Voices seeped into my consciousness, two females. I recognized Tripti, my girlfriend. The other voice was unfamiliar. I heard beeping monitors. One was the sound of my pulse. I guessed I was alive. Struggling, I blinked open my right eye, then my left. When they finally focused, I confirmed that I was in a hospital room. How delightful.
It had the usual hospital furnishings. Off-white was the room colour of the day. There was a digital clock on the wall that read 4PM. Beside me was a hospital tray, which held a glass of water, orange juice, and a small crystal vase full of flowers, forget-me-nots, I think. I checked my left hand where there was a drip line. I suppose I was being infused with some meds. On my upper arm was a blood pressure cuff.
Where’s Nelson? I thought. Better find out. I opened my mouth—
“He’s conscious,” said Tripti, interrupting my thoughts. She pushed up beside me and took my hand. A female cop stood at the bottom of the bed. She gave my girlfriend a run in the looks department but was clearly someone with whom you wouldn’t want to mess.
A doctor rushed into the room. He was tall with bushy eyebrows and a pencil mustache. Wearing his green medical garb with a stethoscope around his neck, he walked to the other side of the bed, leaned over me, and lifted my eyelids. “They look good. Now I’d like to check your heart.” He proceeded to place the cold stethoscope cup on my chest. He listened for a few seconds.
“Mr. Kepler. My name is Doctor Silverstone. I’m delighted to see you’re awake. You’ve had a difficult three days. By all indications, you’re going to be fine, but you received quite the whack on the head. You’ll probably be in the hospital for another forty-eight hours. I’ll continue to check on you. And there will be other medical personnel dropping by.” He turned and left the room.
Tripti leaned over, smiled, and put her hand on my arm. “How are you feeling, sweetheart?” she asked. “I’m so happy to see your lovely blue eyes.”
“I think I feel okay, but I’m uncertain. I am in the hospital, right? Not heaven?”
“You’re in the Harborview Medical Center, the neurological ward. For three days, now.”
Needless to say, I didn’t remember a minute of those seventy-two hours. I sensed that I had bandages on my head, but I guess painkillers were keeping things under control.”
“Have I really been unconscious for three days?” I asked. “I don’t remember a thing.”
The cop walked over beside the bed. “Hello, Mr. Kepler. My name is Casey Hiatt and I’m a police constable with the Seattle police department. Can you answer a few questions?”
Her red hair curled out from underneath her constable’s hat, and her dusty green eyes were like cupid’s arrows. They were incredibly seductive.
“You can ask me anything.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Kepler. Do you mind if I address you as Jon?”
“Not at all.”
She pulled a pen from a breast pocket and a notebook from her navy slacks. She looked up and said, “The Seattle Police Department considers the incident at your office to be of a very serious nature. In fact, it’s a murder investigation. Can you tell me anything about what happened?”
I nodded. My tongue was tied, however. For some reason or other, I was finding it difficult to vocalize.
“Please help the constable, Jon,” demanded Tripti. “I need to talk with you, too.”
I shook my head up and down and sideways. In fact, I didn’t know how to shake it at all. “I’m not under suspicion of murder, am I?”
“Jon,” continued the constable. “Did you see any suspicious activity prior to the explosion?”
“There was a suspicious guy in the hallway,” I answered.
“Outside your office?”
The constable scribbled notes on her notepad. “Where were you when you observed this person?”
“I was in the hallway bathroom. When I opened the door, I saw him. He was dressed in black including a balaclava.”
The constable stopped writing. Lifting her head, she asked, “Did you see Mrs. Tang?”
“Initially I heard her calling my name. As I said, I was in the bathroom.”
“Where was she?”
“I think she was in my office.”
“Why was she there?”
“Trying to find me, I guess.”
“Did you see the person in the hallway do anything suspicious?”
“He threw something into my office, and it had a brilliant white flame.”
“You have no idea who this person was?”
I shook my head.
She finished her writing and put away her pen and notepad. “That’s enough for now. Please stay in town, Jon.” She turned, nodded at Tripti, and left the room.
“You couldn’t keep your eyes off her, could you?” grumbled Tripti. “It was so obvious.”
I grinned. “You have to admit, she was pretty good looking.”
“Like a side of beef,” she growled. “I expected you to start drooling and ranting again.”
“I was ranting?” Her venom had caught me off guard.
“During the last three days you’ve had moments of delirium. You’ve also perspired like a soaker hose. The nurses changed your sheets at least four times. Your ranting has been a concern.”
“Ranting? Really? What kind of ranting?” I asked. A vision of the hallway guy flashed into my mind.
Tripti smiled wickedly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Jon, but a psychologist will visit you. The staff is concerned with your headspace, that you’ve been traumatized. You may have PTSD.”
Okay, this was something new, but I was certain that I hadn’t come unhinged. I know what I saw and yes, it was terrifying. But it was probably just a bad dream. I decided to ask other questions to take her mind off my ranting. “Where’s Nelson?”
“Wally has him. He showed up shortly after I arrived. He took Nelson home.”
“I wasn’t dreaming about the explosion, did I?”
She shook her head. “The explosion blew stuff all over the place. I was terrified because I knew you were in your office. Wally and I helped the team of first responders pull boards away and we found you amongst the wreckage. It was very scary.”
“Mrs. Tang died?” The constable hadn’t mentioned anything.
