Night of September 22nd
Rudy had been asleep for hours when Karl poked him in the soft part of his shoulder. Like the point of a spear penetrating the very spot that would inflict the sharpest pain. Rudy groaned then yelped.
“What the fu….”
“Get up if you’re coming. Jon would have already been up an atom and he’s an old man.”
“Geez, I’m old too you know,” Rudy complained. “I don’t know why you can’t go on your stupid spy game by yourself. It’s nearly midnight.” His gout toe was acting up. “I need to take a pill first.”
“Hurry up. We need to get on the surveillance before someone gets done in.”
Rudy did not believe in the theory of a serial killer, a night stalker. But he promised Jon. Humored his friend even though he would never know if Rudy went along with Karl on the nightly round, unless Karl told on him.
Karl poked his head out of Rudy’s door to check for all clear in the dimly lit hallway. The quiet of the night magnified the sound of every step and shuffle of their slippers along the tile floor.
“Jeez, walk quietly,” Karl whispered harshly.
“I’ve got a bad toe for crying out loud,” Rudy snapped, his voice animated but hushed.
They slid in and out of every resident’s doorway. At the far end of the hall, in the east wing of The Lodge, Rosa slipped quietly in an out of each room checking on the sleeping residents. She was the one that most often discovered a person that had passed in the night. The occurrence was far less often than on the first floor, The Palliative Unit, where those that were coming quickly to their end were transferred, for special end of life care. The first floor, just above Dr. Hauptman’s meat locker. Palliative Care, ‘The Death Unit’ Karl called it. Near the chapel where family went to drop to their knees and make a wish for a bit more time for their loved one. But if you were on the first floor, it meant there was no hope for you. To have people passing away before being assigned to The Palliative Unit didn’t seem right to Karl. Like bypassing the last step before checking off the last box.
They were in between doorways when Rosa emerged from another resident room. Karl and Rudy pressed themselves flat against the wall, into a shadow between the hall lights and held their breath. Rosa looked up the hallway towards them, listening, studying the empty hall, then went into the next room.
Dim night lights glowed in some rooms; others were pitch dark. Those were the ones hardest to tell if the occupant was still alive or dead. Dead silence was needed to hear if they were breathing. The heavy snorers were obviously still alive. Mrs. Krantz was one of those.
Jon’s room was just a few doors down. Rosa went in and came rushing out, quickly making her way to the next door down the hall.
“Let’s peek in on Jon,” Rudy said.
“Let him sleep for crying out loud. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He’ll need his strength to be able to put up with all the hoopla that will be going on.”
“We could just duck in. I need to sit down for a minute, my toe is killing me.”
“Don’t talk so loud.”
They stood flat against the wall. The large white disk of the hallway clock hung from the ceiling. The big black spike of the clock hand clunked as it ticked from 11:59 to midnight. The already dim night lights that illuminated the long hallways of the east and west wings dimmed further, half of them shut off completely.
“Never mind that,” Karl whispered. “It’s automatic, happens at midnight, to save power or something.”
They continued their slow creeping but ducked inside a vacant room as Rosa returned quickly to Jon’s room, exchanged a few brief words and quickly left again.
“She’s talking to Jon,” Rudy whispered. “He must still be awake.”
“Can’t be,” Karl said. “It’s midnight. He’ll be sound asleep.”
“He gets up lots in the night to pee,” Rudy whispered.
They continued to the edge of Jon Magnusson’s doorway. Karl slowly leaned his head around the open door to look in. Jon’s bedside lamp was on. Nurse Shirley was at Jon’s bedside, leaning over him, speaking softly. Her back was toward the door. She had his head propped slightly forward, holding a small glass of brown drink for him to sip.
“A little warm chocolate milk” she said. “To help you rest and go to your sleep.” She placed the glass on his night table. “There, now you’ll sleep sound.”
Karl moved back from the door, his heel landing squarely on Rudy’s gout toe. Rudy let out a shriek. Nurse Shirley shrieked in response, as she turned to face the open door. Karl jumped forward, off of Rudy’s toe and stood in the doorway; Rudy limped beside him.
“Get out,” she yelled. They did not leave. She tucked something into the pocket of her scrubs and rushed past them, bumping Karl as she slipped by. “Let him sleep. I’ve got work to do. You need to go back to bed.”
Her words implied ‘or else’.
Nurse Shirley shoved Rudy out of the way. An empty syringe and ball of used Kleenex fell from her pocket as she pushed by them.
Karl picked up the syringe.
“Something is not right,” he said.
Jon lay flat in his bed, the pale golden lamp light glowing onto his face. He looked peaceful.
“Is he dead,” Rudy whispered, “gone?”
Jon Magnusson’s eyes were open, unblinking, fixed on the ceiling. His mouth open slightly. His face was calm and peaceful.
“He might be,” Karl said.
Just then Jon sighed, “what time is it?”
“Just past midnight,” Karl said. The corners of his mouth curled into a smile.
“I made it,” Jon said.
“Yes,” Karl said. “Happy birthday.” He began to cry.
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