“Nick? Nick can you hear me?”
My head throbbed and the last thing that I wanted to do was open my eyes, but I did it anyway. The room spun for a second and my head protested profusely in response. “Ow.”
I started to sit up but Nora’s firm hands pushed me back down to the floor. “No, you probably have a concussion. Don’t move until the medics get here.”
My head rolled to the right and I instantly wished that I’d just kept my eyes closed. Mikey-C was still in the chair where I’d seen him last, only now his head hung back and a jagged cut ran across his throat. The resulting gash was still oozing blood, adding to the pool that had collected on the metal table and the floor just beneath him. I instantly retched. I managed to keep from throwing up all over myself, but the movement only sent shockwaves of pain riding from my head down to my toes in response, and that made me just want to heave again. “Oh God…”
“Shhh, it’s okay, Nick.” I felt Nora wiping at my mouth with a cloth, which I suddenly realized was the blue and purple plaid over-shirt that she’d been wearing earlier.
The medic came by a few minutes later, pushing through the crowd of cops that had gathered just outside the room. After giving me a thorough, and painful, examination which made me want to deck her she declared, “He’s got a really nasty bump and probably a concussion. We should get him to the hospital and make sure that he doesn’t have a skull fracture.”
I shook my head and instantly regretted it. “No. No hospitals.”
Nora frowned at me. “Nick, you need to get checked out.”
“Fuck that. I hate hospitals and I can’t afford the bill anyway.” That had come out far harsher than I’d intended so I forced myself to smile weakly at her and add, “I’ll be fine, Nor.”
She didn’t like that one bit but held back her response. I guess it was the use of harsh language that convinced her just how pig headed I’d be on the subject. I’m no saint, but I tend to save up my use of foul language for when I really mean it.
Nora grimaced. “Well, let’s get you out of here then.”
Nora, Matt, and Ron all tried to help pull me to my feet, but my five hundred plus pounds combined with my bum knee and half the police force watching from the sidelines only made it an exercise in humility for me. Eventually I completely lost my shit and told them to kindly leave me the hell alone and let me do it myself. I felt my cheeks burn in shame as I pulled the metal chair I’d been sitting in over next to me, got painfully to my knees, and then used the chair to help pull myself up to my feet with my good leg. I managed the whole thing without crying out in pain, even though it was a close thing.
All of the eyes on me made me wish I could just go invisible, especially when I realized that I was still half naked with electrical tape X’s over my nipples. I felt Nora’s hand grip my shoulder and my first impulse was to brush it off, but I didn’t. Matt leaned over and whispered, “He didn’t see any more than we did. You two get out of here and get him home. Ron and I will handle things here.”
Nora thanked him for the both of us and handed me my cane. The sea of cops parted for us as we went past. No one met my eyes. Phil Dreskill, who I hadn’t seen since I left the department three years before, was towards the end of the mob, apparently ignorant of what all the fuss was about. He took in my rather unorthodox appearance as I hobbled past and let out a whistle. “Jesus, Taft, what the fuck? You finally come out of the closet? Charleston have to bail you out for indecent expos-”
I don’t remember hitting him.
One second I was looking at him and his ridiculous pornstache out of the corner of my eye, and the next Phil was on the ground and bleeding from his mouth. I had my cane held in my hands like a baseball bat and four officers, Nora included, were holding me back and keeping me from beating him like a piñata.
I could hear Matt yell, “Get him the hell out of here!”
I felt Nora shoving me from behind, guiding me out of the hallway and towards the exit. I heard Phil shout insults and violent promises at my back as a wall of cops kept him from coming after me. Most of all, I just remember the sheer numbness that threatened to swallow me whole. I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve even struggled with thoughts of suicide before. But that moment was the absolute worst moment of my entire life up until that point. Never had I felt so small, so worthless, so vulnerable. At that moment I just wanted to completely disappear.
Nora handed me the black t-shirt I’d discarded in the interrogation room. “Here, Ron found it and handed it to me as we went past.”
I wanted to snarl about how her timing could have been better, but I pulled it on without comment and kept walking towards the exit, ignoring the stares of those around us as we went past. I could feel hot tears stinging my eyes, and now that the numbness of the situation was fading, it was being replaced with rage, and my entire body shook with impotent fury. I hobbled over to Nora’s car and got in, resisting the impulse to slam the door a few thousand times as hard as I could.
It wasn’t until the police department was out of sight and Nora had turned onto the highway that she finally spoke. “Nick…I’m so sorry. I just don’t know what to say.”
I felt hot tears stream down my face as I stared out the window. I didn’t say anything the entire drive home. When we pulled into the driveway Nora turned off the engine and we sat for a long while, with only the ticking of the cooling engine breaking the silence. Eventually I managed to speak, but my voice sounded raw, “What happened?”
