For disclaimers, see  Part 1

Part 27

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

After Alex left the clinic, Regina locked the front door and walked back to her desk. She settled down into a chair, dragged the top chart off the pile in front of her, and opened it. She scanned over the hastily scrawled notes and then rubbed a hand over her weary eyes.

"I wish I could do something to help Alex. I feel so useless sitting here, just waiting."

With a pensive sigh, she started to write the remainder of her notes for the patients she treated throughout the day.

An hour later, after working her way through half the pile, Regina leaned back in her chair, yawned and stretched her arms over her head. A sound from outside startled her and she twisted in her chair.

"What in the hell was that?"

At first, she attributed it to a loose shutter being rattled by the wind. Then, it came again, and this time, she realized the short, staccato like, high-pitched noise was a dogís frantic barking. The young doctor looked briefly at the pile of paperwork and stood up. She grabbed a flashlight from behind the counter and then lifted her coat off from behind the door.

Regina slipped her jacket on as she unlocked the front door. At the top of the steps, she zipped up her coat while soft gusts of air crystallized into a misty cloud in front of her with each breath.

Across the street, at the firehouse she made out the silhouette of the German Shepard, dancing around in a circle as he barked.

Regina trotted down the steps, glanced up and down the street, and waited for a break in the traffic. When the line of cars finally broke she darted across the road.

"Hey, Lucky. Whatís wrong?" She called out as she approached the distressed animal. "Did the guys leave you here all alone?" Both rigs were gone and her voice echoed off the concrete walls of the firehouse.

Regina ruffled the coarse hair on the German Shepardís neck and the dog whined softly as he strained against the length of rope that was tied to a bolt in the concrete wall. "Itís okay, boy. Theyíll be back."

A burst of deep guttural barks startled Regina and her eyes darted around looking for the source of the dogís agitation. "Whatís got you so upset tonight?" Before she could react, the dog lunged furiously against the leash that restrained him.

"Lucky, stop." She tried to mimic Toddís stern tone with the dog. A frustrated whine and high-pitched bark answered her.

The powerful dog lunged repeatedly toward the open door. Suddenly, the rope pulled taught and snapped. Lucky bolted into the street, darting in front of an oncoming car and just barely avoided being struck.

Regina took her hand away from her mouth and shook her head in relief. "That was too close."

Across the street, Lucky lowered his head to the ground and sniffed frantically all along the sidewalk in front of the warehouse. He barked several times and then trotted into the alleyway on the side of the clinic.

Regina ran across the street and called the dogís name. "Oh this is just stupid," she chastised herself as she halted in front of the dark opening that led between the two buildings. "What am I chasing after him for? Heís not my dog."

She heard another bark and the sound of scamper of large paws running on the concrete grew louder. Regina yelped as the dogís form took shape as he emerged from the shadows.

"This is a fine time for you to decide to play games. Come here." She reached out to grab his collar but the dog ducked and pranced away from her. Regina glanced back up at the clinic, briefly giving a thought to the paperwork she had left on her desk. "Maybe I can coax you inside."

She backed away several steps. Lucky tilted his head and cocked his ears at her. He whined and shook his large head obstinately, then barked several times as he backed away.

"What are you trying to tell me?" Regina turned on the flashlight and swept the beam over the alleyway before she tentatively stepped forward. She felt something gooey squish beneath her shoe and she shivered involuntarily. "Yuck. I donít even want to know what that was."

As she approached the dog, he wagged his tail and danced closer to a stairwell that took shape as her eyes adjusted to the dark. "What is it, Lucky?" She grasped the cold, metal rail and felt a shiver run up her spine as she looked down the dark, forbidding steps.

Lucky turned and trotted to the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner.

Regina shook her head and cautiously followed after the dog. She turned the corner and flashed the beam of light on Lucky in time to see him worming his way underneath the partially opened garage door.

Regina shivered and looked around her. A large garbage dumpster stood in a far corner of the empty lot and garbage littered the ground.

She walked over to the loading dock and boosted herself up onto the concrete ledge. Regina peered under the door and shined the beam of light inside. Two eerie golden orbs reflected back at her from several feet away and she heard the dog whine. She shifted the beam of light and a startled cry escaped from her lips.

Two dirty bare feet stuck out from behind a crate.

"Hello, can you hear me?" She called out but got no reaction.

Regina struggled to lift the door up. It budged several inches and then stuck solidly in its track. Next, she sat back on her heels, pulled out her cell phone, and flipped it open. She dialed several times and then ran her hand nervously through her hair. "Damn, it figures I canít get a connection from here."

