It was just after eleven p.m. when Dr. Evan Whitman came out of the restroom, preparing for the next eight hours of her night shift. It was the only chance she had for a break. There was no denying the craziest things happened on full moon nights. A small grin graced her lips as she thought how superstitious healthcare workers could be, even with all the scientific knowledge they had . She shook excess water off her hands and smoothed back a stray wisp of her dark auburn hair, then glanced up automatically as the sliding doors in the ambulance bay opened. Instinctively, an adrenaline rush spurred her into action as her eyes fell on a man hurrying into the emergency entrance carrying a child.
She ran toward him and the small body he held wrapped in a dark coat. As she ran, she called for a gurney, certain whoever he held would need rapid attention, as blood spattered the floor around him in small rivulets. When she neared the dark haired man, something in his eyes caused her to falter slightly. They sparked menacingly as she made eye contact, seeming to see into her soul. Outwardly, she did not miss a step as she pushed through the momentary hesitation to focus on his burden.
As a nurse pushed a gurney in front of the man, Evan reached to lay the body out gently. The man reluctantly let go of the child, keeping one hand on him as Evan pulled back the coat. Her initial impression was a confusing mass of bloody rags covering the boy’s thin body. She brushed the man’s hand aside, but inhaled sharply when her hand touched the cold hard hand on the boy’s forehead. It was February in the Midwest, with temperatures often below zero, and she worried he might have frost bite. She made a mental note to check on him once the boy was stabilized.
“What happened? Are you the boy’s father? Can you tell me what happened!” Evan demanded of the man, trying to make eye contact. She assumed his silence was the beginning stage of shock. “Sir, do you know what happened? If you know what happened you need to tell me so I can help your son!”
She heard a mumbled reply, “I’m not...I...I don’t know what happened.”
Evan tried again to make eye contact, leaning toward the man’s face to get his attention. Instead of asking her intended question, she just stared. His face was pale as parchment, and his piercing eyes had turned obsidian.
He took a quick step back and ducked away from her as Evan leaned closer to him. His shaggy black hair partially obscured his eyes and face now, allowing her to pull away from his mesmerizing gaze. She shook her head to clear her mind and pushed the gurney toward the trauma room. Something about the man unsettled her and she did not want to be near him a moment longer. His presence clouded her mind, and she needed to be sharp now. Despite that fact, she needed more answers about the boy in front of her, so she closed her eyes, stopped a few feet away, then turned and asked aloud, “Are you this boy’s father? I need to to know any of his medical history and for the consent for treatment.”
“No, I’m not his father, I cannot tell you anything about him,” he murmured in a low voice.
“Are you hurt? Were you in an accident together?” she asked, again trying to be sure she was not missing something that could account for the boy’s injuries and the man’s paleness.
“I’m fine...I just found him like this in the park,” he replied impatiently.
“Well, wait here, so I can ask you a few questions once he is stabilized. I also need to make sure you’re okay,” Evan commanded.
He nodded and faded into the waiting room. In the few seconds it had taken for this exchange to take place, the trauma team had assembled, and whisked the gurney away from her and through the trauma unit doors. Evan turned and ran after them, ready to give her undivided attention to the boy.
The team surrounded the gurney, and Evan supervised as the residents surveyed the boy for signs of life. Electrodes were placed across his chest for monitoring his heart rate, a sensor was taped to his finger to check his oxygen level and a white cuff was wrapped around his left arm to measure his blood pressure. Two nurses cut off the remaining shreds of clothing to see the full extent of his injuries, while another tried to start an intravenous line.
“Get two units of O-neg on the warmer now! Do we need a central line? Grady... are you getting it or do you need me to step in?” Evan called out as she sidled in next to the cart, her fingers finding a faint pulse at his neck as she went to work. “Alright, people, first things first. He’s got a pulse, he’s breathing, he’s circulating. Expose the patient so we can determine the extent of the injuries. Good, good! Does anyone see where all the blood is coming from?”
