By Fern Driscoll
Chapter 8 The Glow That Illumines, The Glare That Obscures
Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers and contact information
(Chapter 8 title thanks to James Thurber, American author, humorist, and dog lover)
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
-George W. Bush
"Can't…find…pants…aaargh!" Kate's muffled voice could be heard from the recesses of the dryer as she frantically pawed through the jumbled clothing it held. So far she was dressed only in rather mismatched underwear: red lace bikini bottoms and gray sports bra top. Presently, seizing a pair of bright green cargo shorts from the pile, she muttered, "these'll do" as she hopped about on one foot, then the other, yanking the shorts up her long legs. "Shirt…shirt…shirt" A few moments later she pulled her prize from the pile: a fetching tank top decorated with multi-colored shellfish and the legend "Eat Bertha's Mussels" emblazoned on the front and back. Thus attired, she scrambled into the kitchen in search of a pair of tennis shoes she remembered having left there.
Unfortunately, she had also previously left Fred and Ethel there. Fred and Ethel were unique and separate personalities, but in some things - the important things, to a dog - they were of one mind. They were in complete agreement that the putting on of shoes could mean only one thing.
"No, I am not taking you out. Get off me and let me tie my shoes, ya mutts!" Kate struggled to get her shoes on despite the enthusiastic assistance of the siblings. "You all just came inside, you're still all wet. Just settle down and I'll be right back." Grabbing her rain jacket and keys, Kate wedged herself out the door, quickly closing it before a canine nose or paw could sneak through. The dogs went to the window, placed their matching black paws on the wide windowsill, watched until their human companion's form disappeared into the car, then hopped down and happily resumed their naps.
The drive to PAX River was wet and treacherous, but Kate knew the winding country roads well. She pushed the Mercedes' powerful diesel to the limits of safety. Cam's aborted plea had awakened in her a sense of urgency she didn't know she still possessed, and she was determined to reach the Station and somehow gain access to the VOQ. That was where, she was convinced, Cam's call had originated, and she hoped the reporter was still there or at least in the vicinity. "Cam's in a jam alright," she mused, slipping into her Nancy Drew persona. "I should have known that Rowan character was a bad apple just by the way Ethel reacted to him! Why, she likes everyone." Kate's channeling of the pert, blonde detective of yesteryear was abruptly cut short, when, pulling to a stop at the main intersection in Lexington Park, she beheld the façade of her sister-in-law's place of business, and suddenly realized it was (a) Thursday, and (b) after 5:00.
When the light changed, Kate maneuvered the car into the left lane and thence into the small parking lot adjacent to a tiny 2-story brick building. The entire side of the building facing the intersection was covered with a mural, the main features of which were the back of a bald head, wisps of hair falling like feathers, and the legend "What Hair?" inscribed in 3 foot high scarlet letters.
Kate scrambled out of the car and bolted into the building, pausing in the miniscule reception area to get her bearings. The reception area could hardly be called a room in its own right; rather, it was a vestibule created by the artful placement of a free-standing counter and several ceiling-high shelves holding a variety of hair products and cosmetics. At the counter sat a young woman of about 16 years of age, costumed and coiffed in the manner of a teenaged Morticia Addams. Her anemic complexion coupled with dark circles around her eyes and starkly outlined lips gave the impression at first glance that she was seriously ill. She was, however, a perfectly healthy teen who happened to be a member of Lexington Park's "Goth" subculture. Kate was familiar with the vampirish look, having lived in Manhattan for almost eight years. She didn't think, however, that she was acquainted with this particular specimen.
"Hi Katie! How ya doin? Hey, nice outfit! Let me run in the back, I'll tell Serena you're here," said the young woman cheerily, and disappeared into the inner regions of the small salon. Her sister-in-law's business was a small concern, albeit popular. Serena herself and one other stylist took care of their wide variety of clients, from military types needing a "high and tight" to denizens of the local assisted-living facilities who came for their weekly shampoo and set. But though Serena and Justin had been with the salon since it opened, their receptionist and shampoo staff seemed to change like the wind. Kate barely got to know a name, it seemed, before another teenager had taken the shampooist's or receptionist's place. This one, however, though Kate was certain she was new, seemed to know her… maybe her memory was starting to slip.
