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LATER that evening Randy Mason's mind raced on ahead of the
laundry cart as he pushed it down the blue-tiled basement corridor of
Memorial Hospital. It was the same cart he pushed every night, and
the same corridor. But this time his mission was different.
Was he moving too fast? Did he look nervous? A window into
the darkened kitchen served as a mirror, so he stopped and turned to
face it. Randy often stopped here to look at himself and determine
whether his dark, thick hair would look better combed or mussed,
whether he dared leave two buttons open on his shirt or just one, and
to make other decisions important to nineteen-year-olds. But this
time he looked at himself and wished he were invisible.
His palms were sweating, but no one would discover it unless
had to shake hands--an unlikely event for a hospital laundry worker.
The wobbling in his knees wasn't visible in the reflection, and his
smile looked normal, or at least the way it normally looked when he
practiced smiling for himself in the mirror.
Still concerned that his dry mouth and rapid breathing might
him away, and not even noticing how his shirt was buttoned, Randy
spun about and resumed pushing the cart all in one hurried motion--
just in time to collide with fat, old Mr. Thompson, the night
"Uhhfff," coughed the surprised senior citizen as
the rim of the
laundry cart sank into his well-cushioned mid-section. "Watch it,
"S - s - sorry, sir," Randy apologized in a pitch
two octaves higher
than his regular speaking voice. But, the accident victim was already
lumbering on down the hall, muttering to himself in his customary
How glad Randy was that it was Mr. Thompson he had collided
with, and not someone more inquisitive! The head of night
housekeeping lived in his own little world and liked it that way,
plodding through his nocturnal routine as if wearing blinders. Anyone
else would have asked, 'What's the matter? Why the big hurry?
What are you so skittish about?' But Mr. Thompson just kept walking.
Randy was relieved that he was not called upon to explain his
behavior, knowing his quivering voice would only have further
incriminated him--regardless of the response he might have thought
The route to the north elevators seemed a mile long: down blue
corridor, turn right at the morgue, right again at the emergency exit,
and then half-way down green corridor. Randy usually counted his
steps to cope with the boredom of a repetitious job. But tonight he
mused whether this would be his last trip with the cart. If he bungled
his mission, maybe he would be pushing a laundry cart in the county
CLACK-CLACK! CLACK-CLACK! CLACK-CLACK! The noise from
the cracked wheel reminded Randy of the old subway trains in Boston,
before the new cars with rubber wheels were put into service. This
empty laundry cart sounded just like a subway car, probably because
the long hospital corridors echoed like subway tunnels, he mused. But
then it occurred to him that the cart might sound different than usual
when he went to wheel it out of the pediatric ward with Tommy
Troulson inside. How much does the kid weigh? Will he know enough
to keep still under the sheets? What if something in the dirty linen
makes him sneeze?
Randy hadn't felt so scared since the time, years earlier,
and Skip Daniels snuck under the subway turnstile and rode the train
for free. He was eleven then, the same age Tommy Troulson is now,
Randy recalled. Skip Daniels was thirteen, and the whole thing was
his idea. It fulfilled Grandma Ginny's prophecy that hanging around
with an older boy would only get him into trouble. It did. But this
time the real troublemakers were adults: Grandma Ginny herself,
Brother and Sister Troulson, and the elders at Kingdom Hall. They
recruited Randy to help them kidnap Tommy from Pediatrics.
"I'm only the first link in the chain," Randy
assured himself, as he
brought the cart to a stop in front of the elevator and pushed the
lighted button. "If anyone goes to jail, it will probably be whoever
takes Tommy across the state line." But the assurance was a lie, and
Randy knew it. He didn't like lying to other people, and usually
managed to keep from doing it, but he often lied to himself and then
convicted himself of it in the very next thought. "At worst, I'm a
conspirator, and at best an accessory before the fact. Either way, I'll
probably get 10-to-20 years in the House of Correction."
The elevator door swung open, and to Randy's relief it was
empty. Pushing the button labeled "6," he leaned back against the
rear door and stuffed his still sweaty hands into his pockets. Then he
lifted his eyes to the display: "B" went dark as the pink glow hopped
over to "1" and then "2." Looking for courage to go through with his
mission, he closed his eyes and prayed without words. For an instant
he saw himself as David, putting a stone in his sling as he raced
toward Goliath; then as Moses striding into Pharaoh's throne room; and
finally as a faithful Jehovah's Witness in Nazi Germany, facing Hitler's
firing squad. Each of them must have had similar fears to overcome;
acting in faithfulness to God was never easy. "Thank you, Jehovah,"
Randy whispered before opening his eyes.
