Let me ... see you.
Joey couldn't raise his head, couldn't turn more directly toward her ... because his spine had been damaged, perhaps severed, and he was paralyzed.
“Oh, dear God,” she whispered, and although she had always been a strong woman who stood on a rock of faith, who drew hope as well as air with every breath, she was as weak now as the unborn child in her womb, sick with fear.
She leaned forward in her seat, and toward him, so he could see her more directly, and when she put one trembling hand against his cheek, his head dropped forward on neck muscles as limp as rags, his chin Against his chest.
Cold, wind-driven rain slashed through the missing windows, and voices rose in the street as people ran toward the Pontiac-thunder in the distance-and on the air was the ozone scent of the storm and the more subtle and more terrible odor of blood, but none of these hard details could make the moment seem real to Agnes, who, in her deepest nightmares, had never felt more like a dreamer than she felt now.
She cupped his face in both of her hands and was barely able to lift his head, for fear of what she would see.
His eyes were strangely radiant, as she had never seen them before, as if the shining angel who would guide him elsewhere had already entered his body and was with him to begin the journey.
In a voice free of pain and fear, he said, “I was ... loved by you."
Not understanding, thinking that he was inexplicably asking if she loved him, she said, “Yes, of course, you silly bear, you stupid man, of course, I love you."
“It was... the only dream that mattered,” Joey said. “You ... loving me. It was a good life because of you."
She tried to tell him that he was going to make it, that he would be with her for a long time, that the universe was not so cruel as to take him at thirty with all their lives ahead of them, but the truth was here to see, and she could not lie to him.
With her rock of faith under her, and breathing hope as much as ever, she was nevertheless unable to be as strong for him as she wanted to be. She felt her face go soft, her mouth tremble, and when she tried to repress a sob, it burst from her with wretched force.
Holding his precious face between her hands, she kissed him. She met his gaze, and furiously she blinked away her tears, for she wanted to be clear-sighted, to be looking into his eyes, to see him, the truest part of him in there beyond his eyes, until that very last moment when she could not have him anymore.
People were at the car windows, struggling to open the buckled doors, but Agnes refused to acknowledge them.
Matching her fierce attention with a sudden intensity of his own, Joey said, “Bartholomew."
They knew no one named Bartholomew, and she had never heard the name from him before, but she knew what he wanted. He was speaking of the son he would never see.
“If it's a boy—Bartholomew,” she promised.
“It's a boy,” Joey assured her, as though he had been given a vision. Thick blood sluiced across his lower lip, down his chin, bright arterial blood. “Baby, no,” she pleaded.
She was lost in his eyes: She wanted to pass through his eyes as Alice had passed through the looking glass, follow the beautiful radiance that was fading now, go with him through the door that had been opened for him and accompany him out of this rain-swept day into grace.
This was his door, however, not hers. She did not possess a ticket to ride the train that had come for him. He boarded, and the train was gone, and with it the light in his eyes. She lowered her mouth to his, kissing him one last time, and taste of his blood was not bitter, but sacred.
WHILE THE SLATS of ash-gray light slowly lost their meager luster, and sable shadows metastasized in sinister profusion, the sentinel silence remained unbroken between Junior Cain and the birthmarked man.
What might have become a waiting game of epic duration was ended when the door to the room swung inward, and a doctor in a white lab coat entered from the corridor. He was backlighted by fluorescent glare, his face in shadow, like a figure in a dream.
Junior closed his eyes at once and let his jaw sag, breathing through his mouth, feigning sleep.
“I'm afraid you shouldn't be here,” the doctor said softly.
“I haven't disturbed him,” said the visitor, taking his cue from the doctor and keeping his voice low.
“I'm sure you haven't. But my patient needs absolute quiet and rest."
“So do I,” said the visitor, and Junior almost frowned at this peculiar response, wondering what was meant in addition to what was merely said.
The two men introduced themselves. The physician was Dr. Jim Parkhurst. His manner was easy and affable, and his soothing voice, either by nature or by calculation, was as healing as balm.
