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Prognosis

This Chapter is unedited.
____________

CHAPTER 1

Cathy Harris huddled behind the tall form protecting her, her hands fisted and locked in his shirtfront.  She knew she was screaming; she could feel the ache in her throat but her protector seemed to remain silent, his teeth clenched tight against each strike that sent him jerking against her.  Ethan Gaylord’s arms wrapped her head and shoulders, cradling her against the onslaught of bullets chipping stone from the building beside them.  Bits of granite shrapnel stung the back of her neck, her ankles, mosquito bites compared to the greater bite of terror. 

Through the triangle of his body and arms she stared up at his face, at the rigid lines about his mouth and his tightly squeezed eyes.  Blood spurted, hot on her cheek when a shot passed high through his shoulder, his mouth finally drawing open and his head tilting back in a cry of pain she couldn’t hear.  She prayed aloud though she couldn’t hear begging God to intervene and end the torture, to save Ethan from any more of this.  Maybe Ethan could hear her and know she felt his sacrifice in her soul.

Eternity passed before the blows finally ended, his form no longer jolted by unfeeling pieces of lead.  The tense frame relaxed, arms dropping from around her, the lanky body going limp and falling away from her, tumbling hard down the short flight of steps to the sidewalk, long legs sprawled on the stairs.

She scrambled for her phone, dropped in the initial impact of his big body against hers as he covered her against the assault.  “I need an ambulance.  I have an officer down with multiple gunshot wounds.  357 Brownwood.”  She had to push to get the hateful words out, her throat tight and dry, unsure for once how loud or flat her voice was.  The biting fear for Ethan made the faint murmur that was all she’d been able to hear since before her teens unimportant.  She could barely read the responses on the PDA’s screen as the voice recognition program for the Deaf translated sound to type so she could answer the questions from Dispatch.  “Hurry!  Just hurry!”

She dropped beside Ethan, pulling his bleeding head into her lap, unable to let him lie in the snowy street after he’d save her.  So much blood!  It colored the grey snow and ice, stained his white shirt and slate tie, and darkened the camel of his overcoat.

She focused on the faint movement of his lips – so hard to read against her streaming eyes and his weakness.  “Harris.  I’m sorry.”  Eyes the color of the sky reflected in the dark ice beneath him fluttered closed.

“Ethan!”

*          *          *

Cathy pulled the dusky mauve and teal set of scrubs over her head, her stained and bloody clothes already taken away as evidence.  The bandage on her stomach pulled slightly, reminding her of her only injury, one of the small caliber bullets barely able to penetrate her skin after its passage through Ethan’s body.

A tight band settled about her chest, squeezing it.  She had no idea how he was and couldn’t find out.  The nurses and doctors would tell her nothing, treating her as if she were mentally disabled instead of merely deaf.  It wasn’t a new reaction but today it felt particularly galling.

All she needed was a simple update on Ethan.  She wasn’t sure he’d even made it to the hospital alive.  That band around her chest tightened until she could barely breathe.  He’d disappeared into an ambulance, swarmed by a flurry of response personnel, their frantic pace and rapid movements making it impossible for her to follow what they were saying.  Police and fire vehicles filled the street, their acrid exhaust thickening the air, too many people asking her questions without looking at her, making it impossible to read what they were saying.  They moved her further from him with every new ID thrust under her nose.  Moments like these she hated being deaf though she’d long ago become resigned to life without sound. 

Eventually someone hustled her into a squad car for a race to the hospital.  An officer she barely saw had noted the flow of crimson down her dark skirt.  She hadn’t even felt it.

One wound.  One insignificant little hole, the bullet barely beneath her skin, when Ethan was riddled with deep wounds.  Bile, sour and burning, filled her throat.  So many horrible injuries.  She closed her eyes but that only made it easier to see the winter sun on his skin, paler than the dirty snow around them, violent red flecking one cheek and his fair hair, more pouring from him.  How could one man have so much scarlet inside him?  It pooled and steamed in the icy air.  She had to open her eyes to end the vision.

A faint movement saved her from tears or vomiting again.  “Cathy?”  Familiar fingers poked around the door spelling out her name in American Sign Language.

“Zack!  Come in!  I’m dressed.  Oh Zack!”

