Playing Doctor Ch. 05byWine_Maker©
Chapter Five: A hot time in the old town
The police and fire departments wouldn't let us though the barricades and there were EMS personnel on hand, so we parked and watched the fire burn helplessly. Keven was angry and he stalked back and forth along the barricade like a caged tiger, glaring at the burning building. I tried to take his shoulder to comfort him, but he just shrugged me off. His voice, when he did speak, was cold and furious, but I could tell it wasn't directed at me so I let him be.
The view was an educational one for me. My description of him as a hunter earlier was wrong. He was a predator. Not the kind that I watched the streets for at night; I wasn't afraid of him. He had a temper that wasn't to be trifled with, though. When someone crossed him, he wouldn't sit back and be rolled over. He got even. No, not even. He crushed those that crossed him. And the more he stalked, the angrier he was getting.
Rather than try and draw him away, I decided a better course might be to get more information to focus him. I walked over to one of the uniformed policemen blocking off the street. His unfocused gaze of the whole crowd sharpened as I approached him.
"Excuse me, officer, but my..." Christ, I'd almost said "boyfriend." I picked up after the hitch in my thoughts, "friend over there is the artist that was having the show in the gallery that's on fire. Can he talk to someone to find out how bad it is?"
"Probably," he agreed. "Hang on." He used his radio to call someone and pass the information up whatever chain of command they used. We could both hear the response that a detective would be there in a few minutes.
I nodded to him before he could repeat what I already heard. "I'll wait over here by my friend. Thank you." I walked back to stand near Keven and let him see me. Either my presence or my expression must have meant something to him because he took a deep breath and visibly shook himself.
"This isn't productive," he said in a deceptively calm voice. "You don't need to see me snarling about this. I should take you home."
"So, you think it's right to be there when I need you and to be alone when you need me?"
Keven shrugged. "It's a man thing. We don't talk about what hurts us; we track it down and do alpha male things to it. Me snarling at you and everyone around me isn't going to help anything." He resumed his pacing.
"If you don't want to talk, that's fine with me," I assured him. "I'm here as moral support silently, then. Just don't force me away."
He stopped in front of me, his dark eyes searched my face and he nodded. "Okay."
We both saw the man in a suit with a badge on his belt walk up to the cop and then over to us. "I'm Detective Sergeant Williams. I'm told that's your building. Is that right?"
Keven shook his head. "No, I own the artwork that is on display." He glanced back at the blazing inferno. "That was on display."
"It's all gone," the detective confirmed. "I'm sorry. The good news is that everyone got out safely. I need both of your names for the record." He pulled out a pen and notebook, jotting the information down. "Mister Braddock, can you think of anyone who might have wanted to destroy all your work?"
Keven laughed mirthlessly. "Hardly all my work, but I understand. It was all my new work. No, I don't think I've ever made any enemies that hate me this much. Can you tell me what happened?"
The detective considered that and slowly nodded. "Yeah, someone threw a brick through the front window and followed it up with a Molotov cocktail. The front of the building was an inferno within seconds. All the customers and staff escaped out the back while the sprinklers tried to fight the blaze and failed. We think the person or persons responsible may have thrown something else in after the first to overwhelm the fire suppression system." He shrugged. "In any case, the building and its contents were fully involved when the first responders got here and no one saw anything."
Keven nodded, anger seething just below the surface. "Was the stuff insured," the detective continued.
"Of course," Keven said. "I'd have been an idiot not to insure everything I do. The loss of all that work hurts, but it won't hurt my wallet."
"Will it help?" the detective asked.
That lit up a glare from Keven aimed at the hapless law enforcer. "Do you mean, will I be better off than if there was no fire? No. All the work was either sold already or soon to be sold. I had every reason to believe that all the pieces would be sold before the month is out. Insurance fraud isn't really a good one to pin on me, I'm afraid. I can't paint fast enough to keep up with demand."
The detective gestured at me with his chin. "What about your girlfriend?"
That brought a little humor to Keven's face and he glanced at me. "We're still discussing that."
I flushed, but didn't disagree.
The detective looked between us, a frown on his face. "What? No, I mean does she have someone that might take something out on her through you?"
