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Turning Point

 Visually perusing the waiting room, Vinny saw his homie who appeared to be in a world of his own. Steve counted the specks on the terrazzo foundation. White bloodless knuckles, hands clenched in front of him, elbows were planted on trembling knees. The man’s attire was impeccably Armani but his emotional state – disheveled low-overhead consignment. The Bulgari Ergon ticked conspicuously on the man’s exposed wrist. Walking over, Vinny parked a consoling touch on his older brother’s shoulder, precautionary not to wrinkle or blemish the over-priced suit.

“Bro, I heard your girlfriend is sick. Alvarez told me.”

Vinny purposely lied. Exposing the supernatural theory and allegations about the black market would not be an appropriate commentary, especially since Steve does not believe in the supernatural.

Quibbling words deployed from the unhinged man’s mouth focusing on the trespasser who was violating his private cosmos. Glancing upward with a fractious scowl, knitted eyebrows, “Parker has a big mouth, and why in the hell do you care? Parker told me what you said about the woman I love. When are you going to stay out of my life? You went overboard in your background check. You’re always trying to make me look like an ass.”

“I reported the facts to Parker. Are you talking about my other reference, if you marry Barb it won’t last? Is that what you’re mad about? It’s my personal opinion. I have a right to my personal opinion. You’re my brother and I know what you are made of.”

“Yeah, just because your marriage is on the rocks, doesn’t mean mine will follow the same path. Vinny, you’re the problem in your marriage, not Maria. You know Parker only wanted the pertinent details not your subjective interpretations or objections to my relationship. You know nothing about Barb. You’ve never met her.”

“Bro, you’re still on the rebound from Gwen. There’s a difference in your voice when you say Barb’s name compared to Gwen’s. Besides, your girlfriend….”

Steve bellowed back not allowing his brother to continue the blasphemy. “She’s not a girlfriend; Barb will be my wife in a few weeks, that is, if she survives. Show respect for the woman I love. I don’t understand you; what[BS1]  is your real problem with Barb? I think you’re jealous that I found someone I can really love.”

“You want the real problem? Barb is not your usual type; she’s plain vanilla. I’m sorry Bro; I shouldn’t have said what I said. I was wrong but you know it’s the truth. She wouldn’t know difference between Gucci, or Faded Glory.”

“Well, you’ve convinced the guys at work and they think I’m crazy for marrying Barb. They rib me about her age; she’s short, and everything else. Compared to Gwen, yeah Barb doesn’t meet my usual standards. But, there is something about Barb that I love, she’s endearing. I can relax and be myself when I’m with her. You wouldn’t understand because you don’t know how to love. I don’t want you to go near Barb, ever!” The man held back the River Jordan.

“You’re right; I should mind my own business. I was wrong for what I said. I let my personal feelings cloud my judgment. My investigation didn’t uncover any buried secrets; she’s clean. Nothing in her closets.”

“You can apologize all you want but I’m not ready to forgive you.”

“I deserve that response.” Steve didn’t add a word.

Keeping the lines of communication open, “Did Barb have a heart attack?”

“Vinny, I don’t know what happened. I found her unresponsive on the bed and called 911. The medics used the AED and her heart started. When we got here, the staff ran the gurney down the hall to run tests. No one seems to know what’s going on. They won’t let me see her. I’m not a blood relative.”

“By any chance, did you talk to the paramedics who brought her in?”

“Doug, the driver, he said Barb was in good hands with Doctor Natas. The other guy, Jeff, security dragged him out of ER and told him not to come back. That’s what the nurse told me.”

“Do you know what happened? Why they threw him out of the building?”

“Vinny, all I heard was arguing as he was leaving, but I couldn’t comprehend what was being said. It’s hard enough dealing with my own problems. I’m the reason she’s here. Barb called me and I didn’t take the time to call her back. Maybe she called because she wasn’t feeling good. I could have been with Barb when it started.

“Instead of being with my fiancé, I was reviewed reports with Gwen, now that she’s back on my team. She flew in from New York to surprise me with the good news. Then, Gwen and I started to talk about our history. I’ll be honest, turning back the clock; I started questioning my commitment to Barb. Glancing at my laptop, it was after eleven. Parker gave me the night off because we couldn’t fly back to California. Like a j****** I let Gwen corral me - I should’ve been with Barb.”

“Does Gwen know about your wedding plans?”

