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Authors: Sara Vinduska

The Drowning Man (5 page)

BOOK: The Drowning Man
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Lora threw open the door and skidded to a stop. She gasped, wondering for a moment if what she was seeing was real. Doctor Caroline Newberry was squatting on a metal platform, looking down in a trance, cardiac syringe and paddles arranged neatly next to her. Directly in front of Lora was a large glass tank filled with water. And a man inside. On the bottom of the tank.

Lora raced up the stairs. Caroline Newberry slowly turned towards the unexpected visitor. Lora didn't hesitate, just reached out, grabbed her arm, and flung her down the stairs. Caroline hit the floor and didn’t move.

Lora slid the panel open, dove into the tank, and grabbed the man under the arms. She kicked upwards and pulled the lifeless body to the surface then heaved him onto the small platform.

He wasn't breathing and she couldn't find a pulse. She started in on the chest compressions, alternating with rescue breaths. Oh God, how much time had gone by? How long had he been in the tank?

She thought of her partner bleeding in the hallway, of the dead body lying next to him, of Nathan Barlow – so confident that his brother was still alive.

“You can't die on me now, goddammit,” she shouted down at the cold gray body.

She kept going. His body jerked. He coughed, water dripping from his mouth. She rolled him onto his side where he curled into a fetal position.

“Just let me die,” he mumbled.

“It's okay, you're safe now,” she said, a hand on his too thin shoulder.

He laughed, a scary, jerking sound, tears streaming down the sharp planes of his face.

 

Outside, Lora doubled over with her hands on her knees, fighting the urge to throw up. She swallowed hard. Trent Barlow was unrecognizable, his body a shell of its former self. He looked nothing like the fit and happy man she'd seen in the pictures of him. And judging from what she'd just witnessed, his mind was also a shell of what it had once been.
Too late,
her mind berated her.

What a fuckup. Before the cops got there, she’d left Barlow long enough to check on her partner and found Woods unconscious in the hall with a blow to the head and no sign of the oversize blond man except for a brief trail of blood down the hallway and out the front door.

Caroline had regained consciousness and was already in the back of a police car and on the way to jail. Lora watched the paramedics load her partner into one ambulance and Trent Barlow into the other. She stood up slowly, pushed wet hair out of her face, and as soon as her legs would support her, headed towards her car to follow them to the hospital.

 

Lora and Woods waited for the doctor to update them on Trent Barlow's condition in Woods' room at the hospital, sipping coffee even worse than what they drank at the station. She never diluted the precious dark liquid with cream or sugar, preferring the full hit touched with bitterness, not diluted with artificial crap or sweetened to mask the taste. But she was seriously considering it this time. She suppressed a grimace as she took another swallow.

Woods wouldn’t be discharged until the next morning. He refused to get in the bed, preferring to sit in one of the visitors chairs, she in the other, his bandaged leg propped up on the bed.

“I'm sorry,” Lora said, giving up on the coffee and setting the cup on the floor.

“For what?” Woods asked.

“You know for what. It's my fault you got shot. We shouldn't have even been there.”

Woods shook his head. “You didn't force me to drive to the house. We're partners, that's what we do. And if we hadn't gotten there when we did, a man would be dead and a criminal would still be free. It was a good day.”

They sat in silence before she added, “Except for the one that got away.”

Lora tucked one foot underneath her and stared out the window. Where the hell had the body gone? She’d been positive the big man was dead, lying in a pool of blood. Had she been in such a rush to get to Barlow that she hadn’t made sure? Not good policework. And yet, if she’d taken that extra time, Trent Barlow more than likely wouldn’t be alive right now. She squeezed her eyes shut. Too late now to question what went down.

“My fault. He got by me.”

Her eyes snapped open at the sound of her partner's voice. “You were shot,” she said.

“Doesn’t matter.”

Lora sighed. Arguing wasn’t going to get them anywhere. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter now. What matters is finding the son of a bitch.”

“Amen to that.”

“Too bad we don’t have jack.”

The door opened, stopping their conversation. Lora couldn't read the expression on the doctor's face as he approached them. She briefly wondered if they taught that in med school. The calm emotionless stare. “When can we talk to him?” she asked.