That brought me up short and my eyes widened. A glance at Keven saw his expression go thoughtful. "Maybe. I... I was carjacked yesterday and a policeman killed the man. I didn't think..."
The detective's eyes sharpened considerably. "Did the man tell you something or give you something?"
I shook my head. "No, he was running from someone that I think had already shot him. He stole some money from me, but he didn't tell me anything or give me anything. Why?"
He scratched his head with the pen. I idly wondered how many pen marks he had on his scalp idly. "Because that might explain the one obvious piece of evidence we have so far."
I raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to continue. "What do you mean?"
"Someone painted a message on the side of the building, in the alley. Probably before the fire was started. It said, 'I want what's mine, Bitch.'"
My heart flew into my throat making it hard to swallow. "Me?" I squeaked, backing up a step in surprise. "This was because of me?"
Keven pulled an arm around my shoulders and I retreated into his protection. The detective shrugged again. "Maybe. Or maybe someone wants something from the lady that owns the building. Or someone wants something from Mister Braddock and is gender challenged. Or it might not even be related. It's way too early to make a guess."
"You've got our contact information, Detective," Keven said. "If you don't have any more questions, I think we should go."
As he was nodding his agreement, my cell phone rang. I answered it shakily. "Hello?"
"This is Tom with Brinks Home Security. Is this Sandy Craig?" a mellow male voice asked.
"Yes." What now?
"Our systems indicate an alarm at your home, ma'am. Both entry and motion detector. Are you at home?"
"No," Now I was really shaking. "It's not me."
"I'm dispatching the police right away," he said calmly. "And the fire department. The fire alarm just activated. You should not go home until emergency personnel clear the alarm, ma'am."
I was shaking uncontrollably now. "Thank... Thank you." I hung up. Both the men were staring at me expectantly. It took another swallow to clear my throat so I could speak clearly. "Someone is breaking into my house and the fire alarm is on."
The detective grabbed his radio and notebook, dispatching more police to my address and telling them it was linked to the gallery fire. He stared at me. "Stay here." Then he ran back toward the gallery.
I felt like someone was pulling my intestines out through my bellybutton an inch at a time. My vision tunneled and I started hyperventilating. Shock, the doctoring me murmured. I should probably lay down before I fell down. A blanket would be good, too. And elevating my feet. When the world started spinning, Keven caught me as I slumped toward the ground and then everything went dark.
When I opened my eyes, I was disoriented. An unknown man in full fire gear was leaning over me, fitting an oxygen mask over my face. He was rapidly joined by another man in an EMS uniform. I blinked stupidly, looking around for Keven. I spotted him about five feet away, looking at me with concern etched all over his face.
I held my hand out toward him and he brushed the cop beside him away to kneel by my legs and take my hand. My blanket covered legs, I saw. At least someone listened to the voice in my head.
The fireman gave him a look that just bounced off Keven. When it was someone else's trouble, he was a lot more calm than his own it seemed. The paramedic spared Keven a glance and went back to work, looking into my eyes with a small light, unconcerned with the intrusion.
I focused on the paramedic and didn't try to speak until he started asking me the standard battery of questions. I know that a doctor that treats herself has a fool for a patient, so I tried not to be judgmental. Even with the oxygen, I still felt light-headed. If I were treating myself, I'd be loading me up into the ambulance and let the doctors at the hospital take a look at me. Still, when he said he was going to put me on the gurney and take me to the hospital, I shook my head. "No, I don't need to go to the hospital."
The paramedic started to argue, but Keven leaned over me and shook his head. I sighed with relief. He was going to back me up.
"No, let me," Keven told the paramedic. Then he looked down at me and smiled. "You're going to the hospital and that's final."
I blinked in surprise. "What?"
"You fainted and I want to be sure you're okay."
"I'm a doctor," I snorted. "I can tell what's going on."
"Okay," he said with a shrug. "You can play it that way if you like. But if you don't go with him, I'll tie your ass to the back of my bike and drive you there myself. The little roller bed looks more comfortable."
