Chapter 5 Ethel Upsets the Applecart
Cameron woke slowly the morning after her accident, feeling very disinclined to move. Adding to her general feeling of disorientation, she gradually began to notice the evidence of the previous nights snackfest:
What the. . . am I back in Georgia? Where did I get a googoo cluster?
And. . . my god, did I eat all this stuff? No wonder I feel sick. . .
Continuing her perusal, Cam noticed the presence of her tote bag for the first time. The wheels began to turn a little less sluggishly, as her brain reluctantly kicked into gear. My bag. . . so Kate must have come last night. . .that might explain all this disgusting junk food. . . too bad I can't remember. . .Well, anyway, at least I have my phone and Palm.
Flipping open her Palm Pilot, Cam quickly found the phone numbers she had jotted down for Captain Lake's office.
"Hello, may I speak to Captain Lake please?" she asked, in a voice somewhat gravelly from her travails.
"I'm sorry, but Captain Lake is on TDY, this is Lt. Beekman, may I help you with anything?" answered the smooth female voice.
"TDY? You mean travel - he's out of town?" Cam asked, puzzled.
"Yes, that's right, he left yesterday morning. Perhaps I can help you?"
"Yesterday morning - but I had an appointment with him - I'm Cameron Jackson, CNN, we had an appointment yesterday for an interview. That's why I'm calling, as a matter of fact, I was in an accident on the way there and I'm in the hospital. I wanted to see if my office had called, or at least to let him know what happened. I didn't want him to think I was standing him up," she said, with a little laugh.
There was a slight pause, then the woman on the other end said, "Let me just check his calendar for you, Ms. Jackson. Yesterday. . . no, I don't see anything in here about an interview. As I said, Captain Lake is on TDY, he left early yesterday. Are you sure you have the date right?"
Cam was now thoroughly confused. She quickly rechecked her Palm Pilot calendar, verifying the date and time of the interview. "I know it was yesterday - in fact I had just talked to him the day before to confirm - besides, I have it in my Palm, I know I would have updated it if there was a change -"
Abruptly, a new, male voice came on the line. "Who is this? May I help you?"
"Um, I was speaking with Lt. Beekman, I had an interview with Captain Lake -" Cam began.
The abrupt voice interrupted, "Ah. Is this Ms. Jackson? I'm afraid that will have to be cancelled for now. Where are you? Perhaps we can make arrangements for you to speak to someone else."
"Well, um, actually I'm in the hospital, that's the reason I was calling - I missed the interview -"
"What hospital are you in?" the voice interrupted again.
Something about the man's interrogation was starting to make Cam uneasy, although she couldn't identify just what. "I'm sorry, whom am I speaking to?" she asked. But the line had gone dead.
So strange. . . maybe I'm just still kind of out of it. . . I know we were supposed to meet yesterday, that I do remember. . . I just can't remember anything after that shot they gave me last night.. She thought for a moment longer about the unidentified man who had snatched the phone from Lt. Beekman, and then, with a shrug, put it out of her mind for the time being.
Next, Cam speed-dialed her office in Washington and reported her accident, finding that someone - Kate? - had already called the day before.
"God, Cam, we were so worried when we didn't hear anything," exclaimed Teresa, the office manager. "The person who called thought they were taking you to the base hospital, and we kept calling there, but they didn't have any record of you. Are you OK? Can we do anything? Send someone to get you? How's your car?"
"Whoa, slow down a second, Ter." Even though she had only known Teresa a few weeks, since moving to the area, they had already become friends, and she could hear the concern in the office manager's voice. "I'm here in the hospital in Leonardtown - the base hospital? I don't have any idea why they were thinking of taking me there. Anyway, I did get a little beat up. I broke my ankle, for starters." She could here the muffled gasp from the other end. "The doc thinks it'll be ok without surgery, though. I guess that's the good news. The bad news, besides feeling like I've been flattened by a steamroller, is that my poor little truck is no more."
"Oh my god, Cam. That really sucks. Lemme see, first things first, can I call someone, your parents or anyone? And then we need to get you some kind of vehicle - oh, wait a second, are you even going to be able to drive? I mean, when you get out of the hospital and all. . ."
Cam's attention began to drift as her animated friend rattled on. These were things she hadn't really considered, hadn't had the energy to face yet. Her parents were in Florida, her brother and his family in Germany. That took care of family. And, having only recently moved to the DC area, her circle of friends was rather limited. I guess I could call that girl I met at Polly Esther's last week, she thought wryly. She seemed interested in giving me a ride. Or maybe I could get to know a local girl a little bit better. . . she mused, a mental image of Kate overtaking her mind.
"Cam?" Teresa's questioning voice broke into her wandering thoughts, and she returned her attention to her friend. "You ok? I was asking if you know when you'll get out of the hospital. I'll see if me or James or someone can come down there when you get released, and see about getting you home."
