Dressed in slacks instead of his customary jeans and with a dress shirt open at the throat, Gary slid into the McGinty’s booth across from Marissa and placed his paper on the table between them.
“Hey, Marissa,” he greeted her in a cheerful glad-to-see-you manner.
“Good morning, Gary. It sounds like you had a decent night’s sleep.” Marissa was usually cheerful and it was hard to catch her on an off day. “What’s in your plan today? The paper doesn’t come in Braille…yet…or I could tell you instead of asking.”
Gary gave her a killer smile that she could only ‘see’ in the sound of his voice and the vibes of his presence. He began quoting headlines that announced things he had no intention to change such as city, county, and state political agendas. Then he got to the “Child Killed Chasing Ball,” “Woman Assaulted in Park,” and “Woman Injured as Thief Snatches Purse.”
After a moment, “That’s all?” Marissa sounded surprised. “That sounds, to me, like an easy day for you.”
When Gary hesitated, she added, “What’s bothering you?”
“Well, there is an article telling of a man’s body being found in the lagoon at Humboldt Park.”
Marissa didn’t understand why he would be disturbed by someone’s watery death. And she asked, “You prevent things like that all the time, surely you can keep it from taking place, can’t you? Did he drown?”
“I don’t know if he drowned or not,” he began, “but they believe he was in the lagoon for about two weeks and had decomposed some. Evidently his body had been wedged beneath some debris. It was discovered as the parks maintenance people were doing the annual dredging and cleanout of weeds.”
“They don’t even know who he was. There’s no way I can prevent that.” He rubbed his face at the frustration of the thought that some lives are saves and some, like this one, he hears about too late to do anything about. “What’s with this paper anyhow?” he grumbled. “Why mention it so late or at all if there’s no way to help this poor guy?”
Marissa started, “You know the paper, Gary…”
He interrupted, “No, Marissa, that’s where you’re wrong. I don’t ‘know’ the paper. I don’t know the cat either, but they’re as much ‘mine’ as I am theirs. I don’t know why the stupid cat put up a fuss and squall with this new item. The guy was already dead!” Marissa allowed him to vent and he went on, “The article should have said, ‘Man drowns at Humboldt Park Lagoon around 6 pm (or whatever time) tonight.’ That I could have done something about!” He stopped his ranting and just sat in a brooding silence, looking at the item in tomorrow’s Sun-Times, as if it would change by his willing it to.
Marissa had waited for him to finish or at least to slow down before she commented, “Things seem to happen disastrously only to prevent or to tie them in to a worse, more avoidable, disaster. You know that sometimes you just have to wait and see how they connect to something more current,” she paused in her pep talk, “Have a little faith, Gary, I’m sure the answer will come.”
He shuddered with that ‘have faith’ phrase. How did she always seem to work the encouragement to have faith into every conversation? He didn’t have time to stop and have faith, he was busy acting to prevent ‘fate’ from tragically altering, or ending, someone’s life.
“Did it ever occur to you,” he took a breath and took a scant second to consider how his business partner would take his next words, “that I don’t want philosophy with my saves? I don’t want to stop and think about the impact of these saves except on the persons directly affected.”
Almost under her breath, Marissa asked, “And how do you separate directly and indirectly when lives are what you are dealing in?”
Silence. Knowing he should not have raved on, he repented, “I know, I know, you’re right.” He stood up and affectionately touched her hand. “Gotta go. See you at lunch or at least by six, depending on how the ‘errands’ go. Thanks for the ‘session.’ You’re gonna be a great psychologist.” Off he went.
‘Not bad, not bad at all,’ Gary thought as he scanned the paper. “Woman Injured as Thief Snatches Purse.” This was the only item needing attention that remained left undone for the day. There hadn’t been an awful lot of life-altering catastrophes and Gary was unharried as he continued down Cumberland Avenue on the way to the bus depot.
Mrs. Ellen Thatcher, 61, was boarding the St. Louis-bound bus when her purse was violently pulled from her shoulder. The incident occurred as she was stepping up into the bus. The woman was pulled off balance and fell to the sidewalk resulting in injuries requiring treatment. The thief disappeared into the crowd. Witnesses were unaware of the emergency until it was over. No suspects have been detained.
The article specified the time of the attack as shortly after 5 pm. ‘What time was it now?’ He only had another block and half to go and had plenty of time. If he had tried to use public transportation at this hour of day it would have been more than a close call, that is, if he made it at all! He could see the building now. No problem. He would be home by six, easy!
Entering the depot, he was confronted by a sea of commuters and travelers, all intent on using this evening to leave Chicago as fast as possible. Their noise made an unchanging din.
The arrival/departure board gave him the location for the St. Louis destination. There, he found the area mobbed with those determined to leave town. What a mob scene! Not quite shoulder to shoulder, but close. As he worked his way through to the front of the now-loading bus, he tried to visually search for the possible villain. Was it the skinhead teenager, looking so nervous? How about the two suit-clad men who seemed to be searching the crowd for someone and were so in need of a shave? For that matter, it could have been a female.
Finding the attacker or attackers seemed futile until they attempted the crime and that might be too late, so he tried to concentrate on identifying the potential victim. Gary rubbed his hand across the back of his neck nervously as he glanced around. Someone 61. Gray hair? Or dyed? Conventional dress? Or contemporary? Alone? The paper didn’t cover these particulars.
In the midst of his considerations he saw the person he was sure was the victim-to-be. She was just stepping up into the door well; her purse strap draped over one shoulder, when a baseball-capped older teen suddenly made a move toward her. Just that fast, Gary intruded himself behind the woman and onto the lowest step of the bus, shielding her and her purse with his own body. The aspiring thief had nothing to do but turn away abruptly and mingle again with the crowd.
“Either get in the bus or get off!” the impatient voice of the next passenger was heard. Someone behind him also piped up with, “We’ve been in line, buddy, where’ve you been?”
Before he could be lynched, Gary retreated and mumbled something to the effect of “Sorry, I was looking for someone.” No thank yous were necessary with this save. In fact, Gary was happy that no one was even the wiser to the threatened crime.
Off to the side of the depot building the two suited, badly shaven men were conferring. “Ya know, it doesn’t make it easier to find someone when the choices are this wide. We need a particular type to pick out and we’ve got hundreds of people crowded around.” He added, “How picky do we have to be with this one?”
His partner, too, was overwhelmed with their choices of candidates. “The order is very specific in this find and urgent,” he said as he consulted an index card from his pocket. “The guy has to be Caucasian, somewhere around 30, slim build, and around six feet tall.”
Sarcastically, his partner, Jay, asked, “What, they didn’t specify hair color, eye color, and shoe size?”
His cohort, whom Jay only knew by his initials, “DC,” answered, “I guess hair and eye color are able to be changed if necessary. Don’t be the wise guy about the shoes. He won’t be wearing any where he is destined.” They both laughed at the inside joke.
“Hold it,” suit number one whispered, “Check out the guy at the front of that bus loading at lane 23.”
Jay scanned the crowd. The subject had just stepped back off the bus and actually was working his way towards them. “I can’t tell his height too well, but he’s taller than most of this crowd.” His enthusiasm was beginning to show and he began to fidget with something in his jacket pocket. Maybe this was going to be easier than they thought. The other requirements seemed to be filled. The closer he got, the more encouraged they became.
Gary made his way through the travelers to the wall of the depot. Out of the way of the passengers-to-be, he stood next to the two suited travelers he had considered earlier as possible perpetrators. Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out the paper and began to check the headlines. Page one, nope; page two, nope; on and on with no more saves today.
Just as Gary’s face began to show a relaxed smile of being pleased with himself he felt one of the men bump solidly into him. He turned to face the man when his partner moved in front of Gary and purposely shouldered him backwards into the wall. At the same time he felt a piercing pain in his right bicep that sent shivers up his neck. His hold on the paper released, sending it to the already trash-littered floor of the depot.
“Hey!” he yelped and instinctively jerked. Looking down at his arm he was shocked to see a syringe being withdrawn from his sleeve. “What the hell are you doing? He moved his eyes upward towards the eyes of the man who was holding the needle. Aghast with the possible significance of this assault, he tried to push away from the pair, but there was nowhere to retreat. His back was against the wall, held there by the bulk of his assailants.
At that point, the two men took a stance on either side of him. Each took hold of an arm and proceeded to move him through the crowd. He struggled, but their hold was solid and he found himself walking along, like it or not. “Hey,” he protested again, “let go!” He tried again to pull away from them.
“We DO have a weapon,” number two calmly asserted as he patted the place where, presumably, it was concealed. “Do we need to show it to you? Now walk!” he growled.
Suit number one said quietly, “Just be calm and you’ll be fine. We’re not gonna hurt you,” he lied without flinching. There was no reason to care whether he was believed or not.
“What? What? Wait!” Gary tried to yell, but his words were lost in the noise of the crowd. His head was picking up a ‘buzz’ as whatever they had injected him with had started to take effect. His arms were next to be affected. The drug rendered them useless.
They kept moving him along through the crowd. He wanted to stop. He wanted to pull away, but they just kept the motion going. By now, if they had released his arms, he would probably have been on the ground. He was conscious, but unable to resist or to have any control of his muscles.
‘What was going on? Why were these men, seemingly, kidnapping him?’ He found humor in thinking how disappointed they were going to be when a ransom was demanded. ‘Boy, did they have the wrong person.’
His thoughts were going in all directions, unable to focus on any one of the thoughts bombarding his brain, nor was he able to coordinate his movements on his own. And, worse, he was losing the ability to care what was happening. The noise of the busy depot was just a drone now, no more than a distant humming.
No one questioned that these two men were literally herding the third man along. In the entire crowd there wasn’t one person stepping forward to question that one of this trio was obviously not in control of his own actions, that he was virtually a prisoner. Gary would have, certainly, wouldn’t he? It wasn’t a fair question since Gary received the paper each morning. He would have known that something needed to be done.
As they left the building Gary’s head began to droop and they had to all but carry him along. Their van was waiting in the loading zone and they headed towards it with their ‘package.’
“This guy’s getting to be a dead weight,” one of his ‘keepers’ complained. “We should’ve chosen someone closer to the van.”
“Do you ever do anything but gripe?” suit number two asked, totally losing his patience. “This guy was made to order.” He unlocked the rear doors of the van and, together, they forcibly threw their prisoner into the back onto a pile of moving van mats that sent up a cloud of dust as he landed. They closed the doors with a hurried slam.
Gary was no threat to them now and needed no restraints. In fact, as he lay there in his no-quite-unconscious state, he wasn’t so sure he had the strength to lift his head clear of the smothering mats in order to breathe.
The ride was bumpy and filled with short stops and starts; and more than a few turns. It all contributed towards causing Gary’s head to spin wildly and his stomach to churn.
Closing his eyes did little to help his growing queasiness. One more turn and…and suddenly he had to garner what little strength he could in order to lean over the edge of the mats just before his lunch decided to rebel and make its exit. “Oh man, oh man,” he groaned as he fell back on the mats again. “This is not a good thing. God, please…help me,” he was pleading in his misery.
Two more attempts to upchuck whatever remained resulted in dry, painful experiences giving no relief to this merry-go-round his insides were riding. Weak and panting, he laid back begging things to just settle down, which they finally did when he lost consciousness.
The ride gave the appearance of going on forever, then ended abruptly after a couple of very sharp turns. Dusk was signaling the closing in of darkness as they pulled up a ramp at the rear of a three-story office-like structure. When the van door was opened, the two captors reached in, each grabbing a leg as they manhandled Gary to the opening. “Whoa, what died in here?” suit number two asked…no one in particular. “What did he have to do that for? How are we ever gonna get that smell out?” They used less than gentle tactics to pull the unconscious young man to a sitting position in order to get a better hold on him.
