I hate hospitals. I’ve been stewing in the swamp of blood and vomit called the Emergency Room for hours. The sight of bullet holes and burned flesh turns my stomach. I can’t stand the mess.
A pair of cops roll in and out, chatting with EMTs, flirting with nurses. If they find out who I am, a heart attack is the least of my problems. I keep my head down and suffer in silence.
Finally a nurse waves me into a small room. A junkie writhes in the next bed, babbling and twisting in his restraints. The nurse eyes the thick braided muscles and veins of my forearms as she struggles with a blood pressure cuff. She turns on the heart monitor and slides out of the room.
I watch my heartbeat flail on the monitor while the junkie writhes. His emaciated yellow arms are cratered with track marks. The thought of sticking a needle into my beautifully sculpted arms makes the heart monitor yelp.
A doctor strides in and plucks up my chart. He peers over the clipboard to focus on my chiseled arms. He extends a handshake and locks eyes as he clamps down with a familiar surge of bone crushing power.
“So,” he says clinically, “you must be the ‘St. Louis Strangler’.” My heart jumps even faster.
“Don’t worry. I’m the ‘Atlanta Strangler’.”
“Never heard of no Atlanta Strangler,” I sneer.
The doctor chuckles. “Of course not. People die in hospitals all the time. It’s very tidy. I transferred here last week.”
“But…there can’t be two Stranglers in one city. It’s against the code!”
He raises his hands in deference. “Hey, you don’t have to lecture me. Nobody wants a repeat of that ‘Hillside Strangler’ business.”
The junkie starts screaming. “Nurse! Help! They’re crazy!”
“I got it,” the doctor sighs. He snatches the blue privacy curtain and slices the room in half. I hear the familiar gurgles of spit and crunch of cartilage.
The doctor murmurs through the curtain as he works. “Headquarters says one of us has to relocate. Unless you’d be willing to commute?”
“No way,” I wheeze. “The nearest place worth strangling is two hours away. I know this city. Where to find people, where to dump them.”
He grabs the junkie’s chart and glances at his watch. “Time of death, 1:47 A.M. Look, everyone says you’re a great strangler, nobody denies that. But you’ve got a heart condition. What if you had a heart attack and your victim got away? They get the cops, the cops get you; you roll over on the organization. It’s too risky.”
“I love my job, and I ain’t quitting. You know Stranglers don’t retire.”
“Of course.” He switches off my heart monitor and flexes his powerful hands. “That’s why I’m here.”