Timothy R. Baldwin

Bloodshot (Chapter 3)

Somewhere in my files of newspaper clippings there sits a police blotter. I won’t give you the details, but I will say that the scenario was so odd, so shocking, that I had to write about. Like Emmitt and Lindsay must be asking themselves in the prologue, I too said, “How the hell do people get to that point?”

My response was a short story titled Bloodshot. It was speculative at best and functioned as a short story assignment for my creative writing program. It incubated as a short story until six months later. Inspired by the writing group I’m involved in, I developed it into a novel.

Now, I wasn’t going to post further chapters, but I thought, Why not? Let’s keep it going? If anything, it’ll drive traffic to the website and, my hope, is you’ll decide to buy a copy of the book.

Buy now on Amazon, or keep reading…

Bloodshot, Chapter 3 (ARC)

June 16, 1994

On early Sunday morning, Emmitt’s sleep-in day is interrupted when the bed shakes. Next to him, he feels the weight of the bed redistribute as Maggie climbs out and he hears her bare feet patter on the hardwood floors as she makes her way toward the bathroom. Rolling over, Emmitt catches her eyes as she turns to close the door behind her.

“Is everything okay?” he asks.

“Just some lower back pain,” calls Maggie from the bathroom door. “I’ll be all right.”

“Take some of my pain meds. I should have some in the medicine cabinet.”

Maggie nods as she closes the bathroom door, creating a barrier between herself and Emmitt. The cry of Lindsay Jane, who is now three years old, stirs him from bed. Sitting up and placing his feet upon the cool floor, Emmitt scowls as he looks at the clock, which now reads seven minutes after five o’clock in the morning.

Bemoaning the loss of sleep, Emmitt follows his daughter’s voice. Her cry has turned into a piercing scream. He stands and takes one short, limping stride after another until the joints in his legs loosen and the pain and stiffness subside enough for him to walk with a little more ease. Finally, he comes to his daughter’s room. A warm glow from the room’s night light spills into the hallway where he stands and waits. Lindsay’s cries subside until they are a quiet whimper. Emmitt picks her up and pulls her close. As he does this, he feels the warm, but dry pull-up, which she now wears only at night.

“Do you need to go potty?” he asks.

Lindsay nods, and he follows her to the hallway bathroom and waits again by the door until she is ready for him to help her clean up. After this, they go to the bedroom where they find Maggie, sitting on the end of the bed. As they enter, she gives them both a weary smile.

“Lindsay Jane, don’t you have something to tell your papa?” asks Maggie. When Lindsay shakes her head, Maggie crosses her arms. “Well, we’re waiting.”

“Okay, mama,” Lindsay obediently answers. She turns to Emmitt. “Happy Father’s Day, papa!” Lindsay reaches her arms up to Emmitt, who lifts her up.

“Thank you, princess,” he says. As he rocks Lindsay in his arms, he gazes at Maggie.

Maggie nods and smiles weakly. He can see that there is clearly something wrong.

“Papa,” Lindsay says. “I wanna go play.”

“Oh, princess,” Emmitt says as he places Lindsay down. “It’s too early to play. Why don’t you head back to bed and I promise we’ll do something fun after church today?”

“Okay, papa.” Once on the floor, Lindsay darts away. Her tiny feet, slapping upon the hallway floor, can be heard until she turns into her bedroom.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Emmitt asks Maggie.

“I’ll be okay,” replies Maggie. “I just need to stretch and do some yoga. Not to mention, we’ve got church and Father’s Day brunch.” She waves Emmitt away. “Don’t worry about me.”

Knowing his wife, Emmitt decides that rather than argue about her point which she has already made or a point which she refuses to address, he turns down the hallway to get Lindsay ready for church. While he’s gone, Maggie stretches in the master bedroom and gets ready.

An hour later after everyone has washed and Maggie has assured Emmitt the hot shower has relieved her aches, the family heads out the door.

