Monday 14th August
Bill and Caitlin had been daily visitors to 'David's' bedside for the past week. Sam had apologized profusely for allowing Marco to destroy Bill's camera. He promised to buy them a new one as soon as he was able, but Bill wouldn't hear of it.
"It's a small price to pay after all you have done for us," he told Sam, "A camera we can get anywhere. Friends like you are irreplaceable."
He felt the same way about them.
They kept him informed – at his request – on young Patrick's progress, and were thrilled that when he was allowed up for a short walk he insisted on heading for the ICU to look in on him.
As the days passed, both patients grew steadily stronger, until on this Monday, their respective physicians both declared that they were ready to go home. It was taken for granted that Patrick would receive every care and attention he needed. He was feeding well and gaining weight, in fact he was positively thriving.
Sam's bruises were fading well. The lurid purples and reds, which had looked as if they belonged on one of Al's shirts, had now muted into subtler browns and yellows.
'Why do we doctors insist on using complicated terms such as contusions and abrasions?' Sam wondered idly. 'Is it just to make us sound more impressive? Baffle 'em with Science?' Then he remembered just how savagely those cuts and bruises had hurt, and decided that perhaps the simpler words were inadequate after all.
On the other hand, he was still sore and tired easily. He suffered from dizzy spells if he stood up for too long, and any exertion, even climbing stairs – left him breathless and tight chested. The stiffness in his neck was a constant nagging, which grew intolerable if he tried to abandon the supporting collar. Headaches, though less intense than the initial agony, were annoyingly persistent.
Dr Daniels made it perfectly clear that while his recovery was progressing remarkably well, he would only be allowed to leave on the understanding that he must get plenty of rest and not push himself too hard. The date set aside for the trial was fast approaching, and that was strain enough. The kindly doctor informed Sam that he had already secured one continuance on the grounds that his patient was not strong enough for a Court appearance. He now insisted that David was to take time to recuperate fully, and return for regular check-ups on his progress throughout his convalescence.
Sam didn't argue or protest at any of the conditions. Al had promised him time, until the trial. He'd earned it. He wasn't complaining. He remained in good spirits.
The Donahues did not provide sole companionship. Sally Reynolds had paid him a call, minus Lucky, to see how he was recovering. Her nails had been repaired with neat oval extensions - obviously by a skilled manicurist. They were glazed with a delicate rose pink polish. She was immaculately dressed.
Not that Sam had been in any condition to notice, nor care how she had looked at their last meeting. But her appearance was evidently of paramount importance to her, and he had to admit now that the effect of her meticulous attention to detail was stunning. She was drop-dead gorgeous. The image was of pure Hollywood glamor. The chiffon dress was clearly a designer original, unique and outrageously expensive, as was every perfectly matched accessory, from the stiletto heels to the ruby and diamond necklace round her deep-tanned neck. This woman made a career out of shopping.
Sam thanked her twice over, once for saving his life, for which no amount of thanks would suffice, and secondly for her outstanding generosity in providing for his undoubtedly expensive treatment. He told her that it restored his faith in Human Nature that someone should show such kindness to a complete stranger. He didn't seem aware of the fact that he was describing his own entire way of life.
Miss Reynolds had modestly denied any credit for saving his life, saying that Lucky had been wholly responsible. Sam knew better, but said nothing except that he was grateful that Lucky had been there, which was putting it mildly. Sally also told him that the money was unimportant – she had more than she knew what to do with, and considered him a worthy cause. She apologized repeatedly for the fact that her first interview had alerted the brothers to his survival. She'd felt simply mortified when she'd learned what he'd been put through that night as a result. If there was anything else she could do for him, she insisted, anything at all, he need only ask and she would be only too happy to help. She handed him her card, embossed and printed in gold leaf.
Sam politely thanked her again for her interest, and assured her that he was being well cared for. She maintained that she should be thanking him. Her life had never been so exciting, she explained. She and Lucky had both become overnight celebrities, had even been interviewed by Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show'. She positively basked in all the attention, and was the envy of all her friends.
'It's an ill wind…' Sam thought, with a wry grin.
