Blood engorged my throat, clogging my airways. But dying was exactly what I needed. The lack of oxygen ignited involuntary reflexes. Suddenly I came to, gasping for air. Nothing.
I coughed up my insides; desperately sucked oxygen into my burning lungs.
Where the hell am I?
Wiping swollen eyes I searched for familiarity; recognised the oak tree spinning in the moonlight. Clambering to my feet, I stumbled to the path. My thumping head weighed me down. My legs buckled.
I never made it.
My eyes opened to a brilliant light in which floated a beautiful angel. Gazing up at her, thoughts of my own mortality evaded me. All I ever wanted was there in the form of this heavenly creature. As the light faded her face illuminated and I was immersed in love.
My senses returned and unwelcome feelings gate-crashed my body; love displaced by suffering and confusion. This wasn’t heaven; it was the Northampton General Hospital. Opposite me an elderly man lay on his side; naked but for a pyjama top and head bandage.
Elaine I mouthed to my beautiful angel. A searing pain confronted me as she slid open a green curtain and disappeared behind it.
Attempting to sit up I felt my brain bang against the inside of my skull. Steadying myself, I managed to pull my arms free of the bed sheets and fished for injuries. I located bandaging to my face as Elaine returned, a tiny nurse in tow.
Her hands shaking with emotion, Elaine pulled her blonde hair away from a wet cheek. “Ed. It’s me. You okay baby?”
She looked pale, her blue eyes swimming with tears.
“I’d like a glass of water,” I uttered hoarsely. It felt like a hot water bottle was lodged in my throat.
At full stretch, the nurse reached over with a plastic cup, guiding a straw to my grateful lips. I swallowed painfully. “What happened?”
Confusion registered on Elaine’s face. “We thought you would know.”
“I’ll go and fetch the Doctor,” said the pocket-sized nurse before giant doors swallowed her up.
Shuffling up close, Elaine cupped my face. “I have been so worried about you. They told me you were found unconscious, in the park. Beaten up.”
“I don’t remember.”
Then a picture developed in my mind, as did feelings of panic. Having entered the park I had become unable to breathe, as if a hand gripped my face. Soon I recalled the oak tree and regaining consciousness.
“What is it Ed?” Elaine broke my memory. “You alright?”
I smiled reassuringly. “How do I look?”
She nodded at the geriatric recuperating under his head bandage. “Much like him, only worse.”
“Thanks. Bet he gets sympathy, where are my red grapes?”
Elaine whispered in my ear, “They’re haemorrhoids.” She kissed my cheek. “Speaking of which, your best mate’s here. I told him I’d fetch him when you woke up.”
“Go get him,” I replied, eager to find out what Sam knew. Sergeant Sam Chapman had been with me before I entered the park. That much I remembered.
In my thirty-seven years I had never been in a proper fight, let alone been beaten up. My one and only punch was thrown at school; my six year old knuckles painfully clashing with the seven year old mouth of a name caller. Since then I had avoided violence like a naked dwarf avoids nettles.
Within moments of Elaine leaving, the double doors swung open and in walked a doctor holding a serious expression and a clipboard. His face displayed more hair than skin; an interesting mix of Indian and West Midlands evident in his accent as he introduced himself and asked how I was feeling.
“Groggy,” I replied. Then: “What’s the damage?”
“There is a fracture to your nose. It’s difficult to say how badly broken it is at this stage because of the swelling but we’ll do an x-ray in a few days. For medico-legal reasons if nothing else.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Medico-legal?”
“With assaults it is often necessary for the true extent of damage to be ascertained, for the purposes of any legal action brought against the accused. In your situation I would expect this to be the case.”
“In my situation? Do you know what happened to me?”
Swerving my question, Dr. Patel shone a light into my eyes. “There’s cotton packing with a splint to protect your nose. It will probably heal itself. If there is any deformity surgery’s an option.
But that’s the future, just relax for now.”
For some reason the words deformity and surgery weren’t relaxing me.
Walking the curtain around the bed, Dr. Patel closed off the rest of the ward. “A nurse will be along later to give you a tetanus injection.” He slowed his speech, “And there are a few further tests that we need to do.”
“Tests?” Didn’t sound good.
“I just passed your fiancée. She tells me you have very little memory of what happened?”
“When you arrived here you were unconscious despite paramedic attempts to bring you round.”
He put down the clipboard, pressed his palms together as though arm-wrestling himself.
Whatever he had to say wasn’t coming easily. “A blood test revealed a chemical in your system.”
What? My heart thumped at my ribs.
Dr. Patel looked stern, all beard and disapproval. “Firstly, I have to ask. Have you recently injected yourself, Mr. Taylor, with any substance at all?”
“I feared as much.” He sighed. “I have some rather worrying news. We found Ketalar in your blood stream, an extremely powerful anaesthetic. I’m afraid that you have been drugged.”
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