edited by: Bonnie, Kimberly, and Melanie
I hate this city.
Cascade is cold and wet and altogether icky in the wintertime. It was raining when we arrived, a painfully cold rain that turns your skin to ice on impact and always manages to go down the back of your neck past your overcoat, and the company had to send us here in February. Happy New Year, my Aunt Martha's fruitcake. This place didn't win any candy hearts, either.
So much for first impressions.
As soon as this assignment came in, Nick called and let me know; he's dating one of the secretaries in the main office so he finds everything out a few days ahead of time. I took full advantage and had headed down to the town library to check up on the city of Cascade, WA. It's an impressively-sized port city, north of Seattle, less than thirty miles from the Canadian border. Their police force has a great record, which is even more impressive, considering the staggeringly high crime rate. According to the newspaper articles, bombers, terrorists, serial killers, and hit men had appeared in the city at some point, and I'd only read scattered lead headlines from the past few years.
The news didn't exactly fill me with joy.
We'd actually flown in yesterday, and had met at our company-chosen hotel. Rick had one car, Laura the other, and the rest of us took taxis. The hotel wasn't bad but it didn't exactly qualify as really good, either. Seven people, two rooms. In our opinion, we needed a hotel that had room service and decent phone lines for modem access; anything beyond that was gravy. Most of the time, we were lucky to have housekeeping service. In Atlanta, we'd stayed at a truly atrocious motel... and swore we'd never stay there again. Here, our phone lines were so-so, but we had a fantastic room service menu from six local restaurants. As a last resort, there's a Wonderburger down the street, which advertises late-night service. But all things considered, the hotel didn't exactly fill me with joy, either.
At least, this time, I know most of the people on the film crew. There's nothing worse than being stuck in a strange city in a strange hospital having to work in close quarters and correlating your work with a bunch of total strangers. When you're working in film, you work with total strangers ninety-nine percent of the time, especially when you're crew for Trauma Room. Our job is simple: go into a hospital's emergency room, observe and record the proceedings, conduct interviews of the staff, and don't get involved in the action. Rick Vasquez, Julie Watson, and I would handle the actual E-R duties. Nick Fiely and Geoff Adams would ride with the paramedics, giving us tape of the accident scenes. Laura Williams would head out into the city and play tourist, so that we could show a little bit of what the city was like when you weren't seeing it from the back of an ambulance; she's from Seattle, so she probably knows all the best spots. Chandra Jefferson would handle legal compliance duties, making sure that everyone we interviewed had signed the right forms so that later the company didn't come down on our heads like the sword of Damocles.
That was the plan. Rick had told me that everything would be fine, but I knew from long experience not to believe anything he told me.
Wearing our custom-made fanny packs, designed to carry film and batteries as well as some money and identification, and our arms loaded down with film, papers, and other tools of the trade, we met up outside Cascade General's Emergency Room. After a seemingly interminable meeting with the hospital administrator -- a windbag named James Emerson Wheatley, in which he lived up to all three names -- we got down to business. He'd gone on and on and on endlessly so that I almost hoped for a huge multi-car accident just so he'd have to shut up. At any rate, I certainly hope he's not a practicing doctor; my vivid imagination could just picture a malpractice suit where the patient dies from utter boredom.
From what little I'd seen so far, Cascade General had a nice setup: a big roomy ER, kinda cold but more spacious than lots of others we've worked; really nice waiting rooms; and all the wards you come to expect in a busy urban hospital. Clearly there was plenty of old money involved in keeping the place above the undertow of the dreaded HMOs. They even offered us the use of their locker rooms, so we could store away our used film and our winter coats; that meant we didn't have to put all our available film for the shift in our packs. Without a doubt, this place was a far cry from New Saint A's, my local hometown hospital. It's little more than a band-aid station; if you're unlucky enough to actually have a trauma involving anything more dangerous than a broken arm, you'll be transported by air to one of the big medical centers in Keene.
Ahead of me, I could see a group of medical personnel gathered near the main desk, doctors and nurses in assorted quantities, and hoped that my assigned doctor was among them. Hopefully, this wouldn't be like the Phoenix fiasco at Good Sam's where the doctor I was supposed to trail had taken a personal day, apparently suffering from a case of stage fright. Spending the next seventy-two hours bouncing from doctor to nurse to medical student like a bee trapped in a pinball machine isn't my idea of a good time. Reaching the myriad of medical personnel -- a groaning of grad students, a drove of doctors, a nuisance of nurses -- I decided to take the offensive. "I'm looking for Doctor Linda Cunningham."
Off to the right, a tall woman with light brown hair raised one hand slightly in greeting. "That would be me." A smile graced her lips for a moment. "I assume you're...."
"Anne Sedgewick, ma'am, with Trauma Room. I'm your shadow for the next few hours." That brought a laugh from the woman, which I was glad to hear. If she had a good outlook on this whole thing, then this whole experience would be far more interesting and it would pass much faster.
"What should I call you?"
"Call me 'Annie', most people do, but I'll respond to pretty much anything." I followed the comment with what I hoped was a quirky grin. We started walking toward a sunny hallway, where I could ask some questions but where we'd still be reasonably close. One of the doctors in Nashville hadn't been able to remember my name, so I'd answered to 'Shadow' for three days. It made a better nickname than 'Hey You', which was what he'd called Rick over those same three days. Actually, 'Annie' wasn't too bad, considering my middle name was Elizabeth. Anne E., see? So it worked, as far as I was concerned.
Doctor Cunningham grinned back in response, and I felt much better to see that. Still, the time to interview had arrived and it would be best to get as much of it done as I could before a case rolled in here. After getting her in position, where the lens could get some natural light from the window without catching a glare and where I had a smudge of fuzzy ER in the background, I began with the standard questions. "Tell me a little about yourself."
She hemmed and hawed for a moment, chewing on her lower lip, but I could see that this was just plain old nervousness. "Doctor Linda Cunningham, I'm a third-year resident in Cascade General's Emergency Room."
"Are you from this city originally?"
Doctor Cunningham smiled again; good, she was getting more relaxed in front of the camera. Once the code for a new patient went off, chances were she wouldn't even notice I was there, but I wanted her to act as normally as possible. This is reality-tv, after all. "No," she answered, "I'm from Seattle, actually, but I came up here because this hospital has a good program. All things considered, Cascade is a nice city... so long as you don't ruin your vacation with an unexpected visit back in this joint." She punctuated her sentence with a sharp gesture backwards with an outstretched thumb indicating the ER behind us.
That made me laugh. "Hey, I'm supposed to be narrating this interview." That made her laugh, and the camera loved her. "What made you decide on Emergency Medicine?"
"This is going to make me sound like a commercial, and a cliched commercial at that, but I really do want to help people." She was quiet for a moment. "About three years ago, my mother and sister were in a car accident. They weren't hurt too badly, thank God, but because their car went into a ditch in the middle of nowhere with no medical help for miles and miles in any direction, they had to be airlifted to a hospital where they could be checked over for injuries." I understood intimately what she was saying; when one of my uncles had suffered a heart attack some months ago, he'd been airlifted to a decent hospital for treatment. Probably the only thing that saved his life was that a nurse happened to be in the restaurant eating lunch when he collapsed. "If they'd been badly hurt, well, it could have been a while before help got to them," she continued, "and I want to make sure that there are plenty of medical personnel available when people need them."
"So you might head out to some under-served area, when you finish your residency?"
"Maybe. I've always liked the mountains, and being a country doctor doesn't sound that bad." Doctor Cunningham smiled in a reminiscent sort of way, like she was thinking of some out-of-the- way spot that contained particularly happy memories. "First things first, though. I'd like to get into surgery or maybe orthopedics, but right now I'm happy doing what I'm doing."
"What sort of cases might you see on a typical day at Cascade General's ER?"
"Pretty much the same as most other busy urban hospitals these days. Shootings, motor vehicle accidents, overdoses, domestic injuries, the average injuries of life." I made a quick mental note about that phrase; it sounded like something the editors might want to use as a sound bite. "Luckily, we're not the only hospital in town, but--"
A sharp tone rang out and echoed, and even though it wasn't familiar to me, I was able to immediately recognize its significance, based on the reactions it created. It was a trauma code, announcing the arrival of a patient to the emergency room, and I ran hot on the heels of Doctor Cunningham to the main arrival bay where the treatment rooms were located. Someone passed me in a big hurry -- which caught my attention as strange, since I naturally figured people would be running to the bay rather than away from it -- but I recognized Administrator Wheatley, fleeing the building, heading toward the double doors to the outside world.
I followed Doctor Cunningham inside Room 2, and watched her gown up, greeting three nurses, another doctor, and three medical students in preparation for the fast-approaching ambulance. Sure, they were gowned and masked just like everybody else, but I knew they had to be medical students. Not only had their lab-coat pockets been loaded down with everything your successful third-year medical student could possibly need -- from vision acuity charts to the Essential Principles Handbook of Trauma Medicine to battered out-of-date file cards -- but each carried a pocket notebook and at least five pens. That was the clincher. No resident on the ward carried a pen; why bother when you could always filch one from a student?
"Anyone know what we have?" she asked. All business now, I noticed.
As soon as the paramedics brought the gurney through the doorway, everything began to happen at once. Doctors, nurses, and third or fourth-year medical students swarming like bees around the hapless woman, doing all kinds of things simultaneously in seeming chaos in a long- standing pattern of medical aid. One person checks the patient's airway and determines respiration, while someone else checks for pulses in all the relevant spots. Everyone's asking questions and talking to the patient as well as to each other. If they weren't able to follow the many conversations simultaneously while keeping all their respective findings straight, there would be madness. Everything happening served a purpose. For example, a patient arriving with a near-amputation of a leg would have his pulses checked both at the throat and/or the wrist, but also the 'pedal pulse' behind the knee if at all possible, to determine whether or not the partially separated portion is still receiving blood flow. Depending on the injuries, the patient might be checked for spinal or extremity fractures. I could see that our first patient was an attractive middle-aged woman, her immaculate coif and dress somewhat disheveled by lines, monitors, and an oxygen mask. She was clearly very distraught, sobbing noisily, black lines of mascara trailing down the edges of her nose and red coloring nibbled away on her lower lip.
"What do we have?" Cunningham directed her question at the attending paramedic.
"Forty-five year old female with a syncopal episode, probably neurogenic shock. LOC was three minutes, woke up fifteen minutes ago," he answered. "Complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath, looks like a possible panic attack." His expression was torn between emotions. "Pulse of 118 and regular, resps 28 labored, BP 138/90. Patient reports being in good health."
She mulled this over for a brief moment. "Karen, call up cardiology and let them know, they might want to come down and check her if we find anything untoward." Most of the rest of her orders I didn't understand, but the upshot was that she wanted some blood drawn and sent to the lab to check the amount of oxygenation in her bloodstream. The patient would be sent upstairs for observation, since the cardiac monitor seemed to be indicating that everything was fine and dandy, and that this aberrant incident was simply a panic attack. Still, when the problem was potentially deadly, caution is the watchword.
Before he could make good his escape, I managed to corral the paramedic who had accompanied the patient into the trauma room. "So," I said, "what happened?" This sort of information can be real helpful by giving the viewer a context, and professionally by aiding us in matching up my trauma room footage to the appropriate paramedic footage, if any. Doctor Cunningham was on the phone, discussing something or other with one of the muckety-mucks upstairs.
The paramedic allowed a very small smile to fleetingly cross his face. "She bought her brother a classic car for his birthday, a real expensive car, but found it had been vandalized." He paused. "It's kind of rotten, actually, but the car was already on blocks when it was wrecked. Apparently she was just overcome with the shock of it all."
"She bought her brother a car he couldn't drive?" Now, I was shocked. Who would buy a car that's undriveable, classic or not?
"Sure did, and here's the kicker: the brother is the administrator of this very place." I let the paramedic escape, probably to the great relief of his partner, stuck cleaning the back of their transport. So this lady was Wheatley's sister.
Huh. Small world.
I hurried to catch up with Doctor Cunningham, who was still on the phone with cardiology. Apparently, there was some disagreement as to whether observation was necessary in this case; if it was really just a panic attack as all the symptoms indicated, why should she have to be admitted, asked the cardiologist. At least, that's what I imagined he or she was saying. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise: a lot of what goes on behind the scenes of hospitals is turf battling and political maneuvering.
Most people also think that just because we run around after doctors and nurses all the time means that we always completely understand everything they say. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Oh, sure, we do some basic medical research so that we can ask intelligent questions and know basically what's going on with a patient and what sort of general complications might be possible. Most of the time, though, it gets so we tune out most of it as it's happening because we're too busy making sure that the action stays in our viewfinder and that the film doesn't run out at a critical moment. If we need to ask questions later and qualify what something is or what something means, we can do that; after all, we'll have plenty of time after filming, but the patient needs the doctor's full attention right at that minute. The last thing any of us want to do is distract the doctor from what he or she is doing.
When Cunningham hung up the phone, I was waiting for her. "What's going to happen now?"
"Observation for a while to see if any fluctuations in her heart rate develop. When the labs come back, that might give us more clues. Right now, though, it seems Mrs. Ashton had a panic attack and passed out." She smiled at me. "I imagine, assuming that all her tests come back normal, that she'll be fine and will leave the hospital in a few hours. If something pops up, though, then we'll have to run more tests and keep her to find out what's wrong."
A trip in the elevator and a short walk took us to cardiology, where we found Mrs. Ashton, now clad in a flowery hospital gown, lying on a hospital gurney, attached to several leads and television-like monitors. She looked distinctly cross about the whole thing as well as somewhat embarrassed. That's understandable; held up at the hospital because you fainted is hardly something to be proud of.
Doctor Cunningham began quietly explaining to her what was going on right now, and why the monitors were attached. Even I could see the patient's face pale a bit when she was told that, because she initially presented as a possible heart attack, they were taking precautions just in case first impressions had been correct. In my opinion, the hospital was correct to be cautious. First heart attacks are frequently very small and often go unnoticed, so better safe than sorry.
