Nothingness. Silence. Blackness. Then a fragment of an image, a memory, a thought, a random synaptic firing. Another. Slowly the fragments begin to link, merge, and form a shadowy consciousness. A sound seemingly approaches from the distance, a rhythmic beep…beep…beep, heightening the emerging sense of awareness. Another sound. A voice. Then another.
Discomfort. Sheets twisted. A tightness in the bend of the elbow where a needle is inserted and taped into place. Throbbing pain in the front right side of the head. Wires attached to small sticky pads tugging at the hair on the chest. A growing wave of panic. The room is too cool. The voices sound urgent.
Recollection. The airport. The attractive Latin flight attendant with glasses and straight black hair, who served him his wine in the first class cabin and came by to check on him a little more often than he was accustomed to, now standing at the cabin door, touching his shoulder with a prolonged look while thanking him for flying today. The piece of paper she slipped into his hand. The walk to baggage claim. Stag’s phone conversation with Christie along the way. The loss of breath. The ringing in the ears. The narrowing field of vision. The sensation of falling. The impact of the floor. Nothingness. Silence. Blackness.
“Welcome back Mr. Francis. I’m Briella, the lead nurse today. How are you feeling?”
“Where am I? What happened?”
“You’re in the emergency ward at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Do you have any memory of how you got here?”
“Just bits and pieces. I was walking to baggage claim after a flight from Naples. Started feeling strange, felt myself hitting the floor, and now I’m here. What’s wrong with me? What happened?”
“We’ve run some tests and the doctor on duty is going to come see you in a while. You do have a nasty bump on the head from hitting the floor, but that will be fine. In the meantime, we’re going to move you out of the emergency ward to a room and the doctor will come there to talk with you. Is there anything I can get for you to make you feel more comfortable?”
“Make sure you put me in a private room.”
“I wish I could Mr. Francis, but for now you’ll be in a room with another patient. We’ll do all we can to make you comfortable.”
“Where’s the guy who was with me?”
“He’s in the waiting room. We’re going to take you on down to room sixty-six and we’ll let him know that he’s welcome to join you there.”
A young man, probably just out of university, and an older woman, both in light blue scrubs raised the side rails of Liam’s gurney, unlocked the wheels, and began rolling him toward a set of elevator doors. Neither looked at him or spoke to him, but talked between themselves as if he was a piece of cargo. The woman talked about her son who was just beginning his second sentence at Prison Greenock and how she knew getting pregnant twenty-four years ago was a mistake. The young man said something about regretting choosing nursing in university and how he wished he’d gone into international trade, but it would have pissed off his dad who was a physician.
The room was a pale shade of yellow. A worn red leather chair sat in the corner between the wall mounted television and the bathroom. On the far side of the room near the window a man, perhaps in his late twenties, laid staring out across the parking lot on the other side of the window with headphones on that did little to prevent the thumping of whatever he was listening to from spilling out into the room.
Wheels locked. Rails dropped. The woman pulled the curtain between the two patients and both “caregivers” walked out of the room with neither of them having ever said a word to Liam.
“Fucking British,” Liam thought to himself.
He felt groggy. His eyes wanted to close. But he couldn’t relax with the muffled rhythmic thumping on the other side of the curtain.
“Hey, would you mind turning that down a little? This is a hospital not a pub.”
“Liam raised his voice, nearly shouting this time, “I’m trying to rest, will you turn that shit down!”
“Sod off,” came the reply as the volume increased even more.
Had Liam not been attached to the I.V. drip and heart monitor he would have followed his natural impulse in a situation like this to jump from the bed, shove the bedside table out of the way, rip the headphones from the man’s head, smash them into the wall, and return to his side without another word. He had little patience for anything that interrupted his world.
“Mr. Liam!” came the voice from the door. “How are you feeling my friend? It seems maybe you’re worse at flying than I am,” Stag said with a smile as he approached the bed.
“What the hell Stag? I still don’t know what’s going on, what happened to me, why I’m here. The emergency nurse said the doctor would come talk to me. once they got me up here. How long was I out?”
“Well you laid on the airport floor for about fifteen minutes before the ambulance arrived. It was a twenty-minute drive from the airport to here. I don’t know how long you were out in emergency before you woke up. When you come into a city you sure know how to make an entrance!”
Before Liam could reply a Middle-Eastern man in a white coat walked into the room behind Stag.
“Hello Mr. Francis. I’m doctor Rashid. How are you feeling?”
“I’m sleepy, my head hurts, and I wish someone would tell me why I’m here instead of asking me how I’m feeling.”