The birthmarked man identified himself as Detective Thomas Vanadium. He did not use the familiar, diminutive form of his name, as had the doctor, and his voice was as uninflected as his face was flat and homely.
Junior suspected that no one other than this man's mother called him Tom. He was probably “Detective” to some and “Vanadium” to most who knew him.
“What's wrong with Mr. Cain here?” Vanadium asked.
“He suffered an unusually strong episode of hematemesis."
“Vomiting blood. One of the paramedics used the word. But what's the cause?"
“Well, the blood wasn't dark and acidic, so it didn't come from his stomach. It was bright and alkaline. It could have arisen in the esophagus, but most likely it's pharyngeal in origin."
“From his throat."
Junior's throat felt torn inside, as though he'd been snacking on cactus.
“That's correct,” Parkhurst said. “Probably one or more small blood vessels ruptured from the extreme violence of the emesis."
“Vomiting. I'm told it was an exceptionally violent emetic episode."
” He spewed like a fire hose,” Vanadium said matter-of-factly.
“How colorfully put."
In a monotone that gave new meaning to deadpan, the detective added: “I'm the only one who was there who doesn't have a dry-cleaning bill."
Their voices remained soft, and neither man approached the bed.
Junior was glad for the chance to eavesdrop, not only because he hoped to learn the nature and depth of Vanadium's suspicions, but also because he was curious-and concerned-about the cause of the disgusting and embarrassing episode that had landed him here.
“Is the bleeding serious?” Vanadium inquired.
“No. It's, stopped. The thing now is to prevent a recurrence of the emesis, which could trigger more bleeding. He's getting antinausea medication and replacement electrolytes intravenously, and we've applied ice bags to his midsection to reduce the chance of further abdominal-muscle spasms and to help control inflammation."
bags Not dead Naomi. Just ice.
ice bags. I almost laughed at his tendency to morbidness and self dramatization. The living dead had not come to get him: just some rubber ice bags.
“So the vomiting caused the bleeding,” Vanadium said. “But what the vomiting?"
do further testing, of course, but not until he's been stabilized at least twelve hours. Personally, I don't think we'll find any physical cause. Most likely, this was psychological-acute nervous emesis, caused by severe anxiety, the shock of losing his wife, seeing her die.'
Exactly. The shock. The devastating loss. Junior felt it now, anew, and was afraid he might betray himself with tears, although he seemed to be done with vomiting.
He had learned many things about himself on this momentous day—that he was more spontaneous than he had ever before realized, that he was willing to make grievous short-term sacrifices for long-term gain, that he was bold and daring-but perhaps the most important lesson was that he was a more sensitive person than he'd previously perceived himself to be and that this sensitivity, while admirable, was liable to undo him unexpectedly and at inconvenient times.
To Dr. Parkhurst, Vanadium said, “In my work, I see lots of people who've just lost loved ones. None of them has ever puked like Vesuvius."
“It's an uncommon reaction,” the physician acknowledged, “but not so uncommon as to be rare."
“Could he have taken something to make himself vomit?"
Parkhurst sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why on earth would he do that?"
“To fake acute nervous emesis."
Still pretending sleep, Junior delighted in the realization that the detective himself had dragged a red herring across the trail and was now busily following this distracting scent.
Vanadium continued in his characteristic drone, a tone at odds with the colorful content of his speech: “A man takes one look at his wife's body, starts to sweat harder than a copulating hog, spews like a frat boy at the end of a long beer-chugging contest, and chucks till he chucks up blood-that's not the response of your average murderer."
“Murder? They say the railing was rotten."
“It was. But maybe that's not the whole story. Anyway, we know the usual poses these guys strike, the attitudes they think are deceptive and clever. Most of them are so obvious, they might as well just stick their willy in a light socket and save us a lot of trouble. This, however, is a new approach. Tends to make you want to believe in the poor guy."
“Hasn't the sheriff's department already reached a determination of accidental death?” Parkhurst asked. “They're good men, good cops, every last one of them,” said Vanadiuin, “and if they've got more pity in them than I do, that's a virtue, not a shortcoming. What could Mr. Cain have taken to make himself vomit?"