At that moment the elevator jerked to a halt, the door slid
and half a dozen heads turned toward him. Hoping no one but God
had heard his prayer, Randy took a deep breath and grasped the
laundry cart with both hands.
"Step aside, please, folks," barked Fred Fallone,
guard. "Let the man through." He was obviously enjoying the
excitement in the pediatric ward occasioned by a court-ordered blood
transfusion. From the way he was acting, one would assume that it
was up to him to enforce the order single-handedly. A would-be state
trooper, Fred had failed the exam twice, and lacking the political
connections to get onto North Bridgewater's local police force, he had
settled for the security guard's position at the hospital.
The people waiting in the hallway stepped aside, moving to the
left or to the right according to which side of the issue they were on:
reporters from WCAZ and from The Enterprise joined Ms. Czinko of the
Department of Social Services behind the security guard, while Karen
Troulson (Tommy's grandmother) and her friend Virginia May
(Randy's grandmother) moved to the opposite side, along with Harold
Brainard and Frank Sturgis, two J.W. elders.
Randy showed neither recognition of the latter group nor
curiosity about the former, but directed his gaze straight ahead as he
exited the elevator with his cart. Five long strides (he would have
counted them had this been a more routine evening) and he was
through the swinging doors and on his way down the pediatric
"A bit early this evening, aren't you Randy?" smiled
the head pediatric nurse, as she picked up her purse and headed for
the swinging doors.
"Guess so," Randy replied, returning her smile. His
manner concealed the fact that he had carefully timed his arrival to
coincide with a coffee break that would leave only one person at the
"That's okay!" the strawberry blond assured him on
her way out.
"We finished changing the beds a few minutes ago. The dirty linen is
As Randy continue down the corridor, he heard the phone ring
the nurse's station. "Perfect timing!" he thought, noting that it was
exactly 9:15 p.m. by his watch. "You can always depend on Sister
Samuels to be on time." By the second ring nurse-trainee Jill French
had already flown out the door of room 606--leaving Tommy
Troulson alone with his parents--and was skipping up the corridor to
answer the phone. Randy felt his heart skip, too, as she passed him
with a timid "Hi, Randy!" from somewhere under her swirling cloud of
golden curls. But his mind had no room tonight for the thoughts Jill
usually gave rise to. "That will keep her off the floor for a while,"
Randy told himself. "Old Sister Samuels can be a real trial to deal
with, the way she stammers, forgets what you said, gets confused, and
asks you to repeat things. I remember one time when she answered
the phone at the Hall and spoke to the caller for fifteen minutes before
hanging up and telling Brother Thompson that it was a wrong number.
She's the perfect one to keep Jill on the phone."
By now Randy had nosed his laundry cart into room 606 and
parked it there. He had exchanged only the briefest glance with
Tommy's parents, who immediately took their son from his bed and
helped him climb into the cart. As Randy returned with the other full
cart from across the hall, Tommy grinned up at him impishly from the
bottom of the empty one. He flashed an "Okay" signal at Randy like it
was some sort of game they were playing. First his pajama-clad body
and then his tan, dimpled cheeks disappeared beneath linen Randy
was transferring from the other cart. "I'm supposed to take the full
cart and leave the empty one," Randy whispered nervously to the
Troulsons, "but no one will notice I've switched carts." Grim-faced and
with an arm around his wife's waist, Ralph Troulson nodded silent
agreement while Ruth mumbled "Be careful!" through her tears.
Leaning back with a bit more force than usual, Randy pulled the
cart out of the doorway and then pushed it ahead of him down the
corridor toward the swinging doors.
"But, M'am, I think you've reached the wrong floor--in
wrong hospital," Jill French was patiently telling Sister Samuels on the
phone as the getaway-cart passed the nurse's station. "Okay! I'll spell
it for you again: M - e - m - o - r - i - a - l H - o - s - p . . . ."
Randy glanced pleadingly at Frank Fallone as he pushed through
the swinging doors and encountered the same collection of people
milling about in the hallway. Whereupon, the security guard sprang
into action once again, displaying his best crowd-control techniques
(that would have been more appropriate for seventy people than for
seven) and cleared the way for the laundryman and his cart, even
pushing the button and holding open the elevator door for him--an
unwitting accomplice to the escape that he was assigned to prevent.
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