The Good Doctor, Part II, Chapter 6
I was at work behind the check-in counter at the gym when Suzy leaned over and whispered to me. “Did you see your friend and that jerk come in here earlier?” With Suzy, the lesbian possibility factor had zoomed steadily upwards to something like ninety percent. When she first started here her hair was perky but normal length… it seems like it’s gotten shorter every week, to the point that now her hair is shorter than mine, and her right eyebrow has acquired a piercing that I’m pretty sure wasn’t there before.
When Suzy says ‘friend’, she always means Rose. Rose has never mentioned what happened at that political dinner, but she’s been looking tense, which is unusual for her. Rose is not someone to leave things unsaid. The jerk, of course, was Chester.
“No, I didn’t. Problem?”
“They weren’t talking, but they looked like they wanted to kill each other. And besides, normally that woman is always talking.” Well, that was certainly true. Rose is someone who likes to have everyone know what she’s thinking.
“Where is she now?”
She rolled her eyes. “Treadmill with her girlfriends.” The fact was that even though Rose never said anything more about the dinner. I figured that it’d had to be bugging her and if she needed to yell at me….well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Rose has three or four ‘girlfriends’, all of them loaded, all of them old, and all of them almost always unbelievably horny. It’s hard for men to really understand women and their girl friends, because those relationships are nothing like their male counterparts.
Women often treat their friends in ways that would make men cringe. For men, watching women friends interact is often like watching some kid go flying over the handlebars of his bike and face planting on the pavement. I mean, even if you didn’t like the guy, it goes right to your guts and there’s a voice inside your head screaming, “Oh shit! No! Nooo!!!”
I inhaled and let it out slowly. “Okay, I’m gonna go over to the snack bar and have a cup of coffee. She can see me there from the treadmills, if she’s still pissed at me she can come over and yell.”
Suzy leaned against the counter. “Why should she be pissed, her boyfriend is the one who grabbed your ass.” No, I didn’t make any kind of a public announcement about what happened, but word was leaking out – and fortunately inaccurately.
“Ahhh, actually, I grabbed his butt, but the whole thing was a mistake. He wasn’t supposed to be where he was and he was the one who grabbed Mark’s butt first.” Suzy was looking at me like I was crazy.
She shook her head slowly and said, “What the hell do you do at night?”
I glared at her. “Just go back to work.”
I grabbed a catalog that had just come in from LL Bean, trudged over to the snack bar and poured myself a cup of coffee. The treadmills were right across the hallway behind a glass wall. I glanced up quickly and the words ‘thundering herd’ flashed through my brain. I did catch a glimpse of Rose tread milling next to Maddie Albright, who seemed to be dominating the conversation. Rumor had it that Maddie had just gotten back from New York with a spiffy new hairdo and the lingering memory of an encounter with an over-the-hill male model. Rose looked like she could kill her, but I dug into the LL Bean catalog and pretended I didn’t know they existed.
Five minutes later, the chair on the other side of the table was pulled out, Rose tossed her carry-all bag onto the table, and plopped into the chair. The bag landed with a clank. God only knew what was in there, and why the hell do old women need bags full of shit when they’re walking on a treadmill?
“Eric, quit trying to pretend you’re interested in LL Bean. You have about as much interest in new clothing as bears in the woods.”
I glanced up. “It’s all about the men, Rose. Check this guy out. He kinda looks like Pete.” I turned the catalog, so she could see the male model.
“Hmmm… older than Pete, but very nice.”
I looked across the way at the remaining tread millers. “Word has it that Maddie Albright has a new do.” I was trying to bait her into unloading on me, so it’d be over with, but she didn’t seem mad at all, just distracted.
“Yeah, she looks nice… well, for her.” That was it? She should be gutting Maddie Albright!
“Okay, Rose! Cut the crap and just tell me what a slug I am for the shit at the dinner.”
She inhaled deeply and leaned forward. “Actually…”
But before she had a chance to finish that sentence, Chester came striding towards us, practically yelling, “C’mon, Rose! We’ve gotta get going! I don’t have time to hang around here all morning!”
She turned and stared at him for a moment, then coldly said, “I told you, I don’t give a damn whether you stay here or not, but I am staying!”
“Don’t be silly, Rose! You’re coming with me!” He tried to grab her arm, but she shook it off.
“Get your hands off me.”
“Rose, you’re coming with me!”
I looked up at him and said maybe a little too loudly, “The lady said she doesn’t want to go!”
He turned on me. “Just mind your own damned business! You’re to blame for all of this anyway!”
I sighed and stood up. “You want me to call you a cab?” The last thing I wanted was to be involved in an oldster throw-down.
Rose said, “Yeah, Eric, call him a cab, because he’s not riding in my car - he’s not doing anything with me anymore!”