I turned as the door opened to see who was joining us. Two men, one tall and nicely verging on middle-age with bright blue eyes and short hair followed by one short and young with long curly hair that I'd give my eyeteeth for, walked inside the room, giving us all the once-over as they did so. The tall one -- Mr. Buffed -- did a very discreet double take when he saw me and my camera, which is pretty normal, but the short one -- Mr. Gorgeous -- didn't react to me at all except to nudge his companion slightly in the ribs.
"Mrs. Ashton," the tall one said, "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade PD, Major Crime." He gestured almost carelessly with one hand toward his cohort. "This is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We'd like to ask you a few brief questions if we may." That said, he glanced at Doctor Cunningham, clearly knowing that her permission might be required before they could so much as breathe on a patient. Detective Gorgeous smiled gently. I bet he's a charmer.
"Nice to see you upright, Detective Sandburg. I trust you've been staying away from lead mugs?" She smiled at Detective Gorgeous -- who blushed and nodded cutely at her comment -- before glancing at her patient and making a decision. "If she's willing to talk to you, then I'll allow it but for a few minutes only. Anything else will have to wait until later."
The two detectives glanced at each other, and I could tell they'd probably been partnered for some time. They were able to speak with each other with just looks because they were on the same wavelength, just like the sort of partners you find on television. Hopefully, they'd show up a few more times so I could catch them on tape again. The camera eye loved them. "That would be fine, thank you."
Even though the camera eye remained focused on Cunningham, my attention stayed on the detectives. Call it inquisitiveness, call it curiosity, call it eavesdropping, but my highly developed journalistic instincts told me something was going on around here. The detectives were definitely working on a case, and if they were from Major Crime, then it had to be something big. They questioned Mrs. Ashton very carefully, leading her back and forth over the events that had led up to her hospitalization. After hearing her admit that she'd had an odd sense of being watched, the detectives shared a small glance before returning to the questioning.
I followed the doctor over to another part of the room, where we spent the next ten minutes examining the results so far. As far as I could tell, everything was just peachy with Mrs. Ashton except for the condition of the car for which she'd just paid far too much money. Not long after that revelation, I hurriedly inserted a new tape into the camcorder, tagging and secreting the full one into my pack. Tagging was necessary so I wouldn't accidentally tape over footage I'd already shot. The process also allows me to put the rolls in some kind of chronological order, which will aid us as well as the editors.
Some new facts came out, regarding the incident that had brought the woman to Cascade General. It seemed that Administrator Wheatley and his family had been plagued with bad luck over the past few days. His house, right in the middle of some extensive remodeling all the way down to the wood, was severely vandalized a few days ago with some of the new woodwork having been hacked to bits. I cringed a bit, hearing that, since -- coming from a family of woodworkers, having watched my dad toil over a lathe to get just one piece finished just so -- I know how long quality woodworking can take... and how much it can cost. A couple days before that, all four of his car's tires were slashed, and now this. Sure, it was just vandalism but that was pretty violent vandalism.
"I don't know why I'm surprised," commented Detective Gorgeous. His voice was pitched so low that I could barely make out the words. "After all, this kind of thing is just what I've come to expect of Cascade. Two serial killers in every garage and a spirit guide in every pot."
That made no sense to me whatsoever. However, his partner seemed to understand it, cuffing the younger detective gently on the side of the head. With that affectionate gesture, I realized that they were not only partners but also good friends. All in all, I felt oddly safe.
"It's the most dangerous city in America, remember?"
So much for feeling safe.
There was more to Cascade than met the lens, and there's also something weird going on here. To me, it sounded awfully like someone had a serious argument with Wheatley about something. By now, the doctor was shooting both detectives serious looks, indicating very explicitly that they'd better wrap this up right now. After both lovely men were shooed out the door, I picked up my tongue and followed Doctor Cunningham out of the room.
She was heading upstairs to do some rounds, but I had to get some tape of these two, hopefully with them telling me what was happening. "Doctor, I'll meet you right upstairs. I just have to get some closure on tape."
"That's fine." She nodded her head in serene approval but her eyes twinkled mischievously. "I'll be reviewing the charts at the front desk, Fourth Floor West."
"I'll be there in five or ten minutes." As soon as Doctor Cunningham disappeared around the corner, I hurried on the detectives' trail. One of Geoff's hobbies is small-scale electronics, the smaller the better, and he'd given me one of his newest creations the day we'd arrived in Cascade. If I wanted to plant the tiny battery-powered microphone, then I had to do it before they left the hospital.
There they were, up ahead, and I could see them talking amiably as they walked. Shortly before I reached them, Ellison lightly tapped the back of his partner's head in a cuffing gesture. Seeing it pleased me, probably because it just added more evidence to their status as television- heroes. "Detectives, just a moment, please!"
Both of them plastered smiles on their faces before turning to face me, but I had seen their frustration at being caught by someone with a camera. "Yes?" Ellison asked. There was a slight -- well, somewhat more than slight -- edge to his voice, and I got the definite feeling that he was not comfortable being in my sights.
"My name is Annie Sedgewick, from Trauma Room. I understand that you're investigating the events that brought Mrs. Ashton to the Emergency Room."
He nodded but said nothing more. His partner wasn't saying anything either.
I brought my focus in on them a bit tighter. "Can you give me any details regarding the scene, anything that would give me some background for her footage?" That really didn't come out right. "The more information we have, the happier our editors are."
Damn. Can't say I'm surprised, though. "That's okay, I do understand the bind you're in." I lowered the camera a bit, getting my right hand free to reach out to Detective Gorgeous. "Thanks for talking to me at all." He looked a bit startled, but shook my hand cheerfully, giving me a great smile. I offered my hand to Ellison next, and he also had a reasonably pleasant look on his face. Hmm. Nice grip. Maybe they'd had bad experiences with the press in the past; it's not uncommon for cops, and being in a high-profile department like Major Crime, I imagine it happens fairly frequently.
Looping around Ellison, I put my right hand in my pocket, fingering the tiny bug. Pulling it out, I did my best to conceal it in my hand. As I passed them, I knew just what to do and it went off without a hitch. The mike went into the back pocket of his partner's pants, and just so he wouldn't suspect anything, I delivered a pinch right on that nicely formed muscle.
Times like this, I really do love my work. Of course, I would never use such illegally obtained information for purposes of publication but only for purposes of education and clarification as to the investigation. And a certain portion of personal satisfaction, too.
He yelped and jumped back, but I just gave him what I hoped was a mischievous and satiated smile and prayed he'd take it as a compliment. Please, God, don't let him arrest me. Gorgeous looked like a deer caught in headlights but his tall buff partner looked like he wanted to laugh himself sick.
Neither made a move towards their handcuffs, so I hurried off to catch up with Doctor Cunningham. While I made my way down the corridor, I fished the earpiece out of my pocket, inserted it, and hit the remote to listen.
"Jim, that girl just pinched my butt!"
A muffled snicker. "What do you want to do, Chief, bring her up on charges for assaulting an officer?"
"Well, no, of course not, but--" Thank God for that.
A louder snicker.
"Jim! Man, I can't believe you--"
"You should have seen your face."
"Yeah, well, I think I'm going to find bruises there in the morning. Don't you dare laugh."
"I wasn't laughing." Well, his voice sounded pretty suspicious to me. "We have to go over what we found at the car... it had a smell like fertilizer with an almost flowery hint. We'd better see what else forensics has come up with, something to add to what we already know."
"We might want to talk to Doctor Wheatley again. You said it sounded like he was lying about something." Wheatley? Why would he destroy his own car?
Just when things started to get interesting, I spotted Doctor Cunningham waiting patiently for me. Punching the remote off, I waved to her. She met me with a knowing smile on her face.
"Did you get Detective Sandburg's phone number?"
I've never turned so red in my life. She laughed, and I turned my camera back on, checking the focus and remaining tape length in an effort to not blush any redder. A faint shrug was all I could answer her with, and she patted my shoulder. We headed into the ward to visit some patients.
Most of what we saw wasn't anything to write home about but they were a real variety, just like she'd said. One young man with a gunshot wound, several people of various ages and with varying degrees of injury caused by motor vehicle accidents, two cancer patients, and one young boy with a head injury caused by a sledding accident. From what she'd told me, his sled had gotten out of control and flew headlong into an oncoming car. Everyone seemed to be progressing fairly nicely with a few exceptions. The gunshot wound was to the abdomen, so he was at large risk for infection and other complications. They were worried one of the MVA victims might lose some function in her left arm, but they were very concerned about cancer patient number one and the little boy.
Technically, none of them are really her patients anymore, but everybody likes closure, especially when it's an especially difficult or otherwise painful case. Doctors are human, too; they like to find out how this or that patient fared. We headed back downstairs to wait, but less than thirty minutes passed. We spent that time updating charts and completing other paperwork. What fun! There wasn't any conversation, so I took the opportunity to listen to my favorite detectives.
"--How long have these letters been coming?" That was definitely Ellison's voice.
"For the past three weeks." Wheatley's voice. "I thought they were just some delinquent's idea of a joke. You know how children are these days, I'm sure."
"What kind of things have the letters said?" Sandburg.
"Ridiculous things, mostly." A sniff, probably disgust or frustration from Wheatley. "Threatening to kill me, accusations of murder. Honestly! I'm a doctor; I wouldn't kill anybody!"
A pause for a few moments. The detectives must be trying to gather their thoughts and decide what direction to take the questioning. "But you've had patients die, haven't you, Doctor?" Ellison again.
"Of course. Unfortunately, every doctor -- except perhaps radiologists and dermatologists -- have had patients die on occasion. I'm no exception. What exactly are you implying, Detective?"
"I'm not implying anything, but it is possible that the family of a deceased patient might consider you responsible for their loved one's death."
The conversation lulled for a few more moments. Wheatley spoke, hesitantly. "Well, yes. I suppose that's possible."
Another pause. I could almost see, in my mind's eye, Ellison and Sandburg trading looks in unison. "In the past, have charges of negligence ever been made against the hospital regarding a patient's death or injury? Or have charges been made against any personnel in particular?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because that's where we should start looking... before our letter-writer tries to bring one of his fictions into the Real World."
So there was a mystery here. But it had to wait when one of the receptionists called on us with a patient.
It seemed an elderly white-haired man, perhaps seventy or seventy-five years old, had walked into the ER of his own accord and asked to see a doctor about an itchy rash on his leg. After a quick examination to make sure nothing else was wrong, Doctor Cunningham set to checking out the prickly redness on the man's left shin. "Mister Woods, can you tell me how long you've had this rash?"
His face pinking, he shifted uncomfortably on the paper covering of the gurney. "It might have been there yesterday, but I really noticed it this morning. The itching was terrible, and when it kept getting worse, I figured I'd better come here."
Palpating the rash gently with a gloved hand, she seemed to already have a good guess as to what was wrong. Whatever it was, I didn't want to be anywhere nearby so I was making use of the zoom feature of the camera. The rash formed a series of reddish pimples in lines on the skin, and I could see the tracks of his fingernails where he'd been maddeningly scratching. She prepared a small sample of affected skin before standing upright. "I won't be absolutely certain until the results come back from the lab," she began, compassion in her eyes, "but I'm fairly certain that your rash is called scabies. It's an infestation of an itch mite, but don't worry, it's completely treatable."
"You're sure?" I didn't blame him for being upset. Any sort of parasite is bad news.
"Yes, I'm sure." Doctor Cunningham spread some white cream on the affected skin and all around the area before stripping off her gloves and throwing them into the biohazard bin. She then scribbled something vaguely legible on an Rx pad and handed it to him. "Here's a prescription for the cream I just used. Make sure you use it just as the instructions say. I don't think you need to stay overnight or anything, and if you'd like to call back tomorrow or the next day, just to confirm the lab tests, that shouldn't be a problem."
"Should I wash my sheets as soon as I get home to kill them all?" Killing them all seemed like a great idea to me, but I held my tongue.
While crossing to the sink and washing her hands, she thought on that for a moment. "No, mites don't usually spread that way but, if it makes you feel better, it couldn't hurt."
"I will." So would I. Just thinking about little bugs skittering around under my skin made my stomach turn over and my aforementioned skin crawl.
We left the man in peace so he could get dressed, and I caught myself looking longingly in the direction of the sink as we exited. The next chance I got, a few minutes later, I hurriedly excused myself, ran to the ladies' room, and scrubbed my hands. It made absolutely no difference that I'd not laid a hand on him, but emotionally I simply had to do the deed.
Paranoia? Sure, but a little bit of hypochondria is normal once you've been doing this for a while. You see everything that can possibly go wrong in the human body, and either it begins to get to you or you simply stop worrying. After I watched Rick's footage last year about a woman who'd had a deer tick crawl into her ear while she was sleeping and get stuck after feeding, I was afraid to sleep for a week and a half.
Lunch is a big disappointment, but at least I can indulge in one of my obsessions when away from home. You have to understand, I'm from New England. Clam chowder to a New Englander is just as important as chili to a Texan. So, every city I visit must take the clam chowder electric Kool-Aid test to determine its score on the chowder-meter of life. Manhattan doesn't even rate, not with that dreck they call chowder; properly made, tomatoes are nowhere near the recipe. So far, the most inexplicable thing I've found is that a high-scale steak restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, makes a decent clam chowder. I was staggered.
My hopes were soundly dashed with the contents of the bowl I was given in the cafeteria. It was thin and watery with only mere specks of clam that I could count on one hand. At least no tomatoes dared to show their fat red faces near my chowder. I said as much to Doctor Cunningham.
"So you're the reason there are no tomatoes in my salad."
I shrugged. "What can I say? They fear me."
She said nothing, but I could see the amusement on her face. At least I thought it was amusement. For a vaguely rational conversation between two reasonable and educated adults, this lunch was becoming ever more surreal. I took a brief break and checked to see what my detectives were doing.
