Steve and Jaime arrived together and quickly settled into their seats at the large round table. Jaime sat on Oscar’s right side and Steve left an empty chair between him and Rudy. Oscar immediately got the waitress’ attention so his friends could place their drink order. After the usual pleasantries were exchanged Rudy inquired about Steve’s son’s absence.
“Isn’t Michael with you?”
“No. He went with his friends to a baseball game earlier. He said they would be dropping him off.”
“Well,” Oscar broke in, “That certainly works out well for you. He’ll need a ride home.” Steve’s face lit up with a smile and he nodded in response to the chuckles around the table. His friends knew, as well as Steve did, that he was spoiling his son with such an extravagant gift. They also knew it wasn’t unusual for a father, who missed his son’s early years, to try and make up for his unintended absence.
Steve had married Karen, his college sweetheart, between graduation and joining the Air Force. She was a nursing student a year younger then Steve when they tied the knot. As Steve had explained to his close circle of friends Karen was emotionally fragile and he wasn’t good with handling breakable things. The young couple’s attempt to build their new marriage over a long distance was without success. With Karen in college and Steve three states away in Flight School their marriage floundered and they divorced.
Karen only found out later that she was carrying Steve’s baby. Terrified he would try to take her son away from her she kept Michael a secret. Steve had no idea his offspring existed until Karen, unable to handle the rebellious teenager, swallowed her pride and contacted Steve for help. Overwhelmed with the unexpected news Steve took a leave of absence from the OSI and immediately flew to Nevada to meet his son.
It didn’t take long for the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, All-American boy to bond with his father who shared his love of flying and horses. It only took one summer living with his father to turn the head strong, undisciplined 17-year-old around into a hard-working and focused young man.
Oscar and Rudy, upon first meeting Michael, were stunned by how much of Steve’s personality was inherited. Steve’s friends, including Jaime, genuinely enjoyed being around Michael and unofficially adopted the handsome young man as a nephew.
Only moments after Steve and Jaime’s arrival, Michael Austin rushed into the restaurant and, spotting the familiar faces, headed quickly in their direction. Feeling the friendly slap on the back as Michael took the seat next to the doctor Steve commented in a light tone, “Well, nice to see you could join us.”
“Sorry I’m late.” He stated shyly.
“Did you and the guys get to the game?” Steve inquired.
“Yeah, Orioles won by one run.” He gave his father a lopsided smile and held out his hand, palm up. “Pay up Dad.”
Steve retrieved his wallet with a pained expression before handing over the twenty dollar bill. Michael thanked him for his generosity and tucked the bill away. Those at the table joined in laughter when Jaime raised her glass, “I think a toast is in order huh?” She gave Steve a smile knowing how much her long-time friend was looking forward to this belated graduation party.
The proud father lifted his glass, “Here’s to graduating first in your class and being named squadron leader in your first 6 months of flight school….and…being half owner of Austin Air Charters.” The young man’s face registered complete surprise. “You mean we got it?”
Steve nodded affirmatively. Michael couldn’t contain his excitement, “That’s great!”
“Would someone like to fill the rest of us in on what you are talking about?” Oscar asked for the group.
Steve slowly placed his beer back on the table and explained, “Michael and I have started an air charter service in Ojai.” Michael finished, “Dad’s going to get it up and going while I finish out my military commitment. Of course I’ll be there part of the time during my leave. It will give me something to fall back on if I get tired of the Air Force and resign.”
“Or court martialed for some stupid prank.” Steve mumbled in a half-joking tone of voice.
Michael gave the group his most innocent face then allowed a devilish grin to creep across his lips. “They’d have to catch us first.”
Steve smiled remembering all the immature stunts he was responsible for while in flight school, knowing it was just a way to blow off steam from the endless studying and drills. “Just don’t drag our name too far into the mud okay?”
“Okay.” Michael agreed as the meal was served.
