Nightmares and Golden Days
Alex listened for several minutes then said, tears in his eyes, “Gertrude, I was talking crazy. I'm sorry. Josh has rescued me, I'm safe and I love you. Talk to Josh, please.” Tears were running down his face as Alex handed Josh the phone.
“Josh here, Gertrude.”
“What's going on, Josh? What's wrong with Alex? Where did you find him?”
“Hold on, Gertrude, it's a long, ugly story, but almost over now. I don't have a signal here and we're dealing with twenty-four men who were in a hellhole with Alex, and a whole Mormon extremists compound as well, with only five phone lines and we have only three of those. We will be leaving shortly and as soon as I get a signal, I'll call. Meanwhile, call Mr. Bledsoe and tell him Alex has been found and is safe. Just be patient awhile longer.”
“Hard after all these years.”
“I know. Talk to you soon.”
Josh hung up the phone and turned to see Alex looking out the window.
“Alex, Gertrude will call your father.”
“Good. Josh, I guess both you and Gertrude think I am totally crazy, talking as if I was back in Boulder and fourteen years old. Well, I guess I am well on my way to being completely insane, but slipping into the cuckoo cloud land of those summers was the only escape I had from this horrible place. We all are more or less insane since it was the only way we could keep from going crazy.” He actually grinned. Alex turned and looked out the window again. “I wish I could go outside,” Alex said. “We never get to go outside except to walk to church.”
“Come with me, Alex. We'll go outside.”
“We can, can't we!”
“We can indeed.”
In the common room, Josh called out, “If you know where and how you are going and want to, you can come outside with me and Alex.” A number of guys joined the two as they went downstairs and stepped out the door.
Alex reached out and took Josh's hand and said, “Hold my hand, please.”
A wide smile spread across Josh's face as he said, “Always.”
At first the men simply walked a short distance from the clinic and stood in the sun, most closing their eyes and turning their faces to the sun. Gradually, a few started walking short distances, then looking back, some even coming back to the front of the clinic. After they had been in the sun for fifteen minutes, Josh began to worry about sunburn. The afternoon, southern Utah sun could burn quickly and these men had seen no sun for weeks, some for months. “Guys,” Josh called out, “you're going to be sunburned. You need to get out of the sun.”
Some started shaking their heads, others just looked at Josh and Alex said, “Josh, we're not going back in that building. Ever.” The men around him nodded their heads in agreement.
Josh was in a pickle. “Bull,” Josh yelled at the top of his lungs. “Bull.”
Bull came running out of the building. “What's the problem?”
Josh started laughing. “Bull, I think I'm losing it. I told the guys they could come outside. Now I'm afraid they will be sunburned and they refused to go back in and I kinda panicked,” Josh said, a sheepish grin on his face.
“Son, you've had enough to panic anyone, so I guess you're entitled to one free panic. Just be a good Boy Scoutmaster and take them for a hike in the woods. The chopper will be landing in ten minutes and the safe guy is on it. You'll be needed then, but none of these guys are going to wander far. When the chopper lands, just come back and one of us will become Scoutmaster.”
“'Boy Scout' is probably a poor choice of words for this group,” Josh grinned. “Ok, sorry I panicked.”
“Probably did you good,” Bull said.
“Ok, Guys,” Josh shouted. “We've got to get out of the sun. How about a nature walk. Follow me.” As the group rounded the edge of the building and spied the fence, they all froze. Josh felt Alex turn to stone and the grip he had on his hand was near painful. “Shit!” Josh thought, “I take so damn much for granted. These poor guys have fears I can't imagine, fears it will take years to banish, if they ever banish them.” He paused, some of the men were in a shadow cast by the building, but not all and there wasn't room for all. “Alex, can you trust me?” Josh asked, hoping Alex could, but expecting he could not. Alex nodded slowly. “You can turn loose of my hand at any time, but I need to walk to the fence.” Josh began walking slowly toward the fence. The closer he got, the tighter Alex squeezed his hand until a yard or so from the fence, he shook his head and stopped. “Please turn loose my hand, Alex,” Josh asked and waited. Slowly, ever so slowly, Alex released his hand and Josh walked to the fence, and stepped over the cables. He was sure the fence was no longer charged, but wasn't taking a chance. As soon as he was on the other side, he found a coil of barbed wire and the gloves, unwound the coil and tossed the wire into the fence. It hung, but nothing happened.