The gloomily attired girl returned, with a short, curly-haired woman following her.
"Hey, Kate, Brittany here said you just dropped by - with no rugrat. What's up?"
"Brittany? Brittany Chambers? Oh, uh, hi Brittany, I didn't recognize you at first. You seem so much, uh, older since last year." Kate had known the young girl since her infancy, since her large family were longtime neighbors, and Kate had even babysat for the five children on occasion while herself a teen. Brittany was the youngest, and had certainly changed from the sweet-faced blonde of a year ago.
"I am older," the girl said, with dignity. "I'm, like, sixteen now."
Serena, impatiently waiting while this exchange played out, again asked, "So Kate, where's Harry? You're on your way to get him, right?"
"Listen, Ser, uh, I need to talk to you a minute" Kate said as she led the smaller woman away from the avidly listening Brittany. "A kind of emergency came up, I've got to get over to PAX River right away, I can't pick him up today, I'm really sorry but I have to get going, maybe Spike can get away -"
Serena held up her hand in a traffic cop gesture. She waited as Kate's babble faded away, then asked, "Kate, you're not making a lot of sense and you're scaring me. What is the matter?" She gave the tall, obviously troubled woman a serious look. She had not really known her sister-in-law well before her move back to Maryland the year before. But since that time, they had begun to develop a friendship beyond the bounds of familial obligation. The Kate Serena knew was detached, almost reserved, and never flustered and agitated as she now appeared. Something major must have happened, though Serena couldn't think what.
"Ser, you remember that car crash in my front yard earlier this week? Well, um, that woman in the crash, she called me, she was supposed to be staying at PAX in the VOQ, but she sounded like she was really in trouble, and then her cell cut off, and I know that guy that took her there, well, Ethel didn't like him for starters, and -"
"OK," Serena said, again holding up her hand, " I'm not sure, but I think I understand some of this now. You like this woman, right?" As she waited for Kate's answer, she was astounded to see her normally unflappable sister-in-law overtaken by a definite blush. "You like her! Who is she? She's some kind of reporter, right? Does she live near here? What's her n-"
It was Kate's turn to play traffic cop. Holding up both hands, she said, "I don't have time right now Ser, I promise I'll tell you everything as soon as I can. I just stopped by real quick on my way to tell you I can't pick up Harry today. So I really gotta go," and, giving Serena a quick hug, she headed for the door and smack into Brittany, who was holding the phone out to Serena.
"It's Spike for you. He said he tried your cell but the storm's knocked out the signal."
With a wave, Kate sidestepped the receptionist and again headed for the door. Almost escaping, she was accosted on the doorstep by two arriving dowagers. Mrs. Smoot and Mrs. Olivetti were What Hair? regulars and fixtures of the senior citizen set. Both ladies stopped in the doorway, effectively blocking it, and keenly looked her up and down. One of them took a deep breath and opened her mouth.
"Why, Katie Hellman, I heard something about you just this week I could hardly credit. I wouldn't have believed my own ears if Hazel here hadn't been there and swore it's the God's own truth, I said to Hazel that don't seem like the Katie Hellman I know but I guess folks change and when I stop to think about it, why, I guess you're close to 30 now aren't you honey, about time you start doing something in the community, now your mother, she -"
Kate, being born and bred to good manners, could not see a way past the two ladies, without at least uttering a pleasantry or two. It would have helped had she known who they were, and what they were talking about, but she gallantly launched in anyway, giving them a charming smile.
"Yes, so nice to see you again, I'll be sure to tell my mother when I talk to her. Well, I was just on my way out, and - what was that?" The lady with the improbably red hair was digging in her voluminous purse, and, after a moment, fished out some papers and thrust them at her, finishing up her monologue with "…so all you have to do is have Ethel's vet fill these out and you can bring them with you on your first visit."
Kate, having not the faintest idea what the woman was talking about, chimed in with what she hoped were appropriate nods, smiles, and a hurried "Of course," and snatching the papers, once again tried to make her escape.