“I’ll call the cab.”
I started to walk towards the front desk, so I could call the Rev a taxi when I heard a yelp behind me and turned in time to see Chester grab Rose’s arm and jerk her to her feet.
“Goddamnit, Rose, I told you, you’re coming with me!”
She tried to twist her arm out of Chester’s hand and yelled, “Eric, help me!”
I did the only thing I could think of, I threw myself on Chester’s back and wrapped my arms around his neck. Which I guess should have meant I was winning, but Chester is a really big guy and it tended more to irritate him than anything else. He roared like a bull and started twisting and turning wildly trying to throw me off his back.
Rose was yelling, “Hold him still, Eric!”
“What?” I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, because my face was buried in the back of Chester’s neck and I was basically trying to hang on for dear life.
“Hold him still!” What the hell did she think she was gonna do?
I yelled, “Call the fucking cops, Rose!”
I tightened my grip on his neck, then looked over his shoulder to try and see what Rose was doing. She had just pulled something out of her handbag and as my head came up over Chester’s shoulder, she yelled again, “Hold him steady, Eric!” Chester was trying to pry my arms off of his neck.
My mouth had just opened when the first blast of pepper spray hit us. I can’t remember if I let go of Chester, or if I fell off when we hit the floor, but it was the worst pain I could ever remember feeling. It was like somebody tossed a bucket of lit gasoline in my face and then kicked me in the stomach.
The next thirty minutes were spent screaming and retching. But at least the last twenty minutes of it were spent on the floor in my office without being the center of attention.
A handsome young EMT, Howard, was smoothing aloe gel on my face and neck. Oddly, he was also softly humming a melodic tune of some sort and eventually, when his fingertips lifted from my face, he sighed and said, “You should be fine now, Mr. Cortland. It’s gonna feel like you got the worst sunburn ever on your face, but it’ll get better pretty quick. It’s a good thing you were able to get in the shower right away. Maybe the best thing would be to go home and rest, but be sure to keep rinsing your eyes. My stomach was still quivering like maybe I was gonna toss my cookies again. “You can take the rest of this aloe gel with you.”
I finally gasped out, “What happened to the other guy?” I could still barely breathe through my nose.
“Ah, I’m pretty sure the police took Mr. Johnson with them.”
There was a soft knock on the door and Suzy poked her head in. “Anything I can do, boss?”
“Ahhh,” I looked down at myself. I was bare chested and my pants were wet from the shower. “Get me a sweatshirt from the Pro Shop, would you.” Suzy had dragged me to the shower and tossed me in, clothes and all.
“Oh, and Suzy you’d better call somebody to come in and get rid of that smell. We can’t have the place smelling like that.”
“They’re already on the way. They’ve got like an emergency service.”
“Is Rose okay?”
“Yeah, she left with the cops when they took the asshole.”
I pushed myself up and leaned against the wall. “I’m gonna go home. If Pete calls or anything, there’s no reason to mention this. I mean, I’ll tell him tonight, but I don’t want him all freaked out when there’s really nothing more he can do.” I also didn’t want Jase freaked out. I was hoping to get home before everyone else and get myself cleaned up.
She said, “Are you sure you can drive? I mean, you’re not gonna upchuck again, are ya?”
I shuddered and said, “I think I’m okay.”
The tone must not have satisfied her, because she asked Howard, “He okay to drive?”
Howard nodded. “He doesn’t live far and as long as he feels okay. It’s not like that stuff is fatal or anything. Well… not usually.”
Suzy said, “I’d drive you home, but we’ve got no one else here to run the place.”
I said, “How bad do I look?”
Howard’s mouth was open slightly and he was staring at me. He whispered, “I think you look fantastic!”
Suzy got a weird look on her face, did a double take on Howard, shook her head and said, “Boss, you look like shit.”
Howard made a soft choking sound, blushed and said, “Well, you know, considering what you’ve been through you look good.” He looked at the floor, then at Suzy and then at me and said, “I guess I’d better get going.”
Our town has one main intersection, well, only one that amounts to anything. It’s at the corner of Main Street and Elm Street where two four lane roads intersect, and since one is a state highway you can have up to eight cars waiting for the lights to change or taking off after they do.
And there I sat with my hair wet, my pants wet, sweating, my stomach quivering, my nose running from that damn pepper spray. And yet, even with all that, when I looked across the intersection at a blue Ford I knew that there was a problem beyond all the shit that had just happened to me.
She was a long way away, but the woman in the Ford was shoving something into her mouth and eating like there was no tomorrow, really cramming it in… like in a frenzy. Then when the light changed, she tried to turn right, which you can’t do from the middle lane and I could sense telepathically every man sitting at that intersection thinking the same thing ‘What…the…fuck’?
