Still dressed in green scrubs, Doctor Lewis pulled the curtain around his John Doe patient in the hospital’s intensive care ward. He knew first-hand the damage a bullet could do to human flesh and bone. In this case, the bullet had fractured his patient’s femur and tore the artery supplying oxygenated blood to the lower extremities. After eight hours of surgery and several liters of AB negative, John Doe endured a miracle of miracles by not dying on the table.
He clipped his pen in his front shirt pocket and paid homage to the vending machine for another snack. Too old to pull double shifts and too young to know when to quit, he felt a cold coming on. His throat had been dry and itchy for days. His temperature had risen two degrees in the last half hour. You don’t have time to get sick, he’d told his third-year med students on their surgical rotation. If God can’t afford a day off, neither can you.
He pushed three quarters in the vending machine outside the closed cafeteria entrance. Then he felt the urge to vomit.
Like a migrant worker running with the bulls, he sprinted for the men’s restroom and burst through the nearest stall, hugging the porcelain bowl. The sight of dry diarrhea speckled on the inside rim kept the purge process flowing. He blew chunks of corn and rice along with remnants of a Caesar salad he’d eaten for lunch. Wave after wave, the vomit came, burning his esophagus and leaving a foul aftertaste in his mouth.
He’d endured the flu enough times to remember how bad the symptoms felt and how long the process lasted. But this time his symptoms felt different. More pronounced. More acute in his chest and throat. Symptoms he dismissed as a direct result of his cold medication wearing off. Go home. Drink water, get rest, and load up on Vitamin C.
He grabbed his coat from his office and approached the nurses’ station.
“Some folks were asking for you earlier,” a nurse said without looking up from her computer screen. “I was about to page you on the intercom.”
“Tell them I’ve left for the day.”
“They’re with the FBI.”
Doctor Lewis glanced at the woman in a dark suit by the drinking fountain down the hall. Tall and slender, she wore an hourglass figure with a gun on her hip beside her badge. “Great,” he told the nurse. “I finally spot the woman of my dreams and she’s packing heat.”
“You still afraid of guns?”
“Only when they kill people.”
He approached the FBI Agent by the water fountain. “I’m Doctor Lewis.”
Burns flashed her badge and pointed to McLeary. “I’m Special Agent Burns. My colleague, Jim McLeary.”
McLeary gave a perfunctory nod. “You recently admitted a patient with a gunshot wound to the leg?”
“John Doe. He’s in intensive care. I pulled a slug from his upper thigh. Nearly bled out on the table, but we managed to save him. Paramedics brought him in with a suspicious injury.”
“Suspicious how?” asked McLeary.
“The wound was at least a couple days old. Looked like someone tried to patch him up with an old shirt and a roll of duct tape. He’s lucky to be alive.”
“We’d like to ask him a few questions,” said Burns.
Doctor Lewis escorted the agents to John Doe’s room and pulled the curtain back to reveal a black male with curly hair and teardrop tattoos under one eye. His bandaged right leg hung in traction with an intravenous drip for the pain medication.
“These people are with the FBI,” Doctor Lewis explained. “They’d like to ask you a few questions.” He reviewed the patient’s chart. “Now might be a good time to remember your name,” he said before he left the room.
McLeary touched the bed rail. “How do you feel?”
Burns inspected the ream of gauze bandage wrapped around the patient’s thigh. “What happened?”
“What the fuck does it look like.” John Doe pointed his finger at McLeary. “That motherfucker shot me.”
Burns smirked at McLeary. “Why don’t you start by telling us your name?”
John Doe grimaced, presumably from the pain in his leg. He pressed his thumb on the analgesic drip machine.
That’s gotta hurt, thought Burns. “We’ll run your prints and get it either way.”
“How do I know you won’t kill me?”
“Because it’s outside our job description.” Burns made eye contact with McLeary who handcuffed the patient to the bed rail and clamped the tube to shut off the self-administered pain medication.
“Hey! You can’t do that!”
