Night Shift

It wasn’t really a party per se. More of a business like reunion between old friends with individual careers. And he wasn’t actually using as such – he just accidentally accepted some substances that were offered to him, that only later turned out to be slightly illegal. How was he to know that? He was frigging drunk for heaven’s sake. And last time he checked, that – at least – was something he was entitled to be whenever he so chose.

David tried telling all this to the police, but they didn’t listen to him and he was forced to spend the night in an embarrassingly small and unsanitary cell at the local station. Luckily, his feeling of hurt indignation at this didn’t last long. He fell into a drunken stupor almost right away and didn’t wake until morning.

He tried telling all this to his loving parents as well, but of course they didn’t listen either. Instead they told his older brother, who then called him for a long and provoking talk about life, choices and consequences. Then they sent him back to Edinburgh for the autumn semester in disgrace.

He would get no more money from them until he proved that he could make grown-up decisions, and they in no uncertain terms made it clear that they would send him to a boarding school in Berlin if he made one single mistake from here on. How unspeakably bothersome. Thinking about it, his current situation is actually all their fault.

There’s blood on David’s hands. Luckily, he’s professional enough not to have forgotten to bring the rubber gloves. Their blue surface stands in sharp contrast to all the red as he works the shivering flesh with his instruments. He’s read about this but never seen it being done – much less so done it himself. His heart races in pace with the man’s frantic breathing.

What’s taking you so long, man? He’s dying here, for fuck sake. What’s wrong with you? Glen told me you’re a doctor, aren’t you?” The short, smoking man pacing around with his gun drawn isn’t helping one bit.

Shut the hell up, can’t you see I’m busy?” He hopes his voice doesn’t give away his fear.

The man on the table screams. David can see the tall one, the inked muscle brute, stepping forth from the corner of his eye. “I’m not hurting him, I’m trying to find the bullet!” The fear is clear in his voice now and he is starting to sweat. Are they going to kill him if he’s not quick enough? But the man behind him stops. Towers just close enough that David can hear his heavy breathing. And then he sees it.

With a sigh of relief he starts working the bullet out of the injured man’s leg. The poor bastard should be given heavier sedatives, but this call was sudden and David didn’t have time to bring more than the very basics. Some aspirin and moonshine had to do. Now the man screams again and David is glad that the third guy is holding him down. Just as he gets a firm grip around the bullet and pulls, the doors of the warehouse are thrown open and all hell breaks loose.

Eddie whistles softly along with the music in his headphones as he makes his way down the corridor. He can’t afford Spotify so this is FM radio. He moves slowly, carefully. Wouldn’t want to miss a spot, this is a hospital and people would notice. Eddie is a helpful and empathetic person, everyone knows that. And hygiene and cleanliness are imperative in a place like this, he is doing important work. Or fuck it, who is he trying to fool? Everyone, apparently.

If people find out he works as a janitor here at night he will never hear the end of it – and that would be the end of it. Being a nightly cleaner at the same hospital where he does his medical training by day is not something he is proud about. The rest of his class come from wealthy backgrounds and probably have all their expenses covered by rich parents or impressive scholarships. Eddie has nothing, but they can’t know that. Can’t know that even though his school fees have already been paid by his parents, he’s forced to do this in order to afford living in Edinburgh at all. He has to make due and keep up the pretence.

He shivers as he thinks about what would happen if they found out – if David found out. David Cowen who is always so perfect, who has everything and knows everything. David who fits in so well and who has condescended to becoming Eddie’s best friend despite their severe differences. Eddie would die of shame if David found out about him cleaning toilets every night as the others study or party or do whatever it is the pretty people do when he’s not around. That would probably be the last drop that would make David give up on their friendship out of embarrassment once and for all.

Eddie quickly passes by the locked door of the main medicine storage. It has been cleaned once today already and doesn’t need another go. Only medical staff ever enter that door and the hospital is restrictive with giving out clearance to unlock it. And even though Eddie’s intern status gives him such clearance, as a puny janitor he certainly isn’t supposed to go there. He has heard rumours about stuff vanishing from in there the last couple of weeks, and he definitely doesn’t want to be connected with that.

He thinks about his parents as he doubles back through the corridor to get the cleaning supplies he left by the elevators earlier. A sting of shame always goes through his body when he remembers what they did for him. He can’t even relate to the size of the land they sold in order to pay for his education, to enable him to be here. It has been many generations since the Llwellyn family was actually wealthy, but this “investment” has probably sealed the line’s fate once and for all.

