It was the cicadas that pushed everything into critical
The cicadas and a paranoid schizophrenic.
The cicadas, a paranoid schizophrenic, and a hat made of
defective aluminum foil.
But mostly, it was the cicadas.
St. Louis in the summer is miserable enough. Hot, humid
and suffocatingly still, it resembles an anteroom to hell.
Tempers shorten. Frustrations sharpen. What would be annoying
any other time, becomes unbearable.
But that summer was even worse. A cicada population of Biblical
proportions had awakened from two separate periods of dormancy
to drive every person in the bi-state region to violence.
Breeding and eating at a ferocious rate in their hurry to
mate and die, the insects whined out a satanic symphony of
grinding dissonance that could incite a saint to suicide.
Within days, minor car accidents escalated to hostage situations,
suburban soccer moms were arrested on felony weapons violations,
and sporting events saw more action in the stands than the
field. The recently declining violent crime numbers swept
right back up, police ran double shifts, and emergency departments
started stockpiling antipsychotic drugs like nuclear arms.
Which meant that nobody was really surprised when the disturbance
call went out at 11:32 AM on a late July morning for the four
hundred block of Ohio Avenue on the city's south side. A bare-bones
kind of street, Ohio boasted faded brick multiple family dwellings
that housed the substrata of people hanging onto the fringes
by their fingertips; new immigrants, ex-project inhabitants,
chronic defaulters. In a word, the kind of block where disturbance
calls were as common as bill collectors.
Usually, though, the calls came long after lunch, when the
avenue's less wholesome tenants woke from their nightly revelries.
Eleven-thirty was a little early, even on this kind of hot,
still, muggy day.
But then, the cicadas were out.
The responding unit arrived on the scene at precisely 11:53AM
to be met by a young black woman up to her elbows in toddlers,
and one teary-eyed ten-year-old in a pom pom skirt. A baby
on one hip and a hand on the other, the mother didn't bother
to wait for the cops to get all the way out of the car before
she started in on them.
"He crazy!" she shrieked, waving her free hand
at the undersized cheerleader who slumped next to her. "He
tried to boil my baby, say she a devil, and all she done was
try and sell him some damn candy bars. You get in there and
drag his skinny white ass down here 'fore I boil it myself,
you hear? My Sherees, she gotta sell forty bars by tomorrow,
and he got the whole box in there, that crazy fucker."
Busy slipping batons into belts and caps onto heads, the
cops, a rare two-person ride that consisted of a young white
male and a more mature black woman, nodded like synchronized
"You know this man?" the female officer asked.
"He jus' moved in a coupla weeks ago," the mother
said, following them up the sidewalk, the kids orbiting in
place. "He in there with squirrels and bats and shit.
I saw it when I grabbed my baby. Motherfucker's crazy!"
After a few more pertinent questions, the officers left
the woman in the street and ambled into the unremarkable square
brick building whose only ornamentation was a bouquet of blue
plastic flowers stuck into the address, atop which several
of the ubiquitous cicadas were mating.
Back on the street, the young mother raised her voice above
the noise to regale gathering neighbors with her eyebrow-raised,
neck-snapping rendition of Sherees's run-in with the new neighbor.
She'd gotten to the point where she'd grabbed little Sherees
out of the crazy motherfucker's arms when two quick pops brought
the group to sudden silence.
From the second floor of the apartment building.
Everybody turned that way. Little Sherees, her tears dried,
looked up at her stunned mother. "Mama, you tell them
'bout the gun that man stuck up his pants?"
Which was about the time the crazy motherfucker started
yelling about hostages.
* * *
Maggie O'Brien was still securing her medic vest when she
opened the door to the command trailer at the corner of Ohio
and Wyoming. A normally unprepossessing hundred-twenty pounds
over a five-foot-five inch frame, Maggie looked instead like
an extra from a Chuck Norris movie. Her thick umber hair was
tucked up under a blue kerchief, and her rather normal figure
was rigged out in blue-dyed urban cammos, elbow and knee pads,
jump boots, Alice pack, Camelback canteen, body armor, overloaded
medic vest and gas mask. She carried her helmet under her
arm and her gloves in her helmet. SWATBabe, as her friends
had dubbed her, was on duty.
