Chapter 13: Elephant in the Room
Daisy rested on a bed behind a curtain in what she assumed was some sort of low priority area of the emergency room since no one had come to check on her in at least an hour. She was stuck here, at least until they figured out what to do with her. After a quick check up and blood draw, the doctor on staff had insisted that she have an I.V. to rehydrate her after her ordeal. That’s what he’d called it…”her ordeal”.
Apparently she was some odd sort of minor celebrity here – the one who got away from the Tri-County Strangler, she’d overheard a nurse say to someone outside the curtain. The forced isolation gave her more than enough time to think about what had happened versus what might have happened. From Enos’s telling of the story, him finding her was nothing short of a miraculous shot in the dark, like some avenging angel coming to her rescue. She wished she’d been allowed to stay with him when they’d taken him away.
A nurse finally came through the curtain and removed the I.V., telling her that the doctor wanted to keep her overnight for observation since her iron levels were low. “We’ll take another reading after you eat breakfast and lunch tomorrow,” she said, bringing a wheelchair up to the side of the bed. “Now, I know you’re probably feeling just fine, especially after that glucose drip, but I have to take you up to your room in this anyway.”
Daisy slid off the bed. “That’s okay,” she said as she took a seat.
The nurse took in Daisy’s oversized shirt and mud-stained pants. “Would you like me to find you something to change into?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful,” said Daisy.
“I’m going to take you up past the maternity ward first. We always have some plain scrubs that we keep around for the moms who forget their bags. I’m sure we can find you something.”
They made the rounds up through the hospital, stopping in the maternity ward where they found Daisy a set of pink scrubs for her to take with her, and then eventually to her room.
“I’ll leave you here then,” said the nurse, “but if you need anything, just hit the call button on the bed.”
“There’s one thing, ma’am.”
“What’s that, Ms. Duke?”
“Is there any chance you could find out how the person they brought in with me is doing? Detective Enos Strate? ”
The nurse smiled, knowingly. “I’ll check for you. I won’t be able to tell you much because of the privacy issues, but I’ll see what I can do.” She left, closing the door behind her.
As much as Daisy longed for a shower and clean clothes, there was one thing she had to do first. She picked up the phone, took a deep breath, and dialed home.
“Hello?” Uncle Jesse answered.
Her tears surprised her, but hearing her uncle’s voice on the line suddenly made the reality of everything come crashing down on her. “Uncle Jesse?” Her voice cracked. “Uncle Jesse, it’s Daisy.”
“Daisy… ” There was nothing for a moment, then she heard him clear his throat, and she knew his eyes weren’t dry either. “Thank th’ Lord. I ain’t never heard a sweeter voice in all my days, girl.”
“I’m sorry, Uncle Jesse,” she cried, “I never meant t’ worry y’all so. I should’a been more careful, I should’a let Luke go with me, I…”
“…Daisy, Daisy, Daisy,” he soothed. “Ain’t nothin’ that you ought t’ be apologizin’ for. You’re safe an’ sound now, an’ that’s all that’s important.”
“I almost wasn’t, Uncle Jesse. If Enos’d gotten there a minute later, I wouldn’t have been, an’ I just can’t bear thinkin’ about that.”
“Well then, we just won’t think about it. He did get there in time. An’ I’m sorry, Daisy. I’d like nothin’ better than t’ be there right now, but we’ve got t’ wait ’till the sun’s up. It’s s’posed to be in th’ 40’s come mornin’ and we’ll be able to get through on th’ roads.”
“Oh no, I don’t want y’all drivin’ here at night. Atlanta’s so darn big, and it’d just be too dangerous. They’ve got me in a room here anyhow, and I promised Enos I’d find him in th’ mornin’.”
“Okay, well, that’s good. We’ll leave first thing then.”
“I love ya’, Uncle Jesse. Send Bo an’ Luke my love, too.”
“I will. We love you, too, Daisy. We’ll see ya’ tomorrow.”
“Okay. Bye then.”
Two hours later, Daisy had showered, changed, eaten, and given up on finding anything decent to watch on television. The nurse came in again and told her all that had been going on with Enos. Apparently the doctor thought his fever had been exacerbated by being run down and not having slept well in quite a while, and the infection with the gunshot wound wasn’t bad. They’d given him a sedative to help him sleep and put him on antibiotics.
