“Good morning, I trust you slept well.” Gerald bellowed across the open room, he looked as if he had been up for hours. The coffee pot on his desk was already half empty.
“Yes, I slept most of the night,” I mumbled.
“Your place will be ready at sixteen hundred. That’s four pm today. Can I get you a cup? I’m ready to brew a second pot.” Gerald raised a tall steel coffee tumbler in the air. “We all use military time here, so keep that in mind when talking to your co-workers.”
“Coworkers? Yes, you conformists are fanatical about your weird time thing. I do feel much better today but I need a hot shower and to wash my hair.”
“You can shower, but the liquid bandage dissolves rapidly in hot water; it’s something I’m working on. I’ll wash your hair for you. There’s a sink on the back wall.” Gerald motioned towards the back of the room and began pouring my coffee.
“How big is the scar going to be?” I was afraid to touch the back of my head. My wound throbbed with each step I took. I imagined the scar as a sprawling red mess.
“The scarring should be minimal; it’s getting the wound to heal properly that concerns me at the moment.” Gerald pushed the tanker sized tumbler of coffee into my hands before examining my head wound. “Do you need a fresh set of clothes? I can have some brought to you.”
“Ann made me a nice care package. I have everything I need for today, but thanks.”
“On that subject, I am not accustomed to considering the daily necessities a woman requires. I’m appreciative of Ann’s help but if you need anything at all, regardless of what it might be, please let me know. There is nothing I can’t get for you.”
Gerald’s serious and creepy tone made it sound like if I wanted a still-beating human heart presented in a Victorian Easter basket he could get me that as well.
“Damn, that is a huge sink you have back there. A whole person would fit in that thing,” I laughed making an attempt to turn the heavy mood back to light.
“How do you think I removed the caked blood from your hair and cleaned the glass bits out of that shredded wound on your side?” Gerald’s voice had a subtle, deviant chuckle to it as he explained his actions.
“Really I hadn’t given that much thought. I assumed one of the nurses cleaned my wounds; like in a normal hospital.”
“Does this look like a normal hospital?” Gerald’s boyish charm made it easy to overlook the fact that he always stood a bit too close and lingered a bit too long. The fact that a measure of personal space between two people should exist escaped him completely.
“Oh my God, you are a special kind of pervert. Aren’t you?”
“Calm down. Your wounds needed attention. Your palms were shredded and that bullet graze was a mess. The other hospital didn’t do an acceptable job by my standards. Besides, I’m not the least bit aroused by unconscious, naked women with festering flesh wounds. You should thank me; the scarring will be minimal.”
“Naked? Dear God. Thank you, Doctor Jekyll. Can you please point me to the shower? I think I can manage by myself.”
“Let’s get your hair washed first. It will be easier to resist running the hot water on the back of your head.”
I followed Gerald to the huge steel sink. He helped me up on the counter and lightly scrubbed my hair avoiding the wound site. He droned on and on about the composition of the goop he used to keep the gash on my head closed. I’m sure it would be fascinating to some but to me, it was tedious gibberish.
“So it’s like toothpaste, superglue, and polysporin all mixed together with some helpful dust, it sticks to itself, and it melts away every few days. In a nutshell.”
“There is no toothpaste and it’s not dust. You realize not so long ago that wound on your head would have required me to shave most of your hair off just so I could staple it shut. Then, of course, I would have to remove those staples, but yes I guess it’s just like polysporin toothpaste.” Gerald stared disapprovingly at me before he handed me a small towel.
“Staples sound barbaric. The goopy stuff you have is a thousand times better. Which way it to the shower?”
“Goopy stuff? I guess that rolls off the tongue easier than ECM sealant.” Gerald pointed toward a large wooden door on the far side of his lab. “Put your pack on the bench. It will stay dry if you don’t get too crazy with the water.” Gerald continued into the room turning on the lights and checking for towels.
The shower room was tiled floor to ceiling with light brown stone tile and looked brand new. The right side of the huge room had an in-ground spa and a small dry sauna. The opposite side had several towel topped, massage tables and a large dressing area with benches and mirrors.
“You’re certain you don’t need my help?” Gerald questioned.
“No help needed. I’m sure you can find something to do for a few minutes.” I pointed back toward the door and flashed him my best stern, mom look.
The water was cooler than I liked, but the warm water on my face and the smell of Ann’s coconut soap were just what I needed. Ann even packed me a sparkly, purple toothbrush, and a fancy pink razor. She thought of everything.
I rinsed my hair in the cooler water as instructed and to my surprise, the magic sealant on my head held up nicely. I ran my fingers over my scar. It was the crude shape of a question mark and went from the middle back of my skull to the base of my hairline. No wonder there was so much blood. My mind wandered back to the restaurant and the hard smack on the wood molding that I didn’t see coming.
“How is it going? No passing out.” Gerald yelled through the door startling me back to the present.
“Don’t worry I’m fine.” I wasn’t going to give him any reason to come help me. I took a few minutes to shave my legs and scrub my face with the products Ann left me. I stood under the warm shower water longer than necessary and feet the exhaustion in my legs. Walking out into the cold therapy room I felt shaky. I didn’t want to call for help so I took a moment to sit on a bench and situate my towels before walking into the lab. As the thick steam cleared from the doorway, I could see Richard standing just outside the room.
“Colonel Wolfe?” My heart began to pound faster. I had hoped to avoid my kidnapper. All I could do was stand there in my fluffy towel staring at him.
