The K-car drove unsteadily through the night. Car headlights appeared suddenly and sent Sharp swerving into the opposite lane. Using her good hand, she jerked the wheel back in the other direction. Her bleeding hand was held in a tight fist against her jacket. She had it raised but blood still dripped out from where she’d cut herself on the fire escape. It ran down her arm, too, and inside her jacket in sticky, cold rivers. She braked hard for a stop light and her body lurched forward. Good, she thought when she was back in her seat, a chance to breathe.
Just then a hand reached around from the back seat and clamped down tight over her mouth.
Sharp’s eyes shot wide open. She jerked her head from side to side.
“Right!” Sharp felt the cold, steel nozzle of a gun in her ribs. The man’s lips brushed her ear. Her body stiffened. The nozzle pressed deeper.
Sharp slowly steered the K-car right, into an area of abandoned warehouses. A brick building with faded lettering on its side loomed up alongside the car, then gave way to an empty lot filled with bushes and broken glass.
“Pull over and cut the engine. There’s a good girl,” he whispered.
I know that voice, thought Sharp as she manoeuvred the car slowly to the curb with her left hand, reached over the steering column and turned the ignition key to off. The interior light came on as the engine extinguished itself, giving Sharp just enough time to see the cuffs of a bright, yellow windbreaker. Minetta.
“Let go of me!” Sharp cried into the hot, sticky skin covering her mouth.
“Lee told me to follow you, so I’m following you, seeing as you have a habit of lying. And seeing as I’m here and you’re here, I thought we could get to know each other,” he drawled unpleasantly in her ear. The nozzle of the gun, complete with bulbous silencer, nudged at her breasts, then moved south.
“You like that?”
Sharp stared forward, breath rasping in her throat. A line of sweat ran down her temple and into her ear.
Minetta’s gun was doing circles over her stomach now. She could feel him breathing faster. He whispered, “I know what your problem is. You just need the right man. What do you say, private dick? Am I right?”
Sharp was silent.
“I said, am I right?!” Minetta hissed in her ear, then shoved the gun down hard between her legs.
“No!” Sharp shot up out of bed, trembling and gasping for breath. She looked around relieved — and confused. She was wearing a hospital gown and lying on a gurney inside a blue-curtained enclosure. Her right hand was bandaged, and an intravenous line led from a needle in the back of her other hand to a bag of clear fluid.
Just then, the blue curtains parted and a nurse appeared — early 30s, slim, uniformed. “Bad dream?” she asked.
“Nightmare, more like it.” Sharp leaned back onto her pillow, trembling, and tried to smile. The colour was slowly coming back into her face. She used her forearm to push her damp bangs off her face and wished she could pull up her blanket, too.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“Wellesley Hospital. Don’t you remember? You walked into the ER covered in blood, and before you said a word, you just fainted. Certainly one of the more dramatic entrances we’ve had here.” She laughed suddenly and loudly, like the crack of a gun.
“How’s your hand feeling?” the nurse asked, peering at a monitor sitting on a stand behind Sharp’s bed. Sounds of human discomfort drifted in from beyond the blue curtains.
“My hand feels fine. It’s my arm that’s sore.”
“That’s from the tetanus shot we gave you when you were — out cold,” she smiled at Sharp.
Sharp frowned. “How long was I — ‘out cold’?”
“Oh . . . quite a while,” the nurse replied, her grin getting wider.
What is so amusing? Sharp thought.
The nurse leaned over the bed and adjusted a cord that ended in a red plastic button. Sharp eyed her name tag: Nurse Hall.
“Excuse me, Nurse Hall, but when can I leave?”
Nurse Hall straightened up and folded her arms across her chest. She was all business now. “Nobody is keeping you here against your will,” she recited, clearly familiar with this request. “You may leave anytime you like. However, I would highly recommend letting the doctor make that decision. After all, you came to us.” She tucked Sharp’s blanket in at the sides of the mattress but didn’t pull it up. “And, you’ve lost blood.”
Sharp sighed. “Yeah, I remember seeing it on the ground.” Then she broke down: “Hey, would you mind pulling up my blanket? I’m cold.”
