by Steven Cuffari
One dark night outside the emergency room at Immaculate Womb hospital, the multicolored reflections of the street lights decorated the asphalt. Klara was standing there smoking a cigarette in the adjacent parking lot, trying hard to ignore the near constant stream of emergency patients.
“That shit’ll kill ya!” shouted an EMT as he wheeled an old man breathing from an oxygen mask.
“I hope so!” Klara shouted back. “Then I’ll finally get some sleep!”
Klara was half-way done with her cigarette when she looked across the parking lot and saw a naked man walking toward her. “What the fuck?” she said. The man was wearing nothing but a ragged shirt. As he got closer, it became obvious that he was covered in blood. There was so much of it, that it was hard for her to tell the extent of his injuries, but they were bad.
“Holy shit!” she shouted, dropping her cigarette without a second thought. She ran inside, grabbed a gurney and rushed over to the man. Just as she got close enough to see how badly he was injured, he fell face-first onto the pavement. Klara heaved him onto the gurney and pushed him inside as her colleagues came to help.
Hours later, Klara was checking on her patients, when she finally came to the naked man’s room. She picked up his chart and looked it over.
He had deep friction burns around his ankles and wrists. Several of his fingers were cut down to a knuckle and cauterized. His body was covered in stab wounds, and his face was puffed up and blackened from apparent blunt force trauma. Cigarette burns and bruises were scattered all over his skin. He had several broken ribs and a broken sternum. He was missing teeth, which were probably lost when he fell down in the parking lot. According to the chart, he had been unconscious since arrival, and his heart had to be defibrillated twice.
Klara was used to seeing gruesome injuries, but this made her shiver. Just as she was thinking, People are so sick, a hand on her shoulder startled her.
“Oh, Jim!” she shouted. “What are you doing here?”
“Working,” Jim said. He kissed her on the lips and took the chart from her.
“By all means, have a look,” Klara said.
“This guy’s been through hell,” Jim remarked.
Klara grabbed the chart back. “Are you here for this, or just to bother me?” she asked, smiling.
“I told you. I’m working. Any evidence for me?”
“Come with me,” Klara said, putting the chart back in place, dragging Jim out of the room.
“We gonna do it in the supply closet again?” he asked as they dodged gurneys and hospital staff.
“You wish,” she replied.
She led him to a wall of lockers and opened one.
“This was all he came in with,” she said, presenting him with the bloodied shirt.
“You couldn’t have bagged it?” Jim asked.
“Jim. Don’t test me. I’m on my eleventh hour.”
“I know what hour you’re on. Anyway, this is all? Jesus, what happened to this guy? Poor bastard.”
“You should have seen him before we cleaned him up.”
Jim unfolded the shirt and pulled out a business card. “Nice,” he said. “Didn’t see this when he came in?”
Klara frowned and crossed her arms. “You’re the detective.”
The card was for a company called Applied Systematics. Nobody’s name was on it. There was just a logo, a phone number and a fax number.
“This is weird, but it’s something,” he said. “Nice work.”
“Like I said. You’re the detective. Now go detect. I have to get back to work.”
Klara closed the locker and left Jim with the evidence.
Applied Systematics? he thought. Let’s find out who you are.
One morning several days later, Jim came back to the hospital with a nervous woman, Lucy, and signed her in at the front desk.
“He’s in room 209,” said the nurse there. “I’ll tell Klara you’re here.”
“Thanks, Tony,” Jim said and led Lucy by the arm to the ICU.
When they got there, Lucy clung to Jim in fear of what she was expecting. She took one look at the man and shrieked, covering her face in Jim’s chest. Jim consoled her and gently pushed her away.
“It’s okay,” he assured her. “He’s gonna be okay. I just need you to ID him for me.”
Lucy sobbed and continued to cling to Jim. “That’s him. That’s him. That’s my boss, Chris Townsend. Who would do this to him!”
Just then, Klara arrived. “Everything okay here?” she asked. She went over to Lucy and took her into her arms, giving Jim a dirty look.
Jim responded with a look of his own and put his hands in the air, absolving himself of responsibility.
“It’s going to be okay,” Klara said to Lucy.
Lucy sobbed and said, “Who would do this to him? I mean, is he going to be okay?”
“Everything is going to be okay. What we need now is for you to calm down and tell us about his next of kin,” Klara said.
“Next of kin! Oh, he is going to die, isn’t he!”
Jim gave a thumbs up to Klara behind Lucy’s back and Klara glared at him. He put his hands in the air again and backed away from them.
“No, no. We don’t know if he’s going to die. Right now, he’s stable. We just need to notify his family. You understand that, right? They must be worried about him.”
Lucy sniffled and composed herself. “Okay. Okay. His wife’s name is Charlotte. I can text you her number.”
“That would be great,” Klara said.
As Lucy went through her phone for the number, Klara gave Jim another look. He nodded at her, acknowledging her skill in handling Lucy.
“Here it is,” said Lucy.
Just as Klara took out her phone to check for the message, Chris began to stir and moan in his bed. His heart rate monitor began to race.
“Oh my god!” shouted Lucy. She tried to run to his side, but Klara stopped her. Another nurse rushed in to help.
Chris opened one of his puffed up eyes and croaked, “Chuck…” His voice was raspy. “Chuck…” he said.
“Oh my god,” whimpered Lucy, retreating to Jim’s arms once again.
Jim placed his arms awkwardly around her, and Klara demanded with her eyes that he remove Lucy from the room.
“Let’s go, ma’am. We have to let them do their work.”
