The story of a man seeking redemption, a mascot who never removes his ferret suit, and a host of characters who learn that the place in the world they have been seeking is with each other.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Part 1, Episode 22: "New Rules"

The tests went on for hours. An MRI, an X-Ray, and more EKG’s were the major ones, and enough blood was drawn to make Conrad feel like a buffet for vampires. Through this tedious process Conrad noticed two things; Freddie never left and no one would give him anything for the pain.

Finally, shortly before noon, another doctor came in and told Conrad, “Good news, Mr. Kondratowicz. We’re letting you go home.”

“So what did you find out?”

“The good news is that you did not have a heart attack,” the doctor said. “We’d like you to follow up with your cardiologist and get a stress test and an echo-cardiogram taken to make absolutely sure, but we’re confident you won’t walk through the doors and keel over.”

“That’s good. So what’s wrong?” Conrad asked with a trace of impatience in his voice.

“You’re blood pressure is troubling, and your cholesterol is almost 270 and it needs to be around 200,” the doctor continued. “You’ll need to cut out fats and greasy foods, like say, Galaxy Burger. Caffeine is also a no-no.”

Conrad gave the doctor a dazed look. “So what’s making my shoulder hurt?” he asked with a clearly impatient tone.

“We’re not really sure,” the doctor shrugged. “It could be a pinched nerve or something muscular.”

“Well, what should I do to stop this damned pain?” Conrad asked, his voice growing louder with each word.

“I would take about 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. That should help in a few days. The nurse will check you out,” the doctor said as he left the room.

Freddie stood quietly waiting for the outburst. He didn’t have to wait long.

“They kept me in here and ran up my bill for over nine hours and all they can tell me is to take some freakin Advil?” Conrad began. “I’ve been TAKING the freakin’ Advil and that doesn’t seem to have helped much, does it?”

Freddie fought the urge to answer, knowing that this was a rhetorical question.

“These nitwits scare the hell out of me, suck my blood out a vial at a time, don’t do anything for me, and then tell me I can’t go to Galaxy Burger when it’s all over!”

“If you have a pinched nerve, I can get you in with my chiropractor tomorrow,” Freddie said. “I’ve taken a few nasty spills and he really helped me out.”

“I should have gone to you for medical advice,” Conrad said. “That’s the most constructive thing I’ve heard since I got here. There might be somebody who would actually do something! What a concept!”

When Conrad had finished venting, the nurse came in to discharge him. Along with her instructions, she game him a copy of the hospital’s recommended low-cholesterol diet plan. Freddie then walked with Conrad out to the parking lot.

“Are you sure you’re ok to drive, buddy?” Freddie asked.

“Yeah, I can at least make it back to campus,” Conrad assured him.

“I’ll follow you,” Freddie said.

“Sure, whatever,” Conrad replied as he settled into the drivers seat of his Toyota Tercell.

Once they were back in their suite, Freddie flipped on the television to catch the Redskins-Rams game while Conrad staggered into his room and reprised his collapse into bed. This one took better than the one last night, as his sleep-deprived body finally gave in to exhaustion. He slept until the early evening, got up long enough to nibble at some pizza that Freddie had ordered in, then went back to bed and slept through the night.

When Conrad woke up on Monday morning, there was a note from Freddie, who had already headed out to an early class. He had an appointment at 11:30 with Dr. Smithson, a Midville chiropractor. Where doctors let you down, Conrad thought, friends step in to pick you up.

Dr. Smithson spent a few moments feeling around the back of Conrad’s neck while he laid face down on the examining table. “Yep, right here. I don’t think this nerve is pinched, but it’s severely aggravated. This hurts when I press down, doesn’t it?”

“Owww!” Conrad involuntary screeched.

“I’ll take that for a yes,” Dr. Smithson said. “Let’s get to work on it.”

The doctor proceeded to attach several electronic stimulus wires to Conrad’s neck and upper back, then fiddled with settings on the machine they were hooked into.

“We’ll leave you hooked up for about ten minutes and see how you do,” the doctor said as he stepped out of the treatment room, closing the door behind him.

Within moments, Conrad felt something he had not experienced in days-relief from the stabbing pain in his shoulder. It was still there, but had already approached tolerable levels. After the ten minute period had passed, Dr. Smithson reentered the room and asked Conrad how he felt.

“It’s amazing, doctor,” Conrad replied enthusiastically. “It’s still sore, but I can notice a significant reduction in the pain.”

“Good,” Dr. Smithson said, apparently not at all surprised. “That’s all we should do for today. Can you come back in tomorrow?”