At church, Father Klein gives the homily on the following words of scripture: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

As Father Klein speaks, Emmitt re-reads these words, letting the idea of self-denial and a cross sink deeply. He recalls Leo, a man he hasn’t communicated with in years. Though Leo is the one ultimately responsible for his injuries, Emmitt holds the choice to give meaning to his pain. Emmitt also realizes he has a choice to return to work, even if it is a part-time gig, like what Maggie has mentioned. Only his gig wouldn’t be artsy. Maybe it would have something to do with tools or hunting.

Glancing up, he sees that Maggie has been gazing at him. Her blue eyes soften. As the two make eye contact, they embrace. Emmitt kisses Maggie on the lips, but Lindsay impatiently squirms between them.

“I gotta go potty,” Lindsay says loud enough to send her voice bouncing off the high ceilings of the church. A few parishioners chuckle in response while others glare at the couple. Emmitt is sure the latter wonder why he seems incapable of keeping his daughter quiet.

“I’ll take her,” Emmitt whispers. He stands and takes Lindsay by the hand.

Once in the narthex of the church, he spots Leo Andreadis down the hallway. There are several single toilet bathrooms where he stands. Emmitt assumes, Leo waits outside one of the bathrooms for his son. Leo spots him and waves. Emmitt gives him a quick wave back, then turns quickly down an adjacent hallway, leading to the family room. While Lindsay, who has insisted she is a big girl that can take care of herself is alone in the bathroom, Emmitt is outside. He bows his head, knowing that he must also make amends with his former coworker. For his suffering to have any meaning, he must forgive Leo, the cause of this suffering. He glances up the hallway and sighs. He expects to see Leo, but the man is no longer there.

A flush from the toilet within the bathroom interrupts his thoughts and Lindsay opens the door.

“I can’t reach the sink,” she says.

Emmitt follows her into the bathroom. At the sink, he runs the water, waiting for it to warm up. He places one hand beneath the running water to test the temperature and uses the other hand to adjust the sink knob accordingly. Once the water feels suitable for Lindsay, he lifts her up to help wash her hands. Adding soap to their hands, together the two sing “Happy Birthday” while they wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Emmitt prides himself with instilling the right values, like good hygiene and proper manners, in his daughter. He wants to be the best father he can be for Lindsay.

Once their hands are dry, Emmitt and Lindsay are ready to rejoin the congregation. Lindsay charges to the end of the hallway and stops. She waits for Emmitt to catch up, so she can walk with him as father and daughter. When they return to their pew to finish service, they sit by Maggie, shifting her weight in her spot. She smiles at Emmitt, and the family sits quietly until the service ends. From there, they head to IHOP.

As expected, the line to IHOP is long, but Emmitt doesn’t mind. Father’s Day brunch after church has become the Wasson family tradition these past three years. Seeing no point in breaking the tradition now, Emmitt pulls into a parking lot so crowded it could rival any pre-game tailgate party he has ever attended.

Yet, as he drives through the parking lot for a free space, he glances beside him at Maggie, who can’t seem to find a comfortable position in her seat.

“Is your back bothering you again?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says and adds a smile, tight and narrow so that her lips become pale as they pull into her mouth. “I don’t know if it is worse or better.”

Emmitt frowns. “It seems worse than this morning. Maybe we should—”

“No, there’s a spot,” Maggie says forcibly. She points beyond him, so that Emmitt must look ahead.

Seeing another car around the lane, Emmitt punches the gas and puts on his blinker. He pulls in and turns to block the other vehicle from taking the spot. The driver in the other vehicle honks and flashes his light. Emmitt waves at the driver and throws the van into reverse. He backs into the parking space and looks straight ahead as he waits for the other car to pass.

“You know,” Emmitt says, “maybe we should get you to a hospital.”

When Maggie doesn’t reply, he diverts his attention from the parking lot and looks at her. He sees that the vanity mirror is down, and Maggie is repeatedly opening and closing her mouth. She does this a few times before she realizes that Emmitt is looking at her.

