TIME SPIKE – snippet 17:
Jenny Radford sat looking at the charts in front of her. It had been another long day. She should be in bed, but knew she wouldn’t sleep if she didn’t take care of the charting. Insomnia plagued her anytime she tried to leave something until the following day. She would just lie on the small cot twisting and squirming until she finally got up and did it. And today had been one of those days that left a dozen loose ends waiting to be tied up after everyone else had gone to their rooms for the night.
The routine charting had been done, and now she was doing a journal entry. The journal was something she’d started more or less for herself. It was a recording of what happened in the infirmary, and everywhere else inside the prison. She was keeping track of the steps they were taking in an attempt to solve all their problems. It made it easier for her to stay upbeat if she could see the progress being made. Besides, if it were in writing, even the small successes wouldn’t be overlooked. And so far, they were all small successes.
No, not all. They now had water. That was a biggie. It was the biggest biggie, in fact.
The infirmary was in the process of being cleaned. Really cleaned. Andy had sent over three prisoners to help out. It had been wonderful. The prisoners cleaned while Casey Fisher, the infirmary’s permanent guard, watched. They worked about four hours. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it had helped. They had managed to get the actual work areas cleaned up and all the laundry aired out. Tomorrow she was going to have them start washing linens. They would have to do it by hand, but at least it would get done. Once the laundry was caught up, they could start on the deep cleaning.
She sighed and stretched, trying to focus on the page in front of her. Each day’s med pass took less and less time as the pills, elixirs, patches and powders ran out. In less than thirty days, there would be no med pass of any kind. That’s when the workload would double.
Andy had stayed out of the infirmary’s business, for which she was grateful. Too many chiefs slowed things down. She smiled. Captain Andy Blacklock, with his newly sprouted beard and eyes that missed nothing, was the only bright spot in her life right now. Without him, the place would be unbearable. Their relationship, whatever it was, had been growing one day at a time. Short talks, short walks, and now, tonight, a short kiss. Well, it was more like a peck on the forehead, but it was a step. Even though she was alone, she smiled.
She knew he was divorced. And that he had dated a little afterward. but nothing serious. And that was a good thing. If he was grieving for anyone left behind, it wasn’t someone part of his day-to-day life.
There was a lot of he-ing and she-ing going on right now between the guards. And rumor had it, between a few of the guards and the prisoners. She had been told that romantic liaisons between staff and prisoners happened, but it was rare. Sometimes it was a homosexual relationship; sometimes it was heterosexual. Regardless, it was never tolerated and it always ended with the C.O. or nurse being dismissed. That wouldn’t happen this time. No one could get fired, but they could get transferred from one building or department to another.
Jenny knew the reasoning behind those types of decisions, and approved of them. What she disapproved of was how nothing stayed confidential. How everyone knew everyone’s business. And how nasty and crude the rumor-mill could get.
The need for affection was a normal reaction to stress. When a person came under the guns, he or she would reach out for someone who could make them feel safe.
Does he make me feel safe? Her smile faded a little. No, nothing could do that, under these circumstances. But Andy did make her feel warm, and cared for. And she needed that feeling. But she didn’t know if she needed the other feeling. The one of her caring for him. And she was pretty sure that was what was happening. A little more each day, she was falling in love with Andy Blacklock and that scared her.
But it didn’t scare her enough to push him away, did it? The smile returned and she picked up her pen. It was time to get back to work.
Twenty minutes later she was reaching for the switch that would turn out the light when she heard a pounding on the glass doors separating the infirmary from the prison-yard. It was midnight. The pounding continued as she made her way down the hall to the entry area. Rod Hulbert, Marie Keehn, and Jerry Bailey were on the other side of the glass.
She unlocked the double set of doors. The three of them carried in a man she didn’t recognize. He had been hurt. And by the amount of blood on his clothes and the way his head drooped to the left, he was in bad shape.
“You have a patient,” Hulbert said.
She gently turned the man’s head so she could see his face. She knew before letting them in, he wasn’t the fourth member of the hunting team. She had watched the team leave and knew Brian Carmichael was a black man with a bald head, a round, friendly face, and big brown eyes.
“Where’s Carmichael?” she asked. “And who is he? Prisoner or staff?”
“Brian’s helping the kitchen staff take care of the meat we brought in. This guy’s not either one, prisoner or staff.”
Jenny stared at Hulbert for a moment. She then motioned them toward the examining room. The questions would have to wait.
Jenny filled a metal bowl with water and grabbed a washrag and towel. She had to get the grime off his face. She needed to see how extensive his injuries were, and that was the only way she could see. The man flinched, but didn’t cry out.
“He’s been beaten and shot,” Marie said. “I don’t think the bullet caught anything vital, but he’s hurt pretty bad.”
