What Happens Before Vegas

Part 3
29-09-2015

(Part 1 & 2 immediately follow if you wish to start there instead)

 
“Scotch on the rocks.” Mallon smiled showing a glint of teeth as he placed his order. “And a bag of pretzels.”

“Alright, sir.” The stewardess flicked a look at Mallon’s bald head then squinted like she saw something repulsive in its shine.

Mallon scowled and adjusted his tie. “Something wrong?”

“Oh no, sir.” The stewardess smoothed her hair as she straightened. “There’s a bit of glare from the window.”

“Do you want me to close the shade?” Fat chance it was the window. Stewardess bitch looked like she was suppressing a laugh. Mallon went through the motions of reaching towards the window anyways. “I can close it if you like.”

“No thanks, sir. It’s fine.” The stewardess gestured with her tongs. “How much ice for your scotch?”

“Two. But make the scotch a double.”

“Alright.”

Bitch shouldn’t stare like that. It was the female equivalent of a guy trying not to look at boobs. The stewardess couldn’t stop drooling over that scrub brush sleeping in the row ahead but gave him just a passing horrified glance? Well, so be it. It was a distraction anyways.

Scotch would go down real nice about now. Make it a quadruple, though. And pour some of that jet fuel in. Mallon smirked at his own wittiness. Jet fuel. Flying on a jet. Going to Vegas with a scotch in his hand. He was going to need it. He was so tired from yesterday and now this flight. Goddamn women. Always getting involved when they shouldn’t.

“Here you go.” The stewardess handed a napkin and pretzel bag over with one hand as she sifted through her cache of miniature bottles. Her elbow bumped the cart, sending a wine bottle tilting to the side.

Mallon flashed a hand up to stop the bottle from cascading over the edge.

“Oh thank you, sir.” Sleek manicured fingers reached out to ease the bottle back into place. “And here’s your drink.”

Mallon gritted a polite thank you as the stewardess positioned his cup on the tray table.

“Can I keep a extra scotch bottle with me? I might need a second round.” Never know when a bottle would come handy. Especially considering he was without his usual accessories.

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s against the rules. If we hit turbulence, the glass might break and cut someone.” The stewardess pointed at the call button overhead. “You just give me a shout when you need another. I’ll be right over.”

Stupid bitch. Hope we do get turbulence and the bottles break. Hope she sits on them, too.

“Is there anything else?”

“No, that’s good.” Mallon picked his drink up and motioned the stewardess on.

“Have a good flight.” The stewardess gave the cart a push forward to the next row.

“Bitch,” Mallon muttered. He gave the seat in front of him a good tap out of spite. Add the stewardess bitch to this doctor bitch a row ahead.

The doctor chick in front shifted but didn’t look back. She just sat there like she planned on living there for the rest of her life. She had been squirrelly enough when they were taking off, shoving around and jamming her seat. Her ruckus had brought the stewardess over and distracted her, however. Mallon had just a brief opportunity to rummage through the chick’s jacket hanging over the side of her seat. No luck, though. All he found was dirty tissue and a cruddy old lip balm. Girl needed to clean her pockets out.

Mallon took a gulp of scotch and drummed his fingers on the armrest. How long could the doctor just sit there? She must have the bladder of an elephant. She also had the driving skills of a monkey, that much Mallon knew. He had been following her ever since the hospital. Watched her almost hit an old geezer at a crosswalk. Girl on the move is a dangerous thing.

Mallon had parked behind the doctor as she ran into that apartment block. He almost followed her in and kacked her right there and then.

But his gut told him to stay put. Damn right stay put. Mallon patted his side where his gun should be. Missed that baby. Had to dump it with the car in the airport parkade. Always trust a gut instinct when chasing a quarry or pulling a gun. Little bitch had come right back out with a boyfriend in tow. Two suitcases.

And wearing the same clothes.

