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Standing at the door, the young man offered his two cents. “What in the hell are you doing in a hospital bed on a night like this? What, you pissed off your girlfriend’s husband? Did he come home too early?”

“Aye, Alvarez that’s top secret stuff. I don’t need you telling the whole world about my private life.”

Looking down the hallway and glancing back, “I hope you left your girlfriend happy. You don’t look too good.”

Entering the room, using a library whisper, “Do you know who shot you; Bartlett’s boys or Patterson?”

“No, it was too dark and the headlights distracted me. It was all so fast.”

“I bet one of the drug dealers followed you after the bust. I keep telling you, I don’t trust that punk kid. He sent you to Charlotte to get you out of the way. You keep going back to Andy and you’re gonna get popped. They gave you a warning; bad guys don’t miss.

“By the way, I like the homeless look. Someone has a little gray going on there. You’re getting to be an old fart.”

“I can do without your old fart comments. Get the hell out of here if you’re gonna be annoying.”

“Parker told me they fired three times. You were lucky just to be nicked in the head. The hair will grow back. Looks like one bullet got you pretty good in the arm.”

“Nah – it took five minutes to clean the scrape. My knee is killing me because I slipped on the black ice, trying to reach for my friggin’ gun.”

“Vin, that’s not like you. Were you daydreaming?”

“Yeah, I was preoccupied.”

“Your wife or your girlfriend?”

“Al, you know I don’t got a girlfriend. Maria is in Mexico for the holidays.”

“From experience on the force, when a guy loses focus on his work, it’s usually over a woman. So, why don’t you get out of here and go see Maria? It might be a good idea to leave town for a week until things cool down. Parker was concerned about you. He may even put you out on medical leave, knowing you won’t have enough sense to call it quits.”

“Yeah right, Parker put me on med-leave? I’m a cheap hire and I make him look good. Parker is just saying that to cover his ass. He may say that to you guys but to me, he’ll want me to stay and finish the job. We got one more big hit.”

“No, Parker really respects you and wants you to recuperate.”

“The feeling is mutual; he’s a good guy but he knows this little incident is nothing. I took a near fatal bullet for his team before he ran the show and that’s why I went into private practice. Maria didn’t want to be a young widow. She doesn’t know I still do sub-work for the agency. On occasion, I investigate cheating spouses – boring crap.”

“It’s a good thing Maria’s not here. With her temper, you would be flipping burgers. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need a ride?”

“Fast food jobs wouldn’t maintain Maria’s lifestyle. She’s high maintenance.”

“Well, she’s hot, and I’m not being disrespectful.”

“No, I agree, no disrespect taken.”

“Are they gonna keep you under observation?”

“No, I’m hoping to be released soon and Pauley said he would stop back to get me. Hopefully my car will start.”

“How did you get here?”

“Some foreign guy who drives a taxi called 911. He said he saw the whole thing. He’s down at the station. He had a pretty good description of the car.”

“Do you think the dealers will go after the cab driver?”

“No because he was parked on the street. He waited for them to disappear. The cabbie had binoculars in his glove box. Said he used them for bird watching, the chicks without feathers. He got the plate number. It was probably a stolen car from Charlotte.”

“Vin, don’t rush back to work. Take some time off – you deserve it. Don’t leave Maria alone too long. You’re asking for trouble.”

“Yeah, I’m taking some time in January. Maria will be back on the fifth. I’ve made plans for us in Asheville. For the time being, I got other things to take care of.”

Pausing, “Al, would you look out the door, and see if there’s a gray-haired man in a white coat in the hall. I need to talk to him.”

Walking toward the exit, and returning, “No, only nurses. Some of them are pretty good looking.”

“You need to go home to your wife, before you get in trouble. That’s my warning.”

“You got that right. If I stay around here, who knows what would happen. Partner, you take care of yourself. It’s after midnight and I need my beauty sleep. Yolanda has dinner in the microwave for me. I was supposed to be home around eight. We were gonna have a nice quiet dinner by candlelight. The kids are with grandma.”

