The nurse left work at five o' clock. Some days the nurse would stay till five-thirty or six, but certainly no later. If the old man needed help after that, he'd a button beside his bed and the service could have someone there within ten minutes.
On more than one occasion the old man had pushed the button out of spite. When the unfamiliar nurse arrived, the old man's response was always the same, “Where's the faggot?” The old man liked to call the nurse “the faggot.” That the nurse wasn't a faggot—at least none of the other nurses seemed to think so—mattered little to the old man. The old man wanted the faggot, he wanted the nurse.
The detective looked at the nurse's brief notes for the day, not seeing anything out of the ordinary, not seeing much. It looked a regular day, regular enough, the other nurses agreed with a wink and a cough; that is to say a day spent suffering the drip of the old man's congealed humours. His tepid kicks and lashes from the bed: the old man shrieked at the imagining of an I.V., spit and cussed when it was time to be turned. It's like that Chinese water torture, they said, just enough to drive you insane.
The detective imagined the nurse shake the old man's breath off his coat as he walked to the bus, shuttering the teak and dust world behind him. He pulled a fingertip along a blue hallway vase, brought it to his thumb, rubbed the grit.
Word was the nurse wanted to quit the job with the old man but needed the money, and whoever could afford to quit a job in these times had some kind of scratch you could only dream of or see on TV. The detective nodded knowingly and scratched in his notepad. He asked about the old man's gold. The old man had plenty of gold sure, but the nurse wouldn't have hardly thought after that. The detective nodded again. He sat on the stoop and smoked.
After work, walking to the bus, the nurse's mind fixed around the old man. His head lodged into the crack of the old man's door. Peering at the old man, sickly asleep, slow trotting breaths, hoof beats in lungs and throat. The old man's rheumy eye shining the nurse's face like a reflection in a pool of milk. The nurse grimaced and choked to stifle a gag. He passed the bus stop and walked to Eddie's, the bar at the corner. He sat and ordered a drink. The nurse stopped here on occasion and the bartender knew him.
“How's the old man?” the bartender asked.
“Same as ever,” replied the nurse. “Worse if anything. He'll be dead soon enough.”
“Gold in it for you?” asked the bartender. The nurse shook his head. “Just as well,” said the bartender and moved a rag over the countertop. “Just as well.”
The nurse started with a beer, then a shot and a beer, then just the liquor. He put some songs — the bartender recollected Lou Reed — on the jukebox and drank. It was early and no one bothered the nurse, wanted to talk, or had questions about a nagging ailment or that of a relative or friend. At ten or eleven—no one knew for sure—the nurse put three twenties down on the bar and walked out.
It must have been easy enough: the nurse was strong and the old man was weak. Too weak to fight, if the old man even wanted to fight the nurse at all, which he probably didn't. The detective could discern no robbery, nor, in the weeks that followed, find any trace of the nurse. He shrugged as if it was the way of things, the old man's death. Others nodded in agreement.
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Started from an NPR prompt and turned into a tribute to Poe's Tell-Tale Heart.
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