That’s what decided it, this trip to the airport, and now this flight to Vegas. Never mind skulking through that apartment block hallway, waiting for an opportune moment to jimmy through her door. That could wait until he got back. He’d have all the time in the world then if bitch didn’t have it on her.

Mallon took another gulp of scotch, then leaned heavily on his tray table.

“Hey. Do you mind?” The doctor bitch peered back at him through the space between seats.

“Sorry. Just checking to make sure your seat is still working.” Mallon leered and tipped his scotch at her.

“Well, it’s working now. Do you mind, though? I’m trying to get some sleep.” The chick huffed and shifted so that her face disappeared from view.

Where did she have it? It wasn’t in her jacket. Mallon finished his scotch and tossed the empty cup onto the seat beside him. The doctor chick didn’t act like she’d found anything already, and it was small enough that it could be anywhere.

Mallon scratched his face stubble in thought. No time for a quick shave. He’d been on the move since yesterday. Beaston had given quite the chase at the hospital. A lucky guess had led Mallon to finding him in the Emergency. It had taken hours for Beaston to surface again.

“You won’t find it.” Beaston stood in the parking lot with his hands in the air. He had just been released from the Emergency. His voice was flat, like a pop bottle shaken and left open too long. “I don’t have it anymore.”

“Prove it.” Mallon cocked his gun, ready for Beaston’s next move.

“I tell you, I don’t have it.” Beaston lowered his hands and shook his head to emphasize his words. “I got rid of it.”

“Sure you did. Now hand it over.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Where is it, then?” Mallon stood a moment, thinking over Beaston’s words. “Back there in the hospital?”

“Yep. I had it excised.”

“The hell you did.”

“I’m clean now. You might as well let me go.”

Mallon steadied his wrist and pointed. “I’m giving you to three.”

“I don’t have it.”

“One.”

Beaston spread his arms wide this time. His hands shook as he pleaded. “I don’t have it. I gave it to someone.”

“Two.”

“Please don’t do this. Please don’t.” Beaston sagged to his knees and leaned his body into his wail. “The doctor. I gave it to the doctor.”

Bang.

The gunshot resounded through the parking lot. The high hospital buildings on either side reverberated then settled back into their bricks.

“Three.”

Beaston was no longer pleading. He fell forward and lay there with his head twisted to the side, his eyes open. He gulped breath like a half dead fish. He was a half dead fish.

Mallon frisked Beaston’s pockets, finding them empty. He stood and ran to behind a parked car. Crouching, he peering from behind the hood.

The door to the hospital opened and security guards ran out. One snapped on rubber gloves while the other grabbed his walkie-talkie and began to frantically speak into it.

A gurney careened through the open hospital door, along with medical staff. Among them was a doctor.

One guard was pumping on Beaston’s chest as the gurney stopped beside the shot man.

“Doctor Holden, it’s the guy you just discharged.” A nurse was leaning over the security guard, shaking her head.

“It’s Mr. Beaston.” A chick in a lab coat stood shocked a moment before jolting into movement. “Get him on the gurney, guys.”

Mallon watched as Beaston was hoisted on to the stretcher and run back into the hospital. A security guard straddled the stretcher, furiously pressing Beaston’s chest.

A pool of blood remained behind.

Mallon had stood from behind the car and peered around. Sirens could be heard coming closer by the second. Time to leave. Doctor Holden, was it?

Mallon was shaken awake by the seat in front of him being jostled. He wiped the drool from the side of his mouth and and sat up. He must have dozed.

The doctor chick stood and stretched in the aisle.

There was a conspicuous bulge in her back pocket.

“Stu?” The doctor leaned in over her companion. “Stu, I’m going to the washroom. Stu?”

There was no answer from her seatmate.

Stretching forward, Mallon poked a hand out to the girl’s back pocket.

“What are you doing?” The girl jumped back and glared at Mallon.

Mallon straightened. “Uh. You had something stuck there.”

“Like what?” The girl twisted around, trying to look down behind her.


