Early Monday morning Steve drove to Oscar’s office for a briefing on a new assignment. He crossed to the reception area with an unusual bounce in his step that pricked Callahan’s curiosity.
“What has you in such a good mood this morning, Colonel? You’re not usually this cheery when you come for a briefing.”
“True, but this is no ordinary assignment. Oscar tells me it’s pretty routine stuff but what is interesting is that it takes place in the sunny Caribbean island of St-Thomas,” Steve described with a smug on his face.
“You’re right. How about taking me with you?” she jested with a doe-eyed gaze.
“I wish I could but only thing is I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Yeah, fighting off ladies is a dangerous game, isn’t it?” she teased with an elfish wink.
“You know me so well, Callahan,” he reciprocated before entering Oscar’s office. “Oh sorry,” he apologized upon seeing security agent Marty Kaufman in discussion with Oscar. “I could come back later.”
“No, come in Steve, Oscar waved him in. “Agent Kaufman and I were just finished.”
“I’ll get right on it Mister Goldman.”
“Thanks. The sooner we know who it is the better. I wouldn’t want to miss that summit next week.”
“I’ll keep you posted.”
Marty crossed to the door where Steve was standing, waiting for the two men to conclude their meeting. “Hey Steve! You got your money ready?”
“That is rather my question.”
Marty chuckled and patted Steve on the shoulder. “Get ready to be humiliated, friend.”
“That remains to be seen. See you tonight.” Once the agent out the door, Steve stepped up to the desk where Oscar was sitting with a quizzical frown on his brow.
“What was that all about?” Oscar queried.
“Marty and I have a racquetball game. We wagered a little bet on who will be the winner.”
“You’re not going to cheat, are you?” Oscar ribbed.
“Who me?” Oscar’s raised eyebrow was self-explanatory. “Ahhhh I might throw one or two balls bionic style to impress him but no more.”
“Uh huh,” Oscar droned out with a look of incredulity.
“Say why was Marty in here? Is there a glitch in security?”
“I received another death threat last night,” Oscar informed dismally, prompting Steve’s brow to crease in worry.
“No indication as to its source?”
“No. We can’t tell if all three are ascribed to the same person or organization. No doubt who’s behind this doesn’t want me to attend the summit on nuclear energy next week.”
“Maybe I should work with Marty on this one.” Steve’s suggestion received a disapproving stare. “Or not?” he retracted upon Oscar’s reaction. “Well, why not?”
“Because I need you down in St-Thomas this afternoon. Agent Rawlings is already there. She will be your contact.”
“Elaine Rawlings? Oscar you are aware we were once involved romantically?” Steve hinted that the pairing might create sexual tension between the two.
“I don’t know of any single female agent at the OSI who hasn’t fallen under our charm, Pal. It’s hard to single one that you haven’t dated.”
“True,” Steve conceded with a mischievous grin. “Can’t help it, Oscar. It’s a curse,” he boasted proudly much to Oscar’s amusement. “But seriously now, I hate to leave you here all alone with that gun aimed at your back.”
“I’m not exactly alone. I’ve hired two extra bodyguards as protection until I get to that summit. If all goes well down in St-Thomas you should be back in plenty of time to see me off safely.”
“Do you really need to attend that conference? I could go in your place. I know everything there is to know about the project.”
“Nice of you to offer Steve, but you’ll be the target.”
“I have more sophisticated weapons that you have.”
“Thanks anyway but I intend to change my flight schedule at the very last minute to thwart whatever plan they might have.”
“Do you think that will do?”
“I’m hoping it will.”
“At least let me go with you.” Oscar shook is head in disbelief at his friend’s stubbornness. “You said it yourself the assignment won’t take long.”
“We’ll see how it goes with the threats first. I’m hopeful Agent Kaufman can sniff out the crackpot who’s been issuing them before the end of the week. They may be all idle for aught we know.” He slid the jacket off the back of his chair and put it on. “Have you had breakfast yet?”
“Just a light one.”
“How about joining Diane and me at the Golden Pancake?”
“Don’t you think three’s a crowd?”
“Diane likes your company, Steve. Perhaps a little too much,” he said with a friendly scowl.
“All the more reason to keep off your grass. She’s your lady, not mine.”
“I was just joshing you, Pal. I’m not afraid of a little competition. Besides it’s obvious she’s crazy about me,” Oscar swanked, sticking out his chin in triumph.