Zack Wright swung the door open, rushing to clasp her tight.  His chest rumbled, vibrating, and she pushed against the detective.  “Zack, if I can’t see you, I can’t ‘hear’ you.”

He pulled back enough to look down at her, espresso eyes all intense concern, signing a clumsy ME SORRY ME.  Her name in ASL and a few basic signs were all he could manage.  “I just…”  He shook his head.  “I’m just so glad you’re not seriously hurt.” 

Wasn’t she?  Did this numb ache in her soul count as an major injury?  She drew a deep breath of the antiseptic and alcohol tainted air.  “Have you heard anything about Ethan?”

Dorian Elliot made a movement from the doorway, a cough maybe?  She only saw a bit of it before Zack stepped back with a quick, embarrassed jerk as if holding her in a time of shared stress were somehow wrong.  But that was always the way it was with Zack.  He couldn’t admit he had feelings for her. 

It didn’t matter that everyone in the whole police department knew he had a thing for the special liaison that doubled as their ASL translator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.  He had some weird need to pretend he was just her friend and colleague.  She’d given up trying to figure it out over two year ago after deciding nothing was going to come of their mutual attraction.  Zack either couldn’t deal with Deaf culture or didn’t want to.  Either way, he never made a move and her overtures never went anywhere.

She’d discovered, regardless of first impressions, she didn’t need Zack to make her life complete but now the air felt too cold with the departure of his warmth.  It so resembled the warmth she’d felt pressed against her when bullets rent the winter day only to fall away and spill onto the pavement in rivers of scarlet.  Nausea climbed her throat. 

“Do you know anything about how Ethan is?”  Maybe the hospital personnel would tell Dorian something.  After all, he was Ethan’s immediate superior in the homicide division.  And she’d discovered long ago, it was sometimes far easier to get someone to talk to you when you had a badge.

“He’s in surgery.  And probably will be for some time.  That’s all I know.”  Dorian’s quiet calm eased some of her illness and his words even more.  The big Southerner signed part of his comments though he knew she didn’t need that since she was an expert in reading lips.  Courteous to a fault, that was Dorian. 

She focused on his wide, mobile lips, far easier to read than his somewhat clumsy attempts at American Sign Language.  “He’s alive?  He’s going to be alright?”

Dorian held up a gentle, restraining hand.  Beneath the Peter Pan fašade with his face-splitting boyish grin and big baby blue eyes, he’d always been the kindest member of their unit.  “He’s alive.  Other than that, we just don’t know.” 

Zack leaned against the teal Formica of a counter filled with the confusing paraphernalia of the medical world, his heavy, nearly black brows drawn together.  He crossed his muscular arms, putting up yet another barrier between himself and his colleagues.  “What happened?  You two were only out running down some pretty standard follow-ups on the Maquire case.”

Cathy nodded.  “It was standard.  Just everyday things.  We rang the bell at Vincent Harrington’s apartment but there was no answer.  Harrington is Hard of Hearing and so we waited longer than usual in case he had to notice a warning light for the doorbell.  But he either wasn’t home or didn’t want to answer us.” 

She could see it all still, a video loop running over and over in her head.  “Eventually Ethan headed down the steps to go to the car.  I followed but a blob of snow fell off the pediment and right down my front so I was shaking it out before it could melt into my blouse.  I was looking down so I don’t really know what happened next.  Just that suddenly Ethan was pushing me back against the door to the apartment house and covering me.”  Sheltering, his body a wall between her and death.  “I realized someone was shooting at us then.  I could feel the shots hitting him.  We were trapped against the wall of the entrance and the door and couldn’t get down out of the line of fire.”  The horror of those endless moment rose up, choking her.  “The bullets just kept hitting him and hitting him.”

Dorian’s hand covered hers.  “Easy, Cathy.  You’re going to have to get used to telling this over and over.  Every cop and investigator involved in the case will want to hear your version.  You know that.”

She nodded.  “I’ve already told it five times.  It doesn’t get any easier.”  The anguish inside only grew, strangling her.  “He saved me, Dorian.  He could die because he was protecting me.”

The other cop took her hand.  “We’re family, Cathy.  That’s what we do.  It doesn’t really surprise me that one of us would lay down their life for another of us.”

Astonishment lit Zack’s darkly handsome face.  Clearly he felt all the surprise Dorian didn’t.  He shook his head just the tiniest bit.  “Even Ethan?”