“Yeah, she does. Halfway through our conversation, Gwen proceeded to tell me what a fool I was. She said she heard from Parker that my promotion would be forfeited because my fiancé doesn’t have the right social, political, and educational skills to schmooze the affluent officials at the dinner parties. Listening to Gwen, I thought she was right. Barb doesn’t know which fork to use for salad and she buys cheap, three-dollar wines. Why would anyone purchase “Sweet Red”? How generic is “Sweet Red”? Gwen orders designer evening gowns and Barb goes to discount stores offering huge discounts even on used clothing. Gwen’s right, Barb will have a hard time fitting in with the company I keep.”

“Are you afraid of being embarrassed?”

“I guess. I don’t want to be laughed at because my wife wears hand-me downs.”

“Steve, you need to make a decision. What do you want in a woman? Do you want a sophisticated-broom in the ass ice queen or a plain Jane who actually cares and loves you?”

“Vin, you’re right. With Barb, I can be me. I don’t have to be what she thinks I should be. Gwen was always trying to improve my status, make me into a better brand.”

“Well, Barb likes you the way you are and that’s the way it is supposed to be. Why do you want to change her?”

“Vinny, I should be glad Barb is the way she is. But when Gwen gets talking, I start questioning my decisions.”

“Steve, Gwen wants to destroy your relationship with Barb. She’s a controlling shrew. I don’t blame you for ditching her at the altar but if you were honest with yourself, you’re still being whipped by her. Until you figure out that equation, you shouldn’t get married.

“To Gwen, you’re nothing more than a conquest. With Barb in the picture, she’s got another contender. Gwen’s a hell of an agent, I trust her with my life, but she doesn’t have one loving bone in her body.

“Bro, don’t beat yourself up. This isn’t your fault, because bad things happen to good people. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and unjust. I heard that tonight.”

Listening to his brother, the remorseful soul had a change-of-heart. “I appreciate what you just said. I guess I shouldn’t feel responsible but I could’ve been with Barb if Gwen didn’t get me waylaid. That woman has created more office gossip about my fiancé than your one-liner. When it started, I should’ve told her to shut the hell up but I didn’t. Sorry Vin, I was taking my frustrations out on you.

“Hey, how are you feeling? I heard you got shot.”

“Ah, I got a headache and my arm is sore. It’ll go away. I was wearing Buster, my bulletproof vest. I’m a boy scout at heart - always prepared for the unexpected.”

Interrupted by a youthful blond nurse, “Vinny, what are you doing out of your room? I’ve been looking all over for you. Here are your discharge papers. Doctor Robbins doesn’t want you working for at least a week. There’s a note for your employer in the packet. You need to schedule an appointment with your PCP in two days for a follow-up.”

“Thanks Paula. Did you bill the agency? I got shot on their time.”

“Yes, that’s how you’re coded in the system. Your undercover look is quite interesting and I love what’s behind the beard. Are you still married? I heard rumors you were getting divorced. My shift ends soon. Meet me across the street for a drink.”

Lifting up his hand, Vinny displayed his gold band. “If I’m getting divorced, I don’t know about it. One drink with you, my wife would have me castrated.”

Using a flirtatious tone, “Your wife is a lucky woman. You have my number. Call me if you’re lonely. Alvarez said Maria was out of town. She’s been gone for a couple of weeks. That’s way too long for a man like you.”

“How could I forget your number?”

Hearing her name being announced over the intercom, “I have to go.” Instantly she gave Vinny the hand signal to tag her. Paula pivoted and walked back to the nurses’ station. The two men were caught up in her posterior departure. She left a lasting impression.

Steve changed positions in his chair when Vinny sat down. “Are you cheating on Maria?”

“Hell-no.”

“How do you have her number?”

“Long story about a missing cat; not important.”

What is it with you and women? No matter how you look or where we are, they flock to you. You’re dirty, grungy, hairy, and Paula was all over you like ticks on a damn dog. Me, I dress nice, I’m polite, funny, charming, and get manicures and pedicures. Even tonight, I’ve been sitting here and not one person has spoken to me. You come in and she comes right over.”

“Well, I got magnetism. You got it going on, too. Didn’t you meet Barb at a bar?”

The corners of Steve’s mouth released anxiety and he smiled. “Yeah, funny thing, we were both coerced by our younger co-workers to go to this lounge in Charlotte. Barb and I were dancing with different partners but our eyes kept convening on the dance floor. We were fish out of water. I motioned for Barb to meet me at the exit. We ended up at a twenty-four hour pancake house and since then we have dined at every mom and pops in all four counties.”

