Read (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion Online

Authors: Charlaine Harris

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BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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“How do you feel, Miss Bard?” he asked, and I could hear him, though his voice was oddly beelike.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to me.”

“A bomb went off,” he said. “In Golgotha Church.”

“Right.” I accepted that as the truth, but it was the first time I had thought of the word
bomb
. Bomb, man-made. Someone had actually done that on purpose.

“I’m John Bellingham. I’m with the FBI.” He showed me some identification, but my brain was too scrambled for it to make sense.

I absorbed that, trying to make sense of it. I thought that since Claude and the sheriff were down, the FBI had been called in to keep the peace. Then I cleared up a little. Church bombing. Civil rights. FBI.

“OK.”

“Can you describe what happened last night?”

“The church blew up as we were leaving.”

“Why did you attend the meeting, Miss Bard?”

“I didn’t like the blue sheets.”

He looked at me as if I were insane.

“Blue sheets…”

“The papers,” I said, beginning to be angry. “The blue sheets of paper they were putting under everyone’s windshield wipers.”

“Are you a civil rights activist, Miss Bard?”

“No.”

“You have friends in the black community?”

I wondered if Raphael would consider himself my friend. I decided, yes.

“Raphael Roundtree,” I said carefully.

He seemed to be writing that down.

“Can you find out if he’s okay?” I asked. “And Claude, is Claude alive?”

“Claude…”

“The police chief,” I said. I couldn’t remember Claude’s last name, and that made me feel very odd.

“Yes, he’s alive. Can you describe in your own words what happened in the church?”

I said slowly, “The meeting went long. I looked at my watch. It was eight-fifteen when I was leaving, walking down the aisle.”

He definitely wrote that down.

“Do you still have your watch on?” he asked.

“You can look and see,” I said indifferently. I didn’t want to move. He pulled the sheet down and looked at my arm.

“It’s here,” he said. He pulled out his handkerchief, wet it with his tongue, and scrubbed at my wrist. I realized he was cleaning the watch face. “Sorry,” he apologized, and when he pocketed the handkerchief again I could see it was stained.

He bent over me, trying to read the watch without shifting me.

“Hey, it’s still ticking along,” he said cheerfully. He checked it against his own watch. “And right on time. So, it was eight-fifteen, and you were leaving…?”

“The woman next to me was about to say something,” I said. “And then her head wasn’t there.”

He looked serious and subdued, but he had no idea what it had been like: though when I thought about it, I had little idea myself. I could not remember exactly…I could see the shiny edge of the collection plate. So I told John Bellingham about the collection plate. I recalled Lanette Glass speaking to me, and I mentioned that, and I remembered helping the man up, and I knew I’d journeyed across the church to find Claude. But I refused to recall what I’d seen on that journey, and to this day I do not want to remember.

I told John Bellingham about finding Claude, about leading Todd to him.

“Was it you that moved the fixture off his legs?” the agent asked.

“I believe so,” I said slowly.

“You’re one strong lady.” He asked me more questions, lots more, about whom I’d seen, white people in particular of course, and where I’d been sitting…ta da ta da ta da.

“Find out about Claude,” I told him, wearying of the conversation.

Instead, he sent me Carrie.

She was so tired her face had a gray cast. Her white coat was filthy now, and her glasses smeared with fingerprints. I was glad to see her.

“You have a long cut on your leg. Some stitches and some butterfly bandages are holding it together. You have a slight concussion. You have bruising all across your back, including your butt. A splinter evidently grazed your scalp, one reason you looked so horrendous when they brought you in, and another splinter took off a little of your earlobe. You won’t miss it. You have dozens of abrasions, none of them serious, all of them painful. I can’t believe it, but you have no broken bones. How’s your hearing?”

“Everything sounds buzzy,” I said with an effort.

“Yeah, I can imagine. It’ll get better.”

“So I can go home?”

“As soon as we’re sure about the concussion. Probably in a few hours.”

“Are you gonna charge me for a room since I was out in the hall all night?”

Carrie laughed. “Nope.”

“Good. You know I don’t have much insurance.”

“Yeah.”

Carrie had arranged for me to be in the hall. I felt a surge of gratitude. “What about Claude?” I asked.