“Sorry,” she says as she closes the mirror. “I’m okay. I just have this ache in my jaw, like I chewed gum for several hours nonstop.”

“That’s not good,” Emmitt says. “Between your back and jaw, maybe we should get it checked out.” He shifts the car into reverse.

Maggie places her hand upon Emmitt’s. “I’ll get it checked out tomorrow, okay? And look, the other driver is finally driving off.”

But Emmitt doesn’t look. Instead, his attention is on Maggie until a yawn from the backseat diverts his gaze to where Lindsay is waking up.

“Where are we?” she asks.

“IHOP, honey,” Maggie says. “You ready for some pancakes?” Lindsay nods, which makes Maggie smile.

As Maggie gets out of the car, Emmitt notices how stiff she seems, like someone in great pain. He lifts Lindsay from her car seat and sets her on the ground.

“Can Papa carry me?” Lindsay asks.

Mechanically, he lifts Lindsay up. And with Maggie’s arm around his waist and his daughter on his shoulders, they join the long line of hungry fathers with their families.

As they wait, Emmitt sees that Maggie is massaging her lower back with both hands while she slowly takes deep breaths. From behind Emmitt, an elderly woman taps him on the back.

“Sir,” she says, “I think your wife is having a heart attack.”

In the hospital waiting room, Emmitt stands a few paces away from the chair where Lindsay sits and hugs her doll. Beside her sits Daniella and Frank. Emmitt begins to pace. Frank stands and places a hand on his shoulder.

“You should sit down,” Frank says. “It’s only been a half hour since the surgery’s started.”

“Doc said it should only take a half hour,” Emmitt grumbles.

“It’s not likely they started right away,” Frank says. “Sit with me.”

Emmitt turns away and crosses his arms. He stares at the television mounted in the corner wall of the waiting room. Its silent screen airs some news station, broadcasting the weather. Closed captioning scrolls one choppy, unread sentence after the next as Emmitt looks on. Someone tugs at his shirt, hanging loosely by his waist. He glances down where Lindsay stands by him.

“Is Mommy going to be okay?” Lindsay asks. Her wide blue eyes reflect the light of the fluorescent bulbs, humming from the ceiling. As she waits for a response from her father, she clutches her doll even tighter with both arms.

Emmitt squats and takes Lindsay in his arms. As he does, she releases one arm from her doll to give her dad a hug.

“Let’s say a prayer for Mommy, okay?” Emmitt asks. Lindsay closes her eyes and Emmitt begins to pray. “Jesus…” he pauses as tears well up in his eyes. He clears his throat and continues “Please be with Mommy and the doctors. Amen.”

“Amen,” Lindsay says. “Can we sit down now?”

With his daughter still in his arms, Emmitt sits between Frank and Daniella.

“Hang in there, bud,” Frank says.

In the waiting room, time passes slowly, especially for Emmitt and his party. While they wait, doctors and nurses are paged over the intercom, and the rest of the hospital staff dressed in pale green push patients garbed in white in gurneys and wheelchairs. But Emmitt and his party hardly pay attention to the mundane activities in the hospital. Finally, two staff members in pale green garments emerge from a set of double doors. The doctor, a greying haired man whom Emmitt met hours before, ambles toward Emmitt. Just a few paces behind him, the surgical assistant follows. Emmitt stands and waits as they approach slowly. The doctor smiles, but Emmitt fears for the worst.

“Mr. Wasson, your wife’s in recovery,” says the doctor. “She had a narrow artery, which we used a stent to open. She’ll recover very soon. It’s a good thing you all caught it when you did.”

“Thank you,” Emmitt whisper. He exhales the breath he had been holding the entire time the doctor was talking and sits.

“When she is awake,” replies the surgical assistant, “a nurse will come to get you.”

The doctor and surgical assistant leave, so they can resume their work beyond the double doors.