He stepped back across the cables and took Alex by the hand. “Please come walk with me,” he asked. Alex nodded.
When they were outside the fence, Alex called to the men on the inside. “Hold someone's hand and come across.” Reluctantly at first, they did until the last three couples jumped flat-footed across the cables, one of them laughing. Once all were across, Josh noticed Alex and one other man staring at a bare spot between the fence and the building. “That's where they buried him,” Alex said. “I heard them digging.”
“Buried who?” Josh asked.
“I don't know his name. He was new. He ran into the fence only a short time ago as we were coming back from church. They made us watch until he stopped moving, then, that night, I heard them digging outside my window.”
“I heard them too,” the other man staring said.
I radioed Neil and told him he needed a mortician and why. “Medi-vac, paddy wagons, ambulances, now morticians. Is it ever going to end?” Neil asked.
“For us, maybe.”
Mr. Saylers, the retired safe company man, took a look at the safe and said, “Gentlemen, I can open that for you, but my contract requires that I do so unobserved. If you will give me half an hour with the bad boy, he will be glad to open for daddy.”
“Take as long as you need,” Pete, who had accompanied him from the chopper, said.
“What the hell kinda of place is this anyway? One of those leftover sixties communes?” he asked.
“You might say that,” Pete said and then left him alone behind a closed door.
Half an hour later, the safe was open. It was filled with money, over three million dollars. Drs. Smith and Young had charged what the traffic would bear, up to ten thousand a month, and gave Strang only a thousand per person; he made little while they became wealthy. Pity! Since New Beginnings Clinic had been a wholly owned operation of the two con men, the money would be held in trust against any liens against it. Dick had already filed claims against it for each of the men and would be filing others.
After Pete and Neil had made a report to the state, two state helicopters were made available to ferry the men to hospitals, motels and airports as needed. By six in the evening, only Alex was left at New Beginnings. It was six-thirty before the media got wind of the raid and so far as Bull, Josh and Dick were concerned, no-one paid them enough to deal with them. They hopped a ride on the state chopper and were dropped off at the airport.
June had not been in on the raid since, as he said, he had nothing to contribute to it, so he stayed at the troopers’ station where he and the captain pieced together what was going on from the radio traffic. When it was clear Josh and Bull were coming out, a trooper took June to the regional airport, blue lights and sirens all the way. He was already aboard when the four from New Beginnings boarded. He handed Bull a triple Jack Daniel's neat and fruit juice for the other three. “Wanna ride shotgun?” Josh asked Alex as he strapped himself into the pilot's seat and began his pre-flight check.”
“You're flying us?” Alex asked, eyes wide.
“Yeah,” Josh grinned. He had to admit to himself he was showing off, but he and Alex had always shown off for each other. Alex climbed into the co-pilot's seat and, as he did, Josh said, “The only rule is 'Touch nothing.'”
“I won't,” Alex said. “Blood oath,” and smiled as Josh touched fingertips with him. Before they took off, Dick was on the phone making arrangements for Alex to have an immediate checkup and to reserve a private room and get a private duty nurse for him as Josh requested. Josh wanted to make sure he had a detailed examination over the next few days -- number to be determined. He also reserved a suite in a nearby hotel for Josh, Bull, and June -- who was now once again Mr. VanWinkle.
They were barely in the air before Alex collapsed, exhausted. Josh knew he was running on adrenalin and was actually much weaker than he sometimes appeared. When they landed, he did not wake up when Josh picked him up and took him to a gurney waiting by the landing site.
Alex awoke as Josh lay him on the stretcher. When the attendant collapsed the gurney and started pushing it into the ambulance, Alex was coming off of it. “You're safe, Alex,” Josh said. “I'm going with you.”
