UNTIL THE BELL TOLLS
CHAPTER NINE: THE BELLS BEGIN TO RING
With Connor still latched to her like a lamprey, Erica followed the paramedics and a police officer into the ER, barely listening as the paramedics started rattling off information to the doctor and nurses who came to greet them. Erica simply watched as the doctor, a young looking Asian woman, ran a light touch down the rope burns on Connor's arms and then brushed back his hair so she could see his face. When the paramedics finished talking, the doctor's sharp eyes shifted to look up at Erica.
"You a relative?"
"I found him," Erica replied, not sure what else to say.
"He in protective custody?"
"Yes, he is," answered the uniformed officer.
"We're still searching."
The doctor pursed her lips, and looked up at Erica again.
"Well, I'm not going to be able to examine him like this. Follow me—we'll take him up to the fifth floor." She looked at the nurse hovering nearby. "And get me everything you can on him. If he's been a patient here before, I want his pediatrician up there as soon as possible."
"Yes, Dr. Nguyen," the nurse said, already hurrying off. The doctor jerked her head at Erica and the officer with her and strode away at a fast clip. Erica hitched Connor up higher in her aching arms and followed the doctor in the direction of the elevators.
The ride up was short but almost oppressively silent, Erica wincing as Connor hugged her neck so tightly it had begun to ache in time with her arms. When the doors finally opened with a soft "ding", Erica couldn’t hide the relief on her face. She saw the officer smile gently at her, clearly sympathetic, and Erica flashed a crooked smile in return.
Dr. Nguyen turned left briskly upon exiting, not even looking to see if they were following. Erica, though, found herself hesitating when she spotted the word "psychiatry" on the sign opposite the elevator, grimacing slightly. It made sense, of course, but….Shaking her head, knowing there was nothing else to be done, she hitched Connor up a little higher and followed the ER doctor's lead. The officer stayed by her side the whole time, not saying a word, just offering silent support, for which Erica was grateful.
A few feet from the doors leading into the psychiatric wing, the sound of someone running caught her attention, and she turned to see a young blonde woman in a white coat legging it towards them from down the corridor, her eyes bright, followed closely by the nurse from down in the ER.
"Connor?" the new doctor called as she reached them. "Connor?" she tried again. "Do you remember me? I'm Dr. Reeves. I saw you a few weeks ago. Remember?"
The boy looked up, and his eyes widened. Suddenly he was twisting out of Erica's arms and throwing himself at the pediatrician. She gasped as she caught him, his arms now around her neck as he started to bawl, all the tears he'd obviously been holding back exploding out of him at the first sight of someone he knew. Dr. Reeves closed her eyes and held him close, before looking up at Erica.
"Thank you," she said, smiling at her.
Erica could only nod in return, trying to pretend that it didn't hurt to let him go. Her arms, aching before from the weight, were all but screaming in pain now, and her chest burned with a sense of loss she didn't know she could feel for anyone's child other than her own.
Dr. Reeves' smile faded, and she looked at Dr. Nguyen who was now standing next to Erica. "Thanks, Jane. You can head back down." She looked at the other people around them, which now included several people from psychiatry. "Could someone show me to an exam room?"
Erica backed up as Dr. Reeves walked past, the pediatrician still holding a sobbing Connor as the group pushed through the doors into the psychiatric wing. The police officer hesitated at the doors, watching Erica.
"You coming?" she asked.
Erica shook her head. The officer nodded, understanding on her face, and pushed through the doors after the others.
Like a dam breaking, Erica's world blurred suddenly, her legs feeling like jelly.
"Whoa," Dr. Nguyen said, taking her arm. "Okay, okay, this way."
She was led to a set of seats against the wall and sat down.
"Sit here a minute. I'll be right back."
Erica could only nod, tipping her spinning head back against the wall and closing her eyes. She took in a couple of deep breaths, wanting to get her equilibrium back.
And then something odd happened. Below all the usual hospital smells of cleaning solution and antiseptic, she realized that she could smell fresh paint. The odd part was that, rather than ignoring it, her mind seemed to deliberately accentuate it. It reminded her of something.