Having made it to the parking lot, and in the act of opening her car door, Kate sighed in resignation as she heard Serena's voice yodeling her name from the doorway.
"Spike wants to talk to you!" she yelled, waving the phone.
The Mercedes' powerful Kompressor roared to life, wheels spun sending gravel flying, and Kate once again sped through the town, this time in the opposite direction. Her conversation with her brother had been brief.
"Katie, I'm down here at the station in Solomon's. I just got a call from a friend of mine out on a SMECO* truck. They're over doing some storm damage work in that little housing development just south of PAX River, what's it called, Sandy Shores -"
"Sandy Level," Kate snapped, "Is there some point to this, or are you just passing the time over there telling so far not very seafaring tales?"
"Just have a little patience, Katie, the point is they came across this doctor, or what they thought was a doctor, wandering around by the seawall, or I should say limping around by the seawall, soaking wet, and they figure her car broke down or something, so a couple of the guys go over to see if she needs a ride or a tow or some-"
"Spike, I've got to go, I'm sure this is a very interesting tale, but I got a very disturbing call from - from a friend of mine, and I'm -"
It was Spike's turn to interrupt (if their mother could have heard this conversation she would have been most upset). "That's what I'm trying to tell you! This doctor or whoever was trying to call you! Her cell got cut off because of the storm! So she asked Tyrone - he's my friend who called me - he plays in the softball league in- all right! All right!" this as Kate made more strenuous protests about getting on with it. "She asked him if they had a phone in the truck that worked and she asked him to call you!"
Kate's mind worked through several different scenarios, trying to make sense of Spike's story. Did she know any doctors who lived or worked near the base? There was Sherry, but she was, to put it mildly, not likely to call Kate after the way their short affair had ended. A thought occurred to her, and she once again interrupted Spike's seemingly pointless rambling.
"Spike, you said she was limping - was she wearing a cast on her leg?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, if you'd just listen a minute. She's got a broken ankle and her cast is all cracked and wet, so the SMECO guys are taking her over to St Anne's."
As he spoke, Kate ran back to the What Hair entrance, and, at these last words, tossed the phone to a startled Brittany, and sped back to her car.
"Kate? Kate? Oh, uh, hi Brittany…"
Cam was in the back yard of the nondescript rambler. No alarm had been raised after her attack on the man left to watch her, so she allowed herself to rest for a moment, leaning against the corner post of the carport, and make a quick survey. The back yard was not fenced, and neither was the yard directly behind it. Those on either side were: one with a tall stockade fence, and one with standard chain link.
Leaning down to check her throbbing foot, Cam discovered a large crack in the side of the cast. Duct tape. Always carry duct tape - I'm going to make a note of that as soon as I get…somewhere. She took a couple of cautious steps. Now that her adrenaline high was wearing off, it was definitely painful to put her weight on it. But, considering the alternative, she resolutely took off as quickly as the injury would allow, across the two back yards, down the neighbor's driveway, and into the street. Once there, she assumed a casual gait, as though she were just out for a walk, and began to circle around to get a look at the street sign and, possibly, house number, of her former prison.
It could be base housing… these places all look the same… hmmm… the paint and shutters are different on some, though…Ah, a street sign, let's see, 'Flowery Meadow Way.' No, definitely not on the base. This would be Rickover Drive or something like that. And here's the street I came from…'Knotty Pine Way' OK, and this is number 300, so… Cam did a rough calculation of the street numbers, peering around the shrubbery of the house on the corner, then took off again, trying to put as much space between herself and the house as possible.
That guy was pretty big, he probably won't be out too long, I need to be out of here before he starts looking. Although, he'll have to change, it looked like he was in his bathrobe or something...
After taking a circuitous route through the neighborhood, Cam had come to rest at the seawall, which protected her from the view of the street while still allowing her to see any approaching vehicles. She tried several times to get a signal on her cell phone, and was about to give up, when she finally heard the call going through and Kate's welcome voice. Her elation was short-lived, however, when the call dropped before she had a chance to give Kate any information.
