Authors: Lee Goldberg
Jesse barged through the crowd, carrying an emergency medical kit and leading two orderlies with a stretcher and three nurses wheeling a battery-powered crash cart.
"She's alive," Mark said. "We have to get her into the ER."
He took a cervical collar from one of the nurses and secured the woman's neck and head, while Jesse leaped up on the trunk so he was positioned at her feet. Mark and Jesse helped the orderlies ease the stretcher under the woman; then the four men carefully lifted her off the car. The order lies rushed her across the street to the hospital, Mark, and Jesse running alongside.
Mark could hear sirens wailing in the distance, getting louder as they drew near. Somebody must have called 911. By the time the paramedics got there, all they'd find was the damage and the blood. The woman would already be receiving treatment in the ER.
The orderlies carried the woman into the first vacant trauma room, where Jesse's girlfriend, Nurse Susan Hilliard, was already standing by with her team, ready to assist the doctors.
Mark started shouting out orders, but stopped when he couldn't catch his breath. He let Jesse take over and went outside into the hallway, where he found a chair and sat down, breathing hard, holding a hand to his chest. His heart was pounding. Sweat ran down his cheeks. After running as fast as he could down five flights of stairs, across the street, and back again, he was lucky he wasn't on the table in the trauma room himself.
He wasn't a young man anymore. He should have stayed behind at the hospital and let Jesse, who was more than capable, treat the woman in the street.
What was he thinking?
Mark wasn't thinking. He was reacting, going on pure impulse. He closed his eyes for a moment and saw the woman sifting on the windowsill, staring right at him. One instant she was there, the next she was falling...
"Are you okay, Mark?"
"I'll be fine," he said, his eyes flashing open to see Jesse standing in front of him, looking concerned. He glanced up at the wall clock and was surprised to see that forty minutes had passed.
Mark gestured to the trauma room. "More importantly, how is she?"
"Lucky she fell outside a hospital," Jesse said.
"She didn't fall," Mark said. "She jumped. I saw her do it. She looked right at me."
"Did you know her?"
"I never saw her face until today," Mark said.
"Well, you're never going to forget it now," Jesse said. "She's comatose. She's got a fractured humerus, fibula, and tibia, but no broken bones that appear to require surgery. There are no cervical or skull fractures, but her chest x-ray shows three broken ribs on her left side and a small pneumothorax."
"I'll have to watch that," Mark said.
"I'll watch that," Jesse said. "Your shift is over and after what you've just been through, you could use the rest."
"What about her lab work?"
"Still waiting on it, but I don't think she was high, if that's what you're getting at," Jesse said. "I've ordered a CT scan and then I'll send her up to the ICU. There's nothing more you can do here. Go home."
"Something made her desperate enough to want to kill herself," Mark said.
"It's too late to do anything about that now," Jesse said, and went back into the trauma room.
Mark wasn't so sure. Today he'd encountered two women who faced a choice between living and dying. Both of the women looked him in the eye and chose death. Perhaps he could still save one of them.
Still wearing his lab coat and hospital ID, Mark walked back across the street to the office building. The paramedics had left but several uniformed policemen remained behind, taking statements from witnesses. He doubted any of them saw what he saw. The cold look in her eyes. The grim, almost casual acceptance of her fate.
Those facts weren't important. All the police were interested in was whether or not she was pushed. She wasn't; they'd know that by now. So the police were just filling in blanks on a routine report that wouldn't matter much to any body but the insurance companies covering the policies on the building, the Buick, and, perhaps, the young woman's life.
His statement could wait.
The building directory in the lobby listed only one tenant on the fifth floor: Funville Toys. Mark took the elevator up. It moved very slowly. There was a tiny video screen mounted in the wall that showed commercials for recently released DVDs and a new low-carb cookie. Until that moment, Mark never thought he'd miss elevator music.
The doors opened to a reception area that could have been a pediatrician's waiting room. The chairs and coffee tables were overflowing with toys. Fuzzy toy creatures covered the receptionist's wide desk, climbed her lamp, clung to her telephone receiver, and dangled joyfully from drawer handles.
