Elliott Smith wakes up in the hospital with a head injury...and an invisible companion. At first, he's convinced "John" is just a figment of a damaged brain, but when Elliott is fully recovered John is still around—and desperate to find out who he is. Reluctantly, Elliott agrees to help, and discovers Chicago PD has a John Doe on their hands with six bullets in him—who died in the ER at the same time Elliott was there.
As Elliott digs deeper into the mystery of John, he stumbles on a body hidden behind a wall for 80 years, meets a sexy artist who could become more than just a one-night stand, and uncovers a deadly secret that has haunted a nun for two decades.
Waking up with a splitting headache and a throbbing shoulder, Elliott had no idea where he was. By clamping his eyes shut and reopening them, he was able to discern that he was in a hospital room, though he had no clue as to how he’d gotten there.
The one thing he did know was that someone was sitting in the chair beside his bed, watching him. Yet when he managed to turn his head to see who it was, the chair was empty. He was alone in the room. Except he wasn’t.
He drifted in and out of sleep interrupted with annoying frequency by nurses waking him up to do whatever nurses find it necessary to wake people up to do. Mostly they said nothing and achieved their objectives with expressionless faces. And whenever he awoke, he would glance over at the chair and feel whoever wasn’t there watching him.
He gradually became aware—he had no idea how—that John was the name of whoever was not in the chair, and got the distinct impression that John was, to say the least, confused, and apparently unable to grasp the concept that he was dead. Elliott also sensed that John not only hadn’t a clue as to how he died but had no idea of who he had been while he was alive.
Of course, on the subject of being confused, Elliott realized that he was hardly a poster boy for sharp thinking himself. He had no idea why he had ended up in the hospital, or for that matter, which hospital. It wasn’t until he saw Norm Shepard, an ER nurse who lived in his building, standing over him that he realized he was in St. Joseph’s. Norm smiled when he saw Elliott looking at him.
“Welcome back to the world of the living,” he said.
Elliott glanced quickly over to the chair. John, he sensed, was not amused.
“I had to come up to this floor for some charts,” Norm was saying, “and thought I’d check in to see how you’re doing.”
Elliott opened his mouth to talk, but somebody else’s voice came out, and Norm quickly raised his hand to silence him.
“No talk just yet,” he said.
* * *
Over the next couple of days, every time he looked at the chair, Elliott knew John was there, watching him. When visitors would stop by—his sister Cessy came by a lot, as did several of his friends, and Rick Morrison, a guy he had begun dating a few weeks before the accident—most would stand by the bedside or at the foot of the bed. When anyone sat down, Elliott would be aware that John wasn’t in the chair—apparently even though he was now non-corporeal, he didn’t like being sat on.
At such times, he would sense John by the window, looking out at the traffic on Lakeshore Drive. He never got the impression that John was particularly interested in whoever else was in the room.
How Elliott himself had ended up in St. Joe’s he learned in bits and pieces. He was told that he had been crossing Sheridan Road at Wellington, a few blocks from the hospital, around eleven o’clock at night, on his way home from dinner with friends, and been clipped by a car speeding around the corner. He’d hit his head on the curb, although fortunately his left shoulder had taken the brunt of the fall. He’d been unconscious or heavily sedated for several days, and was cautioned that he’d look a bit like a monk for a while after he got out, since they had to shave a part of his head to stitch up a rather nasty cut on his scalp.
He did his best to convince himself that the concussion from the head injury accounted for John, and that he’d just go away after a while.
But he didn’t, and Elliott didn’t dare mention him to anyone lest they decide to transfer him to the psychiatric ward for observation. He was nothing if not practical and logical, and John’s intrusion into his life was neither. So they kept their own counsel, John and he.
He still had the overwhelming sense that John was utterly confused over his current state and how it came about. He also felt that since he was the only one who was aware of John, John looked to him for help, though Elliott had no idea what he could do.
And then one night just before he was scheduled to be released, Norm stopped by again after his shift. Since his first visit, some vague memories of and after the accident were beginning to return.
“I think I remember seeing you in the ER when I was brought in,” Elliott said. “I guess I was in pretty bad shape.”
“We weren’t sure there for a while whether or not there was any bleeding into your brain, but there wasn’t. You’re a lucky guy.”
Elliott sighed. “Considering the alternative, I guess you’re right.” Again, he was aware that John did not appreciate his humor. “But I vaguely recall they brought somebody in right after me, and you took off. I guess the other guy was in worse shape than I was.”
Norm shrugged. “Yeah, you could say that. He didn’t have a chance. Shot six times. It’s a wonder he even made it to the hospital.”
“Sorry about that,” Elliott said, and he was. “Who was he? Did I see a couple cops come in with him?”
“Yeah, they brought him in. Found him in an alley less than two blocks from here. No I.D. on him, and he died without fully regaining consciousness.”
“So did they find out who he was?”
“I have no idea,” Norm said. “We admitted him as a John Doe.”