This is a Early Edition/ER story. It is a sequel to Faith Renewed. I want to thank peregrin anna from the EE fanfic list for beta-reading this for me.
The characters don't belong to me. Gary Hobson, Chuck Fishman, and Marissa Clark belong to Sony/Tristar television and CBS productions. Doug Ross, Mark Green, Carol Hathaway, Chuny, and Jerry belong to Warner Bros.
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Dr. Doug Ross stripped off his scrub top and tossed it into his gym bag next to his stethoscope. He withdrew a clean sweatshirt and jeans from the bag, and quickly dressed. He was eager to meet Carol at her house and head to the ballgame tonight.
It was the first night game of the young season. He couldn't wait. His Cubbies were sure to win tonight, he thought confidently. At least, the chances were decent as the with the wind was blowing out, he amended with a grin. Maybe Sammy would hit a couple a homers. He tied his shoes, and exited the locker room.
"Have fun at the game, Doug!" Mark called after him as he strode out the ER doors.
"Thanks! I will." He replied with a slight wave of acknowledgment. He paused for a second when he got outside--putting his head back and basking in the unusually warm spring sunshine. With a smile on his face, he headed towards the EL station.
Gary Hobson glanced at his watch, and hurriedly took another bite of his burger. He was ravenous. He hadn't eaten all day. The paper had been chock-full of tragedies and accidents that needed his attention. He guessed it was because of the unusually warm weather had drawn so many people out of doors.
He had already prevented a woman from being raped. She had been jogging early this morning in Grant Park. He had also been instrumental in preventing a kid from falling off the monkey bars at recess and breaking his neck. All he had received for his efforts was a sore knee from trying to keep up with the woman; and suspicious glares from the recess monitors. They didn't like strange men hanging around the playground. He couldn't blame them; but still, if they had been paying closer attention to the kids he wouldn't have had to be there in the first place.
Gary popped a ketchup-drenched fry in his mouth. The woman in the park must have thought that he was a would-be rapist, Gary thought, judging from the nervous glances she kept giving him. He had tried to reassure her with a smile, but she hadn't bought it, and had sped up. Gary rubbed his sore knee absent-mindedly as he took a swig from his can of pop.
His plan had worked, though, Gary thought with satisfaction, as he had spotted a man hiding in the bushes. The man had turned and run away when Gary had shouted at him, which meant more abuse for his poor knee as he had taken off after the guy. Gary had finally caught up to him, in the process attracting attention from a cop who had been parked alongside the road and dozing at the end of his shift. It had taken a while to sort everything out. The woman had been no help. She had accused Gary of following her. Luckily, it turned out the man was wanted on an outstanding warrant for criminal sexual assault.
In between the major events, had been assorted smaller incidents he had averted. There had been a road construction worker who had accidentally cut through a gas main. No one had been hurt in the original incident, but it had snarled up traffic for hours. Gary had just pretended to be from the Gas Company, and warned the worker about the gas line. Fairly simple. Too bad they weren't all that easy, he thought ruefully.
Gary sighed, and reluctantly pushed away his half-eaten burger. He had one more accident to prevent--a hit-and-run on the corner of Ohio and LaSalle. A woman and her child were going to be killed when an impatient driver ran a red light this afternoon. Gary glanced at his watch. It was three-forty five. The accident was going to happen around four-fifteen PM.
Doug hurried down the steps from the EL platform. He had gotten off the train a few stops early so that he could run by the bank and cash a check. He quickly walked a few blocks east, and headed north towards a branch of LaSalle National Bank. He looked at his watch and slowed. He had plenty of time. The game didn't start until seven, and it was only four o'clock now. They would still have plenty of time to get to Wrigley Field and even grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants around the ballpark.
He stood in the crowded lobby of the bank and waited his turn. He patiently watched as a little old lady in front of him shuffled her way up to the teller. With nothing to do, his mind wandered to Carol. He smiled as he thought of the previous weekend, and how their attempts at putting up wallpaper in her kitchen had turned into a disaster. Well, it hadn't been a total disaster, he thought devilishly, as he remembered how they had ended the evening.
Finally, it was Doug's turn. He quickly cashed his check and glanced at the clock on the wall behind the teller. It was almost a quarter after four. He figured it would take him another fifteen minutes to get to Carol's. He wondered if he had time to stop by the florist to pick up some flowers.
He pushed his way out the door of the bank, accidentally running into a man coming around the corner from the east. The man stumbled to his knee, grunted and swore softly between clenched teeth.
"Sorry." Doug apologized, stooping to help the man up.
The man staggered to his feet, grimacing. Doug steadied him. "Are you all right?" The man was still clutching his knee, but looked up, nodding.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Gary glanced at the person who had run into him. His eyes widened in recognition. It was the doctor who had almost been shot a couple of months ago at County General. The man didn't seem to recognize him. Not surprisingly, since Gary hadn't stuck around after he had saved him. Gary had been a little dazed at the time from a bullet grazing his thigh, and being slammed into a wall. As a result, he hadn't been thinking too clearly and had just limped out of the ER, unnoticed in all the confusion. Luckily, his leg had healed well--though, he still had a red scar across the top of his thigh.
The man was looking at him with concern. Gary shook his head slightly; the guy must think he was nuts just standing here slack-jawed, he thought. The man-Gary thought his name was Ross, was saying something about getting his leg checked out.
Gary stood up straight, trying not to wince. "No, I'm fine. I-it's just that hurt it earlier to-" Gary broke off as he saw a woman and a small child approach the intersection. He shook off the guy's arm and lunged toward the woman. He could hear a motor gunning nearby.
"Stop!" He shouted desperately, moving as fast as he could as he put himself between her and the roar of the engine. Suddenly, Gary saw it. A black Jeep Cherokee careening around a Wonder Bread truck that was stopped at the light. The Jeep swung into the empty right lane, and gunned the engine, gaining speed as he tore through the intersection.
The woman was oblivious to all of this as she was looking down at her child, laughing about something as she glanced at the flashing "Walk" signal.
"Watch out!" Gary shouted, as he pushed the woman and child back up onto the sidewalk.
Just a few more inches and he would have made it. As it was, the woman and child fell away and to the right, out of harm's way. Gary wasn't so lucky. The passenger side mirror caught him on the lower part of his back, just below the ribs. The impact sent him slamming to the ground, his left temple connecting with a sickening thud against the sidewalk.
Doug stood for a moment in shock, unable to believe what had just occurred in front of him. One minute, he was talking to the guy; the next minute, the guy was lying on the ground. It had all happened so quickly that most of the pedestrians who had witnessed the accident were also shocked into immobility. Then suddenly, as if someone had thrown a switch, people were running around shouting.
Doug also jumped into action. He grabbed a young man who was gaping at the scene, and gave him a little shake and told him to go in the bank and have them call 911.
The guy nodded and hurried away. Doug pushed his way through the gathering crowd.
"Let me through! I'm a doctor." He demanded, shouldering to the front. The crowd parted.
Doug's first concern was for the child, a small boy. A quick glance at the frightened and wailing child put his fears to rest. The boy appeared unharmed. Several other people were helping his mother up, and she also appeared to be unhurt; though quite shaken.
Doug turned his attention to the man. He was sprawled motionless, partially on his left side, a spreading pool of blood at his head. The back right side of his blue sweatshirt was torn open, revealing an ugly spreading bruise with a nasty scrape oozing blood.
Doug knelt down next to him, quickly feeling for a pulse. It was there, not very strong, but steady. He checked to make sure the man was breathing, reassured when he saw the chest move. He was breathing, though very shallowly. Doug looked the man over as carefully as he could. He didn't want to move him too much unless it was absolutely necessary. The guy could have neck injuries, he thought grimly. He was particularly worried about the head injury. It was bleeding profusely.
Doug glanced at the crowd. "Does anyone have a handkerchief or cloth?" A woman dug through her diaper bag and produced a clean cloth diaper.
"Thanks, that's perfect." he said, as he took it and folded it.
He carefully lifted the man's head, and gently pressed the cloth against the wound. The man moaned softly. Doug took that as a good sign.