“It was a thread. It’s gone, now.”

“What is it with everyone trying to touch my bum. First that patient, now this guy.” The girl muttered to herself as she tugged on her shirt sleeves. “Stu. I’m going to the washroom. Watch my purse.”

A snore answered the girl.

“Thanks, Stu. Can always count on you.” The girl sighed and shook her head.

Mallon watched the girl stalk towards the washroom at the front of the plane. He undid his seatbelt, stood and followed.


... to be continued.

 

 

 

 

L. M. Bryski

29-09-2015

So summer's over and the living was easy. Now back to work. My finished manuscript is off at the auction, being looked over by prospective buyers. I hope my manuscript is deemed to be a thoroughbred, not a nag. It might poop in some places, but it does have some wind in it. I've had a lot of fun with the manuscript. It grew rapidly from what I call the pinning moment that started it off last year... the moment when the book started to form. Blood Chill'pinning moment is an old scientist holding a teacup and discussing the theme of aging. A tiny insignificant instant that isn't even in the first 100 pages, but it started the ball rolling on a mystery thriller.


It took all of September but here's the third installment of my story,

What Happens Before Vegas. I'm a seat of the pants writer for any first or second draft, and it's not until the fourth draft that my onion layers of inner stories are added. This short story is at draft 1.5 but I still find it somewhat interesting. Hope you do, too. The story's original purpose was to show how my writer's voice has changed from years ago, but it's morphed into a longer passage of self-indulgent writing. 


I've got two projects on the go, now. One is about 8 chapters in length so far. It's in the fantasy genre, with its pinning moment being some musings on the magical potential of a watch similar to the Patek Phillip Henry Graves supercomplication watch.


The other project is in the fetal stage right now. It's a few scribblings in a Hilroy notebook, but it is intriguing me. In my foray into new sights and sounds this week, I've noticed the theme of birds around me. Nature both outside and inside us. A prairie church and an illegal distillery. The prejudice against strangers who come to live among us. My pinning moment seems to be (so far) a lonely teen looking at an encyclopedia page of birds. I'll keep you in the loop as this one progresses.

What Happens Before Vegas
Part 1
1-06-2015


Carrie gave the magazine rack another spin. God, she needed some fun crap to read. A three-hour flight and she was too wired to sleep. Any magazine would do at this point, anything to pass the time. She scanned the covers of the celebrity mags with a frown. Most were of TV reality stars, smiling or looking mysteriously pensive off into the distance, all photo shopped into superhuman attractiveness. Carrie didn’t recognize one person’s face.

Carrie tried to think of the last time she had actually seen a television. It was that moment last week at the end of her shift when she was reviewing one of her patients on the Observation ward. The Price Is Right was playing in the background. The announcer looked so cheerful, the audience so happy, Carrie so exhausted.

“C’mon down!”

Carrie had given in and sat watching with the patient and his wife. It had been exhilarating to do regular people stuff, even if just for a moment. Funny how it had been more fun than this trip was turning out to be.


Carrie sighed and half turned towards the checkout counter stacked with chocolate and gum. She’d better get a bar for Stuart. He was bound to ask if she had remembered to get him anything. Not that Stu often returned the favour.


“Excuse me,” someone said. An arm reached out past Carrie towards the magazine rack.


Carrie startled and took an involuntary step back. Hard. Onto someone’s foot.


The woman behind flinched and let out a sharp gasp.        

“Oh, sorry.”

The woman thinned her lips in reply and lifted a well-ironed, uniformed arm past Carrie to grab a magazine, then stepped around Carrie towards the checkout. A stewardess woven in tight to her heels and hairbun. Her passengers were in for a treat.

Stuart was still sitting in the same position when Carrie returned: slumped in his seat, eyes closed, ear buds dangled around his neck. Stu’s thick hair was in classic bedhead mode. Someone should check him for signs of breathing. So inattentive. It was a wonder that the luggage hadn’t been stolen.