“You sure she doesn’t got something in the oven, number five?”

“Don’t even say that. The four kids are driving me nuts but I love them. Hey, take care of yourself, ya hear me? You’re my best bud and you owe me a dinner with my wife.”

The two men did a high-five.

“Alvarez, get your ass home to your family. Tell Parker to give you the day-off. I won’t be riding shot-gun tomorrow.”

The man left zipping his coat preparing for the wintry elements. Vinny paced, waiting for the ER physician to discharge him. Five minutes ticked by. Hearing a noisy commotion in the corridor, the curious George peeked out the door. Two hot-dog security guards were struggling with a first responder, one on each side. A robust thirty-something gave the reason for the Philistine dance.

“Jeff, we asked you nicely to leave. You give us no other alternative but to physically remove you from the hospital. You keep it up and Doc will file charges against you. If you had drugs in your pocket, the police would be locking you up in jail. Be glad it’s just Bubba and me.”

Jeff’s face was fire engine red. “Do you guys have any idea what’s going on at County? I need to talk to the Director. There’s some serious crap going on here and it will hit the fan.”

“Jeff, the Director is not here and you’re not talking with anyone. If you promise to leave quietly, we’ll let you go. Don’t make me call the police. If you’re arrested, you will lose your job, your choice. You had better thank, Natas. He let you go with just a warning.”

“Okay, have it your way. I’ll go to the authorities and tell them what’s going on. I’m out of here and you don’t need to follow me.”

The man smoothed his logo jacket back in place and stepped toward the exit. The burly centurions were three-steps behind Vinny’s intuition, which was waving a red flag, something wasn’t right. Grabbing his torn and bloody plaid-wool pullover, Vinny flew out the door and down the hall, hoping to talk with the medic in private. Gut feeling; analyzing the man’s nervousness, he was either demented or privy to wrong doing.

Smacked in the face by the frigid night air, Vinny didn’t feel his wounds. Searching in all directions, the sidewalk was empty. Following an odious cigarette scent, Vinny found nut-job, the nickname used by the other security guard. Approaching the man who anxiously took a drag on the f**, Vinny opened the door to dialog.

“So, what’s your beef with security?”

“Turning his head to answer, “And who wants to know?”

“Pal, you don’t need to show your ass to me. You look like you could use a friend.”

Staring the detective in the face, “I thought Doug was a friend. He turned out to be a snitch. You look like you sleep in the woods. Why should I trust you?”

“I’m not a snitch and I don’t sleep in the woods. What happened?”

“What I know is not open for discussion. Crawl back into your h***, leave me alone.”

“Yeah, you should discuss it with me. I know your boss, Hollingsworth, Alexander Hollingsworth.”

“How would you know Hollingsworth? You don’t work; you’re nothing but a bum. If you’re looking for money donations, I don’t carry cash. Panhandle somewhere else.”

“You got me all wrong. I work cases, a private dick. This is my undercover look. You don’t like it; too over the top?”

Vinny’s comedic response eliminated the edginess of the conversation. “So, tell me what’s going on. Give me your spin on the events.”

Dropping the cigarette into the snow, the paramedic proceeded to vent. “You’re not going to believe what I have to say. There’s no sense in telling you or anyone else. It’s his word against mine.”

“Let me be the judge. What’s your name?”


“How long have you been a paramedic?”

“This was my second night out.”

“Do you know Doctor Carolyn Bolton?”

“Yeah, she’s the Director of the hospital.”

“I’m doing some work for her. I think you may have information I could use.”

“Why would Doctor Bolton need a private investigator?”

“Jeff, you don’t want to get yourself killed by asking too many questions, do you?”

“Not really, I have my own problems. And what’s your name?”

“Sorry, where are my manners. I’m Vinny. Hey, you wouldn’t have an extra smoke? I gave it up for my wife, but after tonight, I need one.”

The trembling man pulled two Camels from the pack, handed one to Vinny, engaged his disposable lighter, and lit the ends. Both men simultaneously took drags.