The nurse gave her a confused look. “If you don’t mind me asking, are you and Detective Strate…close, Ms. Duke?”
Daisy wasn’t sure why she was asking, or exactly what she meant by close. “We grew up together. He’s always been close to my family. Why?”
“Well, I wouldn’t been able to tell you anything about him, but he put your name down as having permission to access his medical records. Guess he thinks you’re close.”
Daisy shrugged. “He’s only got his mom left for immediate family, but I don’t think she’d bother comin’ down. He’s closer to my uncle than he is her anyhow.”
“Oh, okay…well, I know it’s probably not very professional and none of my business, but I just wondered. You know how gossip goes around, safer to ask instead of believing everything you hear.”
“Gossip?” Daisy frowned. “What kind of gossip?”
“Oh, good gracious!” complained Daisy. “Ya’ already asked me about him, the least you can do is finish th’ story.”
“It’s nothing really, just one of nurses on staff, her sister works for the State Patrol. She said that he called in a favor to get assigned to your case even though he’s a detective in California. It’s just making people wonder, that’s all.”
“Not many people know the area I was in better than himself. Enos knew that. I wouldn’t read too much into it.”
“Well, you’re one lucky woman, that’s all I can say. Wish I had a guardian angel looking out for me somewhere. Listen, I’ve got to finish my rounds, but page the nurse’s station if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” said Daisy, absently, as the nurse shut the door behind her.
She didn’t have time to think about what the nurse had told her. As soon as she’d gone there was another knock on the door.
“Come in,” called Daisy.
The door opened to reveal a middle-aged, blond haired, woman in a khaki dress suit. “Ms. Duke, hi. I’m Detective Shaw. Would it be okay if I asked you a couple questions right now?”
“Oh, sure, no problem.”
The woman closed the door behind her, pulled a chair over to where Daisy sat on the bed. “I won’t take too much of your time, Ms. Duke, I just need to get a few facts from you and then I’ll leave you alone.”
“Please, call me Daisy.”
“Well, Daisy, why don’t you just tell me what happened starting from when you left the bank.”
“Okay, well, I went in to pay th’ mortgage money before th’ bank closed up for th’ weekend, so I’d say it was about 4:00. I got back in my Jeep and headed home up Mill Road when a truck came up behind me and ran off th’ road.”
“The truck, did you see what it looked like?”
“It was white, I didn’t have time t’ notice much else about it.”
“Okay, you said he ran you off the road, what happened then?”
“Well, I tried to back up, but I was in a ditch and I was just spinnin’ my wheels. I thought he was just a crazy drunk until I saw him comin’ down the bank towards me. I didn’t know him, an’…well… he gave me creeps.”
“His face…no…I don’t know. He just seemed…out of place, and he kept mumblin’ somethin’. I didn’t give him a chance to say anything to me. I figured if he was just comin’ down there to apologize, I’d rather just take a raincheck on it, if ya’ know what I mean. There was a trail that led back through the brush and I figured I’d just hide in there ’till he left, but he started running after me. I was almost to th’ bank goin’ back up to Snake Trail Road, but I tripped. That’s about all I remember before I woke up at the bottom of the well.”
“He never took you out until yesterday?”
Daisy shook her head. “No. he’d come by an’ look down at me every couple hours or so, but he never let me out.”
“Did you ever hear him say his name or where he was from?”
“No, when he’d throw food in to me he’d never talk. En…Detective Strate probably remembers more than I do from that point.”
Detective Shaw finished jotting down a few more notes and then looked back up at Daisy and smiled. “Well, I think that’s about all I need for right now, so I’ll let you rest. Someone will probably be in touch with you in the next few days to have you sign a statement,” she said, standing up and placing the chair back against the wall. “If you remember anything else that you think might be important, this is my name and my extension at this number.” She handed a card to Daisy. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Duke.”
Daisy nodded to her as she left, and then got up and closed the door again. It was dark outside, so she turned the lights off and went over to the window. Downtown Atlanta was crowded with traffic, mostly people going home from work she guessed. She watched the lights change from red to green, then back to yellow and then red. Pattern upon pattern, on and on and on forever, and long after she stopped paying attention to them, nothing would change.
Enos had changed – she’d seen glimpses of it over the last 24 hours. He had gone out into that big world without a safety net, to sink or swim, and he’d learned to survive. Beyond that, she could only guess at.
