Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
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Earl Crier wakes screaming from nightmares in which his ship sinks in the Arctic in World War II. He has survived but is now blind. He takes refuge in music and in the kindness of Stella. Meanwhile, other veterans return, and their most serious wounds are not always visible.
Chapter 27: Darkest Before the Dawn
Stella tried to wake Irene with a gentle touch and a whisper. “Sorry, girl, duty calls.” Failing that, she gave Irene a firm shake. “Up we go. We’ve got to lock down the wards before Elroy can do any more harm. Doctor Garrity has called the police. Until they arrive, every person here is in danger.”
Irene nodded sleepily that she understood.
Stella slipped Irene one of the master keys the doctor had given her. “I need you to lock down the wards from the inside. All of them. Try not to wake any of the patients. If Elroy figures out what’s going on, there’s no telling what he might do.”
“What do you mean?” Irene asked, as she gently slapped her own cheeks, bringing a flush to push the sleepiness away.
“There’s no time to explain. I’ve got to see that Brooks is all right. I sent Simon and Alex to sober up in the showers. When they get here, don’t let them in; they can’t be trusted.”
Elroy burst into Brooks’ room, expecting to find Stella playing little Miss Nightingale. Brooks was sitting on his bed, his clothes soiled in more than one foul way, his head bandage looking anything but sanitary.
Since his return to the hospital, no one had bothered to clean him up or see that his injuries were not more critical. His head down, a three-foot long strip of his head bandage drooped almost to the floor. The wrap, soiled and stained with his own blood, had not been changed. He smelled much like the dumpster he had been thrown into. His hand was shaking so hard that he was barely able to hold an empty tin cup.
Brooks turned, recognizing Elroy’s gait. Elroy walked with a stride heavy on his left foot, always walking with a level of intensity and anger.
His lips dry and cracked, Brooks spoke, his voice a rusty pipe. “Hah, my lord and master.”
Elroy studied Brooks for a moment. There was something about the guy that bothered him. It wasn’t the bandages that made him look like a freak; beneath the gauze and scar tissue there was something unsettling. He hadn’t liked Brooks from day one, and nothing had given him reason to feel much different now. What bothered him this time was entirely different, and he almost gagged as his nostrils flared, rebelling at the stench. “Did you crap on yourself? Well, you’re going to have to stew in your own shit, because I ain’t touching it, and there’s no one left around here who will.
“Oh, that’s not quite true. I believe that Stella might be around. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go find her.” He pulled a pint bottle of moonshine from his pocket and poured a third of it into Brooks’ tin cup.
After a quick but loose rewrap of Brooks’ head bandage, he pulled Brooks to his feet. “Let’s find Stella, and when you’re all cleaned up you can have the rest of the bottle. Hell, I’ll let you have all the booze you want. Drink and be merry, for you, there should be no tomorrow. Drown your sorrows, friend, and be done with it.”
Brooks tried to shake off the unwanted support as Elroy tightened his grasp and force-marched him towards the door. What the hell? They say it’s darkest before the dawn, and it sure is dark. You are a murdering son-of-a-bitch, so go ahead, and, God willing, the fires in Purgatory will be bright and welcoming.
He gave a surprising sharp barking laugh, then raised his cup, spilling half as much as he was able to drink. Thank you, you frigging bastard, he thought as the liquid seared his cracked lips and burned down his parched throat.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith