the man with three thumbs ~ chapter 1 of 3
The name on Les Aitken’s small whiteboard above the bed read
Nil by mouth
– and Les did not look so good. He was lying on his back with one eye closed and his mouth gaped open. His skull was bandaged and his knuckles looked as though they had been scraped along a brick wall. His bottom lip was pouched out and livid. A laceration on his cheek was sutured with fine black thread and coloured a vivid yellow. One of his legs was raised on pulleys and his thigh was heavily bandaged. The exposed bare foot was still caked with gore.
Les’s oily black hair was pigtailed tight across his skull and roughly inked prison tattoos covered all his exposed upper arms. Some of his teeth were missing.
He had the look of a man well used to the hard life.
‘ I reckon he’s done his ribs in meself, ‘ said old Eric with a low cackle, ‘ he was coughin’ up somethin’ terrible last night. ‘
Tom nodded and looked out the window, he was passing the time with Eric. It was Sunday. It was wet, cold.
Eric sat up very slowly and beckoned his visitor closer. He looked over at the other beds in the ward and then winked slyly. ‘ The coppers brought him in late last night, and they stayed until the quack knocked him out with a needle. And you know what I heard ‘em sayin? ’
‘ What’s that? ‘
‘ The bloke’s got three thumbs. ‘
‘ Can’t be done. ‘
‘ That’s what they bloody said so help me! ‘
‘ Who said? ‘
Les gave an exasperated sigh and leveled at Tom a pitying look.
‘ The bloody coppers! How about listenin’ to a man for a change. I heard ‘em say he was the only bloke that they had ever collared who had three of ‘em. ‘
‘ Three thumbs?’
‘ My oath! I’m waitin’ for him to wake up and scratch himself or sumthin’, it’ll be a first for me I can tell yer. ‘
Tom looked over at the injured man lying asleep in the next bed but could only see one hand. And that was clenched.
‘ Must be rough shakin’ hands with him. ‘ Said Eric, and with another low chuckle he sunk deep into his pillows.
Les’s mother had been called by the hospital at eight thirty that morning. They informed her of her son’s admittance the previous night and although he was in no danger they suggested that she make her way over as soon as possible. They did not mention that he had been escorted into Casualty not long after midnight by two policemen and that they would be back at midday to interview him.
Mrs Aitken stood at the corner of the Bus shelter only just managing to keep her hair out of the rain. A steady southerly blew in from the sea and she knew from long experience that the three youths inside there and sprawled over the one sheltered seat would not even move for their mothers, let alone a woman they didn’t know.
So she stood with her back to them and her head tucked into the collar of her best black coat and she worried about her boy Les.
The youths lounged about there on the dry seat, and every now and then one of them would quietly jack up a piece of sticky phlegm in his throat and lob it onto the back of her coat.
She heard their mocking laughter as she climbed the steps into the bus, and only when a woman sitting behind her told her of the mess on her coat did she realise what had amused them.
Chapter 2 here