You know, when a guy hits his fortieth, it's supposed to be a big deal. To be honest, until I woke up one morning staring my own in the face, I never really gave it much thought. I suppose most guys don't. We all like to pretend that we're going to live forever and milestones like the big four-o are a nasty little reminder to the contrary. So, the rest of the time, we do our best not to think about it, but when we do, we imagine something big and momentous. One of those life-changing days where we eat a lot of corn chips and get very drunk.
I never really pictured that for myself, but I never pictured this either. When a man rings in his fortieth, he doesn't expect to be doing it in a coffin suspended over a vat of acid.
I would've been fine with a cake. Maybe one shaped like a Swiss Army Knife. All things considered, it'd be kind of fitting. Not that Murdoc is the cake-baking type. He's many things, but Betty Crocker Junior isn't one of them. Betty never went in for arsenic as a garnish, and something tells me that my buddy Murdoc would.
"So, are you quite comfortable, MacGyver?" Murdoc asks, his voice silky soft in my ear. God, that's annoying. I squirm away from the speaker, but I'm in a coffin. There's not really anywhere to go except closer to the speaker on the other side. Murdoc's annoyingly thorough that way. "I trust that the handcuffs aren't too tight? One can never be sure about those things."
I look to my left. If I squint, I can make out the edge of the speaker. The black edge against white satin makes it a little easier. I close my eyes for a moment and I can see him in my mind. Smirking at the microphone and gloating. At the moment, he's got plenty of reason to be gloating. "Oh, I'm great," I say. "Never better, how about yourself? Everything okay out there or do you need a hand?"
Bringing up my handcuffed hands, I scratch my nose and squint again. It's pretty dark in here, so it's hard to see the lock. Which makes it even harder to figure out a way to pick it, but I'm working on that. As Murdoc's traps go, this one is pretty inventive, I have to say. Which is typical. For a psychopath, Murdoc's got flair.
He put me in here and he's expecting me to find a way out. The least I can do is rise to the occasion. I'll come up with something. Most guys may not be happy to see forty, but right now, I'm desperate to see forty-one.
"Oh yes," Murdoc says, happy as a clam. Good to know one of us is enjoying himself. "And thank you. I think I'd be very distressed if you were uncomfortable. We can't have an unhappy birthday boy, now can we?"
"Heaven forbid," I say. "Not after all the trouble you've gone through. Speaking of, just how much time do you have, Murdoc? These things just keep getting more elaborate." Seriously. We're verging on Taj Mahal territory here.
That's an analogy that I absolutely did not make, okay? Let's forget I even thought that one.
"A man must take pride in his work, MacGyver," Murdoc chides. "Particularly against an adversary as worthy as yourself. With your skill as an opponent, for me to do anything less would be an insult."
"Aww, gee, thanks, Murdoc, hearing you did all this for lil' ol' me? You really do know how to flatter a guy." That's the weird thing about this. In his own twisted way, this is flattery for Murdoc. You really have to know the guy to get it, but it is a compliment. "All this for me, I'm touched."
Which makes you wonder about his insults, doesn't it?
"Oh yes, absolutely," Murdoc says, whispering in my ear like a lover. "All this for you, dear MacGyver. After all that we've been through together, how could you expect any less of me?"
"You're right," I say. "I'm sorry, Murdoc, I have absolutely no idea what came over me." I shake my head. He is right. I really should have seen this coming. Okay, not this, but I should have seen something coming. Murdoc never passes up a chance to jerk my chain. Something like my fortieth would be irresistible to him.
Sighing, I shift position. I think my Swiss Army Knife is still in my pocket. Something is jabbing me in the thigh. To those of you having that particular thought right now? Shame on you, really.
I keep talking as I fumble around, trying to get to it. Murdoc expects me to bust out of here, but I shouldn't make it that easy on him. "So, I guess reminding you Pete's throwing me a surprise party tonight won't do any good?" Yeah, I know, Pete does that every other year, but the guy loves it. Who am I to rain on his parade? Besides, it's fun watching his face light up like that.
"Oh, no, I'm afraid it won't. By now, I'm sure that Peter is quite frantic. The problem for you is that he's miles away and on the wrong track. For the foreseeable future, I have you all to myself. Just imagine the possibilities, MacGyver; just imagine."
His voice lowers, dropping into a husky register that sends a shiver down my spine. It's something I refuse to analyze as I hear the faint thud that is my knife sliding out of my pocket. Sweet. Now the hard part. Anyone in the audience ever pick the lock on a pair of handcuffs using a Swiss Army Knife?
Damn. Well, I'll figure something out. Hopefully before the coffin hits the acid, but I work well under pressure so I'm hopeful. Mostly.
I'm trying to keep in mind that this is Murdoc. When it all comes down to it, Murdoc probably wants me to get out of here. He usually leaves me some way out, I just have to find it. I know how that sounds, a psychotic assassin actually hoping his prime target survives, but this is Murdoc. We've got a Batman and Joker thing going on. I'm reasonably sure that Murdoc would be bored to tears if I did actually die. I think that he's gotten a little attached over the years.
The sorry thing is, I think I have too. Outside of Pete and Jack, this is the longest lasting relationship I've had.
God, I'm really messed up, aren't I?
Wherever you are, Harry, stop laughing. I mean it, Harry. This isn't funny. You guys stop laughing too. I'm a man of forty, in serious peril, having an existential crisis.
Yes, I really am that messed up. Fortunately, I'm also pretty damn good. I know the jokes that get passed around the Phoenix Foundation water cooler. While I can't build a nuclear bomb out of chewing gum, an Energizer battery, and a paper clip, I've been known to pull off the odd miracle. Not that I'll need to part the red sea or anything here. I'm hoping to avoid any need to divert the acid.
"Really, MacGyver, have you ever given thought to what we might have been?"
"Can't say as I have, no," I say. It's not technically a lie. The odd, surprisingly detailed and vivid dream does not count as giving thought. Those dreams were purely involuntary, I can assure you.
At least, that's what I tell myself when I'm shoving come-stained sheets into the washer. Yeah, I know, I'm not a kid anymore, but we are not talking about this right now.
We are not.
"I have," Murdoc purrs. "We would have made quite the pair, you and I. With our respective skills, what we could do together..." He sighs and I swallow. I am not thinking about it, I am not thinking about it --
I'm thinking about it. I may need bleach.
"Making me an offer, Murdoc?"
"Would you accept if I did?" Murdoc asks. If I didn't know better, I'd say that was hope in his voice.
I hear the latch on the coffin lid click open and feel the lid give beneath my hands. "You know I couldn't," I say. For a moment, I'm actually kind of regretful. "Besides," I push the lid back all the way and sit up, "it would completely ruin our relationship."
"And we can't have that," Murdoc says.
Standing up, I grab two of the chains that hold my former prison. He's standing above me on a catwalk. There's a gun in his hands, but he's not pointing it at me. He just smiles.
I throw my body's weight into a forceful push, feeling the coffin swing beneath me. "No, we can't," I say. There's a smile on my face. "It'd spoil our fun."
Murdoc tips his head, nodding his agreement. He watches me swing, but makes no attempt to stop me when I gain enough momentum to jump clear. For a moment, I panic when my feet leave the coffin and I'm airborne.
You try jumping over a vat of acid, seeing it bubbling away beneath you, and not having a moment about it. It's no picnic, I can promise you.
I hit the floor, rolling into it, and come up to find the catwalk empty. A minute later, I hear the reason why as the sound of sirens fills the air.
The man always did know when to make an exit.