The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 8

“I could be in surgery all night,” she pointed out.
“I’ll wait and drive you home.”
“But that could be hours . . .”
“I’ll wait.”
She stopped arguing. The set of his jaw indicated he was going to be stubborn. She gave him directions to a shortcut crossing over the highway, and then she called Wendy, the ER nurse, to find out what she was going to be walking into.
“It’s another pileup on I-70,” Wendy said. “We’ve got mangled bodies on their way in. Dr. Westfield wants you here now.”
“I’m on my way,” she said. “I heard there was a shooting.”
“Yes, there was, and right inside the emergency room doors. Gangs are becoming more accommodating. They’re shooting each other right where they know they can get help. Pretty soon they’ll be shooting it out in front of the OR doors. Cuts out the middleman, you know—the ambulance driver, the paramedic. I’m telling you, Ellie, it’s a war zone in the ER now.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
She disconnected the call and turned to Max to repeat what Wendy had told her.
“It’s a little surprising it hasn’t happened before now,” she said. “Even with security, the number of weapons confiscated from gangs when they’re brought into the hospital is shocking. It was only a matter of time before one of those weapons was overlooked.”
“The hospital should spring for more security. Triple it,” he said. “Only way to control it.”
She agreed. “Who called you about the shooting?”
“He was at the hospital this late?”
“He was heading back to check on Sean when he heard there were shots in the hospital. He should be there by now. We need to find out what’s going on, to make sure Sean wasn’t the target. We’ve got an agent watching out for him.”
“Do you think the Landrys would send someone to . . .”
“Better safe than sorry.”
Max took the entrance to the hospital on two wheels and screeched to a stop near the emergency room doors.
“If you can’t find me on the surgical floor, look in Sean’s room,” he told her.
The emergency room looked like a set for a disaster movie. Each bay was packed. Doctors and nurses rushed from one to the other tending to victims of the highway accident. Mixed in among them were a few gang members, some handcuffed to their gurneys, also waiting to be treated for their wounds. Policemen were stationed around the area.
Most of the accident victims were dazed and quiet, but the gang members were not so compliant. Some were screaming for drugs while others shouted obscenities and threats because they weren’t getting priority attention. It was loud and chaotic.
Ben was waiting just inside the doors. “It’s bedlam in here.”
He was right. They had to shout to be heard.
Ellie realized she was gripping her phone and didn’t have her purse or a pocket to put it in. Without a thought as to what she was doing, she handed the phone to Max. He already had her keys. He might as well hold her phone, too.
Max and Ben stayed right behind her as she made her way around gurneys and supply carts.
“How’s Sean?” Max asked immediately.
“He’s doing okay. There’s someone with him now.”
“What’s the word on the shooting?”
“From what I’ve gathered, a rookie cop was watching the ER doors. A guy walked in, and when his jacket fell open, the cop spotted a gun in his pocket. The cop pulled his weapon and told the guy to hand over his gun, but he drew on him. The rookie had no choice but to fire, shot him in the chest. There were enough witnesses to prove it was self-defense. The doctors tried to resuscitate the shooter, but it was too late. The police claim there’s a gang war going on.”
Ellie heard him. “It seems there always is,” she said.
“One of the officers told me there was a real bloodbath tonight at some deserted warehouse. An ambush,” he added. “Two dead, six injured. Most are thinking the shooter was here on a vendetta, but a couple of people I talked to said he didn’t fit the gangbanger profile.”
“No ID?” Max asked.
“No,” Ben answered. “Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to follow up on this.”
“We don’t usually see this crowd until the middle of the night,” Ellie remarked as she pushed a gurney aside so they could pass.
Max noticed that she was oblivious to the catcalls and the crude compliments shouted at her from various gurneys. One skinhead yelled something so obscene Max wanted to grab him by the neck, but Ellie didn’t seem the least affected.
“Hey, wait up, Ellie,” Ben said. “You passed the elevators.”
“We’re taking the stairs,” Max told him.
“Okay,” he said, not comprehending why anyone would run up three flights when there were perfectly good elevators just steps away.
Max climbed the stairs ahead of them and opened the door on the fourth floor. With a parting nod, Ellie ran to the locker room to change into scrubs. A seventy-year-old man was waiting on the operating table for her. His car had been sandwiched between a semi and a moving van on the highway, and he had suffered a ruptured kidney. It would take her the next few hours to complete the partial nephrectomy.
She didn’t see Max again until almost one in the morning. Just as he had said, he was in Sean’s room. He was sprawled in a chair watching one of the news channels. The sound was so low she didn’t know how he could hear it. Ben was there, too. He was sound asleep in a chair on the other side the bed. There was an agent sitting in a chair outside of Sean’s door.
Ben woke up when she brushed past him. Startled, he jumped to his feet, realized where he was, and stepped back so Ellie could get to Sean.
Yawning, he whispered, “Good night,” and quietly left the room.
Ellie had already changed back into street clothes. Since she was in his room, she decided to check Sean’s incision. She slipped on a pair of gloves and gently pulled the hospital gown down. Sean slept through her inspection. When she turned around, Max was waiting for her by the door. His hair was tousled, and she thought he looked incredibly sexy.