I opened my mouth in outrage and then snapped it closed because I suddenly realized looked like an idiot. Glaring at him, I grudgingly agreed to the ambulance ride. As they were loading me in, I fixed Keven with a laser-like stare. "We're not done talking about this."
He bowed with a flourish. "As Milady wills it. I am but your humble servant. And your servant will meet you at the hospital."
Grinding my teeth in frustration, I took the short ride to the hospital with what grace I could muster. They wheeled me into the emergency room and back to the triage area. I recognized it immediately. Mercy General. I pulled my turn on call here, just like my bosses. Great. The nurse recognized me right off and shunted me into the first available curtained-off area.
One of the young doctors came in less than a minute after she left. Howard something. I forced my eyes to focus on his name tag. Howard Haley. I should have remembered that.
He shook his head and smiled. "If you can't get enough of this place, you can just come in and work an extra shift, Doctor Craig." Smiling, he efficiently started looking at my eyes as the nurse took my vitals.
"I fainted," I said through the mask. "Shock of the bad news variety. I don't think I hit my head."
"You're not sure? Well, then, we'll give you the works and look to see how your scalp looks," he said. "In case you want the running tally, your pupils are the same size. Any pain in your head? Fuzzy vision?"
Stepping into the room, Keven smoothly insinuated himself into the conversation. "I caught her before she fell, Doctor. Her head never touched anything harder than my chest."
In one of those odd moments of focus, I saw the nurse checkout his ass and nod to me. Noticing my gaze, she gave me a thumbs up. Doctor Haley quirked an eyebrow at Keven. "Really, only family should be back here, sir. How did you get past Nurse Albrecht?"
Keven turned on the charm and smiled deeply. "I have a way of getting what I want, Doctor Haley. I told her that Sandy is my girlfriend."
Haley laughed. "I like the phrasing, 'you told her.' Are you her boyfriend?" I shook my head. "No."
At the same time, Keven nodded. "Yes."
Haley's other eyebrow climbed and he looked between us. "I sense a divergence of opinion on that question."
"We're still discussing the details," Keven said. "Are you going to believe the woman that fell over or me? If you need proof, I could mention some of the things that took place last night; at least I could if I weren't a gentleman."
They both laughed and I reddened. "Fine," I cut Keven off before he decided to mention anything about my unclothed state last night. "I'll stipulate that he probably meets most common definition of 'boyfriend.'"
The nurse slid out of the room, probably to tell everyone that I had a boyfriend. The traitor.
As Keven settled into a seat and Haley started examining my head, I gave in. Hell, he'd seen me naked, spent the night in my house, cooked for me, got me drunk and I wanted him. I still wanted, I decided with another sigh. I guess that made him my boyfriend.
"Keven, what about my house," I asked, unable to keep some of the anxiety out of my voice.
Keven rolled the seat closer and took my hand. "I called Doctor H. and he's going over to check it out. The detective said he'd swing by as soon as he could. That might be hours from now, though. Still," he grinned at Haley, "this being a hospital, you'll probably still be waiting around."
Haley just grinned at him and took my vitals again. "I don't know about that. I'd like to keep her around for a bit to make sure she's stable before I cut her loose, but I think her outlook is good. She stressed out and fainted." He held up a hand. "Not that she doesn't have good ways to deal with stress, but if that stress was something outside the normal blood and gore, then it might have slipped in unexpectedly."
Keven nodded. "Yeah, I'd say this was not run of the mill, even for her."
"I'm right here," I groused. "Stop talking about me like I'm not even here."
Keven smiled and squeezed my hand. "She's feeling better already."
Haley laughed. "Her vitals are back up in the range that I want them, too. I'm going to move her to another room and come back and check on her in a couple of hours. If she's still looking good, I'll turn her loose with some medication."
"She always looks good," Keven said with a twinkle in his eye. I blushed again and Haley's eyebrows made another trip up. Oh, great. Now more rumors would be making the rounds.
I had to satisfy myself with glaring at Keven. Not that I got much satisfaction from him, the rat.