“Consider yourself fortunate that I haven’t turn on the Steve Austin charm on her,” Steve teased back as he closed the office door behind them.
Oscar began briefing Steve on his mission as they made their way to the outside parking lot.
“And you say I should wrap this up within the week? More like a month!” Steve griped. “Oscar the surveillance alone could take…Look out!”
Oscar barely had time to react to Steve’s shout that he was propelled in the air by a bionic shove. He landed on the pavement a few feet away; his right arm breaking the fall with a loud crack that caused him to yelp in pain. The screeching of tires lured his attention away from his injury and to the listless bloody body spread out on the pavement.
“My God, Steve!” Struck with horror, Oscar managed to stagger to his feet, stumbling along the way as he rushed to the inert form. Cradling his fractured arm in his left hand, he dove to his knees next to Steve; his eyes giving the body a hasty examination before he reached for the neck to grope for a pulse, however weak it might be.
“Thank God,” he sighed with relief.
“Mister Goldman, I saw what happened,” informed a frantic woman hurrying to offer assistance.
“Did you see who it was?”
“No sorry. I was too far away.”
“Please, go ask the security officer to page Dr. Rudy Wells. And have them call for an ambulance.”
“Right away, sir.”
She dashed back into the building leaving Oscar alone to tend to the victim. He twitched out his handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at the blood trickling down Steve’s forehead. “Hey Steve, can you hear me?” he coaxed gently, heedful not to touch the crippled body for fear of aggravating the condition. “Steve,” he whispered close to Steve’s ear. “Steve, come on. Give me a sign.” His persistence was rewarded by a faint moan.
“Hurts…” Steve managed to slur.
“I know it does. Just lie still. Rudy’s on its way.”
“I think I dislocated my shoulder but otherwise I’m fine. Thanks to you.”
“Gl…glad,” Steve breathed out before losing the fight to the beckoning darkness.
“Steve! Steve!” Oscar insisted, delicately nudging his friend in the shoulder to prevent him from sinking deeper. “Come on Steve, stay with me.”
Security officers sprung to the scene and began cordoning off the area. They assumed various posts around the perimeter with guns drawn at the ready.
Seconds later, Rudy was seen whizzing out of the building with his medical bag. “Oscar, what happened?”
“Someone was waiting to run me down and Steve spotted the car just as it was speeding towards us. He pushed me out of the way but he….” Oscar’s choked voice faltered as his mind roved back to that fatal moment. “How is he, Rudy?”
Rudy reached underneath the mangled body to apply his stethoscope to the chest. “His breathing’s shallow and erratic.” He hung the instruments around his neck and leaned closer to Steve’s nose to feel the amount of breath exhaled. He then checked for pupil dilatation and gave the neck a quick probe.
Oscar’s heart pounded down his throat at the sight of Rudy’s forlorn expression. “What? What is it Rudy?”
“I think his neck’s broken.” Rudy held out a hand before Oscar could submit to panic. “It’s not a fatal injury, Oscar. We’ll need to be very careful when we lift him onto the gurney. I have a feeling his back took a nasty blow as well.”
“What about his head?”
Rudy studied the depth of the gash on the forehead and probed for further head injuries. “No doubt a concussion. How serious? I won’t know without an MRI.”
It wasn’t long before sirens were heard blaring in the distance. Rudy began prepping Steve up for transport but found rather tricky to move the crippled body without putting pressure on the spine. Once the paramedics arrived he proceeded to apply a collar to stabilize Steve’s neck and together with the two medical technicians, he gingerly rolled the lump onto the gurney. After securing the patient in straps, he was wheeled in the ambulance.
“Can I ride in the back with you?”
“Sure. In fact I insist. That arm needs some looking after.”
“I think I dislocated my shoulder,” Oscar cringed as he hopped in the back of the ambulance. He then caught a glimpse of Marty running towards him.
“I heard there was an accident?”
“Yeah. It’s Steve. A car ran him over and I have a strong hunch it was aiming for me. Do me a favour and seal off the area. Get a forensic team to work at gathering evidence. All I remember is that the car was a navy blue sedan. I didn’t catch the driver’s face nor the license plate.”
“I’m on it.”
At the Medical Center, Oscar’s constant pacing was wearing the carpet thin. He was gulping down his fourth cup of coffee when Marty walked up to him. “How is he?”
“Nothing yet,” Oscar informed with a weary voice as he swallowed the last of his caffeine.
