Chapter 14: Watson
Ernie wasn’t his usual self. His thoughts had cleared a bit since he had first set his eyes on Darryl’s motionless body, but the image kept coming back to him at inopportune times, sending a shudder through his body each time.
Ken was riding alongside him, occasionally breaking off to scout out ahead in a large circle, then riding back to resume a slower pace beside him. The both of them were headed to Elston Memorial hospital to see the other guy who’d been shot. Ken had said his name was Joel.
Ernie wasn’t particularly interested in any of this, but Ken seemed excited about trying to figure out what had happened, and Ernie felt it necessary to come along, if only to keep Ken company. They had, in the past, kept each other out of trouble by posing as father and son, or uncle and nephew, or any one of a number of fictitious relationships that proved advantageous in certain situations. It had gotten them out of a few scrapes, and rewarded Ken with a rather large collection of otherwise unattainable mens’ magazines.
Ernie’s thoughts wandered back to what Darryl had said that day in the dining hall at St. Ives. He wasn’t much of an analytical thinker. He knew he had been frightened at the tone of Darryl’s voice, and he’d made it a point to remember exactly what he’d said, even though his memory was especially terrible. But what could the meaning have been? It seemed obvious that Darryl’s comments and his death were somehow linked, but how, Ernie didn’t know.
Ken returned from one of his scouting trips and said hurriedly, “Come on, Ernie, let’s go! We’re almost there.” He motioned to the large riding pegs mounted on his rear wheel. “Hop on… it’ll be faster.”
Ernie grimaced as he stepped up onto the pegs and gripped Ken’s shoulders for balance. He hated riding with Ken this way – he much preferred to walk. But when Ken was in a hurry, there was no arguing with him, so Ernie held on tightly and together they zoomed down the shallow hill towards Elston Memorial.
Ken was right; the bike was faster, and the looming multistoried building that was Elston Memorial was soon upon them. The hospital wasn’t as busy as Ken and Ernie had imagined. The parking lot was only half-full, and the occasional flashing lights and flurry of activity at the emergency room entrance as an ambulance drove up was the only sign of life in the entire hospital grounds.
Ken wheeled around the parking lot, weaving between parked cars, and Ernie held on more tightly. He knew Ken was doing this for his benefit. He’d have to get him back later. He had to admit that the wind rushing through his hair felt nice, though. If he could get the fear of falling off out of his head, riding with Ken might actually be fun.
Ken pulled to a stop in front of the main entrance and pulled his chain lock around the front tire, locking it securely. Together he and Ernie walked into the hospital.
Ernie wasn’t exactly sure what Ken’s plan was, but hopefully it’d be something they’d done before. Ernie didn’t improvise well, but they had a large enough repertoire of practiced scams that improvisation was rarely necessary.
They approached the front desk and Ken peered over the counter at the nurse sitting there. “We’re here to see Joel Mendocino,” he said.
The nurse looked over at them. “OK, friends or family?” She addressed the question to Ernie. Ken interjected, “My uncle’s deaf; you’ll have to have me ask him questions in sign language. But we’re family. Joel’s my cousin. We heard something had happened to him, and that he’d been taken here.”
Ernie was relieved; no quick thinking would be necessary today. The deaf uncle role was one with which he was very familiar. Neither he nor Ken really knew sign language, but they had perfected a series of motions that convinced most people they were really communicating, and if faced with someone who actually did know ASL, they would simply say that Ernie had learned a little known Eastern European signing style, and leave it at that. It was a simple scam, but worked amazingly well.
The nurse turned back towards the computer in front of her. “Mendocino, you say? Hmmm, he’s still in surgery. He should be out in the next hour or so, but he’ll be unconscious for awhile after that. I’m afraid I can’t let you see him.”
Ken frowned. This wasn’t working out at all like the mystery novels he’d been reading. He’d have to think of something else. Ken motioned at Ernie with his hands. Ernie responded, waving his hands in a strange wavy arc.
“My uncle wants to know if anyone else in his family has been contacted, or if anyone else has come to see Joel.”
The nurse examine her monitor again. “Well, it looks like the police have contacted his parents. They should be here shortly.”
Ken and Ernie exchanged hand motions again. “OK, thanks a lot miss. You have a nice day.” The two of them turned and walked out of the hospital back into the afternoon sun. Ernie suddenly realized he was getting hungry.
Ken seemed to read his mind. “Let’s get something to eat, Ernie. You think Rhonda would mind if I ate with you at St. Ives?” Ernie nodded. Unlike the van Zandt’s, Rhonda’s kitchen was open to everyone. Ernie’s rumbling stomach got the better of him and he hopped on the back of Ken’s bike. Ken knew a few short cuts, which combined with the faster speed of the bike would put them back at St. Ive’s in pretty good time.
As Ken dodged the large puddles of water behind the Dominick’s, one of his favorite shortcuts, Ernie glanced over behind the store, and glimpsed the nice girl from the store talking with two other strange looking men. He didn’t recognize the other man that stood with them, but he was dressed the same way the girl was, so he probably worked with her.
