Hello, friend. Interested in stealing a child from a hospital to save her life? Somewhere near the midpoint of my book, I show how…Enjoy!
Ruby continued to interrogate Dr. Dorian. Charles tapped away at his screen and listened.
“So what will her treatment regimen be, at the CDC, I mean?” Ruby pressed.
“I can’t speak to that. I’ll be honest, when the CDC takes over, everything goes classified. Off the record…she’ll be studied inasmuch as she will be treated. My guess is that they will stabilize her and try to test the capability of this technology. I’m sorry.”
“She’s a small child. That’s not right. We have to get her out of here.”
“We already have the NOPD guarding her door. It’s CDC protocol. You did the right thing bringing her here. You should take Mrs. Michaels home so she can get some rest. An official will be in touch with her when more is known about her condition.”
“Wait, her mother won’t be going with her?”
“I’m sorry. To reduce the risk, family members are not allowed to accompany the patient.”
Dr. Dorian looked at his device and swiped a few icons. “I have to go. I have other patients. Good luck.”
Ruby plopped down in a waiting area chair and slumped over, her elbows on her knees. Charles sat beside her.
“Listen. We need to get Diana out of here right now.”
“Where would we take her?”
“This may sound a little – twitchy, but -I know the guy who designed the virus…or at least something like it. Just talked to him. He said he could help. He knows how to fix her. We have to get her to a dead zone.”
Ruby turned her head, spinning her messy, aqua pig tails, to see Charles.
“So, let me get this straight. You want us to break her out of here – Illegal. Take her to a place called a dead zone –Scary. So the guy who made her sick can work on her some more – Horror. Movie. Are you insane?”
“Ruby, we don’t know each other that well, but you can trust me. You do trust me, right?”
“Well, I don’t think you are a bad person or anything, but I don’t think taking her to a Leecher is a good idea. Diana could die. We could go to jail. This whole thing is bad.”
“What options do we have?”
Precious walked in, cloaked in an invisible cloud of nicotine and ash, through the front entrance. Her face stained with tears and sadness, she collapsed in the chair next to Ruby.
“Thank y’all fo bringing us down here. She doing better now but doctor say they gon take her away. Why they gon take her if she doing better?”
Ruby replied with deep breaths to find an air of solace. “She is very sick, Precious.”
“I don’t trust these doctors, wanting to take away my baby girl. They got a policeman at her door. I don’t like the poe-lease telling me I can’t see my baby.”
Charles got up and knelt on the floor in from of Diana’s mother. He took her hands in his.
“There’s another option. I know where we can take her to get her healthy.”
“Ain’t dis a good hospital?”
“Yes, Precious, but…”
“Where you want to take her? To see a new doctor?”
Charles looked at Ruby as he spoke, “He’s not a doctor,” scratching his head, back to Precious, “he’s more of a scientist. But this thing that’s wrong with Diana is his specialty.”
“Charles, you a good man. I know you do her right, but how we gon get her outta here?”
“Sit tight. I’ll be back,” Charles stood and turned his attention to Ruby. He motioned for her to follow. “Walk with me.”
“I’m still not comfortable with this, Charlie,” Ruby said. Charles laced his arm in hers and pulled her along.
They took a quick pace through the swinging doors and made a lap around the nurses’ station. Bustle and commotion engulfed the octagonal arrangement of standing desks anchored by a multicolored jumbo-tron of patient specifics hanging from the high ceiling. Radio chatter from incoming ambulances and the distant sound of a crash cart in use took up the spaces between voices. Eight hallways of rooms jutted from the center allowing doctors and nurses to navigate oncoming traffic with the efficiency of a roundabout.
“Diana’s room is down that hall,” Charles whispered as he walked and pointed with his elbow, “See the officer sitting on the bench? He’s your mark.”
Under agitated breath, Ruby asked, “My mark? What do you expect me to do?”
“You know, smile. Chat him up. Distract him so I can sneak Diana out, and her mom into that room. We can stuff Precious in the bed. Might buy us some travel time.”
“Chatting is one thing. He’s right by the door. I don’t know about this Charlie.”
“I have faith in you. I’m going to bring Precious up to speed and pull the van close. See you in five.”
Charles left Ruby standing in the nurses’ station among the blurs of scrubs and white coats. We are Diana’s only chance. She spotted the staff break room at the end of the hall opposite Diana’s, and like she owned the place, walked through the door. Nurses sat at a round table, eating and gossiping. Ruby walked past them undetected, hoping to find a dressing area where she might borrow a disguise.
Around the corner, she hit pay dirt with rows of lockers split by a wooden bench. At the end, a large cloth hamper on wheels overflowed with dirty scrubs. She looked to make sure she was alone, and dug in to find a suitable doctor’s coat. Padlocks hung on many of the cabinets, but an unsecured cubby housed a stethoscope and clipboard. Ruby was set. As she walked past the mirrors on her way out, her reflection caught her eye. You look ridiculous. Out came her contacts and on went her glasses. She pulled her blue hair back and formed a sensible pony tail. The lab coat covered most of her ink, but rose petals and ivy still showed. With a big exhale, she blew a dangling tendril from her forehead. A doctor can have blue hair, right?
