Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
Chapter 33: Omaha Bound
Irene, her eyes downcast, was nearly disconsolate at what she had done. It was her sin; no one had asked her to do it. She needed repentance, to ask God to forgive her. She had sinned by borrowing a few moments of Burrell Smith’s death to hide the truth. She had lied to the police.
She compounded the sin by not having the courage to speak up while there was still a chance to stop the evil, before it was too late. She had involved Simon and Alex in a despicable charade. As for God, it might have been His will that Elroy be given his ticket to Hell, but she had taken it upon herself to interfere. Now, instead of going to Hell, he was Omaha bound.
Irene found Dr. Garrity in his office, packing a few personal items in a cardboard box. She couldn’t miss the open bottle on his desk.
“Dr. Garrity, I’m surprised to find you here, considering everything that has happened.” Her heart went out to him. The poor man thought he had committed murder.
He did not answer.
“I’d like to talk with you, if you have a moment.” Her voice faded to an insecure whisper, her eyes still low.
“A sad little hope,” he answered without expression. “You should aim higher.” He stiffened, sighed, open and closed his mouth a few times. He took a cigarette from an open pack on the desk, lit it, his hands shaking. Blue-gray smoke wafted across the desk, its irritant slowly forcing Irene to raise her eyes.
“There’s not much to say,” Dr. Garrity continued. “Elroy — Mr. Hawks — left us no other option. When you look at the damage that has been done, I can only wish I had acted earlier. It’s done now, and wishful thinking can’t change that.” He poured a touch of the Scotch into his glass. “Care for some? No, I thought not.” He looked at the bottle. It was almost empty. “The police will be here soon. I thought I had best pack a few things.”
“A police officer just left,” she said. “Simon took him down to the morgue. I don’t think there will be any further questions. However, the officer did ask for the death certificate.”
Doctor Garrity stopped and stared into the box. Until that moment, he had been certain he was about to be arrested or at least taken down to the station for questioning. When he had plunged the needle into Elroy’s back, being arrested didn’t seem to matter much.
While waiting for the police to arrive, Dr. Garrity had grown more apprehensive. The news that the officer had come and gone brought on a physical sense of relief. A long gray finger of ash caved from the cigarette.
“The death certificate.” He repeated Irene’s words. “Yes, of course.” His cigarette was still in place. “It must be around here somewhere. Where did I put it?” He glanced randomly around the office, his eyes suggesting that he had already forgotten what he was searching for.
Irene slowly dropped her gaze back down to the floor and began to speak. “It wasn’t Elroy’s body the officer examined. It was Burrell Smith’s. We — Simon and Alex and I — switched the bodies. When we took Elroy down to the morgue, he still had a pulse. I thought it best to not risk complications.”
She smiled, as might a child about to reveal a special secret. “Elroy is on his way to Omaha.” She glanced at the clock. “The train left about five minutes ago. Alex went with him to make sure he got on board without anyone asking too many questions. You authorized... I... I signed the transport requisition for you authorizing a private sleeping berth.
“There is a veterans’ hospital in Omaha, but Elroy wasn’t a veteran. Alex will take all of Elroy’s identification and transfer papers with him. He asked if you might see that his last paycheck is forwarded once he gets off the train in Denver and gets settled.
“When Elroy arrives in Omaha, he’ll just be some nameless John Doe. He’ll be in hospital blues, no identification, no money, and no one will have an idea of where he came from, or where he’s going. I think the authorities in Omaha will think he escaped from a mental hospital.” She giggled.
Doctor Garrity’s expression changed by degree, first from puzzled, then confused, surprised, confounded, as he began to understand what she was telling him. After half a breath of silence, a little sparkle seemed to come back into his eyes along with a grim little smile. “Omaha, but of course! Why didn’t I think of that? It could have been Topeka or Grand Junction. It doesn’t make much difference, does it? Very clever. Very clever indeed.”
Lacking an ashtray, he set the cigarette on the edge of the desk. He found two shot glasses in his box and poured a Scotch for himself and Irene — neat. “Are you sure you won’t have one, to toast Elroy’s bon voyage?”
She shook her head and whispered a polite “No, thank you.”
The hospital might not have to close after all, he thought as he emptied both shot glasses. Quite a reversal. Perhaps, with a little luck... Who knows?
* * *
Sweet, Alex thought as he unlocked the ambulance doors.
They had arrived at the train station at the busiest time of the day; the depot was filled with people arriving and departing, announcements were blaring, people were saying goodbye, others hello. At first, unloading Elroy from the ambulance unnerved Alex. He didn’t want anyone to ask any questions; questions he couldn’t answer.
If Elroy had possessed the decency to die when he was supposed to, it would have made things a lot simpler. If he were dead, he’d be in a box, that was a whole other type of paperwork. Putting a dead man, not in a box, on a train, would bring questions that could only lead to trouble.
Since Elroy was still breathing, things were easier. If Elroy somehow manages to survive, he’s going to be one pissed-off asshole. Don’t even think about that. He mentally crossed his fingers that Elroy would continue to hang on to life just long enough to be tucked safely on board and for the train to get under way.
The first complication had come with the train schedule. To get to Omaha, they would have to change trains in Oakland and Denver. If Elroy expired, changing trains would be out of the question. The next best option was a train that went through Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Kansas City, to Omaha and beyond. The route took an extra nine hours, but there were no transfers. Once Elroy was on board, all Alex wanted was to get off the train without questions.
“Would you mind?” Alex touched his shoulder gingerly, as he asked two Marines about to board the train for help. “I can’t take the weight until my shoulder heals a bit more. Okinawa. My buddy here celebrated being back in the States for the first time in four years a little too much. I’d sure hate to see him miss the train. He pissed his pants, and I borrowed the hospital blues from a laundry truck. When he wakes up I’ll get him squared away and back into uniform.”
The Pullman porter had seen more then one soldier all liquored up, especially since the troops had started coming home. He didn’t blame them. Who could? They’d had a hard time of it. He was more than happy to guide the two Marines as they shoulder-carried their pal towards a reserved sleeping berth. They helped tuck the inebriated man into a bunk and then made their way towards the bar car.
A civilian whom he hadn’t noticed before showed him two train tickets for the berth and tipped him fifty cents, a pretty good tip. He asked that they not be disturbed until an hour before they got to Omaha.
“Yes, sir, no problem,” the porter said with a broad smile, flipping the fifty-cent piece in his hand. Man oh man, he thought as he made his way towards the next car, that poor boy is stewed. He’s sure going to feel it in the morning.
Alex glanced at Elroy, who remained alive for the time being, resting beneath a blanket on the lower bunk. Alex looked at his watch and yawned. He looked out the window as the train pulled out of the station. It would take just five hours to get to Los Angeles.
The constant rocking of a train in motion had always made him sleepy. The bunk above Elroy was inviting, but not when you knew that a man beneath you was about to die. He opted to stay in the seat nearest the window and nodded off.
Elroy sensed the first jerk of the train as it began to move.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith