A repetitive ping, in time with his pulse, dove into Sampson’s consciousness. He squinted through the drumming in his head.
The woman’s soft greeting echoed against his skull, and the hazy outline of her figure hovered at his shoulder. A pen light’s beam shot into his eyes, blotting out the halo of a steel roof flanked by illuminated equipment.
“Mr. Vern can you hear me?”
Sampson worked his thickened tongue. “Yeah.” A tug on his hand prevented him from brushing aside the woman’s flickering ray. He chewed, loosening his jaw. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Edna.”
The name failed to find corresponding face in his mind. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a Harborside Ambulance. We’re taking you to the emergency room.”
“Oh, great.” Sampson groaned, and listed his head to the side. The thin pillow under his head crinkled.
Edna clicked off her light, stowing the tool in the front pocket of her navy-blue uniform. Her square face, flecked with wrinkles, but housing an icy pair of blue eyes, remained near, her gaze intent.
Sampson glanced away and down his arm, discovering an IV tube taped to his hand, and straps pinning him to a gurney. “What happened?”
“You had an allergic reaction. The club owner called 911.”
“Club owner?” Swirling lights, thumping base, and a swish of one drink following the other, paraded through his thoughts. His hands burned, remembering the touch of flesh against his palms. “Oh. I guess ah…something had almonds in it.”
“Is that your only allergy?”
“I gave you an antihistamine. That’s reduced some of your symptoms. You’re hands aren’t quite as swollen anymore at least.”
“Can I see?”
“Sure,” said Edna. “Just say lying down.” She unclasped the strap around his left hand.
Bringing his palm close, Sampson inspected his ruddy palm, and the coating of tiny bumps. He waggled his speckled fingers, each wavering like a plump sausage. “How long will it take to go all the way down?”
“It depends,” said Edna. “Sometimes hours, sometimes a few days.” She frowned. “Haven’t you had this before?”
“Not this bad.” He dropped his hand to the gurney, and rubbed the mattress, easing some of the itch on his skin. “She’s going to kill me.”
“My girl friend. My fiancé. Becky. We’re getting married this coming weekend, and if my ring doesn’t fit I’m not sure what she’ll say.”
Edna glanced at his hand, her wrinkles deepening. “I bet it’ll calm down. You had a fairly mild reaction all in all. I think the alcohol in your system really knocked you out.”
“Yeah, we were having a pretty good time.”
“No offense, but if you knew you were allergic, why were you eating almonds?”
Sampson flushed, the heat in his cheeks matching the warmth in his hands. “I didn’t. I guess one of the girl’s…ah ladies, had some almond in their moisturizer or body spray or whatever they use.”
“Oh,” said Edna.
Sampson winced. “Maybe we can just keep that between us?”
She laughed. “Sure. I don’t want to get you into more trouble.”
“From what I can see, you’re getting me out of it.”
Edna grinned, and checked her watch. “We should be there in another minute or two.”
“Do you know if someone called her?”
“I’m not sure. You had a crowd around you when we arrived, and carted you out.” She bent, and returned with his wallet and keys. “This is all that was in your pockets though.”
The thought of a strange woman rifling through his slacks made him wince. “Yeah, my best man confiscated my phone before we left.”
“Thoughtful of him.” She set his possessions on the gurney. “You can give her a call when we get you admitted.”
The ambulance swayed in a right hand turn.
“Do you see a lot of this?”
Edna checked his IV drip, and shrugged. “This time of night, we get called in for fights mostly. I don’t crash a lot of bachelor parties.”
“I guess that makes more sense.” Clenching his eyes shut, Sampson blew out a long exhale, the headache drumming his brain settling in for the night.
“You all right?”
“Yeah, just coming back to reality.”
“Is it that bad?”
“No.” Sampson chuckled, and then halted as the laugh jostled his throbbing head. “I didn’t think the night would end up like this though.”
“Sounds like you had a pretty good last hurrah before your…ah…incident.”
“I hope it won’t be the last.”
Edna scowled. “Becky might disagree.”
Sampson snorted. “Not what I mean. The hurrahs are more fun with her anyway.”
“She sounds like she’s a good catch.”
“Yeah. That’s why I want to get rid of this.” He examined his hand again, finding the same pebbled skin, puffed flesh, and flaming color. “This wedding’s really important to her, you know?”
“I can imagine.”
“Aren’t you—” Sampson glanced at Edna’s left hand, her fingers bare. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” said Edna. She hefted a clipboard, and began making brisk notes. “I’m sure she’ll be more worried about you than the wedding.”
“You think so?”
Halting her scribbling, Edna met his gaze. “Wouldn’t you be?”
“Well, yeah, but she’s spent all this time picking out flowers and her dress and everything. Can you imagine me showing up with boxing gloves like this?” He waggled his hand.
“I bet she’ll just be happy you’re there.”
“I hope so.”
The ambulance lurched over a bump, and then halted.
“We’re here,” said Edna. She rose, and opened the doors at Sampson’s head.
A gust of night air swirled into the interior, rustling the gurney’s loose straps as the engine quieted. Sampson listened as another door opened and closed, and then footsteps neared.
“Is he doing okay?”
“Yeah,” said Edna.
The driver, a skeletal man with a pinched face and charcoal eyes, appeared. He clasped one side of the gurney, Edna the other. Sampson snatched his wallet and keys and they hauled him from the ambulance. The thump of wheels being extended rocked him on the mattress, and then the casters rattled as they guided him through the cold lights of the emergency entrance, through the automatic doors, and into the hospital’s sterilized interior.
Sampson turned toward Becky’s voice. She rushed down the corridor, clutching her coat, sleeping sweats flapping.
“Hold on,” said Edna. They slowed the gurney, and she stepped back, giving Becky room to come to his side.
Becky’s wide eyes flickered over him in a frantic search. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” said Sampson. He lifted his hand to brush away a sudden tear springing down her cheek, but froze as the cherry bumps gleamed in the fluorescents’ harsh glow.
“Oh no,” said Becky, covering her mouth. The diamond on her finger glittered.
“It’ll go down by this weekend.”
She scowled, and batted his shoulder. “I don’t care about that. I just want you to be all right.”
Sampson’s mouth drooped into a grin. “Stick with me, and I will be.”
Edna reappeared. “We need to get him admitted now.”
Becky jumped aside like a startled bird. “Of course. Sorry.”
“Check with the main desk, and they’ll tell you where to find him.”
“See you soon,” said Sampson.
“Damn right,” said Becky, her snapping tone softened by a worried smile.
Edna grabbed the gurney’s side, and they started moving along the corridor again.
Sampson watched the ceiling tiles pass overhead until they parked him in a stall wrapped in sage curtains. “I guess you were right,” said Sampson.
Looking down from hooking the IV bag to a rack attached to the wall, Edna smirked. “I get lucky sometimes.” She gave his shoulder a pat. “Take care of yourself, Mr. Vern.”