When Gary is injured trying to prevent a burglary at a clinic he and Chuck are reunited with a childhood friend when the doctor in charge turns out to be someone they haven’t seen in years.
Rated G or PG for mild violence but there’s no bad language.
Disclaimers: Gary, Chuck & Marissa do not belong to me. They belong to Sony/Tristar. I wish they did. I’d love to have friends like them. I’d love to have a little brother like Gary. I’d love to have Cat around too. Incidentally, The Way We Were was my class song in 1975 that’s why I chose it for the story.
Spoilers: Mum’s The Word, The Wall, Bat Masterson, Return of Crumb, The Choice and The Wedding. Hope I didn’t miss any.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water colored memories of the way we were
- Barbara Streisand from The Way We Were
Gary Hobson stopped to check his watch against his newspaper for the fifth time in ten minutes. He only had 15 minutes to get to the medical clinic on Halsted Street before two people; a doctor and a nurse would be injured when they surprised two men burglarizing the clinic while in search of drugs to sell. He figured he was about 10 minutes away on foot and it would be cutting it close to get there in time to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately there were no cabs in sight and the nearest El stop was two blocks back in the direction he had just come from and the closest stop after that was four blocks beyond his destination.
For several years now Gary had been receiving a mysterious newspaper that foretold events that would happen that day unless he did something about it. If he were successful the article would disappear and be replaced by a different one. Each morning, around 6:30, the paper would arrive at his doorstep accompanied by an orange tabby cat that would walk right in and make itself at home while Gary perused the paper to see what needed his attention that day. Gary often grumbled about how the paper ran him ragged but his two closest friends, Marissa Clark and Chuck Fishman, knew that he really didn’t mind that much. They figured he’d be helping people whether he got the paper or not. In fact, Chuck had been known to tell Gary he cared too much.
Now, on this cold fall afternoon, with the light fading, he was on his way to attempt to prevent one more tragedy from happening. Working his way through the pedestrian traffic he rushed as fast as possible toward the clinic hoping that he would be in time to get the doctor and nurse away from the clinic before anything happened to them. Calling the police was out of the question. Outside of soon to be retired Det. Marion “Zeke” Crumb; none of them would listen to him. Crumb had slowly come to accept that Gary just knew some things. He always claimed he didn’t want to hear it and he didn’t want to know how Gary knew things, but in the end he always listened and showed up when and where he was needed. Unfortunately, Gary hadn’t had time to call. There were no pay phones in sight and he didn’t carry a cell phone.
Checking his watch again, Gary found that he had less than 5 minutes to get to the clinic and he still had a couple of blocks or so to go. Speeding up as much as the heavy foot traffic and his somewhat breathless state would allow him, Gary got to the clinic to find that two men were already in the process of ransacking the place. Broken glass lay on the floor by the medicine cabinets and the window in the front door was broken. Paper was strewn everywhere.
“Hey,” Gary yelled, panting as he ran through the open door, “Why don’t you guys leave before the cops get here?” Bluffing, he added, “They’ll be here any second.”
Too late Gary realized his mistake. Both men stopped ransacking the clinic and whirled around at the sound of his voice. Without saying a word, they sent a silent signal to each other and advanced on a nervous Gary.
“N-n-now look fellas. I-I-I don’t want any trouble.” Gary’s stutter was in full force. He always stuttered when he was nervous or unsure of himself and this was definitely one of those times. Looking at the two men he belatedly realized that at least one of them was considerably bigger than him and they both looked angry at having been found out.
A furious struggle ensued in the semi darkness of the room. One of the attackers was a good two to three inches taller than Gary himself, who was six feet one and probably thirty pounds heavier. Gary did his best to avoid the men by dodging them and throwing things in their path. This tactic worked for about two minutes. He managed to briefly knock one of them down but the man’s partner kept coming at him. Gary’s heart nearly stopped when he saw that the man he was still fighting had drawn a knife. It’s wicked looking blade flashing in the dim light came with an inch of his face several times. Just then the lights suddenly came on and two other people, a man and a woman stood in the doorway. The man Gary had knocked down got to his feet and charged the people at the door and was promptly met with a one-two combination administered by the man that knocked him cold.
Before Gary could react to their presence he felt a severe pain in his right arm. Startled he looked down and saw that his attacker had taken advantage of Gary’s momentary attention lapse and slashed through the leather of his bomber jacket. His forearm was bleeding profusely but Gary was too busy avoiding the knife again to do anything about it. As he stumbled backward to avoid another slash of the knife Gary stepped on something that rolled under his foot throwing him off balance. Gary’s head hit the wall behind him with a sickening thud that left him stunned and helpless.
Fortunately for him the woman in the doorway overcame her astonishment at that moment grabbed a vase from one of the desks and smashed it over the head of Gary’s assailant before he could follow up on his attack again. He crumpled to the floor in a senseless heap. While the room spun around him from the loss of blood and the blow to his head, Gary could hear the voices of the two people who had entered the clinic just in time to keep him from getting killed.
“Sam,” she was saying, “Get some towels to stop this bleeding quick!”
“Sure thing,” he replied as he ran to another room in the clinic.
Kneeling down beside Gary, who had slid to sitting position against the wall, she unzipped his jacket and pulled it off him all together. His newspaper fell to the floor next to him. Without even looking at it the woman threw the paper aside along with Gary’s ruined jacket. Thinking quickly she tore the right sleeve of his dark green plaid shirt away from the wound. She wasn’t about to waste any time looking for scissors to cut it; Gary was bleeding heavily from the wound. He was already slipping into shock and she knew she had to act fast in order to keep him from losing much more blood. The wound was deep and nasty looking. She’d yet to see a knife wound that wasn’t.
“Here you go, Doc.” Her companion handed her several clean white towels he had gotten from a supply closet.
“Thanks.” Taking the towels she applied pressure with one of them to the wound on Gary’s arm. His brownish-green eyes were glassy as he watched her. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. His mind was too fuzzy from the bump on his head and he couldn’t seem to get his voice to work.
“Sam, call the police and have them pick these two up,” the doctor said.
“Right.” Sam went to the phone on the nearest desk. There was no sign of movement from either assailant. After placing the call he took some adhesive tape and bound the wrists of the two would be thieves.
Turning her attention back to Gary she was pleased to see that the bleeding from his arm was beginning to slow. The pressure she had applied was working.
“I don’t know who you are mister. Or how you knew that these guys were here,” the doctor said smiling at Gary. “But I want to thank you for what you did. If those guys had gotten into the medicine cabinet they could have made a fortune selling our drug supply on the street.”
“Welcome,” Gary said faintly. His head was spinning and he felt like the room was going in circles.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
In a voice that was barely audible Gary answered “G-Gary.” Then his eyes closed as he blacked out and slumped sideways to the floor.
Business was booming at McGinty’s and Chuck Fishman couldn’t have been happier. Every table was filled with paying customers. Of course, the customers at the bar weren’t happy, but he was oblivious to their discontent as always. Their regular bartender, a young woman named Robin, was running late, and Chuck was tending bar until she arrived. Gary would say that Chuck’s drink mixing was creative to say the least. And that was when he was in a generous mood. Their partner, Marissa Clark, wasn’t inclined to be as generous. But, being a lady, she didn’t say what she could have. The customers said it for her when they complained. Their complaints, however, fell on deaf ears where Chuck was concerned. Over the noise in the crowded restaurant a ringing telephone could be heard. Chuck reached over to answer it.
“I’m looking for Chuck Fishman,” the man’s voice on the other end said.
“Speaking. What can I do for you?” Chuck asked.
“This is Sam Delaney. I’m a nurse at the Halsted Street clinic.”
“What can I do for you Mr. Delaney?” Chuck asked.
“I’m calling with regard to Gary Hobson.”
“Gary? What about Gary? What’s wrong?” Chuck was getting more nervous with every passing second. Why would a guy claiming to be a male nurse from a free clinic on the other side of town be calling about Gary? Sudden realization made Chuck’s blue eyes widen. It must have something to do with the paper.
“There was a break-in at the clinic. Mr. Hobson was injured trying to stop the thieves,” Sam explained. “It’s not too serious but Dr. Fairfax thought we should notify someone. We found a business card for the restaurant in his wallet.”
“Is he all right?” Chuck asked anxiously.
“Dr. Fairfax is with him now. He has a knife wound on his right arm that required some stitches,” Sam explained, “and he took a pretty hard knock on the head. There’s no skull fracture but he may have a concussion. We won’t know for sure until he regains consciousness.”
Now Chuck was really worried. “What can I do?”
“The doctor thinks someone should take him home. She doesn’t want him to try and make it on his own. If he does have a concussion he’ll have dizzy spells for a while. And he lost a fair amount of blood from the wound in his arm. He’s likely to feel a little weak and unsteady for a day or two.”
Looking around anxiously Chuck saw Robin come in the front door. He waved her over.
“I’ll be there in 30 minutes. Thanks for calling.”
Chuck hung up the phone and explained to Robin what was happening. Then he went to the office in the back. He knew Marissa would never forgive him if he tried to keep this from her. Between them they’d nursed Gary though his divorce (his wife had locked him out of their house on their anniversary knocking the poor guy for a loop), the loss of his room at the Blackstone Hotel to a fire and assorted other crises and brushes with the law. Most of the crises had been related to Gary’s attempts to change the headlines in that paper of his.
Entering the office he found Marissa, an attractive African-American woman in her early 30s seated at her desk. It wasn’t noticeable to most people at first glance but Marissa was totally blind. She’d lost her eyesight at a very young age but she didn’t let it slow her down. She was a full partner in McGinty’s, studied psychology and in general got around the city without a lot of trouble. Marissa was studying some figures written in Braille as he entered the room. Her guide dog, a German Shepherd named Spike, lay dozing in a corner. Hearing Chuck’s footsteps she looked up expectantly as did Spike.
“Marissa,” Chuck began, “That phone call was from the Halsted Street free clinic.”
“Why would they be calling us?” Marissa asked. Then it dawned on her. “It’s Gary isn’t it?”
“Yeah. A nurse by the name of Sam Delaney says he was hurt in a fight,” he answered. “He says it’s not serious but Gary’s going to need a ride home.”
“What are we waiting for?” Marissa asked, rising to her feet. Spike was at her side in a moment. “Let’s go get him.”
Gary was aware of a throbbing sensation in his head and his right arm. Dimly he was aware of voices, one of them female, and of something cold on his head. That something he would discover shortly was an ice pack.
“Doc, he’s coming around.”
Gary’s eyelids fluttered open. For a few seconds everything around him swam in and out of focus. A tall, black haired, blue-eyed woman in her mid to late thirties laid a gentle hand on his forehead brushing his brown hair back from his face.
“Gary,” she said with a slight accent that he couldn’t place at the moment. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” he answered faintly. An attempt to sit up sent the ice pack to the floor and caused sledgehammers to pound in his skull. He lay back with a groan.
“Take it easy there buddy,” a male voice said. Sam Delaney, all six feet, 180 pounds of him stood on the other side of the bed. He and his employer helped Gary sit up slowly.
“Who-Where am I? Wha-What happened?” Gary asked in confusion. His brain was not, at the moment, able to comprehend what had happened or where he was.
Dr. Schuyler Fairfax smiled. “You tried to stop some guys from stealing from the clinic. One of them slashed your right arm with a knife.” She indicated the bandage on his arm that he hadn’t noticed yet. Now that she had pointed it out Gary realized that his arm was throbbing in unison with his head.
“You hit your head on the wall behind you when you tried to evade his knife. Don’t you remember?”
Still somewhat dazed Gary tried to remember. Bits and pieces of the last few hours flashed through his head. A little girl’s cat on the roof of her house (and the child herself who would have fallen), a small boy lost when he got separated from his classmates on a field trip and then he started to remember a little of the fight he’d just been in.
“Kinda. It-It’s just that everything’s kind of fuzzy right now,” Gary answered after a minute, all the while wishing that he didn’t always stutter and stammer when he was confused or nervous.
Schuyler Fairfax looked at Gary thoughtfully. Taking a small penlight out of the pocket of her lab coat she flashed it in Gary’s eyes causing him to wince.
“Sorry, Gary,” she said. Holding a finger up in front of his face she told him to follow it with his eyes. She frowned, as Gary appeared to be having problems focusing.
“Can I go now?” Gary asked. He hated to hang around any place that even remotely resembled a hospital.
“Not yet. I’m not through with you.” Taking the blood pressure cuff that Sam held out to her she wrapped it around Gary’s left arm. Pumping it up she let the pressure off slowly. “Ninety over sixty. Not bad, but not great either.”
Gary sighed. All he wanted was to get out of there and go home to his loft. Once there he wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed and sleep for a week.
Sam Delaney finished making some notes on a chart and handed it to Dr. Fairfax. She made a few notes of her own.
“Well, Gary, it looks like you’ve got a mild concussion. And we had to put 22 stitches in your arm.” Dr. Fairfax handed the chart back to Sam. “You’re going to need a lot of rest over the next few days.”
Just as Gary started to protest “You don’t understand! I-I don’t have time to rest. I have things to do!” voices were heard in the outer room. Sam went out to see who had entered the clinic.
“Gary!” An attractive African-American woman with a seeing-eye-dog at her side came into the room followed by a brown haired, blue eyed man standing about 5 foot 8. Sam was right behind them.
“Hey, Gar. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” Gary said. “I have a headache is all.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Schuyler Fairfax said. “He’s not as ‘fine’ as he says he is.” Holding her hand out to Chuck she introduced herself. She also reached out to shake Marissa’s hand being sure to take the woman’s hand herself rather than embarrass or ignore her. “I’m Dr. Fairfax. Your friend has sustained a mild concussion from the blow to his head. He also has a gash in his arm that required twenty-two stitches to close.”
“That’s awful,” the woman said. “Is he going to be okay?”
“In a couple of days he should be fine as far as the head injury goes. As for the arm,” Dr. Fairfax said, “I’m going to need to check on it every couple of days. Now either he can come back here or I can stop by to see him at home.”
“There’s no need for that,” Gary though his head was pounding. “I’m fine!”
“Gary,” Marissa said gently, “Don’t argue with the doctor. If she says she needs to see you then you’ll just have to find the time to see her.”
“Yeah, Gar,” Chuck added. “Listen to what the doctor says.”
“Okay,” Gary sighed. “Can I go home now?” he asked the doctor.
