“How are you doing, Doctor?”
Dr. Carlson looked at the nurse and held out his arm: “It’s already that time?”
He knew it was time for the nurse to make her rounds and get the vitals of the patients under her care. For the last hour, he’d patiently waited for this moment. After Stephanie left, he’d spent a few minutes watching a thunderstorm building before taking a shower and trying on the clothes she’d brought. He admired her observation and careful selection to pick something he would like. The clothes fit and the toiletries allowed him to shave and brush his teeth. Attempting to nap was futile. He had too much on his mind.
“Do you think they’ll let me go home tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. After I’m through with my rounds, I’ll check your chart to see if there are any instructions.”
The doctor knew she knew far more, but would never say.
“Thank you Dr. Carlson. If you need anything, just call.”
“Leave my door open. After what I’ve been through, the sound of people is comforting.”
After she left, Dr. Carlson waited a few minutes before he dressed. He had a few minutes, so he wanted to make sure she was farther down the hall. When he heard her go into the second room down, he crept to the door and peeked down the hall. Finding it empty, he walked the few steps to the stairway; thanking his luck for the location of his room.
After entering the stairway, he spent a few seconds listening. Finding no sounds, he went down the three flights to the ground floor. Before opening the stairway door, he listened to determine if there was anyone outside the door. Hearing nothing, he left the stairwell and started down the hallway towards the emergency department. Within a minute, he reached the door to the waiting room and entered pandemonium.
Other than the usual group of people waiting for care, the door was almost blocked by a group of police officers, emergency technicians and family members in various states of disarray. All were asking questions, or trying to find information. He was greeted with only a quick glance by one of the officers. The other was trying to tell an almost hysterical young man he couldn’t go into the treatment room. He wasn’t having much luck and had his hand on his arm to keep him from bolting into the restricted area. The rest of the family appeared shocked. The young man, who had a small cut on his face, was crying and almost incoherent.
As the doctor walked by the group, he noticed the trail of blood on the floor. The E.M.T’s were gathering their gear and talking to the admittance personnel. After walking through the door, he carefully avoided the blood as he walked past the ambulance. As he walked to the parking area, he digested what little he could gather as he passed. The young man was a brother and his sister was terribly injured in an automobile accident.
A flash of lightening made the doctor stop at the edge of the awning over the drive. Looking at the parking lot, he didn’t see Carol. As he began to wonder if something happened, his cell phone rang. Realizing he forgot to turn off the ringer, he admonished his forgetfulness and was thankful it didn’t ring during the time he was trying to leave.
“James, I’m almost there.”
“I’m by the emergency room door.”
As he waited, he watched the gathering storm. The flashes were now followed with thunder after a few seconds. The wind suddenly gusted and he could feel a few drops of rain that blew past the edge of the awning. A Prius pulled into the parking lot and pulled to where he was waiting. Looking into the car, he saw it was Carol. She unlocked the door and he quickly climbed into the passenger seat. As he closed the door, the storm struck with full fury.
He was hardly seated when Carol reached and hugged him. For a moment, her perfume and hug returned him to the past. As they separated, he looked and could see she had been crying.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It’s just a touch of sentimentality and worry. Are YOU okay?”
“I’m fine; just a little worse for the wear.”
Examining his face, she giggled and quickly said: “I’m sorry. You just look so different without your mustache.” Studying him more closely, she added: "And, no eyebrows."
Finding her laugh contagious, he laughed and replied: “I guess I do.”
Suddenly serious, she now asked: “Okay. So what’s going on?”
Pausing for a few moments, he realized she wouldn’t believe a word of his prepared story. Deciding the truth was best, he replied: “We need to get going. I don’t believe it’s safe to stay here.”
“James. What’s going on?”
“Just drive. I’ll tell you as we go.”
“To your house?”
“No. Just drive for now. I can’t go home at this time.”
As they drove through the heavy rain, he started explaining the events over the last few weeks. She quietly listened and only asked a few questions. They were miles from the hospital when he finally finished.
“Do you already have your plane tickets?”
“I do, but I need to go home first and pack.”
“No. That’s a really bad idea. Just fly out tomorrow and I’ll call you in a few days.”
“James. This is scary.”
“We’ll have to go to a hotel.”
Carol was quiet as she thought about the last few minutes. She was thinking how little things can lead to larger events. After buying a new phone, she’d transferred her numbers, including James’. While learning the new phone, she’s accidently called him twice. The first time was late at night, which ended in not leaving a message on his voice mail. The second time was during work and James answered. Feeling foolish, she explained what happened. He laughed and made a remark about her “stalking” and the call ended after a few polite questions. Other than an occasional card, or call, she had very little contact over the years.
Wondering about what to do, she had an idea: “I have keys to a few apartments the university keeps for visiting professors. They’re empty, so we can go to the closest apartment.”
Dr. Carlson digested the information and commented: “That works for me, but we need to stop somewhere. I need some things.”
“Nothing will be open.”
“There’s a chain store two blocks up. It will have to do for now.”
The torrential downpour became a steady light rain as they pulled into the parking lot. Only a few cars were parked by the door. Pulling into the fire lane by the door, Carol said: “I’ll wait in the car.”
“Lock the door and be ready to drive away. They’re after me; not you. “
The look on Carols face made him add:” Don’t worry. No matter what happens, everything will be fine.”
The words were chilling to Carol and the mostly empty parking lot gave her a feeling of foreboding. She looked out the rain covered windows and wondered if James was delusional from his injuries. If so, how would she know, and what could she do? What if something happened to him in the store? A bolt of lightning startled her and made her flinch. Within seconds, another bolt struck a light pole in the parking lot and all the lights went out. Looking towards the door, she could see the store still had lights. Now frightened, she stared at the door wishing James would appear.
A dark colored sedan pulled into the parking lot and parked in the last handicap spot. The front was pointed towards Carol, so the headlights prevented her from seeing the person driving. The driver sat without leaving the car. Thinking the driver was waiting for the rain to end, she went back to staring at the door for James.
In a few minutes, James appeared at the door. As he started for the car, the sedan suddenly lurched forward and was in front of Carol’s car before she realized what was happening. Immediately a man stepped from the car and stated: “You need to come with me, Dr. Carlson.” He held something in his hand, but she couldn't tell what it was.
A bolt of lightning blinded Carol and the immediate clap of thunder caused her to jump. The lights on the sedan immediately went out. Before she could sort her thoughts, she heard banging on the passenger door and heard James shouting: “Let me in, now!” As soon as the door was unlocked, he quickly climbed in and stated: “Back up and get out of here.”
Hesitating, she quickly put the car in reverse when Dr. Carlson raised his voice and said: “Now”
As she backed away from the sedan, Carol could see something lying next to the sedan. After placing the car in drive and pulling forward, she glanced towards the car once again. In the rain distorted window, she could see steam rising from the charred body of the man. Turning away, she quickly accelerated when Dr. Carlson shouted: “Hurry!”
After they left the parking lot, Dr. Carlson said: “This isn’t good.”
Carol said nothing. She was still in shock from the previous few minutes.
“They know your car and they know I’m not in the hospital - I thought I had more time”