Waking the next morning, I was surprised to find the suite silent, for I had thought the doctor would have been awake long before me. I started to get out of bed, but the instant I moved, my entire body screamed obscenities at me. My muscles wouldn’t work right, and, although I had thought myself immune to pain, the deep ache pulsating through my nerves was like nothing I had ever felt before. Moving slowly, I managed to roll out of bed into a standing position, and then I staggered into the front room. My eyes went wide when I found it empty.
After slowly and painfully making my way to the kitchen, I noticed a note on the counter.
Erik, I decided to let you get your rest after yesterday. I told you I had some business in the city, and so I have gone to take care of it. I know you are probably sore this morning, so take a long, hot bath with Epsom salts, and it will help. I left some in the bathroom. When you are done, call room service, and they will bring you some breakfast. Hopefully, I will be back by the time you are done. Sincerely, Dr. Clark
A hot bath sounded heavenly, and I immediately headed for the bathroom. As the bathtub filled up with steaming hot water, I gathered together what I would need for the day and laid everything on the bed. By the time I got back to the tub, it was full, so I poured in a good amount of the salts and stiffly lowered my body beneath the water, groaning loudly at the luxurious sensation. Minutes passed as I lay there, and I felt the stiffness and aches melt away. I stayed until the water began to cool, and then I dressed in my always-fastidious manner. My blue pinstriped suit, red tie, blue suspenders, black polished shoes, and gray fedora were my chosen outfit for the day, and I made sure everything was perfect before leaving the bedroom.
A knock at the door interrupted my path to the telephone, and I diverted my path to answer it. Opening the door, I saw two men in black suits standing in the hallway. The taller of the two, who was about my own height, asked, “Are you Erik Taylor?”
My eyes narrowed with suspicion, but I answered, “Yes, I am. Who are you?”
He reached in his breast pocket and pulled out a wallet. Flipping it open, he showed me a gold badge. “My name is Detective Johnson, and this is my partner, Detective Smith. Do you know a Doctor Henry Clark?”
A cold chill flowed through me, but I pushed it aside. “Yes, sir. He’s my guardian.”
The men glanced at each other, and then Detective Johnson put his hand on my shoulder. The chill intensified, and I threw off his hand as I shook my head even before he spoke again.
“Something has happened, Erik.”
“No, no, no, no, no! He’s all right! Please tell me nothing happened to him!” I knew I was becoming hysterical, but I couldn’t stop. My head snapped back and forth between the detectives, and their images began to blur as tears filled my eyes.
“Son, stay calm.” The detective’s hand tightened on my shoulder. “Doctor Clark was attacked downtown about an hour ago. He’s at Knoxville Hospital.”
I froze. “He’s not dead?”
The men looked at each other again, and I felt the panic building when Detective Smith said softly, “No, he’s not.”
The smaller man sighed and said, “But he may not make it. The doctors are doing what they can, but Doctor Clark was stabbed numerous times.”
The words hit me like a train, but I held onto the thought that he was still alive. “I have to see him,” I said quickly, and I pulled away from the detective and started down the hall.
“Slow down, son; we’ll take you to him.” The two detectives closed the distance and fell into step on either side of me. Detective Johnson continued to talk, but I heard nothing but the mantra playing over and over in my head.
“Please, God, don’t let him die. Please don’t let him die.”
I had never prayed before, and I really didn’t think of my thoughts as a prayer, but my mother had believed, and she had tried to teach me about God and his love. I hadn’t accepted her stories as true, for I couldn’t imagine a loving, benevolent God who would allow a mother and child to be beaten and terrorized the way we were. However, even though that same part of my brain was hollering that no caring deity would let a good man like the doctor die, another part begged that someone or something out there would let him live.
The drive to the hospital only took about ten minutes, and once there, I impatiently followed the detectives to the surgery floor. Detective Smith tried to take my arm to lead me to some chairs by a wall, but I pulled away from him, and he simply gestured toward them. Detective Johnson stopped at a counter where he spoke softly to the nurse behind it, I slowly sat, and Detective Smith took the chair next to mine.