Whether a half hour or an hour passes, Emmitt does not know. He is only thankful when a nurse appears to take him and his party to see his wife. In the room, Frank and Daniella stand back as Emmitt approaches Maggie’s bed. Although she lies drugged up and surgery worn, Emmitt thinks she is still beautiful. His eyes glisten with tenderness as he takes her hand in his. Then, he leans in and kisses her on the forehead.

“I have to go,” he whispers. “But we’ll be back.” After a few more minutes, Emmitt and the others leave.

Alone in the quiet of the night, Emmitt sits upon the couch. The drive home gave him time to clear his head. Lindsay has long since gone to sleep. There is a knock at the door, which startles him since it is eleven o’clock at night. Another knock comes more rapidly.

“Emmitt, open the door,” says a muffled, familiar voice on the other end. “It’s me, Leo.”

Emmitt remains seated and hopes his unwanted guest will leave. When the knock becomes even more persistent, Emmitt stands with a huff. He flicks on the light switch and opens the door to find Leo Andreadis, standing in the pale, white glow of the porch light. Between the two men is a juncture filled with moths that flutter in search of their deathly destination. Leo smiles and brushes a few moths from his face.

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife,” he says. Then, he holds up a six-pack of beer. “Mind if I come in?” “I do,” Emmitt says.

With the screen door between himself and Leo, Emmitt is a stony sentinel, frowning at the man he once would have considered a work friend. Yet in that stance, the day’s near tragedy washes over the old wounds of suffering incurred as a result of Leo’s carelessness. Before him, Leo slouches with a droopy arm, holding a six-pack. Like the man holding it, the cardboard casing is beginning to sag, dripping small beads of condensation upon the porch, as it soaks in the thin layer of moisture collecting on each exposed can.

“Let’s sit on the porch,” Emmitt replies. “Lindsay’s asleep. Don’t want to wake her.”

As Emmitt opens the door, Leo draws himself up in a smile and follows Emmitt to the wicker furniture where the two men sit. Leo pops open a beer and offers it to Emmitt, which he refuses with a wave of his hand.

“Had to take some pain meds today for the legs,” he says.

“Shit,” Leo says. He takes a gulp of his beer and wipes his mouth. “Saw you in church today.”

Emmitt nods curtly as Leo takes another swig. “Was your son with you?”

Before Leo can take a third drink, he pauses. “Yeah, but he’s back with his mom now.”

On the porch, the two men simply look at each other. The moths flutter between them toward the light. Leo guzzles his beer and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. Finally, Leo clanks an empty can upon the table between them.

“I’m really sorry,” Leo says. “I know this is a bad time and all, but I thought I’d come to talk to you about the accident.”

Emmitt clenches his jaws and sucks in a breath. As heat inflames his chest and washes over his face, his attention is drawn once again to his legs.

“You’re right, Leo,” Emmitt says. “Now is definitely a bad time. It’s been three years. Why now?”

Leo shrugs. “I guess no time is really a good time.” He pops another can open and takes a drink.

Though an apology or excuse is almost always on the horizon of a lengthy and often lame explanation, Emmitt stands and decides that he need not wait for either one. “Look, Leo,” Emmitt says. “I forgive you.”

“That means a lot,” Leo says. He clears his throat. “But I still need to tell you something.”

Emmitt sits as he sees the sudden sag of the shoulders of a man who once stood tall, confident, and boisterous.

“On the day of the accident, I wasn’t quite right,” says Leo. “I’d been drinking.” He clanks another empty can on the table. “Actually, I’m always drunk.”

At hearing Leo’s confession, Emmitt takes a moment to think if his behavior indicated his drunken state, but he can’t think of anything. He leans over to Leo.

“Hey,” Emmitt says, “I’ve been where you are, and I want to help.”

Before him, Leo Andreadis crumples under the burden which Emmitt supposes Leo has carried long before the accident. Emmitt stands and offers Leo his hand. Leo takes Emmitt’s hand and embraces him.

“Confession leads to healing, my friend,” says Emmitt. “I’ll help you through this.”

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