“Did you get me anything?” Stu peeked one eye open at the plastic bag Carrie held.

Carrie stifled a grimace. “Some chocolate.”

“Any coffee?” Stuart sat up and looked around for a steaming cup.

Coffee. Crap. She had promised to find Stu some proper caffeine. Coffee. Top that off with two teaspoons of bitter complaints she had made about Stuart’s own forgetfulness earlier this morning.

“They ran out, but a fresh pot will be ready in a few minutes.” Carrie grabbed her purse and glanced at the ticket counter. “Are we boarding yet?”


“Take your time. It's delayed again. Something about duct taping an engine on. The nervous flyers are out inspecting the work.” Stuart winked and settled back into his seat.

Carrie hid a smile, partly in relief at not being called out for her hypocrisy this morning. Count on Stuart to breeze over any of Carrie's shortcomings. Wish she could do the same. It had been a rough time getting them both to the airport.

The only coffee available nearby was at the bar. Eleven o’clock in the morning, and the bar was already half full. Carrie ordered the coffee and sat on a stool to wait. The reek of alcohol was already wafting off of the some of the fellow travellers. Smelled like the hospital emergency department. The only thing missing was the sour metallic scent of blood mixed with vomit.

Most people at the bar were slumped over their drinks. A grizzled old guy was the only one with some energy. He caught Carrie’s eye and gave her a wink.

Carrie kept her face neutral and pretended that she hadn’t seen. She twisted the other way on the stool, looking out towards the people strolling past. Most walked with great purpose towards their gates, suitcases rolling behind. One awkward teenage boy had a backpack on. He looked pensive as he walked by. Likely his first trip alone. Maybe even his first trip.

This was Carrie and Stuart’s first trip. At least together. Carrie had planned it for ages. It had been hard for them to coordinate getting the same weekend off. Stuart’s call schedule was just as packed as Carrie’s. More so, as Carrie was back on the Emergency rotation with less shifts. More nights for Carrie however, but Stuart always stayed late evenings.

Carrie and Stuart often argued about who had the worst schedule; Who spent more time at the hospital.

“You’re just shift work. An Internist has to be there almost every day,” Stuart pointed out. “And every evening.”

Carrie maintained that it was the nights that did people in. “Emergency Docs have it worse. We have to stay up all night. You at least get to your own bed when you’re on call.”

The discussion seemed silly now. Two sleep deprived people quarreling over who was more sleep deprived. Stuart had refused to argue anymore about it. “Most junior doctors are one or two exhausted shifts away from becoming axe-murderers,” Stu had kidded later, easygoing and forgiving as usual.

Stuart had been relaxed to the point of unconsciousness this morning, too.  Still in bed when Carrie had come home late from her shift. Her eyes burned at the memory. Stuart’s hair had poked out from under the blankets. Cozy in the bed, unconcerned, even after Carrie had rushed into the bedroom, panicked about missing their flight.

“What are you doing?” Carrie had yelled. “Don’t you remember anything? We have a flight to catch. We’re gonna be late.”

Stuart had sat up and yawned. His suitcase was still open and half full beside the bed. He hadn’t spoken a word as he stood and stretched, then scrubbed the grit from his eyes. Stuart wasn’t a talker before his coffee.

Carrie had chased Stuart from bedroom to front hallway, angry words pouring from her mouth in effort to speed Stuart up. She didn’t need this. Her night shift had been hard enough without having to deal with Stuart’s lackadaisical approach to mornings off.

It was completely different from how Carrie had pictured their trip. She had been looking forward to romance. Stu all ready, greeting her at the door with a hug, Carrie relaxing in the car as Stu drove to the airport., holding hands in the security line: the dream of coupleness.

Reality was a bitch. Carrie had rushed them both to the airport. Her adrenaline and anger at finding Stuart slacking in bed had carried them through at least one traffic light. She was lucky that the police hadn’t stopped them.