Doug leaned close. "Hey buddy, can you hear me?"
Another soft moan and the eyelids began to flutter.
"Yeah, that's it." Doug encouraged. The diaper was already soaking through. He folded it again and re-applied it.
"What's your name? Huh?" Doug paused; it looked as though the guy was trying to talk.
"Can you tell me your name?"
" G-Gary." Came the reply. So soft that Doug had to strain to hear it.
"Gary?" Doug got a slight nod, then a moan in reply. In the distance Doug could hear sirens wailing.
"Okay Gary, here's the plan. An ambulance is on its way. I'm gonna stay with you though, okay? You have to stay awake for me, got it?"
"Come on Gary! Stay with me here, okay?" Doug pleaded.
Gary nodded again, and murmured "Okay." His eyes opened, but appeared dazed.
"That's it Gary, you can do it." Doug encouraged again. Looking around at the crowd, he said to no one in particular. "What the hell is taking that ambulance so long?"
When Doug looked back down, Gary's eyelids had slid shut.
"Hey! You gotta keep up your end of the deal, Gar." Doug teased gently.
"That's' what my friends call me." Gary replied, confused, but trying to stay awake. He struggled to open his eyes again.
"What? Gar?" At Gary's almost imperceptible nod, Doug smiled, "Well, then, I guess that makes me one of your friends now, doesn't it?"
Gary foggily thought about the last time that he had met Doug Ross. "Yeah, I guess so, Doug."
At first, Gary's use of his name didn't register, but then he blinked in surprise. "Hey, are you psychic or something? How'd you know my name?"
Gary swallowed; he was cold, and shivered. "Met before." he answered. His voice was slurring.
Doug noticed the shiver and strove to keep Gary talking. "We did? Where? When?"
There was a long pause. "Come on Gar, don't go out on me now."
"Couple months ago." Gary finally managed. He was trying to stay awake, but his eyelids felt so heavy.
The ambulance finally arrived. The paramedics rushed over to Doug and Gary. One of the paramedics, recognizing Doug, nodded a greeting as he snapped on his gloves. "Hey, Doc."
Doug nodded "Jim."
"Has he been unconscious the whole time?" Jim asked as he bent to examine Gary.
Doug looked down at Gary's face. Gary's eyes were closed again, his breathing even more shallow than before. "Damn." Doug swore softly, then to Jim, "No, he was semi-conscious a few minutes ago, talking to me."
"Well, that's good." Jim said as he snapped a C-collar around Gary's neck. Now that his neck was stabilized, they could turn Gary over and get a better look at him. Doug helped, but maintained pressure on the head wound at the same time.
The paramedics took vital signs, started oxygen, an IV, and loaded Gary onto a stretcher.
Doug followed the stretcher to the ambulance. Jim looked back and said, "Are you coming with?"
Doug hesitated and looked at his watch. It was four forty-five. Only half an hour had passed since he had come out of the bank. He still had time to get to Carol's and over to the ballgame, but the idea of going to the game didn't quite appeal to him anymore.
Gary opened his eyes from all the jostling; looking around in panicked disorientation asking, "Where's Doug?" He hardly knew Doug, but in his pain and confusion, had come to depend on him.
"I'm still here, Gar." Doug reassured. "Yeah, I'm coming with." He told Jim. Doug stepped up into the ambulance.
The ambulance took less than ten minutes to reach Cook County General Hospital. But in that time, Gary's vital signs crashed as he went into shock.
Doug pulled the stethoscope out of his ears, and slung it around his neck, forgetting for the moment that it was not his. He glanced at Jim. "Lung sounds are absent on the right." He said grimly.
"You think he has a pneumo?"
"It could be. His O2 sats are only ninety percent on four liters nasal cannula. Let's put him on a non-rebreather at twelve liters. We're... what, five minutes from the hospital?" Doug asked, deciding what steps to take.
Jim nodded and put the mask on Gary, cranking up the O2.
"Well, let's see how he does." Doug said, as he eyed the oxygen saturation monitor. The numbers were already starting to look better, he noticed with satisfaction.
"Okay, lets just try to maintain his blood pressure. Open his IV up a little more." With nothing left to do but wait and see, Doug sat back with a sigh, rubbing his neck.
"So what happened out there?" Jim asked curiously.
Doug shook his head, "It all happened so fast it was unbelievable. I came out of the bank and ran into him," Doug said, nodding at Gary's inert form. "While I was apologizing, all of a sudden he goes lunging after this woman and child, yelling at them to wait. I guess he must have seen the vehicle coming, because he was able to push them back just in time." Doug paused, rubbing his hands over his eyes; trying in vain to erase the vision and, especially, the sickening thud of the impact of flesh and steel. He was afraid that he would be seeing that in his nightmares for many weeks to come.
"Wow." Jim whistled softly, "this guy risked his neck for that lady and kid. They must owe him big time. Not that you can ever really pay someone back for something like that, though" Jim finished with a shrug. He looked down to chart Gary's vitals, missing the guilty expression that stole across Doug's face.
A few months before, he had been the recipient of similar heroism, when a crazed relative, blaming Doug for his nephew's death, tried to gun him down in the ER. A man tackled the grief stricken uncle just as the gun went off, saving Doug's life. In the ensuing commotion, his rescuer had run off, leaving nothing but a thin trail of blood to show that he had existed. Doug tried to shake off the guilt of never getting a chance to thank his rescuer in person. Straightening, he sighed. There wasn't a lot that he could do about that incident, he thought resolutely, but now he could sort of repay his debt to his unknown rescuer, by helping Gary. It wasn't much, but it was the best he could do for now.
The ambulance pulled into the ER garage, and unloaded its occupants to a waiting staff. Dr. Mark Green looked up in surprise as Doug jumped out of the back.
"Hey, what are you doing here? I thought you were going to the Cubs game?"
Doug grabbed the IV bag, and holding it high, walked quickly alongside the stretcher. "I was, but this guy got hit by a car right in front of me, and I stopped to help."
Mark nodded, "Well, we can take it from here, and if you hurry, you might still be able to take in the first pitch."
Doug shook his head, guiding the stretcher into Room two, and hung the IV on a waiting pole. "I don't feel much like going to the game now. I kind of want to hang around and see how he does."
Mark shrugged, grinning, "Sure, we can always use an extra hand.".
Jerry, the ward clerk, appeared in the doorway, "Hey, Dr. Green, have you seen..." he spotted Doug then, "Oh, never mind, he's the one I'm looking for." He said, pointing at Doug.
"You have a phone call on line two, Dr. Ross." He stood back to allow Doug to exit the room, his brow furrowed in confusion "It sounds like Carol Hathaway."
Mark stifled a grin, and said, "Hey Jerry, could you tell Carter I need him in here now?"
"Sure, Dr. Green." Jerry paused, studying Gary. The guy looked familiar somehow. Just then Gary opened his eyes, and looked wildly about the room.
Gary struggled to sit up, wondering why his side hurt so much. His efforts proved futile, as his head was taped to the backboard as a precaution in case there were neck injuries.
"Whoa, there, buddy. Lie still, okay?" A voice to Gary's right said, accompanied by a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder, forcing Gary back down.
Gary looked to the right, finding a balding man with wire-rim glasses opening some sort of medical kit.
"Where am I?" Gary asked, surprised at how difficult it was to speak. He felt like someone was standing on his chest, not allowing any air to get in.
"You're at County General. Do you remember what happened?" The man Gary assumed was a doctor asked.
Gary tried to gather his thoughts. His brain seemed to be working in slow motion.
"Um...I...." Gary broke off, slightly confused. He felt sort of like a person does when they are awakened suddenly out of a sound sleep, disoriented and out of step.
The doctor answered for him. "You were hit by a car. Do you remember any of it?"
Gary's thoughts suddenly clarified. He could vividly recall the sound of the Jeep Cherokee as it gunned through the intersection. Fortunately, he couldn't recall the actual impact. He remembered someone talking to him after the accident, while he had been lying on the sidewalk.
"Where did..."Gary paused, trying to remember Doug's name. Knowing that there was a reason that he should have remembered it, but unable to at this time. "...there...there was a guy there, do you know where he went?" Gary finished, frustrated, but not even sure why.
