Detroit Present Day
Tom went into work that evening with mixed emotions. He walked up the stairs from the underground parking garage and paused at the door to the first floor lobby. His hand reached for the security pad and stopped. Tom just didn’t want to risk bumping into any of the administration that might be leaving as he was coming into work. He knew that they would have words of advice for him that would be worthless. He also knew they would be sizing him up. Seeing if he had what it took to take on a case like this.
Tom looked up the stairs and began to climb. Each step echoed in the hallway. He allowed his mind to focus on the sound. Up five steps, turn left, up six steps, turn left, repeat, repeat, repeat. The monotony was a comfort to him. He felt the tension leave as if it were anchored to the ground floor. The floors fell away from him turn by turn. His shoes made a scratching noise on the safety tape on the lip of each step.
His focus seemed to spiral inward until he could only hear the sounds of his shoes and his labored breathing. He felt his heart beating in his ears. His vision also contracted until he only saw the steps directly in front of him as if through a small tunnel.
It was between the fifth and sixth floor that the attack began. The voice in his head was below a whisper but he heard it nonetheless. Before it registered in his conscience, his subconscious mind was processing the words, formulating the concept, analyzing the results. The voice blocked some of the processing and a faulty reasoning began to build. The voice intensified until it became audible in Tom’s mind. His conscience mind then began the task of processing, formulating and analyzing the words. It compared the conclusions to those arrived at by the subconscious mind and found a jarring difference.
Tom’s conscious screamed at him and pointed out the inequities in his subconscious analysis.
Tom awoke to the realization that he was under attack. He looked frantically around him and found that he was alone. The stairwell was empty. He was facing the center of the stairs, looking at the floor several flights below him. The height and the effect the spiraling stair rails made Tom dizzy. Both of his hands gripped the railing fiercely, his knuckles were white beneath the strain.
His left foot rested on the rail.
Tom screamed and pushed himself away from the rail toward the safety of the wall. He slipped and lost his footing. Falling down, he twisted his ankle and slammed his shoulder into the wall. Sliding down the wall, Tom landed awkwardly on his back. He slid head first down several steps, each jarring blow banging the back of his head into the polished surface of the steps.
His head bounced off a step and thudded dully onto the landing of the fifth floor, pushing him toward unconsciousness. His vision continued to spin as he lay still on the landing. The cold surface of the floor seemed to anchor his awareness, but he felt himself being pulled toward oblivion. His eyes were open as his vision once again tunneled. Just before he lost his awareness, he thought he saw a figure floating above him, reaching for his chest with mist-like fingers.
“Mommy, what is daddy doing right now?” Samuel asked as he was being tucked into bed. This was a standard question for the 6 year old. Every night that Tom was at work, Sammy asked the same questions.
Mindy answered her son’s question the same way each night. “Daddy is at work. Let’s pray for him.” And mother and son would pray for Tom, weaving their requests like strands.
Michael, listening in upper bunk bed, would pray along with his mother, but he would add a phrase he had heard his dad pray once. Michael had been sick and had held a fever for several days. He remembered waking up one night, trembling as his little body fought the infection. His dad stood next to the bed, leaning on the safety rail of the top bunk, praying on behalf of his son. Michael did not remember much of that prayer, but he remembered that his father had asked God to heal his son, and that at all times, Michael would feel the comfort and closeness and strength of the God of the universe.
Michael prayed as his dad had taught him as he prepared to go to sleep, adding his own strand to those of his mother and brother, twining a strong cord that was laid at the feet of Jesus to use as He saw fit.
As Mindy turned off the bedroom light and closed the door to keep the hall light from their eyes, Michael turned over and snuggled into his blankets. He whispered “Amen” just as his eyes closed in sleep.
Tom regained consciousness slowly. He felt like he was rising through layers of darkness, passing levels of intensifying brightness toward his body. He looked up and saw himself in the distance lying on the floor, his head surrounded by a pool of congealing blood, his legs twisted and bent. The sensation of rising great distances made him slightly nauseous, but he also felt a great calm.
His eyes fluttered and squinted against the light. Tom slowly went through the process of determining what hurt and why it hurt.
He noticed the throbbing pain at the back of his skull. It thrummed in his head, reverberating off his forehead and bounced back and forth. The waves of pain formed nodes of anguish that sloshed around in his head when he moved. ‘I’ll move real slow’ Tom thought through the pain.