They say they’ll be able to buy everything back in time, but Eddie knows that’s just talk. They’re buying him a future and he’s too slow and stupid to make any good use of it. He can’t even read properly, for fuck sake. The letters just keep jumping around and he has to go over every page four times to make any sense of it at all. Thus far he’s made due in school by watching informative YouTube channels, but he knows they’re getting farther ahead of popular science every day. He’s already aware that there isn’t any video instructions online for the subject they’re going over next week. He’s screwed. He picks up the bucket and swears as dirty water sloshes over the edge and soaks his left pant leg. He’s really glad David isn’t here.

The pain is so severe that he can’t even think straight. There is chaos all around him and people are screaming in horror, anger and agony. The man on the table tried to rise, only to fall and hit his head on the concrete floor. He’s the only one not panicking right now. David certainly is. He’s been shot and the police are going to take them all away. Everything is over.

He pictures his parents’ faces as they find out about this. He can almost hear his brother William’s voice in his head, preaching to him about decency and morale. Hello, Berlin, he thinks bitterly as the short man with the gun is forced onto the floor by one of the armoured cops.

I am arresting you for armed bank robbery. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention…” David zones out, doesn’t want to hear the rest.

He crawls further in behind the stacked boxes he has thrown himself behind, hoping against all odds that they will not find him here. Then he sees the bloody trail his bleeding leg is leaving behind and all such hope dies. They’re going to think I’m one of them, a simple bank robber. The shame at the thought out voices the pain for a second and gives him new strength. And that is when he notices the door.

The crates have been stacked so high as to make the small back door invisible from within the room, but from this new vantage point it’s impossible to miss it. David crawls towards it as new gunshots echo on the other side of his fragile barricade. It’s only a matter of moments before the police get their maths together and realize one person is missing from the room. He has to act quickly.

He crawls the last couple of steps towards the door. It has a turning knob that looks rusty and he suddenly becomes afraid that he won’t be able to open it. He hears the muscle brute bellow something incoherent on the other side of the crates, followed by more gunshots. One of them goes straight through the crate to the left of David and burrows deep into the wall only inches above his head. His heart races and he has to collect himself before he even dares thinking about reaching for the knob. He has lost a lot of blood and his field of vision is shrinking with every shallow breath. I will go into shock soon and then everything will be over.

His brain starts replaying a myriad pieces of medical knowledge that he’d rather be blissfully unaware of right now. He doesn’t have a plan as he finally struggles into a sitting position and reaches for the door handle. It gives resistance as he tries to turn it, and for a moment he almost despairs. Please, please, please, open. Dying from blood loss outside would be a mercy compared to what will happen if the police catch me here, David’s exhausted mind contemplates. Then the knob gives in and he tumbles onto the wet asphalt outside.

He first met Glen Wilson at a bar. Not the kind of place that he usually visits, mind you, but none of the places he commonly frequents is the kind of establishment where he’d want to be seen drinking his brains out. The bar was called Alison’s and he’d found it by chance by following the sound of the loudest voices and the cheapest music from the old town square. He’d been desperate and lost and all he wanted then was to become so drunk that he wouldn’t remember why the morning after.

Alison’s was – is – a simple place for simple people. At least that’s the image the pub’s owner wants to uphold. But David didn’t know that back then – he didn’t know anything. This was six weeks ago and so much has happened since then. He got a table all for himself and the bartender – a fabulously beautiful girl with red hair with whom he would later fall hopelessly in love – brought him all the glasses he asked for without asking any questions of her own. Before the night was over he would be working for her father, as so many others in the bar. But, of course, he didn’t know that yet either. He just drank and drank, and then Glen Wilson showed up.

David can’t remember any more when he stopped paying for his own drinks that night, but somewhere along the way Glen took over the bill. Another thing he can’t remember is why he ever started telling this stranger in the grey beanie about his problems – but he did. Oh yes, he did.

“…and now my parents won’t pay for my medical studies any more. Or my apartment. Or my car. I’ll have to… you know, pay for it all myself. As if they were never high or whatever when they were young. Fucking hypocrites.”

And Glen agreed and poured him another drink. And another.

Must be hard on you, mate. I know how parents can be. Unreasonable, that’s the word. Wouldn’t you say?” Glen smiled crookedly and chewed on the unlit cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth. David remember being fascinated by the fact that he did not light it. Everyone else at the bar was smoking openly.

Yeah, I know, right? As if I could work any common job, you know.” He laughed as if the mere thought of it was totally absurd. And it was. “Me, mopping floors? I don’t think so.” He downed another one and felt a brief surge of sulking satisfaction as he heard Glen laughing at his bizarre joke. At least someone understood the ridiculousness of his situation. When he lowered his glass he realised that Glen was looking straight at him, almost appraisingly.

What?”, David said, suddenly very aware of how drunk he really was.

I think I’ve got the perfect job for you, mate”, Glen said.

I’m not working at a bar”, David hurried to reply. “Or anything similar.”

No”, Glen said and his smile returned. “What I have in mind is something much more… in line with your current career choice, so to speak. I know my boss has need for that.”

