How are you feeling, sir?
I’m all right. Thanks for asking, Darryl said.
That didn’t hurt too badly did it?
Stopping in mid-step, Darryl looked hard over his mask at the plainclothes hospital security guard sitting at the emergency room desk.
What did you say?
The paintball, it didn’t hurt too much did it?
Darryl spoke softly.
I thought you were talking about my deceased nephew.
The guard also spoke in low tones.
I was on duty when the ambulance arrived with the boy. The doctors and nurses did everything they could. I’m sorry for your loss.
Darryl breathed easier.
The egg-sized welt on my neck is going down but it left a nasty bruise, he said.
Paintballs can sting, the guard said.
For a split second I really thought I got shot.
If you really got shot you’d know it.
I guess, Darryl said.
Don’t guess. I got hit three times in Afghanistan. Coming away from the mountain my mind was a blank when the Taliban opened up from behind the rocks. Bullets spun me around and when pain erupted I thought my guts were getting torn out. I’m alive, though. I’m still trying to heal.
Darryl stared into the guard’s eyes.
You’re new here, right?
I don’t usually don’t work the ER but as you know as well as anybody everything’s upside down lately. I’ve been employed here about two weeks. Working here’s an adjustment but I want to help if I can.
How long were you in Afghanistan?
My doctor told me I’m over the killing.
Does anybody get over killing?
Some do. Some don’t.
I’m getting better.
A nerve in Darryl’s leg jumped several times.
Do you know me?
The security guard didn’t answer.
Behind the mask all Darryl saw were dark holes for eyes. Darryl hadn’t called police or told anybody about the paintball attack. Except for the shooter, Chanise was the only other person who knew.
Do you know my sister-in-law, Chanise?
I don’t think so.
Darryl’s mind fired on all cylinders, ricocheting off the inside of his head. Maybe Chanise talked to the guard when she came to the hospital on a duty call. Even so, she wouldn’t mention the paintball assault. Maybe he knew Jimmy from out-patient therapy. Security guards are notorious for having loads of problems, mostly drinking and psychological and this one admits to having problems.
You know my brother, Jimmy the cop?
I don’t know a lot of people.
Who are you?
I’m just a good citizen trying to make life better for everybody.
No, really, who are you?
Does it really matter?
How did you know I got hit with a paintball?
Be sure to keep your mask on when you go outside, the security guard said.