“Sorry, you're not allowed to accompany him,” the attendant said.
It was very clear, very quickly, no way was Alex getting in the ambulance by himself. Josh, Bull and Mr. VanWinkle all tried to explain that he had been held against his will in a torture palace called a clinic and that Josh should be allowed to accompany him. The attendant once again refused and reached over to restrain Alex. He received a black eye and an ugly bite on his arm. He reached into his bag and withdrew a hypodermic syringe. Josh grabbed his arm and said, between his teeth, “Back off!” as Alex came up on all fours, poised to spring.
The struggle was brief because Josh was also operating off of a full day's adrenalin. The attendant backed off and said, “He can go to hell as far as I'm concerned! He's not going anywhere in this ambulance unless he is sedated and restrained.”
“You're right, he's not going anywhere in your fucking ambulance. For your information, he is just back from hell and he will not be restrained.” Josh picked Alex up in his arms, holding him close, and said, “Dick, order a limo and get it here yesterday.” Alex's head was on Josh's shoulder and Josh's nose was in his hair as he inhaled the scent he had dreamed of for seven long years. Alex was, again, asleep.
The limo arrived and took Alex and Josh to the hospital. Dick had taken care of getting Alex admitted, so there was not endless paperwork when they reached the hospital. Josh had held Alex all the way and said he would stay with him, but urged Bull and Mr. VanWinkle to go on to the hotel and get some rest. He also told the driver to take Dick home.
When he carried Alex into Admitting, an orderly was ready to wheel him to his room. “I’m Jasper,” he said, “and I’ll be your nurse this evening. Pediatrics is my regular ward but I just got off shift and am helping out a buddy, Mr. Bledsoe's private duty nurse.” That explained his scrubs which were covered with cartoon characters, As soon as he saw them, Josh knew he had to speak to the attendant without Alex hearing. Nature provided a means when Alex said, as soon as they reached the room, “I gotta go.” The nurse opened the bathroom door and Josh carried Alex inside and left him on the toilet when he insisted. While Alex was inside, Josh told Jasper, “Do what it takes, but no doctor, male nurse or male staff member is to come into the room in white. Can you make sure that is writ large and in red on his chart?”
“I sure will. Is there a reason?”
“I suspect it may well be on the eleven o'clock news and if not, it will definitely be all over the media tomorrow. Just know that he has been in hell and the devil's minions all wore white. By the way, can I assume hospital security will make sure no-one from the media has contact with him?”
“You can assume that, but security around here is underpaid and a couple hundred extra might mean security isn't around all the time.”
“Thanks. Do you know when a doctor will see him?”
“Soon. Mr. Saunders, who made arrangements for his admission, insisted the doctor call him before seeing Mr. Bledsoe.”
“Good,” Josh said.
Alex called from the bathroom and Josh picked him up and carried him to the bed. As he did, Alex said, “You never appreciate the luxury of a good shit in private until it is taken from you, believe me.”
“Mr. Bledsoe, if you’d like a private shower as well, you have time, otherwise, I have a gown for you.”
Alex looked at Josh, winked and said, “Semi-private might be better, but I’ll never turn down a hot shower, never again.” Josh helped him back into the bathroom, undressed him and sat him on a stool in the shower. Josh stripped, got in the large shower as well, adjusted the temperature and used the hand held shower to bathe Alex. He dried him and before he got him dressed, Alex asked to be left on the toilet again.
When Josh left him and stepped out of the bathroom, Jasper said, “Don’t mean to pry, but was he flirting with you?”
“You did mean to pry and I hope he was. Does that make a difference?”
“Not to me, but I’d hold it down around here. Diversity training and tolerance policy doesn’t count among most of the staff. Me? I’m black and that still rankles some that the priesthood was opened to those of us of that persuasion. Being gay is next to murder, you know. As I said, makes no difference to me, but do put a bug in your buddy’s ear. Understand?”
“I understand. How well I understand.” Josh remembered the other Elijah’s story. “Unless you’d especially like to, you don’t need to hang around until the doctor comes. I'll get Alex in bed.”