No romantic ‘I love you’s,’ Carrie twisted back and forth on her stool.

“I love you.”

Carrie looked back at the grizzled old man beside her at the bar.

“I love you,” he slurred again, alcohol odour mixing with a Slavic accent.

Carrie stared and shook her head in disbelief.

“Nice girl,” the man tried again. He reached a wrinkled hand out to Carrie, nails dirty with God knows what.

“Here’s your coffee,” the bartender interrupted.

The old man pulled his hand back.

Carrie grabbed the coffee. “Thanks,” she acknowledged the server. She turned back to examine the embalmed pre-corpse beside her.

The old man was lifting his drink to a stubbled face. His white shock of hair was in desperate need of a cut. A well-worn carryon bag lay at his feet. An old geezer making a pass at her. He gave Carrie another a wink.

Carrie scowled hard at the man and left.

Stuart sat up as Carrie approached. "Cohhhhfeeeee."

“I got it this time. Here." Carrie held the styrofoam cup out as Stuart leaned forward to take it.

Stuart murmured his thanks and sipped at the scalding hot liquid. “Oh God, that’s good.”

“Will Dr. Stuart Knight please report to the counter agent.” The announcement crackled through the waiting area.

Stuart looked up towards the gate. “I wonder why they called me and not you?”

Carrie shrugged. “I hope it’s not bad news.” They already had their seat assignments for the flight. Carrie pictured the agent telling Stuart that his seat was revoked because he hadn’t gotten up early enough and hadn’t combed his hair. Carrie would have to go on to Las Vegas alone. Carrie smirked at the oddball thought. Out gambling and partying while Stuart begged for a comb in the airport men's washroom.

“Might as well find out.” Stuart hoisted his bag and stood in front of Carrie. “You should come, too."

Carrie sighed as she looked down at her seat. It had just started to feel cozy. She had been in motion since last night’s shift. No sleep at all. Carrie gathered her bag and stood to follow Stu. Her antsy-ness was wearing off. At least she’d be able to relax on the flight.

There was another man at the counter as they approached, arguing with the passenger agent, shiny bald head bobbing in time with his impassioned plea. His voice could be overheard from more than a few steps away. The man settled and waited as the agent printed out a ticket. Carrie sniffed. Suit and tie businessman, likely. Used to getting his way. The man had half turned to leave, but stopped in surprise as he saw Carrie and Stu behind him. He nodded, then moved off in another direction.

“Dr. Knight?” the agent inquired as Stuart approached the counter.

“That’s me. Is something wrong?”

The agent looked down at her screen and typed before answering. “I’m sorry, sir. We are having a problem. The flight is overbooked.” The agent looked up at Stuart again, glancing briefly at his crisp button down shirt. Stuart had a penchant for well-ironed clothing. “We have to move some passengers to make room. Would you mind moving to first class?”

Stuart grinned his response. “I’d be delighted!”

The agent blushed at Stuart’s sudden beam. She held out a ticket.

Stuart had that effect on women, Carrie thought. Carrie took another look at Stu’s messy hair. It looked a bit hipster, really, now that she thought of it.

Stuart reached for the offered ticket, but caught himself at the last moment.  “I’m travelling with my girlfriend. Isn’t there space for two?”

The agent looked over at Carrie and frowned.

Carrie stood up straighter and gave her most winning smile. She tried to remember if she had brushed her own hair before leaving the hospital earlier this morning. She suddenly wished she hadn’t worn her clothes from the night before.

The agent remained motionless as she pondered. “Well,” she finally began. “We are only moving professionals like doctors up first.”

“I’m a doctor, too.”

The agent looked at Carrie for one dubious moment longer, then turned back to her screen. “What’s your name?” she asked as she began typing again.

“Carrie Holden. Doctor Carrie Holden.”

The agent knit her brow as she read the screen. “It doesn’t say doctor here.”

