For the third time in as many minutes, he put his hand in the pocket of his wool suit to retrieve the car key that would drive him away to safety. And again, he decided against it. The dealer had said there would be no hitches.
He had actually liked the young man. He was obviously a drug dealer. The heavy gold chains reinforced the golden sheen of his teeth against dark skin. Still, there was a sort of street honesty about him that Jeff felt he could trust.
So, here he was. Waiting. As instructed.
A lone car turned the corner. It's headlights were immediately doused. With parking lights only, the 15 year old car crawled down the block. Jeff stepped out toward the curb.
A window was rolled down, and he heard a stranger's voice say, "That's him!"
All hell broke loose.
Both of the back doors of the car opened in unison. Men in ski-masks, jeans and tee shirts emerged. Before Jeff could respond, one had his hands behind him. A second was pressing a cloth over his face... the strong smell of some sort of chemical burned his lungs as he began to pass out. Almost instinctively, he began to struggle; to free himself from the men and from whatever drug they here using to subdue him. He remembered kicking wildly once or twice. Then a huge explosion, followed by a vague sense of fire on his left leg just as he slipped from consciousness.
He was waking up. At least, he was pretty sure he was waking up. There was a far-away sound of hustle and bustle around him. When he opened his eyes, the lights were blinding. "That's funny," he thought. "Those street lights aren't that bright!"
A voice was calling his name.
"Where..." was all he could get out.
"You're in the emergency room at St. Bart's, Mr. Carson. I'm Dr. Stevenson. You've been robbed and shot. We're taking care of you right now."
The darkness enfolded him again.
This time when he opened his eyes, it was easy to recognize where he was. He was in a hospital bed, propped up at about 45 degrees. The most prominent thing in his field of view was his left leg, now encased, thigh to ankle, in a huge metal reinforced brace, supported by a rather complex array of super-structure pipes and cables.
Hi leg hurt. A lot. He looked around and found a button on the end of a cord clipped to his pillow. He pressed it a couple of times, and waited. It would have been easy to go back to sleep except that a nurse breezed in just before he could drop off again.
"Hi, Mr. Carson! How are you today?"
"My leg hurts," he said simply. "What happened. Why am I here?"
"Perhaps I can help in that department," said a voice to the right. Jeff turned his head to look at a rather stocky man in a grey suit. "You've been shot and robbed. The doctor's got you fixed back up, but that's all we know. I'm Lt. Mark Hart, I'm a police detective assigned to your case."
"I'll be back with a pain shot, Mr. Carson." The nurse smiled as she floated out.
"Can you answer a few questions, Mr. Carson?" Hart asked kindly.
Hart reached for a nearby chair, pulling it closer to the hospital bed. He shifted his considerable bulk into the chair, and withdrew a notepad and pen from his breast pocket. He licked his thumb and turned to a blank page before looking back up at Cason and speaking.
"Tell me what you remember about that night," Hart began. "If you don't mind, can you start by telling me what you were doing in that part of town that late at night?"
"It's... it's... embarrassing..." Jeff began.
"I can understand that Mr. Carson," Hart returned kindly. "Let me help. How long have you been using drugs?"
Jeff swallowed. "I... well... just sniff a little coke occasionally. Not often."
"As I suspected," Hart answered. "The tests found nothing in your system. Nothing except that stuff they used to knock you out."
"What was that?"
"Near as the doctor can make out, it was plain old ether. I've got men checking it out. Go on, please... you were downtown to buy drugs, and...."
"This street was where I had always gone when I wanted to score. I didn't see anyone on the corner, but I knew there were always some guys selling around there. I parked my car, and got out to see if anyone would show up. I'd been there about five minutes when this car turned the corner. I thought it was one of the dealers, you know..."
"I walked toward the curb."
"Then what happened?"
"They poured out of the car and attacked me. They put a rag over my face. That's all I can remember."
"Did you recognize any of them?"
"No.. No..." Jeff said shaking his head. "They all wore ski masks."
"That was what the witness who called 911 said," Hart nodded. "You didn't recognize any voices?"