Jenny nodded and set to work—a quick rinsing of his face and neck, a head-to-toe assessment, an I.V., oxygen—then she had the guards help her remove his outer clothing. Clothes had become too precious to waste by cutting them away. She then used blankets and straps to immobilize him.
He had been shot once in the side. The wound was bad, but wouldn’t kill him, unless it was already infected. In the freakish way that sometimes happened with gunshot wounds, the bullet had traveled around the flesh instead of passing through the body. It had come to lodge not far under the surface of the skin near his kidney, where it was easy to remove. There was a lot of tissue damage, but she didn’t think any critical organs had been touched.
His nose was broken. His left eye was swollen shut, but the eyeball itself looked to be okay. She would know more once the swelling went down. He was bruised all over, even in the groin area. Some of the bruises were raised and hard. Most of them held a little heat. Neither of those were good signs.
“Are you sure he isn’t a prisoner?” she asked. But, deep down, she already knew the answer. Beneath the injuries, the man’s physical appearance wasn’t any different from that of any number of prisoners—or guards, for that matter. But he was wearing a necklace that no prisoner would have been allowed to keep in his possession. It was a wide, flat band with intricate carvings that wrapped around his neck much like a snake would wrap itself around the arm of its handler. An expensive looking piece that appeared to be hand-tooled. He also wore the strangest silver earrings she had ever seen. They were attached at the top of his ears, rather than the lobes.
Marie shook her head. “We’re sure. And he’s not a C.O., either. He doesn’t belong to us.”
Jenny stopped; her scalpel shook, then steadied. “Not one of ours,” she whispered, and went back to work.
For the next twenty minutes the room was silent except for an occasional moan from the man on the examination table.
Jenny hoped he would live. His injuries were extensive: broken ribs, broken jaw, probable concussion, multiple contusions and bruising with a lot of soft tissue damage. He was going to have to be luckier than he had been or he would be gone by morning.
Rod Hulbert moved so he could get a look at the spent bullet Jenny dropped into a small metal pan that sat on the portable tray she used to hold her equipment. “We found him about an eight hour hike from here. He was by himself curled up inside a small cave. The place was filled with primitive tools and weapons, and looked like quite a few people lived in it, but he was the only one around. And he doesn’t speak English. All he would say was something that sounded like Ka-nun-da-cla-ga.”
Jenny gave a sigh. No English. The word—or words—didn’t sound like anything she had dealt with.
“We thought at first he was saying who did this to him, but we’re not so sure now. He looks half starved, and like he had been through quite a bit even before he was beaten and shot. He might be part Indian, but we’re not even sure of that.”
“Could he be from town?” Jenny asked.
“I don’t think so. It’s a small community, and someone who dressed this outlandishly would be someone you’d notice, and remember. He could be a drifter, or maybe one of the tourists. We get a lot of people through here. They want to walk part of the Trail of Tears. And a lot of them are Indian. Or at least part Indian.”
Marie held up one of the man’s shoes. “This is the weirdest looking footwear I’ve ever seen. There’s no heel and no instep.” She dropped the shoe to the floor and picked up the man’s pants. “His pants button, they don’t zip. And the material is thick and the weaving looks a little uneven. Look at the seams. These were hand sewn.”
Jenny had noticed the buttons when she stripped the man. They were real buttons made out of shells, not plastic. She had also noticed the man wore no underwear. That wasn’t unheard of. Even in this day and age, some men would go without them. But the buttons, that was a new one for her.
She took off the hospital gown she was using to protect her clothes and tossed the latex gloves into the sink. They would be washed, and then re-used. The rules were simple, one pair of gloves per patient. Later, when the gloves ran out, they would have to re-examine how things were done. She didn’t look at the patient; instead, she stared at the three members of the staff who had brought him in. “I guess we’ve done about all we can. Now we just have to wait and see if the antibiotics can turn the corner for him.”
Hulbert was shaking his head slowly. He used a pencil to scoot the bullet around and around in the small metal container. “This damn thing is weirder than his pants or his shoes. A lot weirder. Huge caliber, for one thing. How did a bullet this big stay in his body? It should have blown right through him, unless…” He shrugged. “Low velocity, I guess.”
He sat the pan down and pulled his small camera phone from his shirt pocket. “But that’s nothing compared to what else we’ve seen.”
Andy groaned, then glanced at the clock. He hadn’t been asleep but two hours. “Yeah, give me a second. I’ll be there!” he shouted at whoever was pounding on his door.
He stumbled around the room trying to get dressed in the dim light filtering through the window. He slept with the curtains opened. The sun was his back-up alarm. But it wasn’t up yet. All he had for light was the soft glow of the moon and a few thousand stars. “Who is it?”
He opened the door. The two vertical worry lines situated between his eyebrows had deepened. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry,” Jenny said. She glanced down the empty hall toward the stairs that led to the prison’s entry area. Andy slept in what had been the human resource office. “You have to come see this,” she whispered. “You really do have to see this now.”