Jay entered through the double glass doors of the building and returned pushing a wheelchair to the van. The next step was to unceremoniously dump Gary into it. A strap secured his chest to the chair and he was wheeled into the building into an emergency room-type curtained alcove. Stark, with the barest of furnishings, it appeared to have been seldom used.
A pair of orderlies moved him to an examination table and removed his clothes. After dressing him in a standard hospital gown, they strapped him securely to the table and left him alone.
Shortly afterward two other men entered the area. They checked his vital signs, removed the straps and rolled him onto his side. One of them held him while the other one took a small scalpel and carefully made a three-inch incision at the back of Gary’s neck. It began a bleeding response, which elicited a groan from the patient. Gauze was applied and taped to the wound. The patient was again placed on his back. A splint was applied to his right arm and another one to his left leg. With that completed, the straps were reapplied. The patient was now truly a patient and he was left alone once again.
Consciousness returned slowly and his first awareness began with a fierce chilling followed by a pain in his neck equally as fierce. He was cold, from his toes to his ears, cold to the point of shivering. ‘What’s happened?’ he thought, confused and irritated, ‘I must have kicked the quilt off during the night.’ He tried to reach to grab the edge of the coverings and experienced the next shot of awareness. He wasn’t ready to open his eyes just yet. Something heavy was laying on his chest and arms. ‘The cat. It must be the damned cat.’ He tried to turn to dislodge the cat from his chest. “Getting’ a little heavy, Cat.” He murmured in his foggy state. “Now get off, I’m cold.”
Since the cat still did not move, he opened his eyes just a slit to see what kind of mood Cat was adopting to bug him. Just a slit to begin with, but his eyes widened in shock when he realized that he was not in his bed. This was definitely not his loft.!
‘Whaaat?’ As soon as his mind formed the question, he instinctively put the surroundings together with the label, hospital. ‘A hospital? A hospital? What happened?’ He had no memory of an accident. No memory of an assault…wait a minute. There was a save, the bus depot, the crowd, success, two men…Hey!’ Memory of the abduction came back to him in a revealing flash.
He attempted to roll off the table to stand, but found the ‘cat’ was actually a wide leather strap constricting movement of his upper body. Across his legs was another restraint of some sort. He silently observed, ‘No wonder I’m cold. You could hang meat in this place.’
“Hey!” He called again, louder. “Hey! Anyone! Can anyone hear me?” Listening, he heard nothing…no people, no monitoring equipment, no telephones ringing. He’d been in emergency rooms before and what was missing in this one was the noise, the chaotic activity…medical personnel, for Pete’s sake!! He asked himself then, ‘What is this, another prize-winning nightmare to add to my collection?’ Frustrated with his helplessness, Gary closed his eyes, vacillating between his anger and his fear of the situation.
Upstairs, the hospital administrator, Dr. Alfred Petersen, was speaking with his two floor supervisors. One of the men was asking what the course of action was to be regarding this new ‘patient.’
“I want our new Mr. Gordan kept somewhat sedated for a couple of days. To ease his curiosity about his situation, he will be told that he was involved in an accident. That’s the story for him. Hospital personnel will be instructed neither to ask nor to answer questions in his regard, not with the patient, not amongst themselves, not with anyone!”
He looked them in the eyes for emphasis, “I believe they already know that that is the policy.” Then, turning towards his desk, he added, “Our discussion with him will be to tell him that the van, in which he was a passenger, had an unfortunate accident, killing the two in the front seats and injuring him. This story should be upheld by his apparently broken right arm and left leg. In addition, he will have a superficial cut to explain his confused state.
Back in the emergency cubicle, Gary heard what sounded like an elevator door opening and closing. Footsteps of more than one person were coming closer. Again he called out, “Hey! Somebody! Please!”
Three men in almost knee-length white coats surrounded his gurney. They looked at him critically as if he was a problem to solve. From then on, the only communication between them that was addressed to him came from the tallest of the three, who seemed to possess an aura of command, “Good evening, Mr. Gordan. We’re going to help you.”
After that, all conversation was between the three only, discussing the course of action for Gary’s ‘broken bones.’
“X-Rays are showing a hairline fracture of the right radius and a more serious fracture of the left femur. The femur will require sedation to treat and, probably, traction. The cut at the back of his neck will require some stitches. That’s about it.”
“What hospital am I in?” the patient asked in an attempt to get some conversation going. To this query, Gary received only silence. “What happened?” Again his answer was silence…as if he had not been heard. “Have you notified my friends? Oh, and my name is not ‘Gordan.’ If you check my wallet you’ll see that it’s Hobson. Hobson.” He repeated himself, but it was as if they were all deaf. There was something clearly wrong here, but…what?
After giving the inquisitive accident victim the barest look of acknowledgement, the doctor clapped his hands together in a gesture not unlike the one a Vegas-type dealer uses upon shift changes. “I’ll leave you two to get on with it.” And he left.
“Wai…wai…wai…wait. Please, I…I need some, some answers!”
The doctor could be heard humming as he walked down the hallway towards the elevator. Obvious to everyone was the fact that the conversation was over.
An increasingly nervous and agitated Gary watched closely as one of the remaining men walked over to a side table and began fiddling with some equipment, which looked suspiciously like a syringe being prepared. Being all too aware of the implications of syringes, Gary began a panicked appeal, “Please, I know you have to…to…to do whatever it is you…you have to do, but, but, please, tell me wha…wha…what happened.” He added, “Do you really need to use an injection? I am not against taking pills, ya know. And…can you please re…re…remove these straps? Why am I, ah, tied down anyway? With broken bones, I…I’m not likely to…to run away, now, am I?” It was curious that he felt no pain in his arm or leg, but his neck was burning with pain.
Rule number one: the one thing necessary in order to have a proper conversation is to have at least one person talking other than yourself. These men were definitely not paying attention to the rules of the ‘game.’
He decided to try a calmer, quieter approach next, “Please listen to me,” he pleaded “You have me down as…as the wrong person. I’m not this…this Gordan person. The…the name is Hobson.” His volume was increasing in the opposite ratio to their inattention, “It’s Hobson!” My friends will not know where to find me or what’s happened to me!”
The shortest of the attendants finished filling the syringe and brought it over to their reluctant patient who was almost babbling by now. “Don’t…don’t do this. Don’t do this. Wai…wai…wai…wait! I’m not who you think I am. Please wait!” When the contents of the needle were injected and emptied into his arm, the effect was almost immediate. His body started to lose its tension. There was no need to plead now. The deed was done and he had only to go with it. His muscles relaxed and his mind floated away into oblivion. There was no more noise, no more people in white coats, and no more needles. Nothing.
Upstairs, in the conference room, one of the men asked the tall one, Doctor Petersen, “How do you want this one handled, Doc?”
Without much hesitation, he answered, “I’ve already discussed this with the floor supervisors: he’ll be kept pretty much sedated for the first couple days while we drill into him the details of the accident, how he came to be taken here, the extent of his injuries, and whatever else we want him to know. He’ll be pretty manageable with the broken bones. They’re not really broken of course, but with a cast and traction on one leg and a cast on an opposite arm, he won’t question it. Dave gave him a small cut on the back of his head too, to help the illusion along.
“The more permanent solution will be waiting until we obtain the new supplies and our surgeon gets back from his trip. We couldn’t foresee our previous ‘guest’ dying and the need to get a replacement this soon.”
He added as a final touch, “We can’t afford to have unidentified bodies showing up in the lakes, dumpsters and so on every couple weeks. This one, hopefully, has a degree of health to keep him going. The last one those two produced was sick to begin with. Even the new nurses couldn’t help but have questions about how Gordan got so sick in the hospital. It’s a good thing the trustees didn’t get a look at him.
“Frank, check my book and see when the Gordan trustee will be doing his annual visitation. I think it’s due next week sometime.”
The shorter man left and returned a few minutes later confirming that the following Tuesday was the scheduled day. Making the mistake of thinking, Frank asked, “What happens when the trustee wants to see ‘Gordan’ and we show him covered in casts and bandages? How do we get by that one? He fell out of bed?” Frank was the only one finding any humor in that thought.
“Come on, Frank,” Doctor Petersen pleaded in a patronizing voice, “the broken bones are not really broken. Get it? We just need to remove the casts…and the bandages too. He can be ‘sleeping’ and we just put them back on before we bring him out of it.”
His attitude of certainty gave them confidence that the plan was without flaw. After all, this was not the first time that they did this and they made it through many such ‘visitations.’ The inspectors didn’t know the patients whose funds they controlled and the hospital staff saw to it that those patients who might get chummy or ask questions were completely sedated at that critical moment. Visitations, being once a year for each patient, were not much of a worry to the Santo Angelo Hospital administrators.
When it was apparent to the doctor that all the subjects were covered he wrote the instructions down and ordered the cast materials to be made ready.
Chuck wandered into McGinty’s office and asked as he saw Marissa at Gary’s desk, “Hey, Marissa, have you seen Gary tonight?”
A serious look on Marissa’s face emphasized her state of worry when she answered, “He was here this morning and said he had an easy day. The last save was supposed to be around five today.” She felt for her Braille wristwatch. “He said that he would be back, at the latest, by six! Chuck, it’s almost ten and there’s still no sign of him.”
“You know Gary, Marissa. He may have had a headline change, or, maybe, just maybe, our boy met someone, remembered he was a single man, and let the time fly by. You know…”
If Marissa had her sight she could have seen the mischievous leer in Chuck’s eyes. As it was, her ‘inner vision’ was pretty accurate and she gave him a dirty look, “Right, Chuck. You’re kidding about something that is of a real concern to me.”
Properly abashed, Chuck stood up and headed towards the steps leading to the loft with a goodbye shot, “I’ll check his loft. With any luck he may have gotten back and sneaked up there for a nap.” Under his breath he added, “And I may be able to liberate the sports section if he is napping.”
“Chuck!” Marissa scolded.
He knew what she meant—and added, “Awww, nuts!”
Consciousness returned with bright lights coming right through, it seemed, his eyelids. Blinking against this brightness, he looked around his surroundings curiously.
‘Hospital room,’ he answered his own unasked question. ‘Why?’ The last thing he remembered was McGinty’s…this morning? No, he left there and did a couple saves. A couple saves…yes, the last one was at the bus depot. Two guys… Suddenly the memories became more vivid. ‘Kidnapped! Kidnapped? What happened?’
This brought him to his present position at some hospital. His head was slightly elevated so he could see his left leg encased in a plaster cast—ankle to hip apparently—with wires coming from the ceiling and a traction device attached to it. From the heavy stiffness of his right arm, he acknowledged that it was also sporting a cast.
Reaching up to rub his forehead in an attempt to ease his throbbing head, he encountered…bandages? An accident? Why didn’t he remember being involved in an accident?
He pushed the call button for a nurse.
“Yes. This is the nurse’s station. Can I help you?” a disembodied, but friendly-sounding voice asked.
All Gary could do was croak out a “I could use a little help, please.”
Again the voice came through the speaker, “Someone’ll be there in a minute, Mr. Gordan.” ‘And what was that ‘Mr. Gordan’ business?’ He thought he had cleared that up.
What was there to do, but lie back and visually investigate his surroundings? Doing so he spied a TV in the corner of the room. At least he could turn on the news he thought to himself, but where the heck is the remote? Of course…a TV in a hospital and no remote control to render the TV usable. Gary chalked it up to just another source of irritation in this altogether aggravating situation.
Had they notified Marissa…or Chuck…or his parents? If they had, he could expect one or more of them to come barging in at any moment. He dreaded that. He would be forced to listen to endless lectures about his carelessness and the chances he takes. He didn’t have just a mother and father to put up with, he had any number of people, all acting as though they were his parents. ‘Wait,’ he thought as reality dawned, ‘it’s not likely anyone was notified since they still referred to me as Mr. Gordan. If anyone did show up for Mr. Gordan, it’s not likely that I could recognize them. What a night!’
