Ruby’s new secretary, Kim, arrived an hour later. Nick followed her into the building and stumbled into the elevator before the doors closed. Kim stared at him, her hand hovered over the control panel. “Mr. Ruby is out of town today,” she said in a polite but curt tone.
“When’s he coming back?”
“He left an envelope on his desk for me,” he lied.
The girl raised her eyebrows. “He didn’t mention any envelope to me.”
“Just unlock his door, I’ll grab it and be outta there in a minute.”
“I don’t have a key to Mr. Ruby’s office. And I wouldn’t allow anyone inside without his express permission.” The doors slid open. Kim punched a button, bolted out the door and raced down the hall.
Nick struggled to stop the doors from closing and then ran after her. He reached the outer office door just as she slammed it in his face. The lock clicked.
“If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police!” Kim yelled through the door.
Nick cursed his clumsy, hastily planned attempt to get into Ruby’s office. He trudged to the elevator. The reflection of his wild hair and scruffy beard in the shiny doors startled him and explained Kim’s reaction. The dark circles under his eyes reflected in the distorted, silvery image. His damp T-shirt reeked of sweat and stuck to his body.
Exhausted and defeated, he left the Ruby building and drove to his apartment. He called the hospital to check on Ray. The nurses’ station transferred him to a phone in the Neurosurgical waiting room. Ray’s older brother, Louis, answered.
“The surgeon’s here. He’s decided to operate. Ray’s in OR. They said it could be hours. I’ll call you as soon as we know anything.”
He ended the call and started to text Katie from habit, but then stopped. He broke up with her. Nothing he could type in a text could erase last night.
Nick dropped his cell onto the charger and wandered into the bedroom. He fell onto the bed. Every muscle in his body ached. He stared up at the ceiling and realized the raw, gasping sobs he heard came from his own mouth and matched the rhythm of his heaving chest.
The ringing persisted until he pried open his eyes and recognized the sound of his cell phone. He hauled his sore body from the bed and hurried into the kitchen.
“He’s in Recovery,” Louis said. “They got the bullet out, but there’s still swelling. The doctors can’t tell yet if it nicked his spinal cord. It’ll be a while before they know if he can walk.”
“At least they got the bullet out,” Nick said. “Is he awake?”
“No, they’re keeping him drugged for another day or two.”
“Ray’s strong. He’ll walk.” His heartbeat pounded in his ears as he tried to convince himself.
“God, Nick, I hope so.”
Nick put down the phone. He took a long drink from a bottle of beer in his hand, though he didn’t remember getting it from the refrigerator. The clock on the wall read five forty-seven. Ray had been in surgery all day while he slept.
He scrubbed his hands through his hair and downed the rest of the beer. His shirt stunk and a stale film coated his teeth. The cold beer quenched his dirt-dry throat. He drank four more.
Restless and buzzed from the alcohol, Nick paced the apartment. Katie would be leaving work at seven and walking home alone now that Ray lay helpless in a hospital bed. If Ruby sent someone after her, she’d have no protection. Katie could be brutally raped and murdered.
Anger surged through him, turning everything in his sight a bloody red. He guzzled another beer and slammed the empty bottle on the counter. I should have knocked down Ruby’s door. He knew Kim would have called the police before he could break through both doors and retrieve his contract from the desk drawer. He would have ended up in a jail cell, unable to protect Katie from Ruby’s van of murderers.
As he glared up at the wall clock, frustration fanned his anger into a full-blown rage. Six twenty-six. He couldn’t risk anything happening to Katie. She must hate him after last night. He doubted she would accept a ride from him. Even if he drove alongside her as she walked, at least she wouldn’t be alone. After last night, he knew he was as much of a threat to her as the thugs in the van. He would have to suppress the demons as best he could. Either way, Katie was in danger. He hurled an empty bottle against the kitchen wall. Shards of brown glass rained down on the tile floor. Grabbing his car keys, he ran out the door.
The rear tires of the Mustang smoked when he slammed on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to make the turn into the driveway of Saint Mary’s hospital. Katie would be coming out the doors any second.
He jogged to the wide staircase leading to the front entrance and scanned the people walking up and down the steps. From the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of pale blond hair. He spun around and saw Katie, her long ponytail hanging down her back, as she rounded the corner of the building.
He chased after her, running past the old security guard sitting in his golf cart. He stopped and searched the packed lot. Two rows away, he spotted Jon Gerber holding open the passenger door of his light blue Camry as Katie slid inside.
Jon closed the door and then turned his smiling face into the full force of Nick’s fist. He yelped in pain and fell sideways, landing on the hood of the car. Nick grabbed him by his blue scrubs and punched him in the face again. Katie screamed from inside the car. Jon reeled from the second vicious blow and rolled down the hood of the car onto the pavement. Nick knelt on top of him and hammered Jon’s head and torso with both fists.
Katie scrambled out of the car and grabbed Nick’s left arm. He flung his arm back, throwing her into the side of the car. She gripped the door handle to steady herself and screamed, “Stop it! Nick, stop!”
Nick’s fists were slick with Jon’s blood. The red haze he glared through filtered out the bloodied mess of Jon’s face and shirt. Jon’s mouth worked, gasping, gurgling, and begging Nick to stop. Blood leaked from his nostrils, mouth and one ear. He crossed his arms above his face to shield his head from the relentless volley of blows.
“For God’s sake Nick, stop!” Katie’s screams turned to sobs. “Please, you’re killing him!”
Nick stood, straddling Jon’s prone body. He stared at his bloody hands and then down at Jon, who curled onto his side, groaning and coughing.
“My God, what’s happened to you?” Katie whispered.
Nick stepped over Jon’s legs and lunged at Katie. Flattening herself against the side of the car, she slid sideways to avoid his grasp. Fear shone in her eyes. A dark, predatory urge clawed inside him as he watched her cower at the trunk of the car. He licked his lips, savoring her terror.
Running footsteps approached. Three policemen and the security guard in his cart raced toward them.
“Don’t move! Put your hands behind your head,” an officer yelled.
Nick froze at the sound of guns cocking and slowly raised his hands.
The guard pulled Katie by her arm over to his cart. “Stay here, Miss, let the officers do their job.”
Two cops grabbed hold of Nick’s raised arms. He yanked one arm free and swung wildly. His fist grazed one policeman’s jaw. The cop recovered and then landed a solid, hard blow into Nick’s stomach, causing him to double over and struggle for a breath. The two pushed him face down onto the hood of the Camry. They wrestled his arms behind him, handcuffed him and then patted him down. The third officer knelt on one knee by Jon. Emergency Room orderlies, one pushing a gurney, ran across the lot.
The two cops dragged Nick past Katie, shoved him into the back of their cruiser and slammed the door. Dazed and still gasping for air, he stared out the window at Katie. The red vision faded, leaving his sight clear but his mind muddled. He couldn’t remember how he had gotten to the hospital or what he had done to end up handcuffed inside a police car.
The policemen talked to Katie and the security guard. The old guard pointed his finger at Nick. Katie’s head swiveled back and forth, looking over at Jon and then back at Nick. The orderlies lifted Jon onto the gurney and then rushed him toward the Emergency Room entrance.
Rotating lights atop the cruiser turned Katie’s face and hair a bright blue with each sweeping turn. The fast spinning lights made Nick dizzy. He couldn’t focus his scrambled thoughts.
As the cops slid into the front of the car, Nick strained his neck to peer over his shoulder. Katie stood with both hands covering her mouth, watching the car drive away.