An Empty Grave...
Chapter 2: Les
I woke up in a strange bed in a strange room with a horrible headache pounding my brains into jelly. The light in the room was far too bright for any normal lamps so I figured it had to be daylight. That's as close as I could come to the time. I looked at the ceiling for a long time, working up the courage to turn my head.
"Well, well. Coming back to life are we, Richard?"
I tried to see who it was but my eyes wouldn't turn that far in their sockets and I was still afraid to move my head. It was okay, though, because a moment later a rather nice looking face, complete with dark moustache and kind brown eyes, swam into view over me.
"Head aches, huh? Susan said it would. Here," the head moved out of view again, "she left these."
I heard the rattle of pills in their plastic bottle and then, a moment later, water running. Pretty soon the head was back and I felt a hand slipping behind my neck.
"Better lift up a little. Don't want you to choke. Here. Swallow."
Pills were pushed into my mouth followed by water. My gag reflex did battle with the swallow command for a bit and then the pills went down along with some of the water. I was suddenly dizzy from my head being elevated and my stomach began to send short but very definite messages concerning its current state of unhappiness and what it planned to do about it. I guess somehow the hand at my neck understood because it lowered me back to the pillow.
"I think you'd better try to sleep a little longer," the head said. I could tell it was the head because I could see the lips move. The head disappeared then, and it suddenly grew dim in the room. My eyes closed of their own accord.
The next time I woke up I actually felt pretty good. My headache had receded to the background and, though still painful, I could move around a little. As I did so I experienced a sharp jolt of pain in my abdomen, centered in my bladder. I had to pee. I had to pee bad. There had to be a bathroom around somewhere I reasoned and I had to find it. The trouble was, when I tried to sit up everything got sort of fuzzy again and there was this loud buzzing in my ears. Then too, my brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton which did nothing to promote rational thinking.
"Awake again? About time; I was getting a little worried." It was the kindly head from before only this time it was attached to a medium tall muscular body clad in boots, jeans and a tee shirt which had "Trojans--the responsible way" printed across the front.
"Yeah. Uh, I really gotta go to the bathroom."
"Oh, sure. It's over here. Let me help you." He put his arm around my shoulders and grasped me under the arm. I hardly even gasped at the pain. "Easy there. Take it slow." We managed to make it across the room and into a small bathroom where he gently sat me down on the toilet and then went back into the bedroom. I contemplated the formidable looking bandage on my left leg. There were some pink stains on it here and there and I did my best not to think about what they might represent. After a while I noticed that my left arm was bandaged too. The stains there were frankly red. I guess it was the pills but I really didn't care.
When I flushed the toilet--greatly relieved--the man reappeared and helped me back to the bed which he had re-made. He carefully lifted me and somehow got me into the bed; then he helped me get comfortable sitting up against some pillows. When I was finally settled he stood back and looked at me with a kind of crooked smile on his face.
"You hungry, Richard? Think maybe you could keep something down?"
"Why do you keep calling...." It suddenly occurred to me that I was ravenous. My stomach had made a complete turnaround and was now sending messages which were more in the way of demands. "Yeah. I guess I am a little on the hungry side."
"Good for you. Hang on and I'll see what I can rustle up."
he was gone I looked around the room and tried to figure out where the hell I
was. It couldn't be a hospital--hospital rooms don't have wallpaper featuring
wet looking dogs holding dead looking flying animals in their mouths. They also
don't have queen size beds with soft, two inch thick quilts on them. The label
on the quilt was in the center, just where it was pulled up around my chest so
I couldn't help but look.
The rest of the room was equal to the quilt. Dark wood dresser, wing chair with butler's tray to the side holding a brass lamp just the right height for reading. A tall chest-on-chest opposite the bed which probably had a T.V. stuck in its innards somewhere. The wide windows were draped with a dark fabric made to go with the wall paper. Obviously this guy had great taste--or a great decorator. In any event the room reeked of quality.
