Chapter 25: The Sad Fate Of Benedicto Morales
The clown and I just stared at each other while the nurse removed my catheter. The clown was wearing a blue wig and a red foam nose that was faded on one side like it had been sitting on the dashboard of someone's car for the past month. In his hand he had a blue foil balloon that hovered and swayed in the re-circulated air.
"I don't suppose you could deliver that balloon some other time," I said. "Like, when the blonde isn't fondling my penis."
"It's the end of my shift. Don't sweat it, man. I've seen this kind of thing before," the clown said as he did his level best not to let his tear-dropped eyes wander down to my naked lower half.
The nurse hitched my gown even farther up my waist and a draft of cold sterile air gave me gooseflesh down my legs. The clown gave an involuntary glance then snapped his gaze back to my face.
Neither of us blinked.
"So, uh, what's with the handcuffs?" the clown asked.
I lifted my unwounded arm and heard the dull clank of metal on metal. Two of my fingers were in splints. "Nurse Ratchet here is a bit of a freak-a-leek."
She stood up with a bed pan in her hands and said, "Not with those goods, honey."
I looked down to the bruised and shriveled memory of my manhood. I honestly couldn't blame her.
The nurse finished her business, handling me like she was scrubbing a rusty skillet. "Get some rest." She snapped off her rubber gloves and started for the door.
"Excuse me, nurse? Nurse? My gown?" The woman didn't even break stride as she walked out of the room.
The clown turned back from watching the nurse leave and stared at me with eyes the size of eggplants. Pale lines of sweat streaked through his makeup as thin wiry strands of blue nylon hair stuck to his forehead. His collar drooped around his neck like a wilted flower.
My eyes roamed over my situation, moving like the stuttering hands of a cuckoo clock. I looked at the clown. Then to the handcuffs on my right hand. To the sling on my left arm. To my completely exposed lower half. Back to the clown.
"You…you, uh…you think you could-"
"I just make the deliveries, man." He held out the balloon as if it had bitten him.
Another twelve hours passed on my cuckoo clock. "Really? And here I just thought you like looking at naked men in handcuffs. You know, there are websites for that kind of thing."
The clown came around and tied the balloon to the bed. "Sorry, it's just, well…" He glanced at the handcuffs. "I've just never met anyone who's been in the news before."
"News? What are you taking about?"
"You're the guy that did all that damage downtown, right?"
"Not directly, no." The cuffs clanked as I tried to pull my gown down. "I guess the cops aren't so sure about that, though. Seriously. You want to give me a hand here, Krusty?" He slid the balloon string along the bed railing within reach of my cuffed hand. "I meant with the gown."
"Sorry, man. Shift's over." And then he left.
My arm was sore and the sling was too tight for me to weasel my gown any lower. I was able to grab the call button with my handcuffed hand and hold the button down. I wasn't going to let up until someone came in here and covered me up.
Three minutes later someone came into the room, but it wasn't a nurse. It was a man in his early thirties with broad shoulders and a suit that cost more than my first year of college. He nodded to a couple of men outside who each took a position on either side of the door. The man walked in and closed the door behind him. He stepped to the foot of the bed and said, "Dingo."
Carson gave me a once over, not at all embarrassed to see me half naked and broken. "Am I interrupting anything?"
"Yes, Carson, because masturbating is the first thing I like to do after waking up from a three day coma."
He smiled and pulled my gown down. "Still the funny man." Carson moved over to the chair across the room and sat down, crossing his legs and brushing a bit of invisible lint from his thigh. "How do you feel?"
"About as good as I look."
"I'm happy to hear that."
My face curled into an involuntary smile. It was stiff and brittle. "Well, it's not the first time I've woken up bloodied and handcuffed to a bed."
Carson sat with his hands folded in his lap. "I know. Darby used to tell me stories."
