Journey to Love
Red Light Means Danger
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
As he left, I noticed a light on the intercom and when I heard the hall door close, it went out. “Janice, is there any way Rose Lee could have been listening in on what was going on here?”
“I don't think so. Well, to be honest, I don't know. Why?”
“As Abe walked out the door, I noticed the intercom light was on and as soon as I heard the hall door close it went out.”
“I'll check on that. I certainly hope Rose Lee wasn't listening.”
“Double that for me.”
Seems once the young man was on his way to the hospital, we found the dam must have broken. The waiting room was standing room only. After I demonstrated what I guessed you'd call advanced first aid skills, Janice would do a quick exam and if it required skills I had, she sent me to do the job. For the first few days, she did a quick check after me but, after that, did so only if I asked. We were so busy she sent Rose Lee out for sandwiches and we ate on the run. After we saw the last patient—it was after 6:00—we went to the hospital. The hospital was small—only twenty-five beds—but since it served such a wide area and people with dangerous occupations—farming and logging—it had a well-equipped emergency room and highly skilled emergency room doctor, Dr. Art Evans. When Dr. Cranston sent 'Joe Doe' to the hospital, she called Dr. Evans and asked that he take the case. “As small as the hospital is and as little medical personnel as we have, we all do double duty and I know Dr. Evans is excellent with youth.”
When we arrived, he ushered us into his office and closed the door. “Derek, Janice, you really handed me a hot potato. One of the orderlies recognized the young man. He is Bryan Skaggs ...”
“Member of the Skaggs family?”
“Grandson of the old man himself. He's Bryan, the third. I called his dad and told him his son Bryan had been brought in and was in pretty bad shape. He told me his son Bryan was dead and hung up. I called the old man and he said it was a pity Bryan was dead, but it was for the best and hung up. As you reported, one set of bruises were done several hours before the second set. With the exception of the broken arm, they did no internal damage but they would be painful. They were made with a strap with an object on one end—think a man's belt. Only a guess of course, but I suspect he was being held by the arm and strapped when he fell on his arm and snapped it.
“The second set of bruises could have been—may be—life threatening. He was punched and kicked. There still may be internal injuries, but no bleeding that I have been able to detect and I think there may be nothing worse than some bruised organs. As you know, he was raped, not once but several times. He lost a great deal of blood from tears in his rectum. Some were bad enough to require surgical repairs. I went ahead with antibiotics for gonorrhea and chlamydia since both are on the rise in the county. I'll wait for the results of the syphilis test. I also did another rape kit just in case. Given the Skaggs’ standing in the county and the law enforcement's tie-in with them, I'm afraid yours might get lost.”
“I’d hate it for them if it does. Abe Williams has already said he will kill the person or persons responsible for the rape and insisted Sheriff Reynolds handle this personally. If Reynolds screws this up, he may be looking for another job,” Janice said. “So he was beaten twice. Any idea what happened?”
“I called Eva Ellen who actually raised Bryan and told her what had happened and asked her what she knew. She said she'd call. Half an hour later she called from her pastor's study. Seems the household staff had known Bryan was gay since he was twelve or thirteen ...”
“How old is he?” I asked.
“Eighteen. He graduated from a boarding school in north Georgia a few weeks ago. Anyway, they had managed to keep that from his parents—easy enough since he spent little time here with them. He had a friend from school come for a visit and his mother, for reasons unknown, went up after they had gone to bed and pushed open his door and found the two, shall we say, validating a number.”
“Yeah, Derek. She screamed, his dad came running up and saw the two together in bed naked and tossed the visitor his clothes and told him to get out. He was lucky. He dressed, climbed in his car and left. Bryan, the second, ripped off his belt and started beating his son, the broken arm happened as I guessed. He put the boy in his truck and with Eva Ellen's husband driving, dumped him on the side of the road.”
“Art, I'd like to have Derek work with you on this.”
“Sure. Is there any special reason he might be interested or helpful?”
“Well, he was in on it from the beginning and there are aspects aside from the medical that will involve us, not unusual, but this may be his only chance to do hands-on with such.”
“I see,” Dr. Evans said and still appeared puzzled.
“Doctor, I'm gay,” Derek interjected.
“Man, that's great! That's a whole area in which I could use more education. Be delighted to have you. Let's go up and see how the young man's doing.”
