by Kiki Cabou
Disclaimer: World's Shortest Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue.
Author's Notes: Please see Part One.
Story Notes: Please see Part One.
This story is a sequel to: Slam Dunk, Part One
CHAPTER THREE: THE DEMON-SLAYER
Fraser bolted from the doorway and ran out into the snow. A light fall was coming down as the Mountie skidded to a halt next to the groaning cop. He sank to his knees and it took the tightening of every muscle to keep from throwing up. Stan was lying limp. His eyes were barely open, but even that was difficult to see because blood was running down his face from a nasty cut on one temple. His nose was bleeding. A red river was coming from his mouth. One side of his face was beginning to swell up.
Fraser put a hand on his friend's shoulder and turned to stare at the spot where the blue blur had disappeared. All that remained of it were tire tracks in the snow, already starting to fill. Ray, Huey and Dewey bolted out into the alley and stared in shock. Fraser turned back to Stan, who was beginning to gasp for breath. The Mountie's heart started pounding as he gritted his teeth and took control of the situation.
"Huey!" he barked, "Run and get me a first aid kit! Go! Dewey, shake a leg and get some blankets out here! Ray, call an ambulance! NOW! Move it!"
The three cops scurried off and Fraser was left there with Stan, who stared up at him blankly. The cop tried to speak, but no words came out, and he could barely open his mouth, anyway. His wild blond hair was sticking out in all directions. His face was marred with red streams. He looked quite small, with the cuffs of Fraser's blue coat covering his white knuckles and the lapels up over his neck. He was sprawled like a rag doll, twisted with his torso facing up, but his hips turned to one side. Fraser saw his Stetson, rather battered, lying a few feet away.
"It's okay, Stan. You're going to be all right. We're going to get you some help."
He began to shake with the cold, but ignored it. He was only wearing a long-sleeved, dark top and sweatpants. Stan had borrowed the hat and coat for less than a minute, and the man leaning over him just hoped his friend wouldn't die in those clothes. He blew his breath out and moved to Stan's legs. They were twisted and spread at an odd angle. Very gently, he took each of them and set them straight on the ground while turning his friend over on his back completely.
"Hang in there. Just stay awake. Just stay awake for me, okay, Stan? ... Stan?"
"Stan! Oh, no!"
He kept muttering to himself as he moved to his friend's head. Dewey came running with two blankets --- he threw one over Stan to the neck, the other around Fraser's shoulders, and stood there, nervously watching Fraser work. The Mountie listened at Stan's nose for any sound of breathing. He couldn't hear it. It was time to use his first aid response training. He felt his hands go clammy, but it had to be done. He sucked up his fear and doubt, and wrenched Stan's mouth open. There was a sickening crack. Dewey gasped.
"Jesus Christ! Did you just break his jaw?"
"I hope not."
He quickly did the ABC's. The airway was clear, but there was no breathing and no pulse.
"Dewey, I need your help."
The two of them started CPR, and worked feverishly for the next three minutes. Ray came out yelling that the ambulance was on its way just as Fraser breathed hard into Stan's mouth one final time, and Dewey gave his chest a last pump. The blond coughed up blood and began to breathe again. He even managed to open his eyes.
"Hiya, Stan," Fraser said.
Pronounced crowsfeet around his eyes showed as he smiled and smoothed the cop's hair off his face, where some of it had matted from the blood. He took a corner of his shirt and tried to wipe some of the blood from his friend's mouth.
"Pulse?" Dewey asked, squinting through the falling snow at the Mountie.
Fraser had two fingers on his friend's neck. "Not for long. He's bleeding internally."
"Shit! Who was that asshole?!"
Fraser just shook his head. He didn't know. Huey came running out saying that he couldn't find a first aid kit. Everyone else sighed in exhaustion and aggravation and looked sadly at Stan.
"C'mon, buddy," Ray said. "Just stay awake until the ambulance comes. We're all here with you. Just stay awake."
Stan tried as his friends huddled around him.
"Stan?" Fraser took the detective's hand. "Squeeze my hand. Can you? ... Very good."
With no wasted movement, he put both veiny hands against the soles of his friend's shoes.
"Now if you can, press on my hands with your feet. Please."
Stan was starting to go, though.
"Stan, no! Nonono!" Ray said, gently patting his face to keep him awake. It worked. "Press on Fraser's hands with your feet. Come on."
He managed to do it with his left, very slightly, with Fraser cheering him on a bit. He moved back to cop's head and bunched the blankets at his shoulders. To his surprise, the detective let out a hiss of pain.
Concerned, Fraser withdrew the blanket and looked at his friend's left arm, which was bloody as well. He whipped out his knife and began to cut through Stan's shirt in an effort to try and see where the blood was coming from.
He hadn't made but two swishes with the knife, though, when they were all bathed in the red and blue lights of the oncoming ambulance, and drowning in the noise of the sirens. The car stopped and the paramedics came bursting into the alley, moving like shadows in their dark blue uniforms. They ran over, carrying several bags and a stretcher between them. The cops had to stand back while they worked.
Their speed was astonishing. In less than thirty seconds, they had an i.v. in, an oxygen mask over Stan's face, and had him on the stretcher. One of them positioned his head and braced his neck with a cervical collar, while the other took out some scissors and began to cut the legs of his sweatpants and remove his shoes. A third paramedic came running with a gurney, and the first two lifted his stretcher on to it. Fraser caught a glimpse of him as one of them secured it in place. He'd passed out again. His hands, usually twitching in nervousness, were completely limp. His nose pointed into the air like a small, neat pyramid. Ray put a hand on Fraser's shoulder and gently pulled him back.
"Go go go!" yelled one of the paramedics.
They hustled the gurney through the snow to the waiting ambulance.
"Where are you taking him?!" Fraser yelled.
"Southside! There's no room for you guys, but you can meet us there!"
"All right! Thank you!"
Huey and Dewey watched, breathless, as the ambulance took off. They kept their eyes on it until it had left and the alley was quieter and darker. The snow continued to fall, and they waited for their breathing to slow down. When it did, Dewey turned around and saw a blood stain in the snow, in the imprint that Stan's body had made. Finally, Huey turned and saw Ray looking down at Fraser. The Mountie was kneeling in the snow. He stood up again, holding the battered Stetson. There was a little blood inside. The blood of one of his closest friends. The blood of a partner.
"Jesus," Ray commented.
Fraser stood there silently, absently fingering the hat.
The Mountie didn't acknowledge the word and stared icily into the distance, in the direction of the tire treads. His light blue eyes glittered in anger.
"Flight 236 to Cleveland, now boarding. Flight 236 to Cleveland, now boarding. All passengers flying business class should head to the front of the line. Thank you."
That was her ticket. Stella cracked her neck and stood up. She'd brushed her hair after mussing it at the game, from all that jumping up and down. Her tan business suit was immaculate as usual, and all of her matching luggage had already been loaded onto the plane. All she had was her carry-on --- her purse. Neat and tidy, and done. She was heading to Ohio, where her fiance was waiting for her. As she got in line with her ticket, she smiled as she thought of him. Ronald Harrington. Ronnie. Quite a sweetheart.
She looked down at the diamond ring shimmering on her finger and realized that in less than 24 hours, they would be man and wife. And then the smile faded. It had been so hard to tell Stan that she was getting married again. And then it occurred to her to once again wonder why. Why had she even stopped by to tell him in the first place? Why had she come to the games? Why had she stood up and screamed when his team won? She didn't even like basketball. And then the nagging thought came back. Maybe ... she just had a thing for a certain spiky-haired player.
No! Of course not! We are over, I'm getting married, and that's final!
The thought didn't console her. The memories began to seep back into her brain, shoving their way through the steel wall she'd worked so hard to construct. Excess guilt was collecting painfully around her eyes and moistening them. The images were too powerful --- she and Stan rollerblading in the park, Stan leaning up against the kitchen sink in his small walk-up apartment, the light hitting him just-so ... Stan kneeling before her on the docks of Lake Michigan, offering her a ring which must have set him back a year's salary, the wind blowing his hair every which way, his face lit up with a happy grin, his eyes crackling with the lively spark that won her. Happy times. And then fights. Yes children. No children. Maybe children. Slamming the door in his face. Serving him the papers, five years ago.
And then of course, there was that night last week when she'd told him of her wedding plans and tried to soften the blow.
*"I like you, Stan. A lot. I just wanted to wish you the best of luck."*
*"Yi'll fergive me if I tell yeh dat ain't much comfort."*
*"Yeah, I will."*
It felt like a lie, now, as though she'd somehow deceived him. She wasn't allowed to "like him. A lot." She was, after all, marrying Ronnie. There was no room for Stan in her heart, even though it wanted desperately to make some. Loving two men at once was out of the question. But dammit, she did love Kowalski! After all, Ronnie wasn't as good in bed as Stan was, or as interesting, and he didn't have that cute, funny, little nasal thing going on when he spoke. He didn't say "Yer drivin' me crazy." He didn't call her "Stell." He didn't box for fun or catch bad guys or drive a classic car. He certainly didn't live in a tiny apartment with a turtle. And now that she was about to marry him, why oh why was she suddenly finding all those traits appealing? It was horrible! She felt like a worm caught on two hooks, being pulled back and forth by her belly. Eventually, she would be ripped in two. And God, it hurt.
"WHY?" she blurted out, and began to weep uncontrollably, burying her face in her hands. One of them was holding her boarding pass.
The baffled man in the airline uniform stared at her as she cried and finally said, "Because it's the only way you can get on the plane, ma'am. I need your ticket."
Stella stared at him, the tears running down her face and ruining her mascara, handed him the now soggy ticket envelope, and hiccuped.
Wilson sat huddled against a wall, the wind blowing at him and chilling him even with his thick coat. He pushed up his large, wire-rimmed glasses and stared out into the snowy evening, wondering what to do. Every detail of the killing field was stamped into his memory. He'd seen what looked like the Mountie coming out of the building and floored it for all he was worth. He felt the sweet connection of flesh and metal when he hit the man in the coat and the hat, and watched with glee as the body flipped up over his car. But the face that hit his windshield would stay with him forever.
Because it was the wrong face.
Those shocked blue eyes, the side of the head that hit the glass and began to bleed, that wild blond hair that only showed itself when that stupid hat flew off ... it wasn't the Mountie. It was that other cop. The speedy one. Kowalski.
Oh, that Mountie was clever, all right. He sent a decoy. And I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
Wilson sighed, annoyed with his error. If Kowalski was dead, and he most certainly was, it was "murder one" if the cops caught him. Then again, since the car was safe in a parking garage on one end of town and he was now on the other, there wasn't much chance of that. It didn't matter if he and the cop had locked eyes for a microsecond before the detective kept going. The one witness to his crime was probably a corpse by now. He was safe.
The emergency room wasn't crowded. That made it even worse, in a way, because there was very little to distract from the matter at hand. In another way it was better, because that meant that more resources could be devoted to one patient. And the patient in question was someone who deserved every chance for survival.
Fraser sat slumped in a plastic chair, waiting for news about him. He was still wearing the blanket around his shoulders, and felt no better than he had in the alley. The ride in the Riv had been hectic and frightening --- Ray's driving was even worse than usual because he was so upset. The Mountie sighed and stared at the clock on the wall. 9:43. He looked around him. Ray was nervously pacing back and forth. Huey and Dewey were sitting in their chairs, mute and only revealing themselves to be alive by blinking occasionally.
The worst thing about this whole mess was definitely the wait. No one knew what was going on in the trauma room. The one thing that Fraser had been able to ascertain from his small examination of Stan in the alley was that the detective probably hadn't suffered a spinal injury, a near-miracle considering the accident. He just hoped that the movements of his friend's hand and both feet weren't simply last-breath sort of occurrences.
Fraser paused to think how long everything had taken. Let's see. The game ended at 9:00, the accident occurred at 9:20, the ambulance arrived at 9:25, travel time was brief, so judging by the time, Stan has been in the trauma room for approximately ten minutes.
None of this was comforting. Everyone was nervous and feeling twitchy. They needed something to do --- a purpose. Fraser caught Ray's eye as he turned in the Mountie's direction during his pacing.
"Ray, may I speak with you for a minute? Alone?"
Ray furrowed his brow and followed Fraser down the hall. Huey and Dewey were too tired to even look up. Ray and Fraser walked slowly down the hall together, until they reached a small off-shoot corridor. They both got into a corner.
"What's up, Benny?"
Fraser thought for a moment. He was about to reveal something quite personal that he knew Stan would have liked to keep quiet.
"Benny?" Ray repeated.
"Ray, I have to tell you something, and you have to promise you won't tell it to anyone else."
"... Good. Stan left a message on my answering machine a few days ago. He told me that Stella is getting married again."
"No, wait a minute. That isn't the important part. The important part is what he told me in the locker room, before you three came out of the final game. Friday night, after we played the Fireballs, she dropped by his apartment to tell him the news. And she cleaned up his injuries. And she informed him that she still liked him."
It took Ray a few seconds to put it together. Stan had told him a few things about Stella, most of which he didn't consider very flattering.
"Oh, boy. What a bitch."
"Jeez, Benny, can't you see? She's leading him on!"
"Leading him on? But why would she? All of my experiences with the woman have shown her to be, if nothing else, honest. Why would she just say something like that out of the blue? What would make her want to hurt Stan intentionally? And why would she choose to do it now?"
"Why do chicks like her do anything? I don't know. But they're over. It's done. She's been seeing other people, Stan's, well, Stan keeps trying to see other people, even though it rarely works, ..."
"Would you please honor a request?"
The two men stared at each other for a second, clear blue eyes looking into exasperated green ones. Finally, Ray gave in.
"Fine, fine. What do you want me to do?"
"Well, Stella told Stan that she was leaving after the game tonight, to get married in Ohio. Is there any way you can reach her, tell her what happened? I think she'd like to know."
Ray ruefully smiled at Fraser for a bit.
"Anyone ever tell you that you're one of the most absurdly considerate beings on this planet?"
Fraser smiled back.
"If you would try to locate her, Ray, I'd be grateful. I think Stan would be, too."
Ray nodded. "I'll give it my best shot."
The other cop walked off back down the hall, already flicking his cell phone open and dialing. Fraser followed, at a bit of a distance, until he reached the waiting area again. Huey and Dewey were still sitting motionlessly. He got their attention and asked if Huey could try to call Stan's parents and let them know what happened. The detective nodded and got up to make some calls. Dewey was asked to call Welsh. He complied immediately. The three of them were all doing their particular phone searches, and Fraser sat down, feeling a little better, now that he'd occupied them.
Of course, there was still nothing to occupy himself, except the clock. 9:57. This is going to be a very long night.
The phone rang. The tinny noise bounced off the walls of the comfortable but rather flimsy camper wagon, parked just outside the city of Flagstaff. Barbara Kowalski looked up from her reading. She pulled back a few strands of graying blond hair away from her face and focused her eyes on the princess telephone in the small kitchen. It was about eight o'clock, her time, and the Arizona heat had abated. Her husband Damien was outside, puttering around with something or other, and she was alone. She heaved herself up out of her chair with a grunt, and walked slowly to the phone.