The car to her right started to move forward just as she turned and crashed into him. It was a glancing blow and she just kept on going. She didn’t even look at the guy, just kept shoveling more stuff into her mouth. She dragged his car a few feet, then broke away, did a left turn in the middle of the intersection and headed for me. The only thing I had time to think was ‘Well, this is just fucking perfect’!
I braced myself just before she slammed into the left front corner of my car, which set off the air bag… which hurts one hell of a lot more than you might expect, because it not only slaps you really hard in the face, but it also burns your hands and fills the passenger compartment with white dust.
The air bag deflated just in time for me to see the crazy woman driving the Ford cram something else into her mouth while she turned the wheel hard left again and headed back to where she had started from. Meanwhile, the other drivers were all going nuts trying to get the hell out of there, some were trying to back up and some were trying to cut across the intersection. She didn’t hit anyone else - she just made a broad left turn and headed back to me.
This time, she grazed the front of my car just hard enough to spin me a bit, then she stopped. She was slumped over her steering wheel and the only thing I could think of was that she must have had a stroke or something, because what the hell else would account for what she had just done. I figured she needed help and after the morning I’d just had, I knew what that felt like.
I pushed open my door, pulled my bruised body upright by the door frame, and stumbled over to her car. Her head was resting on the steering wheel and the front seat was covered in empty Baby Ruth candy bar wrappers.
I pulled open the door to her car and yelled, “Lady, are you okay?”
She turned her head to me slowly and with tear stained eyes and a desperate wail to her voice, screamed, “My husband says I look fat!”
I guess that was when I passed out. I woke up in the ambulance just as we were nearing the hospital. Howard was in the back with me and his partner was driving. Howard was holding my hand, which for some reason didn’t seem weird, then we were pulling into the hospital. At least, that’s what it sounded like to me, the siren got turned off and I could hear a lot of doctor talk. I didn’t open my eyes, because I figured with the kind of day I’d been having there wasn’t much percentage in it, and if there was more shit headed my way… well, I just didn’t want to see it coming. So when someone asked me to open my eyes, I just said, “No.”
But then there was Pete’s warm deep voice saying, “Eric, open your eyes.”
I shook my head slightly and mumbled, “I don’wanna.”
Then Pete said to someone, “It’s okay, Doctor Bowman, I’ll get this.”
A moment later, Pete’s voice was soft and next to my ear. “Howard said you were hot.”
My eyes popped open. “He said that?”
Pete’s fingers gently pushed my eyelids up as he smiled at me. Then he flashed one of those pointed doctor lights in my eyes. “He didn’t say it to me. Actually, I’m not totally sure who he said it to, I just heard him say it to someone. It might have been his partner, because he was walking towards the ambulance. I guess he didn’t know about us, so don’t start thinking you’ve got options.”
“He was the one who came to the club.” Then it occurred to me that maybe Pete didn’t know about that. “They told you about the club?”
He had put his light away and was listening to my chest with his stethoscope. He nodded. “Rose was here, but she’s gone home now; and Chester, I assume, is with the police. You’ve had a busy day.”
“Does my mother know?”
He laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
Of course, my mother knows everything. “Jase?”
“That’s where your mom is. I told her if she can get Jase fed and settled in front of the TV we should be home by then. And while you’ll never fool Jase into thinking nothing happened, at least you’ll be at home with him and seeming mostly normal.”
That last part worried me a little. I mean, what if all that crap that happened messed up my guts or something. “I am normal, right?”
Pete smiled, then bent and kissed my forehead. “Eric, you were never even close to normal, but you aren’t permanently injured. You’ll be fine.”
“Pete, is that lady okay?”
“The one that hit you?” I nodded.
“They’re checking her out in the psych ward. Like everybody, she’s got shit happening in her life, but I think she’ll be okay if she lets them help her.”
“You know, it’s weird, but I feel really bad for her.”
Pete smiled at me, lightly touched my face with the tips of his fingers, then leaned down and whispered, “That almost earns you a prostate exam.”
By the time we got home, I had been cleaned up as much as possible and Pete said that I looked okay. As soon as we parked, my mother came out of the house with a dishtowel in her hand and rushed over to me.
She touched my chest and said, “Thank God, you’re okay. Don’t worry about a thing, Eric, Morrie’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Morrie… my attorney.”
“I need a lawyer?” I’m so naïve.
“Of course you need a lawyer! Your car! All the pain and suffering!” Why didn’t I think of that?
Just then Jase came barreling out of the house and yelled, “Hi, Dad!”
Then he stopped suddenly and looked from me to Pete, then back to me and I saw it all in his eyes, but before he got a chance to think about it, I picked him up and said, “C’mon, kiddo, I gotta shower and you can pick out some clothes.”