Mark was examining the bruise on Gary's right side; he glanced up at Gary. "You mean Doug? He's here somewhere. He got a phone call, but he said he was going to stick around until he found out how you are." Mark gently probed the wound, eliciting a groan from Gary.
"Sorry." Mark stated as he put a stethoscope to his ears and listened to Gary's lungs. He didn't appear to like what he heard, as a frown flashed across his face.
Gary wanted to ask some more questions, but by now he was panting for air. If only he could fill his lungs, he would be okay, he thought fuzzily.
Mark stuck his head out of the room, "Hey Doug! If you're serious about helping, I could sure use a hand in here!"
"I gotta go, Carol. Mark needs some help with this guy." Doug had the phone tucked between his ear and shoulder, snatching a stethoscope from around Chuny's neck as the nurse walked by. "I need to borrow this, Chuny." Doug said to the startled nurse.
"No problem, just so you give it back. It's a Litman, and cost an arm and a leg." Chuny replied as she grabbed a chart from the rack.
"Why don't you meet me here in about an hour?" Doug suggested to Carol. "Okay, see you then." He hung up and hurried into Gary's room.
Doug swore softly as he entered the room. In just the few minutes that he had been gone, Gary's condition had grown worse; his breathing was fast and labored. A glance at Mark, confirmed that the he was getting ready to insert a chest tube to release the built up pressure in Gary's chest. Air from a punctured lung was escaping into the chest cavity with every breath, making it impossible for him to get enough air into his lungs. A chest tube was the only way to release the air, and allow the lung to re-inflate.
Doug quickly assisted Mark in getting everything set up, then helped hold Gary still as a small incision was made between the ribs, and the chest tube inserted. The tube was quickly connected to some equipment that would keep a slight negative pressure in the chest.
Within a few moments, Gary's breathing was coming much more easily. Using the borrowed stethoscope, Doug listened for breath sounds on the right. Satisfied that they were much better, he looked at Gary, who was resting with his eyes closed, having been loaded up on painkillers, and asked quietly. "Feeling better, Gary?"
Gary's eyes slowly flickered open; he gave a weak grin. "Yeah, now that you got the elephant off my chest."
Doug chuckled, playing with the earpieces of the stethoscope, then asked "Is there anyone you would like us to call for you?"
Gary frowned; he hated to worry Marissa or Chuck. He was feeling much better, relatively speaking, maybe he would be discharged, he thought, and he could just tell them about the accident later.
"When can I go home? Tonight?" he asked, his voice slurring from the effects of the medications.
Surprised at the question, Doug cleared his throat, and glanced at Mark, "Well, I think we'll keep you here for a few days, check you out thoroughly."
Gary's face fell. Damn, he thought, there was no way of avoiding it; Marissa and Chuck were going to have to be told.
"Okay, well, in my wallet is the number for McGinty's restaurant. Could someone call and ask for Chuck or Marissa, and explain to them what happened?" Gary gritted his teeth, and rolled to the side to extract his wallet from his pocket, thankful that the nurses hadn't had time to relieve him of his jeans yet. His energy spent from that little maneuver, he wearily handed the wallet to Doug. "The number is in there somewhere, along with my insurance card." The pain meds were kicking in big time, and it was all he could do to murmur a quiet "Thank-you" before he fell asleep.
Doug took the wallet out to the desk. Opening it, he searched through it, finding both the insurance card and a business card bearing the number to McGinty's. He noted with interest, that Gary's driver's license bore the same address as the restaurant. "Hmm, he must own it." Doug mumbled to himself.
"What?" Jerry was seated next to Doug, busy with paperwork, and had thought Doug was talking to him.
"Oh, sorry Jerry, it's nothing, just talking to myself." Doug grinned.
Doug turned at the sound of his name, and a light came to his eyes as he saw Carol coming towards him. His smile widened.
"How is he?" Carol asked when she reached the desk.
"He's doing better. We stuck in a chest tube, but we still have some x-rays and blood work to do." Doug pointed towards Gary's room, the wallet momentarily forgotten. "He's sleeping now."
"What's this?" Carol asked, reaching for the brown leather wallet that Doug had accidentally flopped in her face as he had pointed.
"Oh, it's Gary's wallet. I'm calling some friends for him."
Carol caught a glimpse of Gary's driver's license. "Oh, hey not bad." She commented on the picture, playfully teasing Doug.
Chuny, walking by, overheard. "Oooh, let me see!" She squeezed in next to the desk and took a peek. "You're not kidding Carol." Chuny agreed with a grin. "What room is he in?" She asked with an innocent air.
Doug grinned and snatched the wallet back. "Jeez, and women complain about men." He shook his head.
Distracted from his paperwork, Jerry looked up at the group. "What's going on?"
"Oh, these women are just going crazy over this poor guy's picture." Doug answered rolling his eyes and picking up the phone to call McGinty's.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Jerry leaned over to get a glimpse of the picture. All of a sudden, his jaw dropped in surprise.
"Hey! Now I remember where I've seen this guy!" Jerry exclaimed excitedly. Looking more closely at the picture, he nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure of it."
Doug glanced up from the business card, his brow furrowed in confusion; finger poised over the buttons on the phone. "What are you talking about?"
"He's the guy!"
Doug and Carol glanced at each other in puzzlement. "What guy?" they asked in unison.
Jerry pointed to the picture. "He's the guy that was asking about you that day. The one that saved you!"
Doug dropped the phone back onto its cradle, the call forgotten. "You're positive, Jerry?"
"Absolutely, Dr.Ross. When you first brought him in, I thought that he looked familiar, but couldn't place where I had seen him before, though I remembered it was here at the hospital. Of course, now his face has a lot of blood on it which made it more difficult to figure out where I had seen him before." Jerry nodded his head towards the driver's license in Doug's hand, "After seeing that picture, I'm sure it's the same guy."
Doug dropped his eyes to the picture. The height and weight listed would match the blurred image that Doug could recall of his rescuer. The dark hair and coloring also fit.
"What are you going to do, Doug?" Carol asked softly.
Doug looked up, seeing the expression of concern in Carol's eyes. She had known how much it had bothered Doug to not be able to thank his savior. Doug sighed, brushing his hand through his short hair. He only wished that he had met Gary under much different--better, circumstances.
"I guess I get my chance to thank him." Doug said, his gaze flicking to Room Two.
Mark joined the small group at the desk, looking puzzled over the serious expressions on everybody's faces. "What's wrong?"
Doug lost in thought, didn't seem to hear him. Carol nodded towards room two. "Jerry says that the man that saved Doug a few months ago, is the guy in there."
"No kidding? Jeez, what a coincidence. Now you got to save him." Mark said, putting a hand on Doug's shoulder.
The touch interrupted Doug's thoughts, returning him to the here and now. "Yeah, Mark. I guess so." Doug shrugged. "Only, I really didn't do much." He cleared his throat and dropped his head. All the mixed feelings of the last few months coming back full force.
He owed Gary more than his life. He owed him for restoring his faith in other people. Before the incident, Doug had been feeling burned out and depressed after years of seeing kids being abused by parents, and victims of violence. It had almost seemed to him that the whole world was made up of people who didn't care about anyone else but themselves.
Parents were more worried about being charged with child abuse, than about the damage they were doing to their children. Kids were out there killing other kids because of the color of their clothing. Even at the hospital, Doug had felt limited in what he could do to help.
Then, out of the blue, had come a guy who risked his own life for a total stranger. The man hadn't stuck around to gather the glory or attention that could have gone to him. Instead, he had merely done his good deed, and had then disappeared.
It made Doug realize that there were still good people out there. At least one, anyway.
"Hey, Jerry? Could you let me know when Hobson's friends arrive?" Doug nodded towards the staff lounge. "I'll be in there."
"No problem, Dr. Ross."
Doug glanced at room two. The nurses were getting ready to transport Gary to a regular room. Doug had gone in earlier to try to talk to him, but had found the man still too sleepy and confused from the effects of the medications that he had received.
