Accidents Waiting to Happen (4 page)

BOOK: Accidents Waiting to Happen
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Josh waited for the policeman to get out of earshot before he exploded.
 
“They didn’t believe a word of it.
 
They won’t do a damn thing.”

“Calm down,” Kate said firmly.
 
“You didn’t give them much to work with.
 
Give them a chance.”

“Don’t you side with them.”

“I’m not, but I think you just came across some road crazy that thought he’d have some fun.
 
He probably got off on terrorizing you.
 
All we need to know is that it’s over and you’re okay.”
 
Kate hugged Josh tightly.
 
She fought back tears but they came anyway.
 

Kate’s embrace felt tight enough to crack his ribs.
 
It was hard to be angry when Kate was so upset.
 
“You’re probably right, but they didn’t have to treat me like a criminal.”

“Never mind that now, I’m just happy to see you alive.”
 
Gently, she rocked him while she spoke.
 
“I have no idea how you swam to shore.”

“Neither do I.
 
God knows.
 
Self-preservation, I suppose,” Josh said, the anger subsiding.
 
The rocking soothed his frustrations, but deep down, he wasn’t satisfied.
 
He was sure it was no accident.
 
It didn’t matter if the cops didn’t believe him.

Doctor Green returned to his patient and called it a night for Josh’s visitors.
 
He told Josh to get some rest and ushered Kate out of the room.
 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

When Doctor Green entered his room the next morning, Josh was feeling hungry, but not for hospital food.
 
He’d left most of the breakfast they’d brought him.
 
It had tasted like a secondhand bedpan.
 
He would kill for a turkey sandwich with a side of potato salad.
 
He looked up from the magazine.

“Hi, doctor.”

“Hello, Mr. Michaels.
 
I thought I’d check up on you to see how we’re doing.”

We?
 
I don’t remember you at the bottom of the river.
 
I could have done with the help
, he thought in good humor.
 
“We’re doing okay.”
 

“Stand up for me, please.
 
How’d you sleep?”

Josh put the magazine down and hopped out of bed.
 
He let Green prod and poke him.
 
“Not bad,” he lied.

His sleep had been fitful.
 
In his dreams, he had relived distorted versions of his attempted murder at the river.
 
In one dream, the tailgater had been at the wheel of Josh’s car and Josh had fought for control of the vehicle.
 
Even at close quarters Josh was unable to see the man.
 
In the dream, everything was distorted.
 
The baseball cap’s bill was three times its normal size.
 
The man’s mirrored aviator sunglasses covered half his face.
 
After the fight of his life, Josh lost control to the tailgater and drove the car off the bridge with both of them in it.
 
In another dream, the killer simply blew the bridge out from underneath Josh as he drove across.
 
The bridge vaporized, engulfing him in flames as the car plunged into the consuming river.
 
More dreams had followed.
 
Each time the events had varied but the outcome was the same.
 
He hadn’t survived.
 
Waking at the moment of death had saved him.
 

Finishing his examination, the doctor asked, “How’s your stomach acting?”

“I puked around three this morning.”

“Sit down.
 
How about now?”

“Okay, I suppose.
 
I feel hungry.”

“That’s a good sign.”
 
Staring at Josh like he could see through to his internal organs, the doctor thought for a moment.
 
“I think you’re okay to go home.
 
You seem all right, no serious physical injuries.
 
I’ll sign you off and you can go anytime you want.”

“Thanks.”

“Go home, rest up, and take a few days for yourself.
 
Take a holiday if you want.
 
You’ve had a traumatic episode and it’s time to put it behind you.”
 
With a smile, he pointed at Josh.
 
“Doctor’s orders, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll try,” Josh said begrudgingly.

Leaving the room, the doctor said.
 
“Don’t try...do.”

Easy for you to say
, he thought.
 
The doctor had not been there.
 
He had not experienced what Josh had experienced.
 
How many times had the doctor found himself trapped in a car at the bottom of the river?
 
None, that’s how many.
 
He couldn’t just forget the experience just like that, nor could he forget the demented tailgater.
 
He believed the driver had wanted to kill, not scare him.
 

As soon as Green left, Josh got out of his hospital johnny and into his own clothes from an overnight bag Kate had brought with her.
 
He wanted out of the hospital.
 
The facility was a reminder of the helplessness he’d felt in the sinking car.
 
He was in an environment he had no control over, one where he couldn’t dictate his next move.
 
He picked up the phone and called Kate.

Kate and Abby picked him up from the hospital and took him home.
 
It felt good to see the familiar surroundings of his home of the last six years.
 
It was nothing special, just a two-story, three-bedroom Cape Cod on the southwest side of Sacramento.
 
But it was comfortable and fit him like a favorite chair.

“Here we are, honey.
 
Home,” Kate said.

Looking from the passenger window, Josh said.
 
“Yeah, I sure am.”

