P.S.I. Part II -- The Thaw

Chapter 12 -- When the Fat Lady Sings

Home | Chapter 1 -- The Dead Eyes of the Prophet | Chapter 2 -- Rooster & Mundelein | Chapter 3 -- Where's Mike? | Chapter 4 -- The First Visitation | Chapter 5 -- Two Bridegrooms and a Baby | Chapter 6 -- Adding Emeralds to Sapphires | Chapter 7 -- Body Memory | Chapter 8 -- "I Wish You'd Take Better Care of Him!" | Chapter 9 -- Farewell, Big Red | Chapter 10 -- The Real Brin | Chapter 11 -- As Newfangled as Pringles | Chapter 12 -- When the Fat Lady Sings | Chapter 13 -- The Video, The Article and The Interviews | Chapter 14 -- Letters | Chapter 15 -- The Thaw | Chapter 16 -- Where She Walked | Epilogue | Author's Notes | Soundtrack

Betsy walked into Mike's room the next day, only to see Marco's bed made up; staged at the highest position; and the overbed table over the foot.  She drew a sharp breath and tried not to cry.  Mike was visibly upset, but didn't notice her until she was next to his bed.
She expected him to look at her, but instead he looked away.  Then she noticed that his hair had been cut down to a burr.
"Mike?" she asked.  "What's wrong?  Where's Marco?  What happened to your hair?"
"Just the worst day of my life ever," he cried.  "Marco's on a resperator in the ICU.  I had my hair cut because it was bugging me."
"Well," said Betsy.  "At least he's alive.  At least you're alive."
"Alive?  I might as well be dead."
"What happened?" she asked as she sat on his bed.  Then her conversation with Dr. Brackett flashed before her eyes.  "Does this have something to do with your job?" she heard herself say.
He cried harder and louder, which nearly took her by surprise, and hit the bed with his right fist, nearly hitting her.  He looked toward the window.  "What I wouldn't give to be able to turn over!"
Betsy took his hand.  "I understand," she said.  "How did you find out about your job?  What were you told?"
"Some nurse asked if I had figured out what I was going to do once I got back on my feet.  I told her I was going to go back to driving.  She said something about how that wasn't going to be possible because of my fractured pelvis.  I asked her what she meant by that, and she said I was going to be disabled because of it."
Betsy leaned over so her face would be over his when he turned back to her.  "Mike," she whispered.  He turned his tear-stained face to her, and she surprised him with a kiss.  When she lifted up, she said, "Dr. Brackett had asked me to talk to you about that, since it affects me more directly than anyone else, aside from yourself."
She could see the stress leave his body.  "I really wish I had heard it from you," he said.  Then he scrunched his face again and shut his eyes.  "You're not going to leave me over that, are you?"
"No, of course not!" she said softly.  "Now is the time when we need each other the most.  Is there not something you could do at the fire academy?  Or I can take you back to Kentucky with me, and I'm sure Dad can use some help around the Fire Department.  You don't have to curl up and die because of this, and I'm not going to let you, either."
Mike could feel her compassion sink to the depths of his heart, and for the first time in so many days, actually felt a glimmer of hope. 

They nuzzled faces.  "I still want to drive, if there's any way possible," he said.  "Please, Betsy--help me drive again!"
Betsy searched herself for the right words.  "You put everything into your recovery now," she said.   Then she remembered the words she'd once seen on a plaque.  "'If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back to you, it's yours.  If it doesn't, it never was,'" she recalled.
He'd heard that saying before.  He also couldn't believe the conclusion he was reaching.  He put his right hand on her face.  "As long as I can be with you, I'll take anything that comes my way."

She put her hand to his and smiled.  "That's my boy. You have to grieve the changes in your life just like Marco has to grieve the loss of his eyesight.  Nothing's ever going to be the same again.  Think of the jockeys and other backstretch workers who end up parylized and can't ride or work anymore.  Everybody I know in racing has an orthopedic surgeon on their list of doctors."
The door opened, and Sharon Walters walked in.  "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" she asked.
"Is it about Marco?" they both asked.
"Actually, it is," she said.  "He woke up just before the end of my shift."
Mike and Betsy both breathed a sigh of relief.
"I was really, really worried about him," said Mike.
"Marco's tough," said Betsy.  "Takes a lot to knock him down."
"Did they ever find out what was in the syringe?" asked Mike.
Sharon came closer to the bed.  "I'm really not supposed to tell, so this has to stay between us," she said softly.  "Another nurse had been assaulted before your incident, and her syringe stolen.  It had been meant for an elderly woman smaller than Marco."
"What was it?" they asked.
"A barbituate.  But he received that on the heels of a pain injection, and that's why he went into respiratory distress."