Listening to you long enough would do it, Junior thought.
Parkhurst protested: “But if the sheriffs department thinks it's an accident”
“You know how we operate in this state, Doctor. We don't waste 'A energy fighting over jurisdiction. We cooperate. The sheriff can de not to put a lot of his limited resources into this, and no one will blame him. He can call it an accident and close the case, and he won't get his hackles up if we, at the state level, still want to poke around a little.
Even though the detective was on the wrong track, Junior was beginning to feel aggrieved. As any good citizen, he was willing, even eager to cooperate with responsible policemen who conducted their investigation by the book. This Thomas Vanadium, however, in spite of his monotonous voice and drab appearance, gave off the vibes of a fanatic.
Any reasonable person would agree that the line between legitimate and harassment was hair-thin.
Vanadium asked Jim Parkhurst, “Isn't there something called ipecac?"
“Yes. The dried root of a Brazilian plant, the ipecacuanha. It induces vomiting with great effectiveness. The active ingredient is a powdered white alkaloid called emetine."
This is an over-the-counter drug, isn't it?"
“Yes. In syrup form. It's a good item for your home medicine chest, in case your child ever swallows poison and you need to purge it from him quickly."
Could have used a bottle of that myself last November."
“You were poisoned?"
In that slow, flat delivery with which Junior was becoming increasingly impatient, Detective Vanadium said, “We all were, Doctor. It was another election year, remember? More than once during that campaign, I could've chugged ipecac. What else would work if I wanted to have a good vomit?"
“Well ... apomorphine hydrochloride."
“Harder to get than ipecac."
“Yes. Sodium chloride will work, too. Common salt. Mix enough of it with water, and it's generally effective."
“Harder to detect than ipecac or apomorphine hydrochloride."
“Detect?” Parkhurst asked.
“In the spew."
“In the vomitus, you mean?"
“Sorry. I forgot we're in polite company. Yes, I mean in the vomitus.
“Well, the lab could detect abnormally high salt levels, but that wouldn't matter in court. He could say he ate a lot of salty foods."
“Salt water would be too cumbersome anyway. He'd have to drink a lot of it shortly before he heaved, but he was surrounded by cops with good reason to keep an eye on him. Does ipecac come in capsule form?"
“I suppose anyone could fill some empty gelatin capsules with the syrup,” said Parkhurst. “But-"
” Roll your own, so to speak. Then he could palm a few of them, swallow 'em without water, and the reaction would be delayed maybe long enough, until the capsules dissolved in his stomach."
The affable physician sounded as though he was at last beginning to find the detective's unlikely theory and persistent questioning to be tedious. “I seriously doubt that a dose of ipecac would produce such a violent response as in this case-not pharyngeal hemorrhage, for God's sake. Ipecac is a safe product."
“If he took triple or quadruple the usual dose-"
“Wouldn't matter,” Parkhurst insisted. “A lot has pretty much the same effect as a little. You can't overdose, because what it does is make you throw up, and when you throw up, you purge yourself of the ipecac along with everything else."
“Then, whether a little or a lot, it'll be in his spew. Excuse me, his vomitus."
“If you're expecting the hospital to provide a sample of the ejecta, I'm afraid-"
Vanadium said, “I'm an easily confused layman, Doctor. If we can't stick to one word for it, I'm just going to go back to spew."
“The paramedics will have disposed of the contents of the emesis basin if they used one. And if there were soiled towels or sheeting, they might already have been laundered."
“That's all right,” Vanadium said. “I bagged some at the scene."
Junior felt unspeakably violated. This was outrageous: the inarguably personal, very private contents of his stomach, scooped into a plastic evidence bag, without his permission, without even his knowledge.
What next, a stool sample pried out of him while he was knocked unconscious by morphine? This barf gathering surely was in violation of the Constitution of the United States, a clear contravention of the guarantee against self-incrimination, a slap in the face of justice, a violation of the rights of man.
He had not, of course, taken ipecac or any other emetic, so they would find no evidence to use against him. He was angry, nonetheless, as a matter of principle.
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