"Hi. Yes. Is this Mrs. Kowalski?"
"Speaking. And this is...?"
"Detective Jack Huey of the Chicago P.D.," came the tired response.
But before Jack could get his message across, something powerful and painful surged across Barbara's synapses. The feeling had taken a long time to reach her from Chicago, but motherly intuition had kicked in, nonetheless.
"Oh my God. Is Stanley all right? What happened?!"
"DAMIEN!" she screamed, bursting out of the trailer.
Her husband came running as she stumbled down the front steps, utterly distraught. He caught her as she broke down in tears and nearly toppled over. Not surprisingly, he was quite bewildered.
"Barbie? What's the matter?"
"Oh honey, it's Stanley! He's been hit ... he's been hit ... It's really bad! No one knows what's happening, or if he'll make it ..."
"Sweetheart, you're not making any sense! Slow down!"
"I can't! There's no time! We have to go to Chicago! Book a flight and get us a rental car! We can't drive this damn camper trailer to Illinois!"
Stella sat down in a comfortable seat and began to dry her face with a handkerchief. And then she realized it was one that Stan had loaned her once and she'd forgotten to give back, and that just made her start crying all over again. She managed to keep it quiet enough so that the stewardess giving the seatbelt instructions didn't notice her. She buckled herself in and stared out the window. In little more than an hour, she would be in Cleveland, ready to meet Jimmy, Ronald's brother, who would take her to her hotel. The wedding was to be Tuesday, at 10:30. Everyone said she was cutting really close by leaving so late, but she couldn't leave a case half-finished, and the trial had finally ended that day, Monday, a half an hour before the game.
Her career had been her life until now. Not that it would be any different when she married Ronald, which would be nice. They both considered themselves emotionally low-maintenance people.
"Perhaps this marriage is more about convenience than love," the dastardly little voice said in her ear.
"IT IS NOT!" she shrieked mentally. "You don't know Ronald! He's easy to care about, easy to be with, friendly, sweet, ... and he's also okay with me continuing my career in Chicago. At least, I think so. He wants to continue his in New York, anyway. We'll meet in the middle as often as we can. Now leave me alone! Everything will be fine."
She felt herself pressed into her seat as the plane, which had been taxing down the runway, pointed its nose into the air and took off.
"I can't just stay here. I have to do something."
Wilson stood up, brushed the snow off of his shoulders and trudged off down the alley. He wasn't sure what to do. Guaranteed, the cops hadn't seen the car. He'd be safe driving it. Yes, the windshield was cracked and the hood was dented, but he'd cleaned all the blood off with snow. No one would know what they were looking at. It would be better to just catch another bus back, pick up his car again, and drive home. He turned and began to walk back to the bus station.
Huey came back after calling the Kowalskis and sat down next to Fraser. He looked at the Mountie and recognized the expression on the man's face --- it was the same one he'd been wearing before Fraser had asked him to make the call. Fraser's eyes were blank, and hardly moving, except for occasional blinks. His shoulders shuddered a little under the blanket, and he was staring at the marble of the reception desk a few feet away.
The man turned to look at him, and seemed to regain a little bit of life.
"I um, I called Stan's parents. They're on their way from Arizona."
"Good work. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Are you okay?"
"Not really, no."
Huey put a hand on Fraser's shoulder.
"Look, if it's one thing I know about Kowalski ... he's a tough bastard. He'll be okay."
Ray and Dewey returned a few moments later. Ray had had no luck reaching Stella --- he was going to try combing through all the flights to Ohio to see which one she might have taken. Dewey had reached Welsh, though. The Lieutenant said he would be by first thing the next morning. The four of them were standing and sitting around, just making small talk, when all of a sudden, loud footsteps pounded on the marble and a woman in pink scrubs ran past where they were. She was wearing a disposable apron and latex gloves, all of which were covered in blood.
"MARI!" she screamed. "Trauma one! It's the cop! He's crashing! We need you!"
"What?!" came the reply.
A petite woman in her late twenties came running into their field of vision to meet the nurse. Her dark, curly, jaw-length hair was neatly pinned away from her face, and her stylish, wire-rimmed glasses twinkled in the light. She wore green scrubs and a stethoscope. Her tennis shoes squeaked on the floor. She shot a frantic look at the detectives and Mountie, who were all staring at her in shock, shoved the woman in pink back the way she'd come, and started yelling for some gloves as she ran.
The other three cops were stunned and frozen, but Fraser, more out of instinct than sense, got up and went after the woman in green. He walked all the way to the doors of Trauma One, where the team inside was working feverishly. The woman he'd just seen was bent over what must have been Stan, although his face was covered by a sheet. There was a large hole in his torso. There was blood everywhere, and the opening revealed a heart that, at the moment, wasn't beating.
Good God. His chest is open. They cracked his chest! What happened?!
Something crazy inside him told him to just run and not see it if the death actually happened, but he never got the chance. There was a sudden movement of a device with two prongs that reached down into the cavity. There was a zapping noise, and suddenly, the heart monitor in the room started going. The medical team relaxed and went about its business of inspecting the chest cavity and bandaging that, as well as working with the patient's limbs. Fraser watched them work and then finally finish up. He didn't know what to do, so he ducked behind a corner as the woman in green and the woman in pink walked out of the trauma room. It was evident that the former was really upset with the latter. Fraser listened from around the corner.
"What the f**k is the matter with you, Denise? Have you totally lost your mind?" This was Mari speaking, evidently. Her voice was chesty and alto.
"What are you talking about?" said Denise, defensively. She squeaked. She must have had reason to fear the wrath of the other woman.
"Did you realize where you were when you shouted at me?"
"You screamed out that the cop was dying within earshot of the waiting room! Right in front of his friends! You scared them all half to death! Are you sure emergency medicine is the right field for you?" There was righteous anger in her words.
"I should ask you the same thing, 'doctor!'"
"Of course it is, but I asked you first. And quit calling me 'doctor.' I will be in May, but not now."
"Exactly! You're a student, same as I am, and you have no right to yell at me."
"Of course I have a right to yell at you! I have a year's seniority, and you're an idiot! I don't care how well you can do procedures! You ought to try opthalmology, or something, because you're no good for this field!"
"I am so! I can put in a chest tube faster than you can!"
"It doesn't matter! Patients are not meat! They have families, and friends, and lives. There's no way you can be a proper emergency physician, because you don't have any goddamn sense when it comes to dealing with people!"
"That's not fair! You just can't bear to take me seriously!"
"Who the hell CAN take you seriously? You're loud, off-handed about patient care, and you're wearing a nurse's uniform, for godsake! You are a MEDICAL student, in training to be a DOCTOR! Wear ... green!"
This loud snarl of a command effectively shut up Denise, who began to whimper. Mari, chest heaving with emotion, just focused on breathing for a second. Fraser slipped away and back into the waiting area.
Mari continued. "I am going to notify the friends out there that we've stabilized him. I'm also going to tell them whatever they want to know. And I won't offer any excuse for your thoughtlessness. If they find you and ask you to explain yourself, then act like a human being and do it."
"Jee-sus. You're so cranky!"
"I'm at the end of a double shift! What do you want? Florence Nightengale?"
"Yeah, well, whatever. I'm not going to talk to any of them."
"Well, I'm not gonna do it, either. There's no way I'm taking responsibility for a moron like you."
She snapped off her bloody gloves, threw them into the garbage bin with the plastic apron, and strode off. Denise screwed up her face in angry pout and hollered a single word at Mari's back.
Meg was enjoying a quiet evening, watching the news on T.V. She was curled on the couch in her apartment, petting her cat, Rowena, with one hand, and tossing kernels of air-popped popcorn into her mouth with the other. Fraser was undoubtedly out celebrating with the boys, and she was glad to give him the night off to have some fun. It was nice to be alone.
She watched the local news and was delighted as they went around the table to the local sports guy, Jim Ortega. She immediately recognized him as the newsman from the game that evening.
"Well, everybody," Jim said, "Tonight has been a very exciting night in local sports. Tonight, I want to present a story about a little team that did the impossible. In this year's All-City Police and Fire Department Basketball Competition, the cops, for the first time in history, walked away with it."
The tape cut to a series of clips from the Rockets, the 27th precinct's team, playing their final game against the Hornets of Firehouse 76. Jim's voice played over it, describing the key five players (in fact, the ONLY five players) and briefly mentioning the team's alternate, before talking about their monumental achievements as a team and cutting finally to Fraser's tournament-winning, frantic slam dunk. The picture returned to a still shot of the team holding Fraser on its shoulders. Meg smiled at the constable on the screen, who was frozen, waving to the crowd, with a bloody nose, a sweaty jersey, and hair that was going in all directions.
"Well, needless to say, the guys are pretty happy. Congratulations, fellas. In other news..."
Meg turned back to her cat.
"What do you think, Rowena? You think our boys did a pretty good job?"
She shut it off.
"What do you say to some dinner?"
She heaved herself up to go get some food for her cat, when the phone rang. She picked it up in the kitchen.
"Hey, Inspector? Zat you?"
"Yes it is. Who is this?"
"Oh! Detective! How is everything? I take it you're all celebrating?"
"Not exactly. We're at Southside. Stan was hit by a car."
She paused for a second. "What? How bad?"
"Really bad. I think the doctor's heading our way to give us some news."
"That's --- that's really awful. Listen, do you gentlemen need anything? Donuts? Coffee?"
"That would be great. Thanks, Inspector."
"You're welcome. I'll see you in a bit."
She hung up, got up off the couch and set Rowena on the coffee table. The cat watched her curiously as she grabbed her coat and gloves.
"I have to go to the hospital. You stay here, okay? Don't go wandering out in the cold."
"And don't eat the popcorn --- you'll choke."
Upon considering this statement and her cat's contrary nature, she grabbed the nearly empty popcorn bowl off the coffee table and emptied it into the sink in the kitchen. Rowena, meanwhile, was yowling at the injustice, but stopped immediately when Meg dished out her favorite evening meal --- leftover perch and some Science Diet cat food.
"I'll be back as soon as I can, Rowie."
She scratched her cat behind the ears, pulled on her coat, and dashed out of the apartment, locking the door behind her.
Everybody stood up as Mari approached. She glanced over them with an apprenticed eye and saw four exhausted friends, probably co-workers. No parents.
They all grunted 'hello.'
"Miss, if you could, please ..." Fraser trailed off. His mouth was too tired to form coherent sentences anymore.
"Sure. Why don't you all sit down?"
"My name's Marianne Bergstrom, but you can call me Mari. (MAH-ree.) Anyway, I helped work on your friend. He's..." She glanced at the chart. "Detective Stanley Kowalski? Chicago P.D.?"
"Yeah," Ray said.
"All right. Well, the first thing I want to tell you is that we stabilized him, and he'll be going up to surgery in a few minutes."
Everyone looked slightly relieved.
"What about that chick that yelled he was dying?" Dewey inquired.
"What about her? Look, she's just nuts like that. She panicked. He's currently all right."
"What did you find?" Fraser asked, finally finding his voice again.
"Well, there was some internal damage."
This brought various exclamations of horror from the cops, but Ray was just frustrated.
"Look, lady, before you go on, speak English. We're no good at 'Medicalese.' And just tell us everything, if you can. We have to be able to tell his parents something when they get here."
She went gently. "I know. All right, well, as to the internal damage, when the vehicle hit Mr. Kowalski, the impact broke four ribs. Now, you all know that the ribs are like a sort of cage around most of the vital organs. What happened was that when the ribs broke, one of them collapsed inward a good deal and nicked something call the pericardium, which is the sack around the heart."
Ray was gripping Fraser's shoulder like a vice.
"That caused a lot of internal bleeding. Also, another rib collapsed inward and deflated a lung, but we put in a chest tube and got it to re-inflate itself. It'll be permanently fixed during surgery. He had to be intubated, but that should be only temporary."
"What happened to his face?" Fraser asked.
"Well, the side of it that hit ... whatever it hit ... is heavily bruised from the contact, and the impact broke a few teeth and dislocated his jaw on one side. After we dealt with the internal injuries, we relocated it, but it will remain swollen for a while, and he won't be able to talk very well. There's also a lot of abrasions and cuts on his face, (we call them 'head lacs') but X-rays showed only a few hairline fractures of the skull, which should heal pretty quickly."
"What about his legs?" Ray asked. He pronounced the word, as usual, 'Laygs.'
Mari sighed. "Left one's broken in two places and the ankle's fractured as well. Right is broken in one."
"Arms? Anything else?" Dewey put in.
"Yeah. The left arm is broken in three places and dislocated at the shoulder. But everything that we fixed temporarily down here will be fixed permanently upstairs. Do you guys have any questions? Are you okay?" she finished, looking from one ashen face to the next.
They were all silent, save the Mountie.
"Were there any spinal injuries?"
"As far as we could tell, no, but we've kept the brace on his neck for support."
"Ah. Can we see him before he goes up?"
"Sure. C'mon with me."
She led them down the hall to Trauma One, where two surgeons, in their identifying blue scrubs, were already raising the bars on the sides of the bed, preparing the patient for transport. Huey and Dewey took a quick look. Fraser put a hand on Stan's shoulder and then turned away. Ray looked down at the patient and barely recognized him, with the bruising, bandaging, and ominous tube coming out of his mouth. But he knew it was his friend and partner and made a shaky cross over him anyway.
The surgeons only paused the bed a moment before wheeling it down the hall towards the elevator. There was nothing more to see.
"Okay, well, that's it. Let's get all of you back to the waiting room. And listen, fellas, seriously. If you need anything explained, I'll be on shift for a few more hours. There's no such thing as a stupid question."
Fraser nodded. He was finding this Marianne to be a very interesting woman. Just before, she'd been brutally screaming at her co-worker. Now, the same person had a hand on his back and was gently guiding him towards the waiting room, asking if any of the cops wanted some more blankets ... already knowing, somehow, that no one would leave the hospital that night.
Wilson reached the bus stop, the wind blowing in his face, and waited for the gigantic, white caterpillar machine to make its appearance. It finally did, spewing gray exhaust that was almost visible through the snowfall, and screeched to a halt. Wilson never liked taking the bus because of that noise. Everything grated against everything else like the damn thing was going to fall apart every time it stopped. But this time, there was no choice, and no time to be picky. He had to get back to the parking garage and pick up the evidence.
And do what with it, genius?
He didn't know.
Flight 236 landed in Cleveland, and Stella's eyes were finally dry. The flight was only about an hour, but with all the little minutiae of air travel, the pleasantries of meeting Jimmy (who turned out to be exceedingly nice), and getting into his car to go to the hotel, it was almost midnight by the time she got up to her room. She hadn't even seen Ronnie yet, but Jimmy reassured her as he unloaded her suitcases for her at her door.
"Oh, don't worry, Stellie. He'll be here. He'll see you tomorrow morning."
"Well, duh!" she laughed. "He has to see me tomorrow morning! I'm marrying him!"
Jimmy laughed, too. "And boy, is he a lucky man. Goodnight."
He left and she locked herself in. Still keyed up from the basketball game and the flight, she kicked off her shoes and flopped down on the bed. In ten hours, she would be a married woman --- again.