He felt the floor beneath his hands and concentrated on the cold seeping into his flesh. He slowly untwisted his legs and tried to straighten out his right arm. The stabs of pain that ripped through his shoulder stopped the movement in an instant. Tom did manage to roll slightly to his right so that his back was flat on the landing. His legs and feet were straight by this time, although they were still on the stairs he had just fallen down. Tom’s mind cleared enough to realize that a head injury required the head being slightly elevated above the feet. He picked out a point where the handrail and post met. Studying this geometric shape didn’t require analysis or decision-making. It was simply something to look at. His focus brought the pain in his body under some semblance of control and he began to move.
Tom dropped his feet to the next step and used his left foot to push against the riser. Inching his body toward the wall of the landing, he felt his shoulders and back slide through something slick. He repeated the process by pushing against the next step. By the third time, his head was at the wall, and Tom prepared to raise his head to prop himself against the wall.
Fresh waves of pain pounded in his head. He closed his eyes against the pain and saw flashes of light. His ears were ringing with several different tones. He opened his eyes to get his bearing because his head was spinning, up and down were rotating on an axis of about 30 degrees.
Slowly, Tom pushed himself up the wall in the corner of the landing. Using both walls to brace himself, Tom tilted his head back and, exhausted from the pain and effort, passed out.
“How long’s he been here, you think?” one voice asked.
“I don’t know, what am I, a doctor?” the other voice answered.
“What do you think? Should we move him?”
“I don’t think so. He must have whacked his head pretty good. Look at that blood! Gross!”
“Well, I’m going to get some help. I don’t want to get blamed for this. Look. The steps are dry. I didn’t spill anything to cause anyone to slip. You make sure and tell anyone who asks. It wasn’t my fault this guy is so clumsy he fell down the stairs!” The cleaning lady kept talking as she palmed the security pad and called the security detail for the building. “It’s bad enough I got to clean this stairway every day without something like this happening!”
The security staff called for an ambulance and Tom was rushed to the hospital. The cleaning crew estimated that Tom could have been lying there for as much as half an hour.
The medical personnel of the emergency room at Detroit Receiving Hospital now surrounded him. Wires and tubes were stuck on and into his arms and chest and head. The swelling in his ankle was being ignored for the moment. More important problems had to be solved first.
“Do we have anything on this guy?”
“Nothing yet. He’s a cop. We’ve requested health records. They should be here in a couple of minutes.”
“B.P. is stable but low….heart rate is 82 and weak.”
“Respiration is shallow.”
There was a scuffle in the hall.
“Hey! Who are you? Get him out of here! Only authorized medical staff is allowed in here!”
“I’m just a photographer. I’m just doing my job! C’mon. Let me see the guy. Just one pic. C’mon.”
“Get out of here now or I’ll call hospital security! Move it! Move it now! All right, Mr., that’s it! Mr. Strong, Mr. Strong, please report immediately to emergency room 3. Please bring Mr. Volt. Repeat, please bring Mr. Volt!”
“Pulse is slowing, respiration is stronger.”
“Where is he?”
“That’s the guy, right there with the cheap camera. Says he’s a photographer for some news outlet.”
“Hey! What do you guys want? You don’t need that. C’mon, let me go! I was just leaving. Hey! Don’t…don’t plug me in! You’ll fry me!”
“Keep it down out there! If you’re gonna cook him, do it in the security room. Just get him out of here!”
“EEG is normalizing. Coming into norms.”
“His med history is in. All looks normal. No meds, no alarms, no indicators, no drug or synth use, he doesn’t have computer implants, so no Touch, no psych work, no stability issues. This guy is ‘bell-curve’ normal. Well, except for this.”
“O.K. people, keep the fluids going, lets bring the B.P. up just a bit and see if the heart rate reacts. Keep the head elevated, watch the intracranial pressure.”
“It’s just a note to keep an eye on this guy. Apparently, he is doing some kind of investigation. Let’s see… yeah, here it is. It seems that today’s contestant, Mr. Tom Cort, ‘… is lead investigator on the Schaller case. Watch for outside influences acting against the better interests of the department.’”
“Wow! He’s working on Schaller? That’s gotta be some kind of pressure! Big profile case like that.”