Stuart smirked.

Carrie sighed at the not subtle signs of ‘I told you so’ coming from Stuart. It was an old argument they had. Stuart believed in saying he was a doctor when booking things. Better service, he often remarked. Carrie believed in hiding her status. Made for less questioning from people. Allowed her to feel like one of the crowd instead of apart.

Carrie shot Stuart a dirty look as she leaned forward over the counter. “I don’t use the title when I book flights,” Carrie informed the agent.

The agent looked up at Carrie, judging the truthfulness of her words. Something of the busy night’s shift in Emergency must have shown in Carrie’s face.

The agent turned back to typing in the computer. “Alright.” She typed some more. “I have one more seat in first class.” The agent handed Carrie her new ticket, but kept eye contact with Stuart. “You’re lucky, too,” the agent advised Carrie a bit too breathily. “It’s beside Dr. Knight.” The agent turned back to her computer, dismissing Carrie from the counter.

"The dark Knight strikes again," Stuart chortled beside Carrie.

“Thanks,” Carrie muttered to the now inattentive agent. Carrie held herself back from crumpling the ticket in the woman’s face. It was a first class ticket, though. The golden ticket of travel. Better not give in to the impulse of passenger violence and have it revoked. Lack of sleep made it harder to resist. 

Carrie stepped back from the counter, but stumbled over a suitcase moving behind her. The suitcase tilted sideways and juttered to a stop.

 “Careful,” a woman admonished. She hoisted her suitcase upright and gave Carrie a hard glare.

Carrie froze. It was the same cold stewardess from the magazine shop. Carrie looked up at the gate, then back at the woman. Stewardess, on Carrie’s flight. Shit. The woman looked doubly pissed at Carrie, as if she recognized her, too. With any luck, the woman would be working the cattle car while Carrie hid in first class. Maybe Carrie could avoid her inflight ire.

“Uh, sorry,” Carrie started.

The stewardess didn’t hear, though. She was already past, walking with quick steps down the gate ramp.

Carrie continued to stare as the woman disappeared past the gate doors.

“You okay?” Stu asked.

Carrie glanced once more at the gate before shaking her head. “Yeah, I guess. I ran into that woman at the newspaper shop. I don’t think she likes me.”

Stuart snorted as he tucked his ticket in his pocket. “Really,” he mocked. “You’re just imagining things. I’m sure she doesn’t have a death wish for you. She’s a stewardess, for God’s sake. She’s more concerned with making sure your seat is in an upright position than holding a permanent grudge over a tipped suitcase.”

Carrie grinned at the thought.

                                                ***

Part Two
15-06-2015


“In preparation for takeoff, would all passengers please close their tray tables and return their seats to the upright position.” The voice crackled over the airplane intercom system. Up and down the rows, seats shifted in unison. Passengers checked their seat belts and nodded as the stewardesses cruised up and down the aisle.

Carrie fumbled again with the controls on the armrest. She pressed the up button over and over, but nothing moved. Her seat remained reclined. “C’mon, c’mon!” she muttered under her breath. This couldn’t be happening. Things had just started to turn around. She had made it through the greeting line onto the plane without mishap. The stewardess seemed to have forgotten their previous run in, and had welcomed Carrie with a smile.

Stuart looked over with raised eyebrows. “What’s going on, Car? We’re taking off soon.”

“It’s not working,” Carrie grunted. She twisted in her seat and reached a hand back behind her chair. There had to be something blocking the reclining mechanism.

“Hey! Let go!”

Carrie whipped her hand back in surprise and peered through the space between seats. The bald man from the ticket counter was staring back at her, his face reddening with a scowl.

“Sorry, sir,” Carrie winced at yet another apology needed this morning.

“Your seat’s supposed to be up, anyways. Why haven’t you done it?” The man leaned forward and gave the back of Carrie’s seat a tentative push.

“It won’t budge,” Carrie admitted. “I’ve been pressing the button, but nothing moves.”