I turned my head slowly toward him and said, “Tell me what happened.”
The detective cocked his head and narrowed his eyes as if trying to decide whether or not to concede to my demand. He apparently decided to, for he said, “According to witnesses, Doctor Clark was downtown shopping for some medical supplies when a large man jumped from an alley and pushed him up against a wall. Bystanders tried to intervene, but the man pulled a knife and warned them off. They said the attacker was obviously drunk, and within minutes, three shop owners had called the police. We weren’t fast enough, though, because by the time officers arrived on the scene, Doctor Clark was already on the ground with multiple stab wounds. He was rushed here and went straight into surgery.”
My eyes closed as I imagined the scene in my head. “Did you catch the man who did this?”
“No, he escaped, but several witnesses worked with a sketch artist, and I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what he looked like.”
“Can I see them?”
“The sketches. I need to know who did this.”
The detective hesitated. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. It could be traumatizing for you.”
My head snapped up from my chest to where it had dropped, and I knew my eyes were blazing.
“You know nothing of my trauma, Detective,” I said in an icy tone, and he looked at me, deliberating. Finally, he nodded and reached into his inner jacket pocket.
“All right,” He handed me a folded paper, and for a long second, I just held it, unwilling to see the face on it. I steeled myself, however, and slowly unfolded it.
When it was fully open, I caught my breath as a red haze covered my vision, and my fists involuntarily began to clench, taking the sketch with them. I released my breath with a rush and began taking long, deep breaths. My teeth clenched, and I barely registered the detective’s hands forcing mine open in an effort to save the paper that was slowly being crushed.
“You recognize him, don’t you, Erik?”
The detective’s question barely penetrated the rage permeating every atom of my being, and I stood slowly without answering. I felt a touch on my arm, and my body took over. Without conscious thought, I spun away from the hand and brought my own up with a punch that, if it had made contact with whoever had touched me, would have done some serious damage. It didn’t land, however, and as it swished through the air, my momentum carried me around in a circle. Arms encircled me tightly in a bear hug from behind, and I struggled to release myself.
Voices drifted into my ears, but the words made no sense. I tried to slam my head back into the face of the man holding me, but, again, there was no contact. Instead, I felt my feet swept out from under me, and I grunted loudly as I hit the floor face first, the man behind me falling on top of me. I continued to struggle, and then I heard a voice right at my ear.
“Don’t make me cuff you, Erik! Calm down and talk to me!”
Through the rage, the tiny part of my brain that was still rational recognized Detective Smith’s voice, but I was completely out of control. I turned my head and bared my teeth as a low growl rumbled deep in my throat. The detective’s face had been right beside mine, but it disappeared, and I suddenly felt cold metal around my wrists. The thought that I was shackled infuriated me even more, and I thrashed around on the floor, desperately trying to get up.
“Damn it, son! Stop it! I’m trying to help you! Calm down!”
I ignored him and was abruptly hauled to my feet. Detective Johnson had joined us, and with one of them on either side of me, their hands on my arms, they marched me out of the hospital, past the shocked and scared faces of the people around us.
“Come on,” the taller detective said in a low tone as they pulled me into an alley next to the hospital. They didn’t stop until we were well away from the mouth of the dark corridor, and then they held me up against the wall. Fear tried to creep into my mind as I thought of what they could do to me there, away from people, but I stomped it down forcefully and raised my chin high.
My breathing was harsh as I ground out, “If you think I’m going to just stand here and let you beat me, you’re delusional.” I wasn’t sure how I’d fight back with my hands cuffed behind me, but I still had my feet, my head, and my teeth, and I’d use them in any way I could.
Detective Johnson rolled his eyes in disgust. “Don’t be an idiot, boy! We’re not going to hurt you!”
The words “idiot” and “boy” slammed into me as powerfully as any blow, and my jaw clenched.
“I am not an idiot,” I hissed, “and don’t call me ‘boy’!”