The four hundred block of Ohio had been evacuated of all
but police equipment and personnel. Two perimeters had been
established, the interior perimeter two apartment houses wide,
the exterior taking up the entire block. Strobes flashed,
radios crackled, uniforms cluttered the street, and a smaller
knot of like-camouflaged men clustered near the midnight blue
trailer Maggie approached just beyond the interior perimeter.
Maggie had been beeped no more than fifty minutes earlier
and had joined the rest of newly minted St. Louis City\County
Cooperative Special Weapons and Training Team only moments
before. It was her third call as the team's Tactical Emergency
Medic, the first that was still active by the time the team
arrived. The very first in which she'd been called into the
trailer. She hoped nobody noticed that her hands were shaking.
"You want me, Lieu?" she asked, stepping up into
a tiny space containing way too many bodies and an overworked
"Other side of the trailer, Mags," the scene commander
said from where he was bent over a grease-pencil-marked schematic
of the block. "We have a medical situation inside the
negotiators need you to help with."
Maggie nodded and backed out. It was standard operating
procedure that the command center stayed separate from the
hostage negotiators. The negotiators needed to establish a
positive relationship with the hostage taker, something that
could be jeopardized if that negotiator looked up to see the
commander sending in the troops on a "shoot to kill"
order. The way the St. Louis team had set it up, a third person
stationed himself with the negotiators to relay news to command
by headset. When a hostage situation involved a possible medical
problem, the medics were trained to evaluate and assist along
with the negotiators.
So Maggie knocked on the back door of the divided trailer
and waited for one of the extraneous personnel to decamp before
"We've got a medical person coming to talk to you,
Bob," one of the negotiators was saying into the phone,
his voice low and calm and soothing. The kind of voice you'd
use with a jittery horse or a crazy person. "...yeah,
sure, sit back a second. Let me fill her in and I'll let her
talk to you."
The negotiator was a middle-aged, medium-sized black guy
with old, soft eyes and fidgety hands who looked oddly out
of place in jump boots and high tech gear. Surreptitiously
putting the caller on hold, he turned Maggie's way.
"Well, don't you look fine," he greeted her with
She grinned back. "I look like a clicker beetle on
steroids." It wouldn't do to give her father's old partner
the kiss she usually greeted him with. "Hi, Uncle John."
"Tommy would be so proud."
Maggie held onto her smile by force of will. She didn't
need to know how proud her father would be right now.
"Oh, shit," the other guy in the trailer moaned.
"I just knew it. If we have a crazoid, O'Brien can't
be more than five feet away."
The other guy Maggie knew, too. A sergeant out in Manchester
where Maggie played paramedic part-time, he was trim and slim
and military issue, right down to his blonde buzz cut and
snapping gray eyes. And he just loved being a cop.
"What do you mean?" John asked, forehead creased.
The other guy scowled. "Don't you know? Maggie here's
not just a nut magnet. She's the pilgrimage destination for
every psychotic, schizophrenic, and dome-headed geek in the
"Slander, Flower," Maggie disagreed. "I'm
sure I don't pull any more netjobs than anybody else."
Flower, nicknamed in an homage to Bambi because of
his unfortunate preference for Mexican food, hooted in derision.
"So you really think it's a coincidence that you're the
medic called for a guy who tried to parboil a pom pom girl
because her candy bars were possessed?"
Maggie shot Flower a sheepish grin. "Could happen to
Maggie spent a moment wiping the sweat from her forehead.
It was damn near a hundred degrees outside, she was carrying
about seventy pounds of equipment on her, and the cicadas
were driving her to distraction. And to top it off, she had
to score her first negotiating gig with John, whom she respected
more than almost anyone in the world. Even the meat locker
air conditioning in the trailer wasn't much help.
"I assume the medical condition is more than just little
voices?" she asked.
John's smile was a bit tight. "Suspect and hostage
have both suffered gunshot wounds. Suspect to the right arm,
hostage to the right thigh. That's all he'll give us so far.
The suspect's name is Montana Bob."
Maggie forgot about the humidity and sat down on the other
chair. "Bob?" she asked, peeking out the window.
"No kidding. And in an apartment, too. I'm so glad. He's
been camped out beneath the 14th Street overpass for years."
