Winter, Part Five
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
Kim watched from the passenger seat of Sheriff MacIntyre's Crown Victoria as the white-gloved attendants of Caedmon Memorial shepherded family and well-wishers out the door.
"I don't know if this is such a good idea. We should've come earlier." She chewed anxiously at her thumbnail.
"Liked the coffee, didn't you?"
"Yes, but ..."
"Mission of mercy's useless on an empty stomach," Stephanie grunted, "Keep your own strength up, then worry about other folks. Way it's always been."
"I just think we've done enough for the day, donít you? I mean, the shelter took almost all of the bread and most of the cookies. We could've stayed at dinner even longer if you enjoyed the coffee so much, and in that case we wouldn't need to worry about disturbing their rest here."
"Anyone resting in a hospital's more than half gone."
She shrugged, unbuckling her seat belt. "If you're awake, you're fighting. If you're fighting you're alive."
Kim shook her head. "Let's just call it a day."
"Can't. Bread's good but I can't finish it on my own. Sharing time."
"It's closing time," Kim said, pitching her voice low. "we're just going to get in their way."
"Last one, promise. Home after this." Stephanie slammed the door. "Get the baskets."
"I can't believe you just brush past them like that!"
"They know me. It's fine."
"But they're closed, Stephanie, we shouldn't be here."
From the tall paned windows at the end of the hall, Stephanie gauged the orange and salmon sunset, then turned and took Kim's shoulder. "Fifteen minutes and our civic duty's done. You're making people happy."
They turned the corner into a side room, then stopped. Another visitor had overstayed his time, unnoticed or accepted by the hospital staff, blinking behind round-rimmed glasses as he turned a long face toward them.
"Ms. Soon, Ms. MacIntyre," Cary nodded. "How good of you to come."
Stephanie frowned, stepping in front of Kim. "Visiting hours are over."
"Which makes both of us a little curious, doesn't it?" His nose crinkled with a smile. "Do you know John here?"
Stephanie nodded slowly, her copper curls bobbing against the back of her neck. "Yeah."
"I imagined you might. He hasn't always been the best behaved fellow in the world."
"But there's always better, aren't there? Ms. Soon, did you know him?"
Kim shook her head, suddenly bashful. The strain of leaving the house had been magnified by Stephanie's uncharacteristic lingering over their meal was starting to tell, and Cary's smile suggested she shouldn't know the man on the bed, even if she had.
His long, lank hair was spread like a halo across the tiny pillow, making him look like a peaceful martyr. In his unconsciousness, Bacchus was beatific, a saint who had finally escaped the earthly suffering forced upon him by unruly life. Two vases of flowers stood on the nightstand along with a few cards.
"Whiskey," snorted Stephanie.
"I smell whiskey in here. You sneak any in?"
"No, no." Cary looked fondly at his friend. "I'm afraid he still smells that way from time to time. Sweating out a few bad years, you know. It's actually a relief, knowing that he's getting real fluid through the IV."
"You're still here past hours."
"You're still in the same boat. Unofficially."
The two faced off, Cary smiling and seated, Stephanie glowering in front of Kim. Finally, she broke the silence. "You know him. Was he drunk when he crashed?"
"I imagine so, yes. I also know for a fact that he wasn't the one driving. John hates cars and everything about them. Duncan Wane is the fellow you want ..."
"Talked to Wane already."
"Then why are you questioning me?"
She couldn't answer. Something about him still bothered her in a way few others did, made her want to lash out and test him. She couldn't ever put her finger on just who Mr. Schilling might have been in the days before their mortal dream, or if he knew who and what he and his friends possessed. He was too much like Corbin - another trickster - but without the elaborately constructed lies that were her partner's stock in trade.
He'd know, she thought, and scowled. Just by looking at him, he'd probably know.
Schilling was polite but provocative, putting her on guard. "You're here late," she said, "with a disturber of the peace. That's why."
Schilling put a hand to his mouth and laughed, a strangely feminine gesture she was sure was designed to get a rise out of her. "A disturber of the peace? Officer MacIntyre; he's got nothing but peace at the moment."
"Get out," she said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. "I'm tired of this."
"Naturally," said Cary smoothly, "a pleasure to see you both."
With that, he leaned over the prone figure and kissed him tenderly on the cheek before straightening, nose crinkling once more in his slight smile. "Do be sure he doesn't disturb anyone. I'd hate to think that he hasn't learned his lesson. Ms. Soon," he nodded, and walked out the door.
"What was that all about?" Kim took Stephanie's elbow. "I thought we were just dropping off some cookies!"
"I don't stop working for cookies. Johnny here ..." she paused. "He's a troublemaker, or he was. His boyfriend's news to me. I don't like it."
"We've seen him before, haven't we?"
"Yeah. Works at Del Norte, that's why I don't eat there any more."
Kim blinked twice, her eyes going wide. "You don't know him at all, really. Why does he make you so angry?"
"Reminds me of someone," Stephanie grunted.
"I don't know if I'll ever understand you."
"Don't have to. Come on, Johnny's not eating cookies tonight." She brushed past Kim and out the door, leaving her friend to look thoughtfully at the schoolteacher's prone form. Pursing her lips, she took a small packet from her purse and laid them on the bedside table.
"If you don't want them," she whispered, "maybe your friends will. Sweet dreams."
With that she left the room, dimming the lights as she moved into the corridor.
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2010