The clock in the room said 6:10 am when Daisy woke, a force of habit from living all her life on a farm. Even when she was sick she couldn’t seem to sleep past seven. Last night, she had looked forward to the morning, but as day broke, she realized she still needed to say something to Enos about what had happened four years ago. She couldn’t just let him go forever wondering why she’d done what she’d done. The problem was, the reasons she gave everyone else were nothing but excuses, and the real reason sounded about as phony as a three dollar bill.
That aside, she’d promised him she’d look in on him this morning…she’d also promised him buttermilk, which oddly enough turned out to be a bigger chore than she’d thought. Apparently it wasn’t in high demand from patients so it wasn’t on the menu. The nurse on the morning shift didn’t even know what it was. She took the meal card the night shift nurse had given her in case she wanted to go down to the cafeteria, signed out at the nurses station, and went in search of it. It took a bit of charm to convince the head cook, but she finally ended up with some.
She took a deep breath before knocking on the door of room 317, then turned the handle and peeked in.
“Hey, Daisy!” Enos called. “You can stop hidin’ behind th’ door now.”
She opened the door and came in, shutting it behind her. “How did you know it was me?”
“‘Cause nurses don’t generally crack open people’s doors t’ make sure they’re decent first.”
“I was only bein’ polite,” she laughed. “Hey, I got ya’ somethin'” She sat the Styrofoam drink cup down in front of him.
“Tell me this is what I hope it is.” He lifted the lid and took a sip. “How in th’ world did ya’ manage t’ find buttermilk? They acted like I was a couple marbles short when I asked for some.”
“Now Enos,” she chided him, “you’ve just gotta know who t’ talk to. I got it from the head cook in th’ cafeteria.”
He took a drink and set the cup on the table beside the bed out of his way. “You sure do have a way with people, Daisy,” he said good naturedly.
She frowned at his comment and changed the subject. “So how’s your shoulder?” It was bandaged and his arm held in place by a sling.
“It’ll be fine. Only problem is they done trussed me up in one o’ these ding-dang hospital gowns first an’ now I can’t escape until they give me m’ clothes back.”
“I know where you can get some nice pretty scrubs like mine.”
“Pretty is as pretty makes,” he teased. “Don’t think they’d look quite th’ same on me. Hunt me up some blue ones an’ I’ll take ’em.”
“I’ll let you know if I find some.”
Daisy went over to the window and opened the heavy drapes that covered it, letting the light spill into the room. She turned away from him, watching the street down below for several minutes while he finished his buttermilk.
“I don’t know how anyone could stand to live in a big city,” she said. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she couldn’t believe she’d said them. She turned around to find Enos watching her solemnly. “Enos…I didn’t mean…I didn’t think about…”
“It’s okay, Daisy,” he said, casually, in a voice that his eyes didn’t quite mirror. “It just takes time to get used to is all.”
Daisy knew it was now or never to bring up what she’d dreaded talking about. If she didn’t say something, she’d loose her nerve. She left the window and went over and took a seat on the side of his bed. “Enos,” she began, “I..I really need t’ talk to…”
“…you about what…”
Enos leaned forward and put his fingers over her lips. “Stop, Daisy,” he said, gently, noticing her blush at his touch. “I know you probably want t’ talk about that about as much as I want t’ hear about it.” He took his hand down and she started to turn away, but he caught her arm. “Wait now, I didn’t say I didn’t want to talk to ya’. Just…can we talk about somethin’ else?”
She turned back to him. “What do ya’ want t’ talk about?”
“Well, how about you tell me all th’ gossip I’ve missed about everyone in Hazzard…‘cept for you an’ me?”
She flashed him a radiant smile. “Gosh, where do ya’ want me t’ start?”
“Well, start with Bo an’ Luke. We were all too worried ’bout findin’ you t’ talk about what they’ve been doin’. Are they still tryin’ for the NASCAR curcuit?”
“Oh, goodness no,” she said, rolling her eyes. “They finally came to their senses about that. Ain’t no use wastin’ time waitin’ around for that t’ happen. ‘Sides, they started th’ races back up again at th’ Hazzard dirt track on Saturday nights.”
“Possum on a gum-bush! I sure remember them days. Ain’t nobody raced there for fifteen years.”
