Bill’s nose crinkled at the odor of bleach and antiseptic. He opened his eyes, and a bright light flooded his vision. He turned to the left and opened them again. A chrome guardrail lay next to him. His next breath brought a stabbing pain that dissipated as he quickly exhaled. Carol sat bent over against the railing. Her firm, dark hands held and caressed his as she prayed quietly.
Bill pulled his hand from her grasp. Carol sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
Bill looked around the hospital room and answered, “Am I? I just had the most horrible nightmare, and now I’m back in this one.”
Carol laid her hand on Bill’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do except pray for you.”
“Save it. If there was a God, he would have saved Lori.”
Carol answered, “That isn’t how he works, and you know that. Please, don’t push him away when you’re in so much pain.”
Bill tried to raise his bed, and the pain in his side made him stop. “Speaking of pain, can you get a nurse in here. I’d love to get some pain killers. I can hardly breathe.”
Carol was about to get up when a nurse walked in. “I see my patient is awake. Good. I bet you want some pain killers.”
Bill replied, “You’re good.”
“I know my way around the hospital. My name’s Denise, and I’ll be taking care of you for the next ten hours. If you need anything, just let me know.”
Carol asked, “What time do I need to leave.”
“When Bill says it’s time.”
Bill started to say something, but pain shot through his muscles.
Denise put her finger up. “I’ll be back in a minute. Try not to do any sit-ups while I’m gone.”
Carol spoke to Bill, “I’ll take care of things until you can get home.”
Bill gasped, “What about Clark and Company?”
“Don’t worry about them. The home office sent out a form email to the branch reminding everyone not to speak to the press. Of course, that was after several scared workers had been ambushed by reporters in the parking lot trying to leave after the shooting.”
“Nobody mentioned my name, did they?”
Carol shook her head. “The cops were clear to keep your name out of the press because it could put you in danger.”
Bill gave a shallow, quick nod. “Good.”
Carol stood up and made her way to the opened door. She started to close it when Denise came back in with a medicine pack. Denise quickly made her way to Bill’s bed, took a clean Styrofoam cup, poured some water into it, and stuck the pills and water in front of Bill’s face.
“Take these. You’ll be feeling good enough to move around, but the pills will make you sleepy. That’s how I keep you acting like a good boy so those wounds can heal.”
Bill swallowed the medicine, and Denise took his vitals and finally left the room. Carol closed the door behind her. She walked back to the bed and looked once over her shoulder before speaking to Bill.
“There’s a woman in the waiting room. She’s with the FBI. A Cindy somebody. I don’t know who those guys were, but evidently, there’s more going on than the shooting.”
Bill stared up at the ceiling, waiting for his pain to improve. “Did she ask you anything?”
Carol sat back down and whispered, “Yea, weird stuff. She wanted to know if we were dating and had you ever mentioned any family members to me. Then she asked me about some guy named Chuck. I told her I’d never heard of him.”
Bill’s head was beginning to feel light, but he could move with only a dull pain in his side. He raised the bed, faced Carol, and said, “Chuck. Some guy named Chuck called one night when Lori was over. It was a long time ago when I still lived in the condo. I only remember because he wouldn’t go away.”
“What did he ask?”
“Something about my brother. I told him I didn’t have one.”
Carol’s cool fingers wrapped around Bill’s hand. “Do you think it’s the same guy?”
Bill’s brows scrunched together, “These many months? It can’t be related.”
Carol answered, “Well, you should mention it to Cindy. She’s refusing the leave the hospital until she talks to you. Oh, and there’s a cop outside your door.”
Bill’s eyes widened, “Am I under arrest?”
“No, protection. That’s all I can find out.”
Bill yawned and grabbed the remote next to his bed. The television’s light flickered around the dimly lit room. He turned on the local news. A picture of the Clark and Company entrance was framed in a photo behind the newscaster.
The newscaster said, “We don’t know who the hero is behind these doors. One source claimed the manager single-handedly killed four assailants with their own weapons, and his bare hands. Clark and Company has not made a statement to the press. We do know the name of the deceased. Lori Davis. She had been with the company for five years and was pregnant with her first child.”
Carol gasped, and Bill turned off the television and turned his back to Carol, ignoring the pain in his side. He felt her arm wrap around his shoulder, and her tears fall on his neck. Streams of salty tears flowed from his eyes.
Bill whispered, “I need to be alone.”