Bryan looked a lot better than he had when I first saw him. He was still asleep. “He's pretty heavily sedated,” Dr. Evans said. “He would be in pretty severe pain if he was alert. I don't mean any disrespect, Derek, but he's too pretty to be a man.”
“So he must be gay. Is that what you are suggesting? Doctor, the only other person I know who is as pretty is as straight as he can be. We come in all sizes, colors and styles. Bryan is beautiful and small but I wouldn't call him feminine; elfin came to mind when I first saw him. But you can't depend on physical characteristics—I hardly think anyone except my boyfriend would ever call me beautiful—or mannerisms as indication that a man is gay. The next time you see a guy and think, 'He's gay,' remember that I am.”
“Surprisingly, Derek, I have been through college, med school, married and all and am—I hope was—locked into a stereotype. As I said, I have a lot to learn.”
I called Josephine to tell her I would not be home until later. She said she'd leave food in the Kelvinator—the first time I heard that word I didn't know what she was talking about, but discovered the household used a brand name I had never heard of for any refrigerator. I was exhausted when I got home, so I sat down and ate the delicious salad plate she left, took a quick shower and fell into bed.
The next morning I went by the hospital before going to the office. Bryan had been awake briefly according to his chart, but was asleep when I checked his room. I'd come back after we did county rounds.
At the office, we got the bags ready to do country rounds and left as soon as Rose Lee arrived. As we left town Janice said, “Derek, I checked with Roger Ellenmeyer who installed the intercom system and he said while the system was capable of being set up so someone could listen in on any station from another one—parents often have setups like that to keep a check on a baby in the nursery and playroom, etc.—ours was set up so stations had to call each other in order to establish contact. I asked him to check and make sure it had not been changed. How's Bryan this morning?”
“He was asleep when I went by but, according to his chart, he's doing okay. He had been awake some, but Dr. Evans has him heavily sedated.”
“What do you think of Art?”
“Seems like a nice guy, open-minded. I assume he knows his job.”
“He's that and does know his job. Would love for him to find a good woman. He was married and he and his wife had a six-month-old son when a drunk driver hit them head on. His wife and son were killed. Through some miracle, Art lived through it, but came all to pieces. He certainly didn't need to be in an emergency room. He went ballistic anytime a drunk driver who had caused a wreck was brought in, so he quit the ER and went into family medicine. Four years ago driving to Atlanta, he happened upon a multi-car pile-up minutes after it happened and was a whirlwind. Seven people are alive today because he was there, maybe more. There was no way he could not see and understand that. He took it as a sign he needed to be back in the emergency room, but wanted away from a big city where automobile wrecks and gun shot wounds were common. The hospital here was advertising for an emergency room doctor who also had practice in family medicine. Seemed like a job made for him and he has truly been a life saver here.”
“But not a place where he is likely to meet someone.”
The first place we stopped was a country version of Miss Carrie's place and it was occupied by a comparable figure, Mrs. Charlotte Willingham Ludlum known, of course, as Miss Lottie. She was much crippled with arthritis which required she use two canes—a walker would have been better, but wouldn’t have been as elegant looking. A great-nephew had seen that she was properly cared for while he was in high school, but he had graduated last year and was doing a summer program somewhere this year. Janice had agreed to stop in once a month and today was this month's visit.
“Dr. Cranston, welcome.”
“How are you doing, Miss Lottie?”
“Very well, thank you. I know you folks hate this hot weather, but it's a godsend for these old bones of mine. Who’s this handsome young man you have with you?”
“Derek Wilson, Miss Lottie Ludlum. Mr. Wilson’s working with me this summer.”
“Welcome to Wingfield County, Mr. Wilson.”
“Ms. Ludlum ...”
“Son, I reckon you can call me Miss Lottie; everyone does.”
“Then I guess you’ll have to call me Derek,” I responded.
“Only when the right people are around. People have to learn to respect you and what you are doing. So, where’re you from, Derek?”
She questioned me for a few minutes then laughed and said, “You know when southerners get together we have to find some connection. Some of my ancestors were convicts sent to Georgia and I suspect some of yours came to Virginia and maybe Georgia involuntarily as well. Close enough,” she laughed.
“Dr. Cranston, you'll be happy to know, no doubt, you'll no longer need to be stopping by. My oldest great-niece will be living with me for a while, maybe for a year or more. She's working on her second novel and needed a quiet place to live and work. I declare, if Wingfield County were any quieter we'd have to check its pulse to make sure it was still alive. Well, I guess there’s been some excitement over Bryan Skaggs beating his son. The old son of a bitch ought to be horsewhipped. If he had caught him in bed with a girl the old bastard would be in the country club bragging about it. Horsewhipped. He ought to be horsewhipped. If I was thirty years younger I'd do it myself!”