"Do I look like I know people in that neighborhood, Lt?"
"We have to ask, Mr. Carson. Just routine. We found your wallet next to you. How much money were you carrying?"
"About $400 dollars... I think... maybe a little more."
"Well, it's all gone of course. How about jewelry?"
Jeff looked down at this hands. "My Rolex watch is missing, and my college ring."
Hart scratched in his notepad.
"How bad am I hurt?" he asked?
"The doc just told me you'd be ok, and that I could talk to you when you woke up. Mr. Carson. I'm afraid you're going to have to see him as to what he did. I think that's all I need for right now!" Hart got up, and returned the chair to its' place. "I'll be in touch!"
"Shit!", Jeff cursed softly as he looked at the leg cast. "Shit."
The nurse returned with the promised pain shot with the doctor in tow.
"Glad to see you away, Mr. Carson! I'm Dr. Stevenson... I treated you in the emergency room when you came in a day ago!"
"I think I remember you," Jeff volunteered. "What happened to my leg?"
"Well, you had a really nasty gunshot there," the doctor began professionally. "I spent some amount of time picking buckshot out of the wound. They apparently fired a low-powered shotgun fairly close to you. If it had been high powered, it would have taken the leg right off at that range! The orthopedic surgeons spent about 6 hours putting your knee back together. The kneecap, femur, tabula and fibula are all broken, and it's going to take some time for it and the cartilages to heal. And there may be some residual nerve damage. We won't know until further on. That could require some more surgery later."
"I know, it's a bad break. But they were able to save your leg! That's the important thing. The rest, we'll sort out later. You should be able to go home in about a week and do most of your healing there!"
A pretty young girl appeared in the doorway, not knowing whether to come in or not. Jeff looked across the room and smiled. "Come on in, Buffy," he waved.
Buffy Yates put on her bravest smile, and crossed to Jeff's bed. "Hi, sugar," she said shyly. She looked at the tubes and plaster and cables, not knowing what else to say.
"Pretty fancy rig they have me in here, huh?"
"It's, uh, complicated," the girl answered.
"It's just to keep his leg elevated for the first few days after surgery," the doctor volunteered. "We'll have him up in no time!"
"How ya doin', Buff," Jeff asked.
"Well, when you didn't come home last night, I got worried," she opened. "And then, about midnight, when the policemen called..." She broke down crying. "I thought you'd been killed. And then when they said you were in surgery, I thought you were going to die!"
"I'm sorry, honey," he began. "Was it bad waiting?"
"Oh, I didn't wait here! I went over to Charlotte's. They called me when you were ok!"
"I see," Jeff said, a little disappointedly. "But, I shouldn't be surprised," he thought. "Compassion has never been high on Buffy's trait list!"
"Well, I just HAD to come see you," she gushed! "But now, I've got to run... I'm going to be late for my hair appointment!" She bent down to kiss him, pecked his cheek, and was gone.
Four weeks later, little had changed. Hart called a few times to ask the odd question, but it was obvious that his investigation was going nowhere. Buffy found his condition more an impediment to her life than to his. He wasn't available to take her where she wanted to go! His boss, Don, had gotten behind him, and insisted that the firm install a computer line to his apartment so he could telecommute during his recovery period, and had been a frequent visitor. Even the several hours a day he was spending on the flexor had gotten to be bearable.
The flexor had at first looked like a torture device to him. It was simply a track with a two-piece carriage on it. One strapped one's leg to the carriage, and the flexor's motor slowly bent the knee to a pre-determined angle and then straightened it out again. The orthopedic surgeon had insisted that it would speed his recovery by at least a month.
The first time he had tried it, the 45 degree flexion had burned like hell! But now, several weeks into the process, he had gotten up to almost 90 degrees, and it wasn't burning any more. Now if he could just get the damned ache above his knee to go away!
Buffy flitted in with a pizza. "Lunch!" she sang.
"Great," Jeff returned. "Bring me a couple of slices and a brew!"
"Sugar," Buffy began, "I'm sure going to be glad when you get up and around again! I was not made to be your servant!"
