Red Herrings Can't Swim - Hard-Boiled Mystery
Imagine, if you will, an all-but washed-up private detective chasing a pharmacy technician down a hallway of the Chicago-Loop Memorial Hospital as fast as either of us could run. He was wearing a white lab coat and a look of panic. I was bare-assed for all the world to see. Yeah, I'm the private dick. And, okay, truth be told, I was not completely nude. I was wearing one of those flimsy cotton gowns, pastel blue with an aesthetically pleasing print of tiny tigers, tied in a bow at the back of the neck with a split all the way down and my butt hanging out, running like hell after him. Yeah, we were a sight.
Like I said, I'm a detective. Call it a personality flaw, but I have a hard time minding my own business. Because of that I was wandering the hospital. And because of that, I found the hospital employee in a partially tiled, partially plumbed bathroom on the 'Closed for Renovations' tenth floor, with his sleeve hoisted and a rubber band tied round his bicep, shooting up with narcotics.
He'd just finished giving himself the joy juice when I stuck my head in the room and asked, “Is that in your job description?” He yanked the needle out painting the wall with a spurt of blood. Then, waving the syringe like a modern-day musketeer, came at me in the doorway.
I tripped over my own feet backing up. He did a rabbit over top of me and the chase was on. It continued down the north stairwell, out and across the eighth floor, where ten minutes earlier I'd seen him swipe the drug from a hospital crash cart. There was one on every patient floor in case of cardiac arrest or other emergencies. We continued into the south stairs, down and out again onto seven, past room 708, my temporary residence. No, I was not officially working. I was a patient. But, like I said, a nosy patient. Where were we? Yeah, headed back to the north stairwell. He grabbed the knob on the fire door to the stairs at the same time I tackled him. That was a mistake.
It was also when the fun really started. The pair of us went through the door, onto the floor, and down that flight of stairs like crap through a goose. We bounced off the steps and each other for half the distance and, if you know anything about me at all, sisters and brothers, you will not be surprised to hear I smacked my head along the way. He screamed, I screamed, and the universe had a laugh at our expense. Somehow, halfway down, I wound up on top and rode him to the landing like a five-year-old riding the sidewalk quarter pony outside of the local Venture.
So there I was, a has-been private eye in my nightie, sitting on top of a hopped-up pharmacy tech on a stairwell landing in a major Chicago hospital. He was screaming, calling me names at the top of his lungs, and struggling with muscles fueled by a high-octane mixture of adrenaline and a yet-to-be-determined stimulant. I was wondering if the situation could be any more ridiculous.
I'll never learn. Because that's when he burst through the sixth floor fire door, shouting, “What's goin' on here?”
By he, of course, I mean Detective Lieutenant Frank Wenders of the Chicago Police Department, a living and breathing reason for taxpayer outrage. A couple of years short of retirement, but expired and rotten nevertheless, Wenders gave policing a bad name and, assuming there was life on other planets, wasn't doing the universal opinion of man a favor either. My questions just then included: Where did he come from? And what was the tub of lard doing there on the hospital stairs?
“Blake!” he yelled. “What the hell?” The echo repeated his question up and down the stairwell.
I should probably point out that he was yelling at me. My name is Nod Blake, former cop and current decrepit detective. Everyone who knows me knows I go by 'Blake' alone. With a first name like that, who wouldn't? It was a curse cast on me by evil parents. The old man got his ages ago. My mother, on the other hand, looks both ways before she crosses the street. One day I'll have my revenge. But I digress. Wenders was demanding information.
“I'm making a citizen's arrest,” I told him. “What about you? Homicide has nothing better to do?”
“Homicide has all kinds of better things to do, wise guy,” Wenders barked. “Mason started bawlin' his ass off in the Squad Room, so I brought him in.”
I'd had a feeling something was missing and that was it; his ever-present partner, Detective Dave Mason, wasn't present. So rare was it for one to be seen without the other that Wenders looked like a shark without his parasite feeder. Together the pair were a sore on my backside that wouldn't heal. Anyway, the lieutenant was still explaining, “They're doin' an emergency surgery. Gonna remove Mason's appendix.”
I made a few comments that occurred to me.
“Yeah, yeah,” Wenders said. “Like usual, Blake, you're talkin' but not sayin' anything.”
“What would you like me to say?”
“Nothing. I'd like 'em to do surgery on you; remove your voice box. But then you'd just become a pest in sign language.”
To show he was right, I offered him the one hand gesture I knew.
He ignored it and went on. “Since you still got your voice, and under the circumstances, I need a few details as to why you're in a hospital stairwell rubbin' your balls on a doctor? I'm Homicide, and I'm not convinced you're murderin' the guy, but it looks a little crime-ish around the edges. Not to mention weird. Want to fill me in? – You shut up a minute!”
That last wasn't for me; it was for the hospital employee beneath me. I forgot to mention, during my short conversation with Wenders, the lab tech had been screaming like a trapped animal the whole time.
“He isn't a doctor,” I explained to the curious lieutenant. “He's a pharmacy technician.”
Wenders shook his head in mock sadness. “And your mother wanted you to marry a doctor.”
“Could you leave my mother out of this?”