"--Missing from the supply room except for some pads of paper and a mouse pad." Ellison's voice.
"Someone must have been running low. But if that's the case, why do we need to speak with the head of pharmacy? You think someone's been filching from the stores?"
"Maybe. Or maybe adding something else." A pause. "We won't know until we get there, Chief."
"We should speak to the clerks, too."
"And why's that?"
"Little people usually know more than big people, especially when it comes to the trials of everyday life." I could see the younger detective peering up at his partner, mischief in those blue eyes. Such a lightly veiled insult would probably be rewarded with a mock fight or something. There was too much affection there for real fighting. A slapping sound came through the mike. "Jeez, you're cranky today."
"Haven't had my quota of cholesterol today."
"If that's your way of saying 'it's time for lunch'... then I'm all for it. I mean, look at the sky. So long as we don't have to go out there anytime soon, I'm good."
Looking out the windows, I could see that the cold Cascade rain had changed to colder Cascade snow. Wonderful. Then, everything went from bad to worse as Cunningham's pager sounded, calling us back to the trauma bay.
We had another one, and her tense expression told me it was bad. "What do we have, do we know?" It was hard to talk, running down halls and stairs in an effort to get back in time. The trek was made harder by the fact that I was trying to get it all on tape.
"MVA, a bad one. At least three victims, maybe more, in five by LifeFlight." Winter was the bane of emergency personnel everywhere, causing accidents left and right in the first few evil months of white-out and black ice. It's as if people suddenly forget how to drive in snow from the first fall to about mid-February. Despite the ten months of winter in Syracuse, New York -- located deep in the snow belt, optimistically called 'Arctic Circle South' by those of us who lived there year-round -- people are no smarter.
We hurried up to the roof and were joined by two more doctors and several nurses, among others, to await the medical helicopter in the cold nasty snow. Rick and his doctor were among them, and I spared him a brief smile. A little over five minutes later, a sharp thudding noise boomed across the roof, thundering like the fast heartbeat of an angry giant. People charged the helicopter, swarming over the incoming patients strapped to backboards and oxygen rebreathers like maddened army ants, shouting down and tearing up anyone in their path. Geoff stood in the middle of the maelstrom, filming from inside the chopper.
The flight paramedic was right there, yelling the history, as we trekked them as fast as we could toward warmth, safety, and health. Geoff had stayed behind to interview the other paramedic still with the helicopter, and he would probably grab this one when she headed back upstairs. "We brought the three worst injured, two more coming via ground. ETA, twenty minutes." She panted, her breath coming out in white puffs of smoke. "Number one is Mom, unrestrained driver, approximately thirty-five years old, with a left femur fracture possibly involving the knee." I focused my camera first on Mom's face, noticing her dark skin had a grayish cast to it, and trailed down her body, noting also the IVs and saline bags. Her left knee definitely did appear bloody and swollen, so I supposed it might be broken. Her left arm was also clearly broken as it was splinted. "Left arm is broken at the wrist. Some difficulty breathing, and complaining at scene of chest and belly pain." She then rattled off vital signs but I missed hearing them, thinking of what that might mean for her recovery. I could always check the tape later.
"Did she hit the steering wheel?"
"She didn't say, but it's likely. The wheel and probably the car frame on her side, judging from what the wreck looked like."
"How did the accident happen?"
"She and her family were heading up to Canada for a short vacation, but some kid out on a joyride nailed them. They weren't going real fast because of the roads, but the other driver must've been going sixty miles per hour easy." Her face showing her disgust, the paramedic used her hands to display what happened as we hurried along the hallways. "The family was going straight when the kid came around the corner." Her hands dived toward each other before parting in opposite directions. "Both cars swerved to avoid, but that and the icy road sent both vehicles careening into the side-ditches and into the trees on the roadside."
"The other driver?"
"A Code-F at the scene."
I swallowed. That meant the other driver had been pronounced dead at the scene. Dropping back, I made sure to get film of the other victims brought in on the copter, knowing now that they were all members of the same family. Second in line was a little girl, strapped to a backboard and crying. There was an awful lot of blood all over her face, but I couldn't see where it was coming from. The last in line was a teenager, her pretty face lacerated most likely by flying glass, and strapped to the backboard on her left side.
Passing Rick and getting a brief glimpse of him in my viewfinder -- he was getting more footage of the kids -- I ran back up to Doctor Cunningham just in time to hear her asking Mom about her children's allergies or medications. Mom was pretty woozy but managed to answer in the negative, so we moved back a bit to get the information on the other two patients.
"Number two is Dominique, unrestrained back seat passenger, nine years old. Some relatively minor lacerations to the face and right forearm, complaining of pain in both." The paramedic held her tongue while we wrestled the gurney around a particularly sharp corner. "She also lost a front tooth at the scene, with a significant blood loss." More vitals came that I missed, thinking this time about losing one's front tooth in a car accident. Probably better than losing one due to utter stupidity like I had when I was seven.
"Number three is Jennifer, big sister, restrained back seat passenger, seventeen years old. Lots of facial lacerations, plus complaining of dizziness and pain to torso and stomach. Also," she looked up, catching my attention in the viewfinder, "she thinks she's pregnant."
"God." Doctor Cunningham shook her head. "Do we know how far along she is?"
"She's not sure."
I saw Cunningham glance upwards, in all likelihood a silent plea for patience or help from above, and at this point I was ready to do the same. By now, we had arrived at the trauma bay where three rooms had been set up and waiting for us. It seemed to take forever to get back downstairs from the roof. "Call Ob-Gyn, and get someone down here who can do a sonogram. We need to check on Baby." I saw Rick waiting with Jennifer, asking her some questions about what happened, and keeping her calm. Good. She had to be scared to death.
Doctor Cunningham hurried to Mom's side to check her out, and I followed. So much was going on at once, and Mom still had to be told that she might be a grandmother. Everything was happening faster than I could keep track of it all; one minute things were so, but I glanced away for a split second and things had changed. People were racing around from room to room and out again, and Cunningham was calling for X-ray and to alert CT. Apparently, they were going to bring Dominique to CT just to make sure she hadn't been seriously hurt and just wasn't presenting any injury. While X-ray was seeing to Mom, Cunningham was arguing with someone in pediatrics, Rick was busily filming the progressing sonogram, so I decided to hang back a bit and get some film of the whole scene.
Into this swarm of chaos, an ambulance arrived carrying the remaining two victims of the MVA. Some uniformed cops poured in, doing whatever it is cops do. Detective Buffed flew by, one hand on a gurney, with a paramedic on either side; it looked like he'd been at the scene, and if he was there, his partner had to be somewhere nearby. I saw Nick follow the paramedics in, Julie joined him and I knew there was little to worry about with this mess as far as coverage was concerned. Their injuries were another story, so I eavesdropped shamelessly. Dad had suffered a few lacerations to his arms and was complaining of pain to his belly and chest. The paramedics had found him outside the car and had assumed he'd been thrown clear until he told them otherwise. Little brother had not been injured that they could see, but were taking all precautions just in case. Both of them had apparently avoided serious injury because both had been wearing their seatbelts.
The deceased driver had not been wearing a seatbelt. He'd also been speeding.
I sneaked in to ask Dominique a few questions on film, intending to take her mind off the frightening events that had interrupted her vacation, and found Detective Gorgeous holding her hand and talking soothingly to her. Nodding to him, I'm sure my approval showed on my face because he smiled in return. Tightly strapped down to a backboard from head to toe, the child was clutching a small teddy bear when I entered, something I hadn't noticed her holding earlier. I guessed that it was what some of the EMTs and paramedics call a 'trauma bear', the idea being that a terrifying experience gives rise to a need for something warm and soft to cling to for comfort. "Hi," I said softly, moving into her line of vision so that she could easily see me.
"Hi." She sniffled. Like most children do when suddenly in front of a camera, Dominique kept her attention focused on the camera. A bit shy, which was unsurprising, considering, but far more restrained than some adults I've seen. She was probably wondering why I was walking around with a camcorder.
"It was pretty scary, wasn't it?"
"But you're okay. I'm sure everything will be fine." Have I said that I'm not good with children? I just can't seem to cope on that level, so trying to comfort a child isn't exactly in my field of experience. Most of my relatives are my age or older, and none of my friends have children. Sitting there next to Dominique, patting her dark hair, Detective Gorgeous seemed to be approving of what I was doing. He had that same encouraging expression on his face that my high school geometry teacher used when I was doing well. "In fact, your Mom's right next door."
"Really." Getting a little closer, I crept down to impart a secret. "I heard that your dad did something silly, too." It was the only thing I could think of to explain how Dad could have wound up outside the car without it being open or him being thrown, and I hoped I was right. Then all at once she giggled, confirming my guess.
"Yeah, Daddy jumped out the window." Her eyes moved up to meet mine, laughter shining in them but a considerable amount of wonder and hero worship lived there as well. "Why did Daddy jump out the window?"
Probably because he couldn't get the door open, I thought, fearing the car might catch fire, and wanted to make sure he was able to extinguish it if that happened. However, I could hardly tell that to a nine-year-old. Apparently Detective Gorgeous had the same thought cross his mind because he jumped into the interview with both feet. "Probably because he couldn't get the door open, and he planned on going for help for you and your mommy."
"And Jenny and Frankie."
Frankie must be the little brother.
"Yes, and Jenny and Frankie," said Detective Gorgeous.
"Are they okay?" The fear had returned.
"Yes, sweetie, they're okay."
Just then the door swung open and Doctor Cunningham entered. She didn't look surprised to see me there, and we began moving Dominique to CT to get some scans of her brain. Shame I couldn't stay to get more footage of Detective Gorgeous, but this is Trauma Room, not Cheeks: The All-Male Review. Jeez, Annie, don't even go there.
Hours later, must be at least five or six hours later, all six members of the Anderssen family were in stable condition. Mom had gone to surgery to repair her knee, and was currently in orthopedics to have her femur and wrist casted. Dad had been released after a series of x-rays and a CT scan; he would have some really colorful bruises later, but he would be fine. He was bouncing back and forth between his wife and his children. Both Dominique and Frankie were fine, and were being held overnight for observation. Jenny -- and her approximately six-month-old fetus -- were both stable. They were being watched to make sure that the fetus hadn't been harmed either by the force of the seatbelt against her belly or the impact of the crash itself. Apparently, there was also some small chance that the crash might cause her to deliver prematurely, even though the baby is pretty well protected in the fluid against things like that. It never hurts to be careful. Dad had been told earlier about his daughter's pregnancy, and I was real glad not to be in the room when that happened. I'd seen other cops -- probably detectives from the way they were dressed, including Detective Ellison from this morning -- in the waiting room talking with Dad and some other family members about the crash.
Was it only this morning?
Doctor Cunningham looked positively wilted when we finished the final bits of paperwork and charts that had to be done before making our escape. She was pale, a bit wan, and lines of fatigue were clearly written on her face. I probably didn't look much better with wisps of hair trailing from my formerly neat braid.
"Good." She turned to me. "Now we can go home."
"I'll walk you out."
She grinned; the woman's not stupid, she knew I was doing it for the extra tape. I was nearly at the end of this one anyway. We passed Rick, Julie, and the others, waiting for me, and they looked as tired as I felt. Our day at the hospital might be over, but we had plenty of work to do yet.
To get some end-of-shift footage, I got some tape of Doctor Cunningham leaving the hospital, and walking back to her car in the parking garage. She waved at me while pulling out of her parking space and I returned the gesture. After all, I might not ever see her again, depending how many shifts I continued to take here and which ones, and how her schedule changed over the next few days.
As she drove away in her little car, I relaxed and took a long deep breath. The walk back to where my cohorts were waiting took no time at all, or so it seemed. Finally.
The day was over.
Ignoring most of the trip back to the hotel is easy enough; I was too tired to care much about what the city looks like. That's Laura's job. You'd think walking around with a camcorder on your shoulder was easy, but it was all more complicated than it looked. I had only so many rolls of tape to use per day, and there's lots of stuff going on at any given time that I might want to follow up on and record. After picking a path, you had to hope like hell that your trail leads to warm waters, bright skies, and interesting footage. Intuition and adrenaline drove a good deal of it, going with your gut as to what felt right.
I spent most of the drive back admiring Chandra's jewelry and thinking about what might be ahead of us tomorrow. At any rate, I was thinking up a plan. Surely, Detectives Sandburg and Ellison were home...
"--What did you say the computer would do?" Jesus Christ on a jumped-up crutch! They were still working... when are they going to sleep! No wonder Ellison sounded a bit confused, but so am I. This was like entering the theater in the middle of the movie.
"There's something freaky going on at the pharmacy, right? Something wonky with the word processing?"
"Weird, you know. British slang." There had to be a shrug or a nod-and-shrug in there somewhere. "Anyway, I'm making a database of pharmacy orders written by all the people who've received threats during the times of the negligence suits. The program will especially pay attention to the more common drugs, the ones that could have street value."
"Sounds good, but how long will it take?"
"Well, Cascade General's records master must be a pack rat from way back because he saves everything. See this?" A pause during which Sandburg must have been waving something around.
"A computer disc?"
"Not just a computer disc, Jim, this is a zip disc." He sounded absolutely pleased, like a cat sneaking the cream off the top of the milk bottle. "And here's more of them. Pharmacy downloaded all their records each month into a zip disc and stored them, just in case the information was ever needed. So did Patient Records with their charts."
"Like in case of a negligence suit."
"Exactly, man. They seriously believed in being careful. Now, the program won't tell us anything else but if there's a correlation there, the computer should be able to find it for us." A pause. "We already know that the people receiving the threats were nervous."
"Of course they were, but more so than you'd expect."
"That could be because they're not ex-Army Rangers with covert ops experience." Whoa, remind me to stay on Ellison's good side. Maybe the mini-mike isn't such a good idea after all... "None of the clerks were nervous but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. We don't know why they were targeted, either."