The doctor scowled at Woods being out of bed then shook his head. “I don't know if he'll be talking to
anyone
anytime soon.”

“Is he in a coma?” Woods asked.

The doctor shook his head. “No. He has two broken ribs that are partially healed. He's dehydrated and malnourished, but he's stable. We’re giving him antibiotics for the pneumonia, though it appears Dr. Newberry had already started treating it.”

The doctor paused. “It's his mental state I'm more concerned with. We're running an EEG to check for brain damage. The thing is, he's not responding at all to me, the nurses, or anyone else. Not even his brother. If his brain scan comes back clear, it's most likely a catatonic state due to severe trauma. In that case, he could come out of it in an hour or, never.” He paused. “Do you know how many times his heart was stopped and restarted?”

“No. We're still processing the evidence, but it looks like she dropped him in that tank on several occasions, watched him drowning, then resuscitated him. She had him for almost two months,” Lora said.

The doctor said nothing, just nodded solemnly. It was likely that Trent Barlow had suffered at least some brain damage from lack of oxygen. “Well, we'll know more soon.”

Chapter 11

The Kansas City community is shocked today after receiving word that doctor and arts patron, Caroline Newberry, has been arrested for the kidnapping of firefighter Trent Barlow, who was present when her son drowned twenty years ago. An unknown male accomplice is still at large.

 

Simon Hewett read the rest of the newspaper article and grimaced. He had always been good at ignoring pain, but the first few days after he was shot had put his resolve to the test. He’d barricaded himself in a shithole of a motel room and hadn’t moved from the bed for three long days and nights. The bitch cop was a good shot. But not good enough.

He peeled back the bandages and studied his wound. No infection. He’d be sore for a while, but he could live with that. He’d had worse. The bullet had lodged in his right pectoral muscle, right against his upper ribs. He’d dug it out himself and would wear the scar on his chest proudly. A badge of honor, like the one on his face.

That one had come from the first man he'd killed. He'd been young then, and the other man had quickly gained the upper hand. But as Simon felt the sharp steel cut through his skin, he'd also felt pure clean rage. And with it had come clarity. He was an instrument of justice, escorting the deserving to the gates of hell.

After he'd met Caroline, he'd thought those days were long over. He'd had no reason to deal out his special brand of justice. Until now.

He had no quarrel with Barlow, actually respected the man. Few would have been as brave under the same circumstances. But the cop, she was responsible for taking the only person he’d ever loved away from him. Though not dead, Carol was still lost to him.

He’d snuck into her room at the mental hospital where they were holding her until the trial late one night and all she’d done was sob uncontrollably before lying down on the tiny bed and turning away from him. He'd thought about taking her with him, but her mind was gone. The woman he loved was gone and wasn’t coming back. He'd smoothed her hair, kissed her one last time, then left without a backward glance.

But Simon would avenge her. He at least owed her that. It would be his final gift to her even if it was his last act.

First, he needed to heal. He had to do this right. No shortcuts, no going off half-cocked. He'd be thorough, methodical. That's why he'd been the best at what he'd done. He was out of practice, but the kind of skills he'd acquired didn't just go away, they lay in wait, dormant, until they were needed again.

 

Nathan Barlow continued talking to his brother, even though Trent's eyes were staring at the wall straight ahead and he hadn't even acknowledged that he knew Nathan was in the room at all, much less talked to him.

He paced the small space in front of the bed. It had been a week. If Trent didn’t snap out of it soon, he'd wind up in a mental hospital. Dr. Hender had shown him his brother's brain scan results. They were all normal, thank God.

And yet, Trent remained unresponsive. The doctor had patiently explained the way severe trauma could affect the brain. There really was no timetable on what to expect in situations like this. His brother might come out of it today, he might never come out of it. Despite everything, Nathan had to remind himself of the fact that Trent's survival itself was nothing less than a miracle. Physically and mentally, his younger brother had been put through hell.

