G is for Gumshoe - Page 23/98

A man appeared from the far end of the parking lot, walking toward me through the shadows with a kid perched on his shoulders. He had his arms raised, in part to secure the child, in part to torment him, digging the fingers of one hand into his ribs. The kid clung to the man, laughing, fingers buried in his hair, his body swaying in a tempo with his father's walking pace, like a rider mounted on a camel. The man ducked as the two of them turned into a lighted passageway, an alcove where I'd seen the soft drink and ice machines. A moment later, I heard the familiar clunking sound of a can of soda plummeting down the slot. The two emerged, this time hand in hand, chatting companionably. I let my breath out, watching them round the corner to the exterior stairs. They appeared again on the second floor where they entered the third room from the end. End of episode. I wasn't even aware that I'd taken my gun out, but my jacket was unzipped and it was in my hand. I stood upright, tucking my gun away. My heartbeat slowed and I shook some of my tension out of my arms and legs, like a runner at the end of an arduous race.

I returned to my room along the narrow drive that ran behind the motel. It was very dark, but it felt safer than traversing the open parking lot. I cut around the end of the building and unlocked my door, reaching around to flip the light on before I slipped inside. The room was untouched, everything exactly as I'd left it. I locked the door behind me and closed the drapes. When I sat down beside the bedtable and picked up the telephone, I realized my underarms were damp with sweat, the fear like the aftershock of an earthquake. It took a moment for my hands to quit shaking.

I called Irene first. She picked up instantly, as if she'd been hovering by the telephone. "Oh, Kinsey. Thank God," she said when I identified myself.

"You sound upset. What's going on?"

"I got a call from the convalescent home about an hour ago. I had a long chat with Mrs. Haynes earlier this afternoon and we've made arrangements to have Mother flown up by air ambulance. Clyde has gone to a great deal of trouble to get her into a nursing home up here. Really, it's a lovely place and quite close to us. I thought she'd be thrilled, but when Mrs. Haynes told her about it, she went berserk… absolutely out of control. She had to be sedated and even so, she's raising hell. Somebody's got to go over there and get her calmed down. I hope you don't mind."

Hell, I thought. "Well, I don't want Jo argue, Irene, but I can't believe I'd be of any help. Your mother hasn't the faintest idea who I am and, furthermore, she doesn't care. When she saw me this afternoon, she threw a bedpan across the room."

"I'm sorry. I know it's a nuisance, but I'm at my wit's end. I tried talking to her myself by phone, but she's incoherent. Mrs. Haynes says sometimes the medication has that effect; instead of calming these older patients down, it just seems to rev them up. They have a private-duty nurse driving up from El Centre for the eleven-o'clock shift, but meanwhile, the ward's in an uproar and they're begging for help."

"God. All right. I'll do what I can, but I don't have any training in this kind of thing."

"I understand," she said. "I just don't know who else to ask."

I told her I'd head on over to the hospital and then I hung up. I couldn't believe I'd been roped into this. My presence on a geriatric ward was going to prove about as effective as the padlock on the trailer door. All form, no content. What really bugged me was the suspicion that nobody would have even suggested that a boy detective do likewise. I didn't want to see that old lady again. While I admired her spunk, I didn't want to be in charge of her. I had my own ass to worry about.

Why does everybody assume women are so nurturing? My maternal instincts were extinguished by my Betsy Wetsy doll. Every time she peed in her little flannel didies, I could feel my temper climb. I quit feeding her and that cured it, but it did make me wonder, even at the age of six, how suited I was for motherhood.

It was in this charitable frame of mind that I proceeded to the Rio Vista. I drove with an eye to my rearview mirror to see if anyone was following. I watched for pickup trucks of every color and size. I thought the one I'd seen was a Dodge, but I hadn't been paying close attention at the time and I couldn't have sworn to it.

Nothing untoward occurred. I reached the convalescent hospital, parked my car in a visitors' slot, walked back through the front entrance and headed for the stairs. It was ominously quiet. No telling what Agnes was up to. It was only 8:00 p.m. but the floor lights had already been dimmed and the facility was bathed in the muted rustle and hush of any hospital at night. The old sleep restlessly, pained limbs crying out. Nights must be long, filled with fretful dreams, the fear of death, or, worse perhaps, the certainty of waking to another interminable day. What did they have to hope for? What ambitions could they harbor in this limbo of artificial light? I could sense the hiss of oxygen in the walls, the pall of the pharmaceuticals with which their bodies were infused. Hearts would go on beating, lungs would pump, kidneys filtering all the poisons from the blood. But who would diagnose their feelings of dread, and how would anyone provide relief from the underlying malady, which was despair?