Disclaimers: See Part 1

(Since I do not have a medical background, I am sure that this installment needs some work. If you have a medical background and care to share some constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement, it would be greatly appreciated. Feed to: sageamante@yahoo.com)

WHERE EAGLES FLY

Copyright Saggio Amante 2003, 2004

All rights reserved.

Part 3 - Polonaise

The medvac helicopter landed on the roof of Broward General Medical Center. The EMTs quickly and efficiently removed the stretcher bearing the wounded federal agent and placed her on a gurney. The EMTs had radioed ahead with all the vital information, and medical personnel were awaiting their arrival. Although Lark had been hypotensive at the scene, IV fluid resuscitation was initiated and, by the time she arrived at BGMC, her BP was 160/90 with a heart rate of 72 BPM.

Dr. Meriam Williams was the only endovascular surgeon on the staff at Broward General. She was the on call surgeon that morning, a fact that proved fortunate for the wounded agent. The doctor watched as the gurney bearing the injured agent was rolled into the ER and felt her heart catch as she recognized the dark-haired woman lying on it.

'Oh, little bird,' what have you gotten yourself into this time, Dr. Williams thought, as she looked at Lark. She couldn't count the number of times when, early in her career, she had cared for and stitched up the body of the pale woman who lay before her.

"Hey, doc, long time, no see." Lark joked in a weak voice.

"Ah, with you that's a good thing," the doctor joked back. "How do you feel?"

"Umm. There's a little bit of pain in my chest and my shoulder, and my arm feels numb. Other than that, I feel like dancing," Lark whispered with a wry grin.

"Can you tell me what happened?" The doctor asked.

"I'm not sure exactly," Lark said. "I know had my back turned. I was assisting in the rescue of someone."

"Not just someone," Dr. Williams interrupted. "If the TV stations have it right, there was a pretty daring rescue of Judge Lonigan from atop the circuit court building. Was that where you were?"

"Yeah," said Lark. "I remember I had thrown my Kevlar over my head when we headed to the roof. I don't think I closed the straps on it because the wind from the rotors of the helicopter seemed to lift it up off my body briefly. I felt a sting in my left shoulder and then my whole arm went numb. At some point, one of the guys on the roof slammed an iron bar into my arm, and I went down. I think I dropkicked him but I honestly don't remember too much after that. I guess I passed out. When I came to, the EMTs were hovering over me."

The doctor made the decision to use the endovascular operating room for both diagnosis and definitive management of the vascular injuries. "OK, folks,' she said to the attendants. "Let's get her up to x-ray, then to O.R. 8."

She looked at Lark. "We've got a bunch of anxious young residents up there just waiting to get a look at a real, live hero. You ready?"

Lark smiled wryly. "Let's get it over with," she croaked.

"OK. First we'll get some chest x-rays and an arteriogram; then I'll meet you in O.R. and we'll see if we can patch you up again." Meriam patted Lark on the arm and winked at the agent.

*~*~*~*

O.R. 8 bustled with activity. Each member of the medical team worked with practiced efficiency. Meriam scrubbed and strode purposefully into the operating room.

The anesthesiologist induced general endotracheal anesthesia and positioned Lark supine, with her left chest and shoulder slightly elevated, neck hyperextended, and left arm extended on a radiolucent arm board. Her chest, neck, shoulder, axilla, and left arm, as well as left groin, and thigh were prepped and draped.

"O.K. Let's see what we've got here," the Dr. Williams said as she began examining the wound area to determine entrance/exit information.

Several residents stood behind her in the OR, and Meriam addressed them as she began the exam.

"We have here a through-and-through wound caused by a .380 caliber bullet which entered at the inferior level of the left sternoclavicular joint and exited posteriorly at midscapular level. Axillary, brachial, and radial pulses are not palpable. There are soft, monophasic Doppler signals present over the brachial and radial arteries. The patient's grip strength, as well as her wrist and forearm flexion, are diminished."