Barbara felt very out of place in the airport, with her battered luggage and distinctive desert poncho. It seemed that everyone else catching the red-eye flights were business-people, dressed in all shades of gray, who seemed to be staring at her and her rather subdued husband. She'd told him what Jack Huey had managed to communicate to her, and Damien was in quiet shock. They both knew that seeing their son was the right thing to do, but they had no word on his condition and only a vague idea of where the hospital was in Chicago. They couldn't even look at each other. She couldn't stop nervously wringing her hands, wondering when the flight was going to take off, and he kept tapping one foot in a steady rhythm.
Finally, their flight was called, and they boarded the plane. They got coach tickets quite cheaply, courtesy of someone else's cancellation. Unfortunately, they were crammed behind two very tall men who decided to lean their seats back, and seated directly in front of a pair of twins, aged about four, who were experimenting with kicking the seats in front of them. Despite everything, Damien fell asleep, and Barbara marveled at him for a moment. She looked out the window at the blackness outside and wondered if her son was still alive.
Huey and Dewey had gone off in search of some fresh air. Ray was still trying to find Stella by calling all the airlines at O'hare. Fraser was alone in the waiting room, feeling useless. If only there was something he could do! Of course, even if there was, he wasn't sure he could handle it. He could feel new creases forming on his face; by-products of exhaustion. He was cold, and refused to admit it to himself, but his shivering shoulders gave him away. The loaned blankets were very thin. His light blue eyes refused to settle on anything, and his feet tapped nervously. His brain was bubbling over with millions of bits of information; images, sounds, smells --- everything was blurring. He was too tired and worried to put any of it together. Someone he loved well had nearly died from an act of violence that was no accident.
Please, Stan, just be all right. ... Huh. Stan.
The name brought a smile to Fraser's lips. Here was something he could do for his friend. He could remember.
It was only one day after Fraser and Ray Kowalski had come back from their expedition to the Northwest Territories, in search of the Hand of Franklin. As was sort of expected, they hadn't found it, considering it was little more than a song lyric and a myth. They had, however, done quite a service to Fraser's country by counting polar bears for the Wildlife Census. Ray K swore he would never go near one again. The two men had, in accordance with the wishes of their superior officers, shaved their beards and cut their hair after letting it grow for a year. (Welsh insisted Ray looked stupid with a beard and Inspector Thatcher, having checked out of CSIS to retain her post at the consulate, ordered Fraser to shave, before she did it for him.) Fraser was in the middle of the small throng of cops when Welsh made the happy proclamation: The 2-7 was getting an addition.
Ray Vecchio was back from Florida, finally finished posing as Stella's husband for an undercover case, and, now that Ray Kowalski was back from "God knows where," as Welsh put it, he was pleased to announce that the wiry blond detective would be joining the ranks of the detectives at the 27th precinct.
Everyone cheered, or at least refrained from booing, because they had grown to like Kowalski in his former capacity as Vecchio's impersonator, and felt they would like him just as much when he got to be himself. Welsh also announced that Kowalski and Vecchio were to be official partners. This got considerably less applause. In fact, the only person who clapped was Fraser, and, seeing the rest of the room was silent and staring at him, he stopped immediately and cleared his throat. Vecchio and Kowalski had not really appreciated each other from the start, even though they'd managed to form a decent working relationship for the one case they worked on together, before everyone split up and went their different ways for a year.
However, they gave it a try and miraculously, it worked. Kind of. They were all right with each other, but after a few days of running around with Fraser as an odd threesome, the two detectives picked up on something that the Mountie had realized a long time ago: two guys named Ray handling a case together just wasn't going to work.
As evidence of this, during a drug heist on day three of the partnership, both Rays were on opposite sides of a warehouse's corner, which was equipped with a ladder going up to the roof. They were both holding their pistols ready, and looking around. They were also both about ten feet from the corner, and Fraser was on the rooftop, looking down at them. He was also, unfortunately, a hostage at gunpoint, with no recourse left save a shout.
"RAY!" he yelled, hoping his captor wouldn't blow his brains out. "HELP!"
Both Rays looked up, saw their friend, and each assumed that he was being called. The pair gallantly leapt into action, and ran towards the corner ladder, at exactly the same speed, rounding at exactly the same time. Neither could stop.
There was a terrific smash as they collided, and their weapons went flying. Fraser made a face of sympathetic pain as he saw both of them lying there on their backs, spread-eagled, knocked senseless. Fortunately for Fraser, his captor found this amusing, and his grip on the constable weakened. The Mountie elbowed him in the gut, judo-flipped him onto the rooftop, grabbed his gun, and held it to the man's neck. After a few seconds, the two Rays regained consciousness. They gave Fraser a hand, and then ran in and busted an entire group of dealers, along with their shipment. It was quite a successful mission, but the drive back to the station was angry. The two slighted detectives were arguing in the front seat.
"He was cahlin' me," Kowalski insisted.
"No he wasn't, he was calling ME," Vecchio fired back.
"Why da hell would he call YOU? Yer too slow!"
"I was as fast as you were!"
"HEY!" A loud tooth whistle. "STOP IT!" Fraser exploded from the back seat.
Both of the detectives in front jumped at the noise. Vecchio made the car swerve a little, and Kowalski turned around to stare at Fraser.
"Do, not, do dat," he warned.
Fraser merely crossed his arms and glared at him. "I'm sorry, but I had to get your attention. I think one of us needs to change his name."
"What? What for?" Vecchio asked.
"Well, Ray, I hate to sound like I'm complaining, but I almost got killed this afternoon because both of you tried come to my aid, and quite frankly, made a mess of it. Now, I'm not saying it was your fault, but we have to avoid this kind of confusion in the future."
Kowalski raised an eyebrow.
"I mean, you do agree, don't you?"
He raised the other eyebrow.
He grinned and turned around to face the front. Fraser sighed, but he was determined to get something done. They were just stopping by the precinct to pick up some things, as all three were planning on going to dinner. Fraser kept pushing the idea at the station, and it turned out he had a lot of support. Most people were getting a little tired of saying "Ray" and having both guys jerk their heads up, or calling them "Ray V" and "Ray K," like overgrown kindergarteners. Finally, the two cops decided that maybe Fraser had a point.
"Okay," said Vecchio. "I'll be Ray, and you can be ..." He waved his hand dismissively at Kowalski. "Something else."
"What? Dat's not fair! I like deh name 'Ray!'"
"Well, too bad, 'cuz I got it first."
"Ah, jeez. You suck. Hey, Fraze! C'mere and settle dis!"
Fraser walked over.
"Who do you think should be 'Ray,' Benny?" Vecchio asked, with a pleasant smile on his face.
Fraser knew that smile. It was the one the cop used when he was trying to get what he wanted. Kowalski angrily saw Vecchio's look, and countered with a pearly grin. Fraser rolled his eyes.
"Well, I think the person more deserving of the name is the one who ... hm. Okay, I'll pose a question to you. If you were standing out on a street corner, picked up an envelope lying on a sidewalk and saw that it contained $500, American, what would you do? A. Keep it. B. Do something good with it. C. Turn it in to the police."
"Hm. Well, I dunno about what's his name, here, but personally, I'd go with A," Vecchio said.
He looked at blond, who was unsuccessfully trying to think and fume at the same time.
"'At's stupid!" Kowalski exploded. "Dere are two right answers! And you jest picked the wrong one!" he finished, poking Vecchio.
"He's Ray," Fraser said flatly, pointing at the Italian.
"WHAT? Wait a minute! Fraze! Hey! Yer givin' him the name jest because of one stupid question? At least I was honest!"
Fraser clapped a sympathetic hand on Kowalski's shoulder. "So was he. I know from experience that the person more deserving of the name 'Ray' would have been utterly selfish and kept the money. And you didn't give me an answer. Now, I completely understand your predicament, sir, but 'Raymond' is Ray Vecchio's full first name. I think he's entitled to it --- it's only fair."
"Well, den what da hell are we supposed to call ME?" Kowalski asked, exasperated. "Hey, I know. How about 'Rae?' R-A-E? Zat okay?"
"I'm sorry, ... we already have a Ray."
Fraser said this with an overly serene expression that caused Frannie, who was standing nearby, to snort with laughter.
"Man!" Kowalski muttered.
"However, I do have an idea about what to do for you."
With that, Fraser took off his hat and balanced it on Ray Vecchio's desk, like a bowl with a brim. He stood on a chair and made the announcement to the entire squad room.
"Excuse me! May I have your attention!"
Everyone stopped work and listened.
"Thank you. Well, ah, we've been having a bit of a problem over here, because we presently have two detectives called Ray. Now one of them has kindly acquiesced to not having the name --- Detective Kowalski. However, he would like to be called something else, because he doesn't really like his first name. So what I'm doing is leaving my hat on Detective Vecchio's desk. Anyone with suggestions about what to call this fine man of Polish ancestry standing next to me, please write it on a small piece of paper, and put it in the hat. At the end of tomorrow, five o'clock, I'll read the names, and Mr. Kowalski can pick one. All right?"
Everyone nodded assent.
"Good. Now, just a few ground rules --- no slander, no ethnic jokes, and no rapacious or overt cruelty."
Fraser got down off the chair. Kowalski stared at him.
"Well, you can't please everybody. In any case, problem solved. Gentlemen, shall we?"
They went out to dinner, Kowalski marveling at Fraser's uncanny ability to make a fool of himself and still get something done.
The next day, at five o'clock, the squad room was quiet. Only Frannie Vecchio, Welsh, Huey, Dewey, and a few other officers and friends were left to hear the reading. Fraser pulled a piece of paper out of the hat.
"Kielbasa," he said, clearly.
Vecchio and the others started to giggle. Apparently Kowalski wasn't universally popular.
"Fair enough. Next: 'Blondie.'"
"Good answer. This one reads, 'His hair looks like a science experiment, so ... Igor.'"
"Okay... 'always eating junk food, so ... Smartypants.'"
He continued reading the little slips. Most of them were either insults, dorky, or just plain inappropriate.
"Here's an interesting one. 'You think your name sucks? Stanley. Whoo. How awful. My name is EUSTACE. Try getting through grade school with a name like that. Just feel lucky.'"
"That was just weird."
"I agree." Fraser selected another. "'Hyperactive.'"
"I am not! Wait. Isn't dat an adjective?"
"Yes, Stan! Indeed it is! You've made me proud. The next one is 'Hot Ass.'"
"GOD, no! Wait a minute --- what did you jest call me?"
"'Hot Ass?'" Fraser asked, confused.
"NO! Jest before ... ah, jeez. Never mind."
"All right, I won't. Um, let's see. There's only a few left. Here we go: 'Shortcake.' It's in the same hand as 'Hot Ass.'"
"Here's one ... 'K.O.' The author writes that it stands for 'knockout,' like in boxing."
"Hey, dat's not bad. I could even be 'Ko,' if I wanted."
"Yes, you could. And, the last one is ... 'Stan.'"
"'Stan!' Dat's it! Dat's whatcha called me!" Kowalski said, pleased. "And yeh know, I kinda like it. It's short, and it don't sound like Ray, so dat's good ... I don't know what it is. It just fits."
"Maybe because it's your first name without the 'lee,' ya doofus," Ray put in helpfully. "It's like mine --- shortened. I think it's good. Benny?"
"I agree. 'Ray and Stan. The dynamic duo.'"
"Uh, Fraze, dat's Batman and Robin."
"Ferget it. Besides, Benton buddy, we've got you. We're a trio."
"Excellent. Well then, let's make it right: I hereby unofficially christen you 'Stan.'"
There was a pause.
"Yer a freak," Stan said.
As they were walking out of the squad room, Vecchio pulled Fraser aside quickly and whispered, "You put in 'Stan,' didn't you?"
Fraser smiled and nodded. "What did you put in?"
"Ah. Well, then, we must have been the only people here who were looking out for his interests."
"Hey --- it's what partners do, right, Benny?"
Ray was slapping his face gently. Fraser started out of his nostalgic daze and blinked.
"Look, I just wanted to ask if you've eaten anything since before the game."
Fraser shook his head.
"Okay, fine. Why don't you have something now?"
"Hello, Constable," came a familiar voice from his right.
He turned and looked. Inspector Thatcher was sitting in the chair next to him, holding a pink cardboard box. She looked quite concerned, almost as drawn and pale as his friends. Ray motioned that he was leaving to use the phone, probably to continue his search for Stella, and left. Thatcher and Fraser were alone in the waiting room.
"I brought donuts for the other guys and some bagels for you. I know you don't like sweets that much."
"Thank you, ma'am."
She nodded, set the little box on his lap, and began to dig around in the plastic bag she'd brought with her. She produced a ginger ale, cracked it open, and handed it to him, along with a white paper bag containing a toasted bagel, some cream cheese, and a plastic knife.
"For shame, Constable," she scolded with a smile. "Not eating since noon? I'm surprised you haven't fainted. Drink up. And make sure you eat this."
He gave her a faint grin, and gulped the soda gratefully.
She tousled his short hair affectionately, took the pink donut box off his lap, and went to find the other cops. Fraser remained there and quickly finished the drink. He knew he shouldn't be eating while his friend was in surgery, but he spread some cream cheese on the bagel and wolfed it down, in spite of himself. Once again unoccupied and alone, but now refreshed, he kept thinking. He knew he would have no peace until he figured out who was driving that car.
It was no accident. If it had been, that driver would have stopped. He was aiming for something. Although whether he hit it or not, is anybody's guess.
Barbara looked out the window and then again at her watch. They would be in Chicago in two hours. Damien was still snoring. She was about ready to kill the two morons in front of her, and berate the mother of the twins behind her for not supervising her children more carefully.
Stanley never behaved like that, not even as a baby. Those children have been brought up with no manners.
She turned around and looked at the mother, who had a beatific smirk on her face as the twins kept kicking their seats.
"Could you get your children to stop kicking our seats?" Barbara asked.
"Kids will be kids," the mother said with a shrug. "I've learned that it's often better to ignore them, and they stop being bad."
"Is that so. Well, Miss, I'm not going to comment on your child rearing habits, but they've been kicking our seats for two hours, and this is a four hour flight. I want them to stop."
"They're not your children."
"No they're not, but they're kicking my seat."
"I don't care," the woman answered flatly.
Barbara glared at her. "I do."
She turned to the children.
"Stop that right now, or I'll spank you both!" she said angrily.
Both twins looked up at her in shock. One twisted up his face like he was going to cry, but at the sight of Barbara's angry, wizened face, decided against it. Both of them immediately stopped their kicking. Their mother had lost any hint of a smile.
"You are SO out of line."
"Oh, shut up. You can speak to me the instant you figure out how to discipline your children."
She turned around and sat back down. "These modern, idiotic parents," she muttered to herself. "No idea how to bring a child up to be respectful."
Her old-fashioned parenting methods had done the trick, however. The twins didn't kick their seats for the rest of the flight.
Meg wound her way through the emergency room, finally arriving at the phones, where Ray Vecchio was standing, trying to talk to exhausted airline personnel and convince them he was a cop so he could get information on passengers. The whole thing was taking him a long time. He saw her next to him. She opened the pink box. He smiled faintly, pulled out an eclair, held it up in thanks, and chomped on it. He swallowed just in time.