“Did she take you home and put you to bed?”

“No, she’s not that kind of woman. Vinny, she’s different, down-to-earth, nothing put-on, and very Catholic.”

“I take it she’s not controlling like Gwen?”

“Barb’s independent and voices her opinion, but she doesn’t extend claws like Gwen does. Sometimes Barb acts like a child and laughs at the stupidest comments. She even has this ridiculous horselaugh. I never know what she is going to do or say. Yeah, she’s plain vanilla, nothing extraordinary but she brings out the best in me, and for some reason makes me happy. If she doesn’t fit in with the rich and famous that’s fine with me.”

Steve turned his face as small tears collected, blurring his vision. Wincing the facial muscles, he subdued the flood.

Vinny witnessed his brother’s obvious pain. “Bro, everything is going to be fine. You’ll get married and live happily ever after. It will work out. You’ll get the promotion based on your qualifications not on who you married.”

Blotting his anxiety with a waded tissue, Steve opened his heart. “Vinny, I really love Barb. Gwen and I were together for a long time but I didn’t love her.”

Vinny felt the gravity in the man’s words. “I know you love Barb; I was wrong for what I said.”

A well-dressed man barged through the double doors, and went directly to the information desk. Judging by the shine on his handcrafted shoes and style of suit – he shopped in Rome, Italy. Hearing the riotous entry, his manifestation grabbed Vinny and Steve’s attention. Galloping directly toward them, he had papers in his hand. Reacting to the interloper’s non-verbal demands, Vinny and Steve stood.

Quickly inquiring with clear articulation, he was equipped to divulge the nature of his business. “Are you Steve, Barb’s fiancé?” There was no emotion on the messenger’s face.

“Yes, I’m Steve. Can I see Barb, now? I really want to see my fiancé.”

The dapper Dan dressed in iconic labels extended his fingers and the two men confirmed their formal acquaintance. The good doctor spoke.

“Steve, I’m Doctor Natas, and I am the head over cardiac surgery. I just happen to be here when your fiancé was brought in. Doug, the paramedic called me while he was en-route. He knew Barb required skilled hands. I would like to discuss Barb in a private setting, alone.” The man wanted a one-on-one without Vinny.

Steve didn’t catch-on being deluged by his personal monsoon without an umbrella. “Doctor Natas, that’s not necessary. Whatever you have to say, go ahead and say it. This is my brother. So, Barb will need surgery. I’m sure she would want our priest here before you start the process. I will call him.”

Shaking his head denying Steve’s assertions, “Cardiac surgery isn’t on the table.”

Being relieved, Steve leaned forward and gently gripped the man’s shoulder. “Good, glad to hear that. Can you put her on meds?”

Waiting for Steve to retrieve his hand, the physician continued with the prognosis. “Steve, you should’ve let me finish. I’m sorry to inform you but Barb died twenty minutes ago. My team and I tried everything in our power but her heart was too weak. It gave out.”

Vinny watched his brother’s receptivity, which was stymied by the breaking headline news.

Steve became combative. “No, you’re lying. Barb’s not dead. She can’t be!”

Using refractory nouns and verbs, “Steve, you can deny the truth but the reality is; she’s gone. We need to notify her next of kin. Because her name is in the system from a previous surgery, I’ve verified she’s an organ donor. Her funeral will be delayed a day, so we can accommodate her last wishes. Barb’s organs are a gift, and will be used to help others live productive lives. I’ve scheduled surgery to be done around ten this morning.”

Having inside knowledge, Vinny got in the doctor’s face. His fingers were itching to reach the prevaricator’s throat.

“Natas, you did something to Barb! She’s not dead.” Gaining control of his hasty accusations, Vinny placed his hands to his sides. With fists gripped, “I’m going to find out what’s going on. Something ain’t right, it just ain’t right. The pieces don’t fit.”

Natas took a step back. “Let me give you ten bucks. You can buy a bottle of wine and sleep it off.”

Indignantly addressing Steve, “Is this thing really a family member?”

Steve ignored the doctor’s probe and honed in on his brother’s words. “Vinny, why did you say Barb is alive when the doctor said she died? How would you know?”

“I know because the paramedic who was booted out of the building, he saw something and I believe him.”

Natas dismissed the charges levied against him. “If you’re talking about Jeff, I caught him stealing drugs from the ER rooms. The goods were stashed in his pockets. I gave him a warning and that’s why we sent him on his way. I called the police and we have him on camera.

