|Chapter 5: Nurse Rogers
Eighty-six miles northwest of crime scene 352, an attractive female employee of Fleetwood Memorial Hospital stood facing Dr. Gieldgood across the wide expanse of his desk. Her long, copper-colored hair fell down over the collar of her dark blue coat which hug unbuttoned over her white uniform. The name tag on the uniform said Betty Rogers RN. The RN entitled her to be addressed formally as Nurse Rogers.
The man behind the desk was about to tell her why hed called her into his office. Then he held up a finger and lowered his eyes in the appropriate manner of someone receiving a telephone call in the presence of someone else.
"Yes," he said, letting his irritation show. "Go ahead."
Gieldgood didnt like talking on a blind telephone connection. But the presence of Nurse Rogers demanded that he be prudent about whose face showed up in his office telewindow. He picked up a picture on his desk, one of himself and the late President of the United States, Clarence Leighton, at an American Party convention.
"Finally!" he exclaimed, looking at the picture. "That should throw the bloodhounds off the scent." He winked at the nurse as if to underscore the joking nature of his remark and to show her what a regular guy he could be.
Nurse Rogers smelled a rat.
What is this man up to? she thought. I know he aint called me in here fo no idle chit-chat. I bet he wanna know if I tol anybody bout Ms. Fleetwood waking uplike Im gone be fool enough to say I did. White people dont think we got no sense.
Dr. Gieldgood often had to remind himself that Nurse Rogers was one of those socio-genetic anomalies whod been born of Negro parents but had not required bio-engineering to be accepted anywhere on sight as white. With her Caucasian features and the written test scores that landed her the job she had at Fleetwood Memorial, no one would have questioned her presence in the white community. But as soon as she opened her mouth to speak, the community she truly belonged in quickly became apparent. Fortunately for Gieldgood and Americas next head of state, appearances were all that would matter.
"Thats correct." he said to the mystery person on the other end of his telephone line. "The fact that it took them so long to find it could work in our favor...Tonight if you can...I know it will be difficult. Thats why we asked you to do it...I know...Yes...Yes...No, it cant wait. You knew when you agreed to do it that the whole purpose of...ah...disposing of the first one was to facilitate the disposal of this one in the same manner if it became necessary. It has become necessary.... Okay, its settled... Good-bye."
The doctor put the picture back on his desk, raised his eyes and motioned for the nurse to be seated. "Sorry about the interruption," he said with a formal smile. "Housekeeping, you know."
Nurse Rogers nodded her acknowledgment of his explanation for what shed heard. Not that see cared...Not that she knew she had good reason to care.
"This will take only a few minutes," he said solemnly, lacing his fingers together on top of his desk as the nurse took the leather seat facing him. "I know you wouldnt intentionally violate the hospitals confidentiality rules."
Nurse Rogers suppressed a smile, knowing what to expect and how to respond.
"But," continued Gieldgood, "Mrs. Fleetwoods return to consciousness was exciting news for all of us. It would have been difficult not to share it with someone."
Nurse Rogers affected a puzzled expression, "Who could I have tol? You and me was the only ones on the flo when it happened an Hospital Security monitor alla our calls. I wouldnt a tol nobody no how. You know dat."
Gieldgood was pleased to hear what shed said even though her sorry use of the language hurt his ears. He priding himself on his ability to tell when Negroes were lying. They didnt know it, but hed worked with them all of his adult life and knew things about them that they didnt know themselves. In his expert opinion, she was telling the truth.
"Of course," he said, standing and inviting her to do likewise. "Nevertheless, I have to ask these questions for the record, you understand."
The woman rose, fastening her coat and slinging her brown leather bag over her shoulder in preparation to leave. "I understand," she said.
"Have a good evening, Nurse Rogers."
"I will, Doctor Gieldgood."
Nurse Rogers headed for the door believing that she would indeed have a good night. With the story that she would be sharing with her fellow nurses when she got out of Hospital Securitys legal monitoring range, she had every reason to believe that she would. She was the only one who knew what really happened between Kimberly and her ambitious husband. The girls were gonna eat it up.
"Oh, Nurse Rogers."
She turned to see her boss patting his vest pocket. "I seem to have misplaced my penlight," he said. "Do you mind if I borrow yours?"
What an odd request, she thought, never having known the doctor to be absent-minded about anything, not to mention the whereabouts of an item doctors and nurses at Fleetwood Memorial used as frequently as a pocket flashlight. She reached inside of her coat to the breast pocket of her uniform and plucked out her pen, only half-expecting him to walk around his desk to get it. His characteristically imperious body language told her what a foolish half-expectation that was.
She walked to him and handed him the penlight.
