Hot Iron: Part 2

3.

Kennedy Hart, a full-time nurse at Neo-Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, had seen just about everything someone in her occupation could. Between the ICU and ER units in a metropolis, she’d tended to her share of GSWs, horrendous accident victims, every type illness and infection known, and more than an abundance of O-Ds. In short, she wasn’t the squeamish type and had the chops to back it up.

She fast-walked toward the E-R doors in teal scrubs. Her brunette locks were wound up in a bun under an elastic band that bobbed from the half-nod she gave the receptionists. The sea of non-emergency admissions were fixated phones, tablets, and the large flat-screens inlaid into the walls, there to steal attention from those unlucky saps that deserved it more. Comprising more than half the ER’s visitors in the night, it left the unit short-staffed, rushed, and half its patients unstable and spilling over into ICU when they should’ve still been in the ER.

As usual, Kennedy would have to deal with it. She shoved her way through double doors as a buzzer unlocked them at her approach. The RFID chip in her hospital I-D, and its readers stationed around the facility, were probably the most useless, advanced form of technology they had. Funds had been appropriated from various, other places to install the readers. In the process, short-staffed units got overtime when they should’ve gotten new staff. Such was the way of the “industry” these days.

Kennedy emerged from a long hallway for the nurse’s station. Station was a liberal term. It was a desk stacked with black-screen charting tablets, and a pair of flat-screen monitors. Behind it on the wall was a second pair, massive in comparison, and probably costing more then Kennedy’s car. Subdivisions of vitals read out the two-dozen patients’ states networked in from their rooms. From here, a nurse could watch and chart the various EEGs, heart and O-2 monitors before shooting off and up the hall. There, she’d draw meds, pass them out, then double chart and check the patients again for “posterity’s” sake– in other words, to keep from losing her job to a network error.

Given her enormous school debts, the amount of time it had taken to attain her RN status, and the general ire of those she worked with, she found it difficult to believe anyone walking into her field was sane. She certainly didn’t feel like it anymore.

She grabbed a charting tablet off the desk, engaged its screen to thumb at it. Two, equally over-worked, and underpaid women watched with general disapproval. She was too young, too inexperienced to be in charge, or so they felt, anyway. Evidently, their superior felt otherwise. Kennedy loathed her for that.

“Two new admits?” She asked the older, grayer of the two women.

“Mhmm.” Her fingers tapped information into a digital form. “Man and a woman.”

“Severe Burns?” Kennedy said, flipping through the pages. “Who the hell sent us burn patients?” The woman only shrugged. “Christ, clocked in five minutes and already screwing me over.”

“That surprise you?” The less-gray woman asked.

“No, it pisses me off.”

She rounded for the patient rooms, tablet in-hand as she skipped through the last few hours of charts. The new admits had been stuck across from one another, nothing unusual, but certainly not something she’d expected. According to the information, they’d been admitted at the same time, moved from the ER, and into the ICU with orders to treat as burn-ward patients. That was impossible, especially on an understaffed ICU.

She rounded the hallway for their rooms. A line of police officers speaking in hushed tones were clustered through-out the hall between the patients’ rooms. They were packed densely enough Kennedy had to force her way through with a command. She sidled past badges and body-cameras, pushed her way into the first room.

According to her charts, the woman had been placed in a medical coma due to the severity of the 3rd degree burns on her back and side. Kennedy couldn’t see them directly, but the bandage wrapped along her side, back, and angled forward over her shoulder and chest, left no doubt of the severity of her state. The bandages would have to be changed every four hours, the wounds scrubbed, and the anesthetic drip replenished.

Kennedy fumed. There was no way in hell they were equipped to handle a burn victim of this magnitude. They barely had enough people to administer meds on schedule. The kind of intimate care required for a lone burn victim was extensive. Several people and powerful meds were needed to keep them stable, even to clean and re-bandage the wounds. Caring for two was going to be impossible.

Kennedy growled futility, checked the woman’s vitals as quickly as possible, and entered the information into the tablet. She noted the name “Mendez,” under the time, then pushed out and through the crowd for the other room.

