The Thames, London
I remember someone once telling me that you know it's cold when you see a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets. It's colder than that now. My mouth is numb and every breath is like slivers of ice in my lungs.
People are shouting and shining flashlights in my eyes. In the meantime, I'm hugging this big yellow buoy like it's Marilyn Monroe. A very fat Marilyn Monroe, after she took all the pills and went to seed.
My favorite Monroe film is Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. I don't know why I should think of that now, although how anyone could mistake Jack Lemmon for a woman is beyond me.
A guy with a really thick mustache and pizza breath is panting in my ear. He's wearing a life vest and trying to peel my fingers away from the buoy. I'm too cold to move. He wraps his arms around my chest and pulls me backward through the water. More people, silhouetted against the lights, take hold of my arms, lifting me onto the deck.
"Jesus, look at his leg!" someone says.
"He's been shot!"
Who are they talking about?
People are shouting all over again, yelling for bandages and plasma. A black guy with a gold earring slides a needle into my arm and puts a bag over my face.
"Someone get some blankets. Let's keep this guy warm."
"He's palping at one-twenty."
"Palping at one-twenty."
"Any head injuries?"
The engine roars and we're moving. I can't feel my legs. I can't feel anything—not even the cold anymore. The lights are also disappearing. Darkness has seeped into my eyes.
"One, two, three."
"Watch the IV lines. Watch the IV lines."
"I got it."
"Bag a couple of times."
The guy with pizza breath is puffing really hard now, running alongside the gurney. His fist is in front of my face, pressing a bag to force air into my lungs. They lift again and square lights pass overhead. I can still see.
A siren wails in my head. Every time we slow down it gets louder and closer. Someone is talking on a radio. "We've pumped two liters of fluid. He's on his fourth unit of blood. He's bleeding out. Systolic pressure dropping."
"He needs volume."
"Squeeze in another bag of fluid."
"He's seizing. See that?"
One of the machines has gone into a prolonged cry. Why don't they turn it off?
Pizza breath rips open my shirt and slaps two pads on my chest.
"CLEAR!" he yells.
The pain almost blows the top of my skull clean off.
He does that again and I'll break his arms.
I swear to God I'm going to remember you, pizza breath. I'm going to remember exactly who you are. And when I get out of here I'm coming looking for you. I was happier in the river. Take me back to Marilyn Monroe.
I am awake now. My eyelids flutter as if fighting gravity. Squeezing them shut, I try again, blinking into the darkness.
Turning my head, I can make out orange dials on a machine near the bed and a green blip of light sliding across a liquid crystal display window like one of those stereo systems with bouncing waves of colored light.
Where am I?
Beside my head is a chrome stand that catches stars on its curves. Suspended from a hook is a plastic satchel bulging with a clear fluid. The liquid trails down a pliable plastic tube and disappears under a wide strip of surgical tape wrapped around my left forearm.
I'm in a hospital room. There is a pad on the bedside table. Reaching toward it, I suddenly notice my left hand—not so much my hand as a finger. It's missing. Instead of a digit and a wedding ring I have a lump of gauze dressing. I stare at it idiotically, as though this is some sort of magic trick.
When the twins were youngsters, we had a game where I pulled off my thumb and if they sneezed it would come back again. Michael used to laugh so hard he almost wet his pants.
Fumbling for the pad, I read the letterhead: St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London. There is nothing in the drawer except a Bible and a copy of the Koran.
I spy a clipboard hanging at the end of the bed. Reaching down, I feel a sudden pain that explodes from my right leg and shoots out of the top of my head. Christ! Do not, under any circumstances, do that again.
Curled up in a ball, I wait for the pain to go away. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath. If I concentrate very hard on a particular point just under my jawbone, I actually feel the blood sliding back and forth beneath my skin, squeezing into smaller and smaller channels, circulating oxygen.
My estranged wife, Miranda, is such a lousy sleeper that she said my heart kept her awake because it beat too loudly. I didn't snore or wake with the night terrors, but my heart pumped up a riot. This has been listed among Miranda's grounds for divorce. I'm exaggerating, of course. She doesn't need extra justification.
I open my eyes again. The world is still here.
Taking a deep breath, I grip the bedclothes and raise them a few inches. I still have two legs. I count them. One. Two. The right leg is bandaged in layers of gauze taped down at the edges. Something has been written in a felt-tip pen down the side of my thigh but I can't read what it says.
Farther down I can see my toes. They wave hello to me. "Hello toes," I whisper.
Tentatively, I reach down and cup my genitals, rolling my testicles between my fingers.
A nurse slips silently through the curtains. Her voice startles me. "Is this a very private moment?"
"I was . . . I was . . . just checking."
"Well, I think you should consider buying that thing dinner first."
Her accent is Irish and her eyes are as green as mown grass. She presses the call button above my head. "Thank goodness you're finally awake. We were very worried about you." She taps the bag of fluid and checks the flow control. Then she straightens my pillows.
"What happened? How did I get here?"
"You were shot."
"Who shot me?"
She laughs. "Oh, don't ask me. Nobody ever tells me things like that."
"But I can't remember anything. My leg . . . my finger . . . "
"The doctor should be here soon."
She doesn't seem to be listening. I reach out and grab her arm. She tries to pull away, suddenly frightened of me.
"You don't understand—I can't remember! I don't know how I got here."
She glances at the emergency button. "They found you floating in the river. That's what I heard them say. The police have been waiting for you to wake up."
"How long have I been here?"
"Eight days . . . you were in a coma. I thought you might be coming out yesterday. You were talking to yourself."
"What did I say?"
"You kept asking about a girl—saying you had to find her."
"You didn't say. Please let go of my arm. You're hurting me."