“I bet you would, sexy dude. If you’re sure. I’ve already pulled twelve hours and am ready for bed, alone. Ok if I drop by when I’m around?”
“Sure, and thanks for everything, especially the advice and the uniform. If you had been in white, either we’d be trying to pull him off the ceiling or one of us would be in need of medical help.”
Jasper came by almost every day while Alex was in the hospital and both Alex and Josh looked forward to his coming.
When Alex called, Josh helped him from the toilet. As he did, he told him what Jasper had said and he became very somber, asking, “Will they never leave us alone?”
Josh helped him get dressed in one of the “ass hanging out” hospital gowns, got him in bed and adjusted the bed until he was in a semi-sitting position. He had just finished when a male, dressed in lavender scrubs, came in, announced he had come to draw blood and did so. He really was surly, but professional, as he drew several vials of blood relatively painlessly. Alex said, “but someone must have pissed on his parade ‘cause a little, even a lot, of rain would not have given him that much attitude.”
He had just left when a male with 'Martin Hicks, LPN' on his nametag came in, pushing a scale. He was dressed in pink scrubs and was laughing up a storm. “I hope old Barney do a good job drawing blood. That man done got an attitude. Well, I be here to get yo' blood pressure, temperature, pulse, weight and height, Mr. Bledsoe.” He did all except the weighing and measuring and asked, “How tall you be, Mr. Bledsoe?”
“Five eleven,” Alex responded.
“No way you stand so I can weigh you. On the scale, Mr. Taylor.” Josh stepped on the scale wondering what was going on. “Now pick up Mr. Bledsoe and get back on the scale. Josh did. “One twenty-eight. You need fattening up, Mr. Bledsoe. Yeah, everybody is this hospital be telling old Barney he look good in lavender. He done gets ah attitude. When they tells me I look good in pink, I says, “Cos I do. It accents my beautiful brown skin. Everybody happy. But enough of that talk. Dr. Avery will be with you shortly, Mr. Bledsoe. Ordinarily I’d see a great deal of you, but you have a private duty nurse coming on, so she will handle most of what I would do under regular circumstances. She is, by the way, one beautiful doll.”
“You mean there are actual women who work here?” Josh laughed.
“Very few work as attendants or LPNs. Most of us males are working toward our RNs and take what we can get. Male nurses, even LPNs, are new around here. Nursing was woman’s work. Well, have a restful night, as restful as is possible in a hospital. This is no place for sick people.”
“Thanks and thanks for the shufflin’ bit,” Josh said.
“Yassuh, massa Taylor. Calls me if yo needs me.”
A man in dark blue scrubs without a nametag walked in and said, “See Nurse Hicks did his bit for you. Was at a party where he was a few weeks ago and he got wound up and do an hour of pure ghetto after one of Provo’s grand dames had assumed he was a servant. He has a degree in business, but couldn’t take the corporate world and is back working on his RN. I could use several dozen like him. Anyway, Mr. Bledsoe, I am Dr. Avery. I have spoken with Mr. Saunders and know something of your situation. Believe me, I am truly sorry and hope I can be of help to you.
“First, I will do a quick exam tonight to find anything obvious. Over the next few days, there will be tests and I will do a complete and thorough examination. Also, you will have a chat with Dr. Glasgow, who is a psychiatrist. My understanding is that you will be going to Boulder for long-term care, so we are mainly concerned about immediate problems caused by your ordeal and getting your strength back so you can make the trip. I'd say offhand, you can expect to be here thirty days, but that will depend on what I find and how quickly you recover. Know you want to leave as soon as possible, but I don't need to tell you, your abuse has taken a severe toll on your body and your mental health as well. Mr. Taylor will be right here with you and anything you rather he do than me, he may if he can. That sounds weird, but I think you know what I mean.” Josh and Alex both grinned and nodded. “I have ordered complete blood work and a phlebotomist will draw blood, oh, I see that has been done already. I hope he was a professional about it as I heard he had a real attitude this evening. Very unlike him.”
