Being a nurse, you tend to see more than your fair share of sick things. What might come to mind for you is probably bodily functions. Don’t get me wrong, those can definitely make you a bit squeamish. But believe me, you can get used to that. But the body isn’t the only part of a person that can become diseased. The ravings, screaming fits, and the general insanity, I don’t know if you can ever completely get used to.
The sad thing is, half the time the insanity come just as much, if not more from the patient’s family as from the patient themselves. But I won’t lie, it’s a remarkably satisfying feeling being able to help someone in their time of need. It comes with an emotional cost at times sure, but it is always worth it. Although sometimes you help in ways you never expect. Much like I did with old Pete McDonald.
From what I know, old man McDonald was a cantankerous son of a bitch in life. But now all that remained was a gnarled, shriveled frame of someone who couldn’t do much but lie in bed. Occasionally, he would speak a word or two. But most of his time was spent staring up at the ceiling.
It was just past 5 on my usual shift when I changed out the sodium thiopental solution in his I.V. and took care of the other usual tasks. He was the last stop on my round for my shift. I looked at Pete’s vitals; heart rate and breathing, both normal. I checked his blood pressure; it was in the usual range, 160-90. A little on the higher side, but it was normal for him. I was just finishing up when he started talking.
“It’s been so long,” he began hesitantly. His voice had the weary tone of someone wanting to get something off their chest.
“Yeah it has Pete.” It was quite common for people under medical care to talk at length to the staff. Believe me, sometimes a patient will tell a caregiver more personal information than their own family.
“I never thought I would want to talk about this. A man spends so much time with a secret buried, he never wants to talk about it. But since what’s about to be buried next is me, what’s the harm in talking about it.” He had a point there.
“Go ahead Pete. I’m right here,” I have no idea if he even knew my name, but he wanted to talk. Which meant I was here to listen.
“When I was younger, I was real scumbag.” His voice was completely hollow, lacking even the slightest bit of emotion. It wasn’t a confession so much as a fact.
“Oh yeah?” This happened all the time with patients, especially elderly ones. All that time in a bed gave them endless opportunities for reflection. Since I don’t think Pete had any visitors since he’d been admitted, that meant the guy was stuck with his own company.
“You have no idea. Back in my day, I was a first class hellraiser.”
“Were you now?” I couldn’t help but wonder. We always see seniors as they are now; in the twilight of their lives. Older, wiser, and wrinkled. We tend to forget that they didn’t always look or act like that. They were the same as us once, young and vibrant. Our mistakes were once theirs.
“Let me put it this way. I probably shouldn’t be alive right now. In fact, its amazing I lived past the age of 50. Drinking, drugs, robbery, I even knocked a few men off in my time. Still haunts me to this day.” I stood there, my arms folded across my chest. You would be stunned how many times patients open up like this to a total stranger. Like I said, sometimes a patient’s bodily functions are the least appalling things we learn about.
“Really?” He didn’t respond to this, but carried on as if I hadn’t said a word.
“It was 1986, a very bad year for me and my family. Since I was infatuated with the bottle, I literally pissed away all of our money. I lashed out at everything and everyone around me. It didn’t help that I messed around with the wrong people. It all came to head on August 7, 1986.”
“Go on,” I whispered. Although I knew perfectly well he would continue whether I wanted him to or not.
“There was this guy who lived near my house. Went by the name of ‘Snake Eyes’ Bennett. He was what you would call a big shot. All of us around town resented him. It wasn’t just that he was rich. No, it was because Snake Eyes was shady and rich. Why do you think we called him Snake Eyes? It was an open secret that the guy had gotten his, privileged status by rather unorthodox means.”
“There’s one in every town,” I nodded in agreement.
“He was a hustler. But Snake Eyes didn’t have the balls to be a legit hustler. None of the hardcore stuff. No, he was a swindler. The suit and tie wearing kind. A real snake oil salesman. HA! Oh that’s a good one!” A harsh laugh quickly filled the room for a moment, before turning into a racking cough that made his entire body convulse. But he had more to say after he caught his breath.
“Hell, the rest of us would have had some respect if he actually went out there and got his hands dirty. But no, that wasn’t for him. He was one of those Chamber of Commerce types who smiles at you when he’s robbing you blind. So as you can imagine, that didn’t sit to well with the rest of us. Not one bit.” He took a moment to clear his throat before carrying on.
“You gotta think, Oak Point was going through a pretty rough time back then. Unemployment was through the roof, most of us did an honest day’s work for no money. Some of us had our vices, most of us in fact. But we made sure to toe the line as much as we could. Seeing Snake Eyes flaunt his wealth around town was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“So what did you do?” I had sat down in a visitors chair so I could face him as he spoke.
“One night, a bunch of us were out on the town. When you are in a group, things sort of take on a life of their own. Especially when you are all hammered out of your mind. I don’t remember who suggested it, but one of us knew Snake Eyes was holed up at some rat hole hotel about 15 miles away. His family was out of town for some reason. He was conducting one of his ‘business transactions’ as he called it. Naturally, we thought it was a great idea to go pay him a visit. He had ripped off everyone in town and it was high time to take back what was ours. It was only right.”
I shuffled my feet and leaned back in the chair as Pete rambled on.
“It seemed like we were there in no time at all, crowded in front of that door. Room Number 12, the 2 was crooked and the grey paint was peeling. When Snake Eyes answered the door, all of us rushed him. He went to pieces quicker than a wet newspaper. Hell, I can still see it now. I mean, I knew he was a coward, but if you’re gonna rip people off, you better toughen up son.”
“Right,” I nodded in agreement. I wasn’t surprised at what he was telling me. Part of me was hoping that what Pete had to say next would never come out of his mouth. But the rest of me just wanted him to just spit it out.
“In no time at all, we had Snake Eyes all tied up. We made out good when we went through his stuff. $700 in cash, a gold watch, and some jewelry. It wasn’t bad for a night’s work. There were five of us all together; Luke, Brendon, Travis, Jamie, and yours truly. All seeking our own version of justice for how Snake Eyes ripped us off. Take Luke for example. He lost his farm that had been in the family for generations because the bank jacked up his mortgage rate, guess who sat on the board?”
“That’s right my boy. The same goes for the rest of us. Well since Snake Eyes stabbed us all in the back, we decided to do the same to him. But don’t worry, we didn’t neglect the front either.”
There it was. I knew it was coming. But knowing something is coming and experiencing it in the moment are two completely different things. It was the way he said it that was so profound. So matter of factly, like Pete was talking about a routine trip to the mall or something.
“What happened next?” I felt myself sit up straighter in the chair.
“We got rid of the body. Threw it in some old freezer with a padlock, tossed it in the backseat of what had been Snake Eyes’ Cadillac, and drove it down to the Swamp just off the old highway. We just cruised that thing right into the water. I can still hear the sound of it sinking. As we walked away, Luke said something. ‘Boys I’m amazed we just did that. I was expecting the swamp to spit Snake Eyes right back out’. We all had a good chuckle at that.”
“I bet. Did anyone ever find out?”
“No. It didn’t hurt that no one in town was exactly sad to see him go. I gotta admit though, for years I was terrified his family or someone would come for revenge. But they never did. I guess they hated him as much as the rest of us.” He looked out the window for a second as he seemed temporarily absorbed in thought. But he turned back to face me after a moment.
“Although one by one, we all lost touch. It wasn’t long after that when I went to the slammer for a few years. Armed robbery amongst others. I was in and out for a few years, my wife and kids long gone. I haven’t seen any of them in years. Apart from me all of us who were there that night have all passed on.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I wasn’t sorry for a moment, but what else do you say to something like that?
“Kind of you son. So anyways, that’s my little story. Hope you enjoyed it.” He spoke like he was reminiscing about a pleasant afternoon fishing or something.
“It wasn’t dull, that’s for sure. Anything else you need Pete?” I asked as I stood up from my seat. He shook his head.
“It’s my time to head out. I’ll see you later.” I walked out of his room as he continued to ramble on incoherently.
I had never been so happy to leave here. The front doors to the hospital glided open smoothly as I walked out into the cool evening air. I felt like I was in some sort of trance as I unlocked my car, put the key in the ignition, and drove home. My body felt numb, like it was on autopilot. Somehow, once I got on the highway, my mind suddenly switched back on. A million emotions flooded through my body at once. I spent the rest of the drive in silence, processing what had just happened.
I got back home about 20 minutes later. As I saw my front door, I relaxed a bit. Walking into my condo, I switched the lights on. The dark blue walls and crisp white carpet never failed to make me feel at home. My mom was asleep on the couch, the TV blaring on in the background. She’s been in town for the week and has been staying with me. When I switched on the lights, she bolted awake.
“What time’s it?” she slurred out as she rubbed her eyes.
“I just got home from work Mom,” I replied I got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. She instantly sat up straighter.
“How was your day?” she asked. Mom was always curious to hear stories about my job.
“Well a patient told me a little secret of his. I guess he killed some rich big shot decades ago out of spite. He finally spilled the beans after all these years. As soon as I’m done with my drink, I’ll call the missing persons hotline. That reward money isn’t gonna collect itself.”
“Did it shock you?” Mom looked at me, her expression full of concern.
“Wish I could say it did. But nope. Not one bit.” She nodded solemnly. “But then he mentioned how he was always afraid of Snake Eye’s family coming after him,” I added.
“Oh yeah?” she looked faintly amused.
“Yup. Then he mentioned his own family as an afterthought. But nothing new there. Thank God his wife took their kids and ran.”
“Indeed,” Mom agreed. “Best decision I ever made. I cringe to imagine what would have happened if I didn’t. You know the man I don’t dare call your father was always way more interested in Snake Eye’s family than in us.”