She began feverishly assessing the boy laid out in front of her, rarely able to fully relinquish the management of such a difficult case to the residents.
Alarms rang out shrilly as machines cycled continuously, and voices rose in a cacophony of controlled panic and frustration. Each yellow gowned player around the boy was trying to work as fast as they could to find all the sources of bleeding. Every surface on the boy’s body was covered with deep gashes. Tubes and wires snaked over him, giving readouts or allowing replacement of his lost blood while they struggled to keep him alive.
“Let the nurses in to do their jobs, residents. Everyone focus on your work! We only have a few minutes until this boy bleeds out!” she asserted, attempting to stay in control of the situation.
Evan was doing her best to coordinate the young boy’s resuscitation, directing the orchestra of gloved and gowned staff. He was critically unstable. Glancing at the monitors, she saw the readouts: blood pressure 70/36 and heart rate 154. The numbers did not look good; he was at risk for going into hypovolemic shock from the massive amount of blood loss. Evan knew it might have looked like a losing battle with the blood dripping from the gurney, the bloody footsteps tracked around the room and the crimson smears covering the protective yellow gowns, but she was not ready to give up. Taking a cue from her, the team’s frantic movements had all settled in to a smooth, yet fast paced dance.
“What do you think caused these lacs, Dr. Whitman?” a young intern asked, attempting to staunch the flow of blood from one of the many cuts on the boy’s right arm.
“I’m not sure, Mills, I’m still trying to figure that out. All I know for sure is that we need to stop the bleeding. Watch out for arterial bleeding, we have to be careful to get hemostasis before closing the deeper gashes,” she replied, chastising the inexperienced intern as he had let up pressure while looking to her for answers, allowing precious blood to spill over. Evan shouted, “Watch what you’re doing!”
Mills snapped to attention and began to work more diligently, finding the bleeder and assisting the surgical resident to put a stick tie through the small vessel. The rest of the team continued to work on the boy’s other limbs. One resident or intern to a limb, cleaning the wounds, isolating bleeding and suturing each gash, which looked alarmingly like the result of a razor blade being slashed through the boy’s skin.
“How could this have happened?” Evan muttered under her breath as she stood back to survey the whole picture before her. She estimated the youth to be around thirteen or fourteen, not quite through puberty, but not a little boy any longer. He hadn’t responded to any of their stimuli, and she hadn’t given him any sedatives. She wanted him to wake up, but he remained unconscious.
“Do you think it was an animal attack, Dr. Whitman?” another resident asked. “All the wounds line up in sets, almost like claw marks. I could see that. But what kind of animal...”
Pulled from her mental review of the child’s care, Evan replied sharply, “I don’t know what could have done this! Mind your work, it doesn’t matter right now what caused it, only that we have to fix it!”
Forty-five minutes later, the boy had been stabilized, his wounds repaired to the best of the doctors’ abilities; Evan was satisfied they had done all they could. His bleeding had been stopped and his vital signs were stable, but still lower than she liked. She found a quiet hallway outside the chaos of the emergency department, where the silence resonated loudly in her ears after the frantic commotion of earlier. She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, letting out a long slow breath. Generally, she did not allow herself to be affected by a case. To lose objectivity was a sign of weakness in her opinion.
There was something different this time. She had treated many children in the past, some horribly injured, but this boy looked as if he had been mauled by a lion. It was not likely, but every once in a while reports came across the news of mountain lion sightings in the St. Louis suburbs. There was no other good explanation she could come up with. Evan recalled the man who had brought the boy in; she thought perhaps he was the reason she was so shaken. Something was off about him, she could not place just what it was though.
