Murder Is My Dish
Murder Is My Dish
T HE MAN was dying.
They had inserted a tube in his nose and another in his arm. A bottle of bright red blood hung suspended overhead. Bandages made his broken hands seem too big for the body under the sheet. A third tube trailed out under the sheet and into a gleaming metal tank alongside the bed.
"Andy," I said.
"He can't hear you," the resident said.
"He got a chance?" I asked mechanically. The ward smelled of antiseptic, alcohol, and death. They had erected portable screens around the dying man's bed, as if to isolate death from the rest of the ward.
"We're doing all we can," the resident told me. He had a young face, pale in the glow of the night lamp and splotched with freckles. The man on the bed was breathing with difficulty: a drawn out sigh, then a quiver of his lips, then an explosive exhalation like a lunger's last cough. Against the white of the sheet and pillow case his face looked green. It was beaded with droplets of sweat and swollen out of shape with contusions.
"But it won't be enough," I said. "Will it?"
The resident spoke, staring at the gleaming metal tank. "Both his kidneys are smashed. He has broken ribs and a punctured lung. He's bled a lot internally. If he hadn't been brought here to Bellevue, he'd be dead already. There aren't many artificial kidneys in New York. It's keeping him alive."
The bed was at the far end of the ward, away from the corridor. I got out from behind the screen and walked over to the window. It was dark outside, but you could see fat, wet, windless snowflakes falling in front of the windows of the building across the hospital street. After a while I turned around and stuck an unlit cigarette in my mouth.
"How did it happen?"
"I couldn't tell you that."
"Then who could?"
The man on the bed said: "... mistral."
We both went over there. The resident dabbed at the dying man's face with a wet cloth. It came away pink. "Go ahead, Andy," I said. "It's Chet. I'm listening, boy. Go ahead."
"He can't hear you. He's mumbled that before."
"Yes. Isn't it some kind of a wind?"
"Andy," I said, leaning down over the bed. "Go on, boy."
His eyelids fluttered but did not lift. His lips worked. "... mistral," he said again. His mouth opened and blood poured out. Beyond the screen a bedspring creaked and a man moaned in his sleep as if death, coming this way, had brushed his cheek.
A rattling noise came from Andy's throat. He lifted one of his bandaged hands and let it fall. When the noise was over, he wasn't Andy any longer. He was just a number which would be assigned a box in the Bellevue morgue until burial arrangements could be made.
I turned away. The resident squeezed my shoulder and asked if I wanted some hot coffee. I shook my head and shook his hand off irritably and went out through the dim ward to the corridor. Two attendants wheeled an empty stretcher off the elevator. I thought they were psychic or able to smell death or maybe I was projecting and the stretcher wasn't for Andy's body at all. I went downstairs to Receiving.
"Go along with you, O'Hara," the nurse on duty said to a nervous little man shuffling his feet and holding a battered fedora in his hands and looking down at the floor. "It's a bed to sleep in you're wanting, and a good hot meal."
"It's bleeding," O'Hara insisted, holding up a slightly scratched finger.
"I do wish we could be helping you, O'Hara, on a cold night like it is. But we just don't have enough beds."
O'Hara looked up at her with sudden defiance. He was dressed shabbily and needed a shave almost as much as he needed a bath. He smelled like every drunk tank in every county jail from here to Spokane, Washington. "I'll get blood poisoning and die," he predicted.
"Go along with you, O'Hara," t