an infusion pump

18  

Outside in the parking lot of Highland Memorial, Ian escorts Laura to his truck, nothing said, though she has a million questions and is doubting Ian’s intentions more with every step she takes. Ian is beyond doubt, he knows this is a terrible idea if he had anything to risk, but in that vacancy he reaches the passenger door and opens it for Laura, always the gentleman. Ian mounts as well and once inside he opens the console and pulls out a black bandana.

“I have an unusual request before we go.” Laura doesn’t understand and is becoming more unnerved. “I need you to do this for both of us.”

“Do what?” she says.

“We’re both protected if you don’t know where Doctor Reagan is. I need you to blindfold yourself.” Her courage and his credibility lead to her compliance and they pull out and leave the parking lot of the hospital.

IT’S FASCINATING HOW CERTAIN psychological responses manifest physically. Strong romantic emotion feels as though it emanates from the heart, worry seems to restrict pulmonary capacities, and fear mixed with dread and regret infiltrate the gut, the very feeling Elaine has as she sits in her car on a side street in the Silverado development. She has returned there from the storage unit after giving Detective Alvarez the files and she is waiting for the inevitable consequences that will ripple through so many lives caught up in the common denominator of Doctor Reagan. It is a nausea that culminates in panic rather than vomit, though she would feel better if she could just puke. In her hand is Gray’s cell phone, open and lit. She has to do something to abate this feeling, this drive that makes her want to come apart in this evolving wake of destruction, the ruins of a marriage, the damage of the cover-up, the shrapnel of malpractice, the dissolution of a career. And the babies. And the mothers. And so she presses the send button and the phone dials.

Pam’s phone illuminates and chimes. Its tones barely fill the master bedroom where it sits on a nightstand. Pam is making lunch for one in the kitchen, out of reach from the chimes.

Elaine can’t believe it, baffled that this call goes unanswered. She wells up, breathing shallow and quickly, and redials.

Pam puts away the fixings for lunch in the built-in and pulls out a jug of iced tea unaware again of her chiming phone.

DETECTIVE ALVAREZ IS HAVING LUNCH, too, behind the wheel of his state vehicle. Sandwich in one hand, he navigates a mounted laptop computer with his right, his index finger scooting around and tapping the screen. He has initiated an approved cell phone trace request and types in a number. A blank field fills with Gray Reagan’s name along with a list of recent calls placed and received. He clicks a link on the last call made, a call made just moments ago. The number the call was made to is displayed along with the name Pamela Reagan.

Alvarez has stopped eating at this point and is opening another window on his laptop. It shows the location of the base transceiver station that transmitted the call. He copies that location data and pastes it into another field in another window where a map displays showing the location of the cell tower and its service radius, Silverado, and within it is the address of the Reagan home. He dials Pam’s number on his cell phone and while it rings he clicks on the second most recent call on Gray’s cell phone, this one made to a pay phone.

Pam’s phone lights up again, the display reading Unavailable. It chimes on.

Alvarez’s screen shows a map displaying the pay phone’s location. It’s in the vicinity of a Fort Knox Storage, where he was at earlier this morning. Finally, his call to Pamela connects.

“You’d let me know if Gray called you, right?” he says, no pleasantries. He does not have time nor the tolerance for that right now.

Pam knows the detective’s tone, ”Detective Alvarez?”

“Check your incoming calls,” he says.

Pam looks at the display on her phone and she opens an application. Under “Missed Calls” is Gray’s number. She is taken aback. “He called just a few minutes ago,” she says. 

“That call came from somewhere in your neighborhood,” asserts Alvarez.

On his screen another page opens and shows the location of the base transceiver station that transmitted the call to the pay phone. “And a call was made from the vicinity of the women’s center to a pay phone at a storage unit facility where the office stores their records.” The detective stows his sandwich, starts his vehicle and drives. “He’s out there, Mrs. Reagan and I need you to stay on top of your phone,” and he disconnects.

Pam disconnects the call and then speaks into her phone, “Call Gray’s cell,” and the phone obeys.