Doug pushed through the doors to the lounge. Carol, seated at the table, glanced up from the magazine she had been reading while waiting for him. "Are you ready to go?"
Doug shook his head, "No, I think I'll stick around a little longer." He pulled out a chair, and sat down. "Why don't you go on ahead and go home."
Carol reached over, covering his hand with her own. "Doug, he's going to be fine. You said so yourself."
Doug gave her hand a gentle squeeze. He sighed, "Yeah, I know. It's just that I keep thinking that maybe I could have done something more." He shook his head in frustration. "I don't know. Maybe I could have pulled him out of the way or something. I saw the car coming, but it was like I was frozen. I just stood there and watched it all happen right in front of me." Doug looked down, unable to meet Carol's eyes.
"Stop blaming yourself, Doug. How could you have known what was going to happen?"
Doug nodded slightly, acknowledging Carol's remark. "I guess you're right." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Um, excuse me, Dr.Ross?"
Doug and Carol turned towards the door, seeing a short, wiry man with thinning brown hair leaning part-way into the room, a hesitant expression on his face.
Doug stood, and started walking towards the door. "Yes, I'm Doug Ross. You must be Mr.Fishman." Doug extended his hand.
Chuck opened the door wider, standing aside to allow a pretty black woman with a white cane to enter the room. He stepped forward and clasped Doug's hand. "Yeah, I'm Chuck, and this is Marissa Clark." He said, nodding towards the woman. "We're Gary's friends."
Doug looked at the woman, and realized she was blind. Her face wore a concerned expression, but she held out one hand. Doug took it, and shook the small hand. "Nice to meet you, Marissa."
She smiled, and said, "Thank you, Dr. Ross." Her smile faded, "How is Gary?"
Doug stepped back and gestured towards the table. "Why don't we have a seat?" He pulled a chair out for Marissa, noting how confidently she moved around. Chuck guided her towards the chair, then took a seat at an adjacent one, looking questioningly at Carol.
Doug took his seat, nodding towards Carol. "Chuck, Marissa, this is Carol Hathaway. She's a friend of mine, and a nurse here in the Emergency Room."
The introductions were made, then Marissa turned towards Doug's voice. "Please, you haven't said how Gary is. Is he okay?"
Doug sighed. "I think he'll be okay, barring any complications. He has a punctured lung and a concussion. He's been pretty heavily medicated, though, so I don't know how much you can talk to him just yet. He's on his way to his room right now."
Chuck's mouth was set in a grim line. "So, how did it happen this time?"
Doug was startled at Chuck's tone of voice. It was obvious that he was concerned about Gary, but he also seemed almost angry. Doug glanced at Carol, who appeared equally puzzled.
"Chuck!" Marissa gasped.
"Well, he was hit by a car-" Doug began.
Chuck gave a little snort shaking his head. "Again?"
Doug was starting to become angry at Chuck's attitude. "I don't know what you're talking about, but I do know what I saw. Your friend saved the life of a mother and child. I was there. If he hadn't pushed them out of the way, the car would have hit them full force." Doug leaned forward, eyes narrowed. "Now, I don't know how close a friend you are to Gary, but if he were my friend I would be thankful that he wasn't killed. He was lucky to get away with just the injuries that he did."
Chuck put his hands up, "I know," He said, shaking his head sadly, "and believe me, I am grateful that he wasn't killed. Hey, he's my best friend. It's just that Gar has a habit of getting in to trouble."
"That's not fair, Chuck." Marissa countered. "You know Gary doesn't purposely put himself in danger. Sometimes though, in order to do what he has to do, he has to take some risks."
Doug cocked his head to the side, listening with interest. He cleared his throat, "Um, I'm confused. I'm not sure if you heard me correctly. Your friend just saved a woman and her child." He looked at Chuck expectantly; waiting for some type of acknowledgement that what his friend had done was extraordinary.
"Yeah, I heard you. That's great; I'm glad." Chuck said matter-of-factly. "Don't get me wrong, Gary's one of the best guys you'll ever meet. He'd risk everything--his life--if he felt that he had to. But that's the problem."
Carol looked at Chuck incredulously. "How can you say that's a problem? What kind of person are you?"
Chuck jumped up, he leaned forward jabbing his finger on the table, "I'm a selfish person who doesn't want to get a phone call from a hospital asking me to come down and identify my best friend's body!" He straightened, looked away and sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I just need to see for myself that he's okay." He turned and hurried out the door.
Carol was the first to speak after Chuck had gone. "I'm sorry. I had no right to say what I said."
Marissa turned her head towards Carol. "Don't worry about it. Chuck's just worried and upset. Getting a phone call from a hospital tends to do that to you."
"Yeah, well, I, of all people, should know that." Carol looked at Doug. "I've got to go apologize to him."
Doug nodded. "Okay, we'll be along in a minute."
After Carol left, there was an uncomfortable silence, finally broken by Doug. "Marissa, I wanted to talk to Gary; ask him some questions, but I wasn't able to yet because of his condition."
Marissa turned towards him, her expression slightly wary.
Doug continued, "A few months ago, a man came into the ER with a gun. He was going to shoot me. He would have succeeded except that-"
Marissa's mouth dropped open in surprise, "It was you in the paper!" She blurted out.
Doug turned his head slightly to the side, regarding Marissa with confusion, "What do you mean by 'It was you in the paper'?"
Doug's eyes narrowed slightly as Marissa turned her head away. She opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated. It was clear to Doug that she regretted her outburst. She sighed, turning back towards Doug, her expression one of guilty resignation.
"I'm sorry, Dr.Ross, but it's not for me to say."
Doug leaned back, crossing his arms, wondering why this woman was being so evasive about a simple question. He scratched the back of his neck, then sighed. "Anyway, like I was saying; a man matching Gary's description, saved my life that afternoon. I just want to know if you know anything about it." Doug sat forward, his voice intense, "Was Gary that man?"
Marissa tilted her head to the side, a peaceful expression on her face. "Actually, Dr. Ross, I don't know very much about that incident" A small smile played around her mouth. "You see, Gary doesn't tell me everything that he does, though in all probability, he did have a role in saving your life." Marissa folded her hands in front of her on the table, and leaned forward. "I truly wish that I could answer your question more fully, but you'll have to talk to Gary himself if you want answers."
"I will, just as soon as Gary is able to." Doug promised. He had a feeling that Marissa knew more than she let on. It was just a feeling he had. It seemed strange to him that neither Fishman or Marissa seemed all that surprised or impressed with Gary's earlier heroics. It was like it was old hat to them.
Doug rose, and lightly took Marissa's arm, guiding her towards the door. "Let's go see if Gary is settled in."
Stepping off the elevator, Doug saw Carol and Fishman standing in the hall outside of Gary's room. It was apparent that their bad beginning was forgotten, as Carol was chuckling over something that Fishman had just said. As Doug and Marissa approached, Carol turned towards them; her eyes still full of laughter.
"Hey Doug. Chuck was just telling me about some of the scrapes Gary has gotten into in the past." Carol grinned, still chuckling. "Did you know that Tara Lipinski was almost crushed by a Zamboni?"
Doug smiled, "Uh...no. Um...who is Tara Lipinski?"
Fishman shook his head; "She's the new Olympic gold medallist in ladies figure skating."
Doug shrugged, "Sorry, I don't follow skating."
Fishman and Carol laughed. Fishman continued, smiling. "Neither does Gary. He just...uh...happened to be at the rink, and was in the right place at the right time, other wise she would have been squashed like a bug."
Doug looked speculatively at Fishman. "He seems to do that a lot, doesn't he?"
Chuck's smile faded. "What do you mean?"
Before Chuck could answer, a nurse exited from Gary's room. She appeared slightly puzzled at seeing Doug and Carol waiting in the hall, but smiled and turned to Chuck. "You can go in now, but don't stay too long."
Chuck nodded, and glanced at Doug and Carol. "Um...I know that you helped Gary on the street, but could you give us," he looked towards Marissa, " a few minutes?"
"Of course." Doug replied dropping his head in embarrassment. He didn't really even know Gary, and felt like an intruder. He noticed a hand on his arm, and looked up, surprised to see Marissa gently giving his forearm a squeeze.