Carol kissed the side of his head and said, “I’m so sorry. I know you didn’t want her family finding out this way.”
Bill begged, “Please.”
Carol removed her arm, and Bill listened to her high heels click along the floor, and then the room door opened and shut. Bill closed his eyes and allowed the exhaustion from the pain medicine to take over. He was just drifting off to sleep when he heard the door open. Carol was arguing with another woman.
“You can’t go in here. He needs his rest.”
The stranger responded, “I’m aware. I’ll be in and out before you know it. Please, the longer I wait, the less he’ll remember. Especially on those pain pills.”
Carol argued, “It isn’t a good time.”
The stranger insisted, “There’ll never be a good time. I’m sorry, but this is for his safety. Until we identify who these men are with, he’s in great danger.”
There was silence, and then the door closed. Bill heard somebody sit down in the chair next to him. He pretended to be asleep. A hand grasped his shoulder and shook him. Bill quickly rolled over, glared at the stranger, and winced.
The woman had her black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a khaki dress suit that accentuated her curves. She sat with her muscular legs crossed and a tablet of paper on her knee. She appeared unfazed by Bill’s look.
“Good, you’re awake. My name is Cindy Isabel Abrams.”
The woman’s pleasant demeanor had no effect on Bill’s mood. “Perhaps you didn’t hear my friend in the doorway. I’m not in the mood to talk.”
The woman dropped her pad of paper in the satchel that hung from her shoulder. She bent forward and gently squeezed Bill’s forearm.
“I am sorry for your loss. It’s my job to find the killer of your fiancée and child.”
Bill answered, “I thought I already took care of that.”
Cindy sat back up. “Yes, you appear to have been quite thorough with the assailants.”
“Can you tell me what the men told you?”
Bill stared up at the ceiling. “They wanted to know about my brother. When I told him I didn’t have a brother, the man claimed Harold Brown from Parabolic Defense Systems was my brother. I smarted off and told him to call Forbes, and he shot Lori.”
Bill began to cry.
Cindy’s voice was compassionate, “Mr. Johnson, please don’t blame yourself. These men have ties to a terrorist group. I doubt your joke killed your fiancée. They use death as a means of control. He would have shot her even if you had told him a location, just to be sure you were telling the truth.”
Bill took a couple of jagged breaths and asked, “But, why me? I don’t have a brother.”
Cindy answered, “We have some theories, but I’m not at liberty to say. It could be a case of mistaken identity.”
Bill grumbled, “What do you mean could be? What else could it be?”
“We’re working on it. You work in an investment house. Perhaps their plan was to gain access to your systems, and the brother angle was their means of breaking you down. Obviously, they didn’t expect your response.”
“Do you know the man’s name that killed Lori?”
Cindy nodded, “I do, but I’m not allowed to share that information.”
Cindy tapped the side of her chair, “It’s need to know. Frankly, Mr. Johnson, the less you know about this situation, the better. We don’t know if the people behind these men will try again, but the more we keep you out of the loop, the more likely they’ll count their losses and move on.”
Bill raised his bed up and stared into Cindy’s eyes. “If there is someone behind this. I want him or her. I want to make them pay. They took everything from me.”
Cindy stood and took Bill’s hand. “I know how you feel, I really do. Please, let me handle this. I know how to deal with these people. I promise you’ll have your justice.”
Bill’s voice was cold, “I’d rather have revenge.”
Cindy let go of his hand. “Take my advice, Mr. Johnson. Get some professional help and learn how to forgive and let this go. These men have no conscience. They don’t care about your pain or your anger. You’ll only hurt yourself holding on to it. I promise they won’t get away with what they’ve done.”
Bill sat all the way up and ignored the pain pushing past his drugs. “I’m holding you responsible. I better hear something, or I’ll come looking for you.”
Cindy placed both hands on his guardrail and leaned close to his face. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to. I’m one of the good guys, but you don’t want me for an enemy. I said I would take care of this, and I will.”
She stood back up. “Normally, I don’t follow-up with civilians involved in these matters, but I can see you’ll need to know when it’s over. I promise you’ll be hearing back from me.”
Bill’s lips curved down, “Good.”
Cindy walked over to the door and turned. “Mr. Johnson, take some time off, heal up both physically and mentally. You’ve been through a lot. I promise you can trust me.”
Bill nodded, and Cindy left the room.
Bill laid back in his bed and closed his eyes. Soon the odor of antiseptic was replaced with a cool breeze and the smell of pine and oak.