Consciousness began to fade. Then he heard Catherine’s voice. “Greg? Can you hear me, Greg? Nick, where the hell is the ambulance!?”
“Repeat medic location?” Nick asked.
“Catherine?” Greg managed to get out.
He opened his eyes but he didn’t see her. Standing over him was a blond, pig-tailed girl wearing a pink dress and holding a terry cloth cat. Princess was spelled out in sequences across her chest and sparkled in his eyes. She looked no older than five or six. Even if he didn’t know how he got here, he knew she shouldn’t be.
“Who are you?” Greg whispered to the little girl.
“Lay still, Greg. You’re badly hurt,” Catherine told him.
The little girl walked away when Catherine leaned into Greg’s line of sight.
“Hang in there, okay? Paramedics are coming. Hang on.”
He felt a hand take his. “Greg,” he heard Nick say. “Greg, squeeze my hand. No, no, no. Greg, don’t let go. Hold on, Greg. Gregory, stay with me man. Greg—”
Catherine’s face swirled as dizziness swept Greg away from her.
Catherine followed the paramedics down the stairs, watching Greg. She stopped at the back of the ambulance, waiting for them to load the gurney. Catherine jerked when someone laid their hand on her arm, looking into Nick’s worried eyes.
“You have to stay here, Nick. Process the scene. Call Ecklie, tell him what’s happened, then—”
“I got it. Keep me posted.”
Catherine looked away when a tear slid down her face. She climbed into the ambulance. A paramedic climbed in next to her. She sat down next to Greg and leaned forward, taking his hand. She saw a powder on his fingers, trace that could catch his attacker.
The ambulance sirens came on and it lurched forward, racing to get Greg to the hospital. The other paramedic with her began working quickly on Greg.
“He has trace on his fingers,” Catherine quietly told the paramedic. “I need…” She started crying. “I have to collect this.”
The paramedic next to her stood up and held out a small zipper plastic bag and tongue depressor. “It’s all I got.”
She took it and brushed the powder into the bag. The paramedic kept working on Greg, doing everything in her power to keep him alive. Catherine pocketed the bag and took his hand again.
Consciousness was harder to find this time. Greg felt like he was floating and chasing after his body. He heard the muffled sound of sirens and felt himself moving. His lower body was numb and his head hurt so bad he didn’t think he could bear it.
“Can you hear me, Greg?” someone he didn’t recognize asked.
He didn’t answer. He was instinctually afraid of this unknown speaker. Was this the person who’d hurt him? He couldn’t remember anything beyond the evening news. Greg opened his eyes a little.
The pig-tailed little girl was the only person he could see. She watched him with an impassive face.
“Who are you?” Greg asked her.
“Greg,” Catherine said.
With pigtails bouncing, the girl moved back as Catherine came into view. Greg lost sight of the girl.
“Who is she?” Greg whispered.
Two warm hands wrapped around his. “Greg, look at me,” Catherine told him.
Greg’s vision slowly focused on Catherine.
“Where am I?” Greg asked.
“In an ambulance. We’re headed to the hospital. Do you remember what happened?”
“Sir, can you feel your left leg?” the stranger he’d heard before asked.
“Does either of your legs feel strange?”
The world began spinning.
“Right leg? Left leg? Or both?”
Starting at his head, thousands of tiny spiders of pain began crawling across Greg’s body. Bright spots of light burst before his eyes. He felt as if he was holding his breath and couldn’t convince his body to gasp for a new one. An alarm went off, and then another, and another...
“Move. MOVE, CATHERINE!” the stranger bellowed. “Andrew, get this bus moving! Greg is not dying on our fucking bus!”
The last he heard was Catherine tell him, “Fight, Greg. Fight!”
Nick was trying to focus on his job and collecting evidence. He tried to forget reviving Greg three times before the ambulance arrived and helping the paramedics in the foyer revive him a fourth time. He’d come back each time, signifying to Nick he was fighting to stay alive. However, all the hope he had weakened at flashing memories of how savagely broken Greg’s body was, of the bloody edges of bone that protruded through the skin across his body, and of skin depressions where bone or muscle should have been holding it up. His could vividly remember how easy it had been to do chest compressions because Greg’s sternum was shattered. Finding his co-worker, his friend, so savagely beat was a trauma Nick’s mind didn’t know how to process. It was causing his hands to tremble and his thoughts kept zipping between work and fresh memories filled with blood.
Nick pulled a fingerprint card from his kit and looked up. Slowly he looked at every ‘Emily’ that was painted in blood on the walls. What did Emily have to do with any of this? Realizing he had let his mind be sidetracked – something it was easily doing tonight – he looked down at the fingerprint card in his hand. Nick pulled the tape back from the fingerprint card before he lowered it over the fingerprint on the bedpost. His hands were shaking and he hesitated. He drew a breath but it didn’t steady his hands. He decided he had to get the print anyway and moved in for it. At the last second, his hands jerked, pulled the tape across the print, and smeared the print.
“SON OF A BITCH!” Nick bellowed, kicking his kit across the bedroom.
The anger left as fast as it came and felt exhausted. He dropped the card as he scrubbed his forehead with his fingers.
Behind him, he heard Ecklie say, “Nick, I’ve brought three swing and two day C.S.I., and Sara.”
Nick put his hands on his hips, but didn’t turn. So Ecklie had come to take over. He didn’t know if he could handle much more stress tonight and remain civil.
“And?” Nick asked.
“Where do you want us?”
Nick slowly turned, finding them standing in the doorway. Ecklie wasn’t taking over the crime scene? And was that… Nick stared at the field kit Ecklie was holding. He looked from it to Ecklie’s face.
“Where do you want us Nick?” Ecklie repeated.
“Sorry we’re late,” Wendy said as she and Hodges appeared at the back. “The media’s a circus at the end of the court. We’ll courier evidence so we can get it through faster. Do you have anything for us?”
“No. I haven’t even…” Nick turned, staring into the bedroom. He couldn’t focus on this. Suddenly he wished Ecklie would take control.
His wish was granted.
“Alison and Jose, head to the basement,” Ecklie ordered. “Richard and Kipp, take the first floor. Darla and I will cover the perimeter. Is that okay, Nick? That will leave you and Sara up here.”
“Okay, let’s get started. We’ll have stuff for you two soon.”
“We’ll wait outside,” Wendy told them.
Nick listened to them leave. All except Sara. She walked over and picked up the card, handing it back to Nick.
“He’s going to the hospital, right?” she asked.
Nick nodded. He didn’t bother hiding his tears from her. She leaned in and they hugged. Nick squeezed her tight.
“He won’t make it through this time, Sara.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You didn’t see him. You didn’t see what they did to him.”
Sara closed her eyes, holding on tighter.