Oscar was curious as to where this new family business venture would take his best operative. He tried to hide his anxiety. “So what sort of flying will you be doing?” Steve eyed his boss with a raised brow, already knowing what thoughts were crossing his mind.
“Oh, you know sight seeing flights and some flight lessons. We’ll be doing some work for the California Forestry Department, checking for forest fires and rescues, that sort of thing.” Steve couldn’t resist adding to Oscar’s stress, “And the occasional stunt flying for movie companies.”
“Stunt Flying?” Oscar coughed on his drink.
Steve grinned, “Don’t worry Oscar I’ll still be working for you on occasion….. for now anyway.”
Oscar’s small smile dropped at those last three words. Rudy broke the silence with a raised glass, “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Father and son replied in unison.
The group enjoyed their meal and as they filed out of the eating establishment they said their good-byes. Steve paused a moment, hoping the audience would leave him alone to give Michael his belated graduation present. His friends knew what he was doing but they stood their ground wanting to see the young man’s reaction. Soon Steve couldn’t contain his excitement. He placed a paternal arm around his twenty-one year-old son’s shoulders and began walking him to the parking lot. Jaime, Rudy and Oscar remained at the restaurant’s front door knowing Steve was feeling a bit uncomfortable with their stares. The trio watched from a distance as their friend led his son unknowingly to his gift.
Steve handed over the keys and Michael was in a state of shock. With tears in his eyes Steve hugged his son tight whispering how much he loved him and how proud he was to have him as a son. Michael fervently returned the embrace and the affection. Stepping back they grinned at each other.
“Wanna take a ride?” Michael asked, already sure of his father’s answer.
“Absolutely!” Steve replied and they stepped towards the red corvette. Michael couldn’t wait to slide behind the wheel and see what she had under the hood.
Jaime, Oscar and Rudy saw an emotional scene that warmed their hearts and they smiled.
Locking eyes over the car’s roof Steve gave his grinning son a smile and a wink as both opened their respective doors. The deafening roar that followed brought horror to the faces of the three spectators. They ducked to avoid being struck by flying fragments of burning debris that scattered around them. When the three sets of eyes looked up they saw the two still bodies lying on either side of the burning vehicle.
It took a second for the harsh reality of the moment to register in their minds. The group’s collective footfalls, hesitant at first, increased in speed to cover the ground between them and the fallen men quickly.
Oscar headed to the right side of the car. Rudy and Jaime ran to the left. All three were terrified of what they would find. Oscar stood over Michael who laid face up, his arms and legs sprawled out on both sides of his bloodied body. It was obvious to the tall man that the force of the blast killed the once vibrant young man instantly. With great sadness he slowly removed his suit jacket and reverently covered the lifeless form at his feet.
Glancing over his shoulder as he knelt on the hard ground Rudy saw Oscar’s caring gesture and instantly understood he would only have one victim to treat. He was only vaguely aware of the small crowd that was forming and the distant wail of sirens.
Turning his attention immediately to Steve he helped Jaime turn him onto his back to assess his condition. A weak moan told them that their friend was still among the living. Jaime inhaled sharply at the amount of blood that covered his face and chest as Rudy tore open his shirt. The badly injured man was gasping for air, unable to fill his lung with precious oxygen.
“He’s got an open chest wound. I’ll need your help.” The doctor stated calmly without taking his eyes off Steve. Knowing the lungs worked on negative pressure, Rudy wanted to seal off the wound so the patient’s lungs could expand.
Jaime swallowed the lump in her throat and replied with confidence, “Just tell me what to do.”
“I need you to put your hand on this wound right here…but first I need to get most of the air out of his lungs. When I tell you to, place your palm over the wound and don’t let it move.”
“Shouldn’t I wash my hands or wear a sterile glove?” She asked worried she would cause an infection in the open wound.