"The chest x-rays show a widening of the superior mediastinum extending into the left supraclavicular, volume loss in the left lung, and an elevated left hemidiaphragm." She continued. "And the arteriogram shows a disruption of the post-vertebral subclavian artery with arteriovenous fistula at the confluence of the subclavian and internal jugular veins."

"What do you think should be the course of treatment?" She asked the residents.

Rick Santoni spoke up first. He was one of her brightest residents, and she hoped he would decide to specialize in endovascular surgery.

"Probably a Wallstent via retrograde brachial approach," Santoni said. "Since we have a left side injury, we'll have to do an anterolateral thoracotomy."

"Are you sure, Dr?" Williams asked.

"Yes," Rick replied confidently.

"Anybody else?" Dr. Williams asked. "No? Well, Dr. Santoni is correct. That is probably the best course of action in this situation. It will mean less hospital time for the patient, a shorter recovery time, and hopefully a full recovery."

"Santoni, you scrub with me. The rest of you go up into the theatre and watch."

Dr. Williams ordered general anesthesia for the patient, and Lark went under the anesthesia easily. Teacher and student worked side-by-side flawlessly, each anticipating the move of the other.

"Good job, Dr. Santoni," Meriam said when the surgery was finished. Rick Santoni flushed with pleasure. A positive recommendation from the chief of endovascular surgery was sure to get him an appointment at the hospital of his choice, but his heart was set on continuing to practice with Meriam Williams, and he felt confident that it was now a real possibility..

Dr. Williams stayed with Lark in the endovascular operating suite until she was awakened, extubated, and taken to ICU for observation.

*~*~*~*

Lonnie came to on the floor of the rescue copter with her head in Max's lap. She looked up into his worried eyes, worry that was mirrored in the eyes of Jake who sat next to them.

"Is she o.k.?" She whispered.

"I don't know, Judge. We haven't heard anything, yet," Max responded.

"If she died because of me, I don't think I could take it," Lonnie said.

"Lark has the lives of a cat," Jake said reassuringly. "She's been in worse situations than this and lived to tell about it." His mouth smiled, but his eyes belied that smile.

'Oh, God,' Lonnie prayed, 'please let her be all right.' Lonnie started to sit up, then groaned. She felt like she had been hit in the chest with a baseball bat.

"Lie still," Max instructed. "You're probably bruised from the harness but at least you're alive. Those guys weren't fooling down there."

Lonnie did as she was told. She was too tired to argue.

"Where are we going?" She asked.

"We're going to take you to Broward General to be checked out. If they don't admit you, then we'll take you to a safe house until this situation is resolved," he replied.

The small blonde nodded and laid there until she felt the helicopter landing on the helipad. Max picked her up and carried her down to the waiting wheelchair. A hospital orderly pushed the wheelchair toward the door. Max and Jake flanked it, keeping wary eyes on the surrounding area. They were not going to let anything happen while Lonnie was in their charge.

Lonnie was taken to a small examining room where she was met by the on-call physician and examined. Her bruising was superficial, but he wanted to keep her overnight to be sure the force of the harness had not bruised her heart. She was about to refuse when she heard a voice in the hall.

"Max ... Jake," came the voice of Meriam Williams. "Good to see you guys. Guess you're here to check on Lark. We're just moving her out of ICU."

Max looked startled, then relieved. "Is she o.k., Doc? We haven't heard anything."

Both Jake and Max stared at the doctor expectantly.

"Oh, sorry, guys," she said. "I just assumed you had been updated. Well, she was wounded but she's o.k. We had to do a little surgical intervention, but I think she'll be just fine after a few weeks of rest and some physical therapy. If you're not here about Lark, what are you doing here?"

Jake nodded at the closed door of the exam room. "We brought someone else in."

"The Judge?" asked Williams. "Is she all right?"

"Don't know yet," said Max. "We're waiting to find out."

"Let me see what I can do, guys." The doctor knocked on the door of the exam room, then entered.

