Chapter 43: The Doctor-Patient Relationship
At first, Lilly thought she heard crumbling brick and mortar…or maybe the thud of fists pummeling flesh. Opening her eyes, she realized the drumming was her own heartbeat.
The darkness was thick with the copper scent of blood.
A hand rubbed over her face. She sat upright. How could she have fallen asleep? She had planned to fake it until Tem went to bed, but she dropped off. How long had she been out?
She inhaled and tasted the biting odor of antiseptic. Her nose followed it to the source. In the far corner, there was movement.
He didn’t answer. Oh god, let him be alive. Surely Zilla would help him. But had Tem allowed it? He certainly wouldn’t risk taking Bobby to the hospital where they would ask questions about his injuries. What if he has a concussion or a punctured lung from a fractured rib? She must go to him even if it meant giving away a secret.
She fished around in the dark under the radiator until she found her stash. She took out a hairpin, worked the lock, and the cuff fell away.
Free, she pulled up onto her knees and crawled over to Bobby.
She fished around on the shelf where he kept a few personal items and retrieved the flashlight he used for late night reading. It clicked on.
She found him crumpled in a corner shivering with two Baggies of ice covering his head. Moving aside a jumbo bundle of paper towels she sat facing him.
Lifting the ice, she gasped. The swollen glossy mottled face she was staring at looked nothing like the sweet bright-eyed teen who had tried to help her only hours ago.
His puffed out lids were incapable of folding back to open. Congealed blood hung like mini icicles where the flesh on his lips was cracked. His ears were discolored and distended.
She gulped down a shuddering breath. Bobby’s bruises were a message from Tem addressed to her. She muttered, “I am so sorry. So sorry...”
Biting her lip, she began to examine the injuries. “Approach this from a strictly medical perspective, Lilly. It will go better.” She hummed a couple of lines of a lullaby her father had sung.
It didn’t help. Her hands continued to tremble. Bobby’s condition was deplorable. The life of her only ally in this horrific funhouse was in her hands and the responsibility frightened her.
“Whipping boy,” Tem had said. And with those two words he had linked them as surely as if Bobby shared her handcuffs. Now she had no choice but to include him in her escape plan. And in doing so, Bobby, like herself, would become a target for Nautilus.
Strangely, his pain numbed hers. Her fingers got to work unbuttoning his shirt. Stiff with dried blood and sweat, his tangled clothes were pasted to his body. She peeled them back to expose his ribs, and gasped. Like a Cheetah’s pelt, numerous round imprints of knuckles dappled his torso.
“Where do I start?”
“Still talking, I see.” Bobby slurred through puffy split lips. Grunting he rolled from his side onto his back.
“You’re alive!” Gathering courage, she scooted closer.
“If that’s your educated opinion please go back to school.” He coughed and tried to spit blood but drooled instead.
She wiped his mouth with the corner of his shirt.
He asked, “Why can’t I see you?”
“Your eyes are swollen shut. Don’t worry, I can see you clearly.”
“Helping a bum like me…must be a humbling experience for a nerd,” scoffed Bobby.
“Be quiet and hold still. I want to evaluate your injuries before Tem needs a fruit snack.” His new girlfriend had reined in his habit of foraging. Late night visits were sporadic and rare.
“Now you’re a doctor?” Breaths came in jerky gasps. Hacking interrupted his chuckle.
She aimed the flashlight at him and said, “Okay, here goes.” Her hand pushed his out of the way.
“What…?” He pushed back and they swatted at each other for a second.
“Stop. Let me probe your ribs. They might be broken.”
“Probe what? Who gave you x-ray fingers?”
“If they are cracked, I can bind them. Breathing will be less painful. It will give you some support while you heal. Now keep your hands down.” She slapped at them.
“Wait...how did you get loose? I saw Tem cuff you.”
“I picked the lock. Now let me look.”
“You’re a locksmith with no bedside manner.” Bobby sighed and dropped his hands.
“The sixth and seventh are cracked.” She put her ear to his chest. “Good breath sounds. Neither lung is punctured. Do you have another shirt around here?”
“Yeah sure. Look in my armoire. Top drawer. Right next to my shoe closet.”
“Found them. Do you care if I tear up one or two?” Propping the light on a shelf she ransacked through the stack, selected several, and began ripping them into wide strips before Bobby answered.
“You have no respect for a man’s possessions.”
“I’m ignoring you. Here comes the hard part. Sorry, but I have to reposition you to wrap your ribs.” Silently thanking her dad for his triage training, in one motion she leaned down, hugged Bobby close, and hauled him up to a sitting position. She looped strips of cloth around his middle and tied them.
“Oh god…you’re killing me.”
He heaved a breath as she lay him back down. “Hey—that is better.”
“No thank-yous necessary.”
“I wasn’t going to give you one. You owe me, kid.”