“Your name?” said McLeary.
“Rodney. Rodney Nito.”
McLeary held the clamp in place. “What was your involvement in the robbery?”
“I want a lawyer.”
McLeary kept a straight face. “I want a vacation in Aruba.”
McLeary squeezed the bandaged leg until Rodney cried out.
“Maybe we can help you,” said Burns, pushing McLeary’s hand away.
“What kind of help?”
“The kind you’re not going to get with a lawyer in the room. Tell us what you know, and we’ll take the death penalty off the table.”
“I didn’t kill nobody.”
Burns looked at McLeary and winked. “One of your shots at us went long and took out a soccer mom in a minivan. She died at the scene.”
“You can’t put that body on me.”
“We already have. We recovered your weapon from the bottom of the river and matched your gun to the bullet we pulled from the woman’s neck.”
Rodney grimaced. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“Doesn’t matter. You discharged a firearm in the commission of a felony. You’re still culpable for her death. Besides, we already have you on attempted murder for taking shots at us. You’re looking at the death penalty either way.”
“You’re full of shit. This state won’t kill me for something I didn’t do. My lawyer’ll make sure of that!”
McLeary sighed in disgust and said, “The good news is, the state won’t have to.” He locked the door to the intensive care room and brandished his .45. He cocked the hammer and pressed the muzzle to Rodney’s head.
“What the fuck? You said you wouldn’t kill me!”
“I changed my mind.”
“I was there, all right?”
Burns scribbled on her notepad, ignoring McLeary’s draconian tactics despite her instincts to the contrary. “Who hired you?”
Rodney talked faster. “I never saw the dude who hired me. Only spoke to him by phone. He offered cash up front. More when the job was done.”
“How much?” said McLeary.
“Two grand. All I had to do was drive.”
“Who were you working with?”
“I don’t know. Two guys. One had an accent. The other acted nervous all the time like he never robbed a bank before.”
“What kind of accent?” McLeary pressed him.
“Hindu, Pakistani, whatever. Some gibberish I heard before.”
“And where were you?”
“I drove the truck. The other two went inside to do the deed.”
“What did they look like?”
“I never seen their faces. They wore gas masks the whole time.”
“Give us a name,” said Burns. “Who set this up?”
Rodney winced. “Man I told you I don’t know. I never saw their faces. The whole deal was set up over the phone.”
“Who paid you the two grand?”
“I don’t know. I found an envelope in my car.”
“And you don’t know anything more about these mystery men who hired you?”
“Like I told you, they kept their shit private.”
“What about the caller?” asked Burns. “Did he sound white, black, Hispanic, Asian?”
“He talked like a white dude. All serious. Stiff. Like your partner with a stick up his ass.”
“What did you do with the money?”
“Never had it.” He swiped his hand across his sweaty face—the pain in his leg unbearable. “Someone must have grabbed the dough.” He swallowed hard. “Man, either shoot me or turn the juice back on! My fucking leg is killing me!”
McLeary holstered his gun and released the clamp on the morphine drop. He held up pictures of Gordon Gentry and Ali Muheen. “Have you seen either of these men before?”
“I said I ain’t ever seen them before.”
Burns took McLeary aside. “This is a waste of time.”
“Hold up,” Rodney pleaded. “What about my deal?”
“So far you’ve told us nothing we don’t already know,” said Burns.
Rodney looked up at the ceiling. “One dude had a funky eye. Fake, like it was made of glass or something. He would take it out sometimes. Made me sick to watch him do it.”
“I thought you never saw his face?”
Rodney stared at the red dot in the hospital window and pointed.
McLeary glanced at the red laser beam reflected off the glass beside the bed and tackled Burns to the ground. “GET DOWN!”
Pulverized glass erupted in a fine mist when a supersonic bullet pierced the window and impacted Rodney’s head, exploding his skull on the hospital wall.
McLeary rolled away from Burns and drew his weapon in vain, unable to prevent what had happened or fire back at the sniper who’d pulled the trigger.