It was one of those golden Pacific Northwest autumn afternoons, a small consolation prize for the almost constant drizzle of rain. Byron Westlake was strolling along Tacoma’s historical district, trying to put the finishing touches to a poem in his head.
He was strolling toward the Temple Theater. He was a performance artist, even though he thought of himself as an artist. Performance art was just what he did to put bread on the table. He had a certain genius for it. He had a flair for the dramatic and his shows were more lavish and complex than the spit-and-baling-wire of the compatriots he despised. However, his heart was in his poetry.
Byron had moved to Tacoma, because he thought it suited his style of poetry so well. It was a beautiful city, and it was called the City of Destiny. The problem was it was Seattle that stole its thunder, and made itself the largest city in the area by sheer dint of avarice. The problem with Seattle was that it was so… well-commercial, and full of pretensions. Tacoma was a city in touch with its blue collar roots, and it had a sense of its own history.
His reverie came to an abrupt end when he discovered there was an old woman in his traditional spot. She was wearing a long houndstooth checked tweed coat, and a pink scarf wound around her head, from which sprouted a wild thatch of iron grey hair. Her fingers were encased in a pair of knit black fingerless gloves, the joints swollen with arthritis. Sunk deep in the network of wrinkles that was her face were a pair of sharp blue eyes. He pegged her as a street person looking for a handout.
She came shuffling on over, and asked in a creaky tone, “Want your fortune told, mister?”
He gave her the hairy eyeball, and asked, “How much will it cost me?”
The woman gave him a shrewd look. “You pay me what you think the telling is worth.” She paused a minute, before adding, “Fair warning. You’ll find the readings are worth everything you pay for them.”
He gave a grave nod, though inside he was dancing with glee. Some entertainment for pocket change! The old woman grabbed his left arm with surprising speed and strength, and began rubbing his left hand.
A dreamy look came into the old woman’s eyes. “I see pain and suffering. You will go to the white room…”
He gasped in spite of himself. “You mean I’m going to die?”
The old woman gave him a sharp look. “It isn’t your death, but you will be an accomplice in another man’s murder, and I see… bricks.”
He stared at her, his eyes wide as saucers, “Bricks?” Then he began to chuckle.
The old woman’s face darkened. She frowned and said, “Pay what you think its worth, but I see bricks in your future. But be warned! Your evaluations and your attitudes help shape your future.”
He said, “Yeah, whatever. Here you go.”
He grabbed the loose coins in his pocket, and threw it onto the street. The old woman let out a screech, and scrambled after it. She fixed him with a glower glowing with hate and rage.
Then she raised her fist and spat, “By God, you will deserve every brick you get!”
He began to laugh. “Whatever you say, you crazy old bat.” He was laughing so hard that he missed the car that jumped the curb, and knocked him down.
Three days later, the other man entered his life. He was in his usual foul mood. Nurse Jenkins, the head nurse, stuck her head into the room and said, “Mr. Westlake, good news! You’re getting a new roommate!”
His response was to glower at her. She was a tall, Junoesque blonde, with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice to go with it. She was a strong, self-confident woman who could roll with the punches, but took no grief from any of her patients. He had hated her from the moment he met her.
Nurse Jackson was more his speed. She was petite, dark haired, with liquid brown eyes. She had a soft voice, and he was willing to bet she was a Friend of Poetry. He should have no trouble coaxing her into his bed when he got out of here.
That was how Lawrence Laramie came to be his roommate. He proved to be a garrulous octogenarian with a thinning head of snowy white hair and a twinkle in his brown eyes. He was put in the bed by the window and he proceeded to while away the hours by talking about what he saw, embroidering it with his own comments and reminisces.
For about two weeks, Byron was under his spell. He was a spellbinding storyteller and he had a sense of his audience. All too soon though, the green-eyed monster of jealousy was gnawing at Byron. It wasn’t right that Mr. Laramie, the Johnny-come-lately, should get the view. He was there first. He had seniority; he should be there, getting the view. He stewed about that for a couple days before an idea presented itself.
Dr. Clements, with Nurse Jenkins, was making his weekly rounds. He was a short man of average build, a little on the portly side, with a thinning head of salt-and-pepper hair and a huge walrus moustache under a bulbous nose. On it was perched a pair of rectangular Ben Franklin glasses. He looked and acted like a small town doctor.
Lawrence was in the middle of one of his descriptions. “…and in the middle of the parking lot is a bright orange-red 1968 GTO-The Judge, I think it’s called. My eldest son bought one and he still has it, just crazy about it. Terrible gas pig, but you need a two-by-four to pry him out of it. His wife accused, ‘You love that car more than me!’ He responded, ‘You’re absolutely right!’” He rumbled a deep laugh in his chest.
Then he continued, “Speaking of women, there are two of them playing Frisbee with a Golden Retriever. Looks like between the two of them, they’re wearing enough clothes to fill a thimble.” He rumbled another laugh deep in his chest again.
A stern voice asked, “Are you being vulgar again, Mr. Laramie?”