"Right now, let's go with our working theory that it has something to do with a negligence suit. It fits with the fact that the threats accuse murder."
"And that means something."
"I'm sure of it."
"That car accident was nasty, man." The voice tuned me back into the conversation that had been going on around me. Nick sounded relatively disgusted by the whole thing, and that itself told me plenty. We've seen lots of MVAs, watched the firefighters and other rescue personnel wield their tools to cut victims out of twisted wreckage, and done it all without breaking a sweat. "The guy driving the pick-up was plastered, completely gone. He had liquor bottles and enough beer cans to make up at least a couple six-packs in his back seat." He made a snorting sound of vaguely repressed anger mixed with perverse satisfaction. "You could smell the booze even over the blood."
The guy driving the pick-up had died. Now Nick's attitude made a little more sense to me; his mom was killed by a drunk driver nearly five years ago. It's more difficult for him to remain objective than it is for the rest of us, and I can understand how he feels.
"Besides that accident, guys, I didn't have anything too interesting today," I told them without the slightest bit of apology. Short of hiring some three-toed shmuck to blow up a building, there wasn't anything I could do about the lack of excitement in the ER. Trouble was, we wouldn't be real likely to get good footage from the inside of a prison cell, except for America's Most Wanted. "A hysterical woman, a guy with a parasitical infection--"
"What kind?" Geoff wanted to know.
"Scabies." He grimaced; the man has an unhealthy fascination with bugs of all kinds, even things like dust mites and fleas. I think he's just getting experience in making documentaries so that he can go direct for Animal Planet about bugs and other insects.
So far, the only ones having any excitement in this job are Geoff, Nick, and Laura. Riding with paramedics is fun because you not only go to average trauma calls but you might also get called to cover fires in case a firefighter is injured. While no one wants to see anyone hurt, watching people battle a raging dragon is thrilling. In spite of this utter lack of decent footage -- maybe it will run as a typical day, and at least I'd met my detective quota -- we still need to stick to procedures.
Time flies when you're bored. Three hours into reviewing my footage of the day leaves me wishing I'd started five hours ago. My canisters were numbered, so right now I was just listing all the cases so that the editors will be better able to piece the Cascade episode together. In addition, I had to cross-reference all of them with the consent documents that Chandra gathered, so that all our bases were covered. Later, my list will be combined with Rick's and Julie's, and that mega-list will be cross-referenced with the mega-list Nick and Geoff are making of their paramedic coverage. Then, those two lists will be cross-referenced with Chandra's list of consent documents. Those cases that score on all three lists will be in the running for actual use by the editors.
Thank God we get paid for the time spent on paperwork.
Scooby Doo and the gang of meddling kids were busily solving a mystery revolving around a guy in a rubber mask, but it was the only thing we can agree on entertainment-wise. I know, six out of seven working with video and laptops, and all of us shuffling reams of paper around, and we had the television on? Sue us, we used to be grad students; a mere two inputs to the brain does not a single output make.
Room service, however, does get us much closer to output. Good orange beef, moo goo gai pan, and house fried rice make me happy, and the oolong tea practically made me delirious. Grad students live on caffeine, as well as stress and learning to multi-task. All this fun and room service, too. "Rick, pass me an egg roll." Honestly, we had enough food to feed an army, but each room had a refrigerator so we could finish it up tomorrow. Scooby gave way to the local news, which ordinarily would interest me not a whit -- except to critique the anchors -- but for the fact that Detective Ellison and his delicious partner Detective Gorgeous are on film.
An egg roll landed on my plate, and I glanced away from the TV to where Rick was grinning. "Excuse my fingers," he said.
"I wouldn't excuse any part of you, but thanks for the egg roll anyway." Ellison was saying something or other about making headway on a 'serious harassment case involving serious injuries'. Another lovely man, captioned as Captain Simon Banks of Major Crime, put in his two cents about how his best people are on it. When they gave way to Commissioner Mathews getting ready to give a press conference about whatever it was going on that demanded a press conference, I changed the channel.
Making sure I saw, Rick shot me an indignant look but ruined the effect by snickering, and returned his attention to his own plate. Shrimp with some sort of vegetables and lobster sauce, I think, plus fried rice and steamed dumplings. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Nick and Jules weren't feeding each other wontons but the gooey expressions on their faces told me they were definitely thinking about it anyway, completing yet another step in the mating dance. Their music's only been playing for the past five years, as we've watched them move around each other but pretended not to notice. I'm the one sitting at the bar, harassing the band.
Laura's wishing she'd made some other dinner selection; she kept giving Chandra's plate glances. Got to admit, whatever it is, it didn't look half-bad. What Chandra and Geoff were thinking, I didn't know, but I suspected that if they were not already doing the horizontal hustle, they would be soon. At the very least, they'll be dating.
I answered Geoff with a vague sort of interrogatory noise. "Hmm?"
"Take a look at this clip and tell me what you see." He handed over his laptop and I obligingly called up the clip in question. A shot of a hallway, big deal. Geoff must have caught my expression because he apparently felt the need to explain himself. "I wanted to get an interior shot of one of the halls leading to the stairways... since that girl is pregnant, we might catch her delivery on tape."
"Take the elevator."
"You're so helpful, Rick."
Vasquez reaches up and tips an imaginary cowboy hat, a Latino John Wayne. "Jes' tryin' to do my job, ma'am." His accent's not bad for a Hawaiian boy, and he does a great job of mocking my high-northeastern slanders of the English language.
I turned my attention back to the laptop, wondering what it is that Geoff thinks I should be able to see. "What is it I should be seeing that I'm not?" Mentally, I have to double-check my own syntax to make sure it makes sense since, even though I understand it, the others might not. Reaching over, he understood what I was asking and entered a command to continue playing. Then, his hand went up and trailed through his hair, making little blond spikes like waves during a storm.
Seconds tick away on the film counter and still nothing caught my attention until Geoff reached over again and froze the action. "There," he said, pointing at a shadow on the wall. "That."
He nodded, looking away from me and over my shoulder at some atrocious piece of artwork. "There was no one in that hallway when I filmed that shot... and it's in the wrong place to be my shadow."
This was not something I wanted to think about. I'd grown up on ghost stories, living with a centuries-old cemetery down the road and an allegedly haunted house up the road, plus a haunted bridge in town. Having a shadow I couldn't explain away made nervous trickles go up my spine and back down again, just for kicks.
"Don't worry about it," says Rick, resident skeptic. At least he's able to break the silence that's fallen over our little group. "This is going to be an easy assignment. Two more days, and we're out of here."
"Easy?" Nevertheless, I appreciated his willingness to rally the troops. That comment I'd overheard about Cascade being the most dangerous city in America just wouldn't leave me. Something bad was going to happen, and I could almost feel the pressure building. "I think you're full of poi."
"I think you've been watching too much Scooby Doo."
With that personal and clearly wrong editorial -- he knows damn well that I hold a personal best of fourteen straight hours of Scooby and the gang -- supper ends and the work-party breaks up so that we can all go to our respective beds and pleasant dreams. A fairly early night, as it's only two in the morning.
Morning comes too soon, though I can only tell it's morning because the clock says so and because the incessant ringing in my ear isn't the jingle bells of one of my more risque daydreams but rather the desk clerk with our 8:30 am wakeup call.
The clock might be lying. It's happened before, I don't care that power outages were involved.
Hell, the desk clerk might be lying. Look at that blackness outside... there's no way as Carter made little liver pills that it's morning. Someone put coffee under my nose, and that was enough. Teasing someone with coffee should be illegal, especially at this ungodly hour of the day. Nice dreams last night, mostly. Some of them involved Detective Gorgeous doing tremendously lovely things that we won't go into because they'd likely get me arrested. For some reason, I also suffered through a dream about catapulting popcorn at Rick, which he tried to catch in a baseball glove.
If that means anything, I don't want to know what it is. The in-depth interviews would probably cause massive psychological damage to my already peculiar psyche. Hey, I trained as a psychologist before I indulged my creative side in video production, and you know what they say about shrinks of all degrees.
We spent the rest of the morning -- after Julie and Laura foraged for breakfast, luckily, the hotel offered a free continental -- by resting and preparing for the long long day. They even offered coffee, which I happily accepted; one of my college professors had once asked me why I hadn't just had a coffee cup grafted on to one hand, since he never saw me without a cup... and sometimes two cups, one in each hand. This time, we're going to be working afternoon and graveyard shift at the hospital with all new principals and all new cases. Laura is happy; she's finished with town detail and will be checking back on the cases we covered yesterday, covering the bases. Because that's a lot of cases, Chandra will probably be spending at least part of her time helping her. Since I'll be on my feet, more or less, until morning comes around again, I indulge in what I like to think of as archeological and anthropological research. It's relaxing. It's educational.
"It's a video game."
Someday, I'm going to strangle Rick Vasquez and dance merrily around his corpse. He's just happily blown great screaming holes in my fantasy by pointing out the obvious. "It's Age of Empires, and excuse me while I convert these Persian war elephants." Maneuvering my little priest and keying in for him to convert, I found that one was convertible, but the other didn't have enough faith either way. Some flaming balls flew across the screen. "Shit!" I'd forgotten to call off my military, particularly my Assyrian catapults... which had just massacred my own priest and three of my cavalry units. "Shit!"
I hurriedly keyed in the commands for the stable to give me another cavalry unit and for the temple to train me another priest. At least the priest had converted one of the war elephants before he croaked. Between my new war elephant, the catapults, and two chariot archers, I was able to destroy the attacking Persian enemy forces. Hell. At least the new priest can heal the damage they suffered, and some villagers can repair the catapults. I frowned.
"I'm glad you're not president and commander-in-chief."
"Shut the hell up." I started making another cavalryperson, and traded one of my dead cavalry for a chariot archer instead. "Can't you see I'm building a civilization here?" Besides, Stargate SG-1 is airing on TV, and that counts as educational. Damn game is addictive, real good for blowing two or three hours at a stretch. With the staggering amount of coffee we've been inhaling, Juan Valdez is probably moaning with lower back pain. You have to keep it in context; we probably won't get any while we're working.
Looking out the window on our way to work fills me with dread. It's snowing. Joy.
I'd done some checking on the sly last night and demanded a quick trip to Central Precinct, Major Crime, to pay another visit to Ellison and Sandburg. After all, we had them on film, so we had to get releases. The papers were in one hand, and the bug was hanging off the bottom of my class ring; I had to assume that they'd found or lost the one from last night. Hopefully, they'd understand what was going on. Besides, I needed to plant another bug and I'd enjoy it this time just as much as before. The sacrifices I make for my art, alas.
The stairs up to Major Crime didn't take too long, but I had to forcibly restrain myself from sticking my hand in my pocket. My quarry would be expecting that, assuming he was here. I had no idea if he was here or not, but my reasons for needing to find them both were on the up-and- up.
Luck! Both of them were seated at what I had to assume were their desks, arguing with each other about some crucial factor of the case at hand. I walked in and no one batted an eye, probably because I'd left the camera in the car with the guys. If I'd brought it inside with me, I'd not have gotten as far as the main desk in the lobby. "Detectives?"
That got their attention, and Detective Blair Sandburg -- I hadn't heard his first name yesterday, but that was what his desk said -- gave me such a look. He hadn't forgotten yesterday, not by a long shot. Neither had I.
Ellison apparently wasn't going to let him off the hook, though, because he stood up immediately. "Come on, Sandburg, don't you know that men are supposed to stand up when a lady enters the room?"
"Ha-ha." Suspicious as he was, Detective Gorgeous stood up graciously and extended his hand. "Nice to see you again, Miss Sedgewick."
"The pleasure's mine." I shook both their hands. "Actually, I'm here this morning because we did get you both on tape yesterday, and I was voted to get the releases signed." A sigh hid the fact that I hadn't really minded that much at all.
"How did you get the job?"
"I was in the bathroom."
Ellison and Sandburg laughed at that and the annoyed expression on my face. "Sounds familiar." That didn't surprise me; the rule of 'he who is not present to defend himself gets the job' goes back a long way. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that the first Roman emperor got the job because he happened to have been out trying to find appropriate leaves to hang next to the latrine.
After reading the documents -- they're pretty simple, they have to be since mostly distressed people usually don't do well with legalese -- both men signed them and escorted me to the door out of the department. I think they wanted to make sure that I left. "You know," I commented to Sandburg at the threshold, "Doctor Cunningham asked me if I'd stopped to get your phone number." Just thinking about it made me blush, and I could see a faint redness spreading over his cheeks. With that, I made my strike, same back pocket, same firm muscle.
On my way down the stairs, I eavesdropped to the sound of hilarity.
"Dammit, I knew she was going to do that!" Thankfully, he sounded more embarrassed than angry. I could make out Ellison's laughter in the background. "And, you, you were no help at all. Standing when a lady was in the room? You might as well have just gift- wrapped my butt--"
"Ahem! The show is over, ladies and gentlemen." That was Captain Banks' distinctive deep voice; I recognized it from the press conference he'd given yesterday. "Ellison! Sandburg! My office!" Footsteps hurried in all directions but I could hear three sets going in one direction and then a door closing. "So, are we any closer to a suspect? I don't need to tell you that the chief wants this closed."
"What does the chief have to do with this?"
"The administrator called the mayor, the mayor called the chief, and the chief called me. I, in my turn, have called you."
"This is what we know so far. The records signed out from Pharmacy don't match up with the patient records during the same period." A pause. "It could just be sloppy housekeeping, but I don't think the records could be that far wrong."
"Someone's selling the drugs?"
"Maybe. Maybe for personal use. Maybe both."
"What do you mean,' maybe'?"
"The problem, Simon, is that the missing drugs aren't anything that has street value." Sandburg's voice. "Antidepressants, minor painkillers, and potassium supplements. Maybe if those could be used in the creation of something more potent, but by themselves..."
