H Is For Homicide Page 85


Like Luis, Raymond was apparently one of those people made uneasy by illness. He was subdued, respectful. The ticcing had started up, the head jerk reminding me of the sort of startle reaction I sometimes experience when I'm on the verge of sleep. Hospital staff, catching sight of him, seemed to diagnose him in passing, thinking no more about it than I did at this point. From Raymond's manner, I had to guess he'd been hospitalized as a child, subjected to medical processes that had left him edgy and alert. Almost imperceptibly, he slowed, shoving his hands in his pockets while he decided what to do next.

He was just picking up the telephone when the double doors opened and a nurse emerged. She was a redhead, in her thirties, white pants suit, thick-soled white shoes, wearing a nursing school pin but no cap. ’’Can I help you?’’

’’Yeah, uhm, I got a... my fiancee was brought in last night. She was in this automobile accident? The cops said she was here. It's Diaz, the last name... I was just wondering, you know, if I could see her.’’

She smiled pleasantly. ’’Just a minute, I'll check.’’ She moved on to the waiting room, where she stuck her head in, beckoning to one of the visitors. The woman set her magazine aside and followed the nurse back through the double doors. I took the liberty of peering through the glass, but all I could see was an extension of the corridor and, at the far end of the hall, a glass-enclosed room furnished with monitoring equipment. The patient was barely visible and there was no way of knowing if it was Bibianna or not.

Luis was shifting from foot to foot, fingers snapping softly. ’’Oh, man, I hate this. I'm going down to the lobby. You can pick me up on the way out. Maybe I'll find the coffee shop and get me something to eat.’’

’’Do it,’’ Raymond said.

Luis crossed his arms and hugged himself casually. ’’You want me to get you some coffee, something like that?’’

’’Just get outta here, Luis. I don't give a shit.’’

’’Maybe I'll come back in a while,’’ he said. He glanced at me and then walked backward for a few steps, waiting to see if Raymond had any serious objections. Raymond seemed to be fighting his own inclination to bolt. Luis turned and headed toward the elevators.

As soon as he was out of sight, I touched Raymond's arm. ’’I think I'll look for a ladies'room, okay?’’

The nurse returned. ’’It'll be a few minutes. The neurologist just left, but I think he's still in the hospital. Would you like to have him paged?’’

’’Uh, yeah. Could you do that?’’

’’Of course. You can have a seat, if you like,’’ she said, indicating the waiting room.

’’She going to be okay?’’

’’I really couldn't say,’’ the nurse said. ’’I can have Dr. Cherbak talk to you about her condition as soon as he gets here. Your name is?’’

’’Raymond. I'll just wait. I don't want to interrupt nobody...’’

’’There's a vending machine if you want to have some coffee.’’

’’Can you tell me where the restrooms are?’’ I asked. God, couldn't I think of any more imaginative way of getting away from these guys?

The nurse pointed toward the corridor. ’’First door.’’

I went into the waiting room with Raymond. As soon as he sat down on the couch, I said, ’’I'll be right back.’’

He could hardly pay attention, he was so uneasy by then. I walked away from him, trying to control myself, trying not to break into a run. I passed the restroom and kept going, looking for a place I could have a little privacy and the use of a telephone.

Two-South segued back into 2-Main without any noticeable shift in floor covering or the wall colors, which were pale blue and pale beige, with a pattern of cattails or full-foliage trees in silhouette. I became aware that I had moved from near death to near birth, the signs on the wall pointing to Labor, Delivery, the Newborn Nursery, and the Fathers'Waiting Room. I was looking for a pay phone, fumbling aside the gun in my bag for loose change, feeling panic mount as the seconds ticked away. Once I got the relevant information back to Dolan, I was out of there.

I passed the desk on 2-Main. There was a counter to my left with wall-mounted monitors that showed green lines I assumed were vital signs.

A black nurse coming out of a room marked ’’Staff Lounge’’ nearly bumped into me. She was wearing an ankle-length white gown that tied in the back, a mask pushed up on the middle of her forehead like a pale green hump. She was in her forties, slim, with dark eyes and a clear, unlined face. ’’Can I help you?’’

’’I sincerely hope so,’’ I said. 'This is my situation and you just have to trust me on this. I'm a private investigator from Santa Teresa. I'm working undercover on an auto insurance fraud case and I'm here in the company of a thug who's going to start looking for me any minute. I have to get a call through to Lieutenant Dolan up in Santa Teresa. Do you have a telephone I could use? I swear it won't take long and it could save my life.’’


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