A faint, polite knock on John’s door let him know someone was visiting. The nurses, doctors, and the maintenance guy never knocked; they just walked in. Most of the time he didn’t care. They were pumping enough pain medication into him to seriously impact his ability to be concerned with his dignity, or reality for that matter. It also made it impossible to pee, which resulted in yet another personal assault.
Only visitors knocked. He didn’t get many visitors. Doctor’s orders, enforced by Nurse B. Holterman, a very tough old girl with the bedside manner of a night shift jailer. She was probably over a hundred and had clearly made her bones in a tent hospital in World War II cutting off limbs. People had tried to get in to see him several times, but she scared them off, never to return. They were feeling bad for old John, but not bad enough to run the B. Holterman gauntlet.
Today John was getting a visitor, and Nurse B. Holterman had attempted to intercede but finally relented. Probably based on everyone’s unspoken assumption, John was on his way out, and even if he did survive, his probable future looked like something between bad and plain dismal.
The knocker now had a face and a voice. A young guy pushing 35 or so, good shape, healthy looking with tanned skin and probably wearing his best pair of jeans. He was carrying a notebook with a pen shoved into the spiral binding, tools of his trade, and didn’t look like the kind of hard nose reporter from the crime beat John had come to know.
“John Cabrelli? My name is Bill Presser. I’m a reporter from the Namekagon County News, in Musky Falls, Wisconsin. My editor sent me to talk to you. Ah … he said you requested me.”
Cabrelli looked up from his hospital bed. He looked drawn and tired. Pain had taken its toll on the usual smiling face. His black, curly hair had begun to show threads of silver and was plastered to his forehead from the sweats. Tubes and wires were attached everywhere, and a monitor beeped quietly in the background. John Cabrelli truly looked like a man on his last legs, with one exception. If you looked close, you could still see his eyes were steeled in grim determination.
John answered, his strong voice shaky, but clear.
“Hey, thanks for coming. I know you’re a busy guy. I’m glad you could make it. I think you’ll find it worth your time. If not, oh well, it looks to me like you got a hell of a lot more time left than I do.”
Presser was clearly uncomfortable. Even for the most detached, looking at someone who is struggling between life and death is tough. Where do you look? Their eyes? The tubes? The wires? The bandage? Presser picked the ceiling and the window. If John chose to die at that moment, it was clear Presser did not want to see it happen.
“Mr. Presser, it is my hope that we are going to spend a fair amount of time together. Time, again, is the operative word; I may not have much. You need to make eye contact, get over my current physical appearance, and listen to my words. Ask whatever you need to ask so we can get on with this. Try and make yourself as comfortable as you can.”
Presser looked at John. “I understand. I’m sorry. Actually, you look pretty good for all you’ve been through.”
“That’s okay, Bill, I know I look like hell. Wounds like this tend to put you a little off your game.”
“Can I ask what the extent of your injuries are?”
“Sure. I have one bullet still lodged near my spine. I took another one in the kidney, and that is the reason for all the machinery you see plugged into me. They removed one kidney and are hoping the other one will take up the slack. From the sounds of it, I was pretty torn up inside, and the surgeons had their hands full. Mainly though I just feel like shit; getting shot kind of does that to you. But I want you to know that I haven’t had my usual doses of pain drugs today, so I can make some sense.”
Sometimes identifying the elephant in the room is the best way to get something rolling. The straightforward answers from Cabrelli in an odd way made Presser feel more comfortable.
“Well, my big question is why would you request me? I’m just a jack-of-all-trades reporter for a small-town newspaper. You’re a pretty famous guy now, a hero. There are a lot of folks that would kill for this exclusive. Why me?”
“First of all, I’m a little sick and tired of the whole ‘let’s try and kill John thing.’ Secondly, you’re honest, you’re from Musky Falls, you write pretty well, and this story for you is a big deal. I need somebody to hear my story who thinks it’s a big deal. Make no mistake though, I am no hero, and never refer to me that way. I have met real heroes, and I don’t hold a candle to them.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I appreciate you letting me know what’s off limits. I will try to respect that. I need to say up front that we have no budget to pay you for this story. If your story is anything like it appears, I am sure one of the tabloids would compensate you very well.”
“Yeah, Laura the Lawyer has had a few calls. Being a lawyer with a sharp eye for the bottom line, she’s been pushing me to take the money. Right now money is not much of a concern to me. Don’t think for a second this story is free, not a chance. You just aren’t paying me with money. Here’s my deal: I want you to hear the whole story start to finish. How I ended up here comes at the end. There is a lot in between. I need you to hear the in- between.”
“You mean your life story, a biography?”
“No, just the last couple of years.”
“Do you want me to write a newspaper story or a book? I’m not an author in the book sense. I can recommend a couple of guys from the cities that …” John cut him off.
“Look, I am lying here full of bullets and not full of hydro-morphone. According to this doctor who looks like he doesn’t shave yet, the clock is ticking. I am sure he will be here to harass me as soon as his mother gives him a ride to work. If we are going to start, let’s start. Otherwise, on your way out, tell the nurse to bring me drugs.”
“I-I, I just don’t know. I’d like to think this through. I just need some time.”
“Again, let me restate the obvious; time is what you’ve got plenty of, not me. We start, or you go. I am not trying to be difficult, but like I said, getting shot makes me very cranky.”
“John, to be honest with you I am not sure that I can do you and your story justice. I write about the winners of the Lion’s Club fishing contest and the Musky Queen pageant for a small newspaper. There are going to be a lot of people reading this story, people from all over the country probably. I have never done anything like this before.”
“Well, Bill, if you stick with that chickenshit attitude, it’s likely you never will. Here is your chance, take it or leave it. Your choice, you make it. It’s a hell of a story you’d be missing.”
Bill Presser sat deep in thought, and Cabrelli didn’t press him. He just waited. It was up to Bill now.
Presser finally found his voice, “My grandmother was a card player. When we were kids she used to tell us, ‘Know when to hold, know when to be bold. If you’re never bold, you’ll always be playing someone else’s cards for them.’ I am guessing she was referring to situations just like this. I am honored that you want me to write your story John. I will give it my very best.”
John was obviously relieved, “Thanks, Bill, I’m glad. I will try to make it as easy on you as I can.”
“Can I record our conversations?” “Please do. Let’s get it right.”
“My usual format is to ask questions and record the responses, using the information in the responses for more questions. Will that work for you, John?”
“No. Here is the format. I am going to tell you a true, but very hard to believe story. You can ask questions. I’ll do the best I can to answer them. You are going to want to be able to corroborate my story. I will give you sources. I also have documents. They are hidden. When we are done, they are yours. My goal is simple: tell my story, expose the bad guys, and get justice for my uncle Nick.”
“Fair enough. I guess we better get started.” “Thank God, tempest is fugiting.”
John Cabrelli began, changing Bill Presser’s life forever.