“In a minute.” The doctor turned to Gary’s friends. “When you get him home he’s to go straight to bed. He can have some supper, but nothing heavy. Some soup, tomato or chicken noodle, will be fine. Just so long as it’s light. He’ll very likely have some nausea for a few hours. If it lasts too long call me. He can sleep but you need to make sure he doesn’t have any trouble waking up. It would be a good idea for someone to stay with him tonight. Try to wake him every couple of hours or so. If you find he’s having difficulty waking or his speech gets slurred you get him to an Emergency Room immediately and tell the doctor there what happened.”
Picking up the clipboard she signed Gary’s discharge paper. “Here’s the paperwork for this visit. Our phone number here at the clinic is printed on the top.” She took a ball point pen and wrote something at the top. “This number is my home phone. Call me if you have any questions. I’ll stop by after the clinic closes tomorrow to check up on him.”
Gary, assisted by Sam, got to his feet. Chuck reached out to take his friend’s arm and help him toward the exit. Gary swayed slightly, still feeling dizzy. Marissa and Spike turned to follow them.
“Just a minute,” Dr. Fairfax called. Reaching the front lobby she went to a coat tree behind her desk and took down a corduroy jacket that looked much too large for her “Gary’s jacket was ruined in the fight. I don’t want him going out in the cold without at least a sweater on. Put this on Gary. Your teeth are starting to chatter. I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
Schuyler watched the trio and the dog leave. Then she turned to Sam. “Let’s finish cleaning this mess up and go home. I’m tired.” Pausing for a second, she thought about the day’s events and the young man she had just sent on his way. He and his friend both looked familiar and his name, Gary Hobson, was very familiar. She’d known some Hobsons when she was growing up. They were friends of her oldest brother and his girlfriend, now wife. And they had a son named Gary whom she hadn’t seen in many years. No way, she thought to herself. That Gary’s just a kid
“Sam,” she said looking over at her friend, “I can’t get Gary’s name out of my head. I think I may know him, or rather, knew him a long time ago. Did you find out where he’s from?”
“As far as I know Doc,” Sam replied, “He lives right here in the city. Apparently he’s the owner of McGinty’s restaurant and has an apartment upstairs over it.”
Dismissing the idea from her head for the time being, the doctor and her nurse got to work at finishing the clean up job they’d started before the police came. One of them had stayed with Gary at all times while the other cleaned and gave the officers their statements. Detective Crumb had been very interested when they told him that a young man with brown hair and a leather jacket had stopped the burglary getting hurt in the process. Dr. Fairfax, however, was not about to let the crusty old cop near her patient until she was sure he was up to handling such questions and that wouldn’t be for at least a day or two.
The ride back to McGinty’s was a quiet one. During the twenty minutes it took to get back Gary dozed while the others talked in hushed voices. Chuck parked his red Lexxus in its usual place in the alley behind the restaurant and then helped his friends out of the car. With Marissa and Spike leading the way they entered the restaurant through the back door and got Gary upstairs to his loft. Chuck helped Gary out of the ruined shirt and jeans and into the sweats he normally wore to bed in the cold weather. Marissa got him a glass of water and handed him the ibuprofen tablets the doctor had sent home with him. Gary took them without protest. He really wasn’t feeling well at all. Within seconds of his head hitting the pillow Gary was sound asleep.
The night passed pretty much without incident. Gary slept except when Chuck or Marissa shook him awake and asked him questions to be sure that he wasn’t suffering from any of the side effects the doctor had warned them about. He also roused once feeling very nauseous. Once he truly got sick to his stomach he began to feel better as far as that was concerned. His head was another matter. As was his arm. They were still very sore. But for the rest of the night the only disturbance in the darkness of the loft was Gary’s voice as he moaned softly or mumbled in his sleep, apparently dreaming about the fight.
“Good morning, Chicago,” A male DJ’s voice came from the clock radio on the bedside table. “It’s six-thirty and it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day. Traffic on - ”
Gary groaned as he rolled over to turn the radio off. His head and arm still throbbed and he was still feeling lightheaded - not that he’d admit it to anyone. He blinked in confusion as he saw his two closest friends asleep in the room with him. He thought they’d left last night after he’d finally gotten over being sick to his stomach. He’d told them to leave, trying to convince them that he’d be fine.
Marissa was curled up on the couch. Chuck was in Gary’s armchair, his head leaning to one side. Spike was asleep on his side in the space between the couch and the chair. His harness had been removed so he could be comfortable.
Meow. The cat was getting impatient now. Gary was moving far too slowly as far as it was concerned. It was hungry.
Gary threw back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He staggered a bit as he made his way to the door. When the door opened Cat trotted in and made himself at home same as every morning.
Leaning over to get the paper was a big mistake. His head started spinning - the room tilting from side to side. Gary lost his balance and grabbed for the doorframe to keep from falling to the floor.
The sound of his voice as he grunted roused his friends from their slumber.
“Gary?” Marissa’s voice sounded concerned.
“Hey Gar,” Chuck said as he rushed to his friend’s side. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” Gary answered. “I just lost my balance for a second.
Marissa’s gentle voice chided him. “Gary, the doctor told you last night that you might have dizzy spells for a while. What are you doing out of bed?”
“I heard the paper and the Cat. I just wanted to bring the paper in,” Gary said, feeling like a naughty child. “Cat was getting impatient.”
“Back to bed, buddy,” Chuck said gently steering Gary back in that direction. “Doctor said for you to take it easy for a few days. I don’t think that lady’s gonna be real happy if you make yourself worse by taking a fall.”
Marissa walked over to the doorway and felt for the paper. Bringing it in she closed the door and found her way over to Gary’s bedside. Chuck had gotten Gary back into bed where he sat up with the pillows placed behind his back for comfort. The blankets, including the comforter with the Native American design were pulled up over his lap. Handing the paper to Gary she walked over to the kitchen area of his loft and prepared to fix Gary a light breakfast. She decided that until the doctor said otherwise she would take it upon herself to see that Gary ate lightly. She’d visited Gary in the loft enough to be fairly familiar with where he kept things. She also took care of Cat’s daily bowl of milk. Spike would have to wait until she went home or somebody brought him something from downstairs.
As Marissa worked in his kitchen fixing eggs & toast for the three of them, Gary started scanning the paper to see what lay ahead. Fortunately it seemed that nothing major would require his attention. It was just as well. Despite his brave talk to his friends he really wasn’t feeling all that great. Looking at the paper again he found articles regarding a lost puppy in a drainage ditch on the outskirts of the city. It’s owner, a six-year-old boy would fall into the ditch with the puppy and not be found for several hours. It was too cold for a small child to be lost for very long. Ok, Gary thought, Chuck could handle that one without any problems. All he had to do was find the boy and puppy and take them home. No big deal. The thing was that Chuck would probably want some big favor in return for doing this. Like a stock tip or a race result or something. It was an ongoing battle between them since Gary had started receiving the paper.
The only other article he could see was very important involved stolen footballs. A bunch of teenagers would attempt to make off with a box from a shipment at a sporting goods store downtown. All Chuck would have to do was tip off the store manager that they were hanging around and that would solve that problem. The manager would keep a close watch on the shipment as it was being unloaded in back of the store.
Gary sighed in relief. He disliked having to rely on other people to take care of the “errands” associated with the paper but he could see that there was no way Marissa and Chuck were going to let him out of his room. The fact that they had apparently spent the night in his apartment with him was silent testimony to that. He was just thankful that they hadn’t really bawled him out. Marissa was always on him about the unnecessary chances she thought he took at times. If she had any idea that he’d walked in on the burglary yesterday, she’d really tear into him. He put the paper down and leaned back with his eyes closed. There was plenty of time to talk Chuck into handling these incidents after he’d eaten and rested a little more. He wasn’t up for a big argument with Chuck just yet.
Out in the town of Oakdale Schuyler Fairfax was sitting down to breakfast herself in the kitchen of the rambling Victorian house she and two of her brothers shared. Belgian waffles with butter and maple syrup, a couple of fried eggs and a large glass of milk would get her through the morning. Neither she nor her brothers had gotten to the grocery store for a couple of days so the cupboards were somewhat bare, as was the refrigerator. If things went well at the clinic today she or Sam could slip out and get something for lunch from a nearby restaurant. If not, she’d just make up for it at dinner. If her mother, back home in Hickory, Indiana, knew about that she’d be upset. Schuyler, known as “Sky” to her family, was the baby of the family and her mom was still very protective of her.
The day passed quickly for her. Many patients came into the clinic to be seen for cuts, coughs, sprains and a myriad of other complaints. The people in this section of the city were among the not so very affluent. In fact, they were middle and lower income families trying to eke out a meager existence. Sky and Sam were happy to be able to help them out by running this clinic.
Gary’s day did not pass as quickly. Pretty much confined to his bed by the doctor’s orders and the watchfulness of Chuck & Marissa, he spent the day dozing and fretting. Marissa came up at noon with some more soup, which he ate, grumbling all the while about how he hated being treated like an invalid.
Marissa just smiled her sweetest smile and let him ramble on. She knew it was boredom and the fact that he hated feeling helpless. Before she left with the tray full of dishes she convinced him to lie down. Leaning over from where she sat beside him she gave him a tender kiss on the forehead as he drifted off to sleep again. She thought he sounded better than when she and Chuck had brought him home last night but she would be glad when Dr. Fairfax arrived to have a look at him.
Chuck hadn’t said much but Marissa knew that deep down inside he was worried too. Chuck had been quiet all day, a sure sign that his mind was upstairs in Gary’s loft rather than on his work.
Around 6 o’clock that night the clinic closed its doors for the night. Sam Delaney ran his hands through his blond hair and sighed.
“Long day, huh Doc?”
“Yes, Sam,” Dr. Fairfax answered with a sigh of her own. “A very long day. And it’s not over yet. I still have one more patient to see.”
“The Hobson kid?” he asked. “Still think you know him from somewhere?”
“Yes to both,” she replied.
“You look beat, doc. Why don’t you run along? I’ll finish up here.”
“I can’t let you do that Sam.” She tried to refuse. “The clinic is more my responsibility more than yours.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it Doc. You just run along. And don’t forget to eat something decent for dinner.”
“You’re such a worrywart Sam” she teased him. “Some girl’s gonna steal you away from me if I’m not careful!”
Sam Delaney just grinned. He and Schuyler Fairfax had been friends for a good 10 years now. This kind of teasing often occurred between the two of them. Some folks misinterpreted their relationship as being more than it was. The truth was they were just very good friends who worked well together because of their concern for the less fortunate.
Schuyler rose from her desk where she had finished the paperwork on her last patient, a 3-year-old girl with an ear infection. She handed the file to Sam and reached for her red & black plaid jacket. You could take the girl out of the country but you couldn’t take the country out of the girl her brother Jamie always said. Big city doctor or no, she still loved that style of jacket. She retrieved her purse out of the bottom drawer of her desk and took the keys to her Dodge truck out of her jacket pocket.
“See you in the morning Sam” she said as she left.
Traffic going across town was still fairly heavy so it took her close to 45 minutes to get to her next destination. Finding a parking space near McGinty’s she pulled in and gathered her purse and medical bag before exiting the truck.
She walked over to the front door and entered the small foyer. Entering the main part of the restaurant she looked around for Chuck Fishman or Marissa Clark. Not seeing either of them she went over to the bar to inquire of their whereabouts. The bartender, a young woman, took her to the back rooms which served as office and storage space. There she found Marissa seated at a desk going over some invoices.
“Marissa, there’s a lady here to see Gary,” the young woman said.
“Miss Clark, it’s Dr. Fairfax.”
“Thank you, Robin. You can go back to work now.”
“So how’s my patient today?” Schuyler asked as Marissa led the way up to Gary’s apartment more commonly known as his loft.
“He was kind of restless during the night and he did get sick once. After that he seemed to settle down,” Marissa spared no detail knowing that it was important for the doctor to know everything and that Gary would gloss over everything. “He had some dizziness this morning so Chuck and I made him go back to bed. We checked up on him off and on during the day. When I left him after lunch he was sleeping again.
By now they had reached Gary’s door. Marissa knocked and opened the door.
“Gary? Dr. Fairfax is here to see you.”
The doctor turned to Marissa. “Thank you, Miss Clark. I’ll see you before I leave.”
Marissa turned and left the room, closing the door behind her as the doctor set her bag down for the moment on the couch while she took her jacket off. This she draped over the chair.
“Well, Gary, let’s see how you’re coming along.”
She picked up her bag and walked over to the bed where Garry was sitting up, pillows propped behind his back. He was still pale but his eyes had lost the dazed and confused look of the night before. Sky seated herself in a chair next to the bed and took her stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff out of her bag. She checked Gary’s pulse and blood pressure and, after putting these away took her penlight out again. After checking his eyes with her light she put him through the routine of making him follow her finger without moving his head, only his eyes.
“Well,” she said finally. “Your eyes are definitely better than last night. You didn’t have as much trouble following my finger tonight as you did last night.” Sky smiled at an anxious Gary. “You’ll be up and around in no time.”
“When can I get out of bed?” Gary asked.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Sky answered.
“Tomorrow?” Gary asked. “Why not now?”
“Because I said so,” Sky told him. “You still have a slight concussion and that’s not something to mess around with. If you don’t have any more dizzy spells…”
“Who says I’m having dizzy spells?” Gary was getting very tired of sitting or lying in bed all day.
“I do. And so does your friend Miss Clark,” was Sky’s answer. “I know you want to get out of bed but that was a nasty blow to the head you took last night. And you lost a considerable amount of blood from that arm wound. I’m not going to take any chances with you or any other patient. Another day or day and a half and then if I’m convinced that the concussion and the headache are gone you can get up. In the meantime, relax and take it easy. Think of this as a mini-vacation.”
“Yeah, some vacation,” Gary muttered. “Nothing to do but let Marissa and Chuck bully me all day. ‘Gary eat this soup it’ll help you feel better.’ ‘Gary why don’t you lie back and take a little nap.’ ‘Here Gar, drink this juice’.”
Sky just smiled. She heard a lot of those same complaints from her brothers when they were sick. As far as she was concerned all men were just little kids when they were sick or hurt. The difference was that they complained about all the attention they got while the kids reveled in it.
While Gary complained she pushed back his right sleeve and unwrapped his arm to check on the stitches she had put in it last night. It still looked nasty but there was no fresh blood on the bandages. Relieved she rewrapped the wound and fastened the bandage with a couple of small strips of adhesive tape.
“Looks pretty good Gary,” she said as she finished up. “Now remember, rest and drink plenty of fluids for the next couple of days. I’ll be back tomorrow night to have another look at you.”
“Okay,” Gary said reluctantly. “Sorry I was such a grouch.”