"Yeah, hello? United? Yeah, this is Detective Raymond Vecchio of the Chicago P.D.. Have you had any flights for Ohio leave today? ... You have. Listen. I'm looking for a certain passenger. Could you try to bring up the name Stella Jackson? Either that or Stella Harrington. Thanks. ... Yes, I'll hold."
The muzak came on.
"God, Benny, you've got me wrapped around your finger. How the hell did you do this to me?" he muttered under his breath, and took another bite of the eclair.
Meg was still standing next to him, looking at him quizzically.
"What?" Ray said, not liking her look.
"I was just wondering why you called me," she said. "I mean, Kowalski is a decent fellow, even though he has a tendency to annoy, but I'm not that close to him."
Ray looked down at the ground and sighed.
"I know that. I called because ... well, Fraser's lookin' kinda peaked and outta sorts and I figured having another Canadian around might cheer him up."
"Oh." Is that all I am? Another Canadian? God, what a creep! ... "Give me back that eclair."
"Gruggh?" Ray asked, his mouth full of pastry.
"If all I am is 'another Canadian,' then I want that eclair back, and an apology."
"Guy med ..." He swallowed. "I meant it in the best possible sense --- someone who shares something with him besides a job. You guys are from the same place, so I figured you might be able to, y'know, draw on that and get his mind off of whatever it's on."
"Oh," she said, flushing slightly with embarrassment. "Well, in that case, keep the snack. I'm going to go find Huey and Dewey."
Ray nodded, and she left with the pink box as the stewardess on the other end came back on.
"Yes, I'm still here. ... Flight 236 for Cleveland. So it's already arrived there, right? ... Okay, thanks. You've been a big help."
He hung up, pleased as punch, and started to walk back to where Fraser was waiting in the lobby.
Wilson reached the parking garage on the other end of town. The bus ride had been unpleasant --- too many people. All of them seemed to be looking at him strangely. People had always looked at him strangely, because of his glasses and stooped shoulders, he supposed, but it was starting to get to him. In fact, it had always gotten to him. It was irritating then, and it was irritating now. A businessman took one last look over his newspaper. Wilson turned around and saw the peek. That did it.
He ripped the newspaper out of the man's hands, and calmly punched him square in the nose. Blood spurted out, and the man was so surprised that Wilson escaped in the ensuing tumult and got off the bus. He walked the last half mile to the garage, got into his blue Toyota sedan, and wiped his hand across the dashboard lovingly. No one would touch him or his car. This machine was gold. Proof of his immortality.
No one will dare to think I'm inadequate again. I can DO ANYTHING. Hell, I already have. They wouldn't let me play, so I flattened that Mountie's insignificant little friend. And no one can catch me. ... Ah! Finally, my purpose is clear! Finally, people will have a reaction when they hear my name. I'll see to it. I'll see to it! The name Wilson Parker will live forever! FEAR ME!!!!
He started the engine.
Fraser had been thinking for too long, because everything that he was trying to figure out suddenly exploded in his head in a series of confusing images and sounds. The puzzle was coming together, and as much as he didn't like the picture, his instinct was leading him that way.
THEY PICKED YOU.
YOU PICKED HIM.
He remembered being hoisted on the shoulders of the team, remembered the splotched red paint with those ugly words written on his locker, on his wolf ... those crazy phone calls ... and then everything hit him at once.
*"Are you going to send me in now?"*
*"Don't worry, Mr. Parker, I'm sure you'll get a chance soon enough."*
*"I'm sure I will, too."*
He'd disappeared during the celebration. What was it Ray had said he did in his off-hours? Computer programmer.
Fraser stood up and began to walk. His legs were carrying him to some unknown destination as his brain whirred like a V8 engine.
Those calls. The voices were computerized. All those e-mails. My address. Oh, no. The interlocking messages. He never got to play. He must have thought I was responsible, somehow.
Ray skidded into the waiting room to find it empty.
"Benny?" he called.
"Hey Benny!" he yelled.
Nothing. Thatcher walked back in, still fairly businesslike, with an empty pink box. Apparently, she'd found Huey and Dewey. They'd cleaned her out.
"Hey, Inspector. Y'seen Benny?"
"No, sorry. He was just here, though. I made sure he ate something."
"Well, that's great, but now he's gone."
"Gone? He shouldn't be. Let's split up. He can't have gotten far."
They parted ways.
His hands pushed open a door to the outside parking lot. It was snowing and freezing, but the cold was beyond him. He leaned up against the side of the building. The facts began to march into order with frightening speed and accuracy.
He thought I had something to do with the fact that no one let him play. And his car is blue. I saw him drive it to practice once. The blur was blue. He disappeared before the game ended. He must have been waiting in the alley, waiting for me to cross. But then, why did he clobber Stan?
His entire intellect was pushing for the ugly truth, but his emotions made him pause before mumbling it aloud.
"My coat. My hat. I gave them to Stan! Stan, who just needed to be warm for a few seconds! Stan, my friend! Nearly killed for the clothes he was wearing! ... Mine!"
Everything was spinning, and as the painful seconds elapsed, the vertigo got worse and worse. Finally, the entire impact of it hit him in the stomach like a left hook, and he vomited into the snow. Then he vomited again. He couldn't stop. Before he knew it, he was on his hands and knees, spitting, dislodging everything he could. Some of it went up his nose, and he felt thoroughly wretched from the inside out.
On a hunch, Meg pushed open the door and stepped out into the snowy parking lot.
"Fraser?" she called.
She heard a noise somewhere in-between a cough and a burp and hurried toward it. The noise became a shape, which became ...
"Oh, my God. Stay still, Fraser, I'll go for a doctor."
She bolted back into the building just as a minor trauma came in --- a young woman with a nasty head cut. Marianne and Denise were there at the gurney just as Meg came blasting towards them.
"Excuse me, are either of you doctors?" she asked.
"Look, lady, whatever you need can wait. We have a trauma here," Denise said with authority.
"Why don't you handle it?" Marianne said to her, the words brimming with acid. She turned to Meg. "You need a doctor? I'm pretty close. What's the problem?"
"My subordinate. He's vomiting outside."
Ray ran in. "I couldn't find him! Any sign of Fraser?"
"Several," Meg said. "All over the parking lot."
Baffled, Ray followed the two women, who were already taking off at a run for the doors.
"Is he still conscious?" Mari asked.
"Last time I checked," Meg answered.
"Any idea why he threw up?"
"No clue. I'm just worried about the cold out there."
"I wouldn't worry," Ray commented. "Fraser's built for weather like this."
Marianne banged open the door and ran for the constable, who was still on his hands and knees and retching. He was completely empty, and only dry heaving and spitting.
"Sir?" she asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
He looked up at her. Even in the dim lighting, his complexion was gray. The gag reflex was subsiding and he was just panting.
"Sir, I need you to stand up so I can get you inside."
He nodded and tried to do it, but it took the assistance of both Ray and Meg to help him stand, the vertigo was so intense. Mari grabbed the blanket that he'd discarded in the snow behind him, and hurried inside.
"Where to?" Ray asked.
"Exam 2. Follow me."
Fraser was starting to sag a little bit. The fact that two people of very different heights were supporting him wasn't helping him walk very well. Fortunately, they reached Examination Room 2, and got him onto a bed quickly.
Marianne turned on the lights and Ray and Meg excused themselves.
The overhead light was blinding in the dark room, and Fraser squinted into it, barely seeing the young woman talking to him. He heard her clearly enough, though.
"So, sir," Mari asked, as she began getting Fraser's shirt off, "who was that woman out there?"
"Oh, um, that's Margaret Thatcher, my superior officer," he answered, as the collar popped off over his head, ruffling his hair.
"I see. So she's like a lieutenant?"
"Oh, no, Miss. Completely different police hierarchy where I come from. I'm a Mountie."
"Really? Well, that's interesting. What's your name?"
"Pleasure," she said, exhausted. "America welcomes you. Breathe, please."
She listened all over his chest as he breathed for her, then took his pulse and temperature. She kept talking to him as she examined him.
"So, what's your rank?"
"I'm a constable."
"And she is...?"
"Ah. So you have to answer to her."
"That and pick up her dry cleaning occasionally."
"Well, it's not so bad."
She finished her examination, and looked at him, quite perplexed.
"Have you vomited before this in the past twenty four hours? The only reason I'm asking is because aside from the obvious vertigo, everything looks normal."
"Well to answer your question, no, I haven't. There's really nothing wrong with me, Miss."
Coming from a guy whose skin looked like tissue paper, she wasn't convinced.
"Well, I know one thing. You're very dehydrated. I'll give you an i.v. of saline, and I want you to rest, okay?"
"Here?" he asked, with a gulp.
"Yes, sir. Here."
She blinked at him. "No. Of course not. Your friends can sit with you, okay?"
Only after he nodded did she begin to wind the tourniquet around his upper arm.
"Make a fist, please. ... Great. ... Okay, here we go. Just a tiny stick, and you're in the clear --- there! That's it, all done."
"That was amazing. I barely felt it."
"That's the point, sir," she said with a smile, taping the needle down. "I'll bring you some blankets."
She moved to the foot of the bed to remove his shoes, and curiously got them off. He still had his basketball shoes on from the game. He looked at them and gulped. Something inside of him was shouting, filling his head with advice he knew he ought to take: "It's past midnight. She won't hurt you. Tell her."
She was staring at him. "Constable?"
"I did it," he blurted out. "It was my fault. I was so stupid! I was concentrating so hard on the game, so hard on winning ... I didn't think. I didn't consider anything. I practically killed him."
Marianne was baffled. She moved to the small closet in the room, got out some blankets and spread them over Fraser.
"How you hurt Mr. Kowalski is beyond me. But I know that this was a hit and run, and if you have any information, I think you should give it to one of your friends out there."
"No! You don't understand! I ... I ... Oh, dear."
He fell back against the pillows, everything swimming before his eyes.
He managed a small nod.
"Okay, well, your stomach's empty, and that could be contributing to it."
She crossed to the small water station in the room and got him a small cup.
"Here. Drink this. It'll make your throat feel better. Just lie still and you'll feel a lot less woozy."
He took it without argument, and swallowed it in a few gulps.
"You're welcome." She began to secure the blankets around him, concern creasing her forehead. "I'll let your friends come in, and when you feel better, I want you to tell them everything. Spare no details. Until then, just get some sleep, okay? Everything will be all right."
He was so exhausted that dozing off was the only option. His eyes closed, his shoulders relaxed, and his brain refused to continue on the subject of Kowalski. Marianne smiled a little and lowered his bed so that he was lying flat. She stole out of the room and into the hall, where Ray and Meg were standing.
"Is he all right?" Meg asked.
"Is he sick?" Ray asked.
"Somewhere in-between. He thinks he had something to do with the hit and run that got the detective, but I don't know what. I'm pinning the vomiting on excessive emotional distress --- sometimes the body just reacts that way to a trying situation. Anyway, he's asleep now, and both of you both can sit with him if you like. He should be ready to talk when he wakes up. And if anything happens, or you think something's wrong, call for a doctor."
"Thanks, Mari," Ray said.
She nodded and left. Ray and Meg walked into the darkened room and sat down on either side of Fraser's bed.
"God. He looks terrible," Meg said.
"Yeah. Kind of amazing that HE could look terrible," Ray commented. "If that was me, I'd probably look worse than dead."
The inspector just grunted in reply and looked at her watch. It was 12:57 am.
Two hours slipped by. Stan was still 'asleep,' in surgery. It was turning into an intricate procedure. Stella slept on in her hotel room in Cleveland, absolutely unaware that anything was going on. The Kowalskis had landed at O'hare. They packed their old luggage into the rental car and headed for a motel to check in. And back at Southside, Marianne was getting ready to leave. She checked the clock in the staff room and cracked her neck. 3:00 am. This was bad. It was her third double shift this week, and she still had to study for a killer midterm, which was coming up in a few days.
She blinked and cracked her neck again as Denise walked in. She scowled at Mari, but didn't say anything as the other girl put on a thick sweater and a trench coat that fell to her calves. She put on a scarf and gloves, pushed her wire-rimmed glasses up, and jammed her knit cap on over her head, which made her already fluffy hair poof out in every direction. She grabbed her purse before slamming her locker shut, purposely not looking at the other student.
"You're such a bitch."
She pushed the door open and wandered past the reception desk, where some nurses were on duty, filing papers. Her supervisor, Dr. Bartlett, was there as well.
"Leaving, Mari?" he asked.
"Yup," she said, about to sign out.
"What? How many?!" said a nurse suddenly, who was talking on the Med-Com. "We can take three majors and six minors. ... Uh huh. ... Yeah." She hung up and got on the intercom. "All personnel! Pile-up on the interstate! All hands on deck, people! Blue! Blue!"
"SHIT!" Mari cursed, wrenching her hat off and storming back into the lounge.
Denise looked smug. Mari's brown eyes blazed angrily.
"F*k you," she spat. "Get your ass out there, change your f*king uniform before Bartlett sees it, and try not to kill anybody!"
She furiously got out of her coat, sweater, gloves, and scarf and ran out into the main E.R. after Denise.
Barbara and Damien checked in at a Motel 6 and she practically snatched the key out of the clerk's hand. They shuffled up the stairs as fast as they could, both drained from the trip, but determined to see their son. Barbara put the key in fast, with shaking hands, and turned the knob. They threw their suitcases on the bed. She brushed her hair, and Damien washed his face in the bathroom. He was out in half a minute.
"Let's go," he said.
Within minutes, they were in their car, a nice Toyota, and Damien had started the engine.
"Wait a minute!" Barbara said, alarmed. "Dames, do you know where you're going?"
Her husband sat there for a second, panting. "No."
"Oh, for Pete's sake. Let's get a taxi."
Stella dozed fitfully, disoriented by the flight and unfamiliar room, finally feeling shaken by the fact that Ronnie didn't meet her at the airport himself.
I picked NOW to worry about this? It's official. I am completely neurotic.
She rolled over and tried to fall asleep. There was something at the edge of her consciousness that wouldn't let her, though. She wasn't sure what it was, but it was prickling and uncomfortable. Something was very wrong, and yet she sensed no immediate threat to herself.
I must be imagining things.
Fraser woke up with a start. His sudden movement startled Ray, who woke up and blinked. The detective slapped Meg on the shoulder, and she woke up too, ruffling herself like a small bird and making the shoulder pads on her coat wiggle. Ray pointed at Fraser, and both of them leaned in.
Meg smiled in the darkness of her side of the bed. Ray didn't see it.
"Man, am I glad to see you, Fraser. You had us worried. Are you okay?"
"Yes and no," he said with a sigh, knowing that his stomach felt much better, but remembering his promise to Marianne.
"Glad to see you're awake, Constable," Meg said, becoming Thatcher as much as possible. "I'm going to go get some water, gentlemen. I'll be right back."
She left the room, and Ray leaned in close to Fraser.
"What's on your mind, Benny?"
Fraser couldn't look at him for a moment, as he gathered his courage, thinking of how best to phrase it. It all ended up coming out in one big plop: the details he noticed at the accident, the clues that he hadn't put together in time, and the fatal coat. When he ended it, Ray was silent, and staring at him.
