AT FIRST it was like someone had hit him in the chest with an invisible sledgehammer. Pain, oh yes, but mostly it was a powerful force that seemed to almost lift him up before driving him back, back, and over the edge of the fountain and into the water. There were screams, but they sounded like they were coming from far away.
He was lying in the cold water, a woman was shrieking, and he was looking up past the statue of the man on a horse—
(... the sculptures of the horses are thought to signify the world’s great rivers, and this one represents the Mississippi... )
—and into the nighttime sky.
He was so cold. Numb. Water was shooting everywhere, and still there was that shrieking woman. It was getting louder. Someone make her stop! Where is Perry?
So cold. Except for a growing fire in his chest. Had he thought it was a sledgehammer? No, it was a ball-peen hammer, one heated to a thousand degrees and then driven into his lungs and—
Abruptly, Perry came into view. There he is.... Perry was looking down at him with huge wide eyes and a face that was so incredibly white and (oh!) it was Perry who was screaming. Not a woman at all. Who would have thought that Perry—pompous ass that he was—could make a noise like that? Not even the pounding jets crashing over the fountain—
(... it’s called the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, but in fact it was originally named The Mackay Fountain....)
—could drown out that horrible screaming. He didn’t know how it was that Perry’s vocal cords didn’t just tear right out of their moorings.
He began to cough. Water was getting in his mouth.
I’m lying in the fountain, he thought. God. I should get up. They won’t like it that I’m in the fountain.
It was only then that he realized he must be sitting up already. His head was above the water, but he didn’t remember actually moving at all. Perry came into focus again, and now he was crying (God, stop, please stop) and his fingers were clenched in his expensive but ridiculous toupee. At least he wasn’t screaming anymore.
Better yet, he wasn’t talking.
(... the fountain was created in Paris by the French sculptor Henri-Léon Gréber in 1910...)
The pain was getting worse now, and when he looked down he saw that he was clutching at his chest and (oh, look!) there was red (blood! that’s blood) pouring through his fingers....
The world swam in and out of focus.
I’ve been shot, he thought dumbly. How? How did I get shot? And then he laughed at the irony of it all. Tried to laugh. God! He’d been standing there watching the water pound over the statues in the fountain, when finally he’d turned to Perry, trying to listen to the man go on and on and on and on—
(... but the fountain wasn’t truly finished, not the way we know it today, not dedicated to Kansas City until 1960....)
—and he’d been thinking, Oh God, just shoot me. Please. Somebody just shoot me.
Then the pain came blazing up and out and the world became an inferno of agony, and then Robert Daniels died.
ROBERT, Rob to his friends, opened his eyes a moment later, and he was lying in the grass. How did he get there? He was looking up into an evening sky, and there was a circle of faces looking down at him. He was surrounded by people, and for some reason they were all wearing costumes. What the hell?
“Help him somebody!” came a man’s voice, and Rob turned his head (the world swam for a second) and saw there was a young man kneeling on the ground next to him. He was wearing a pinstriped suit and a brown hat with a black band. It looked like something his grandpa used to wear. What’s with all the costumes? Rob thought. At least he’s cute. What pretty blue eyes. My God, I am such a fag. I’m lying here bleeding, and I’m still checking out guys.
Rob almost laughed but that hurt, and the world went away again. All black. Then he was coughing and, God, that hurt. He opened his eyes again.
“My goodness!” cried a woman who was wearing a most adorable hat. He knew there was a name for a hat like that, but he couldn’t think of it. It was all close to her head like a tiny helmet, with flowers on the side. She was saying something. What was she saying? “He’s... he’s alive!”
Oh, yes, he was alive, if he could wonder about lady’s hats. Although... God, the pain was coming back!
“Let me through,” came another voice, and a big burly man shoved people aside and then leaned over Rob. A cop. No. A man in a cop costume. No policeman would wear anything like that.
“We’ve got to get him to a hospital,” said the young man next to him.
“He’s been shot,” said the not-cop.
“Yes, he’s been shot, for God’s sake,” exclaimed his unnamed companion. “Do something!”
“Well, don’t cast a kitten,” the not-cop said with a grunt. He pointed at a man in the crowd. “You! Go call an ambulance. Go on! Get a wiggle on!”
“Jimmy, you hold on, you hear me?”
Rob looked up into the cutie’s face. He looked like he was about to cry. God, not another crier. He sure had pretty blue eyes, though.
“Please, Jimmy, don’t you die on me. Hold on!”
“Not Jimmy,” Rob said, or he tried to. He coughed, felt a wetness on his mouth. Touched it. Looked. Red. Blood. My blood.
The world went away again.
THE world came back and left several more times. At least he thought it did. He wasn’t sure, really. Dreams, maybe?
A strange truck-like vehicle with a red cross on its side....
Lying on a table? Moving down a corridor and looking up at the ceiling?
A man in a white coat and thick glasses.... A doctor?
A woman that looked like... like what? Some bizarre dream world’s version of a nurse?
a lot of pain.