"I know, Buff. It's tough for me too. By the way... I need you to help me get out of this contraption. I've got a doctor's appointment this afternoon."
"Again?" she whined.
"Yes, again," he mimicked.
They ate in silence. Jeff looked at Buffy as she sat on the couch. Her cheerleader's figure and blond hair had caused him to think her first name really was a joke when they had first been introduced. But it had not been. It had simply been cosmic justice. She did, indeed, fit all of the stereotypes. Jeff wondered why he had asked her out after that first date. She had seemed like such an air-head! But something had clicked, and they had moved in together a couple of months later.
They finished the slight meal, and Jeff hobbled behind Buffy as she called for the elevator to take them to the ground floor. The traffic was light as the taxi maneuvered them to the clinic building where the multi-doctor practice that was overseeing his case was housed. As usual, there was a 45 minute wait in the reception area, followed by a 55 minute wait in an examination room. Buffy finally got too fidgety, and said she was going for a walk. About 3 minutes later, the Doctor entered.
"How are you, Mr. Carson."
"Doing OK, Doc. I'm up to 88 degrees on the flexor."
"Wonderful. You're right on schedule." He began removing the brace from Jeff's leg, and was gently feeling all around the knee area. "Any of this hurt?"
"Not much," he answered. "But it sure does ache a lot above my knee. Especially when I'm on the flexor."
"Well, some burning is to be expected," the doctor brushed off.
"Aches. Not burns."
"Well, let me take a fresh x-ray and see what we have there. Probably nothing. Leave the brace off. We'll bring the portable unit in here."
Jeff read three articles in the Reader's Digest next to the exam table while he waited for the x-ray to be developed. When the doctor came in, his whole manner was more serious than before.
"We need to get you back into the hospital for a few days, Mr. Carson," he said.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"There's some shadowing I don't like on your femur. It could be an infection. We need to get you where we can give you some antibiotics and monitor you closely for a few days."
"Is it serious?"
"It happens sometimes. But it's probably nothing we can't take care of. I'll call St. Bart's and get you admitted."
Im the taxi, Buffy seemed despondent. "How long will you be in the hospital, Jeffie?"
"Just a few days, the doctor told me. Just long enough to cure some sort of infection."
"This is such a bummer!"
"I know, honey. I know."
It was three days later when Lt. Mark Hart drifted back into Jeff's hospital room.
"I thought I'd share some good news with you, Mr. Carson," he beamed.
"Hi Lt! What's that?"
"We caught the guys who mugged you!"
Jeff's look was blank for a moment. Almost like he didn't know whether to smile or be afraid. "How... where???" he asked.
"I'd like to say that it was brilliant police work. It was a good snitch I use from time to time." The Lt. Grinned again. "He just happened to have heard a couple of guys talking about robbing a rich white guy and shooting him when he resisted. I found the gun, and this."
The Lt. Held up a gold Rolex watch by the band.
Jeff smiled. "Yes. That's mine. It ought to have my initials on the back of the case!"
"RJC would be you?"
"Well, I can't let you have it yet. It's the evidence we'll need to convict the bastards. They claim they know nothing about it, but this'll tie them to the scene."
"I don't know what to say, Lt. Thank you."
"Just doin' my job. How's the leg, son?"
"Some kind of infection. The doctor doesn't do a damn thing except grunt when he comes in here. I don't know what his problem is."
"Well, you get well soon. I'll try to get the watch to you as soon as the case goes to trial."
Hart and the Doctor passed each other in the doorway.
"We need to speak, Mr. Carson," the doctor began.
"Mr. Carson, I told you that we had verified that an infection had set up in the long bone above your knee."
"Yes. That's why you're giving me all this stuff through the tubes. What about it?"
"The infection appears to be resistant to the drugs we are using. Your fever is beginning to rise, and today's x-rays show the infection is spreading further up the bone."
Jeff shrugged. "What does that mean?"
"It means, Mr. Carson, that if I cannot get control of that infection in the next 24 hours I'll need to fight it another way."