Her face grew more serious. “He’s got a badly broken leg, broken in two places,” she began. “Like you, he has a concussion, and he’s temporarily deaf. He has a serious cut on one arm, and his kidneys are bruised.”

“He’s going to be okay?”

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s going to take a long time.”

“Did you treat my friend Raphael Roundtree, by chance?”

“Nope, or I did but I don’t remember the name, which is entirely possible.” Carrie yawned, and I could tell how exhausted she was. “But I’ll look for him.”

“Thanks.”

A nurse came a few minutes later to tell me Raphael had been treated and released the night before.

A few hours later, a hospital volunteer gave me a ride back to my car, still parked a couple of blocks away from the ruin of Golgotha Church. She was civil enough, but I could tell she thought I’d mostly deserved what happened to me because I’d gone to a meeting in a black church. I was not surprised at her attitude, and I didn’t care a whole lot. My coat was in a wastebasket at the hospital because the back of it was shredded, and the hospital gave me a huge ancient jacket of sweatsuit material, with a hood, which I was grateful to wrap around me. I knew I looked pretty disreputable. Bits of my shoes were missing and my blue jeans had been cut off to treat my leg. I was wearing even older sweatpants.

The wound was in my left leg, which was fortunate, because it meant I could drive. It was painful to walk—hell, it was painful to move—and I wanted to be home locked inside my own place so bad that I could just barely endure the process of getting there.

I parked my car in my own carport and unlocked my own kitchen door with a relief so great I could almost taste it. My bed was waiting for me, with clean sheets and firm pillows and no one shaking me awake to check my pupils, but I could not get into it as filthy as I was.

When I looked into my bathroom mirror, I was amazed that anyone had been able to endure looking at me. Though I’d been swabbed at some, the hospital had been so flooded with injuries that cleaning up the victims had had low priority. I had speckles of blood all over my face and clotting my hair, my neck had a dried river where my ear had bled, my shirt and bra were splotched in blood and smelled to high heaven of all kinds of things, and my shoes would have to go. It took a long long time to get all this off me. I threw the remains of my clothes and shoes into a plastic bag, set it outside the kitchen door, and hobbled laboriously to the bathroom to sponge myself. It was impossible to get in the bathtub, and my stitches were supposed to be kept dry, too. I stood on a towel by my sink, and soaped with one washrag and rinsed with another, until I looked and smelled more like my own self. I even did that to my hair; all I can say of my hair after that is that it was clean. I dabbed more antiseptic ointment on the scalp wound. I threw away the earring still in my right ear—the left earring had been removed in the hospital when they’d treated my ear, and I had no idea where it was and cared less. I did look at my left ear to make sure I could still wear a pair of pierced earrings. I could, but I needed to grow my hair longer to cover the place about midway down the edge of my earlobe where there was, and would always be, a notch.

Finally—barely able to walk, full of medicine, and still oddly numb emotionally—I was able to lower myself into my bed. I flipped the volume of the telephone ring to its lowest setting, but left it on the hook. I didn’t want anyone breaking in to see if I’d died. Then I lay back very very carefully and let the darkness come.

I HAD TO
miss two and a half days of work, and I had Sunday as a free day anyway. I should have stayed home Monday (and maybe Tuesday), too, but I knew I had to pay the hospital for the emergency room visit, and Carrie for treatment. I always cleaned for Carrie to pay her, but I didn’t want my debt to mount too high.

That Monday, it was much easier to clean for the clients who weren’t present when I got to work. Otherwise, they tried to send me home.

Bobo had come by the evening of the day I went home.

“How’d you find out?” I asked.

“That new guy said you might need some help.”

I was too exhausted to ask questions, and I was too depressed to care.

Bobo came every day after that, too. He brought in my mail and my paper, and made me sandwiches so thick they were almost impossible to chew. Carrie ran by one evening, but I felt guilty because she looked so tired. The hospital was still full.

“How many dead?” I asked, lying back in my recliner.

She was in the blue wing-back chair. “So far, five,” she said. “If it had gone off five minutes later, there would maybe have been no fatalities and few injuries. Five minutes earlier, and the death toll would have been very high.”

“Who died?” I asked.

