Excerpt

The Nest

 

JASON W BROWN

1

12:20 A.M.

Les rushed south down Sixty-Seventh Avenue as fast as he could without going too far over the speed limit. The unknown man called just after midnight, giving Les directions where to go and to hurry. He also gave Les specific instructions on footwear that rubbed Les the wrong way: two foot long two-by-four blocks of wood and rope to tie them to his feet to avoid leaving footprints. The man was chillingly calm, certain that the police had not yet learned of the woman’s demise. He urged Les to save his questions for later and not to waste time.

The caller ended the call with a statement that made no sense to Les. “She ditched her for another.”

Les would understand the statement, at least the pun of it, after he arrived and found her lying in a ditch.

Les parked his truck across the street from the scene behind the Tipsy Bottle, grabbed the two pieces of wood, the rope, and his camcorder. He nervously waited in a shadow at the edge of the parking lot until the east and westbound traffic was stopped with a red light.

Les wore a dark sweater with a hood and held the items close to his body as he ran. Once across the street he jogged north along the shoulder of the road on the asphalt then stopped three hundred feet from the intersection as told. He then jumped into the ditch. He quickly tied the blocks to his feet and began moving back in the direction that he came, crouched low and waddling in the ditch. He saw the body ahead and started the camera.

Les slowly passed around the body for six minutes, recording, when his cell suddenly rang.

It was the unknown caller. “Two men are about to pull over to the side of the road. One of those two men has just called 911 about a body in the ditch.”

Les peeked around and then quickly ducked to avoid being seen by a passing car. “There’s no one here. Just me.”

Her car is parked at the backside of the bar. It’s a blue Eclipse. The plate ends with JTF. Get to it now. There’s something in the front passenger seat for you.”

Les dropped the phone back into his pocket, ran back the way he’d come, and cautiously exited the ditch with his heart racing. After he removed the blocks and ran back across the street, Les tossed the gear onto the floor of the passenger side of his truck. He then sprinted to the car the unknown caller had described and opened the front passenger door. In the seat was a man’s watch. Les studied the watch for a moment before pocketing it. He then started his camera and carefully moved it about the car.

He was gone from the bar before the first officer arrived on scene, and from home, he would monitor where detective Roger Steel went for leads.

Yesterday evening, he had caught Roger Steel’s car outside of the Phoenix Police Station. He had to park down the street, but was able to pass lithely on foot and slip a GPS device beneath the back bumper of the car.

2

2:34 A.M.

Layne McWhorter was the first detective to arrive on the scene at north Sixty-Seventh Avenue and Maine. Police had already cordoned off traffic a half a mile in either direction of the intersection. As he parked his car, he saw Del pull in next to him. As he and Del approached the scene, Jordan Rothery arrived in a white van that said MARICOPA COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER on the sides. Crime scene techs were already busy processing the scene beneath the large light plant.

Her body lay face up in the empty ditch that ran along the west side of north Sixty-Seventh Avenue. Her hair was blonde, her eyes crystal blue and open. She wore a nurse’s uniform with her identification badge attached by a clip on the lapel of her shirt. The name above her picture read: Madeline Cartolano, ICU. Her uniform had no blood on it, other than that from the S carved through her pants into her inner right thigh. And the cuts into her forehead that read:

3→7

4→2

Her neck bore ligature marks, and within her right hand rested a spent syringe.

McWhorter gestured Del into the ditch with him, focusing on her left hand. “We can rule out robbery as a motive.”

Del looked at the diamond ring on her left ring finger. “That’s a good sized stone she’s wearing. I’d say it cost at least five or six grand, easy.”

McWhorter nodded.

Del noticed the uniforms standing in front of a full sized navy-blue Chevy parked just beyond the yellow tape. They were talking to two men in their early twenties. Del climbed from the ditch and asked a nearby officer if they were the ones that found her.

Yeah,” the officer said. “The truck overheated so the driver pulled over. The passenger just happened to notice the girl. After a closer look, they called it in. That was about ten minutes to one.” The officer pointed in that direction. “Officer Pete Mason was the first to respond.”

Is he one of the officers talking with the two young men?” Del asked.