“No.” Rudy replied. “It needs skin to skin contact. With the surface tension of the blood there should be an airtight seal. Ready?” She nodded and watched the doctor lean forward with both hands on Steve’s ribcage. When he felt he had compressed the lungs as much as he could he called out and Jaime placed her flattened palm over the quarter-sized wound on the right side of Steve’s chest. With the negative pressure restored the frantic gasps instantly turned into rapid, shallow breaths. The feel of Steve’s muscular chest rising and falling under her steady hand calmed her somewhat while Rudy continued his work.
Two paramedics arrived on the scene to assist keeping the only survivor alive until the ambulance could deliver him to the hospital. Jaime let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding when the paramedics applied a special clear bandage to Steve’s chest wound to maintain the airtight seal. She took a deep breath and stood slowly, allowing the medical team more room to work.
Oscar moved to his parked car which was just yards from the explosion. He reached into the open door and grabbed his mobile phone. After barking a few orders he moved back to stand vigil over Steve’s son. He remained close to Michael’s inert form while providing a statement to a police officer. The two men eyed the now charred and water soaked carcass that was once a gift from father to son. The men agreed the bomb was probably under or near the driver’s seat and rigged to detonate when the car door was opened. Oscar nodded as the detective scanned the debris field with an experienced eye. The OSI director barely heard anything the burly man was saying as his mind was already on the most likely person to have done this.
After requesting the local authorities hand over the investigation to the government agents exiting their vehicles the sergeant shook Oscar’s hand and rounded up his men who had just finished up marking off the area with yellow police tape.
The OSI agents immediately surrounded the man who summoned them. They stood silently waiting for orders while looking over the carnage laid out before them. Oscar gave specific and thorough instructions to each of the four men. Seeing Steve was being loaded into the back of the ambulance Oscar walked over for a brief report from Rudy. The doctor’s words were not as reassuring as Oscar would have liked and felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. He watched as his bloodied and battered friend on the gurney was slid into the vehicle.
Oscar nodded to Rudy as Jaime hopped into the ambulance. Before shutting the doors he informed them that he would be at the hospital soon. He wanted to escort Michael’s body there. The doors slammed shut and Jaime watched as Oscar walked back to his men with slumped shoulders.
While Jaime restlessly paced the waiting room Rudy worked diligently to save their friend. It was only after all the necessary tubes and monitors were placed, the IV and oxygen were flowing and the bleeding under control that Rudy relaxed a bit. He looked down at his patient. The oxygen mask covering his nose and mouth left the rest of his reddened, bruised and bleeding face exposed.
The doctor’s eyes checked the beeping monitors once more waiting to hear what was preventing the moving of their patient to the operating room. As he viewed the weak vital signs on the screen he knew, without a doubt, Steve’s survival would depend more on his will to live then his own skilled hands.
The nurse’s voice from the corner of the room pulled his attention away from the still form in front of him. He watched as she hung up the telephone on the wall and explained the delay, “An operating room is now available but they need 20 minutes to clean it and turn it over.”
Rudy nodded his understanding and was startled by the sudden, unexpected firm grip on his left forearm. He instantly turned towards his patient, shocked to see Steve semi-conscious. His left eye, damaged in the blast, was covered with gauze but Rudy clearly saw the smallest sliver of blue on the right. Leaning forward he could see Steve’s lips moving under the clear plastic mask. He pulled the covering down to find out what his friend was trying to say. The two-syllable word came out in a two-breath whisper, “Mic… chael.”
Rudy’s heart instantly seized in his chest. Telling Steve the truth about his son would be devastating and possibly fatal. He swallowed hard and glanced over his shoulder, through the windowed door to the adjacent trauma room. He could see the medical staff preparing the body for the morgue. Michael was already pronounced dead before arriving.
Looking back at Steve expending the limited energy he had just to remain conscious long enough to hear Rudy’s reply the doctor spoke honestly and confidently, “They are taking good care of him Steve. Don’t worry.”
He watched the blue slit disappear and he carefully placed the oxygen mask back over the unconscious man’s nose and mouth. It was time and Rudy assisted his team with unlocking the wheels and pushing the gurney towards the operating room.