"That doesn't make any sense, Sandburg."
"It does if we're still missing something."
Walking into the Emergency Room was like smacking into a brick wall at eighty miles an hour. There's nothing better than starting the day... well, early afternoon, since it's nearly one o'clock... with a new roll of fresh tape, a cup of hot coffee, and even hotter gossip. The remains of the Chinese food had been demolished, so we were heading to work with full bellies, something that's not always a smart idea in this business. Of course, you get used to the gore after awhile, so I wasn't too concerned about tossing my cookies so long as we didn't get anything really disgusting.
Word has it that someone's out to get the hospital for something or another, but no one really knows what's going on. The nurses know more than the doctors do on things happening that may or may not directly impact the hospital, which isn't real surprising. Anyone who works in this business can tell you that nurses and orderlies -- though I think they call themselves transport attendants now -- are the lifeblood of any hospital gossip system. I think that's because people tend not to notice nurses and orderlies unless they're actively sticking a needle somewhere it wasn't designed to go or they're moving you very personally from one place to another. Because of that, they hear things.
Jeanne Rose, R.N., grabbed my arm and pulled me to one side for a few brief moments. Her dark eyes sparkled with an emotion I could only describe as glee. "You won't believe what's happened."
We'd worked together briefly on the MVA yesterday, crossing paths in the dark night of the Emergency Room, but even in that short time I'd learned that she was the crux of the hospital grapevine. Then she looked at me, like she's never seen me or my camera before. "Are we off the record?"
"I don't have any control over the editing, but if you say it's off the record, I imagine whoever's doing the editing will go along with that. You have to remember, though, that once I send out my film, it's out of my hands." That was true. While I doubted it was really likely that the editors would use anything declared private, I had to admit that the whole point of this show was to capture the real deal, warts and all.
She thought on that for a moment, and must have decided it was worth the risk. Who can tell why people seek out cameras when there's fresh hot news to serve up to the hungry public? "There's been a few other incidents during the night and early morning, nothing too major, just annoying stuff."
"Mostly things being moved around in rooms no one's been in, windows being found opened and closed without rhyme or reason, things like that." I was immediately reminded of the inexplicable shadowy image on Geoff's film from the previous night, but I just as quickly brushed it aside. "When he was on his way home, one of the doctors found his car windows smashed out last night."
"And one of the orderlies, Marc, you haven't met him, he works east wing," she waved one arm toward the hallway, to the left, "was attacked last night. Probably a mugging, but with all the other stuff going on, who knows?" She was concerned and I couldn't blame her. There definitely seemed to be something going on here, but I was damned if I knew what it was. To be perfectly honest, I was torn to whether or not I even wanted to know. On the one hand, my journalistic instincts told me that there was something going on, that I needed to find out what it was, and that I needed to get it on tape. On the other hand, however, my stomach told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't want to get involved in whatever was happening. "The medical students are pretty sure all of this is leading up to something."
I had to agree with her. The trail was leading somewhere, but I wasn't sure I wanted to stay on it. Of course, I was pretty sure I'd already hit the slippery slope to the bottom. Shaking away thoughts I couldn't afford to be having at this point in the game, I headed off to find my new assignment. We don't stay with the same doctor the whole time at the hospital, mostly for editing purposes. The recorder stays running nearly all the time; the more tape we have, the happier the editors are. You wouldn't believe how much raw tape you need for a mere three minutes of edited footage.
Doctor Joseph Stuart was waiting for me at the main desk, talking with one of the receptionists while looking at a patient's chart. He looked like a rugged sort of guy, tall with dark brown hair. He looked up and smiled as I approached. "So, the prodigal Annie returns."
"I see my reputation precedes me."
And I wasn't sure whether or not that was a good thing.
Before I could say another word, he spoke up. "I'd like to do some rounds, so we can talk as we go, okay?"
I was cool with that, and we headed on up. "Cool beans."
That made him smile, and I had the odd feeling he'd heard the expression before. "A very appropriate saying for the Washington State coast, so close to Seattle-coffee-country."
"No," I answered, "that would be 'hot beans'."
This time he laughed. By now, we were on the elevator, heading for the third floor, east wing. I decided it was time to jump in with both feet, and get some information before we actively began seeing new patients. "Tell me a little about yourself."
"I'm Doctor Joe Stuart, and I'm a third-year resident at Cascade General in Cascade, Washington. Currently, I'm in the Emergency Department, and I hope to also do a residency in surgery." He smiled charmingly at the camera. "I'd like to stay here in Cascade as long as I can. This is a big city on the ocean with that small-town charm. Unfortunately, it also has many of those big-city problems."
It's not surprising that everyone wants to get into surgery, it's a hard rotation, very demanding, but I imagine it's also one of the most rewarding. You get to treat a patient who really desperately needs your help, who indeed might even die without your help, and you get to see immediate results most of the time. There are exceptions, of course, because sometimes a patient dies and there's nothing you can do. The only thing that might be more rewarding is Ob-Gyn, but the hours are terrible. "What made you decide on Emergency Medicine?"
"I decided I didn't want to go to law school." He paused for a moment to think about his words. "That's more or less the truth, I'm sad to say. I knew that I wanted a career that would allow me to keep learning my whole life as well as allowing me to travel while I worked. Medicine gives me so many opportunities that I couldn't find in any other profession. No matter how high- tech the tools get, people will always need doctors to interpret the findings."
By now, we had made it almost to the nurse's station for the wing. I was just getting ready to ask for some background on the patient we were going to check when Doctor Stuart's pager began trilling insistently. "Cripes!"
"What is it?"
"There's a trauma code coming in!"
It's back into the joy of trauma for us, and we ran hell-bent for leather back down three flights of stairs and too many hallways to count to the trauma bay, waiting for the ambulance to bring in our next patient. Hopefully, we'd get back to that patient later on tonight.
"What do we have," Stuart shouted as he began gowning up and donning a clear faceplate over his surgery cap. The visor protects his face from blood spatter in the case of a particularly bloody injury.
"Not sure," answered another doctor whom I hadn't met. "Medic three reported it initially as a jumper, but reports now that the cops are involved so...." He shrugged eloquently. "They should be here in three."
Very shortly after that, a paramedic brought in a wet young man in his mid-twenties strapped to a backboard with head restraints in place, accompanied by two police officers. Restraints secured both his wrists, and one leg was completely encased in a white splint. His other leg grabbed my attention until the paramedic began giving us a history. "Adult male, approximately twenty-five years old, closed bi-lateral tib-fib fractures, plus fractures of both ankles. Right ankle is also an open fracture, and bleeding heavily. We put on dressings to stop the bleeding, and secured it for transport but did not splint." Not only had he been intubated -- using an artificial airway -- but this unlucky patient had a large-bore IV in each arm, pouring fluids into him. Monitors were attached to him everywhere.
"I want X-ray here, now," shouted Stuart. He hurried over and began examining the patient, muttering to himself. "Probable compression fractures, possible fractures in both femurs, possible internal injuries...." Blood had soaked through onto the gurney padding in places.
The patient's lower legs were making my stomach roll uncomfortably. Bumps protruded from the soles of both feet, but his right ankle had been completely turned around, a spiral fracture of some sort, with his toes now pointing the wrong way. My bones ached in sympathy. I heard the man muttering something or maybe he was crying, but in any case, I don't think he's coherent. Someone was hanging more bags of something and adjusting the drips, but I wasn't altogether sure whether it was blood plasma or a medicine of some kind. My guess is probably the former. Maybe one of each.
"Police report that he jumped off a bridge overpass, landing feet-first on asphalt, while attempting to elude custody. His behavior before indicates possible narcotic use," the paramedic continued. Around us, everyone has leaped into action while listening to the history. People checking the intubation, checking for more broken bones, drawing blood for lab tests, and getting a new set of vitals. It's a complicated dance of organized chaos in the service of Asclepius. "Pulse of 140, resps 28 and shallow, BP 138/94, all as of two minutes ago. Some rigidity in the belly noted on the way in."
Hearing that, Doctor Stuart probed the patient's belly gently, checking to see whether he was bleeding into the abdomen. "Kelly, call the lab, tell them I want the labs back yesterday. Someone else, call surgery and orthopedics. Amy, come here." He rattled off dosages of multi-syllabic medications to the nurse that he wanted administered via the patient's IV line before glancing at the lower legs with a grimace. The only one I recognized was Narcan, which works to stop the effects of a narcotic on the body.
He picked up a plastic tube and, after making a small incision near the belly button, inserted it into the abdominal cavity. Some saline solution was then infused through the tube. I saw him grimace again, and he said, "Frank blood and bile came out." As soon as he moved away, a horde of X-ray people descended upon the patient, getting pictures of his legs, ankles, feet, and pelvis.
"What does that mean?" We began moving him down the hall, presumably either toward the O-R or toward the CT scanning machine. I supposed they could also be taking him to Angiography to determine whether or not the badly damaged right lower leg had enough blood flow to be saved.
"It means that something is bleeding massively from somewhere, and the bile tells me that something else has ruptured -- liver or the gallbladder, for example -- in there. The liver bleeds a lot, so that's our prime suspect at the moment. He's going to surgery. Right now." I got a little closer as we were moving and got a look at the bright red fluid streaked with yellow before refocusing my attention on my doctor. A police officer was pacing us, determined to keep an eye on his charge. I imagine she plans to wait outside the surgical unit, if they'll let her, which I doubt. He's not really likely to go anywhere. "He's going to get lots of antibiotics over the next several days."
"What's going to happen to his legs?"
"Orthopedics will look at them. We haven't splinted the open fracture, just put dressings on it to stop the bleeding, because splinting it now would make the injury worse. That's definitely going to need to be surgically reduced, so an orthopedic surgeon will handle that after he's finished with the abdominal surgery."
"There were bumps on the soles of his feet... what were those?"
Doctor Stuart glanced at them for a moment before turning back to my camera. "I'd be able to say more when the films come back, or if we do a CT scan before reducing the leg fractures, but I'd say those are his heel bones, possibly the pedal bones."
"Based on what we're told happened, when he hit the asphalt standing, the force drove his heel bones down -- with objects in motion, and all that -- and then back up again, causing a chain reaction all the way up to, probably, his pelvis." He shook his head with a sigh. "We'll know more later. The orthopedic surgeon might even begin looking at his legs while we're in fixing his abdomen."
Someone busily slapped a gown around me, and I realized that I was being allowed to film the surgery. This was something I wasn't really sure I wanted to do, but there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity. After someone plopped a surgery cap on my head and tied a mask over my nose and mouth, we headed inside to finish up. At the door, Stuart was joined by an older woman in scrubs, and introduced her to me as Doctor Elaine Wilkes, one of the trauma surgeons. Her silver curls combined with her dark skin plus sharp see-all eyes, gave me a very strong first impression of her as an elegant, refined, and bold lady.
Wilkes did most of the actual cutting, and Stuart just assisted. Like he said, he hopes to go into surgery, so maybe she's his mentor. Besides the two doctors and myself, also present in the O-R were a surgical resident, two more medical students, the anesthesiologist, and two anesthesiology residents. In addition, three scrub nurses, who hand things to the doctors, and a circulating nurse were also present. The latter person allows the doctors to keep the front desk updated (usually so the patient's family in the waiting room can be updated in turn, as well as the recovery room or ICU) and to retrieve unexpected items from supply.
Nearly a half-hour into the operation, the door opened and a tall man in scrubs carrying a set of films, followed by three younger men in scrubs, entered. I learned he was Doctor Ted Parker, an orthopedics surgeon, and his orthopedics residents. He was here, hopefully, to begin working on the extremity fractures as soon as the abdomen was done, if the patient remained stable. Moving to the light, he put the x-rays up for examination and several of us rushed over to look at them while a nurse began suctioning.
From what I could see and understand -- which wasn't much -- the leg breaks were pretty bad. His pelvis was dislocated rather than fractured. Both tibias and fibias in both legs -- the two bones making up the lower leg below the knee -- were broken, and they were rightly concerned about the possibility of compartment syndrome, where the compressed muscles in the damaged leg swell up, raising the pressure inside the leg. It doesn't sound like much but it can result in an amputation. His left femur -- the thighbone -- was broken, and three compression fractures had been located in the lower back. One ankle wasn't so serious, since it was a relatively simple closed fracture. The protruding foot bones were a problem, though. I didn't even want to think about how they were going to have to fix that or how much high-tech hardware would be needed.
The real problem, as you could probably imagine, was the extremely nasty open fracture of his right ankle. Even looking at the x-ray made me queasy. "See here?" Without touching the film with his gloved hand, Doctor Parker traced the outline of where the bone should be. "You say he landed from a fall on both feet?"
"That's what the police told the paramedics on scene."
"Looks as if when he landed, the force snapped both bones. Then," he continued, tracing the motion with a finger while speaking, "when he fell to the ground, the motion rotated the fracture, scattering bone fragments and tearing the ligaments." He paused a moment, and I could see him taking a closer look at the films. "The nerve might be damaged, as might the artery."
"Agreed." Doctor Wilkes' firm tone had a definite sound of urgency to it. Two more nurses entered the room, probably, to assist Parker. Everyone trooped back over to the patient and continued working, some on the abdomen and some on the leg and ankle fractures. The orthopedics people would be there working long after the rest of us had finished. He would likely be in there for hours yet. They might not do all the breaks today but save some of the more complicated ones until more tests and scans can be done. That depended largely on what Doctor Parker decided.
The severity of the injury sounded to me like, unless this guy was really lucky, he might lose his leg. At the very least, he's not going to be running anywhere for a long while. Besides, the cops will see that the first place he gets to go will be jail. If I was home and in charge, as soon as he was able, I would consider bumping him to Old Saint A's. Who jumps off an overpass to escape the cops? Did he think the asphalt would vanish and be replaced with pillows? For the record, New Saint A's -- Agnes, that is -- is the medical hospital, which used to be at the Old Saint A's until they built the new building. Now Old Saint A's is one of the state mental hospitals.