At almost the same time, she felt something cool pressed into her hand and she opened her eyes. Dr. Nguyen smiled back.
"Water," she told Erica. "You're probably a little dehydrated, Detective."
Erica blinked, not about to correct that assumption. She lifted her hand and the cup that had been pressed into it, taking a long sip, the water tasting like heaven as it slid down her throat. She became so focused on it, she forgot what she'd been about to ask.
"Thank you," she said, smiling in return as she handed the now empty cup back.
"I'm Jane," the doctor said, sitting down next to her. "And you?"
"Well, Erica, from the looks of it, you went above and beyond today. I hope you caught the monster that mistreated that little boy."
Erica just smiled more, nodding as she tipped her head back again, her attention drawn to the sign on the wall opposite. "We did, though we're still…." She stopped suddenly as one of the names of the doctors listed on the wall under the Psychiatry sign stuck out like a sore thumb.
"Detective? Is something wrong?"
"Dr. Clement Madison works here?" Erica asked, standing up, all sense of exhaustion disappearing instantly. Dr. Nguyen frowned, but stood up with her.
"You know Dr. Madison?" she asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Erica replied. She turned to look at the doctor. "Does he work here?"
"He has an office here, yes. It's just down the hall. What's this about?"
"Who does he treat?"
The doctor was frowning deeply now, and she crossed her arms. "Certain specialty patients. Why—?"
Dr. Nguyen frowned, but gave a nod. "Yes. That's his primary role here. Now what is this about?"
Erica gritted her teeth briefly. "Take me to his office and I'll tell you."
"You don't look much like a con to me," Dominick Hughes said, leaning back on his cot, his scraggly blondish hair sticking to his head. "No cuffs. No cop hovering. No nothing." He lifted an eyebrow. "Kinda makes you sound like a liar."
"You're not understanding this at all, are you?" Shea said, propping his feet up on the cot, the ancient metal chair squeaking. "I'm beginning to think you're a lot dumber than Peters gave you credit for."
Hughes's eyes narrowed slightly at the mention of Bill Peters. "I don't understand how a con can walk around a place like this as if he owns it. Unless, he's not a con."
"Same way I can get a case of beer sent to the boys on C-Block, or quadruple an inmate's time out in the yard in the spring, or…." He shrugged, smirking slightly. "Smuggle a girlfriend into a guy in solitary for an unsanctioned conjugal." He put his hands behind his head. "Same way I can help you. I make deals."
"Who says I want one?"
"Please," Shea said. "Considering how spectacularly you fucked up this whole bombing thing, you're going to need one. You're just damned lucky Peters, as backwards and racist as that motherfucker is, had the intelligence to beg for my help. It's not like he could go to White Sun again, now, could he? So he came to the one person he knew White Sun wouldn't already control." He drew a line slowly down his face. "If you get my drift."
Hughes's expression hardened, hesitating a little too long before asking, "What are you talking about?"
"Wow, really? This is that hard for you to get?" Shea sighed. "Right now, you're fucked. I know it, Peters knows it, everyone in this building knows it. The minute you tried to bomb a school, you became Guantanamo fodder. They're going to send you there to be water-boarded for the rest of your life. And because of that, you've fucked Peters over as well. They know you'll be screaming White Sun's name before you even touch down in Cuba, and he'll be dead within the week. Unless…" Shea arched an eyebrow. "You work something out with me."
Hughes blinked once, slowly. "What school?"
Shea rolled his eyes slightly. "Christ, you really are dense." He put his feet down and leaned forward on his knees, fixing his eyes on Hughes. "Fine. Let me lay it out for you, so there are no more misunderstandings. They found all nine bombs, Dom. The one in Perrytown, the ones here….You shouldn't have made your trail so easy to follow, or made your kid and ex-wife so easy to find." Shea pursed his lips. "Seriously, that big fancy brick house in Perrytown? Sort of obvious, wasn't it? If you'd used one of the uglier metal bungalows, it might've made it harder to find him."