“Of course not.” Nurse Hall yanked up the thin, cotton blanket and pressed it tightly around Sharp’s neck, as if she were a baby.
“Thanks,” Sharp said, unhappily.
“You’re welcome.” Nurse Hall snapped the blue curtains closed behind her.
Sharp closed her eyes and forced her mind back to 141 Fulgrove: the house, the hallway, the tenant and the mysterious room on the third floor. Red everywhere. Why? Some kind of brothel? Then she remembered the posters, all neatly framed and hanging from the living room walls. But Judy . . . ?
“Hello!” The curtains swept apart. For the second time that night, Sharp was jolted awake.
A man in his early 40s with a red mullet over sawed-off sideburns and a neat mustache stepped up to Sharp’s bedside. Nurse Hall was right behind him. He cocked his head to the side and forward. “You cut yourself,” he said. “How did it happen?”
“I cut my hand,” Sharp spoke slowly, thinking fast, “on a nail sticking out of a two-by-four. I was — clearing some old wood out of the yard. I wasn’t wearing gloves. My fault.”
“You’re sure? We found a card in your wallet identifying you as a private investigator.”
“Of course I’m sure. I cut myself. I didn’t lose my mind.”
“But you were out cold. So in a clinical sense, you did, in fact, lose your mind.”
Nurse Hall spoke up. “Yes, that’s when we gave her the shot and —”
The doctor cleared his throat in warning.
“And what?” Sharp asked, sitting up.
The doctor chuckled, reassuringly, and waved away her question. He smiled silently at Sharp.
“Look, I want to leave. Can I go?” Sharp stated as clearly as possible.
The doctor said, “That’s exactly why I’m here. Nurse Hall mentioned that you were anxious to get on your way. You’re free to go. However, just a few things to remember. Try and keep your hand elevated and do not get your dressing wet. Bag it when you take a shower, understand? And, you’ll need to come back to the ER — just ask for Nurse Hall — and she’ll change the bandage. It’s Wednesday, so come back on Friday. Marjorie?” he said without turning his head.
“Yes, doctor?” Nurse Hall spoke softly.
“You’re in Friday?”
“Yes, all day, doctor.”
“Good. Now, you’ve had a mild shock due to blood loss, so no driving tonight,” the doctor said, looking sternly at Sharp. “Ask the security guard to call a cab. Good night, Ms Sharp,” he said as he left the room. Nurse Hall closed the curtains behind him, then drew up next to Sharp.
“Stay still.” She swiftly removed the intravenous line, swabbed the back of Sharp’s hand with antiseptic and applied a bandage.
Sharp sat up and swung her legs off the bed.
Nurse Hall pulled open a drawer and took out a bundle of clothes — Sharp’s clothes — and plopped them on the bed next to her.
“We had to cut your shirt,” she apologized.
“It’s old anyway,” Sharp said, standing up. Using her good hand, she shook out the top piece — her shirt. The right sleeve hung in four strands.
“Turn around,” Nurse Hall instructed. “I’ll help you get dressed — if you like.”
Sharp didn’t like, but she turned around anyway.
The nurse slowly untied the back of Sharp’s hospital gown. “So, what’s it like being a private investigator? You must meet a lot of unusual characters.”
“Yeah,” said Sharp. “I get all kinds.” She grimaced as Nurse Hall pulled away her hospital gown.
Just then the PA system crackled: “Code Blue ER13, Code Blue ER13.”
Nurse Hall’s mouth made an O. “I’ve got to dash, but I’ll be right back. I want to hear all about your work,” she said, then added slowly, “and you.”
Well, you’re out of luck, Sharp thought as she struggled into her clothes as quickly as she could. She used her bad hand, wincing as jabs of pain shot up her arm. She pulled her jacket up her bandaged arm, slung it across her back, then slipped her good hand in the other sleeve. A stiff, blood-caked stain covered the front of her jacket — over her heart, where she’d held her bloody fist.
Sharp felt her keys and wallet in her pocket. A moment later, the room was empty.