Al had also popped in a couple of times, spinning tales of poker sessions with David and other such trivia. Sam was glad that the two were on such good terms – of course he had no idea of the tension that had once existed between them – although he was shocked to find that he experienced a slight pang of jealousy that Al was spending more time with David than with himself. He dismissed the feeling sharply as unworthy, both of him and of Al. It was not as if he were starved of company. On the contrary, in addition to Bill and Cat's regular social calls, Frank had brought his wife, Mary, to meet his savior. Bill had told them both the whole story, and they had been filled with even greater admiration than before. Once they had got over the embarrassing adulation, they too were welcome faces at his door. Mary was a little older than Caitlin, and more homely in appearance. Like her husband she had a tendency to over-weight, advanced pregnancy notwithstanding, but she was by no means obese. Well covered, Al might have said, a good handful, like a Boticelli painting. Her face was rounded, and her eyes twinkled with merry laughter behind her thin metal-framed glasses. She had thick wavy brown hair, which cascaded around her shoulders and almost down to her waist. Frank called it her crowning glory, with evident pride. They may not be the world's most glamorous couple, but they were well suited to each other and obviously blissfully happy together.
As soon as they knew David was being discharged, both families rallied round. The ladies each suggested he should go home with them and be cosseted; that he should not have to fend for himself. Whilst he thanked them politely for their concern, and was moved by their genuine desire to help, he steadfastly refused to impose on either family, particularly at such a crucial time for their offspring. He maintained that they had more than enough to occupy their energies, without having an 'invalid' – as they described him – to fuss over. He promised to behave himself, assuring them that he would follow doctor's orders to the letter, and take things easy. Eventually, they were forced to concede defeat, but insisted on the right to look in on him periodically, and to provide occasional meals: "so that we know you are eating properly."
Sam had laughed and put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. These ladies were formidable, especially when they ganged up together and had the added weight of their husbands behind them. He was glad they were on his side.
Bill had been to David's home to get him some clean clothes etc. He told Sam that the police had found the Thunderbird parked outside. Just as Sam predicted they would. It was the most obvious way to cover their tracks. For David's sake Sam was pleased that they hadn't wrecked it in some deserted spot. It would have been a wicked waste of a wonderful old car. They had brought it now to the hospital to convey him home.
When he was dressed and ready to leave, his personal guard of honor was waiting to escort him out. He stopped to thank Dr Daniels for making his stay as comfortable as possible, shaking him warmly by the hand. From the Nurse's station, Reba Woods wished him luck, flashing him her lovely smile. Sam told her she had been a sight for sore eyes, and that her gentle care had helped to speed his recovery. She gave a coy giggle and replied that he was more than welcome, and had been a very good patient.
Dr Daniels moved on to his next patient. Sam caught sight of the figure in the bed through the open door. As she turned to welcome the doctor, their eyes met. Recognition was mirrored in them and she raised her hand in greeting. She still looked pale, and vulnerable, her body somehow dwarfed by the cage that kept the bed covers from pressing on her injured leg. Yet she looked much improved to how he had last seen her. He smiled his acknowledgement of her and called:
"Trudi; glad to see you on the mend."
Then he prepared to walk on, but she begged him to go in. He excused himself from his friends for a moment and entered her room.
"Do you two know each other?" inquired Dr Daniels.
"I'm so pleased I've seen you." Said Trudi, then, to the doctor,
"This is the wonderful man I told you about, Doctor. He's the one who saved my life."
Dr Daniels looked from one patient to the other in astonishment.
"No! Really? Small world, eh?" he shook his head in disbelief.
"You are a man of many talents, Mr. Beckett."
"You didn't tell me your full name." Trudi addressed Sam again. "I thought I'd never get the chance to say 'Thank you'."
Sam looked uncomfortable. "My pleasure." He smiled, though his memory of the incident was and would remain far from pleasant.
She looked at his cervical collar, concern in her eyes.
"I hope that wasn't my fault, or… Peter's." she said the name with difficulty, swallowing hard. Sam looked at Dr Daniels, who nodded slowly. As he suspected, she had been told. At least that was one onerous task he'd not been expected to perform on this Leap. He silently thanked Heaven for small mercies.
It appeared, at least superficially, as if she was coping with the news better than he would have dared to hope. Her eyes were red-rimmed from much crying, but if she was grateful to him for saving her life, then at least she wasn't feeling guilty for surviving – a common reaction.
In answer to her query, he replied:
"No, of course not." He declined to elaborate on how his injuries had been sustained. She smiled her relief. Then a cloud crossed her face and she became serious again.
