Hardtimes
Chapter 9

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

Kat turned off the cd player after the first story on it ended. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The story had reminded her of the day Burl had been shot. She didn’t think she would ever forget that day. It seemed to her that the whole world changed that day.

The first she had heard about the shooting had been on the radio while driving home from the diner where she worked as a waitress. The initial story had been about an attempted bank robbery that had been stopped by a mall security guard who was wounded in the process. She hadn’t thought much about the news item other than it being another sign of troubled times.

The second time she heard the news story, they mentioned the name of the mall. Suddenly, her thoughts had turned to Burl. A sick feeling had settled in her stomach. She nearly lost control of her car when he was mentioned by name. She was pretty sure that they weren’t supposed to release the names of victims before the family had been informed.

After picking Herbie up from school, she had rushed home to see if there was any coverage on the television. Herbie had sat beside her recognizing that his mother was upset about something. For a change, he didn’t prattle on about his day at school.

Maggie, carrying Junior, rushed over to the house when Kat pulled into the driveway. Tears were running down her face. She was clearly distraught.

When Kat had gotten out of the car, Maggie had shouted, “Burl’s been shot.”

“I heard,” Kat had said.

“He’s in critical condition,” Maggie had said.

“Oh my God!” Kat had exclaimed.

It was only then when Kat realized she had been crying. At the time, she didn’t understand her reaction to the news. The last time she had felt that same sense of loss was when she had learned Jimmy had died. Burl was just a neighbor. Maggie had agreed to watch Herbie while Kat went to the hospital.

She recalled the chaos at the hospital. The hospital had swelled with personnel to handle the sudden increase in serious injuries. The press was there in full force trying to get interviews with anyone who would talk to them. The police were there in large numbers. A number of people from the mall were there trying to find out what happened.

The attempted robbery had resulted in four people being taken to the hospital. One robber had been shot by Carl and was in critical condition. One robber had broken his back when Burl had shoved him into the table. Carl had ended up with a broken cheek bone from the blow with the butt of the shotgun. Burl had taken a shotgun blast to the stomach.

There had been over twenty people waiting to hear news about Burl with another two dozen coming and going. She hadn’t recognized anyone except his parents. They had been sitting there in shock unable to believe their son had been shot. Almost as shocking for them was the number of people who had massed at the hospital.

Needless to say, the family members of the bank robbers did not receive a friendly welcome in the waiting area of the emergency room. No one was outright hostile, but there were a lot of dirty looks in their direction. The hospital staff ended up putting them in a separate area.

The hours passed without word from the doctors. All anyone knew was that Burl was still in surgery. The tension in the waiting room increased while people speculated if the longer time in surgery was a good sign or not. Mostly it was people trying to convince themselves that Burl would be okay.

Kat had found she was seated next to a young woman in a wheelchair. The young woman, Denise, was sobbing uncontrollably. It took some time, but Kat slowly discovered how Burl had helped the young woman by giving her a sense of independence. He had found a very creative means for her to take care of herself. The story brought Kat to the verge of tears.

An elderly woman, quite frail looking, stopped in the waiting room to get news about Burl. She introduced herself as Emma, Carl’s wife. She was at the hospital to visit her husband while he was recovering from the blow he had taken during the robbery. They had kept him overnight in case the blow to his head had unforeseen consequences.

Later, the investigation determined that one of the men who participated in the attempted robbery had been casing the bank when Carl and Burl had been discussing her cancer. They had decided to call the bank with news that Emma had been taken to the hospital as a means of getting rid of the guard. The fact that he had waited to leave until a replacement had arrived had taken them by surprise.

Emma’s story about her cancer was the equivalent of dropping a nuclear emotional bomb on the folks waiting to learn about Burl. Kat and Denise had burst into tears upon hearing how Burl had saved Carl who was taking care of his frail wife while she was fighting cancer. In a way, it made Burl’s actions sound even more heroic. He hadn’t only saved a man’s life, he had provided an ill woman with the precious gift of a loving supporter.