He tapped on Ken’s shoulder, signaling him to stop. Ken put on the brakes and looked over his shoulder. “What is it?”
Ernie motioned towards where the girl and her companions stood talking. The girl had started to cry and the her apparent coworker was hugging her.
Ken knew what Ernie was thinking. He turned the handlebars and wheeled around the sidewalk towards the back of the store, staying within the bounds of the alley in order to appear as though the two of them were just innocently riding by. After they cleared the back wall of the store, he stopped and they both dismounted. He laid the bike down on the asphalt and together they poked theirs heads around the wall, peering surreptitiously at the motley group before them.
The two strange looking men turned and walked back towards the store, forcing both Ken and Ernie to quickly hide their heads back behind the wall to avoid being seen. After a minute, Ken slowly stuck his head back around and looked again. The coast was clear this time; the two men were gone, and the girl stood with her head against her coworker’s chest, crying quietly.
“Ernie, you know her, right?” Ken turned and looked back at Ernie, who was still pressed against the wall, eyes closed. “Don’t worry, they’re gone. I don’t think they saw us.”
Ernie opened his eyes and relaxed slightly, then nodded in response to Ken’s inquiry.
“Well, let’s go talk to her. I’m think she knew Darryl.” Ernie nodded again. He was aware that the girl and Darryl knew each other; in fact, Darryl was partly responsible for introducing Ernie to her in the first place.
Ken picked his bike up off the asphalt and together they rounded the corner and walked towards the girl and her companion.
Holly noticed them approaching and smiled at Ernie amidst her tears. She broke from Ned’s arms and walked over to meet them, a small smile on her face despite the tears in her eyes. “Hi, Ernie,” she said, wrapping her arms around him in a short embrace.
“Hi…” Ernie replied softly, willing himself to remember her name.
“Holly,” she smiled as she pulled away from him. She giggled softly, then a sad looked reappeared on her face.
“Did you hear about Darryl?” she asked. Ernie nodded, sadness enveloping his face as well. Holly looked down at her feet. “Do you know what happened?”
Ernie nodded again, memories of Darryl’s face in the ambulance swirling in his mind once again. They stood in silence for awhile, looking at their feet, thoughts of Darryl pin balling between them.
Holly looked up a few minutes later, dried tears on her face, the sign of deep thought in her eyes. “Do you think maybe some of the guys down at the 59 th Street bridge might know what happened to him?” Ernie looked up at her and locked his gaze with her clear green eyes. He shrugged.
They looked down at the asphalt again, until Holly turned to Ned, who had quietly approached from behind them. “What time do you get off work, Ned?”
“Three o’clock today,” he said, glancing at his watch.
“Me too,” Holly replied. “Fancy a trip down to 59 th Street ?”
Ned shrugged. How could he refuse her now, with her tear-stained face and bright, expectant eyes?
Holly turned back to face Ernie, who was gazing at his feet once again. “We’re going to go to 59 th street to talk to some of the guys there at 3 o’clock, if you want to come, Ernie.” She glanced at Ken to make sure he’d heard the time, knowing Ernie wouldn’t remember it. She looked back at Ned. “Well, I guess you and I had better get back to work.”
Ernie looked up again and nodded in affirmation before turning slowly and walking back towards the alley beside the store and the sanctuary of St. Ives. Holly called over his shoulder at him as Ken walked his bike up alongside him.
“Ernie, I am sorry. I know Darryl was your friend too.” Holly turned and followed Ned back into the store. Ernie kept walking towards St. Ives, Ken alongside him.
Chapter 15: Awakening
Joel awoke in the hospital, only vaguely remembering how he’d gotten there. The circumstances surrounding his arrival at the hospital were not at the forefront of his mind – the pain he was in was. His side ached terribly. Looking down at his torso, he saw the white gauze covering it. He groaned as his movement shot white hot pain through his entire abdomen.
He rubbed his head and moaned again. His movement seemed to have set off a chain reaction of pain within his body that now radiated from his stomach through to the tips of his fingers. The door opened quietly and a strikingly attractive nurse glided in.
She smiled compassionately down at him and reached down to cover him with his blanket. He hadn’t even realized he was so cold, but her firm warm hands on his body made its uncontrollable shaking that much more apparent.
“Hi, Mr. Mendocino. My name is Heather. It’s good to see you awake. Try not to move too much. Your body needs some time to try and recover. I know you’re in a lot of pain. We’ve got you hooked up to a morphine drip, so just push on this to administer yourself another dose.” She placed a small white cylinder in his hand and gently wrapped his fingers around it.
“Joel…” he murmured.
“Excuse me?” Heather replied.
“Joel…” he swallowed. “ Cal l me Joel.”
Heather smiled. He pushed the small button on the top of the white cylinder and felt a wonderful warmness spread throughout his body. He relaxed almost immediately and lay back against the soft pillow. He sighed. Heather’s smiling face was the last thing he saw before he drifted off to sleep again, oblivious to the two men who stood outside his door, arguing with the doctor.