Evan shook herself to clear her thoughts. She had to find out if the stranger could tell her anything about the boy, although doubt crossed her mind that he had waited as she had asked him to do. She went to the registration desk, looking for the clerk. She found the older woman leaning under the desk with only her acid green, spandex-clad, round derriere visible, in her endless quest for paper clips. It never failed that the fifty-something year old woman with the impossibly poofed hair was tracking down lost treasures, since administration had become so stingy with office supplies.
“Rosie, I need to find out if there’s any news on the trauma I just finished with,” Evan said to her old friend.
The gray haired woman gasped as she jumped and straightened up in her seat, clutching her bright floral draped chest and laughing. “Dr. Whitman, you scared me!” She became serious once more and said, “What a tragedy! Is that little boy going to be okay? What on earth happened to him?”
“I think he will, Rosie. I don’t have a clue what happened to him. It took hundreds of stitches and staples to sew up all the lacs he had on his body. The man who brought him in, Rosie...Did he stay here while we were working on the boy?”
“As a matter of fact, he did! He just asked me if I knew if the boy was going to be okay. I told him I didn’t know, but I tried to get insurance information and a name for the little guy, but I didn’t get a thing. I didn’t know what to tell him once he told me he wasn’t the boy’s father.”
“You did all you could. Well, I guess if you haven’t already called the police, now is as good a time as ever. We need to report this, whatever this is,” Evan said with a sigh.
“Already done. There’s an officer on the way...Oh! There he is! That was quick. I only called fifteen minutes ago,” the clerk said with a smile.
Rosie’s bright smile and friendly spirit could usually make her feel better, no matter what had gone wrong, but this time it wasn’t working. Rosie was almost like a mother to her. At least that was how Evan felt, since she hadn’t really gotten to know her mother well before she went to live with her grandmother. She turned around, steeling herself to speak with the officer, to find out if there were any missing children in the city, and to let him know of a potentially dangerous animal on the loose. She wished she had gotten to speak to the man who brought the boy in before the police had arrived, since it was usually easier to get answers without being on record. She scanned the waiting room for the stranger’s dark hair and pale face.
Her peripheral vision caught sight of him, leaning in a dark corner of the waiting room. She looked at him, and he leveled her with his gaze. When he relented, looking behind her, she turned and took in the officer striding purposefully toward the registration desk. The dark stranger did not move though and she thought that was a good sign.
The officer drew up next to the desk, and as he opened his mouth to speak, Rosie interrupted him and said, “Hello, detective, thanks for coming so soon. You’ll want to talk to Dr. Whitman.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” the tired-looking officer said, muddled by Rosie’s cheeriness. He looked to Evan and said, “I need to see the kid first, then we can talk.”
Evan was still looking at the stranger’s dark eyes, surprised he hadn’t looked away yet. She dragged her eyes away from him and faced the officer. The stranger still appeared polished in dark slacks, a button down shirt and black shoes, despite carrying in a bloody body and being left with telltale smudges of blood on him. What a contrast. The officer’s limpid brown eyes bored into her with impatience, while his rumpled clothes betrayed the long hours he spent at work. Not everyone could look as good as the dark haired man in the waiting room. What was she thinking? She had barely gotten a glimpse of him earlier, but the single female in her had quickly been attracted to the stranger’s tall muscular frame. The body of the officer in front of her spoke of many hours at a desk, not a gym. Then she spared a self-conscious moment to wonder if she looked as bedraggled as she felt in her second pair of scrubs for the night, with her hair hanging in a lop-sided ponytail.
“I can show you to the boy,” she said as she walked toward the trauma room, throwing a brief glance back at the dark stranger while leading the way to the child. "I think he will pull through okay. He was very lucky that he was found and brought here so quickly, or he would have died."
“We had a kid reported as missing this afternoon. I hope this is the kid. I am really tired of bad shit happening to missing children. I could use one happy ending,” the officer said, dragging his hand down his face in a show of exhaustion. His voice was sharp with a hint of Chicago twang to it.