Now what, she thought disconsolately. I guess I'm going to have to knock on one of these people's doors and ask them to call me a cab. She looked down at her bedraggled appearance. I know I wouldn't open the door to someone who looks like this, but I can't just hang around here in this storm. It's going to be dark soon, too.
Cam wearily emerged from behind the seawall. As she made her way back to the street, she saw the blinking yellow lights of a large utility truck rounding the corner.
"So, it's the second time this week I've been driven here in a vehicle with blinking lights," Cam finished as the SMECO truck pulled up to the hospital emergency entrance. Her new friends, Tyrone and Gary, were still a little puzzled as to why she had been wandering around in St Anne's scrubs in the middle of a tropical storm. Cam, however, was in the throes of growing paranoia by this time, and felt it best not to share her true story with too many people. After all, she thought, I really don't know anyone here. They could all be in on some kind of loony plot, like in that body snatcher movie. Maybe these guys are part of that brown bathrobe cult too. So she had made up a barely plausible tale about her car breaking down, and losing her way trying to walk to a gas station. Of course, then she had to make up more bogus details when they wanted to know where her car was, and didn't she say her car was totaled in the accident, and so on. O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! Cam guiltily remembered the irritating phrase her mother had been fond of using when Cam, prone to storytelling even as a child, had tried to lie her way out of trouble.
So it was with a sense of relief that Cam said her goodbyes and thank you's to her rescuers, dissuading them with some difficulty from waiting with her after she checked in.
"I really appreciate it, guys, but I'll be just fine here - remember, this is my second time, I'm a veteran here. Besides, it looks like a lot of people are going to be needing your services out there," she said with a wave of her hand at the worsening storm outside. Then she settled in, as the sign indicated, to wait. I'll have to remember this if I ever have to go to the emergency room again - come in an ambulance, better service. It was true; several ambulances had arrived and disgorged their cargo since Cam had arrived, each time going to the head of the line. I bet if they have Medevac here the helicopters bump everyone else too. But Cam was feeling the effects of her long day and night, and as the adrenaline subsided along with her fear, she was content to drowse in her chair and let the waiting room cacophony wash over her.
"Mommy, you said I was gonna get a shot, but I got a needle!"
"…so then Fluffy - that's the other weasel - got out from under the front seat and was tryin' to climb up my pants leg, and when I looked down for just a second, well, then the light had changed!"
"…and, my lands, I could hardly see with all this rain, and then when I went to cross the street, BAM! There was this durn fool on a bicycle!"
"Doctor! Doctor! Can't you do something about my foot?" With a start, Cam came out of her fog, realizing this was being addressed to her. She looked up to see a large, seemingly inebriated man, wearing pajamas, a rain slicker, and a hunting cap. He was energetically thrusting his left foot, partially covered in a filthy bandage, in her direction. Omigod, he's going to put that thing on me, Omigod -
Mesmerized by the horrid appendage, Cam didn't see a tall figure approach behind the intoxicated would-be patient. Kate tapped the man on the shoulder. He half turned, an irritated frown beginning to form on his blubbery features.
"She's not a doctor," Kate smirked.
"But she's got those -those doctor pajamas on! They say St Anne's and she's here, ain't she?" the man riposted, triumphantly.
Kate maneuvered past him, and sat down next to Cam, saying, "She plays one on TV."
They watched him wander tipsily off, then looked at one another for a long moment.
After all her frantic haste to find Cam, Kate now found herself unable to formulate a complete sentence. "Um, my brother got a call, he knows the SMECO guy…"
Cam, for her part, didn't care how or why Kate came to be there. She drank in the dark beauty's visage for a moment, then, seeing the difficulty Kate was having, reached out and placed the tip of her finger on Kate's lips, stilling them mid-syllable. "I know. The guys told me they'd called. I'm so glad you're here."
This time the look was longer, more searching. Cam eventually realized that her finger still rested on the pillow of Kate's lower lip. She removed it, reluctantly. Kate, looking dazed, regretfully followed its retreat, stopping herself from snatching Cam's hand back.
Get a grip! Both mentally shook themselves.
