Crook Takes Pawn Part 13

The next morning, Greg took special care to groom himself. He had neglected his appearance for too long. In retrospect, he should've tidied himself up before the news crew interviewed him. But that was spontaneous, and there was no way he could've anticipated their arrival. His face was covered with an unkempt mess of scraggly beard. He first had to trim the wild facial hair with an electric clipper before he would even attempt a lathered shave.
As the beard came off, Greg had an inkling of how bad he looked. There were dark valleys of color underneath his eyes, from stress and lack of sleep. To his disappointment, Greg could see entire swirls of fresh gray in his rapidly thinning hair. It was bad enough going bald, but now he was graying out, too?  His acute green eyes looked perpetually bloodshot, even when he wan't smoking weed. IT was perhaps another symptom of lack of sleep. Greg did indeed feel exhausted at every waking hour. He dreaded going to bed, afraid of the lingering thoughts of despair he would surely have.
One night, he was unable to catch his breath. He had shot up to a sitting position in bed, wheezing and hyperventilating. He was deep in a particularly disturbing dream when his panic had set in, closing off his airway in a vice-like grip.
He spent the rest of the night browsing the internet on one of his stone-age computers. It was actually a laptop, and had decent features for that model, back in the day. For one, it had a wireless internet connection. Greg had discovered one of his nearby neighbors had an unsecured wireless signal. Greg would periodically go online to check his email, but that was about the extent he used the internet.
On that night, however, Greg had intently perused the web, first looking up the symptoms of a panic attack. It assuaged his worries to diagnose his sudden bout of breathlessness. He still could not gather himself to trudge back to bed to attempt another shot at sleep.
    Greg stared at the mass of clotted hair and curly beard that lay in his sink. The water drained slowly, as all the hair converged at a single point, lessening the drainage.  He stared fixedly on the haphazard clumps of human hair and shaving foam coating the sides of the sink. In the span of a half a minute, Greg heard the familiar sucking sound as the last of the water finally exited down the fixture. He was circling the abyss, also. Even now, Greg felt himself pulled toward the dark recesses of oblivion and catastrophe.
    Everything seemed overwhelming. Even simple tasks, like cleaning the hair from the sink seemed like monumental undertakings. Greg was slumping into a deep depression. He had concluded this when he was watching one of those lame anti-depression crazy pills. It showed some weird cartoon of what looked like a cartoon kitten, as the narrator went through an elaborate description of symptoms of sadness. Greg mentally checked off each of the characteristics of long term depression. The final pronouncement talked about being sad for longer than a period of two weeks. Greg decided he qualified for this syndrome, without the analysis from a doctor, something he could sorely afford.
    Greg sighed deeply, closed his weary eyes and leaned his head against the glass of his medicine cabinet. "God," Greg heard himself whisper under his breath,"I'm not too familiar with how you operate, but if you couldJustease me through this dark time, I would really appreciate it."
    It was a shabby prayer at best, but he was not a word smith. He figured he shouldn't ask for some miracle, those rarely came, and he didn't want to raise his expectations. Failure was in his sights, there was no denying that. It was foolish to believe he would come out of this unscathed, but all that he asked was to be put down gently at the end, instead of being dropped on his ass. He figured it was worth asking.
With another despairing sigh, Greg stood straight once more, and began cleaning the sink of hair.

    Greg had laid out his finest ensemble of clothes. He even opted to wear an undershirt beneath the pinstriped black dress shirt he wore. Greg meant to pay respect to the man that helped save his life. As he tugged on his tan chino pants, Greg ran through those pivotal moments at the store again. He could still see the infuriated look on Roberts face as he crashed his fists against Jessie's wrist. Robert was one tough mother fucker, there was no denying it. Robert had gone toe-to-toe with the most dangerous and vile human being either of them had ever seen.vRobert did so without hesitation, and went even further to strike and punch Jessie in an effort to disarm him. For his effort, Robert had taken a bullet to his chest. Greg's mind was stuck on replay, like a damaged VCR. He kept seeing the spray of blood coming from Robert's mouth, like some strange red breath, over and over again.
    Before Greg became aware of it, he felt vomit coming up in the back of his mouth. Tearing into his nearby guest bathroom, Greg slid to his knees and emptied the contents of his breakfast into the porcelain bowl. He ralphed only once, but it showed how uneasy he still felt about what happened. Greg sat with his eyes closed, spitting weakly into the toilet water. He took several deep inhales of cold air. At once, he caught whiff of his own sour puke and slammed the lid shut to avoid another upchuck. with an unsteady hand, Greg flushed the handle, and propped himself up on the sink.
Way to go, tough guyYou lost your lunch, Gregs subconscious said, trashing himself.