“Yeah, well, I think they needed somethin’ t’ take their minds off of gettin’ older. Otherwise, Luke’s got him a job part-time with th’ Central City Fire Department three days a week. It’s not much, but it’s a foot in th’ door.”
“That’s great! Wow…Luke a firefighter, huh? What about Bo? What’s he been up to?”
“Now Bo’s th’ surprisin’ one,” she said. “Who would’a thought he’d decide he actually likes farmin’? He’s been takin’ over a lot of Uncle Jesse’s work, and I think he’s pretty serious about keepin’ up the place.”
Enos laughed. “Farmin’? Bo? Well, I guess ya’ never can say never, ‘course I think Cooter goin’ to Washington pretty much takes th’ cake on that account.”
“I know! Can you believe it? Cooter wearin’ a suit everyday, hob-nobbin’ with all th’ rich and powerful?”
The day stretched on past lunch time as they sat and talked about everyone they could think of to talk about…except themselves. As much as both had craved the attention of the other, and their banter honest and friendly, the unspoken still stretched out between them like a giant chasm. There was something behind Enos’s eyes, a depth of emotion that Daisy couldn’t quite decipher, and it bothered her that she couldn’t put her finger on what it was.
“Hey, Daisy. It’s been swell talkin’ to ya’ an all,” he said, finally, “but you’d better get on back to your room before someone comes lookin’ for ya’.”
“Enos Strate, are you tryin’ t’ get rid of me?” she teased.
Instead of laughing as she thought he would, he eyes met hers. “Never,” he answered simply.
Her heart skipped a beat, but before she had a chance to think of a reply there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” they said in unison.
The door opened and Uncle Jesse, Bo, and Luke walked in.
“Uncle Jesse!” Daisy hopped up and ran to him.
He hugged her to him. “Daisy, you sure are a sight for sore eyes, girl.” He held her back at arms length. “Let me look at ya’…are ya’ okay?”
“I’m fine, Uncle Jesse, ‘specially now that all of y’all are here.” She turned and gave Luke and Bo each a bear hug in turn.
“We’re mighty glad t’ have you back safe an’ sound,” said Luke.
“Yeah,” said Bo, “Luke ’bout poisoned us with his cookin’.”
She hit him playfully on the arm. “Bo Duke, you’re awful.”
“We went t’ your room first,” said Jesse, “but th’ nurses said they hadn’t see ya’ since breakfast. We figured we might find ya’ here.” He walked over to Enos. “We heard what ya’ did, son. I reckon we wouldn’t be standing here with Daisy if it warn’t for you.”
Bo and Luke came over beside their uncle. “He ain’t kiddin’,” said Luke. “I don’t rightly know what t’ say ‘cept we’ve got your back if ya’ ever need it.”
“Thanks Luke, Uncle Jesse.”
“Enos,” said Bo, “I sure do owe you an apology.”
He held out his hand and Enos shook it. “If I recall, Bo, I owe you one, too. How’s your jaw?”
“Just a little sore,” he said, rubbing at it.
“Okay, y’all,” complained Daisy, “I’m obviously outta th’ loop here. What happened between you two?”
“It wasn’t nothin’, just a misunderstandin’,” Enos said. Daisy didn’t miss the look he shot to Bo, though. Clearly it was something he didn’t want to talk about. She made a mental note to ask her cousin about it later.
“Oh, hey Daisy, we brought you some clothes,” said Luke. “Unless you’re partial to pink scrubs now.”
“Not on your life,” she laughed.
Both cousins threw an arm around her shoulders and wheeled her out the door before she had even had a chance to say good-bye to Enos. Uncle Jesse stayed back with him after they left.
“How’s th’ arm, son?”
“Not as bad as they’ve got it all gussied up for. It was just a .22, didn’t hit nothin’ important.”
Jesse nodded. “I wanted t’ thank ya, too, without them t’ hear,” he motioned towards the empty doorway, “for doin’…what ya’ had t’ do.”
Enos looked down from Jesse’s gaze. “I was just doin’ my job, Uncle Jesse,” he said, quietly. “I didn’t set out for it to end that way.”
“Even so,” said the older man, setting his hand on Enos’s uninjured shoulder, “we’re in your debt. An’ Dukes have long memories. There’s ever anything you need, Enos…”
“Thank you kindly, Uncle Jesse.”
Uncle Jesse patted his shoulder. “You take care of yourself, son,” he told him, before walking out the door to find the others.