That nurse’s ‘minute’ must have been by Hawaiian time. It had already been longer than ten minutes and no one had yet appeared. Maybe he could call McGinty’s and see what was happening. Maybe he could convince someone there to come get him. As soon as he had the thought, he discounted it. With his leg in traction, there was not much of a chance getting out of here tonight.
The phone! He should have thought of that first off. He could call someone to come over and straighten this mess out. After much painful maneuvering, Gary was finally able to pull on the cord and reel in the phone. It wasn’t easy to handle the phone and punch in the numbers with one arm in a cast, his right hand at that. He called McGinty’s first. Busy!
He dialed his loft. Busy! Who was there to be using his phone at this time of night?
He called everyone he knew whose number he could remember. Busy! Even Chuck’s cell phone pulsed with a busy signal!. What? Was everyone talking to everyone else?
In truth, Gary had o way of knowing that his telephone was wired into the hospital’s system in such a way that he was actually dialing his own room’s phone number. No matter what he entered on the keypad, he would always get a busy signal. All of the hospital’s rooms provided the same ‘benefit’ for their guests.
Giving up on the phone attempt, Gary laid back on the pillow, trying to collect his thoughts. He must have dozed off because he became aware of waking up to someone adjusting a blood pressure cuff on his arm. As he opened his mouth to speak, Gary was surprised to find a thermometer being shoved into it. “Nurse, I wanted to ask…” he began, but was stopped before he could finish when the nurse pointed to the thermometer in his mouth and held her finger in front of her lips in a silencing motion.
She took the blood pressure reading and removed the apparatus. She then wrote down the readings and asked Gary to allow her to check his bandaged head.
Again he began, “Nurse, can you tell me when my doctor will be available and whether my friends were called?”
“You’ve had a head injury and they don’t want you to move around or talk much. So, please, be calm; your doctor will probably stop by tonight. If not tonight,” she added, “then tomorrow.”
Time didn’t seem important to people who were working a set schedule and who would be leaving for home after the completion of their hours and duties. She couldn’t have known Gary’s pressing need to be involved in decisions affecting his own life.
“Do you think anyone called my parents or my friends?” a subdued Gary was reaching for something to look forward to tonight. “You know they have my name incorrect.”
“I’m sure if they were called, they would have been told that you couldn’t see anyone tonight. It’s after midnight! That’s way past visiting hours, sir.” She was checking Gary’s left hand for a ‘good’ vein. The touch of her hand gave him the grounding that he needed right now. This woman was probably somewhere around Gary’s own age, and was not too hard to look at. He stared at her hair as she worked. It was rolled up in a French twist at the back of her head. He allowed himself to fantasize how it might look hanging free.
She was all business, but she did appreciate her patient’s features. She appreciated his admiring glance, too. She could feel his eyes tied to her every movement as she worked, a little disarming, yes, but she didn’t voice any objection. Even Gary’s 5 o’clock shadow was something to raise her pulse and she made sure that she took her time holding his hand as she searched for a likely vein for the upcoming IV hookup.
He was quite a trial for her as most of the patients at Santo Angelo seemed to be in their retirement years. The rest were young adults confined to their beds by their disabilities. They were, primarily, completely uncommunicative because of head injuries of various degrees of severity. Seldom was there a chance to communicate with them as she felt she would like to with Mr. Gordan.
Finding a vein she seemed to like, she turned away to reach her IV equipment. The reality was dawning on her patient. His sudden realization that she wanted to stick something sharp into…his hand caused him to stammer in rapid fire, “Wai, wai, wai, wait,” as he tried to withdraw his hand from her firm grasp. “I hate needles! Can’t you just…just give me whatever medicine you…you have…by mouth?” He was sweating at the thought of it. “Why do you…you people always have to…to…to use needles? I…I can swallow pills, ya know.”
The nurse stopped what she was doing and stared at him as if he had just stuck a worm into his mouth. “Mr. Gordan. I am a nurse. I take orders. My orders include getting an IV started. It will allow us to keep you hydrated and allow us to administer anti-nausea and anti-pain meds.”
‘Was this something that all nurses memorized so they could rattle it off on demand?’ he mused. She was on a roll and Gary was cowed by her authoritative attitude. He never liked to make trouble for others, but…but this was his hand!
“Wai…wai…wai…wait,” he nervously fired out again, “I…I probably won’t even…even need those things. I’ll…I’ll keep drinking fluids, I promise. And…and I’m pretty pain-free, strangely enough.” And he added for emphasis, “Really!”
She stood there and looked at him lying there, telling her that he was ‘pain-free.’ He had just been brought in from an accident. His head was in bandages. His arm and leg were in casts. Just how pain-free could he be?
In her most skeptical tone she asked, “Really?” She gave him a half-smile and raised her eyebrows at his campaign against needles. “If you would prefer restraints to be put on you, I can call the orderly. Either way, you will have an IV and you will leave it in or we will put the fluids,” here she again raised her eyebrows to communicate her full meaning, “in some other part of your body!” and she gave a wicked grin after her tirade. She was emphasizing every other word and speaking very slowly for added emphasis. “Now, my friend, what’s it to be?” Further daring him to refuse, she asked, “Can we use the vein in your hand?”
He lowered his eyes to his chest and his voice to ‘faithful-servant’ level. He felt defeated, “Go ahead,” he murmured.
Her voice took on a more gentle tone then. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve been through a traumatic experience. We’ll make this as painless as possible.” It was clear that his emotions were at their limits. “What I need for you to do is to help me by looking toward the telephone, there on your right.” Taking his hand again in hers, she asked him to tell her about himself. Hoping it would draw his attention away from what she was doing by talking about his life, she asked him, “Are you married, Mr. Gordan? You have any kids?”
He didn’t answer. He just looked to the right and allowed her to attach the IV. Without meaning to, she had hit all the wrong buttons. He felt exceptionally lost at the moment.
Finally finding his voice, his tone was not at all friendly, “I’m…I’m not married. I have, I have no kids. And my name is…is not ‘Gordan.’” He paused as she turned to listen. “I am Gary Hobson. Gary Hobson,” he repeated for effect. “Now, please, just…just leave me alone.” He did not bother to watch her as she left the room.
“I’ll come by later to check on you, Mr. Gordan, er, sir. Goodnight,” were her last words before leaving.
The medications, combined with the exhaustion from the evening’s events released him and he was finally able to fall asleep.
Back at McGinty’s the staff was cleaning and closing up for the night. Marissa was agitated and concerned for the welfare of her missing partner. Chuck, being typically Chucklike, gave up the wait and went home.
Sitting down at the desk, Marissa quickly reached for her Braille phone directory. She decided to call Toni Brigatti to see if she could help. The last time that Toni had been at the bar, the two of them had become acquainted and exchanged home phone numbers. Now she needed someone like Toni to provide reassurance that Gary was all right, not to worry.
The answering machine took the call, “Toni Brigatti here, at the tone please leave a message.” Short and sweet!
“Toni, please call me tonight if you can,” Marissa pleaded, “It’s Marissa Clark and I am so worried about Gary. I’ll be at the bar ‘til eleven o’clock, but I will be home by midnight.”
McGinty’s had had a slow night and the early closing was helpful considering her present mood. The taxi was delayed in picking her up and the phone was already ringing as she reached her apartment. Tossing the keys on the hall table, she picked it up, “This is Marissa,” she announced.
“Hi, Marissa. It’s Toni. What can I do for you? You said something about Gary?” Without meaning to, Toni Brigatti usually came across as an abrupt, sometimes abrasive, character. Tonight, though, she had a softness and gentle demeanor as she waited for Marissa to speak.
“Oh, Toni, thanks so much for calling. We’ve…I’ve been so concerned about Gary today. He hasn’t checked in since this morning and isn’t in his loft either.” She mentioned Gary’s promise about his intention of being back early, then ended with, “I have such a bad feeling about this.” She was talking so fast that Toni had a job just keeping up with her.
“Can you slow down a little, Marissa?” she asked.
“I’m so sorry,” Marissa apologized, using a word she did not usually allow into her vocabulary. “Gary was supposed to be back at six! I know the police need more time for missing person reports, but I know something is not right. Can you help?”
Toni looked around her apartment and momentarily thought about her bed that was calling to her tired bones. “Marissa, tell me your address. I’ll be right over.” She could hear the need to talk in the other woman’s voice and knew if it were her, she would rather not be alone with this kind of worry.
Toni was glad that she had made the offer from the obvious relief in Marissa’s voice as she thanked her and gave her the instructions to get there, promising to have the coffee ready.
Someone was next to Gary’s bed. He opened his eyes and saw a nurse changing one of the IV bags. She did not notice that he was awake until she attached the blood pressure cuff to his left arm. “Oh. Hi, handsome,” she said in her most sparkling tone, “Glad to see you’re awake. How’re you feeling?”
“Mmm,” was Gary’s non-response.
“I’ll bet you know what the meaning of ‘uncomfortable’ is, don’t you?” She went on, “A little later, I’ll help you to freshen up. Right now I just need some numbers.” With that, she finished up taking his blood pressure, his pulse and his temperature. “Now, lift your head a little, honey, and I’ll peek at your head wound.”
Gary did as told and she removed the bandage carefully, “Looks good,” she observed, satisfied, and subsequently replaced it. “Get some rest.” She left the room without further conversation.
Gary gazed at the window. Still the blank wall. Damn. Still no TV remote. Damn. Still a busy signal for all the telephone numbers he could remember. Double damn!
The nurse came back, but he closed his eyes to shut her out. She checked his IV connection, straightened the tubing a bit and then injected something into the main IV tubing.
“What’s that?” he demanded in a combative tone.
She jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. “Oh, I thought you were asleep.”
“What is that?” Gary repeated, slower and louder, nodding his head in its direction.
The employee badge identified her as ‘Ruth.’ “I just put some pain medication into your IV to allow you to relax and sleep,” Ruth answered truthfully.
“Hey, I just slept—all night!” he said impatiently, “I didn’t want any more of that stuff. It’s hard enough to stay awake. I can’t even think.”
She stopped at the sound of his depressed tone. “I’m sorry, Mr. Gordan, but the doctor wants you to be able to get a lot of pain-free rest so that you can recover faster and go home sooner.”
Just the thought of going home brought a lump to his throat. He couldn’t know that his going home was not part of the good doctor’s plan. No one ever ‘went home’ from Santo Angelo. Its patients were in various long-term medical predicaments. All of them had their expenses covered by very healthy trust funds.
“Nurse?” he whispered.
“Yes, Mr. Gordan?” Ruth paused in what she was doing and turned toward him.
“Please, please don’t call me Mr. Gordan. They have the wrong name, ya understand? My name is Hobson. Can you get them to change their records? Please?”
‘Head injury,’ she mentally categorized her ward and, trying to placate him, she said, “I’ll see what I can do.” She straightened his pillow. “Now get some rest, Mr. Gordan,” ‘Whoops!’ she thought and quickly added, “I mean, sir!”
He closed his eyes and let the meds do their job.
Somewhat on into the afternoon someone knocked lightly at Gary’s hospital room door. He said nothing. ‘If they wanted to enter, they would whether he wanted them to or not. What could he do about it, hold the door and usher them in?’
The nurse from the previous evening, her name badge identifying her as Beth, entered. “Hey, how’re things?” she asked as she walked over to Gary’s bedside and sat down near the head of the bed. She hoped to open the conversation by inquiring, “You talking to me today?” Gary just looked at her with eyes still unaccustomed to being open, but didn’t answer.
“You’re probably still mad at me for hitching you up to the IV’s, huh? Come on, I’m harmless in the daytime. Did you ever get them to change your name?”