I was moving fast and I got as far as the kitchen before he said, “What happened? Where’s the car? You look all messed up and you smell funny.”
“I am messed up and I feel like crap. Somebody at the club sprayed pepper spray around and it got in my eyes and on my face.” I sat him down on the counter in the bathroom, then I stripped down and got in the shower.
Jase poked his head in the shower and said, “What happened to the car?”
I was scrubbing my face and rinsed it off before looking down at him. “When I was driving home, I was at the intersection downtown and some lady hit it. How about getting me a pair of gym shorts and a tee shirt?”
“You were in a car crash?”
“I’m fine, Jase, just get the clothes.”
He was back in a minute with a pair of black gym shorts and a black tee shirt. I got out of the shower, dried off, and slipped the clothes on.
I towel dried my hair, knelt down in front of him and stared into his eyes. “Stupid stuff happens, Jase, but I’m okay.”
He looked at me for a moment, then little-boy hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Boy, do you make me nervous sometimes.”
I laughed and kissed the side of his head. “Sometimes I make me nervous, too, Jase.”
After dinner we ended up in the living room with Pete and me on the sofa and Jase watching TV… our usual positions. But the thing was Jase wasn’t looking relaxed. Instead of lying on the floor in front of the TV, he was kneeling, and I knew a question had to be simmering. He hadn’t said much about the events of the day, but he’s a thinker, someone who mulls things over. Eventually he got up, reached back, dug his pants out of his butt, wiggled it to make sure everything was moving freely, then walked over and leaned against me.
I smiled at him and said, “You got everything working okay back there?”
“Huh?” Some things guys just do is on autopilot.
“Nothing. What’s up?”
“How come Aunt Rose sprayed you with that stuff?” Rose isn’t actually his aunt, but he’s seen so much of her my mom started telling him she was ‘Auntie Rose.’
“She didn’t really spray it at me, Jase. She sprayed it at Chester - I just got in the way.” This all gets soooo complicated and I see Pete’s eyes appear above his newspaper.
Without seeming to have any awareness of it, Jase puts his hand on my stomach and pushes down. I grunt.
“But why did she do that?” How the hell do I explain that?
“Well, she thought Chester was a nice guy. Maybe she even thought that they might get married or something, but then she found out that he was really just a jerk...”
“So, that’s why she sprayed him?” Pete’s stocking clad toe touched the inside of my thigh just below my balls… a warning. Do I really want to explain that Chester physically hurt her?
“More or less. Once Rose figured out that Chester was a jerk, he got mad and was mean to her, so Rose got afraid he was gonna hurt her.”
Jase said, “Oh,” but I could tell that it wasn’t enough, so I dragged him up on the sofa until he was lying on top of me with his nose practically touching mine and staring right into my eyes - our mind-meld position.
I said softly, “Okay, so what’s bugging you?”
“It’s just that if adults get picked on, what chance does anybody little like me have?” Actually, not a bad point.
I sighed heavily, because this was exactly what I was trying to avoid.
“Okay, remember I told you that somebody sprayed pepper spray in the club and it got in my eyes?” He nodded yes.
“Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way.”
Jase said, “You lied?” I wish he’d said it in a tone that implied that it rarely happened.
“Not lied, omitted.” Pete cleared his throat.
Jase said, “That’s still a lie.”
I shook my head, “Omission. A lie is when you say something happened and it didn’t, an omission is when you don’t mention everything. Oh, and by the way, little boys are not allowed to omit anything when they’re talking to their dads.” Pete cleared his throat again.
“Anyway, what really happened was Chester grabbed Rose and hurt her arm, so she yelled for help. I threw myself on Chester’s back and tried to make him stop. That was when Rose sprayed him, or rather us. She didn’t mean to spray me, it just happened.” Actually, the real lesson to be learned here is that no good deed goes unpunished, but I figured that was a lesson for another day.
Jase said, “You were gonna beat him up?”
“I dunno, Jase. I was just trying to get him to stop hurting Rose.”
“But what if he had hurt you?”
“Sometimes, Jase, no matter how nice you are or how careful, assholes appear in your life. And when that happens, the first thing that we all think is that we should turn around and run like hell, but usually that doesn’t work. I mean, sometimes it does, like if you’re never gonna see that person again. But if it’s someone you’re gonna see all the time, then it doesn’t work and you’re better off just dealing with it. Believe me, when I was on Chester’s back with my arms around his neck, you can bet that he was just wishing he had never laid eyes on me in the first place. And now that he’s been pepper sprayed and arrested, you can absolutely bet on it”
“The thing is that you can’t worry about it.”
Jase stared into my eyes and then said slowly, “I gotta think about it.”