"You know him?" John asked.
"Didn't I tell you she would?" Flower retorted.
Maggie smiled. "Oh, sure. You've seen Bob, Uncle John.
He hangs around the Toe Tag Saloon all the time. He's a regular
at the Biltmore." The Biltmore being the nickname for
Blymore Memorial, one of the big trauma hospitals in the area
where Maggie served most of her time as a trauma nurse. "Brings
me flowers. Bob's a paranoid schiz with delusions of U.N.
invasions. Which means the candy bars aren't really satanic.
Probably more along the line of a transmitter from 'them.'"
"Them?" John asked.
She smiled. "You know, John. 'Them'. CIA, FBI, aliens.
The ones who are trying to take over. The ones who wire his
head and try and get him to do bad things. The candy bars
probably had a diabolical device planted in them--computer
chips being the latest favorite--to control his mind."
"To kill him, actually," John said.
Maggie nodded. "He is kinda fun to play with, isn't
"The hostage he shot," Flower snapped, "is
Maggie stopped cold. "We know who it is?"
Her Uncle John looked hard at her. "Yeah, Mags. It's
Sean Delaney. He's fine right now. We want to keep him that
Maggie was real proud of herself. She didn't give herself
away by any more than by a blink or two.
"You know him, too, I'm assuming?" Flower asked.
Uncle John smiled gently. "Maggie knows everybody in
the city. She grew up in the department."
Maggie did her best to smile back. "Delaney's dad and
Tommy were asshole buddies," she said. "We kind
of grew up together."
Then, before John could reassure her again, she set down
her helmet and held out her hand for the headset. "Tell
me what the status is."
"Delaney and Myla Parker answered a disturbance call.
Evidently Montana Bob saw the uniforms and pulled out the
.38 nobody knew he had. Sean got Myla out before Bob got him.
That's been about....oh, seventy-five or so minutes ago."
"And Sean took a shot in the thigh?"
"Right. He says it's---"
"Just a scratch," Maggie answered along with him.
"He said the same thing last year when we put a chest
tube in him. "
A breath. A quick close of the eyes to lock out Uncle John's
"Okay." Maggie nodded and flipped the mike on.
"Bob?" she greeted her long-time patient, her tone
an instinctive echo of John's. "It's Maggie-o, Bob. Can
There was a brief moment of silence, a scuffling sound on
the line, and then the tremulous voice Maggie knew so well.
"You bastards. You've taken her, too."
Maggie couldn't help but grin. Well, at least she was on
familiar turf. "No, Bob, I swear, it's Maggie. Nobody's
hurt me. You know I won't let 'em hurt you if you listen real
Maggie fought down the urge to scream and nodded. "Okay,
Bob, can you see the big blue van outside? I'm gonna step
out the door and give you our sign. Now, I'm going to be dressed
like them, Bob, but that's okay. They're here just to make
sure nothing worse happens, you understand? If you listen
to me, nobody else is going to get hurt. Okay?"
"I'll shoot you if you're lying."
John, on the other headset, twitched with distress. Maggie
waved him off. "I hope you would, Bob.Now, watch out
"Be advised," Flower was murmuring into his own
headset to the command post. "Subject is approaching
the front window. Believed to be non-hostile."
"C2 to A10," Maggie heard in the receiver taped
to her free ear. "Make entry to building on my word."
Which meant that while they knew where Bob was, the entry
team was going to sneak inside to get closer to Bob's apartment.
Maggie yanked off the headset and eased her way out the
door. It was oddly quiet out there, even the cicadas hushed.
Weapons had been raised a notch higher, all attention focused
on that window.
Maggie saw a shadow there, saw the blinds raised. She caught
the sight of a lot of pale skin and the dull glint of metal
and almost laughed.
"What the hell?" one of the guys demanded.
"C2 to A10, suspect is visible in side one number three
window. Go now."
Maggie ignored the voice. She never acknowledged the dark
snake of police that slipped toward the rear door. Lifting
her arm as high as she could, she flipped the Longhorn salute.
There was a pause, and then the odd figure in the window disappeared.
Maggie squeezed back inside the van.
"Did I see what I thought I saw?" Flower demanded,
lowering the binoculars he'd been using.
"A naked man wearing a steel pot on his head?"