Greg turned on the faucet and splashed cold water onto his face. It felt refreshing, and cleared his agonized mind. Greg did a spot check, looking for any vomit that might've splashed onto his good clothes, and found none.
    For the second time that morning, Greg brushed his teeth, to remove the bitter acidy flavor from his teeth and tongue. Absent-mindedly, Greg patted his face with a hand towel, and quickly trotted down his stairs. He had to get out of here. He felt like the walls were closing in. There were too many reminders of the shootout, wherever he looked.
Yesterday, in an attempt to be proactive, Greg had removed the crumbled display of christmas tapes and fake cotton snow. When Greg had cleared both the cardboard cutout and cotton, he discovered a thick red puddle of blood soaked into the carpet. He had felt a queasy sensation in his stomach looking at the remnants of Jessie's crimson stain. Greg had briefly contemplated renting a Steamer cleaner to clean the carpet, but his resolve quickly died away. Perhaps it was the sight of the blood stain that had initially unsettled Greg's stomach. In any case, it was too much. Greg had to get outside, get some fresh air, and visit his injured friend Robert.
    Greg went to the park early. Donny said to meet up with him at 11am, and it was only 9:30. Greg had not intended to meet him so early, but he couldn't stay in that cramped store another minute. the weather was decent, for a January morning anyway. The wind was still, and the sun was shining, warming the area to a pleasant degree. there was still snow on the ground, but it didn't look like it was going to last. The ground was not yet cold enough to accumulate much snowfall. Still, Greg reckoned the temperature dropped substantially once the sun set. Greg supposed he took it for granted that he always had a place to stay once in turned to dusk. the thought never really occurred to him that at any given moment, there were people outside at all hours of the day. Donny was a reminder that there were indeed those less fortunate out there.
Greg crunched through the snow without the aid of his crutch. His walking stride had almost returned to normal, and the pain seemed to fade more each day. He still took his daily dose of Oxy, but knew that he could stop that soon. The weed Donny had sold him also helped to abate his discomfort. It was a good quality product, and Greg was glad to have any source of distraction he could find.
Nearing the center of the park, Greg spied the gazebo. It was a wood affair, with concrete steps leading up to the center circle.  A light coating of snow lined the edges of the shingled roof. Greg clomped up the steps, sweeping snow aside as he made his way to the far outside railing. There was a picnic table slightly askew near the center, which he sat on. Gregs eyes scoured the gazebo, looking for the outlet which Donny spoke of. It was located near the middle of one of the intervals of spacing between the railing. Greg saw a black electric cord firmly plugged into the socket. Greg traced the path of the cord. It went down the side of the railing, near a border of shrubbery that lined the outside circumference of the gazebo. Greg jumped down to the ground below, wincing at the sudden pain which shot through his ass bone. Greg could hear the tiny motor of the space heater. Kneeling down, Greg knocked on one section of the lattice. he could hear a startled murmuring, which could only be Donny awakening.
"Who is it?" Donny asked with a sleep-choked voice.
"Sherrif's department" Greg said, disguising his voice slightly.
There was a pause, then a flurry of movement as Donny unzipped his sleeping bag. There is a rattle of wood as the wood lattice was pushed aside, and Donny's bewildered head emerged.
"Jesus Fucking Christ" Donny says in a nervous, fluttery voice.
"C'mon" Greg says motioning with his head, "Lets go".

    The hospital was  a flurry of activity. Donny and Greg had to weave through a barrage of people and patients to get to the front desk. After a brief dialogue with the admitting nurse, Greg was pointed to the Level 1 ICU. It seemed Robert was in worse shape than Greg originally thought. He was told there were 3 levels of the Intensive care unit, with level 1 housing the worst cases, like burns, and end stage diseases.
Gregs nerves got worse and worse as they walked through the various colored hallways. Green was Level 3, then Red, then Blue as the final stop. There was a painted yellow line that told them the direction they were going, with swatches and numbers on the walls indicating their current position.
When reaching the Blue area, Greg's throat felt like it had shrunk to half its size. He knew it to be the right thing to do, but suddenly visiting Robert seemed more difficult than he had originally intended. Upon finding the correct room, number 415, Greg slowly knocked.
"Come in" a cheery voice ushered from inside.
A kindly looking nurse was busy fluffing Roberts pillow. A thermometer was protruding from Robert's mouth like a toothbrush. After a short beep, the nurse removed the thermometer and checked the digital readout.
"Come sit down, if you like" the woman states pleasantly,"Robert, you have some visitors"
Greg looks into the face of his fallen friend. For a moment, Greg expects Robert to move or open his eyes, but he is still.
"Is heCan he--" Greg searches for the right way to ask.