This struck a note of interest and Gary stared straight at her and asked, “Why do they ignore me when I correct the name they have me listed under? Why would I lie about my name?” He shrugged at these unanswerable questions. “They probably didn’t even notify anyone that I was brought here.” His face told the story of how he felt.
“My, you are just full of tough questions, aren’t you?” She smiled at him and, even in his state of gloom he noticed how it seemed to light up the whole room. He peered directly into her eyes, thinking ‘Have I been in here too long or does she look more like an angel than a nurse?’ His thoughts carried the moment and he made a judgment that, yes, any length of time spent here would be too long...but she still had the looks of an angel.
He looked again at her nametag and, maybe, a little at what it was pinned to. “Beth,” he lowered his voice, “can, can you do something for me? Please?”
It was Beth’s turn to have her mind do some fantasizing, ‘Boy, when he flashes those eyes, more than this room lights up.’ She studied his face. ‘So sincere, so pleading,’ she mused, ‘what can it hurt?’
“What is it you are asking me…” she was about to add ‘Mr. Gordan,’ but knew that was not a popular title with him.
“Beth,” he began, almost begging, “Please call my business partner and let her know I’m still alive and, and where I am. Please. She must be frantic with wondering.”
A lump formed in Beth’s throat when he mentioned that his partner was a she. ‘Oh well, isn’t that always the case?’ she asked herself.
“This is not something we’re supposed to do.” She paused only a moment, “Where can I reach your partner? And, what do I tell her when I do? If the name on the wrist tag isn’t you, what name do you want me to use?” She kept telling herself this was not exactly what a nurse should be doing, especially one at Santo Angelo’s, but then, she was off-duty; Beth, the ‘nurse,’ would not be working for another 45 minutes.
He squirmed to the limits of his casts and comfort until he could get a better view of her. The ‘little boy returns to the man,’ she thought as he seemed instantly transformed from the deflated patient to the hopeful patient. “Just call McGinty’s Bar and ask for Marissa Clark. Tell her that Gary is okay and let her know where I am. Just that. She will be relieved…and I already feel better.”
“McGinty’s Bar. That’s the tavern near the El overpass?” She had gone past it many times on her way to and from work. Why hadn’t she just gotten off and let herself be noticed? “So, should I call you Gary, then?”
He felt relieved…just hearing his name. It made him feel more awake. Was that why it sounded so great to hear her pronounce it? In answer to her question he just nodded.
“I won’t have time to call before I start my shift. Actually, I’ve gotta leave now, but I will make the call at dinner break. I promise. I’m not on this floor tonight, but I’ll stop by tomorrow afternoon before I start work.” With that, she turned to go.
She heard a heartrending ‘thank you’ as she opened the door and left.
‘McGinty’s may not even know what I’m talking about. What a dope I am. Why did I say that I would do this? “Not my job,” is what I should’ve said. “Not my worry.” But, then again, just how embarrassed can I be over the telephone? They can’t see who’s calling…okay, I’ll do it, but only by payphone so nobody’ll know who’s calling.’
On her dinner break at ten o’clock she walked to a nearby all-night pharmacy, going directly to the payphone booth. Good. One of those open phone stations would definitely not do when she might end up stammering and blushing.
“McGinty’s,” said the voice at the other end of the line.
“Ah, hello, ah, can I speak to Marissa Clark, please?” Why, oh why didn’t she mind her own business? Why did she even go to visit this obviously deluded young man…with the gorgeous eyes…and the terrific smile…and…
“Hold on, I’ll get her,” the male voice promised. She heard him call, “Marissa, telephone.”
A bare few seconds later a woman’s voice answered, “Hello. This is Marissa.”
‘Nice voice,’ thought Beth.
“Ah, hello, I’m a nurse working at Santo Angelo Hospital. One of the patients asked me to call in his behalf. He said to ask for you and tell you that ‘Gary’ is okay.”
The ‘nice voice’ was silent. Beth heard a loud intake of breath, making her believe that someone was still on the line.
“Hello?” Beth was compelled to ask, “Are you still there?”
It sounded like a sniffle, then the one named Marissa slowly said, “Gary? Gary Hobson?”
Suddenly Marissa perked up. “I didn’t mean to question, but we have been frantic about him. Where is he? What happened? Is he going to be okay? There has been no word for two days.” Marissa went right on without allowing Beth to answer the proffered questions. “When can I see him? Please, I don’t mean to bombard you with questions, but he never leaves us in the dark about his whereabouts this long.”
“Miss Clark…Marissa, your friend, Gary, was in an accident a couple nights ago. He has some broken bones and a head injury, but he is stable and is not critical. I can’t relay any details, but I know he literally begged me to call you. He seemed so lonely and lost that I couldn’t refuse.” Beth felt she had done her duty now, but needed to make a point before hanging up.
“A couple more things, Marissa. I don’t want you to mention to anyone that I called. We’re not supposed to mingle, so to speak, with the patients, you know. I will be out of a job if they know about this.” Beth was hoping that she could trust this Marissa person. She knew her job depended upon it. What she did not know was her life also depended on this being kept secret.
“Of course,” Marissa agreed, “but you said a couple things. Something else?”
“This may sound a little strange, but there was a mix-up when Gary was admitted and he is there under the name of ‘Gordan.’ It’s driving him nuts.”
“Why in the world would they…” Marissa was puzzled, “Knowing Gary, I can understand what you mean, Beth. He stresses over a lot of things, some of which might not even bother other people. This definitely would bother…anyone, I guess.”
Beth wondered about that statement, but added, “I really need to go now, but when Gary is released, I’d like to come by McGinty’s and meet you, Marissa.” In her heart, she added, ‘And see what kind of closeness you two have.’
Marissa perked up then and agreed, “I would be thrilled to meet you, too. We could make it a foursome for dinner, Emmett, you and I, and Gary. Oh, and please feel free to bring your husband…or a…friend.”
“I’m not involved in marriage or anything else right now, but,” she asked, “who’s Emmett?”
Amused at how the two of them each realized what was going on, as they went about skirting the question, while seeking discovery, Marissa was glad that Beth and, for that matter, Gary were not here to see the look on her face.
“Emmett is my fiancé, the love of my life. He and Gary are almost as close as Gary and I are. Thanks with all my heart for taking your time to call.”
“Marissa, if someone needs help, I can’t stand back and NOT help. That’s just the way I was raised. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least make an effort. And you really are very welcome. Bye for now.”
‘Well,’ Beth thought, her heart and mind racing, ‘that was a profitable telephone call.’
Marissa’s relief was evident, but she was intrigued by Beth’s philosophy of life. ‘Now, who does that remind me of?’ she asked herself.
And she smiled.
Toni Brigatti’s telephone rang. She checked the caller ID before answering. Recognizing the McGinty’s number, she picked it up. “This is Toni.”
“Hi, Toni, I didn’t know whether you would be home or not. It’s Marissa.”
“Hey, Marissa. I counted on it being you. I’ve been meaning to call, but I have a few contacts I’m still waiting for. Essentially, neither Gary nor anyone else fitting his description has been admitted to any of the local hospitals; and that goes for the morgue too. Sorry, that must sound a bit morbid, but we have to find out.”
She took a breath that allowed Marissa to interrupt. “Toni, wait. I have news. Someone called from Santo Angelo Hospital and said one of the patients asked her to call and say that Gary was in an accident.” Anticipating Marissa’s reaction, she quickly added, “He’s injured, but he’s okay. He’s there, Toni.” Now Marissa stopped to take a deep breath.
“Santo Angelo?” Toni sounded incredulous. “Are you sure?”
Marissa didn’t understand the questioning. “That’s what she said and, I guess, that’s what I was hoping to hear…that he was going to be okay. Why?”
“Well, for one thing, Santo Angelo caters to the ultra rich; for another, Santo Angelo does not take ambulance deliveries, if you get what I mean. No one gets in there by accident, if you’ll allow the pun. You have to practically have an engraved invitation just to visit someone.”
That left Marissa baffled, “But that’s exactly what she said…”
Toni tried to conceal her excitement. She still held fond memories of her experiences with Gary on a couple cases. The cases were not as fond in the memory category as the proximity to Gary was, if truth were to be told. At one point she even envisioned having a relationship with him ‘if he just wasn’t so…weird and…secretive.’ She still remembered the single instance of a shared kiss, one really worth remembering…and more than one near miss. “Do you want me to pick you up tomorrow afternoon and check it out?”
Marissa wasn’t much on being subtle and was quick to accept the offer, “I would appreciate it, I really need to know from his own mouth that he’s going to be okay—and that it truly is him.”
The friendly relationship between Gary and Marissa had begun while they both worked at the investment firm. He worked as a stockbroker and had to pass her receptionist location several times during the course of a day. They traded pieces of humor daily.
It was during a rare lunch they shared, at the betting parlor, that Gary first tested out the ‘usefulness’ of receiving tomorrow’s reported news…today. This was the day after the cat and the newspaper first appeared at his door. It was also immediately after he had just notified Phill Pritchard that he didn’t need to fire him; as he loosened his tie, he calmly looked Pritchard in the eyes and, with great pleasure, he quit.
Emancipation was a wonderful feeling! He had one terrific time choosing winners from the paper and betting on the long shots. He was doing the thing that most people would do upon finding out the race winners…before the fact! Not much lunch was eaten by Gary that afternoon, but, when he was ready to leave the betting parlor, he walked away with $15,000. The money was slipped into Marissa’s hand with the instructions that she purchase the service dog she had wanted. Money was not his motivation; it had never been. And, after all, the sky was the limit with such a magic ‘wand.’
Marissa began again, “There is one other strange thing, Toni. I’m told they admitted him under the name, ‘Gordan.’” She waited for the reaction.
It wasn’t shocking…more likely, curious, “Gordan? Whatever for?” Brigatti’s mind was trying to make sense of that piece of information. She was aware, as a CPD detective, that agencies sometimes used ‘civilians’ to help gather evidence. Gary had been used as such before. What was going on? Before she picked up Marissa, she would put in a call or two to a couple federal contacts.
Getting back to Marissa, she told her to expect a pick-up at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. She would have more information by then, she hoped.
Because of the drugs, most of the sleep that Gary was gifted with was dreamless…until just before waking. The few moments before consciousness returned were often filled with disturbing, violent, and frustration-filled vignettes. It was Saturday and, again, Gary was jolted out of the dreams by still another nurse gathering his vital numbers. He gasped as he left the last dream to join the hospital routine. The sun was fully up by the looks of ‘his’ blank wall view to the outside world. It bothered him that he kept forgetting to mention the missing remote.
“Good morning, sir.” The nursing staff had been warned not to call him by name.
“Morning’,” he greeted her back. “Will, will Beth be here today?”
She looked up from her record-keeping as his question called for her attention, “We’re all temp service nurses at Santo Angelo, sir. I really don’t know ‘Beth.’ Do you want me to inquire?” Then she added as an observation more than anything else, “It’s such an odd experience to almost never work with the same people and never to care for the same patients more than once or twice. We get assigned to this hospital and the personnel department assigns us on a rotating basis to different floors, departments, duties and patients. It’s great for variety, but we just never can get to know anyone.”
“Thanks, ah,” he checked her name tag, “ah, Sara. That kinda explains a lot.”
He wondered, now, whether Beth had called Marissa. He wondered, too, whether Beth would ever come back to see him again. ‘She’s probably working at some other hospital or on a different floor, or…or…damn!’
Gary must have dozed off with the medications because, when he opened his eyes again, Sara was gone. He saw some movement in front of the window. It was a woman with her back to him. Her hair hung down past her shoulders. She was wearing the filmiest of nightgowns and the light coming in the window backlighted that which was beneath the gown. She turned around slowly to face him. The scene was surreal, much like watching a commercial for some hair product--except for the ‘view.’