“Her death and the explosion have been front page news. The police believe she had been targeted. Something about opioids.”
Her last comment didn’t surprise me. “Do you have my wallet?”
She pulled it from her purse. “I got it from Ms. Side-of-beef. I told her I was your next of kin. She was so gullible.”
I guffawed. “Next of kin? That’s pushing it, don’t you think?”
She teehee’d. “Well, I guess so. I think we should get married as soon as possible, though. We need each other.”
I peered inside the wallet. The billfold was empty except for the business card of Amber Wilson-Highgate. I looked at Tripti. “I had some money inside the wallet.”
She stood avoiding my gaze and adjusted her skirt. “There was no money in it when the police lady handed it to me.”
This surprised me. But I guess the good thing was that Mrs. Tang no longer needed her rent. The bad thing, however, was that Bob Rockwell would still want his five hundred bucks.
“I need to go now, sweetheart,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. She waved and said, “Please get some more rest. I’ll see you after dinner.”
I plucked the plastic container with the orange juice from the tray and brought the straw to my lips. Taking a sip, it tasted like nectar. My mouth still seemed to have a slight taste of dust.
A freckled face with a shock of red hair and a bushy beard appeared at the door. “Hey, Jon. How are you doing?” Wally’s a mountain of a man. With one giant step he was beside my bed. A huge smile busted across his chops.
“I’ve had better days,” I commented, “but I feel super now! Great to see you.”
Wally’s been my best friend since public school when we wrestled for a box of Lego bricks in grade one. He sat on me because he was already twice my size. Our teacher wasn’t pleased, and we ended up on opposite sides of the room. Later Wally came over, apologized for sitting on me, and shared his box of Smarties. Ever since, we’ve been friends.
“So, what’s the news? Am I going to have to break you out of here?” he asked with a big laugh.
“No, I don’t think so. The doctor told me I’d be out of here in a couple of days. I guess that’s soon enough. Not that I can really do much about it.”
“I suppose your new detective business is in a shamble,” he commented.
I grimaced. “Which sort of sucks since I’m losing a hundred bucks a day on my first contract.”
“What! How does that work?” he asked. “Doesn’t sound too good.”
“I’ll explain over a burger and a beer.”
His eyes lit up. “Now you’re talking.”
Wally is a behemoth physically, but his brain is also mighty large. He works as a computer games programmer. And he’s good. He didn’t bother going to college or university. He signed on with Microsoft while he was in his final year of high school. He’s making significant bucks. One of the things we love sharing together is going to Johnny Rockets at the Pacific Mall to share burgers and beers. We talk about his work which is always fascinating. His first shooter games are amazing.
A string-bean type of a guy in a blue tight-fitting double-breasted jacket appeared at the door. He had a five o’clock shadow and longish wavy brown hair with streaks of grey sticking out from underneath a steam punk hat. “May I come in, Mr. Kepler?”
“Don’t see why not,” I said, thinking that this might be the shrink.
He stayed standing at the bottom of the bed. “How are you feeling?” His black eyes were intense. His next actions, however, caught me completely off guard. “We must leave, Mr. Kepler. We need to get you out of here as quickly as possible.” He opened a clothes closet and threw my pants and shirt on the bed.
My eyebrows jumped in surprise. “I’m sorry, sir, but who are you?”
Wally twisted slowly about and moved menacingly towards the string-bean dude who I now surmised was not a shrink. This didn’t look good.
“Mr. Kepler, I have your dinner.” In walked a nurse holding a tray with a plate of chicken curry, a bowl of cherry jello with whipped cream, and a cup of steaming coffee. She was an odd-looking creature with a weird coppery-colored face. Her uniform didn’t fit properly, and she was wearing a white hat shaped from one of those cloth napkins found at a Chinese restaurant. She pushed Wally aside as if he was a plushy toy.
In a blur, the string-bean dude swung around, threw out an arm, and yelled Incendio. A blast of flame hit the nurse square in the chest knocking the dinner tray flying. My dinner now covered the wall beside the door. With her uniform ablaze, the nurse staggered backwards turning bandy-legged and scoliotic. Claw-tipped hands appeared, and she scrambled up the wall ending up on the medical equipment above the bed. Her face twisted into a dark red molten blob of ugliness. A deep, throaty snarl issued from her mouth revealing an impressive set of incisors.
Wally grabbed my wrist and helped me out of bed. The string-bean guy whipped up his arm again. Incendio. Another fiery bolt hit the creature. It howled. With a raspy death gurgle, it slowly melted oozing down the wall into a sizzling pile of stinking ectoplasm.
“Wow! That was cool,” yelled Wally. “I’ve got to get that scene into one of my games.”
“Get your clothes on, Mr. Kepler,” commanded the string-bean dude, now guarding the door. His eyes twinkled above his high cheekbones. Clearly, he could take care of himself.
I pulled the intravenous drip, which was still attached, from my hand pushing down the bandage to staunch any blood flow. I wobbled dizzily. “Oh, man. I don’t feel so good.” The dude turned and pointed his arm at me. Oh, crap! But this time, a warm flow of soothing, gentle energy caressed my body. Immediately, I felt better. I quickly tugged on my jeans while Wally helped me with my shirt and my shoes.
I stood gauging my readiness to escape, which wasn’t great. Wally didn’t wait, however. He hoisted me over his shoulder and ran out the door. “Time to split this pop-stand, Jon.”