I could hear her take a deep breath followed by a long exhale before she began. “I went into the viewing room to get the others. I’d shut the door behind me to keep Mikey from hearing us because we were all laughing so hard. When we’d finally sobered enough to come back into the room I tried the door, but it’d been jammed from the other side. Whoever it was that clocked you on the head and killed Mikey had tied the handle to our door to the one across the hall. The doors open in, so we couldn’t get out. Some officers responding to Mikey’s screams found us. When we got to the room you were out cold on the floor and Mikey was dead. Nobody there admitted to seeing anything, but hopefully the security cameras caught something.”
I forced myself to turn and look at her. “And none of you saw anything through the two-way? You were in the next fucking room!”
The recrimination in my voice made her wince. I didn’t blame her or the others, not really, and I never meant for it to come out that harshly, but I was just so damn angry over the whole thing that it bled through into my voice anyway. I instantly regretted it and held up a hand. “I’m sorry, Nora. I…I’m just…tired. I’ll see you.”
I didn’t wait for her to respond. I opened the door and got out. I was hobbling up the stairs to the front door when I heard Nora’s car door shut behind me. I turned as I fished my house keys from my pocket. “It’s okay Nora. I’m fine. I’m sure they need you back there.”
I turned back to the door and stuck my key in the lock, but before I could turn it Nora’s hand gripped my shoulder and pulled me around to face her again. Before I could say anything she had me in a fierce hug. The suddenness of it surprised me, and it took me a moment before I wrapped my arms around her to hug her back. We stayed that way for a long time, and I could feel the tears welling up again but I told them to fuck off. Eventually she spoke, her voice muffled against my chest, “When I saw you lying there…Jesus Nick, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that any of this happened. I’m sorry that I dragged you into this whole damn thing.”
Now it was my turn to shush her and I absently stroked her hair with my free hand. “It’s okay, Nor. None of this was your fault.”
She pulled back and looked me in the eyes, and I was shocked to see that hers were actually red-rimmed as though she’d been fighting back tears too. She really had been shaken. Her voice was barely a whisper. “I saw Mikey, and then you on the floor and for a minute I thought that-“
A single tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it angrily. “God! When I catch the bastard that did this!”
I pulled her back to me in another hug. “I know. I’ll help hide the body.”
After another few seconds I reluctantly pushed her away. “Come on. Let’s get inside before the neighbors start to talk.”
She snorted and punched me playfully on the shoulder. “Ruiner.”
We got inside and I made a bee-line for the couch. The electrical tape under my shirt was irritating the hell out of me, so I reached under the shirt and ripped them off with two quick yanks. I was proud of myself when I didn’t yipe.
Nora sat next to me a few minutes later and handed me a zip lock bag filled with ice. “For your head. How’s it feel?”
“Like Babe Ruth swung away.”
She nodded. “You’ve certainly got a baseball-sized lump back there. You’re lucky that you didn’t break something.”
I wrapped the bag in the dish towel that she had thoughtfully provided and winced as I pressed it to the back of my skull. “Well, grandma always said that I’m hard-headed. Glad she was right.”
I laid my head back against the ice pack and closed my eyes. Nora nudged me in the ribs. “No! No sleeping. You’ve got a concussion so you need to stay awake for a while.”
“Ow! All right, Nurse Ratched. No sleeping. Got it.”
“You want something to drink?”
I blinked. “Uh, no. I’m good. Look, Nor, not that I mind you being here, but you really don’t have to stay around and play nursemaid. I’ll be fine. Go ahead and get back to the department.”
“To hell with that!” She stood up and headed for the kitchen. “I already called Matt. I’m staying here tonight. He and Ron can handle shit without me for a few hours.”
I blinked again. “Uh, staying here?”
She poked her head out from around the kitchen door. “Yep! Since someone refuses to go to the hospital, I’m going to stay and babysit your stubborn ass until I’m satisfied that you’ll be okay. Now where does your grandma keep the good booze? I need a drink.”
“In the back of the pantry.”
Spending the night.
As if I hadn’t been through enough that day already.
Don’t get me wrong, having Nora want to spend the night at my house was like a dream come true, but in that dream I wasn’t a beaten mess with suicidal tendencies and she was a lot less clothed. Her cheerful “Got it!” from the next room shook me out of my reverie and she came back into the room carrying a wine glass filled to the brim with what I guessed was scotch. Not exactly the most couth way to drink scotch, but I wasn’t about to correct her. She flopped onto the couch next to me, took a generous sip, and then sighed contentedly.
She turned to me and grinned. “Your grandma always gets the good stuff.”
“Glad to hear it. Look, Nora, it’s sweet that you want to stay with me, and normally there’d be nothing I’d like more than to have you here, but after the day I just had I’d really rather just be alone.”
She nodded sympathetically and took another sip of her drink. “Yeah, I hear you. That’s exactly why I’m not going anywhere.” My confusion must have showed because she rolled her eyes at me. “Nick, I’m not a moron. After the hell you just went through I know exactly why you’d rather be alone, and there’s no way in hell that I’m going to leave you to wallow in your depression in a house built like the NRA’s wet dream.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you don’t.” She kissed me on the cheek and then reached for the T.V. remote sitting on the coffee table in front of us. “You guys get HBO?”