"Dr. Brown."

"Dr. Williams," Brown said with surprise. "What can I do for you? I didn't call for an endovasc consult."

"I know, Doctor," Meriam replied, "but I've got a couple of federal agents out in the hall who are straining at the bit to find out if this young lady is all right. Anything I can tell them?"

"The EKG looks fine but there is some superficial bruising. I've recommended she stay overnight so we can monitor her to be sure there is no heart bruising," Dr. Brown responded.

The small blonde looked at Dr. Williams. "Did I hear you telling Max and Jake that Lark was all right?" Her voice shook and her eyes were filled with worry.

'Well, well, there's more to this relationship than meets the eye,' the Dr. thought.

"Yes, she'll be fine," Meriam responded. "All she needs is some rest and rehabilitation. She'll be in the hospital a couple of more days and, barring any unforeseen complications, she should be released for follow-up with physical therapy."

The relief was evident on the small blonde's face. "Where is she now?"

"We've moved her to a private room on the fourth floor," Dr. Williams said.

"Can I see her?" Lonnie asked.

"Tell you what. Let's get you checked in," said Dr. Brown. "You can worry about your friend later."

"No!" Lonnie said emphatically. "I want to see her now."

Meriam put a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "It's all right," she said looking at Dr. Brown. "We'll get you in to see Lark as soon as you go through admitting. There's another bed in her room. Why don't we see if we can get you assigned to it?"

The blonde looked gratefully at the older woman. "That would be wonderful," she said.

Max and Jake accompanied Lonnie to admitting and waited while she completed her paperwork. Then they all went to the fourth floor and entered Lark's room.

Lonnie gasped when she saw Lark lying there. She looked so still and pale. An IV dripped steadily into her.

Lark slowly opened her eyes. "Hey, there," she said, looking directly at Lonnie. "We have to stop meeting like this."

Lonnie choked back a cry. "Hey there," she replied. "From your mouth to God's ears," she said, completing the private joke that had arisen between them.

"Hi, guys," Lark murmured to Jake and Max. "Long time, no see."

The men looked at each other, then at Lark. They each mumbled something and stood there shuffling their feet.

"Damn, fellas, this wasn't your fault, you know. I'm gonna be all right." Lark said weakly. "Now get the hell out of here and let me get some sleep, will you please."

They walked over to the bed and each one patted their friend and colleague on the leg.

"O.k., tiger, stay tough," Max said.

"Yeah, ditto," Jake mumbled.

They left the room quickly, and Lonnie walked over to where Lark lay. She reached down and took her hand. Tears that had been welling in her eyes slipped unnoticed down her cheeks.

"Hi, there, day-glo," Lark said. "Glad to see you made it."

"Don't ever do that to me, again," Lonnie replied.

"Do what?"

"Leave me."

"Never."

"Promise?"

"Promise," Lark replied weakly. Her eyes closed and she fell into a deep sleep, her hand still clasped in Lonnie's.

Lonnie stood there a few minutes to be certain that Lark was resting comfortably. Then she carefully extricated her smaller hand from the larger one. She walked over to the other bed and sat down. Her shoulders shook as she wept silently, afraid she would wake the dark-haired woman in the other bed. When she finally quit weeping, she pushed her bed closer to Lark's, put on a hospital gown, and laid down to rest. She reached across the small expanse between the two beds and once again took Lark's hand in her own before falling into a fitful sleep.

*~*~*~*

Lark slept deeply. Every instinct told her that something was wrong. She had to get to Lonnie. She had to protect her. But she couldn't rise up out of her sleep. She was too deep; she felt as if she were drowning. She struggled with all she had, willing her subconscious mind to rise up and meet her conscious mind. She felt as if a thousand blankets covered her. They weighed down on her with unbearable heaviness. She had the sensation of being smothered. 'I'm coming,' Lonnie,' her mind told her. 'Hold on, I'm coming.'