Hughes blinked slowly again, his face tightening. "You're lying."
"You told your son that he was going to be you, now. Does that sound like I'm lying?"
Hughes's shoulders dropped, turning his face away as he whispered, "how could you have possibly…?"
"Look, I'd bring the boy here to prove it to you, but you know they're never going to allow it. He's out of your control now, just like your ex. Probably should have been a little less obvious with her as well, I mean, why that place? It just screamed 'kidnapped woman here.'"
Hughes's expression was hard. Finally, he turned his head. "It had the best view."
"I suppose. But don't you think the building next to it would've been better? Less conspicuous."
Hughes frowned, looking back at Shea. "The bank? Why would…." He stopped instantly, his eyes widening. Then he stood up, his lips curling into a sneer.
"Well done," he said quietly. "But that's all you're getting out of me. Get out."
Shea pursed his lips and stood up as well. "I can make life easier for you, Hughes. Trust me. If you just—"
The building suddenly came alive with bells, the fire alarm blaring into every corner. Shea turned to look at the door, just as the cop appeared in the opening, calling a "10-4" into the radio on his shoulder before looking at them both.
"Time's up!" he snapped. "We're getting out of here."
"Why?" Shea asked.
"Someone's called in a bomb threat," the cop answered, stepping into the cell. "We have to evacuate the building."
Shea took a step closer to the door, "But—"
Hughes's shout was blood-curdling as he slammed into Shea, knocking him to the floor before driving himself into the cop. Shea scrambled, trying to get his bearings despite smacking his head, but before he could even get up to his knees, Hughes was on top of him again, slamming something hard across his face.
His last view was of Hughes firing the cop's gun brightly and loudly into the corridor, before the world faded to black.
Charlie arrived at the police station just as the fire alarm started blaring in the massive building, the lights automatically turning on brightly in every window. Pulling into a space off to the side, he frowned as people started streaming out.
He snagged the arm of one of the officers jogging past.
"You see the U.S. Marshals come out? Zancanelli and the others?"
The officer just shook his head. "No, sir, sorry. They must be still in the basement." When Charlie frowned and started to jog towards the door, the cop yelled, "Sir! You can't go inside! There's been a bomb threat called in!"
"No shit," Charlie called back. "I'm the one who called it in."
He was on the steps when he felt himself grabbed from behind, and pulled back. When he turned, it was to see a very large looking fireman looking down on him, still gripping his arm. As he was trying to figure out if he could take him, Sergeant Vega appeared from behind the fireman, buckling on a vest.
"Can't let you go in, Marshal," she said, her expression apologetic. "You're too late."
"Madison was kidnapped?" Dr. Nguyen repeated, sounding a little dumbstruck. "Are you sure?"
"Oh yeah, we're sure," Erica replied, following the other woman around a corner through the psychiatric wing. "Tell me, if he has an office across the street, why does he have an office here?"
"Many of our psychiatrists are in private practice, but the hospital contracts them for specialty patients, like prisoners. Here we are." She stopped in front of a closed office door, several names listed on the nameplate, including Madison's. The smell of fresh paint was much stronger here.
"Was it painted recently?" Erica asked as she tried the door. It rattled—locked.
Dr. Nguyen shrugged. "I don't know, but if it was, he's lucky. I've been trying to get the admin staff to paint the office I share downstairs for years." She frowned as Erica knelt down to look more closely at the lock. "Look, I don't know if you're allowed in there. There are private medical records inside." Her frown deepened as Erica stood up again and took a step back. "Look, you're going to need permission to—" She squeaked as Erica suddenly slammed her foot against the door next to the lock. "You can't!" she cried as Erica kicked at it again. "Get someone!" she shouted then, probably to someone down the hall, but Erica didn't care, aiming one more kick right at where she figured the sweet spot was. "You have to stop," Dr. Nguyen begged.
"Too late," Erica replied as the door swung open, the frame and lock completely done in.
Walking inside, the smell of fresh paint was almost overwhelming, but only because two cans were open and sitting off to one side on a tarp. Ignoring those, Erica moved over to the desk, while Dr. Nguyen hovered close behind, the doctor looking briefly in confusion at the paint cans before returning her attention to Erica.