Maggie asked, reclaiming her chair. "Sure. His aluminum
foil hat must have stopped working."
"What does that have to do with the Longhorn salute?"
"Bob went to University of Texas," she said, sliding
the headset back on.
"Hence the moniker, 'Montana Bob,' obviously."
Maggie grinned. "The CIA took over Texas years ago."
"I'd heard that," John concurred.
"Bob?" she asked, back on line. "You there?"
"Thank you, Maggie," he whispered. "You walked
the valley of death for me. Just for me, for me. But you have
to get out. They know I know and they're going to kill me.
I don't want them to kill you, too."
"Well, they can't kill me," Maggie assured him,
"because I don't know, so it's okay. I promise."
"Watch our brave Maggie boogie-board that big delusion
pipeline," Flower murmured behind her. Maggie, sweating
as she thought of the policeman on Bob's floor, ignored him.
"No, Maggie," Bob argued, "they will. They've
killed Sancho and Urban and the dog and snake. They've killed
them all and I know. I know because I heard them whispering
in the night, I saw them, I hear them now, with their radios
in their wings just waiting for me to step outside. They're
trying to get a message to me right now, can you hear 'em?"
Every crazy in the Mississippi Valley thought the cicadas
were trying to get a message to them. Maggie wasn't the only
one who wished the damn things wouldn't sound so much like
"I hear it, Bob, but that's not what IB"
"They're here, though, Maggie, killing and killing
in their night angels suits, black as night, black as death-B"
"Which is why we're dressed up this way today,"
Maggie assured him, wondering who his new imaginary playmates
were. Bob was always imagining cabals. But he'd never imagined
anybody named Sancho as a victim before. Maybe he'd been reading
Man of La Mancha. Or Dr. Doolittle. "We're
trying to fool them into getting you out safe. But we can't
unless you help us, Bob. That officer you have, he's one of
us. He's my friend. And we've got to get him treated, or they'll
hurt you, Bob. They'll hurt us all, okay? They'll know."
"They already know, Maggie. All of them. It's why they
tried to give me to take that phone. The one with the computer
chip in it."
"No, that was just to talk to you, Bob. To try and
figure out a way to get you out safe. But you figured out
a way, didn't you? You used your own phone. You know your
phone is safe, because you check it and wrap it in Saran wrap,
just like I told you."
"That's it, Maggie. But I think they're listening anyway.
I don't think I have much time."
"Then let's get you two taken care of, Bob, okay? I
want you to tell me about the officer's injuries. You need
to help him so I can sneak you away before they know. Please?"
"I can't, Maggie," he whined pathetically, the
drone of the insects almost louder than his voice. "I
"Then look," she commanded. "Look at his
leg. Come on, Bob. You can do this. Tell me what it looks
It took Maggie twenty minutes to get a good picture of what
was going on inside and talk Bob through basic first aid.
It took another two hours for John to talk Montana Bob out
of his apartment. By that time, the temperature had scaled
up another fifteen degrees, the neighbors were arguing with
the cops, and the news crews had grown more plentiful than
the cicadas. Maggie spent the time out on the street making
sure her team was hydrated and trying like hell not to think
of what was going on in that apartment.
Bob had only suffered a superficial wound, one the team
could safely dispatch back to the ambulance that was stationed
beyond the outside perimeter. Officer Sean Delaney, though,
who had pushed his partner back out the door before Bob could
close it on them, had been bleeding for a good couple of hours,
and nobody wanted him to try and make it out of the apartment.
So when Bob opened his apartment door, the entry team that
was by now positioned in his hallway would sweep him out like
bad dirt, and Maggie and her partner would run in from where
they waited alongside the gas team to treat the cop while
the building was secured.
"A10 to C2, stand by," Maggie heard in her earpiece.
"Subject door is opening."
Bob was coming out. Everybody outside suddenly went quiet
as they watched the building entrance, as if they could see
the drama unfolding. Tucked behind trees and hedges, the containment
team kept their guns leveled on the field while watching the
entire scene. Even the cicadas seemed to pause, until all
Maggie heard was radios and the gas team guy's heavy breathing.
"Suspect secured!" she heard in her earpiece.
"M1 and 2 enter."
