Daniel enters the hospital without the usual ingredients of paranoia and discomfort. He is here on business, and his personal life is doing fine without him. He slips past the front desk and hurries along the glowing hallway. He has to find a patient without asking for directions. But what is more, he must complete this mission without being asked anything. But that should be fine; he is meant to be here. He is an anonymous ghost. He is a shadow. He is a…
“Sir?” says a voice. Daniel winces. “Can I help you find something?”
Daniel gives the doctor a stare. “I’ll be fine,” he says.
The doctor does not seem to agree. “But you are heading toward the emergency wing. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go to the waiting room?”
Daniel looks down at his clothes. Did he forget something? Is his disguise not complete enough? Then he looks at the doctor in his stunning, white lab coat and his squeaky shoes. The man’s nostrils are wider than his eyes. That’s it then. The man can smell the journalist on him.
Daniel frowns. “I have an appointment,” he says.
The doctor takes a breath as if to say you-better-not-test-me. “I do not want to waste my time,” he says.
“You know,” says Daniel. “Your time is very important. I should let you get back to whatever you were doing. You really don’t need to assist me.”
The doctor raises his eyes to the hidden sky. “If I don’t deal with you,” he says, walking down the hall, “then someone else will have to.” He gives a sour smile and says, “Let them.” Then he waves his hand over his shoulder and rounds the corner; his tight, stressful energy vanishes with him.
Daniel nods to himself. “Nice,” he says. “A second chance.” He kicks the wall with a little too much force and blinks at the dent. He leans forward to touch it, pulls away sharply, and then strides down the hall, glancing over his shoulder as he goes.
A few minutes later, he is successful, sitting in a curtained section of floor next to a bed, his voice recorder in hand. He whispers through the curtain to the neighboring bed.
“Psst!” he says. “Officer Craig, may I have a word?”
There is a pause. “Are you under the fucking bed?”
Daniel swallows. “Yes,” he says. “And I bring greetings from the underworld.”
“Well, slither on back under the rock where you belong.”
Daniel shakes his head and looks at his rolling recorder. “You’ve always been one with the press, haven’t you officer? Just pretend I’m a psychiatrist. Now tell me your problems.”
The man in the neighboring bed snorts. “You’re a good one, I can tell. All the others have been shown the door before their first word.”
“I don’t fit through doors,” Daniel says. “So it looks like I’m staying right here. Now officer, can you describe the appearance of your attacker?”
The man sucks in a deep breath, and says, “It was not an attacker and you know it.”
“Oh, terribly sorry. Why don’t you set me straight?”
The police officer chuckles. “You are good,” he says. “But you will have to do better.”
“Right,” Daniel says. “So the man you chased was a graffiti artist. We’re doing well. Next question. Why were you rushed to the hospital after the unsuccessful pursuit?”
“I fell,” is the reply.
“Right,” Daniel says curtly. “You fell down the stairs, right? That’s the number one cause of black eyes they say.”
The officer sighs. “I don’t have a black eye. And no, I fell from a rooftop. Quite more significant than a set of stairs.”
“Will you recover shortly? Any broken bones?”
“I broke my leg,” the man says. “But make certain that I will continue this case.”
“You just won’t do any more rooftop chases.”
Officer Craig pauses. “I did not say it was a rooftop chase.”
“The graffiti is three stories up, and you fell from a rooftop during the chase. I can assemble a story,” Daniel says. “I am quite good at it, trust me.”
“How do you know I chased him from the scene? What if I waited for him to come down and then gave chase?” asks the officer.
“Then you wouldn’t have a broken leg, now would you?” The officer quietly holds his breath in irritation as Daniel smirks into his notepad. He scribbles a few words and then reads them aloud. “Police Injured In Rooftop Pursuit Of Vandal—got it.”
Craig snorts. “You can do better than that.”
“Of course. And that’s why you are going to do better. Do you believe the vandal was finished his graffiti when you approached him?”
The officer pauses. “I…I did not get to see the graffiti. I heard the spray cans, saw the black figure, and gave chase. I went from there to here rather swiftly. And besides, it was dark.”
“You say it was a ‘black’ figure. Is that to mean African?”
“No,” he says, forcibly. “I mean to say that they were wearing all black. I did not get to see their face or even skin color.”
“Were they masked?”
“I…no, they were not.”
Daniel licks his lips. “You are going to have to be far more specific. I could have reported that the vandal was said to be black had I not asked you to specify. You need to specify next time. We don’t want a…miscommunication.”
Officer Craig clears his throat, rustles beneath his hospital sheets, and then says, “I could call the nurse at any moment, just you remember.”
“And then I would report half a story,” Daniel says. “Which would go something like this: police officer chases a featureless figure in black across a rooftop and falls. He breaks his leg, goes to the hospital, and is unable to describe the figure he had chased.”
The officer growls and adjusts his head on the pillow. “I was on duty at eight pm last night, making a route along fifth street.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Daniel says. “Please go on.”
“I received a call from headquarters; a man spotted the vandal from his sixth floor apartment across the street. He thought it could be a burglar. I went to the scene before any spray cans were reported, so I thought I may be dealing with a break ‘n’ enter.”
Daniel scribbles a few notes while his recorder takes in the atmosphere. His smile slowly grows.
“I climbed the fire escape from East Lenkins, and crossed the second floor patio directly beneath the vandal. He heard my shoes on the gravel, looked directly at me, and then continued his work. And so I spoke.”
“Did you read him his rights?” asks Daniel. Craig ignores Daniel.
“I asked him what he was doing. He didn’t respond, sprayed a few quick lines, and then picked up his knapsack. I didn’t think there was anywhere for him to go, so I didn't see reason for urgency. I was actually relieved to find only a stupid kid making a mess.”
Daniel clears his throat. “You, ah,” he pauses. “You have at least heard about the artwork, right?”
Officer Craig is slow to respond. “An officer dropped by early this morning. He said that the graffiti was linked to other works across town...And that it was not just a rebellious youth. But he didn’t want to say anything more until I was shown a photograph.”
“That’s it?” asks Daniel. “No one told you the…caliber of the artwork?”
“Well, if you’re calling it art then I assume the criminal knew what they were doing.”
“Indeed. It’s very…lifelike…in a graffiti sort of way.”
“Lifelike?” asks Craig. “You mean it was more than just snaky words and offensive symbols?”
“Far more. But if you let me come around the curtain, I could confirm something.”
“Really?” asks Craig. “But you’re the shady reporter under the bed. You’re going to show your face?”
“It is your face that I want to see,” Daniel says, rising to his feet. He pulls the curtain aside and looks down at the older man in the bed. Craig looks back up, a calculating expression upon his face.
“Well?” he asks. “You gonna take a picture of my face?” asks Craig.
“No,” says Daniel. “But I took a beautiful picture of the graffiti. And that’s got your face in it.” Daniel tilts his head. “I must say, you don’t look as courageous in real life, especially with the hospital bed and all.”
Craig narrows his eyes. “What are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to say that you made the front page. In full color, artist unknown.”