Yes, yes, I know, there's a state mental hospital in my hometown. Believe me, I've heard all the jokes.
A while later, Wilkes finished up with the abdomen, closed it as well as she was able -- the intestines had swollen up, maybe from all the fluids, pouring out of the belly like an obscene pot of thick spaghetti -- and we left Parker and the others to the myriad leg fractures. They began discussing prognoses, treatments, and medications while I tuned everything out and took the opportunity to insert a new tape in the camcorder. It was nearly done anyway.
When we got back downstairs, the trauma bay was quiet. I took the opportunity to eavesdrop; maybe they'd found out something in the forever that I'd been gone. They could have caught and tried him by now.
" The jumper? Who is he?"
"We don't have an ID yet on him, since he wasn't carrying a wallet or anything like that at all." I didn't recognize the woman by her voice.
"What have you learned?" I suppose Ellison had a right to be a bit piqued.
"Well, the tox screen came back." I knew that lab test would reveal what drugs, if any, were present in the body's system. This person could be one of several people including a doctor, a nurse, or a lab tech. Wasn't important to me, though... this was just like a book on tape. "He had high levels of a drug called Phenacemide in his bloodstream."
"Phenacemide?" Sandburg's voice, rising in pitch as each syllable passed his lips.
"An anti-convulsant banned from the United States since the mid-1970s. It was used in the treatment of severe epilepsy but only as a last resort."
"Why was it banned?"
"That I don't know, Detective."
"Thank you for your time, Doctor." Ellison's voice was immediately followed by footsteps walking away. "An anticonvulsant? That's not your typical junkie's choice of high."
"Some of them can have pretty unpleasant side effects. I can't imagine what kind of effect they would have on someone whose brain chemistry was normal."
"Guess that lets you out, doesn't it, Darwin?" Darwin?
"Real funny. Just for that, you get to buy me lunch, and we're not going to Wonderburger."
"Doesn't bother me. There's a perfectly nice cafeteria right down the hall, and I happen to know that they make an acceptable burger."
"Haven't we had enough of hospital food?" There was a distinct complaint imminent to his voice. I had to admit that I agreed with him; you get tired of eating the limited menu of most hospital cafeterias day in and day out.
"We've got lots of researching to do. Maybe we can correlate your computer results a bit further, and find out if anyone is particularly prominent."
"Annie? You've got a message here." That snapped me back to where I was standing like a fool in the middle of the trauma bay, and I wasted no time in switching off the remote.
Now, that was odd. "Thanks." I took the slip of paper from a receptionist whose first name I couldn't remember. The message was from Nick and Geoff, on paramedic duty, telling me that there've been a few more incidents around the hospital. The cops have been talking to the paramedics about them, but apparently everything seems to revolve around the hospital. At least, that's the only thing that makes sense to my two esteemed colleagues. Who knows what information the cops have? Nick also added that he wants burgers for dinner. They've left messages for the others, too.
This whole mess with the hospital, it's not like we should care anyway, but we're nosy. That's the nature of making a living with a camcorder on your shoulder. You earn your paycheck by sticking your nose and your camera into everyone else's business. Some people don't like that and we've been shouted at by patients and doctors alike at some hospitals, but this is our job. To show people the truth, the part of medicine beyond the dramatized injuries of television, where the hero is shot three times in the shoulder in one scene but shows up perfectly fine after the commercial break. Worse are the atrocious tv-movies that show some heroine dying beautifully of leukemia but, ex-squeaze me, that does not happen in Real Life.
Before I could begin ranting and raving, I figured it might be a good idea to ask my doctor another question or two. A few minutes later, I got his attention and asked, "Are you from this city originally?"
He laughed. "No, I'm originally from Boston, Massachusetts."
"Really?" I couldn't stop myself from commiserating, the words just poured out of my mouth like a reflex. We New Englanders got to stick together, you know. "I'm from Red Falls, New Hampshire."
"Ayehp." And it was true. Red Falls is mostly a bedroom community for the larger cities of western and central Massachusetts and Keene, New Hampshire, carrying a population of just over nine thousand people. The majority of the town's income doesn't come from stores since nearly half of Main Street has boarded up or empty storefronts, but rather from tourists seeking something called 'quaint old-fashioned New England.' What that means, I'm not exactly certain, but our Main Street runs straight through town and has hitching posts stationed between some portions of sidewalks and the street. The town council voted five years ago to pretty up the place by installing brickwork in some crosswalks and along the sidewalk in places like a patio with flower boxes.
Most of the tourists arrive during leafpeeping season when the trees begin exchanging their summer greens for the new season's fashions in red and gold. Personally, I think the colors are pretty, but I'd swear some of those people have never seen trees before. Besides, the leaves of an oak tree will always be the same color; only the intensity of the color changes, depending on the amount of rainfall and some other factors, I think.
We'd just been standing there waiting when a pair of men walked up to us. Well, the nicely dressed one was walking, but dragging the fashionably dressed one by one arm. Cool Man wasn't happy to be there but even I could see the makeshift bandages on his right hand weren't stopping the bleeding too well. "Excuse me," called out Formal Boy, "could you take a look at my partner's hand please?" Then he turned and shushed his partner, like I've seen noisy children quieted by their mothers. They had to be more detectives.
"Sure thing." Stuart extended an arm towards one of the examination rooms, and someone firmly put a hospital chart in his hand. "Room Three. Oh, and Detective... you'll find an examination gown on the gurney. Put it on." I'd swear as they passed us that the dirtiest looks were exchanged. We gave Cool Man about five minutes to argue about the gown with his partner and another five minutes to actually get changed before we headed there. This was going to be good.
Closing the door, the doctor began undoing the layers of bandages after introductions were exchanged. "So, Detective Brown, what exactly happened here today?" The wrappings revealed a long bloody gash just under the knuckle line, extending most of the way across his hand.
"We caught a suspect but he slammed my hand in a car door during the arrest." Brown sounded less than pleased with being here and couldn't stop from flinching while the doctor checked the extent of the injury. "Doc," he began, "it's really not that bad. Can't you just put a band-aid on it? Why did I have to get into a gown? It's my hand that's bleeding."
"That's procedure, Detective."
His partner jumped into the conversation. "Henri, he can't just put a band-aid on that. It's bleeding and probably needs stitches."
"It does not."
"You don't know that. It'll just hurt for a little bit and then not anymore." His expression got softer, more placating. "You don't want it to get infected, do you?"
"Then stop complaining and let the doctor look at it."
"It hurts when he looks at it because he doesn't look, he pokes." This last comment was followed by a pout.
"He's checking for nerve damage, you know that." I could almost hear Detective Rafe's exasperated sigh and his rolling eyes. "You know it has to be looked at."
"Don't worry, the doctor will give you a shot before he puts the stitches in."
Brown froze at those words. "A shot?" He looked like he would be sick. "I don't want a shot."
Another tiny sigh from Rafe. "The shot will make it stop hurting."
"I don't want a shot."
Rafe's face hardened slightly into lines, so he must be preparing to bring out the big guns. Maybe he was going to call their captain or lieutenant or whomever and get a direct order. Then again, direct orders never work on small children. "Brown, if the doctor decides to give you a shot and stitches, then that's what you'll get. It's for your own good."
"But I don't need a shot, Doc."
"I disagree. There doesn't appear to be nerve damage and the small bones don't seem to be broken. Can you move your fingers for me?" Both detectives let out small breaths at the required motion but Brown wasn't too happy regardless. Stuart had apparently finished his exam of the long gash just above the knuckles. "I'd say you just need some stitches to close this wound. In order to do that, I have to numb the surrounding area."
There was a snide comment just waiting on the tip of Rafe's tongue, I could see it in his eyes, but he apparently thought better of it for now. "See? It'll just hurt for a tiny bit and then it'll be all over."
Brown was slouched over, sulking, watching his arm, hoping for it to magically heal before the doctor began sticking needles in it. "You're not the one sitting here in this air-conditioned--"
"Henri, if you don't quit whining, I'll tell your wife about the snacking you were doing earlier."
That got his attention. "You wouldn't dare." Brown jumped with a yelp as Stuart injected the painkiller into the gash, taking advantage of his patient's distraction.
"Potato chips, wasn't it?" Rafe sounded incredibly smug. "A whole bag of the sour-cream- and-onion?"
"This is blackmail."
"I've got evidence." He patted his coat pocket securely. Stuart's left eye was all crinkled around the edges as he sewed up the injury, and it looked like he was doing his best not to laugh. God knew I was having a hard time myself.
"I'll arrest you."
"Then I'm entitled to my one phone call, aren't I?"
Brown fell back in defeat with the look of a prisoner waiting for the hangman, silently watching the doctor finish his sewing. Gauze went around the stitches without complaint and there were no further comments when a lecture on the care and feeding of stitches was delivered. Detective Rafe would probably remind him of the rules several times.
Thanking the doctor, Detective Rafe shepherded his partner out the door. I was just glad the whole thing was on tape.
Not long after that, we were called in to treat a little girl who was brought in by her mother. She looked about nine or ten, maybe a petite eleven but possibly as young as seven, and was sitting nervously on the examination table when we walked into the trauma room. The way kids are today, you can't tell on sight how old they are. An older woman in her mid-thirties or early forties sat in a nearby chair.
"You're Beth?" The little girl nodded bashfully. He turned to the woman in the chair. "You're Mom?" The woman nodded.
"How old are you, Beth?"
Still bashful, she held up eight fingers.
"So," Stuart said to her, "what happened here?" He was being very open with her, trying to be confident and trustworthy. The last thing we wanted was to make her afraid.
His smile earned him one in return, exposing a missing tooth. "I fell."
"On the way home from school," the mother added, "in our driveway, after the bus dropped her off." She smoothed her child's hair, and it was clear that she was nervous.
"Where does it hurt?"
The child put one hand on her head for a moment, and then quickly pulled it away. "My head." She looked at the palms of her hands. It looked from here like her hands were a bit scraped. "And my hands hurt, too."
"When you fell, did you land on your back or on your tummy?"
"Back." For a moment, I thought Beth was going to cry but she did not. How her hands got scraped up when she landed on her back, I wasn't sure.
"This happened on the way home from school? Around three-thirty this afternoon?" He looked at mom for confirmation.
"Yes," Mom said. "Bethie only told me that she fell down while we were sitting down eating dinner, so I brought her straight over as soon as we were done."
Doctor Stuart gently felt the back of Beth's head, and then took out a penlight. "Beth, sweetie, we're going to do a couple of little tests, okay?"
She nodded, a little afraid.
"First, I'm going to shine a small light in your eyes, and all I want you to do is look straight ahead. Try not to close your eyes, even though you'll want to, I know."
"Won't be for very long?"
"That's right. It won't be for very long." When he shone the light, first one eye and then the other, Stuart waved one hand behind the little girl's head as if the light could shine straight through the bone. That got him a little smile when she noticed. When he made a rabbit hop, Beth broke into giggles. Maybe he should consider pediatrics. Maybe he should have tried this with Detective Brown.
"Okay, next test." She nodded happily, and her mother looked considerably more relieved. If the doctor was relaxed enough to joke with her daughter, she likely was reasoning, then there was probably nothing to worry about. Doctor Stuart held up a finger in front of Beth's face. "See my finger?" She nodded. "I'm going to move it around, and I want you to follow my finger with your eyes without moving your head."
That test didn't take very long either, and apparently he liked the results because he was smiling. Turning to Mom, he had some instructions. "Well, the tests come out pretty well. She's coherent, and that's good. Do you know if she lost consciousness at all?"
"I don't know... she didn't say anything about anything like that."
"I'd like to get some x-rays as a precaution, but based on what I see here, I think Beth is going to be just fine." He had her full attention. "Without looking at the films, it seems like she might have a slight concussion, and I would recommend that you might want her to stay overnight, just in case. If not, then I can give you a set of instructions to follow, to keep an eye on her, waking her every hour, that sort of thing." There wasn't much more he could say. "Ultimately, it's your decision."
We all turned, as one unit, back to where Beth sat on the table.
"No needle?" Her voice wavered, crying a little.
"No, Beth, no needle."
"Good." She smiled at that. I was glad I had the exchange on tape.
As it happened, the mother decided to take her child home and watch her there. I imagine she felt safer being able to care for Beth herself, rather than leaving her child with a group of strangers unless she absolutely had to do so. After the paperwork from that case was cleared up, we headed upstairs to check up on the case we missed out on before.
The young woman appeared to be recovering nicely from a car accident in which she suffered a dislocated hip, a badly broken femur -- the thighbone, that is -- and a nearly dislocated knee. Luckily, they believed that the damage to her knee was minimal but everyone was still keeping a close eye on her because of the probability of injury to the nerves serving the lower leg. We chatted with her for a while, and I asked some questions. After nearly a half-hour, we left to allow her parents to enter and talk in private.
Doctor Stuart and I headed back down to the trauma bay. Everything was still quiet. Hopefully, it wouldn't be for long.
Listening gave me something to do during this apathetic shift. At least my detectives were having a better time of it than I was.
"--Phenacemide was banned due to high levels of toxicity that caused horrible side effects, including suicidal depression, loss of potassium and bone marrow, abdominal pain, and chronic headaches." Sandburg's voice.
"Doesn't sound like something I'd take for fun."
"It was only used as a last resort, remember? That means maybe ten percent, if that."
"So when it was banned, the users had to change medications to something that didn't work as well."
"Right, unless they wanted to buy it overseas or in Mexico."
"It's sold there?" A pause.
"Why would someone smuggle an anticonvulsant into the country? Especially one with no street value whatsoever?"
"Maybe it was never intended to be sold on the streets... maybe he's got a built-in market."
"A black market for epileptics?" Sandburg sounded disbelieving, and I had to admit that the notion sounded a bit far-fetched.