Yes.”

As Del approached the knot of officers around the pickup, he saw Roger walking toward him from that direction.

We got a second I’ve been told,” Roger said.

She’s a nurse at Saint David’s Memorial Hospital,” Del said. “I was just on my way to question the first responding officer.”

I just talked to him. The two guys that found her saw nobody.”

The shoulder here is dirt, hopefully we have some tracks,” Del pointed out.

They both simultaneously produced their flashlights and scoured the ground ahead of them.

Look here.” With his flashlight, Roger illuminated many long, rectangular impressions in the soft dirt with two lines traced through them about four inches apart.

What do you think those are?” Del asked.

He tied wooden blocks to his feet,” Roger said.

Del looked closer, seeing what Roger was saying. “Let me get this straight. He stopped his vehicle at the edge of the road, then walked her to the ditch with wooden blocks tied to his feet, patiently displayed her, and then got back into his vehicle at the edge of a major intersection without anyone noticing? How’s that even possible?”

They’re everywhere around the body,” Rothery added.

That doesn’t mean that nobody saw anything, Del,” Roger tossed. “How many times do people just keep going when they see a crime in progress? It’s inconvenient to stop and help, or even make a phone call. Somebody had to see this guy. They’re either too scared to come forward, or just don’t want to get involved. He’s toying with us by leaving her here.”

I got something,” a tech cried out from inside the ditch. Del and Roger both turned and stepped to the edge of the four-foot deep ditch. They knelt down and the tech dropped what looked like a small piece of folded foil into Del’s hand with a pair of tweezers. There was a light film of dust on it. He and Roger looked at it for a moment.

It’s a folded gum wrapper,” Roger said as Del slowly opened it.

There was something written inside:

now EYE lay ME down to sleep

My mother prayed this with me every night before bed,” Roger said evenly.

E, Y, E? Quoting in first person you think?” Del said as Roger pondered the single lined message.

Where’d you find this?” Roger asked the tech.

The tech pointed. “I found it beneath the tendon of her right heel, in a small pile of ash.” He produced a feather with an outstretched arm. “There was this in it, too.”

Roger took it, turning it over in his hand.

Another Bald Eagle feather,” Del said. “I wonder what it means.”

Something to do with a bird I’m guessing,” Roger said. “Like the last crime scene.”

Del frowned.

Roger ignored him. He looked down at the body in the ditch, his eyes falling on the sparkling diamond ring on her finger. “Why dump the body here and risk being seen?” he said with frustration. “Just look at where he dumped her. We’re less than thirty feet from the crosswalk. There’s a streetlight right there, not to mention all the traffic. Even late at night it’s a busy intersection and there’s a busy bar right across the street. Someone had to have seen something.” He pointed at the diamond ring. “And to top it all off, he leaves that on her finger?”

Del threw his hands up, saying nothing as he turned and walked away.

As the investigation of the scene moved along, Roger’s mood grew darker; even more so when he saw Randy Tupree approaching. Gershaw was with him in kinder spirits. Roger remembered his talk with Gershaw the day before and produced the best smile he could muster.

3

6:10 A.M.

Saul Dingham from the Senator’s office sat behind his large mahogany desk. His thin, dark hair was receding—soon to leave him bald—and he had a deep wrinkled brow that hung low over his wide hazel eyes. Randy Tupree sat opposite him with one leg resting lazily over the other.

You do realize, Randy, the severity of the situation we now have on our plate?”

I’m working closely with Chief of Detectives Mark Parsons and Captain Laurence Gershaw on the situation,” Tupree said.

Senator Prindle can’t afford any missteps with this. His rally is a week away.”

I—”

Dingham waved a hand at him. “I need you to put a hand around the right throat and squeeze. That’s all you have to do. The Presidency cannot afford a small flame like this burning it all down. Senator Prindle is what this country has been crying out for since before this endless mess in the Middle-East even started. And with the economy as shot as it is, they’re crying louder than ever before. I don’t care how you do it, just get it done. I want this guy caught. Understand what I’m saying, Randy?”