Ruby peered around the doorjamb from the breakroom to watch the cop as he sat on the bench. He was a large man, greying and with a kind face. His hands sat clasped on his belly while he watched the goings on of the busy hall. Ruby needed an excuse to pull him from his post. Give me a sign. She watched. The officer picked his nose. He checked his phone. He wriggled a finger in his ear and then smelled it. He rubbed under his chin and scratched his scruffy five o’clock shadow. Glands. That will have to do.
Ruby looked to make sure Dr. Dorian wasn’t around. She navigated the path around the hub to Diana’s hall, looking busy and down at the clipboard to avoid discovery. Two nurses sped past her in a rush. One slowed and spoke to her.
“Doctor! We have a code in 319.”
Ruby froze and fidgeted.
“Doctor? Code in 319!”
She felt a hand on her shoulder. A smooth male voice said, just above a slow whisper, “First day?” She spun around, startled.
“Um, yes,” avoiding eye contact, “still trying to figure out where everything is.”
The owner of the hand was a tall thirty-something doctor with blonde hair and a strong jaw. He seemed to use every muscle in his face to form a comforting smile. He eased a velvety but firm command at another passing physician to handle the code in 319. Ruby let out a breath of anxiety and pulled in another.
“I’m Dr. Post. Zigmund Post.”
Ruby let slip a nervous chuckle.
“I know,” he added, “my parents hated me. You are?” He extended his hand.
“Dr. Ackerman. Ruby. Hi.”
“Welcome to Charity Hospital. I’m guessing you did your residency at…”
With a quick inventory of known hospitals, Ruby blurted out, “Tulane. I’m sorry….I need to get to my patient. It was nice to meet you.”
Ruby scurried toward her destination and the doctor beckoned, “Wait.”
She stopped near the triage area and turned. That’s it. I’m done. Do I run? No. You can get yourself out of this. Oooh, he is pretty though. Focus, Ruby!
“Dr. Ackerman?” The doctor began on the tail of a light jog, “Would you like to grab some coffee after your shift? I could show you around.”
Yes. Yes I would love to, you big beautiful man.
“Um, I would love to…but…I can’t.”
“Some other time, then.”
Dr. Post finished with the same nice smile and disappeared down one of the hallways.
“Guuurrrl!” From behind the counter, a nurse addressed Ruby with a tick-tick and a head shake. “I see you playin’ hard to get wit Dr. Post. You go girl.” She winked at Ruby and went back to her task.
Ruby shook loose the fantasy brewing inside her brain and got back to work. Charles emerged from the waiting room with Precious and they took seats on a bench down the hall from Diana’s door. Ruby walked past the sitting policeman and pretended to stop in her tracks with surprise on her face.
“Excuse me, officer.” She stood over him and waited.
“I hate to be presumptuous, but have you had that knot on your neck looked at? I noticed it when you came in.”
The officer scratched his scruff again and nodded left and right. “I didn’t know I had a knot. What do you mean?” The officer stood.
“May I?” Ruby reached to touch his throat.” Excuse the cold hands. Any history of cancer in your family?” She held eye contact with the man, hoping he failed to notice her black framed glasses had a pink Hello Kitty on each side.
“Cancer? Well, some yeah. Why?”
“Open wide. Say Ahh.” Ruby looked in the man’s throat. “Hmm. Let’s get you in some better light.”
“I can’t leave. We have a quarantine here.” He thumb-pointed over his shoulder.
“This will take one minute,” Ruby said with authority.
She dragged the man, by his uniform shirt, into the next room and clicked on the lights, propping the door open. She stood behind him, on a stepstool, and felt of his glands like her doctor did during a routine exam. She turned him with his back to the open door and had him look at the ceiling while she felt around. Nodding at Charles, who appeared in the hallway, she asked the man to swallow and kept the exam and conversation moving.
“Any fatigue? Soreness? Trouble finding the will to get out of bed in the morning?” Don’t over sell, Ruby.
“Doctor, I feel fine.”
“Can’t be too careful.” Ruby grabbed the otoscope from the wall mounted rack and fumbled with the power button before clicking it on. She looked into one ear, then the other.
“I’ve never seen a doctor with blue hair – and tattoos. What is your name?”
“Ackerman. Dr. Ackerman. Okay, well you have some gland swelling. You should get it checked out with your internist.” She clicked the instrument off and the officer walked back out as Diana’s door came to rest on its latch. He took no notice and sat back on his bench. Ruby walked with a wide gait down the hall, to the waiting room and out the front vapor doors. Charles waited in the van. She opened the passenger door expecting to hop in and found little Diana in the seat. Ruby scooped her up, sat down and shut the door with the girl on her lap. Rex howled from the back and Charles sped off.
“What a performance, Roobs,” Charlie said, “You are full of surprises, today!”
“Thanks. How long till we get to where we are going?” Ruby read the thermal strip on Diana’s wrist. “She still has a one-oh-two fever.”
“We gotta cross the lake and find my friend, Ethan. He will take us where we are headed from there. Maybe an hour or so.”
Ruby shut her eyes and cradled Diana as she slept.