My fingers open and she steps well away, rubbing her forearm. She won't come close again.
My heart won't slow down. It is pounding away, getting faster and faster like Chinese drums. How can I have been here eight days?
"What day is it today?"
"October the third."
"Did you give me drugs? What have you done to me?"
She stammers, "You're on morphine for the pain."
"What else? What else have you given me?"
"Nothing." She glances again at the emergency button. "The doctor is coming. Try to stay calm or he'll have to sedate you."
She's out of the door and won't come back. As it swings closed I notice a uniformed policeman sitting on a chair outside the door, with his legs stretched out like he's been there for a while.
I slump back in bed, smelling bandages and dried blood. Holding up my hand I look at the gauze bandage, trying to wiggle the missing finger. How can I not remember?
For me there has never been such a thing as forgetting, nothing is hazy or vague or frayed at the edges. I hoard memories like a miser counts his gold. Every scrap of a moment is kept as long as it has some value.
I don't see things photographically. Instead I make connections, spinning them together like a spider weaving a web, threading one strand into the next. That's why I can reach back and pluck details of criminal cases from five, ten, fifteen years ago and remember them as if they happened only yesterday. Names, dates, places, witnesses, perpetrators, victims—I can conjure them up and walk through the same streets, have the same conversations, hear the same lies.
Now for the first time I've forgotten something truly important. I can't remember what happened and how I finished up here. There is a black hole in my mind like a dark shadow on a chest X-ray. I've seen those shadows. I lost my first wife to cancer. Black holes suck everything into them. Not even light can escape.
Twenty minutes go by and then Dr. Bennett sweeps through the curtains. He's wearing jeans and a bow tie under his white coat.
"Detective Inspector Ruiz, welcome back to the land of the living and high taxation." He sounds very public school and has one of those foppish Hugh Grant fringe haircuts that falls across his forehead like a dinner napkin on a thigh.
Shining a penlight in my eyes, he asks, "Can you wiggle your toes?"
"Any pins and needles?"
He pulls back the bedclothes and scrapes a key along the sole of my right foot. "Can you feel that?"
Picking up a clipboard, he scrawls his initials with a flick of the wrist.
"I can't remember anything."
"About the accident."
"It was an accident?"
"I have no idea. You were shot."
"Who shot me?"
"You don't remember?"
This conversation is going around in circles.
Dr. Bennett taps the pen against his teeth, contemplating this answer. Then he pulls up a chair and sits on it backward, draping his arms over the backrest.
"You were shot. One bullet entered just above your gracilis muscle on your right leg leaving a quarter-inch hole. It went through the skin, then the fat layer, through the pectineus muscle, just medial to the femoral vessels and nerve, through the quadratus femoris muscle, through the head of the biceps femoris and through the gluteus maximus before exiting through the skin on the other side. The exit wound was far more impressive. It blew a hole four inches across. Gone. No flap. No pieces. Your skin just vaporized."
He whistles impressively through his teeth. "You had a pulse but you were bleeding out when they found you. Then you stopped breathing. You were dead but we brought you back."
He holds up his thumb and forefinger. "The bullet missed your femoral artery by this far." I can barely see a gap between them. "Otherwise you would have bled to death in three minutes. Apart from the bullet we had to deal with infection. Your clothes were filthy. God knows what was in that water. We've been pumping you full of antibiotics. Bottom line, Inspector, you are one lucky puppy."
Is he kidding? How much luck does it take to get shot?
I hold up my hand. "What about my finger?"
"Gone, I'm afraid, just above the first knuckle."
A skinny looking intern with a crewcut pokes his head through the curtains. Dr. Bennett lets out a low-pitched growl that only underlings can hear. Rising from the chair, he buries his hands in the pockets of his white coat.
"Will that be all?"
"Why can't I remember?"
"It's not really my field, I'm afraid. We can run some tests. You'll need a CT scan or an MRI to rule out a skull fracture or hemorrhage. I'll call neurology."
"My leg hurts."
"Good. It's getting better. You'll need a walker or crutches. A physiotherapist will come and talk to you about a program to help you strengthen your leg." He flips his bangs and turns to leave. "I'm sorry about your memory, Detective. Be thankful you're alive."
He's gone, leaving a scent of aftershave and superiority. Why do surgeons cultivate this air of owning the world? I know I should be grateful. Maybe if I could remember what happened I could trust the explanations more.
So I should be dead. I always suspected that I would die suddenly. It's not that I'm particularly foolhardy but I have a knack for taking shortcuts. Most people only die once. Now I've had two lives. Throw in three wives and I've had more than my fair share of living. (I'll definitely forgo the three wives, should someone want them back.)
My Irish nurse is back again. Her name is Maggie and she has one of those reassuring smiles they teach in nursing school. She has a bowl of warm water and a sponge.
"Are you feeling better?"
"I'm sorry I frightened you."
"That's OK. Time for a bath."
She pulls back the covers and I drag them up again.
"There's nothing under there I haven't seen," she says.
"I beg to differ. I have a pretty fair recollection of how many women have danced with old Johnnie One-Eye and unless you were that girl in the back row of the Shepherd's Bush Empire during a Yardbirds concert in 1961, I don't think you're one of them."
"My oldest friend."
She shakes her head and looks sorry for me.
A familiar figure appears from behind her—a short square man, with no neck and a five-o'clock shadow. Campbell Smith is a Chief Superintendent, with a crushing handshake and a no-brand smile. He's wearing his uniform, with polished silver buttons and a shirt collar so highly starched it threatens to decapitate him.
Everyone claims to like Campbell—even his enemies—but few people are ever happy to see him. Not me. Not today. I remember him! That's a good sign.
From the Hardcover edition.