Can anyone be too tired for sex? She was dead on her feet, but she still wanted to jump his bones. Good thing he wasn’t a mind reader.
As they walked down the corridor, he commented, “It’s the middle of the night. How come you look so good?”
She had glanced at herself in the mirror when she was changing, and she knew she looked like hell. “You need glasses.”
He smiled. “No, I don’t.”
They took their time descending the stairs. Ellie was used to running everywhere, but she didn’t mind the slow pace. In fact, she fought the urge to lean into him.
“So what happens now?” she asked.
“I take you home,” he answered.
“I mean with the Landry case.”
“Tomorrow—or rather, today—after you’ve had some sleep, you’ll need to go to the police station and look at some photos. Agent Hughes will be there.”
“And you?”
“Ben and I will be doing some paperwork, and then we fly back to Honolulu.”
All thoughts of tearing his clothes off and having mind-blowing sex came to a screeching halt. It would have been an amazing night, she knew, but it would have been just one night. Recreational sex came with a price . . . especially for her. She wasn’t the sophisticated and experienced sort who could have sex with a man and forget about him the next morning. Max was leaving for good, and she would never see him again, so it would be best if they said their good-byes and went their separate ways.
Decision made, she relaxed.
Max’s cell phone rang. Ben was on the line.
“I thought you were on your way back to the hotel,” Max said.
“I’m in the ER,” Ben said. “We’ve got a situation here. A police officer requested some help with a kid, and I suggested you. Mind stopping by?”   “Yeah, all right.”
As Ellie and Max cut through the emergency room area, they noticed how quiet it was compared with the earlier scene. The hallways were empty, and they didn’t have to zigzag around the gurneys.
Then they turned the corner and spotted Ben. He stood in front of a door with his arms folded, blocking access. A young policeman, a middle-aged man, and a hospital aide were standing in front of him arguing. The aide had a set of keys and wanted Ben to move so he could unlock the door. Ben wasn’t budging.
“Get out of the way and I’ll just shoot the lock,” the older man suggested. He pulled a small handgun from his pocket. “Move out of my way. I’ll—”
Ben reacted with lightning speed. Before the man could blink, he’d confiscated the gun. He handed it to the officer.
The policeman glared at the man. “How did you get in the hospital with that gun, Gorman? And what are you doing with it anyway? You’re a social worker—and a damned poor one at that. You should find another line of work.”
“I’ve got a permit to carry,” Gorman boasted. “I work in a bad part of town. I need protection. Now give me my gun back.”
“Security here sucks,” the officer muttered to Ben.
“I want to see your permit,” Ben demanded.
“It’s in my glove compartment.”
“What’s going on?’ Max asked.
Ben nodded to the social worker and said, “Things got out of hand.”
“Yeah? What’s the problem?”
Ellie knew all about Gorman. He was mean and liked to throw his weight around.
Gorman started to explain, but Max put his hand up, nodded to the officer, and said, “You tell me.”
“A boy was being dragged out of the ER by Gorman.”
“I’m a social worker. I have every right—” Gorman began. He quickly shut his mouth when he saw Max’s dark expression.
Max read the officer’s name and said, “Go on, Officer Lane.”
“The boy was screaming while Gorman dragged him,” he said again. “The aide,” he continued with a nod toward the young man holding the keys, “had the boy’s other arm. They were hurting him.”
“I was using necessary force,” Gorman defended.
“He told me to grab him,” the aide said.
“Anyway,” the officer said in a loud voice to get the others to be quiet, “the boy broke free. He ran through an open exam room where a doctor was sewing up a patient, and he got hold of a scalpel. He locked himself in this private exam room.”
“How old is this boy?”
“Nine or ten.”
Jeez. “And you want to pull a gun on him?” Max quietly asked the social worker.
Gorman shrank at the anger in Max’s eyes. He took a step back and decided to bluster his way through the situation.
“I’m putting this boy in lockup. Resisting and fighting me . . .”
Turning to the aide, Max said, “Unlock the door and don’t leave. You and I aren’t finished.”
The aide’s hands shook as he tried three keys before finally opening the door. He hastily stepped away.
“Officer Lane, escort these two men into the waiting room and wait for me,” Max ordered. He turned to Ellie. “I won’t be long.”
He entered the room and quietly shut the door behind him.
Ellie went to the nurse’s station to find out who the boy belonged to. She knew the nurse on duty. Her name was Mary, and she was a sweet older woman who was on a perpetual diet.
“What can you tell me about—”
“That sweet boy Gorman terrorized?”
Ellie nodded. Mary moved closer to the counter so she wouldn’t be overheard.
“I don’t know who called social services. The boy and his brother were in a car accident. The older brother just got out of surgery. Broken leg,” she explained. “The little guy has some cuts, but he checked out all right. He said his aunt is coming to get him, but she won’t be here until tomorrow. That’s all he would say. Then Gorman came charging in. I thought about calling security, but then Officer Lane came on duty and he helped.”
Ben joined Ellie at the counter. He could see she was becoming anxious. She kept glancing at the door.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Max knows what he’s doing. A nine-year-old with a scalpel won’t be a problem for him. He’s gone into much trickier situations.”