Maggie struggled to redistribute all the weight she carried
as she climbed to her feet. She was sweating like a horse,
her heart rate was damn near red-lining, and Sean lay upstairs
bleeding all over Montana Bob's floor. Good thing she was
in shape for shit like this.
Maggie had made it halfway across the lawn in a bent-knee
run when four of the entry team slammed back through the front
door to send Montana Bob sprawling onto the sidewalk. Maggie
saw him go down, saw the pot go skittering down the sidewalk
as more cops pile on top like a rugby scrimmage.
In that moment she damn near forgot about Sean. Bob had
shot a cop, and not one person on that pile was going to let
him forget it.
"Maggie, run!" Bob was screaming, his cheek scraping
into the sidewalk, his limbs sprawled and squashed like a
frog on a driveway. "He's here, Maggie, get out! Get
And Maggie, even knowing that her first priority was the
wounded policeman, had to stop.
"Hey, you guys, go easy," she insisted, dropping
into the fray. "It's not his fault. He's just crazy.
Come on, let him breathe."
When she got past all the riot gear to where Bob lay panting
on the ground, she saw that there were tears on his sallow
cheeks. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his eyes pleading.
"I got you into this, Maggie. I'm so sorry..."
"Aw, c'mon,Bob," Maggie assured him, pushing his
dingy hair back from his face as she surreptitiously checked
to make sure that his injury was, indeed, superficial. "It's
okay. I promise. They'll take care of you now."
"No," he countered sadly. "They'll kill me.
You get out now, Maggie. Please...."
"Maggie," one of the team members said as he motioned
everybody else to ease their holds on the suspect. "We
have him." Maggie nodded, wishing she could make
Bob feel better, and patted him on the cheek. Then, leaving
him in safe hands, she lumbered up the stairs to the front
"You asshole," she genially greeted the downed
officer when she made it through the door.
Slouched against a wall decorated in right wing newsprint,
tacked-up road kill, and marked-up news photos, Sean Delaney
offered a whimsical smile and a halfhearted wave of the Hershey
bar he'd been munching from the half-empty box on the floor.
"Want some candy, little girl?"
Maggie smiled. "You're eating all that poor kid's profits."
"Hey, Bob and I had to keep our strength up. Paranoia's
a high energy sport, ya know. Besides, I knew I'd have to
be at my best when you showed up." With a waggle of his
eyebrows, he patted the stained carpet. "Come sit by
me and make my pulse race, honey."
Maggie snorted unkindly and dropped to her knees alongside
the second team medic. "You must be bad, Delaney,"
she said, pulling equipment from her vest. "That's the
worst excuse for sexual harassment I've heard since Eddie
Kawalksi snapped my bra in sixth grade."
Delaney just grinned, his eyes fever-bright and his forehead
creased with discomfort. "I'm bleeding, O'Brien. That
should get me some points."
"You've been bleeding before, Delaney. Doesn't get
you anything but lightheaded and wet."
"No, Maggie," he disagreed. "I got that from
seeing you in cammos."
Maggie grinned even more brightly as she checked his racing
pulse. "You really have to try and hang around with some
humanoids sometime, Delaney. By the way, are you hypovolemic,
or are you just happy to see me?"
The other paramedic, a skinny guy named Jazz, had already
secured Sean's Beretta and was busy pulling out fluids and
lines for some volume replacement. Maggie did a quick assessment
and reached for her scissors. Even with the pressure bandage
she'd talked Bob through applying, Sean's pantsleg was soaked
and the floor beneath him sticky with old blood. The good
news was that if the bullet had hit a major artery, Sean would
have been dead an hour ago. So the bleeding wasn't critical.
It was, however, enough to make Maggie want to puke. And Maggie
wasn't a puker. At least about blood.
"I'm always happy to see you, honey," Delaney
managed, a little late and a little too quietly. "Especially
when I know you're about to have your way with me."
Maggie looked at the mischievous light in those usually
sharp green eyes. She saw the sweatstains on his uniform shirt,
the lank, sticky hair that was usually brushed to a mahogany
gleam, and the fact that his face, normally so strong and
tan, was a little slack and the color of putty. Sean Delaney
prided himself on looking like a poster child for St. Louis's
finest. Today, he looked like a fallen cop souffle. And still,
he had that gleam in his eyes. He was having a hell of a time.