The tall sandy-haired woman eyed the unmoving patient as he passed before her on his way down the corridor and through the doors. She stared at the closed double doors of the operatory with her arms folded at her waist. Her line of sight was interrupted when Oscar stepped out into the hallway from the adjacent room and slowly ambled towards her. They stood together, side-by-side, comforting each other as best they could while watching the sheet covered body being wheeled down the hall.
Oscar rubbed his unshaven face with both hands trying to achieve some level of wakefulness. The blonde nurse who had delivered the message from Dr. Wells had already disappeared back into the surgical suite. He stiffly came to his feet and stretched his long frame. Glancing down he saw Jaime had also lost the fight to remain awake after such an emotionally and physically draining evening. Glancing at his watch it displayed 3:30 in the morning.
He sat on the edge of the yellow vinyl couch and gently touched her shoulder. “Jaime. Jaime, wake up.” He said quietly in a raspy voice. She slowly opened her puffy, red eyes and suddenly realized where she was.
“Did you hear anything? Is Steve alright?” She asked frantically while sitting up.
Oscar nodded and replied softly. “Rudy wants us to meet him in his office. He must be almost finished. Come on let’s get some coffee.” He assisted her to her feet and the pair silently made their way down the corridor.
Rudy, clad in green surgical scrubs under his white lab coat, came through the office door and headed immediately to the hot pot of coffee on the side table. After swallowing a mouthful of the dark brew he smoothly settled behind his desk. He was exhausted after being on his feet for the past six hours straight.
He looked up at his friends’ tired and anxious faces as they tensed in their seats. “He survived the surgery.” He stated bluntly and savored another mouthful from the ceramic mug before giving more details. “I removed three pieces of shrapnel from his chest, left shoulder and right hip. They did significant damage but we were able to repair it. He lost a lot of blood and he’s listed in critical condition.” He took a deep breath waiting for the energy jolt he hoped the caffeinated drink would give him soon. “He also has a concussion. There were other deep lacerations that required sutures and his bionic eye was damaged from the flying debris. Right now it needs to stay bandaged because the infrared lens has snapped into place and if he were to open his eye in the light the pain would be excruciating.”
“Does he know about Michael?” Oscar asked in a quiet tone. Rudy nodded then described what had transpired in the trauma room just before Steve was taken to surgery. “He needs to remain uninformed at this point. If he were to find out about Michael’s death he’ll give up fighting and we can’t allow that right now. It may be the only thing keeping him alive.”
“When will he wake up?” Jaime asked.
Rudy looked down into the coffee cup he held with both hands, his eyes glassy and red from lack of sleep. He answered the question without making eye contact, “He’s in a coma. I can’t tell you when he will wake up.” He then looked up and added, “You can go and sit with him, talk to him. Maybe it will help.” The tall slender woman immediately stood ready to exit. “He’s in ICU, room 5.” She nodded and left the two men sitting in silence.
Rudy sipped his warm, black coffee feeling the stare from his boss. The surgeon glanced up and furled his brow at the look he was being given. Tired and frustrated he snapped, “What is it Oscar?”
Oscar let out a sigh and replied in a monotone voice. “I couldn’t help but notice the lack of optimism in your report. It’s not like you to be so pessimistic with regards to your patient’s condition.”
In his weary state the experienced physician couldn’t prevent his emotions from surfacing. All his anger, fear and helplessness were clearly displayed on his face. Now that Jaime had gone he felt he could be brutally honest with the director. With a voice low and controlled he explained, “Steve’s hanging by a thread, a very thin thread. I honestly didn’t expect him to survive the five hours of surgery. Now we are taking it hour by hour.”
Oscar’s stomach tightened. He had never heard Rudy sound so deflated. Rudy emptied his cup, stood and walked to the glass pot to replenish its contents when he asked, “Have you notified Michael’s mother?”
Oscar took a deep breath and spoke, “I contacted General Mackey at Andrews Air Force Base to inform him of the situation. He wanted to be the one to notify her so I let him.”
“Any ideas who would have done this?”