The next day, Betsy was minding her own business as she walked down the Shed Row at the track.  She saw something jump out from the end of the barn, and a dust cloud flew into her face.  She started coughing, but could feel her lungs closing up on her.  She dropped to her knees, hand to chest, and gasped for air.  Her lungs started acting like they were vomiting, but she was producing clear, odorless fluid.  On the way to Rampart in the track ambulance, the paramedic told her she was having an apparent asthma attack, and promised track security would be notified of the incident. 

Dixie came into Mike's room.  "Your girlfriend was brought in downstairs with an asthma attack.  Do you know if she ever mentioned anything about having asthma?"
Mike's heart jumped against his chest.  "No, she never said anything about it."
"Have you asked her uncle?" asked Marco.
"Not yet," said Dixie.  "I think Dr. Brackett will be asking him next."
"Is there any way I can see her?" asked Mike.
"I'll see what I can do," said Dixie.  "She's a mighty sick young lady right now."

A couple of hours later, a nurse wheeled Betsy into Mike's room.  She was sweating, and wore an oxygen mask.  He couldn't contain his tears, and reached out for her.  Betsy took his hand.   "I'll be outside if you need me," said the nurse as she pulled the curtain.
The mere exertion of taking his hand forced Betsy into a coughing fit.
"You okay?" he asked.  She nodded.  Betsy could feel her lungs relaxing, and she gave a huge, productive cough.  Mike reached over his head for the box of tissues and held it out to her.  Retrieving one, she got rid of the sputum.
"Hey, that's great!" Mike exclaimed.  "You feel better now?"  She nodded.  After tossing the wad into the trash can, she took his hand, and continued to breathe laboriously.
"I don't want to lose you," he whispered as the tears streamed down his cheeks.   She looked heavenward.
His desperation about their situation was growing.  The feeling that she was going to leave him was nagging and overwhelming.  He had to gain some kind of control over the circumstances.
"Marry me," he said.
She smiled and nodded.
They heard an "Ugh!" and the sound of a body falling outside their door.  The three of them froze.
Click. Scrit. . . click, they heard outside in the hallway.  Marco turned toward the door and sniffed.  Lighter fluid!  There was also the smell of burning paper.
Marco quietly pulled back the curtain.  "Lighter," he whispered.
Click.  Scrit. . .click.  More burning paper smell.
Click.  Scrit. . .click.  The burning paper odor was growing.
Click.  Scrit. . .click. 
The three knew they were sitting ducks.  Betsy had an oxygen tank practically glued to her.  If this were Geoff again, he seemed intent to blow them up.
Mike held Betsy's hand tighter.  All those years of firefighting training, and here he was stuck flat on his back with a busted hip.  At least they'd go down together.  He wasn't letting her go.
"HEY!" they heard someone call from down the hallway.  Somebody took off running.  A woman called another woman's name.  Soon, there was a commotion. 
Head nurse Cammie barged into the room.  "Did you see or hear anything outside your door?"
"Someone went "ugh."  Then we heard a body fall," started Marco.  "After that, someone was messing around with a lighter, and we smelled burning paper."
"Betsy, your nurse was knocked out cold by someone.  Your floor will have to send someone else to come and take you back."
"Aw!  I don't want her to go!" said Mike.  "But that was scary.  It was more than likely the same idiot who tried to kill me a few days ago."

Betsy was tiring quickly, and asked to be taken back to her floor.  Upon return, she and the nurse were both frightened by the note with burnt edges composed in letters cut out from magzines and newspapers they found propped on her pillow:
                              We'll see if your
                             can protect you
                                  when the
                               fat lady sings.
The nurse called security immediately, leaving the note where they found it.   Security turned the note over to the sheriff's office.   Betsy was moved to a room across the hall from the nurse's station.       