"Don't worry, Dr. Ross. We won't be long. I know you want to talk to Gary too."
Doug covered her hand with his own, "Thanks Marissa."
Chuck hesitantly entered the room. Gary appeared to be asleep. His face was pale and a large bandage cut a swath through his dark hair. Chuck quietly approached the bed, noticing a rectangular box hanging near the foot of the bed. It had water and what appeared to be blood, bubbling in columns. A rubber tube from the box snaked its way under the covers. Chuck gulped. He hated hospitals. He felt so helpless in them.
"Hey Gar." Chuck said softly, his hands clenched on the bed rails.
Gary blinked a few times, then smiled weakly. "Hi Chuck, Marissa"
Chuck relaxed a bit. At least Gary was conscious this time. That was always a good sign. "So...you decided to play chicken with a car again, huh?" he joked.
Gary chuckled, then grimaced. "Yeah, I guess so. One of these days I'm gonna win." He fumbled for the bed controls, finally succeeding in moving the head of the bed up to a more comfortable angle.
Marissa moved in next to Chuck, and grasped one of Gary's hands. "Are you okay, Gary?"
Gary nodded, "Yeah, don't worry Marissa, I'm gonna be fine."
"Yeah, he's got a pretty hard head." Chuck put in.
Gary made a wry face. "Ha-ha."
Marissa smiled, "There is someone else in the hall who is waiting to see you. He's the doctor that brought you in."
Gary shot a glance at Chuck, slightly confused at Marissa's tone of voice. "Okay, send him in. I want to thank him anyway."
Marissa sighed, "It's just that he has some questions for you. He is really curious about some incident that happened a few months ago."
"Oh!" Gary's confusion cleared, and a slight frown took its place. "Okay, thanks for the warning, Marissa. What should I tell him?"
"You don't have to tell him anything, Gar." Chuck interjected. "Why should Dr. Ross feel that you owe him an explanation?"
"You're right, Chuck. He doesn't owe him, but it's up to Gary how much he wants to reveal."
"Yeah, well..." Chuck started to retort, then looked down at Gary, noting the worried, uncertain expression on his face, and decided not to argue with Marissa. Gary was in bad enough shape--he certainly didn't need them to add more stress. "Well, you do what you want, Gary."
Gary nodded, still appearing uncertain. He sighed, then closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, hissing in pain.
Chuck panicked slightly, "Should I get the doctor, Gary?"
Gary shook his head slightly; his breathing becoming less labored. "No, I'm okay. Just remind me not to take a deep breath again, all right?" He opened his eyes, giving Chuck a wan smile.
There was a knock at the door. Chuck looked at Gary, his eyebrows raised questioningly.
Gary swallowed, and nodded.
"Come in!" Chuck called.
Gary shifted uncomfortably in bed. He wondered why he was so nervous. He guessed it was just that the situation was a bit awkward. Lying in a hospital bed didn't help matters. It tended to make him feel at a disadvantage. He just wished that he and Doug could have met--really met...as just two men; not as one the doctor, the other the patient.
He watched as the door swung open, and Doug entered, followed by a pretty dark-haired woman. Gary thought that she looked vaguely familiar. She gave him a wide smile.
"Hi Gary. My name is Carol Hathaway. I'm a nurse down in ER." She offered her hand.
Gary couldn't help but return the smile, clasping her hand in greeting. "Hi. It's nice to meet you, Carol." She seemed very friendly, but he wondered why she was here.
Carol must have caught the puzzlement on his face, and glanced at Doug, flashing a heartbreaking smile. Gary's eyes flickered to Doug, noting the warmth they held as the doctor smiled back at Carol.
Carol focused on Gary once more, "I just wanted to see you, and thank you for what you did for Doug a few months ago."
Gary squirmed, feeling his face heat up. He hated scenes like this. "Uh...well...I didn't really do all that much; but you're welcome."
Gary caught Chuck's perplexed expression. He couldn't remember if he had told Chuck about that incident or not. Probably not. At least, probably not the details. He was sure he hadn't mentioned the bullet grazing his leg.
"What's she talking about, Gar?" Chuck asked, one brow arched-eyes suspicious slits.
Gary just shook his head. "It was just..." He didn't know how to explain it without ticking Chuck off. He didn't want to hear Chuck lecture about risk-taking anymore, so he tried to downplay the incident. "I just..you know... was in the right place at the right time sorta thing." Gary finished, shrugging slightly.
Chuck raised his eyebrows, but before he could say anything, Doug spoke.
"You know, it might not seem like that big of a deal to you, but it is to me. It's not every day that someone sticks their neck out for me."
"I...I...didn't mean to imply-" Gary began, abashed.
Doug held his hand up, shaking his head. "I know you didn't." Doug scratched his neck, his head bowed. He looked up grinning, "You know, this isn't going the way that I had intended. I just wanted to find out for sure if it was you who saved my butt that day."
"I...uh...well..." Gary stammered, unsure whether to admit to the deed. He didn't want to open a can of worms. He looked to Chuck for help, but all he received was the same questioning look that Doug was giving him. Gary gave up; too tired to care about worms. "Yeah, it was me," He admitted, sinking into the pillow. He sighed, gathering his strength to respond to the inevitable questions.
"Why did you leave the ER that day without giving anyone your name?" Doug asked. He was surprised and somewhat puzzled at Gary's reluctance to claim responsibility for the heroics.
Gary shrugged slightly, seemingly fascinated with a piece of tape holding his IV in place. "I guess I just didn't want a fuss made. Besides, I wasn't really thinking that clearly at the time because my leg-" Gary broke off, shooting a guilty look at Chuck.
Chuck smiled slightly, "Now the truth comes out. Is that why you were limping around for a few weeks?"
Gary nodded with a sheepish grin.
"Gary, you told us that you hurt it playing basketball while coaching that youth league," Marissa added, sounding slightly put out.
Carol glanced at Doug and then down at Gary. "Yeah, Gary. We were really worried. I mean, we had heard the gunshot, and then found that trail of blood leading out of the ER afterwards; we just-"
Chuck's eyes bugged out, "Gunshots Gar? Trails of blood? So, what else haven't you told us?" he demanded, crossing his arms in front of him.
"Nothing. And it wasn't trails of blood. It...it was more like one small, little trickle." Gary mumbled defensively. His gaze settled on Doug. "See? This is why I didn't stick around." He shook his head, but softened the words with a smile. "I never would have heard the end of it."
"Hey, we're just worried about you, Gary." Marissa said, her brow furrowed.
Gary sighed. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I know I should have told you guys what happened; it's just that my leg wasn't that bad. It was only grazed, and I thought you might-knew that you would--make too much of it."
Chuck crossed his arms in front of himself, and gave Gary a stern look. "Just next time, tell us what's going on. Maybe we can help."
Gary grinned, "And just how many hockey scores is your help going to cost me?"
Chuck smiled deviously.
Doug looked at Gary, and laughed, "Just how many 'next times' do you think there'll be?" He wasn't prepared for the closed look that dropped over Gary's face, and turned questioningly to Chuck and thought he heard the man mutter something that sounded like 'too many', before Chuck turned away.
Doug shot a puzzled glance at Carol. He raised his eyebrows in a silent 'What did I do?' look. She shook her head slightly and shrugged, obviously just as confused.
Gary blinked sleepily, vaguely aware of an uncomfortable squeezing sensation in his left arm.
"Morning, Gary," said a voice out of the pale grayness of early morning.
Gary started, then remembered where he was. He looked to his left to find a nurse taking his blood pressure, he opened his mouth to ask what time it was, when a hand from the right emerged and popped a thermometer in his mouth.
Jeez, what is this? Tag team nursing? Gary waited impatiently for the offending instrument to be removed from his mouth.
Suddenly, the nurse taking Gary's temp gave out a little squeal, and dropped the thermometer device on his chest as she jumped back.
"Aaaaggghhh!" Gary nearly gagged on the temperature probe as he gasped in pain. He glared at the nurse, "What'd ya do that for?"
He sat up slightly to follow her gaze to the end of the bed.