Seeing Trent in this condition still got to him. He'd wanted to weep the first time he'd seen his brother lying in the narrow hospital bed. Though he’d been briefed by the doctor on Trent's condition, it hadn't prepared him for what he'd seen when he opened the door that first time. He'd never in his life seen Trent look sickly, but that was what he saw in the hospital bed. Trent was pale, thin, a light sheen of sweat covered his gaunt face, his dark hair was unkempt, his face covered with a beard. It was also clear that his nose had been broken at some point during his captivity.

Nathan cursed the people who had done this to his brother. He cursed God. He cursed himself for not being able to keep his little brother safe. But none of that mattered now. What mattered was getting his brother back. All the way back.

So far nothing had worked. He talked to him, reassured him, held his hand and prayed. He’d gotten no response. Nothing. No sign that the brother he knew was even still in there.

Nathan decided to try another tactic now. He took a step closer to Trent's bed. “I know you're still in there, goddammit,” he shouted. “So I suggest you get your fucking scrawny ass out of bed before you wind up in a home surrounded by drooling idiots for the rest of your life.”

Trent didn't get up, but he did blink. “That's a start,” Nathan continued. He bent down. “Don't let her win,” he whispered in his brother's ear. But the vacant stare was back.

Chapter 12

Don't let her win.
The words swam in Trent's head. He didn't want Caroline to win but he couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. Oh God, not again.

Don't let her win.
His brother's voice.

You're safe now.
A woman's voice. The cop.

But he wasn't safe. He was underwater and he was dying.

 

Nathan was walking down the long corridor to the exit. As he passed the nurses' station, he heard the beep of a monitor going off. A doctor hurried past him, checking his pager. He kept his head down. Behind him, the sounds were muffled. Running feet. Beeping machines. Efficient orders were shouted. The battle to save a life raged.

He called his wife as he walked across the parking lot. He needed food and sleep. He needed
her
.

 

Trent needed air but he was trapped under the dark crushing water. Caroline wouldn't win. She couldn't. Not this time. He hated her too much. He kicked upwards towards the surface with everything he had left in him.

 

The nurse and doctor ran into the room as Trent sat up and gasped in a huge breath. He looked around wildly, not sure what was happening. The doctor stepped forward. “Trent. Trent, look at me,” he said in a soothing voice.

“I … I don't … I …” He threw the covers off his body.

“Trent, it's okay, just relax.” The doctor nodded at the nurse who got the sedative ready to inject into his IV.

“No!” Trent grabbed for the IV line in his hand, jerked it out, and swung his feet over the side of the bed.

“I'll call security,” the nurse said.

“No. Amanda, it's fine, leave us.”

She gave the doctor a hesitant look, then left the room.

“Trent,” the doctor said.

Trent slowly turned his head.

“No more IV lines, okay? But I need you to calm down and stay in bed, at least until I can check you over, okay?”

Trent nodded and put his feet back on the bed. He wiped sweat from his forehead with a shaking hand.

The doctor looked deep into his patient's eyes. “She's not here. This isn't her hospital. This is Mercy General. This is
my
hospital and you're safe here.”

Trent focused on the face in front of him. It looked real enough. Bald head, big glasses, kind eyes. He looked around the small white room, looked down at his own trembling hands. “I'm alive,” he whispered. He felt a wave of humor bordering on insanity roll through him and fought back laughter he didn't think he'd be able to stop. “I'm really alive.”

“You're really alive,” the doctor said.

“Huh,” Trent said.

“You seem to know your name. Do you know what year it is?”

“Yes, doctor,” Trent said sarcastically. “I know what year it is, who the president is, and my address and phone number too.” He tapped the side of his head. “All still right here.”

The doctor grunted and flipped through a chart.
His
chart. Trent couldn’t help but wonder what was written on the pages inside. Dr. Hender, the nametag on the white coat read, took a long time reading it, whatever it said.

The doctor looked up and smiled at him. The world tilted. Was what he saw real or a dream? It was like watching a movie. Dr. Hender took his stethoscope out of the pocket in his white jacket and listened to Trent’s heartbeat and breathing. A blood pressure cuff was placed on his left arm. A light was shone into his eyes. The doctor made more notes on the chart then looked up.

BOOK: The Drowning Man
9.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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