"It wasn't his fault, you know." She said, earnestly. "You must believe that."
For a moment Sam was at a loss to understand what she meant. He'd just told her Peter wasn't to blame for his injuries. Was she saying that she didn't blame him for dying? Another classic response – anger at being left behind. Then – realization.
"He couldn't help losing control. He was stung by a wasp, you see, and he had a – a severe allergic reaction. There was nothing we could do." She sobbed quietly as she relived it in her mind, but it was evidently important to her that her husband be exonerated.
It all made sense to Sam at last. The car hadn't appeared faulty in any way – no blown tire or other obvious malfunction. And the driver, Peter, had not looked or smelt as if he'd been drinking. He hadn't seemed to be a likely candidate for heart failure either. The situation Trudi now described fitted perfectly the scene he'd witnessed. It had truly been a tragic accident, which no one could have foreseen. One of those unfortunate combinations of circumstance that can only be down to damned bad luck. Once again, Sam's heart went out to this sweet young woman whose life had been torn apart by something as seemingly innocent as a tiny insect. He remembered what Al had told him – first time around Peter had not been the only fatality. Trudi, Frank and the driver of the Station Wagon had all perished. Four lives; one wasp. It certainly made one aware of how fragile and precious human life was.
It was obvious that Trudi needed Sam to say something. Some reassuring response to make everything better. Needed to know that Peter's reputation was intact. One of the reasons he kept Leaping into these situations was because he had the knack of knowing the appropriate things to say. This time, his aching head was not so sure he had the right answers. What could he possibly say to take away the hurt and the loss? Nothing could bring Peter back. He took a deep breath, and hoped for inspiration. When none was forthcoming, he simply spoke from his heart.
"I'm so sorry." He began, sincerely, "Please don't distress yourself. Peter wasn't responsible for what happened. No one asks for allergies. If he was sensitive to wasp stings, he could even have suffered anaphylactic shock. Certainly, without anti-histamines there was nothing anyone could have done in the circumstances, isn't that right, Doctor?" He looked to Dr Daniels for confirmation, thinking – nothing I could have done, either, short of Leaping into the wasp and deciding not to sting him!
Perhaps this encounter was as much for his benefit. He needed the explanation to lay the ghost of his feeling of inadequacy that he'd been unable to save her husband. He had to accept that there was nothing he could have done for Peter, that there were limits, even to the miracles he constantly performed. It may not seem fair, but as Al once pointed out to him, some things just aren't meant to be changed.
"Indeed not." The medical expert verified, clearly impressed by Sam's knowledge. "These things don't give one much time to react. In fact, it could have been much worse."'Yeah, tell me about it,' thought Sam, remembering clearly the smell of the fumes and the heat and the blood and the sound of Trudi's screams, and the force of the explosion, 'but not for Peter, cut down so young. It couldn't have been worse for him.'
He looked compassionately at Trudi, wondering if she had taken it that way too, but she seemed appeased.
"The fact it wasn't worse is down to Mr. Beckett here, I think." She looked straight at him, with those clear blue eyes. He squirmed. He never found it easy to stand on a pedestal.
Trudi reached out to him and he took her hand, patting it gently.
A look of mutual understanding passed between them. He didn't know what else he could say. She started to extol his virtues again, for his past deeds and his present comfort. Sam glanced then towards his friends waiting patiently by the door.
The message his look gave to them was crystal clear:
"Get me out of here!"
Bill and Frank huddled together, whispering. Their wives smiled. Part of them was enjoying his discomfort. They knew he was a hero too, and deserved the praise. Yet they were good enough friends by now to respect his modesty.
The cavalry charged in to his rescue.
"Beg pardon, ma'am, for the intrusion," cut in Frank, "but I reckon it's high time my pard and I got this young fella home, before the Doc here decides to revoke his parole."
Sam smiled, relieved at the shift in emphasis, taking up his cue:
"Yeah, that's right. I got time off for good behavior, so I guess I'd better behave."
Dr Daniels laughed, while trying hard to look stern. The kindly father figure again.
"It is still early days, Mr. Beckett. So straight home to bed with you now, my lad, or I may just change my mind about letting you go. Shoo."
Bill and Frank took an arm each and propelled Sam towards the door as if taking him into custody. They were - protective custody. Trudi watched him go, calling her thanks again.