“Yes sir, I understand. You had a significant episode of bradycardia. This is when the heart rate drops dangerously low and not enough oxygen gets carried to the rest of the body. If it’s significant enough, you’ll pass out just as you did today.”
“So what caused it?”
“Have you had any heart problems in the past?”
“Has anyone in your family had heart problems?”
“Not that I know of.”
“How often do you drink alcohol?”
“Every day, a few times a day.”
“How about drugs of any kind?”
“I’m not sure I should answer that.”
“I’m not going to send you to jail Mr. Francis. I’m trying to find out if there’s anything that’s going to send you to a grave before you should be there.”
“Yeah, I smoke pot. Do a few lines of coke now and then. Oh, and Ecstasy. How serious is this?”
“Well it’s too early to tell. It’s not uncommon. People have episodes like this. Sometimes they’re random and never happen again. But sometimes it can be a sign of damage that’s been done to your heart. If that’s the case it could be a defect that you’re born with and only discover later in life after an episode. Or, it could be damage that’s come later in life and heavy drug and alcohol use can be a cause. Most people who have an episode, may faint for a few moments, wake up quickly, and are fine. What worries me about your episode is that you were out for over an hour and it took some time for your heart rate to stabilize.”
“Okay, so now what.”
“You’re from America, right?”
“Yeah, North Carolina.”
“Will you be returning soon?”
“I hadn’t decided.”
“We’re going to keep you here overnight just to keep an eye on you, and release you in the morning. But I strongly urge you to get to your doctor back in America soon and have him do a complete cardiac examination. In the meantime, you should not drink and you absolutely must not use any drugs.”
“You’ve probably never done a line of coke from between a woman’s breasts have you?”
“Umm, no sir, I have not. And if you were planning to do that any time soon I strongly suggest you think again.”
“British women aren’t my type anyway,” Liam replied, his mind going back to the flight attendant, trying to recall her name tag. “That piece of paper,” Liam reminded himself. He had stuck it in his pocket in the rush off the plane.
“I’ll come back to check on you in the morning before we discharge you. Get some rest.”
Stag’s phone rang. “Hello Christie. Oh good, I’m glad you’re here. We’re in room sixty-six. I cleared you at the nurse’s station.”
“Who is this Christie you keep talking to?”
“He’s an old friend of mine that I thought would be good for you to meet. I don’t know a lot about Scotland. This is my first time here, so Christie will be helpful during our stay. He’s a great man. He walks among kings.”
“Why did you pick Glasgow anyway Stag? You never did answer me when I asked you on the plane. I would have never chosen to come here and frankly I was a little pissed when you told me. I thought you’d pick someplace a little warmer with beaches and without pale redheaded women who don’t wear makeup and never smile.”
“You told me to manage it Mr. Liam. So, I have a few places picked out over the coming weeks that I think are important for you to visit. If you decide to fire me I’ll understand and will go back to my concierge desk,” Stag said with a wink.
A knock at the door followed by “Hello?”
A small framed, middle-aged man, standing barely over five feet tall, with dark skin and jet black hair, wearing a khaki colored button down shirt stood in the doorway waiting for an invitation in.
“Come in Christie! It’s good to see you old friend. I want you to meet my new friend Liam who’s found himself in a rather uncomfortable situation on his first day in Scotland.”
Liam raised his hand in an uninterested wave. “You don’t look Scottish.”
“Neither do you sir. But here we are. In Scotland.”
Liam glanced at Stag thinking, “Yeah, thanks to you.”
“Were you able to get things taken care of at the hotel Christie,” asked Stag?
“Yes, I’ve let them know what’s happened and they’re holding the room for Liam. It’s all taken care of.”
“Where are we staying? You never bothered to tell me that either.”
“I have us at Blythswood Square Mr. Liam. I think you’ll enjoy the penthouse.”
“Yes Mr. Liam. There’s only one penthouse, it’s thirty-two hundred dollars a night.”
“Maybe you’re not doing a bad job after all Stag. But still, Glasgow?”
“Mr. Liam you need your rest. If you don’t mind, Christie and I are going to go have some lunch and catch up for a bit.”
“Yeah no problem. Before you go, grab my jeans out of the armoire.”
After Stag and Christie left the room Liam reached into the front right pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper and opened it. The writing was clear, simple, and elegant. It was only letters and numbers written in blue ink yet something about those letters and numbers stirred in him a feeling he hadn’t felt before. An inexplicable energy seemed to flow quietly off the paper, an energy meant only for him, that only he could, and should, feel.