Tupree sat with a stupid look on his face. His mind fumbled, trying not to trip, groping for the right words. When it came to Saul Dingham, Randy Tupree felt powerless. “I’m on it.”

I took the liberty of calling Chief Mark Parsons and told him that you wanted to meet with him and Captain Gershaw right away. You are going to make sure that what I am asking happens.” His stare was hard and penetrating.

Randy Tupree felt the lump in his throat stick, unable to go down.

I’ll get it done.”

Good day, Randy. I’ll be hearing from you soon. And it had better be what I want to hear.” Saul Dingham waved him from the room.

4

7:23 A.M.

Roger and Del stood in the elevator as it slowly climbed to the third floor of Saint David’s Memorial Hospital. Their earlier briefing with Gershaw and Tupree had been a waste of time. The insults that shot from Tupree’s mouth had angered even Gershaw. The department was now under the watchful eyes of the Senator’s office, and the way Tupree was putting it, the blade was primed and ready to roll some heads.

Squads C-21—Roger’s squad—and C-18, on-call from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M., literally 24 hours a day, were to alternate days until further notice, effective immediately. Squad C-18 was to jump in bright and early tomorrow morning. There were now two S victims—that’s what they’d been dubbed—both found roughly within twenty-four hours of one another. Roger’s team could not possibly be efficient if it was working around the clock with no sleep. This was Gershaw’s decision, expressed solely for Tupree’s hearing so he would calm the storm that he was dropping upon them. Tupree seemed content with this decision and was anxious to share it with Saul Dingham. Roger did not really care either way. The whole idea was to catch S, and if he had to work with an additional team, then so be it.

Chris DeBoer headed C-18. Roger really liked the guy. Between him and his partner, Anthony Cadavid, they had more than fifty years of experience. That was more than he and Del by a decade. Gershaw made it a point that Roger was still the lead, and to see it as less pressure upon him.

I have no problem, Captain,” Roger said solemnly. “I look forward to working with them.”

Del nodded his own approval.

The elevator stopped and the doors opened onto the ICU floor. Roger and Del spilled out in unison toward the double doors of the ward. Roger felt a void weighing down on him, coming from the endless white all around him. He remembered waking up in all this white; the walls, the ceiling, the doctors’ lab coats, the nurses uniforms. He remembered Del’s face, Denise’s face and the bad news that Beth and Molly were dead. He wanted to scream out at the top of his lungs. This was where the hole inside of him began and it had kept growing bigger. He’d wanted the white to just reach out and take him. But it hadn’t. Instead, it spit him out and left him to suffer without his wife and daughter. He remembered the minister that came and prayed for him and his odious contempt toward God for taking his beloved. Did God really need them that bad? The question beat his mind every minute of every day without an answer. He wanted to avenge them with his bare hands, but he couldn’t. The justice system had refused to punish Senator Garris Prindle for drunkenly killing his wife and daughter, and God was never going to give them back. Roger had contemplated suicide more than a dozen times, but he figured the best way for him to get through each day was to work and keep an eye open for that small window of hope; that quick opportunity for revenge. The struggle beat at his head from both sides. He knew he had to let it go, but he couldn’t. He let the hope nest in the back of his mind, nurturing it with each and every entertaining fantasy of revenge. He remembered when he was young, a preacher had said not to let bad things nest in your mind, or they’d bring destruction. The way Roger saw it now he really had nothing left to lose. Let his mind be a nest for even a brief moment of mouth-watering revenge.

All he wanted was to see Senator Garris Prindle suffer until the life fled his eyes. A grimacing smile silently crossed Roger’s face as his mind glided in fantasy. A slight jab of Del’s elbow brought him back into reality.

When they entered, Roger stopped in his tracks as he saw his sister Denise leaving a patient’s room. “Denise,” he called to her with surprise, not forgetting all that he had just relived, but letting it slip into the back of his mind for further reflection and guidance.