Elaine has left the Reagan’s neighborhood and is still in her car now in the parking terrace of the women’s center. Gray’s phone lights and rings and startles her in her escalated state. Pamela shows in its display, her chance to find whatever redemption she may have been looking for earlier. Three rings, four, and then she thinks better of her previous intentions and as the call goes to voicemail she removes the battery from the phone and barely gets her door open in time to lose the contents of her stomach outside of her red sedan.

Ian’s risk in taking Laura blindfolded is compounded at every red light, with every car that passes, any passenger or driver a potential witness, and perhaps that would’ve been the case a generation ago. Few, if anyone make eye contact from car to car anymore and Ian pulls into Fort Knox with his blindfolded passenger and no one is the wiser. He parks in a stall by a dumpster, gets out and goes around to assist Laura out of his truck. Weekdays are quieter than the yard sales and moves of the weekend and this Tuesday is no different. It’s just Ian and Laura in the maze. He escorts her away from the truck by her elbow and he can feel her hesitancy as she becomes increasingly unsure about her situation, cresting into fright and she stops. They’re exposed right in the middle of the lane on the concrete furrow that directs rainwater away from the units. Ian gently negotiates her out of the multiple views of the intersection into the shade of larger units.

“You okay?” he asks.

Laura nods her head and Ian presses on with his escort. The prospect of facing Doctor Reagan still trumps the risk for her. She has laid awake nights thinking about this, about some encounter with the man. She used to involve her husband in the parenthetical circumstance of bumping into him, but Mark’s anger would override any fantasy of facing the one who ruined their lives. Ian stops her. They are at the rolling door.

“Now, Laura, this is going to scare you. Just remember why you’re here.” She covers her mouth, a precaution to thwart the scream that’s building inside her. “I’m going to open a door and it’s going to be loud.” Ian unlocks the door, slides the bolt and quickly lifts the door making a terrific clatter right next to Laura who still has no context of her whereabouts. All she has heard is the sound of the machinery of a nearby car wash. She steps back from the racket of the door and when it stops, Ian takes her again by her elbow and helps her inside, bringing her around to the front of the adirondack. He leaves her there to roll the door shut. The cacophony of the door’s wheels and metal segments rolling in the tracks flanking their entrance stops as abrupt as a noonday sun on a dilated pupil. Her ears ring in the silence and then adjust enough to hear the raspy breath of another person. It’s dark except for the ambient light from around the perimeter of the door and the beam of concentrated light coming through the peep-hole that illuminates Laura on her abdomen.

Gray looks at the visitor. His mouth is still taped. Laura is still blindfolded. Gray inhales through his nose and creates a sound deep in his barrel chest of congestion resonating through wet and raspy bronchi. It is Laura’s undoing.

“Oh, God! Ian? Ian?”

He moves to her quickly and starts to take off her blindfold. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Let your eyes adjust, it’s a bit dark in here.” With the bandana gone her eyes dilate to expose properly for the light in this little chamber and they land on the doctor before her.

“Oh my God. What have you done? Are you -” She stops and takes a harder look leaning into the light.

He is backlit from the door but she can still make out his face. She draws a breath and holds it. The swelling has receded in his eyes, there’s a feeding tube in his nose and dried mucous crusts the duct tape on his mouth. She exhales and takes another breath. His diaper is saturated and it’s not until now that she feels the odor onslaught of old piss, but it doesn’t repel her.

Instead, her fear evaporates.

Ian introduces her. “Doctor Reagan, this is Laura, a patient of yours.”

Gray’s eyes roll over to her. “That was only fourteen months ago, so, surely you remember her, don’t you?” says Ian. Gray’s gaze leaves her eyes and descends, and Laura, calm and deliberate, speaks.

“I brought you a picture you can hang on that wall in your office that has all those pictures of the precious and beautiful babies you delivered.” She holds the image in the light from the peep-hole. The ambient light that bounces off the photo’s surface lights up Gray’s face. His eyes move to it and he looks. It’s a four-by-six photo taken just a week ago, one of a rare smile from this one year-old, gently held by his daddy with an oxygen cannula and a feeding tube in his nose and telemetry on his bare chest.