“Grouch? You?” Sky kidded him. “My Dad is ten times worse than you just were.” Gary had the grace to blush at that one. Compliments, and thank-yous, were such rare things in his life that he’d gotten so he didn’t know how to react when he was given one.
Sky closed her bag and got up from the chair preparing to leave her patient and get some supper. Unconsciously she rubbed her eyes and then yawned. It had been a long day and she was looking forward to getting a meal and going to bed. The clinic opened its doors at 7 every morning and didn’t close until at least 6 most nights. Sometimes the eleven-hour days got to her. Right now she was running on nervous energy. The excitement of last night had kept her awake until the wee hours of the morning. Because the police had been at the clinic her brothers had heard about what had happened and were beside themselves with worry until they saw for themselves that she was okay. Walking over to Gary’s armchair she reached for her jacket. In the process she accidentally knocked one of the pictures on the table next to it to the floor.
“Whoops. Sorry about that.” Sky bent down to pick the picture up. She placed it on the table where it had fallen from and then did a double take. The picture was one of Gary and his parents. She looked at Gary and then back at the picture. All of a sudden she realized why he and his name were so familiar.
“Bernie and Lois!” she exclaimed. “You’re Bernie & Lois’s Gary!”
Gary looked at her in confusion. “You-You know my parents?”
“Know them? They were best friends with my cousin David! Your mom & dad, David, my brothers Jamie & Alan and our cousins Mike & Kim & Helen Mary were always together!”
Gary was still puzzled. How in the world could a doctor from Chicago know his parents that well? They’d never lived anywhere but Hickory. It was a mystery to him how they could know each other.
“Look, do you remember being lost in the mountains of Kentucky when you were 4 years old? You were on vacation with your parents and you wandered off. Remember the big girl who found you and brought you back to them? The same big girl who broke her ankle when she fell bringing you down out of a tree in your backyard when you were six and too scared to climb down yourself?” Sky reached up to her neck and pulled out a pendant that was hidden beneath her shirt. She had hidden the silver chain with a heart shaped charm when a small patient showed too much interest in it earlier that day. “Recognize this?” she asked. “You and your parents gave it to me when I graduated from High School. See the engraving?”
Gary took the necklace she held out to him. It was engraved “To Schuyler with love from Bernie, Lois & Gary.”
The sight of the necklace was beginning to stir up memories in Gary’s head. Sky watched him as he struggled to remember her.
“Gary, do you remember how you were almost bitten by a snake when you were lost in the mountains? Remember what happened when I found you?”
All of a sudden Gary shuddered as he flashed back to when he was four years old. He and his parents had gone on vacation to Kentucky. He’d gotten separated from them on a hiking trip and found himself lost in the mountains. While wandering around lost he’d stumbled into the path of a timber rattlesnake. Before the snake could bite him however, a girl somewhat older than him had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and quickly pulled him out of danger. Then she had calmly placed her booted foot on the snake’s body and cut its head off with the razor sharp knife she carried on her belt. Gary, a very frightened little boy, had clung to her neck crying until she was able to soothe him and find out where his parents were.
“S-Sk-Sky?” Gary stuttered, still a little unsure. “Sky Fairfax?”
“Yes, Gary,” she smiled. “Sky.”
Full recognition lit his face and he smiled broadly. Sky reached over and the two friends embraced for the first time in fourteen years. They had not seen each other since Gary himself had graduated from High School. Sky had gone to medical school out of state and then done some extensive traveling. She had recently returned from a five-year stay in Scotland and Kentucky where she’d ministered to the less fortunate residents of the Scottish Highlands and Kentucky mountains.
“It’s been driving me crazy since last night, trying to remember why your name was so familiar,” Sky told Gary. “I should have recognized those muddy green eyes of yours if nothing else. You’ve changed a lot in fourteen years kiddo.” Gary blushed as she added “And you’re better looking than ever!” Sky laughed with delight. Gary had always been such an easy target of her teasing.
The two friends sat in Gary’s room reminiscing for 30 minutes before there was a knock at the door. Sky got up and crossed the room. Upon reaching the door she found that Marissa was standing there with an older, somewhat heavyset man.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, doctor, but Detective Crumb would like to speak with Gary if it’s all right with you.”
Sky opened the door wider to allow Marissa and the detective to enter the room.
“It’s ok. I’m through with my exam and Gary has something to tell you when Detective Crumb is through.”
Turning to the old cop she told him “My patient is still weak and still suffering some from dizziness. I’ll give you ten minutes with him and then you’ll have to leave.”
“Thanks, doc.” Crumb walked over to the chair by Gary’s bed and sat down. “So, Hobson. Care to tell me what happened last night? Have another one of you hunches?”
Gary looked at Crumb and tried to formulate a response that wouldn’t bring the older man’s wrath down on his head.
“I just happened to be in the neighborhood and I-I heard some guys talking about…” Here Gary hesitated briefly. He still had a headache and dealing with Crumb wasn’t going to help it any. “They were talking about the clinic and how they knew there were drugs in there and other stuff. Stuff they could sell for a lot of money.”
“And you thought maybe you could stop them. Be the hero.”
“Well, no, not exactly,” Gary said slowly. “I was gonna call you, honest I was. But I…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You couldn’t find a phone.”
“Something like that.” Gary was squirming under the older man’s scrutiny. Crumb always had this effect on him.
Their conversation went that way for another five minutes before Sky finally put her foot down.
“Time’s up Detective,” she told him. “My patient needs his rest. You can talk to him again tomorrow.”
“All right.” Turning back to Gary as he got ready to leave he said, “Just make sure you’re around when I want you.” With that he left Gary’s apartment leaving him alone with his friends.
“Is he always like that?” Sky asked.
“More or less,” Marissa answered.
“In that case I’m glad I made him wait to talk to you Gary. You couldn’t have taken it last night.”
Sky turned back to her friend and patient. In her eyes he was looking pale and tired. The sooner he told Marissa their news and went to sleep the better she’d like it. She intended to watch him carefully for the next few days. He’d hit his head pretty hard the night before. She was mentally kicking herself that she hadn’t sent him to the hospital for a transfusion but the knife wound had responded well to her treatment at the clinic. As long as he took it easy for a few days and drank plenty of fluids to replace the blood he’d lost he’d be ok.
Marissa waited patiently as Gary settled himself back again after Crumb’s departure. Much as they both like the old cop the strain of telling him only part of the truth always took it’s toll. On Gary especially. He was essentially an honest person and anybody who paid enough attention could tell when he was withholding information.
“Marissa, I’ve got some news for you!” Gary was excited to be able to share this bit of information. “Dr. Fairfax and I are old friends. She saved my life when I was four and we’ve been friends ever since.
Gary went on to tell Marissa the whole story of how he and Sky had met when he was four. How her family moved to Hickory that same summer. They told her a few other tales of their friendship. How they lost track of each other after his High School graduation.
“That’s wonderful Gary!” Marissa exclaimed. “To think you’d find each other after all this time. And so far from home.” She turned toward Sky. “How nice for both of you.”
At this point in their conversation Sky glanced at Gary’s clock. It was now going on 9:00 o’clock. She was tired and hungry but thrilled at finding Gary again.
“It’s getting late. I’ve got to get home before Jamie and Alan put out an APB on me with the police.” She looked down on a now drowsy Gary.
“All right, Marissa it is. And I’m Sky. Let’s get out of here and let Gary get some sleep.”
Marissa rose from the chair where she’d seated herself after Crumb’s departure. Sky saw to it that Gary lay back down and pulled the covers back up around him at the waist. His apartment was warm enough for the moment that he didn’t need them around his shoulders. She could tell that he was tired even though he wouldn’t admit it. His brownish green eyes were dull and heavy and he was having trouble keeping them open.
She smiled as she leaned over to kiss him on the forehead. “Get some sleep Gary. I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll see about you getting up for a while.”
“Good night Gary. I’ll be downstairs for a while longer if you need me.” Marissa also leaned over to kiss him.
Both women left the apartment together as Gary drifted off, turning the lights off as they left and closing the door silently.
Downstairs the two women found Chuck just returning from some errands.
“Hey, Marissa, Doc. How’s Gary?”
“He’s fine Chuck. He’ll be back on his feet in a couple of days.” Marissa answered him.
“Think I could go up and see him for a minute?” Chuck asked.
“He’s asleep,” Sky told him. “And he’s going to stay that way.”
The accent everyone had noticed was a combination of a Scottish burr and an Appalachian mountaineers. It was quite strong as she told Chuck “And if you wake him up Charles Fishman I’m going to pack you up, ship you off to Scotland and have my Uncle Angus feed you to Nessie! You understand me?”
Marissa would have lost her composure completely if she could have
seen Chuck’s face when Sky was through with him. As it was she was struggling
not to laugh outright at the expression she imagined he had on his face.
His blue eyes were round as saucers and his face went white. Sky’s
own blue eyes were dark as a midnight sky and flashed fire at him.
As Chuck stared at her he suddenly remembered another time when those eyes had flashed their fire at him. He had been 16 and begged to borrow Sky Fairfax’s new car. She’d Okayed it as long as he was careful. Chuck being Chuck though had gone racing at excessive speeds and lost control of it hitting a fire hydrant and causing considerable damage to the car as well as to the nerves of the innocent bystanders he had barely missed.
“Sky Fairfax!” he exclaimed. “You’re Sky Fairfax!”
“Nice to know that threat still scares you. You’re slower to remember me than Gary was,” Sky laughed. “I had to remind him about the snake I killed when we first met before he remembered. Why is it you had to be reminded about the time you wrecked my car?”
“Chuck, you wrecked her car?” Marissa asked.
“It was an accident,” Chuck said defensively. “I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“No, he didn’t do it on purpose,” Sky told Marissa, “But he sure as heck didn’t pay much attention to me when I told him to go slow and easy because it had a habit of picking up speed quickly whether you wanted it to or not. But Chuck here thought he knew everything.”
“That hasn’t changed much,” Marissa had to put her two cents worth in. “He still thinks he knows everything.”
Sky laughed at that. “Sounds like he’s the same old Chuck. Listen, you two I’ve really got to be on my way. What I said about my brothers wasn’t far from the truth. They will be worried after last night and I’ve got to drive to Oakdale. We live in a big old Victorian house out there. They’ll be waiting up for me, worrying. The clinic closed at six. They didn’t know I would be so long here.” At that she said good night to the two friends and went out the door to her truck.
After closing time for McGinty’s Marissa and Chuck both quietly went upstairs to check on Gary one last time. Sky hadn’t said anything about his needing to be watched but they were concerned after last night. Gary put a lot of time into helping the people of Chicago and vicinity with very little thanks. He often went to bed quite late, thoroughly exhausted from the combination of the business of the paper and trying to run the restaurant. He’d spent the better part of two days in the hospital after a hit and run incident left him with head injuries. A quick visit to his room confirmed that Gary was sleeping soundly. This time there was no restless thrashing or moaning such as they’d witnessed the night before. Relieved, they both left for their respective homes. Chuck dropped Marissa off at her apartment before heading home himself. Both were looking forward to sleeping in their own beds tonight but planned on being at the restaurant early enough to see what Gary needed help with that was in the paper. Of course, Chuck being Chuck, had ulterior motives but that was par for the course. Gary and Marissa would handle him just like always.
Next morning Cat and the paper arrived at the usual time. Gary stumbled sleepily across the room to open the door and retrieve the paper. He thumbed through the pages for a few seconds before getting Cat his daily milk ration. Then he went back to bed to finish checking the paper for whatever crises needed his attention that day. He was chafing under Sky’s admonition that he stay in bed until she got there to check him out. He didn’t feel sick or dizzy any more, though his head and arm still bothered him a little. Mostly it was his arm but he figured that was to be expected considering he’d been told he had twenty-two stitches in it. Sky had told him it wouldn’t be strange for him to have some memory lapses from the blow to his head. She’d explained that a concussion, even a minor one, could have that effect on the victim.
Sky. As he sat there he thought about his long time friend. She’d moved away from Hickory when she went to medical school but she’d always gotten back for some of his most important events. She’d been there when he started school and raved over all of his report cards as much as his parents had. She’d tutored him in General Science, Biology, History and English Literature. She’d spent plenty of time coaching him in baseball and even football. She’d taken him and Chuck and other kids in the neighborhood sledding, skating and skiing in winter and swimming and hiking in summer. Always, she’d watched him closely when they were in an area where there could be snakes. She was never quite convinced that he’d gotten over his fear of them after their first meeting.
When he was sick with the measles and his Mom was worn out from taking care of him, Sky was the one who came over and read to him for hours. And played games such as Sorry, Trouble and Monopoly. The Monopoly games they’d played with Chuck had gone on for days. If they couldn’t play at the Hobsons’ because Lois was having company they’d recreate the game at the Fishmans’ or the Fairfaxes. Even back then, Chuck was determined to make a killing in the market. Gary and Sky had not been as ambitious.
For his part, he’d tried to make it up to her when she broke her ankle. He was only six, and his Mom had told him it was his fault since he wasn’t supposed to be in that particular tree to begin with. It had been weakened by a storm, but he was a headstrong little guy, and had climbed it anyway. When the branch he was on threatened to break and he was too scared to move, Sky, ever the tomboy, had shinned up as fast as she could. Unfortunately for her the tree limb broke before she could get him to safety. He’d landed on her and she’d landed too hard on her left ankle and broke it. She’d spent 8 weeks on crutches, six of them in a cast up to her knee while Gary ran back and forth between his house and hers all day getting her pillows, sodas, snacks, books and whatever else she wanted.
A couple of hours later, when Marissa and then Chuck arrived, to set up for business and check up on him they found him dozing with Cat curled up beside him. Marissa smiled at the thought of Gary and Cat being snuggled up together. Usually Gary complained about or treated the cat indifferently. She knew he didn’t mean anything by it. And she got a few laughs when she overheard him arguing with the cat about what he was supposed to do. She never let on though, lest it embarrass him too much.
Around noontime Sky arrived and went straight up to his apartment. Cat was lying on the bed keeping Gary company. His purr reminded Sky of a well-tuned motor. It got louder as Sky reached down and scratched him behind the ears. She’d always loved animals and had always had cats, dogs and numerous other pets domestic and wild when she was growing up. Some people thought she would be a Veterinarian when she grew up. Those same people had always thought that Gary with his caring heart and sensitive soul would be a policeman or a fireman or something in public service. Becoming a stockbroker was the last thing they would have chosen for his life’s profession. Nor would they have figured that he would wind up owning a restaurant/bar
After a brief examination she pronounced Gary fit enough to get up and do for things for himself so long as he took it easy. Diplomatically leaving the room while he dressed, she waited for him in the hallway. Together they went down the stairs to the restaurant where she made what she jokingly called the grand announcement.