He found himself without a thought except, maybe, ‘Oh, boy!’ Gary considered that he should really look away, being the gentleman his mother raised, but found that he couldn’t, also being the man his father influenced. The sight was mesmerizing. As she spoke to him, he came to realize what he had hoped…it was Beth. As if she was surprised to see him she raised her eyebrows slightly and smiled demurely.
At some time while he was asleep someone must have brought in another bed. There was one pushed close to his. Beth approached the other bed. “Hi Gary. I told you I’d be back, didn’t I?” Her words were soft and her expression was that of innocence. ‘Innocence?’ he thought, ‘in that outfit?’
Her hair was more brown than blonde and shone with red highlights in the light from the window. Gary was totally hypnotized by the beautiful vision, a ballet without music, presenting itself before him. He watched as she proceeded to get into the other bed just as if it were completely normal and expected. As she moved, her nightgown seemed animated as if by a breeze and it flowed with each step. Her graceful movements seemed to be in slow motion and his whole being begged the next step, the next motion…a word… With the casts on he couldn’t get the leverage needed to roll onto his side, but his eyes stayed riveted on her. He found himself unable to speak.
Lying there on her side, she faced him and reached over to take his hand. Her hand was cool and soft, small and delicate in his. They lay there holding hands in that way, with fingers entwined, smiling, not speaking. He closed his eyes and gently squeezed her hand, careful not to use too firm a grip.
“Ouch,” he jerked and opened his eyes widely. At the side of his bed Sara was standing where the other bed had been and was checking his IV hookup after removing the tape that held it in place.
“Sorry about that,” she apologized as she finished and replaced the tape. “I guess they’re freeing you today, not from the IV, but from the IV medication. You’ll be receiving your meds orally now. That ought to make you happier.”
He was still in shock from the contents of his faded dream, not to mention full of regret over it having been a dream. All he could say was, “Yeah, yeah, okay.”
“Sara, do you know if a doctor will be in today?” His voice sounded weak even to him.
She adopted a caring tone when she responded, “It’s Saturday. Unless there’s a problem, the doctor usually skips rounds on the weekend. Are you feeling okay? I could call someone.” Another disappointment; and his face showed it.
His eyes were so tired. ‘If only I could stay awake,’ he thought. He let them close as he answered, “No, I…I guess it, it can wait.” He wanted to ask why they had to keep him so foggy-brained, but hesitated, thinking that the IV change would improve that situation now.
Doctor Petersen was giving last minute instructions to the senior staff in his office. Antiques, cherrywood paneling, and the leather couch gave it the look, feel and smell of opulence. He spoke to them about the four patients who would be the subject of Tuesday’s visit from the trustee representative.
His senior staff was comprised of the heads of each department. Each of these people was paid by both salary and bonus. Each was specially chosen, considered completely trustworthy, and, for all the money he was paying them, loyal. Their guilt was equal to his and that’s the way he insisted it was to be.
“The patients in rooms, 11, 23, and 26 are fine. Their age and condition will control any complications. Now, as for room 18: he’s been distraught over the IV content and meds so we’re planning to give his sedatives by capsule. He will be given a combination of sedatives beginning today. That should set him up for a maximum dose Tuesday around noon.”
The doctor wandered over to the windows as he continued, “He should be out pretty much all day so the casts can be removed early Tuesday morning. Don’t forget to remove the head bandage too.”
Pausing only a moment to adjust the blinds, he continued, “If more than one person is in the visitation party, I want one of us for each member of their group. I don’t want to be giving that kind of order in their presence on Tuesday, so decide tonight which of you will trail along if it should become necessary. I do not want individuals scouting around and ‘disturbing’ patients.”
Directing his attention towards the head nurse, his orders went on, “I want the regular nurses to attend these patients as they normally do. The exception will be ‘Gordan.’ No nurse is to go near room 18 on Tuesday until his casts are back on him.” He looked around, “Any questions?”
“What about room cleanups and meals, sir?”
He answered that question and a few more when one of the male staff members asked, “When will room eighteen be ‘sedated’ permanently? It makes it curious to the nurses to have him kept sedated just for broken bones.” He added, “’He’ wasn’t a problem before the accident; they wonder why he would need to be slowed down.”
Petersen became animated, pointing his finger as he spoke, “That, first of all, is not an appropriate discussion point or question for our nursing staff to be considering. They’re hired to nurse, not to analyze or diagnose.”
He continued in a more impersonal tone, “This facility has ‘guests’ who haven’t been alert since being admitted. Why should the nurses be concerned about this one, more than any of the others?” His tone was gradually changing to take on an irritated quality, “Make it your responsibility to quash their tendency to even ask.” He looked around the room, settling his gaze on each of them to guarantee that they understood the seriousness involved in this order.
“The neurosurgeon is not going to be back until one week from tomorrow. Until ‘Gordan’ has his little operation we will have to see to it that he is kept sedated—no matter who questions it.” He addressed his personnel director next, “It will be up to you to see that he has minimum exposure to people. Please, not more than one shift for any person caring for ’18.’”
Petersen had gone back to sit at the desk, “I know it will be inconvenient, but do it! You may even have to rely on more than one temp service this week to accomplish this goal.” He lowered his tone as a final admonition, “All of you: Just make this week uneventful. I’ll like it. If I like it, you’ll like it, because, you can bet on it, if I don’t like it, you, sure as hell, won’t like it! Now, everyone clear?” He paused again to look at each of them individually.
Then, very lightly, “Very good. Thanks for coming. We’re depending on you.” Leaning back, he rested his elbows on the armrests and opened his hands outwardly in a dismissal gesture.
The face of Santo Angelo Hospital had the look of a fine old-vintage hotel. The three-story, Italian-influenced building was without formal grounds at the entrance. A small, tiled courtyard with potted trees greeted visitors. The only identifying label was the small brass plaque at the door indicating “Santo Angelo Hospital. Visitors by appointment only. No emergency facilities.”
Marissa and Toni entered at that door and approached the receptionist at her desk near the far side of the room.
No normal hospital waiting area here, the room could have been the reception area for an upscale lawyer. There was no antiseptic feeling as most hospitals would have. The furnishings were upholstered couches and chairs set in conversational clusters. Cherrywood, leather-topped tables, each of them topped with brass décor lamps completed the illusion. No ashtrays. No years-old magazines or even current reading materials cluttered the room.
The only door leading into the hospital portion, presumably, was of paneled cherrywood and had a ten-key code pad for restricted entry.
The receptionist greeted them, “Good afternoon ladies, may I help you?” It didn’t sound like she really wanted to, but you couldn’t fault her for not offering.
Toni did not believe in long, drawn-out sweet talk. “We’d like to see an accident victim you admitted a couple days ago. His name is Gary Hobson. H-O-B-S-O-N.”
The receptionist typed the name, ‘Hobson,” into her computer. “I’m sorry. I don’t have anyone in my patient listing with that name. Perhaps you have the wrong hospital. All of our guests are long-term patients. We really don’t provide first aid-type services to cases from…off the street.”
Uh-oh. Was that ‘attitude’ that Toni just detected? “I know the difference between the words, ‘County General’ and ‘Santo Angelo,’ if that’s what you mean.”
Attitude begets attitude and she was comfortable with returning kind-for-kind. “We received word that our friend was taken here—right here, not St. Luke’s, or whatever the hell you think we heard. His name is Gary Hobson, but I’m told, he might have been admitted as ‘Something Gordan.’ That’s G-O-R-D-A-N. Please check that name on your magic board.”
All the while, as Toni was addressing her, the woman holding court from the desk was staring, wide-mouthed. She obviously had never come across someone like Antonia Brigatti before. Looking back to her keyboard, she honored the ‘request. A few seconds is all it took for results. “Here is a listing for a Dennis Gordan. I can’t imagine it could be him though.”
“And why is that?” Marissa asked, not waiting for Toni’s inquiry.
“As I said, our guests are long-term patients. Mr. Gordan has been with us much longer than a couple days. I haven’t heard of any accident victims being brought here. Of course, I really wouldn’t have heard anyway. This monitor is my only contact with our guests and my viewing is limited to names, room numbers, and attending physicians. By the way, did you arrange an appointment to visit?”
Toni could sense this was not going well. They were not going to get past this woman. “What room is Mr. Gordan in, then? And who could we call to arrange a visitation? Or…can you arrange it?”
This allowed the woman to be back on top in power and it could be heard in her voice. “I’m terribly sorry, but you would have to call his doctor to arrange a time to see him. Mr. Gordan is in room 18 and is being seen by Doctor Shapiro, a staff physician. Let me write down his number for you.” She scribbled a name and number for them and handed it toward Marissa. Toni really didn’t like this woman, or anyone else, for that matter, who gave her a ‘no’ answer
Toni reached her hand in front of Marissa and took possession of the data. “Thanks,” a word without an iota of gratefulness in it. “Come on, Marissa.” She held the door and assisted her friend out.
Marissa stopped just outside the door and turned to Toni, “Was that the bum’s rush, or am I mistaken?”
Toni had to laugh at her friend’s expression. “I think so, but let’s get back and make that call.”
The doctor’s phone rang, “Dr. Petersen here.”
“Doctor, this is Clarisse at reception. Dennis Gordan just had two women here to see him. I told them to call Dr. Shapiro, but I thought you should know they referred to the patient as ‘Hobson’ first.”
“Clarisse, you did the right thing. I’ll talk with Dr. Shapiro and alert him. We can’t have our patients upset by visitors with mistaken identity problems. Thank you.” With that, he disconnected with her and pushed the button for Dr. Shapiro’s office.
Detective Brigatti’s cell phone rang as she was cleaning away some dishes at her apartment. “Hello, Dr. Shapiro, thanks for returning my call.” Toni was hopeful, but, with this dynamic, but cool detective, the excitement never broke the surface. “I’m a detective with the CPD and I’ve been asked to check into the disappearance of a local businessman. We received a call to the effect that he may be at Santo Angelo. After our initial attempt to visit, we find that we need an appointment. That’s the reason I asked you to return my call.”
Dr. Shapiro cleared his voice and began, “Detective Brigatti. I think you received some irresponsible and false information, but, if it will help, I will authorize two visitors for tomorrow morning at 11. Just tell Clarisse at reception. She’ll have someone escort you in. We would like to ask you to be discreet, of course. Our patients are very private people.” Then, as a final curiosity, he added, “Is this a police matter?”
It was three o’clock as Beth knocked gently at Gary’s door. As before, she received no invitation for entry, but proceeded into the room. Gary seemed to be asleep.
She pulled a chair close to his bed. He was restless, making incoherent sounds, seemingly of distress—was it fear?—as he slept. Beth instinctively put her hand, first, on his forehead. No fever was apparent. Then she took his wrist and checked his pulse to find it racing.
Without thinking, she placed the palm of her hand caringly on the side of his face. “Gary, Gary,” she prompted, “Wake up. You’re safe. Wake up.”
With this rescue from whatever terror he was experiencing in his dreams, his eyes sprang open and he audibly gasped. It took a few breathless seconds to realize where he was and that he was freed from his current nightmare.
In the past few years he often had dreams bringing back images, not just of failed saves, but also of successful ones, which, in his dreams, were transformed into failures. So real. So devastating.
He wakened, his head still feeling the effects of the medications. “Beth,” he said in recognition, but he wasn’t sure if one dream was just running into another. “Beth, it’s you, really you, isn’t it?”
She attempted to make her voice sound reassuring, “I’m here, Gary. I told you I’d be back, didn’t I?” His previous day’s dream was being revisited with these words. Then she added, “Are you okay?”
Desperately he said, “I was worried that I’d never see you again.” They gazed at one another for a long minute without words being exchanged; each took a message—the same message—from the look alone. So much can be said through eye contact. No words were necessary as something resembling a pledge passed between them.