Which really made Maggie mad. She wasn't the one who should
have been shaking here.
"Don't honey me, you uncoordinated, hormone-happy bog-trotter,"
she snapped, not nearly as hotly as she'd intended. "Just
shut up and let me get in your pants."
"I thought you'd never ask."
"You shouldn't talk to her like that," Jazz finally
objected. Jazz, who didn't know either of them too well yet.
"It's not right."
A tall, thin, quiet guy with acne-pocked skin and hair like
a blonde Brillo pad, Jazz saw his job as a mission and all
his patients holy. Jazz was never allowed near a phone during
hostage negotiations, because he kept trying to get the hostage-taker
to take Christ instead. On the other hand, Jazz was one of
the best trauma paramedics in the bi-state area, with the
plus that the sound of gunfire didn't spook him. Even if it
was directed at him while he worked. So people overlooked
his conversional tendencies.
"It's okay, Jazz," Maggie reassured him. "Delaney
knows I'll pay him back later."
Jazz just shook his head like a mournful dog. "Didn't
your father ever teach you that you deserve better than sexual
Maggie stopped cold. Delaney whistled through his teeth.
"Now you've done it," he said.
Maggie couldn't quite take her eyes off the very sincere
medic. "Do you know who my father is?" she asked.
Jazz actually blushed. "It doesn't matter."
"Can I have my drugs now?" Sean asked on a deliberate
Maggie couldn't quite answer.
"How 'bout a donut?" he demanded, tugging at her
She looked down, startled, and shook herself."Eat another
Hershey bar." Leaving Jazz quite out of it, she went
after Delaney's pants."Asshole," she muttered, but
it wasn't quite clear whom she was addressing.
* * *
Maggie didn't get into the Emergency Department at Blymore
to check on her patients for another hour. Technically her
responsibility for them only lasted until the moment she delivered
them into the paramedics' waiting arms. After that she stayed
with the team for clean-up and debriefing.
At today's debriefing she heard how she'd handled her first
hostage negotiation like a pro, and that if she ever cared
for a perp before an officer again, she was going to get her
cute little ass kicked right back to Nightengaleville.
Maggie grinned at the first and ignored the second. According
to her charter, the commander was perfectly right. In order
of importance to the tactical medic were the officers of her
team, any other officers, any hostage or civilian, and then,
if they had time, the perp. By checking on Bob first, she'd
thumbed her nose at very important priorities. And considering
how Maggie felt about her team, in any other situation, she
wouldn't have hesitated.
But her intervention had helped the team control Bob. And
Jazz had already been upstairs sharing the good news with
Officer Delaney. Besides, Delaney didn't need to know how
much he'd scared her.
Because of the relatively quick solution to the action today,
debriefing only lasted through two boxes of donuts. Quick
enough for Maggie to get into the ED before they shipped Delaney
off somewhere, slow enough, she hoped, to avoid most of the
sturm and drang.
Instead, she walked through the sliding doors of Blymore
Medical Center to be greeted by pandemonium. The press had
arrived en masse, every cop with a ride was cluttering up
the hallway, and Bob, instead of settling down, showed every
sign of blowing like Krakatoa. And that didn't even take into
account that the waiting room was overflowing and mostly contagious.
This time, though, Maggie checked on Delaney first.
"Well, buy me slippers and call me Dorothy," she
heard behind her as she checked out the chart that hung on
Maggie didn't even bother to turn around. "You've never
even seen Wizard of Oz, and you know it."
A tall, leggy African-American man in salmon-colored scrubs
and marcelled hair swung a deliberately limp wrist at her.
"I know. I am such a disgrace to my stereotype."
Maggie looked up at her friend's horsy face and laughed.
"Well, practice. The entire press corps is out there.
Think what you could do for the hospital if you went out there
and did a few choruses of 'My Way.'"
"In feathers," her friend said. "It could
change the face of medicine as we know it."
"Might do it some good, Martha."
Martha was her friend's club name. His real name was Dr.
Allen Fitzmaurice, M.D., F.A.C.S., trauma surgeon and Emergency
Department director. Standing six-foot-four, he weighed in
at about one-seventy and was probably the ugliest man Maggie
had ever seen. He was an even uglier woman.