Half an hour later when we were in the car, I said, “You know, Miss Lottie's attitude toward Bryan Skaggs surprised me and I'm convinced were she thirty years younger she would horse whip him.”
“No doubt. There was, as you can imagine, a resurgence of the Klan during the fifties and while it had never been big in Wingfield County, Bryan Skaggs, the first, organized a rally to be held on a farm he owned next to Miss Lottie. She warned him if those half-wits in a sheet touched her property she'd give them a taste of bird shot. Just to make sure everybody knew she intended to follow through, she announced it at the 11:00 am service at First Baptist Church where the Skaggs have been members since one of them founded it.
“The week before the rally, she had the line between the two farms run again and sprayed a yellow line three quarters of a mile long marking it. She said nothing when they set up their cross for burning not twenty-five yards from the line. She was about the same distance from the line, sitting in a lawn chair. When the cross was lit, the wind shifted and suddenly those standing closest to her had to move back, way back. There were maybe a hundred people at the rally and thirty or so crossed the line and Miss Lottie let loose with her custom-fitted, pump action 410 shotgun, firing off round after round as quickly as she could, pausing only to reload. She was far enough away that there was little danger of serious injury, but there was a lot of bird shot picked out of asses that night.”
“That I can believe.”
Janice’s cell phone rang and she answered it and was silent for some time, then said, “Thanks, Jimmy,” and closed the phone. “Shit! Pardon my French, but the intercom has been tampered with and Rose Lee can listen in on what is going on in any examination room. She was listening to all we said when Bryan was brought in.”
“Then she knows I am gay. She already hates me and now she has some real ammunition for that jerk of a boyfriend of hers. Well, I don't know that there is anything I can do about it and worrying won't change anything.”
I checked with Dr. Evans before going up to see Bryan. “Morning, Derek. Up to surgery this morning? Bryan has a ruptured testicle which I am getting ready to repair.”
I scrubbed with Dr. Evans and watched as he repaired damage done by a direct kick to the testicles. No wonder Bryan had been unconscious when found. His pain was simply too much to tolerate. After surgery, Bryan slept, so I still had not had a chance to speak to him.
At the office things were a bit calmer than they had been the day before. When the waiting room was empty, Janice sent Rose Lee on an errand and asked me to come to her office. “Derek, I want to set a trap for Rose Lee. When she gets back, I'll call you into the office and we'll discuss a bonus, but I'll say nothing to her. I suspect she'll find some way to ask about it and instead of a bonus, I'll fire her. Replacing her might be difficult, but I cannot have her eavesdropping on what goes on in the examining room. Jimmy says there are few people in the county that would know how to make the changes in the intercom and one of them is someone he’d trained who left him to become a deputy sheriff. The rewiring was not a professional job, but the guy knew how to make the changes.”
When Rose Lee got back, Janice called me into the office and we discussed what bonus Rose Lee should get to mark her sixth month on the job. We finally settled on an amount equal to six weeks' pay, a week for each month. There was no doubt in my mind that Rose Lee would get very antsy when nothing was said to her about it.
Rose Lee did get antsy, increasingly so after lunch and was practically dancing before the day was over. The next day still nothing was said. Finally, Friday Janice said, “Rose Lee, be sure and remind me Monday's pay day.”
Saturday I was in my room working on my weekly report shortly before noon when Miss Carrie called me. “Derek, the mail has arrived and there seems to be a package here for you from Arizona. I'll hold it until you come down for lunch if you like.”
“Not likely! I'm on my way!”
I went down the stairs two at a time and actually skidded into the sitting room. “I guess you were looking forward to something from Arizona given the speed with which you got here,” Miss Carrie laughed and handed me a large brown envelope.
I tore it open and found piles of pictures along with a note and a long, long letter. I placed the pictures on the coffee table and opened the note:
My Beloved and Beautiful Dark One,
I needn't say I missed you as you know I have and I know you have missed me. I dream of you often.
I hope your experience is as rich as mine. As much pain as being separated from you brings, if I am honest, I believe my experience here is worth it. I will mail my week's letter and some photos on the way to the clinic tomorrow. Derek, I never thought I could love you more but, Beloved, I love you a thousand times more than when we separated.
