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Chapter Sixteen

Going off to work in the middle of the afternoon was always a
bummer, Randy thought as he drove up tree-lined Centre Street
toward Memorial Hospital -- the worst part of working on the three-
to-eleven shift. But talking with Jill the night before had put the job
in a whole new light; and today he had an appointment to talk with
her again some time. He would catch her right away and turn that
into a dinner date in the cafeteria -- or, better yet, across the street at
McDonald's where they would be away from the prying eyes and ears
of fellow workers.

That happy prospect brought forth from Randy's lips a whistled
chorus of "What a day for a daydream!" Stretching toward the rear-
view mirror to see what his puckered lips would look like to Jill, he
kept puckering and whistling while driving along -- until the sight of a
police cruiser next to the hospital loading dock knocked the wind out
of his sails. The sunny sky seemed to fill with gray clouds, as reality
crowded back in on him: He had been up way past midnight
researching the blood issue in the family library. Then he had laid
awake, tossing about fitfully for some time after going to bed.

Shutting off his alarm at eight, he had slept until ten and then got up
feeling as sore and tired as if he had never slept. His mom had given
him warmed-up oatmeal for breakfast, along with the news that Joe,
Larry, and the Troulsons had all been arrested in New Hampshire, and
that state troopers were searching the woods for Tommy. Shaving
with the radio on, he heard that Tommy had been found and was
being returned by police-escorted ambulance to Massachusetts.
Randy's mom and grandma Ginny (who lived with them) had spent
most of the morning on the phone conferring and exchanging news
with Tommy's grandmother Karen Troulson and with virtually
everyone at Kingdom Hall who didn't have a daytime job. The thought
kept occurring to Randy that too many people knew of his
involvement last night. And now here was a North Bridgewater police
cruiser parked at the loading dock as he returned to the scene of the
crime. That was enough to turn anyone's sunny day black.
"Morning, son," Captain Barsotis greeted Randy with a nod as he
passed him next to the time clock and strode out the open door.
"Morning, sir," Randy shot back with feigned cheer, punching his
card and then turning cautiously to see if the policeman would get into
his cruiser and drive off. To his dismay, his eyes met those of
Barsotis, who had done an about-face and was on his way back in.

"Mind if I look at your time card, son?" he asked, holding out an
expectant hand.

"Sure! Here it is," the young laundry worker replied, turning over
the evidence. "I was here last night during the excitement, if that's
what you're looking for." Randy hoped that volunteering extra
information might allay suspicion.

"Good! Then you've heard about the Troulson kidnapping?"

"Yes, sir. And I heard on the radio earlier today that the boy has
been found and several people have been arrested."

"Right! But I'm still trying to figure out how they got him out of
the hospital last night. There may be other parties involved in the
kidnapping conspiracy."

"Oh!" Randy swallowed with difficulty as his mouth went dry and
sweat began running down his ribs under his shirt.

"Did you see anyone take the boy?" The police captain's deep-set
steel-blue eyes seemed to serve as the sensors of a human lie-detector
as they riveted themselves on Randy's face.

"Well, a couple of people told me they saw Mr. Troulson leave the
building alone through the front lobby," he began, hoping that offering
a lot of information would enable him to evade a direct answer. "So,
he couldn't have had the boy with him. And I saw Mrs. Troulson
myself," he added with a burst of enthusiasm.

"You did?" the captain pressed on, apparently falling for the bait.

"Yes! I saw her with my own eyes. She was in room 606 -- the
boy's room -- when I saw her. And the kid was still there, then, too.
In fact, I noticed that Mrs. Troulson was still there when I finished my
duties in Pediatrics and left that floor. I went out through the lobby
where all the people were waiting, and I took the elevator down, but I
didn't encounter her anywhere else in the building after that." Randy
paused and looked away for a moment with a wrinkled brow as if
thinking something through. "You know," he offered the results of his
cogitation, "She could have used the emergency fire exit stairway at
the other end of Pediatrics."

"Thank you, son!" acknowledged Captain Barsotis, apparently
thrown off Randy's trail. "You've been very helpful."