Beth was the first to break the silence. “I’m not working today, but I wanted you to know that I called Marissa and gave her your message.”
His relief was evident when he whispered, “I could, I could…kiss you for that.” He let himself relax and closed his eyes, willing the room to stop spinning.
‘Was she imagining things?’ The room may have stopped spinning for Gary, but the implications of his words started her mind spinning. It was what she yearned to hear. ‘Was she imagining it? Did he just…’ “What? What did you just say?”
Gary was not accustomed to using such words to anyone. For whatever reason, and he couldn’t define it, he felt at ease in Beth’s presence. Somehow he sensed that this was a safe haven for his emotions. His eyes remained closed as he repeated it for her, “I’m…so…relieved; I could…could kiss you for that, Beth.”
Such a challenge to mischief couldn’t go unanswered. Placing her hand on his shoulder and leaning close to his ear, almost touching it with her mouth, she whispered directly into it. “I don’t think I understand what you meant, Gary.”
‘Why was she doing this?’ he thought, ‘Weren’t those words hard enough to get out without having to repeat them over and over again?’ Nevertheless he said again, just as he did the first time, “I…I said…thank you. I could kiss you for making that call.” The room was silent. Curious whether she was still there, he opened his eyes a mere slit. Seeing that her face was still at his ear, he turned his head to meet her mouth and lips. A brief, a very brief and chaste kiss passed between them. It was closely followed by another…and another. As if tasting a new food, each of them uttered ‘Mmmmm’ after a final, somewhat longer one, was shared.
“Whoops,” she said as she straightened up, “I guess I overstepped my bounds.”
“If you did, so did I.” He was quick to add. “It’s been on my, my mind since you attacked my hand with, with that IV needle. I’m only sorry that I’m…so anchored to this bed. His smile was more like a smirk, his eyes, though showing more and more drug influence, still radiated a mirth.
This time what they exchanged was their meaningful smiles. She finally found her voice, “Well, I guess now I’ll have to be back tomorrow, won’t I?” It wasn’t really a question, but only posed as such.
“You have no idea how much I’m counting on that.” It occurred to him that he could never want anything more fervently, right now, than his freedom from the casts.
It was getting harder to keep his eyes open, but his expression changed as he told Beth about the altered treatment to oral medications. “I haven’t…been able…to get them to…to…realize that…I’m not hur-hurting. Curiously enough…I have no pain at all in my arm…or leg. Why do I…need to be…sleeping all the time?” His eyes were half closed again as he was pleading for an answer.
She glanced up at the IV, then she looked back to Gary. Taking his hand, she whispered, “Wouldn’t it be…interesting…if you were to miss your mouth somehow and palm the meds just to check your theory out?” Wondering if he was awake enough to comprehend, she added, “If you find your pain too intense you could still take the pills later. It’s not what a nurse should be telling someone in a hospital bed, but I’m betting on you knowing the difference between pain and no pain.”
Even with his eyes closed, he raised his eyebrows as he considered her suggestion. It took just seconds to decide to try it. What could it hurt?
She stood up, “Gotta go, Gary. Don’t tell anyone I was here, please.” She walked to the door and turned back to leave the sleeping patient her smile and a wave.
Chuck was still into his dreams when he heard some rustling sounds at the door. It was Sunday. He usually lingered in bed until eight on Sunday. It was barely 6 am!
His morning voice croaked as he called out, “Who’s there?” All he heard in answer was more crinkling of…paper…at the door. Irritation based on the aggravation of being forced to waken early was his motivation for donning a robe and jerking his door open.
“What!” he bellowed. There was no one there, that is, no one human. As he lowered his eyes to the floor, he saw the perpetrator, the interloper of his Sunday leisure.
“Whoa, cat, you old flea farm, what are you doing here?” The tabby that usually sat at Gary’s door every morning was here, on Chuck’s very own turf and with the paper! “Hey, cat, what did you do that for?” he asked as he saw the paper torn to shreds. Well, not all of the paper was destroyed. One small item remained among the scraps. The cat had shredded all but one item of the issue. It told of the death of a resident-patient at a local convalescent hospital.
‘PATIENT DEAD OF ACCIDENTAL OVERDOSE AT PRIVATE HOSPITAL’ The details included, ‘Dennis Gordan, 36, was found dead in his bed at Santo Angelo Hospital yesterday shortly before noon. His death had been unexpected though he had been a patient there for six years. Cause of death is believed to be an allergic interaction of medications administered yesterday. A CPD detective was at the hospital visiting a friend when a nursing staff member cried out upon finding Mr. Gordan’s body. Detective Antonia Brigatti declined to give a statement and appeared to be shaken with the discovery. Services will be private. Donations may be made in memoriam to the National Neurology Studies Foundation.’ It went on to give a history of the hospital and their care for brain injuries and related problems.
He gave a small grin as he made the observation, ‘Well, so Brigatti got her name in the paper, eh? Maybe I’ll just try to pump some information out of her. Cat must have plans for someone—me—to save this poor slob. I guess it will be pretty clean, though, and pretty safe. No guns. No fires. No knives.’
Chuck showered, dressed and reread the sole surviving newspaper item of the most valuable and the most burdensome paper in the world. ‘Why, why did the sports section have to become a cat casualty? Even the financial section would have made profitable reading.’
Nine o’clock and Chuck went directly into McGinty’s office. He sat down near the door and watched as Marissa worked at the computer. What Marissa lacked in the vision of eyesight she more than made up for in other senses. She sensed Chuck’s presence and asked, “What’s up, Chuck?” Smiling, she leaned forward, crooked her elbow and rested her head on her hand in a listening attitude.
“Marissa, do you really need me here today?”
Giving him an exasperated look, Marissa was ready for Chuck’s arguments toward getting out of working that day, “Well, yes, Chuck, at least toward evening. Vadim has a date tonight and will be only working until 5:30. What do you have planned that’s decent enough to tell me about?”
Chuck caught her satisfied, ‘gotcha’ expression and acted hurt. “Marissa, I’m shocked. I’m not even going to fall for your line of humor, all at my expense, I might add. For your information, I was the honored recipient of tomorrow’s Sun Times: the cat, the paper, everything!”
“You, Chuck? Tomorrow’s paper? Gary’s paper?” She laughed at the thought. “What must the ‘powers that be’ be thinking? The mouse in charge of the cheese? The cat in charge of the canary? The lion in possession of the lamb? The…”
“Enough, Marissa! I understand what you’re trying to lay on me. The fact remains, I did receive the paper and only one story remained after the cat did a shredding trick with it.”
“One? That’s more than strange, Chuck. What is it?”
He read the article in full to Marissa. When he got to the mention of the name of the dead man, she gave a sharp intake of breath.
“What? What?” he asked, wondering what he had said to get that kind of response from the queen of cool.
“Gordan? You did say Gordan, didn’t you?” In her heart she was hoping not.
A little irritated at this bit of mystery, Chuck answered “Yes, that’s what it says. What is your problem? Do you know him?”
She proceeded to tell Chuck that she and Brigatti were going to visit that very patient this morning—with an appointment!
“Why?” he asked, curiously. “Who is he to you two?”
All the joking was over as a very serious Marissa answered him, “I have reason to believe that ‘Gordan’ is the name under which Gary was admitted there on Thursday.” She had his full attention now and she continued, “He supposedly was in an accident and was taken to Santo Angelo Hospital. Because of the type hospital that it is, we have doubts, but Toni Brigatti is picking me up this morning to check on it.”
Chuck could only sit and stare at Marissa at that moment. “So, I guess we both know, then, why the paper came to me today.” Matter of factly, he added, “I’ll be going with you, Maris.”
It wasn’t that she objected having him along, but what about Brigatti? She interjected, “What do we tell Toni if you show up with me? Oh, Toni, Chuck had this ‘feeling’ and needs to go along because Gary’s in danger? You want to try to pass that by Brigatti?”
He pursed his lips as he mulled it over. “Yeah, that would be pushing belief, wouldn’t it? Well, there’s that or I could ‘run’ into the two of you as you arrive at the hospital. Since we’ll never put it past Brigatti that I’m just going along for the ride, I’ll have to be arriving on the scene and join your little ‘army’ as you get there.” Thinking it over and considering the possible dire consequences of the occasion, he stressed, “Who cares what we tell her? Gary’s gonna die today unless we do something…this morning!”
Neither of them could come up with a better story. They would go with it!
Chuck left her in the office and went out to sit in the bar thinking about the disaster they had to divert. He allowed himself to reminisce about the friendship he and Gary shared for over twenty years. They even dated the same girl for a while in high school. They did, that is, until they found out the girl was not going to be happy until she broke up their friendship. All in all, they accepted each other’s friendship, the idiosyncrasies, the foibles…essentially, warts and all.’
So many laughs, so many great times, some arguments, some low spots in their separate lives…all of it. The whole life experience of two friends being a safe haven for each other amidst it all was what most people only dreamed about.
He can’t afford to mess this up! Picking up the phone, he depressed the numbers for information. With that knowledge, he punched the numbers for Santo Angelo Hospital. He asked for the ‘Gordan’ room. Of course, no calls were put through so he asked for whomever he could speak regarding the patient.
“I’m sorry, sir, but this doctor isn’t here today. May I have him call you tomorrow?”
“No, that will be too late, he’ll be go…, ah, I mean, I will be gone by then. Just put me through to whomever is in charge on his duty now.” He waited several minutes, wondering if he was still connected.
The voice he heard next announced, “This is Dr. Petersen. Who is this and what is your interest in Mr. Gordan?”
Speaking slowly, enunciating carefully, Chuck began this fateful conversation thusly, “This is Henry Gordan. I’m Dennis Gordan’s uncle and I need to find out how he’s doing. I was told he was brought in Thursday after an accident.” Poor Chuck, he knew just enough to get himself in trouble…and he usually did, but this time, it was Gary and, possibly, Beth that he endangered.
Petersen didn’t skip a beat as he proceeded, “Oh, Mr. Gordan, I didn’t see your name listed for us to notify. No matter. Dennis Gordan was in an accident and was injured, but his progress is encouraging. Broken bones and a slight head injury, but, besides the understandable discomfort, he’s doing quite well.
“I’d like to see him, Doctor.”
“Are you local? We could set a time. Tomorrow afternoon, say?”
‘Sure,’ thought Chuck, ‘after he’s dead.’ “No, I need to see him today, please. Tomorrow I have to be in New Orleans for a conference.” There was a dead silence on the other end of the phone connection. “I won’t stay long. I promised his dad I would drop in on him and, with this unfortunate happening…” (Chuck, Chuck. Why didn’t you check the facts before you stumbled on?)
“In that case, Mr. Gordan, how about noon today?”
Quickly, really too quickly, Chuck replied, “I’ll be there, thanks Doc.” The story was not too bad except Chuck didn’t realize he had given the game away at the onset. Gary’s fate had now taken a dangerous, if not fatal, turn.
The doctor was addressing himself as much as the two men with him in his office. He sat at his desk with his hands steepled in front of him and his head bowed down. “What’s happened here? We’ve had a foolproof, fairly simple, but lucrative, business going. It has run damn smoothly for years. Now this—and I am referring to Gordan.”
The one he called ‘Frank’ took advantage of his pause. “Why can’t we just get another neurosurgeon in right now and prevent any more problems?”
His attention from the situation diverted, the doctor addressed the impertinence of Frank with, “Frank, if I stop to take a breath…or think, that’s not an invitation for you to participate. What I need is not advice, but the solution I would have liked to avoid.” This time when he stopped talking, no one spoke. You could see he was agonizing over, not the action itself, but the disruption of routine and the attention it might produce.
“Okay then.” He had made the decision and time delays would not be to his advantage. He took a deep breath and, almost as if regretting what he knew was to come, “You two, come with me. We’d better get on with this and hope for the best.”