“Ladies & gentlemen, I give you the one, the only, Gary Hobson in his triumphant return to the real world!”
“Skyyyy!” Gary blushed at her nonsense. But he was pleased with the reception he got from the help. They were all glad to see him back on his feet again, looking much better than when Marissa and Chuck had brought him home the other night. He still looked a little pale but he did look much better. Gary may not have been the kind of boss who was always underfoot, but he did make his presence known off and on during the day. And he was good to his help. No one had any complaints about working for Gary.
Gary escorted her to a table where Marissa joined them. Ever the gentleman, Gary seated Sky before taking his own seat. His dad was what Sky would call “full of it” at times but he had raised his son to be a gentleman and Gary seldom failed to practice the manners he’d been taught. In a moment Chuck joined them as well.
“So, Sky,” Marissa said. “Got any good stories you’d care to share about these two?”
“What do you want to hear?” Sky asked over the protests of the two men. “School stories? The pranks they used to pull on people? The stupid stunts they pulled- Chuck especially? How about their first crushes?” She was giggling as Gary and Chuck tried to distract her.
“Mmm. Let’s see. You said something last night about Gary being the cause of your having broken your ankle when you were twelve. What was that all about?”
“No. No. No. No. You don’t want to hear that story,” Gary protested loudly.
“Sure she does, Gary,” Sky teased him. “It’s a classic tale of how Gary Hobson was not always the perfect little boy that grew up into the perfect young man.”
She proceeded to tell Marissa the whole story about Gary’s disobedience and the consequences thereof. Marissa laughed as Sky told her about the naughty little boy who had climbed the forbidden tree and found himself too scared to move. It wasn’t that the accident itself that was funny, it was the way Gary spent the next eight weeks doing penance, as the old timers would say.
“He spent the next eight weeks doing anything and everything I asked him to. He got me sodas, water, snacks, books. He was my devoted slave for the next eight weeks until my ankle healed. Every day he ran to the store or flagged down the ice cream truck. He spent practically his whole allowance on ice cream & trinkets because he thought I needed cheering up. He was so cute.”
Sky was having a great time. Gary, on the other hand, was blushing. It was bad enough when his mom or dad told some one of their stories about him but Sky was even worse. She knew stories his parents didn’t. He’d never told his parents about some of the things that they used to do. How he and Chuck and some of the other kids used to ride their bikes up to the top of the steepest street in town and then coast downhill as fast as they could when their folks weren’t around. It was a good thing that there were two small side streets they could detour onto before reaching the end of the hill which led out onto a busier street.
Determined to turn the tables and get Marissa’s attention off of them the two men started in with stories of their own.
“Chuck, do you remember when Sky first tried that new Devil’s Food Cake recipe?”
“You mean the one with the coffee in it?” Chuck asked.
“Yeah, that’s the one, “ Gary answered. “Remember what it tasted like?”
Marissa was intrigued and Sky’s face was turning as red as Gary’s had a few minutes earlier.
“Now wait a minute you two,” she protested, “That was a simple matter of misinterpreting the recipe.”
“So what happened?” Marissa wanted to know.
“She made cupcakes with coffee in them and gave them to us to eat,” Gary explained.
“And they were awful!” Chuck exclaimed.
“I don’t understand,” Marissa said. “Why would you put coffee in cupcakes?”
Sky shot Gary and Chuck dirty looks and then turned to Marissa to explain. “It was a new recipe and it called for a cup of coffee in the batter. I took it literally and put a cup of instant granules in it. It really calls for a cup of black coffee.”
“Yeah, but did you have to give us the cupcakes?” Chuck asked.
“Look wise guys, it was an innocent mistake,” Sky retorted. “And I fixed the note in the recipe. Besides, I didn’t notice that it kept you from eating other treats I made you afterwards.”
The conversation went on like this for about an hour before Gary looked at his watch. He had to get to Lincoln Park to prevent an elderly man from being run down by a cyclist whom the paper reported would not see him due to the sun being in his eyes. The elderly gentleman would wind up with a broken hip and the cyclist a broken arm if they collided.
“Hey guys, this has been fun, but I’ve got to go do an errand,” he said as he got up. He knew that Marissa and Chuck would understand the significance of his sudden departure. “Sky, come in for lunch tomorrow why don’t you? It’s on the house.”
He started for the door pulling his Navy blue wool jacket on as he went. Sky’s voice pulled his attention back to the trio sitting at the table for a minute.
“Hey, Hobson,” she called.
“Slow and easy for the next few days remember? You break those stitches and I break your head! Understand?”
Gary’s face changed color from normal to red to white and back again. She may not have meant those exact words but he knew that she would be very angry with him if he did any more damage after she’d patched him up.
“I promise,” he said as he went out the door.
Shortly after Gary’s departure, Sky herself left. She’d promised Sam she wouldn’t be gone too long and it was already later than she’d intended. She had a good assistant in Sam Delaney and she didn’t want to take undue advantage of his good nature. Snatching up her jacket, purse and medical bag she headed for the door. Chuck went back to bothering the help and Marissa back to her desk in the office. Cat was nowhere to be found and Spike was dozing near the couch in the office.
In a Chicago Police Station, Detective Zeke Crumb was reading the files on the two men that had been taken into custody at the Halsted Clinic. Both had long records for petty theft, burglary, assault and assault with a deadly weapon. The more he read the more he longed to put these guys away for good. He wasn’t overly concerned about the testimony of the doctor and her nurse but Gary Hobson was another story. Over the 2 years or so of their association Crumb had seen the kid get in and out of some tight spots. His appearance at the scene of numerous crimes and accidents had made him the object of intense scrutiny of the Chicago Police Department. The kid as Crumb tended to think of him had even gotten himself embroiled in an attempt on the President’s life. If it hadn’t been for the persistence of Hobson’s friends Chuck Fishman and Marissa Clark in identifying the men in an old picture from the Kennedy assassination, Hobson would have been killed.
Gary Hobson had gotten wise to the fact that someone was going to attempt to assassinate the president and went to warn a certain John Dobbs, a Secret Service agent in town to do background checks for potential problems. What the kid hadn’t known was that Dobbs was actually J.T. Marley, a renegade Secret Service agent. Marley had been playing cat and mouse with the real Dobbs since 1963, eluding him at every turn. He’d even faked his own death. Fishman and Miss Clark had finally convinced him to listen to them after a letter bomb went off in his office. Crumb and a small contingent of officers had rushed to the building where Hobson had gone. Rushing to the floor where Hobson was said to be, they had found him struggling to free himself from handcuffs attached to a railing. Marley was standing at a table by an open window, rifle in hand ready to take the fatal shot. The real Dobbs was dead on the floor in another part of the room half hidden. Crumb’s own bullet had struck Marley who fell dead at Hobson’s feet. At that Gary Hobson had turned deathly pale and almost fainted. Crumb had had paramedics take him to one of the city’s hospitals to make sure that he was ok. Released from the handcuffs Hobson’s knees had buckled when he stood and they’d had to help him out to the ambulance. The doctor at the hospital treated him for shock and gave him some sleeping pills to take when he got home. It wasn’t until late the next day that Crumb was able to get the younger man’s statement. Marley was also responsible for the death of Harry Hawkes, editor of the Sun-Times. He’d been prepared to let Hobson take the fall for that as well but he’d needed the kid on the scene of the assassination.
It was after this incident that Crumb had finally started paying more attention to what he called Hobson’s hunches. The rest of the department still thought of him as some sort of crackpot. Somehow, Crumb thought, there’s more to this kid than meets the eye. And it’s not all bad. I don’t know how he knows what he knows but it’s been a good thing that he does.
Crumb closed the folders and placed them on his desk. He then rose, put his jacket on and headed for the door. He wanted to have another talk with Hobson about the burglary. The doctor had said he would be able to talk to him again today. Maybe, just maybe, the kid would remember something. The file on the two burglars suggested that there was more to this than a simple one time burglary. These two were more muscle than brain. And he wanted to be sure that the kid was really going to be ok. He wasn’t ready to admit it yet, but he was actually becoming rather fond of him in a way. Granted their first few encounters hadn’t been very promising but ever since that business with Mike Killebrew he’d begun to trust the kid more than he let on. He’d even told a University professor to trust him. That he somehow knew things no one else did. Hobson had even been responsible for uncovering a crooked DA who was using Crumb’s last partner. Crumb was seriously considering going to work for Hobson at McGinty’s as soon as his retirement was official. Whether that was before or after he took his first real vacation in years remained to be seen. They needed a decent bartender. He’d witnessed for himself how Fishman tended bar and it wasn’t pretty. Cards and drinks were two things he’d learned well in the Navy.
McGinty’s was busy with the late afternoon crowd when Crumb walked in. He found Gary, looking pale and exhausted, sitting at a table with Marissa and Chuck. Marissa was urging him to go upstairs and rest. Fishman, for a change, was agreeing with her. Crumb couldn’t remember the last time Fishman had agreed with Marissa on anything concerning Gary or the restaurant. Crumb was willing to admit he liked Marissa, she was a lady, was beginning to be fond of Gary in his own way but he had mixed feelings about Chuck. He frankly thought the “little guy” was kind of a pain.
“Gary, you sound exhausted,” Marissa said. “You really ought to go to bed. Sky’s going to be upset with you if you get sick after she patched you up. She told you to take it slow and easy for a few days.”
“Who’s ‘Sky’?” Crumb asked.
The trio sitting at the table practically jumped out of their skins. They were so intent on their conversation that they’d not seen or heard him approach.
Marissa answered him. “Dr. Fairfax. You know, from the clinic? She’s an old friend of Gary’s. They hadn’t seen each other in years until the other night.”
“Friend? As in old girlfriend? Isn’t she a little old for you?”
“No,” Gary replied. “She’s just a friend. She saved my life when I was four. Her family moved to my hometown that same summer. She was a neighbor until she went off to medical school. Her parents still live there.”
“Oh.” Crumb didn’t pursue that topic any further as he had questions to ask and it was apparent that the relationship between him and the doctor was not something to tease him about. The old cop’s eyes studied Gary’s face. He took note of the fact that the younger man’s eyes were dull, his face pale and he kept rubbing his injured arm unconsciously. Squint lines around his eyes indicated that he was in some pain.
“Arm bothering you Hobson?” he asked.
“Huh?” Gary’s attention had lapsed with the brief lull in the conversation. “Oh. A little, I guess.” His attention was drawn back to the older man. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to ask you a few questions about the robbery at the clinic”
“He already told you everything he can remember,” Chuck was quick to jump to his friend’s defense.
Marissa was just as quick to defuse a potentially explosive situation. She knew Chuck was just worried but antagonizing Crumb, or any other officer, was not the way to go. She was also aware that Gary memories of the robbery were very vague but whatever he could remember would be helpful to the police trying to settle the case against the two men they had taken into custody.
“Chuck, I think Detective Crumb and Gary need to talk without us around. Besides, I need your help with something in the office.”
She rose from her seat and started toward the back room. Chuck was reluctant to leave his buddy alone with the officer but at Gary’s nod he followed Marissa to the office.
Gary then turned to Crumb with an apologetic half smile. The older man was still studying him. Right now, Gary just wanted to get the questions over and done with. His save that afternoon had not been a life-threatening situation for anyone but he’d overestimated his energy level and hadn’t needed Sky’s warning as much as he should have.
The bike rescue shouldn’t have been any big deal but Gary’s strength wasn’t what he thought and after running five blocks his legs had simply given out when he pulled the old man out of harm’s way. The old gentleman was ok but Gary had banged his injured arm when he fell. Lightheaded from the exertion and the pain in his arm he had staggered a bit as he struggled to his feet.
A Good Samaritan had seen Gary’s efforts, helped him to his feet and to a nearby bench to recuperate. Seeing Gary’s pale face the other man had made Gary lean forward with his head on his knees and massaged his shoulders until he was sure that he would be all right. Further, he’d gotten him some water and seen to it that he’d gotten a cab back to McGinty’s ensuring that the cabby would see to it that Gary was delivered right to his door. Gary was still feeling somewhat faint at that point and he was grateful that the trip back to McGinty’s would be by cab and not on foot or by El train.
Chuck and Marissa had been concerned when he staggered in and had made him sit down and have a hot meal and a drink. More tired than he was willing to openly admit, Gary had put up only a token resistance before giving in to his friends’ ministrations.
“What did you want to ask me Crumb?” Gary queried.
“I need to know exactly what you know about the break in at the clinic the other night.”
“I told you what I know. I heard two guys talking about stealing drugs…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Crumb interrupted him. “I know you were gonna call but you couldn’t find a phone.”
“That’s right. I-I couldn’t find a phone. And when I got there they-they’d already broken in.” Gary’s stutter was quite pronounced as he and Crumb talked.
“What about after you walked in on them? What happened then?”
Gary tried to remember but couldn’t. Everything that had happened in between his walking into the clinic and waking up in the back room with Sky and her nurse hovering over him was either fuzzy or blank.
“I don’t really remember. I-I suppose I yelled that the police were on the way.” Gary lowered his head as his hands went up to his temples and massaged them as he struggled in vain to remember everything. It was no use. As Sky had warned him there were some blank spots in his memory. He could remember bits & pieces but they didn’t make any sense to him.
“I’m sorry Crumb but I really don’t remember much. It was getting late so the room was kinda dark. I can’t remember much of what happened before I hit my head. Sky says I was out for about an hour. Long enough for her and the nurse to get me in the back room, clean & stitch my arm and call Chuck and Marissa.”
“You sure you didn’t get a good look at these guys? Or see anybody else?”
“No. Nothing else.” Gary looked and sounded ill.
Crumb was disappointed but he decided not to press the issue. He realized that the kid was still recuperating from the injuries he’d received that night. Much as he wanted information about the burglary he could see that at least for now, the kid wasn’t going to be able to help.
“Listen, Hobson,” Crumb said. “If you think of anything else you call me.”
“Yeah, I will,” Gary told him.
“Take Miss Clark’s advice and go to bed. You look like you’ve been run over by a Mack truck or something.”
“Yeah, I plan on it.”
The officer left McGinty’s and headed back to his office. After he was gone Gary got to his feet and headed toward his apartment on the second floor. He was so tired that he barely acknowledged Chuck & Marissa’s questions as he went by on his way to the stairs. Feeling somewhat light-headed he held on tight to the railing as he went up the stairs. As he entered the room he kicked his shoes off and headed for his bed. Not bothering to take anything else off, he lay down and was out as soon as his head touched the pillow.