"You've believed stranger things, haven't you, Chief?" A pause. There was a story there, I was sure of it. "Maybe that explains the pharmacy theft. The thief sold the drug, but also made the relief from the illegal drug's effects available to the same buyers."
"Like a criminal two-for-one."
"Exactly; but that doesn't explain how the negligence fits."
"Plus, we don't know that everything is connected. True, Wheatley's name came up most frequently, but until we've something conclusive, it doesn't necessarily mean anything."
Well, at least someone was making progress. The time was now almost 9:30 p.m., and someone ordered enough pizza for dinner for everyone on the graveyard shift, including us. There was a lull in the ER, so I suppose they figured to take advantage of the free time. Thank you, God, for watching over fools and hungry directors of photography. They even had pieces of the supreme pizza left, thick with Italian sausage and mushrooms and pepperoni and onions and all that other good stuff. At any rate, it's got to be better than the cafeteria food which, to paraphrase Riggs and Murtaugh, could qualify as a lethal weapon. In most hospitals, the cafeteria food is better than the food served to patients, which makes no sense since it's all made in the same place by the same people. That's not the case at Cascade General... but at least they're consistent.
Now, if there's a god, the pizza'll taste as good as it looks. I snagged a wedge of the supreme that I can hear calling my name in husky wheedling tones. Hmmm, I'm so right, it's way greasy, lots of cheese, and loaded with things that are so bad for me my arteries are screaming in pain, but I'm happy as a pig in mud. This is comfort food from my college days -- cheap but good. I took advantage of this well-timed lull to hunt down and kill a cup of coffee.
Luckily, emergency rooms everywhere have a back room somewhere, off to the side in back of the main desk usually, that has couches and a coffee pot. Cascade General is no exception, so I filled a cup and hurried back to my charge. Now I just had to figure out whether to inhale my drink to fill my desperate need for caffeine or to savor the brew slowly for maximum effect and enjoyment. Walking by, I spotted Rick and his resident and Vasquez, the bastard, looked like he'd had several cups by now.
Medical people drifted in and out, snagging pizza and gulping it down before hurrying back out to their duties. I have to wonder what we're going to do now. Apparently my confusion showed on my face, because Stuart grinned at me mischievously. "My patients are stable and should be sleeping by now. If anything untoward should happen -- and I've left notes as to what sort of things to check for -- the nurses will page me. The others are being looked after by others for the remainder of their treatment."
That was true. The jumper wasn't just in police custody, but by now he was either in the recovery room or on the orthopedics floor. I thought it best to take this time to ask him more questions. "So, when there's a calm like this, how do you stay sane while you wait?" That didn't come out exactly how I expected, but my questions would get edited out for the final cut.
"If we don't have other patients to check on, there's always paperwork to be done. Patients' charts need updating, among other things. Sometimes we even get messages from insurance agents asking questions about this or that patient's treatment. Some cases require research, so we can spend our scarce free time doing that." We began walking back toward the main desk, where a few other doctors and a couple nurses stood talking amongst themselves. Doctor Cunningham, whom I trailed yesterday, was one of them. She must have worked a double shift.
"We can also spend time doing research of our own, say, if we're planning to write a paper to submit to a journal," he continued. "Most of the time, though, sleep wins out. You have to take it when you can get it." I understood that sentiment; sleep when you can because when it rains it pours. He grinned sideways at me, not missing a step. "Other times, we play."
"Play what?" I've seen doctors and nurses entertain themselves during their free time in all sorts of ways. Water fights with various pieces of medical equipment, board games of all descriptions, card games of all types, and there've even been some rather clear affairs of a personal nature going on in the residents' sleeping area. I remember quite vividly the game of Operation that a respected surgeon kept spectacularly losing again and again. He blamed his losses on stage fright, since I had him in my viewfinder some of the time. Of course, that excuse didn't explain the other seventy-percent of his losses when I wasn't recording him or anything else in particular.
Stuart grinned at me. "Do you feel lucky?"
I have to admit, this was different. I've never before seen poker played for candy -- gumdrops, hard candies, jawbreakers, starbursts, and chocolate bars -- or anything qualifying as dessert material. Someone raised the ante an orange and half a walnut brownie, causing the formation of a quorum to decide whether an orange can be properly considered 'dessert' and how many points it garners in betting. They seem to have a points system at work, itemizing each portion by amount and by dessert standing.
This has got to be one of the most bizarre things I've ever witnessed.
Play continues after a brief argument breaks out over the orange and its status. Stuart, aided by a nurse in cranberry scrubs, tried to explain the rules of the points system but I couldn't seem to keep it straight. Practice probably does the trick. I find myself wondering what the highest- ever-ranked item is, but before I can ask, an unfamiliar code and location comes over the loudspeaker.
The code for fire.
Our orientation never discussed this, and I caught a quick glimpse of the shock on Doctor Stuart's face before I see the confusion on Rick's. He's probably just as shell-shocked as I am, since this has never happened to us. Julie looks a little scared, and I sincerely hope the same look isn't on my face. All things considered, I'd rather look confused than scared. Time's already beginning to slow down. Abandoning the poker game, we all wheeled around at once to race somewhere to do something, whatever their posts are during a Code Red, when suddenly there was a man standing in front of us... pointing a gun in our direction.
I do not need this kind of stress, not ever. I especially do not need this kind of stress at nearly midnight. For a few minutes -- I think, since it seems like much longer -- the gun in his hand held my attention, and my brain managed to spit out that it was a vaguely familiar handgun, maybe a 9mm, but with a smaller barrel. My brain then helpfully informed me that the camera was still recording all this, since I had miraculously not dropped it when this started.
The gunman didn't say a word, but a wave of his pistol motioned us toward the main desk. Smart, he wanted us all in one little group where we could be watched. He looked naggingly familiar to me before I recalled that I'd seen him the previous day, in this very emergency room to be treated for a scabies infection. Surely the cream couldn't have made him this cranky.
Ha-ha. Just a bit of hostage humor, there.
The bunch of us sat down and looked around at each other, each of us wondering the same things. What's going to happen now? Will someone get us out of this? Has anyone called the police? I was thinking all the same questions, plus I wanted to know what would happen if a trauma came in. Hopefully, someone had alerted the cops and one of the other hospitals in town, so they could pick up our slack because it looked like we were going to be out of business for a while.
And what about the fire, what were we supposed to do? Didn't he hear that alarm going off? Well, at any rate, I had a camera, so I might as well take advantage. I focused my viewfinder on the gunman, and made sure I had a clear picture. If he's going to shoot me, I want it on tape but please don't shoot me. God, I deserve a raise for this. "Excuse me, but... can I ask why you're doing this? Do you plan to let us all go before we burn to death?"
He seemed to be trying real hard not to have any expression. "There is no fire."
"What?" Now I was really confused. It was a false alarm?
"I set a small fire as a distraction, to get all the hospital security away from here so that I won't have to worry about them. I have what I want."
He sounded very determined, so I wasn't certain I wanted to ask. Still, we all have our duties to perform. "What do you want?"
"All of you."
For what? That's what I was afraid of, and now for the question of the hour. "Why did you do this?"
"My little girl, Janet... she's dead because of them. Five years ago, tonight. They said it was asthma and allergies, but they should have known...." His voice sounded so shaky, breaking now and then. Understandably, he was upset, but a lawsuit would have worked a whole lot better from where I was sitting. "They should have known, she'd been coming to this hospital all her life, she was born in this hospital, but they still made a mistake and killed my baby!" Now he was getting angry, and that concerned me. The hand holding the gun shook, and that was really upsetting.
I was surprised that we were all acting so rationally, no panicking, no pleading, no crying, just a lot of quiet terror. What was really surprising was how calm I found myself; I'm not a big tough hero-type, but here I was, a hostage calmly interviewing her captor like I was talking to a schoolteacher. Behind me, I could hear Rick and Jules interviewing the other doctors and nurses present about this whole event and some of the facts brought up. I'd known Doctors Stuart and Cunningham had been caught with the three of us, but I didn't know the others by name. An unreasonable urge to look outside gripped me but I knew it was pitch dark out there in spite of the lights in front of the building. I hoped someone knew what was going on in here. "That big cheese, Wheatley, he murdered my Janet, it was his fault, and the hospital cleared him, said no one was at fault." That didn't really surprise me, that the hospital cleared one of their high- position people of any fault. The last thing any of the board members want is a lawsuit. "That, that scum of a man shouldn't even be practicing medicine, let alone working on people. Janet walked into this hospital on her own two feet, but when I came to check on her, she was dead!"
He was starting to get angry again, but I didn't want to interrupt him and risk annoying him further. The tape kept rolling and I kept my viewfinder steady, watching him record this confession of sorts. Hopefully, he wouldn't do anything to require the tape's use in court. This whole situation was so surreal already that I didn't see how it could get any stranger. He seemed like a nice old man even if he was a few licks short of a Tootsie Pop.
"I was left with three grandchildren to raise, three grandchildren who've lost both their parents," he continued, angrily. "What am I supposed to tell them, now that they're older? What am I supposed to say when the baby asks what happened to Mommy?"
His voice dropped in volume, and I had to lean a little closer to catch it, pushing up the sound control a notch. I had a good view of his face and the gun, and it almost looked like he was crying. "My wife died three months after our daughter. We'd already buried our two boys. Vietnam killed them both. All our children dead, it was too much for my wife... she died with her heart broken."
All things considered, I felt bad for him in spite of what he was doing now. Losing a child is hard, nothing harder, but to lose all three children and your wife.... That's an awful lot of pain. I wanted to ask whether he had spoken with a counselor, but some people react very strongly to the idea of needing one, instantly equating 'counselor' with 'psychologist' with 'crazy' when that's not the case at all. Still, people tend to remember negative labels much easier than positive ones, and that's a fact.
So I would ask something else, and try to change the subject. "Can I ask a question?"
"Not to bring your attention to it or anything, but what kind of gun is that?" I couldn't help myself, the vague deja vu of it was driving me wild. Rick is probably going ballistic right now, and I could just hear his voice, 'what are you thinking?'
"It's a Tokarev TT-33, the Soviet answer to the American Colt-Browning pistols." He showed the gun off proudly, keeping one of us always in range. "I picked it up off of a North Korean during the war in '51."
That was why the gun seemed vaguely familiar; now I remembered. Two of my uncles had served in Korea, and one of them had brought home a bayonet-fixed carbine, and a handgun that was remarkably similar to this one. "I thought I'd seen it before. One of my uncles brought one back from the front." He looked a bit surprised but didn't say anything to that, which was good. Personally, I knew very little about the Korean War, except for what I learned from Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt. The history books I'd used in school didn't talk much about recent history at all, giving over maybe two pages for Korea and absolutely nothing at all about Vietnam. These were relatively new books, too, in college, and they didn't discuss Vietnam at all.
"I picked it off a North Korean," he repeated. His face hardened slightly, similar to the look he must have worn at the front. "A dead North Korean."
That settled it for me. I closed my mouth and sat back down with the others, but kept the recorder running. There was plenty of tape left... and hopefully I'd get the chance to use it.
Forever seemed to be passing like Vermont maple syrup, but we spent our time -- enforced free time -- by eating the rest of the pizza and playing endless rounds of poker. Bits and pieces of this I recorded, but not everything. Three of my fellow hostages whom I hadn't met, Doctor Emily Liu, Harold Morton, R.N., and Tiffany Yates, R.N., are in the same shape the rest of us are. Shaky, nervous, a bit confused, more than a little scared, but generally the gunman was treating us all quite well. He didn't care what we did so long as we didn't cause any trouble for him. It struck me as strange that he didn't seem to really want us for anything in particular; he just sat and watched us, not even bothering to contact the police and make demands for our release. What exactly is he planning? My current tape ran out and I hurriedly inserted another one, wondering when someone on the outside would deem to start negotiations. Of course, I suppose they could have attempted it already and none of us had noticed.
Time to quietly check in with my favorite detectives. Maybe they're hatching some brilliant plan to get us out of this fine mess.
"This isn't going to work."
"You have a better idea? Let's hear it." A pause. "Look, man, we know where the hostages are and where the gunman is. We know that we have to get them out of there a.s.a.p." How did they know where the gunman was standing?
"We know that he's on edge and could start shooting at any time." Now there's a comforting thought. I don't think so. "And what you're planning might shock him into taking potshots at those hostages."
"I'm still waiting for your better idea."
"I guess that's a 'no', huh?" Another brief pause. "Open this up." Lots of grunting and the faint sounds of metal scratching. "And try to be quiet, okay?"
"Shut... up." Pinging noises as something small broke free and hit the floor. Did they open something? I glanced upward, wondering what they could be doing, and hoped Woods wouldn't notice what I was doing. The brass air ducts caught my eye, but that didn't seem too likely. Detective Gorgeous might not be sized like his brawny partner, but even he probably wouldn't fit into those spaces. "Up you go, Chief."
"If you don't move your hands, I'll think you're interested in a whole new level to our partnership."
"Not even a ring or anything. I'm not that sort of boy, you know."
"I was giving you a lift into the duct, you ungrateful--" Laughter cut him off. This was too funny. I wanted to laugh but, if I did, the jig would be up, as the saying went. All I had to do was hold in my giggles while simultaneously preventing my imminent explosion. At least I was in a hospital.
A few minutes of near-silence later, the conversation continued. "Move that over there, and wire it in." Grunting followed the statement. They've got a plan but what it is doesn't make sense. Apparently something heavy had to be moved, and it, for whatever reason, involved climbing inside something that wasn't designed for human transport.
"Where's the bag?" A rustling of paper sounded very loud to my ears. "Okay, Chief. It's all set up... as a last resort."
When the candy for poker ran out, they began playing hearts. That decision left me out, since hearts isn't my game, but I'd folded shortly after winning a lone hand and found myself with a mere pair of threes on the next round. Taking my winnings out of the potential pot had caused a great deal of cheerful insulting. Luckily, I got most of my win on tape but concluded it had been a total fluke and that I should stick to Go Fish.
