“Dr. Redstone. Dr. Redstone. Code zero. Repeat, code zero!”
Gideon Waters paused halfway through the doorway to the room of his next duty station to listen. A Dr. Redstone page alerted all assigned personnel to multiple severe traumas coming into the emergency room soon. Code zero meant it was not a drill but the real thing, so they should drop everything and come now.
Gideon stepped back into the hallway, catching himself holding his breath as he waited to see if the page would be repeated. Jarring static momentarily filled the corridor as the hospital operator keyed open the channel but didn’t speak right away.
“On-call patient aide, ER. On-call patient aide, answer Dr. Redstone. Code zero.” Her voice sounded slightly incredulous, as though she too wondered why a PA, a glorified orderly, was being summoned on the call.
Gideon looked up at the speaker in surprise. The urgent page was meant for him. In his first six months on the job at the Riverside County Medical Center of Western Pennsylvania, he had never been paged on a code zero Redstone alert. He dreaded what he would find in the ER. They were desperate if they wanted him there.
He hurried through the labyrinth of hallways. The three-story hospital, perched on the top of Round Knob above the city of Bridetown, spread its sterile hallways in three long wings over acres of old cornfields. Gideon was working full-time and saving his money to pursue a degree in physical therapy. That is, he had been saving money until one night eight months ago when his wife, Christine, announced that she was pregnant. Dreams of college and being part of a profession would have to wait. He sighed. One thing at a time, he reminded himself. JP would tell me that one thing at a time is all a sane man can handle.
At thirty-three, he sometimes worried that it was getting too late to start a real career. But it couldn’t be helped. He had been excited about the opportunity when Christine got the job at the Riverside County school. They bought their first house in the older section of the county seat. They’d laughed at the quaint name—Bridetown. It seemed that 123 years ago when the town was incorporated, the local sign painter imbibed a little too heavily one night, and while coping with a ferocious hangover the next morning, he’d left out the g for what was to be the town of Bridgetown. Not wanting to pay for a new sign, the name was adopted.
The swoosh of the pneumatic doors into the ER summoned him from his daydreaming. The controlled chaos of the trauma teams quickly drove away all remnants of homey sentiment.
“PA! Get started! Move it!”
A nurse with close-cropped silver hair, the weathered face of a lifelong smoker, and a voice to match motioned impatiently for Gideon to hurry it up.
Then he smelled it. Blood. The green scrubs of the doctors, nurses, and techs hurrying in and out of the rooms were brown with it. He knew its odor would stick to the inside of his nostrils for the next couple of days.
“In here,” the charge nurse commanded. “They’re slipping and sliding in all the blood.”
“What happened?” Gideon asked quietly as he stepped into the trauma room. He’d never seen so much blood before. It covered the floor, splattered the walls, and dripped continuously from the stretcher. The doctors’ gloves were bright crimson.
“MVA.” Her businesslike tone softened a touch. “Fog on the boulevard. They hit head-on. The police say it looks like neither one had time to react. Probably lost control on the wet road. This lady didn’t have her seat belt on. Pretty far along too. On impact, she got thrown around and impaled on the stick shift. They’re trying to keep her alive while they get the baby out.”
“My God!” Gideon gasped.
“Clean it up without getting in the way.” The nurse’s tone was back to impersonal, professional sternness.
Gideon retrieved a damp mop from the closet and made quick swipes around the trail of blood leading into the room. The murmuring of the staff suddenly stopped.
“Damn! Lost them both.” A doctor not much older than he was pronounced the time of death and walked past Gideon without seeing him.
Gideon stole a quick glance at the hideous violation of the woman’s body. Tubes ran out of every opening of her naked, shattered form, a horrible gaping wound showing where her womb so recently cradled new life. A sterile drape covered her face. He couldn’t stomach the sight and looked away. The nurses looked stunned as they undid the life-support apparatus and finished the job by rote.
Gideon hesitated. “How’s the other victim?” he asked an EMT, whose young face showed fear.
She looked at him as if he were from another planet. “The doctors think he’s going to make it. It’s going to be tough when he learns what happened. You never forget something like this. Nobody does.”
Gideon backed out of the room, intending to fill a bucket with disinfectant. He heard his shoes squeaking as he walked and looked down. They were stained red. Streaks of blood crept halfway up the pant legs of his white uniform.
A cry of shocked recognition came from the next trauma room. “It’s Elijah Marks!”
Gideon spun around. A trauma nurse hurried by as he stepped to the opening in the cubicle.
“It’s the hospital chaplain,” she said. “He was on his way in to make some late presurgical rounds. Broken back, fractured legs, possible internal bleeding, and a concussion. Looks like he’ll make it, thank God. Did you clean up that bloody mess?”
“I’m taking care of it, Nurse.” Gideon glanced in the room. The man’s face was gray and drawn, bearing witness to the terrible pain. He made no sound.
The gruff voice of Chuck Baker, his supervisor, sounding gravelly and strained, called to him from the nearby nurse’s station. The barrel-chested man looked down at the floor, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Gideon frowned. “What’s wrong, Chuck?”
The older man took a deep breath and met Gideon’s gaze. “I’m real sorry, Gideon. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll drive you home.”
“Home? Why would I go home, Chuck? I just started my shift! Christine’s probably just getting settled in front of the television after dropping me …” His voice trailed off.
Chuck ran thick fingers through his thinning gray hair. “I’m real sorry, Gideon.”
Gideon felt like his heart was going to explode and burst through his ribs. His voice rising, he cried, “What are you talking about? Chuck, tell me! What happened?”
By now he was shouting, cold panic flooding his senses. The lights in the room were too bright; the floor spun, and the noises of the emergency room blended into a dull roar.
Chagrin blanketed Chuck’s features. “I’m sorry. I thought somebody had told you when I heard that page. When I saw that you were already here, I figured …” Chuck’s head swiveled side to side, looking for a way to finish.
“Here? She’s here?” Gideon felt like someone was strangling him. The baby was due in just over six weeks. A heavy weight pressed on his chest, making it difficult to breathe.
He pushed past the apologetic figure in front of him and ran to the adjacent room. He stopped at the side of the body, covered now with a clean sheet. His trembling fingers finally reached out to lift the corner. It was her hair, her lips, her beautiful cheeks.
With an anguished scream, his eyes wild with disbelief and shock, Gideon dashed to the room next door. Two doctors grabbed him, desperately trying to fight off the enraged man as he struggled with superhuman strength to get at the now unconscious figure.
“Murderer! I’ll kill you!” He screamed and screamed until he ran out of voice. The doctors let go, and he collapsed into a corner, sobbing and alone.