"What is that?" asked Albertson.
"That's Henry. He started doing that when Sabrina went down. Let me change phones," said his captain.
A few seconds later he was in the office. "Listen, Albertson, is Hank Stanley there by some chance?"
"Uh, yeah, but I don't think he's in any shape to talk right now."
"I understand. But someone's got to call Kentucky and brief Sabrina's family. They and Hank's wife have been
calling here looking for answers, and I haven't anything to tell them. The race was nationally televised, and they're
hysterical. The media keeps calling them, too. What's going on over there?"
Albertson took a deep breath. "As you know, Brin's dead," he started.
"I gathered as much."
"Stoker had an apparent MI at the track, coded once on the way in, and has coded once since we've been here."
"I really wish I was."
"We're coming over," said the captain. "We'll be over after I call HQ."
Albertson hung up the phone only to find three little girls standing behind him. The three--a blonde, a brunette,
and a red-head--wore t-shirts saying "Sabrina's Posse," blue jeans, and bandanas around their necks. A galloping racehorse
with jockey was in the middle of the t-shirt design.
"May I help you?" he asked.
Their faces were very solemn. "Sabrina's widower is dying, isn't he?" said the red-head.
Albertson shifted and nodded. "Eh, yeah," he said. He half-pointed at their shirts. "What's a 'posse'?"
"The 'posse' is the group of horses making a last charge down the homestretch after the leader," said the blonde.
"Sounds appropriate," said Albertson. "I guess you're also wondering about your friend."
"Yes, sir," they said.
"Have a seat, and I'll check for you."
"Thank you, sir!"
The three girls turned to go back to their seats. The brunette had "Katrina" on the back of her shirt; the blonde,
"Ophelia," and the red-head, "JoRita."
After Dr. Morton came out to talk to Cassie Lou's advisor and friends, Albertson returned to 51's crew. He crouched
down in front of Cap.
"Someone needs to call Sabrina's family. . ."
"Oh, no," Cap groaned. "I'll go call my wife."
The grounds of Rampart were soon filled with city, county, and volunteer firefighters, both on and off-duty.
Those of faith were on their knees in the grass, in a circle, hands joined, heads inclined.
One of the off-duty firefighters found Dr. Brackett.
"We're flying a priest in from Oakland who has a reputation for being a healer," he said.
"At this point, anything's a 'go'," said the physician.
At 8:30 pm--three hours after Sabrina's demise--the door of Treatment Three finally opened. Mike was wheeled out
with a plethora of monitoring equipment accompanying him. A respirator tube was secured to his mouth with tape.
Aside from the obligatory EKG leads on his chest, he also had EEG leads attached to his head.
The Posse left Cassie Lou's treatment room. They gasped when they saw Mike, and hurried to his side.
"Please don't die, Mike!" pled Katrina.
"Sabrina wouldn't be happy if you died, too!" exclaimed Ophelia.
"You need to stay here with us and tell us about her!" said JoRita forcefully.
"GUURRUULS!" groaned their mortified advisor. "Where are your manners?!"
"That's quite all right," said Dr. Brackett. "We need all the help we can get right now."
After Mike was settled into the Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Brackett briefed the crew.
"My one fear was that he would flat-line," said Roy.
"He did flat-line in there."
"'I wanna be with her, damn it,'" Johnny interpreted.
"Mike's literally dying of a broken heart, and there's absolutely nothing I can do to help--medically speaking--except
keep him comfortable. He's in a deep coma right now, and as you can see, is on a respirator."
At 9:30 pm, a tall, older priest with balding head, very kind eyes, long grey beard, and flowing black cassock was
escorted to Mike's bedside by Dr. Brackett.
"You don't mind if I watch, do you?" he asked.
"Not at all," said the priest. He inclined his head and shut his eyes. He then raised his left hand and arm
straight into the air, and placed his right hand on Mike's head. Mike's entire body twitched. The priest then
brought his hands back to a prayerful attitude. He turned to Dr. Brackett.
"Done," he said.
"That's it?" asked Dr. Brackett.
The priest closed his eyes and nodded once.
Dr. Brackett showed him out to the hallway, then started asking questions.
"Do you know if he'll come out of this?"
The priest pointed toward ICU with his left thumb. "That man does not want to be here. If he has not
awakened in 24 hours, he never will."
"Do you know who shot his wife?"
The priest crossed his left arm over his stomach, rested his right elbow on it, and taking a thoughtful posture,
closed his eyes.
"Sore loser," he started. "Of the seven great vices, sloth is not included in this case. And a huge
amount of money exchanged hands."
Dr. Brackett nearly choked. "A paid hit?"
The priest nodded. "Now I must be going. I have the earliest Mass in Oakland tomorrow morning." He
muttered a blessing in Latin and made the Sign of the Cross toward Dr. Brackett and the ICU. He rounded the corner,
then poked his head back around.
"Oh, and a little friend named Dixie says hello," he said.
Dr. Brackett fell back against the wall, dumbfounded.
