"What kind of a name is ‘Comet’?" the clean-cut officer half-joked as he waited for confirmation from his dispatch. His shoulder branded the tag of his employer: Franklin Department of Transportation. The officer's highly reflective sunglasses called out to Comet for a good smashing but Comet, for all his anger, was very much the pacifist and it was times like these that he regretted it.
"I was born in 1986. Study astronomy." Comet breathed through his teeth and leaned against his small, dirty sedan, parked just outside the hospital. He was late for his visit with Uncle, a man everyone referred to as Uncle but who had no brothers or sisters. In the least, none whom survived into a man of Benno's age. In fact, Comet wasn't even sure Benno liked children. The officer turned to face the street and spoke into his mic under the traffic.
"Uhn-hun. Yeah." he nooded his head dramatically and shielded his eyes from the noon sun with his ticket-book. "Yeah, these wise-guys can't seem to get their priorities straight. I just want to confirm that... yeah. Okay. Thanks, Anne."
The officer turned back to Comet, and began writing more when he spoke. "It seems you haven't paid your previous tickets, Mr. Daley."
"I know about those," Comet recited. He threw one arm down the street's length like a game-show diva. "I was just on my way to the DMV."
"Mr. Daley, you haven't paid your tickets in a year. And the DMV isn't open today." The officer looked up from his ticket-book to gauge Comet's performance.
"It's a state-issued furlough." he laughed again to his own thoughts. "It's cause guys like you don't pay the State to let us do our jobs. I say justice is served."
With that, he tore off the citation and gave it to Comet's open hand, already cupping his license. He pulled a metal tire boot out of his tiny cart and locked it around the sedan.
"Have a nice day, Mr. Daley!"
Comet sat dejected at the end of his car. He had already been a day late driving back from his kid's house and now this had set him further behind. He'd have to stay another day to get his car mobile again and he was already strapped for cash. He buried one hand into his pocket to put the documents in his corduroy pants. Feeling the lighter against his pinky, he habitually pulled a cigarette out at the reminder.
He puffed and watched the people enter and leave the building under the noon-day sun. A few people milled about at the uncovered bus stop. "I should have taken the bus today."
He field-stripped the filter, tucked the balled-up butt in his pockets, and stepped into the hospital to find Uncle Benno.
Comet pulled up to the Reception desk and peeked over the chaos of medical files and reports placed haphazardly on shrinking margins of countertop. Behind the desk another police officer, more serious than the one had been outside, stood hearing the security guard answer his questions. Comet felt compelled to listen, but was not too concerned with it.
The receptionist was infinitely more interesting to him as she juggled a keyboard, a phone, and numerous files in her lap. Her nametag displayed her first name proudly and he practiced the word.
She glanced up at the sound and seemed to study him, as if to make sure someone was indeed standing, waiting. In an absent gesture of recognition, she pointed to the relatively empty waiting area.
It seemed Astrid was having a very bad day. To Comet, she looked tired and not sure what she was doing. The air of anxiety she exuded told Comet more than he needed to ask for. Today, he thought, was going to be her last day at the hospital.
All she can do is everything. And it isn't coming along smoothly.
She looked up from her desk and waved to Comet to approach. "Fill out the visiting log?"
He fumbled with his pants and pulled out the mess in his pocket. He set the balled up cigarette butt and flushed. "Um... sure." He unfurled a folded reciept that had Uncle's proper name on it. He couldn't remember the man's last name. It had been so long.
She smirked as he scribbled his left hand across the clipboard. She picked it up to inspect. "Okay, Mr. Daley, you are here to visit... Benno Coolidge."
She caught her own breath and he drew a nervous smile against his teeth. Comet lifted his brow quizically. He wasn't usually so animated but perhaps he felt empathetic to her state.
"Mr. Daley, it appears that Mr. Coolidge isn't here."
The officer had turned his attention away from the security guard at this point and squared himself beside Comet. "You said you are here to see a Benno Coolidge?"
"Yeah." Comet replied in an offhand manner, still looking at Astrid. "What do you mean he's not here? Did he transfer to another hospital?"
The officer put a hand on Comet's back in an ambiguous manner. "I'd like a moment to ask you some questions, if you don't mind."