Read On the Ropes: A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery Online
Authors: Tom Schreck
Tags: #mystery, #fiction
“Doofy? Dis homosexual patient in here is on your responsibility caseload?”
“What?” I said.
“DAT, DAT, DAT, DAT, shit … excuse me.” The doctor was going on his roll.
“I’m on my way up there, doctor,” I said, hoping to get off the phone quickly.
“No rush, Doofy. Dees man is not worth time,” he said and hung up.
It was probably a good thing he hung up, because I was about to go off and I don’t know how many DATs he had in him.
They let me in to see Mikey for fifteen minutes in ICU. His head was swollen to twice its normal size, he had a tube taped to his nose, his face was mostly purple from the bruising, and he had five different sets of stitches. He was surrounded by computerized machines with little red and green lights and something that checked his heart rate.
I felt cold and sick to my stomach, and though I couldn’t quite identify what it smelled like, I hated the hospital smell. Mikey was unconscious and when I touched his hand there was absolutely no response. I’m not really a religious guy, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I said a quick prayer. I said, “Hang in there, Mikey” out loud and felt foolish, but I had heard somewhere that it was good to try to speak to people in comas.
I went through the sliding doors of the ICU and there was Gabbibb with his stethoscope around his neck and a clipboard in his hand.
“Doofy.” Gabbibb’s big brown eyes grew wide. “Don’t tell me you were here visiting dee homosexual.”
“His name is Michael Osborne,” I said.
“I know dat,” Gabbibb said. He didn’t get it. “Shouldn’t you be catching up on dose files?”
I shook my head and started to walk away. I got about ten feet and I couldn’t help myself.
“Hey, Gabbibb,” I shouted.
He turned and looked down his nose and over his glasses at me.
“Go fuck yourself.”
I turned back around and headed out. All the way down the hallway I could hear it.
“DAT, DAT, DAT, DAT, shit … excuse me … DAT, DAT, DAT …”
The next set of sliding doors closed and the rest of the DATs faded into the rest of the hospital sounds.
I wound my way through the hospital corridors, looking for Rudy’s office. I’d been there a bunch of times but I can never find it easily. After a couple of wrong turns, I found him. Through the window I saw him at his computer with his belly causing maximum stress to the elastic waistline of his trousers and beads of sweat gathering on his forehead. The man was always sweating.
I let myself in and Rudy didn’t even look up from his computer.
“Hey, Rude, I—”
“Hang on.” His face cringed and he pounded a few more keys. “Sorry, Duff. I’m trying to get caught up.”
“Lot of that going around,” I said.
“Is Mikey going to make it?” I asked.
“Duff,” Rude exhaled heavily. “I ain’t going to bullshit you. It doesn’t look good. He might even be better off if he didn’t.”
“Are the cops involved?”
“Some detective talked to me in the ER. He didn’t seem all that energetic.” Rudy lifted his glasses off his nose and rested them on top of his balding head.
“I’m guessing the cops aren’t going to sweat the assault of a guy who spent his life in the bushes of Jefferson Park.”
“Probably not,” Rudy added. He was about to say something else when his beeper went off. “It’s the ER, I gotta run.”
I got out of the way. Rudy ran past me, and with the weight he carried, there was likely to be a second code blue if he continued to run. He disappeared down the stairs and I headed to the elevator.
I was walking through the ER to get to the parking lot, and there was some sort of crisis going on. Rudy was yelling, they had that cart with the paddles, and they were working over someone on the floor. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
They started to move the guy onto a gurney and a nurse was holding a clear bag that was connected to a tube that was running to the guy on the table. They had an oxygen mask on him, and I could see that Rudy had blood splattered all down the front of his white shirt and tie. I heard something yelled about surgery and they ran the gurney down the hall.
Rudy wiped the sweat from his brow and picked up the phone on the triage desk. He hung up angrily and barked orders at the nurses. He took a deep breath and looked up and saw me.
“Duffy,” he was breathing hard. “That was another one of your guys. That was Eli.”