“Hell yes!” Conrad said. “I’ll do this as long as I need to.”

“Good. My secretary will set up a time for you. We’ll probably need to do this up through Friday, then we can reassess. By the way, be careful how you use that arm. The best thing is to use it as little as possible for the next few days. Can you lift it up?”

Conrad, still lying down on the table, noticed he couldn’t even bring it up to the height of the table, much less raise it above his head. “No, I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Not to worry,” the doctor assured him. “There’s likely been some nerve damage. You’ll have to work to regain the movement and strength in the arm after we’ve healed it up a bit.”

“I can live with that, doctor, as long as the pain is manageable and I can get some sleep,” Conrad replied.

“You should see steady improvement in that, starting tonight,” Dr. Smithson said.

“Great,” Conrad said, filled with relief. “Thanks a lot for your help.”

“My pleasure,” the doctor said as he again left the room and closed the door.

Conrad returned to his suite and took a nap, the most restful sleep he had enjoyed in a week. He set his alarm to wake him up around suppertime. At the scheduled time, he arose and, while carefully protecting his still tender shoulder, took a badly needed shower. Feeling refreshed, he threw on some sweats and entered the living area.

He didn’t think much could surprise him any more, but he was taken aback with what he saw when he headed toward the kitchen. There was Freddie wearing an apron and a chef’s hat, both adorned with his official logo. He was baking some chicken in the stove. Before then, Conrad didn’t know for sure that the stove actually worked. On the burners sat two pots, one with carrots, the other with green beans. Conrad stood and took the scene in for a moment, at once both amused and touched that Freddie would go to this trouble for him.

“Hey Freddie, what’s going on,” Conrad asked with a smile. “Is the Queen of England coming for dinner?”

Freddie chuckled and turned toward Conrad. “No,” he replied with a smile, “just the King of Farnsworth sports. Glad you’re up and around. I guess my man did some good work on you.”

“Oh boy, he sure did,” Conrad enthusiastically responded. “I feel a lot better.
You didn’t have to go to all that trouble cooking dinner, man. Thanks.”

“Happy to do it, buddy,” Freddie said. “You’ve got to get that cholesterol down so you don’t go from the emergency room to the cardiac wing.”

“I just hope they don’t close down the Galaxy Burger in the student union as a result,” Conrad said.

“I’m sure it’ll still be there,” Freddie said. “They just won’t be able to give bonuses to the employees now.”

“Yeah, they’ll have to find someone else’s orders to mess up,” Conrad added. “I do have a wicked headache, though, probably because I haven’t had any caffeine in a day and a half. Let me reach around you here and grab a Diet Coke.”

Freddie moved over to allow Conrad to open the refrigerator.

“Hey, where’s my case of Diet Coke?” Conrad asked.

“I dumped them out,” Freddie said calmly. “Remember, the doctor said you couldn’t have any caffeine.”

“I know that, but I just need something to take the edge off,” Conrad said.

“Nope,” Freddie said. “No means no.”

“Aw come on, man! I need some caffeine,” Conrad whined.

“No, Conrad,” Freddie insisted. “Remember, you said you were going to quit feeling like a victim.”

“I’m going to make you feel like a victim if I don’t get some caffeine!” Conrad said.

Suddenly, he lifted Freddie up and threw him up against the wall, grabbing him firmly beneath each armpit, ignoring the pain running down his left arm.

“Where’s my Diet Coke, you overgrown rodent,” Conrad said through gritted teeth, shaking Freddie as he spoke.

Before he knew what had happened, Conrad found himself lying face first on the floor with Freddie on top of him with a knee buried in Conrad’s back, twisting his right arm behind him.

“Damn, Freddie, how’d you do that?” Conrad asked in amazement through gritted teeth.

“I wind up in a lot of places where they might not look so kindly on a guy wearing a ferret suit,” Freddie said. “I had to either learn how to defend myself or rest in pieces. By the way, I know 15 different ways to kill you from this position. I thought you might want to know that.”

“That is very interesting,” Conrad agreed. “Thanks for sharing that.”

“Now, I hope I have motivated you to apologize for the ‘overgrown rodent’ remark you just made,” Freddie said evenly.

“Highly motivated, my friend,” Conrad replied enthusiastically. “Highly motivated. I am truly sorry for losing it, Freddie. Please accept my sincere apology.”

Before Freddie responded, Junior burst through the trap door from Freddie’s room, not wanting to miss any of the action. He positioned himself in front of Conrad, still prone on the floor, and began chewing on his nose.