She glanced at the badge on the officer’s coat. “Officer O’Reilly? Right?” Once the officer nodded, “I hope this is your kid, too, but you need to be prepared. He is pretty cut up. I really have no idea what really happened to him.”
Evan led the officer to the bed behind a curtain where the boy lay unconscious. She nodded to the nurse who had been charting on the boy, excusing him while she and the officer were at the bedside. The boy was too critical to be left alone for even a short while. For a moment the only sounds were the shallow breathing coming from the boy’s mouth; the beeping of monitors, recording every heartbeat; and the intermittent click of the IV pump infusing blood.
“What the--! Are you kidding me?” Officer O’Reilly cursed under his breath as Evan drew to the side of the bed and pulled the sheet down across his torn up body. The detective put his hand over his mouth as he uttered a few more choice expletives.
“No, I wasn't kidding,” she answered, not surprised by the horrified look on the officer’s face. “This is the kid that was brought in a couple of hours ago. Is this good news, a happy ending for once? Does he fit the description of the missing boy?” Evan asked hopefully. If they could get ahold of his parents, then at least something would seem to be going right for the poor boy.
She surveyed him again for signs of distress, then tried to look at him as if this were the first time she was seeing him. Since the nurses had cleaned him up a bit more, she could see the sandy blond hair, and the spattering of freckles across his nose. He had blue eyes she remembered from her neurological assessment. He was a lovely boy, she decided. But, of course, all the scars he was bound to have after this incident would mar some of his beauty. Boys think scars are cool, Evan thought in an attempt to soothe her regret.
“This is worse than I expected! I was expecting ‘cut up’ like he’d fallen or something. This looks like a bear got to him! What the hell? Wait, I got a picture of the missing kid. Let me see,” he said as he pulled a picture out of his pocket. “Yeah, this is the kid! Name’s Nathan Clark, fifteen years old. I’m gonna call the station and get his parents on their way. They’re sick with worry.”
“Nathan!” she exclaimed, letting the boy’s name sink in quickly. “I am so glad this is him!” Maybe something would go right for the kid tonight after all. “I wish he wasn’t so injured. Don’t have his parents come back here without me. This is a lot to take in, and I want them to be prepared. More prepared than you were. Sorry.”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I don’t know what to tell them about his injuries anyway. He’s gonna live, right, doc?” the officer asked anxiously as he began dialing his cell phone.
“He’s not completely out of the woods, but if I had to say right now, I think he will do fine,” she replied. Her hand was resting on the boy’s chest; a feeling of warmth crept up through her arm. She had a knack for this. Ever since she was a young girl, she had been able to sense if something was wrong by a simple touch. This boy still felt strong, although he felt different from most. She couldn’t place what was different. She would never tell anyone about her gift; she knew those in the ‘scientific community’ would think she was crazy. The one time she had tried to share her gift openly with someone, she had been devastated by their response. Not to mention how it had ruined her family.
The officer spoke to someone at the station on his cell phone, explaining the boy’s condition, discussing how to handle the child’s parents. Evan listened for a moment, but walked away to wait for him when his conversation turned to other things. After a few more minutes of quiet conversation, the officer turned back toward her expectantly.
“Did you have some questions for me?” he asked, walking toward her.
“I need to talk to you about the man who brought the boy in. At first I thought he maybe had something to do with this, but he said he found the boy in the park. He’s still in the waiting room. Will you talk to him?” she asked.
“Yeah, I want to talk to him. I need to know where the boy came from and how the guy got involved with this kid,” the officer said with interest.
As Evan led the way out of the trauma room, she told the officer of the encounter when the boy was brought in. Reminded of the bloody coat, she quickly turned around and grabbed the coat that had been stuffed in a ‘belongings bag’ to return to the mysterious man, the scent of spilled blood heavy on it, sharp and metallic. Her nostrils flared, annoyed that it bothered her. When she caught up with Officer O’Reilly, she found him jotting notes in a small note pad he had taken from his pocket.
