Alice’s pager went off in the middle of conducting rounds with the Bay City University Hospital medical students, directing Dr. Frame to hurry down to the Emergency Room, stat. A shooting at the park. Multiple victims.
She made it just in time for the admitting doors to swing open and for the paramedics to wheel in a pair of gurneys side by side, Jamie hustling to keep up in between them, his head swiveling from one to the other, the front of his shirt soaked in blood.
“This one is for you, Dr. Frame,” the first paramedic rattled off the latest statistics for an unconscious Chase, half of his face obscured by gauze.
“And this one’s for me,” Morgan, too, came sprinting down the hall, getting his update from the other paramedic, the one who’d been attending to an equally inert Rachel, suffering from what appeared to be a wound to the abdomen. “OR Four,” he directed an orderly to get the patient prepped for surgery. “I’m scrubbing in now.”
Alice gave her own instructions to a waiting nurse, promising she’d be right in to examine Chase. But, first, she had to quickly ask Jamie, “Are you alright?” indicating the blood.
“Fine,” he dismissed her concern with the wave of a hand. “It’s all theirs. I’m fine.”
“I don’t know,” he confessed, still breathing heavily from the shock and exertion. “Lorna and I were at the playground with the girls. Chase and Doug were there with their kids.”
“The children saw all this?” Alice asked, horrified.
“Yeah,” Jamie said grimly. “Best I could tell from my cursory examination, the bullet was heading upwards. It went through Mom, then hit Chase. I tried to do the best I could for both of them, but the damage… it’s intensive, Alice. I couldn’t stop Mom’s bleeding, who knows what kind of internal damage there is. And Chase. He was completely non-responsive, no matter what I did.”
“Rachel is in good hands with Morgan,” Alice reassured.
“And I’ll go examine Chase right now.”
“I couldn’t find an exit wound. I’m afraid the bullet lodged in his brain.”
“I’ll keep you posted,” Alice promised, reassuring her stepson, “You did everything you could. For both of them.”
The look on his face suggested Alice words, whether true or not, were of absolutely no comfort.
Jamie waited until she’d disappeared behind the door to her examining room before fully comprehending just how frightening he must look, standing where anyone could see him, dripping blood that wasn’t even his, scaring the other patients.
He took the elevator upstairs to the doctors’ changing room, pulling out the spare clothes he kept for emergencies and washing up as best as he could before slipping them on and heading back down.
By the time Jamie returned, Doug was sitting in the waiting area, having hopped in his car to follow the ambulance taking Rachel and Chase to the hospital.
“Any news?” Jamie asked.
Doug shook his head. “What did the doctors say when you brought him in? How bad is it?”
Jamie stalled, “My stepmother, Alice Frame, she’s the attending. Do you know her?”
“Chase mentioned her once, I think. During the Gregory Hudson Physician Assisted Suicide suit?” Doug made it clear he didn’t give a damn who the physician on the case was, as long as they could tell him everything would be alright.
“She’s examining him right now. She promised she’d come out with a report as soon as she knows anything concrete.”
“You saw him. What do you think?” Doug was all but begging for Jamie to give him something to hold onto.
“It’s hard to say,” Jamie hedged. “I was doing triage, I wasn’t really – “
“Jamie!” Carl’s bellow entered the Emergency Room waiting area seemingly a few seconds before the rest of him. But then, in some sort of forced bending of time and space, he materialized in front of his stepson, ignoring Doug completely to demand, “What in blazes is going on? Where is your mother?”
“She’s in surgery,” Jamie snapped, in no mood for Carl’s habitual theatrics.
“How badly is she injured?” Carl apparently believed he could bully Jamie into giving him the only answer Carl was willing to hear.
“Badly, Carl. Very, very badly,” Jamie took no pleasure in delivering the news.
Even if it did deflate Carl’s inherent arrogance a notch. “Tell me,” he hissed.
“She was shot in the stomach. That’s a very dangerous area to take a bullet, a lot of vital blood vessels that can empty out in seconds, not to mention major organs. I wasn’t going to expose her to any more potential infections than I absolutely had to by doing a full examination while she was lying on the ground. I did my best to stop the bleeding and get her here in one piece. Morgan will tell us the extent of the damage when he can.”
“How could you allow this to happen?” Carl sputtered.
“What was my mother doing in the park?” Jamie shot back.