“Well,” Freddie said, “if Junior’s cool with it, so am I.” Freddie took his knee off of Conrad’s back and released his arm. He then lent a hand as Conrad slowly staggered to his feet.

“By the way,” Freddie added, “did you notice that I did not twist your bad arm?”

“Mighty decent of you,” Conrad said. “Hey, I’m really sorry for calling you a rodent and throwing you up against the wall”

“You called me an overgrown rodent,” Freddie corrected him. “I resented that because I work hard to stay in shape.”

“You look lovely,” Conrad said. “Can we sit down and enjoy the nice dinner you were kind enough to make?”

“Even without caffeine?” Freddie asked.

“Well, I guess I need to get used to it,” Conrad said, “so yeah, I’ll just have some water.”

Freddie reached in the refrigerator, pulled out a bottle of spring water, and handed it to Conrad.

“Thanks,” Conrad said. “You’ll make someone a wonderful wife someday.”

“Yeah,” Freddie said, “don’t you wish you could have some of this fur for yourself.”

“There’s a mental image I’ll spend the rest of the night trying to get out of my head,” Conrad said as they sat down to eat a peaceful dinner.

After dinner, Freddie handed Conrad an envelope. “Gretchen called me this afternoon and asked me to give this to you,” Freddie said.

Opening the envelope, Conrad found a copy of a page from Sports Illustrated. It was from an advance of the issue coming out the following weekend, a page from their front section, called “Scorecard.” The magazine included several short noteworthy items, and one of this issue’s carried the heading “Scoreless.”

“Oh holy crap,” Conrad said ruefully as he read the item, slowly annunciating each word. “We are officially an item of curiosity on our way to becoming a laughing stock.”

“You mean Farnsworth got mentioned in Sports Illustrated?” Freddie asked with amazement.

“Yep,” Conrad replied. “They did a short piece on our now infamous water polo team.”

“That can’t be good,” Freddie said.

“No, it isn’t,” Conrad said. “They pointed out that not only have we not come close to winning a game this season, we haven’t even scored a goal.”

“Well,” Freddie added, “at least they got their facts right.”

“They closed with a cheap shot I don’t think you’ll care for,” Conrad added. “To quote, they wrote ‘apparently, Ferrets aren’t very good swimmers.”

“Those bastards!” Freddie said contemptuously.

“We can expect to get some press coverage for our next game because of this,” Conrad said. “If the streak continues, it will just build up over for the last two games.”

“Yeah, and without a sports information director, that’ll fall onto you to coordinate it, won’t it?” Freddie asked.

“Yep,” Conrad replied with resignation. “I needed this like I needed another freakin’ hole in my head.”

Conrad began to eat the meal that Freddie had served up while they were talking. “This is great, Freddie! The chicken is moist and very pleasantly seasoned. How did you get to be such a good cook?”

“Well,” Freddie said, “you’d be amazed at how ladies love a man that can function well in the kitchen. It’s a skill that I practiced and that’s come in very handy.”

“You furry gigolo,” Conrad said. “You know, the last time a woman fixed me a nice sit down meal, I had to sleep with her. I’m assuming that’s not part of the deal here, right?”

“You’re a nice guy and all that,” Freddie said, “but I’m afraid things might get weird between us afterward.”

Conrad stroked his goatee and nodded. “Good point, my friend. We wouldn’t want things to get weird around here, would we? So, what’s for dessert?”

“You are a greedy little bastard, aren’t you?” Freddie asked. “This is it pal.”

“Oh, you’re such a tease,” Conrad said with mock disgust. “Hey, wasn’t today the reading of Father Ferret’s will?”

“Yes it was,” Freddie replied.

“So whatcha get, whatcha get?” Conrad asked.

“A horse,” Freddie answered.

“Aw, that’s sweet, the little ferret boy got a horsie,” Conrad said in baby talk. “No, really, what did he leave you?”

“A horse,” Freddie reiterated. “A race horse.”

“Really?” Conrad said with astonishment. “Wow, how cool is that?”

“It could be pretty cool,” Freddie agreed. “He’s stabled at Happy Trails Racetrack, you know, about 30 minutes from here. He’s running a race next week and I was wondering if you’d like to go with me and check him out.”

“Would I?” Conrad shrieked. “Of course I would. Just remind me to leave my credit cards here. If I remember correctly, they’ve got slot machines there and, well, I’ve got a bit of a problem in that environment.”

“Sure thing,” Freddie said.

“Oh, by the way, what’s the horse’s name?” Conrad asked.

“Ferret Face,” Freddie replied.

“Perfect,” Conrad said with an approving nod.


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