A few minutes later, Cap was allowed a five minute visit with his nephew-in-law.
"Stay with us, Mike, please!" Sabrina's uncle implored. "I know it's hard dealing with her departure, but we're
all in this together. Please stay with us!"
Cap and crew then settled into the ICU waiting room for the night with pillows and blankets provided by the hospital.
Dr. Brackett had told them about the priest's prediction and the three clues.
"This is going to be the longest twenty-four hours of my life," Johnny said, putting his face in his hands.
The others muttered agreement. A snore filled the air--Cap had already passed out on his pillow.
Dr. Brackett stopped by Mike's bedside one more time for the night. "Any change?" he asked the nurses.
"The brain waves have slowed down slightly," one reported.
Dr. Brackett checked his watch on the inside of his left wrist. "Ten thirty. He may be in a sleep cycle now.
Just keep an eye on it. I'll be crashing on my couch in my office tonight."
"Yes, doctor," they said.
Twelve hours later, there was still no change in Mike's condition. His crewmates were still in the ICU waiting
room, though Marco was catching Mass in the hospital chapel. The waiting room TV was on.
"Still no word from the sheriff's office as to who could've gunned down jockey Sabrina Stanley-Stoker in yesterday's
million dollar Southland Derby at Paradise Park Race Course. The track remains closed today while officials continue
conducting their investigation. They ask that anyone with any information on this case to please call. . ."
"A million dollars, huh?" Roy thought out loud.
"Of the seven vices, sloth is not included in this case," recalled Johnny.
"Man, someone really wanted some dough," pondered Chet.
"And she was on the favorite," Cap said hoarsely.
"She was?" said the other three.
Cap nodded slowly as he looked askance at them. "Yep. Ersatz Vermillion was 7-2 at post time." He picked
up the sports section of the newspaper a Pink Lady had brought them. Blazed across the front page was:
JOCKEY QUEEN ASSASSINATED!
"Oh, my God!" Cap exclaimed. "Would you look at this?" He held the paper up for them to see.
"Jockey Queen Assassinated?" they read, incredulous.
Cap read through the front page article. "Little does anyone realize that jockey Sabrina Stanley-Stoker had the
best record of any woman thoroughbred rider in the world. She was, by far, the jockey queen, and she has now been
assassinated. For what reason is anyone's guess at this point in time."
"And now live from Rampart General Hospital is Ling Ling. What's the situation there now?"
The TV shot changed to an Asian woman reporter with a sea of humanity behind her.
"Who are all those people?" asked Cap.
"Hi, Marty. The hospital spokeswoman stated a couple of hours ago that there has been no change in Engineer Stoker's
condition, that he is still listed as 'very critical.' As one of the firefighters here stated, "Romeo and Juliet
is great in the theater, but stinks in real life."
"That looks like a huge crowd back there, Ling Ling. Any clue as to how many people are there? And who are
"Believe it or not, Marty, just about everyone you see out here is a firefighter, whether it be for L.A. City, L.A.
County, or any number of volunteer departments in the area."
The camera panned, showing a various assortment of fire apparatus parked at the curbs--and a lot of people.
"Police are estimating at least a thousand are here to show their solidarity with their fallen brother. And don't
forget, Sabrina's uncle is her husband's captain, so they're out here to support him, too, in these most bizarre circumstances.
Back to you, Marty."
"Thanks, Ling Ling."
Without saying a word, Cap, Roy, Johnny, and Chet bolted for the door.
At 8:30 pm, Dr. Brackett came up to the ICU. One more hour, he thought, trying to stay positive.
He checked in at Mike's bedside. No change.
"I'll be in my office," he told the nurses.
At 9:15 pm, Cap started pacing the floor.
At 9:28 pm and thirty seconds, Mike felt something like rolling fire go through him, starting at his feet. His
chest felt as if an elephant was sitting on it; his head felt as if it had exploded. He moaned.
He heard someone pushing some buttons. "Dr. Brackett, ICU stat!" said a female voice.
"Dr. Brackett. . . ICU stat. . .Dr. Brackett. . .ICU stat" paged the hospital operator.
Mike felt a rush of air in his throat and tried to swallow. He panicked when he couldn't.
"Mike," said the nurse, "You're in the hospital and you have a tube in your throat. Breathe with the tube."
Once he cooperated with the respirator, he opened his eyes and got a "What am I doing here?" look on his face.
"Are you in any pain?" asked the nurse. Mike pointed at his chest and his head.
Dr. Brackett came barrelling through the door.
"MIKE! Oh, thank God! We thought you'd gotten away from us for sure."
"He's fighting the respirator, Dr. Brackett," said the nurse. "And he says his chest and head are hurting."
"Please call the waiting room desk and let them know he's awake," Dr. Brackett ordered.
"Yes, doctor," said the nurse.
With such news, Gage ran outside, climbed up onto Engine 51 parked in the parking lot, raised both fists and yelled,
"HE'S AWAKE!!!" to the crowd. A massive cheer went up.
Wow, the truth hurts. . .