I sat in the waiting room, drinking probably close to my tenth cup of coffee. According to the nurse that came out to brief me a few hours ago, Heather was still in critical condition. According to the doctors, it looked like she was on the phone when the power surged and there was no telling what internal damage it caused. They were most concerned with her brain, due to the activity she was doing at the time.
I didn’t know much about Heather’s family, but it was telling that no one else was here. The same nurse that gave me the update said on her insurance information, her sister was listed as next of kin, but the telephone number listed was out of service. She asked me if I knew of anyone else and I felt sick telling her no.
When the doors opened again, my head jumped up. It was the nurse again and she made her way over to me. “We’ve done the best we can. She’s stable and responding to verbal commands, but she can’t breathe on her own and her movements are limited to tiny hand gestures and blinking.”
“Can I go back and see her?”
I knew the answer was probably no, but the nurse relented. “Yes, but only for a few minutes. She needs rest before we have to start all over again.”
The nurse, whose name was Annie Lipsky, led me back to Heather’s room. She opened the door for me and I slipped in, closing it behind me. The beeping on all the contraptions reminded me of my own visit to Heights General not that long ago. I walked over to her bed, her eyes were closed.
I put my hand in hers. “Hey, it’s me, Jericho. They let me come back and visit for a few minutes.”
Her eyes stayed closed, but I felt her hand twitch in mine. I took that as a sign she recognized I was here. There wasn’t a whole lot to say, so I just sat there, holding her hand until nurse Annie came back in. “I wish I could let you stay longer, but you’ve been here fifteen minutes and the doctors would like her to keep resting.”
Happy just to get this time, “Of course. Thanks for doing this for me.”
“My pleasure young man. Why don’t you go home and wash up? You look like you could use a shower, a meal, and a nap.”
“I think I’ll take your advice nurse Annie.” She gave me a smile as I walked out and didn’t stop until I got to the elevator. I got on with a bunch of doctors who were too busy on their phones or writing notes to even notice me. Sheer exhaustion took over when I made it to the car. I’d used up a lot of energy over the past twenty four hours and was running on fumes.
I slept hard, well into the early afternoon. I was in the middle of getting ready to go back to Heights General when I heard a knock on my door. Uneasy about whom it could be, I looked out the window first. I saw my boss, work boss that is, standing there. The stress in my shoulders lifted as I opened the door. “Making house calls?”
“How’s Heather doing?”
We walked back into my kitchen and sat down at my small table. “They don’t really know what’s wrong with her.” Fuming at myself, “I didn’t even know she was there yesterday!”
John looked as tired as I had felt when I first got home. “And if you did? What could you have done that would’ve saved her? This is on The Negative Man, not you.”
I knew his words meant well, but it still didn’t change the fact. “I owe you a thank you. If you hadn’t found her as quickly as you did, she’d probably be dead.”
“We all do what we can.” He pulled a menu out of his jacket pocket. “Have you been to the new taco place on Wave Street?”
Tacos? “No, I haven’t, why?”
“You look hungry and I know you’re probably heading back to the hospital. Let me buy you lunch. It might take your mind off things for a little bit.”
I wasn’t really feeling it, but I went along with him. I followed him down to Wave and saw the taco joint, The Great Burrito on my right. The parking was pretty open, so I parked my P.O.S. of a car beside his luxury sedan. That reminded me of something else I needed to talk to him about.
Once we placed our orders, I was going to try the two taco special, I got to business. “Not to add even more to your plate, but tomorrow I’ll be getting a job offer.”
“I’m surprised it took this long.”
That wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “You were counting on that, weren’t you?”
“Of course. And you’re going to accept it.”
I looked around; making sure no one was close enough to listen in. I didn’t like being this exposed, but none of The Aces knew DL and I were in this together. Quietly, “He wants me to help him build something dangerous.”
“You do what you need to in order to protect your cover. After yesterday, we know what we have to do.”
He wouldn’t allow any more talk about The Aces or even bring up The Negative Man. Each time I thought I could slip it in, he quashed it with an annoying bug. At the end of the lunch, “Go back to the hospital and do what you need to do. Keep me in the loop with her condition, would you?”
“I will.” I wonder if John would know. “Does she have any family nearby? The only number listed on her insurance was to her sister, but the number was no longer working.”
His face sunk. “I don’t know if I can find the employment files, after what happened at Wonder-Tech, but I’ll look. If I find anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Will anyone have a job to come back to?”
“I’m not planning on firing anyone. There is plenty of work we need to do to rebuild. I’ll need all hands on deck, except yours. Starting tomorrow, you’ll be working for gl-O-bal, okay?”
I couldn’t say I liked being told what to do, but I was glad DL had his focus back. “I’m still on the case then.”
It didn’t take long in the Sunday traffic to get back to the hospital and I went right back up to the floor Heather was. When I checked in, the on call nurse told me she was still in critical condition, but her next round of checkups was currently in progress. I took a seat and began the waiting game all over again.
It wasn’t nurse Annie who came out this time. An older lady stopped by the desk and the on call nurse pointed to me. I got up and met her halfway over. “How’s she doing?”
“She’s awake and coherent. Annie told me you’d be coming back and if I saw you, to let you go visit when it was okay.”
Heather was awake! That was fantastic news. “Does this mean you figured out what’s wrong?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but she’s been upgraded to stable.” That sounded a bit ominous, but stable was a good thing. “She’s on a lot of drugs right now to help with the pain, but she said she’d take a visitor if it was you.”
I followed the new nurse back and went into Heather’s room. Unlike last time, she was sitting up with her eyes open. Her skin was still super pale, but she didn’t look bad at all. The ear where the phone was resting was covered in bandages, to cover the burns I assumed. She looked so happy to see me. “Jericho! I wasn’t sure if you’d be here.”
“Where else would I be? How are you feeling?”
She pointed up to the button that I knew was the call button for morphine. “Good as long as that stuff is flowing freely. I woke up with the world’s worst migraine.”
I shuddered at the thought of all that electricity surging through a phone so close to one’s head. “You scared the shit outta me, you know that? Thankfully The Dark Lion was close by and rescued you.”
Her eyes closed briefly before opening back up. “You were there too?”
“Yeah, John called me in to help decrypt a strange email he got. After I figured it out, we were sitting around talking when everything went to hell. We got separated in the confusion and, in the lobby, I ran into The Dark Lion.”
I could see her losing focus, the morphine really kicking in. “I’m just glad you made it out unhurt.”
“The tables are turned huh?” She smiled. “But enough talk today. You need to rest.”
She began mumbling something, but her eyes were already closed and she fell asleep, her hand in mine.
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