When Strait came to, his first thought was that he’d gone blind in one eye. The right side of his field of vision was nothing but blackness. Through his left eye, he could see two florescent light rods covered in a rectangle of plastic. A white stuccoed surface. A smoke detector and fire sprinklers.
He turned his head and saw a metal hospital bed railing. He reached up and touched the black space in his vision and felt thick bandages wrapped over the right side of his head, including his eye. He craned his head forward and saw he was covered with a thin blanket, his bare feet sticking out and his right leg locked to the railing with a metal ankle-cuff.
Beyond his feet, a short distance off, was an open door and a hallway. His bed was at an angle to the hallway, so he could see that a chair was set up outside the room and a uniformed policeman was seated on it. He could only see the cop’s leg, but judging by how short and broad the leg was, and by the padded compactness of his shoulder, he knew it was Dwayne Dumphey.
Suddenly Dr. Watanabe appeared at the door. At the sight of Strait, the old man grinned from ear to ear.
Strait experienced a flood of relief at the sight of the old doctor. He grinned broadly, setting off a firestorm of pain in his face. Watanabe walked over to Strait’s bed and peered down at him.
Dumphey heard Watanabe and came to the doorway. Strait was amused to see the cop’s nose was wrapped in bandages.
“Asshole’s awake?” Through the bandages, Dumphey’s voice came out nasal.
Strait smirked, “What happened to your nose, Duane?”
Watanabe frowned. “He awake.”
“Looks like someone kicked your ass real good,” said Strait.
Dumphey ignored him. “Get whatever paperwork needs doing done, Doc. I’m calling for a car to take his ass to the county jail.”
Watanabe regarded Duane the way one would a repulsive insect. “He can’t leave hospital. He still have hard sick.”
“He looks healthy enough to me.”
“He has serious head injury.”
“Not serious enough to not trash-talk me. Now get his bag packed and his ass out of that bed. Now, Doc.”
Watanabe took a step toward Duane. “I am his doctor. He not go without my approval.”
Duane smiled down derisively at the little old man. “You a Chinese, ain’t you?”
“Japanese. Not important to this conversation.”
“But you ain’t American. You’re here on a work visa, right? Or maybe you’re an illegal?”
“I not give consent to release this patient.”
Duane pointed at the badge pinned to his uniform. “See this? In America, this means I’m the boss. All it takes is one phone call to my friends at ICE, and you, Mr. Pikachu, are on the next flight out of here.”
Watanabe stepped forward until he was only inches from Duane. The old man was a foot shorter than the policeman, but he had a fire in his eyes.
“You no scare me, you cheap little cop.” He shook a finger up at Duane’s face. “I know my rights! My visa good! I help America! I pay taxes!”
A look of fear on his face, Duane took a step back and put his hand on his service weapon. Watanabe stepped forward with him.
“You are jama in this hospital! You interrupt hospital work. Try to screw nurses!”
Duane’s eyes widened. “I did not!”
“You did! They tell me! Last night!”
“I was just chatting to them.”
“You are out of this hospital. Kicked! No more sit in hallway chair!”
“You can’t tell me…”
“I do tell you!” Watanabe made a fist and shook it at Duane. “Out! Out!”
Watanabe’s granddaughter appeared at the door, a concerned look on her face. “What’s going on here?”
The elder Watanabe unleashed a string of furious words in Japanese. The woman’s countenance became steadily darker as she listened. When he had finished, she offered Dumphey a smoldering look.
“Did you threaten to deport my grandfather?”
“Do you realize who he is? He’s the winner of the XXXX prize.”
“Is it true you’ve been harassing the nurses?”
“I was just talking with them.”
“While they’re doing their jobs. And you’re supposed to be doing your job.”
“I didn’t try anything…”
“You are to leave this unit at once. No more police presence is permitted here. You’re interfering with our staff’s work and endangering patients.”
“Hey, lady, I’m a policeman. You can’t tell me to leave.”
“Actually, I can. This is a private hospital and we can say who is permitted on the premises and who isn’t, even police. You were allowed here only as a professional courtesy.”
“Baka na keisatsuka! Shinei!” roared the elder Watanabe.
“What’d he say?”.
Flushing a little, Hana responded, “he said if you have a problem, call our customer service office.”
“Fuck that. I’m calling Chief Kladspell. He’ll have something to say about this. And I’ll come back here with a warrant or whatever I need.” He jabbed a finger toward Strait. “Until then, he stays locked to that bed.”
Tossing a wounded look over his shoulder, Duane left.
Hana turned to Strait and squinted at him with what appeared to be scientific interest. “Mr. Strait, how are you?”
“You can call me James and I’ve been better.”
“My grandfather says you were wrongfully arrested. Is this true?”
“Damn straight it is.”
She folded her arms. “Well, I hope the courts work that out. I’m sure my grandfather will testify on your behalf. The reason I came up here was you received a package.”
He took the A4 sized manila envelope she held out to him. On it was written, Give this to James Strait on the fourth floor. Something inside was bulging.
“Who gave this to you?”
“A nurse found it in the donation box in the pediatric wing.”
“You didn’t open it?”
Instead of answering, she offered him a slight smile and said, “good luck, James. Ojiichan, let’s go. I think he needs some sleep.”
After they’d gone, Strait opened the envelope. Inside was a folded piece of paper. Some words written on it in green:
Cuffs, then service elevator down to the back door.
Strait shook the envelope and a key fell out.
He tried the key in the manacle locking his foot to the bedframe. It popped open.
What the fuck?
He stepped quietly to the door and looked both ways down the hall. No one was visible. The nurse’s station was deserted. A sign above the front counter displayed sections of the floor, with arrows. One arrow pointed to service elevator.
Strait tiptoed in that direction. After about fifty feet, he came to the elevator. He pressed the down button and waited. The door opened and he got on and pressed B.
When the elevator door opened again, a man was standing outside of it, a wide blue cart piled up with bundled bedsheets. He looked stunned at the sight of Strait, who casually smiled at him, saying “how you doing?”
“Good, Bruh, good,” the man responded. Strait sauntered casually across the small anteroom in his hospital gown and copious bandages and opened the back door and stepped out into the night.
When the door clanged shut behind him, Strait found he was standing in a dark alleyway. And Amanda was there, her hands on her hips, fury in her twelve-year-old eyes.
“Took you fucking long enough,” she said.