She tilts me into reckless speeding. We’re out of the empty dining hall, racing down the corridor, where she slows things down to a screech of the wheels for just a second, when all of a sudden, her cellphone rings.
The sounds of hospital staff, running back and forth carrying equipment, mix in with the cries of patients, calling out for attention, for help. The din is deafening, so there’s no need for Betty to lower her voice—but she does.
“Vlad, darling,” she says, under her breath, “I’ll be out in the parking lot soon. It’s hard to find my way here in the dark, but I’ll make it, so don’t you worry.”
I don’t know about him being anxious—but in my case, fretting is all I do. It’s my activity of choice right now, if only because of this bumpy ride. In the lobby, beams of flashlights streak across the walls. The footrests of my wheelchair bang against this piece of furniture and that, which makes me try to shrink back into the seat and tighten every muscle in my ankles, in a feeble effort to protect myself.
Along the way, Betty keeps chatting with him. “Have some patience, will you? Just wait for me outside.”
Despite her chewing gum, or maybe because of it, she sounds like a woman late for a date, what with all those terms of endearment, like that Darling stuff. Ha ha, if I didn’t know any better, I would wonder why on earth she would want me to stick around for a lovers’ rendezvous.
“Yes, the girl is right here, with me,” she hisses, between one chewing chomp and another. “It’s a freaking mess in here, everyone is running in all directions like crazy. I thought I would die laughing, Vlad, when they left her in my hands.”
Cold sweat starts forming on my skin as her fingers drift, ever so lightly, over my bare neck. I have to remind myself that she must hand me over to him, not kill me outright.
As if she’s the one being tickled, Betty giggles. “I’m telling you, Vlad: no one will know, at least for a while, that she’s gone missing. What a stroke of luck for us, right?”
In response to something he says, she gurgles a nervous laugh. “It’s totally dark in here, Vlad, so it’s hard to figure things out for sure, but I think no one’s watching, no one’s following me.”
Too bad. I try to stomp on the footrest so as to spark off some noise, some clangor out of it, but to no avail. The sound is barely audible. It’s lost in the hubbub.
“Yes, thank you for the timely reminder,” she tells him, this time sarcastically. “I know that the power outage will soon be over. I’m not an idiot, you know? Don’t tell me I must hurry!”
Walking and chewing gum seems to be too much for her. Betty spits it out, perhaps because it has lost its sweetness, or else because of having to focus on the task at hand. Having reached the entrance doors, she struggles to push them open using her big butt, while at the same time maneuvering me about with one hand and—just as crucial—holding the cellphone with the other.
“Oh, stop it!” she cries. “Don’t you put too much pressure on me, darling—or I’ll snap!”
Just for the exercise, I push the door open with my foot. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have done that, but it works, anyway. Which is a delightful thing for me, and a scary one too, because who knows what’s waiting for us on the other side.
By popular demand, all three thrillers in one box!