"I wouldn't blame you in the least if you never wanted to talk to me again," the Mountie said, looking away.
"Fraser, how the hell were you supposed to know beforehand? The only thing that's ever twenty-twenty is hindsight. But at least now we have some information about Wilson. We'll find him and bring him in for questioning."
"Thanks, Ray." This hardly erases what I've done.
"You're welcome. And I now have a better bead on Stella. After I talked to the lady who did the flights at United, I found out that she'd done it as a package deal, and that she's staying at a Holiday Inn, but they're having trouble finding which one. As soon as they find it, though, I'll be able to reach her and tell her."
Fraser gave him a genuine smile.
"That's great. Stan would be happy."
"Yeah. I know. Anyway, the E.R.'s nice and quiet, now, so I'm gonna go grab a soda. I'll be right back."
Doctors and nurses were coming out of the woodwork, donning plastic aprons and latex gloves.
"Dee Dee Jameson! Thirty eight! B.P's lookin' like ..."
They grabbed the gurney and drew it into a trauma room.
"John Wheelan! Bi lateral tib fib fracture! Open! Altered mental status! Resps ..."
Mr. Wheelan sailed into trauma two.
"Trauma One! Let's go!" Dr. Sommers hollered to his team.
"Mari, you're with me!" Bartlett yelled. "Sommers, take Denise!"
Within minutes, Mari was gliding in and out of trauma rooms and curtain areas, reassuring parents, giving medication, intubating some victims, irrigating and sewing wounds, and wondering what in the world had happened. It took her a full ten minutes to see Ray Vecchio standing in the crowded waiting area, quite overwhelmed, and she realized that the Mountie was still in Exam 2. There was no time to consider if he'd given Vecchio the information yet. There would probably be more patients on the way, so she'd have to stop in a minute and check to see if he could get out of there.
The minute turned into fifteen by the time the craziness had died down. She took off her apron, which by now was thoroughly stained with blood, and managed to talk to Ray, who told her, in a nutshell, what Fraser assumed he'd done. She nodded at the explanation, slightly stunned, and walked slowly down the hall to Exam 2.
Fraser was alone --- Meg had left for a moment to use the bathroom.
"Hi, Constable," she said, leaning in the doorway.
"Oh, Marianne. How are you?" he asked.
"Just peachy keen. Are you feeling a bit more steady?"
"Yes. The inspector brought me something to drink, and I kept it down."
"Good. Listen, um, we might be getting some more patients, so would you be okay to leave here?"
She bustled about, getting his clothes, but then decided she couldn't keep her mouth shut any longer.
"Constable, I heard from Ray Vecchio what you thought you did."
"And I wanted to tell you that it wasn't your fault. You actually, I think, did a lot of good."
"Good? I hardly think so."
"I think you did. The paramedics and the other cops reported that you did CPR on Kowalski at the scene."
"Detective Dewey helped."
"Yeah, well, I also saw the x-rays of your friend. He took a hell of a blow to his head. You wanna know how many teeth were broken?"
"Um, not particulary, no."
He stared at her.
"Yeah," she continued. "It was amazing to me how much of his skeletal system was unharmed. He could have easily cracked his head open, but his skull was thick enough to withstand it. And, his bones looked like the kind that take supplements, but he didn't look to me to be the kind of guy who would do that sort of thing publicly. Too hip for that."
"Well, I did give him some advice about drinking milk and taking calcium. He told me privately that he was doing both."
"So that's two ways."
"Two ways ... ?"
"That you saved his life. Constable, these kinds of accidents regularly kill the victims. I've seen people smashed to bits by the front end of a car --- people that come in here bleeding and dying, that I can't save. And it hurts like hell, lemme tell you. But this guy survived! I mean, that in itself is amazing. Thanks to you, his bones were strong enough to withstand the impact without blasting into a million pieces. You revived him at the scene before the paramedics even got there, which gave him an even better chance. Your friend could have easily died. And now, in a few hours, he'll be in recovery, instead of in the morgue."
He looked up at her, blinking, and felt the corner of one eye get damp.
"I don't blame you, and I refuse to let you blame yourself, okay?"
She helped him sit up as he managed a nod.
"I certainly hope that Stan agrees with you when he wakes up."
"He will. Now let me get that needle out of your arm so you can put your shirt on and catch the rat bastard who did this."
He gave her a small smile.
CHAPTER FOUR: FORGIVEN
Wilson drove quietly into downtown.
Demons. They're everywhere. Burning me with their eyes. Their stares. They fear me, as they should. I took of their blood once, and I will take it again. So what if I can't play their stupid game of basketball? They should have chosen me! They made the wrong decision, and for that, they shall pay!
He was quickly caught at a traffic stop.
Nay, demons! You'll never ensnare me in your web of lies! Green light, red light, it doesn't matter! They are foolish things, created for your amusement! I defy them!
He was set to go through the intersection. His light was red. The cross traffic's light was green, and a taxi began to move through the intersection. In his already confused mind, though, the lights switched colors, and he went.
"The world is mine, demons, mine! Not yours! I make my own laws here! Ha ha haaaa!"
His foot slammed on the accelerator, and, still laughing maniacally, he plowed right into the taxi. There was a bang and crunch of metal. Other drivers slammed on their brakes in shock.
Someone with a cell phone called the paramedics, who arrived three minutes later, and called Southside on the MedCom.
The receptionist picked up just as Fraser came out into the hall. Mari had a hand on his back. Ray wandered out of the now quiet waiting area, happy that his friend was up and about, but the receptionist was so tired that she accidentally put the paramedic on speaker-phone.
"Go ahead, number 80!"
"Yeah, we've got an MVA! Three minors! Head lacs, bruises, possibly a cracked collarbone, and a BLAL."
The receptionist was baffled. "BLAL?"
"Yeah. 'Babbling Like A Lunatic.'"
Fraser, on a hunch, hurried over and tapped the receptionist. "Ma'am? Once you have the information, can I speak to the paramedic?"
"Sure. One second." She turned to the phone. "Bring 'em all in, and I have a guy who wants to talk to you here!"
"What is he?" came the reply.
"A Mountie," Fraser supplied, loud enough for the man on the other end to hear.
"Can't hurt. Put him on."
She motioned Fraser to speak into the phone.
"Uh, yes! Sir? If you can tell me, what was the man babbling about?"
"I dunno. It was really weird. He started yelling about a basketball game, and then he was off and running and carrying on about demons. He's the least injured."
Fraser and Ray looked at each other. Ray leaned over into the device.
"This is Ray Vecchio, Chicago P.D. Was the guy driving a blue car?" he asked.
"Yes! Blue Toyota sedan."
"Is he blond, with blue eyes and big glasses?"
"Wow. You're good."
"Put him in restraints, and consider him dangerous! We have reason to suspect him in a hit and run involving a fellow officer!" he said, already putting on his coat.
The call ended, and the anxious men retreated to the lobby. Marianne gowned up for what she hoped would be the final time that night, and the trauma came in. All three patients were on gurneys and protesting. The first patient that went by the lounge kept insisting she was fine, except for some pain in her chest. She saw Fraser and cried out.
"Mrs. Kowalski?" the Mountie said, jumping up in surprise and hurrying to her side.
"Oh, Benton! What are you doing here? Is this where Stanley is?"
He nodded, and reassured her. "Don't worry, ma'am, everything will be fine. They'll take good care of you."
Ray was at Damien's side in a second, asking what happened.
"What happened? Some bozo slammed into our taxi, that's what happened! Lucky for us, the idiot only hit the right passenger side, where nobody was. The driver wasn't even hurt. Is my wife okay?"
"I think so."
"All right. Well, at least we got to the hospital. Yeesh, what a city."
"Tell me about it. Don't worry about anything. These docs here are top notch, and all you got was a bump on your head."
"Yeah, well us Kowalskis are made of strong stuff," Damien said, and cracked a smile. "We can take just about anything."
"Just take care," Ray said, and let the gurney go into the trauma room.
He turned back to the doorway and saw Fraser standing there, arms crossed, watching as the paramedics emerged from the final ambulance, bearing one last gurney. The patient only had a minor injury on his head, but he was thrashing against the restraints wildly, and screaming. It was him. Wilson.
Mari moved past the two men to the gurney's side and listened to the stressed paramedic read off the stats. She and Bartlett stopped him in front of the desk, to get him tied down more securely.
"Mr. Parker, you're gonna have to stop thrashing!" Mari yelled. "You may have a head injury!"
"Hold him!" Bartlett told her, and took some tape to get his head down.
Mari did, but got her hand too close to Wilson's mouth. He bit down on it hard, fortunately not chewing through the latex, but really hurting her and pissing her off.
"Sonofabitch!" she yelled, and slapped him hard with her good hand. She raised it to strike him again, but Bartlett caught her wrist.
She stood there, upset, looking at him with angry, tired eyes. She was at the end of her rope. He was nearly there, too.
"Wash up and go home. You're too tired for this guy. I mean it. Get your gloves off, your scarf on, sign out, and leave. Get some sleep."
She nodded, stripped off the gloves and threw them in the trash. She walked away as the doctor wheeled him into the trauma room. The Mountie and the cop didn't know which way to go.
"You follow Wilson, and I'll follow Mari," Fraser said.
Ray watched the doctor sedate Wilson before treating his minor head injury, and then moved on to trauma rooms 2 and 3, where Barbara was having her collarbone iced and Damien was being treated for some bruises. Both were asking the doctors and nurses if they had any news of their son. All Ray could do was shake his head at the irony of the whole thing.
Marianne, meanwhile, was barely on her feet, leaning her face against the cool metal of her locker. She'd been on continuously for nearly 20 hours. She sniffed and let the tears roll down her face as she slowly pulled away and put on her sweater, scarf, and gloves. She didn't even hear the door open, and only happened to see him sitting on the couch in the lounge when she turned around.
She didn't say anything at finding him there. She forgot to question the fact that patients weren't allowed into the doctors lounge. Fraser stood up and walked toward her. She brushed the tears away, but her face was still blotchy and red. She hiccuped and could barely look at the constable.
"You know, I'm very glad you hit him," Fraser said, in a low, soft tone. "I'm pretty sure that he attempted murder on a fellow police officer. It gave at least two of us a measure of satisfaction to see you strike him. If he did this, he's a very malicious person."
"Constable, it doesn't matter if the guy is Jeffrey Dahmer. We don't hit patients. It's against the Hippocratic oath."
"True, but you helped a lot of people today. I think that outweighs it."
She stared into his light blue eyes and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "Yeah, well, thanks. Good luck to your friend. And take care of yourself, okay?"
She gave him a small hug. "Thanks for the pep talk. Have a good night."
She got her coat, hat, and purse, and led him out into the hall, where she finally signed out.
Ray came running up to Fraser, waving his cell phone, just as she walked out the door.
"I got the number! I'm gonna call Stella right now."
The phone rang suddenly, jarring her out of her light sleep. She looked at the bedside clock. It was almost five in the morning, and that uncomfortable feeling still hadn't gone away.
She picked up.
"Hello?" she slurred, not really on top of it.
"Yes?" she said, sitting up in the darkness. "Who is this?"
"It's Ray Vecchio. Stan's partner."
"Yes, Detective, I know who you are. What's going on?"
She listened, feeling her throat trying to swallow her tongue, and by the time Ray had finished telling her, she was in a cold sweat.
"Jeez. That's terrible. How much longer will he be in surgery?"
"We don't know. There was a lot of repairing to do --- so far, it's been about seven hours. His parents are here, too, along with the guy we think might have done it."
"You're holding him without evidence?"
"I'm getting to that. Fraser wants forensics to sweep his car. We're gonna hold him here at the hospital until the tests come back."
"Okay. I'll come after the wedding. It's this morning, at 10:30."
"A'right. See you later."
She hung up and stared at the wall for a minute before the full impact hit her. She tried in vain to control herself, but it didn't work. Before she knew it, her neckline of her nightshirt was damp, her cheeks were itchy and dry with salt tracks, and she was shaking like hell. Sleep was a lost cause. She stayed up looking out the window until six.
Thatcher, Huey, and Dewey were already ensconced in waiting room when Ray and Fraser came back with the news. Fraser sat down next to Thatcher, who couldn't afford any strong outward signs of comfort. She just took his hand when no one was looking, and squeezed it briefly. As the cops discussed what to do, the situation was the reverse of the usual. Huey and Dewey were both for bashing the guy's head in. Ray just wanted to ask him about it first, in case they had the wrong guy. Fraser agreed, although he privately felt his hunch was right.
Soon, Dr. Bartlett came out and announced that the Kowalskis were fine, that he was allowing them to come out into the waiting area, and that two cops were allowed to see Mr. Parker. Fraser and Ray immediately stood. No one protested.
They walked down the hallway after the doctor. Ray was cracking his knuckles. Fraser cracked his neck and began to rub under his eyes.
"Itchy corneas?" Ray asked.
"Yes. It's a bit dry in here."
They both stopped, widening the distance between them and Bartlett.
"You good to see this guy?" Ray said quietly.
"I think so," Fraser answered.
"Okay. Let's go."
They walked towards the trauma room as a unit. Bartlett was already at the door.
"We lightly sedated him, so he should be a little more reasonable," he said. "I can let you have a few minutes before psych comes down."
The officers nodded and swung open the doors. The lighting was harsh, and Wilson greeted them with a cold stare. He was strapped down to the bed across the waist, and tied securely at the wrists. Fraser took slight comfort in the fact that the aggressor looked just as bad as he and Ray, who was giving him a meaningful look. The detective walked up to the gurney and started in.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"You know what it is," the bespectacled man replied. "Wilson Parker."
*Well, he knows who he is,* Fraser thought. That's a good sign. Perhaps he's just sane enough to give us a confession.
"Where were you last night at approximately 9:20?" Ray continued.
"I was doing my nails," Wilson spat caustically.
He thought he was being quick-witted, but Ray was quicker. In the blink of an eye, he was grabbing the collar of Wilson's hospital gown and pulling a fist back.
"You stupid f**k. Do you have any idea what I could do to you and still be within my rights as a police officer?! Huh?! I can rip your ass apart! And I will, unless you talk. Now start nice and slow, and tell me everything," he snarled.
"I won't tell you anything! You're a filthy, elitist demon that seeks to exclude! But I shattered your sacred circle! You can't harm me!"
"That's what you think!" Ray yelled, and walloped him across the face.
*'Sacred circle?' What on earth is he carrying on about?* "Ray, stop it!" Fraser protested.
"Shut up, Fraser! If this guy did it, he's gonna tell me, or he's gonna bleed to death in this trauma room!"
"You're just upset because your chain of support is broken! I may have missed my target, but I got ONE of you! And one demon is as good as another!" Wilson shouted.
Ray was quite shocked at this outburst. Fraser jumped in, and got as close to the other man's face as he dared.
"What do you mean, 'you missed your target?'" the Mountie pressed, his eyes blazing dangerously. "Why were you trying to hit one? Who was it?"
Wilson glared at him. "Look in the mirror, Devilspawn of the North."