It had been a
hell of a twenty-four hours. I had drunk myself to sleep last night with Walanda’s death on my mind. There was also the question of what, if anything, I could do to find Shony. Then Mikey, then Eli—getting hit in the nads by Al and stepping barefoot in shit was the highlight of the day. The karma or whatever drives the world was getting really fucked up. I mean, these folks weren’t exactly on top of things before this shit storm blew into them. I just didn’t get it.
I got to the Moody Blue and cracked open a Schlitz. I hit the answering machine and there were a couple of messages. The first was Smitty again, and he had news that the promoter in Kentucky had sweetened the purse to seven grand. He also found out more about the opponent and that he was 15 and 0 with fifteen knockouts, all coming in three rounds or less. Smitty said the guy was being groomed for a title shot, and from the videos he’d seen, the guy could really swat.
The second was from Lisa. She was forcing back tears and I could tell it wasn’t going to be good news.
“Duffy, I’ve been thinking.” She sniffed through the tears. “I hate to do this on the phone, but I just can’t bring myself to do it in person.”
I think I knew how this was going to go.
“… I haven’t told you, but I’ve been seeing a therapist. She thinks that now isn’t the right time for me to be in a relationship. She also thinks that you’re an archetype of my relationship with my father and that I’m re-creating dysfunctional patterns,” she said.
Maybe I didn’t know how this was going to go. This was thicker bullshit than even I was used to from women.
“… The fact of the matter is that though you and I had fun together and seemed to care for each other, it wasn’t on a deep enough plane. My therapist says I need more intimacy and that’s impossible with a man like you …”
Oh geez …
“I also have begun to explore myself, and my therapist thinks that I may have a better chance of exploring intimacy with other women …”
I definitely didn’t know how this was going to go.
“… So I’m going to explore some lifestyle changes … I’m glad I got this out. My therapist says it’s important for me to be assertive and direct. Please don’t call me, Duff, not for a while. I need time to think. Then maybe we could work on being friends.”
I’m so glad she was assertive enough to call my machine and let me know about her lesbianism. I’ve lost a lot of relationships, but never have they cooked up the lesbian card to bail. Ah, the satisfaction of another relationship milestone.
As for the being friends thing, that was my absolute favorite. Somehow women felt that that absolved them from the guilt of ripping out your heart and treating it like a pig that was slated for sausagedom. Then they can keep you around like some emotional tampon that they can insert once a month when they’re lonely and whoever they were most recently fucking dumps them.
Not that I’m bitter or anything.
I called Smitty to find out about the fight. Smitty stayed up most of the night reading, so I never worried about waking him. He was never what you’d call chatty, but on the phone he was even less so. He picked up on the first ring.
“Yeah …” That was his usual greeting.
“You know, you really ought to work on being more engaging.”
“You want to fight or not? The fight is this Saturday. That gives you three days,” Smitty said.
“Yeah, that’s all right. I kind of feel like fighting,” I said.
“Duffy, this boy is no joke.” Smitty’s voice was serious. “He can hit and you’ll have to be sharp.”
“I’m always sharp, Smitty—you know that.”
“I ain’t playin’, Duff,” he said.
Smitty gave me the particulars about the opponent, the travel schedule, and the other logistical stuff I needed to know about the fight. The guy I was fighting was named Tommy Roy Suggs. We were going to fly Friday after work, which was good considering how things in the office had been going. It probably wasn’t going to be a great time to ask for a day off. The fact that they raised my purse and were allowing us to fly meant they really wanted their boy and me to get it on. I was looking forward to fighting and the cash would be nice too.
I was in decent shape, not great shape, but decent enough to fight. In my line of work as a short-notice fighter, I can’t afford to ever get out of shape. Matchmakers liked me because I would take the fights when they needed somebody in a hurry and no one else was saying yes. It was something I accepted, but I never actually got used to it. Managing my emotions over the next three days would be hell.
Fighters get scared; they just don’t talk about it or focus on it. You really can’t and stay sane. For me, the anxiety will come out in other ways, usually manifesting itself in irritability and short temperedness. With the way things had been going, I didn’t think anyone would notice me get any crankier. There were some advantages to distracting myself over a pending fight, what with work being such a shit sandwich lately.
