The nurse grunted as she pushed through the door, her arms full.
The soft noise woke Skip, who blinked his eyes open and looked over at the woman as she checked his vitals, took note of the readings on the machine and studied his breathing.
“Didn’t mean to wake you,” she said and continued. “Do you need anything?”
“I’m fine,” Skip said, which he was not.
“Six-thirty,” she said. “You should probably try to rest.”
He said nothing. Skip was an early riser, had always been an early riser, even before his years in the military. Most mornings at home, he got up around 5, let the dogs out into the yard and then made coffee while waiting on the paperboy to deliver the day’s news.
While he also had digital subscriptions to several newspapers, he preferred to read on his phone, only while he traveled.
His phone, he remembered. He needed his phone. Becky would probably be worried sick. Skip hadn’t checked in before bed, as was his routine when he was on the road.
He thought about calling now, but it was 3:30 on the west coast. Becky would probably be asleep. He wondered what he was going to tell her.
He also needed to talk to Benjamin about the job. If he’d been a praying man, his accident and heart attack seemed like the answer he was looking for, which seemed both loud and clear and conveniently in line with his feelings about the whole matter.
It might be better to have the money in hand before they spoke and/or met.
“My personal effects,” he asked. “My wallet, driver’s license, etcetera…”
“In the drawer by the bed. I’ll get it for you,” she said.
She handed it to him, along with his watch. He was glad to see that it had made the journey, too. The watch was worth more than a hybrid vehicle.
With tubes and wires connected to his arms, fishing through the eel skin billfold proved to be challenging, but he found the card for an associate.
“Would you hand me the phone, please,” he asked the nurse.
“Mr. McAllister, it’s awful early. Are you sure you don’t want to wait?”
“It will be fine,” he said. “I need to make some calls to take care of a few things back home, you understand.”
Incredulous, the nurse helped place the tan, industrial phone on his stomach, where he could punch the buttons.
“Thank-you,” he said. “And if I could have a little privacy?”
“I’m done,” she said. “I’ll check back in a few minutes. You should really rest.”
“I promise,” Skip told her and smiled.
He didn’t really need it, however. All things considered, Skip had slept remarkably well, but moderate sedation will do that to you.
As she closed the door, Skip looked at the card. The front read Davis Plumbing and HVAC, which was a legitimate business and in no way connected to the kind of thing Skip did for a living.
On the back was he number $189.73, which looked innocuous enough, but was the phone number for Derek Palmer, a man who could be trusted to do a few favors for him.
The area code and the prefix on the front of the card were the same as Derek’s number. The last four digits on the back represented the rest of the man’s telephone number.
The one was meant to refer to the top numbers on the front of the card, not the cell phone number or the fax number below.
Phones had become more complicated in his line of work. It was easier for law enforcement and other parties to get access to telephones.
As a precaution, Skip didn’t keep many contacts in his cellphone, generally, routine phone numbers no one would think anything about –like his wife’s number, a number for a couple of restaurants, a bank and a doctor.
With the exception of his wife’s number, the other contacts were fakes. The businesses existed, but the numbers led to dummy sites.
If someone began poking around the contents of his phone, looking for some proof of anything, Skip would be alerted.
While using the road phone, he didn’t call his wife, except to talk to her on the burner phone. They could talk about whatever and the burner phones were discarded after every trip.
Otherwise, he called home from hotel landlines, which were easy to tap.
He traveled with a different phone than what he kept with him at home and was registered to another William McAllister with another carrier. He periodically changed phones, changed numbers, changed carriers, which he believed would protect his privacy.
Most of the numbers he needed, he remembered. He had a good memory for numbers, but it helped him to have a couple of numbers around that he could refer to, if he needed –the number for a discrete weapon supplier, a number for his attorney and the number for Derek, a “friend.”
He dialed Derek.
“Y’ello,” the man said, groggily.
Skip began talking immediately. “Derek, this is Skip. Sorry to wake you. I’ve run into a bit of a jam in Charleston, West Virginia and I need some help. Can you get a pen and paper? Some of this is probably going to be complicated.”
There was only the briefest of pauses while Derek registered who he was talking to and what was being requested of him.
“Sure thing, Skip. Just a second.” Presumably, Derek grabbed something to write with and then said, “Shoot.”
“As I mentioned, I’m in Charleston, West Virginia. I’m in the heart facility of Charleston Area Medical Center. I’ll need a call to my attending physician and documentation to get me released by this afternoon. The doctor’s name is Suresh,” Skip added. “I think if you tell him that you’re taking me to Cleveland, he’ll be fine with that.”
“OK,” Derek said.
Skip continued, “Then, I’m going to need someone to pick me up. I’m guessing that the doctor is going to let me leave here without some kind of medical escort. So, I’ll need an ambulance to get me away from the hospital and then a car to drive me around after.
“Get something with tinted windows. I’ll need a driver, who can also be an extra set of hands. I may need a wheelchair to get around for a while. I’ll also want my medical files and whatever prescriptions to go.”
“OK, can do. What else?” Derek asked.
“Clothes,” he said. “Nothing super fancy. I’d prefer comfortable. So, dark athletic wear, clean socks and shorts and I’ll need some good slippers. I would like an oversized hooded sweatshirt –large with pockets.”
“So far, no problem,” Derek said.
“And book me a medical flight home,” he said. “Let’s say for tomorrow morning, out of Cleveland. Have the ambulance on standby. After I’ve concluded business today, they can put me on a flight to San Diego. I should be able to handle it from there.”
“OK,” Derek said. “I can get to work on this now. Do you want a ballpark on what all of this is going to cost or would you rather get it in a couple of days?”
“I trust you’ll be fair,” Skip said. “You have been, so far.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Derek said. “Like I said, I’ll get to work on this. Have you got a number where I can reach you?”
“Just call the heart ward of Charleston Area Medical Center. Tell them you’re my brother, if you like,” he said. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I don’t have the number on me.”
“That’s fine. Just sit tight. I’ll call when everything is lined up.”
“Thank-you,” Skip said and hung up the phone.
Calling on Derek wouldn’t be cheap. This whole trip was becoming a terrible fiasco and expensive –or would have been if he hadn’t had an idea about how to turn a profit.
“Opportunities,” he said and smiled.