They arrived at room eighteen with an oxygen therapy cart and a syringe tray, which was discreetly covered with a cloth. Opening the door, they could see that the patient was already somewhat under the influence of the medications previously given by the attending nurse. The switch over to oral medications had worked to Dr. Petersen’s advantage. Who would doubt that the overdose that he was going to inject into the IV port was accidental? Wasn’t the patient receiving all meds orally? Some nurse must have made a mistake and given him a double dose…or something like that. It would be looked on as a very sad story.
Gary heard the door, but lay there with his eyes closed. He had been dozing and was not quite wake-oriented even though he had not taken the meds. He heard someone approach the bed.
Dr. Petersen’s voice was identified in his memories from Thursday night. “Bill, would you please turn the TV on for Mr. Gordan? A news program or a sporting event would be fine.”
Bill dutifully walked over to the set, reached up and turned it on to a baseball game. “Hey,” he excitedly announced, “the Cubs are playing.” He checked the score and the inning then turned back to the bed.
Dr. Petersen was motioning to the cast-enclosed leg. “Release the traction device, please. We’re not going to need it anymore.” He produced a pillow to place under the leg as it was lowered. “Now, if Frank will get the left ankle, I’ll take care of the right one.” Gary opened his eyes in curiosity, as his ankles were each wrapped in restraints. He tried to move the right one and found his leg restricted in movement to a couple inches in any direction.
“What’s the matter?” he asked worriedly. “Why are my legs being restrained?”
“No need to worry, Mr. Gordan.” Petersen was calm and brief, “we’re going to try some therapy today.”
Was that supposed to calm the patient? What began as a small dose of trepidation began growing in Gary’s very empty stomach.
Sensing the patient’s nervousness, Dr. Petersen explained, “We have not been happy with your blood oxygen levels, Mr. Gordan. We’re here to try to change them.” Now this was the truth, but what Gary took as beneficial was not the truth by Santo Angelo standards.
The doctor continued on as he picked up a full-face oxygen mask. “You know, Mr. Gordan…” he placed so much emphasis on the ‘Mr. Gordan’ that it rankled Gary.
Gary interrupted with, “But I’ve tri…tried to…to tell you, my…my name isn’t…”
Dr. Petersen hated to be interrupted, by anyone, and he cut him short, “Oh, but it is ‘Mr. Gordan.’ You are definitely the only Mr. Gordan we have.” He looked around the room distractedly. “In fact, that seems to be a real problem right now.” He motioned to the men and they each took a wrist and buckled a strap around the, now protesting, limbs.
“Wai…wai…wai…wait. What, what are you doing? Oxygen ther…therapy doesn’t involve my, my hands and, and, and feet!”
“Well, Mr…Gordan, it appears that someone in our little hospital has been passing along information about our patients, you in particular. That raises questions we don’t want to have to answer from people like…relatives, friends, even a police detective!”
‘Oh, oh, that’s got to be Brigatti…or Armstrong maybe,’ Gary was more than nervous now, it was more like petrified, and his thoughts were jumping at these implications. This could mean he had endangered Beth and he didn’t dare let her name pass his lips.
Dr. Petersen was quick to notice from the expression in Gary’s eyes that all this was not much of a surprise to him. “We are asking you nicely, now, who it is you spoke with and what they know, and probably, passed on.” He waited.
Gary, wide-eyed, was trying to respond, but had no words at his command that wouldn’t make this bad situation even worse.
Considering the silence as a refusal, the doctor shook his head in mock regret, “I’m sorry you feel that way. What we’re going to be doing here, as I said, is to give you some oxygen therapy.” He placed the mask over Gary’s mouth and nose, putting a forced end to his part in the conversation. Gary attempted to evade the placement of the mask, but his present position was not one of strength and the mask was settled over his face.
The doctor couldn’t resist adding more pressure to ‘aid’ his patient’s decision, “You see, oxygen feeds the blood, the brain included, the complete body, in fact. Increase the oxygen, as we’re doing right now, and the whole person improves. Contrarily, if we were to turn off the oxygen, like this, for instance,” at which point he adjusted the flow to ‘off,’ and continued in his campaign to torment the answers out of ‘Gordan,’ “the patient begins to starve for precious oxygen and begins to lose consciousness.”
Thereupon he turned the flow on again, much to his panicked and struggling patient’s relief. He continued his monologue, “Ultimately that loss of consciousness is a very unpleasant prelude to death. So, Mr. Gordan, let’s have a real conversation. It’s your turn—and choice.”
All of his life Gary had had a problem in that he cared too much about others. It had gotten him in trouble too many times to count, even before he began receiving the paper. Was this going to be the last time? Better that, than to have these men get their hands on Beth. He prayed that he would not even let her name come to mind. Would anyone even know about his death? His parents? His friends?
“Come on now, we’re on a tight schedule, Mr. Gordan, let’s hear from you. Who is it you have discussed this with? Perhaps you need a small demonstration of the consequences.” He reached over and turned off the oxygen. Gary struggled to reach the mask and pull it away, but the restraints would not allow that much leeway in his actions. His lungs cried for air and strange lights danced in his vision. The TV sounds were becoming farther and farther away as he sank from consciousness. Not an easy way to go, Dr. Petersen indicated, and he was right! Gary’s arms and legs were flailing within the full limits of the bonds.
“Please,” he seemed to be pleading under the mask.
Just before he was completely out, the ‘kindly’ doctor again released some oxygen. Gulping for breath, Gary laid there, eyes closed, sweating from the exertion.
“I’m going to remove the mask after a moment, so think about your answer—and its consequences, my friend. We want to know who might have been coaxed into becoming your advocate. We only need the name and things will become much easier for you.” He paused and added in his most fatherly voice, “Don’t worry about them either. We aren’t barbarians!”
Upon hearing this, Gary looked up into the doctor’s eyes skeptically, thinking, ‘If this isn’t barbaric, what is?’
Dr. Petersen continued, “We want to discuss this with them. Probably convince them to get a different job, of course, and offer them quite a goodly sum to do it. Now, that’s not too bad, is it? Who is it you talked to?”
There was a couple minutes to consider his ‘proposal’ before the mask was lifted. Gary’s breathing had normalized by then.
“I…I really don’t know who…who it could b…be, Dr. Pe…” Before he could finish, the mask was reapplied and the oxygen was turned off. Petersen counted off the seconds on his watch as they waited, watching the effects of oxygen deprivation.
Nothing was said as Gary struggled until he was unconscious. The same procedure, the same questions, the same answers, or lack of answers, the same consequences. The torture went on with the time span, each time, becoming slightly longer.
“Doc, you’re gonna kill him right here.” One of the assistants was unnerved by the doctor’s actions. He could see that the man in the bed appeared to be weakening as the time went on.
Arriving at the truth, Dr. Petersen shared his observation, “He’s not going to tell us anything, is he? Well, maybe he’s not able to pick out which of his listeners bypassed our policies. In any event, we’ll have to revive him.” He removed the mask and put it aside. “We cannot allow the cause of death to be asphyxiation, now can we?”
A few moments later the seemingly lifeless patient took in some of the welcome air in gulps. His eyes were watering with the struggle for breath. As things normalized, he glanced around the room, wondering what the doctor’s next step entailed, nothing good, he was sure.
Dr. Petersen was nearby, preparing an injection.
“No!” he protested, fully realizing how futile his efforts at influencing these people were. “Why…why are you…you doing this? I’ve taken the…the pills the nurse brought,” he lied. “I’m cooper…cooperating with your…your agenda, whatever it is. Can’t you…tell me why you’re do…doing this?”
“Thank you, Mr. Hobson…Gary, I believe.” The sudden use of his name was not really reassuring. “We’re all done with you. I can’t say it was a pleasure. You have caused us no end of problems. This is an organization that can’t tolerate problems so, I guess, you know there is no future to keeping you with us.”
“Wha…what are you…going to do?” His heart was pounding enough for him to feel the pulse in his neck.”
“I don’t think you are really wondering, are you?” He held up the syringe and expressed a small stream of liquid.
“Mr. Hobson, you are going to have an unfortunate interaction of medications which will, sadly, result in a fatal overdose.” He injected the syringe into the IV port as Gary struggled frantically with his bonds. “Now, don’t fuss about it, there’s only going to be a very brief discomfort…caused by your own fear. Just let your body relax and you’ll just…fall asleep.” The doctor’s tone was without emotion. In his sadistic mind, he could not understand why this patient wouldn’t see the logic of his rationale.
Gary’s panic was complete and intense. ‘Did he say just relax? Just relax?’ “No, pl…please. Why? You…you don’t have to…to…to do this. You don’t have to do this.” His pleas were of no use.
“Come on now. If you fight this it will only get into the blood stream faster anyway. He held Gary’s wrist as best he could, checking the pulse, which was slowing even as he spoke.
Before losing consciousness, Gary muttered, barely audibly, “Sorry, Mom…Dad.” as his voice trailed away.
Dr. Petersen addressed his assistants, “He’s still breathing, but he’s out. The earlier dose that the nurse gave him should make this dosage just too massive to keep his system going. If he were an older, weaker man, this dose alone would have done the job.” Waving his hand toward the cart and tray, he ordered them to remove the equipment and to turn off the TV. “Give it another thirty minutes, then remove the restraints. I’ll be in my office when this ‘regrettable’ accident is reported. I know that I’ll be shocked and understandably saddened by the report of his passing.”
Brigatti and Marissa arrived at the front door of the hospital just as Chuck ran up. “Hey, Marissa, Toni. What’re you two doing here?” There was a suspiciously innocent smile on his face.
“Hey, Chuck,” Marissa was actually relieved to see him…and just in time to go in together.
Brigatti gave him a terse acknowledgement, “Fishman! What brings the McGinty’s fixture here?”
“Well, how are you, Brigatti? I’m fine, nice of you to ask.” He grinned at his own joke. “I’m here because…I’m here to…I’m here to visit a friend. What else? Ya see he’s not feeling too good and…”
Toni interrupted when she saw the direction this conversation was headed. Marissa must have told Fishman about Gary and Chuck was trying to think up some stupid reason for being here. Disgustedly, she shook her head and said, “How lame, Fishman. That’s Gary’s line. Do I really look that gullible?” She didn’t wait for an answer, “Come on, since you’re here, let’s see if we can locate our boy.”
Chuck shrugged his shoulders, thinking it had been too easy. ‘Some people won’t even believe the truth,’ he thought as he followed them into the hospital.
“Brigatti, Fishman and Clark to see Gordan, please,” she announced to Clarisse.
Clarisse was expecting them, two of them anyway. She gave her patronizing smile and confirmed, “Yes, Ms Brigatti, I’ll call someone to escort you and Ms Clark in. I don’t have any ‘Fishman’ on my visitor’s list. He’ll have to remain here.”
“Fine,” Brigatti’s brief answer displayed her irritation. She had never gotten used to taking ‘no’ for an answer…from anyone!
Before they had time to sit down, an attendant opened the door to the inner hospital. “Follow me, please. Stay close, it’s easy to get lost in the twists and turns of the halls.”
As he turned, both ladies entered…and a small tabby cat, from who-knows-where, shot through the door, passing the ladies and the attendant. Chuck took the cue and dashed through too, keeping the cat in sight.
“Where’d that cat come from?” The attendant hadn’t seen it in the reception room. “Get it!”
‘Get it’ is exactly what the three of them had in mind as they chased it through the hallways. Marissa and Chuck knew where it was headed and Brigatti just followed behind Chuck, who was leading the parade. She and the attendant were mystified at the chaos.
At room eighteen, the cat paused to allow the followers to catch up before it squeezed through the slightly ajar door. “He went in here,” Chuck motioned as he waited for the others to catch up with him. They entered together. What they saw in the bed was a very pale Gary, laboring to breathe, his chest heaving in the struggle.
