Michael Rudder was out cold, hooked up to a battery of monitors, slumped in his hospital bed. A familiar, engaging face on the Montreal stage, Rudder didn't look good with a bullet lodged in his gut — one of four that sliced into him as he dined with friends at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai.
But, as the doctor described how he hoped to take the bullet out on Tuesday, Rudder suddenly came to cheerful life.
"Hey," he said, "you're Terry Milewski" — and he stuck out a limp, bandaged hand. And, boy, was he ready to talk.
A simple "what happened?" was all it took to unleash the story of a man who played dead to save his life — on the floor in a pool of blood next to the bodies of two American friends after attacks in the Indian city, which began on Wednesday and killed dozens.
"We heard gunshots and, the idiot that I am," said Rudder, "I went towards them thinking, what's that? The staff shushed me back and said, 'It’s just gangsters, sir, it’s not a problem, just go back to your table.' And there was my sorta fatal error, really, because I did go back to my table and I said, 'Apparently it's just some kinda gangster activity and it's no big deal.' Five minutes later, we were just ripped to shreds by bullets."
'They died in each other's arms'
Rudder came to India to learn about meditation. His American friends, a father and his 13-year-old daughter, were part of his study group.
"They're gone. They died in each other's arms as a matter of fact, right at the same table I was sitting at."
The bullets kept coming. Rudder described it cinematically.
"I found myself in a Bruce Willis Die Hard moment," he said, "where my arm — had a lovely white shirt on — and it just exploded into red. And, while I was taking that in, I got a bullet in my leg. So I quickly got myself on the floor to get a bullet in the butt as I was going down — and then another bullet, still another bullet grazed my head. So I just laid there in utter shock."
But Rudder had learned something from the movies.
"My intention, once the bullets started flying, was to pretend, as I've learned from so many Second World War movies, that I was dead."
And playing dead worked — up to the point where it might have been fatal. That point arrived when the gunmen threw grenades and fire filled the room with smoke. Now, Rudder had a choice: suffocate or run.
"If I would've sat there and said, 'Oh, I don't feel well, I don’t think I’ll get up from the floor and watch the smoke come in and suffocate me,' I think I would've been kind of an idiot."
Instead, Rudder made his move.
"To tell you the truth, I followed the bloodstains," he said.
He followed a trail of blood left by other fleeing victims, and somehow staggered out through a kitchen door onto the street where, yes, he grabbed a taxi to the hospital.
"I just crawled out and got down to the service exit off the kitchen, walked out into the street, which was cordoned off, and one of those wonderful yellow-and-black cabs came roaring out of nowhere, bundled me into it. They zoomed us over here to the Bombay Hospital."
Wants to be home for Christmas
It's a first-rate hospital. Rudder seemed almost jovial as he joked about all the attention he's getting.
"I’m an actor. Apparently, they're showing clips of my work on TV." Then, he turned to the CBC camera filming him for the interview. "So — get me work!"
He won't be working for a while, though. In the meantime, he is philosophical about what happened.
"I think it’s awful that all these people are dead, I lost two very good, beautiful people, but as we all know, you can walk out on the street in the morning and get clipped by a bus. Really, it's just tragic, but really, I think we're due to see more of this before we see less of it."
And he kept returning to the movies.
"I've shot those movies where the guy runs through a hail of bullets — but to actually run through a hail of bullets is close to acting but nothing like it, you know."
Still, he calls himself "lucky." Once the doctors pull that bullet out, he'll face a long recovery. But there was a hint of a song in his voice when he insisted, "I'll be home for Christmas."