As they had the night before, Marissa and Chuck went up to the loft to check up on Gary before they left for home. He never heard a thing as his friends entered the room, threw a blanket over him, moved his shoes and then departed as silently as they left. Marissa had gone so far as to place her hand on his forehead to check for any signs of a fever. She was relieved to find that there weren’t any. It was simply that exhaustion had taken its toll as it often did. She knew that there were nights when Gary didn’t get to bed until the wee hours of the morning, paper or no paper. If it weren’t the paper that kept him running until all hours it was catching up on the bookwork involved in owning and running the restaurant. She and Chuck toyed with the idea of talking to Sky about their concern but rejected the idea for the time being. However, if Sky noticed and asked them about it they would be honest and admit that Gary had had a rough day.
Next morning it was business as usual for Gary but fortunately nothing that would overtax his depleted energy level. An attempted shoplifting by some teens was handled by tipping off the security guard and manager of the Marshall Field’s store. Gary was able to slip out of the store unnoticed as the two men apprehended the young thieves. A mugging in a park was avoided just by his appearing to be the companion of the intended victim. By lunchtime he was tired but not so tired as the day before. Sky was expected for lunch and he knew what she’d say if he looked as bad as he was told he had yesterday afternoon. He didn’t want Sky to get the impression that he was disobeying her orders about taking it slow and easy for a few days. The heat of her righteous indignation would be something akin to a 5-alarm blaze and he would very likely find himself back in bed for another couple of days, something he wanted to avoid at all costs.
An hour before she was due to arrive he went up to his loft to clean up and relax. Fortunately the paper had nothing for him until late that afternoon. He’d be able to sit down and enjoy his meal and the visit with her. The only thing he hoped was that she wouldn’t start telling Marissa any more of her “cute” stories about him. He was still smarting over the fact that Marissa knew about the time Sky broke her ankle getting him out of a tree he wasn’t even supposed to be in. Sky knew way too many stories that she’d be more than willing to share with Marissa or anyone else who wanted to hear them.
Dressed in navy blue wool slacks, pink blouse and navy jacket Sky walked into McGinty’s at noon and made her way over to the table where Gary, Chuck and Marissa were waiting. Gary seated her between himself and Marissa. Sky looked him up and down with a practiced eye looking for signs of fatigue or weakness. If Gary was tired at all he was hiding it well for she saw nothing that set any alarm bells off in her head.
His eyes seemed clear and bright and there were no obvious sign of discomfort on his face. However, Sky Fairfax was not easily fooled and she could sense that there was something he wasn’t telling her. But since it didn’t appear to be serious she decided she would let it pass. She could always have a talk with Marissa and a few subtle or not so subtle threats would get whatever she wanted out of Chuck. She’d just be sure to keep an eye on him.
The food was hot and plentiful. Sky ate with relish the large cheeseburger & fries washing it down with an icy cold coke. Gary had remembered exactly how she like her burgers - thick, juicy and smothered with cheddar cheese and plenty of catsup.
“You got a good memory kid,” she told Gary. “This is exactly the way I like my burgers.”
“It’s not hard to remember,” he said. “You were the only one who ate them like that. Everybody else smothered them in onion and pickle and other stuff.”
“See, Marissa, the reason he remembers that is that we used to have neighborhood cookouts when we were growing up.” Sky explained. “Bernie and Lois would host it one week. Then my parents would or my Uncle Rob. Everybody would bring something. All us kids would get together and start a ball game of some kind. Baseball or basketball mostly. We have a field not too far from the house where we’d play baseball and Uncle Rob’s kids were really into basketball so they had a basketball hoop mounted over the garage door. I made the Varsity Girl’s Basketball team my freshman year in High School because of all those games we used to play. My brothers would coach us. Then the girls would challenge the boys. Those games would go on all afternoon.”
“So, who won the most games?” Marissa was curious to know.
“Are you kidding? We girls would send the boys home with their tales tucked between their legs.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Gary exclaimed. “You never did any such thing.”
“No way,” Chuck chimed in. “You girls were never that good.”
Marissa started giggling as Sky started arguing with the two men. She was enjoying this conversation thoroughly.
“Want to settle this right now? We could call your dad, Gary, he’d tell you the same thing. You guys didn’t stand a chance against us girls. We were bigger than most of you and those of you we weren’t bigger than were our relatives who taught us how to play the game to begin with.” Sky was thoroughly enjoying tormenting her “boys” with this story. They never liked to admit that a girl had beaten them at their own game.
“Yeah?” Gary countered. “Who was it that tore the ligaments in their leg playing ‘touch’ football?”
“I did,” Sky admitted. “But who is it that grabbed me Chuck and who is it that tackled me Gary that made me fall and tear the ligaments in that leg? And who is it that spent another 6 weeks waiting on me in between mowing lawns and running their paper routes?”
“Wait a minute,” Marissa said. “You mean to tell me that these two did all that damage to you? I thought you said it was a ‘touch’ football game? How old were you?”
“Twelve,” Gary mumbled. His face was getting red again. Sky was just too quick for him sometimes and was too willing to tell these types of stories.
“I was twenty,” Sky told her. “Gary and Chuck were just about starting Junior High and I was in my sophomore year of college. It was supposed to be a touch football game. They were just a little too enthusiastic about it.”
“I can’t believe you two!” Marissa exclaimed. “You tackled a woman and hurt her like that! What were you thinking of?”
“Hey, we were only kids,” Chuck said. “We didn’t do it deliberately.”
“It was an accident,” Gary chimed in.
“Oh, it was an accident all right,” Sky said. “At that age I think these two were an accident looking for a place to happen.”
“All right, what about the Tarzan swing over the pond? Whose idea was that?” Gary demanded to know.
“That was Jamie’s,” Sky reminded him. “I wasn’t the one who dreamed that one up. But I sure did take advantage of it during those long hot summers.”
“What’s a Tarzan swing?” Marissa wanted to know.
“In the books, movies and TV Tarzan traveled through the jungle by swinging from vine to vine. We tied a rope to a tree limb and used it to swing out over the pond and let go,” Sky explained. “Of course, some of us were better at it than others. Some people, who shall remain nameless, just couldn’t quite get the hang of it very quickly. They were lucky they didn’t drown the way they fell in half the time.”
“What were the girls like that these two went with back then?” Marissa wanted to find out everything she could about her partners. She found Sky to be a wealth of information about the parts of Gary and Chuck’s lives that they never talked about with her. She’d known them for about 4 years and never had they mentioned any of this to her.
“Gary’s first crush was my cousin Vicky. She had blonde hair and big brown eyes. She was a sweetheart! But Gary was way too shy back then to say anything so he asked me to set him up with her. Vicky liked Gary too, but she was as shy as he was. It took some doing to get the two of them together.”
“He hasn’t changed much,” Marissa commented with a laugh as Gary blushed furiously and Chuck grinned. “He’s still afraid to ask girls out sometimes. He’ll sit here and stare at them but hardly ever works up the nerve to ask them out.”
“Hey, enough already!” Gary protested. “You’re not playing fair!”
Sky completely ignored his protests as she continued. “After Vicky there was Mary McDonough, Jeannie Pittman, Andrea Dunnigan, Starr -“ Sky’s voice trailed off momentarily as Gary worked up the nerve to cover her mouth with his hand. Pulling his hand away she continued “ Willis and Rosemary Belford. That’s just up through Junior High. Then in High School he latched onto Genie Berlaski and they went steady all the way through to graduation. They went to the prom together. Genie wore an emerald green gown with long sleeves and a full skirt. Her hair was piled up on top of her head and fastened with silver combs. And as for Gary, well he was such a handsome dude in that black tux with a white shirt and black cummerbund. We tried to get him to wear something more colorful but he was afraid of standing out from every other guy in the class. His parents almost burst with pride when he was chosen as Prom King. And naturally Genie was the Queen. All the girls were soooo envious of Genie. From the time he was 12 all the girls in the neighborhood were trying to get his attention. When he got into High School it was even worse when he became the star athlete on the baseball and football teams. The girls were always trying to get his attention and get their hands on his team sweaters and jackets. I think he had to buy four of them in one year because of that nonsense!”
“All right already,” Gary said as Marissa and Sky started giggling again. “What about you? You had your share of crushes! I don’t remember you staying home alone crying ‘cause you didn’t have a date.”
“Sure I did,” Sky answered him back. “It’s kind of like Marian the Librarian in The Music Man. First I fell for the principal of my grade school. But you wouldn’t know about that one because we hadn’t even met yet. Next was my History teacher in Junior High. Remember Mr. Bartilotti guys? This teacher, Marissa was every adolescent’s heartthrob! Tall, black hair, black eyes. He spoke Italian fluently and had a little bit of an accent. His parents emigrated here back in the 30s and never quite lost their accent. He used to go to Italy every summer to visit relatives. We girls thought he was so cool!”
“Yeah, Yeah,” Chuck said. “Remember Gar, what fools they made of themselves even when we had him? All the guys in our class hated him because the girls fell all over themselves to do things for him but wouldn’t even give us the time of day.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Gary answered. “I also remember how Sky had the biggest crush on her English teacher when she was a sophomore in High School. What was his name?” Sky just glared at him as it was now her turn to blush. “Oh, yeah, I remember now. Mr. Curran.”
“Oh, yeah,” Chuck replied. “I remember that guy. All the girls thought he was great. I think it was all that mushy poetry he used to make us read.”
“You know what their problem is Marissa?” Sky asked her new friend. “They were jealous. They had crushes on some of us and we didn’t even know they existed except as pesky little kids.”
This discussion and argument went on for some time before turning to the pranks each class had pulled during their High School years. It would seem that much as the colleges had done in recent years the students at Hickory High School had been pulling for years. Each class tried to outdo the other.
“Did Gary or Chuck ever tell you about the practical jokes we all used to pull?” Sky asked Marissa.
“No. What kind of jokes?” was the reply.
“My brother Jamie’s class used to publish “Wanted Posters” for different things. They were always for students that were consistently late or for those who constantly skipped class. Sometimes they were for the guys who missed one too many dates with their girlfriends. Or practices with their teams or the band. They weren’t just posted in the school they’d take them off campus and post them all over town. I don’t know if the truancy officer appreciated their efforts or not but they sure did embarrass some of their classmates.”
Gary and Chuck were not to be outdone by that. They were sure that their class had pulled the better prank.
“What about the time that our class took apart Mr. Ryan’s car and put it back together again in his classroom?” Gary asked.
“Yeah, what about that?” Chuck asked. “It wasn’t exactly easy to take it apart and put it together again inside without getting caught. The police almost caught us three times that night.”
“Not to mention our dads wondering where we were and checking the school to see if there was a late practice or something,” Gary added.
“The Class of ’83 has a reputation for being the biggest practical jokers,” Chuck said.
“The Class of ’83….Listen you guys, the Class of ’75 rules and you know it!” an indignant Sky exclaimed. “Don’t let these guys kid you Marissa. I grant you the stunt with the car was pretty good but it can’t top what the Class of ’75 did. We built a train on top of the school and I do mean on the roof!”
“A train!” Marissa laughed. “How did you get away with that? How did you do it? Why did you do it?”
“Some of the kids in the class, who shall remain nameless…”
“Meaning her and one of her best friends,” Gary put his two cents worth in.
Sky completely ignored him and continued. “You see there’s this place in Massachusetts called Edaville Railroad that always put on a Christmas Light Festival and they have real old fashioned steam engines that take you on the tour. Sometimes its in steam heated coaches and sometimes it’s on open cars. It’s a couple of miles or so through cranberry bogs. Lots of singing if you get the right conductor on your train. So one year the guys got their hands on all kinds of plastic pipe and stuff and we got some paint and hardware and we built a steam train on top of the school. The looks on the faces of the faculty when they reported to school the morning after it was done was priceless!”
“You mean the police never caught you? What about your parents?”
“The police were easy to take care of. We just got a bunch of underclassmen to create a disturbance in another part of town for 20 minutes at a time. They were so busy taking care of those ‘disturbances’ that they never got around to checking out the High School until they got the call the next morning! By then all traces of evidence as to who was responsible was gone. We left no clues whatsoever but it was common knowledge among the students who was involved. Nobody ever told until our 5-year reunion. The police chief had retired by then. I don’t think he ever recovered from the humiliation of not catching the ones responsible. Especially since the train was electrified and ran on a track we built.”
“That’s funny!” Marissa laughed gaily. “I never would have thought it of you.”
“That’s because you don’t know her like we do,” Gary told her. “I could have told you she’s not the sweet, innocent, sober doctor you think she is.”
And so the conversation went. For every zinger Gary or Chuck tried to hit Sky with she had another story about them. How she had left milk and cookies on somebody’s desk because they had commented that milk would go good with the cookies they had had the day before. About the shaving cream on the telephone receiver on April Fool’s Day (that being one of Chuck’s classic moments), the knotted shoelaces on Sky’s knee high lace up boots (Gary’s favorite since it took her an hour to undo them) and all manner of other silly stunts. Sky had arranged with one of County General’s doctors to cover the clinic for her so that she could spend the afternoon with her friends. It wasn’t hard since she seldom requested anyone. She was dedicated to her patients. That was what had made her so popular in Scotland and Kentucky.
Late that afternoon Sky left for home and Gary to manage a couple more minor crises. Marissa went back to the office to work on the books and Chuck filled in behind the bar until the night bartender came on duty. Sky’s brothers were happy to hear about Gary. They remembered him as a shy little boy they had referred to as Sky’s shadow or “Tag Along” or simply “Tag” because he always seemed to be underfoot when he was small.
For the next week, Sky was a regular visitor to McGinty’s whether it was to check up on Gary or to get better acquainted with Marissa over lunch. Ten days after the burglary Gary stopped by the clinic to get his stitches out. He had long since recovered from the mild concussion and his arm was doing well. Sky was pleased with his progress but warned him to be mindful of the arm a little longer. It would heal fine but would have a tendency to be a tender a little while longer.
“Good Morning Chicago. It’s another bright and beautiful day out there but don’t be deceived it’s pretty chilly and there are slick spots….”
Gary reached over and slammed his hand down on the off button. Throwing the covers back he got up and went to the door to retrieve the paper and let Cat in. Absent-mindedly he glanced at the paper as he poured a bowl of milk. Then a particularly disturbing headline caught his attention.
“Doctor Killed in Warehouse Accident. Dr. Schuyler Fairfax was killed yesterday morning at around 10:00 when a forklift at the Midwest Carpet Factory warehouse on Halsted Street lost control of a load of carpet rolls it had on the forks. Authorities said that the accident could have been prevented if the forklift operator had made sure his load was secure before starting across the room.”