The man was considerably worse off– in a way that stung Kennedy’s usually hardened heart. The whole right-half of his face was hidden under bandages, the left side streaked with debris wounds that reddened his olive skin. Little else on him was visible, save random, small bits of unaffected skin between bandages.

Kennedy swallowed hard, felt her chest tighten, then lifted the chart to read “Torres.” Her knees turned to rubber from sickness curdling in her gut. A shaking index finger trembled against the tablet to scroll through the information: Torres’ entire right-side and back had been scorched extensively, it said. The images accompanying the report were grisly. Freshly charred skin mingled with the burned impressions left by super-heated armor plates. According to the O-R report, he’d been operated on for four hours to extricate melted fabric and plastic from his wounds. It was a wonder he was alive, to say the least, but what the hell happened to him, and when? The report was days old.

She ran her quick check, then returned to the nurse’s station to make a call to a superior. When the woman answered she was quick to tell Kennedy someone was already headed down to explain things. The call ended immediately after.

Kennedy was dumbstruck, put off by a finality in the woman’s tone that held something more beneath. The only thing she could place it as was fear, but what scared a burnt-out nurse in one of the busiest hospitals, in one of the largest cities in the world? Kennedy wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t be good.

She turned for the hall and straight into a man with a suit cut sharp it made her eyes bleed. She was stunned. He pulled out a bi-fold wallet, flashed a badge that vaguely registered as FBI.

“Missus Hart?”

“Miss,” she corrected habitually. “Yes? Can I help you?”

“Miss Hart, would you come with me please?”

Kennedy glanced at the other nurses behind the station. They stared up, open-mouthed. Kennedy cleared her throat, stammered out a reply, then followed with a curious amble. The FBI man directed her into a room with other suited men and women, extended a hand to a offer her a seat, and shut the door behind him.

Kennedy eased into her seat, and the room sat together. A man at the head of table examined her for a long moment. Then, with a lean, he interlocked his fingers on the table, “Everything you’re about to hear is a matter of National Security, should any of this be repeated outside this room, you will be jailed and tried for high-treason. Do you understand?”

Kennedy stared.

4.

There was a literal, full minute of silence before Kennedy’s mouth shut and she stammered out a response, “Wh-what’s this all about?”

The man at the head of the table, his face cloaked in dim shadow, cleared a gravelly throat. Someone flipped a switch below the table, and a projection appeared in the middle of it. Two images, side-by-side, were repeated in four places, like a three dimensional cube connected at its vertical faces with the table forming their base. Judging from the ID-like images, and the obvious collars of NCPD uniforms, the two people projected were her patients.

She almost didn’t recognize Torres. It only worsened her gut-sickness. Combined with the clandestine feeling of the dark room, its air, and the people in it, she guessed things wouldn’t be getting better anytime soon.

The gravel-throated man all but confirmed her hunch as he began to speak. “The two patients currently occupying your ward are members of NCPD’s SWAT team. Several days ago, Officer Juan Torres conducted a raid on a suspected heroin refinery. The exact location is classified. We’ve been fortunate to retain media black-out, but several officers were killed in the explosion. It is our hope that we may work together to ensure these two officers do not suffer the same fate.”

A woman down the table, whose only identity lay in the overt confidence of her tone, continued from there, “Miss Hart, we believe these patients may be targeted for retribution by certain suspects or their associates. Given their states, and the care required, it is necessary to reallocate them, as well as their care-givers, to your ward from others units across the campus.”

“Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency hope you will accommodate us in this matter,” the man at the head of the table added. It sounded more like a casually veiled threat than anything.

The room settled back into a ringing silence. Kennedy still stared. She wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. Everything beyond “retribution” had been lost on her. Who the hell sought retribution against cops for something like this? And why’d she have to be worried about it? Moreover, why the hell did they choose the ICU of all places?