Lawrence looked up at Dr. Clemens with his most innocent look. “In the weeks I’ve been here, have you ever known me to do anything vulgar?”
Dr. Clements riposted by arching an eyebrow. “The question needs to be asked?”
Eyes a-twinkle with mischief, Lawrence asked, “In that case, do you have any dirty pictures of that cute tomato you’re with?”
Her jaw dropped. “I’m offended! Shame on you referring to a professional woman as a tomato! I’m of a mind to turn you over my knee, and spank you!”
He waggled his eyebrows. “Sounds kinky!”
She laughed as she shook her head. “You’re impossible!”
He put on his most raffish smile. “It’s my most endearing characteristic.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, frowning with disapproval. “Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Laramie. You just might get it.”
He tried looking shocked, almost making it. “Nurse Jenkins! You surprise me!” However, a raspy old man’s laugh undercut his case.
She responded by giving him a significant look. "You’d be amazed what you don’t know about nurses.”
Byron was paying little attention to their bantering. He was calculating angles of how to get rid of the other man. He considered for the hundredth time spiking or flushing his medication. For the hundredth time, he rejected it.
He had nothing to spike it with, and the nurses counted the pills. Even if he flushed them, they would just bring more. Even worse, they might ask what happened to them. That route was almost sure to lead back to him. That wouldn’t do at all. This had to look like a death from natural causes. Then another idea exploded in his brain like a bomb. It was brilliant! All he would need to do is get the other man out of the room for a few minutes, and a little bit of luck.
His opportunity came three days later. Dr. Clements came in first, followed by Nurse Jenkins, pushing a wheelchair. “You have a visitor Mr. Laramie.”
A rapturous expression came over his face. “That would be Sarah, the woman of my heart!”
She arched her eyebrows. “I thought I was the woman of your heart!”
"My heart is big enough for two women?”
She arched her left eyebrow. “It’s not your heart that I’m thinking about.”
Dr. Clements scowled during the entire exchange. “Nurse Jenkins, you shouldn’t encourage Mr. Laramie.”
He leered, and smacked his lips. “A threesome! I feel old Abraham arising from the dead at the prospect!”
Dr. Clements shouted, “See what I mean?”
Byron waited until the sound of their voices faded down the hall. Then, he got out of bed and shuffled across the room. Then he tucked the call button into an inconspicuous place where it wouldn’t be missed, but it would be difficult to get at. Then he hurried back toward his bed. He heard the door latch being rattled. Fear lent his feet wings as he threw his posterior into the bed and swung his legs up. He managed to toss the covers back over himself just as Nurse Jackson came in.
She seemed quite startled to see that he was awake. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Westlake?”
A lascivious smile crossed his face. “Why certainly, Miss Jacks! Come sit on my lap, and I’ll tell you aaall about it…”
That evening, he was dreaming about his latest conquest, when a raspy voice awakened him. “Mr. Westlake, would you help me? Please? I need my heart medicine, and I can’t find the call button.”
“Ohhh… Isn’t that just too bad?”
Lawrence could tell right away by the other man’s tone that he was the one that hid it. What he didn’t understand was why.
“Why, Byron, why? What do I have that you could possibly…?”
He looked to the window. Rain thudded against the glass and thunder gave an ominous rumble. In a flash of insight, he understood. “You don’t understand-”
Byron cut him off, “No, its you who doesn’t understand old man. That window is mine and you aren’t going to take it from me”
Lawrence had found the cord and he began to try following it to the button. Bryon's mind flashed with panic. If the old man found the button, he might be saved. Then he might talk, and then what might happen?
Byron bared his fangs and hissed, “Die, you old bastard, die!”
As if on cue, he dropped the cord, his back arching. His face was screwed up into a mask of unendurable pain. For a moment, it looked like he was being electrocuted. Then he collapsed onto his back, panting and sweating. The panting began turning into a breathy chuckle. Chuckling gave way to laugher. What? Something was seriously wrong. He was tempted to look over at Lawrence, except now he was suddenly terrified. Then the laughter began to take on the sound of two people laughing. He could have sworn that one of them was that crazy old biddy he had run into at the Temple Theater.
Without warning, a pair of hands grabbed his head in a viselike grasp, and forced his head around. A sudden flash of lightning illuminated Lawrence’s bed. For a horrible second, he was sure she was the one in the other bed.
Byron squeezed his eyes closed, and muttered, “No, no, no,” as if to negate what his senses were telling him. The laughter seemed to go on forever. He must have dozed off, because the next thing he was aware of was Nurse Jacks shaking him awake.
He sat up with a start. “Are you alright, Mr. Westlake?” He was about to answer, when Nurse Jenkins let out a fire bell scream.
The room erupted into pandemonium as Lawrence’s death was discovered. By mid-afternoon, things started returning to normal and he had gotten his bed by the window. Smiling to himself, he turned to look at his new view. His smile curdled the moment he did. He could hear the cackling of the old lady in his head again. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he raged at himself.
The old woman had said, “You’ll deserve every brick you get!”
Lawrence had said, “You don’t understand.”
He understood very well now. He had a magnificent view of a brick wall.
written by Benjamin Green