Chapter 20

Wearing fresh clothes for the first time in a while, Neil walked through the big glass hospital doors and headed to the reception counter.

Being validly worried about Tom, he knew it wouldn’t take too much effort to convince the nurse at the desk that he was concerned.

Neil stopped and thought for a second. How weird would it be if he walked up to the counter and asked for a John Doe? Was he over-thinking it, or was this a bad plan. Neil stopped and looked around. There was a bank of pay phones by the gift shop. He rifled through his pockets. No jingle, except for Tom’s keys. No change for the phones. Patting his back pockets, he remembered that he had Tom’s wallet.

He walked up to the pay phones. They were not the fancy ones that took a credit card. This was a bust. “Also,” he thought to himself, “the reception probably has call display anyway. Ah well, screw it.”

Neil walked to the reception. He took a deep breath. And another. He slowed down, allowing some time to collect himself before he got to the reception. Calmly, he approached the counter. A 50-something nurse sat there, focusing on her computer. Neil couldn’t see through the privacy film on the screen, but he was pretty sure she was playing solitaire.

He cleared his throat.

“Excuse me?” asked Neil.

The nurse jumped back in shock before abruptly answering. “Can I help you?”

Neil grimaced at her terseness. “Um, yeah. A friend of mine went missing. A bunch of us are hitting all the hospitals around town looking for him.”

The nurse was captivated. “Really? How long as he been missing?”

“Since yesterday”

The nurse suddenly seemed uninterested. “I guess an overnight missing person wasn’t compelling enough to steal her away from solitaire,” he mused to himself. He would need to change the plan.

“Um, we had reason to believe he may have been suicidal. I know he owned a couple of guns. I just wanted to see if there might have been anyone seemed remotely like that. Maybe a John Doe?”

The nurse nodded and started typing on her computer. “I’m sorry, dear, we don’t have any unidentified persons in the hospital at this time.”

Neil was confused. He knew that only hours ago he left Tom in the emergency. Could this mean he was dead? He felt a sick feeling in his gut. He took a deep breath.

“Does that mean that you might have some unidentified persons who passed away in the last few hours? Any gunshot victims?”

“I’m afraid I can’t just tell you that.”

“I get that. Really, I do. I understand. I was just hoping you could help me out somehow. We’re all really worried sick and none of us are making headway so far. I would just love to find him.”

The nurse nodded half-attentively. She had already moved her attention back to whatever it was that was more interesting on her computer. Maybe somehow they identified him.

“Um, nurse, maybe someone mentioned a name. I’m looking for a guy by the name of Tom Burke.”

The nurse jumped up and waved the security guard over. Neil glanced at the guard and felt his heart skip a beat. He started to lose control of his breathing. He could feel his skin getting warmer. His arm hairs stood on end with static electricity.

Neil bit down on his tongue as hard as he could and used the pain to help him focus. The sharp pain and the metallic taste of blood in his mouth gave him something to focus on. Counting while he took a few calming breaths, he managed to get himself in a good head space as the security guard arrived.

“This guy here knows the guy in room 119. The police are going to want to talk to him.” barked the nurse.

Neil felt concerned about the way this was going. He needed to do something to change the tone quickly.

“He’s here?” Neil asked, trying to appear shocked. “Oh, thank god! Can I see him? Can I call my friends? His family? There’s so many people who are worried about him. How bad is it? Was it pills? Did he cut himself? We’ll need to get the pastor down here to talk to him! Can I use your phone?” Neil hoped that the fast pace of speech and his breathless tone would convey the right amount of panic for the situation not to raise any flags. He continued, “Oh, wait. You said police? There’s police to talk to? I can probably handle that, but if they want to wait for his family, they’ll probably want to head here quickly. Whatever you folks think is best.”

The guard kept glancing between Neil and the nurse, with a quizzical look that seemed to indicate frustration with the situation. After Neil started talking, the guard looked directly at the nurse and shot her a ‘what-the-hell’ glance. The nurse shrugged at the guard before looking at Neil.

“Why don’t you go ahead and visit your friend. Room 119. In the intensive care unit. He’s had a rough few hours and we don’t expect him to be awake any time soon, but hopefully seeing him will calm you down. I’ve activated the phone in his room for you to call his relatives. I’m sure the police would prefer to talk to family, but they might want to ask you questions as well. Visiting hours in the ICU are 8am to 8pm. No more than 2 visitors at any time. No exceptions.”

Neil nodded. “I understand. Thank you so much! God bless!”

The nurse turned to the guard. “Thanks dear, I think we’re good from here.”

The guard dismissively glanced sideways at Neil one last time before shrugging. He turned and walked away.

“119, right?” asked Neil

The nurse nodded half-heartedly. She was already back to playing solitaire.

Neil started toward the room. “That actually went well”, he thought to himself as he shuffled through a set of double doors towards the ICU. As he continued down the sterile gray hallway he came to another set of doors. These doors were closed. There was a red button on the wall and a sign that said “PUSH FOR ADMITTANCE”

This would be the first time Neil touched anything electronic since he figured out his powers were controllable. He had no idea what would happen if he electrocuted a hospital. Would people die? Once again he fell back to his breathing exercises. He tensed his hands into tightly-balled fists and opened them. He reached to the button. The doors opened just before he could muster up the courage to hit the button. A couple of nurses walked out of the ICU chatting about some TV program. Neil nodded to them and walked in. Tom’s room was immediately to the left of the big doors. He walked into Tom’s room and carefully closed the door.

