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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Day That No One Died (7)

Read parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.
* * *

Choosing the slightly more conservative option, Daryl walked pseudo-calmly into the main entrance and up to the information desk. "Excuse me, could you tell--"
"I'll be with you in one moment, sir," the nasally blue-haired reception with the phone implanted in her ear said as she turned rudely away from him.

Prancing impatiently as he waited, Daryl spent a few moments observing the people coming and going. People of all shapes and sizes, seemingly from all walks of life. Young and old. Short and tall. Black and white. Large and small. Men, women, and children huddled into every corner of the hospital lobby, up and down the halls, lining the walls.

Reapproaching the desk, Daryl tried again. "Excuse me, ma'am, I really--"

With a glaring look and a raised index finger, old blue hair stopped Daryl in his mid-sentence. If looks could kill, Daryl would quickly need rushed downstairs to the morgue. "Right back atcha, granny," Daryl said, abandoning any hope of assistance as he turned and walked slowly through the lobby, one eye on the overhead signs directing him from department to department and the other eye on the crowd of gathered citizens.

On his left he passed a man slumped against the wall, clutching his arm, dried blood caked to his sleeve. On his right, a mother with the worried look of fear in her eyes cradled a young child who seemed completely unaware of her surroundings. Up ahead, the deserted gift shop.

Here a vagabond passed out in a chair, their man calming his increasingly expectant pregnant wife. As Daryl approached the gift shop, Daryl noticed that it was not abandoned, after all. Waiting patients had crowded into the tiny gift shop, sitting on the floor in the aisles, looking like the condemned waiting to be called to their execution.

Daryl picked up the pace -- as much as possible in the crowded corridor -- and pressed on for the records room. The crowd of people seeking medical attention, rather than thinning out as Daryl went, seemed to get thicker. There was definitely something up, and Daryl intended to get to the bottom of it.

"Ain't no gettin' ahead here, buddy. You wait yer turn in the back jes like ever'one else," a greasy looking homeless man said to Daryl as he pushed his way through.

"Excuse me," Daryl replied as politely as he could muster.

"I said," the vagabond continued, throwing his right hand up against Daryl's chest, attempting to block his progress. Lowering his voice to a near whisper, he continued, "I said, wait yer turn in the back of the line, jes like ever'one else."

"Two things, old man," Daryl began, narrowing his eyes and dropping his voice to a whisper as well. "One: I'm not here for medical help, so you don't have to worry about losing your place in line." Daryl paused for effect, giving the man the opportunity to remove his arm. When he didn't, Daryl continued, "Two: If you don't remove your hand from me immediately, you will have to worry about losing it."

The man stared back at Daryl as if daring him to make good on his threat. Daryl stared back at the man, shaken, nervous, shocked with himself for even thinking of such a thing. Daryl had never been a fighter, and wasn't sure he was prepared to begin his fighting career in a crowded hospital corridor with a homeless waif who smelled like he needed a bath more than medical attention.

As Daryl began to raise his arm, prepared to at least appear as if we would make good on his threat, the homeless dropped his, turned, and left the line altogether. Surprised at the man's sudden change, Daryl stared after him before moving on.

Moving slowly through the crowded corridor, uncertain where the records room was located, Daryl spotted what appeared to be an orderly, and asked, "Could you please tell me where I'll find the records room?"

"Turn around," the young orderly said.

"Excuse me?"

"Turn around," he repeated. "It's right behind you."

Hesitating, Daryl slowly turned on his heels and stared into the open records room. "Thank you," he said to the vanished orderly as he turned back around. "Go figure."

Daryl moved quickly into the waiting room, the first place he'd seen inside the entire hospital thus far that was packed wall to wall with attention seeking patients. Looking over his shoulder as he entered, Daryl pushed the open door closed behind him. "If there's anything in here, I'm going to find it," he said to himself. It'll find you, Joe, the words of Charlie Coulton rang in his head. It'll find you.

* * *

Daryl had rifled through shelf after shelf of medical records and files, looking for some kind of explanation in the few moments he had alone in the records room. It wasn't long before anxiety got the best of him and paranoia kept telling him that someone was watching him from the corridor. In the interest of caution, Daryl had then grabbed a stack of file folders from the small work station inside the room and made a hasty retreat to his car.

Where he now sat quietly, head leaned back on the seat, wondering what had just happened. Wondering where all the people had come from. Wondering why they were packed into the hospital corridor like so many sardines. Wondering, he fell asleep.
To be continued ...

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