Closer inspection proved me right about the T.V. On the little bedside table to my right there was a remote control with about thirty-five buttons on it. For those not into T.V. there was also a book of short mystery stories and a lamp for reading it by.
"Here you go. It's not much but Susan said you should be real careful at first. Because of all the anesthetic." He put a bed table over my legs and put a tray of food on it. Not much indeed. There was orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, a bowl of corn flakes and strawberries, a blueberry muffin, butter, jam and coffee. I guess I raised an eyebrow or something because he laughed and said, "Well, I didn't know what you'd like. Just eat whatever you want."
I ate it all. Even the corn flakes which I hate. I even took the pain pills he gave me without any argument. "Who's Susan?"
"Oh, a doctor friend of mine." He looked suddenly concerned. "Look, I didn't know if you had any insurance or anything so I sort of bailed you out of the hospital and brought you over here. Susan said it'd be okay. But if you want to go back..."
I shook my head. It didn't seem like something I wanted to do. Something else was on my mind but I couldn't quite pin it down in the mush that passed for my brain. "No. No, not if I don't have to. I don't much like hospitals."
"I know what you mean." He paused for a second. "Look, Richard," he suddenly turned serious but I lost concentration because the thing floating around in my mind suddenly landed with a thud. Richard? Wait a minute. Wait a minute!
"You okay? You're pale. Shall I call..."
"No. Don't call anyone, uh..."
"Les. Les Hayfield."
"Okay. Les. No, please, just tell me what happened last night. How did I get you involved with..." I stopped. I couldn't exactly put together just what it was I'd gotten him involved with.
"Well, to begin with, you made pretty much a mess of yourself when you crashed into my gatepost..."
"Crash! Oh my God, Crash." I tried to jump out of bed but
only succeeded in spilling the last of the orange juice on the
"Now will you stay still?" He went into the bathroom and came out with a damp washcloth which finished the job on the orange juice nicely. If you weren't looking for it you'd never know.
"I'm sorry, Les. Crash is... Well, Crash is my dog and I don't know..."
"Your dog? Gee, Richard, there wasn't any dog around last night and..."
It all came back to me like a bomb going off. Rick. The fireman. That reporter, Guy something. And then just driving around with that sick, lost feeling in my gut. And now, somehow, this guy's gatepost was part of it. "I know. She wasn't... wasn't with me. I don't know where she is, maybe she's dead but I have to find her, she's all I have now and she needs me and I don't know if she's even alive..." I was loosing control, I could tell, but I didn't care. I was so filled with this terrible feeling of loss. I was also getting dizzy again, probably from the pain pills.
Les put the washcloth on my forehead and it felt cool, somehow reassuring. "Look, why don't you rest for a while and we'll talk later. Okay?"
I nodded. I think he pulled the covers up on me or maybe I did that. Anyway it was all over for a while. About twenty hours as it turned out.
When I opened my eyes again the light seemed funny, dim and too red. When I turned towards the window I could see why. It was the very end of a beautiful sunset with the low clouds over the mountains painted in a sort of 1950's scheme of pink and gray. I felt a lot better than I had but I had to go to the bathroom again. I sat up and surprised myself by not getting dizzy; thus emboldened I turned and let my legs dangle over the edge of the bed. So far, so good. I put my right foot on the floor and eased my weight onto it. I let my left foot gently touch the floor and then put just a little weight on it--a big mistake. I suddenly found myself sitting on the floor.
"What the hell are you doing?" Les came into the room in a hurry.
"I've got to pee." I guess that was enough of an explanation as to why I was sitting on my bare butt on the floor. Les grabbed me under the arms and pulled me up and then helped me into the bathroom.
"You know, you're not even supposed to be awake, much less trying to get to the bathroom by yourself. And don't even think about trying to walk. Susan brought you a pair of crutches but you're not supposed to even try them until tomorrow." I could hear him straightening up the bedroom. When I flushed he came and stood in the doorway. "How do you feel?"
He laughed. "Beyond that."
"Actually pretty good except that I hurt everywhere. What's wrong with my leg?"