“I don’t understand what you mean. It is a public site…”
“She was trying to warn me. She came rushing in, screaming for Lorna and I to grab Devon and Zee and to get out. Away from Chase. She was very clear about that. A second later, we heard the shot, and they both went down. What do you think she was trying to warn us about, Carl?”
“Why in the world do you think I should be privy to such information?” he told Jamie stiffly, all the while desperately glancing at the doors leading to the operating room. “She has to pull through, doesn’t she, Jamie?” His bluster of a moment earlier was gone. Now he was the one begging for any spot of good news.
“I don’t know,” Jamie told him honestly, sinking, adrenalin running out and suddenly exhausted, into the chair beside Doug, who looked just about as hopeless as Jamie and Carl currently felt.
Jamie’s phone rang. He checked the display and just as promptly stood up again, heading out into the hall, where he couldn’t be overheard.
Doug and Carl exchanged looks.
“How is your Mr. Hamilton?” Carl asked perfunctorily.
“No idea. Nobody’s has told me anything yet.”
“Blasted hospitals.” Unable to stay still like the rest of them, Carl chose instead to pace the
limited space, like a very unsettled cougar in his too small pen. “Doctors lording it over us. Do they not realize that it is we who employ them? I shall certainly speak to the Board about this. Absolutely unacceptable.”
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to pull rank, here,” Doug offered. “No matter who you know on the Board. I mean, Chase is the mayor, and it’s not like he’s getting any special treatment. I’ve been asking and asking, and I keep being sent back to wait.”
Jamie returned, tucking the phone into his pants pocket and telling Doug, “That was Lorna. Eduardo stopped by our place, picked up the kids and took him back to your house, just like you wanted.”
“Thank you,” Doug bobbed his head. “And please thank your wife for taking Milagros and Ike. I don’t know what I would have done if – “
“Don’t mention it.”
Doug seemed unable to stop talking. As long as he was talking, he could, at least, feel like he was doing something. “Thank you, also, for what you did in the park. I know it couldn’t have been easy, what with your mother… thank you for taking care of Chase.”
Carl’s head whipped around at that. “You administered primary critical care?”
“Just until the ambulance arrived. I tried – “
“And you prioritized the man who put your brother in jail – the man who, only a few years ago, was determined to place you in jail – over your own mother?”
“I did what I could for them both.”
“What sort of ungrateful, disloyal scoundrel are you? Have you no tender feeling for the woman who bore you, whatsoever?”
“I’m not discussing this with you, Carl.”
“If anything happens to your mother… If Rachel suffers even the slightest of ill-effect due to your prioritizing that immoral boor over the woman who raised you, the one who was attempting to protect you from – “
“What?” Jamie challenged, all but flinging Carl the noose to hang himself by. “Are you finally ready to admit what she was protecting me from?”
“Gladly. As soon as you confess what you were doing conspiring with Chase Hamilton!
Meeting him surreptitiously and the like.”
“We were conspiring to save Cory from prison.”
“Something that would never have been necessary had Hamilton kept his word and allowed me to assume my son’s place.”
“He gave you a chance. You responded by trying to flee the jurisdiction.”
“I did no such thing, and I resent your insinuation.”
“Go to hell, Carl.” Jamie advanced on his stepfather, too beaten down by the events of the day to even fake civility for one second longer. “But don’t you dare take my mother with you, this time.”
The swing of a door alerted all three of them to another presence as Jamie, Carl and Doug swiveled their heads to see who’d come in.
Alice looked to Doug. She hesitated before speaking. Which Jamie knew couldn’t possibly be a good sign.
Doug seemed to suspect as much. “Well?” He asked in a tone suggesting that despite his desperation to be filled in only a moment earlier, he was now pathetically willing to go on clinging to hope for just a few minutes longer. “How is he?”
“The bullet,” Alice said. “It is lodged in Chase’s brain, as Jamie feared.”
Doug inhaled sharply, all but doubling over.
“He’s in a coma,” Alice said.
This time, it was Jamie who winced, the words bringing back a flood of bad memories.
“What does that mean?” Doug struggled to remain calm, telling himself not to jump to conclusions; sometimes matters weren’t nearly as bad as they sounded.
“We don’t know,” Alice admitted.
Carl snorted, his earlier prediction of doctor incompetence coming true with a vengeance.
“There’s a lot of swelling of the brain, making it difficult to see just how much damage has been done.”