As the policeman this time actually did return to his cruiser and
drive off, Randy watched from the doorway, reviewing the
interrogation in his mind. Yes, he had told the truth. It just wasn't
the whole truth. The fact that he had left Pediatrics through the
crowded lobby seemed to rule him out as a suspect -- only because the
officer was unaware of the laundry cart he was pushing. Hopefully
the police will be satisfied to have Tommy recovered and his parents
in custody, along with Joe and Larry, and will quit looking for
additional accomplices. That was Randy's unvocalized prayer.
Yet, more than anything else, his own thoughts bothered him. He
knew he ought to be worried about his fate if the police, or even his
employer, should learn of his role in smuggling Tommy Troulson out
of the hospital. With brother and sister Troulson in police custody,
Larry and Joe in the same position, and Tommy either already back in
the hospital or enroute via ambulance, it seemed unlikely that Randy's
part in the affair would remain secret. Yet, instead of dwelling on the
peril this placed him in, Randy's thoughts were focused entirely on Jill
French -- and that bothered him.

Even the thought of Tommy again facing a dreaded blood
transfusion served merely to return Randy's thinking to Jill and to
what she had asked about whether orthodox Jews rejected
transfusions. When he had gotten home after his shift, Randy had
researched the question in the Watchtower Society's publications and
in the family's encyclopedia. All sources agreed that the policy of
rejecting transfusions originated with Jehovah's Witnesses in the mid-
1940's, and that Jews -- even those who meticulously Koshered their
food and avoided eating blood -- freely accepted blood when it was
administered medically as a transfusion. Had Jill asked such a
disturbing question merely by accident? Or as a result of deep insight
into the matter? How could someone know the mind of God without
having studied with His Witnesses? Yet Jill seemed more saintly and
angelic than anyone Randy had ever met. And her sincerity was like
pure crystal.

"Good afternoon!" -- the loud greeting from Mrs. Johnson, a kitchen
worker Randy knew only to say hello to woke him from his reverie --
"D'you hear about all the trouble last night?"

"Y-Yes," he managed to reply, continuing on his way in the hope he
would not be drawn into conversation. "I was shocked."
"What a shame! Although I wouldn't have known who they were, I
must have seen the Troulsons with my own eyes earlier in the
evening, assuming they ate supper here." Mrs. Johnson kept talking,
more to herself than to Randy, as she walked on down the corridor.
"Didn't see anyone that looked like child abusers! But you never
know, do you? No, you never know!"

Even as Mrs. Johnson walked by, Randy had been focusing on
visions of Jill rather than on the woman passing before his eyes. And
as Mrs. Johnson continued conversing with herself out loud, Randy
argued silently with himself. How could he be thinking romantic
thoughts at a time like this? And how could he think romantic
thoughts about Jill French in particular? Wasn't she a worldly girl, off
limits to a faithful servant of Jehovah? And, worse yet, wasn't she
active in her family's church? The churches of Christendom, Randy
had learned at Kingdom Hall, are part of the world empire of false
religion pictured in Bible's book of Revelation as the ‘harlot of
Babylon' -- part of Satan's organization.

And, yet, why were these romantic thoughts about Jill so different
from any he had ever felt before? They weren't just carnal lust.
(Although, that was present, he had to admit.) And they weren't the
cotton candy infatuations of adolescence. No, they had more substance
than that. Somehow, unexplainably, it was as if he had finally found
something -- someone -- he had been searching for all his life, and now
that search was over and his emptiness was filled. But he knew that
he had not been searching for Jill French. After all, she had been
working there at the hospital for several months. And his emptiness
was not filled, because he felt more empty than ever before every
minute that he was out of her company.

Did all this develop from sharing a Coke with her last night? Could
she have put some Babylonish love potion in the soda? Had she cast
some sort of spell over him? Was she really one of the devil's demons
manifesting itself as an angel of light? Could that be why he was now
starting to have doubts about what he had been taught all his life? No
one had been able to undermine his faith before, not even priests and
ministers he had encountered while offering Watchtower and Awake!
magazines from door to door. How could this girl do, with one
question, what they had been unable to do with lengthy discussions?
Did she have some sort of power beyond what is normal? Or was it
simply his weakness rather than her power?

He did have a weakness for her voice, he admitted. Its sweet
sound flowed into his ears like butterscotch syrup onto his tongue.
And the way her voice cracked occasionally as she raised her pitch to
ask a question or express surprise -- that sound thrilled him so much
he nearly missed what she was saying, as when a beautiful melody
obscures the lyrics of a song.