Keven insisted on talking about me, telling me that we could deal with current events when they caught up with us and deflecting any conversation about those events back to me. I still managed to turn this into a give and take by refusing to answer questions without asking some of my own, finding out more about the reclusive artist in the bargain. I suppose we needed to get to know one another better if we were going to be labeled a couple. My heart fluttered at the thought and I suppressed the rush of heat when I thought about it.
Danny and Holly got there after about an hour. They confirmed my worst fears. My house and all my belongings were merrily burning as I lay here. The room spun a bit but I managed to accept it without fainting. Holly held me and we cried while the men went outside to talk.
"Holly, I'm scared," I confessed quietly. "That man, the one with the Snake Eyes, he really scared me and now he's after me. What do I do? What does he want?"
"You're safe with Keven," she said, her voice warm and reassuring. I wanted to believe her. "The police..."
I laughed. "The police?" My voice sounded a little shrill, even to my own ears. "The police can't protect me. He can just wait and come after me when they're gone. I'm not scared, I'm terrified. If I knew what he wanted, I'd give it to him right now."
She held my hand. "Then you need to get away for a while. Some place where he can't find you."
"Should I fly to Rio? Moscow? Beijing? I can't think of a place far enough away," I said shivering.
"Well..." Holly looked at the closed hall door. The low mummer of male voices could be heard outside it. "Danny is talking about that with Keven." She looked back to me. "You know you can trust Keven, don't you? All this playing he does aside, you know he would never betray your trust, right?"
I bit my lower lip and nodded. "And if you ever tell him, I'll call you a liar to his face."
That surprised a laugh and a smile from her. "Spoken like my dear flame-thrower. Deny everything and, when in doubt, attack. I heard the rumor going around that Keven is your boyfriend."
I shook my head and sighed. "I suppose he is. What's the yardstick for figuring that out? All I can think of is emotional connection and the way we're sniffing after each other only makes that more intense."
"Either would count," Holly agreed. "I can see that the two of you have a real pull on each other and it's not wholly physical. Even while you keep from ripping each other's clothes off, I'd say you're still a couple. A starter couple, if you will."
I laughed and then realized that Holly had sidetracked me from my panic into this subject so smoothly that I hadn't realized I was being herded. I could have gone back to freaking out, but I decided that wasn't a good idea. "So, I should just go off with him and hide somewhere? Perhaps in bed? Rutting like rabbits in heat?"
"With you, dear, I'm sure it'd be more like cats in heat, yowling and clawing at each other," she said dryly.
I was still laughing when the men came back in. At the sight of me laughing, Keven visibly relaxed. I smiled reassuringly at him.
Danny looked grim. "I'm not going to pull any punches. I'm afraid for you, Sandy. The detective came by while we were in the hall." I sat up, all my anxiety rushing back. Keven took my other hand, sharing me with Holly.
"There was a fire at your house just like the one at the gallery. It's all gone," he said quietly.
Sagging back onto the bed, I started to cry. Keven pulled me into his arms and I accepted his embrace tightly, redirecting my tears to his shoulder. His hand rubbed my back and his soft voice whispered in my ear. "It's only things. Things can be replaced. You're safe and that's what matters."
God, I wanted to believe I was safe, but I wasn't sure I'd ever feel safe again. Slowly, I forced the faucet off and pulled back. I knew how blotchy my face was after I cried so I knew I looked terrible. I tried to turn my face away from Keven to save something of my shattered dignity but he caught my chin in his strong fingers.
Looking deeply into my eyes, he shook his head. "You don't need to hide anything from me," he whispered. "It's okay to be afraid. I swear I will protect you."
I smiled. I guess some things were inevitable. I was worried about how I looked and he thought I was hiding my fear. Not that he was wrong, but it just was a matter of timing.
"I talked with Doctor H. and I'm taking you away to a place I have out in the mountains," Keven continued. "It's away from everything and it's beautiful this time of year. We can stay there for a few days, or a week, or however long it takes for the police to put this lunatic behind bars."
Staring into his eyes, I considered putting my foot down and refusing to run away. I added in the thoughts that if we were off together my little devil would probably talk me into his bed. I have a life and my patients needed me. I piled that all together and weighed it against my terror. My fear won out handily. I bowed my head in shame, nodding. "Okay," I whispered. "I'll go."
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