Gary felt chills run up and down his spine as he read the article. His mind could not register the fact that his friend was in such danger. When the adrenaline kicked in the first thing he did was start searching for Sky’s phone number. He knew she’d given it to him the night of the burglary because he remembered Marissa and Chuck telling him that it was on his discharge papers. Frantically digging through every piece of paper he could lay his hands on he unsuccessful in his search. Throwing on jeans, shirt, socks & boots he ran downstairs to see if it was on his desk in the office. Heart racing he pounded down the steps at such a rate of speed that he lost his footing and nearly fell the rest of the way. Fortunately he got a good grip on the railing and stopped his fall, making it down safely the rest of the way. In the office he had no better luck than he had had in his apartment. Moving to the main dining room he was relieved to see Marissa and Chuck entering the front door.
“Marissa, Chuck, have you seen Sky’s phone number? I mean the piece of paper with her phone number on it?” he asked frantically. “She’s going to be killed if I don’t get hold of her!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Chuck said. “What are you talking about?”
“Calm down Gary,” Marissa said. “Tell us everything.”
“It’s in the paper! She’s going to be killed in a warehouse accident if I don’t stop her! I need…I need to find her phone number and call her.”
“When’s this going to happen Gar?” Chuck was as concerned as Gary and he was concerned about the state of Gary’s mental health if they didn’t take care of it. Not that he was unconcerned. It was just that for once he was the calm one instead of Gary.
“What’s happening Gary? Does the paper say how it will happen?” Marissa asked.
“It says that she’s killed by some falling carpet rolls. The guy driving the forklift fails to secure his load properly and they fall off from about 10 feet up and crush her,” Gary’s voice was cracking, a sure sign that he was upset. Sky was the big sister he’d never had. The thought of anything happening to her was as bad as the thought of anything happening to Marissa or Chuck and he’d nearly lost both of them to a plague a few months earlier. If anything were to happen to Sky after they’d just been reunited Gary didn’t know what he’d do. “I need to find that phone number!” Hands shaking Gary started searching through papers he found behind the bar.
“Where was it the last time you saw it?” Chuck asked.
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t remember seeing it since you brought me home from the clinic that night! I don’t even remember seeing it that night!”
“Calm down Gary,” Marissa said. “You’re not going to find it rushing around without an idea of where it could be. Where have you looked? And have you tried calling Information to see if you can get the number?” Marissa always was the one with the cool head when he was anxious about something.
Gary froze in his tracks. In his anxiety he had not even considered calling Information. His only thought had been that the phone number was on the paperwork from the clinic. With shaking hands he reached for the phone behind the bar and dialed the number for Information. When the operator answered he requested the number for Sky’s clinic. Then he redialed and asked for the number for her house.
“Nobody’s answering,” he said anxiously.
“Try the clinic,” Chuck suggested. “Maybe she’s already there. Or maybe her nurse is already there and knows where she is.”
“That’s a good idea Gary,” Marissa agreed. “Mr. Delaney may know how you can get in touch with her.”
Gary hung up the phone from trying Sky’s home phone number and tried the number for the clinic.
“The line’s busy.” Gary was getting even more frustrated and nervous. It was hard to stay calm when someone he cared about was in danger. He glanced at the clock. He’d used up a lot of time looking for the phone numbers before Chuck and Marissa had arrived and it was now getting close to the time of the accident that would claim Sky’s life. Upset as he was, it didn’t even register with him that he was heading out the door into the cold November morning without a jacket until Marissa, in her unerring accuracy, called him back.
“Don’t you think you’d better put a jacket on? And gloves? And do you have your wallet?” She knew he wasn’t thinking about himself or how he was going to get to Sky, just that he had to get moving or he would fail. And he’d never be able to live with himself if he did.
“Gar, wait up,” Chuck said. “I’ll drive you.”
The two friends headed out the door with Marissa’s “I’ll keep trying to get Sky at the clinic” echoing in their ears.
Chuck’s red Lexxus was parked in the alley behind the restaurant. The two men got in and Chuck pulled out into the traffic heading in the direction of Halsted Street and the warehouse. It was now 9:15. They had 45 minutes to get to their destination. Gary nervously drummed his fingers on the dashboard as Chuck drove. They had only gone a couple of blocks when they ran into a massive traffic jam. Gary’s already taut nerves were at the breaking point when 15 minutes later the traffic jam showed no signs of letting up. Frustrated and ready to scream he jumped out of the car when they came to another complete halt.
“Chuck,” Gary said, “I-I-I’m going to have to run. We’re not going to make it in time at this rate.” As he got out of the car he hollered “Meet me at the warehouse!”
“You got it buddy. Be careful, though. You won’t help Sky if you get hurt and can’t make it in time.”
Gary just nodded as he slammed the car door closed and ran through the stalled traffic toward the sidewalk.
Sky Fairfax had indeed heard the phone ring as she left home but unaccountably had left her house keys inside and was unable to get back in to answer it. Deciding that if it was important the caller would leave a message she climbed into her truck and started the long commute to Chicago. Sam would already be at the clinic setting up by the time she got there. And she had an appointment to administer flu shots and give physicals to the employees at the Midwest Carpet Factory.
She stopped by the clinic at 9:00 to pick up the vaccine and paperwork she would need. She and Sam were outside loading everything into her truck when the phone rang. On the other end Marissa waited anxiously for someone to pick it up. Receiving no answer at the moment Marissa hung up and waited a minute before redialing the number. Still no answer.
Marissa was getting as nervous as Gary had been when he left. Knowing Gary’s sensitive soul she didn’t want to think about how he would take it if he failed and that failure cost the life of one of the best friends he’d ever had in his life. She’d witnessed with her own ears Gary’s depression about a year ago when he thought he’d saved a six year old child only to lose a plane load of people bound for Miami. That had been hard enough but it had turned out okay when the pilot proved to be Amanda Bailey’s father. He’d been seconds from disaster when the call came through about Amanda’s hit and run accident. Marissa feared that Gary’s mental health wouldn’t be able to withstand this shock. As she dialed the phone number for the clinic again she prayed that either she would get through or Gary would get to Sky in time.
Gary’s breath was coming in painful gasps. He was still five blocks away and running out of time. He hoped his legs and lungs would hold up. He’d never forgive himself if he failed. He shuddered involuntarily as he paused very briefly to get his second wind. Images flashed through his head of a forklift dropping hundreds of pounds of carpet on an unsuspecting Sky. Images so horrible that he almost started screaming on the spot. His eyes stung with unshed tears as he tried to wipe those thoughts out of his head. His breathing under control again he started running the final five blocks to the factory.
Still stuck in traffic a couple of miles away, Chuck was using his cell phone to try and reach the clinic. Failing that he called McGinty’s to see if Marissa had had any more success. Marissa’s answer disturbed him. It seemed that they were destined not to get hold of Sky at home or the clinic so it was up to Gary. Marissa was hopeful when she first heard Chuck’s voice but that soon turned to deep concern when she learned that Gary had had to abandon all hope of getting there by car.
Inside the factory Sky had unloaded, with help from some of the warehouse employees, the supplies she had brought with her for their infirmary. It was now 9:30 and the men were lining up for their flu shots. She recruited a couple of them to hand out the paperwork they needed to complete before she would do so. At 9:55 she stepped out of the infirmary and walked down the length of the warehouse. She needed to speak with the foreman regarding one of his employees. She had observed over the space of the last couple of months that one of the men had a drinking problem and she wanted to ensure that the foreman was aware of it. She found him out on the loading dock supervising the loading of a shipment of carpet bound for one of the fancier hotels in the city. For the next five minutes she discussed her concern with the foreman who promised to look into it. As she reentered the warehouse Sky was unaware of the danger she was in. The man in question was operating a forklift and was paying little if any heed to basic safety procedures such as making sure his load was secure before starting off across the building. Weaving his way down the aisle he nearly hit several of his fellow employees who were quick to jump out of the way. The roar of the forklift’s engine drowned their voices out as he continued on his way oblivious to the hazard he was creating. Deep in thought Sky never heard Gary as he came running toward her, his voice and footsteps drowned out by the sound of the forklift bearing down on her.
Gary was frantic. The security guard at the front gate had given him a hard time about entering the premises. He’d had to distract him and run as fast as his now tired legs would carry him in order to reach Sky inside the warehouse. He looked at his paper to double check where exactly the accident was to take place. When he looked at his watch his heart nearly stopped. It was two minutes of ten and he still hadn’t found her. Looking around the dimly lit room he spotted her halfway down toward the other end of the building. Pushing himself into high gear despite his fatigue he ran toward her and grabbed her around the waist just as the carpet rolls fell from their precarious perch. Stumbling as he ran he pushed her to safety and fell on top of her less than a foot away from where the heavy carpet landed. As he picked himself up off the floor the first thing he noticed was that Sky lay unmoving on the floor, her face white except for a scrape on her right cheek, and that she didn’t appear to be breathing.
“S-Sk-Sky!” he stuttered, kneeling down at her side. “Sky, t-t-t-talk to me. Op-Open your eyes. Please!” His voice was raw with emotion as he fretted over his seeming failure to rescue his friend. “Sky!”
“Hey, buddy,” one of the warehousemen said. “The infirmary’s right over there,” he pointed to a room two doors down the aisle from where they were. “Let’s bring her in there.”
The foreman came up at that moment, having witnessed the accident from where he stood on the loading dock. Placing a calming hand on Gary’s shoulder he gently pulled him away and indicated to one of his employees that he should pick Sky up and carry her into the infirmary. One look at Gary’s ashen face and he took charge of him personally. He led Gary into the infirmary where Sky was laid gently on the lounge. He went to the sink and soaked a towel with warm water. Wringing it out he handed it to Gary who used it to gently clean the scrape on Sky’s cheek.
“Thanks,” Gary said his faint southern twang evident in his shaky voice.
“She’ll be ok buddy,” the foreman told him. “It looks like she just got the wind knocked out of her when you tackled her. And as for the moron who nearly ran her down, he’s out of here. The doc told me this morning that she was afraid he was drinking on the job. From what just happened I’d say she was right. That load never should have shifted like that!”
Just then, Sky moaned and her eyelids fluttered open. Gary’s tear streaked face was the first thing she saw. Reaching out with her right hand she wiped the tears from his face gently and smiled weakly.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You almost got crushed by a load of carpet out there, doc,” the foreman told her. “This young fella tackled you just in the nick of time. You got the wind knocked out of you for a few minutes is all. You could have been killed.”
“Gary?” She asked as she sat up with his help. “What are you doing here? How’d you know I was in trouble?”
“Well, I-I just heard some guys talking about how this guy had been drinking and-and that he was a menace to anyone who was around him,” Gary told her. “Then they mentioned that he worked here and that he was drinking on the job. I remembered you saying that you were going to be here today. I came to warn you and I almost killed you myself.” Gary was still extremely shaken up by what had just happened. He felt that he had come very close to failing.
Sky looked at him with tears in her eyes. She was overwhelmed by how close she had come to being killed. She wasn’t sure how much of her day she was going to tell her family about. One thing was certain - she could never thank Gary enough for what he had just done for her. Reaching out she hugged him tight as the two of them tried to calm down. When they had calmed down sufficiently Gary walked Sky back to her truck. Not trusting her to drive herself after what had just happened the warehouse foreman took the keys and drove them back to the clinic where Sam took charge of them. He cleaned Sky’s scrape and treated it with an antiseptic. One look at Gary’s ashen face and shaking hands and he administered a mild sedative and made him lie down in the back room for an hour. About the time he and Sky were ready to let him leave Chuck finally arrived having been stuck in the traffic jam all this time.
Half an hour later he and Gary were back at McGinty’s telling Marissa about what had transpired. She was vastly relieved to learn that Sky would be just fine. Gary would get over his shock eventually and that the forklift operator had been fired. Not only that but he faced criminal charges for drinking on the job and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. It would be a long time before he was permitted to drive any sort of motor vehicle.
With both Chuck and Marissa fussing over him the rest of the day, Gary tended to what little business the paper had for him to attend to and then went to bed at a fairly early hour. As for Sky herself, she’d recovered fairly quickly and managed to answer her brother’s questions without telling them all the details. What she didn’t know was that Alan, her oldest brother, had called Sam Delaney and learned all the details, as he knew them. By unspoken mutual consent the Fairfax siblings decided not to relate any of this to their parents unless they asked first.
Detective Crumb heard about this incident and paid a visit to both the clinic and McGinty’s to ensure that his star witnesses were indeed safe and would be able to testify in court against the men he had in custody for the break in at the clinic. The haunted look in Gary’s eyes caused him to refrain from making any cracks about “hunches” and “feelings”. Crumb was gruff but he was no fool. He wasn’t going to push the kid and lose him altogether. Best just to keep an eye on him discreetly for a while. As for the lady doctor, she seemed to have a lot of what they used to call moxie. She’d be all right. From the looks of that nurse of hers nobody would dare get too smart. He remembered hearing somewhere that Sam Delaney had been a Golden Gloves boxing champ when he was younger. Crumb had no doubts that Dr. Fairfax was in good hands with him around.
It was dark and Gary couldn’t see where he was. It was getting harder and harder for him to breathe. What was the matter? Where was he? Why was it so hard to breathe? Why couldn’t he move his arms? He heard voices from a distance but they couldn’t seem to hear him. He started shaking. His chest hurt from the lack of oxygen and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Just as he felt as if he were falling into a bottomless pit his eyes snapped open. Sitting bolt upright in his bed he looked over at his clock radio. It proclaimed the time to be 2:30AM. His heart was pounding in his chest and his breath came fast and shallow. It was only a dream he soon realized but so real that it was an hour, a glass of water and several aspirin tablets later before he could fall asleep again. When the paper arrived with Cat he dragged himself out of bed, almost literally, to get them.
Downstairs an hour later, Marissa heard his footsteps and with her uncanny ability to sense when something was wrong with him by the way he was moving called to him.
“What’s wrong Gary?” she asked. “You sound tired.”
“Nothing,” he replied.
“Don’t give me that Gary,” she told him. “I can tell by your voice that something’s wrong. Now what is it?”
Reluctantly he told her “I had this awful nightmare last night is all. I was in this dark place and I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t breathe. I could hear voices but they couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t move my arms. I felt like I was falling and would never get out of the hole I was falling into.”
Marissa walked over to where he had seated himself. Placing her hand on his shoulder and then squeezing his right hand with hers she tried to reassure him.
“It sounds awful Gary, but it’s just a dream. You’re awake and you’re okay. Now tell me what’s in the paper this morning.”