“You want to hear bizarre, I’ve got a doozy of a story to tell, but no one is going to listen to a lunatic paramedic. Yeah, my supposed-partner called security after Doctor Natas claimed I was searching for drugs in the ER rooms.” The man took a quick puff.

“Were you confiscating for resale?”

“Hell, no – I was verifying that my patient was still alive. I overheard Natas tell the nurses she died. The woman was breathing when she left the ambulance. Her pulse was weak but she had beats.”

“Jeff, maybe she did die. It happens all the time.”

“No, the doctor pulled the plug but I know for a fact she has a pulse. I felt it.”

“What do you mean by, you felt it?”

“Yeah, I waited for Natas to leave and I went in to check-on her.”

“Why would a doctor do this? Isn’t it their responsibility to save patients not kill them?”

“The good doctors are in the business of saving lives. The others, they want body parts.”

“Okay, body parts. What do you mean by body parts?”

“Vinny, I know this sounds incredibly off-the-wall but I’ve been reading on the internet that doctors take organs out of dead people and sell them for profit, especially to foreigner dignitaries who are dying. This is a big window of opportunity to become wealthy. You get some rich bastard who needs a lung, what stops the attending physician from killing a patient who could easily be pronounced dead on arrival without suspicion and then sell his patient’s lung for a million bucks?

“In the states, it could go up for auction on the black market to the highest bidder. Vinny, Doctor Natas is going to remove that woman’s organs, unless someone steps in to stop him. He’s getting his crew together.”

“Did you tell Doctor Natas your theory when he confronted you?”

“I did. I was hoping to scare him. Instead, he had me thrown out by the bouncers, Bubba and Johnny Boy. I think they’re involved in his scheme and so is my partner, Doug.”

Feeling jittery in the cold night air, “Vinny, I need a drink. Is there a place around here where I can get buzzed or is everything closed-up due to the snow dusting? I’m from PA and this storm was nothing compared to what I’m used to.”

“Actually, right across the street, in the back of those stores and offices is a small bar. Only the locals know about it. Did you say anything to her family?”

“I didn’t get that far. I was going to tell Barb’s fiancé, but I was forced to leave. He really needs to know what’s going on but I doubt he’d believe me.”

“You said the woman’s name was Barb?”

“Yeah, I can’t remember her last name but she lives on Thompson Court. Her boyfriend’s name is Steve. He said he was from California. When we got to the house, Doug and I used the paddles and all was good. On the way to County, she died. Doug was driving and I was in the back of the ambulance with our patient. At the stroke of midnight, I looked at my watch; lightning illuminated the sky like the Fourth of July. Right after, thunder bolted. All of a sudden, Barb’s heart started pumping, again. Talk about the supernatural. It was as if God was speaking.

“Vinny, when she flat lined she was jabbering to Angelica and sitting up on the gurney. How do dead people do these things? Doug said it was my imagination. It wasn’t my imagination. She was dead and came back to life. I saw it with my own two eyes.”

“Jeff, what room is she in?”

“Barb’s in the last room in ER, which is Doctor Natas’s domain. They put patients there when they think they’re going to die. It’s easier to get them to the morgue without an audience. One of the nurses, Jenna, told me that. I think she suspects things.”

“Did you see Steve?”

“Yes, he’s sitting in the waiting room. They haven’t told him the bad news. I saw Natas with a needle and I watched him put her out. Barb was talking and he told her to shut-up. Before she could scream, he injected something into the Carotid Artery.”

“Do you got a card with contact information?”

“Yeah, let me get my wallet. Do you think they’re selling body parts?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to look into it.”

“Someone has to stop that psycho and I think there are more people involved. Let me know how you make out.”

Handing Vinny his card, “I need to start moving before my blood freezes. This is pretty damn cold for the South.”

“Jeff, be careful and watch your back. Don’t get wasted - keep a level head. If I get a chance, I’ll come over when I’m done here and we’ll talk more. If I get tied-up, I’ll call.”

Jeff put his hands in his coat pockets, nodded, and was on a mission to find spirits. Vinny hustled into the building with a new agenda - interceding for the dead.

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