"Uh, well, let me see if they let me leave today, and if I can drive, and I'll give you a call, OK? Its my right foot, and I have a cast up to my knee, so I dont know really know how Im going to drive. But first things first getting out of here. Ill call you, and thanks Ter."
Kate could hardly recognize her erstwhile mild-mannered pet. "Who are you and what have you done with Ethel," she muttered, as she was relentlessly pulled down yet another corridor. Since arriving at the hospital with Ethel in tow, Kate had seriously begun to doubt her brilliant idea. For one thing, upon her arrival, Carolyn had met her with an "orientation package" for the Pets-On-Wheels program, and proceeded to turn her over to the hospital occupational therapy director.
"Kate, this is Judy Aluisi, she's our liaison with Pets-on-Wheels. She just needs to run you through a quick orientation, then you'll be on your way. Bye, have fun!" This last with a smirk, as Carolyn made her escape.
Kate spared a helpless glare in her friend's direction, then turned, with what she hoped was a volunteer-like expression, to Judy.
"Kate, we're so happy to have you on board! I know you and Ethel will do just great! Let's just start you off over here, with these forms!" Judy was the type of person whose every sentence ended in an exclamation point. She was relentlessly cheerful, yet firmly determined to put Kate and Ethel through all the bureaucratic hoops before letting them loose on her patients. Consequently, it was another hour before Kate found herself beginning her rounds, in the rehabilitation and long-term care wing.
Surprisingly, Ethel had taken to the training like she had been doing it for years. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I've never been able to train her to do one thing. Kate thought. OK, here goes.
"Why Katie Hellman, is that really you? As I live and breathe - well, if you can call this living and breathing - what on earth are you doing here of all places? Aren't you staying up there in New York City, last I heard? And who's this little sweetie? Come to Mama, sweetie!" The large woman in the wheelchair, festooned with various IV and oxygen lines, propelled herself with surprising alacrity towards them.
"Oh, uh, hi Mrs. Claggett, nice to see you. Uh, this is Ethel, she's a Pets-On-Wheels visitor. Kate recognized the older woman as one of her mother's longtime friends.
Ethel needed no further encouragement. Tail wagging furiously, she wriggled up to the front of the wheelchair, momentarily pausing as she tried to figure out how to get within petting range. Then, with a graceful leap, she simply propelled herself into the invalid's lap.
"Whoa, Nellie! You gonna knock me out of here, sugar!" Mrs. Claggett, though jostled sideways and clearly startled, soon had a firm hold on Ethel and a delighted look on her face. Waving her free hand imperiously, she directed, "Katie, push us down that way, over to the lounge, I wanna show the girls this little sweetie."
Kate, with a furtive glance around for nurses or other authority figures (she was pretty sure lap-sitting on patients in wheelchairs was beyond the Pets-on-Wheels limits), turned the wheelchair in the direction of the lounge, whose elderly denizens greeted Ethel with delight.
Some time later, Kate trailed behind a determined Ethel, trying to orient herself in the labyrinthine hospital, and somehow steer a course for the orthopedics floor. Ethel, having her own agenda, continued her single-minded quest for adoration. As far as she was concerned, the place was nirvana: an unlimited source of adoring old ladies, all eager to pet her, spoil her, let her climb up on their beds - the little attention-seeker was relentless.
Kate finally dragged her to a halt when she spied an elevator. "OK Ethel, game's over, you little two-timer. Try to remember you're just a means to an end here. And don't get too used to it, either, because you're not coming back, hear me?" Ethel absorbed this with a tilt of her head, her enormous ears perked up, giving her a bat-like appearance. Kate perused the directory next to the elevator, and punched a button. She was suddenly nervous, not really having thought through what she'd say or do once she reached Cameron's room.
Assuming she's still there! What if they've already released her? I've been wasting so much time with all this visiting. . . Her brows drawn together in a slight frown, she looked up startled when the elevator doors opened on the orthopedic floor, into the eyes of a large, scrub-clad man. Changing her expression abruptly to one of professional cheeriness, she bubbled, "Hi there! Pets-On-Wheels! Comin' through! Thanks!" she said as she breezed past the man, who was now giving her a suspicious look.
"Uh, miss, hold it a minute - we don't really allow pet visits on the surgical floors - I think you must have lost your way. . . "
Kate thought fast. Continuing down the corridor at a fast clip, she threw over her shoulder, "Oh, no, the Administrator asked us to make an exception, there are a few patients here just begging for a pet visit - let's see, Ms. Jackson I think was one of them. . . I have the form here somewhere. . ." as she pretended to look for the nonexistent form, the man stood, indecisive, for a moment, then shrugged and got on the elevator.
"Whew, that was a close one, Ethel" she muttered. Ethel regarded her quizzically, but stopped short of answering, "Yeah, what are we going to do now, Lucy?"