Evan walked up to him and looked into the waiting room again. The dark haired man was still there, leaning against the wall staring at her, as if he had not moved an inch.
“Officer, the man who brought the boy in is right over here. When you to talk to him, I want to listen in, so I can see if there is anything that will help explain the boy’s injuries,” Evan said, as she rounded the desk corner. O’Reilly nodded his agreement. She turned and led the way toward the man who pushed off the wall gracefully when she started his direction.
The officer followed her to the dimly lit waiting room full of anxious families, waiting for news of loved ones. Many looked up expectantly as Evan and the officer walked past. She just shook her head as they passed each expectant face, silently letting them know she did not have any information on their loved one. When she neared the mysterious stranger, her pulse quickened, and her breathing came with a hitch. She cleared her throat, suddenly interested in the potted plant just beside him, in an attempt to look away.
When she drew nearer, she looked back at the man’s face and noticed his intense gaze directed at O’Reilly. “Sir, this officer is here to ask you some questions about the boy you brought in. He needs to know whatever you know. I’m going to listen in so I don’t have to ask you the same questions later,” Evan said steadily, making her voice as assertive as she could, not understanding the apparent strain between the two men.
“Of course,” the man said quietly. He cast a brief glance her way, and a faint smile played at the corner of his mouth.
“Dr. Whitman, can we go someplace a little more private? I don’t want all these folks listening in to what we’re talkin’ about,” O’Reilly asked.
“Sure, follow me,” she said, leading the way to the door marked Consultation Room down the hall from the waiting room. She was acutely aware of the stranger following behind her. He did not put off any heat, but she could feel his eyes on her. Officer O’Reilly was the last to enter the small, pale pink room that was meagerly furnished with a love seat, a wooden chair, a worn table and a lamp. On the table were ratty magazines that were years out of date. He closed the door and positioned himself in front of it, effectively blocking Dr. Whitman and the dark stranger in.
“Okay, sir, I need to ask you some questions about the boy you brought in. First, what is your name?” O’Reilly began.
“My name is Emil...Emil Drozdan,” the man answered, loud enough this time so that Evan picked up an accent. She took out a piece of paper and wrote the name down.
“How did you come to find the boy, Mr. Drozdan,” the officer continued.
“I was in the park at 14th and St. Charles, looking for an acquaintance. I was walking around the fence near the playground equipment and noticed commotion behind some trees. I just thought I would look and see if there was a problem. I found the boy lying there under the trees. He looked pretty bad off. I figured it would be quicker if I just brought him here, rather than try to call for help. He still had a strong pulse, and we weren’t far.”
“It’s a little late to be hanging out in the park, don’t you think, Mr. Drozdan?” Officer O’Reilly said. “What were you doing there so late?”
“I was waiting for a friend. We were going to go out after we met. Is that enough? It really isn’t important.”
“Did you see anything else, anyone in the area, that might help us find out who did this to the boy?” O’Reilly asked hopefully, trying a different tack.
Drozdan looked away from the officer, hiding his eyes, and said, “No, I didn’t see anyone or anything.”
“What time did you find the boy?”
“Right before I came here, maybe 10:50. Look, I just want to be sure the boy is okay, and then I need to go. It’s late. I wish I had more information for you, but I don’t,” Drozdan said, irritation creeping into his voice.
“I don’t have any reason to keep you here, but here’s my card if you think of anything else that might help us find the perp that did this,” O’Reilly said, handing a card to the man standing in the corner of the room.
Emil Drozdan seemed claustrophobic in the small room. Evan noted that he was eying the bag in her hand anxiously, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“I will, can I go now?” he asked edging toward the closed door.
“Sure, just let me get your contact information right quick,” O’Reilly said, and wrote down the address and phone number Emil Drozdan impatiently recited.
As he turned to bolt out the door, Evan caught his arm, intending to give the man back the coat he had wrapped around the boy. Drozdan shook her hand off abruptly, and then tried to quickly regain his composure as he took a few steps away from her.