"Oh no!" Gary shook his head, flopping back onto the pillows. What did it take to get a little R&R, huh?
Meanwhile the nurses were busy trying to catch the object of their interest. Gary closed his eyes and listened to the nurses excited voices as they attempted snare the culprit. He was half-tempted to ignore the whole situation.
"Hey, he went under the bed! See if you can get him on your side!"
"I...I think...wait...shoot! I thought I had him, but his tail slipped between my fingers."
Gary could feel a smile start to tug on the corners of his mouth. He cracked one eye open, and couldn't stop his mouth from stretching into a full-fledged grin as he saw one nurse on her hands and knees, peering intently under his bed-her derriere pointing towards the ceiling.
Gary started to explain, "Hey, it's okay, the cat is-oomph!" An orange blur leaped onto the bed--actually, to be precise--Gary's stomach was the landing spot.
"Ow, Cat! That hurt!" Gary exclaimed as he plucked the cat off his abdomen, ready to strangle the animal.
Apparently Gary's animosity didn't transmit to the cat, as it placidly lay in his arms, blinking up in total trust.
Gary glanced to the nurses, who had seemed to multiply, as there were now four of them surrounding his bed. He had a fleeting thought of how envious Chuck would be if he could see him now.
"I'm...ah...I'm sorry," Gary apologized, "it's my cat. He must have found me somehow."
Three of the nurses laughed, and reached to pet the cat. One nurse, however, an older sturdily built woman, subjected Gary to a disapproving frown. "It's against hospital policy to allow animals into the hospital."
Gary felt like the time when he was back in second grade and had brought his pet snake to class--in his coat pocket. How was he to know that the reptile would slither out and find its way into his teacher's boot?
The glare he received now compared favorably to the one he had received then he thought, as he squirmed under the scrutiny. "Well, I...ah..." Gary cleared his throat, gave a weak smile, and tried to play on her sympathies, "He's...hungry?"
The stocky nurse, huffed and turned to leave the room, no doubt to call the animal police, Gary thought wryly. He suppressed an urge to stick his tongue out at the retreating back.
Gary scratched the cat behind the ears, oddly comforted to have the animal there. "Hey, you missed me, huh?" He glanced at the three remaining nurses, "Um...is it okay if the cat stays until my friend gets here?"
The nurses looked at each other, one of them shrugged and said, "What cat?" and grinned. They all laughed and left the room.
Gary smiled to himself as he settled back in bed. He closed his eyes in hopes of catching a few more winks.
Gary squeezed his eyes tighter.
He clamped the pillow over his head.
"Aw, come on! What do ya expect me to do?"
"Fine! I'll look at the paper, okay?" Gary sat up angrily, clutching his side with a hiss as the tube pulled painfully. The paper was at the foot of the bed, partially hidden by the covers.
Gary fumbled for the light; finally locating and pulling a string attached to the bed rail. He flipped through the paper, hoping that whatever was in there that the cat insisted that he see would be something minor.
Yeah, right. Minor. Who was he kidding?
"Freak Accident Kills Teen"
Gary glared at the cat, knowing it wasn't the cat's fault, but he had to vent at someone-or something. He turned back to the paper with a sigh. It seemed a large branch was going to fall from a tree; crushing a fourteen-year old boy who just happened to be standing beneath it.
Gary thought about calling the family of the boy and warning them, but dismissed the idea. He knew from past experience that people seldom believed unknown callers spouting dire warnings.
Chuck Yeah, Chuck could do this, Gary thought. It wasn't too complicated. All he would have to do was be nearby, and make sure that the boy wasn't under the branch.
Gary reached for the phone.
Doug checked his watch. It was only seven-fifteen, but with the tight schedule the nurses had, he was pretty sure that Gary would be awake already. He thought about Carol, and the discussion that they had had last night after returning home. They had both agreed that there was more going on with Gary Hobson than met the eye.
Doug had come in early this morning, and searched the hospital computer for any previous records of Gary Hobson, turning up one dated only last fall.
Gary had been brought in with smoke inhalation. A Dr. Jacobs, who was no longer with County General, had written the emergency note. Jacob's note had been relating more to the smoke inhalation, but he had made brief mention of Gary going into a burning house to rescue some children.
Doug was willing to let one or two incidents slide as pure luck or coincidence, but three? He was curious. How was it that Gary had a habit of turning up at the site of impending tragedies?
He paused outside Gary's door, flipping through the vital sign clipboard hanging from the hall rail. The door was open and he half-heard Gary talking on phone to someone. Oh good, he is awake, Doug thought absently, his mind more on the chart in his hands. Suddenly, Doug noticed the tone of Gary's voice changing. It had become low and urgent. Doug closed the chart, and cocked his head, listening.
He was about to enter the room and ask if everything was okay, when he heard Gary say, "But Chuck, if you don't go, then that boy will be crushed!"
What? Doug hung the chart up, and stood in the doorway of the room.
Doug stood in an alcove just inside of the room. Gary's bed was closest to the door, but the head of the bed wasn't visible from where Doug stood, as the room had a short entrance way by the bathroom. He hesitated. Doug felt guilty about eavesdropping, but he didn't want to barge in either. He turned around to leave but stopped in his tracks when he heard more of Gary's conversation.
"Chuck, the kid's gonna die unless we save him. No...no...How often is the paper wrong?" There was a slight pause, then Gary sighed and said, "Yeah, I know that you have to go to court or lose your driver's license but-"
Doug slowly turned back in towards the room. He couldn't leave without finding out what Gary was talking about. A kid was involved; he rationalized, that made it his business--sort of.
Doug cleared his throat to announce his presence, and strode into the room.
Gary glanced up at Doug, clearly startled. His tone immediately changed to a normal pitch. "Okay, Chuck, see you in awhile."
"Hey Gary. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Okay?" Doug was skeptical. A person didn't just wake up the day after getting hit by a car and feel okay.
"Well, I am a bit sore." Gary admitted.
"Yeah, I'll bet." Doug nodded. He wondered how to broach the subject of the telephone call. "So...that was Chuck?" Doug nodded towards the phone.
"Uh...yeah," Gary fiddled with his IV, not meeting Doug's gaze, "He's coming up later to take...um...to take something home for me," he said, his eyes shifting to the foot of the bed.
"Oh." Doug said, wondering what Gary was looking at that seemed to be holding his attention.
"What the hell?" Doug exclaimed as the covers at the end of the bed moved. An orange tail slipped out.
Doug eyed the flicking tail, a grin spreading across his face. He looked at Gary, amused at the beet-red color creeping up the other man's face.
"So...I see you have company."
"Yeah, well, if you want to call it that." Gary made a face as the cat scrambled to the head of the bed. He lifted the covers, and pulled the cat out from under them.
Doug stepped to the side of the bed and reached down to pet the animal, "What's his name?"
"He doesn't really have one. I just call him 'Cat'"
Gary shrugged, "Well, he was a stray, and I didn't really know how long he was going to hang around, so I never bothered to name him."
"Oh. Well, what's he doing here?" Doug scratched under the cat's chin, smiling as the animal purred in contentment. He noticed Gary squirming, and wondered if he was in more pain than he let on.
"He...uh...he just has a habit of finding me. Chuck's coming by to take him back to my place."
Here was the opening Doug had hoped for. "Gary, I'm sort of embarrassed to admit this, but I couldn't help overhearing part of your conversation with Chuck a few minutes ago."
A wary look came to Gary's eyes. "Oh?"
Doug dropped his hand from the cat, and glanced down. Maybe he should have just pretended that he hadn't heard anything. Doug stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help."
Gary didn't answer right away. He glanced at Doug, thoughtfully, then quickly opened a newspaper he had produced from under the covers. Doug chuckled, wondering what else Gary was hiding under there. The kitchen sink, perhaps?
Finally, Gary spoke, "As a matter of fact, I may need your help."
Doug waited as Gary seemed to gather his thoughts.
"Would you believe me if I told you that I knew something bad was going to happen to someone?" Gary asked, his face wearing a look of hope.
"Well, that depends, I guess. I mean, if you told me that at precisely nine o'clock tomorrow morning the world was going to end--well, I'd say I didn't believe you."