He pushed back when her fingers touched his nose. “Get away. Leave me be.”
“It is crooked. You have fractured your nasal bones. The adjacent lacrimal and ethmoid bones have not been impinged on. That is the good news. The bad news is I will have to reset your nose and it will be painful. You must not yell.”
“Do what? Wait. It’s okay the way it is. It was crooked before.” His hand protected his nose.
“No, it was not. It was cute…I mean straight. I understand. You are frightened.” She pushed his hand away.
“Are you qualified to do this? How many noses have you set?”
“Yours will be the first. But there is no risk. I have science on my side and I know my anatomy. My knowledge base is equivalent to a first-year medical student.”
“First year being the key words.” Bobby scooted in the opposite direction. “Come back when you graduate.”
“Really, it’s an easy procedure. A flick of my fingers.”
“Easy for who?”
“Hold onto something. Wait let me bring the flashlight closer.”
He flinched. “What was that? I hate that I can’t see what you’re doing.”
“Me putting the light on a lower shelf so it shines on your face. Don’t be a sissy. Okay, here goes.”
“Wait! Can you guarantee the next time I go out in the rain I won’t drown?”
“Funny. Ha, ha.”
“Go on. Make it quick.” He took a breath.
Positioning her fingers on each side of his nose she gave a push.
“Oh! Oh! Damn, damn!”
She clamped a hand over his mouth. “Shush! And don’t be a baby. It snapped back into place perfectly.”
“Are we done here?”
“I haven’t finished my examination.”
“Why are you doing this…helping me?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Her eyes filled. “Those bruises should be mine.” Collecting emotions she said, “I feel obligated.”
“So formal. Not because I have a ‘cute’ nose?”
“None of this is funny.” Lilly cleared her throat. “Let me probe your head.”
“You may have sustained a concussion to the frontal and or temporal lobes of your brain. Any nausea, vomiting, headache, disorientation, or tenderness?”
“Yeah, my whole body. I feel like the last car in a demolition derby.”
“I mean, have you passed out?”
“When Tem’s fist met my jaw.”
“You do that. Hide behind jokes. It’s a coping mechanism.” She sat back. “You’ll survive. Keep the ice on your face. Twenty on and twenty minutes off.”
“I got this. Go cuff yourself and get some sleep.” Lilly didn’t move. “What is it?”
“I have to get you out of here and soon.”
“My hero. Who’s been taking it on the chin, no pun intended, for who around here?”
“True, but the situation has escalated.”
“Yes. First thing you have to stop being is an accomplice to felony. And that drops us in a difficult situation because if you don’t help Zilla, Tem does his imitation of Mohammed Ali on my face. I’ll have to give this potentially disfiguring decision a lot of thought.”
“Me too. Though I have to admit I have been scaring myself. Part of me enjoyed planning scams. It was like a drug, it boosted my ego when they worked. It’s very addictive.” Bobby stayed silent so she added, “That’s not like me, really.”
“Take care, kid. As soon as I’m back on my feet we’re out of here. My friends on the outside will help us. Be prepared to live on the streets. It’ll be tough, but we don’t have options.”
Her voice strengthened. “I have money. If you help me get out of D. C. I’ll pay you.”
“You think I’m like Tem? All about the money?”
“I didn’t mean to insult you. Sorry.”
He groaned and faced the wall. “I’m curious, how much are you offering?
She picked a number to impress. “Fifty thousand dollars.”
He twisted back in the direction of her voice. “Seriously? I think you’ve been inhaling too much incense.”
“Nope. I know where my father hid it.” She trusted Bobby but decided to keep the location a secret.
“That would be a sunny Bahamas upgrade to my present accommodations. You can afford that?”
“Yes. And after, I promise I will leave you alone. We part company.”
He turned over. “I’d be what, your employee?”
“Bobby—no. You’re my friend.” Softly she added, “My only friend.”
“Like I said, I’ll think about it. No more negotiating. Go back to your air mattress and get some sleep.”
Lilly moved to her spot and snapped on her handcuff. The metal scratched against the radiator as she tried to get comfortable.
Bobby whispered, “Where will you go if you get away from here?”
“Somewhere I could walk out in the open. Someplace lush and green where I can climb a mountain, wander in the woods, and listen to the birds sing.”
“Sounds like retirement. You’re too young and I hate to say this, too smart to put yourself out to pasture.”
Her smile faded remembering Field’s creepy question, ‘Did you fix that dying at sixteen…?’
“I’ve never been to the country. A farm with animals would be nice. Like in movies.” Bobby droned on. “Did you know butterflies can taste their feet? I saw it on TV. And young goats pick up accents from each other. An octopus…”
His choppy whispers, despite their undercurrent of pain, soothed Lilly. Her head dipped, once twice. Her chin fell to her chest. The earlier turmoil and fear evaporated, and for a few hours she found a small island of peace. It was lush and green.