A chill raced up Fraser's spine as he realized that his analysis of the situation might have been dead on. The two interrogators looked at each other and privately agreed: this man was out of his mind --- but not completely. He knew he'd done something violent. The only question was, was he sorry?
"Wilson, it would appear that you've had a sizable break with reality," Fraser said. "However, I am not a demon. Neither is Ray Vecchio. We are simply police officers, and there is a very important matter at hand." His voice was a like cello string --- taut and low. "Now, I am only going to ask you once about this, because I am out of patience, and by law, I must advise you in advance. If you don't give me a straight answer, I will inflict severe damage to a sensitive area of your body."
Ray stared with wide eyes as he saw Fraser make an actual threat.
"Now for the question. Our friend, Detective Stanley Kowalski of the Chicago Police Department, was recently hit by an automobile. Were ... you ... driving it."
It was more of a statement than a question, and there was a long pause as Wilson paused to consider.
"Lemme tell 'ya somethin', Willie," Ray spat, as Wilson thought over his response. "You lie to us, and you're running a huge risk --- because if Forensics finds one iota of Stan on your hood, you're going up the river. Do yourself a favor, and confess it. We already know you were trying to hit Fraser. You'll also be charged for plowing into that taxi. Talk."
Wilson looked at Fraser, completely ignoring Ray. His face was blank. He was getting tired of this.
"Yes," he said simply. "I was aiming for you. You stole my place on the team --- I used my father's anger to get my spot, with the intention of proving myself, but no one gave me enough of a chance. That should have been me out there on the court, instead of you. That should have been me, winning those games. Instead, you and all the other demons had the audacity to keep me on the bench. So I sat there and watched you win. It was very boring. I wanted to play, but I saw that look in Vecchio's eyes, in all of your eyes." He turned to Ray. "You wanted to win the tournament, but you wouldn't let me help. You never picked me. You didn't understand the messages."
"And after the game?" Fraser asked, his rage barely controlled.
"After the game, well, I thought Kowalski was you, in that stupid hat, and I had to get you. I had to do something that would make everyone understand what they'd done to me," he finished.
His words were clipped, calm and passionless. It was obvious that he felt no remorse. Fraser stood there for a second, fuming. He had no strength left to contain it --- smoldering anger gave way to wild fury.
"You son of a bitch!" Fraser yelled, and lunged at him, knocking over an instrument tray. The metal calipers, tweezers, and knives fell to the floor with a clatter.
He gripped the collar of Wilson's gown with both hands and shouted in his face.
"If you were truly psychotic, I might be able to find an excuse for this. But you're not. You know what you did. And I don't care who your father is, or how well or poorly you play basketball, or what you can do with a computer! You ran over another human being with your CAR! And there is NO excuse for that! None!"
Ray was shocked by his friend's antics and considered calling him off, but decided that this would shake Wilson up better than his tirade could. Calm people bursting into fits usually did the trick. He just stood back and watched calmly as Wilson began to whimper.
"I ... I didn't mean to hit him. I can still see his face ... his eyes when his head hit the windshield ... like a frightened animal. I didn't want him to die." He glared up at the Mountie. "I wanted YOU to die."
They stared hard at each other for a long moment. Fraser let go of Wilson and backed away from the gurney, stunned at the man's open hatred of someone he barely knew.
"I practically did when I saw him lying there. Congratulations, Mr. Parker. You hit your target --- square in the heart."
He turned on his heel and walked out. Ray shot a parting steely glance at Wilson and followed his friend out into the hallway. They both walked slowly down a deserted stretch of it. Ray pulled his hand out of his jacket pocket, revealing a casette recorder. He stopped, held up his hand, and slowly pressed the red button to stop recording. Fraser looked at him.
"He'll never leave prison," Ray said. "I got it all."
Fraser was shaking. "Y-you depressed the r-red button?"
Ray smiled a little. "Yes, Benny. I depressed the red button."
They had their man. Ray put the recorder back in his pocket and looked at Fraser happily, but his smile faded. His friend was looking at the floor, biting his lip and finally, after battling his emotions all night, losing the war. He was weeping silently. Ray looked around. They were alone. He felt his own defenses begin to break down in response to the other man's anguish. Instinctively, he reached out, grabbed him, and felt their chests bump as they collided in a firm hug. Both felt a little foolish, but the feeling went away quickly. Fraser brought his arms up and returned the embrace. For a while, he couldn't do anything but gulp in air and sniff, ashamed of himself and grateful all at once.
"Ray, I don't know what to do," he said finally, his face half buried in the detective's shoulder. His voice was hoarse. "Everything that monster said about us was right."
"Benny, relax. He's a lunatic, and you're shook up. What happened wasn't your fault --- it was his. Besides, Stan's alive, and he'll bounce back. That's what we do."
"This isn't about bouncing back. This is about personal responsibility and taking care of each other," Fraser said, finally lifting his glassy eyes to meet his friend's. "This nightmare could have been entirely prevented if I'd have been less selfish and more alert."
"Everyone missed the clues, man. It wasn't just you."
"Fine. Then we four should all share in the blame. Everyone wanted to win that stupid tournament so badly that it almost cost one of our lives. Was the game really so important, Ray? ... Honestly, what have we come to?"
Fraser slowly let his head fall against Ray's jacket again and was silent. Ray was, too. He had no words for friend's quandary. Fraser's question was beyond an answer.
In the meantime, the embrace was tight and warm, and Fraser felt his body relax, and let go. He felt a spasm rippling through his chest that burbled into his throat and resulted in a choked cry. He felt Ray's hand making a rough circle on his back. He knew the pain would never completely go away. It wouldn't evaporate any more than the warm, stinging liquid that was flowing from his eyes, dripping down his cheeks, and plopping onto the shoulder of yet another of the detective's Armani suits. And yet, something here felt secure.
"It's okay, Benny. Everything's gonna be all right. Shhh."
The words were coming out of his mouth, and yet it felt very strange to Ray. It was downright weird to have to be strong for someone who was usually strength incarnate. He began to rock the both of them, very slowly and slightly. And he knew that he and Fraser would never speak about this moment again, but just the fact that it had occurred was enough. It was true: for all he joked about Fraser's iron will and incredible calm, the Mountie felt pain and guilt and loss like everybody else. The evidence was all over his jacket.
"Thanks, Ray." He tilted his head and looked at the shoulder he'd been moistening. "Oh, dear. I think I r-ruined your suit."
"It's just damp. Besides, there are these things called dry cleaners, 'ya know? Fuggedaboutit."
Ray tousled his friend's hair affectionately with one hand, continued to rub his back with the other, and neither let go for a long time.
Dawn broke over Lake Michigan and the light seeped into the windows of the waiting area in the emergency room. Meg sat up --- she'd been lying across two chairs, and now had a sore spot on her back. She looked next to her and saw Huey and Dewey asleep across the way, their heads knocked together, each supporting the other. Damien and Barbara were asleep next to her.
Wow. We've been here all night.
She got up and unsteadily made her way to the reception desk. The nurse on duty looked fresh as a daisy, which annoyed Meg. She knew perfectly well that there were dark pouches under her own chocolate brown eyes, and her hair was probably a mess.
"Yes?" asked the woman, with a perky smile.
"Hi. Could you please check on a patient for me?"
"Are you family?"
"Yes," she lied calmly. "Stanley Kowalski, please. I'm his sister."
"Oh, okay," the nurse said.
She typed away on the computer until the right screen came up.
"He should be coming out of surgery within two hours. There was a lot of damage to repair."
"Right. Thanks. So, it's six now, so he should be out before eight?"
She padded away in the direction the bathroom.
"Suction. I can't see anything. ... There. Thanks."
The doctors were still working. The first part of surgery, which had taken a few hours, had only been the exploration part. Now, they were about three-quarters of the way through repairing all the damage. Adia, the anesthesiologist, looked down at the pale face of the man on the table. His hair was held out of his face by a blue hair net, and his lips were almost purple in the odd light. His mouth was open, forced that way by several rubber supports, not to mention the tube blooming out from between his lips and held in place with tape. She gently traced a finger down the cheek.
The dental surgeon promptly yelled at her to get away from the patient and to 'keep her damn eyes on the machines.'
While one team was working on Stan's chest and abdomen, the dental surgeon, an on-call doctor from Plastics, was busy repairing the torn ligaments in the detective's jaw, as well as removing the three broken teeth, sterilizing the cavities, and stuffing the patient's mouth with cotton.
Soon, the team working on his chest and abdomen would be finished. They would proceed to examine his legs and arm.
Adia sighed and felt very sorry for the man on the table.
Psych had already come and gone, and Wilson had been taken upstairs. Ray and Fraser were sitting on the floor in the hallway.
"Well, that's that," Ray said. "As soon as Forensics gets back with the goods, and I'm sure they will, that turkey'll go away for a long time."
"Yes, he will," Fraser said.
"Maybe he'll even get cured quick enough to enjoy prison."
Fraser looked down at the floor and mumbled, "Maybe he won't."
Ray looked at Fraser, quite surprised.
"Whaddaya mean, 'maybe he won't?'"
"What I mean," Fraser said, surprising himself, "is that I hope he doesn't. I would actually prefer it if he were trapped in his own mind forever. It's horrible, I know."
"No it isn't," Ray answered, hefting himself up and offering his Canadian friend a hand. "It's human. C'mon. Let's go find the others."
Two hours flew by, and Ronnie was still mysteriously absent. Stella knew that she'd have to leave for the chapel in a half an hour. It was two hours' drive from Cleveland, out in a beautiful, picturesque wheat field. It was one of the oldest churches in Ohio, but more importantly, every single male in Ronnie's family had been married there. He was simply continuing the tradition.
She took one final glance at herself in the mirror, almost giving up hope that Ronnie would show to drive her. Her dress was immaculate, a lovely shade of pearly white. She straightened her long, tapered sleeves and checked her cleavage. *Nice,* she thought with a smile. Her hair was combed, and her veil was absolutely straight on her head. Perfect! Just like one of those models in the bridal magazine. Oh, I'm so happy!
Ever since she'd met Ronnie at a charity dinner, he'd impressed her as a kind, sensitive individual. He was so handsome. And so bashful! He blushed like a schoolboy when he asked her to dance and took her hand. She kept her mouth busy trying to convince him that she went to charity dinners all the time --- which of course was a lie, because her job was pretty much life-absorbing --- but he pretended to buy it, and she kept her eyes busy scanning him. He had lovely, light brown hair. Fluffy texture, but not quaffed, and kind of wavy. She remembered spending a few minutes just wondering how soft it was. His nose was roman, and his eyes were bright and hazel, if a tad small. His lips were a little thin, but when he smiled he showed exactly ten upper teeth, which were as pearly and white as her dress, and good lord, did the bow tie set everything off. And then, of course, there was the rear view. Nice, but Stan's was better. Oh, my God. When is my memory going to get with it? I'm not marrying him. It's best that I just forget.
Dating was an adventure, because trying to connect with their busy schedules was quite a feat. It was fun, though, because Ronnie always brought her flowers --- white chrysanthemums, usually --- and plenty of good wine. The wine was a help, she was sorry to admit, because once Ronnie got off on a topic, he could go on for hours. Her mind would go completely blank and she would feel her eyes sort of glaze over a few times, and most of the time, he could just sit there and talk and talk and talk. And she drank and sort of drifted off. In fact, now that she thought of it, she'd rarely said anything beyond "uh-huh." Still, it was rather pleasant not to have to hold up a conversation, even if it was a little dull. Of course, Stan always got right to the point and made lots of jokes. Dammit! Out! Out! Goodbye!
... And then, of course, Ronnie had asked her to marry him, although the circumstances of that were becoming a little fuzzy ... She giggled and realized that she simply couldn't remember where they'd been or what he'd said. Jeez. Was I drunk? No, I'm just nervous. My nerves are frayed because the love of my life is tardy. Hoewever, being introduced to his mother was still clear. She was a petite woman with smooth hands and gray hair --- all smile and very sweet. His father, who seemed a tad domineering, rarely made an appearance. Then again, Barbara and Damien were a lot more down to earth. Oh, for Christ's sake! Get a hold of yourself!
Completing the picture was his younger brother, Jimmy. He was sort of shy, and not as handsome as Ronnie, but a wonderful conversationalist. He was so considerate, too. There were some points after Ronnie had asked her to marry him that she wondered if Jimmy might not have been the better choice. But it was too late for that.
She smiled at the memories, and then checked her watch. It was eight o'clock. Suddenly, there was a knock at her door. She ran to answer it, her swishing, bouffant skirt trailing out behind her. She opened it, and there he was.
She threw her arms around him and tried to forget about Stan for a minute.
"Hiya, Stella. Miss me?"
"Good. It's always nice to be missed. Listen, I just wanted to talk to you about a few things. Is that okay?"
"Sure. I have something I want to tell you, too."
"Really. Well, go ahead. What is it you want to tell me?"
"Well, um, wow. I feel so stupid. You know my ex? The one I told you about?"
"Ah, yes. The cop. Kabalefski."
"Um, yeah," she continued, a little taken aback. Ronnie was looking at her very strangely. "He's had a bad accident, and I think, um, that the proper, uh, thing to do, would be for me to go back and see him after the wedding."
"I see," Ronnie said, crossing his arms and leaning on the dresser. "And just why do you think this would be the proper thing to do?"
His tone was piercing and accusatory, somehow. Her nerves were getting jangled just by listening to him. It sounded as though he were about to explode.
"Well, we were married for eight years, Ron. I just want to make sure he's okay."
Ron regarded her coldly.
"Stella, I want you to get something straight, my dear. You are marrying ME."
"And you're marrying ME. What's your point?"
"My point, is what I was going to talk to you about. Loyalty."
"Yes. You know, you've told me about this Kowalski person a few times, and quite frankly, it's gotten on my nerves. If we get married, I need your solemn oath that you'll be loyal to me."
"'If we get married?' Ron, I love you! Why would I be anything other than loyal?"
He cut her off. "I also need you to make a big change and come to New York with me."
Stella stared at him, goggle-eyed.
"I don't like to repeat myself. I would like you to quit your job and come to New York as my wife."
Stella stood there with her mouth hanging open. Was Ronnie just playing a joke on her? So far, he hadn't said anything one way or the other about her continuing her job at the D.A.'s office. She'd just assumed it was okay. Wait a minute. He can't control me! I'll do what I like! And what's this with him throwing a hissy fit slash beginning a dictatorship all of a sudden?
"Ron, I don't think I'm ready to quit my job. I like my job. And Chicago's grown on me. I have my own place, I have friends ... I really don't think you're being fair."
Ron licked his lips, considering something.
"Look. I'm trying to be nice about this. Realtors need wives, Stella --- lovely, caring women they can come home to, and lavish pearls on, and take to parties. And for me, you're that woman. You're my jewel, honey! I want to show you off."
At first, it sounded like flattery. And then suddenly, a jarring picture forced its way into her mind: she, seated on a sofa in penthouse, wearing little more than a housedress and an apron, playing with three children, and dinner cooking on the stove. Ron coming in the door, carrying a briefcase, coming back from a day of doing exactly what she wanted to be doing: working.
"I don't want to be shown off."
The words were out before she could stop them. They were blank and surprised, just as she was. This man was trying to tame her, like some sort of wild cat.