“We haven’t really had a chance to send you one, we’ve been really busy just trying to keep him alive.” Her face replaces the photo’s position in the light. Ian pulls a can of Ensure out of the backpack and shakes it up.

“You started me on my due date. Four in the afternoon and Mark counts five other moms in delivery. We’d been there since six that morning when you started me. He was so bored he video taped everything.”

Mark’s video, in fact, did show everything, from a very pregnant and tired Laura, to the paper tape coming out of the fetal monitor showing waveforms of heartbeats, to the drip system on the IV circuit that contained the pitocin used to induce Laura’s labor. It also showed Doctor Reagan entering the delivery suite and the first thing he does is cover the camera’s lens taking it to black and the end of the recording.

“Even the drugs you were putting into me.” Ian has attached the cath-tip syringe to Gray’s feeding tube and pours Ensure into it, gravity feeding Gray while Laura continues with her visit. She knows this routine of feeding, so common to her that she pays it no attention.

“From that video they figured I got over ten times the normal amount of pitocin.” Laura leans in close to him, and almost at a whisper as if to hide his little indiscretion, “You didn’t use an infusion pump. They were all being used on other mothers.”

Laura raises the photo of her boy back into the light, now closer to Gray’s face. “The white matter in this little boy’s brain atrophied along with the myelin around his neurons. His brain has a really hard time talking to the rest of his body. Because of you. He can’t breathe on his own, he can’t eat on his own, he can’t use his arms very well, his hips are dislocated from his seizures.”

She holds up another, smaller photograph, one from her wallet, this one of her husband. “This is that little boy’s daddy. His company found a way to force him out of his management position, the medical claims covered by his insurance benefits exceeded a million dollars after the first twelve months.” She retires the picture of Mark. “I guess that became too much to pay. He works three jobs now.”

Ian pours another syringe full and another photo fills the light, this one was taped on Adam’s crib, one of a young girl. She’s happy, wearing a yellow sun dress hugging a dog.

“And this is that little boy’s big sister. She’s three. We had her before we moved to Highland. She spends most of her time at my mom’s.” She hands the photos to Ian. Gray remains fixed on her, stoic.

“We sued you, but you know how that came out, you lucky little dog.” Ian finishes the feeding. He pinches off the feeding tube, removes the syringe and corks the tube.

“All I want-” Laura finds a corner of the duct tape on Gray’s mouth and slowly peels it back, “-is to hear you say you’re sorry.” And the tape comes off his mouth. She waits there, their eyes are locked on each other. Gray opens his lips, emitting a stench that would drive anyone back except for Laura. She leans in so as to not miss the apology. Gray draws a breath with which to speak and holds it. His eyes well up. She turns her face so her ear is closer to his mouth, and finally, forced from his diaphragm, he whispers, “Get me out of here.”

Unsurprised, Ian rips and tears a six-inch length of fresh duct tape off the roll and hands it to Laura. She holds it up to Gray’s mouth and hesitates, giving one last benefit of the doubt about the character of the man in the adirondack, and when the pause remains empty she gently puts the silver tape over his mouth, pressing it on with her fingers, pressing harder as she goes, distorting his face while exhausting what is left of her incredible restraint. Ian carefully tapes the three photographs up on the cinderblock wall next to the Baby Jacobsen file. Laura picks the bandana up off the chair and hands it to Ian.

“I’m ready to go.”

In the Ranger they ride silent. They are far enough away to keep Gray’s whereabouts still secret and Ian reaches over and gently pulls the blindfold down from Laura’s eyes and she squints until they constrict in the afternoon sun, the bandana around her neck. It is now her memento of this very strange afternoon. Ian turns the truck into the roundabout in front of Highland Memorial’s main entrance and comes to a stop. Laura unfastens her seatbelt and looks at Ian.

“Thank you.”

He wants to say it, to tell her, but she puts up her hand to stop him.

“No, stop. It’s okay. It’s okay.” She opens her door and steps out, shuts it behind her and walks away. She knows his reason. She knows it well.

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