The Real Estate Connection Ch. 06bykiwiwolf©
It felt like I was floating. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling but I immediately knew that something was wrong. There was no other sensation except the floating feeling. I hovered in the zone between wakefulness and oblivion and instinctively knew that it would be a while before I would be running the Boston marathon. I felt no pain, but knew that it was lurking just over the horizon. Then all feeling went away, and I descended back into the blackness.
Having no concept of passing time, I could only assume that my next ascent towards consciousness occurred a fair while later. This time I could make out light, but saw nothing. The lack of aural input was creepy. I experienced light, and I floated. I hovered in this state for what felt like hours, but in reality was probably only a few moments. This time, as I descended back into the abyss, I felt a strong surge of nausea. Then blackness again.
It was my third trip to the surface that brought me back with a rush. All of my senses slammed back into operation with brutal suddenness. Pain... everywhere, ripping at me and almost driving me back into the abyss. God knows I would have welcomed the comfort the sensory deprivation had been giving me. My stubborn side kicked in just in the knick of time and propelled me to full consciousness. I needed to know what had happened to me. Obviously I was damaged, but how badly was the question. Up 'til now I hadn't opened my eyes. The light was there on the other side of my eyelids, but for some reason I was afraid of what I would see when I took my first peek. I left them closed and tried to concentrate on what else I could feel. The problem was trying to filter individual sensations through the pain. Hot or cold; I couldn't tell. I was certain of only two things... I was in a phenomenal amount of pain and I was in hospital. The sharp antiseptic smell was enough to confirm the latter. I decided to brave a look at the world. I opened my eyes.
That was a big bad mistake. It felt like someone had taken a hand drill and started to drill into my skull. The pain was massive and instantaneous, and drove a groan from my lips. Immediately I felt a hand on my forehead and then heard Stevie's voice.
"Craig? Honey? Wake up baby. You're going to be okay baby... you're going to be okay." She sounded close to tears but relieved. As I lay there in self imposed darkness, I ran the events that had put me here, over in my mind. I had total and immediate recall which was a huge relief. I heard movement and finally found the guts to have another go at opening my eyes. It still hurt like a mother in law but it was tolerable.
Stevie's face swam into view. It took a while to focus but eventually I was looking into the teary eyes of the woman I loved.
"Hi baby." It came out as a croak and was accompanied by a wave of pain and then nausea. I had a concussion at the very least. That was one of the benefits of having a good grounding in the basics of field medicine; the ability to self diagnose.
Stevie bent and kissed me softly on the lips. I'd never felt anything so good in my life. It was a confirmation that I was alive, and that Stevie was safe. My mouth felt like the whole US Army had camped in it... I needed water.
"Water," I managed to croak. There was movement behind Stevie and a nurse came into view as Stevie stepped back from the bed. She was holding a glass with a flexible straw.
"Just take small sips for a start Mr. Miller. You've been out for a while now and if you drink too fast you'll make yourself sick." She placed the end of the straw in my mouth and held the glass while I drank; the cool water giving me immediate relief, re-hydrating the parched tissues of my mouth and throat. With a nod of my head I indicated that I'd had enough to drink. "I'm going to go and get the doctor for you Mr. Miller. Don't try to move while I'm gone. Just relax and take things easy."
I could immediately see the sense in that, and besides... I didn't have anywhere pressing to be at that moment. Stevie came back into view as the nurse hurried out the door. She was smiling but the smile was full of worry and fear. I noticed a large bruise on her forehead which was a couple of interesting shades of purple and yellow. It had been there for a while. I figured that I must have been unconscious for a while... but for how long? And what was the extent of my injuries? I had pretty much total recall of what had happened outside the tattoo studio. I knew that I had been hit in the side and the shoulder but had no idea how serious the wounds were. I had pain in my head that seemed to be overwhelming any other sensation from elsewhere on my body so it was difficult to localise the injuries. I tried to smile back at Stevie who was now stroking my cheek again. I think it must have come across as a twisted sort of grimace but she took it as a good sign and bent to kiss me softly.