Before he was able to get Lucy out, Chris spoke again, this time louder. He tried to sit up and made a signal with his mutilated hand, but it was hard to tell if he was pointing or reaching out. “Chuck…” he rasped again. “It… was… Chuck…”
Lucy shrieked again, and Jim fumbled with her.
“Get her out of here,” demanded Klara, just short of shouting. Klara rushed over to Chris and restrained him, while the other nurse readied a sedative and injected it into his IV.
The next morning, Jim and Klara stood outside in the parking lot smoking cigarettes.
“I’ve got to quit this shit,” Jim said.
“You should quit drinking,” Klara said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jim asked.
“You know what that means,” she said.
Jim was cut short by a nurse who popped out for a split-second. She said “Jim, there’s a lady here for you at reception,” and in another split-second, she was gone.
Jim took a final drag on his cigarette and stepped it out. “Let’s do this,” he said.
Klara continued to smoke and shook her head at Jim, watching him rush off.
“What a jack-ass,” she said to herself.
“Miss Townsend?” Jim asked, extending his hand to the woman sitting in reception.
“Yes, yes. That’s me. Where is he? Where is my husband?”
“I know you must be concerned, but please take it easy. You’ll have time to see him in a few moments. First, I need you to identify Mr. Townsend.”
Jim held up a picture of the brutalized man.
When Charlotte saw it, she gasped and covered her mouth. She seemed to be holding back tears. She said with measured breath “My god, yes. That’s him. That’s my husband. Chris Townsend.”
Klara joined them and stood next to Jim.
“Okay. Thank you,” Jim said. “Now, my wife, I mean nurse Wilk will take you through the paper work they need, then you can see your hudband.”
Klara shook her head raised an eyebrow at Jim, and then turned to Charlotte.
“I’ll be right back,” Jim said, taking out his phone, and disappeared.
Later, Klara stood with Charlotte at Chris’ bedside in silence. Charlotte caressed his forehead, one of the few parts of his body not injured, and held back tears.
After several moments, Klara broke the silence. “Would you like to sit down? All this must be exhausting.”
Charlotte turned to Klara and nodded with verging tears rimming her eyes.
Klara dragged a chair over and crouched next to Charlotte. She allowed her a few more moments of silence to wipe the tears from her face.
“Do you have any idea who might have done this to him?” Klara asked.
Charlotte’s head darted in Klara’s direction, and her face showed confusion and anger.
“I have no idea,” she said. “He… we… we have no enemies. Well, not that I know of.”
“I’m sorry, but I had to ask. I don’t want to scare you, but your husband is in critical condition, and unless he wakes up, we have no way of knowing what happened. I’m sure you want to know as much as we do.”
Charlotte took a deep breath and sighed. “You know, I didn’t want to mention it, but I probably should tell you that Chris and I have been separated since October last year,” admitted Charlotte.
Just then, Jim arrived with a two coffees, and handed one to Charlotte. Klara looked at her husband sideways as he sipped his own coffee. From the expression on his face, it was obvious that he had no idea that he should have brought her one too.
Charlotte continued. “A few years ago, we were trying to have children and found out…” She took a deep breath and tried not to cry.
“We found out I couldn’t conceive. Chris took it hard. He blamed me. We both did. I wanted to keep trying, but he refused. I was willing to try a surrogate, egg donors, drugs, anything. But he was against all that. Even adoption.” Finally, Charlotte was unable to hold back her tears.
“Then he became violent with me. Began to blame me for his failing business, for his trouble with alcohol. I knew I needed to get out of there, but he cut me off from our bank accounts. I had to sue him to get them back. This was all while we were still living together. When I was finally able to, I got an apartment and a restraining order. And I haven’t seen him since.”
Both Jim and Klara were wide-eyed at Charlotte’s story.
Charlotte wiped her tears away which were now smearing her mascara. “I can’t imagine what he’s gotten himself into or who would do this to him.”
Without warning, Chris’ heart rate monitor began to speed up.
“Oh my god, what’s happening!” shouted Charlotte. She jumped to her feet.
Jim put his coffee down and tried to lead her out, but she resisted.
Chris groaned and twitched, worse than before.
“What’s happening to him!” Charlotte shouted.
Two nurses came in to hold him down. He cracked open both of his puffed up eyes and shouted “Chuck! It was Chuck!” His gaze seemed to target his wife, and he raised one of his mangled hands at her, while the nurses tried to restrain him.
Charlotte shrieked again as Jim continued trying to drag her out.
Chris shouted “It was Chuck!” one more time before his heart rate monitor flatlined, and his body seized up.
A flood of doctors and nurses filled the room as Charlotte wailed. It took both Klara and Jim to remove her.
A short while later, Charlotte was sitting next to Klara in reception with her head in her hands and in her lap, when Jim came back with more coffee, this time for the three of them.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Jim as he handed her a cup.
She looked up at him and nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Listen,” Jim said. “You should go home and get some rest. There’s no sense in you staying here.”
Klara added “If you need it, I can get you some pills to help you relax.”
“Thank you so much, but I don’t think that’s necessary,” Charlotte said as Klara helped her stand up. “I’ll just call myself a taxi.”
“Oh, before you go, take my card,” said Jim. “I’ll need to follow up with you at some point.”
Charlotte smiled weakly and nodded, putting the card in her purse.
Klara and Jim watched as she left. When she was gone, Klara sipped on her coffee and looked at her husband.
“You think she did it?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, but with my case load, I probably won’t have time to find out.”
In that same moment, an emergency patient was rushed in, and Klara’s colleagues all but dragged her away. She handed her unfinished coffee to Jim and said “I know what you mean.”