This instantly caught David’s attention. He almost toppled over his glass as he leaned forward to listen. “I’m all ears”, he said and Glen’s smile broadened. And now he actually lit his cigarette.

He thinks about this meeting now as he floors the pedal of his too expensive car and wishes for the best. He knew so little back then, he was so naive. Somewhere he always knew this day would come – he was just stupid enough to think it was far in the future. Now he knows better.

Reality is a bitch and she was always out to get him. Life isn’t fair. He is being abused by everyone and still has to clear out this mess himself – even though he has done nothing to cause it. This isn’t fair. But so be it. If you want something done you’d better do it yourself. I’m obviously getting nothing for free here, he thinks as he turns to fast onto the parking area of the huge glowing building. And then the car crashes into the damn willow tree and the world grows even more painful.

Eddie walks slowly towards the basement locker rooms after leaving his supplies in all the proper places. The music in his headphones has been interrupted by a news broadcast and now they are going on about some kind of bank robbery and a police shoot out in the harbour. He turns down the volume.

He keeps all his clothes and things down here, even by day. No point in moving stuff around when all his days end in the cellar catacombs anyway. Sometimes he is forced to pretend using his upstairs locker like all of his class mates, but it still only contains his unused extra scrubs. The things we do for the guise of normality, he muses as he rounds a corner and sees the blood.

He freezes in his tracks. Forgets to breathe for a second or two. He steps forward carefully, his heart racing. This wasn’t here half an hour ago. Someone is here. The dark trail starts right in front of the emergency exit and stretches on into one of the basement’s many narrow corridors.

Apart from the apparent drops and slide marks there are also footsteps in that red substance. Dark hand marks on the left corridor wall jump out at Eddie in the eerily flickering halogen light, making him think suddenly of a thousand bad horror movies. Except this isn’t a movie.

He stares, realises that he has stepped in one of the red puddles and quickly takes a step back. His indoors slippers leave even more bloody marks on the floor and he wants to throw up so badly that he can barely hold it back.

But I’m a doctor, a part of Eddie reminds himself. I’m a doctor, and someone is injured. Someone who has come to the hospital but used the wrong entrance. Yeah, that must be it. Eddie starts walking carefully into the corridor, following the bloody trail. He’s going to help whoever is at the end of it. What kind of doctor would he be otherwise?

Or it is a junkie, another part of him counters suddenly. The same junkie who has been looting the medical closet for weeks has returned for yet another hit. But this time he has cut himself on something and is bleeding to death. He probably has a gun – and maybe Aids as well.

Eddie stops. Tries to breathe calmly. This was not what he signed up for when he started working these shifts. Not at all. He picks up his phone and dials the emergency number. Keeps his thumb on the green button that will hopefully connect him with all the king’s men – and their aunt – before whoever is down here jumps out from the shadows to drink his blood. But for some reason he doesn’t press it.

Instead he follows the trail around a corner and sees it end in front of the door to one of the old disused shower rooms. He slowly approaches the door. Now he can hear someone breathing heavily, painfully inside. This someone is in deep pain, maybe dying. Eddie is the only person here. He opens the door and then he can do nothing but stare.

He stares at the man sitting on the floor surrounded by a pool of blood, digging in his own leg with a pair of pliers. For a moment he doesn’t understand what he is seeing. Who he is seeing.

David?”, he stammers. This can’t be real. But it is.

David Cowen looks up at him with shock and fear almost outshining the expression of pain on his face. Their eyes lock for an eternal moment, both terrified about secrets finally out in the light.

Eddie”, David whispers finally. “Help me.” And then he collapses onto the floor, blood still pouring from the gunshot wound in his left leg.

David is dreaming about Bethan Carlingham. Her red hair is all around him and she whispers his name again and again. In this moment he feels completely safe and doesn’t give a single fuck about the stupidity inherent in secretly dating the one daughter of Edinburgh’s most dangerous mobster boss. He simply doesn’t care right now. He’s whispering to her that he’s going to save her. Take her away from all of this, far away. Just like that guy in “My Fair Lady”. She deserves so much better, he just has to sort out his economy and finish his studies. He’s not afraid of her father. Not now, not here. Trevor Carlingham can’t touch him here, because… Because…

David!” He opens his eyes slowly, groggily. That’s not Bethan.

Eddie stands over him with a worried look on his pale face. David can’t remember what has happened. He’s lying on a bed in a room he recognises all too well for Eddie to be here.

What are you doing in my apartment?”, he says and tries to sit but falls right back down, struck by a fit of nausea.

I saved you”, Eddie says sternly. “I plucked that bullet out of your fucking leg and patched you up. What the hell were you thinking? A bullet, David. A bullet.