“So what do you think, Joel?”
Joel looked around to get his bearings. Where was he? He examined his surroundings slowly, taking in the dark claustrophobic walls of the building he was in, the light painting soft silhouettes against the tables and chairs, the murmur of mouths loosened by too much alcohol. This was the bar that he, Sean and Pang had gone to the night before Sean headed back to the States. He remembered now.
Sean repeated the question, getting Joel’s attention. “Huh?”
“Wow Joel, you can be so spacey sometimes!” Sean and Pang both laughed. Joel chuckled as well. “Come on, what’s the most important thing you want to do before you die?”
Joel looked down at his nearly empty cup of beer, now warm. “I don’t know,” he said. “There’s a lot of experiences I want to have, you know? I mean, the reason I came all the way over here was to try and figure things out, to find out who I am, to experience parts of the world I’ve only read about, you know?” Sean and Pang grinned and nodded in understanding.
“But I feel like I’ve wound up with more questions than answers. I feel even more confused than I did when I came. This whole trip has made me realize that there’s so many things in the world that I will nev er see, let alone understand, and how can I have an impact on anything, when the world is so big, and I understand so little of it.” He became conscious that he was rambling.
“I guess I just feel like it doesn’t matter what I do in the end, and that’s disheartening for me, because I need to feel like what I do matters, that it has an effect…” He looked down at his beer again and took the final swig of it.
“Well, you know…” Pang began. Sean groaned, rolling his eyes and burying his head in his hands. “ Cam us might say that life’s all about amassing experience, and that it doesn’t really matter what you do, or what effect you have, it only matter’s what experiences you…”
“Oh come off it, Pang.” Sean interrupted good-naturedly. They all laughed. Pang had a habit of bringing up literature or philosophy at somewhat random points in a conversation, and Sean, not being the most scholarly person one would ever meet, always ended up confused. None of them could deny the simple facts though; they had all come to Asia by different means, but searching for the same thing: answers to the big questions, or at least a compass to help them find the right direction.
Joel sighed, peering once again into his now empty glass of beer. “I used to think I had the world figured out,” he murmured. “I used to think that life was just a simple equation, and if I could figure out all the variables and all the constants, I could solve it and be happy. But it’s not that simple is it?” It was a rhetorical question, and there was a brief moment of silence before Sean interjected.
“You two,” he said, shaking his head. “I ask a simple question about what you guys want to do before you die, and you start talking about literary themes, and motifs, and all that crap, and you go off on this sad sob story about how you can’t figure life out. And to think I came all the way around the world just to run into two self-indulgent idiots like you guys.”
Pang and Joel exchanged satisfied glances. They enjoyed making Sean squirm.
“Since you guys can’t give a straight answer, I guess I’ll have to show you how it’s done.” He sat up straight in his chair, pausing for dramatic effect before continuing. “I would be totally complete, if I could do only one thing before I die.” He paused again, milking the attention that Pang and Joel were paying him.
“Just one date with Natalie Port man. That’s all.” He pushed back from the table as Pang and Joel burst out in laughter.
“What? I think it’s a noble pursuit! And trust me, with my charm and good looks, she’ll be putty in my hands. Putty! ” He nodded confidently.
The other patrons of the bar shot confused glances over at Pang and Joel, who were laughing raucously, pounding on the table in an effort to rid themselves of the excess energy the mental image of Sean on a date with Natalie Portman had given them.
Sean pulled his chair back into the table as their laughter died down and the din of the bar returned to normal.
“Are you serious?” Joel asked, eyes still teary from the laughter.
“Hell, yeah! In all honesty, there’s not much else I want or need right now, really.”
“Yeah, I know, I feel the same way, but aren’t there things you want to see and experience while you can? I mean, you’re the one who asked the stupid question.”
“Yes, there are plenty of things I want to see and experience, but I also try my hardest not to take for granted what I do have, and what I have been able to experience. I seriously think you’re just pining away for things that you haven’t had a chance to experience yet. I guess it’s a cliché, but you seriously seem to think the grass is greener on the other side, but you haven’t even tasted the grass on your side, you know?”
Joe started to interrupt, but Sean held up his hand.
“Wait a second. Think about this. You’re sitting in a bar in Thailand , on a trip to Asia you saved up for mont hs and mont hs to take, with two random people you met during your travels, shootin’ the shit, and all you can talk about is how you’re worried that you don’t have it all figured out. Look outside, man, and remember where you are. Friggin’ just enjoy it.”
Joel looked out the open window, where the bustle of the nighttime street was slowing down gently, and the stars peeked out behind a haze of clouds that had earlier graced them with a gentle rain. The goofy oaf had a point. He sighed and let a smirk cross his face. Sean smiled.
“You’ve got plenty of time to change the world, Joel, if that’s what you really want to do. Plenty of time.”