She peered back under the narrow opening and then lowered herself onto her stomach. It took several minutes but Regina finally managed to squirm her way under narrow opening.

A dank, musty odor assaulted her senses and she wrinkled her nose in revulsion. "Gross."

She pushed herself up onto her hands in knees and was immediately welcomed by Luckyís warm, wet tongue. "I know, I know. Youíre a good boy." She pushed him away and then shined the beam of the flashlight around her. After a few minutes of searching, found a row of light switches on one of the walls.

She flipped the switches and was relieved when several rows of fluorescent lights flickered on overhead. Regina exhaled nervously and walked back to where she saw the pair of feet sticking out from between several crates.

Regina looked down and let out a startled cry. "Jesus, how did you get here?" She dropped to her knees, reached down, and felt for a pulse. "Thank god, youíre still alive." Regina cradled the boyís face in her hands. "TJ wake up. Come on sweetheart open your eyes for me."

The boy stirred and mumbled incoherently for a moment. Suddenly, his limbs thrashed and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. Regina stripped out of her coat and bundled it beneath TJís head. She leaned against one of the boxes and pushed it several inches away, then, did the same with several others.

Lucky whined and lowered his head as he hunkered down next to the boy.

Regina rolled TJ onto his side and waited for what seemed an eternity until the seizure passed and the boy lay quietly on the ground.

*******

Alex walked around to the back of her Jeep and dropped her keys into the hands of the young valet attendant. A low rumble caught her attention and she quickly jumped back onto the sidewalk just as a candy, red Porsche rolled to a stop right where she had been standing a second before. The driver side door opened and a tall, lithe man with wavy, salt and pepper hair stepped out.

"Whereíd you learn how to drive?" Alex glared at him in contempt.

"What are you worrying about, I didnít hit your old relic," he replied with a sneer. With negligent grace, he tossed his keys at the same valet and walked away with his coat tails flourishing out behind him.

Alex forced a smile as she looked up at the sky and then over at the attendant. "Thereís a nice piece of open road over on Valley Drive. You should be able to open it up all the way."

Dark eyes met hers and laughter rung in the air as the valet tossed the Porsche keys in his hand. "Indeed it is, maíam."

Alex clapped him on the shoulder and then walked across the circular drive. "Could they have picked anyplace more ostentatious?" Her eyes roamed over the dramatically lit main entrance that was flanked on either side by two life-size, marble statues carved in the likenesses of Greek water bearers. Water bubbled over from their fluted openings and flowed into the pools that were their bases.

Alex opened the door and was immediately blasted with a gust of hot, dry air from the overhead vents as she walked through the entryway.

She slipped out of her long, black leather coat and draped it over the wooden half door of the coatroom where an attendant handed her a ticket in exchange for her coat.

Around her, the noise level rose as a number of medical staff continued to arrive in small groups. Alex walked through the growing crowd toward the large ballroom that was reserved for the eveningís function. Strains of dinner music filtered from over-sized speakers at the other end of the hall.

The thought of eating, smiling and fraternizing with Cassandra and her cronies all night nauseated her. What Iíd give to be with Regina right now.

Seeking some reassurance, Alexís hand drifted to the inside pocket of her coat where she felt the small ring box that was tucked securely away. She stopped and looked around her for a second, pushing away the dark thoughts that crept into her consciousness. I hope I get that chance after tonight.

After walking through the ballroom, Alexís gaze settled briefly on Cassandra who was dressed in a low cut, black evening gown. At the moment, she was engaged in a conversation with the driver of the Porsche. Oh how lovely, he must be her latest prize. Weíll see how long it takes him to fall from grace.

The manís dark eyes locked with Alexís momentarily as he continued to talk with the Vice President. A second later Cassandra turned and glanced her as well.

Alex simply returned the Cassandraís incendiary look with an impassive expression, then, casually turned and walked away. Yeah, thatís right Iím here Cassandra, but weíre going to play this little charade by my rules not yours.

Across the hall, Dr. Timmons emerged from the fringes of a crowd of people and walked up to Alex. "Evening, Dr. Margulies. Howíd you get wrangled into attending this lovely affair?"

"I believe the words command performance are appropriate for this occasion," she answered shortly.

"Donít I know it. I feel sorry for the poor bastards who donít realize yet that their budgets for next year hinge on the amount of their departmentís contributions." He gestured at the long buffet tables that were meticulously decorated with ice sculptures. "How much do you think theyíre shelling out for this affair anyway?"

Alex shrugged and leaned closer so he could hear her over the rising din. "Too much, Iím sure."


The pediatrician laughed and gestured across the room with his hand. "Itís an open bar. We might as well recoup some of our donation. Do you want anything?"