"I'm sorry, Ron," she said, choked. "I'm not who you're looking for in a wife. I'm just not the stay at home type, or the wear gorgeous gowns type ..." She started to cry. "Or the drink martinis until I develop hepatitis type, or --- or the knitting type, ... or the STUPID type! Back off!"
The cry was fierce and desperate, and kept him against the dresser, his eyes wide in shock. She sniffed, plucked up a Kleenex, and blew her nose.
"Stella ..." he began.
"No. Forget it. I've been swallowing your bullshit for too long. You know what just occurred to me? In all the months that we dated, I don't think I ever had a deep conversation with you. I got swayed into this by Jimmy, and your darling mother, and ... jeez. Forget this. I don't like the real you. This is crazy. This is cruel. Why should I marry you, Ronnie?"
"Stella, why are you beating yourself up over this? You made your choice --- you're wearing my ring. Now, this isn't brain surgery, baby doll. Either you want it, or you don't!"
"I don't think I want it!"
He glared at her and advanced. She backed away.
"What?" he asked, seething.
"I said, 'I don't think I want it.'"
He slapped her.
"Wrong answer! You wanted to marry me, and those are my conditions! Take them or leave them! Now dry your eyes, and get over here! We have to go, or we'll be late for the damn ceremony!"
She was holding her cheek and staring at him, stunned.
"You stupid shit!" she finally yelled, getting her courage back. "I can't believe you! I always thought you were really smart, but apparently not. No one with half a brain hits the woman they're about to marry. In fact, no one with half a brain hits a woman at all. I'm just thankful you were moronic enough to show me your true colors before I made the biggest mistake of my life. ... I'm not going anywhere with you."
She grabbed her engagement ring, wrenched it off her hand, and laid it on the bed in a single motion.
"There. You can use it on some other unsuspecting female. Maybe one day you'll marry a mannequin, and realize that's what you were looking for in a woman. You disgust me."
Ron couldn't even reply. She shook her head at his lack of a comeback, picked up her purse, and started for the door.
"Stella, where are you going?" Ron cried out helplessly.
"To visit someone I care about --- because I know he cares about me. Tell Jimmy that he was very sweet, and tell your mother that I'm so sorry. Goodbye, Ron."
She ran out the door in her wedding gown, fighting back the tears, and dashed through the hotel lobby like a large, frantic dove, startling guests and employees alike. She stopped on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and hailed a taxi. One stopped immediately and she got in.
"The airport, please."
They zoomed off. She took out her cell phone and dialed a number. After a bit of pressing buttons and a heated conversation, she clicked it shut.
"Could you step on it? I just booked a flight, and it leaves in twenty minutes!"
"That's it, people. Let's close."
The surgeons and their staffs were finally finished. All of the internal damage had been repaired. The aides closed the incisions with butterfly stitching and within minutes had sterilized the areas and covered them in sterile dressings. The amount of bandages being passed around was almost inconceivable. Both of the patient's legs were elevated, in casts from hip to toe. The left arm was in a cast as well. The head and one side of the face were bandaged, and the only exposed cheek was swollen and stuffed full of cotton.
Adia turned off the general anesthesia, checked the levels, and then watched as the patient disappeared through the doors, on his way to the recovery room, accompanied by several assistants in scrubs, a rolling i.v., and the ventilator. Then she looked around at the room where she'd spent the last nearly eleven hours, cracked her neck, and made her way to the reception desk to alert the E.R..
The E.R. nurse at the desk took the call.
"Who's here for Kowalski?" she said.
Half of the waiting room stood up. Ray, Fraser, Huey, Dewey, Meg, Barbara, and Damien had recently been joined by Lt. Welsh, Francesca, Mrs. Vecchio, and Diefenbaker, who had escaped from Turnbull's care and sniffed out his human companion.
She motioned them all over to the desk.
"The surgery's over, and the anesthesiologist said he pulled through like a champ," she said, with a warm smile.
There was a quick celebration at these words. Huey and Dewey whooped, Frannie and her mother hugged Barbara and Damien, Ray hugged Meg and slapped Fraser on the back in relief, and Dief jumped on Welsh, barking happily and wagging his tail. It took them a minute to calm down.
"He should still be out for another hour. Once he's conscious, the doctors upstairs will let me know, and you can all go up and say 'hi.' Okay?"
They all nodded assent and went to go sit down in the waiting room. No one could keep still. The Kowalskis and Welsh listened as Ray, Fraser, Huey and Dewey began to fill them in on the basics of what had happened. When they got to the identity of the driver, though, Welsh's face went pale.
Flight 347 from Cleveland took off without a hitch. Stella was attracting lots of stares because of her wedding gown, but she'd run out of witty comebacks to make them stop, so she just ignored them. Just as long as no one stepped on the hem of her skirt and the flight reached O'hare in an hour, she would be fine. She got out her make-up case and opened her compact. Her mascara had run from the bit of crying she'd done in front of The Snake, as she'd decided to call him, so she fixed it and re-did most of her make-up. The hour flew by, and before she knew it, she was landing at O'hare.
She maneuvered her way through the crowds, holding her purse over one shoulder and her puffy skirt with both hands to keep from tripping on it. Reaching the sidewalk outside to hail a cab, she realized she was freezing. The cold weather was making her breasts look and feel like white melons with goosebumps. After four rude people had pushed ahead of her, she finally shoved a fellow citizen out of the way and grabbed a cab.
"Where to, lady?" the cabby asked.
"Oh, I always forget the name," she said, exasperated. "The big hospital on the south side of town."
"You got it --- I know where it is."
The cab shot off.
"Kowalski?" the nurse at the desk said again, after about an hour.
The entire group stood up again. Fraser led the way to the desk.
"Ma'am?" he asked. "Are we allowed to see him?"
"You certainly are. Sixth floor. Go up and talk to the receptionist. She'll tell you where to go, and what the rules are."
"Thank you kindly."
The small, odd flock of cops, Mounties, retirees, a homemaker and a wolf made its way to the elevators. Everyone piled into one and Fraser pressed "6." The door closed, and they were off.
Not thirty seconds later, a blur of white taffeta and chiffon blew through the ER doors, scaring the nurse at the desk. The white blob finally came to a rest in front of the desk, its hump of a back rising and falling as it heaved. Whatever it was, it was bent double and gasping for breath. Finally, a blond head came into view as the person stood up. The nurse raised an eyebrow. It was a very pretty woman, wearing a wedding gown, of all things.
"Hi," the woman said, when she'd finally collected herself.
"Hello," said the nurse. "May I help you?"
"Yes. I'm looking for Stanley Kowalski. Is he a patient here?"
"That depends. What are you to him?"
Stella thought. Jeez. What am I supposed to call myself? 'Ex-wife' doesn't sound very attractive. 'Former spouse?' No way. That's just PC for 'asshole.' 'Fiance?' Yeah, right. 'Colleague?' Oh, hell. Just lie.
"I'm his neighbor."
The nurse stared. "I see. And you rushed here from getting married to see if your neighbor is all right?"
"Well, I didn't actually get married, see ... Wait a minute. I don't have to explain myself to you. The situation is really complicated. Can I just see him?"
The nurse sighed.
"Please?" Stella begged.
The woman behind the counter took a hard look at her --- the runaway bride seemed to have honest eyes and good intentions.
"All right, fine. He's up on the sixth floor. But if they get mad, I didn't tell you anything, get it?"
Stella smiled. "Yes, ma'am. Thanks."
She picked up her skirt and ran for the elevator.
The circular white light blinked on and the ding was loud as the elevator squeaked to a halt on the sixth floor and unloaded its cargo. Fraser got off first and held the door for everybody else. They began to walk away in a long line. Meg was last off. She took his hand quietly and they walked at the back of the line down the noisy corridor to the reception desk. This was the surgical floor --- almost everyone wore shades of blue, and moved like benevolent ghosts, with quiet, light steps, letting their scrubs flap as they walked. When the small troupe stopped at the busy desk, Meg had to let go. Fraser understood and gave her a small nod to show it. She smiled at him slightly.
Finally, the exhausted receptionist looked up.
"Hi," Ray said. "We're here to see Stan Kowalski. He's been out of surgery for a bit, and we all wanted to come up and say 'hi.'"
"I see. Well, how many are there in your party?"
The elevator dinged again down the hall.
"Um, I dunno," Ray said, a little dazed from everything. "Lessee. One, two, three, four, five, six, ..."
Footsteps began to tap in the direction of the desk.
"Seven, eight, nine, ..."
A blur of white shot into view.
"Ten, eleven ..."
"Twelve!" Stella shouted, scaring Ray.
Everyone turned around, quite startled, and were shocked into amused silence by the woman, standing there dressed like something out of Modern Bride Magazine. Fraser was the only one who recognized her immediately.
"Ms. Jackson?" he said, bewildered. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going to come by after your wedding."
"There was a very big change of plans," she said, unhappily. "And I'm not saying anything more."
"Very well," Fraser cordially replied. "We are twelve, Ray."
"Thanks, Benny, but I think Marshmallow Woman kinda beat 'ya to that."
"Vecchio!" Thatcher admonished. "For heavens' sakes, stop being so rude!"
"Aw, put a cork in it! You're not my superior officer," Ray argued.
"No!" Welsh said indignantly. "I am! Shut up!"
Fraser managed to catch the receptionist's attention.
"Ma'am, how many of us are allowed in at a time? Does he have a private room?"
"Three, and yes. Number 10, down the hall. The nurse at the door will assist you."
"Thank you kindly."
Fraser made a motion for everyone to follow him, and they walked off down the hall heading for the recovery rooms. Huey, Dewey, Mrs. Vecchio, Frannie, the Kowalskis, and Welsh followed him closely, trying to decide who would go in first. Ray and Thatcher came next. The former was making a "thbthbthbthbt" noise at the latter, who had been reduced to hissing like a cat. Stella brought up the rear of the procession, rolling her eyes, and unbeknownst to her, Diefenbaker was drooling on her dress. The receptionist watched all of them walk away just as Adia came up to the desk. She looked at the odd procession too, shook her head, and passed the secretary some charts.
When the group reached room 10, the corridor had turned very quiet. The ICU was also on this floor, and they were right next door to it. The babble broke off, and a nurse came out of room 10. She turned to the flock.
"You're all here for the detective?"
They all nodded.
"Wow. Popular guy. Okay, only three people allowed in at a time. Split yourselves up. Everyone gets a few minutes, and then you have to go, all right?"
Her tone was too matter-of-fact and deadpan for the situation, but Fraser glanced at the nurse again and recognized her. It was that girl from the E.R.. Denise --- the one Mari had been chewing out, and for good reason.
"How many minutes do we all get?" Frannie asked.
"Five minutes per group. He needs his rest, and there's a possibility that we'll have to move him to the ICU if he goes south, which he might. He got pretty banged up, 'ya know?" she finished, with a slight drawl.
Frannie didn't like her tone. "Yeah. I know. Get outta here. We'll take as long as we need."
Denise bristled, but was stopped by a voice.
"Denise? Is that you?"
Fraser looked down at the end of the hall. Standing there in her coat and scarf, was a very familiar person.
"Marianne? What are you doing here?" Denise asked her. "I thought you went home."
"I came back because I forgot some books. Bartlett told me to come up here and get you, because there's a trauma coming in."
"Ooh! What kind?"
Mari looked revolted by Denise's enthusiasm.
"How should I know?" she responded flatly. "Get down there. Goodnight --- scratch that. Good morning, everybody."
"Good morning, Marianne!" Fraser called back and waved.
She waved at him with a tired smile and disappeared around the corner. Denise gave him a "You're in league with her?" glare and took off. The group was left alone in front of the door. A painful pause ensued.
"May we go in first?" Barbara asked finally, indicating herself, her husband, and Welsh.
The others all assented and let them in. A few minutes later, they came out. Barbara was silent, but absolutely beside herself, and Damien had an arm around her. Welsh looked a bit pale and didn't say much.
"They said he'll recover, right, Constable?" he asked Fraser.
"Good. Listen, I'm gonna get his parents back to the hotel, and go home. If there's anything he needs ..." He trailed off.
"We'll take care of it, sir."
Fraser nodded at him, and he walked off down the hall after the Kowalskis. There were nine visitors left. Thatcher walked in with Huey and Dewey, visibly shaken by Welsh's reaction. They too came out quickly. All of them looked a bit rattled. The "duck boys" left fast, citing a shift that started in a few hours, and the inspector explained that she had to go home and check on her cat before she went to work. While Frannie and Mrs. Vecchio were getting Dief so that they could go in, Meg leaned into Fraser and whispered in his ear.
"It's bad in there. ... And he's awake, I think. That's the worst part."
He took in a slow breath, listening to her.
"I can't stay, but call me. Please."
He nodded. She broke away and squeezed his hand gently before setting off.
Mrs. Vecchio, Frannie, and Dief took only a few minutes, and when they came out, Ray's mother was weeping.
Frannie mouthed, "I'm taking her home" at Ray, who nodded. Dief tramped along after them, and Ray, Fraser, and Stella were the only ones left in the hall. It was 9:53 am.
"Let's go," Fraser said.
He pushed open the door and they walked in.
The first thing Fraser got from the room was its complete lack of odor. He couldn't pick up a single smell in the air. The walls were a blank sort of white, and the lighting was harsh and florescent. It was an effort just to look at the bed, but when he finally did, he was sorry he had, as a wave of nausea swept over him and he had to stand still and lean up against the wall for a moment until it passed.
The man in the bed bore no resemblance to Stanley Kowalski, Detective, Chicago P.D., 27th precinct. He had no blankets, only a hospital gown. Both of his legs were elevated by straps and encased in white plaster, with a slight bend in the knees. One arm was a blob of white as well, bent at a right angle and swaddled in a sling. There were tubes and wires going every which way and disappearing under his meager covering. His head was a mess of bandages. All traces of his spiky blond hair were hidden underneath them. One side of his face was bandaged as well, and the other part was bruised and swollen. His uncovered cheek, stuffed full of cotton, looked like it was more suited to a chipmunk than a man. His exposed eye was a puffy slit. They had him on an i.v. and several different machines, including a heart monitor. It was beeping quietly. The hiss of the ventilator was the only other sound.
Ray was leaning up against the wall next to Fraser, looking as sick as the Mountie felt. Only Stella, moving as if in a trance, had enough nerve to approach the bed.
*At least he's wearing socks,* she thought, and without thinking, touched the end of the man's foot. The cloth of the white athletic sock felt soft against her hand.
To her surprise, the closed eye opened a little and blinked at her. Or maybe it was winking. It was hard to tell. She leaned over the bed rail.
"Stanley?" she whispered, brought her satin-clad arm around, and touched his cheek.
He tried to make a noise, but was stymied by the tube in his mouth. That didn't prevent him from blink/winking, though. Fraser and Ray looked at each other and came over.
"It's me, sweetie," Stella continued. "I heard what happened. I came to see you."
She circled around to the other side of the bed to take his un-injured hand.
"Can you hear me?" she asked, and then her eyes widened. "He squeezed my hand!" she said to Fraser and Ray.