“Getting back to Barb, Steve, I’m sorry for your loss. Take these papers to the front desk and the nurse will get the appropriate signatures and explain the donor process.”

Vinny took another verbal swing. “Why can’t my brother see his fiancé? What are you hiding?”

Belligerently facing his challenger, “They’re not married. Legally, Steve cannot represent her. Therefore, Steve has no right to see Barb. I’m respecting the privacy of the dead. The only ones that can view her will be the immediate family at the funeral parlor. From our records, they live in Florida. Steve can sign papers to expedite the organ retrieval process because we have Barb’s written consent on file. There is only a small window of opportunity between life and death and the clock is ticking. You’re wasting precious minutes, minutes I need to contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. I’m not trying to be brash or insensitive but we have to prepare her for the harvesting procedure.”

Vinny was bullheaded and ignored the doctor’s quest for closure. “Okay, if Jeff was stealing drugs, why didn’t you call the cops? It’s your duty to get the police involved when you come across criminal activity. Instead, you let him go. I know you have cameras, but having witnesses that see the drugs on him would be more convincing to the jury. Cameras aren’t always right on target.”

With a fallacious countenance, “Well, it would be Jeff’s word against mine. Mister, you should go back to the homeless shelter and leave me alone or you’ll be escorted out. It appears you party with a rough crowd. The gash on your head, was it from a bar fight or a small fist-o-cuffs at the shelter over who would get the last piece of bread?”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“It’s time for you to go. You’re cluttering up my waiting room.”

Steve spoke up. “Doctor Natas, thank you for trying to save Barb. I’ll sign the papers because preserving the organs is crucial. I must accept this turning point in my life. Can I meet the donor recipients?”

“Steve, that’s not possible. We preserve the identity of our organ receivers.”

“I understand and thank you for your time. I’ll finish the paperwork at the desk.”

Vinny looked at Steve. “Wait a minute, what about Father Joe? He needs to pray over Barb. You need to call him. She needs her last rites. Call Father Joe right now or I will.”

Steve’s chain was yanked. “How do you know about Father Joe? You personally met Barb, didn’t you? You know that wasn’t part of your job description. Why did you do that? You overstepped your boundary. Gwen told me and I thought she lied. O’Conner saw you in a store with Barb. I doubted Gwen but she was right.”

“Steve, I had my reasons. I wanted to make sure you weren’t making another mistake.”

“Like you don’t make mistakes? Are you referring to my first wife?”

“Yeah, I am. You were back on the booze, drunker than a skunk and got married in Vegas. And I can’t discuss the other particulars in your file.”

“You know I stopped drinking hard liquor. Losing our father was hard for me. You, on the other hand, didn’t cry a single tear.”

Steve excommunicated Vinny and spoke to Natas. “My brother is an idiot. I’ll call the priest, and he’ll take care of everything at the funeral. I will also contact Barb’s parents.”

Natas was leery of Vinny. “Steve, get your brother help. He needs a shrink. I don’t want to deal with him. If he keeps it up, I’ll have him committed to a psychiatric ward. Am I clear? We have padded-cells upstairs and I can easily pull the strings if he gets in my way.”

“Doctor Natas, he should see a shrink. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d be locked up in an insane asylum. He had a previous psychotic episode after a traumatic event but after therapy the psychiatrists released him.”

“Steve, please contact Barb’s family and advise the funeral home to call County with the particulars. The nurse will give you further instructions.”

“Doctor Natas, can I still elect an open casket even though you’ll be taking her tissue and organs?”

“Of course you can. I’m not sure which organs until I finish the testing but we will definitely take tissue. Barb will be relocated to a specialized area of the hospital and only a select few will have information on her whereabouts. We do this for security reasons. If you call the front desk, they will not have any information on Barb. Paula would be your best contact.”

Pointing, “She is that vivacious blond nurse. She’ll give you her number. Steve, do you have any other questions?”

“No.”

Natas punched out of the waiting room. It was time to bring the body down to the morgue where Paula can administer medication to keep Barb in a deep sleep until her last lethal injection. Surgery will be tomorrow morning and by noon, ten-million dollars will be deposited in an offshore bank account and Uncle Sam will be left out. Although this is gross profit, Natas must share the pot will several insiders but he will find ways to cut his losses. He is packed up and ready to go once the goods are delivered to the air-ambulance. Greed became his ultimate premise.

Steve left the facility and went to Barb’s house. Vinny saw Angelica and followed the angel down the hall.

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