“O.K., he is coming into line. Keep the ‘A’ crew in here, ‘B’ crew can go prep the area for the next lucky contestant. Somebody contact his NOK?”
“Yep. The wife is on her way.”
“He’s married? All the good ones are taken!”
“Knock it off. O.K., move him to the floor and turn the recorder off. Pull and destroy all meds and tools opened here. Lock the card. Pull the data file. Link to audio. Duplicate to my records and then send original to storage.”
“Anybody seen my coffee?”
“No one would take your coffee! It’s more like sludge!”
“You drink your coffee your way, and I’ll drink it my way.”
“You can’t drink that stuff! You need a knife and fork!”
Tom awoke to the sound of laughter fading down the hall as he was rolled toward his room. His head hurt. Pain pounded against his skull and moved from his ears to his eyes to his neck. He opened his eyes just long enough to see a face look down at him. A voice floated to him saying, ‘You’ll be fine, Mr. Cort. You just close your eyes and rest.’
He did rest. Thirty-six hours later, he woke up. Mindy was sitting by his bed, trying to grab some sleep in an uncomfortable position. Tom watched her as she slept. He saw her beauty, joy, and goodness through the pain in his head. As he thought about his head and why it was hurting so bad, he remembered the stairway. He remembered standing at the railing, willing himself to move away from the vortex that tried to pull him to his death. He remembered falling backward and striking his head and back on the steps. He gasped as he remembered the hand reaching toward his chest.
Mindy heard him and woke up. Instantly awake, Mindy leaned over and cupped her hand on Tom’s face. “You’re back.”
Tom tried to smile and found that it aggravated his headache. “Yes”, he croaked out. “Water, please.”
Mindy reached over the bed to hold a sipper to his lips. She noticed the effort it took to drink a few drops of water. She felt the tears well up again. Tears of fear, joy, relief and worry pushed toward release, but she fought them back and put on a show of strength for Tom.
“Go ahead, Mindy, let it out. Spend the emotion now so you can help me later.”
Mindy’s lips quivered into a smile just before she burst out crying. Tears fell in silent rivers down her cheeks. Tom watched with love and squeezed Mindy’s hand in reassurance.
“I’m sorry” Mindy said several minutes later. “I was trying so hard to be brave and strong for you.”
“You are brave, and you are strong. But I know what you have been dealing with. That knock on my head hasn’t shaken that ability. Now you are better. Your mind is clearing and you are beginning to assess what is needed to help me convalesce.”
“I’m still not used to that.” Mindy said with a small smile. “I’m not sure I like it. I will have to be very careful around you.”
“Mindy, we have been so close for so long that I kind of knew all this about you before I …”
Tom stopped and looked around as much as his hurting head would let him. “Are we alone?” he asked.
“Yes. But I don’t know for how long. They just worked on stabilizing you. You will get more treatment now that you are awake.”
“Tell them about my right ankle and shoulder. They both hurt.”
“They knew about the ankle, it swelled up pretty well, and it turned such interesting colors! I’ll ask them to check your shoulder as well.”
Tom lay still, looking up at his wife, his friend, and smiled. ‘What a sight!’ he thought to himself. ‘What a way to wake up.’
“What? What are you thinking? C’mon, Tom, this is not fair. If you can …”
“Shhhh” Tom interrupted. “Don’t let too much information out of the bag. It might come in handy later on.”
Mindy looked confused, but she looked all around her and nodded back at him. “I’ll be quiet about that,” she whispered. “They told me to let the nurses know when you woke up. I’d better do that.”
“Talk to Henry. Ask him to keep that info to himself for awhile, O.K.?”
Mindy smiled as she stood up and kissed Tom on the forehead.
“Oh. Do that again!” Tom almost pleaded.
“Kiss my forehead. For that instant, my headache eased. Try it again!”
Mindy straightened up and leaned over the bed again. She let her kiss linger on his forehead, just where his worry lines began.
“Oh, yeah.” Tom sighed. “If you could bottle that, we’d be rich! Thanks.”
“You are more than welcome, husband.”
Tom closed his eyes as Mindy left the room. He already felt like he had put in a full day’s work and needed some rest. Just as he was slipping back into sleep, the door opened and a nurse entered with a cart full of instruments, meters and vials, and all thoughts of sleep were pushed aside as the business of analysis and healing continued.