The doctors decided to keep Bekka an extra day. Apparently she wasn't absorbing oxygen at the rate they wanted, so they thought getting four days of oxygen panels would indicate if she was at least improving steadily, if not as fast as they hoped. Her new release day was Friday.
On Thursday I had a nervous breakdown.
I woke up in the morning crying. I'd already started in my sleep. I rolled over, expecting to stop.... Only I didn't. I felt an incredible sadness in my chest and stomach, telling me that life was one series of ugly events after another, look at your job, look at what happened to the woman you love, it never gets better, it's just pain and ugliness from start to finish.
The strange part was the rationalist part of my brain could view this objectively, and dismiss it. However, it was unable to make it go away, so I continued with the sobbing. It took me forty minutes to get myself under control well enough to drive, longer for the weight in my chest to lift. I grabbed a single dry bagel from the "breakfast bar" in the motel lobby and called that the first meal of the day.
Heading towards the hospital and Bekka, I knew I would start crying again as soon as I saw her. The problem was I didn't know if I'd be able to stop. Health-wise, she was out of the woods as far as imminent danger went. Her blood counts continued to improve, she was feeling stronger, and so far as her lung went she might have to lug around an oxygen tank with her for a week or so. The swelling and bruising on her face was receding and her mood was good. There were no worries....
.... Except for me. That Thursday I walked into the hospital convinced I was visiting a dying woman. Her body would somehow try to reject its own lung, her red blood cell count would take a dive, her stitches would become infected, anything that could go wrong would. I'd started weeping while I was still in the elevator.
I walked into her room and was greeted by the unbearably tragic scene of her and Angela playing gin rummy on a small cart. Her IV had been removed. I moved to her and held her tight, not letting go and crying the whole time.
Bekka managed to extricate herself from my grip and ask me, "How are you feeling?"
I told her, "Not well. I'm convinced you're going to die and I know that's not true but I can't stop crying. Baby, I'm a mess. I don't know what's wrong with me but all I can see is the brutal and sad in the world. Please hold me a little while."
She obliged. Angela said, "You have been under too much stress lately and it's backing up on you. You found your wife nearly dead on Monday and you've been hanging around a hospital ever since. You need a little time to recharge, some time to yourself. Go for a drive and play your music way too loud the entire time. Or ditch the car at home and take a cab to a decent bar, and get drunk. Just let off some steam and spend a few hours not in a state of worry over Bekka. I'll keep that covered."
"And I'm doing fine, I go home tomorrow. There's nothing to worry about so far as I'm concerned," said Bekka.
"All right," I said, "I'll go for a drive. I'll fling whichever car I drive over the Ortega Highway. Do you mind if I drive the Falcon?"
"That's fine," Bekka smiled at me. "Just don't have anyone shooting at you today, I'm not there to take them out from the back seat."
The Ortega Highway (a.k.a. State Highway 74) is a strip of two lane blacktop running from San Juan Capistrano in Orange County to Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. If you have a flingable car and traffic is light, it's the place to be. Lots of bends and s-curves, plus a few hairpins that beg to be drifted. It's definitely a driver's road.
I motored north on I-5 and got off in Capistrano. By the time I hit the edge of Caspers Park I was already feeling better. I'd take the road east, stop in Lake Elsinore for an early lunch, then take the road back west again. Then.... What? What the hell, I'll see if it's possible for me and Mikey to have a conversation without any hostility. I had no guns with me, so that would help matters quite a bit.
I ate lunch at a place balanced on the rocks above a canyon, then howled back along Ortega Highway and onto the I-5. If I timed it right, I'd catch Mikey as he was getting home from his garbage truck gig. I didn't feel like dealing with Grant, so I just waited downstairs for Mikey to show up.
Mikey arrived home in a stylish squeak of tires, putting his 280ZX squarely in the shade of a pepper tree. He didn't seem to have noticed me, so I gave a call and trotted towards him.
He didn't look happy with my presence. This was to be expected. Every time he'd seen me in the recent past had resulted in him having guns pointed at him, being handcuffed, being blindfolded, choked with a wire hanger, and being beaten up. He did not associate my presence with good times any more. If anything, he associated me with misery.... Although much of that misery was of his own making.
I jogged up to him and said, "Hey Mikey, how'd you like to go have lunch at the restaurant Grant works at? All on me."
