(Read the rest of this series here.)
My hospital stay lasts three days. I regain consciousness somewhere in the middle of the second. Through the slits in the bandages that cover my face I can see the drab furnishings of my curtained-off section of the room. A vase of flowers, multicolored, sits on the bedside table. Beneath them is a box of Hillshire Farm mixed meats and cheeses. A get-well gift, I assume. I appreciate the sentiment almost as much as the raccoons will appreciate digging the over-processed sausage out of the trash in the near future.
Aside from the nurse, my first visitor comes mere minutes after I awaken. An officer of the law, suited up in full uniform. He is a broad shouldered man, with a skinnier frame than one would would expect to follow.
He is here to determine the nature of my violent injuries, no doubt. But I cannot tell him what happened. That would compromise my blossoming fight club. Instead I shall endeavor to stretch the truth, to use my intellect to guide his conclusion toward a circumstance of my choosing.
Before he can even utter a word I say, “I fell down a flight of stairs.”
The officer stares at me. His name tag reads Porter. He pulls a notepad from his breast pocket and jots down a single word.
He says, “Stairs, eh?”
I shrug. “Strange is it not? As I fell I landed only on my face, skipping down multiple steps with my legs straight in the air. Occasionally my balance would shift and I would flip completely over and land right back on my face. Should have taken the elevator. Far less improbable physics in one of those.”
I smile to myself. I am pulling this off with admirable finesse. It is actually fortunate that there are bandages covering my face. This way Officer Porter cannot detect any microexpressions on my features that may indicate I am lying.
“Sir,” he says, “Mr. Harrington, is that right?”
I nod. The pen scribbles across the pad.
“Was there anyone else connected to this incident? Did, perhaps, someone shove you down the stairs?”
He is being diplomatic. Trying to avoid calling me out directly. But I have to stick to my guns.
“I was all alone,” I say. “That staircase just came out of nowhere.”
“And where is this staircase, Mr. Harrington?”
“Uh, my house.”
“Your dwelling is a single-floor structure, Mr. Harrington. I looked into it before I came here.”
I pause. “Oh. Yeah, well we’re adding another floor. Just getting started. The staircase is the first thing we added.”
“Right. And you got the proper permits for that modification, of course?”
“Do you think it is possible, Sir, that you fell down your flight of stairs, tumbled across the street to your neighbor Greg Sanders’ house, crashed through his front door and down into his basement? Because that is where you were discovered when officers and medical personnel responded to Mr. Sanders’ emergency call.”
I stroke the gauze covering my chin. “You know, now that I think of it, I must have just fallen down Greg’s basement stairs. I seem to have gotten it all mixed up, owing to my multiple cranial injuries, I’m sure.”
At this point I can feel the beads of sweat emerging from my skin and soaking into the gauze. From Officer Porter’s point of view there must be a variety of dark damp spots visible across my face.
He says, “Can you remember any of the people present during the time before your fall?”
“I didn’t know any of the people there. Aside from Greg, that is. He must have been hosting a model train party or something along those lines. It’s all just so hazy.”
“According to his statement, Mr. Sanders’ claims that you approached him to host a book club meeting in his basement. Does this sound familiar?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I mentioned it in passing.”
“Mr. Sanders claims that he agreed to host this meeting, inaugurated yesterday, at which you brought two other men with you. There was one Joaquin Gabriel, whom Mr. Sanders said was your co-worker. The second man he knew only as Rugo, though we could find no one in our database with that name. A nickname, perhaps?”
“Never heard of either of them. I refuse to fraternize at work. It is bad for my morale.”
“So this Rugo, then. You have no idea who he is, even though Mr. Sanders has stated that he watched as the man ‘pummeled Gus into the ground, as easy as punching a baby?’ Even though officers saw a man fitting the description of Rugo fleeing the very house where they recovered your unconscious body?”
I find that I can say nothing. Officer Porter is a modern Sherlock. No, more than that! He is not human at all. He is a force of nature, a hurricane of deductive reasoning. He blows toward me with such fury that I can feel the structure of my deception being ripped away from its foundation. I am no match for him.
I roll my head about dramatically. “I’m sorry, officer, but I must be fading. The corners of my vision grow darker and darker. I fear I am slipping back into my coma.”
He moves closer. “Sir, are you currently afraid for your safety? Did someone close to you do this? Perhaps a friend or loved one? I know you might be scared to tell me, but we can help.”
About all I can do now is steer this ship as far off course as possible.
I balk. “Did what? Are you asking me if I’m in some kind of abusive relationship? Because I most certainly am not. My wife and I share an incredibly pleasant union in which we harbor no animosity, ill will or secrets because- oh my God, I forgot to tell my wife.”
I clamp my lips shut. Officer Porter narrows his eyes. “Forgot to tell her what, sir?”
Dear Lord. Tabitha. I forgot to tell her about my fight club. I have not been hiding it from her on purpose, I simply forgot to clue her in. Back when I was making all the preparations for this pugilistic endeavor I had been so focused on the logistics that I neglected to even mention it. Now that I have my entire head wrapped in bandages I see that may have been a mistake.
Officer Porter is still staring at me, waiting for an answer.
“I love her,” I say. “I forgot to tell my wife that I love her. We don’t say it often enough, really, and you never know when a rogue stairwell is going to fling itself at you and jeopardize your chance of ever seeing your beloved again.”
“Well,” he says, folding the notebook and placing it back in his pocket at last. “I can see I’m not getting much more out of you right now. I’ll let you speak with your wife. She’ll be pleased to know you’re awake. She stepped outside for just a moment, but now that you’re awake I’ll be sure to let her know. I’ll wander back in here a while later. See if your memory hasn’t improved somewhat. Keep in touch, Mr. Harrington.”
He gives me a sort of nod mixed with a glare and leaves the room.
“Right,” I croak. My bandages are soaked now. “Thank you, officer.”
The door is only closed for a moment before it crashes back open. Then she rushes into the room. My wife. Tabitha.
My bruised throat contracts as I gulp. Now I am really in trouble.
Read the rest of this series here.