“How long has it been?”
The careworn man shrugged tiredly, blinking heavily to establish focus as he glanced down at his watch. “I’d say close to four hours. I lost count after the fourth cup of coffee.” He flumped down on the sofa and dropped his head in his hands. “That should have been me in there, not him. That car was waiting for me.”
Marty laid a sympathetic hand on his grieving friend’s good shoulder. “He’s going to be all right.”
Oscar could only offer a heavy sigh of dejection in return.
“Oscar!” hailed a woman from down the hall.
“Diane?!” Oscar bolted upright and met her halfway down the corridor. “What are you doing here?” he asked quizzically.
They shared a quick hug before she shot him a terrorized look. “I went by your office and Callahan told me what happened to Steve. My God, how is he?” Overwhelmed with emotions the drained man fell into her embrace. “Honey you’re scaring me.”
“He’s still in surgery,” he managed to croak, as he toiled to conquer the emotions threatening to swallow him whole. He clasped her hand and led her to the sofa where they sat side by side.
“Yeah. I dislocated my shoulder when I landed on the pavement.”
“What? But Callahan tells me it was Steve who was involved in a car accident?” she questioned expectantly.
“And the intended victim was me.”
“What are you implying?”
“Diane, the driver was waiting to run me over. You remember I told you about the threats?” she nodded affirmatively. “I’m positive I’m the one he wanted dead.”
“Did you get a look at the driver?”
“No I didn’t have the chance. Steve thrust me out of the way as the car was charging towards us.” He motioned to Marty standing over them. “Marty’s team’s on the scene gathering evidence. Hopefully we’ll get a lead.”
Clad in his surgical gown, a weary Rudy pushed his way out of the OR and paused at the door to collect his thoughts before facing Oscar with the grim news.
Barely had he caught glimpse of Rudy down the hall that Oscar was up and hurrying towards him. The rueful expression flashing back at him sent a chill coursing down his spine. “Rudy, tell me good news,” he implored with a deep frown of suspicion.
“He’s alive. That in itself is a miracle.”
“Oh thank God!” Oscar suspired, squeezing Diane’s hand for moral support as to the grim news. “And?”
“And, that’s all there is for now. I’ve put his entire body in traction to prevent to tinniest move, which could prove fatal. The spinal chord took a severe blow but I’m hoping there won’t be any permanent damage. That’s the reason for the restraints.”
“Is he conscious?”
“I’ve given him medication to keep him under for a while to accelerate the healing process. He won’t be responsive for a good twelve hours, after which I might try to bring him back for further examination.”
“When you do, Rudy, you tell me. I want to be there when he awakes.”
“I want to ask him if he saw the driver,” Oscar said with eyes ablaze with anger.
“I told you he mustn’t move an inch,” Rudy chided.
“The reaction in his eyes to the names I’ll run by him will do plenty.”
“You might misinterpret and wind up arresting an innocent man.”
“I’m willing to take the responsibility,” he asserted resolutely, turning to Diane to gain her approval. She gave a weak smile in return, unsure of Oscar’s true intentions.
Oscar spent the next 12 hours coordinating the search for clues from the hospital. Marty and his team interrogated an eyewitness who corroborated Oscar’s description of the car, but no positive identification as to the mysterious driver.
It was well into the night when Rudy decided to rouse the patient for a brief instant to test the neural reflex . He and Oscar waited with bathed breath for the drug to take effect.
“He’s coming around,” Oscar enthused with a heart pounding hard in eager expectation of finally nailing the culprit.
“Easy Oscar. Let me do the talking first,” Rudy cautioned in a hushed tone. He waited for the patient to blink open his eyes and establish focus before greeting him. “Steve, can you hear me? If yes, blink twice.” The answer was slow at coming but was positive. “That’s good. Don’t try to move. You’re in traction.” A deep frown crossed Steve’s eyebrow, prompting Rudy to elaborate. “Do you remember what happened?” Steve blinked once in negation. “You were hit by a car. You were badly hurt but you’ll mend very quickly providing that you do not strain yourself. I mean it Steve, if you move you can remain paralyzed or worse.” Steve shut his eyes in despair. “Are you up to a few questions?” Both men waited for the blue eyes to flutter open and blink twice. Rudy turned to Oscar and warned him to keep his questioning to the strict minimum, during which he would perform the tests on Steve’s limbs.
“Don’t worry. I only have one question.”