Yours, now and forever,
The long letter described his day-to-day activities at the Pueblo. He had spent five days, again, out in the desert alone. His medicine man felt he still had feelings of guilt, anger and bitterness from his time with Big Walt. These would always hamper his life and the lives of those around him if unresolved. He wrote:
There is no way I can describe what happened out on the desert in a letter. Most of it seems like a dream and, like a dream, I can almost grasp it but it slips away. I also overcame any lingering fear of hurting you or being hurt when we join together making love.
Much of my time at the Pueblo was spent with my medicine man learning the ways of the Navajo. I'm going to have to do a lot of thinking and talking with you about how I am going to integrate being Navajo, and especially a Navajo medicine man, into my life—our life. I suspect I will be headed more into psychology than white man's medicine. Babe, we should be one hell of a team.
He wrote of how people I knew were doing. Lupe and Richard would be parents, maybe before he left to come home. Kathryn was working as hard as she did before the team was expanded in spite of the fact that the new members were working hard as well. The twins were walking and talking—English and Diné. He wrote:
Sundance misses you. I know because she keeps looking for you when I take Skywalker with me.
When I had read the letter the second time, Miss Carrie said, “Well, we needn't ask if it was a good letter. If you had a bigger smile, your face would split! Sort though those pictures in a hurry and show the decent ones to us.”
I laughed because I was sure there were some a nice southern lady did not want to see! Jayden had made use of the self-timer and timed release on the camera often. A series of six he'd made using timed release was of Jayden greeting the sun. He was standing, nude except for a breechclout, back to the camera, arms stretched over his head and I knew he was chanting. Even though Jayden was practically naked, I debated showing them one of the series and decided they would appreciate it. “Miss Carrie—Josephine, and James come on in”—they were standing just outside the door—“there are some that are kinda private and this one might shock you a bit, but it is about who Jayden is.” I handed the photo to Miss Carrie, “Ma'am, Jayden is greeting the sun. Sometimes he runs while chanting at the top of his lungs.” I chuckled, “What do you think would happen at Cuthbert First United Methodist if someone showed up dressed like that for worship?”
“If they were as good looking as that hunk, he'd be mobbed by the Ladies Circle,” she laughed. “You always go for looks?”
“Actually, he didn't look half that good when I saw him the first time.”
“How did you meet?”
“I kinda found him thrown away in the desert.” I had never told them the story of how we met and they were fascinated. I didn't tell them what he had to do when he was with Big Walt, but they could have guessed if they wanted.
“Now he's becoming a medicine man?” Miss Carrie asked.
“Well, medicine man is what whites call them. They are shaman, kind of priests, something like that. Seems he was chosen, maybe when he was born. Anyway, it's all wrapped up in the Navajo way.” I showed them other photos—Jayden had become a much better photographer than he had been last year and had made some really beautiful photos.
Monday I stopped by to see Bryan and he was awake for the first time. “Bryan, I'm Derek Wilson and strange as it may seem, am assisting Dr. Evans. Sorry we haven't met, but I haven't found you awake before. How are you feeling today?”
“Better, I guess. I still hurt.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I know what I was told which I assume was true.”
“That I'm a fag and was caught sucking off a guy?”
“No, I was told your mother came into your room unannounced and saw you in bed with a friend. Since I'm gay, I kinda translated that. What I decided the story I’d heard meant was that your mom came into your room unannounced and found you and your boyfriend making love. She screamed and your father took it upon himself to assault you. I think, Bryan, the translation is more accurate than the original.”
Tears were running down Bryan's face, “Mr. Wilson, I do love Andy like everything. We have been best friends since we met at Lakeside Academy in the seventh grade. It was difficult when we entered high school because Andy began playing football and running around with all those macho jocks. He became just like them and I was—well, you've seen all of me—and I got picked on. Finally, one evening after dinner, Roger, a real asshole, shoved me aside as I walked toward study hall and Andy told him to stop. 'You taking up for that cock-sucking fag?' Roger asked with a smirk and got in Andy's face. Andy decked him, grabbed me and planted a sloppy but wonderful kiss on my lips. We've had little time to make love and I thought we were safe in my room. Then Mom came in.”
“Bryan, I'm gay, so I understand being rejected by your father and making love to a man, but you weren't just beaten by your dad.”