Gary rolled his eyes, "No..no..it's nothing like that. I need your help to save a boy's life."
"Really? How?" Doug was doubtful, but he had to admit that he was also intrigued.
Gary ran his finger down a column of the newspaper. Doug tried to see the headline, but Gary had the paper angled toward the light.
"Okay," Gary began, "all you have to do is be at 12234 West Fullerton, a few minutes before two o'clock this afternoon. A teenage boy will be standing in his yard under a tree, and a few minutes after two, a large branch is going to fall on him." Gary looked up expectantly.
Doug laughed. "And you know this...how?"
Gary's shoulders slumped. "I just do." He looked away, silent for a moment. Finally, he shrugged, "Oh, forget it. I was only kidding."
Doug felt bad. He hadn't meant to mock Gary. "Hey, wait a minute, Gary, you didn't sound like you were kidding."
"Yeah, well, I'm not a very good comedian, okay?" Gary stated, his voice low. He abruptly changed the subject, "So can I go home today? I have things I need to do."
Doug cleared his throat, surprised at the sudden change in Gary's demeanor. "Well, actually, I'm not your doctor. Once a patient moves out of the ER, another doctor takes over the care."
"When does my doctor get here?" Gary asked. "I really have to get going." He glanced at the wall clock, clearly impatient.
Doug sighed, rubbing the back of his neck, "Gary, I really doubt that you'll be discharged today. Look, you still have a tube stuck in your side. X-rays will need to be done to determine if the pneumothorax has resolved." Doug shook his head, adding, "And, I bet your head isn't feeling all that great either."
Gary looked down, not acknowledging Doug.
Not knowing what else to say, Doug turned to leave.
Doug turned back, "Yes?"
"Listen Doug, I don't care if you believe me or think I'm totally nuts. I just need you to go down the house on W. Fullerton before two o'clock today and make sure that no one stands under the tree in the front of the house."
Doug opened his mouth to say that he couldn't because he was busy, but the quiet desperation in Gary's eyes stopped him. Doug was silent for a moment. He owed Gary. It actually wasn't a whole lot that Gary was asking for, after all. It was only about an hour of Doug's time, and he didn't have to be in to work until seven tonight. Shrugging, Doug said, "Okay, I'll do it."
Gary sighed as though the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. "Thanks, Doug. You won't be sorry, I promise."
Doug felt silly sitting in his car. He glanced at his watch. It was two o'clock. He had been waiting for the past five minutes, and so far, nobody had gone anywhere near the large maple tree in front of the house.
Doug sighed, and scanned the street. There were a couple of kids playing basketball in the driveway next door to the house with the tree, but other than that, the street was quiet.
Doug stepped out of the car, turning up his collar against a brisk wind. He walked up the driveway, thinking to check and see if maybe there was another tree behind the house. He shook his head, laughing to himself. You don't really believe Gary's prediction, do you?
He turned back to his car, feeling foolish. Doug opened the car door when he just happened to glance up and see one of the basketball players from next door, cutting across the yard. The kid stopped under the tree, and turned, yelling something to one of his buddies.
"Hey kid!" Doug called out. He was here, so he might as well do what Gary asked.
The boy turned to him questioningly.
"Come here a minute." Doug said, motioning towards himself.
The boy hesitated, but took a few steps in Doug's direction. Suddenly, there was a loud crack. Doug looked up and saw a huge branch break away from the tree.
The boy quickly attempted to jump out of the way, but was still hit by a few of the small branches and knocked to the ground.
Doug rushed over, "Are you all right?"
The kid was already pulling himself from under the leaves. "Yeah, I'm okay." He said, his voice shaking.
Doug helped him to stand, noting that there were only a few scratches on the boy's face. "You're sure?"
The boy nodded, and looked up at the tree. "Man, I could have been killed," He said shaking his head in wonder.
Doug felt sick to his stomach. He had to get out of here before he threw up. He stumbled back to his car, hearing the boy ask him what it was that Doug had wanted.
Doug just shook his head, his thoughts too jumbled. "It was nothing. Just needed directions," He managed to reply.
He quickly got in his car and left. He stopped a block away, leaned out the door, and promptly lost his lunch. Afterwards, he rested his head on the steering wheel, trying to control his trembling. What if I hadn't shouted to that kid? What if I had been a few seconds late? He ran a shaking hand through his hair. What if Gary hadn't asked me to come here? Doug knew with a cold certainty what the results would have been. The kid would have died. Somehow, Gary had known that.
Doug started the car, and drove back to the hospital. He had some questions for Gary Hobson.
"How did you know?"
Gary started, opening his eyes in confusion. "W-what?" He looked over towards the door to find a very agitated Doug Ross striding into the room.
"Hey! You did it!" Gary congratulated, grinning.
Surprise flickered across Doug's face, and he stopped in his tracks. "Yeah, I did. How did you know?" Doug's eyes narrowed, "Don't tell me that you 'just know'. I'm not buying that."
"I...uh..." Gary fumbled, trying to come up with something plausible. Unfortunately, he was a bad liar, and he knew it. Finally, he gave up trying to think of a suitable story, and simply pulled the paper out and handed it to Doug. "This is how I know."
"What's this?" Doug asked, clearly confused.
"It's the Sun-Times." Gary dead-panned.
Doug grimaced, "I know it's the Sun-Times. What does this have to do with predicting the future?"
"Look at the date." Gary indicated with his chin.
Doug looked down. His eyes widened slightly as he noted the date, but he still didn't look convinced. "It has tomorrow's date."
"Mmm-hmm." Gary nodded.
Gary shrugged. He still hadn't figured that one out. "It just does. It has tomorrow's news too."
Doug flipped through the paper. "How am I supposed to know if this is tomorrow's news? You could have had this printed up yourself--as a joke or something."
Gary shook his head. "How do you think I knew that someone was going to shoot you? Or that the car was going to run down that woman and child? What about the tree branch?"
Doug had a dazed look on his face, and sank into a chair. " Yeah. But...but it's impossible to know the future."
Gary remembered those same feelings of confusion when he had first started getting the paper. "It's only one day into the future. It's not like I know who's going to win the next World Series or anything," Gary joked.
Doug ran a hand through his hair. "It's just too strange to believe." He looked at Gary, his head cocked to the side, "Where does it come from? When did you start getting it? How come you get it?" The questions tumbling out one after the other.
Gary shook his head, and held up his hand. "Whoa! Hold on a second." He smiled and took deep breath. "I don't know where it comes from, but a cat brings it to me. I started getting it about a year and a half ago-and I have no idea why it comes to me and not someone else."
"A cat?" Doug finally smiled.
"Yeah, I know," Gary shook his head and laughed. "Why a cat? Right?" Gary grew serious, "You know, you can't tell anyone about the paper, Doug. If others found out about it...well...I don't know what could happen." Gary was worried, what if Doug told someone-even accidentally?
Doug swallowed, and nodded. "Yeah, I can see your point. I mean, someone could get rich with this information." Doug's face paled, "It could be really dangerous, huh? Don't worry, I won't say a word."
Doug sat leafing through the paper for a few moments. Gary watched anxiously, but noted that Doug didn't even glance at the finance section, and only made a few disgusted comments on how the Cubs still hadn't won a game. He looked up at Gary and joked, "Well, I guess I don't have to worry about missing the game tonight."
"That's true, but then again, you don't need the paper to predict how the Cubs will do," Gary replied wryly.
Doug closed the paper, and rubbed his chin, giving Gary a speculative look. "So...how come you don't use the information to your advantage?"
Gary absently scratched his neck, trying to arrange his thoughts, "I just feel that someone or something is sending this paper to me for a purpose--a reason. A...a reason...more important...I guess...than just one man getting rich." Gary shook his head in frustration. He wasn't very comfortable expressing philosophical thoughts. "I don't know...I probably would just feel guilty if I didn't help people," he shrugged.
Doug nodded, his eyes downcast, lost in thought. "Yeah, I guess it could be a pretty heavy load to carry."