Denise was two years younger than Roger and had inherited more of their father’s traits. Roger, on the other hand, looked more like their mother. Denise had been very active with athletics in elementary and junior high, and in high school she’d discovered her beauty. She let her dark hair grow out and their mother showed her how to properly apply makeup. The transformation was jaw dropping and Roger quickly found himself in fights, keeping the guys—specially his friends—away from his sister. She got involved in modeling and was nominated Prom Queen Junior and Senior year. After high school, Denise decided she wanted to do something more than wear a swimsuit or other provocative clothing in front of the cameras; she wanted meaning to her life, and nursing fit.

A smile overtook Denise’s face as she ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. “What brings you here, Roger?”

I didn’t know you worked at this hospital.”

My agency sent me here last week. I love it.” She gave Del a hug. “And how have you been, Del?”

I’m good, Denise. Thanks. How’s Aubrey?”

Aubrey was Denise’s only daughter. She was born with Down syndrome, but to Denise, she was the gift that kept on giving.

She’s good, enjoying the first grade so far. She won a blue ribbon at the fairgrounds last week for an agricultural project she did over the summer in 4-H. She hung it above her bed. You two need to come by sometime for dinner, if you can ever get away from work.”

I’d like that,” Del said with a smile, giving Roger an awkward glance. Lately, miss work was all Roger did. Apparently, he had not been keeping in touch with his sister either.

Roger agreed then got to the point of their visit. “Denise, how well do you know Madeline Cartolano?”

I’ve only been here a week, so not very well. Why?”

She was found in a ditch early this morning,” Del said.

How terrible,” Denise mumbled with a hand to her mouth. “I’ve worked with her a few times. She seemed so nice.”

We need to speak to the charge nurse,” Roger said.

Denise called for her.

A thin Hispanic woman with her hair pulled tight into a bun approached. As she neared, Del noticed her lack of makeup and how naturally beautiful she was. She stood no taller than maybe 5’2 and smelled faintly of wild flowers. “I’m Evelyn Torres, the charge nurse, and you gentlemen are?”

Denise left the three of them to talk.

I’m Lieutenant Steel. This is Detective Sowaltski. We need to ask you some questions about Madeline Cartolano.”

Is she in some kind of trouble?”

She’s dead,” Del said, apologetically. “She was murdered.”

Oh, no.” She had to sit down. She started to cry.

Do you know anyone who would want to hurt her?” Roger asked.

No. Everybody loved her. Madeline was as sweet as they came. Who could have done this to her?”

That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Roger said. “No enemies that you know of? Disgruntled ex-boyfriend or a stalker maybe?”

Madeline has a fiancé named Joshua. Joshua Sardecki. They have been together for years. They were supposed to get married next month. Does Joshua know yet?”

Do you have a number for him?” Del asked. “Or a home address?”

Roger spun his head, sporadically looking for Denise but didn’t see her anywhere. Where could she have gone? She was possibly with a patient somewhere. He could tell that the reason for his presence here was not only a shock, but also disheartening for her. She had never seen him at work before and it pained him that she had to experience it like this.

Here you go, Detective.” Del took the piece of paper from her.

A few more nurses appeared in the station. Roger and Del questioned them as well. The impression everyone had of Madeline was the same; they all loved her, and they could think of no one that would want to hurt her. They also learned that Joshua moved around in a wheel chair.

Roger didn’t see Denise to say goodbye.

5

9:18 A.M.

Del brought the Crown Victoria to a stop in front of the house on east Porter Lane. The stone walk veined through the deep lawn and birch trees, past the birdbath that sat solemnly in the center of the plush lawn, and right of the entryway. An assorted garden of lilacs, daisies, carnations, roses, and sunflowers skirted the front of the house; its tan stucco like bare skin in the mid-morning sun. An arched cornice sat atop two stone pillars over the front walk.

Roger rang the bell.

A voice called from inside. “Who is it?”

Roger identified himself and Del.

The door opened with Joshua Sardecki in his wheelchair in the doorway. He rolled out onto the walk and closed the door behind him. He was forty years old, handsome with a striking resemblance to Clark Kent—without the glasses. Madeline was a month older than he was, and they had celebrated their birthdays together three months ago.

The two detectives at the door did not at all surprise Joshua. He had reported Madeline missing last night. He looked up at the both of them with red, swollen eyes and could not speak. He only stared.