Betsy decided the best place for her would be home in Kentucky.  At least she'd have her state trooper brother and his confreres for protection.  During her tearful last visit with Mike, she said, "I'll call after 11 p.m. my time--that's when the rates go down.  That'll be around eight your time."
"I'll be hanging onto it," he said.  There was so much he wanted to say.  He was desperate to spend some time alone with her so they could discuss their future.  He also didn't like the fact that thinking about such things felt like a lead balloon.  Bad sign.  He felt as if he'd never see her again if she left.  Betsy leaned over and put her forehead on his bed.  He ran his fingers through her hair.
"You're going to come back to me, aren't you?"
She nodded.
The nurse came in to retrieve her.  Mike nearly panicked.  "One last kiss, please!"
The nurse helped steady Betsy as she leaned over to kiss her fiance.  Their parting words were, "I love you." 

Once Betsy's lungs had healed, she started making plans to return to California.  Mrs. Bragen and Mr. David were eager to have her back.  A local trainer, however, asked Betsy to ride his horse, Papenfus, in a stakes race before she left.
The race was nationally televised from John Hunt Morgan Park near Richmond, Kentucky.  The track had been named for the Confederate general who was a Lexington native.  Since the host track had been damaged by fire, Morgan Park graciously offered their facility so the race would not have to be canceled.  The entire card was transferred for the rest of the original track's meet.
Betsy and her mount won handily.
After the winner's circle ceremonials, an obese woman with blonde hair and red dress stood up in the grandstand corner next to the tunnel, and started singing an aria.  Betsy was about to hand her saddle off to her valet when the singing distracted her.
Memory of the note flashed through his mind, and Mike felt as if someone had doused him with ice water.  "BETSY!  LOOK OUT!" he screamed, and willed her to look at the camera.  She did as she handed off her saddle.  Someone distracted her to her right, then panic crossed her face.  Mike felt it, too.  In what felt like surreal, slowed-down, time, Betsy screamed and the ring of gunfire was heard three times.  She did the "dance of death" with each shot, twirled around, and fell face down in the exact posture as the dream.
"Cut to a commercial!" someone on the television yelled.
No! thought Mike.  No!  He felt the pain in his chest, and his entire body went numb.  His brain shut out all sensory input.
Marco called the nurse.  "Something's wrong with Mike!" he said, weeping. "He just saw his fiance. . ."  His crying cut off the sentence.
"Just saw his fiance what?" asked Cammie.
"Get shot on national TV."
Cammie drew a sharp breath, jerked around to look at the TV, then turned it off from Marco's call bell.
Mike was staring straight up at the ceiling.
"He's in shock," she said.  As she picked up the phone to order a page for Dr. Brackett, he burst through the door with Dixie at his heels.   Both doctor and nurse were wiping tears from their eyes.
"We saw what happened," said Dr. Brackett.  He took Mike's face in his hands, smacked the man's cheek, and called his name.  Everybody called to him.  No response.

Mike was readmitted to the ICU.  If he ever blinked, the nurses never saw it--they had to put drops in his eyes to keep them moist.  Dr. Brackett, at Dixie's urging, ordered Vitamin C to be added to his glucose IV.
During that time, Mike was somewhat aware of people trying to communicate with him.  When Dr. Morton came to see him, Mike saw it like checkerboard blocks, but couldn't respond.  His brain wasn't doing him any favors by rerunning the dream and bringing up fulfillments which had taken place.
Dr. Brackett allowed Cap five minutes with Mike.  Cap had just returned from Betsy's funeral in Kentucky, but said he'd prefer to be at work rather than home.
"My brother and his family are flying out here to visit us," he said, leaning close to Mike's ear.  "They want to meet the young man who had stolen their daughter's heart."
"My life is over," Mike muttered, barely audible.  "I've lost my health.  I've lost my job.  Now I've lost my bride.  My life is over."
As Sharon charted the utterance, Cap made a mad dash for the men's room down the hallway from the ICU.  Before returning to his crew, he had to compose himself.
Chet met him where the hallway met the waiting room.  He decided to talk with his 'regular' crew before talking with the subs.  After he told Chet, Johnny, and Roy what Mike had muttered, they were caught up in a spontaneous group hug.  Mike and Marco's replacements were perched at the edge of their seats, jaws dropped.  Cap left his regular trio and crouched before the substitutes.
"NO!" cried the engineer as he got up and went to the window.  The other crossed his arms on his knees and bent over.
"Cap?" said Chet.
"Isn't there any way Brackett could let us in one at a time to talk to him?  Even if for only a minute?"
Cap shrugged.  "I suppose we could ask him."
"Or ask Chief Houts to talk to him," Roy suggested.
"Does HQ even know about this?" asked Johnny.
"Know about what?" asked Chief Houts.  He stood in the doorway with his driver.

Head for the hills; the dam broke . . .