I awoke some time later to see bright lights and peculiar machines on the wall. I was in a
hospital room, for God's sake! I started to sit up and AIYEEE my head hurt. Sagged back on the pillow groaning and heard a child's voice saying
"Oh good, Mr. McNabb, you're awake!"
I turned my head slowly and saw a young nurse grinning at me. Big white teeth, unlike
I grunted and reached up to feel my head, and found only a turban-like bandage, bigger than the one I had worn since
running into that oak tree in Montecito.
I wiggled my toes and moved my feet and was immensely relieved to find that I was intact.
"What happened?" I asked the girl/woman when she finished taking my pulse and my temperature, which I was surprised
to find they do with a gizmo stuck gently into your ear, instead of a glass gizmo stuck under your tongue.
There was silence as her cool, almost cold, fingers searched for my pulse.
Then "Oo fa' down go boom!" she smiled again, happily.
I started to yell at her to speak adult English when my frown sobered her up and she said, "Doctor will advise you. You're
fine! Don't worry! I rang for him and he'll be right here. See?"
Smiling again, she held up the newfangled thermometer, which I couldn't read, and said, "No temperature, good strong
OK, I was gonna live. The kid wouldn't be grinning if I were dying. Whew. Relief flooded my veins as Doctor came in, also
smiling. Well, weren't we all just happy as hell tonight? Or was it tomorrow? How long had I been out cold? WHY was I out cold?
Doctor's nametag said, J. Steinmetz, M.D.
I said "Hi", weakly.
"Good afternoon, Mr. McNabb. Well, you've survived a close call!" He paused for dramatic impact, and said, "Basically,
you were shot. Fortunately, the bullet only grazed your head. But unfortunately, you apparently fell down like the proverbial ton of bricks and really
whacked the left front of your skull, which it appears, had already been whacked. Also, you had quite a bit of alcohol in your system. That might
explain the heaviness of your fall. Your neighbor next door, the Neighborhood Watch, you know, called 9-1-1 right away."
He frowned, perhaps a bit amused by all this, and continued, "What in the world is going on in your life?"
I thought for a moment and replied, "I'm a private investigator and things got a little bit out of control. I don't know who the
assailant was, damn it."
So I'd been shot! Jeez. . .
"Well, none of my business … although the police are waiting to talk with you. We called them. It's routine when there's
been a shooting. Good luck."
Steinmetz got down to the business of checking me out, looking in my eyes, etc.
Then he explained that they'd done a "cat scan" the night before and found nothing to worry about. Doctor liked the old
sports story I told him, the one about the dumb baseball player, Dizzy Dean. Dean was hospitalized after a bang on the noggin, and the sports page
headline said, "X-rays of Dizzy's head show nothing." Doctor hadn't heard it before. He laughed loudly.
I asked him what a "cat scan" was. He replied, "Computerized Axial Tomographic scan." As usual, I concluded that you
had to be a smart guy or gal to become a doctor. I would never remember that phrase. "Oh," I said. I wondered what it meant.
He explained that the magic machine takes a series of X-rays and its computer puts them together. "And yours show
nothing," he smiled. "That leaves you with a concussion, but not a major one. That's a brain bruise, sort of. Stay with us tonight just to be sure
you're fine, and go home tomorrow morning. OK?"
"Sure, Doc. I'm probably safer in here anyway." My attempt at humor.
Not funny, actually, but he smiled and waved goodbye. "We'll be looking in on you." He was a nice guy. Made me feel
better, as physicians generally do.
I lay resting, happy that I was OK, but miserable that I might be hunted down and shot again. Then Pal, my old friend on
the police force, walked in. Nothing like a police uniform to give you a relaxed, secure feeling.
The feeling faded somewhat when I saw that he was uncharacteristically serious. He was frowning to the point of
scowling. Uh oh.
Pal looked down at me with an unusual combination of sympathy, fondness, anger and disgust. I waved and said in a
humorous way, "Oh look - my hero! Save me, Officer!"
"So", he said after sighing deeply, his expression unchanging, "you got the action you are so desperately seeking. I guess
you didn't believe me about these assholes being extremely dangerous. Lousy shot, though. Someone missed killing you by about a quarter of an
"Well, I guess this washes me up as a first-rate crime-fighter," I lied.
"I hope so." Pal shook his head. "But somehow I doubt it. You've lied to me before. But down to business . . ."
There was a glaring lack of sympathy in his look and not a hint of humor in his tone of voice. They were replaced by
some quiet anger. "So. What happens now while you await the next attack on your person? Let's see …"
He looked around the room, thinking, while I got increasingly nervous. He was right, of course. I was in a bad spot
outside the clean walls of the hospital.
He continued: "We dug the bullet out of the wall and will keep it in case we make an arrest. Might help."
"How big a hole did it make? Gonna be a problem to patch it?" I wasn't kidding, but he ignored the question.
"I guess you are probably clueless. About who might the perp be, I mean. Any ideas?"
"Nope," I said. Then I thought I might as well help out the cops in their investigation. I volunteered, "Well, I suppose it
might have been one of the drug guys hanging out with Webley Poubelle, the Montecito playboy. I presume you've interviewed Poubelle?"
"No, we haven't."
"Why not?" I demanded. This was outrageous!
"Because," Pal said, "He's dead as a goddamn mackerel."
To be continued...
# # # #
Gene Cates is a Santa Barbara writer, author of a series
of crime novels involving Dick McNabb, private investigator. McNabb is a retired teacher with a craving for excitement -- which he finds.