Detective Mallory shuddered so slightly that the doctor beside her failed to notice. She dug her fingernails into her palms to bring on the pain – to stay awake and focused, to see this thing through.
Rain drummed on the window of Sparrow’s hospital room. The lights were low, and Father Rose hovered over the sickbed, armed with his magical rosary beads. Mallory watched him don his surplice to perform the sacrament of last rites – a waste of precious time.
The young intern affirmed this idea, saying, ‘I don’t think she knows what’s going on.’ Mallory stared at the woman on the bed, eyes rolling, mouth drooling. Sparrow seemed smaller now, as houses do when children revisit them later in life. ‘How can you tell if she’s awake?’
The doctor shrugged. ‘Does it matter? There’s a big difference between awake and aware. She only has a few hours, I’m sure of that much. Her organs are shutting down.’
And the physician did not want to be here at the end. Why linger over his failure? He left the room quickly – escaping. Mallory listened to his footsteps hurrying down the corridor, outrunning death. Only a priest would be attracted to Sparrow now.
‘Do you heartily repent your sins?’
‘Father, that would take years. She’s a whore.’ Mallory opened the door as an invitation for the man to leave, and soon. The priest stared at her in surprise, as though her hint might have been too subtle. ‘Speed it up,’ she said. ‘I haven’t got all night – and neither does Sparrow.’
Father Rose bent over his parishioner. ‘Can you give me a sign of contrition?’
‘She’s sorry,’ said Mallory. ‘I saw her eyes move.’
‘I know that.’
‘She’s dying. Why can’t you leave her in peace?’ The rest of his words to Sparrow were close to mime, inaudible and ending with the sign of the cross.
‘You’re done. Good.’ Mallory walked across the room and stood very close to the man. ‘Father, leave now.’ She held up her gold shield to remind him that she was the law. ‘I’ve got official business here. I’m not giving you a choice.’
She would have liked him better if he had put up a fight, but he turned his eyes to Sparrow’s, and every thought in his head was there to read when he shrugged. The priest was already writing off the whore as a corpse. What more damage could be done to her now? What comfort could his presence bring? None.
He left the room quietly, and Mallory shut the door behind him, then jammed a straight-back chair beneath the knob to keep it closed. There would be no more visitors tonight.
She walked back to her old enemy on the hospital bed, the woman who had betrayed her and, worse, abandoned her. Now the whore was the one who was utterly helpless, unable to lift one hand in defense. Her skin was as pale as the sheets.
‘Sparrow? It’s me!’
There was no response beyond ragged breathing and the endless demented motion of blue eyes that saw nothing. Could Sparrow hear? Could she understand the words? There was no way to tell. The only certainty in this room was death; it was coming.
The young detective leaned over the woman, bending low enough for her lips to lightly brush a tuft of hair near Sparrow’s ear, then whispered, ‘It’s Kathy.’
And I’m lost.
Mallory settled into a chair beside the bed, then opened an old paperback book – the last western. Her head was bowed, eyes fixed on the page. ‘I’m going to read you a story,’ she said, as one blind hand reached out for the comfort of Sparrow’s.