"God Miller, I was soooo worried! You scared the hell out of me baby. I thought I was going to lose you." Her voice was choked with emotion and I saw her eyes begin to fill with tears.
"Hey baby... don't cry. You know you just can't kill weeds honey. I plan to be around for a long time to make your life a misery." She grinned and kissed me again as the door swung open and a tall white coated man stepped into the room and walked over to the bed. He seemed to be in his early to mid thirties and had the look of an outdoors man about him. Deeply tanned and very fit with an open, friendly, good looking face.
"Howdy Mr. Miller. My name is Brian Clark and I'm the surgeon who put you back together the other day. Call me Brian. I'm not going to ask you how you're feeling because I kinda figure the question is redundant. You're feeling like shit aren't you?" He grinned at the look of surprise that crossed my face. This wasn't what I had come to expect from doctors.
"You're a kind of celebrity around here at the moment. We have reporters camped out in the cafeteria and cops crawling all over the reception area. We had to keep them apart because things were getting a mite tetchy. Lee Stowers actually threatened to punch the hell out of one of the reporters from Channel 7. On top of all that you have had a few visitors in suits that have government written all over them. All this has given you a real air of mystery and elevated you to celebrity status with the staff here. All the nurses are very protective of our celebs so at least you are guaranteed a bit of privacy. Anyway... let's have a look at you." This guy was definitely not like any civilian doctor I had come across before. Grabbing a chart from the foot of the bed he started making hmming and haaing noises as he flipped through the pages. Stevie had moved around to the other side of the bed and was holding my hand as Brian continued his perusal of my chart. Finally he looked up and gave me a lopsided grin.
"Okay... for a man who was shot a couple of times you're in pretty good condition. You won't be running any marathons or lifting any heavy weights for a while but there's nothing here that won't heal completely if you do as you're told. The wounds in your side and shoulder are just nasty flesh wounds and will only add to your already impressive collection of scars. I noticed while I was practicing my needlepoint that you've got in the way of flying lead before. You'll have to tell me the story sometime. What we were most worried about was the knock on the head you took when you went down. You have a hairline fracture of your skull which is going to give you a hell of a headache for a few days. You had a massive concussion so we've kept you in a drug induced coma for the last two days to let the swelling of your brain to go down but you're going to have to take it easy for a few days."
I was confused. I distinctly remembered the massive impact of the round that hit me square in the left shoulder. I was sure that it was a serious wound and said as much to the good doctor. He smiled and shook his head.
"I removed a badly flattened slug from the muscles in your left shoulder. From the shape and condition of it, you were hit by a ricochet. I think the initial impact of the round on whatever it hit first, bled enough energy off it to result in just a flesh wound when it hit you. You were lucky buddy. If it had hit you where it did full force you would have been in major strife. It would have taken you directly in the brachial plexus which is a big bundle of nerves that is fairly important to the smooth operation of all the functions performed by your arm. As it is you have a fairly nasty wound and until the bruising, lacerations and other damage heals, you'll have limited use of your arm. Does that do anything to put your mind at rest?" The doc sure had a great bedside manner and I made a mental note that next time I got shot I'd be sure to request him to patch me up.
"Yeah I think it sets my mind at rest. So how long am I going to be in here? I sort of have this thing against hospitals. No offence intended but I just can't stand the places. People waking you up to give you sleeping tablets... smiling nurses prodding and poking at you night and day. When can I get out?"
Brian gave me a tolerant smile. "You won't be leaving for a couple of days yet. You are going to need a fair bit of serious pain management and a bit of TLC... not that you wouldn't get that at home but Stevie here can't handle the medication protocol that you'll be sticking to. With a bit of luck we'll be able to release you in a couple of days."
"Baby you better listen to the doctor. I want you fit and healthy as soon as possible Craig." Stevie's concerned smile made my answer easy.
"Okay... you got me for two days Doc. Then I'm outta here. And call me Craig will you... I'm too young to be Mr. Miller" The doctor smiled another tolerant smile. He was obviously used to dealing with stubborn headstrong patients.
