Bobby Sack grunted, reaching for the bucket by the side of the bed just in time to catch the foulness gushing from his mouth. He coughed like a geyser, trying hard not to puke on the bed again. His head hung weakly over the edge of the bed, his sweating face inches away from the sick. Even in his nauseated haze, that offended his sensibilities. Flashbacks to some of the worst he endured in the infantry, back in the Burmese jungle, and he realized he just couldn't take it anymore.
Peeling leeches the size of pencils off my legs was nothing compared to this, he thought. Time for it to be over. In his line of work, booze made for bad business.
Two dry heaves later, Bobby rolls over on his back, the bucket like a vile bell dangling from his fingers. He set it down gently so as not to spill it. The ground-down carpet was in bad shape, he considered, but adding the contents of his stomach to the filth would just be insult on injury. Bobby blinked slow, a lizard in the heat. His stomach cramped and he winced. The flies, goddamn flies, why they gotta be so loud? he thought.
Heat. The room reeked of hot sick and sweat. The ceiling fan was moving but the air was so thick the fan seemed like a joke. Bobby slapped at the bedside table, desperate for a smoke. The cellophane of the packet crackled like static, bringing a momentary recall of combat radios and call signs. "Fuck me," Bobby rasped up at the dusty plaster on the ceiling. One day to the next job, and he was a hot mess. He brought a cigarette up to his lips, hands trembling like palm fronds in rotor wash. He cursed as he singed the tip of his nose. It was a minor miracle that the damage wasn't worse.
Bobby looked at his hands. The shaking was worse, much worse, this time. The last job he had nearly ditched on because of the shakes. The voice started up in his head, another diatribe waiting to happen. Can't. Can't do it this time, either, the words tracking neon-like across his mind. But what choice do I have?
Outside in the street, a screech of tires followed by the brassy blare of horns. The sound wave pierced the thin wall of the cottage, driving a subzero spike of pain through Bobby's head. A wave of nausea wracked his body as he clutched his temples hard to keep himself from puking again. The throbbing nearly drowned out the argument going on. Bobby could not make out what they were fighting about; it sounded like Thai but his fluency was just enough for him to order a beer and politely turn down a hooker's come-on.
The trembling in his pain-wracked, wiry frame subsided. The noise faded away as the dispute seemed to be resolved. Bobby took another drag, coughed on the harshness of the Vietnamese tobacco, and slowly sat up. His feet bracketed the bucket. The surface of the vile liquid shimmered slightly under the influence of some small tremor Bobby couldn't feel.
Standing up slowly, he picked up the bucket, holding it gingerly as he padded slowly to the small closet under the steps that held a toilet and a sink. On the way there, his glance caught the glint of sunlight on the battered aluminum gun case he had set down beside the antique wicker cabinet holding the few clothes he kept. His steps faltered, briefly, and one hand reflexively grasped at his sunken belly.
Bobby shook his head to clear it. The bucket shook, a thick slopping sound rising to his ears. He started to cry and continued on to the toilet, emptying the bucket. Flushing the ancient bowl, he watched the foulness swirl away to nothing. The bucket he rinsed as best he could, in the sink, while he sobbed. He felt a dark kinship with the bucket, it not being lost on him that they were both battered, dirty vessels, never quite clean.
As he swabbed out the bucket with a dirty rag, Bobby told himself that maybe, just maybe, this could be the last job he ever had to do. And when he was done, he would never have the shakes again.