Roger identified himself and Del again and asked the man if he was Joshua Sardecki.

Joshua nodded, trembling. “You found her, didn’t you? When I called and reported her missing last night, the officer seemed to blow me off, but I insisted. He finally agreed to take the missing persons report, but I think it was just to shut me up because of the fit I was throwing.”

You filed a missing persons report on Madeline?” Del asked, surprised. “About what time was that?”

Eleven o’clock. She worked from seven to seven. I called the hospital at around nine. They told me she had left at the end of her shift. When eleven came around, I feared the worst and called the police. You guys aren’t the most compassionate bunch, are you?”

You must understand, sir,” Del said. “We get a lot of calls—”

I can understand that,” Joshua said in a defeated voice. “But even still, no matter how busy you may be, you should always have time to keep someone’s hopes alive. Not kill them with a single breath.”

I apologize for any grief caused, Mr. Sardecki,” Roger said.

I felt grief when I lost the use of my legs a few years ago in a diving accident. Make no mistake, sir, what I am going through right now is pain.”

Roger related to the crippled man immediately. “Can you tell us about Madeline?”

What can I say, she was my whole world. Her wedding dress is in the closet, waiting for her to put it on next month and become my wife. I cannot say that everyone loved her as much as I did, but everybody loved Madeline. I can’t think of a single soul that would want to hurt her. Her best friend Daphne Whitman was going to be her maid of honor, and my father was going to give Madeline away. We were going to honeymoon in Hawaii. She was my dream come true.”

He was sobbing now.

The ring Madeline wore, that must have cost quite a bit of money,” Roger said.

Joshua gave him a tasteless look. “It did. Madeline deserved the best. Why are you asking?”

She was still wearing it,” Del said.

Joshua’s eyes widened. “It wasn’t taken?” He looked at his hands in his lap. “Where exactly was she found?” He looked up into Roger’s eyes. “And don’t lie to me, Detective.”

She was found in a ditch along Sixty-Seventh Avenue,” Roger answered. “Across the street from the Tipsy Bottle.”

Was she raped?” Joshua asked, shaking.

No,” Roger said. “From what we can gather, this was a premeditated assault. By who and why is what we’re trying to figure out. The fact that an expensive diamond remained on her finger suggests that her assailant had no interest in her personal property. Her purse was found in her car with her cash and credit cards and her keys were dangling in the ignition.”

Joshua’s expression shifted and he dropped his face to his hands, sobbing.

Maybe her friend Daphne may know who might have wanted to hurt her,” Del suggested.

I think she would have shared something like that with me first,” Joshua insisted.

Maybe she didn’t want to worry you,” Del said.

Is there a way for us to contact Daphne?” Roger asked.

Joshua told him.

Does Madeline have any family here?” Del asked.

Her parents are dead, but she has a brother somewhere in Kansas. They never spoke. They were never close.”

This friend, Daphne, they were really close?” Roger asked.

They were best friends since childhood.”

Could Daphne have any enemies that would hurt Madeline to get back at her?” Roger continued.

No, I don’t think so.”

Del was trying not to bombard the poor man with questions. “How about any hang-up calls? Did Madeline ever sense that she was being followed?”

Joshua said no to both questions, the tears falling faster down his face.

Roger added one last question. Though he already knew the answer, he felt a need to ask anyway. “Madeline was found with a spent syringe in her hand. Was she a drug user at all?”

Joshua’s expression immediately shifted from tormented to rage. “How dare you ask me that? Madeline was an intensive care nurse. She lived to help very sick people. She’d never do anything like that. That’s totally the opposite of what she stood for. The love of my life was beautiful and pure, not wrecked and strung out.”

Our apologies for any questions that may have offended you, Mr. Sardecki,” Roger said empathetically. “We’d like to make arrangements for you to identify the body if you could.”

The body?” Joshua burst out. His tone went suddenly soft. “I want to see her.” He bowed his head and wept harder.

Roger could not help but think of Beth and Molly as a tear fell from his own eye. He quickly wiped it away. This was getting harder for him.

6

2:58 P.M.

