By Eric Burbridge
The impact spun the vehicle and shattered glass followed his body against the door. Nick was ejected before the car flipped. He couldn’t feel his legs. His face was pushed against the curb. What happened, what hit him? Pain shot through his head when he tried to scream out for help, was his jaw fractured or broken? Moans and groans…came from where? The other vehicle, it had to be. The sounds of agony increased then faded. He coughed and gagged, mucous and blood bounced off the curb back in his face. Shift Nick! He couldn’t. Rock yourself…his head moved a little and his face scraped the concrete. Light trickled through his swollen eyes and faded as blood filled that space. He blinked and blinked, it stung. Somebody help me! The pain subsided, numbness set in. Was he paralyzed? God no, not that.
Footsteps, somebody ran his way. Help was here. Thank God.
“He look dead.” A female. Nick managed a groan. She pushed him with her foot and he groaned louder. “He ain’t dead, yet.” He felt hands in his pockets. Whoever she was tried to push him over. Sirens he heard sirens. “I know this bougie piece a shit.”
“Tiny, look at this shit, hurry.”
“Wait a minute.” She pushed Nick off the curb enough for him to get a glimpse of the light. “You that old asshole who cut his grass all the time.” She spat on him. Nasty bitch! That insult perked him up. His left leg hit the curb. Hit it again leg…hit it again! Nothing, it was gone. Little prickles hear his eye…on his nose. Ants! He blew at the curb. His breath would bounce off and scatter them. Blow, blow, harder, harder. They crawled in and bit his eye. Blink your eyes. Faster, faster. He strained to keep his eyes shut. God, help me, please. What was that smell? Gas, the tank had busted. Was it flowing his way? He prayed it was…wash away the ants. The smell got stronger. Sirens again. He felt the female standing over him.
“Tiny, help me get this shit, hurry up.”
“Ok, wait a sec. Yeah, take that”. A warm stream of fluid hit him in the face.
She pissed in his face. You nasty…
“Girl, that’s nasty…what’s wrong with you?” Somebody said.
“He dead anyway.”
“Here come the others, Tiny. Help me get the shit before they do.”
“Okay.” That stinkin shit washed away the ants, but not the gas. Nick heard people running to and from.
“Get what you can.”
What were they getting? It had to be money, maybe dope. Sirens, this time they were real close. His eyes burned, but the feasting ants were gone or dead. That nasty bitch may have saved his sight. He still couldn’t move when the firefighter’s sprayed the area with foam. At first, they thought Nick was dead. That second look proved the EMTs wrong.
Nick Charles lay flat on his back, he couldn’t feel the lower half of his body. The bandages over his face were too tight. The gurney moved faster and faster, where were they taking him? He knew he was in a hospital, but where? People mumbled over and around him. What are they saying? His eyes were covered. God, please don’t let him be blind. They made a sharp turn and stopped. “We’re in.” People on both sides of him. “Ready on three…one, two, three.” He felt that thud, was that good thing or what? He thought so. They hooked up whatever and he felt several pricks on his arm, IVs then drowsiness and darkness.
“Mr. Charles, can you hear me?” A male voice asked. “Nod, if you can.” He obeyed. Good, he moved his head. That seasoned voice eased his nerves. Was this the doctor or what? “I’m, Doctor Coles.”
Nick struggled and managed a whisper. “Hello, doctor,” a sharp pain shot through his jaw. He moaned.
“Be careful trying to talk, it won’t be so bad when the swelling goes down. I’ll see if they put an amp by your mouth.” The doctor took his hand off Nick’s shoulder. “Calm down…I know you might be freaked out, but you’re not in as bad a shape as you think. When you were ejected from the vehicle your neck hit the curb, so I’m told, but it didn’t break and that trauma caused significant inflammation. That’s why you can’t feel anything. I’m pretty sure the steroids will ease and then we’ll do a MRI. From experience you should be wiggling your toes soon. No broken bones, Mr. Charles, but the scrapes and bruises will take a while to go away.” Nick smiled slightly and no pain. What about his sight? The doctor fumbled with something, probably the machines. He pointed and touched the bandages on his eyes. “Oh, and the ophthalmologist will be here shortly. Those insects didn’t cause as much damage as we thought, but she’ll explain the rest.” Nick tried to reach further past his eyes. “Don’t do that you’ll pull on other bandages. We cutoff the dreads…what was left of them anyway. You were soaked with gas and foam.”
“Damn, but I’m too old for them anyway…high maintenance,” he mumbled.