"Help!" Bob screamed down in room three. "Help!
They're going to kill me!"
As was usual with crazies, Bob's outburst set off three
more screamers, who were all, evidently, at risk from the
FBI. The rest of the packed hall escalated right behind them.
"Is O'Brien here someplace?" one of the docs demanded
farther down the worklane. "She snuck in, didn't she?"
Maggie ignored him, just as she always did. "Is the
officer going to live?" she asked Allen instead.
She got an elegant shrug and a saucy grin. "That bullet
hit any higher and he coulda been night watchman in a harem."
"Do me a favor and tell him that."
"You make it sound like he did it on purpose."
Maggie sighed. "He did. He does. This is the third
time, ya know. I think he just does it to yank my chain."
"The same reason you joined the big, brawny boys in
blue?" Allen countered with a barely lifted, carefully
Maggie flushed a little. "You know why I joined. I
grew up with these cops. I feel a...responsibility to them."
Allen laughed. "Rationalization will get you nowhere,
my darling. We know all about sublimation in this state."
Maggie couldn't even manage much of a smile. "Oh, shut
"By the way," Allen assured her. "The outfit
is tres butch. Do you know you swagger-Cjust that much-Bwhen
you wear it?"
Maggie looked down at the cammos and jump boots she still
wore along with her black POLICE\PARAMEDIC t-shirt. She did,
in fact, know she swaggered when she wore them. Ever since
she'd first tried them on for Tactical EMS School up at Camp
Ripley, she'd been thinking of wearing them down to the ED
for work. Maybe help keep some of the crazies in line. Or
"Maggie," she heard behind her, "are you
going to get in there and calm that crazy bastard down?"
Or, she thought with a halfhearted sigh, the nurses. Turning,
she faced her newest inquisitor.
"His name is Bob, Carmen," she told the nurse
who glared at her from five feet away."You might try
using it. He usually responds to it better than, 'hey, you
Carmen Peterson was a hot young post-grad nurse with the
features of a spitz and the temperament of a corgi. Everything
pissed her off, but most of all Maggie pissed her off, because
Maggie wouldn't get pissed off along with her. Carmen was
standing there now, fists clenched on lean, overexercised
hips, and small, thin mouth pursed in obvious impatience.
Even her eyes were small and pursed, like raisins left out
too long in the sun.
"Listen, I have eight other patients, one of them a
woman who's husband beat the crap out of her for burning the
pot roast. Would you rather I hold your crazy bastard's hand
or help her get the hell out of the house?"
"I'd rather you blow the house up with the husband
Carmen twitched. "We're way past that. Now, what about
that crazy bastard in three?"
This time Maggie found herself grinning. "That crazy
bastard in three brings me flowers once a month and warns
me when we're in danger of alien invasion. What have you
done for me lately?"
For a split second, Carmen's pose held. Then her face split
into a grin wider than Maggie's. "All the crazies love
you best," she retorted in a six-year old's whine. "Get
him off my hands?"
Maggie laughed. "Since you asked nicely."
Carmen spun on her heel, leaving Allen shaking his head.
Allen didn't understand why Maggie got along with Carmen.
There were days Maggie didn't either.
"Do I have to bring you flowers, too?" Delaney
asked from inside trauma room two.
Maggie shoved his door the rest of the way open to find
him pale and sweaty and supine on a trauma cart with a unit
of blood and a bag of saline already hooked up. Her stomach
heaved at the sight of him, but she knew better than to retreat
from the field.
"I don't want anything from you, you idiot," she
retorted, handing Allen Sean's chart and stalking into the
room. "The only thing I ever did ask for you keep forgetting
He grinned. "A cop can't promise not to get shot, Mags.
Takes all the fun out of the job. How many people have told
you how proud Tommy would be of you?"
Maggie knew a deliberate topic change when she heard it,
but she couldn't refuse. In fact, she scowled. "At least
His smile this time was softer. "You were pretty
amazing out there today."
Maggie didn't give an inch. "You just get off on tough
"Tough chicks with balls."
"In that case, maybe you'd like to dance with Martha
"Only if he leads!" Allen called from the hallway.
Delaney laughed like a kid.