“What? What do you want?” he asked gruffly, without meeting her eyes.
“Mr. Drozdan, I only wanted to give you your coat back. I put it in this bag, it’s really quite soaked...” Evan said apologetically.
“Burn it! I could never use it again, and no one else needs to smell like spilt blood,” he replied tersely. When she extended her arm with the bag in it, he flinched like it might hurt him.
“It could probably be cleaned, but if you don’t want it, maybe I can clean it and put it in the donations box, is that okay with you?” she asked, knowing that the coat was an expensive one.
“Do whatever makes you feel better,” the man said quietly, looking out of the corner of his eye at her, his jaw tense. This time, Evan allowed herself to be momentarily drawn into Mr. Drozdan’s black eyes. He held her mesmerized for a few heartbeats before he started towards the exit. She stared after his retreating figure, wishing for just another moment to be lost in his eyes. At that moment another officer came in with the boy’s parents. They had red-rimmed eyes and puffy faces, clinging to each other for dear life. The mother was still crying.
“Where is my baby? Where is Nathan?” the woman cried out. It was now 2 a.m. and the waiting room had emptied very little. Her exclamation caused a rumble to flow through those still waiting.
“Mr. and Mrs. Clark, I’m Dr. Evan Whitman. I am taking care of your son.” She rushed to their sides as they looked wildly around the waiting room. “I can take you to him in a moment. I need to talk to you about his injuries.”
“Oh, my God! He’s hurt? Is he going to be okay?” the boy’s father asked. His relief at learning his son was safe and alive tarnished with anger at learning his son was hurt.
“He will be fine,” she said soothingly. “I might not have such good news for you if it hadn’t been for this Good Samaritan who brought Nathan to us.”
Evan was watching the back of said Good Samaritan; he was trying to leave unnoticed, but she did not want him to go without at least their acknowledgement. He turned, his face falling when he realized he was cornered again.
The couple turned to him and their faces lit with gratitude. “You saved our boy? How can we ever thank you? Whatever you want, it’s yours, if we have it. We owe you our son’s life!”
The boy’s mother had reached out to the man and was clinging to his shirt, rumpling the fine material. He was trying to detach her gently, and avoid her attempts to hug him.
“I don’t need anything,” Drozdan said impatiently. “I only did what any other decent person would have done. I’m glad he is going to be okay.”
“But you gave us our boy back! Really, anything you want,” Mr. Clark declared, but the boy’s mother was already thinking of her child.
“Dr. Whitman, can we go see our son? I need to see him before I will really believe he is okay,” Mrs. Clark cried as she relinquished Drozdan’s arm, but looked back at him. “And you, please wait, I want to talk to you.”
Drozdan backed deeper into the shadows, with a pained look on his face, but Evan thought he seemed resigned to spend his night in the ER waiting room.
After gently explaining the boy’s injuries to his horrified parents, and reassuring them that he would recover with only scars, Evan once again led the way to the trauma room.
“Mister, did you want to come back with us? I know if Nate wakes up and asks what happened, he’s going to want to meet you and thank you himself,” Mr. Clark said as he turned to follow Dr. Whitman.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to frighten the boy,” he said nervously.
“Now why would you do that? You rescued him. If he remembers anything, I want it to be you, the kind man who saved him,” Mrs. Clark said.
Looking unsure of his decision to follow them, he slowly walked behind them into the trauma room. He held back while the parents were quietly reacquainted with their son. Self-consciously, he watched them delicately kissing his hands and forehead. It was too sweet a moment. Just as he turned to leave again, the boy’s mother called him to her side.
The boy was waking up. Drozdan approached the bed quietly, moving slowly to stand behind the doctor. His hands were pushed deep in his pockets. Evan could not help but notice he avoided looking at the bloody bandages covering the boy’s body.