The time in the waiting room had turned into story time with people telling stories of how Burl had helped them or someone important to them. Some stories were about simple acts of kindness. Other stories involved acts that required more effort on his part.

It had been early in the evening when the surgeon came out and broke the news that Burl had been taken to intensive care. Burl’s parents had gone up to see him. Less than ten minutes later they had returned to the waiting room white faced. Burl had gone into cardiac arrest almost the moment they had gone into his room. It was thirty minutes before his parents had been told they could see him again.

Kat had gone home wondering if Burl was going to survive the night. She couldn’t believe at the time how upset she felt. Not finding her son at home, she had gone over to Maggie’s house to pick up Herbie. She visited a few minutes with Maggie and George giving them the lowdown on events at the hospital. The young couple listened horrified at how Burl had gone into cardiac arrest when his parents went into the room. George knew Burl’s parents and couldn’t imagine how they must have felt.

Kat had taken Herbie home and then put him into bed. She turned on the news hoping to catch some more information about what had happened at the mall. Some of the details she heard at the hospital about what had happened had been contradictory. There was even confusion as to when he had been shot. One person said it was before he had taken care of a robber and another said it was after he had taken care of both robbers.

Apparently it was a slow news day and the local news channels had covered the robbery like it had been the president who had been shot. There were dozens of interviews with people who worked in the mall. The stories they told were about a nice guy who helped everyone. Quite a few women were crying while talking to the reporters. Kat had watched the news feeling sick to her stomach.

The night had been spent wondering what life without Burl around would be like. She didn’t like the future her imagination created. It wasn’t the absence of the big things that he did that painted a bleak future, just a lot of little things like bringing over the right Halloween costume for Herbie, mowing her lawn, and cleaning snow off the drive and walkway. It was knowing that he would be there if she needed him to watch Herbie or a ride to take her car in to be serviced.

The front door opened startling her out of her trip down memory lane. She turned to look at her husband. She wiped her eyes to hide her tears.

“How was your day?” she asked struggling to get control of her emotions.

“Same old, same old,” he answered taking note of the wetness around her eyes.

She said, “Dinner will be ready soon.”

“What’s the matter, honey?” he asked.

“I was just listening to a CD, and it brought back some painful memories,” she answered.

“What CD?”

“A new CD by Laura Lane. It came in the mail today,” she answered.

Laura Lane had achieved a fame that she had never pursued. The combination of singing and story telling resonated with people jaded by Hollywood’s ‘creativity.’ It seemed in her stories the smaller the person, the greater their story. People flocked to hear her tell stories about individuals who were just like themselves, and they took videos.

Her reputation had started spreading as a result of the videos posted on the internet. They were relatively long for that medium since each one showed her singing one of her songs and then telling a story. Then had come the CDs which she sold between sets. A guy she met in Boston put up a website and started selling her CDs on it.

Everything snowballed from there. People started showing up at places where she was planning on singing before she even got there. Soon she was attracting huge crowds that created problems for local law enforcement who weren’t ready to deal with hundreds of people waiting for a singer to show up on a sidewalk somewhere. Rather than playing on the street, she was now playing clubs and concert halls.

“How is it?” he asked.

She answered, “It’s excellent. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. She’s still weaving stories between her songs. I was just listening to her tell a story. She told a very good one about a big man with a heart a mile wide.”

“I haven’t heard that one,” he said. “Is it one of her new ones?”

“No. It is one of her old stories,” Kat answered. “She’s been telling it a long time now.”

“I wonder why I haven’t heard it before,” he said. He thought he had heard most of her stories.

“I’m not surprised considering who it is about,” she said with a smile.

“Who is it about?” he asked.

He settled on the couch next to her and threw an arm around her shoulders. She snuggled against him feeling comforted and protected in his embrace.

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