“Give the button a good tap while I push from back here,” the man offered.

Carrie suddenly lurched forward as the man hammered on the back of her seat. She smacked her head on the seat in front.

“Hey,” a voice called back.

“Sorry, my seat’s stuck.”

“Well, call the stewardess,” the passenger in front complained.

“You’re right. It’s broken,” the man from behind said. He kept shoving the seat with both hands.

Carrie jarred forward with each shove, this time braced against the seat in front. Good thing it was first class with more space, she thought between thrusts, otherwise she’d be out cold by now from repetitive trauma to the head. At least, she was now awake. “It’s still not working.”

“Here, use this.” Stuart held out a rolled up inflight magazine.

“How will that help?” Carrie asked.

“Like this.” Stuart flicked the magazine up and poked at the call button.

The stewardess from hell started pacing back towards their seats. Carrie shivered with dread.

“What seems to be the problem?” the stewardess inquired.

“This lady won’t put her seat up,” the man behind complained.

“That’s not true!” Carried whipped around and looked over the seat top at the man. He smirked back as he adjusted his tie.

The stewardess compressed her lips and looked at the passenger in the row ahead who nodded in agreement. “Ma’am, will you please sit back down and put your chair in the upright position. We are about to take off.”

“I can’t!” Carrie protested. “It’s stuck! I’ve been trying to get this button to work.” She banged on the armrest with her fist. “See?”

The stewardess raised an eyebrow at Carrie before glancing at Stuart.

“Neither of us can get the seat to move,” Stuart confirmed. “The mechanism seemed to be jammed.”

The stewardess huffed before leaning over Carrie to firmly push one of the armrest buttons. “Here, try this one.” The chair rose in a smooth motion.

Carrie looked down at the armrest with astonishment. “How’d you do that?"

“Simple. I just pushed the right button.”

Carrie took a closer look. The stewardess’s finger rested on a button with the picture of an airplane seat, not the up arrow that Carrie had been pushing.

“You’ve been pushing the volume button. I suggest you don’t put your headphones on until you readjust it down.” The stewardess stood and smoothed her skirt. “And please fasten your seatbelt. We’re about to take off.”

Carrie looked down to where her seat buckle lay dangling into the aisle. “Oops.” She fumbled under herself for the other end and quickly snapped both together.

The stewardess nodded and moved off to the front.

“First time flying?” the man in the seat behind asked. He gave Carrie’s seat one final tap. “Have a good flight.”

Carrie rolled her eyes and forbore replying. The man obviously assumed Carrie was an inexperienced newbie. Carrie curled a lip at his assumption. If only he knew where Carrie’s hands had been a few hours ago. Carrie looked down, checking her forearms and hands to make sure they were clean. She had been wearing surgical gloves during the resuscitation last night and the blood splatters had been mostly on her lab coat sleeves. Still, she was always worried she hadn’t washed thoroughly enough after a code like that. She looked over at the window as the plane began to pull away from the gate.

Beside her, Stuart settled into his seat with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna sleep until I hear the sound of poker chips.” Soon, his breathing eased out over the hum of the airplane engines.

Carrie looked at her hands again. They were clean. She grasped them together and squeezed, then let them fall apart in her lap, palms open. They could only do so much, her hands. Feel a belly, intubate or put a line in a sick patient. Why couldn’t they have figured that guy out last night? He was so convinced he was going to die. Why couldn’t she have believed him? Where was that infamous doctor’s touch everyone talked about. Had it been blasted away by her bone weariness, her stumbling through the wee hours of the morning? Her not another patient attitude she carried at four in the morning? She still hadn’t talked to Stuart about last night, had planned on holding her nerves close until after they came back from Vegas. Didn’t want the trip to be a doctor therapy sob session. She so desperately wanted the romantic. Even remembering it made her catch her breath.

“You’re not sick, Mr. Beaston.”