"He's currently been unconscious since the accident," the nurse says, "We take great pains to talk to him, saying his name and things like that. We encourage you to speak to him directly as well, in the hopes that it might snap him out of his current condition."
Gregs mouth feels dry and arid. He numbly sits beside Robert, grasping a small box.
"II got you this heart monitor thing" Greg says, holding the plastic case out to Robert, "It's a combination odometer, which can tell you how far you jog."
  Greg feels foolish, speaking to a man who may never walk again, much less jog. Greg finds his eyes affixed to the heart monitor, which is shaped like a wrist watch. It was yet another item Greg snatched from the walls of his own shop. It somehow made Greg feel cheap to be giving Robert an unpopular item from his own supplies. He assumed it to be a proper gift, seeing as how Robert was an avid runner. Greg studies the fake digital numbers that are part of the display case. Greg suddenly finds it very hard to look at Robert. Acknowledging Robert means the he must also acknowledge his own mortality, and the fact this man might not make it.
    At this point, it was clear that Greg was a big softie. On the outside, Greg brandished a countenance of brash swagger and confidence. But the outside facade was crumbling, exposing the big-hearted man that Greg actually was. Having such an open capacity to love could backfire sometimes. Greg felt as though his own heart was battering itself to oblivion. Greg felt himself reeling from a complex combination of feelings. He felt guilt for having involved Robert in his foolish renegade quest. Greg also felt indebted to this man at the same time, for deflecting the shot that may have ended Greg's life. Sorrow also reared its ugly head, combining those inclinations into a mixture of heartache and pain. As Greg finally steeled himself to look into Robert's face, he felt the sadness pour forth from inside.
    Robert was deathly pale. His large, oversized glasses lay folded on the desk beside him. Roberts hands were crossed along his stomach, over the blue polka dotted hospital gown he had draped on himself. Greg saw the IV tube plunged into the fork of vein from Robert's wrist.  Roberts short brown hair seemed neatly combed, and parted, and his chest rose and fell in time to the breathing apparatus. The sound of the respirator was mechanical and unnerving. Hiss, swoop, hiss, swoopThe breathing rate of a machine, set to the pace of an injured man.  Greg tore his eyes from Robert and studied the various devices that were keeping this man alive. The rubber, accordian-shaped  device within the respirator expanded and contracted, like some strange blowfish. Greg ran his gaze across the complicated racks of machines, that were almost alien in nature. Numbers flashed, and readouts blinked in a pattern Greg could not decipher. The constant beep beep sound of the heart rate monitor threatened to drive Greg loopy. It was like some broken form of morse code, repeating too often to really make sense. the thought of that sound being a symbol of Robert's life tore Greg up inside. Greg's cheeks were soaked with tears. He ran a hand along the corners of his goatee, which was soppy from the moisture of his crying. Greg was having difficulty breathing. The sobs seemed to wedge in his diaphragm, shaking him with their bitter turmoil. He hitched a breath inwards, struggling to maintain his composure, but losing the battle. Greg's tentative grip on things seemed to be coming loose. It was too much for him. The angst and worry had climaxed to this point, and the site of Robert on his deathbed pushed Greg towards that abstract abyss again. He felt himself having another panic attack.
    All at once, Greg stood up  and turned away from Robert. Although ashamed of his actions, Greg knew he had to get away. As Donny looked on, Greg swiped the privacy curtain aside and left the room. It was hard to see. The tears blurred his vision to the point he could barely make out discernible shapes. Snot ran in two short, sticky streams on the top of his mustache. Thankfully, a restroom was nearby and Greg ducked into it, embarrassed by the looks that several people shot his way. Greg made a beeline for the sink, twisting the faucet on with a flick of his wrist. He doused his face with cold water, relishing the calming effect the sensation brought to him. A few more handfuls of cold water and Greg felt somewhat better. Once again, Greg found himself leaning forward, above the torrent of water flowing from a bathroom sink. His hands were resting on the lip on the countertop, gripping the flormica material tightly.
Greg could hear the flap of the bathroom door swing open over his shoulder, accompanied by light steps that could only be Donny.
"Are you okay?" Donny asked in a hushed voice.
"yeah," Greg said, clearing his throat, and attempting to reestablish his normal gruff voice, "I'm fine, I justI needed some air"
Greg swallowed hard and tore a sheet of paper towel free from the dispenser mounted in the wall. With a few dabs to clear his eyes, Greg then proceeded to blow his nose with a loud, honking sound from his nasal passage.
"I hate hospitals," Donny says, looking downward at the multicolored tile floor, "When I was younger, a car hit me while I was crossing the street, and fractured my femur. I spent a few weeks in the hospital."