Apparently, Nurse Yates had come to the same conclusion since she was sprawled on the floor across from me. It looked like she might be sleeping at first glance, but I knew there was no way she could be. Julie looked tired, slumped against the front panel of the main desk, but she was hard at work, scribbling some comments into her notepad. Her camera was busily recording the hearts game at times and the non-players at times, so I think she's trying to put what she remembers recording into some semblance of mental order. Rick was playing hearts, and his camera was getting every bit of it.
Most of the time, I kept my camera on the gunman, with a few wanderings to other points of interest. He'd been pretty quiet, watching us from inside a niche in the wall beside the double doors out of the ER and the hall leading outdoors.
"Mister Woods, this is Captain Banks speaking." The new voice out of a bullhorn startled me and everyone else out of our wits, and I instantly thanked God that I'd changed tapes. It looked like the cops were starting negotiations, and it's about damned time. "Release the hostages and come out with your hands up," he continued. "No one has to get hurt today."
"Forget it," shouted Woods, his gun hand beginning to shake again.
"Mister Woods, the area you're in has been surrounded by police officers. I can see that you haven't hurt anyone, and we're glad to see that."
"That can change!"
Thanks a lot, Banks, go ahead and undo all my hard work. I couldn't believe this was happening. Woods -- at least we all knew his name now and he was the scabies patient from yesterday -- was starting to lose his temper a little, and that probably didn't bode well for any of us sitting in the line of fire.
"Mister Woods, you've got to show me some faith here. There are eight hostages in there with you." There was a slight pause during which I could practically hear myself sweat. "Why don't you let four of them go?"
"So that I have even less to bargain with?" The gunman's condescending tone made me want to curl up and pretend that none of this was happening. "I don't think so. They stay here with me, right where I can keep an eye on them."
"Mister Woods, be reasonable."
"Are you calling me crazy?"
"No, no, of course not. I just want us to be able to end this situation without anyone -- on either side of the doors -- getting hurt." Another pause. "I would still like you to let some of those hostages go... is there anything I can give you in exchange for the release of four hostages?"
Woods remained silent for a few minutes, clearly thinking it over as to what demands he wanted to make. I was just glad I was getting all of this on tape; the bosses hopefully would love this, since our adventures exploring the depths of trauma weren't going at all well. "That bastard Wheatley killed my little girl! I want him to pay!"
No reply came from outside. Hopefully, the cops would go with the plan. I wasn't real comforted by the comments I'd overheard, but any plan was better than no plan. Either way, it didn't look too good for us. I know from television that cops don't usually like to give in to demands, falling back on it when they can't think of anything else to do. Still, a plan would be nice, surely they could think of something.
A sharp popping sound came from somewhere in back of us, and everyone hit the deck. Even Woods hit the deck. I see him turning, his gun out and his mouth open in a cry of astonishment, of anguish. People are screaming, including someone nearby, I don't think it's me, and people are pushing, seeking cover from the gunfire. The floor tiles were shaking and cold, people were running, pounding footsteps were all around us; more yelling, but I can't understand any of it. I laid there on my stomach, face down and to the side, like I'm sleeping without dreaming or dreaming without sleeping, still blankly holding the camera in one hand, but I didn't know where it was pointing or if it was still recording. Both my hands, camera and all, are folded over in back of my head, and all I can think of is the sound of my dog woofing in his sleep as he dreams about chasing small creatures.
Suddenly, hands were touching me and someone was talking softly but I didn't understand any of that either, and then I yelled. The terrified water in my ears preventing me from hearing had drained away, and it was like words have meanings again as soon as I shouted. A female officer with kind eyes was looking at me, and I realize that my face was wet without any idea how it got that way. Not at any time do I remember crying, I did not cry. Looking up, my favorite detectives -- Buffed and Gorgeous -- had the gunman iin handcuffs, and he was crying on their shoulders. That doesn't sound like such a bad idea. The room was practically full of cops, people in plainclothes who simply had to be cops -- probably other detectives -- and paramedics.
I managed to get to my feet, all of me covered in dust and grit, and I checked my camera... which was fine. No damage. I'm fine. No damage. We're all fine. No damage.
I think I'm going to be sick.
I want to go home... but right now I really want to find a restroom. Rick said this would be easy, so I'm going to strangle him and enjoy it. There's nothing to worry about, I'm sure the jury will agree with me that it's justifiable homicide. Without taking any more time to think about it, I ran like the devil himself was after me past the cops, past everybody in my way, into the nearest ladies' restroom.
On shaky legs and pretty much everywhere else, I practically fell down the stairs and ran into the ladies' locker room, struggling into my parka and making a break for the outdoors until I could breathe again. My camcorder needed changing again, and I inserted a fresh tape, acting purely on reflex. Words I could barely hear, let alone understand, were free-roaming around my brain in absolute hysterics. I knew that Nick got corralled by one of the police on the scene, Jules was still in the bathroom being sick when I left, but I didn't know where my doctor, Rick, or Doctor Cunningham were.
I have to know what's going on. I have to know why this happened.
"So Wheatley has been smuggling the illegal drug into the US for desperate epileptics, just like you figured." The captain was no doubt thinking the same thing I was.
"Yes, Sir, but one of those was himself." Ellison's voice.
"How long has this been going on?"
"He'd been smuggling the drug in for nearly ten years from Mexico. He's already planning -- and no doubt his lawyer will instruct hhim to plea -- to give up his accomplices."
"Why the hell didn't the hospital catch it before now?" That was something I wanted to know.
"Even though the thefts occurred at almost regular intervals, no one caught it because the missing drugs weren't ones that were normally stolen. The clerks just figured it was a miscount."
"Something like morphine would have been noticed, Simon." Sandburg's voice.
"Besides, Wheatley had been an attending physician at that time; it was hardly unusual for him to sign out drugs himself rather than authorizing a nurse to do it." Ellison paused. "If Woods' story was accurate--"
"And we'll have to look into that." Captain Banks must really want to dot his Is and cross his Ts. Leaving no stone unturned, and all that good stuff.
"We will." Sandburg.
"Perhaps the incidents were related." Ellison. "If there had been a theft shortly after the girl's death... Well, we know that the anticonvulsant causes excruciatingly painful headaches. Maybe the pain had distracted Wheatley into making a fatal error, which he must have tried to cover up. How he might have done that, I don't know."
And it looked like I would never find out.
The outside world, impossibly, was even more hysterical than inside the hospital. Unbridled chaos. Hell, chaos is galloping around, bucking gleefully like a rodeo bronc, and rolling in the mud. Cops, paramedics, reporters, other cameramen, patients, families of patients, families of employees, rubberneckers, second cousins to most of the free world, everybody. I rolled some tape of the mad throng, just to show how wild it is outside the crime scene, and resist the evil urge to flaunt my insider footage to the news crews. Captain Banks, who was on the news last night, was probably going to be on tonight's news as well; I could see him standing in front of the news crews giving a statement of some kind. For some more nice closure, I rolled some tape of his conference myself.
Someone grabbed my shoulder, and I whipped around, prepared to take my assailant's head off somewhere below the waist. Rick Vasquez stood there, then backed off, arms outstretched, his camera tightly held in one hand. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." I honestly don't think he expected to find me so wound up, otherwise he wouldn't have made such a stupid move.
Remembering what he'd been saying to me for the past forty-eight hours, the urge to pound his face is real hard to resist. However, knowing that the news crews would undoubtedly get it on tape forced me to stay my hands. "That was not easy, you said it would be easy." I hold out the hand not holding the camera, letting him see how I'm still shaking. "Some lead pipe cinch this job turned out to be."
He gave me an odd look, and I knew he was wondering what I meant. The phrase is a New Hampshireism, something I've only heard my uncle -- New Hampshire, born and bred in a family of woodworkers, like I've mentioned -- say. It's a plumber expression, from way back when water and other pipes were made of lead. Lead is a soft metal, so working with pipes and patches made of the material was easy. A lead pipe was easy to cinch off with a wrench, so the saying 'lead pipe cinch' referred to something that was easy to accomplish, something that could be completed with very little effort.
Still, where there was a cinch involved, that meant there had to be a leak somewhere in the piping. That thought made me think... how was Woods able to keep security out once he got them where he wanted them? Did he have someone on the inside, someone he trusted, someone who trusted him, to lock them out of the area?
At any rate, figuring all this nonsense out isn't my job so I'm not going to deal with any of it. Bad enough that I just know all of us have a date with a detective or two -- hopefully, it'll be Ellison or Gorgeous, Sandburg... I think his name is, hell, why can't I ever remember it -- to go over everything a few dozen times and then write it all down in triplicate. Probably, if it comes to that, we'll also have to come back for court.
Rick's voice broke in on my thoughts. "It was easy."
"Someone was shooting at us!"
"No one was shooting, Annie -- that was popcorn. One of the detectives moved a microwave near one of the rear doors and set off a bag of popcorn." He grinned widely. "He figured it'd flush the gunman out."
Popcorn... it figured. I hate popcorn, and now I know why. It doesn't sound like real gunfire, I know, having grown up with rifles and handguns in the house. Still, it'd been just enough to rattle all of us. It felt different than shooting at the firing range with my dad on weekends, but I'd never been the target. That gave me a new perspective. I couldn't help shaking my head over it, though, so I'd have to watch the tape later. It did sound like something Ellison and Sandburg would think up, if what I'd overheard was any indication. As if thinking their names brought them back into existence, Ellison's voice came into my ear, rich with satisfaction.
"Miss Sedgewick, please try to refrain from bugging police detectives in the future." I felt myself flush faintly, but he didn't sound upset. Well... not terribly upset. He sounded more amused than angry. "And if you wanted Sandburg's phone number, you only had to ask."
"Just try not to pinch him anymore or he'll have to spend some time in the hospital from a butt sprain." Yeah, definitely amusement.
"Dammit, Jim, I am just a simple country anthropologist!"
"Look at that sky, will ya?"
Rick's voice was unexpected, and my laughter almost bubbled out of my mouth. Accepting the end of my illicit conversation, I turned to the east, and the horizon was ablaze in reds, golds, and blues, tinted with violet and the hazy shade of smog. It was lovely and, despite my own anxiety and restrained homicidal frustration, somewhat calming. While I'd like to say that all the jittery shakes I'd been having suddenly drained away under the soothing influence of nature's own balms, that wasn't what happened. What really happened was that I still felt jittery but that I got film of that smashing sunrise.
"It's nature's way of telling us that a new day has dawned, we've triumphed over our long journey through the dark night...."
I glanced at Rick, but his expression gave away nothing. "You still got the Harlequin romance you stole that from?"
"Why?" He asked, too innocently. "You want to read it?"
Sometimes I have to wonder why I put up with this, but I know why. Like it or not, Rick Vasquez is a good friend, the kind you could call at 3 a.m. on a weekday and beg for a ride home from the middle of nowhere. He's also a brilliant editor, something I could plan out on paper but I could never cajole the wretched machines into behaving the way I wanted them to act. Rick can make those truly expensive machines sit up and sing the blues, while I couldn't even make them acknowledge my existence.
Before I could pose an appropriate insult, a police officer in working blues approached us. I'm glad I still have tape left, since that seems to be the only thing going for me tonight. "Ma'am, Sir, I need both of you to come down to the station to give statements of what happened here tonight."
"We won't need lawyers or anything, will we?"
"No, ma'am." The officer looked almost apologetic. "We just want a clear picture of what happened as soon as possible." Yeah, definitely apologetic. He knows it's dawn and that we've been up all night, but he and his superiors want to put this case to bed.
I can relate.
Looking beyond the uniformed officer, I could see Detective Gorgeous leading a handcuffed and crying Woods out through the mob. They probably looked as tired as I felt. Detective Buffed followed them with Doctor Wheatley, who didn't look cuffed but merely resigned. My uneducated guess was that he was just being brought in for questioning. "Okay. Can you or a colleague give us a ride there?" Naturally, I have no inhibitions about answering for Rick. He'd have done the same for me, if I hadn't spoken up first. Based on what little I've seen of policework -- plus what I've learned from television -- they're going to love me for the taped confession and other information gained by interview. Hopefully, they'll be satisfied with a copy, since we have to get these tapes in the mail tomorrow to the editors. Our bosses will either love us, for snaring what promises to be a juicy and exciting episode of Trauma Room, or hate us, for embroiling them secondhand in a hostage situation and for thus holding up production because the master tapes are evidence.
At this point, though, I don't much care anymore. I just want to get the hell out of Dodge.
Dodge. Cascade. Same diff.
Rick must have seen the expression on my face, and he patted my shoulder in something like sympathy. "Don't worry about it, Annie. A little bird told me they might be sending us to Anchorage next week." A sigh made its way up from my chest, where it had no doubt been lodging since this whole mess started. Anchorage in winter? The resulting mental image alone made me shiver in sympathy. The only thing that would make me consider such a job is that I have friends in that city, and Vasquez knows it. Plus, he's probably told his 'little bird" -- one of the secretaries to one of our bosses who decide our shooting locations, with whom he went to high school -- the whole story. "We might have to stick around for a few days until we get our next assignment."
He knows that I know all of this, and I know that because he's grinning in that cocky selfsure way he has that drives girls wild. I'm not one of them, though. That charming smile doesn't work on yours truly.
Still, I suppose I can survive a few more days in Cascade.
I mean, what else could happen?
Anything else would defy the laws of nature.
The character of Doctor Cunningham was borrowed from Hephaistos and Mackie with their consent; thanks, ladies! Thanks to Melissa Beattie for her medical assistance and to Chance for constant encouragement. Thanks to everyone who tirelessly betaed multiple drafts of this story, without whom it wouldn't have been nearly as good. Special thanks to Cindy for cracking that whip and keeping both my spirits up and my Muses mostly on the narrow path.
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