The gaiety expressed by the frolicking toys wasn't reflected by the sole occupant of the room, a thin receptionist with a stud in her lower lip and a half-dozen earrings dangling from each ear. She sat shell-shocked, staring at nothing as Mark approached.
"Excuse me," Mark said quietly.
The receptionist looked up, teary-eyed, and Mark noticed the tissue balled up in her hand.
"I'm Dr. Mark Sloan, from Community General," he said. "We're treating the woman who jumped."
"Rebecca Jordan," she mumbled.
Now he had a name to go with the face, with the glance across an expanse that seemed to him both vast and intimate all at once.
"Is there someone here I can talk to about her? We need to contact her family."
"You'd better talk to Morrie Gelman, our boss," she said. "Down the hall, corner office."
Mark smiled politely and headed down the hall. People were gathered in their offices and outside their cubicles talking, crying, hugging. They all had the same, shell-shocked look as the receptionist.
The door to the corner office was slightly ajar. Behind it, Mark could hear a man's gravelly voice.
"Die, foul Gorpine fiend from hell!"
Mark peered through the opening and saw Morrie Gelman, a paunchy, gray-haired man in his fifties, wearing a jacket and tie, on his knees beside his coffee table, which was a battlefield filled with robot soldiers wielding ray guns, futuristic tanks, and flying saucers covered with cannons. Gelman was holding one of the robot soldiers, challenging an alien that looked like a lizard crossed with a polar bear.
"You'll never take Umgluck, not while we still breathe its sweet air," Gelman said.
Mark knocked lightly on the door and eased it open. "Mr. Gelman? Your receptionist sent me down."
Gelman got to his feet, not the least bit embarrassed to have been caught playing with toys. Mark didn't see any reason why he should be. It was a healthier way to handle stress than the methods most of the people he'd just seen would try tonight.
"What can I do for you?" Gelman asked.
"I'm Dr. Mark Sloan. I'm Rebecca Jordan's doctor. We've got her in the intensive care unit across the street."
"So she's alive," Gelman said, sighing with relief. "Thank God."
"She's in a coma and in critical condition," Mark said. "But I think she's going to make it. I'd like to contact her family."
Gelman regarded Mark suspiciously. "That's why you came here? Surely you could have asked the police for that information."
"You're right," Mark said. "To be honest, I was hoping you could tell me more about her as a person."
"Why?" Gelman asked.
It was a fair question, one Mark hadn't even bothered to ask himself yet. He didn't know the answer. There was only one thing he could think of to say.
"I saw her sitting in her window. We looked at each other. There was a connection. Before I could say or do anything, she jumped," Mark said. "So here I am."
Gelman studied Mark for a long moment, then seemed to come to a decision. He picked up one of the robot soldiers from the coffee table and held it out to Mark.
"See this? Everybody in the toy business is making them. We're working on a ray gun that a kid can fiddle with and turn into a robot ship," Gelman said. "Mechanical heroes and spatial-manipulation games are what kids want today. So what does Rebecca come up with? Let me show you."
Gelman led Mark two doors down the hall to another office. From the way everybody was looking at them, Mark knew it belonged to Rebecca. It was clean and sparse. The window was wide open and he could see straight across the street to the fifth-floor window of the doctors' lounge. The walls were covered with sketches, which fluttered in the breeze. Each sketch was a rough, yet strangely animated, depiction of the giant stuffed bear that sat in the guest chair in front of Rebecca's orderly desk.
It was the biggest, fluffiest, most lovable-looking stuffed animal Mark had ever seen, with outstretched, broad arms, a goofy smile, wide eyes, and a round little belly that demanded patting. Mark gave the belly a pat and was surprised by how soft it was.
"This is Cuddle Bear. Just an enormous stuffed animal. It should have bombed, but it's the biggest hit in the fifty-year history of this company." Gelman shook his head. "It took off immediately. We can't keep up with the demand and the publicity has been amazing."