Gary smiled tiredly. He knew she couldn’t see it but then she always seemed to be able to sense whatever he felt - physically at least. Emotionally too. It was uncanny how well she knew him.
Falling into bed that night, thoroughly exhausted he was soon asleep
“Dark. Why is it so dark? Can’t breathe. Help me. Here. I’m over here. Can’t breathe.”
As he had the night before Gary sat up gasping for breath. His heart was pounding against his ribs like a jackhammer. He looked over at the clock radio. 2:30AM. This was getting to be a habit. Throwing the covers back he went into the bathroom for the aspirin. Finding none he went downstairs to the bar where he found some on a shelf. Getting a glass and some water, he shook out a couple of tablets and washed them down with the water. Then he went around to the other side and sat at the bar with his head in his hands. His head was pounding and his hands were shaking, just as they had the night before. The only difference was that this time it took him two hours to calm down enough to fall asleep again.
“Hey, Gar!” Chuck exclaimed. “Are you awake over there?”
“Huh?” Gary looked up briefly from his seat at the end of the bar.
“I’ve asked you three times if you ordered the napkins, straws and coffee filters we need! What’s with you anyway?” Chuck was annoyed. In an uncharacteristic act he reached out and lifted Gary’s head from where it rested on his hands. A closer look at his friend’s face made him regret his harsh tone. Gary was pale and had dark circles forming under his eyes. “Hey, Gar, when’s the last time you looked at yourself in a mirror? You look awful. Haven’t you been going to bed at night?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gary replied tiredly. “I just haven’t been getting much sleep when I do.”
“Are you still having those dreams you told me about yesterday?” Marissa had come up to the bar just in time to hear his answer.
“Yeah,” Gary said. “I was awake again at 2:30 this morning. It took me two hours to get back to sleep.”
“Maybe you should talk to Sky about it. She might be able to help.”
“No, I don’t want to bother her. She’s got enough to worry about,” was Gary’s response to that suggestion. “Those two goons go on trial soon. She and Sam Delaney are the star witnesses.”
“Gary, I don’t think she’d consider it a bother.” Marissa was beginning to worry about him. It wasn’t like Gary to have dreams like this and this lack of sleep thing was beginning to take its toll on him, she could tell. His footsteps were dragging and heavy and his voice, with it’s faint southern twang, was raw and husky. She could feel how tired he was even though she couldn’t see it. She imagined he looked pretty bad too from what Chuck had said.
“No.” Gary was emphatic. He was not going to go running to Sky just because he hadn’t slept well for two nights. She’d probably make him take some pills or insist on a physical or something and he wanted no part of that. He was sure the dreams would go away on their own. He just hoped it was soon.
But that night it was the same thing all over again. He woke up in a cold sweat with a pounding headache and gasping for breath. He couldn’t understand why he should be dreaming about suffocating darkness; being trapped somewhere in need of help. He could hear voices but couldn’t make himself heard. His arms always seemed to be pinned behind him and he couldn’t get his hands free. This dream was different only in that he thought he heard Sky’s voice calling him. And then felt her presence hovering over him. Just as he felt that he was falling into the bottomless pit he’d wakened.
“Morning, Marissa,” Gary tried to sound more cheerful than he felt as he walked into the office from the entryway leading to the stairs to his loft.
“Morning Gary,” she replied. “Did you sleep okay last night?”
“Yeah, yeah, just fine,” he lied hoping she’d believe him. If she didn’t she’d be after him again to talk to Sky. The last thing he wanted was his “sister” the doctor hovering over him. He didn’t have the energy to deal with that and the paper as well.
“You don’t sound any better than you did yesterday. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine Marissa. I gotta go. The paper you know. It’s just a little trash fire if I get to it in time. If I don’t it’ll take out an apartment building and 5 families will be homeless. I’ll check in later.”
“Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I will. I promise. Gary pulled on his Navy blue wool jacket and a pair of gloves. Chuck hadn’t arrived yet so he was on his own. Just as well he thought. I don’t need Chuck telling me how bad I look. It’s bad enough that Marissa knows even though she can’t see me.
The trash fire was simple enough to put out. And the children who had started it were duly scolded by their parents when Gary explained what had happened. There were three 8-year-olds that would never touch matches or lighters again without adult supervision.
An hour later Gary was on the phone to Marissa checking in to see what was happening and if he was needed. Everything at McGinty’s was fine but there was a message that Detective Crumb wanted to see him.
“Did he say what it was about?” Gary asked.
“No. The person who called just said that Crumb wants to see you as soon as possible in his office.”
“I’ll go down there now. I’ll call you later.”
Gary’s mind was whirling with thoughts about what had happened in the last few weeks. He’d walked in on a burglary in a clinic, been injured and then reunited with an old friend after many years. He’d prevented an elderly man from being injured by a cyclist but became slightly ill himself from the exertion coming so soon after being permitted to return to “normal” activities. He’d performed numerous other minor saves and then saved his friend Sky’s life in that warehouse. Now the dreams. His brain was sleep deprived and he was confused about what - if anything - the dreams meant.
Gary looked up from his reverie. He was about 100 yards from the building where Crumb was stationed. A pair of uniformed officers approached him from their car.
“Detective Crumb asked us to meet you and bring you to him. He’s not in his office.”
“What do you mean? I was told to meet him here.”
The other officer spoke now. “He was called away at the last minute. We were close by so he asked us to wait for you.”
It sounded like a plausible explanation but Gary wasn’t going to accept it without question. It only sounded plausible. If it was anyone but Crumb who wanted to see him he might have believed it. But something about these guys didn’t ring true. He wasn’t sure what but something was wrong. Crumb wasn’t the kind to send messages; he always delivered them in person.
“Do you mind if I see for myself?”
“Actually, Mr. Hobson, we do,” the first officer had drawn his revolver and now stuck it in Gary’s ribs. “A friend of ours wants to see you.”
His partner grabbed Gary’s right arm and twisted it painfully behind his back. Removing the handcuffs from his belt he snapped them, painfully tight, first on his right wrist and then on his left one. The feel of the gun in his ribs kept Gary from making a sound in protest as they pulled him along toward their car. No one paid any attention to them as they forced him into the backseat. Uniformed officers were a dime a dozen around here. Granted it may have seemed a little unusual for them to put someone they picked up off the streets into a car instead of bringing them inside the station that was so close but not if the cells were full or they were taking him to another precinct.
They drove for a couple of miles before pulling into a somewhat dark alley behind a warehouse. Turning off the engine they pulled Gary out of the car and dragged him into the warehouse where they pushed him into a straight-backed chair with a very bright light shining in his face. One of the men kept a tight grip on Gary’s shoulder as his partner removed the cuffs from one wrist only to refasten them as tightly as before once Gary’s hands and arms were behind the chair.
“Well, well,” a man’s voice said. “So this is the Boy Scout who interfered in our little operation. He doesn’t look like much of a threat.” Staying out of Gary’s sight he asked him “How much do you know about our business?”
“What business? What’s this all about? Oof.” Gary’s question was answered by a punch to his midsection that drove the air out of his lungs.”
“You heard the man. Answer his question. How much do you know?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What business?”
Crack! This time they punched him in the mouth, splitting his lip and drawing blood. The light was aimed directly into his eyes as someone grabbed him by his hair and pulled his head back. Several hours of this and Gary was half-blind and ached all over from the blows he received to his face and ribs. His head was spinning. He had no idea who these guys were or what they were talking about.
The apparent ringleader of this group was not happy with the answers he got from Gary. He was positive that Gary knew that the phony officers were the two men from the clinic burglary and that they were part of a gang that was stealing drugs from any and all medical clinics and pharmacies they could to resell on the streets. Finally tiring of this game he told his men to get rid of him.
“Take him somewhere quiet and dump him. This is one witness who won’t be heard of again.”
Before Gary could protest they had gagged him and given him a hypodermic filled with a sedative. In seconds he was out cold and stuffed in the back of a van. He didn’t regain consciousness until they stopped in some secluded woods he didn’t recognize. He was too weak from the beating and the drug to fight them as they pulled him out of the van and into the woods. Deep into the woods they went with Gary stumbling along as they dragged him toward a cave on the other side. Depositing him on the ground inside the cave they tied his ankles together and made sure that his gag was still tight as well as the cuffs that prevented him from using his hands. Gary looked on in terror as they left him there. How was he going to get out of this mess? Where was Cat with the paper? The paper would tell him how to get away. No matter where he looked he couldn’t see the cat. This was not right.
Seconds later there was a rumbling noise as tons of dirt and rock came tumbling down the hill behind the cave sealing the entrance tight as a drum. No light and no air would ever get into that cave again unless someone dug it out. Gary was left frightened and helpless in the dark.
“You got his wallet?”
“Make sure you don’t leave anything behind.”
The two men walked back to their van and drove off. Little did they realize that they had been observed as they pulled away from the liquor store where they had stopped to make a purchase. Strangers did not go unnoticed in this small town. Even in the late night hours. Especially in the wee hours of the morning. A routine traffic stop and the two men were in custody when the officer that stopped them learned that they were out on bail after burglarizing a Chicago clinic.
Detective Zeke Crumb was getting worried. Marissa Clark had called his office looking for Hobson. Someone had called McGinty’s and left a message for him that the Detective wanted to see him. He’d never made it to Crumb’s office. A man answering his description had been seen outside this precinct building being put into the backseat of a cruiser which had then driven west and disappeared into the traffic. Nobody seemed to know who these officers were or where they had gone. He was afraid the kid was in real trouble.
Back at McGinty’s Chuck went up to Gary’s loft several times to see if he had returned by way of the back entrance unnoticed and too tired to talk to anyone before hitting the sack. Growing more concerned by the hour, he and Marissa debated whether or not to call Gary’s parents to tell them that their son was missing.
At home in Oakdale, Sky Fairfax slept peacefully unaware that the young man she was as close to as she was to her blood kin was in danger of losing his life. Snug in her warm bed she had no way of knowing that Gary Hobson was currently freezing in a sealed up cave and that if someone didn’t find him soon he would run out of oxygen and suffocate.
Bernie Hobson opened the storm door and stepped out onto the porch of his home in Hickory, Indiana. He was surprised to see his son’s orange tabby cat, the one he had referred to as a “stowaway” on his last visit to Chicago to see his son. Thrown out of the house after a tiff with his wife Lois, Bernie had driven to Chicago and spent a few days with his son. During that time he had learned the secret of the cat and the paper. Though Gary had been reluctant to let him in on the secret Bernie had single-handedly saved his son when the irate father of a young woman Gary had aided kidnapped him at gunpoint. The two fathers had gone to breakfast after Bernie had talked some sense into the other man. Gary had been half-glad and half-sorry to see his dad go but it was time. Mom missed him. Picking up the paper and letting the cat in the house he set the paper down on the kitchen table and started to look through it. His surprise turned to fear for his son’s life when he read found the article about Gary’s disappearance and the subsequent discovery of his body in a cave many miles from Chicago. He called McGinty’s but there was no answer. Chuck & Marissa were not there yet. He left a message with Robin for them to go to Oakdale.
At 6:30AM Sky Fairfax rose. It was a rare thing when she took a day off but somehow she just had a feeling that she should and there was this sinking feeling in her stomach that she couldn’t explain. She picked up the phone and made arrangements with County General for someone to cover the clinic for her. Then dressing quickly she put on faded jeans, turtleneck jersey, flannel shirt and heavy socks. She was pulling her hiking boots on when the doorbell rang. Opening the door she was surprised to see Officer Mike Stuart standing on the porch.
“Good morning, Mike,” she said. “What brings you to my door at this hour of the morning?”
“Morning doc. We took a couple of guys into custody early this morning that we think you know. The Chief wanted to know if you’d come down and see if recognize them.”
“Of course,” she said. “Let me leave a note for Jamie and I’ll be right with you.
Ten minutes later she was at the police station. The Chief personally escorted her to the back room where the two men were locked up in one of the cells. Her eyes grew wide when she recognized the two men from the burglary at her clinic.
“Do you know who these two men are, Doc?” the Chief asked.
“Yes, I do. They’re the two men who broke into my clinic last month. My friend Gary Hobson and I were reunited because of them. Gary walked in on them. He got a knife wound in his arm and a mild concussion from that encounter. Where’d you find them?”
“They were picked up on a bail skipping offense when they were pulled over in a routine traffic stop early this morning. We found this wallet and some other stuff in their van.”
They walked back out to his office where he offered her a seat. He handed her a black leather wallet and a business card for McGinty’s. Fighting the fear that rose within her, she took the wallet and opened it. Inside were pictures she knew well. One of Gary’s parents, Lois and Bernie; one of her College graduation pictures that she had personalized for Gary in 1979. His credit cards and some miscellaneous business cards. Chuck and Marissa’s phone numbers. Her hands started shaking as she thought of the implications of this discovery. Where was his driver’s license? Where was Gary? And why did these two have his wallet?
“May I use your phone Chief? I need to make a phone call to Chicago real quick. It’s important.”
“Of course.” He handed her the phone.
Quickly she dialed McGinty’s. Chuck answered.
“No. It’s Sky. Isn’t he there?”
“No. He didn’t come home last night. We’ve been calling around trying to find him. “
“Chuck, I think Gary’s in trouble. Remember those two guys who broke into my clinic. They’re in custody here in Oakdale. They have Gary’s wallet with his credit cards and stuff. No driver’s license, but everything else is intact. I think you and Marissa better get here.” She gave Chuck directions to the police station and hung up the phone.
“Chief, Gary Hobson is missing from his apartment in Chicago. Our friend Chuck Fishman says he didn’t come home last night. I think these guys know where he is.”
“They may but they’re not talking.” Seeing her anxious face, he said “We’ll start with a house to house search. Maybe somebody has seen him. And we’ll check their van out. Maybe there’s a clue in there as to where he is.”
Leaving Sky in his office he went out to the front room where a dozen officers had gathered. Some were going off duty; some were just coming on duty. Quickly he explained the situation. The officers formed teams of two and departed to start their search. Back in his office he phone the Chicago Police Department and brought Detective Crumb up to date on the situation.
An hour later, one of the officers reported a neighbor seeing a van with two strangers inside come out of the woods on the outskirts of town. While it had seemed odd to the neighbor that a stranger would be in the woods at that hour they didn’t think that much about it. They’d thought that perhaps the men were lost.