For an instant too brief to register in her conscious mind, she saw herself on an autopsy table reaching inside of her own body to hand the doctor a vital organ. What did register, as he took the pen and said a perfunctory, "Thank you," was the tight smile and hard look in his cold, blue eyes. If anyone had asked, that was the only thing she could have said was responsible for giving her the chill of horror which had actually come with her subliminal vision of death.
Fighting the irrational feeling all the way, she hurried from Gieldgoods office closing the over-sized door behind her and heading for the nearest elevator that her hospital badge would allow her to access. As she passed the closed executive elevator and entered the open one marked STAFF, the ghastly cold feeling of having assisted in her own postmortem stayed with her.
Was it because she feared being found out when the word spread to the news serviceswhich it surely would? No, she thought, as the door closed and she began the ride down in the elevator. She saw herself in the cramped, poorly-lit space as the victim in every old slasher movie she ever watched in her misguided youth. She tried to shake it off. How could the fear of discovery have produced so visceral and so macabre a reaction unless the certainty of death came with it? Discovery could mean only the loss of her job, not her life. With her credentials, landing a new job was not a problem, and her friends at the hospital would still be her friends.
Looking at the situation as logically as she had before the meeting with Gieldgood, she could see that she had nothing to fear. Mays, the janitor, witnessed nearly as much as she had. Eventually Gieldgood would realize it and know that any leaks regarding Mrs. Fleetwoods condition could have come from him, a man he had conditioned himself to overlook. Mays had no professional obligation to hold any medical information in confidence.
She reached for the flap on her bag with a somewhat steadier but not yet steady hand, and flipped it open to retrieve a pair of form-fitting glasses. Their Daylight lenses cast a faint yellow glow in the semi-darkness. She slipped them on, instantly transforming the level of brightness in her field of vision to the light of day.
When the elevator door opened on the main floor, a tall man wearing a long black coat, black leather gloves and a wide-brimmed hat was standing directly in her path. The red-tinged glow of his Daylights, almost fully transparent in the bright corridor light gave his piercing blue eyes a weird purple tint. Nurse Rogers heartbeat galloped with the sudden appearance of his pasty white face.
He took a quick step back, looking as startled as she did and whipped his head around to see whatever it was that had put the terrified expression on the nurses face. Seeing only a yellow brick wall, he turned back to her and asked, "Are you all right?"
The mans face which had at first seemed sinister, now looked as kindly as the voice that came out of it.
Nurse Rogers caught her breath and excused herself.
"Im sorry," she said, brushing past him and hanging a right to the exit door that emptied into the employee parking lot. She pushed through the door welcoming the bite of the cold night air on the exposed skin of her face and hands.
Her childish reaction to the man in black embarrassed her, but not so much that she forgot about the ineffably unnerving parting scene with her boss which had caused it. She knew deep down that it wasnt his eyes alone that had rattled her. It was his attitude in general from beginning to end and his failure in particular to ask for her future silence in the end. If he was only going through the motions in asking her if shed already talked, why wouldnt he go all the way and ask her to say nothing in the future?
Why didnt he ask? Did her future silence matter to him? If not, why not?
Thank God for Daylight lenses, she thought, with renewed appreciation for the wondrous optical properties of the material shielding her eyes from the darkness and enclosing the cockpit of her little white Ho Chi sedan in a faint yellow glow. But even with her glasses making everything else, including her frosty exhalations appear as they would at high noon, the many solid hues of Daylight glass on the cockpits of cars like hers required radiant light to turn transparent. As they were, Nurse Rogers could see them only as glowing protective shields for blood-thirsty assailants lying in wait.
A dozen steps from her car she breathed easier when she saw the extent to which close proximity to the glass in the parking lots minimal lighting made it possible to see through. A flashlight was all she would have needed to make viewing the inside her car as effortless as it would have been with no glass at all. Unfortunately, she didnt have one....Maybe thats what her subconscious had been trying to tell her. Yeah! she thought, that's gotta be it!
She smiled, not yet pacified but no longer on the icy edge of panic. She would have to get close and strain her eyes a bit to see inside of her car. Fortunately, that would be good enough.
Before Kimberly Fleetwoods awakening, the idea of checking out her back seat for a would-be attacker would have seemed like a laughable manifestation of paranoia. Now, it seemed like a sensible thing to do. She checked. She double checked, beginning to feel a little foolish for taking the extra precautions without good cause.
She pressed the car access/ignition button on her wristband and climbed behind the wheel. Once the door closed and she had pressed the pathfinder button to her home in northwest Detroit, she returned her Daylights to her purse and relaxed. What could she possibly have to worry so much about? Nothing. Not a thing in the world. She reclined her seat and kicked off her shoes to nap as she always did on the long drive home.
The car pulled away from the parking space. Betty Rogers closed her eyes and let her thoughts come and go where they would....