“He was and he did.” Alex said, “He was very professional and he did have an attitude.”
“Pleased with the former and sorry about the latter. Understand he has a problem with lavender.” I grinned and Alex looked puzzled. “I’ll also want a urine and stool sample.”
“You’ll have to wait on the last two,” Alex said. “I just had the luxury of a private piss and shit, the first in months.”
“Fine, no rush.” Dr. Avery began going over Alex, listening, punching, probing, covering every inch of his body.
When he finished, he said, “Alex, your heart and lungs sound fine. You are obviously dehydrated and have been for some time, but I don’t think any irreversible damage has been done. Long enough and severe enough, it can cause brain damage and while I expect you have had hallucinations and done some weird thinking, that should disappear as soon as you have been hydrated for a while. When your private duty nurse arrives, she can get you started on an IV. You are undernourished, but you are well aware of that I am sure. I put you on a special diet or you can order take out after tomorrow if you get your nurse to look over your order. Knowing Mary Beth, she’ll make arrangements for wonderful meals. She will also see to the urine and stool samples.
“Mr. Saunders and I have known each other for a long time and I have much respect for him. While we disagree on some things -- the nature and reality of what I perceive is the relationship between you two, for example, and he has said nothing about that -- I have much respect for him and feel he does for me. We only talked for fifteen minutes so I don’t know the whole story, but I do have a general idea of what was done to those of you at New Beginnings and I am truly sorry.
“Maybe because I am at the top of the heap in my profession in this town and don’t do badly moneywise, I haven’t been disfellowshipped or anything, but I started questioning the LDS during my intern year after med school. I was taken to task by an African American Mormon because his people had been banned from the priesthood and Temple ceremonies until 1978, I mean really taken to task. I had not known that, since it was never talked about in my presence. Then a member of my missionary team was excommunicated. I knew him well and knew him to be a good, kind-hearted, hard-working man. When I said that in defense of him, and asked why he had been excommunicated, I was told he had engaged in homosexual activity, but that was all, except to be told that was a sin second only to murder. I didn't see how the two could even be considered to be in the same ballpark. Further, I was doing a lot of reading and had been pretty well convinced that the 'choice of homosexuality' was a fallacy. Anyway, I learned later, someone had reported his homosexual activity -- he was seen kissing a man -- and he was excommunicated in spite of telling the Council the man was a southern cousin, 'a kissing cousin,' and nothing more was involved. The fancy footwork regarding the Book of Mormon and DNA regarding Native Americans being Israelites finished me with it. My wife is still devout, but our children will escape as soon as possible.”
“Frankly, I was pretty upset with the idea of Alex being in a hospital in Provo,” Josh said. “My great-uncle’s lover, I have just discovered, was shot when he was seen kissing the man for whom I am named and died in a Provo hospital when someone ripped open his wound and poisoned it with human feces. The wound was already badly infected. The doctor thought the bullet he was shot with had been coated with feces. That happened in the early thirties, so there was little to fight infection and he died at, I think, twenty-three.”
“That’s what happens when a group believes it has the only absolute truth and all who are different are inferior,” Dr. Avery said. “Well, I don’t think you need worry about being killed here, but I would limit any show of affection. I suspect a show of affection would have a profound effect on your level of service so long as it involved the regular staff. Alex, you have the three best available for private duty, so they will be doubly on guard as will I. Any other concerns?”
“There is bound to be a media storm tomorrow. I hope the hospital can protect Alex,” Josh said.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Saunders wasn’t thinking clearly....”
“Believe me, after today, none of us were.”
“Understandable, but it’s unfortunate that you weren’t admitted under another name, Alex.” Josh was pleased that Dr. Avery had spoken to Alex and not him. He realized he had been speaking as though Alex was elsewhere.
When he left, Alex said, “Josh, I want out of here and out of Utah as soon as possible.”
“That will happen and you can depend on that as you can sunrise.”
“I haven't seen a sunrise or sunset in a long time.”
“You’ll see one soon, very soon now.
Editors: Jesse and Scott
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