With three days left before the fight, there was really nothing physical left to do that would prepare me for it. The best thing I could do would be to watch some tape of the guy and get myself as mentally prepared as possible. The seven grand would be nice—getting hit by some hotshot who could punch wouldn’t. Getting hit by someone who could throw hard was on the list of things I thought about while I wasn’t sleeping that night.
It was that, getting dumped by my assertive, potential-lesbian ex-girlfriend, but most of all, it was about Mikey and Eli.
“Hey Duff—didya hear about the Polish Olympic hockey team tragedy?” It was Sam.
“The team drowned during spring training,” he said.
I heard him laughing to himself all the way back to his cubicle. I had gotten almost no sleep the night before, and I was really on edge. There were so many things eating at me that I had difficulty thinking, so I had bigger things to worry about than Sam. For starters, there was a New York State Client Death Form on my desk and two Incident Report forms with a yellow sticky from the Michelin Woman attached to the top one. It read:
Duffy—This needs to be
completed and on my desk
by the end of the day. Claudia.
She was a real joy. A client is dead and two close to it, and her concern is getting the state their fuckin’ forms. I wasn’t in any kind of mood for her bullshit today. The only redeeming thing going on today was that she’d be distracted by the board members. She likes to impress them, so she’d have on her newest polyester stretch pants and she’d be obsessed with making a good presentation for the day.
I saw Monique coming back to her cubicle with a cup of coffee in her special coffee cup with the Nefertiti head on it.
“Duff, I’m so sorry to hear about Walanda, Mikey, and Eli,” she said. “You must be hurtin’. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”
“Thanks ’Nique, I truly appreciate it,” I said.
She meant it. Monique and I weren’t exactly close, but we respected each other and I think we had a mutual understanding about each other. It’s hard to explain, but I think people can tell when you really respect them and when you’re just trying to make an impression.
The various board members were filing in and I had yet to see Hymie. L. T. Espidera, the guy who owned six car dealerships in Crawford, came in, making his usual loud and obnoxious entrance. He epitomized the type of board member I despised. I was convinced that his entire motivation for being on the board was to get on Hymie’s good side so that eventually Hymie would sell him his dry cleaning headquarters. That shop happened to take up prime real estate on Main Avenue in the heart of the city. If Espidera had that piece of land, he would have not only the majority of car dealerships in town, he would also have them all in ideal locations.
Espidera liked people to call him “LT” because he thought it sounded macho. He was a late thirty-something guy who kept in what I call “gym shape,” meaning his body looked good but you could tell that if you hit him in the gut he would puke for a month. Just to piss him off, I always called him by his given name, Lawrence.
“Hi Lawrence,” I said. “How are the Hondas moving?”
“Fantastic, Duff, couldn’t be better,” he said. “Hey Duff—getting any Ws in the ol’ squared circle?” It was a dig because I knew he knew my record.
“Oh yeah—didn’t you hear?” I said. “I knocked out Mike Tyson. First, I bit him, then I knocked him out.”
Espidera shot me with his thumb and forefinger. He winked at me and ran his fingers through his mulletted, jet-black hair. His skin was a ridiculous tanning-hut brown.
Claudia came out of her office, hearing a board member and not wanting to miss an opportunity to suck up.
“Good morning, LT,” she said. “Thanks for coming in on such short notice.”
“No problemo, Claud,” LT shot back.
“Duffy, did LT tell you about the new committee?” Claudia said. It startled me because she never acknowledged my presence when board members were in. It was as if being just a lowly staff member in the presence of greatness made me unworthy.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Claudia,” I said.
“LT is going to be the board representative on our Quality Assurance Ad Hoc Committee. The committee will oversee things like record-keeping and risk management. After we have our emergency meeting, we’ll invite you in for the first of what will be bi-monthly meetings.”
Now her talking to me made sense. It was another opportunity to stick the whole paperwork thing to me, only this time, with the added strength of throwing in a board member. It was just an extra special treat that Espidera was going to be involved.