Gelman pointed to a framed newspaper clipping on the wall. It was a wire-service story, dated a month earlier, about the surprising success of the stuffed animal. There were two photos with the article. One of the pictures was of a little child hugging the Cuddle Bear, snuggling up against its comfy belly, practically lost inside its big arms. The other picture was a candid photo taken of Rebecca in the Community General pediatric cancer center, a huge swarm of kids gathered around the stuffed animal, looks of pure joy on their faces.
She'd been in the hospital before, Mark thought. Perhaps they'd even passed in the halls or stood beside one another in the elevator. Perhaps she knew who she was looking at when their eyes met. Perhaps she was hoping for a spark of recognition and empathy in that instant before she jumped.
Mark shifted his attention to the newspaper article, reading a portion of it out loud. "Ms. Jordan describes the Cuddle Bear as a friend you can tell everything to, a friend who is always there for you."
"She could have been describing herself," Gelman said. "You start talking to her and before you know it, you've told her things you'd never tell anybody. She's a great listener. Everybody comes to her with their problems."
"Where does she go with hers?" Mark asked.
"I don't know." Gelman gave Mark a sad, guilty look. "We didn't realize until today that maybe she came up with the Cuddle Bear because she needed one herself."
Mark's cell phone trilled.
"Pardon me," Mark said, taking the phone from the pocket of his lab coat and bringing it to his ear. "Mark Sloan."
"Hey Dad," replied Steve, his voice even and businesslike, indicating he was not alone. "I need your help."
"What's the problem?" Mark asked.
"It will be obvious as soon as you see the corpse."
Lt. Steve Sloan knew his conversation with his dad was overheard by the police officers and forensic techs working around him that afternoon in the middle of a vast expanse of dry scrubland.
It didn't really matter. As soon as his father arrived at the scene, on the northernmost edge of Los Angeles, the usual derisive whispers about Steve's competence as a homicide detective would start up again.
He didn't have to hear a word of it to know. He'd see it on their faces. He'd see it in the way they looked at him without looking at him. He'd see it in the judgmental smirk of his superiors, even though they'd often called on his father's deductive expertise.
But they held Steve to a different standard than the one against which they measured themselves. He was the forty-year-old son of a legendary detective, one who didn't even have a badge and yet managed to solve an astonishing number of perplexing, high-profile cases. If not for that, Steve's impressive solve rate would certainly have earned the unqualified respect and admiration of his peers. Instead, the assumption was that whenever he closed a difficult case, his father must have helped. The widespread belief within the department was that Steve Sloan was a mediocre detective with a brilliant father.
Steve couldn't blame his colleagues for their opinion of him. His father was brilliant and he showed up frequently with him at crime scenes, which only confirmed the speculation. If that wasn't enough, Steve lived on the first floor of his father's Malibu beach house, making it easy to consult with him on cases. Mark often offered his unsolicited advice, sometimes leaving his thoughts behind on little Post-it notes stuck in the case files that Steve brought home. More than once, Steve forgot to remove a Post-it or two, and they were discovered by other detectives, who immediately told others what they'd found.
On top of all that, his father often intruded on homicide investigations, whether they were Steve's or not. That was partly because the county's adjunct medical examiner, Dr. Amanda Bentley, worked out of the morgue at Community General Hospital, giving Mark plenty of opportunity to stumble in on an intriguing autopsy and offer his insights.
Steve didn't mind living under his father's shadow. He'd made peace with it a long time ago. He loved his father and respected him. Steve was good at his job, but he knew his father had a gift, a natural affinity for solving mysteries. Together, they made a great team. How many sons had that kind of relationship with their fathers? Too damn few, as far as Steve was concerned.
He cherished it.
Even so, he knew this time his professional reputation would take a bigger hit than usual. This time he was openly and directly asking for his father's help and he didn't care who knew it. He couldn't solve this murder without his father. Nobody could. And he wasn't going to let his pride get in the way of capturing a killer.
"You did the right thing calling Mark," Dr. Amanda Bentley said, crouching over the corpse that lay on the parched earth at Steve's feet. The beautiful African American woman knew exactly what Steve was thinking. She'd be a fool if she didn't.