Excerpt from Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beat the Reaper

A Novel

by Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 320 pages
    Sep 2009, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt


So I'm on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me! Naturally there's a gun. He comes up behind me and sticks it into the base of my skull. It's cold, and it actually feels sort of good, in an acupressure kind of way. "Take it easy, Doc," he says.

Which explains that, at least. Even at five in the morning, I'm not the kind of guy you mug. I look like an Easter Island sculpture of a longshoreman. But the fuckhead can see the blue scrub pants under my overcoat, and the ventilated green plastic clogs, so he thinks I've got drugs and money on me. And maybe that I've taken some kind of oath not to kick his fuckhead ass for trying to mug me.

I barely have enough drugs and money to get me through the day. And the only oath I took, as I recall, was to first do no harm. I'm thinking we're past that point.

"Okay," I say, raising my hands.

The rat and the pigeon run away. Chickenshits.

I turn around, which rolls the gun off my skull and leaves my raised right hand above the fuckhead's arm. I wrap his elbow and jerk upwards, causing the ligaments to pop like champagne corks.

Let's take a moment to smell the rose known as the elbow.

The two bones of the forearm, the ulna and the radius, move independently of each other, and also rotate. You can see this by turning your hand from palm up, in which position the ulna and radius are parallel, to palm down, where they're crossed into an "X." [1] They therefore require a complicated anchoring system at the elbow, with the ligaments wrapping the various bone ends in spoolable and unspoolable ribbons that look like the tape on the handle of a tennis racket. It's a shame to tear these ligaments apart.

[1] And you can compare this to your lower leg, where the same setup is vestigial. The two bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, are locked in place. The outer one, the fibula, doesn't even support weight. In fact you can take most of it out - to use as a graft or whatever - and as long as you don't fuck up the ankle or the knee, it won't affect the patient's ability to walk.

But the fuckhead and I have a worse problem right now. Namely that while my right hand has been fucking up his elbow, my left, having somehow come into position by my right ear, is now hooking toward his throat in a knife-edge.

If it hits, it will crush the fragile rings of cartilage that keep his trachea open against the vacuum of breathing in. Next time he tries, his windpipe will clench shut like an anus, leaving him at ReaperTime minus maybe six minutes. Even if I ruin my Propulsatil pen trying to trache him.

So I beg and plead, and coax the trajectory of my hand upwards. Past the point where it's aiming for his chin, or even his mouth - which would have been disgusting - to where it's aiming for his nose.

Which caves in like wet clay. Wet clay with twigs in it. The fuckhead crashes to the pavement, unconscious.

I check to make sure I'm calm - I am, I'm just annoyed - before getting heavily to my knees down next to him. In this kind of work, as in every kind of work, probably, planning and composure are worth a lot more than speed.

Not that this particular situation requires much planning or composure. I roll the fuckhead onto his side so he won't choke to death, and bend the arm that isn't broken under his head to keep his face off the frozen sidewalk. Then I check to make sure he's still breathing. He is, in fact with a bubbly joie de vivre. Also the pulses at his wrists and ankles are reasonably strong.

So, as is usual in these situations, I imagine asking the Great One - Prof. Marmoset - whether I can leave now.

And, as is also usual in these situations, I imagine Prof. Marmoset saying No, and What would you do if he was your brother?

Copyright © 2009 by Josh Bazell. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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