"How about you leave the doctoring side of things to me and you just concentrate on healing. That way we'll get along just fine and I won't have to get all nasty with you. I mean there are a lot of things a doctor can do to deal with troublesome patients Craig. For instance I could put you on my teaching round. That's where I bring a dozen or so freshly scrubbed, shiny faced, medical students around to examine you on a regular basis." He threw me what could only be described as a particularly evil grin. As he talked he was adjusting the flow on a drip that was plugged into a vein in my left arm. I could feel the pain recede as he did it so I assumed it was pain medication of some sort. He looked at me and raised an enquiring eyebrow. "Feel better? It's pethidine. It should take the edge off without you loosing your marbles. I don't want you on this stuff for too long so when the pain becomes bearable I want you to let me know okay?" I nodded. I decided I liked the guy. He was my kind of asshole and I told him as much.
"Doc you're an asshole, but I'll do what I'm told. Just keep the newbie's away from me okay?" He laughed.
"You got it Craig. Now I'll leave you alone with your visitors for a while. The police are crawling all over the place and want to talk to you as soon as possible but I'll keep them at bay for half an hour or so. I'll be back after they have finished with you." With another smile he left. Turning my head slowly I looked at Stevie. For the first time since I woke up she looked almost relaxed. I guess the whole experience had hit her hard. Up until now it had all been theoretical. The practical aspects of being shot at was a whole different thing altogether.
"How are you baby? You going to be okay?" I reached out my hand which she took and gripped gently as if a hard squeeze would damage me further.
"Yeah I'm going to be all right Craig. KJ got me out of there pretty quick and then went back out for you. By that time the police were on the way. She rang them as soon as she heard her window smash and heard the rest of the shots. I had a bit of a headache for a while but it's okay now. Honey you saved our lives." Her eyes were starting to tear up again.
"Did I get the shooter Stevie?" I needed to know who was after us. If I had got the shooter then maybe there would be some sort of clue as to who was gunning for us.
"You got her honey. She died at the scene." She? At that moment the door swung open and Hemi walked in. I knew immediately that something was wrong. He walked like he was attending a funeral and his face mirrored the impression. He looked like someone had just run over his kitten.
"Hi there Craig. How you feeling boss?" His voice was lifeless... not the Hemi I knew.
"I'm okay buddy. What's going on Hemi?"
"Have you told him yet?" The question was directed at Stevie who shook her head in the negative while reaching for Hemi's hand. He let her take it and stood looking down at it for a moment before he turned back to me.
"It's my fault boss. She was right under my nose and I didn't see it. Liz was the sniper. Here I was fucking her and all the time she was setting up a hit on you. She slept in your house for fuck's sake! How the fuck could I have been so blind?" His voice was racked with guilt and his anguish was easily readable on his face. I sagged back onto the pillow and just lay there for a minute or two. I had too much information to process and needed to get my head around it all. Stevie and Hemi stayed silent as I caught up with the latest news.
"Hemi it's not your fault. She had us all fooled." Stevie's words did nothing to relieve his mistaken guilt.
"Buddy, Stevie's right. Nobody knew what was going on. She seemed like a pretty cool lady and none of us had any idea what was happening. You've gotta shake this off man. I need you firing on all cylinders if you're going to look after things until I'm outta here and back in the saddle. You think you can do that for me brother?" He took a deep breath and nodded. It would take a while to get him to come around but common sense would prevail in the end.
"Tell me what the cops found. Is there any clue as to who she was working for?"
"None at all boss. She was packing some pretty decent firepower though. Really high tech equipment that isn't readily available on the open market. The cops found a fully rigged Steyr Scout on the pavement under the window she was using as a hide. That's some pretty heavy duty shit man. It's a military weapon that isn't really in widespread circulation. Thank Christ she was a shitty shot." Silently I echoed his sentiments. A good sniper with a Steyr Scout would have put both Stevie and I down for the count with two simple shots, especially from the distance she was shooting from.
There was a soft tap on the door and a second later it opened to admit KJ. She was dressed similarly to last time I had seen her at the tattoo studio; sprayed on jeans, boots, and corset top with leather vest over top. She was smiling as she walked over to the bedside and exchanged a friendly kiss with Stevie. Then she turned to me and gave me a hug careful not to get tangled in my drip line.