"I must insist that you stop this immediately, Detective," she begged. "Please. This is illegal."
Nothing on the desk looked damaged, so Erica turned and looked up at the bookshelves behind. Nothing obvious there either.
"Did Madison treat his prisoners up here?"
Nguyen frowned. "No. Never. Prisoners are always isolated down in the basement. He goes to them. What are you looking for?"
Erica paused, taking that in, her mind racing. Shaking her head, she fumbled for her cell phone and dialed Julianne's number. Oddly, it took a few rings, but the other woman finally picked up.
"Erica," Julianne greeted, her voice sounding strangely subdued, almost sluggish. "What can I do for you?"
"I need you to find out if Hughes was ever hospitalized here, and in what room. It'll be down in the basement where you are."
"Okay, give me a moment."
Erica returned to looking around the room, looking behind papers piled on top of cabinets and underneath furniture.
"He was admitted not long after he was first arrested ten years ago," Julianne said, her voice still subdued. "Treated down here in just a couple rooms down from this one by…huh, Dr. Madison."
"I need you to go to the room he was in."
"Why?" Julianne asked, sounding a little more alive now.
Erica had turned to look at the opposite side of the room, the side with the paint cans. It was then she spotted the thing that was out of place. "Hang on," she told Julianne. Lowering the phone, she pointed to the filing cabinet off to the side, at the bottom drawer. There were files stacked up next to it.
"Dr. Nguyen," she asked, "does the lock on that filing cabinet look jimmied to you?"
Nguyen breathed out heavily. "I don't understand…"
"What's going on in here!" a strident voice demanded, and Erica glanced over her shoulder at the police officer that had arrived here with her. Behind her, a nervous nurse hovered, trying to see over the officer's shoulder.
Erica frowned at the cop. "This is Dr. Madison's office here at the hospital," she said quickly. "You know about Madison going missing, yes? And what we found in Dominick Hughes' truck, like the painter's uniform?"
The police officer's entire demeanor changed as she understood what she was being told. Erica gave a nod, and then pointed to the filing cabinet.
"That lock's been jimmied."
The officer looked at it, then at Erica, her eyes wide now. Swallowing, Erica moved slowly over to the cabinet and knelt down.
"Uh, doc," the police officer said then, "you best come outside, get behind me."
Nguyen hesitated, but did as ordered, moving past the officer to stand in the hallway with the nurse. As soon as she was gone, Erica reached down and took hold of the drawer handle. These things were not meant to be sensitive to gentle movement or cell phone frequencies, but….
Very slowly, she opened the drawer and looked inside. The bomb stared right back at her, armed red light lit.
She put the phone next to her ear.
"Julianne," she said, her voice barely a whisper. "Hughes bombed the hospital."
Shea blinked awake slowly, briefly confused about what the hell was going on. Then, without warning, something hot and metal was pressed against the side of his head.
"Stand up," Hughes ordered. "Nice and slow."
It wasn't like Shea had much of a choice, even if the world was tilting along both the vertical and the horizontal as he slowly got to his feet.
"I got a hostage!" Hughes shouted out the door, yelling to be heard over the still blaring fire alarm bell. "You put your guns down and raise your hands, or I blow this guy's head off!"
Shea grimaced, feeling like a fool as he was pushed out the door of the cell and into the hallway, the gun never leaving his temple. He stepped gingerly over the unconscious cop on the ground, frowning a little at how easily Hughes had managed to get the man's gun off him.
Ray, Officer Samuels and one other cop stood on the other side of the closed cell gate, their hands all visibly empty and away from their sides. Their guns were on the cement floor.
"What do you want, Hughes?" Ray asked.
"First," Hughes said, "I want these damn alarms shut off. Second," he pressed the gun deeper into Shea's skull, "I want to know where my son is."
Ray frowned, and looked at Shea briefly before returning his gaze to Hughes.
"Your son is safe. That's all you need to know."