Neil positioned his chair with his back to the window and his face to the door. He settled in. Finally, he looked at his friend. Tom was a mess of tubes, electrodes, sensors and wires. The blood pressure machine kicked in and Neil watched impatiently for the numbers to show up on the screen. The number 95/60 blinked on the screen a few times.

“What the hell does that mean? Thought Neil to himself. “Low, I guess. Too low?”

Neil started looking at all of the machines attached to his friend. All of them had some kind of numeric read out. Some kind of information that would be important if he had even a faint sense of biology. He skipped from machine to machine, provoked by even the slightest change. He didn’t even know what O2 saturation was, but every time that number changed he was ready to hit the panic button.

Neil realized that he was looking at these machines obsessively, because it was easier than looking at Tom’s lifeless body. He took a long hard look at his friend. This was hard. Tom’s skin was practically yellow. As Neil noticed the large tube in Tom’s mouth, he imagined how uncomfortable that would feel. His jaw hurt just looking at it. He looked at Tom’s chest and stomach which were bandaged up. Reddish tinges stained the bandages sporadically. Tubes came out of his sides as well, leading from within the bandages to machines that looked important.

“How in the hell did you do this, Tom?” Neil asked. “How did you come and see me, day in and day out? I feel so useless. I want to scream. I wish I could fix this now.”

The room door opened. A young nurse walked in. Neil stepped back startled. The nurse did the same.

“I’m sorry,” said the nurse. “I didn’t realize Tom here had any visitors.”

“I suppose an apology is in order as well. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You a friend of Tom’s?”

Neil nodded. “Yeah, close friends. I’m pretty much all the family that Tom has left.”

Neil immediately winced. He knew that wasn’t the story he chose. He hoped that the young nurse didn’t talk to the reception nurse all that much.

The young nurse smiled. “The police have been waiting to talk to someone who can shed some light on the situation.”

Neil nodded. “Yeah, I suppose I’d be the best person to have that conversation. Are they here?”

The nurse shook her head. “Nah, they’ve been checking in from time to time. We’re supposed to give a detective a call when someone showed up.”

“Ugh,” responded Neil. “I’m not looking forward to talking to the police, but I know someone has to do it.”

Neil’s head reeled at the thought of talking to the police. Everything was spiraling out of control. Mentioning Conrad would likely put Tom at considerable risk. Conrad was well connected and so desperate. Could he trust the police or were they just in Conrad’s pocket?

“If you’d like, I can stay with you while you talk to the police. I’d be more than willing to sit with you both.” Said the young nurse.

“I’d really appreciate that,” said Neil, realizing that he was being sincere. Fearing an awkward silence, he decided to come up with a name. “I’m Kevin, by the way.” Immediately, Neil winced. He could have just used his real name. This was getting stupid.

The nurse smiled. “Nice to meet you, Kevin. My name is Stephanie. Should I go call the police officer?”

“Stephanie. What a pretty name. Yes, please.” Neil paused for a second. “And thanks!”

Nurse Stephanie walked to the door. As she left the room, Neil found himself trying to walk through the past few hours. How did they figure out who Tom was? He couldn’t exactly ask without raising suspicion. He would try to get around to that. Stephanie walked back in with a police officer in tow. The police officer walked in and looked at Neil quizzically.

“Well, that was fast!” Remarked Neil.

“You’d be surprised how often police wind up at the hospital,” said the officer. He continued. “I was dealing with someone I had to bring in. It went a little rough, so we wound up here. I didn’t feel like doing the paperwork and the dispatch suggested I come check in. That’s when Stephanie flagged me down.”

The officer looked weary. “Hey, you mind if I sit down? The name’s Malone.”

The officer reached his hand out to Neil. Uncertain, Neil made a show of coughing into his own hand. Hand outstretched, he made an apologetic face to the police officer. Malone withdrew his hand.

“Um, I’m Kevin. Sorry about that. This room is really dry – I guess it’s giving me a bit of a cough.”

Officer Malone seemed pleased with Neil’s explanation and didn’t press the matter.

“Kevin,” he asked as he pulled out a tiny notepad and started jotting down notes. “Kevin what?”

Neil shuffled awkwardly. This was going to be hard. He didn’t want to make up a last name as well. He wasn’t sure how to proceed.

“Officer Malone, before we get off on the wrong foot, can I just say that I’ve spent the morning frantically searching all the hospitals in town? I just got here and seeing my friend like this is a lot to take in. Could we defer the interview a bit?”

Malone’s body language shifted. He didn’t seem to appreciate Neil’s explanation. It was getting awkward. Neil couldn’t help but keep talking.

“I mean, I’m willing to have a discussion and answer some questions, but does it have to be a formal statement? I’m just overwhelmed right now. That’s my best friend in that bed.”