“But swelling can go down, right?” Doug prompted. “I mean,” he looked to Jamie. “I remember when his wife…”
“Yes,” Alice agreed. “Absolutely.”
“Are you going to operate to take the bullet out?”
“Not at this time,” Alice hedged. “We’d like to stabilize him first.”
“So he’s not… stable?”
“No. His condition is critical.”
“Meaning it could get worse?”
“Yes,” Alice said softly.
“What are you going to do?” Doug spat in frustration.
“For now, we’re just going to wait. We’d like to get a better sense of the situation before taking any kind of aggressive action.”
“But, in the meantime, he could die. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? He could die while you wait and see?”
“His vital signs are strong,” Alice said, keeping her tone as calm as possible in the hope of helping Doug do the same. “The injured area of the brain doesn’t seem to be affecting any of his critical functions. He’s breathing on his own.”
“That’s good,” Jamie interjected, for Doug’s sake. “That’s very good.”
“It is,” Alice agreed. “It’s a very good sign.”
“So it’s possible he’ll still wake up?”
“Lorna woke up,” Jamie reminded. “It took almost six months, but she did wake up.”
That seemed to appease Doug. “I-I’m sorry,” he began to Alice. “How I sounded….”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” she reached out to squeeze his hand.
“Can I see him?”
Alice nodded. “Come with me. You can stay as long as you want. I’ll tell the nurses.”
Doug followed Alice meekly, only stopping long enough to look over his shoulder and ask Jamie, “Six months?”
“And then she woke up,” he repeated.
Doug smiled weakly.
“Thank you for making the trip here so quickly,” Eduardo escorted Cass and Frankie into Doug and Chase’s home. “I am sorry I could not travel to you. I am watching Douglas’ children while he is at the hospital.”
“We heard what happened,” Frankie said. “On the news.”
“But they didn’t seem to have a lot of details,” Cass clarified. “Do you know any more? Was it an assassination attempt?”
“According to the initial police investigation, it appears to be a random shooting. There is evidence of some sort of scuffle a few feet away. The conjecture is that Chase and Rachel were hit by a stray bullet. When the culprit or culprits realized they’d failed to hit their intended mark, they fled. Commissioner Burrell reports they have ample physical evidence to confirm such a scenario.”
“But you don’t believe it?” Frankie surmised.
“I have never believed in coincidences. Especially when they are so damned convenient.”
“Which is where we come in,” Cass said. “You want us to prove that someone actually tried to kill Chase.”
“I want you to prove that Carl Hutchins attempted to commit the deed.”
Frankie blanched. “No… But… Rachel - Rachel was also hit.”
“What is the expression, collateral damage?”
“Carl would never put Rachel in that kind of danger,” Cass said firmly. “Never.”
“But could he stop her from getting in the way?” Eduardo said, “Jamie was also there. According to my son, it looked as if Mrs. Hutchins were trying to protect him from also becoming a victim.”
Frankie began cautiously, “I’m no stranger to Carl Hutchins’ botched assassination attempts.”
“I know,” Eduardo said. “It is why I thought of you and your husband for this task.”
“But, he’s not the man he was twenty years ago.”
“Lorna Frame insists he had her kidnapped and made it look as if she were dead. Not unlike your first wife, Mr. Winthrop?”
“That… was not exactly how it happened, but, yes, I can see the similarities.”
“Will you help me?” Eduardo asked.
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks.
“Rachel Hutchins is a friend of our family,” she said.
“And, to be honest, I’m not sure if I want to get in Carl’s way ever again,” Cass told him honestly.
Eduardo sighed. He said, “This matter extremely important to me. My son is currently in the hospital, wondering if the man he’s loved since they were practically boys, is going to live through the night. And if he does, what sort of state he will be in. My grandchildren may wake up tomorrow to find out they have lost a father. I am not the sort of person who allows an affront such as this against my family to go unpunished.”
“I don’t blame you,” Cass said. “If I were in your shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. Hell, I have been in your shoes, and I get it completely. I’m just not sure if we’re the right people for the job.”
“I believe you are.”
“Our personal relationship with the Hutchins…”
“Is exactly what makes you the right people.”
“He doesn’t trust us,” Cass said. “If that’s what you’re hoping to get by hiring us. We recently investigated him for Lorna’s father. Carl knows we’re not on his side.”