“If he has no recollection of the accident I doubt he’ll be able to tell you much, even if he did see the driver.”
“We’ll see.” Oscar replied undeterred as he stepped up to the bed and leaned forward to line his eyes with Steve’s. “Hey pal. You’re going to get through this.” Steve strained a smile. “Steve, I need to know. Did you see the driver?”
Steve squished his eyes together to delve into his mental files. “You don’t remember, is that it?” Again Steve cudgeled his brains but drew a complete blank. His dejected look was self-explanatory. “It’s okay, pal. I needed to ask. Don’t worry. We’ll find whoever did this to you.”
“Perhaps if you showed him a couple of mug shots? That might nudge his memory,” Rudy suggested, though with some reservation.
“Good idea. I’ll get on it right away.”
“You have plenty of time to gather the pictures. I will put Steve to sleep for another few hours. Come back in the morning.”
“All right.” Oscar turned to Steve and gave him a thumb’s up. “Hang in there, pal. I’ll be back.”
Steve blinked twice and gave a weak curl of the lip. After inserting the medication into the IV line, Rudy beckoned Oscar out of the room to deliver the grim news.
“He’s not responding, whether in the upper or lower limbs, which means he’s paralyzed from the neck down.”
“Now don’t get alarmed,” Rudy pacified with a hand on Oscar’s shoulder. “There’s still some swelling and until it subsides completely I can’t give a definite prognosis.”
“There still a chance he’ll make it,” Oscar asked with trepidation.
“More than likely. You know Steve. He’s seen worse.”
Grateful for the moral uplift, Oscar flashed a thankful smile and returned the pat on Rudy’s shoulder. “Yeah, but it doesn’t make it any less to bear.”
Instead of driving home to catch some Zs, Oscar returned to the office where he buried himself under a ton of police files and mug shots in order to narrow a list of likely suspects to show Steve.
Barely had Callahan sat at her desk to sort out the workload for the day that Diane entered the reception area. “Good morning Callahan,” she greeted.
“Oh Good morning Diane,” she cheerfully reciprocated. “What brings you here so early?”
“Who else? My beau. Rudy tells me he’s locked himself in his office to comb for suspects in Steve’s accident. I came to drag him out to get some nourishment,” she explained with a hint of tease.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Callahan said as she glanced towards the office door. “Maybe he’s asleep.” She beckoned Diane to follow her lead as she slowly turned the doorknob and poked her head inside. “Yeah, he’s there and fast asleep,” she whispered to Diane who pushed the door wider.
“I’ll take it from here. Thanks.”
“No problem. I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee.”
“Thanks.” Diane closed the door behind her and padded up to the desk where Oscar was slumbering with his forehead resting on his good arm. She stopped to briefly gaze at the careworn man she’d come to know and love in the last two months. Albeit with difficulty, she’d learned to cope with his work holism and admired his devotion to his work and especially to his friends. Steve Austin was number one on his list and knew not to compete for the spot if she had designs on becoming Mrs. Oscar Goldman.
She rounded the corner of the desk to stand by Oscar but couldn’t bring her hand to touch the man’s shoulder. She sighed and let a wistful smile graced her lips instead as she deemed it best to grant him a few more hours of sleep. She tiptoed back to the door and met with Callahan coming in with the pot of coffee.
“I’m letting him sleep a while longer. It’s obvious he’s been burning the midnight oil. I just hope Steve recovers or I’ll lose him for sure.”
“Don’t count Steve out just yet. He’s tougher than you think.”
“I spoke to Rudy early this morning. He told me Steve can’t move and can’t talk,” Diane recalled grimly. “From what I gather the good doctor doesn’t hold out much hope.”
“Well I do,” Callahan stated firmly with an unyielding jaw. “I’m rooting for him. He might surprise us.”
“I’m sure he will,” Diane replied with less assertiveness.
“I though I heard voices,” Oscar yawned coming out of his office with a folder underneath his arm. “Hey Beautiful.” He leaned to kiss Diane on the cheek. “It’s rather early in the morning for you to be here,” he wondered.
“I called the hospital thinking you were there. I wanted to take you out for a hearty breakfast.”
Oscar grunted at the invitation. “I’m not really hungry, Honey. Besides I don’t have time for breakfast. I need to drive to the hospital and show these mug shots to Steve. I’m hoping that among them is the man who tried to run me down.”
“From what Rudy tells me Steve can’t remember what happened, much less recognize the driver, if indeed he did get a good look at him.”