Fortune smiled on the two, finally, as they passed the open door of Cameron's room. There next to the door was Cam, in a wheelchair with her tote bag beside her, and her injured leg supported on the upraised footrest. Kate stopped abruptly, momentarily speechless. Cam, too, seemed at a loss for words. But Ethel, seeing not only an inviting lap, but someone she actually knew, jumped into the breach (literally), and Cam found her lap filled with enthusiastic dog.
"Ohmygod. . .you brought your dog - hi, baby! I . . ." her voice trailed off as she met Kate's eyes, and suddenly she felt a lightness of spirit despite all her pain and worry. "It's good to see you, Kate. I didn't think I'd see you again before I left. I. . . I wanted to thank you for all you help yesterday, and - I guess you were here last night, and brought my bag? I don't really remember a whole lot about last night," she said with an uncertain laugh. Her attention was drawn back to Ethel, who had made herself comfortable and was contentedly licking Cam's neck.
She doesn't remember? Can that be? She sure doesn't seem mad or anything. Kate thought fast. "Yeah, uh, I just dropped your stuff off for you, the bag and your phone and all. You were pretty knocked out on your medication. So today, well, Ethel here and I do the Pets-on-Wheels thing, you know, visiting patients and all, so we thought we'd stop by and see if you were still here, see how you're doing. Uh, looks like you're getting ready to go somewhere?" Maybe she needs a ride. Maybe I'll find out where she lives. . .Kate's speculation was cut short.
"Yes, actually they are releasing me today. I thought I'd have to call someone to take me back to DC, but apparently someone from PAX River - where I had an interview yesterday? Well, they called earlier and they're sending someone over to get me. They're going to put me up in their VOQ for a few days, so I can still get an interview. Nice, huh?"
"Yeah, real nice," replied Kate, somewhat puzzled. She was pretty familiar with the base and its procedures, and knew that since the 9/11 attacks, security had been extremely tight on the base. She wondered that they would extend such an invitation to an uncleared civilian. Oh, well, I guess that's nice for her, she can still get what she came for. "Well, can I help you get downstairs, or anything? I can take that dog off your hands, at least. Ethel tends to be a little over-friendly." She coaxed a reluctant Ethel off Cam's lap.
"I have to wait for an orderly to wheel me down - some kind of hospital regulation. But you could walk down with me?" Cam looked up at her hopefully.
"Sure, we're just about done here, just finishing up really, " Kate began, but turning, spied the approaching orderly. "Looks like your ride's here. I'll get your stuff for you,' she said, breathing a sigh of relief that she had at least coaxed Ethel off the lap of her new best friend. The orderly, however, seemed unmindful of the dogs presence in an off-limits zone.
After a relatively easy discharge, Cam and Kate waited in the hospital's lobby for the Navy van Cam had been told to watch for. Kate, never one to question Providence, was filling her injured friend in on what had transpired the night before, up to but not including her abrupt exit, when, glancing down at her new friend, she was alarmed to see tears spilling from misty emerald eyes.
"What's the matter, you're not crying, are you?" she asked apprehensively.
"No, no, it's just my allergies, I think I must be allergic to Ethel," Cam sniffed, apologetically. "I have a lot of allergies - dog hair is one of them, unfortunately."
"Oh, well . . . Ethel, come over here. . . I'll try to get her as far away as possible -" Ethel reluctantly moved a few feet away and regarded Kate reproachfully for a moment, but suddenly her attention was diverted by an approaching figure. She gave a low menacing growl, and the hair stood up on her back.
"Ethel, what the. . . " Kate looked over her shoulder and saw a Navy Petty Officer approaching. He was short, but boxy, and solidly built. He was obviously looking for someone. He tentatively approached, warily keeping an eye on Ethel, and said "Ms. Jackson?" Receiving an affirmative nod from Cam, he reached for the wheelchair, introducing himself as CPO Rowan, her driver and escort to the base. Just as his hand touched the wheelchair's handle, Ethel gave a ferocious snarl and would have leapt for the man, had it not been for the tight hold Kate had on her leash.
"I'm terribly sorry, Chief Rowan, I don't know what's gotten into her, she is usually so friendly. . ." Kate hauled Ethel away, perplexed by the dog's reaction. What was it about this man that had set her off? It was odd - as she had said, Ethel loved everyone. She examined him covertly. He seemed ordinary enough, just a little - nervous. I guess I'd be nervous too, with a dog trying to rip my throat out. Oh well.
Kate waited until Cam was safely loaded in the van, then pushed her card into Cam's hand, and said, "Give me a call later when you're settled in, and let me know if there's anything you need. I could drive you somewhere, or . . . " she trailed off, a silly half-smile gracing her face.
Cam gave her one of her full-blast smiles, and, reaching for her hand, said "Thanks, I'll do that."
As Kate watched the van pull away, Ethel still softly grumbling by her side, she felt a warm glow, clouded by a vague sense of uneasiness. Something about this whole PAX River setup is funny, she mused, turning towards the visitor's parking lot.
To be continued in chapter 6
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