Inside the cave, Gary had stopped shivering and struggling against the handcuffs on his wrists. All he had succeeded in doing was making his wrists sore. His shoulders already ached as did his head and ribs where they had taken a pounding from his kidnappers. He was very thirsty and getting woozy. He was starting to have trouble breathing. Desperately he wished that someone would find him and get him out of here. He was living his nightmare of the last three nights. The only thing missing was the voices. Especially Sky’s voice telling him he was going to be ok as she hovered over him.
The search party that Sky joined was in the woods now. They followed the tracks of the van from where they left the road. Where the tire tracks stopped they found the footprints of three people. Two were very clear while one seemed to drag more than walk. The footsteps led to the foot of the hill where the cave entrance lay hidden behind the rockslide. Outside the cave a piece of plastic shining in the sun caught the eye of one of the officers. Bending down to pick it up he showed it to Sky. She blanched when she saw what it was.
“Gary!” she exclaimed. “This is Gary’s driver’s license! He must be inside the cave.”
“Now, Doc,” one of the men said. “You don’t know that for sure. Maybe he’s never been here.”
Sky shot him a dirty look. Her gut feeling that Gary was in trouble was proving to be true. Looking around she found what she needed to convince them that he was in the cave.
“Look, Tom,” she said. “There’s three sets of tracks leading into the side of the hill, but only two coming out. I’m telling you that Gary is trapped in that cave. And there’s no telling how long he’s been in there! We need volunteers to help dig this out and get to him! Now are you going to call or am I?”
Faced with her fierce Highlander temper the officer she had addressed as “Tom” reached for his radio and reported their suspicion.
“Help’s on the way,” he told her.
“Good. Let’s see how much we can clear away before they get here.”
With those words Sky started pulling at the smaller rocks and throwing them to one side. Fifteen minutes later a fire truck and ambulance pulled in. They were followed closely by Bernie’s truck and Chuck’s red Lexxus.
“Sky! What’s going on? Where’s Gary?”
“Bernie? What are you doing here?”
“One at a time!” Sky exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter what Bernie’s doing here or how he knows. I’m for sure positive that Gary is trapped inside that cave. The two men who broke into the clinic last month are in custody at the police station.”
Marissa was crying as she listened to this. Chuck looked decidedly worried and Bernie was looking no better. The emergency personnel on the scene made them move back. They couldn’t do anything with Sky. As a doctor she outranked the EMTs that were on the scene and there was no way anybody would ever be able to keep her from digging with her bare hands if necessary to get at Gary.
Going back to the blocked entrance she started calling Gary’s name.
“Gary? Gary? Can you hear me? You’re going to be ok. We’re going to get you out of there."
It was pitch black. He couldn’t see a thing. He no longer felt cold from lying on the floor of the cave. He was numb. The lack of oxygen was making him woozy. His breath was coming in very short, ragged gasps now. He was falling into a bottomless void and couldn’t stop. He thought he could hear voices. One of them sounded like Sky’s. He tried to call out but the gag was firmly in place and he could do no more than groan. But he knew he’d be safe now. Sky had never let him down. She’d save him like she had saved him from the snake.
It took half an hour but finally there was a break through to the entrance of the cave. Not a very big one but big enough for Sky to squeeze through. Her long black hair, braided in the back, was full of dirt as she crawled through into the cave. Turning back she reached for the flashlight that one of the firefighters handed her. They’d argued against her going in but she’d told them that if Gary was hurt he was going to need immediate medical attention and as a doctor it was only logical for her to be the one to give it. Besides, Gary was as important to her as any of her immediate family and she aimed to see to it that his friends and family were reassured (not to mention herself) that he was in the best hands.
“Gary, hon” she called shining the light around. “Are you in here?”
Fifteen feet from the entrance she found him where he lay. He was conscious, but barely, as she took her jack knife out of her pocket and cut the ropes that bound his legs. Then she reached behind his head and undid the gag.
“You’re gonna be fine honey. Just relax. I’m gonna take good care of you.” She smoothed the hair back from his forehead, appalled at the condition of his face. His eyes were swollen almost completely shut and there were numerous bruises. His bottom lip was split. Gary’s eyelids fluttered and he tried to speak but couldn’t.
By now the hole at the entrance of the cave was large enough for a full-grown man to get through. Two EMTs came in carrying their drug box. Sky sent one of them for some bolt cutters and a respirator. Upon his return Sky gently placed the oxygen mask over Gary’s face for a few minutes to help him get his lungs working properly again. The EMT cut the handcuffs off Gary’s wrists. Gently the EMTs rolled him over so that she could get a better look at him. By the light of the flashlight Sky did a fast preliminary exam of Gary’s battered body. Her biggest concern was about internal injuries and until she got him to a hospital she wouldn’t be able to tell about anything except broken bones. At her nod the EMTs loaded him onto a gurney and started for the now clear entrance. Sky preceded them. Once outside she went over to where Bernie, Chuck and Marissa with Spike were waiting anxiously for word of their son & friend.
“We’ve found him. I won’t kid you guys, he’s been hurt but I won’t know exactly how badly until I get him to the hospital and run some tests. The air in the cave was bad and he was having difficulty breathing. He’s had some oxygen and is breathing easier now.”
The gurney, with Gary wrapped in a couple of blankets on it, came out of the cave. His was pale, bruised, bloody and streaked with dirt where the sweat had run down his face as the air in the cave had gone bad. His eyes were closed and he still had an oxygen mask on.
“I’m going in the ambulance with him. You can follow. I’ll arrange for a police escort so you don’t get pulled over.” She reached over to hug all three of them before jogging over to where the ambulance waited, stopping briefly to talk to one of the police officers to arrange the escort for Bernie and Chuck.
Inside the ambulance on the way to the hospital Gary’s eyes opened again and he tried to speak again. Tears welled up in his eyes as he tried to thank his friend for saving his life. His voice would not come so he reached for her hand and clung to it like a drowning swimmer clings to a life preserver. Sky held his hand tight and laid her other hand on his forehead.
“Ssssh. Don’t try to talk right now Gary. We’ll be at the hospital soon and we’ll get you checked out. Just relax and let me take care of you. Just pretend you’re that lost and frightened four year old that I found in the mountains so long ago.”
Gary sighed and closed his eyes. Later he’d tell her how he felt. How he’d known when he heard her voice outside the cave that he’d be safe. He concentrated on breathing and trying to ignore the pain in his ribs.
At the hospital she was all business. She ordered a blood test, x-rays, a MRI and a CT scan to find out the extent of his injuries. She was vastly relieved when the results showed that the drug in his system had worn itself off in the hours he was in the cave. The x-rays revealed a couple of cracked ribs but the results of the CT and the MRI were also good. Gary had survived his ordeal in relatively good condition. He was battered and bruised but he would be fine.
Late the next morning Sky sat by his bedside waiting for him to regain consciousness. She’d given him a sedative to help him sleep and then promptly settled herself in his room to keep watch over him only taking time to run home and shower and change her grimy clothes. His parents and friends were anxiously waiting for word that they could see him.
Gary moaned softly and, then as his eyes started to flutter open, he began to cry out for his “sister”.
“Sky. Sky? Help me! Please, help me!”
“Sssh! It’s all right, sweetie. I’m right here.” Sky reached down and took his hand. Leaning over him she laid her other hand on his forehead to soothe him.
Gary’s brownish-green eyes opened to the sight of Sky Fairfax’s dark blue eyes looking into his. He attempted a smile when he saw her.
“Hi, yourself. How do you feel?”
Sky laughed softly at that remark. “I’m not surprised. Those guys worked you over pretty good. But outside of a couple of cracked ribs you’re in pretty good shape. You have a split lip and a lot of bruises but it could have been a lot worse. You almost suffocated.”
Putting his hand down gently she reached for her stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff. Pleased with what she found she smiled. Then she retrieved a thermometer from the bedside chest of drawers. Popping it in his mouth before he could protest that he was fine she checked his pulse while she waited for the thermometer to register. One quick check of his eyes and she was completely satisfied that he would recover completely. To be sure, there was still some swelling around his eyes but it would go down. A couple of days of TLC and he would be up and around again, although it meant babying his sore ribs for a few weeks.
“Are you up for some company for a couple of minutes? There are some people anxiously waiting to see you.”
Crossing over to the door she opened it to admit Bernie & Lois Hobson, Chuck & Marissa. All had waited anxiously for word of Gary’s condition. Sky had been insistent that Gary not have too many people in the room when he awakened. She was concerned that the trauma of his ordeal might cause him to react adversely before he was completely awake.
“He’s awake. You can see him for five minutes. I don’t want him to wear himself out trying to talk too much just yet. He still has to talk to the police you know.”
Bernie, Lois, Chuck & Marissa walked into the room and up to Gary’s bed. When she reached her son’s bedside Lois, a petite blonde with big blue eyes bent over to kiss him.
“Gary, honey,” his mom said, “Are you ok? I was so worried when your dad called.”
His dad, serious for once in his life, reached down to squeeze his son’s hand. “How are you feeling Gar?” he asked.
“I..I’m all right. Just a little sore.” Gary’s voice was still a bit weak along with his body.
“Hey, Gar,” Chuck said. “You gave us a scare when you didn’t come home.”
Marissa, on the other side of the bed, bent over to give her friend a kiss on the forehead. “We were so worried Gary. Are you really okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine,” he reassured his friend. It was harder for her to accept that he was okay since she couldn’t see the smile he gave her. He squeezed her hand to emphasize his words. Looking at his doctor friend he asked, “When can I get out of here.”
“Tomorrow or the next day,” Sky answered him. “I want to keep a close eye on you for another day. Then you can go home.” At his hopeful expression she added “But not to Chicago. You’re going home with your parents for a couple of days. It’ll do you a lot of good to let your Mom take care of you for a few days.”
“But…” Gary tried to protest.
“No buts Gary. Home to Hickory for at least 2 days or else you’re staying in here for those two days.”
Lois was thrilled. She and Bernie saw so little of Gary as it was since he’d moved out of the house to go to college. And now, having come so close to losing their only child, she couldn’t wait to have him home for a few days.
There came a knock at the door. Detective Crumb stood in the doorway looking slightly uncomfortable at interrupting this reunion.
Knowing that it was essential that he talk to Gary as soon as possible Sky shooed everyone else out of the room. They’d have plenty of time to talk and reassure themselves that Gary was fine over the next couple of days. In the meantime the police needed to get his statement while the events of the last few days were clear in his mind. However, that did not mean she was going to leave them alone together. Gary had suffered a severe physical, emotional and psychological shock. She was his doctor as well as his friend and she was going to see that he wasn’t pushed too hard.
“So, uh, Hobson,” Crumb started. “How are ya feelin’? Think you can answer a few questions?”
“I’m sore, but Sky says I’ll be ok,” Gary replied.
The old cop looked at the younger man’s face and came to a decision to make it short and sweet. He took Gary’s statement about what happened to him the day he got the phony message from him. Then he left the hospital and headed for the police station. He had a few matters to clear up with the chief regarding extradition of the two kidnappers.
“Uh, Sky, why do I have to go home to Hickory? Couldn’t I rest just as well at home in the loft?”
“No. If I let you go home to Chicago you’re just going to run around the city or get stressed out managing McGinty’s with or without Chuck’s dubious help. Home to Hickory and let your mom take care of you for a couple of days. It’ll do you both good. You’ll get the benefits of your mom’s cooking and she and your dad will have the reassurance that their only son is truly safe and sound. And the peace and quiet will do you a lot of good.”
Thus ended the argument. Gary wasn’t stupid. He knew he’d lost his bid for returning to his loft right away. There was no use arguing any further. Sky was a stubborn Scot and as his personal physician of record she could very well order him to stay in the hospital if he refused to cooperate.
A week later, Gary was home in Chicago. The time spent in Hickory had worked wonders for renewing his strength and energy. Lois had promptly put him to bed in his old room upon arrival and plied him with a large bowl of chicken soup. Three days of rest and her cooking put the color back in his face and the light back in his eyes.
The following Saturday the Hobson and Fairfax families along with Marissa, Chuck and Sam Delaney celebrated together at a large family gathering. Both families were very thankful to have their children safe and sound. Sky’s brothers had broken the news to their parents about both Sky and Gary’s close calls. The Chicago Police Department had uncovered a dirty cop in their midst that was responsible for the burglary at the clinic and the kidnapping, beating and attempted murder of Gary. With Sky and Sam’s testimony it would be a long time before any of the gang saw the light of day out side of prison walls. Upon their arrival at McGinty’s which was closed to all but the two families and their friends Gary was gathered into Mrs. Fairfax’s arms for a motherly hug. Sky’s dad clapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. This was the thanks he would get from them. That and knowing they were happy that he was part of their family again.
Gary was surprised and a little embarrassed when Jamie Fairfax walked in. Jamie turned out to be Gary’s Good Samaritan from the park. It had been so long since they’d lain eyes on each other that neither one of them had recognized the other. This gave Gary a chance to really thank Jamie for his help that day. He’d been too tired and almost sick to remember whether he had said thanks. Sky’s eyebrows rose when she heard their little exchange. Neither Gary nor his friends had mentioned the fact that Gary had gotten sick that day. She was not very happy with him for withholding that little piece of information but as long as he was ok now she wouldn’t press the issue. Especially in light of what he’d just gone through.
The room was cleared of all tables except those put together to seat the group that was gathered. A stereo was set up and music of all varieties was played. When the dancing started, Marissa was swept onto the dance floor to waltz with Jamie. The Fairfax family was determined that the young blind woman be able to participate in as much of the activity as possible. While she may not have been able to do any of the faster dances such as the Twist, or a polka or swing dancing or anything of that nature Jamie was a smooth dancer and Marissa had no problems at all following his lead. The music was one of Sky’s favorite waltzes - The Sleeping Beauty Waltz. As for Gary, well, his “sister” claimed him as her partner while Chuck wound up with Sky’s mom. Bernie sat it out and Lois danced with Sky’s brother Alan. Sky’s dad sat talking with Bernie. Sam danced with Alan’s wife Kim. The corny jokes, riddles and stories were flying thick and furious as snowflakes in a blizzard. Afterward Sky would state with conviction that she had told the best one because she got Gary to smile and laugh.
“Hey, Gary,” Sky asked, “What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?”
“I don’t know. What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?”
“Frost…” Gary couldn’t help himself. He smiled and started to laugh. “That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.”
“Maybe so, but it made you laugh didn’t it?”
As they sat down to dinner, Sky’s dad called for everyone’s attention by tapping his water glass.
“Could I have everyone’s attention?” The room fell silent as they all looked at him expectantly. “I’d like to propose a toast. To our friendships old and new. May they last forever.”
“To Friendship,” everyone responded.
Email the author: Janet.E.Brayden@nae02.usace.army.mil