Greg finishes blowing his nostrils, and tosses the wadded up paper into the trash. He turns off the stream of water from the faucet, creating a sudden silence in the restroom.
"I guess your femur is the hardest bone in your body, and it hurt like a bitch." Donny continues, despite the deafening silence,"They got me taking Oxy, for the pain. I got hooked after awhile."
Greg unbuttons his long sleeves, and rolls them up to his elbows as Donny continues to divulge his past.
"It wasn't so much the Oxy itself," Donny explains,"It was when they started handing out those Benzos on top of the Oxy. Itintensified the high, and after a few weeks, that's all I had on my mind anymore."
Greg stands with his back to Donny, with his hands on his hefty hips.
"You can go into withdrawal from Oxy, just like herion," Donny says sadly, "When I got out from the street, I started popping more and more Oxy to stop the dope sickness. And now, here I am"
Greg is grateful that Donny is changing the subject. It gives Greg enough time to gather his wits about him.
"Are you still addicted to that crap?" Greg asks, peering over his shoulder at Donny.
"I had to get off it," Donny says simply,"I couldn't afford it. I went into withdrawals while I was still on the street. I wasn't trying to quit, I just didn't have enough cash to keep my habit up."
At that moment, a stranger comes into the bathroom. It is an older middle-aged gentleman, and he looks somewhat surprised to see two grown men standing in the middle of the restroom. Greg and Donny take it as a cue, and return to the hallway outside. They walk back to the outside of Robert's room. Greg pauses, nervously picking at one of the belt loops on his dress pants. Donny waits patiently, without speaking. It doesn't matter to Donny if they stay or go, he is not emotionally involved. Greg decides to take another attempt at visiting Donny. He certainly didn't want to leave after making such a scene. Greg would prefer to wait quietly by Donny's side rather than leave an impression to other people that Greg is some unstable weirdo.    
    Greg motions inside, and the two men shuffle back into Roberts room. Greg pulls up a chair to Roberts side, while Donny waits by the doorway, with one foot propped against the wall behind him. Greg does not speak. He's heard that comatose people can hear the voices of those around them, but he doesn't feel particularly talkative.
    A Doctor walks up to Greg almost immediately.
"Hello" The Dr. says with a warm smile, "I'm doctor Halleron."
The doc extends his hand and Greg shakes it politely. The doctor motions to both Greg and Donny.
"Are you two family by chance?" Dr. Halleron asks.
"Well, no" Greg says, "we're just friendsAcquantances really. IWe were involved in a robbery at my store."
Doctor Halleron's face lights up in recognition.
"Oh yeah" the doctor says animatedly, "I saw you on the news last night!! You must be Greg!"
Greg nods uneasily. Celebrity is not as enticing as he once thought it would be. It was strange having someone recognize him, when Greg didn't know them from Adam.
"I saw the footage on the TV" Dr. halleron continues, "That was some crazy stuff that went down."
The doctor swipes a clipboard that is resting on the edge of Roberts bed, and begins thumbing through the various pages.
"Robert here has had some serious trauma," The doctor relays sadly," The bullet broke through two of his ribs, and punctured his lung. He fell unconscious after the shooting, and hasn't come to since."
Dr. Halleron wears a solemn expression, as he holds the clipboard between his crossed arms.
"There's the possibility that Robert may have suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen while he was unconscious, perhaps due to his injured lung" Dr. Halleron says gloomily,"We've done some preliminary MRI scans to measure his brain activity. From outer appearances, there doesn't seem to be any tremendous evidence of slowed brain function, but we can't be sure of that until he wakes from this coma."
"SoIt is a coma then?" Greg asks fearfully.
"Well, yes" the doctor says, shifting his weight to one foot, and gesturing with his hand,"he is in a coma, but its unclear as to whether that's due to head trauma, or from just plain shock. Do you recall if he struck his head on the pavement maybe, before he was shot?"
Greg shakes his head adamantly.
The doctor nods gravely and returns the clipboard to its shelf on the bed.
"I wish I had more information" the doctor says apologetically, "but as of right now, it's simply touch and go. Only time will tell."
the doctor offers a weak smile before waving his hand and departing.
Donny and Greg stay with Robert for about 15 minutes before Greg gathers himself to leave as well.
Before he walks out the door, Greg Gently takes Roberts hand.
"I wanted to say thank you," Greg says clumsily,"you helped save that little girl, and my life as well."
The only response is the continued beeping and bopping of countless machines. Greg squeezes Roberts hand tightly, then release his grip. Roberts hand sinks back to the bed, motionless.
Greg turns and exits the room quickly, already feeling choked up once again. Donny follows.

Uploaded 01/07/2012
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