"So how is the warrior? You guys really know how to make an impression on a girl. Oh and don't worry about the window... I was going to redesign my store frontage anyway." Her grin was infectious and soon even Hemi had perked up a bit. "So when are you going to be well enough to let me take you folks up on that offer of dinner? I mean it's the least you can do after wrecking my business, terrorising me and ogling my nipples while I was tattooing your hot girlfriend." This brought badly needed laughter.
"Jesus... here I am dying in hospital and even here I can't escape nagging women. Can someone get me that doctor? I want my medication upped to block out these whining wenches." This earned me a slap on the arm from Stevie and a grin from KJ.
The four of us chatted for a while. Nothing too heavy and we deliberately avoided the subject of the sniper. It was almost a slice of normality except for the location and the drip running into my arm. It wasn't long before there was another knock on the door heralding the arrival of Richmond's finest. Lee Stowers was accompanied by a man in uniform and a woman in street clothes. The uniformed man looked like he was in charge an assumption borne out by Lee's introduction.
"Craig this is Chief of Police Wallace, my boss and Detective Karen Montecelli. The boss is here to meet the folks who are fucking up the quiet ambience of his town and Detective Montecelli is here to ask you a few questions about the shooting. I'm going to have to ask Stevie and the rest of you to leave us alone here for a while. I've also got to ask you not to go too far. We need to ask you a few more questions. Okay?"
"Okay Lee. We'll be in the cafeteria if you want us. You take it easy on my man here you hear me? If you get him upset I'm gonna be plenty pissed." She kissed me softly and left with KJ and Hemi following close behind. As the door closed behind them Chief Wallace pulled a chair over to the bed and sat. Wordlessly he stared at me. If this tactic was designed to intimidate me it wasn't working; I stared back with equal intensity. The childish staring game went on for a few moments until he dropped his gaze and cleared his throat.
"I hear you are an ex mercenary Miller. What brings a person like you to my city?" The sneer was evident in his voice. Obviously I didn't rank as a sterling member of his community. I decided that I didn't like him.
"Well it sure as hell isn't for the warm hospitality Wallace." I know it was childish and petty but I couldn't help myself.
"It's Chief Wallace thank you, and that's not an answer." His face had flushed at my use of his surname without his illustrious title.
"Fair enough Chief Wallace... and it's Major Miller." Two could play at that game. "As for my answer... last time I checked this is still a free country. I have no criminal record and am hoping to contribute to the community here. I came here to start a security company. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"
"So let me see if I understand you. You're a law abiding citizen here to set up a business. You have bought a house and set up home with a fairly prominent business woman and managed to get yourself comfortable with members of the local police force." This was accompanied by a scornful glance at Lee who shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Then all of a sudden we find World War Three starting in our back yards. We have car loads of gunmen, we have two murders in your new residence, one of the victims a CIA officer, and then we have the showdown at the OK Corral. And the one common denominator? Major Craig Miller. Now tell me Major Miller... why should I be happy to have you in my town?" I'd had enough of the good Chief.
"Am I being charged with anything? Am I a suspect in any crime? No? Then fuck off. Next time you come near me you had better read me my rights. This only applies to you. You waltz in here expecting to be able to stamp your particular brand of domination on the situation and you end up looking like a tin pot general. I've seen men like you before. I've dealt with men like you before. Why don't you leave the police work to real cops like Lee here... or maybe even Detective Montecelli. At least they know how to deal with the realities of investigation. I'm more than happy to talk to Lee or Detective Montecelli... but not you. Now get the fuck out of my room." I deliberately kept my voice low and even during the whole of my pretty little speech. Wallace, on the other hand, wasn't dealing with it well. His flush deepened and he started spluttering about half way through my tirade. I kept right on talking not letting him get a word in. Finally, when I stopped talking, he got up and stormed out of the room. There was silence for a few minutes while Lee and Detective Montecelli shifted from one foot to the other. Then Montecelli burst out laughing.