I nodded, shared a look with him then turned away. I'm sure it was just a product of having my head worked over so many times in the past week, but I could still smell the leather of her boots, feel her thin, knife-like heel digging into my throat. No one knew how to mess me up like Darby did. "So, you couldn't have done me the favor of killing me in my sleep?"
"I'm not here to kill you, Dingo."
I looked back. "Yeah, I'm calling bullshit on that one."
"It's true. If I needed you dead, you never would have made it to the emergency room."
"Needed? Don't you mean wanted?"
Carson laughed. A hint of his Mid-western drawl came out. "Of course I want you dead, Dingo. But fortunately for you, I need you alive."
That much was true. Carson didn't have much pull outside of the state, but in Indiana he could Spilotro my ass in between business calls. The fact that I wasn't fertilizing soybeans at the moment meant that he was telling me the truth. "Need me for what, exactly? Look, if you want me to canvas for your campaign, I'd rather you just kill me now."
Carson's smile was all teeth. "No, Dingo. You ruined any chance I had at a political life years ago. Besides, I learned that I can get more done by buying politicians than actually becoming one. It's one of the many benefits of being grotesquely rich."
"That's what I hear. So what then?"
Carson stood up and walked to the side of the bed. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an envelope and tossed it on my lap. "This is your statement to the police."
I stared at it for a moment. "And what exactly does my statement say?"
"That you chased your dog onto my property and into my hotel where you came across a band of South American drug dealers just before their deal went bad. One of them saw you, chased you out of the hotel, followed you and cut a swath of destruction through this fine town in an attempt to kill you."
"South American drug dealers?"
Carson just stared at me.
"So it's just a coincidence that the drug dealer that destroyed half this city in an attempt to kill me was my ex-wife."
Carson's eyebrows furrowed over his nose. "Your ex-wife? That's not what you wrote in your statement. Your statement says that you were chased by a man who was later identified as…," he reached into his breast pocket again, pulled out a Treo, and pressed a button. "…Benedicto Morales."
"Benedicto Morales. A man. In a plaid miniskirt?"
"I don't recall your statement mentioning that."
"There were witnesses, Eli."
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "As I said. One of the benefits."
My head was starting to swim and I was getting hungry. "Does the statement really say all that? 'Cause I'm missing the catch here."
Carson put the Treo back in his pocket and folded his arms across his thick chest. "There's no catch, Dingo. You're the only one who knows what happened in that hotel. If you tell the cops that it was my girlfriend who chased you down and burned half the city doing it, I have to answer a lot of questions that I really don't want people to ask. But, if you say a drug deal went bad, I collect the insurance and you get to live. Win win."
I trusted this guy about as far as I could walk at the moment. "Yeah, well what about the train? Or the five blocks of burning cars? People are going to want to see someone pay for that, and they can't sue a dead South American."
"They won't have to sue anyone. Surprisingly, none of the locals were killed, so no worry about any wrongful death lawsuits. It was all property damage. I'll write a couple of checks to the right people. Everyone will be appropriately compensated and I'll probably have a street named after me."
I didn't think it was possible for me to hate this bastard more. "And all it cost you was your girlfriend being shot dead in the street like a dog. Yeah, you're a real fuckin' philanthropist."
Carson chuckled as he smoothed out his suit jacket and headed for the door. "You know, I lied to you, Dingo. There is one catch to all of this." He put his hand on the door handle and stopped. "Darby isn't dead." He opened the door and stepped out muttering, "You poor, unfortunate bastard."
A few minutes after Carson left, the cops came in and uncuffed me. I read the statement, signed it and handed it off. They gave me a nod and then left without so much as a 'get well' or a 'we'll be in touch.'
To my surprise, Heather came in wearing maroon scrubs and carrying a tray full of prepackaged food. "Every time I see you, you just look worse and worse," she said.
"What every guy wants to hear from a pretty girl."
She set the tray down and started fiddling with my i.v.
"Do you like the balloon?"
"The balloon, yes. The ogling clown, not as much."