Dr. Yolst pointed as he spoke through his head-mike. He was standing over Candice Mestayer. “Her toxicology results revealed that she had high doses of Sodium Thiopental, Pancuronium Bromide, and Potassium Chloride in her system.”

She was lethally injected?” Roger uttered with shock through the wall-mike.

And she was beat over her eyes ante-mortem,” Yolst confirmed.

How’d he brutalize her without any fight from her?” Del asked.

I found some swelling in the occipital region of her brain. No obvious marks or bruises on the scalp, nor fractures to her skull. I’d say he punched her good once or twice in the back of the head, knocking her dizzy. This created a big enough window to inject her the three times that he did, then whip her eyes and ears before the lethal dose expired her. The intriguing carvings in her body are postmortem, as well as her tongue excision. She came up clean for any alcohol or street drugs and this wasn’t a sexually motivated crime.”

Where in the world would he get the three main drugs used for lethal injections? Roger wondered. The truth was, the perpetrator could have purchased the drugs from anywhere. The right amount of money could have bought them from the black market, a doctor, a cop, a pharmacist, or even the internet.

Roger pondered this, the wheels in his head turning rapidly. He moved on with the autopsy analysis. “No other trace evidence other than the goatskin fibers you had found on her face where she had been whipped?”

He cleaned her up good before he dumped her. I’d say he ran an electrostatic pad over her body. This would remove even loose dirt particles from her skin. He wanted me to find what he had used to beat her with. Whoever did this put a lot of thought into it before carrying it out. I put her death at around eleven the night before.” Dr. Yolst then moved to Madeline Cartolano. “Your second victim, I put the time of death at around midnight, but not before. Notice the tiny ridges and troughs along the red lines in her neck. I’d say a piano wire did this.”

Roger and Del agreed.

Yolst continued. “The petechial hemorrhages in the eyes support strangulation as cause of death. The syringe you gave me to test had traces of the lethal cocktail that killed the first victim. Other than this, the results are the same as the first, no drugs or alcohol in her blood, no sign of rape, and no hairs or fibers. You may want to take note, Detectives. The manner in which the second victim was murdered is inferior to that of the first. The killer knew these women and especially hated the first victim. I think he wanted everyone to know it.”

Roger and Del just looked at one another.

This last comment from Dr. Yolst made perfect sense. Both Roger and Del had noticed that the severity of Candice Mestayer’s condition was much more heinous than Madeline Cartolano’s condition. He removed her tongue and beat her eyes and ears, and then he gave her the exact drugs used in capital punishment. He could have used a number of different drugs or ways to kill her, but he didn’t. It was more probable that this was personal rather than his making Candice an example. Her death was the result of exacting patience, and he wanted the police to know that. Why strip Candice naked, though? Roger did not like these kinds of riddles. They seemed to be compounding, right down to the minutest detail.

Roger thought of Candice’s father again, looking through the glass at his daughter. He, too, looked at Candice, her face now Beth’s in his mind. His heart ached as the hole inside of him grew bigger. He missed how complete Beth made him feel and how Molly was what Beth called, their ‘Song’. How could she leave him like this, taking Molly with her and leaving him all alone with the dead? Every dead victim he saw now was Beth.

7

3:07 P.M.

Les sat at the desk in his room at Wally’s place, going over footage from the Candice Mestayer and Madeline Cartolano murder scenes. He had spent a great amount of time studying the watch, trying to figure out its significance, arriving at nothing. He reached into his pocket for the piece of paper with Madeline’s address and phone number on it. It had cost him fifty bucks to obtain it from a friend at the El Mirage Police Department. Les pondered if he should make a physical appearance or just call with his questions about Madeline. He heard Wally coughing wildly from the other room. Wally was at the kitchen table organizing his pillbox when he suddenly made a gasping sound and then shrieked Les’s name. Les shot up from his desk and rushed to the kitchen.

There was a crashing sound as Les reached the kitchen.

Wally lay on the floor on his back beside a table leg, his chair toppled over on his other side. His hands held firm over his chest, his eyes closed, body still. Les grabbed the phone next to the television on the stand and dialed 911.