“Dad dumped me in the middle of nowhere and I was hurting bad from the strapping he gave me. Didn't know where to go or what to do, but I started walking down the road when a tricked-out pickup came by and five guys jumped out, four beat me and then the fifth one said, 'Faggot ass ready for service.' He raped me, then the other four did. After that they beat and kicked me until I passed out.”
“Did you know any of them?”
“No. I told the sheriff I didn't, but I did describe the truck and gave him the first three numbers—well, they were actually letters—of the tag number.”
We talked a while longer and just before I left, he asked if I would contact Andy for him. “He only has my home phone number so he doesn't know what happened and I don't know what happened to him.”
“Sure, you have his phone number?” He gave it to me and I told him I'd see him before I went home.
When I walked into the office, Rose Lee looked like death warmed over. She must have been ill because she didn't have any nasty greeting or comment for me. We had a busy morning and I forgot to call Andy, but left myself a reminder to do so after lunch.
When we reached the outer office on our way to lunch, Janice handed Rose Lee a check. Rose Lee looked at it and asked, “Didn't you make a mistake? Wasn't I supposed to get a six-month bonus?”
“We'll discuss that after lunch, Rose Lee, but I don't think any mention has been made about a bonus.”
“Yes there was. You told Derek ... Mr. Wilson ...”
“Rose Lee, we discussed a bonus to prove what we suspected. You have been eavesdropping on conversations in the examining rooms. You can go to jail for that ...” Janice didn't finish as Rose Lee toppled from her chair onto the floor. When I reached her, I saw her chair was blood-soaked as was her dress.
“She's soaked in blood!” I exclaimed.
“Get her to an examining room.” When Janice got her clothes off, she said, “Goddamn! Derek, the next time you hear nonsense about abolishing the right to a safe abortion, remember this. There is a million in one chance I'm wrong, but I think you're seeing the results of a botched attempt at an abortion. Call 911, she needs help we can't give her here.” When the ambulance arrived, Janice asked me to hold down the fort as she was going to the hospital with Rose Lee.
As soon as I cleaned up the blood, I called Andy's number. When a woman answered, I said, “This is Dr. Janice Cranston's office in Cuthbert, Georgia. I need to speak to Andy. Sorry, I don't have his last name.”
“You're not Dr. Janice Cranston, are you?”
“No, I am her assistant calling on her behalf. She just left the office in an ambulance with a patient.”
“The patient wasn't Bryan Skaggs was it.”
“No. May I please speak to Andy?”
“Whom may I say is calling?”
“Does Andy know you, Mr. Wilson?”
“No, Ma'am, he does not.”
“Do you know Bryan Skaggs?”
“Is he okay? Andy has been very concerned about him. Very.”
“I'll speak to Andy about that, if you please.”
“Very well. I'll get him.”
There was a pause, then I heard a faint, “Hello.”
“Andy, my name is Derek Wilson.”
“Mom said you know Bryan. How is he? I have been worried sick. I tried to call and the only number I have was his home number and I was told he was dead and then the man hung up and blocked my number.” Andy burst into tears.
“Can you talk, Andy?”
“Of course,” he said between sobs.
“Mr. Wilson, if you are concerned about my parents finding out I'm gay, forget it. My dad was killed in the first Iraq War. I don't even remember him. Mom started dating again when I was twelve and I didn't like the man she was dating. We had a lot of conflict over the summer before seventh grade, so I was sent to boarding school. I met Bryan and fell in love—you can believe it or not. When I came home for Christmas, I told Mom. It upset her and she pitched a big a fit. The new guy she was dating set her straight right off the bat. They have been married for five years and he has been grand. Mom now accepts the fact that I am gay and that Bryan and I are a couple. I think she likes Bryan better than she does me. So, tell me about Bryan.”
“I saw him less than half an hour ago. I'll not shit you, Andy, he has had a rough time, but is doing better.”
“What did his dad do?”
“He beat him with his belt pretty severely, then took him out in the country and dumped him like an unwanted cat. A fellow found him and brought him into Dr. Cranston's office. We did an exam and did all we could for him and sent him to the hospital. I'm assisting his doctor, Dr. Evans.”
“You don't care that he's gay?”
“Andy, I'm gay, so no, I don't care.” I gave Andy Bryan's phone number and told him I'd like to meet him sometime.
“Maybe this weekend. I'm trying to find a place to stay not too far away, but haven't had any luck so far.”
“Andy, give me a couple hours and I'll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Dr. Wilson.”
“Not doctor yet. I'll call you in a couple hours.”
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