Gary nodded. "Luckily, I've got some good friends to-"
"Hey Gar!" Chuck strolled in, " How are ya doin'. You'll be happy to know that I got court supervision," he crowed.
"Speak of the devil," Gary smiled wryly at Doug and then turned to Chuck. "That's great, Chuck. I'm thrilled," Gary said, sarcastically.
"What's wrong?" Chuck innocently. He glanced at Doug. "Hi Doug."
Chuck turned back to Gary, "Oh, you're still mad about the branch thing, arent' you?"
"Yeah, Chuck, I was counting on you." Gary said, unable to completely mask his disappointment.
"Hey, wait a minute, Gar." Chuck put his hand up in a stop motion, "I do what I can, when I can, but I have my own life to live, ya know."
Gary sighed. He couldn't really blame him. The paper wasn't Chuck's responsibility, after all. It was his. "You're right, you do. Fortunately, Doug was able to help out today."
Chuck's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he shot a look at Doug, "You told him?"
"I had to. I couldn't let that kid die."
Doug cleared his throat. "Don't worry, Chuck. The secret is safe with me." Doug handed the paper back to Gary, and stood up. "I've got to get going, but if you need anything else, just let me know."
Gary nodded, "Sure,...and thanks, Doug."
Gary pulled on his pants. He took a deep breath, relishing the feel of the jeans. It was strange, he thought, how wearing a hospital gown seemed to make a person feel even sicker, and how just the act of getting dressed in your own clothes had such a curative power.
He gingerly raised his arms to pull on a sweatshirt, wishing that Chuck had brought him a button down shirt instead of a pullover. His ribs were still very sore, and a dark purple bruise spread from his lower right side to the middle of his back up to his shoulder blades.
He managed to get the left arm in the sleeve and was struggling to get his right arm in its sleeve, when he heard a low whistle behind him. He partially turned, seeing Chuck standing just inside the door.
"Man, that looks terrible." Chuck said, his brow furrowed.
"It's not as bad as it looks." Gary panted, out of breath from his fight with the sweatshirt. A battle he seemed to have lost, as he had his head and left arm in the blue fleece, but his right arm was now hanging at his side, bare.
"Um...you need some help with that, Gar?" Chuck offered, obviously stifling a grin.
Gary sighed, acutely embarrassed, but nodded reluctantly.
"Okay." Chuck approached and took a hold of the offending garment, bunching the front of the sweatshirt up in his hand from the waist to the neck. "Here, take it off, and let's start over."
Gary ducked his head, and Chuck pulled the sweatshirt off and shook it out. "Now, put it over your head first," he instructed, as he held the head opening wide, and put it over Gary's head.
"Jeez, didn't your mom teach you how to do this when you were a kid?" Chuck quipped, shaking his head in mock annoyance and ignoring the icy glare from Gary. "Then, put your right arm in." Chuck stretched the armhole down as far as possible, allowing Gary to poke his arm in with out raising it too much. Gary was nothing if not a quick learner, and was able to get his left arm in all by himself, grinning triumphantly at Chuck as he popped his hand through the cuff.
"No problem, my friend." Chuck answered as he grabbed the bag containing Gary's clothes that he had worn the day of the accident. "Are you ready to go?"
"Almost. I just have to get my shoes on." Gary replied, sitting on the side of the bed, grunting as he leaned over to tie his boots.
"You need help with that?"
"No!" Gary answered emphatically. He didn't care if it took him all day, he was not going to allow anyone to tie his shoes for him. That would be the ultimate in humiliation.
"Gary, it's no big deal. You sure you don't want help?" Chuck said, shaking his head at Gary's stubbornness.
"No, I can do it. My mom did teach me how to tie my shoes." Gary remarked pointedly.
Gary finished tying the boots and sat up straight, swiping his forearm across his brow; surprised at the light sweat he had worked up just getting dressed. "Okay, now I'm ready. I just have to stop by the nurses' desk and sign some papers."
"All right, let's get this show on the road." Chuck held the door open, allowing Gary to exit.
The doctor had already written the discharge order, so it only took a few minutes for Gary to sign the papers, and get final instructions. He was given a prescription for painkillers, which he promptly threw out in the garbage can next to the elevators.
Chuck raised his eyebrows, "Uh, you sure you want to do that?"
"Yeah, I hate taking that stuff. It makes my brain all fuzzy and then I fall asleep."
Chuck grinned, shaking his head, "That's the point. Besides, it's about the only benefit you get from all the battering you take."
Gary stepped into the elevator, rolling his eyes. "Benefit. Yeah. Right." He muttered.
Chuck shrugged, "That's the way I see it."
Gary leaned against he back wall, idly watching the numbers to the floors pass by. "Hey, Chuck, I want to stop by the ER and say good-bye to Doug and Carol. Okay?"
Chuck checked his watch, frowning. "Okay, but I only have a few more minutes left on the parking meter."
"Well, why don't you go to the car, and I'll meet you out in front of the ER entrance in about ten minutes." Gary suggested as the doors opened to the first floor and he and Chuck exited.
Gary stood hesitantly by the ER desk. The place looked like a zoo. ER personnel were dashing here and there, not even glancing at Gary. He didn't see Doug or Carol anywhere, though he was sure that Doug had told him that he was working today. Gary turned around, searching for either of them, not even certain whom to ask to inquire if they were here. He was about to give up, when he heard a voice behind him.
"Hey! You sure look a lot better than you did the last time I saw you."
Gary turned back to the desk, recognizing the heavy-set blond as the man who worked the desk on the other occasion Gary had been in the ER. He remembered Doug referring to him as Jerry.
"Uh, yeah, I probably do." Gary stammered. "Um, could you tell me if Doug Ross is around somewhere?"
Jerry nodded. "Sure, he's in room five, but I think he is kind of tied up right now. Paramedics brought in a kid in respiratory distress a few minutes ago. You could wait if you want." Jerry indicated to a chair behind the desk.
Gary glanced at his watch. "Ahh, I really can't. My friend is waiting in his car. Could you just tell him that..." Gary broke off when he heard Doug's deep voice nearby. He turned and saw him speaking to a woman. The woman was obviously distraught, but smiled through her tears and gave Doug a hug.
Gary walked a few steps closer, and heard her say, "Thank you so much, Doctor. It came on so suddenly. One minute he was fine, the next he was gasping for air."
Doug nodded. "Allergic reactions can happen like that sometimes."
The woman wiped her tears away, and smiled shakily. "Thanks again." She put her hand on Doug's shoulder, and turned away, heading back into room five.
As she pushed through the curtain, Gary was able to see a kid, about four years old, sitting on a gurney. The mother stopped at the side of the bed, and gently smoothed the child's hair back and planted a kiss on his forehead.
Gary watched as Doug put his head down, obviously lost in thought. A small smile played about his mouth. Gary stepped closer and held out his hand. "Hey Doug, I just wanted to thank you before I go."
Doug looked up, slightly startled. A grin spread across his face as he saw Gary. "Hey Gary! They're cutting you loose, huh?" He took Gary's hand in a firm grip. "I'm the one who should be thanking you. I mean, if it hadn't been for you saving my butt; I never would have been around to help you."
Gary's mouth dropped open. He had never thought of it that way before. He was always so busy looking towards what needed to be done next, that he really didn't have time to reflect upon the ramifications of what he did.
It never occurred to him that saving one life tomorrow might mean that several lives could be saved in the future. He thought of the scene that he had just witnessed between Doug and the young mother. Would that child have died if Doug hadn't been here to save him? What about all the future children Doug would save in his career? Gary shook his head at the complexity of it all.
"Are you okay, Gary?" Doug inquired, his head cocked in concern.
Gary blinked, "Uh, yeah, I'm fine." He glanced at his watch. Chuck was probably waiting out front by now. "Hey, I've gotta go, but you and Carol have an open invitation at McGinty's, all right?"
Doug walked with him to the main entrance. "Thanks, I'm sure we'll take you up on the offer soon."
They stopped just before the automatic doors, and shook hands again. "Bye Doug-oh, and tell Carol good-bye for me."
"Sure. Take care, Gary."
Gary smiled and stepped through the open doors.
Email the author: Maryilee