Lark awoke with a start and felt the small hand covering her own. She turned her head and saw Lonnie lying in the bed to the left of her. In the dark shadows of the room she saw a nurse holding a large hypodermic needle and bending over Lonnie.

"What are you doing?" Lark croaked.

"Go back to sleep, Miss," the figure said. "It's all right. The doctor ordered a sedative for Miss Lonigan."

Lark struggled to make sense of the situation. The room was dark. It had to sometime in the middle of the night. Lonnie was already asleep. 'Something is not right; something is not right,' her mind screamed.

The shadowy figure once again bent over Lonnie.

A surge of adrenalin rushed through Lark. From somewhere within a deep reserve that she didn't really think she had, Lark wrapped her right hand around her IV pole and with her last ounce of strength knocked it across the bed and onto the head of the dark figure.

"Damn you, you bitch," a man's voice yelled as the pole came in contact with his head. "Damn you!" He dropped the needle and ran out the door of the room, past the local cop who was supposed to be guarding it, and through the door to a stairway exit.

Lonnie awoke with a start. She heard the yelling and felt the IV pole fall on her chest. She screamed in pain as it hit her already bruised body.

The guard came flying through the hospital room door. "Are you all right?" He yelled.

"No thanks to you, you stupid asshole," Lark yelled hoarsely. Her adrenaline was still pumping and her heart beat wildly in her chest. "That son-of-a-bitch just tried to kill Judge Lonigan. Where the hell were you?"

"Hey, back off," the cop said. "The only person to come in here was a nurse with an employee i.d. badge."

"Employee i.d.? Did you recognize him? Was he on the list? Did you check it out before you let him in here, jackass? No? I thought not?" Lark said. "I'll bet you weren't even at your post."

The cop looked chagrinned. He wasn't at his post. It was three in the morning. Everything was quiet. He didn't think it would hurt to stretch his legs. So he did, and got into a flirtatious conversation with one of the cute nurses from the floor.

Lark knew she had him. "I'll have your badge for this," she told him.

Lonnie pushed the IV pole off her and looked at Lark. Her heart jumped at what she saw. Lark's IV had been pulled out, and she was bleeding profusely at the insertion site. Lonnie grabbed the ice bucket and dumped it on Lark's hand. She pulled the blanket around the ice and held it there.

"Make yourself useful," Lonnie growled at the cop. "Get us some help in here." She knew the hospital was notoriously short-staffed and was certain that pushing the call button in the middle of the night would not result in any help arriving very quickly.

The cop looked confused, as though he didn't dare leave the two women but didn't dare not.

"Go!" Lonnie yelled.

The young officer jumped as if shot and ran out of the room to summon a nurse.

In just a few minutes, the charge nurse arrived in the room. She stemmed the bleeding, located another site, and inserted a new IV in Lark. She told the women she was going to summon the on-call doctor but would be right outside.

Lark watched the nurse leave then picked up her phone and dialed. "Max," Lonnie heard her say. "I need you and Jake over here now. There was another attempt on Lonnie tonight. Those stupid locals don't know their candy-covered asses from a hole in the ground."

Lark paused, listening to the voice at the other end of the line. "Thanks, buddy," she finally said. "See you guys soon. And, Max, I want out of here!"

Max sighed and hung up the phone. He sat up on the side of the bed, rubbing his eyes.

"What's the matter, honey?" his wife groaned as she rolled over and placed a hand on his bare thigh.

"Go back to sleep, baby. I gotta go in." Before he could finish his sentence, he heard his wife's soft snore.

When Max and Jake arrived at the hospital, Lark and Lonnie were already dressed and sitting in chairs in the room. The on call doctor had removed Lark's IV and checked both the injury to her hand and her shoulder.

"You'll need to sign some AMA papers acknowledging that you are leaving against medical advice," the doctor said.

"Hand them here," Lark replied.

She and Lonnie signed the papers. "Let's go," she said to Max. She started to get up and felt her knees begin to buckle.