Heather tapped a tiny air bubble out of the tube and said, "Well, I'm just glad you like it." She grabbed my wrist and felt my pulse. "How's Cerberus?"
I didn't want to think about it. Whatever that dog was, it certainly could handle itself. But that Carson knew that the dog was in his hotel did not bode well. That meant that a body must have been found. "I think he got caught in the fire."
Heather looked at me and put her hand on my shoulder. "Oh God, I'm so sorry." She gave me another one of her genuine smiles of sympathy before saying, "But hey, I've got something that might cheer you up."
My stomach was growling but I didn't have the energy to eat. I was playing with the Jello cubes when Heather put a plastic bin on my lap. "It's your stuff. Some of it is what you had on you when you came in, but the rest was pulled out of your Jeep."
The first thing I noticed was the teddy bear, stained with dark patches of my dried blood. But I couldn't decide if I was happy to see it or just terribly, terribly sad. I was happy that it was here and that it hadn't fallen into the wrong person's hands but part of me wanted it to just be over with. I was tired of hiding the damn thing. And now that I knew that Darby was still alive, I knew she'd eventually come for it. And I had no way of hiding it from her now. Not without the box. Of course, Michael's soul wasn't all here but I didn't think that would matter to Darby. She would either find the rest of it or she'd just find someone willing to pay what she wanted for only half of it. I had no idea what I was going to do.
I rummaged through the other things in the bin. There were maps, a couple of old pulp novels, some matches, a cigar cutter, and the picture that Sarah gave me. I was reaching for one of the books when something about the picture caught my eye. There was Sarah and my mom, both looking happy, if somewhat drunk. I stared at the picture for a moment, taking in my mother's pendant and her gaudy earrings, Sarah's silky dress, the way they both posed for the camera. Then looked at the teddy bear. And then it clicked into place.
All of it.
I knew what I had to do. "Heather, when the hell can I get out of here?"
Heather's face twisted into a cute little swirl of lips and eyebrows. "Well, I'm not a doctor, but since you have a concussion, a cracked sternum, two gunshot wounds, and enough stitches in your head to put a sweatshop out of business, I'd say not for a while yet."
"I have to leave. Today. Now."
"Dingo, you should-"
"Heather, please. Get the doctor."
She put her hands on her hips and sucked on her lower lip. "Okay, but the doctor is going to laugh at you for even suggesting it. I'll be back."
After twenty minutes of arguing, a threatened lawsuit, and a six-digit bribe, the doctor said he'd let me go. I was going to have to wear a special girdle for my cracked sternum and walk with a cane, but at least I would be mobile.
Heather helped me get dressed and wheeled me to the door. My arm was still in a sling and my head was wrapped like a turban.
She said, "Dingo, this is such a bad idea."
"I know, and I promise I'll check back in. But I have something I have to take care of."
A cab rolled up and Heather took me outside. She gave me a cane when I stood up but I lost my balance and fell against the cab. Pain shot up along my arm and I made an ugly sound, but I stayed standing. "Are you sure about this?" Heather asked. "I can take you back inside."
"No. Thanks, but no."
She opened the door and helped me inside. "Be careful, Dingo."
I smiled then gave the cabbie the address.
It took only ten minutes to get to the retirement home. I handed the cabbie a twenty that Heather let me borrow then walked inside.
A woman in an old-school nurse's hat was sitting behind a curved desk while a dozen senior citizens lounged about on couches and chairs, surrounding tables filled with game boards, magazines, and large picture books. I walked up to the woman and told her who I wanted to see.
She nodded, got up, and walked over to someone sitting in an oversized chair. The chair back was too high for me to see over, but I could hear the person talking to the nurse. "Ricky? Ricky's here?" The old woman stood up from the chair and turned to see me. "Oh. It's you."
I tried to smile, but through the bandages and my swollen features I knew that it looked more like a sneer.
"It's good to see you too, Mom."