“May I help you?” A woman at the reception desk of Northwestern Memorial asked.
Jack never liked hospitals. The antiseptic smell of them was unnatural. He took a quick look around and in a controlled voice asked directions for intensive care.
“Third elevator on the left, elevator ‘D’. Take it to the 4th floor.”
“Thanks.” He took three steps that way.
“Excuse me, sir, are you visiting a patient?”
He stopped and again checked whether anyone was in earshot. He returned to the counter. “My father…eh Peter Rakow.”
“Could you spell the last name?”
“Thank you. She buried her head in a binder. Rakow right?
“He’s on six. Take elevator ‘f’. It will be on your right and down the hall.”
“Is that intensive care?”
The woman had turned her back and was busy with an orderly. He thought of asking again, but then shrugged. What the fuck does it matter? He walked briskly “as down the hall” meant two long corridors. He arrived at the elevator along with a group of young nurses and doctors in their blue scrubs.
“Quite a crowd,” he said to one of the nurses next to him.
She gave him a glance then said, “shift change. Hospitals run 24 hours a day.”
“Oh.” He looked at his watch…5:50 a.m. Jesus.”
The sixth floor had signs posted with arrows directing people to pulmonary, cardio, and radiology. Where the hell was intensive care? He decided to follow cardio.
Individual patient rooms surrounded the nurses’ station. Three staff workers sat behind the desk and chatted over their coffee and medical charts. There was music coming from a portable radio near one of them.
“Excuse me,” Jack said, “Can you tell me where I can find Peter Rakow?”
The one with dark short hair looked up. The name Susan was embroidered on her uniform. “Who? Is he a patient?”
“Yeah, yes he is. He was in intensive care last night. I was told he had a stroke.”
The women talked among themselves while opening several folders. “Who told you he was in intensive care? Susan asked.
He stared at her and took a breath. “I don’t know. She didn’t introduce herself. She told me my father had a stroke.” Susan went back to the binders. “Wait, “ he said, “she also said he was in a coma.”
“Coma!” He wouldn’t be on this floor.”
“Where would he be, then?”
“ Intensive, long term 3rd floor.”
Susan looked away but gestured to wait. The music from the radio stopped playing. Jack heard a male voice report the news. “A woman was discovered stabbed to death in her room at the newly opened Ritz Carlton Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast.”
“That’s terrible,” Susan said. “Wow it’s only a few blocks away. Must have been a distraught husband or a trick that got nasty.” The other nurses shook their head in agreement. “At least she died in a ritzy place,” she said. The others laughed.
Jack backed away toward the elevator. His hand shook as he pressed the down button. Time just time… he had to get out. His life had turned upside down. Some crazy mobster or whoever has put the squeeze on him to throw a game. He was seen in Linzie’s room. Who knows whether that crazy motherfucker, Castelini was waiting for him on the third floor?
Sorry dad, something’s come up. He snuck a look at the nurses. They seemed to be going about their business. He felt nauseous. His stomach gurgled. Dad you’ll understand. You always had my back, and I…well I thought that was the way it was suppose to be. He felt his eyes get blurry and wiped away tears. Where the hell is the damn elevator? He pressed the down button again. Everything will be all right. That was his dad’s favorite line. Didn’t matter what the crisis. “It vill be ok,” he’d say. He was usually right.
Jack bowed his head for a second or so and then looked at the floor indicator. Finally. The door slid open and he stepped inside. He stared at the panel, hesitated then pressed 1.