Oscar was lost in his own thoughts. Although he had never met Michael’s mother he was sure she would be devastated. He barely heard Rudy’s next question. Mentally snapping back to the topic at hand he replied softly, “I have a strong suspicion.”
“Steve was the operative who broke up his organization. I found out the day before yesterday that he was released on a technicality, something the prosecutor’s office did. He has the knowledge and access to explosives. I recall when he was arrested he threatened Steve in no uncertain terms.”
Rudy stood in shock. “You mean you knew about Stenning 48 hours ago and didn’t warn Steve?”
Oscar leaned forward with his elbows on his thighs. He stared unseeing at the floor. “I didn’t want to ruin the celebration and planned on telling Steve this morning. I didn’t think Stenning would move so quickly to carry out his threat.”
Rudy saw the crushing guilt Oscar was now carrying from his decision to withhold the information from Steve until the party was over. The tall, black-haired man stood slowly and silently left the room.
Oscar opened the heavy door slowly. Jaime’s head turned and watched the slumped-shouldered man approach the bedside. Looking at Steve Oscar had an eerie case of Déjà vu with the bandages on his friend’s chest, shoulder and left eye, just like the first time he saw him after his plane crash. The only difference was the patient was breathing the supplemental oxygen on his own and not through the use of a ventilator which was a plus. On the negative side this time around Rudy was not deliberately keeping Steve comatose by electrosleep. This time his serious injuries were keeping him unresponsive.
Oscar only stayed a few quiet moments before heading to his office. He was anxious to see what evidence was recovered from the site and wanted to hear the report from the surveillance team sitting on Stenning. Jaime silently turned her head again to watch Oscar exit the room as quietly as he had entered it.
The long narrow tweezers grasped the multi-faceted stone and held it under the magnifier. Turning it in the natural light the holder smiled at its brilliance. Randomly chosen stones were viewed showing their cut, color and clarity just short of flawless. He placed the stone with the others on the desk before scooping them back into their velvet bag.
“I appreciate your quick action and I hope you find your payment satisfactory.” Lyle Stenning commented.
The lanky man looked at his employer, “Mr. Stenning it is a bit awkward for me to accept payment seeing as how the target is still alive from what my sources tell me.”
The stoic expression on Stenning’s face slowly eased into a satisfied grin. He had no idea Steve Austin’s son would be so close at hand, and so convenient. “Your performance was acceptable. Even if Austin does recover, losing his only son will eat away at him for the rest of his life.”
Standing, the man-for-hire reached out a tattooed arm and shook Lyle’s outstretched hand before offering his services for any future endeavors. After being left alone in his office Lyle Stenning called his assistant in to get an update on his adversary’s condition.
Oscar stopped at his townhouse to shower and change. Arriving at his office he was greeted by the four agent team he had assigned to the investigation. He patiently answered their questions regarding Steve’s condition while pouring himself a drink. After settling himself behind his mahogany desk he listened carefully to their reports.
“As for the device used, it was C4 which is pretty attainable by anyone but what made the device so distinctive was the switch.” Oscar sat forward to lean on his elbows. “It was a mercury switch.” The operative eyed his boss as the information sunk in.
Oscar sat back and asked, “Special Forces?”
His agent nodded, “There are very few trained men who could pull this off.”
“And Lyle Stenning’s men all have military backgrounds.” Oscar finished. “Okay, keep checking those leads. My gut is telling me Stenning is behind all this. I want as much evidence as we can get.”
“What about Steve?”
“I’m sending over an agent to guard him in case there is another attempt.” His team all nodded their understanding and left. Oscar leaned back in his leather chair and sipped his drink wondering what Steve would do when he found out who did this. Would he tolerate the justice system’s imperfect and painfully slow due process or would he be out of control? Most of all would he forgive Oscar’s withholding of information?