“Calynn, you are looking much better today. Doctor Gerald has come through for us again.” Richard looked only at my face as he spoke.
“Thank you, I’m less broken today than I was when you found me. Do you have any news about my family; any word from your guy? Nick was his name I believe?”
“Yes, Nick gathered several items from the restaurant. The paring knife was recovered from under a booth. He retrieved two witness reports that showed up after we left. Everything is on its way here. We are shooting for total containment. Two of the gunmen were known criminals; both men were linked to other violent crimes. The third man is still unidentified.
“Your cover story at the moment is that you sustained life-threatening head injuries and were flown to the SUNY level I trauma center in New York for care. You will require extensive recovery time. Your husband has relayed this story to Lila. He convinced her that flying out from Florida would be a waste of her time. We have cloned your cell to a secure phone line. You should be able to text back and forth with her in five to seven days.
“Your employer was notified that you would be unable to return to work for the foreseeable future, and you relieved them of any obligation to hold your position. Your last paycheck and personal workspace items were released to your husband yesterday. All your debts are being evaluated. Nick will make a recommendation on how to proceed next week.
“Your husband has been cooperative, and he has requested to see you as soon as possible. In return for his continued cooperation, I have arranged for him and your son to be flown over early Saturday morning and to be flown back late Sunday afternoon.”
“Dave and Matt are coming here on Saturday?” My stomach fluttered. This man had a familiar tone when he spoke of my sister. I didn't like that.
“Yes, that’s the current plan,” Richard replied with a puzzled look on his face.
“That’s great news. It’s also quite a bit to take in. Nick must be a real powerhouse.”
“I told you everything would be handled, so it will be. It doesn’t meet with my agenda to make this difficult for you. Your focus needs to be here, not on your domestic obligations.”
“What is your agenda? You have me here, now what?”
“My agenda? It’s the program’s agenda. We need to know what skills you have retained and if there has been any damage caused by your implant.
“It’s been suggested, for the safety of those who work here, that I quarantine you to the medical building. But Doctor Gerald reports that you are in control of your actions and willing to work with us. I can allow you to move freely on base, but I can’t allow you to leave unescorted. This compromise also requires that I have someone shadow you until it’s deemed no longer necessary.” Richard explained his bullet points apologetically.
“So my options are quarantine or a stalker? It will be interesting to see just what has you so worried. I don’t have any remarkable talents. I can assure you, I’m not dangerous to myself or anyone else for that matter. I can’t explain how I was able to shoot those men, but I can stay away from guns, knives, sharp forks. Whatever helps put everyone at ease.”
“No, that’s not the kind of danger that concerns me.” Richard began to chuckle. His condescending tone hit a cord, and I could feel the anger and hate rise in the pit of my stomach. My situation was far from laughable. “You don’t need a weapon Calynn. You’re quite deadly on your own.”
I swallowed hard to remove the lump in my throat and squelch any nasty comments that might escape. Richard had moved closer to me over the course of our conversation. His arm was almost touching mine. The towel I was wrapped in felt like a snake coiled around my rib cage, trying to choke the life out of me.
His skin. I could see under it. I could see the muscle and the bone beneath that. It felt like I owned him like he was a thing that I could do with as I pleased. It terrified me how much I wanted to tear the flesh from his bones. I never felt so justified in my desire to harm another person. It was pure, primal, unchecked hatred.
Maybe there is something wrong with me. I tried to exhale the thought out of my mind, regain some rational crumb of civilized interaction with the man in front of me then I caught myself staring at him.
“I should go get dressed. I’m sorry it’s rude to stare. Something you said. I don’t know exactly what word caught my attention but...” It was like the restaurant all over again. I was burning inside, and I didn’t like what it was doing to my mind. I was quickly losing my grip on reality
Gerald was in my face shining his pen flashlight in my eyes. “You heard something, it triggered a memory what did you see?” His cold hands were on my face prying open my eyelids. I am a human puzzle for the man to solve, even if he has to cut me into tiny pieces and shove me under his microscope to do it.
“I can’t get enough air.” I pushed Gerald back abruptly holding him at arm’s length with one hand while holding a death grip on my towel with the other.
“Okay let’s take a deep breath. What did you hear? What has upset you?” Gerald seemed desperate for answers. I didn’t have any for him, at least no answers I wanted to share.
“It’s not just one thing. There’s no rational explanation. I have to go.”
I could hear a low growl in my voice and it startled me. My eyes began to water. I could feel the tickle of warm liquid run alongside my mouth and plop on the edge of my fuzzy towel. I wiped my face with the back of my hand and realized my nose had started bleeding.
“I have to get dressed. I will be back in a minute.”
“No let me look and see why you are bleeding, it could be a…” Gerald grabbed my arm, trying to keep me from walking away. The hatred was percolating; it was hot and stifling. My stomach soured, and the muscles in my neck tightened. I could feel the insanity overtaking me.
“No! I have to get away from him.” I pointed at Richard. “Let me go.” I ripped my arm from Gerald’s hand and hurried back to my hospital room to change.
The bruises and damp bandages made it hard to maneuver the clothes over my battered skin. The extra adrenaline from my childish tantrum helped me to ignore the pain. I dressed quickly and tried to calm down. There was air, I could breathe, and I could be civilized. I wanted to see Matt and Dave; fearing I just ruined that opportunity, I took a deep breath and prepared a simple apology.
I would go to the lab and apologize for my outburst, that was all there was to it. I swapped the wad of tissue I stuffed up my nose for my already blood spotted towel, gathered my resolve, and went back to apologize.