Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 26: Too Late
A patient groaned as he turned in his bed. The smell of cheap alcohol, urine, and sour sweat hung heavy in the air. Stella was almost at the end of the ward when she sensed, in a moment when everything was wrong, that there was something worse. “Elroy?” she whispered, terrified that he might answer.
She slowly turned. The room was empty except for the patients and the night noises that accompanied them. “Irene?” She stopped next to an occupied bed. The name on the chart read: Burrell Smith. She took hold of his one good arm and felt for a pulse. The wrist was cold to the touch. He had been dead for some time.
“Oh Burrell, I’m so sorry. This should not have happened,” she whispered as she let his mangled hand drop back onto his chest. Her foot knocked over a glass bottle at the foot of his bed. She bent down and found three empty quart-sized milk bottles. They smelled of moonshine.
She followed a spill on the floor to an overturned cup. She smelled, then tasted the liquid with her finger. She did not need to guess any further: the gentle giant had died of alcohol poisoning. She looked with saddened eyes around the dimly lit ward and wondered who else Elroy had murdered.
“Irene,” She whispered. Irene was sleeping. No need to wake her, Stella thought. Elroy has left her alone thus far.
The stairs at the rear of the ward took her down to doctors’ row, the area of the hospital where the doctors kept their offices, where orderlies rarely roamed. Elroy would be least likely to look for her there. She wedged a chair beneath a door handle on the inside of the stairwell door in case she misjudged the thoroughness of his search.
Doctors’ row was quiet. She opened one door cautiously, then another, another again. The offices were empty. Her fear mixed acidly with rising anger. She needed help. She knew she could not trust Simon and Alex, and the thought that she wanted to run like hell crossed her mind. Simon and Alex had bargained with the devil, and the devil is within Elroy. If they owed him money, then Elroy had them under his thumb.
She entered one of the offices, reached for the phone, and began to dial the police. At the sound of a cough, she hung up. The phone’s dial tone seemed to be as loud as Henry’s clarinet. She stilled, listened, her neck immobile with tension. Elroy? No. The cough came from an office two doors down.
Doctor Garrity sat alone in his office, a bottle of Famous Grouse Scotch open on his desk. She watched from the doorway as he poured two fingers into a glass. He looked up at her with heavy eyes. “Neat?” He pushed a glass towards her.
She shook her head. “No, not that I couldn’t use one.” She rubbed the back of her neck, thought about a cigarette, and decided against it. “You know what is going on?” she asked.
Garrity took a sip of Famous Grouse and nodded. “Too much,” he said. “You sure you don’t want some? This day is not going to get any brighter.”
“I need your help,” she said, choking back her desperation.
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” He sat the glass down and rubbed his eyes. In the windowless yellow light of the office he looked a hundred years older than the forty-something years he rightfully owned. He held up his hands, examining his long narrow fingers as they quivered. “I was trained to be a surgeon. That was another time, another place, another life. Now, with these, I’m more likely to take a life than save one.
“My colleagues” — he motioned towards the offices that surrounded his — “are incompetent buffoons. That’s why they work here. Just because they have medical degrees does not mean any of them are qualified to be real doctors. Mann has a file on each and every one of us. He can destroy a career with one phone call.”
He gave a rueful smile. “The sky is about to fall on Mann’s fantasy world, and no one wants to be here to be caught in the fallout.” He tossed back a full finger of the potent nectar.
Stella looked apprehensively back out into the hallway.
“Elroy is a dangerous man,” Garrity said. “I suspect the Nazis could have made good use of him: a man without an ounce of moral fiber. Our illustrious administrator understands this and has manipulated him magnificently. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, and Elroy thinks he’s smarter than Mann. They’re about to turn on each other.”
“Burrell Smith is dead,” she said, the emotion heavy on her voice.
He looked at the contents in his glass. “Alcohol poisoning?”
He picked up the glass and poured the remaining Famous Grouse in the trash. “I’ve been hiding in this for far too long. I was a ship’s physician,” he said matter-of-factly, “on a flat-top when it was hit by a kamikaze. The explosion ripped through a main fuel line and oil flooded the sickbay. I sealed off the hatch to prevent the fire from igniting the fuel. A second kamikaze finished the job. Every last man trapped in the sick bay burned to death. I haven’t practiced honest medicine since.” There was no apology in his voice or his eyes. He was long past that.
He looked solemnly at the phone. “I had just hung up the phone when I heard your footsteps. Mann doesn’t know it yet, but there is a time bomb in his pocket, and it is about to go off. The Regional Director for Veterans’ Hospitals will be here first thing in the morning. I’ve already submitted my resignation.”
He slid open a desk drawer and pulled out a thick file. “The evidence needed to lock Mann up for the next twenty years is all right here. As for Elroy, he’s a dangerous man, and I suspect that he will go down fighting, and he won’t hesitate to take anyone who gets in his way with him.” He tapped his fingers on the envelope. “The police will be here soon, and that will be that.”
“We — you — need to lock down the hospital section by section until the police get here. When Elroy becomes aware of what you are doing, he will go to any lengths to stop you.” He pushed back his chair and tried to stand, his thigh cast made it slow and difficult. “I’m afraid I won’t be of much help.”
Doctor Garrity hobbled over to a shelf where he pushed several medical books aside, retrieving a plump plain paper bag he had hidden there. He turned and handed it to her.
She took it. “What is this?”
She did. It was filled with rolls of dollar bills.
“Just over twenty-three thousand dollars.” He said.
She pulled out a roll of bills and blew out a long slow whistle. “Twenty-three... How?”
“I took it from Elroy’s locker about an hour ago. I’ve been sitting here wondering what to do with it. Turn it over to the police, burn it, put it back? I suspect that it’s the money that Elroy has stolen from the patients: booze money, money blackmailed from my so-called colleagues.” He nodded. “That’s right, me too.”
He fell awkwardly back into his chair. He did not look at her as he said: “Take it, and when this day is over, take it and go somewhere far away. Forget you ever knew this place. Get a fresh start.”
“I... couldn’t,” she said, her hands gripping the bag tightly.
“You can and you will. There is no way to give it back to those poor bastards upstairs. Many of them have passed on. The doctors... we don’t deserve it. You do. If the police get their hands on it, I doubt much of it will ever make it to the evidence locker. Let some good come out of all this, Stella.
“Now, you had better hurry. Elroy will come here. He saw me snooping around, and I think he’s smart enough to put two and two together.”
“Come with me. I’ll help you.”
“No, Stella. It’s too late for me. When the dust settles on all this, the least that will happen is that I’ll be found criminally negligent in the death of Burrell, and God knows how many others.”
“A fellow by the name of Raymond James is the Regional Administrator for the West Coast, Veterans Administration Hospitals. His brother Hank was one of the men I closed the door on when the kamikazes hit. Maybe today I can start to pay a debt I owe.
“Once Ray sees what is going on, he’ll call in the Marines. I’ve already asked him to have all the patients transferred to other facilities as soon as Mann and Elroy are in handcuffs. There will be a full investigation, then we’ll figure out if there is anything left of this hospital worth saving.”
He gave her the best smile he could muster. “My career is finished, not that it hasn’t been for some time. You’ve got guts, Stella, more than you know. Now, get this place locked down, then get out of here before the cops wonder what’s in that bag.”
With a heavy heart he watched Stella leave. Stella was no match for Elroy, that was given. Still, something had to be done. Garrity lit a cigarette and stared at the white wall through a blue haze of cigarette smoke as he waited for the axe to fall.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith