Vex brought a rose anyway; it was part of the ceremony. She tucked it carefully beneath her leather jacket as she slid out of the cab. It was already midmorning and the Arizona heat produced rippling shadows along the concrete walkway that undulated like smoke between the silhouettes of feathery bushes. Nurses wearing various colors of scrubs and smocks hung about outside the front door, chatting in the shadows. Vex snickered at the number who sucked on cigarettes through pursed lips, blowing threads of white between narrowly parted lips.
“I’m looking for Jason Salter,” she told the receptionist, a bored looking woman wearing huge framed glasses. “I think he’s in room thirteen nineteen? But, I don’t know how to get there.”
“Take the elevator to the third floor, turn left, and just follow the numbers on the wall.”
Salter was the only person in the room. He had been propped up on the far bed, white sheets swaddled around him with several pillows underneath his head. The TV was on and he muted the sound a moment after she stepped in. The antiseptic “cleanness” smell clung to everything as she walked past the other, empty, bed. Suppressed feelings of grief and discomfort mingled with the smell; the hospital smell, the scent of loss. She wondered how many other people felt this way about hospitals, not a place to find healing, but a place where injury could be found. A limbo between walking free in the world and recovering from illness, avoided during the best of times.
“Vex!” Salter said from his bed. It was obvious that he couldn’t turn his head very much. The dark lines of purple bruises were still visible on his neck and face, his lower lip sported swelling and a black barbed-wire row of stitches. In spite of his injuries, he tried to smile cheerily, which expressed more like an ugly grimace instead. “You’re a sight for bored eyes. I’d hug you if I could, dudette… As you can see, I’m rather tied up at the moment.”
“You look like hell, Jason,” Vex said, crossing her arms.
Jason’s grimace-smile faltered and turned into a lop-sided sneer which Vex figured approximated a wide grin. He winced and brought a bruised hand up to touch his cheek. “Yeah, I feel like hell too. Like a sumo is dancing the hula in my head.” The hand fell away. “Did you bring me a rose?”
“What gave you the impression that I brought you a
“Is that your hand in your jacket or are you just happy to
Returning his sneer, Vex produced the black rose from beneath her jacket. The dark petals, tucked neatly together at the tip, jostled as she laid it in Jason’s hand. He took it delicately and inhaled the scent.
“Who told?” she asked.
“Gary called me after they brought me out of the ICU.”
“Ah, yeah. He’s the one who gave me your room number and what time to visit. I should have guessed. When do they think you’ll be getting back to work?”
“Well.” Jason propped himself up in the bed. “I hear that I have a few more days here. My ribs may take a bit to heal, but maybe a week or so after they send me home. Or so they say.”
“Sucks,” he continued. “I’m going to miss out on Halloween. I even had some nice props lined up for the trick or treaters. That’s what’s stashed in the duffel I asked you to stow in your cab’s trunk. Won’t be able to use ‘em now. Maybe next year.”
“And dad gave me your shift that night, even. You making an accordion out of your ride put us both in a bind, didn’t it.”
“I’m sorry, dudette. I really am.” He hesitated a moment and the grimace-smile faded. “I didn’t really plan on getting run off the road.”
“I saw the police report. I’d say someone else planned it for you,” she said.
The Ahwatukee P.D. speculated that it was just an isolated incident. Someone had smashed the driver’s side window with a crowbar or a baseball bat and run him off the road. When Salter came to he looked at the list of items found at the scene and nothing was missing—not even his fare money. So the detectives concluded that it was probably random. Of course, Vex knew that Jason had a big mouth and bar hopped a lot, so he could have pissed someone off and just wasn’t telling.