"How is that?"
"Mr. Carson, the leg will have to come off. It will be the only way to save your life."
Jeff looked at the doctor. His expression showing nothing.
"I'm going to send a nurse in with the paperwork in a few minutes. I want to get your permission for the possible amputation now, before your fever causes any delirium. Please believe me, I would not be suggesting this course of action were there another way."
"I quite understand," Jeff said flatly.
"We are going to try one last drug tonight," the doctor began.
"Just do what you have to do," Jeff told him without emotion. "Now, please leave."
It was about noon the next day when Jeff got the news that the leg was to be removed. He went to surgery, saying little, and awakened back in his room about 2:30 the following morning. He wiped the sleep from his eyes, and shook his head to clear it. Where was he? Oh, yes. The hospital again.
He looked down at the bed sheets. His right foot created a tent at the end of the bed. The sheet seemed to first bulge and then fall away above the knee on the left side.
"I remember. It's gone," he thought calmly.
He pressed the nurse call. A starched young woman came to the door.
"Yes, Mr. Carson?"
"I'm hungry, nurse. Can you get me something to eat?"
"I'll see if I can't get you an ice cream bar. Would that be ok?"
"Fine.. .fine..." Jeff said a little weakly.
The nurse left, and Jeff gingerly pulled back the bed covers. The bandages around his left thigh were tight. They were not as large and bulky as he would have expected. And there was a tube running out of the mummy wrap of gauze that showed some blood.
The nurse returned.
"You shouldn't be trying to get up yet, Mr. Carson! It's too soon! The doctor will have my head!"
"Yes, and he'll get it!" Jeff said. "Look what he did to my leg!"
He laughed. The nurse shivered at his gallows humor, and made a note on his chart that he appeared very bitter about his loss. And then she left.
Summer had turned to fall by the time Jeff had healed and spent enough time in rehabilitation to learn to use his new leg. The simple "wooden leg" that he had started on was being replaced today by a much more sophisticated model. The prosthesist had assured him that he could walk without a trace of limp with it. Jeff had, however, refused the cosmoses. The technician had almost insisted on a flesh like covering, but Jeff had opted to leave the shiny black finish of the pylon in view. As he drove from the limb maker's clinic, he smiled, and looked down at the robot-like appendage as it protruded from his Bermuda shorts. Yes, it should serve him well.
The fact that Buffy had been gone from the apartment when he had finally returned home did not surprise him in the least. Don had known she had taken up stakes and disappeared the second day after Jeff's surgery, but had never mentioned it. Jeff had never asked him about her. He had simply made sure that the rent on Jeff's digs was paid, and that it was ready for him when he returned. Don was more than a boss. He was a friend, it turned out.
Jeff turned his car down that dirty street where all of this had began 6 months earlier. It was interesting... this "returning to the scene of the crime." It would have spooked most men, but for Jeff, it was more on the order of closure.
A familiar face; one marked by gold teeth, dark flesh and heavy golden chains flashed a smile at him from a street corner. Jeff pulled the car over, and got out.
"Hi, Rhumba," he smiled at the Jamaican.
"Well, look at you! Ain't you de MAN on dat metal monster!"
"You like it?" Jeff asked with a grin.
"It be tha shit, my man! I mean, look at it! You finally got a part a you that be black as a brother!"
"Speaking of the brothers, did the guys get caught? I got my watch back. That cop said he got 'em!"
"Naw, man. That wuz some guys we been tryin' to move on out. Shan planted de gun and de watch in they crib! Then I jus' call de cops and it were over in a flash!"
"Good. I was worried about that."
"I still say you a crazy man."
"Yeah, probably. But you guys worked it like a charm. Nobody knew. Nobody questioned a thing. Not even the insurance company. But if anyone ever comes to you again with something like this, use a bigger gun. If I hadn't gotten a bone infection, this whole deal would have been for nothing, and all I'd have would be a stiff knee."
"Anytime," Rhumba smiled. "Anytime a man got a thousand dollars for me to shoot his leg off, I be glad ta do da job. You just give 'em my name!"