That news didn’t comfort her. “Why didn’t you or Officer Lane go in? Why did you ask Max?”
“Because he’s better at this sort of crisis than I am. He knows what’s going on inside that boy’s head. Max can help him, and pretty soon the boy will know he can trust him.” He went on, “There was this case about a year ago. An uncle was using his nephew as a punching bag, and one day the kid had had enough. He got hold of his uncle’s gun and was going to kill him. The two of them were locked in the boy’s bedroom. I remember the walls were green, and there were posters of superheroes all over.”
“What happened?”
“There was a standoff, and the boy held the uncle at gunpoint. It took some convincing for the boy to let Max come in. He found out that the uncle had tried to sexually assault the boy, and that was when the boy went for the gun. Max understood that the boy wanted his uncle to suffer, and so he described in detail what was going to happen to the uncle when he was sent to prison. It was pretty gross stuff, but it placated the boy, and he gave Max the gun.
“The uncle started screaming at the kid then, so Max walked over and coldcocked him. By the time I was there putting the cuffs on him, the pervert had come around and was blubbering. I guess what Max had told the kid scared him. The prick,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
“What if that boy had turned the gun on Max?” she asked.
“He was prepared for that. He knows how to handle these situations.”
Ellie kept watching the closed door. “Scalpels are sharp,” she said. “If the boy slashes an artery or—”
“Max won’t let him hurt him.”
And he was right. The door opened and Max walked out. He had one hand on the shoulder of the little boy, who was glued to his side, and he held the scalpel in his other hand.
The boy seemed too little to be nine or ten, Ellie thought, and he looked so scared. She wanted to find Gorman and sock him. As she walked toward them, the child’s eyes got big and he shuffled to get behind Max.
Max looked down and said, “It’s okay. She’s with me. Let’s let her look at your arms, okay? Then we’ll find you some food and a bed. You’re staying here tonight.”
The boy’s name was Kyle, and both of his arms had red streaks from being wrenched. Max lifted him onto an exam table.
When Kyle saw Ellie putting on gloves, he said, “No shots.”
“No shots,” she agreed. “I just want to examine you.”
She helped him remove his T-shirt.
“The other doctor said the seat belt saved me,” Kyle whispered. “See? There’s the bruise where it held me. I was in the backseat.”
Ellie was more interested in his left shoulder and his arms. The skin was red and inflamed from his wrist to his elbows, and the left wrist was sprained. The right arm wasn’t as bad.
“Where are your parents, Kyle?” Ellie asked.
“My mom died, and I don’t know my dad,” he answered.
“Any other family?”
“Just my brother. I live with him. My aunt lives in Chicago, and she said she’ll come tomorrow and get me.”
Ellie looked at Max. “I’m going to admit him,” she said.
“What does that mean?” Kyle asked with a frantic look in his eyes.
“It means you’re going to sleep here tonight.”
“With my brother?”
“When your brother gets out of recovery, I’ll make sure he’s on the same floor. All right?” Ellie asked.
“What about that man? He said he was going to put me in jail.”
“I’ll take care of him, lik
e I promised,” Max said.
“I’m sorry I took that knife. I thought they’d leave me alone if I could scare them.”
Ellie went back to the nurse’s station to start the admission process. She called the office and explained that an aide employed by the hospital had inflicted some of the injury to the child and that there was a possibility of a lawsuit. Since she was the admitting physician, she would determine when the child could be released. By the time the paperwork was completed, Kyle was sound asleep.
“It’s a bad sprain in his wrist,” she told Max. “I’m surprised Gorman didn’t pull his arm out of the socket. He’ll need ice packs on the shoulder, too.”
She waited at the nurse’s station while Max and Ben went into the waiting room to talk to Gorman and the aide.
She heard Officer Lane say in a raised voice, “You have the right to remain silent . . .” She couldn’t hear the rest because Gorman was shouting.
A minute later Max returned to her. “You ready?”
She turned back to the nurse. “Thanks, Mary.”
“Don’t worry. I know the night crew on three. They’ll watch out for that boy,” Mary assured.
Nodding, Ellie followed Max out into the night air. Ben called good night as he headed to his car.
“How did you get Kyle to calm down?” she asked.
“I didn’t say anything. I just let him talk. The poor kid was scared out of his mind. When he was ready to listen to me, I promised him no one was going to lock him up and that I would keep that social worker away from him.”
“He obviously believed you. You were good with him.”
They reached the car, and Max opened the door. “You’ll check on him in the morning?”
“Of course I will, and I’ll make sure someone stays with him until his aunt arrives. You don’t need to worry.”
“With you looking out for him, I won’t worry at all.”
Ellie slipped into the passenger seat, clipped on the seat belt, and closed her eyes. They hadn’t even pulled out of the parking lot before she was asleep. Had Max not been watching, he wouldn’t have believed it. Her deep, even breathing indicated she had drifted off into a sound slumber. As he drove, he thought about her. She was a woman who was used to being in control, and yet she felt comfortable with him. She wouldn’t have let herself sleep if she didn’t feel safe.