"Just a tonic with lime." Alex declined the offer.

"Are you on call tonight?" He glanced at Alex as they walked through the crowd of people toward the bar.

"No. I just want my wits about me tonight."

"Not me. I need a stiff one to make it through this nonsense." He turned to the bar tender. "Give me a scotch straight up and a tonic with lime."

Alex took her drink from Dr. Timmons and sipped it while she studied the occupants of the room around her.

"Letís check out the spread at the buffet before we get dragged into a night of talking about hospital politics."

"Sounds good," Alex answered, realizing it had been hours since sheíd last eaten.

Twenty minutes later after sampling their way through the buffet, Alex and Dr. Timmons stood at the far end of the room and talked briefly amongst themselves.

"So, shall we go rub elbows?" Alex scanned the room again and found Cassandra standing with a cluster of doctors and administrators.

The pediatrician shook his head. "You mingle. Iíll refresh my drink."

A smirk crossed Alexís features and she acknowledged him with a wave of her hand, then, focused her attention on her quarry standing ten feet away from her.

Okay, this is game time. Get your head on straight, Alex reminded herself as she slipped up behind Cassandra and flashed a smile at the two colleagues the Vice President was engaged in a conversation with.

"Weíd truly appreciate any support you can contribute to our endeavor," Cassandra stated sweetly as she laid a hand on one of the doctorís forearms.

"Hello, Dr. Margulies." One of the radiologists acknowledged her with a nod of his head.

"Hello, Gordon." Alex lifted her glass in mock salute and then smiled disarmingly at Cassandra when the Vice President turned toward her.

"Alex itís so nice of you to be here. Gentleman." Cassandra dismissed the two men with a brief nod of her head. Once they were alone, her eyes roamed appraisingly over Alexís figure. "Youíre looking rather butch tonight."

Alex ignored Cassandraís comment and lifted the doctorís empty glass from her hand. "Whatís youíre poison?" she asked, trying valiantly to appear and sound normal and not like she was plotting a strategy to entrap her boss.

"Vodka Gimlet." Cassandra eyed the taller woman warily and hesitated. "Maybe I shouldnít."

Alex rolled her eyes and forced a chuckle. "Come on, Cassandra. Whatís one drink to take the edge off? You deserve it, after all."

"I suppose one more wouldnít hurt," she conceded.

Alex nodded her head and strode to the bar. She glanced back at Cassandra as she waited for the bartender to mix the drink she requested.

Cassandra appeared by her side seconds later. "Why thank you, doctor," she demurred as she took the proffered drink from Alex and sipped it. Her lips left a ruby-colored outline of their shape on the rim of the glass. "I think thatís the nicest thing any oneís done for me this week."

"Thatís not saying much, Cassandra," Alex replied evenly.

The blonde shrugged. "Itís a lonely place at the top, Alex."

"As lonely as you choose to make it, I suppose."

"Itís a trade off for having to make unpopular decisions."

Thatís an interesting spin on things, Alex thought.

Several boisterous residents crowded around the bar where the two women were talking. Alex discreetly guided Cassandra away from the ruckus. "You have a lot on your plate with the new Cardiac program coming on board. Whenís the ground breaking date?" Alex probed cautiously.

"That depends."

"On what?"

"How much we draw in from tonightís proceeds." Cassandra tipped the glass to her lips again and waved exuberantly to a doctor standing several feet away from them.

"How much are you expecting to raise?"

"We have a million dollars in pledges so far, but whatís more important is that we have a party who is willing to match us dollar for dollar."

"Must be one hell of a plaque thatís going up on the wall of the new unit for that price," Alex half joked. Come on Cassandra, give me something I can use.

"Weíre way beyond plaques at this point," the Vice President scoffed.

Alex nodded at one of her colleagues as he walked past them on his way to the buffet table. She leaned in closer to Cassandra. "Whatís the prize? A position on the Board of Trustees?"

Cassandraís eyes widened and she gulped down a swallow of her drink. "Oh, look thereís Doctor Pierce. Heís the doctor I was telling you about the other day. I must introduce you to him," Cassandra gushed. "Roger, come here. Thereís someone I want you to meet."

Oh lucky me, Alex groaned inwardly as she watched the doctor scrutinize her as he walked towards them.

"Hello, Cassandra." He nodded graciously.

"Roger, this is Doctor Margulies, the director of our Emergency Department." Cassandra laid a hand on his arm and turned him towards Alex.

"Ah, the doctor who has nine lives. Iíve heard so much about you."

Alex extended her hand, expecting a hand shake and then steeled herself when Dr. Pierce abruptly turned her hand over and kissed the back of it. "Funny, I havenít heard a thing about you," she replied through gritted teeth.