Hughes snorted a laugh. "Not what I asked. Where is he?"
Ray hesitated a moment, before shrugging. "He's on his way to the hospital, to be treated for burns and dehydration and who knows what other abuse you inflicted on him, you son of a bitch. Now let him go."
"Not happening. And I want my son brought here, to the parking lot. Now. I want him to see what's about to happen."
"See what, Hughes? See what a total loser you are?"
"I want him to see me bring this place down! And you, and every other cop with it."
Ray huffed a laugh."You really think that's going to happen?"
"I do if you don't want me to kill your friend here."
"He ain't my friend."
"He's not lying," Shea said. "I hate that guy."
"And I don't care. You're still both cops, and cops protect cops."
Shea almost laughed out loud, feeling the irony like a knife. "I already told you, I'm not a cop, I'm—"
"Shut up!" Hughes yelled, the arm he'd thrown around Shea's chest tightening. "I'm not listening to you!"
"Then listen to me, Hughes," Ray said. "He's telling the truth. He's not a cop. You want a cop, you take me. Let him go."
Shea could feel Hughes's smirk, even if he couldn't see it. "You really think I'm going to buy that?"
"I think you want to punish cops, not cons. I'm offering an even trade, his life for mine. Whaddya say?"
Shea just breathed, staring hard at Ray as they both waited for Hughes's answer. Ray simply met his gaze.
"I say," Hughes said slowly, "that I think you're full of shit. You're all full of shit! And I'm sick of being lied to!" All of a sudden, the gun was gone from Shea's head, and he could see it clearly, pointed over his shoulder at Ray, firing loudly in the enclosed space at the unarmed men on the other side of the gate. He acted without thinking, grabbing at Hughes's extended arm and pushing out at the same time as he stomped on Hughes's foot. The man yelped, loosening his arm around Shea's chest, giving him enough room to elbow Hughes hard in the gut and then grab at the gun with both hands, twisting and wrenching it free of Hughes's grasp.
Hughes fought back by shoving Shea to the ground, and when Shea turned over, gun pointed at where Hughes had been a moment before, it was to see the fugitive pelting down the hallway away from him towards the back of the building. Shea fired a couple of shots, but both missed as Hughes ducked and disappeared around the corner.
"Fuck!" he snapped, rocking up onto his knees, and still pointing the gun down the corridor, just in case.
"Hell!" Ray swore. Shea twisted to look back at them, and hissed. Samuels was on the ground, holding a bleeding shoulder. The third cop appeared to have disappeared, probably to get help. Ray looked fine, but he was red-faced, rattling the cell-like bars of the gate and glaring at the lock. Or what was left of it.
"Bastard shot up the lock," Ray said. "The door's stuck." He looked at Shea. "Think you can stop Hughes on your own? He's gotta be going for the bombs."
"Bombs?" Shea repeated, getting to his feet, his head spinning slightly. "You saying the bomb threat…?"
"Yeah. Lloyd figured it out. Crazy motherfucker planned to blow up himself up down here. But if you're fast enough…" He frowned then. "No, wait, what am I saying? Look, if you don't find him fast, you get the hell out of here." Ray looked down at Officer Samuels, who was growing paler by the moment. "There's another way out, yeah?"
Samuels gasped slightly, but nodded. "Yeah. Round the corner. First corridor on the left. Exit's at the end. There's signs."
"Any cell doors between there and here?"
Samuels shook his head. "They'll be unlocked. Automatic when the fire alarm goes off."
Ray nodded and looked back at Shea. "You don't see him before he gets to wherever he planted his bombs, you get out. Find Charlie. Okay?"
Shea frowned, but nodded. He looked down at the gun in his hand, and then jogged over to hand it through the gate's bars. Ray shook his head emphatically.
"No, keep the gun. You might need it."
"No way," Shea said, shoving it through. "Not after what happened to Lloyd."
"That was a mistake. It won't happen again."
"Don't promise something you can't, Zancanelli."
