MATT HUNTER WOKE UP.
Olivia's face was there.
There was no question that this was real. Matt didn't have one of those moments where you wonder if it's a dream or not. The color was drained from Olivia's face. Her eyes were red. He could see the fear and the only thing Matt could think- not about answers, not about explanations- the only thing he could think clearly was, "How do I make it better?"
The lights were bright. Olivia's face, still beautiful, was framed by what looked like a white shower curtain. He tried to smile at her. His skull throbbed like a thumb hit with a hammer.
She was watching him. He saw her eyes well up with tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I'm fine," he said.
He felt a little la-dee-dah. Painkillers, he thought. Morphine or something similar. His ribs ached but it was a dull ache. He remembered the man in the hotel room, Talley, he of the blue-black hair. He remembered the paralyzing feeling, the dropping to the floor, the brass knuckles.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Emergency room, Beth Israel."
He actually smiled. "I was born here, you know." Yep, he was definitely on something- a muscle relaxant, painkiller, something. "What happened to Talley?" he asked.
"He ran away."
"You were in his room?"
"No. I was down the hall."
He closed his eyes for just a moment. That last part did not compute- she was down the hall?- so he tried to clear his mind.
He blinked a few times and tried to refocus. "You were down the hall?"
"Yes. I saw you go into his room, so I followed you."
"You were staying at that hotel?"
Before she could reply, the curtain was pulled open. "Ah," the doctor said. He had an accent- Pakistani or Indian, maybe. "How are we feeling?"
"Like a million bucks," Matt said.
The doctor smiled at them. His name tag read PATEL. "Your wife told me that you were assaulted- that she thought the perpetrator might have used a stun gun."
"That's good, in a way. Stun guns don't leave permanent damage. They only temporarily incapacitate."
"Yeah," Matt said. "I live under a lucky star."
Patel chuckled, checked something on the chart. "You suffered a concussion. The rib is probably cracked, but I won't know that until we do an X-ray. It doesn't matter much- bad bruise or break, you can only treat it with rest. I already gave you something for the pain. You may need more."
"I'm going to keep you overnight."
"No," he said.
Patel looked up. "No?"
"I want to go home. My wife can look after me."
Patel looked at Olivia. She nodded. He said, "You understand I don't recommend this?"
Olivia said, "We do."
On TV, the doctor always fights the "wanna-go-home" patient. Patel didn't. He simply shrugged. "Okay, you sign the release forms, you're out of here."
"Thanks, Doc," Matt said.
Patel shrugged again. "Have a nice life then."
"Are the police here?" Matt asked.
"They just left, but they'll be back."
"What did you tell them?"
"Not much," she said. "They assumed it was some kind of marital spat. You caught me with another man, something like that."
"What happened to Cingle?"
"They arrested her."
"She drew her gun to get past the clerk at the front desk."
Matt shook his aching head. "We have to bail her out."
"She said not to, that she'd take care of it."
He started to sit up. Pain tore down the back of his skull like a hot knife.
And he was. He'd been beaten worse. Much worse. This was nothing. He could play through it. He sat all the way up and met her eyes. She looked as if she were steeling herself for a blow.
Matt said, "This is something bad, isn't it?"
Olivia's chest hitched. The tears welling began to escape. "I don't know yet," she said. "But yeah. Yeah, it's pretty bad."
"Do we want the police involved?"
"No." The tears had started running down her cheeks. "Not until I tell you everything."
He swung his feet off the bed. "Then let's hurry the hell out of here."
Loren counted six people on line at the ER reception desk. When she cut to the front, all six grunted their disapproval. Loren ignored them. She slammed her badge down on the desk.
"You had a patient brought in here a little while ago."
"You're kidding." The woman behind the desk looked up over the half-moon reading glasses and let her eyes travel over the packed waiting room. "A patient, you say?" She chewed gum. "Gee, I guess you caught us. We did have a patient brought in here a little while ago."
The line snickered. Loren's face reddened.
"He was an assault victim. From Howard Johnson's."
"Oh, him. I think he's gone."
"Checked himself out a few minutes ago."
"Where did he go?"
The woman gave her flat eyes.
"Right," Loren said. "Never mind."
Her cell phone rang. She picked it up and barked, "Muse."
"Uh, hi, are you the policewoman who was here before?"
Loren recognized the voice. "Yes, Ernie. What's up?"
There was a low moan. "You have to come back here."
"What is it? Ernie?"
"Something happened," he said. "I think… I think he's dead."