Lianam inspired me to change my Christmas story from an adventure involving a WWII bunker loaded with artifacts into something a little more meaningful and Christmas related. Said other story will be a New Years Gift instead, since I don’t have any noodles or tangerines.
Anyway, this story involves a certain someone from my recent Halloween Special, and takes place following it. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Picking up the Pieces- A H&K: MD Christmas Special
Chapter One: Call Me Ishmael
Becoming a parent changes you. When I realized I was going to be a father, my entire world was knocked over the head with a whiskey bottle. As a result, I looked at everything in a new way and continued to do so. That, when you get right down to it, more than anything else, is why this story exists.
A few days after the dust had settled from a certain case involving a close encounter of the fucked up kind, I again entered the hospital and worked my way to a certain room in the rehab/recovery ward. At least I was able to dodge the Head Nurse, which took some doing because the room was harder to find now that there wasn’t a cop next to the door- when the murder sprees stopped, the police started scaling back their efforts on the case. I figured another month of no leads and it would get shelved with all the other cold cases. Or some government flunky would make them close it because they were getting too close to the truth. Managing to arrive at the right door without too much hassle, I knocked quickly and walked inside, closing the door behind me.
Officer Miho Minami was still in the private hospital room, at least. Instead of sitting at the small desk by the door like the last time I had shown up, she was sitting next to the large bed, a checkers board placed on the mattress between her and the bed’s occupant, Kim Soon-hee.
The young woman was already improving, it seemed; her long black hair was washed and free of blood and grit. Her dark brown eyes no longer looked like they’d bulge out of their sockets in fright, and her skin seemed a slightly healthier shade, though she was still awfully pale. She was still wearing a hospital gown, and still seemed far too small for the oversized bed. She was lying on her side as I entered, her head propped up by one arm, while the other lay on her side, an array of tubes and needles imbedded into it from several large machines on the other side of the bed with more lights and knobs than seemed necessary.
As I closed the door behind me she and Officer Minami looked up at me. Minami jerked and tensed up, but relaxed when she recognized me, easing back into her seat, though she still kept an eye on me. I gave her a quick nod of approval; never could be too careful, after all.
“Hello,” I said, placing the briefcase I had brought with me on the desk along with my hat and a newspaper that was likely the officer’s, “I believe I owed you a snack, Miss Kim?”
Soon-hee stared at me as if I might vanish if she blinked, “You came back.”
I grinned and nodded, noticing that her voice didn’t sound like ragged sandpaper anymore, “Yep; I said I’d come back, so I did. I also said I’d bring a snack, so I did. I got one for you, too, Officer.”
“Thanks,” Minami said, and turned back to face the game board.
I opened my briefcase with a dramatic flourish and pulled out a small brown bag. There was only one chair in the room, so I turned to Soon-hee and asked, “Is it alright if I sit on the bed?”
The young woman nodded, eyeing the bag with curiosity, trepidation, and maybe a little fear. Taking my seat carefully, so as not to disturb the game board or rattle Soon-hee, I settled onto the stiff mattress and pulled out a large orange from the bag, which I handed to the young woman.
“Here, this should qualify as sweet and healthy,” I stated, “I also brought an apple if you’d rather have that.”
Soon-hee shook her head and gingerly accepted the fruit with the tube-filled hand, “Thank you, si…Kenji.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied, then handed one to Minami before pulling out a third for myself.
“I also brought some napkins,” I stated, pulling a small stack from the bag and placing them on the bed.
Soon-hee nodded, her expression determined as she tried to peel the orange. Her fingers seemed weak, as she appeared to fumble a lot, but my experience as a former teenager told me offering help was a bad idea. Officer Minami seemed to share this sentiment, as she quietly peeled her own orange, systematically picking away any trace of pith she could. I was less fickle about my fruit, and just peeled and separated the pieces to eat. Eventually Soon-hee managed to stick a fingernail into the skin, piercing it and bringing her one step closer to peeling her snack.
“Yes!” she breathed as she started peeling her orange.
“Good to see your doing better,” I said.
“I am, mostly,” Soon-hee said as she slowly peeled the orange, “they let me out of the bed to use the bathroom now, but they still got a bunch of things shoved into my arms most of the time.”
“Fluids and the like?” I guessed.
Soon-hee nodded, then glanced down at her fruit and mumbled, “And morphine.”
Minami, who had worked in Narcotics before being transferred to Vice, explained, “Standard Operating Procedure for long term users is to wean them to prevent any serious withdrawal related health problems and reduce the withdrawal’s effects. For someone in your state, they’ll probably wean you over the course of several months. Maybe a year if they have to.”
“That’s what the doctors said,” Soon-hee mumbled.
Picking up on her subdued demeanor, I remarked, “You don’t seem to like that very much.”
Soon-hee gave an awkward shrug as she placed a piece of fruit into her mouth. She spent several long moments chewing it before swallowing and stating, “They said it was standard.”
“True,” I conceded, “But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
“…I don’t like it,” Soon-hee confessed, “I don’t like that They forced the drugs into me, and I hate that my body still wants them. I want to move on with my life, not be stuck in a hospital addicted to drugs for the rest of my life.”
“That won’t happen,” I declared, hoping to cheer her up a bit, “Besides, the past is always with us. The trick is to learn from it and be able to move beyond it. I’d say you’re well on your way in that regard.”
“I know,” Soon-hee grumbled, then, proving she was still a teenager despite everything, added, “but I don’t have to like it.”
I smirked and chewed on a piece of orange for a bit before swallowing, “No, you don’t…. As long as I’m here, d’you mind if I watch the game?”
Soon-hee looked up at Minami, who nodded, and then nodded herself. I didn’t want to just drop in and dash off right away, and watching the game kept me involved, however tangently. Besides, I was curious how her recovery was going.
I readjusted my position to be slightly less uncomfortable, and watched as the two ate and played. I guessed Minami had taught the young woman how to play, as she seemed unsure of the rules on a few occasions. The game had apparently not been going on for long before my arrival, as neither side’s pieces had advanced very far. Minami had collected a few of Soon-hee’s black pieces, but she had a better strategic position for the moment as a result, as well as a bit more space to maneuver.
I waited until a few minutes had passed before asking Soon-hee, “So besides the morphine, how do you feel?”
Soon-hee glanced at the board, then at me. After making her next move she shrugged lightly, wincing a bit as the movement tugged on the needles in her arm, “Sore. And itchy. I feel drowsy a lot, and my muscles feel weaker than they used to.”
“That’s from not having drugs pumped into you all the time,” Minami declared.
“Feels weird,” the young woman grumbled, “My brain isn’t in a fog anymore, and my senses are all… confused. I can feel my body in ways I haven’t in years. Stomach hurts a lot –they say I can’t eat a lot of solid food for another week. I tend to throw up if I eat or drink too much. Can’t sleep.”
“Nightmares?” I asked; she wasn’t the first person I knew with PTSD, after all.
Soon-hee nodded, “And I feel fidgety and anxious. From the withdrawal. Can’t close my eyes without seeing… things.”
I nodded, “My work partner’s wife used to get terrible nightmares. She still does, sometimes. That’ll get better with time, too,” I chuckled at the grumpy look that crossed Soon-hee’s face when I said that, “I imagine you’re getting tired of hearing that.”
Soon-hee nodded, “Tired of the cramps, too.”
“From the morphine?” I asked.
Soon-hee shook her head and pointedly did not look at me as she ate another piece of orange. A light flush seemed to color her face, and I coughed and looked up at the ceiling as I connected the dots.
Fortunately Minami piped in at that point, “Considering the malnutrition you’ve been subjected to, it’s actually good that your cycle is normal.”
Soon-hee watched as she lost another checker piece, “Doesn’t feel normal.”
“It will,” Minami declared.
The game went on, and it was pretty clear Officer Minami was, if not an excellent player, certainly knew what she was doing. No one spoke for a while, but, perhaps spurred on by her own internal musings, Soon-hee eventually looked at me and asked, “They still don’t know what to do with me, do they?”
“Depends,” I replied. Turning to Minami, I asked, “Any word on her family?”
“They’re dead,” Soon-hee declared, “Or they woulda come for me.”
I kept looking at Minami, who silently nodded.
Soon-hee watched Minami nod and muttered, “I’m alone.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I said, “I’m here. Miho is here.”
Soon-hee fiddled with a piece of fruit as she mumbled, “Miho leaves when the cops don’t need me anymore.”
“I can visit, if you want,” Minami stated.
Soon-hee’s face quirked into a brief smirk as she said, “I’d like that.”
“There, see?” I said, “You are not alone. Not anymore. I’ll come ‘round every now and then as well, if you want.”
Soon-hee nodded, “I like being visited. It gets boring here in bed all day –they won’t let me go to the library yet. Hurts to walk.”
“If you tell me what you like, I can go for you,” Minami offered.
“Same here,” I stated, “I could ask some of my family, too –they might have used copies of things you’d like.”
Soon-hee glanced down at the board and poked at a captured checker piece, “You don’t have to. I’ve been enough of a bother to you as it is.”
“You are not a bother,” I declared, “You’re a good kid that got handed a shitty deal by a fucked-up world. I’ve dedicated my life to making the world a better place, and you are a part of that world.”
Soon-hee looked up at me, an odd expression on her face as she asked, “Why do you care so much about me?”
I sighed and rubbed the back of my head, thinking. Touchy-feely stuff was really more Hisao’s shtick than mine, but this kid had gotten to me, and I was already too involved to step back now. No, I was gonna see this through to the end, come hell or high water. And that meant being honest with the girl. Besides, prying the events of the Hunter’s attack out of her hadn’t been a pleasant thing to do, so I figured I owed her.
“I’ve seen and known a lot of people handed a raw deal,” I finally said, “orphans who were never adopted, kids who died before they could graduate college, family members losing their minds before my eyes. I couldn’t help them, but I can help you.”
If I was honest, there was also the thought that the young woman was alone with no one to help her besides the system. If something happened to me or Miya, Hisato had a family to look after him –Hisao was his godfather, and George was Akio’s, Satomi’s, and Refia’s. If something happened to any of us, someone would be there for the survivors.
I knew better than to say that to the girl, though; she’d probably take my interest as pity, which she’d likely resent. If I’m honest, I resented myself a bit for pitying her, but, seeing her frail form loaded with needles and pumped with chemicals, it was hard not to.
Dragging myself to the present, I watched as Soon-hee looked back down at the board, her eyes seemingly unfocused as she thought silently. After a moment she looked over to me and said, “Thank you, for caring so much.”
“Eh, it’s what I do,” I said, trying to put on a brave face, “’sides, you told me how you were doing, and that couldn’t a’ been easy, so figured I owed you.”
Soon-hee shrugged with the shoulder not covered in needles, “You listen. The Doctors and nurses pretend to listen, but I’m never sure if they really are listening. You really listen.”
“Side effect of being legally blind,” I quipped.
Soon-hee smirked at that, but said nothing, instead focusing on the game.
The checkers game continued on in silence for a while, Soon-hee steadily losing to the officer as her pieces were captured one after the other. Eventually the game reached its inevitable conclusion, and, with a sigh, Soon-hee moved her last piece to be taken.