Staring into the hospital vestibule, its bright lights pouring out onto the sidewalk, I half expected a couple cherubs to greet me, glowing aura and all. How long had I gone without medical attention? I sat and listened to the Volkswagen engine idle for a few seconds, on edge.
“How long has that car been behind us?” I asked.
Stan shrugged, unconcerned. Maybe I was being paranoid. Maybe.
I squinted into the rear-view mirror, struggling to get a look at the driver who sat behind us, but all I could see was a silhouette. Motionless. The medical care I longed for began to lose its appeal. My chest still felt like it had been hit with a sack of bricks, but the risks involved with entering a hospital once again weighed heavy on my mind.
Easy to check in, not so easy to check out. At least, not without a box full of red tape.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I mean, maybe going to a hospital isn’t the best idea considering our circumstances,” I said.
“So tell me what you want, Lenny.”
“Look, I don’t know. I’m not about to collapse or anything, so maybe the hospital can wait for now.”
It was more of a question than a statement. I still didn’t know Stan’s full intentions and I wanted to feel him out a bit.
“Well, if you’re up for it, the dentist wants to have a word with us.”
Of course it was.
“You have any aspirin?”
“Do I look like a pharmacist to you?”
“You don’t have to be a smartass about it, Stan. I’m asking for aspirin, not a prescription for Oxycodone.”
“I don’t have any aspirin. Now about the dentist…”
“Fine, let’s see what’s on his mind,” I muttered.
Stan grabbed the cell phone that had sat idle between us and began to fiddle with the keypad. The two were getting quite cozy, and it made me nervous.
“What, you have his cell number?” I asked, incredulous.
“If I’m going to be doing business with anyone, Lenny, I sure as hell need a modern line of contact. Yeah, I have his cell number. What’d you think, we’d be corresponding through discrete memos and pay phones? Listen, lets meet up with the dentist and he’ll clear some things up. You’ve been tense this whole night, Lenny, and understandably so, so let me make this call and maybe we can help put your mind at ease. Good?”
“God damnit Stan, call him up then,” I said. “You can spare me the monologue. It’s already enough that you don’t have any pain killers on you. Christ, I just had a heart attack.”
Stan didn’t answer but turned his attention back to the phone. As he waited with the device pressed against his ear, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye–a glint of light in the rear-view mirror. The silhouette, still sitting patently in its car, was answering its cell phone.
So, I wasn’t just being paranoid. I got the feeling that we wouldn’t have ended up walking into that brightly-lit hospital foyer even if I had insisted. They were trying to send a message, but how I was to interpret that message, I wasn’t quite sure. They were coming on strong, sure. Coercive to say the least.
I couldn’t shake the feeling, however, that Stan was still on my side.
No, Stan trusted me. It was the dentist who was the skeptic. Driving me to the hospital was his test, his idea, and I passed. Barely.
“Evening,” Stan said into the phone.
There was a brief silence. Stan mentioned we’d be on our way, that I was coming, and hung up the phone. The dentist drove off immediately as Stan continued to let the car sit idle.
“Why didn’t you let me know the dentist was trailing us?” I asked, angrily.
“Dentist’s orders. I let him know you could be trusted, but he had to be sure. Had to see it with his own eyes. I didn’t want you ogling him in the rear-view and tipping him off. He’d know that I told you, and then we’d both lose his trust.”
“This was a test for both of us, Stash. He had to see you make this decision on your own terms, without any arm twisting, without any help from your partner.”
Stan put the Volkswagen in drive, as if it would end the conversation.
“So, where to?”
“Where do you think, partner?”
Back to the dentist’s. I hated the place already.
We carried on for the next mile or two in silence, heading back. Back to the scene of my first heart attack. Back to where it’s acceptable to hold bound, unconscious teenagers in the living room. A regular Disney Land. Then again, it’s not as if I had arrived with the best intentions, either. Hell, the boy pulled out a gun during our botched job. I couldn’t blame the dentist for being cautious. I’ll hedge my bets for now.
Stan and I stopped at a corner gas station so I could buy a pack of cigarettes, some coffee and aspirin. Stan kept it simple with a tall coffee. It was apparent to both of us that we wouldn’t be calling it a night any time soon, so I guess we felt the need to grab something to perk us up. I leaned against the vehicle to light my cigarette and Stan took a quick sip of coffee before recoiling at the heat.
“Ow, shit,” he said, but in a muted tone.
“A taste of your own medicine?” I said, remembering an incident the previous month where Stan had used the wonders of hot coffee to help coax a particularly stubborn debtor.
“Oh shit, I forgot about that guy. Do you think I was too rough? Too Hollywood?”
“Look, it was messy, but I didn’t have any complaints. It worked, right?”
I relaxed a little. Remembering old times with Stan helped wash away some of my anxiety that had been bubbling up over the last 24 hours. Taking a final drag, I tossed my cigarette and eagerly opened up the bottle of generic aspirin, taking a handful. Stan and I made brief eye contact before we both silently climbed back into the vehicle. It seemed as if we both anticipated the other saying something, anything, but no words found us.
“So tell me Stan, I thought you were ill?”
“That’s what Rosso was told, and so that’s what you heard,” he said in a matter of fact tone. “Look, I never meant to lie to you, but if you truly believed me to be sick, that’d lock up my alibi that much tighter, right?”
“So here’s the deal, when Rosso told me about this job, about this chump dentist from Iowa who owed him 50 large, it rang a few bells.”
“A few bells?”
“Lets just say that there’s more to the Doc than you or I both know. He used to be big in Chicago in certain circles. Real big. If things had gone a little differently, it could have just as easily been the Doc telling us to pay a visit to Rosso.”
“So what, you came up with an alibi and decided to pay the dentist a visit on your own time?” I asked. “You think it’s a good idea to go around Rosso’s back like that? Shit, now I’m involved, Stan. You’re making this whole situation very messy for me and my boy, not to mention Carol.”
“Forget Rosso. For all he knows you’re here doing your job, keeping a low profile.”
“So what the hell did you come down here for then, Stan? Did you just have a mind to play a few games of checkers with the Doc? Christ, Stan, don’t be coy. You know I hate it when you’re being coy.”
“Here’s the deal, Lenny,” Stan said. “The Doc has resources.”
“Vast resources,” he answered. “You’d be surprised.”
“And? You’re being coy.”
“And so while Rosso things you’re down here doing a job and I’m out of commission with pancreatitis, we’re going to start thinking long-term. The Doc is the wild card we’ve been missing.”