“I’m hoping these pictures will trigger a memory or two,” he said, waving the folder in the air for emphasis. “Do you want me to drop you off somewhere?”
“Yes, how about the hospital? I’d like to come with you. I’m not letting you drive with that sore shoulder.”
“I can hardly feel a thing. But if you insist.”
With a gently hand on the small of her back, the chivalrous knight gallantly swung open the glass door for her queen and followed her out the reception area.
At the hospital Oscar met with Marty and both headed straight for Steve’s room. They approached the bed to notice that the patient was still unconscious. Oscar set the folder down on the table and turned to Diane who stood flabbergasted with a hand over her mouth.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t prepared for this.”
“This is only a temporary condition,” Oscar spoke with a disarming confidence that took Diana aback. “He’s not about to concede defeat. Not Steve Austin.”
“Oscar you just missed him,” informed the voice from behind.
“Rudy. What do mean I missed him?”
“He awoke briefly about an hour ago and then drifted back to sleep.”
“You mean he woke up by himself?”
“Yes. That in itself is very encouraging,” he started optimistically but ended somberly, “However there’s still no neural reflex.”
“Can he talk?” The forlornness of Rudy’s expression was self-explanatory. “ All I need him is to blink yes or no to the mug shots. Can you wake him?”
“I’d rather not. At least not for another…” Rudy’s thought was cut short by a muffled moan emanating from the patient. “Guess he heard you.” He glanced up at the heart monitor registering a slight beat increase. “Steve, open your eyes.”
All waited with bathed breath for the patient to comply. It was a long stretch but vacuous blue eyes straining to peer from under the leaden eyelids rewarded their patience.
“Welcome back,” Rudy smiled with relief. “There’s someone here who has some work for you. Feel up to it?” Steve fashioned a small curl of the lip and blinked twice.” Rudy turned to Oscar and with a steely glare, warned, “Oscar you have only five minutes. He must not exert himself, do I make myself clear?”
“I hear you Rudy. Five minutes. That’s all I need.” As he turned his attention back to Steve he recoiled at the terrorized expression staring back at him. “What’s the matter with him?”
Eyes roamed over the patient’s body to locate the source of distress. “Steve, you’re hurting?” Steve squished his eyes together in a strong negation. He then struggled to voice his fear or at least mouth the words but found it impossible to articulate. His breathing became erratic; his heart rate skyrocketed, prompting Rudy to reach for a syringe filled with a strong sedative that he injected in the IV line.
“Steve, you remember, don’t you?” Oscar queried anxiously before the drug took effect. “Don’t you?” Steve blinked twice as he slowly surrendered to the soothing darkness beckoning him.
“I knew it! I knew it would come back to him!” Oscar enthused, pulling Diane into a hug. “And this without the mug shots.”
“Perhaps the driver is none of those wanted men,” Rudy surmised while monitoring patient’s vitals.
“Maybe. Rudy do me a favour? The next time Steve comes around, you ask him to give you a name.”
“Oscar he can’t talk.”
“But he can move his lips. You saw how he tried to mouth the name. Rudy it’s imperative that we crack the identity of that maniac before he strikes again,” Oscar stressed.
“I’ll so my best. But I can’t promise anything. I’m aware of the urgency Oscar but my patient’s welfare is my priority.”
“I understand.” Oscar clasped Diane’s hand and led her outside the room. “I want that bastard Diane. I want him so badly,” he gnarled between gritted teeth.
“And you will, Sweetheart. But you must be prepared for a disappointment.” Oscar shot her a quizzical look. “I mean maybe Steve thinks he saw the face of the driver when in reality it may be someone from a dream he experienced in the past,” she offered as a plausible conjecture.
“I doubt that, Diane. Besides once we have the name I’ll request a full investigation into the character’s past before we spring on him. I don’t want no foul ups.”
“Maybe you should reconsider attending this summit,” she hazarded an opinion she suspected would trigger a roaring argument.
“I can’t, Diane.”
“Oscar it’s not worth your life or Steve’s for that matter.”
“Please, let me handle it, okay?” he implored rather harshly.
“Okay,” she conceded halfheartedly.
“Marty, thanks for coming. We’ll try again later.”
“No sweat Oscar. I’ll get back to the lab, see if they came up with anything substantial.” Marty placed a consoling hand on Oscar’s shoulder. “He’s going to pull through.” Oscar could only manage a small nod in return. “Hang in there. He needs you.”
