Now . . .
Beep . . . beep . . . beep . . .
The rhythmic sound of the monitor was soft and reassuring as Nurse Alice Song stepped into the private hospital room and zeroed her gaze on the patient. The respirator was breathing for him and there’d been no change in his condition. She’d allowed the three women in their early thirties into his room against everything she believed in. She didn’t trust them. Someone had stabbed Dr. Stahd repeatedly and it could have been one of them. But the police officer assigned to watch over the patient, and the hospital as a whole, had relented their no visitation rule, mostly at the bequest of Dr. Stahd’s father, also a medical doctor and a high-handed egotist if there ever was one.
The three women were pretty, to a one, apparently friends of the victim since grade school.
Alice checked Dr. Stahd’s vitals.
“He’s doing okay, right?” one of the women asked anxiously.
“He’s stable,” Alice answered shortly.
“But he’s going to be all right?”
Alice regarded her suspiciously. The real thing, or an act? She was petite with light brown hair streaked with blond and enhanced breasts that made her look as if she might fall forward with a good clap on the back. The diamond ring on her left hand was worth a small fortune and her Louis Vuitton handbag and Christian Louboutin heels shouted money as well; Alice had seen the Louboutin’s distinctive red soles as the woman had tip-tapped down the hallway. Nothing understated about that one.
“His condition is stable. Far better than critical,” the tall blond one told the shorter anxious one. She was the epitome of the icy bitch. The lawyer, Alice had heard.
“Who did this?” asked Anxious Moneybags.
The third one, who seemed a bit removed from the other two, said determinedly, “The police’ll find out.” She was a redhead, complete with freckles and pale blue eyes. There was something familiar about her Alice couldn’t quite place, but the steeliness beneath her words was unmistakable.
“Yes . . . yes . . .” Anxious Moneybags nodded, though it sounded like she didn’t believe it.
Alice glanced at the officer standing guard who nodded at her, as if assuring her he was on the job.
She nodded back and headed out. She was almost out of ICU when suddenly an urgent BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! from the patient’s monitor brought all the staff to attention.
She yelled for the crash cart and saw another nurse already busting for it.
“Shit . . . ” the tall blond muttered as Alice raced back.
Moneybags burbled, “What? What?”, then clapped her palm to her mouth as Alice leaned over the man in the bed.
“Get back!” Alice snapped as they hovered together. “Get out of here!”
They shuffled as one toward the door but hung there in a frozen clutch as Dr. Evanston and the crash cart clattered in.
Dr. Stahd suddenly woke on a gasp, lids flying open, mouth a wide “O”. He croaked out, “Dee!” before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed into unconsciousness.
“Oh, my God!” one of the women whispered. The redhead, maybe. Alice was too busy to look.
“He’s going to be okay, right?” Moneybags again.
Alice inhaled sharply as Dr. Evanston, sixty-five and hard as granite from his rigorous daily workouts, readied the paddles and bellowed, “Get those women out of here!” Alice whipped around and glared at the three of them, but they were already backing out through the door, practically stumbling over each other, herded by the police officer.
Immediately she turned her attention back to the man in the bed. His pallor was white, his skin icy.
Not long for this world, Alice thought. Sometimes she could almost see a silvery, gossamer death shroud descend upon a patient. It was a psychic gift she didn’t relate to others.
But right now Dr. Stahd’s handsome face was growing shimmery. A preliminary sign.
“Clear!” Dr. Evanston yelled again, swooping down to shock the patient with the paddles.
Ellie O’Brien stood just outside Tanner’s door. She wasn’t leaving till they physically pushed her out. Her ears still rang from his cry of: “Dee!” Clear as a bell. A confession, she’d wager.
But of course Dee wasn’t here. How could she be? Dee was in police custody, or being questioned by them, or just not interested in Tanner’s fate. Dee had never given a damn about him. Not really. She’d only cared how he’d made her look good. As far as Ellie was concerned it was only a matter of time before the evidence proved she’d stabbed him, over and over again. He was damn lucky to still be alive.
Her heart galumphed painfully. He couldn’t die. Not Tanner. The coolest guy in high school.
She regarded the scene beyond the open door in subdued shock: the team of nurses bustling about; the white-haired doctor trying his best to bring him back; the tubes and screens and wires filling the room . . .
Was this how it was going to end? Was this it?
A cold knot of certainty tightened inside her. Dee was for Delta, Tanner’s wife, known as “D” to her group of friends. Amanda, “A” and Zora “Z” were standing a few feet away from her, waiting for Ellie to join them even though she was more a frenemy than a friend. Not invited to be the “E” of the Five Firsts.
Now Ellie pulled her gaze from the frenzied tableau inside Tanner’s room to regard Amanda and Zora. “She tried to kill him,” Ellie said with certainty.
Zora shook her head, her eyes huge. “We don’t know that.”
Amanda didn’t utter a word. The strong, silent type. She was a sphinx. Just like always.
Briefly Ellie thought of Carmen and Bailey . . . the “B” and “C” of the group since grade school. Those five girls had practically run West Knoll High School when they were students. The popular clique that had moved like a tsunami through the school, swallowing up anyone who dared defy them, leaving them bared and broken in their wake, like Ellie herself. She’d long ago recovered from the mean snub, had made her way in the world to a place of respect, but she would never forget.
“Are you going to be reporting on this?” Zora asked her.
“No,” Ellie said curtly. No, she would not be reporting. That was a sore point. But she would be investigating on her own . . . and she was going to start with Dee.
“I just thought–”
“Let’s wait till we find out what happens,” Amanda cut in.
The three of them then stood in silence, each wrapped in their own thoughts.
But all they could hear above the frantic efforts to save Dr. Tanner Stahd’s life was the ominous monotone of the flat line.