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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 7


Richard's office was a long, rectangular room with high wooden rafters. Its Spartan furnishings consisted of a desk, a filing cabinet, a green plastic couch, animal-rights posters on the walls, and a rubber tree. At the base of the tree Chas was kneeling over Richard, on his back in a pool of blood. Richard's face was riddled with small scarlet spots, his white shirt soaked in red.

I felt my heart in my chest as if it had just started pumping the moment before.

The wall behind Richard was splintered around knee-high, and blood was splattered over the words on the poster: "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. This is the way of a whole human being--Abraham Lincoln."

Dudley ran in. "Oh God! I'll call an ambulance!"

I sank to my knees beside Richard and put my ear to his face. He was breathing. At that moment, it was enough.

Each breath he took seemed as if it might be his last, but after a grueling pause there would be another. Scarcely breathing myself, I pressed his shirt against his stomach, trying to stop the blood. He felt cold to the touch. Nausea rose in my throat and I swallowed hard to push it back down. My knees were wet with blood. Chas was motionless, tears pouring from his eyes.

I used a cushion from the couch to raise Richard's hips; the bleeding slowed. I pulled the cover from the couch and spread it over him. I didn't know what else to do.

Somewhere a siren wailed. Like a wolf answering a mating call, another joined in. Ann knelt beside us and took Richard's hand. I struggled to my feet and went outside.

An ambulance slid to a halt in front of the Lobster and three paramedics jumped out. I led them to the office, then went back outside when I heard more sirens. Three patrol cars careened up, their lights casting electric red ribbons on the snowy pavement and across the faces of the gathering gawkers.

Two officers cordoned off the sidewalk, one stayed to hold back the expanding crowd, others swarmed the area, digging around, flashlights slicing into the darkness around the building. Police radios buzzed and chattered in the background.

As the crowd pushed forward, I retreated to the spot where I'd tackled Granite. Although he was gone, hiding deep in my mind was a clue to his identity.

The paramedics carried Richard on a stretcher into the ambulance. I saw his face, eyes closed. I tried to find words to express my feelings and settled for the most primitive.

"Noooo!"

Ann came over and put her arms around me. She looked up at me. Her eyes were shimmering with unspilled tears.

"He never hurt a fly," I said. I even watched him help one once.

* * *

I dropped the rest of the band at the hospital's emergency-room entrance, parked, and told Hoover to stay in the van. He knew every nuance of my voice and backed away from the door immediately.

Above the reception desk, metallic letters said "Paul Revere County Hospital." Thirty miles from home, this was where my father had begun his one-way trip to the final mystery beyond the grave.

The receptionist looked at me, "My goodness, those are dreadful bruises on your face. Come here."

I obeyed. Then I told her what I wanted and she directed me to the third floor.

The familiar brain-numbing smell of hospital disinfectant pervaded the waiting room. Bill and Ann stood rigidly against the far wall. Dudley was slumped in a chair.

"How is he?" I asked. Ann's freckled face, remarkably rich and intriguing, remained blank. I asked again, more softly. Her eyes sideswiped me. It wasn't the answer I wanted.

Twenty minutes later three policemen arrived and separated us. My cop led me to an empty room and took off his jacket. His arms were a lot bigger than Hulk Hogan's but without any muscle tone whatsoever--they might not have even had bones. He pulled out a notebook and asked me what I knew. I told him about Granite, and the death threat that Bill had overheard.

The cop feverishly scribbled notes and circled the words death threat. "That makes sense. I know people in Cavalry who hate Fluke even being here."

Our mere presence? It made me feel like a cat turd at a dog show.

"You're trying to cripple our town's biggest industry. You don't have a family to support, do you?"

"Aren't you glad?"

"Don't get smart with me."

That'd be a waste of time. I looked at my shoes before he could call for thumbscrews.

"Did you argue with Mr. Tipton, maybe over your percentage of the gate?" His eyes widened in accusation.

I met his eyes without flinching, but was too startled to respond.

"No need to answer. Fluke is somewhere near the center of this crime and we intend to solve it."

As he grilled me, rephrasing the same questions, I started getting one of those dull headaches like the ones that squeeze behind my eyes whenever I think of my ex-wife. My answers didn't change, and he closed his notepad and left.

When I got back to the waiting room the others were already there, their interviews over.

"They tell you anything?" Ann asked me.

"Only that they've narrowed down the suspects to anyone in Fluke."

"I got the same spiel. It's typical. In law school my boyfriend studied cases like this." This was Ann talking. It was so rare she spoke of her past that Bill and Dudley looked twice to make sure of where the sound was coming from. "When a town wants a lynching, sometimes the law gets stretched before a neck does."

An intern rushed past. I suddenly stopped worrying about anything but Richard. I plopped down next to Bill and quietly waited.

Around four a.m., a surgeon in a blue gown came out of the OR and pulled off his mask and cap. We huddled around him.

"Mr. Tipton is alive and stable. We've removed the shotgun pellets, sutured up the damage, and put him on IV antibiotics. He has a concussion from falling, but I didn't see a fracture. But the loss of blood, and the shock from the shooting has left him in a coma."

Ann started crying. I felt the poisonous losses of the past working their way through my bloodstream.

"What are the odds he'll come out of it?" Bill asked.

"Good. Sometimes a coma is the body's way of conserving energy to facilitate healing."

"Any permanent damage?" Bill asked.

"We won't know until he comes out of the coma. Go home and get some sleep. You look exhausted. I don't need any more patients."

Hatful of Pain    Chapter 8

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