Something wistful passed over Dorian’s strong boyish countenance.  “Especially Ethan.”

*          *          *

Cathy appreciated the quiet of the hospital chapel.  Hour after weary hour of telling the same thing over and over to each investigator involved in trying to figure out what happened exhausted her.  But they at least kept her from sitting clueless waiting for some word on Ethan.  There should have been news.  His parents and sister must almost be here from New England by now.

She bowed her head, voice and fingers both speaking her prayer.  “Lord, please keep Ethan safe.  Hold him close and give him comfort.  Take away as much of the pain as You can.”  She opened her heart, giving all her fears to God, leaning on him.  “I know You show Your love and grace to everyone but he deserves Your mercy.  He’s a good man.”  She gave that up to the Lord as well, surrendering all to His care.  She rested, safe in that Embrace as she had so often.

So many times she felt God was her only friend while growing up Deaf in a Hearing household in a tiny Midwestern town.  She’d turned to Him when an infection took most of her hearing.  Even at twelve years old, she knew He would give her strength and help her.  And He had.  Between God’s love and her mother’s insistence that Cathy could and would live on her own terms, she’d managed a good and fruitful life. 

Her mother refused to let a teenage Cathy retired from society, from public school.  Oh, the battle Momma waged to have a teacher brought in who could help.  God had come through then, sending Sandra Morrison who became both teacher, interpreter, and mentor for Cathy.  Profoundly Hard of Hearing herself, the teacher insisted Cathy learn to read lips as well as learn ASL.  She insisted Cathy wouldn’t be cut off from Hearing people who couldn’t sign and wouldn’t be forced to have them write everything down just so they could communicate.  Without Sandra, Cathy would never have had the courage to head off to college someplace as big and exciting as D. C. could be. A graduate of Gallaudet University, Cathy’s degree in criminology led her to seek a job in the area surrounding the college for Deaf students.

But it was her father who led her to law enforcement.  That sense of wonder and comfort she’d felt when she’d sat in his patrol car still filled her when she walked into a police station.  She felt at home there even when there were stares and jokes and hard words because she wasn’t just like everyone else.  

Ethan had been like that.  Not cruel or mean but certainly overly truthful about his misgivings of some of her abilities.  Translation was perfectly acceptable and even welcome, riding in a patrol car to audit how the officers dealt with Deaf and Hearing subjects was a totally different matter.  And Ethan never failed to express his opinions with sometimes brutal honesty.

The sun cast patterns of bright color from the stained glass of the windows on the pew in front of her.  A cart with an off-center wheel thumped down the corridor.  Cathy wished someone would come and let her know how Ethan fared.

She smiled remembering Zack’s confusion when she told him she much preferred Ethan’s attitudes to the overly protective, overly sheltering ones of colleagues who then whispered the same concerns Ethan had to each other.  “He never lies or goes behind my back.  He’s never hypocritical.  He treats me just as bad as he treats everyone else.”  Zack still had no idea just how refreshing that could be.  Ethan made no allowances at all for what others considered her disability.  In his mind she was just the same as the officer with allergies who consistently sneezed.  He didn’t care about the allergies unless the sneezing affected the job.

“Cathy?”  She looked up when Dorian knelt before her, touching her arm, unsure how much time passed while she prayed and reminisced.  “There’s news.  It isn’t very good.  Ethan came through the surgery.  His injuries were bad but survivable.  But he won’t wake up.  They’re running all sorts of tests to see if it’s a coma or something else.  They’re concerned about a head injury.  It looks like he cracked his skull badly when he fell down the steps.”

“Dorian?”  She couldn’t ask the full question.  Fear clamped tight fingers around her throat.

Grief clouded his bright blue eyes, drawing age lines around them.  “Right now, if nothing changes, if they can’t wake him up, he ahm…, he probably won’t make it.”

Her teeth drove little points of pain into her lip.  She bowed her head again, an ache in her chest nothing would erase.  “Show Ethan Your mercy and care.  Hold him tight in Your arms and let him know Your love.”  She gulped back a sob.  “And if You have to take him away, give us the strength to bear the loss and be with us all.”  Dorian’s hands closed over hers.  “And if You could, give him some place with a garden.  He loves gardens.  He deserves that much.”

Dorian lifted her face so she could ‘hear’ him.  “Amen.”

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Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.