Four days crept by and there was no change in Steve’s condition. Jaime, returning from a quick trip home, nodded to the guard outside Steve’s room before entering to the sound of the swishing curtain being roughly pulled back on its track and finding the nurse carrying unfolded towels and a water filled basin from the bed. It was obvious she had just completed Steve’s morning care. After a long exhale Jaime dropped into the bedside chair and began talking to Steve while holding his right hand in hers. It was her usual routine for the passed several days and she was finding harder and harder to think of thinks to talk about.
Rudy came in soon after and was checking his patient over. He was enjoying the story Jaime was recalling about Steve and her. He couldn’t keep the smile from forming on his lips.
“You got the black rabbit and you named him Dominic, I think. I came over to your house with a white rabbit named Clarissa. Remember how excited we were that we would be breeding rabbits. We wanted to be millionaires. We were such entrepreneurs.” She giggled. After a long sigh she finished, “How were we supposed to know not all black rabbits were male? We waited and waited but no bunnies showed up. I still remember our mother’s faces when they told us Dominic was a girl rabbit and that there would be no bunnies. Not to mention the talks that followed explaining the differences between girls and boys. God, how old were we? Six and eight?” She paused hoping to see a response, any response, from the still form in the bed but there wasn’t any.
After a while Rudy was able to coax her away for some lunch. They were only gone ten minutes when Dr. Wells was paged overhead. He and Jaime arrived to find out from the nurse that Steve was regaining consciousness. They both entered the room with tentative steps.
Jaime remained at the foot of the bed while Rudy stood on Steve’s right side. He called out his name and Steve cracked open his eyelid which closed quickly and tightly from the pain that assaulted his body. After a few seconds it opened halfway, blinked several times and scanned the ceiling. Rudy knew after being in a coma for days Steve’s autonomic nervous system would be slow to catch up. It would be difficult for Steve to communicate so Rudy did the talking.
“Steve, you’re at the medical center. You’ve been in a coma for four days. You’re going to be sore for awhile but you’ll recover in time.” He watched his patient’s brow furl and knew Steve was trying to figure out what happened to put him in the condition he was in. The doctor decided to stall and began checking his vital signs and eye reflexes. As he expected Steve quickly lost his battle to stay awake and soon fell into a deep healing sleep. The physician wasn’t ready to discuss the explosion or Michael’s death this soon in Steve’s recovery. Soon, he knew, it couldn’t be avoided.
Jaime sat with Steve for the rest of the day as he slept. She felt a little better leaving for home that night with the plan of sleeping in her own comfortable bed. Rudy made sure to notify Oscar of the progress being seen. It gave the director some badly needed good news.
Sorting through the information coming in Oscar was not feeling too cheerful. The agents following Stenning were at a loss. The suspect didn’t so much as jaywalk since leaving jail. The background checks of the organization known as ‘Fortress’ did not produce any further leads to the actual bomber. None of Lyle Stenning’s men past or present were members of the Special Forces or had such extensive training in detonators. The investigation now moved to friends and acquaintances of every member of the group.
The following morning a well rested Jaime arrived at the medical center and headed straight for Steve’s room. She unexpectedly collided with Rudy as he exited the room. She smiled at the clumsy greeting but the smile quickly faded at the site of the doctor’s face, pale and drawn.
“Rudy, what is it? Is Steve okay?” She took a half step to the closed door when Rudy’s firm hand on her upper arm stopped her. She stared at his pain-filled brown eyes trying to read him. “Rudy?”
His voice came out low and hoarse, “Steve woke up a little while ago. He was lucid, agitated and giving the nurse a very hard time about where Michael was.” He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and the hesitancy put Jaime into a panic. She held her breath as he finished explaining, “I arrived soon after and saw how angry he was getting…and… Jaime I had to tell him… about Michael. He wouldn’t calm down until someone told him where his son was.”
Jaime closed her eyes briefly, feeling sympathy for Steve’s loss and for Rudy’s having to be the messenger. “Oh god.” She took a deep, shaky breath and made another move toward the door. “I have to talk to him.”