Recently, Espidera donated an old piece of property that at one time had been an old hotel. It was in disrepair and way out in the middle of nowhere, and several agencies had gotten together to convert it into a women’s shelter. The plan was to make the old hotel a halfway house for addicted women and their children. I was convinced that Espidera donated it for the tax break. Also, because of its location, it had no marketable value.
Next in was Dr. Gabbibb. I was figuring he was going to come right over and chew me out with a series of DAT, DAT, DATs, but he surprised me.
“Good morning, Doofy,” he flashed me a big toothy smile. He had on a Jason Giambi jersey today. “Notar feeleends I hepe?” He extended his hand.
This was pretty bizarre for the most arrogant man I ever met.
“Sure, Doc,” I said.
“Doofy—you dar dinto du Yankees, no?”
“What’s that, Doc?” I asked.
“DAT, DAT, DAT, DAT, shit … excuse me,” he yelled.
“Oh yeah—sure, I love the Yanks.”
“Ere’s two teeckits I can’t use,” he said.
I loved the Yanks and the tickets were for the September 11 game against the Mariners, right behind the dugout, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t know what his motive was, and I didn’t want to be indebted to him.
“I can’t, Doc, I’m going to be away then,” I said.
“DAT, DAT … shit,” he said. He couldn’t have been too upset because he only let out two DATs.
Finally, he turned his attention to Claudia, who was anxious to talk about her committee. Claudia kept on about how the new committee was going to ensure that our paperwork was always in compliance. It was crystal clear that she was trying to get a reaction from me in front of the board members. Before I could respond to Claudia’s bait about the new committee, I heard Hymie’s entrance.
“Where’s that goy friend of mine?” Hymie said. “The one who should be wearing the Star of David on his trunks, he’s a Jew in harp’s clothing!”
“Hymie!” I got up to greet my buddy. “Shalom aleichem! My friend,” I said.
“You hear this schmeckel?” he said. “He’s not foolin’ me—he’s not a Jew—but I love ’im.” He pinched my cheek.
I smiled and looked down at the four gray hairs and multiple liver spots that made up his scalp. He was about five foot six, with glasses and two Miracle-Ears turned up to maximum. He had on his tan Sansabelts and white shoes.
“Hey Hymie—shalom,” LT said.
“Oh, hello, Lawrence,” Hymie said.
He also turned and greeted Claudia, and soon after that they went in the boardroom to talk privately about Walanda’s death and to wait on the rest of the board. They’d probably also talk about my written warning. Hymie wouldn’t be pleased, but he wouldn’t stand in the way of what had to be done because he knew that type of influence wasn’t right. I understood that, and I wouldn’t ask him for anything different.
After the board met privately for about forty-five minutes, they called Monique and me into the boardroom to introduce us to the quality assurance process. Besides Claudia, Hymie, and Espidera, the committee was made up of Mrs. Sheila Silver, a board member and retired social worker; Rhonda Bowerman, the executive director of the Eagle Heights Jewish Unified Services, which was about forty-five miles away; and Gabbibb.
Sheila Silver was a goof. She had an MSW degree and passed her certification, so she was a certified social worker, but as far as I could tell, she had never worked a day in her life. She was in her early fifties, with jet-black hair, overplucked eyebrows, and every possible type of plastic surgery you could imagine. She weighed about 115 pounds and talked incessantly about losing weight, dieting, and exercise, though she always had an injury of some sort that kept her from actually doing much other than hiring a personal trainer. She was always coming from or going to her therapist, her hairdresser, her ob/gyn, or the manicurist.
Sheila was married to an ophthalmologist who was the first guy in Crawford to do laser surgery. They were set financially, but you couldn’t pay me enough to deal with Sheila. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t mean, she was just incredibly self-absorbed. The type of person that never wanted to offend you, not because she didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but rather because she didn’t want anything to bother her conscience. Sheila knew social work theory and kept abreast of current events, but she had never actually gotten her hands dirty working with real people.