“Call 911,” Brigatti immediately ordered.
The attendant objected, “But, but this is a hospital.”
“If you don’t want to be a patient in this hospital,” Toni threatened as she tossed him her cell phone, “you’d better be calling 911—NOW!”
Marissa was nervous at the ‘911’ reference. “What’s happening, Chuck? Is it Gary?” She clutched his arm in something akin to a death grip. “Chuck! Chuck! Talk to me!”
“Yeah, Marissa, it’s Gary. He’s not doing well in the breathing department and he’s not conscious that we can see.”
They approached the bed, Brigatti automatically reaching out to feel the pulse in Gary’s neck. Chuck asked the question with his eyes to which she nodded, “He has a weak pulse, but it’s his breathing that concerns me most.”
While they waited, Brigatti and Chuck observed his casts and bandages. Anger was building as Brigatti turned away and left the room, intending to become the welcoming committee to escort the paramedics in.
Chuck just stood there and again relayed the condition of their best friend on to Marissa. She was silent with fear. Edging up to Gary’s side, she took his very limp hand in her hand. “We’re here, Gary. Help is on the way. Just keep breathing. Please, just keep breathing.” If he was able to hear her, he gave no indication.
Making his way around the bed, Chuck proceeded to remove the restraints from the motionless man. “I’d like to meet the bastard who did this,” he muttered as he went.
Beth had been called and she rushed to County General Hospital where Gary had been transferred. She was becoming more and more fond of Gary’s partner. For one thing, Marissa had taken the time and bother to make the call summoning her. Marissa somehow recognized the relationship developing between this particular nurse and Marissa’s dearest friend.
She entered the waiting room where Chuck, Marissa, and an attractive, dark-haired woman sat in comparative silence. She wondered if the dark-haired one was a sister…or a girlfriend, possibly?
Chuck, being the ever-predictable Chuck, gave her an admiring once-over as she sat down next to Marissa. Placing a hand on one of Marissa’s hands, Beth greeted her with, “Marissa, it’s Beth. Thanks for letting me know where he is. I don’t need to tell you how awful the suspense has been. How is he doing?”
Marissa took her other hand and covered Beth’s, “They’ve asked us to wait out here until he wakes up. They’re monitoring him and will let us know when we can see him. This waiting is horrible.” The tension among those waiting was evident in each of their faces. Marissa added, “The doctor said the drugs will take time to fully dissipate. They know he received an overly large dose of some sedative, but the exact dosage is uncertain. They’re also concerned about his oxygen levels, but they told us that they’re working on it, whatever that means.” Her voice quivered as she began again, “The doctor’s not quite sure why it’s taking so long for Gary to come back to us.”
She had no tears present, not even in her eyes, but, at least to Chuck, she was like a delicate porcelain doll. The least word might have cracked her composure and released a flood of tension-relieving tears. It wasn’t often that anyone saw this vulnerable side of her. For all of Chuck’s teasing and harassing, he hated to see Marissa like this.
Even without having had the years of acquaintance with Marissa, Beth had noticed her distress as well as all the others had. Wanting to do something…anything, she turned to Chuck, extending her hand and introducing herself. Then she asked him if he thought she could go in to sit with Gary. He wanted so badly to question her about where they had met, how she knew him, and how long they had known each other. He hadn’t heard anyone mention her name, not Marissa, not Gary, not anyone on the staff. How did Gary manage to keep this stunning secret? Instead he pointed to Gary’s room and encouraged her with, “Hey, if it was me and someone who looked like you was the first thing I saw upon waking, I’d think I was in heaven. Go ahead, what can it hurt?”
She nodded a thank you and turned to enter the room to which he had pointed.
Upon entering the dimly lit room, Beth went straight to Gary’s side. She looked down at him, so pale, so quiet. The ever-present IV was there, supplying him with fluids. An oxygen supply was being delivered by way of plastic tubing in his nostrils. She moved over to his left arm and stood there watching his chest, reassuringly, move up and down.
“Please, Gary, wake up,” she pleaded quietly.
On impulse, she stepped closer and lowered the side rail. Then, leaning over to him, she placed her left hand at his right jaw line and cheek while she gently rested her lips at the hairline on his forehead. “Gary, can you hear me?” She continued in a desperate, but whispered appeal, “It’s safe. You’re safe. Come on, Gary. I need you to open your eyes for me.”
Very slowly, very lightly, she brushed her lips from the top of his forehead down to the eye line, his body oils fragrant to her nose. Moving steadily downward with her mouth, she progressed down the bridge and length of his nose until her mouth was resting on his lips. She could feel and hear him breathing.
Suddenly Beth pulled up and away when she felt his lips move to form a smile. With his eyes still closed, he said, “Mmmm Mmmm,” warning her back to her prior position. Then, to her relief, he opened his eyes.
“Oh Gary, you had everyone so worried.” She returned to the lip contact. They connected by completing the kiss that her lips had coaxed.
“Don’t start something we’re not, not prepared to finish,” he murmured breathily; and added, “Do you, do you know I love you?”
Beth again rested her head on his forehead and, with a grin, said, “Of course. Do you know I love you?”
Before he could answer, the door opened and Chuck and Marissa entered along with Brigatti and a man Gary presumed to be a doctor.
Chuck whispered, “He’s awake, Marissa.”
“He’s awake? Thank God.” Marissa expressed her relief with what sounded like a sob.
“Hey, Gary.” Chuck, taking note of the intimate face-to-face encounter they were witnessing, asked, “Is this how they awaken patients at this hospital? I’ll be sure to give them all my business.” Gary gave him an exasperated grin and nod.
“Hi Chuck, Marissa. Hey, Brigatti.” He lifted his right hand, surprised to see the cast missing, and he motioned toward Beth. “I want you all to meet Beth. She’s probably the main reason that I’m alive right now.” Beth let him know about their waiting room introductions.
The other man in the room stepped forward and introduced himself as Dr. Lesley. “Mr. Hobson, you had a lot of people very concerned. You’re in County General Hospital. We’ve done a pretty thorough exam and have come to the conclusion that you have no broken bones…despite the casts you were sporting. The wound on your neck is a real cut, but we feel it was not due to any accident. It’s just too perfectly shaped. We’re not concerned. It’s healing fine, not a worry.”
He gave Gary’s eyes a scrutiny with a flashlight and continued, “We plan to keep you overnight so we can make certain that you’re not going to have a recurrence of any drug effects. If all goes well, you can go home tomorrow morning. You will need someone to be with you, for the day at least.”
Gary looked to Beth in an unasked question to which she nodded. Dr. Lesley continued, “Any other questions you might have should be addressed to the police or to your friends.” He patted Gary’s leg and left with a final, “Good luck.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” Gary called after him.
Toni Brigatti, who had stood back as the introductions were made, stepped forward, “I’m going to leave too, Gary. You sure put your friends through hell.” Brigatti gave him a half smile with her head slightly cocked as she said, “I’m glad we’ll be able to cross paths again. Take care,” and she added, “So long,” to all of them.
The remaining three, Beth, Marissa, and Chuck, stood around the bed and kept up a steady banter, giving Gary the scoop on the past days’ events. Beth kept a tight hold on his hand all the while.
They explained Brigatti’s part in the closing down of the treacherous doctor’s activities at Santo Angelo. They explained why Gary was needed to fill in for a trust fund cow that the administrators were milking. They also told him how he was going to be sacrificed because he had attracted too much attention to them.
Chuck was pretty quiet through it all. He recognized that he had to admit some responsibility in blowing the deal with that call he had made as ‘Uncle Henry,’ but he wasn’t prepared to confess it as yet. Marissa became his voice while he uncharacteristically held his silence.
Gary’s hand fiddled with the bed controls until he finally got the head raised to a more comfortable position. “You mean I…I had to go through all this so…so they wouldn’t lose the money supporting some poor guy’s hospi…hospitalization?” Mulling it over, he asked, “Did they murder Gordan?”
Marissa was dead serious when answering, “Toni says the original Gordan, and however many other substitutes, seemed to have had natural deaths. You were going to be the exception. They were so concerned about covering up their operation that they were willing to have one of their ready income sources die off and close that line of investigation.” She waited a moment before continuing.
“Not only that, but, according to a cooperative staff member, you had been scheduled for one of their ‘pet operations.’ Similar to a lobotomy, Gary, it would have rendered you permanently, shall we say, tranquilized, if you can put it that way.” She shuddered as she said it and added, “Think that one over.”
Chuck noticed Gary’s eyes losing their spark. “Are you getting tired, Gary?” he asked. “We could leave and give you some quiet for a while.”
Beth had noticed his hand losing the strength in his grip and was quick to agree, “I think we should let him sleep off some more of the drugs. Let’s go have some coffee and get acquainted. I’ve been dying to talk with you anyway, Marissa.”
Gary was instantly on guard. “Oh no…no…no…no…no. I don’t, don’t think I want you polluted by my friends. They would like nothing better than to…to fill your ears with emb…embarrassing stories about me. Uh-uh.”
“Oh, come on.” Chuck was ecstatic with Gary’s discomfort with this idea. Very innocently, he offered, “We’re just gonna get to know each other and let you get some shut-eye.” He raised his hand in mock swearing, “I promise, I won’t try to beat your time with this gorgeous creature.”
No smile on Gary’s face this time as he said, “You’re…you’re much too eager, all of you! I…I can see it in, in your eyes.” His fear now was of a much less dangerous consequence, except to his pride.
“Come on, guys,” as Chuck took Beth by the arm. “We’ll be back in an hour, Gar.” With a triumphant, if not gleeful, grin, he added, “See ya.”
With that temporary farewell, Gary was alone. He lowered the head of the bed and finally, did close his eyes. And he slept.
CHAPTER 12, The Epilogue
Six months had passed. It was early, too early for the alarm, the paper, the ‘errands.’ Not much had changed in the loft above McGinty’s and, yet, everything had changed.
It was somehow ‘homier,’ with a number of pictures depicting its two inhabitants. Obvious changes were evident, like a patchwork quilt in place of the Indian-pattern bed covering; some small items were placed here and there indicating the gender of the newest resident; and, quite noticeably, window coverings which could give a measure of privacy at strategic times.
Unchanged in the openness of the loft which became a home was the occupant of the bed at this early hour. As he was on the verge of waking, Gary came aware of the terrifying sensation of those straps holding his chest to the gurney. Then came the panic of the oxygen mask acting as an oxygen-less mask of death. He was helpless again. Fear filled him as visions of his torture played through this last dream before his awakening.
“No!” he yelled aloud, waking himself. He bolted upright in bed to repel the binding restraints. In doing so, he dislodged the cat from its roost on top of his chest. “Mrowr,” it shrieked as it landed on the floor. Many cat ‘owners’ claim cats can, and do, give dirty looks when provoked. If that can be true, then this cat did indeed show its displeasure.
Gary looked around and was happy to recognize the furnishings of his loft. “Sorry, Cat. I had no idea it was you. It’s sure good to be here.”
The bathroom door opened and Beth smiled out at him. “Did you just yell? And…who were you talking to just now?”
Rolling onto his right side, Gary returned her smile with, “Just a bad dream. Hi, Beautiful!” He stretched his right arm out across her pillow. With his left hand, he picked up the sheet and quilt, holding it up as an invitation. “Come back to bed. It’s early.”
“Gary, the alarm will be going off and the paper will be here in just over half an hour. You can’t get much sleep in that time.”
“MmmHmm,” he agreed, “Probably none at all, in fact. Come on back to bed.” He had a suggestive grin as he shook the covers a little.
She obediently crawled back in, placing her head on his outstretched arm. At that, he pulled the covers over her, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her nearer and gathering his happiness closer to his heart.
The End, and The Beginning
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