“No Jaime! I think he wants some time alone. We need to give him that. Maybe you can see him later.” She stared at the wooden surface that kept her from Steve. After laying her hand and forehead on the barrier she conceded, “Alright Rudy.”
The doctor placed an arm around her shoulder and they went for some coffee. They drank in silence for several minutes until Rudy initiated the conversation. “Jaime, has Steve ever talked to you about Karen, his ex-wife?”
The young woman nodded negatively as she swallowed and placed her cup on the table. “Not really. I guess it was just so long ago that he doesn’t feel the need to discuss her. I’m sure if I asked him directly he would answer my questions. Why?”
The doctor gazed at the shiny surface of his black coffee and shrugged, “I can’t help but wonder if there is someone helping her through this. Have you ever met her?”
Jaime toyed with her cup on the table before sitting back in her chair, “No, I never met her. Two days ago I attended the small memorial service at Andrews Air Force base with Oscar when Michael’s casket was loaded onto the plane. If she was there to escort the body home she was already on the plane. I never saw her.”
“How was the memorial?” Rudy asked with sincere interest. He was unable to attend due to Steve’s unstable condition.
“It was…heart-wrenching. All his fellow pilots were there to pay their respects. Three of them stood up and said a few words. Everyone seemed to really like him and would miss him terribly. It just seems like such a waste. Michael had tremendous potential and he was such a good person…” She stopped as the tears began to fall unceremoniously down her cheeks. Rudy reached across the table and took her hand in his. “I’m sorry Jaime.”
“It’s okay.” She reassured him as she wiped away the wetness with a napkin. “I just hope I can hold it together when I see Steve. He must be so devastated.”
“He is but he has our support and hopefully that will get him through.”
Jaime suddenly locked fear-filled eyes with the doctor, “Rudy what are we going to do when Oscar finds the person who did this? What if Steve takes the law into his own hands? What if …”
Rudy silenced her by squeezing her hand. “Jaime there’s no sense asking ‘what ifs’. I know Steve flying off the handle is a possibility but I’m sure he will come to his senses and let the law handle it. He has to, what other choice does he have?”
Jaime stopped in to visit Steve in hopes of having a heart to heart talk. Unfortunately he slept the rest of the day, giving in to his physical and emotional exhaustion. The following morning she stopped by her rehab center to reschedule her clients so she could help Steve through this terrible experience.
The tall, slender psychologist arrived at the medical center during the sunny mid-morning. She took a deep breath and swung open the hospital room door startling the two young nurses making the empty bed.
She apologized then quickly went in search of Dr. Wells. Seeing him at the nurse’s station she called out his name with an anxious tone, immediately getting his attention.
“Rudy, Where Steve?” she asked upon approaching him.
“We are in the process of moving him from the ICU to a private room. In the interim his nurse took him outside for a change of scenery.” He watched the long-haired woman let out a long breath.
“Thank God. When I saw the empty bed… I… I thought…” She suddenly changed her tone, “Anyway, I guess it’s good to know he’s up and out of his room.”
“It’s not as good as you might think. He still hasn’t expressed any emotion or said a word to anyone since learning of Michael’s death.”
“So he didn’t get out of bed willingly?” She looked at him with an expression of surprise and confusion.
“Not exactly. Steve is just very passive right now. He does what we ask him to do but there’s absolutely no emotion or communication expressed. He doesn’t initiate anything.”
“That’s certainly not like Steve. Usually you have trouble keeping him in the bed not the other way around.”
“I know.” He replied softly and the two became silent, lost in their own thoughts concerning their friend. Rudy looked up into Jaime’s blue eyes and provided further information.
“There’s more. He won’t eat. I started allowing him to have solid food since yesterday. The meals came and he wouldn’t touch any of them. Luckily I kept the IV line in but he won’t heal very fast on that alone.” The young woman listened quietly to Rudy’s words then inquired, “Where can I find him?”