Lonnie moved in close to the taller woman as Lark put her arm around Lonnie's shoulder to steady herself.

Jake arrived with a wheel chair and, after some minor argument from Lark, the three convinced her to get in the chair and be wheeled out to the waiting Lincoln. When they were settled in the car, Lark said, "Take us to my place."

"Not on your life," Max responded. "I've already talked to Meriam. You're going to her place.

"No!" Lark said adamantly. "We can't go there. I don't want to put her in any danger." That wasn't the real reason, but only she knew it. She and Meriam were friends and sometime lovers. They would get together now and then out of need, nothing more. She knew that if she and Lonnie stayed there, it would only be a matter of time before Lonnie would sense their relationship.

"Look, Lark," Max responded. "Here are your choices - you go to Meriam's where you'll have a doctor available to look after you or you go back to the hospital. No ifs, ands, or buts. That's it, buddy. You choose."

Lark knew when she was defeated, and she gave in grudgingly. "All right, but it won't be for long."

Lonnie spoke up. "Look. I'm just fine. I have to be in court Monday morning to continue on the Dansky trial. Let's get Lark settled at Dr. Williams, and you can take me back to my house."

The Lincoln pulled over to the side of the road. Three heads whipped around and looked at her. "Are you nuts?" They said in unison.

The small blonde stiffened her back and glared at them. "I have a job to do folks, and I intend to do it. Now you can give me protection, which has worked so far, or you can take a hike. Your choice!"

Lark looked at the smaller woman. She could understand her devotion to her job and her need to do it well, but she knew she couldn't let her go back to the courthouse or to her home until this thing was resolved.

"Lonnie," Lark said reasonably, "You told me you would trust me with your life. I'm asking you to do just that. You can't go back to the courtroom. Besides, this thing has been all over the news, including allegations that Marvin Dansky hired a hit man to kill you. The first thing defense counsel will do is ask for a mistrial. You know that you would have to grant it. Let some other judge do that. Let us protect you."

The pain and sincerity in Lark's voice was evident to Lonnie. "You're right, that's exactly what will happen, " the judge conceded. "I can't go back. I'm sorry."

Lonnie hesitated a moment, then said with resignation. "All right, I'll stay at Dr. Williams' house, but only until we can figure out something better."

The three agents breathed a mutual sigh of relief, and Jake pulled the Lincoln back onto the road.

Meriam Williams lived in a large condominium overlooking the ocean. It was a gated community, and entry to the building was carefully guarded. Meriam had alerted the gate guard and was waiting in the downstairs lobby when the group arrived.

At 5'11", Lark was tall for a woman, but Meriam rose above her by at least 5 inches. She carried herself regally and moved with the grace of a large cat. Her ebony skin gleamed in the light; her hair was cropped short. She was wearing a caftan in a bold African print, and she looked like an African queen. Lonnie was dwarfed by the two women who flanked her.

Meriam escorted the two men and two women to her condominium, which took up the entire top floor of the building. Framed art by Laurie Cooper, Stephen Young, LaVarne Roos and others were hung on the walls. African American artifacts were on display throughout the rooms. Bold African prints adorned the couch and chairs. The rooms were warm and welcoming, much like their owner.

Max and Jake stayed just long enough to see the two women settled. Jake had run by Lark's apartment and Lonnie's house and picked up some clothing and toiletries for them both. He handed each woman a bag he had packed for her.

Max looked at the women. "We'll pick up anything else you need tomorrow. Just let us know. Either Jake or I will be outside the door at all times. Do not even try to leave the condo without us. Understood?"

The women looked at each other, then at the men. "Understood," they said together.

After the men left, Meriam showed them to their bedrooms. "I know you both must be exhausted. Why don't you turn in, and we'll discuss things tomorrow."

It was 6 a.m., and both women were too exhausted to argue. They slipped into pajamas, settled down in their respective rooms, and fell asleep before their heads hit their pillows.

*~*~*~*

(To be continued)

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