After an anxious day and an even more nerve-wracking night, Cassie dozed off in the pre-dawn hours while reading to Zach. She hadn’t even realized she had fallen asleep until a commotion in next room woke her.
“Where’d you put the suture needles, Rochelle? Dammit!”
Cassie ran into the triage room where Doc and Rochelle were tripping over each other in confusion. “Are they back? Are they hurt? What happened?”
“Hell if I know,” Doc said. “The shuttle just pulled up. Help me find my curved cutting needles. I’ve got my straight and half-curved, but—”
Cassie couldn’t be bothered. She took off down the hall, dashed across the lobby and forced her way through a knot of children standing in the doorway. In the dim light of dawn, people were getting off the shuttle, dirty, exhausted and stumbling about as they helped each other down the steps and into the hotel. The injured staggered to the curb or leaned against the nearest wall, glassy-eyed with shock.
Cassie scanned the returnees, worried that she didn’t see Galahad among them. She shoved a child out of the way and reached the van in time to help Julilla step to the curb, where she stumbled and cried out when Cassie grabbed her arm to steady her. Cassie let go and found her hand wet with blood. “Doc’s set up for triage.” She wiped her hand on her pants and hoped Doc had found his missing needles. “Go to the clinic. We’ve got things under control here.”
Julilla didn’t seem to hear. She mumbled and limped her way to the back of the van where others were removing a body. Cassie followed, barely able to hear herself think over the pounding of her heart. She peered into the face of the dead guard. It wasn’t him.
“Don’t just stand there.”
David waved her out of the way. Sweat had washed his face nearly clean of Kevorkian makeup and Cassie thought this made him even more frightening than usual.
“Help or move,” he snapped.
Cassie wanted to ask if Galahad was okay, but something in David’s tone gave her pause. Her mother always said to never ask a question you didn’t want the answer to, and since there was only one answer she wanted, she turned her attention back to the van where another body was being handed down. It wasn’t him either, but this time she noticed two tall forms directing activity from inside. She squinted, unable to make out their features in the shadows.
“Your boyfriend is fine,” David said. “Now grab that corpse or I’ll move yours.”
Cassie jumped out of the way but remained nearby. Until she saw his face, she wouldn’t allow herself to believe it. Finally the last body was handed down and Galahad came to the doorway. His eyes met hers and with an expression of relief, he jumped to the ground and closed his arms around her. But when he let her go, it was with practical instructions, not the words of love she had hoped to hear. “Take Julilla to the clinic. She’s worse off than she realizes. I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”
“What about you?” Cassie took a step back and noticed he was holding his arm strangely.
“It’s not urgent. You can do my worrying for me until I can get these people dispositioned and give my report.”
“I’ve already been worrying. All day.”
“Then another hour won’t hurt, and—” from inside the van, Alex called his name and Galahad looked around. “Yeah, man. Hold on.” He turned back to Cassie. “Take care of Julilla. I’ll meet you at the clinic as soon as I can.”
Cassie searched the crowd for Julilla and found her in a daze, hindering more than helping the crew arranging the bodies of the dead along the wall. “Come on,” Cassie said, taking her by her good arm. “I’m to take you to the clinic. Galahad’s orders.” When Julilla blinked at her, Cassie repeated herself. “Orders.”
With a nagging sense that she was abandoning Galahad by not staying to help with the dead, Cassie led Julilla into the odd, waiting stillness of the lobby. “How was it out there?” she asked, slowing to match Julilla’s limp.
For several paces she didn’t answer. Then she twisted her features into a grim smile of satisfaction. “We sent those fuckers to Jesus.”
* * *
It was nearly two hours before Galahad showed up in the clinic and by that time Cassie, Doc and Rochelle had finished with the most urgent cases. Cassie wanted Galahad to get his arm looked at right away, but nothing would do but that he first make a tour of the ward. “They were my responsibility, and until they’re well, they still are.”
Cassie took him to visit each of his casualties. One in particular wasn’t likely to make it. “He seems to be in a coma and Doc thinks he’s got internal bleeding. He needs a surgeon.”
Galahad knelt by the injured boy, clasped his hand and murmured encouragement, even though he was too far gone to hear it. Then he stood up. “And Julilla?”
Many of the casualties were sharing mattresses, but Cassie had made sure Julilla had her own. She lay so still that if not for the rise and fall of her ribcage, Cassie might’ve thought her dead. “Her ankle is only sprained, but she lost a lot of blood from the cut on her arm. Doc said in a normal world, she would’ve gotten a pint or two, but he’s not set up for that sort of thing.”
“But she’ll be okay, right?” He sat down and rested a hand on her good shoulder. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. A lot of us wouldn’t.” He gave an ironic smile. “She must’ve been deadly on the basketball court. She can rally a group in full retreat and make them want to fight.”
“She just needs rest,” Cassie said. “And food. And to not get an infection.”
“Three impossible things.” He stood up. “Well, we attempt the impossible every day around here, so what’s new?”
By now Cassie had noticed that not all the blood on Galahad’s shirt was from battle. Some was oozing from his arm and she took a firm tone. “Would it be impossible for you to let Doc look at that arm now? Come on. Before you end up like Julilla.”
“It’s just the old injury,” he said as she took him back to triage. “I had it wrapped up, but I guess I broke it open again.”
Doc was less than pleased at what he found when he removed the leather gauntlet and bloody wrappings. “I told you this would happen. You’re going to have one hell of a scar when this heals.”
“And if I live long enough for that to happen, I’ll be proud to show it off. I might even get it tattooed to make it more interesting.”
While Doc flushed the wound with a mixture of water and iodine, he called to Rochelle. “Bring me the biggest gauge tapered half-curve needle I’ve got. This guy deserves to suffer.”
Rochelle looked up from where she was sterilizing equipment over a propane flame. “You’re not serious, are you? We’re out of everything but the 5.0 suture filament and you’re supposed to use circular cutting needles on skin lacerations.”
Doc smiled in approval. “You’re getting good at this.”
“As good as you’ll let me, since I’m only allowed to watch.”
Doc motioned Galahad into a chair while he threaded his suturing needle. “I haven’t got any more painkillers. Want a shot of whiskey?”
Galahad shook his head. “I try not to touch that stuff. I’ll be okay.”
“Better let the girls hold your arm, then.” He motioned to Cassie and Rochelle. “Don’t let him move.” To Galahad he added, “I’m getting better at this.”
“Small blessings.” Galahad accepted a rag to bite down on and Doc got to work.