He looked suspicious. "Do I have a choice in the matter?" he asked.
"Absolutely. This is just me taking you out to lunch, there is no business that needs to be discussed. We'll just be two guys eating good food and getting a wine buzz. Fair enough?"
"Well.... Okay. Just lemme go upstairs and change. C'mon up."
I followed Mikey up to his apartment. Hopefully his roommate Grant was already at work. Grant didn't like me, for the same reasons Mikey had such trust issues with me: my very presence spelled trouble. In my opinion I (along with Bekka) had reacted to situations put upon us by Mikey and Grant. Grant wouldn't have a hole in his bedroom floor if he hadn't decided to grab for a shotgun; Bekka put a warning shot at his feet.. He wouldn't have the burden of so many physical threats foisted upon him if he simply answered simple questions in a forthright manner. In general, a lot of water would have to go under the bridge before either Grant or Mikey greeted my presence with anything other than "Oh God, now what?"
This was the exact phrase Grant used when he looked up from the television and saw me standing there. I assured him that I was only there to take Mikey to lunch, and that I wasn't even wearing a gun that day. This was me visiting an old friend, no more.
"So you're not here to grill us about anything," said Grant.
"Not at all. I've known Mikey since junior high, and this is just a friendly visit between a couple old pals. Are you working the trattoria today? We might see you there."
"That's right," Grant huffed, "you're a friend of the owner, right? Never see a bill for your food or drinks."
"It's a family thing," I told him.
Mikey came out of his room in jeans, Doc Martens, a Meatmen t-shirt, and a couple spike bracelets on one wrist. Also one of those metal stud belts: this was before you could buy them at K-Mart. We argued about which car to take on the way down the stairs. We settled on the ZX, figuring we were already upsetting looking, no sense in having the car be upsetting too. While the Falcon is an engineering triumph, nobody ever called Falcons of any model year attractive.
Mikey guided us into Century City, pulling into the circular driveway on my instructions. He turned the keys over to the valet and we went in, receiving near instant patio seating once I reminded the maitre'd who I was. I pointed out to Mikey, "That's the thing. Working for who I do could mean I die tomorrow. But at least I'll have been well fed."
As we ate and drank I told Mikey of my ulterior motive in coming to visit. After all Bekka and I had been through that week I was cracking up, big time. I needed a friendly familiar voice, someone who wouldn't push too hard on the questions if I said not to. Mikey felt flattered. He felt as if we'd been parting ways since I started working for Inana a couple years earlier.
I filled Mikey in on what had happened to Bekka. He was suitably horrified: stabbed nearly to death in your own living room.
"You guys have any clues yet?"
"Nope, not that I know of. If someone besides the cops is working on the case, I don't know about it. Besides, I seem to be the go-to guy for detective work with the family, and I've been busy providing moral support to my wife. Once she's home they'll probably send me out to see what I can learn. At least this time I don't have the family believing I had something to do with it. That's the regular cops."
"How's Bekka handling things?" he asked.
"She's a trooper. She's been agitating to go home since the day after her surgery, and tomorrow is the big day. She's looking forward to food from Leucadia Pizzeria showing up at our door. She's taken nearly dying in stride, and I turned into a basket case this morning."
"Look at the bright side. You could still be crying right now."
"Yeah, fair enough. So what's your opinion of what happened to Bekka?"
Mikey took a sip of wine. "Revenge, no doubt. Somebody wanted to get at you bad but was too much of a pussy to confront you. Especially when they're holding a hunting knife and you've got your usual arsenal under your arm. So who could it be?"
I said, "I dunno. I've worked on that one. The only person I've pissed off and gotten into trouble lately is you, and we're sitting here free and easy. There were two other people who hated me that much. One's in prison, the other is dead. For something as psychotic and violent as what happened to Bekka, I just have no clue."
We finished our meals and got out, heading to the valet desk to retrieve Mikey's Nissan. Something was scratching at my brain and I didn't know what.
It finally struck me as we turned onto Mikey's street. Mikey had said hunting knife. Not knife, but hunting knife. I'd never mentioned what kind of a knife it was that they'd pulled out of Bekka's ribs. Either he was great at guessing games or he knew more than he was letting on, once again.
I was sick of playing games with Mikey.