David just stares at him. Doesn’t know what to say.

Eddie shakes his head. He’s angry, frustrated. “You’ve been shot, David. Who did this to you and why? And why the hell didn’t you go straight to the emergency entrance? Why did I find you bleeding to death in the basement?” He’s not pale any more

Things are starting to come back to David now. About the late night call, about the warehouse, about the four men. The bank robbers. He shivers, his head spins. What the fuck should I tell him?

He clears his throat and swallows hard. “Because I… I couldn’t risk it”, he says finally.

Eddie looks like he is inches away from hitting him across his face. “You couldn’t risk it? Oh, okay. But you could risk dying in a nasty shower hall, now could you? Well, in any case we’re going back to the hospital now. I don’t even understand why I let you convince me to drive you here in the first place.”

David doesn’t even remember convincing him, but he knows he can be pretty persuasive so that’s probably true. He definitely doesn’t want to go back to the hospital. He can’t. That would ruin everything. “No”, he says. “We can’t go back there.”

Oh, and why is that?” The question is rhetorical – Eddie is already reaching to drag him up from the bed. David feels the desperation welling up from inside. I can’t go there –

…because of the –

Eddie has stopped in the middle of a motion. I can’t have heard that right, right? “The… police?”

But David nods. Sinks back into the pillow with a defeated look on his face. “Yeah, the police.”

And why would the police be looking for you?”

A heavy silence drapes itself over the room, over the two of them. Eddie can see how something in David’s eyes gives in, surrenders. David takes a deep breath and then he tells Eddie everything. About the job offer from Glen Wilson, about the stolen drugs, about the shady medical services he has been performing for cash in downtrodden apartments, garages and back rooms the past six weeks. About tonight. He tells Eddie how Wilson called him around ten at night to order him out to the old warehouse where he met up with the fleeing bank robbers.

Eddie is speechless. “So you helped… the bank robbers? The ones from the news?” Of course it’s the ones from the news. How many frigging banks have been robbed tonight, stupid?

David stares at him. “Yeah, I helped them. They couldn’t very well drop by at the hospital now, could they? Oh, hello, I’ve just been shot. Nothing weird about that. A robbery? No, kind sir, we don’t know nothing about that. Now please stitch me up if you’d be so kind. We’ve got some stuff in the car that we’d like to get home with as soon as possible.”

Eddie shakes his head in disbelief. Was David always this stupid, deep down? “And then they shot you?” He holds up his hand when David tries to interrupt him. “David, we must get you to the hospital. You’ve lost a lot of blood and I’m not sure I’ve done all the right things with the wound. And we have to call the police. Seriously, David. You can’t go on protecting these people after they–”

They didn’t shoot me, Eddie. The police did.”

Eddie meets his gaze and suddenly he understands everything. All the pieces fall into place. The basement, the pleading, David’s crashed car at the back of the hospital.

Eddie can’t stop shaking his head. “You stupid mother fucker”, he says silently.

David hesitates. “And, Eddie, there’s another thing.

No, Eddie thinks. No, there’s not. But he doesn’t say anything. Just waits for David to spill the last of it.

I owe these people money, Eddie. I have to keep working for them, they expect me back tonight.”

You can’t work tonight, David”, Eddie says. “And you’re definitely not working for them.”

No”, David says and for a moment Eddie almost believes that he is listening to him. Then that delusion shatters. “No I can’t. You have to help me, Eddie. You have to step in for me.”

He sees Eddie go from shocked to angry to really fucking mad in just a matter of seconds. He listens as he argues, as he tries to reason with David. As he curses and pleads and finally runs out of things to say. And through all of this David is absolutely calm. The initial terror at having revealed his secret has faded, replaced by a feeling of relief at not being alone any more.

And he is entirely content with Eddie yelling at him, because he knows that he will help him in the end. That’s just who Eddie is. And no matter what Eddie thinks right now, David is actually doing him a favour by bringing him into his business. I mean, does he really work as a janitor? Bitch please, you’re going to thank me before this is over.

Then his phone rings.

Eddie falls silent as David answers his phone, right in the middle of his rant. Was he even listening at all? The anger wells up again as David ignores him for the caller, but vanishes in a heartbeat as he hears David utter his name to the person on the other end of the line. Then he hands Eddie the phone.

I think you’d better take this”, he says. “Wilson wants to talk to you about tonight.”

And Eddie wants so badly to kill David right now. To strangle him with his bare hands. To take the phone and throw it straight into David’s face. David can see this in his eyes, but they both know that Eddie won’t do it. He’s too caring for that. Too empathetic and helpful. Their eyes lock for a moment – then Eddie accepts the phone.

Chris Smedbakken, 2017-03-09

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Chris is a non-binary writer and journalist from Sweden, struggling with the novel that will make them an author.

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