Witching Hour in the ER

It was three o’clock in the morning and I was sitting slumped in a vinyl-upholstered chair in the waiting room of an ER. At the risk of offending, let me say that it was, for the most part, a dim and dismal slice of humanity that accompanied me. It’s true that there were perfectly reputable patients such as the old man with chest pains, the little boy – accompanied by parents – whose penchant for bunk beds was unfortunately matched by a proclivity for falling out of them, a police officer whose car was -ironically- plowed into by a drunk driver, and a third-shift worker who turned sharply in response to the din of a forklift mishap only to slice his thumb off with a band-saw. However, as most of humanity is sound asleep at 3:00am – an activity that rarely results in traumatic injuries – the majority of patients tended more toward the wrong side of the tracks. There’s a guy who came home drunk and covered in lipstick who woke up with severe abdominal pains and whose X-ray showed something shaped like a peppermill lodged in his lower intestinal track – presumably put there by the same individual who littered the front yard with his clothes and home theater system. There was the proprietor of a home meth-lab with second degree burns and no hair whatsoever on the front hemisphere of his head. There was a prostitute with gnarled and missing teeth and the john who tried a “do and dash”, which resulted in a knock-down-drag-out that spilled out of the motel room and ended in the middle of an intersection. While my list of the reputable patients was all-inclusive, the others were just a small representative sample.

Then there was me, a detective in perfect health, who was uncharacteristically waiting for a witness to be sewn up. The witness in question had been found unconscious next to a homicide victim and was, himself, bleeding from a laceration preliminarily presumed to be a stab wound. The witness was a pasty white lanky nerdish looking young man suspected of being a consumer of ganja. The victim was a Latino male with an extremely precisely manicured angular beard and mono-color black tattoos who’d been shot in the chest three times at close range. The juxtaposition of the two presented an intriguing puzzle. The victim was a known gangbanger and, even if he hadn’t been, he certainly fit the mold down to prison tats of gang signs. The kid looked like he belonged in a comic book convention right down to the short-sleeved button-down shirt with a colored t-shirt with some unknown symbol under it and a pimply face.

“Aieeee. Hellllp!” There was a high pitched scream.

A scream was not so anomalous for this place, but was still always a cause for concern. Both I and the uniformed officer guarding the prostitute and john moved toward the sound, but, when the hooker socked her welshing customer in the crotch, the uniformed officer was forced to stay back and keep the two separated. I moved forward with cautious rapidity. When I burst into the minor surgery room, I was confronted by an unexpected sight. The nerd was holding a scalpel to the throat of the pretty female doctor of South Asian descent who had been sewing him up.

I had the kid’s pimply face centered in the sights of my service piece. Part of my brain said, “He’s an armed and imminent threat, cap his ass” But another part of me couldn’t reconcile the incongruity of the look of the kid with his scary behavior, and, thus, couldn’t help but hope there was a way out of this in which everyone lived.

“Hey, kid, it’s alright, she’s a doctor. You must have woken up while she was working on you. That sew-job probably hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, but no one is trying to do you any harm so why don’t you just put down that scalpel.” I said in as soothing a tone as I could muster while lowering the barrel of the gun so the kid could see my face without altogether standing down.

“No. You’re lying. She was inserting a tracking implant. I know what you are trying to do to me. You want to be able to track me on the other side. Back up; I’m going to cut this thing out of me. Don’t try to stop me or I’ll cut her.” The kid said with an agonized expression.

Great. He was clinically paranoid. I didn’t know whether it was drug-induced or his natural state, but, given the company in which he was found, I was inclined to think the latter. Years ago I had been through a session of hostage negotiator training that was designed to teach us how best to handle a paranoid schizophrenic, but I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to confront his delusions or play along, so I ignored the subject for the moment and took an alternative approach.

“Ok, but you don’t need the doctor to do that, and you can’t keep the knife on her and do what you want to do. Just let her go, and, once she’s clear, you can do what you want.” I think I sounded genuine because, in part, I was. Once the hostage was out of the way, if the guy wanted to cut himself open then more power to him. I would try to stop him from doing severe damage. I did still need information he had. I saw a little bit of blood oozing from doctor’s neck where the kid inadvertently nicked into the skin.

“You’re lying. If I let her go, you’ll shoot me.” He said, still breathing a little like he’d just crossed the finish line of a marathon.

“Kid, if I had wanted to shoot you, I could have done it when I came in here. I just want to make sure no one gets hurt here.” Even as I was saying this I thought it was probably a bad approach. True as it might be, I didn’t need to remind the kid that I could kill him at any moment. It might make him edgy and inclined to fight while he still had the opportunity. I, therefore, took a big risk and holstered the weapon.

Sometimes you get lucky even when you screw up, and the kid seemed to calm slightly as he reflected upon my statement.

“Let’s start over. Maybe we can make sense of everything, and make sure nobody gets hurt. I don’t want to hurt you, and I don’t think you really want to hurt anybody either. I’m Detective Briggs, and you were found unconscious at the scene of a crime. There was a guy named Octavio Ruis, a known gangbanger, shot dead next to you. You’re not a suspect, but I’ve got to get to the bottom of this. What’s your name?” I asked.

“Kevin Petridge.” The kid had a genuinely quizzical expression on his face, but gave an answer nonetheless.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked.

The kid looked like he was trying to make sense of it all himself, but I didn’t know what part he found confusing.

“Does any of this ring a bell? Do you know Octavio?” I asked, trying to break it down.