“Then don’t act like one!” he snapped back. “Act like a reasonable person, and we’ll treat you like one!”
I didn’t trust myself to not say something I’d regret, so I simply narrowed my eyes to slits, pressed my lips together, and stared him down.
“Better,” he said. “Now, Detective Smith thinks you recognize the sketch. Is that true?”
I nodded my head slowly, not taking my eyes off his.
“Good; that’ll make it easier to track him down. Now, are you calm enough to tell me who he is?”
Another nod. “His name is Albert Taylor,” I said slowly, watching his eyes for the moment realization hit. It didn’t take long before I saw it.
“Taylor? Your father?”
A third nod, and the detective’s eyes instantly softened. “Oh, Christ,” he whispered.
“You must be who he was talking about.”
My eyes narrowed further, and I tensed. “Who was talking about me? When?”
The detectives looked at each other, and their hands left my arms. Without answering, Detective Smith turned me around and removed the cuffs from my wrists. I turned to look at the men, rubbing my wrists. “My father was talking about me? Or Doctor Clark?”
Even though we were in the middle of an alley in Knoxville, Detective Johnson lightly placed his hand on my shoulder and tried to push me to the ground. “You’d better sit down, Erik. I’m afraid we have some bad news.”
I shrugged off his hand and stood tall, my bottom lip quivering slightly. “Just tell me.”
“Oh, Christ,” Detective Johnson repeated, looking up at the sky. His eyes lowered to mine, and they were shining. He took a deep breath and said, “First of all, Erik, I’m sorry to tell you that Doctor Clark is gone. He died during surgery, but on the way to the hospital, he told the accompanying officer something.”
Suddenly unable to breathe, I leaned my head against the wall behind me and stared at the strip of blue sky between the tops of the buildings. “What did he say?”
“God, Erik, please sit down.” The taller detective was practically pleading with me, but I just shook my head and deliberately brought my gaze back to his. He must have seen something in my eyes because he just nodded. He pulled out a small notebook from his jacket. “As you wish. The assailant, I mean your father, told Doctor Clark, quote: ‘She killed herself rather than live without that little bastard! He took her from me, and now I’ll take you from him!’” He stopped and put the notebook away. “Erik, who was ‘she’?”
I couldn’t answer as horror and despair and grief and disbelief coalesced into a solid ball that completely demolished any semblance of restraint I had left. I let out a primal scream and slid down the wall until I was curled in on myself in a ball, rocking back and forth, much as I had been that day in Doctor Clark’s library. However, it was not fear that had me in such a position again; it was anguish, heart-rending, gut-wrenching anguish. I continued to scream as tears flowed unheeded down my face, and I could not find it within myself to stop. After an eternity, I felt a prick in my arm, and the energy it took to scream flowed from me rapidly. The tears continued unabated, though, and I slowly collapsed all the way to the ground until I was lying on my side, my head against the rough concrete. I felt hands beneath my arms, and I was dragged to my feet. The dragging continued since my feet wouldn’t work right, and then I found myself slumped in the back of the detectives’ car, my feet dangling out of the door, and my head against the back.
“Erik,” Detective Johnson knelt in front of me, “was your father talking about your mother?”
My jaw went slack as I bobbed my head in what I hoped he took as a nod. “Detective?” My mouth didn’t seem to want to work any more than my feet, and the word sounded sloppy.
“What is it, son?”
“Are you going to kill him?”
“Who? Your father?”
My head bobbed again.
“No, Erik, I’m not. I am going to catch him, though, and when he’s convicted, which I’m sure he will be, then he’ll probably get the death penalty.”
I tried to focus my vision, but the detective’s face just got blurrier.
“After we catch him, a few years, why?”
I shook my head, and it felt like it was about to fall off my neck. “Too long,” I whispered as I fell back onto the car’s seat. “I’ll just have to kill him for you.”The last thing I remembered for a long, long time after that was my feet being lifted into the car and Detective Smith’s words, “Don’t be a fool, Erik; just let us do our jobs. We’ll make sure he pays for what he’s done.”