It felt like someone was pushing ice water through my veins. In fact, it was pretty close to that. When I woke I was laid out on a gurney in a hallway. A saline pack above my head was half empty, its tube draped over my shoulder and running parallel to my arm. They must have stuck poorly the first time because the back of my hand was sore and I could see the small bruise that had formed when the needle nicked the vein, causing blood to form just under the skin. The taped gauze where the saline drip entered my arm didn’t cover it entirely. I knew from my lab tech days in the Army, they’d probably had to poke around to get it set up right. I was irritated at the prospect of having my hand look like I’d lost track of a hammer while nailing a board for the next few days.
I could see through the double doors to the reception desk. Jack was talking to a woman with one of those nose piercings that look like a diamond. I could never understand how people with those things kept from sneezing all the time. She was nodding and folding a piece of paper he’d handed her. He turned around to point down the hall and noticed I was awake. I saw his lips change course to form an “Oh, look,” and he waved and smiled. His wave morphed into a “number one” as he mouthed “Just one minute,” and I nodded my understanding, then reassessed my hand.
I reached up and tightened the clamp, shutting off the drip. Placing the tube between my teeth and making sure there was no slack in the tube leading to my hand, I gently tugged at one side of the tape. Peeling it upwards, I anchored a finger just below where the needle ended under my skin. I pressed down and pulled my hand away from the tube, then pushed the gauze back over the buise and taped it down again. Getting off the stretcher was a bit more difficult, since someone had failed to lock the wheels when they’d parked me there. Thankfully, I was able to stay perpendicular to the floor and roll my shirt sleeve back down as I approached the doors.
“… until we figure this case out, just to make sure he stays safe. And I want a phone call immediately if anyone asks about him or comes to visit, okay? Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing? I said we’d be with you in a minute; what’s the hurry?”
“I know,” I said, “but I feel better and I know a thing or two about phlebotomy. No sense wasting a nurse or tech’s time to do all that when I can do it myself.”
Jack shook his head in disgust but decided to concede the battle. “This is Sue Polanski from social services. She’s going to make sure the boy is cared for and stays protected while we work the case. Sue, this is Malone; she is the private detective I’ve asked to help that I was telling you about.” As Sue shifted her focus from Jack to me and extended her hand, his eyes fluttered quickly to mine. His head bobbed an inconspicuous nod as his eyes narrowed and spoke an urgent message of caution. It was not necessary. I had already taken his lead as he spoke the deception, and smiled at Sue with my no-nonsense professional look of confidence.
Sue smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Malone. I’m sorry to hear about your little accident, but so glad to see you’re just fine now.” Texas? Maybe Oklahoma … I wasn’t sure. I’m a sucker for Southern accents. I made a mental note to quell my curiosity another time (perhaps over dinner) about why on earth she would leave warmer climates for the daunting winters up in these parts.
“Thanks. I hadn’t eaten yet when Jack called and, in the rush, I think I just got a little light headed. I appreciate the concern.”
With that, Jack grabbed a nurse and lead Sue to where the boy was being treated (the Intensive Care Unit, I assumed). I signed myself out at the desk and grabbed a bag of chips and a soda from the vending machines. I had devoured the chips by the time Jack returned and we headed to the station to file paperwork.
“Thanks for playing along back there. I don’t know if the guy you saw is paying attention or not. If he thinks there’s a witness, it could put you in trouble.”
“What makes you think he wouldn’t just run faster and get the hell out of Dodge?” I asked. Kicking a kid like this scum had, it was certainly evil. But it wasn’t the same kind of crime as taking out your enemies, one-by-one. It didn’t seem to fit – Jack thinking this guy was that organized.
“Hen called while you were out. She had to go get a couple of guys to help her process the inside of the trailer. There’s no one alive inside.” I studied his face as he turned the ignition. My neurons still hadn’t pieced together his words when he turned and looked directly at me. “Share what I’m telling you with NO ONE. What I’m saying is …” he studied me as he spoke, “… there were three dead bodies inside.”