eyes. His lips were moving faintly, and even though his hands hung at his sides, Victor knew he was praying. It perplexed him, how someone about to play God could pray to Him, but it clearly didn’t bother his friend.
When Eli’s eyes floated open, Victor asked, “What did you say to Him?”
Eli lifted one bare foot to the rim of the bath, gazing down at the contents. “I put my life into His hands.”
“Well,” said Victor, earnestly, “let’s hope He gives it back.”
Eli nodded, and took a short breath—Victor imagined he could hear the faintest waver in it—before he climbed into the tub.
* * *
VICTOR perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.
Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twined together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped—almost hoped—that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.
Victor took another sip of his drink. Eli was a very unhealthy shade of whitish-blue.
It hadn’t taken as long as he’d expected. Eli had gone quiet several minutes ago. Victor had shut the music off, the heavy beat echoing in his head until he realized it was his heart. When he’d ventured a hand down into the ice bath to search for Eli’s own pulse—fighting back a gasp at the biting cold—there had been none. He’d chosen to wait a few more minutes, though, which is why he’d poured the drink. If Eli did manage to come back from this, he wouldn’t be able to accuse Victor of rushing.
When it became evident that the body in the bath wouldn’t somehow revive on its own, Victor set the drink aside, and got to work. Dragging Eli from the tub was the hardest part, since he was several inches taller than Victor, stiff, and submerged in a basin of ice water. After several attempts and a good deal of quiet cursing (Victor was naturally quiet, but even more so under pressure, which gave his peers the distinct impression he knew what he was doing, even when he didn’t), he tumbled back to the tiles, Eli’s body hitting the floor beside him with the sickening thud of dead weight. Victor shivered. He bypassed the EpiPens for the stack of blankets and warmers, remembering Eli’s instructions, and quickly toweled the body off. He then activated the warmers and placed them at the vital points: head, back of the neck, wrists, groin. This was the part of the plan that required luck and art. Victor had to decide at what point the body was warm enough to begin compressions. Too soon meant too cold and too cold meant the epinephrine would put too much stress on the heart and organs. Too late meant too long and too long meant a much greater chance of Eli being too dead to fix.
Victor snapped the bathroom’s heat lamp on, despite the fact that he was sweating, and grabbed the three pens from the counter—three was the limit, and he knew that if there was no cardiac response by the third pen, it was too late—and set them on the tiles beside him. He rearranged them, returned them to their straight lines, the small behavior giving him a sense of control while he waited. Every few moments, he checked Eli’s temperature, not with a thermometer, but against his own skin. They had realized during their walk-through that they didn’t own a thermometer, and Eli, in a rare display of impatience, had insisted on Victor using his judgment. It could have been a death knell, but Eli’s faith in Victor revolved around the fact that everyone at Lockland believed him to have an affinity for medicine, an effortless, nearly preternatural understanding of the human body (in truth, it was far from effortless, but Victor did have a knack for guessing). The body was a machine, only necessary pieces, every component at every level, from muscle and bone down to chemical and cell, operating on action and reaction. To Victor it just made sense.
When Eli felt warm enough, he began compressions. The flesh beneath his hands was coming up to temperature, making the body feel less like a Popsicle and more like a cadaver. He cringed as the ribs cracked beneath his tangled hands, but didn’t stop. He knew that if the ribs didn’t separate from the sternum, he wasn’t pushing hard or far enough to hit the heart. After several sets, he paused to grab the first pen, and jabbed it down into Eli’s leg.
One count, two count, three count.
He started pumping again, trying not to the think about the breaking ribs and the fact that Eli still looked thoroughly, undeniably dead. Victor’s arms burned and he resisted the urge to cast sideways glances at his cell phone, which had tumbled from his pocket in the struggle to extricate Eli from the tub. He closed his eyes, continued counting and pressing his intertwined fists up and down and up and down and up and down over Eli’s heart.
It wasn’t working.
Victor took up the second pen, and plunged it into Eli’s thigh.
One count, two count, three count.
For the first time, panic filled Victor’s mouth like bile. He swallowed, and resumed compressions. The only sounds in the room were his whispered counts and his pulse—his pulse, not Eli’s—and the odd sound of his hands trying desperately to restart his best friend’s heart.
Trying. And failing.
Victor began to lose hope. He was running out of chances, out of pens. There was only one left. His hand slid from Eli’s chest, shaking as his fingers curled around it. He raised the pen, and stopped. Beneath him, sprawled on the tiles, was the lifeless body of Eli Cardale. Eli, who showed up in the hallway sophomore year with a suitcase and a smile. Eli, who believed in God and had a monster inside just like Victor, but knew how to hide it better. Eli, who got away with everything, who had slipped into his life and stolen the girl and the top rank and the stupid holiday research grant. Eli, who, despite it all, meant something to Victor.
He swallowed, and drove the pen into his dead friend’s chest.
One count, two count, three count.
And then, somewhere between Victor giving up and reaching for his phone, Eli gasped.
TWO DAYS AGO
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
VICTOR heard the tread of barefoot steps behind him as Mitch came into the room. He saw the hulking figure in the reflective sheen of the windowpane, felt him the way he felt everyone, as if they were all under water, himself included, and every movement made ripples.
“You’re wandering,” said Mitch, meeting Victor’s gaze in the glass.