“Not a problem,” Eduardo insisted. “There is also your daughter’s relationship with Carl and Rachel’s.”
“I can’t say either Carl or Rachel is thrilled about that,” Frankie said.
“You have access to the man in a way no other professional would.”
“You give us too much credit.”
“No. I am giving you a chance of a lifetime. Mr. Winthrop, I have made the appropriate inquires and, rest assured; I am thoroughly qualified to make you this offer. Help me to prove that Carl Hutchins was behind Chase’s shooting, and I will see to it that you regain your license to practice law again. Now,” Eduardo extended his hand forward. “Are you interested?”
“Alright, here’s where the situation stands.” Morgan exited the operating room and, still wearing his scrubs, came to give Jamie and Carl his update. “We managed to stop the abdominal bleeding.”
“Thank God,” Jamie exhaled.
“So she is on the mend?” Carl prompted Morgan’s next line as if the latter were an actor suffering memory loss on stage.
“Not exactly,” Morgan said. He spoke to Carl, but couldn’t help sneaking a peek at Jamie, since he suspected Rachel’s son would understand the severity of their situation faster than her husband. “There was extensive liver damage.”
“The bullet hit her liver?” Jamie interjected, his face draining white cluing Carl in that Rachel was far from out of the woods yet.
Morgan nodded, still speaking more for Jamie’s benefit. “It missed the aorta, which was a lucky break.”
“She’d have bled out before the ambulance got there, in that case,” Jamie predicted.
“Yeah. Still the blood loss was severe. We transfused her several times during the procedure, and I think we’ve got that part of it under control, but…”
“But?” Carl roared, hating that he wasn’t able to anticipate the conversation as well as Jamie seemed to be.
“A damaged liver isn’t something you bounce back from easily,” Jamie said. He asked Morgan. “Any chance of regeneration?”
“No. It practically fell apart in my hands.”
“Shit,” Jamie said.
“We bought ourselves a little time with aggressive dialysis.”
“What does that mean?” Carl bellowed, looking ready to take a frustrated punch at both of them if they didn’t stop speaking gibberish and address him directly.
“It means,” Jamie granted Carl his wish. “That Mom needs a liver transplant ASAP, if she’s going to have any chance of surviving.”
“You’ve made up your mind?” Grant greeted Lila with a huge smile, as if his good spirits could help sway her decision.
“To run away with you?” She asked wryly.
“Not in a romantic sense,” he reiterated. “For company. Friendship. Come on, Bay City’s got nothing to offer you without me!”
“My daughter?” Lila prompted.
“You know I love Jasmine. But she’s off to college next year and…”
“Not necessarily,” Lila sighed.
“What does that mean? What college wouldn’t be thrilled to have that girl?”
“I’m just worried she’ll decide to chuck it all and stay here with Kirkland. Or, even worse, that she’ll get pregnant and – “
“Whoa!” Grant held up his hands. “Are they – “
“Yeah,” Lila groaned.
“You’re sure? She told you?”
“Didn’t have to. I’m not an idiot. It’s practically written all over her face. Your boy is a
regular chip off the old block.”
Grant wasn’t sure how to interpret her words. So he settled for offering, “Kirkland is nothing like me. I’m sure if he and Jasmine are… involved, he’s being a perfect gentlemen.”
“A perfect gentleman would leave a seventeen girl alone to go off to college and live her own life instead of trying her down – “
“To some old man?” Grant lifted an eyebrow. “The age difference between them is hardly all that meaningful. Not like some people I could name.”
“Kirkland’s already graduated college. He’s had his fun and now he’s ready to settle down, start that restaurant of his, what have you… Why deprive Jasmine of the same experiences?”
“Your daughter possesses a very level head on her shoulders. I’m sure you have nothing to worry about.”
“You’re just saying that to get me to drop everything and go with you.”
“Is it working?” Grant wondered.
“Well, Morgan certainly won’t be an issue. Turns out he was only courting me to get into Amanda’s good graces. Not to mention some other places a lady doesn’t reference.”
“Any man who chooses Amanda over you isn’t playing with a full deck – “
“He’s hardly the first.”
“And you’re well rid of him. Both of them. I was married to the woman, I know.”
“You’ve just got all the answers, haven’t you, Grant?”
“Not all of them,” he reminded. “I still don’t know if you’ve decided to come with me.”
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