Once Marty disappeared behind the corner, Diane grasped Oscar’s hand and pulled him toward the exit. “What are you doing?”
“Taking you away from this dreary place and out in the sunshine. You are livid, Oscar. You need to inhale a few deep cleansing breath; otherwise you’ll break and I don’t want that to happen.”
“Diane, listen,” he started to protest when she shot him a scowl.
“No enough! Steve needs his rest and you my dear need to clear the cobwebs away. We won’t go far, just in the park for a walk.”
Oscar forfeited to her obstinacy and followed her out of the hospital.
In the cool of the evening the patient was sleeping soundly when a figure edged into the room and padded up to the bed. The intruder stood over Steve, and fashioned a leer at the patient’s vulnerability. “You recognized me, didn’t you? I have nothing against you personally Austin,” the voice muttered peevishly. “You weren’t the intended target. But now that you know who I am I can’t let you live or you’ll ruin everything for us.” The figure leaned forward and drawled, “Enjoy the few hours you have left.”
No sooner had the visitor exited Steve’s room that Oscar appeared through the sliding glass doors. He made his way to the nurse’s station where Rudy was perusing Steve’s medical chart.
“He’s still under. How about you? Any progress in the case?”
“Well I…” at that precise moment Marty was seen walking up toward them. “We’ll soon find out.” Oscar met him halfway down the hall. “Marty, any new development?”
“Bits of this and that but nothing conclusive. We really do need to find that car.”
“Our people are working on it.”
“How’s Steve doing?”
“The same,” Rudy replied dejectedly.
“I’ll keep you posted, Oscar.” Marty patted Oscar’s on the shoulder as he made his way towards the exit.
“What’s the matter?” Rudy asked upon noticing Oscar’s deep frown.
“I was just wondering what Marty would be doing here at this time of night?”
“Didn’t you tell him you were going to be here?”
“That’s just it, I didn’t.” His brow furrowed deeper at the notion that crossed his mind. “Wait a minute! He was in the room when Steve freaked out. Could it be that…” he turned to Rudy to seek confirmation on his suspicion.
“What? Agent Kaufman? Oscar that’s preposterous,” Rudy mocked.
“Rudy it fits. He was in my office minutes before Steve came in that morning. He knew I would be leaving to have breakfast with Diane. There was time enough to rush to his car, and get into position to hit me as I walked through the parking lot.”
“Don’t be flying off the handle,” Rudy cautioned with a friendly scowl. “To begin with how would he know that? You usually put your car in the underground lot.”
“He’s chief of security, Rudy. He could have called the attendant for that information.” Oscar sneered at the inanity of Rudy’s statement. He suddenly turned livid at the horrendous thought that crossed his mind. “My God Rudy, could he have?” Both men locked stares for a brief second before panic set in. They both dashed down to Steve’s room to check on the patient.
“Is he all right?” Oscar asked in a fluster.
“In a second.” Rudy glanced at the heart monitor to study the readings. “Everything appears to be okay.”
“What about the IV? He could have injected a lethal solution into it?”
Rudy pulled out the needle from Steve’s arm. “That could be a possibility. I’ll get a blood sample and a new IV line just in case this one was tampered with.”
“If he did so help me God I’ll kill him!” Oscar snarled with eyes ablaze with anger.
“Easy, Oscar. Don’t go laying accusations haphazardly. You can’t prove that Agent Kaufman was in the room to begin with.”
“Fingerprints.” Oscar grabbed the IV bag from Rudy. “I’ll get that to the lab to dust for fingerprints. I’m sure he didn’t think of wearing gloves.”
“Oscar you may be getting way ahead of yourself here,” Rudy cautioned, worried that his friend’s eagerness to nail the culprit was clouding his sound reasoning. “You recall he was there right after the accident.”
“Several minutes elapsed before he did show up. He could have driven the car a few feet away then hurried back to the building through the service entrance and appeared in the front sometime later.”
“That is a farfetched theory Oscar. Your men would have found the car by then if he had parked it near the OSI building.”
“At the point I’m not discarding any conjecture, however insubstantial it might be. I’m posting a guard at the door. No one comes in and out of Steve’s room without proper authorization,” he decreed emphatically.
“As you wish.” Rudy watched the walking time bomb stomping out of the room and sighed in despair. He then turned to Steve and murmured, “I sure hope you can solve this mystery or there’ll be hell to pay before long.”