With a nod of his head the doctor gestured towards the exit doors at the end of the corridor. “Just outside those doors. We can’t keep him sitting up for too long because of his hip injury. I’m sure it started to hurt as soon as he sat in the chair. I’m anxious to see if he requests to be put back to bed if the pain continues. I’d feel much better if he started conversing with us.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The determined woman turned on her heel and headed outside. A few hospital employees on their breaks were scattered about, occupying chairs and small tables on the sunny patio. The air was filled with quiet conversations and occasional laughter.
In the corner her searching eye found him with a nurse sitting on a bench. She took a moment to stare unnoticed at her injured friend. Clad in pajama top and bottoms under the navy blue robe his slippered feet rested on the foot rests of the wheelchair. He faced forward, his blue eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses, his left arm supported by the cloth sling that hung from his neck.
Taking a deep breath she ambled purposely towards them. The nurse saw her approach and smiled up at her before excusing herself. Jaime slid smoothly onto the bench seat the nurse had just vacated on Steve’s left side. The brown-haired man didn’t even acknowledge her greeting or her presence. Eyeing his bruised profile she saw the white eye patch that was still covering his left eye behind the brown colored glasses.
She gathered all her strength and began chatting away not knowing if he was hearing her, any questions directed at him went unanswered. After ten minutes Rudy appeared before them but Steve did not alter his stare. “Steve I think its time to get you back to your room. That hip must be getting painful by now. Isn’t it?” The two waited but no answer came so after glancing at Jaime’s concerned face he unlocked the wheelchair brakes and began pushing the silent patient back to his room.
Jaime stood to the side as Rudy assisted Steve back into bed. No words or sounds expressed the physical pain Steve was feeling with the increased movement but both of his friends noticed the tightly closed right eye, the light sheen of perspiration on his face and the ragged breathing once his head hit the pillow.
“Steve would you like some pain medication?” The doctor waited a few seconds hoping to get him to respond but there was no answer. He then left the room only to return with a fluid filled syringe. The needle was inserted, the plunger pushed and the patient dozed off quickly. Out in the hallway Jaime and Rudy discussed ideas on how to get through to Steve.
Oscar Goldman was slouched in his chair lost in thought when his intercom buzzed. “Mr. Goldman, Harry Donner is here to see you.”
Oscar recognized the name immediately. He hadn’t seen Harry in a few years but when the seasoned military man worked for the OSI he was invaluable in getting a reluctant and newly bionic Steve involved in a high priority mission. He always wondered if Steve ever forgave Harry for his deception. “Please send him in.”
Harry shook the director’s hand just before taking the offered seat. Oscar was curious as to the purpose of this visit. “So what brings you to Washington Harry?” His tone remained relaxed and light.
“Well I just got back from a short assignment in Germany and I heard what happened to Steve. How’s he doing?”
“As well as can be expected I’m told.” The tall man walked to his wet bar. “Drink?”
“No thanks. Do you know who did it?” He asked trying his best to sound casually interested.
Oscar swallowed a mouthful of the brown liquid before answering. “We are still investigating but our leads… and my gut… tell me Lyle Stenning is behind this mess.” He ambled to his desk and settled into the high back leather chair.
“Lyle Stenning and his band of out-of-work mercenaries?” Donner shook his head then asked, “When are you going to arrest him?”
“That is turning out to be the larger problem. We are having trouble connecting him to the evidence.”
“But you are sure he did it?”
“I’d bet my life on it.” Oscar replied in a seething tone.
“Well, if I can be of any help please don’t hesitate to call me.” Harry stood as Oscar did and the two shook hands. “Thanks Harry I’ll keep that in mind.”
Harry turned and his long strides got him quickly to the door. He stopped suddenly and turned back to the director. “Is Steve allowed visitors?”
“Yes and I’m sure he would enjoy your company.” Harry nodded and left the office. While waiting for the elevator he paused to think. He and Steve were once good friends. After getting pulled into Oscar’s plan to dupe Steve into going on an assignment he didn’t want to be on he felt he owed his buddy for his part in the deception. Maybe he could pay off his debt sooner than he thought.