"Maggie!" Bob called from across the hall. "Maggie,
please save me!"
Sean's laughter died. "Go on over and see to poor Bob,"
he pleaded. "He needs your soothing hand more than I
"Everybody needs it more than you do, Delaney,"
"I'm not kidding," he said. "Take care of
him. I, uh, really feel sorry for him. He's not a bad guy."
"High praise, coming from the hostage."
Delaney actually had the grace to look uncomfortable. "You
know what I mean."
Maggie relented. "Yeah, I do. I'll go see him."
But first, she needed desperately to detour to the nurse's
lounge. She hadn't been kidding earlier about puking. Delaney
just didn't get how much it upset her to keep seeing him on
one of her carts. And she wasn't about to let him know. So
she ran off like a baby before he found out.
* * *
It took Maggie another fifteen minutes to face Bob, and
even then she wasn't sure she was up to it. She found him
strapped down in four-point restraints and all but frothing
at the mouth, his eyes rolling, his face sweaty and ashen.
One arm sported a bandage, the other an IV for antibiotics.
His face was scraped and bruised, and his dirty, scrawny body
was only half-covered by a sagging patient gown.
"Maggie, they didn't get you yet," he whispered,
turning big brown, golden retriever eyes at her. Eyes that
saw things nobody else did.
Maggie wet a washcloth and wiped the sweat and spittle away.
"I'm just fine, Bob."
"It's too late, Maggie," he pleaded, closing his
eyes. "They've injected me with bacteria. I can feel
it weighing on my heart, Maggie, heavy on my heart where my
"That's jut antibiotics for your gunshot, Bob,"
she hushed. But Bob wouldn't be settled. "No, no
it isn't. You know. You know. Get my stash and run, Maggie.
Get my stash, where my heart lived. You get it, okay?"
Maggie smiled as if she meant it. "Sure, Bob. I promise."
Tears filled his brown eyes, and for a moment, Bob was really
there. Afraid, ashamed, appalled at what he knew the world
thought of him. Of what Maggie thought of him. He tried to
reach for her with a hand that was tied to the cart, and Maggie
stretched over to meet him half way.
"It'll be all right, Bob," she soothed, squeezing
hard to get past the layers of delusion and terror and emptiness.
Bob's smile, when it came, was infinitely sad. "Don't...promise..."
He hiccupped, twitched, refocused."...get it, Maggie-C"
And that fast, his eyes rolled back and he began to convulse.
For a second, Maggie just stared. He wasn't even on a monitor,
for God's sake. He'd just been shot in the arm. But if there
was one thing Maggie could recognize, it was cardiac arrest.
"Call a code!" she yelled, vaulting right up onto
the cart to punch on his chest. "Call a goddamn code!"
"What's O'Brien up to now?" somebody demanded.
But nobody ignored a code call. The announcement went out.
Carmen scuttled in to crank up the monitor as Maggie bent
down to breathe into that terrible, gaping mouth.
The team poured in like water over a damn. Patsy Levins,
the medical resident on, choreographed the code like a chorus
number from Les Mis. Maggie took over the drug position,
shoving everything in the crash cart straight into Bob's bigger
vessels. She pumped and exhorted and demanded answers, but
right on the stroke of five o'clock, Patsy yanked off her
gloves with a definite snap and walked from the room. Montana
Bob, still strapped to the emergency room cart he'd so often
called home, lay silent and staring.
"I guess he should have listened," Carmen said
as she pulled out morgue sheets and toe tags.
Maggie couldn't quite move from the bottom of the bed, her
hand on Bob's cold, waxy foot. "Listened?"
"The voices told him he was going to die," Carmen
said. "I guess they were right."
But they shouldn't have been, was all Maggie could think.
She'd been there. She'd seen his injury. It hadn't been fatal.
Hell, it hadn't even been minor.
He shouldn't be dead, no matter what his voices had said.
No matter what anybody said. As she stood looking down on
that empty, wasted husk of a human body, Maggie wanted to
know why the hell he was.
She couldn't quite say that, though. She couldn't tell the
staff that she was terrified she'd let this sad little man
down. So she patted his foot, as if he would know, and fought
surprising tears for a homeless psychotic.
"He brought me flowers," she said and turned away.