The questions kept coming. With no answers in sight, her mouth finally shut. She readied to reply as formally as possible, the situation evidently hinged less on her compliance than her job did. She let out a short breath, “I will, of course, do whatever I can to ensure the safety of my patients. But I’m charge-nurse… for tonight. My job, for tonight, is to act as liaison for the unit’s nurses and our superior. I don’t really have any power.”

“From here on out,” a man said nearer to her. His features were dark, eyes unyielding. He slid over a micro SD card, “You will act as liaison between us and those assigned to these patients. The staff directly in charge of them will take your word as ours. Your other duties are suspended until such time as the two officers make a full-recovery.”

Kennedy drew the tablet over with a hand, slotted the card to access it. A pair of folders appeared with patient ID numbers as the names. Those numbers were the same as the ones used by the various machines reporting their vitals and meds through the hospital’s network. Kennedy could ID both of the patients by them alone.

She gave an outward look to no-one in particular, “I can offer compliance in my case– I certainly can’t refuse anyway, but I have questions.” A resonant pause ushered her onward. “First of all, why have you assigned these patients here, instead of the burn-ward?”

A woman with slightly less confidence than the last explained, “We believe anyone seeking retribution will know to check N-C’s burn-wards. We hope placing them here will better obscure their presence and still allow for the care they require.”

The dark man nearer her added, “Upon closer inspection, you’ll see those files have been doctored. Their real names do not appear anywhere.”

She took his word for it, “Okay. Then my next question–”

The man at the head of the room anticipated her, “We believe the person, or persons, targeting these patients have access to internal NCPD and FBI intelligence. In order to draw them out, and ensure the officers’ survival, we must allow all agencies involved to believe both Torres and Mendez are dead.”

Her eyes widened, “There are thirty cops in the hallway, and you think you can contain this?”

Another man spoke, one that hadn’t yet. From his air of superiority and vernacular she suspected him a doctor, a veteran one at that. “That is why, once your team is in place, you will simulate a cardiac incident on both patients. We will prepare everything externally necessary. Otherwise, you will receive further instructions soon. For all intents and purposes, it will appear as if your patients have died.”

Kennedy’s eyes narrowed skeptically, her tongue sharp– the same way she was when she dealt with her ex that’d left her a week before their wedding. “You want me to fake their deaths!?” Another resonant silence. Awkwardness underlined it this time. Kennedy felt herself squirm involuntarily. She swallowed hard, “I… don’t see how I can refuse, but I’d like it noted I have reservations.”

“Duly noted, Miss Kennedy,” someone said.

She didn’t see them speak, was too busy wrapped in her thoughts. Losing not one, but two patients would look bad on her record. She could lose her job. More importantly, she could lose any hope of getting another if this assembly decided to take charade the next step and “investigate” her. If the media ever did get wind of it, she’d be black-balled faster than she could click a pen.

She spoke to this effect, “I can do what you request, but it will take time. More importantly, I can’t allow this to permanently affect my license. When this is over, any public knowledge must be officially retracted so my livelihood isn’t lost.”

The man at the head of the table replied firmly, “Your livelihood will not be permanently affected, but you may have to follow through with things. We will brief you in time on what that may require.”

With that, the projected image dissolved and the table rose together, save Kennedy. She was stuck in place for another, full-minute before she rose snatched up her tablet and followed after them. She stepped into the hall to find they’d disappeared. The one, confident woman remained behind to speak to an officer. Her hair was fine, golden threads in the lights that reflected off it in a wet-like sheen and gave her a glow that modestly accented tanned skin.

Clearly whatever she did officially allowed for more fun in the sun than being stuck in an ICU all day or night. Kennedy envied her for that alone.

She returned to the empty nurse’s station just as the uniformed officers began to disperse. Two men and women remained to stand guard on either side of the patients’ doors. The blonde woman clicked and clacked her way past along the hall, her face fixed with indifference, and her mind consumed by her work. Her heels sounded her progress past, then disappeared into a stairwell beyond a heavy, closing door.

The grayer of the two nurses appeared, snapping bright-orange, nicotine gum in her jaws, “S’that all about?”

Kennedy shrugged, checked her watch, “Hell if I know.”

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