This is crazy!, Randy thought as he wheeled a laundry cart down
the same corridor that had been an escape route the night before.
How can I be all wrapped up with thinking about a girl when my job
and my entire future are in jeopardy? People are talking about Joe,
Larry, and the Troulsons as child abusers, religious fanatics,
kidnappers, criminals of the worst sort -- and that's what they'll say
about me if I get tied into this. Little Tommy is headed for a forced
transfusion, my friends are in police custody -- with a good possibility
that I may be joining them -- and all I can think about is Jill! I'm
really losing it!

Randy knew he should be worried, but he wasn't. And he knew he
should be worried about not being worried, and he wasn't even
worried about that. Instead, Jill French filled his mind, driving out
every other thought and transforming his consciousness into
something he shared with her. Her golden hair floated above his head,
waving in slow motion on the wings of a silent unfelt breeze. Her blue
eyes met his in a new form of communication where, if a picture is
worth a thousand words, her glance is worth a thousand pictures. He
envisioned himself holding her in his arms in an embrace of love that
would go beyond the physical, transcending even the spiritual,
drawing her so close to him that they would merge and the two would
become one.

"Hey, white man! D'you forget how to read?" Jack Harris's rude
greeting brought Randy back to the real world so fast that he felt
disoriented, almost dizzy.

"Oh! Hi, Black Jack!" Randy replied, keeping up a playful tradition
of trading racial insults with this fellow-worker and fellow-Witness.
"I didn't see you there."

"Didn't see me?" Jack yelled in protest as he threw his arms back
and let his knees collapse beneath him. "That's the understatement of
the year. You didn't see my mop. You didn't see my ‘CAUTION: WET
FLOOR' sign. You didn't see my bucket. You didn't see nothin' at all!
You was walkin' along with your head in the clouds, like you was on
drugs or somethin'."

"Gimme a break, Black Jack!" Randy protested. But this was
Harris's way of dealing with his peer away from Kingdom Hall. At the
meetings Jack was always the epitome of teenage theocratic propriety:
pressed suit and tie, reserved gentle manners, correct English without
a hint of slang. But, encountered anywhere else, he was a hip dude, a
black power advocate, almost a caricature of the white man's Negro
stereotype. Randy still hadn't figured out whether Jack acted that
way all the time, with everyone, or was just putting on an act when he
was present. "Gimme a break! What did I ever do to deserve this?"
"What did he do, the man asks! What did he do!" Jack continued
the barrage, strutting back and forth across the corridor, bobbing his
head pigeon-style in synch with his sentences. "All he done was walk
on my wet floor! All he done was destroy the evidence of my hard
work! All he done was put my job in jeopardy! He can't read! He
can't see me! He can't see the bucket! He can't see the mop!"
"Hey! Give it a rest, will you Black Jack! I was just a little
preoccupied. That's all."

"Yeah! I'll bet you was preoccupied." Harris lowered his voice
now, slumped against the wall, and spoke with a sneer out of one side
of his mouth: "I'll bet you was preoccupied with Jill French. I'll bet
you had that pretty nurse on your mind. I'll bet you was doin' all
kinds a stuff with her inside your head."

Randy was flabbergasted. How could Jack possibly know of his
feelings toward Jill -- and that he had been thinking about her when
he trespassed on the wet floor? It had to be a lucky guess on Jack's
part. Still, the surprise of being confronted with his own thoughts sent
Randy's senses spinning for the second time in as many minutes.
"What? Who?" he mumbled in momentary confusion.

"Don't gimme no what, who!" Jack continued the attack, leaning his
chin on the top of his mop handle. "What you was thinkin' was wrote
all over your face."

"Come on, Black Jack. You're projecting, and you know it!"
Regaining his balance Randy knew he needed to go on the offensive to
defend against this one. "You're the one who's always scoping out the
nurses, not me. You're always re-measuring their vital statistics with
those lustful eyes of yours. Don't blame me for your sins, brother!"
Having slammed the ball back into Harris's court, Troulson turned
to walk away. But the floor cleaner called after him, "Then what was
you thinkin' about, white man?"

"I was meditating on a scripture," Randy replied over his shoulder
without bothering to stop. He often found himself resorting to their
common religion for protection against Jack's flack. "Titus 2:12 --
‘Repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires!'"

Turning the corner Randy left the corridor and took refuge in the
laundry room. Once he got the noisy machines going he would be safe
from the roving inquisitors who had plagued his first few moments on
the job. But his own thoughts continued whirling, even more
ferociously than the huge washing machines.

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