"Yeah, but think a minute. What if Hughes stashed a gun down here somewhere? He's gonna—"
The alarm squealed painfully high as the power went off suddenly, pitching them all into complete darkness and, just as quickly, complete silence. Shea and Ray both looked up at the dead lights overhead, and then towards the emergency lights—neither came on. The only light came from Samuels as he flipped on the flashlight attached to his uniform.
Something metal groaned from the direction of the stairs, and another groan came from somewhere behind Shea.
"Shit, shit, shit, the doors!" Samuels shouted, pointing his flashlight at the stairs. "Catch the doors!"
"What?" Ray said. Slowly but certainly, the barred doorway on the stairs had started to close, the metal groaning as the mechanism released. Which meant the one at the end of the corridor of cells behind Shea was also closing—his only way out!
"They lock when the power goes down, to prevent escapes!" Samuels said. "You have to—"
Shea was no longer listening, already running away from them down the corridor, reaching down to grab the nightstick of the unconscious cop on the ground, and just legging it the rest of the way, trying to get to the gate before it cut him off from a way out. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had to run this fast, legs cramping, lungs aflame….A few feet away, he jumped and slid the rest of the way, slamming his leg into the closing door, sending shockwaves of pain up and down his shins and thighs. He sat up and jammed the nightstick under the door, wedging it as tight as he could.
The door groaned louder, the mechanism fighting the obstruction. Shea swore, praying for the stick to hold…and, eventually, the groaning stopped; the door remained propped open, just wide enough for a body to slide through. Blowing the air out of his cheeks, head pounding hard enough it felt like it was trying to break his nose from the inside out, Shea looked back over his shoulder.
Ray had had slightly less luck—he'd used his body to keep the door open, and as the cop shone a light on him, Shea could see the bloodstained jeans. The wound from last night must have reopened. Ray was panting, holding the door in place with sheer brute force.
"I need something to hold it open!" Ray called. It was sort of useless, since Shea was trapped on the wrong side of the gate, and Samuels didn't look like he could move, even to toss his own nightstick over. They were all essentially stuck until someone came down to rescue them. Shea sighed. Grunting slightly, he regained his feet, stumbled into a wall, and managed a sort of limping jog back to the barred doorway separating him from Ray and Samuels.
"Guess we're back to Plan A," he said as he leaned against the cool metal, raising his voice a little so Ray could hear. "Stop Hughes or get blown up."
"Yeah," Ray said, though it came out like a groan.
Shea smirked slightly, and then turned to walk to the unconscious cop on his side of the gate. Blinking back the pain, he knelt down and pulled the flashlight and radio off of his jacket. The guy was still breathing. Somebody else to save, and a cop no less.
"Have I mentioned how much this caper sucks, Ray?"
Shea stood and focused on Samuels, who was so white, he almost glowed. "How many more cell doors between me and the exit?"
The cop grimaced. "Just one."
"But it'll be locked now."
Samuals nodded. "Yeah." He frowned. "I'm really sorry. But…maybe that means Hughes's trapped too…unless he's the one that caused the blackout. Maybe he didn't have time to get to any of his bombs?"
"We haven't blown up yet," Shea said, snorting slightly. He checked the radio, flipping it on briefly—he instantly got chatter, someone talking about evacuating the building. He grimaced and switched to a different channel. This one was quiet.
"I'm using Channel 2," he told them. "Do me a favor and tell no one else to use it." Samuels just gave a nod, a shaking hand fumbling for the radio on his vest. Shea stuffed the radio in the pocket of the jacket he was wearing. He then tucked the gun behind his back and held the flashlight up to point down the corridor that Hughes had run down.
Really nothing else for it now. Feeling a little like he was walking to his death, he started moving down the corridor.
"Shea, wait," Ray called, his voice strained.
He stopped and turned, looking over his shoulder. "What?"
"I'll find you another way out."
Shea smirked. "You better."
"And…" Ray frowned. Finally, he said, "Be careful."
Shea snorted. "You owe me huge for this, Zancanelli. And I'll be collecting, believe you me."
"I know," Ray called as Shea started jogging down the hall away from them both. "And I'll be waiting. Right here."
Continue to Part Ten
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