The next morning Oscar joined Diane for breakfast at the Golden Pancake before driving to work. Over a slice of apple pie and coffee Oscar shared his qualms over Agent Kaufman’s presence at the hospital last night. Although Rudy assured him that Steve was fine, Oscar continued to entertain serious misgivings about Marty.
“I assigned a guard at the door to prevent anyone without security clearance to enter the room,” he disclosed to his girl who hung on his every word.
“Who are we talking about? Rudy? You? Anyone else?”
“Some of the nurses will have access.”
“So I take it I won’t be able to accompany you when you visit Steve,” she chuckled lightly as she took a sip of her coffee.
“Of course not. You are welcomed anytime. And I’m sure Steve would appreciate seeing you. In fact he’s quite fond of you.”
“Is he really?” she affected with an air of surprise.
“Come on, Dee. You must have suspected he had his eyes on you from the very beginning.”
“All right I admit I caught him glancing my way a time or two but he knows that I’m your lady. He’s a gentleman. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize your friendship.”
“And what about you? You like him?” he teased.
“Sure I like him. He’s very nice man. But he’s not my type.”
“And who exactly is your type?”
“Mule-headed, self-conceited workaholics. Crazy, aren’t I?” she snorted with an elfish grin.
Oscar raised his cup of coffee to toast to her good taste.
Across the street in a phone booth, a man picked up the receiver and dialed his boss’s number. “Yeah, he’s in there right now. I can see them through the window of the restaurant. What now?”
“We will handle Goldman ourselves. He will meet with an untimely demise at his home. As for Austin he must be disposed of today before he starts talking. Otherwise our cover is blown. Brown will contact us in an hour for the instructions.”
“It might be tricky getting into Austin’s room. I heard Goldman posted a guard at the door.”
“Brown will know how to maneuver around this minor hindrance. Contact me again in an hour for your final instructions.”
“Will do, sir.”
In late afternoon, Diane dropped by the hospital where Oscar was to meet with her to attend a formal dinner. Scanning the lounge for any sign of her beau, she pressed on to the nurses’ station to enquire about Oscar. Halfway to the desk she stopped and made a turn left for Steve’s room instead.
“Hi Rudy,” she whispered upon entering the room.
“Diane? Is Oscar with you?”
“Not yet. In fact I’m looking for him. He said he’d be by to check on Steve before we left for that benefice dinner.” She neared the bed and gazed at the slumbering patient still strapped in his restraining contraption. “How’s he doing?”
“I dare say there’s some improvement but not enough.”
“Poor man,” she deplored with a shake of the head. “I fear to think what it’ll do to Oscar if he should die.”
“Don’t go there, Diane. Don’t count Steve out just yet. You don’t know him like I do. He’s got a pretty hard head. Oscar could tell you stories on his stubbornness.”
“He already has,” she chuckled. “Just make him well. For Oscar’s sake…and mine.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” Rudy assured with a friendly hand on her shoulder.
“I think I’ll go sit in the chapel and say a prayer for Steve. When Oscar arrives would you let him know where I am?”
Shortly afterwards, the security officer posted at the door went to stretch his legs in a short trip down the corridor. As he selected his choice of coffee at the dispenser, a lone figure seized that moment to creep into Steve’s room. It edged up to the bed while reaching for a syringe inside a pocket.
“I know you recognized me the other day. I could see it in your eyes. It’s only a matter of time before you tell them my name and for that I must eliminate you.” The deftly hands uncapped the tip protector and reached for the IV to plunge the needle directly into the line. “It’s nothing personal, Steve. You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Once the solution was injected, the lone figure leaned over the patient with a triumphant grin on its face and whispered, “Sweet dreams my dear friend.”
“Dear God, tell me I’m dreaming.”
“Oscar!” Diane gasped in surprise.
Oscar swiftly grabbed Diane’s before she could make her escape. “What did you give him? ANSWER ME!”
“You’re hurting me,” she cried.
“This is nothing compared to what’s waiting for you.”
“Oscar, you got her.”
“Yes Rudy. You were right. She’s the one.”
“What are you talking about? I came here to see Steve.”