Kate tried again. "I got worried after your call, I thought you were still at PAX River, but something didn't seem right about that, I, well, I can't explain it, but I haven't felt right about it since yesterday."
Cam looked around the waiting room. It had been steadily filling up the later it got. She turned to Kate with an imploring look. "Do you think you could go see how long it'll be before they see me? We could go get something to eat if it's going to be a while, and I can fill you in."
Soon, the two were ensconced in the relative quiet of a small snack room, with an array of delicacies from the vending machines spread before them. Kate had begged a pair of crutches from one of the harried ER nurses, and promised to check back every ten minutes or so to see if Cam's name had been called. Cam, for the first time all day, let some of the tension and fear leave her. She didn't know why, but something in her told her to trust Kate, and she needed to share her story with someone.
After hearing a synopsis of Cam's experiences, Kate restrained herself for a few moments, trying to put in order the myriad of questions dancing in her head. Finally, she spoke, her voice filled with subdued anger.
"Cam, you know you were out for almost 24 hours. Do you remember any of these men, well, do you remember them in that bathroom with you, did they hurt you or…"
Cam could see the deep anger and upset in Kate's eyes, and it dawned on her what she was trying to get at. "Oh. Oh, no, Kate, I don't think they did anything to me. I mean, I don't remember anything, I think I might have woken up…" But a new fear had taken hold. What if they had?
Kate slowly reached over and brushed her thumb over Cam's cheek. Willing her voice into a calm, even register, she said, "Stay here for a moment. I'm going to get the nurse, and we'll get you looked at right away, OK? I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, but we'll just make sure." She looked into Cam's eyes for a moment, until she saw a slight nod of assent, then got up and headed back to the reception area.
To Cam, it seemed like only moments passed before a nurse, an orderly, and a wheelchair appeared beside the table, shepherded by Kate. She was quickly transferred to the wheelchair, and, as she was wheeled away, she looked back and reached out a hand. Kate was instantly at the wheelchair's side, grasping her hand in a warm, reassuring grasp.
"Patient presented with deterioration of cast and considerable swelling. Upon removal of cast and examination I suspect additional damage to lateral malleolar ligaments but no further displacement or significant additional trauma to the fracture site. Non-walking cast was applied. Recommend followup x-ray in one week."
Dr. Singh, who had been pacing about as he spoke into his small recorder, snapped it off, and returned to the examining table where Cam lay, shielding her eyes from a glaring examination light.
"It is lucky for you, young lady, that I am on call this week. I hope I am not destined to see you any more often than this, not that you are not a delightful patient. I am on call only until Saturday. Will you promise me to stay away from the Emergency Room until at least a few more days?" He asked, with a mischievous smile.
Cam wearily smiled in agreement. "I'll try, Doctor. I like this cast - I really will try to keep it on." She looked down at her leg, where a new, shocking pink cast now encased her foot and leg.
"And remember, do not walk on this cast - crutches only!" Dr. Singh admonished over his shoulder, as he hurried on to his next patient.
Cam sat wearily on the examining table for a moment. What a day! What a couple of days! She was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. Tears formed in her eyes and she let her head fall forward.
Kate, lurking outside the cast room, saw Doctor Singh and the technician leave. Finally! The cast application was the last stop for Cam after an exhausting round of tests, examinations, and x-rays. They would not have definitive results of her gynecological exam until the following day, but the doctor had stated that, based on her exam, she did not see any evidence of assault. Kate had felt a little of her simmering rage dissipate at this news. She was still, however, coldly resolved to track down the mysterious Rowan and his robed cohorts, and when she did…
Kate shook off her dark thoughts for the moment, summoned up a cheery smile, and entered the cast room to find a teary-eyed Cam slumped on the table. Oh no. Not crying. Anything but crying. I can't take crying. She's gonna kill me with this.
Kate cautiously approached the miserable figure. Cam looked up, her face streaked and red. Kate slowly reached out a hand. "Come home with me?" she offered, with a small grin. Cam, smiling a little through her tears, took her hand.
*SMECO - Southern Maryland Electric Company. Thanks for the light in the storm!
Continued in Chapter 9
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