Carrie fetched the local paper and read me the names. I hadn’t personally known any of them, and I was glad of that.

I asked about Claude, and she told me he was better. But she didn’t sound comfortable about his progress. “And I’m worried about him going home by himself, anyway. He lives upstairs.”

“Move all his stuff to the empty downstairs apartment,” I said wearily. “They’re just alike. Tell all the officers they have to show up and help. Don’t ask Claude if that’s what he wants. Just get it done.”

Carrie looked at me with some amazement. “All right,” she said slowly.

Carrie had suggested I use a cane for a few days until the swelling and pain in my leg subsided, and I was glad to have the one she loaned me. Marshall came the same evening after she’d left, and he was horrified to see me hobble. He brought three movies he’d taped off HBO for me to watch, and a take-out meal from a local restaurant. I was glad for both. Thinking and standing were not things I wanted to do. When Marshall left, I noticed that he walked next door to the apartments. I figured he was going to see Becca Whitley. I didn’t care.

To my amazement, Janet Shook dropped by about lunchtime on Sunday. I’d never seen Janet in a dress before, but she’d been to church and was all decked out in a deep blue dress that looked very nice. She had made me a pot of stew and a loaf of bread, and while she was there she helped me shave my legs and wash my hair properly, two problems that had been bothering me to the point of distraction.

When I went back to work Monday, I can’t say I did a good job, but I did my best: That would have to do. I would do extra things, I promised myself, to atone for leaving some chores not well accomplished this time.

I tried all day to save some energy, and at the end of it I drove to the hospital. I was really hurting by then, but I knew if I went home first and took a pain pill I wouldn’t persuade myself to go back out. I was looking forward to taking the strongest ones, the ones Carrie had said to take if I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

I had some flowers in a bud vase in my right hand, and my cane in my left, so I was glad the doors were automatic. I made my way to Claude’s room, resting here and there. I couldn’t knock with both hands occupied, so I called out through the partially open door, “Claude? Can I come in?”

“Lily? Sure.” At least he seemed to be hearing better.

I butted the door open with my head and hobbled in.

“Damn, girl, I better move over and let you in with me,” he said wearily.

I was shocked when I had a good look at Claude. His face was not its normal healthy color, and his hair was spiky. He was shaven, at least. His right leg and his right arm were engulfed in bandages and casts. He had visibly lost weight.

To my horror, I felt tears crawling down my cheeks.

“Didn’t know I looked that bad,” Claude murmured.

“I just thought…when I saw you that night…I thought you were gone.”

“I hear you did me a favor.”

“You’ve done plenty for me.”

“Let’s call us even, then. No more rescuing each other.”

“Sounds good.”

I sank into the chair by the bed. I felt like hell.

Carrie trotted in then, moving fast as always, her professional face on.

“Two-for-one visit,” she remarked. “I just came to check in on you, Claude, before I leave for the day.”

Claude smiled at her. Carrie suddenly looked more like a woman than a doctor. I felt extra.

“I ain’t feeling as bad as yesterday,” Claude rumbled. “You get on out of here and get some rest, or you’ll end up looking as ragged as Lily. And she hasn’t been at work all day.”

“Yes, I have.”

They both looked at me like I was the biggest fool they’d ever encountered. I could feel my face hardening defensively.

“Lily, you’ll end up back in bed if you don’t rest,” Carrie said, keeping her voice even though it obviously cost her a great deal of self-control.

“I’ve got to go,” I said, hauling myself up with an effort I didn’t want to show. I had counted on sitting longer before I walked back out to my car.

I hobbled out, trying not to limp, failing, getting angry and sad.

For the first time in years, as I stood at the front doors of the hospital and looked at how far away my car was parked, I wanted someone to make my life easier. I had even thought of calling my parents and asking for help, but I hadn’t asked them for anything for so long that I’d gotten out of the habit. They would have come, I knew. But they’d have had to book a room at the motel on the bypass, they’d have looked at everything in my house and gotten a close-up of my life. It seemed more trouble, finally, than the help was worth. And I knew from their letters that my sister Serena was heavily involved in engagement parties and showers; the wedding would be just after Christmas. Serena would resent me even more than she already did if I horned in on her spotlight.

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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