Kate tugged at his arm and he turned to face her.
 
She pulled him over to her and kissed him full on the mouth.
 
Laughter interrupted their kiss.
 
They stopped and looked at the person laughing in the backseat.

“What are you laughing at, Abby?” Josh said, fighting back a grin.

“You two,” she replied.

“I wouldn’t laugh too much if I were you.
 
I haven’t thrown away those adoption papers,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Lightly, Kate punched him in the arm.
 
“Stop that.”

Josh and his family clambered out of the minivan and with a female on each arm he was led inside.
 
They supported him as if he were a china doll that would break at any moment.
 
He had the feeling this was going to be his treatment for the next few days.
 
He imagined they would be attending to his every whim.
 
He might as well enjoy it while he could.
 
After Kate opened the door, Abby raced ahead.

“Wiener, we’re home,” she called and disappeared into the living room.

The three-year-old longhaired dachshund ran in from the kitchen with his tail wagging.
 
The dog was black and tan with a smudge over each eye giving him a permanently surprised look.
 
Josh had bought the dog after Kate had miscarried and they knew she would never have another child.
 
The dog was to be Abby’s substitute sibling.
 
It was a stupid and insensitive gesture at the time when they were all looking for something to make up for the hurt, but that was forgotten now.
 
Wiener was part of the family.
 
The dog came up to Josh for a moment to be stroked before he bounded off to Abby.

Kate slid her arm around Josh’s waist.
 
“Is there anything you want?”

“I wouldn’t mind a sandwich or something.
 
The food in the hospital was what you’d expect.”
 
He frowned.

“Roast beef sound good?”
 
Kate’s eyes shone with love and affection.

Before Josh could answer, Abby interrupted.
 
She raced up, clutching a picture in her hands, with Wiener close behind.
 

“I drew this for you.”
 
She held out the drawing for Josh to take.

Josh put his bag down and took it.
 
He was at a loss for words.
 

Kate, who had already seen it, stifled a laugh and put a hand to her mouth to contain a giggle.
 
“Tell him what it’s called, sweetie.”

“I call it Daddy’s Accident,” Abby said proudly.

Daddy’s Accident
was a crayon effort that depicted a bridge and Josh at the wheel of his car at the bottom of the river.
 
The crudely drawn picture stunned him into silence.
 
Only a child deciphering an adult’s world could produce the picture’s shocking honesty.
 
After several moments, he smiled at the artwork.

“What do you think?”

“It’s pretty much how it was,” he said stiltedly.

“You like it then?” Abby said expectantly.

“Oh, I love it,” he said, a little uncomfortable with the image in his hands.
 
He bent down and kissed his daughter.

“Cool.
 
It’s just like mommy told it to me.”

“Is it now?” he said suspiciously.

“I’ll get that sandwich for you.”
 
Kate left his side for the kitchen.

Josh heard a tinkle of laughter from the kitchen.
 
His wife had left him to deal with the praise of the picture.
 
He searched for a compliment.

***

The following morning, Josh had the house to himself.
 
He packed off Kate and Abby to cruise the malls and fight it out with the other families with kids on spring break.
 
The prospect of thrashing through the hordes of impatient people concentrated on the same outlet stores hadn’t appealed to him.
 
He wanted time to himself.
 
Kate and Abby’s affections had been suffocating.
 
They didn’t allow him a moment’s peace without inquiring into his well-being.
 
He told his employers he would be taking some time off and Kate had done the same with her job.
 
He hoped his family would relax with time, otherwise his vacation would feel longer than two weeks.
 

He went into his home office down the hallway from the lounge.
 
His office was his sanctuary from family life, an indulgence that focused entirely on Josh, the single man.
 
Bookcases had the kind of books he liked and the shelves were filled with mementos of places visited and dearly held gifts.
 
He only made one concession to family life—Abby’s picture gallery.
 

He took Abby’s picture off his desk and pinned it to the wall, which was a portfolio of significant events in her life.
 
Daddy’s Accident
nestled neatly next to a portrait of Wiener and the killer whale from Marine World.
 
He smiled at the latest addition.
 
It was ridiculous but true and he loved the picture.

The phone rang and Josh reached across his desk to answer it.
 

“Josh Michaels,” he said, still looking at his daughter’s pictures.

“Hi, Josh,” the female voice said.

Josh immediately recognized the voice, a voice he hadn’t heard in nearly two years.
 
His smile slid from his face.
 
He looked away from the crayon gallery and sat down on his desk before his legs failed him.
 
The river water he thought was gone, lapped uncomfortably inside his stomach, its sour taste back in his mouth.

“Hello, Bell,” he said.
 
A stammer crept into his voice.

“How are you?” she said in a mocking tone.

Thank God, Kate hadn’t answered
.
 
He counted his blessings that he’d answered the phone.
 
“You shouldn’t have called.”
 

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