The victim of a brutal attack can't speak--how can he identify his assailant?
|I woke to a gray and blurry world, with sharp unknown smells and the sounds of rustling cloth and subdued beeping. Hospital, the concept slithered like an eel into my consciousness. My sight sharpened on a woman looking down at me. Words popped into my brain, bubbles bursting with meaning: White coat. Glasses. Stethoscope. Nurse? Doctor?
“Ah, Mr. Salvadore, we’re awake. Very good. I’m Doctor Acharya. How are we feeling?”
The words were individual pops in my head, and the result was a pleasant burble of meaningless sound. I sorted through the bubbles and they gradually coalesced into meaning. I frowned. I had no idea how she was feeling. I was feeling okay, but somehow couldn’t remember how to convey that. I opened my mouth, expecting a bubble of sound to pop out, but nothing happened.
Dr. Acharya turned to the other person in the room. A medium-sized man in a rumpled brown suit. “He might not be able to talk for a while,” she said. “It’s called aphasia and it happens sometimes with TBI, traumatic brain injury. Usually other symptoms, too.”
“Confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, memory lapses. He might not be able to follow conversations. He may not be able to write, or might struggle to find words, or might be able to say only single words, or talk with great difficulty and slowness. It improves with time and therapy. I’ll get you a pamphlet on the condition. I’ll be right back. Please don’t get him upset.”
The man looked at me. I looked back. Things were making more sense as I came more awake.
“Mr. Salvadore, Zeke, I’m Mike Seever. I’m a policeman. I came to talk to you about the attack on you. It’s okay if you can’t talk right now. We’ll have lots of time to talk. How about if you hear me and understand what I’m saying, you blink your eyes twice. Okay?”
I tried to nod, but felt something around my neck that restricted movement. I tried to talk, I made the words in my head, but I couldn’t remember what to do with them. I blinked twice.
“Hey, good man! Okay, if you remember what happened last night, blink twice.”
Last night? Fear. Terror. Pain. Seever hadn’t given me anything for “No” so I frowned at him.
The doctor returned and handed Seever a paper. Pamphlet. Brochure. Words were coming more easily now, without the disorienting sound bubbles.
“So, Doctor, is Zeke here gonna be okay?” He spoke quietly, but I could hear him fine.
“Recovery from TBI takes time. He’s lucky—MRI shows no skull fracture or cranial bleeding, so just scalp laceration and a bad concussion. That’s why he’s here and not in Intensive Care, though we’re monitoring for blood clots or other complications and he has the cervical collar to help stabilize his head. Ten minutes, then let him rest.”
Cervical collar. Neck brace. Why I can’t nod. Okay. I could hear, understand, and follow a conversation. I couldn’t remember events from last night, but I remembered emotions, and apparently it was not a pleasant evening. I had a headache. No surprise.
“Okay, Zeke. Here’s the deal. Last night around midnight, you were beaten and left for dead on your front step. Your neighbor, Sam Chaldesian, came home shortly after, called 911, and probably saved your life. He didn’t witness the attack. I think you saw something, or know something, that made you a target. An officer is guarding your door. When you remember something—anything—have him call me. Blink twice if you got all this.”
After he left, I slept, but my brain kept working. A feeling of danger, of vulnerability. Violent motion, surprise, fear, blows. I had been attacked, but I had fought. Pain—arm, shoulder, head. Carlton, it was Carlton. Carlton and his niece, the filthy pedophile. Angry memory faded to blackness.
Hunger woke me, along with a splitting headache. A nice young lady responded to my call-button. She gave me pain meds, removed my neck brace, brought me supper, tilted my bed, and made sure I could eat. Wonderful lady. I was slurping tepid soup when she left, and Seever showed up.
“Hey, Zeke, going okay?” He took out a notebook and pen, ready for an interrogation.
I nodded eagerly and opened my mouth to talk, but all that came out was, “Man! Man! Man!” Jesus, this was frustrating. I made a sign to Seever for writing. Maybe I could write.
“We kind of figured it was a man who attacked you." He handed me his notebook and pen.
I wrote, “Carlton Forthright hit me and his niece Sari is in danger.” When I looked at what I had done, it was just squiggles. I forced my hand to make a capital C and just got a sprawl. I frowned and gave the notebook to Seever.
“We knew this might happen. Takes time to recover from a bashing like you got. But you have recovered your memory?”
I nodded again. “Talk. Talk. Talk.” Darn, that wasn’t what I wanted to say. Then, I thought to try something else. I raised my hand and drew a big letter C on the wall beside my bed. I looked over at Seever.
“You’re drawing letters on the wall? I think that was a C.”
I nodded. It took all my strength to spell out Carlton’s name, then I pooped out.
“Good job, Zeke. I’ll see what I can find out about this guy. I’ll let you rest a while and be right back.”
I shook my head. Needed to tell him about the girl. But I don’t think he saw me, for he left the room, and I zonked.
# # #
I woke to a pillow over my face and a burning in my lungs. I flailed my arms weakly. I managed to knock over some equipment beside the bed. It made enough racket that the guy took off. Whatever I’d hit must have beeped at the nursing station, because a nurse, and eventually the cop who was supposed to be on guard, came running. By then, I was out of it again.
# # #
Next thing I knew, a nurse came in for a quick check, and Seever was sitting by the bed. The nurse, a nice guy called Seymour, helped me to the bathroom, poked and prodded, decided I was still alive, and left.
“Welcome back, Zeke. Sorry to hear about last night. We chewed out the guard for leaving his post, but the guy’s human and had to use the toilet, and the nurses were all busy. We’ve arranged for backup, and it won’t happen again.
“Hey, I checked with Doctor Acharya and she was pleased. I quote, ‘Agraphia and aphasia, but his cognition is excellent. Fine-motor coordination is impaired but using gross coordination to communicate is clever.’ We can’t find this Carlton Forthright guy, but we’re looking, especially after last night. Are you ready to gross me out some more?”
By the time I’d explained about Forthright molesting his niece, my arm was ready to fall off. It was the one he’d whacked before connecting with my skull, and it hurt. So did my head. I was ready for sleep again, and waved Seever out of the room. I slept with the call bell gripped in my hand.
# # #
By the third day after my attack, both Seever and I had good news to share.
“Yeah, I’m feeling much better,” I told him. “Occasional headaches, some dizziness when I walk to the bathroom. Fifteen stitches in my scalp and--” I couldn’t think of the word and patted my shaved head--“no hair. And, you may note, able to speak.”
“Great to hear, Zeke. We caught Forthright two states over; he’d kidnapped the girl. Her parents had filed a missing-person report but teens run away all the time so it hadn't got any traction. Anyway, he’s in jail pending arraignment and she and her parents are in counselling.”
He shook my hand. “For a guy who couldn’t talk, you made a damn good witness.”