Malone took a hard, uncomfortable stare at Neil for what seemed like minutes. He leaned forward and put his notepad back in his pocket.

“I don’t like this,” said Malone, “but I can’t make you do anything and I really don’t feel like dragging you back to the station just to sweat a few more answers out of you.”

“I’m more than willing to answer questions, I just don’t feel like I’m the right person for a formal statement.”

Malone nodded. “You have any theories?” he asked Neil.

Neil wasn’t sure how to answer. He didn’t want to give specifics but he didn’t want to press his luck. How could he twist the real story so he didn’t have to consistently tell a bunch of lies? He thought of Conrad and the way he acted. He thought of everything to this point.

“Um, Tom was in a very abusive relationship. It was completely unhealthy.”

The officer looked at Neil and then back at Tom. “I’ve investigated cases like this before. It’s not impossible, it’s not unheard of, by any means, but it’s somewhat uncommon for a woman to get this violent. Is there any chance this is self-inflicted?”

Neil nodded to the officer, feeling a pang of guilt at making it seem like Tom would do this to himself.

“Yeah, He’s been depressed a while. There was a conflict last night and he went missing. I had to admit my immediate thought was self-harm or suicide.”

“What was the girlfriend’s name?”

“Tom was secretive about his relationship. We kind of joked about it from time to time, but he was pretty vague on details with the group. I think he was ashamed of how she treated him. He was stingy with details.”

“Uh-huh, sure. Um, do you think the girlfriend is a threat?” asked Malone.

As Neil thought of Conrad, he nodded affirmatively. Conrad was a threat. He did have to admit that the thought of Conrad being a woman was making a juvenile part of his brain snicker.

“Yeah,” Neil responded. “I don’t know if she did this, I don’t know anything at all, but I worry about her tracking Tom down and making things worse. I kind of wish he was a John Doe.”

Stephanie chose this moment to speak up. “Kevin,” she responded, “If you’re concerned about Tom, especially given his admittance circumstances, I think we can do something. Maybe take him off the list. Realistically, it’s a bad idea to change the name on the file now that he’s been through surgery and now that he’s got an ongoing care plan. It’s irresponsible to introduce that level of confusion to the team here.”

Neil nodded. That made sense in his opinion.

“I’m happy with that.” Neil paused for a second. “You mentioned his admittance circumstances. I’m almost afraid to ask. Can either of you tell me about that?”

“I’m afraid we can’t,” replied Stephanie. “but I’ll go and take care of the paperwork to take him off the patient information list. Then I’ll have to kick you both out so I can clean him up a bit and redress his incisions.”

Nurse Stephanie left the room. As she left, Officer Malone stood up. “I can’t tell you anything either, Kevin, it’s an ongoing investigation. What I can tell you is that something about this whole thing is giving me a bad feeling and I don’t think I trust you at all. I’ve got a gut feeling that you’re holding out on me. I’m going to be keeping an eye on you.”

Neil sighed. “I wish I had more to give you, but I’m just so overwhelmed. Like, I don’t even know how he got in here. I don’t know if I have to watch out for her – hell, I don’t even know what she looks like. I’m sitting here looking at Tom and I’m second guessing if I could have helped with this. I’m sitting here wondering if someone could injure themselves that bad? There’s a million thoughts going through my head. I’m sorry if that throws you.”

Officer Malone nodded. “I can’t say anything, but if,” he paused for emphasis, “IF it was his girlfriend who did this to him, she’s a dangerous person. If he did this to himself, he really wanted to end it. Are you sure you don’t have details on the girlfriend?”

“I don’t.” replied Neil.

“Are you sure? Are you protecting someone who did this to your friend?” asked Malone

“No. If I knew anything I’d tell you more.”

Malone looked at Neil grimly. “Well, if that’s all you have you’re no use to me,” he replied as he got up. He handed his business card to Neil. As he walked out of the room he pointed at Tom. “When he wakes up, I want to talk to him.”

Neil nodded. The officer closed the door. Neil looked back over at Tom. Tom’s eyelids started to flutter open. As he came to, his glassy looking eyes darted around the room, implying confusion. His breathing started to quicken.

“Tom,” he shouted as he ran over to his friend. “Tom, are you there? Hey, Tom, take a breather, listen to me. Calm down.”

Without thinking, Neil grabbed his friend’s hand. Tom recoiled slightly, prompting Neil to remember himself. Before Neil could withdraw his hand, Tom squeezed tighter. This was the first time Neil had touched anyone in a while. It was nice being able to make human contact. He even felt a smile creep up on his face.

“It’s OK Tom. It’s OK. Just relax. I’m here for you. You’re going to be OK. I’ll tell you everything. Just focus on healing. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Tom’s eyes closed and his breathing slowed considerably. His face relaxed and his grip on Neil’s hand loosened.

“I’ll take care of everything,” Neil continued. “I’m here now.”

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

So this is the first chapter put online on the new webpage with the new layout. It's notable because I finally chose a name for my book - I am Sinewave - and I'm looking to drive some traffic here. If you like the book, please, recommend it to a friend. If you don't like it, well, recommend it to an enemy. I'll take readers.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

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I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

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