It’s going to be ok, Wally.” Les held Wally’s head in his arms, combing his hair back with his hands. “The paramedics are on the way.” As Les rocked Wally, an abrupt feeling of sudden loss enshrouded him. What would he do without Wally? His mom and stepfather were traveling. He had no other friends—by choice—and no love in his life. Wally was like a grandfather to Les and to lose him right now would be devastating.

Les lifted his eyes and did something he had not done since he was a kid—he prayed. He hoped that God was listening, that he could hear the desperation in his voice, not be deaf from years of Les’s silence. Les had not been in church since he was a kid. He didn’t even own a Bible. He knew Wally did, he could see it sitting quietly next to the telephone on the TV stand with its pages worn from years of use. Les stared at it and lifted his voice to the God he once sang to in Sunday school, the God that Wally faithfully worshiped daily. Les made a promise to God then and there; he would start going to church again if God would make Wally better and not take him away. Tears flowed down Les’s face as he prayed out loud and rocked Wally in his lap.

The emergency service crews flooded the street in front of Wally’s house—fire trucks, paramedics and police. They raced into the house to where Les firmly held Wally.

Have you performed CPR?” a firefighter asked.

He never stopped breathing,” Les said. “He has angina.”

Is he taking nitroglycerin for it?” the firefighter asked.

I think so,” Les said. He pointed at the pillbox on the table. “He takes quite a lot of pills daily. I couldn’t give you names or dosages.”

Could be a heart attack,” another firefighter said.

An officer pulled Les aside and asked a series of questions about what had happened. Les recalled everything in detail, save what he was doing in his room. Two paramedics passed heading toward Wally with a stretcher. The officer asked if there was anything else, his tone accusing, as if Les had hurt Wally in some way. Les let this assumption go as they rolled Wally out of the house all hooked to tubes and wires.

We’ll be taking him to Saint David’s Memorial,” one paramedic said.

Can I go?” Les asked the officer.

I think we’re done here,” the officer said hollowly, then moved out the door behind the firefighters.

Les ran to his room and put everything from his desk away. He returned his laptop to its satchel and put it back in the top of the closet. He then grabbed his wallet and keys and was out the door

● ● ●

4:13 P.M.

Les paced the floor in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit. His pleas to God intensified as time seemed to sleep. He felt nauseous and hollow. As his fear of losing Wally gained momentum, Les prayed harder.

A nurse entered. “Mr. Felkin?”

Les stood before her on rubber legs. He was at the precipice of fainting, afraid she was going to tell him that Wally was dead.

As her mouth opened, Les felt himself slipping, felt the hot tears flowing. He actually thought he heard her say that Wally was dead. His fear was so absolute that it was causing him to hear things.

She spoke. “You can see your grandfather now.”

He stood stunned, in relieved shock. “He’s not my—”

I beg your pardon?” she asked, confused.

Never mind,” Les said relieved. “Please, take me to him.”

The nurse led Les through the double doors and to the left, past the nursing station to room 323. She entered the room first. Les stood in the doorway, his heart beating sporadically in his chest as he looked at Wally. Attached to a plethora of tubes and wires, his face beneath an oxygen mask, Wally looked frail and comatose. Tears silently ran down Les’s face as he approached the old man.

I’ll give you a few moments with him, and then you’ll have to leave,” the nurse said. “We just stabilized him.”

Is he going to be ok?” Les asked thinly.

We have him scheduled for some tests,” the nurse said.

Les held Wally’s hand in silence, rubbing it with tender strokes. He rubbed Wally’s head and kissed him on the forehead. “I love you, old man,” he said as another nurse entered the room. He turned to her.

Please say your goodbyes, Mr. Felkin. He needs his rest. I understand that you are his only relative?”

Les did not correct her. “Yes, I am.”

You’ll want to leave a contact number with the nursing station, in case someone needs to get in touch with you.” She waited in the doorway for him. “You can come and visit him tomorrow.”

Les lightly kissed Wally on the temple. “Don’t leave me, old man,” he whispered. “I love you and I’ll be back to see you tomorrow.”

The fear of losing Wally lifted from Les’s shoulders as he exited Wally’s room. He raised his eyes to heaven and thanked God under his breath.

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