A blurry hand hovered over his eyes. He blinked to focus. The face above him looked down at him with kind, blue eyes surrounded by tiny crinkles of pink flesh.
“You had another panic attack. Try to relax.” The nurse adjusted a clear plastic mask over his nose and mouth. “Good, now just breathe normally.”
Nick closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet, cold oxygen. The pressure in his chest subsided and his rapid heartbeat slowed. Not in hell. A hospital. He opened his eyes.
“You’re going to be fine.” She removed the mask from his face. “Stay calm. Even breaths.”
He tried to bring his hands to his face and couldn’t. It must be a trick, he thought, Ruby had him lashed down. He yanked at the bonds holding his hands, pulling as hard as he could until he heard a rattling, metallic sound.
“It’s all right. You’re in Saint Mary’s Hospital. Once you’re calm and coherent, I’ll remove the restraints.” The nurse walked away from the bed. “I’ll be right back.”
Nick strained to lift his head and looked around. A window with partially opened blinds to his right revealed skinny slices of a night sky. To his left stood machines and an intravenous stand. A deep throbbing pain in the left side of his abdomen forced him to drop his head back onto the pillow.
The nurse returned with a young man dressed in dark blue scrubs. He stood close, watching, as the nurse approached Nick. “Can you tell me your name?” she asked.
His mouth and throat felt parched. “Nick Teravelli,” he answered in a hoarse whisper.
“Very good,” she cooed. She made notes on a clipboard while she asked him a series of questions.
“I’m going to remove the restraints. Stay still.” She nodded to the man in scrubs and then loosened and removed the strap on his right wrist. She waited a moment and then took the strap off his left wrist.
He slowly raised his arms and ran his hands over his face. White bandages wrapped his left forearm and hand. His beard felt thick and scruffy.
“Why am I here?” He lifted his head and looked down at his body.
“A puncture wound to your small intestine. Left side. You lost a lot of blood and were in shock when they brought you in. You had surgery last Friday night to repair the intestine. It’s healing nicely, no infection and no internal bleeding, in spite of all your thrashing.”
“A stab wound from a knife. Don’t worry, it’s normal to have no memory after a trauma. Give it some time.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Four days. It’s Tuesday, May second.” She checked her watch. “Ten twenty-three at night. A few more days and if you continue to do well, you’ll be discharged.” She lowered the blanket and raised his gown to check the wound. “We’ll change the bandage tomorrow morning.”
She positioned an attached tray table over the bed. “I’m going to raise the bed a bit.” As the top of the bed lifted, Nick had a better view of the wall with the door and large window. Outside, he saw a man standing with his back to the window. He wore a policeman’s light blue shirt and navy-blue hat.
The nurse and the man in scrubs left the room. The nurse returned alone a minute later carrying a clear plastic cup. “Ice chips. Take tiny sips. You have fluids in your IV. Maybe tomorrow you can start on a soft diet. We’ll see what the doctor says in the morning.” She slid a second pillow behind his shoulders.
Nick sat propped in the bed staring out the window into the hallway. He struggled to clear the thick fog clouding his memory. His body felt heavy, his muscles sore and stiff. The cop outside his room stood and spoke briefly to the nurse when she exited. He turned, peered at Nick, then adjusted his hat, and sat with his back to the window.
Nick closed his eyes. A flash of a knife blade and Katie’s shrill scream jolted them open. The pain in his side quickened from a dull throb to a deep, sharp sting. He tried to recall what happened after the premiere, but his memories muddled together with Artie’s. He remembered the melting gun, Ruby’s laughter and finding his grandfather’s fillet knife. Artie had taken control of his hand and forced the blade away from his heart. It must have penetrated his abdomen instead. After that, his memories were disjointed, surreal. A series of fragmented images and sounds. Katie’s screams, blood—so much blood, flashing lights, blackness and then hellish nightmares. An intense dread overwhelmed him, then a blood-chilling revelation. “Oh, God, no. I killed her. I killed Katie.” Panic swelled in his chest, his breathing turned to rapid gasps and his stomach tightened into a rock-hard knot. “I’m a murderer. That cop is guarding my room. As soon as they discharge me, he’ll take me to jail. Just as Ruby predicted, I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison reliving Katie’s murder.” He didn’t ever want to recall the details of what he had done. Yet he knew Ruby would make sure the memories surfaced to haunt him for the rest of his life. Bits and pieces of that night danced at the edges of the black fog shrouding his memory, jabbing red-hot daggers of recollection into his brain. The terror of regaining his memory brought cold droplets of sweat to his forehead and acidy bile bit the back of his throat. Of everything Ruby had done to torture him, this was the most sadistic. Without Katie, life no longer mattered. Silent sobs wracked his body. He pulled the blanket to his face to smother his sobs and wished he had bled to death on the cool grass outside her apartment.