"Laceration. Contusion. Abrasion. Actually just about everything but broken." He moved away from the doorway and I heard him open the closet outside.
I touched the bandage on my left arm. It felt numb underneath. "Same with my arm I guess."
"Same with everything. You're lucky Susan was on duty that night. She stitches like a French seamstress. You'll never see anything once you heal up, even on your face."
My face, too? I gently touched my cheek but didn't find anything but a day's growth of stubble. "Try the other side but be very gentle." Les was back in the doorway again carrying some clothes.
I touched my left cheek and found it covered with bandages. "Let me see."
Les helped me up and I grabbed on to the wash basin for support. When he turned the light on it took me a moment to recognize the guy in the mirror. What of my face wasn't covered with bandages was badly swollen and variously colored purple, yellow and a strange sallow green. It was very ugly. I was obviously hurt a lot worse than I'd thought. I guess the pain pills kept me from feeling just how bad as I was.
"You're a lucky man, Richard. Nothing broken, nothing severed and nothing lost." His face suddenly clouded. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"What?" I was suddenly weak and started to sit down. Les took my good arm and steadied me.
"Come on, let's get you back to bed." He helped me get settled and asked me if I was hungry again. I was.
"That's a good sign. Susan always says that if you're hungry your body must be healing and needs energy. Let's see what I can find in the larder."
What he found was soup, a hard roll and butter. I ate every crumb. When I was finished Les insisted I take another of the little yellow pills. "Susan said you have to take them so I guess you're going to take them." After that everything went dim.
I guess I pretty much slept the clock around because it was evening again when I woke. Les came in and helped me to the bathroom. I realized I was tired of being in bed and asked Les if I couldn't just sit somewhere for a while. My butt had somehow survived and it really did feel good being upright. Les helped me into the sweat pants and shirt he'd dug out of the closet and then brought in one of the chairs from the kitchen table. The chair was one of those upholstered, swivel and wheeled kind and it made a perfect temporary wheelchair. He pushed me down the hall to the kitchen where he'd just begun to put his dinner together. I found that I was ravenous again so it became dinner for two. We talked while he worked.
"Well, at least there's some good news Richard. I made a few..."
"Wait a minute. What's this Richard stuff?"
"That's your name, isn't it? Richard Wallace? At least that's what it says on your driver's license and the registration on your truck."
"Oh, no, that's Rick's truck. And I guess I do have his wallet, don't I?" Poor Rick. He was dead and here I was talking about him as though he might walk into the room at any moment. I started to choke up but forced it away. I'd have to deal with that later. "But... No, my name is David." Les gave me a hard look.
"David? David Duckworth?"
I nodded. "Yeah. How'd you know..."
"If you're David Duckworth then this is the first time I've ever had a dead man in my guest room."
I started to say something but he waived me down. "No, wait." He took a newspaper from the table, folded the page over and handed it to me. "Read this. Then tell me who you are."
There it was, at the top of page four:
MAN KILLED, HOUSE BURNED
The house, at 1123 La Presa, sustained minor damage since the fire was confined to one bedroom of the house. Fire officials say they found abundant evidence that gasoline or some similar flammable was used to start the blaze.
Police are puzzled by symbols spray painted on the walls of the house but believe it likely that they are the work of a fundamentalist cult. Patrick Baker, a cult expert at U.C.L.A. disagrees, saying he has never seen a cult use such public symbols. Professor Baker believes the murder to be, in his words, "a simple hate crime."
According to information supplied by a neighbor, the victim was a high ranking official at Frederick & Co, a downtown brokerage firm and had no living relatives. Police are looking for Mr. Duckworth's roommate who, according to the neighbor, has been out of town for several days.
So. There it was, in black and white. It wasn't a dream, a figment of my imagination or someone else's problem. It was real. Someone had murdered my lover, thinking it was me, and had then tried to burn my house down. And here I was with some guy I didn't even know who probably thought I was the killer and was just humoring me until the police arrived to haul me off in chains.
"It's a long story."
"Hey, we have time."
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