Oscar produced a tape recorder from his breast pocket and waved it tauntingly in front of her. “I have your confession right here, my Sweets,” he sneered with eyes shooting daggers at her.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” she countered back,
“But this will,” Rudy said as he drew the curtains from the screen to reveal a video camera. “I will have that IV solution analyzed to determined the substance you injected” Diane glanced down at the needle in Steve’s arm and flashed a mocking grin. “Don’t worry, none got into Steve’s system as I took the precaution of removing the needle from his arm minutes after you left this room.” Rudy was now wearing the sneer as Diane’s quickly fell at the news of her defeat.
“Take her into custody.” Oscar shoved Diane toward the officer standing guard. Once they were out of sight, the anger boiled over and drove Oscar to smash his fist against the wall. “How could I have been so blind?”
“Hey, you weren’t the only one she duped.”
“Two months. She’s been playing me for a fool for eight full weeks. I always said I could never get involved romantically because of my work. Somehow Diane altered my view of things. With her I realized that I had been missing out on something beautiful. What a crock!”
“Don’t despair Oscar. There is a woman for you out there.”
“That’s it for me, Rudy. No more. Not in my line of work. It’s too risky. I can’t jeopardize anymore lives.” He looked down at Steve and winced. “He’s fighting for his life because of me.”
“Don’t you dare go shouldering all the blame. Steve is highly aware of what his job entails and I don’t think he’d appreciate your wallowing in self-pity,” Rudy chastised, hoping his argument would fan the flickering flame of reason within the dejected man.
Oscar fashioned an obliging smile and clapped Rudy on the back. “I’ll try.”
“Could…c…could you guys k…keep it down,” reproved the faint stuttering voice. “Peop…people… trying to sleep.”
“Did I hear right?” Oscar enthused, turning his attention to the rousing patient. “Someone is asking me to shut up?”
“We know. It was Diane.” Steve closed his eyes and gave a weak nod of the head.”
“Steve don’t! You mustn’t move,” Rudy cautioned with a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“Why? Why her?”
“I don’t have all the pieces yet, Pal. She’s just been taken into custody. We’ll wring the information out of her, including revealing who’s been pulling the strings ‘cause I doubt she’s the mastermind behind this stratagem. I originally suspected Marty. There were too many coincidences and then there was your reaction. But Rudy,” he glanced up at Rudy standing on the opposite side of the bed, “pointed out that Diane was also present in the room that day.”
“I…I reco…recognized herrrrrrrr. Fl…flash.”
“A good one at that. You tipped us off, Pal.” Oscar laid a hand on Steve’s shoulder to convey his deepest gratitude for helping them unravel the mystery. “Thanks to you I’ll be able to attend that summit next week.”
“Sorry, W…w…wont’ be g…goi…going with youuuuuuuuuuu,” Steve’s voice trailed off in a long extended breath.
“S,okay. I’m taking Marty with me. I should be safe. By the way he asked me to tell you that your racquetball game is still on. He’s itching to lick the floor with you once you get out of here.”
Steve’s eyes flashed an amused expression. “You…you tell him he w…he won’t stand a chance. He’d…he’d better have his money with him.”
“I’ll give him the message. You get some rest now. I’ll be back to visit tonight. I must have me a word with my darling Diane,” he crunched between teeth set in suppressed fury.
“Go easy…easy on her. Might, might not have had…choice.”
“We’ll see.” Oscar turned to Rudy who nodded his assurance that the patient will be okay. He titled is head back to Steve who had already drifted off to sleep. “You call me at office if there’s any change. They’ll relay the call down to the interrogation room where I suspect I’ll be for a greater part of the evening.
“I’ll do that. I expect Steve will sleep through most of the night.”
“Rudy.” Oscar grabbed the doctor by the arm and pulled him to a corner of the room. “Are you sure he’s on his way to recovery? You’re not shielding me.”
“I’m a straight shooter, you know that. I won’t lie to you and say that Steve’s is truly out of the woods, but he’s got a foot out of that brush and it’s only a matter of time before both feet are on solid ground.”
Oscar heaved a loud sigh of relief at that encouraging prognosis.
Following a ten-week therapy at Rudy’s Colorado Springs Complex, Steve was back in the saddle and ready to ride the wild bronc. During the intense grilling Diane broke down and spilled the beans about the organization that hired her to gain access inside the OSI. She admitted that, despite her training that precluded any emotions, love had managed to creep up on her and she ended up falling hard for the handsome OSI Director.
Owing to Diane’s statement, the FBI succeeded in dismantling the entire network. Oscar hated admitting to Steve that despite it all he still had lingering feeling for Diane, but decided to douse what little emotion was still glimmering for the woman to start anew.