"No one told me you were so beautiful," he replied as he raised his head and smiled at her.

Alex extracted her hand from his grasp, resisting the urge to wipe it off on her pants leg.

"So where did you practice before joining the medical staff here?"

"Iíve been at several facilities out west," Dr. Pierce shrugged his shoulders.

"Really, where?"

"This is supposed to be a fun evening, Alex. There will be plenty of time to talk about business later," Cassandra jumped in.

"Iím sure we will," replied evenly, hoping her voice didnít betray the nervousness she felt. Movement from across the room caught Alexís attention and she watched as two men dressed in white shirts, blue coats, and gray wool pants walked briskly toward them.

"Dr. Mitchard, we have a problem," the huskier of the two guards reported nervously.

Alex turned and watched Cassandraís reaction closely.

Cassandraís eyes bored into the security guard and a vein bulged in her neck. "What do you mean we have a problem?" Cassandra demanded.

"I think you should come see for yourself." The guard shifted on his feet and looked around the room before he returned his gaze to the Vice President.

Dr. Pierce turned to Cassandra, his eyes narrowing as he stepped into her space. "I thought you said everything was tied up and there would be no loose ends."

"Roger, I assure you everything is fine." With an exasperated sigh, Cassandra waved her hand ahead of herself. "This better be important," she warned the security guards.

Alex followed the small entourage out of the crowded ballroom and down a side corridor that led away from the boisterous noise of the party. The taller security guard opened a locked door and led them into a small room.

"I thought you should see this." He pointed at one of the monitors on the wall.

Dr. Pierce walked up behind Cassandra and squinted as he tried to make out the grainy images that were displayed on the screen of one of the wall monitors. "Who in the hell is that?"

Alexís eyes darted to the monitor as she stepped closer. Her mouth went dry and she felt nauseas as she made out Reginaís unmistakable image on one of the screens. Oh sweet Jesus, Reg what are you doing there?

"Should we call the police?" Dr. Pierce asked.

"No, absolutely not. Weíll take care of it internally," Cassandra said coldly.

"Is that a good decision?"

"Itís not yours to make. Besides, the police canít be involved. Thereís too much at stake now."

A chill ran up Alexís spine. She backpedaled to the door while Cassandra argued with Dr. Pierce.

Cassandra leaned closer and then tilted her head. "Thatís one of our doctors. What is she doing in the warehouse?" She whirled around and let out a frustrated shriek when she realized Alex was standing behind her. "You, youíre responsible for this. Do not let her leave the building," she yelled at the security guards.

Alex yanked the door shut and sprinted down the hallway. She bypassed the coatroom and flung the exit door open as she ran through. Outside, she raced to the small valet shack and leaned in the door, startling the attendant.

"I need my Jeep now. I have an emergency."

"Sure lady so does everyone." The young man slowly uncrossed his legs and stood up from his chair.

Alex pulled out her wallet and slipped a bill into his hand. "Iím serious. Now move!"

The boyís eyes widened as he looked at the bill in his hand. "You got it." He grabbed the keys from a hook, raced out of the booth.

Alex glanced behind her and saw the two security guards bearing down on her. "Iíve got to go. Just donít give up on me yet." She flipped her cell phone shut.

She turned to follow the valet but a meaty hand grabbed her by an arm and twisted her around. "Maíam you have to come with me."

"Like hell I do." Desperation fueled her actions and she wrenched her arm out of his grasp. She ducked under his outstretched arm and slammed an elbow into his solar plexus.

As he grunted and doubled over, Alex grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back into the other security guard. There was a strangled shout as they both stumbled and collapsed to the ground in a heap.

Breathing heavily, Alex turned and saw the illumination from the Jeepís headlights swing out of a parking spot. She ran out into the road and flagged the attendant down as he sped up the hill. "Thanks."

She jumped in behind the wheel and slammed the door shut. Her heart pounded in her chest and the bitter taste of adrenaline soured her mouth. She glanced into the rearview mirror in time to see Cassandra and Dr. Pierce hail down the same valet attendant. Alex hit the gas pedal and sped out of the driveway. She offered a silent prayer that she would make it to the warehouse before they did.

She gripped the steering wheel tightly as she weaved in and out of traffic down the four-lane divider highway. Alex punched in the number for Reginaís cell phone and waited.

User unavailable? "Dammit!" She threw the phone on the passenger seat and focused on the road ahead.

Minutes later, she cut across two lanes of traffic and raced up the exit ramp, unaware that behind her, a pair of headlights winked on from the shoulder and a car accelerated out of the shadows.

Part 28

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