“No. I don’t know any Octavio.” The kid said in a frustrated but genuine tone.

“This guy had a really neatly styled beard, and lots of tattoos without colors – just black. Is it possible you might have gone out to score some weed, and he was a dealer you ran into.” I asked.

“Score weed? I don’t understand.” Petridge said with a look of genuine consternation.

“To buy some kind of drugs.” I clarified.

“I don’t do drugs.” The kid said with indignation. It would have been believable if he wasn’t all wild-eyed and holding a scalpel to the neck of a terrified young doctor who, no doubt, wished at this moment that she had stayed in Hyderabad.

“Look kid, it’s not that I don’t believe you, but I’ve got to check on everything. You should know that, as a homicide detective, I don’t give a rat’s ass more about your drug habits than I do about the status of about your parking tickets. I only want to find out who murdered Octavio, and why.” This, too, was true; though I wouldn’t have been so forthcoming with the guys in Vice.

“I don’t know anybody like your describing, and I don’t do drugs.” The kid said, irritated. I was better than most detectives at being able to tell lie from truth. I would have judged this kid was telling the truth, but you never could tell with a crazy.

“Ok, Ok. Can you tell me the last thing you do remember? Where were you and what were you doing?” I asked, changing tack.

“I was in the lab, and I was doing a run up on our new power source.” He said.

“Where’s your lab, and do you know how you could have gotten to a seedy part of the southside?” I said, knowing for damn sure there wasn’t a science lab, with the exception of meth and coke labs, within twenty miles of where the kid was found.

“It’s on the north edge of the compound. No. I don’t know how I got where you say. The ‘south side’ where I live is the cooling pond.” He said.

“Kid, where exactly do you think you are? Because a city of 15 million sure isn’t a ‘compound.’” I said.

“Are you trying to trick me? Did I breach?” The kid said, as perplexed and perplexing as ever.

“Where are you from?” I rephrased the question.

“Kraken Corp, Sector VI. When is this? What year is this?”

“I was going to ask you if you knew the answer to that very question, but, since you asked, it’s July 18, 2015.”

“I made it. I’ve got to get out of here.” The kid said in a low voice, as if to himself.

“Made it where? Don’t you want to let the doctor go so you can…”

“Sorry about this, but I’ll let the doctor go when I’m safely out of here and they won’t be able to trace me. I am truly sorry for misconstruing what you were doing. Thank you for stitching my wound, but I’m going to have to beg your indulgence just a little longer.” With that monologue, the kid started walking the doctor toward me and the door.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m getting out of here. Once I’m safely away I’ll let the doctor go.” He said.

I was willing to play along because his whole attitude seemed to have changed. I considered jumping him now that he did not seem so irrational, but he did still have a razor-sharp scalpel at the doctor’s throat, though not pressed nearly so close. The worse case scenario was that I did something that made the kid accidentally slit the doctor’s throat, so I decided to see where this was going.

He made me move ahead of him out into the corridor. The uniformed officer in the waiting room began to rise, but I told him to take it easy and comply with whatever the kid asked. So the kid made him kick over his radio and made the doctor pick it up, all slowly and carefully. Then Petridge told the cop to handcuff himself to the row of chairs.

We then moved around the corner, and the kid had me direct him out of the hospital and toward my car. Out in the no-parking zone in the loading dock where I had parked, I was ordered to start the car, and then get out. The kid awkwardly got in behind the doctor, who was made to get into the front passenger seat through the driver’s side. The kid accelerated with a crude lunge, like he hadn’t ever driven before, to the end of the drive connecting the loading dock with the street. The relieved doctor got out, and the car shot away wiggling wildly under the kid’s unsure hand.  

I ran after, but couldn’t catch up or even get a good line of sight for a shot.

The car, like all cop cars, was lo-jacked and it didn’t take long to find it abandoned in a parking deck a dozen blocks away, but, by then, the kid was long gone.

I immediately started investigating the names “Kevin Petridge” and “Kraken Corp”, but these leads didn’t amount to anything. There were “Kevin Petridge”s, but none that met the description, were in town, and didn’t have solid alibis. There were Kraken Corporations, but mostly they were small businesses, and none seemed to have any links to large-scale science and engineering activities as described by the kid.  

The next day I came in and met with an even greater curiosity. The watch lieutenant informed me that they had a suspect in custody for the murder of Octavio Ruis. The kid was all freaked out, and had turned himself in. He was scared of Ruis’s gang. He wanted assurances that he would be protected and sent to a prison out of state in exchange for his confession. He said he had been doing a drug deal with Ruis, and, out of nowhere, there was some kind of bright flash and loud noise like the flash-bang grenades SWAT teams sometimes use, and this skinny white kid comes running at them. The suspect said he panicked, thinking that he was about to be slaughtered by Ruis’s gang. He didn’t take the time to reason why Ruis’s assassin would appear in the guise of a scrawny white boy instead of one of the beefy Latino extended family members that usually provided back up. Anyway, he started shooting as Ruis, who presumably thought the kid was the suspect’s assassin, was stabbing out at the kid with a knife he had had in his hand while cutting open a pack of $20’s.

I was told, as lead detective, I would need to write this one up. I had no idea where to begin.

About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. His poetry collection, Poems of the Introverted Yogi is now available on Amazon. He teaches yoga, with a specialization in pranayama, and holds a RYT500 certification. For most of his adult life, he practiced martial arts, including: Kobudo, Muay Thai, Kalaripayattu, and Taiji. He is a world traveler, having visited more than 40 countries around the globe.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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