“What was that, Mr. Charles?” Nick shook his head. “And, your blood alcohol level was within the legal limits in case your visitor says otherwise. You didn’t hear it from me. There’s one thing I don’t like, the cops harassing my patients, us grey heads have to stick together, right?” Nick nodded. “This will be your room for the duration…well speak of the devil, here come the cops. Two of them and if they don’t lose a lot of weight they’ll be in here too.”
“Knock, knock…excuse us, doctor…”
“Doctor Coles.” Nick sensed the surgeon’s resentment.
“Doctor Coles, do you mind if we have a word with, Mr. Charles?”
“No, but make it brief if you don’t mind.”
Nick felt Doctor Coles leave the room. The smell of tobacco filled his nostrils, somebody was a heavy smoker. “Mr. Charles, I’m Detective Garcia and this is my partner, Detective Lopez.” Strange, detectives with accents. Nick rose his hand. “Terrible accident, Mr. Charles, you’re a lucky man, but we’d like to ask you a few questions, if we may?” Nick nodded. “It won’t take long.” Now he smelled tacos. The sooner they leave the better. “What happened?”
“What happened? I got t-boned, flipped and tossed around like a ball and ended up on a curb being spit and pissed on by a female whose mad at me for cutting my grass. Can you believe it?” Silence. “You guys still there?”
“Somebody called her Tiny, I’d like to get my hands on her. Seems like I heard people gathering up stuff from that car, truck or whatever hit me. It pisses me off thinking about it.”
“Thanks, Mr. Charles, get well soon.”
It sounded like they left in a hurry. That’s all? That was quick. How much dope or cash was in that vehicle? That had to be it. And, if it was the area will be crawling with feds, cops and the dope man. Why the cops or whoever they were want to talk to him? He didn’t know anything.
There wasn’t much of his block left and the several homes that remained were well maintained, inside and out, in spite of litter randomly tossed on their lawns. Nick’s home was a corner house and he caught hell. The younger generation lacked pride in community. People like Tiny lived in a tent-like city under the viaduct by the railroad tracks. The city promised to relocate them, but that never happened. Whoever got her first, the cops or the dope man, he hoped they beat her to death. The door to his room opened.
“Hello, Mr. Charles, I’m Doctor Talbot, the ophthalmologist, how are you feeling?” Nick felt her standing over him.
“I’m here, what can I say?”
“Yes, you are and you’re in good hands.” The eye doctor unraveled the bandage on the left eye. Her hands smelled nice and her voice was soothing. “Do you see the flashing light?”
“Yes, barely.” Nick said, that’s good he wasn’t totally blind in that eye.
“That’s one helluva shiner you got there, but from what we saw when the swelling goes down it should be okay.”
Nick sighed, “I hope so, what about the other one? You didn’t look at it.”
Why the pause? “Doctor, what is it?”
“Nothing.” She turned a page on the chart. “Just checking something…now, where was I? Oh, those ants did a little damage, but not as much as it looked. Those bad fellas munch and crunch quick,” she giggled. “Hungry little things, but the eyes heal quick, your corona and lens are okay. We put in drops, in a few days we’ll check and see what.” She giggled. “See what, that’s a joke.” Nick wasn’t amused. “Anyway, I’m optimistic.”
“Good.” The pain in his jaw was gone. Could he eat something? He smelled onions on her breath. A nice thick burger would hit the spot. The hand on the shoulder was meant to be reassuring, but a hug from Roland would help even more. “Worry not, Mr. Charles, you’ll be fine, I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, thanks doctor and could you turn on the TV, at least I can listen.”
“Sure, no problem, any channel in particular?”
“The local news, thanks.” She slid the door shut. He forgot to ask for the remote and he also meant to ask how long had he been there? He felt around the bed; he heard the speaker. There it was…now to adjust the right buttons. It took a minute before he got the hang of it and got back to the local news channel. He didn’t hit the big button that was probably the emergency call. He should, he needed the company if only for a few minutes. Here lays Nickolas Charles, widower, a guy who told his only son to stay away until he got sober. But, he was right! Don’t do the same dumb things he had, you might not survive. But, the chip off the block didn’t listen and hanging out with the drunks in the neighborhood brought him nothing but trouble. Rumor had it he hung out in the tent-city. Was he associated with that damn Tiny? God, he hoped the cops got her.
Who was watching the house?
Did he set the alarm? The neighbors had to know he was in the accident.
That’s what he got for not practicing what he preached. You tell your son not to drink and off you go. But, he’d been sober for years and in the past few he drank only on special occasions like his birthday. That celebration gave him the idea to go get rib tips at 2am. Now look at you, but still he was right about Roland. When Roland had a phone half the time his calls went to voice mail. “Answer when I call it could be an emergency,” He plead with him. That was six months ago. Was he alright or what? Don’t let your imagination run away with you. Sorrow crept into his psyche…he didn’t need the pity party. Damn, he forgot she went through his pockets, no phone, no wallet, not that he could use it. He didn’t look forward to replacing IDs.