“But what’s wrong, then?” The man had leaned forward on the bed, one hand on the railing, beseeching Carrie with his eyes. “Something’s not right. I have this horrible feeling. Something’s not right.”

“I’m going to ask again,” Carrie warned. “Do you have any chest pain? Any heart racing sensation?”

“No.”

“Stomach pain? Back pain?”

“No.”

“Any headache or nausea?”

“No.”

“Fever or chills?”

“Uh-uh.” The man shook his head, but still looked expectantly.

“Any lightheadedness or weakness?”

“No. None of those.”

“Then what makes you think you’re going to die?”

The man shifted and adjusted his hospital gown. He said nothing in response, though.

“Look, Mr. Beaston,” Carrie continued. “You’ve told me that you have no pain whatsoever, that you’re not suicidal, and that you haven’t taken anything. I’ve examined you from head to toe. I’ve checked your blood work, your urine and your electrocardiogram. I’ve monitored you for more hours than I should have. Short of running your whole body through a scanner, I can’t find anything to suggest any illness whatsoever that will kill you in the next few minutes of your life.” Carrie stuffed her stethoscope back in her pocket and stood to go. “I suggest you follow up with your family doctor tomorrow. I’m certain that you’ll be around to make the appointment.”

The man had reached a hand out towards Carrie as she moved away. “Doctor?”

“You’re not going to die,” Carrie had repeated, refusing the man’s pleading gesture. “At least, not here. Not now. As for what’s wrong, I don’t know, but it’s not something we can do anything about here in the Emergency.”

“You don’t understand, Dr. Holden. You can’t let me go. I’m certain something must be wrong.”

Carrie had given the patient her best chin tilt and furrowed eyebrows look. “Why do you think you’re going to die?”

The man had stared at his hands for a while, before looking back up at Carrie. His face creased briefly as he struggled with the words to say. “Let’s just say it’s complicated. It involves some choices I’ve made.”

“Choices?” Carrie responded. “Like what kind of choices?”

The man had looked around nervously at the nurse hovering nearby, ready to remove his intravenous line. “Lifestyle choices,” he finally admitted.

Carrie took one more step back, determined to bring the conversation to a close. “Be that as it may, we can talk about it in the morning. You can wait in our waiting room, if you want. But right now I have other patients to see.”

“The waiting room?” Mr. Beaston leaned back. “No, that won’t do. That won’t do at all.” He shook his head and looked at the ceiling. “I might as well go.”

It had been easy to get the man to leave after that. He had insisted on shaking Carrie’s hand on his way out. Had even pulled her in for an unwanted hug, grasping her about the waist. “Thank you, Doctor. You did all you could for me. I wish you all the best.”

The gunshot had rung out a few minutes later.

“Would you like a beverage from our cart?”

Carrie opened her eyes. She was on the airplane, first class. Her seat was still upright and her seatbelt was still on. The stewardess was standing over her, tapping an empty plastic cup with one finger.

“I said would you like a beverage from our cart?”

Carrie thought a moment, trying to squeeze a coherent answer out. “Uh, yes, please.”

The stewardess looked expectantly instead of reaching back into the cart.

“Yes, please,” Carrie repeated.

“That’s great,” the stewardess replied, “But what would you like?”

“Cranberry juice? With ice?”

The stewardess nodded and plunked two ice cubes into the cup. She eased a metal tray open from the cart. Pulling a can out, she popped it open and poured the cup half full of sparkling red juice. “Here you go,” she added as she handed the cup and a napkin over the Carrie. “Would your companion like anything?”

Carrie looked over at Stu. His mouth was half open as he sagged against the window asleep.

“No, thanks,” Carrie looked back up at the stewardess with a tentative smile.

“Well, if he wants anything when he wakes up, just let me know.” The stewardess gave the cart a small push as she moved on to the next row. The man behind Carrie was already placing his order. Scotch on the rocks.

…to be continued.