tagNovels and NovellasThe Sentinel Ch. 15

The Sentinel Ch. 15

byJPMMURPHY©

Jack was in the shower when Jan burst in. "You have to see this, Jack," was all she said before running back out. He found her standing in front of the T.V., remote in hand, flipping between CNN and FOX News, and finally settling on CNN.

"…yesterday at a motel on the outskirts of Los Angeles. ICB Captain Michael Aldridge confirmed that a suspect in the 'On-screen Killings' was shot and killed. Also shot during the operation was ICB director Linda Woo who headed up the two year investigation. Ms. Woo is currently in intensive care being treated for a gunshot wound to the neck.

No information has been released concerning the suspect or what led officers to him other than confirmation that he was armed at the time and that the gun he had has been linked to the most recent on-screen killing."

Jack stared at the picture of Linda Woo on the screen as Jan whispered, "That's her, Jack. That's 'cyber' Lisa." The T.V. droned on as the commentator mentioned the real Lisa, his Lisa, as the first victim who started the bizarre string of computer chat-related killings, listing all the victims along with a date and place.

*****

Scott sat transfixed, listening to the hyperbole of FOX News as they recounted the information that had been released concerning the killings. Reference to a bloody, gun battle and an injured officer, along with the apparent death of the 'On-screen Killer', brought a slow, cynical smile to his lips.

The old man at the front desk asked, as if an afterthought, if the rumpled-looking man had had a pleasant Thanksgiving. Sure did, thought Scott to himself, as he shoved a wad of bills across the counter to pay his bill.

"Better than some," was all he said as he pushed the creaking, revolving door open to find a cab.

*****

The Captain strode past the nurses' station, paying no attention to the whispered pleas of the staff, admonishing him back to the waiting area. "Sir! Sir! You're not supposed to be in here. You have to wait outside." The petite redhead took two steps to the Captain's one, almost running to keep up.

"That's my officer hooked up to your machines, and I saw her doctor come in."

Giving up, Vicky Conner dropped in behind the man and followed to make sure the doctor was, in fact, with the patient. Maybe he can throw this guy out.

The room was dark with glass for walls on three sides and a wall of electronic equipment where the window should have been. Linda lay in a hospital bed, chest and head elevated slightly, eyes closed as the squeaky hiss of a respirator marked her breathing.

Tubes and wires fell from the wall of equipment like branches of a willow tree, ending at different points along her body. A stat cart for cardiac arrest recovery sat menacingly at the head of the bed. The steady beep of her cardiac monitor was like a sentinel of fate as it marked the slow, steady beat of her heart.

A short, bald man that looked to be in his seventies stood at the foot of her bed, holding a clipboard, flipping through pages of notations made by the staff during Linda's short stay. Glancing up as the captain strode into the room, the doctor looked past him at Vicky as she followed close behind.

"I tried to stop him …"

"It's okay, Vicky. And you must be Captain Aldridge."

Holding out his hand, the captain stepped up and asked how Linda was.

"She's a very, lucky, young lady, considering she took a bullet to the neck; it nicked her right carotid artery before entering the esophagus just below her vocal cords. Her vitals are strong, and she's out of immediate danger."

Glancing at Linda's sleeping form, the Captain asked when she'd be moved out of intensive care.

"Probably tomorrow, I should think. It actually looks worse than it really is. We will be calling in a specialist to tell us if she has any damage to her vocal cords, but fortunately, the bullet wasn't a hollow point and didn't break up." Reaching over, he took Linda's wrist between his thumb and two fingers, not really trusting today's high tech to keep an eye on his patients. "She'll be uncomfortable for a few weeks and should be able to leave in three or four more days, but I doubt she'll be back at work or giving acceptance speeches for at least six weeks." Bedside levity from a weathered pro, the Captain thought.

Walking to the side of the bed nearest the door, the Captain reached out and gently touched Linda's exposed forearm. Warm and dry. Looking up at the doctor, he pulled a business card from an inside coat pocket and quickly wrote a number on the back. "That's my home number in case you don't find me at the office. I'd sure appreciate it if you'd call me if anything happens."

"Sure, captain. I'll leave this with her chart and a note to call you after they call me."

"Thanks, doctor." With that, the Captain strode out just as quickly as he'd entered. Noticing Linda's parents had returned from the cafeteria, he stopped to let them know the doctor was in. As he waited at the elevator, watching them push through the ICU doors, he played back the movie in his head once more as Linda crashed into Sara, pushing her away from the pointing gun. Linda's expression flashed back stern and argumentative as her words came to life once more, and she yelled.

"It's not him!"

*****

The Sentinel dreamed of being lost, accusing fingers and shattering glass. A nagging question returned again and again to probe and admonish. 'Have I lost' turned into a mantra, chanted by a gathering crowd as they looked on and laughed.

Then the falling started - a sense of imminent danger somehow subdued or muffled by a false sense of calm. The choking started as the Sentinel struggled to breathe, watching the earth rush up to make it all go away.

Not yet, dreamed the Sentinel. Not yet.

*****

In light of current events, they had decided to return to Jack's place to investigate further and determine where to go from here. Jack decided to let his driver enjoy his day off and found the control for his van. Pushing a button marked 'Find Me',

he placed the control on a window ledge that looked out on the street over the front entrance and waited. Thirty minutes later, they were throwing their bags in the back of the van as it waited, obediently, in front of the building.

The drive back was quiet as both of them contemplated the significance of yesterday's events - not just on an individual basis but as a couple.

Jan walked out onto the terrace and glanced past the open curtain of Jack's computer room. She found him sitting in his wheelchair, staring at the dark computer screens. Sliding the door open, she stepped up behind, resting her hands on his shoulders. She waited quietly, knowing he would speak when he was ready.

Leaning back into her body, nestling his head against her stomach, he reached up to touch her arm, a light caress before dropping his hand on top of hers, resting on his shoulder.

"Is it over, Jan?" he asked.

Leaning over, she kissed the top of his head lightly before responding. "I think it is, Jack."

Moving around him, she took his hand and pulled Jack up from the wheelchair. Gently, but with determination, she pulled him away from the cold, dark computers and out onto the terrace. Stopping, she stepped close and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Yes, Jack, it's over."

Pulling her closer, he buried his head against her neck and sobbed quietly. Bringing his arms up, he swayed gently, pulling her with him as her own tears started.

A chilly breeze from the river rustled the curtains in the open door of the computer room and seemed to swirl around them for a few seconds as if participating in their gentle embrace before moving on.

Sensing a subtle change, an emptiness, Jack stooped, scooping Jan into his arms, and carried her to the bedroom. She watched his eyes silently as he placed her on top of the covers. Turning to the fireplace, he placed another log on the fire before turning the bedroom lights out.

Jan patted the mattress at her side, calling Jack to join her, or more importantly, offering Jack a place to be. They fell asleep, fully-clothed, on top of the covers to the quiet crackle of the fireplace.

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