Two sharp blasts of her cars horn woke her with a start from a sound sleep. She sat upright, knowing at once where she was and fearful that her stupid car would wake the neighbors. Something had prevented the pathfinder system from completing its travel and park program.
One look around through her Ho Chis Daylight canopy told her that the travel portion of the program was complete because the car was in front of her house. It stood next to a long, cobalt-blue, Lexus with Black Glass that prevented her from seeing if anyone was inside. The park portion of the program could not be completed because the tail end of the Lexus was blocking part of her driveway. A silver-blue mini-van with a blue-glow Daylight canopy was parked at the curb on the other side of her driveway where her next-door neighbors never parked and visitors hardly ever did. Had the space been empty, her automatic parking system would have pulled in there.
"Why is everybody picking on me?" she joked to herself, waiting for someone in one of the vehicles to see her Ho Chi and allow her to park it. She would not permit herself to get as angry at the driver of the Lexus as she knew she had a right to be. It was far better to maintain a sense of humor than to allow an inconsiderate jerk to spoil the rest of what had been, on balance, a very good day. No matter what other people did to her, she maintained the ownership-of-response philosophy that made her a good Republican and a happy, successful person. That business on the elevator with the man in black had been an embarrassing aberration which was better forgotten.
Neither the Lexus nor the van showed signs of occupancy, but Betty Rogers saw no harm in waiting a minute or two to see if one of them would move.
As she waited, her thoughts drifted back to the tension she saw that morning between Kimberly and Jack. It didnt take a psychic to see that Mrs. Fleetwood wasnt as happy about the Blue Monday prosecution as the Michigan attorney generals publicist would have the public believe. If she had been, she would have had something to say about it before the accident, and her telewindow appearances with her husband following Mondays arrest wouldnt have had to be ELFed in. There was definitely something fishy about that.
Thanks to The Genie, her cyberspace mentor, Betty Rogers could always tell an ordinary ELF from a real person when she saw one. In some cases, she could also distinguish a man whod witnessed the accidental injury of his wife from one who may have accidentally lost his temper and bashed her in the head with the nearest heavy object. From the way shed seen Jack Fleetwood behave when his wife was admitted to emergency and he told his story of what had happened to her, he was a strong candidate for the accidental heavy object category.
She craned her neck to see if she could spot another parking space within a reasonable distance from her house.
Damn! she thought. Is somebody throwing a party?
In the darkness of the street, she could see through the Daylight canopy of the mini-van no better than she could see through the Black Glass of the Lexus. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there could have been people in one or both of those cars who could be persuaded to move; a chauffeur, perhaps, in the Lexus waiting for his boss, a couple of kids in the van engaged in an ancient back seat mating ritual. Who could say? But she'd given them a good thirty or forty seconds to respond, and that was plenty of time.
Not wanting to sound her horn again, she shut off her engine and opened her passenger side window a crack to listen for a humming motor indicative of a conscious life form within the Lexus or the mini-van. To her delight, she heard the idling hum of the Lexus and surmised that the driverprobably some young, Afro dudewas too engrossed in loud jungle music to hear anything else. If he couldnt hear her, she would make sure that he saw her.
She opened her door to get out. Before she did, the rear driver side door of the Lexus opened until it was almost touching the passenger side door of her Ho Chi. A husky white woman with yellow Daylights, hair much like hers, Winter pants and a dark, inexpensive coat got out and closed the door behind her. Betty Rogers marveled at the coincidence. The woman of average height, but the build of a linebacker, even had a bag like hers. She had her hand inside, presumably for a flashlight to see into the Ho Chi.
Betty Rogers smiled, closed her door and rolled down her passenger side window to comment on the similarity of their hair and clothing before asking the woman to have her driver move the Lexus forward. As she was about to speak, she noticed something that she should have noticed immediately. The character dressed like her was no woman.
"Unlock the door," demanded the man in drag whose square-jawed chin and sharply tapered nose bore no close-up resemblance to her own. The black metallic thing in "her" hand now staring the off-duty nurse in the face with its one hollow eye was no flashlight. It was a snub-nosed .38.
"Open the fucking door, nigger," barked the man in drag, "or Ill give your face a whole new look."
All at once Betty Rogers conscious mind became two separate entities, only one of which was aware of the others existence. The fully aware self floated outside of her body, mildly interested in the terror-driven preoccupation of the one trapped inside her body to please the ersatz woman with the revolver. The self outside of the body watched the man in drag jump into her Ho Chi. She watched the Lexus pull away from the curb. She watched the Ho Chi follow. She watched the mini-van follow the Ho Chi.
Soon, the separate selves would snap back together with only a vague recollection of ever having been apart. Meanwhile, in a language of subtle sensations rather than words, she thought, Well, that life is over with. I wonder whats next....
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison