Can’t breathe! And it’s so dark. Why is it so dark? Where’s my clock, my internet router. There’s no lights. Where are the lights? Help me, somebody. God, help me.
What’s that beeping sound? Beep, beep, beep… like the slow ticking of a clock. Beep, beep, eep, eep…. It’s speeding up! I can’t catch it. Please, God, help me! I sit up in a panic. Where am I?
Light… there’s light. But it’s so hot… I’m sweating. Sheets, white, everything is white now. No darkness. I think, maybe…
“Now, Ms. Arnold. You know you’re not supposed to get up yet. Here, let me help you back to your bed. You’re much too weak to get up on your own.” The nurse moved about me efficiently and I was soon lying back down on my damp sheets.
“I was just… it was so dark. I must have had that nightmare again. The one I’ve been having off and on since I came out of the “deep sleep” the other day. Are you sure everything’s okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine, Ms. Arnold. Now just lie back and relax. I’ll get you something to calm you. And you have visitors. So you’ll want to get yourself all pretty to greet these gentlemen.” She handed me a mirror and a comb.
“New visitors? Not Carmen?”
“Ms. Angelo is in the waiting room. She can’t come in with the detectives, so…”
“Detectives? So they finally came about my accident! Good. I want to find out who t-boned us and why! Go ahead. Show them in.” I spent a couple of minutes tidying myself after the nurse left to get the visitors. It’s about time. That maniac just about killed us.
I recalled my discussion with the doctor when I came out of the coma that had kept me in the dark for nearly ten days. He talked to me about the accident, explaining they hit the passenger side where I was sitting and my head took quite a beating. My rib cage was in bad shape, too, with a couple of cracked ribs and lots of bruising. They told me it was only a miracle I lived. Even more miraculous, Carmen who was driving, only got a few scrapes. As I thought about our ordeal and the last few days since I’d awakened, I felt anger replacing the raging fear I’d felt only minutes before. When they entered the room, I didn’t know whether to show that anger or to greet them with a bit of grace. I decided to let them talk first.
“Good morning, Ms. Arnold. I’m Detective Stahl and this is my partner, Sergeant Hathaway.” He nodded to the younger man who was standing on my right. I glanced his way and he smiled warmly. “If you’re feeling up to it, we’d like to talk with you about an accident that happened on Sunday, May 19th. I understand you’ve been injured yourself and the doctors are just now allowing us to visit with you. So just let us know if you become too tired to talk. Okay?”
“Sure. I do want to get to the bottom of this whole mess, so please, ask your questions.” I let myself settle back a little into my pillows. “Smiley” (my instant nickname for Hathaway) took a small tablet and a pencil out of his pocket and was poised to take notes.
As Stahl began talking, I found myself studying him and his partner more closely. The man obviously in charge was not as big as I would expect for a detective. I’d been reading too many mysteries, I guess. He looked to stand maybe 5’10” and weighed about 180-200 lbs. give or take a few. Looks like he works out. Definitely not my type, I thought. “Smiley,” seemed less serious. He was taller, maybe 6’ and looked like he weighed about 150 lbs. “in his stocking feet” as my dad used to say. While Stahl had darker hair and appeared to be in his mid-forties, the other seemed much younger, with curly blonde hair. He was writing in his tablet and I realized Stahl had been talking and I had not been following the conversation.
“So why don’t you just tell us what you can remember, in your own words. Then I’ll ask questions if I need additional information.” I noted his use of “I” instead of “we” which seemed to leave Smiley out of the picture. I’m not sure I like this guy, I thought.
“Excuse me?” Stahl asked.
“I didn’t quite catch what you said.”
“Just now. Something about a guy?”
Oops! Did I say that out loud? The coma and last few days had seriously messed with my sense of whether I was in or out of my head. “Oh, nothing important. It’s just… I sure hope you get this guy,” I said in an attempt to cover my earlier comment.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, too, Ms. Arnold. So, what do you know, if anything, about the incident?”
If anything? “Well, I would know something about it since I was the one hammered by that driver.” I shuddered thinking about the moment of impact. I found myself clenching onto the sheets with both hands in an effort to brace myself for the collision.
“Wait a minute. Are you saying you were in the car at the time of the accident?” He glanced at a small notebook he held that was nearly identical to that of Smiley’s. “There’s no mention of you in the accident report.”
“That’s pretty goofy, don’t you think? Look at me. I didn’t do this to myself!” I was getting a bit irate and I knew it. So much for grace over anger.
“Must just be some sort of error. So, were you thrown clear of the vehicle during the accident? Which of you was driving?”
“Carmen was driving. I was too tired, so she took over when we got close to Spokane.”
“Carmen? Who’s Carmen?” He kept glancing at me, then at his notes, then back at me, and started writing furiously. He looked like he was thoroughly confused.
“My friend, Carmen. She was driving the car at the time of the accident. Surely there must be something in there about at least one of us.” My voice was rising in pitch and volume. “This is ridiculous. No wonder you haven’t found out who did it. Don’t you people even try to get your information straight?” I started coughing and sat up, leaning forward. Smiley tapped me gently on the back, which actually did help stop the coughing spasm. “Thanks, Smiley” I managed with a weak nod in his direction. He looked at me with and his brow furrowed a little.
“Smiley? My name’s not…”
“Oh, no. Sorry. You, uh, look like a friend of mine. Smiley. Nice guy.” I turned my attention back to Detective Stahl. “So what else can I tell you? I really don’t remember exactly what happened. I do remember seeing a flash of bright color just before the guy hit us. Bright red or maybe orange. Stood out though, I can tell you that. Must have left some paint behind on our rental, that’s for sure.” The detective looked even more perplexed.
“Ooookay. That’s something else that’s not in the accident report. I’ll check it out. So how does Charles Nichols fit in? Was he riding in the back of the car? Maybe he got thrown clear as well.”
“Charles Nichols? Who’s that? Never heard of anybody named Charles Nichols.” Now it was my turn to look confused.
“Wait a minute. We’re going in circles here and it’s getting crazier by the minute. Are you telling me that a man you’ve never met was thrown from your car, along with you and your friend Carmen? I’m sorry but that’s a little hard to swallow, especially since there’s absolutely no mention of either you or Carmen being at the scene when the officers found the 2016 Chevy Malibu at the bottom of the ravine.”
“Malibu? Ravine? What are you talking about? We were in a Honda not a Malibu and there is no ravine anywhere near Third and Washington.”
Stahl closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. Then Smiley spoke up. “Uh, Frank? Can I speak with you a minute?” He gestured to the other side of the room and Stahl joined him in a huddle but not far enough that I could not hear what they were saying.
“Okay, Archer, what is it?” Archer? Archer Hathaway. Never would have guessed it. He looked at “Archer” expectantly.
“Well, Frank, I don’t think she’s talking about the same accident as what we’re looking into. I think there’s been two accidents, and her answers don’t fit your accident report for a good reason. In her accident, she and her friend Carmen were creamed downtown by a car that slammed into them, apparently at a good clip. I don’t think she knows anything about the car at the bottom of the ravine or the dead guy.” He waited while Stahl let the information pool inside his brain. Then the detective moved back to my bedside, followed by Smiley.
“It would appear, Ms. Arnold, that we have been talking at cross purposes. Let’s start over and see if we can make sense out of this. First of all, I need you to understand that I am here investigating a vehicular accident which occurred on Sunday night of May 19 at approximately 10:30 p.m. It involved a Chevy Malibu which was located at the bottom of the cliff overhang, just south of Kendall Yards. In that incident, the driver of the car, Charles Nichols, was thrown clear during the vehicle’s descent down the cliff. The vehicle was found at the bottom in a ravine while the body of Nichols was found approximately half-way down. It was determined that he was killed almost immediately upon impact.
“From what we can tell, no other vehicle was involved, and this was originally ruled an accident. However, when the lab looked more closely at Mr. Nichols, he was found to have fentanyl in his blood system. Then, we learned that the brake system on his car appeared to have been tampered with. Consequently, we’re ruling this as suspected homicide. As for your accident, I have no idea what happened to you.” He looked up from his paperwork expectantly.
“Well then, what the hell – excuse my French – are you doing here bothering me? I don’t even know this guy.” Now I was getting very angry. That’s what nearly two weeks in the hospital will do to someone used to moving around a lot.
“The reason we’re here, Ms. Arnold, is that your business card was found in one of Mr. Nichols’ pockets. We assumed you would have some idea of who this guy was. Now you’re saying you’ve never heard of him? How do you suppose your card got into his pocket if you don’t know him?”
“Since it’s a card from my bookstore, I suspect lots of people I do not know have picked up a card for reference. That’s kind of normal for a business where more than one person is apt to be on duty at any given time.”
“True. But this particular card has your name written on the back. Does that sound typical as well?”
“Well, maybe Andrea gave a customer my name. All I can say is that I don’t know anyone named Charles Nichols. Now can you please tell me when someone will show up to talk to me about my accident?” I crossed my arms on my chest and gave Stahl my best glare.
“What if I gave you a description of Char… uh, the dead man. Would that possibly help?” He sounded so hopeful, I almost felt sorry for him.
“I doubt it will be of use, but go ahead.”
He flipped a couple of pages in his small notebook and found the entry he needed. “According to his identification, the victim was a little over 38 years old, about 5’8” tall, approximately 145 pounds, in good physical shape.”
Except he’s dead, of course. “Go on.”
“He had dark brown hair, slightly wavy. The contents of his pockets revealed he had been staying at the Davenport Hotel for about a week before the accident, but he had checked out that day and all of his belongings were presumed to have been in the vehicle. He had a couple of restaurant receipts in his possession; one is from Chang’s downtown, for lunch on Wednesday that week; the other is from dinner at the Onion Bar & Grill on Friday night.”
As Stahl continued talking, I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. I broke into his recitation. “Uh, does that receipt say anything about the contents of the dinner?” I braced myself. I did not want this to be Mark, my Mark, my beautiful, possible Mark.
“Yes, it notes two orders of fish and chips and a healthy bar tab.”
Emotions flooded over me in a wave that threatened to take me out to sea. “No, no, no. It can’t be…” I found myself sobbing. “I, we, we just met. He can’t be dead. You’ve got to be wrong. Mark can’t be dead.” I searched both their faces for some sign they were not serious. They just looked perplexed.
The two detectives looked at each other and back at me. That’s the last thing I saw as darkness enveloped me and I slipped into unconsciousness – again.