The phone rang, over and over. It was right next to him on a table. He turned to reach and feel for it. No luck. Where in the hell is the nurse when you need one. It stopped, maybe it was Roland. The door opened. “Mr. Charles, did your phone rang?” Whoever she was she spoke with authority.
“Yes, but I can’t reach it, all these IVs and stuff make it…”
“Don’t worry, I got it.” She cut him off and set it next to him. “He said he’ll call right back.”
“Thank you and you are?”
“I’m Glenda, nursing supervisor, hit the button if you need anything, okay.”
“Got it, thanks again.” No sooner had she left the phone rang. “Hello.”
“Hello, Nick, how are you?”
It was Isaiah, his neighbor across the street. His voice was raspy like his throat needed to be cleared. “I’m okay, I guess. You got a cold?” God, please don’t let it be Roland or the house.
“No.” He coughed and sounded better. “We heard about the accident and from the looks of your car, it scared us. Man, thank God you made it. We’re praying for you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it. I’m bruised and scraped, but no broken bones.”
“Uh…I know the situation, but ADT called and your alarm went off, I told them to send the cops.” Isaiah said.
“Shit, that’s all I need.” Those damn vultures were circling. “What happened, what they take?”
“Nothing, I guess. The cops said the stuff they could sell was still there; electronics and other stuff. I…I don’t know what you got.”
“You right, I shouldn’t have asked, but still.”
“I understand, but it’s strange they broke in several houses and garages and from what I heard, the same thing, ransacked, but nothing missing.”
“Did you or they try to shut my door back?”
“Yeah, we tried. I got your back, the best I can. All kinds of shit been happening. They say that van that hit you was a mule’s vehicle, full of money and dope.”
Nick hoped Roland wasn’t in the area hanging with those assholes who raided that truck. “Thanks for looking out.”
“Check this. I got a theory, they been shooting over there in tent-city. Several people wounded and their stuff ransacked too. Do you remember that skinny nasty looking girl who always wore a skirt no matter what the weather? I told you I saw her peeing in the alley.”
That must be, Tiny. “No.”
“Anyway, they found her and her brother damn near beat to death. My theory…them dope boys want what theirs.”
Nick hadn’t heard anything on the news. “Damn, that’s something to think about.” That was a prayer answered.
“I had to run all that past you. Get well, see you soon.”
“Thanks.” Knowing his neighbor, he wanted to ask was Roland still around? Isaiah’s theory was probably spot on. The dope boys were going to get theirs.
That week in the hospital drove Nick crazy; therapy, insurance claims and replacing ID’s. Thank God, his brother and sister-in-law were in town that week. They found a few more bodies in and around tent-city. No big deal let them tell it, but that meant, in his opinion, the dope boys were still at it. Thank God, he didn’t get a call saying they found Roland. Whoever the bad guys were, they’d be watching for changes in habits amongst everybody especially the drug users.
Isaiah, despite his weight and other health issues, helped Nick make adjustments at home after his in-laws left town, as much as possible. He hired a lawn service for the rest of the season. For a senior he was healing fast, Dr. Coles suggested he continue to take it easy.
Nick flipped a couple of well-seasoned rib eyes on the grill when a late model sporty whatever pulled in the driveway. Roland hopped out with a big smile on his face. “Hey dad, how are you?” Nick’s knees buckled slightly, but his walker held him up. “Whoa, you okay?”
“Yeah. Boy, am I glad to see you.” Nick hugged him and didn’t want to let him go. His son was new; his skin was clear, his eyes weren’t red, his teeth were new, his breath didn’t stink, his muscle was tone was good obviously he’d been working out. He looked like an affluent professional.
“You got banged up, what happened to you, where’s your car?” Nick promised to fill him in after they ate. Nick asked Isaiah should he tell him the whole story about the accident. He decided it was best he didn’t, why worry or piss him off? Nick told him the story. Roland had tears in his eyes. “I should’ve been there, but after you disowned me, one morning I snapped out of it. I wasn’t coming back until I got it together. I went to rehab and this time it stuck. It ain’t easy, but I feel great.”
Roland showing up now scared him. But, regardless, thank God, he was on the right track. He got his CPA reinstated and found a good job. For several weeks, Nick was nervous. What would the bad guys think? One morning he woke and came to the conclusion his son was safe. The home he loved dearly was going on the market and an assisted living community was in the near future and that was fine with him.