"Stan?" Fraser asked nervously, leaning in.
The eye looked in his direction and blink/winked.
"Hey, Ko," Ray said, putting in his two cents.
Asking Stan any questions was useless, because he was intubated and couldn't answer. But the fact that he was alert and conscious was very promising. Stella felt a tear coming, but she didn't let go of her ex's hand. A gasp escaped her when he squeezed it again. He was alive. He was really alive.
She smiled, leaned down, and whispered "I'm right here" in his ear. In response, he gave her a half grin, despite the tape over his mouth, and squeezed her hand again.
The tears rushed up like a wave. She had to leave, fast, before everyone saw her break down.
"I'll be right back," she said, then gave Stan a hundred-watt smile and excused herself. Fraser saw her practically sprint for the door, her taffeta skirt streaming out behind her, and turned to Ray, slightly amused. Ray smirked in agreement. The three men were alone.
Ray took his chance. He went around to where Stella had been and took Stan's hand. Immediately, the eye looked in his direction.
"Hiya, buddy," he said. "The docs said you pulled through like a champ. I knew you would. You're tough as hell. You'll be better in no time."
The last part was a bit of hopeless fantasy, and everyone knew it, but Stan managed to give him a very faint half-grin. Ray thought he would simply get a hand squeeze, but Stan was feeling adventurous. He pulled a shaky hand out of Ray's gentle grip and motioned like he was holding a pen. Ray looked at Fraser. Fraser nodded and pulled out a small notebook and pen that he always carried with him. Ray positioned the pen in Stan's hand and held up the pad. Fraser came around the other side to see what the detective would write. What came out was a single sentence:
Go Take Care Of Your Mom.
Ray gave a rueful chuckle and nodded.
"Yeah, a'right. I'm goin'. But I'm coming back, you see if I don't."
Stan half smiled and Ray felt a wry grin crackling across his tired face as he stood.
Finally, he turned to Fraser, whispered, "Your turn," and left the room.
This was the moment Fraser had been dreading. He knew Stan had to have some concept of what had happened to him, although, how much time he'd had to think about it was another matter, and who he'd blame for it, still another.
Nervously, he took Stan's hand, and the only available eye met his. There was no attempt at a grin, just exhaustion. Too many visitors, perhaps. Fraser began to sweat. He felt the tug and began to lean in, shaking a little. It was getting very hard to keep everything under control.
"Hi," he said, exhausted. "Stan, look --- I..."
He didn't get to finish. Stan was holding his hand the same way he had for Ray. Awash with guilt and fear and trying not to show either, Fraser gulped slightly and held up the notepad while Stan took the pen:
I Told You If I Put On Your Jacket I'd Look Stupid.
He looked up at both of his bandaged and supported legs before finishing the note.
Guess I Was Right.
Fraser's shoulders sagged. Indeed, his friend knew exactly who to blame. But then, he came away a bit and looked at Stan. The blonde was giving him his best half-grin. He was making a joke. His sense of humor had survived the crash intact. Fraser released a bit of a laugh and held his friend's hand.
"Well, I apologize for the coat and hat, but we did catch the man who ran you down. He won't hit anyone else again."
Stan raised an eyebrow, like, "Good!" and squeezed.
"Um, do you want me to bring you some blankets? Are you cold?"
Stan blinked at him.
"One squeeze yes, two squeezes no. Are you cold?"
"Okay. I'll be back in a moment. Would you like Stella to sit with you for a while?"
Several squeezes in rapid succession.
"All right, okay! Hang on a minute. Calm down. I'll send her in."
Fraser knew he had to go fulfill his promise, but he couldn't leave yet. Something cool was swirling around inside him. Grief, remorse, guilt, and pain were being doused with relief. Stan would live and get better, and didn't hate him, and everything really was going to be all right. He couldn't help himself. He leaned down and kissed his friend on the cheek. Stan half-grinned at him again, squeezed one more time, and let go. The Mountie went off to go find some blankets and Stella.
Ray was waiting out in the hall when he came out.
"So? How'd it go?"
"Quite fine. I think ... I think I've been forgiven."
"Good. He need anything?"
"Um, yes. Stella, some blankets, and most likely a different way of elevating his legs and his approximate release date."
Ray looked at him and raised his eyebrows.
"Well, I was just assuming the last part because it is Stan we're dealing with, after all. Detective Fidget."
"Yeah, that's true," the Italian consented, with a laugh. "A'right. I'll go find the runaway bride and see what I can finagle out of the clerk about the release. You get the blankets and a good nurse."
They split up. Fraser walked into the main rotunda of the floor, looking for someone to help him. He tried in vain to hail several people, but it was like trying to catch a hummingbird. No one would stand still. After two minutes, he was strained and annoyed, and quit trying get the staff's attention. He just stood still and let the doctors and nurses brush past him in a dizzying dance of white. He was beginning to feel a little dizzy himself when someone tapped him on the shoulder. Turning around, he came face to face with ...
Adia. She was tired, but smiled nonetheless and asked, "Sir? Are you here with the detective?"
"Yes, I am. I'm actually looking for a nurse to help him. You are ...?"
"Adia Sinclaire. I assisted during surgery. What's the problem? Is your friend in pain?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that. He's just cold, and needs some blankets. His legs are in hanging stirrups to elevate them, and there doesn't seem to be a way to cover him --- the sheets would just slide down the casts. Does that make sense?"
"Completely. I'll get some pillows and then I'll be with you shortly. In the meantime, go get some blankets from the nurses' station down the hall."
"Thank you kindly."
They met again half a minute later and walked down the hall. Fraser held a pile of blankets, and Adia was carrying two enormous, fat pillows. When they entered room 10, they found Ray sitting in a chair, balancing his checkbook, and Stella sitting on one side of Stan's bed, holding his hand, talking to him. She stopped when Fraser and Adia came in.
"Hi," she said.
"Hey there," Adia responded cheerfully. "We're just going to set your husband up with some stuff to make him more comfortable."
She didn't bother correcting Adia's mistake. "Oh, please don't drug him anymore," she said. "He's not in pain, and he can understand me."
"Don't worry, I won't."
Fraser put the blankets down on Stan's belly, and got ready to help with the transfer. He and Stella each took one of Stan's legs gently and pulled them up just enough so that Ray could get them out of the stirrups. Adia set the fat pillows down on the bed, and Fraser and Stella lowered his legs onto them. The pillows seemed to be doing a good job of elevating the detective's legs. Fraser and Ray spread the sheets and blankets over their friend as Stella watched.
"Okay. Well, if that's it, my shift is over. I'll see you all later," Adia said.
They chorused their thanks and said goodbye. She closed the door, leaving the three of them alone. Stan was starting to fall asleep. After looking at his bandaged face for a little while, his small expressions were getting easier to read. His eye was already almost closed.
"When will he be released?" Fraser whispered to Ray as they looked down on him.
"No one's sure. After they get him off the ventilator, it should be about a week. I heard somebody say something about 'resps' improving, whatever those are, so it sounds promising."
Fraser nodded as Stan dropped off. "Then we have some planning to do. Stella, will you need a lift back to your apartment?"
"I, uh, ..."
"Yeah, c'mon, I'll drive you," Ray said, surprising everybody.
"Um, okay. Thanks."
"Whatever. Let's get outta here," said the detective, as he started to move toward the door.
"That's 'Ray-ish' for your most welcome," Fraser whispered in her ear. "And I honestly don't know what came over him."
She giggled, took his arm, and ripped off her veil.
"Let's go. We can stop at my place and figure out what we need to do."
"Sounds like a plan," Ray said, already outside.
The other two followed him out, and they shut the door quietly, leaving Stan asleep, covered to the chin with the blankets. The heart monitor continued to beep.
The door unlocked and swung open too easily, as usual.
"Cheap piece of shlock," Mari muttered as she picked at the paint on it. She sighed in exasperation and closed it. She had to start studying for the test. The newspaper she'd picked up outside her door was tempting, but she'd only opened it halfway when she heard her roommates calling. It was play time.
She smiled. This was the one constant in her life. Strange things might happen at the hospital and strange things might happen at medical school, but Josie and Lulu were always there, and always knew when she was home. She pulled off her knit cap, scarf, heavy jacket and gloves, and threw them all on the couch. Her green scrubs were all she had on.
She clumped across the floor in her boots through the small living room, but stopped and looked the archway into the even smaller kitchen to her right, trying to see through the refrigerator door to divine if there was any food left over. She finally gave up. The door to the bathroom was closed, but the bedroom was her main objective. She walked in, and a gale of tinkly song washed over her in greeting.
"Hiya, girls! Miss me?"
~ tweet chirp tweet ~ came the reply.
She walked over to the large cage by the window. Inside were Josie and Lulu, her parakeets, flapping excitedly and singing at the top of their little voices. The birds were a blur of blue and green and stirring up a maelstrom of noise.
"You wanna be out, huh?" Mari asked.
~ tweet ~
"Okay. Just don't crap on the floor and you can fly around for as long as you like."
She carefully opened the door, and Josie fluttered out to land on her shoulder. Lulu zipped out like a dart and landed on Mari's head. They both cheeped happily as Mari re-filled their food tray and changed the water. The cage got re-lined, too. It always amazed Mari that her birds could sit still long enough to watch this process. Most of their species had the reputation for having very short attention spans. She gently rubbed their heads with a fingertip, and they stayed on her as she walked to the kitchen, but not for long. Something shiny caught their attention on the way, and pretty soon they were flying around the living room, chirping at each other.
Mari grabbed some orange juice, drank it straight from the carton, and sat down at the small kitchen table with an enormous tome to begin studying for her midterm. She looked up after two minutes to watch the parakeets, and then somewhere between paragraphs six and seven, she lost the drift of the textbook. She took off her glasses and laid them on the table, and the room became a giant blur. Josie and Lulu disappeared from her view, but somehow it didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered except studying ... for ... this ... test ... and ...
The side of her face hit the textbook, her eyes closed in spite of the upcoming midterm, and she began to breathe very deeply. Before long, she was snoring quietly. Josie and Lulu, attracted by the noise in the kitchen, fluttered in and landed on the tabletop next to Mari. They cheeped a bit at her, but there was no response. Curiously, they examined Mari's abandoned glasses, hopping around them, turning their heads this way and that. Finally, they flapped up and landed on them, one parakeet perched on the rim of each lens.
Lulu cheeped at Josie.
Josie cheeped at Lulu.
And they simultaneously took a crap.
The psychiatric ward was pretty quiet that day. Most of the patients were either sedated and strapped to their beds, or calmly sitting in chairs, waiting to talk to visitors. The sun shone through the windows and the day outside was bright and cold. Everyone was happy to be inside, looking out.
The graceful Puerto Rican woman went unnoticed as she glided through the throng of people in the large waiting area. Her high heels clicked on the marble floor and she heaved a sigh as she looked at the chart. The first case of the day was looking like a real doozy. She scratched her head before patting her short, sculpted haircut, and nervously twirled a finger around the inner circumference of the medium-sized gold hoop in her right ear. She switched the chart to the other hand and twirled her left one, just to even them out. Finally, she stopped outside an examination room, sighed again, nervously straightened her white lab coat, and prepared to go in. The chart was quite bleak. "Preliminary diagnosis --- schizophrenia, Act --- attempted vehicular manslaughter" was what it read. She sighed again and rubbed her temple.
"Mr. Parker?" she asked as she came in. "I'm Dr. Santos. I'll be seeing you today."
She expected to find a fidgeting, screaming mess of a human being on the bed. Most schizophrenia patients looked that way. Either that, or someone exceedingly calm would greet her. Wilson was somewhere in-between. He was calm, silent, and eerily alert, staring at her with cold, watery-blue eyes. His hair was a mess, and his clothes were rumpled. The only evidence that he was a psych patient was the fact that he was strapped down to the bed he was lying on.
"Hello, Dr. Santos," he said quietly. His voice was even and weak.
"Good morning. Would you like to tell me what happened, Mr. Parker?"
Wilson stared at her, about to reply, when he felt it happen. An odd rushing in his ears sucked all the noise out of the room. Dr. Santos's mouth was moving, but he couldn't hear her words. Then all of a sudden, the wall behind her disappeared. He was staring into a dark cavern. He watched in disbelief as the doctor's white lab coat blew away, revealing not clothing, but a black bikini that went beautifully with her dark skin. Her dark eyes lit up with orange fire, and she beckoned him with lips like twin rosebuds. He could tell she was cooing at him, and then she opened her mouth wider. Two fangs. Big ones. And yet, he wasn't afraid. She was a demon, like all the rest, but she was incredibly beautiful. He decided right then --- he had to have her. But how did one "have" a demon? He'd never thought about it before. And then it hit him. The only way to get a demon, now that he considered it, was to take its essence. Her life force.
"Sir? Will you tell me?" Dr. Santos repeated.
"Mr. Parker?" the demon repeated, and licked her fangs. "Do you want me?"
"Y-yes," he responded, in a faint whisper. "Come closer."
The doctor raised an eyebrow. "I don't think that's such a good idea, sir."
Wilson licked his lips, looking this way and that in his nervous attempt. "I'm sorry," he whispered again. "My voice is weak. Come closer."
Dr. Santos approached him cautiously and came within a foot of his face.
Nope, can't reach her. Dammit! She'll have to untie me.
"Is there any way you could get these restraints off me?" he whispered once more. "I lost a lot of blood in the accident. I think they gave me a drug, too. I can hardly move. Please?"
The doctor wasn't sure about his injuries, but didn't look at the chart. She simply looked at him, and, being a sensitive individual, felt pity for this weak, deluded, unhappy man. He was laying there limp, sweating slightly, even though it was February, and looking remarkably like a dead fish with those eyes. She stared at him for a moment, decided a course of action, and made a tragic mistake. She undid the restraints on his arms and legs, but kept him buckled to the bed.
"There. Is that better?" she said.
"Is that easier for you?" the demon cooed.
"Yes," Wilson said, licking his lips. "Thank you."
And he pounced. She was so shocked at his strength in grabbing her shoulders that she dropped the chart, and his bite into her collarbone area was so fast that it took her a second to remember to scream. It didn't work, though. She only got out a strangled cry before Wilson grabbed a metal knife off the instrument tray next to his bed. Still gripping her like a vice with one arm, he proceeded to calmly plunge his impromptu weapon into her chest, three times. She stared at him with wide, terrified eyes as he finished, kissed her roughly on the lips, and let her go. She tumbled, limp, through three feet of space and landed helplessly on the floor in a twisted, red-stained heap. Dark red blood was pouring fast from the wound sites and spilling all over her shirt and lab coat. She stared up at the ceiling in shock. She had no energy left to scream. Wilson, meanwhile, wasted no time in unbuckling himself. He nonchalantly stood over her for a second, then knelt, put his mouth to her chest, and calmly took a large suck of her life force. She let out a gasp of horror, and her breathing began to go ragged. Her eyes fluttered shut.
He licked his lips one more time, quietly opened the door of the exam room, looked up and down the hall to make sure it was empty, turned out the lights, and walked away. Now that he'd had a demon, all he needed was his car back.
End Slam Dunk, Part Two by Kiki Cabou: firstname.lastname@example.org
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